Wednesday, December 31. 2008
Tom Hull: The Unprecedented Freedom of Anthony Braxton. This is my piece on Mosaic's 8-CD The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton. The piece wasn't planned to go with Francis Davis's Village Voice Jazz Poll, but it timed out right. I proposed writing it back around July when I first heard about the box, but didn't get my hands on a copy until November. At the time I was trying to wrap up a Jazz Consumer Guide column. Then the editor told me he couldn't run JCG until January, but could run Braxton in December if I got it done in time. I switched gears and wobbled a bit, getting it in about the same time Braxton swept the reissue category in the poll.
Braxton's poll finish raises an interesting point: how can a musician be so widely recognized as major yet at the same time be so widely ignored? Since I started picking over Downbeat's critics polls 5-6 years ago, I've regularly complained about the complete absence of Braxton on the Hall of Fame rankings. We are, after all, talking about a guy with over 150 records in 40 years, another 100 or so collaborations or credits, plus a distinguished career as composer and educator. He hasn't vanished or even faded from sight, but working regularly with obscure microlabels he's been a hard person to keep track of.
He's actually had what looks like a bumper crop of new releases this past year: his 9-CD 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 (Firehouse 12), the 4-CD Quartet (GTM) 2006 (Important), Trio (Victoriaville) 2007 (Victo), 12+1tet (Victoriaville) 2007 (Victo), the 4-CD Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007 with Joe Morris (Clean Feed), Creative Orchestra (Guelph) 2007 (Spool), Quartet (Moscow) 2008 (Leo), the 2-CD Toronto (Duets) 2007 with Kyle Brenders (Barnyard), and his Beyond Quantum trio with Milford Graves and William Parker (Tzadik); oh, also the 9-CD Piano Music (1968-2000), played by Geneviève Foccroulle (Leo). On the other hand, only Barnyard sent me any of those records. I've only reviewed three Braxton records in 18 Jazz CGs, and two of those (including a pick hit) only because I bought them. I don't know whether other critics get better service, but I doubt that many do.
On the other hand, Mosaic boxes aren't all that easy to get your hands on either. I only got a copy after calling the office with a Village Voice review commitment. While Mosaic isn't anywhere near as chintzy as, oh, Leo, or Tzadik (who at least answer their mail), or Firehouse 12 (a den of Braxton students who seem to regard me as unworthy of reviewing their records), I'd be surprised if more than half of the 33 critics who voted for Braxton got freebies. Critics of a certain age recall Braxton's Aristas as iconic -- I'm one, and I would have paid cash had it come to that.
It will be interesting to see how Braxton fares next year in Downbeat's critics poll: a reissue victory is probable, a top-5 alto sax is unlikely but possible (Braxton finished #11 in 2008), and an appearance somewhere on the Hall of Fame list is overdue. Sometimes critics need a kick in the pants to remind themselves of the obvious. (E.g., Jackie McLean went from not even on the ballot to a win the year after he died.) The only reason I can think of for not voting for Braxton is that Lee Konitz (tied with Hank Jones for #2) deserves to go first. But that recognition, in itself, would help pave Braxton's way.
Tuesday, December 30. 2008
No Jazz Prospecting this week. I'm still shifting cycles, so I figure it would be prudent to wait until the paperwork stabilizes. I did manage to split the column draft into two pieces: one 1750 words for now, the other 1000 words for next time. Some of the former will wind up in the latter, of course, but that gets the column ready to schedule and edit. I do have some Jazz Prospecting ready to go when the time comes, but I spent most of the last week catching up with stray world music albums. One result is that December's Recycled Goods will be the largest since I semi-stopped writing the column.
Sonny Rollins Rules the Third Annual Voice Jazz Critics Poll. Francis Davis rounded up 79 critics for his third Voice poll, including yours truly. Over the course of the poll, he sent out three or four warnings over his distinction between new and reissued albums -- one chewing me out for trying to slip Soprano Summit into the reissue category. As you can glean from his article, the object of his concern was his own top pick, the Sonny Rollins Road Shows Vol. 1. For the record, I didn't not vote for it due to confusion as to its status. I didn't vote or it because I had 20 records in the queue ahead of it (including Soprano Summit).
One thing I always check for are records that I didn't get a chance to listen to. The list this year:
Some of those can be chalked up to one particular publicist. Three of those musicians have chalked up A-list records in Jazz CG history, and Ted Nash would have been a fourth but I bypassed him after Francis Davis wrote a longer piece. Missing Mario Pavone is especially disappointing. I always seem to have more trouble getting Jazz reissues:
Best Latin: Heard the top four.
Last year I made a chart of all of the individual votes. Don't know when I'll find time to do that now, but I do plan on looking at the individual ballots more closely.
Monday, December 29. 2008
Paul Woodward: Silence has become complicity. Worth noting that the Wichita Eagle today has a picture of Obama on the front cover, speaking last year in Sderot, Israel, in his show of solidarity with Israeli victims of Qassam rocket fire. His quote has become a prime piece of Israeli spin on their air siege and prospective invasion of Gaza. Obama, meanwhile, has remained near-silent. As Woodward puts it, "Barak's war has become Barack's war -- unless he breaks his silence."
I have my own theory, which is that this is Bush's December Surprise. People used to worry about October Surprises, news events that threaten to tilt elections. December Surprises are poison pills for future administrations. A classic case is 16 years ago, when the previous Bush left a stink bomb for Clinton by invading Somalia. Israel, having been burned in the 1956 Suez Crisis, never makes a move like this without first securing US diplomatic cover. This was rarely more obvious than during the 2006 Lebanon misadventure, but it's likely the case here, too. In fact, this could very well be another Elliott Abrams brainstorm. Abrams is likely to go down in history as a shadowy figure like Rasputin, directly involved in so much mischief that even when he misses one it just adds to his aura.
Obama made himself vulnerable to just this sort of complicity by all the stupid things he said in shoring up his pro-Israeli political credentials. The timing for this is perfect: now he has to either stand by or run from his words, and he's not yet in a position where he can work behind the scenes. Indeed, the behind-the-scenes point man for the "one president at a time" is: Elliott Abrams.
Woodward has more details on how the truce unraveled, including a chart on frequency of Qassam rocket attacks. I'd quote more, but don't have any time right now. Read the piece.
PS: No jazz prospecting this week. I'll probably do a post on that later today (if I can find time).
Sunday, December 28. 2008
Helena Cobban: What does Hamas want? Some useful background and insights, including the observation that Israel was the one primarily responsible for undermining the cease fire with Hamas, but also that Hamas doesn't feel that by allowing the cease fire to lapse they are putting their political goals at risk ("at a cynical, Realpolitik level, these casualty levels are not, actually, all that bad for Hamas and its attainment of its political goals").
The only solution to the conflict is the simplest one: that based on equal rights for all people in all places. This involves recognizing that many past wrongs cannot be righted, but also recognition that past wrongs have occurred, and that some effort within the framework of equal rights should be made to acknowledge and redress them. But mostly it involves doing now what can be done now to secure equal rights for all. Israel's current wave of attacks on Gaza are based on nothing more than the denial, by force, of equal rights. However, the only thing that is new about the attacks is the tactical use of firepower. Israel has all along worked systematically to deny Palestinians equal rights, a policy that goes back past the 1967 occupation and past the 1948 Nakba all the way back to the founding principles of Zionism and the sponsorship of Zionism by the British Empire. Israelis have it stuck in their heads that they are entitled to superior rights and that that is both their history and their identity. That is what makes equal rights, and therefore peace, so inconceivable to them, even though it is (or should be) totally obvious to everyone else.
One blog heroically working overtime to cover this crisis is Mondoweiss. Philip Weiss has thoughtfully moved from Zionist to Post-Zionist to Anti-Zionist. He is worth reading both for his ability to face up to the facts and to figure out himself.
Saturday, December 27. 2008
Update to last night's "Promised Land" post. Today Israel launched numerous air strikes against Gaza, killing at least 155, wounding at least 200 more. BBC described this as "the most intense Israeli attacks on Gaza for decades." Sounds to me like Ehud Barak's opening salvo in the February elections, with Tzipi Livni concurring, of course -- she's already on record as promising to crush Hamas if she wins the elections.
The Bush administration responded by blaming Hamas for rocket attacks against Israel, and demanded a ceasefire -- not sure if they acknowledged Israel had even broken it. Obama has thus far had absolutely nothing to say about this. His reticence (or aloofness or indifference, whatever) during the vacuum between election and taking office is an open invitation for the hawks to take their best shots, making their conflicts all the more difficult to resolve -- India and Pakistan, moving their armies up to their mutual borders, being another case in point.
Matthew Yglesias: Attack on Gaza. I find it interesting that a guy with relatively conventional liberal foreign policy biases converges on my take here. The post in toto:
I wouldn't call the air strikes "retaliatory" or characterize the Qassam rockets fired from Gaza as "indiscriminant" -- true in the sense that they don't have precise guidance systems, but as a military tactic they are mostly harmless irritants, a crude way of reminding Israelis that their security is tenuous as long as Gaza is penned up in Israel's cage. (Of course, at a human level those rockets can and do kill and maim, and their lack of precision makes their use even more irresponsible -- socalled "surgical strike" weapons are so imprecise and error-prone they are hardly any better, nor do their better heeled wielders make them any more responsible. Only recently, a Qassam rocket fell in Gaza, killing two Palestinians. That might have been a good reason for Hamas to clamp down on the rocket attacks, but Israel has managed to bury that news.)
The criticism of Obama here is implicit, or should I say nascent? Obama hasn't done anything yet, but he is so compromised by his campaign posturing that he will find it hard to act when he has the power, especially in a situation as thoroughly poisoned as can be. It's very difficult to imagine anyone in Obama's camp with the courage to stand up to Israel's hawks. Clinton? Biden? Dennis Ross? Even Obama has kissed their feet. To stand up now he'd be treated as a liar, a traitor, a conniver, shallow, unprincipled, a coward. But there's no other way out, and few things would be more in the interests of the American people than to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Waffling like Bush, or his predecessors, has never done the trick. At some level Obama must understand that.
The thing is, the current state of the conflict is based on several blatantly ridiculous propositions. The first is that Israel is entitled to run a caste system which elevates one set of people ("the chosen people") and denigrates everyone else, including some who are nominally Israeli citizens. No other nation operates that way -- the last comparable nations, like South Africa's apartheid and the United States' segregation, now regard those practices as shameful aspects of their history. The second is that Israel, and not the Palestinian people, has the right to approve Palestinian leaders, and to jail or kill anyone Israel disapproves of. The legal basis for Israel is the UN resolution to partition mandate Palestine into two states. No other nation has so thoroughly undermined the sovereignty of any neighboring state. The third is that Israel has the right to preëmptorily attack any neighboring state it regards as a security threat, including so-called punitive attacks based on any flimsy excuse at hand. Israel's refusal to resolve the refugee crisis from the 1948 war, and Israel's refusal to negotiate peace treaties with its neighbors following the 1948 war, set up this state of perpetual hostility between Israel and its neighbors -- the excuse for Israel's frequent preëmptory/punitive attacks. This has continued even though the actual threat level to Israel has significantly declined over the years, as states like Egypt and Jordan and political groups like the PLO have recognized Israel on terms that did little to resolve the core issues. The fourth, in many ways the sum and result of the first three, is Israel's abiding faith in collective punishment as its primary means of coping with and controlling its opponents. Israel rarely stops at targeting opposition leaders; Israel prefers to lash out indiscriminately -- their infrastructural bombing of Lebanon, their quarantining of Gaza, the use of sonic booms to terrorize whole populations. It is a policy that Israel learned from the British, who used it to subdue native populations throughout their brief-lived empire. Collective punishment reminds us that Israel is the last refuge of the racist, imperialist mindset that Europe imposed on much of the rest of the world over the last 3-4 centuries, up until it started unraveling in the dust of WWII.
The thing is, while America persists as Israel's great imperial sponsor on the world stage, very few Americans actually believe in any of those things. America is a melting pot for all nations, not a special preserve for just one. America has fitfully sought to integrate its natives, its indentured servants, its "poor and huddled masses" into a single nominally equal citizenship -- the process has often been ugly, and economic equality, even if just of opportunity, is still far away, but few doubt the ideal. As for collective punishment, the Bill of Rights could hardly be a more comprehensive prohibition -- the Bill was, after all, the direct response to British colonial occupation of America.
The neocons have a special fondness for Israel's aggressive security policies, both aspiring to a world thoroughly cowed by unassailable military, political, and economic superpower. But selling those policies to the American people has always required stealth and deceit, and the track record of such elective wars as Iraq is so poor as to leave the neocons discredited. By and large, Americans have yet to face up to the sobering question of we should want to be a superpower in the first place. Aside from the graft of the arms industry, few Americans receive any benefits whatsoever. Even the military itself keeps running into politically hopeless traps whenever it is deployed, making it a useless organization. Israel itself proves how futile sheer power strategies are: Israel has totally dominated Palestine for generations, but never managed to secure the Palestinians acquiescence or acknowledgment in their subordination.
Instead, they get pathetic gestures, like the rockets that since September 2005 have killed 9 Israelis, compared to the 1,400 Palestinians Israel's "retaliatory strikes" have killed in the same period. There's a Todd Snider song that explains this dynamic: about a schoolyard bully who meets his match in someone willing to get beat up every day until the bully loses all his supporters and gives up. Snider calls his song "Is This Thing Working?" Clearly, it isn't.
So none of these four propositions could survive the slightest scrutiny by ordinary Americans. That is why Israel's advocates and apologists work so hard to make sure no such discussion ever appears in mainstream media and politics.
Helena Cobban: Olmert/Livni launch assault on Gaza: Where will it end? More information, including the citation for the 9/1400 ratio. Final note:
The Israelis probably consider that a bonus. If, indeed, they were to destroy Hamas, they wouldn't want to actually have to deal with Abu Mazen. All they ever saw in him was a club against Hamas; if he had real legitimacy, they'd be just as happy to arm Hamas against him.
Safa Joudeh: "The amount of death and destruction is inconceivable". On the scene reporting. Usual, expected gore; the focus on dead children, but even "Hamas militants" are sons, brothers, fathers, deep personal losses to everyone concerned. Nothing that cannot be compared to Israelis killed by suicide bombers, except that in this case the bombs were delivered by American F-16s, mostly paid for by US taxpayers -- decisions arrived at in meetings of people far removed from the bloodshed, people who could just as easily have opened up peaceful channels to resolve their differences. The terrorist has the lame excuse of no other viable option; the architects of these attacks don't even have that.
Friday, December 26. 2008
Tony Karon: The Two-State Solution Now a Three-Way Stalemate. Remember that Palestinian state Bush promised by the end of his term? Nobody else does either. His abiding faith in the "power of force to clarify things" has, and not for the first time, only made a bad situation worse, and the legacy he leaves is shamelessly shameful. With the Hamas truce expired, Abbas's presidential term due to end Jan. 9, and Israel's own more-demagogic-than-thou elections looming, Bush couldn't do anything even if he had a clue -- which unless you regard him as the Antichrist you'll have to admit that he doesn't. Hard to remember now that Clinton and Barak were so inept and unjust on Israel/Palestine that some people had hopes for Bush/Sharon. As for Obama and his Likudnik Secretary of State (designate), the best we can do is hope for the utterly unexpected.
Thursday, December 25. 2008
Christmas came and went with little ado this year. The family focus that my mother always insisted on faded with her death in 2000 and collapsed with my brother moving to the Portland area. Last year we tried to force it, leading to chaos and some hurt feelings. This year we just let it slide. His family grouped in Portland. We stayed here. Sara Driscoll, a longtime friend from Boston, came in on Christmas day. For the evening, we pulled the food processor and a frying pan out of the basement, diced a couple of onions, shredded five potatoes, mixed in six eggs, some salt and black pepper, and fried up a batch of lattkes. My sister came over, but not her son, so we had dinner for four. Served lattkes with sour cream, salt-cured salmon, salmon roe, and some store-bought applesauce -- I had made fresh last year, but could really do without it. Besides, the kitchen is wrecked, almost everything is stored away, it was enough just to do that much.
We scarcely exchanged any presents this year. I figured that as a quiet testament to the growing depression, although lack of energy and the difficulty of coping with all the unfinished projects had much to do with it. Obviously, we are conflicted about this: the new kitchen is a big expenditure, something we sometimes joke about as our own stimulus plan, but it doesn't come ready-wrapped; most of the real cost is labor, and most of that is yet to be done. Having a Hannukah meal for Christmas is more ironic than anything else. Neither holiday has any religious significance for us, and their linkage in any case is nothing more than coincidence of calendar. Reading about Hannukah over the holidays, I was again struck by the bloody single-mindedness of a holiday celebrating mere military triumphalism as divine act -- a consciousness that has returned to Israel, an effect of the will to shed blood for power to dominate others. That, of course, is wholly alien to the Judaism that developed in exile, which has long offered us an outsider's perspective, a witness and rebuke to the cruelties of power and dominance spread across the globe by the crusading (and often just opportunistic) West.
Of course, Hannukah's military legacy has nothing to do with the holiday's popularity. Most people just see it as a complement to Christmas, embodied in the generic "happy holidays" greeting which reduces holy war to sociable mingling. For us, it mostly serves as a reminder to gather together and fry up a huge batch of lattkes, slather them with sour cream, decorate them with bits of salmon. Strip all the symbolism away and you're still left with something.
Tuesday, December 23. 2008
For what little it's worth, I sent a ballot to the Village Voice Pazz 'n' Jop poll tonight. In the main event, the albums are:
Breakdown is 4 jazz, 6 not; of the latter, 2 hip-hop (1 American, 1 African), 1 country, 2 r&b (1 American, 1 African), and 1 singer-songwriter posing as a group. No white rock bands, although Drive-By Truckers didn't miss by much.
Also voted for four songs, but I don't keep track of songs in any systematic way, so they're hardly worth listing -- well, Hayes Carll's "She Left Me for Jesus" is definitely worth the listen.
The overwhelming majority of what I listen to these days is jazz, which despite my genuine affection for it has become more of a job than anything else. I get a significant percentage of all of the new jazz released (something like 25-35%, skewed a bit toward the more prominent releases, although I still miss a lot of avant-fringe I wish I could hear), so my jazz list is healthy-sized and more than a little authoritative (not that many people share my tastes). I get very little non-jazz (country and hip-hop have totally dried up; I still get some world music, but not nearly as much as I used to). In an ideal world I'd play as much (or more) non-jazz as jazz -- I had a glimpse of that world back when I had a Rhapsody account (not that Rhapsody opens every door). Indeed, Rhapsody accounted for 17 of 33 records on my non-jazz A-list (actually, several more were heard first on Rhapsody, then obtained later -- Raphael Saadiq improved his standing significantly that way; makes me wonder about some others.)
Since my jazz and non-jazz lists work on totally different scales, it might be best to separate them out. The non-jazz, including vault music, breaks out this way:
I reported the jazz list in a recent post, but I keep fiddling with it, so here's where it currently stands, with Summer Suite crashing the top ten since I filed my Voice Jazz Critics ballot (again, including vault music):
Like all year-end lists, mine leaves one basic question unanswered: what records were considered, and what were not? The former, at least, is addressed in my full Year 2008 file. As for the things I didn't listen to, my 2008 Year End List Mentions file provides a rough picture, with the blue/green lines things I have checked out, the black things I haven't. The latter with 10+ mentions (presumably the prime critic-tested contenders) are: TV on the Radio: Dear Science; Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago; MGMT: Oracular Spectacular; Nick Cave: Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!; Girl Talk: Feed the Animals; Hercules and Love Affair: Hercules and Love Affair; Sigur Rós: Með Suð I Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust; Deerhunter: Microcastle; Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid; M83: Saturdays=Youth; Cut Copy: In Ghost Colours; She & Him: Volume One; Shearwater: Rook; Beach House: Devotion; David Byrne/Brian Eno: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today; Flying Lotus: Los Angeles; Fucked Up: The Chemistry of Common Life; Kings of Leon: Only by the Night; Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles; Frightened Rabbit: The Midnight Organ Flight; Metallica: Death Magnetic; Of Montreal: Skeletal Lamping; Lucinda Williams: Little Honey. Some of those (Girl Talk, Hercules, Byrne/Eno) I do hope to listen to soon. TV on the Radio swept last year with a record I didn't get much out of. It seems likely to sweep again this year -- competition seems limited to Fleet Foxes, Portishead, Vampire Weekend, and Santogold, all of which I have heard and find quite unexciting.
Monday, December 22. 2008
Stick a fork into it: this Jazz Consumer Guide is done. The Detroit trip and a lot of housework have taken a severe toll on my time, causing much of the delay. The prospecting load has also been pretty heavy: 286 records this cycle, down from 291 last time, but before that the average had been near 250. The draft file at present shows 2711 words, 35 graded albums, 24 honorable mentions. That will need to be cut down to about 1500 words by the time the column comes out in print, so the delays will mount for covering a lot of good records -- not enough duds to hold back, so their approbation will be more timely. Should get it all wrapped up and delivered to the Voice later this week. As usual, didn't get everything written up I wanted to. In particular, François Carrier has two A- records (Within and The Digital Box), as does Satoko Fujii (Trace a River and Summer Suite). Rudresh Mahanthappa has one (Apti) and a good shot at a second (Kinsmen, possibly the better but definitely the harder record). Bill Frisell could also have a double if I go back to his earlier (recent to me) East West as well as the more recent History, Mystery. Other A- records I didn't get written up include: Jorge Lima Barreto, Zul Selub; Scott DuBois, Banshees; Donny McCaslin, Recommended Tools; The Microscopic Septet, Lobster Leaps In; William Parker, Petit Oiseau; Mike Reed, Proliferation; Ulf Wakenius, Love Is Real. And then there's the overflow, which will be substantial. Check out the past Jazz Prospecting (link at bottom of this post), for more on those.
I expect to lay low for the next couple of weeks. Lots of housework to do, lots of other stuff to catch up on. Overflow this time is greater than ever, so at least one more Jazz CG is a no-brainer. It remains a frustrating, immensely time-consuming project. I need to write other stuff, but it isn't clear that writing about music, or not, makes much difference. Last year I suspended Recycled Goods, which did me very nearly no good. On the other hand, 2008 has been one of those exceptionally hard years. Wonder what 2009 will bring.
Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii: Chun (2008, Libra): Trumpet/piano duos. Husband and wife, they've done this before -- at least three times, with In Krakow in November my pick of the two I've heard -- as well as appearing on dozens of albums with various bassists, drummers, and others up to big band weight. Stef Gijssels wrote an ecstatic review of this in his Free Jazz blog, ending with "I'm sorry to be so excited." I'm hearing pretty much the same things, but find the contrast between two dramatic soloists somewhat disjointed -- maybe just too abrupt. As usual, Fujii is much the more aggressive player, a reversal from the usual form where pianists slip into accompanist roles. But Tamura does more than just decorate her thrashing. He's a lyrical player, yin to her yang (or is it the other way around?). B+(***)
Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Summer Suite (2007 , Libra): A model of composing and arranging for a group of staunch individualists, a big band that stands on par with Count Basie's late-1930s juggernaut: Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby on tenor sax; Oscar Noriega and Briggan Krauss on alto; Andy Laster on barritone; Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein, and Dave Ballou on trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring, Joey Sellers, and Joe Fielder on trombone; Stomu Takeishi on bass, Aaron Alexander on drums. Fujii plays piano but is relatively inconspicuous. Strong solo spots, the tenor saxophonists of course, but also one or more of the trombonists stand out. Spans the whole gamut of the genre: loud, quiet, sweet, sour; pretty good beat, too. The first top-ten record of 2008 I got to after filling out my ballot. Didn't take any longer last year either. A-
Satoko Fujii Orchestra Nagoya: Sanrei (2008, Bamako): To push the Basie comparisons further, this is one of four territory bands led by Fujii, with Tokyo and Kobe back in Japan, and New York over here. A while back she released sets simultaneously from all four, and the Nagoya group was hands down the winner. They remain an impressive group here, loud and brassy, with no piano -- Fujii is just listed as conductor. The pieces are more distributed, with two by Natsuki Tamura, and two by guitarist Yasuhiro Usui, who seems likely to be Nagoya's secret ingredient. Starts off fusiony, blasts through a lot of sci-fi space. Exhilariating much of the time, but various minor bits I find annoying -- vocal blurts, occasional squawkfests, a bit wearing. B+(**)
Arturo O'Farrill & Claudia Acuña: In These Shoes (2008, Zoho): This pairs two well connected, highly touted, and as far as I've discerned until now vastly overrated artists. Still, the opening title track caught me by surprise, with a brassy vocal where Acuña has usually been coy, and a lot of drive from the band: choice cut. She rarely reverts to form here, not that we really need her takes on "Moodance" and "Willow Weep for Me." O'Farrill put together a pretty good band here, with Michael Mossman on trumpet, Yosvany Terry on alto/tenor sax, and some terrific Afro-Cuban percussion -- Dafnis Prieto and Pedrito Martinez. Sometimes they get ahead of the song, and sometimes I find myself not caring, but they certainly aren't faking it, or watering it down, or dressing it up for Lincoln Center. B+(*)
Ahmad Jamal: It's Magic (2007 , Dreyfus): A relatively major pianist who's largely escaped my attention -- I've only heard three previous albums, two from the 1950s. Nearly missed this one too, but when the publicist sent me mail bragging about his Grammy nomination, I figured I might as well ask. Piano trio plus extra percussion from Manolo Badrena. When the latter kicks in it's pretty irresistible. Not fully convinced by the slow/solo stuff, at least yet. Could move up. [B+(***)]
Satoko Fujii Ma-Do: Heat Wave (2008, Not Two): A possible problem with recording so often is that so full of your typical moves seems somewhat ordinary. Fujii is dramatic as usual; Natsuki Tamura is a little on the rough side, so he almost matches her for once. Quartet includes Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass, Akira Horikoshi on drums. Unlike previous all-Japanese quartets, they show no special fondness for rock rhythms, so this is kept roughly free. Don't have a lot of details to go on, not least because the gray-on-black print is illegible. Much of this would be very impressive in a blindfold context, but I can point to other albums equal or better. B+(**)
Kate McGarry: If Less Is More . . . Nothing Is Everything (2007 , Palmetto): Vocalist. First album in 1992; four more since 2001, three on Palmetto since 2005. Irving Berlin song is ordinary, but she's not content with standards, so moves on to Bob Dylan, Steve Stills, Joni Mitchell, Ric Ocasek. Could have picked better on all counts, but she's too limited to work within those limits. Of course, she also does Jobim, and Djavan for good measure. And writes two originals. All of this would be merely mediocre but she brings in fellow Moss-heads Jo Lawry and Pete Eldridge, who work their usual voodoo. Got a Grammy nod for this. C [advance]
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Curlew: 1st Album/Live at CBGB 1980 (1980-81 , DMG/ARC, 2CD): George Cartwright's avant-fusion group in early creative ekstasis, to borrow a word guitarist Nicky Skopelitis later used to name his own group, pairing a debut album plus bonus tracks with a live shot with Denardo Coleman commandeering the drumkit. The rock element bounces off New York No Wave in a way that radicalizes the jazz element, so Cartwright's sax wails more tunefully than Lydia Lunch, and funk rhythms are free for the taking. A-
Eri Yamamoto: Duologue (2008, AUM Fidelity): Young pianist, wrote all the pieces, mostly around rhythm vamps which, while not all that distinctive, provide common ground for four pairs of spare, understated duos. She keeps good company: drummers Federico Ughi and Hamid Drake, bassist William Parker, and alto/tenor saxophonist Daniel Carter. The latter is a revelation here, playing tight in what amounts to a ballad mode. B+(**)
Maurice Horsthuis: Elastic Jargon (2007 , Data): Roughly speaking, a double string quartet plus bass and guitar -- more precisely, plus an extra cello as well. Horsthuis plays viola. He dwells somewhere on the border between jazz and classical, working on occasion with the ICP Orchestra as well as running the Amsterdam String Quartet. This sounds more like classical to me, except that it is almost all interesting, with some brilliant stretches, and nothing that triggers my wretch instinct. B+(***)
Steve Turre: Rainbow People (2007 , High Note): The poll-winning trombonist of the last decade-plus, strikes me as something of a chameleon, with no particular style of his own but a remarkable knack for blending in wherever he goes. Taps Mulgrew Miller to play a little McCoy Tyner, Kenny Garrett for some Charlie Parker, Pedro Martinez for a slick Latin closer. Gets superb help from Peter Washington and Ignacio Berroa, of course. Pretty good trombone, too. B+(**)
The James Moody and Hank Jones Quartet: Our Delight (2006 , IPO): Bebop upstarts, schooled in swing, of course, with Coleman Hawkins bridging the way on "Body and Soul" and "Woody 'N You" -- both included here in a program that leans heavily on Dizzy Gillespie and Tadd Dameron, and focuses more on Moody -- one by him, "Moody's Groove" about him. Jones, of course, is the perfect good sport. Moody's tenor sax is delightful; I would have preferred less flute. B+(**)
William Parker Quartet: Petit Oiseau (2007 , AUM Fidelity): A great group, at least as far back as O'Neal's Porch, with two spectacularly sparring horns in Lewis Barnes' trumpet and Rob Brown's alto sax, plus Parker and Hamid Drake on drums. But this took a long while to register, no doubt benefitting from more than a dozen spins -- something I almost never get the chance to do, but this wound up stuck in my boombox in Detroit for the better part of a week. The problem, if you can call it that, is that it is pretty mainstream where avant-garde is the norm. The horns appear tracked for once, depriving us of the joy of free flight. On the other hand, Parker has cycled around from free to make grooveful music. Call it his Horace Silver phase -- that's the level he's working at. A-
Misha Alperin: Her First Dance (2006 , ECM): Was a very slow one, with piano, cello, and French horn or flugelhorn for a little coloring. Extremely understated, but generates an almost hypnotic allure, without suspecting as much. B+(**) [advance]
Evan Parker/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Boustrophedon (2008, ECM): Large group, with Roscoe Mitchell leading the American contingent, notably including Craig Taborn and Corey Wilkes. On the European side come a batch of strings, notably Philip Wachsmann on violin, adding up to a thick stew, similar to the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble even without the electronics. Parker plays soprano sax -- utterly distinctive, of course. The background noise is engaging; the lurching movements even more so. B+(***) [advance]
Bobby Previte & the New Bump: Set the Alarm for Monday (2007 , Palmetto): Previte's been leaning fusion the last few years, and that comes through in the slick riddims here where his drums and Bill Ware's vibes leapfrog over each other. That works well enough, but Ellery Eskelin's tenor sax is so singular it cuts through any accumulated grease, and guest Steven Bernstein doubles the threat on trumpet. B+(***)
Aaron Parks: Invisible Cinema (2008, Blue Note): Debut album, on a major label no less, sure to be overrated given Blue Note's track record in breaking major guitarists -- Robert Glasper is proof of how that works. This is more inside, mostly the piano chasing Mike Moreno's guitar, although one cut drops back to trio, two more to solo. I might be less skeptical if the latter were more interesting. But the interplay with Moreno is tight and thoroughly engaging. B+(**)
Kieran Hebden/Steve Reid: NYC (2008, Domino): More laptop-centric, more of a lead instrument in any case, the previous albums credited to Reid first, perhaps in deference to the elder collaborator, maybe because at first this seemed like a sidebar to Hebden's Four Tet brand. They now have five records together, which is most of Hebden's output over the last 3 years. Doesn't swing a bit, which may be its shortcoming for jazz ears. Seems to me like one of the things to come, although not the most impressive of examples. B+(**)
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.
Sunday, December 21. 2008
James Glanz: Official History Spotlights Iraq Rebuilding Blunders. Subtitle: "Poor Planning, Waste and Deception Led to $100 Billion Failure, Report Says." This isn't really news: just the NY Times' way of compensating for failing to carry the news back when it was news. A couple of excerpts:
Could it be that the real reason for having a reconstruction was to build up the illusion of progress for domestic political purposes? Since no one in their right mind would try to build anything while being shot at, the flow of money argued for a level of security that didn't exist. And since the money wasn't usable for its purpose, it was bound to spring leaks all along the way.
But in another way Rumsfeld was right. The US didn't build a thing with that money; it was merely political payola.
Actually, as Iraq went to hell in a handbasket, all that mattered to Bush was the 2004 election, for which he needed to present a good enough bluff that he was still in command and had a plan. A large injection of reconstruction money sounded plausible, and if it all went to graft, it's not like the NY Times would notice until four years later.
By the way, the NY Times, once again right on top of things, has another article, "13 Years After Peace Accord, Fears Grow of New Ethnic Conflict in Divided Bosnia." That would be the Dayton Accords, the deal ending the Bosnian War that acclaimed Richard Holbrooke as a superstar. The deal was good enough as a cease fire, but the idea that it solved, much less fixed, anything was myopic. The Clinton administration paid little further attention, and the Bush none whatsoever -- except for occasionally kicking sand in Vladimir Putin's face. One 2000 Bush campaign promise that he fulfilled religiously was that he would never engage in nation building. The full impact of that has barely sunk in: he not only wouldn't lift a finger to build nations, it turns out that in case after case, he's done nothing but destroy nations. Bosnia may be less spectacular than Haiti, Somalia, Lebanon, Palestine (and for that matter Israel), Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly Pakistan, but that's only because he hasn't given it his limited span of attention. (Come to think of it, let's add the United States to that list.)
Chalking what Bush has done up to "blunders" sells him far short. He is nothing less than the Master of Disaster.
Thursday, December 18. 2008
Paul Krugman: A Whiff of Inflationary Grapeshot. Sketchy, but this shows two things: an interesting idea for softening the landing in the current deflationary crunch, and an indication of how far thinking has shifted since the anti-inflationists took over our thinking about political economy. The math is straightforward. If inflation were perfectly distributed, it would reduce real interest rates, and keep reducing them well below 0%. We largely depend on interest rates to regulate the economy -- lower ones to stimulate it, higher ones to throttle it in order to guard against inflation -- but that stops working when asset value drops saps demand. We've been repeatedly warned about the dangers of deflationary spirals, and now we're in one. Planned inflation should be a cheap fix against the psychology of deflation, simply by moving the gauge markers to make everything look more/less positive. But that means accepting inflation, and correlatives like increased government debt, as right and proper after decades of having it drummed into our heads that such things are downright evil.
The real problem with inflation is that it's never perfectly distributed -- i.e., it's not just a matter of resetting gauges. The real problem is that it is destabilizing, creating relative winners and losers. Bankers are the classic case: inflation for them means reduced real returns on loans, as borrowers can pay back their loans with cheaper money. On the other hand, if you start by acknowledging that a lot of bad debt is going to have to be discounted, inflation provides a relatively equitable way to do that. The last few decades have seen a massive slosh of money flooding into the financial sector -- much more than was justified by anything in the real economy, hence there was major inflation of financial assets, as the real problem of increasing income inequality was compounded by a lot of hot air. Now that the hot air has cooled and vanished, money is sloshing the other direction, seeking some sort of equilibrium. This means that the assets of the rich, especially financial assets, need to deflate. A program of deliberate inflation would be a nice way to soften the blow.
Still, we need to understand that the underlying problem is one of principles. Trying to solve economic problems by shoving money at the rich not only doesn't trickle down usefully -- a lot of that money just disappears because it's never converted into useful work. The real economy is simply the value of real work. People can be put to work by capitalists investing in the means of production, or people can be put to work by government creating or demanding jobs. The former is arguably more efficient when demand exceeds supply because it doesn't depend on political will. But we live in a world where supply far exceeds demand -- the result of technology-based productivity increases, compounded by political arrangements which depress the price of labor -- so the private sector has little desire to invest in more jobs. The only way to turn this around is political: to skim more money off the top and to push more money to the bottom. I could imagine that happening in either an inflationary or deflationary context. The former might be psychologically more agreeable, but to work the change has gotta come. The big surprise here is how quickly and radically thinking is changing on these issues. A couple of months ago Krugman was fiercely arguing for a stimulus package of $700 billion. Latest numbers from Obama's camp are in the $850 billion range. Interesting times.
Monday, December 15. 2008
Sent my Anthony Braxton piece to the Voice today, so that is more/less done. A couple of weeks ago that jumped ahead of Jazz CG on the priority stack. Word count on Jazz CG column right now is 1795 -- more than the Voice has ever actually printed. I don't have all of my priorities written up, and haven't decided on one of the pick hits, but it's getting close. So close I'll predict that this coming week will be the last Jazz Prospecting week of the cycle. That's stretching a little bit because I expect a lot of house work this week -- in fact, my partner is banging in the kitchen right now, and I'd rather be there than here.
A minor milestone this week: my ratings database count topped 15,000 this week. That represents about 35 years of more or less obsessively searching out everything I could stand listening to. It originally started out as a shorthand to keep track of things, something I've increasingly appreciated as my memory slips away. Now it's a useful piece of personal data -- the sort of thing a totalitarian state could mine if they wanted to really figure out how to push my buttons. It's a shame that that's the sort of thing that comes to mind.
Gilfema: Gilfema + 2 (2008, ObliqSound): Benin native Lionel Loueke sets the tone and style here, mostly because he sings as well as plays guitar, which far outweighs Ferenc Nemeth's drums and Massimo Biolcati's bass, even though the latter write equal shares of the music. Loueke straddles jazz and Afropop without really seeming to belong to either, but he does have a distinctive sweet-and-slick guitar sound and some real talent. The "+2" help, too: Anat Cohen on clarinet, and John Ellis on bass clarinet -- best thing here is when they pick up a groove and run with it. B+(**)
Ablaye Cissoko/Volker Goetze: Sira (2007 , ObliqSound): Cissoko, a Senegalese griot, plays delicate kora and sings serenely. Goetze plays trumpet, caressing the melodies, giving them a warm, burnished glow. Graceful and earnest, a bit underwhelming. B+(*)
Bebo Valdes & Javier Colina: Live at the Village Vanguard (2005 , Calle 54/Norte): Piano-bass duets, with the 86-year-old Cuban legend working his way through a set of Cuban classics plus "Yesterdays" and "Waltz for Debby." B+(***)
Charmaine Clamor: My Harana: A Filipino Serenade (2008, FreeHam): Vocalist, from the Philippines. Previous album, Flippin' Out, mixed some native folk with usual standards for a nice mix of groove and swing. She seems to be going native here, which is admirable in principle but unfortunately lacking in groove or swing, or anything recognizable as a beat or pulse. B-
Willi Johanns: Scattin' (1987-2002 , TCB): Singer, from Germany I take it, age 74 at some point in the liner notes; second album, following one in 1960 called A Salute to Birdland. Two sessions: an old one recorded in Italy in 1987 with Dusko Goykovich's Bebop City band -- five cuts at the end of the album; a more recent one with the RTS Big Band Radio Belgrade, a group that also featuring Goykovich on trumpet. "Satin Doll" and "Exactly Like You" show up in both sets. Title cut was written by Johanns and features a lot of scat. I find scat merely agreeable when done by someone exceptionally good at it, like Ella Fitzgerald; to be likable it needs to be done by someone with natural comic flair, like Louis Armstrong, Leo Watson, and Slim Gaillard -- the only names that come to mind. Johanns is a cut below both, but he's a very likable standards singer, and the bands -- especially the Belgrade big band -- swing hard and are sharp as tacks. B+(**)
Quadro Nuevo: Ciné Passion (2000 , Justin Time): German group, an "acoustic quartet" with Mulo Francel (reeds), Robert Wolf (guitar), Heinz-Ludger Jeromin (accordion), and D.D. Lowka (bass). (Jeromin later replaced by Andreas Hinterseher.) I ran across them first on their later Tango Bitter Sweet, which seems like the niche they were built for. This reissue rambles through various movie themes -- "La Strada," "Un Homme et une Femme," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Jean de Florette," "Spartacus"; Astor Piazzolla, Ennio Morricone, James Newton Howard. Some guests, including a string quartet. B
Ben Stapp Trio: Ecstasis (2007 , Uqbar): Plays tuba, wrote everything on this first album (credited, as is the tuba, to Benjamin Stapp); 26 years old, presumably born 1982; from California, based in New York. The tuba, like a bass, is a little hard to follow here -- volume is limited, its role more to set up a steady flow the others play off of. And the others steal the show: Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano sax) adds another feather to his cap as a frontline sideman, and Satoshi Takeishi provides the complementary offbeat percussion. B+(***)
Eric Vloeimans: Gatecrash (2007 , Challenge): Trumpet player, b. 1963, the Netherlands, studied with Donald Byrd, has a dozen or so albums since 1992. With electric keyboardist Jeroen van Vliet setting the framework for this quartet, he's set up for some kind of fusion, but tends more toward postbop pastels, partly because plugging in doesn't guarantee enough of a groove. B+(*)
François Carrier: The Digital Box (1999-2006 , Ayler, 7CD): Download only, as I understand it, although the label very generously provided clumsy me with a set of CDRs, packaged with their usual exceptional care. (Ayler has been going more and more to download-only product, which I always thought a shame, not least because their original artwork and packaging is so nice. I understand they're still producing the artwork, which can be downloaded with the music, so you can print your own packaging -- not that you're going to be able to print it on slick card stock.) Sometimes I complain about multi-disc sets being too much extra work, but one way to handle that is to just let them flow into a single impression -- and that's a pleasure here. Carrier plays alto sax, increasingly soprano sax as well. A free player, I go back and forth on how original or distinctive he is, but he has a spirit and clarity of vision that becomes increasingly compelling the longer he plays. First disc here is a 1999 trio with Dewey Redman joining on on one cut. The rest of the material runs from 2004-06: two discs of duets with drummer Michel Lambert (a constant presence on all 7 discs); two trio discs with bassist Pierre Côté; two quartet discs with guitarist Sonny Greenwich and bassist Michel Donato. The bassless duets run a little slower, working through short, relatively patchy pieces, more like practice, or work even. The others offer long takes, the trios more improv, the quartet a long thematic piece called "Soulful South." It adds up to more than the sum of the parts. A-
Exploding Customer: At Your Service (2005-06 , Ayler): Swedish group, two horns up front -- Martin Küchen on alto and tenor sax, Tomas Hallonsten on trumpet -- bass and drums in the rear -- Benjamin Quigley and Kjell Nordeson. Küchen is the effective leader, writing 6 of 7 pieces, his sax more prominent than the trumpet. Like a lot of Scandinavian groups, they play adventurous free bop with rock energy. The odd piece out, starting off with a Carla Bley arrangement of "Els Segadors," adds an infectious Latin twist, closed out by a riff ("Sin Nombre") from Hallonsten. Their previous album, Live at Tempere Jazz Happening, should have been an HM; so should this. B+(***)
