Tuesday, April 26. 2011
Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, better known as Poly Styrene, died yesterday, at 53, breast cancer. Coincidentally, yesterday was the US release date of her new album, Generation Indigo -- only her second, thirty years after one called Translucence in 1980, reissued on CD in 1990, long out of print, mostly forgotten. She's much better known as the lead singer of X-Ray Spex, a British punk group which cut a remarkable series of singles in 1977-78, culminating in the album Germ Free Adolescents, then broke up. I was so taken by them that I bought the singles as they came out:
The first single was pure punk rage, the screamed vocals rammed home by Lora Logic's crude sax. But each song added new facets and refinements until the album's title song emerged as their perfect generational anthem. I never saw them. I doubt they ever played the US. The albums were import only until Sanctuary mopped up all they could find in 2002 -- the album, outtakes and demos, a trashy live tape (released separately in 1991 as Live at the Roxy) -- for the 2-CD The Anthology. I reviewed it in Recycled Goods [link]:
Turns out they found a bit more for the 2006 2-CD Let's Submerge: The Anthology (also Sanctuary/Castle). The band regrouped for a gig in 1991, then cut a second album in 1995 (Conscious Consumer) that I haven't heard. They regrouped for another gig in 2008, released as Live @ the Roadhouse London 2008 (Year Zero) -- mostly old songs ("I Can't Do Anything" and "I Live Off You" especially smashing) with four songs from the 1995 album and one ("Bloody War") I'm not aware of them doing before.
When I heard she had something new in the works I tracked down a promo video -- something I almost never bother with -- and thought it pretty good. I've noted several reviews for Generation Indigo in the British press. Looked for it on Rhapsody a couple of times, but couldn't find it (or any trace of her old album). I thought the US release was last week, but April 25 turns out to be the date. Robert Christgau rushed out an Expert Witness A- grade. Same day another Christgau piece appeared on NPR. When I read this I was confused: I had heard about her breast cancer, and for some reason thought it had already killed her. I tried researching it, and came up with conflicting evidence, including a line in her Wikipedia entry that said she had died. That line was later removed, then as more info became available the page was cleaned up. That was yesterday; today it all came clear, or at least clearer. Christgau wound up writing a third piece, a more formal obituary at NPR. The Expert Witness comment thread (click above) has some real-time confusion and commentary on all this. I had some things to say, but felt it better to do so here.
By coincidence, two other legendary women singers died the same day -- not so well known to the general public, but legends in their own niches. Phoebe Snow had a string of records 1974-78, a couple more later. She started off as a singer-songwriter, but switched to mostly covers on her third album and emerged as a fine interpretive singer -- "Teach Me Tonight" may be her finest song. But her albums were never that consistent -- her hit "Poetry Man" always seemed sappy, and her arrangements often detracted from her voice. Christgau recommends her 1982 Best Of and her 2001 Very Best Of but I don't find they help much -- 1976's It Looks Like Snow was her peak, and I'd rather have "In My Girlish Days" than half of the tracks on either best-of. She strikes me as a remarkable singer without a fully worthy album. (Although I've yet to check out her 2008 Live album.)
The other singer who died yesterday was easily the greatest of the bunch: Hazel Dickens (though bluegrass-phobe Christgau only graded one of her records). She was another coal miner's daughter, from Mercer County, West Virginia. In 1968-70 she was in the Strange Creek Singers with Mike Seeger and Alice Gerard. She kept working with Gerard on a series of confusingly titled albums -- Hazel & Alice from 1973 (Rounder) is the pick hit, but they're all remarkable. From my ratings database:
I don't think there's much else to choose from -- I'm missing a 1987 Rounder compilation, A Few Old Memories, which recycles some of the above -- but I'm also not seeing any of these still in print. That's a real travesty -- evidence of nothing less than the left being snuffed out in American culture. She also had a couple movie roles -- notably in John Sayles' coal miner strike movie, Matewan.
We like to think we live in a world where progress is cumulative, but one way it is not is when people die, in which case we lose both all that they managed to learn in their lives, and all they could have done with that knowledge, experience, and wisdom. So at times like this we sink into a darker world. That may be fate, but it's all the sadder when we see so many of these works are buried even before the bodies. All the more reason to look forward to hearing the new Poly Styrene album.
PS: Looks like X-Ray Spex played CBGB's in March 1978, so I got that wrong. I was in NY at the time, but missed that show.
PPS: Herb Levy wrote in to ask, "but do you really want to claim that Phoebe Snow was less well known than Poly Styrene?" No. I see the confusing line, but didn't mean it as relative to Poly Styrene; rather, that Snow and Dickens (actually like Poly Styrene) had niche, not mass, followings. Even so, in the mid/late 1970s, Snow had a pretty sizable following, but I imagine it shrunk quite a bit over the years. When I wrote this piece I wasn't aware of the story that Snow gave up her music career to care for her daughter, who was born with brain damage and died at 31 a few years ago. I've known other people who did the same -- none famous, of course -- so I'm sympathetic but not overly impressed. Actually seems like a normal thing to do.
Monday, April 25. 2011
Not much to report. Haven't heard back from the new Village Voice editor on my draft column. Presumably that means no more than that she's busy -- I've grown accustomed to working in a JIT world, one that's never more than a few blips from sinking into oblivion. I've been way down too, so the state of jazz (or for that matter my career as a jazz critic) hasn't been a very high priority.
Jim Black/Trevor Dunn/Oscar Noriega/Chris Speed: Endangered Blood (2010 , Skirl): Oversized packaging, roughly the size of a DVD box, which makes it inconvenient for filing. Not clear if Endangered Blood is deemed a group title, but the four artists are more usefully listed on the front cover. Drums, bass, alto sax/bass clarinet, and tenor sax respectively. One cover, Monk's "Epistrophy"; everything else is credited to Speed, so it must be alphabetical order governing the credits. The faster the rhythm propels them, the more interesting this gets -- "Tacos and Oscars" is the standout track. B+(***)
Nate Wooley Quintet: (Put Your) Hands Together (2010 , Clean Feed): Trumpet player, not a lot under his own name but a couple dozen side credits since 2002. Group spread out with Josh Sinton on bass clarinet, Matt Moran on vibes, Eivind Opsvik bass, and Harris Eisenstadt drums. Not much chemistry between the horns, and the vibes seem like an afterthought. "Elsa" has an appealing Monkish jerikness to it. B
Arrive: "There Was . . ." (2008 , Clean Feed): Chicago group: Aram Shelton (alto sax), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Jason Roebke (bass), Tim Daisy (drums). Same group under Shelton's name released Arrive in 2005 (recorded 2001, so they go back quite a ways). Good saxophonist, fast, inventive, would have been a slick bebopper in the day; adds a little more now. Vibes add a little fluff. B+(**)
Júlio Resende Trio: You Taste Like a Song (2010 , Clean Feed): Portuguese pianist. Two previous albums were HMs, lifted by bravura saxophone performances. This one is just piano trio, which also does the trick. Two covers: one I don't recognize from Radiohead, one I do from Monk. B+(***)
Agogic (2010 , Tables and Chairs): I filed this eponymous group album under trumpeter Cuong Vu, but on second thought Andrew D'Angelo (alto sax, bass clarinet) is, as I should have expected, the more forceful leader. Squaring off the quartet are Luke Bergman on electric bass and Evan Woodle on drums. The two-horn jousts are pretty exciting although they sometimes come unfrayed under the heat of battle. The two-horn unison dirge makes a powerful sound as well. B+(***)
Mark O'Leary/Peter Friis-Nielsen/Stefan Pasborg: Střj (2008 , Ayler): Guitar-bass-drums, respectively. O'Leary is a guitarist from Ireland, has over a dozen albums since 2005 (although recording dates go back to 2000). I've heard very few of these, and don't have a good sense of what he's up to. The sound of the guitar seems unnaturally constrained, muffled even on stretches where the moves are dense and muscular; in comparison, Pasborg's drums are always sharp and clear. B+(*)
Flow Trio: Set Theory: Live at the Stone (2009 , Ayler): Louie Belogenis (tenor/soprano sax), Joe Morris (bass), Charles Downs (drums). Pretty basic avant sax trio. Belogenis has appeared on a couple dozen records since 1993, mostly in groups like this one. He makes playing tenor sax a study in struggle, wrenching each note in turn from the device. Title track runs 29:31. Other two 17:23 and 6:56, the latter turning to soprano where he is pleasantly asured. B+(**)
Hubert Nuss: The Book of Colours (2008 , Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1964 in Germany (Neckarsulm, near Stuttgart -- interesting to compare the bare bones English and extraordinary German Wikipedia pages on Neckarsulm). Fourth trio album since 1998, with John Goldsby (bass) and John Riley (drums). Rather quiet and contained. B+(*)
Bill O'Connell: Rhapsody in Blue (2009 , Challenge): Pianist, b. 1953 in New York, got a rep for Latin jazz working for Mongo Santamaria. AMG lists 7 records since 1978. Mostly originals, the title bit from Gershwin, "Bye Bye Blackbird"; has a few Latin flourishes, especially Richie Flores percussion on two tracks, but is mostly straightforward, ebullient mainstream jazz, with Steve Slagle on alto and soprano sax. B+(*)
Laurence Cook/Eric Zinman: Double Action (2009 , Ayler): Zinman is a pianist; Cook is credited with drums, percussion, and Casio wk1630. Blips and bangs, broken up and swirled around, chaos made fun. B+(**)
Bones & Tones (2009 , Freedom Art): Eponymous quartet album, everyone credited with percussion as well as: vocals/kora (Abdou Mboup), vibes (Warren Smith), marimba/bells (Lloyd Haber), and bass (Jaribu Shahid). The marimba-vibes stands out in an endless African groove, not much differentiated but very listenable as is. B+(**)
Curtis Woodbury (2010, Jazz Hang): Plays violin and tenor sax, impressive on both but plays much more violin here. Eponymous debut album. Don't have any bio, but album was recorded in Utah, seems to be where he's from. Group includes another Woodbury, Brian, on trombone, plus piano, bass, and drums. Two originals, six covers -- Scott Joplin, Astor Piazzolla, Sonny Stitt, Michel Camilo, Dave Holland, "You Are My Sunshine." Nice range. 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.
Dave Douglas: United Front: Brass Ecstasy at Newport (2010 , Greenleaf Music): Same four brass plus drums lineup as on Douglas's Spirit Moves (2009): trumpet (Douglas), trombone (Luis Bonilla), French horn (Vinent Chancey), tuba (Marcus Rojas), and drums (Nasheet Waits). Repeats four songs, plus "Spirit Moves" (which somehow missed the album it was title of) and "United Front" -- three Douglas tunes and Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Redundant if you don't care, but seems like more is more to me. Too bad I got to nag them every time out. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Okkyung Lee: Noisy Love Songs (2011, Tzadik): Cellist, from Korea, moved to New York 2000; second album on Tzadik; looks like three or four others. With no lyrics one can argue whether these even are love songs. That some are noisy is beyond doubt, but not many, and not very: the cello-violin-bass can turn squelchy, but mostly plot out sweet melodies, with piano (Craig Taborn) and/or trumpet (Peter Evans) for occasional elaboration, and percussion (John Hollenbeck and Satoshi Takeishi) -- lots of tinkly tones. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Ben Allison: Action-Refraction (2011, Palmetto): Another one I expected to show up but didn't. Pretty good bassist, even better composer: last three records on Palmetto scored A- here. Only one original here. The covers start with Monk but into rock and elsewhere: PJ Harvey, Donnie Hathaway, Neal Young, Samuel Barber, Paul Williams. Guitarists Steve Cardenas and Brandon Seabrook are central, with Jason Lindner on synth as well as piano, and Michael Blake on bass clarinet and tenor sax. Sort of an instrumental prog rock feel, but tighter, more determined. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Ron Horton: It's a Gadget World . . . (2009, Abeat): This shows up under Ben Allison's name both in AMG and Rhapsody -- gave me a bit of a pause as it would have broke the string of A- records mentioned in reviewing Allison's new record. Cover lists trumpet/flugelhorn player Horton up top in caps, then "featuring Antonio Zambrini" (piano, also wrote 4 of 9 tracks plus the liner notes), then way down at the bottom Allison (bass) and Tony Moreno (drums). Brisk postbop, a couple of nice piano spots, a lot of first-rate trumpet. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, April 24. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
I was going to recommend DD Guttenplan: On the Case: On Simon Wiesenthal, a review of Tom Segev's Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends (2010, Doubleday), but it's locked up behind some kind of paywall, inaccessible by me even though I'm a card-carrying subscriber to The Nation (well, actually it's in my wife' name). Fairly minor and relatively personal point: I read Wiesenthal's The Murderers Among Us quite early in my personal/political evolution, so it was one of my first sources for learning about the Holocaust. Much later I read most of Segev's important books on Israel, including his book on the selective use and abuse of history in The Seventh Million: Israelis and the Holocaust.
Thursday, April 21. 2011
Another batch of 40 book notes, my first such since February 12. Didn't even have that much backlog, probably because I've spent very little time in bookstores lately (aside from the Borders closeout), but I've been researching this since Tuesday and they're piling up. So maybe another next week instead of next month.
Eric Alterman: Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Liberal columnist, tries to present a case that Obama's post-election turn to the right is the fault of a system that is deeply and intractably conservative. That may be true, to a point, but it isn't very reassuring: seems to me like an indictment both of the system and the man unwilling to risk his political future on convincing the American people to do the right things.
Joe Bageant: Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir (paperback, 2011, Scribe): Previously wrote Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War (2007, Crown), the cursory tales of a class-conscious redneck. Might seem presumptuous to write a memoir, but he got cancer and died already, so quit bitching.
Roseanne Barr: Roseannearchy: Dispatches From the Nut Farm (2011, Simon & Schuster): A glance at the cover suggests she's muscling into Glenn Beck territory, which might be a good idea, but the self-deprecating "nut farm" suggests she's too self-conscious for that. Probably too smart, too.
Moustafa Bayoumi, ed: Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How It Changed the Course of the Israel/Palestine Conflict (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Too soon, I'd say, to say much about deflecting the course of the conflict, but Israel's display of gratuitous violence certainly had the effect of driving their once-carefully cultivated alliance with Turkey off the deep end.
Wendell Berry: What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth (paperback, 2010, Counterpoint): Collection of essays, mostly from old books but possibly some new stuff. Farmer, writer, community-minded, so old-fashioned he cuts through a lot of new-fangledness we readily take for granted, more often than not making profound points.
David Brooks: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (2011, Random House): What is it about New York Times columnists that drives them to such extreme heights of idiocy?
James Carroll: Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignites Our Modern World (2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Sometime journalist, sometime historian, always Catholic, takes a dim view of war and prejudice which leads to some soul searching. Not sure what exactly this covers or why it matters, except inasmuch as the histories of western religion and war have been interweaved, and still are.
G Paul Chambers: Head Shot: The Science Behind the JFK Assassination (2010, Prometheus): Another review of the evidence, this time bolstered by the author's physics credentials. Doesn't indulge in conspiracy speculation, but does reject the official story that all shots came from a single gun.
Diane Coyle: The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as if the Future Matters (2011, Princeton University Press): Challenges: Happiness, Nature, Posterity, Fairness, Trust; Obstacles: Measurement, Values, Institutions; The Manifesto of Enough. Looks like a fairly serious attempt to reframe economics within the constraints of sustainability, occasioned by the evident looming of crises ranging from resource exhaustion to climate change.
Gerard Dumenil/Dominique Levy: The Crisis of Neoliberalism (2011, Harvard University Press): The collapse as a crisis of ideology on top of deep-seated fissures. Rx includes: "limits on free trade and the free international movement of capital; policies aimed at improving education, research, and infrastructure; reindustrialization; and the taxation of higher incomes."
Howard Friel: The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight About Global Warming (2010, Yale University Press): One thing that makes me doubt Bjorn Lomberg's Skeptical Environmentalist shtick is how readily our good friends at Koch Industries reprint his arguments, especially against global warming. This may seem specialized, but Lomborg himself is a cottage industry.
David N Gibbs: First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (paperback, 2009, Vanderbilt University Press): Another critical book on the US intervention in Yugoslavia, and evidently one of the best. A lot of strange things about those wars, not to mention apologists and advocates like Samantha Powers.
James Gleick: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (2011, Pantheon): The journalist who hipped everyone to chaos theory digs up something less novel: information theory -- or maybe it's just that I've been reading about Claude Shannon, Alan Turing, Norbert Wiener, and John Von Neumann for decades now. I was much impressed with Gleick's Chaos and his Feynman biography Genius, but thought he wrote Faster a bit too fast. He should have come up with more than he did there.
Jeff Goodell: How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate (2010, Houghton Mifflin): Journalist, wrote Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future (2007), looks into various schemes to solve global warming by investing new ways to perturb the atmosphere even more.
Philip Hasheider: The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making: How to Harvest Your Livestock & Wild Game (paperback, 2010, Voyageur Press): Looks essential for anyone willing to contemplate just where your meat comes from, even if you're not quite ready to take the next step and do it yourself.
Jonathan Haslam: Russia's Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall (2011, Yale University Press): We could use a systematic history of the Cold War from Soviet viewpoints. Not sure if this is it. One thing that makes me uncomfortable is a previous title: The Nixon Administration and the Death of Allende's Chile: A Case of Assisted Suicide. Suicide?
Richard Heinberg/Daniel Lerch, eds: Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): A couple dozen essays on peak oil, other resource crises, climate change (Bill McKibben), population ("the multiplier"), alternative energy and sustainability schemes. No single answer; just lots of issues that require sober analysis and cooperative efforts.
Mark Hertsgaard: Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth (2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Global warming horror story, featuring author's daughter who can reasonably expect to live long enough to see as much as author prognosticates. James Hansen did something similar, calling his latest Storms of My Grandchildren.
Shir Hever: The Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation (paperback, 2010, Pluto Press): The subtitle is key. Most colonial establishments sought to exploit cheap native labor, and Israel has done more of that than is commonly acknowledge. But the early focus on "Hebrew Labor" aimed at displacing native Palestinians, and Israel has repeatedly worked to isolate and suppress the Palestinian economy.
Frederic Jameson: Valences of the Dialectic (2009; paperback, Verso, 2010): One of the first American critics to set himself up as an authority on critical Marxist thinkers -- his 1972 book Marxism and Form lists Adorno, Benjamin, Marcuse, Bloch, Lukacs, and Sartre on the cover -- and he's had a long run ever since. Big book (640 pp) on dialectic theories, Hegel and Sartre in particular, with an attempt to establish their continued relevance.
Diana Johnstone: Fools' Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Illusions (paperback, 2003, Monthly Review Press): I've never managed to get a good grip on what the US did in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, other than to notice that the cult of "Humanitarian Intervention" smelled funny. This is one book I've seen commonly referenced by critics, all the more timely as the Humanitarians are once again on the march.
Toby Craig Jones: Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (2010, Harvard University Press): It's certainly obvious that the economic parameters of Saudi Arabia are determined by oil and water: oil pays for the economy, but lack of water limits how much of that wealth can be reinvested in the country. Other books tend to focuse on religion -- something we used to call superstructure.
Stanley Kurtz: Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (2010, Treshold Editions): The hits keep on coming, this exceptionally lame one by a National Review hack (also Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center). More imaginative is David Freddoso's latest, Gangster Government: Barack Obama and the New Washington Thugocracy (2011, Regnery); hallucinatory even is Jack Cashill's Deconstructing Obama: The Life, Loves, and Letters of America's First Postmodern President (2011, Threshold), which reveals that Obama's books were actually written by "terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers." Also out soon is Jerome R. Corsi Ph.D.: Where's the Birth Certificate: The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible to Be President (2011, WND). I should set up a separate file for all this shit -- all four authors here are serial offenders.
Pauline Maier: Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (2010, Simon & Schuster): Despite veneration of the Founding Fathers, I suspect that most Tea Partiers, had they known anything about the subject, would have sided with the anti-federalists against ratifying the U.S. Constitution. Don't know whether that had any effect on Maier -- one of the leading historians of the period -- or whether she was just interested in the selling and resistance to such a fundamental political change, as opposed to the much better known story of how the Constitution was framed.
Manning Marable: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (2011, Viking): Major new biography, reportedly ten years in the works. Marable, who died a few days before this book was released, has over a dozen books on African-American history and politics, most recently Beyond Boundaries: The Manning Marable Reader (2010; paperback, 2011, Paradigm), going back through Black Liberation in Conservative America (paperback, 1999, South End) to W.E.B. DuBois: Black Radical Democrat (paperback, 1986, Twayne).
Sari Nusseibeh: What Is a Palestinian State Worth? (2011, Harvard University Press): Eminent Palestinian, president of Al-Quds University, previously wrote his autobiography Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life, tries to look beyond two-state jargon to basic human rights.
Annie Proulx: Bird Cloud (2011, Simon & Schuster): Memoir by the novelist, about her adopted chunk of Wyoming. She wrote one of fewer than five works of fiction I read during the last decade -- the short story collection Close Range (the one with "Brokeback Mountain"), which I picked up because I found a section on cattle ranching as knowledgeable as the best nonfiction (and superbly written as well). Picked this up in the Borders closeout, then forgot to include it in my post.
Mazin B Qumsiyeh: Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment (paperback, 2011, Pluto Press): A hard-working American activist. Comes at a time when I see little in the way of empowerment or hope.
Olivier Roy: Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways (2010, Columbia University Press): French expert on Islam (and Islamism) generalizes about religion in an age of holy wars.
Bernie Sanders: The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Runs 288 pages, pretty long for a speech; was given after Obama struck his deal with the devil to extend the Bush tax cuts for the ultra-rich.
Stephen Singular: The Wichita Divide: Revisiting the Murder of Dr. George Tiller (2011, St Martin's Press): Previously wrote books on the murder of radio talk jock Alan Berg, on Wichita's "BTK" serial killer, on Mormon polygamist Warren Jeffs, and on the Jon Benet Ramsey case. Looks beyond Scott Roeder to the culture warriors moving him along.
David Sirota: Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now: Our Culture, Out Politics, Our Everything (2011, Ballantine): The 1980s, that means Ronald Reagan, a new morning for conservatism; still, there's something unrequited about the whole experience. By the late 1960s, even the early 1970s, liberalism seemed to have been fulfilled, with little more to do, it actually became fat and lazy. But conservatives are insatiable -- they've thrown us into wars, wrecked the economy, resurrected fear and loathing, yet they're never satisfied, so even today we have to spend all our efforts keeping them at bay. I guess that's what Sirota means, but all I see at Amazon is a list of "Five '80s Flicks That Explain How the '80s Still Define Our World": Ghostbusters (1984), Die Hard (1988), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rocky III (1982), and The Big Chill (1983). What does all that mean? (BTW, the most popular films of the 1980s were E.T. and the first two Stars Wars, with Raiders of the Lost Ark and two more Indiana Jones flicks filling up most of the top ten.)
David Swanson: War Is a Lie (paperback, 2010, David Swanson): Looks like a catalog of lies told to justify, to rationalize, to excuse war. While each war has its own historical context, the arguments used to promote and protract those ware are pretty much always the same, so it's recognize them, recognize the falsehoods they contain, and be prepared to counter them. Swanson previously wrote Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union (paperback, 2009, Seven Stories Press).
Lance Taylor: Maynard's Revenge: The Collapse of Free Market Macroeconomics (2011, Harvard University Press): For a brief moment during the great crash of 2008 it seemed likely that economists would rediscover John Maynard Keynes. Taylor wrote this book in that moment, a healthy dose of I-told-you-so. Most likely all true too, but a little late: more timely would be a book on the recovery of stupidity once the crisis started to pass.
Todd Tucker: Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History (2009; Free Press; paperback, 2010, Bison Books): The explosion was in Idaho in 1961, when a small research reactor melted down, raising the question of how safe and sane nuclear power is. The admiral was Hyman Rickover, wo pushed for atomic-power aircraft carriers and submarines, in turn working to cover up the risks.
Siva Vaidhyanathan: The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) (2011, University of California Press): Author has written a couple of good books on internet-era social impacts -- Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System -- so I take his worrying more seriously than the sour grapes in Ken Auletta's Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. Still, I don't yet know what he's getting at.
Bing West: The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan (2011, Random House): Ex-Marine, veteran of Reagan's Defense Dept., dependable supporter of America's wars as recently as his 2008 pro-surge book on Iraq (The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq), doesn't seem to like what the US is doing in Afghanistan, casting doubts on the sacred COIN theology. Hmm.
Garry Wills: Outside Looking In: Adventures of an Observer (2010, Viking): A memoir of sorts, by a journalist who started out in William Buckley's conservative orbit and gradually turned into a fierce critic of America's abuse of power, from Vietnam to Bush and not neglecting the embarrassing Bill Clinton. Also wrote much about American history, and about religion. Not sure what all we'll find here, but should be interesting.
Richard Wolffe: Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House (2010, Crown): Author of Renegade: The Making of a President (2009), boasts "unrivaled access to the West Wing," timed his sequel to follow Obama's mid-term election fiasco. Not sure if the title signals anything other than author's desire to keep that "unrivaled access" going for another book.
Tim Wu: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (2010, Knopf): A history of telecommunications (and analogous technological businesses) from isolated innovation to monopoly to dissolution, as if that represents some sort of law of development. Describes his prime example fairly well, but hard to say how ironclad the rule is.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Kai Bird: Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (2010; paperback, 2011, Simon & Schuster): Author's father was a US diplomat in Jerusalem, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and author studied in Lebanon. Starts as a memoir, but provides useful history especially on the 1956 and 1967 wars, plus a rather critical view of King Hussein. [link]
James Bradley: The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War (2009; paperback, 2010, Little Brown): Teddy Roosevelt's machinations to parlay America's new imperial presence in the East Pacific into influence in Asia, a first step toward America's wars in Asia. [link]
Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010; paperback, 2011, Simon & Schuster): Not just the middle class, which still gets lip service because they have the most to lose. Important study of politically-induced inequality: what happened if not necessarily why.
Simon Johnson/James Kwak: 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown (2010, Pantheon; paperback, 2011, Vintage): One of the main books on the financial crisis, focusing on the bankers caused it and the political clout that let them off the hook. [link]
Michael Lewis: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010; paperback, 2011, WW Norton): Breezy book on the great financial meltdown, told by tracking the stories of a few traders who bet against the housing bubble and made a killing. [link]
Peter Maass: Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil (2009, Knopf; paperback, 2010, Vintage): Far-reaching tour of the dirty world of the oil industry. Paperback has a dirtier cover.
Bill McKibben: Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010; paperback, 2011, St Martin's Press): Another global warming alert, more harrowing than ever, packaged with proposals for changing the economy, living more sustainably, anything but toughing it out. [link]
Gary Wills: Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Give a president the power to blow up the world and he starts thinking executive power really means something; pretty much everyone starts thinking that, and soon enough you don't have much of a democracy any more. Sound familiar? [link]
Monday, April 18. 2011
No further news on Jazz Consumer Guide (26): it's in the capable hands of new Village Voice music editor Maura Johnston, who has yet to acknowledge, schedule, edit, etc. No reason I know of why that won't happen eventually; just not yet. I figured I'd probably decompress and blow off this week, but I have enough new prospecting to post. (Just not enough real discoveries to merit chasing down a cover scan, although the Jaki Byard is the one I'd go for if I had to go for one.) Did listen to more non-jazz on Rhapsody, but I don't have anything to recommend there either.
Subtle Lip Can (2010, Drip Audio): Canadian trio: Isaiah Ceccarelli (percussion, piano), Bernard Falaise (guitar), Joshua Zubot (violin, low octave violin). Falaise is the best known: b. 1965, has three records under his own name since 2000, plays in various borderline rock/jazz groups, notably Miriodor. Zubot is presumably related to violinist and label head Jesse Zubot (who is credited here with mastering the disc). He also plays in a bluegrass group called The Murder Ballads. Ceccarelli also seems like a familiar surname, but the only jazz Ceccarellis I've been able to find (two of them) are firmly rooted in Europe. First group record. Fractured, somewhat random noise, quasi-industrial with the strings and percussion. Striking at first, but doesn't grow into something you want to spend much time with. B+(*)
Diego Urcola Quartet: Appreciation (2010 , CAM Jazz): Trumpet player, b. 1965 in Argentina, fourth album since 2003. Fronts a very capable group with Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Gawischnig on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums -- those name "featuring" on the front cover, plus Yosvany Terry is credited with chekere. All originals, each dedicated to someone worthy. B+(**)
Bill Frisell: Sign of Life (2010 , Savoy Jazz): Effectively a string quarter only with Frisell's guitar in place of one of the violins -- the other is Jenny Scheinman's, with Eyvind Kang on viola and Hank Roberts on cello, a group he calls his 858 Quartet. He used this lineup before on Richter 858 (2005, Songlines), which I thought took the chamber jazz concept way too far toward classical. This rarely does so, roughly splitting the difference with his Americana-ish trio. All original pieces, unlike recent albums where there's usually a couple covers to refer to. B+(**)
Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra: Hothouse Stomp: The Music of 1920s Chicago and Harlem (2009 , Accurate): Trumpet player, from Florida, moved to Boston in 2000, starting a band called Beat Circus, which has three albums of "Weird American Gothic" (on Cuneiform; haven't heard them). Band here includes some well known players: Andy Laster and Matt Bauder on saxes, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Brandon Seabrook on guitar; also Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, violin, viola, tuba, and drums. Focuses on four bands: Charlie Johnson's Paradise Orchestra, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Tiny Parham and His Musicians, and Fess Williams' Royal Flush Orchestra. Gets many of the pre-swing quirks right, but I'm not sure that's a plus. B+(**)
Open Graves with Stuart Dempster: Flightpatterns (2010 , Prefecture): Sometimes I think it might be interesting to expand my niche a bit and try to cover anything that shows up in the post-classical contemporary composition whatever-you-call-it grabbag -- something that the Voice covered extensively for many years under Tom Johnson and Kyle Gann -- but then I remember that I don't know very much about the subject and I haven't followed it at all closely for a good twenty years. Still, I do recognize Dempster: trombonist, b. 1936, specializes in long, slow drone pieces done in huge, echo-laden chambers. Open Graves is Jesse Olsen ("multi-instrumentalist") and Paul Kikuchi (percussionist), from Seattle. This is typical of Dempster, but unless you listen to it in your own sensory-deprivation chamber you're unlikely to get much more than tinkles and faint echoes out of it. B-
GRASS on Fire: Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society Plays Catch a Fire (2010, Mighty Gowanus): "GRASS" is an acronym for Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society. Album is "produced by Sumo & Natecha," which as best I can translate are bassist J.A. Granelli and keyboardist Nate Shaw. Catch a Fire is the 1973 Wailers album, with "Kinky Reggae" and "Midnight Ravers" turned into "Kinky Midnight" and "High Tide or Low Tide" added from the bonus tracks that surfaced on several of the numerous reissues. The others I recognize are notable jazz musicians, like saxophonists Paul Carlon and Ohad Talmor -- indeed, the saxes and Mark Miller's trombone are the main things that distinguish this edition. No vocal credits, but someone can't help but sing along to "Slave Driver." B
Scanner with the Post Modern Jazz Quartet: Blink of an Eye (2010, Thirsty Ear): Scanner is Robin Rimbaud, b. 1964 in London, producer, AMG credits him with 38 albums since 1992. The PMJQ advances on the classic Modern Jazz Quartet lineup: Khan Jamal on vibes, Matthew Shipp on piano, Michael Bisio on bass, Michael Thompson on drums. It's been several years since Shipp worked with a DJ, so it's nice to get some of the mechanistic beats back in play -- best part is the tail end where that's about the only thing going. Harder to read Jamal here. He's an innovative player, even further removed from Milt Jackson than Shipp is from John Lewis, but I'm having trouble picking him out. If I get a real copy I'll give this another shot. B+(**) [advance]
Jaki Byard: A Matter of Black and White: Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 2 (1978-79 , High Note): Pianist, 1922-99, released his first record in 1960, was an important figure in the 1960s, not avant-garde but not in any mainstream either -- Out Front! (1961) is a prime example, and I also like The Last From Lennie's (1965, came out in 2003) although I missed the two volumes that preceded it. Solo piano, well-worn standards -- "God Bless the Child," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," "I Know a Place," "'Round Midnight," "Day Dream," among others. Bright, touching. B+(***)
Etta Jones & Houston Person: The Way We Were: Live in Concert (2000 , High Note): Blues-based jazz singer, aspired to Billie Holiday but reminds me more of Bessie Smith, b. 1928, cut quite a few records for Prestige 1960-65, got a second shot with Muse in 1975 and High Note in 1997, which is to say she owed her career to Joe Fields, an exec at Prestige and owner of Muse and High Note, and to Houston Person, his A&R man and her regular saxophonist. This starts with just the band for four cuts -- Stan Hope (piano), George Kaye (bass), Chip White (drums), and Person -- starting with "Do Nothin' 'Till You Hear From Me" and culminating in a gorgeous "Please Send Me Someone to Love." Jones enters with "Fine and Mellow," "Lady Be Good," but doesn't really take charge until the end, with "Ma, He's Makin' Eyes at Me" and a "I'll Be Seeing You" that can only be described as swinging. She died a year later, so some credit for the souvenir. B+(**)
Eric Alexander: Don't Follow the Crowd (2010 , High Note): Prolific tenor saxophonist, big mainstream sound, capable on ballads, even better at speed. Quartet with Harold Mabern on piano, Nat Reeves on bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums. Pretty much his typical album, although Mabern is a slight shift from his usual pianists. B+(**)
Clarence "Jelly" Johnson: Low Down Papa (1920s , Delmark): Enhanced piano rolls, second volume in Delmark's series after Jimmy Blythe's Messin' Around Blues. Johnson is more obscure: was in the army 1917-19, started recording piano rolls after he got out -- no specific dates but liner notes imply 1920-23; Johnson recorded for Paramount 1923-25, but I don't know how much. Liner notes say he moved to Detroit in late 1920s, and died there on August 9, but don't say which year. Sounds pretty up-to-date if these were recorded that early -- no residual traces of ragtime which still marked most 1910's pianists. Does sound a little bloodless. B+(**)
The Lee Shaw Trio: Live at Art Gallery Reutlingen (2009 , ARC): Pianist, b. 1926 in Oklahoma, switched from classical to jazz after meeting Count Basie, married drummer Stan Shaw and moved to Albany, NY, a good place to remain obscure. First record was 1996 on avant-garde label CIMP; second came after Stan Shaw died in 2001, and now she has eight. Not really a trio record: first four cuts add baritone saxophonist Michael Lutzeier, three of the last four tenor saxophinist Johannes Enders, both impressively out front on covers like "Falling in Love Again," "Body and Soul," and "Stella by Starlight." B+(**)
John Medeski & Lee Shaw: Together Again: Live at the Egg (2009 , ARC): Before Shaw started recording in her 70s, she taught pianos, and Medeski was one of her more famous students. With Shaw's trio, Medeski doubles up on piano or plays organ (or melodica). The piano is nice and crisp, and the organ kicks up quite a groove. B+(*)
Kermit Driscoll: Reveille (2010 , Nineteen-Eight): Bassist, b. 1956 in Nebraska, plays acoustic and electric; studied with Jaco Pastorius, graduated from Berklee. First album on his own, although he has about 60 side-credits since 1987, many with Bill Frisell (who returns the favor here), some in groups like New and Used. With Kris Davis on piano (sometimes prepared) and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Wrote 8 of 10 songs, with Trad's "Chicken Reel" offering the best Frisell effect. (The other cover is from Joe Zawinul, also exceptional in its power riffing.) In effect, a slightly less distinctive Frisell album. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, April 17. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Friday, April 15. 2011
I had a friend once who claimed to have actually read every book on his shelves. Actually, that was a slight exaggeration: he lamented that he had fallen behind recently. His boast/lament reflected a trope that I had seen in movies or TV (don't recall which or where): a workingman enters a house, sees a wall-sized bookshelf, and says something like, "wow, you've read all those books?" It's a giveaway that the workingman had no intellectual airs, because anyone intellectual enough to collect all those books would have long since disavowed even plans to read them all. (A false lead, as I recall.) Anyhow, my friend had dropped out of college to organize the masses, so it mattered to him that he not have any more books than he had read (or would soon).
Even then, I had vast numbers of books that I would undoubtedly never read. Some I picked at on occasion. Many just wound up on the shelves, unclear even what idea had inspired their purchase. When I went to college in St. Louis, at least a thousand books stayed in the attic back in Wichita. When I moved to New York, more had to be left behind. In the last ten years I've been reading more, and I've finally gotten to where I buy fewer books that I'm unlikely to ever get to. On the other hand, I very likely had a minor lapse last week, as the local Borders closeout dropped prices to the point where microeconomics got the better of judgment.
In other words, I bought things that I wouldn't have paid more for, on the theory that what I bought has some marginal likelihood of being useful -- consulted if not fully read, read eventually if not very soon. I thought it might make an interesting post to unpack and parade those purchase past you. Gives me a chance to articulate what (if anything) I was thinking. Here goes:
Diane Ackerman: A Natural History of the Senses (1990; paperback, 1995, Vintage Books): A natural science book with cultural overtones, organized around the five senses. I've picked this up and thumbed through it for ages now. It's the sort of book I used to read a lot before 2001 kicked me into a more political orbit.
J.D. Biersdorfer/David Pogue: iPod: The Missing Manual (9th edition, paperback, 2011, O'Reilly): OK, this is probably stupid, but I have pretty much decided I should get an MP3 player, everyone I know recommends Apple (a company I've long despised -- I was, before all, an Apple II owner, and I've had a long run of avoiding ever making that mistake again), and I'm really confused about different models, features, how they work, what they're good for, etc. List price this would be a ridiculous purchase, but it wound up costing far less than the sales tax on the machine.
Bryan Burrough: The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes (2009; paperback, 2010, Penguin Books): The Big Four: Roy Cullen, H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, Sid Richardson. Made their money through politics more than geology, and never forgot that. Worst influence America ever had was oil money in politics.
Ha-Joon Chang: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism (2011, Bloomsbury Press): Development economist, student of Joseph Stiglitz, doesn't buy the neoliberal prescription -- wrote two books about that, Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective and Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. I've read the latter. Not a Marxist anti-capitalist; just one who's grown tired of seeing his and similar nations kicked around.
Morris Dickstein: Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression (2009; paperback, 2010, Norton): Don't know how low-brow it goes, but even if this covers the elite arts and a bit more this well-regarded history could be useful -- the culture in question is the one before the one I grew up in, the one my parents grew up in (even if they were intentionally indifferent to it). I've been increasingly interested in the 1930s, mostly politics and the economy, but this fits in too.
Will Friedwald: A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers (2010, Pantheon): Big reference book, 811 pages, double columns, looks like a couple pages or more on hundreds of singers (e.g., six on Carmen McRae). Friedwald has been carving out this turf as his own for quite a while now. I don't much care for his taste or his writing, but for a reference book this is probably as expert as Scott Yanow on trumpet players or swing.
Daniel Walker Howe: What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (2007; paperback, 2009, Oxford University Press): Part of the multi-volume Oxford History of America series. I recently picked up David M. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 thinking that era is pivotal for understanding postwar America (not that we've ever actually managed to get over the thrill of WWII), but it occurs to me that every book in the series is likely to be valuable, and the 1815-1848 period is one that I know relatively little about.
Cicily Janus: The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today's Living Legends and the Artists of Tomorrow (paperback, 2010, Billboard Books): About 200 short biographies, some of folks I've never heard of, most I know a little bit; missing are some big names (the only Marsalis is Delfeayo, which gives you an idea of how narrowly tuned the selection is), practically everyone in free jazz and/or Europe. I think this will prove more frustrating than not, but I do have reasons for piling up reference books like this.
Judith Jones: The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food (2007; paperback, 2008, Anchor): Also a publishing memoir, from the editor best known for Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although that merely started off a long list of superb cookbooks -- Irene Kuo's The Key to Chinese Cooking is the most intensely used in my kitchen, with Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking in the running. (I belatedly purchased the first Child volume, but have yet to make anything out of it. I own several Claudia Rodens, but have only used The Book of Jewish Food much.) Another meta book, plus it has recipes.
Robin D.G. Kelley: Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009; paperback, 2010, Free Press): More about Monk than I want to know, but he is a pivotal character in the history of modern jazz, and I should know more than I do.
Sandra Newman/Howard Mittlemark: Read This Next: 500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read (paperback, 2010, Harper): Much of what I learned, especially early on, came from reading critics and reviewers, even anthologizers -- there is no more cost-effective way to pick up the semblance of an education. I have a few other books like this (and, of course, dozens and dozens of music guides), so it seemed very likely that this would be worth the pittance it cost. (Looking at it again, I'm not so sure.)
David Remnick: The Bridge: The Life and Times of Barack Obama (2010; paperback, 2011, Vintage): Seems inevitable that sooner or later I'll have to wade through an Obama biography. This seems like the leading candidate, although I'm already skeptical about Remnick's notion that Obama is picking up where the civil rights movement left off.
Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): Whereas the first round of Iraq War books were very critical of the US in Iraq, access to information was increasingly constrained from 2004 on, so when books finally came out on the Surge they were invariably the work of favored hawks. Rosen is the exception, the only journalist able to look at the war from multiple angles, and as Afghanistan loomed ever larger he moved around there too.
Alex Ross: Listen to This (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): This was a stretch. Classical music critic at The New Yorker -- long-time subscriber, but I can't say as I recall him much there, probably my lifelong aversion to classical music. Would have preferred a paperback of his previous The Rest Is Noise, but there were none, and as I started poking around here, I was impressed by the writing and not turned off by the argument. Some point I may get around to redressing my hatred of classical music (a term he hates, by the way); in any case it's less painful to read about than to listen to, and there's some other music tucked into the cracks here. A long shot.
Tony Russell: Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost (2007; paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Big format, two columns, some pictures, short bios of country stars from Eck Robertson to Rose Maddox, some unknown to me, most little known to anyone. Russell wrote Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942, which I've had on my Amazon wish list for ages -- the problem being that it costs $120; also co-wrote The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings, which I have but have yet to do much with.
Bought a couple CDs and three DVD packages, but they're hardly worth mentioning here.
Wednesday, April 13. 2011
I just spent a maddening month mopping up a Jazz Consumer Guide -- the only relief was occasionally sneaking in something else via Rhapsody, but I didn't dig much deeper than my metafile -- which now at least seems to have a distinctly British bias. (As anyone who buys record guides knows, the majority come from the UK. There also seems to be more music magazines over there, at least per capita, and UK artists sometimes get a jump by releasing their records earlier in the UK, so when Metacritic initially posts their scores UK artists tend to be more heavily reviewed.)
Not much news here: four of the six pictured albums were previously touted in Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary and one more first appeared in Robert Christgau's Expert Witness, leaving Lupe Fiasco as the odd record out (with, by the way, a dreadful 59 Metacritic score) -- although if I'd found a cover scan the Beth Ditto EP would be another. (I held a couple more from Christgau back as seed corn, as well as TV on the Radio, which I need to think further on.) Even so, I'm more uncertain than usual that these A- records are unimpeachably above the cusp. The methodology rarely offers more than two plays -- unless I follow up by obtaining a record, as I did with Lucinda Williams, Britney Spears, NY Dolls, and Low Cut Connie -- so first impressions count for a lot, and slow gainers get little chance (although Spears got better -- my first take was in the high B+ range). So more than ever, take the caveat seriously.
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 March 8. Past reviews and more information are available here.
Arbouretum: The Gathering (2011, Thrill Jockey): Baltimore group, "stoner metal" is the most credible of the styles AMG attributes to them, although Rhapsody filed them under "folk-rock" -- singer has an Americana-ish twang. Seven songs, not sure of the length, centerpiece is a disorienting cover of "The Highwayman"; best when he shuts up and they just crank out guitar sludge. B
Marcia Ball: Roadside Attractions (2011, Alligator): Started out as a Louisiana blues pianist who could aim to put over a soulful ballad (like "Soulful Dress") but felt more secure at high speed -- two notable album titles were Hot Tamale Baby and Gatorhythms. She keeps getting faster with more boogie-woogie in her stroll, and she's up in Jerry Lee Lewis territory this time. B+(***)
Beady Eye: Different Gear, Still Speeding (2011, Dangerbird): The return of Oasis, minus Noel Gallagher, which was like the biggest band in England in the 1990s, bigger than Blur or Radiohead or, well, whatever else was big over there even when no one in America could care less. Most easily noted trait is vocal harmonies uncannily like the Beatles. Docked it a grade just for that, not that there was much else to recommend them. B-
Anna Calvi: Anna Calvi (2011, Domino): Band-oriented English singer-songwriter, first album, nominated for UK's "Sound of 2011" whatever. Brian Eno dubbed her "the biggest thing since Patti Smith"; also seen her compared to PJ Harvey, but she sounds more like Chrissie Hynde to me. Just hasn't sunk in yet, but she has something. B+(*)
Marshall Chapman: Big Lonesome (2010, Tall Girl): Next big thing, country division, for three 1977-79 albums on Epic, then crashed, righting herself with a pair of self-released albums in 1987 and 1991 back when that was considered desperation rather than smart business, then did a live-in-prison album that rivals anything Johnny Cash released. Three songs co-written by recently deceased Jim Krekel, a couple more laments including one from Hank Williams and one from Cindy Walker. Best thing by far, the live singalong "I Love Everybody" which introduces Krekel at the end -- was cut in 2003, in Belgium. B+(**)
Cornershop: Cornershop and the Double-O Groove Of (2011, Ample Play): This goes deeper into Bollywood than is healthy for an Anglo group, even one rooted in Punjabi. What made them accessible in the first place was that the songs crossed over; crossing back is a daring concern, although it's hard to say foolish given the size of the market over there. Also seems to have less vocal range, but play it a couple of times and you start to notice interesting things in the drums, and that the music can pick you up and drop you back down even when you don't understand it. Judy Sucks a Lemon was similarly thin, but won me over by reminding me how unique they were in the first place. This is unique too, in very different terms. A-
Delicate Steve: Wondervisions (2009 , Luaka Bop): Steve Marion, 23, from New Jersey, mostly plays guitar, has a band at least for touring; hype aspires to "Animal Collective's dense experimentations" with an injection of "African-influenced pop" -- you know, like Dirty Projectors. He does get a wide range d of guitar effects, some tantalizing, but most framed in song structures so minimal they come off like card tricks. No vocals. B
Beth Ditto: EP (2011, Columbia, EP): Obese lesbo from Arkansas, formerly fronted the punk group Gossip through four 2001-09 albums -- never heard them; Christgau panned their second for reasons of basic musical competence, which I imagine is a pretty low bar for a punk band fronted by an obese lesbo from Arkansas, but his evidence includes the lack of a bass player. That's one problem that can be fixed; indeed, on what for now we'll call her Lady Gaga move, the bassist reminds me of no less than Bernard Edwards. Four songs, 3:57 to 7:00. I'm hardly ever satisfied by an EP, but this is one well-rounded appetizer. A-
The Dodos: No Color (2011, Frenchkiss): San Francisco group, primarily Meric Long and Logan Kroeber. Drums are central and unusual, with some African influences, in turn wrapped up in acoustic guitar. The songs don't mean much to me, but the sound is distinctive. B
Dropkick Murphys: Going Out in Style (2011, Born & Bred): Irish punk band, from Boston, tenth album since 1998, first I've heard. Upbeat, so invariably I wonder how any of their albums could be any different, although their rare slow-ups are done with dignity and aplomb. Special for "labor thugs": "Take 'Em Down." B+(**)
FaltyDL: You Stand Uncertain (2011, Planet Mu): Drew Lustman, has at least one previous album, a 35-minute EP, a pile of singles. Electronica, starts uncertain, loosens up and gets catchier midway, picks up some spare vocals near the end, then some worse ones. B+(*)
Lupe Fiasco: Lasers (2011, Atlantic): Without getting into the dirt -- and he's right that Limbaugh and Beck are racists, and that "Gaza was gettin' bombed/Obama didn't say shit" -- he constructs his music out of sung samples that he then riffs on and sometimes blows up, reminding me of Eminem at his best. Not sure how smart this really is, but namechecking WEB DuBois makes me want to hear more. A-
Ellie Goulding: Lights (2010 , Cherrytree/Interscope): Young English dance-pop singer-songwriter, released 10-track debut album in March 2010 in UK, where it went number one and was later reissued with six extra tracks as Bright Lights. Now finally gets a US release, reverting to Lights, with 11 songs, starting with an extra called "Lights" and picking a few others from the Bright Lights extras, including a cute version of "Your Song." B
Sierra Hull: Daybreak (2011, Rounder): B. 1991 in Tennessee, not related to me but reportedly a distant cousin of FDR secretary of state Cordell Hull (formerly a senator, D-TN). Plays mandolin and sings. Second album; looked quite young on the cover of her 2008 debut. Wrote a little more than half of the songs. Has a lofty voice, a sweet-sour drawl, mixes her mandolin in with a lot of fiddle. Comparisons to Allison Krauss are not off the wall. B+(***)
Peter Karp/Sue Foley: He Said, She Said (2010, Blind Pig): Karp, a folkish singer-songwriter from New Jersey, has two previous solo albums. Foley, from Canada, cut Young Girl Blues in 1992, then Without a Warning emerged as the best of a sudden rush of white girl blues singers. He's capable, and she's special. All songs are co-credited, reportedly culled from long-distance emails. The best are up front. B+(**)
Wiz Khalifa: Rolling Papers (2011, Atlantic): Rapper from Pittsburgh, Cameron Thomaz, b. 1987 in North Dakota, third studio album plus some mixtapes. Seems slight, with a soft-edged musicality, a bit of Nelly around the margins. Catchiest tune: "No Sleep" -- a party-all-night anthem paced to make it without a hangover. "Cameras" also makes the flow work. B+(*)
Kid606: Songs About Fucking Steve Albini (2010, Important): Laptronica guy, b. 1979 at Michael Trost Depedro in Venezuela. Has a dozen or more albums since 1998's Don't Sweat the Technics, and has picked on no wave before, as in 2006's Pretty Girls Make Raves, although let's also not forget 2002's The Action Packed Mentallist Brings You the Fucking Jams (on Violent Turd). Pure electronics, rising and tailing off, nothing I can relate to Albini except as afterglow, but pretty listenable as it goes. B+(**)
The Kills: Blood Pressures (2011, Domino): New York duo, guitarist and chick singer, straight chunky rhythms fleshed out with a lot of bass, a sound that as far as I'm concerned makes for timeless classic rock. Don't expect more than the "dance, dance, dance" of "DNA" -- but what more do you really need? B+(**)
Avril Lavigne: Goodbye Lullaby (2011, RCA): Canadian singer-songwriter, had a freak hit in 2002 when she was 17, now up to her fourth album. Sounds pretty adult here, experienced enough for a divorce and some retribution. Most songs pack a charge, with a few barbed hooks. B+(*)
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears: Scandalous (2011, Lost Highway): Austin group, led by guitarist-vocalist Lewis, aims for 1950s r&b sound, hits it sometime, doesn't do much with it when they do. B
Low Cut Connie: Get Out the Lotion (2011, self-released): Adam Weiner, from Philadelphia, takes his garage rock sound all the way back to Cameo-Parkway, not that he could get away with the expletives of "Shit Shower & Shave" or the allusions of "The Cat & the Cream" in the 1960s. But nowadays, he's obscure enough he can get away with it all -- even some boogie piano. A- [cd]
Buddy Miller: The Majestic Silver Strings (2011, New West): A smorgasbord, showcases two jazz guitarists -- Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot -- not to mention a lot of steel guitar, on a variety of mostly old country songs. Main reason the album never gets much traction is that it juggles various vocalists -- Julie Miller is so striking they could have used her more. B+(*)
Mogwai: Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will (2011, Sub Pop): Scottish post-rock band, lots of long guitar vamps with few vocals, none of any real significance. Cut their first in 1997 and this makes ten, but the first I've heard. Has a grand scale to it, carrying its weight at a decent pace. I'm fairly impressed. B+(**)
Pharoahe Monch: WAR (We Are Renegades) (2011, WAR): Underground rapper with a big, overground sound, and big ideas, most centered around the half-baked war/renegades concept. B+(**)
Mountain Goats: All Eternals Deck (2011, Merge): Much commented on, as one expects much from John Darnielle every time out, but I'm having trouble sorting it all out. Like the idea that this is heavily front-loaded, the first half near-perfect, the second drags -- yet to my ears the most artful song here is "For Charles Bronson" near the end, where the opener "Damn These Vampires" gets sucked up in vampires no matter how tastefully hooked. B+(***)
New York Dolls: Dancing Backward in High Heels (2010 , 429): Third album of the second generation Dolls, now David Johansen's post-Buster, post-Harry Smiths solo vehicle, except that Syl Sylvain shares most of the writing credits. My grades on the first two trailed Christgau's by wide margins, but this one hits too many of my soft spots: girl group pop, dirty-ass retro rock. Two cheap shots -- Covering "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" and recycling "Funky But Chic" -- work better than they deserve to, and not just because they drip with irony. They've never sounded more limited, which helps bring them back to earth. A-
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Belong (2011, Slumberland): New York group, second album, pure shoegaze, overly smitten by the gleam in the polish this time. B+(*)
REM: Collapse Into Now (2011, Warner Brothers): Not a bad band, although I've had stretches where I didn't much like them -- especially the singer, whose voice once drove me up the wall but lately has settled into marginal acceptability -- and exceptions that I couldn't muster any real objections to. Not a bad record, either, but didn't hear anything that makes me want to hear it again. B
Showbiz ft. KRS-One: Godsville (2011, DITC): Rodney Lemay, aka Showbiz or just Show, been around since the early 1990s, usually with AG (André the Giant, né Andre Barnes). Fairly minimal beats, just enough to set off the gravel and gravity in his featured rapper's voice. B+(**)
The Soft Moon: The Soft Moon (2010, Captured Tracks): One-man band, Luis Vazquez; don't know that he has done anything else. Constructivist cover art, believes in tight-mesh machinery, reminds me of Wire but more likely drawn from kevlar, a bit short of humor, vocals buried in the mix with nothing much to say. B+(***)
Britney Spears: Femme Fatale (2011, Jive): Like MIA's Maya, available in two single-disc versions, shorter and cheaper (12 cuts) and longer and dearer (16 cuts): an annoying trend fueled perhaps by the practice of selling digital songs one at a time, or maybe just an economics game of letting customers pick their price, but it laughs at my preferred model, which is that prices have something to do with costs -- the disc and its manufacture and packaging are the same and the marginal cost of more data is zero -- as well as the reviewer's natural desire to only have to deal with one thing and be done with it. I played this first on Rhapsody, selecting the 12-cut version because it was shorter and presumably more prime, then bought the regular edition at Worst Buy because it was $5 cheaper on sale. So I've never heard the four extra tracks (14:32), and have no opinion what (if anything) they're worth. But not knowing otherwise, I say why risk spoiling a perfectly good 44:02 dance-pop album -- easily the best she's ever done. A- [cd]
The Strokes: Angles (2011, RCA): Critics rave in 2001, sort of a grove-centric new new wave band, dropped a couple more records in 2003 and 2006, now return after five years which saw a dreadful Julian Casablancas album bomb. Hard to recall from this why anyone ever liked them: sufficiently upbeat, but the core sound is so soapy it's painful to listen to. Or maybe just damn annoying. C-
Telekinesis: 12 Desperate Straight Lines (2011, Merge): Singer-songwriter Michael Benjamin Lerner, from Seattle, has a band for touring but not what you'd call a group. Second album. Guitar-based, lean and catchy. B+(**)
Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring for My Halo (2010 , Matador): Wikipedia warns: "Not to be confused with Kurt Weill." Funny thing that never occurred to me, even though my German is good enough to correctly pronounce Weill's name. Neither Wikimedia nor AMG suggest that Vile might be an adopted name, although it is hard to imagine otherwise. Singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, low-tech, lo-fi, mostly just over guitar. Agreeable stuff, but his melodies don't have the force of Weill, and his words aren't memorable -- I could quote you more Brecht in German than I can recall Vile in English. B
Lucinda Williams: Blessed (2011, Lost Highway): First time through on Rhapsody I was so taken with the cascading guitars and ground-down voice that I rushed out and bought a copy -- actually the "Deluxe Edition" with a second disc that is best reviewed separately. Then I figured I'd take my time, and the second thoughts piled up. Does "Buttercup" mean anything at all? Isn't "Blessed" too ambiguous. Ultimately I opted for sound over content, and decided that worn and weary say something about the human condition -- just far less interesting than Sweet Old World, where she could look at others and not see herself. That sweet old world now seems forever behind her. A- [cd]
Lucinda Williams: Blessed: Kitchen Tapes (2011, Lost Highway): Pay a few bucks extra -- I paid $2 on sale but list is $4 -- and you get an extra disc of the same album in home-recorded demo form. Reminds me mostly of a time when Christgau took me to see her. I opined that she might do well without the band, and cited a couple others I'd seen work alone effectively -- John Prine and John Hiatt. Christgau disagreed, pointing out that Prine and Hiatt are funny, and insisting that she needed the support of a band. By this evidence, he's right. Graded leniently, taking pity on the crack of her voice. Averaging the package out would be unfair, but paying extra for it would be foolish. B+(*) [cd]
Tuesday, April 12. 2011
William Vincent Walker, better known as jazz violinist Billy Bang, died yesterday. Lung cancer. I read that he had it last summer -- the thought weighed on me as I listened to Bang's Prayer for Peace, ultimately my favorite record of 2010. In the end, the record felt like the summation of Bang's remarkable career. Before him, violin had a scattered exposure in jazz -- Stephane Grappelli and Joe Venuti were sidekicks of famous guitarists (Django Reinhardt and Eddie Lang), Ray Nance was a trumpeter who played it like a parlor trick, Stuff Smith was an r&b guy who fiddled on the side, Leroy Jenkins took an abstract avant-garde turn; we might as well throw in John Cale's viola, which showed what electricity could do. Bang brought all of that together. He was never a mainstream, let alone popular, figure -- Regina Carter has easily topped him in Downbeat's polls -- but among those who heard him he was as synonymous and domineering with his instrument as Steve Lacy was with soprano sax.
I don't have time to do a full appreciation, but I've written a fair amount about him in the past, and I'm not alone. Some links:
What I can do is to pull out my 2005-vintage Mini-CG, and paste on some extra entries from later Jazz Consumer Guides. Good at least for a taste of this remarkable musicians, who remains for me a subject for future research:
A Billy Bang Mini-CG
Here's a quick rundown of the Billy Bang albums I'm familiar with. This covers about half of what I would cover if I had everything to choose from, with most of the spottiness in the early years. Among the missing are four of five String Trio of New York albums, two albums on Soul Note, several self-released items on Amina, his early Dennis Charles duo Bangception, more work with Kahil El'Zabar, a CIMP Spirits Gathering, bass duos with John Lindberg and William Hooker, his Forbidden Planet project, more sidework (Frank Lowe, Marilyn Crispell, Sun Ra, Ronald Shannon Jackson, others), a recent David Taylor-Steve Swell project where he's one of three strings behind the trombones, and so forth.
String Trio of New York: First String (1979, Black Saint): This has come to be viewed as bassist John Lindberg's group, although guitarist James Emery has also remained a constant. But over 26 years the violinists have shuffled in and out: Billy Bang, Charles Burnham, Regina Carter, Diane Monroe, Rob Thomas. Here on their first album, each member wrote one piece, with Lindberg's sweeping "East Side Suite" filling up one LP side, while Bang and Emery split the other side. Bang's piece makes me wonder how much he had listened to East Asian violin, as it already evinces the distinctive sonority of the East. B+
John Lindberg Quintet: Dimension 5 (1981 , Black Saint): The String Trio of New York bassist expands his pallette, working with Hugh Ragin on trumpet and Marty Ehrlich on alto sax and flute. The pieces are complex and abstract -- take some attention to follow, and don't always cohere. Bang is impressive on his solos, helpful otherwise. B+
Billy Bang Quintet: Rainbow Gladiator (1981, Soul Note): Not his debut, but in many ways his coming out party. Charles Tyler and Michelle Rosewoman compete for front-line space, and the interplay is exhilarating more often than not. A-
Billy Bang: Sweet Space/Untitled Gift (1979-82 , 8th Harmonic Breakdown, 2CD): Two early albums reflecting the New York loft scene. The first is a septet with three horns up front, parrying off simple vamps with featured Frank Lowe the main threat. Bang takes a couple of turns with the horns, but mostly fills in. The second album is a quartet with Don Cherry on pocket trumpet. The smaller group leaves Bang much more space, and his tone and attack have become much more distinctive. Both records are exhilarating. A-
Billy Bang Quartet: Valve No. 10 (1988 , Soul Note): "September 23rd" is one of Bang's most striking forays into spoken word, with its fractured jazz background at one point breaking into a chant of "a love supreme." Sirone sounds big on bass. Frank Lowe sounds restrained, like he's working inside the tradition rather than trying to knock it down -- one of his tastiest performances. Dennis Charles is as steady as ever. "Bien-Hoa Blues" has a bit of Vietnam in it. A-
Billy Bang With Sun Ra, John Ore, Andrew Cyrille: A Tribute to Stuff Smith (1992 , Soul Note): A rare piece of repertory in Bang's discography. It's interesting to think of Smith as the mainstream counterpart to Leroy Jenkins in Bang's background, but he came to Smith later, possibly through the pianist here. Not breathtaking, but certainly a delight. A-
Billy Bang: Commandment (For the Sculpture of Alain Kirili) (1997, No More): A solo showcase for a gallery opening. The cover photos show him standing in the midst of Kirili's abstract thigh-high sculptures, like he's serenading midgets. Lack of a drummer leaves him ambling a bit, but his radical deconstruction of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" is memorable, and his introductions are disarming. B
Billy Bang: Bang On! (1997, Justin Time): Some standards ("Sweet Georgia Brown," "Yesterdays," "Willow Weep for Me") to go with Sun Ra and a batch of originals, all played with formidable intensity. No horns, nothing to detract from the violin except D.D. Jackson's rough-hewn piano. A-
Rader Schwarz Group: The Spirit Inside Us (1998, Timbre): Abbey Rader is a drummer who developed in the SoHo lofts before heading to Europe, where he hitched a ride in Gunter Hampel's big band. Gunter Schwarz is a tenor saxophonist with no other credits that I'm aware of, but he matches up well with Rader. Zam Johnson contributes some electronic squelch to go with Ed Schuller's bass and Bang's violin. It all makes for a nicely balanced, somewhat understated set of free jazz. B+
Kahil El'Zabar/Billy Bang: Spirits Entering (1998 , Delmark): A duo with the Chicago omnipercussionist, whose everyday-from-everywhere beats form a fascinating backdrop. Bang has played with El'Zabar frequently since 1994's Big Cliff, but has rarely enjoyed so much space, and responds with touching eloquence. A-
Billy Bang: Big Bang Theory (1999 , Justin Time): This may be the least avant group Bang has worked with -- Curtis Lundy and Cody Moffett are pros who mostly lean toward hard bop, while unknown pianist Alexis Hope sounds forthright without betraying any particular predelictions. The song selection tries out various directions without settling on any one. Short takes of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "One for Jazz" -- Bang's poem for his longtime drummer Dennis Charles -- are more lushly orchestrated than they are elsewhere in Bang's oeuvre. But the one that comes together strongest is "Little Sunflower," the closer penned by Freddie Hubbard. So hard bop wins out in the end. B+
Abbey Rader/Billy Bang: Echoes (1999, Abray): Rader gets top billing because this came out on his label. Bang wrote all but one of the songs, and leads throughout -- even recites his poem for Dennis Charles. Still, the drums help to pace and steady the violinist, and they add the echoes of the title. B+
Frank Lowe/Billy Bang Quartet: One for Jazz (2001, No More): A quarter century past their initial collaborations, two years before Lowe's death, this is a group at home with itself, playing music that only outsiders might view as on the edge. So much of their personalities come through in the music that it's a rare pleasure just to kick back and listen. A-
Billy Bang: Vietnam: The Aftermath (2001, Justin Time): Bang writes, "This project has been in my mind for at least thirty years. . . . At night, I would experience severe nightmares of death and destruction, and during the day, I lived a kind of undefined ambiguous daydream." Bang did a year stretch in Vietnam, in infantry, out in the boondocks, a black man killing yellow men for the delusions of some white men in Washington. Given all this background, I suppose the Far East vamp of "Yo! Ho Chi Minh Is in the House" can be pretty spooky. Certainly, it doesn't take much imagination to be creeped out by "TET Offensive." Bang's violin has always been haunted by an oriental tone, but here it comes into its own, and he works it hard. Aside from Bang, the key person here is conductor Butch Morris, who holds a large group together in tight formation. The record of a lifetime. A
William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook (2002 , Thirsty Ear): The program here is a new set of Parker pieces based on reminiscences -- dressing for church, watching children in colorful clothes. There's remarkable music throughout, interesting rhythms, striking phasing between bass and violin. Parker's intro to "Holiday for Flowers" is a good example of his virtuosity, but Bang's violin stars throughout. This may be the single best example of his sound and dynamics. A
F.A.B. (Fonda-Altschul-Bang): Transforming the Space (2003, CIMP): His fans have been known to tout this trio record as the real, unadulterated Billy Bang, and they have a point, up to a point: this trio is a typical jazz showcase for Bang's work, especially as an improviser. This is also a strong outing for Barry Altschul and Joe Fonda, although CIMP's finicky audiophile mix can make it tricky to get the volume right to bring out the details in Fonda's bass. A-
Billy Bang: Vietnam: Reflections (2004 , Justin Time): Second installment to what's now been reconceived as a trilogy. The music is more open, relaxed, generous than on its precedessor -- the contrast opens up a broader vista of Vietnam than the necessarily limited view seen by US soldiers. Several pieces are reworked Vietnamese traditionals, and two musicians are Vietnamese-Americans: Co Boi Nguyen sings on three pieces, and Nhan Thanh Ngo plays dan tranh (related to the dulcimer). A-
Ahmed Abdullah's Ebonic Tones: Tara's Song (2004 , TUM): Four of five musicians here are Sun Ra alumni, including Bang, who shines on his solos and fills in otherwise. The odd man out is Alex Harding on baritone sax. Abdullah plays robust trumpet and sings two Sun Ra lyrics, plus a note perfect "Iko Iko" that appears out of nowhere to close. A-
Sirone Bang Ensemble: Configuration (2004 , Silkheart): A live recording from CBGB's in New York, the sound a bit thin and hollow, the applause real but hardly rapturous -- not a real jazz venue, I guess. But the pairing of the Revolutionary Ensemble bassist with violinist Bang was meant to generate lots of friction, and for good measure they brought along Charles Gayle, who for once blows within the limits of his name, as opposed to his usual hurricane force. Perhaps in honor of the venue, there's a certain rockishness to their approach. In particular, "Freedom Flexibility" works a call-and-response motif where straight lines are answered freely. Don't know where they found drummer Tyshawn Sorey, but he has a blast. A-
Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio: Live at the River East Art Center (2004 , Delmark): Bang guests with the trio in this remembrance of late-member Malachi Favors (Yosef Ben Israel fills the empty slot), and adds cutting counterpoint to Ari Brown's tenor sax. As usual, I could do without El'Zabar's singing (let alone his preaching). B+
Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe: Above & Beyond (2003 , Justin Time): The fire-breathing tenor saxophonist was down to one lung here, so out of breath by the end of the gig the promoter wanted to call an ambulance. Lowe died a few months later, leaving this as his last testament. All upbeat, with hard piano and swinging fiddle. Lowe makes up in clarity what he lacks in volume, his pleasure staving off the pain. A-
The Roy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite (2007 , AUM Fidelity) The two multi-part suites are hard to gauge as Egyptology, but their depth of feeling are palpable. Billy Bang's violin carries most of the load, the backdrop for Bryan Carrott's eccentric vibes and Campbell's avant-twisted trumpet -- shades of Gillespie moving ever deeper into African myth. The closing "Sunset on the Nile" is lighter and gentler, the river of life. A-
Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (2005 , TUM): Back from his second tour of Vietnam, wherein he found peace in transcendent musical fusion, the violinist reflects on the dawn of apocalypse, Hiroshima 1945. Even there, the chill gradually gives way to the fire of one of his trademark riffs, then segues into another from Compay Segundo. Joy all around, from Stuff Smith well beyond Sun Ra, with James Zollar's tart trumpet challenging Bang's razor-sharp violin. A
Billy Bang/Bill Cole (2009 , Shadrack): Cole plays exotic instruments -- digeridoo, nagaswarm, sona, flute, shenai -- ranging from deep-throated background to even squeaker than Bang's violin. Takes off slow, wanders a lot, has moments of interest. Bang pays close attention but never really takes charge. B+
Monday, April 11. 2011
Thus ends the winter of our discontent. No idea where that comes from, but it popped into my mind in wrapping up Jazz Consumer Guide round number 26. The draft is done, wrapped up, mailed off to the new Village Voice editor. No idea when it will finally run, but so far indications are that it will be favorably received. Last one ran on December 22, so I'm already more than a month late with this one, and it usually takes at least a month for the Voice to digest it. Hopefully I can impress the need to make up ground and run the next one relatively soon. This one has 14 graded albums plus 29 HMs (5 cut from my A- list) for 1629 words. Most likely some of that will get cut by the time we're done. Saved for nextime: 12 graded albums, 46 HMs, 1680 words -- another column's worth, although I'm thinking now that I should take at least 10 of those HMs and give up on them. I've fallen behind on processing new stuff, but at least have made a major dent in the "done" file (graded but unreviewed -- currently down to 22 records).
The final Jazz Prospecting for this round follows. For the round, I wrote new notes on 227 records and carried 96 others over from previous rounds. The final Jazz Prospecting file is here. A new round starts today. I have 290 albums in the queue, so a lot to do. Sometime in the next week or so I'll post the surplus file from this round. It includes a lot of HM-worthy records that I just couldn't figure out any way to get space for.
Should have a Rhapsody Streamnotes post up tomorrow. While falling behind on new jazz I've been kicking the rated count up dramatically, feeding on online sources -- mostly Rhapsody, but also the FMP discs found at Destination Out. Last night I noticed that Rhapsody now has most of David Murray's DIW records, including a bunch I had missed, so I've been picking them off. Upshot is that the ratings count surged this past week, finally hitting 18,000. I guess that's a milestone, but I'm not sure for what. Big number, for sure.
Honey Ear Trio: Steampunk Serenade (2010 , Foxhaven): Erik Lawrence (tenor, baritone, alto, and soprano sax), Rene Hart (bass, electronics), Allison Miller (drums, percussion). Miller had a very good record with a completely different trio last year. Lawrence has been around since at least 1991 without making any notable impact -- AMG lists a couple dozen side credits, none I've heard (although I have the latest New York Electric Piano in the queue). Evidently a lot of Lawrence's bread-and-butter work comes from touring with Levon Helm. About all I know about Hart is that he's married to Lawrence's sister, and was involved with him, Miller, and Steven Bernstein in an "acid jazz" group called Hipmotism (note to self: check that out). Originals by all three, including one by Lawrence on Eyjafjallajokull -- last year's top natural disaster, already so dated. Rigorous sax trio, rough and tough, except for a touchingly tender "Over the Rainbow." A-
Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quartet: To Hear From There (2010 , Patois): Trombonist, from San Francisco, b. 1952, has eight albums since 2000; side credits go back to the 1970s: r&b, Latin jazz, Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra. Trombone with piano-bass-drums-percussion; a couple guest vocalists. Originals for the most part, neatly labelled as jazz-timba or jazz-bolero or Cuban son-jazz or cha-cha-cha or whatever, with four covers ranging from Tito Puente to Juan Tizol's "Perdido." B+(*)
Lynne Arriale: Convergence (2010 , Motéma): Pianist, b. 1957 in Milwaukee, more than a dozen albums since 1993, teaches in Jacksonville, FL. Trio, with Omer Avital on bass and Anthony Pinciotti, expanded on most cuts with tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry. Half originals, half covers, drawn from the rock era -- Beatles and Stones to Trent Reznor. She cracks "Here Comes and Sun" and "Paint It Black" down to melodic fragments which pop up here and there offering the barest whiff of the songs -- very effective, nice work by Avital with the sax laying out. McHenry returns on "Call Me" (Blondie); he mostly gets the upbeat pieces, and is superb, as usual. B+(***)
Robert Hurst: Bob Ya Head (2010 , Bebob): Bassist, b. 1964, side credits kick off around 1986 with Woody Shaw, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Donald Brown, and Vincent Herring; released two records on DIW 1992-93, one on his Bebob label in 2002, two more this year. A lot of scattered ideas here, mostly tied to upbeat grooves, the flaring horns of "Alice and John" most impressive; a couple of cuts feature girlie choruses, not far removed from disco, but different, of course; "Unintellectual Property" features sound bites from noted standup comic G.W. Bush; ends with a bass solo. B+(**)
Robert Hurst: Unrehurst Volume 2 (2007 , Bebob): Bassist-led piano trio, with Robert Glasper on piano and Chris Dave on drums. The previous Unrehurst Volume 1 was recorded way back in 2000 and released in 2002, also with Glasper -- must have been quite young then but I can't find any reference that gives a firm birthdate (one source says "1979?"). Two Hurst tunes, one by Glasper, one Monk, one Cole Porter. Skillful but fairly ordinary neobop, nice to mix the bass up a bit. B
Soren Moller: Christian X Variations (2009 , Audial): Christian X was king of Denmark from 1912-47. He was credited with resisting the Nazis and protecting Danish Jews ("The king declared that all Danes would wear the Star of David in the event that the Nazis forced Denmark's Jewish population to do so.") Moller plays piano in a quartet with Dick Oatts on sax, Josh Ginsburg on bass, and Henry Cole on drums. The "variations" are organized for quartet or nonet -- the latter is accomplished by adding the Kirin Winds, a group of classical wind instrumentalists (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon) which adds some fancy overtones. B+(**)
Samir Zarif: Starting Point (2010 , Mythology): Saxophonist (tenor on 6 cuts, soprano on 3), b. 1980 in Houston, first album under his own name -- was in a group called The Paislies which released an album in 2007 (not a very good one). His saxophone work is consistently impressive here. He also dables in electronics (2 tracks) and vocals (4 tracks, twice joined by Maria Neckam). The vocals add a spacey otherness to the record, something I'm rather ambivalent about. B+(**)
Vlada: All About You (2003-08 , Glad Vlad): Singer, family Serbian, given name Vladimir Tajsic, raised in Switzerland, majored in English and economics at University of Zurich, wound up in Nashville. First album, assembled from band sessions in Switzerland in 2003, 2006-07 sessions in Nashville, and some final touches back in Switzerland. Tajsic wrote all the tracks, with some lyrical input from Sonya Hollan. Don't recall why I had filed this under gospel, but there is a lot of that. Band includes some pop-jazz notables, like Paul Jackson Jr. and, featured on three cuts, Kirk Whalum. Singer has his idiomatic English down smooth: my first reaction was that he's listened to a lot of Smokey Robinson. Backing vocals from part or all of Take 6. B+(**)
Sean Smith Quartet: Trust (2010 , Smithereen): Bassist; bio says he "has been an integral part of the international jazz scene for more than 20 years" but what if anything does that mean? AMG lists about 15 Sean Smiths; turns out he's the one listed under Folk, where he's described as "one of the busiest young players on the international jazz scene." Looks like he has a handful of previous records going back to 1999, a good deal of side credits -- website claims over 100 but lists under 20. Wrote all the pieces here. Quartet includes John Ellis (tenor and soprano sax), John Hart (guitar), and Russell Meissner (drums). Light and elegant postbop, tasty even. B+(***)
Elliott Sharp: Binibon (2010 , Henceforth): B. 1951, plays guitar, synths, a little clarinet and sax; has seventy or so records since 1977, mostly outside the jazz, rock, or classical categories. Composed and plays everything here, which is pleasing but relatively inconsequential. The main point is the spoken word libretto written by Jack Womack and performed by five characters. Has something to do with an artsy "cafe and 24-hour hangout at 2nd Avenue and 5th Street in the East Village . . . during 1979-81" -- too specific not to be real, too mythic to be remembered precisely. Might like it more if I followed it better, or might follow it better if I liked it more. 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.
Erik Lawrence & Hipmotism (2007, CDBaby): CDBaby describes this as acid jazz, but while most of the songs offer (or can be adapted to) funk grooves, and the bassist (Rene Hart) and drummer (Allison Miller) try to go that way for the first half-plus of the album. The horns have more leeway: the notes cite Lawrence on baritone sax and Steven Bernstein on slide trumpet; can't swear they stick to them. The two Lawrence originals break out into relatively free jazz, and their take on Fats Domino's "Going to the River" is as stretched out as their Pink Floyd ("Shine On You Crazy Diamond") is compressed. Toward the end you can feel the future Honey Ear Trio trying to break out. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Misha Mengelberg Quartet: Four in One (2000 , Songlines): Homework, as I try to get some deeper sense of the Dutch pianist and ICP Orchestra leader. Not much of his several dozen albums available through Rhapsody, but this item popped up: a quartet with Dave Douglas on trumpet, Brad Jones on bass, and Han Bennink hitting things (credit says: percussion). Three Monk pieces in the middle of a lot of originals, many recycled (Monk-like) from earlier efforts. The trumpet seems a little thin, but the piano is cagey, darting in and out unexpectedly. A- [Rhapsody]
Misha Mengelberg: Senne Sing Song (2005, Tzadik): Piano trio, produced by John Zorn with Zorn's house rhythm section, Greg Cohen on bass and Ben Perowsky on drums. Without the strings and horns of ICP Orchestra to compound his mischief, the pianist has to step up and carry the tunes, which he does. I don't often find a review worth quoting, but Dan Warburton at AMG has this one figured out: "Mengelberg's music remains a quintessential example of how recognizable idioms -- from Baroque counterpoint to the Duke-ish left-hand thunks and Monk-ish whole-tone runs -- can be extended (and subverted) into something both musically profound and profoundly musical." A- [Rhapsody]
Han Bennink Trio: Parken (2009, ILK): With Simon Toldman on piano and Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet/bass clarinet: their names and instruments are on the cover, following Bennink's, but most sources attribute as above. The New Dutch Swing idea is reinforced with three Ellington pieces, passages running wistfully sweet as well as cacophonous, and some fancy unorthodox drumming. Ends with the title song with a vocal by Qarin Wikström -- has a bit of Robert Wyatt flare to it. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Don Pullen: Plays Monk (1984 , Why Not?): The last pianist to work for Charles Mingus is an odd choice to play Monk, and I suspect he gave little thought to the project; he keeps wanting to work in his trademark flourishes, dazzling of course, but excess baggage especially when playing songs that hide their odd note choices in a cloak of primitivism. B [Rhapsody]
Willie Nelson/Wynton Marsalis: Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles (2009 , Blue Note): Pretty simple, the Marsalis quintet (Walter Blanding on tenor sax, Dan Nimmer on piano) play twelve obvious songs from the Charles songbook for a live audience with Nelson and Norah Jones trading vocals -- sometimes Jones has a bit of trouble getting on track, but Nelson is always right in the groove. Nothing wrong with the horns, either. Still, a pretty unnecessary album. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Patricia Barber: Monday Night: Live at the Green Mill Vol. 2 (2010 , Fast Atmosphere): Appears to be download-only, same for the first volume which dates back several years. Barber sings and plays piano, with guitar-bass-drums. Seems under the weather at first, hard to sort out, but fares better with songs I recognize, closing with her own "Post Modern Blues" followed by "Smile," "The Beat Goes On," and "Summertime." B [Rhapsody]
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Dan Tepfer Trio: Five Pedals Deep (2010, Sunnyside): Piano trio, with Thomas Morgan on bass and Ted Poor on drums. I have nothing but admiration for the carefully crafted record -- especially the solo "Body and Soul" at the end -- but also nothing much to say. Seems unfair, but after 5-6 plays I don't know what else to do. B+(**)
Exploding Star Orchestra: Stars Have Shapes (2010, Delmark): Rob Mazurek group, fourteen players but they play relatively minor roles filling out details in Mazurek's electronic plateaux -- long on atmospherics, reminds me of '70s prog-jazz only chilled out, reconceived after trip-hop. Mazurek's cornet occasionally shoots across the horizon, while Jeb Bishop's trombone lurks ominously. B+(**)
Todd DelGiudice: Pencil Sketches (2010 , OA2): Highly improbable sax hero -- put more time into his classical study than into jazz, hopped around various symphonies, wound up teaching on the scablands of eastern Washington -- nothing sketchy to his originals, but the bright lustre to his tone and rich ambience really come out on the sole cover, "All the Things You Are." B+(***)
Some re-grades as I've gone through trying to wrap things up and sort out the surplus:
Benjamin Herman: Hypochestmastreefuzz [Special Edition] (2008-09 , Dox, 2CD): Playing this a lot, both discs interchangeable, the only flaws being the Dutch speech at the end of each, although the Mengelberg interview sounds amusingly loopy, and the live intros shout out. Found a quote I used in the review, Herman's self-description: "surf-guitar based, Dutch-impro, cocktail-jazz sort of thing"; Goudsmit also talks about Dick Dale. Other trivia: on Dutch Wikipedia page, the list of musicians Herman has played with starts with Candy Dulfer, not a real avant-garde icon. [was: A-] A
Tarbaby: The End of Fear (2010, Posi-Tone): Philadelphia group, mostly. Four cuts are piano trio: Orrin Evans, Eric Revis, Nasheet Waits); eight add guest horns: Nicholas Payton (trumpet, 5 cuts), J.D. Allen (tenor sax, 2 cuts), Oliver Lake (alto sax, 5 cuts, one of the above with all three). I always assumed this to be Evans' group but I've seen it billed as Nasheet Waits' Tarbaby; all three write. Previous album had Allen; touring group includes Stacy Dillard, so I figure this is transitional, trying to juggle as the group evolves, but the one thing that underscores is that the concept seems to be sax-piano-bass-drums quartet rather than trio+horns, and among the former you get the feeling this one is aiming at the Coltrane Quartet, albeit through the back door. I never sorted this fully out, but Lake is especially terrific, giving them an edge they wouldn't have otherwise found, but having found it they really run with it. [was: B+(***)] A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, April 10. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week. The big story all week was the impending government shutdown, which John Boehner ducked at the last minute after making everyone look as bad as possible:
Didn't jot down the links, but last week saw a couple of "friendly fire" fuck-ups in Libya. There is essentially no way the US can enter a conflict without killing people on every side -- something to think about before you send invitations out.
Friday, April 8. 2011
Still marking time, picking off targets opportunistically rather than making any sort of systematic effort to find out what's new in old and to sort it out. Koivistoinen is a worthy Jazz CG album that I decided to spend more space on here; in turn it led to me to the earlier Sarmanto reissues. Carmen McRae and Chris Connor came up as discussion topics from Christgau's Expert Witness commentariat -- the former a pick, the latter just a query -- so I thought I'd use Rhapsody to investigate further. Everything else started with trying to flesh out some background info on Misha Mengelberg to get a better grasp on a couple Jazz CG albums. After running through the Mengelberg on Rhapsody, I found a couple old FMP items over at Destination Out, then one thing led to another. This is the first time I've noticed whole albums available there -- they run a lot of individual cuts, which isn't very satisfactory for the reviewing I do. Perhaps I should look for other sites like that as a way to broaden what I can cover?
The upshot is that I have a lot of jazz and nothing else. As long as I'm being unsystematic, I guess that's a risk. No news on where this is going over the longer term. Not even any speculation.
Eero Koivistoinen & Co.: 3rd Version (1973 , Porter): Finnish saxophonist near the start of a long and distinguished career. I imagine him listening to the contemporary English avant-garde, which took account of John McLaughlin's guitar and prog rock keybs and spun them in more radical directions. With Kukka Tolonen on guitar and Heikki Sarmanto on electric piano, some furtive bird sounds, and blazing sopranino-to-tenor sax. A-
Carmen McRae: Carmen Sings Monk (1988 , RCA Bluebird): A singer renowned for her studious fidelity to the lyric sheet, in many ways the polar opposite of Jon Hendricks, who wrote seven of thirteen lyrics here -- or more accurately, slapped them on the sides of bebop riffs like hit-and-run graffiti. McRae doesn't do Hendricks justice; she does him a big favor, not so much taking the words seriously as tucking them so neatly back into Monk's bent tunes newbies may not realize how out of joint they are. Also helps that the band, including the redoubtable Charlie Rouse -- Monk's main man on tenor sax -- handles the music with the proper respect. A- [R]
Carmen McRae: Sarah: Dedicated to You (1990 , RCA Bluebird): Sarah Vaughan, of course -- McRae never had a problem looking up to the other greats because she was too modest and proper to be one herself. Nothing here by Vaughan, none of her trademark phrasing or scat. Even the songs I know from Vaughan I know just as well from others, so while the tribute is sincere, this could just as well be McRae's own show, and really it is, not least because she's managed to clean up all the ego and fetishism that made Sassy so difficult and annoying. By the way, the exceptionally talented pianist who holds this together is Shirley Horn, who declined to sing. B+(***) [R]
Misha Mengelberg/Steve Lacy/George Lewis/Harjen Gorten/Han Bennink: Change of Season (Music of Herbie Nichols) (1984 , Soul Note): Nichols cut three CDs worth of material for Blue Note in 1955-56, a bit more or Bethlehem in 1957, then fell out of sight and died young in 1963. Trombonist Roswell Rudd studied under Nichols and made a number of efforts at reviving his music, including Regeneration, an exceptional 1982 album with Steve Lacy, Misha Mengelberg, Kent Carer, and Han Bennink, which was split with one side of Nichols' compositions, the other of Thelonious Monk tunes. This follows up with an all-Nichols program, with Lacy, Mengelberg, and Bennink returning, George Lewis replacing Rudd at trombone, and Harjen Gorter instead of Carter at bass. The soprano sax and trombone contrast strongly while tracing out the contours of the music, while the Dutch avant-swing section picks the rhythm apart. B+(***) [R]
FMP stands for Free Music Production, a label founded in 1966 by Jost Gebers and several young musicians who would soon be notorious leaders of free jazz in Europe: Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, and Alexander von Schlippenbach. They racked up a large catalog of LPs, most of which languished out of print especially as the world and they moved on to CDs. I dug back through every edition of The Penguin Guide, even back to the LP era, and built up a wish-list of more than 100 records, only tracking down 20 or so. Several old albums were licensed to Atavistic when John Corbett started his Unheard Music Series -- I did an "In Series" on them back in June 2005, although some came earlier and some later and some just got away. Over the last year there's been another attempt to recover the lost albums. I'm not sure who's doing what here, but the jazz website Destination Out! -- which has always provided a wealth of information on free jazz -- has set up shop to sell digital downloads of select FMP albums. And most helpfully, you can stream the full albums, so I did. Thus far they have seventeen, with new ones coming out roughly one per week. All but two of those were new to me -- I've had Chirps and Elf Bagatellen for quite a while, but gave them an extra listen anyway. No real disappointments; a couple of very pleasant surprises, and much in between.
Willem Breuker Kollektief: Live in Berlin (1975, FMP): Close to the beginning of what came to be called New Dutch Swing, Breuker played various saxes and clarinets, his Kollektief an 11-piece band that played classical, swing, and avant-garde with uncommon whimsy and an emphasis on the surreal; just how much whimsy isn't totally clear until they knock off a pop song ("Our Day Will Come"), but even the mock-classical "La Plagiata" is strung with laughs. A- [X]
Peter Brötzmann/Fred Van Hove/Han Bennink Plus Albert Mangelsdorff: Live in Berlin '71 (1971, FMP, 2CD): The tenor sax and trombone blister and bluster but at least back off part on occasion to let something develop; Bennink is credited with a long list of percussion including the catchall "home-made junk"; he dazzles on his own, as does pianist Van Hove when the thunder breaks; even the noise can be wondrous for a while, but it does go on too long. B+(**) [X]
Peter Brötzmann/Misha Mengelberg/Han Bennink: 3 Points and a Mountain . . . Plus (1979 , FMP, 2CD): Carefully balanced, with each player writing three songs, much space for the piano without Brötzmann blowing it out of the water, and as wide a range of sax and clarinet as you're likely to find -- although note that at least some of the tenor sax and clarinet is Bennink; a lot of fascinating bits, but a long haul to put them all together. B+(***) [X]
Peter Brötzmann: 14 Love Poems (Plus 10 More) (1984 , FMP): Solo exercises on a range of saxophones and clarinets including a taste of tarogato, all improv except for a bit of "Lonely Woman," mostly modest in tone and dynamics although not without the occasional jarring squelch; anyone serious about Brötzmann might find this a useful lens, as most of his kit is here, in manageable portions. B+(*) [X]
Rüdiger Carl: Zwei Quintette (1987 , FMP): Below the title line: "Two Compositions by Rüdiger Carl"; the two pieces run 40:41 and 36:28, originally on two LPs, not sure that there's even been a CD reissue; Carl plays tenor sax and clarinet, along with Philip Wachsmann (violin, electronics), Stephan Wittwer (guitar, more electronics), Irčne Schweizer (piano), and bass; the first (40:41) piece keeps a repeated riff in play with minor variations, never less than enchanting; the second (36:28) starts stuck in ambient mud, takes a while before more strenuous sax manages to dislodge it. B+(**) [X]
Andrew Cyrille/Peter Brötzmann: Andrew Cyrille Meets Brötzmann in Berlin (1982 , FMP): Duo, with Cyrille on drums and Brötzmann rotating between tenor sax, baritone sax, tarogato, and E-flat clarinet. Not sure which of the latter is responsible for an extended high-pitch barrage, but it's a bit much to handle. Brötzmann is no less combative on any other horn, but the others make more sense, and draw Cyrille out more. Won't make him any new friends, but very impressive as these things go. B+(***) [X]
Globe Unity Special '75: Rumbling (1975 , FMP): Alexander von Schlippenbach's avant-orchestra, formed back around 1967, cut down to an octet here (plus a dog, unnamed in the credits) -- Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, and Gerd Dudek on reeds; Kenny Wheeler and Albert Mangelsdorff on brass; Peter Kowald and Paul Lovens rounding out the rhythm section; starts with a Misha Mengelberg march, portending mischief, and ends with Lacy on Monk; in between abstract sounds improbably colliding for something more than noise. B+(***) [X]
The Noah Howard Quartet: Schizophrenic Blues (1977 , FMP): Alto saxophonist from New Orleans, may be why he never lost his party sense even while testing the limits of ESP-Disk's "only the artist decides" rule; rools the upper registers with Itaru Oki's trumpet never far behind, and sounds like he's been listening to then-recent Ornette Coleman. A- [X]
Noah Howard Group: Berlin Concert (1975 , FMP): Group includes a pianist I've never heard of (Takashi Kako), bass, drums, and percussion; don't have the song credits, but "Olé" would be Coltrane's, and the alto saxophonist shows more inclination to take the Trane than anything else; toward the end he dominates the album and it just lifts up and sails away. B+(***) [X]
ICP-Tentet: In Berlin (1977 , FMP): Stands for Instant Composers Pool, the Tentet later renamed Orchestra, still extant thirty-some years later, still led by pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Benink with cellist Tristan Honsinger the only other name still in the group; the horns are delirious in unison, rooted in old European pop, but they can also clash violently -- this was, after all, the group's enfant terrible phase. B+(**) [X]
Peter Kowald/Wadada Leo Smith/Günter Sommer: Touch the Earth -- Break the Shells (1979-81 , FMP): Bass-trumpet-drums trio, the bassist literally fleshes such out an amazing range of sound he threatens to reduce the others to accents, but neither reduce easily; Smith's spare eloquence is typical of him in this period; Sommer has a rapid roll to his drums, more rolling thunder than random lightning, but that all leads back to the remarkable bass work. A- [X]
Steve Lacy & Evan Parker: Chirps (1985 , FMP): The two giants of modern soprano sax in a duo; I would have expected more stylistic clash, but they're very attentive to each other, up and down and in and out, more like birds dancing than chirping; of course, the sonics are limited to the instrument, which is difficult to play and difficult to listen to over the long haul. B+(**) [X]
Misha Mengelberg/Han Bennink: Eine Partie Tischtennis (1974, FMP): Dutch piano-percussion duo, hooked up in the mid-1960s and have been inseparable ever since; the pianist flirts with boogie but prefers a sharp attack, especially on the high keys; the drummer will attack anything, with logs and woodblocks among his more common victims; too sharp, shrill, and loud to really enjoy, but it does rivet your attention. B+(*) [X]
Sam Rivers: Portrait (1995 , FMP): A solo showcase: first surprise is that he starts off on piano and makes a credible showing; moves on to tenor sax (mostly), soprano sax, flute, and finally back to piano; it's tough to make solo anything work, much less tenor sax, but he's steady and ingenious throughout. B+(*) [X]
Schlippenbach Trio: Elf Bagatellen (1990, FMP): That would be pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, working with Evan Parker (soprano and tenor sax) and Paul Lovens (drums); Parker's sax runs scratch at the surface, tearing it down rather than trying to build something on top -- an effect both self-limiting and bravely tenacious. B+(**) [X]
Cecil Taylor/William Parker/Tony Oxley: Celebrated Blazons: The Feel Trio (1990 , FMP): I count 18 records for Taylor on FMP from 1988-91, an intense outpouring that dominates the later half of is career; several were Feel Trios, with longtime bassist Parker shoring up spectacular fireworks from the others -- a rare record where the drummer gets in even better licks than Taylor. A- [X]
Keith Tippett: Mujician I & II (1981-86 , FMP): Solo piano, cut in two widely separated sessions but pretty much seamless, mostly fast rhythmic fluttering although some of it sounds rather fishy, like the piano has been tampered with -- low parts with a lot of stringy reverb or just lots of rumble, high crystal clear. B+(*) [X]
Chris Connor: Chris Connor (1956, Atlantic): June Christy's successor in Stan Kenton's band, famed for her smoky tone, with Atlantic's first vocal jazz album, a hodge podge of band and song styles -- a John Lewis trio, a larger band with Zoot Sims, a welter of period strings; she's credible in all contexts, more so when she gets a Cole Porter lyric. B+(*) [R]
Chris Connor: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (1956, Atlantic): I certainly don't like Ralph Burns' strings anywhere near as much as the jazz groups on part of her debut, but midway through I focused on nothing but voice on "Suddenly It's Spring, then dismissing the orchestra was surprised to find them robust in "About the Blues"; Rhapsody's song order is shuffled from the one listed in AMG, but the treatment is so consistent is must be acclimatization either way. B+(**) [R]
Chris Connor: I Miss You So (1956-57 , Atlantic): Title song her only chart single, not big but a memorable one; again, strings dominate, this time with Ray Ellis conducting, and again Connor overcomes them on the stronger songs; the one odd song out is "They All Laughed," done with a crack jazz group, a first taste of what became her best album, Sings the George Gershwin Almanac of Song. B+(**) [R]
Chris Connor: A Jazz Date With Chris Connor (1956, Atlantic): Like most of Connor's Atlantics, cut in three sessions with slightly varying groups, this one centered around pianist Ralph Sharon, with occasional sax (Al Cohn, Lucky Thompson), trumpet (Joe Wilder), flute (Sam Most), guitar (Joe Puma), vibes (Eddie Costa), even a bit of conga (Mongo Santamaria); nice to escape the strings, but Connor sings much as before, making little of the extra freedom; Rhapsody picks this up from a twofer reissue, tacking Chris Craft -- reviewed separately below -- on to the end, a pretty good deal. B+(**) [R]
Chris Connor: Chris Craft (1958, Atlantic): With Stan Free on piano and Mundell Lowe on guitar, Percy Heath of George Duvivier on bass, Ed Shaughnessy on drums, this group has some snap to the rhythm, and Connor responds, showing fine timing on the fast ones, her usual vocal depth on "Lover Man." B+(***) [R]
Chris Connor: Sings Ballads of the Sad Cafe (1959, Atlantic): Only nine cuts, they run a bit long as well as slow, with strings arranged by Ralph Sharon sometimes giving way to a big band borrowed from Count Basie -- Stan Free is the pianist, but the roster is full of Basie-ites from Frank Foster to Sweets Edison to Freddie Green. B+(*) [R]
Chris Connor: Witchcraft (1959, Atlantic): Richard Wess conducts, sometimes dipping into the strings, more often letting a pretty sharp big band get in its punches; neither approach works all that well, except as they frame Connor's voice; however, she sings as authoritatively as ever, which is key here (e.g., "Just in Time"). B+(***) [R]
Noah Howard Quartet (1966 , ESP-Disk): Short (29:35) debut album for the New Orleans-bred alto saxophonist, with Ric Colbeck on trumpet and bass-drums players I've never run into again; Colbeck, who had one album and two more side-credits by 1970, jousts gamely with Howard; note that Rhapsody has this album listed under its last song title, "And About Love." B+(*) [R]
Misha Mengelberg/Steve Lacy/George Lewis/Ernst Re˙seger/Han Bennink: Dutch Masters (1987 , Soul Note): Two Lacy pieces, two by Mengelberg, two by Thelonious Monk who remains a mainstay of both leaders; don't understand the spelling of ICP's longtime cellist's name -- it's Reijseger everywhere else; while the Dutch provide the oddball swing here, the prime sound masters are the Americans. B+(***) [R]
Heikki Sarmanto: A Boston Date (1970 , Porter): Finnish pianist, bills his quintet as The Serious Music Ensemble, plays advanced freebop with Lance Gunderson's guitar tightening the rhythmic weave and Juhani Aaltonen's tenor sax waxing eloquent; Aaltonen is one of the world's most underappreciated saxophonists -- young then, still active 40 years later -- and this is his showcase. A-
Heikki Sarmanto Quintet: Counterbalance (1971 , Porter): Same group, give or take a bassist, but a different sound and gestalt, more fusion with Sarmanto's tinkly electric piano, rarefied but not quite ethereal with Juhani Aaltonen restricting himself to flute. B+(*)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: The Living Music (1969 , Atavistic): A septet, more a stripped down version of Globe Unity Orchestra than anything else, with two brass (Manfred Schoof on cornet, Paul Rutherford on trombone), two reeds (Peter Brötzmann on tenor sax, Michel Pilz on bass clarinet, both on bari sax), enough horn power to raise the roof, with the piano-bass-drums tending to slash and bang, quite dramatic but surprisingly coherent, breaking new ground. B+(**) [R]
Schlippenbach Quartet: Hunting the Snake (1975 , Atavistic): Really unheard music, broadcast on Radio Bremen then shelved for a quarter century; with Peter Kowald on bass on top of the pianist's regular trio -- saxophonist Evan Parker and percussionist Paul Lovens -- for four 20-minute (two more, two less) pieces; somewhat unfocused as a whole, but each player does remarkable things throughout. B+(*) [R]
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other stream source). 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 83, see the archive.
Thursday, April 7. 2011
From 2003-09 I took as an annual exercise to look at and critique Downbeat's annual critics poll results. Originally I did this because I was new to the game and wanted to see what the critics knew that I didn't -- for instance, the first time I noticed Scott Colley or Jeremy Pelt or Gregoire Maret was in the poll results. Later on I did it more because I knew better and enjoyed second-guessing guys who no doubt made a good deal more money at this than I do. One case was Jackie McLean: for several years I couldn't fathom why he wasn't in, or getting serious votes to get in, or even on the eligible ballot for Downbeat's Hall of Fame. Then he died and someone over at Downbeat must have wondered the same thing, since they put him on the ballot and he came from nowhere to win. I'd like to take credit for that, but I'm sure someone else thinks it was their idea.
Eventually I moved all those notes into a directory here. But in 2010 I slipped up and didn't get any second-guess notes together. I don't know whether they noticed, but in February this year I got an email from Downbeat's editors asking me to vote in their critics poll. So, what the hell, I did. Took notes as I was going through the paces. Turned out to be a huge amount of work, and of a particularly unpleasant sort. Some of the categories were real clear cut: you say violin, I say Billy Bang; you say bass, I say William Parker. But some of the categories are so rich I had a tough time narrowing the field. For instance, some of the alto saxophonists I didn't vote for: Ornette Coleman, Henry Threadgill, John Zorn, Oliver Lake, Bobby Watson, Michael Moore, Marty Ehrlich, Phil Woods, Sonny Simmons, Steve Wilson, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Lehman, Ted Nash, Miguel Zenon, Steve Coleman. Trumpet, tenor sax, bass (after Parker), and drums are all like that, piano even more so.
Then there are categories I don't have anyone for -- flute, organ, electric bass, electric keyboards -- and categories I don't especially relate to -- composer, arranger, group. There's also the interest in blues albums, which I like but don't follow (mostly because there's not much to follow), and their ridiculous "beyond" category. Also bugs me that they can't evaluate records on a calendar year basis: voting in March, we're expected to go April 2010 to March 2011 (although I think the only 2011 record that got nominated was Joe Lovano's Bird Songs, from January) -- wiped out my second place album from 2010, but mostly just made me do a lot of extra checking.
I cast this a couple weeks ago. Thought I'd go back through the file and clean it up, add an introduction, maybe some final thoughts, maybe drop some more names in I hadn't thought of at the time. Should explain a few minor points: for each category, we're asked to vote for three names, giving the top dog 5 points, second 3, and third 2. The ballot offers a list of names, so those people you can just pick; otherwise, there's a slot where you can write names in, noting how many points for each write-in. In some categories, I felt like I should stick with the ballot; in others I didn't, and I probably wound up doing write-ins for 20-30% of my votes. Most categories you had to vote twice, once for the absolute best, a second time for a "rising star" -- the definition of the latter was vague at best. In my notes I spend a lot of time fussing over distinctions like that, and my strategy evolves a bit along the way. (I couldn't go back and redo any earlier votes -- or at least I didn't know how to.)
The other big point is to caution you not to take this too seriously. I'm pretty comfortable grading records -- which are purchasing decisions, which is to say economic matters -- much less so people, who are people. When I say X, I really mean the recorded output of X, usually limited to the last few years roughly speaking. Even so in many cases there is no basis for making effective comparisons. Much of the time I just felt like arbitrarily going one way or another. Also, the ballot definitely had an effect in steering me, in ways that will be hard to reconstruct from the notes.
For the notes, go here.
Monday, April 4. 2011
I should have finished my Jazz Consumer Guide column this past week, but, uh, didn't. I may be done late today, or tomorrow; at any rate, sometime real soon now. At this point, it's mostly a matter of sorting. And duds: don't have any duds written up. Shouldn't be too difficult to scan back through the Jazz Prospecting and recall a couple. (Maybe Arturo O'Farrill, since he took the time to write in and call me an "ass"?). With a new editor coming in, I'm tempted to just leave them out. I don't personally feel the need to establish my street cred by kicking cripples. Running duds may be entertaining -- back when I wrote longer dud reviews I got more feedback on them than on anything else -- but it chews up space for honorable mentions, which given the long-term space crunch are creeping up higher and higher on my rank list: in the current draft I have ten A- records in the HMs, and no B+(**), and still have so many HMs the surplus file post is going to be full of them. If the editors want more words on inferior albums (or for that matter longer reviews of good albums), get me more space, more often.
With a couple of minor distractions, I spent the entire week going back over rated records and turning them into JCG reviews -- or when that didn't prove inspiring some became surplus notes. As such, I did virtually no new jazz prospecting this week. So I have damn little I could show you at this point: one new record I want to spin again, one old record, some Rhapsody stuff that I mostly listened to for background, a couple of regrade notes. Could see what else I manage by the end of the day, but it's just as well I punt and come back next week with something more substantial. I can at least run the unpacking, and get that out of the way. Will post Recycled Goods later this week, when I get Jazz CG wrapped up, and Streamnotes after that -- neither as close to the front of the month as usual, but it's like that. Also still have that Downbeat poll ballot.
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes to date, look here.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, April 3. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week: