Wednesday, December 29. 2010
Ten best albums of 2010? This is what my Pazz & Jop ballot finally looked like:
I've been real stingy with full-A grades over the last few years, so I opened up a bit this year: part of the definition always has been a record that sticks with you, and I don't have much time for that on the fly. So I've been replaying a lot of things, and Wound up with 14: two more jazz records and two non-jazz:
I usually don't bother with the Singles list, but noted a few things along the way, and crammed in a couple items from friendly lists. Can't swear this is close to what I'd come up with if I gave it some serious effort, but I figured this was good enough for a ballot:
To squeeze those in I left out any songs from top-ten albums, which knocked out a couple apiece from Robyn and V.V. Brown, perhaps three from Bruno Mars, and who knows what from Big Boi (well, "Shutterbug" for sure) and the Roots. Maybe should have dug into Vampire Weekend for a song -- Tatum voted for "Cousins," which is pretty good but got cut, along with Christgau's recommendation of Elizabeth Cook's "El Camino" (not as powerful as "Heroin Addict Sister" but remarkable in its own right.
My 2010 file currently lists 112 A- or better new albums, which is coincidentally exactly the same as my 2009 file wound up with. I'll keep adding late discoveries up to the end of 2011, so it's likely to grow a bit. The division between jazz and non-jazz is also similar. On the other hand, I've hit a lot more non-jazz on the fly this year, and I've put a lot of effort into this year's metacritic file, I wonder how many more surprises await. Some, no doubt. But looking at the metacritic file, the big one I haven't heard is Joanna Newsom's Have One on Me, which I never figured for much of a candidate. Other things I haven't heard, descending the list: Tame Impala (Innerspeaker), Twin Shadow (Forget), Band of Horses (Infinite Arms), Wild d Nothing (Gemini), New Pornographers (Together), Menomena (Mines), Avi Buffalo (Avi Buffalo), Morning Benders (Big Echo), Glasser (Ring), Deftones (Diamond Eyes), Mount Kimbie (Crooks & Lovers), Wolf Parade (Expo 86), Midlake (The Courage of Others), Women (Public Strain), Emeralds (Does It Look Like I'm Here?), Villagers (Becoming a Jackal), Girl Talk (All Day), Bruce Springsteen (The Promise), How to Dress Well (Love Remains), Toro y Moi (Causers of This), Perfume Genius (Learning), Two Door Cinema Club (Tourist History), Dr Dog (Shame, Shame). Sooner or later I'll check some of them out, but the metacritic list actually doesn't have much predictive value as to what I like. Even excluding jazz, which doesn't poll well even though I lean that way, I'm finding 21 of my A- records down in the dregs with fewer than 10 mentions, which is about 36% of my non-jazz A-list. Raising the line to 20 mentions adds 14 more records, so now we're up to about 61% of my A-list falling outside of the 270 top-polling albums of the year.
I've already broken out the jazz subset from my year-end list here, so let's look at the non-jazz here:
Of course, a bunch (25, 44%) of those records I only know through Rhapsody (they're indicated **). A couple of those may be overrated a bit (Langford? Lynne? Sage Francis?) although most of the ones I recheck hold steady or maybe inch up a bit. (LCD Soundsystem improved a notch, but is still well short of my list. Deadbeat, Eskmo, and Holy Fuck are just off the list.)
I tried breaking out a genre list but a lot of the records are near one border or another. The top three are blatant teen pop, but nothing else obviously fits that mold. I count 12 hip-hop albums, split 7-5 between majors and underground fringe (dividing line is between Talib Kweli and Lyrics Born), plus there are two r&b singers. Rock is a mess: 20 albums, some respectable alt-indie groups, most scattered all over the map. I tallied 4 electronica, but all incorporate world beats and more (MIA, Cornershop, Whitefield Brothers, El Guincho); Zs is the only pure electronics album, which I figured as noise rock. Ten world (counting Gogol Bordello but not MIA or Cornershop), six of those from Africa (more if I worked compilations in). Five country and folk (unless Jon Langford makes six), but only Taylor Swift is likely to sell out in Nashville.
The common denominator, as usual, is beats and brains. Or, as I summed up my ballot: teen pop, hip-hop, and free jazz. Works for me. One thing I will add is that the alt-indie rock critical consensus lurched back toward normal this year. You may remember that last year's polls were dominated by Phoenix/Animal Collective/Grizzly Bear/Dirty Projectors -- a melange that I found bewilderingly, unnervingly unlistenable, and worse: they felt like a generation gap suddenly opened, where I could no longer grasp what turned young rock critics on. Those groups may bounce back again, but were blessedly absent this year. (The closest on the metacritic list this year is Yeasayer at 16, or maybe -- my memory is mostly gone here -- Ariel Pink at 13.) Instead, three of the top six rock records (Arcade Fire, National, and Vampire Weekend) are quite good, and the others are far from bad (Deerhunter, LCD Soundsystem, Beach House). Even the bad records in the next couple dozen slots are bad in relatively ordinary ways. I feel like I'm back in touch.
As usual, electronica is hard to gauge this year. I don't quite buy that LCD Soundsystem or Caribou even qualify. Many of the records that specialists recommend are unavailable on Rhapsody (Mount Kimbie, Emeralds, Actress, Oneohtrix Point Never, Autechre, and Forest Swords come to mind), and even when they are I'm rarely convinced by one play. It does not appear to have been a very good year for country, either in its Nashville or Americana forms. The hip-hop list doesn't strike me as very deep but it's pretty shiny at the top, and some good records dropped so late they barely registered at all (Ghostface Killah, TI, barely on the cusp Nicki Minaj). Not much underground has surfaced yet either, although that stuff tends to have a real low profile.
The one other thing that's missing here compared to most recent years' lists is the relative absence of old farts from my heyday, like Leonard Cohen and Willie Nelson last year. (Guess you could point to repeater Loudon Wainwright III, or to Richard Thompson, maybe even Jon Langford, but they're pretty far down the list.) That's probably a blip, as I also note that old-timers did well on the world front (Tom Zé, King Sunny Ade, Youssou N'Dour), and for that matter wherever you want to file Steve Reich.
Like most years, there was much to find if you dig deep enough and follow the clues. There's no need to wind up with a perfectly ordinary record like the Black Keys' on your playlist, let alone something as deadly dull as the Walkmen put out.
Tuesday, December 28. 2010
The 2010 Village Voice's Jazz Critics Poll has been published. Major links:
I just published a Jazz Consumer Guide which recognized three of the top four finishers as . . . honorable mentions. Got a comment on the Voice website that chided me for underrating poll winner Jason Moran's Ten, claiming it was the best piano trio in many years. Francis Davis belatedly got into the act, writing: "It's an extremely worthy winner, and listening to it again as I write, not only do I feel guilty about its absence on my own ballot, I find myself applauding my colleagues for showing smarts I evidently lack." I played it again tonight, too, and found that I like it about as much as I thought I did -- maybe a bit less, although there's some stuff there I just don't get. One thing I have no doubt about is that Moran has fully earned his sterling reputation. His early records were astonishing, and his supporting performances always add something significant.
I've spent a fair amount of time the last couple weeks trying to track down the poll-finishers I hadn't heard -- both from the Voice poll and from other lists that I've stumbled across. I've caught up with all but two of the top fifty finishers -- (35) Ideal Bread: Transmit (Cuneiform), and (43) Lee Konitz New Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard (Enja). Some that I only caught on Rhapsody, like Mary Halvorson (3) and Randy Weston (16) could benefit from further study, and a couple that I have heard but didn't get all that much into, like Marc Ribot (18) and Michael Formanek (27) will receive a revisit. (Also Steve Coleman, the one record in the top twenty that I didn't like at all.)
For me at least, reissues have been hard to come by, and I barely managed to scrap together three worthwhile obscurities. I got an advance of the Miles Davis Bitches Brew repackage, but not the goods, and never quite knew what to do with what I got. JazzTimes has a similar but much smaller poll coming out soon -- the critic ballots have been posted so you can do your own tally -- and the biggest difference is in the reissues section, where Davis trounced Voice pollwinner Henry Threadgill. That may mean that the Voice has more avant-oriented critics (although only Halvorson and Threadgill suggest that in the new albums division) or it may have to do with where the big Mosaic boxes landed. I still think the main determinant of polls is distribution -- who gets what, a decidedly unequal playing field. Not to begrudge Moran, but his album was probably the most widely distributed one on the ballot. (Curiously, it was the only Blue Note album I was serviced with this year; Blue Note is usually much more efficient than that, but their jazz offerings have shrunk percipitously this year.) Even more clearly, Pi distributes a lot more review copies than Clean Feed -- a big part of the reason (but by no means the only one) that Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bunky Green record outpolled his Steve Lehman one. And Clean Feed gets more review copies out than similar European labels, like Not Two and Leo.
All this is one reason I like to publish my whole list: at least that way you can see what I compared against and what I missed out on.
Monday, December 27. 2010
No Jazz Prospecting this week. I didn't plan on it and didn't predict it, but the wipeout was total. Spent much of the week cramming for my Pazz & Jop ballot, looking for non-jazz to mix in with (and hopefully bump off a couple of) my six full-A jazz albums. Found eight, so I finished the year with 14 full-A albums. They're hard to pick out on the fly because as soon as an album clears the A- line I file it for posterity, and a big part of what a full-A grade means is that the record holds up over time. I have a post started on the ballot -- thought I'd have it posted by now, but things haven't worked out that way -- so I won't say more until it's ready.
Will also have more to say about the Voice's Jazz Critics Poll when it comes out this week. Also thought about doing an Xmas post: feeling sad and nostalgic on my 60th, although in the end it was a good deal nicer than the one I spent alone in frigid Boston the year after my first wife died -- took the train into town foolishly thinking that at least Tower Records would be open, then stopping at a just-closed video store on the way home. Made a nice dinner for the four people left in the family here: mostly Greek dishes, shrimp with feta, three meze dips/spreads (with some naan), roast potatoes, the usual salad, a big dish of date pudding. The potatoes spent too long in the oven waiting for guests to arrive, but everything else turned out near-perfect, and we had lots left over.
Meanwhile, didn't even have a Weekend Roundup collected -- first time that's happened since I resumed the feature. Saw a movie which I haven't blogged (True Grit -- pretty good, but I do wish they'd give up on moving the Rockies 500 miles east). Will likely see a couple more before the week is out -- Laura's taking time off this week, so maybe I should too.
Wednesday, December 22. 2010
I've spent an unreasonably huge amount of time tending to my metacritic file for 2010. Last year's file, which I shut down on Jan. 12, 2010, accumulated year-end-list results from many sources, winding up with the top vote-getters at 224-212-191 (Phoenix, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear). This year the top vote totals are already 438-391-364 (Arcade Fire, Kanye West, National). Last year I listed 3106 records; this year I have 3450. Don't know how much longer I'll keep this up, given that I've already learned most of what I'm likely to eventually get out of the exercise. The list is generally useful for predicting the outcome of the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Poll (ballots due Dec. 24; results out Jan. 19), although one needs to bring some extra information there. I just count list mentions all the same, so no extra weighting for high slots, but P&J uses a lot of weighting (both explicitly and by limiting ballot size to 10 records, whereas I usually count everything mentioned, sometimes 100 or more records). Last year Phoenix had more total mentions, but Animal Collective topped 15 major lists vs. 3 for Phoenix, which more than made up for a 12-count deficit (about 5%).
Arcade Fire and Kanye West are locked in a similar but less clear cut battle: West has topped 8 lists to Arcade Fire's 3. That's not as big a margin, and Arcade Fire has a larger count margin (12%). On the other hand, West's record was released very late -- about the time the first lists started appearing. As it was climbing up to about a peak 25-vote deficit it seemed like a lock. In the last week it has plateaued and even lost some ground to Arcade Fire. Still looks like the winner to me, but I've come to doubt that it will ever catch Arcade Fire here. For a while I thought LCD Soundsystem might be a serious contender, but it seems to have stabilized at #4. Over the last weeks the top seven have been remarkably stable, while the 8-9-10 slots are in a tight, shifting wad (currently Janelle Monae, Sleigh Bells, and Big Boi, reversing the order of a week ago).
You can follow the link and get the list. I was curious about momentum so I subtracted last week's (Dec. 13) list from today's. The top gains over the last eight days (the numbers in braces: previous rank, present rank, total count):
In most cases, new lists reiterate the spreads of the previous lists. Robyn is another late release that's been gaining ground, but is getting close to stable. LCD Soundsystem and Sufjan Stevens had marked rises earlier, but now appear stable. Tame Impala came out in May, got very little critical attention, but has become a regular fixture in the lower reaches of indie-centric lists. Best Coast's rise was more predicted, while Foals (for instance) has fallen off. For some reason a lot of the early big lists came from the UK, so we're shifting away from that now.
Some general comments on the lists:
Continuing to add occasional lists, but don't expect things to change much.
Tuesday, December 21. 2010
Out this week in the Village Voice: my 25th Jazz Consumer Guide, Low-End Theories. Found myself in a deep rut trying to finally pull this together, then caught a break on the publication date as they slipped it in less than two weeks after they got my draft. Result is that this one is appearing a tad less than three months after the previous one. Once again, I have about enough material left over for the next column. You'd think that would argue for it to come out in less than three months, but we seem to be locked on that schedule.
Both pick hits are 2-CD sets by bassists leading midsize bands. Both bassists have had pick hits before: Adam Lane for New Magical Kingdom (JCG 11); William Parker for Double Sunrise Over Neptune (17) and Sound Unity (5). I could have picked Angles for a pick hit slot over Parker this time, but I felt a little weird about two pick hits from one label. The label, of course, is Clean Feed, which wound up with five records this time (including a dull but not-awful dud). Clean Feed also got cheated when I held back four more of their records: Lisa Mezzacappa's What Is Known in the A section, plus three HMs: Stephen Gauci's Three, Júlio Resende's Assim Falava Jazzatustra, and the Sephan Crump/James Carney duo, Echo Run Pry. They are easily the label of the year, with three full A records this year (Angles, Adam Lane, and the previous Rudresh Mahanthappa/Steve Lehman pick hit Dual Identity), three A- records (Mezzacappa, Ivo Perelman's Soulstorm, and RED Trio), and no less than fifteen records in my B+(***) bracket. (I won't list them all here; you can dig them out of my still-volatile Music Year 2010 file.) Funny thing is, while other critics agree with me about the label, the Clean Feed records that have most commonly appeared in EOY lists thus far rate further down my own list (Chris Lightcap, Kris Davis, Tom Rainey, Joe Morris/Nat Wooley). Makes me wonder if they're getting the good shit.
I know I'm always worrying about not getting the good shit. I know, for instance, that there is a new Vandermark 5 album on Not Two where I'm belatedly reviewing last year's album. They're hard to deal with, and it usually takes special effort by the musician to pry something loose, but most of what I've heard from them is quite good. Europe is actually full of labels like that. If I got better service from European labels like Leo, RogueArt, Intakt, Emanem, Fresh Sound, ILK, Steeplechase, Enja, No Business, many others, European labels would likely dominate the column. (Of course, some delinquent American labels could tilt the balance back. I'm particularly feeling the shortfall of trad jazz.)
On the other hand, I already have more shit to listen to than I have time to listen to it, let alone understand and write up cogently. And I hate the hassle of chasing down even more. On the other hand, I only got Annular Gift (despite having written, uh, a lot about Vandermark in the past) and Sounds of Liberation after hearing them on Rhapsody and taking the time to write for them. And I only got Melford from the artist's agent after the label's publicist stiffed me. Records like that add a lot to the column (and you'll be hearing more from Porter next time). So most of the time I'm tottering on the edge of indifference. But actually the finished column looks pretty good.
PS: Forgot to mention this, but the Jazz Prospecting file that went into this column is here, and the Surplus file is here. I started the round with 113 carryovers from previous rounds, then prospected 248 new records before I finished this column. Did a lot of cutting, including culling a lot of records I would like to have listed as Honorable Mentions.
Monday, December 20. 2010
I don't have confirmed dates from the Voice, but I figure odds are very good that Jazz Consumer Guide will run this week, and the Voice's Jazz Critics Poll next week. The former is done, unless they run into space problems when they lay it out, in which case something will get cut. Haven't edited my year-end piece yet, so it's at least a week away. I have some website work to do for the poll results and ballots. Don't know when it's due, but I have all the data now, so will start working on that.
Spent a lot of time this last week pouring over year-end lists and checking out stuff on Rhapsody. Rated count for last week was 49, which is, well, insane. Not enough time to tell whether Baths or Calle 13 or Chromeo or Crystal Castles or Deadbeat or the Radio Dept. are really up to snuff -- just picking over a few promising items that I wound up shorting -- or whether King Sunny Ade and Zs will hold up to more than one spin. But enough time to figure out what I need to know about lots of other contenders. Pazz & Jop ballot is due Friday. Looks like it will be about half jazz, and aside from that most of the serious candidates are far from obscure (Robyn, Vampire Weekend, Big Boi -- haven't spent much time with Kanye West yet).
Meanwhile, enough jazz prospecting to post. Still have a hundred or so 2010 releases unplayed. Surely I'll find some things in there I've missed, but oddly enough there's very little in the jazz poll results (or in the other year-end lists I've seen) that I have and haven't played -- the highest such finisher in the Voice jazz poll is a Joel Harrison record with an official release date in January 2011, then I don't see anything else down to 10 points/2 ballots. Of course, there are a lot of things I never got, starting with Mary Halvorson, Regina Carter, Randy Weston, Christian Scott -- sampled all of them on Rhapsody for better or worse -- and Danilo Perez (which I haven't chased down). Critics are inevitably at the mercy of publicists, and polls are inevitably framed by their favorites and prejudices, and it doesn't help being so far off the beaten path as I am. (I marvel, for instance, at what Stef Gijssels is able to find in the Brusells public library -- not that we don't have some surprises here in Wichita.)
Howard Wiley and the Angola Project: 12 Gates to the City (2008 , HNIC Music): Saxophonist, tenor and soprano, born in Berkeley, CA, based in LA. Previous album was called The Angola Project, named for Louisiana's notorious prison, and he intends to keep working that theme. That means dragging in gospel singers and a rapper or two (Bicasso? Bisco?), carrying social and political messages including a lecture on the linkages between prison and slavery that, well, mostly rings true. In between we get some of Wiley's saxophone, unspectacular but gritty and soulful, and like everything else he aspires to, true. B+(***)
Bizingas (2008 , NCM East): Quartet, led by Brian Drye (trombone, piano, synth). Also includes Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Jonathan Goldberger (guitar, baritone guitar), and Ches Smith (drums, glockenspiel). Drye: b. 1975 in Rhode Island, father musician, studied at University of Miami in Florida, based in Brooklyn, has a couple dozen side credits since 2001, some rock (Clem Snide), some world-ish (Slavic Soul Party; Brooklyn Qawwali Party but no record yet). Trombone/cornet harmonics yield a signature sound, the guitar carrying the group through its circus curlicues. Interesting mix. B+(***)
The Dave Liebman Group: Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (2009 , Jazzwerkstatt): Quartet, with Vic Juris on guitar, Tony Marino on bass, and Marko Marcinko on drums. Liebman's done a lot more Coltrane over the years than he's done Coleman, but does a fine job on nine covers and one original -- his soprano seems better suited than usual, and he also plays some wood flute. Juris is more key than ever. B+(**)
Aeroplane Trio: Naranja Ha (2008-09 , Drip Audio, CD+DVD): Trumpet-bass-drums trio out of Vancouver: JP Carter, Russell Sholberg, and Skye Brooks respectively. Carter's the only name registered in my memory: no albums under his own name, but was in the Inhabitants and I could swear more places than the 7 credits AMG lists. He can play free, make an impression solo, or toot along when bass-drums work up a groove. Some tentative spots hold me back, plus I haven't seen the DVD yet (and in most cases never do). B+(***)
Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica: The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel (2010, Tiki): That would be Juan Garcia Esquivel (1918-2002), from Mexico, who led a big band c. 1956-62, hawking his tricked-up standards as exotica, space age pop, lounge, and latin-esque. In the intensely homogeneous 1950s it didn't take much to qualify as exotic. Mr. Ho is percussionist Brian O'Neill, and his 23-piece Orchestrotica from spare parts in greater Boston. O'Neill is also involved in the similarly inspired Waitiki. Band has some punch to it -- Russ Gershon is the most recognizable name -- and most of the songs are proven standards. Not sure what's so exotic or supersonic about them, but then I never paid much attention to Esquivel. B
Jim Hall & Joey Baron: Conversations (2010, ArtistShare): Guitar-drums duo, of course. Hall just turned 80 on Dec. 4. His discography starts in 1957 with the straightforwardly titled Jazz Guitar -- about the same time as Wes Montgomery, Tal Farlow, Mundell Lowe, Herb Ellis, Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Raney, Charlie Byrd, a bit after Barney Kessel, the generation that established postbop/pre-fusion jazz guitar. I missed most of his early work -- except, of course, the ones with Evans, Rollins, or Desmond -- but he has a distinctive style and sound. This is fairly minor, pretty much by intent, but a nice taste. Baron is a fine drummer, of course, and has the added virtue of even less hair on top than his senior partner. B+(**)
Afterfall (2008 , Clean Feed): Ad hoc group names cause paperwork headaches trying to keep track of jazz releases, and this label is particularly fond of concocting such names. I filed this under guitarist Luis Lopes, figuring he was the first named and held home court recording in Lisbon. Moreover, he's on a run, his guitar the steely backbone of at least four fine records in a row, most with horns which add to but scarcely eclipse him. Jazzloft, on the other hand, filed this under soprano saxophonist Joe Giardullo, older and no doubt better known in America but not exactly a household name. Giardullo mostly plays tenor here, not all that distinctive, but the extra heft and depth sounds good, especially mixed with Sei Miguel's muted pocket trumpet. Also working here are Benjamin Duboc on bass and Harvey Sorgen on drums. A little more inside than Lopes's Humanization 4tet records, which makes this a tad less impressive, but that seems to be Lopes's knack: to make good records without showing off much flash. B+(***)
Matt Bauder: Day in Pictures (2010, Clean Feed): Plays tenor sax and clarinet. Fourth album since 2003, not counting a duo with Anthony Braxton and I'm not sure what else. Passed through Ann Arbor and Chicago; now in Brooklyn. Quintet with Nate Wooley (trumpet), Angelica Sanchez (piano), Jason Ajemian (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums). Wooley and Sanchez have good spots on their own, but aren't a lot of help overall, except in some fluttery free spots where it all evens out. What's more striking is when Bauder's tenor sax goes solo or with minimal bass/drums. Turns out he could carry a mainstream sax ballad album, although he's still a little restless to settle into that. B+(**)
Ricardo Gallo's Tierra de Nadie: The Great Fine Line (2009 , Clean Feed): Pianist, b. 1978 in Colombia; studied in Bogota, later at UNT. Has divided time between Bogota and New York. Fifth album since 2005. Tierra de Nadie is a New York group, with Ray Anderson on trombone, Mark Helias on bass, either Satoshi Takeishi or Pheeroan Aklaff on drums, often with Dan Blake on soprano (6 cuts) or tenor (2 cuts) sax. Lucid, flowing freebop, very impressive when it all connects. B+(***)
Cynthia Felton: Come Sunday: The Music of Duke Ellington (2010, Felton Entertainment): Vocalist, based in Los Angeles, goes by the honorific Dr. on her business card as Artistic Director of The Ethnomusicology Library of American Heritage, whatever that is. First album covered Oscar Brown Jr. This aims for bigger game, although Ellington doesn't necessarily give a singer much to work with, and those who have been most memorable have broken rules that Felton wouldn't dare monkey with. B
Rebecca Martin: When I Was Long Ago (2010, Sunnyside): Singer, b. 1969, half a dozen albums since 1999. My impression (cf. People Behave Like Ballads) was that she wrote her own material and was only accidentally classified as jazz as opposed to folk or mild rock), but here she sings standards, barely accompanied by Larry Grenadier on bass, with occasional incursions (or excursions) by Bill McHenry on tenor, alto, or soprano sax. Brings out levels of nuance in her voice I've never suspected before. 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:
Update: Got confirmation on speculated dates above. Jazz CG runs this week. Jazz critics poll next week. My ballot stuff needs to be up sometime Tuesday, Dec. 28. My website, by the way, won't be synched up with this until later tonight (or tomorrow, or when I get it together).
Sunday, December 19. 2010
Only one link this week, squirreled away with a short comment:
I have a couple more things opened up I meant to write up, but I've been real slow this week. In particular, there is a very technical piece on economics by Maxine Udall that I want to spend some time on. It's been an exceptionally stupid couple of weeks for politics. Personally, of the three big bills in the Senate this week since the tax deal went down, the one I would have preferred passing wasn't the DADT repeal or the DREAM Act but the earmark-laden supplemental spending bill, which would actually have added something to the economy. The other two, while decent things in their own right were mostly on the table in an effort to make the military look smarter, saner, and more efficient. While those may seem like positive steps, I'd much rather people start to realize that the US military is stupid, wacko, and just an incredible waste of effort and support.
Besides, the lack of further links is all the more reason to ponder what Orszag's behind-the-scenes role was in the Citibank bailout, which I sort of recall came to $47 billion (or maybe that was just a resting place on the way to a more astronomical number -- in any case the nominal bailout would have been much smaller than the benefit Citibank had of unlimited borrowing at the Fed's discount window). Orszag's official job was to cook the books on the debt incurred -- i.e., to make the bailouts seem as fiscally prudent as possible -- so he was certainly in a position where he could have hampered Citibank. Figure he'll make a few million per year until he retires or gets the itch to sit on the Federal Reserve or run the World Bank or whatever his next "public service" turns out to be. Given that Citibank would have gone bust without the help of Obama, Geithner, et al., picking up the tab on Orszag is dirt cheap. Plus everyone from Michelle Malkin to Charlie Gasparino to Roger Hodge can write another book about corruption in the Obama administration.
Saturday, December 18. 2010
Update: Added Crowson's cartoon on the Holcomb coal plant.
Three articles on Wichita Eagle front page Friday, which when I saw their jumps together on A3 added up to a depressing conjuncture:
The Holcomb coal-fired power plant has been a hot political issue in Kansas for many years now. Building on an existing plant, Sunflower Electric Power Corp. hoped to skirt environmental regulations, converting a lot of Wyoming coal into electricity for Colorado while dumping the waste here and using up more of the rapidly depleting Ogalalla Aquifer. Republicans saluted the proposal, as expected (or arranged), but it was blocked by the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment, and legislative attempts to ram the thing through were vetoed by Kathleen Sebelius back when she was governor. When Obama snatched her as his second choice for Secretary of Health Education and Welfare (and to make sure a vacant 2010 Senate seat from Kansas would go Republican), former (and-future?) Republican Mark Parkinson became governor and cut an Obama-esque compromise deal for a smaller coal-fired power plant. As his term was running out -- he had declined to run for a full term, making it much easier for Republican Sam Brownback to succeed him as governor -- he fired the head of the Dept. of Health and Environment to push the permit process ahead. Since then we've been reading reports about how everyone at the Dept. has been working overtime to get the permit done before the end of the year -- after which point any permit would have to include millions of dollars of pollution controls which if they're needed then are just as needed now. And not that anyone has ever shown that there's any need for this plant. We've been adding a lot of wind-powered generation over the last decade, and Kansas -- especially western Kansas -- isn't what you'd call a big growth center.
So that's it. Fait accompli. You fight something monumentally stupid for a decade and all your efforts are undone by a handful of backroom deals and weak-kneed, lame-brained compromises by people who were once thought to be on your side. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good description of the Bush tax cut extension deal and of the Af-Pak War, both of which began in 2001 and were set to expire in 2010 but have been rescued less by the intransigence of the Republicans than by Obama's lack of principle or backbone or political savvy. Moreover, all three of these political tragedies have been taken by the elites of both parties despite the desires of at least half of the people.
Monday, December 13. 2010
OK. Jazz Consumer Guide is finished. Handed it in on Thursday. Did what may be the final edit today, which means it could very well be published later this week. (My editor there seems to be a big believer in JIT, but sometimes other things get in the way. Also had to write a short piece to go with the Voice's year-end jazz poll, and got that in late today, deadline day. Didn't enjoy that much, but it too is now done. Tried to listen to as much possibly year-end-list-worthy jazz as I could find, although that still leaves me with 230 unrateds in the queue (20 or so officially 2011 releases and a few pre-2009s I never got to or got late). Offhand, that list doesn't look to offer many surprises, but there's bound to be something in it.
Tried to write up as much as I could, and did a fair job. Wound up with 1560 words left over, which is almost exactly what I'll need for the next column. Some of those I'm going to wind up killing off just because I'm so far behind and have so much more rated that I need to get the word out on. As it is, I eviscerated my potential-HM file, wiping out every unwritten B+(**) record and a bunch of higher-rateds, especially if they've been stuck in the file a while. In the future, the standard for Honorable Mentions will be B+(***), and some of those may not make it (just as some A- records wind up as HMs). I'm listing this week's victims below. These are all records that when I played them last I thought were good enough to seriously consider adding to the HM list: good records all, just victims of my space crunch.
Meanwhile, what follows is three weeks of Jazz Prospecting, everything since November 22. This completes Round 25. Next time Jazz Prospecting appears we will be starting Round 26.
The Microscopic Septet: Friday the Thirteenth: The Micros Play Monk (2010, Cuneiform): Sax quartet (Phillip Johnston on soprano, Don Davis on alto, Mike Hashim on tenor, Dave Sewelson on baritone) plus piano-bass-drums (Joel Forrester, David Hofstra, Richard Dworkin). Been around since the early 1980s, skipping a couple decades between 1988 and 2008. Monk mostly wrote for a sax-piano quartet, so the extra horns scale up cleanly. That the group's leader, Johnston, plays soprano sax makes it likely that he's refracting Monk through Steve Lacy. Also helps that the tenor guy (Hashim) is one of the most irrepressible swingers in the business. In any case, it all works like a charm. A-
Eli Degibri: Israeli Song (2009 , Anzic): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, from Israel, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory, based in New York City. Fifth album since 2004. Fronts a very eminent quartet: Brad Mehldau on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Al Foster on drums. Each contributes a song; other covers are "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Bebop," with Degibri writing 6 of 11. All mainstream jazz, nothing that specifically marks this as Israeli or Middle Eastern -- just exquisite tenor sax supported by supremely confident pros. B+(**)
The Lou Grassi Po Band with Marshall Allen: Live at the Knitting Factory Volume 1 (2000 , Porter): One more item in the recent explosion of Marshall Allen recordings. I've toyed around with the idea of writing a more conventional column, where I could pick some interesting theme and focus on a small cluster of records related to that, and the 4-5 recent records with Sun Ra's long-reclusive Johnny Hodges would be a worthwhile subject. As it is, he's only one of four horns here, frequently at each other's throats. The others are Paul Smoker on trumpet, Steve Swell on trombone, and Perry Robinson on clarinet, while Wilber Morris plays bass. Grassi is the drummer, b. 1947, with eight previous Po Band records since 1995. How good this is depends on how much noise you can stand, since they rarely unravel into individual strains, even though we know they can do that. Maybe they just want to stoke the drummer? B+(**)
Jason Robinson: Cerberus Reigning (2010, Accretions): Solo tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute, and computer, "recorded in real time with no overdubs or edits," so the parts that threw me were probably the computer's fault, although I'd also credit the computer in varying the sound, especially given how wearing an hour of soprano sax can be. B+(*)
Jason Robinson: The Two Faces of Janus (2009 , Cuneiform): Tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute, this time in front of a group -- Liberty Ellman splendid on guitar, Drew Gress on bass, and George Schuller on drums -- with two alto saxophone guests for intricate interplay: Rudresh Mahanthappa on 3 cuts, Marty Ehrlich on 5 including some bass clarinet. Two cuts have both. Two cuts have just Robinson and Ehrlich with the band dropping out. Results are varied, some superb, others disorienting. B+(**)
Robert Wyatt/Gilad Atzmon/Ros Stephen: For the Ghosts Within (2010, Domino): I used to think I was as big a fan of Robert Wyatt as anyone, but I haven't responded well to his albums since Shleep (1997) or maybe even Dondestan (1991), while there are others -- especially toiling for the UK magazine The Wire -- who still adore everything he does. His voice has grown creakier (not to mention croakier); even at his most charming, his voice was never far from triggering an intense adverse reaction. And his arrangements have gotten ever lazier -- here they've been given over to violinist Stephen and reedist Atzmon. While Atzmon does a lovely job, the strings can rub my nerves raw. Wyatt has a hand in two credits, Atzmon two (one with a Palestinian rap), Stephen one; otherwise these are mostly slow, obvious ballads: "Laura," "Round Midnight," "In a Sentimental Mood," "Lush Life," "At Last I Am Free," "What a Wonderful World." Of those, "Lush Life" is quite remarkable, and "At Last I Am Free" is anthemic (although I could swear he's done it before). B+(*)
Trygve Seim/Andreas Utnem: Purcor (2008 , ECM): Norwegian saxophonist (tenor, soprano), has been on ECM since the late 1990s. Utnem plays piano, and these are straightforward duets, some improvised, some based on Norwegian folk songs. They grab you right away, but the record does run a little long. B+(***)
Rakalam Bob Moses/Greg Burk: Ecstatic Weanderings (2002 , Jazzwerkstatt): Moses is a drummer/percussionist, b. 1948, played quite young with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, moved on to Larry Coryell and Gary Burton, cut some well-regarded albums for Gramavision in the 1980s but has only sporadically appeared as a leader before or since. Not sure when he picked up the Rakalam -- actually haven't paid much attention to him, although I do have an unplayed copy of When Elephants Dream of Music around here somewhere. Burk is a pianist, 21 years younger, from Michigan, based in Rome with stops in Boston and Bratislava. Always struck me as an interesting freebopper, but this is something else: a piano-drums duo (reversing roles for 1 of 8 cuts, the most chaotic), avant improv with African allusions -- on the percussion-led "Primativo" anyhow, though other pieces push the piano out front more conventionally. B+(***)
Newman Taylor Baker Singin' Drums: Drum Suite Life (2010, Innova): Drummer, b. 1943, looks like his first album although he has side credits going back to 1978, especially with Billy Harper. Solo drum project, which limits is appeal, but within those constraints it is interesting and quite listenable. I puzzled a bit over one title, "Andrew, Milford, & Rashied" -- Ali and Graves, of course, but, uh, Cyrille, of course. B+(**)
Perry Robinson Trio: From A to Z (2008 , Jazzwerkstatt): Clarinettist, b. 1938, produce a remarkable quartet album in 1962, Funk Dumpling (with Kenny Barron, Henry Grimes, and Paul Motian), leans avant-garde but has also played a lot of klezmer. Has a very spotty discography, not much more than a dozen albums in early 50 years, so every new one is filled with promise. This is a trio, with Ed Schuller on bass and Ernst Bier on drums. Remarkable in spots, although occasional drops into vocalizations are less appealing and more confusing. B+(**)
Tom Johnson: Rational Melodies (2008 , New World): Minimalist composer, b. 1939, originally best known for his column on new music in the Village Voice from 1972-82. I knew him briefly and read him regularly at the Voice; I admired his writing and his vast expertise and disciplined taste. He moved to Paris in 1983 and hasn't been heard from much since then -- but every now a recording of his work pops up. An Hour for Piano (1979) was a delightful piece, while Nine Bells (1982) was pretty tiring. "Rational Melodies" was composed in 1982 and has been recorded once before, by Eberhard Blum in 1993, playing solo flute, released on Hat Art. This version is played by the enemble Dedalus -- guitar, trombone, saxophone, flute, violin, cello, bass, piano -- directed by Didier Aschour. Together, and they always play together, they sould like a particularly rich synthesizer. The rhythm is fixed, so all that varies are the melodies, and they are, well, quite rational about it, but somehow they manage to avoid the tedium they're aiming at. B+(**)
Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green: Apex (2010, Pi): Mahanthappa's second alto sax duo date this year. The first with Steve Lehman was a pick hit and is near the top of my year end list. This one points the opposite direction, going with an older partner, b. 1935 in Milwaukee, long based in Chicago, has a dozen or so albums since 1960, has taught since 1972, now in Jacksonville at the University of North Florida. Bebopper, which seems to excite pianist Jason Moran and (especially) drummer Damion Reid, and may well have Mahanthappa fantasizing of Sonny Stitt -- who played duos with Green in the mid-1960s -- or maybe even Bird. I used to view Mahanthappa as a Coltrane man, but he seems to adapt to pretty much any context without settling into a distinctive style. B+(***)
Xavier Charles/Ivar Grydeland/Christian Wallumrød/Ingar Zach: Dans les Arbres (2008 , ECM): Group name is officially Dans les Arbres, but artist names appear on cover and last names appear on spine, and all four names are attached to all eight pieces. Charles plays clarinet and harmonica; Grydeland acoustic guitar, banjo, sruti box; Wallumrød piano; Zach percussion, bass drum. Charles is French, the others Norwegian. Hype sheet cites John Cage and Morton Feldman as influences. Banjo is prepared, and piano sounds a little surreal as well. Lots of space isolates scattered sounds, all very dark and not very clearly connected. B+(*)
Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, Volume 2 (2008 , Smalltown Superjazz): A second set at the Bimhuis, not as loud as the first, and not just because Vandermark lays out on the 12:26 opening "Knuckle Cracking Party": an exercise where Andy Moor and Terrie Ex tease abstractions out of their guitars. The main act is the 30:16 "Chunk of Lung," so named because Vandermark thought he lost one somewhere. Same piece appeared on Volume 1, not that you can tell. This is less loud, has some breaks, lets the guitars articulate more. Probably a development, but gives up a bit of Volume 1's rush. B+(***)
Rafi Malkiel: Water (2009 , Tzadik): Trombonist, b. 1972 in Israel, based in New York, second album, following the delightful My Island in 2007. Also plays euphonium, which he has tricked up to make something he calls aguaphonium here. Styles himself as a Latin jazz specialist, surrounding himself with various Latino percussionists as well as fellow travelers like Anat and Avishai Cohen. Jumps to a fast start, wavers a bit when they slip and slow down. Depends more on the horn layers than on the rhythm, but needs both to work: "Eden Rain" is a good mix, "River Blue" another. B+(***)
Ehud Asherie: Organic (2007 , Posi-Tone): Isareli pianist, b. 1979, attended New School in 1997-98, studied with Frank Hewitt, based in New York. Fourth or fifth album since 2007 -- also has a new one on Arbors, Welcome to New York, which I didn't get. I think this is the only one where he plays organ. Quartet with Peter Bernstein on guitar, Dmitry Baevsky on sax, and Phil Stewart on drums. No bass player, which has been the rule since Jimmy Smith invented the form, but Asherie doesn't seem to have given it any consideration. He plays light and fleet, which keeps him closely in tune to Bernstein. Baevsky has two mainstream records I haven't heard. Doesn't make much of an impression here. B+(**)
Chris Dahlgren & Lexicon: Mystic Maze (2008 , Jazzwerkstatt): Bassist, b. 1961 in New York, studied under La Monte Young. Half-dozen records as a leader, plus a couple dozen side credits including Anthony Braxton and Gebhard Ullmann. With Antonis Anissegos (keyboards), Ullman (tenor & soprano sax, bass clarinet), Christian Weidner (alto sax), and Eric Schaefer (drums). Music is very slippery, sliding from spot to spot, never getting in the way of the narration, which includes stories about Béla Bartok and painless dentistry. B+(***)
Humanization 4tet: Electricity (2009 , Ayler): Portuguese guitarist Luis Lopes has his name above the group name. Below the group name: Rodrigo Amado (tenor sax), Aaron González (bass), and Stefan González (drums) -- both sons of Dennis. Same group had an album called Humanization 4tet in 2008, which struck me as a solid HM. This one has even more juice. Lopes doesn't do a lot of soloing, but he provides a firm metallic undercarriage for Amado to blast away from. Lots of short repetitive figures, very solid. A-
Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore: Three Kinds of Happiness (2009 , Not Two): Bass clarinetist, one of the few specialists around, b. 1976, based in Chicago, first showed up in Ken Vandermark's Bridge 61 group where he was utterly demolished, but keeps plugging away at it, and is getting better. Trio with Jason Roebke on bass and Mike Pride on drums, a good group that keeps him up front and makes him work. Horn doesn't have the sharp edge of a sax, but there's nothing dull about his thinking. B+(***)
Tony Malaby's Tamarindo: Live (2010, Clean Feed): Originally a tenor sax trio with Malaby, William Parker on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums. This time adds Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet. Sounds like a good deal, but Smith focuses on the tight riffing he specializes in, and Malaby never breaks out -- sound seems a little muffled to me. B+(*)
Omar Hakim/Rachel Z: The Trio of Oz (2010, Ozmosis): Probably the 'z' in title and label should be capitalized: they use all caps everywhere, and I habitually hack them into u&lc. Third member of the trio is bassist Maeve Royce. Hakim is a drummer, b. 1959, has a couple of albums and a lot of session work going back to 1978, some rock (David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Dire Straits, Mariah Carey), some jazz (Miles Davis, John Scofield, Michael Brecker), some non-jazz (Kenny G, Najee). Rachel Nicolazzo is the pianist, b. 1962, has a dozen or more albums since 1990. She would most likely have a higher reputation had she not changed her name and dabbled in a series of pop/fusion projects. Fluid pianist, moves around a lot and is always in firm control. Very solid trio work, closes with a discreet take on Sting's "King of Pain." B+(**) [advance]
Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: It Would Be Easier If (2009 , Intuition): Plays bass clarinet and alto sax here, probably other clarinets and saxes elsewhere. Based in Brooklyn. First album, but was a key figure in Gutbucket with four albums 2001-09. Group: Russ Johnson (trumpet), Nir Felder (guitar), Adam Armstrong (bass), Fred Kennedy (drums, electronics). Starts slow; eventually speeds up. No surprise which is better. B+(*)
Ellery Eskelin/Gerry Hemingway: Inbetween Spaces (2008 , Auricle): One of three new albums featuring drummer Gerry Hemingway in duets -- the obvious one to play first, especially when you're approaching year-end-list deadlines. The tenor sax seems a little subdued at first (and I've had to crank this up some to draw him out), but this is typical of Eskelin's patient, edgy focus. What's distinctive here is the percussion, how tuned in it is but also cleverly Hemingway expands the circle. A-
Terrence McManus/Gerry Hemingway: Below the Surface Of (2008 , Auricle): Guitar-drums duo; guitarist is from Brooklyn, seems to have 4-6 records since 2006 -- website doesn't have dates on anything; AMG lists one record not on website -- some solo, some in small groups he may or may not lead. Builds his own guitars, including the "nylon string stereo guitar" second-credited here. Has a distinctive ring to his electric, and holds your interest all by himself. Hemingway works around him, much as he did with Eskelin. A-
Jin Hi Kim/Gerry Hemingway: Pulses (2009 , Auricle): Kim -- I'm assuming that that's the surname and that the Korean name has been reversed for western tastes (Wikipedia lists her as Kim Jin-Hi) -- plays komungo (Korean fourth century fretted board zither), and "co-designed the world's only electric komungo." Born in Seoul in 1957, moved to US in 1980. Appears to be a significant figure in Korean traditional music although her discography includes a number of duos/small groups with jazz musicians: Elliott Sharp, Henry Kaiser, Derek Bailey, Eugene Chadbourne, Evan Parker, Sainkho Namchylak, Fredy Studer, Peter Kowald, Thomas Buckner, Robert Dick, and a previous album with Hemingway called Komungo Ecstasy. The komungo strikes me as like a bass with guitar harmonics. It fills the grooves with sound and carries a strong rhythm. Hemingway has much less to do here than on the other two records, or at least does much less. Makes it a bit less interesting as a duo but fascinating in its own right. B+(***)
Ken Filiano & Quantum Entanglements: Dreams From a Clown Car (2008 , Clean Feed): Bassist, a guy who has an uncanny knack of showing up on good records (John Hébert is another one), finally turns in one of his own. Two sax quartet, with Michaël Attias on baritone and alto, Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano, with Michael T.A. Thompson on drums. The two horns work in tight patterns -- not a lot of freewheeling here, but the loopy melodies and vibrant textures are engaging. B+(***)
Joe Hertenstein/Pascal Niggenkemper/Thomas Heberer: HNH (2008 , Clean Feed): Got off on a tangent here: I had a database entry (Penguin 4-star record) for a Christoph Heberer, which is certainly wrong. There is a drummer named Christoph Haberer, and the trumpet player Thomas Heberer. Finally decided that the record in question belongs to Heberer, who was b. 1965, plays quarter-tone trumpet, has a scattered list of recordings since 1987, some trad jazz, some avant -- Alexander von Schlippenbach, Misha Mengelberg, Aki Takase. Hertenstein is a drummer, and has a slight edge in compositions over Heberer. This is his first album. Niggenkemper plays bass, has one record from 2008 on Konnex. Tight, fairly minimal free jazz. B+(**)
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
Cassandra Wilson: Silver Pony (2010, Blue Note): Billed as "a unique hybrid live/studio album" -- whatever that means. My suspicion is that it's one where they're too lazy to commit to either. Three originals, scattered covers, an anonymous-sounding band, some guests. Her quiet delivery works nicely on some tracks, but doesn't deliver the whole album. B [Rhapsody]
Mary Halvorson Quintet: Saturn Sings (2010, Firehouse 12): Guitarist, studied with Anthony Braxton, has developed a style which is fiercely independent, sometimes producing impressive records, sometimes resulting in chaos. She is very much in control here. The horns -- Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto sax -- add warbly harmonics to her leads, and often just lay back. Ches Smith plays drums, and the ever reliable John Hébert bass. A record that I would need more time with, but unfortunately won't get. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Eric Hofbauer: American Fear! (2009 , Creative Nation Music): Guitarist, b. 1974, has a couple of good records with his college chum trio, the Blueprint Project, and now four records under his own name: low-keyed solo guitar with political sentiments -- one previous one was called American Vanity. This one is very low key, picking around the edges of melodies that aren't quite there. Not uninteresting, but not a lot that draws you in. B [Rhapsody]
Tim Warfield: A Sentimental Journey (2010, Criss Cross): One of the "tough young tenors" to emerge in the 1990s, I thought his first few records were terrific, but then he came up empty between 2002 and his 2007 Shirley Scott tribute, which he basically rehashes here, on his sixth album since 1995. Terrell Stafford gives him a competitive trumpet, Pat Bianchi cranks up the organ, and Byron Landham is the drummer. The intro to the first/title song starts in a weird sonic ditch, which is not the last time Warfield has trouble making himself heard. Only Stafford seems to be able to break out of the malaise. B [Rhapsody]
Adam Rudolph/Ralph Jones: Yèyí (2009 , Meta): Rudolph is a percussionist, b. 1955, tends toward African riddims, playing djembe, frame drum, glockenspiel, melodica, thumb piano, sintir, and zabumba here. Early work included Shadowfax and Foday Musa Suso, and Yusef Lateef has been a frequent collaborator. Jones plays various flutes (bamboo, alto, ney), bass clarinet, and soprano and tenor sax. Intriguing exotica, loose and spare but holds together nicely. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Yusef Lateef/Adam Rudolph: Towards the Unknown (2009 , Meta): The former Bill Evans broke into Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra in 1949. He began recording under the name Yusef Lateef around 1957, mostly on tenor sax, sometimes on oboe, and was one of the first saxophonists to play substantial amounts of flute. His name came out of an interest in Asian and African musics, which he did much to integrate into jazz during the early 1960s. I've only sampled him occasionally, and actually the only record of his I really recommend is a two-tenor duel from 1992 called Tenors of Yuseef Lateef and Archie Shepp, but I haven't heard several other promsing duos from the same period. The percussionist took an early interest in African music and finally hooked up with Lateef in 1991, and they've done quite a bit together since then. (Lateef was a few weeks shy of 89 when this one was recorded.) This is constructed from two extended pieces, a "Concerto for Brother Yusef" written by Rudolph, and "Percussion Concerto (for Adam Rudolph)" written by Lateef. Both are victimized by classical accompaniment: the former by the Go: Organic Strings, the latter by Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble. I do hope Lateef's lethargy is simply the fault of the arrangements. Rudolph can be fascinating when he gets some space to stretch out. B [Rhapsody]
Catherine Russell: Inside This Heart of Mine (2009 , World Village): Singer, third album since 2006. Can't find a source listing her age, but her father was legendary band leader Luis Russell (1902-63) -- his 1929-30 Savoy Shout (JSP) is one of the essential jazz records of the era, with the 2-CD 1929-34 The Luis Russell Story (Retrieval) equally recommended, and he maintained a relationship with his star trumpeter Louis Armstrong long after he stopped recording. Hard to work out the math here. She makes an effort to search out old songs -- "All the Cats Join In," "Struttin' With Some Barbeque" -- but they don't sound especially old, even with thoughtful swing-oriented musicians like John Allred and Dan Block in the band. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Evan Christopher: The Remembering Song (2009 , Arbors): Clarinetist, b. 1974, came up through trad jazz groups although he writes most of his own material. Covers "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," "My Home Is in a Souther Town," and "Dear Old Southland." Uses two guitarists (Bucky Pizzarelli and James Chirillo) and bass (Greg Cohen). Often lovely, but not much excitement. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Taylor Ho Bynum/Tomas Fujiwara: Stepwise (2010, Not Two): Cornet-drums duo. Bynum runs through thin, scratchy free jazz figures, and Fujiwara taps along, not adding a great deal. The drummer has a couple albums I haven't heard, and Bynum's label is off limits to me, which is kind of annoying, although he does show up often enough to keep me intrigued. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Randy Weston and His African Rhythms Sextet: The Storyteller (2009 , Motéma Music): Pianist, b. 1926, cut his first record in 1954 and has recorded steadily ever since, excepting a tough spot 1977-88, and a couple years before this one. Developed an interest in Africa by 1960 which has only broadened and deepened. This was cut live, with T.K. Blue (flute, sax), Benny Powell (trombone), Alex Blake (bass), Lewis Nash (drums), and Neil Clarke (percussion). Long solo piano intro on the first piece, which eventually erupts into a joyous Cuban thing. Not familiar with Blue, but he has nice turns on both instruments. Powell, who's only a couple years younger than Weston, has a poignant solo but not a lot of power. Not sure what I think of the piano interludes, but the ensemble work is delightful. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Russ Lossing: Personal Tonal (2009 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, leads a sax quartet with Loren Stillman on alto, John Hebert on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums. The piano is jumpy, shifty, the lead track so radical that when it's followed by Ornette Coleman's "School Days" the latter sounds like a way of resolving the chaos into a pop hook. Stillman fits Lossing to a tee, and Hebert, as usual, can do no wrong. A- [Rhapsody]
Looked for but couldn't find (or play) on Rhapsody:
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Vijay Iyer: Solo (2010, ACT): Can the best jazz pianist of the last decade do a solo album? Sure, easy. I can see where his gracefulness can be beguiling, but want to note that that's not how he got to where he is, nor likely what he's going to be doing once he gets back to work. Meanwhile, this looks likely to come in second in this year's jazz critics polls (behind Jason Moran's Ten, which is basically the same thing with the benefit of bass and drums). Iyer's one of the few pianists who's gotten as far as he has without doing a solo album, so I see this as a career marker, one more that he's easily passed. B+(***) [advance]
Marilyn Crispell/David Rothenberg: One Night I Left My Silent House (2008 , ECM): I got confused early on here, first confusing David Rothenberg with Ned Rothenberg and possibly others my brain has incoherently muddled together, but also thinking that Crispell should be the main focus. She plays piano on about half of the cuts, soundboard and percussion on the rest -- for all intents and purposes, her piano is one of many percussion options, all revolving around Rothenberg's bass clarinet and clarinet. Rothenberg has ten albums since 1992, something to research further some time. He describes himself as a "philosopher-naturalist" and writes about Why Birds Sing. This is spare but deep, mostly slow and careful but never mushy. Crispell, as I said, takes on the percussionist role, which is not to denigrate her near-perfect piano. A-
John McNeil/Bill McHenry: Chill Morn He Climb Jenny (2009 , Sunnyside): Trumpeter McNeil is a generation older and probably a good deal more idiosyncratic than the others, which means not only he revives lost bop gems he embues them with their own idiosyncratic spin, including some of that Latin tinge. I'm rather surprised not to see this pop up on any year-end lists so far. Not exactly my thing, but I could imagine more bop-oriented fans falling hard for it -- unless they can't loosen up. B+(***)
Denny Zeitlin: Precipice (2008 , Sunnyside): Solo piano, took a while to kick in this time but he's an impressive, thoughtful player, able to dig a lot out of the instrument. B+(**)
Some re-grades as I've gone through trying to sort out the surplus:
Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Jasmine (2007 , ECM): Thought I should bring this back for another spin, and it gained some traction, but is still just very nice -- likely to be comparable to a number of other records, but if you have a soft spot for either you could be quite happy with it. [was: B+(*)] B+(**)
William Parker Organ Quartet: Uncle Joe's Spirit House 2010, Centering: [was: B+(***)] B+(**)
Puttin' on the Ritz: White Light/White Heat (2010, Hot Cup): [was: B-] C+
Steve Turre: Delicious and Delightful (2010, High Note): Finally heard the conch shell, not to mention a whole lot of Billy Harper. [was: B+(**)] B+(***)
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes to date, look here. The final figures are 248 new records prospected, 113 carried over from previous rounds. This is up from 218 in the previous round.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last two weeks:
Sunday, December 12. 2010
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Saturday, December 11. 2010
Francis Davis is running his annual jazz critics poll at the Village Voice this year. I've been invited to vote, and to write up a sidebar article explaining or expanding on my ballot, and to do some website work. The bold stuff that follows is quoted from the ballot request, followed by my submissions, followed by some extraneous comments I didn't submit.
Your choices for 2010's ten best new releases (albums released between Thanksgiving 2009 and Thanksgiving 2010, give or take), listed in descending order one-through-ten.
Six of those were Jazz CG Pick Hits, including the pending column. Two missed out on the new column, so they are prospective Pick Hits until something better comes along. Six (down through Angles) are full A rateds; the others very high A-, leading a long list that follows. The mix of black and white is typical of my lists, but an lot of Asian blood has seeped in, some born here (Brown), some there (Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura), some just hard to explain (Mahanthappa, born in Italy although his Indian parents had previously emigrated to the US). Not that any of that makes much difference, but there is a lot of boundary crossing in the list. Only one European group, but four of the records are on European labels -- three on Clean Feed, which is clearly the label of the year. Most would be classified as avant or free, but the Parker album, to take one example, is full of popular songs with vocals. Several artists show rock roots, but none of the records could be called fusion.
The rest of the jazz subset of my 2010 A-list, as it currently stands:
Your top-three reissues, again listed in descending order:
All three of these are remarkable but extremely obscure reissues, but they completely exhaust my stash. I did get some promo material on the Miles Davis Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition, but never figured out what to do with it. There are lots of reissues I could imagine adding to this list: Mosaic's big boxes of Duke Ellington and Henry Threadgill; Hip-O's boxes of Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington; Sunnyside's 4-CD expansion of Stan Getz's swansong, People Time. Steeplechase has a 5-CD box of Pierre Dørge's New Jungle Orchestra. Storyville has an 8-CD Teddy Wilson box, and 2-CD centennary editions of Lester Young and Stuff Smith. (Also a 4-CD box of Papa Bue's Viking Jazz Band, which I've never heard but long wanted to.) European labels, thanks to their 50-year copyright limit, are having a field day with reissuing 1950s jazz. And I'm sure there's a lot more, but I haven't gotten close to it. The records on the ballot, however, are pretty amazing.
Your choice for the year's best vocal album:
William Parker's I Plan to Stay a Believer has so many vocals the rules suggest I should pick it instead. Cole's record is the best headlined by a vocalist. The only other one on my A-list is James Blood Ulmer's In and Out, which is more up for its guitar. I don't even see many jazz vocals in my HM list: Gia Notte's Shades (Gnote), Barb Jungr's The Men I Love (Naim), Billy Jenkins' blues records I Am a Man From Lewisham and Born Again (VOTP), that's about it. Seems like an especially poor year for jazz vocals, but since I separated vocal CDs into a separate inbox queue I've been avoiding them, so may have missed something. Still, whatever it is isn't clear from the early end-of-year lists I've seen.
Your choice for the year's best debut CD:
Beyond that, only Ben Syversen and RED Trio appear to be eligible. It's so easy to self-release something these days that it's very rare for artists to wait until they come up with something really solid.
Your choice for the year's best Latin jazz CD:
Again, that's the only one on my A-list, except for Spanish and Portuguese artists who play mainstream or avant jazz -- Ismael Dueñas, Rodrigo Amado, Luis Lopes, any of which would have edged D'Rivera. On the HM list: Hilario Duran's Motion (Alma), Nilson Matta's Copacabana (Zoho), Rafi Malkiel's Water (Tzadik), and Pablo Aslan's Tango Grill (Zoho) -- Aslan, by the way, is the critical ingredient in D'Rivera's album above.
Friday, December 10. 2010
Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Peter Daou posted this on Human Rights Day, and he's right that it's worth reading in full. Curious that while in fact progress has been made on some fronts, our highest aspirations for a world where everyone enjoys all that we regard as human rights seems to have taken a dreadful hit. When this document was written and overwhelmingly agreed to, the world was just emerging from a horrific war, from vast destruction and hitherto unimaginable atrocities. We seem to have become inured to all that now, and oblivious to other threats that may someday force us to once again depend on the mutual respect and generosity of our fellow humans -- the key to which, once again, is universal acknowledgment of just this same bill of human rights.
Thursday, December 9. 2010
I haven't been following the Wikileaks revelations and controversy at all closely, but the following links help explain why the leaks should eventually make government more transparent and accountable and, well, more decent. That's all in the longer term, of course. In the short term, they're making this government more repressive and much more dangerous. The few precedents for this, such as Nixon's plumbers unit and the 1950s McCarthy hysteria, are things that until recently we regarded as national embarrassments. The most comparable efforts to suppress the Internet today are from China, efforts that have been uniformly condemned by Americans of all political stripes, not least by Secretary of State Clinton. It may be that any US president would react to embarrassment and powerlessness of the loss of control of so many secret cables the way Obama has, but once again Obama has a lot more campaign promises than most to eat: having made many speeches about the need for more transparency in government, he now finds himself the plumber-in-chief.
By the way, the illustration to the right is something I found on Facebook, in the sketchbook of Ram Lama Hull. Hope he doesn't mind me using it.
3 Quarks Daily: What Is Julian Assange Up To? This seems like a pretty good explanation of WikiLeaks and the thinking behind it:
I'm not particularly inclined to view the internal workings of government, corporations, and such as conspiratorial, but they do largely operate behind closed doors, and secrecy renders their motives and strategies opaque, giving us all the more reason to distrust them. A culture that ensures that anything significant that happens behind closed doors will become public goes a long ways toward revealing those motives and strategies, and ultimately helps build trust in those institutions. That won't happen right away. The initial reaction of those exposed is embarrassment and fury, and we're seeing plenty of that right now -- as I am writing this Assange has been arrested, WikiLeaks' finances are being systematically shut down, WikiLeaks' web access is being denied both by corporate pressure and by cyberwarfare. (There can be little doubt that there is indeed a conspiracy to get Assange and to terrorize anyone who might be tempted to aid him and to contribute to future leaks. One urgently awaits the leaking of the details of this conspiracy.) In the long run though what is most likely to happen is that successful "public servants" will learn to behave in private as if they were in public. The major scandal about the State Department cables is how undiplomatic these so-called diplomats are when they thought they were safe from public scrutiny. The fact is that they would be much better diplomats if they learned to practice in private what they preach in public.
One thing I'm reminded of here is Condoleezza Rice's refusal to testify before Congress and the 9/11 Commission about her advice given to Bush when she was his National Security Adviser. She argued that knowing that her advice would become public would have deprived Bush of her complete candor. You have to wonder how valuable candor really is under those circumstances. For one thing, we now know that in effect virtually all of her candid advice turned out to have been wrong, so it seems at least plausible that had she been less candid -- had she given more thought to her reputation once her advice became public -- she might have done a better job. Still, there is little reason to get optimistic over these leaks. We tend to assume that had Rice been less candid she would have been more circumspect, but that assumes what the choice of the word "candid" denies: that she actually knew better. The main thing that secrecy did in Rice's case was to obscure her incompetence. Leaks can potentially improve the workings of government less in the short term by encouraging people to think through their advice and arguments than in the long term by convincing liars and crooks to stay away from forums where they will inevitably be exposed.
Still, it's possible that this will all come to naught, and not even with the authorities successfully clamping down on leaks. The post ends:
So that pretty much explains what Assange is up to. Now what are Obama's minions up to?
David Samuels: The Shameful Attacks on Julian Assange: This is a few days old, so the note that Assange, relative to Pfc Bradley Manning, "enjoys a higher degree of freedom living as a hunted man in England under the close surveillance of domestic and foreign intelligence agencies" is no longer true.
Glenn Greenwald: Joe Lieberman Emulates Chinese Dictators: Greenwald has been on this story practially full time, especially once the focus shifted from revelations about the US State Department to the harrassment and suppression of Wikileaks and the arrest and punishment of Julian Assange. Comparisons of the Obama administration to the Chinese dictatorship is to be expected given that until now the Chinese were the ones most notorious for trying to censor and choke the Internet. The (presumably) independent role of Sen. Joe Lieberman is unprecedented, except perhaps for wild goose chases Sen. Joseph McCarthy led in the 1950s. One reason to check out this particular post is the 9-point list of major revelations that have come from Wikileaks.
Wednesday, December 8. 2010
I started this as an update to yesterday's post (below) after Bill Phillips sent me a bunch of links of the sort I hadn't bothered to look up yesterday. I've added a few more, some quotes, and comments.
Probably a lot more out there, and I'll pick up some of them later. One thing I haven't seen much on is how the one-year FICA cut will affect the neverending campaign to destroy Social Security. One thing for sure is that anyone who already thinks Social Security must be cut because it is facing long-term solvency issues will find their favorite numbers tilted their way. Admittedly, the struggle doesn't actually turn on those numbers: they're just flak that won't make any impression on anyone who regards Social Security as a moral commitment we have made and should continue to make to the welfare of people who spent their working lives building this country. But the cut will add noise to the flak, and that's something to expect and deal with.
There are also rumblings from the far right about how the deal sells out conservative principles. Entertaining as they are, they can readily be dismissed: one thing about the Republican masters is that they've never let principles get in the way of doing business.
Bill Phillips pointed me at a piece on the FICA tax cut:
Tuesday, December 7. 2010
I haven't found any links on the web that adequately expresses my disgust for Obama's tax cut deal with the Republicans, and don't right now have time to scrounge around -- surely there is something? The piece in the Wichita Eagle this morning sketched out the big picture, but somewhere in the 2-year continuation of the Bush taxcuts was the real but unnamed stink bomb: no estate taxes. Paul Krugman focuses on the mild stimulus effect from the one-year cut in payroll taxes and the short-term extension in unemployment benefits -- both of which will run out and fail before the 2012 elections when the Republicans expect to be able to extend what they want indefinitely. Krugman doesn't see this as a good deal, and Yglesias is a bit more critical:
Krugman also points out the obvious:
Still, I wish commentators would focus more on two things. One, which I expect won't take long to surface, is the political effect. Obama is gambling that a little short-term stimulus now will solve his economic problems two years from now, but the Republicans will have those two years to strangle government spending, taking back even more stimulus than they conceded while pointing to the huge deficits that their tax cuts only add to. The Republicans, in turn, get to make the 2012 elections a referendum on taxes, and that's a fight that Obama surrendered in 2008 when he tried to position himself as the middle-class tax cutter supreme. There are plenty of valid arguments one can make against the Republicans and their tax cut fetishes, but they aren't arguments Obama will make -- indeed, they are arguments one can and should make against Obama. Until today, I've never doubted that Obama will be reelected in 2012. Now I really don't care.
The second, and more important, thing, is that tax policy is a reflection of one's commitment to economic freedom and justice, including the crucial matter of equal opportunity, and Obama has no such commitment. Even though you're not going to read much about it in this context, this is not an esoteric issue. There are whole shelves of recent books on the ever-growing chasm of inequality in America and the world today, and on what this means and how it harms us. Moreover, it's not a new-fangled idea or one that's never held sway in America before: Franklin Roosevelt promoted the basic idea as "the second bill of rights" and while his proposals were never quite realized, he was able to raise marginal tax rates to more than 90%, and the effect for 25 years after his death was a more equitable society with more opportunity and much more growth than we've seen since the onset of conservatism in the 1980s.
I could go on and on but can't just now. Either you get this point or you don't. One would have expected Obama to at least have a clue. After all, one of his famous advisers is Cass R. Sunstein, who wrote The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever (2004; paperback, 2006, Basic Books). But even if he does understand the facts, he doesn't care about the principle. He's too wrapped up in day-to-day dickering to see how much ground he has lost. I think he's finished as a political force worth caring about.