Monday, November 29. 2010
Actually, I have enough to meet my minimum standards, but that's only due to a sudden burst on Sunday. The week as a whole is best forgotten: a painful one where my only notable accomplishment was to whip up a substantial Thanksgiving repast. I made some effort to listen to the long list of rated-but-not-yet-reviewed Jazz CG hits, but moved very few of them to the reviewed side. This coming week should be the one where I finally bear down and close out the column. Also should knock out a year-end list, at least for the Voice's jazz critics poll. (Haven't heard anything from Pazz & Jop yet.) One of my more exhausting wastes of time has been the construction of my metacritic file, which is currently more systematic than it's ever been before. It currently sums up year-end list thinking as follows (with my grades tacked on for value added):
I haven't heard the next two records on the list -- Joanna Newsom (at 3CD seems like much too much work) and Flying Lotus (not available on Rhapsody), but unlike last year (cf. Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, damn near everything else) there's nothing above this year that I dislike (although below top ten it does get ugly: Grinderman, Ariel Pink, Gorillaz, Yeasayer). One easy prediction is that come Pazz & Jop time Kanye West will break into the above list. It dropped late, and stands to cross over bigger than Big Boi. There are a lot of biases built into this list, and many of them carry over into P&J, but the latter is slightly more favorable to crossover rap and old farts (not much of an issue this year, but might lift Robert Plant and Neil Young out of the 60s into top 40), and no professional critic is unaware of West.
Harder to guess jazz polls from my metacritic file, but Jason Moran's Ten has to be the frontrunner, followed by Vijay Iyer's Solo, maybe Charles Lloyd's Mirror, but hard to say after that. I've mostly been looking at the JJA lists. (Mary Halvorson's Saturn Sings looks like the big one I didn't get -- gee thanks, Scott -- as well as the Mosaic boxes in the reissue category.)
Pretty confident I can finish the column this week. One thing I can do for now is go ahead and publish the unpacking, which I had neglected last week:
Later this week: Downloader's Diary, a smallish Recycled Goods, and a substantial Rhapsody Streamnotes.
Saturday, November 27. 2010
Alex Pareene: The War Room Hack Thirty: One view of the "worst columnists and cable news commentators America has to offer." Looks to me like more print than broadcast, but I watch so little TV, read so few of their papers, and never listen to radio, so I'm not to best person to sort this out. I don't recall ever reading Richard Cohen, and several other names come up blank. On the other hand, I can think of others who escaped the list. Perhaps Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and their ilk were exempted as entertainers, or maybe their demagoguery is so blatant that they don't pretend to be anything else. This isn't really a list of right-wingers, although they figure prominently, and isn't a ranking of vile political opinions (otherwise Michael Savage and Max Boot and Mark Steyn would have ranked high). Pareene namechecks Ann Coulter, then picks the decidedly more mediocre Laura Ingraham. Self-conscious centrists figure prominently, especially ones who fell hook, line and sinker for the Bush war line (lies not least of all). But that may be less because they're centrists than because they're gullible when the propaganda winds blow strong, and that's ultimately what defines them as hacks. As for active right-wing propagandists like Jonah Goldberg, Bill Kristol, and David Brooks, they tripped themselves up so repeatedly they couldn't be ignored as mere ideologists.
This was done as 31 separate posts, so work through the Earlier Articles links or pick and choose from the index. Nearly all are worth reading. And the Thomas Friedman one has links to two Matt Taibbi reviews that nail him perfectly. [Links: The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded]
I scanned through the comments for more names. Most often nominated, by far, was Charles Krauthammer, but also: Fouad Ajami, Fred Barnes, Bob Beckel, Wolf Blitzer, Max Boot, Neil Bortz, L Brent Bozell, Andrew Breitbart, Tom Brokaw, Pat Buchanan, Alan Colmes, Joe Conason, Monica Crowley, Victor Hanson Davis, Lou Dobbs, Ross Douthat, Paul Gigot, Bernard Goldberg, David Gregory, Sean Hannity, Melissa Harris-Perry [aka Melissa Harris-Lacewell], Christopher Hitchens, David Horowitz, Arianna Huffington, Al Hunt, John Kass, Michael Kinsley, Nicholas Kristof, Matt Lauer, Michael Ledeen, Mark Levin, Mara Liasson, Rich Lowry, Gene Lyons, Michelle Malkin, Ruth Marcus Chris Matthews, Megan McArdle, Dick Morris, Keith Olbermann, Bill O'Reilly, Kathleen Parker, Daniel Pipes, Frank Rich, Cokie Roberts, Charlie Rose, Michael Savage, Laura Schlessinger, Bob Schieffer, George Stephanopoulos, Mark Steyn, John Stossel, Andrew Sullivan, Cal Thomas, Chris Wallace, Juan Williams, Bob Woodward, John Yoo. I left out the Salon writers (e.g., one commenter repeatedly taunting Joan Walsh), and I'm inclined to dismiss Sullivan and most of the liberals (Kinsley, Rich) as pure right-wing snark.
One letter writer complained about the parochial American viewpoint and suggested some more names: Nick Cohen, Mick Hume, Melanie Phillips, Brendan O'Neill, Frank Furedi, Helen Guildberg, Josie Appleton, Bernard Lewis, Barry Rubin, Sam Tannenhaus, John Podhoretz, Emanuele Ottolenghi, Giulio Meotti, Reuel Marc Gerecht.
I'm an habitual listmaker myself, so let me say something in defense of lists: the ranking may be near-arbitrary, but building lists forces one to think of aggregates rather than individuals, and as such it puts individuals into a reasonable context. Clearly, a lot of thought goes into who's in/who's out/who ranks where here, and it provides not just a useful guide to individuals but to the whole practice of the opinion wing of the mainstream media. Given its breadth, this strikes me as the most useful broad survey since Matt Taibbi took on the presidential news reporters in 2004 by refereeing Wimblehack (won by Elisabeth Bumiller, something to keep in mind any time you see her byline).
Friday, November 26. 2010
I looked through various comments recently on Robert Christgau's lately departed (and now miraculously revived) Consumer Guide, and was surprised to see several hoping for new editions of the long-discontinued Turkey Shoot. For what it's worth, Christgau never much liked doing the November column -- less, I think, each year, not least of all because it requires listening to so much bad music, but also because he's always been so conscientious about minor grade distinctions as well as crafting his prose.
I, on the other hand, frequently invoked the following maxim in my software project work: anything not worth doing is not worth doing well. Therefore, I don't feel any guilt about offering you the following bare list of certifiable turkeys. Was aiming for 20 but only came up with 18. About half came to my attention on year-end lists, and were sampled quickly (and cheaply) on Rhapsody. And, of course, since I wasn't looking for crap, I didn't find as much as I would have had I been.
Monday, November 22. 2010
Hurt my back yesterday trying to build a rack for storing 4x8 sheets of plywood, panels, whatever. Had a short window of good weather, and failed to get what should have been a fairly simple job done. Now it's 30 degrees colder and I'm semi-crippled and genuinely bummed. The change in the weather also screws up my initial plans for Thanksgiving dinner -- now they're predicting 19-33° F with likely precipitation -- so I have to rejigger my plans, and worry about making my back worse. Bummer.
Meanwhile, I should be closing out Jazz CG instead of listening to more new stuff -- especially since I keep finding things that I won't be able to squeeze in. The column should be leading my findings, but the year-end list I'm expected to file in the next two weeks will mostly be records that have yet to appear in Jazz CG. I'm way behind, and the way I feel can't imagine a way to dig myself out. Bummer.
Matt Herskowitz: Jerusalem Trilogy (2009-10 , Justin Time): Pianist, AMG lists him under classical although his MySpace lists jazz and alternative first. First record was Plays Gershwin, so you can take that either way. Uses a lot of strings here -- Lara St. John's violin, Mike Block's cello, Matt Fieldes's bass (electric as well as acoustic), the horns limited to Daniel Schnyder's soprano sax and flute, and Bassam Saba's neys -- Saba also plays oud, another string instrument. Starts with a piece called "Polonaise Libanaise," then goes into the title set. Shades of klezmer, but sounds more like tango to me with its swoosh and drama. "Crossbones" starts with heavy rock chords, like Keith Emerson aping Rachmaninoff, then segues into an improv that leaves Emerson in the dust. Ends with Prokofiev. B+(***)
Marshall Allen/Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris: Night Logic (2009 , RogueArt): In the label's minimalist design style, the artists are listed with first initials, but I figured I should go ahead and spell them out. Allen is well into his 80s now; b. 1924, he joined the Sun Ra Arkestra in 1956 and still directs it in its ghost band phase. He has a few albums since the late 1990s with his name on the marquee, like this one alongside other notables. He plays alto sax and flute, and is gritty enough on the sax that he draws out Shipp's David S. Ware Quartet mode, which itself is worth the price of admission. Morris is best known for his guitar, but plays bass here. B+(***)
Jan Garbarek/The Hilliard Ensemble: Officium Novum (2009 , ECM New Series): The third collaboration between the mediaeval choral group and the Norwegian saxophonist, again playing more of his curved soprano than tenor. The sax is a clear contrast to the voices, and no one quite matches the clarity of tone and measured riffing that Garbarek brings to such affairs. This was especially striking in the original Officium (1993), but grew tiring in 1998's Mnemosyne. This splits the difference, which doesn't make it just right -- more like: just adequate. B+(*)
Roscoe Mitchell and the Note Factory: Far Side (2007 , ECM): Venerable AACM saxophonist (b. 1940), leads a mostly Chicago/Detroit-based double quartet, recorded live in Burghausen for Bayerischer Rundfunk: two pianos (Craig Taborn, Vijay Iyer), two basses (Jaribu Shahid, Harrison Bankhead, the latter also switching to cello), two drumsets (Tani Tabbal, Vincent Davis), two horns (Corey Wilkes on trumpet/flugelhorn is the other). Four long pieces, like in the old days. Perhaps to soothe the label the first one takes a while to gear up, and there are uneventful spots here and there. But the clash of pianos is pretty amazing, and the horns can bring some noise, especially from the leader. B+(***)
Rodrigo Amado: Searching for Adam (2010, Not Two): Tenor saxophonist, also plays baritone here, b. 1964, Portugal, has put together an impressive discography since 2000, first with the Lisbon Improvisation Players. Quartet with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn), John Hébert (double bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Bynum's ecstatic squeal on the opener kicks this off in high gear. Cleaver is especially formidable. A-
Norma Winstone: Stories Yet to Tell (2009 , ECM): Vocalist, b. 1941 in London, came up in avant-jazz circles (married John Taylor; joined Taylor and Kenny Wheeler in Azimuth), although her voice is more the classical soprano. Her 1971 record, Edge of Time, is especially well regarded, but I've missed it and most of her discography. This draws from old folk repertoire (13th century troubadour song, 16th century Mainerio, the ever reliable "trad"), also puts lyrics to Wayne Shorter and Maria Schneider, and picks up a Dor Caymmi song. Glauco Venier plays piano, Klaus Gesing bass clarinet and soprano sax, for an intimate chamber effect. Singer is impeccable. B+(**)
I Never Meta Guitar: Guitarists for the 21st Century (2009-10 , Clean Feed): Recording date info is spotty -- just 5 of 16 tracks. Not sure but don't think any of this has been previously released: several contributors have records on the label, but many do not. The main one who does is Elliott Sharp, creditd as producer here. Other better known names: Mary Halvorson, Jeff Parker, Henry Kaiser, Raoul Björkenheim, Noël Akchoté, Nels Cline, Scott Fields. (A couple of others I've heard of, like Brandon Ross and Jean François Pauvros, plus a few I haven't.) Mostly solo guitar, with some effects; one cut adds bass and drums (Michael Gregory's, which, by the way, helps), and Björkenheim is credited with electric viola da gamba. Not a survey of current guitar jazz -- nothing here from the Montgomery or McLaughlin or Pizzarelli or Sharrock schools, and some notables who would have fit in, like Fred Frith, got left out. But it is an interesting subset, and the variety helps as some of these guys can get tedious. B+(*)
Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell: The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer (1986 , Kabell): Trumpet/drums duets, from the vaults. Not sure what it is about Blackwell that holds this so together. But Smith is exceptionally sharp, not that it hurts much when he wanders, as when he plays flute or mibira, or sings. A-
Ab Baars: Time to Do My Lions (2008 , Wig): Dutch saxophonist, b. 1955, has a dozen or more albums since 1989. This one is solo: tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi. That will most likely be enough to dissuade you, but as these things go, he comes up with interesting patterns, and never gets too ugly to bear. B+(*)
Paquito D'Rivera: Tango Jazz: Live at Jazz at Lincoln Center (2010, Sunnyside): Cuban clarinet/also sax player, b. 1948, studied at Havana Conservatory of Music, co-founded Orchestra Cubana de Musica Moderna, and later Irakere, before skipping over the the US in 1980, where has since built up a substantial discography. Opens the liner notes with a rant about "Che Guevara and his henchmen" which even if it's true -- and I don't know one way or the other -- reminds me how convenient America is for right-wing Cubans and how much political damage they've done since being welcomed here so generously (unlike refugees from far more murderous right-wing regimes like El Salvador in the 1980s, or Haiti any time). Still, the gist of D'Rivera's notes is that he loves the tango music that Guevara evidently forsook, and he at least proves his enthusiasm in the grooves. The critical ingredient, not surprisingly, is the Pablo Aslan Ensemble, with Michael Zisman (and on one track Raul Jaurena) on bandoneón, Aslan on bass, and Daniel Piazzolla on drums. Aslan's own tango records have tended to be elegant updates -- Avantango kicked off the series, and Buenos Aires Tango Standards is even better -- but the band gets hot and rowdy here, especially when Gustavo Bergalli cuts loose on trumpet. A-
Paquito D'Rivera: Panamericana Suite (2010, MCG Jazz): Large group, twelve musicians and a singer but nothing near a big band -- Diego Urcola is the brass, D'Rivera the reed section, unless you want to count cellist Dana Leong's secondary trombone. Instead, you get vibes/marimba (Dave Samuels), steel pans (Andy Narell), harp (Edmar Castaneda), bandoneon (Hector del Curto), piano (Alon Yavnai), bass (Oscar Stagnero), and lots of percussion. The title cut runs 11:16, not much more than the other pieces, which include a cover of "Con Alma." The pans and vibes are often remarkable, and D'Rivera's clarinet is in peak form. Would rate higher but for the two vocals by soprano Brenda Feliciano, way too operatic for my taste. B+(*)
Dan Tepfer Trio: Five Pedals Deep (2010, Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1982, in France but parents American. Looks like fourth album since 2004 -- AMG lists three, and missed one called Twelve Free Improvisations in Twelve Keys (2009, DIZ). Only one I've heard is a duo with Lee Konitz last year, which made my HM list. Trio includes Thomas Morgan on bass and Ted Poor on drums. Couldn't follow this closely (my fault) but parts were dazzling, and the closing coda from "Body and Soul" ended things on a nice note. Will return later. [B+(***)]
Eero Koivistoinen & Co.: 3rd Version (1973 , Porter): Finnish saxophonist, b. 1946, plays soprano, sopranino and tenor here, leading a band with Fender-Rhodes piano (Heikki Sarmanto), guitar (Jukka Tolonen), bass (Pekka Sarmanto), and two drummers (Craig Herndon and Reino Laine). His "selected discography" lists 35 items going back to the Hendrix-influenced Blues Section in 1967, including some UMO Jazz Orchestra records. This has a fusion angle, at least in the guitar/keyb vein, but it's much rougher and freer, even more so than the McLaughlin-influenced English avant-garde of the period. Porter has been reissuing a lot of rare gems from the early 1970s, things I hadn't heard but would have latched onto instantly at the time. Also in their catalog are three discs by the keyboard player here, Heikki Sarmanto, clearly a SFFR. A-
Prester John: Desire for a Straight Line (2010, Innova): Duo, with Shawn Persinger on acoustic guitar, David Miller on mandolin. Group name comes from the mediaeval legend, something about a Christian king who lost his nation to the muslims or the Mongols or some such. Music has a mediaevalist flair to it, dense and sometimes monotonous. Persinger has a previous record called The Art of Modern/Primitive Guitar -- title sums up what he's working for. B
Bruce Williamson Quartet: Standard Transmission (2009 , Origin): Alto saxophonist (also soprano sax, flute, bass clarinet), cut an album in 1992 called Big City Magic, and his this is his second, plus a couple of side credits per year since 1989. Pianist Art Lande gets a "featuring" on the front cover and kicks off the first song; Peter Barshay (bass) and Alan Hall complete the quartet. Mainstream, a bit on the lush side. One original, a couple of mash-ups (e.g., "Misterioso" + "How High the Moon" = "Mysterious Moon"), mostly covers. Very nice "Nature Boy" with Williamson on soprano sax; flute feature ("The Touch of Your Lips") also well done. Arrangements split between Williamson and Lande. B+(**)
Matt Garrison: Familiar Places (2009 , D Clef): Not Jimmy Garrison's bass playing son, who generally goes as Matthew but is listed in Wikipedia as Matt. This one plays tenor and baritone sax, was b. 1979 in Poughkeepsie, NY. First album, mostly a hard bop lineup: Bruce Harris (trumpet), Michael Dease (trombone), Zaccai Curtis (piano, Fender Rhodes), Luques Curtis (bass), Rodney Green (drums). A couple of songs add extra: subbing Claudio Roditti (covers gives him a "featuring" credit) on trumpet (2 cuts) and flugelhorn (1 more); Mark Whitfield (guitar, 2 cuts); Sharel Cassity and Don Braden (flutes, 2 cuts). Nothing wrong with any of this -- well, the second flute song, "Left Behind," is pretty awful -- but it's more like he's trying to establish his credentials than do something distinctive with them. B
Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra: India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane (2009 , Water Baby): Drummer, mother Japanese, father African-American with a bit of Choctaw, came up on the idea of organizing a big band of Asian-American musicians -- an early fruit was Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire, inspired by Japanese-American bands who played in WWII concentration camps. His records incorporate various bits of Asian music, but they're also masterful exercises in big band arranging -- as was proven, for instance, in Brown's previous Monk's Moods. This one is organized in two sets, mostly using Coltrane's compositions, in particular "India" and "Africa." The India set picks up more Indian music than Coltrane ever knew, including a duet between Steve Oda's sarod and Dana Pandey's tabla. The Africa set is less exotic, and ends with a slice of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" -- a piece Coltrane used to play. (Afro Blue Impressions is one of Coltrane's better live albums.) The percussion is notable, and the horn solos and section work are muscular and daring. A-
John Burnett Orchestra/Buddy DeFranco: Down for Double (2000-10 , Delmark): Standard swing-era big band -- four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds, piano, bass, drums. Songs dedicated to Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Slide Hampton, and (4 of 12) Count Basie. Third album since 2000, when Burnett featured clarinetist Buddy DeFranco on Swingin' in the Windy City. Also headlines DeFranco here, but only on 3 cuts dating from the 2000 sessions. We also get three cuts from 2005, and six from 2010, all live. Loud and brassy. B
Ches Smith & These Arches: Finally Out of My Hands (2010, Skirl): Drummer, from San Diego, CA, has more than 30 credits since 2001, two or thre with his name up front. This is a quartet with Tony Malaby (tenor sax), Mary Halvorson (guitar), and Andrea Parkins (accordion, organ, electronics). That's a talented but combustible group, and sometimes I wonder if Smith isn't more into mischief than music here: I go up and down on the record moment to moment. B+(*)
Metropole Orkest/John Scofield/Vince Mendoza: 54 (2009 , Emarcy): Mendoza conducts the bloated Orkest -- 15 violins, 5 violas, 2 flutes, oboe, French horn, harp, etc. -- and arranged 7 of 10 pieces, farming the others out to Florian Ross and Jim McNeely. Every now and then they jell into a powerhouse, but mostly they clutter things up. The guest star can still play his trademark fluid guitar, when he gets a chance and can be heard over the din. B-
The Glenious Inner Planet (2009-10 , Blue Bamboo): Bassist Glen Ackerman, Houston, TX, first album, basically groove-based although I'm reluctant to file it under pop jazz. With Woddy Witt on tenor/soprano sax and clarinet, Ted Winglinski on keybs, Paul Chester on guitar -- all making notable contributions -- and different drummers for two sessions. B+(**)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Llyria (2010, ECM): Must have been a typo on the promo, since the out-of-sequence "Modul 4" that caught my ear is "Modul 47" here, still the lowest number and the hottest track in a series that threatens to go ambient. The other winner is "Modul 51" where Kaspar Rast goes for rock drama on the drums. The least satisfying of his ECM albums, except during those high points when comparisons are moot. B+(***)
Unpacking: I'm behind on this, so will postpone until next week.
Sunday, November 21. 2010
A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously:
Alex Pareene: House GOP Fails to Defund NPR "Nazis": I was inclined to defund NPR myself when the bathroom radio spontaneously turned itself on the other days and tuned in NPR to spout some nonsense about the insolvency of social security, but then I figured they were only repeating commonplace lies rather than manufacturing them from whole cloth. Besides, what's the alternative? Fox?
The piece then quotes from a Roger Ailes rant calling NPR Nazis, then qualifying ("They are the left wing of Nazism"), then having to apologize (sort of) to Abe Foxman for unauthorized use of the Nazism charge.
Wednesday, November 17. 2010
Another pile of 40 new book notes:
Ari Berman: Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Just in time to neither influence nor analyze the current election cycle -- perhaps just a historical reminder that handing the gains of 2006-08 over from Dean to Obama managed to squander both focus and fervor, opening the door to an intransigent, unrepentant Republican effort.
Timothy P Carney: Obananomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses (2009, Regnery): Yglesias writes: "I'm continually gobsmacked by the number of business executives in the United States who haven't read Tim Carney's book and don't realize that Obama is just a patsy for the big business agenda. Maybe the White House should buy a free copy of Obamanomics for every corporate headquarters in the country." Jonah Goldberg says, this "is conservative muckraking at its best." Foreword by Ron Paul.
Dick Cavett: Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets (2010, Times Books): Late night talk show host. I did watch his show in the late-1960s/early-1970s, and recall fondly his intelligent engagement with his guests, and special attachment to Groucho Marx. His rise was largely based on his ability to cultivate relationships with celebrities like Marx, and he had a knack for making them look good while not making himself look foolish. Book evidently comes from an online column he writes, one of those ways people have to extend their 15 minutes of fame into a minor career.
Noam Chomsky/Ilan Pappé: Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Draws together various pieces by the two authors since Israel's 2008 siege on Gaza -- their opening salvo in their campaign to neuter any audacious hopes Barack Obama might have had about bringing peace to the region. Pappé's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is the first book to consult from Israel's 1948-49 expulsions on, and Chomsky's Middle East Illusions is one of his most acute (and also best written) books.
Angelo M Codevilla: The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It (paperback, 2010, Beaufort): This seems to be an important conceptual leap in reassigning blame for lots of things wrong with America away from the patron saints of the far right. Still, you'd think that if the "ruling class" -- all those smug elitist liberals -- was powerful enough to have caused so much damage they'd have bothered to control the right-wing media and think tanks that are their undoing. Rush Limbaugh wrote the intro, as always chipping in to fight the power. Still, you'd think the real ruling class would be a bit chagrined to have been swept aside like this.
Heidi Cullen: The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes From a Climate-Changed Planet (2010, Harper): Front cover shows, what? A raft of skyscrapers waist deep in rising sea level. The usual catalog of future horrors. More books on the subject keep coming (just to pick titles I haven't mentioned already, and this is far from complete): Kristin Dow/Thomas E Downing: The Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the World's Greatest Challenge (paperback, 2007, University of California Press); Gwynne Dyer: Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats (paperback, 2010, Oneworld); Clive Hamilton: Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change (2010, Earthscan); James Hansen: Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (2009, Bloomsbury); Robert Henson: The Rough Guide to Climate Change: The Symptoms, the Science, the Solutions (2nd ed, paperback, 2008, Rough Guides); John Houghton: Global Warming: The Complete Briefing (4th ed, paperback, 2009, Cambridge University Press); James Lovelock: The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning (2009; paperback, 2010, Basic Books); George Monbiot: Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning (2007; paperback, 2009, South End Press); Chris Mooney: Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming (2007; paperback, 2008, Mariner Books); Eric Pooley: The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth (2010, Hyperion); Joseph J Romm: Straight Up: America's Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions (paperback, 2010, Island Press); Peter D Ward: The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps (2010, Basic Books). I came up with a big list of anti-global warming books too: Ralph B Alexander: Global Warming False Alarm: The Bad Science Behind the United Nations' Assertion That Man-Made CO2 Causes Global Warming (paperback, 2009, Canterbury); Christopher Booker: The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is the Obsession With 'Climate Change' Turning Out to Be the Most Costly Scientific Blunder in History? (2009; paperback, 2010, Continuum); Christian Gerondeau: Climate: The Great Delusion: A Study of the Climatic, Economic and Political Unrealities (paperback, 2010, Stacey); Steve Goreham: Climatism! Science, Common Sense, and the 21st Century's Hottest Topic (2010, New Lenox Books); Doug L Hoffman/Allen Simmons: The Resilient Earth: Science, Global Warming and the Future of Humanity (paperback, 2008, Book Surge); Christopher C Horner: Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed (2008, Regnery); Patrick J Michaels/Robert C Balling Jr: Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don't Want You to Know (2009; paperback, 2010, Cato Institute); AW Montford: The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science (paperback, 2010, Stacey); Fred Pearce: The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming (paperback, 2010, Random House UK); Roger Pielke Jr: The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't Tell You About Global Warming (2010, Basic Books); Ian Plimer: Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science (paperback, 2009, Taylor Trade); Lawrence Solomon: The Deniers: The World-Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud (2008, Richard Vigilante Books); Roy W Spencer: The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World's Top Climate Scientists (2010, Encounter Books); Brian Sussman: Climategate: A Veteran Meteorologist Exposes the Global Warming Scam (2010, WND Books); Peter Taylor: Chill: A Reassessment of Global Warming Theory, Does Climate change Mean the World Is Cooling, and If So What Should We Do About It? (paperback, 2009, Clairview).
Carl Elliott: White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine (2010, Beacon Press): Asks the simple question: what happens when you mix medicine with the profit motive? One thing that happens is that you can never be sure who has who's interest at heart. One piece of this business is drugs -- Marcia Angell writes, "Elliott shows how the big drug companies have bribed and corrupted the medical establishment so that we no longer know which drugs are effective or why our doctors prescribe them." Previously wrote: Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream (2003; paperback, 2004, WW Norton).
Mark Feldstein: Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Anderson is little remembered today, but he thought of himself as a muckraking journalist and Nixon was so full of it that Anderson soon found himself perched on top of Nixon's enemies list. That's the core story here. The implications may well be more interesting. Since then every Washington scandal was dubbed -gate until they were cheapened in to cliché, but they've also managed to make up in quantity what they lacked in quality -- the press has become dirtier in more trivial ways, but also the politicians have learned to play more effective defense.
Caroline Fraser: Rewilding the World: Dispatches From the Conservation Revolution (2009, Metropolitan): Reports on several large projects aimed at restoring natural habitat, including the DMZ between the Koreas where humans are dissuaded from entering by massive mining.
Mark Frauenfelder: Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World (2010, Portfolio): Editor of Make, a quarterly DIY journal for geeks published by O'Reilly. Book tries to put such interests into the broader context of his own home life. One chapter, for instance, is about raising chickens, which among other things looks like a really good way to cut down on bugs and spiders in your yard.
Ian Frazier: Travels in Siberia (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): One of those travel books where you're glad someone else is doing the traveling, especially someone who can dig up the background history and turn a decent phrase. Cover notes that Frazier also wrote Great Plains and On the Rez, both of which I've read and can recommend highly.
Chas W. Freeman Jr.: America's Misadventures in the Middle East (paperback, 2010, Just World Books):Longtime US diplomat -- among his credits, he was Nixon's main interpreter for his 1972 trip to China -- was nominated by Obama for an advisory role on Middle East affairs and shot down by the Israel lobby -- wouldn't want a range of opinion on that subject anywhere near the president, now would we? One of the first releases on Helena Cobban's new venture, a spinoff from her excellent blog.
Pamela Geller/Robert Spencer: The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America (2010, Threshold Editions): The usual right-wing talking points, wrapped in fabulously great hyperbole.
Chris Harman: Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx (paperback, 2010, Haymarket Books): Late editor of International Socialism (d. 2009), author of A People's History of the World: From the Stone Age to the New Millennium (paperback, 2008, Verso). After all the crowing over the collapse of communism some blowback seems to be in order.
Joshua Holland: The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything Else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs, and Corporate America (paperback, 2010, Wiley): Good idea for a primer, but mostly stuff I already know laid out on a broad political level. I'd be more impressed if the author could tackle some deeper problems, like John Quiggin does in Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us.
Michael W Hudson: The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America -- and Spawned a Global Crisis (2010, Times Books): A former Wall Street Journal reporter, now writes for Center for Public Integrity. Hardly the first to tackle the big story of our times, nor to focus on the subprime mortgage machine. Previously wrote Merchants of Misery: How Corporate America Profits From Poverty (1996; paperback, 2002, Common Courage Press). Not the same Michael Hudson who wrote a 2006 essay in Harper's predicting the subprime collapse ("The New Road to Serfdom: An Illustrated Guide to the Coming Real Estate Collapse"); the latter is an economist who wrote Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (1971; new edition subtitled The Origin and Fundamentals of US World Dominance, paperback, 2003, Pluto Press), and A Philosophy for a Fair Society (paperback, 1994, Shepheard-Walwyn).
Laura Ingraham: The Obama Diaries (2010, Threshold): By a leftist, this would no doube be satire? But what's the word to describe something like this from someone with no sense of humor, let alone grasp of reality? Garbage seems too kind.
Wes Jackson: Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture (2010, Counterpoint): Runs the Land Institute near Salina, KS, where he's been experimenting with alternative approaches to agriculture for close to 35 years. Has a couple of previous books, but this looks like the one where he pulls it all together. Wendell Berry is a big fan.
Tony Judt: The Memory Chalet (2010, Penguin): A collection of short pieces, mostly memoirs, mostly published in New York Review of Books, from the period when Judt was struggling with ALS. With his mind free within the prison of a dysfunctional body, Judt went into an extraordinarily prolific phase. Ill Fares the Land was the first book to come out of this, and Thinking the Twentieth Century is still in the pipeline.
Robert D Kaplan: Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (2010, Random House): Further travels around the periphery of the empire, no doubt splattered with more of Kaplan's shallow thinking and fanciful imperialist cheerleading.
Gilles Kepel: Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: The Future of the Middle East (2008; paperback, 2010, Harvard University Press): Having established himself as the most acute historian of political Islam back in the 1990s, Kepel's post-Jihad books keep having to chew up more events that mostly just go to show how unfortunate it was that US policy makes hadn't taken him to heart much sooner.
Josh Lerner: Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed -- and What to Do About It (2009, Princeton University Press): Seems to come up with a dozen or so suggestions on how to make public efforts work even though the main thrust is that they don't. Might be useful to help clear the air, although it might just reflect the confusion: government actually does a lot to promote business even though the dominant ideology denies that it can ever work, while lobbyists have their own unworkable schemes to peddle.
David Lipsky: Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace (paperback, 2010, Broadway Books): Transcribed tapes from interviews with the late novelist by the author, assigned by Rolling Stone to do a profile based on Wallace's book tour supporting his touted debut novel, Infinite Jest. Seems like before I would take the time to read 320 pp. of such I should crack open one of Wallace's novels, or at least an essay collection not dedicated to John McCain, but I've always been a fan of interviews. In fact, I learned an awful lot of what I know about American history from John Garraty's interviews with historians.
Jeff Madrick: The Case for Big Government (2008; paperback, 2010, Princeton University Press): Former New York Times economics columnist pushes back on the right's anti-government mantra. Previously wrote The End of Affluence: The Causes and Consequences of America's Economic Dilemma (1995, perhaps a bit prematurely); Why Economies Grow: The Forces That Shape Prosperity and How to Get Them Working Again (2002), and Taking America: How We Got From the First Hostile Takeover to Megamergers, Corporate Raiding and Scandal (2003). I'm sure he can make a case for government; less sure about the poison adjective big.
Hooman Majd: The Ayatollah's Democracy: An Iranian Challenge (2010, WW Norton): Specifically on Iran's disputed 2009 elections, which officially elected Ahmadinejan to a second term as Iran's president despite charges of fraud, widespread demonstrations, and a serious political challenge to Grand Ayatollah Khomeini's rule. The author was conspicuous on US television during the election controversy, and quite partisan. Previously wrote: The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (2008).
Jack Matlock: Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray -- and How to Return to Reality (2010, Yale University Press): US ambassador to Soviet Union 1987-91, presumably belongs to the realist camp. Seems to focus on how ideological blinders messed up the post-Soviet transition -- as Robert Gates shows, we never have managed to clear house of the clueless cold warrior crowd.
Patricia A McAnany/Norman Yoffee, eds: Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire (paperback, 2009, Cambridge University Press): A collection of papers casting aspersions on Jared Diamond's book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004) -- the sort of big theme comparative study that begs specialists to nitpick, especially once it hits the bestseller list.
Ian Mortimer: The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (2008, Bodley Head; 2009, Touchstone): A friendly synopsis of a century in a backwater corner of Europe, something we're only vaguely familiar with.
Jerry Z Muller: Capitalism and the Jews (2010, Princeton University Press): Tries hard to walk a straight and narrow path of praising Jews for their numerous contributions to capitalism without falling into the usual anti-semitic traps. Then, of course, there was Marx and his followers, and many others who added noise to the equation.
David H Newman: Hippocrates' Shadow: Secrets From the House of Medicine (2008; paperback, 2009, Scribner): A doctor, writing about the art and craft, nuts and bolts of practicing medicine. Includes a section on "pseudoaxioms" -- practices enshrined in custom that may not be effective.
Keith Olbermann: Pitchforks and Torches: The Worst of the Worst, From Beck, Bill, and Bush to Palin and Other Posturing Republicans (2010, Wiley): Recall him as a mild-mannered sports announcer, but never watch his show since he turned to politics. When he suspended his "worst person in the world" shtick recently I was reminded how much my late father-in-law liked that bit. But I'm pretty sure he didn't drop it because he ran out of candidates.
Richard Overy: The Twilight Years: The Paradox of Britain Between the Wars (2009, Viking): The post-WWI settlement was the last orgy of the imperial era, kind of like an excessively rich dessert following an evening of overeating and overdrinking, after which it became awfully difficult to keep it all down. The British Empire was never larger than then, but had ceased to be profitable or even much fun. Looks like this tends to intellectual history, most likely the least fun of all.
Cleo Paskal: Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): Actually, war has not had much impact on the global map of the last 60 years: the main changes we've seen are smaller patches breaking away from bigger ones, and most of those have happened without much violence. That the world is in for a good deal of stress, hurt even, is a given, especially given the worst of the global warming projections -- the subtext here. Too bad that one peculiar nation still thinks that war is an option.
Scott Peterson: Let the Swords Encircle Me: Iran -- A Journey Behind the Headlines (2010, Simon & Schuster): Istanbul bureau chief for Christian Science Monitor, has made more than 30 trips to Iran since 1996 ("more than any other American journalist"). Reports at depth (768 pp), giving some credence to the idea that his book is more than headline deep. Previously wrote Me Against My Brother: At War in Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda (2000).
Sally C Pipes: The Truth About Obamacare: What They Don't Want You to Know About Our New Health Care Law (paperback, 2010, Regnery Press): Predictable nonsense given who wrote and published it, but given how lame the reform was I wonder how often they'll slip up and slip in a real complaint, like the bit about how the law will leave us with 23 million uninsured in 2019.
Wendell Potter: Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans (2010, Bloomsbury): Former CIGNA PR hack, focuses on the propaganda angle but must in the process reveal much of what he was paid to cover up.
Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): Perhaps the only reporter to see all sides of the Iraq conflict, on the one hand embedding with US troops, on the other passing behind and through Iraqi lines. Includes reporting from Lebanon and Afghanistan, or what he calls the "Iraqization of the Middle East." The initial 2003-04 stretch of the Iraq war has been relatively well covered -- including Rosen's own In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq (2006), the best book on how resistance erupted in post-Saddam Iraq -- but the later phases have been the preserve of US propaganda. I wouldn't expect that here.
Richard E Rubenstein: Reasons to Kill: Why Americans Choose War (2010, Bloomsbury Press): Why we went to war, and why we felt justified in doing so -- not sure how far back this goes but rehashing the Global War on Terror covers a lot of the bases. I'd like to see this tracked through the progression (or regression) of the wars in question.
Abdulkader H Sinno: Organizations at War: In Afghanistan and Beyond (2010, Cornell University Press): Barnett Rubin writes: "Sinno's finding should end the current search of U.S. policymakers for a 'moderate Taliban' that can be broken off from the insurgency." Otherwise I can't tell much.
Matt Taibbi: Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010, Spiegel & Grau): The "vampire squid" is Goldman Sachs, the dominant member of the "grifter class" in this tale of "the stunning rise, fall, and rescue of Wall Street in the bubble-and-bailout era." I have a copy on order.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
George A Akerlof/Robert J Shiller: Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism (2009; paperback, 2010, Princeton University Press): Behavioral economics, the stuff that Richard Shelby hates; the original ideas picked up from Keynes and reformulated into various rules of thumb -- they strike me as realistic, verging on commonsensical. [link]
Seth G Jones: In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan (2009; paperback, 2010, WW Norton): RAND Corp. analyst reviews America's fiasco in Afghanistan, suggests tweaks to make it more/less bad, but at least covers the background enough for a basic primer. Paperback reissue includes a new afterword, most likely I-told-you-so's. [link]
Jon Krakauer: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (2009, Doubleday; paperback, 2010, Anchor): Bestselling account of how a pro football star quit the NFL to join the army for the war in Afghanistan, only to get killed by fellow US troops. [link]
Robert Skidelsky: Keynes: The Return of the Master (2009; paperback, 2010, Public Affairs): A short primer on Keynes, from his most comprehensive biographer, for a generation that sorely needs a refresher course. [link]
Future new releases:
Tuesday, November 16. 2010
I keep meaning to post notices as I build up book pages, but seem to keep piling them up in limbo. The books split into two big classes: ones I own I mark up occasional notes with the intent of eventually transcribing them into the book pages, but have little compulsion to do so because I still have the books handy. On the other hand, I do a pretty thorough job of copying quotes and noting structure in books I get from the library, but rarely have time to develop more commentary, or write introductions.
The following are a batch of library books in such limbo. Lots of quotes; not much commentary. Doesn't expunge my pending list: I've held back several clusters, like books on Israel and books on Reagan.
Will try to do a better job of noting when these come out.
Monday, November 15. 2010
Should shift gears and finish off the damn column, especially since it's been more like ten weeks, not the eight suggested. Cleaned up the office space enough that I could get to the mid-priority queue, and had to open up some space there for incoming, so spent most of the week picking things, playing them, refiling them. The low-B+ records really have no chance of making the HM list -- I'm wondering if I'm ever going to find room for B+(**) records again, although a bunch of them are still on the done shelf. So I didn't waste much time trying to figure if they might inch up or slide down a notch if I gave them more chance. More tellingly, I didn't give them an extra spin to find something to say when the notes got slim. I stil have 225 records in the pending queue, so this is really just triage.
Doug Beavers 9: Two Shades of Nude (2007 , Origin): Trombonist, full name Doug Beavers Rovira, favors large groups, his previous Jazz, Baby! even larger than the nonet here. Has a lot of fire power here -- Kenny Rampton and Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Marc Momaas and Jon Irabagon on tenor sax -- which shorts the trombone without really blowing out of the postbop formulary. B
Ryan Cohan: Another Look (2010, Motéma): Pianist, b. 1971, based in Chicago, third album since 2001. Appeared recently on saxophonist Geof Bradfield's album, who returns the favor here, impressively when he is featured, but not often. Joe Locke (vibes) makes a big splash, complementing the piano and adding a lot of flashy depth. Also here: Lorin Cohen (bass), Kobie Watkins (drums), and Steve Kroon (percussion). B+(**)
Brad Goode: Tight Like This (2010, Delmark): Trumpet player, b. 1963 in Chicago, based in Boulder, CO; eighth (at least) album since Shock of the New in 1988 has him returning to Louis Armstrong for the title tune, but in a new-fashioned mode that isn't all that tight. With Adrean Farrugia (piano), Kelly Sill (bass), and Anthony Lee (drums). Starts with five covers, adds five originals, closes "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise." Not sure that this was the intent, but pretty good quiet storm record. B+(**)
Alexander McCabe: Quiz (2009-10 , CAP): Alto saxophonist, third album since 2001, website suggests he's mostly interested in doing film music. Mainstream, exceptionally fluid and inventive, recorded in two sessions with different drummers -- Greg Hutchinson on two cuts, Rudy Royston on five -- with Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Uri Caine on piano. Most albums like this trip up on the piano solos but Caine really takes off. A-
Joey DeFrancesco: Never Can Say Goodbye: The Music of Michael Jackson (2010, High Note): Fluffs up his organ trio -- Paul Bollenback on guitar, Byron Landham on drums -- to approximate studio dynamics on records that are evidently so earnestly loved he doesn't want to mess with them. Results trip over themselves. The sound effects on "Thriller" are worthless, and Joey's vocals aren't much better. B-
Mike Mainieri: Crescent (2005 , NYC, 2CD): Vibraphonist, b. 1938, discography starts in 1962 but AMG only lists 17 albums over 48 years and he's never registered much on my radar -- just enough to keep him separate from the Maneri clan. Been sitting on this for a while, noticing how far behind I was when another new 2CD set came in. Can't say I was looking forward to it, but that's only because I missed the fine print. Actually, front cover says "featuring Charlie Mariano" then adds another name in smaller print, Dieter Ilg -- the bassist here. Mariano died in 2009, an alto saxophonist whose vast discography goes back to the early 1950s. Don't know him all that well either, but he's blown me away on occasion, especially on the two It's Standard Time volumes he cut with Tete Montoliu (1989, Fresh Sound). Don't have the recording date here, but liner notes refer to a 2005 session with Mariano winded from an illness and Mainieri affect by a hand injury. Title and more than half of the songs are from Coltrane -- the other half must fall in the songbook somewhere. Mariano sounds more poignant than I expected, suits a posthumous album. The vibes and bass keep a respectful distance. B+(***)
Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet: Trinary Motion (2008 , NYC, 2CD): Vibraphonist Mainieri is the senior here, but guitarist Busstra is the driving force, writing most of the pieces and providing the thrust which the vibes accentuate. The others are Eric van der Westen on bass and Pieter Bast on drums. B+(**)
Either/Orchestra: Mood Music for Time Travellers (2007-10 , Accurate): Russ Gershon's near-big band, a fixture in Boston since 1986, back for their tenth album -- only the second since 2003. They've picked up some African beats, and keep piling on the layers like a postmodern Ellington. B+(**)
Jacob Melchior: It's About Time (2010, Jacob Melchior): Drummer, b. 1970 in Copenhagen, Denmark; passed through Brazil before landing in New York in 1994. First album, a piano trio with Tadataka Unno on piano and Hassan JJ Shakur on bass with "special guest" Frank Senior singing one cut, "For All We Know." Unno was b. 1980 in Tokyo, Japan; also based in New York; has two albums. Nice mainstream work. B+(*)
Klezwoods: Oy Yeah! (2010, Accurate): Boston klezmer ensemble, nine instruments including tuba and accordion. Alec Spiegelman (clarinet) and/or Joe Kessler (violin) seem to be the movers in a group full of strikingly unjewish names -- Laughman, McLaughlin, O'Neill, Stevig. They play traditional fare including pieces from Yemen and the Balkans, plus one semi-original by Alec Spiegelman patterned on "Giant Steps" (called "Giant Jew"). Tends toward sweet and nostalgic. B+(**)
Ziggurat Quartet: Calculated Gestures (2009 , Origin): Seattle group: Eric Barber (tenor & soprano sax), Bill Anschell (piano), Doug Miller (bass), Byron Vannoy (drums, percussion). First album together, although Anschell has a half dozen records under his own name, and Barber and Miller have one each. Anschell has the edge in writing, with four songs to three each for Barber and Miller. But Barber is the one you listen to, with enough energy to break out of the usual postbop straitjackets. Name suggests some Afro-Asian mystery, and there's some of that too. B+(***)
Lauren Hooker: Life of the Music (2010, Miles High): Vocalist, writes most of her material, plays some piano (although Jim Ridl probably plays more). Second album. First one, Right Where I Belong, spent a lot of time in my HM pile before I gave up on crediting it. This one drags badly from the start, with "Song to a Seagull" (her Joni Mitchell cover) especially arch. Still has a lot of nuance in her voice. Scott Robinson is invaluable among the side credits. B
Dana Lauren: It's You or No One (2010, Dana Lauren Music): Standards singer, from Boston, b. 1988, second album. Nothing here Ella Fitzgerald hasn't done better, a comparison begged by closing the album with "Mr. Paganini." Good piano support from Manuel Valera, and she's fortunate to have Joel Frahm's tenor sax around. Nonetheless, she dispenses with both for a a "Sunny Side of the Street" with nothing but one-shot guest Christian McBride's bass, and it's the best thing here. B+(*)
Hilary Kole: You Are There (2008-09 , Justin Time): Another standards singer, also second album, different approach: thirteen songs done with eleven duet partners on piano, nothing more -- exception: can't keep Freddy Cole from singing, wouldn't even want to. Double helpings for Hank Jones and Dave Brubeck -- the former a delight, the latter better when he's not doing his own tricky song. Impressive, slow, austere, traits that can turn into a drag except when they're not -- "Lush Life," which has sunk many singers, is nothing less than splendid. B+(**)
Jay Clayton: In and Out of Love (2007 , Sunnyside): Singer, b. 1941 in Youngstown, OH, originally Judith Colantone; started cutting records around 1980 and has, well: AMG lists 13, her website lists 19, Wikipedia says more than 40 but only lists 10. Has tended to work in avant-garde circles, with a lot of scat and sonic whatever, or at least that's my impression -- can't say as I've ever gotten a good read on her. This is fairly conventional and understated, with just guitar (Jack Wilkins) and bass (Jay Anderson), mostly working standards like "How Deep Is the Ocean" and "I Hear a Rhapsody." B+(**)
Nadav Snir-Zelniker Trio: Thinking Out Loud (2009 , OA2): Drummer, b. 1974 in Israel, based in New York. First album, a piano trio with Ted Rosenthal and Todd Coolman on bass. Wrote (or co-wrote) 3 of 10 songs, two more songs most likely by Israelis, the balance ranging from "Blue Skies" to "Isfahan" to "Interplay" (Bill Evans) plus one by Rosenthal. I have no doubts about the drums, and Coolman is a dependable bassist, but the record inevitably turns on the piano, and somehow Rosenthal had escaped my attention all these years. Did recognize the name: he was one of those mainstream pianists Concord adored in the early 1990s, so his name showed up on the Maybeck Recital Hall Series list (Vol. 38). B. 1959, has more than a dozen albums since 1989, including one on The 3 B's -- Bud, Bill, someone named Beethoven. Don't know about the latter, but he has a nice mix of Bud and Bill in his playing. B+(***)
John Lee Hooker Jr.: Live in Istanbul Turkey (2010, Steppin' Stone, CD+DVD): B. 1952 in Detroit, played some as a teen but didn't assume the family trade and start cutting blues albums until 2004, a couple years after his father died. Straight second-generation bluesman, doesn't feel the pain or the worry but knows all the licks, and how to turn them into a good time. Don't have a date on the concert. Didn't watch the DVD. B+(*)
Nobu Stowe: Confusion Bleue (2007 , Soul Note): Pianist, from Japan, based in Baltimore. He sent me about six albums dating back to 2006, and I've been remiss in getting to them. This is the most recent, the one I figured I should focus on, and it's been tough to get a handle on. Quartet with two looks, depending on whether Ros Bonadonna plays guitar or alto sax. The former steers this in a fusion direction, a configuration of unruly grooves, while the latter lets the piano undercut the sax pressure. With Tyler Goodwin on bass and Ray Sage on drums. Intriguing record. Should return to it when I get around to the others. B+(***)
Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS Band: Fields of Moons (2009 , Jazzheads): Trombone player (also tuba), based in New York, where he's the New York end of the Norway/Denmark postbop group NYNDK. SYOTOS is nominally a Latin jazz band, an octet, with four records to date. The Latin focus isn't especially strong -- mostly the extra percussion and Leo Travera's electric bass, and sometimes the brass -- John Walsh's trumpet joins Washburne, although more prominent (and less Latin) is NYNDK saxophonist Ole Mathisen. Closes with a sweet "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans." B+(**)
Greg Lewis: Organ Monk (2010, Greg Lewis): Hammond B3 player, based in New York, first album, a trio with Ron Jackson on guitar and Cindy Blackman on drums. Thelonious Monk compositions as far as the eye can see. It's a concept; just not an especially interesting one. B
Jeff Antoniuk and the Jazz Update: Brotherhood (2010, JAJU): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, b. 1965 in Edmonton, in Canada; lived in Nigeria for a year; studied at UNT; lives in Annapolis, MD. Second album. Quartet with Wade Beach on piano, Tom Baldwin on bass, Tony Martucci on drums (including congas and batá). Nice mainstream postbop with a little extra riddim. B+(*)
David Bixler & Arturo O'Farrill: The Auction Project (2010, Zoho): Alto saxophonist, b. 1964 in Wisconsin, based in New York; fourth album since 2000; side credits include another album with O'Farrill, son of Cuban bandleader/arranger Chico O'Farrill, a competent but often overrated practitioner of the family trade. The point of the project is to do something Afro-Celtic, mostly picking up Irish (or Scottish) trad tunes and rattling them around radical Afro-Cuban time changes -- Vince Cherico (drums) and Roland Guerrero (percussion) handle those chores along with the pianist. Bixler's wife, Heather Martin Bixler, plays violin, supporting the straight Celtic parts, while Bixler plays over and above. Makes for some rather strange juxtapositions, but offers a few surprises. B+(*)
Mercury Falls: Quadrangle (2010, Porto Franco): Group; first album. Writers are Patrick Cress (alto sax, baritone sax, bass clarinet, flute) and Ryan Francesconi (guitar, electronics); others are Eric Perney (bass) and Tim Bulkley (drums). Two songs have guest voice credits. Not clear where they are based: MySpace says "United States"; Francesconi says Portland, OR; Cress has another group in Oakland, CA; Bulkley says Brooklyn, but is also in the other Cress group; guest Michelle Amador also hails from Brooklyn. Could be they think of this as experimental rock -- they list Tortoise first on their MySpace list of influences -- but it's more lukewarm, measured and tasteful. B+(*)
Denise Donatelli: When Lights Are Low (2010, Savant): Singer, from Allentown, PA; based in Los Angeles. Third album since 2005. Striking voice. No original songs, but even the Rodgers & Hart and Styne & Cahn aren't common standards, and the only one from a rock-based singer-songwriter is by Sting, who hardly counts. Geoffrey Keezer plays piano and did most of the arranging, mostly just piano-guitar-bass-drums, two cuts with some strings, a couple with a guest horn -- Ingrid Jensen's flugelhorn, Ron Blake's soprano sax, Phil O'Connor's bass clarinet, nothing dominant. Played twice while somewhat distracted, both times losing me midway. B
Tarbaby: The End of Fear (2010, Posi-Tone): Group's MySpace website explains: "We are not TAR BABY ...... JAZZ is ..... We simply want to hug him for as long as we live." Site lists (in this order) band members as: Nasheet Waits (drums), Stacey Dillard (sax), Orrin Evans (piano), Eric Revis (bass), but Dillard doesn't appear on this, the group's first record. Instead, we have "special guests" JD Allen (tenor sax), Oliver Lake (alto sax), and Nicholas Payton (trumpet). Two group songs, two from Revis, one each from Evans and Waits, one from Lake, outside pieces from Sam Rivers, Bad Brains, Fats Waller, Andrew Hill, and Paul Motian. With Dillard this would have been a tough postbop group, but with Lake and Allen it's something else, and they bring out a dimension in Evans I've never heard before. B+(***)
Jerome Sabbagh/Ben Monder/Daniel Humair: I Will Follow You (2010, Bee Jazz): Tenor/soprano sax, guitar, drums, respectively. Monder is a guitarist who shows up on a lot of records (6-10 per year since 2000, smaller number going back to 1991). Humair's credits go back to 1960 -- he was b. 1938 in Switzerland -- and fill three pages at AMG, with more than a dozen under his own name. Sabbagh is (much) younger, b. 1973 in Paris, with three previous records since 2004. Plays tenor and soprano sax, and wrote almost everything here (with some help from his bandmates). Monder strikes me as unusually aggressive here, like he has a big stake in the outcome. Sabbagh is the opposite, so thoughtful as this is it does tend to drag a bit. B+(*) [advance: Dec. 7]
Rebecca Coupe Franks: Check the Box (2010, RCF): Trumpet player, also sings -- four songs here, voice is throwaway casual and all the more charming for it. Had a couple of records in 1992, then nothing until a Joe Henderson tribute in 2004 -- this looks like her fifth. Basically a bebopper, with the Latin tinge from Luis Perdomo's piano and Richie Morales' drums keeping her jumping. Mary Ann McSweeney plays bass, gets in a nice solo. While I like her vocals well enough, the three extra vocal tracks (making 7 of 14) by Summer Corrie are too much, especially since they don't amount to much. B+(*)
Marcos Amorim Trio: Portraits (2009 , Adventure Music): Brazilian guitarist, from Rio de Janeiro, has at least three previous albums since 2002. Trio with bassist Jorge Albuquerque (who writes the 3 of 10 pieces Amorim didn't) and drummer Rafael Barata. Tasteful low-keyed work, supple textures. B+(**)
Benjamin Taubkin: Adventure Music Piano Masters Series, Vol. I (2007 , Adventure Music): Cover also follows Taubkin's name with the qualification "[brazil]" but we know that, right? Solo piano, something that rolls off my back without ever fully engaging me -- a big contrast I have with the auteurs of The Penguin Guide to Jazz, who invariably dote on solo piano recordings. Brazilian jazz is dominated by guitarists, but Taubkin is a well-established and worthy pianist. All originals except for "Giant Steps" and one by Pixinguinha. B+(**)
Dave Bass Quartet: Gone (2008-09 , Dave Bass Music): AMG lists four guys named Dave Bass: Pop/Rock 90s, Country 90s-00s, Pop/Rock 70s-80s, Religious 90s. None of those seem right here. Pianist, b. 1950 in Cincinnati, moved to Boston and studied with George Russell and Margaret Chaloff; moved on to San Francisco; wound up in law school at UCLA, became a lawyer in 1992, advancing to California Deputy Attorney General for civil rights enforcement. This looks like his first record, reuniting with some of his San Francisco crew: drummer Babatunde Lea, bassist Gary Brown, and tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts. Also features Mary Stallings singing two songs. Nothing earthshaking, but he's pretty sharp for a debut-album pianist, and it's always a delight to hear Watts, or for that matter Stallings in front of a good band. B+(**)
Tomas Janzon: Experiences (2010, Changes Music): Guitarist, from Sweden, studied at Royal School of Music in Stockholm, moved to Los Angeles in 1991. Third album since 1999. Quartet mostly with Art Hillery on organ or piano (4 cuts to 2), Jeff Littleton on bass (9 of 11 cuts), and Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums (10 of 11) -- last cut is a brief solo. Likes Wes Montgomery, including a take on "Full House" here. B+(*)
Chris Colangelo: Elaine's Song (2010, C Note): Bassist, not much bio to go on, has a couple of previous albums and a dozen-plus side credits since 1998. Basically a piano trio with an extra horn (or two) on 7 of 9 tracks -- mostly tenor sax, with Bob Sheppard on 3 and Benn Clatworthy on 2. Sheppard also plays soprano sax on one, Clatworthy flute on one, and Zane Musa's alto sax joins Clatworthy tenor on one dedicated to Kenny Garrett. The pianist is John Beasley, playing his role admirably but the dominant tone is the sax. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, November 14. 2010
A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously:
Two things I could have done more on are the Fed's QE2 program and the Simpson-Bowles deficit report. The latter, as you can gather above, is a crock of shit, and a self-inflicted Obama wound. QE2 is more complicated, and ultimately depends on two unknowns: how much and how long it is maintained, especially after it starts generating inflation. It's the one way the government can stimulate the economy without having to go through Congress. That's basically because the Fed is largely free of public control -- it really belongs to the banking industry, the one industry in America privileged to get to decide how much money it wants to play with -- and because whatever extra money it decides to create goes first to the banking system and trickles out from there.
Saturday, November 13. 2010
Movie: The Hurt Locker: Finally watched the 2010 Academy Award Best Film on TV tonight. Politically, the film doesn't offer much, but least of all for liberals who think we might at least be trying to do something noble in Iraq. Conservatives won't be much bothered, because the terrorists come off as evil and ubiquitous and utterly without scruple, and the bystanders are suspicious and if they're technically innocent now, just give them time. The film is supposed to follow a support-your-troops line, but they all look like damaged goods, and even if they were damaged before they got to Iraq, I don't see why we should go around invading other countries just to satisfy their primal urges. The film is constructed around four or five bombs and an ambush, and they all provide the expected tension plus bits of technical sophistication. B+
Haven't been posting on movies lately. Haven't seen many, and haven't had much to say about those I've seen. I think the last movies I posted anything on, back in July, were Cyrus and The Secret in Their Eyes (both A-). Very briefly:
Movie: The Town: Nice aerial shots of Charlestown, MA, although I haven't been back since they built the new bridge, so the views strike me as a bit off. One bank robbery, one armored car, one more complicated caper at Fenway, plus some ancillary violence. Lead actor from The Hurt Locker returns as pretty much the same psychopath. Probably more gunplay this time, but that may just be that they prefer AK-47s and they run louder. I didn't buy the Rebecca Hall romance angle at all, but the FBI is as nefarious as ever. B+
Movie: The Social Network: The founding of Facebook and the squabbling over the spoils without anyone ever explaining why it's worth all the money it's supposedly worth. Works with sharp dialogue -- not least of which is that the technical jargon is fundamentally sound -- and lots of details that ring true even when they're ridiculous. A-
Movie: Never Let Me Go: Kazuo Ishiguro novel. Laura read it; found it "incredibly sad," which isn't really a good formula to transplant to the screen, not just because Carey Mulligan's tear (but not her mope) looked manufactured. More likely the novel has suspense and inner depth that couldn't be maintained or expanded. B
Movie: The Girl Who Played With Fire: Second in the trilogy that I haven't read but everyone else has. Good thing to have seen the first first. A-
Movie: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: In Swedish, finally granted a one-week showing as a warmup for the new second film. Swedish title: Män som hatar kvinnor. Over the top, what with the Nazi shit, but pretty extraordinary. A
Movie: Get Low: Robert Duvall plays a geezer, set in Tennessee in the late 1930s. He has something bad on his conscience, and decides to purge it by giving himself a funeral/party, offering his land as bait to draw a crowd. With Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek. A-
Movie: Winter's Bone: Set in Ozarks among meth heads, with a 17-year-old girl raising two younger siblings with dad gone -- dead, actually -- and mom lost to the world. Plot line doesn't remind me of my Ozark relatives, but cooking and cleaning do. A-
Bad timing and/or minor squabbles kept us from seeing: The Kids Are All Right; Inception; Jack Goes Boating; Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps; It's Kind of a Funny Story; You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger; not sure what else. Lots of things don't get here fast and don't last long when they do. Only saw Up in the Air on TV a couple months ago -- much better than The Hurt Locker.
By the way, a few days after seeing The Social Network I finally set up my own Facebook account. Been thinking about it, and fretting about it, for a while, mostly because it provides a communications channel with my nieces/nephews who otherwise aren't very good at keeping in touch. One reason for not doing it is fear of getting swamped by the music industry, who already hit me with way too much spam, and had already lined up with a long list of pending friend requests. My rule for now is to ignore everything that comes in from musicians and publicists (so if you're one of them, that's why). May change that later, depending on how it works out. Since starting up, almost all of my posts have been short notices of blog posts. Thus far I don't like anything, don't have any meaningful info public, don't have a picture, don't have any pictures, have written only a couple of very brief comments on other people's posts. Don't know what the limits or parameters are -- I'm tending to think of it like what I imagine Twitter to be, although I have no interest in going near Twitter to make sure.
Thursday, November 11. 2010
Mark Thoma: "White House Gives In On Bush Tax Cuts": Title comes from a Huffington Post piece, where David Axelrod laments, "We have to deal with the world as we find it." That's evidently a world where a mere president is unable to dig in his heels on an issue which consistently polls better than 60%: ending the Bush tax cuts on incomes over $250,000, which would negatively impact some 2% of the public. It would be a different story if Obama was dependent on the Republican House to end the cuts, but they are already expiring at the end of the calendar year. All Obama has to do to put an end to those cuts is to veto any bill that attempts to extend them, then find enough Democrats willing to sustain his veto. How hard is that?
Andrew Leonard: Obama's Tax Cut Surrender: Is based on the same source and later Axelrod comments, including: "Our two strong principles are that we need to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, but we can't afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy." The lower bracket cuts were a sop added to the Bush bill to make them more sellable, but they are relatively trivial in terms of revenue and relatively unimportant to the people who got them: sure, everybody prefers to pay less tax, but not necessarily at the cost of crippling government services. Obama's desire to extend those cuts always had an air of pandering to it, and that he didn't make a serious push to extend them when the Democrats had big majorities suggested that he might not be all that serious about them. Now, however, Axelrod is insisting that they're so important that Obama is willing to give in on the superrich tax cuts. (Which, by the way, right now include a complete wipeout of the estate tax. Any deal on extending it would be far worse than extending the top tier income rate cuts.)
Admittedly, tax sheltering the superrich is the Republican Party's number one priority -- way above starting senseless wars or beefing up the police state or making sure every nutcase in America has an assault weapon or making sure pregnant girls serve their full nine months before handing over their offspring to Right to Life (TM) adoption mills -- so they might be willing to deal something Obama really wants to make sure the rich keep getting ridiculously richer. But it's hard to imagine what that would be, and it's harder to imagine Obama demanding it. Trivial tax cuts for the middle class at the long-term expense of government solvency and viability isn't a sane, let alone a gutsy, bargain. How about repealing Taft-Hartley? That at least might be a game-changer.
On the other hand, the tax rates at issue here are just one small part of a much bigger problem, which is how to reverse the trend toward ever greater inequality. Progressive taxation won't solve the problem, but it is the most straightforwardly simple way to start. Surrender that issue and less direct methods, like ratcheting up labor rights and expanding educational opportunities are going to be harder to do and less effective. Over the last thirty/forty years, we've let our democracy erode into oligarchy, and we're pretty far gone now. It's easy enough to see why the Republicans have led the struggle to beat down every potential challenge to the rich. The question is why don't the Democrats even try to put up an effective defense of, well, democracy. You'd think that if nothing else some instinct for self-preservation would eventually kick in? If Obama can't stiffen up on such a clearcut issue, I don't see any hope for him. (Although with McCain's latest trip to Afghanistan, still agitating for his hundred years war, I'm still thankful he lost.)
One more thing: we all got a good laugh over Ron Suskind's report about how we're the "reality-based community," but I just reread that line in John Dower's Cultures of War and I'm starting to find it less amusing, especially when you pile on Axelrod's "We have to deal with the world as we find it." One thing Bush's people did, and as the quote shows weren't bashful about, was to deliberately move the world as far to the right as they could. They did this in lots of ways, ranging from making the rich richer to making the poor madder and meaner, and they were often audacious both in their tactics and ambitions. That they were often unhinged, sometimes completely raving nuts, may have given us too much faith in the rebounding power of reality. There is a pretty straight line from the 2001 Bush tax cuts to the 2007-08 financial crisis, but how many people realize this? (For that matter, does Obama realize this?) There's an even straighter line from PNAC's tinhorn militarism to the quagmires in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but who in the Obama administration is making that point? Bush and Cheney were, as Nick Lowe put it in song, "Nutted by Reality," but Obama seems to be merely perplexed by it.
It would be in the interests of Obama, his party, and his base to move the world to the left: to cut through belligerent conflicts, to build up countervailing power in the lower and working classes, to promote the notion of a public interest and put real prices on the many ways that private interests work against public trust. Obama wants to present himself as a mediator, but the Republicans simply won't take him seriously unless they perceive some scary threat on the other side -- indeed, FDR did his best work saving capitalism when he was being attacked from the left. But he can only maintain his credibility by giving tangible credit to the left -- as, for instance, Roosevelt did with John L. Lewis, who kept the labor movement from going over the deep end by keeping Roosevelt honest.
Monday, November 8. 2010
Not much to show for this week, at least here. Rated count was relatively high (35), mostly using Rhapsody to liine up stuff for next month's Recycled Goods. Should be shifting focus to close out this column cycle. Certainly have enough stuff rated, and for that matter have nearly enough written up, but having a strange time focusing on all that. Weather is still pretty nice here -- today in particular -- and I've been trying to get a few outside projects done, as well as some general house cleanup and junk removal. I make some progress most days and still feel ever further behind.
Michael Formanek: The Rub and Spare Change (2009 , ECM): Bassist, b. 1958 in San Francisco; AMG lists eight albums; his own website lists 5 "as a leader," 6 "as a co-leader," but doesn't include this one (or anything else since 2006; AMG's most recent listing is from 1997, although AMG has 9 more recent side credits). Quartet with Tim Berne (alto sax), Craig Taborn (piaino, not electric), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Formanek has played with Berne before, e.g. in the latter's Bloodcount group. Starts out on best behavior with light piano comping along with the bass, but through six pieces opens up into the sort of free ruckus you'd expect if Berne were leading. B+(**)
The Blasting Concept (2001-07 , Smalltown Superjazz): A sampler from a small Norwegian label, one of the few that does what label samplers should do: open your ears to one unexpected pleasure after another, never dwelling too long in one spot, moving through a range of pieces that somehow add up in the end. All the more remarkable given that the subtitle, A Compilation of Avant-Garde, Free Jazz, Noise and Psychedelia is accurate. The free jazz is mostly anchored by drummer Paal Nilssen-Love with one or more hard-blowing saxophonists -- Mats Gustafsson, Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark, and/or Joe McPhee. The saxes make plenty of noise, but nothing like Lasse Marhaug's electronics -- his "Alarmed and Distressed Duckling" would wear you down if it went on much longer but is amazing in a small dose -- and Sonic Youth guitarists Thurston Moore and Jim O'Rourke add their own feedback. Vandermark's clarinet-piano-bass trio, Free Fall, offers a soft but far from simple respite. Psychedelia is in the ear of the behearer, but Massimo Pupillo's bass line drives the Original Silence into ecstasy. I've heard most of these albums, including the Thing's box set, but they all run on. And to think, I've been using this as a paperweight for over a year now, simply because it's heavy, and because label samplers suck. A-
Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton + Peter Evans: Scenes in the House of Music (2009 , Clean Feed): Pretty self-explanatory just given the lineup; recorded live at Casa da Música -- presumably the concert hall in Porto, Portugal. Cover lists artists as "Parker/Guy/Lytton + Peter Evans" but I thought I should spell that out even though it seemed obvious. Not sure how far the trio goes back -- latest Penguin Guide starts with a 1993 trio, but also lists a Parker-Lytton duo from 1972, and Parker played on Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra in 1972. Too much applause on the record, not unwarranted. Parker mostly plays tenor here, but gives the soprano some credit, and works in a little circular breathing. Evans' trumpet is secondary but added splash. He seems to be the serious one in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, with his solo albums and courting of giants of the European avant-garde. B+(***)
Jason Adasiewicz: Sun Rooms (2009 , Delmark): Vibraphonist, the guy everyone in Chicago goes to when they want one. Third album since 2008; pushing three dozen side credits. This one's a trio with Nate McBride on bass and Mike Reed on drums. McBride is Ken Vandermark's Boston bassist, and it's especially good to see him getting around -- terrific player, really lifts this up, just the setup the leader needs. B+(***)
Marcin & Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Duo (2008, Fenomedia): Twin brothers, b. 1973 in Sosnowiec, Poland. Marcin plays bass; Bartlomiej drums. They've recorded quite a bit since a 1999 group called Custom Trio, sometimes as Oles Brothers, often named separately with Marcin listed first. Some are the result of international jazz stars tramping through Poland -- David Murray and Ken Vandermark appear to have been the first, and there's a more recent record with Herb Robertson. Some are fronted by Polish saxophonists -- Adam Pieronczyk is one I like, Andrzej Przybielski is one I haven't run across yet. Aside from a drum solo album, they almost always play as a team, so you'd expect tight communication and balance, but it's still surprising how well this duo works out. The bass provides all the melodic structure and harmony you need -- this never feels empty, unlike 80% of the duo records I've heard. (Not sure how many bass-drums duos there have even been -- Parker-Drake, of course, some good records there.) Helps that this mostly keeps a regular groove. A-
Oles Brothers with Rob Brown: Live at SJC (2008 , Fenomedia): Put a saxophonist in front of the Polish bass and drums duo (Marcin Oles and Bartlomiej Brat Oles) and you mostly hear the saxophone -- in this case altoist Rob Brown, who caught out attention originally in William Parker's Quartet. The brothers tend to be supportive in this role (as opposed to the avant norm of combative), which makes this a good showcase for Brown, an impressive player who gets stretched a bit thin. B+(**)
Theo Jörgensmann/Marcin Oles/Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Live in Poznan 2006 (2006 , Fenomedia): Could have parsed the titles differently here, as all the front cover and spine have is Fenomedia Live Series, the back cover adding Volume 1 (or Volume 2 for the Oles Brothers/Rob Brown Live at SJC set). Both have thin kraft brown wallets, some info in one slot, the CD in the other. I went with the top two lines of the back cover, which are formatted similarly. Jörgensmann seems to be the Oles brothers' preferred (or default) trio partner. He is older, b. 1948 in Bottrop, Germany, plays clarinet (here "bassett clarinet" -- more commonly spelled "basset"; a bit longer with more low notes than a standard clarinet), evidently has a couple dozen records since the early 1970s. He's often terrific here, fast, something the bass-and-drum style facilitates. First time I've heard him; someone I'd like to hear more from. B+(***)
Myron Walden: Countryfied (2010, Demi Sound): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, dips back into his blues bag, with guitarist Oz Noy doing most of the heavy lifting. B+(*)
Geof Bradfield: African Flowers (2009 , Origin): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano, bass clarinet, and flute here), born in Houston, studied at DePaul in Chicago, moved to Brooklyn 1994-97, back to Chicago, taught at Washington State three years; in Chicago since 2003. First noticed him playing in Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls. Third album, with Victor Garcia (trumpet), Jeff Parker (guitar), Ryan Cohan (piano), Clark Sommers (bass), George Fludas drums). Postbop, strong flow, a little fancy and cluttered. B+(*)
Joan Jeanrenaud/PC Muñoz: Pop-Pop (2010, Deconet): Cellist, b. 1956 in Tennessee, studied at Indiana and in Geneva, Switzerland, winding up in San Francisco with Kronos Quartet. Third album under her own name, the others look to be classical (or what's been called "new music"). Muñoz is a SF-based percussionist; has a previous record called PC Muñoz's Grab Bag: Otherworldly Sonic Adventures!. Doesn't have the rhythmic feel of jazz, but does keep a regular propulsive vibe going, and makes for an intriguing piece of instrumental music. B+(***)
Jean-Marc Foltz/Matt Turner/Bill Carrothers: To the Moon (2008 , Ayler): Foltz's name above title, the others (better known) below, all three on spine. French clarinetist, had a duo album on Clean Feed with Bruno Chevillon back in 2005; not much more to go on. Turner plays cello; has at least nine albums since 1992, more than two dozen side credits, although I hadn't noticed him before he sent this in. Carrothers is a well known, highly regarded pianist. The instrumental mix suggests this is chamber jazz, and it is very pretty with an intriguing mix of details as the individuals make their marks. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, November 7. 2010
A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously (less than usual because I tried to get the election crap out of the way early, not that I got it all):
Friday, November 5. 2010
Post-Jazz CG, post-vacation, felt more like listening to new (non-jazz) stuff than ever, so went to town here. Also helps being pushed by Michael Tatum's column and correspondence.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on October 9. Past reviews and more information are available here.
No Age: Everything in Between (2010, Sub Pop): Third album from a Los Angeles group, actually a duo that tipped their hand calling their first album Weirdo Rippers. Loosely classified as "noise pop" they seem to be getting both clearer and fuzzier at the same time. A-
Robert Plant: Band of Joy (2010, Rounder): Album title resurrects the name of Plant's pre-Zeppelin folk-rock group. Producer Buddy Miller provides a country roots feel with a touch of gospel, cowriting one song with Plant and selecting obscure filler from Los Lobos to Richard Thompson, with a couple of contributions by Trad. Works when it works, mostly when the arrangements are most primitive, which lets the singer hint at glories past. B+(*)
The Vaselines: Sex With an X (2010, Sub Pop): Scottish group, extant 1986-89, disbanded on the even of their debut LP, which found a famous fan in Kurt Cobain, leading to the 1992 release of The Way of the Vaselines, subtitled A Complete History. Last year, Sub Pop decided that complete wasn't enough, so they reissued the disc with one more as Enter the Vaselines, probably as a prologue to this return of ex-couple Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, backed by members of Belle & Sebastian. Gone is the lo-fi hum and low-life antics, which leaves the songcraft more pro forma but also better rounded, with the same pop vibe as the Jenny and Johnny album, minus the gliss of falling in love, plus the sense of getting on: "I hate the '80s because the '80s were shit" goes one song that forgets that they were an alternative to Duran Duran. Summing up: "feels so good it must be bad for me/let's do it, let's do it again." B+(***)
Brian Harnetty/Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Silent City (2009, Atavistic): Harnetty teaches at a college in Ohio which gives him access to a large cache of Appalachian field recordings, which he samples and integrates into musical tapestries that veer between bluegrass and something much better than new age. This is the second to get released on a real label -- the previous American Winter worked marvelously on many levels, but this one tends to rattle between the two styles. Billy is Will Oldham, who first emerged in country-grunge band Palace Music and has become very prolific under his latest pseudoynm, but still remains someone I have little sense of. B+(**)
The Corin Tucker Band: 1,000 Years (2010, Kill Rock Stars): I never was sure which of Sleater-Kinney's singers I found most unbearable, but it was probably Carrie Brownstein, the other one. Sleater-Kinney released seven albums 1995-2005, all Christgau A-list, only two with minuses attached. First I heard of the band was a visit to his apartment, where he had just finished his first piece on the band, and assumed I would know who they were. I dutifully bought five of the albums, and grudgingly granted three B+, never to play them again. Something about the voice(s) grated on me, because the guitar thrash and songcraft and political sense were undeniable, and they had a real good drummer in Janet Weiss. Tucker came from Heavens to Betsy and had a spinoff group Cadallaca, and now this, her "middle-aged mom record." Doesn't grate so much, and has some snap to it. B+(*)
Sleater-Kinney: The Woods (2004 , Sub Pop): Having avoided their universally praised swansong, I figured this would be the least painful way to give it a chance. Still, the pent-up resentments make me wonder whether ignorance isn't bliss. They are obviously very talented: "Wilderness," in particular, jumps and twists and thrashes, high risk tricks most rock bands can't imagine, so marvelous the vocal screech is tolerable; a couple cuts later they subside into something more normal, also tolerable. Then there's something like the overbearing 11:01 "Let's Call It Love," which has no small lyrical insight but feels like bludgeoning, the trademark screech finally getting to me. B+(**)
Sleater-Kinney (1995, Chainsaw): Might as well be completist. This was the group's first album, low budget, a tiny Portland queercore label, basically a side project with Corin Tucker taking leave from Heavens to Betsy, clashing with Carrie Brownstein from Excuse 17, and drummer Lora Macfarlane. Primitive, punkish, the vocal clash disorienting but within the bounds of the music -- less impressive than what came later, but I find it more agreeable. B+(**)
Marnie Stern (2010, Kill Rock Stars): She'd probably describe herself as a guitarist first, singer-songwriter somewhere down the pecking order, but the songs are tuneful enough, noisy and pulsing with energy that the guitar juices up. Third album on same label, so the eponymous title may mean she's found herself, or that the label wanted to put an end to 30-word titles like the last one. B+(**)
Steve Reich: Double Sextet/2x5 (2009-10 , Nonesuch): Two pieces of relatively lush minimalism: "Double Sextet" divides into Fast/Slow/Fast movements, played by Eighth Blackbird -- a sextet with flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, piano; and "2x5" also divided Fast/Slow/Fast and played by avant vets Bang on a Can -- not sure of the exact lineup there. The slow bits work as intriguing interludes sandwiched between fast repetitive patterns. A-
John Adams: Doctor Atomic Symphony (2009, Nonesuch): Early on Adams was an interesting minimalist composer, but with his opera Nixon in China he moved into more conventional classical terrain. That's certainly evident here, as David Robertson conducts the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra through a maze of postmodern symphonic maneuvering. I usually react viscerally against this instrumentation, but the pent up drama and industrial overtones intrigues me. B+(***)
John Adams: I Am Love [A Film by Luca Guadagnino] (2010, Nonesuch): Soundtrack, picks up various pieces including the title track to Adams's pre-operatic The Chairman Dances. Not sure if they're redone and if so by who. I'm also hedging on the grade since Rhapsody isn't dealing the full deck here, but what is available is enchanting post-minimalism, which means both more varied and more willing to make a statement. It stands well on its own. B+(**)
Gidon Kremer: De Profundis (2001-08 , Nonesuch): Violinist, from Latvia. I'm not really on a classical music kick, although I may be giving Nonesuch extra creedence -- I recall that they used to have a series of inexpensive modernist music, including a Pierrot Lunaire that I was surprisingly fond of and a lot of works by later composers like George Crumb and Charles Wuorinen. I was intrigued by this partly crediting the label and partly because I've previously heard Kremer twice: a very good Piazzolla Maria de Buenos Aires and a pretty good Bach. This, recorded with his Latvian group Kremerata Baltica, comes off heavy-handed and rather dreary, although with a quasi-soundtrack sense. Pieces by Sibelius, Part, Schumann, Nyman, Schubert, Shostakovich, Piazzolla, Schnittke, a couple others I don't recognize. B
Belle and Sebastian: Write About Love (2010, Matador): Glasgow group, with Sarah Martin and Stuart Murdoch the vocalists, and a band lineup that has remained pretty consistent over fifteen years. They have a light and dreamy pop sound, although Murdoch certainly seems like a serious young man. The first couple songs are bursting with life. I have quibbles later on, but not much. In fact, looking back I wonder if I shouldn't revisit their first two US albums, regarded by most critics as their best but graded down around B by myself. In contrast, I later got to their first album, Tigermilk, released only later in the US, and enjoyed it almost as much as this. A-
Sufjan Stevens: All Delighted People EP (2010, Asthmatic Kitty): Nothing if not prolific, discounting this eight cut, 59:15 digital dump -- includes two takes of the title cut (one 11:38, the other 8:07) and the 17:03 final cut, "Djohariah" -- with another "full length" album scheduled for release a month or so later. Hated the cluttered title track at first, but I can't guarantee it couldn't eventually win me over -- the second take is more intriguing. Found the simple guitar ballad "Heirloom" completely enchanting, but the equally simple "From the Mouth of Gabriel" struggles with listenability, frequently coming up short. B
Old 97's: The Grand Theatre: Volume One (2010, New West): Ninth album since 1994, qualifies them as a long-running group, all the more remarkable given that Rhett Miller has also managed something of solo career since 2002. Most of the songs here run hard, and the group plays them tight and slick, hard to fault but also to credit. Slow 'em down and they open up a bit, and sometimes they have something to say. Hurts their case that Rhapsody fumbled 3 of 12 songs. [Bought a copy later on Tatum's recommendation and quickly kicked it up a notch.] B+(***)
Maximum Balloon (2010, DGC/Interscope): Side project for TV on the Radio producer-guitarist David Sitek -- also has a couple dozen other production credits since 2000, including all the Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums. Fairly catchy stuff, but with the guests vocalists constantly changing never finds its own niche. B+(*)
Richard Thompson: Dream Attic (2010, Shout! Factory): Live album, compiled from seven February 2010 shows, totalling 73:12. Not sure how many of these songs have been around how long before, but they strike me as sharper and stronger than his average -- I've heard plenty of his solo albums, and even seen him live, but ever since he and Linda split he always seemed to be a bit limited. I don't get that feel here, perhaps because his limited voice has something to say, certainly because he reminds you he's one of the outstanding guitarists of the age. A-
Die Antwoord: $O$ (2009 , Cherrytree/Interscope): South African rap group, name translates from Afrkians as The Answer. Consists of male rapper Ninja, female foil Yo-Landi Visser (or Vi$$er), and DJ Hi-Tek. Album came out last year in South Africa and has been remixed and reshuffled for US release, which may mean more English but they're likely to keep the Afrikans as long as it makes them seem like they're saying "fuck" a lot. The two voices make for cosmic comedy, and the beats are hard and the samples swishy. But I do wish they'd drop the "$$$" nonsense, so I'm docking them a notch for that. B+(**)
Rachid Taha: Bonjour (2009 , Knitting Factory): Algerian rai singer, long based in Paris. Album came out on Wrasse in 2009. Strikes me as a little soft compared to previous records, like he's sneaking up on the beats rather than riding them. Still, most cuts deliver nice payoffs. B+(**)
Etran Finatawa: Tarkat Taiji/Let's Go (2010, Riverboat): Blues band from Niger, formed shortly after 2003's Festival in the Desert introduced a bunch of Saharan groups to western ears -- most notably Tinariwen. Third album released on UK's Rough Guide spinoff, finds a modest little groove and sticks to it. B+(*)
Mariem Hassan: Shouka (2010, Nubenegra): Saharaui singer, stands out on The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara and other Saharan comps. Third album, although I can't swear that's all there is. Emphatic singer, a little shrill for my ears, with a primitivist band that suggests blues but is more exotic. Several cuts fit together nicely, but there are plenty of rough edges. B+(*)
Aloe Blacc: Good Things (2010, Stones Throw): First album, I gather, is considered rap, but he sings through this one with plenty of backing chorus, tuneful, definitely not slick or smarmy. Don't have song credits, so not sure whether the obscure ones are original -- "Femme Fatale" is an odd cover choice that doesn't work so well. B
Black Milk: Album of the Year (2010, Fat Beats): Detroit rapper, Curtis Cross, b. 1983, has a stack of discs since 2003. Sharp beats, slings a fair amount of shit but can be clever, winding up with a mixed bag that promises more than it delivers. B+(**)
Bruno Mars: Doo-Wops & Hooligans (2010, Elektra): B. 1985 as Peter Gene Hernandez, another boy wonder from Hawaii, or at least the next Pharell Williams. Has a featured role in a couple of hit singles I need to check out ("Nothin' on You" by B.o.B., and "Billionaire" by Travie McCoy). He's plenty smooth here, making it all seem effortless, where "it all" means transposing the sweetness and innocence of doo-wop into a much rougher world. Still haven't heard it all -- Rhapsody hangs on the first and sixth song, maybe another. Of what I've heard, only one song gives me doubts. So take this grade as more tentative than most, but my guess is that if I change it it'll be to bump it up. A-
Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz (2010, Asthmatic Kitty): Full-length album, meaning 74:43 as opposed to 59:15 for last month's EP. He's prolific enough and young enough he might actually have pulled off his 50-state strategy had he not gotten distracted after Michigan and Illinois (far and away his best albums). This lacks an obvious point, and tends to get cluttered and complicated -- the best parts are the simplest, mostly near the end where Rhapsody started getting tripped up. Best thing is the 25:34 closer, "Impossible Soul," which is practically a whole other record. B+(*)
Bryan Ferry: Olympia (2010, Virgin): All original material, which is tougher to hack in this day at Ferry's age (65, my my) and harder to tune into, with several collaborators recycled from Roxy Music days (Eno, Manzanera, MacKay). Which unsurprisingly makes this is closer to Roxy Music, albeit an extension of the obscure atmospheric jangle of the later records, not as sweeping or as consistent as Avalon, but nicely detailed nonetheless. B+(**)
Elton John/Leon Russell: The Union (2010, Decca): Two has-beens, piano playing rockers joined at the ankle through a pair of competing 1970 hits -- John's "Your Song" and Russell's "A Song for You." Both had good albums early on, and both continued to crank them out regularly ever since, but the last ones I rated in my database were Russell's 1975 Will o' the Wisp [C+] and John's 1976 Blue Moves [C-] -- unless you count Russell's 1979 Willie Nelson duet album One for the Road [B-]. Good news here is that Russell's gospel mojo gives John a shot of much needed soul, while John's straightforwardness keeps Russell from slipping off the tracks. Still, they need this much more than you or I do. B
Shakira: Sale el Sol (2010, Sony Latin Music/Epic): Mostly Spanish, a couple of songs recycled in English -- doesn't help but not a dealbreaker either. I haven't heard her early hits and downgraded the Spanish Fijación Oral, but by now her voice sails through and her beats are beyond language. Not a lot of techno glitz this time, but Latin has always had its own musicality. Rhapsody gave me a bad time here, but by the time you read this I'll have picked up a copy. A-
Liz Phair: Funstyle (2010, Rocket Science Ventures): Estranged from major (and not quite major) labels, she released this on her website a few months back, getting a handful of hateful or bewildered reviews, then a daring pick hit designation in Michael Tatum's debut "Downloader's Diary" column. I liked Exile in Guyville as much as anyone, but not two later releases Christgau rated full A, then skipped her last one, 2005's Somebody's Miracle, so I decided to wait until this one turned real. Looks like the copy in stores has been reordered and packed up with a second disc called "Girlysound" -- ten tracks, presumably from the much-bootlegged 1991 demos sampled by the 1995 Juvenilia EP. But Rhapsody just has the re-ordered first disc, so that's all I can review here. A mixed bag, of course, with some unusually vivid straight rockers, two songs that reference the south Asian subcontinent, a bit of rap, , some odd intros and outros, and a readymade for the critics called "U Hate It" which is too funny to hate, although the music begs it. A-
Avey Tare: Down There (2010, Paw Tracks): Second album by one of the principals in Animal Collective, first solo given that the previous Pullhair Rubeye was a collaboration with then-wife Kría Brekkan (also in Múm). Vocals sound like they are buried in the mix, way down somewhere, probably down in spirit as well as fact, but the music sort of lunges ahead in broken but rhythmic steps, an interesting effect. B+(*)
The Secret Sisters (2010, Universal Republic): Laura and Lydia Rogers, from Muscle Shoals, AL, produced by T-Bone Burnett. Eleven songs, two originals, two by Trad., done quickly and smartly at 29:05. B+(**)
NERD: Nothing (2010, Star Trak): Pharrell Williams's sometime band. Loved their first album, the first flush of having the world by the ass, but later albums -- this is the fourth since 2002 -- seem like side projects, outlets for sketches that he/they can't sell to higher bidders. Some familiar riffs, whiffs of pop genius, nothing out of their ordinary. B+(**)
Rod Stewart: Fly Me to the Moon: The Great American Songbook, Volume V (2010, J): A great singer, long in decline when his last conventional album hit rock bottom -- giveaway title: Human, I missed it -- as I had everything since 1976's A Night on the Town (actually the last grade in my database was 1972's still noteworthy Never a Dull Moment) but AMG gave it a rare single star -- so his standards turn has been a career-extender. He can be graceful even in front of schmaltzy orchestras, which cuts down on having to think up new arrangements. This is the third of five I've heard. They haven't been getting better, not so much because he's running out of material as because he's basically a lazy sod and he's getting a better feel for what he can get away with. His "That Old Black Magic" is as limp as any ever recorded, and he coasts through two Cole Porters that anyone could clobber. But when "Moon River" threatens to capsize he miraculously pulls it out. Note that you can buy this in two editions: the cheaper one with 12 songs running 39:43, or for $5 extra you can get a "deluxe edition" with six more songs on a second disc, even though they could have fit the 61:26 on one with room to spare. The bonus starts with a truly atrocious "Bye Bye Blackbird"; it's highlight is an "Ain't Misbehavin'" that could have used more mischief, and fewer strings. B
Sheryl Crow: 100 Miles From Memphis (2010, A&M): A singer-songwriter I've never much liked nor disliked. First song reminds me she's hung out with the Stones. Gradually the Memphis proximity makes itself felt, first with the horns and eventually with the soulful backup. Or maybe she's not that much of a songwriter: her name is on most of the songs, but the records hits a wall on the only one with no co-writer, and never quite recovers . . . at least until she salutes Michael Jackson on "I Want You Back." B+(**)
Tom Zé: Estudando a Bossa: Nordeste Plaza (2008 , Luaka Bop): Brazilian psychedelica, for lack of a better term -- like Ornette Coleman, he plays things that are obviously wrong yet somehow they wind up making sense. Or mostly -- I should go back to his two early Brazil Classics albums that I didn't think I liked at the time; the first one I got much out of was 1998's Com Defeito de Fabricaçao (Fabrication Defect), which like everything since has seemed like a freakish one-shot. I do hear the bossa nova here. I don't hear Sergio Mendes, or for that matter Stan Getz. The rhythms are a bit tricky and the vocals slippery, except for the one I recognize as David Byrne, still one of our hippest squares. A-
Swans: My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (2010, Young God): Michael Gira's heavy-handed no wave group, cut a bunch of records 1983-97 then took a break until this comebacker. I've meant to check them out, especially after they surfaced on Atavistic -- in fact, for years now I've had Soundtracks From the Blind unplayed on the shelf. The industrial klang and dark moan sound like where Joy Division might have gone if shorn from the guys who became New Order. On the other hand, it can fall back into horror movie soundtrack mode. B+(*)
Buddy Guy: Living Proof (2010, Silvertone): Lead song is "74 Years Young" -- makes me think he's got a ways to go. As squarely old school as blues gets, which means quite a lot. Loud, too, which is no substitute for feeling. Still a pretty great guitarist. Still a pretty ordinary singer. Still can turn out a lyric like, "I smell a rat/cause it stinks all over you." I guess that's proof that he's living. B
Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (2010, 4AD): Atlanta group, fourth album, don't recall the only other one I've heard but thought it was more, like, out there. This one sounds like the work of a pretty good alt-mainstream pop band, the sort of thing that could become memorable once snagged by a couple of well set hooks. The closer, dedicated to the late Jay Reatard, comes close. B+(**)
Paul Thorn: Pimps and Preachers (2010, Perpetual Obscurity): Born in Wisconsin, grew up in Mississippi, passed through Memphis not Nashville but I filed him under country on the strength of a drinking song ("Tequila Is Good for the Heart") but "Weeds in My Roses" is old-fashioned rock and roll. Muddy voice, muddy keybs, good sentiments, wish he were funnier ("I Don't Like Half the Folks I Love" starts to tie this together). B+(*)
Of Montreal: False Priest (2010, Polyvinyl): Athens, GA group, been around since the late 1990s with more than a dozen albums. Only other one I bothered to check out was 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, which showed up in a lot of year-end lists and I mostly hated. There are things I don't like about this record either, but all the swishy, pompous pop candy is so concentrated in the opener, "I Feel Ya' Strutter," that it must be the year's most delirious single. That carries through the next two songs until they slow it down a bit and contemplate "Godly Intersex" -- I'd rather not. But something reggae-ish is quite enjoyable, bits of lyrics ring true (one I failed to jot down was about being "overmedicated"; one I did jot down was "everyone searching for a cause/to blow themselves up"). The latter is from one called "You Do Mutilate?" which is as close to redeeming social value as they're likely to get. Only two plays, so in the long haul I could get sick of it, but the second play shaped it up and I seem to have survived the worst. A-
Thursday, November 4. 2010
When I restarted Recycled Goods in April 2008, I decided to date the columns by the month I wrote the material in, so everything I wrote in, say, July 2010 would appear in the July 2010 column, but the July 2010 column itself wouldn't appear until after the month ended: sometime in early August 2010. This has started to confuse me (and maybe you), since Downloader's Diary has come out using the month date it appears in. Since thus far at least I run Downloader's Diary first, this has resulted in such weirdness as the September Recycled Goods appearing after the October Downloader's Diary. The Rhapsody Streamnotes column also figures into this. Originally I wrote them whenever I felt like it, sometimes two or three in a month, and gave they the publication dates. However, for the last year or more I've been running them monthly, after Recycled Goods since I also archive Rhapsody-derived records I reviewed in Recycled Goods (and Jazz Prospecting). Just to keep these three dates more consistent, I've decided this should be the November column. That leaves a gap in the index for October.
Still taking this as it comes. Would have been even lighter this month but I decided I wanted to hear the John Lennon albums I missed -- not very good by reputation, and, well, not very good in fact. Also wanted to give Double Fantasy a second (or third) shot, since lots of people I like like it a lot, but I still don't get much out of it. Also started listening to the second wave of Apple reissues, which I'll save for next month.
African Pearls: Congo: Pont Sur le Congo (1967-76 , Syllart, 2CD): I'm fishing around for dates here, in a booklet that has quite a few of them but isn't always clear what they refer to, and some songs are no doubt unaccounted for. The Syllart African Pearls 2-CD series is up to eleven volumes, the sort of thing I'd like to sample everything from but can't. The first Congo volume, Rumba on the River, was a dandy, starting in the 1950s and running up to 1969. This basically picks up the thread, running well into the 1970s, relying on proven names: Franco's OK Jazz, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Docteur Nico, Verckys, Empire Bakuba, and Zaiko Langa Langa account for more than half. Rumba evolving into soukous, not as flashy or intense as the latter, just consistently engaging, another unstoppable Congo compilation. A
Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster (2004, Emergent): Eighteen Stephen Foster songs, including some of the most indelible remnants of 19th century American song, mostly done reverently by folk-oriented artists of minor renown. I recall this as a celebrated item when it came out but somehow missed it -- showed up while searching Mavis Staples, whose "Hard Times Come Again No More" is a highlight. John Prine's gravelly "My Old Kentucky Home" is another, but Roger McGuinn's Byrdsy "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair" slips badly into shtick. B+(***) [R]
Walter Gibbons: Jungle Music (1976-86 , Strut, 2CD): Subtitle: Mixed With Love: Essential & Unreleased Remixes 1976-1986. Gibbons (1954-94) was a DJ who produced a number of extended remixes of NYC dance music, especially for the Salsoul label -- haven't heard either of their presumably choice 2004-05 compilations, Mixed With Love and Disco Boogie, but this set of esoterica stretches out luxuriantly, wrapping pop and soul vocals up in long strings of danceable beats. B+(***) [R]
Lars Gullin: 1953-55 Vol. 8: Danny's Dream (1953-55 , Dragon): One of the more obscure records ever granted a crown recommendation by Richard Cook and Brian Morton's Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings was The Great Lars Gullin Vol. 5, an LP that vanished from print shortly after it was cited in the first edition. Since then, Sweden's baritone sax great's recordings have been reshuffled into a new series, which has been coming out about one per year and has not reached Vol. 11. The sessions from the old Vol. 5 finally resurfaced in the new Vol. 8, along with a few extras that add a second sax (tenor) to a surprisingly light and tasty quartet -- Rolf Berg's guitar is often the secret, but Gullin himself is key. A-
Bobby Jackson: The Café Extra-Ordinaire Story (1970 , Jazzman): Number seven in the label's "Holy Grail" series of "the rarest of the rare" funk/jazz LPs, a series that started with Uncle Funkenstein's 1983 Together Again. Jackson founded a Minneapolis jazz dive and played bass, caught here with a few locals playing music that aspired to funk but mostly just swung -- "Bobby's Blues" (by pianist Bobby Lyle) and "Paul's Ark" (by pianist Paul Akre and tenor saxophonist Morris Wilson) are typical titles. B+(**)
In Series: John Lennon
Born October 9, 1940 in Liverpool, UK, and was shot dead in New York City forty years later. For eight years in the 1960s he was one fourth of the decade's biggest rock group, the Beatles. He recorded eight albums in the decade after the Beatles split up, including one that his widow, Yoko Ono, finished posthumously -- arguably the only thing she ever did that improved on his work. But she's kept active, producing her own intermittently interesting albums but also coming up with new concepts for repackaging the estate. The latest is this 70th birthday bash, reissuing the old albums and boxing them up in various ways. The big ticket item is the $189.98 list Signature Box, with eleven CDs, a book, and a lot of packaging. I've heard all of it except for one song on the "Singles" disc ("Move Over Ms. L") and the "Home Tapes" disc -- presumably a subset of Anthology, the 4-CD excavation of Lennon's home tapes released in 1998, but with little in common with Wonsuponatime, that box's reputed best-of.
Also available this round is a new 4-CD box, Gimme Some Truth -- not on Rhapsody, so not below -- and yet another single-CD best of, Power to the People: The Hits -- the fourth such, following 1975's Shaved Fish, 1982's The John Lennon Collection, and 1997's Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon, with 2005's 2-CD Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon and 2002's 3-CD Instant Karma: All-Time Greatest Hits and 1990's 4-CD Lennon adding to the redundancy.
John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band (1970 , Capitol): With the Beatles break up, all four principals scurried to release solo albums: George a double given all his pent-up auteurist ambitions, Paul and John the songwriting team of record and reputed rivalry, Ringo because, well, everybody liked Ringo and even Ringo could make money off that. The only album that defied expectations was Lennon's: while there are a couple of perfectly proportioned Beatles songs here, he mostly went anti-Beatles, and while he attributed a band on the cover, not to mention his wife, the record comes off as intensely personal, the introspective songs keyed to little more than piano and voice. A- [R]
John Lennon: Imagine (1971 , Capitol): The title song transcends "Give Peace a Chance" as an antiwar anthem, resolving what troubled the author circa "Revolution" in a clear vision of no nation, no God. It may be too simple to think all it takes is imagination, but Lennon's genius was simplifying. "Crippled Inside" was every bit as deep, light only on the ricky-tick surface. The songs keep coming, easier and more self-assured than on the introspective debut, with "How Do You Sleep?" as final a final word on the Beatles as Lennon felt the need to work out. A+ [R]
John Lennon/Yoko Ono: Some Time in New York City (1972 , Capitol, 2CD): Originally attributed to "John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band" with side comments about Elephant's Memory and other things wrapped up in broadsheet cover art. First disc features topical political songs -- John Sinclair and Angela Davis were trivial celebrity issues of the day, "The Luck of the Irish" one of songs that give politics a bad name, and the feminist anthems not much deeper. But there was something to celebrate in being in New York, and the sax adds grit to the dirtyass rock and roll. The second ("Live Jam") disc is more fun, even with Yoko still grinding her tonsils down thinking the point of art is to provoke. B- [R]
John Lennon: Mind Games (1973 , Capitol): Lacks the personal feel of the first two albums. Lacks the socio-political thrust of Some Time with Yoko -- not that he's no longer against killing but he's stopped trying to belong to any sort of movement. He tries to make up with studio layering -- for a while I wondered if he was trying to out McCartney Paul, but his hooks aren't that tacky, and he knows better than to play up vapid as a virtue. C+ [R]
John Lennon: Walls and Bridges (1974 , Capitol): Cover has some childhood artwork. "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" was an atypical single -- strikes me as uncharacteristically cavalier but at least it's catchy, which is more than can be said for the rest of the overproduced tripe here. Ends with a fragment of Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya" -- a hint at what came next. C [R]
John Lennon: Rock 'n' Roll (1975 , Capitol): Oldies album, a project that's always easy to think up and in this case promises to restart a career gone awry. Still, he makes it feel like a chore -- unlike Paul McCartney's 1999 Run Devil Run -- which it may have been in working off a law suit. Or it may just be that Phil Spector carries so much concept it's hard not to get bagged down. B [R]
John Lennon/Yoko Ono: Double Fantasy: Stripped Down (1980 , Capitol, 2CD): After cranking out an album per year 1970-75, Lennon took a five year hiatus, a househusband with a new son, then returned to the studio on Yoko's terms, alternating his songs with hers. I wish I could say more. I don't disapprove of the idea, but despite real gains in Ono's songcraft that keep her side from unseemly sagging, I find the pieces spotty, their love less convincing the discursions on their "Beautiful Boy," which is something else I can only imagine but not relate to. Marketing gimmick this time is to provide two versions, the remastered original and a remix that unmixes the excess glitter. The difference mostly comes down to removing backing vocals, which should make the lead vocals clearer. If only they were. B+(*) [R]
John Lennon/Yoko Ono: Milk and Honey (1980-83 , Capitol): Not sure whether Lennon's half of this posthumous release were outtakes from Double Fantasy or demos for a follow-up. I'm inclined to believe the latter because they are much stronger tunes -- indeed, Lennon hadn't sounded so distinctly himself since Imagine. The three-year delay also gave Ono time to sharpen up her pieces: "Don't Be Scared" has a bit of far east dissonance, and "O Sanity" resolves affirmatively only after raising the question. The relative simplicity may have suggested stripping down its more oblique predecessor. A- [R]
John Lennon: Power to the People: The Hits (1970-80 , Capitol): The 11-CD Signature Box includes eight albums on nine discs plus two extras: a six-cut "Singles" to mop up non-album cuts and a thirteen-cut "Home Tapes" to sample the trivia troves that have been appearing regularly ever since Lennon's death. This compilation gets you five of those singles plus ten scattered album cuts -- three each from Imagine and Double Fantasy, none from Plastic Ono Band or Milk and Honey (or, no surprise, from Some Time in New York City). A pretty useless set: the good albums have better filler than can be rescued from the bad albums, and the political singles are much better framed on The U.S. Vs. John Lennon (Music From the Motion Picture). B [R]
African Pearls: Sénégal: Echo Musical (1970s , Syllart, 2CD): A second set following 2009's Musical Effervescence, this one meant to focus more on the Cuban crossings, although it's mostly more, scratching the dry desert and exploding here and there with percussion and voice -- the best turns out to be Youssou N'Dour, of course. B+(***) [R]
Barbara Dane: Anthology of American Folk Songs (1959 , Empire Music Group): Political singer, trained her voice to project from picket lines, then as she turned pro gravitated to jazz, working with George Lewis and Kid Ory, and blues, working with Lightnin' Hopkins, but cut this one album of thirteen trad folk songs plus two by known authors -- A.P. Carter and Woody Guthrie, solid and forthright but more important unflinching. A- [R]
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; doesn't grab you, but in a dark room it reveals a wealth of subtle details; excellent booklet, too, to help you puzzle it all out. B+(*)
Grupo Fantasma: Sonidos Gold (2008, High Wire Music): Austin-based Latin funk group, fourth album, doesn't seem to be a compilation although it's hard to tell with this group; this one leans more Norteño than the later album, no doubt reflecting their roots, although eclecticism dominates, with the funk only clearly emerging when they do one in English. B+(*)
Grupo Fantasma: El Existential (2010, Nat Geo): More mish, more mash, sometimes like they're confusing themselves with the same-named Peruvian cumbia group, although mostly they lay the salsa on so thick I have a hard time digesting it all. B
Dave Holland/Pepe Habichuela: Hands (2009 , Dare2): A small gem of a flamenco guitar record, featuring the Carmona family on guitar, cajón and percussion, with a little help from the renowned jazz bassist. B+(**)
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody. The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments.
For this column and the previous 78, see the archive.