Wednesday, April 30. 2008
When I shelved Recycled Goods back in January, I had hoped that the time I saved could be put to better use, like on my book, or at least on a column that actually paid something. It's been a lousy winter, and I've made little (or more precisely no) progress on either. Meanwhile, my incoming mail petered down to nothing but jazz, and that may be souring me on the genre. I've taken breaks sampling new records on Rhapsody, and figured I could do the same with reissues. Also figured that since the main reason for doing Recycled Goods was always to accumulate a stockpile of reviews for that long procrastinated reference website, it wouldn't hurt to add a few when I do have time and something to say. So this marks a partial resumption of Recycled Goods. I'll open a file at the start of each month, add things when I feel like it, and post it at the end. No promises on how much each month, and no crunch to make a bad month look not so bad. What follows isn't very promising: it's actually just stuff that fell off Jazz Prospecting, mostly written shorter but tighter. Also lets me cite a couple of pick hits, assuming I have that many.
The Cannonball Adderley Sextet: In New York (1962 , Riverside/Keepnews Collection): A bop band that swings effortlessly because they so enjoy r&b groove, but their slickness leaves a greasy aftertaste, which isn't helped by tenor sax man Yusuf Lateef's forays into exotica; a live throwaway, hard to take seriously, impossible to dislike. B
Louis Armstrong All Stars: Live in Zurich, Switzerland 18.10.1949 (1949 , TCB): With the big band era over, the jazz statesman from New Orleans downsizes and upgrades, sharing the stage with Earl Hines, Barney Bigard, Jack Teagarden, and Velma Middleton, each getting worthy feature space, as they jump the usual set of good ol' good 'uns. B+
Paul Bley: Closer (1965 , ESP-Disk): A piano trio with Steve Swallow and Barry Altschul, delightfully light and jaunty, owing no doubt to the writing of past and future wives, Carla Bley and Annette Peacock. A-
Bill Evans: Portrait in Jazz (1959 , Riverside/Keepnews Collection): A moment in transition after his triumph with Miles Davis on Kind of Blue, as Evans moves away from his group work and into his first classic piano trio, with magic drummer Paul Motian and the newfound, short-lived bassist Scott LaFaro; they offset the pianist's studied introversion. A-
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Live in Zurich, Switzerland 2.5.1950 (1950 , TCB): Not succumbing to the end of the big band era, Ellington hangs in there with a ragtag lineup and a mixed bag of pieces, with Ray Nance shouting "St. Louis Blues" and Kay Davis cooing "Creole Love Call"; Don Byas fills the vacant tenor sax chair, and shoots "How High the Moon"; and of course "The Jeep Is Jumpin'." B+
Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery: Bags Meets Wes! (1961 , Riverside/Keepnews Collection): Montgomery's guitar, and Wynton Kelly's piano, tend to lurk in the background, filling in softly while Jackson works his usual vibes magic, swinging, accenting, floating off into space. B+
Bob James Trio: Explosions (1965 , ESP-Disk): An early avant-garde phase for the future smooth jazz pianist, with Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma helping out on the electronic tape collage, and bassist Barre Phillips slapping, plucking, and sawing off tangents the piano may or may not wish to follow. B+
Steve Lacy: The Forest and the Zoo (1966 , ESP-Disk): Two 20-minute pieces, "Forest" and "Zoo," cut live in Buenos Aires with South Africans Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo on bass and drums. The soprano sax great is in classic squeaky form, but the real jolt to the memory here is trumpeter Enrico Rava -- genteel and laconic of late, he snatches these pieces like a pit bull and never lets go. A-
Wynton Marsalis: Standards & Ballads (1983-98 , Columbia/Legacy): Not just standards, given one original from Citi Movement; not all ballads either, though mostly sluggish; only 8 of 14 tracks come from his generally excellent Standard Time series, so not really a sampler thereof -- in fact, nothing from Vol. 6: Mr. Jelly Lord; one vocal track is incongrous here, but organic to the Tune In Tomorrow soundtrack, the rest of which is better than anything here, possibly excepting the lovely "Flamingo." B
Blue Mitchell: Blue Soul (1959 , Riverside/Keepnews Collection): Trumpet player, made ends meet in R&B groups from Earl Bostic to Ray Charles, played hard bop with a soulful polish, both on his own records and with Horace Silver; a classy sextet with Curtis Fuller on trombone, Jimmy Heath on tenor sax, and Wynton Kelly on piano, they can cook, but shine even more on the slow ones. A-
Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (1956 , Riverside/Keepnews Collection): The title cut was so unconventional none of 25 studio takes nailed it, so the record was famously pieced together after the fact; you can still sense the fear and awe the band, including young Sonny Rollins, felt in facing Monk's tunes -- a solo piano cover of "I Surrender Dear" comes as blessed relief, but turns out every bit as brilliant. A
New York Art Quartet (1964 , ESP-Disk): One-shot avant-garde group, at least until they reunited for a 35th Reunion record, but an important item in trombonist Roswell Rudd's discography -- he dominates the rough interplay with alto saxist John Tchicai, while percussionist Milford Graves is at least as sparkling; the sole artiness is the cut that frames a poem, but it too is a signpost of the times, "Black Dada Nihilismus," by Amiri Baraka. A-
Tuesday, April 29. 2008
With Obama pinned down unable to talk about anything but the unfortunate Rev. Wright, I now see that Clinton is running ads attacking Obama for his failure to endorse John McCain's "gas tax holiday" idea. We've already talked about why this is a bad idea. Paul Krugman argues that Clinton's version is merely pointless rather than evil, but he misses the real point: that this is publicly identified as McCain's idea, and that once again Clinton is shilling for him, letting him sound like a reasonable person instead of a lunatic. Even if her tactic gains her some ground against Obama, it only digs her a deeper hole against McCain. They're practically a tag team.
Krugman goes on to slam Obama once again on health care -- "so poisoning the well by in effect running against universality." I'm not up on those details, but if Clinton can find some room to run to the left of Obama on health care, I'm all for that. (At least, as far as I know, she hasn't come out and endorsed McCain's idiot do-nothing policies.)
Further down in his blog, Krugman quotes Walter Shapiro on Obama: "By predicating almost his entire campaign on inspiration and process (he can reform the broken system in Washington and Clinton cannot), Obama has deliberately forsaken bread-and-butter issues as a means of persuasion." Krugman adds, if Obama "runs this way in the general election -- if it's about the candidate's awesomeness, not about why progressive policies make peoples' lives better -- it's a formula for defeat." Seems to me that may have been a legitimate poke back when Edwards was in the race, but I don't see that Clinton has any credible space to the left of Obama -- especially not when she's running on her husband's coattails, let alone McCain's. As it is, Obama crushed Edwards, running for Democratic votes where talking up progressive policies should be preaching to the choir. Whether he shifts his emphasis in the fall against McCain, where there's a lot more space between their policies, remains to be seen. But one thing I wonder is whether, given the media, people will notice. For example, this is what Obama had to say about the Clinton-McCain gas tax holiday:
I don't suppose you heard that on the evening news.
Monday, April 28. 2008
Late breaking news today is that the Village Voice has postponed my Jazz Consumer Guide another week. It had been scheduled for this week, but I hear that the section got space squeezed at the last minute. So I've been promised the May 6 issue.
Prospecting is short this week. I had to pack and drive to Detroit, where I will be away from my normal working environment for the next week or two. Very awkward place to work, with many distractions, so I don't expect I'll have much to show for it. One added strangeness is that I'm breaking in a new laptop. Some nice things to it, best being Ubuntu Linux pre-loaded with drivers that make everything work. Keyboard is awful. Bought a small USB mouse, which works but I don't like the unsmooth wheel. External USB disk drive plugged right in and worked, too. Haven't tried the wireless yet -- will be a first for me, but I expect it to work too.
Meanwhile, here's the prospecting I got done before I took off. Don't know whether I'll do more next week. I brought 200 CDs with me -- about 65-70% unrated jazz, so in theory I could work on them, but I didn't bring the packages or paperwork, so it may be hard, and I'm likely to have other distractions. Playing a new CD now, but I've already forgotten what it is. Not very good, sorry to say. (Oh, yeah, new Bobby Watson, on Palmetto. Let's try the new Fieldwork, on Pi. There, that's better.)
Mail's being held, so I'll catch up with it when I get back to Cowtown.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Lil' Tae Rides Again (2007 , Hyena): Tulsa group, mainstays are keyb player Brian Haas and bassist Reed Mathis, with newcomer Josh Raymer taking over the drums slot. Not sure what producer Tae Meyulks actually did, but there are various electronics undercurrents, and that seems to be his bag. Minor groove pieces, various ambiences, nothing dislikable or compelling. B+(*)
JD Allen Trio: I Am I Am (2008, Sunnyside): Proof that my eyes are shot to shit, although I could try blaming the typography, which at worst is illegible and even at large sizes sows confusion. But it doesn't reflect well on my brain either. Since I got this I had it filed under unknown Jo Allen. Finally it dawned on me that we're talking J.D. Allen. I should have realized that immediately, or no later than when I played the record. Allen's a tenor saxophonist, from Detroit, b. 1972 (AMG sez 1974), broke in with Betty Carter, won some prizes for his 1996 debut, and has stood out everywhere he's played since then. This is basic sax trio, riding on the leader's tone and dynamics, which are classic. Hype sheet starts by comparing him with Joe Henderson. That's a good start, although I wouldn't go on to call him "the Tenor of our Time." But it was stupid on my part to have forgotten about him. B+(***)
Claudio Roditi: Impressions (2006 , Sunnyside): Trumpet player, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, b. 1946, moved to US in 1970 to study at Berklee, on to New York in 1976. I tend to think of him as a dependable sideman, but he has about 20 albums under his own name, starting from 1984. Leans toward hard bop -- one of his best regarded albums is a Lee Morgan tribute. Cut this in Rio with a local band I don't recognize: Idriss Boudrioua on alto and soprano sax, Dario Galante on piano, Sergio Barroso on bass, Pascoal Mereilles on drums. The rhythm sways to the local beat, but the program is straight out of jazz mainstream, including four Coltrane tunes. B+(*)
John McNeil/Bill McHenry: Rediscovery (2007 , Sunnyside): McNeil is a veteran trumpet player; McHenry a relatively young tenor saxophonist. Both mainline boppers, McNeil particularly keyed to west coast cool. The rediscoveries are mostly bop era pieces, 1940s-1950s, including George Wallington, Wilbur Harden, Russ Freeman, and Gerry Mulligan. Each contributes an original, McNeil to open, McHenry to close. B+(**) [May 6]
The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Stompin' the Blues (2007 , Arbors): Allen is one of my favorite tenor saxophonists, and his collaboration with guitarist Cohn (Al Cohn's son) continues to be fruitful. The medley of "It Might as Well Be Spring" and "Spring Is Here" is especially delightful. Still, this record doesn't quite deliver on its promise. One problem is that "special guest" Scott Hamilton, who pretty much invented the "young fogey" genre, never seems to mesh well with Allen: the two distinctive tones don't fit together nicely, and when they trade lines Allen may be too deferential. Hamilton only appears on three cuts here, but seems to influence more. Or maybe it's a weakness in Allen's originals (4 of 10, more than usual), including the title cut, which doesn't stomp nearly hard enough. On the other hand, the other "special guest" is a solid contributor throughout: trombonist John Allred. B+(**)
Moss (2008, Sunnyside): Eponymous group album, the group consisting of five vocalists: Theo Bleckmann, Peter Eldridge, Lauren Kinhan, Kate McGarry, and Luciana Souza. Ben Wittman produced, plays drums and some keyboards. Other musicians include Keith Ganz and Ben Monder on guitar, Tim Lefebvre on bass, and Eldridge on piano. Kinhan is best known from New York Voices. The rest have solo catalogs that have never appealed to me, with the exception of Bleckmann, whose sweet, angelic timbre has on occasion been put to interesting ends (cf. Las Vegas Rhapsody: The Night They Invented Champagne). As long as Bleckmann reigns here the layering is oddly intriguing, and at least the Neil Young and Joni Mitchell songs hold up to the treatment (the Mitchell less so). C+
Tom McDermott and Connie Jones: Creole Nocturne (2007 , Arbors): McDermott's an old timey pianist, b. 1957 in St. Louis, moved to New Orleans in 1984 and made himself at home. Scattered discography includes a 1981 New Rags on Stomp Off; 1995 Tom McDermott and His Jazz Hellions on Jazzology; a a flurry of releases c. 2003 on STR Digital including a foray into Brazilian called Choro do Norte and one on Latin New Orleans called Danza, with Evan Christopher. Jones is an older cornet player. Don't know much about him, but there's a photo here of him on stage with Jack Teagarden and Don Ewell in 1964, and he shows up later with McDermott's Jazz Hellions and the Crescent City Jazz Band. Jones sings two songs with a gravelly voice -- a McDermott original called "I Don't Want Nuthin' for Christmas" is charmingly modest. Title cut is Creolized Chopin. Closer is "King Porter Stomp." Sparse, as duets tend to be -- bass and drums would fill out the sound and move things along. B+(*)
Shot x Shot: Let Nature Square (2007 , High Two): Trivia: type "shot x shot" into google and it returns: 1 shot x shot = 1.96783571 × 10-9 m6. No idea what that means, but typographically the 'x' in the group name is a multiplication sign, so I figure they're somehow related. Philadelphia group: two saxes (Bryan Rogers on tenor, Dan Scofield on alto), bass (Matt Engle), and drums (Dan Capecchi). Almost everyone writes (Rogers missed out this time). Second album. Free jazz, rocks abstractly. The two saxes don't diverge as much as similar sax/trumpet groups, which may be why their stuff blurs a bit. Two good solid albums. Someday a great one? B+(***)
Alex Graham: Brand New (2007 , Origin): Alto saxophonist, based in Michigan (Music Director at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in the summer, Royal Oak in winter). Sixth album since 1995, a sextet with Jim Rotondi (trumpet), Steve Davis (trombone), David Hazeltine (piano), Rodney Whitaker (bass), Carl Allen (drums), all well known names. Songs include standards, originals, pop tunes from the Stylistics and Isleys. The pieces vary in interest quite a bit. The postbop harmony is something of a turnoff. B
Dawn Clement: Break (2007 , Origin): Pianist, from Seattle, sings some, somewhat awkwardly, but can be effective. Has a previous album, Hush, and appears on albums with Julian Priester and Jane Ira Bloom. Trio with Dean Johnson on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. I'm unconvinced one way or another about the piano, which strikes me as serious but studiously mainstream. Johnson and Wilson offer dependable support. B+(*)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Bob Belden: Miles . . . From India (2007 , Times Square/4Q, 2CD): Got the final packaging, which is a nice double fold-out thing with a 16-page booklet tucked away. No artist name on spine, but front cover says "Produced by Bob Belden" below the title and "A Celebration of the Music of Miles Davis" above. Concept is to round up a bunch of Davis veterans, mostly from the 1970s (although Jimmy Cobb and Ron Carter go back further), mix in a bunch of Indian musicians (American alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is a plausible ringer; Badal Roy and U. Srinivas are among the better known natives). Of course, they needed a trumpet also, hence Wallace Roney. Although the band is touring, the record itself was pieced together in multiple sessions with various combinations. One notable exception is John McLaughlin, who only appears on one cut, the title track, the only one not from Davis. A mix of good and bad but mostly obvious ideas -- I could have done without the chants which hold it too close to India. Miles always preferred to move on. B+(**)
Sunday, April 27. 2008
The end of the Pennsylvania primary should have been pure relief, but it turned out to be an unrelieved drag for all concerned -- even McCain has to be wondering how the consensus nominee could muster no more than three-fourths of the GOP vote. The Democratic split wound little moved from where it started, the media coverage reduced to nonsense, merely amplified by millions of dollars of advertising. Even more disspiriting, the exit polls suggest that the race has been reduced to little more than identity groups: blacks with Obama, white women with Clinton, the older voters clinging to the Democratic past, the younger hoping for a break. Neither candidate is completely honest here. The game wouldn't permit that luxury, even if one felt inclined to indulge it -- not that either Obama or Clinton, much less McCain, would. As much as anything else, they're being judged mostly on the basis of how well they avoid any of the trip wires that mine the political fields.
This in turn is reflected in the pundits.
Paul Krugman: Self-Inflicted Confusion. Another whine about Obama, ending with the trump card about how the Democrats are increasingly likely to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this fall."
I find this all very surreal. Both candidates are stuck in the awkward position of having to simultaneously appeal to poor voters and wealthy donors. The net effect is a mixed message, but both are inevitably bound to produce mixed results. That may be why who you believe depends so much on who you are. If Clinton is able to make more class-based appeals, it may just be because her hypocrisy is so much more firmly established. Obama, in turn, has to be vaguer and more nuanced -- because of who he is, he cannot afford rhetoric that could be flagged as radical. This opens both doors to Clinton: it's not often that one can engage in demagogic populism and at the same time tag your opponent as part of the radical fringe.
In 1992 Bill Clinton could have started a movement toward the left or to the right. It wasn't clear because he had elements of both. Even in 2000 it might still have worked out: his move to the right might be seen as setting the foundation toward a move back to the left, especially as the economic boom was starting to finally lift up the working class. However, his heir turned out to be Bush rather than Gore, and eight years later Clinton looks much more like the enabler of Bush. Maybe Hillary means to correct that -- more likely with a strong Democratic wind at her back, since about the only thing we can be sure of is that the Clintons will go where the wind blows.
Joan Walsh: Why Jeremiah Wright is so wrong. Walsh basically argues not only that Wright's oft-quoted critiques of "America" are broad and wrong-headed, but that in even talking to media like Bill Moyers he is actively working to undermine the Obama campaign: "Watching Wright and Moyers I also couldn't help thinking: Is Wright trying to ruin Obama?" I'm not in a position to, let alone inclined to, defend Wright chapter and verse, but I will say that Walsh is staking out a fastidious, self-righteous politically correct jingoism that I find very offensive. I for one have said things as rude and pointed about America as Wright has, and almost every political thinker I respect has done the same. Chopping us off deprives moderates like Walsh of support, of ideas, and of the spirit to stand up to the real sources of the problems that afflict us.
Friday, April 25. 2008
Paul Krugman: Running Out of Planet to Exploit. Starting to lean towards peak oil and other theories that posit some significant problems in the near future due to our limits at expanding and utilizing critical resources. Further note in his blog here, where he goes back to research he did in the 1970s: "But anyway, while the Limits of Growth stuff of the 1970s was a mess, the history of energy technology doesn't support extreme optimism, either."
Andrew Leonard: Malthus is in the air. Cites the Krugman column. Krugman's blog has a previous entry on Malthus, and I don't think that's the only place I've run across the name lately. Leonard has a later post called "Total systematic breakdown, then and now," where he posits analogies between 17th century China and the here and now.
Thursday, April 24. 2008
A recent trip to the library and bookstore, similar to my posts back on March 15-16 (omitting titles found then).
Chitrita Banerji: Eating India: An Odyssey Into the Food and Culture of the Land of Spices (2007, Bloomsbury): Travel, history, culture, all introduced through food, which is pretty much the way I learned whatever I know about India.
Maude Barlow: Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water (2008, New Press): Canadian antiglobalization activist, about dwindling fresh water supplies and the politics surrounding them.
Jared Bernstein: Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries) (2008, Berrett-Koehler): Short book by an economist who doesn't toe the party line about the gospel of economics. I ordered a copy, and will get to it before long.
Timothy P Carney: The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money (2006, Wiley): Described as a "small government conservative," at least he sees business as no better than government. Imagine he has some examples.
Nicholas Carr: The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google (2008, WW Norton): Another big thinking book about the internet. Not clear whether it's good thinking, although the historical sketch might be useful.
Peter Chapman: Bananas!: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World (2008, Canongate): The force behind the CIA in Guatemala, and so much more. Does feel like old news, but that's history for you.
Stan Finkelstein/Peter Temin: Reasonable Rx: Solving the Drug Price Crisis (2008, FT Press): Short book on drug pricing and economics. Important subject. Don't know whether they figured it out.
William A Fleckenstein: Greenspan's Bubbles: The Age of Ignorance at the Federal Reserve (2008, McGraw-Hill): Pretty harsh on Greenspan, but probably more accurate than Woodward's book -- what was it called, Maestro? Note that Peter Hartcher has a similar book, Bubble Man.
Bart Jones: ¡Hugo!: The Hugo Chavez Story From Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution (2007, Steerforth): Newsday reporter's biography, 568 pages, regarded as well written and sympathetic. I have no real interest in or feelings about Chavez, although in general I'd rather see any leftist in power vs. any rightist.
Michael Kinsley: Please Don't Remain Calm: Provocations and Commentaries (2008, WW Norton): Recycled columns, some of possible interest, although I don't see why such recycled goods don't go straight to paperback.
Heidi Squier Kraft: Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital (2007, Little Brown): A clinical psychologist goes to Iraq. There are hundreds of war memoirs by now, but this is likely to be a little different.
Edward J Larson: A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign (2007, Free Press): Not only the first properly partisan campaign, the first serious emergence of treachery in high stakes political activity. Checked this out to answer some questions raised by the HBO John Adams series, poked around, wound up reading most of it.
Quil Lawrence: Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East (2008, Walker & Co): A history of the Kurds, or at least their nationalist political struggle, semi-successful in Iraq as of late.
John Marks: Reasons to Believe: One Man's Journey Among the Evangelicals and the Faith He Left Behind (2008, Ecco): Journalist account, went searching for evangelicals and found some, toyed with joining but ultimately didn't. Sounds sympathetic but skeptical, a reasonable stance.
Stephen Marks: Confessions of a Political Hitman: My Secret Life of Scandal, Corruption, Hypocrisy and Dirty Attacks That Decide Who Gets Elected (and Who Doesn't) (2008, Sourcebooks): Republican operative, worked for the likes of Jesse Helms and Jeb Bush. Sounds like a sleaze bag, which no doubt helps his credibility.
Matt Mason: The Pirate's Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism (2008, Free Press): Business manifesto, finding opportunities for innovation on the fringes of intellectual property law.
Giles MacDonogh: After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation (2007, Basic Books): 656 pages. A deeper look into the final weeks of WWII and the subsequent occupation of Germany, including the forced transfers of Germans from Eastern Europe. This stuff rarely gets looked at, probably because no one wants to offer sympathy that might be seen as balancing or lightening Germany's own crimes. However, the tendency to sweep such issues from memory allowed Americans to remember their occupation of Germany (and Japan) as more enlightened, setting a precedent for Iraq. Tony Judg covered this ground briefly in Postwar.
Charles R Morris: The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash (2008, Public Affairs): This looks like the basic background brief on the current and coming economic crisis. I ordered Kevin Phillips' Bad Money instead, but this book is getting a lot of attention.
Ian Patterson: Guernica and Total War (2007, Harvard University Press): The Spanish Civil War, specifically the 1937 German air attack on the Basque town of Guernica, immortalized in Picasso's painting. A case study in the expansion of war to indiscriminate civilian slaughter -- a powerful sign of what was to come.
Allen Raymond: How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative (2008, Simon & Schuster): Like Stephen Marks, another slimeball hawking a memoir as an exposé. Or maybe he's just bragging.
Michael Reid: Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America's Soul (2008, Yale University Press): Survey of Latin American political currents by writer for The Economist, critical both of neoliberalism and leftism.
William Rosen: Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe (2007, Viking): Microbial history, on the impact of disease on human events, specifically the plague epidemic that hit Constantinople in 542 CE, helping to usher in the dark ages.
Jeffrey D Sachs: Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet (2008, Penguin Press): Bought but haven't read Sachs' The End of Poverty, which has taken a beating from critics like William Easterly. (Bought but haven't read one of his books too.) A "sobering but optimistic manifesto."
Frank Schaeffer: Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back (2007, Da Capo Press): Memoir. Parents were big-time evangelicals, and he followed in the family business, mixing in politics along the way. Not sure why he fell out, or what it means.
Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army (2007, Nation Books): Basic review/expose of one of the major mercenary companies today, a principal beneficiary of the Iraq war. Amazon raters are highly polarized politically.
Clay Shirky: Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (2008, Penguin): How social tools based on the internet change the ways we interact and collaborate. Shirky has writen a number of seminal papers on these subjects, notably one on how the price of data always converges to zero. I checked this out, read it, and will report further.
Neil Shubin: Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (2008, Pantheon): Fish paleontologist, explores evolutionary links preserved in human ontogeny.
Ronald H Spector: In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia (2007, Random House): Covers the political aftermath of WWII, especially in China, Korea, Vietnam, Malaya and Indonesia, with US involvement in most of those areas.
Clive Stafford Smith: Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantánamo Bay (2007, Nation Books): Lawyer involved in defending many Guantánamo cases. No doubt has much to say. Not a subject I'm able to get agitated about, although I don't doubt that there are plenty of horrors to expose.
Michael Stephenson: Patriot Battles: How the War of Independence Was fought (2007, Harper Collins): Fairly detailed military history, factoring in viewpoints gained from other anticolonial wars of national liberation.
Joseph E Stiglitz, Aaron S Edlin, J Bradford DeLong, eds.: The Economists' Voice: Top Economists Take on Today's Problems (2007, Columbia University Press): A bunch of essays, many look quite interesting.
Richard H Thaler/Cass R Sunstein: Nudge: Improviding Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008, Yale University Press): Economist and lawyer, respectively, they expound a viewpoint they call "libertarian paternalism," which provides options for free choices but biases them in ways deemed to be socially constructive. I gather that Thaler is an influential Obama adviser.
William E Unrau: The Rise and Fall of Indian Country, 1825-1855 (2007, University Press of Kansas): Covers the period from the designation of territory from the Louisiana Purchase for "Indian country" to the partial dismemberment of that territory as Kansas was carved off from what eventually became Oklahoma.
Muhammad Yunus: Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism (2008, Public Affairs): Won Noble Prize for his work in microcredit, already detailed in his book Banker to the Poor.
Jonathan Zittrain: The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop It (2008, Yale University Press): Favorable plugs by Lawrence Lessig, Laurence Tribe, Cass Sunstein. Presumably on how important it is to keep the internet free, to escape lockdowns by big brother and/or moneyed interests.
Wednesday, April 23. 2008
Clay Shirky: Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (2008, Penguin Press)
Clay Shirky teaches at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. He's written a number of essays on how the internet has changed things, several of which are downright profound (e.g., "Help, the Price of Information Has Fallen and It Can't Get Up"). His book continues in that direction. The book is based around a number of stories, which act as case examples, some famous like Wikipedia and Linux, others obscure. The quotes below focus on the generalizations from the stories.
Books starts off with a story of how someone lost an expensive cell phone (a "Sidekick") but was able to recover it after a friend organized a search over the web, eventually putting enough pressure in the NYPD to arrest the person who found the phone and refused to return it -- chapter title is "It Takes a Village to Find a Phone" (pp. 18-20):
Shirky then introduces an example from Flickr, which lets people share their photographs and associate them by shared tags. He cites a Mermaid Parade, which was comprehensively documented despite no one making any managerial effort to do so. He then looks beyond simple sharing (pp. 49-51):
He follows this up with a discussion of the "Tragedy of the Commons" ("the commonest collective action problem"). Next chapter is "Everyone Is a Media Outlet" (pp. 59-60):
Next he introduces blogs, starting with the story of Trent Lott's toast to Strom Thurmond's segregationist presidential campaign, which no news media outlet considered newsworthy, but gained wide exposure through blogs. (p. 79):
Tuesday, April 22. 2008
Dahr Jamail: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007, Haymarket Books)
Along with Nir Rosen and Patrick Cockburn, Jamail has been one of the few reporters who have covered the invasion and occupation of Iraq from outside the confines of the US "safety net" -- not just the Green Zone but the US propaganda mission that seeks to control how we view what has happened in Iraq. I picked this up from the library, and unfortunately didn't get very far into it -- too many other distractions, too little time. The following are a few quotes. With more time I'm sure I could have found more. Some day I will.
Monday, April 21. 2008
No news on Jazz CG #16. Presumably the Voice's JIT staff will snap to attention sometime this week and get it out on the 30th as planned. I'll believe it when I see it. Meanwhile, Jazz Prospecting for the next round starts out with a bunch of oldies. These used to invariably reappear in Recycled Goods, but that's on hiatus, so read about 'em here.
I expect the next 3-4 weeks to be especially chaotic. I'll be out of town for much of that period, trying to deal with a family health crisis that looks grim. Simply being away cuts into what I can do, and that's the least of it. At least I'm driving, so I can pack relatively heavy. Should be able to take most of the 100+ unplayed CDs on my shelf, but don't know how easy it will be to get to them, write about them, and post the writing. On the plus side, I should be able to get some reading done, and finally work a bit on the book, which has proven difficult interleaved with music criticism.
Louis Armstrong All Stars: Live in Zurich, Switzerland 18.10.1949 (1949 , TCB): Previously unreleased, presumably a live concert recording, pretty much the usual set, jumpin' those good ol' good 'uns. All Stars indeed: Jack Teagarden (trombone, vocals), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Earl Hines (piano), Arvell Shaw (bass), Cozy Cole (drums), Velma Middleton (vocals). Two vocals each by Teagarden and Middleton. Hines get a long intro to "Honeysuckle Rose" and holds court for "Fine and Dandy." Bigard gets a feature on "High Society." Pops MC's, sings a few, and plays his usual spectacular trumpet. Nothing new if you've heard The Complete Town Hall Concert (1947) or the All Stars' half of The California Concerts -- 4 CDs from 1951-55 that are never less than magnificent. B+(***)
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Live in Zurich, Switzerland 2.5.1950 (1950 , TCB): Another newly released live shot, picking up Ellington's Orchestra at what is generally considered to be a relatively low point. Relatively is the key word there. The trumpet section strikes me as nearly no-name (at one point Ellington introduces "one of the world's great trumpet players": Ernie Royal; Ray Nance -- misspelled Roy -- isn't the only one I've heard of, but is the only one I'd think of for an all-time Ellington list), and Lawrence Brown is the only standard on trombone (where's Juan Tizol?). On the other hand, kudos for filling the vacant tenor sax chair with Don Byas, whose feature here is a high point. And Johnny Hodges, whose split from Ellington during this period is often seen as critical, made the trip, along with Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope, and dependable Harry Carney. Mixed bag of songs, with more covers than expected -- "How High the Moon" (featuring Byas), "St. Louis Blues" (sung by Nance), "S'wonderful," and a retooling of "Frankie & Johnnie" (credited to Ellington). Kay Davis takes the wordless vocal to "Creole Love Call." Set closes with "The Jeep Is Jumpin'," with Hodges resplendent. Sound is so-so; kind of hard to get it right with this group. Not a lot of live Ellington from this period, so it has some historical interest, and sometimes transcends even that. B+(***)
The Cannonball Adderley Sextet: In New York (Keepnews Collection) (1962 , Riverside): Starts with the leader explaining that they've made a bunch of live records in San Francisco, but hadn't done one in New York before because they didn't think the audience was hip enough. However, now it turns out that the matinee audience passed muster, so they figure they'll give it a try. The sextet swings effortlessly, but their slickness leaves a greasy aftertaste, and tenor sax man Yusef Lateef's forays into exotica, including bits on oboe and flute, seem out of place. B
Bill Evans: Portrait in Jazz (Keepnews Collection) (1959 , Riverside): The first flash of one of the most famous piano trios in jazz, matching Evans with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. I always find Evans difficult -- well, except for Sunday at the Village Vanguard -- so I may be going with the consensus too readily, but LaFaro's bass lines sing, and Motian putters inventively. A-
Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery: Bags Meets Wes! (Keenpews Collection) (1961 , Riverside): With Wynton Kelly, Sam Jones, and Philly Joe Jones. Jackson swings as always, but Montgomery and Kelly rarely break out of the background, subtle moves that set up the vibes but never upstage them. B+(**)
Blue Mitchell: Blue Soul (Keepnews Collection) (1959 , Riverside): Trumpet player, made ends meet in R&B groups from Earl Bostic to Ray Charles, played hard bop with a soulful polish, both on his own records and with Horace Silver; a classy sextet with Curtis Fuller on trombone, Jimmy Heath on tenor sax, and Wynton Kelly on piano, they can cook, but shine even more on the slow ones. A-
Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (Keepnews Collection) (1956 , Riverside): The title cut was so unconventional none of 25 studio takes nailed it, so the record was famously pieced together after the fact; you can still sense the fear and awe the band, including young Sonny Rollins, felt in facing Monk's tunes -- a solo piano cover of "I Surrender Dear" comes as blessed relief, but turns out every bit as brilliant. A
Paul Bley: Closer (1965 , ESP-Disk): Not sure exactly where this fits in the marital chronology, but this is built on first wife Carla Bley's compositions (7 of 10), and ends with second wife Annette Peacock's "Cartoon," with one of the pianist's ("Figfoot") and one by Ornette Coleman ("Crossroads"). Adding to the incestuousness is bassist Steve Swallow, who if memory serves wound up as Carla Bley's third husband. As far as I know, percussionist Barry Altschul has no further involvement. One of the high points in Bley's distinguished discography: deft, light, almost jaunty, largely attributable to the songs but all three players pull it off. He returned to Carla Bley's songs several times in the future, and recorded whole Annette Peacock albums as well, but none match this first menage à trois. A-
Bob James Trio: Explosions (1965 , ESP-Disk): Some years ago when I was just starting to get systematic about jazz history, one of the most useful guides I found was The Gramophone Jazz Good CD Guide (I'm referring back to the 1995 edition). Most of its choices are unimpeachable. A few of the surprises, like Willis Jackson's Bar Wars, are wonderful. One of the few idiosyncratic choices I never bothered tracking down was this record. James moved into pop jazz shortly after this early effort, making scads of records under his own name and as part of Four Play. I've heard very few of them -- at best them give the impression of a more or less talented guy slumming. This sounds more like the work of the session's bassist, Barre Phillips, who acquits himself particularly well with some austere arco bass, among other things. The drummer is Robert Pozar, and two tracks have mixed tape sounds which Gordon Mumma and Robert Ashley (copy says "Bob Ashley") contributed to. Not all that explosive, but curiously abstract, oddly interesting. Not a masterpiece; just one of those odd cult items good for a conversation piece. B+(***)
Steve Lacy: The Forest and the Zoo (1966 , ESP-Disk): Two 20-minute pieces, "Forest" and "Zoo," cut live in Buenos Aires with South Africans Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo on bass and drums; the soprano sax great is in classic squeaky form, but the real jolt to the memory here is trumpeter Enrico Rava -- genteel and laconic of late, he snatches these pieces like a pit bull and never lets go. A-
New York Art Quartet (1964 , ESP-Disk): One-shot avant-garde group, at least until they reunited for a 35th Reunion record, but an important item in trombonist Roswell Rudd's discography -- he dominates the rough interplay with alto saxist John Tchicai, while percussionist Milford Graves is at least as sparkling; the sole artiness is the cut that frames a poem, but it too is a signpost of the times, "Black Dada Nihilismus," by Amiri Baraka. A-
Wynton Marsalis: Standards & Ballads (1983-98 , Columbia/Legacy): Not just standards, given one original from Citi Movement. Not all ballads either, though mostly sluggish; only 8 of 14 tracks come from his generally excellent Standard Time series, so not really a sampler thereof -- in fact, nothing from Vol. 6: Mr. Jelly Lord. One vocal track is incongruous here, but organic to the Tune In Tomorrow soundtrack, the rest of which is better than anything here, possibly excepting the lovely "Flamingo." B
Paul West/Mark Brown: Words & Music (2007 , OA2): Two guys with common names and short, uncertain paper trails. Both play piano, write and sing songs. Based in Seattle. Both sport gray hair, although West looks to be a score older -- something in here about his 70th birthday. Wikipedia has an entry on a poet Paul West (b. 1930) who has 16 fiction titles, 4 poetry collections, and a pile of nonfiction, mostly lit stuff from Byron to Robert Penn Warren. Probably not the same guy. AMG lists 18 Mark Browns. The one in bold is an English choral music producer, most certainly not the same guy. West has a couple of previous albums on Origin/OA2. Haven't figured out which voice is which, but they are distinct, albeit loosely associated in the Mose Allison/Bob Dorough vein. A couple of lyrics to jazz classics like "Groovin' High." Originals lead off with "Laugh to Keep From Cryin' Blues," which is typical, although they can get soft and sentimental as well. B+(**)
Doug Munro: Big Boss Bossa Nova 2.0 (2007 , Chase Music Group): Guitarist, based in New York, claims 10 albums since 1987 (AMG knows about 7 of them). I looked at this and filed it under pop jazz, which is unfair. At least I didn't misfile it under Brazilian -- he'll never be confused with Charlie Byrd, let alone Luis Bonfa or Baden Powell or Ricardo Silveira. Trios with bass and drums, very straightforward. Four originals, six covers -- mostly bop-era (Monk, Rollins, Shorter, Hubbard, Corea). Has some Spanish licks; fairly dense, clean sound, good beat. B+(*)
Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore: A Calculus of Loss (2006 , Clean Feed): Stein is 31, plays bass clarinet, studied at Michigan-Ann Arbor, is based in Chicago, has appeared on Keefe Jackson's Project Project and Bridge 61 (a Ken Vandermark group). Trio here, with Kevin Davis on cello, Mike Pride on percussion. Free jazz. The instruments tend to soften the edges, so you're left with more form than fury. Band named for Stein's grandfather, a New York locksmith known as Izzy. B+(*)
Scott Fields Freetet: Bitter Love Songs (2007 , Clean Feed): Guitarist, sort of Chicago's answer to Derek Bailey, although I wouldn't swear on that, since for me one of the main things they have in common is that I've never made much sense out of either. This is a trio, recorded in Germany, with Sebastian Gramss on double bass and João Lobo on drums. Title isn't obviously reflected in the music, but it sure is in the song titles: "Yea, sure, we can still be friends, whatever"; "Go ahead, take the furniture, at least you helped pick it out"; "My love is love, your love is hate"; "Your parents must be just ecstatic now"; "I was good enough for you until your friends butted in"; "You used to say I love you but so what now." Liner notes hit even harder. Not sure where the music comes from -- sublimated anger? -- but it seems uncommonly focused, for once. [A-]
Dick Hyman/Chris Hopkins: Teddy Wilson in 4 Hands (2006 , Victoria): Hyman's been around forever, but while most jazz musicians try to establish their own sound, he's a scholar and a chameleon, the guy you'd go to if you wanted to sound just like any stride pianist you can name. The notes here say that he's soon coming out with "an encyclopedic CD-ROM" called Dick Hyman's 100 Years of Jazz Piano. He's the obvious choice to do it all. Also mentions that he has three duo-piano albums with Ray Kennedy, Bernd Lhotzky, and Chris Hopkins. The only one I've heard is the one Hopkins sent me. Hopkins was born in 1972 in Princeton, NJ, but grew up and lives in Germany (Bochum, near Düsseldorf; American father, German mother). Another swing kid, he cites a stellar list of influences from James P. Johnson to Johnny Guarnieri (Waller, Smith, Basie, Stacy, Hines, Wilson, "many others"; Ellington must be among the latter, but I don't hear much that reminds me of Tatum). Five cuts are solos, twelve duets. Normally I react to solo piano as too sparse, and to duo piano as too much of too sparse, but these pieces are utterly charming. The secret, of course, is Wilson. I wonder how many younger jazz fans even recognize the name compared to other names on the influences list. Part of the problem is that a big chunk of Wilson's discography is now routinely reissued under his singer's name, Billie Holiday, but his trios and solos have lapsed into obscurity as well. This record brings Wilson's abundant charms back into focus. A-
The Spencer Katzman Threeo: 5 Is the New 3 (2006 , 6V6): Guitarist, based in New York, first album, a trio with Keith Witty on bass and Dave Sharma on drums and tabla. Studied with Bill Frisell, Dave Fiuczynski, others. Covers include Brendan Benson and Neutral Milk Hotel. Nice sound, well thought out, enjoyable; not sure how far to go beyond that. B+(**)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Lee Konitz-Ohad Talmor Big Band: Portology (2006 , Omnitone): Cover shows three dozen or so doors of various sizes, shapes, and designs -- portals, each of which presumably leads to a distinct space. Don't know what, if anything, that has to do with the music. Aside from the featured alto saxophonist, the group is Portugal's Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos. The compositions are credited to Konitz and Talmor; the arrangements to Talmor. Intriguing music, but there are spots that sound a bit off. B+(**) [advance]
Sunday, April 20. 2008
The April 14, 2008 issue of The New Yorker has a review by Jill Lepore of a pile of books on religion and politics in US history, especially having to do with the founding constitutional separation of church and state. The books are:
Lambert's book only makes a brief appearance before Lepore settles into her subtitle, "Did the Founders want us to be faithful to their faith?" (p. 73):
Referring to Waldman, Church, Nussbaum, and Wills ("very different books . . . but each, striving for evenhandedness, wants to save us from the errors of partisans and zealots") (pp. 73-74):
Much of the review concerns Royall Tyler, a poet and lawyer who once dated John Adams' daughter, and wrote a novel which made some reference to Islam (pp. 74-75):
I guess we can chalk that up as yet another aspect in which the Bush administration has strayed from republic's founders.
Edward J Larson: A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign (2007, Free Press)
I picked Larson's book out of the library on a whim, mostly to check up on details unclear or missing from HBO's John Adams series, which I have been watching. I didn't read it through so much as pick through the index for topics I was curious about: more background on Aaron Burr, the bizarre presidential electoral system, the scheming of Alexander Hamilton and his followers. Later I thumbed through the book looking for quotes, and read quite a bit more. While it's a truism that history reflects the present as much as the past, there is quite a bit here that is recognizable today: even in its origins, the machinations of the political parties and their distorting effects on discourse and statesmanship are more than evident; the Federalists' focus on a strong executive and their eagerness to police their power through their Alien and Sedition Acts anticipates Bush by a long ways, as does their willingness to risk war for political gain, and their fancy for an extended empire. On the other hand, I have to wonder whether Jefferson's ability to translate radical political ideas into middle American platitudes, partly through his eloquence and partly through his pragmatism, isn't key to Obama's promise.
On the original electoral college scheme for electing the president (pp. 41-42):
The Federalist electors wound up, contrary to Hamilton's scheme, splitting their votes, with enough voting for either Oliver Ellsworth or John Jay to drop Pinckney to third place, giving Jefferson second place and the vice presidency. This system broke down in 1800, when Jefferson and his Republican vice presidential candidate Aaron Burr got the same number of votes, throwing the election to the House of Representatives, which the Federalists deadlocked by voting for Burr. After thirty-some ballots a couple of Federalists abstained, enough to tilt the election to Jefferson. The constitution was amended after that so that electors could specify votes for president and vice president.
Following the French Revolution, war broke out between England and France, which threatened to drag the US in. The High Federalists around Hamilton favored England, while the Jefferson's Republicans favored France. Washington and Adams tried to steer a neutral course, but in response to a treaty negotiated by John Jay with the English, France interfered with US shipping, threatening war. An Adams peace mission to France was rebuffed in what was called the XYZ Affair. Federalists wanted to prepare for war with France, toward which (over Adams' objections) they passed legislation establishing what was called the Additional Army (p. 53):
After Washington died, the Additional Army under Hamilton, was increasingly attacked by the Republicans, until in May 1800 Adams ordered it disbanded, much to Hamilton's chagrin. During the war crisis with France the Federalists also passed (and Adams signed) the Alien and Sedition Acts (pp. 74-75):
The Republicans picked Aaron Burr as Jefferson's running mate in hopes of carrying Burr's home state of New York (p. 98):
Burr was able to beat Hamilton's slate in New York, a major turn in the slowly unfolding 1800 election. Hamilton, meanwhile was still scheming against Adams, as he had in past elections. The idea was to saddle Adams with a running mate loyal to Hamilton, then short Adams' votes in the electoral college, throwing the presidency to the vice presidential candidate (pp. 121-122):
Adams responded by purging two Hamilton loyalists, James McHenry and Timothy Pickering, from his cabinet. (Adams retained a third, Oliver Walcott, whom he regarded as more competent.) Adams went on to discharge Hamilton's Additional Army (p. 152):
During the campaign Jefferson was repeatedly attacked for his insufficient religion (pp. 172-173):
Hamilton wrote a vicious broadside attacking Adams, presumably meant to be closely held in confidence by the Federalists it was addressed to, but a copy was quickly leaked (pp. 219-221):
The election was won by the Republican ticket, but with votes for president and vice president undistinguished, the result was a tie between Jefferson and Burr. (The Federalists, had they won, would have avoided this problem as one elector voted for John Jay instead of Pinckney, giving Adams a one vote margin over his vice presidential running mate -- the opposite of Hamilton's scheme.) The tie threw the election to the House of Representatives, where Federalists could influence the outcome by picking between the two Republicans (pp. 248-249):
The House remained deadlocked through 35 ballots before a couple of Federalists backed off and abstained, ceding the election to Jefferson. Many Federalists blamed Adams for cooling the war fever against France (p. 250):
Inauguration day, which found Adams slipping away from the White House on the 4AM stage for Baltimore (pp. 271-273):
Saturday, April 19. 2008
Steve Benen: McCain releases tax returns -- at least, some of them. Another way McCain is the new Kerry: his wife holds almost all of the money. Maybe not as much as Teresa Heinz Kerry, but something on the order of $100 million. Kerry initially tried to get by with only releasing his own tax returns, and got slammed by the Republicans for the slight. Not sure of all the ins and outs, but McCain's wife is his second, after he dumped his first for a younger, richer model.
Steve Benen: Debating the debate, complaining about complaining. More fallout from the last Pennsylvania debate. Key quote:
The first level of inanity here is to treat running for president as a game. The higher level is to treat the media's framework of gotcha trivia as the proper set of rules for the game. Maybe the Clintons are so satisfied with the mere idea of being president that they're willing to forego any serious issues and cater to the media's whims, but let's say you had a hypothetical candidate who felt like running because he or she thought that real issues matter. What should such a candidate do? The campaign path is already like a potato sack race, where all the candidates are made to make fools of themselves in order to get taken seriously. Is it any wonder that campaigns like this result in winners like we have had?
Friday, April 18. 2008
Tony Judt: What Have We Learned, If Anything? A non-review essay in the May 1, 2008 New York Review of Books. I suspect it's actually a piece in Judt's new essay collection, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century (2008, Penguin Books). The whole essay is worth reading, but several paragraphs stand out.
After talking about the tendency to remember the century either as triumph or tragedy (p. 16):
For me, the most glaring example of what has been hastily forgotten is class struggle and the inherent limits of capitalism, which have quickly been swept under the rug with the failure of the Soviet Union.
But Judt is thinking more of war (p. 18):
Next paragraph opens a new section (p. 18)
Judt doesn't mention this, but that number is significantly less (but on the same order of magnitude) as 9/11. That may help explain the shock of the 9/11 attacks, although I suspect that the blow that actually mattered was to the ego of the world's sole so-called superpower. Judt continues (p. 18)
In conclusion (p. 20)
There's an old saying about those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. The corrolary is that they'll be blindsided and dumbstruck by it. I remember Vietnam way too well. While I feel bad about those 58,195 names on the wall (some of whom I knew) and about the millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotions who were killed and maimed, the most sinister and pervasive effect of the war was the wedge that it drove between people revulsed by it, like me, and those who even today continue to justify and rationalize it. With so many bad things that have happened to America traceable back to Vietnam, you'd think we'd start to learn from the experience. Rather, all I see is effort not just to forget but to backtrack into misrepresentation and ignorance.
Thursday, April 17. 2008
After finishing the Jazz Consumer Guide, I wanted a bit of a change of pace. Don't get much non-jazz anymore, but I have an account at Rhapsody, so I thought I'd check out some new 2008 records. These are snap judgments, based on usually one, rarely two plays. Every now and then I find Rhapsody doesn't have a track, so that's one more caveat. I still consider packaging important too, and that's missing. So these aren't much more than educated guesses. I imagine that some of the records would get better with more exposure, but that most won't, and there may even be some cases where I've erred on the favorable side.
Hot Chip: Made in the Dark (2008, Astralwerks): English group, electronic beats, not so fast or fancy as to move them into the techno category, especially given that they set cogent pop songs to them. Multiple voices, none prepossessing. Several previous albums, including remixes. One line I recall: "I'm only going to heaven if it feels like hell/I'm only going to heaven if it tastes like caramel." B+(***)
Drive-By Truckers: Brighter Than Creation's Dark (2007 , New West): Nineteen songs here, what would have been a double-LP in the old days, and like such hard to get your head around it all. Especially given that the tunes are merely as good as they have to be to support the words, and that I've never been much good at focusing on the words. But most I notice, with "Bob" and "Lisa's Birthday" and "Crystal Meth" and several others sinking in. I hear Jason Isbell is gone, and girl singer Shonna Tucker pops up on a couple of occasions, a curve I didn't expect and didn't swing at. On the other hand, Christgau praised this, taking the occasion to pan A Blessing and a Curse once more -- a record I liked just fine. This is as good, maybe better. A-
The Magnetic Fields: Distortion (2008, Nonesuch): Never much of a fan of 69 Love Songs, I find Stephin Merritt's wit insufficiently funny, his songcraft too arch, his voice -- well, it's too arch, too. His new move here is lo-fi distortion, which has its moments -- the "California Girls" he hates so much is one. But it also muddies even the lyrics, where "Zombie Boy" sounds so much like "Tommie" I take it personally. Too much drinking. Not enough dreaming. B+(**)
Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend (2008, XL): New rock group, got some notices for their EP last year, setting up their eponymous debut. Tries to get by on brains and culture, including cops from reggae and afropop (one song called "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" shows their erudition but lacks a convincing beat). Singer commands little presence, and the keyboards mush up the sound a bit, so the brains and culture are saving graces. B+(***)
Los Campesinos!: Hold on Now, Youngster . . . (2008, Arts & Crafts): Welsh group, hyperactive punk-pop with shades of circus music, both male and female lead singers, exceedingly clever. Not something I normally like, more like something I'd rather admire infrequently from a distance, but then it's not close to normal in any regard. I hate to say it, but what I am likely to return for is to decipher a few more lyrics. Some intriguing wit there. But I do think they're way too young to use a word like "youngster." B+(***)
Be Your Own Pet: Get Awkward (2008, Ecstatic Peace): I liked their eponymous intro album -- not sure if it was their first, but it was definitely their coming out party. This one is much more awkward, their crunch moving toward metal, their themes moving toward horror movies. B
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks: Real Emotional Trash (2007 , Matador): Malkmus seemed such an inept singer, and his melodies seemed so strangely constructed, with big loops and curlicues where anyone else would aim for a straight line, that he made it seem miraculous whenever anything worked at all. I've gone up and down on Pavement albums, with one topping a year-end list, and others I never managed to be able to deal with. Solo, he seems to have settled into a more consistent state -- his singing has steadied, anyway, but here the melodies are as loopy as ever. First couple caused me a lot of agita, but the more moderate "Cold Son" started to zone in, and the title track works out as a generous 10:08 band exercise. Another record that needs more time than I can (or really want to) give it. Those who do are likely to like it a lot. B+(***)
Shelby Lynne: Just a Little Lovin' (2008, Lost Highway): Probably shouldn't bother, given that Rhapsody is only providing 6 of 10 songs. Still, the concept is straightforward: songs picked out of Dusty Springfield's songbook, which Lynne sets as firmly in Memphis as ever. Probably pretty easy to guess the rest. B+(*)
Van Morrison: Keep It Simple (2008, Lost Highway): Reasonable sentiments, admirably executed. Not an exceptional album, at least by his standards; by anyone else's would be another story. Already I regret not picking up a copy when I saw it on sale. On the other hand, I doubt that I would pick it from the shelf over, say, Days Like This, let alone Down the Road. Still wouldn't mind hearing this any time, and expect a song or two to show up on another late, great best-of. B+(***)
Akrobatik: Absolute Value (2008, Fat Beats): Underground rapper, from Boston, had a good debut album in 2003 called Balance, then popped up with an even better one in a group called the Perceptionists. But this one seems like a scattered mess, starting off with old style guest autohype, waking up midstream to overly obvious politics (Katrina strikes again), eventually stumbling onto some minimalist beats that hold up the underground aesthetic. B+(*)
Moby: Last Night (2008, Mute): Working famililar territory here, although he seems reluctant to pick a sample that stamps an indelible hook, or to push his grooves beyond the well established of his trademark sound. That's OK, but not by much. B+(**)
DeVotchKa: A Mad and Faithful Telling (2008, Anti-): Denver rock group, draws on Eastern Europe for its sound, but not charged hard enough for gypsy punk. With violin or accordion, a bass player who doubles on sousaphone, a guitarist-singer who plays some trumpet. B+(***)
Kathleen Edwards: Asking for Flowers (2008, Zoë): Singer-songwriter, from Canada, sings OK, can write a little, with a countryish eye for realistic detail, and ordinary melodies that can be pumped up or aired out. B+(*)
Willie Nelson: Moment of Forever (2008, Lost Highway): Scattered songs, a couple by Nelson himself, but most picked up from hither and yon, most unfamiliar to me -- "Gotta Serve Somebody" and "Louisiana" the exceptions -- done haphazardly which doesn't preclude a marvelous performance but doesn't guarantee one either. Picks up a duet partner on "Worry B Gone" (producer Kenny Chesney?). B+(*)
Erykah Badu: New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War (2008, Universal Motown): Complex, fractured funk. Took a while for it to start to kick in -- "Soldier" was one I noticed, most likely because it's relatively simple and straightforward. The sort of album that takes more time than I can allocate, but some rough spots make me wonder. Missing one cut. B+(***)
Raheem DeVaughn: Love Behind the Melody (2008, 128/Jive/Zomba): Neo-soul singer, second album, sounds slick and sexy, capable of waxing porn, but songs are pretty weak, forced metaphors propped up with some overly obvious samples. Son of jazz cellist Abdul Wadud, who used to play with Julius Hemphill. B
Toumast: Ishumar (2007 , Real World): Saharan group, Tuareg to be more specific, not sure where leader Mousa Ag Keyna and his cousin Aminatou Goumar come from -- Algeria is my best guess -- but the group formed in Paris, and Christgau reports that Dan Levy is the secret ingredient. Like many Sarahan groups, they seem to fit a straighter rock mold than either the Africans to the south or the Arabs and Berbers to the north, so this is short on flashy, fancy beats, but stable and winning at its chosen speed. One some ("Innulamane") in English, way out of line from everything else except in tone, but it's a good one. A-
Del Tha Funkee Homosapien: Eleventh Hour (2008, Definitive Jux): Fifth album since 1991, first since 2008. Del was underground before the genre sorted itself out: loose, funky, clever, constructive. Beats here are suitably unhinged, with a broad grin of a rap voice. They got me foot tapping, but not many words are registering. B+(**)
Foals: Antidotes (2008, Sub Pop): English rock group, from Oxford I think. Rhapsody listed them as "alt dance" -- probably because they have a beat. AMG classifies them as "new wave/post-punk revival" and something I've never heard of called "math rock." Maybe that means they program their beats. Singer sounds arch, educated, alienated. Does remind me of some new wave groups, ranging from Fashion to the Auteurs, but neither the beat nor the whine are world class. Two "bonus tracks" at the end -- UK singles "Hummer" and "Matheletics" -- are better; mostly because they're denser, you feel that something is at stake, like their careers. B+(*)
Carlene Carter: Stronger (2008, Yep Roc): No matter what, she has a name and legacy to fall back on, to pick her up when she crashes. Her early rock records didn't offer much more than cutesy rebellion, as her reprise of "I'm So Cool" (from Musical Shapes) shows. But she had a good run of records from 1990-95, starting with I Fell in Love. This is her first since then. Did it the hard way, writing all the songs. Mostly somber stuff, which is to say more conventionally country. She's entitled to the title cliché, but that doesn't mean we have to honor it. Her voice is converging on her mother's, but she's still short a sense of humor. B
The Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely (2008, Warner Bros.): Touted as a supergroup, but Brendan Benson is just a name I've vaguely heard of, and the Greenhomes is a band I'm pretty sure I hadn't heard of, leaving White Stripe Jack White, who contributes enough to make this feel like more than a throwaway side project. Seems like a lot of talent, but not put to any use I find interesting. Only thing I glommed onto was "Rich Kid Blues," which seems à propos, and not a plus. Cover looks rustic, like they'd like to be 2008's The Band. B
Hayes Carll: Trouble in Mind (2008, Lost Highway): Singer-songwriter from Texas. Hadn't heard of him when his second album, Little Rock, showed up in the mail, one of the most refreshing pieces of country songwriting I've heard in years. This one goes for cheaper jokes, but "Drunken Poet's Dream" is Bukowski for hicks, and "She Left Me for Jesus" is quotable from beginning to end: "She's given up whiskey and taken up wine/While she prays for his trouble she's forgot about mine/I'm gonna get even I can't handle the shame/Why last time we made love she even called out his name/She left me for Jesus and that just ain't fair/She says that he's perfect how could I compare/She says I should find him and I'll know peace at last/If I ever find Jesus I'm kickin' his ass." Not as consistent as Todd Snider, but pulling away from Guy Clark. A-
Ashton Shepherd: Sounds So Good (2008, MCA Nashville): Born 1986, sounds much older -- guess we should give her credit for not trying to pass as jailbait. Voice isn't weathered so much as darkly operatic, with an occasional yodel trying to get out. Drinks a lot; sings about it, anyway. Wish I thought she enjoyed it more. Age 21 is pretty young to congratulate yourself that you're not dead yet. C+
The Mountain Goats: Heretic Pride (2008, 4AD): Unable to really focus on the words, I note that this is finely structured and uncommonly balanced, even with the instrumentation varying significantly from song to song. The lyrics are likely to add something. One I fretted over a bit was a line about Israel in "Sept. 15, 1983" -- turns out the memorable date was the death of Michael James Williams, better known as Prince Far I. A-
Kevin Ayers: The Unfairground (2007, Gigantic): A personal, rather idiosyncratic interest of mine, one I backtracked from his June 1, 1974 live album with Eno and Nico to his central role on the first Soft Machine album, finding a number of pieces of brilliant pataphysical kitsch along the way. The last really good album he did was 1976's Yes We Have No Mañanas (a fitting successor to 1973's Bananamour). I notice that my database skips several later albums that I no longer own and barely remember, and even I stopped buying them at some point -- 1983's Diamond Jack and the Queen of Pain is the last title I recall, excepting a See for Miles compilation from 1990. This new record is what you'd call a return to form. Ayers' songwriting toolkit is rather limited, with many timeworn melodies recycled once again. His voice is droll and he ambles through the lyrics. Not as funny nor as absurd as in his heyday, but much the same feel. B+(*)
Les Amazones de Guinée: Wamato (2008, Sterns Africa): Formed in 1961 as the official band of the Guinean police force, as the name suggests, all female. I ran across the name before in reference to former members Sona Diabaté and M'Mah Sylla, who aimed for a dry, folkish Sahel sound. Not so here, where the group rocks out, in Mande riddims that split the distance between Nigeria and Senegal minus the idiosyncrasies of either. A-
Dolly Parton: Backwoods Barbie (2008, Dolly): She wrote 9 of 12 songs this time, including one good enough it wouldn't disgrace her best-of. It's called "I Will Forever Hate Roses," and I wouldn't be surprised if George Jones finds out about it. It's also the only stone cold country tune here. A couple more might pass, but not the unfeminist title cut, nor the one called "Shinola" that only reminds you of the missing word. Two of three covers wreck any assertions that she's returning to country from pop: "Drives Me Crazy" (from Fine Young Cannibals, words a bit mangled) and "The Tracks of My Tears" (Smokey Robinson). The third cover is called "Jesus & Gravity" -- you know, lifts me up, pulls me down, follows up on "Backwoods Barbie"'s push-up bra. Done with a gospel chorus. Sure shot for her worst-of tape. AMG reports that there are also exclusive editions for Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy, so your mileage may vary. C
Sheryl Crow: Detours (2008, A&M): The acoustic opener, "God Bless This Mess," could refer to the album as well as the state of the world. Unlike her, I never found any comfort in Bush's post-9/11 words -- I knew then that the immediate horror would only be amplified in the months and years to come. Then she moves from folkie to arena rocker with "Shine Over Babylon" -- God's answer record? It's pretty tedious, but she starts shuffling in Latin rhythms and odd twists. While she's never been mistaken for a deep thinker, she's on to something in her post-peak oil "Gasoline" where she recognizes, "we'll be the last to recognize where there's shit there's always flies." (Previous line: "cause the money's in the pipeline and the pipeline's running dry.") That's not the only point of interest, either music or theme. Would take some time to sort out the mess, even the one contained within the album. B+(**)
The Teenagers: Reality Check (2008, XL): French synthpop group, sing in English, an achievement that makes them sound a good deal more mature than the American standard for their namesakes -- compare the much rougher and more hormone-disturbed Be Your Own Pet. More like old new wave, with the guy playing with his newfound toy "fuck" and the girl shying away from it. The beats translate better than the ballads. B+(*)
Morcheeba: Dive Deep (2008, Ultra): Appeared in the mid-1990s as a dance group with a sharp beat. A half dozen albums later they're evoking comparisons to Portishead. I don't find them quite that dead ass, but they've lost much of their edge -- "stop chasing shadows just enjoy the ride" is a refrain with enough of a beat to get you somewhere, but not what you'd call a thrill. B
The Raveonettes: Lust Lust Lust (2008, Vice): Danish duo. I think the name comes from Buddy Holly's "Rave On." Sometimes they give off a whiff of 1950s rock 'n' roll, but at this point the band they most resemble is Jesus and Mary Chain, with the fuzzed guitar pushed a bit further toward industrial. It's an effective sound when they push it hard enough. B+(**)
The Service Industry: Limited Coverage (2008, Sauspop): Austin TX group. Heard the singer is from KS, but haven't managed to find much info on them. Most of the songs are about work, less because of any intrinsic interest than because it takes up so much time there's not much else to think or talk about. B+(**)
The Five Blind Boys of Alabama: Down in New Orleans (2008, Time Life): Presumably this is new, although the group with various personnel changes goes back to 1939, and only a couple of the songs were written more recently -- Earl King's "Make a Better World" and Curtis Mayfield's "A Prayer" go back quite a ways. Allen Toussaint produced, giving it a New Orleans undertow, helped out by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band -- great to hear that tuba. Songs are classic ("Free at Last," "You Got to Move," "Uncloudy Day," "Down by the Riverside"). None are spectacular, but that in itself is refreshing, given the current state of gospel hysteria. B+(**)
Clinic: Do It! (2008, Domino): English rock group, fifth album since 2000, would be alt-indie here, but come off a bit more metallic, bending guitar notes instead of letting them fall. Have a reputation, including Christgau HM on first two, A- on next two. Not something I normally care for, but tantalizing enough to get a second play, which got a bit better. Some day they might be worth investigating. B+(**)
Lyrics Born: Everywhere at Once (2008, Anti-): Great album in 2003 (Later That Day), recycled for a good one in 2005. This one has good stuff on it, but doesn't seem comfortable with itself -- several songs feel like they're angled for airplay but split off in different directions. No doubt about his talent, just about what it's good for. B+(**)
Dengue Fever: Venus on Earth (2008, M80): LA alt-rock band, fronted by Cambodian pop singer Chhom Nimol, sometimes singing in Khmer. As one who often has trouble with rock vocals, this doesn't seem much out of the ordinary to me. The music is new wavish, swooping rather than punchy, with occasional east Asian tics, some quite enchanting. B+(**)
Wednesday, April 16. 2008
Paul Krugman: Oil wells that don't end well. This was occasioned by a report that Russian oil production has peaked and may never return to current levels. Quote:
In a subsequent post Krugman notes that gross world product has accelerated from 2.9 percent in the 90s to almost 5 percent in recent years, mostly from China but all from emerging economies. Meanwhile world oil production has stalled: having grown around 1.6% per year in the 1990s, it's been "basically flat for the last three years." The result is the run up in prices:
Michael Klare: Oil Rules!. Author of Resource Wars and Blood and Oil, Klare has a new book out on energy politics: Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Oil. He offers five theses:
I don't quite buy this, especially the last point. Even if you buy the notion that the US invaded Iraq to secure its oil supplies, what we've learned (at least those of us who have learned anything) is that such oil supplies are very vulnerable to sabotage. It's clear now that the US will never be able to recover its costs in Iraq. So instead of producing more cost-ineffective conflicts, we will be better off just trying to live with the losses, at least in the short term as long as the losses are manageable. In the long run, some nations may become so desperate they figure they have nothing more to lose -- in which case they're likely to attack not the producers but the competitive consumers. I'm already worried that China's being scapegoated as the cause of rising gas prices in the US, even though China's per capita usage is still a small fraction of what we use.
As for the "rising powers," their fate will depend not just on having an energy surplus but on how they use it. Thus far oil wealth has not proven much of a boon to economic development, without which none of these powers will rise. If anything, oil appears to stunt the brain. You can find evidence for that all over, starting in the White House.
Klare has never been all that sharp on peak oil, and still refuses to recognize that it may already have occurred. But he does seem to have turned the corner -- further evidence that the theory is becoming a commonplace.
Andrew Leonard: The Decline and Fall of the American Empire of Debt. Book review of Kevin Phillips' Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism. Short story is that it reiterates pretty much everything in Phillips' previous book, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, somewhat condensed, except for an extra helping of I-told-you-so's.
Leonard quotes Phillips:
While Phillips concentrates on finance, he traces US imperial rise and decline to oil, which peaked domestically in 1969. Ever since then the US has run trade surpluses to keep oil flowing, a necessity given that the only alternative would be to change our way of life and conserve. Leonard writes:
I have a copy on order, so will be writing more later.
Andrew Leonard: McCain-onomics: Cheap Gas in Every Tank. McCain picked April 15 to unveil his so-called economic plan, since it's pretty much limited to the Republican orthodoxy of cutting taxes, and what better time to push that button than on tax day? His first plank is to temporarily suspend federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents per gallon. While people are hurting from gas prices, making it a wee bit cheaper in the short run does nothing good in the long run. One funny thing about the proposal is that for most other things, like health care, McCain thinks it's good to raise prices so people will have to consume less. On gas, which in the long term we will have to learn to consume less of because there will be shortages, he wants to lower prices so we can consume more. Or maybe not; it's temporary after all. Maybe he just wants to sweep it under the rug, especially since his beloved Iraq war is the main proximate cause.
Jared Bernstein: More Reasons to Worry About McCain-onomics. More dope on McCain's tax cut plan, like how it's skewed to help the rich, how the personal exemption boost is just a loss leader, how there's no way McCain can recover the losses by cutting spending, especially while he's keeping all his wars firing.
Steve Benen: The "Distractions" Debate. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates are debating in Pennsylvania. What are the big issues?
Josh Marshall added: "Looking around other sites, I guess I'm not the only one that thought this debate was unmitigated travesty. Maybe the embargo on debate rebroadcast was a pro-human rights stand."
Steve Benen: The Master of His Flip-Flopping Domain. A laundry list of McCain flip-flops.