Friday, February 27. 2009
Joanna Ramondetta: The Blank Page gallery in Delano plans a festive evening Friday. Some sort of event here in Wichita tonight, hooked into "Final Friday," a once-monthly art gallery chaining event. Coincides with the first release of a publication, Blank Page, which my nephew Ram Lama Hull has been stealthily working on. Don't know much more. (I'm out of the proverbial loop on this one.) Newspaper actually printed one of Ram's drawings, but it didn't make the transition to cyberspace. Reportedly, the publication will be online, but I don't know where, and neither does Google.
PS: Online version of Blank Page magazine is here. Image printed in newspaper has been added above -- reportedly a sketch of the principals behind the magazine. (Ram Lama is second from right, not counting dog.)
Monday, February 23. 2009
Not this week. Didn't bag enough records. (Not sure what my minimum is, but it's more than three, especially when Kind of Blue is one of those three.) Last week was wiped out with kitchen project work -- especially the four days it took to put the tile in. They did a beautiful job, but their early morning schedules and Rush Limbaugh fixation were toxic. Only thing I got out of the latter was the news that America is now some sort of socialist country. Glad to hear it, but I don't trust Limbaugh on that any more than on anything else. In particular, he seems to think that the stimulus package will only obscure the natural vitality of the private sector American economy. I too think it's likely to muddy the waters, but mostly by obscuring the moribund nature of that same private sector.
I expect one more heavy construction week, then things will lighten up. I'll still have little things to finish, but can work on them on my own time, while the kitchen itself will be fully functional. It's nearly there now. Putting up the vent hood and firing up the gas range are no more than a day away. Finishing the countertop around the range and building some pull-out cabinets off to the left will take a bit longer. One more relatively small piece of carpentry. Some wiring, and a fair amount of painting. Some simple laminate work. Clean up the old floors. That's about it. It's been an ordeal.
Wednesday, February 18. 2009
Haven't done much blogging lately, and not likely to do much for another couple of weeks, but today is exceptional in several respects. The kitchen/pantry is blocked off today while freshly laid tile sets up. The job that started so early this morning I was near comatose for much of the day, eventually deciding I needed a nap. So most of my waking moments have been spent in front of the computer (or in bed reading, or napping) -- anything but housework. Finished the short book I was reading -- Chris Hedges/Laila Al-Arian, Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraq Civilians. Played nothing but Franco and Les Amazones de Guinée -- let's bump the latter record, Wamato, up a notch to A. (My original grade came from a quick spin at Rhapsody. This makes 3 or 4 records I've upgraded after getting a copy -- not really surprising since real many records take a while to grow on you, but not an adjustment you can expect in general.)
One of today's diversions was to take a look at Time's ranking of 25 top blogs. I only frequent two of those listed (Talking Points Memo and Paul Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal), have occasionally seen two more (Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan), and have heard of but not bothered with two others (Crooks and Liars, Freakonomics), so I thought I'd look around. One thing I noticed was at Freakonomics:
Uh, you call that talent? It does seem to be the case that singularly money-hungry people have opted for financial careers lately as opposed to other things they might have done, but the assumptions here seem to come from theory rather than reality: that money selects for talent, and that the talented are selected by money. The funny word here is "talent," which seems to suggest something more generally useful than mere skill at practicing fraud. If, say, you replaced "talent" with "greed" you'd get closer to the truth. But to get to the truth, you also need to rethink what they mean by "boom times": for most purposes the 1950s-1960s were America's real boom times, but not for finance, which at the time was regulated into a dutiful, uninteresting service industry. The two periods cited are more accurately characterized as "bubble times" -- periods where the financial system was lax enough to open up massive opportunities for conjuring up fraudulent gains. I recall back in the 1980s arguing that the only booming industry in America was fraud. After Clinton and the Bushes that's only more true.
There are other things you can unpack from this quote. For starters, you can question the talent level of CEOs making over $500K, especially those running bankrupt companies. The CEO position has evolved lately from that of a high-level manager to something else: an entrepreneur if you want to dress the role up a bit, or if you don't, a focal point for plunder. All companies are torn between competing internal interests: owners, management, workers. With the latter largely marginalized, the big struggle has been between management, which tends to favor a fat and stable bureaucracy, and ownership, which likes to extract as much profit as possible from the enterprise. For the stockholders to win this struggle, they have to have a dependable agent on top of the management hierarchy, and that is what has given CEOs such amazing leverage. A CEO who makes 20% more than his VPs is likely to think much like his senior management; a CEO who makes 5-10 times what his VPs make, mostly in stock options, is going to think and act like an owner. Talent has nothing to do with this. Anyone who cares to look can find lots of talent three levels deep in any corporate hierarchy, and any corporation has 5-10 people who could manage as effectively as the current CEO. That should pull CEO salaries down, but hasn't, for two reasons: the leverage point between management and ownership, and the company's plunder potential.
You might wonder why owners would steal from their own companies, but the arithmetic is pretty simple: in a bubble economy, any stable company is worth less as an ongoing operation than it would be if you sucked the value out of it and sold off the carcass. That's all the LBO craze of the 1980s was about, and variations on that scam have been tried again and again -- mostly putting companies further into debt while pocketing the loans as short-term profits. A couple of decades of this has left the entire financial industry with the sort of rotten balance sheets we see now.
I haven't read Freakonomics -- either the bestseller or the blog -- but this post reminds me of how so much economic thought is really no more than reflexive logic based on a set of axioms that at best refer to an imaginary idealized world. The law of supply and demand is a powerful concept for understanding many real situations, but it never actually works as frictionlessly as the theory or the math suggest. One obvious example is that finite supplies of natural resources can't respond infinitely to increases in demand. Another is that demand of almost everything is constrained between limits -- e.g., you can only eat so much, and you can never dispense completely with eating. Even where supply and demand reach equilibrium over time, there are drags as actors respond slowly and sometimes excessively. So, when a bubble economy creates opportunities for talented money-grubbers, the initial supply of the less talented will reap windfall profits. When the bubble collapses, expect another lag. Indeed, I figure the current banking "talent" will stay pretty much in place, even with less compensation. After all, what other industry is rising to compete with their talents for fraud?
Paul Krugman: Decade at Bernie's. Krugman almost has it right here: the Bush years as a whole mirror Bernie Madoff's ponzi schemes.
It's possible that a good part of the debt will prove to be illusory as well: invented from nothing but plunder, it is no longer backed by anything substantial, and therefore there is little reason not to stick the banks with the bill. Not even the government can make the bankers whole: not just because we should worry about the moral hazzard of compensating ponzi schemers, but because the only trick the government has up its sleeve is to make private debt public. It would be better in the long run to take the hit, leaving the rich a good deal poorer, while concentrating efforts to bolster the safety net, so the poor don't suffer so much for the sins of the rich.
Some of these ideas are coming around, as in the increased talk of nationalizing failed banks. Some are still far off the radar. To take one example, the stimulus bill is badly structured. The argument that it's full of pork is misguided: Keynes' original proposal for stimulating depressed demand was to hire people to dig holes and hire more people to fill them up again. Compared to that prescription, pork is downright healthy. We have a vast public infrastructure deficit, and anything done to put people to work building things that we need is positive. The problem is the tax cuts. Actually, what we should be doing is increasing taxes, especially on the rich who created this problem, while increasing spending even more. That way, when the economy gets going, the debt incurred in stimulating it can be paid back down with the increased tax revenue.
A smaller case of the latter is that we should take advantage of current circumstances to increase gasoline taxes. Specifically, we should institute a higher tax rate for winter gasoline blends, and a relatively lower one for more expensive summer blends. This would have the effect of reducing the winter/summer differential, as well as adding to the expected overall fuel cost to encourage conservation. And it would do so at a time when doing so would be relatively painless, unlike waiting until the middle of a summer price spike.
Ideas like this seem utterly obvious to me, but I rarely see anything like them -- even in the top-rated blogs.
Monday, February 16. 2009
At four columns per year, the normal Jazz Prospecting cycle for a column runs 13 weeks, or parts as my title has it. We are, therefore, at least in theory at the half-way point on the next Jazz CG. It is a relief that the last one finally appeared in the Village Voice last week [Link]. I'm actually in good shape for the next one, with 43 albums and 1878 words written up -- maybe 30% more than will actually run -- including one pick hit and one dud (always the gating issues). Still, I won't be able to focus on wrapping it up until I my kitchen project starts to wind down. Had very little time to prospect last week, barely making my minimum standard to bother posting at all, but did get a lot of work done. This coming week will be equally heavy, but by the end I should have the kitchen functional: countertop arrives Monday, allowing us to hook up sink/faucet/disposer/dishwasher; tile floor scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday; vent hood is ready to install; range is ready to fire up as soon as the vent hood works; counter around range is framed and will be ready to cover once main countertop is in place; pantry boxes and shelving are cut out and ready to assemble; refrigerator space is assembled and ready to finish; same for the last dining room shelf units. There still will be a lot of finish work, not to mention things like cleaning spilled paint off the floor and windows. But we're well into the home stretch now.
Clifton Anderson: Decade (2007 , Doxy/Emarcy): Trombonist, b. 1957 in NYC, studied at Manhattan School of Music, second album, the title reflecting the ten years since his first. Best known for playing in Sonny Rollins' band since 1983, which would seem like a strange pairing except that Rollins is Anderson's uncle. Lately Anderson has produced Rollins' releases on his Doxy label. Seems only fair that he should slip one in of his own. Not much more than a journeyman, but he gathers two solid groups here -- Larry Willis/Bob Cranshaw/Al Foster, Stephen Scott/Christian McBride/Steve Jordan -- with saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Eric Wyatt on two cuts each, and extra percussion for the obligatory Sonny-esque calypso. Tries to play clean and fast like JJ Johnson, but sticks to the meat of the horn, and get something extra on the ballads. B+(**)
Russell Gunn: Love Stories (2008, High Note): Trumpet player. Has been trying to feel his way toward some sort of popular breakthrough or encounter for more than a decade: one of the first to take up electronics, a dabbler in world beat -- one early album was called Ethnomusicology. Here he comes awful close to pop jazz, mixing in cheesy keyboards and electric bass, dropping in an obligatory vocal (Heidi Martin on "Love for Sale," but the opening chords sound like "Jim Dandy to the Rescue"). Results are mixed, with the slow stuff most cloying. I can't blame this on Kirk Whallum, who despite his own pop jazz resume can play monster soul sax anytime he feels the urge, and lifts the six cuts he guests on here. B
Cedar Walton: Seasoned Wood (2008, High Note): Pianist, age 74, has over 40 years of often superb recordings, but doesn't seem to get the top-tier ranking he deserves. Part of this may be that he often focuses on writing for horns, with some of his best work filed under Eastern Rebellion. Quintet here, although only the first and last cuts feature both horns: Jeremy Pelt on trumpet/flugelhorn, Vincent Herring on alto/tenor sax. Five of eight are Walton tunes, but I haven't checked to see how many have been around the track before. The others are "The Man I Love," "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," and Jimmy Heath's "Longravity." Can't put my finger on why this works so well, but everyone involved plays above their norms: Herring especially, but also the pianist get to show off his craft, and the bassist -- haven't mentioned how great Peter Washington is, but I'd be remiss not to single him out here. A-
