Thursday, August 31. 2006
I got the following letter from Robert Christgau today. Haven't talked with him yet, but the letter ends "forward to whoever you will," so I assume that this much at least can be posted.
I shouldn't speculate about what this means, but I'll at least throw out the most obvious point: that it seems unlikely that the Voice will want my Jazz Consumer Guide without Christgau's Consumer Guide. The only counterargument I can think of is that my column is a lot cheaper than his -- especially if you factor in a chunk of his Senior Editor salary. Certainly it's the end if "for taste" is an aesthetic judgment, although you don't have to be much of a cynic to view it as legal frosting on top of a matter of money.
Whether, if they still want me, I would still want them, is one question I haven't given any thought to. But I was very pleased with the way this week's Jazz CG came out, and I have half of another one already written, plus all that stuff in the queue. Until I figure out otherwise, I plan to keep doing what I'm doing. Still, I wonder if I'd be better off in the long run writing that damn political philosophy book.
Wednesday, August 30. 2006
One of my housekeeping tasks that follows each Jazz Consumer Guide is to cast a hard eye on the long list of records that I couldn't fit into the format and schedule, and weed out as many of those as I can see no prospect of using in the future. I've gotten to where most of the purge occurs when I do prospecting notes, so what's left in the "done" file is either worthy of honorable mention or a possible dud. Still, I finished this cycle with 137 records in the "done" file. I figured I should cut them down by half, but after a few passes I only got them down to 90. That'll do for now, but what I missed will get cut sooner or later. I managed to get 31 records into JCG #10, so the math is pretty brutal.
Records get purged for lots of reasons. I'm somewhat reluctant to spend Voice space on records that Francis Davis or others have already reviewed in the Voice. For example, both Davis and Robert Christgau reviewed the Odyssey the Band album, Back in Time, in glowing terms, which pretty much sums up my own view. It could wind up in my year-end top ten, but to put it in a Jazz CG just bumps some other worthy, relatively unknown contender. Still, I haven't purged it yet, but it's the sort of real good record that can lose out. Similarly, I cover reissues in Recycled Goods, so I rarely double up on them in JCG. But most records that get cut fall short in one way or another: many are good ones that don't quite have the edge or interest to bull their way onto the HM list. Sometimes I just get a record that I can't think of anything publishable to say about. Jazz is mostly non-verbal, so it isn't all that easy to write words about it -- especially when we get into marginal distinctions, which happens a lot in the B/B+ range. I also time out on some records, when I notice a record that has been sitting on the list three or more cycles without moving me to write it up.
This cycle's purge totals 164 albums. The surplus file has the whole list. Recycled Goods covered 31 of these albums -- old music, but also a few newer things that more/less fit my world music mandate, including some Latin jazz. I wrote Jazz Prospecting notes on almost all of the purged albums, and decided they suffice for 120. For the remaining 13 albums I wrote new notes/reviews, sometimes just explaining why they got axed. That's the next section. For the lists, see the link above. Despite all this, I still have plenty of records for the next column. The current counts are: print backlog (15); done (90); pending (140). Given an average run of 30 albums, that leaves 15 open slots for 230 albums, plus whatever shows up in the meantime. Of course, some will miss the next column but make some future one.
Michel Camilo: Rhapsody in Blue (2005 , Telarc): This drags Gershwin back to classical music hell, with a symphony orch that annoys me to no end, leaving me indifferent or worse to the pianist. Still, I was reluctant to flag this as a dud -- figured my prejudices are so automatic here the world hardly needs a reminder. Then Francis Davis wrote up a sidebar admiring this, so I kept it as a dud candidate. But in the end I decided this isn't worth any more space than I'm using here. C-
Hard Cell (Berne+Taborn+Rainey): Feign (2005, Screwgun): This came out before Berne's Paraphrase album, which I made a Pick Hit, but I didn't hear it until later. Had I had it at the time, it would have been an Honorable Mention. Much the same idea, but the keyboard is more often in the way than Drew Gress' bass was, and that slows Berne and Rainey down a bit. Taborn himself is very engaged, and he's worth focusing on. B+(***)
The Roy Hargrove Quintet: Nothing Serious (2006, Verve): Sometimes I keep a B record around as a possible Dud du Jour, but I haven't used one yet. But at most I only need to hang on to one, and for now that's Cassandra Wilson. This one's too forgettable not to be forgotten. B
Lena Horne: Seasons of a Life (1994-2000 , Blue Note): Got an advance copy a long time ago, but never got a final. Looks like it got delayed, then finally released in Jan. 2006, but at this point I've lost interest. As I understand it these were outtakes from her '90s albums. Ten songs, four by Billy Strayhorn, "Stormy Weather" to close. No surprises, no gaffes, not much point. B
Lee Konitz: Jonquil (2003 , Blue Jack Jazz): Present at Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool sessions, which he topped with his brilliant debut, Subconscious-Lee. More than fifty years later, he's still active, still recording for labels so obscure I can't even track them down. I just jotted his name down on the Downbeat Reader's Poll ballot under "Hall of Fame," so I mean no disrespect. I'd love to hear something new-ish from him I can write about. But I'd rather not remember him for a strings album, even one finessed reasonably well. B+(**)
Brian Lynch: 24/7 (2002 , Nagel Heyer): Crackling trumpet here, in a sharp, hard bop matrix, with a Latin tinge, again a bebop throwback. Miguel Zenón plays Bird to his Diz. Very solid, but it's been on the shelves quite a while. B+(***)
Eivind Opsvik: Oversaes II (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent): Unlike most bassist albums, this doesn't showcase the leader very well. In fact, two pieces are celeste solos, with different keyboardists, and were improvised as filler. Others vary the keyboards and two saxophones, with Tony Malaby appearing on half and making his usual fine impression. B+(**)
Dafnis Prieto: About the Monks (2005, Zoho): Cuban percussionist, hot shit ever since he hit New York. Real fast, with Luis Perdomo's piano racing the percussion, and two horns that rub me the wrong way -- Brian Lynch and Yosvany Terry, two guys I like quite a bit in other contexts. This record got terrific reviews, which got me thinking it might be worthwhile to flag my dissent, but I never built up the confidence to go out on that limb. Since then he's released Absolute Quintet, which strikes me as better, but not enough to send me back to this one. He's likely to be an important figure for a long time. B-
Sergi Sirvent: Free Quartet (2003 , Fresh Sound New Talent). More like a piano trio with a double dose of drums, the extra set accenting the angularity of the rhythms. I've enjoyed this pianist all along, finally getting him an Honorable Mention for the Unexpected, Play the Blues in Need. That's the best, but this and others come close. B+(**)
Trio East: Stop-Start (2005, Sons of Sound): Trumpet-bass-drums, with trumpeter Clay Jenkins the probable leader, even though drummer Rich Thompson gets first billing. Three originals, six covers from Diz to Ornette, sharply played, just inside of out. Another should-be honorable mention that timed out. B+(**)
Bebo Valdés: Bebo de Cuba (2002 , Calle 54, 2CD): Got this late, after Francis Davis had written about it. Wrote it up in Recycled Goods, which will have to suffice. It is a terrific record, the best Cuban jazz I've heard in a few years -- probably since one of his son Chucho's records. I still need to dig up his '50s records. A-
Vibrational Therapists: The Radius of the Mind (2002 , Vibrational Therapists): Another album I liked but never got back to: avant trio, alto sax or clarinet over block chord piano and freewheeling drums. Saxophonist Henry P. Warner is the senior member. He's done work before with William Parker and Billy Bang, and will appeal to fans of both. B+(***)
Zu: The Way of the Animal Powers (2005, Xeng): I'm ambivalent on arguments about CD length. Certainly many are too long, but at 25:47 this is uncommonly short -- especially in a jazz guide. Anyhow, that's the main reason why this slipped through. The group is a bass-drums-sax trio, with Luca favoring baritone over alto sax. Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm guests. I like the deep rumble and edgy rhythms, and the spoken piece at the end is a fine coda. B+(***)
Tuesday, August 29. 2006
The Village Voice has published my tenth Jazz Consumer Guide. Although it seems like ages since I turned the thing in, the August 29 posting date is almost exactly three months after the previous one back on May 30, so what was initially conceived of as a quarterly schedule seems to be holding. As usual, I wrote too much, so a lot got held back. Looks like half of the next one is already written, so maybe I should just push another half out and see how that works.
