Monday, May 31. 2010
Not much new below, but Jazz CG draft is done, pending one last edit pass before I ship it off to Village Voice. I spent most of the week playing previously rated but unreviewed records, some a couple years old by now. For A- records I stick with them until I get something written, but for HMs my rule is one play and either I write something or dump them into the surplus -- well, sometimes they get a second play if I was really distracted. In some cases I suspect the surplus if the luckier fate, as long as I write something for my surplus post. I've managed to cut the "done" file down from over 100 to close to 60, and figure I'll spend a good chunk of next week cutting it further, then put a big surplus post up. Should also start getting into some new discs next week, as Jazz Prospecting opens up for JCG (24).
Most of the following come from Rhapsody. I started scrounging around for possible duds, but got distracted here and there as I found a few records I'd long been looking for but couldn't spend enough time with. Rhapsody is not an especially good source for jazz: see the list of things I looked for but couldn't find, and factor in much more that I didn't bother looking for. Did find one dud, deciding that Christian Scott wasn't bad or big enough to keep.
Dave Nelson & the 32nd Street Quintet: 32nd Street (2007 , Independently Released): Cover touts this as "Easy Listening Jazz." Another common name: AMG's "Dave Nelson [trumpet]," to whom this record is linked, played with his famous uncle but died in 1946; uncle's name? King Oliver. Most likely this one was born in the early 1940s, grew up in Seattle, "played at clubs all over Saskatchewan and Alberta," and wound up cutting this record in Brooklyn. Wrote 4 of 9 songs, mixed in with standards like "My Favorite Things" and "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," and sang two. Not much of a singer, but his trumpet earns our respect and even has some edge to it, and Joel Frahm's tenor sax is a treat, as expected. B+(*)
Joëlle Léandre/François Houle/Raymond Strid: Last Seen Headed: Live at Sons D'Hiver (2009 , Ayler): Bass, clarinets, percussion, respectively. Léandre has a substantial reputation and discography as an avant-garde bassist, but I've managed to hear very little of her work. She dominates here, carrying the melodies as well as providing most of the noise, with Houle -- always an attractive and intriguing player -- complementing. B+(**)
New York Art Quartet: Old Stuff (1965 , Cuneiform): Short-lived (1964-65) group fronted by trombonist Roswell Rudd and alto saxophonist John Tchicai, with various bassists (Don Moore, Lewis Worrell, Reggie Workman, here Finn von Eyben) and drummers (JC Moses, Milford Graves, here Louis Moholo). Cut an eponymous album on ESP-Disk which has remained more/less in print, a second album (Mohawk) on Fontana which no one seems to have heard, and a 35th Reunion on DIW with Graves and Workman (and Amiri Baraka). Consists of two radio shots from Copenhagen, one from Montmartre and the other from the radio studio, resulting in two takes of the title cut. Rudd was doing terrific work at the time, and Tchicai lets him run more than Archie Shepp did, resulting in an intricate balance of forces. ESP album is at least this good, and historically significant, but is 60% longer (70 minutes to 43), a happy find. A-
Phil Woods with the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble: Solitude (2008 , Jazzed Media): Watched a documentary tonight where DePaul played a significant role: American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein. Of course, I shouldn't blame DePaul's Jazz Ensemble for the University denying Finkelstein tenure. They seem like a nice enough bunch as they work through a set of Woods' compositions. Sometimes a bit of solo caught my ear: the piano may have been ringer Jim McNeely, and the alto sax was likely Woods, but the trombone would have been a student, most likely Bryan Tipps. Good luck with that. B
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
John Pizzarelli: Rockin' in Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington (2010, Telarc): Mostly vocal pieces -- "Just Squeeze Me" is an exception with the Pizzarelli guitar trimmed down to an intimate level. (Of course, I can't swear that the Pizzarelli isn't Bucky.) He's always been a slight vocalist, with tomes on Cole and Sinatra inevitably coming up pale, but Ellington's own choice of vocalists was so checkered Pizzarelli would have sat in handsomely. The songs are indelible -- even the Kurt Elling-aided vocalese intro to "Perdido" has charm -- and the band is often impressive, ranging from Aaron Weinstein's fiddle to Harry Allen's magesterial tenor sax. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Christian Scott: Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (2009 , Concord): New Orleans trumpeter, Donald Harrison's nephew, studied at Berklee, cut a record for Concord at age 22, is back for his fourth here. Got name checked on HBO's Treme, on a list of New Orleans trumpets who succeeded elsewhere by not playing New Orleans music -- Marsalis and Blanchard headed that list. Scott has his fans, but I'm not yet one of them. This one sounds like he's been studying the Miles Davis mute, which is OK as far as it goes, but he really needs a band he can play off of, and none of these guys impress me. B [Rhapsody]
Trombone Shorty: Backatown (2010, Verve Forecast): Aka Troy Andrews, Treme legend, reportedly had a club named for him at age eight, when his moniker was no doubt cuter. Still young at 24 for a major label debut after a handful of local releases going back to 2002. Tries to do something new here, but comes up with a lot of bad ideas, tricking up the usual horn line with synth beats, bringing in guest vocalists Marc Broussard and Lenny Kravitz, and trying to sing himself. C+ [Rhapsody]
Dee Dee Bridgewater: Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959) (2009 , Emarcy): Denise Eileen Garrett, b. 1950, picked up her stage name when married to trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater in the early 1970s. Eleanora Fagan (or Elinore Harris) changed her name to Billie Holiday, claiming Clarence Holiday (a musician in Fletcher Henderson's band) as her father. Bridgewater has been working songbooks since the mid-1990s, with Horace Silver a high point (Love and Peace), Kurt Weill a low (This Is New), and Dear Ella already checked off the list, so a swing at Holiday seems inevitable. She's uncertain how she wants to play this, mimicking Holiday on slower pieces like "You've Changed" and blasting away on the fast ones. With Edsel Gomez on piano and arranging, Christian McBride on bass, the always impeccable Lewis Nash on drums, and James Carter on reeds and flute -- more interesting though less imposing than on his own misbegotten Holiday album. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Nicki Parrott/Rossano Sportiello: Do It Again (2009, Arbors): Did it the first time on People Will Say We're in Love, an HM in 2007. She's a bassist from Australia; sings a little, rather limited range, but I find her utterly charming. Italian pianist, has a solo on Arbors and shows up here and there. He can swing, but he can't budge Schumann, a dull spot here; he also can't sing, as his duet on "Two Sleepy People" proves. Didn't count the vocals, but half is close. The instrumentals are a bit underpowered, and the song selection rather scattered. Still, this has its charms. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
The New York Allstars: Count Basie Remembered, Vol. 2 (1996 , Nagel Heyer): Sometimes with Rhapsody you get faked out, with what looks at first to be a new record -- title "Swingin' the Blues", release date 2009, label Nagel Heyer -- only to find no collaboration elsewhere. The new artwork is what did it, but the songs and lineup match this oldie: Randy Sandke, Dan Barrett, Brian Ogilvie, Billy Mitchell, Mark Shane, James Chirillo, Bob Haggart, Joe Ascione. I've heard Vol. 1 and wasn't much impressed by it, but this grabbed me right away, at least enough that I didn't feel like ejecting it. File under Sandke. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Svend Asmussen: Makin' Whoopee! . . . and Music! (2009, Arbors): Danish violinist, b. 1916, modeled his style on Joe Venuti, emerging before WWII. Evidently cut this shortly before his 93rd birthday, with Richard Drexler on piano and organ, Jacob Fischer on guitar, Tony Martin on drums, and Tom Carabasi with his name on the cover for reasons I've yet to discern. Not a lot of whoopee here: the title track and others like "Singin' in the Rain" and "Nuages" and "Danny Boy" and "Just a Gigolo" are taken at a measured pace with sly elegance. Someone I've long meant to track down, but this looks to be just a pleasant footnote. I have his Shanachie DVD, The Extraordinary Life and Music of a Jazz Legend -- need to play that some day. B [Rhapsody]
Warren Vaché-Tony Coe-Alan Barnes Septet: Shine (1997 , Zephyr): Looking for a new Vaché record -- Top Shelf, with John Allred, on Arbors -- I stumbled instead on a batch of old ones, and couldn't resist interrupting what I was doing to play this one. Coe and Barnes are trad-leaning British reed players -- Coe tenor and soprano, Barnes baritone and alto, both clarinet -- and Vaché plays cornet. Title cut starts with just the three horns winding sinuously around each other, before the band chimes in. The sax work is often elegant, and Vaché is sharp, but not everything comes together. Title cut gets a second take to end on a high. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Geri Allen: Flying Toward the Sound (2008 , Motéma Music): Established major league pianist, 20 or so albums since 1984, started well out of the box but become more mainstream and developed an affection for Mary Lou Williams. I thought 2004's The Life of a Song was a superb piano trio record, but dudded the gospel-drugged follow-up, Timeless Portraits and Dreams. Got a terse "thanks for the Geri dud" from the publicist, who then dropped me from his list, then I didn't get this on a new label that usually sends me their stuff. Guess that's show business. In any case, this is solo piano, not normally my cup of tea. Starts out fluffy and ornate, but gradually deconstructs to series of rhythmic patterns, then starts to put things together. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Stanton Moore: Groove Alchemy (2010, Telarc): I asked for this, and was promised a copy, but it never came. Drummer, b. 1972, fifth album since 1998, basically a guy whose rhythmic sense runs from funk to post-disco. This one's just an organ trio, with Robert Walter on the Hammond and Will Bernard on guitar. I don't really understand why this formula still finds enthusiasts, but Walter is a hot shot on the instrument and leans toward boogie woogie when he switches off to piano, and Bernard is fascinated with Grant Green grooves. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Peter Bernstein Quartet: Live at Smalls (2008 , Smalls Live): Guitarist, eighth album since 1992, first I've heard but I've heard him on a lot of other people's albums, where he routinely stands out. Jim Hall protege, although I usually think of him as a Montgomery camp follower, especially when he works blues lines. Richard Wyands plays piano, John Webber bass, and Jimmy Cobb gets big type on the cover for drums. Wyands is a complementary player, and in a long live set gets some space. Cobb, of course, goes back far enough to recall when this kind of mainstream was new. Reportedly, there's a lot of live tapes in the Smalls archive, and this is one of the first six. Sound isn't great, but it gives you a good sense of how Bernstein works. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Paul Dunmall/Chris Corsano: Identical Sunsets (2010, ESP-Disk): Dunmall's bagpipes, played solo on the first cut, are the most hideous sound in all of jazz. He digs a deep hole there, although I suppose you could give him points for novelty. Dunmall's tenor sax is something else: fiercely engaged, sometimes brilliant, always noisy. Corsano is a drummer I had forgotten about -- has one album under his own name, unheard by me, and a few side credits, including a Nels Cline-Wally Shoup dud from 2005 where the noise got the best of the music. He digs in hard here, apparently a fair match for an effort that sinks or swims on Dunmall. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Phil Woods/Lee Konitz 5Tet: Play Woods (2003 , Philology): Another record where Rhapsody's 2010 date threw me, but it's a record I've been wanting to hear -- one of a batch of joint Woods-Konitz records from the 2003 Umbria Jazz Festival, along with Play Konitz and Play Rava and others. Philology is an Italian label which released so much by Woods one wonders if there isn't some sort of connection. The quintet is rounded out by Andrea Pozza on piano, Massimo Moriconi on bass, and Massimo Manzi on drums, but the interest is in the great alto saxists. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Phil Woods/Lee Konitz 5Tet: Play Konitz (2003 , Philology): Woods started as an orthodox bebopper and eventually turned backwards, offering tributes to Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges on the Play Woods set. Konitz was also deeply influenced by Charlie Parker, but never looked back -- at least any further than his own "Subconscious-Lee" which kicked his career off 60 years ago and gets a reprise here. As good as the Play Woods set but in different ways: this is tougher and more idiosyncratic, more into how the horns diverge than into their glorious union. Barbara Cassini sings two Jobim tunes at the end. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Looked for but couldn't find (or play) on Rhapsody:
Some more re-grades as I've gone through trying to sort out the surplus:
Luis Lopes/Adam Lane/Igal Foni: What Is When (2007-08 , Clean Feed): [formerly B+(**)] B+(***)
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week (actually, last three weeks):
Sure, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was meant to provoke a reaction from Israel. Few if any actually thought that Israel would stand aside and allow humanitarian aid to directly flow from Europe to the barricaded patch of ground that serves as an open air prison to 1.5 million Palestinians. Had Israel failed to stop the flotilla they would have surrendered their goal to reduce the Palestinians to "an utterly defeated people." Why they feel so strongly that their security depends on Palestinian misery is something of a mystery.
When Israel dismantled their settlements in Gaza in 2005 one might have thought that they were breaking their links, allowing Gaza at least -- the West Bank and Jerusalem were still tangled webs of Israeli settlements and reduced Palestinian enclaves -- to exist as a rump Palestinian state. But Israel continued to maintain its control over Gaza's borders, and with the absence of Israeli settlements started using sonic booms to terrorize the population -- something they ultimately discontinued as it was still annoying to nearby Israeli towns. In 2006 and 2008 Israel sent troops into Gaza, and frequently in between they bombed and/or shelled the territory. Throughout they've used their control over the borders to restrict trade and aid.
Now they've not only hijacked the flotilla, they killed 16 (or so) people in the process. Israel has developed a nasty habit of killing peaceful protesters, but this has usually occurred in isolated incidents before -- Rachel Corrie is the most famous. It's rarely clear whether such incidents are sloppy mistakes or a deliberate tactic to intimidate would-be protesters, but either way it has a chilling and scarifying effect.
Paul Woodward has been covering this story at War in Context. Some (by no means all) of his posts:
Some further comments:
Admittedly, these links come from the usual suspects -- the first places I've come to trust on this issue. I did run across one site, Elder of Ziyon, with a vast stream of free-spinning posts like Free Gaza lies caused the deaths, which argues:
Even this spin is meaningless if you don't accept the right of Israel to blockade and starve Gaza. It may well be that Palestinian political leaders would react negatively to carving Gaza off as an independent state, but that is the least that should be done, and that is something that could be done very easily now (or could have been done very easily in 2005 when Sharon dismantled the Gaza settlements). That would still leave a big mess in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but it would end the siege and strangulation of Gaza, international attempts to break it, and Israel's bloody defense of a stance which is indefensible legally or morally.
Jacob Heilbrunn: Interim Report: A couple of quotes from Heilbrunn's New York Times book review of Jonathan Alter's The Promise: President Obama, Year One:
I haven't researched this subject, but I have to wonder what kind of "Chicago community organizer" Obama really was. Chicago's a city with a well-developed patronage network which Obama would be good at networking without getting his hands too dirty. He may have a sense of justice for the poor, but he doesn't shoulder much outrage when the poor are served unjustly. Obama gravitates toward the elites because he's an honorary member of the club, personally confirming that the world is rightly ordered, a view that we who failed to get the proper invites don't share.
The image of Bush and McCain sitting dumbfounded while Obama and Paulson work through the rescue plan is precious. Big money favors the Republicans, but Republican politicians aren't selected for their comprehension of how the world works. Policy, after all, has been brokered out to the lobbyists, so all a politician has to do is to have some personal appeal and rudimentary skills at rehearsing the day's talking points, and expertise would only get in the way.
I like seeing someone else dub Obama a conservative, even if it's too kind to the people who fancy that label. At least it makes it clear that he's here to praise Caesar, not to bury him.
Sunday, May 30. 2010
Peter Beinart: The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment: The intended subject here is the growing disconnect between younger, secular-leaning Jews in America (and most likely in the rest of the Diaspora) from Israel, as opposed to the reflexive identification and intensive support the older generation. A lot of things factor into this, but the big one is that it's become harder and harder to whitewash Israel's illiberalism. The most useful part of this is Beinart's survey of Israel's internal political dialogue, which has evolved from the chauvinistic variant of socialism of Mapam and Mapai to the militarism and virulent anti-Arab racism of Likud and other parties vying to see which can be the most demagogic.
The situation strikes me as far more chilling than Beinart concedes: he maintains that there is still an ideological divide within Israel, with a "liberal-democratic Zionism" struggling against the demagogues, but he carves the cake so carefully he includes Netanyahu's Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, among the more enlightened. Still, he writes:
Actually, the real disconnect isn't between young American Jews chosing their liberalism (or radicalism) over their parents' allegiance to Israel, but within their parents who still try to pretend that the Israel they love is a nation worthy of their support. One of the most annoying things about Israel's defenders in America is how they keep advancing claims about Israel's democracy, liberalism, desire for peace, hopes to end the occupation, advocacy of a Palestinian state, etc., when Israel's actual policy and behavior is utterly opposed. Beinart touches on this a bit, but Stephen Walt brings this out more clearly in this comment:
It's clear that the need to maintain U.S. support has often acted as a moderator on Israel's policies: withdrawing from the Sinai in 1956, accepting cease-fires in the 1967 and 1973 wars, backing down from their intervention in Lebanon in 1978, agreeing to return the Sinai to Egypt in the 1979 accords, refraining from attacking Iraq in 1991, completing Sharon's cynical withdrawal from Gaza, and (most likely) holding off from bombing Iran today. On the other hand, the assurance of U.S. support has encouraged Israel to adventurism, as in the 1982 and 2006 invasions of Lebanon. Given this, it's natural to wonder whether a serious U.S. effort at resolving this conflict wouldn't work. But it's never been tried, in large part because the major Jewish lobbies in the U.S., which could give a well-meaning president some room to maneuver, have never asserted any independent views -- rather, they've always insisted on giving Israel a blank check, which has had the effect of indulging Israel's far right. (Admittedly, the neocons had their own reason for favoring Israel's far right, so a president under their influence, like the second Bush, was pleased with the blank check approach.)
One more small point that Beinart brings up but doesn't do much with. He points out that while secular-leaning Jews in America have deserted Israel, orthodox Jews have increasingly embraced Israel, and often very militantly. This is actually a huge shift, given that orthodox Jews have traditionally been anti-Zionist. The trend here seems to be following that in Israel, where the most militant settlers have come out of Rabbi Kook's Gush Emunim to form a new and distinctly more reactionary religious nationalism, one that has increasingly since 1967 held Israel's polity hostage. Their numbers have always been so small that they were easy to discount, but their impact has been profound, not just in the political arena but through such violent acts as the assassination of Rabin and the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre -- the latter the act of an American-born settler, Baruch Goldstein, now widely revered on Israel's far right. Those two acts are widely acknowledged to be the turning points against the Oslo Accords, which is to say that they were more/less responsible for extending the conflict 15 (and counting) years. No doubt Beinart and most liberal Zionists consider them atrocities, but we still have to ask, where is the backlash against such atrocities? What AIPAC et al. have insisted is that Israel bear no consequences for these or any other acts undertaken directly or in its name. That such hypocrisy has lost the allegiance of many younger Jews is unsurprising. What is scandalous is that it still commands obeissance from virtually all American politicians, not least Barack Obama.
Reading a lot today about how we should remember those who died in defense of freedom. Thinking, in particular, of Rachel Corrie.
Saturday, May 29. 2010
Robert H Reid: AP tally: 1,000th US military death in Afghan war: Front page article in the Wichita Eagle today. According to icasualties.org, the US number is slightly higher -- 1007 "in and around Afghanistan" or 1086 for all of Operation Enduring Freedom, with "Coalition Military Fatalities" at 1788. The trendline, by the way, is up, with 520 for 2009 vs. 295 for 2008 and 232 for 2007. The first five months of 2010 are running 85% higher than the first five months of 2009 (221 vs. 119), a ratio that will probably drop a bit come July (unless Obama escalates again). This is somewhat anticlimactic given that US military deaths in Iraq stand at 4400. It especially pales in comparison to the number of Afghans killed, maimed, or displaced since we threw our little tantrum in 2001 -- let alone the number of Afghans killed, maimed, or displaced since Brzezinski and Carter decided to have a little fun provoking the Russian Bear in 1979, or Reagan and Charlie Wilson upped the ante in the 1980s. I suppose you could say that at least our costs are manageable: it's not everywhere you can stretch a war out nine years with no end in sight and hold your casualties this low. Problem is, unless you're into war for the sole sake of keeping a war going it's hard to see any upside to such losses.
Fred Kaplan: How Are Things Going in Afghanistan? Well, according to the habitual optimists in the US military, not so well. Go figure.
Juan Cole: Taliban Attack Qandahar Airfield; Parliament goes on Strike: Another report from the Afghan front. Highlights include Taliban attacks against major US airbases and a NATO convoy in Kabul.
Zaid Jilani: Former Argentine president says Bush told him 'the best way to revitalize the economy is war': Chalmers Johnson (and others) have argued that America uses military spending as a form of closet Keynesian stimulus, but Bush seems to feel that the engine of the economy is something more vigorous than mere spending. His actual quote, at least as Kirchner has it, was more blanket: "All of the economic growth of the United States has been encouraged by wars." His is a very bloody way to look at the world. Moreover, he acted vigorously on his theory, so we should be able to test it against actual economic performance which, well, sucked: the result was the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Most people blame the recession on a bank crisis rooted primarily in deregulation and excessive leverage, which are certainly the proximate causes. I would add that the deeper cause was the multi-decade transfer of wealth to the very rich, which Bush didn't invent but advanced to a huge degree. It's possible that those trends simply swamped the growth that Bush anticipated from his wars, but Bush is making a very big claim here -- if it could so easily be swamped he shouldn't have been so sure of its primacy. But the other possibility is that the wars itself contributed to the economic fiasco.
Thursday, May 27. 2010
Steven Erlanger: Europeans Fear Crisis Threatens Liberal Benefits: No surprise that the New York Times doesn't run new news on Sundays, but this putting this retrograde opinion piece on the front page was a low blow:
Austerity is a technical term for screwing working people to prop up the monetary standard and salvage the losses of the rich. It tends to corrode vital social infrastructure, and as such to undermine the nation's ability to grow out of a slump. The IMF has been prescribing austerity to debtor nations for decades now in a self-perpetuating cycle of crises. While the IMF has mostly beat up on second and third world countries, the political right has ambitions of reducing Europe and America to same fate. After all, in a world of slackening growth how else can the rich keep getting richer than by pillaging everyone else?
There's no special reason why Europe's demographics should take a toll on lifestyles. Throughout the past century, reduced population growth and longer lifespans have correlated with -- most likely resulted in -- major gains in per capita wealth. The only reason why Europe's growth has lagged relative to the U.S. is that Europeans have chosen to take more of their gains in the form of free time, a healthy recognition that economics isn't all there is to life, and that material accumulation has limits and diminishing returns. Americans have been slower to recognize this because we live under a system of politically induced risk -- cf. Jacob Hacker's The Great Risk Shift, although there is much more to this, ranging from the everyday art of advertising to the cult of counterterrorism.
Forty-some years ago I read something I found really profound: that if we limited production to goods that people actually needed and came up with an efficient distribution system, we could maintain our current standard of living with less than 20% of the labor then expended. (I haven't been able to find the quote recently, but I'm pretty sure it came from Paul Sweezy.) Since then we've enjoyed 40 years of technological progress, which have created a few needs we hadn't appreciated back then but also significantly reduced the amount of work to produce what we did understand. One indication of the extend of technological progress is that a little more than a century ago agriculture consumed 90% of U.S. labor, whereas now 3% of the workforce feed three times as many people (plus produce enough surplus that we're converting corn to ethanol, something that makes little economic sense). The labor behind manufacturing has also steadily shrunk since mid-century, even if we control for displaced jobs due to increased imports. The remainder has been sopped up by services, a mixed bag of useful and useless efforts, with many specific tasks also made more efficient.
GDP growth has never been a very satisfactory measure of human betterment. It includes all sorts of useless activity and even benefits from fits of destruction and reconstruction. Erlanger includes the following complaint:
Actually, Europe benefited doubly from abjuring war, both by cutting out spending that didn't translate into better lives, and by foregoing the destruction war brings. Without war, their young men became productive workers instead of casualties. Without war, their buildings and infrastructure remained intact and useful. Without war they could invest for the long haul. Admittedly, they gave up some economic growth in the process, but doing so allowed them to work to advance instead of catch up and recover, and to find satisfactory limits to growth, which will help them to better survive future resource crunches. All this fretting about Europe's future is a front masking real anxiety about America, where we have yet to learn these lessons.
For instance, the French spend about half as much for their extravagant health care system as we pay for our miserly one. The difference of 8% of GDP alone translates into about four extra weeks of vacation time. The problem that besets Europe isn't not having enough workers to do the work; it's not having enough money because the rich keep using their political clout to suck it up. But that's a problem with lots of solutions, but they're political: taxing the rich, regulating their scams and shenanigans, even inflating the money supply. One I'm personally fond of is promoting cost-saving, value-enhancing competition, especially by whittling away monopoly and scale advantages. But it's not an economic problem. The fact is that post-WWII economies grew faster when they were more equitable than at any time after the right rose to hegemony.
Paul Krugman: Reasons to Despair: Just one of a whole series of posts and columns from Krugman lamenting a fog of nonsense that has settled in over politics in Washington, especially regarding debt and inflation. The result is likely to be a forced stagnation, as is spelled out in Krugman's Lost Decade Looming? column. Andrew Leonard comments:
Emphasis Leonard's. Governments have a checkered history of solving problems, especially when under the corrupt influence of private interests, but in principle they are the only important organization representing any sort of public interest, and they are capable of large-scale deliberate action when so moved. The right wants to keep that fundamental fact out of circulation, and one of the best ways they've found to do so is to corrupt and debauch government.
Wednesday, May 26. 2010
Laura watches a lot of TV. I listen to a lot of music. The doors between our spaces are usually closed to keep those two worlds at bay, but on rare occasions I wander into her space. She had so raved about the first three seasons of 24 that I started watching it with "Day 4": the one with Muslim terrorist Habib Marwan, who causes a nuclear power plant to meltdown, shoots down Air Force 1 killing the president and bringing a weak and wobbly Charles Logan to power, and launches a nuclear-armed cruise missle which fails to detonate over Los Angeles. I figured it might tell me something about the terror-deranged mind of America, but it turned out to be too absurdly sensationist for analysis. The main point I drew from the series was that it posited a future state of America where both terrorism and counterterrorism had been scaled up to industrial levels: in other words, a dystopian warning against allowing such activities to happen.
You see, "Day 4" starts with some bus bombings that are the sort of things real terrorists could do given reasonable levels of access and munitions and dedication -- none of which actually exists in anything like critical quantities in the U.S. (Cf. the ineptness of the Times Square Car Bomb or the Underpants Bomber, or the small scale of the Fort Hood shootings.) Then they veer off into fantasy, but the key thing to realize is that every major threat in 24 is made possible by the U.S. military-industrial-security complex and/or its kin elsewhere -- especially 24's favorite target, Russia. Terrorists may love the idea of shooting down Air Force 1, but in 24 it's accomplished by an American mercenary who manages to take a USAF fighter out for a "test flight." This only gets more explicit over the next few series, especially in season 7 where Jonas Hodges (Jon Voight) and his industrial partners have thoroughly infiltrated the government and are actively orchestrating something more like guerrilla warfare than mere terrorism.
Season/Day 8 ended last night in a rather pathetic whimper, but at least the season was relatively free of the familial schmaltz and bureaucratic in-fighting that had routinely substituted for ideas (and action) in the past. That left us with more action, and the action was often impressive -- especially Jack Bauer's pickup of Meredith Reed in a crowd of Russian agents, even more so Bauer's assault on Charles Logan's motorcade, but one can also cite a few notable murders, as when Dana Walsh disposed of Bill Prady (the Arkansas parole officer) and more importantly the season's most annoying subplot, or when Renee Walker ended her affair with Vladimir Laitanan.
However, they missed a few critical turns, mostly because the writers hate Jack Bauer and have been trying to dehumanize him -- death being proscribed by the business plan -- at least since his fake death in Season 4. President Dipshit (as she's been known in these parts ever since she pompously plotted her "humanitarian war" in Africa in Season 7) had a plot-turning personal meeting with Bauer where she could have said: Logan's come to me to mediate with the Russians to keep them tied up in the peace deal, but Logan insists that I lock you down; we know the Russians are guilty in this, and I don't trust Logan for a moment, but I need to keep this quiet until the peace deal is signed, otherwise we're giving in to subversion and terrorism; so what I need is for you, Jack Bauer, to go rogue and investigate this and report back only to me. They might have worked out some details for faking the lock down, turning Bauer loose, and giving him limited support away from Jason Pillar's purview, and she might have gone further and gave him one of those immunity agreements they pass out like candy -- in effect, she could have given him a legit license to kill, justifying it because she couldn't have known who else could be trusted. Instead, she placed her fate in Logan's hands, and we then saw Logan tighten the screws one by one until she broke. But why makes no sense: Logan seems to be driven by nothing more than vanity, and Pillar, who at first looms like the agent of a vast conspiracy fronted by Logan -- don't forget, he's done that before -- ultimately appears as nothing more than an ass-kisser. Bringing in Suvarov raises the stakes, but strains credulity: why is Russia so dead set on scuttling a peace deal ostensibly between the U.S. and I.R.K., when the real Russia is perfectly satisfied to feign neutrality in such matters (e.g., U.S./Iran)? And how (let alone why) was Suvarov the one who decided to kill Renee Walker, when we saw Pavel Tokarev propose the killing to a rather indifferent Mikhail Novakovich?
While I'm relieved that Bauer didn't assassinate Suvarov, which would have created an international embarrassment if not a cassus belli for Armageddon, I'm disappointed that he backed off from a much more interesting opportunity: he could have shot Logan in Suvarov's presence. Doing so would have punished the guilty party -- Bauer had direct evidence that Logan had been in communication with Tokarev, whereas he only had Logan's word that Suvarov was responsible. And it would have made an indelible impression on Suvarov, underscoring both that he was vulnerable to Bauer and had been reprieved -- as Bauer likes to say, "if I'd wanted you dead you'd be dead already." Moreover, it would have saved us Logan's murder of Pillar and botched suicide attempt -- how'd he manage that? -- not to mention Chloe O'Brien shooting Bauer and all that.
The whole Peace Agreement is splattered with incredulity: as to the size and importance of the deal, as to its international participation (especially the critical role of Russia). And what does it mean when Dipshit backs out of the deal? Bauer's line that you can't have peace based on lies is ass backwards: you start with peace, then build trust and openness on top of it. Dipshit's moral nadir was the moment she used nuclear blackmail on I.R.K.'s Dalia Hassan to force her to sign the treaty: given that such a threat could endlessly be reiterated, this shows you what kind of "partner for peace" Dipshit, and the U.S., really is. If the Peace Agreement was fundamentally just, the only step forward would have been to sign it, even if that was for some or all parties just a matter of appearances.
Jack Bauer has had a powerful death wish for the last few years, so powerful in the last few hours that only the prospects of a movie deal kept him breathing. He dives into one suicide mission after another, gets stabbed -- twice if memory serves -- and shot by Chloe O'Brien as a way of wheedling out of getting shot by someone serious (or, more likely, him shooting a bunch of U.S. agents). Incapacitating Bauer for the last half-hour took all the remaining air out of the show. That left the ending to President Dipshit, whose warped sense of morality left her with only one way to take responsibility -- quit and go to jail with her estranged daughter -- an act so selfish that she insisted that Bauer submit to punishment as well. Again, she could have used to moment to make amends to Bauer by pardoning him, and Bauer was hardly the only one she owed something to -- debts that she would never be able to pay once she was locked away in jail. She talked a lot about peace, but didn't practice it or believe in it. She was all pompous poise, and too dimwitted to see anyone or anything around her.
The first few series I came to hate the real time format. In real life things happen more slowly, and it takes time to sort out reactions and consequences. But by constraining the story to the present, they never even ventured suggestions as to where such terror and corruption came from, or what anyone might have learned from the events. What we got instead was a series of slasher videos wrapped up in a blanket of cynical but otherwise confused politics. It was horrible, and sometimes fun, the latter only because it was sheer fantasy.
Monday, May 24. 2010
Spent the week trying to wrap up the Jazz CG column, mostly playing things I've previously rated and trying to come up with short reviews, sometimes getting stuck. For all practical purposes, the column is written, and most of what remains is to cut what I have down to the available space. I expect to get it all wrapped up sometime this week. Maybe even wrap up a nice-sized surplus file, since I have nowhere near enough space for what I've rated, and have more than ever in the unplayed piles -- presumably enough good things there to last a couple more Jazz CG columns.
Wednesday, May 19. 2010
Matthew Yglesias: Economic Crisis Reading List: I offered a big list of banking books back in March where I tried to sweep up damn near everything in print (plus a few forthcoming titles). I read 10-12 of those, and tried to sort the rest out using scattered information. Yglesias now has a short list:
I've read only one of those five, Animal Spirits, which has a few annoying tics as the authors attempt to systematize a theory out of unsystematic behavior (see notes here). I'll keep my eye open for the others -- Tett's is the only one I've seen in the library. One thing I will say is that the the debts that figure so large in Rajan's thesis is the only one of three options that seemed palatable to conservatives powers: either you need to redistribute income downward to generate growing economic demand or you can temporarily fake it by offering credit, but when the latter runs into inevitable limits, either the economy crashes or you have to go back and consider redistribution again.
Conservatives have used their political clout to organize a massive system of wage repression for the poor and inflation for the rich -- some of this is transfer, but much of it has been imaginary, a run-up of asset prices mistaken for asset values. It's hard to see how you turn that around without overthrowing the conservative political power that unbalanced the system in the first place, but few people think about it in those terms.
Yglesias also mentions in passing several other books:
Of those, I've read Cassidy, who does an admirable job of sorting out the major macroeconomic camps and explaining why the conservative take doesn't work. That may seem remedial but I did indeed find it useful, so I recommend it, or would except that Yves Smith's Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Udnermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism covers the same turf in even sharper relief.
Andrew Leonard: Elena Kagan's "socialist" college thesis: I found this interesting for the same reason conservatives find it alarming: that Kagan studied the history of the socialist movement in America doesn't make her an advocate or adherent but it does violate the political taboo that denies that Americans ever had any legitimate interest in socialism. The right is always happier with a knee-jerk reaction against socialism than with a reasoned rejection, because if the right understands anything -- clearly they don't understand much -- it's that legitimacy is their first line of defense against subversive ideas. That Kagan's willing to entertain heathenish thoughts is a risk they'd rather not take. On the other hand, it promises very little. What Leonard takes as smarts is actually a completely conventional explanation of why socialism failed in America. I'm not saying that she's wrong or simple-minded -- sometimes the conventional explanation is right, or at least a reasonable first approximation. So you can't read too much into this -- she may just be real good both at coming up with the expected answer and making it look good, a skill which came in handy in defending the Obama administration's continuance of Bush's executive power claims. In doing so she's established a reputation that she will be a good deal more conservative than the Justice she replaces, nudging the court slightly to the right, ever further from the Warren court which actually did something to secure constitutional rights against repressive government. Back then one could look to the courts for justice. Now one hopes that the courts don't screw us over too bad. Kagan seems like someone who would be comfortable either then or now, which means she's unlikely to ever change anything. But she can dress the status quo up smartly, which seems to be all Obama wants.
Monday, May 17. 2010
In the endgame period now, as I try to wrap up a Jazz Consumer Guide column for print. Normally, that means going back to things I've already prospected and rated, writing them up as reviews of one sort or another, deciding to dump some unfortunate records into the surplus, and ultimately sorting out what runs first and what has to be held back for another column. As usual, I'm short on pick hits and duds, and way long on honorable mentions and marginal A-list features. At such times Jazz Prospecting becomes more selective: I should at least check out records related to ones I expect to run, as well as some "important" things that thus far slipped through the cracks -- like last year's Dave Douglas records, which I got real late. Still, I got very little of that done last week: the major accomplishment was a pick hit review which only came after a dozen plays. Lots of distractions last week: work on house, people visiting, Laura getting ready for two weeks on the road.
This next week should be different, not least because I'll be home alone. I expect to get the draft finished, and tie together a bunch of loose ends. Still leaves me with a lot of catching up to do for next time.
Just got news that Hank Jones died. Came as a surprise given how vital and productive he's been the last few years, but it is something 91-year-olds are prone to. Within the last year Jones won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and was elected to Downbeat's Hall of Fame -- recognitions he should have earned long ago, but everyone assumed he'd be around forever.
Looking through my database, I can especially recommend the following:
I'm not a big piano fan, so a lot of fine records fell just short of my list, including 2005's trio For My Father and last year's Oliver Jones duets, Pleased to Meet You. I've also missed half or more of his records, including all but one of the records he cut as The Great Jazz Trio, and his well-regarded duets with Tommy Flanagan, Our Delights.
AMG has 13 pages of credits for Jones, the more recent entries getting swamped in hard-to-place compilations. Quickly scanning through the list, the following caught my eye (all A- or better in my database):
I no doubt missed some, plus I noticed some I haven't heard but had long wanted to, like the Helen Merrill-Clifford Brown set. Some notable musicians on Jones' credits list that I didn't map to any of the above records: Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, Ruth Brown, Benny Carter, Nat King Cole, Chris Connor, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington, Tal Farlow, Art Farmer, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Dexter Gordon, Gigi Gryce, Billie Holiday, Milt Jackson, Illinois Jacquet, J.J. Johnson, Elvin Jones, Louis Jordan, John Kirby, Abbey Lincoln, Johnny Mathis, Howard McGhee, Helen Merrill, Charles Mingus, Wes Montgomery, Lee Morgan, Gerry Mulligan, Fats Navarro, Joe Newman, Red Norvo, Anita O'Day, Hot Lips Page, Art Pepper, Houston Person, Flip Phillips, Emily Remler, Artie Shaw, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, Grover Washington, Joe Wilder, Joe Williams, Lester Young.
Early on he played with practically everyone, and invariably made them better. That the side credits thin out in the 1970s may have had more to do with the sales slump and decentralization than with focusing on his own albums, which in many ways peaked with his early 1990s albums on Verve. He was as central as anyone to jazz history after WWII.
Wednesday, May 12. 2010
Stef Gijssels: 1,000 CD Reviews on Free Jazz Blog: I periodically scan through Stef's blog, adding everything he rates 4-stars or above to my metacritic and wishlist files. He has a much narrower focus on free jazz than I do -- you'll never find him writing about a good postbop record, let alone a throwback (except maybe to Albert Ayler). Conversely, he likes a lot of free jazz I consider marginal, so a lot of his 4-star records wind up in my middle-B+ range. But he finds a lot of stuff I don't get: helps that he specializes, also that he's based in Belgium -- some time ago he credited the Brussels library for a lot of his access (something I can't claim for Wichita, although I did once find a copy of Erzulie Maketh Scent in the stacks here, so it's not a resource to be belittled). These days he's more on the dole, so there's more about process here -- stuff I can relate to.
Monday, May 10. 2010
Continuing to muddle along, playing jazz when I get the chance, sampling Rhapsody when I feel less ambitious, carpentering and painting a bit each day. New CD shelves are up. I originally figured they'd hold 3000 discs, but I eliminated the top shelves and didn't subtract the hole for the breaker box so they'll most likely wind up with a few less. Quite some more work to do, so that'll remain a distraction for the next 2-3 weeks. Meanwhile, I do have a deadline for Jazz Consumer Guide. It will appear in the Voice's Jazz Supplement issue, mid-June, so I need to wrap up the column in the next two weeks. Shouldn't be too hard, but it means the unplayed records will remain unplayed a couple more weeks while I write up a few things I've already rated and sort out my surplus. Still need to settle on pick hits and duds. Other than that, I have more than enough written up and ready to go.
Stefano Battaglia/Michele Rabbia: Pastorale (2009 , ECM): Italian pianist, b. 1965, has a couple dozen albums since 1987, mostly on the Italian Splasc(H) label, which kicks out a lot of albums I never get a chance to hear. Third album on ECM. Rabbia also b. 1965, credited with percussion and electronics, has one album under his own name. Scattered effects here, most enticing when Battaglia's piano joins in the percussion, sometimes aided by preparation. On a couple of occasions reminds me of Harry Partch. B+(***)
Sofia Rei Koutsovitis: Sube Azul (2009 , World Village/Harmonia Mundi): Singer, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, studied at New England Conservatory, now based in New York; second album, all in Spanish, mostly originals, with an expert set of musicians, with mostly Cuban-oriented percussionists, and jazz names at piano (Geoff Keezer and Leo Genovese) and clarinet (Anat Cohen). B+(*)
John Blake Jr.: Motherless Child (2010, ARC): Violinist, b. 1947, Philadelphia, half-dozen albums since 1983, some possibly credited without the "Jr." Mostly gospel pieces powered by the Howard University Jazz Choir, who are up to the task if you're into that sort of thing. Spine credits Blake's Quartet, which I take to be Sumi Tonooka on piano, Boris Kozlov on bass, and Jonathan Blake on drums. Front cover cites Mulgrew Miller as a special guest, but his two cuts are hardly more special than Tonooka's four. Still, the real treat here is the violin. B+(**)
The Vinson Valega Group: Biophilia (2009 , Consilience Productions): Drummer, b. 1965, fourth album since 2001, leading a postbop sextet -- two saxes, trombone, piano, bass, drums -- with no one I recognize, although he gets pieces from four of them, plus writes 6 of 15 himself. Seems like an interesting guy, with intelligent liner notes on global warming and E.O. Wilson's title concept. Music is unpretentious postbop, lots of neat little twists, a few smart nods to the tradition (Ellington, Monk, Berlin, Ornette Coleman). Nothing that especially caught my ear, but nothing wrong with what I did hear. B+(*)
Empty Cage Quartet & Soletti Besnard: Take Care of Floating (2008 , Rude Awakening): LA-based pianoless freebop quartet, with Kris Tiner (trumpet), Jason Mears (alto sax, clarinet), Ivan Johnson (bass), and Paul Kikuchi (drums), on their sixth album since 2006 -- expanded to a sextet this time with the addition of two French musicians: guitarist Patrice Soletti and clarinettist Aurélien Besnard, for more complex interaction, but tends to unsharpen the angles. Soletti and Besnard have several albums each, including at least one duo. I'm rather taken with Besnard's MySpace influences list: Berne, Ducret, Sclavis, Eskelin, further down adding Dolphy, Ayler, Coleman, Davis, Braxton, and Drew Gress. B+(**)
William Parker: At Somewhere There (2008 , Barnyard): Solo, mostly acoustic bass, especially on the 48:11 "Cathedral Wisdom Light," but also dousn'gouni on the 5:48 "For Don Cherry" and double flute on the 3:50 "For Ella Parker." The bass is mostly arco, so there's a lot of sawing back and forth, up and down. But this comes off a good deal more melodic than Parker's earlier solo efforts (e.g., 1998's Lifting the Sanctions), and the good-natured play flows readily into the novelty instrumentals. B+(***)
Marco Benevento: Between the Needles and Nightfall (2010, Royal Potato Family): Pianist, b. 1977 in Livingston NJ, lived in Colorado for a while, studied at Berklee, based in Brooklyn. Trio with Reed Mathis on electric bass, Andrew Barr on drums/percussion, and Benevento supplementing his piano with "optigan, circuit bent toys, and various keyboards." Groove-centric, a little fuzzy on the edges. My paperwork indicates that somewhere I have his 2009 record Me Not Me. Will keep an eye out for that. B+(*)
Marco Benevento: Me Not Me (2008 , Royal Potato Family): OK, found an advance buried in the unplayed baskets -- don't I keep harping on how stuff like that runs a real risk of slipping through the cracks? Advance doesn't have any credits, and I can't find the hype sheet, but AMG tells me that Reed Mathis plays bass here, and it's either Matt Chamberlain or Andrew Barr on drums. Most of this is fuzzily indistinct, tethered to rockish beats. This works best on "Friends" where it gets unruly. B [advance]
Dave Holland Octet: Pathways (2009 , Dare2): Also buried among the advances -- doubt I'll ever see a final copy. Recorded live at Birdland, so there are some intros and shout outs. Not sure if/when Holland has used the octet format before, but it splits the difference between his quintet (Chris Potter on tenor sax, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Nelson on vibes, and Nate Smith on drums) and his big band, adding three more horns (Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Antonio Hart on alto sax, and Gary Smulyan on baritone sax). Mostly Holland pieces, with Potter and Sipiagin contributing one each. A lot of firepower -- Potter and Eubanks caught my ears, but Hart and Smulyan also got called out, and Nelson gets his space. I figure this for smart postbop, and can't get excited about it, but there's much to admire, so I'll let it sit for now. Given the reputations of all involved, this will no doubt fare well in year-end polls. [B+(***)] [advance]
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: One Day in Brooklyn (2009, Kinnara): Group, originally from Tulsa, led by pianist Brian Haas, with Chris Coombs on lap steel guitar, Matt Hayes (replacing longtime member Reed Mathis) on double bass, and Josh Raymer on drums. On past albums, Mathis had managed to produce some strange fuzziness on the bass, but Hayes melts into the mix, leaving Haas more out front than ever. A Monk, some stuff by Lennon and McCartney, a couple of originals. Not bad, but not worth spending a lot of time figuring out whether it should be rated a notch higher. B [advance]
Dave Glasser: Evolution (2010, Here Tiz): Alto saxophonist, worked his way through the Basie ghost band with Frank Foster, the Gillespie ghost band with Jon Faddis, and the still living and vital Basie-Ellington alum Clark Terry's quintet. Most likely they are all fond of his tone, which Phil Woods likens to Benny Carter. Glasser was last heard swinging on Arbors, but here he turns a bit "Monkish" -- one of his titles, while his pianist John Nyerges contributes a complementary tune called "Monk's Blues," and to drive the theme home the quartet does "Rhythm-a-Ning." Slim slipcover slipped in with the advances, but doesn't include any of the usual intimidating promo talk, so I assume this is finished product. Didn't even scratch out the UPC. B+(***)
John Hicks & Frank Morgan: Twogether (2005-06 , High Note): The sort of record that would be dismissed as lazy by living artists but turns into a poignant souvenir now that they've passed. Three piano solos -- one each on Bud Powell, Duke Pearson, and Billy Strayhorn -- plus four duos with alto saxophonist Morgan, as standard as "Round Midnight" and "Night in Tunisia." A-
Brandon Wright: Boiling Point (2009 , Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, from NJ, studied in Michigan and Miami, 27 (b. 1983?), based in Brooklyn, has some big band experience. First album, staffed his quintet with well-known players -- Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, David Kikoski on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, Matt Wilson on drums -- wrote 5 of 8 songs (covers: "Here's That Rainy Day," "Interstate Love Song," "You're My Everything"), and cranked up the heat. He's a very impressive player running in fast company. Reminds me some of the young Tommy Smith, which if he pans out could eventually make this record auspicious. B+(***)
Organissimo: Alive & Kickin' (2008-09 , Big O): Organ trio, with Jim Alfredson on the Hammond (err, make that "hammond-suzuki xk3/xk system, leslie 3300 & synthesizers"), Joe Gloss as Grant Green, and Randy Marsh on drums. Pretty limited niche, and sometimes it's best just to aim low and enjoy yourself, which is pretty much what they do here. Inspired title: "Jimmy Smith Goes to Washington." Less inspired title: "Groovadelphia." B+(*)
Ben Monder/Bill McHenry: Bloom (2000 , Sunnyside): Guitar-tenor sax duets, improvised, mostly slow and moody, some interesting, some not. B
Bernardo Sassetti Trio: Motion (2009 , Clean Feed): Portuguese Pianist, b. 1970, doesn't really fit the label's avant focus but he's their hometown hero and bestseller, a remarkable player in his own right. Calm and focused, spare but ornately pretty, a combination that works out as serene. B+(***)
David Smith Quintet: Anticipation (2009 , Bju'ecords): AMG lists 50 Dave or David Smiths, none obviously the right one, which makes no sense. Trumpet player, from Canada, based in Brooklyn, second album -- first was a quintet with Seamus Blake on Fresh Sound New Talent, Circumstance, which I should have flagged as an HM but somehow escaped -- plus thirty-some side credits. Kenji Omae replaces Blake on saxophone, and new bass and drums, but guitarist Nate Radley is a significant carryover. Crackling postbop, especially the trumpet. Tough name to make one with, but if I were running AMG I'd flag him in bold. B+(***)
François Couturier: Un Jour Si Blanc (2008 , ECM): French pianist, b. 1950, only his third album, second for ECM. Solo, slow, thoughtful, with hommages to J.S. Bach, Arthur Rimbaud, and Andrei Tarkovski. 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, May 9. 2010
Harold Bloom: The Jewish Question: British Anti-Semitism: Who knew that the greatest existential threat to Israel isn't the dead-ender Palestinians or the fanatical Iranian ayatollahs or even Barack Hussein Obama; it's the British intelligentsia, who carry on the anti-semitic wiles of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens. Bloom figured this out while reviewing an 811 pp. book by Anthony Julius, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, which he praises effusively:
[Emphasis added.] This may be the worst book review I've ever read: gushy in its praise while at the same time hijacking the book to push a personal agenda, which among other things makes a big deal on how little anti-Semitism (ergo anti-Zionism) Bloom finds by contrast in his own American intelligentsia -- let's not omit the intro paragraph:
I don't doubt that one can write 821 pp. on the long history of British anti-semitism going back (at least) to the explusion of 1290, but it seems silly that Bloom, let alone Julius, should spend so much print rehashing Merchant of Venice. The problem is sorting out the British philo-semites and anti-semites (and wacko millenarians like David Lloyd George) who teamed up to sponsor Israel and imbue it with the stink of British Imperialism. It wouldn't surprise me to find that most of today's British intellectuals have reservations about Israel, and indeed about imperialism in general, but I would be surprised to find them as unanimous as Bloom paints them to be: while many have turned against Britain's imperial legacy, if not for what it did to the world at least for what it did to Britain, there are more than a few imperial apologists still operating -- e.g., Niall Ferguson, or less reputably Tony Blair.
The one thing I get from Bloom's obsession is that efforts to boycott Israel are striking that old existential nerve. That sounds good to me, not because I want to destroy Israel but because the only way I can see to get them to change their ways is to shun and shame them. Bloom may be satisfied to think of Israel as no worse than a middling corrupt dictatorship, but he's looking at reality through blinders: to see Israel as a tolerable militarist security state it helps to think no one matters but the eternally oppressed Jews -- least of all the Palestinians.
Ira Chernus: What Price for Israel and Palestine?: It's slowly dawning on Americans of most political stripes that blank check American support for Israel is getting expensive not to mention eternally frustrating. Netanyahu, and most Israelis, see no downside in turning their noses up at Obama, or even Bush. They like their war, their sense of power over the Palestinians, their blind faith that as long as they never give in they can go on thinking they're winning. There's lots here you no doubt know already, but this quote is worth focusing on:
The only move Israel ever made toward peace was when they came up with Oslo as an alternative to the Bush-Baker pressure behind the Madrid conference. That was a rare, almost singular, instance of the US making it clear that its support wasn't unconditional. Clinton backed down repeatedly, in the end helping Barak scuttle Oslo, and Bush did no better (and often worse). Obama at least seems to recognize that there are American interests demanding compromise between Israel and the Palestinians but he has yet to put any muscle behind those interests. Had he done so, it seems likely that Netanyahu's fractious coalition would have cracked, but with no pressure Netanyahu has had a free ride.
Still, we should be clear on one point: even if the US were to withdraw all political, economic, and military support, that would in no way threaten or imperil Israel's existence. All it would do is to force recognition of Israel's status as a pariah state -- a state dedicated to a class/race system that subjects a significant minority of its people to human rights abuses few if any other nations accept or support. There's no reason to think that Israel cannot continue on its own indefinitely. No other nation is a threat to Israel. The only force that can change Israel is its own citizenry.
Friday, May 7. 2010
Another month, another batch. Got to the last three titles after Christgau's May Consumer Guide appeared -- want to give Quasi one more spin before deciding on it. Bought a copy of the missing Coathangers record, but haven't got around to playing it yet. Also bought the new Hold Steady, which on first blush sounds much like their others.
Thought I'd add some pictures to liven things up -- pick hits, if you like, but I wouldn't be so sure of that. Looked for Dan le Sac v Scroobius Pip but couldn't find it, so picked Nash over Apples in Stereo, possibly because I like the cover better.
Usual caveats apply: These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on April 9. Past reviews and more information are available here.
Coathangers (2007, Rob's House): Atlanta group, basically punk with keybs, mostly or all female, two albums. Christgau likes the second, Scramble (2009), better, but this eponymous debut is the only one available, so I figured what the fuck. First slow one is eight songs in, "Buckethead Betty," with a live audience. Next is "Don't Touch My Shit!" -- more rant than melody. Sloppy, but that's the best thing about them. B+(***)
Texas Tornados: ¡Esta Bueno! (2010, Bismeaux): Tex-Mex supergroup, disbanded in 1999 with the death of the almost irreplaceable Doug Sahm; all the more so since the even more unique Freddy Fender died in 2006. However, no big surprise that Augie Meyers and Flaco Jiminez had nothing better going on with their careers, hence this quasi-reunion. Sahm's shoes are filled by son Shawn, who inherited more than a little of his dad's voice. And Fender returns from the grave with five vocal tracks. No one here is trying to do anything new; they're hard-pressed enough to come up with something old, which isn't such a bad idea. B+(*)
Easton Corbin (2010, Mercury Nashville): Debut album, tries hard to establish his bona fides by going countrier than thou -- one song is "A Little More Country Than That," followed by "This Far From Memphis" about how bad he's slid so far from home. Cover shows him sittin' on the porch, pickin', dog by his side, only the wicker chairs lookin' too easy. B+(**)
John Hiatt: The Open Road (2009 , New West): Back in 1975 Christgau sent me Hiatt's first two albums to see if I could run with them. I did get to the point where I regarded them as surrealist wonders, but didn't write a review until the big Terminal Zone survey. Later I caught Hiatt playing solo in an Indianapolis bar, memorable as a fortuitous accident but also as a lesson in how one can make up for lack of a band. Wit helps, plus a voice that he's tortured into one-of-a-kind territory. Twenty albums later, he's a solid journeyman, enough of a pro that the best songs here are built on borrowed blues riffs, and all the more remarkable for that. B+(**)
Norah Jones: The Fall (2009, Blue Note): Fourth album. A big star for a jazz label, but not jazzy enough that I got serviced -- she's cornered some kind of MOR vocal niche that nobody knew existed before Come Away With Me swept the charts. An attractive album, although I still don't get much out of it. B+(*)
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way (2010, Daptone): Retro soul, a pretty good formula, which after four albums is just that. B+(*)
V.V. Brown: Travelling Like the Light (2009 , Capitol): British soul singer, owns most of her writing credits, has a retro spin that doesn't fee like retro: more like a cross or merger between Little Esther and Martha and the Vandellas, although she more likely grew up on Madonna. Fully half of the songs I instantly love. Slowing it down isn't her strong suit. A-
Polar Bear: Peepers (2010, Leaf Label): Quintet, British (I guess), led by drummer Seb Rochford (Scottish, I'm told); AMG has group formed in 1999, with five albums since 2005. Group has two tenor saxes up front, electronics and guitar by Leafcutter John, and bass, of course. I wouldn't call this fusion, although it does tend to stick with the beat. Slow songs make good use of the sax(es); fast ones too, but differently. Had a lot of trouble playing this, and one song called "Scream" didn't come through at all. Not sure whether that's a plus or a minus. B+(**)
Kate Nash: My Best Friend Is You (2010, Geffen): British pop sensation (in Britain at least), similar (in that regard at least) to Lily Allen. Not as interesting, but rocks harder, and in "Mansion Song" is far ruder. First album was borderline A-list; this one is harder to figure, but has more upside potential. A-
Merle Haggard: I Am What I Am (2010, Vanguard): A slight but satisfying album, his 76th in his 72 years; probably ranks somewhere in the middle ranks in songwriting terms -- "We're Falling in Love Again" is much like other good songs he's done in the past, but "Bad Actor" and the title song (something about a pig being just a ham) aren't that sharp. On the other hand, his voice keeps growing on you, and the spare country arrangements are flawless. B+(***)
Merle Haggard: Chicago Wind (2005, Capitol): Missed this record a few years back; now two back, behind the new one and The Bluegrass Sessions, more recent than 2003's Like Never Before. Two new political songs are as jingoistic as ever but are basically right on: "Where's All the Freedom" calls for freedom here, and "America First" calls to get the hell out of Iraq. Everything else tends toward soft and shapeless, relatively speaking. B+(**)
Shelby Lynne: Tears, Lies and Alibis (2010, Everso): First song suggests a rockish album, but that breaks down with a couple of slow ones. That all turns around midway on "Family Tree" with its tense guitar and biting lyric ("this apple done fall off the family tree"). From that point on the songs take over. A-
The Apples in Stereo: Travellers in Space and Time (2008-10 , Yep Roc): Brilliant pop feel, big gestures, bold synths. I hear the comparisons to ELO, but which reminds me that Roy Wood's take on the Beatles was in this direction. Still, a much bigger band, and retro only if you feel old. A-
The Apples in Stereo: Tone Soul Evolution (1997, SpinArt): Delving into their back catalogue for one I missed, this was their second album, striking most for the purity and constency of their Revolver-era Beatles sound -- that shimmering aura around the guitars that may have originally come from George Harrison's sitar but just seems to be a sound signature here. Also the purity and consistency of the songwriting. A-
MGMT: Congratulations (2010, Columbia): Electro-pop duo, second album. Their first, Oracular Spectacular, was one of the highest rated metafile records of 2008 that I didn't get around to hearing -- finished 8th on my list (behind Bon Iver at 6th). This is pretty blah for the first half, the main problem being anonymous vocals layered until utterly indistinct. Not sure what the "Brian Eno" tribute means to prove, but one following cut ("Lady Dada's Nightmare"?) is spare and interesting. B-
MGMT: Oracular Spectacular (2007 , Columbia): Surprise hit first album, holds together better probably because they keep a consistent vocal tone -- most likely the principals -- and stick to the few things they know best. This doesn't impress strongly as "electro-pop" or "synth-dance" which suggest other exemplars with more pop and more wit -- New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Cabaret Voltaire, even Eurythmics -- but they're smart enough to slink by, just not what I'd call spectacular. B+(*)
Willie Nelson: Country Music (2010, Rounder): New label, must have been killer shit they were smoking at the marketing meeting given that all they came up with was T-Bone Burnett producing, a bunch of real old songs to cover -- the one Nelson original is "Man With the Blues," which he's done dozens of times since the early '60s -- and, well, what was that title again? At least as formulae go this one is impossible to screw up. Still, Nelson sings softly and the mostly acoustic band is featherweight. B+(*)
These New Puritans: Hidden (2010, Domino): British group, second album, like the drum sound quite a bit, sometimes the synth layering, don't mind the talkie vocals, but find the choral stuff a bit too high church. B
Gotan Project: Tango 3.0 (2010, XL): French group, originally more of a techno-meets-tango concept, but aside from a little dub this seems squarely rooted in tango, perhaps because they're discovering ever more angles and layers to the basic step. B+(**)
Erykah Badu: New Amerykah, Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh (2010, Universal/Motown): Given her past record, this should be a smart, savvy set, but the soft funk flows so interminably that two plays slip past while barely registering. Could still be worth pursuing, but cheaper thrills abound. B+(*)
Corroncho (2009 , Expression): Rhapsody attributes this to Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, although Lucho Brieva is a crucial collaborator, bringing the Colombian slang of the title and the jumpy Cumbia funk, rap, and ambient dub, and interesting guests abound. Could complain that Dylan's "Tu Juventud" is as old as ever. B+(**)
Glee: The Music, Vol. 1 (2009, Columbia): I've only seen one episode and suspect that the hokey story settings and slick dance moves matter more than the music -- but the episode I saw featured Madonna songs, so the music held up much better than, well, the run of the mill here. "Gold Digger" suggests they should do more hip-hop; everything else argues for fewer torchy ballads. Also, the harmonies that spell team effort on the show smother the songs on their own. B-
Glee: The Music, Vol. 2 (2009, Columbia): More, and more scattered, with no hip-hop but a few pieces that hold up to their energetic overkill -- the opening "Proud Mary," the mash-up of "Don't Stand So Close to Me/Young Girl," a towering "Lean on Me." Glad I don't know the story line behind "(You're) Having My Baby," or for that matter "Imagine." I can certainly guess "My Life Would Suck Without You." B
Glee: The Music, the Power of Madonna (2010, Columbia): A 27:46 EP, corresponding to the one episode that I actually watched, which was rather fun, with the music welcome relief from the story line, especially the one leading into "Like a Virgin." B+(*)
Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip: The Logic of Chance (2010, Sunday Best): Brit rap, clever wordplay over a shmear of grime. A couple of things especially caught my ear: working a bit of "Lush Life" into the opener, "Sick Tonight"; and the theme of "Get Better," which sounds like a philosophy to live by. There's more, too. A-
MC Esoteric: Saving Seamus Ryan (2009, Fly Casual): Boston rapper, usually works with DJ 7L as 7L & Esoteric. Concept album, about a dog, a girlfriend/future fiancé, a diamond ring that gets stolen in a mugging where this Seamus Ryan character gets shot, and other stuff I didn't really follow. I'm slightly skeptical here, having found that the storylines behind concept albums rarely add much to the songs or much satisfaction once you get them all. On the other hand, maybe the dog wins out. B+(***)
Surfer Blood: Astro Coast (2010, Kanine): Florida group, the name tempts critics to associate them with surf music but I don't hear it. Partly the guitar grind and vocals are stuck in mono. The shark on the cover is also pretty ugly. The songs have some promise, but it's hard to tell at this point. One thing that didn't help was an annoying Rhapsody experience, where three or four songs repeatedly disconnected. B+(**)