Monday, March 29. 2010
Finally got some update info on Jazz Consumer Guide: currently the schedule is to put it in the Apr. 7 Village Voice. Meanwhile, I'm plugging away, although there's no real method or logic to what I pull out of the unplayed queue. At some point in the next couple of weeks I think I'll switch gears and try to close out the next column early. I doubt that it will get printed much earlier, but it would be good to push up the pace. As it stands, the April 2010 Jazz CG will have no 2010 albums, mostly 2009, plus eight stragglers from 2008. I have nine 2010 albums queued up for the following Jazz CG, which is pretty much full if not done.
Samuel Torres: Yaoundé (2010, BLC): Percussionist, specifically congalero, from Bogota, Colombia; b. 1976, second album; side credits include Shakira. Splashy Latin jazz group, with Joel Frahm on saxophones, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, and Manuel Valera on piano/keyboards; guests include Anat Cohen (clarinet) and Sofia Rei Koutsovitis (vocals), one track each. B+(**)
Norrbotten Big Band: The Avatar Sessions: The Music of Tim Hagans (2009 , Fuzzy Music): Big band, based in Luleå in northern Sweden. Has a dozen or more records, but they tend to get filed under whoever they play with. This one could easily be filed under trumpeter Tim Hagans, who wrote the music, hogs the solo spots, and moonlights as the band's artistic director. Other big name (front cover) guests: Randy Brecker, Peter Erskine, George Garzone, Dave Liebman, and Rufus Reid. Good big band, especially when they get to power punch as opposed to finnessing spots where Hagans gets cute, with crackling solos -- from the stars, of course, but also from Karl-Martin Almqvist on tenor sax and Peter Dahlgren on trombone. B+(*)
The Ian Carey Quintet: Contextualizin' (2009 , Kabocha): Trumpet player, b. 1974, from Binghampton, NY, now based somewhere in Bay Area. Second album. Basic hard bop lineup, bright and sunny, with some postbop harmonizing. B+(*)
George Cotsirilos Trio: Past Present (2009 , OA2): Guitarist, originally from Chicago, graduated from UC Berkeley and studied classical guitar through San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Based in (or near) San Francisco. Third album. Don't know much more. Guitar-bass-drums trio. Mix of originals and well worn standards. Precise, articulate, typical jazz guitar. B+(*)
EEA: The Dark (2008 , Origin): EEA stands for Peter Epstein (alto and soprano sax), Larry Engstrom (trumpet), and David Ake (piano). Mostly Ake, who wrote all of the pieces except for three group improvs, two by Duke Ellington, and one by Egberto Gismonti. Ake studied at UCLA, teaches at University of Nevada Reno; has a book Jazz Cultures, and a couple of previous albums. I don't have a firm opinion on his piano, but I must say that the idea of going without bass and/or drums is a real drag. Epstein has some remarkable work in the past -- one I highly recommend is Lingua Franca, with Brad Shepik -- but he's bland here, while Engstrom makes even less impression. C+
Absolute Ensemble: Absolute Zawinul (2007 , Intuition/Sunnyside): Part of an annoying trend where labels put what used to be the booklet into a PDF file on the disc where you can't access it while listening to the CD. (I suppose that's better than not providing anything, which has often been the case, but it cramps my working style.) Hence I'm working mostly off the web here. Absolute Ensemble is a string-heavy orchestra led by Kristjan Järvi -- he is Estonian, but I don't know about the group. AMG considers them classical, but their first album included a take on "Purple Haze," and they've evidently done an Absolute Zappa before this. Zawinul plays here, presumably shortly before his death in September 2007. The record resembles his extravagant world music c. Faces and Places more than Weather Report. On the other hand, Zawinul seems to drop out for "Ballad for Two Musicians," which is as ripe as classical gets. Nothing here sticks with me, although it has moments when it seems it might. B
Somi: If the Rains Come First (2009, ObliqSound): Singer, born in Illinois, parents immigrated from Rwanda and Uganda; spent some time in Zambia growing up, and spent more time in East Africa after graduating college. Still, she doesn't sound very exotic, or for that matter very distinctive, although she works with a band that can turn on the percussion every now and then. Hugh Masekela guests on one cut. B-
Carolyn Leonhart: Tides of Yesterday (2009 , Savant): Singer, b. 1971, father is bassist Jay Leonart; backup singer on a couple of late Steely Dan albums; fifth album since 2000, second to feature husband-tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, who gets his name and picture on the cover, but Leonhart's name is alone on the spine. Escoffery doesn't steal the show, but he is a tower of strength every time he emerges. Mostly standards, with Mingus and Donald Fagen outliers, and an original to start. Band has a Latin tinge, with Jeff Haynes' extra percussion limbering up his four tracks. B+(**)
Tom Harrell: Roman Nights (2009 , High Note): Trumpet, flugelhorn, b. 1946, one of the best known players of his generation. I've occasionally been blown away by him, but haven't heard much that I've liked lately. This at least is swaggeringly upbeat, which suits tenor saxophonist Wayne Escofferey and pianist Danny Grissett as well. B+(*)
Aida Severo (2007 , Slam): British free jazz quintet, led by pianist Philip Somervell who is in the thick of it, with two horns -- Joe Egan on trumpet, Chris Williams on alto sax -- flying off at odd tangents or piling on. With Colin Somervell on bass and Vasilis Sarikis on drums. B+(***)
Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman: Dual Identity (2009 , Clean Feed): Not sure when the release date is on this, but the label was so excited it sent out advances, just in time for March Madness. Mahanthappa and Lehman are rivals for Downbeat's Rising Star at alto sax. Not sure who wins here, but clearly they are way out ahead of their class. Liberty Ellman's guitar weaves between them; Matt Brewer plays bass, and Damion Reid drums. Thrilling from start to finish. A [advance]
Erica Lindsay/Sumi Tonooka: Initiation (2004 , ARC): Quartet actually, led by two fifty-somethings who would be cult figures if only they were better known. Lindsay plays tenor sax; b. 1955, San Francisco, cut an album in 1989 that I noted in my database due to favorable notice in Penguin Guide, then nothing more until a live album in 2008. Tonooka plays piano; b. 1956, Philadelphia, cut a record in 1984, two 1990-91, one in 1999, one more in 2004 -- Long Ago Today, should have been an HM but somehow slipped by me. Both are based in New York now. They lead a quartet here, with Rufus Reid on bass and the late Bob Braye on drums. Postbop shaded somewhat toward avant-garde, more so when Lindsay plays roughly than when Tonooka is on top. Lindsay plays sparely where Tonooka comes off little short of loquacious, a contrast in styles that thrashes a bit, but at any given moment is likely to impress. B+(***)
John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Curiosity (1991 , Acoustical Concepts): Remix/reissue of a 1991 album, the second of a half dozen under Abstract Truth, a brass-heavy (5 trumpets, 2 trombones, French horn, but only two reeds) big band. Group has ensemble punch and some solo swagger. Don't know squat about Vanore, other than that he plays trumpet/flugelhorn, wrote or arranged most of the pieces here. Presumably the same John Vanore has a slew of engineer/producer credits listed at AMG. B+(**) [Apr. 6]
Steve Colson: The Untarnished Dream (2009 , Silver Sphinx): Pianist, aka Adegoke Steve Colson, b. 1949, Newark, NJ, hooked up with AACM in the early 1970s, but doesn't seem to have recorded much -- AMG lists a side credit with Butch Morris in 1996 and one previous album from 2004 co-credited to wife-vocalist Iqua Colson. This is mostly piano trio, with Iqua singing on four tracks. She is off-tune and rather clunky, which doesn't always fail to work. Colson plays piano somewhat like that, too, but then it's hard to keep everything straight when you're depending on Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille for rhythm. They, no surprise, save the day. B+(*)
Michael Janisch: Purpose Built (2009 , Whirlwind): Bassist, on his debut album favors acoustic over electric 9 cuts to 3. Originally from Wisconsin, wound up in London, but recorded this in Brooklyn. Jonathan Blake plays drums; everyone else rotates with Aaron Goldberg (piano: 2 cuts), Jim Hart (vibes: 4), Jason Palmer (trumpet: 3), Paul Booth (tenor sax: 3), Walter Smith III (tenor sax: 4), Patrick Cornelius (alto sax: 2), Mike Moreno (guitar: 3), and Phil Robson (guitar: 2). This yields a duo with drums, two piano trio cuts, a third with guitar, and various combos with horns and sometimes vibes up to a highly juiced bebop-retro sextet. Focusing on the bass helps pull it back together, but as with many debut albums the tendency is to show off more combinations than makes sense. B+(**)
John Burr Band: Just Can't Wait (2007 , JBQ, CD+DVD): Bassist, nothing personal in his bio, just work snippets -- e.g., toured with Tony Bennett 1980-85, scattered work with Stephane Grappelli, original member of Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio. Had a couple albums released in the 1990s, and 40-50 side credits as far back as 1977. Wrote all the songs here, including lyrics for a bunch of singers: Ty Stephens, Yaala Ballin, Laurel Massé, Hilary Kole, Tyler Burr. Stephens has some fine moments, especially the title song, which swings as is Burr's inclination. The ladies fare less well. The other spotlight moments are instrumental. Burr managed to snag Anat Cohen, Houston Person, and Howard Alden for a cut each; Yotam Silberstein for two; Bob Mintzer, Dominick Farinacci, and Ted Rosenthal for three each; Joel Frahm and John Hart for longer stretches. I haven't sorted out who did what, but there are many sparkling moments. DVD has the same songs (minus one), but slightly different lineups, with less guest starpower. Haven't watched it -- a rule I almost always follow. B+(**)
Roni Ben-Hur: Fortuna (2007 , Motema): Guitarist, from Israel, moved to US in 1985, on sixth album since 1995. With Ronnie Matthews on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, Lewis Nash on drums, and Steven Kroon adding a little extra percussion. Light, elegant lines, the best Wes Montgomery impression I can think of in quite some time, with backup that feels the grooves. Matthews has a couple of complementary solos. Reid's been popping up a lot this week. It must be a pleasure playing with Nash. B+(***)
Jim Guttmann: Bessarabian Breakdown (2009 , Kleztone): Bassist, a founder of Klezmer Conservatory Band back in 1980, a Boston-based klezmer outfit with a dozen albums up through 2003. Debut album. A large group of musicians, although I'm not sure how many play on which cuts -- looks like they're just listing soloists. Went back and checked out one of KCB's better regarded albums, Old World Beat (1992, Rounder), for reference, and found it more orthodox and less lively, although the lack of vocals here may have made for part of the difference. I'm also tempted to credit Frank London and Alex Kontorovich, although I can't isolate them here. Swings hard, picks up some gypsy flavor, and maybe a little clave. B+(**)
Nilson Matta's Brazilian Voyage: Copacabana (2008 , Zoho): Bassist, from Brazil, don't know how old, but hair looks gray; moved to New York in 1985, currently based in NJ. Third album since 2000, plus quite a few side credits -- Don Pullen tapped him for his wonderful Brazilian-flavored 1992-93 albums, Kele Mou Bana and Ode to Life, as did Eliane Elias for her best-ever Sings Jobim. Cover spotlights Harry Allen (tenor sax, elegant as ever) and Anne Drummond (flute, floating on the groove). Klaus Mueller plays some flashy piano, Mauricio Zottarelli drums, and Zé Mauricio adds percussion. Some bass solos, which I consider a plus. B+(***)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, March 28. 2010
Paul Woodward: Apartheid Inside Israel: Actually, just a link to Jonathan Cook, but Woodward supplied a better headline. One thing few Americans realize is how effective Israel has been at segregating the million-plus non-Jewish Palestinians living within the Green Line who are nominal citizens of Israel. I don't know precisely how to rate their cage against South African apartheid or Dixie Jim Crow, but it's roughly of that same order: a tolerance with a minimal set of rights within a framework of ad hoc violence and systemic disregard. Even if Israel were to withdraw from the Occupied Territories tomorrow, Israel would still possess a two tier social and political system. When people accuse Israel of implementing Apartheid, they generally think of the West Bank where Palestinians have no rights, where the settlers have all but free reign, where the military system of justice is stacked. The occupation is, if anything, far worse than Apartheid. There is no analogous descriptor because what Israel has done there is largely unprecedented.
Most of the world would consider the conflict ended with an agreement to split off a free and independent Palestinian state in most or all of the 22% of the Palestine Mandate extending beyond the pre-1967 Green Line. That would indeed be welcome, but it would still leave Palestinians in Israel as a despised minority within Israel proper. Without the larger conflict, that problem may heal itself in time, but it's deeply burned into the Israeli psyche: isn't the whole point of the Jewish State to lord it over the goyim? Otherwise, a solution that should prove fair and stable in short course would be to join the Occupied Territories to Israel, grant full citizenship to the Palestinians, and invite the Palestinian diaspora to come back to their ancestral homes by expanding the Jewish-only Law of Return, all done within a constitutional framework that protects the rights of all citizens. The result would likely be a small Palestinian demographic majority, which would flip state power while leaving a Jewish minority in current control of most of the economy. This would turn Israel/Palestine into a country like Malaysia, with is economically dominant Chinese minority and a Malay majority that uses state power to catch up without unduly hampering the Chinese. Such a state would quickly end the apartheid that currently pervades Israel.
While writing the above, I time-sliced doing some book notice research, and came across this review of Bernard Avishai's The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel to Peace at Last (2008, Houghton Mifflin):
This tribal split echoes Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions (2004, Simon & Schuster), still I think the single best book on how the conflict turned hopeless. I can't find much reason to expect that Israeli Arabs will come to rescue Israeli secularism. It seemed to me that the tide turned when Barak preferred a minority government over forming a majority coalition with Arab parties, and that was more than a decade ago, before all the hatred poured out first in response to the Al-Aqsa Intifada, then because Israeli force failed to resolve the conflict in any fundamental way, and finally as Israel has sunk further and further into the mire of being recognized as a pariah state.
One way Israel resembles the Jim Crow South -- a subject I know a lot more about than Apartheid South Africa -- is that while is is possible to identify scattered individuals who didn't accept the prevailing racial orthodoxy, it is impossible to find actual political parties, or even factions, that can advance the cause of civil rights. The US Civil Rights movement succeeded not by persuading local political forces to change but by convincing the broader nation that change was necessary and could only happen with strong federal support. Israel, as an independent nation, doesn't have a higher power internally to turn it around. About the closest thing Israel has is the United States, which has thus far proven to be a poor conscience. (In fact, the neocons, the dominant is US foreign policy for most of the Bush years, took a prurient delight in Israel's militant approach to all of its problems.)
On the other hand, there is at least one major reason to be even more pessimistic about Israel's chances to reform itself than the South Africa or the US South: in both of the latter, blacks were critical to an economy that was based heavily on their cheap labor; in Israel Palestinian labor has been almost completely excluded from the economy, which eliminates basic forms of leverage like strikes.
Update: One day later, Paul Woodward followed up with another post, titled The World Is Sick of Israel. Title comes from a quoted piece by Akiva Eldar, which catches the moment reasonably well:
A recent article had a quote from Gen. Mark Dayton, who has been training PA (meaning Fatah) security forces to act as dutiful agents, pointing out that his efforts were undertaken in the expectation of a Palestinian state within two years. He added something to the effect that the "shelf life" of this training is limited, dependent on actually going through with the promised state building.
Richard Crowson, in the Wichita Eagle today:
The details have to do with Kansas Republicans -- the aside comment deals with Sam Brownback's run for the governorship, which has been the only restraint the last eight years against the far right's machinations -- but if you didn't live here and didn't know the specific news stories you might think they're about your own Republicans. One thing about the GOP is that they march together -- you can't imagine a 3x3 matrix of donkeys in step, even though Obama is the one they all say wants to be a fascist dictator.
Daniel Bergner: The Land of Lock and Key: A book review of Robert Perkinson, Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (2010, Metropolitan Books), which focuses on Texas history but applies to the whole country, which seems locked in a death spiral of incarceration, abuse, and recidivism -- mostly because it's easiest for American politicians, and not just the Republicans who have raised abuse and carelessness to their highest moral principles (not quite supplanting greed, but close). Bergner writes:
Perkinson shows how this strange fact is rooted in our unresolved race problem. After the Civil War, Texas and other southern states used prisons to replicate slavery:
The civil rights movement should have put an end to such abuse, but it also led to a "law and order" backlash:
Bergner demurs, "The abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo may not be as easily attributed to the legacy of slavery and Southern penology as Perkinson abruptly and sweepingly asserts in his final pages." But they don't seem far removed. A country capable of doing what we do to our own people is well down the slippery slope to the abuses the Bush administration committed in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and lesser known locales scattered all over the world. Torture has more to do with asserting dominance than gathering information, and dominance is at the heart of the prison system.
Friday, March 26. 2010
Paul Woodward: Netanyahu -- Disgraced, Isolated, and Weaker: The title comes from an Aluf Benn article in Haaretz. In case you hadn't noticed, Israeli PM Netanyahu came to Washington this week to speak to what he clearly regards as the real power in the US: his lobby, AIPAC. A couple weeks back he timed the announcement of a new block of Jewish settlements in in Jerusalem to greet VP Joe Biden's arrival, figuring that would be a nice way to curtail Biden's aim to restart some kind of talks between Israeli and PA President Emeritus Mahmoud Abbas. (His term has expired, but since his party lost the last elections Israel and the US are in no hurry to expose him to another referendum.) That in itself was something between clueless bad taste and a direct insult. (At the time there was a lot of huff in Israel that it was Obama who insulted Israel by sending Biden instead of coming in person. On the other hand, you can understand that Obama had better things to do, especially if you've seen Max Blumenthal's video of drunken Israelis threatening Obama, and/or recall that Israel's security units hasn't actually had all that good of a record protecting Israeli Prime Ministers from gun-toting Israeli settlers.)
In his AIPAC speech, Netanyahu again defied Obama's wishes that Israel negotiate in good faith, defending the settlements and vowing that he will never give in on East Jerusalem, or much of anything else. Afterwards, he dropped by the White House, where Obama met with him but, well, read the report. I don't expect that Netanyahu will take hints this subtle. He has, after all, built his whole career on wrecking any chance for peaceful settlement. Which means that if Obama is determined, he is going to have to find tougher ways of impressing on Israel that failure to resolve the conflict only makes Israel more of a pariah state -- even, or perhaps especially, in American eyes. That's happening slowly, which gives Obama an in: a deal such as he wants would be a better way to serve Israel long term than to continue down Netanyahu's road. Seeing that through requires some real toughness, but so does facing Netanyahu down at the White House, and for that matter passing his big health care reform bill after all the times it's been written off.
Tony Karon: Truth and Consequences in the Middle East: A good rundown of what's happened over the last few weeks as Obama has finally started to toughen up his administration's stance toward Netanyahu, in the context of what Israel has always done:
Stephen M Walt: Who Are Israel's True Friends? (Hint: It's Not AIPAC): Israel's settlement policy was always conceived of as a poison pill: a way to make it impossible for any weak, jingoistic politician to back down an inch and settle the conflict. Rabin couldn't do it. Barak couldn't do it. Sharon didn't want to. Netanyahu, twice now, at best tried to fake it, but he's lashed himself to a government that's not only poisoned but addicted to it. The disgrace is almost total. Some people like Steven Zunes have been calling for a "tough love" approach to Israel for years, but most Americans professing love for Israel managed to look the other way. It's getting harder and harder to do that. When you start to see the likes of Hillary Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus turning on Israel, it's clear that some kind of tide is changing.
Thursday, March 25. 2010
John Cassidy: No Credit: Subtitle: "Timothy Geithner's financial plan is working -- and making him very unpopular." Geithner's plan, like Paulson's plan which Geithner was so much involved in, was to solve the banks' liquidity problem by letting them draw all the money they needed, while doing as little as possible to change the structure or the moral attitudes of the industry. Whether this was the best thing for America, or more narrowly the Obama administration, as well as for the banks, is hard to say, but Geithner tries to make that case. It's hard to take, partly because the banks have taken so much and offered so little in return -- the notion that saving the banks will restore the credit lines needed to jumpstart the real economy is still pure hypothesis. And partly because Geithner is so much a creature of the peculiar symbiosis between the banks and government that he can't see how extraordinary the relationship is, let alone how corrupting.
Cassidy offers a hint of other ways the crisis could have been handled:
This didn't happen mostly because there was no political will to make it happen. Partly Obama's advisers, and no doubt Obama himself, are pinned down by bad theory -- that government cannot run a bank, and that government has no business running a bank, despite the fact that many things that banks are currently doing badly are critical to the economy, and as such to government. I recently read Cassidy's book, How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities, which does a good job of answering the theory trappings that underlie the crisis and still handicap recovery. (If you want a bit more attitude to go with the same critique, I also recommend Yves Smith's Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism.)
John Cassidy: On Tim Geithner. Blog post, has some further notes on the Geithner piece. Also a good example of why blogs are a good idea: there's always plenty more to say about an article that has been squished into print space, including the background story of why the article got written in the first place. Cassidy's blog is proving consistently interesting, including this little tidbit on why so few banking failures have been prosecuted.
Wednesday, March 24. 2010
The recession that started in 2007 and nearly melted down into a major depression in 2008 is quickly becoming one of the most written about events in recent history -- the run-up and Bremer year of the Iraq War is the closest competition I can think of. The pace if anything is picking up, such that my Book Note queue has become swamped with such books. Rather than dump out one of my usual mixed bags, I thought I should group as many as possible into one post. And rather than just offer a time slice, I've gone back into the old files to give a broader picture of what's available.
The Top Tier: These are the books that strike me as the most important ones on the broad subject. I can't guarantee that they're all good ones, but I've dug into a quite a few of them (see the links), and the others strike me -- either from reviews or from author reputation -- as likely to be significant. I've read (or am working on) the ones with the links -- some going to as yet unpopulated pages, sorry to say. Two that are well populated and especially worth looking at are Nomi Prins and Charles Morris. Also, every now and then I've slipped in a link to a book on the Bush Era corruption -- James Galbraith's The Predator State is probably the best general account of the marriage of politics and predatory money-making out recently, with Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew a solid runner-up. Lanchester's IOU is one of the more literate explanations of how banking works (if you call what they've been doing working). Stiglitz's Freefall is as good a big picture summary we have, especially on the politics behind the economics. Cassidy and Smith have written excellent books on the economic theories that helped the bankers get away with it. The last four note sections are currently empty, but will be plenty interesting when I get around to typing them up. More books are coming out: I've scoured ahead and rounded up a few
Dean Baker: False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): Cover photos of Bernanke, Greenspan, and Paulson, although I doubt that it ends there. Baker was one of the first to understand the bubble and what its collapse would mean. This looks to be a little more developed than his slim Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy.
Richard Bookstaber: A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds, and the Perils of Financial Innovation (2007; paperback, 2008, Wiley): Too early to catch the whole blow-up, but the author was a pioneer in some of the innovations he now warns of, which gives the book a sense both of expertise and prophecy.
John Cassidy: How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities (2009, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Another book on the financial collapse of 2008, focusing mostly on the shortcomings of conventional economic theory -- all that stuff about robust, rational, reliable, all-seeing and benificent markets. What he calls Utopian Economics. [link]
John Bellamy Foster/Fred Magdoff: The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences (paperback, 2009, Monthly Review Press): Short (160 pp) Marxian analysis of how capitalism's tendencies toward stagnation led to the current crisis. [link]
Justin Fox: The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street (2009, Harper Business): Organized thematically, jumping around in time, which lets him sneak a big subject into 400 pages.
James K Galbraith: The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too (2008; paperback, 2009, Free Press): Give corporations the keys to the state and they'll turn it into a system for preying on people, the exact opposite of what a democratic state should do. One of the better political books to appear in the last couple of years. I need to go back and pick up my quotes. [link]
Charles Gasparino: The Sellout: How Three Decades of Wall Street Greed and Government Mismanagement Destroyed the Global Financial System (2009, Harper Collins): CNBC personality blames it all on Wall Street's embrace of risk.
Mark Gilbert: Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable (2010, Bloomberg Press): "Greed, stupidity, and hubris" -- sure, all those factors are endemic in the banking world, and maybe we should do something about that (not that I see much interest in or hope for disparaging greed systemwide), but the bit about collusion is more interesting and possibly more fateful. Gilbert reported for Bloomberg from London. All Amazon reviews are raves, and Nomi Prins praises this short (192 pp) book.
Peter S Goodman: Past Due: The End of Easy Money and the Renewal of the American Economy (2009, Times Books): More concerned with Main Street than with Wall Street, perhaps figuring that ultimately the real economy matters more than the casino and its cronies. Looks like more reporting than theorizing, and looks like he's done an impressive job of it. [link]
Gary Gorton: Slapped by the Invisible Hand: The Panic of 2007 (2010, Oxford University Press): Rather short (240 pp) big picture survey of the meltdown, with references back to similar events like 1893 and 1907. Argues that this panic was concentrated in the financial sector, which put the panic at a distance from everyday understanding even if it couldn't contain its effects.
Simon Johnson/James Kwak: 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown (2010, Pantheon): Johnson has been on target throughout the crisis, and is likely to pull together one of the best big picture summaries of what happened and why. The six too-big-to-fail megabanks and their oligarchs are at the heart of the problem. That they start to talk abouta "next financial meltdown" suggests that they don't think Obama et al. are up to reigning these bankers in. [Mar. 30]
Alyssa Katz: Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us (2009, Bloomsbury): Not sure how much of this is on the bubble and how much goes beyond it to what made the bubble possible: cheap money, shoddy business practices, and a thirst for risk, of course, but even deeper the conviction most Americans have that owning a home is essential to building up personal wealth.
John Lanchester: IOU: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay (2010, Simon & Schuster): I don't see the word in any of the review notes, but my impression is that this is about leverage. Politically convenient cheap credit has led to a mountain of highly leveraged investments that don't seem to be based on much of anything. Getting that money back is going to be difficult. Author started researching this for a novel, then decided truth is stranger, or maybe just more powerful, than fiction. [link]
Michael Lewis: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010, WW Norton): Wrote a famous book about the 1980s scandals on Wall Street, Liar's Poker, based on his days working for Salomon Brothers -- an experience that at the time he described as "America, when a great nation lost its financial mind." Now, he looks back on the old book and wonders: "How quaint. How innocent." The new book tries to cover the new crisis by focusing on traders who sold short -- as good an angle as any, and no doubt a lot more fun to write about.
Barry C Lynn: Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction (2010, Wiley): Argues that the most dangerous trend in American business is the persistent move towards greater monopoly power. I think he's basically right here, and that this may be an important book. Author previously wrote End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation, which I have on my shelf but unfortunately haven't gotten to.
Charles R Morris: The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash (2008; revised, paperback, 2009, Public Affairs): One of the first really useful books out on the subprime mortgage crisis and how the contagion was likely to spread. And as such, instantly out of date. Hence the revision, which includes bumping the title up -- originally The Trillion Dollar Meltdown. [link]
Raj Patel: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (paperback, 2010, Picador): Starts with Oscar Wilde quote: "nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." This distinction between price and value leads to many ideas that could upset the conventional apple cart of economics. Previously wrote on food, Stuffed and Starved. Naomi Klein raves about him. [Bought a copy; looks very promising.]
Kevin Phillips: Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism (2008, Penguin Books): Money played a key role in his American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Here he gets to tell you he told you so. [link]
Nomi Prins: It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street (2009, Wiley): Former Goldman Sachs managing director turned muckraking journalist, argues that the pillage had less to do with subprime mortgages than "a financial system that rewards people who move money instead of people who make things, operates outside of the media's gaze, is sheltered from governmental supervision, and uses leverage to turn risky deals into insanely risky deals." Seems about right. Previously wrote Other People's Money: The Corporate Mugging of America and Jacked: How "Conservatives" Are Picking Your Pocket (Whether You Voted for Them or Not) [link]
Barry Ritholtz: Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy (2009, Wiley): Broad history of the bubble and its bust, especially looking at the bailout, which he describes as "history's biggest transfer of wealth -- from the taxpayer to the Banksters." [paperback June 28]
Nouriel Roubini/Stephen Mihm: Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance (2010, Penguin Press): Roubini, a NYU business school professor, was one of the first Cassandras predicting the finance system collapse. Book looks at all sorts of recent finance system failures. [May 11]
Yves Smith: Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): "Naked Capitalism" blogger, explains: "why the measures taken by the Obama Administration are mere palliatives and are unlikely to pave the way for a solid recovery; how economists have come to play a profoundly anti-democratic role in policy; how financial models and concepts that were discredited more than thirty years ago are still widely used by banks, regulators, and investors; how management and employees of major financial firms looted them, enriching themselves and leaving the mess to taxpayers; how financial regulation enabled predatory behavior by Wall Street towards investors; how economics has no theory of financial systems, yet economists fearlessly prescribe how to manage them." That about sums it up.
Andrew Ross Sorkin: Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System---and Themselves (2009, Viking): Most likely one of the more important histories of the financial debacle of 2008, focusing on the politics of Washington basically in thrall to Wall Street.
Joseph E Stiglitz: Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy (2010, WW Norton): Been waiting for him to weigh in on the global meltdown, and this is it. Reading a long review at Amazon it looks to me like he caught just about everything. [link]
Gillian Tett: Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at JP Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe (2009, Free Press): Funny how that happens. The "bold dream" was the 1994 invention of CDOs, the basic form for the securitization of subprime mortgages. [paperback Apr. 13]
Note: Given the length of this post, I've let it slop over into the "extended body. Click to continue.
Continue reading "Banking Books"
Tuesday, March 23. 2010
Judy L Thomas: Democrats' offices across U.S. attacked: Wichita's Sedgwick County Democratic Party headquarters was one of many sites attacked in the last couple of days in a wave of vandalism, the right's juvenile response to Congress passing an inadequate and long overdue health care reform act. Mostly bricks thrown to smash windows thus far: one brick in Rochester, NY carried Barry Goldwater's "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" quote. Obviously, "extremism" is a word that suggests acts more ominous than vandalism. The violence implicit in the right's hysteria has never been far from the surface: Jim Geraghty (approvingly) characterized the whole right as "voting to kill." It's a short step from the sentiment to the act, one that needs no more than a few cracked individuals to turn into serious terrorism.
Of course, you're always going to have cracked individuals -- even if it does seem we have more than our fair share. What makes them such a public menace is the way the Republicans and their media thugs have run their scorched earth campaign against health care reform. First, they have totally misrepresented what is in the bill; moreover, they recast it in starkly emotional terms, and they've posited themselves as the last-gasp defenders of our way of life. Now that they've failed within the law they're practically begging their followers to take the law into their own hands. In fact, they've been cultivating the idea of popular revolt against tyranny ever since they came up with their Tea Party scam. So of course this sort of vandalism is going to happen. And of course far worse is going to happen. The only way to dampen it is to hold the leaders responsible. And by leaders I'm not talking about Mike Vanderboegh; more like Michael Steele, Mitt Romney, and the ghost of Barry Goldwater.
Monday, March 22. 2010
Again, no news on when Jazz CG will run, which means not this week, but doesn't exclude next week. Meanwhile, I keep slogging through the in queue. Played more avant-garde stuff this week than I've been picking out, and found a couple of things I didn't expect.
The Giuseppi Logan Quintet (2009 , Tompkins Square): Saxophonist, b. 1935 in Philadelphia, cut two freewheeling 1964-65 quartet albums for ESP-Disk (with Don Pullen, Eddie Gomez, and Milford Graves), and was never heard from again -- until now. Leaving aside co-producer Matt Lavelle for the moment, this tries to get the old spirit back, tapping Dave Burrell, François Grillot, and Warren Smith for piano-bass-drums. Actually, only Burrell is really up to it -- he's worth the price of admission, especially at a time when piano is being phased out as a backing instrument. I take Lavelle to be the mover and shaker here, the one who put this deal together. He expands the group from four to five, playing bass clarinet to shade Logan's sax -- credit doesn't specify tenor or alto; he's played both -- and trumpet for contrast although he doesn't push it. Three covers are most amusing, especially an "Over the Rainbow" that winds up someplace else. B+(***)
Sam Newsome: Blue Soliloquy (2009 , Sam Newsome): Solo works for soprano saxophone, 15 of them, 14 with "blue" or "blues" in the title -- the other one is called "24 Tones" -- 14 originals, the exception there is "Blue Monk." Works about as well as these things can work, probably because the repeated use of blues form keeps it simple. B+(*)
VW Brothers: Muziek (2010, Patois): Guitarist Marc van Wageningen and drummer Paul van Wageningen, from Amsterdam, Netherlands, relocated to US in 1976-80, winding up in Oakland, CA. Names seem familiar to me, but I'm working blind, having trouble googling, finding the hype sheet, and reading the microtype on the package. Record starts out with marginally avant sax, then evolves through Latin to plain funk. Ray Obiedo and Wayne Wallace co-produced, so blame the Latin on them. Mostly interesting, especially when whoever plays sax climbs out on a limb, but I don't get whatever they're getting at. B+(*)
Sei Miguel: Esfingico (2006 , Clean Feed): Trumpet player, b. 1961 in Paris, lived in Brazil, based in Portugal since 1980s, lists 9 records (not counting this) on his website, going back to 1988 (AMG has one, not this). Plays pocket trumpet here, a nice contrast to Fala Mariam's alto trombone. The other credits are Pedro Lourenço (bass guitar), Cesár Burago (timbales, small percussion), and Rafael Toral (some kind of electronics: "modulated resonance feedback circuit"). Rather schematic, and a bit on the short side (39:56), but he's onto something that might be worth exploring. B+(**)
Jorrit Dijkstra: Pillow Circles (2009 , Clean Feed): Dutch saxophonist, plays alto and lyricon, has 10 or so albums since 1994, based in Boston. This is an octet with a few American names I recognize -- Tony Malaby, Jeb Bishop, Jason Roebke, Frank Rosaly -- and a few Europeans I don't. With viola and guitar/banjo, plus three users of Crackle Box ("a small low-fi noisemaker invented by Dutch electronic musician Michel Waisvisz"). Only instrument that registers much for me is Bishop's trombone. Otherwise I find it vaguely symphonic, swooning in swirls of slick harmony, but somehow it grows on you. B+(*)
Fight the Big Bull: All Is Gladness in the Kingdom (2009 , Clean Feed): Virginia big band, was 9 pieces last time, now 11-12, with Steven Bernstein the big name pick up. Erstwhile leader is guitarist Matt White, who wrote most of the pieces, save two from Bernstein and an old Band song ("Jemina Surrender") that Bernstein arranged. Sometimes it seems like their main trick is to kick up the volume; sometimes it works really well. B+(***)
RED Trio (2008 , Clean Feed): Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, with Hernani Faustino on bass, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. First album, I think. Based in Portugal, although Ferrandini was born in California, his father a Portugese from Mozambique, his mother an Italian-Brazilian he picked up along the way. Pinheiro plays prepared piano, making the instrument more percussive than melodic. Faustino's bass sounds like he's monkeying around too. The result is more avant noise than piano trio. I find it refreshing and exhilarating. A-
Kirk Knuffke: Amnesia Brown (2008 , Clean Feed): Trumpet player -- website announces he plays cornet now, but credit here is trumpet; originally from Denver, based in New York since 2005; has a bunch of new/recent records, including a duo with Jesse Stacken on Steeplechase, plus several trio records with various lineups. This trio includes Doug Wieselman on clarinet and guitar and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Wieselman's guitar is surprisingly effective. His clarinet provides a contrasting tone which sometimes slows things down, but they mostly mix well. Nice artwork, although the back is impossible to decipher. B+(***)
Scott Fields Ensemble: Fugu (1995 , Clean Feed): Chicago guitarist, has a couple dozen albums since 1993, of which this original 1995 recording was his second, brought back on a new label. Group wobbles between Matt Turner on cello and Robert Stright on vibes, the former slowing things down and sapping them up, the latter bristling with energy. Group also includes bass and percussion. Fields has some very nice runs, and the vibes are terrific. B+(**)
Ben Goldberg: Go Home (2009, BAG): Clarinet player, from Colorado, studied in Santa Cruz, birth date unknown but started recording with New Klezmer Trio in 1990 and has been prolific ever since, with ten albums under his own name, plus three New Klezmer Trios, one Hasidic New Wave, two Tin Hats, a Clarinet Thing, and various interesting combos with John Zorn, Marty Ehrlich, Charlie Hunter, Steven Bernstein, Myra Melford, and Allen Lowe/Roswell Rudd. This is a quartet with Ron Miles (cornet, trumpet), Charlie Hunter (7-string guitar), and Scott Amendola (drums). Goldberg wrote all of the songs (except "Ethan's Song" co-credited to Ethan Goldberg), but this feels more like Hunter's gig, with rockish grooves and guitar twang driving everything. In fusion formula you'd expect synth but the clarinet dresses up the grooves nicely, while Miles occasionally jumps in front. B+(***)
Tin Hat: Foreign Legion (2005-08 , BAG): Originally Tin Hat Trio, four albums from 1999-2004, with Rob Burger (piano), Mark Orton (guitar, dobro), and Carla Kihlstedt (violin). Now regrouped as a quartet, with Burger gone, replaced by Ben Goldberg (clarinet) and Ara Anderson (trumpet, pump organ, piano, glockenspiel, percussion). Goldberg notes that he played as a guest at the first-ever Tin Hat Trio concert. His clarinet fits right into the chamber jazz concept with the violin and Orton's central guitar/dobro -- Orton wrote 11 of 15 pieces here, so I figure him for the leader. Chamber jazz might suffice, but the wild card is Anderson. His pump organ animates several pieces, and he plays a mean trumpet when he has a mind to. A-
Tommy Babin's Benzene: Your Body Is Your Prison (2010, Drip Audio): Bassist, b. 1973 in Nova Scotia, now based in Vancouver. Plays both acoustic and electric; not specified here, but electric is my guess. Has a few side credits including NOW Orchestra going back to 1999, but this looks to be his first album. One title piece, runs 49:41, breaks up into nine sections -- I'm reluctant to call them movements or it a suite. Hype sheet says file under "Jazz/Improv/Space Rock." Not sure about the latter, as this is more intense than spacey, and it doesn't exactly rock even when it brings the noize. Quartet: Chad Makela (baritone sax), Chad MacQuarrie (guitar), and Skye Brooks (drums). The sort of thing that Anders Nilsson's Aorta Ensemble does -- a little less fancy on the guitar, a little more oomph from the bass and bari. A- [Apr. 13]
Amir ElSaffar/Hafez Modirzadeh: Radif/Suite (2009 , Pi): ElSaffar is a trumpeter, Iraqi father, American mother, b. 1977 in Chicago, studied at DePaul, has one previous album, Two Rivers, in 2007. Modirzadeh plays tenor sax, Iranian father, American mother, b. 1962 in North Carolina, teaches at SF State, has 6-7 previous albums as well as side-credits back to 1987, many with the Asian Improv crowd (Fred Ho, Francis Wong, Anthony Brown). Each wrote a long suite-like piece here: Modirzadeh's "Radif-E Kayhan" and ElSaffar's "Copper Suite." Rhythm section is Alex Cline on drums and gongs, Mark Dresser on bass. Both pieces sound like freebop to me, with nothing special suggesting Iraq or Iran (except for ElSaffar's brief vocal). B+(**)
The Inhabitants: A Vacant Lot (2007 , Drip Audio): Vancouver group, credits in order listed: Skye Brooks (drums), J.P. Carter (trumpet), Pete Schmitt (bass), Dave Sikula (guitar). If I read the icons right, Carter wrote 4 songs, Brooks and Schmitt 2 each, and Sikula mixed the thing. Richly textural with a tendency to swell and get dense, sort of prog rock but that does this a disservice. B+(*)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Matthew Yglesias: Perspective: Our fevered, overworked pundit, who has taken to describing Congress members who'd much rather have single payer or at least the "public option" but are nonetheless willing to vote for the compromised health care reform bill as supporting the pundit's position, waxes:
Aside from that it's not done until it's finally signed, and that I haven't noticed any progressive presidents in decades -- it's not clear that we even have one now -- this is pretty ripe. I, too, am glad the bill passed -- err, I, too, supported Yglesias's position -- and I'm not sure that anything much better could have been passed, but the whole campaign strikes me as a failure of imagination and courage on the part of people who should have known better and could have campaigned for a much better bill. As it is, a lot remains to be done. I especially hope they can push some of the changes forward so we don't have to wait for 2014 to get any relief.
I don't mind if Obama and the Democrats take more credit than is due here, especially in forums where Republicans are present as they've become completely unhinged over the issue. Still, it's worth noting that the stocks of most major insurance and pharmaceutical companies went up today on the news.
Sunday, March 21. 2010
Matthew Yglesias: Influential Books: Walter Benjamin wrote an essay once on unpacking his library where he castigated the very idea of going through shelves or boxes of books and trying to annotate them. It hit me hard because as a compulsive list-maker, there is little else I would rather do. Don't remember just what his reasoning was; only my shame and ignorance. Yglesias writes so much and so fast that he almost certainly doesn't fathom Benjamin. Here he's responding to a Tyler Cowen post with the same Ten Most Influential Books meme. Cowen at least dressed his list up with some classics: Plato, Hayek, Keynes, and a token novel (Proust). Yglesias seconded one book, Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons, which I've never heard of. I've heard of a bit more than half of the others, but only read one: Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground. I mention this because although I can't credit it with any long-term influence, I read it at a critical juncture in my life, and it did have a powerful short-term impact. I was 15 at the time, on the verge of dropping out of high school, and it was one of the first things I read wholly on my own. Over the next 3-4 years I mostly read literature (although I increasingly turned to history), and mostly stayed as far underground as possible -- Grove Press and Evergreen Review were my main points of reference. For as much as I was impressed by Notes, I never managed to read more than a couple of pages of Dostoyevsky's major novels. The furthest I got into any piece of 19th century literature was a couple hundred pages into Anna Karenina, although I eventually managed to read a bit more of Kant and Marx. (I bought a nice set of Nietzsche, who seemed like the thinker to follow up from Dostoevsky -- literally so, given that I found Notes in Walter Kaufmann's anthology on existentialism -- but never got any good out of him.) I don't know when Yglesias plugged into Notes, but for me including it signified mapped the roots of the list as juvenile.
I might add here that the Thomas Kuhn I read was Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and that while I missed McNeill's Plagues & Peoples, I've read a good deal about plagues, including "arguably the better book in this genre," Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. I also read a good deal of feminist criticism predating Susan Moller Okin: Kate Millett, Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer, Juliet Mitchell, Andrea Dworkin, Jill Johnston, Marge Piercy, and others. On the other hand, I had long stopped reading philosophy before I became aware of Richard Rorty. Most likely I would find him agreeable on epistemology and possibly even on politics. (I gather he's made a point of attacking "the cultural left," which sounds like where I came from; I've always hated how moderates/liberals get off on attacking some or all of the left to legitimize themselves. Yglesias provides an especially annoying example of this here as he counts off the left-leaning congress members who have come around on the health care reform bill and thereby are no longer regarded as monsters.)
I couldn't offer a comparable list myself without spending a lot of effort drawing up a rough list of 50-100 books and knocking them down again, but even so I doubt that I ever got that much from any one place. Dostoyevsky may have started me reading, or maybe it was Shakespeare who had an arguably bigger impact at nearly the same time, but I was quickly on to all sorts of 20th century writers -- beats like Ginsberg and Burroughs, absurdists like Ionesco and Beckett, not to mention lots of porn. The one novel that had the most long-term effect was Thomas Pynchon's V. -- literally the novel of the century, one that few weeks go by without me thinking of.
Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd and Compulsory Miseducation were revelations. Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner's Teaching as a Subversive Activity got me over the mishaps of my schooling. No single book that I can recall got me over religion, but Alan Watts helped, as did a lot of historical studies of early protestants, leading to capitalism in C.B. Macpherson's The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. I picked up a Marxist approach to history from Eugene Genovese's The Political Economy of Slavery. I didn't need a book to persuade me to support civil rights, or to oppose the Vietnam War, or to sympathize with labor or feminism, but I read plenty of them. Not sure which ones stand out. Robert Paul Wolff had a big impact in showing me that reason could come out right -- The Poverty of Liberalism was one key book -- and that turned my life around as much as anything. I read cultural criticism until I got sick of it: Walter Benjamin had the deepest impact; John Berger's Ways of Seeing helped explain Benjamin to the masses; Jan Myrdal's Angkor taught me more about imperialism than any other single book.
After I broke away from college, I went through a phase where I only read rock crit: Lester Bangs, Paul Williams, Robert Christgau (who became a friend, and was responsible for all that music stuff I wrote). Then I spent some years reading mostly technology and popular science books: John Gribbin was probably my breakthrough on the science side, although I wouldn't rate his books particularly high. More important was Steven Jay Gould, John McPhee, David Quammen, Richard Rhodes, Jeremy Bernstein. I also put together a pretty solid foundation in computer science, and read a fair amount about math (even though I never got back into actually doing it). And I also read a few business books, especially Thomas Peters, David Ogilvy, Robert Townsend's invaluable Further Up the Organization, and Richard White's The Entrepreneur's Manual.
In the 1990s I started thinking about the political state of the world again, kicking around ideas for a post-capitalism book. I spent a chunk of time between jobs failing to get very far on that, then returned post-2001, still without much to show for the efforts. Still, I've read a lot of history, politics, and economics from the period. One especially important book is George Brockway's The End of Economic Man. Another book that has done much to frame my thinking is Jane Jacobs' short Dark Age Ahead. Glancing through my lists, the only thing I can say is that there are too many good recent books to start listing them now.
One thing about the Cowen and Yglesias lists is that they aim to establish a framework or methodology for a viewpoint. I don't see how I can do that, partly because I try to work with no fixed viewpoint, partly because my underlying moral principles are pretty universal -- you don't need a lot of philosophizing to build on the golden rule, which you can easily derive from scripture or from reasoning with the barest recognition that you're not the only person who matters in the world.
Saturday, March 20. 2010
One of the downsides for ever ordering anything from Daedalus is they keep sending you periodic catalogs forever. Most of mine quickly wind up in the trash, but as I thumbed through "Daedalus Music: Last Chance Winter 2010" it occurred to me that Concord is going through one of their period house cleanings, with a lot of possibly excellent cutouts. So I held this one back to take a closer look. I didn't find much that I don't have and still want -- Clark Terry's Serenade to a Bus Seat was one I missed that I don't doubt is worth getting. But comparing what I found listed to my database, I came up with a list of A- [and better] records I do recommend:
Two of the above I don't have in these editions, but have records that are evidently subsets, so I thought I should list them: Bill Evans, The "Interplay" Sessions; and Thelonious Monk, At the Five Spot. A lot of these records are old editions of recent reissues, so they're not really losses to the catalog -- not even Concord is so blockheaded as to let Brilliant Corners and Worktime slip out of print, but I wouldn't put Budd Johnson's wonderful Let's Swing! past them, and I wonder what the deal is with This Is What I Do. The more recent titles and the compilations presumably are deletions, not likely to return any time soon. I went through the website too. The only non-Concord title is the Wilson Pickett, a 1992 comp which has been slightly superseded by 2006's The Definitive Collection, but is still a tremendous value. And the Little Richard is still the first choice, a must have.
Wednesday, March 17. 2010
Juan Cole: The Map: More background on the map series that Andrew Sullivan cited, linked to yesterday. (Sullivan originally cited Cole.) There are two basic ways to approach the Israel/Palestine conflict. One is to work your way through the history. The other is to screw the history and just look at the current situation. The latter is much simpler and much more clear cut, which is probably why we spend so much time arguing about history. Actually, the history is pretty clear cut too. From early on the Zionists intended to take over as much Palestinian land as possible, eventually erecting a Jewish State -- that was, after all, the title of Theodor Herzl's clarion book -- and drive the Palestinians out or reduce them to "an utterly defeated people." That the Zionists have come so close is an achievement rooted in remarkable discipline and steadfastness, but also in a number of fortuitous turns of history: the Balfour Declaration and the early British administration gave them a strong imperialist sponsor; the Russian Revolution helped separate Jewish nationalists out from both religious and internationalist Jews; the closing of US emigration in 1923 severely reduced options for Jewish emigrés; the rise of Nazism triggered a substantial wave of German Jewish emigrants; WWII and the Holocaust destroyed the fabric of Jewish social life, especially in eastern Europe, and produced a backlash of sympathy the Zionists could (and did) exploit; the Palestinian independence movement was decimated by the British in suppressing the 1937-39 revolt, and neighboring Arab countries were likewise under more/less tight British/French control until well after Israel's 1948 "War of Independence"; Israel was able to parlay a series of foreign sponsors -- the Soviet Union, France, then the United States -- to build up massive military superiority, including nuclear weapons. Going into 1948 Jews were outnumbered 70-30 in Palestine, yet they managed to more than reverse those demographics through a combination of ethnic cleansing and deals to cede limited territories to Transjordan and Egypt. Nonetheless, they were unable to reconcile their quest for land with their loathing of non-Jews in their midst, nor were they finally able to break the Palestinians.
That history leaves us with the current stalemate: a vastly inequal situation where Jewish dominance exposes the utter moral bankruptcy at the root of the whole project. For how that has worked out, skip past the history and look at the current status: who is entitled to do basic things, like travel or build a house or run a business, and who isn't; who is likely to get thrown in jail or assassinated, and who isn't; who is free to vote, has access to the courts for redress of grievances, can demonstrate, and who cannot; who benefits from the social services provided by the state, and who is excluded. There is no justification these days for one group lording it over another group -- not even history excuses such inhumanity.
Juan Cole: Cpl. Jeffrey Goldberg, Guarding the Prison of the Nationalist Mind: OK, Cole gets a bit shrill here. And he's wrong that David Horowitz was as "insufferable" as a leftist way back when as he is as a rightwinger now -- maybe he wasn't the brightest bulb at Ramparts, and his celebration of burning down that Bank of America building was a bad omen (as well as a failed attempt at sarcasm). But he's mostly right here. Still, the thing I find unsettling about Goldberg is that he seems willing to settle the conflict on the two state terms that have been on the table since UNSC Resolution 235 and long since accepted by virtually every Palestinian and Arab party -- in fact, by virtually everyone except Israel -- yet he cannot bring himself to criticize Israel for being the last intransigent holdout. Worse, he uses his own diplomatic stand to shield Israelis who clearly disagree with him from any form of criticism. Moreover, Goldberg's tactic is not at all unusual for US supporters of Israel: most profess their personal desire for a "two-state solution" yet strive to deflect any responsibility for its failure from Israel -- the one country that could make it happen at the drop of a hat.
Tuesday, March 16. 2010
Trolling through Andrew Sullivan's blog today -- something I don't do all that often -- and found a few items of some interest:
More pieces here and there on Israel, including a link to a relatively sane one by Goldberg arguing that Obama's plan is to realign Israel's government to produce a more moderate Kadima-Likud coalition instead of the current ultraright Likud-Beiteinu-Shas alignment -- my guess is that the government would fail first, and that Netanyahu is unwilling to join any coalition that would give Obama the satisfaction of even a lame solution. Also lots of pieces on the Vatican's sex crime cover-ups.
Monday, March 15. 2010
Another interim week, waiting for the latest Jazz Consumer Guide to drop -- no news on that, which means this week is out -- moving deliberately on to the next one. Having a tough time writing about jazz these days, especially warming to anything I'm hearing -- and not for lack of time, as most of the following took three spins before I settled on something. The one new A- is marginal: I could just as easily have slid it down a notch, but grading on a curve implies that something should come up on top.
Marius Nordal: Boomer Jazz (2005 , Origin): Pianist, third album since 1996, don't know much more about him but he's probably a boomer, especially since he defines the period as 15 years after WWII, encompassing 76 million kids. Having been born in 1950, I'm less certain that I should be included. Those born 1946-48 were the leading edge of the population explosion, and as such got a jump on a rapidly expanding economy. Just one example was that they got quickly hired into academia, whereas the tail end of the generation found far fewer opportunities. Another, of course, was that they caught the 1960s when everything seemed to be possible, whereas my sub-generation (and I was a bit slow in this regard, for personal reasons I won't bore you with) rattled around in their wake. So mashing all these short time sequences never made much sense to me -- I recall that at one point generations were held to cycle every three years. As for this record, Nordal plays solo piano on 10 songs from the 1960s, ending with one he wrote (presumably much later). These were, of course, songs that I grew up with, but even in the 1960s most were songs I associated with an older sub-generation, one that was more condescending to rock and roll. Three Beatles songs were from McCartney's arty-nostalgic phase; Simon & Garfunkel were even stuffier (well, "Scarborough Fair" was; "Mrs. Robinson" had a beat); and Roberta Flack, Jack Jones, and Bread were anything but hip. I favored the Rolling Stones over the Beatles at the time, and read Allen Ginsberg instead of Simon's Robert Frost. So the only thing here that much impresses me is Chuck Berry's "School Days," done up cleverly as boogie-woogie -- a choice cut. B
Dan Weiss Trio: Timshel (2008 , Sunnyside): Drummer-led piano trio, with Jacob Sacks on piano and Thomas Morgan on bass -- Morgan seems to be everywhere these days. Second album for Weiss, plus a list of 30 or so side credits since 1999, including impressive work on tabla for Rudresh Mahanthappa and Rez Abbasi. Wrote all the pieces, including ones called "Prelude," "Interlude" and "Postlude." I like the bits where the piano reduces to a rocking rhythm instrument. Less impressive is the slow stuff influenced by the 'ludes. B+(**)
Greg Burk: Many Worlds (2007 , 482 Music): Pianist, b. 1969, originally from Lansing, MI; studied at New England Conservatory, taught at Berklee, played in Either/Orchestra; after 10 years in Boston relocated to Italy (Rome). Ninth album since 2000, a quartet with Henry Cook on sax (alto, soprano) and flute, Ron Seguin on bass (contrabass and something he calls "electric acoustic bass"), and Michel Lambert on drums/percussion. This struck me as overly ornate at first, with Cook's reeds wispy and Burk's piano wrapped up in long exploratory runs, but the more I listen the more it coheres -- especially the physics-inspired six-part "Many Worlds Suite," which ends in a discordance that surely isn't mere chaos. B+(***)
Jerry Bergonzi: Three for All (2008 , Savant): Tenor saxophonist, plays some soprano, also get a piano credit here, which suggests some overdubbing. With Dave Santoro on bass and Andrea Michelutti on drums. Bergonzi has been on a terrific run lately, with two straight A- albums (Tenor Talk and Simply Put), and nothing very far off the mark. This has a couple of blemishes which I blame on the soprano. Terrific tenor player, deep tone, has all the moves; group lets him play. B+(***)
Salvatore Bonafede Trio: Sicilian Opening (2009 , Jazz Eyes): Pianist, b. 1962 in Palermo, in Sicily. Has a dozen, maybe more albums, since 1990. Piano trio with Marco Panascia on bass, Marcello Pellitteri on drums. Light touch, even temper. Does a Beatles piece, which I always dread, but acquits it nicely. B+(**)
Graham Decter: Right on Time (2008 , Capri): Guitarist, from and based in Los Angeles; studied at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY; plays in Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Debut album, a quartet, backed by the Clayton-Hamilton trio: John Clayton on bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums, Tamir Hendelman on piano. Needless to say, they swing. Program includes one original, two Ellingtons, Johnny Hodges' "Squatty Roo," pieces by Ray Brown and Thad Jones, a Jobim, other standards. Decter's guitar complements the trio, adding texture and pushing them a bit. B+(**)
Kelley Suttenfield: Where Is Love? (2007 , Rhombus): Standards singer, based in New York, probably young, debut album, backed by piano-guitar-bass-drums, nobody I've heard of. Has an exceptionally nice voice, measured delivery with nothing terribly idiosyncratic about it. I don't care much for the song selection, with "And I Love Her" and "Ode to Billy Joe" the sore points, but she covered Veloso instead of Jobim, tried on a Betty Carter piece, sashayed into vocalese on "West Coast Blues," and did well by "Nature Boy." Most effective was "My One and Only Love" -- probably because it was the simplest. B+(*)
Emilio Solla & the Tango Jazz Conspiracy: Bien Sur! (2009 , Fresh Sound World Jazz): Argentine pianist, based in New York, second album I'm aware of, probably has more. Tango forms, but mostly jazz musicians, notably Chris Cheek on soprano, tenor, and baritone sax, and Richie Barshay on drums and percussion. In his liner notes, feels a bit uncomfortable taking jazz liberties with his national music, but the record splits the difference nicely. B+(**)
Rufus Reid: Out Front (2008 , Motema): Bassist-led piano trio, with Steve Allee on piano and Duduka Da Fonseca on drums. Reid has nine albums under his own name, plus a vast number of side credits going back to a 1970 gig with Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon. Allee, a fine mainstream pianist with four albums since 1995, has yet to break out of the pack. Da Fonseca is a Brazilian drummer/percussionist with several albums of his own. All three contribute songs, plus there are covers from Marcos Silva, Tadd Dameron, and Eddie Harris (another former Reid employer). "Out Front" means more bass solos. With Reid that's nothing to complain about. B+(*)
Marc Mommaas: Landmarc (2009 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1969 in Netherlands, grew up in Amsterdam, moved to New York in 1997. Third album. Basically a trio with Nate Radley on guitar and Tony Moreno on drums, plus an extra guitarist on 5 of 9 pieces -- two with Rez Abbasi, three with Vic Juris. The guitars are sweet and slinky; the sax tends to be atmospheric. B+(**)
Zora Young: The French Connection (2007-08 , Delmark): Blues singer, b. 1948, fifth album since 1991 -- third on Delmark -- cut with three different French bands. Uneven sound -- sometimes seems a bit distant, although she has that basic Bessie Smith projection that doesn't need a microphone, and that carries a record that is strongest at its most retro. B+(*)
Juhani Aaltonen Quartet: Conclusions (2009 , Tum): Finnish tenor saxophonist, b. 1935, not well known here but should be recognized as a major figure -- I have yet to track down his well-regarded 1970s recordings, but I can highly recommend two relatively recent ones, Mother Tongue and Reflections. Quartet includes Iro Haarla (piano and harp), Ulf Krokfors (double bass), and Reino Laine (drums), with Haarla and Krokfors contributing four and two songs respectively -- Aaltonen the other four. He has a marvelous sound on tenor, more lyrical here than in the past, but I especially enjoy it when he roughs things up a bit. My main reservations at first were the two flute and one alto flute pieces. I never cared much for the sound, but he's as expert at it as any saxophonist I can think of -- Lew Tabackin, or perhaps Vinny Golia, someone not overly smitten by the Pied Piper notion, nor squarely centered on bop (James Moody) and/or swing (Frank Wess). A-
Kalle Kalima & K-18: Some Kubricks of Blood (2007 , Tum): Guitarist, from Finland, b. 1973, studied in Germany with Raoul Björkenheim among others; has a couple albums, maybe two dozen side credits, many with Jazzanova. Unusual group sound here, with Ville Kujala's quarter-tone accordion, Mikko Innanen's saxes (alto, soprano, baritone), and Teppo Hauta-aho on double bass -- no drummer, which helps explain why this gets stuck in weird eddies. Compositions are keyed to various Stanley Kubrick films. Packaging, liner notes, and artwork are superb, as usual for this label. Despite the disconnects, interesting in various spots. B+(*)
Mort Weiss: Raising the Bar (2009 , SMS Jazz): Clarinetist, started his musical career after he retired from a bread-and-butter career, and has put together a string of engaging albums ever since, with a mix of swing and bop moves. This one is solo clarinet, two originals, a bunch of well worn covers, the better known the better. Normally I would complain about the lack of balance/momentum/something that is inevitable with solo efforts, but he more than makes up for that in charm. Closes with "My Way" -- and earns it. B+(***)
Ambrose Field/John Potter: Being Dufay (2007 , ECM New Series): Field is credited with "live and studio electronics"; Potter as "tenor," meaning a vocalist with classical standing. Record is "based on vocal fragments by Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474)," a Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance. The electronics separate this from any baggage I associate with classical music. The voice wends through the words without excessive drama or disruption. Lovely, actually. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week: