Wednesday, October 31. 2007
One more little item for the disaster file (Nafeesa Syed, Associated Press):
Another Barton Solvents plant in Valley Center, KS -- about 10 miles north-northwest of where I live in Wichita -- exploded and caught fire earlier this year. Terrorism is not suspected in either case. Incompetence suffices. In America's post-2000 disaster file, acts of terrorists are few and far between -- 9/11/2001 now looks like an anomaly, even though the Bush gang has worked overtime to provoke potential enemies into further strikes. That we worry so much more about terrorism may reflect a subliminal, uninspected guilty conscience over what we do (or is done in our name) abroad. But real disasters here are due to ordinary things: development that pushes the limits of our resources, natural events that are made worse by that development (or possibly unnatural ones given our contributions to global warming), cutting corners to scratch out short-term profits, and a general dumbing down of everything.
Tuesday, October 30. 2007
The Wichita Eagle carried an article today by Halimah Abdullah of McClatchy Newspapers, titled "Majority of students in South are poor":
This isn't much of a surprise. All my life it's been clear that the people who run Mississippi would rather be part of a third world banana republic than a developed first world democracy, and probably for no better reason than spite: having lost the Civil War, they resolved to keep blacks as poor as they were during slavery, and wound up treating most whites little better, lest anyone get the idea that progress was possible. I've been reading Ira Katznelson's When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America, which has many examples of this. Katznelson quotes a letter to Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo in 1944, which displays the basic sentiment (p. 81):
For whatever it's worth, the author was Robert Byrd, who became (and still is) a Senator himself, representing West Virginia. I picked out Katznelson's book because it follows up on a main theme in Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal: the single most important reason why America abandoned the New Deal welfare state was race hatred. In doing so, the white middle class created in "the Great Compression" of the New Deal and WWII has allowed itself to dissolve into inequality and uncertainty for no better reason than spiteful resolve to keep blacks from joining in the same benefits. As Katznelson points out, the white south took the lead, especially in turning against organized labor in the 1940s. The crippling of the south then (and now) cannot be attributed to diminished political power. Rather, in both cases it is the fruit of the south's political ascendency -- abetted, of course, by alliance with the Republicans, which finally have been remade in the confederacy's image.
Lack of education is nothing new to the south. Katznelson writes (p. 101):
To blame the current rising figure on "federal cutbacks" ignores the fact that southern politicians have agitated for those cutbacks, and that southern states do little if anything on their own to make up for them -- unlike northern states, which are consistently better off precisely because their state governments take some interest in the welfare of their citizens.
Most likely, the trends noted are due to more than increasing poverty, although that's certainly the tide that lifts the entire region. The numbers are also increased by whites withdrawing from the public education systems their political power has wrecked. Backlash against immigrants (illegal and otherwise) is also a likely factor, especially in the west. But all three trends are squarely the fault of the political right and the wrath they take out on the poor. Not realizing that we all depend on each other for our overall welfare, they, like Byrd, would rather perish than share. The numbers show that they are succeeding.
Monday, October 29. 2007
One of the chores I face each time I end a Jazz Consumer Guide cycle is the need to cut back my ever-growing file of hopefuls for the next column. I can only slot about 30 records per column, and only manage to get columns published every three months or so. Most low B+ and lower records (excepting a few dud candidates) get cut as soon as I rate them, but that still leaves more than I can possibly fit in. By the end of this latest cycle I had 108 records languishing in my "done" file. I've trimmed them back to 67, which still leaves a lot of records that will never make it, but helps to make my paperwork more manageable. In most cases, I don't have much to say beyond what I've already said in my jazz prospecting notes, but in a few cases I thought I'd add a few parting words:
Alvin Batiste: Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste (2006 , Marsalis Music/Rounder): Released along with a Bob French tribute, which nabbed an honorable mention right with a slight edge over this. Then Batiste, a veteran New Orleans clarinetist who had rarely been recorded well, passed away, making this all the more valuable. B+(**)
Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo (2005, , ECM): An attractive, eloquent album, well crafted, patiently executed, enough to overcome my congenital resistance to solo piano, but still didn't quite inspire me to write about it. B+(**)
Harry Connick Jr.: Chanson du Vieux Carré (2003 , Marsalis Music/Rounder): A big band album of old New Orleans, dusted off post-Katrina and sloughed off on Connick's B-label, where he had to get others to take the vocals. I ultimately decided that the A-label Oh, My Nola (2006 , Columbia) was slightly better overall, then wound up using neither. B+(**)
Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Live at the Blue Monk (2006, Charles Lester Music): An old-fashioned avant-garde trio, which is to say they like to make a racket in additional to wheeling and dealing freely. Futterman is a pianist of the Cecil Taylor school; Levin a saxophonist who can get dirty; Fielder has his AACM credentials. I always dig their records, but somehow never get around to writing about them. B+(**)
Gold Sparkle Trio With Ken Vandermark: Brooklyn Cantos (2002 , Squealer): The Trio already has a fine saxophonist in Charles Waters, as well as a superb drummer in Andrew Barker. Adding Vandermark doubles the fun, but this was old when I got it and kept slipping behind newer records. B+(***)
Dave Holland Quintet: Critical Mass (2005 , Dare2/Sunnyside): Seems like Holland is such a big name this should have been dealt with in a more timely fashion, but I was real slow on the uptake, or maybe just fascinated with the idea of cutting it down. Ultimately, there's just too much talent here for that. B+(***)
Jerry Leake: The Turning: Percussion Explorations (2005 , Rhombus Publishing): Nine out of ten jazz musicians claim to be educators these days, but Leake really is one, and this is a world-class textbook on percussion. B+(***)
Abbey Lincoln: Abbey Sings Abbey (2006 , Verve): Aside from We Insist -- Freedom Now, under husband Max Roach's name, I've never found a record by her that I've really cared for. At first these were disappointing; over time they became annoying. She does have her fans, including critics I rarely argue with, so I figure my resistance to her is just one of those weird personal quirks. For whatever it's worth, I think this is her best record, at least of the half-dozen or so I've heard. The songs are field-tested, the arrangements cleverly developed. Her voice is rougher than it used to be, and I think that helps. Francis Davis wrote a rave in the Voice already. I don't see much value in adding my lukewarm consent. B+(***)
Roswell Rudd & Yomo Toro: El Espíritu Jíbaro (2002-06 , Sunnyside): One of Rudd's world music match-ups, with Bobby Sanabria reinforcing Toro's Puerto Rican country beat, and Rudd just being the great trombonist he's always been. Better than his beatless Mali album; not as intriguing a mix as those Mongolian throat singers. Francis Davis reviewed this among a bunch of Rudd records in the Voice, and I wrote plenty on this in RG. B+(***)
David Smith Quintet: Circumstance (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Young Canadian trumpet player gets a nice coming out party, with a strong assist from saxophonist Seamus Blake. B+(***)
Toph-E & the Pussycats: Live in Detroit (2004 , CD Baby): Basically a funk band, not all that special, but fun enough I was long tempted to slip them in somewhere. B+(**)
Lars-Göran Ulander Trio: Live at the Glenn Miller Café (2004 , Ayler): Swedish saxophonist, a local legend from the 1960s, given a shot at a headline album, which he aces. Between the obscurity and the competition, I never got back to this. The label has since moved into a new download-only business model, which is a shame given the nice packaging. Also given the distaste I have for downloading. B+(***)
The complete list of surplus cuts for this cycle is here.
Jazz Consumer Guide appeared in the Village Voice last week, so this week should have kicked the prospecting for the next one up a gear. But as it turns out, I have little to report below. I'm still working on finishing up November's Recycled Goods column. Working on that took most of my time, and skewed what little follows. Also played another That Devilin' Tune box. That looks to be December's "In Series" feature, but will take a sizable chunk of time to even partially digest.
I've made a pass on culling the surplus in preparation for next Jazz CG. I knocked the "done" file down from 108 records to a more manageable 67. A lot of good records got knocked out there, but the pending file is up to 188 records. I've also moved the print/flush notes to the notebook, mostly to make them easier to find in the distant future. I'll do a follow-up post on the surplus later today, at worst tomorrow. November Recycled Goods is a day or two away from going to the editor. Just looking at the shelves, next week should see a lot of new jazz prospected.
Choro Ensemble: Nosso Tempo (2007, Anzic): Anat Cohen, on clarinet, fronts a Brazilian group, with Gustavo Dantas' 6-string guitar, Carlos Almeida's 7-string guitar, Pedro Ramos' cavaquinho and tenor guitar, Zé Mauricio's percussion (pandeiro, zabumba, surdo). Aside from the clarinet, the choro is felt and authentic. The clarinet isn't authentic, to choro at least; the exultant uplift Cohen brings to the proceedings sounds much like the stock-in-trade worldview of klezmer. B+(*) [advance]
Wendy Fopeano: Raining on the Roses (2006 , Outside Shore): Vocalist, originally from Kansas City, now based in Denver. Second album. Likes vocalese, writing her own lyrics to David Murray and Kenny Barron pieces, as well as using some of Jon Hendricks' lyrics. Likes to scat. Does two Jobim songs, several standards, one co-credit with pianist-husband Marc Sabatella. Gives one song slot up to fellow KC vocalist Carol Comer. Recorded live with a pretty upbeat group. B
Julie Hardy: The Wish (2006 , World Culture Music): Vocalist, from New Hampshire, now in Brooklyn after studying in Boston. Second album, after A Moment's Notice (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent). Wrote half or a bit more, including three pieces subtitled parts of "The Wish Suite." Also does a Beatles song, some standards, and added lyrics to a Wayne Shorter piece. Band includes some minor names -- guitarist Ben Monder is probably the best known. I didn't care much for the voice or the arrangements, thought "All or Nothing at All" was especially clunky; but I was working on other stuff at the time, wasn't paying enough attention to get technical, and gave her the benefit of my doubts on the grade, seeing little prospect in pursuing this further. B-
Marsha Heydt: One Night (2007, Blue Toucan): Plays sax, flute, clarinet. Grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, tracing her family back to the eighteenth century. Moved to Los Angeles in 1991, then to New York in 1992. First album. Wrote four songs, including one done both as an instrumental and with a nuanced Carla Cook vocal. That's the only vocal. The rest, with the marginal exception of a Monk piece, is rather schmoozy easy listening music, often with quasi-Latin rhythms, three with a string trio, six more with Erik Friedlander's cello. Booklet doesn't specify what Heydt plays where, but her website gives the breakdown as: alto sax 6, soprano sax 3, flute 4. Heydt's alto sax sounds rather wobbly, although her "Georgia on My Mind" has some charm. In fact, quite a bit of this is likable, but it's hard to see much point to it. C+
Ella Fitzgerald: Love Letters From Ella (1973-83 , Concord/Starbucks): I don't really know what's going on here. I just have an advance copy and a PR sheet that's more concerned with hyping Starbucks than any of the music here. Plus I figured I'd put it off until some Verve reissues showed up, but they never did. Now I'm just cleaning up. What we have here are ten previously unreleased vocal tracks from Fitzgerald's 1973-83 Pablo period. They are strong performances of familiar material. Eight are presented as featuring special guests: Count Basie, the London Symphony Orchestra, Joe Pass, André Previn, and/or Scott Hamilton. Some have been merged in the editing -- LSO and Hamilton for sure, Pass and Basie are dead although the latter retains a ghostly form, especially at Concord. I'm only partly inclined to reject such adulteration out of hand -- for instance, I don't have a big problem with remixes and mash-ups, but there the shoe is on the other foot. But I do like to know what I'm dealing with, and there's a whiff of dishonesty here that may or may not be dispelled in the final product -- the reviews I've read add some info suggesting it is, but not enough to be sure. In any case, "Our Love Is Here to Stay" with André Previn is a choice cut -- holds up even though my mind keeps interjecting snatches from her duet with Louis Armstrong. B [advance]
Pablo Ziegler-Quique Sinesi: Buenos Aires Report (2006 , Zoho): Artist credit includes, in smaller type, "with Walter Castro." Castro plays bandoneon. Haven't found much on him; he's the youngest of the trio, but due to his instrument is a large part of the group's sound. Ziegler and Sinesi hail from Buenos Aires. Ziegler was born in 1944, plays piano, and was part of Astor Piazzolla's group from 1978-89. He composed all but two of the pieces here. Sinesi was born in 1960, plays guitar, composed one song. The last is by Piazzolla, and it seems significant that it is a much livelier, more fully realized piece. By comparison, the others feel like sketches -- maybe studies is the better word. B+(*)
Cique (2007, Capri): Cover explains: "cique (sik) -- (n) post retro trans genre hippy trippy spank a lank; (adj) really totally happening; (adj) not at all well." Latter sounds like "sick." Denver group, with Jeff Jenkins on keyboards (rhodes, organ, synths), Bijoux Barbosa on bass (electric & acoustic), Matt Houston on drums. Steve Holloway guests on bodhran (a celtic frame drum) on one track. John Abercrombie plays guitar on four tracks, rating a "with special guest" honorific. Abercrombie's easy-going fusion is probably the main interest here, but Jenkins contributes some tasty funk as well. B
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Sunday, October 28. 2007
TomDispatch: Mark Danner: The President at Peace With Himself. A new set of documents on deliberations between Bush and Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar from February 22, 2003, leading up to the Iraq War. This just adds to what we already know.
TomDispatch: Tom Engelhardt: Do We Already Have Our Pentagon Papers?. Goes over a long list of now-public documents from the Bush administration, primarily relating to the use of torture. I haven't followed this thread, nor for that matter the complementary one on NSA spying -- probably because I don't expect much more from the US government (Bush or no Bush). But the following quote struck me, probably due to how it shows the Bush regime's sense of its own culpability:
Also, their paranoia: the ICC should be flattered that the US takes them so seriously.
TomDispatch: Chalmers Johnson: 12 Books in Search of a Policy. A review of Stephen Holmes, The Matador's Cape: America's Reckless Response to Terror (Cambridge University Press), which in turn surveys a dozen other books by the architects and fans of Bush's GWOT. I've pulled most of the details out for a future post on Holmes' book. (Even if I don't get around to reading it, it's useful reference info.)
John Brady Kiesling: Getting Real About Iran. Starts with a discussion of legitimacy; specifically why Americans treating Iran's Presient Ahmadinejad rudely hurts us but not him. The idea that if we treated him with respect we'd "legitimize" him only plays to our own egos (which is, incidentally, the only thing that seems to matter in our political discourse).
Tony Karon: Jewish Glasnost Update: Zionist Panic! Evidently Daniel Pipes and CAMERA have found a new major threat to Israel's existence: the English-language edition of Haaretz.
The New York Times ran an article today by Adam Liptak on the early cases presidential candidates handled as lawyers. Giuliani and Thompson worked as prosecutors; Obama handled civil rights cases, and Edwards defended the little guys in personal injury cases. All of those were indicative of future political careers, although the prosecutorial stepping stone isn't so interesting. But the story of Hillary Rodham Clinton's case is down right prophetic:
The report goes on to say that she was "amazingly nervous" in front of the jury. Of course, she's gotten much more assured at defending corporate scum since then.
Thursday, October 25. 2007
Made birthday dinner tonight. I don't recall clearly when this tradition started -- sometime in the mid-'90s, although I must have missed a year or two along the way. The early ones were meant to give me a chance to explore interesting cuisines in some depth, usually with a dozen or more dishes. This one was just based on the recollection that I hadn't had mariscada in green sauce in quite some time. That's a Spanish dish, so it was tempting to pile on the tapas. I usually fix potatoes with it -- fried is what I'm used to in restaurants, but I usually slice them thin like chips and roast them. I wound up fixing rice instead -- felt like it would be easier than fried and better than roasted. Originally thought I'd fix green beans as a side vegetable, but they looked awful, so I picked up some asparagus and mushrooms, figuring I'd find a recipe. Thought I'd have a chopped or mixed salad, but didn't get to either. Did find a jar of piquillo peppers, a chunk of rather tough chorizo, and some manchego cheese, so tried to work them in. The recipes come from Penelope Casas, mostly from Delicioso! The only new ones for me were the asparagus and mushrooms. Menu looked like this:
I'm way behind in updating my recipes section, but half or so of these recipes are posted already.
Tuesday, October 23. 2007
My Jazz Consumer Guide column appeared in the Village Voice today. This is the 14th such column, going back to July 2004. Historically, they've been running every three months. The previous one came out on June 26, so this time it's been close to four months. There's no simple explanation for the slowdown. I run infrequently enough that the Voice doesn't give me a schedule, so I don't have to work against deadline pressure, then we get long delays once I do have something to hand in. I think we should be able to speed up the process, but I tend to let down after each cycle, then have trouble getting to the close again. Whether the Voice would run columns more frequently isn't clear. Until I produce them, I probably won't get an answer.
One thing for sure is that I'm not hurting for records worth writing about. The Jazz Prospecting file for this cycle has notes on 269 different albums. This Jazz Consumer Guide reviews 29 albums -- not sure why, but that's actually down 5 albums and 120 words from the previous column. (Actually, I was told that the cuts included Joshua Redman's Down East and Nicole Mitchell's Indigo Trio/Live in Montreal, but they're both in the web column. That would change my figure to down 3 albums and 27 words, not so bad.) By the time I closed down, I had a lot more prospected than I could fit in. The following is the list of A- records that I've prospected but didn't get into the column:
That's more than I managed to fit into the top section of this column. Some of those aren't written yet (* or **, the latter having appeared in Recycled Goods are lower priorities), but I'm probably not far short right now -- don't have clear pick hits here, and don't have the obligatory dud written. The backlog on Honorable Mentions is even worse -- I can't begin to list the unwritten ones, many of which will regrettably never get written, but the following are ready to go, presumably next time:
I didn't get the surplus file done yet, and right now working on Recycled Goods is a higher priority. But I'll try to figure out the surplus soon, and get a bead on the next column soon. It should be well within reach.
Monday, October 22. 2007
Jazz CG #14 should be in the Village Voice later this week. I got details on the layout -- Matt Lavelle, Joshua Redman, and David S. Ware got cut from the top section; Slavic Soul Party, Frank Morgan, Paul Zauner, and Nicole Mitchell from the HMs. They'll run next time, as well as a bunch of stuff I wrote but didn't bother handing in -- #15 is currently over half-written. Still need to surplus purge, which I'll get to next thing -- "done" file is currently 108 deep, which isn't exceptional by historical standards, but could still stand some pruning. Pending file is a bigger concern at 158, and that's short -- I've fallen a bit behind on my paperwork, even before I got a package of Fresh Sounds from Spain this morning.
I've complained a lot about stripped-down promo advances lately, so let me note here that I received final copies of two new Cryptogramophone releases (Myra Melford, Alan Pasqua) and one of the ECMs that follow (Keith Jarrett). I also got a package with seven recent Concord releases, including a couple I didn't bother asking for. They're among the stuff I still need to catch up to. Next week looks likely to be split between Recycled Goods and Jazz Prospecting.
The Karl Denson Trio: Lunar Orbit (2007, Bobby Ace): From San Diego, plays sax and flute, more funk than jazz. Got his break in 1989 with Lenny Kravitz. Other credits include Fred Wesley, Blackalicious, the Allman Brothers, Steve Winwood, John Scofield, and a couple of organ grinders I like: Robert Walter and Ron Levy. The trio here is an organ-drums thing, but it's not really a trio: he uses three different organ players and three different drummers (counting Steve Haney on congas). This leads off with a flute piece, awful really, and he returns to flute several more times -- "That Other Thing" is a tolerable example, but it still seems like a pretty silly funk instrument. The sax, of course, works better -- cf. "Dingo Dog Sled," probably the most retro piece here, easily the funkiest. B-
Amy London: When I Look in Your Eyes (2005 , Motéma): Can't glean much from her bio: born somewhere in Ohio, got a BA from Syracuse, been in New York since 1982 (at least), took time from her career for children -- presumably she's recovered from that. Discography shows nine albums: this one, a duo with guitarist Roni Ben-Hur (who plays here), the rest without her name on the cover -- Broadway cast recording City of Angels, movie soundtrack Radioland Murders, something based on Rainer Maria Rilke, Tom Browne's Funkin' for Jamaica, more Ben-Hur. She has a Broadway voice: precise control, projects well, able to exploit a nuance to tell a story. She's also managed to assemble an admirable band, including the late John Hicks on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, Richie Vitale on trumpet, and Chris Byars on sax, as well as Ben-Hur and others -- they don't stand out so much as they fit in. Choice cut: "The Best Is Yet to Come." Evidently she's taught voice for quite a while; she does a whole textbook on that one. B+(**)
Tony Adamo: Straight Up Deal (2007, Urban Zone): Smooth jazz vocalist, or so he claims. I find he's got some grit to his voice, and his studio musicians are agreeably funky -- a couple of spots with Eddie Henderson and Ernie Watts even show some jazz cred. Could use better songs. B
Freddy Cole: Music Maestro Please (2006 , High Note): Nat's brother, 14 years younger, although he seems like a generation removed, recording his first album 13 years after Nat's death, and his second 12 years later. The latter was called I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me, and they've come out steadily ever since. He's never been in the same league, but the family resemblance is real enough -- perhaps too much so to avoid unfavorable comparison. Still, this holds up well on its own. He's older now than Nat ever got -- it moves him into new territory, and he seems comfortable there. Of course, the Bill Charlap Trio helps, a lot. [B+(***)]
Eric Alexander: Temple of Olympic Zeus (2007, High Note): A mainstream tenor saxophonist with a strong, clear tone, plenty of chops, the whole kit. I've liked most of what I've heard from him before, but this runs straight into one of my pet peeves. There must be a technical explanation for this: what happens is that when two horns -- tenor sax and trumpet or, more often here, flugelhorn -- lock onto each other they create these harmonics that sound really polluted to me. This happens a lot in postbop contexts -- seems to be something taught in jazz school nowadays -- but this yokes the horns to old-fashioned bebop, which used to know better. Still, that only explains the four of eight cuts Jim Rotondi joins in on. Alexander sounds much cleaner on his own, but he's still stuck in the same damn rollercoaster ride. A dud. C+
Houston Person: Thinking of You (2007, High Note): Eddie Allen plays trumpet on four cuts. Unlike Alexander-Rotondi, he plays clean and distinctly, even though he has little to add. Person is aging beautifully -- the more he slows down, the better he sounds. [B+(***)]
Steve Nelson: Sound Effect (2007, High Note): Vibraphonist, from Pittsburgh, only has a half-dozen albums since 1987, but has a huge list of side credits -- AMG's count is 134 albums, including compilations I wouldn't normally count, but for the list stops in 2003, surely a glitch; it's safe to say he pops up on 6-8 albums per year, sometimes more. That means he doesn't write much -- three tracks here. But this quartet is a marvelous way to frame his work. Vibes often mesh well with piano, and pianist Mulgrew Miller gives Nelson a lot to bounce off of. The bass-drums combo: Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. [B+(***)]
Funky Pieces of Silver: The Horace Silver Songbook (The Composer Collection Volume 1) (1997-2005 , High Note): An unnecessary label sampler, but it's hard to go wrong with Silver songs. Six of nine feature the Hammond B-3, including four by Charles Earland, three from the same album. The only surprise is that I like Joey DeFrancesco's trumpet more than his organ. Everything is tight, and funk is its own reward. B+(*)
Manu Katché: Playground (2007, ECM): ECM has gone to a system of distributing promos via downloads. Universal, which distributes ECM in the US, has used this for a couple of years, but I've only managed to put aside my chagrin in the last week, using it for Recycled Goods -- like Elvis Costello and Bo Diddley releases that complement ones they actually sent to me, and a Police set I knew backwards already. I haven't bothered with the ECM downloads, because I've been sitting on a pile of advances that I got before the new policy went into effect. Originally I was wating to see what would happen. This one his the shelves Sept. 25, and nothing happened. ECM has been generous in their support in the past, and would probably respond now if I made a stink. I don't mean to do that here. I'm trying to work with the new system, and explain how it works. Anything marked [advance] here with no date has already been released, but I'm working off a CDR with no booklet or cover art. At least thus far I have press releases, which with ECM have more info than the picture-oriented booklets have, and I'm trying to make up what's missing by searching the internet. (One problem with Universal's download system is that it doesn't provide useful collateral documentation -- lack of discography is a big problem, more so for Recycled Goods than ECM.) So much for that. As for this record: Katché, from France, has a handful of albums since 1992, and has done sideman work notably with Jan Garbarek. Garbarek and Tomas Stanko's band appeared on Katché's Neighbourhood, which came out in 2006 and got a Jazz CG A- rating. This one has Trygve Seim for Garbarek and Mathias Eick for Stanko -- interesting players, but they lose a lot of presence. A couple of pieces tighten up the groove to where it seems to have some potential; otherwise this is lax and fluid, attractive, but not all that compelling. [B+(**)] [advance]
Eberhard Weber: Stages of a Long Journey (2005 , ECM): German bassist, been with ECM since The Colors of Chloe in 1973. Most of his albums are fairly minimal, but this is a live recording built around the SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra -- the group pictured on the cover is massive, with Gary Burton (vibes), Jan Garbarek (soprano and tenor sax), Rainer Brüninghaus (piano), Marilyn Mazur (percussion), and Weber added to the Orchestra. The Orchestra itself takes a background role, sloshing back and forth like an uneasy sea, while the group vies for your attention. The saving grace, unsurprisingly, is Garbarek. B+(*) [advance]
Miroslav Vitous: Universal Syncopations II (2004-05 , ECM): All this shares with its precedessor is title, bassist, and painstaking assembly. But what made Universal Syncopations remarkable was the individuality of its superstars' performances -- Jan Garbarek, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette. They're replaced by a committee here, maybe several, but this could just as well have been assembled from Vitous's legendary library of digital samples -- indeed, the sole voice credit, one Vesna Vasko-Caceres, only hints at how he uses voice to whitewash a heavenly aura over what sounds like a throwback to the Czech's Communist (err, classical) education. The funk horns and multiple drummers only exist on paper. Their syncopations are anything but universal. B- [advance]
Paul Bley: Solo in Mondsee (2001 , ECM): Released for Bley's 75th birthday. Touted as his first solo piano on ECM since 1972's Open, to Love. He's recorded numerous solo albums elsewhere -- Penguin Guide mentions 12, most recently Nothing to Declare (2003 , Justin Time), recorded after but out before this one. This one is slower, of course; per Dr. Eicher's Rx, no doubt. I also like it a shade better, although with solo piano I'm not much of a judge. Ten Roman-numeraled variations, on what I'm not sure, but consistently interesting, never dull. Bley has had quite a career, starting in 1953 with the marvelous Introducing Paul Bley, a trio backed by guys named Blakey and Mingus. A couple of years later he hired an unknown alto saxophonist, Ornette Coleman. He also married a pianist, Carla Borg; after she took his name and went her own way, he married vocalist Annette Peacock. He moved into free jazz in the 1960s, most notably with Jimmy Guiffre's trio. He has a vast discography, which I've only occasionally sampled and barely grasp, but often find intriguing. B+(**)
John Surman: The Spaces in Between (2006 , ECM): Started recording for ECM in 1979, which by now makes up the bulk of his career. The more I listen to his pre-ECM stuff, the more I wonder about why he wound up dedicating himself to intricate, composerly postbop chamber music when he seemed early on to have both fusion and avant-garde by the balls. With a full string quartet, known as Trans4mation, plus bass (Chris Lawrence) as the sole accompaniment to his bass clarinet, baritone and soprano sax, this seems more chamberish than ever. But all the strings do is flesh out the reeds, which intrigue and never lose interest. [B+(**)]
Christian Wallumrød Ensemble: The Zoo Is Far (2006 , ECM): Norwegian pianist, b. 1971, has four albums now, all on ECM. This is a sextet, but it seems much more minimal, with percussion, baroque harp, cello, violin (viola, Hardanger fiddle), and Arve Henriksen's vanishing trumpet. Some of the piano fragments remind me of Another Green World, with acoustic instruments somewhat complicating the sound and the melodies. The string bits are scarcely more complex, but don't have the same elegance. Textures mostly, probably related to Norse folk and baroque and such. Small pleasures, or maybe just pleasantries. B+(*) [advance]
Frode Haltli: Passing Images (2004 , ECM): Norwegian accordionist, second album, both on ECM. This one with Arve Henriksen on trumpet, Garth Knox on viola, and Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje singing (or vocalizing -- there's not a lot of conventional singing). Songs are evidently folk based, including one by good ole' trad. Dense, dark, minimal sounds; any other trumpet player would bust out of this, but Henriksen provides little more than harmonic overtones to the accordion. Might be worth another play, but the pickings look pretty slim. [B] [advance]
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux (2001 , ECM, 2CD): This trio, introduced here as The Trio, debuted circa 1983 as The Standards Trio, but has been fixed ever since, perhaps from habit, possibly, well, if you're Jarrett, who else would you rather play with? I don't know how many albums they've done together -- pretty much everything in Jarrett's catalog for the last score-plus years except for the numerous solos. Given my relatively thin and unnuanced bandwidth for processing piano trios, they've long since achieved a plateau where they all pretty much sound the same. I'm not sure whether this is the exception, or it just started off so brightly that I kicked back and let myself enjoy it. It is a standards exercise, with two Fats Waller pieces unexpected pleasures in the middle -- I'm not sure how distinctive they are, but I'm glad to have them. [A-] [advance]
Sinikka Langeland: Starflowers (2006 , ECM): Norwegian father, Finnish mother, sings the Norwegian words of lumberjack-poet Hans Børli -- like Langeland, hailing from the Finnskogen, the "Finnish Woods" of northeast Norway -- while playing santele, a Finnish table harp. She has several previous albums, probably more authentically folkish. For ECM, Manfred Eicher hooks her up with his favorite Nordic jazzers, most notably Trygve Seim on sax and Arve Henriksen on trumpet -- his third appearance in this batch, finally making a memorable appearance. Most of this is slow, cold, a little arch, but now and then they crank up the tension, and interest. B+(*) [advance]
Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions (1972-75 , Columbia/Legacy, 6CD): I had a day when I wasn't able to sit at the computer, so figured I'd give this a preliminary spin, just to get acquainted. I don't have notes on who played what when or anything like that. The hype sheet describes this as "the eighth and final deluxe 'metal-spine' multi-CD box set in the Miles Davis Series." This collects all of the 1972-75 studio sessions, resulting in the albums On the Corner, Big Fun, and Get Up With It, but it isn't actually the end of Davis' Columbia records -- that would be Aura, in 1985, ten years later, but evidently not part of the box plan. There are also live albums from this same period, including Dark Magus (1974), Agharta (1975), and Pangaea (1975). The group was exceptionally fluid, with bassist Michael Henderson the constant presence along with Davis. Henderson's electric buzz permeates everything, with everything else -- guitars, electric keyboards, saxes, trumpet -- stacked on top. On the Corner itself has a reputation as one of the few weak spots in the discography. My first impression doesn't find me disliking any of it, although this is certainly a mixed bag. Will work on it more later. It may come down to historical import: this is likely as far as Davis was able to push his funk-fusion aesthetic; surprisingly, no one since has managed to push it further. [B+(***)]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Sunday, October 21. 2007
Tony Karon: Rice-Olmert-Abbas: End of the Affair. On the dim prospects for Bush's mideast summit. I read this, then added the following comment:
If this were to go in the direction I'm suggesting, the Mearsheimer-Walt book will play an interesting role: first by putting the Israel Lobby on the defensive, but also by setting up the opportunity for Bush to threaten to expose differences between American and Israeli interests. The success of the Lobby depends on their ability to merge the two, and they're probably in a much weaker position than Bush if push comes to shove.
Saturday, October 20. 2007
I've just started reading Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal (2007, WW Norton). Which, by the way and contrary to my initial guess, is not an old column collection, although it does reiterate points made in recent columns. Also, the title is an explicit reference to Barry Goldwater's movement-defining The Conscience of a Conservative. So figure the book as a political manifesto, but it also looks like it'll work pretty well as a political history of the last 30 years -- basically, the rise of the political right and the decline of many other things, ranging from political civility to most folks' living standards. Consider the following quote (pp. 12-13):
As far as it goes, this is pretty much exactly what I've been driving at in my own scratchings toward a book: the conservative movement has been able to exploit America's political system, but its thinking and practice are so inherently flawed that whenever they manage to take power they prove to be dysfunctional, often disastrously so -- as we can see in virtually everything that the Bush administration has done since 2001. As Krugman's book shows, mine isn't a unique, or even far-out, understanding. Will read more and report more. Meanwhile, note that there is a long interview with Krugman here.
Friday, October 19. 2007
Kansas Senator Sam Brownback is dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination for president. He's consistently trailed all the other candidates both in opinion polls and in the more important matter of fundraising. His failure is pretty remarkable. He failed to rally the religious right in any meaningful way, which in itself raises a number of questions: whether the fundamentalist protestants actually feel any kinship with ultraconservative roman catholics; how single issue the religious right really is; how influential the religious right actually is in the Republican party. Whatever the answers to those questions are, Brownback wasn't able to convert his abortion obsession into any meaningful measure of support. His efforts to distinguish himself as compassionate and saintly did him no good. He also found few takers for his middling break with Bush on Iraq -- he came out backing Joe Biden's dangerous and foolish partition plan. Nor did his mostly pro-immigration stance win him any rank and file Republican support. Going into the race I figured he'd lose in the end for his extremism, but within the Republican field it now looks like he lost for his moderation. The idea that Republicans vote to kill still holds sway.
One thing Brownback's failure shows up pretty clearly is how tightly controlled the Republican Party is by the money people at the top, and how little prospect the rank and file -- especially the Christian right -- has of bucking their masters. The Christians exist to serve, mostly by stuffing ballot boxes. They get a bone every now and then, but their agenda is secondary and incidental. The money people have evidently decided that they want a candidate shifted far away from Bush, which explains why they've kept Romney and Giulliani in the lead. Both will say whatever they need to placate the Republican right, just as they said whatever they needed to say to get elected in Democratic turf. Their dance to the right will no doubt be followed by a dance back to the left after the nomination, as they try to recover the middle ground that Bush left scorched. They only thing consistent about them is their devotion to the rich, which seems to be all the GOP elites really require. Beyond that, anything that works will work well enough for them. Brownback never stood a chance in their world.
Kansas was also in the news today for rejecting plans to build two major coal-fueled electric power plants, mostly in recognition of how much the plants would contribute to global warming. A few weeks back it looked like the fix was in to approve the plants, even though they had little popular support and much opposition.
Thursday, October 18. 2007
I thought I'd follow up Studs Terkel's "The Good War": An Oral History of World War II with something on Vietnam. Since Terkel hasn't gotten around to writing "The Bad War", the closest thing looks to be Christian G. Appy's Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides, which for starters comes with a Studs Terkel quote on the blurb. However, for now I backed off, going for Tom Bissell's The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam (2007, Pantheon). I'll write more about this when I'm through it. But for now I want to focus on one quote: the beginning of a section that starts with a subhead: "Query: Why did officials at all levels of the U.S. military and government lie so often during the war?" (p. 184):
We need to look here at the justification for lying both in principle and in fact. The question of whether "higher imperatives" justifies lying should be examined both in theory and in practice. In principle, the first thing lying does is to distort and corrupt public understanding of the circumstances -- in this case, affecting the decision of how to fight a war, including whether to enter into one in the first place. In a democracy, it should be axiomatic that war is a decision that must be debated in public; therefore, all information pertaining to the debate must be public. But lying not only misinforms the debate. It taints the decision and all of the results that come from it -- a problem that grows in importance the more unfortunate the consequences.
Iraq and Vietnam are good examples. Iraq, of course, you remember. The lying leading up to the war was shameful, misleading not just the public debate but also the planning and execution of the war. But at least there was a debate on Iraq, and something resembling a straight up or down vote in Congress, even if more than a few didn't realize what they were voting for at the time. US support for the critical decisions listed above -- for France to recolonize Vietnam in 1945; for dividing Vietnam and installing Ngo Dinh Diem in 1954; for the coup that overthrew Diem in 1963 and the subsequent escalation in 1964 -- were never debated in public in the US, and were barely, and often incoherently, given consideration in the deepest recesses of government power. (The best documented is the coup against Diem, which was based on signs that Diem would negotiate a deal with the NLF, was debated inconclusively by Kennedy's cabinet but effectively given the green light by ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, who set it up then washed his hands of it.)
Bissell continues (pp. 184-185):
That's a good example of the sort of information not only the public but pretty much everyone in the chain of command was denied by the willingness of a handful of insiders to raise their "higher imperatives" above considerations of fact and truth. Of course, the lying is still going on: once you start lying, and once it starts to go bad, what else can you do but keep lying? That really depends on what your "higher imperatives" really are. The anti-communism that drove us into Vietnam was never honestly, openly debated in the first place -- otherwise we might have worked to help leaders who wanted the progressive opportunities for their countries that we expect for ourselves, instead of letting us get pinned into war by dictators like Syngman Rhee and Ngo Dinh Diem who first made enemies of their own people. If our "higher imperative" was really a functioning democracy, we would never have let that lying get out of hand. Instead, we settled for a chain of deceit that dogs us today.
Wednesday, October 17. 2007
Cynthia Stokes Brown's book aspires to cover everything. The title is Big History: From the Big Band to the Present (2007, New Press). Part I covers what we think of as pre-history, in four chapters: the universe from the big bang to the formation of our solar system; Earth from the early emergence of life to 5 million years ago, when the ancestors of humans and our nearest relatives (chimpanzees) diverged; the evolution of humans up to widespread dispersion of modern homo sapiens 35,000 years ago; development of hunting and gathering cultures in humans up to the appearance of organized agriculture 10,000 years ago. Part II adds eight chronological chapters (with some overlap) from early agriculture to industrialization, followed by a brief "What Now? What Next?" All this is covered in less than 250 pages.
The book starts off with the Big Bang, the expanding universe, the formation of galaxies, stars, on through the formation of Earth and our solar system (p. 12):
Then on to the evolution of life (p. 17):
Brief coverage of the evolution of plant and animal life through the geologic ages, focusing down on primates leading to homo sapiens, initially a hunting and gathering animal, eventually to master agriculture (p. 86):
The growth of agriculture carried with it the potential for collapse (pp. 123-124):
China under the Tang dynasty, 618-907 CE (p. 134):
Europe's ascendency after 1500 was rooted in a greater interest in learning that gradually developed over 500 years, in large part begun by acquaintance and rivalry with the Muslim world (pp. 184-185):
On Europe's conquest of the Americas (pp. 196-197):
On the "Columbian exchange" (pp. 201-202):
On the end of slavery (pp. 217-218):
On European domination and the rise of racism (p. 219):
On the expansion of science in the 20th century (pp. 224-225):
Tuesday, October 16. 2007
Richard Rhodes opens his new book, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007, Knopf), with a quote from Peter Viereck that was true enough I had to copy it down:
Viereck was a name I recognized but had to look up: 1916-2006, poet, history professor, regarded by some (including himself) as a conservative political theorist. Wikipedia has several quotes from him, mostly contra other conservatives -- in this he may be seen as a forerunner of Kevin Phillips, John Dean, Andrew Sullivan, and others who have lately (much too lately) tried to rescue conservatism from today's conservatives. For instance, in 1962 Viereck wrote about "that whole inconsistent spectrum of Goldwater and right-radical magazines":
In 2006, Viereck added:
I actually think the original sin goes back further: first, to American triumphalism coming out of WWII, which convinced a whole generation of would-be conservatives to love rather than fear war -- the euphemism they often used was "military strength"; and deeper, to the threat to their privilege (or the privilege of their betters) they felt from Bolshevism, which they saw as a scourge that had to be exterminated.
The deep definition of conservatism is the instinct to side with and defend the status quo, which for all practical purposes means the powerful against the powerless, the rich against the poor. The other ideological traits are historical: conservatives were every bit as happy to defend the bourgeoisie against the proletariat as they were to defend the aristocracy against the bourgeoisie. (For further proof, cf. the Soviet Union, where conservatives supported the old guard against any and all reformers. Or Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Apartheid South Africa, Islamist Iran, Imperial Japan -- it's hard to imagine a regime conservatives couldn't grow to love, unless they were categorically excluded.)
Viereck's father, George Sylvester Viereck, was born in Germany, emigrating to the US in 1897. Like his son, he was a poet, historian, and had political interests -- unlike the son, he was famous as a Nazi apologist, spending 1942-47 in jail under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That may have predisposed Viereck to conservatism, but he also justified it as an alternative to contemporary creeds: "He claimed communism and nazism were utopian and would sanction the murder of oppositions (as in anti-semitism) and that liberalism shared a naive belief in progress and humanity's essential goodness." The latter point is another conservative signature: conservatives tend to argue that human nature is inherently inclined to mischief if not flat-out evil, and that this can only be contained by the imposition of order (cf. Hobbes). This view fits the psychological divide between left and right: leftists tend to hold generous views of other people, being respectful of and generous to others, while rightists hold harsh views, based on projecting their own ill-will to others. The argument that utopianism equals murder is itself a rightist view under this same psychology; a leftist would point to the acceptance of murder as a separate problem, one unfortunately embraced by some nominal leftists as well as many on the right.