Monday, September 29. 2008
Two weeks and change into my big break from music writing, so Jazz Prospecting is sparse this week, just barely topping my minimum catch to bother posting any at all. I did manage to get some significant new shelving built this past week, including three CD cases that should hold close to 3000 CDs. Hopefully, the prospect of not feeling buried will perk up my spirits.
Bracketed grades are tentative, which is more common these days because I'm less able to focus. Bracketed dates are future release dates, and may include notes about advances. In one case I streamed a record from Rhapsody that I didn't receive and can only vouch for in the most limited of ways. Such records should be tentative, but since I don't have the prospect of inspecting them further, I consider those grades final -- if I do get another shot at it, I'll reopen the case. Didn't get my mail catalogued this week. I'll catch up with it later.
The Suicide Kings (2008, Blue Plate Music): Country rock group, formed in 2006, although the key players -- vocalist Bruce Connole, keyboardist Brad Buxer -- have kicked around for a couple of decades. Remind me of someone I can't quite pin down. Some grim moments, which may or may not include the signature song. Some indications that they're sharper politically than their niche demands. B+(*)
Bobo Stenson Trio: Cantando (2007 , ECM): Piano trio, with Anders Jormin on bass, Jon Fält on drums. Stenson has been around quite a while: b. 1944, co-led an early-1970s group with Jan Garbarek that produced Witchi-Tai-To, one of my favorite records. Has been recording regularly for ECM since 1998, with a few more titles going back to 1971. A good fit for Manfred Eicher's piano taste. Plays songs by Silvio Rodriguez, Alban Berg, Astor Piazzolla, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, a couple others, one group piece, two more by Jormin, who gets some space and comes off surprisingly poignant. [B+(***)]
Vassilis Tsabropoulos/Anja Lechner/U.T. Gandhi: Melos (2007 , ECM): Piano, cello, percussion. The cello is the sonic center here. Mostly slow, very pretty. Not much percussion. [B+(**)]
Portinho Trio: Vinho do Porto (2008, MCG Jazz): Brazilian drummer, based in New York, leads a trio with pianist Klaus Mueller and bassist Itaiguara Brandão (or Lincoln Goines on 3 tracks). Brazilian tunes, "Satin Doll," "Footprints," a piece from Paquito D'Rivera. Lively, subtle, with a big boost from "special guest" trombonist Jay Ashby. B+(*)
Pete Rodríguez: El Alquimista/The Alchemist (2008, Conde Music): Trumpeter, b. 1969, from Puerto Rico, based in NJ, has a couple of previous records. He's ably supported here by Ricardo Rodríguez on bass, Henry Cole on drums, and Roberto Quintero, and frequently upstaged by splashy performances from pianist Luis Perdomo and tenor saxophonist David Sánchez. Impressive as the latter two are, I find their whiplash approach to Latin jazz often disorienting. Trumpet sounds fine. B+(*)
Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William Parker: Beyond Quantum (2008, Tzadik): Five pieces, named "First Meeting," "Second Meeting," etc. The "Fourth Meeting" is the most immediately compelling -- probably just the straightest and most accessible. Braxton plays "saxophones": alto is his preferred tool, and he's one of the most dexterous and expansive alto saxophonists ever, especially when he doesn't have to navigate his own contorted compositions. He plays sopranino toward the end; probably others, but he gets such a wide range of sound out of alto I could be wrong. Graves is a little-recorded percussion legend, adding some vocalizing and other strange effects here and there. Parker is a massively-recorded bass legend. Much food for thought all around. A- [Rhapsody]
Mike Clark: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 1 (2006 , Talking House): New label, introducing three volumes in a same-titled series, the other two by drummer Donald Bailey and saxophonist Billy Harper -- all veteran players, not a lot under their names, although Harper is exceptional in several regards. Clark's discography starts with Herbie Hancock's Headhunters fusion group in 1974, although this is a pretty straightforward hard bop set, distinguished by bright, forceful performances from the band: Jed Levy (tenor sax), Donald Harrison (alto sax), Christian Scott (trumpet), Christian McBride (bass), Patrice Rushen (piano). Nice drumwork, too. B+(*) [Jan. 20]
Billy Harper: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2 (2006 , Talking House): Gospel-tinged tenor saxophonist, cut an album back in 1975 that inspired the great Italian label Black Saint. Hasn't recorded much lately -- mostly I've noticed him popping up in various big bands. Has a thickly muscled tone, a lot of depth and resonance and, well, soul -- few saxophonists are as easy to pick out in a blindfold test. First two tracks feature Amiri Baraka spoken word pieces. Only non-original is "Amazing Grace." Haven't managed to listen straight through yet, and there's plenty of time before the delayed official release date. But it sure is great to hear Harper again, especially when he really opens up. [B+(***)] [Feb. 17]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Sunday, September 28. 2008
Jo Becker and Don Van Natta Jr: For McCain and Team, a Host of Ties to Gambling. Long article on McCain's ties to gaming interests and their lobbyists, with more on McCain's meanderings in mendacity. Maybe it's just my upbringing (or my late mother's upbringing), but I read these opening paragraphs with utter disgust:
I still remember when gambling was near the top of the list of debilitating sins: to describe a person as a gambler was as damning or worse than being a drunk or a junkie. This has changed over the last few decades, mostly because the self-appointed guardians of public virtue have converted to fetish of money and the thrill of winning. The Republicans have led the way here. They've always had a fine appreciation of money, and from Nixon on they've come to believe that winning is the only thing that matters. As they've become ever more unhinged from reality, they come to see no real difference between running a successful business and a lucrative gambling scam. After all, the difference can't be due to labor actually producing something of value. As they've learned in their MBA coursework, the only thing that matters is money, and one way of making money is as good as any other.
McCain isn't alone in this, or even very rare, but he is typical. One reason gamblers were held in such contempt back in my mother's day is that gambling was invariably linked with deception, including self-deception. McCain has had even more trouble with recognizing or respecting truth than any politician in recent memory -- which is to say, the Clinton-Bush era. Most people focus on the risk-taking aspects of McCain's gambling habits, which are indeed scary given how much power has been usurped by the presidency. But worse still is the pathological link between gambling and dishonesty, not to mention the self-absorption nearly every gambler indulges in. This cluster of attitudes is what makes McCain so scary -- not that his idiot conservative jingoism and his warmongering aren't bad enough.
Thursday, September 25. 2008
Robert Dreyfuss: Reading Bob Woodward. I still haven't been tempted to read any of Woodward's four Bush books, but whatever they lack in critical consciousness they evidently make up for in dish. Dreyfus writes:
Note the prominent role of McCain in promoting the surge. He, of course, would be first in line to claim credit there. Dreyfus is right that the main purpose of the surge was to stretch the war out at least through the end of Bush's term. That's its real success: the quality that allows Bush to wrap himself in commander-in-chief garb, thereby preserving the slim following he gets from those who continue to rally around the bloody flag.
Tuesday, September 23. 2008
I thought with no Jazz Prospecting this week it would be an opportune time to dump out the ongoing Rhapsody file.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on April 17. It is at least a way to keep up on new releases without having to track down all that product. Past notes are collated here.
Conor Oberst (2008, Merge): Eponymous album from singer-songwriter who always worked behind an alias before. One thing I have to admit is that he sounds much more confident. I bought two of his Bright Eyes albums, played them a few times, but they're still sitting on the unrated shelf. Streamed Cassadaga from Rhapsody and gave it a somewhat equivocal snap grade. Played this one twice, and it's finally making sense, which may or may not help the older albums. Songs are sharply conceived, mostly memorable, a few quite striking. A-
Mike Edison and the Rocket Train Delta Science Arkestra: I Have Fun Everywhere I Go (2008, Interstellar Roadhouse): Memoirs of a magazine editor -- Screw, Main Event, High Times -- declaimed loud over punk-noisy electro-boogie, with a soupçon of heavy metal thrown in for the Ozzy Osborne story, and some more straightforward punk for "GG Allin Died Last Night" -- my favorite piece here, probably because I like the line declining to go to an Allin concert ("why spoil the mood?"). "Space Bop" is about volunteering for NASA then getting second thoughts after Challenger blew up. "Jews for Jesus" is about how Jesus is cooler than most Christians. B+(***)
Patti Smith/Kevin Shields: The Coral Sea (2005-06 , TBC, 2CD): Shields is from My Bloody Valentine, a group that tried to pass off slightly sweetened noise as pop and sometimes got away with it. I gather this is guitar-and-effects here, although at first I just thought mild-mannered synth -- it does get louder, especially on the second set/disc. Smith reads her poetry -- a tribute and elegy for Robert Mapplethorpe -- over the din. More or less interesting, sometimes striking, although nothing that really catches gear like, say, Horses. B+(*)
Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III (2008, Cash Money/Universal): Way behind on this guy: I picked up two of the mixtapes, but haven't had time for them yet, and haven't heard any of the previous Tha Carters. This seems kind of wobbly at first, although some bits deliver wit, especially "Mrs. Officer," a twist on NWA's "Fuck Tha Police." Gets better from that point, although I still don't have a good sense of what he's up to. B+(***)
The Bug: London Zoo (2008, Ninja Tune): Kevin Martin, illbient dub producer, third album. I liked the last one, Pressure, from way back in 2003 quite a bit. This one is, well, illbient dub. Tippa Irie, Ricky Ranking, someone called Flowdan -- pretty harsh voices to go with the hard knocks beats. B+(*)
Paul Weller: 22 Dreams (2008, Yep Roc): Twenty-two songs, evidently a 2-CD set, although it didn't seem that long -- not that I paid a lot of attention. I hadn't heard anything by Weller since the Jam, a punchy little rock group that slipped through the British punk stream even though they didn't quite fit. Weller went on to form the Style Council, which lasted through the 1980s without ever inspiring me to listen in, and now has a dozen or so albums under his own name. Always well-regarded in England; never much of a name in the US. Certainly a pro; just not sure how far removed that makes him from a hack. B
Black Kids: Partie Traumatic (2008, Almost Gold/Columbia): One thing I don't get is the relationship between this Jacksonville group of black (and not so black) youngsters of both sexes with Robert Smith of the Cure. For starters, the latter is depressive, and these kids are exuberant -- wouldn't call them "kids" otherwise, would you? Churning keybs, new wave beats, a comic kiddie chorus. Two or three great songs -- I'm on the fence about "I Wanna Be Your Limousine," but not "Listen to Your Body Tonight" or "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance." B+(***)
Miley Cyrus: Breakout (2008, Disney): Teen pop star, previously marketed as Hannah Montana, but now that she's 16 they're moving her into the next niche on the ladder. Still, without her bio I wouldn't have pegged this as teen pop. Seems more like failsafe power pop; nothing interesting in the voice, nothing that suggests, uh, personality. B-
Jonas Brothers: A Little Bit Longer (2008, Hollywood): Teen pop group, three brothers, now on their third album, with the younger brother, Nick Jonas (b. 1992), getting out ahead with some solo recordings. Starts off sounding pretty good, with some nuance to crunchy pop-rock. Tails off toward the end, and "Sorry" -- the big power ballad move -- is quite awful. B+(*)
Katy Perry: One of the Boys (2008, Capitol): The things a girl will do to get noticed: "Ur So Gay," "I Kissed a Girl," "One of the Boys." Those are all fun, and "Hot N Cold" is even better. Doesn't hold up all the way to the end, but makes a showy splash. B+(*)
Del McCoury: Moneyland (2008, McCoury Music): I've seen this attributed to McCoury, a bluegrass journeyman who was born a couple of years before Franklin Roosevelt, who chats at the beginning and end, took office. I've also seen it chalked up to Various Artists, which is probably more accurate, as it starts with Bernard "Slim" Smith's 1931 "Breadline Blues," and includes recognizable pieces by Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Chris Knight, Patty Loveless, Mac Wiseman, and others, including four cuts by McCoury. We haven't exactly returned to the Great Depression, but sometimes it pinches like it, especially when you see how money struts across the land. Take away message: "vote away the blues/the breadline blues." B+(***)
Alan Jackson: Good Time (2008, Arista): Neotrad standard, Jackson is settling into a very comfortable middle age with his 14th album. The songs come easy, in part because he never tries to say anything that conflicts with conventional wisdom. His "Small Town Southern Man" is an archetype of modest decency, just like the hillbilly Jesus would be "If Jesus Walked the World Today." Jackson hasn't moved up or out. He claims "I Still Like Bologna," and there's no reason to doubt him, but also note that he bothers to spell the word correctly instead of phoneticizing it out. A-
Laura Cantrell: Trains and Boats and Planes (1996-2008 , Diesel Only, EP): Alt-country singer-songwriter, had two good albums on this label 2000-02, then one I haven't heard on Matador in 2005. Not sure if she's coming or going, or just marking time. This is billed as a digital-only EP, with six newly recorded covers, plus three "bonus tracks" from old albums (one original). She's on top of the mixed batch of smartly chosen covers: the Bacharach-David title cut, Roger Miller, Merle Haggard, Gordon Lightfoot, John Hartford, and one from New Order. B+(*)
Rebecca Lynn Howard: No Rules (2008, Saguaro Road): Country singer, third or fourth album, has a big voice, fond of R&B flourishes. Most songs are arranged for Nashville pop-opera, and she oversings like crazy. I remember when "diva" was a thesaurus word -- something you'd drop into a review as a change of pace, preferably ironic. I'm getting to where I regret ever having used the word. C+
Glen Campbell: Meet Glen Campbell (2008, Capitol): A legendary studio session guitarist in the 1960s -- even toured with the Beach Boys -- with a long list of real (and possibly imagined) credits: Ricky Nelson, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, the Mamas and the Papas, the Monkees, the Troggs, the Velvet Underground? (Must be: he does "Jesus" here.) He's recorded one or more albums every year since 1962's Big Bluegrass Special, with chart-topping country/pop albums concentrated around 1967-69, leading to his TV variety show in 1969-72, with a couple more hit albums as late as 1977, and many more after that. Married four times, not counting a notorious fling with Tanya Tucker. Owns his own golf tournament. I'm old enough to have lived through all this, and in all this time I've never felt compelled to buy a single one of his albums -- not even a best-of. Thought this one might be when I dialed it up, but these are new recordings, a covers album, with nothing rootsy and a couple of very odd choices (of which "Jesus" is the best). His guitar is like a threshing machine, chewing through whatever terrain is put in front of it. Keyboards turn whatever's left to mulch. His voice has lost its lightness. Not the best time to meet up with him, but when was it ever? C
Buddy Guy: Skin Deep (2008, Silvertone/Zomba): After BB King, he reigns as the elder blues eminence, but he got his start early, and is still just 72. First new album since 2001's Sweet Tea. Like John Lee Hooker, he's padding his late career with guests. (Don't have the doc, so this may be partial: Eric Clapton, Robert Randolph, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Jack White. Still, almost everything worthwhile here is indubitably Buddy Guy. Strikes me as, if anything, too upbeat, and can grow tedious. Exception: the "we're all the same" title song. B+(*)
George Strait: Troubadour (2008, MCA Nashville): Since 1981, probably the straightest, most consistent neotrad country singer around. Only reason I qualify that is that I've skipped almost all of his albums, only periodically turning in to his compilations, which against greater odds invariably feel consistent. Not sure how much he writes -- looks like nothing here. Was starting to have doubts halfway through, but closes strong with "House With No Doors" ("you can't make a woman feel something she don't/and you can't build a house with no doors") and "If Heartaches Were Horses" (didn't jot that one down). B+(*)
Sugarland: Love on the Inside (2008, Mercury Nashville): Countryish pop-rock duo -- singer Jennifer Nettles has twang, so does guitarist Kristian Bush. Third record, all bestsellers. First two songs sound promising, featuring jumpy beats and choppy hooks, but they're soon negated by two awful power ballads. Then they retool "Long Black Veil" as "Genevieve," copping a bit of roots sound for something about a babysitter. Put it all together and you get the arena-ready pro-tattoo "Take Me as I Am," which is far enough over the top I almost like it. Better still is "Steve Earle," where they turn on the country charm to beg Earle to write them a song. B
Hamell on Trial: Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs (2006, Righteous Babe): Couldn't find Ed Hamell's latest, called Rant and Roll, but I've long wanted to hear this one. First song is called "Inquiring Minds": about what you tell your kids when they get too nosey. Pretty hit and miss from there on, but a definite his is one about trying to teach a 3-year-old wiseacre something about "Values." B+(***)
The Felice Brothers (2008, Team Love): Americana outfit, shades of Dylan in the vocals and the Band in the organ, but thinner, washed out, faded. A bit like the Pernice Brothers, but not quite there. B+(*)
Flogging Molly: Float (2008, Side One Dummy): Los Angeles group, thinks they're the second coming of the Pogues, making up in speed and volume what they lack in insight or new ideas -- which is quite a lot. B-
Fleet Foxes (2008, Sub Pop): Seattle group, first album, has gotten a lot of attention (Metacritic score: 88). They claim to have grown up on 1960s music, the most obvious effect an overdose of Beach Boys harmonics, all the odder for the lack of appropriate voices. The effect is arty. The artwork, by the way, is another 1960s throwback, to Pearls Without Swine. B-
Alejandro Escovedo: Real Animal (2008, Back Porch/Manhattan): Singer-songwriter, started out in alt-country Rank and File, and has gone on to record 10 or so albums since 1992. Was on the ropes a couple of years ago with Hepatitis C, yielding a tribute album to raise some scratch, but evidently he's gotten through that -- does give "People (We're Only Gonna Live So Long)" an extra shot of authority. But he's also singing louder and clearer than usual, and the songs have more punch, probably because they're all co-written with Chuck Prophet. Almost rockabilly, with some politics and joie de vivre. B+(***)
Jeffrey Lewis: 12 Crass Songs (2008, Rough Trade): Anti-folk singer, underground comic book artist, has several past albums which I probably should have noticed but didn't. Sounds a lot like the Moldy Peaches, if you remember them, except older and more worldly, and for that matter more repulsed by said world -- like the Moldy Peaches, he works with a female singer, evidently Helen Schreiner, who does a pretty fair Kimya Dawson impersonation. Not sure what Crass is or where it comes from or what it's doing here. According to AMG, the songs are attributed to: Ignorant, Rimbaud, Libertine, Wright, and Devivre. But what I can say is that this is some of the most politically subversive music I've ever heard. Pretty good, too. A-
Justin Adams: Soul Science (2007 , World Village): English guitarist-producer, worked with Jah Wobble, moved into North/West African music, specifically Saharan blues, the sort of thing that gets touted for its resemblance to John Lee Hooker, although in this case Bo Diddley isn't out of the question either. Adding to the effect is Gambian singer Juldeh Camara, who renders it just foreign enough. B+(**)
Kasai Allstars: In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic (2008, Crammed Discs): Kinshasa group, or aggregation of groups, part of Crammed's "congotronics" series, not as intensely noisy as Konono No. 1, but along the same lines. B+(***)
Brian Wilson: That Lucky Old Sun (2008, Capitol): Hard to tell from two plays how deep this might eventually sink in. I know the title song mostly from Louis Armstrong, and even he has trouble redeeming its soupiness, but Wilson makes good use of it, reprising it several times as he works it into his smiley tapestry. Also reprised is the whole narrative of the Beach Boys, sometimes pulling old bits out, sometimes recreating them (e.g., "Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl"), sometimes just to perpetuate the juvenilia. I'm not swept away, but am at least moderately amused. B+(**)
Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It (2008, Columbia): At best, this sounds like vintage Motown, even when Stevie Wonder isn't guesting. At worst it sounds like vintage Gamble-Huff, which, come to think of it, isn't too shabby either. A-
Late of the Pier: Echoclistel Lambietroy (2008, Astralwerks, EP): Five cuts, dance-timed, high-NRG. Didn't get a clear listen due to download problems, but it hit an irritating nerve -- reminded me a bit of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. B-
Okkervil River: The Stand Ins (2008, Jagjaguwar): Austin TX group, strikes me as an Americana version of the Cure: the melodicism is unexceptional but gains substance when the leader has something to say, and the pseudo-depth of what is said becomes tolerable given the melodicism. A lot of people like this band a lot. I can sort of see why, but mostly don't mind them much. B+(*)
Leon Ware: Moon Ride (2008, Stax): Motown songwriter, cut a few records over the years. Has a smooth style, lots of cooing and wooing. Reminds you of some classic singers, but not really one of them. B+(*)
Martha Wainwright: I Know You're Married but I've Got Feelings Too (2008, Zoë): Didn't notice any lyrics, which means she lacks the wit of her father, or her mother, or maybe even her brother. Picks up a notch when she rocks harder, or when she takes it real simple, but not when she flirts with Kate Bush. Covers Syd Barrett and Eurythmics. B-
Monday, September 22. 2008
Spent almost all of the week working on the house, trying to keep things from collapsing, an ounce of prevention that Alan Greenspan would have been well advised to consider 5 or 10 years ago. Didn't bag the minimum jazz prospecting count I set last week when I set out on this new tangent. Didn't even come close. In fact, mostly played old blues records, which happened to be handy and seemed to be helpful. One small accomplishment was building another CD case, which I figure is good for nearly 1200 CDs. By the time I'm through, we should have much more storage, although the long term resolution is to learn to live within the new parameters.
Next three weeks should be little different from this last one, at least as regards Jazz Prospecting, but maybe there'll be some dribs and drabs to show.
Sunday, September 21. 2008
Update at end.
A quick postscript to yesterday's post, which was about how McCain can't shake the party propaganda about how any/all government regulation hurts the economic efficiency and freedom of the private sector. Actually, this is Milton Friedman's propaganda, but it served Reagan well, at least rhetorically, so it's become GOP gospel, even if it isn't honored in fact any more than Jesus's chastisement of the rich and opposition to war.
If the current financial crisis prooves anything, it's that when times get tough, virtually everyone in America looks to government for help: not just the poor and downtrodden, but the rich as well. In fact, the rich have the sort of contacts that let them cut to the head of the line. This point is pretty obvious because it reeks of hypocrisy.
The less obvious point we should take from this crisis is that, much as John Edwards noted their are two Americas, there are now two depressions. The one in the news -- the one the Bush administration is so frantically acting on -- is the depression of the rich. In 1929 it was a depression of the rich that plunged the rest of the country into deep poverty, so vague memory suggests that government action now will save us all a lot of pain down the road. That may be true, but there's been a depression of the poor in this country for several years now, and it's not just one of those two-quarter blips in the business cycle that get the bean counters hepped up. The depression of the poor is something the GOP has had little trouble ignoring, not least because they're responsible for much of it. The Democrats have also tended to ignore it, focusing on the money that feeds practical politics, pointing to the myriad ways Bush has wrecked the country for decades to come, and appealing to the increasingly fragile middle class as the only visible, respectable representatives of the numerically overwhelming non-rich.
The Democrats embrace of government as a system to deliver help to all segments of the private sector and to provide responsible stewardship of the economy and our (recently disastrous) path in foreign affairs is in tune with what virtually all Americans actually believe and expect. Less clear, of course, is whether they can actually do that, especially given the corrupting influence of special interests, but at least they grasp the principle. McCain and his ideologically pure advisers don't have a clue, which is why their reactions are so kneejerk and their proposals are little short of insane.
Oh, yes, the concluding point I wanted to make but didn't: I think the rich and poor depressions are related. The old Keynesian view of this is that depressions are caused by a shortage of demand, which can be remedied by putting people to work -- even on make-work projects, like World War II -- and thereby putting disposable cash into their hands. What we've actually seen is the converse of this: workers have been put on a long-term diet, gradually being starved, which sooner or later has to suck the demand side out of the economy. This process has been stretched out: by extracting more work for less pay, the value of the work has kept the system going, and the missing cash has been partly compensated by easier access to debt, at least until recently. The debt, in turn, has escalated to the point where it has become a giant house of cards: with relatively little labor to back it up, the financial powerhouses of the rich and ultrarich have been running on fumes, absorbed in a self-inflationary bubble that has less and less to do with the real economy. I seriously doubt that you can patch up the financial system without rebuilding the basic foundation of the economy, which whether you like it or not still depends on old-fashioned labor.
Saturday, September 20. 2008
Josh Marshall: Innovative products. Quotes John McCain as saying:
This is wrong on a nearly unfathomable number of levels. It assumes innovation is per se a good thing, which is obviously not true, and in the case of the financial industry of late is almost never true. Their great mission in life has been to suck as much value out of the world as possible, as is demonstrated by the mere fact that they've grown faster and more profitably than the economy as a whole, despite the fact that almost everything they used to do can be done vastly more efficiently with modern information systems. One thing that is true is that health insurance innovations will have the same purpose -- indeed, it strikes me as wrong to suggest that the health insurance companies have lagged behind their financial sector brethren in figuring out how to maximize their take while screwing customers. Moreover, the consequences of this predation are if anything more severe, as should be obvious if you contemplate the question they're so adept at posing: your money or your life?
McCain's comment shows how deeply he himself has been suckered into the party line, and how little capacity for independent or critical thought he actually has.
Paul Woodward: Regulation vs. deregulation. This contrasts a big chunk of an Obama speech to the simplistic idiocy being spouted by McCain. It reminds me of a scene watching some TV "journalist" hammer Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, demanding details on how Obama would react to the current crisis. After several references to a six-point proposal Obama had made, Goolsbee started reciting them in quite some detail, and the interviewer cut him off midway through number two. The lesson is clearly that the GOP talking point will prevail even when its falsity is glaring.
Friday, September 19. 2008
Another batch of notes on new/recent books of possible interest. I've been collecting these, and spitting them out in batches of 40. Last one was Aug. 7. The whole batch are here.
Tariq Ali: Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope (revised/expanded, paperback, 2008, Verso): Originally published in 2006, focusing on Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia, with Ecuador added for this edition. I've been reluctant to pick this up -- I have a lot of respect for Ali as a critic of American empire, but distrust advocacy of politicians even when they build their careers on the rejection of that same power. Still, the independence movements in Latin America make for a remarkable story.
Tariq Ali: The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2008, Scribner): This, on the other hand, is the book I've been waiting for: Ali's home country, with the Musharraf regime caught between ham-handed American power, popular rebellion of more than one flavor, and its own peculiar interests. Was scheduled for early 2008, but Benazir Bhutto's assassination sent Ali back to the word processor. The situation is still volatile, impossible to keep on top of. This should certainly help one catch up. [On my to-be-read shelf.]
Robert D Auerbach: Deception and Abuse at the Fed: Henry B Gonzalez Battles Alan Greenspan's Bank (2008, University of Texas Press): Gonzalez is a D-TX congressman who chaired the House Financial Services Committee, one of the few politicians who ever tried to exert any oversight on the Fed.
Phoebe Ayers/Charles Matthews/Ben Yates: How Wikipedia Works: And How You Can Be a Part of It (paperback, 2008, No Starch Press): Big (600 page) book on Wikipedia. We've been needing some kind of book to provide an intro to the mechanics and conventions of contributing. I've put a couple of little things in, but have generally been inhibited. I bought John Broughton: Wikipedia: The Missing Manual, but haven't read much yet. (Also Mark S Choate: Professional Wikis, which is more about how to set up your own MediaWiki-based site, which may be the hardcore way to do it.)
Andrew J Bacevich, ed: The Long War: A New History of US National Security Policy Since World War II (2007, Columbia University Press): Academics only: 608 pages, list price $77.50. Twelve essays, only a couple of people I've heard of, none other than Bacevich I particularly respect.
Andrew J Bacevich: The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008, Metropolitan Books): Surprise bestseller. Looks short, and may idolize Jimmy Carter more than is really decent, but not a bad idea as a corrective. I think the key to the sales burst has been the way Bacevich has avoided any partisan association with the Democrats, who he correctly recognizes are a little too trigger happy. (Come election time we'll have to balance that off against McCain, who's easily the most trigger-happy presidential candidate since James Polk, maybe ever.) [On my to-be-read shelf.]
Dave Barry: Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far) (2007, Putnam): Very funny guy, at least once upon a time. Whether that time includes the present, let alone the recent past, remains to be seen. But his biggest problem is likely the material: much of it is too weird to caricature, and too tragic to reduce to doo doo jokes. Jon Stewart seems to be a better fit for the times. Barry was fine back in the Reagan era when you weren't really sure you had to take it all seriously.
Matthew Connelly: Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (2008, Belknap Press): History of the "underside" of the population control movement, especially the tendency to frame such programs in racial terms. Before the US right discovered the political utility of the "right to life" issue, it tended to be the right who promoted population control and the left who resisted them. I'm not sure where this book lands.
Drew Curtis: It's Not News, It's Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News (2007, Gotham): Easy enough to make that critique, but the main function of the book seems to be to collect as much fark as possible, and its attraction is how readily it digests all this crap that you may not otherwise bother to pay any attention to.
Julian Darley: High Noon for Natural Gas: The New Energy Crisis (paperback, 2004, Chelsea Green): It seems likely that peak oil will be followed by problems in the supply of natural gas, although the picture of how that will play out is less clear. This is one of the few books that specifically addresses natural gas.
Ross Douthat/Reihan Salam: Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (2008, Doubleday): A little cognitive dissonance here. It's not really opposition to "the Democrats' cultural liberalism" that motivates the Republican Party. It's greed. So while they get a kick out of splitting the working class over cultural issues, the principle they're really serious about is picking workers' pockets. Arguing that Republicans should promote workers' economic interests goes so hard against the grain as to be laughable. Of course, if workers want to believe it, they'd be happy to hum a few bars. Just don't expect it to pay off. (In fairness, Kevin Phillips started down this line two decades ago. He never got it to work.)
Robert Engelman: More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want (2008, Island Press): More people, or more for each person? A book on population growth, and how women have throughout history have sought to manage their fertility to optimize their children's future. [Found this in library but didn't finish it.]
Alvin S Felzenberg: The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game (2008, Basic Books): An exercise in such parlor games as "who's the worst president ever?" Breaks them down categorically rather than by just picking them off in order, which makes it more work to use, although possibly more useful to read.
Jonathan Fenby: Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present (2008, Ecco): Big, general history of China since 1850, which doesn't seem like a particularly interesting starting date -- sometime after the humiliation of the Opium Wars, if memory serves. It does sort of fill a need, but with all the new books on China coming out -- the Olympics may have something to do with it, but it's ovedue anyway -- I expect it will take a while to sort out which books are really worthwhile. Just as an indication, there's also Rana Mitter: Modern China: A Very Short Introduction (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press), which covers the same ground in 144 pages.
Robert Fisk: The Age of the Warrior: Selected Essays (2008, Nation Books): Mostly short columns, 546 pages of them. Not sure how far they go back, but the first section includes one called "Be very afraid: Bush Productions is preparing to go into action." Fisk has covered what he called The Great War for Civilisation at least as far back as the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which he chronicled in Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon. The earlier book is absolutely essential. The later I bought but still haven't found time for. This covers the same ground in small bites, and carries forward -- toward the end is "Who killed Benazir?"
Thomas L Friedman: Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America (2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux): More garbled clichés from the New York Times' village idiot. Looks like they copped the cover art from Hieronymous Bosch, another faux pas. A skyline shot of Sao Paulo would be much more effective.
Andrew Gelman: Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do (2008, Princeton University Press): Examines why Democrats win in most relatively wealthy states while Republicans win in most relatively poor states, despite the fact that rich people overwhelmingly vote Republican, and poor people primarily vote Democrat.
Aaron Glantz: Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations (paperback, 2008, Haymarket Books): Reports from US soldiers who took part in Iraq and Afghanistan, from hearings held by Iraq Veterans Against the War. Glantz previously wrote How America Lost Iraq, the first of several books on that theme.
Brian Hicks/Chris Nelder: Profit From the Peak: The End of Oil and the Greatest Investment Event of the Century (2008, Wiley): I don't normally go for books that bill themselves as investment guides, even if the occasion is a catastrophe, but is nearly encyclopedic on the peak oil issue, and looks to be pretty level headed. Haven't looked at it close enough to figure out what that investment angle might be. Some of the books in this genre are: Aric McBay: Peak Oil Survival: Preparation for Life After Gridcrash; Mick Winter: Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Collapse; Stephen Leeb: The Coming Economic Collapse: How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrell; Stephen Leeb: The Oil Factor: Protect Yourself and Profit From the Coming Energy Crisis; George Orwel: Black Gold: The New Frontier in Oil for Investors; more generally: Daniel A Arnold: The Great Bust Ahead: The Greatest Depression in American and UK History is Just Several Short Years Away/This is Your Concise Reference Guide to Understanding Why and How Best to Survive It; Peter D Schiff: Crash Proof: How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse; James Turk/John Rubino: The Collapse of the Dollar and How to Profit from It: Make a Fortune by Investing in Gold and Other Hard Assets; Addison Wiggin: The Demise of the Dollar . . . : And Why It's Even Better for Your Investments; Michael J Panzner: Financial Armageddon: Protecting Your Future From Four Impending Catastrophes; Howard J Ruff: How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years in the 21st Century. [Got and read this from library.]
Nathan Hodge/Sharon Weinberger: A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry (2008, Bloomsbury): Another history-via-travel book, which includes stops in Pakistan, Iran, India, China, North Korea, Israel, Russia, France, UK, as well as numerous spots in the US. Weinberger previously wrote: Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underground.
Kaylene Johnson: Sarah: How a Small Town Girl Turned Alaska's Political Establishment on Its Ear (paperback, 2008, Epicenter Press): Well, that was quick, even for a scant 159 pages, and no doubt obsolete by the time you read this.
Ishmael Jones: The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture (2008, Encounter Books): Evidently written by a long-time spook who never got his higher-ups to understand anything he was telling them, much less stuff they never found out about.
Sonali Kolhatkar/James Ingalls: Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence (paperback, 2006, Seven Stories Press): Co-directors of Afghan Women's Mission, a US-based NGO working with RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan). They look to be ahead of the learning curve, but Amazon reviews are very polarized.
Daniel J Levitin: The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (2008, Dutton): Follow-up to the author's This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, which I bought but haven't read. Six song classes: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, love.
Elvin T Lim: The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W Bush (2008, Oxford University Press): Lots of things have declined, not least intellectual integrity. Rhetoric, however, still seems to be very much with us -- it's just grown emptier and more clichéd.
Mark London/Brian Kelly: The Last Forest: The Amazon in the Age of Globalization (2007, Random House): Dispatches from the world's largest tropical forest, fast disappearing as it's chewed up to support the local and world economy.
Larry McMurtry: Books: A Memoir (2008, Simon & Schuster): Memoirs of a small-town Texas bookseller, who writes novels and movies on the side.
Karl E Meyer/Shareen Blair Brysac: Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East (2008, WW Norton): Authors of Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia, a 1999 book I bought back when it was still an intellectual curiosity and never got around to reading. Another sweeping history of (mostly English) imperial adventures in the Middle East.
Mark Crispin Miller, ed: Loser Take All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008 (paperback, 2008, Ig): I haven't paid much attention to the various stolen election arguments, which Miller has contributed much to, but this at least is short and convenient and covers a bunch of ground.
Michael Moore: Mike's Election Guide 2008 (paperback, 2008, Grand Central Publishing): A straightforward book, but still feels weird. Moore is a mainstream celebrity, but still is regarded as fringe political, so you never quite know whether his endorsements of relatively mild-mannered Democrats helps or hurts.
Retort: Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (paperback, 2005, Verso): San Francisco-based group, attempts to explain post-9/11 history through the Situationist concept of spectacle. As I recall, the theory's original attraction was its ability to expand upon the ordinary. I'm not sure how that applies here.
Eric Roston: The Carbon Age: How Life's Core Element Has Become Civilization's Greatest Threat (2008, Walker): A biography of an element, from the origins of life to the threat of global warming.
Michael Schwartz: War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (paperback, 2008, Haymarket Books): Schwartz has written a number of posts at TomDispatch, some of the most insightful analysis on Iraq around. In particular, he was one of the first to point out the economic impact of Bremer's early reforms, which on top of the initial bombing and looting had disastrous effects on the Iraqi economy.
Nancy Soderberg/Brian Katulis: The Prosperity Agenda: What the World Wants From America -- and What We Need in Return (2008, Wiley): Soderberg held NSC and UN Ambassador posts in the Clinton administration. Wrote a previous book, The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might, with foreword by Clinton. Seems like an insider trying to think her way out of the box. Obviously, being a superpower wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Now can we negotiate?
Gary Stewart: Rumba on the River: A History of Popular Music of the Two Congos (paperback, 2004, Verso): Saw this cited in the liner notes to Tabu Ley Rochereau's The Voice of Lightness. Not a lot of good books on African music, but this looks like it might be very useful.
Allegra Stratton: Muhajababes (paperback, 2008, Melville House): 25-year-old reporter tramps all across the Middle East, talking to young women, collecting the stories she finds into a book. Easy as that.
Charles Tripp: A History of Iraq (3rd edition, paperback, 2007, Cambridge University Press): Could have been the standard history when it came out in 2000. A lot has happened since then, resulting in a second edition in 2002, and now this third pass. Tripp also wrote Islam and the Moral Economy: The Challenge of Capitalism (2006).
Phil Valentine: The Conservative's Handbook: Defining the Right Position on Issues From A to Z (2008, Cumberland House): Some kind of right-wing radio pundit. The A-to-Z approach to the issues gives it a comprehensive air, and it's serious enough and cogent enough -- most likely a combination of half truths and slick posturing -- to tempt one to argue with it instead of dismissing it out of hand. Bible-like binding strikes me as inconvenient and pretentious.
Michael Waldman: A Return to Common Sense: Seven Bold Ways to Revitalize Democracy (2008, Sourcebooks): FYI: End voter registration as we know it; Fix electronic voting; Increase voter turnout; Campaign finance reform; End partisan gerrymandering; End the electoral college; Curb the imperial presidency and fix Congress. Author used to write speeches for Clinton, where I'm sure he was every bit as bold.
Bob W White: Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire (paperback, 2008, Duke University Press): Mobutu loved to see his people sing and dance. Kept them from paying too much attention while he stole the country blind.
Thursday, September 18. 2008
Jazz Consumer Guide is out in the Village Voice this week. Title is "Festival Visions": I came up with that when I noticed a relatively large number of records associated with William Parker's Vision Festival. Actually, had I thought of it sooner, I could have rounded up a couple more. AUM Fidelity has an inside track on these records. They probably have the best placement percentage of any label over Jazz CG history. Some other labels, like ECM, have had more records listed, but they release many more. In addition to the avant-garde, a couple of trad jazz records made the cut.
I haven't seen the print edition, but one thing new this time is that I decided to run several honorable mentions on the web page that I offered up as cuts for the print edition: Tom Teasley, Vince Seneri, Ernest Dawkins, and Rocco John Iacovone. These were toward the bottom of the list, and had been cut at least once previously. Running them this way at least gets them out. Otherwise, I was afraid that I would never get them out. One result was that the cuts were concentrated in the main section:
These are all A- records, and should run next time. For the record, the top six on my honorable mention list are also A- rated. I didn't feel like getting into a lot of detail on them, and I figured they'd be better served now than stuck in the waiting queue. Good records; a wide range of styles and interests. Don't have enough space often enough, so I try to make do. A lot more in the pipeline. In fact, I have very nearly enough written for the next column.
Note: Started writing this on 9/12, then got distracted. Since then the US financial system has continued to implode, while the media chortles that the silver lining of depression is lower gas prices, and the worst major party presidential candidate since James Buchanan (at least) continues to hold even or better in the polls.
In looking that his year's crop of 9/11 observations, it strikes me that people make more of it than is deserved, and still miss some very basic points.
The latter paragraph could go on and on, but let's go back to the initial point and underline it: the initial US reaction to 9/11 was very peculiar, an irrational burst of violence that was predicated on self-delusion. No other nation in the world would have reacted in that way, yet to us it still seems as normal as apple pie -- even after every step advancing the reaction has proven to be an abject failure. Until we can get our minds around this simple truth we will continue to blindly hurt ourselves and everyone else around us, until we expire from our own failures. It's happening, and it cannot be stopped until we face up to what we have done. Unfortunately, our whole political system militates against that sort of self-examination.
It is certainly true that some politicians are less blind and less stupid and less deceitful and less arrogant than others, but how can they be so and still sell optimism, which remains the coin of the realm even as we slide into hell.
Monday, September 15. 2008
Jazz Consumer Guide (#17) will run this week, meaning Wednesday. I've done quite a bit of work on the next one, but I'm pretty much stalled right now. Did manage a bit of prospecting early in the week, but nothing last 3-4 days. In fact, I've just been playing things for pleasure, and to show off to my house guest. Right now that means Lefty Frizzell. Don't expect I'll be writing much in the next 6-8 weeks. I started a short thing on the anniversary of 9/11, but didn't manage to wrap it up. Didn't even manage to publish the book notes I have backlogged. But I did frame together a new CD cabinet that I figure will hold another 800 CDs, so I'm making progress on other (non-writing) fronts. That's important, too.
Lee Konitz and Minsarah: Deep Lee (2007 , Enja): Konitz needs no introduction. He is past 80 now, still active, still playing difficult music beautifully. Minsarah is Florian Weber's piano trio, one of those groups named after their first album. Jeff Denson plays bass, Ziv Ravitz drums. Mostly Weber pieces, except for the title cut. Was too busy to do anything more than enjoy the record. Will return to it. [B+(***)]
Christian Howes: Heartfelt (2008, Resonance): Violinist, b. 1972, Columbus, OH; now based in New York. Fourth album since 1997. Small print notes: featuring Roger Kellaway. Stick describes this as "beautiful, romantic jazz," and that does seem to be what he's aiming for. When he adds viola things can get icky, as on the first two cuts. Elsewhere he shows a Grappelli influence, and pianist Kellaway earns his keep. Bennie Goodman's "Opus Half" is relatively choice. B
Toninho Horta: To Jobim With Love (2008, Resonance): Banner across the bottom identifies this as belonging to an "Heirloom Series." No recording date, but it's pitched as a 50th anniversary celebration of bossa nova -- seems likely to be new. Horta plays guitar and sings -- make that, plays guitar much better than he sings. He takes nine songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, adds three of his own, plus a stray by Paulo Horta and Donato Donatti, and gives them what must pass among the nouveaux riches as the luxury treatment. The results are very mixed: wonderful, awful, permutations thereof. The band is ridiculously large, with some prominent yanks -- Dave Kikoski (piano), Bob Mintzer (tenor sax), Gary Peacock (acoustic bass), John Clark (French horn), Charles Pillow (oboe) -- mixed in with comparable Brazilians like Paulo Braga and Manolo Badrena and bunches of folks I've never heard of, many surnamed Horta -- the five flutes give you an idea. Then there's the 22-piece string section, a surefire recipe for seasickness. And the backing vocals, another dozen. Gal Costa even drops in for three cuts. Still, it can be very nice when they keep it simple, especially when the tune is as irresistible as "Desafinado." B-
John Beasley: Letter to Herbie (2008, Resonance): Pianist, b. 1960 in Louisiana. Toured with Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard in the 1980s, cut a couple of crossover albums on Windham Hill, scratched out a living doing ad jingles and filmworks. Plays Fender Rhodes and synth as well as piano. Mostly Hancock songs, with two originals and one by Wayne Shorter. Christian McBride, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and Roy Hargrove get their name on the front cover as "featuring" while Steve Tavaglione, Michael O'Neill, and Louis Conte don't. Emphasizes Hancock's hard bop side over his fusion moves, which is probably for the best. B+(*)
Andreas Öberg: My Favorite Guitars (2008, Resonance, CD+DVD): Swedish guitarist, b. 1978, based in Los Angeles; fourth album since 2004. Plays electric, acoustic, 6-string nylon. Two originals; ten covers, songs by other guitarists like Django Reinhardt, Toninho Horta, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, George Benson, Pat Metheny. One of those records that I put on, got distracted, didn't dislike what little I noticed, but didn't notice anything to make it seem worth another play. Didn't watch the DVD. B
Mike Garson: Conversations With My Family (2006 , Resonance, CD+DVD): No recording date for the CD, but the DVD was shot May 7, 2006. Presumably there's some relationship, but once again I didn't bother with the DVD. Garson rings a bell. At the time I first heard it, I thought his piano solo in David Bowie's "Aladdin Sane" was one of the most magnificent things I had ever heard. Other than that I hadn't noticed him much. Turns out that before Bowie he started out with Annette Peacock. He has a dozen or so albums, starting with 1979's Avant Garson. This has a lot of quasi-classical flourishes, especially when accented by Christian Howes' violin -- three cuts, but I could have sworn there were more strings. Claudio Roditti plays trumpet and/or flugelhorn on two cuts; Lori Bell flute on one; Andreas Öberg adds guitar on two. The titles are connected with short interludes, another classical-ish touch. And the piano is rich and florid -- not something I tend to like, but here I rather do. B+(*)
William Parker Quartet: Petit Oiseau (2007 , AUM Fidelity): Too late to make it into JCG (#17), where Parker and the alto saxophonist here, Rob Brown, both have pick hits. Just as well, as this hasn't clicked for me yet -- unlike two previous albums with the same lineup (O'Neal's Porch and Sound Unity), or for that matter Raining on the Moon (which added vocalist Lorena Conquest) and Corn Meal Dance (with Conquest and pianist Eri Yamamoto). On the other hand, I haven't been convinced to give up, either. It feels less avant, more composed through. The two horns -- Brown's alto sax and Lewis Barnes' trumpet -- rarely fly off on their separate paths. The liner notes suggest that for once Parker is working within the tradition, composing tributes to players like Tommy Flanagan (or Tommy Turrentine, or Tommy Potter), mapping the Little Bird from one of his tone poems back to Charlie Parker. [B+(***)]
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. II (2006 , Winter & Winter): Don't remember Vol. 1 all that well, but it came out at about the same grade. Motian is less of a time keeper than a time disrupter, and he never lets this group settle down into a groove or open up into a jam. In this trio Chris Potter gets abstract and choppy, not really his style, but he handles it well enough. The third leg of the trio is bassist Larry Grenadier. The plus two is pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and either Greg Osby (alto sax) or Mat Manieri (viola). B+(**)
Vince Mendoza: Blauklang (2007 , ACT): Mostly a composer-arranger, no playing credit here. Fifth album since 1990, first since 1999. The bulk of the album is the six movement "Blue Sounds," which closes the disc after five pieces -- two originals, one traditional, one each from Miles Davis and Gil Evans. The record bears the WDR/The Cologne Broadcasts logo, drawing on the Westdeutschen Rundfunks Köln big band, with a few ringers thrown in: Nguyên Lê on guitar, Markus Stockhausen on trumpet, Lars Danielsson on bass, Peter Erskine on drums. So, basically, a big band, plus strings (String Quarter Red URG 4). Has some nice moments, but runs too close to classical for my taste. B-
Peter Schärli Trio Feat. Ithamara Koorax: Obrigado Dom Um Romão (2006 , TCB): Schärli plays trumpet; was born 1955; has at least 8 albums since 1986, including at least one focusing on Brazilian music. Trio includes Markus Stalder on guitar and Thomas Dürst on double bass. Koorax is a Brazilian vocalist, b. 1965 in Rio de Janeiro, the daughter of Polish Jews who fled Europe during WWII. Dom Um Romão was a famous Brazilian percussionist, 1924-2005. One cut here incorporates a berimbau solo Romão recorded in the 1990s. I suppose the lack of drums in this tribute could signify his absence. Mostly slow Brazilian tunes, two standards ("Love for Sale," "I Fall in Love Too Easily"), a Schärli original, done with a lot of haunting, smokey atmosphere. B+(**)
Bill Moring & Way Out East: Spaces in Time (2007 , Owl Studios): Bassist-led "collective group" -- second album, not counting the one Moring did with a Way Out West group. Post-hard bop, with Jack Walrath on trumpet, Tim Armacost on sax, Steve Allee on keyboard, Steve Johns on drums, all but Allee contributing a song or two -- Ornette Coleman is the only cover. Especially good to hear Walrath, who hasn't recorded much lately. B+(*) [Oct. 7]
Mike & the Ravens: Noisy Boys! The Saxony Sessions (2006-07 , Zoho Roots): Rock band, led by vocalist Mike Brassard. Group originally formed in 1962, but this, with same original members, is their first album. Rocks OK, with a large blues component. Sounds more advanced than 1962. More like 1968. In fact, sounds an awful lot like Steppenwolf. B
Harry Shearer: Songs of the Bushmen (2008, Courgette): Eleven songs, one dedicated to Bush administration teamwork ("935 Lies"), the other ten to individuals, starting with Colin Powell's "Smooth Moves" and ending with Donald Rumsfeld's "Stuff Happens" -- both song-and-dance numbers, more than a little jazzy. Some of the adaptations are obvious -- "Wolf on the Run" for Paul Wolfowitz, "Who Is Yoo?" for John Yoo, with Karl Rove's "Turd Blossom Special" and "The Head of Alberto Gonzalez" the most effective. "Karen" (as in Hughes) is a duet with a Bush-sounding character asking the publicist whether they like us yet. The one that cuts deepest is Condoleezza Rice's "Gym Buds," with Judith Owen singing and someone named Beethoven contributing the melody. [B+(***)]
Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band: Appearing Nightly (2006 , Watt): Aside from daughter Karen Mantler on organ, a pretty standard big band configuration: four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds, piano, bass, drums. Half or more are well known names, mostly with lengthy associations with Bley: Lew Soloff, Gary Valente, Wolfgang Pushnig, Andy Sheppard, Julian Argüelles, Steve Swallow, Billy Drummond. The layering is impeccable, and she make especially good use of the trombones. B+(***)
The Stryker/Slagle Band: The Scene (2008, Zoho): Fourth album under this name, although guitarist Dave Stryker and alto saxophonist Steve Slagle appeared on each other's albums long before their merger. Jay Anderson plays bass, Lewis Nash drums. Joe Lovano joins in on four cuts, but he's mostly wasted on slow and overly slick stuff. And then there's Slagle's characteristic flute cut. On the other hand, the band's usual upbeat postbop is pretty tasty. B+(*)
Nik Payton and Bob Wilber: Swinging the Changes (2007 , Arbors): Payton plays tenor sax and clarinet. B. 1972, Birmingham, England; studied at Leeds College of Music, and perhaps more importantly under Wilber, who indulged his Sidney Bechet fetish. Payton was a founder of the Charleston Chasers, and has toured with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra and what's left of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. One previous album, called In the Spirit of Swing. Lives in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, which may have something to do with why there's a Jobim song here, but few albums lack one; in any case, this is pretty straight swing, the only unusual point the preponderance of originals -- 4 by Payton, 7 by Wilber. Group is Payton's "regular London quartet" -- Richard Buskiewicz (piano), Dave Green (bass), Steve Brown (drums). Wish I could say more, but every time I hear something exceptional here I convince myself that it's Wilber. B+(*)
Ron Kalina and Jim Self: The Odd Couple (2006-07 , Basset Hound): Kalina plays chromatic harmonica. Doesn't seem to have much of a discography or history, but he looks rather gray. Self plays tuba. He's been around a long time, with credits going back to 1976 and seven or more albums since 1992. The group is rounded out capably by Larry Koonse (guitar), Tom Warrington (bass), and Joe La Barbera (drums). They play a couple of originals, some standards, two Charlie Parker tunes, the Neal Hefti-composed title TV theme. They make an odd buzz, and swing a little. B+(*)
Darrell Katz/Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra: The Same Thing (2006 , Cadence Jazz): Katz is a composer/arranger -- no performance credits here. He's directed the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra since 1985, through six albums plus three under his own name. He seems to be based in Boston. Don't know much more. JCAO is a large, ungainly group, leaning avant-garde. Three of Katz's five pieces here are built around texts by Paula Tatarunis, with more/less political overtones. They are sung/recited by Rebecca Shrimpton, in one of those annoying operatic soprano voices, although the words are consistently interesting, and the music does something for them. The sixth piece is the Willie Dixon blues, "The Same Thing," sung by Mike Finnigan. It's one of those standard pop pieces that take on new life when avant-gardists keep the 4/4 and twist everything else. Not a record I'd feel like playing often, but there's a lot in it. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.
Thursday, September 11. 2008
There were also narratives about George Bush being a regular guy, and McCain being maverick moderate. The fact is that McCain's campaign lies more than Gore ever did, and that McCain's flip-flopped more than Kerry ever did. Aloof may not be the right word, but McCain could hardly be more disconnected from the problems of the middle class, let alone the poor. He's blinded both by ideology and by the company he keeps -- indeed, by his own ten house, private plane lifestyle.
But the press narratives keep slanting one way. It's enough to make you wonder who owns the media, but you only need to ask that question to surmise the answer.
Billmon: The Future Belongs to We. This runs through the demographic shifts that are pushing the white Republican backlash ever further out on the plank. I don't think it's anywhere near this simple, but the demographic shift has already had an effect on how both parties contend for votes. Bush and Rove made some (neither sincere nor effective) efforts to woo hispanic and even black voters. McCain's making fewer gestures in that direction, most likely because he wants as much racial backlash from Obama as possible. But even there he needs to be careful, because the white race margin is already thin, and more and more whites are willing to vote for a black or hispanic. Wichita, which is still 65-70% non-hispanic white, elected an hispanic mayor a few years back, then voted him out in favor of a black. On the other hand, those were both conservative candidates backed by business interests. Real progressives, even white ones, have a much tougher time.
Andrew Hacker: Obama: The Price of Being Black. One problem with the demographic shift Billmon wrote about how do you turn raw population numbers into actual votes. Hacker reviews the various ways blacks are still denied their right to vote.
Andrew Sullivan: McCain's Integrity. Actually, lack thereof:
Probably more convincing coming from a conservative who believes he has a soul. Less so from me, because I've seen through him longer. For me the last straw broke in South Carolina in 2000 when McCain declined to defend the stars and stripes, let alone the Party of Lincoln. Sullivan's endorsement:
FiveThirtyEight is now showing McCain with a 0.8% popular vote lead, although the electoral vote still gives Obama a very slim edge (1.8). They surmise that this is the full extent of the Republican convention bounce. Looking at the state polls, almost all of McCain's gain has come in red states -- topped by Alaska, where the Palin pick has delivered a 31% margin in what had previously been considered a competitive (although red-leaning) state. Sullivan argues that the bump was in the "Christianist" base, which seems likely. The last week has been exceptionally stupid even by usual Stupid Season standards. Even things that should be hard news have turned to political mush. For instance, Bush's announcement of a trivial drawdown in troop strength in Iraq, albeit not until after his term ends. I keep seeing endless repetition of the "surge has worked beyond our wildest dreams" mantra by people with no idea what "working" means. (I believe the quote was from Obama, of all people, but don't quote me on that.) Meanwhile, the situation in Pakistan keeps getting further and further out of hand, which is all the more worrisome given that both candidates are hawks on it. It's tempting to say that Obama is losing because he's drifting away from the right positions on critical issues of war and peace. But to the extent that he is losing, it's for far worse reasons: because more/less half of the American people, and considerably larger slice of the media and business powers, are still willing to snuggle up in Karl Rove's pocket. What it says about us as a nation is nothing less than shameful.
Wednesday, September 10. 2008
Robert Christgau on America's Secret Fundamentalists. Book review of Jeff Sharlet's The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. The subject is a group of politically engaged Christians who predate and are more influential than the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Christgau writes:
Who are the people in this Family?
Monday, September 8. 2008
Another weird week for me. I fumbled for a couple of days getting nowhere, then started pulling long-sitting probable junk from the shelves (some, but by no means all, below), then spent a few days playing Rhapsody, and finally settled into some serious jazz. The Rhapsody stuff will show up in a later post -- I've never been a fan, but the Conor Oberst album is pretty good, and Jeffrey Lewis's 12 Crass Songs is a weird, left-wing find. No more info on when Jazz CG (#17) runs, although it shouldn't be too long now.
One thing I'll note here is that I'm going to be cutting back on writing, especially about music, over the next 6-8 weeks. I'm not discontinuing anything, but everything will be sparser and slower. I have another trip to Detroit lined up, and I have a bunch of construction projects, both here and there, on my plate. This is the best time to get them done, and I'm finally taking that plunge. All year long -- in fact for several years now -- I've been tethered to the computer, listening to as much stuff as I could handle, writing as much as I can, letting pretty much everything else slip into entropy's clutches.
I will be listening to stuff, and I'll write notes when I can. They'll probably be more slapdash then usual, with more records put back for later listening. If I have 6+ I'll put up a Jazz Prospecting post. I have a little over 1000 words written for Jazz CG (#18), and that will get a boost when the cuts for (#17) come in. So it shouldn't be hard to finish this off in a timely fashion. September Recycled Goods is already thick enough to run. No reason to stop sending me new stuff. This period will pass, then (most likely) we'll be back to normal.
The non-music parts of the blog/website will continue in a similar mode. I have some book stuff more/less ready to go. The cutback means I'll put less work into finishing them off, but the posts will continue. Don't know about the politics. I'm somewhat inclined to pull my head down and let whatever happens in the next two months -- Matt Taibbi's memorable term for the 2004 election was "The Stupid Season," and that seems likely to be the case once again. But I doubt that I won't be tempted to write something, no matter how distracted I am. We'll see.
Renaud Garcia-Fons Trio: Arcoluz (2005 , Enja/Justin Time, CD+DVD): French bassist, b. 1962, uses an unusual 5-string double bass, has a technique of tapping strings with the bow. The fifth string gives him something like cello range. Trio includes Kiko Ruiz on "flamenco guitar" and Negrito Transante on drums/percussion. Music draws on flamenco, and reminded me more than a bit of tango. Garcia-Fons has six albums on Enja, at least two picked up by Justin Time. DVD adds visuals to the same concert. I played it but didn't watch much. B+(**)
Randy Sandke: Unconventional Wisdom (2008, Arbors): Trumpeter, mostly plays old-fashioned mainstream, or what you might call swing-bop, but sometimes will surprise you. This quartet, with Howard Alden (guitar), Nicki Parrott (bass), and John Riley (drums), should steer to the retro side, but doesn't. I'm not really sure what they're doing, other than framing a lot of gorgeous trumpet balladry. Parrott also sings four songs. She has a plain, slightly hesitant voice, which I think works very well. [B+(**)]
The Pineapple Thief: Tightly Unwound (2008, K Scope): English ("Somerset-based") rock group, led by guitarist Bruce Soord, has half a dozen albums since 1999. Sounds a little like Jesus and Mary Chain minus the fuzz -- didn't catch any lyrics, so I can't speak to the gloom. Better than average for what they do, but no real business being here. B+(*)
Tuner: Totem (2005 , Unsung): Another rock record slipped into the stack. Quasi-industrial, chompy hard beats, fuzz guitar, more instrumental than not, with long stairstepped segues and some chant-like but ignorable vocals. "Dexter Ward," with its long instrumental outro, is a good example. B+(**)
Tuner: Pole (2005-06 , Unsung): Not background; just an earlier record I shelved and didn't bother with. Group is duo with Markus Reuter on guitars (mostly) and Pat Mastelotto on drums (mostly), with nine guests listed. Like the quasi-industrial instrumentals; don't like the cult doom-and-gloom vocals -- the talkie ones aren't so bad, but the whispery ones are just creepy. B
Judith Owen: Mopping Up Karma (2008, Couragette): British (or should I say Welsh?) singer-songwriter, with eight (or more) records since 1996. I don't hear her as a jazz singer, and don't find her very interesting as a rock or cabaret singer. At least this has fewer annoying vocal tics than the previous album I've heard (Happy This Way), and the strings and such are fairly inocuous. B-
Anne Phillips: Ballet Time (2008, Conawago): Singer, definitely jazz, all the way down to writing vocalese lyrics -- her take on Dexter Gordon's "Fried Bananas" goes so far as to explain how she wound up writing a lyric to "Fried Bananas." Reportedly got her start "as a member of the Ray Charles Singers on the Perry Como Show." Cut an album in 1959 called "Born to Be Blue," then followed it up with a second album in 2001. This looks to be her third, not counting her choir arrangements for the Anne Phillips Singers. This one calls in a lot of chits, arranging 15 songs as duos with 15 musicians -- mostly pianists (notably Dave Brubeck, Marian McPartland, Roger Kellaway), two guitarists (John Hart, Paul Meyers), two saxes (Scott Robinson on baritone, Bob Kindred on tenor), and Joe Locke on vibes. Two pianists sing duets: Bob Dorough and Matt Perri. Five songs have music or lyric (not both) by Phillips. The others lean on her guests, or the Gershwins. The minimal pairings and juxtapositions make for a very mixed bag -- tricks and oddities that never get a chance to jell into something genuinely idiosyncratic. B
Kopacoustic: Music From the KopaFestival 2006, Volume 1 (2006 , Kopasetic): The first of two samplers from a Swedish jazz festival, held Sept. 21-22, 2006, in Malmö, sorted not strictly by acoustic vs. electric so much as by guitar volume -- all six groups have guitarists, a sure sign of the times. First up here is Krister Jonsson Trio (Jonsson, guitar; Nils Davidsen, electric bass, Peter Danemo, drums) + Svante Henryson (cello): 4 cuts, 29:08. Then Footloose (Mats Holtne, guitar; Mattias Hjorth, bass, Peter Nilsson, drums) + Lotte Anker (alto sax) & Andreas Andersson (soprano/baritone sax): 1 cut, 18:05. Finally, Cennet Jönsson Quartet (Jönsson, soprano/tenor sax; Krister Jonsson; Mattias Hjorth; Peter Nilsson) + David Liebman (soprano sax, flute). Loose, attractive free jazz, guitar-driven, with cello or light sax to soothe things out. B+(**)
Kopalectric: Music From the KopaFestival 2006, Volume 2 (2006 , Kopasetic): More guitar-driven free jazz, cranked up a notch for Lim + Marc Ducret (3 cuts, 31:01) and Elektra Hyde (1 cut, 10:36), and a couple more for Anders Nilsson's Aorta (1 cut, 20:59, called "Riding the Maelström"). B+(**)
Dave Pietro: The Chakra Suite (2007 , Challenge): Saxophonist, alto is probably his main instrument, although he lists it third here, ahead of C-melody but after soprano and F-mezzo. Born in Massachusetts, studied at UNT, played 1994-2003 in Toshiko Akiyoshi's big band, and many of his other credits are in big bands -- Mike Holober, Pete McGuinness, Jim Widner, Gotham Wind Symphony. Sixth album since 1996, including some Brazilian experiments and a Stevie Wonder tribute. This one is based on Indian themes, but also includes Brazilian elements. Todd Isler taps both sources for percussion. Rez Abbasi plays sitar as well as guitar. Gary Versace plays accordion and piano. The light sax floats and dances over intriguing rhythms and subtle mood pieces. B+(***)
Michael Bates: Clockwise (2008, Greenleaf Music): Bassist, composer, grew up in Canada, played in hardcore and punk bands before settling into jazz. Has three albums, some attributed to Michael Bates' Outside Sources, although Bates is the only one on all three albums. (Actually, my copy, with no mention of Outside Sources, has a different cover from the one shown on the band's website and Myspace page. The label's website shows my cover.) Pianoless quartet this time, with Russ Johnson on trumpet, Quinsin Nachoff on sax or clarinet, and Jeff Davis on drums. It's worth the trouble trying to focus on bass/drums, which provide the foundation for all the free-flying sparks. B+(***) [Sept. 8]
Rabih Abou-Khalil: Em Português (2007 , Enja): It looks like the German label Enja finally has a US distributor (Allegro), so we may start seeing their records in a more timely and complete fashion. (For the last several years they've had a deal where Justin Time selectively reissued their records.) Enja has been home to Lebanese oud player Abou-Khalil since 1988, with at least 10 records. They've all had very distinctive packaging: cardboard foldout cases with metallic ink. This one, with its purple background and jeweled fishes, is a beauty. Abou-Khalil started with his native Arabic music, which flows readily into jazz due to their joint emphasis on improvisation, but over the years he's moved fluidly through the realms of European folk musics -- Morton's Foot (2004) is an especially good example. Here he goes whole hog into Portugal, setting out an album totally dominated by Ricardo Ribeiro's vocals. I would have preferred more instrumental space, maybe a horn beyond Michel Godard's occasional tuba. The best thing here is the way the oud weaves through the whole tapestry. B+(**)
Ralph Lalama Quartet: Energy Fields (2008, Mighty Quinn): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, b. 1951, cut five albums for Criss Cross 1990-99. This is his first album in the new millennium, a quartet, with John Hart's guitar a significant complement for the sax. Mostly covers (1 original), standards and bop tunes from Parker, Shorter, and Shaw. I'm not familiar with his early work. This is beautifully done, but seems like something he could fall back on any day he wanted. B+(**) [Oct. 1]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.
Sunday, September 7. 2008
Back in 2003, a year before I started writing Jazz Consumer Guide, I quickly jotted down a set of reactions to Downbeat's Critics Poll and dumped them into my pre-blog on-line notebook. I figured it would be useful as a sanity test: seeing how my opinions stack up against the experts, taking note of some newcomers I missed or hadn't noticed or maybe just underrated. Wrote another one in 2004 after my first Jazz CG, and kept writing more, every year including this one. I've never voted in the poll -- don't have any relationship with them, not even as a subscriber, although I do check them out on the newsstand. (For one thing, they've managed to put about three-fourths of my featured duds on their cover, often a month or two after I make my pick, even if it hadn't been published yet.)
I'm late again this year: was slow getting to it, and slow getting it done. The fact that I'm posting it as early as I am is the result of cutting back on some of my ambitions. I did manage to round up all the old pieces and collect them here. I meant to do some more supporting research, especially for their Hall of Fame question. Also wanted to put together some files to remind me who I like on what instrument, but didn't get that done. As such, my notes are as haphazard and impressionistic as ever.
RS refers to the "Rising Star" list, generally for hot younger musicians, although the borders can get shifty.
Hall of Fame: Joe Zawinul. Continues their recent trend of electing the newly deceased. The still-living Hank Jones and Lee Konitz tied for (#2), a hint of how far behind the curve Downbeat is. I need to take a good look at who's in, who's out. Otherwise, there are too many people to not forget someone key. Zawinul would be way down my list. I mostly know him through Weather Report, a group I do not hold high. Konitz and Jones obviously belong, as does George Russell (#8) in the same generation. I much admire Randy Weston (#4) and Muhal Richard Abrams (#6), but wouldn't have put them so high on my list. One name off the list that occurs to me is Mal Waldron. Another is Illinois Jacquet. The more I look the more I'll find. Back in 2003 I complained loudly about Jackie McLean not even being on the ballot, a condition that persisted until he died in 2006, at which point the critics came to consciousness and put him over the top. So I think it's fair now to start talking about such major musicians with 40+ year careers as Anthony Braxton and Peter Brötzmann. Maybe even some 30+ year careers on the level of David Murray and Billy Bang.
Veterans Committee: Jo Jones, Jimmie Lunceford, Erroll Garner, Harry Carney, Jimmy Blanton. One thing that will help open up this list is the new Veterans Committee concept, which picked off three of the top 15, plus two more. They took a subset of their critics, gave them 28 nominees, let them vote for as many as they wanted, then inducted those who got 75%. No idea who the other 23 were, or how modern they get -- Garner is the most recent, having recorded from 1944 and died in 1977. Don't know who else was on the nominee list. Jimmy Rushing is conspicuous among the missing. Bing Crosby wouldn't be a bad choice -- Sinatra and Cole are in. Some more hats to throw in the ring: Red Allen, Buck Clayton, Bud Freeman, Don Redman, Rex Stewart, Chick Webb. More research next time.
Jazz Artist: Herbie Hancock. Got his Grammy, which counts for something in this poll. I didn't like the album, but that was mostly because I didn't like the vocals. Runners-up were: Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Joe Lovano -- not a bad measure of career eminence, but that concept doesn't hold up either. Given his recent production and Vision Festival role, I would have voted for William Parker, who didn't place. RS: Jason Moran. All depends on how you slice it. The 12 finalists age sort: Eric Alexander (1966), Ben Allison (1968), Chris Potter (1971), Vijay Iyer (1971), Stefon Harris (1973), Moran (1975). (Don't have everyone's age, but the missing names most likely sort after 1975.) I would have been tempted to say Iyer, but also would have guessed him younger than Moran. Iyer has produced more good records in the last year-plus than any other finalist.
Jazz Album: Maria Schneider, Sky Blue. Another Grammy, winner of many polls. I think, to paraphrase Branford on Wynton, that she's good for jazz, but the album doesn't do anything for me, and it's not the first time I've felt that. Of the 17 listed albums, 7 made my A-list (Joe Lovano/Hank Jones, Fred Anderson/Hamid Drake, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, Joshua Redman, William Parker, David Murray), with Murray's Sacred Ground by far the highest (#2) on my list, behind Jewels and Binoculars, Ships With Tattooed Sails. My lists for 2007 and 2008 (so far).
Historical Album: Charles Mingus, Cornell 1964. Didn't think it was any better than the other live shots from the same vintage group. Best record among the finalists was Thelonious Monk Orchestra: At Town Hall, possibly my favorite Monk ever. The one record on the list that I haven't heard but would most like to: Classic Chu Berry Columbia and Victor Sessions, in one of those big Mosaic boxes. I had the Billie Holiday Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles at the top of my list, but that may have been too obvious for this batch of critics.
Jazz Group: Keith Jarrett Trio. I always have problems with leader-name-groups, which don't strike me as groups at all, although Jarrett's trio is as legit as they get, with no personnel changes in over 20 highly productive years. Only 2 of 12 finalists have actual group names here -- #4 SF Jazz Collective and #10 Bad Plus. Despite my reservations, I usually wind up picking Vandermark 5 here, which didn't make the cut. RS: The Claudia Quintet. More actual group names here: 5 of 12. I like everything I've heard by Claudia, but #12 Jewels and Binoculars and #8 Mostly Other People Do the Killing.
Big Band: Maria Schneider Orchestra. Don't have a favorite here, at least among the finalists -- several I like but haven't heard anything from lately (ICP Orchestra, Either/Orchestra, Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra). RS: Exploding Star Orchestra; Jason Lindner Big Band (tie). I had both of their records down in the low B+ range. One I found much more successful was #11 Nublu Orchestra, with Butch Morris at the helm. Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra, #5 here, released a good record in 2006 but haven't followed it up yet.
Soprano Saxophone: Wayne Shorter. I usually complain about non-specialists in this category, which includes 10 of the top 12 -- Jane Ira Bloom (#3) and Jane Bunnett (#8) are the usual exceptions, but not particular favorites either. Now that he's gotten away from Weather Report, I have to admit that Shorter does have a distinctive style on soprano, and he does good work with it (unlike #2 David Liebman and #4 Branford Marsalis). I will note that #7 Bob Wilber has just released a terrific new Soprano Summit album, but it was recorded 1975-79. RS: Marcus Strickland. Better on tenor, but he's not wasting his time on soprano. The RS list is also full of non-specialists. Two young players who have impressed me recently are Mike Ellis and Brent Jensen.
Alto Saxophone: Ornette Coleman. No problem if Coleman would bother recording more. I listen to recorded jazz, and don't hear enough from him. Lee Konitz (#3) and Anthony Braxton (#11) are nearly as eminent. Michael Moore (#12) made a notable surprise appearance here -- he's better known for clarinet, but alto sax is probably his lead instrument, and shows up more in the Jewels and Binoculars records. Tim Berne also belongs on this list. RS: Miguel Zenón. Has a new album out that I didn't get/haven't heard (need to do something about that). He's a very impressive player. Steve Lehman (#5) and Rob Brown (#9) have very good recent albums, including key roles in important groups. Off the list I should mention François Carrier, Jon Irabagon, and Dave Rempis.
Tenor Saxophone: Sonny Rollins. He's beginning to slip, edging Joe Lovano out 205-200, probably for lack of new records -- Lovano has a couple of dandies in the last year-plus. My pick is still (#8) David Murray, who was/is even better. RS: Donny McCaslin. I've long admired his chops, without particularly liking his records, but the new one is a big improvement. I'm surprised to see that he's 41, which makes him older than Chris Potter (still #2 RS despite ranking #3 overall), who preceded McCaslin in several key group roles. Still, the real RS in this category is Marcus Strickland (#4).
Baritone Saxophone: Gary Smulyan. Probably the best known specialist on an instrument where half the list is made up of multi-reed players -- James Carter has been winning here, but slipped to #2. My standard pick here is Hamiet Bluiett (#3), but actually I haven't heard anything from Smulyan or Bluiett is quite a while. So I'm tempted by Joe Temperley (#5), but I'll also note that Ken Vandermark (#10) makes his only place here, and that his baritone work has become much more prominent lately, especially in the Vandermark 5. RS: Scott Robinson. Good choice, although he plays so many other things he doesn't get much exposure on baritone. Not a lot of competition: a lot of sax players play some baritone, but few specialize in it; even in big bands it doesn't get much space. One indication of the field's thinness is that Temperley came in #10. I wonder how many people voted for him realize he's 78.
Clarinet: Don Byron. He has owned this category since he broke in, but spent most of his last record on alto sax, so I figure he's coasting. The other eminent figures here haven't been playing more than 50% (if that) on clarinet lately: Louis Sclavis (#8), Marty Ehrlich (#6), Michael Moore (#7). So I'm tempted to throw a vote to Allen Vaché, inexplicably off the list. RS: Anat Cohen. Interesting that while she beat Chris Speed 205-56 (and came in #2 RS Jazz Artist), she hasn't broken into the main list, even though her three runners-up (Speed, Evan Christopher, and Ben Goldberg) have. I like her tenor sax better than her clarinet, and liked her first album, which made Jazz CG before hardly anyone had heard of her, more than the better publicized follow-ups. She pays a lot for her PR, which pays off because she's an attractive, ambitious, and talented performer. She's risking becoming overrated, which would be unfair to her but also unfair to everyone else. One more note on the thinness of the competition, and perhaps the provincialness of American critics, is that veterans Louis Sclavis and François Houle made the RS list -- André Jaume didn't even get this far. I think I'd vote for Christopher.
Flute: James Moody. I suppose there are more flute players than there are tuba players -- not a category in this poll -- but tuba's more fun and there are more good tubaists around. One indication of this is that RS: Nichole Mitchell came in #3, behind Moody and Lew Tabackin. (Frank Wess, after dominating the list for years, has finally slipped off; he's 86, but Moody, who I also haven't heard in several years, is 83.) I'll give the top spot to Dave Valentin (#9) because flute works best in Latin jazz, and the RS slot to Mitchell, because she's awesome. She's on track to top the big list next year, and will probably dominate it for the next 20-30 years. Hopefully she won't inspire a whole new generation to take up the instrument.
Trumpet: Dave Douglas. Beat Wynton Marsalis by his usual 182-123 margin. Stanley Crouch can grouch all he wants, but these two guys aren't even in the same universe, much less league. I have my doubts about his composing, but he's such a great performer he makes me like music I have little if any inclination to like, which puts him at a level with Dizzy Gillespie. There are lot of good trumpet players, but no one else comes close. My runner up would probably be Tomasz Stanko (#6), a very different player, or maybe Brian Lynch (#10). I'm surprised that Clark Terry has dropped off the list. Some other missing names: Steven Bernstein, Roy Campbell, Dennis Gonzalez, Jerry Gonzalez, Nils Petter Molvaer, Randy Sandke, Jack Walrath. RS: Jeremy Pelt. First time I heard of him was when he won RS in 2004. When I checked him out I was impressed by his chops, but I've grown tired and leery of his records. Not sure who I'd pick here. I only like about half of the finalists, and haven't heard enough of the two most promising ones -- Peter Evans (#7), Taylor Ho Bynum (#12). One more name to consider is Ralph Alessi.
Trombone: Steve Turre. Perennial winner, although I'm more of a Roswell Rudd (#3) partisan, and wish Ray Anderson (#7) and George Lewis (#6) would record more. RS: Josh Roseman. Seems like the right pick.
Piano: Keith Jarrett. There are more major players at piano than any other instrument. I pulled out a list of 17 last year, all 25+ year veterans (some more like 50), many Europeans who are severely underrepresented in this poll (Jacky Terrasson tied for #12 this year, which doesn't weigh heavily against my case). One of those broke the list this year: Paul Bley (also #12). I'm not enough of a piano partisan to care much who comes out on top. Jarrett's latest record was his best in quite some time. Same for Hank Jones (#2) and McCoy Tyner (#5) -- in both cases big thanks to Joe Lovano. Not sure who I would vote for. Maybe Paul Bley or Myra Melford (#10) from the list, or Matthew Shipp or Marilyn Crispell or Satoko Fujii or Uri Caine or Vijay Iyer off of it -- to focus on the middle generation players I'm most familiar with. RS: Robert Glasper. Well, not him, not by a long margin. The best pianists here are Jason Moran (#2, #8 overall), Vijay Iyer (#3), Bill Charlap (#4, #9 overall), and Ethan Iverson (#9), with Iyer the obvious pick. Some more names, well off the list: Nik Bärtsch, Bill Carrothers, Neil Cowley, Kris Davis, Tord Gustavsen, Pandelis Karayorgis, Russ Lossing, Carl Maguire, Sergi Sirvent, Albert Van Veenendaal, Marcin Wasilewski. Just heard a record by Jorge Lima Barreto I like a lot. He's been around a long time, but who knew?
Keyboard/Synthesizer: Herbie Hancock. Barely edged #2 Uri Caine, who slums brilliantly on electric keybs. Perennial winner Joe Zawinul dropped to #4 after dying. I don't have a strong opinion here. RS: Craig Taborn. It's tempting to throw this to Nik Bärtsch: even though he plays more acoustic, his rhythmic approach is closer akin to electric keyboardists. Lots of good young pianists play some electric on the side, notably Uri Caine and George Colligan. Taborn started that way too, but has become more of a specialist.
Organ: Joey DeFrancesco. I like old-time soul jazz as much as anyone, but I don't find much to choose from any more in the organ players. Just to pick one example, I've heard things recently by Mike LeDonne (#6) I've loved and hated, and I'm not sure he can tell the difference. I don't have much of a sense of DeFrancesco, but he's certainly better than Larry Goldings (#2) or Dr. Lonnie Smith (#3). RS: Sam Yahel; Gary Versace (tie). I prefer Versace to Yahel, but I like Vince Seneri (off the list) better than either.
Guitar: Pat Metheny. Been catching up on Bill Frisell (#2), who's been sounding pretty good -- easily the best of the finalists, although John Abercrombie (#6) keeps turning in fine showings, as do Nels Cline (#8) and Marc Ribot (#10). Off the list I like Wolfgang Muthspiel, Howard Alden, Joe Morris, Raoul Björkenheim, Anders Nilsson, Jeff Parker, Ulf Wakenius -- some of those might be RS candidates, but weren't listed. Actually, there are a lot of guitarists these days, and they're doing much more than recycling Wes Montgomery or John McLaughlin. RS: Lionel Loueke. Has yet to make much of an impression on me. List here is an odd mix, including Cline and Peter Bernstein from the big list, and no one else I mentioned above. I'd go with Björkenheim or Nilsson.
Acoustic Bass: Christian McBride. Finally nudged Dave Holland from top perch. Not really sure why, but McBride is very good -- in fact, there's fewer weak spots here than in any other category, piano and tenor sax included. All that said, William Parker (#5) is the clear pick. RS: Esperanza Spalding. Seems like a case of hype and hope -- I actually classify her as a vocalist, and in the small world of bassist-vocalists I prefer Nicki Parrott. Rest of the list here is pretty solid, with Ben Allison (#2) moving up the big list (#9), and Avishai Cohen/Scott Colley/Drew Gress (all tied at #3), Omer Avital (#6), John Hebert (#9), and Nate McBride (#11) names worth singling out. Missing names include Michael Formanek, Mark Helias, Marc Johnson, and John Lindberg, who are contenders for the top list, and Moppa Elliott, Ken Filiano, Adam Lane, Eivind Opsvik, and Ari Roland. Elliott and Lane are the hottest picks there, and Filiano is the most valuable team player since Peter Washington.
Electric Bass: Steve Swallow. The two bass categories have been split out this year after having been combined last year. Whereas I'm very conscious of acoustic bassists, I can't tell you much about electric, other than that they break into three or four hard-to-compare subsets. In particular, I can't recall distinguishing Christian McBride (#2) on electric vs. acoustic bass. Given this, Swallow is a safe choice -- like Bob Cranshaw (#9), he's a fairly mainstream jazz bassist who just happens to prefer electric. RS: Hadrien Féraud. Name didn't ring a bell, but he's been playing with John McLaughlin, so he's on a couple of records I've heard. Has one on his own; haven't heard it. Likened to Jaco Pastorius, which doesn't make me want to rush out. From the list here, I still like Nate McBride (#10) for his early Vandermark work, but he's been playing more acoustic lately, and getting pretty good at it.
Drums: Roy Haynes. Like bass, a deep suit. I would rather pick Jack DeJohnette (#2) or Paul Motian (#3), but I'm an even bigger fan of Hamid Drake (#7), and certainly wouldn't mind Matt Wilson (#4) or Lewis Nash (#8). RS: Eric Harland. I tend to overlook players who don't have records under their own name, so I'm surprise to find Harland here, but he's worked on 30-40 records since 1997, mostly mainstream, mostly pretty good. I'd probably pick Tyshawn Sorey (#8), although there are a lot of others I like. Joey Baron, Jim Black, Gerry Hemingway, John Hollenbeck, and Tom Rainey are conspicuous omissions.
Percussion: Poncho Sanchez. Category has been dominated by Latin jazzers, with scattered world jazz mixed in, a crate of apples and oranges. I like Hamid Drake (#2), but figure he fits better under drums, so I tend to wind up with Kahil El'Zabar (#6), also mostly a drummer. RS: Susie Ibarra. I've lost track of her work, need to track it down. I don't see an obvious pick on the finalist list, so I'm tempted to pull one out of left field and go with Sonic Liberation Front's Kevin Diehl.
Vibes: Bobby Hutcherson. The premier vibraphone player of the 1960s, probably through the 1980s, but I didn't care much for his latest album, for for that matter for SF Jazz. I usually pick Joe Locke here, but he's been working in a lot of weak groups lately, a big drop down from his quartets with Bob Berg and Tommy Smith. So I'm tempted to go with Matt Moran (#10). RS: Stefon Harris. He's won the RS category since his first Blue Note album, but I've never cared for his albums. Beyond Moran (#6), I like Bryan Carrott (#4), Bill Ware (#5), and Jason Adasiewicz (#8), in no particular order. Note that Locke and Steve Nelson are still #2 and #3 on the RS list despite having landed in the top five on the top list for a decade or more, and that Khan Jamal is only on the RS list (#11) at age 62. He's actually a terrific player, but I haven't heard anything from him lately.
Violin: Regina Carter. Clear choice here is Billy Bang (up to #2). Actually, there are a lot of good violinists coming up now. Jason Kao Hwang finally broke the list (#12), and should be doing better. Evidently there are still critics who don't know that Leroy Jenkins died, but remember how he dominated the niche back in the day. RS: Jenny Scheinman. Still a good pick, but also #4 on the big list, one of five on both lists.
Miscellaneous Instrument: Béla Fleck (banjo). Hard to compare instruments as well as musicians. Someday I should break this out, then pick one (or more) each for banjo, harmonica, accordion, bandoneon, cello, bass saxophone, bass clarinet, etc. RS: Grégoire Maret (harmonica).
Female Vocals: Cassandra Wilson. Always thought she was overrated, but thus far Loverly is the jazz vocal album of the year. My perennial pick is (#6) Sheila Jordan, who didn't record anything new. I still like (#5) Diana Krall and (#11) Patricia Barber. RS: Roberta Gambarini. Only heard her once on Rhapsody, but was impressed. The rest of the list is pretty mixed, with some I like, but no obvious choice. There are a lot of good young female jazz vocalists, in marked contrast to the other sex.
Male Vocals: Kurt Elling. Don't much care for any of these guys -- well, Bob Dorough (#9) isn't bad, and I wouldn't mind Freddy Cole (#5) winning. But since he's on Blue Note, why not just draft Al Green? Or Willie Nelson? RS: Giacomo Gates. Gates is the one male jazz vocalist lately I was impressed with. Jamie Davis is another, but didn't make the list. Theo Bleckmann (#3) alternately amazes and annoys me.
Producer: Manfred Eicher. Unlike pop records, jazz producers are mostly label heads, wearing both hats to keep their costs controlled. So I'm not real sure what they do, or how to evaluate them. Don't know who I would have voted for, but Eicher maintains a consistent aesthetic while putting out a lot of good records. He probably has more impact as a producer than most of the competition, but I don't know how high to weigh that. RS: Branford Marsalis. He's made some things happen, notably in his "Honors" series. Don't have any better ideas.
Composer: Maria Schneider. Hard for me to tell, but #11 Ben Allison seems like a reasonable choice: his albums are tuneful, and not dominated by his own performance (like #2 Dave Douglas or #6 Ornette Coleman). It will take a few decades before we can recognize any new composer as having produced vital work for interpreters -- it seems clear now that Thelonious Monk was the jazz composer of the 1950s, but who realized that at the time? RS: John Hollenbeck. No strong opinions here, but I do like Hollenbeck, as well as #2 Ben Allison. Most of the other finalists wouldn't have occurred to me. A couple of names off the list do occur to me: Avishai Cohen (the bassist, not the trumpeter), and Tyshawn Sorey.
Arranger: Maria Schneider. Again, hard for me to tell. Of the finalists I like #7 Steven Bernstein, although I might have voted for Lawrence "Butch" Morris -- admittedly not the same thing, but it works pretty well. RS: John Hollenbeck. I don't know about here, but in general I like Hollenbeck a lot.
Blues Artist/Group: BB King. Safe pick, as is Buddy Guy (#2). Best record from the list was by Mavis Staples (#10), but was it blues? I would probably have voted for Maria Muldaur (off the list), although Koko Taylor had a better record. RS: Derek Trucks. Don't know. Don't see a good pick on the list.
Blues Album: Otis Taylor, Recapturing the Banjo. Haven't heard it. Have only heard 5 records here. Best is Mavis Staples, We'll Never Turn Back.
Beyond Artist/Group: Radiohead. Not really. How about Public Enemy? Or any of the records below.
Beyond Album: Radiohead, In Rainbows. I hate the term "beyond," but it fits well enough with three of my top four non-jazz records of 2007: Manu Chao, La Radiolina; Gogol Bordello, Super Taranta!; and Youssou N'Dour, Rokku Mi Rokka. The other was John Fogerty, Revival, which is as straight down the middle as they get.
Record Label: ECM. Edged perennial winner Blue Note 170-168. Both are first class operations with exceptional publicity support, which makes a world of the difference in a critics poll. I can't fault this. For one thing, I've reviewed 27 ECM records on Jazz CG, more than from any other label. I usually pick smaller labels here, like Fresh Sound (tied with Blue Note for second in Jazz CG entries at 19), Clean Feed (18), Arbors (17), Atavistic (14), Sunnyside (13), AUM Fidelity (9), Okka Disk (7), or Pi (6) -- the latter three a high percentage of their slim release lists.
Don't have a Readers Poll ballot yet. That may be good for yet another post.