Thursday, April 30. 2009
Just noticed that this was the first month in a long time -- probably only the third or fourth time ever -- when I managed to fill in a post for every day of the calendar. Some were cheap shots. On the other hand, I still have plenty of other tasks to keep me away from the computer, and in that regard spending so much time here may not have been a good idea.
Robert Christgau: Poptastic Bye-Bye: Posted on March 27, but I didn't notice until today. Evidently, Blender is no more. Not sure when I got my latest copy, but it's not so far back I had started wondering when the next one would arrive. But then I haven't been very conscious of that sort of thing lately. I'm still working on cramming the Consumer Guide for April into the database, with May likely to appear, like, tomorrow. I'll second Christgau's judgments on Blender. I never read much outside of the review section, which was a good deal better than any other rock zine I've read in a long time -- well, maybe not better than Mojo, but the English still expect criticism, where we're lucky and dumbfounded whenever it appears. I've long thought I should get in touch with Tannenbaum and see if I could get something in. (One fantasy would be to do a supershort jazz-for-rockers list, but I thought of that more in terms of Rolling Stone, and they turned in house to David Fricke for that sort of thing.) Maybe one of those big retrospectives -- Lou Reed or Brian Eno would be good for me, or any of a long list of jazz artists (Armstrong, Ellington, Hawkins, Davis, Coltrane, Coleman, Pepper, Murray, Vandermark). Never got to it, so I never even got rejected. Reminds me that I had finally got an invite to write for Creem just as Lester Bangs quit and moved to New York and the magazine fell into chaos. Reminds me that my gig as music editor at St. Louis Today was to begin the week after they folded.
The future of rock criticism, for better or worse, will be on the web. Christgau is likely not only to be the first but also the last person to make a whole career out of rock criticism in print, and even he was aided by a long-term editing job and a part-time job in academia. On the web we can try to do more while losing less, but the best I can figure is something tangential, maybe even orthogonal, to making a living. Michael Tatum has agreed to work with me on resuscitating Recycled Goods -- it makes some sense to try to tackle big problems with teams, and doing so will help keep me on an even keel. To make it work we need a publisher with some visibility. How we go about doing that is a mystery to me -- the only places I've ever published at are places that invited me, not the other way around. Blender opens up a gap. Would be nice to fill it someway, because otherwise we're just slumping into a Dark Ages stupor, for no better reason than we're too dumb to change business models that don't produce any more.
Wednesday, April 29. 2009
It looks like Borders is killing off their CD and DVD sections in most or all of their bookstores. At least the two in Wichita are affected. I'm not sure how much of a loss this is going to be. (For that matter, the store on Rock Road looks doomed, ever since a much expanded Barnes & Noble moved in less than half a mile away. Moreover, rather than fighting, they seem to be keeling over: cutting hours, selling off surplus from their already inadequate stock, and now killing off the music section.) I've bought next to no music there ever since they opened: the prices are too high, and the selection is middling -- better than Best Buy, but not by much, even as Best Buy shrinks. The west Wichita store used to be useful for listening, but after their equipment stopped working I stopped bothering.
I've been into both Borders since their closeout sale began, buying a total of one record: Sufjan Stevens' Greeting From Michigan. Went into their east (Rock Road) store today and finally bought a pile at 50% off:
Newman and Santogold are two 2008 albums I heard on Rhapsody and may have underrated -- at least according to Christgau. Nine Inch Nails is another Christgau CG record. Also heard the Lowe reissue on Rhapsody, which I had no problems or complaints with -- but then I owned the original UK as well as the US LP release, plus all the wonderful extras they packed in. I wrote about it for Recycled Goods, and it was the ice cracker, the record that convinced me that I was going to buy something. The Ramones reissues supersede old vinyl that I may or may not have -- great records, and cheap today (the first one cost me $3.99). Didn't have anything by Francis, and this one seems about right. I figured NYC Salsa for remedial research, but once I opened it up I found the doc to be pretty measley. Toughest call was the Sinatra: he's definitively before my time, has never been a touchstone, and hasn't repaid my occasional listening efforts (unlike, say, Nat Cole). I also have a sizable chunk of the set already -- 4 or 5 albums, less than half, plus a 2-CD compilation that presumably hits them all. Still, it's stuff I figure I should take seriously, by all accounts prime (unlike his Columbias, or the more voluminous, scattered, and declining Reprises). Slim little box with each CD in an LP-styled sleeve. Quite nice, and something of a bargain.
Turns out I could have picked up the two CDs I bought at Best Buy earlier in the week:
The Ry Cooder-produced Staples record is another I heard on Rhapsody and have long yearned to own. A friend discovered it independendly and had been raving about it to Laura, so that brought the point home. And everyone tells me Allen's second album is great -- I spent the day with it in the car, cycled it twice, and they may be right.
This is all unusual behavior for me in recent years: I keep track of purchases as well as stuff that comes in the mail, and at least 5 of every 6 weeks (maybe 9 of 10) have no purchases. My desire to buy records has just been drained out of me. The single biggest problem is that there are no local stores to go to. I stopped at Best Buy to see if they had the new Dylan album on sale -- they didn't -- but unless we're talking about someone like Dylan they won't have it on sale, and I long ago fell out of the habit of buying new at anything approaching list. (I bought Living Things from them a while back, but it was $9.99 list.) Best Buy will rarely stock at much as 20% of what shows up on Christgau's Consumer Guide (much less my Jazz CG) and most of that will be at prices I can easily beat on the web. Barnes and Noble and Borders (until now) have a slightly larger selection for higher prices. The only other record store in town is the CD Depot used chain, which is so lousy I've given up browsing there.
But I'm also pretty exhausted from all the stuff I get in the mail, and I'm perpetually frustrated by the problem of where to put them. The year I spent with Rhapsody let me hear records I was curious about without having to find money or shelf space for them, and that may have been liberating. Some records I rated that year I would certainly like to have, but thus far I've only bought a tiny number of them -- some very high rated 2008 albums that I haven't bought yet include: The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride; Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation's Dark; Old 97's, Blame It on Gravity; James McMurtry, Just Us Kids; Tokyo Police Club, Elephant Shell; Conor Oberst. I had a chance to pick up Old 97's and Hold Steady's Stay Positive today, and didn't bother.
Of course, I didn't use to be like this. For many years I spent countless hours in record stores. When I lived in Boston I'd go to one store or another 3-4 times a week; in New Jersey it was more like 2 times a week. When Yesterdays and Wherehouse existed here in Wichita I'd hit them (two stores each) at least once a week. And when I'd travel record stores would be prime destinations. In fact, I used to make day trips to Oklahoma City 3-4 times a year, on average hauling back 20-40 CDs each trip. (Made a similar trip to Kansas City, but it was longer, more work, and less productive.) Back when Yesterdays and Wherehouse closed out, I bought hundreds of CDs -- that's a big part of the reason I have 700+ unrated CDs in the database, many from then still unplayed. I remember thinking that at least when I'm retired and poor I'll still have more good stuff to listen to than I'll have time left. I'm not sure that that time hasn't already come.
I used to want to listen to everything, record my thoughts, and build up a database for reference to share my experience. Those sentiments drove me to the far corners of my taste. As the Sinatra purchase still shows, I'm not over such sentiments, but I'm having a tough time making it happen. I'm being pulled in both directions: thinking about getting back into Recycled Goods and trying to run it as a state-of-the-art survey of reissued/newly discovered music history instead of as what it's been the last year-plus: the lint at the bottom of my processing stack. Also thinking about finally building that reference website. (I figure MediaWiki might do the trick -- sort of my personal, idiosyncratic Wikipedia of music.) On the other hand, I despair that I can even do Jazz Consumer Guide justice, and (perhaps more importantly) I doubt that the interest from publishers like the Village Voice is up to the job.
Good news is that I figure the kitchen will be fully functional in another week: i.e., the dining room table back in place; the dishes, pots, and cooking utensils unpacked and accessible; the pantry restocked; the tools and paint cans finally packed away; the shelves loaded up with at least the cookbooks. I may not have everything finished the way I envision it -- still don't have the stainless steel peninsula around the stove, some of the planned slide-outs; the extra drawers under the pantry countertop. And I may not move what's left of the wood pile from the living room: certainly the scrap can go downstairs, but the 4-5 full sheets of extra plywood may just stay there until I think of something else to build. Hope to celebrate with a dinner for the people who helped me build it all. More on that later.
Tuesday, April 28. 2009
I envy Matthew Yglesias's ability to crank out a dozen-plus blog posts per day, but he's mostly going with whatever the day throws out at him, and his added value is hit and miss. Today was dominated by the news that Sen. Arlen Specter decided he'd rather be a Democrat, so Yglesias came up with a bunch of posts revealing how little he's had in common with Democrats over his career. Yglesias's term for Specter is "flexible." Sounds more like opportunist. We have in the past seen Republicans turn into pretty good Democrats -- Wayne Morse is still the classic. I doubt that Specter will be one, although it wouldn't hurt for him to start keeping better company.
Matthew Yglesias: Financial Innovation and Financial Compensation: Cites a Paul Krugman column, citing in turn a Ben Bernanke speech about how innovative the financial sector has been. (Bernanke cites three big innovations: credit cards, overdraft protection, and subprime mortgages. For some reason he forgot about derivatives, which some wag described as a financial weapon of mass destruction.) But the most important thing here is a chart from Simon Johnson showing the financial sector's percentage of all US business profits over time. As late as 1980 -- the year Reagan was first elected -- it stood at 7%, admittedly depressed from the past 20-year average of 10-15%. It increased steadily from then, peaking over 40%. To some extent this represents decline in other sectors, like manufacturing, but it's not as if other sectors, like health care, haven't made money at the same time. Still, the profit levels here are suspicious on multiple counts. First, they suggest that finance is not subject to limits of competition. In most industries, when profits rise, competitors are willing to take them down. It's not like there aren't plenty of banks, so why no competitition? I don't have an answer to that. The peculiar mix of lax regulation may have some sort of effect here. Shoddy accounting is also suspect. Then there is politics: clearly the finance industry is very well connected with both parties and intimately represented in the government. The one thing we can be sure of is that the profits didn't get reinvested in the real economy, which is one reason so much ado turned into nothing.
Matthew Yglesias: McCain: Bush Should Get Off The Hook -- Just Like Nixon: It's easy for a Republican to say that Ford did the right thing pardoning Nixon so we could "move on": "we" in that case was the Republican Party, which cleansed of Nixon's sins was free to subject us to Ronald Reagan. Reagan's administration was, if anything, more criminal than Nixon's. Of course, it helped hide the fact that the criminality was scattered all through the administration, not just concentrated in the person of the president. The Bushes just added to the evidence that the GOP is corrupt from top to bottom, and megalomaniac to boot: Bush II was a pretty complete synthesis of Nixon + Reagan, at least in this regard. You can see why Republicans want to forget all that. But it will be harder this time, because the party was so completely complicit in Bush's crimes.
But the Republicans never wanted to "move on" when Clinton was president. The Paula Jones lawsuit was allowed to proceed on the grounds that no president is above the law (except, of course, for Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes). Clinton and his administration had to endure numerous special prosecutors, mostly turning up nothing. Some, like Kenneth Starr, abused their position so flagrantly that the law was changed -- just in time to give Bush free reign.
Update: I looked for a post with this chart before, but it has vanished into the backfiles. Popped up again, so I thought I'd add it here.
Matthew Yglesias: Orzag on Saez: The chart shows how the top 1%, 1-5%, and 5-10% of income earners have fared over time. The top 1% is relatively volatile, with booms coming with financial bubbles, both in the Roaring 1920s and the upslope from Reagan's S&L looting through Bush's subprime mortgage bubble. Interestingly, while the lower tiers of the well off roughly tend to track the top 1% through the New Deal, their split has remained remarkably consistent ever since 1943, with a very slight uphill trend. This means they've basically become unhitched from the top 1%, which was the sole beneficiary of the Reagan-Bush era.
Monday, April 27. 2009
Jazz Consumer Guide #19 has been sent off the Village Voice, where it will sit for several weeks, get a quick last minute edit, and finally appear, hopefully by the end of May. I sent off 1792 words, which is 400, maybe 500 more than will run, at least in the print edition. I've asked them to keep whatever doesn't fit and post it on the web. The web-only items should mostly be Honorable Mentions: I sent in 32. The main reason for doing this is that I have even more stuff written up and held back (2700 words) than can run in the next column. As much as I'd like to get paid for every word, my big problem now is getting columns out in a timely manner.
Meanwhile, this week marks the start of a new cycle. I started the week looking at records that I had held back for further listening -- something I would normally do at the end of a cycle. Later on I tried playing a few new items, resulting in a very mixed bag. Right now the filing system is a total mess, and I'm still pretty distracted by house work. Still not sure when I'll get back to normal (if indeed that's the right word). In any case, I figure I'll run this cycle 6-8 weeks. Was feeling pretty bummed about the whole endeavor last week, but got big packages from Atavistic and Okka Disk today, ending the Vandermark draught.
Bill Bruford: The Winterfold Collection 1978-1986 (1977-85 , Winterfold): English prog rock's premier drummer, cut loose and adrift with instrumentalists -- Allan Holdsworth and Dave Stewart are the prime offenders -- neither up for jazz nor down for rock -- aside for Annette Peacock, who's up for anything, but only manages to salvage one of her three cuts here. Runners up are the duets with Patrick Moraz, which give Bruford something to interact with. Mostly released by EG at the time, and ultimately picked up by Bruford for his own pair of labels: Summerfold for the newer stuff once he started thinking of himself as a jazz drummer, and Winterfold for the barren old stuff. B-
Bill Bruford: The Summerfold Collection 1987-2008 (1986-2007 , Summerfold, 2CD): The jazz years, which kicked off abruptly when Bruford recruited a odd pair of avant-gardists -- saxophonist Iain Ballamy and keyboardist Django Bates. Other groups followed, with slick saxophonist Tim Garland represented here with his Latin-flavored flute, choice meetings with guitarist Ralph Towner and pianist Michiel Borstlap, and the inevitable percussion ensemble. A long period, some sparkling tunes, some interesting ideas, not especially helped by the mix and match. One previously unreleased cut, from 2002, with a Latin kick. B
Joel Harrison: Urban Myths (2009, High Note): Well, this sucks. One of the most important mainstream jazz labels around switches to a new publicist and starts cutting corners by sending out promos in crappy cardboard sleeves with a wadded up copy of the booklet stuffed inside. Normally -- especially for artists this insignificant -- these things go into the bin where they get ignored for months or years until I notice the discrepancy in my database and decide to dismiss them with a quick spin. But this one arrived on a bad mood day when I was already wondering why the hell I even bother, so I figured I'd dispose of it right away. Starts out promising enough with typical David Binney alto sax, which Harrison does a nice job of emulating. Some violin appears -- Christian Howes. But then it slows down with some fancy postbop arranging, then tries to recover the pace with some funk grooves. Either too many ideas, or not enough conviction. Go figure. B [advance]
Tim Kuhl: King (2008 , WJF): Drummer, from Baltimore area, b. 1982, studied at Towson, moved to New York in 2003. Second album. Group includes tenor sax (Jon Irabagon), trombone (Rick Parker), two guitars, bass. Plays free, remaining the center of attention. The two horns make their mark. I'm less taken with the guitars. B+(*)
Søren Kjærgaard/Ben Street/Andrew Cyrille: Optics (2007 , ILK): Danish pianist, won some prize in 2000, having trouble figuring out much of anything else, even whether this is his first album. Street plays bass, and Cyrille you know. A couple of things catch my ear: a sly little rhythmic figure in "Cyrille Surreal"; a piece of blockish denseness later on. Lots of quiet stuff in between. Will figure out more later. [B+(**)]
Jimmy Greene: Mission Statement (2008 , RazDaz/Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, soprano too, b. 1975, has 7-8 albums since 1997 (mostly on mainstream Criss Cross), 50 or so side credits (mostly with young postboppers, a few singers). Mostly quintet with guitar, piano, bass, and drums -- Stefon Harris adds vibes to one cut. Green is an energetic and talented saxophonist, but this feels rather rote, pretty much par for the course, and the band doesn't stand out. B
Avery Sharpe Trio: Autumn Moonlight (2008 , JKNM): Bassist-led piano trio. Sharpe has eight albums since 1988, plus a much longer list of side credits, especially working for McCoy Tyner. His pianist here, Onaje Allan Gumbs, fits nicely into the Tyner mold, although his performance here is less flashy than usual. B
Johnny Varro Featuring Ken Peplowski: Two Legends of Jazz (2007 , Arbors): You'd think if they were going to have two legends of jazz, they wouldn't relegate Peplowski to the "featuring" slot. But then, you'd think if they were going to celebrate legends of jazz, they'd pick a couple more, uh, legendary than Varro and Peplowski. Varro is a good Teddy Wilson disciple, born around the time Wilson was starting out, getting close to 80 now. Peplowski is nearly 30 years younger, which leaves him with less hair than Varro has, and not much darker. He was always the second tier young fogey behind Scott Hamilton -- a good side man, either on clarinet or tenor sax, but never a very inspired leader. He sticks to clarinet here, and plays as fine as ever. Frank Tate and Joe Ascione provide all the backup they need. Very nice work. B+(**)
Eddie Erickson: I'm Old-Fashioned (2007 , Arbors): A/k/a Fast Eddie, plays banjo and guitar, sings (also dubs himself "The Singing Moustache"). Resume includes 1978-83 leading the Riverboat Rascals show band on Disney's Empress Lilly Showboat. Don't know how old he is, but he started his career in California in the mid-1960s. Has a few previous albums, mostly sharing credits with Bill Dendle, Big Mama Sue, or BEDlam (Becky Kilgore and Dan Barrett). Also appeared with Kilgore as a lead voice in the Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Guys and Dolls. This one is more/less billed "Live with his International Swing Band": a group Mannie Selchow assembled in Germany. Might as well list the names, about half unfamiliar to me: Menno Daams (trumpet), Bill Allred (trombone), Antti Sarpila (clarinet, tenor sax), Rossano Sportiello (piano), Henning Gailing (bass), Moritz Gastreich (drums). Band swings hard on the usual fair. Erickson's an adequate but not all that impressive singer. The banjo is fun. B+(*)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
The Peggy Lee Band: New Code (2008, Drip Audio): Lots of good things here -- Brad Turner trumpet, Jon Bentley tenor sax, a lot of guitar, a little trombone, a nicely bent "All I Want to Do" opening. The leader's cello is less evident, except when it gets slow and threatens to get mushy. B+(**)
Ahmad Jamal: It's Magic (2007 , Dreyfus): An old pianist with a light touch, his trio fluffed up with Manolo Badrena's extra percussion, his knack for catchy melodies undiminished. B+(***)
The Ron Hockett Quintet: Finally Ron (2008, Arbors): Longtime journeyman clarinettist gets the Arbors red carpet treatment, with a first class trad band -- John Sheridan, James Chirillo, Phil Flanigan, Jake Hanna -- and no complaints when he wants to do yet another "Beale Street Blues." Everybody's sharp, especially Chirillo, but Hockett earns his keep too. Arbors is a rare label that will not only pull someone out of the blue and give him a recording date because every musician deserves one sooner or later; they'll make sure the record is worth remembering. B+(***)
Adam Niewood & His Rabble Rousers: Epic Journey Volumes I & II (2008, Innova, 2CD): An epic record, two long discs, one mostly composed, the other mostly improv. Niewood plays a wide range of saxophones and clarinets, with tenor sax justly first listed. Add keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, including some African percussion. His tone and range are impressive, although it's hard to know just what to make of it all. Perhaps in the future he'll make a record clear enough to make this one worth deciphering. As it is, I prefer the improvs -- "Movin' & Groovin'" does just that for 9:35, after which "Loved Ones" shows some ballad sensitivity. B+(**)
Tim Ries: Stones World: The Rolling Stones Project II (2008, Sunnyside, 2CD): A saxophonist who's toured with the Rolling Stones takes over the repertoire. The first volume was content to refocus the first tier songs on the saxophonist, but here, Ries goes on tour, picking up anyone (and pretty much everyone) who wanted to get in on the act -- including some actual Stones (Keith Richard in Japan, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood in Africa, Charlie Watts several places). Singers are especially plentiful, and not all that convincing -- at least with Jagger you were pretty sure not to believe everything. Instead, we get Ana Moura dropping into Portuguese for parts of "Brown Sugar"; "Jumpin' Jack Flash" goes flamenco, and "Angie" goes to Bollywood; the whole UN gets a piece of "Salt of the Earth"; Marina Machado and Milton Nascimento strain for "Lady Jane." More sax than the originals, but still it takes a back seat to the vocals. If there's a theme, it's the worldwide promotion of the Stones' great idea: miscegnation. B
Jesse Stacken: That That (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Debut album, piano trio, dense and dramatic, not least thanks to bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis, who also back up Kris Davis. Stacken, however, lacks Kris Davis's main threat -- tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby -- and doesn't make up the deficit on his own. While Stacken can reward close listening, I find more often than not this record slips by unheard. B+(**)
Giovanni Moltoni: 3 (2008, C#2 Productions): Guitar album -- long lines, gentle grooves, nice vibes, topped off with Greg Hopkins' moderately boppish trumpet. B+(*)
Asaf Sirkis Trio: The Monk (2007-08 , SAM Productions): Drummer-led trio, with guitar (Tassos Spiliotopoulos) and electric bass (Yaron Stavi). Nothing fundamentally different, but one of the sharper guitar trios I've heard recently -- the main difference is that the drums are louder, which I count as a plus. But not just a trio: keyboards (Gary Husband) and extra percussion (Adriano Adewale) sometimes seep in, the former muddying the waters, the latter harder to judge. B+(**)
Leonardo E.M. Cioglia: Contos (2007 , Quizamba Music): Brooklyn-based bassist, originally from Brazil, which influences his music in subtle ways that don't overwhelm the postbop inclinations of his band -- John Ellis (reeds), Mike Moreno (guitar), Stefon Harris (vibes/marimba), Aaron Goldberg (piano), Antonio Sanchez (drums). Flows nicely, thoughtful, not a lot of pop or punch. B+(**)
Jenny Scheinman: Crossing the Field (2008, Koch): Two string orchestras on six cuts lay this on rather thick. The other half is more engaging, but that's the least you'd expect from Ron Miles, Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, Doug Wieselman, etc., not to mention the violinist-leader, who often seems either missing or buried in the masses. B+(*)
Jeff Johnson: Tall Stranger (2002 , Origin): Bassist-led trio. Hans Teuber's reeds (tenor sax, bass clarinet) are weakly blown, almost faint, while Billy Mintz's drums whisper more often than not, with soft splashes on the cymbals predominant. All of this keeps the bass equally in the game, and it works remarkably well -- sure, you need to pay careful attention, but that's easy to do. Johnson switches to guitar on one cut, with Teuber moving to bass. That works, too. B+(***)
Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra: Harriet Tubman (2007 , Noir, 2CD): One problem with thinking of jazz as America's classical music is tends to make jazz sound more like Europe's classical music. This is especially true when a jazz arranger reaches for the bombast of a large concept, as with this opera. And, so often the case with opera, all that singing can get to be annoying. Still, this holds up relatively well. The default musical tradition is gospel, especially for the vocals. The horns are bright and rowdy, and the big band work is sharp. And you stand to learn a thing or two. B+(**)
David Sánchez: Cultural Survival (2007 , Concord Picante): Originally streamed this from Rhapsody, noting that his roots are more in Coltrane than in his native Puerto Rican salsa or his neighboring Afro-Cuban jazz. Got a copy, played it a few times, and don't have much more to say, other than that the inspiration cited in the liner notes comes from Africa: "the Baca forest people from southeast Cameroon, the Ari people of Tanzania, polyphonies from music from Ethiopia and music from Mali, all of which are important resources that I drew from when composing this piece." This piece is "La Leyenda del Cañaveral" -- the 20:31 closer which works best because he takes his time building it up. B+(**)
Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Unity: Ancients Speak (2008 , Live Wired): Moderns speaking in hip-hop tongues, homologues to ancient drums, but cross-bred like crazy, even if you can trace all of it, like damn near everything else, back to African. Gibbs is a bassist who has worked under band names from Defunkt to Power Tools to Harriet Tubman, with side credits ranging from Sonny Sharrock to Marisa Monte to John Zorn to Femi Kuti -- a career he finally unifies. A-
Some more re-grades as I've gone through trying to sort out the surplus:
Howard Alden and Ken Peplowski's Pow Wow (2006 , Arbors): [was: B+(***)] B+(**)
Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band: Appearing Nightly (2006 , Watt): [was: B+(***)] B+(**)
Ralph Carney/Robert Creeley: Really!! (2007, Paris) [was: B+(**)] B+(***)
Bruno Råberg: Lifelines (2008, Orbis Music, 2CD): [was: B+(**)] B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, April 26. 2009
Andrew Leonard: Simon Johnson says: "Break up the banks": Amen to that. It seems like the Obama administration has gone as far as possible not only to avoid nationalizing (actually, just taking receivership) of the banks but to make sure that the banking industry emerges intact. This seems wrong to me, not simply because the industry deserves a good shaking up after what they've done, but because the concentration that Citigroup, Bank of America, etc., had achieved on their way to wrecking the economy wasn't a good thing in the first place. In fact, it was a horrible thing. The very fact that we can talk about banks being "too big to fail" shouts out that we have banks that are too big to be trusted to compete.
Johnson gets all that right. Leonard's summary is:
One problem here is that I can't ever recall Obama or Attorney General Holder appointing anyone to head the Department of Justice's antitrust division. Of course, the Bush administration never met a trust they didn't like, so the entire section has had an eight-year sabbatical, but as recently as Clinton there were antitrust cases, like the one against Microsoft -- quickly dismissed by Ashcroft, even after a conviction. I think antitrust is important, not least for old-fashioned reasons: to protect businesses from predatory acts by other businesses, but also to insure that markets function by providing adequate competition, and to prevent companies from overwhelming and disabling competitors. I'd go even further than antitrust law has ever gone before: I'd get rid of patents and other proprietary restraints, and I'd introduce progressive taxation on company size as well as profits to help balance the playing field -- and for that matter to disincentivize excessive growth. The latter might even change the psychology of business: for years now we've lived in a world of winner-take-all schemes, but if those were impossible, most of the corporate management playbook would go out the window. That, I think, would be a good thing. After all, for every disincentivized rich tycoon, there are plenty more would-be entrepreneurs who'd like a shot in the game.
Still, a good start would be to resume enforcing antitrust law. And breaking up the insane conglomeration of banks would be a pretty popular place to start. The only novelty to it would be that instead of breaking up corporations that are too successful, we'd be breaking up failures.
Helena Cobban: On bank governance: A modest proposal: Another variation on this theme, inspired by a picture of the CEO's of 19 major US banks.
Saturday, April 25. 2009
Over the last six months I've done a poor job of collecting quotes and writing comments on the few books I've managed to read. In most cases, I bought the books and they're sitting around in piles waiting for some attention. However, some I checked out from the library. For those, at least, I managed to get the comments transcribed, but figuring some commentary would also be useful, I've held them back. Don't see much point in continuing to do so now, especially where my recollection is fading.
The books are:
The Ehrenreich book is out in paperback next week.
Friday, April 24. 2009
Paul Krugman: Reclaiming America's Soul: Of course, the people who care about the torture scandals -- the politicians who couldn't wait to "take the gloves off," the lawyers with their ass-cover memos, and the operatives who did the deeds -- need a full airing, possibly including the threat of criminal prosecution. I'm inclined to go hardest on the lawyers, not just because they should have known better but because they were in a position to say no at little or no personal risk and they went ahead and gave the monsters what they wanted.
Joe Lieberman wrote somewhere that we shouldn't prosecute the lawyers because if we did future White House lawyers will be inhibited from giving their "best advice." He got it exactly wrong: it was the feeling that they would never be called for their bad advice that let Gonzalez, Yoo, et al., feed Bush, et al., the worst possible advice. Lieberman's rationale is reason enough to prosecute and punish, to set an example for all future government lawyers that they reimagine the law at their own risk. On the other hand, I don't much mind whether they go to jail or not. Jail turns out to be a relatively poor punishment for political crimes: not only does it look vindictive; it's generally more important for political criminals to acknowledge their wrongdoing than for them to endure jail, which in their supporters minds looks like martyrdom.
On the other hand, I'm not especially agitated by government torture -- not because I don't mind it but because I don't expect anything better of them. Maybe that comes from watching too much TV, where the line between police and prosecutorial bullying and torture seems pretty fuzzy. One thing you learn quickly about justice in America is that it has more to do with winning than with finding the truth. Then there is the history of the CIA, which embraced torture at least as far back as the 1950s, and the US military, which occasionally practiced it and taught it in their school for prospective Latin American dictators. I'm all for unraveling this whole monstrosity, but I'm skeptical that they'll ever get past the "bad eggs" who inevitably get tripped up in the works.
But the bigger part of the reason is that I view torture as part of a continuum of evil things that forces do to people to exert their power over them. The main point of torture rarely (if ever) has to do with information: it's really just about power. Information is merely the measurement of how much power the torturer holds over a prisoner. The point is just as well to strip the prisoner of self-respect, of dignity, of any sense of control over his/her own life; and conversely to get the prisoner to acknowledge that you are the power, that you are the one who can crush the lives of the prisoner and anyone he or she holds dear.
When you think about the people who hold that kind of power dear, at a policy level, you're going beyond the technicians who torture to the politicians who fantasize about it. If you don't recognize that torture is integral to the exercise of domineering power, you will have trouble understanding why Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al., got so worked up about it. It had nothing to do with information -- it's not like any of them put much stock in truth anyway. It was purely about power. But the problem that comes about when you start to investigate torture is that America isn't ready to give up its lust for power. So whoever's doing the investigating, from Obama on down, is going to want to carve out some acceptable degree of coercive measures. And that's what will spoil the lessons to be drawn from the whole sorry affair.
Krugman also demands investigation and prosecution of the Iraq War sales spiel. The problem there is that it isn't as clear cut illegal as the torture stuff, although you can certainly make a strong case -- as Elizabeth de la Vega does in United States V George W Bush et al. -- that the lies and innuendos were nothing less than criminal fraud. Moreover, Krugman is right that we need to publicly examine these issue in order to understand how vile the Bush regime was. Even though the balance of political power has shifted in the US, it's clear that way too many people still adhere to the Bush-Republican Party line. That's to be expected until we take a clear, sober look at what such ideas and practices have done to us. The reckoning there is still unrealized. Obama may for now think that he's better off letting such dogs lie -- that bringing those issue up would only cloud his own agenda -- but the Republicans remain pretty effective at obstructing his path. They really need to be taken down a few notches, even if you believe that in the end it will be more effective to see real progress implemented than to dwell on past sins.
One model for comparable political disasters is the "truth and reconciliation" process, which dispenses with vengeance in order to get to the truth. At some point it becomes advisable even for the guilty to seek that path, if for no other reason than to spare themselves criminal charges in international courts. But America has a deeper problem right now: disrespect for truth. Back in 2006 when the Democrats took control of Congress we all expected them to use their subpoena power to investigate the numerous crimes and malfeasances of the Bush administration, but they hardly lifted a finger. You can chalk that up to cowardice, or to stupidity, or to the shrewd belief that America wasn't ready for the truth -- that America can't live with the truth. I'd have to say they're right: unlike Krugman, I'm not sure America has any soul worth reclaiming.
Thursday, April 23. 2009
Adam Horowitz: Two great points about the Durban II and Ahmadinejad speech: Obama got some flack for pulling the US out of the Durban II conference on racism, but as it turns out it was just as well that the US was absent. It strikes me that the one thing the conference has shown is a general lack of maturity in addressing a subject which should be cut and dry by now. We shouldn't have any real problem agreeing that racism is wrong, foolish, and damaging to everyone concerned. So what's the big problem here? Well, Israel. Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967 is blatantly racist, and Israel's discriminatory treatment of non-Jewish citizens of Israel is racist in more nuanced ways. I don't think there is any way anyone can deny those facts -- Israel as much as concedes this point by working to disrupt the conference as opposed to joining in to argue a contrary case. On the other hand, opposition to Israel's occupation can easily get wrapped up with anti-Jewish racism, and the long, gruesome history of anti-Jewish racism still resonates powerfully for many people (and not just Jews). The problem here is that we are really talking about two distinct species of antisemitism: the growing (and therefore dangerous) strain is developing in direct response to Israel's own racist policies, which really have nothing to do with the old, discredited, almost totally obsolete European strain rooted in old religious and politico-economic fantasies. The conference could (and should) make a point of addressing at least the current species of antisemitism, but the obvious cure for it would be a correction of Israel's own racist policies: a point that should be made explicit even though it somewhat smacks of blaming the victim.
Horowitz cites two pieces, both of which point to Israeli disruption. The Durban I conference famously passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. This, I think, was slightly wrong, but far from outrageous. There were, in fact, some Zionists who recognized that the people who had long lived in Palestine deserved full political rights, and hoped that Jewish immigration to Palestine could proceed peaceably with due respect for all -- people like Martin Buber and Joseph Magnes, whom we would all be well advised to recall. On the other hand, partly because of the self-centeredness at the heart of Zionism, and largely because of the historical period and the fact of British colonial sponsorship, most Zionists were decidedly racist -- much as white settler colonists were in America, Australia, South Africa, and everywhere else they landed and sought to dominate and displace the locals. Moreover, the Zionists built institutions that reinforced their racist tendencies -- not just the Haganah militia but more portentously the Histadrut labor federation. From the beginning, they set up barriers to separate themselves from the natives -- the most profound and effective was the invention and adoption of modern Hebrew, a language that virtually no Jewish immigrant knew before immigrating. Unraveling Zionism and racism could have been one of those teachable moments, but both sides preferred to take the resolution as a mere political coup.
The political coups continue with Ahmadinejad's speech -- the readymade occasion for a walkout, where whatever offense Iran's president gave was augmented by the response. (One of the pieces linked here pointedly asks, "What credibility is there in Geneva's all-white boycott?") I've seen Ahmadinejad's speech characterized almost everywhere as hateful, but haven't dug deep enough to find whatever it is that they're talking about. In the past he's been readily caricatured and distorted, but he's also such a sloppy thinker that there's little benefit in trying to fully understand his points. Holocaust Denial is a case in point: that is, contrary to some European laws, not hate speech, but it does show profound ignorance of history. It's not clear to me whether Ahmadinejad is really that stupid, but he certainly does believe another myth, which is that Israel's creation was connected -- in some bizarre Euro-American sense of justice -- with the Holocaust. That may have some poetic truth to it, but Zionism was the joint product of pre-Holocaust antisemitism and British imperialism, and the future shape of Israel was locked in when the Haganah partnered with the British in putting down the Palestinian revolt of 1937-39. At that point the Jewish population of Palestine was very nearly the same percentage as it was a decade later -- the influx of Holocaust survivors made famous in Exodus had no real effect on the demographic balance. The Jews in Palestine spent the war at a safe distance from the Nazis, whose only interest in the area was as a dumping ground for German Jews before the regime turned even more murderous. (Even then, if the Nazis had primarily been obsessed with killing Jews, you'd think they would at least have attempted to bomb or fire V2 rockets at Palestine. While they were obsessive about Jews on land they controlled, they paid little attention to Jews elsewhere.) Of course, after the war the Holocaust was woven into the mission of Zionism and the case for Israel, with the Eichmann trial the linch pin in Israel's usurpation of the Holocaust cause. One shouldn't ignore the kernel around which this myth grew: Zionism was indeed a reaction to the same antisemitism that the Nazis rode to the Final Solution, but it branched off earlier, making a pact with British Imperialism and picking up a whole set of bad habits in the bargain. (E.g., Israeli practices like collective punishment were inherited intact from British colonial law.)
On the other hand, it's possible that Ahmadinejad understands the role of British Imperialism all too well. Indeed, it would be hard to grow up in Iran without hearing about how the British bribed concessions from the corrupt Qajars, or how they stood up (and replaced at whim) the Shahs, or how they got the CIA to overthrow Mossadegh and Iran's nationalized oil company. The problem with this is that it fails to appreciate the peculiar but real motivations of the Zionists themselves: the history of pogroms in Europe that portended the Holocaust, the fact that after the war displaced Jews had no safe European haven to return to, and the unfortunate tendency within the decolonizing Arab world to associate Jews with their former colonial masters -- much exacerbated after 1948, resulting in most Arab Jews fleeing to Israel, where they only added to the polarization. We would all benefit from better understanding all sides of this history, especially by not trying to play one side against the other. But in the end, the "facts on the ground" are sufficient: there are numerous instances of racism on all sides, which need to be resolved one-by-one by each responsible party. Failure on one side does not excuse the other -- nor does foolishness like Ahmadinejad's speech. On the other hand, there is no instance where any country in the world subjects Jews to the perils of occupation Israel has implemented in the West Bank and Gaza. That clearly is the first thing that must be remedied.
In some ways, the real problem with trying to deal with Israel in a conference on racism is that what Israel has done goes way beyond the sort of everyday racism that occurs in so much of the rest of the world. In the US, for instance, we still have numerous issues rooted in racism: profiling by police, disproportionate punishment for crimes, depressed housing values in majority-black neighborhoods, cultural barriers to education and jobs. These are all real problems, but they are qualitatively different from the institutionalized racism of Jim Crow laws, or South African Apartheid, or the Nazi race laws that required Jews to be publicly identified and that prohibited Jews from many occupations. What Israel is doing is as fully institutionalized as the latter -- you can argue whether it's relatively benign, equivalent, or worse, but you can't doubt that it's deliberate and systematic, or that it needs to be changed. How to change it is something else: maybe a topic for a separate conference, or just a lot of careful diplomacy.
But it's really stupid to waste a whole conference arguing a no-brainer like whether Israeli laws and policies are racist. Plainly, they are.
Cecilie Suransky: Pt. II Dershowitz et al, "The worst two hours of my life." Suransky has a whole series of posts at MuzzleWatch on Durban II, but this one gives you a good idea of how low this debate can go; e.g.:
Someone should apprise Dershowitz of Godwin's law.
Wednesday, April 22. 2009
More new book notes. I do 40 per post -- plus some paperback reissues of previously noted books -- whenever I get around to dumping them out. I probably have two more batches backlogged. I continue to be impressed by the sheer quantity of interesting nonfiction coming out -- although I do on occasion note some obvious crap, which is also plentiful.
Amir D Aczel: The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man (2007; paperback, 2008, Riverhead): Stephen J Gould wrote a piece charging that de Chardin was involved in the Piltdown Man fraud, so I figured this to follow up on that. Evidently, Aczel dismisses those charges in a single sentence. Not that Aczel doesn't have anything less controversial or less scandalous to write about.
Uri Avnery: 1948: A Soldier's Tale: The Bloody Road to Jerusalem (revised, paperback, 2009, One World): First English translation of two books by Avnery published 1949-50. He is now known as one of Israel's most courageous and consistent peaceniks, but back in the day fought in the far-right Irgun. That the war was blood is no doubt something he remembers better than most.
Uri Avnery: Israel's Vicious Circle: Ten Years of Writings on Israel and Palestine (2008, Pluto Press): I've no doubt read most of this already. He never misses a beat or falls for a scam.
Kevin Bales: Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (2nd edition, paperback, 2004, University of California Press): Claims that chattel slavery, debt bondage, and contract slavery persist, affecting at least 27 million people. This is the case. Bales also wrote Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves (2007), and has a new, short book, co-written with Rebecca Cornell, coming out in paperback later this month: Slavery Today.
Ben S Bernanke: Essays on the Great Depression (paperback, 2004, Princeton University Press): Predates Bernanke's appointment as head of the Federal Reserve. Suggests he actually knows something relevant to what's going on now -- not sure Lawrence Summers can make that claim.
Philipp Blom: The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914 (2008, Basic Books): Tries to recapture the experience of the times without the burden of subsequent history -- the Great War, the spectre of Communism, the rise of Fascism, an even greater war. I recall John Berger doing the same in "The Moment of Cubism" -- a more succinct and graphic summary. Cubism was just one of a dizzying range of inventions of the age, with technology just one dynamic vector; the psychological dislocations were at least as significant.
Mark Bowen: Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming (2007, Dutton): Author previously wrote Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World's Highest Mountains back when it was enough just to get the story out.
Robert Brenner: Property and Progress: The Historical Origins and Social Foundations of Self-Sustaining Growth (2009, Verso): Essay collection, evidently some quite old, working out the historical transition from feudalism to capitalism. Also wrote: The Boom and the Bubble: The US in the World Economy and The Economics of Global Turbulence, both on more recent topics.
Adam Cohen: Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America (2009, Penguin Press): Focuses on intense arguments between five key confidants -- Lewis Douglas, Harry Hopkins, Raymond Moley, Frances Perkins, and Henry Wallace -- within the 100 days framework that FDR established as canonical. This sudden interest in all things Roosevelt is a clear sign of the times.
Dave Cullen: Columbine (2009, Twelve): Ten years after the event, tries to explain why it all happened. I've seen this compared to In Cold Blood, which may be what it takes to rehash this oft-rehashed tragedy.
Barry Cunliffe: Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000 (2008, Yale University Press): Archaeology professor at Oxford; big, illustrated, authoritative looking book, probably much like his previous The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe.
Marc H Ellis: Judaism Does Not Equal Israel: The Rebirth of the Jewish Prophetic (2009, New Press): A professor of Jewish Studies with a number of previous books -- Uholy Alliance: Religion and Atrocity in Our Time and Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation: The Challenge of the 21st Century are two. It's not surprising that someone with a sense of justice grounded in Judaism should find problems with how Israel has acted.
Eric A Finkelstein/Laurie Zuckerman: The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What to Do About It (2008, Wiley): Another obesity rant, with some economics thrown in to spoil your appetite.
Dan Fleshler: Transforming America's Israel Lobby: The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change (2009, Potomac Books): About J Street, the relatively peaceable alternative to hyperhawkish Isreal lobby AIPAC. Phillip Weiss gave the book a nice plaudit, so I checked Fleshler's website and found him trying to put distance between himself and "assimilationist" Weiss. That sort of attitude strikes me as too much trouble to bother with. It's OK that some people think they can be Zionists and for peace at the same time. The problem is when they break their vows for peace to prove they're still Zionists in good standing.
Saul Friedländer: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1933-1945 (abridged edition, paperback, 2009, Harper Perennial): Two previous books -- The Years of Persecution: 1933-1939 and The Years of Extermination: 1939-1945 -- slimmed down to 512 pages.
Leslie H Gelb: Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (2009, Harper Collins): One of those select foreign policy mandarins who figures his vast experience qualifies him to tell us how to run the world. You'd think that his previous book, The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked, would have permanently put him out to pasture.
Bernard Goldberg: A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (and Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media (2009, Regnery): Front cover also includes "presents" after Goldberg, and "Starring Barack Obama" below the title line. When in doubt, blame the media. The same thing could have been written about McCain, Bush, or Reagan -- on any of those a more judicious writer than Goldberg still would have had little trouble topping the 184 pages behind this quickie.
Germaine Greer: Shakespeare's Wife (paperback, 2009, Harper Perennial): Famed feminist author of The Female Eunuch dusts off that old degree in Elizabethan drama -- not for the first time; she's also written Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction. Admittedly, very little is known about the real Ann Hathaway, but that hasn't prevented much from being written, and that in itself is fodder enough for a critic so skilled as slicing through sexual presumptions.
William Greider: Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country (2009, Rodale): Seems like a fairly general political opinion tome, but Greider's been way up on the learning curve for a long time now; e.g., he wrote the first important book on the Federal Reserve Bank way back in 1987: Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country. He tackled globalization a decade later in One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, and immediately followed that up with Fortress America: The American Military and the Consequences of Peace.
Farah Jasmine Griffin/Salim Washington: Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever (2008, Thomas Dunne): An important group, especially once they picked up on George Russell's modal thing and recorded Kind of Blue, but both key musicians did much more pathbreaking work later. Maybe you could say that separately they finally broke through the limits of cool. Griffin has a previous book on Billy Holiday: If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday.
Ethan S Harris: Ben Bernanke's Fed: The Federal Reserve After Greenspan (2008, Harvard Business School): Seems a little premature to sum up Bernanke, especially since he's been through much more since this book appeared than before, but you can understand the urge to put Alan Greenspan behind us.
Gwen Ifill: The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama (2009, Doubleday): Seemed like an obvious subject for the most prominent black reporter on television -- she can claim a breakthrough or two on her own. Also seems likely to be slight: I haven't seen any evidence of her getting sharper in the last few years, even with subjects as easy as Bush and Cheney let alone as subtle and discerning as Obama.
Lawrence Lessig: Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (2008, Oxford University Press): Interesting guy. First appeared on my radar during the Microsoft antitrust case, where he was thrashed for being a Mac user. Didn't seem all that promising then, but he's gone on a tear on copyright law, one of the few people who maintains a sensitivity to common interests in a world dominated by private interests. Remix is not only a point where interests conflict -- it's a point where rights holders can strangle creativity, not to mention free speech.
Mark R Levin: Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto (2009, Threshold Editions): Yet another right-wing radio talk show blowhard, currently on top of the bestseller lists. I suppose someone could write a cogent and logical "conservative manifesto" but I doubt that the same person would spend much time railing against someone named Barack Milhouse Nobama.
Leon F Litwack: How Free Is Free?: The Long Death of Jim Crow (2009, Harvard University Press): Short lecture by a historian who's been tracking this beat his whole career. The sad thing is that America keeps giving Litwack new things to write about.
Kevin Mattson: Rebels All!: A Short History of the Conservative Mind in Postwar America (2008, Rutgers University Press): Argues that the new right picked up and ran with the bad manners of the 1960s new left. Not sure what that proves, or even suggets. Mattson has a bunch of books: Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century; Intellectuals in Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970; When America Was Great: The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism. The latter appears to be the one closest to his heart.
Chris McGowan/Ricardo Pessanha: The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil (revised edition, paperback, 2008, Temple University Press): New edition of one of the more highly regarded surveys of Brazilian music. The sort of thing I ought to be reading to improve my spotty knowledge of one of the most important music scenes in the world.
Adam Michaelson: The Foreclosure of America: The Inside Story of the Rise and Fall of Countrywide Home Loans, the Mortgage Crisis, and the Default of the American Dream (2009, Berkley): The subprime mortage meltdown, as told by a Senior VP of Marketing at Countrywide, the nation's largest subprime racketeer. Many reviewers claim that it's shallow and self-serving.
Steven P Miller: Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (2009, University of Pennsylvania Press): Graham emerged during my childhood as America's most prominent spokesman for generic christianity and parlayed that into a career of hobnobbing with presidents -- Nixon was his triumph, but the Bushes both have Billy Graham stories in their press kits. Graham managed to get throught he civil rights era without being associated with either side -- a slick move that helped Republicans suck up the white south without getting tarred by segregationist violence -- and he was always useful promoting American wars abroad. I grew up thinking him a fraud from the beginning, and found more reasons to despise him over the years. No one has done more to muddy the separation of church and state. No one has done more to turn christianity into a venal career strategy -- useful and never inconvenient for politicians.
Benny Morris: One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict (2009, Yale University Press): A history of various speculations and proposals to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Morris was a respectable historian who did much to document the expulsions and massacres during Israeli's 1948 War of Independence, but he later turned into an extreme apologist for Ehud Barak and an advocate of further transfers. This comes through quickly in the first few pages of the book.
Neil Weinstock Netanel: Copyright's Paradox (2008, Oxford University Press): Another take on the troubled relationship of copyright law and free speech. Lawrence Lessig recommends this.
Alex Perry: Falling off the Edge: Travels Through the Dark Heart of Globalization (2008, Bloomsbury Press): Probably a hint that the front cover depicts swarthy soldiers in camouflage uniforms: globalization here seems to be only tangentially economic. Perry works for Time magazine, based in Africa, but ranges far and wide.
James Petras: Zionism, Militarism and the Decline of US Power (paperback, 2008, Clarity Press): Short (188 pp), basically a digest of other books by the author -- e.g., The Power of Israel in the United States, Rulers and Ruled in the US Empire: Bankers, Zionists, and Militants -- a name I recognize but never read much. (Seems to me he mostly wrote about US impact in/on Latin America.)
Clay Risen: A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination (2009, Wiley): A close look at ten days around Martin Luther King's assassination and the subsequent ghetto riots -- ten days bracketed by LBJ's withdrawal from the presidential election and his signing of the 1968 Civil Rights Act.
Jessica Snyder Sachs: Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World (paperback, 2008, Hill & Wang): Tries to sort out numerous issues relating to the interactions between people and bacteria.
Jim Sheeler: Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives (2008, Penguin Press): Short bios, stories, and/or obits of dead US soldiers from the Iraq war. One way of accounting for the costs, but only one.
Ken Silverstein: Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship (2008, Random House): Pretty much the real life version of a Doonesbury story line about Duke flacking for an unpronounceable, unspeakably vile dictator. Most of what I know about Turkmenistan comes from Robert D Kaplan's books -- not the most reliable source, but plausible enough in this case.
Jessica Valenti: The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women (2009, Seal Press): "The United States is obsessed with virginity -- from the media to schools to government agencies." Really? Obsessed with sex, sure, but even that has moved into more jaded angles. I thought the whole point of the Sarah Palin episode was that premarital sex is fine as long as you keep the baby.
Gore Vidal; Jay Parini, ed: The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal (2008, Doubleday): I've seen complaints that 21 of 24 essays are redundant, having previously appeared in United States: Essays 1952-1992 -- a collection with 1312 pages vs. 480 here. There's also The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000 adding another 480 pages to United States. And he hasn't exactly been quiescent since Bush II took office, with essays like Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace and Dreaming War: Blood for Oil in the Cheney-Bush Junta swelling to book length. He's the last of a generation of novelists who cut their first books in the crucible of WWII -- Mailer, Jones, Heller, Vonnegut -- and all the more valuable for that.
Chad Ward: An Edge in the Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives -- How to Buy Them, Keep Them Razor Sharp, and Use Them Like a Pro (2008, William Morrow): Very detailed book on knives and sharpening. The latter is a big problem I have, and something I'd like to get under control. Maybe I should get this?
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Nicholson Baker: Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (2008; paperback, 2009, Simon & Schuster): Short vignettes, framed like newspaper clippings, spread out in chronological order up to the end of 1941, by which time the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and the US had entered into the most horrific war of all time. Traces the growth of barbarism, and the inability of pacifists to stop it -- a key point being that no one else tried. An extraordinary book. [Book Page]
Michael T Klare: Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (2008; paperback, 2009, Holt): Much trouble and turmoil over which power gets what, especially oil. [Book Page]
Ahmed Rashid: Descent into Chaos: The US and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin): An important book on what has happened since 2001 in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and to a far lesser extent the former SSRs in central Asia), especially due to the US War on Terrorism, occupying Afghanistan and meddling in Pakistan. Recommended. [Book Page]
James Gustave Speth: The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability (2008; paperback, 2009, Yale University Press): One of the few books to question how our whole economy impacts the environment, and how the economy obstructs our doing anything about it. [Book Page]
Tuesday, April 21. 2009
I only have so much space for each Jazz Consumer Guide column: normally it works out to a little less than 1500 words, which if I write compactly comes out to about 30 albums. On the other hand, I consider 7-10 times that many albums each column cycle. Jazz Prospecting counts 230 albums this round, down from a record 293 last time. Then there were the records prospected and left over from the previous cycle: in this case, 117 albums, not counting the two dozen or so I had already written up. Reducing 300-some albums down to 30 means discarding the overwhelming majority: anything bad unless it's notable enough to be a dud, everything run-of-the-mill, some things I just can't think of anything to write about. This round, of 230 prospects 132 went straight into the surplus file with no further comment. Still, that left many more records than I could use, so I wind up having to cut a lot of pretty good records. I often do the latter at the end of the cycle: after I've used what I can now, and usually have a pretty hefty overstock planned for next time (or the time after), I can go through the rest and ask myself what the odds are that I can ever get around to a given album. If the answer is slim to none, I add it to the surplus file -- preferably, writing a little consolation note. Last time I pretty much skipped this stage, so the surplus was very thin and the carryover was excessive. This time I did the opposite: I spent most of two weeks going back over the records I had kept under consideration, played them again, and then forced myself to either write a Jazz CG review -- mostly one-line Honorable Mentions -- or a surplus file note. The surplus files are in some ways the lucky ones: they get a note posted now, whereas the others will likely wait 3-6 months before they show up in a Jazz Consumer Guide.
The final surplus file is here; the final prospecting file is here. I'll leave it to you to figure out where the draft files are and what is provisionally scheduled for this and the next Jazz CG, although one cannot be certain until the things actually run.
Meanwhile, here are the surplus file notes on the most notable albums that got axed at this stage:
Rabih Abou-Khalil: Em Português (2007 , Enja): The Lebanese oud player wrote the music here, then turned the lyrics over to various Portuguese, creating a sonic strife that doesn't really belong to either end of the Mediterranean, especially given how dramatically the lyrics are declaimed by Ricard Ribeiro. I would have preferred more instrumental space. The core group is exceptional, especially Jarrod Cagwin with his frame drums. B+(**)
Howard Alden and Ken Peplowski's Pow Wow (2006 , Arbors): Duets, Alden on guitar, Peplowski on tenor sax or clarinet. The lack of any help keeps the album from swinging hard, leaving you with thoughtful, intricate interplay. I had a cluster of Kenny Davern albums -- an old Soprano Summit, a more recent meeting with Peplowski -- and thought his might fit nicely, but had trouble finding it. A little weaker album, but picks up toward the end. B+(**)
Ab Baars Trio & Ken Vandermark: Goofy June Bug (2007 , Wig): Nothing from Vandermark in this Jazz CG. I'd have to check to see whether that's ever happened before. I think so -- offhand, #17 looks free, #16 too, #10, #9, #6, #4 -- more often than I thought, but he's been in more than two-thirds of the columns, even with my tendency to clump related releases. I got to thinking about this because this record is the only KV in my current work queue -- probably why it sounded better than I remembered from when I first played it a year ago. Makes me wonder if I've just fallen off the list(s) -- more likely than that KV has slowed down. Indeed, checking his website and Seth Tisue's discography, I found the following more/less recent (2006 and later) releases that I haven't heard: V/Kessler/McBride/Joode/Flaten: Collected Fiction (OkkaDisk); CODE: Play the Music of Ornette Coleman & Eric Dolphy (Cracked Anegg); Atomic/School Days: Distil (OkkaDisk); Fire Room: Broken Music (Atavistic); The Thing with KV: Immediate Sound (Smalltown Superjazz); Chicago Tentet: At Molde 2007 (OkkaDisk); Free Fall: The Point in a Line (Smalltown Supersound); Sonore: Only the Devil Has No Dreams (Jazzwerkstatt); KV/Pandelis Karayorgis: Foreground Music (OkkaDisk); KV/Paal Nilssen-Love: Seven (Smalltown Supersound); FME: Montage (OkkaDisk); V 5: Four Sides to the Story (Not Two, 2LP); Free Fall: Amsterdam Funk (Smalltown Supersound); also a DVD called Musician (Facets Video) -- I remember some press on it, but didn't pursue it. I need to track at least some of those down. As for this record, it gets rough when both tenors lock horns, but much of this settles into the clarinet range -- Baars is also credited with shakuhachi -- which is friendlier but less striking. B+(**)
Diego Barber: Calima (2008 , Sunnyside): Spanish guitarist, backed by the Mark Turner/Larry Grenadier/Jeff Ballard trio otherwise known as Fly -- tempting to call them Spanish Fly. Guitarist, like others recently, is more into pacing than lines, so maybe the idea of emulating horn lines is dropping aside. Besides, he has Turner on 6 of 8 cuts, playing better than he did on his own recent Fly album. B+(**)
Nik Bärtsch: Piano Solo (2002 , Ronin Rhythm); Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Live (2002 , Ronin Rhythm); Nik Bärtsch's Mobile: Aer (2003 , Ronin Rhythm): Background study for me after two real good ECM albums. The column should have a review of Rea which quickly runs down the rest of the backlog. These three are all superb, at least if you're into this sort of thing -- Holon reminded Christgau of Terry Riley minimalism, and that's even more true here, even if they're almost all acoustic. Bärtsch dubs the series "Ritual Groove Music." That's pretty much all it is, and pretty much enough. All: A-
Nik Bärtsch's Mobile: Ritual Groove Music (2000-01 , Ronin Rhythm): The first in the series, more varied than the others, which also means more hit-and-miss. B+(***)
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Randori (2001 , Ronin Rhythm): The least interesting of the "Ritual Groove Music" series, marking the group transition from Mobile to Ronin, originally reflecting a change in the instrumentation -- dropped the bass clarinet/sax, but the name didn't change back when the horn reappeared. Has some good cuts even if record is a bit uneven. B+(**)
Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band: Appearing Nightly (2006 , Watt): The back cover notes that the album features Gary Valente, Lew Soloff, Andy Sheppard and Wolfgang Pushnig, and indeed she does a good job of setting up solo spots; the soloists return the favor by adding much needed grit. Still, this seem more like an album of spots than of longer movements. B+(***)
Chris Byars: Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition of Himalayan Art (2007 , Smalls): A neo-bop tenor saxophonist I've been impressed by on several past records, slipping his Photos in Black, White and Gray into 2007's top ten list -- the sort of player whose ups and downs I should follow regularly, at least if I had the space. He gets fancier this time, adding trombone, oboe/English horn, and switching off to alto and soprano sax, not to mention flute. Can't say I approve of any of this -- well, except for John Mosca's trombone, can't complaint about that -- but he remains a first rate tenor saxophonist. B+(**)
Ralph Carney/Robert Creeley: Really!! (2007, Paris): Tuning into Creeley's poetry, Robert Christgau -- lit major that he is -- elevated this to his Consumer Guide A-list. I had it rated slightly below Carney's other poetry-plus-music exercise, Ira Cohen's The Stauffenberg Cycle, which has a little more countryish music and more idiosyncratic politics. The music here is relatively understated, which isn't to say inappropriate. Takes more effort to focus on the words, but their reading helps. B+(***) [advance]
Rebecca Cline/Hilary Noble: Enclave Diaspora (2007-08 , Enclave Jazz): Got into trouble reviewing their first album for suggesting that a "couple of Yanks" had such a fresh take on Afro-Cuban jazz, as if Latinos weren't up to the task. (That Noble comes from Switzerland added to the flack.) Actually, the part I found most amusing was referring to a pair of Boston-based musicians as Yanks, but I'm a lifelong New York Yankees fan who spent nearly two decades living in the Boston area, so that's just me. This is the same album, more varied (or maybe more scattered), less edgy. Saxophonist Noble got top billing on an album dominated by pianist Cline last time; this time the names and impacts are reversed. None of that is unusual in a second album, but the slip is minor and they're working on interesting things. B+(**)
Marc Copland: Another Place (2007 , Pirouet): A mainstream/postbop pianist who's been turning out well-regarded albums like clockwork since 1990, he's ultimately a victim of my reticence to write about piano, and his own production. This I figure as the best of five recent HM-worthy albums, counting Tim Hagans' Alone Together and three volumes of New York Sessions. The secret weapon here is John Abercrombie's guitar, so sinuously intertwined with the piano. B+(***)
Paulo Curado: The Bird, the Breeze, and Mr. Filiano (2006 , Clean Feed): A simple recipe for a good free improv album: take an alto saxophonist like Curado, add a drummer -- in this case Bruno Pedroso -- and hire Ken Filiano to fill the bass slot. Filiano shows up on a dozen or so records each year, and they're all good. He's sort of the Harry Dean Stanton of jazz. One advantage here is that Curado's smart enough to give Filiano a lot of space. B+(**)
Ramón Díaz: Unblocking (2007 , Fresh Sound New Talent): I'm less certain this time that he's the Spanish Art Blakey: the hard bop has evolved from his previous (A-listed) Diàleg in postboppy directions, and the drummer (who wrote most of the pieces here) doesn't play all that loud. Still runs a first-rate quintet, with two guys I recognize from elsewhere (saxophonist Jeppe Rasmussen, pianist José Alberto Medina) and a trumpet player (Idafe Pérez) I'm sure we'll hear more from. B+(***)
Mathias Eick: The Door (2007 , ECM): Norwegian trumpeter, has been an asset on several others' albums -- Lars Danielsson's Tarantella is the most recent and probably the best. Turns in an eloquently understated album here with Jon Balke on piano -- the sort of thing that ECM loves to release, that's more than pleasant to listen to, but which doesn't raise your pulse notably. B+(**)
Eliane Elias: Something for You: Sings & Plays Bill Evans (2007 , Blue Note): Well, as his 1958 album asserted, Everybody Digs Bill Evans. It's harder to say why. I can't say as I know myself, although I credit him with half a dozen or so A-list albums from 1959's Portrait in Jazz through 1978's Getting Sentimental, so I guess I dig him too. Elias can trace a connection through her bassist husband Marc Johnson, who played with Evans late in his career, and who provides a bit of unreleased Evans to cap off the set. Elias plays confident, credible piano, as always, and her pale, plain vocals fit the music well, whatever it means. B+(***)
Eliane Elias: Bossa Nova Stories (2008 , Blue Note): Might as well punt here too, although this makes two good albums in a row since she returned to Blue Note. The reason here is that this one doesn't compare favorably to her 1997 Sings Jobim, which notably -- she's normally much more assured as a pianist than as a singer -- vastly improved on her 1990 Plays Jobim. It also pales in comparison to the Brazilian pieces in Diana Krall's Quiet Nights. Aside from those obvious reference points, it's nice survey of the Brazilian pop of her youth, with a little Gershwin and Wonder thrown in for no obvious reason. B+(***)
Bill Frisell: East West (2003-04 , Nonesuch, 2CD): Two live trio sets, one from New York, the other from Oakland. I've complained for years about not getting Frisell's albums, and finally complained loud enough, got this and Bill Frisell/Ron Carter/Paul Motian along with History, Mystery. The latter is a near pick hit, and this is nearly as good. If I had space I'd include it, or at least slip it in at the top of the Honorable Mentions list. As good a place as any to get a feel for how he actually plays, relatively removed from the conceptualizing that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. A-
Fulminate Trio (2007 , Generate): Guitar-bass-drums trio, where the guitarist is Anders Nilsson, relatively sedate compared to elsewhere, suggesting that drummer Michael Evans is hemming him in. Tasty nonethless. The bassist is Ken Filiano, whom you should know about by now. B+(**)
Lafayette Gilchrist: Soul Progressin' (2008, Hyena): A pianist young enough he's still not quite convinced that he isn't going to make a pop breakthrough while keeping his jazz cred intact: he keeps leading out the funk, then tries to hook you on something clever. Sometimes it works; often his New Volcanoes octet just powers their way through, for better or worse. B+(*)
The Joe Gilman Trio: View So Tender: Wonder Revisited Volume Two (2007, Capri): Always seemed like Stevie Wonder was a solid prospect for the jazz standards songbook, but the first one who got to him was Najee, a major turnoff, and Wonder's own take on "St. Louis Blues" on Herbie Hancock's Gershwin's World was pretty dismaying (not to mention disconnected). Haven't heard Gilman's Vol. 1, which picks more obvious songs, or his Brubeck tributes. This sounds like pretty solid piano jazz, with a little extra rhythmic bounce. B+(**)
Al Green: Lay It Down (2008, Blue Note): Good record by any standards but his own 1971-75. Still, I only kept this in play because it's on a famous jazz label. But when you think of the widely scattered range of jazz niche vocalists, he wouldn't be off the map. His control, timing, and nuance are more than competitive, and his voice is off the charts. Each year I struggle to think of any male jazz singers I like -- looking back at my database, the only ones I've A-listed since Jimmy Rushing's last record in 1971 were Bob Dorough and Maurice Hines, one shot each -- so it's tempting to jot down Al Green or Van Morrison, singers as great in our era as Armstrong, Crosby, Sinatra, and Rushing were in theirs. A-
Charlie Haden Family & Friends: Rambling Boy (2008, Decca): Only one instrumental, with Pat Metheny, a choice cut here. Everything else has a vocal, either some guest working as a friend, a Haden daughter either solo or grouped as the Haden Triplets, or (most provisionally) the great bassist himself -- once caught at age 2, the other considerably older. The sort of album one can get mushy over, which may be why I didn't. I'd have preferred more Hadens and fewer guests. B+(**)
Scott Hamilton & Friends: Across the Tracks (2008, Concord): The "and friends" gambit is usually cover for sneaking a lot of scattered guest stars in to prop up a wobbly leader, but this is just a sax-organ-guitar-drums quartet, with Doug James (who he?) adding baritone sax on two cuts. The best known sideman here is guitarist Duke Robillard, who built his rep on the blues circuit. Gene Ludwig and Chuck Riggs are folks you know if you know folks like them, but most likely you don't. Hamilton's done organ albums before, but aside from Organic Duke they don't showcase him especially well. This one seems utterly average, which doesn't keep "Blue Turning Grey Over You" from sounding flat-out gorgeous. B+(**)
Brian Harnetty: American Winter (2007, Atavistic): Put this on the list because the label mostly releases jazz, and kept it on the list because it's utterly enchanting. Bits of radio news and advertisements, story, song, a little fiddle, mostly from the New Deal era. Evidently Harnetty has done a lot of this sort of thing, but this is the only one I've heard. In a space crunch, I can't really justify slipping this in, but it deserves notice. A-
Gene Harris Quartet: Live in London (1996 , Resonance): A lively piano-guitar quartet, touching on Monk, Ellington, and Garner, with an original called "Blues Closer." Harris is a pretty fair Oscar Peterson clone. Jim Mullen is the guitarist. Everyone stretches out. B+(***)
Frank Hewitt: Out of the Clear Black Sky (2000 , Smalls): Fifth posthumous album from a bebop pianist who died recordless in 2002, but impressed Luke Kaven so much he launched a label to bring Hewitt some respect. A trio, about par for the series. Not a lot of flash, witty inside stuff, plumbed for ideas rather than atmosphere; mostly covers, the more familiar the more intriguing. B+(***)
Lauren Hooker: Right Where I Belong (2006 , Musical Legends): Impressive debut album from a jazz singer who's been around, with a voice combining '50s cool, a knack for scat, and a dash of Sheila Jordan. Writes a little, especially adding new lyrics to jazz instrumentals -- Mingus, Monk, Waller, Waldron, Shorter. B+(***)
Darrell Katz/Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra: The Same Thing (2006 , Cadence Jazz): The Willie Dixon title blues is a bit off the shallow end, but stretched out to 14:25 the band manages to twist it into surprising shapes. Three texts by Paula Tatarunis challenge the orchestra even further into some form of bizarre art theatre. Not something I'm inclined to like, but well enough done it's something worth listening to. B+(**)
Jon-Erik Kellso: Blue Roof Blues (2007, Arbors): A couple of years old now, a record I should have done earlier but somehow never got to. Subtitled "A Love Letter to New Orleans," a luscious slice of genteel trad jazz, with the leader's trumpet complemented by Evan Christopher's clarinet, the ever-dependable Matt Munisteri strumming in the background. A one-liner never seemed to quite do it justice, but it breaks so little ground, or breaks it so gently, that I wasn't tempted to promote it to the A-list. B+(***)
Ralph Lalama Quartet: Energy Fields (2008, Mighty Quinn): Good mainstream tenor saxophonist. Doesn't get many shots at recording -- this is his first since 1999. Seems like someone who could use a break. John Hart's guitar is another plus here. B+(**)
Brad Mehldau Trio: Live (2006 , Nonesuch, 2CD): Mehldau recorded give volumes under The Art of the Trio rubric, which impressed me at the time but I can't say as I ever spent much time with them -- Vol. 5 is on a shelf somewhere still unrated. I fell further behind when he moved to Nonesuch, which for some reason didn't send me his records. I finally griped, and got this and the earlier House on Hill for my troubles. Both are fine trio recordings: not a lot to choose between them -- the studio a little more pristine, the live a lot longer. I still don't have a take on Mehldau: clearly a major talent, able to make almost anything he does sound right, and do it with none of the idiosyncrasies that distinguish virtually every other major talent. B+(***)
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. II (2006 , Winter & Winter): Had Vol. I in my active file well over a year until this bumped up against it. The two are equivalent, interchangeable, more of the same. Motian is too disruptive to thoroughly enjoy, but there's a lot of talent here -- Chris Potter is the front man and Greg Osby is part of the "+ Two" -- and it's interesting how they try to make this difficult music work. B+(**)
Rosa Passos: Romance (2008, Telarc): Brazilian singer, makes me wonder if the words are up to selling the slyly understated music, but not knowing that I kept coming up short on my own words. B+(***)
The Michael Pedicin Quintet: Everything Starts Now . . . (2007 , Jazz Hut): A Philadelphia group of underrated players -- guitarist Johnnie Valentino and pianist Mick Rossi have caught my ear before -- led by an otherwise unknown second generation tenor saxophonist. His father led a Bill Haley-like band in the 1950s, but Jr. favors the swing-influenced mainstream grooves of the same period. B+(***)
Dave Pietro: The Chakra Suite (2007 , Challenge): The sort of thing that's superficially impressive but hard to nail down. Percussionist Todd Isler draws on Brazilian and Indian sources. Saxophonist Pietro has more Brazilian experience. Guitarist Rez Abbasi hails from Pakistan. Pianist Gary Versace also doubles on accordion. Broader than postbop; not conceptual enough to nail down a specific world interest. B+(***)
Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog: Party Intellectuals (2007 , Pi): Jazz guitarist with sundry tastes, turning in fake Afro-Cuban with Los Cubanos Postizos and various fusion projects. This one is more of an art rock record, with a lot of moves but no consistent feel, just scattered ideas more tossed around than developed. B+(***)
Jason Rigby: The Sage (2008, Fresh Sound New Talent): Bop quintet, although everyone here is beyond that, with Mike Holober's Fender Rhodes loosening everyone up. Rigby is an impressive tenor saxophonist, less so on soprano. Had this a bit higher earlier, but the flute special drags it down somewhat. B+(**)
Barbara Rosene and Her New Yorkers: It Was Only a Sun Shower (2007, Stomp Off): A bright, cheerful singer specializing in pop tunes from the 1920s and 1930s -- has a couple of previous tribute albums to Ruth Etting and Annette Hanshaw. A trad jazz band with some names -- Mike Hashim is my favorite. Nothing not to like. B+(**)
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Avatar (2007 , Blue Note): This works when the complex rhythms that threaten to throw everything out of joint spread the horns and piano out into surprising configurations. But it works less often than 2004's Paseo, partly because the quartet there had fewer moving parts than the quintet here. Maybe also because this more often settles for conventional postbop harmonies. But it's remarkable when it breaks loose. B+(**)
Felipe Salles: South American Suite (2006 , Curare): Brazilian suite, anyway: it's a big place with a lot of diversity, not that I can guarantee he didn't smuggle something in from across the border. Does those suite things, including massing flutes, but here and there suggests something as grand as his theme. B+(**)
Helen Schneider: Dream a Little Dream (2008 , Edel): Cabaret singer -- even if everything it standard fare in English, she moved to Germany to be closer to her market. The songs are classic, the band impeccable, the singer lays a bit too much frosting on, but you only notice well into the act. B+(**)
Trygve Seim/Frode Haltli: Yeraz (2007 , ECM): Saxophone/accordion duets, with Seim favoring soprano over his usually more primary tenor. Seim is an interesting player, worth keeping an ear out for. Music is mostly Armenian, with G.I. Gurdjieff looming large, although the Bob Marley tune is the one you'll recognize. B+(**)
Sha's Banryu: Chessboxing Volume One (2007 , Ronin Rhythm): A spinoff from Nik Bärtsch's manga minimalism, led by Ronin's alto sax/bass clarinet player, with surrogate Mik Keusen on piano fitting Bärtsch's role to a tee. The real spin, however, comes from vocalist Isa Wiss, a bit too intrusive on the opening vocal, but her soft scat blends in nicely elsewhere. B+(***)
Avery Sharpe: Legends & Mentors: The Music of McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp and Yusef Latef (2007 , JKNM): Bassist, constructs a neat career resume posed as a tribute to his major bandleaders. Writes one piece for each, followed up with two covers apiece. He's probably closest to Tyner, but manages to draw connections to the others. John Blake's violin is an interesting addition to Joe Ford's sax/flute (Lateef, ya know), and Onaje Allan Gumbs is a Tyner wannabe from way back. B+(**)
Shot x Shot: Let Nature Square (2007 , High Two): Two-sax quartet, more free than not, sound terrific when they're on, but this is a tad less consistent than their debut, some of which can be attributed to second album growth pangs. B+(**)
Spoon 3: Seductive Sabotage (2007 , Evil Rabbit): A very interesting Dutch pianist, Albert van Veenendaal, who specialized in prepared piano; his frequent sidekick, bassist Meinrad Kneer; and an American expat vocalist, Jodi Gilbert, with an arch Euro-soprano voice and an odd sense of humor. Each has charms, and works in a little mischief. B+(**)
Michael Jefry Stevens Trio: For Andrew (1996 , Konnex): Veteran pianist, has mostly recorded for avant labels -- often hiding behind bassist Joe Fonda's name -- but cites more mainstream models: Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, above all Andrew Hill. An old tape, dusted off and dressed up as a tribute to Hill, who would no doubt be pleased, while most of us wonder what the connection is. B+(***)
Sumi Tonooka Trio: Long Ago Today (2004 , ARC): One of those smart, sassy postbop piano trios that keep slipping through the cracks because I can't think of anything useful or clever to say about them. By a Philadelphia pianist who's struggled for recognition, and no doubt could use the press. Deserves it, too. Cf. the chapter on her in Francis Davis's In the Moment. B+(***)
Frank Vignola: Vignola Plays Gershwin (2006 , No obscurities, just pure classics, recast for guitar -- two, actually, with Corey Christiansen joining in. Joe Ascione is on board too -- this could be a Frank and Joe Show record but Joel Dorn wasn't around to round up guest vocalists. B+(***)
The Wee Trio: Capitol Diner Vol. 1 (2007 , Bionic): Vibes-bass-drums trio, has a rather small sound but moves smartly within its limits. It would be nice to have space for more albums like this, but without name players -- James Westfall is the vibraphonist, with bassist Dan Loomis sharing the writing, and Jared Schonig handling the drums -- they tend to be the first to slip through the cracks. B+(***)
Paul West/Mark Brown: Words & Music (2007 , OA2): Two singer-songwriters from Seattle, both play piano, each has a solo writing credit or two, but most of the songs are co-credited -- West first, seems to be the senior partner, and maybe the first-call lyricist. They more/less fit the Mose Allison model: sly singers, relying on wit; not as jazzy, with no allusions to old-fashioned hip. B+(**)
Jessica Williams: Songs for a New Century (2008, Origin): Solo piano, always a marginal undertaking, by a very good pianist with a few rhythmic surprises, used rather sparsely here. B+(**)
Eri Yamamoto Trio: Redwoods (2008, AUM Fidelity): The pianist up front on William Parker's excellent piano trio, Luc's Lantern, issued two good but less stimulating records last year: a set of duets called Duologue and this more conventional, more consistent piano trio. Rhythm section isn't up to Parker and Hamid Drake, and the compositions are less elemental. B+(**)
Alon Yavnai: Travel Notes (2008, ObliqSound): Piano trio, well ordered, nothing flashy, nothing much stands out other than Omer Avital's oud on one cut, but it's all very likable. B+(***) [advance]
Libby York: Here With You (2007 , Libby York Music): Standards singer, picks good songs, does them justice with good musicians, nothing remotely original or all that distinctive, but until she slows it down a bit too much with "But Beautiful" this is first rate, with guitar from Howard Alden and Russell Malone, and cornet and a duet from Warren Vaché. B+(***)
Monday, April 20. 2009
No Jazz Prospecting this week either. Like last week, I spent my spare time this week listening to previously rated records. In some cases I wrote up reviews -- mostly one-line Honorable Mentions. Two of them I slipped into the otherwise finished Jazz CG (19) draft because they relate closely to other records there. In many more cases I wrote up notes (below), my way of explaining or apologizing for not figuring out a way to work worthy records into the way too infrequently published column. I've cut back much further than usual this time. As it is, I have something like 23 A-list and 41 Honorable Mention records already written up for next column -- some 2500 words, where 1500 is normally more than enough. More new records come all the time, so the idea that I can still squeeze more old records in is laughable. The notices below are the best I can do.
Aside from the 64 reviews held back, there are still 40+ rated records in play. There are also 178 records in the queue, a couple dozen prospected and held back for further play, the rest unplayed (or at least unprospected). Jazz Prospecting should return next week as I start to dig into those. A Jazz Consumer Guide should appear sometime late May, reflecting the just-closed round. The next one could be closed any time, but mostly likely won't run in the Village Voice for several more months. Space there always seems to be shrinking, part of the ever shrinking print world.
I will post the surplus notes later today, or worst case tomorrow. I'm still picking myw ay through the lists, trying to tie up loose ends, but I'm also getting anxious to move on to something else.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, April 19. 2009
Richard Silverstein: Obama's Tough Love to Bibi: I've seen several references to a recent piece in Yedioth Ahronoth leaking the notion that Obama will push Israel hard to implement a two state solution -- i.e., an independent, viable Palestinian state. This post provides the broadest and most plausible information. In particular, it cites Rahm Emanuel as the source, which not only makes some sense but also puts some weight behind the story. The one part that I don't see is the notion that there would be a quid pro quo: in exchange for Israel dismantling some settlements, Obama would take on the Iranian nuclear program bugaboo. I don't see any value to mixing the issues, least of all to stroke Netanyahu's apocalyptic rhetoric. There have been signs that Obama is willing to accept Iran's enrichment program under greater transparency, which is a position that is generally regarded as legal and sound under the NPT. It also matches Iran's stated goals, so is something they'd be hard pressed not to agree to. Make that deal and the Iran nuclear problem goes away, and with it Israel's main distraction from the real issue. Of course, there will be more distractions, and Obama will have to hang tough to keep Israel and AIPAC from pushing him around. He will need to be discreet, and he will need to continuously frame the issue in terms of Israel's oft-stated, never-acted-upon, desire for peace, security, and international respect. So if this is true -- and that's still a big if -- I don't expect we'll see his hand tipped much more than in leaks like this. Either way, no reason to let up on the critique. People need to talk about how intransigent and unreasonable Israel is, especially with the evidence so abundant.
Stephen M Walt: Can the United States put pressure on Israel?: A user's guide: Outlines a number of options Obama has to nudge Israel into a more reasonable direction. One I particularly like would be to give Europe a green light to stake out more critical positions of Israel. For the most part, European governments have followed the US lead -- e.g., in boycotting Hamas and blockading Gaza -- where popular politics would be far more critical of Israel, so this could be done with very little blame for the change blowing back on Obama. A number of subtle changes in rhetoric would also make a difference. Courting more moderate Jewish organizations than AIPAC would not only provide cover -- it might make AIPAC more cautious. Israel itself is very fractured politically, with Kadima -- which at this point seems more interested in two states than Labor -- holding a block outside the government slightly larger than Likud. The Netanyahu-Lieberman coalition could easily break, losing support from religious parties like Shas that are more sensitive to which way the wind is blowing. It's also worth noting that the Bush administration used number 4 ("downgrade existing arrangements for 'strategic cooperation'") to keep Sharon on track on withdrawing from Gaza, without raising any conspicuous hackles. Even AIPAC's power is to a large extent bluff, maintained by not picking fights they might easily lose.
Helena Cobban: Mitchell revs up mission: Quite a bit of detail on former Senator George Mitchell's mission as Obama's senior negotiator in the Israel/Palestine arena. Nothing here specifically makes me optimistic, although it is good news that they don't seem to be falling for the Syrian track canard. (Students of history will recall Ehud Barak trying that one back in 1998-99, putting off the final status negotiations with Arafat until they were set to fail. The Syrian track failed too, when Barak pulled out of a nearly final deal.)
One more thing: if Mitchell, et al., work out a deal, they will have to persevere through some very testing personal encounters. One need only go back to Jimmy Carter's Camp David experience with Menachem Begin, who nearly walked out on several occasions, and would no doubt would not have signed except for the more moderate counsel of advisers like Moshe Dayan. It's hard to say whether Netanyahu is more or less unhinged than Begin, but he's certainly more duplicitous: he spent his first term making promises on Oslo and systematically undercutting them. Clinton had less trouble with Barak, but that's because Clinton gave Barak everything -- most notably a round of failed talks that they both blamed on Arafat. Given how sycophantic American politicians are to Israel, Clinton's course is the easy one to follow, and one sure to fail. Obama's people don't seem to take failure lightly, but they're going to be tested here.
Saturday, April 18. 2009
Andrew Leonard: The prophets of doom: A parting gift before Leonard went off on vacation: thumbnail sketches of 14 economists, bloggers, businessfolk, and politicians down on Obama's team's economic game plan: mostly because the stimulus isn't big enough and/or the bankers are getting too much gravy and too little castor oil -- the True Republicans, of course, are exceptions, gravitating on a plane in some other universe. Paul Krugman leads off, followed by Greg Mankiw for symmetry, then Simon Johnson for something else. Some pundits are out of my orbit, while other names could easily be added: letters writers nominated Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul Craig Roberts wrote in nominating himself. Actually, none of these people (well, except Michele Bachmann) strike me as true prophets of doom -- that would be more like James Howard Kunstler. They just recognize that the economy has gotten into a bigger mess than the politicians are able to grasp. Not a great analysis, but a useful cribsheet.
Paul Krugman: Green Shoots and Glimmers: On why a little optimism on the economy at this point isn't likely to be enjoyed. Four reasons:
Seems true to me. I might even say cautiously optimistic. Part of the reason Obama's people have started to play up positive news is that they recognize that psychology is a player in this game. That's also good reason to be skeptical of what they say, and what others in the business say. The problem is likely to come when they feel compelled to back up their optimism by changing course.
One thing I've seen nobody talking about is the Republicans' death wish. I suppose that's because it's so easy and satisfying to focus on how stupid they are, but one thing they've always been able to keep focused on in the past is political edge. They know, for instance, that when they are in power, the economy had better not tank on their watch, or like Bush I it's likely to be a short one. On the other hand, the best route back to power when a Democrat is president is to choke the economy, as happened to Carter. The Republicans stoned Clinton's stimulus in 1993, but the economy recovered anyway. They tried to do the same to Obama in 2009, but in 2001 when their own goose was getting cooked, they cried out for all the stimulus they could get -- especially in the form of tax cuts. If principles mattered to them this would be mere hypocrisy. Now, there behavior is more like sabotage.
The Wichita Eagle had two front page articles today: one on a projected $328 million shortfall in the Kansas state budget due to the economic downturn; the other on $18 million worth of construction projects in the Wichita area that will be built with stimulus money that we couldn't otherwise afford. One of the local Republicans was quoted griping about piling up all of that debt, a complaint they were never able to voice back when Bush launched his trillion dollar bonfire in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Friday, April 17. 2009
Anshel Pfeffer: IDF planning largest-ever drill to prepare Israel for war. I've been pointing out the chasm between the ever-fearful Israeli public and the ever-arrogant Israeli security establishment. This is a good example of how the two work:
The exercise is modelled on "conventional and non-conventional warheads, fired by Hezbollah, Syria or Hamas," but it's easy to see Iran lurking behind that list -- indeed, that's the big point that Israeli politicians have been harping on for several years now, so nobody will see these exercises and not think Iran. The real chance of any such attack depends exclusively on what Israel does. Hamas is no threat: their tiny rockets are messages, their way of pointing out that they're still here, and that the walls that lock them in aren't nearly high enough. In any case, Israel can turn them off with a cease fire and ending the Gaza blockade. Hezbollah foolishly thought that having rockets would deter Israel from attacking Lebanon. They've only used them in retaliation for Israeli attacks, which is to say that Israel can turn them on or off at will. And Syria hasn't raised a finger against Israel since the 1973 war. And Iran has never threatened Israel. Aside from some harsh words, the worst they've done is to provide Hezbollah with rockets that lay dormant until Israel attacked.
One problem with such readiness exercises, like the 1950s fad in the US for bomb shelters, is that they make worst case scenarios slightly more likely by making them more expected and comfortable. But the key point is that they drive home nascent fears, reminding Israelis of their urgent need for protection from the same security forces that are their own most dangerous threat. Israelis are caught in a cycle of fear and fury, driving the country ever further to the right, ever closer to the brink.
Philip Weiss: Palestinian resident of Bil'in killed during weekly nonviolent protest against the Wall. Not the first one, either: the bulk of the post lists 17 others killed in demonstrations at the Wall. I suppose you could argue that these shootings show Israeli nervousness at being challenged with nonviolent protests; consequently, that the Israeli security forces would prefer provoking a shooting confrontation. Moreover, the lesson of these killings is that nonviolent protest is futile: the only thing that impressed Israelis is armed force. Over the years, Palestinians have tried nonviolence, and they have tried violence, and neither has worked. Nonviolence has the advantage of not compounding the injury, but only works if there is some higher power to appeal to -- e.g., the civil rights movement in the US south appealed to the federal government; South Africans appealed to world opinion. Israel has kept nonviolent protest ineffective by neutralizing or confusing world opinion, and a very effective tactic for doing that has been to drive protesters to violence. But such callous tactics just remind us what the conflict is really about.
Still, it's doubtful that killing nonviolent protesters at the Wall is part of any Israeli master plan, even the one they seem to have to piss the whole world off. Rather, it's the all but inevitable result of engendering so much fear and loathing in their citizen population. Israel has by far the world's most effective draft system (excepting non-Jews and ultra-Jews), so the fears and hatreds that keep the militarists in power come back in the form of heavily armed young soldiers, routinely assigned to monitor protests and checkpoints, where they are largely on their own. Israel used to make a big point about the morality and discipline of their army, that that's worn down to the point where few soldiers ever get disciplined for anything -- the latest Gaza war is full of stories like this. Americans should know this dynamic well: look at Vietnam and Iraq, at how rarely soldiers were punished for atrocities like My Lai and Abu Ghraib, and at the outcry against even that. Even if the success of the mission critically depends on the discipline to avoid such disasters, the cohesion of the corps prevents infractions from being effectively punished.
Helena Cobban: Gaza Changed Everything, But Its People Still Suffer. Useful report on what the December war did to Gaza, and to Israel, judging from three months later.