Monday, July 30. 2007
Another week in the middle, with a little bit of this, that, and the other. Recycled Goods is still pending, but I should get past that in a day or two. I actually did manage to write a bit on Jazz CG this week, which tips it past the half-way point. This makes me think that it may be time to start to close down this cycle -- there's enough rated stuff to fill out a column, including pick hits if I don't get squeamish about Vandermark and Murray. Probably a dud down there too, somewhere. Hardly got any mail last week, so for once the replay shelves are fuller than the unplayed shelves. A quick check of this cycle's prospecting file adds up to 183 records, closing in fast on last cycle's 218. So maybe it's time.
Kelly Eisenhour: Seek and Find (2007, BluJazz): Jazz singer, originally from Tucson, graduated from Berklee, currently based in Salt Lake City, teaching at Brigham Young -- has an entry at "Famous Mormons in Music," along with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Osmonds, the Killers, Warren Zevon, and Arthur "Killer" Kane. Third album. Terrific voice, clear, sharp, arresting. Wrote the title cut and some vocalese lyrics, but mostly takes standards and gives them distinctive readings. Bob Mintzer gets a "featuring" on the cover, and repays it with tasty sax accompaniment. B+(*)
Alison Faith Levy & Mushroom: Yesterday, I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers (2002-05 , 4Zero): Levy is a San Francisco singer-songwriter, with credits going back to a 1994 EP -- only one I've heard before is a bit part on Mushroom's Glazed Popems. AMG classifies her as Alternative Pop/Rock and Indie Rock. AMG classifies Mushroom as Experimental Rock, Prog-Rock/Art Rock, Kraut Rock, Instrumental Rock, Jazz-Rock, Avant-Prog, Psychedelic, and figures their influences to have been Herbie Hancock, King Crimson, Caravan, Can, and Gong. The group has a dozen or so records, but once more, I've only heard Glazed Popems (although I do have a new one with Eddie Gale in the queue), which is some sort of '60s London tribute. Among the others are titles that suggest they're a real critics band, like Mad Dogs and San Franciscans and Foxy Music. I haven't tried to work out the comings and goings, but aside from Levy, the only constant on the four sessions here is drummer Pat Thomas. Maybe it's the band vibe, but Levy reminds me enough of Grace Slick to make this sound like a postmodern, not to mention postrevolution, Jefferson Airplane -- certainly a more interesting tangent than Paul Kantner's Starship. [B+(**)]
Mushroom With Eddie Gale: Joint Happening (2007, Hyena): No recording date info -- lack of documentation is Joel Dorn's characteristic contribution to the dark ages -- but at least we have personnel information, which helps sort out who is in Mushroom. Pat Thomas (drums), Ned Doherty (bass), and Matt Cunitz (keyboards) are on all cuts, with Thomas production supervisor and Cunitz cited for production assistance. Four cuts add Tim Plowman (guitar) and David Brandt (vibes, percussion). The other three use Erik Pearson (guitar, flute, sax) and Dave Mihaly (marimba, percussion), to similar effect. Gale is guest and headliner. He produced two terrific avant-funk albums for Blue Note in the late '60s, then largely disappeared until Water Records reissued them in 2003, followed by a nice new groovefest, Afro-Fire, on subsidiary label Black Beauty. Both labels were handled by Runt Distribution, whose publicist at the time was Pat Thomas, q.v. Together, the obvious reference point becomes Miles Davis, although the groove's spacier, and the trumpet brighter and more loquacious. [B+(***)]
Bruford: Rock Goes to College (1979 , Winterfold): An Oxford concert, broadcast by the BBC, two albums into prog-rock's premier drummer's solo career, still pretending his last name was a group, not quite ready to call the music made of Allan Holdsworth's guitar and Dave Stewart's keybs fusion, let alone the jazz that got there first. Added attraction: two Annette Peacock vocals, but little more than perfunctory. B
Paul Scea: Contemporary Residents (2005 , BluJazz): Plays flute, soprano and tenor sax, wind synth, etc. Teaches at West Virginia University (Morgantown WV). Has co-led groups with guitarist Steve Grismore (present here) and drummer Damon Short (absent; Marc Gratama is the drummer here), but this is first album solely under his own name. Reports describe him as heavily influenced by the '60s avant-garde, with his flute coming out of a line from Eric Dolphy through James Newton. Hard to tell. There's some edginess in the soprano sax, but the three horns -- Eric Haltmeier plays alto sax and clarinet, Brent Sandy trumpet -- do a lot of bobbing and weaving, and in any case the electric guitar and bass -- Grismore and Anthony Cox -- run on fusion lines. Sounds promising at times, but each of three plays left me with no net impressions. B
Helen Sung: Sungbird (2006 , Sunnyside): Pianist, originally from Houston, educated in Boston, based in New York. Trained in classics, didn't take up jazz until well into college, which brought he under Kenny Barron's wing. Works in postbop mainstream, definitely knows her stuff. First album, a trio on Fresh Sound New Talent, was an Honorable Mention here. This one is a quintet, with extra percussion and Marcus Strickland on tenor and soprano sax. It's built on a tour of Spain, with a couple of stabs at tango and other dance themes, including the attractive title cut. I haven't digested the piano yet, which starts solo and takes a while to cohere, but I adore the light melodic flair Strickland adds, and may for once even prefer his soprano over tenor. [B+(***)]
Joan Stiles: Hurly-Burly (2005 , Oo-Bla-Dee): Pianist, sings credibly on two cuts, but that's not her calling card. Second album, after Love Call (1998-2002 , Zoho), which I've heard but didn't think much of and barely recall. Don't have birth date or biographical info suggesting her age -- one side comment about liking Monk and Evans as a teenager suggests an upper bound of 60. Teaches at New School, and has an interest in Mary Lou Williams. So I didn't expect much here, at least until I read the band roster: Jeremy Pelt, Steve Wilson, Joel Frahm, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash. They appear as a sextet on 4 of 12 cuts, dropping down to subsets for the rest, with one piano solo, a duo with Wilson, and various 3-4 configurations. The songs favor Monk, Ellington, and Williams, with Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" and Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" thrown in, a Ray Charles song (one of the vocals), and two or three originals -- the question is a juxtaposition of Monk and Ellington-Hodges called "The Brilliant Corners of Theloious' Jumpin' Jeep." The band is terrific, of course, but the pianist is impressively on top of everything. The Charles song has been sung better, but the other vocal, "In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee," is a gas. Still need to play it again and pay some attention to the solo. [A-]
David Sills: Green (2006 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist, based in Los Angeles, with a handful of albums since 1997, both under his own name and as the Acoustic Jazz Quartet. He has a big, smooth mainstream sound, the sort of thing I easily fall for. Also plays a little flute; nothing to complain about. Could be characterized as neo-cool, both in tone and in artful arrangement. Six-piece group, with Gary Foster's alto sax kept close, and both piano and guitar for chords. I don't find such complexity all that useful, but it's worth noting that this is the third appearance by guitarist Larry Koonse in my logs over the last two weeks, and again he adds something special. B+(*)
Ron Di Salvio: Essence of Green: A Tribute to a Kind of Blue (2005 , Origin): Jazz pianist, from New York, lives and teaches in Kalamazoo, author of a book called The Marriage of Major and Minor, the Synthesis of Classical and Jazz Harmony. The booklet has some interesting theory about how this relates to the Miles Davis classic, but I'm just reacting to what I hear. Group is a septet, with Derrick Gardner's trumpet fronting three saxophones, and original band member Jimmy Cobb on drums. That affords a lot of harmonic options, a combination I find unappealing. Some pieces add a quartet of voices, arranged for vocalese. Some of this sails along marvelously, but too many things turn me off. B-
The Claudia Quintet: For (2006 , Cuneiform): Booklet tells us nothing -- just four graphics, cutouts with large degradé pixels. Pattern shifting is also the music idea, but there at least it's grown far more sophisticated. When I first tuned in, on the group's second album (I Claudia), everything seemed to revolve around drummer John Hollenbeck's post-minimalist rhythms. Two albums later the music has broadened to the extent that there's no clear-cut center: Chris Speed's reeds, Matt Moran's vibes, Ted Reichman's accordion, even Drew Gress's bass, cloud up the picture, obscuring simple reactions or explanations. The hype sheet says "file under: jazz/post-jazz" as if anyone has a clue what "post-jazz" might be. The delta between this and what we conventionally think of as jazz is that this doesn't feel improvised, because it isn't built on individualism -- even when Moran talks, or Speed squawks. Rather, it has an organic vitality to it that envelops you, like something new age or ambient might aspire to but doesn't have the brains to make interesting enough. Yet I'm never really certain with this group: the last two albums took me ages to settle on, and this one raises the same conflicting responses. But it consistently scores points, and builds over time -- almost as if it makes marginality an aesthetic pursuit. Album title reflects each song having some sort of dedication, mostly to people I've never heard of -- the exception is Mary Cheney, who's offered an ode to pity. A-
Andy Milne: Dreams and False Alarms (2006 , Songlines): Canadian pianist; studied with Oscar Peterson; moved to New York in 1991, working with M-Base; more lately formed a group called Dapp Theory. This is solo piano, mostly folk-rock tunes, with fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young the most frequent sources. Didn't readily ID familiar songs without listening closely, and wasn't able to manage that, although I found the deliberate pacing attractive as background. Life's not fair, but I'm pretty sure that if I stuck with it this is where I'd wind up. B+(*)
Andy Milne + Grégoire Maret: Scenarios (2007, Obliqsound): Maret plays harmonica. He's already won a Downbeat Rising Star poll, and seems likely to replace Toots Thielemans from his Misc. Inst. perch a year or two after he dies. He adds a complementary voice to Milne's piano, but perhaps a bit too complementary: interesting ideas, but not enough range to make for much of a contrast. Two cuts have a guest: Anne Drummond on alto flute; Gretchen Parlato singing "Moon River." B+(*)
Guy Klucevsek/Alan Bern: Notefalls (2006 , Winter & Winter): I looked Klucevsek up in Wikipedia and saw that they have a link to "Avant-garde accordionists"; clicked that, and discovered that Klucevsek is the only one listed. That seems appropriate. I can think of some avant-jazz accordionists, but no one he's unique in having come out of the what I guess is called "modern composition" these days -- his early discography includes work with Lukas Foss, Virgil Thomson, Pauline Oliveros, people like that. Bern plays accordion as well, but his background is more common, coming out of the klezmer group Brave Old World. In the long run Klucevsek has ranged far and wide, including a fair amount of klezmer and polka, a lot of jazz, and an occasional appearance with someone like Laurie Anderson. This is his second duo album with Bern, who doubles up on accordion on several pieces, but more often plans piano, and in one case melodica. This is another record I'm cutting corners on. It feels composed through, and loses my interest in spots, but the upbeat cuts "Don't Let the Boogie-Man Get You" and "March of the Wild Turkey Hens" are choice. B+(*)
Albert van Veenendaal/Meinrad Kneer/Yonga Sun: Predictable Point of Impact (2006 , Evil Rabbit): Dutch pianist, born 1956, leans avant, likes to work with prepared piano, in a trio with bassist Kneer and drummer Sun. Van Veenendaal's website lists 36 records, some credits pretty marginal; first is a 1981 LP, then a 1986 cassette, then a few side appearances from 1990; first with his name on marquee was a sax-piano duo in 2002. As far as I can tell, AMG only lists one of these records, with his name misspelled. Has one previous trio recod with this group, and two more prepared piano records on this label. I keep saying that I'll know a piano trio I like when I hear it, and this is it. Mostly hard rhythmic stuff, which bass and drums are clearly up for. One slow stretch shows off the prep very nicely, giving the roll a guitar-like sound. Elegant, low budget package, too. A-
Play Station 6: #1 (2006 , Evil Rabbit): A sextet of more/less well known Dutch avant-gardists: Maartje Ten Hoorn on violin, Eric Boeren on clarinet, Tobias Delius on clarinet/tenor sax, Achim Kaufmann on piano, Meinrad Kneer on bass, Paul Lovens on drums. Strikes me as par for the course, with each player taking interesting but even-tempered shots without coming together into a more cohesive whole. Nothing wrong with that. B+(**)
Joachim Kühn/Majid Bekkas/Ramon Lopez: Kalimba (2006 , ACT): Drummer Lopez has his name on the spine, but on the cover he's listed "with" below the title, while Kühn and Bekkas are in larger print above. He's a useful guy, but the action here is between the top-liners. Bekkas is a gnawa guy from Morocco. He plays guembri ("a bass-like lute"), oud, and kalimba, and sings, more like a stiff chant. I'm not sold on the latter, but I'm not turned off either. He makes for an interesting counterpoint to Kühn, who is dazzling as usual on piano, and surprisingly assured on alto sax. [B+(***)]
Nguyên Lê: Purple: Celebrating Jimi Hendrix (2002, ACT): Vietnamese guitarist, based in France, with ten or so albums going back to 1989. This is somewhat old, inexplicably showing up in the mail. A trio with guitar, electric bass, and drums, plus guests, including vocals and North African percusion. The vocals have a soft fuzziness, framing the words without really grabbing them, let alone cutting them off as Hendrix did. The guitar also lacks definition, although in the end the purple smudge does have some appeal. B
Nguyên Lê Duos: Homescape (2004-05 , ACT): Home studio recordings, made at leisure with Lê on various guitars with various electronics and either Paolo Fresu or Dhafer Youssef. Fresu plays trumpet/flugelhorn; Youssef plays oud and sings. Not actually specified who played which tracks, but it wouldn't be hard to figure out if I had taken more careful notes. I could also point out choice cuts -- there are some, but not enough to draw another play right now. B+(*)
Kenny Burrell: 75th Birthday Bash Live! (2006 , Blue Note): Advance had a different title, mentioning Yoshi's in Oakland, where some of this occured. However, other tracks were cut at Kuumbawa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz -- maybe the lawyers figured that out. Six tracks, mostly from Santa Cruz, feature the Gerald Wilsons Orchestra, sounding hoarse and wheezy. Joey DeFrancesco (3 cuts) hardly picks up the slack, especially when Hubert Laws (5 cuts) joins on flute. Burrell sings two, no help either. Early in his career Burrell established himself on solid albums with Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane; here the best he can do is Herman Riley, and it takes "A Night in Tunisia" to get Riley going. At least they didn't include any patter, but I'm too annoyed at the black-on-blue booklet print to cut them any slack over that. C+
James Carney Group: Green-Wood (2006 , Songlines): Pianist, originally from Syracuse NY; studied in Los Angeles, where he was based until moving to NYC in 2004. Fourth album, widely spaced since 1994, and little side work, suggesting he sees himself primarily as a composer. Wrote or co-wrote everything here, including two pieces commissioned for the Syracuse International Film Festival. I'd never run across him before, but I recognize and have been impressed by everyone in his septet. The four horns -- Peter Epstein and Tony Malaby on reeds, Ralph Alessi and Josh Roseman on brass -- are especially formidable, but they also strike me as too much. But there are strong stretches here, and sterling individual play, not least from the pianist. B+(*) [Aug. 7]
Alan Ferber Nonet: The Compass (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Trombonist, twin brother of drummer Mark Ferber; not to be confused with saxophonist Alon Farber or trombonist Joe Fielder let alone drummer Alvin Fielder, though sometimes it takes some effort. Third album, second nonet, a configuration I almost always abhor. Played it to clear it off my shelf, then had to play it again to verify what I was hearing. It does have a fair amount of that complex postbop harmony I care so little for, but the delicate parts of something like "North Rampart" are luscious, even when the horns weigh in. And the charging trombone sells the hard stuff. B+(**)
Rodrigo Amado/Carlos Zíngaro/Tomas Ulrich/Ken Filiano: Surface: For Alto, Baritone and Strings (2006 , European Echoes): Amado is a Portuguese saxophonist. Plays alto and baritone here, and wrote pieces where he accompanies a string trio -- Zíngaro plays violin and viola, whichever. Has a couple of previous albums, on his own and leading the Lisbon Improvisation Players. The string stuff here is what I like to call difficult music: arch, grating, hard to follow, sometimes hard to stand. I'm always surprised when I do and can, even more so when I start to enjoy it. [B+(**)]
Hugh Masekela: Live at the Market Theatre (2006 , Times Square/4Q, 2CD): A 30th anniversary bash -- for the Johannesburg venue, that is; the South African trumpeter-vocalist goes back further, having started his globetrotting at least a decade earlier. This is a triumph, an informal career summary that tracks the struggle against apartheid and baser oppressions. Its two discs allow him to stretch out and work the crowd, even to preach a little, knowing there's more than celebrating left to do, but pleased to be there that night. A-
New Wonderland: The Best of Jeri Brown (1991-2006 , Justin Time): Canadian jazz singer, with nine solid albums providing plenty of choice material, but it's the players who shine -- especially Kirk Lightsey on "Orange Colored Sky" and David Murray on "Joy." On the other hand, they gamble with four previously unreleased cuts, which are anything but choice. B
Daniel Carter & Matt Lavelle: Live at Tower Records (2006, Tubman Atnimara): A CDR, part of a series of items Lavelle sent me for background. Just a duo, eight pieces, both musicians moving from instrument to instrument: Carter plays tenor sax, alto sax, clarinet, piano, flute; Lavelle plays piano, pocket trumpet, bass clarinet, flugelhorn, trumpet. By far the most interesting is Lavelle's bass clarinet, but overall not a lot of chemistry or action. B-
Matt Lavelle and Daniel Carter (2006. downtownmusic.net): Another duo, just a CDR in a plastic scallop case, recorded at Downtown Music Gallery. Four pieces, much further developed than the Tower Records set. Still, typical of avant duos, limited pallette of sounds, a lot of feeling each other out, but strong performances if you pay attention. B
Matt Lavelle: Cuica in the Third House (2007, KMB): Solo project, with spoken bits I didn't really follow, and blasts of trumpet or flugelhorn and bass clarinet, as interesting as ever. Limited edition CDR, hand packaged. B
Spark Trio: Short Stories in Sound (2006, Utech): Another limited edition CDR, a trio with saxophonist Ras Moshe, drummer Todd Capp, and Matt Lavelle on trumpet and bass clarinet. Energetic thrash, especially from the drummer, who strikes me as overly busy. The horns are in your face throughout. I find them bracing and sometimese exciting, but this is not the sort of thing I can easily recommend to non-believers. B
Matt Lavelle: Trumpet Rising Bass-Clarinet Moon (2004, 577 Records): Recorded live, with a quintet. If guitarist Anders Neilson isn't a typo, he's as obcure as the rest -- Atiba N. Kwabena on djembe, flute, percusion; Francois Grillot on bass; Federick Ughi on drums. They provide a more varied background than the duo/trio albums, but the focus is still on Lavelle's trumpet and bass clarinet -- both distinctive. Lavelle describes this as "a summation of my work from 1990-2000," and dedicated it to the late Sir Hildred Humphries, his formative link back to the pre-bop era. B+(**)
Eye Contact: War Rug (2006 , KMB Jazz): Musician credits in booklet are: "Cuica-Wind," "The Cuica-Earth," "Lone Wolf-Tree." Elsewhere they've been identified as Matt Lavelle (trumpet, bass clarinet), Matthew Heyner (bass), Ryan Sawyer (drums). Looks like there have been two previous Eye Contact albums, on Utech. Seems understated compared to the other Lavelle records, which may be a help but allows for some dull spots. B+(*)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Circus (2006, ICP): Dutch avant-garde group, with four more/less well known names -- Han Bennink, Ab Baars, Misha Mengelberg, Tristan Honsinger -- and vocalist Alessandra Patrucco. The fractured music is often interesting, but not enough to carry the fractured vocalizing -- at times shrill, often just thin. B
Michel Camilo: Spirit of the Moment (2006 , Telarc): Dominican pianist, although even with Puerto Rican Charles Flores on bass and Cuban Dafnis Prieto on drums, this hardly counts as Latin jazz. The covers draw on the Miles Davis songbook, including Coltrane and Shorter, and the originals fit in. A skillful group, and an appealing piano trio record. B+(**)
The Tierney Sutton Band: On the Other Side (2006 , Telarc): Her pursuit of happiness bags eight songs with "happy" in the title, plus "You Are My Sunshine," "Smile," and "Great Day!" -- more fascinated with the search than the attainment, which she has reservations about anyway. Maybe that explains the odd song out, "Haunted Heart" -- the whole album feels haunted, from its tentative opening exhortation ("Get Happy") to its wistful end. I never thought she had a good album in her, much less a great concept. Last time all she aspired to was to be with the band; this time the band's with her. A-
Sunday, July 29. 2007
Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East (2007, Metropolitan Books) is a sprawling history with little on the war itself, hardly anything on the Arabs, little on the diplomacy, not much historical context, and even less on its subsequent effects. In other words, it's basically a volume of Israeli navel-gazing. Segev argues that in order to understand the war you have to understand Israel. He's basically right, inasmuch as the whole thing makes so little sense in any other framework.
The Jewish/Zionist immigrants to Palestine fought a war in 1947-49 to capture as much land as possible with as few non-Jews as possible. To this end, they nominally accepted a UN resolution to partition the territory, but didn't accept the partition borders proposed by the UN. Instead, they went to war, expanding their territory, and driving most of the non-Jewish inhabitants of that territory into exile. Segev has previously written about the Mandate period in One Palestine, Complete and the 1947-49 war in 1949: The First Israelis. He also wrote a book on Israeli's relationship to the Holocaust, The Seventh Million. These are all fascinating works of history, full of telling detail.
From the end of the 1947-49 war until 1967, Israel had never been satisfied with its borders. The 700,000 Palestinians who had fled or been expelled in 1947-49 were stuck in refugee camps, prevented from returning, while Israel settled more than a million Jewish immigrants. Israel declined to sign peace treaties with neighboring countries, not least because a continuing state of belligerency provided legal cover for refusing to allow the return of any refugees. Israel launched an aggressive war in 1956 against Egypt, and engaged in numerous border incidents with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Israel built up its military forces, and was by 1967 well on its way to producing nuclear weapons. A pretext for the 1967 war was set up when the UN withdrew troops that had been stationed on Egyptian territory in the Sinai Peninsula since the 1956 war, allowing Egypt to close the Straits of Tiran, as well as the Suez Canal, to Israeli shipping. In June 1967 Israel launched a pre-emptive attack on Egypt, which rapidly expanded into attacks on Syria and Jordan. Over six days, Israel was able to seize significant territories from each of its adversaries, giving Israel control of all of Palestine and then some, rectifying all (well, most) of the regrets they had about the borders coming out of the 1947-49 war.
The 1967 war led to several attempts, both by force and through diplomacy, by Egypt to recover its lost territories, where the Suez Canal was especially significant. Israel eventually returned Sinai to Egypt as part of a separate peace deal brokered by US president Jimmy Carter. That deal set up a framework for dealing with the rest of the conflict, but Israel has been unable to come to terms, either in returning lands seized by armed aggression or in permitting the inhabitants of those lands to exercise equitable political rights. The reason for Israel's intransigence is deeply buried in the core beliefs of Zionism and the history of Israel's struggle to exist as a Jewish State.
Because of the length of this post, the quotes have been moved into the Extended Body.
Continue reading "Tom Segev: 1967"
Saturday, July 28. 2007
It occurred to me that I should open a file where I jot down links to significant pieces I read on the web. Then it occurred to me that I could track them in my "scratch" file and dump out a report once a week, like I do with my Jazz Prospecting. Figured Saturday might be a good day for such a report. Here's the first installment:
TomDispatch: Agency of Rogues: Chalmers Johnson reviews Tim Weiner's CIA history, Legacy of Ashes, for TomDispatch. I've posted a quote from this already. I saw a bit of a Charlie Rose interview with Weiner, but turned it off as both were getting too stupid to bear. Rose wanted to know which secret intelligence agencies were actually any good, so Weiner offered that the UK's isn't bad. Both seem to still cling to the belief that the CIA is a necessity in today's world. Johnson argues that the State Dept. can collect info about foreign countries, and the Defense Dept. can blow things up on the rare occasions when someone thinks that is called for. He didn't go into this, but it should be straightforward to set up international laws regarding terrorism and organizations to coordinate policing and justice -- the FBI and DOJ would be the obvious US agencies to work on that.
A couple of weeks ago I saw Lawrence Wright on TV. He told a story about after many attempts finally getting a confidential copy of the CIA's dossier on Osama Bin Laden, and discovering that everything in it was wrong.
Rootless Cosmpoloitan: Why an EU That Knows Better Apes the US on Hamas: Tony Karon, Mark Perry, and others. One of the most discouraging things in the world these days is how Europeans who certainly know better have failed to break with Bush on almost every aspect of US policy in the Middle East -- the opposition to the democratically elected Hamas government in Occupied Palestine just one major case in point. Karon polls several friends on the subject. He doesn't get a lot of insight, but at least exposes the problem. One odd thing here is that eventually the EU will break free, once they get an American leader who is less demanding and less nuts than Bush, much like Eastern Europe broke not from Brezhnev, Kruschev, or Stalin, but from the one Soviet leader who offered reform, Gorbachev. On the other hand, the time when someone needs to stand up to Bush is now.
Rootless Cosmopolitan: The Dissembling of Dennis Ross: Tony Karon on America's favorite Israeli apologist:
TomDispatch: Democratic Doublespeak on Iraq: Ira Chernus on Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, on how they won't quite withdraw from Iraq:
TomDispatch: How Withdrawal Came in from the Cold: Tom Engelhardt on the latest offical parsing of how we can't really afford to withdraw from Iraq. Like Israel's West Bank settlements, it turns out there's just too much stuff to move:
Then there's the canard about the future bloodbath if we withdraw -- a replay of Vietnam, as if that actually happened. But, of course, it would be even worse in Iraq, with all that age-old sectarian strife.
WarInContext: Sectarian bias is a blight on a rare Afghan good news story: The story describes the restoration of a garden in Kabul. The comment:
A good question for those tough-as-nails Democratic presidential candidates is: Why do they insist on acting on the same moral plane as Al-Qaeda? If that confuses them, the follow-up asks why can't they see the equivalence of us and them inevitably killing bystanders?
Free Democracy: Paul Krugman: The Sum of Some Fears: Krugman's column on falling stock prices is itself unremarkable, citing the usual fears of risk, the housing bubble, and oil prices -- in the latter case mentioning Peak Oil without weighing in on it. But the first three comments did weigh in. E.g.:
Finally, more philosophically:
Friday, July 27. 2007
David Remnick has a piece in The New Yorker this week, on Israeli ex-politician Avraham Burg, called "The Apostate." Remnick frequently dwells in a fantasy world where Israel is always nobly seeking peace according to a two-state scenario that Remnick often proclaims as self-evident. Still, I was astonished to read:
I always thought The New Yorker was legendary for its fact-checking department. Leaving aside the question of whether the Hezbollah-Hamas alliance is anything more than the fevered product of neocon imagination -- if so it is the only functioning instance of Sunni-Shia harmony in today's Middle East -- the key error is Hamas came to power not by violent uprising but by a democratic election, which the US (over Israeli objections) first insisted on staging, then (with Israeli agreement) rejected, as (oops!) the wrong side won. The "violent uprising" -- actually, a coup attempt against the Hamas government -- was started by US-armed warlord Mohammed Dahlan's gang, which Hamas managed to disarm in Gaza, but not in the West Bank.
Maybe this escaped the fact-checkers because it was too gross to be seen as mere fact. It amounts to no less than a systematic abuse of history.
The main part of the article consists of a couple of quotes from an interview of Burg by Ari Shavit, resulting in numerous people attacking Burg. One quote ends with Burg saying: "There is no one to talk to here. The religious community of which I was a part -- I feel no sense of belonging to it. The secular community -- I am not part of it, either. I have no one to talk to. I am sitting with you and you don't understand me, either." Burg's outrage was his slandering of Zionism: "He describes the country in its current state as Holocaust-obsessed, militaristic, xenophobic, and, like Germany in the nineteen-thirties, vulnerable to an extremist minority."
Remnick's article bears out that description. Burg's critics put their outrage out front to avoid having to discuss anything substantial. Or they just dither around the edges, avoiding the subject, as in this quote:
Then what is it? Much the same can be said about America, but still we have armed forces based in hundreds of countries abroad, including very hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we have an arsenal large enough to toast the entire earth. Talk to Americans in the streets all across the country and you'd never imagine we're capable of doing the things our government routinely does, but there's such an enormous disconnect between everyday life and politics in the US that those questions never even come up for debate -- no one is allowed to debate them. It's not surprising that the same thing applies in Israel, but there's also a lot of willful self-deception. Remnick quotes one poll as showing that 30% of Israelis want Yitzhak Rabin's assassin to be pardoned. It's hard to reconcile that with Shavit's comment about how marginal the "sickening elements" are.
Postscript: After writing this, I saw a note at WarInContext on a piece from Haaretz noting that 4,300 Israelis have received German citizenship in the past year. Paul Woodward commented, quoting Berg, then adding: "The willingness of Jews to 'return' to Germany is an indication that the possibility is now opening for some Israelis to go move beyond the core of that trauma. At the same time, Zionists will clearly feel threatened by the possibility that a significant number of the 300,000 Israelis entitled to German citizenship might take up that opportunity."
Having recently read Tom Segev's 1967 and Sandy Tolan's The Lemon Tree, I've been thinking about revisions to the piece plan piece I posted a couple of years ago. I've been looking for unilateral acts -- things that do not require Israeli agreement -- that would move the argument toward resolution. One thing that I think should be done would be for as many other countries as possible to adopt Israel's "Law of Return" and extend it to Palestinians as well as to Jews. It's very unlikely that it would have much if any demographic impact in any countries, but it would establish the point that Jews don't have to go to or stay in Israel -- that the whole world welcomes them. It would also help settle Palestinian refugees, making some small progress against their tragedy -- and thereby reducing the settlement problem. It would require some soul searching, and a commitment to respect and protect minority rights, but both of those would be good things. It would also drive the Zionists crazy, or crazier, because it would show up how dated and dysfunctional their ideology is.
Thursday, July 26. 2007
Chalmers Johnson has another review of Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA, at TomDispatch. The dirt sure piles up there. He points out that Harry Truman justified founding the CIA by pointing to our need to never again be surprise-attacked like Pearl Harbor, a single mission that did us no good come 9/11/2001. The review pulls out more examples of incompetence and skullduggery, and comes to the same conclusions I did in yesterday's post -- that information collection and undercover operations are incompatible, and that the CIA should be abolished. But it adds something worth repeating about the role of journalism:
The key thing here is that Weiner is not just working to get the story but to establish the record. That's a high standard for journalists, one that achieves relative security against the by now commonplace use of leaks for spreading misinformation. But it also leaves us lacking the non-public part of the story, which in the case of the CIA is no doubt proportioned like an iceberg.
The main thing the CIA has going for itself isn't the secrets but the allure of secrecy -- our blind hope, or gullibility, that there must be something of more value than what they can disclose. Why anyone would believe that is hard to say: in this day and age, it's hard to imagine anyone, least of all a government bureaucracy, that wouldn't publicize, and for that matter glorify, anything it might pass off as an accomplishment.
Wednesday, July 25. 2007
Tim Weiner has a big new book out called Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (2007, Doubleday). He has previously written on the Aldrich Ames scandal, and has a 1990 book titled Black Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget, which while dated would be all the more relevant -- and no doubt much larger -- now. I'm not in a big hurry to read the CIA book, but a few paragraphs from Evan Thomas' summary in The New York Times Book Review will do for now:
I changed the order around, moving the Kissinger quote from the top to the bottom. Thomas winds up wondering, "Is an open democracy capable of building and sustaining an effective secret intelligence service? Maybe not." But rather than explore that question, he then throw in the towel: "But with Islamic terrorists vowing to set off a nuclear device in an American city, there isn't much choice but to keep on trying." Given these repeated failures, maybe a "secret intelligence service" isn't the right answer to such a terrorist threat. I doubt that the reason for the CIA problem has anything to do with the US being "an open democracy" -- that the CIA even exists suggests the US isn't as open as it should be, and the failures just go to show that the main effect of secrecy is to let the failures go uncorrected. I don't have a problem with intelligence gathering, but all intelligence is suspect unless it can be viewed and critiqued from all sides, which means it must be public.
If all the CIA did was to gather and analyze information, did so openly, in public from verifiable sources, and subjected it to open critique aimed at attaining the best understanding of the data possible, it wouldn't have the quality reputation it has, and it would also be spared the nefarious reputation of the "operations" department -- the dirty tricks branch of the spy racket. The record pretty clearly shows that the only thing worse than the CIA's operational failures has been its operational successes. Clearly, when the CIA backs a Mohammed Pahlevi or a Sese Mobutu or a Saddam Hussein or an Osama Bin Laden they have no clue what that's going to cost us in the end. When the Soviet Union collapsed, they shut down the KGB. We should have done the same to the CIA.
Tuesday, July 24. 2007
Davis Merritt wrote an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle today arguing that the US should leave Iraq now. Merritt's a former editor of the Eagle, where he pioneered some interesting ideas about how to develop a local newspaper as a dynamic force for democracy. After retiring, he wrote a good book, Knightfall, about how parent company Knight Ridder lost that vision. Haven't read much by him lately, but this makes two columns in a little over a week. Glad to see him back.
His conclusion is right, of course, but his argument has become such a cliché that it's worth commenting on:
What happened 1,400 years ago is hardly forgotten, at least on the Shiite side, but the intervening millenia haven't seen anything near continuous bloodshed. The real problem between Sunni and Shia is the recent violence, which is the result of cynical manipulation of group identity for political gain. It's generally true that Iraq has been dominated by Sunni elites going back from Saddam Hussein to the British to the Ottomans all the way back to the Abassids, but the real source of the violence has been political opportunism.
This started to emerge with the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, when Iran attempted to mobilize Iraqi Shiites to turn against Baghdad, much as Iraq tried to exploit Iran's Arab minority. Neither were all that successful, but in the 1990-91 war over Kuwait, George Bush managed to encourage a Shiite rebellion then let Saddam brutally suppress it, creating a sectarian wedge that a second George Bush could exploit later. Same thing happened with the Kurds, aided by Iran and/or the US to weaken Iraq, and often left hanging for their efforts. The more Kurds and Shiites threatened Saddam, the more he repressed them, and the more he depended on Sunni identity for a power base, the more anti-Saddam became anti-Sunni. Once the US removed Saddam, the Kurds and Shiites the US had cultivated as an opposition force saw a chance to take advantage not just from the ruling clique but from the whole Sunni elite opportunity. The US was dumb enough to allow the revolution to extend from the initial "deck of 52" to deep within the Baath party to all of Sunni Iraq, making enemies all along the way. But, ironically, the resistance allowed Bush to cling on by offering the Shiites protection against the Sunnis, and later vice versa.
Even now, the threat of the civil war the US did so much to unleash is used by Bush to rally support for an occupation that makes things worse -- by its direct actions and by extending the war indefinitely, giving all sides reason to fight on and not to compromise. It is strangely comforting for Americans to think that Iraqis would be fighting each other even if we were not there. But the evidence backing that assertion is limited: a few brief bursts triggered by external wars, and lots of background police-state repression, but nothing resembling the massive civil destruction that has occurred since 2003.
It is strange that Americans have so much trouble recognizing that our own presence is the source of such pervasive violence. It should be obvious that as long as US forces occupy Iraq there will be Iraqis willing to fight us. (General Abizaid predicted that US forces would be an "antibody" in Iraq.) Why isn't it equally obvious that when we leave their fight will be over? It likely is true that the more we fight them, the more they'll be inclined to keep fighting other Iraqis after we leave, but that's hardly a reason for staying. (It may be a reason for "our" Iraqis to leave also. It's worth noting that the US ambassador in Baghdad is so hard up recruiting Iraqi workers that he's trying to arrange visas for them now for when they have to flee later.) The Iraqi resistance against US occupation provides the context and cover for all of the other violence in Iraq. The US occupation is itself an even stronger force of division in Iraq than sect identity: anyone who tries to work with us becomes tainted with everything we do. The longer we stay, the worse that becomes.
On the other hand, some Americans, like Merritt, do see civil war as reason enough to leave. There are enough such people that the Bush administration spent a couple of years trying to deny that there was a civil war before they changed tune to the new refrain. The interesting thing about them is that they haven't internalized the sense that the US cannot afford not to dominate every square inch of the Middle East. In short, they don't seem to really understand how leaving Iraq would put the US empire at peril, or even why that is such a bad thing. They don't see it, of course, because for most Americans the empire is nothing but trouble. But it remains an unstated subtext because the empire itself is cloaked in so much denial.
But we should start talking about just that, because it's the real issue. You don't really think that Bush cares whether Iraqis kill each other after we leave, do you? He only cares about what happens to the empire, and to his own cabal. So if leaving Iraq causes the empire to collapse, where does that leave us? If you're deep in bed with Bush, that may be a bad thing. But for most Americans, losing the whole empire means next to nothing: lose some military jobs, but save the taxes; pay market prices for oil, but you're doing that anyway. That'll be an interesting learning experience for the American people, because the one thing the ever-worsening condition in Iraq portends is that sooner or later we'll realize we can't afford to sustain that empire. When we can't, we won't. When we don't, we need to face up to the people to conned so many of us into such a grand self-delusion.
Monday, July 23. 2007
Another week, mostly jazz, but some Recycleds as well -- the high point turned out to be the Blue Note Connoisseurs that do double duty. This is roughly the mid-point in the JCG cycle, where I try to survey as much incoming as possible, but start thinking about how the column will shape up. Didn't make a lot of progress either way, just barely getting into the second round. Next week should be much the same, as I need to finish the August Recycled Goods column before I can focus squarely on Jazz CG. Incoming mail has been light. Sweltering weather. Don't feel all that good either, and of course there's way too much to do.
Erin McKeown: Sing You Sinners (2006 , Nettwerk): Counted as a folk singer, a point reinforced by listing the dates of the songs -- aside from a new one, they range fromn 1930-56, clustered toward the ends. Still, it's no stretch to consider this as jazz: half or more of the songs are standards jazz singers like to work on, she approaches them with interpretive imagination, and the backing swings and shines with horns -- nowhere more so than on "Melody," her original. B+(***)
Helena: Bang! Dillinger Girl & "Baby Face" Nelson (2006 , Sunnyside): The pictures are more suggestive of Bonnie and Clyde, but bank robbers in America are as interchangeable, not to mention boring, as anyone else. Dillinger Girl is Helena Noguerra, who has two previous albums of French pop under her first name. Baby Face Nelson is Federico Pellegrini, who had something to do with a group called Little Rabbits, and who has more recently styled himself as French Cowboy. This album was cut in Tucson with little if any French accent. I don't really know what to make of it. B
Theo Bleckmann/Ben Monder: At Night (2005 , Songlines): Bleckmann may be the most interesting jazz vocalist to appear in the last 10-20 years, at least in the sense that he is doing things no one else has ever done, sounding like no one else has ever sounded. His high-pitched voice can sound fey or winsome, but it's less pleasing without appropriate words. Here he mostly exercises it as instrument, aided and abetted by live electronic processing, Monder's guitar, and Satoshi Takeishi's percussion. Monder gains traction when he goes heavy. Interesting, of course, but that's an odd form of praise, or dismissal. B
Diane Hubka: Goes to the Movies (2005-06 , 18th & Vine): Singer; plays a little 7-string guitar, although most of the fine guitar here is credited to Larry Koonse. Website bio has no biographical information, and is otherwise dubious -- "arguably the biggest discovery since Roberta Gambarini"? (FYI, I've never heard Gambarini, although I recognize the name.) Looks like she came from Appalachia, worked in DC and/or NYC, has three previous albums, mostly on Dutch labels, and a favorable entry in Penguin Guide, likening her to Sheila Jordan. I don't hear that here, but haven't heard the earlier albums. She has a clear, clean, articulate voice, and gets unassuming support from a quintet led by pianist Christian Jacob, with Carl Saunders providing finish touches on trumpet and flugelhorn. Record rises and falls on the songs, which include enough melodramatic themes and noirish ballads to turn me off. Could use another play. [B+(*)]
Jacques Coursil: Clameurs (2006 , Sunnyside): Trumpet player, born in Paris, his parents from Martinique; appeared on several avant records in 1960s (Burton Greene, Sunny Murray, Frank Wright) plus a couple under his own name. Then basically dropped out of jazz, pursuing a career teaching French literature and linguistics, winding up in Martinique. In 2005 Tzadik released a new album titled Minimal Brass. Haven't heard it, but this follow-up is pretty minimal, with percussion and spare trumpet juxtaposed with spoken texts, including a piece by Frantz Fanon and poems by Edouard Glissant. I can't vouch for the texts, but mix appealing in its simple drama. B+(**)
André Ceccarelli: Golden Land (2006 , CAM Jazz): Drummer, from Nice in the south of France, been around since the mid-'70s, working with Jean-Luc Ponty, Didier Lockwood, Michel Legrand, Birelli Lagrene, Martial Solal, Michel Portal, Stephane Grappelli, Eddy Louiss, Dee Dee Bridgewater -- a few names further afield, like Aretha Franklin. Has several albums under his own name, going back to 1977. This one is a pan-European quartet, with Enrico Pieranunzi on piano, Hein van de Geyn on bass, and David El-Malek on saxophone. Pieranunzi has an especially good outing here, both on fast and slow pieces, but El-Malek is also a discovery. His sax has a deep, rich tone, and he plays with great ease. Born in France, has several albums I haven't heard, with side interests in Jewish folk music and electronics. Together they make impressive, slightly mainstream postbop, but two cuts add a singer I don't find the least bit appealing. Her name is Elisabeth Kontomanou, also born in France, of Greek and African heritage. I can imagine her as the sort who can be mesmerizing in a smoky bar, but here she slows the album down and takes the air out. B
The Phil Woods Quintet: American Songbook II (2007, Kind of Blue): Didn't get the previous American Songbook (2002 , Kind of Blue), which leaned a bit more to Porter (3 songs, vs. 1 here) and Gershwin (2 songs, vs. 0 here). This one is pretty much what one would expect, with Bill Charlap holding the center together, the superb Brian Lynch on trumpet, and dependable Woods on alto sax. [B+(**)]
Los Angeles Jazz Ensemble: Expectations (2007, Kind of Blue, CD+DVD): Looks like another attempt to hide one of those unpronounceable Polish names. The leader here is bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz, who's also recorded as Darek Oles, and has four albums from 1994 on listed under Los Angeles Jazz Quartet. He was born 1963 in Wroclaw in Poland; moved to Krakow in 1983, and on to Los Angeles in 1988, studying with Charlie Haden, and teaching currently at UC Irvine. The Ensemble is a quintet with vocalist Janis Siegel added on four tracks. Guitarist Larry Koonse is a holdover from the Quartet. Bob Sheppard and Peter Erskine take over sax and drums, respectively, while the added position goes to Alan Pasqua on organ. The songs are a mix of pop and jazz standards -- Tom Harrell's "Sail Away" is the only latecomer. Oleszkiewicz arranged them, and they flow with marvelous ease, with Koonse and Pasqua taking especially attractive turns. I'm not so pleased with the vocals, which might have benefitted from a lighter voice. Haven't watched the DVD, but might. [B+(***)]
Stanley Turrentine: A Bluish Bag (1967 , Blue Note): Two big band sessions, with 6-7 horns and 3-4 rhythm each, the former chopped up for two 1975-79 albums, the latter stuck in the vaults until now. Mr. T doesn't get a lot of solo space, but Duke Pearson's arrangements give everyone a lot to do, and several cuts really swing together. B+(***)
Frank Foster: Manhattan Fever (1968-69 , Blue Note): The 6- and 7-piece groups here sound larger than that -- Foster's apprenticeship with Count Basie skilled him at sharpening the edges of the arrangements, and he never wastes an instrument, typically riffing against sharp blasts of brass, then parting the waters for a deft solo with a bit of piano; Duke Pearson produced, and must have pushed him hard. A-
Introducing Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet (1968-69 , Blue Note): A no-name hard bop crew from Detroit, cut two albums sandwiched together on one disc here, then mostly vanished -- a couple showed up on an MC5 record, and hung out with Phil Ranelin's Tribe, and much later Cox appeared on James Carter's Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge. Actually, they're sharp and lively, especially trumpeter Charles Moore. B+(***)
Andrew Hill: Change (1966 , Blue Note): The fine print notes that this, minus two alternate takes, was originally issued under Sam Rivers' name as half of the 1976 2-LP Involution. That it should now revert to Hill's catalogue reflects the changing fortunes of the principals. Hill was a pet project of Francis Wolf in the '60s, but much recorded then went unreleased at the time, including this quartet with Rivers. From the late '90s, Hill mounted quite a comeback, with two much admired albums on Palmetto and a return to Blue Note, Time Lines, which swept most jazz critic polls in 2006. I'm not a huge fan of the late albums, but they've led to a massive reissue of Hill's 1963-69 Blue Note period, which has if anything grown in stature. Rivers' career actually parallels Hill's quite nicely, with Blue Note in the '60s, a long stretch in the wilderness, and a comeback in 1999, with two large ensemble albums, Inspiration and Culmination, released on RCA. Hill died in 2007, but Rivers carries on in his 80s, with an exemplary trio album, Violet Violets (Stunt) in 2004. Still, it is appropriate to restore this session to Hill's ledger: he wrote all of the pieces, and once you get past the ugliness of an 11:04 opener called "Violence" the sax calms down and the piano emerges, as impressive as ever. A-
Jimmy Smith: Straight Life (1961 , Blue Note): A simple organ-guitar-drums trio, as restrained as anything he's ever done, which makes the eloquence of his phrasing on such a crude instrument all the more impressive. This has actually been a remarkable installment in Blue Note's Connoisseur Series: five albums, all so obscure I've never heard of them, each surprisingly close to my A- cusp. The series are nominally limited editions, although those that sell out have been known to return as RVG Editions. B+(***)
Joseph Jarman: As If It Were the Seasons (1968 , Delmark): The arty 23:47 title cut was done by a trio plus voice, the sort of thing that AACM could do when imagining great black classical music. But when the gang -- including Muhal Richard Abrams, Fred Anderson, and John Stubblefield -- showed up for the 20:58 "Song for Christopher" all hell broke loose. You already know whether you can stand this or not, but if you can, focus on the percussive thrash, credited to Everybody. B+(**)
Club D'Elf: Perhapsody: Live 10.12.06 (2006 , Kufala, 2CD): The paper insert where you might expect a booklet merely explains the "biodegradable/no plastic/no chemicals/no toxins" packaging -- not that you'll really be in much hurry to throw this away. The diversity shown on their one studio album, Now I Understand, was the result of networking and taking eight years to record the thing. On any given night, they're likely to be much more specialized. On this one the absence of Ibrahim Frigane means no Middle Eastern charms, and the presence of John Medeski means lots of boogie groove. Indeed, it all sort of flows together. Only by the end does one start wondering why Medeski can't keep his own group motoring so effortlessly. Most likely, the answer is bassist and clubmaster, Mike Rivard. B+(**)
Charlie Haden/Antonio Forcione: Heartplay (2006 , Naim): Forcione is an Italian guitarist, or as his website puts it, "acoustic guitar virtuoso" -- close enough for me. Haden you know. So these are bass-guitar duets, simple things, gorgeous in their own way. Similar to things Haden did with Egberto Gismonti -- I'm tempted to say better, but I haven't heard the best regarded one, In Montreal (1989, ECM). I only wonder if there's enough here. [B+(***)]
David Witham: Spinning the Circle (2006 , Cryptogramophone): Pianist, works with electronics, plays accordion, all prominent here. This is only his second album, following the self-released On Line from 1988, but he has a fairly broad albeit scattered resume: studied with Jaki Byard and Alan Broadbent; worked as George Benson's "musical director" since 1990; produces a community TV show called "Portable Universe"; current projects with Ernie Watts, Jay Anderson, Jeff Gauthier, Luis Conte; dozens of credits, although there isn't much overlap between the obscure names AMG lists and the better-known ones listed on his website. This album pulls several of those threads together, but not into a clear picture. The record opens with a synth percussion rush, but rarely returns to it. There is a lot of texturing with guitar -- Nels Cline's electric on two tracks, Greg Leisz's steel on three more, the latter affecting a Hawaiian twist -- and reeds, with an occasional oasis of clearly thought-out piano. Most of the eight pieces have ideas worth exploring further, but few are followed up on. I've played this tantallizing album five times, and doubt that I'm going to figure much more out. B+(**)
The Nels Cline Singers: Draw Breath (2007, Cryptogramophone): The group name always throws me: there are no vocalists here, although Cline claims a credit for "megamouth" here, whatever that is. Cline plays guitar, electric more than acoustic, with or without effects. The group is what back in the '60s was called a Power Trio: guitar-bass-drums, like Cream, or the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Devin Hoff plays contrabass, which I take to be the big acoustic one. Scott Amendola is credited with drums, percussion, "live" electronics/effects. Glenn Kotche appears on one track, as if Amendola isn't enough. This is their third album, although Cline has other projects, including a rock band called Wilco -- or maybe he's just hired help there. This is as close as anyone's gotten to heavy metal jazz. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing; if I'm just not in the mood, or just got put out of the mood. I think I'll put it on the replay shelf and wait for a better time. Could be it's amazing. Could be it's not. I do recommend an earlier one called The Giant Pin (2003 , Cryptogramophone). [B+(**)]
Rob Garcia's Sangha: Heart's Fire (2005 , Connection Works): Drummer, based in New York (I think), plays Latin, mainstream, free, dixieland, whatever. This one leans Latin, and I'm impressed as long as I focus on the drummer. But I'm more dubious about all the flute and soprano sax, and simply don't care for the singer, who moves this into unappealing prog territory. B-
Boca do Rio (2007, Vagabundo): Unfair to make fun of these hard-working Brasil wannabes to point out that their rio is the Sacramento; the percussion is pretty sharp, and saxophonist Larry de la Cruz is always welcome, so I guess the problem is the vocals, and not just that Kevin Welch has swallowed way too much US pop harmonizing. C+
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Abbey Lincoln: Abbey Sings Abbey (2006 , Verve): Francis Davis raved about this in the Voice. I suspect that anyone else already in love with her will feel much the same. I've long been a disappointed skeptic, so the best I can say is that listening to her old songs redone here fails to remind me of whatever it was that annoyed me about her in the past. One possibility is that her voice has coarsened her voice, taking it off that pedestal I never cared for. But also, the arrangements are refreshing. The group is string-oriented, with Larry Campbell playing acoustic and electric guitar, National resonator guitar, pedal steel guitar, and mandolin; he's backed with cello, bass, drums, and accordion for color. The pedal steel is the biggest surprise, with "Blue Monk" played as a cowboy tune. The rest of the songs are originals, selected (I assume) for strong melodies that fit the framework -- a "greatest hits" effect, but given my ignorance without regrets. A couple of songs in I thought about suspending my skepticism, but the record runs long and isn't always convincing. B+(***)
The Puppini Sisters: Betcha Bottom Dollar (2005-06 , Verve): The WWII-era pieces that set the stage here refer these figurative-sisters -- Marcella is the only Puppini; Kate Mullins and Stephanie O'Brien were added to the act in London -- back to the Andrews Sisters. Pieces like "Mr. Sandman," "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön," and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" always appealed to me, and here they're as bright and perky as ever. More recent fare, including Kate Bush and Morrissey, are harder sells, but at least I'll take their "Heart of Glass." B+(*)
Sunday, July 22. 2007
I had a decent daily run going in July until yesterday, although most of the posts have been book quotes, and it helped that I had started to build up a backlog of them. Felt sick yesterday; spent most of the day in bed. Doesn't look like anything serious -- may have been something I ate. Does give me more time to read. I'm half way through Sandy Tolan's The Lemon Tree, which seemed like the logical successor to Tom Segev's 1967. The latter provided a lot of useful detail about how Israelis viewed the war, but failed to provide much context, either in terms of what others -- notably Arabs and Russians -- were actually thinking and doing or in terms of what the war's legacy actually turned out to be. It's as if the idea is that since Israelis are so schizophrenic, not to mention voluble, that one can cover all sides of issues by only examining the numerous Israeli variants. Tolan covers the same ground in 20 pages or so, including a Palestinian viewpoint that Segev omits. Still, I have a lot of remarkable quotes marked in Segev's book. Despite my critique, I came out wanting to read his 1949, but held back figuring I have the big picture anyway. I'm trying to gear my reading toward writing, and there are few subjects I feel I've researched more adequately than Israel. (My books section currently lists 29 books on Israel, plus there are a few others listed under Middle East, etc. An idea for a future post would be a short annotation of each book on the list.)
As it is, I'm mostly muddling through. The default activity is to listen to music and write notes about it. As I write this, I have 20 jazz prospecting notes ready to post, and the database rated count for the week is +21. Both numbers are close to long term norms, but certainly aren't banner weeks. Recycled Goods for August is pretty much written. Jazz Consumer Guide is up in the air, with no clear plan to close -- although there's something to be said for trying to knock it off quickly. I'm reading about as much as usual -- the Segev book that took me all week is 585 pages, but I've always been a slow reader. But I've fallen far short of keeping up with my usual web sources -- I have several TomDispatch articles open in tabs, but can't recall looking at Juan Cole or Helena Cobban in the last 2-3 weeks. I'm not making any progress on my book. I have been making fairly steady progress on many house projects. Also way behind on some website work; e.g., for Robert Christgau, who's 4-5 Consumer Guides ahead of me, plus I barely know what else. The big recent advance is that the Vista computer is finally running. Once I plug speakers into it I will be able to download music and play DVDs, which I haven't been able to do since February. The next big push is to get to where the piles of stuff all around me are shelved somewhat sensibly. I have both short- and long-term plans for that, which is good because short-term solutions never work.
The weather has finally gotten hot around here. Don't think we've officially had a 100-degree day yet, which may be some kind of record, but it's been well in the 90s for a couple of weeks now, and more humid than usual. All the rain pretty much ruined the wheat crop -- I've seen figures 30-40% down from norms. Most of the global warming models predict drought, but a pretty sure rule of thumb is that more heat means more rain somewhere. Even if the models are fallible, that doesn't mean the outcome is going to be favorable.
I'm rambling here, but wanted to get a post in. Jazz Prospecting tomorrow, then more book posts.
Friday, July 20. 2007
New York City had an explosion yesterday, demonstrating once again that stupidity and incompetence can do things that terrorists can only dream of. David Caruso, writing for AP, picked up in the Wichita Eagle today, writes:
$1.6 trillion is, like, double what Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the US since 2001. It is a number that is both prohbitively huge and more/less manageable. The only real difference is that nobody selling the Iraq war in 2002-03 came out and stated that the war would cost us a trillion dollars or more but would be worth it. Rather, we were told that the war would practically pay for itself -- mostly because no one would believe that anything over there would be worth spending trillions of dollars. For the warmongers, myopia was a necessity. But facing up to the infrastructure deficit requires exactly the opposite condition: it's easy to see that the investment is worth it in the long run, but hard to work it into the budget just now. Of course, as things do break, budgeting will get easier -- cf. the levies of New Orleans.
There are people who argue that government should be run like a business, which is scary given how notoriously short-term businesses think. The exact opposite is more like it: anything that a business can do most likely will be done by a business, unless government flat out obstructs it -- some businesses, like recreational drugs, even survive prohibition. The private sector responds to immediate demand, at least within frameworks where supply can be metered. On the other hand, government can act deliberately, subject only to politics. So government can do things that businesses cannot, like plan for the long term, or create public goods that need not be metered. The big problem is getting to where we can make sound political decisions. Politicians and government bureaucrats have notoriously poor reputations in that regard, in large part because government is relatively immune to the market corrections businesses respond to -- cf. the Iraq war. Getting better at political decision making requires that we get smarter about what we need government for, clearer about how we conceive of a public interest to counter against overly powerful private interests, more transparent and honest. It may even mean that we need to be willing to sacrifice some private interests to a broader, deeper good. That in turn requires trust and faith that most of our experience under unregulated power and greed turns us against.
Needless to say, this is going to get worse before it gets better. That much is clear from the people in power now and the trendline they represent and do so much to further.
Thursday, July 19. 2007
Rory Stewart's The Places In Between (2004; paperback, 2006, Harvest Books) is nominally a travel book, but you can just as well file it under shaggy dog stories. (Hint: a large dog is a prominent character here.) Stewart's idea was to walk from Istanbul to Nepal, or something like that. Due to political exigencies, he skipped over Afghanistan, then decided to fill it in after the Taliban scattered in late 2001 -- or fill some of it in, specifically the stretch from Herat to Kabul. It was winter, which gave him a notable predecessor: Emperor Babur, ruler of Kabul, made the same trek in 1504, describing it in a diary that provides a reference point here.
On a press conference with Ismail Khan, the warlord who took over Herat following the fall of the Taliban (pp. 53-54):
In Jam, the famed Turqoise Mountain of the Ghorid kingdom (p. 159):
On the road to Chaghcharan (pp. 161-162):
On the "new" Afghanistan (pp. 174-175):
On the changing of the Taliban (pp. 243-244):
A footnote on the war reporters: "This may have been becuase many of them had been in the Balkans and remembered the fury of anti-Milosevic Serbs over the Kosovo bombing."
A footnote to "policy makers would find it impossible to change Afghan society in the way they wished to change it" (p. 247-248):
That first paragraph includes a lot of wistful romantic thinking. Nineteenth-century colonialists may have been racist and exploitative? No shit? While the threat of revolt provided a check on their greed and/or folly, as it still does now, the manageable containment of revolt isn't much of a metric of success. The 19th century case may have been better managed in the sense that it was longer-term profit-seeking, but it also benefitted immeasurably by happening in the 19th century, when natives had primitive arms and communications networks, and often didn't understand the full impact of what the imperialists were up to. That colonialists have fared much worse in the 20th century can't be wholly chalked up to losing their skill set.
Stewart later moved on to Iraq, where he tried his hand at running a chunk of the country for the British. That's the subject of another book, The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq. I haven't read that book yet, but I gather he didn't do all that well.
Wednesday, July 18. 2007
At 933 pages, Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2005; paperback, 2006, Penguin Press) is a big book on a huge subject. He does a masterful job of pulling together the main political, economic, and cultural threads, starting with the devastation of WWII and the postwar reconstruction -- literally, of course, but also structurally through the cold war division and the emergence of a distinct and ultimately unifying European identity. A marvelous synthesis, the starting point for thinking about post-WWII Europe.
I could have quoted much more than the quite-a-bit I do quote below. The most striking things for me were the immediate postwar period. From the vantage point of subsequent recovery, we tend to gloss over the extent of the devastation and the bitterness of recriminations. In particular, the "greatest generation" myth has left us thinking that the US did something brilliant in the postwar rebuilding of Germany and Japan, whereas the facts here and in John Dower's Embracing Defeat suggest we were just damn lucky. Such myths then inspire our neo-interventionists to think we can apply that same genius to places like Afghanistan and Iraq -- in fact, we never had much of a knack for telling others how to live, and to shift from the most left to the most right administrations in US history disposed of the good will that made our luck possible.
So I've tended to pick quotes thinking of now rather than attempting to cover the book evenly -- a task impossible with any breadth at all.
From the introduction (p. 6):
Some of what WWII wrought (pp. 18-19):
A long quote on populations movements during and after WWII (pp. 22-26):
This is the context within which the Israel's transfers occurred: the exile of 700,000 Palestinians in 1947-49, and the subsequent immigration of Jews from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East; one can also add India-Pakistan, which occurred at the same time, and Turkey-Greece from around 1920. There are reasons why Palestine should have been handled differently, but it's also arguable that the UN approval of partition implicitly mandated transfer. Britain had proposed, and the Zionist authorities had accepted, partition with forced transfer in 1937, before the Palestinian revolt forced some backpeddling. The forced transfers in Europe set the rule and made clear the assumptions that the Zionists would apply in 1948. On the other hand, the UN wasn't explicit, and started to back down almost as soon as Palestinian Arab leaders rejected partition -- Israel likes to point out that the UN approved Israel's founding in 1947, but not that Israel rebuffed every effort the UN made to negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement -- most dramatically when the UN negotiator was assassinated -- and that Israel has never honored UN resolutions calling for the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in peace.
Given the persistence of the nationalism, anti-semitism, and the general atmosphere of such transfers, it's easy to understand why Jews in Palestine felt entitled to their piece of the action, especially once they were strong enough to make it happen. On the other hand, Palestine was most clearly the responsibility of the UN, and the UN was created specifically to move the world past ideologies like nationalism that had led to world war. Palestine turned out to be the first big test of whether the UN could steer the world in a different direction; as such, it was the first case where the UN failed, reverting to politics as usual.
More on population transfer (p. 27):
On Jews in Europe (pp. 31-32):
The war in Greece, extending in to longer-term left-right struggle (p. 35):
On Nazi war crimes trials (p. 54):
On denazification programs (p. 56):
More (p. 57):
And more (p. 58):
Eventually, the lessons of denazification did sink in, but it was more with the postwar generation than with those who supported Hitler at the time. And the reason probably had much less to do with what the denazification programme had to say than with the fact that the postwar era allowed Germany to rebuild and prosper where the Nazis had ultimately brought only defeat and despair. When Germany was ruined and starving, denazification was further punishment; in a prosperous Germany, Nazism became useless and unfashionable baggage.
The US patterned the Iraq debaathification program after the mythical German success. It failed for numerous reasons, especially because life got harder for most Iraqis in post-Saddam Iraq.
On the origins of the welfare state (p. 72):
On punishing Germany (pp. 105-106):
In retrospect, we like to think that enlightened, constructive occupation was just the American way -- proof that we always knew better than the vindictive Versailles settlement that ended the First and effectively started the Second World War. As this quote shows, that outcome was not inevitable, and was largely a pragmatic response to the cold war, and even more simply by our desire not to foot the costs of occupation. Moreover, a big part of why this worked was that the Soviets acted out the "bad cop" role so convincingly that our "good cop" appeared tolerable. (This was especially true with Japan, who surrendered quickly enough after the Soviet Union declared war to avoid being partitioned like Germany. Korea was not so lucky.)
The cold war arms race as economic stimulus (pp. 151-152):
The same thing happened with Japan as a result of the Korean War. This all created the illusion that war was good for business, which in turn gave neither side much incentive for toning the conflict down. This was especially true in the West, where memory of the Great Depression was still strong, and even diehard capitalists came to see military spending as acceptable Keynesianism.
Stalin and the Jews (pp. 182-183):
Western intellectual affection for communism (pp. 216-217):
It seems simpler to me to say that these periods of blind support for Stalin correspond most closely with periods of rising right-wing aggression. Since the right focused its attacks on the Soviet Union, it seemed natural and necessary to come to its defense. Most people practice politics according to their local needs. Only when the local political context is neutral can one afford to be objective about somewhere else.
On religion in the near postwar period; that this reversed later on suggests a poverty-prosperity dynamic (pp. 227-228):
On the end of the colonial era, starting with the 1956 Suez war, when the US forced Britain, France, and Israel to withdraw after attacking Egypt (p. 298):
More post-Suez (p. 299):
The illustrations between pp. 234-235 include a cartoon quoting Dean Acheson in 1962 saying "Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role." The cartoon shows JFK's head poking out the shoulder of a horse suit, with Harold Macmillan approaching him, the caption "Er, could I be the hind legs, please?" Could just as easily be recycled with Bush and Blair.
On free trade, globalization, and the exploitation of the Third World (p. 326):
On the Sixties (pp. 477-478):
On Thatcher (p. 545):
On Chernobyl and the decline and fall of the Soviet Union (pp. 597-599):
Judt then notes that the impossibility of keeping Chernobyl secret led Gorbachev to "shift gears" and relax censorship, thus initiating how perestroika policy.
The book extensively covers the fall of the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. Here's a note on the rather anomalous case of Romania (pp. 622-623):
On the triumph of capitalism in Russia (pp. 688-689):
On Bush-era politics (p. 786):
A little bit on what we remember as history, specifically on how France remembers itself (pp. 816-817):
Big local news yesterday was that the Barton Solvents plant in Valley Center, KS -- about 9-10 miles north-northwest of where we live -- exploded around 9AM and burned the rest of the day, spewing toxic fumes, mostly blowing north away from Wichita. Valley Center had to be evacuated. The plant had 36 large tanks of chemicals -- mostly degreasers and paint strippers -- and all 36 burned. The soot was noted as particularly corrosive. The company has played down the long-term risks of the chemicals, some known to be carcinogenic. This is the second major industrial accident turned ecological disaster in Kansas in the last few weeks, following a flood at a Coffeyville oil refinery that spread thousands of gallons of oil and chemicals throughout the town.
This isn't enough data to generalize into any assertions about how the right's pursuit of deregulation and underming of labor, job safety, and environmental regulations may be kicking back at us. But it is clear that whenever anything like this happens, everyone -- industry included -- looks to government to clean up the mess. Whether the Bush administration has stacked the deck to make such accidents more likely is something to look into, but it's certainly the case that Bush has made it harder to respond appropriately to such events.
On the world news, these events were overshadowed by a nuclear power plant in Japan, which leaked radiation due to damage from an earthquake. That's one of those things that critics of nuclear power have warned against for decades now. Offhand, the damage appears to be far less than one could imagine, but the costs to clean it up will no doubt be enormous. The earthquake was rated at 6.8, which is substantial but far from the top of the scale. Japan is very prone to earthquakes, but supposedly also skilled at building around them.
Nuclear power plants, oil refineries, solvent factories -- these have become necessary hazards of everyday life. Under the best of circumstances it is hard to evaluate the real risks they pose. Having them run by private companies in states dominated by crony capitalism makes it all the more difficult. The usual methods of risk assessment, like insurance costs, seem to be falling apart. One wonders whether anyone knows the real risks and potential liabilities of disasters anymore.
I'll be posting a quote from Tony Judt's Postwar on Chernobyl and the ecological disasters in the Soviet Union, which were far worse than anything listed above. Those cases were deeply rooted in the Soviet system, but that doesn't guarantee they can't happen here. Bush capitalism strikes me as converging on some of the worst aspects of the Soviet system: economic command systems outside of public scrutiny and regulation, protected by a cult of secrecy; the belief all problems are political, even to the extent that ideology trumps science; a cynical dependence on propaganda; a cavalier acceptance of corruption. It seems to matter least whether the polluters are private owners or state apparatchiks.
Tuesday, July 17. 2007
Recycled Goods #45, July 2007, has been posted at Static Multimedia. Given that June's column had been delayed, I took a little extra time for July to space the columns out. I hope to adjust the schedule back to the start of each month by September or October, although they've always been somewhat hit-and-miss.
One error has already come to my attention: the Standells' hit was "Dirty Water" -- not "Muddy Water." Maybe it's that the floods here in Kansas have churned up so much mud -- I've never seen the Little Arkansas so thickly brown as it's been recently -- but in my haste I pull these references out of an increasingly faulty memory. Don't have much of a fact checking department here.
The album count is up to 1920. Currently have 42 records held back for August or later, plus 9 more for a future (September?) "In Series" on Cuban classics.
Monday, July 16. 2007
I expected to have July's Recycled Goods out by now, but it's been delayed again. The publisher has it now, and it should be out later this week. I dabbled a bit on reissues and backlog and even made up my mind on TV on the Radio [B+(**)] but mostly I prospected jazz this last week, and found a few contenders. I wound up having to complain about not getting the Billy Bang and David Murray records -- struck me as a pretty major oversight, but in the end they sent Alvin Queen as a bonus. Also caught up with Clean Feed and their weird promo packages -- the last batch managed to get wet, like they had to swim from Portugal, but they played OK. Put quite a few back for further listening. Figure next week will be more of the same, possibly with some second passes worked in.
Boots Randolph: A Whole New Ballgame (2006 , Zoho): Tenor saxophonist, did some pop instrumentals in the early '60s which got classified as country because he was born in Paducah and based in Nashville. No idea what the title means -- there's nothing remotely new here, just a bunch of swing standards like "Stompin' at the Savoy" plus a couple of weak takes on Parker and Monk. Not much impressed by his tone, but I can't get too down on him. [Just noticed that he passed away on July 3, at age 80.] B-
Alvin Queen: I Ain't Looking at You (2005 , Enja/Justin Time): Drummer, from Queens, has a couple of albums on his own, as well as side credits, going back to the '70s, including: Charles Tolliver, Lockjaw Davis, Horace Parlan, John Patton, George Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Drew, Bennie Wallace, Dusko Goykovich, Warren Vaché. Going back to the '60s, as a teenager he played in a Wild Bill Davis Trio, spent six months with Don Pullen backing Ruth Brown, joined Horace Silver's band, then by the time he was 21 moved on to George Benson. I list all this not just to establish Queen's bona fides but because he manages to pull them all together here. Mike LeDonne's organ identifies this as soul jazz, underscored by opening with a Shirley Scott piece, reflected later in a LeDonne original called "Shirley's Song." The B3 usually covers for piano and bass, so most organ records are trios, with drums and either guitar or a horn. This does both, with Peter Bernstein on guitar, Jesse Davis on alto sax, and for good measure Terrell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn. Soul jazz may seem like old news -- only two originals here, both by LeDonne, both pointed straight into the past -- but it's rarely been done with so much flair. A-
Sten Sandell Trio + John Butcher: Strokes (2006 , Clean Feed): Sandell is a Norwegian pianist, combines interests in free improv, avant composition (Cage, Feldman, Xenakis), classical music from around the world, art rock, and so forth. Also dabbles in voice and electronics, which are used here but not so obvious. Butcher is a British saxophonist; he's recorded quite a bit since 1990, but I've heard very little and don't have much of a sense of him. Two long pieces here, plus one short one at the end -- sort of a throwback to the '70s, when we still thought we could discover new things. Maybe we still can. [B+(**)]
Sonic Openings Under Pressure: Muhheankuntuk (2006 , Clean Feed): Alto sax trio, led by Patrick Brennan, who's recorded under this group name with other people before -- this time it's Hilliard Greene on bass, David Pleasant on drums, etc. Brennan came to New York from Detroit in 1975. He plays tight, fast, complex runs over free rhythms, with a hard tone; unpretty, but rigorously functional. Need to play it again, but I'm impressed so far. Don't know how many records he has, but this is the first I've heard. [B+(***)]
Joélle Leandre/Pascal Contet: Freeway (2005 , Clean Feed): Duo improv, with Leandre on bass, Contet on accordion. Record split into 12 pieces, titled "Freeway 1" to "Freeway 12." In short, scattered stuff that demands a close ear, and returns somewhat more than passing interest. B+(*)
Anthony Braxton/Joe Fonda: Duets 1995 (1995 , Clean Feed): This is a reissue of 10 Compositions (Duet) 1995, previously issued on Konnex. Braxton plays C melody and alto sax, contrabass and B flat clarinet; Fonda plays double bass. Composition count doesn't quite add up: 8 pieces here, one of which is called "Composition 168-147"; two are covers, one from Cole Porter, the other from Vernon Duke. Elemental free jazz interplay, just Fonda's bass circled by Braxton's saxophones or clarinets; measured, thoughtful, too carefully planned and executed to be pure improv, but rarely what you expected. B+(***)
Evan Parker: A Glancing Blow (2006 , Clean Feed): A trio with John Edwards on bass, Chris Corsano on drums. Parker's an important player with a huge discography that I've barely scratched the surface of and can scarcely claim to get. About all I can say is that I find his electronics baffling; his soprano sax can get pretty annoying (and sometimes amazing, as in The Snake Decides); but I usually enjoy his tenor sax, which is much in evidence here. Two long pieces, evidently live, from the Vortex in London. Would like to hear more. Indeed, he's a long-term project. [B+(***)]
Joe Morris/Ken Vandermark/Luther Gray: Rebus (2006 , Clean Feed): Six pieces, each called "Rebus," with no composer credit -- at least that I can find in the weird and, in this case, severely mangled promo packaging -- so I figure this is pure improv, built around a Morris theme. I've tried focusing on the guitarist throughout: his solos sparkle, and he's played enough bass elsewhere in his career that he fills that role when Vandermark takes over -- which is most of the time. Vandermark sticks to tenor sax here -- he plays all sorts of reed instruments in his conceptual contexts, but the tenor sax is his native language, and I can listen to him spin its stories endlessly. Gray helps out on drums. A-
Raymond MacDonald/Günter "Baby" Sommer: Delphinius & Lyra (2005 , Clean Feed): MacDonald is a alto/soprano saxophonist from Scotland. Has a group called the Burt-MacDonald Quintet ("one of the most adventurous jazz groups in Scotland"; Burt is guitarist George), and plays in the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, a/k/a GIO. MacDonald is pretty obscure, but Sommer has been one of the main drummers of Europe's avant-garde over the last three decades, despite spending much of that time in the GDR. His own discography is thin, but includes a number of notable duos, especially with Cecil Taylor and Irène Schweizer. He brings a lot to this duo, even when the main thing you hear is MacDonald's piercing squall. One section erupts in shouts. These guys are having a blast. [B+(***)]
Martin Speicher/Georg Wolf/Lou Grassi: Shapes and Shadows (2006 , Clean Feed): Free jazz trio; alto sax/clarinet, bass, drums, respectively. Speicher is German, did a couple of records in the '90s, but otherwise I don't know anything about him. I know even less about Wolf. Grassi is an American drummer; runs a group called PoBand with 10 or so records, and has side credits going back to Roswell Rudd's Numatic Swing Band. Another fine record, although after a handful of these I'm hard-pressed to sort them all out; this one winds up as something people who like this sort of thing will like, but probably not much more. B+(*)
Ravish Momin's Trio Tarana: Miren (A Longing) (2006 , Clean Feed): Indian percussionist, based in New York. Did a previous Trio Tarana album I liked a lot, called Climbing the Banyan Tree (Clean Feed), with Jason Kao Hwang and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz. The group has changed this time, with Sam Bardfeld replacing Hwang on violin, Brandon Terzic replacing Blumenkranz on oud. Neither strikes me as an improvement -- the Chinese twang of Hwang's violin is particularly missed -- but the riddim rolls on just fine. [B+(***)]
David Lackner: Chapter One (2006, Dreambox Media): Alto/soprano saxophonist, in a Philadelphia quintet drescribed as "the Dreambox house band." I know very little about Lackner, other than that he's very young (20, I hear) and this is his first album. He wrote all but two of the pieces, covering "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" and "Cherokee." Has a very nice, warm tone on alto, playing fairly mainstream post-bop. B+(*)
François Ingold Trio: Song Garden (2006 , Altrisuoni): Swiss pianist, in a trio with bassist Diego Imbert and drummer Fred Bintner. Looks like his first album. Don't know much more. I like the record quit ea bit, but it's one of those things I don't have much to say about. Given the nominal release date, no problem holding it back for later. [B+(**)] [Sept. 1]
Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe: Above & Beyond: An Evening in Grand Rapids (2003 , Justin Time): They pulled this out of the files, recognizing it as the last time Bang and Lowe played together, but regardless of context it is simply fabulous. If Lowe seems uncharacteristically mild, Bang explains that Lowe was only operating on one lung, and in Cleveland "he was so out of breath at the end of the gig that the lady who promoted it wanted to call an ambulance." Lowe looks awful on the back cover here, and finally succumbed to cancer less than five months hence. But the word for his sound here is sweet. Andrew Bemkey's piano adds a contrasting sharpness, and Bang flat out swings. Some spots get rough, including an awkward, ugly close on one piece where all you can do is laugh it off. A-
David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Sacred Ground (2006 , Justin Time): This record does not mark the return of David Murray to church. The title piece and a closer called "The Prophet of Doom" are based on texts by Ishmael Reed, sung by Cassandra Wilson, with little or no gospel reference. Five pieces in between are instrumentals, Murray originals played by his quartet. Just to single out one of them, "Pierce City" has the most intense, uplifting, overpowering tenor sax solo I've heard in this young century, followed by a piano run that flows from the comping and is good enough to forgive Lafayette Gilchrist's last album. Murray returns on bass clarinet to tone down the next cut. I'm not done with this -- the grade here is a minimum, and could rise. Given that my other favorite record this year is Powerhouse Sound, we could wind up with another Vandermark-Murray pick hit billing. I hate being so predictable, and hope someone else steps up to the plate. But this makes that a tall order. A-
Roscoe Mitchell/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2, and 3 (2004 , ECM): I'm reluctant to rate this because I'm only sort of starting to get it, but objectively it's difficult enough that it's likely to end up more or less where it is. The US contingent starts with three quarters of James Carter's old quartet (Craig Taborn, Jaribu Shahid, Tani Tabbal), then adds trumpeter Corey Wilkes and Mitchell playing relatively inconspicuous soprano sax. The Europeans mostly cluster around Evan Parker, significantly including Barry Guy and Paul Lytton. There's also a string section keyed by Philipp Wachsmann's violin -- another Parker connection. Recorded in Munich, which gives the benefit of the doubt to Europe. Starts dull with strings, but flows, branches, flowers, whatever. Some of this sounds like what I imagine Barry Guy's bands should sound like if I could hear them, which thus far has never happened -- of all those I see as projects, he's one of the toughest. Intersects enough with Parker's electro projects, also on ECM, that it could be considered one. Don't know, but I do rather enjoy the complex layering. It's enough to get lost in. [B+(**)]
Stefano Battaglia: Re: Pasolini (2005 , ECM, 2CD): That would be Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-75), best known for but by no means limited to his films. Battaglia is a pianist and composer who pays homage at great length, writing material that would no doubt work as soundtrack. The two discs have different groups with Battaglia the only common player, but cello dominates both, with violin added on the second, trumpet and clarinet on the first. I'm torn here, impressed by the stately, magisterial music, but anxious to move on. B+(*)
Ron Carter: Dear Miles, (2006 , Blue Note): Well, he's got a right, and he's still commanding with his bass. The group is a quartet -- actually, a piano trio plus percussion. The pianist is Stephen Scott, a good fit. The songbook is mostly associated with Miles Davis, but only "Seven Steps to Heaven" has even a co-credit to Davis. Two pieces are by Carter, who's also associated with Davis. B+(**)
Russ Spiegel: Chimera (2006 , Steeplechase): Guitarist, originally from Los Angeles (b. 1962), lived in Germany for a spell, now based in Brooklyn. First album, a sextet including vibes but no piano. Wrote all the pieces except "Cherokee." The two horns -- David Smith's trumpet, Arun Luthra's saxes -- offer rich and varied higlights, but the spots that most struck me were when the guitar rose to the top. Will get back to the album later, but for now I want to not how pleased I was to open my mail and find a Steeplecase CD in it. They're a Danish label, founded in 1972, with a large, well tended, and critically important catalog. Although they have had a few European artists -- Tete Montoliu, John Tchicai, Michal Urbaniak, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen -- they've primarily served as a haven for American artists, starting with Dexter Gordon, Jackie McLean, Duke Jordan, and Archie Shepp, while later filling their catalog with postbop notables like Doug Raney, George Colligan, Harold Danko, Joe Locke, Steve Stryker, Bob Rockwell, many others. Lately they've been hard to get in touch with and follow -- I could say much the same about Criss Cross, a similar Dutch label. [B+(**)]
Tomas Janzon: Coast to Coast to Coast (2006, Changes Music): Janzon noticed I had put this on down in the "low priority" section of that missed music list I published a few months ago, so he sent a copy. Glad he did. Guitarist, born in Sweden, based in Los Angeles (more or less) since 1991. Record is recorded with several configurations of trio and quartet groups -- no horns, the fourth instrument is either William Henderson's piano or Birger Thorelli's marimba. Cool, intricate style; attractive record. [B+(**)]
Rafi Malkiel: My Island (2006 , Raftone): Latin jazz, with all the bells and maracas, the songs conscientiously broken down by style (bolero, guajira, bomba, danzon-cha, etc.) and country (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Brazil, with New Orleans listed for Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy." Malkiel is originally from Israel, now based on New York. He plays trombone and euphonium, composed the majority of the pieces, arranged the rest. I suppose I'll get flack for favoring this over the natives, but I love the light touch and imaginative arrangements -- even the old-fashioned vocals -- and I do enjoy good trombone. [A-]
Alexa Weber Morales: Vagabundeo/Wanderings (2007, Patois): Singer-songwriter, from Berkeley CA, on her second album; I find her command of Latin idioms completely convincing, entrancing even, but I can't say the same for her Afro-funk, 6/8 gospel, or ballad, and have the usual reservations about that goddess of war. B
Charmaine Clamor: Flippin' Out (2007, FreeHam): Jazz singer, from Subic-Zambales in the Philippines, presumably based in the US these days, on her second album. First song is a "My Funny Valentine" spinoff ("My Funny Brown Pinay") that I found annoying, and she continued to dig a whole for herself until midway through I noticed that her take on Nina Simone's "Sugar in My Bowl" wasn't bad. That was followed by a 5-piece "Filipino Suite" that started with some interesting percussion courtesy of the Pakaragulan Kulintang Ensemble. That didn't quite sustain my interest, but her "Be My Love" ballad came off well. So I figure I should play it again, but not now. [B]
Nicki Parrott/Rossano Sportiello: People Will Say We're in Love (2006 , Arbors): I'm tempted to make this a Pick Hit just for the cover, with the gawky, awkward, besmitten pianist hovering behind the lithe, discreetly charming bassist/singer. He is actually an elegant accompanist, with light touch and considerable speed to build upon the bass melodies. He even joins in on singing one -- terrible voice, of course. She has a delightful voice -- not something you'd put on a pedestal -- but she's also content to just play bass more often than not. Standards mostly. Charming record. B+(**)
Joe Cohn: Restless (2006 , Arbors): Al Cohn's son, basically a rhythm guitarist, which means he tends to disappear behind the horns regardless of how much swing he contributes. Co-led a group that put out a terrific album last year, but most of the credit went to his partner Harry Allen, who does that sort of thing all the time. Here Cohn is alone on the cover, mostly working with a mild-mannered alto saxophonist named Dmitry Baevsky. Their cuts are uniformly nice. But on five cuts, Allen appears as a guest, and he really slices the bacon. So in the end this is half a Harry Allen album -- an inconvincing step forward for Cohn, but one with much to enjoy. B+(***)
Barney McClure Trio: Spot (2006 , OA2): This looks like a low-value target: organ-guitar-drums trio, three guys I've never heard of: the leader playing organ, drummer Kevin Congleton, guitarist, and with a "featuring" credit, guitarist Mike Denny. But Denny composed half the pieces, and outranks McClure in previous albums, two to one. (Correction: McClure's website lists five previous albums; haven't found any more for Denny.) Actually, this is a terrific record -- light, loose, and lively, none of which are common adjectives for organ trios. [B+(***)]
No final grades/notes on records put back for further listening this week.