Don Braden: Gentle Storm (2008, High Note): Tenor saxophonist, started out in the early 1990s and has built up a solid, increasingly mainstream catalog, with a lustrous tone and rich dynamics. This one so much so that I wonder if he isn't fated to follow Houston Person in a line that stretches back through Stanley Turrentine to Ben Webster. Three originals don't do much one way or another, but the odd mix of covers give you pause: "Never Can Say Goodybe"? "Willow Weep for Me"? The former is catchy but saccharine; the latter is magnificent for all of 7:55. Mostly quartet, with pianist George Colligan a plus. "My Foolish Heart" is done as an alto flute-bass duet, a brief vegan course in a repast of juicy meat and lots of gravy. B+(*)
Houston Person: The Art and Soul of Houston Person (1996-2008 , High Note, 3CD): Front cover runs on: "Songs of the Great Composers: Porter, Kern, Ellington, Rodgers and Others" and "Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder." Person has followed Joe Fields from his 1966 Prestige debut through Muse Records in 1976 and on to High Note in 1996. He's hardly worked for anyone else, amassing 50-plus records over 42 years and counting, plus doing double duty as a producer and accompanist on Fields' other projects. He is a steady, unexciting worker, with old tastes, gentle swing, a deeply felt touch for ballads, and the quintessential tenor sax sound. The only problem with his records is that he's so consistent in his range that he has problems differentiating himself. But he doesn't need to here: just one great song after another, summing him up in a songbook as definitive as Ella Fitzgerald's. No weak spots, no flow problems. I loaded up all three CDs and haven't been tempted to change them for 48 hours. I'm reminded of Geoff Dyer arguing that while people can argue about Parker or Coltrane, nobody who likes jazz at all can dislike Ben Webster. Person's been steathily stalking Webster for 40 years now. Still doesn't have the vibrato, but he's damn close in every other aspect. A
Early Trane: The John Coltrane Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 2] (1999-2006 , High Note): Easy to write this off as mere catalog exploitation, but the catalog is mainstream solid, and they make something of a case for taking Coltrane -- at least up through "Giant Steps" -- seriously for repertoire. Mostly saxophonists, of course, especially if you score Billy Hart's nominal album for Mark Turner, but pianist Mike LeDonne gets a cut and guitarist Larry Coryell gets two. Frank Morgan, with two cuts, takes "Equinox," and Fathead Newman lands "Naima" -- a worthwhile cut from a dud album. B+(*)
Joey DeFrancesco: Joey D! (2008, High Note): One thing Joe Fields learned from his early years at Prestige was the need to keep product circulating. Prestige was notorious for just corralling a bunch of guys in the studio, letting them play anything they felt comfortable with, and ripping off an album or two in an afternoon. Sometimes that worked marvelously: Miles Davis wrapped up four albums in two days to clear up his contract so he could move on to Columbia, and they're among the best hard bop records of the 1950s. Coleman Hawkins turned in some marvelous records, and Sonny Rollins reached his first summit with Saxophone Colossus. But others, like Jackie McLean and John Coltrane, just turned out fast and easy product before they moved on to labels that made (or let) them develop. Fields still records a lot of material that seems like average fare for any given artist, and he staggers releases on a pair of labels -- Savant and High Note -- to keep more releases in play longer. I could have written the above to go with half of his releases, but this one strikes me as a good example: it is both perfectly typical of DeFrancesco's organ trio work and exemplary in how it shows how he got to be the top-rated organ player of the last decade-plus. Jerry Weldon plays tenor sax: a little more aggressively Coltrane-ish than the norm for soul jazz outings. Byron Landham drums. DeFrancesco straddles the bass and piano roles, like he learned from Papa John (not to mention Jimmy Smith). One semi-novelty is "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," where the base organ riffs are clichés meant to be messed with. B+(**)
Count Basie Orchestra: Mustermesse Basel 1956 Part 1 (1956 , TCB): Volume 19 in TCB's "Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series": old radio tapes from famous bands who wandered through Switzerland 50+ years ago. Such records are common on European labels, and likely to become more so as Europe's more sensible copyright laws dump old performances into the public domain. Most such records I've heard offer little of new interest and are usually second choices, if that, for listening pleasure. This is exceptional on both counts: it is better in almost every respect -- sharper arranging, more virtuosic solos, even sounds terrific -- than any contemporary Basie recording I'm familiar with (e.g., the studio April in Paris or 1957's live Count Basie at Newport). It's also not so far removed from the Old Testament virtues, like soloists who aren't just cogs in the machine. 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.
Wednesday, February 11. 2009
The long-awaited 18th Jazz Consumer Guide -- the previous one came out on September 17 -- is in the Village Voice this week. This is probably the longest stretch between columns -- the result of losing a month-plus in Detroit, more than that working on my house here, and hitting a scheduling jam at the Voice. We're already six weeks into Jazz Prospecting for the next one, and the good news is that I've already hit my minimum word count. That's partly because the final layout cuts will show up as reviews next time:
Given how far behind/ahead I was this time, I did a fair amount of cherry-picking, holding good records by relative obscurities back (e.g.: Oleg Kireyev, Zaid Nasser, Gust Spenos, and more regrettably Bill Cole and Kris Davis) in order to not fall even further behind with better known artists. Next time may swing the other way, but most likely by the time I get it squared away I'll be in a similar pickle. As I've said before, it would be nice to be able to turn these columns over at least twice as often. That I haven't done so is as much my fault as the Voice's, although I suspect there would be foot-dragging delays there if I submitted columns more often. Not at fault are the artists, who continue to deluge me with more worthwhile product than I can digest in a timely fashion.
One thing I normally do every cycle is trim back the surplus, recognizing that I'll never get to a lot of things that I once thought worth keeping in play. I list those in my surplus file, and usually write up some short reviews of items I still want to draw a bit of attention to. Didn't have time to do much of that this cycle, but I had this one item in the file:
The done list currently numbers 128 records, which is about double where it should be, so next time I'm going to have to cull quite a bit. Just no time for that now.
I reviewed/noted 286 records while working on this column. The Jazz Prospecting notes are here.
PS: Any publicists who wish to receive my Jazz CG mail (very light; mostly just announcements), please contact me. My mail list technology is very crude and unsatisfactory, and I haven't been very dilligent at maintaining it. Sorry about that. It's impossible for me to keep up with the volume of publicist mail, but occasionally I try to make up en masse.
Monday, February 9. 2009
Totally buried in house work, so these weekly posts continue to limp along, with just enough to make them worth posting. At least I did manage to catalog two weeks of unpacking, so I have some measure of how far I'm falling behind. Don't expect much to change for the next two weeks. Making some progress, but still have a lot to do.
Got an edited copy of the pending Jazz Consumer Guide (18) back from the Voice last week, and squared the details away. Not sure, but most likely that means it will run this week -- worst case the following week.
George Robert Jazztet: Remember the Sound: Homage to Michael Brecker (2008 , TCB): George Robert is a Swiss alto saxophonist, attended Berklee 1980, moved on to New York 1985, eventually landing back at the Lausanne Conservatory. Has something like 16 albums since 1987. AMG lists him as influenced by Charlie Parker and Phil Woods; I guess we can add Michael Brecker to that list. Don't know what other connection there is, but then I'm not all that up on Breckeriana. The music here is actually all composed and arranged by Jim McNeely. The Jazztet is a ten-piece group, not counting "special guest" Randy Brecker. Lushly orchestrated postbop, a bit overripe. B
Jim Hall & Bill Frisell: Hemispheres (2007-08 , ArtistShare, 2CD): One disc of guitar duets, the second recorded a year later with Scott Colley on bass and Joey Baron on drums. Hall's always been a subtle artist, and he takes the lead here with his intricate explorations. B+(***)
Greg Reitan: Some Other Time (2008 , Sunnyside): Young pianist, from Seattle, based in Los Angeles; debut album, a trio with Jack Daro on bass, Dean Koba on drums, none of whom I was previously acquainted with. AMG's review groups him with Taylor Eigsti and Eldar Djangirov, but I'd say he's much better -- assured, straightforward, pleasant. Denny Zeitlin gets thanks. Bill Evans gets a nod. B+(**)
Eliane Elias: Bossa Nova Stories (2008 , Blue Note): The 50th anniversary of bossa nova; also the 48th of the Brazilian bombshell pianist-turned-singer, as well preserved and presented in her black dress as the classic songs. The Jobim numbers are the most obvious, unnecessary given her definitive Sings Jobim (1997) but irresistible. Better still are the bossa-fied Tin Pan Alley standards -- the Gershwins' "They Can't Take That Away From Me" has never sounded more salacious. Stevie Wonder's "Superwoman" is the fish out of water -- guess she figure she's entitled. B+(***)
The Bad Plus: For All I Care (2008 , Heads Up): Front cover adds: "Joined by Wendy Lewis." Lewis is a singer, based in Minneapolis, don't know much more. Her presence pushed the piano trio to doing more cover songs, which leads to some not very interesting generational issues. They date their classics from the 1970s with Pink Floyd and Yes, and mix them in with the 1990s as represented by Nirvana, Wilco, and Flaming Lips. Aside from Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" they are songs I'd happily never hear again, given a sharp jolt by the band then waxed into torpor by the singer. Between the touchstones are some short quasi-classical instrumentals Igor from Stravinsky, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Milton Babbitt -- the latter repeated in an alternate version. B-
Larry Ochs/Miya Masaoka/Peggy Lee: Spiller Alley (2006 , RogueArt): Ochs is one of the saxophonists in ROVA. I had read a rave this release in Stef's Free Jazz blog, knew that I'd never gotten so much as an email response from the label, but was curious enough to approach the artist. After an amusing round of emails, Ochs sent me a couple years' output, which I'll slowly work my way through. Thought I'd start here. Masaoka plays koto and Lee plays cello, so there's a dominant string motif here. Ochs plays tenor and soprano sax, the former listed first but the latter seems the more temperamental fit -- in any case, he tends to defer to the koto lead, coloring in rather than blowing ahead. Likewise, Lee plays more like a bassist, just a little off pitch. Good example of mutual listening, three musicians feeling their way through difficult and unforseen terrain. B+(***)
Gerald Cleaver/William Parker/Craig Taborn: Farmers by Nature (2008 , AUM Fidelity): Artists listed alphabetically, although Cleaver gets co-credith with Steven Joerg for production; all pieces attributed to all three, also alphabetically. I'm filing it under Cleaver, a journeyman drummer who's played on a lot of good records and is slowly building up a short list of unspectacular ones under his own name. Taborn is a pianist who came up in James Carter's quartet. Better known these days for his Fender Rhodes, but plays acoustic here, poking around abstractly, with muted Don Pullen flashes. Best thing here is when Taborn picks up a jagged groove and the others knock him about. Parker, of course, is superb in his supporting role, and brilliant as a soloist, at least when you can hear him clearly. Recorded at the Stone, NYC, rather offhandedly with a bit of applause at the end. Nice pictures, especially on the back cover. B+(*)
Benny Golson: New Time, New 'Tet (2008 , Concord): Title makes me wonder whether he's ever considered calling one of his albums The Tet Offensive. Probably not -- too much of a sweetheart, for one thing. Will hit his 80th birthday this year. Best remembered for his group with Art Farmer, for writing several canonical tunes of the 1950s jazz era, and increasingly for outliving nearly all of his contemporaries. Also for a keystone role in the movie The Terminal, where he was singled out as the last person a fan tracked down for a "great day in Harlem" autograph. Seems like he's always been on the cusp between one of the greats and a really good guy who hung with them. This album is of a piece with his career and its recent framing. The New 'Tet is a six-piece with brass (Eddie Henderson and Steve Davis) around the sax, Mike LeDonne on piano, Buster Williams on bass, and Carl Allen on drums -- all players who fit Golson like a glove. Golson's long been noted for his arrangements, a talent he shows off by making Verdi and Chopin listenable, doing better with El DeBarge, and framing Rollins and Monk classics, as well as reworking some of his old stand-bys -- the guest vocal by Al Jarreau strikes me as a misstep. For all his skills, I don't find any of this very interesting -- suitably nostalgic, maybe. B+(*)
Jason Rigby: The Sage (2008, Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor saxophonist, also plays some soprano and flute, based in New York, on his second album. Quintet, hard bop lineup with some postbop flair -- Russ Johnson (trumpet), Mike Holober (Fender Rhodes), Cameron Brown (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- and some classic bop speed and panache. The electric piano has an interesting effect here. It doesn't seem to tie the horns down like piano usually does, but Rigby plays with so much intensity it would be hard to corral him anyway. B+(***)
Nels Cline: Coward (2008 , Cryptogramophone): Solo guitar: acoustic (some), electric (mostly), effects (lots), some extra overdub junk. Solo records often sound like practice; this a bit less than the norm, but not the exception either. Rather, this plays a like a notebook of ideas, some of which can be developed into something, others discarded. As such, it oscillates more than usual between the annoying and intriguing. The latter more often than not tend to be rockish, dividends perhaps from Cline's slumming with Wilco. B [Feb. 10]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:
Steve Adams Trio: Surface Tension (2000 , Clean Feed): I was more/less right when I finally recognized ROVA as an acronym based on its member last name. The original lineup was Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Andrew Voigt, and Bruce Ackley, so the 'A' was Ackley, not Steve Adams, who replaced Voigt in the late 1980s. The lineup has remained the same since then.
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.
Saturday, February 7. 2009
After a surprisingly robust December showing -- 34 titles, pumped up a bit by deconstructing the Anthony Braxton box -- the record count has collapsed this month to 10, the second lowest ever. As with the lowest month, October 2008, the reason is massive distraction: back then I was working on my late father-in-law's house in Michigan; this time I've been working on my own house. In fact, I was so out of it I didn't recall that I had this due until a full week into February.
Delmark: 55 Years of Jazz (1944-2007 , Delmark, CD+DVD): Bob Koester is still in charge 55 years after founding this estimable Chicago label, known more for its renowned blues catalog than for its underrated, and rather scattered, jazz efforts. The CD picks interesting if not all that representative material, with some archives -- Coleman Hawkins' early bebop from Rainbow Mist -- and a mix of interests: trad jazz from George Lewis and Art Hodes; honking r&b from King Curtis; an early adventure by Sun Ra; a vocal by Francine Griffin; some quasi-mainstream hard bop; stray excursions into pan-Africanism; a groove piece from Ted Sirota's otherwise further out Breeding Resistance. Nothing pushes you very hard -- don't look for Anthony Braxton's For Alto, or Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, or Ken Vandermark, all facets of Delmark's history. The DVD has less to choose from: the dates there range from 2004-07 and they hold less interest, mostly bare concert shots, sometimes with cheap effects -- Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio with guest Billy Bang is the exception, a much better showing for Ari Brown than his own date; a 15:30 excerpt from Chicago Underground Trio is compelling musically, but unwatchable. B+
Herbie Hancock: Then and Now: The Definitive Herbie Hancock (1964-2008 , Verve): This could have been programmed by an accountant: two title cuts from classic Blue Notes; an obvious title from Fat Albert Rotunda; two cuts from the bestselling Head Hunters; the overwrought Stevie Wonder turn from Gershwin's World (on a song by W.C. Handy -- what was that doing there?); a piece from the Round Midnight soundtrack (Hancock did a nice bit of acting there); two takes of "River," the bonus with Joni Mitchell as herself; a Nirvana song from The New Standard; a Billie Holiday song from the Starbucks vanity plate album Possibilities, with Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan; a cheaper live take of "Rockit" from a stray DVD. This does indeed span Hancock's career, from hard bop to funk to fusion to cashing in and coasting. His later material fares poorly, and the fusion hasn't aged very well -- although "Rockit" is still a hoot. But the first cut thrilled me as much as ever: I finally got to this album the day Freddie Hubbard died, and there he was, unmistakably brilliant, playing with four-fifths of the Miles Davis Quintet and easily displacing the leader. The album, Maiden Voyage, is still brilliant. Start there and you'll never want to go here. B