Next task will be some housecleaning. The reviews that got held back this time will be moved to next time. The "done" file currently holds 137 records, I'll probably cut half of them, figuring they have no real chance of making a future column, even though most deserve to. Some will get turned into "surplus" notes, and I'll post them in the blog. The "print" and "flush" notes move to the notebook. Prospecting for the next Jazz CG has already started, so I've already set up the files for that. The working file currently has 140 unrated albums -- 125 new and 15 compilations of old stuff -- so I need to work through that. Looks like 34 of those records have already had one pass. Seems like a pretty complicated system, but it works well enough.
The last few years I've written up a second opinion to Downbeat's annual Critics Poll. This year's results were published in the August issue, now eclipsed on the newsstand, so I'm running late. Thought I'd do this on the road, since it's mostly just spouting off the top of my head, but now I'll just try to do it fast. Still got a day to send my Readers Poll ballot in. I don't vote in the poll, so this is just another data point.
To speed things up, I'll list the winner, then limit my choices to the top ten vote getters. Most categories also have a Rising Star (RS) category, which I'll also do following the same rules.
Trumpet: Dave Douglas. Agreed. I don't always like his records, but that's usually because he's playing over my head. RS: Jeremy Pelt. He's makes an impression, but I'll go with #4 Steven Bernstein, and note that a lot of people I like made neither list, starting with Dennis Gonzalez.
Trombone: Steve Turre. Haven't heard enough from him lately, but I still like #8 Ray Anderson. RS: Gianluca Petrella. I like his record, but haven't heard enough to pick him over #4 Jeb Bishop or #8 Wolter Wierbos.
Tenor Saxophone: Sonny Rollins. Lifetime, sure, but his newest album was recorded in 2001. Lately, #5 David Murray. RS: Chris Potter. I have to go with #4 Ken Vandermark, who should be on the main list by now.
Alto Saxophone: Phil Woods. Several good options here, but #12 Anthony Braxton has to be the first choice. RS: Miguel Zenón. Agreed, narrowly over #8 Dave Rempis.
Soprano Saxophone: Wayne Shorter. I generally lean against people who play soprano as a second instrument, which would rout this list -- the exceptions I see are Jane Ira Bloom and Jane Bunnett, but let's compromise a bit and go with #5 Evan Parker. RS: Ravi Coltrane. None. Same problem here, even worse at the top. Looking back through my database I find very few primary sopranos, but many secondary ones.
Baritone Saxophone: James Carter. A great tenor saxophonist who dabbles on everything else, I don't see how he wins year after year. The clear choice is #3 Hamiet Bluiett. RS: Claire Daly. Don't know her well enough to say, but I'm not quite ready to commit to #5 Mats Gustafsson or #6 Alex Harding yet either.
Clarinet: Don Byron. Agreed, but partly because the others I'm tempted by also play other reeds -- #2 Marty Ehrlich, #8 Michael Moore, and #9 Louis Sclavis. RS: Chris Speed. Agreed, but here because #4 Ehrlich, #5 Sclavis, and #6 Moore should be established by now.
Flute: James Moody. Again, mostly dabblers on the list, of whom #4 Frank Wess remains the most consistent, but I think I'll go with the equally dependable #5 Lew Tabackin. RS: Nicole Mitchell. Don't even know her -- oh, yeah, her. Still, I have to go with my old fave, #7 Robert Dick, even though he's my age and I haven't heard anything from him in ages. His secret weapon is that he goes for the heavyweight flutes, which can put him below bass clarinet.
Guitar: Bill Frisell. Not sure. Seems like six or so of these guys may have topped at one point or another, but on the basis of recent work I'm inclined to pick #8 John Abercrombie. RS: Kurt Rosenwinkel. I'll go with #10 Jeff Parker, but #6 Marc Ribot and #8 Charlie Hunter are contenders.
Acoustic Piano: Keith Jarrett. I admire Jarrett more each year, but I also take him for granted and suspect he's plateaued. So maybe this is the year we credit #4 Andrew Hill. RS: Jason Moran. I'll go with #2 Vijay Iyer. Moran seems to have slipped a bit, and in any case has already risen to #6 on the main list. Again, there are so many pianists that lots of people I like didn't make either list -- some that quickly pop into mind are: Dave Burrell, Marilyn Crispell, Matthew Shipp, Uri Caine, David Hazeltine, Myra Melford, but there are many more.
Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer: Joe Zawinul. Clear choice is #2 Uri Caine, even though he's probably better still on acoustic. RS: Uri Caine. Agreed.
Organ: Joey DeFrancesco. No strong opinion, but the last one I've really liked is #9 Melvin Rhyne. RS: Sam Yahel. None.
Bass (Acoustic & Electric): Dave Holland. My standard here is #4 William Parker. RS: Ben Allison. Half of this list, including Allison, are neck and neck, but I'll go with #3 Drew Gress.
Drums: Jack DeJohnette. Agreed, but #7 Hamid Drake and #8 Lewis Nash are in line. RS: Matt Wilson. Since he's still on the list, I have to go with #6 Hamid Drake.
Percussion: Ray Barretto. Many different traditions here, making it hard to compare. I could pick Drake again, but let's go with #3 Zakir Hussain for a change. RS: Hamid Drake. Agreed, if you evaluate his frame drums here, but I view him as a drummer. But then the others I'm most tempted by -- #2 Susie Ibarra and #7 Satoshi Takeishi -- are drummers too.
Vibes: Bobby Hutcherson. Agreed, certainly over the long haul, but recently what does he have to show but the SF Jazz Collective? RS: Stefon Harris. I'll give it to #2 Joe Locke, but he belongs up top, maybe on top, with someone else moving in here, like #6 Matt Moran.
Male Vocalist: Kurt Elling. Can't stand him, nor most of the list, which leads me to #10 Bob Dorough. RS: Jamie Cullum. Not much better, except for #6 Theo Bleckmann.
Female Vocalist: Cassandra Wilson. Easy, #6 Sheila Jordan. RS: Luciana Souza. I'll go with #8 René Marie.
Violin: Regina Carter. Come on, #2 Billy Bang -- this shouldn't be close. RS: Jenny Scheinman. Agreed.
Miscellaneous Instrument: Toots Thielemans (harmonica). This is an apples-and-oranges category, hopeless. I'll go with #8, Rabih Abou-Khalil (oud). RS: Grégoire Maret (harmonica). I'll take #6 Fred Lonberg-Holm, the third of three cellos in the top six.
Record Label: Blue Note. Hard to say, but given this list I'm inclined to throw a plug for Sunnyside.
Composer: Maria Schneider. I never have a real good sense of how to judge composers, but one rule of thumb is look toward the back of the band, since bassists and drummers have to convince others to play their music. On this list, that argues for #6 Dave Holland. RS: Vijay Iyer. Again, the rule favors #2 Ben Allison or #3 John Hollenbeck, so flip a coin.
Arranger: Maria Schneider. This should be a little clearer, but I'll go with my sentimental favorite, #2 Carla Bley. RS: Steven Bernstein. Agreed.
Producer: Michael Cuscuna. No idea. RS: Branford Marsalis. I'll give this to #7 Seth Rosner, the guy who runs Pi Recordings. Don't know if it's his production, but everything he touches is worthwhile.
Blues Artist/Group: B.B.King. Let's stay on the jazz side and give it to #3 James "Blood" Ulmer. RS: Derek Trucks. None, not that Trucks or several of the others are bad.
Blues Album: James "Blood" Ulmer, Birthright. I like it, but better still is #6 Odyssey the Band, Back in Time -- Ulmer's other record. But those and a bad Susan Tedeschi album are the only ones I've heard.
Beyond Artist/Group: Elvis Costello. Not something they know much about, but #5 Kanye West is fine with me.
Beyond Album: Ry Cooder, Chavez Ravine. I've heard 7 of 10 here, and have 4 at A- or above, including their winner, but the easy choice is Kanye West, Late Registration. Of coruse, there's a lot more to Beyond.
Jazz Artist: Sonny Rollins. Don't know what this means, but I'm a product guy, and of the finalists the guy who seems to be everywhere these days is #7 Paul Motian, so let's go with him. RS: Vijay Iyer. Agreed.
Jazz Group: Wayne Shorter Quartet. None. I'm still stuck with the idea that a group is something other than a leader's band, but 11 of 12 here are not only leader's bands, they're named after the leader. The other one is #11 SF Jazz Collective, but they don't win either -- partly because they never sent their second album. RS: SF Jazz Collective. I'm partial to #9 The Claudia Quintet.
Big Band: Maria Schneider Orchestra. I like the recent records by #4 Liberation Music Orchestra and #7 Gerald Wilson Orchestra, but both strike me as ad hoc, so I'll go with #10 Either/Orchestra. RS: Either/Orchestra. Agreed, but I thought they'd risen -- they've done more for longer than Schneider.
Hall of Fame: Jackie McLean. Agreed. I've been griping for years that he wasn't even on the ballot -- see my obit post. Too bad he had to die to get some attention. Same thing happened to Steve Lacy the year before. Next up should be #3 Lee Konitz, but I hope he gets in while he's still alive.
Jazz Album: Andrew Hill, Time Lines. I only have three of the top twelve albums at A-, and didn't even hear two more (Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau). So I'll go for Liberation Music Orchestra, Not in Our Name over Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, but my real album lists are available elsewhere. The only one I had under B+ was Terence Blanchard, Flow.
Historical Album: Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, At Carnegie Hall. Agreed. Enough already.
After this exercise, I filled out my Readers Poll ballot -- real quick, since this is the deadline day:
I wouldn't put too much weight on this ballot. In a couple of places I just pulled names off the top of my head. It's easy to say that none of these are bad answers; saying they're the right ones is something else.
One thing I'm always struck by in Downbeat's polls is not just how orthodox the critics are but how Blue Note they are. The label vote -- Blue Note 277, ECM 141, Palmetto 77, Mosaic (a Blue Note subsidiary) 59, Verve 55 -- is one indication, but the roster placements are even more striking, especially in the anomalies. Obviously, I'm not talking about what Joe Lovano, Don Byron, Wynton Marsalis, or even Jason Moran and Bill Charlap are scoring -- Moran and Charlap help Blue Note's reputation as much as the reverse. But Robert Glasper #3 RS piano? He might turn out to be better than his album (note singular) indicates, but there are literally hundreds of young pianists who have accomplished more -- they just don't have that Blue Note contract. Glasper's just the most glaring example, but everyone on Blue Note's roster places somewhere, and usually well above where I would put them.
I always figured that critics are obligated to go out of their way to survey as much turf as possible, so the clustering in this poll strikes me as dereliction of duty. On the other hand, as a working critic, one thing I can read between the lines is that the aesthetic constriction has a lot to do with which labels support the most critics. Nine of the top twelve record labels give me consistent support, and the other three certainly ship a lot of promos, even if not always to me. (Mosaic and ArtistShare are odd cases; Nonesuch is presumably a problem that can be fixed.) Again, you can prove this case by looking for anomalies. Pi Recordings doesn't release much, but they support their releases well, and their artists pop up here and there; e.g., under RS alto saxophone we find #2 Rudresh Mahanthappa and #10 Steve Lehman. I don't mean to knock either, but they wouldn't be there if critics didn't hear them.
On the other hand, even though I do a better job than most, I get so much stuff coming to my door that I don't bother chasing down a lot of things that I should -- especially when it comes to labels like Tzadik and Leo that never send anything, that I hear mostly when a musician sends something. Before I started writing, I would buy anything that sounded promising -- but then I could afford to, and now I never have the time to play anything after I've written about it, so the prices look steeper than ever. Most critics are in this same boat, which gives us these partial views. The useful thing about a poll is that it statistically integrates a bunch of views. Downbeat's poll is as skewed as Cadence's, but it's useful nonetheless. You just need to figure out how to read it.
Monday, August 28. 2006
Another short jazz prospecting week, as I had to shift gears to work on September's Recycled Goods column. That's almost done now, though it's tempting to build up a hedge against October, as those deadline tend to sneak up on me. The other project for this coming week will be "done" file purge as the next Jazz CG gets started in earnest. The last one, #10, should be out in the Voice on Tuesday or Wednesday -- not sure of the details, since I don't normally get to see the paper edition. Should be, I said; still don't have the cut list, so you'll probably know what's in there before I do. Meanwhile, the incoming queue has been piling up, with a lot of things looking promising.
Tone Collector (2004 , Jazzaway): The group here is Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Jeff Davis on drums. The record was recorded live in Stockholm at the Glenn Miller Café. I filed it under Malaby, but further research suggests Opsvik may be, if not the leader, at least the guiding light. Malaby doesn't even mention the record on his website. Opsvik lists a dozen or more groups and projects, describing Tone Collector as "Mostly free improvising trio, debut cd released on jazzaway records in 2005." That holds out the prospect for more, but this just seems to have been one of those night when the group met, improvised something, had it recorded, and let it out. Malaby is rougher and more forthright than elsewhere -- a frequent sideman, he tends to fit in rather than stand out. But Opsvik is equally conspicuous -- his bass has real presence here, often setting not just the pace but the tone as well. Davis does what most drummers do in these free-for-alls, which is to maintain a parallel commentary. B+(**)
Crimetime Orchestra: Life Is a Beautiful Monster (2004 , Jazzaway): Veteran bassist Bjørnar Andresen gets a "featuring" credit here -- he passed away three weeks after this session, but to say he was featured is a misnomer. The group is large -- ten pieces, including three saxes, two brass, guitar, keyboards, both electric and acoustic bass, and drums. The title cut -- in seven parts, most of the album -- is straightforward in its aim to create beauty out of monstrous sound, and in that it mostly succeeds. The group is mostly -- maybe all -- Norwegian, with tenor saxophonist Vidar Johansen first listed and perhaps most important. B+(**)
Anders Aarum Trio: First Communion (2005 , Jazzaway): Norwegian pianist, odds that he'll show up on ECM some day are way better than 50-50. I regret not having cited his Absence in Mind (Jazzaway) as an Honorable Mention back in the JCG that featured that Sonny Simmons + strings record, one Aarum contributed so much to. Only reason I didn't was that I got tongue-tied, as often happens with piano records -- I do know when I like one, but still have a lot of trouble explaining why. This one is less muscular, more contemplative, which probably means it's even more likely to slip through the cracks. Talks, or groans, a bit like Jarrett. Plays a bit like him too. [B+(***)]
Sonny Simmons: I'll See You When You Get There (2004-05 , Jazzaway): The first of a planned three Sonny-goes-to-Norway records matched the veteran avant saxophonist with a sharp trio and a bank of strings. Now the second one goes to the other extreme, giving him ten duets: six with bassist Mats Eilertsen, two with pianist Anders Aarum, two with drummer Ole Thomas Kolberg. The drums have the most immediate appeal, probably because they add some snap, but the others are fine accompanists. I'm less certain what I think of Sonny in this setting -- not used to him playing so alone. Wonder what's next -- maybe like the three bears the third will be just right.. [B+(*)]
Jazzmob: Infernal Machine (2005 , Jazzaway): The nominal similarity between Jon Klette's Norwegian band and Sex Mob seems to be based on a shared desire to advance jazz popularity by simply juicing it up -- especially as opposed to waterng it down. In flow and dynamics, this sextet sounds like a swing band, but the tone is avant, and fusion is skipped over completely. They do this with two saxes and trumpet, which play together less for harmony than for comradeship -- pretty much the same reason people drink together. Anders Aarum spends most of the record on Rhodes, which qualifies as the avant-sounding successor to the B3. I don't quite buy it all, but it makes for a good time anyway. B+(*)
Santi Careta Group: Obertura (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, Spanish (or Catallan) I would assume, although the first website I found anything about him on appears to speak Basque (Euskaraz) as a first language. I've also heard his duo with Sergi Sirvent, but haven't heard the organ trio he plays in, something called Asstrio. The Group here is a guitar-bass-drums trio plus moody tenor sax on four cuts and a singer on one more. The trio is itself rather slight, but Careta's guitar has a nice ring. But the add-ons don't add much, and are somewhat in the way, although I'm not quite sure of what. B
Joyce Cooling: Revolving Door (2006, Narada Jazz): My editor thinks I'm some kind of expert on smooth jazz just because I've been a good enough sport to listen to what I've been sent. But I get less and less of it, especially when guys like Anthony Braxton score Pick Hits. Also when I review records like this one. Cooling's a so-so guitarist who can handle a mid-tempo blues or maintain a shallow groove. Her voice isn't bad but it's even less capable of redeeming a bad song than her guitar. Typical here is "Cool of the Night," which even with vocal oodles isn't a cheesy enough cliché for disco. Still, this is a big improvement over her last one. B-
McGill Manring Stevens: What We Do (2001-04 , Free Electric Sound, 2CD): What I think of, referring back to Cream, as a Power Trio -- electric guitar, electric bass, drums -- but no vocals, minimal blues, a lot of jazz movement. The latter is more clear on the studio disc, a collection of jazz standards that they don't really murder, despite their liner notes: "Quick! Somebody call the JAZZ POLICE! Where's STANLEY CROUCH when you need him?" The second disc is a live set from 2001, mostly originals -- a bit more power there, a bit cruder. I like what they do soundwise, but find it a bit unadventurous at such length. B+(*)
Anke Helfrich Trio: Better Times Ahead (2005 , Double Moon): Pianist, German I think, although her website bio only starts in 1989 with studies in the Netherlands. This appears to be her second Trio recording, both with featured guests -- Mark Turner on 2000's You'll See, Roy Hargrove here. Hargrove plays on three of nine cuts, including one of two Monk covers. The byword here is lively: everything comes up bright, shiny, vibrant. Even Hargrove, who sounds like he's having a lot more fun than he has on his own records lately. B+(**)
Miles Davis: Cool & Collected (1956-84 , Columbia/Legacy): Cool wasn't a defining attribute for Davis, but assembling a superb compilation of his slow stuff from 1956-65 is a no-brainer, as three-fourths of this one proves. But pushing the Gil Evans angle to 1984 turns the ice to slush, and the remix is even more plastic. B+(*)
Stompin' at the Savoy: The Original Indie-Label (1944-61 , Savoy Jazz, 4CD): Herman Lubinsky launched his record label in 1942, but between the war and the recording ban didn't release regularly until 1944. A notorious skinflint, or perhaps just a cheat, he managed to keep his label in business until his death in 1974. His early records were mostly jazz, and later on he gravitated toward gospel, but this box focuses on r&b singles. Early on he had hits with novelties like Dusty Fletcher's "Open the Door Richard" and dance grooves like Hal Singer's "Cornbread" and Paul Williams' "The Hucklebuck," but they trail off over time, and only two songs on the fourth disc cracked the r&b charts -- Big Maybelle's "Candy" is the best known, and Nappy Brown his most consistent performer. Which means that as the period's r&b labels go, little here is essential. Nonetheless, it is remarkably consistent within its limits. B+(**)
Savoy on Central Avenue (1941-52 , Savoy Jazz, 2 CD): Though based on Newark, Savoy seemed to have a pipeline into Los Angeles. Just how this worked isn't clear from the scanty doc. This mingles locals like Johnny Otis and Harold Land and visitors like Charlie Parker, while running the gamut of '40s r&b and jazz -- often the same thing. B+(**)
Charlie Parker: The Genius of Charlie Parker (1944-49 , Savoy Jazz, 2CD): I have a confession or two. I've always been turned off by the extreme adulation accorded Parker. He was an exceptionally charismatic person, in his early death as much as his fast life, and he had a huge, almost immediate impact on the music. But encountering him late, after I had absorbed Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton, it took me a long time to hear how anything in Parker matched up with the hype. For one thing, Parker's regarded as jazz's quintessential modernist, but already by the late-'70s, when I first heard him, he sounded old -- his innovations so commonplace they'd become mainstream clichés. He never made it to the LP era: his records were short 78s -- head, flashy solo, reprise -- but too arty for the jukebox. He was the pied piper who led jazz away from its swing-era popularity, making up in intensity what he lost in numbers. His cult was such that every scraps of live recording, regardless of how crappy the sound, has been added to the canon -- more clutter for us to sort through. But after having listened to all the Parker regarded as great, the case comes down to the Savoy and Dial singles and the Royal Roost live shots collected here -- not that there isn't more: the title is actually recycled from an old 14-cut Savoy LP, but only three songs are duplicated here. Some of the fast ones, like his solo on Dizzy Gillespie's "Shaw 'Nuff" or his "Bird Gets the Worm" are remarkable lines of improvisation. At a more moderate pace, his tone and poise shines through on pieces like "Yardbird Suite." No doubt Bird deserves at least some of his reputation. A
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Jamie Stewardson: Jhaptal (2003 , Fresh Sound New Talent): I'm less impressed by the leader-guitarist than by the company he keeps: especially Tony Malaby, who again somehow manages to keep his tenor sax toned down but still quietly carries the day, but also Alexei Tsiganov on vibes, John Hebert on bass, and George Schuller on drums. But it's hard to evaluate postbop composers -- Stewardson wrote all of the pieces here, evidently passing his best lines to his band. B+(**)
Saturday, August 26. 2006
Andrew Bacevich has been an insightful critic of American militarism recently, but he's made a faux pas in titling a recent article "The Islamic Way of War" -- unless we can blame the title on whoever edits The American Conservative? It's safe to say that there is nothing specifically Islamic about the war tactics used by Islamist fighters against the US and/or Israel. Rather, the tactics represent adjustments to the enemy, reflecting both sides' relative strengths and weaknesses. In other words, what's happening is what happens in wars everywhere: they grind toward an unwinnable stalemate.
Bacevich's formulation underestimates the skills of Arab fighters in past wars. In particular, Egypt and Syria were more successful at the start of the 1973 war than anyone expected -- even themselves, which caused them trouble later on. Syria also held its own in 1982 in Lebanon, despite Israel's dominance of the air. Neither of those cases involved guerrilla resistance because the Arab armies weren't initially overwhelmed. There's no need to fight a guerrilla war -- the more general case of Bacevich's "Islamic way of war" -- until you've been overrun. On the other hand, by the time the US invaded Iraq in 2003, there were several clearly successful examples of armed resistance to northern occupiers in the Arab/Muslim world: the Algerian revolt against France, the Afghan revolt against the Soviet Union, and Hezbollah's revolt against Israel. Palestinian intifadas against Israel have been less successful but no less tenacious. These revolts go back many years. Moreover, there are no comparable examples of northern occupations in the Arab/Muslim world that have not been similarly resisted. The US ran into the same dynamics in Lebanon in 1984 and Somalia in 1992. So it took a tremendous amount of self-delusion to think that we could just roll into Baghdad and be welcomed with flowers.
The interesting thing about these wars isn't that the mujahedin have managed to adjust and become more effective at fighting the occupiers. It's that the imperialists -- the US and Israel -- show signs of losing the will to fight. The first sign of this is that they increasingly hide behind their air power, inflicting massive collateral damage which undermines them politically but at least allows them to kill from a safe distance. The Soviets' mining of Afghanistan was a similar move. On the ground, the occupiers' fear translates to exceptional brutality, to hostage taking, to torture, all of which result in further political loss. The pointlessness of the occupation starts to seep into the soldiers' consciousness, reinforcing the fear, hostility, desire to escape, and doubt about the program. Even when not conscious, the stress undermines essential discipline.
The key thing to understand is that the playing field isn't level. The occupiers fail merely by not pacifying the people, and that can be foiled by a small but dedicated minority. Bacevich sums this up:
I would add that this WWIV thing is unwinnable by political means as well, in large part because the military impulse backfired. The only answer is to come to an accommodation based on giving up ground that is not really tenable anyway. This should be easy, in that it is hard to see much gross benefit for Israel occupying the West Bank and Gaza, let alone Lebanon, or for the US occupying Iraq -- never mind the net benefit once you factor the costs of occupation in. But that accommodation is nearly impossible to make without changing the whole tenor and direction of the political system that staked so much on those wars. France didn't withdraw from Algeria until DeGaulle came to power, and the Soviet Union didn't withdraw from Afghanistan until Gorbachev committed what turned out to be political suicide. Unfortunately, neither the US nor Israel have suffered enough to come to their senses.
I've been slow blogging this week. Things have been interfering with my normal life, plus I've been more successful than usual at tuning out the news. Still, I thought I should note two items in Thursday's Wichita Eagle newspaper.
The first is a lengthy obituary starting on Page 1B for Rev. Gary Cox, the pastor at University Congregational Church. It's unusual for the Eagle to devote so much space to any obituary. I don't know what motivated the Eagle, but everyone I know who knew Cox held him in exceptionally high regard. I hardly knew him at all, but he was a founder of People of Faith for Peace, and I knew of him through his steadfast work with local antiwar groups. But I also knew of him from friends tracking news of his brave fight with renal cancer. He was 51. Interestingly, he only joined the ministry less than a decade ago, after spending most of his adult life working in a car factory. He only got his Divinity degree after he was diagnosed with cancer. [See below for corrections.]
Cox's death is a setback for the antiwar movement here, but things like that happen. Still, I found it bizarre that the the same issue of the paper would have an editorial column from the paper's right-wing idiot-savant Brent Castillo announcing that his wife is pregnant with what he already counts has his seventh child. His column's title is "Conservatives have fertility on their side." Of course, it's not just Castillo who's contributing to this demographic trend. He cites a study that shows that 100 random liberals have 147 children, while 100 random conservatives have 208 -- "a 40 percent fertility gap, and it's growing every year."
I suppose being a childless atheist makes this juxtaposition between the admirable but unfathomably pious Reverend and the chipper moron all the more painful. I can't argue that my concern with the fate of humanity is born of self-interest for my genes, let alone my immortal soul. What concern I do have has more to do with verifying that my understanding of how the world works tracks reality, but I'm also more concerned with what happens now than what might happen in the future -- what's happening now is pretty alarming in its own right.
Castillo dismisses liberal concerns about overpopulation, then adds, "research on the problem of overpopulation is debatable." Well, if you're dumb enough, anything can be debated. It's only when you know something that your debate options start to be limited. We actually know quite a bit about population dynamics by observing other species. It's been hard to apply that knowledge to humans mostly because human ingenuity has been able, thus far at least, to expand our resource base enough to avoid a severe crash. Julian Simon and other "cornucopians" have argued that the resource base will always expand to meet our growth needs, and that growth itself will drive this expansion. That argument is especially appealing to people of faith -- in Castillo's sense, if not necessarily in Cox's -- because it exempts them from responsibility. All Castillo has to do is have more children and God will take care of them -- unless, of course, those dastardly liberals get in the way.
This argument is frustrating, not so much because it is wrong as because its advocates are so determined to stay wrong regardless of how much worse they make things. If one group could defeat another by outbreeding them, the Palestinians would have had their way with Israel. But the Palestinian birth rate hasn't even led to positive economic growth, much less political power. And this is not just Israeli repression: all around the world high birth rates correlate with poverty, while deliberately depressed birth rates are often the springboard to economic growth -- China is the poster nation here, but is hardly alone. The reason is pretty simple: as our world becomes more complex, more dependent on science and technology, and more vulnerable to malicious disruption, parents need to put more effort into raising their children; but time and energy is limited, so it makes more sense to focus on fewer children.
Liberals understand this, even if sometimes they try to build their intuition up into a plan to save the world. Lots of real conservatives -- i.e., the kind with money to protect, as opposed to Castillo's kind -- also get this: even if they can afford the bills, they don't have more time than anyone else. The far right used to be down right eugenic about poor folks breeding, at least until they found they could gain votes attacking birth control. And rolling back the trend toward smaller families does sort of fit into their general plan to return to the robber baron age. But the world of 1880 had half as many people and twice as much easily tapped oil in the ground -- as such, they had leeway for growth that we no longer have. But even they didn't have a smooth ride ahead: the closest thing to a global disaster we've had to face so far was the Great Depression of the '30s, which led to Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, and World War.
Richard Heinberg's The Party's Over has a population growth chart that tracks pretty closely to mankind's ability to tap energy sources, principally oil. He then tries to project that chart into the future when oil supplies diminish and become increasingly, eventually prohibitively, expensive. Doing so he forsees a population drop -- not all the way back to pre-oil level, but a significant drop nonetheless. This is just one of several looming crises we'll face over the next century or two, and it's the sort of thing that no one alive today has the first bit of experience at dealing with. Makes you wonder how anyone will deal with it, much less Castillo's benighted kids.
Most likely the worst of this won't be my problem -- not that what we're seeing now isn't plenty bad already. You do what you can do, with the time you got. Gary Cox didn't get enough.
Postscript (2006-09-07): I got the following note from Leigh Cox, the wife (now widow) of Rev. Gary Cox, correcting some of my facts:
I didn't see a way to patch up what I had written above, so just noted the error, which comes around to reflect back on me. Not sure if I knew about the sales work and just passed it over in favor of the factory work. I tend to associate the latter with working class notions of solidarity, which might have affected Cox's decision to enter the ministry. On the other hand, factory work is often no more than a way to make a living, and one shouldn't read too much into it, especially for such a brief period. The sales background frames the choice somewhat differently, but that may be wrong as well. I did, of course, know that his ministry began before he was diagnosed with cancer, and that he graduated from seminary before his ministry.
Friday, August 25. 2006
This week's F5 Record Report is up on the website today. The records reviewed are:
I sent next week's column off to the editor today, so it should appear in print at the usual dropoff points here in Wichita on Wednesday, and on the web around next Friday. I'm still mostly pulling stuff that I've written previously, including some 2005 albums, but the Streets is new -- the notebook entry was useless on it -- and even the recycleds are coming in for more editing than I expected. For example, in next week's column, I picked out Bob Rockwell's Ben Webster tribute, then started wondering whether the F5 audience knows much about Webster, so I doubled the length of that review with a laundry list of essential Webster albums.
Tuesday, August 22. 2006
Billmon quotes a report on Bush's press conference, where he urged France to step up to the task of leading the UN forces in Lebanon -- you know, the ones supposed to disarm Hezbollah after Israel failed to do so:
France understands Lebanon, of course, because they ran the place following WWI under a League of Nations mandate. They did about as bad a job as the British did with their mandate in Palestine, and for pretty much the same reasons: dividing the local population into warring groups so they could appear to be the protectors of order. The only difference is that the British imported Jews to buttress their colonialism, while the French found local groups willing to be adopted -- principally the Marionite Christians and the Druse. Lebanon's civil wars follow the same pattern of local groups trying to advance their interests by allying with foreigners. That Hezbollah has looked to Iran for support fits this pattern, but it doesn't give France any special insight -- other than the memory that as long as France was in charge, the Shiites were kept at the absolute bottom of Lebanon's confessional barrel. Also the memory that the last time France sent "peacekeeping" troops like the Americans they sided with Israel and left after a devastating suicide attack.
In other words, Bush's insistence that France lead the way in disarming Lebanon is as historically deaf as the time he invited the Brits, Turks and Mongols to help the US occupy Iraq.
Monday, August 21. 2006
I spent most of my week back from Detroit playing the odd things that I picked up in the used shops north of town. So I didn't get to unpacking some of the new jazz until late in the week. Thought about slipping another week, but I figure next week doesn't look promising either -- what with Recycled Goods looming. Still, I have a few things to report here, and will have a few more next week. That's about when the 10th Jazz Consumer Guide will finally appear in the Village Voice, so it makes sense that prospecting for #11 won't move into high gear until #10 is out. Lot of promising stuff on the shelves for then.
Art Ensemble of Chicago: Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City: Live at Iridium (2004 , Pi, 2CD): Recorded a couple of months after bassist Malachi Favors passed, this selection from a long stand at New York's Iridium is intended as rebirth, renewal, survival. Jaribu Shahid, from James Carter's old Detroit quartet, is Flavors' replacement. Corey Wilkes does a pretty good job of plugging the other hole, left by the irrepressible, but evidently not irreplaceable, Lester Bowie. Roscoe Mitchell is more clearly the leader than before, but that's not such a bad thing. Not sure how high this should rate, but it's sure good to hear them. [B+(**)]
Ted Nash & Still Evolved: In the Loop (2006, Palmetto): Another album name reiterated as group name: Still Evolved is Nash's postbop quintet, with Marcus Printup on trumpet opposite Nash's tenor sax, and a rhythm section that frequently works together: Frank Kimbrough on piano, Ben Allison on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. In many ways, this is the ideal postbop group. Certainly there's much to admire here, but I find the fancy harmony and slippery rhythm indecisive, when they're probably just too subtle. B+(**)
Soft Machine Legacy: Live at the New Morning (2005 , Inakustik, 2CD): Half of the '70s lineup, with Hugh Hopper on bass and Elton Dean on alto sax or saxello, but the reunion group sounds much tougher with guitarist John Etheridge replacing Mike Ratledge's keybs. Too bad that Dean died shortly afterwards. His avant-riffing over steady grooves is a fine solution to the fusion puzzle. B+(***)
Scott McLemore: Found Music (2000 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, originally from Virginia, now makes his home in Iceland, which I suppose could be described as equally inconvenient to everywhere. He wrote all of the pieces here, providing a near-perfect left-of-mainstream postbop textbook. The band is equal to the task, with Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Ben Monder on guitar, and Ben Street on bass. Sounds a little scrawny for something so near-perfect, but maybe I'm just a bit jaded these days. B+(**)
Sebastian Noelle Quartet: Across the River (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, based in Brooklyn, don't know much more. Quartet has Ben Street on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums, with the fourth member a saxophonist, either Javier Vercher or Donny McCaslin. Based on past experience, I assume that McCaslin is the slicker, more voluble one, but I didn't check the tracks for sure. As befits a leader, Noelle is much more prominent here than Ben Monder is on Scott McLemore's similar record, and his guitar gives this a luxurious sheen. [B+(**)]
Vicente Espí Quartet: Tras Coltrane (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Any time a group covers A Love Supreme -- three-fourths of it, anyway -- they're begging for comparison with the original, which is to say they're boxing way out of their weight class. The four earlier tracks are more interesting, in large part because they have more leeway on them. But any way you look at it, the group here is pure tribute. The leader plays drums. Jesús Santandreu gets the starring role. Albert Bover plays McCoy Tyner. Paco Charlín gets the great Jimmy Garrison lines. They had fun, and if it sounds a bit old, it's just because Trane was actually a lot heavier than his postbop followers. They got that right. B+(*)
Denis DiBlasio: View From Pikes (2006, Dreambox Media): Leader plays baritone sax. Never heard of him before, but a little digging tells me he played with Maynard Ferguson in the '80s, teaches at Rowan College, and has a handful of his own albums starting in 1998. He has a trio here with piano and bass, takes most of the pieces at a leisurely pace, and lets the instruments enjoy their natural sounds. Plays a little flute too, which is more upbeat. Recorded at Maggie's Farm, with Matt Balitsaris getting an engineer credit. Not much to it, but it's a lovely album. B+(**)
Mort Weiss Meets Sam Most (2006, SMS Jazz): Title could be extended: "Recorded live at Steamers Jazz Club & Cafe"; perhaps also "With Ron Eschete', Roy McCurdy and Luther Hughes." Most is a name associated with bebop flute, although his earliest credits suggest earlier sources -- Don Redman, Tommy Dorsey, Boyd Raeburn -- and even later on he worked with older guys -- Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo, Louie Bellson. That suggests he's ancient, but 75 is more like it. He recorded several mid-'50s albums with Debut and Bethlehem, then a few more in the late-'70s with Xanadu. Most also plays a little tenor sax here, which is a plus, and sings one, which isn't. Weiss plays clarinet. A bit younger, he started with trad jazz, but fell for Charlie Parker and Buddy DeFranco, then dropped out of music in the '60s, only picking it up again when he reached the usual retirement age. This is minor, but charming, with Escheté's guitar the secret ingredient. B+(*)
Mike Boone: Yeah, I Said It . . . (2005 , Dreambox Media): At the end of this record, Boone says, "I guess one of the advantages of doing your own CD is that you can put on it whatever you want." That about sums this up: a personal memoir of a bassist who's been around at least since the early '70s but never moved into the spotlight. Twenty-two pieces here, many not much more than fragments. Eight are stories narrated by Boone, including three or four about Buddy Rich, with samples of Rich Big Band or Rich cussing in the background. The music is scattered all over the map. No band: I count sixteen different musicians on drums or percussion, none appearing more than twice, rarely two or more at once. One story about a pianist named Barry Kiener has Uri Caine tinkling in the background. The record is more interesting than good -- so much so I'm not done with it. [B]
Adam Unsworth: Excerpt This! (2006, Adam Unsworth): Young French horn player, hangs with the Philadelphia Orchestra and has some sort of association with Temple University. This is his first album, reportedly assembled from ten years of compositions. His dilligence is clear enough, but his decision to mix solo and sextet settings breaks the flow and feels like two distinct things. Not so much the problem as the limit to both parts is the horn, a rather awkward if not exactly ugly thing. The solo pieces can get tedious even when you don't doubt his skill or dexterity. But the sextet is much livelier. Les Thimmig plays bass clarinet and flutes -- contrasting horns with well-matched limits. With neither horn player overpowering, the field is rather open for someone else to stand out, and both Diane Monroe on violin and Tony Micelli on vibes make the best of their opportunities. B+(*)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Sam Bardfeld: Periodic Trespasses (2004 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Subtitled "The Saul Cycle," with Bardfield's narration slipped into a "Peter and the Wolf" flow. I can't say as I get, let alone care about, the story. The music seems to pursue flow for its own sake, with bass and drums pushing violin and vibes along. So it helps when Ron Horton's trumpet occasionally disrupts the flow, as on "Harry's Mambo" -- a choice cut. B
Ismael Dueñas: Mirage (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): This is the second piano trio I've heard from Dueñas -- liked the first one, like this one a bit more. Still, this is a tough one for me to write about -- that Guillermo Klein's liner notes are in Spanish is more an omen than an excuse. What I like is that this has some crunch to it, that it turns in unexpected ways then nails the deal down with a strong chord. B+(***)
Sunday, August 20. 2006
On Friday the Wichita Eagle published a letter written by Rabbi Michael Davis of Congregation Emanu-El here in Wichita. Davis' letter was actually a response to a previous letter written by Reverend Bob Layne, arguing that "not all Christians support the Israeli destruction of Lebanon." I don't recall Layne's letter -- the quote is taken from Davis quoting him, so I don't bother with that part of the Davis letter. But his defense of Israel's self-defense is typical stuff, and should be checked against reality. I wrote the following letter as a response. Davis' letter was about 350 words, exceptionally long for a letter in the Eagle. Mine comes in just over 600 words, which pretty much dooms it as a letter, even if the arguments passed whatever muster applies in the Eagle these days.
Even at 600-plus words, there is a lot to unpack here. My line about 1948 being "messy history" is worth a few thousand words by itself. I've been thinking a lot about the dislocations in 1948, why they happened, and what they still mean half a century later. I need to write that up at some point, but for practical purposes -- for deciding how to move forward, as opposed to understanding how we got here -- it is largely a moot point. Part of my thinking here is that since hardly anyone showed any interest in my little peace proposal, I've mostly reverted to the standard 1967 borders plan, which is backed by international law and sweetened a bit by Saudi Arabia's support. Its major selling point is that if Israel wanted peace, they could make that deal immediately with no quibbles or resentment. Many other formulations, such as the Geneva Accords, might be acceptable, but far and away the fastest and safest way to close a deal is to accept an offer already on the table. Whatever Israel might "leave on the table" by not negotiating further would be trivial. On the other hand, an up front concession on sovereignty might make it possible to make it possible to negotiate a relatively gracious transition, especially if that would aid the Palestinian economy.
On the other hand, Israel is still far away from seeking peace, especially with the Palestinians -- whose rocket technology, antitank weaponry, and guerrilla skills leave them far less formidable an opponent than Hezbollah. It's also worth noting that Gaza gets far less world press attention than Lebanon. But even in Lebanon Israel has already violated the ceasefire with a raid in the Bekka Valley, and Israel continues to weasel the wording of the UN resolution in ways likely to provoke further hostilities -- the press likes to refer to this as a "fragile ceasefire" but it's more accurate to note that the asymmetric terms are intentionally destabilizing.
Still, the extent to which Israel's war failed to meet their goals has yet to fully sink in. The fevered reaction of Israelis to rocket threats played well as propaganda, but sent a clear signal to all of Israel's opponents that rockets are an effective way to get on their nerves. So expect more rockets, possibly from all fronts, and expect more strenuous, more expensive efforts at defending against them. That Hezbollah held together under Israeli fire will inspire others. That the IDF performed so poorly makes others more eager to take them on -- we've already seen hotshots in the Syrian military eager to take the Golan Heights back by force. Syria and Iran have become more credible threats not only to Israel but to the US as well. The US has accused Syria and Iran of helping Iraq's resistance with IEDs, but Hezbollah proved to be even more effective with antitank weapons. It would be bad news if such weapons found their way into Iraq.
But Israel's military shortcomings, even given their significance under a regime that depends on nothing else, are trivial compared to Israel's political losses. The wanton destruction of Lebanon, all the more senseless given their inability to undermine Hezbollah, should leave Israel more isolated than ever. The US, hopelessly mired in Iraq and if anything losing ground in Afghanistan, is equally likely to feel the chill. Israel had in many ways attempted to style its efforts according to American interests -- what other reason was there to present war with Hezbollah as "the western front of the war with Iran"? The US has gotten a remarkably free ride of late in western Europe as well as with the usual Arab cronies, but how long can that really last?
A big part of the letter concerns what Jewish-American supporters of Israel should do. Some, of course, are neocons or crypto-fascists, so I'm not talking about them, but most aren't. Most have progressive political records here -- are good on civil rights, better still on civil liberties and church-state issues, and mostly opposed to Bush including the war in Iraq. A good many have nominal peace positions on Israel -- oppose settlements, favor two states -- but still they reflexively defend every kneejerk belligerent response that comes out of Israel's defense establishment, even though the net effect works against their supposed preferences. They really need to get smarter and start working against the unilateralist policies -- indeed, the whole Manichaean mindset that condemns all opponents as terrorists -- of the Israeli right, not only for the direct effect they might have, but to take cover away from the militarists and Armageddon groupies who seek mere profit from Israel's wars.
I don't have any idea whether there's any hope for that sort of political outreach -- I'm just an armchair theorist, not an activist. But in theory that's where I'd place my bets. Certainly, many people who supported this war have some second thinking to do.
Saturday, August 19. 2006
Robert Fisk reports that Lebanon's death toll has topped 1300. It's been obvious all along that Lebanese deaths were underreported. The increase here are newly discovered bodies, and certainly won't be the last.
The Israeli government has released a preliminary estimate of the war's cost to Israel and its economy: $5.3 billion. Again, that's a number likely to grow as longer term effects are recognized. I don't know of any authoritative estimate of damage to Lebanon. The only thing that might keep such a total under $100 billion is that Lebanon's per capita income is (or more precisely, was) less than 25% of Israel's. So dollar figure damages aren't likely to be a true measure of the difference in the damage level.
Meanwhile, there's no ceasefire in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, where Israel's attacks have killed 207 Palestinians.
AP reports that a US airstrike killed ten Afghan border policemen. Hamid Karzai complained, "I have repeatedly asked the coalition forces to take maximum caution while carrying out operations."
Friday, August 18. 2006
Seymour Hersh on the start of the Olmert war:
The war plans had been vetted and approved by the US months ahead of the event that triggered/excused the war:
Bush administration support was largely based on using Israel's war against Iranian-supported Hezbollah as an object example for a threatened US bombardment of Iran:
Given how things turned out, the obvious lesson for the US viz. Iran is to give it up. Nonetheless, Hersh quotes a "former senior intelligence official" as saying, "There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this. When the smoke clears, they'll say it was a success, and they'll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran." Hard to say, but the manifest failures will certainly stiffen resistance within the non-political ranks to yet another insane adventure.
Two bonus quotes from Hersh. The first is a history special on Kosovo, still remembered fondly by liberal hawks as some sort of humanitarian exercise. What actually happened was a good deal messier than is commonly remembered -- in fact, the place is still a strangely unsettled mess.
The other concludes the article:
I'll leave it there.
Another F5 Record Report has been posted: number three in the series. Meanwhile, I turned number four in this afternoon. Should be on the newsstands here in Wichita next Wednesday or Thursday, and up on the web next Friday. This stuff is routine enough it's almost anticlimactic to keep filing blog entries announcing them. In theory I thought I'd be recycling old reviews, so this would be a minimal work spinoff, but I keep editing, and a few of the reviews are genuinely new. The roster this time is:
PS: The link above should get you whatever piece is most recent, which in turn will have links to previous pieces.
Thursday, August 17. 2006
I see from an Amira Hass piece that Hezbollah's rockets killed 41 Israeli civilians, including 18 Israeli Arabs. That would mean that Israeli Arabs were more than twice as likely of being struck, although the odds might go down a bit if we limit the per capita calculations to the missile range. (Many Israeli Arabs live in Northern Israel, much of which the UN originally allocated to the Arab partition in 1947. The IDF conquered the territory with little resistance, resulting in few refugees. Most Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were from Jaffa, dumped there by the ever-helpful British.) I've seen reports that Israel did little or nothing to provide shelters for Israeli Arabs, a piece of negligence that should be factored into arguments about Hezbollah using Lebanese civilians as human shields.
Wikipedia reports deaths as: 43-53 Israeli civilians, 120 Israeli soldiers, 74 Hezbollah and allied militias (8 Amal, 1 PFLP-GC), 36 Lebanese soldiers, and 727-1009 Lebanese civilians. These numbers all roughly confirm my understanding: Hezbollah's rocket attacks were far less effective at killing civilians than Israel's air war; on the other hand, Hezbollah was able to put up punishing resistance to Israel's ground offensive. But the numbers also indicate different strategies: Israel's air war was focused on long-term infrastructure destruction, a form of collective punishment that moved a million people out of their homes and is likely to total hundreds of billions of dollars in economic damage, but Israel's ground war was limited to short and temporary search and destroy missions which Hezbollah made expensive. Hezbollah's goal was essentially defensive: to make Israel pay a steep price for its aggression.
But to call Hezbollah's rocket attacks defensive assumes a theory of deterence that I don't actually believe in. Deterence is a vile threat that works only when it gives both sides an excuse not to engage in war, and such excuses are only operative when both sides are disposed to avoid war. However, deterence fails when one side decides it would rather risk war. That's what happened here, and the side that took the plunge -- as the numbers clearly show -- was Israel. If you believe that nations have the right to self-defense, and that credible deterence is essentially defensive -- and those are assertions that Israel and the US have repeatedly made during this war -- you should believe that Hezbollah's rocket attacks on Israel were justified, or at least necessary. Whether it worked is something that remains to be seen -- e.g., by whether Israel sets off another volley of rockets by resuming their bombing.
Just for the record, I don't believe those things. I don't believe that Israel, or any other country, has a right to self-defense. I'm not surprised that a nation, or a group within a nation, would fight back when attacked: that behavior is deeply ingrained in human nature and indelibly carved in human history. But elevating that instinct to a right is a recipe for an unending string of atrocities. On the same grounds, I reject the idea that there is any such thing as Just War. War, by its very nature, is an engine of injustice, so profane that no provocation can justify it. War is not an extension of politics by other means, as the Clausewitz cliché has it; it is the failure of politicians by any and all means. It comes from overestimating what might be gained, from underestimating what will be lost, and from thinking in ruts -- fancy ones like the theory of deterence, or plain stupid ones like good and evil.
If I seem to favor Hezbollah in these posts, it is not because I believe that what they do is just or even productive. It's because I view them as a reflection of Israel's war machine. They were, after all, formed under and in opposition to Israel's occupation of Lebanon. They have the instinct to fight back, in large part because that's the only option Israel has been unable to thwart. And they've fought back effectively enough to back Israel down. That's certainly not the ideal way to get Israel to change its ways, but anything that limits Israel's belligerence is a positive outcome, at least on that level. The only way this conflict will end is when all sides are tired of fighting it. Hopefully, this war will show enough people how futile all these wars have been. Still, the people who faught this war are a long ways from realizing this -- especially the guy Billmon refers to as Commander Codpiece (aka President Psycho). He's so far removed from reality, the Wichita Eagle published this Crowson cartoon today:
Small, hard to read bit in the lower right corner: "He has a Plutonic relationship to reality."
Another figure in the Hass story is that the IDF has killed 188 people in Gaza -- the war that supposedly slipped onto the back burner once Lebanon. Again, Israel's strategy has been to use its overwhelming force to inflict collective punishment. The difference between Gaza and Lebanon is that the Gaza militias are far less effectively armed and organized than Hezbollah. In other words, that there's a ceasefire in Lebanon but not in Gaza is only due to Israel's recognition of opposing force. This example won't be lost on Hezbollah, or indeed on anyone tempted to take up arms against Israel or its indispensible ally, the US. Unfortunately, it won't be recognized until the cost is too dear. Unless, of course, people wise up to the way the world is working, and stop trying to force others into one's ideological fantasies. The Olmert wars offer ample evidence of this. It would be doubly tragic if we don't learn those lessons.