Wednesday, September 29. 2010
The Village Voice has published my 24th Jazz Consumer Guide column: Play Louder, and Pray for Peace. For once I finally managed to write my own title. One thing I've noticed that almost amounts for a trend is the growing number of free-ish jazz outfits that incorporate rock-ish noise levels. The best example of this is one that I reluctantly dropped from the draft as the fight for space became desperate: Epileptical West by Martin Küchen's group Angles. That leaves Fight the Big Bull and Led Bib as two instances where I used the word "loud" below, and more where I thought it.
More curiously, Prayer for Peace is the first title to have appeared twice as a pick hit, one of those coincidences that seems statistically impossible. The first time was in Jazz CG (4), when I tapped a reissue of Amalgam's 1969 album. Truth is, I'm not big on prayer, but I am on Billy Bang. I just had a lot of trouble cranking out this review, so kept playing the album over and over and fell more and more in love with it.
Previous column came out June 30, so this one is almost exactly three months later. Not sure if I'll ever manage to speed them up. I'm usually so beat at the end of one that I want to do something else for a while, then before I know it I'm playing catchup again. I have enough already written for the next column, but also close to 200 unplayed records in the queue.
Jazz Prospecting for this round covered 218 records, starting June 1 and ending August 30. I also considered 96 records carried over from previous prospecting. The collected Jazz Prospecting notes are: here.
I haven't done a final surplus cull for this round, but for whatever it's worth the current surplus file is: here. I usually post the top part of that file as a sort of consolation prize for good records I never expect to find space for, but as of this point I only have one record in it. Given what my schedule looks like for the next couple of weeks, I may call that done and plan on a more serious cleanup next time.
Still need to do some more paperwork to get everything up to date. Will add a PS when that gets done. Meanwhile, judging from my local copy, I find this looking more and more like a laundry list, with way too many HMs and too little detail on everything. Only in reference to the background does the HM list look rather select. Don't know what the answer is, but I hope this is still useful.
Monday, September 27. 2010
All signs look like Jazz Consumer Guide will be appearing in The Village Voice this Wednesday. Of course, I've been bumped at the last minute before, so we won't know for sure until it happens. Also a good chance that something or other will get cut when they lay it out, but as of now I haven't heard anything about that.
Thomas Savy: French Suite (2009 , Plus Loin Music): Bass clarinetist, from France, second album, a trio with Scott Colley on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. Suite runs through seven parts, followed by Ellington's "Come Sunday," an extra bit from the suite, and Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament." Packaging is oversized. B+(**)
Puttin' On the Ritz: White Light/White Heat (2010, Hot Cup): B.J. Rubin dates his relationship to the music of the Velvet Underground to 1999, about 25 years after I fell hard for their four studio albums, so I can sort of relate but also tend to be hypercritical. He talks his way through "The Gift" and sings, if you can call it that, "White Light/White Heat," "Lady Godiva's Operation," "Here She Comes Now," "I Heard Her Call My Name," and "Sister Ray." His partner is MOPTDK drummer Kevin Shea, whose other side project is a tasteless duo with Matt Mottel -- credited here on Turkish organ -- called Talibam! MOPDTK mainstays Moppa Elliott and Jon Irabagon add some noise, as do fellow travellers Nate Wooley (trumpet) and Sam Kulik (trombone, bass trombone). The horns aren't without interest, but only on "Sister Ray" does the music salvage the vocal. B- [advance]
Anat Fort Trio: And If (2009 , ECM): Pianist, b. 1970 near Tel Aviv in Israel, moved to US in early 1990s, based in New York. Third album, second on ECM. Trio with Gary Wang (bass) and Roland Schneider (drums). Quiet but remarkably assured. Opens and closes with meditative pieces dedicated to Paul Motian; one exception is "Nu" which jumps around a bit. B+(***)
Odean Pope: Odean's List (2009 , In+Out): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1938 in North Carolina, twentieth album since 1980. Likes to work with extra sax players, often under the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir rubric. He's joined here with two other saxophonists (James Carter and Walter Blanding), two trumpets (David Weiss and Terrell Stafford), piano, bass and drums. Impressive in spots, especially if you like your sax rough. B+(**)
Frank Gratkowski/Hamid Drake (2009 , Valid): Drake should be well known by now; his distinctive percussion provides an exceptionally flexible and resonant match to anyone he plays with. Gratkowski plays alto sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet. B. 1963 in Hamburg, Germany, prolific since 1991 but this is the first of his twenty-some records I've heard; plays free and hard, not as harsh as Brötzmann or Gustafsson, but not easy to distinguish from a dozen others. He's a SFFR if I ever get hold of the discs. B+(**)
Julian Argüelles Trio: Ground Rush (2009 , Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1966 in England, ten albums since 1996, close to 50 side credits. Trio with Michael Formanek and Tom Rainey, same lineup as his 2006 album Partita. Very solid trio work; impossible to fault although I don't get the extra charge I expect to bring it up a level, maybe because he's so sure of himself he makes it look easier than it is. Another SFFR. B+(***)
Michaël Attias: Twines of Colesion (2008 , Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, b. 1968 in Haifa, Israel; family moved to Minneapolis in 1977, and he's kicked around a fair amount since then, including Paris and New York and a stretch studying at Wesleyan under Anthony Braxton. Fourth album since 1999; has a couple dozen side credits. Odd album, five musicians only loosely connected, but they keep slipping into interesting juxtapositions, so consistently one suspects some sort of plan -- although it certainly he helps that the musicians are so strong individually: Tony Malaby (tenor sax), Russ Lossing (piano), John Hébert (bass), Satoshi Takeishi (drums, percussion). B+(***)
Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch: What Is Known (2009 , Clean Feed): Bassist, based in San Francisco, first album, has a handful of side credits going back to 1996, no one I recognize except (barely/obviously) Pyeng Threadgill. Quartet, with Aaron Bennett (tenor sax), John Finkbeiner (guitar), and Vijay Anderson (drums). Anderson I recognize because he has a new record on Not Two I just added to my wish list. Needed to jog my memory on Bennett and Finkbeiner, but they are indispensible cogs in Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra -- which has a past pick hit and a new record I don't have yet but Stef Gijssels has raved about -- and Finkbeiner is part of Nice Guy Trio. Finkbeiner has an uncanny knack for adding harmonics to Bennett's sax, making this play more like a two-horn group than sax-guitar. The bassist composed eight of ten pieces, covering one from Air -- Pyeng's father's group, although Steve McCall is the author -- and one from Don Van Vliet called "Lick My Decals Off, Baby." She also works in a lot of bass solos/leads, fine by me. [PS: Did finally get the new Adam Lane record, and neither Bennett nor Finkbeiner are on it, so maybe not so indispensible; will see when I get to it.] A-
Louis Sclavis/Craig Taborn/Tom Rainey: Eldorado Trio (2009 , Clean Feed): The eminent French clarinetist is credited here with soprano sax and bass clarinet; Taborn with piano and Fender Rhodes; Rainey with drums. Two pieces are joint improvs; the rest come from Sclavis's songbook. Feels kind of jumbled together, the sort of thing jazz musicians do on the spot, sparking strong solos and occasional mismatches. B+(**)
Daniel Levin Quartet: Bacalhau (2009 , Clean Feed): Cellist, with Nate Wooley (trumpet), Peter Bitenc (double bass), and Matt Moran (vibes), a combo that tends to be stratchy with blips and bits here and there. B+(*)
Stephen Gauci/Kris Davis/Michael Bisio: Three (2008 , Clean Feed): Gauci is a tenor saxophonist, b. 1966, based in Brooklyn, leans avant, has been deserving of HM mentions his last two times out (Nididhyasana and Live at Glenn Miller Café) but somehow slipped through the cracks. He isn't an especially voluble player, and subtlety can be hard to credit. Davis is a pianist I like a lot. Her own group features the very voluble Tony Malaby, generally a plus but he tends to overwhelm her; she emerges here as a thoughtful counterpoint to the sax, and for that matter to bassist Bisio, who is always engaging on sets like this. B+(***)
Ben Syversen: Cracked Vessel (2010, Ben Syversen): Trumpet player, b. 1983, based in Brooklyn; first album, a trio with Xander Naylor on guitar and Jeremy Gustin on drums. Syversen cites Tim Berne, Ellery Eskelin, and Jim Black for ideas, as well as "seminal punk bands such as Black Flag, twisted takes on Americana, and sly, just beneath the surface references to Eastern European folk music." There seem to be a lot of young guys like that coming up, with the MOPDTK gang on the more scholarly end of the spectrum, with this on the more punkish end. The jumbled riddims and guitar noise are exhilarating, but even the one where they slow it down gives you pause for thought. A-
Vijay Iyer: Solo (2010, ACT): Pianist, b. 1971, a dozen or so albums since 1995, has been winning a lot of polls lately, especially with his trio album Historicity sweeping album of the year honors from Downbeat to The Village Voice. Solo piano, his first, one of those inevitable coming out exercises that practically all jazz pianists do sooner or later -- later than usual in his case, which is one reason I sat on my advance until it seemed probable no real copy would follow. Four originals, six cover, two of those from Ellington. Manages to keep a bright touch and keen interest throughout. [B+(***)] [advance]
Helen Sung: Going Express (2009 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Houston, TX; based in New York. Third album, going more mainstream and becoming less interesting. Seamus Blake plays tenor and soprano sax, Lonnie Plaxico bass, Eric Harland drums, a solid group, especially on tracks with a little lift like "Love for Sale" and "In Walked Bud." B+(*)
Joe Gilman: Americanvas (2009 , Capri): Pianist, b. 1962 in Sacramento, CA, studied at Indiana University, teaches at American River College back in Sacramento. Eighth album since 1991, including two "revists" to Dave Brubeck and two more to Stevie Wonder. The theme here isn't anywhere near so simple: not sure what it is, but the liner notes cite various cultural artifacts from the early 1940s to the early 1960s, and the sound itself is straight bebop. Gilman's piano is a live wire, and two saxophonists vie for attention: Ben Flocks and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. B+(***)
Greg Burk and Vicente Lebron: Unduality (2010, Accurate): Burk is a pianist, b. 1969, who has done consistently interesting work as far as I've followed it -- Many Worlds (482 Music) was a recent HM. Lebron is older, a conga player from the Dominican Republic, moved to New York in 1971 and on to Boston in 1974, where he plays with Either/Orchestra. The record here is piano-percussion duos, with 13 of 23 cuts named "Unduality" with a number and a "Bach" pun -- "Bach at You," "Bach and Forth," "Bach to the Future," "Bachlava," etc. While the percussion is nice enough, the rest of it sounds like Bach to me. Especially "Vox Bach," where they lose the instruments. B
Darrell Katz/Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra: A Wallflower in the Amazon (2009 , Accurate): Composer, based in Boston, teaches at Berklee, has eight records since 1992, the earliest as JCAO. The organization dates back to 1985, and Katz is listed as "founder/director," with many other composers passing through. Their MySpace page lists five other "resident composers," but only Katz provides songs here -- three with poems by Paula Tatarunis, and Katz-arranged covers of Ellington, Willie Dixon (one you know from Muddy Waters: "Hoochie Koochie Man"), and Big Maceo Merriweather. Most pieces have vocals, and I find Rebecca Shrimpton warbly on most of them. The exception is "Hoochie Koochie Man" where Mike Finnigan takes over. That's when I also started noticing the fine print, which is where Katz excels as an arranger. B+(*)
Aaron Shelton Quartet: These Times (2009 , Singlespeed Music): Alto saxophonist, also plays clarinet, b. 1976, based in Chicago then Oakland, has two previous albums under his name since 2005, plus a pretty good one as Ton Trio. Quartet includes a second sax -- Keefe Jackson on tenor -- plus Anton Hatwich bass and Marc Riordan drums. At times, the sax sparring is worthy of Ammons and Stitt, updated with a more flexible rhythm section, though not everything is that frisky. 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.
Moe! Staiano's Moe!kestra!: 2 Rooms of Uranium in 83 Markers: Conducted Improvisations, Vol. II (2003-04 , Edgetone): Percussionist, b. 1973 in New York, based in Bay Area; works with found objects, some attached to drum kit ("prepared drums"). This is his third Moe!kestra! album, consists of two pieces of Butch Morris-style conducted improvisation using twenty-some Bay Area mostly-jazz musicians -- a few I recognize because I backed into this researching Lisa Mezzacappa's quartet. Doesn't feel like jazz instrumentation even though a fair number of horns are credited. More like industrial machinery slogging erratically toward doom -- which is sort of interesting. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Marty Ehrlich: Fables (2010, Tzadik): A collaboration with Klezmer Conservatory Band directory Hankus Netsky -- not clear whether this should be co-credited, as some sources do, but most just list Ehrlich. Also only found one source for credits: Ehrlich (clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto sax, soprano sax), Marcus Rojas (tuba), Jerome Harris (acoustic bass guitar), Netsky (piano, accordion). That's about what I hear, although Ehrlich plays the clarinets much more than the saxes. Mostly klezmer, no idea how vintage; starts and ends strong, the latter's tuba-accordion oom-pah a hoot. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Masada String Trio: Haborym: The Book of Angels, Volume 16 (2010, Tzadik): Mark Feldman (violin), Erik Friedlander (cello), Greg Cohen (bass). Group was originally assembled by John Zorn for his 50th birthday celebration, and returns here to take a whack at Zorn's klezmer-flavored Book of Angels series. Most pieces have intriguing grooves, moved along smartly by the bass, which keeps the violin from getting stuck in anything chamber-ish, and some even have a bit of mischievous noise. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Mark O'Leary & Sunny Murray: Ode to Albert Ayler (2002 , Ayler): O'Leary is an Irish guitarist, from Cork, b. 1969. He's been a SFFR ever since I first ran across him in Anthony Braxton's 2003 standards quartet. He has nine records on Leo since 2000 (recording date; actual release dates start in 2005), a couple more scattered hither and yon. Murray, of course, is one of the great free jazz drummers to come of age in the 1960s, probably inspiring the title with his 1964-65 stint with Albert Ayler -- a stretch of 5-6 albums including Spiritual Unity. He was 65 when this was recorded, with his fine Perles Noires albums still in the future. O'Leary gets a range of sounds from his guitar, ranging from metallic to a dull synth sound, like he's still trying to work out his preferred sound. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1 (1972 , Porter): Philadelphia group, recorded four albums for Joe Fields 1972-75, three of those on Muse and a fourth -- actually the eponymous first album -- on Cobblestone, a Buddah subsidiary Fields also ran. Joel Dorn's 32 Jazz label picked up the catalogue in 1996 and released all four albums on two CDs as The Funkiest Band You Never Heard. I'm a little unclear on details, but it looks like Porter is doing the same trick only on two separate CDs. Vol. 1 packs the two 1972 albums, Catalyst and Perception. The group's mainstays were Odean Pope (tenor sax, flute, oboe), Eddie Green (mostly electric piano), and Sherman Ferguson (drums), with Al Jackson playing bass on the first album and Tyrone Baker on the second -- maybe some extras here and there. Green's electric piano reminds me more of Jimmy Smith's organ than of the era's Hancock-Corea-Zawinul fashion, the main advance a slight uptick in funk quotient. Pope isn't quite the powerhouse he became, but you can tell he's been listening to Ayler and Coltrane without forgetting his roots in gutbucket blues. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 2 (1974-75 , Porter): Two more Muse albums, Unity from 1974, and A Tear and a Smile from 1975. The former is probably the funk peak, with saxophonist Odean Pope moving a bit ahead of electric pianist Eddie Green. Things fall apart on the second album: "The Demon, Pt. 1" crosses over into irritating, I think with electric guitar although I don't have the credits (Charles Ellerbe?), then after "Pt. 2" the title track goes into an atmospheric flute serenade. Then strings and vocals intrude into what until then was one of the more impressive funk-jazz quartets of the period. B [Rhapsody]
Odean Pope: Plant Life (2008, Porter): Luke Mosling started Porter Records hoping to reissue some favorite LPs, with Byard Lancaster a touchstone, which led him to another Philly group, Catalyst, and its saxophonist, a young Odean Pope. That in turn led to a couple of relatively recent Pope trios -- I sort of imagine that these were tapes on the shelf rather than new projects. First one out was two 1995-2000 trios, What Went Before: Volume 1, which is what I thought I was listening to -- even wrote a little review. Then I moved on to a second trio album, Plant Life, and found . . . that it had the exact same song lineup, including two written by "Murray." As it happens, the drummer here is Sunny Murray, with Lee Smith on bass. A formidable sax player, of course. But this is getting to be a sloppy music service. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali: Spirits Aloft (2009 , Porter): Grimes' story should be fairly well known by now. B. 1935, he was a popular bassist from 1957-67, breaking in with Gerry Mulligan but from 1964-67 mostly playing with avant-gardists, including Albert Ayler, Frank Wright, Charles Tyler, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, and Don Cherry -- for that matter, 1962-63 was transitional, credits there including Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, and two exceptional avant albums: Perry Robinson's Funk Dumpling and Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd's School Days (the name inspiration for the Ken Vandermark group). Grimes dropped out in 1967, and wasn't heard from again until 2002 when someone tracked him down, and William Parker gave him a new bass -- at the time he reportedly hadn't realized that Ayler had died. He's been a semi-celebrity since 2002, working steadily, but I generally suspected that the world was cutting him a fair amount of slack. He had, for instance, one album under his own name back in 1965; he picked up a second album in 2005, Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival, but the Henry Grimes Trio there was supported by two much more famous players: Hamid Drake and David Murray. Still, this record forces me at least to make some adjustments. This is a duo and Ali -- who didn't disappear after Coltrane died but never got much recognition either -- was clearly secondary. Mostly bass-drums duets, but Grimes plays some violin as well, not very slick but the higher pitch projects him impressively. Begins and ends with short poems, the live set full of sharp edges as Grimes works his way around his tools, with drum interludes and comments -- less commanding but no less sharp. This is actually the second duo album with Grimes and Ali, so I need to check the first out too. A- [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:
Sunday, September 26. 2010
A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously:
Friday, September 24. 2010
I've read, but haven't collected quotes and comments from, John Amato and David Neiwert's Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press). It's a worthwhile book, but aside from the chapters on murderers like Scott Roeder and the fringe activists who love them, it doesn't go nearly far enough or deep enough into why the right has gone so crazy, let alone what (if anything) the actual policies and proposals of the real Barack Obama have to do with it.
As with the counterattack against Clinton in 1993-94, much of the siege on Obama has been bankrolled by the usual suspects. If Obama thought that he could enter the White House with a consensus mandate to do what sorely needed to be done, as Roosevelt did in 1933, he quickly found out otherwise. (Not that he responded soon enough; indeed, he still has the air of a guy who can't fathom the depths of loathing he has to deal with.) Still, Amato/Niewert has only one reference to "Koch and Coors families," one to David Koch, none to Charles. Someone will put that part of the story together sooner or later, following the old-but-true maxim to follow the money.
One of the things I'm most struck by is the extent to which anti-Obama, anti-Democrat, anti-government vehemance reduces to conditional responses. If you wonder why we didn't see comparable anti-government hysteria during the Bush years, it's clear that that wouldn't have been in the right's interest, so they switched it off. After all, the things that Obama stands accused of now, like corruption toadying to moneyed interests and running record deficits, were complaints all the more valid under Bush.
Those conditioned responses ultimately derive from ideology, and the right's been progressively sharpening their knives over Obama ever since he started running for president. The 2008 books were relatively mild, especially given that at first the right-wing power structure was more worried about Hilary Clinton. Once Obama was nominated, books like Jerome Corsi's Obama Nation popped up, and no sooner than Obama was inaugurated Michelle Malkin had already discovered his Culture of Corruption -- something that she hadn't noticed in eight years under George Bush. At the time Obama was still popular enough Bernard Goldberg could write about A Slobbering Love Affair. This year, however, the gloves are off, along with any shade of respect.
The lists below are things I accumulated while looking for serious books. It is worth noting that only a handful of publishers have put out this pile, with Regnery by far in the lead. Someone should look into the economics behind this fusilade. That some books have landed on bestseller lists is at least partly due to someone underwriting bulk purchases to goose sales. The left, of course, has its own set of reliable publishers, but I've yet to see a single book appear on how Mitch McConnell and/or John Boehner are out to destroy the world, which would make at least as much sense as the saner books below. The closest I've found are books on Glenn Beck and things like the Amato/Niewert book. When the left publishes books, it's usually about some real world problem, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, growing inequality, globalization, our disastrous health care system, global warming, the banking system meltdown, Obama's failure to reverse Bush's illegal attack on civil liberties. If you read every book below you will have learned exactly nothing about any of those issues.
Didn't make a lot of notes, figuring the titles give you enough of an inkling where the book is going.
Here's a quick list of insane books rushed to print in the latest wave of the right's relentless siege against Obama -- most accusing Obama of plotting no less than the destruction of America.
That's on top of the slightly more tasteful pre-election books, and the first dumbstruck round from the post-election honeymoon:
And don't forget Encounter's thin Broadside series (paperbacks):
For what it's worth, there are also a small number of books critical of Obama from the left. For example:
Thursday, September 23. 2010
Since I started doing Weekend Roundup I've found myself with postless holes in the middle of the week. Thought I'd fill one with some topical today stuff.
Andrew Leonard: How to be a true (non-mosque fearing) American: No credit on the artwork, but if the message doesn't strike you as right, well, what kind of a lilly-livered American are you? Pace the title, I didn't think first of mosques or Muslims. I thought of what the Republicans like to call our "unelected self-appointed elites" -- the only people I'm sure that's meant to indict are those who came from the fringes of America and who busted their asses to work their way to the top of the establishment's most restrictive schools and into the corridors of power. This nation got as far as it did by accepting the contributions of everyone, and it seems damn stupid to stop now -- worse, an act of self-mutilation. The only thing I despise more than people who try to tear down their neighbors who achieve success are the ones who achieve it then try to slam the door behind them.
The only line on the image that gave me pause was "classes," but that's only because so many of the rich have been so brazen about using political power to serve their own greedy selves at the expense of everyone else. But the fact is that we treat the rich pretty well in this country, and that wouldn't change much even if you could imagine a Congress of 80-90% Democrats: at most the rich would wind up paying a bit more in taxes for the privilege of living in a country with a better safety net and more opportunity for everyone. You'd have to be a pretty greedy bastard not to see that as a decent deal. But maybe the artist was thinking of other classes -- the ones we don't treat anywhere near so well.
Today in Paul Krugman posts:
Maybe it's time for Michael Kinsley to update his "Big Babies" essay.
Alex Pareene: House GOP's Pledge to America: World's saddest to do list: I reckon I should read the thing at some point, but for now this is shorter and funnier. Besides, I'm still waiting for that term limits thing from 1994's "Contract with America":
Ezra Klein: The Democrats need a plan, too: Sounds sort of superficially right, but the Democrats not only aren't good at that vision thing, they don't think with one mind and don't march in lockstep to one drummer. The only thing Republicans disagree among themselves on is immigration, where one faction wants to hunt down and exterminate every last foreigner and the other is so enamored with cheap labor they've scarcely got over the end of slavery. Democrats, on the other hand, disagree about damn near everything -- even the moral degeneracy of Republicans. Klein offers a list of pretty easy stuff here but you can still find Democrats who'll shy away from it:
I've occasionally thought that if the Tea Party were truly independent and if the Republicans wanted both to curry favor with them and put the Democrats into an impossibly indelicate situation, they'd take charge at this moment to drive the moneychangers from the capitol by daring the Democrats to implement some serious campaign finance reform, but clearly they're no more serious about corruption in Washington than they are about balancing the budget.
On the other hand, I think the Republicans just gave the Democrats all the vision they need, by spelling out the horror of a Republican takeover of Congress. That's both a compelling message and a unifying one -- even Ben Nelson understands he better off in the majority caucus even when he disagrees with everyone else in the room.
Wednesday, September 22. 2010
Another batch of book notes. Last one was July 14, and I've accumulated quite a bit more than the forty I limit myself to for these posts, which means two things: these are somewhat select, and another similar post should be forthcoming rather soon.
I will note that I've read Andrew Bacevich's Washington Rules and Chalmers Johnson's Dismantling the Empire but haven't collected notes/quotes yet. Neither adds much to the authors' previous books -- Bacevich's is a new attempt at systematizing what he's learned, a more straightforward book than The Limits of Power, while Johnson's collects a bunch of his TomDispatch essays making it a good deal more scattered than his Blowback trilogy books. More later on both books.
I've also read Nicholas von Hoffman's book on Saul Alinsky (extensive notes linked), and have John Dower and David Harvey on my to-be-read shelf. Sooner or later I want to get to the Hacker/Pierson book. Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns looks like a major contribution to American history.
Andrew Bacevich: Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (2010, Metropolitan Books): America's bestselling anti-militarism author, possibly because he set his roots down in the military, academia, and the conservative press before he turned against the perpetual war machine, but also because he's open to ideas from all over the map. Bush set such a low bar that Obama thinks he can play the same game and come out on top, a conceit that Bacevich is singularly skilled at debunking.
Alain Badiou: The Communist Hypothesis (2010, Verso): A manifesto for a new way following the self-destructions of soviet communism and neo-liberalism. Probably not the best PR strategy to package this as yet another communism, but it makes sense to me to project some sort of "third way" out of the current dead end ideologies. Badiou has a stack of books, most recently The Meaning of Sarkozy.
Mitchell Bard: The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East (2010, Harper): Looks like Bard counted the pages in Walt and Mearsheimer's The Israel Lobby and kept writing until he topped them. Even if you agree that the point of Arab political influence in America is "weakening our alliance with a democratic Israel" you have to conclude that it hasn't been very effective and therefore isn't very significant. Perhaps it has been more effective at keeping the US from criticizing human rights issues in places like Saudi Arabia, but then we don't seem to care much about Israeli human rights violations either.
Richard Beeman: Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (paperback, 2010, Random House): I never thought of them as being all that plain, but I suppose you can make that case. I still have a couple of Gordon S. Wood books to read on the subject, so they would take priority (especially The Radicalism of the American Revolution).
Ian Bremmer: The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations? (2010, Portfolio): This turns on the rise of "state capitalist" systems, ranging from state-controlled sovereign funds to the China juggernaut. Does seem to be the case that the states are gaining ground, but not clear what the problem with that is. That states are political? If that results in states directing their economies to service their people better, why is that such a bad thing? There are problems with either extreme, which is why most countries and regions move toward mixed systems. Personally, I would worry more about the corporations.
Will Bunch: The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama (2010, Harper): Glenn Beck, the tea baggers, the birthers, hard to keep up with all the nonsense. Bunch wrote a pretty good book on Reagan, Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future, but his subject here may be too unconstrained to capture in a book just now -- although Beck, in particular, is provoking some backlash: Alexander Zaitchik: Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ingorance (2010, Wiley); Dana Milbank: Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America (2010, Doubleday).
Judith Butler: Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (2009; paperback, 2010, Verso): Something on what we do (and do not) experience as grievous in war, specifically the US War in Iraq where we meticulously count our own dead while casually sloughing off wild-ass guesstimates of those we kill, directly or otherwise.
David Callahan: Fortunes of Change: The Rise of the Liberal Rich and the Remaking of America (2010, Wiley): Argues that new money is more liberal than old money, which even if it's true adds up to a very small point. Rather, what I see happening is that to the extent that these nouveau riches lean Democratic -- and they make sure they never lean far enough to fall over -- they flatter the Democrats into the vain hope that the path to success is to appease the rich. How much change you get out of that is hard to project, mostly because it's so intangible. The rich liberals of FDR's day worked to moderate capitalism to stave off revolution, a fear that today's rich liberals don't have -- unless you count the resurgence of fascism, and there's certainly some threat there.
Matthew J Costello: Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and the Unmasking of Cold War America (paperback, 2009, Continuum): Of superhero comics and cold war metaphors, not least the relationship between radioactivity and mutation, which somehow emerges as a public good. The model changed somewhat in the 1960s, but then didn't it all change?
Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (2009; paperback, 2010, Free Press): Back to his roots, writing about something he knows about. I might wonder how cluttered with anti-creationist preaching would be now that he's gotten a taste for evangelical atheism, but the evidence is so compelling and so wondrous it should sell itself. On the other hand, many other books do the trick, like Jerry A Coyne: Why Evolution Is True (2009, Viking; paperback, 2010, Penguin), or the collected works of the late, much lamented Stephen Jay Gould.
John W Dower: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq (2010, WW Norton): A specialist on Japan during and after WWII -- his two books, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific and Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II offer extraordinary insights into the war and its aftermath -- extends his analysis past 9/11 and into Iraq. You may recall that before Bush invaded Iraq Dower wrote a prescient piece on how wrong the models of the US occupations of Germany and Japan were for the present day.
William R Freudenburg/Robert Gramling/Shirley Laska/Kai Erikson: Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow (2009, Island Press): You may have noticed that the damages caused by natural disasters has risen in lock step with development in disaster-prone locales. If not, you will sooner or later, because we place few obstacles against such development.
Thomas Geoghegan: Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life (2010, New Press): Labor lawyer -- I read his memoir, Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back when it came out in 1991; seemed like an accidental leftist at the time. Five books later, he's looking for a better way of living, and finding some answers in Europe, specifically in Germany.
Thomas Geoghegan: See You in Court: How the Right Made America a Lawsuit Nation (2007; paperback, 2009, New Press): Somewhat surprising given how much the right likes to rail on trial lawyers, but "tort reform" is just a mop-up action. The damage to ordinary people's right is forcing them into court, where the well heeled have all sorts of advantages. Not sure how well this holds up, but the basic idea seems well founded.
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010, Simon & Schuster): A logical follow-up to Hacker's The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back, looking if not so much for reasons at least for the mechanics behind the chasm of ever-greater inequality. The right is dedicated not just to making the rich richer but, perhaps more importantly, increasing the perceived value of being rich by making not being rich all the more dreadful. America's brief moment of middle class identity had just the opposite effect: it allowed workers the security to feel they were part and parcel of the nation. I used to think that middle-classness was just false consciousness -- and the fact that it surrendered to readily kind of proves the point -- but now that it's over it seems like a pleasantly naďve idea. Still, whenever I hear someone defending the middle class it sounds to me like a putdown of the working poor: the only way to save the middle class is to build up the working poor so they become it. Pierson has co-authored with Hacker before, on Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy.
David Harvey: The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010, Oxford University Press): English Marxist, gives him a distinctive edge in sorting out the flows of capital at a time when the flow has been severely disrupted. Also wrote A Companion to Marx's Capital (paperback, 2010, Verso), based on forty-some years of teaching the book, its times, what it meant, what it might still mean today.
Michael Hiltzik: Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century (2010, Free Press): Although it's been told before, the building of Boulder Dam remains an amazing story: there's certainly no way now that anything as big can be built as fast and as cheaply as it was in the 1930s. This book explains how, and that should be interesting in its own right. How you get an American Century from that is yet something else.
Arianna Huffington: Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream (2010, Crown): I don't trust her, and I hate it when politicians like Obama whine on and on about what they're going to do for the middle class, but the basic thesis here is right. It's not so much that the present middle class is being attacked as that the basic economic relationships that made it possible working people to enjoy middle class comforts have been undermined and will keep getting torn down any chance the right gets. However, what is needed isn't aid to the present middle class but raising the floor under the working class to give them and their children and so forth new opportunities to grow.
Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (2010, Metropolitan Books): Collection of essays from the past decade, mostly on the exorbitant costs of maintaining a global garrison that doesn't even work very well on its own terms. Can get redundant, especially compared to his more systematic trilogy: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000; paperback, 2004, Holt); The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004, Metropolitan Books); and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2007, Metropolitan Books).
Ann Jones: War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict (2010, Metropolitan Books): Author has a couple of books on battered women, plus an old one recently reissued on the subset who strike back: Women Who Kill (1980; paperback, 2009, Feminist Press). Also a travel book in Africa and a memoir of NGO relief work in Afghanistan: Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan (paperback, 2007, Picador). The new book pulls all those threads together.
Laura Kalman: Right Star Rising: A New Politics, 1974-1980 (2010, WW Norton): Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan on the cover. Seems to have a low opinion of Carter, arguing that American voters rejected him personally rather than liberalism in general. Makes me wonder if that doesn't hit close to home with Obama, who like Carter came along at the end of an eight-year nightmare with a compromised agenda and a lot of poorly understood legacy problems.
Grady Klein/Yoram Bauman: The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume One: Microeconomics (paperback, 2010, Hill and Wang): Introductory, although it offers an interesting, well-rounded range of topics -- probably good as a sanity check on what you do and do not understand. Amusing too, although Bauman doesn't have a lot of competition as a "stand-up economist."
Warren Kozak: LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay (2009, Regnery): A war criminal, at least in his own mind, which relished the role and repeatedly courted disaster. Given the publisher, this is presumably a flattering right-wing paean, but LeMay was so blunt I doubt that you can slant him much.
Andrew F Krepinevich: 7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century (2009, Bantam): One of the geniuses who keeps plotting new ways to get us into senseless wars. Imagines global pandemics, black-market nukes, a Pakistani collapse, civil unrest in China, "the consequences of a timed withdrawal from Iraq"; not sure what else. Wonder if he's thought about the Armageddon-addled Jesus freaks in the US Air Force Academy?
David Kupelian: How Evil Works: Understanding and Overcoming the Destructive Forces That Are Transforming America (2010, Threshold Editions): Previously wrote The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom. I'd be more intrigued if he replaced "radicals" with "conservatives" (or if I thought that was what he meant by "elitists"). The list of "profoundly troubling questions" he takes a whack at don't strike me as all that profound, like "why are boys doing worse in school today than girls?"
Dylan Loewe: Permanently Blue: How Democrats Can End the Republian Party and Rule the Next Generation (paperback, 2010, Three Rivers Press): Not sure what he's smoking. Long-term political power depends on two things: institutional support, which the Republicans have in spades because they do the bidding of people rich and mean enough to bounce back from a setback and keep fighting even when their positions make them look stupid; and competency, a big problem for Republicans once they get into power. The Democrats don't have the former -- they don't even take their unions seriously -- and they haven't exactly mastered the latter. So how's this supposed to work?
Mark Mazower: No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (2009, Princeton University Press): One of several new books on the founding of the UN. The idealism behind the UN is frequently touted, but one wonders about the range of thought going into it.
Markos Moulitsas: American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): Easy to see the temptation, but strikes me that comparing the new right-wing fringe to the Taliban is going to result in some sort of cognitive mishmash that in the end won't do anyone any good.
Michael O'Brien: Rethinking Kennedy: An Interpretive Biography (2009, Ivan R Dee): Author previously wrote the 992 pp John F Kennedy: A Biography, which provides ample background for framing this rethinking. Where you wind up depends on where you start. I've long tended to view Kennedy as a Cold War monster, which may be too harsh, although he certainly had plenty on his staff.
William Pfaff: The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy (2010, Walker): Foreign policy expert, works for International Herald Tribune, which tends to keep him grounded in reality. I picked up his Barbarian Sentiments: America in the New Century, written in 1989 and reissued with a new afterword in 2000, immediately after 9/11; found the afterword to be an elegant and perceptive take on America's perch in the world, but thought the old material was hopelessly dated, the work of an unvarnished cold warrior. That he views US foreign policy as tragic credits better intentions than I have noticed.
Jonathan Schneer: The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2010, Random House): Picks over the letter Lord Balfour addressed to Rothschild proposing Palestine as a Jewish Homeland, one of many strange presumptions Britain made during WWI, the intrigues in London scarcely tethered to the reality they wound up confounding.
Robin Shepherd: A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem With Israel (2009, Orion): Strikes me as a self-hating European, arguing that his "bed-wetting generation" has lost their way compared to the Europeans of yore precisely because they've given up on the principles that still thrive in Israel: you know, racism, militarism, colonialism, the preening celebration of democracy built on the subjugation of others. Moreover, he argues that Europe's failure to embrace Israel is its own death-wish, as Europe is progressively swallowed up by immigrant Islamist hordes. Funny thing is, when I read the title I imagined a quite different book.
Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff: Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era (2009, University of North Carolina Press): Roosevelt's record on civil rights should be seen as disgraceful, although his general thrust toward greater economic equality did materially bring us closer to a viable civil rights movement. Not sure how much of that this book covers, but it does focus on Federal Arts Projects at a time when blacks increasingly distinguished themselves in the arts -- Duke Ellington and Richard Wright being well known examples.
Baylis Thomas: The Dark Side of Zionism: The Quest for Security Through Dominance (2010, Lexington Books): Another concise history of the Zionist takeover of Palestine -- author previously wrote How Israel Was Won: A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
Nick Turse, ed: The Case for Withdrawal From Afghanistan (paperback, 2010, Verso): Essays by Andrew Bacevich, Anand Gopal, Chalmer Johnson, Ann Jones, Mike Davis, Dahr Jamal, not sure who else; basically a spinoff from TomDispatch, where Tom Engelhardt and guests have been writing about Afghanistan, Iraq, and the folly of empire ever since Bush got his gun on.
Justin Vaďsse: Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement (2010, Harvard University Press): I suppose there are technical differences between the Neocons as an intellectual movement and Bush's War Cabinet, but that's mostly because theories look sweeter before they are tested by reality.
Ed Viesturs/David Roberts: K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain (2009, Broadway): I've read quite a few mountaineering books, partly because Galen Rowell, who introduced me to K2 in In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods, and Jon Krakauer have turned out to be such striking writers. (I didn't know that Rowell died in a plane crash in 2002. His photography books are extraordinary: I haven't seen A Retrospective, but can plug Mountains of the Middle Kingdom, Galen Rowell's Vision, and Mountain Light.) Viesturs is one of the big names in mountain climbing, and K2 is nearly as high as Everest and a lot harder to get to, up, and down.
Nicholas von Hoffman: Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky (2010, Nation Books): Turns out the author, whose 2004 Iraq War book Hoax: Why Americans Are Suckered by White House Lies was uncommonly smart, spent a good chunk of his life working as an organizer for the community organizing guru -- he brags that he was hired on the same day as Cesar Chavez -- and remained a good friend and confidante until Alinsky's death. Part memoir, part manifesto. [link]
William Wiker: 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read (2010, Regnery): Aristotle's Politics; GK Chesterton: Orthodoxy; Eric Voegelin: The New Science of Politics; CS Lewis: The Abolution of Man; Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France; Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America; The Federalist Papers; The Anti-Federalists; Hilaire Belloc: The Servile State; FA Hayek: The Road to Serfdom. Also likes Shakespeare (The Tempest), Austen (Sense and Sensibility), Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), and The Jerusalem Bible, but not Atlas Shrugged. Author previously wrote 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn't Help (2008, Regnery), where he tried to distance himself from such traditional right-wing faves as Leviathan and Mein Kampf, as well as work out his heebie-jeebies over Margaret Mead and Alfred Kinsey.
Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (2010, Random House): Massive (640 pp) history of the black exodus from the Jim Crow South north and/or west. Not a feel-good story on either end, but an essential chronicle of the formation of modern America.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Mahmoud Mamdani: Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (2009; paperback, 2010, Doubleday): A critical look at the poorly understood, frantically politicized violence in Darfur, the northwest corner of Sudan. Mamdani wrote one of the smartest books around about the war on terror: Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, and has also written on the genocide in Rwanda. Probably the one book to read on Darfur -- the only reason I didn't jump all over it was that I had previously read Gérard Prunier: Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide which I figured covered all I really needed to know.
TR Reid: The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (2009; paperback, 2010, Penguin Press): A quick trip around the world, finding that damn near every even moderately developed country manages to provide better healthcare cheaper than the US does -- mainland China seems to be the exception, although Taiwan's system is covered in some detail, partly because it is a relatively recent success story. Turns out that it matters little whether healthcare providers are private or public, but it makes all the difference in the world whether they are profit-seeking. [link]
Robert Scheer: The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (paperback, 2010, Nation Books): I mentioned this before publication date back when I wrote up a lengthy survey of banking crisis books, but it finally came out on Sept. 7, and with a new subtitle, more specific than Greedy Bankers and the Politicians Who Loved Them. The callout on Clinton is significant: in the book he refers to the whole explosion of CDOs as the "Clinton bubble" -- an emphasis that doesn't let Obama off the hook, even though it may leave Bush feeling shorted.
Andrew Ross Sorkin: Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street Fought to Save the Financial System -- and Themselves (2009, Viking; paperback, 2010, Penguin): One of the first books out the gate on the 2007-08 banking crisis, short on explanation but long on details -- a good reporter with a lot of inside contacts mostly because he buys into Wall Street's worldview. Some updates. Some other first wave books are getting second lives in paperback: William D Cohan: House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street (2009, Doubleday; paperback, 2010, Anchor); Barry Ritholtz: Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World's Economy (2009; paperback, 2010, Wiley); Gillian Tett: Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe (2009; paperback, 2010, Free Press); David Wessel: In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic (2009; paperback, 2010, Crown Business). All those listed are widely regarded as fine books, so the main question is how much you can stomach. Given the quantity and quality of reporting on what kicked off this huge recession, it's a tribute to the blinders of self-interest that so many people remain so ignorant.
Notes on all the past books in this series are collected here (warning: big file).
Monday, September 20. 2010
Main thing I tried to do this week was to take a bite out of the middle-priority queue: mostly artists I don't know but who look serious, or artists I do know but don't expect exceptional things from. Got a lot of promising mail the last two weeks -- Andrew Card's line about not launching new products in August seems to apply to jazz as well as imperialist wars -- so I'll start to take a closer look at them next week. No news on when Jazz CG will run, but I don't expect to hear anything until the week before, and that's at least another week away.
Grades in brackets are tentative, on records I'm holding back for further play, either because I didn't get a good enough take on them, or suspect they might have some upside potential. I mention that here because I haven't been holding much back recently, but there is one such record below. I've gotten into a habit of forcing myself to finish grades just to move things along, especially on low-B+ records that have no chance of moving up enough to count.
Owen Howard: Drum Lore (2009 , Bju'ecords): Drummer, b. 1965 Edmonton; moved to New York around 1988; fourth record since 1993; not much of a side credit list -- none of the 11 household names he lists as "performed or recorded with" on his website show up in his AMG credits list, although Joe Lovano has something nice to say on the inside cover. One original and ten covers of songs by drummers, counting "Stompin' at the Savoy" for Chick Webb (listed ahead of Benny Goodman and Edgar Sampson); the others are worth listing: Denzil Best, Shelly Manne, Ed Blackwell, Al Foster, Billy Hart, Tony Williams, Paul Motian, Jack DeJohnette, Peter Erskine. Frank Carlberg plays piano, Johannes Weidenmueller bass, but the music is dominated by a rich range of horns: John O'Gallagher (alto), Andy Middleton (tenor, soprano), Adam Kolker (tenor, soprano, bass clarinet), and Alan Ferber (trombone on 4 cuts). B+(**)
Robert Sadin: Art of Love: Music of Machaut (2009, Deutsche Grammophon): Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor, got a taste of jazz when he arranged and produced Herbie Hancock's Gershwin's World, which here he uses mostly for networking. The music is medieval, from French composer Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377), done with modern instruments and enough guests to clutter up a Herbie Hancock record, although they're not exactly clutter here. Actually, they're very circumspect, which makes this package rather static, hard to hear and hard to get into -- it really matters very little whether the singer is Milton Nascimento, Hassan Hakmoun, Madeleine Peyroux, Natalie Merchant, Jasmine Thomas, Celena Shafer, or Sadin himself. Same for a long list of instrumentalists, from the reeds (Seamus Blake, John Ellis) to the guitars (Lionel Loueke, Romero Lubambo) to the beatless percussionists (Dan Weiss, Cyro Baptista). My package is dubbed a "press kit" -- a box with a fat booklet and red wrapping paper around a thin foldout card with a button for the CD. Don't know about the actual product. B- [advance]
Taylor Haskins: American Dream (2009 , Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1971, third album since 2004, the first two on Fresh Sound New Talent. Quartet with Ben Monder (guitar), Ben Street (bass), and Jef Hirshfield (drums). Ponderous titles plumbing an American dream that comes off menacingly gloomy ("the farmer has nothing to sow/the cowboy has nowhere to roam/the heroes have no one to save/the misfits find it hard to behave/the merchants have little to sell/the establishment has secrets to tell/the people have started to yell/the dreamers are nowhere but hell"); the music even more so. B
Roberto Cipelli/Paolo Fresu/Philippe Garcia/Gianmaria Testa/Attilio Zanchi: F. ŕ Léo (2007 , Justin Time): Tribute to French chansonnier Léo Ferré (1916-93); not sure how to parse the title, a large abbreviated initial and a small dedication, followed even smaller by "progetto di roberto cipelli." The artists are listed alphabetically. Pianist Cipelli has a couple previous albums dating back to 1988, but most of his credits are on albums led by trumpeter Fresu. Testa sings Ferré's French texts, with Zanchi on bass and Garcia on drums; Garcia also has a couple vocal credits, and Garcia and Testa have one each on guitar (chitarra). The vocals are appropriately smoky, the trumpet poignant, and Cipelli adds connective tissue between the songs. Recording date not given, but AMG lists two previous editions, one in 2007 on Bonsaď, one in 2008 on Radiofandango -- labels I've never heard of otherwise. B+(**)
Jessica Williams: Touch (2010, Origin): Another solo piano album -- I've lost count of how many she has, but a half-dozen would be a conservative guess, and ten hardly an outer bound. She comments in the liner notes that she no longer pounds "the piano like it was a set of drums"; good chance I liked those albums better than these, but that's me. Live set, half originals plus "I Loves You Porgy," "I Cover the Waterfront," "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," and one from Coltrane. B+(*)
Alex Brown: Pianist (2009 , Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1987, studied at New England Conservatory, based in Boston. First album. Cover says "Paquito D'Rivera presents"; D'Rivera plays alto sax on two cuts, clarinet on one more, as the album builds on a piano trio base -- Vivek Patel plays flugelhorn on four tracks, Warren Wolf marimba on two, Pedro Martinez percussion on four and vocals on one. Patel has a few good moments, but in general the extras are not all that substantial or interesting. The trio work shows some promise, but Brown hasn't broken out of the pack yet. B
Capathia Jenkins/Louis Rosen: The Ache of Possibility (2009, Di-tone): Rosen plays guitar, writes the songs -- borrowing lyrics from Nikki Giovanni for four of twelve -- and is a sly singer when he gets the chance, as on "The Middle-Class (Used to Be) Blues": the sharpest political song here in an album that carries a lot of political message. Jenkins is a church-schooled soul belter -- more impressive vocally but not in Aretha Franklin's league, and less interesting as a result. No strong reason to treat this as jazz -- as the hype sheet suggests -- other than the occasional horns and congas, which don't add up to much. Two previous albums, one full of Nikki Giovanni songs, the other called South Side Stories. B+(*)
Al Basile: Soul Blue 7 (2009, Sweetspot): Cornet player, blues singer, gave up theoretical physics for a slot in Duke Robillard's Roomful of Blues band. Robillard produces and plays guitar here, on Basile's seventh album since 2001. I count eight musicians here, with two saxes, trombone, piano or organ. Basile's a credible blues vocalist, too busy singing here to show off much of his cornet. Robillard keeps the band swinging -- he's been straddling blues and jazz effectively for a while now. Bonus includes a couple of pictures -- one in the clear case back and one in the booklet -- of someone's CD shelves: probably Basile's, since the bottom shelf of one is wall-to-wall Louis Armstrong -- even a few discs I don't have (and I have a lot). Everything else is blues, unless you want to quibble about the Fats Domino box. B+(**)
George Brooks Summit: Spirit and Spice (2010, Earth Brother Music): Saxophonist, picture shows him playing tenor but credit is plural, and he has alto and soprano credits elsewhere (e.g., with John McLaughlin; AMG also gives him composer credits going back to Bessie Smith, but I think those can be discounted). AMG lists four albums since 1996, not counting this one. His main interest is in Indo-Jazz fusion, the basis of his 2002 album Summit -- another album title recycled into a group name -- and the new Raga Bop Trio (with drummer Steve Smith and guitarist Prasanna, with Smith listed first). This is a quartet with Fareed Haque on guitar, Kai Eckhardt on bass, and Smith on drums, supplmentet by eight mostly-Indian guests -- Zakir Hussain (tabla), Nildari Kumar (sitar), Kala Ramnath (violin), Ronu Majumdar (bansuri), Swapan Chaudhuri (tabla), Sridar Parthasarathy (mrdangam, ghatam, kanjira, vocals). Moves smoothly through the jungle, with a sweet scent I don't find especially appealing. B
Jamie Ousley: Back Home (2010, Tie): Worst packaging idea of the year: dark green print on black background. I can't read half the song credits, most of the musicians, or any of the lyrics. Bassist, studied at University of Miami, is based in southern Florida. Second album, after O Sorriso Dela (2008). Musicians listed on front cover are Ira Sullivan (soprano sax, alto flute), Ed Calle (soprano sax), Phillip Strange (piano), Larry Marshall (drums); some others appear here and there, including three singers I've never heard of, and a splash of strings. Trends toward lushness, which isn't a compliment. I generally like Sullivan but his alto flute lead on "My Favorite Things" is my least favorite thing here. C+
Johnny Butler: Solo (2009 , Johnny Butler Jazz): Saxophonist, from Seattle, based in Brooklyn, first album. Also plays in an avant-rock/classical chamber group called Scurvy, and has some sort of connection to Tune-Yards. Album here consists of four fairly short pieces built using an Echoplex looper -- he makes a big deal in the album notes about doing this with no overdubs, but I don't really get the distinction, or what he's trying to do. Short (24:21), can be tedious but also has some interesting bits. B
Michael Zilber: The Billy Collins Project: Eleven on Turning Ten (2007 , OA2): Saxophonist (soprano, tenor), web bio pretty much useless, seems to have grown up in Vancouver, moved to Boston to study at New England Conservatory and Tufts, on to New York, winding up in California -- this record was recorded in San Jose. Seventh album since 1986, counting one with Steve Smith and another with Dave Liebman listed first. Billy Collins was US Poet Laureate 2001-03; has fifteen volumes since 1977, but I can't say I've ever heard of him, much less read him. Zilber's project was to take eleven Collins poems and set them to music. As is so often the case, constructing melodies for cadences winds up feeling awkward, and Andy Kirshner's dry voice doesn't help matters. With John R. Burr on piano, John Schifflett on bass, and Jason Lewis on drums/percussion. B
Andrew Oliver Sextet: 82% Chance of Rain (2009 , OA2): Pianist, based in Portland, OR. Has a previous Sextet album from 2008; also an Andrew Oliver Kora Band from 2009. Don't recognize anyone on this album, but three members wrote six of ten songs (to Oliver's four): guitarist Dan Duvall (3), drummer Kevin Van Geem (2), tenor/soprano saxophonist Willie Matheis (1). Also playing are Mary-Sue Tobin (soprano/alto sax, clarinet) and Eric Gruber (bass). Oliver plays some electric (Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer). Intricate postbop, shows a lot of ingenuity, quite listenable over the long haul. B+(**)
Eric Felten: Seize the Night (2007 , Melotone): Trombonist lately turned vocalist, b. 1964, cut a couple albums for Soul Note in the early 1990s, then not much until he emerged as a crooner on Eric Felten Meets the Dek-tette in 2005. Wrote six of eleven songs, none up to "Dancing in the Dark" or "Blue Skies" but they hold up well enough. Band should be superb -- Kenny Barron, Dennis Irwin, Jimmy Cobb, and Don Braden -- but neither they nor the singer break out of the straight-laced propriety characterized by, for instance, the conservative black-and-white cover art. B+(**)
Benny Sharoni: Eternal Elixir (2008 , Papaya): Tenor saxophonist, from Israel, parents from Yemen and Chile (which he credits for a little Latin tinge), moved to US in 1986 to study at Berklee; based in Boston. First album. a mainstream affair with trumpet, piano, guitar, bass and drums. Wrote 4 of 10 cuts -- the only cover I instantly recognize is "Sunny." Big sound, swings hard. B+(**)
Sándor Szabó/Kevin Kastning: Returning (2008 , Greydisc): Hungarian guitar duo; no bio on Kastning other than that he lives in Budapest, has a 1988 album as The Kevin Kastning Unit, several more as Kastning Siegfried, and four now with Szabó. Szabó was born in 1956, has a healthy discography starting with an album on Leo in 1986. Both play 12-string guitars: Szabó a baritone, Kastning switching between an extended baritone, an alto in G, and a 6-string bass-baritone. They work carefully, getting a subtly metallic picked note sound. Could be major subjects for further research if I was that much into guitar. B+(*)
Bobby Avey: A New Face (2009 , JayDell): Young pianist, no b. date given but got his BA in 2007 and moved to Brooklyn. First album under his own name, but previously appeared in a duo with Dave Liebman, Vienna Dialogues, which I didn't much care for. This is much better: half trio where he leans hard on the keys, half with Liebman guesting, also blowing hard. B+(***)
Peggy Duquesnel: Summertime Lullaby (2009 , Joyspring Music): Pianist-vocalist, writes some (4 of 11 "jazz standards and love songs" here). Seventh album since 2003. Evidently based in southern California ("served as stadium keyboardist for the Anaheim Angels baseball team"). Band includes guitar, bass, and drums, but seems to vanish mid-album. Has some charm as a singer, and her instrumental (solo) takes of "Satin Doll" and "Take the 'A' Train" sparkle, but the lullaby/love song angle doesn't do much (nor does her "Mack the Knife," which doesn't exactly fit any of these concepts. B
Rob Wagner/Hamid Drake/Nobu Ozaki: Trio (2005 , Valid): Can't find any bio for Wagner -- empty page on his website, empty section on MySpace -- but he plays clarinet, tenor and soprano sax, is based in New Orleans, has four trio records since 2001, only this one with Drake and Ozaki. Needless to say, Drake is a huge pickup, his frame drums providing a soft rumble that blends especially well with Wagner's clarinet. The sax stretches, and the drum kit, are louder, less exceptional, but still invigorating free jazz. A-
Gaida: Levantine Indulgence (2009 , Palymra): Singer, born in Germany, raised in Damascus, also lived in Kuwait and Paris; moved to Detroit to study biology, got into music singing in Lebanese restaurants, eventually wound up in New York, where she taps into a mix of Middle Eastern and jazz musicians -- drummer Eric McPherson, bassist François Moutin, or both in the case of Iraqi trumpeter Amir ElSaffar. Mix is more Arab folk/pop than anything else, but I can't swear that's what it really is. B+(***)
Chie Imaizumi: A Time of New Beginnings (2010, Capri): From Japan, studied at Berklee from 2001, based in Los Angeles, but recorded this in New York. Third album since 2005, composing and arranging for a large group with a John Clayton-Jeff Hamilton-Tamir Hendelman rhythm section and a lot of big name horns (Steve Wilson, Scott Robinson, Gary Smulyan, Greg Gisbert, Terrell Stafford, Steve Davis, and a guest spot for Randy Brecker). Has its ups and downs, but the ensemble work is often amazing. B+(**)
Jacky Terrasson: Push (2009 , Concord): Pianist, b. 1966 in Berlin, Germany; mother American, father French; studied at Berklee, based now in New York. Twelfth album since 1994, when he debuted as one of Blue Note's big piano finds. He's one of those pianists I haven't paid much attention to, and haven't gotten much out of when I did, but he's pretty upbeat here, and the trio pieces are bright and lively. The guests are less of a blessing, not that there's anything wrong with Jacques Schwarz-Bart's tenor sax piece, or the two with Gregoire Maret's harmonica -- they sort of fall off the table as odds and ends. Terrasson sings a bit, and that's forgettable too. B+(*)
Guillermo Klein: Domador de Huellas: Music of "Chuchi" Leguizamon (2009 , Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1970 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, studied at Berklee, based in New York, eighth album since 1997, most with a large band he calls Los Gauchos. This one is a tribute to Argentine songwriter Gustavo "Cuchi" Leguizamón, who wrote/co-wrote all but Klein's title track. Most songs have vocals, mostly sung by Klein who doesn't give them a very felicitous airing, although guests Liliana Herrero and Carme Canela do little better. B-
Hadley Caliman/Pete Christlieb: Reunion (2009 , Origin): Two tenor saxophonists. Caliman, b. 1932, had a few albums in the 1970s, then vanished (at least as a leader) until Origin picked him up in 2008. He titled his comeback album Gratitude and its follow-up Straight Ahead, and that's about all you need to know about him. Christlieb is a bit younger, b. 1945, evidently played some with Caliman in the late 1960s. He has a slightly more continuous career, but only one record between 1983-98, and only one other album post-2000. He is probably best known for a pair of duo albums with Warne Marsh in 1978 -- at least that's where I know him from -- which, of course, don't quite compete with Marsh's Lee Konitz duos. Presumably Caliman's the one who wants to swing and Christlieb's the one who's into more intricate postbop. Pretty enjoyable mix either way. With label stalwarts Bill Anschell, Chuck Deardorf, and John Bishop. B+(**)
Charito Meets Michel Legrand: Watch What Happens (2008 , CT Music): Wikipedia: "Charito was the Empress consort of Jovian, Roman Emperor." OK, let's try again. Singer. B. June 15, no year given, probably in the Philippines; MySpace bases her in New York, but her own website starts: "Distinctively a most prominent jazz vocalist in Japan with multi-awarded albums recorded and released internationally" -- website also available in Japanese. Has seven albums since 1991 (AMG) or thirteen since 1990 (own website), the latest Heal the World: Charito Sings Michael Jackson. No credits -- not a big problem with Legrand's generally anonymous orchestra, but I'd like to know who to blame for the duets (possibly Legrand). She has a nice voice, good diction, takes one song in French, the others in impeccable English. Looked pretty scruffy on her first album cover; better than ever twenty years later, so she must be doing something right. B
Makoto Ozone/No Name Horses: Jungle (2009 , Verve): Pianist, b. 1961 in Kobe, Japan; studied at Berklee 1980-83 before returning to Japan, where he is something of a star. Looks like he has 25-30 albums, starting with an eponymous one in 1981 and including at least three with his big band No Name Horses. The band is efficient and effective here, with solid section work, a few standout solos, and a fair amount of space for Ozone to remind you of his affection for Oscar Peterson, although the single thing that I like best about it is the extra dose of percussion, evidently the work of the only non-Japanese name I see on the roster: Pernell Saturnino. B+(*) [advance]
Sheryl Bailey: A New Promise (2008 , MCG Jazz): Guitarist, b. 1966, grew up in Pittsburgh, PA; based in New York; sixth album since 1993. Cites Wes Montgomery as an inspiration, and seems to fit into his family, although we can add Emily Remler to that list -- three Remler songs here, including "East to Wes." Recorded in Pittsburgh with the Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra, co-directed by Mike Tomaro and Steve Hawk. I imagine most musicians love the idea of having a full big band backing them up. Helps here, even if it seems a little extravagant. B+(**)
Mike Marshall/Caterina Lichtenberg: Caterina Lichtenberg and Mike Marshall (2009 , Adventure Music): Mandolin duets. Marshall, like most American mandolinists, started in bluegrass, but then he took a turn into Brazilian choro and his discography and especially his label now tilt that way. Lichtenberg was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, is based in Germany; she specializes in baroque classical music, and that's where they start here: with J.S. Bach, then Jean-Marie Leclair; they mix in Jose Antonio Zambrano's "Suite Venezuelana," two pieces by Jacob do Bandolim, one from Zequendo de Abrel, a Bulgarian trad tune, a couple of Marshall's pieces -- all sounding, to me at least, pretty baroque. B+(*)
Nils Petter Molvaer: Hamada (2009 , Thirsty Ear): No dates, but came out last fall on his own Sula label, possibly picked up by Universal, a company so huge that its American and European arms don't much care what the other is doing. Chilled trumpet over Eivind Aarset's frigid guitar, Jan Bang's sampling, and/or scattered electronics. I like it more when the percussion picks up, especially when the guitar goes heavy metal on "Cruel Altitude," but the ambient surfaces aren't noodling. B+(***)
Marc Ribot: Silent Movies (2009 , Pi): Solo guitar, with Ribot switching to vibes on one track, and Keefus Ciancia credited with "soundscapes" on 5 (of 13). In the liner notes Ribot says that Blind Movies would have been a better title "but that wasn't as catchy" -- maybe someone should have added "or clichéd"? The music isn't clichéd, but it does fall into the ambient rut that swallows up so many soundtracks. B+(**) [Sept. 28]
Gwilym Simcock: Blues Vignette (2009 , Basho, 2CD): Pianist, b. 1981 in Bangor, Gwynedd (northwest Wales), UK. Second album, a big one divided into "Solo/Duo" and "Trio" discs: the duo is a 21-minute "Suite for Cello and Piano" with Cara Berridge on cello, following 48 minutes of solo; the trio adds Yuri Goloboubev (bass) and James Maddren (drums). A lot to swallow here, and I don't really feel up to it. As if often the case, the few covers are easier to figure out than the originals. In particular, the solo disc includes a very interesting deconstruction of "On Broadway" which barely hints at a melody so catchy it invariably sticks with you for hours. B+(*)
John McNeil/Bill McHenry: Chill Morn He Climb Jenny (2009 , Sunnyside): Trumpet, tenor sax, respectively; McNeil b. 1948, a veteran of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra with a bunch of albums on Steeplechase I haven't heard. McHenry is much younger, b. 1972, his 1998 debut on Fresh Sound New Talent. Both are mainstream players, although their pianoless quartet's effort at rediscovering lost bop gems -- three Russ Freeman pieces here, one each from Thad Jones and Wilbur Harden (and another trumpet player named Miles Davis), the other three minor standards -- has its own root-seeking radicalism. With Joe Martin on bass, Jochen Rueckert on drums. Recorded live. After three plays still has some upside potential. [B+(***)]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail the last two weeks:
Sunday, September 19. 2010
A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously:
Saturday, September 18. 2010
Front cover of Wichita Eagle today was dominated by Wednesday's storms -- nine tornados in the area, a picture of a clump of ice 7.75 inches across, possibly the largest hail recorded in Kansas. We got some 2-inch hail, a lot more in the 1-inch range, some wind and heavy rain. I haven't looked around very carefully, but don't see any obvious damage here.
But two smaller articles, both picked up from news services, in the paper caught my eye:
Tony Pugh: Poverty numbers are highest in decades: Actually, the recordkeeping only goes back 51 years to 1959. The raw number of 43.6 million Americans under the poverty line is the largest ever, and the percentage rate is the highest since 1994 -- also two years after a Democrat was elected president ending a long Republican period. Median income is also down 4.2 percent; unemployment is up. Much of this can be attributed to the worst recession we've had since the 1930s, but the long-term trend is deep and dismal. The only time America's poverty rates dropped more than can be accounted for by short-term growth was during the New Deal, especially following the passage of Social Security, and following LBJ's Great Society push in the late 1960s. In both cases, successes were subsequently eroded by business efforts to drive wages down and profits up, leading to major increases in inequality.
Inequality is a fairly abstract concept, shrouded in the fact that some inequality is inevitable -- some people are just smarter, some work harder, some save more, some are just luckier -- and to some extent that inequality can be harmless. It doesn't really harm you if your neighbor has a fancier car or eats more often in ritzy restaurants or takes extra vacations you can't afford, and it may even work to your benefit if he pays more taxes and that results in better schools for your children. But the more inequality you permit, the uglier it gets, especially when the rich band together to promote their interests at the expense of everyone else's. And that's what's happened, to an extent that we should find shocking, in America over the past 30-40 years.
You can measure this inequality lots of ways. For instance, median real wages have stagnant or worse since 1970, despite huge productivity gains which in an earlier period -- one with much stronger labor unions -- would have been shared but now accrue exclusively to capital. Another way is to watch the poverty line swallow up more and more people. That's tragic, not only for the people immediately affected but also for the general waste -- what those people and their families far on down the line could have contributed if only they had basic support and real opportunities. As the article points out, today's grim situation could have been even worse if the right had been more successful at choking off Obama's meager economic programs:
Trust is the one thing that no modern society can function without. It's impossible to overstate that point, but if you have any doubts try imagining going through your day if you had to constantly guard against everyone you meet unpredictably lashing out at you and everything you encounter fraught with hidden dangers. Indeed, trust is so basic and so essential that people who lose their ability to trust are routinely diagnosed with mental illnesses, ranging from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) to schizophrenic paranoia.
Trust is something that builds gradually but can crack and crash overnight, after which it is extremely difficult to put back together again. Some societies become so untrustworthy that we can't even imagine what it would be like to live in them. Two obvious examples are war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan, where US occupation forces and Quisling regimes are unlikely to ever gain much trust among populations they intentionally divide and play off against each other, nor can locals trust insurgents who act in their name but resort to ruthlessness that matches or exceeds the occupiers.
We still live in a relatively trustworthy society, but as this poll indicates that trust is unraveling, and the more it unravels the more reasons we have to trust each other less. One problem is that while our wars leave their destruction abroad they return distrust here: most obviously in the high rates of PTSD suffered by returning soldiers, but also in the whole political struggle over the war, and in the fear that the wars will elicit further terror attacks. Still, war doesn't inevitably destroy trust: in some cases, the shared experience of war makes trust so essential that we work hard to build it up. This is easiest to do when we sense that we share the same fate -- that we are in this together, and we therefore have to depend on each other. On the other hand, the more we sense that everyone has to fend for him-or-herself, the quicker trust erodes.
That distrust is increasing in America is the result of deeply seated trends and lots of political opportunism. The trends include things that we pretty much have to live with -- capitalism is intrinsically directed by self-interest, which is something we have every reason to distrust -- and things that we could change if we had the political will to do so, like reversing a 40-year trend toward greater inequality. The political opportunism is less excusable. Congress fares especially poorly because both sides pick at the chinks and pour on the loathing, but also because the influence of money is so pervasive that it's pretty much impossible to get into Congress without being guilty of something. The military, on the other hand, rates relatively highly because neither side picks on it at all, even though objectively it is as least as corrupt and self-serving as any other organization -- maybe more given that so much of what it does is done in secret.
That both sides do it doesn't make both sides equally culpable. Conservatives, rather perversely, have set out to undermine trust in democratic institutions, especially ones like government that could be popularly used to limit the private power of corporations and the accumulation of extraordinary wealth by privileged individuals. Sometimes they do this by appealing to individualist principle, but more often they exploit fears -- everything from terrorism to tax audits -- and frequently they engage in outright falsehoods, like the nonstop slander campaigns that met the Clinton and Obama presidencies. What's perverse is that they're tearing at the very fabric of society. For some reason, the rich -- and that's who conservatives are in the employ of -- think they can save themselves from the rot around them by isolating themselves in their gated neighborhoods and private clubs and schools with their servants and lackies. They even see some virtue in their ability to thrive in a society that is tearing itself up with distrust -- figuring that if the masses don't honor them for love of God or Mammon they will at least fear the police and jail.
On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence that more equitable societies are healthier, more productive, simply more trustworthy -- e.g., see Richard Wilkinson/Kate Pickett: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. If we've learned anything at all over the last 250 years it is that people working together -- in an army, a church, a corporation, a labor union, a bureaucracy, even a scattered group of software developers connected only by the internet -- can do much more than any individual can. And while traditional forms of motivating such groups -- slavery, impressment, wages -- are somewhat effective, nothing works like voluntary personal commitment to shared goals. The key to getting this commitment is trust that the outcome will be fair and just. And that sort of agreement is much easier to achieve in a society that aims for equality than in one that splits into each person pursuing its own personal interest.
Obviously, there are many cases today where one is justified in not trusting those in power, but we need to be careful to qualify those cases: to insist that facts determine judgment, and to insist on systematically making facts easier to find -- for politicians we need both to make finances more transparent and to make financial transactions rare so that the exceptions will stand out.
Monday, September 13. 2010
Did a lot of driving last week, including a quick trip to Mountain Home, Arkansas. Didn't figure I'd have much time or access, so didn't even bother to schlep the computer along with me, or for that matter the boom box and my homework. (Did load up a case of country music -- Lefty Frizzell was a big hit, if you can imagine ostensible country music fans who've never heard him before, a sense of marvel that I recall passing through my own life thirty years ago.)
Back now, and starting to catch up, as I delve back into the also-rans and think about culling the surplus. Haven't catalogued the mail yet: got very little before I left, but got a huge haul today, so I'm probably falling behind again. (What was it Andrew Card said about not launching major product roll-outs in August?) No further news on Jazz CG, which will probably run last week of September or first week of October.
Sunday, September 12. 2010
A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously -- actually, less, since I was traveling without my computer for most of the week:
Thursday, September 9. 2010
Laura Tillem has a letter in the Wichita Eagle today, titled "Tea and Guns":
Tuesday, September 7. 2010
Post Consumer Guide, I know of no single comparable source for tips on non-jazz albums -- well, there's Michael Tatum's Downloader's Diary, and as his publisher I get some advance tips there -- so I've been poking around, adding things to my 2010 metafile, flagging things that look interesting, sometimes finding them on Rhapsody, often not. Forgot to fill out the "missing" list this month, partly because I'm learning that in many cases they're just slow -- Konono No. 1 is one I had to remove from the missing list, and Langford would have been another had I taken my first failure to find as fatal. Still, there are a lot of records I've looked for and failed to find -- one more minor nuissance in a month that had many.
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.
Talibam!: Boogie in the Breeze Blocks (2009, ESP-Disk): Brooklyn duo, Matthew Mottel (keybs) and Kevin Shea (drums), both also credited with voice (as is Danielle Kuhlmann and a few others), which they use so often I filed this under rock although it's on a jazz label and employs such marvelous jazz musicians as Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (sax), Anders Nilsson (guitar), and Moppa Elliott (bass). (Shea is the drummer in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, alongside three of those guys.) Clear instrumental spots can be amazing, but they are few and far between. Mottel's keybs are trashy noise, and the vocals are clutter even if the skits amuse. B+(*)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Mojo (2009-10 , Reprise): Came out of Florida, same age as me, carved out a rock and roll sound that was a little too moderate to really be retro, and worked on it consistently enough that his 1993 Greatest Hits is worth keeping even though most of his records are just passably good. The title here is presumably a stab at rejuvenation, although it may just be a way of courting a certain British rock mag. At 64:50 it's a little long for passable, and the vocal tics he picked up hanging around Dylan are annoying. B
Clem Snide: The Meat of Life (2010, 429): Singer-songwriter Eef Barzelay modestly cloaked in a basic alt-rock band. Seems rather sad, a bit morose even, but the basic form is solid as usual. Christgau had a couple earlier albums on his A-lists. Didn't happen on them, but maybe I should check them out? B+(*)
Clem Snide: The Ghost of Fashion (2001, SpinArt): Third album, reportedly a breakthrough, strikes me as fresh and brimming with ideas even if the basic form and tool set are rather limited. Choice title: "Joan Jett of Arc." B+(***)
Clem Snide: End of Love (2005, SpinArt): Fifth album, doesn't rock much, just stretches out in lots of intriguing and ingenious ways, a singer-songwriter thinking, working things out as best he can. A-
Mumford & Sons: Sigh No More (2009 , Glassnote): British group, AMG lists as folk, although they don't fit into the usual low-tech definition of folk; in particular, they don't shy away from volume to make a dramatic point. Where they do seem died in the wool is in their frequent invocation of religious imagery, something that most Brits have tired of after taking it far too seriously for one bloody century after another. I'm tempted to blackball they for that reason alone, but I'm a tolerant sort as long as they channel their obsessions into music of distinction. B+(**)
Robyn: Body Talk, Pt. 1 (2010, Cherrytree/Interscope): Swedish dance queen, started as a teenpop star, but is past 30 now. Eight cut, 30:27, a little thin for $12 list, basically an EP, and reportedly the first of three coming in quick succession. Beats are a bit stilted and voice is rather plastic, and I wouldn't put much stock in her lyrics, even on "Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do" -- a native English-speaker conveyed that and more in "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do." On the other hand, her trad ballad "Jag Vet en Dejlig Rosa" is sweet even if it'd never sustain an album. Still, I find this pretty appealing. By the time she finishes Pt. 3 I imagine there'll be enough to edit down an album worth keeping. B+(**)
Konono No. 1: Assume Crash Position (2010, Crammed Discs): Kinshasa group, built around thumb piano and recycled junk, the essence of post-colonial urban pop. Less distortion this time; a couple of tracks even simplify the formula, making it a bit slower to get into, because the heady grooves are truly infectious. A-
Wavves: King of the Beach (2010, Fat Possum): AMG treats this as an alias for Nathan Williams rather than as a group. Breaks a title convention that was already becoming annoying: Wavves, Wavvves, . . . First blast of distorted surf chord suggests they/he might have a sound, but they/he can't actually play music within that sound, let alone sing it. Progressively annoying, probably lucky they/he cut it off at 36:53. B-
Pet Shop Boys: Pandemonium Live (2009 , Caroline): Live album -- subtitle The O2 Arena, London, 21 December, 2009 -- plus DVD for those who are into that sort of thing. The songs, of course, are fabulous; the sonics a bit less so, but I can't say that I didn't enjoy any of it -- except for a couple of glitches Rhapsody bears the blame for. B+(**)
Shout Out Louds: Work (Merge): Swedish group, not that they sound the least bit non-American, in accent, in words, in teen pop sensitivity. B+(*)
Katy Perry: Teenage Dream (2010, Capitol): California girl, past teendom but probably not much more than the actresses on Glee, can sing OK, takes a wholesome pin-up, gets a lot of help producing. A third of the record is singles-worthy, but none of those -- least of all "California Gurls" -- will stick in your head long, and the "Peacock" thing is rather peurile. Critics hate it, but I don't see much point. B
Mahjongg: The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger (2010, K): Chicago group, mostly electronics, crashing beats with multiple voices I can't much follow. First EP was called Machinegong, which is the basic idea; most recent album was Kontpab, a mashup of a title from Stockhausen. Seven songs, 36:21. B+(**)
Pierre de Gaillande: Bad Reputation: Pierre de Gaillande Sings Georges Brassens (2010, Barbčs): Paris-born singer, based in New York since the early 1990s, takes a stab at translating French poet-chansonnier Georges Brassens (1921-81) into English, recording thirteen songs here and publishing a book of poetry elsewhere. I've barely heard, and can hardly make out, the French, so have few bearings to go by. Perhaps "a major service" -- as Christgau put it -- or maybe just an oddity with a little smut appeal. B+(***)
Brian Wilson: Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin (2010, Walt Disney): Not much imagination. The songs are familiar, classics; I can readily place them in dozens of versions, maybe hundreds. (In fact, I've long imagined doing a mixtape just of versions of "Summertime," but I can't see any way this one can make the cut.) The versions keep boiling down to doo wop Beach Boys-style, without a trace of irony or camp, even when it would help a lot. Possible exception: "I Got Rhythm," which is strange enough the first song I flashed on was "Old Man River." C+
Jenny and Johnny: I'm Having Fun Now (2010, Warner Bros.): Jenny Lewis, formerly of Rilo Kiley, with a couple of good records under her own name, and Johnathan Rice, who has a couple of records of his own (not very good, or so I hear). She keeps pet snakes, wields a switchblade, catches the big wave. He's just dazzled, as am I, not least by the classic pop-rock buzz I associate with someone like Marshall Crenshaw. Still marginal. I'm really sure that any of the now three Jenny Lewis albums I've A-listed really make the grade, but I'm the least unsure about this one. A-
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard: Old Devils (2010, Bloodshot): Chicago-based former-and-future Mekon with many side projects, honors a previous album title with the band name, and slaps one of his own distinctive paintings on the cover. Has a tendency to make ordinary proto-American bar rock, which is where this starts, but now and then he slips in something exceptionally smart, which may even toughen up the music as in "Flag of Triumph" -- or sweeten it as in "Strange Ways to Win Wars." Fitting to hear the latter as Operation Iraqi Freedom redresses itself as New Dawn. A-
Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses: Junky Star (2010, Lost Highway): Alt-country singer, third album, still keeps it lean, clean as long as he stays away from the temptation to cop Dylan. Didn't sink in very far; didn't set off any bullshit alarms. Could be better than I think, but probably not. B+(**)
Bobby Bare Jr.: A Storm, a Tree, My Mother's Head (2010, Thirty Tigers): Second generation country singer, original alt-rocker, not sure what he wants to be, but four or five songs surprised me, sometimes because they're funny, sometimes because they care, mostly just for a clever turn of phrase. The simplest music works best, like "Liz Taylor's Lipstick Gun," but the big time rock swells grow on you too. B+(***)
The Legendary Shack Shakers: Agri-dustrial (2010, Colonel Knowledge): Nashville group, sixth album since 1998, sort of a roots-punk band, or maybe psychobilly would do. Basically have one speed, which is flat out. Guitarist Duane Denison, previously employed by Hank III and by Jesus Lizard, joined for this one. B+(*)
Dr. John and the Lower 911: Tribal (2010, 429): Trademark New Orleans sound, a little more -- well, upbeat is true, but in your face is more like it -- than he's been in years, maybe just the gris gris showing through. Not a great set of songs, but "Only in America" is a little testy, as if he's not sure it's as great a place as he feels he has to make it out to be. B+(**)
James Talley: Heartsong (2009, Cimarron): Country singer from Oklahoma, taught history and lived it, debuting with a great western swing album, following that up with several Woody Guthrie-inspired folk-political albums, and finally settled into Nashville writing sappy love songs. His voice keeps getting more honeyed, his melodies flow effortlessly, and he's not really all that sappy -- more like earnest, without the instinct to to tell a good joke. B+(**)
James Talley: Journey: The Second Voyage (2009, Cimarron): A second straight live album, the point of the journey being to rifle through the old songs, probably because they're better than the new ones. On paper, the first volume (which I haven't heard) looks to have a slight edge, but this hangs in there with "Forty Hours" and "Calico Gypsy" and three songs with "Blues" in the title, fleshed out with a band including pedal steel and fiddle. B+(*)
John Mellencamp: No Better Than This (2010, Rounder): New label confirms the roots trajectory he's been on for the last two decades. Cutting the album in mono with one mic and a 1950s-vintage tape recorder is just a way of thinning the sound and rolling time back even further. However, that's not much of a virtue, especially when you reminding one of Dylan, except a bit short in every department. B+(*)
Tom Jones: Praise & Blame (2010, Lost Highway): Veteran Welsh bluesman, not quite ready to meet his maker, but boning up on his repertoire for judgment day. Docked a notch for lack of irony, even though the label tried to conjure up some by leaking a memo declaring this a "sick joke." B
Every now and then I use Rhapsody to review records for Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods. Those from this past month are included in the archive file, which also provides navigation to the index and previous streamnotes files.
Monday, September 6. 2010
I figured I'd continue to do some mop up after finishing my Jazz CG column, but took the week rather easy, mostly pulling out well aged discs from my middle-priority bin, things that I had neglected in closing out. The high points below were exceptions, of course: the long lead times on the AUM Fidelity records convinced me to hold them back, although they will be out by the time the column actually appears. Still, most records wait through several cycles, so that's only fair. I finally got a copy of the Vandermark 5's Annular Gift, nearly a year old, this week, so it, too, will wait.
The Rhapsody section is just curiosity on my part. The old records I'm not seriously considering for Jazz CG, but thought they made more sense here than shuttled off to Recycled Goods. (Some of the old Billy Jenkins sets appear to be recent reissues, at least in digital download form.)
Gamelan Madu Sari: Hive (2005-07 , Songlines): Vancouver group, plays classical (or maybe not so classical) Javanese music, lots of gongs, some strings, more percussion, waves of voices. Second album. It doesn't grab me, but listening in a dark quiet room suggests there are plenty of subtle details. Has a very informative booklet, too, trots and historical details. One could learn a lot if one had better eyes than I do. B+(*)
Marc Courtney Johnson: Dream of Sunny Days (2004-08 , Dreamy Jazz): Vocalist, b. 1967, studied at Norther Illinois University and University of Chicago. Based in Chicago (MySpace page says Skokie). Second album. Wrote 6 of 13 songs, including one to celebrate Obama's election. Smooth voice, not quite slick. Don't see much credits info, but Geof Bradfield is the saxophonist, a good one. B+(**)
Eric Vloeimans' Gatecrash: Heavensabove! (2008 , Challenge Jazz): Dutch trumpet player, a steady producer with over a dozen albums since 1996. Postbop player, increasingly given to electronics, here in a quartet with electric keyboards (Jeroen Van Vliet) and basses (Gulli Gudmundsson) and effects everywhere except for drummer Jasper Van Hulten, who could use a boost. B
Steve Raegele: Last Century (2009 , Songlines): Canadian guitarist, b. 1975 in Ottawa, based in Montreal. First album, a trio with Miles Perkin on bass and Thom Gossage on drums and kalimba. Prickly, abstract, even though one song is named "Janet Jackson" ("some fairly pandiatonic stuff around D"), feels improv (although only one joint title) with no special interest in line building. Intriguing when I manage to tune in. B+(*)
Ralph Alessi: Cognitive Dissonance (2004-05 , CAM Jazz): Trumpet player, father also played trumpet; from San Rafael, CA, based in New York since 1991. Seventh album since 2002, plus an impressive list of side-credits going back to 1992 -- he is one of those musicians who always brightens up someone else's album. No idea why this has been sitting around five years, but its coming out now coincides with a flurry of Jason Moran credits. Moran has some sparkling moments here, along with his usual drummer, Nasheet Waits. Drew Gress, always dependable, plays bass. Alessi doesn't produce enough dissonance to grab your ear, but he's a sharp player and his leads grow on you. B+(***)
Kenny Burrell: Be Yourself (2008 , High Note): Live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola -- looks like I'm supposed to use the fancy logo for the last two words. Born 1931, cut his first record in 1956 and has rarely missed a year since, one of the few survivors of the bumper crop of bop-oriented guitarists that emerged in the 1950s. (Jim Hall is the only other one I can think of who's still active.) Has a couple of exceptional records -- Guitar Forms (1964-65), Ellington Is Forever (1975, Vol. 1 much better than Vol. 2) -- and a lot of pretty nice ones. I flagged his 75th Birthday Bash Live! (2006) as a dud, but this one is a delight, with Tivon Pennicott blowing some warm sax, Benny Green on the ivories, the great Peter Washington humming along on bass, and Clayton Cameron on drums. In this company, Burrell doesn't have to offer much more than tasty, which is just his thing. B+(***)
Los Angeles Jazz Collective: Sampler Vol. 1 (2006-08 , Jazz Collective): Young mainstream Los Angeles-based jazz musicians, not an integral group. Website lists 13 members, each on 1-5 cuts here, and has a second list of 20 "other members," most not here. The latter list has some people I recall running across, but none on this sampler. The only one on the record that I'm sure I recognize is drummer Mark Ferber, on 4 cuts but not neither list. Less sure about saxophonists Matt Otto and Robby Marshall -- Otto, with 5 cuts and about that many records seems to be the dean here. Not much info with the package. I couldn't track down all of the referenced albums, and one cut doesn't seem to have come from anywhere, but what I could find fits the dates above. The groups range from 3 to 6 members, skewed toward fewer (median 4). Most have guitar and sax; 2 of 13 have trumpet and trombone; Joe Bagg's organ is more common than piano. Only interesting thing is that so many scattered groups sound so consistent lined up like this, but that could be taken as proof of their ordinariness. B
Federico Britos: Voyage (2010, Sunnyside): Violinist, originally from Uruguay, now based in Miami; AMG only lists two albums since 2002, a couple dozen credits since 1992, but he's evidently been around a lot longer -- back cover inset has rave quotes about Britos dating from 1955-60 (by Josephine Baker, Jascha Heifetz, Astor Piazzolla, Nat "King" Cole, and Vinicius de Moraes; also one from Dizzy Gillespie dated 1982). No recording dates here, but the sites and lineups jump all over, and the long list of guests include at least one dead guy (legendary Cuban bassist Israel "Cachao" Lopez, who passed in 2008). Numerous guests come and go: five pianists (best known: Kenny Barron, Michel Camilo), four guitarist (Bucky Pizzarelli, Tomatito), six bassists (Eddie Gomez, Cachao), four drummers (Ignacio Berroa, Francisco Mela), percussion; two cuts have extra strings; no horns anywhere. Some things sound like Grappelli, some are harder to place. Especially nice is "Micro Suite Cubana" with its bubbling percussion. B+(**)
Debbie Poryes Quartet: Catch Your Breath (2009 , OA2): Pianist, from Berkeley, CA, spent the 1980s in the Netherlands with one record on a Dutch label (Timeless) from 1982; has a second record in 2007, and now this one. Wrote 4 of 9 songs, covering Berlin, Rodgers/Hart, Cahn, Sonny Clark, and Lennon/McCartney (an exceptionally nice "Here, There & Everywhere"). Quartet includes Bruce Williamson on sax (alto and soprano), Bill Douglass bass, and David Rokeach drums. Very pleasant little album. B+(*)
Peppe Merolla: Stick With Me (2009 , PJ Productions): Drummer, b. 1969 Naples, Italy, based in New York (and/or Philadelphia?), has two previous albums, sings at least on Sogno Italiano (Italian Dream), but not here. The central figure here isn't the drummer, who wrote 1 of 9 songs, but tenor saxophonist and co-producer John Farnsworth, who wrote 5. Unfortunately, he doesn't make much of an impression, the album falling into fairly ordinary postbop. Also with Steve Turre (trombone, shells), Jim Rotondi (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mike LeDonne (piano), and Lee Smith (bass). B
Richard Sussman Quintet: Live at Sweet Rhythm (2003 , Origin): Pianist, b. 1946, cut two albums 1978-80, now this one; meanwhile has taught at Manhattan School of Music since 1986. The quintet here is also called the Free Fall Reunion Band: Free Fall was Sussman's 1978 album. This album reunites the band (minus Larry Schneider): Tom Harrell (trumpet), Jerry Bergonzi (tenor sax), Mike Richmond (bass), and Jeff Williams (drums). Fairly mainstream postbop, with sharp horn players not all that well heard. B+(*)
Jacob Duncan/John Goldsby/Jason Tiemann: The Innkeeper's Gun (2009 , Bass Lion Music): Sax trio, with Duncan on alto, Goldsby double bass, Tiemann drums. Recorded in Germany (Cologne as the credits put it, or Köln as it's better known here). Duncan's MySpace page bases him in "Hills of Kentucky," but other evidence suggests Louisville, also for Tiemann. Goldsby was born in Louisville, but moved to New York in 1980 and on to Köln in 1994, where he plays in the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Big Band. He also wrote 3 of 8 songs, with Duncan adding 4; the remainder isn't a standard I recognize. Narrow postbop, the sax a little thin, but it sustains interest and closes strong with riff-based vamps like Goldsby's "Juan in the Basement." B+(**)
Hilario Duran Trio: Motion (2010, Alma): Cuban pianist, b. 1953 in Havana, moved to Toronto in 1995. Cut three records for Justin Time in late 1990s, four now for Alma. Haven't heard any before this one, but Killer Tumbao is quite a title. Piano trio, with Roberto Occhipinti on bass and Mark Kelso on drums. Jumps right at you, and the percussion is pretty Cuban for my ears. B+(***)
Roberto Occhipinti: A Bend in the River (2010, Alma): Bassist, b. 1955 in Toronto; fourth album since 2006; nominally a quartet with Luis Deniz on alto sax, David Virelles on piano, and Dafnis Prieto on drums, but three of seven cuts pile on a string quartet, flute, bass clarinet, and trumpet, while three more swim in a full-fledged string orchestra. The sax paints bright colors but doesn't stand out, and while Prieto's presence promises some hot Cuban percussion none actually emerges. B-
William Parker: I Plan to Stay a Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield (2001-08 , AUM Fidelity, 2CD): I've been hearing about Parker's Curtis Mayfield project for the better part of a decade now, and indeed picking through Rick Lopez's marvelous Parker sessionography I see bootlegs (label-less CDRs, anyway) from France in 2001 and Boston in 2002, a 2004 radio shot from Rome released as The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield: Live in Rome on Rai Trade in 2007, with the pace picking up in 2007, most with the same basic group: Lewis Barnes (trumpet), Darryl Foster (tenor and soprano sax), Sabir Mateen (alto and tenor sax), Dave Burrell (piano), Parker (bass), and Hamid Drake (drums), with Leena Conquest singing and Amiri Baraka poeticizing, with occasional subs along the way (Guillermo Brown for Drake, Lafayette Gilchrist for Burrell), and various ad hoc choirs to lift up the vocals. AUM Fidelity finally rounded up 11 cuts from 6 performances, two 2001-02, the other four 2007-08. Parker's attraction to Mayfield is easy enough to see: born in 1952, he would have known the Impressions when he was growing up and followed Mayfield's solo career from the moment he started to get serious. Mayfield, in turn, was the most politically conscious, in the most didactic terms, of his contemporaries, and Parker has always tended to wear his politics literally on his sleeve. His literalness tends to win out here -- he has this "inside songs" concept but he keeps the surface pretty much intact; occasionally the horns mash up, but more often he just builds on the joyous bounce of the music and the voices, and salutes the lyrics like some people salute the flag. In the hands of a less remarkable musician that may grow tiring, but here it never does. A- [Sept. 14]
David S. Ware: Onecept (2009 , AUM Fidelity): Given a new lease on life thanks to a kidney transplant, Ware's comeback was a solo concert album cut in October 2009. A couple of months later he got back to the studio, with the stritch and saxello he added to his tenor sax arsenal. The addition of bass (William Parker) and drums (Warren Smith) fleshes out a sound that was pretty impressive solo. At this stage he's pretty close to automatic. I recall a while back praising Edwin Bayard as sounding like a young David S. Ware. This record makes that comparison seem silly, and makes me nervous having put Bayard's record near the top of my year-in-progress list. Only one play, so consider this grade the floor. A- [Sept. 14]
Amabutho: Sikelela (2010, Alma): South African group, mbube vocals and relatively spare percussion, first album. Looking around, I see that the group name is the title of the first Ladysmith Black Mambazo album -- translates as warriors or regiment, so probably not that significant. The percussion is identified as marimba, the scales working for melody and the deadened sound keeping the voices out front. First disc didn't play; evidently it's a DVD. B+(**)
Adam Schroeder: A Handful of Stars (2010, Capri): Baritone saxophonist, b. 1978 in Sioux City, IA; based in LA. I'm pretty sure he's not the Hollywood producer/exec producer of the same name, although AMG credits him with producing some of the producer's soundtracks. Credits with Clark Terry, Benny Wallace, Anthony Wilson, and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra are more credible, especially the latter since John Clayton (bass) and Jeff Hamilton (drums) anchor the quartet here. First album, two originals to nine covers, impeccable standards with Quincy Jones the newest composer. Quartet is rounded out with guitarist Graham Dechter, whose sweet tone contrasts nicely to the big horn, and who slides right into the dominant swing idiom. Nice and simple album, the bari a little awkward but perfect when the notes match. So down my alley I may not be grading it below my true feelings. 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.
Billy Jenkins: I Am a Man From Lewisham (2010, VOTP): British guitarist, has recorded a lot since the early 1980s but hardly anyone have heard him, or heard of him. I haven't heard much myself, especially of his early stuff; his later stuff is idiosyncratic, with True Love Collection -- a psychedelic reworking of cutesy 1960s (or early 1970s) pop songs -- a personal favorite. This one starts and ends with blues, the title song and "Throw Them Blues in the Recycling Bin," both with hoarse Jenkins vocals, but the music gets pretty slippery even there, even more so in the instrumentals in between. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Billy Jenkins: Uncommerciality: Volume One (1986, VOTP): One of those early albums, seems like it might be a comp but all six tracks date from Jan-Feb 1986, a sextet with two saxes (one switching to bass clarinet), electric bass and guitar, drums and percussion. Titles are certainly uncommercial -- "Spastics Dancing," "Sade's Lips," "Margaret's Menstural Problems" -- but the music is within grasp, the guitar mostly hot and bluesy fusion, Iain Ballamy's tenor sax on "Pharoah Sanders" a good deal more contained -- amusingly so -- than the model, although in general he's one of the more powerful saxophonists of the 1980s. Couldn't play first track, one reason for hedging. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Billy Jenkins: Uncommerciality: Volume Two (1988, VOTP): Now, this is more like uncommercial, with a circusy sound indicated by Iain Ballamy spending more time on soprano than tenor sax, and Jenkins more time hacking at the strings instead of blues or fusion riffing. "Isn't It a Great World We Live In" features the VOGC Junior League Vocal Chorus -- VOGC stands for Voice of God Collective. "Girl Getting Knocked Over" descends into nursery rhymes. "Black Magic" breaks the kiddie spell for some expansive space mystery. "Blue Broadway" is a boogie woogie, with chorus and romping street horns that sound more New York than New Orleans, not that they do that sort of thing in New York. Again, first track "temporarily unavailable," and a couple of others failed intermittently, the only thing that dimmed my smile. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Billy Jenkins: Uncommerciality: Volume Three (1991, VOTP): Not commercial either, but the populism here is so big-hearted the masses are missing out on a lot of fun. First cut opens with organ, horn section, the VOGS Male Voice Choir, and Harriet Jenkins spoken word -- why not just call it rap? Jenkins plays keyboards, violin, and electric bass as well as his usual guitar, by turns fast, heavy, psychedelic. "Dancing in Ornette Coleman's Head" is a great title. Indeed, everything here dances, although "Land of the Free" slows it down to a waltz. A- [Rhapsody]
Billy Jenkins with the Voice of God Collective: Sounds Like Bromley (1982, VOTP): A little unpreposessing for the Voice of God, at least until the last track when they finally do shake the earth. Three horns -- trumpet, trombone, tenor sax -- more oompah band than bebop, with an extra guitar, bass, drums and percussion, but no human voices. I keep shying away from calling what he does surreal or dada because it's too corny, and too populist, with just enough stray noise and weirdness to keep it from ever going popular. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Billy Jenkins with the Voice of God Collective: Greenwich (1985, VOTP): A big step toward the avant-garde, most likely due to the two new saxophonists replacing the trumped on Sounds Like Bromley. I have no idea who Skid Solo is -- name comes from a comic strip about a Formula 1 driver, but you can see how it might relate -- but Iain Ballamy is well known and a major pickup here. Not that the guitarist's cartoonish populism doesn't poke through here and there, nor that the slow ones can get wobbly, but this is a pretty amazing band when they're skittering about, and Ballamy adds some real stature. A- [Rhapsody]
Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio Featuring Billy Bang: Big M: A Tribute to Malachi Favors (2004 , Delmark): Never got this from Delmark, which now seems like a big mistake (although I gather it was originally packaged with a DVD). The late Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist (d. 2004) was also a founding pillar of El'Zabar's Ritual Trio, capably replaced here by Yosen Ben Israel. Ari Brown is strong on tenor sax and switches to piano on a couple of cuts, surprisingly engaging. El'Zabar's percussion is savvy, and his vocal isn't dreadful. Bang doesn't blow everyone else away, but his edge adds to everything he touches. A- [Rhapsody]
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Bill Carrothers: Joy Spring (2009 , Pirouet): Good mainstream pianist, not as well known as he should be, but aside from his tricked up Shine Ball I've found him real hard to latch onto. Played this promising album two more times and it just sort of slipped by me. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, September 5. 2010
A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously: