Monday, August 30. 2010
Almost blew another week, but in the end enough stuff came together that I can say that Jazz Consumer Guide (24) is done. Initial query suggests it may appear in the Village Voice around September 29, although later dates are possible as well. Draft currently totes up to 1617 words covering 56 albums, so expect the HM list to be long. Leftovers come to 1400 words and 44 albums, so it looks like we'll be trapped in backlog for quite some while. I still have a fair sized shelf of rated, still in need of review albums, so I'll probably focus on them the next week or two, adding to next cycle's draft and kicking some into surplus.
The collected Jazz Prospecting file is here: totals came to 218 albums prospected, plus 97 carryovers from past rounds. Despite my best intentions to rush up the cycle, the prospecting period was almost exactly three months (July 1 to August 30). I still have a fair amount of transitional paperwork to do, but did at least catch up with the incoming mail. Two weeks of Jazz Prospecting notes below, with almost nothing new getting into the final draft -- not even the Joe Locke dud, which is my usual rationale for bothering with Rhapsody this late in the game.
Will post a new "Downloader's Diary" in short course, and rather thin "Recycled Goods" and "Rhapsody Streamnotes" should be out by the end of the week. I'm beat, bothered, bewildered, but hopefully the nastiest summer we've had since 2000 will wind down before long. New cycle begins now, and the queues are overflowing.
Conference Call: What About . . . . ? (2007-08 , Not Two, 2CD): Quartet, on their sixth album since 2000, the core Gebhard Ullmann (tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet), Michael Jefry Stevens (piano), and Joe Fonda (bass), with George Schuller their present and most frequent drummer -- other albums have used Matt Wilson, Han Bennink, and Gerry Hemingway. Ullmann is very prolific, but he seems to perform best when someone else sets the parameters, which Stevens does here -- most likely Fonda too, as the Fonda/Stevens group goes back even further and has been recorded even more extensively. Two live in Krakow sets, the second a bit easier to get into -- Stevens' "Could This Be a Polka?" had me thinking first of tango -- but both satisfying mixes of sour and not-quite-sweet. A-
Esperanza Spalding: Chamber Music Society (2009-10 , Heads Up): Bassist, singer, Downbeat cover girl; b. 1984, Portland, OR; third album since 2005, singing more each time, with a lot more scat here, but also with Gretchen Parlato taking over two vocals, and Milton Nascimento chiming in on a third (a Spalding original -- Parlato takes the semi-obligatory Jobim cut). The chamber effect comes from violin-viola-cello, steadied by Leo Genovese piano, with Terri Lynne Carrington drums, and Quintino Cinalli percussion. "Wild Is the Wind" is a welcome cover, but there's not much else to latch onto. B-
ROVA & Nels Cline Singers: The Celestial Septet (2008 , New World): World renowned saxophone quartet plus world renowned guitar-bass-drums trio, works out to be a pretty full-featured band. The saxophonists -- Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs, and Jon Raskin -- are used to orchestrating their own harmony, but assuming the Singers will take up the slack they get to stretch out a bit here. But Nels Cline, bassist Devin Hoff, and drummer Scott Amendola don't harmonize so much as build up the ambient noise level, putting this into Electric Ascension territory, minus the annoyances of the Coltrane script. Closest they come is Ochs's 25:23 paean to Albert Ayler, "Whose to Know," where the noise climax seems well-earned. B+(***)
Judith Berkson: Oylam (2009 , ECM): Vocalist -- "soprano" is how she puts it -- plays piano and various keybs here, accordion elsewhere; studied at New England Conservatory; based in Brooklyn; cantor at Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation Kehilat Shir Ami; also has a band named Platz Machen into Hebrew liturgy. Second album. I've heard the first, Lu-Lu, and, well, didn't like it. This was headed the same way, but little bits started to connect -- fragments of Porter and Gershwin, a slice of German (OK, very probably Yiddish), some piano. Very spare and rather arty. B+(**)
Kneebody: You Can Have Your Moment (2009 , Winter & Winter): Postbop group with a little funk undertow, probably related to their fondness for Fender Rhodes and effects. Adam Benjamin (as I said), Shane Endsley (trumpet), Kaveh Rastegar (electric bass), Ben Wendel (sax, melodica), Nate Wood (drums -- the only one not credited with effects). Cut an eponymous album for Dave Douglas's Greenleaf Music label in 2005, and got their name out front on Theo Bleckman's Twelve Songs by Charles Ives. Played this one too many times and have to move on: the horns are names I recognize but have yet to register strongly, the Rhodes is neither here nor there, and the drummer's a busy guy who has something beyond funk to add. B+(*)
Theo Bleckmann: I Dwell in Possibility (2009 , Winter & Winter): Vocalist, b. 1966 in Dortmund, Germany. Has a rather high voice, which he supplements with various toys to produce odd sounds. Francis Davis raved about him in a recent Village Voice column: "Beckmann is the most startlingly original male vocalist since Bobby McFerrin" -- then thinking further insisted that Bleckmann's "more rigorous intellect" will help him avoid "the same slippery slope into feckless novelty" McFerrin was prone to. This is the most hard core of Bleckmann's records, a solo effort, but not exactly acappella -- his credits read "voice, autoharp, chime balls, chimes, finger symbals, flutes, glass harp, hand-held fan, Indonesian frog buzzer, iPhone, lyre, melodica, miniature zither, nut shell shakers, rotary pan flute, shruti box, tongue drum, toy amp, toy boxes, toy megaphones, vibra tone, water bottle." The songs include James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Kurt Schwitters, Meredith Monk, "I Hear a Rhapsody" and "Comes Love," plus original music to lyrics from Emily Dickinson, Euripides, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Rather difficult to hear and/or to pick up on, sometimes cute, no doubt brilliant. B+(*)
Hat: Local (2008 , Hatmusic): Spanish group. I've been listing them under pianist Sergi Sirvent, but this one swings pretty hard to guitarist Jordi Matas, who outwrites Sirvent five to three and plays the crucial instrument here, while Sirvent plays Fender Rhodes and a little trumpet -- not what you'd call brilliant but he's still rather effective. The quartet is rounded out with Marc Cuevas on bass (acoustic and electric) and xylophone and Oscar Doménech on drums and tinaja, each writing one song. All four also enjoy voice credits, although there's not a lot -- part of the opener, and a Matas song called "Money" that may be the first such song not to ring up some cash registers. Matas plays terrific screeching guitar there -- I'd peg it as a rock song but the musicians are way too fancy and the vocals don't get any mileage out of their crudeness. Seems transitional, but no idea to what. B+(**)
Dawn of Midi: First (2010, Accretions): Piano trio: Pakistani percussionist Qassim Naqvi, Indian contrabassist Aakaash Israni, and Moroccan pianist Amino Belyamani. Based in New York and/or Paris. First album. Evenly balanced group, the piano more rhythm than melody, especially setting out various minimalist lines, while the bass covers the whole gamut. Got stuck playing this too many times today, which makes me want to force the grade and move on. Agreeable as background, but really appreciates your full attention. B+(***)
Commitment: The Complete Recordings 1981/1983 (1980-83 , No Business, 2CD): Bassist William Parker was less than 30 when he formed this group, with one self-released album (released 1981; reissued as Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace by Eremite in 1998), side credits with Frank Lowe and Billy Bang, with Cecil Taylor still in his future. Violinist Jason Kao Hwang was less than 25. The senior member was Will Connell, Jr., b. 1938. He turned to music after an accident in the Air Force nearly blinded him. In Los Angeles in the 1960s he fell into Horace Tapscott's circle, then moved back to New York "because I wanted to be a hermit." He plays flute, alto sax, bass clarinet, wood flutes here. I haven't found any other credits for him, unless he's the "Will Connell" playing bass clarinet on a a 2007 Bill Dixon album -- would have been close to 70, still 13 years younger than Dixon. Fourth member is drummer Zen Matsuura, who went on to play with Billy Bang and Roy Campbell -- not a long credit list, but he's on Campbell's 2007 Akhenaten Suite, deserving of another plug. Parker recorded a piece called "Commitment" in the late 1970s, but the piece doesn't appear here. What we get is the 1981 Commitment Ensemble album (recorded October 13-14, 1980; 36 minutes on the first disc) and a long live set from Germany in 1983 (38 minutes on the first disc and 48 more on the second). One of those records that would have sounded interesting but unfocused at the time, but sounds prophetic now. Hwang, who was born in Waukegan, IL, had yet to develop his mastery of Chinese classical music, so he sounds more like Leroy Jenkins here -- a pretty good deal. Connell is plug ugly on alto, but his flutes hit the right notes in contrast to the violin. Parker and Matsuura keep it all moving at breakneck speed. A-
Bobby McFerrin: Vocabularies (2010, Emarcy): Actually, title is consistently spelled "VOCAbuLarieS" -- a not-so-subtle way of pointing out that most of the sounds are vocal. The balance comes from producer-cowriter Roger Treece's synths and programming, Alex Acuña's percussion, and small doses of Donny McCaslin sax and Pedro Eustache woodwinds. The cover notes Treece's contribution "and over 50 amazing singers" -- not counting a crowd of 2500 in Bergen, Norway. Each song has at least 16 singers, a chorale effect that trivializes any individual -- McFerrin is always credited as "lead vocal," and Lisa Fischer often as "featured vocal," but neither make much of an impression. B
Ismael Dueñas Trio: Jazz Ateu (2009 , Quadrant): Pianist, b. 1975 in Badalona, in Spain up the coast from Barcelona. Fifth album, as best I can reckon, since 2003 -- I've heard the two on Fresh Sound New Talent, both excellent but somehow lost in my shuffle. Joan Matera plays bass and Oscar Domènech drums. For the most part this maintains a steady rhythmic flow, something I'm tempted to call postmodern stride, although it may just come from listening to Jarrett and Svensson. But he doesn't stick to the groove, shifting into melodic passages that work off something familiar, and in at least one case breaking into dissonance that resolves itself into something lovely. A-
Portico Quartet: Isla (2009 , Real World): British group: Jack Wyllie (saxes, electronics), Milo Fitzpatrick (double bass), Duncan Bellamy (drums, piano), and Nick Mulvey (hang drums, percussion). Record also has a string quartet -- two violins, viola, cello -- arranged by Fitzpatrick, but mostly what you hear is soprano sax riffing over percussion, not much as jazz but a very listenable synthesis of postrock minimalism and world fusion. B+(**)
Ergo: Multitude, Solitude (2009, Cuneiform): Brett Sroka on trombone and computer; Carl Maguire on Fender Rhodes, Prophet synthesizer, and effects; Shawn Baltazor drums. I've run into Maguire before -- a fine pianist who pushes the state of the art in postbop compositions, but he's less distinctive here. Sroka has a previous album under his own name. This is the group's second. B+(**)
The Stanley Clarke Band (2010, Heads Up): Bass guitarist, b. 1951, came out of Chick Corea's Return to Forever and established a fusion rep in the 1970s, which I can't say I paid any attention to. This is only the second of 30+ albums under his name that I've heard. The album is a mess, with Ruslan Sirota's keybs and Charles Aluna's guitar standard pieces, along with a lot of guests -- Hiromi gets a shout out on the cover, and her piano does stand out, if garrishly. Some funk, one cut dedicated to Zawinul, one cut is called "Sonny Rollins" but gives you Bob Sheppard instead, some vocals. Hard to sort it all out; not awful, but little reason to. Nor am I sure if the "global warming" song is as dumb as it seems, but could be. B-
Pharez Whitted: Transient Journey (2009 , Owl Studios): Trumpet player, from Indiana, studied at DePauw and Indiana University, two previous albums on Motown (1994 and 1996), based in Chicago now, teaches at Chicago State. Sexet with Eddie Bayard -- Edwin on Mark Lomax's more challenging record -- on tenor and soprano sax, Ron Perrillo on piano/keyboards, Bobby Broom on guitar, Dennis Carroll on bass, Greg Artry on drums, with Broom producing. Freddie Hubbard and Barack Obama inspire pieces. Solid hard bop, nothing spectacular, not much from Bayard, who made such a big impression on the Lomax album. 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.
Theo Bleckmann/Fumio Yasuda: Berlin: Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile (2007, Winter & Winter): Twenty-three songs, most Weill-Brecht or Eisler-Brecht, the few others including several I'm equally familiar with, like "Lili Marleen" and "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt." Yasuda, Bleckmann's partner in Las Vegas Rhapsody, plays piano and arranges string quartet for that Weimar feel. Bleckmann is German, gay, possesses remarkable facility in the upper registers. This is, in short, his patrimony. One play can't possibly do it justice, but will have to do for now. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Oliver Lake Organ Quartet: Plan (2009 , Passin Thru): Follows an Organ Trio record, adding trumpeter Freddie Hendrix to returning Jared Gold (organ) and Jonathan Blake (drums) -- Lake, of course, plays alto sax. The second horn reminds me of the harmonics Julius Hemphill coaxed out of the World Saxophone Quartet (minus the booming tenor and baritone parts), and Gold does some very interesting things -- I've seen reviews invoke the idea of Monk on organ, but he doesn't just jump around a lot; he gets some positive spin on chaos. Main caveat is that it seems off here and there, a sign of the risks they're taking. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Joe Locke: For the Love of You (2009 , Koch): Instrumentally a fairly snazzy quartet, with Locke's vibes rattling against Geoffrey Keezer's ivories, and George Mraz and Clarence Penn pushing the rhythm. Problem is they added a singer, Kenny Washington, like Jimmy Scott a little guy with a lot of octaves. First song is awful. Second is "Old Devil Moon" -- can't hardly ruin that. Evens out a bit after that. B- [Rhapsody]
Nasheet Waits: Equality: Alive at MPI (2008 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Cover can be parsed various ways: one implication is that Equality is meant to be the group name. Waits is a drummer, best known for driving Jason Moran's Bandwagon, a piano trio with Taurus Mateen on bass. All three are present and accounted for here, and all three contribute songs -- Mateen one, Moran and Waits two each. Moreover, Moran doesn't seem to be too unhappy to see the tables turned. He has his own record and has shown up on several more lately, but this is his most energetic performance in several years. Oh, and there's a fourth guy here: alto saxophonist Logan Richardson. He had a terrific debut album, Cerebral Flow, in 2006, and is in prime form here too. A- [Rhapsody]
Bill Charlap/Renee Rosnes: Double Portrait (2009 , Blue Note): Two pianists; you know that. Husband and wife as of 2007; I didn't know that, and having also not known that vocalist Sandy Stewart is Charlap's mother, I'm glad not to have missed that. Rosnes is four years older, from Canada, more of a modernist and more of a composer -- albeit only one song here among a batch of eight covers -- where Charlap is more retro and more of an interpreter. I have them down for one A- each, out of six Charlap records and three by Rosnes -- both have comparable discographies, but Charlap has been more active lately. Just piano here, sounds more like solo than duets, can't tell you who does what. Attractive, of course, but nothing really enticing. B [Rhapsody]
Scott Hamilton/Alan Barnes: Hi-Ya (2009 , Woodville): I heard an interview with Benny Carter once where a caller asked "what did you learn from Johnny Hodges?" Carter's answer: "never to play any of his songs." Only two of nine songs here don't have Hodges' name on them -- some also Ellington or Strayhorn, but Hamilton gives Barnes some cover with his tenor sax, and Barnes plays baritone as well as alto. Nice, loose, plenty of swing. Still, not Hodges -- I imagine Barnes is as leary of that comparison as Carter was. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Scott Hamilton Quartet Plus Two: Our Delight! (2005 , Woodville): The "plus two" are Mark Nightingale (trombone) and Dave Cliff (guitar); both do nice work, the trombonist roughly comparable to John Allred. Ten standards, starting off in rousing fashion with "Get Happy", ending with "In Walked Bud," some Ellington/Strayhorn along the way, the title cut from Tadd Dameron. Delightful indeed. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Portico Quartet: Knee Deep in the North Sea (2007, Vortex): First album for British quartet, new record Isla reviewed above. This one was nominated for the rock-centric Mercury Music Prize which put it on the UK Top 200 Albums Chart, so I guess we can consider it pop jazz, although it's much more interesting than that. The hang drums at least start out with that shimmering steel drum sound. A bit less minimalist, more pop than the new one, with the sax searching out hooks; otherwise the same basic sound. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Bryan and the Haggards: Pretend It's the End of the World (2010, Hot Cup): Four of seven songs written by Merle Haggard, a couple more that I was surprised to find credited elsewhere. The band is a second cousin to Mostly Other People Do the Killing, with Moppa Elliott and Jon Irabagon common denominators, guitarist Jon Lundbrom useful for music that originally guitar-dominated, and Bryan Murray the nominal leader, not just because his tenor sax looms the largest. Like MOPDTK, they know their history and run it through hoops, starting with Bird and skittering through Ornette until "Trouble in Mind" bears the holy ghost of Albert Ayler, which frees drummer Danny Fischer to rip off a pretty good Rashied Ali impression. B+(***)
Dave Holland Octet: Pathways (2009 , Dare2): Basically Quintet plus extra horns, not as much as the big band, but plenty for all practical purposes. Recorded live at Birdland, some applause and shout outs. Intermittently terrific, especially when trombonist Robin Eubanks bowls his way to the front. B+(***) [advance]
Scenes [John Stowell/Jeff Johnson/John Bishop]: Rinnova (2009 , Origin): Guitar-bass-drums trio. Stowell is a subtle craftsman, and Seattle's standard rhythm section lay out smartly measured postbop ambience. B+(***)
Brad Mehldau: Highway Rider (2009 , Nonesuch, 2CD): Started out with piano trios, making an impressive debut and sustaining his Art of the Piano Trio series longer than anyone has a right to; dropped the obligatory solo album, but then started moving onto large canvases, more composer than improviser. This one sprawls over two discs, awash in a huge string orchestra, which alternately annoys and soothes me. Joshua Redman also graces the affair, sounding functionally comparable to Jan Garbarek if not quite so sweet or sharp. B+(**)
Some re-grades as I've gone through trying to sort out the surplus:
Angles: Epileptical West: Live in Coimbra (2009 , Clean Feed): [was: A-] A
Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (2005 , TUM): [was: A-] A
Satoko Fujii Ma-Do: Desert Ship (2009 , Not Two): [was: B+(**)] B+(***)
The Mark Lomax Trio: The State of Black America (2007 , Inarhyme): [was: A-] A
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week (and the week before):
Sunday, August 29. 2010
I used to do these extra link collections, then stopped when I decided to comment on links more often. Still, I'm not getting to everything I want to note for future reference, so I'll try it this way on Sundays.
Andrew Leonard: "I was wrong again!" What Ben Bernanke meant to say: A pretty apt translation of the Fed Chairman's speech to the choir in Jackson Hole. Most memorable line: "The working class is unbelievably screwed." Followed by the gratuitous, "This is kind of bumming me out." It's not like Obama had no choice but to renominate Bush's top pick for the Federal Reserve chairmanship. The chatter campaign behind giving him a second term was based on his supposed success but any way you slice it we're worse off now than when Bush nominated Bernanke in the first place. It's bad enough when Obama recycles Clinton advisers; it's downright indecent when he keeps Bush cronies in office.
Andrew Leonard: Paul Krugman: "I told you so, again": This was written over a week ago, so it doesn't include Krugman's latest Predictions I Wish Had Been Wrong:
But Leonard is right that that "Reading Paul Krugman's blog these days is like looking into a hall of mirrors, infinitely refracting the same message: I told you so." I'm not sure that Krugman's prescription for the stimulus was big enough but he was sure right that Obama's figure was way too small. I see today that Laura Tyson has a New York Times op-ed on Why We Need a Second Stimulus, so maybe that's something that Obama will finally run on even though passing it has no chance in the current Congress. She doesn't note that at least since Nixon Republicans have a perfect record of supporting stimulus spending when in office and only opposing it when they think the Democrats will get blamed for the economic downturn. One thing that Krugman points out is that austerity-minded Germany has actually done more stimulus spending than the US given how Obama's efforts have been eroded by cuts in state and local spending. You'd think they could have thought that through, and moreover that they could have explained the analysis, but they don't seem to have even tried. In fact, Christina Romer's analysis was in Krugman's range, about double what Obama asked for, so you can't even say they didn't have the analysis. They just didn't have the guts to level with the American people, and that at a time when they had virtually nothing to lose.
The old saw is that hindsight's 20/20, but that's clearly wrong here. Even Obama's hindsight isn't that good. On the other hand, people like Krugman and Leonard keep seeing these things as they're happening.
Saturday, August 28. 2010
Glenn Greenwald: Racial and ethnic exploitation of economic insecurity: Starts with Glenn Beck looking whiter than ever and a packet of Charles Krauthammer lies -- nothing new there. But the following paragraph hit home:
Seems to be working, but that's partly because the people who are bankrolling the anti-Obama revolt have lots of friendly support from the media, and partly because the Democrats are playing rope-a-dope, certain that no matter how much principle they concede they'll still be viewed come November as the lesser evil.
To put this in perspective, read Jane Mayer's New Yorker piece Covert Operations, on the billionaire Koch brothers. They've been bankrolling libertarian think tanks for decades, but their ideas have never gained much traction, so now they've moved on to mass organizing:
Of course, getting a lot of moderate income people to rush out into the streets and demand tax breaks for the rich, government services cuts for everyone else, an end to regulating pollution by chronic despoilers like Koch Industries, a never-ending spiral of extortionary health care costs. So the Tea Party talk points don't put it like that -- they appeal to conservative personal virtues, and they spice it up with market-tested fear-mongering, jingoism, and good old fashioned bigotry. While enough people respond to this to form crowds and get pictures taken, they're a declining demographic.
Still, I wonder what would happen if someone tried to organize a counter-movement, a populist uprising for equality and a real program of opportunity: education, health care, infrastructure development, small business loans, antitrust, a non-imperialist foreign policy, wring the money out of elections and drive the lobbyists out of Washington.
Wednesday, August 25. 2010
Tim Potter: Wichita's graffiti law stirs up worries. My sister's son, Ram Hull, was in the news Monday, stirring up resistance to a new law likely to be approved next week that would criminalize possession of "spray paint, broad-tipped markers and other potential graffiti tools on or within 100 feet of public property." The photo shows Ram violating this law by sketching in a public park. Schools are public property too, although there may be some kind of exception for art students -- at least as long as the city can afford to keep art in the curriculum.
Seems like a parody of other laws which give the police broad discretion to hassle people they take a dislike to. I haven't talked to Ram about this, but one thing I'm struck by is that he has the perspicacity to imagine being the victim of the law -- that he just doesn't see it as something that will be applied to other people. In doing so, he also shows more respect for law than others have who mostly see it as a club for attacking people they don't like.
PS: For much more on this, including some art, goto www.civilmarkers.org.
Tuesday, August 24. 2010
Frank Rich: How Fox Betrayed Petraeus: I've had nothing to say about the so-called Ground Zero Mosque for the simplest of reasons: it's really none of my business. In fact, that seems like such an obvious position I don't get why anyone is yapping about it. I suppose I can imagine that the backers of the project might like some publicity for some reason, but they weren't the ones who came up with the button-pushing Ground Zero Mosque banner. But as Rich points out, the project known as Cordoba House (or merely as Park51) was ignored by everyone for the better part of a year until Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. propaganda machine jumped in and stirred everyone up. In the old days that used to be called sensationalism, or simply yellow dog journalism, but these days Murdoch doesn't do much of anything without ulterior political motives. Moreover, Murdoch seems to have really hit the jackpot here, getting virtually everyone to take an embarrassing stand on something virtually no one should even care about. You read a lot of charges that so-and-so hates America and is working to destroy our country, our economy, our freedom, our way of life. Well, that's Rupert Murdoch for you, laughing all the way to the bank as he turns his conveniently adopted country into a cesspool of idiocy and hatred.
The most easily excitable Americans are the conservative masses, and Murdoch has been pushing their buttons for decades. It is easy to dismiss conservatives as stupid because they seem incapable of recognizing a fundamental contradiction in their thinking. On the one hand, they revile government for interfering with the private sector, especially for regulations to prevent the private sector from harming itself or others. On the other hand, they demand that the government butt into anything and everything that in any way annoys them. (Sure, some self-styled libertarians are consistently anti-government, but they're statistically insignificant.) There are two ways conservatives manage to bridge this contradiction: one is that they feel specially entitled, that they alone should decide what should be free and what should be suppressed; and the other is that they simply hate everyone else, so they never have to take an opposing view seriously. And nowadays the world is just jammed packed with people they hate: foreigners, Muslims, colored folk who might as well be one or the other, gays, and pretty much anyone liberal enough not to hate any of the people they hate. Wave a mosque in front of them -- any mosque, anywhere -- and they get riled up; add the "ground zero" insult and they go ballistic. And that's no theory: that's what just happened.
Conservatives are wrong on this issue in so many ways people are tempted to argue them all, which is a waste, even though it is certainly true that most Moslems, especially in America, are harmless, that freedom of religion protects believers more than heretics, that much of what we treasure in America is the result of our diversity and our progressive overcoming of prejudice, and that (as Rich points out in his title) all the public diplomacy money can buy, meant to advance our interests and to protect our troops in the Muslim world, is instantly undone by such displays of anti-Muslim bigotry. Such arguments not only don't register with conservatives, they simply make them hate you more than ever. The only argument that stands a chance of prevailing is the simple one: that it's none of their business. You might even add that if they want to blow off steam making fools of themselves, they have that right, but their tantrums aren't going to get us to abandon the constitutionally protected freedoms this country is based on.
Still, there is one conservative argument here that sticks in my craw: all this 9/11 "hollowed ground" horseshit. What happened was horrible -- you know, I was there at the time and lost a loved one, so it was a lot more real for me than it was for 99% of America sitting at home watching the media cheer on the warmongers -- but it's just plain unhealthy to keep picking at the scab, reveling in victimhood without the slightest consciousness that our lust for revenge -- over a crime that hardly any American had the slightest comprehension of -- has since killed 10 (20?) (50?) (who knows?) times as many of them, and profoundly disrupted and deranged the lives of at least ten times more. With no real end in sight as long as we keep picking at it, feeling entitled to, well, act like conservatives: hating people for not submitting to us, feeling the need to strike back at every offense, locking ourselves in a perpetual war of all against all, when in fact we live in a world where there is plenty of everything except mutual respect. I don't mind an occasional nod to history, but real estate in lower Manhattan can be put to better use than to perpetuate our self-indulgent madness. If we can't break out of this death spiral, we'll turn into Israel, a nation doomed to fight on forever, alone, reviled, for no better reason than that they can't imagine a world of equal rights and mutual respect.
Of course, Murdoch is also blindly helped out by chickenshit liberals -- some seeking compromise, some merely sympathizing with the distraught emotions of bigots and crybabies. Murdoch loves them because they legitimize an issue which actually doesn't deserve to be taken seriously, and because ultimately all they do is feed the fury. On the other hand, if there is a silver lining if all this, it will be for yesterday's liberal hawks to realize that their cause is doomed -- that America itself is so broken that there is no way it can fix anything else.
There are lots of real, important, and difficult issues facing the nation. This isn't one of them. Enough already.
Monday, August 23. 2010
Thought I might wrap up this Jazz Consumer Guide round last week, but the week didn't cooperate very well. Still have work to do to get the new server sorted out and the legacy websites running. Still have a bunch of other things I'm working on around the house. Have had an exceptionally tough time writing, and haven't managed to get my incoming mail catalogued. Still, I'm close enough that I'm sure I will have it all wrapped up this coming week.
Meanwhile, I thought I'd post this little Downbeat poll item. I still haven't looked at the Downbeat Critics Poll results, even though the August issue is off the newsstands now. I will do a more systematic review of it, as in past years, when I get a bit of time -- sometime after I get this column wrapped up.
I filled out a ballot for the Downbeat readers' poll ballot. Did it off the top of my head, not looking at my notes, so I leaned on their suggested lists except in the rare cases where I didn't find anyone or thing to my taste.
More on this when I finally get around to doing a Critics Poll review. I'm more struck than ever by the imbalance in the instrumental categories: with Steve Lacy gone, I'd probably name twenty tenor saxophonists before thinking of a soprano; same ratio or steeper for acoustic piano over electric, and acoustic bass over electric, and not much less for drums over percussion. One thing I've done a bit here is to flip back and forth between mainstream and avant players -- there's no real way to compare them, so I decided just to split my own rather catholic interests. Hence Houston Person instead of David Murray or Ken Vandermark, and Lewis Nash instead of Hamid Drake or Paal Nilssen-Love -- any of which would be equally valid.
Thursday, August 19. 2010
I'm in the middle of an especially turbulent bout of interesting times right now. That this has kept me from posting is the least of my concerns. Much of my problems are due to those machines that a former boss -- actually, the VP of Software Development at my first engineering job -- insisted on calling the Confusers. I'm in a lull right now, temporary no doubt, so let me unpack this a bit.
I have had a dedicated server since 2003, originally at Rackshack, which eventually got sucked into a company that calls itself The Planet. I never got a lot of good out of it, and never got it to do a lot of the things I thought I'd like to do with a dedicated server, so it's sort of limped along for several years now -- on my long list of things to do. Finally, it fell down a couple weeks ago, so I started shopping for another one. Finally on Monday I ordered a new one from Hosting and Designs in Beaverton, OR. I got a faster machine (E8200 Quad Core), more memory (2GB vs. 1GB), a larger bandwidth allotment (2TB vs. 1TB), for less money, which I immediately threw away by adding cPanel/WHM in the hopes that it would finally put me ahead of the sysadmin curve. Also threw some money into the setup fee for a "Total Security Package" which is so effective that it has not only kept me from logging into the server, it's managed to keep H&D's technical team from fixing the problem. (Or something has, but I'm getting ahead of myself.) While shopping for this, I got some bad vibes from H&D: they were slow responding to questions; admitted they didn't have the "best ping times" and weren't using "Tier 1 providers"; their help desk tools were buggy, and their SSL certificate was self-signed (Firefox didn't like that); they don't provide DNS servers, and I didn't fully understand what that meant or how they figured I could work around it (still don't).
Anyhow, I didn't find anything else that looked better, and I had a slow, annoying burn from Planet, so I ordered their deal on Monday. They promised it up in 24-72 hours, and I was notified it was up mid-Wednesday -- about 48 hours, not fast, but OK. I tried logging in and the machine didn't like the password they gave me. After three tries it banned me. I filed an urgent ticket request, and 24 hours later the machine is still inaccessible (to me, at least). I've complained several times since then. (In fact, could complain again now, but I'm trying to chill out.) In the meantime I raised the DNS question, and got at first a completely evasive answer. When I challenged this, the reply was basically: that's your problem. I've spent a bit of time looking into workarounds -- supposedly they do work, otherwise how could H&D get away with this? -- but not being able to log in and configure my server I'm just guessing (or maybe hallucinating).
Meanwhile, another long-desired computer project has come in. I have a Linux machine that I set up in 1998 and is still the heart of my system. (I'm typing this on a much more powerful machine I built in 2007, although I'm actually just using it as an X-server for a laptop where emacs is running and storing files. But the old machine is the Internet firewall and router, and I've accumulated over 10 years of mail on it, as well as totally clogging its puny disks. The Red Hat Linux on it is ancient, the Mozilla browser doesn't know about certificates issued in the last 5-6 years, and the 512MB RAM is pretty much always overloaded into swap. The migration plan is to move all of its application purposes -- chiefly mail -- onto my other machine(s), and replace it with a small computer running a lightweight Linux firewall/router (like IPCop, or maybe a BSD-based one like pfSense). While shopping for the dedicated server, I got worked up one night and ordered the parts for the new router box.
I wanted something small and specialized. Looked at a lot of rackmount boxes which, despite the small height, are really pretty large and awkward (and expensive). I looked at a lot of boxes before I happened on the idea of a Micro-ITX motherboard with a low-powered Intel Atom CPU. I found an Intel board for $76.99 that should do nicely, then I found an Apex chassis with 250W power supply for a real cheap $38.99. Added 2GB RAM, a D-Link NIC so I'd have two ethernet ports. Could have gotten away with a smaller disk drive, but couldn't find one much cheaper than a 320GB Seagate, and added an ASUS DVD burner, mostly just to install the software. Whole thing came close to $250, about twice what an appliance router would cost, but still a pretty good deal. Put it all together yesterday. Makes a neat little package, smaller than a shoebox. Haven't fired it up yet, mostly because the big issues remain: what distro, and what are all the other things that have to happen to move the old machine out?
Copying the files off the old machine should be easy. Managed to NFS-mount its file systems onto my main machine. Mail would be tougher. Installed Thunderbird on the main machine. Previously had Evolution, but Thunderbird's a successor to the old Mozilla Mail I had been using, so I figured that would be easier. It wasn't: Thunderbird has some wizards for your mail server settings and to pick up old address books, mail, etc., none of which worked, let alone explained their failings. I did get the address book moved by exporting it, copying the file, and importing it (the only time the wizard actually let me select a file). Couldn't pick up any of the old mail, but I was able to manually work out the server settings, so now I can send and receive mail on the main machine.
I then tried installing another mailer, Claws, advertised as lightweight with good import features. I copied all of the old mailboxes, including my big Sent and Inbox files, to places and names I could keep track of, then started feeding them into Claws. It picked them up with only one problem: the old Inbox hadn't been compressed in a long while, so it still had about 30,000 deleted messages in it, all of them restored. (Other mailboxes may have the same problem, but I rarely delete from saved or sent mail.) So I deleted that, compressed the file, copied it, and imported it again, message count now down to 5000. Claws insisted that I set up its mail server settings, but let me get away with tom@localhost, so it's not competing with Thunderbird for the real mail.
