Tuesday, January 30. 2007
The following appeared in the Wichita Eagle today, written by Robert Pear of the New York Times:
This is news only in its naked assertion that the president has the power to direct every facet of the federal government for his own political benefit. Bush has frequently claimed extraordinary unprecedented executive power over security matters in his guise of commander in chief -- most recently in his imperious rejection of all objections to his "new way forward" in Iraq. In describing himself as "the decision maker" he presumes the right to dictate policy free of law, constitutional checks and balances, popular opinion, or even the courtesy of acknowledging our heritage. In extending these same claims to the entire federal government, he recalls the dictators and absolute monarchs of the past: Louis XIV of France expressed this most plainly: l'etat, c'est moi -- usually translated "I am the state," but more literally, "the state, that's me."
The old news is that Bush has been working on this for six years now. The most important underreported story of the period is the rout of the federal civil service that the administration has accomplished, either by directly purge or by making working conditions impossible for anyone with a conscience and a sense of professional responsibility. TomDispatch has run several lists of names (parts 1, 2, 3), but that just scratches the surface. Another facet to the purge is the privatization of government functions, which allows them to be used as patronage plums. The "faith-based initiatives" and the "reconstruction of Iraq" are among the better-known examples of Bush cronyism. Most of this has been oriented toward keeping Bush's corporate sponsors satisfied, but recent reports show the administration working to get rid of inconvenient prosecutors, such as the one who put Duke Cunningham in jail.
Bush has done most of this under cover of war, with effective control of Congress and an embarrassingly complaisant media, so one question now is why did he "decide" to rub it in. It's almost like he's daring Congress to impeach him.
John Edwards made a campaign stop -- via satellite, I gather -- in Herzliya recently, where he rededicated himself to sucking up to Israel's anti-Iran warmongers. His comments are frightening and stupefying. For example:
It's hard to know how serious Edwards is about all this. He's been plainly critical of Bush's Iraq misadventure, and he's admitted his own mistake in voting for the use of force authorization that Bush took as license to invade. On the other hand, it's not clear that he's learned anything from his mistakes. In particular, he hasn't learned the need to couch his words to give him the wiggle room he would need as president to maneuver in a region where the US faces declining power and increasing risk. The only way the US can regain any measure of respect is to bring Israel, kicking and screaming if need be, to peace and justice. Edwards' utter lack of concern with just those issues all but disqualifies him from the task.
On the other hand, it's worth noting that Edwards' website has nothing, at least on the home page, on the Herzliyah comments, or for that matter on Israel or Iran. That suggests he doesn't see those issues as central to his campaign -- the lead piece is on the minimum wage. That also suggests another level of shallowness. Edwards, quite famously, is a lawyer. He put a good speech together in the 2004 campaign and rode it to the #2 spot on the Democratic ticket, but once he got there he lost it. Instead of adding some badly needed populism, he simply became Kerry's mouthpiece -- a task so thankless he couldn't even hold his own vs. Cheney. His willingness to say whatever the situation suggests may make for a successful lawyer, but it also makes him look and sound like an empty shell. America doesn't need a lawyer (although Bush and his mob do). America needs a statesman, which leaves folks like Edwards out.
Monday, January 29. 2007
I should be further along than I am, but I spent this past week on Recycled Goods, including a few recycled jazz releases, which make up the bulk of what I have to report here. Will keep working in that vein for a few more days, but the new jazz is piling up alarmingly. Don't know when I'll turn the corner. This has been a difficult month on almost every front -- including blogging, which hasn't been so sparse since my last long road trip, couple of years ago (hard to even remember which year at this point).
Note: The Riverside Profiles series continues Concord's sacking of Fantasy's catalog, picking out five artists who worked for Riverside Records. Previous Profiles have appeared for Prestige, Stax, and Specialty. Two of these five previously appeared in a pre-Concord The Best Of series (Thelonious Monk and Chet Baker) but unlike the Prestige Profiles, the compilations are different this time: mostly shorter, around 60 minutes vs. 80. That's not such a bad thing, given that this sort of thing is really only useful for people who don't know or much care about the original albums. The other thing to note is that the sets all come with the same even-more-useless label sampler, adding cuts by Bobby Timmons, Charlie Byrd, and Art Blakey to the big five. I mention it under Monk, but ignore the "bonus disc" otherwise, not even describing these as 2-CD sets.
Thelonious Monk: Riverside Profiles (1955-59 , Riverside): From Brilliant Corners to Town Hall, Monk's Riversides were his growth period, in many cases taking early songs and finding new ways of orchestrating them -- most notably aided by saxophonists named Hawkins, Coltrane, Rollins, Griffin, and Rouse. Ten cuts from ten albums, most deserving to be heard at far greater length. Come with a generic Riverside bonus disc, including "Bemsha Swing" -- which I would have preferred here to the solo pieces, or the Ellington. A-
Cannonball Adderley: Riverside Profiles (1958-62 , Riverside): A useful, typically breezy selection of cuts from a series of uneventful albums, distinguished by the warm tone and ingratiating dynamics of the leader's alto sax. Also by guests like Milt Jackson, and songs like "This Here" and "Work Song" by band members -- the latter by brother Nat, who often stands out. B+(**)
Chet Baker: Riverside Profiles (1958-59 , Riverside): A narrow slice of Baker's discography, transitional between his important Pacific Jazz 1952-57 recordings, where is made his name as a cool trumpeter and wan vocalist, and his long exile in Europe -- one cut here stands him up against "fifty Italian strings," and another features a pick-up band in Milan. Only two easy-going vocals, lots of lovely trumpet. I like this mix better than Riverside's previous The Best of Chet Baker, which shares five songs. A-
Bill Evans: Riverside Profiles (1958-63 , Riverside): Like Thelonious Monk, Evans did his major work for Riverside, his Complete Riverside Recordings amassing 12 discs, just shy of Monk's 15. Monk was by far the more radical player, which in retrospect makes him much easier to grasp. He had a knack for putting notes in wrong places, arguing his case obstreperously, eventually winning. Evans, on the other hand, seemed to always work within the lines, finding right notes no one could doubt. So while I recommend going straight to the original albums for Monk, this survey strikes me as a useful primer. The first eight cuts are trios, so they flow evenly even though Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian -- already the sneakiest drummer in jazz -- stand out. The last two cuts are a group with Freddie Hubbard and Jim Hall and a solo piece -- a good one-two punch to close this out. A
Wes Montgomery: Riverside Profiles (1959-63 , Riverside): His soft metallic tone, intricate lines, and irrepressible groove made him the premier jazz guitarist of his times and immensely influential ever since. His Complete Riverside Recordings box totals 12 discs at the peak of a shortened career -- he died in 1968 at age 43 -- so this should be prime, but it's also rather spotty, with organ grinds and strings, and others frequently stealing the spotlight. B+(***)
Kenny Dorham: Trompeta Toccata (1964 , Blue Note): A hard bop trumpeter very fond of Latin rhythms, something he explored in 1955's Afro-Cuban (Blue Note) and returned to frequently, including this his last album; Joe Henderson is a tower of strength on tenor sax, and Tootie Heath's cymbals suffice for the clave. B+(*)
Lee Morgan: The Cooker (1957 , Blue Note): Relatively early, in fact still in his teens, but Morgan's trumpet sound is loud and clear, contrasting brilliantly with Pepper Adams' baritone sax, with a young Bobby Timmons on piano. B+(**)
Freddie Hubbard: Here to Stay (1962 , Blue Note): The younger generation of hard boppers hard at work, with Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton and Reggie Workman, with Philly Joe Jones the only over-30, offering a sleekly modern take, even of standard fare like "Body and Soul." Cut between Impulse albums at a time when it seemed he could do no wrong, this sat on the shelf until 1976. B+(***)
Johnny Griffin: The Congregation (1957 , Blue Note): A bebop tenor saxophonist given to heavy blowing sessions, this quartet layers his big bold sound over Sonny Clark's free-flowing piano, a simple formula that pays off handsomely. A-
Bobby Hutcherson: Happenings (1966 , Blue Note): A quartet matching the leader's vibes with Herbie Hancock's piano, the latter taking the lead on a pair of lovely slow pieces, while the vibes run off with the fast ones; Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" gets an especially sensitive reading. A-
Jackie McLean: Demon's Dance (1967 , Blue Note): The last of McLean's Blue Notes is a bright, breezy, bop quintet with newcomers Woody Shaw and Jack DeJohnette standing out -- the sort of quickie he made routinely a decade earlier at Prestige, but with his mastery all the more evident. B+(***)
Ike Quebec: It Might As Well Be Spring (1961 , Blue Note): Great name, but a spotty career, cutting r&b 78s for Blue Note and Savoy in the late '40s, then reappearing from 1958-62, specializing in soul jazz 45s, before dying of lung cancer in 1963, age 44. All along he may have been more notable as Blue Note's a&r guy, recruiting Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, and many more. He played on Monk's early "genius" recordings, sounding confused. But by 1960 he developed a rich, lustrous tone to his tenor sax, and his blues and ballads bring out the joyous warmth of the instrument. This quartet with Freddie Roach on organ and Milt Hinton on bass has two originals that go down easy, but it's the well-worn standards that shine: "Lover Man," "Ol' Man River," "Willow Weep for Me," and the title track. A-
Billy Cobham's Glass Menagerie: Stratus (1981 , Inak): Fusion group, with electric keyboards, bass and guitar. Mike Stern plays the latter, but the tone that really dominates is Michal Urbaniak's violin -- electric too, natch. B
The Vandermark 5: Free Jazz Classics Vols. 3 & 4 (2003-04 , Atavistic, 2CD): All the maybes at the end of Ken Vandermark's liner notes might make you think he's giving up on this series of explorations into the free jazz tradition, which would be a shame. Originally released as bonus discs in early runs of four Vandermark 5 albums from Acoustic Machine to Elements of Style, Vols. 1 & 2 (2000-01 , Atavistic, 2CD) essayed pioneer pieces from Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry to Joe McPhee and Julius Hemphill, while Vols. 3 & 4 focus on two saxophonist-composers not of the movement but so creative they couldn't help but parallel it: Sonny Rollins and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The recognizable themes give you a more accessible framework than usual -- with free jazz every clue helps -- but in the end the band makes all the difference. With two great saxophonists and a trombonist who loves to get down and dirty, they can spin on a dime, punch the chords up, or blow them apart. A
Corbett Vs. Dempsey: Eye & Ear (1943-2004 , Atavistic): Corbett vs. Dempsey is actually an art gallery in Chicago, named for principals Jon Corbett and Jim Dempsey. The record is Corbett's arrangement of old jazz, avant jazz, and divers sound effects for a show dubbed "Artist <-> Musician." The soundtrack was originally released for sale at the show, and has been picked up by Atavistic -- Corbett produces their invaluable Unheard Music Series. Interesting scholarship, as always, but it's less clear what we're listening to, let alone why. Pee Wee Russell and Dave Coleman are old meant to sound older; Sun Ra offers a pathetic little vocal; Han Bennink adds silence as much as divers percussion; Hal Rommel's random noise tape weaves and dazes, as advertised. B
Once again, no final grades/notes on records put back for further listening. Looks like about three dozen of them on the shelf in front of me.
Thursday, January 25. 2007
I've been working on compiling a list of recent political books, and ran across this little item. Someone named Rod Dreher has a book called Crunchy Cons (Crown) which champions a species of conservative that is out-of-goosestep with the political right these days. Dreher includes "A Crunchy Con Manifesto":
Actually, at least some new lefties managed to see common ground and complementary perspectives in both right-identified (libertarian) and left-identified (communitarian) anarchists -- the Murray Rothbards and Murray Bookchins, if you will. I can't say as I ever had the least bit of interest in Russell Kirk, but aside from that there's not much obviously wrong with this manifesto. The big realization in #3 starts you off on a critique of power itself. The idea that there's anything outside of politics and economics puts you somewhere beyond Marx and Smith and all the other dismal scientists. I'm still not inclined to use words like "authentic truth" and "beauty" because they still strike me as overly arbitrary and often prejudicial, but I've come to respect conventional standards much more than I used to. So these Crunchy Cons seem like decent folks. A little weird, but hey, we don't all hatch from the same eggs.
Tuesday, January 23. 2007
I was a skeptic on global warming for a long time. It's not so much that I doubted the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as that I figured both the carbon cycle and the translation of greenhouse gases into actual weather were much more complex than the models presumed. That skepticism wasn't exactly ill-founded, but ultimately washed out in the noise. My other great doubt, about what the actual impacts (and plural is necessary here) of the climat changes (again plural) will be is still very much in play, but that some people (and many other species) will get hurt bad seems certain.
The book that brought these lessons home for me was Bill McKibben's The End of Nature, although it certainly helped that I read it during an uncomfortable trip to Florida in August. I figured it was time for an update, so I picked up Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth (2006, Atlantic Monthly Press). I figured I had already read most of the other new book, Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change in The New Yorker, and could get the condensed version of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth in movie form.
I didn't bother marking any quotes in the front of the book, probably because a lot of it rehearses well known information. First quote I marked summed up a long series of events (p. 140):
Of course, the other factor that pushes the insurance issues to the top is the sheer amount of development. If humans were scarce and mobile, as they were in the stone age, most could adjust, moving on to more hospitable climes. But settlement locks us down, and the expropriation of so many of nature's niches makes us vulnerable to damage to each and every one. Insurance is also an issue because it seems likely that private risk insurance will not survive -- more and more the costs of disasters are being dumped onto government, and despite the usual anti-entitlement warnings of the right most people the need for government to settle accounts. On the other hand, in the US at least we live in a political system that favors private interests over public, and that is to a large extent dominated by private-interest lobbyists. It is, for instance, much easier for the coal industry to establish a lobbying presence in support of a limited but easily quantifiable set of economic goals than for those affected by burning coal -- victims of environmental and climate damage, pretty much everyone, but with a much weaker individual motivation.
Monday, January 22. 2007
Tom Engelhart writes about Bush:
I'm reminded here of the story Ron Susskind told of how Bush's belief in how force clarifies things guided his approach to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Such a single-minded devotion to the power of violence is actually rather anomalous among Americans today. Among individuals it strikes many of us as downright neurotic, and when pursued to the exclusion of all other approaches as it fails on every level, criminal even. Yet through a bizarre series of circumstances this neurosis has been elevated to national policy.
I'm reading a book by Ira Chernus now, Monsters to Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin, which tracks the neocon will to war back to a primal fear of sin. There's a danger this line of reasoning will bring back the Reichian notion that finds the roots of violence in sexual dysfunction. Long ago I developed an intense dislike for psychological explanations of human behavior. It's a sad state of affairs when such behavior can be explained so simplistically. But then no one ever doubted that Bush was a simple man. They just couldn't comprehend it.
Spent most of the week quickly running through new new stuff -- no replays this week, although I expect to shift toward them in the next week. Also starting to take a look at advances, which I don't much like either on principle or in practice. Some of the advances are just like the final product except for the usual punch holes and scratched UPC codes, so the only problem there is that I don't know whether to wait until the record becomes available or go ahead and review it when I get to it. What I've decided to do there is to go ahead, but at the end of the review I'll note the street date if it's still in the future. Some labels like Zoho manage to provide these well in advance. The other group bear little or no relation to the final product. I've started to flag those as "[promo]" in the credits at the top. In some cases, like Blue Note, these are honest advance copies, with real packages to follow. In others, like Palmetto, they are cheap replicas, the only shot I get at listening to the record. Other labels fall in between. I didn't realize until recently that I have half-a-dozen ECM promos piled up, some old by now -- they used to follow up with finished copies, and I was just waiting for them. Since I came up with this scheme in the middle of the week, I'm not sure I've applied it in all cases below.
Wayne Wallace: Dedication (2006, Patois): San Francisco trombonist, born 1952, teaches, mostly plays Latin, although some of this is in a straighter jazz vein. Actually, he provides a thumbnail breakdown: jazz (4), latin (2), ballad (1), tone poem (1, a Coltrane piece Wallace doesn't play on; it's done with Asian flutes), bossa nova (1), afro/jazz (1). The groups run large, often with trumpet, two trombones (Jeff Cressman is the other), flute, three saxes, bass, piano, drums, congas, timbales, and/or other percussion. I find all this layered complexity often just cancels itself out, although I do enjoy the trombone when I can make it out. B
Wayne Wallace: The Reckless Search for Beauty (2006 , Patois): This one works better, probably because it hews more consistently to the latin groove, with its undercurrent of percolating percussion and choppy blasts of brass. The one break is Ellington's "Chromatic Love Affair," described as a bolero, but basically one of his dreamy suite things rendered gorgeously. The other big difference here is the presence of Alexa Weber-Morales' vocals. She's credited with leads on six tracks -- most memorably on Bill Withers' "Use Me." [B+(***)]
Nanny Assis: Double Rainbow (2006, Blue Toucan): Brazilian percussionist from Bahia; sings a couple of originals, a range of soft sambas and such like -- one from Carlhinos Brown is described as "Brazilian rap," but you could have fooled me -- and one piece by Seal. The cover and most of the booklet photos feature him with guitar, but the credits only list him once on acoustic guitar. Hard for me to pin down whatever it is that may separate this from the norm. B
Hendrik Meurkens: New York Samba Jazz Quintet (2005 , Zoho): Born in Hamburg, Germany in 1957; moved to the US in 1977, first to Berklee in Boston, then on to New York. He plays Brazilian music with the single-minded devotion of a native. His instruments are vibes and harmonica. Over time the ratio has shifted in favor of harmonica, at least two-to-one here. I've never cared much for his work in the past, but this is a sharp group -- "New York" is an intenstifying adjective, putting a charge into samba that is often lacking -- and his leads stand out on both instruments. His harmonica is especially revelatory. The instrument's range, tone, and sweep is such that it's curious how few jazz musicians have taken it up -- Toots Thielemans has pretty much had the field to himself, but he's hardly been an obscurity, winning "miscellaneous instrument" polls with absurd ease. Records like this should open some ears. B+(**)
Pablo Aslan: Buenos Aires Tango Standards (2006 , Zoho): Argentine bassist, lives in New York, but recorded this in Buenos Aires. Group is a quintet, unknown to me, presumably all Argentine: Gustavo Bergalli on trumpet, Jorge Retamoza on tenor and baritone sax, Abel Rogantini on piano, Daniel Piazzolla on drums (Astor's grandson). The songs are putative tango classics, but the jazz instrumentation, especially the absence of bandoneon, shifts them out of their natural element. The main effect is to exaggerate the choppiness of the music. Very interesting stuff. Aslan has a previous album called Avantango. This makes me even more curious about it. [B+(***)] [Feb 13]
Scott Colley: Architect of the Silent Moment (2005 , Cam Jazz): A bassist working in New York. I hadn't noticed him until he won a Downbeat TDWR, then quickly discovered him damn near everywhere: AMG credits him with 139 albums since 1986, although the hype sheet just claims 80. This is his 7th as a leader. I've played it several times, but still don't much get what's going on -- a common problem I have with the cutting edge of the not-so-avant-garde. I could quote David Ake's liner notes on the importance of the recorded jazz tradition, but there's a shortage of info on the music. Don't know which guests play on which tracks, although Gregoire Maret's harmonica is obvious, and the others shouldn't be too hard to pick out -- the only instrument intersect is piano with Craig Taborn and Jason Moran, and how hard can that be? What I do like, quite a bit, is Ralph Alessi's trumpet. The rest is more work, possibly rewarding. [B+(**)] [Jan 30]
Charles Tolliver Big Band: With Love (2006 , Blue Note/Mosaic): I reckon that Tolliver's reemergence is a dividend of Andrew Hill's accession to living legend status, given the trumpeter's prominence on Hill records old and new. Tolliver appeared on numerous avant-leaning Blue Note recordings in the late '60s, but his own work was limited to his own very limited Strata East label -- The Ringer (1969) is a personal favorite, but it's about the only one I know. (I haven't heard the recent 3-CD Mosaic Select box, which picks up live tracks from 1970 and 1973.) Tolliver's discography shows little after 1975, at least until he reappeared on Hill's Time Lines. Unfortunately, his new record is a loud and brassy big band thang. I don't much care for it: the high energy parts don't move me even when they're bruising, the solos lack finesse, and there's no groove to hang things on. It will be interesting to see how this is received. B
Torben Waldorff Quartet: Brilliance: Live at 55 Bar NYC (2006, ArtistShare): Guitarist, born in Denmark although his home turf seems to lap over into Sweden. Two previous albums with Danish/Swedish groups, unheard by me. The guitarist does a nice enough job here, but the main interest will be McCaslin, who throttles back from his usual overwhelming performance and carries the album anyway, always seeming to be in the right place at the right time. B+(***)
Peter Primamore: Grancia (2006 , Blue Apples Music): Pianist from New Jersey, probably in his 40s, first record, background includes: Neil Young tribute band on Jersey shore, a gamelan ensemble at Cornell, lounge piano in Atlantic City. AMG classified this as easy listening. On listening to it, I shuttled it off to my new age file. In fairness, he does rock a bit, on a piece called "Free Western." This is composed and neatly layered instrumental music -- mostly strings (including Chieli Minucci's guitars, a quartet, and harp), soft reeds (clarinets, flutes, oboe), percussion -- with no jazz feel. Often pleasant, at times lovely. B-
Steve Herberman Trio: Action:Reaction (2006, Reach Music): DC-based guitarist, plays 7-string. Second album, with Drew Gress on bass, Mark Ferber on drums. PR comes with laudatory quotes from Gene Bertoncini, Jimmy Bruno, and Jim Hall. The trio setting does a nice job of setting up the guitar, offering a clean, clear exposition. Will keep this open -- for now he doesn't particularly remind me of anyone else, including his fans. Good rhythm section. [B+(**)]
Brad Shepik Trio: Places You Go (2005-06 , Songlines): Guitarist-led organ trio, with Gary Versace on the B-3 and Tom Rainey on drums. As such, the group leans more avant and more exotic than most such, but inevitably the organ takes center stage, which brings out its limited range but deep well of church and funk. The result is awkward and rather unsatisfying, although it's hard to pin this on the guitar or drums, or for that matter even the tastefully restrained organ. B [Feb 13]
John Pisano's Guitar Night (1997-2006 , Mel Bay, 2CD): Guitar Night is every Tuesday at Spazio's in Sherman Oaks CA -- at least that's where all the recordings from 2001 on come from. Pisano hosts one or more guest guitarists, usually with a revolving set of bassists and drummers. Pisano's first Guitar Night was in 1997 at Papashon, with George Van Eps and Herb Ellis early guests. Picking 16 cuts from a decade, Guitar Night features 12 guitarists plus Pisano on roughly half of the cuts. Pisano's own credits include work with Chico Hamilton in 1956-58 and a current duo with vocalist-wife Jeanne dba the Flying Pisanos. I'm not familiar with most of the guitarists here -- Peter Bernstein, Joe Diorio, and Larry Koonse are the exceptions, aside from Ellis and Van Eps -- and they sort of flow together. A good thing, I'd say, a delight for anyone into the intricate inner workings of postbop jazz guitar. B+(*)
The Stryker/Slagle Band: Latest Outlook (2006 , Zoho): Steve Slagle strikes me as the model of what a good postbop alto saxophonist should sound like, which among more postive traits admits that he lacks the individuality of Braxton, Coleman, Konitz, or McLean. He sounds terrific here, even though he doesn't do anything unexpected. Dave Stryker is a similarly virtuous, not to say virtuosic, guitarist. Separately or together they recorded a long string of first rate records for Steeplechase, of which the best are together, and this is another. Joe Lovano, who like Slagle came up in Woody Herman's band, drops in for two cuts. His harmony adds a bit, and his solo a bit more. B+(***) [Mar 13]
The Four Bags: Live at Barbès (2006, NCM East): Quartet. Second album. Very unusual instrumentation: trombone (Brian Drye), accordion (Jacob Garchik), electric guitar (Sean Moran), soprano sax/clarinet/bass clarinet (Michael McGinnis). I recalled Garchik as playing trombone, as on his pretty good debut album Abstracts (2005, Yestereve), and that's how his website identifies him. Originals by all four. Covers include one from Arnold Schoenberg, who also gets rather belated thanks. Given the instruments and influences, it's not surprising that this comes off choppy, rhythmically unhinged. Very interesting sound. Could wear on you after a while. We'll see. [B+(**)]
Exploding Star Orchestra: We Are All From Somewhere Else (2006 , Thrill Jockey): This is cornetist Rob Mazurek, better known as the cornerstone of Chicago Underground Duo, Trio, and Quartet. This, his big Sun Ra move, could have been attributed to the Chicago Underground Big Band. Two multi-part pieces called "Sting Ray and the Beginning of Time" and "Cosmic Tones for Sleep Walking Lovers" and a one-part interlude called "Black Sun." Starts out in fine orbit before it cracks up a bit, then wanders off into a cloud of microscopic space dust. Eventually the cosmic tones start to emerge -- something else I guess we can blame on flutes. Not unlike the man from Saturn, the best parts sound fabulous; not so sure about the rest. [B+(**)]
Mike Dillon's Go-Go Jungle: Battery Milk (2006 , Hyena): Plays vibes and percussion in a bunch of more/less related bands, including Critters Buggin, Garage A Trois, the Malachy Papers, Billy Goat, Hairy Apes BMX, and the Dead Kenny Gs, as well as side credits with MC 900 Ft Jesus, Brave Combo, Pigface, Karl Denson, Les Claypool, and Sex Mob. There must be some kind of genre label for this sort of thing, but experimental rock doesn't convey how pop it is, and fusion leaves one wondering what sources it's trying to put together. A couple of raps, an Aaron Neville soul ballad, various groove pieces, cultural critique ("Stupid Americans"), and one for Bush ("Bad Man"). B+(**) [Jan 30]
The Leonisa Ardizzone Quartet: Afraid of the Heights (2006 , Ardijenn Music): She has an M.Ed. in Science Education, an Ed.D. in International Educational Development with a "doctoral concentration . . . in Peace Education," and a day job as Executive Director of Salvadori Center, which "introduces children to the beauty, wonder and logic of architecture and engineering as a way of helping them to master mathematics, science, arts and the humanities." She also moonlights as a jazz singer, in a duo with guitarist Chris Jennings, here augmented with bass and drums. Standards-oriented, but not ready for cabaret: starts with a scat on "Anthropology," adds new words to "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," adds a yarn to "Autumn Leaves," deftly navigates one by Jobim, offers a couple of songs by group members, winds up with a wispy "You Go to My Head." Like her voice, phrasing, and wit. The band is never intrusive and the guitar is a plus when I notice it. LP length, short and sweet. B+(***)
Fay Victor Ensemble: Cartwheels Through the Cosmos (2006 , ArtistShare): Distracting trying to write about Leonisa Ardizzone while listening to this: both are jazz singers backed by guitar-bass-drums trios, and both move beyond the norm, but that's where the similarities end. Ardizzone is a novice with an unknown band working off the standards. Victor and Ensemble are something else. She has one of those deep voices that so impress jazz writers, closer to Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln than Sarah Vaughan. That's not my idea of a plus -- I'm not a big fan of any of them, even when I can recognize what wows everyone else -- but it stands her apart from most vocalists, and she makes it work -- if not with Vaughan's precision, at least with a good deal of Carter's daring. Her songs go even further off the beaten path, with elaborate phrasing wrapped around convoluted melodies -- not something I'm inclined to like, but her band set them up impressively. Bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Michael TA Thompson are dependable avant players. I'm not familiar with the guitarist, but I've been playing guitar albums all week, and Anders Nilsson's the first one I want to hear more from. Complex, ambitious record. [A-]
Melissa Stylianou: Sliding Down (2006, Festival): Canadian jazz singer, based in Brooklyn. Third album, although this one is listed as Canada-only. Makes nice work of a couple of old standards ("Them There Eyes," "All of You") and offers a refreshing take on the Beatles' "Blackbird." The early going benefits from light latin percussion, but she doesn't hold our interest when she slows down, and the originals don't give her a lot to work with. B
Tony DeSare: Last First Kiss (2006 , Telarc): It may not be fair to treat him as another Sinatra wannabe. He plays piano some, although he gives way to Tedd Firth on five cuts here, and he writes a bit, including the title cut. He's especially adept at going soft, as on an "How Deep Is the Ocean?" reduced to the barest simmer, or his own delicate "Lover's Lullaby." He takes two rock pieces -- Prince's "Kiss" and Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move"; I thought about saying contemporary but on average they're older than he is -- and pares them down to his niche, but he's more comfortable with the old stuff. Bucky Pizzarelli plays guitar. Five cuts have horns, including an underused but invaluable Harry Allen. Two albums down, he's my favorite of the wannabes -- except for Diana Krall, who already is. B+(***) [Jan 23]
Kendra Shank: A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook (2005 , Challenge): Jazz singer, fourth album, plays guitar elsewhere but not here. Not sure what the relationship to Abbey Lincoln is, other than mutual admiration, but she does 11 Lincoln songs here. Lincoln may be my least favorite female jazz singer ever, so I'm not at all sure where to start here. Maybe that the music has a distinctly modern jazz flair to it, and that Shank's relatively moderate voice -- that is, compared to Lincoln's; it's still arch compared to most cabaret singers, but that may be a function of the music -- never trips up or grates. I should give this more time, but after three plays I doubt that will be cost-effective. I should give Lincoln another chance at some point, which this makes me dread a bit less. Gary Giddins wrote the liner notes. B+(*) [Feb 13]
Steve Kuhn Trio: Live at Birdland (2006 , Blue Note [promo]): Piano trio with Ron Carter and Al Foster. A little bit of this and a little bit of that, skipping from Fats Waller to a Debussy-Strayhorn medley to Charlie Parker, and on for 75 minutes. Don't have much to say about it, least of all anything negative. [B+(***)] [Feb 20]
Tia Fuller: Healing Space (2006 , Mack Avenue [promo]): From Colorado, plays alto sax and flute, has a group with three other women: pianist Miki Hayana, bassist Miriam Sullivan, drummer Kim Thompson. One previous album, Pillar of Strength, which I haven't heard, and AMG doesn't list. Sean Jones and Ron Blake also appear here, and someone (presumably Fuller) sings two. Given that she plays in Beyoncé band, I figured this would come out smoother, but it's actually fairly dense and complex postbop. [B+(*)] [Feb 20]
No final grades/notes this week on records I put back for further listening the first time around. The shelf there is piling up, so I need to start sorting through them soon.
I've always been a slow reader, so I'm surprised to find how far my reading has outpaced my book postings. This week's Michael Klare post was based on two books I've read recently about peak oil. I've been promising to post some quotes from these books for quite a while now, but keep putting it off. How bad this has gotten is indicated by the books are now on lines 24-25 of my "recent reading" list. (Klare's is line 23.) One thing that slows me down is trying to write something between the quotes to connect them together -- a progressively harder task as memory fades. So to get things going, I may skip the notes and just provide the page references.
In this as in previous and future posts, the quotes are simply things that struck me as worth flagging for future reference. The reasons vary: some provide new (for me, anyway) info, while others merely sum up; some are well stated, while others are spectacularly dumb. The quotes are not necessarily representative of the books, and in total do not constitute book reviews.
The first book is Kenneth S. Deffeyes' Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert's Peak (2005 [2006 paperback], Hill and Wang). I've read a number of books on oil over the years, ranging from Daniel Yergin's massive history The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power to Rick Bass's novel Oil Notes. I recognized Deffeyes from John McPhee's Basin and Range, which had more to do with gold than oil, but it turns out that Deffeyes cut his teeth working for Shell Oil, where he knew M. King Hubbert. Hubbert came up with a model for predicting how much oil will be found and can be pumped out over time. Hubbert's model predicted that US oil production would peak around 1970, after which it would decline, leaving a bell-shaped plot. His model proved accurate. Subsequent attempts to apply the same model to oil worldwide come up with predictions ranging from 2000 to 2010 -- Deffeyes argues for 2005.
I've also read Deffeyes' previous book, Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage (2001 [2003 paperback], Princeton University Press), which is reduced to two schematic chapters here ("Where Oil Comes From" and "The Hubbert Method"). The rest of the book offers a rather breezy survey of possible alternatives to oil: gas, coal, tar sands/oil shales, nuclear, hydrogen. I didn't mark anything from those sections, although it's worth noting that he rather likes nuclear, and offers a brief defense of the Yucca Mountain dump.
A couple of summary comments (pp. xv-xvi):
A general description on what oil's been good for (pp. 5-6):
A note on the rise and fall of empires, a theme also developed by Kevin Phillips, whose American Theocracy also focuses on oil (pp. 179-180):
A note on oil geopolitics (p. 180):
Deffeyes is one of the prime movers of the peak oil model, but his books don't stray very far from geology and closely related science and business. Richard Heinberg's The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (2003 [2005 paperback], New Society) goes much further. I've thumbed through a lot of books on what happens as oil supplies constrict, and this one struck me as the one to read. I'll go further and say that it's impressed me more powerfully than any other book I've read in the last couple of years. The point that impressed me so was not that oil would run out or what would happen then, but how closely the growth of human population and industry since 1850 has tracked the increase in petroleum use. This has some rather chilling implications.
Heinberg has a couple of other books that I haven't read (yet). Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World was written after this one, expanding on the brief summary of alternative energy sources here. The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse came out last fall, expanding on the helpful practical suggestions that seem to be obligatory in doom and gloom books these days. I reckon that both are worth taking seriously. Meanwhile, the quotes:
Starts out with a discussion of anthopology and energy use (p. 20):
One of the most striking things in the book is this comparison of two charts -- the top one of oil production up to and projected after the peak, the bottom one of world population (p. 31):
The idea that world population might reduce in the future is most disturbing -- almost totally unexpected. Heinberg doesn't discuss how this might happen; it's merely an implication from his analysis that the rising availability of cheap energy was what made the population explosion possible in the first place. However, when you consider how energy intense the agriculture that supports the current population has become, removing that energy is bound to have some impact.
An aside on Iraq, c. 1990 (p. 80):
Business analysis similar to the Deffeyes quote above (p. 93):
Heinberg provides a good survey of the peak oil literature, including Deffeyes, and of its opponents, who he groups under the rubric of "cornucopians" -- Peter Huber is an example. It is interesting that the peak oil theorists are mostly geologists, whereas the cornucopians tend to specialize in physics and/or engineering, and are mostly popular science writers. An aside on Hubbert (p. 100):
On depletion rates (p. 112):
Needless to say, events since the book was written may have pushed Iraq's peak back even further. It is one of the many counterproductive aspects of US strategy that by preventing Iraq (and Iran) from fully exploiting their oil reserves during the run-up to the oil peak, we will significantly increase their profits once they are finally able to pump their oil.
Heinberg attempts some political analysis -- I won't bother with quoting his "political theory of the Left," which isn't so sharp, and in any case is of less practical import (p. 205):
I marked a few quotes from Heinberg's Klare-like survey of US oil foreign policy, which in retrospect don't appear all that interesting. But this summary leads into his new book (p. 270):
The book ends with a section called "Managing the Collapse: Strategies and Recommendations." My interest flags in sections like that, especially when they degenerate into lists of good things individuals can do. But I am struck by the sheer quantity of thought and effort that has already developed around this issue, as well as the convergent matter of global warming. The two issues converge in that both argue for the need to reduce and minimize fossil fuel consumption -- on the one hand because supplies are finite and dwindling, on the other because burning carbon is harmful on its own. These both dovetail into the big question of economic growth. As Marx had no trouble admitting, capitalism has proved remarkably efficient at driving economic growth -- one example being the speed with which we have burned up the buried carbon of geological eons. If, as Heinberg argues, such growth was enabled and is now limited by the finite supply of oil, then capitalism itself may have outlived its usefulness, and may need to be consigned to a somewhat more limited sphere of human activity.
I have several more oil-related books on the shelf, including Matthew R. Simmons' Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, which looks particularly attractive (albeit somewhat daunting, sizewise) for its geologic detail. Another more general book is Thom Hartmann's The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight -- an evocative image, although I'm more skeptical of the book, not least because the subtitle promises a lot of what we can do before it's too late. The New Yorker has an interesting profile on Amory Lovins, who has a book called Winning the Oil Endgame. The piece followed Lovins to Davos where he tried to give a copy away to Warren Buffett. But the book looks kind of pricey to me. Lovins is part of Paul Hawken's "Natural Capitalism" crowd, who are probably OK, but even if it's true, one quickly tires of reading about how much money can be made by conducting business responsibly.
Still, this is important stuff. Even if the sort of "controlled collapse" Heinberg advocates is psychologically impossible for the movers and shakers of American business and politics -- and the evidence that it is is pretty overwhelming -- it's good to know that saner paths were available.
Saturday, January 20. 2007
Whenever I read Michael Klare I'm reminded of a scene I witnessed at a leftist academic conference back in the '70s. Martin Jay had published a book on the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Horkheimer, etc.) based on his research there. Andrew Arato fielded a question with a deft, effortlessly offhand comment that it was Jay who had done the research in that area, but unfortunately he didn't understand it. That in a nutshell is the problem with Klare: nobody has spent more time researching the intersection of oil and imperial politics, but he hasn't managed to understand the most basic aspects of the problem. For example, in his "Is Energo-fascism in Your Future?" piece at TomDispatch he writes:
First problem here is that demand and supply are reversed. Oil is a peculiar combination of pure commodity and monopoly rent. It is a commodity because it's all pretty much the same, at least once it's been refined, e.g. to gasoline. Even there, it's not that we actually care about it per se: it's just a means to do something else that we want, like to drive a car, or to mow a lawn. To the extent that those examples could be done by some other energy source, like a battery, oil isn't even differentiated from other energy sources. So its price should be pulled down to a small percentage above its cost, but in fact oil prices have always been way above marginal costs. Part of this is due to the need to amortize high startup costs, but mostly it's due to monopoly rents. No matter how many oil producers there are, the fact that the pools are finite and local has kept prices from collapse, especially when producers could fix prices through cartels. The result is that anyone fortune enough to own oil wells could in effect print their own money. The only things that might slow them down were lack of demand and running out of supply -- the two great anxieties of the industry.
Oil ownership is a matter of law, and as such of politics. The US got into the oil business early, trusting it to private owners, who had every incentive to find and pump all the oil they could as fast as possible. The main results have been: the US is by far the nation that depends most heavily on oil; the US was the first major oil producer to exhaust more than half of its oil reserves, yet has thus far been able to avoid the consequences by imports and debt; and the rentier class of oil owners have exerted extraordinary influence on US politics. The latter subject is what Klare studies in his rather backward way, but first let's go back to supply and demand. It's important to understand that the oil industry has, thus far, always been oversupplied -- it's just too tempting in a short-sighted world to keep the wells pumping and the money flowing. Accordingly, much of the industry's political clout has been used to stimulate demand to soak up all that production. The gas guzzling auto has been helpful in that regard, as has their biggest customer: the Defense Department.
It's easy to be seduced by the importance of cheap energy in the making of our lifestyle: the petroleum era is marked by explosive growth in human population, industry, science, technology, culture, and comfort. It's also reasonable to fear what might happen as the supply of cheap energy runs out. Worldwide oil production is very close to its peak right now -- maybe it's already happened, maybe there will be another year or two that slightly top the present before the decline sets in. One thing is certain about the passing of the "peak oil" point: life on the downslope will be different than life on the upslope was. Ergo, extrapolating from the past tells us nothing useful about the future. (Of course, there is another tipping point to consider: the effect of pumping all that carbon into the atmosphere. Again, this is a topic where the past tells us little of use for the future.)
But before humanity loses the benefits of cheap oil, the oil men themselves face a graver -- to them, anyhow -- prospect of loss: the very system that has made them so powerful is one that is leading us to crisis. What marked that system most of all was its effiency in spending our natural resources. They argue that we need that same effiency to find more, but it's too late; and failing that, they posit a zero-sum war against the world to try to hang on to a share inflated by their waste, which really only makes us all the more unworthy. Back on the upslope, it always looked like there would be more, so it was easy not to give any thought to limits. The view on the downslope is different: now that we can see the end, the need to push it out by conserving should finally be evident. But in this new world it's hard to think of anything more useless or dangerous than the old oil oligarchy.
Klare senses this, and has come up with a typically misleading name for them: the energo-fascists. Then he proceeds to attack Vladimir Putin for reversing the privatization of Russia's gas industry because it imposes political oversight over business's eagerness to exhaust Russia's resources. There's no doubt that political choke points can and will disrupt economies. However, the conclusion that one should draw from all this is that we need to work to bridge those political differences. Klare has done some useful work on those who think they can force these differences in their own favor. But without understanding the issues better, he repeatedly trips himself up, confusing us.
This has been a difficult post to write. Klare's misunderstandings and gaffes emerge in ways that are slightly off base rather than flat out wrong. We are running out of oil, and this will be significant, but the industry's political machinations -- what Klare studies -- are neither representative of the real problems or their solutions. A few months ago, I read two books on peak oil -- Kenneth Defeyes' Beyond Oil and Richard Heinberg's The Party's Over -- then followed them up with Klare's Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum. I marked quotes from all three, but Klare's were more likely because he struck me as wrong. For instance, this one's similar to the one above (p. 79):
Again, Klare starts with demand projections to create a crisis. It's worth recalling that OPEC reserves were inflated wildly during the 1980s, when oil prices dropped and suppliers tried to make up for lost revenues by pumping more. (How much an OPEC member could pump depended on how much they had in reserve.) This just reminds us that if the Persian Gulf nations have the oil, they won't have to be cajoled or coerced by anything more than cash.
Speaking of coercion (pp. 98-99):
There's a lot of mirror-gazing in this quote. Nuclear diplomacy was something the Soviet Union accused the US of practicing when it was the sole possesor of atom bombs. After the Soviet Union joined the club, blackmail became impossible and gave way to deterrence. There is sufficient stigma attached to using nuclear weapons that no nation -- excepting the US, and then mostly rhetorically -- has threatened offensive use. Maybe Saddam Hussein might not have grasped that point -- Cheney doesn't seem to have gotten it, nor Klare. The idea that ownership of 10% of the world's oil reserves confers great power is, again, only an idea that an oil mogul could love. I don't doubt that it has a lot to do with why Cheney was so gung-ho after Iraq and Iran.
Some inadvertent humor on hydrogen cars (pp. 198-199):
Ultimately Klare's confusion cancels itself out, but he gets a lot of things wrong along the way. Hydrogen does exist in nature: it's something like 75% of all the matter in the universe, but it's very rare on earth because it's so light our gravity can't hold it. Hydrogen cannot be extracted from coal, which is pure carbon -- or not so pure, but pure hydrogen is not an exception. The cheapest source of hydrogen is natural gas. I don't know whether that's more efficient than just burning the natural gas, but in either case carbon dioxide is a waste product. Making hydrogen from water is a sure loss: the conversions are equivalent, but in practice you lose efficiency going both ways. Fuel cells are not experimental. They're just not economical. Hydrogen is best viewed as a way of storing and transporting energy, like a battery, not as a source.
In view of this, here's another hydrogen quote (p. 196):
Tuesday, January 16. 2007
I have a couple brief observations on Fox television show 24. I don't watch much TV -- the active list right now is 24, Battlestar Gallactica, and Rome. Laura's raved about 24 since its beginning. I finally relented and tuned in two years ago, figuring it has something to do with cultural attitudes toward politics and terrorism, and that might be interesting even if more likely appalling. That's about what it is, at least based on the two seasons plus four hours I've seen.
For folks even more out of touch than me, the set up is that each season consists of 24 episodes, which map to real time in one long day: one hour episode equals one hour real time, with 20 minutes or so knocked out of each hour for commercial breaks. Each day/season starts off with the first of a cascading series of terrorist attacks, and follows agent Jack Bauer and the CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) as they eventually thwart the attacks almost exactly 24 hours later. Aside from CTU, the other center of activity is the White House, where Presidents and conniving subordinates hysterically overreact, often making things worse, sometimes deliberately.
There are two basic things to understand about the world of 24. The first is that the one-day-real-time format forces gross distortions on the storyline. I don't know whether it is the cause or effect of having a super-packed action series, but it severely limits the potential for any kind of development. This may have less to do with the real time mapping than the fact that episodes are reliably packed into one hour chunks, often ending with a partial resolution as well as a dangling thread to be picked up next hour/episode. So not only have they reduced some pretty cataclysmic events to a single day, they've chopped them up into 24 single-hour packages. There is an upside to this in terms of action dynamics -- nothing gets stretched out dramatically, as always seems to happen with movies -- but it means they keep having to think of more things to promote more action. So their format itself forces a major distortion on the real world of terrorism: they have to vastly amplify the skills of terrorists in order to fill up 24 whole hours. In fact, terrorists almost by definition are incapable of implementing the sort of cascaded events that 24 depends on. Moreover, even if they could do it, there's no reason they would or should.
But even if we can somehow bracket the format-induced distortions, there is something very strange about the world of 24. This is shown first by the existence of CTU itself, by its methods, and by its relationship to the White House. 24 takes place in a world that sort of looks like ours, but is really quite different. The main difference is that terrorists in 24 are everywhere, in vast numbers, operating with a high degree of professional skill. In fact, many of them are strictly professional mercenaries. It's possible, for instance, for terrorists to hire a former USAF pilot to steal a stealth aircraft to shoot down the President's plane. It's possible to hire CTU double-agents to spy and sabotage. It's possible for terrorists to ally with US military contractors, and it's not always clear whether the shots are being called from the within the US government or by its alleged enemies. The curious thing about this overstatement of the world of terrorism is that it is a logical, albeit somewhat paranoid, projection of trends in existence today: the privatization of the "war on terror" and the lack of controls over covert operations. 24 is science fiction is that it shows us a world based on assumptions that are not true now, but it is also political critique in that it shows us how unchecked trends in our own world could turn out.
There are other aspects of the show that map roughly onto current concerns, although one should be careful and not expect much one way or another. The most conspicuous is CTU's fondness for torture, which Jack Bauer has quite a knack for, and everyone else gets no value out of whatsoever. It's unlikely that the Bush administration actually uses torture in anything like this way, but it's not exactly out of the question, and certainly not off the wish list. So it may be one of those projections from our current political malfeasance, or it may just be an artifact of the format: the dire need to move things along as fast as possible, which requires the equally fast discovery of clues. (Torture also adds to the violence quota, something the producers no doubt appreciate.)
Another trendline comes from the politicians, who repeatedly have to act rashly on ridiculously incomplete and often fallacious info -- to call this "intelligence" would be an act of torture not even Bauer could stomach -- and as such almost invariably make things worse. (I missed the first President Palmer, who presumably was more skillful, or maybe just luckier.) This again has more to do with the format's needs than political reality. Even Bush, who seems uniquely disposed to wrecklessness based on ignorance, would balk at some of the shit these guys have to swat back.
Still, even more profound than what happens on each of these season-days is the big slice of time that separates them. We barely know anything that happens then, which isn't such a big thing as far as the show is concerned. People do come and go, but nothing really changes, so every season starts from the same premise, the same fantasy world. But what's more important is that nobody ever learns anything from what happens. The first season I watched left me wondering what all those people would make of the day in the coming days, weeks, months. But of course they never made anything out of it, because they weren't on camera. And the next round took off so fast there was barely time to figure out who was who. After my second year, it mattered less to me, because I started realizing there was nothing real going on anyway.
Still, there's no reason why we can't learn something: terrorism is a rare event, the acts of people with limited power who feel deep grievances they can't find any better way to deal with; they can be marginalized by providing other means for such grievances, and by providing a more decent, more equitable model for the world. This follows from the fact that terrorism is most often a reaction against the violence and injustice of the state. But then if anyone did learn lessons like that 24 would lose its reason for existence. So no good educating the likes of us.
Monday, January 15. 2007
A recovery week, getting back to work. I started with easy stuff -- items from the ancient unrated pile and a few library borrowings, then went to the Recycled Goods backlog and started working my way through the low-lying fruit, especially the rotten stuff that can be disposed of in a single play. (Thanks to Randy Haecker, who may have done this on purpose, all 13 of the bottom rated reissues on my 2006 list came from just two artists: Barry Manilow and Journey -- or three if you insist on breaking out count two Steve Perry solo joints. Actually, the next dozen lowest-rated reissues came out on Legacy as well, but by then you're getting into more varied acts -- Boston, Nina Simone, Julio Iglesias, Rick Springfield.) Only got to the jazz pile at the end of the week, so I don't have much to show here. But my week's rated count came to an exceptionally high 36, so I guess I'm back in business. Quite a bit of new jazz in the queue, especially 2007 items I've been holding back on. Quite a bit on the replay shelf too.
Revenge of Blind Joe Death: The John Fahey Tribute Album (2006, Takoma): The various artists here hew so closely to Fahey's guitar style that this tribute not only flows smoothly, it comes close to converging into a single mind -- compensation, for sure, for the fact that Fahey is no longer with us. One cut that stands out is Henry Kaiser and John Schott on "Steamboat Gwine 'Round the Bend/How Green Was My Valley," where they amplify Fahey's tone and double it up. B+(**)
Eli Degibri: Emotionally Available (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Israeli tenor saxophonist, "with Bulgarian and Persian roots," as his fancy website puts it, in a quartet with New Yorkers Aaron Goldberg, Ben Street, and Jeff Ballard. This has some good spots, particularly the cut with guest Ze Mauricio on pandeiro, although that's mostly because the sax perks up there. But more often his tone is a bit dull, and his play indistinct. B
Mikkel Ploug Group (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, don't know anything more about him. Went to his website, which responded: "At present it's not possible to view the text in Firefox. Sorry for the inconvenience." Fuck you, too. Recorded at "Location Studios," wherever that is. The Group includes Jeppe Skovbakke on double bass and Sean Carpio on drums, whoever they are. The featured guest is Mark Turner, who they hardly need name given how clear and distinctive he sounds. (Cf. Eli Degibri, whose rating suffered in comparison.) Will write more when I've cooled off a bit. Seems like a good support guitarist behind a really good tenor saxophonist. [B+(**)]
Nicolas Masson: Yellow (A Little Orange) (2004 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Swiss, plays tenor sax and bass clarinet, recorded this in Geneva, but has lived in NYC, studying with Chris Potter and Rich Perry. Two horn quartets on the avant side tend to let the horns fly free; on the mainstream postbop side they tend to be shackled together, which is mostly the case here. The other horn here is Russ Johnson on trumpet. Looks promising on paper, but thus far it's only impressive in spots. [B]
Mel Davis: It's About Time! (2006 , TomTom): Davis plays Hammond B3, runs through a mess of shoogity boogity pieces, with guitar, drums, sometimes a little extra percussion and/or horns. Davis also sings four pieces, improving none of them. C+
Russell Malone: Live at Jazz Standard: Volume One (2005 , MaxJazz): A guitarist, Malone has always struck me as a very straightlaced Wes Montgomery acolyte -- a style I've never much cared for, although I can point to exceptions in Montgomery's own catalog. This is lightweight, but as likeable as I've ever heard him, mostly fast groove pieces from his own pen, plus a slow, pretty one by Milt Jackson. Pianist Martin Bejerano can hold a solo too. [B+(**)]
Nancy King: Live at Jazz Standard With Fred Hersch (2004 , MaxJazz): This won the Voice Critics' jazz poll as best vocal album of 2006, so I figured I should check it out. Vocal jazz is many things, and this is one of them: a standards singer with a lone pianist for support. Hersch is in pure support mode here -- if he takes a single solo it slipped past me. His patterns have little interest in themselves; they merely serve as foils for King. She too keeps this low key: it took a while before I noticed her subtleties rising to the surface -- the emergence of "Day by Day," the details to "Everything Happens to Me," little bits of inconspicuous scat. Didn't have this when the poll closed, not that it would have made any difference to me. It's the sort of thing that could slowly grow on you, but Diana Krall blew me away from the start, as did Maurice Hines, and there's maybe a dozen more jazz vocal albums higher on my 2006 list. But that's just my take: of the many things comprising vocal jazz, each has its own distinct appeal, defying easy comparison. B+(*)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Sonic Liberation Front: Change Over Time (2006, High Two): Kevin Diehl's Afro-Cuban percussion continues to amaze, especially when Dan Scofield's avant-rooted sax skips and skids over the complex beats. If this fails to live up to the previous one, Ashé a Go-Go, it's because the two vocal pieces are more mojo than magic. A-
Hat: Hi Ha (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Sergi Sirvent is an up and coming Spanish jazz pianist with a handful of impressive records over the last few years. Here he adds guitarist Jordi Matas to his trio and finds the perfect balance. At first it sounds like a mistake when he tries to sing one, but even that he puts over on pure emotion. A-
Sunday, January 14. 2007
There's an annotated copy of Bush's Jan. 10, 2007 speech up at Future of the Book. The idea is to run comments alongside the speech. They invited various people to comment, and also invited comments from the general public. The latter are moderated. I sent one in on Friday. The website promised a decision within two hours, but my comment has yet to appear, and I have not received anything back. Several new commenters have appeared in the meantime, but possibly they were preapproved. It's possible that they're just being slow, but looking at the biographical notes on the commenters make me suspect credentialism. Everyone to appear so far has an officious sounding job title and something of a publication record. I don't. Obviously, anyone can publish a blog, so that doesn't count for much. Same thing has been said about rock critics -- in fact, I recall doing so myself. Still, I'm reminded that Jane Jacobs put credentialism high on her list of dark ages trends. It seems like every time you turn on the TV or look an op-ed page, you'll see idiocy vouchsafed by nothing more than credentials. That seems to be the media's guideline for deciding who's opinion counts, and whose can be safely ignored. Like they say: opinions are like assholes -- everyone's got one.
But having a blog, I'll run this one anyway. For reference, it's about Bush's paragraph 19:
My comment is:
After I wrote this, I saw a TV news story that showed a small cache of allegedly Iranian anti-tank weapons the US captured from the Mehdi Army -- the Sadr-affiliated militia. That is plausible, but falls far short of what Bush has implied. While there is no love lost between the Americans and the Sadrists, they are also not involved in open warfare, and where there are skirmishes it is often because the Americans went looking for it. That could, of course, change: there is at least a camp among the Americans that wants to squeeze Sadr out of the government and smash his militia. But Sadr seems to have far more grass roots support than SCIRI, coincidentally the Shiite group the Americans like best and the one most completely in Iran's pocket. That contradiction seems to have escaped the people who pick their friends by how flattering they are, and figure everyone else can be beat into shape.
Friday, January 12. 2007
David Brooks in the NY Times following Bush's "new way forward":
For the last twenty-some years, the Republicans' propagandists have been touting the GOP as the "party of ideas" -- the implicit point being that the Democrats have run out of ideas. Now that we've gotten a chance to see those Republican ideas in practice, even Brooks admits they're pretty ragged. But still he works the party line, insisting that nothing Democrats have said about Iraq over the last 4-5 years can be deemed "serious."
I'm not here to defend the Democrats, who aren't of one mind anyway -- and whose slow uptake has let fast-talking Republican hucksters henpeck them coming and going for decades now. There are two simple answers to this line. One is that there has been no shortage of alternative plans, even from Democrats -- George McGovern's is most clearly thought out, but John Murtha has one that's also workable, and even John Kerry and Joe Biden figured out that the goal of permanent US military bases won't fly. But the key word in Brooks' dismissal is "serious": I'm not sure whether what he means is that the media doesn't need to respect any idea that doesn't have the imprimatur of a major political party -- a point Walter Karp made long ago in criticizing the servility of the media -- or that any idea that rejects the president's assumptions can be dismissed out of hand. Somehow Brooks even seems to have dismissed the Baker-Hamilton plan, which while certainly flawed can hardly be considered inferior to the line Bush is pushing.
The other response is to concede that the Republicans are indeed the masters of ideas, the undisputed champs of fantasy, and that sort of idealized thinking unfettered by reality is exactly why their ideas translate into policy so poorly. The Democrats could even do a little mea culpa here and point out that in the past they've occasionally let their ideals get out in the lead, but over time they've learned to pay close attention to the real world. (Maybe they can rid themselves of some of those liberal hawks with this line.) I think this argument comes close to reality. One thing about Iraq that should be sobering is the recognition of how little actual power we have to implement any plan over there. That must be even more frustrating for folks like Brooks and Bush who were brought up believing that America has a God-given right to run the world in the 21st Century. It also blinds them to the fact that those who have started to grasp the limits of American power don't have any use for "serious" plans for world domination. All we need is the sense to back away when we find that the only thing we can do is hurt ourselves and others.
Thursday, January 11. 2007
Following the tradition started in 2006, the January edition of Recycled Goods this year rounds up the best new (well, mostly) records of 2006. It's up now at Static Multimedia.
This makes 39 columns, 1673 records. I was about a week late getting this in this time, and didn't quite cover everything I had hoped to get in, but that's what deadlines are for -- missing then scrambling and coming up short.
February's column will return to the usual old music/world music grind.
Take a look at Helena Cobban's post on "Bush's New Generals in Iraq." Thomas Ricks, in Fiasco, made a point of contrasting Petraeus and Odierno. The latter was the prime example of how the US military kick-started the insurgency. Petraeus came off as relatively enlightened, but his limited success in Mosul had as much to do with timing as with what he actually did. At the beginning, many Iraqis were uncertain what the US would do once the Saddam Hussein regime was toppled, and as such took a skeptical wait-and-see attitude. (This has been documented by every journalist who actually talked to Iraqis during the period -- Anthony Shadid is a prime example.) Petraeus's engagement with local leaders, his willingness to listen, and his budget to deliver favors worked to extend that grace period. After he left all that collapsed, under the dead weight of the CPA and the active provocation of military directors who followed their prime directive, which is to fight.
Petraeus went back to Leavenworth to write a new counterinsurgency manual, which Cobban critiques in the post. Just glancing through Cobban's notes, I'm reminded of the old adage that generals always try to re-fight the last war. Iraq has moved on since Petraeus left. Two factors strike me as especially important: one is that the US has recognized (tried to legitimize) a "sovereign" Iraqi government which is hopelessly corrupt and sectarian and is positioned and motivated to block any attempt at the sort of political reforms that are called for by COIN doctrine; the other is that the Iraqi people have lost all trust or faith in US and Iraqi governments, so the burden of proof of progress is much higher than it was in the beginning (even then a standard that the US flunked).
Not covered in Cobban's post is the new CENTCOM commander, Admiral William Fallon. This almost suggests that the brass expects that the focus of operations in the Middle East will move from the lost cause(s) of Iraq (and Afghanistan) to the Persian Gulf. This would be consistent with a Vietnam-like plan to withdraw under the cover of broadening the war, e.g. to Iran. I've seen reports that Israel is training for long range bombing runs by flying warplanes across the Mediterranean to Gibraltar, a distance which in the other direction would put them well within Iran.
The Wichita Eagle had a big page 4A article today called "Palestinians kill fewer Israelis." The body count for 2006, including Israelis and foreign visitors, was 23 ("down from a high of 289 in 2002 during the height of the uprising"). Meanwhile, in 2006 the number of Palestinians killed by Israel jumped more than threefold, from 197 to 660. Cf. yesterday's post. QED.