Stephen Gauci's Stockholm Conference: Live at Glenn Miller Café (2007 , Ayler, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1966, based in Brooklyn, plays free, has a few records out, has yet to establish himself as a distinctive leader but usually gives a solid team performance. Two quartet sets here, both with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Fredrik Rundqvist on drums; the first adds Mats Äleklint's trombone, the second Magnus Broo's trumpet. The trombone actually has a little more hop to it. B+(**)
Rashied Ali/Charles Gayle/William Parker: By Any Means: Live at Crescendo (2007 , Ayler, 2CD): By Any Means is probably meant to be the group name, but the principals are listed on the front cover, top to bottom as above (that would be alphabetically), and their names go further toward explaining what this is or why anyone should care. This is the same trio that recorded, under Gayle's name, Touchin' on Trane back in 1991 -- one of those Penguin Guide crown albums. So it's a little disconcerting that this gets off so awkwardly at first -- even more so that Parker is the odd man out. Ali gets 3 of the first 4 pieces; Gayle the other one and the next 3; Parker recovers on his own 3-song second disc stretch, ending with a group improv. The sound isn't all that sharp. The moves are unexceptional for these guys -- Gayle at full speed is quite a treat, but he's been there and done that many times before. B+(*)
Rob Mosher's Storytime: The Tortoise (2007-08 , Old Mill): Soprano saxophonist, from Canada, based in New York, also plays oboe and English horn here, writing for a 10-piece group with four reed players -- more clarinet and flute than saxophone -- three brass including French horn, guitar, bass and drums. Reportedly Mosher is self-taught, so it may not be fair to attribute this to the jazz-classical merger in the academies. But this is as pop-classical as Prokofiev, with all the hokum laid out so intricately you sometimes forget how the game works. It's an old saw that jazz is America's classical music, but that came out of an age when we all thought that America was different, so naturally our classical music would be something else. Now jazz is the world's classical music, and it's returning to its common denominator. B-
Charlie Hunter: Baboon Strength (2008, Spire Artist Media): Trio, with Hunter on his familiar 7-string guitar, Erik Deutsch on organ and Casio Tone, and Tony Mason on drums. Fairly pleasant grooves, and not much more. B
Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet: Tablighi (2005 , Cuneiform): Trumpet player, goes back to the 1970s when he was one of the AACM cats searching for an avant-garde path out of the end-of-history that playing far out and radically free led to -- a fellow traveler to Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Much of this effort maintains the studied diffidence that always made him hard to grasp, except when he opts to channel Miles Davis. Quartet includes Vijay Iyer on keyboards, John Lindberg on bass, Shannon Jackson on drums. B+(**)
The Microscopic Septet: Lobster Leaps In (2007 , Cuneiform): Seven-piece group: four weights of saxophone, piano, bass, and drums, led by soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston and pianist Joel Forrester. Group recorded enough material 1981-90 to fill up 4 CDs of History of the Micros, then disbanded until this reunion, Johnston leading scattered projects like his Captain Beefheart tribute band, Fast 'N' Bulbous. The old Micros were hard enough to pigeonhole, fitting about as well in postbop as Raymond Scott in show music. The new one is more prebop, albeit surrealistically, as befits the title track's take on Lester Young swing. Only personnel change is at tenor sax, where Mike Hashim replaces Paul Shapiro. Hashim is primarily an alto saxophonist, having some marvelous records on his resume. A-
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, December 14. 2008
Once again year end list time comes too soon. Ballots for the Village Voice Jazz Poll that Francis Davis runs were due last week. The best I could do under the circumstances:
That leaves unrecognized the following A- records:
As usual, Davis asked for three reissues, one vocal, one Latin jazz, one debut. I hardly had anything to go on there, other than the obvious Anthony Braxton box. In the reissues section I wound up throwing a bone to Curlew: 1st Album/Live at CBGB, even though I haven't finalized the grade. I'm not in a good position to identify debuts -- with so many artists releasing their own work these days, it's often the case that even unknown performers have several releases in their files.
Of course, much more is in the pipeline. Two records in the above list weren't there yet when I submitted my ballot. I expect more will show up by the real end of year.
Saturday, December 13. 2008
Patrick Cockburn: Total Defeat for U.S. in Iraq. Initially, the Bush administration hoped to sign a Status of Forces Agreement that would bind the next administration to its Iraq fiasco indefinitely. The fine print, however, shows that it is Bush (and not Obama) who agreed to give up everything. So whereas the right would have liked to pin their loss on the Democrats, they are left with a tougher argument: that this deal constitutes their victory. The whole question turns on the lack of any real goals behind the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq. At every step along the way, they used whatever slippery rhetoric they thought might dodge the real question, most of which was so obviously false that we never did figure out what they thought they were doing. Say what you want about oil, empire, anti-Islamism, new democracies, Israeli security guarantees, capitalism red in tooth and claw, in the end none of those theories fit the facts any better than Michael Ledeen's prescription that every now and then we need to pick out some shitty little country and kick the crap out of it, just to show to the world how much pain you could bite off by defying us. So in the end we didn't get any oil, bases, business bonanzas, friends, allies, let alone democratic self-determination, but we sure put the hurt on Iraq. That'll teach 'em -- if nothing else that we're the biggest jerks on the planet.
More on the relative security improvements, the continual decline of essential services like clean water, uncertain political fates, and the continuing lack of anything resembling a functioning economy. Not mentioned here, but reports say that the UK will remove all of their remaining troops from Iraq by June.
Tony Karon/Aaron J Klein: Israeli Settler Youth on Rampage in Hebron. Been there, done that. It was, after all, the settler youth in Hebron that kicked off what Arno Mayer calls the First Intifada, the Palestinian uprising of 1929 that resulted in the Yishuv withdrawing its settlements from Hebron -- which lasted until 1967, when settlers rushed back to Hebron to establish the civilian occupation of the West Bank, forcing the military occupation to dig in ever deeper. The settlers eventually proved decisive in scuttling the Oslo Agreements, most notably in 1994 when Baruch Goldstein killed 29 and wounded 150 in a suicide terror attack on muslims at prayer in the Ibrahimi Mosque. The recent "rampage" is just the latest flare up of an ongoing pattern of Israeli settlers in Hebron harrassing and assaulting Palestinians with virtual inpunity, nearly every outrage protected by the IDF, something the PA has been powerless to do anything about. What made the news this time isn't the attacks on Palestinians, which have long been routine, but the political posturing over the question of whether Israel should exercise any limits over settlers at all. Every time a settlement is dismantled you see much the same hysterics, taunting the government for setting up "the trauma of Jew killing Jew." As the operations in Sinai and Gaza showed, Israel can dismantle any settlements the government decides on. As this rampage shows, Israel should have shut down the Hebron settlements long ago -- indeed, they should never have been built in 1967. But then they're only the most extreme instance of the settler mentality, which from the founding of the Yishuv assumed that Jews would rule over the land, and anyone else should submit passively or, better yet, leave. As long as the settlers can't learn to live with everyone else, they're the ones who should leave.
Mel Frykberg: Fears of fascism as Israeli extremists prepare to take elections. The events in Hebron are merely window dressing for upcoming Israeli elections, which will determine the kind of government America's favorite ally in the Middle East will have for most of Obama's term as president. Ariel Sharon's ruling Kadima party, under indicted Ehud Olmert, is about as discredited as a party can get: first by taking its unilateralist approach to partitioning off a set of Palestinian ghettos, leading to the electoral triumph of Hamas, then having the US push it into an about face backing discredited PA president Abbas without giving him anything more useful than guns; meanwhile, Olmert led Israel into a spectacularly inept war in Lebanon that left him with an approval rating of 0%, even before he was indicted and forced from office. Now Benjamin Netanyahu's harder-line-than-Sharon Likud is leading in the polls, challenged mostly by forces even further to his right within Likud, and überhawk Ehud Barak has captured the Labor party, ensuring there will be no peace initiatives from the so-called left. This fanatic lurch to the right is coming at a very awkward time for the US, as Obama seeks to reel in the militarism of the Bush years, while at the same time Obama and Clinton have been at pains to slavishly grant Israel carte blanche to set their own Middle East policy -- and by implication, ours as well. How they can reconcile this with Obama's stated desire to "reboot" US image among muslims is mind-boggling, but certainly it would be easier if Israelis don't embarrass themselves and elect people even more intractable and unreasonable than they already have.
The solution to Israel's conflict is pretty simple if you can get over the conceit that God's chosen people are entitled to lord it over anyone who inconveniently stands in their way -- a conceit that became increasingly ridiculous with the fall of apartheid in South Africa, the end of Jim Crow in the United States, the demise of the British empire, the defeat of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire, and the Enlightenment idea that all men are created equal. The solution is that everyone in Israel, under Israeli occupation, or in exile due to Israel's wars, should be guaranteed the right to live where they want, enjoying full and equal rights with all who live there. This can be implemented under one state or two or more. One state is simpler and cleaner, but would require that the Zionists give up their dream of a pure Jewish state. The two state scheme seems more practical, mostly because it allows Israel to continue its discriminatory political and economic policies, only on a smaller piece of turf -- one with far fewer non-Jews under occupation. The other problems you hear so much about with two states are less facts on the ground than myths muddying the air. Borders matter little provided everyone on both sides enjoys full citizenship, although by far the simplest outcome would be to use the pre-1967 armistice borders, since they have been accepted by virtually all Palestinian and Arab groups. The settlers can stay or go. If they stay, they simply become Palestinian citizens -- not that I expect many to stay, as doing so would violate the cardinal Zionist doctrine, which is that all Jews should move to Israel. This is why, thus far, it's always been Israeli policy to dismantle its settlements whenever Israeli military forces withdraw from an area. So-called security issues can be resolved by both sides respecting each other's sovereignty and setting up fair legal channels to peaceably arbitrate disputes. Water and such are hardly fighting matters -- a little respect and sense of fairness would go a long ways there. None of this is difficult, but Israeli politicians and their security complex have talked themselves into a blind canyon. Unable to admit that they did and do wrong, they hysterically wail against everyone else, each daring the other to more extreme flights of paranoid mania -- anything to avoid giving up their special place and joining the community of nations.
Juan Cole: Taliban Hit NATO Warehouses, Destroy 150 Trucks. Meanwhile, US supply lines to Afghanistan got hit even before they reached the country. With the recent attack on Mumbai, and Pakistan's moves against Lashkar-e Tayiba, Pakistan is becoming more fragile and explosive day-by-day. Moreover, the US toehold is becoming less tenable for all concerned. For more on this, see Tom Coghlan in The Times:
Looks like another total defeat in the works. Tariq Ali's term for the US/NATO mission in Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Disaster.
Thursday, December 11. 2008
This started off as a reaction to Tom Moon's book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: A Listener's Life List. It's part of a series of books with similarly annoying titles, which compete with another series where the relevant title is Robert Dinney, ed, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. The Moon book was brought to my attention by Robert Christgau, who is writing something on it for his first new Rock&Roll& column since leaving the Village Voice -- link here.
I have a database with about 15,000 rated albums, so it was pretty easy to scrape off a list of all of the albums rated A- or above, then start picking and choosing from them. That got me down to 4,882 -- it's not so much that I'm an easy grader as that I've systematically sought out good records for most of the last 35 years. My first pass came out slightly over 1,000, so I need to go back and prune a bit. No doubt I also missed a few things I shouldn't along the way -- seems possible that I loosened up a bit midway through, having cautiously skipped over flat-A records like Rubber Soul and Revolver early on. I need to revisit some choices between compilations and original albums. And I may have to let some personal favorites go to work in items of greater historical import.
I haven't shied away from multiple-disc sets, which is the most obvious way to get extra mileage out of a fixed list. That 16-CD Art Pepper box may seem like the most extreme example, but I've gone for long stretches playing something or other from it every night. It's pretty essential in my book, but for what it's worth, Winter Moon is the crème de la crème, perhaps the most sheerly beautiful piece of jazz ever recorded. For things like that I'll need to add some notes, which will give me a chance to sneak some more things into the margins.
One thing worth noting is that 1,000 albums -- unlike, say, 1,000 vacation spots -- is something quite a few people can do without a lot of stress. It basically works out to 25 records per year for 40 years. I think if you have pretty varied tastes a reasonable collection is more like 2,000 titles -- something that can easily be done without getting into arcana or merely good product. My own tastes exclude classical music, which is the reason why, for example, last time I checked John Rockwell has twice as many records as Robert Christgau. Moon lists a lot of classical records, but I still have no interest in going there. You may feel the same about jazz or country or hip-hop, but they are all integral parts of my experience.
One curious thing about the following list is the bracketed genre notes, like [jazz-20s]. These correspond to the source files I keep the ratings data in, and provide some rough sense of genre breakdown -- for context, you can look at the files here. For whatever it's worth, the current breakdown is: rock: 407 (incl r&b, but excl rap and techno -- 50s: 53, 60s: 120, 70s: 135, 80s: 69, 90s: 24, 00s: 6); jazz: 283 (20s: 60, 40s: 102, 60s: 72, 80s: 40, 00s: 5, latin: 4); world 70 (african: 43; latin: 10, mideast: 5, europe: 5, zouk: 2, brazil: 2, klezmer: 1, cajun: 1, asian: 1); country: 62 (incl oldtime: 10, bluegrass: 6); blues: 47; rap: 42; reggae: 31 (incl caribbean [calypso]: 3); folk: 28 (incl celtic: 1); vocal: 27 (20s: 22, 50s: 4, 80s: 1); techno: 10; avant-garde: 3; gospel: 3; soundtracks: 2; classical: 1 (Kurt Weill). There are a couple of other data files that didn't show up here (most obviously new age).
The current working list is here. Don't know when or how often I'll get back to it, but if it settles out into anything more or less official, I'll add another post.