Sonny Rollins: Road Shows Vol. 1 (1980-2007 , Doxy/Emarcy): Previously unreleased, which got this classified as a new release for the Village Voice's jazz critics poll, which it won handily. However, with only three recent 2006-07 cuts, mixed with two from 1980, one from 1986, and one from 2000, the Jazz Times poll filed it under "Historical/Reissues," which it also won. I don't have a problem classifying it either way. The strongest argument that it fits under "Historical" is the Vol. 1 in the title. On the other hand, all seven cuts sound remarkably connected, even though they were picked from seven different venues, with two pianists, three bassists, five drummers, and scattered extras, like Clifton Anderson on trombone (four cuts) and Bobby Broom on guitar (three cuts). Obviously, they've done some extreme cherry picking in putting this together, but Rollins has never been a team player: no one in the last fifty years so completely dominates whatever group he finds himself in. A-
Teenage Jesus & the Jerks: Beirut Slump (1977-79 , Atavistic): No Wave, the last desperate surge of would be avant-gardists to find some form of outrage beyond where anyone had gone before -- épater les punks. Lydia Lunch's group wasn't the best of the bunch -- their betters, like DNA or the Contortions, wimped out by finding music in the noise -- but they made archetypal rant and roll. A few singles, a couple of EPs, the inevitable Live at Max's Kansas City, some shit nobody bothered to release before -- it's all here, more than anyone needs. Graded leniently, because I was there, lived through it, survived, and find the memoir quaintly charming. You'll probably hate it, and not appreciate that that's the point. B+
Sir Victor Uwaifo: Guitar-Boy Superstar 1970-76 (1970-76 , Soundway): Born 1941 in Benin, built his first guitar at age 12, had Nigerian hits in the 1960s and continues a long career distinguished in more than music. I first ran into Uwaifo on old Nigerian compilations, inconspicuous filler between the Kings and Princes, but his more plebian name stuck in my mind. Always wanted to find a whole compilation, but they've proven elusive until now, so this is especially welcome. Concentrating on what was likely his prime, this brings back a golden age in Nigerian pop, before war, dictatorship, and oil ground Africa's most populous nation into the dust. A-
Ablaye Cissoko/Volker Goetze: Sira (2007 , ObliqSound): A Senegalese griot, Cissoko plays kora delicately and sings serenely; Goetze caresses the melodies with his trumpet, adding a warm, burnished glow. B+
Gilfema: Gilfema + 2 (2008, ObliqSound): Guitarist Lionel Loueke, native of Benin and denizen of New York, conjures up relatively bland Afropop with jazz legs -- the leader's sweet guitar far outstretches his slick vocals, and guest clarinetists Anat Cohen and John Ellis can pick up a groove and run with it. B+
The Klez Dispensers: Say You'll Understand (2008, TKD): New Jersey freylekhs, playing Yiddish trad music for sadness, for laughs, and as a springboard into jazz, starting with the "Ray Charleston." B+
Samba Meets Boogie Woogie (2008, Adventure Music): An ad hoc group, with guitarist Mario Adnet the probable leader, a half dozen vocalists named on the cover, and a strong set of Rio de Janeiro studio pros, none with any obvious expertise in boogie woogie; so no surprise that samba predominates, or that it reduces the concept to cute and clever -- that it starts to win you over is the real surprise. B+
Harry Whitaker: One Who Sees All Things (1981-82 , Smalls): An obscure bebop pianist, rarely recorded, making ends meet working with acts that never really fit, hooks up with a sympathetic label allowing him to delve into old tapes that once were merely weird but now are full of historical portent; with Gary Bartz and Terumasa Hino reconceiving Bird and Diz as bebopping black power radicals. B+
Thursday, February 5. 2009
Andrew Leonard: East beats West for that new car smell. Might as well quote this in full:
What this mostly throws into relief is the growth paradigm. The US economy is screwed if it can't keep growing, because we have no way of politically adjusting the consequences of living on less -- even though there's still a lot of slop-room to work with. And the world, or more precisely human ability to live on the world in some stable order, is screwed if the world economy keeps growing, even if we forego our currently disproportionate share -- a share that makes it hard for the US to lecture China, India, Latin America, and Africa on the need to tighten belts.
Tuesday, February 3. 2009
Helena Cobban: Why this American peace diplomacy is different. Provides a good overview of the various serious efforts at coming to a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, plus a detailed list of things that Cobban thinks Obama should be doing -- and the sooner the better, not least because Israelis go to the polls on Feb. 10 to decide who their favorite warmonger is. Cobban's suggestions are completely reasonable, starting with the need to deal Hamas and the large segment of Palestinians they represent into the process rather than push they away. She followed this post up with:
Helena Cobban: If there is a viable two-state solution in Israel/Palestine . . . A lot of people have been making big pronouncements lately that the two state scheme is dead, mostly because Israel has managed to dig itself so deeply into the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The problem I see with this has less to do with the facts on the ground -- the concrete is very real, as is the psychic commitment, even if the latter is limited to a substantial minority of Israelis -- than with the fact that a unified state based on equal rights (even if they don't include a right of Palestinians to return) is further still from the realm of the doable. Two-state separation requires one big thing that Israel actually possesses: military discipline. If Israel's political leaders wanted to dismantle the settlements, I have little doubt but that they could. On the other hand, equal rights requires Israelis to give up their privileged perch as the people chosen to rule the Holy Land. They never had any intent to do that, and are no closer now than they ever were. So while the appeal for equal rights is hard to fault, and there is something to be said for the practicality of not having to reverse the settlement mess, the so-called Single State Solution is mostly wielded as a demographic threat to Jewish supremacy.
One thing that should be born in mind here is that partition back in 1948 wasn't a good idea: it led immediately to the forced exile of 700,000 Palestinians, and beyond that to 60-plus years of often brutal and terrifying conflict. If two-state partition seems like a reasonable idea now, that is only because the down side has been paid: the partition has done happened. Given that, you would think that anyone who supported partition in 1948 -- which is the say, the Israeli political leadership under David Ben-Gurion -- would be happy to find a solution there today. That may have been the case, but it seems like each generation of Israeli leader becomes more aggressive and recalcitrant -- the most straightforward explanation is that Israel has become thoroughly militarized, achieving a state where the perpetuation of the conflict has become their only goal. On their own terms, then, there is no prospect within Israel for any sort of solution on any terms.
Whatever hope there may be must come from elsewhere, and the key is to remove the psychological props that keep providing a rationale for international support of Israel. I have a pet idea as to how this might happen: the Palestinian authorities in the occupied territories and the neighboring Arab nations should adopt Israel's Law of Return. It's not that the law itself is fair or a good idea, but it strips Israel of its claim to be the world's only safe haven for Jews, and it drives a wedge between Zionism and Jewishness. Active pro-Jewish programs in the Arab world would right several wrongs. It would recognize the longterm effects of the Holocaust, but it would also directly counter Israel's attempts to promote antisemitism in the Arab world as a means of promoting immigration to Israel. In the occupied territories, it would also provide a formal proposal for a method by which Israeli settlers could become Palestinian citizens. One could even display a bit of moral one-up-manship here, with Palestinians offering rights to Jews that Israel refused to offer to Palestinians.
Sandy Tolan: Five Questions for George Mitchell. Most concern the settlements, the poison pill against the peace process.
Tony karon: What will Obama do when Isreal votes 'no' again? Next week, Israel goes to the polls to elect a new government. The current poll leader is Benjamin Netanyahu, who is even more ardent about rejecting any US-generated peace proposals than the current Kadima/Labor coalition government of warmongers Tzipi Livni and and Ehud Barak. This produces a quandry for Obama, whose lavish election-period support for Israel has placed him in an awkward position, unable to publicly influence election of a government that is likely to provide a deadly drag on any behind-the-scenes efforts toward peace.
One interesting thing that Karon doesn't note is that in the past when the US became disgruntled with Israeli leadership, the Israeli electorate voted in more congenial leaders -- Rabin over Shamir, which led to the Oslo Peace agreements, and Barak over Netanyahu, which led to disaster. Unfortunately, Obama looks to be depending on subliminal signals which the Israeli electorate are free to ignore or misinterpret. On the other hand, the lack of any credible peace candidate in Israel doesn't leave one with much to work with.
Monday, February 2. 2009
Very little jazz prospecting time this week: rated count only increased by 7. I would have called this week's post off, but there are a few items of substance below. Actually, one thing I didn't have time for was running a lot of second and third tier releases through the mill. Most of the following stuck in the player for two, three, or more spins.
No news on the finished but still pending Jazz Consumer Guide column. As for my house work, I expect this coming week to be even heavier than last week, with several big items due to come together -- new cabinets installed on Tuesday, countertop template on Thursday, new stove and vent hood in place by end of the week, plus a lot of paint and trim. Should start to ease out a bit after that.
Buffalo: Collision (Duck) (2008, Screwgun): Another of alto saxophonist Tim Berne's groups: two thirds of the Bad Plus -- pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer Dave King -- with the bassist replaced by cellist Hank Roberts, a change that trades in any real capacity for swing or groove for an arty sheen on top of the free jazz drama. Iverson plays in dense blocks, and Berne works his way around the wreckage, in one spot piling up into a brutish piece of avant-ugly, but mostly working through intelligently and inventively. B+(***)
The Flatlands Collective: Maatjes (2008, Clean Feed): Dutch alto saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra is the effective leader of this group of mostly Chicago-based musicians: James Falzone (clarinet), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics), Jason Roebke (bass), Frank Rosaly (drums). Best when the three horns are all cooking, each on its own track, with Bishop's trombone buoying everyone else. Stretches of cello and electronics -- Dijkstra also plays lyricon and analog synth -- are scratchy abstract. The Dutch avant scene has always been noted for whimsy, while the Chicagoans are known to occasionally suspend their creativity fetish and just rock out. B+(**)
Darren Johnston: The Edge of the Forest (2007-08 , Clean Feed): Trumpet player, from Canada, based in San Francisco, first album as leader, although his name shows up on another album I have in the queue, plus he has a couple of side credits. Seems like someone I should have recognized -- in fact, he appeared on a former Pick Hit here, Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra's New Magical Kingdom. Pianoless quintet here -- like one of those quartets but with a third horn, the range of colors and timbres spread wide by Ben Goldberg's clarinet and Sheldon Brown's tenor sax (or narrowed with bass clarinet), but they tend to cycle against each other rather than fly apart. Devin Hoff plays bass, Smith Dobson V drums, and Rob Reich appears on accordion on one track. Brown is a strong soloist -- another guy I've run across a couple of times, but should remember from now on. The rhythm section keeps things moving, and Goldberg is superb as the guy who ties it all together. A-
Steve Adams Trio: Surface Tension (2000 , Clean Feed): Googling Steve Adams, we find: "a cutting edge progressive rock guitarist and composer, formerly with ex-Camel keyboardist Peter Bardens and Mirage"; "bass player for ALO, Brett Dennen, Sara Bareilles, Tea Leaf Green, Forest Sun"; "gospel acappella music like you have never heard before"; and a bunch of non-musicians, including a Unix/Oracle guru, a Cincinnati criminal defense lawyer, the CEO of Sabrix, and some guy running for president. More promising is the Steve Adams who shows up on websites for Nine Winds (Vinny Golia) and ROVA -- he would be the 'A' there. Plays four weights of saxophone, listing sopranino first, as well as bass flute. The trio adds two guys I don't need to look up: Ken Filiano and Scott Amendola. Actually, I've heard Adams before in Filiano's company, and (of course) in Rova; also with Composers in Red Sneakers, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, and Your Neighborhood Sax Quartet -- maybe with Golia too -- Adams dedicates a song to Golia and notes that they met in 1982 -- although I'm way, way behind there. Three observations: one is that Adams has a lot of tricks up his sleeve, but only the sopranino doesn't remind me of something else I've heard before; second is that Filiano, as dependable as any bassist working today, has rarely played with this much intensity; third is that Clean Feed has made a habit of picking up old tapes by unknowns, releasing them presumably just because they like them. B+(**)
John O'Gallagher Trio: Dirty Hands (2007 , Clean Feed): After some sleuthing, I found an announcement that this batch of Clean Feeds was officially released on Nov. 28, making them 2008 releases. Until then I was guessing that the the Darren Johnston, Steve Adams, and John O'Gallagher CDs must be 2009 releases, given that they don't seem to be available anywhere (DMG offers pre-orders). So it turns out that Clean Feed does have some concept of street dates, even though they may not correspond to reality -- another bookkeeping headache. As for this record, any group that manages to play 6 straight nights in Braga, Portugal is likely to show up on the label. O'Gallagher plays alto sax. I think of him as a postbop player, but he leans free, and he usually makes a strong impression, as he does here. The others are Masa Kamaguchi on bass and Jeff Williams on drums. Seems like an average set, dilligently working against the grain, exploiting the higher range of the instrument, with the rhythmic complexity de rigeur these days. B+(**)
The Skein: Andrea Parkins and Jessica Constable: Cities and Eyes (2004 , Henceforth): Parkins plays accordion and piano, most notably in Ellery Eskelin's trio, and dabbles in electronics. She also gets a voice credit here, but presumably the lead vocals here belong to Constable, a British composer-singer who also has ties to Eskelin -- she's on his Quiet Music -- and who also gets a credit here for electronics. I started playing this a couple of times, quickly deciding I wasn't up for it. The vocal parts, which cover damn near the whole record, are massively irritating. The electronics also tends to irritate, but not always, and here and there can be quite intriguing. C+
Joe McPhee/Paal Nilssen-Love: Tomorrow Came Today (2007 , Smalltown Superjazz): McPhee strikes me as the most doggedly anti-commercial avant-gardist of the last three or four decades. It's not so much that he's inaccessible but that he's so preoccupied with his own inner logic that he could care less what you think -- a couple of meetings with Ken Vandermark, who idolizes McPhee, come to mind. Norwegian drummer Nilssen-Love, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have any notion that what he does shouldn't be embraced by everyone. He came up in rock groups, plays free, and sometimes ties them all together. His Dual Pleasure duos with Vandermark were unusually lucid and engaging sax-drums duos, and here he does the same trick for McPhee. A-
Frank Carlberg: The American Dream (2007 , Red Piano): Finnish pianist, in US since mid-1980s. His similar previous record, State of the Union, was an HM. This one I like less, but in some ways it's even more remarkable. Both albums compose complex settings for texts, which are sung by wife Christine Correa. The texts this time were picked up from poet Robert Creeley, which may be part of the problem. Although Creeley has been subject to several jazz efforts -- some with his own voice, both active and recorded -- they strike me as unmusical, awkwardly bending around the disconcerted notes. Then there is the singer, who the notes compare to Jeanne Lee but whose operatic gravitas reminds me more of Aëbi -- last time out I noted the comparison, but didn't find Correa nearly so annoying. She takes a step in that direction here, but is still a relatively graceful singer. On the other hand, the non-vocal parts are dramatic and compelling, especially Chris Cheek's tenor sax solos, ably supported by John Hebert (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums). B+(*)
Evan Parker/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: The Brewery Tap (2007 , Smalltown Superjazz): Parker should be a household name by now, but isn't anywhere close. B. 1944 in England, cut his first records c. 1971, and has released a couple hundred since, plus side credits in nearly every European avant-jazz context of interest -- his career has roughly the same shape and trajectory as Anthony Braxton's. Has his own label now, Psi, which I don't get any service on, so I only pick up occasional scraps, and he remains a long-term project. Plays tenor and soprano sax. His soprano is utterly distinctive, shrill, with a lot of circular breathing -- very impressive, but also discomforting. I usually prefer his tenor sax, which is featured here, a lot of poking and prodding, a little circular breathing. Håker Flaten's bass makes for a nice foil, rounding him out where Paal Nilssen-Love's drums might sharpen him up. Long improvs. Not clear how much weight to put on them, given the feeling that he could do this all day every day, but a very nice showcase. B+(***)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: A rather substantial pile, but didn't get anything catalogued this week, so wait until next week.