Don't know whether I'll wind up using one or the other. For now, Claws manages my mail archive, and Thunderbird is my current mailer. Both have novel features, at least for me. Claws doesn't display HTML, but does a nice job of hacking HTML down to plain text, and a lot of mail looks better that way. Thunderbird formats HTML, but doesn't by default display graphics from elsewhere, so all those shopping and music publicist messages are showing up with big holes in them. I can get the graphics by clicking, and can whitelist certain mail addresses, but it's amusing and not unpleasant to drop them out. Thunderbird also tries heuristics to identify junk mail and scams -- most of what I get from music publicists fall into the latter category -- and presumably adapts to my reports. A lot of squishy uncertainty here, but looks and feels like progress. Only thing I've used the old machine for today was responding to a piece of yesterday's mail.
Also on the confuser front, I saw that there is a new release of Ubuntu (10.4.1) and tried installing it on one of my two Ubuntu machines. The change was from 8 to 10 and it failed -- first time I've seen that happen with Ubuntu. Very little info and no hint of how to work around it, so for now I'm stuck. Will have to dig a lot deeper. (I've had a similar problem with Fedora, and found that the command line tools work better than the window ones.)
Also have a bookcase I need to build, which actually I felt more like doing yesterday than all of this computer stuff. Too hot right now, but I may get the wood cut up for that later this evening. Also got two new books: Andrew Bacevich's Washington Rules and Chalmers Johnson's Dismantling the Empire. Also got Nicholas von Hoffman's Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky and Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus out from the library, so the thing I'd most enjoy doing right now is taking the next week and just reading.
The thing I'm least enjoying is trying to finish up the Jazz Consumer Guide column. I play stuff and can't write shit, play more stuff and still come up empty. Play new things and have no space for them. Play old things and can't come up with words. Meanwhile, I have lots of other things I do want to write about. Getting to where I hate this job.
Of course, it will be better when more things work -- and they will start working, much as mail last night bounced around from disaster to hopeless before it kind of came together.
PS: Nagged H&D right after posting this. After a couple minutes thumb twiddling, they came back and said, "try it again." Ping worked. I logged in as root. I logged into cPanel/WHM. Now all I have left to do is . . . all sorts of things I barely understand. Starting, I suppose, with DNS.
PPS: Roughly 24-hours later, I have made some progress. After much confusion and a few failed efforts, the nameserver is resolved and DNS set up for my initial domain. Adding more domains should be straightforward, but I'm trying to think through how I manage accounts and map accounts to websites and all that, which is something that cPanel provides tools for but doesn't offer a conceptual model (as far as I can tell). Also got the Ubuntu upgrade to work: had to delete some packages before upgrade then restore them afterwards. Have one more machine to upgrade, but should be the same deal.
Monday, August 16. 2010
Time kind of got away from me this week. The main distraction was the need to do something about the demise of my dedicated webserver, which is still up in the air -- although I do expect to ink a new deal sometime this week, which will result in a lot more things to do. Meanwhile, I did finally take the first steps toward closing out this Jazz CG round. That isn't much evident in this week's Jazz Prospecting, which has tended to follow my usual random methodology. (Well, not quite random, as I've been focusing on the priority box, aside from some time pretty much wasted on Rhapsody.) Next week the shift should be more evident, with fewer new records -- although some that I have played and didn't write up will likely poke through -- and a final return to the handful of records I've previously left hanging. But mostly I need to play stuff that I've rated but haven't written up. And I still have no idea for pick hits. And the duds list is empty while the HMs are way, way too long. I figure odds of wrapping up are 50-50. Got enough words, but it still strikes me as rather scruffy.
Peter Evans Quartet: Live in Lisbon (2009 , Clean Feed): Trumpet player, best known for his role in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, but has two solo albums on Psi (haven't heard either) and a slightly different Quartet on Firehouse 12 -- bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Kevin Shea return here, but the guitar is replaced here by Ricardo Gallo's piano, at once more traditional and more shocking. AMG describes Evans as influenced by Don Cherry and Lester Bowie, but I don't hear either. In chops and conception, he reminds me of early Freddie Hubbard, when he could cross from avant to hard bop without ever seeming out of place. B+(***) [advance]
Ab Baars/Meinrad Kneer: Windfall (2008 , Evil Rabbit): Tenor sax-bass duets, although Baars occasionally lightens up with clarinet, shakuhachi, or noh-kan (a "high pitched Japanese bamboo transverse flute commonly used in traditional Imperial Noh and Kabuki theatre"). One of Baars' more appealing, more charming efforts, although the real test here is following the bass, which demands and rewards concentration. B+(**)
Myra Melford's Be Bread: The Whole Tree Gone (2008 , Firehouse 12): Pianist, b. 1957, cut a couple of trio albums in 1990-91 that Francis Davis noticed, and gradually worked her way into the front rank of cutting edge jazz pianists. Teaches at UC Berkeley. Be Bread is her most expansive group, previously heard on the 2006 album The Image of Your Body, much advanced here: Cuong Vu (trumpet), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Brandon Ross (guitar), Stomu Takeishi (acoustic bass guitar), and Matt Wilson (drums). A-
Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble: Naima (2009 , Meg Okura): Violinist, also plays erhu, b. 1973 in Tokyo, Japan, based in New York. Has a previous album, Meg Okura's Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble (2006), as well as several in Japan that AMG doesn't have a clue about. Also shows up in side credits on a couple dozen albums, mostly John Zorn circle but also with Dianne Reeves, David Bowie, and Ziggy Marley. Group is chamber-ish, with flutes (Anne Drummond Jun Kubo), piano, cello, bass, drums, and percussion (Satoshi Takeishi), and the pieces tend to be suite-like, the last four under the group title "Lu Chai I-IV." The title track, of course, is an arrangement of Coltrane; everything else original. Striking music when it all clicks, which often it does. B+(**)
The Claudia Quintet + Gary Versace: Royal Toast (2009 , Cuneiform): Last three Claudia Quintet albums rated A- in Jazz CG although they've all been sort of marginal: soft sounds (Chris Speed's clarinet, Ted Reichman's accordion, Matt Moran's vibes, Drew Gress's bass) floating on John Hollenbeck's quirky rhythms. This one is much like those, with Gary Versace's piano adding one more soft touch -- he does take one cut on accordion, but after Reichman that's anticlimactic. But it also slips a bit when soft gives way to slow, and I think that tips this just a bit under. Still a fascinating group. B+(***)
Allison Miller: Boom Tic Boom (2010, Foxhaven): Drummer, from DC, based in New York, second album after one in 2005, substantial list of side credits since 1999, mostly rock (exceptions include Virginia Mayhew, Marty Ehrlich, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Judy Silvano, and Todd Sickafoose). Mostly piano trio with Myra Melford leading, Sickafoose on bass, and some guest contribution from violinist Jenny Scheinman -- just one cut as far as I can tell. Four originals from Miller, two from Melford, one each from Mary Lou Williams and Hoagy Carmichael ("Rockin' Chair"). Slows down for the finale, but Melford is in very fine form -- a better showcase for her piano than her own record. A-
Remi Álvarez/Mark Dresser: Soul to Soul (2008 , Discos Intolerancia): Saxophonist, lists soprano first but cover pic features tenor -- website also lists alto and baritone up front, perhaps alphabetically -- from Mexico City. Website shows this as fifth album since 1996, although it's only the second with his name first. Duet with the veteran bassist, very solid and relatively straightforward here, with the sax working cautiously around the edges. B+(***)
Pete Robbins: Silent Z Live (2009 , Hate Laugh Music): Alto saxophonist, b. 1978, grew up in Andover, MA, studied at Phillips Academy, Tufts, and New England Conservatory; moved to Brooklyn in 2002. Fourth album since 2002. Two quintet variants, half with Jesse Neuman on cornet, the other hand with Cory Smythe on piano; both with Mike Gamble on guitar, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Gets a sweet sound out of his horn, working freebop grooves and angles, dicier with the cornet than with the piano, but engaging in all cases. B+(***)
Jim Rotondi: 1000 Rainbows (2008 , Posi-Tone): Trumpet player, b. 1962 in Butte, MT, attended UNT, based in New York, has more than a dozen albums since 1997, mostly on mainstream/hard bop labels Criss Cross and Sharp Nine; also more than 50 side credits since 1992. Sole horn, with Joe Locke on vibes, Danny Grissett on piano, Barak Mori on bass, and Bill Stewart on drums. Hard-edged, bright sound, another very solid record. B+(**)
Dave Mihaly's Shimmering Leaves Ensemble: Eastern Accents in the Far West (2010, Porto Franco): Drummer, plays some piano here, also has a voice credit; based in San Francisco, after starting in NJ and NY; credits Andrew Cyrille, Barry Altschul, and Zakir Hussain as teachers, and reports that he's taught for some thirty years. First album according to AMG, although his website lists several more, including three string quartets and an expanded "Coretet" version of this group. Two-horn trio, with David Boyce on tenor sax and Ara Anderson on brass instruments (trumpet, bass trumpet, sousaphone), both occasionally spelling Mihaly on drums. I recall Anderson from Tin Hat; Boyce has a couple dozen credits, the only one I recognize a hip-hop album, Haiku D'Etat (actually, a pretty good one, with Aceyalone). The two horns twist in interesting ways, with just enough support from drums (and sometimes piano) to tie it together. B+(**)
Bill Frisell: Beautiful Dreamers (2010, Savoy Jazz): Guitarist, has cornered a slice of Americana and keeps working it, in this basic framework with Eyvind Kang on viola and Rudy Royston on drums. His originals fit in neatly enough, but the gems are the covers, including "Beautiful Dreamer," "It's Nobody's Fault but Mine" (Blind Willie Johnson), "Tea for Two," "Goin' Out of My Head," and especially "Keep on the Sunny Side." A-
Ratko Zjaca/John Patitucci/Steve Gadd/Stanislav Mitrovic/Randy Brecker: Continental Talk (2008 , In+Out): Guitarist, studied in Zagreb, based now in Rotterdam; AMG lists 3 records since 2000 (not including this one); website lists 8 but not much detail. Mitrovic, b. 1963 in Belgrade, also based in Rotterdam, plays tenor and soprano sax. The others, better known, play trumpet (Brecker), bass (Patitucci), and drums (Gadd). Mostly modern postbop, with nice sax runs and trumpet blasts, but slips into some skunk funk near the end. B
Kihnoua: Unauthorized Caprices (2009 , Not Two): Larry Ochs group, second his his website's group list after Sax Drumming Core, but then ROVA is on the far end. Ochs plays saxophones (probably sopranino and tenor), rough and rugged as usual, but not as rough as Dohee Lee's vocals -- her attack is barely restrainted. Also on board is Scott Amendola, drums and electronics. Group name "borrowed from ancient Greek might have meant 'the difference.'" Vocals draw on Korean "p'ansori singing" and "sinawi improvisation," but could just as well be avant horn attack. Some guests: Liz Allbee (trumpet + electronics), Fred Frith (guitar), Joan Jeanrenaud (cello). B+(**)
Contact: Five on One (2010, Pirouet): Not what you'd call a supergroup, but well-established veterans -- bassist Drew Gress is the youngest by more than a decade, drummer Billy Hart the elder by much less -- the front-line players easily recognized, each with sweet spots that are undeniably theirs, the rhythm section impeccable, pianist Marc Copland playing both roles. Most prominent, of course, is the sole horn, Dave Liebman on tenor and soprano sax. I've never been a fan of his soprano, but he works it in nicely here -- a sinuous interweaving that is likely inspired by the master of the art, guitarist John Abercrombie. B+(***)
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Mezzanine (2010, Owl Studios): The biggest band in Indianapolis, or at least Bloomington, where this was recorded and Brent trombonist-conductor Wallarab teaches. I thought their previous album, Where or When, was a terrific territory band throwback, but they get all orchestral here, and while arranger fans will find bits to admire, this doesn't really get going until third cut from the end, where they take a break from Wallarab's book. Even then, how often are you tempted to call "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "Cherokee" dainty? B
Correction: Two Nights in April (2009 , Ayler): Piano trio, from Sweden: Sebastian Bergström on piano, Jaocim Nyberg on bass, Emil Åstrand-Melin on drums. First album, drawn from two live sets on two consecutive nights, the piano has a hard edge that leans free but may know a thing or two about rock. B+(***)
Myron Walden: Momentum Live (2009, Demi Sound): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1972 (or 1973?), started on alto, establishing himself as one of the better mainstream boppers around before taking time off to refashion himself on tenor. Got hit with a lot of hype on him last fall, including a bunch of advances for albums that the publicist never followed up on. The first was called Momentum, and it seemed like a pretty decent hard bop outing. This is a live reworking, with Darren Barrett (trumpet) and Yasushi Nakamura (bass) carrying over from the studio album, Edin Ladin (piano) and John Davis (drums) replacing David Bryant and Kendrick Scott. Main diff this time is sonic, where they're going for (or stumbled on) the thin-skinned underwater sound of Charlie Parker boots. The plus side is an engaging looseness, especially the horns sliding to and fro. The piano solos don't do much, and the usual live ballast doesn't add anything. B+(*) [advance]
Myron Walden/In This World: To Feel (2009 , Demi Sound): Last fall's batch of CDRs included two Walden albums promised for Jan. 15 release. I did what I usually do: wait for the real copy, which in this case never came. Looks like everyone else did too. I haven't found a single review of either album, and the only place where it is Amazon, fronting for a retailed identified as Myron Walden. Not clear if "In This World" is a band name or just a logo. One page in the hype package lists the band as: Jon Cowherd (piano), Mike Moreno (guitar), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums). AMG, with no track info, confirms Cowherd-Moreno-Nakamura, but has Brian Blade and/or Kendrick Scott on drums, plus David Bryant on Fender Rhodes and Chris Thomas on acoustic bass. Band doesn't matter much here. Walden's To Feel approach is to run ballads past us, everything slow and soft. B [advance]
Myron Walden/In This World: What We Share (2009 , Demi Sound): Same deal here: don't know anything more about band, recording date (presumed 2009 because I got the advance before 2010 rolled over), etc. Record is a little more energetic, and guitar (Mike Moreno?) does a nice job of framing the tenor sax. Walden is an attractive mainstream player, worth taking seriously, but he's not making any big breakthroughs. I have one more CDR in my pile, a 2-cut thing called Singles, which I assume is just a pure PR fantasy. He seems to have one more album in the pipeline, Countryfied, also on Amazon. Didn't come my way. B+(*) [advance]
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.
Ivo Perelman: Brazilian Watercolour (1998 , Leo): Several Perelman albums have been reissued in Brazil on Atração Fonográphica and worked their way to Rhapsody that way -- this one under the title Aquarela do Brasil, but aside from a few title translations this matches the release on Leo. One of the few cases where Perelman plays a couple of pop tunes from his homeland, here "Desafinado" and "Samba de Verão" -- the strain and choppiness he adds makes them all the more alluring. With Matthew Shipp on piano, Rashid Ali on drums, Guilherme Franco and Cyro Baptista on percussion and wood flutes. A singular tenor saxophonist, even on a lite samba. Also has a piano credit somewhere, but it's not clear to me where Shipp gives way. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Ivo Perelman with C.T. String Quartet: The Alexander Suite (1998, Leo): The quartet is sharp and jazzwise, led from the bassist: Jason Kao Hwang (violin), Ron Lawrence (viola), Tomas Ulrich (cello), and Dominic Duval (bass). That makes them about as astringent as the tenor saxophonist, who squeaks and squawks above them, pretty much as sharp and bloody as cutting edge gets. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Joe Morris: Colorfield (2009, ESP-Disk): Guitarist, from Boston, with about 30 albums since 1990, has been on a roll lately -- I count three A-list records since 2004 under his own name, a near miss, and a few more under other names, but most of those rode in on the coattails of hard-blowing saxophonists (Ken Vandermark, Jim Hobbs). Missed this one from last year, a trio with pianist Steve Lantner and his usual drummer Luther Gray. Don't know Lantner, but he worked with Joe (and Mat) Maneri, has a half dozen albums since 1997, and provides a consistently interesting contrast to Morris's irrascible guitar. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Lee Konitz/Chris Cheek/Stephane Furic Leibovici: Jugendstil II (2005 , ESP-Disk): Bassist Leibovici, who previously recorded as Stephane Furic, wrote all eight pieces, and acts as music director for the two saxophonists. He sets the ground rules, reining in the saxes as they're mostly yoked to the melody -- not much here for rugged individualists, although the music is pleasantly engaging. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Herbie Hancock: The Imagine Project (2010, Hancock): Recorded in seven countries with guests from even further across the universe, this is a colossal engagement of liberal internationalism, and a pretty good showcase for at least some of the talent. But is the choice of such obvious songs lazy thinking or a real paucity of alternatives. Lennon's "Imagine," sure, but can't you do better than Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" for an encore? (Pink sings both, paired first with Seal then with John Legend.) Lennon-McCartney return later, showcasing quintessential good guy Dave Matthews, almost as wasted as Sam Cooke is on James Morrison. Colombia and Brazil get some respect, but Bob Marley is routed through Somalia and the Sahara to East L.A., faring better than Dylan "Times They Are a Changin'" done by the Chieftains with Toumani Diabate kora. Silly as the others seem, the latter is the album's only real gag moment. High point? The closer with Chaka Khan, Anoushka Shankar, and Wayne Shorter. Plus a pianist who always sounds impeccable no matter how little he does. Not a jazz record, but the finale could be worked that way. B [Rhapsody]
Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:
Ivo Perelman/Dominic Duval/Brian Willson: Mind Games (2008 , Leo): Drummer's name is "Willson," not "Wilson" as I had it. In my defense, the label says "Wilson" on the front cover, the back cover, the credits in the booklet, and at least three times in Art Lange's liner notes. The label did get Willson's name right on the newer Ivo Perelman/Brian Willson duo, The Stream of Life -- the one I didn't get and haven't heard. AMG has his name both ways, several times, adding to the confusion. The publicist also has the drummer's name as "Wilson" in the hype sheet, so this looks like an uphill battle.
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes -- 196 records thus far -- look here.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, August 15. 2010
Alex Pareene: Poll: Americans not actually that worried about the deficit: I don't put much stock in polls, which can always be jiggered in all sorts of ways, but this one does help point out that deficit hysteria is a big issue only because it's been chatted up by a couple of special interest groups with hidden agendas: the finance industry, who now that they got theirs don't see any need for further government largess, at leat in favor of anyone else, and the Republicans, who are committed to this idea that if you make government miserly and unresponsive to people needs the masses will give up on the notion that they can use their votes to defend and advance their, and the public's, interest, and will settle for the party that best feeds their prejudices and exploits their fears. Yet for all their frenzied hand-wringing over the issue, they never bother to point out the obvious: that deficits can easily be fixed by raising taxes, that the rich are currently taxed at rates way below historic norms, and that taxing the rich (unlike consumption taxes which hit everybody) wouldn't drag the economy further down -- they're productively investing virtually no money now; indeed, they're mostly parking it in government bonds (even at record low rates) because that's the safest bet they can make (which shows you how little they are really worried about the deficits.
What makes this poll significant isn't the paltry 7% obsessed with the federal deficit. It's the contrasting 58% who say "the most important problem facing the country is either the economy or unemployment." Again, that's a problem that translates into a straightforward solution: the government can pick up the slack by pumping money into the economy, creating jobs directly and indirectly by contracting for services, multiplying as the cash flows throughout the economy. There are smart ways of doing this, and not-so-smart ways, and it can be financed through deficits and/or taxes and/or inflating the money supply. But the argument that you can't fix the unemployment problem because we can't in any case raise taxes or suffer even moderate inflation or cope with long-term deficits comes down to the 7% telling the 58% to forget it: to live with chronic unemployment and underemployment, suppressed wages, greater insecurity, and a persistent unraveling of the social fabric because rich people might be inconvenienced contributing back to a nation that has actually treated them very generously.
That ratio -- 7% to 58% -- actually seems to explain a lot of what's going on in this country. There are a lot of issues that if fairly discussed and evaluated would break down into ratios like that. A well connected but tiny minority -- 7% is probably too generous here -- managed to keep a single-payer health care away from serious consideration, even though it consistently polls at close to 50%. (Actually, among people all around the world who actually have such systems it polls much higher, as indeed it does in the US when we discuss Medicare.) Foreign wars, and defense spending in general, is another matter where a tiny percentage of well connected interested parties has been able to keep fair discussion from every happening.
Friday, August 13. 2010
One has to wonder why right now there is so much loose talk going around about the urgent need to preemptively attack Iran in hopes of halting or significantly delaying their nuclear program. The US war in Iraq is clearly winding down, with US forces withdrawing to their luxury bases and forces being moved out of country. Afghanistan is in worse shape, but Obama is certainly hoping for a similar result there: the key, as in Iraq, is to tone down the conflict, to improve security and improve the functionality of the Karzai government. On the other hand, Israel's real problem is the international backlash against the occupation, especially the cruel siege on Gaza. Meanwhile, Iran has been locked in its own internal political crisis, doing pretty much nothing else. So why all the war hysteria over Iran?
The centerpiece is Jeffrey Goldberg's broadside in The Atlantic, titled The Point of No Return, or as it's touted on the magazine's front cover: "Israel Is Getting Ready to Bomb Iran: How, Why- and What It Means." Some reactions: Glenn Greenwald discusses "how propagandists function," pointing out how Goldberg himself has changed his story according to whatever line he wants to push. Stephen Walt points out that the main thing Goldberg is doing is getting us accustomed to talking about war; he calls this "mainstreaming war with Iran." Paul Woodward focuses on the gamesmanship between Israel and the US here: the Israelis are saying that if you don't do it they will try, but it's really beyond their capabilities to do it right, so if the US wants to save Israel from fucking it up, better for the Americans to throw their greater firepower at it. Tony Karon explores the question, "Why do people talk to Jeffrey Goldberg?". Gary Sick pooh-poohs the entire proposition, mostly by looking at Iranian reality.
Then there's Trita Parsi: A campaign for war with Iran begins, which adds much more than reaction to the debate. In particular:
A big part of the problem with Israel and/or the US bombing Iran is that doing so will almost certainly make the problem worse in the future. A show of force would only harden opinion against Israel and the US, and redouble Iran's efforts to develop better defenses and a deterrent against future attacks. So what would reduce or end the threat? The very thing that Obama's election promised, the one thing that Livni was so emphatic about preventing: diplomatic talks. The only possible conclusion is that Israel is against what might work and in favor of what surely will not. Such disinterest in solving the problem makes one wonder whether Israel even considers Iranian nukes to be a real problem.
Indeed, this is hinted at by quotes in Goldberg's article; e.g., where Ehud Barak admits that the problem he sees is demographic: that Jews would be less likely to immigrate to Israel, and more likely to emigrate from. Of course, a much more sensible answer would be for Israel to agree to one of many reasonable solutions to the Palestinian conflict, which would let the hot air out of anti-Israeli passions and reduce Israel to being a normal state. But that's the problem they really don't want to solve.
PS: This has been heating up for a while. Back in July Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh published an op-ed, characterized by Tony Karon as "a how-to-bomb Iran manual, adding that "The idea that you can bomb a country and then 'make sure the confrontation does not escalate out of control' is, quite simply, bizarre." Of course, people need reassurances to keep from thinking these things through -- like, for instance, how Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq would cost no more than $20 billion and how its reconstruction would be "self-financed."
Karon starts his piece off with a photo of Iraq War-enabler Peter Beinart chatting with Hillary Clinton, and titles his piece "On Iran, Liberals Are Enabling Another Disastrous War." Glenn Greenwald has a follow-up today which starts off with Goldberg's own track record of promoting war with Iraq: his piece is called "Does the past record of jouralists matter?" -- he's responding to James Fallows defending Goldberg's "journalism." The one interesting thing about Fallows's post is the paragraph summing up a 2004 piece on the same recurrent threat:
Fallows goes on to quote Goldberg doubting that bombing Iran would do any good (and then waffling), a neat little bit of deniability in case it all blows up. Does make me wonder why we even stop to take such fantasies seriously, but Greenwald has an answer:
I have to admit I share that frustration, but the core reason is certainly simpler. Any time Israel needs to deflect attention from its own deeds and wants to bolster support from Washington, it drums up its bogeyman, which has been Iran since the fall of Iraq and the Soviet Union. So, Israel taps its usual mouthpieces, like Jeffery Goldberg. That he was wrong on Iraq in 2003 is your opinion; as far as his employers are concerned, his record is spotless, because he's always said what he was supposed to say.
Thursday, August 12. 2010
Glenn Greenwald, on Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic article "Israel Is Getting Ready to Bomb Iran":
Of course, most Americans won't see that, because we lack the ability to imagine how other people see things. We're not even very good at understanding each other.
This isn't even a case of putting our interests ahead of theirs, as "realist" foreign policy wonks suggest we should do. It's more a matter of forcing our hypocrisies onto others so we can avoid facing up to our own problems.
David Frum (quoted by Glenn Greenwald after Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs said "the professional left . . . should be drug-tested"):
Frum tries to pretty this up a bit. If "Repub pols" so feared the GOP base, they woundn't work so hard to push its buttons, but then the GOP base is usually satisfied to get out and vote then stay out of the way while the pols go about their main job of servicing the rich. The "Dem pols" don't have it so easy because the "Dem base" actually has reasoned interests and concerns in conflict with the interests and concerns all pols face day to day -- the lobbies, the media, etc. -- which often makes the base inconvenient.
Of course, Gibbs wasn't talking about the base. He was talking about pundits who care about actual issues regardless of whatever's most tactically convenient for Obama. Greenwald quotes Bob Herbert: "Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House." That seems like a pretty sober statement to me. There are more than a few examples; even some, like the surge in Afghanistan, where Obama has outdone Bush, and some of these (maybe not Afghanistan) are retreats from his campaign pledges. It shouldn't be surprising that Obama gets some flack from people who supported him in 2008: he's fallen way short of their hopes, he's fallen short of his promises, and he doesn't seem to be doing a very good job of what we desperately need from him, which is to keep the Republicans out of power for the next 2-6 years.
Going back to the top item above, one thing that nearly all of us expected from Obama was to do a better job than Bush of sorting out our differences with Iran. That hasn't happened, and he hasn't excluded the possibility of doing something far worse.
Wednesday, August 11. 2010
Matthew Yglesias: Progressive Consumption Taxes. I meant to write something about this a few weeks ago, but it slipped out of my consciousness, until Yglesias brought it up again. What he calls a "progressive consumption tax" is actually an opt-out income tax: it lets rich people opt out of paying income tax on any money they choose to save rather than spend. I can think of several things wrong with this.
For starters, consumption taxes should be point-of-sale, since that's precisely when one has the money to pay them -- if the tax pushes the price above what you are willing to pay, then you walk away from the purchase. (Sales taxes depress economic activity a bit, but more often than not you need what you're buying so you pay the tax. Sales taxes also depress profits a bit, since every now and then a seller will settle for a bit less profit rather than losing the sale.) The problem is that point-of-sale taxes can't be progressive unless you can distinguish how much buyers have bought in the past, something that would take a lot of nosey bureaucracy and would still be almost laughably easy to subvert. (You could, of course, tax more expensive items or certain kinds of items at higher rates, which would make a sales tax somewhat progressive, but that gets real complicated real fast.) Robert Frank's scheme gets around this problem by taxing income minus savings, so the rap on consumption is false advertising.
The bigger question is why exempt savings, especially since savings is simply what people who have too much money have left over after they've bought everything they needed. For years and years economists lecture us on the virtue of savings, arguing that the economy depends on investors, that government policy should do everything possible to increase savings. We already bend over backwards to encourage savings, deferring taxes on retirement accounts, deducting taxes on home borrowing, barely taxing dividends and capital gains. One paradox is that with all of this policy favoring savings the nationwide savings rate keeps dropping -- which of course is cited as evidence that we need even more favorable treatment of savings. Also curious is that the rare occasion where savings goes up is precisely when the economy as a whole tanks. So why on earth should we think that savings drives the economy?
Well, the reason some people say that is because pretty much by definition savings is the exclusive defining trait of the rich: people who have more money than they need to satisfy their consumption desires have savings, and people who don't don't. Sure, there are marginal cases where poor people scrimp to save something away, and there are rich people who come up with ever more fanciful ways to squander their money, and you're no doubt right to find the former virtuous and the latter foolish, to expect that the former will improve their lot and the latter will throw it away. But what's good for individuals is often irrelevant to the whole economy or society. (Drug use is often tragic for individuals but is big business coming and going for the economy as a whole.) So whenever you hear someone talking on about how we need more savings, what he's saying is that rich people should be able to dig deeper into your pockets. Encouraging savings is one of the main ways we allow our country to become more and more inequal.
Another big way we make wealth more inequal is by flattening the tax rate. That's what repeated movements to cut "marginal" tax rates have done. Shifting to sales taxes, which are necessarily flat, also favors inequality. And capped payroll taxes and special treatment for unearned income is even more regressive than flat tax rates. The only real way to keep inequality from getting way out of hand -- as it's pretty much done in America, and done even worse in the crony capitalist havens of the developing world -- is to progressively tax excess income, which is to say: what we need to do is to tax savings. Frank and Yglesias imagine they can make up for the inherent shortcomings of their scheme by jacking up the tax rates on extravagant spenders. That might help a little, but the opt-out nature of their scheme is a big and dangerous loophole.
I've written a lot about taxes in the past so let me reiterate a few points:
Most people on the left instinctively reject non-progressive or even regressive taxes, probably because they are tired of losing battles over progressive income and estate taxes. You can have a progressive tax system with a lot of regressive or flat taxes if the progressive component is truly effective. Similarly, people on the left rarely care to cut or eliminate property taxes because taxing property is a straightforward way to soak the rich, but the need to save for property taxes introduces a lot of distortions in the system.
This all seems to self-evident to me that sometimes I think someone should set up a soapbox and campaign on these ideas -- I'm tempted to call them Smart Taxes. (Can't use Fair Tax, which has already been debased to sheer stupidity. How can anyone think that eliminating a one-page rate table simplifies the tax code, as compared to the thousands of pages of FASB rules that try to figure out what is income and deductible expense, a problem that will persist no matter what the rate.) But this sort of jiggering of the tax system is just a nice way to make the system a bit more efficient and sensible. The real question is whether we want to live in a more equitable society, whether we appreciate the core values of mutual respect, openness, fair treatment, equal opportunity, honesty. There is much research, as well as common sense, that shows that more equitable societies are happier, less stressful, more productive societies. If you want that, then devising a tax system to represent those values is straightforward. Meanwhile, the people who don't want that will be screaming bloody murder over any scheme that hints at progressivism, even one like Yglesias and Frank proposed with an opt-out for the superrich.
Tuesday, August 10. 2010
More than the usual load this month, which is partly cyclical: the month was spent in the low ebb of the Jazz CG cycle, letting me indulge more than usual my desire to listen to something else. There's also an element of post-Christgau activism, much the same response Michael Tatum had. And Tatum's correspondence added to the flurry: he hepped me to the Books, Wainwright, and Best Coast, while I pointed him to Sleigh Bells. (Gauthier had been on my rader, but Rhapsody was being fussy there.) It's also a bit long because I held this back a few days to give him first shot -- although the lag worked the other way on Arcade Fire, which he'll certainly have something more substantial to say next month.
One new thing here is that I've included a couple of records that I didn't survey via Rhapsody. I cover new jazz in Jazz CG and Jazz Prospecting, and new world music in Recycled Goods (on the pretext that since it comes from abroad even the new stuff gets recycled a little bit), which leaves a very small number of other records -- things that I would have done here but one way or another managed to wrangle a hard copy. Somewhile back I tried to handle them separately, but I never had enough to fill an at-all-regular column. So I figured I'd put them here, marking them as [cd] or [advance] (for promos that aren't quite real). Only two this time, and I don't expect there'll be many more in the future. (The Hold Steady record, which I preemptively bought then didn't get to, is the only one I'm sure is on the shelf.)
More albums pictures this time, simply because the A-list got out of hand: left M.I.A. and Sage Francis out thinking they're slightly more marginal; left Wainwright out because his business model didn't make it easy to grab a cover -- a different kind of marginality. Order has no significance.
Usual caveats apply: These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody (except as noted; e.g. [cd]). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on July 8. Past reviews and more information are available here.
Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (2010, Def Jam): Half of OutKast on his own, give or take a dozen or more guest stars each contributing to a big, messy, excessively sweet pot of ear candy. Had trouble finding the center, but virtually all OutKast albums take a while to kick in -- not that "Tangerine" had any problems. First two plays left me on the fence, but when I went back to another I lost my doubts -- even the fake operatic shit did the trick. A-
Kelis: Flesh Tone (2010, Interscope): More coherent, mostly because the beats are narrower and more mechanical, almost as narrow and mechanical as her voice. One advantage this has is that it builds momentum gradually over the course of the album. "Brave" should make a pretty good single; not as tasty as "Milkshake," but she's moving on. B+(*)
Drake: Thank Me Later (2010, Universal Motown): Young rapper from Canada, had a good EP last year and sustains it over 60 minutes this time. B+(***)
The-Dream: Love King (2010, Def Jam): I've been resistant to his charms and spiel thus far, but something clicks here -- maybe it's the Neptunes, maybe just the hinted Nelly-like encouragement from his posse. I still don't buy the argument to "Sex Intelligent" but the ear candy is hard to resist, and he keeps is going for much longer than anyone has a right to. Comes in at 54:44, so maybe he's not quite a sixty-minute man, but he makes a pretty good run at it. A-
Bako Dagnon: Sidiba (2010, Discograph): Malian griot, female division although I wouldn't swear that by her voice -- lower and slightly muddier than Youssou N'Dour. Music is rather spare, mostly guitar or guitar-like with little percussion. Thoroughly enchanting at first, wears a bit thin by the end. B+(***)
Salif Keita: La Différence (2009 , Decca): The most famous of Mali's vocalists, going back to Les Ambassadeurs, with a solo career since the mid-1980s -- his reputation in a voice that exudes power but also grace. Looking back over my database, I see that through a half-dozen previous records I've never much warmed to him, though I can't tell you why. Problem here is the music, which wraps around him like a decadent toga, the least glitz a distraction, best at its plainest. B
Kylie Minogue: Aphrodite (2010, Astralwerks): Australian dance diva, cut her first album in 1988 at 20 and has a dozen now that she's passed 40. Never listened to her before, but she hits her stride here midway through on the title track and the rest of the album is fully functional and fun. B+(***)
Kele: The Boxer (2010, Glassnote): Bloc Party singer-songwriter-guitarist goes solo, producing a pretty typical Bloc Party album; synth beats, plasticky grooves, wan vocals, a bit of angst, but exhilarating out the gate. B+(**)
Kesha: Animal (2010, Jive): Né Kesha Rose Sebert, 1987, d/b/a Ke$ha, a piece of typographic banality we'll overlook for now. Daughter of a Nashville songwriting pro, moved to LA to ply her hitmaking connections, and launched this number one album with a number one single. First two songs are terrific ("Your Love Is My Drug" and "Tic Tok"), and nothing falls way short -- can't say as I liked the message in "DINOSAUR" but the pop hooks (if not the CAT scan lyric) pulled it out. For all the "$$$" seems more like a party girl, sometimes aspiring to be Amy Winehouse when she grows up. A few more plays could cinch this, but it feels like it'd be irresponsible to credit her now. B+(***)
Laurie Anderson: Homeland (2010, Nonesuch): Ambitious, distinctive, thoughtful, clever, unique, asking big questions, evincing deep concerns, but still this is not just dreary but rather murky in the early going, and stretches out with pieces like "Another Day in America" and "Dark Time in the Revolution" that deserve to be called didactic. Only "Only an Expert" really brings it together, partly because it quickens the pace and beefs up the harmony but also because the insights it drives home are profound. B+(***) [advance]
The Coathangers: Scramble (2009, Suicide Squeeze): Atlanta girls scratch out some art moves to follow up an eponymous punk debut that got by on attitude alone -- not too arty, mind you, more like the sort of competence that comes from practicing. Haven't worn out their attitude either. B+(***) [cd]
M.I.A.: Maya (2010, XL/Interscope): I expect I'll pick up a real copy fairly soon, but gave it a spin anyway. Unique shtick, Bollywood raps with sharp beats and harsh, shrill shoots. Wouldn't call her a terrorist, but she does thrive on conflict. Deluxe edition adds four tracks, not as dressed up as the four on the cheap edition. Not sure what else. [PS: All the Deluxe edition adds is four cuts, on the same cheap piece of plastic -- a price differentiation strategy that augurs ill for the future. Did buy a copy, the overpriced one. I'll stick with my grade, but do wonder how often I'll feel like playing it once the shock-excitement wears thin.] A-
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today (2009-10 , 4AD): Group led by guitarist Ariel Pink, né Ariel Marcus Rosenberg. Ninth record since 2004, counting things like Oddities Sodomies Vol. 1. Lo-fi, uses other vocalists, including some falsetto. Some songs are evidently rerecorded from early albums, which may explain why it seems so erratic. Last couple songs start to sound like the Fall -- i.e., better. B-
The Like: Release Me (2010, Downtown): Four LA girls in mod dresses on the cover. So straightforward it could have been done in the 1960s. B
Sage Francis: Li(f)e (2010, Anti-): Alt-rapper, works with alt-rockers and comes off more as performance poet, but actually sings some and the unsynthy music rings true. One piece on a dutiful son with transportation challenges. One piece on growing up which makes it all seem to be a miracle, or lots of dumb luck, anyway. A-
Rhymefest: El Che (2010, Rose Hip): Chicago rapper, given name Che Smith, which he plays off for the title and hints at some political import. I liked his 2006 album Blue Collar both for his plainspokenness and his guest networking, but I'm less clear on this one. B+(**)
She & Him: Volume Two (2010, Merge): Actress-singer Zooey Deschanel wrote most of the songs -- note that the two exceptions are the two Christgau picked out as choice cuts. I'm not that picky, or at least didn't find them standing out compared to some of the others. Him is Matthew Ward, a singer-songwriter on his own who takes a back seat here. Light, straightforward pop, serious enough. B+(*)
Casiokids: Topp Stemning På Lokal Bar (2010, Polyvinyl): Norwegian group, sing in Norwegian (or something like that), play more/less danceable synth pop, none of which does much to overcome the language barrier. Album appears to exist in two versions, one 8 cuts long, the other 16 (mostly remixes and alts). Played the short one, pleasant for sure, but not enough to convince me I need to hear the long one. B
Devin the Dude: Suite #420 (2010, E1 Music): Weed anthems and arcana, including a little sex on the side, rolled thin and kept tight under wraps. Funny little skit on Twitter and Google. B+(*)
Field Music: Field Music (Measure) (2010, Memphis Industries): English group, brothers David and Peter Brewis, third album since 2005. Expected something more techno, but sounds more like Oasis to me: light pop songs with heavier guitar, but also a bit more experimentation. B+(*)
Sleigh Bells: Treats (2010, Mom & Pop Music): Brooklyn duo, Derek Miller (guitar) and Alexis Krauss (vocals), sounds like heavy synth pop but all that noise is evidently just ginned up from laptop and distortion pedals. Short songs, Loud, sharp, shrill even, but not from attitude. B+(***)
Reflection Eternal [Talib Kweli + Hi-Tek]: Revolutions Per Minute (2010, Warner Brothers): Most sources go with Reflection Eternal as artist name here, even though the front cover identifies Talib Kweli + Hi-Tek in larger, bolder type. (Reflection Eternal was the title of their 2000 album, which I don't think they've reused in the meantime.) Flows along with periodic consciousness: one called "Ballad of Black Gold" could use some bonus verses about BP, but people need to hear more about Nigeria. A-
The Books: The Way Out (2010, Temporary Residence): Duo, guitarist-vocalist Nick Zammuto, cellist Paul de Jong, although most of what they work with seem to be samples, and they like to call the results collages. First thing you notice is the spoken text, which works when it's clever as it most often is, but soon the electrothrash sorts out into interesting patterns as well, and I even find myself caring about stories, like "The Story of Hip Hop." A-
Zu: Carboniferous (2009, Ipecac): Italian group, loosely aligned with The Ex and connected to Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson, both with guest shots and collaboration albums in the catalog -- Radiale with Spaceways Inc. was my first Jazz Consumer Guide Pick Hit. Also seem to have a fascination with geology, born out on an album called Igneo which won me over on many levels. Was surprised to see this appear last year mostly on metalhead lists, but that's clearly where they aimed it. Mostly instrumental and not bad but rather monotonous as far as that goes. Vocals are truly dreadful. B-
Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse: Dark Night of the Soul (2010, Capitol): Brian Burton first came to our attention with his bootleg mashup of Jay-Z's Black Album with the so-called Beatles "White Album," and he keeps coming back in various guises, the best known Gnarls Barkley. Sparklehorse is some kind of alt rock group, led by a Mark Linkous who co-wrote most of the songs here and shot himself three months before the album was released. (Didn't know that when I played this, and don't feel like going back to plumb for clues.) Various guests are brought in to sing. Black Francis and Iggy Pop move the music toward metal, but nearly everyone else succumb to Burton's postmodern Beatles aura, which isn't such a bad thing. B+(*)
Mulatu Astatke: Mulatu Steps Ahead (2010, Strut): The Ethio Jazz guru, on his own without the Heliocentrics helping to jack up the beats, falls back into a well-worn groove with soft vibes and airy moods, with a little vocalizing from way back home. B+(**)
Loudon Wainwright III: 10 Songs for the New Depression (2010, Second Story Sound): The folk singer from posh Westchester County has been boning up on economics, reading Paul Krugman's op eds in the New York Times and packing Maynard Keynes for his beach reading. After all, he's stuck with a California house he can't sell, and his "financial advisors tell me that the present will most assuredly stretch into the foreseeable future." Moreover, after his Charlie Poole project he has a few usable Old Depression songs on his mind, like "The Panic Is On" (recently done by Maria Muldaur on his similarly themed Good Time Music for Hard Times) and "On to Victory, Mr. Roosevelt." The others are originals, with "Cash for Clunkers" upbeat, "Halloween 2009" spooky (with a line about Greenspan "on the lam"). Sucker-priced at $20, more than his 2-CD High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project -- maybe someone should hide his economics primers. A-
Jace Everett: Red Revelations (2010, Wrasse): Country singer, second album, strays from Nashville formula to pick up a rock-retro beat and some psychobilly echo around his deep voice and shallow thoughts -- only "Little Black Dress" puts them to good use. A little monotonous. B
Asleep at the Wheel/Leon Rausch: It's a Good Day (2010, Bismeaux): After 40 years, Ray Benson's band has settled into a western swing groove, and after a few false starts they've got it down pat. Maybe it makes them feel young to work with even older artists, like Willie Nelson, or in this case Leon Rausch, who took over as the singer in Bob Wills' band in 1967, making him one of the last direct links. Old tunes, four from Wills, one from Earl Hines, a "Basin Street Blues" and a "Route 66" that gets a workout. Elizabeth McQueen also sings some. B+(***)
Carrie Rodriguez: Love and Circumstance (2010, Ninth Street Opus): Austin country singer, third album not counting the fetching debut that Chip Taylor got his name up front on. Covers, two from her family, most of the rest picked up from the alt-country fringe running as far afield as Richard Thompson and Steve Van Zandt, with a Spanish-language piece to close, she's about as good as her songs -- Lucinda Williams' "Steal Your Love" is a choice cut. B+(*)
Robbie Fulks: Happy: Plays the Music of Michael Jackson (2002 , Bloodshot): Not sure of recording date, which could be a tad earlier. At any rate, planned release was cancelled in 2004 when Jackson became untouchable. Now Jackson is dead and Fulks has moved on to another label, so why not? Sure, Fulks' twang is unsuppressable, but Jackson's funk lines send it into outer space, so universal it's hard to dismiss most of this as a joke, even when it is. More problematic is when they try to cover the Five's harmonies, run through the horror movie motifs of "Privacy," or do anything with "Ben." B
Deadstring Brothers: São Paulo (2010, Bloodshot): Detroit band, dead ringers for the Exile-era Rolling Stones, at least when Jagger tries on his country drawl, Kurt Marschke's sweet spot. Repeated listenings are likely to surface minor imperfections -- the guitars are close, but Charlie Watts is nowhere in evidence, and no one has the ego to pretend to be the world's greatest rock and roll band. Last few cuts back down even more. B+(*)
Alejandro Escovedo: Street Songs of Love (2010, Fantasy): Started way down in Americana, but with a new label his tenth album surrounds his "Tender Heart" with a lot of dense rock muscle -- it's almost as rippled as Springsteen, but lacks space and depth and lyrics you can follow and care about even if they turn out to be despicable. This, on the other hand, is claustrophobic. Chuck Prophet co-wrote most of the songs. B-
Best Coast: Crazy for You (2010, Mexican Summer): LA group, Bethany Cosentino singing; Bobb Bruno enveloping her in harsh, echoey surf guitar; Ali Koehler the drummer. Thirteen cuts in 31:31. A couple come close to breaking through, but then a couple are just short of migraine-inducing, and it's not like there's much range between one and the other. B+(*)
Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (2010, Merge): Montreal group, third album spaced on three-year intervals, each one hugely praised, this one at 16 cuts in 63:57 pretty monumental. Not my thing, but rocks awful hard for someone so sincere, and the guitar shimmer is pretty amazing, leading a harmonic richness that has rarely been equalled. Finally turned it down and found some songs speaking to me -- "City with No Children," don't recall the others. A-
Mary Gauthier: The Foundling (2010, Razor & Tie): Three records from 1997-2002 (Dixie Kitchen, Drag Queens in Limousines, Filth & Fire -- sounds like a real Dixie kitchen) were most likely primitive and raw, something to check out sometime. They landed her two records on Lost Highway, with Mercy Now still raw but a major accomplishment. This one is over that, her craftsmanship honed to yield several very seductive songs. Lacks that sharp edge, but portends a future. B+(***)
Hank Williams III: Rebel Within (2010, Sidewalk): Mostly goes by Hank III, like redneck royalty, which I suppose he is. Voice seems a little starchy, as if he's actually been living the depraved life he sings about, or maybe he's just bored. First few songs, including the title one, he just sort of walks through. Still, they're not the problem; that would be the thrash rock one toward the end. B+(**)
Blake Shelton: Hilbilly Bone (2010, Warner Brothers): Six cut, 24:25 EP, thrown together fast when the title yarn smelled like a hit. Second cut doubled down on the attitude with the title "Kiss My Country Ass." Too bad they couldn't think of (or find) more, since even at six cuts it starts to thin out. Your basic good old country singer, with five previous albums since 2001. Hadn't checked him out before, but he'll probably have a good best-of someday. B+(**)
Monday, August 9. 2010
Started out the week playing Mike Reed's record (below), and spent a whole day playing it over and over before I eventually concluded it wasn't going to get any better. Then I decided to try something different: play a record once, then hold it back if I wasn't ready to write something. So I spent a couple of days doing that -- Bill Frisell, Portico Quartet, Ergo, Dawn of Midi, Hat will face further plays -- then I lost all discipline. Had to get Recycled Goods and Downloader's Diary up, and spent more time on Rhapsody, padding out tomorrow's post. Sunday wound up being Ivo Perelman day. After having fallen for three straight records, I went to Rhapsody to see what else I could find -- I mean, they can't all be A- records, can they? So I don't have much here, and I'm likely to remain real distracted over the next couple weeks due to the server crash. But closing out this Jazz CG round isn't far off.
Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Stories and Negotiations (2008 , 482 Music): Chicago drummer. Personnel in this particular group has shifted around depending on what Reed wants to focus on, but the basic theme is 1950s proto-avant-garde jazz in Chicago, which includes pieces here from Clifford Jordan, John Jenkins, Wilbur Campbell, Julian Priester, and (especially) Sun Ra. Art Hoyle (trumpet) and Priester (trombone) are featured here, as is Ira Sullivan, a tenor saxophonist who also hails from the 1950s. The younger set includes Greg Ward (alto sax), Tim Haldeman (tenor sax), Jeb Bishop (trombone), and Jason Roebke (bass), so we get a lot of horns freebopping along. Reed wrote three originals, one for each of his featured guests. In several plays they have yet to resolve -- when I do perk up it's invariably in one or another of the covers. B+(***)
Kali Z. Fasteau: Animal Grace (2005-07 , Flying Note): Eclectic gadfly; soprano sax is probably her key instrument, but she also plays piano, violin, mizmar, nai flute, and sanza here, and uses her voice for something I wouldn't exactly call singing -- actually sounds processed. She first landed in free jazz in the mid-1970s with husband-drummer Donald Rafael Garrett -- cf. Memoirs of a Dream, two discs from 1975-77. Two sets here: 2007 "Live from Harlem" duo with South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, and 2005 "Live in the Alps" with Bobby Few's piano trio. In both Kali Z. makes the rounds, so this has its ups and downs. The ups include Moholo's game drumming, Few's testy piano, and a pretty amazing stretch of soprano sax on the noisy closer. B+(*)
Niklas Barnö/Joel Grip/Didier Lasserre: Snus (2009 , Ayler): Trumpet-bass-drums trio, respectively; Barnö and Grip from Sweden, Lasserre from France. Snus may or may not be group name; also is some kind of tobacco product in Sweden, banned in the EU. Rough free jazz -- the drummer definitely has a knack for it, the bassist harder to hear at all clearly. Barnö goes for a gutbucket sound, more like a trombone, no less dirty but higher and faster. B+(**)
Mike Fahie: Anima (2010, Bju'ecords): Trombonist, b. 1976 in Ottawa, Canada; wound up in New York in 2000. First album, quintet with Bill McHenry (tenor sax), Ben Monder (guitar), Ben Street (bass), and Billy Hart (drums), produced by John McNeil. Postbop, nicely measured, with a lot of space for sax and guitar to lead, the trombone holding the record down to earth. B+(***)
Elliott Sharp: Octal Book Two (2009 , Clean Feed): Guitarist, b. 1951. AMG lists him under classical (chamber music) since 1986, although his rather large discography goes back to 1977. I hadn't heard anything until he showed up playing Monk on Clean Feed, and now I'm up to four records, barely scratching the surface. Solo guitar -- having a lot of trouble with the small print here, but the credit actually looks like "Koll 8-string electroacoustic guitarbass." Interesting but marginal, turning ambient toward the end. B+(**)
Sun Ra Arkestra, Under the Direction of Marshall Allen: Live at the Paradox (2008 , In+Out): Sun Ra died in 1993. Alto saxophonist Allen joined Ra's Arkestra in 1958, was a mainstay until the end, and at 86 is the ghost band's undisputed leader. I don't know how active the Arkestra has been since 1993: Allen's website shows three albums including this one, another live album from 2003 and an earlier album dating from 1999. I only count four band members here who also played on 1990's Live at the Hackney Empire, the last of Ra's full Arkestra albums I have listings for: Allen, Noel Scott (as), Charles Davis (ts), and Elson Nascimento (surdo). The nine songs are split 4-4 between Allen and Ra, with Fletcher Henderson's "Hocus Pocus" the odd tune out -- Ra learned his craft arranging for Henderson; don't know if any of Allen's pieces are new. This covers all the bases, most of the planets and quite a few moons, cranking up the space synths, cracking up into cacophony, breaking down with corny vocals, and swinging like hell. You've heard it all before, yet still can't predict it: this is one ghost band that never gets trapped in its past because its past is still so far in the future we can't anticipate it. B+(***)
Food [Thomas Strønen/Iain Ballamy]: Quiet Inlet (2007-08 , ECM): Group originally an album title from 1999, by a quartet: Iain Ballamy (saxophones), Arve Henriksen (trumpet), Mats Eilertsen (bass), and Thomas Strønen (drums), with at least Strønen contributing electronics. The quartet cut four Food albums through 2004, then slimmed down to Strønen and Ballamy for a fifth album in 2007, Molecular Gastronomy. This is number six, taken from two live performances, one with Christian Fennesz on guitar and electronics, the other with Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet and electronics. First cut, with Fennesz, reminds one of Molvaer's drum machine, but eventually the percussion gives way to ambience, laced with Ballamy's reeds and occasionally fortified by Molvaer's trumpet. B+(**)
Dino Saluzzi: El Encuentro (2009 , ECM): Bandoneon virtuoso, b. 1935 in Argentina, picks up from the tango tradition but usually adds a jazz dimension. Eleventh ECM album since 1982, plus a few others scattered here and there. Cut a duet album with cellist Anja Lechner in 2006, and continues that collaboration here, adding Felix Saluzzi on tenor sax and, most fatefully, the Metropole Orchestra (Jules Buckley, conductor) for a live album. Metropole is a Dutch group, limited here to strings, which pushes all of my I-hate-classical-music buttons. (Not sure how this group relates to the Metropole Orchestra founded in 1945, currently directed as a big band by Vince Mendoza.) The Saluzzis and Lechner are hard pressed to stand out against such dross. B-
Ivo Perelman/Daniel Levin/Torbjörn Zetterberg: Soulstorm (2009 [2010, Clean Feed, 2CD): Recording date just given as "April 18" -- presumably before the March 2010-dated liner notes. Tenor saxophonist, b. 1961 in Brazil, based in New York, has at least 35 albums since 1989, including a few more in the queue that I haven't gotten to yet. Levin plays cello (as has Perelman on occasion), and Zetterberg bass, so they sort of flow together into a backdrop for Perelman's musings, some rough and tumble but most sensitive and eloquent. A-
Ivo Perelman/Gerry Hemingway: The Apple in the Dark (2010, Leo): Hemingway is a drummer with a notable discography under his own name, as well as renown as a sideman, perhaps most importantly in Anthony Braxton's 1980s quartet. Perelman is the tenor saxophonist from Brazil. I have in my notes that he's also played cello (in Strings, a duo with guitarist Joe Morris), but hadn't noticed him playing piano before (the only instance I can find is a 1999 album, Brazilian Watercolor). In these duos, he plays piano about half of the time -- didn't manage to count the cuts -- and tenor sax the other half. He's more assured, and more relaxed, on his main instrument, but I'm even more struck by the piano. James Hall's liner notes described it as "a kaleidoscopic jumber of Erroll Garner and Monk" but I was thinking more of Cecil Taylor, and not just because he makes a lot of noise but because he turns it into something remarkable. A-
Ivo Perelman/Dominic Duval/Brian Wilson: Mind Games (2008 , Leo): Conventional tenor sax trio, with Duval on bass and Wilson on drums. I saw Duval play once, with Cecil Taylor, who ran him ragged for about 20 minutes, then after Duval was worn out Taylor started to play a little himself. Wilson is a drummer. Can't find out much about him, but he's certainly not the ex-Beach Boys singer-guitarist who shows up in his stead for the first million or so Google searches. Pretty good drummer, too. As for the tenor saxophonist, this is billed marking the 20th anniversary of his recording career, and he's in his prime, sticking to what he knows best. Before this string, I had only heard 4-5 of his recordings, the delta there an unrated duo with Borah Bergman, and only had one at A-: 1996's Sad Life. It, too, was a sax trio, with William Parker and Hamid Drake. I wonder whether, had I played the records in some other order, I might have nitpicked one or the other down a notch. After three plays I'm not totally blown away here either, but have no nits to pick. I need to go back the review the others, and figure out what to do with this cluster -- probably a lead and two high HMs. (Also wonder why they didn't send me the Perelman/Wilson duo The Stream of Life -- hard to think of any label I don't get that I'd be more excited to hook into than Leo.) A-
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.
Ivo Perelman: The Ventriloquist (2001 , Leo): Rhapsody has two copies of this with different artwork -- this one matches Leo's website. With Paul Rodgers on guitar, Ramon Lopez on drums, and either Louis Sclavis on bass clarinet or Christine Wodrascka on piano. The horns squeak more than squawk, but that's the basic range, at a pretty intense level. The piano pieces, especially the long title track, are at least as intense; she throws fits of unbalanced chords, and Perelman has to play his ass off to keep from being buried. Very intense, not comfortable with it myself. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Ivo Perelman & Dominic Duval: Nowhere to Hide (2009, Not Two): Tenor sax-bass duo, a subset of the trio that recorded Mind Games, which benefitted from the accents and dynamics of drummer Brian Wilson. Perelman is close in tone and temperament to the later albums -- much mellower than on the early albums -- but stretches a bit thin here, partly listener fatigue setting in approaching 76 minutes. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week: