Monday, May 30. 2011
Post delayed today by a power outage. We do depend on electricity these days, and everything grinds to a stop when it fails. Not what you'd call storms today, but what the government calls a Wind Advisory: steady winds from the south 35-40 mph, with gusts over 50. We expect some storms tonight when a cold front passes through and reverses the wind, but I gather it won't actually get any cooler.
So-so week: I'm surprised I didn't bag more records, and can't recall why I didn't. Was thinking a bit ahead to posting Recycled Goods and Rhapsody Streamnotes this coming week -- Downloader's Diary too, don't know yet whether it will run before or after RG. Also don't have any thoughts on Jazz CG cycle. Incoming mail has been light the last two weeks.
Avery Sharpe: Running Man (2010 , JKNM): Bassist, plays electric 6-string as well as acoustic, had a long association with Yusef Lateef and McCoy Tyner, has 10 records on his own since 1988, picking up the pace around 2005. Pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs is a credible Tyner clone. Craig Handy plays a lot of soprano sax and some tenor sax, does a nice job with the former. Maya Sharpe sings a couple songs. Gumbs, Handy, and drummer Yoron Israel write one each, leaving Sharpe eight. B+(*)
Mathias Eick: Skala (2009-10 , ECM): Trumpeter, also plays guitar, vibes, bass; b. 1979 in Norway; second album; about 30 side credits since 2002, including groups Jaga Jazzist (relatively good acid jazz) and Motorpsycho (some kind of metal?). This breaks through the Nordic chill which ECM more often intensifies. Trumpet is warm and bright, Andreas Ulvo's piano moving shiftly through the undergrowth. Band varies from cut to cut, often doubling up on drums (Torstein Lofthus and Gard Nilssen), with tenor sax on one cut, harp on another, here then gone. A-
Jerry Leake & Randy Roos: Cubist Live (2010 , Rhombus Publishing): Leake is a percussionist, collects instruments and techniques from all around the world, records them, writes books about them, teaches them -- Indian, Persian, Latin American, all over Africa. Record company has "publishing" in the title because his books outnumber his records (currently 7 to 6). First record I heard by him, The Turning (2006), played like an encyclopedia, which I thought a neat idea at the time. But so did his last, Cubist, which I backed a bit down on, only to receive a letter from him chiding me for failing to recognize his "masterpiece." Well, this isn't a masterpiece either, but the nine long songs (total 76:41) fit and flow. Thanks to guitarist Roos -- promoted from producer last time to a byline -- he's got a band here. The flute-phobic should be warned, but actually this picks up a head of steam when the flute comes out, and gets even better when Stan Strickland reverts to sax. Better still when the extra drummers (Ben Paulding and Marty Wirt, plus Lisa Leake on percussion and Mike Doud on tabla) quicken the pace. Back cover says "file under world & rock" but the mix makes most sense as jazz. A-
Eldar Djangirov: Three Stories (2009 , Masterworks Jazz): Pianist, b. 1987 in Kyrgyzstan, then still part of the Evil Empire. A proverbial child prodigy, "discovered" at age 9 playing in a festival somewhere in Siberia, moved to Kansas City (supposedly to soak up its jazz legacy, although I assure you no one will ever detect a trace of Bennie Moten or Pete Johnson here), cut his first record in his teens, going by first name only. First record using his last name, a welcome sign of maturity. Solo piano. He's never tried to shake his good classical education, featuring pieces by Bach and Scriabin alongside standards like "Darn That Dream" and "Embraceable You" and three originals -- only "In Walked Bud" and "Donna Lee" offer the slight whiff of jazz. B
Debbie Poryes/Bruce Williamson: Two & Fro (2010 , OA2): Piano-sax duets. Poryes, based in San Francisco area, cut an album in 1982, only a couple since. Williamson plays alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, and flute. Also infrequently recorded, his debut in 1992, one more since, plus a couple dozen side credits. Wrote one song each, plus do seven covers, jazz (Shorter, Coltrane, Davis), standards, Beatles, closing with a long, slow "Ol' Man River" that is particularly nice. B+(*)
Scott Amendola Trio: Lift (2010, Sazi): Drummer, best known in the Nels Cline Singers; fourth album since 1999, a trio with Jeff Parker on guitar and John Shifflett on bass. Mostly hews to rock grooves, but much more to it. Especially good showcase for Parker. B+(***)
Terrence McManus/Mark Helias/Gerry Hemingway: Transcendental Numbers (2009 , NoBusiness): Guitar/bass/drums trio. McManus and Hemingway have a slightly earlier duo called Below the Surface Of that I have rated a tad above this, probably because the jagged metal guitar was more striking, although I should double check because it's unlikely the bassist doesn't add something valuable. He is interesting in his own right, and the drummer is superb. [B+(***)]
Vesa-Matti Loiri: 4+20 (1971 , Porter): Finnish flautist, vocalist, actor; b. 1945. AMG lists 33 records, starting in 1968, but this is the only one they've evidently heard. It's a weird one, mostly flute and percussion, a guitar, sometimes adding piccolo and/or soprano sax (no less than Eero Koivistoinen). Six songs in "Mummon Kaappikello" is a change of pace, with tenor sax and cartoonish vocals. Title cut is from Stephen Stills, not that he'd recognize it. B+(*)
Matthew Shipp: Art of the Improviser (2010 , Thirsty Ear, 2CD): Pianist, one of the few I've spent enough time with to be able to follow. A decade-plus ago he was talking like he'd played everything he wanted to play and intended to stop, then he got a job with an avant-rock label and started a remarkable series of mash-ups and mergers between DJs and avant-jazzists -- his own Nu Bop and Equilibrium and Harmony and Abyss were highlights there. At his peak, Rolling Stone asked me to write up a survey of his work for their CD guide -- one of the very few jazz pianists to make a cut that excluded Ellington, Tatum, Monk, Powell, Pullen, and loads more. Even though he's hardly ever touched an electronic keyb, he started polling higher on electric than on acoustic. Since then it's as if he's backed down, seeking to regain his self-respect: he's mostly limited himself to trios and solo outings, strictly acoustic, not as avant as in his early days (although even then he was more indebted to Bud Powell than to Cecil Taylor). This time, with a title befitting Brad Mehldau, he gives you two live sets, one of each. The trio with Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums flows swiftly, the bass and drums heightening his own rhythmic conception, with a cover of "Take the A Train" to help secure your bearings. The solo takes more effort to chew, but plenty of food for thought there, too. B+(***)
Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Beans/Hprizm: Knives From Heaven (2011, Thirsty Ear): Basically, an Antipop Consortium joint, with Beans (Robert Stewart) rapping over High Priest (Kyle Austin, here dba Hprizm) electronics, with Shipp's piano and Parker's bass keeping it real. (Also seem to have cornered the publishing.) Would go further with better rhymes, although most of the parts without lyrics are intriguing synth fragments, the piano a plus, the bass hard to sort out. B+(*)
William Hooker: Crossing Points (1992 , NoBusiness): Drummer, b. 1946, has a couple dozen albums since 1982; seems like a lot of them are ad hoc improv duos and trios, but he usually winds up with his name on top or first -- not many side credits, although AMG lists a couple with Lee Ranaldo. This is a duo with alto saxophonist Thomas Chapin -- Hooker's name is out front of the title, with "featuring Thomas Chapin" following -- cut just as Chapin was hitting his stride (cf. Insomnia) before his early death in 1998. First piece starts out tentative and ugly, but soon enough rights itself, in large part because the drummer gets out front and dares the saxophonist to keep up. B+(***)
David S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown (2010 , AUM Fidelity): The new quartet, but it doesn't quite seem settled yet. The change at piano is intriguing, but Cooper-Moore has far less impact than Matthew Shipp did, especially in the old quartet's maturity. As for the new drummer, Rashied Ali's younger brother can hang with this crowd, but he's the senior citizen here. What's harder to gauge is Ware: his first three cuts on tenor strike me as routine (not a word that often occurs to me with Ware), the next three on soprano more intriguing, as is the finale on stritch. It's gotten to where I expect Ware to blow me away every time -- well, maybe not solo -- so I'm confused here, or maybe just slow. [B+(***)]
The Ambush Party (2008 , De Platenbakkerij): Eponymous first album, group a quartet: Natalio Sued (tenor sax), Oscar Jan Hoogland (piano), Harald Austbř (cello), Marcos Baggiani (drums). Recorded in Amsterdam, no background on any of them. Free improv, what they call instant composition. Rugged not rough, with a little of that circus undertow the Dutch are so fond of. B+(**)
Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Live at Birdland (2009 , ECM): New York Times advance, quoted in hype sheet, promises "soft anarchy, a gig without preparation or rehearsal," and that's pretty much it. Six standards, counting Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, given 10-15 minutes each. Mehldau is the best prepared, but Konitz is the person of interest, and he's a bit out of it, though it's hard to say why, or to dismiss what he plays, when he plays. B+(**)
Walt Weiskopf Quartet: Recorded Live April 8, 2008 Koger Hall University of South Carolina (2008 , Capri): Presented as a memoir of late drummer Tony Reedus, who died Nov. 16, 2008; the most upfront and personable outing I've heard by the mainstream tenor saxophonist, plus a strong assist from pianist Renee Rosnes -- haven't heard much from her since her Blue Note contract lapsed nearly a decade ago. Paul Gill plays bass. 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, May 29. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Thursday, May 26. 2011
Chernus also has some useful paragraphs on why most Israelis prefer to keep the conflict unresolved -- the common enemy unites the Jewish people, and patriotic unity (militaristic and racist as it is) is the sole grounds for keeping a right-wing government in power, although the nominal left in Israel is every bit as desperate to cling to that sense of unity. What Chernus doesn't say is how much depends on the conflict and its resolution.
The core fact is that Israel is the last unresolved white settler colony. In all previous cases, white settler colonies succeeded or failed based on demographics. Basically, where the white settlers had the numbers they won (US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, many parts of Latin America from Argentina and Chile to Cuba although some parts were eased with integration, where the natives submitted to the colonizer's religion). Where they didn't, they lost (South Africa and Algeria were the closest and hardest fought). Israel is smack in the middle on that scale, a point Israel's founders were all too conscious of. From the early days of British sponsorship, they grasped that success or failure depended on how many Jews they could convince to immigrate, and how many Palestinians they could get to leave. After WWII nearly everyone came to think that seizing land by force, transplanting your settlers to secure that land, and building an occupier/occupied caste system were crimes of a bygone age, but that's what Israelis did -- most emphatically but by no means exclusively in 1947-49 -- and their entire history has been spent in securing those gains, in making them irreversible even as more and more people see them as unjust and unnecessary.
Unfortunately, the lessons we learned from WWII weren't learned as quickly or as completely as we tend to remember them. The Nazis fatally discredited racism and anti-Semitism, but the US Jim Crow system remained intact another twenty years, South African Apartheid much longer, and in 1946 there were anti-Jewish pogroms in Poland. The rules against moving settlers into occupied territory came in reaction to Germany moving its nationals into eastern Europe, but the Soviet Union both moved borders and whole peoples after the war, sliding Poland well to the west, and ejecting both the new Germans and ones that had lived in the east for many centuries. WWII fatally disrupted the colonial system, but France and Great Britain clung to parts of their prewar empires for another twenty years, fighting especially hard to support their white minorities in Algeria and Kenya. Britain callously split its India colony into two camps, instigating genocidal slaughter that killed over a million and sent many more millions fleeing across new borders -- less than a year before Britain callously abanoned Palestine to civil war. And of course the founders of Israel were shocked and reacting to the Nazi genocide of six million Jews, an event that they viewed as proof of the necessity of the Zionist project -- proof that anti-Semitism was eternal, proof that they had no home in Europe they could return to, a prism which inflated the Arab resistence they faced locally to existential peril.
So it's easy to understand how this came about, and why so many Israelis cling to deep-seated myths of diminishing utility. For sixty years they've kept up the fight, motivating themselves with lessons from their victimhood and a neverending litany of wrongs against them. The Palestinians were a bit slow on the uptake at first, although even in the 1930s many could see the same fateful struggle over demography: a fear that proved more than justified, although it came at the most unfortunate of times, just as Hitler was organizing his genocide. The Palestinians went through every stage of resistance, from thinking they could take back their land to thinking they could throw off their occupiers to negotiation to abjectly pleading to the world for the basic dignity of human and civil rights. They are, in short, a beaten people, yet even that doesn't quiet the Israelis, for by their very success they've impaled themselves on the horns of a dilemma: they still want all of the land, and they still want none of the people on that land, and nothing less will satisfy their sense of themselves as the victors, or fully justify their long and bloody struggle.
For anyone with a modicum of rationality, there are two easy solutions at this point: Israel can keep the land and adopt the people, giving them citizenship and diluting the Jewish majority, threatening their sense of owning a Jewish State; or Israel can divide the land, giving up control over the parts that are mostly non-Jewish so that Palestinians can enjoy citizenship and rights in a state that is not Israel. One problem with the latter is that Israel has deliberately created a gulag of settlements in the West Bank that are virtually impossible to disentangle. Another is that Israeli have overwhelmed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians insist should be the capitol of their free nation. Another is what to do about millions of Palestinian refugees, especially those born and raised in countries like Lebanon that do not recognize their citizenship. And there are lots of smaller problems, some real like the vast number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, most rather silly (like the security concerns of Israelis who insist that a Palestinian state have no rights to its own air space or coastal waters). But all of those things could be negotiated if both sides were to show mutual respect and a desire to give up the struggle and live in each other's company.
It wasn't always like this, but more and more it's just the Israelis who are obstructing peace. The Palestinians, as I've said, have been utterly defeated, but whereas in earlier times that may have meant they would slaughtered, sold into slavery, and/or forced into exile, today they can still insist on the right to be treated like anyone else. More and more, Israel's failure to recognize this is turning them into an international pariah, much like happened to South Africa during the last days of Apartheid. But this far Israel has escaped the practical consequences of their obtuseness because they've been able to bully and cajole the US into providing them with moral cover (and billions of dollars). The US has gone along for lots of not very good reasons, from the fact that we used to be a white settler colony ourselves to the various interest groups, like the military-industrial complex, that benefit from friendship with Israel, to AIPAC, to Israel's bizarre cultivation of born again Christians (especially those pining for the apocalypse). On the other hand, that support has its downsides, not least the utter moral confusion of having to exempt Israel (and therefore the Palestinians) from everything we say about the rest of the world.
So watching Obama flounder here is doubly unfortunate. On the one hand, he is isn't saying what needs to be said: something that finally shakes Israel out of its stupor. On the other hand, what he is saying isn't taken seriously, because he doesn't have the authority and political clout to back it up. I've long understood how intransigent Israel's politicians are on this issue, in large part because I appreciate how central it is to their identity, but I've also long suspected that Israeli public opinion is more flexible. The one time an American president actually showed his displeasure with Israeli intransigence the Israelis voted Shamir out and Rabin in, leading to the Oslo Accords. So what I've been waiting for ever since Obama took office was the sort of signals that would undermine Netanyahu's extremely fragile coalition. Just as Netanyahu successfully sabotaged Oslo, there has never been any doubt that he would keep any new peace initiatives from taking effect -- as indeed he has. But his command of Israel has always been very tentative; nudge him out of office and the climate could change markedly. But as long as Netanyahu can push Obama around, this is certainly the lesson of last week, why should Israelis doubt him? They are relatively comfortable with the persistence of a conflict which costs them very little and makes them feel like God's Chosen People. And as long as the US kowtows to them, they pretty much are, despite the fact that what they are doing is offensive to everyone else -- most of all to people who realize that we'd be much better off with more mutual respect and a lot less violence.
Monday, May 23. 2011
Mid-cycle, picking things from all the queue boxes trying to cut down the overall backlog. Was fairly productive until the weekend, which got wiped out. Probably a couple more weeks like this before I switch to closing out the column/cycle. Also the month turns over so I might get distracted by Recycled Goods. I have notes on about 30 records for Rhapsody Streamnotes, so that's healthy sized.
John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Contagious Words (2010 , Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet player, composer, arranger, leader of the big band he calls Abstract Truth. About the only bio I have on Vanore is that he played for Woody Herman in the 1970s, and put the first edition of his band together in 1981. Last year he reissued a 1991 album called Curiosity. This one is new, cut in June and December of 2010. Not very well defined in the early going, but sneaks up on your and closes very strong, getting a lot out the guitar and slipping a French horn into the brass. B+(*)
Eddie Mendenhall: Cosine Meets Tangent (2010 , Miles High): Pianist, bio mangled, but "directs the jazz department" at Monterey Peninsula College, seems to be from those parts, studied at Berklee, spent seven years in Japan. First album. Wrote 8 of 10 pieces, with one from vibraphonist Mark Sherman, one from Rodgers and Hart. Quartet with John Schifflett on bass, Akira Tana on drums. The vibes dominate early on in one of Sherman's finest performances. By coincidence I was writing something about MJQ while listening to this. These guys are much faster, not that that was necessarily the point. B+(**)
Bill Anschell: Figments (2010 , Origin): Seattle pianist, AMG counts seven albums since 1997. Solo piano this time, all covers, majority folk/rock from the 1960s (two Lennon/McCartneys, "Alice's Restaurant," "Spinning Wheel") into the early 1970s ("Big Yellow Taxi," "Desperado"). Nice as far as it goes. B
Storms/Nocturnes [Geoffrey Keezer/Joe Locke/Tim Garland]: Via (2010 , Origin): Second album for the trio -- previous one recorded in 2002, released with Garland's name first and Keezer's last (UK label then, US label now). Respectively: piano, vibes, saxophones/bass clarinet. Garland, as I said, is British, b. 1966, has about ten albums, plays a lot of soprano as well as tenor, was prominent enough he got "featuring" credits while he was with Bill Bruford. Keezer, b. 1970, was Art Blakey's last pianist. Has a dozen-plus albums since 1989 including major labels Blue Note and Columbia. Locke you know. Aside from the previous group album they've played around with each other. Still, I'm surprised at how little chemistry there is. The pieces don't mesh, and Garland and Locke are pretty unassertive. B-
Noah Haidu: Slipstream (2009 , Posi-Tone): Pianist, from Charlottesville, VA. First record, although he's in a group called Native Soul which has two records, one unplayed in my queue somewhere. Post-hardbop quintet, has a front line that should be able to generate some heat: Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto sax. They do break out on occasion, but not so often, with the piano thickly entangled. B
Native Soul: Soul Step (2008 , Talking Drum): Filed this under pop jazz, a mistake I blame on the packaging -- they sure try to look like another variant of Four Play. Actually, a mainstream postbop sax-piano-bass-drums quartet; even when they try to go with electric bass and keyb they stay firmly rooted on the jazz side. All four members contribute 2-3 songs -- bassist Marcus McLaurine is the overachiever. Two covers: one from Jimi Hendrix, the other "End of a Love Affair." B+(**)
Clint Ashlock Big Band: New Jazz Order (2008 , self-released): Trumpet player, from Kansas City, leading a standard big band (although so many musicians come and go I didn't check to see if all the sections always add up). Bobby Watson joins on two cuts, which scarcely matters except for the imprimatur he lends to musicians I've never heard of. The guitar keeps things going, the section work is snappy, they have a great time -- much like the territory bands of yore. B+(***)
The Rossano Sportiello Trio: Lucky to Be Me [Arbors Piano Series, Volume 22] (2010, Arbors): Pianist, b. 1974 in Vigevano, Italy. Plays old fashioned stride with a light touch. Joined Dan Barrett at a festival in Switzerland in 2002, and has increasingly worked himself into the Arbors swing network: second album on his own, two more charming duos with bassist-singer Nicki Parrott, side credits especially with Harry Allen. This is a trio with Frank Tate (bass) and Dennis Mackrel (drums), old standards which increasingly includes the 1950s (Thad Jones, J.J. Johnson, Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan), light and mostly delightful. Closes with something by Bach, no doubt part of his education, just not something I ever learned to care for. B+(**)
Lajos Dudas: 50 Years of Jazz Clarinet: The Best of Lajos Dudas (1976-2007 , Jazz Sick, 2CD): Clarinet player, also some alto sax, b. 1941 in Budapest, Hungary; not sure when he moved to Germany, evidently by 1973 when he started teaching in Neuss, North Rhine-Westphalia. Reportedly has "over 50 Singles/LPs/CDs"; liner notes cite 17 here, plus seven cuts identified as radio shots. Fifty years goes back to his first performances, back when he was studying at the Bela Bartok Conservatory and the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. His recording career is shorter, starting around 1976 with his first Reflections on Bach -- a subject he returns to several times later. Still, this is very much jazz, even though he hardly fits into the trad, bop, or avant niches. Discs aren't strictly chronolgical, but the first one leans early (1978-94) with its Bach, Liszt, and HR Big Band (also a cut with guitarist Atilla Zoller). Second leads off with a vigorous "Summertime," then more Bach before he moves into a 1995-2007 stretch and it gets more interesting. B+(**)
Jacqui Sutton: Dolly & Billie (2010, Toy Blue Typewriter): Singer, from Orlando, FL; fifty-something, first album. The Dolly Parton-Billie Holiday concept is only explicit on the first ("God Bless the Child") and last ("Endless Stream of Tears") songs. In between there's a piece from Porgy and Bess, two from BeTwixt, BeTween, & BeTwain, some more show tunes I don't quite get. Band is called the Frontier Jazz Orchestra, led by pianist-trombonist Henry Darragh, with Paul Chester on bango, Max Dyer on cello, Aralee Dorough on flute, Alan Hoff on accordion, some others. It's meant to be a little corny, and Sutton's voice careens recklessly through the maze, scattering hay bales hither and yon. C+
Jochen Rueckert: Somewhere Meeting Somebody (2010 , Pirouet): Drummer, b. 1975 near Köln, Germany; moved to New York in 1995. Second album, the first dating from 1998; AMG lists 30 side credits. Wrote 9 of 11 pieces here, adding one each from Herbie Hancock and Martin Gore (Depeche Mode). Group looks superb on paper -- Mark Turner (tenor sax), Brad Shepik (guitar), Matt Penman (bass) -- but the guitar doesn't pop out, and the sax just glides along, making few waves. B+(*)
Alex Pinto Quartet: Inner State (2010 , self-released): Guitarist, b. 1985 in Silver Spring, MD (near DC); father from Mangalore, Karnataka, India, worked for World Bank which moved the family around, including a stint in Russia; mother from Wisconsin. Studied at McGill (in Montreal), wound up in San Francisco. First album. Quartet includes Jon Armstrong (tenor sax), Dave Tranchina (bass), Jaz Sawyer (drums). Pinto wrote all the pieces, working in some Indian tunings and breaking out on his solos, although Armstrong comes off even more muscular. B+(**)
Gordon Lee: This Path (2010, OA2): Pianist, b. 1953 in New York City; studied at Syracuse and Indiana; moved to Portland, OR in 1977, worked 1980-85 in New York, then returned to Portland. Seventh album since 1982. Works with two trios here, plus a couple of solo cuts, one with Miguel Bernal on cajon. B+(**)
T.K. Blue: Latin Bird (2010 , Motéma): Also known as Talib Kibwe; plays alto sax and flute; b. in New York, mother from Trinidad, father from Jamaica; studied at NYU and Columbia; joined Abdullah Ibrahim 1977-80, moved to Paris for early 1980s, hooked up with Randy Weston for a long stretch. Released three albums as Talib Kibwe 1986-96; five now as T.K. Blue, starting in 1999. This one is simple enough: Charlie Parker songs with Latin percussion -- Roland Guerrero on congas, Willie Martinez on traps -- with Theo Hill on piano and Essiet Okon Essiet on bass, plus a couple guests: Lewis Nash takes over the drums on two cuts, and Steve Turre plays shells and 'bone on three. Not the overpowering player Bird was, but that's fine by me. The two originals are OK, but the one non-Parker cover is a dead spot: "Round Midnight," which subtracts rather than adds to the theme. B+(**)
Fred Hersch: Alone at the Vanguard (2010 , Palmetto): Pianist, of course, has close to 30 album since 1984, cultivated his Bill Evans comparisons with 1990's Evanessence. I thought last year's Whirl was a triumph -- best thing he's ever done, although I'm not much of an expert. Guess that's all it took to get him to do another solo album -- don't know how many he has, but must be a handful (still way short of Jarrett). You know better than I whether you're up for this. Personally, I don't buy all of Art Tatum's solo piano albums, and he's a helluva lot sexier than this. But there's nothing lame or disingenous here, and I'm as happy as anyone that's he's still kicking. B+(*)
Liam Sillery: Priorité (2009 , OA2): Trumpet player, from New Jersey, studied at Manhattan School of Music. Fifth album since 2004, mostly quintets with sax-piano-bass-drums (one with organ-guitar instead of piano-bass). With Matt Blostein (alto sax) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums), who have their own band, plus Jesse Stacken (piano) and Thomas Morgan (bass). Postbop sophistication, everyone fitting in nicely, doing the things well schooled groups do these days. B+(*)
Julia Hülsmann Trio: Imprint (2010 , ECM): Pianist, b. 1968 in Bonn, Germany; sixth album since 2003, three on ACT, two on ECM. AMG reports that she also sings, but not here. Piano trio, very typical of Manfred Eicher's productions: clean, poised, articulate, not too fast or too free but not predictable either. B+(**)
Miles Davis: Bitches Brew Live (1969-70 , Columbia/Legacy): Something of a misnomer, combining three previously unreleased cuts from a pre-Bitches Brew July 1969 performance at Newport with six from an Isle of Wight set the following August. Neither group matches the album band -- Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, and Joe Zawinul are among the missing -- nor do the songs line up. The former group was stripped down with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette; the latter was buffed up, adding Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett (on organ), and Airto Moreira. So this is basically yet another live set from the period when Davis made his transition from hard bop to fusion, and from dingy jazz clubs to stadia. Pretty hot one, too; all the more confusing since I mostly recall Bitches Brew as our favorite chill-out album of the early 1970s. B+(***)
Colin Vallon Trio: Rruga (2010 , ECM): Pianist, b. 1980 in Lausanne, Switzerland; based and teaches in Bern; third album since 2004. Piano trio with Patrice Moret on bass and Samuel Rohrer on drums, both contributing songs. Played it three times. Not much snap, mostly quiet majesty. B+(**)
Ellery Eskelin Trio: New York (2011, Prime Source): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1959 in Wichita, KS; grew up in Baltimore; mother played organ, and this record, an organ trio, is dedicated to her; moved to New York in 1983 and has twenty-some albums since 1988, mostly on the Swiss Hat label(s). With Gary Versace on organ, Gerald Cleaver on drums. Five songs, played loose -- only one I initially IDed was "How Deep Is the Ocean." No grease to the organ: Versace patiently fills in rather than reiterate the usual grind, leaving Eskelin free to plot out his own path. A-
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, May 22. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Friday, May 20. 2011
Henry Farrell: Count Me In With the Unsophisticated Six Year Olds: Starts by quoting a Kindred Winecoff attack on Krugman, arguing that things like the Bush tax cuts, the Medicare D program, and the housing bubble were actually cases of popular will at work in a democracy, not (as Krugman argues) the results of intense lobbying by self-interested elites. Farrell writes:
The Medicare D example is worth exploring a bit. Adding some sort of drug perscription coverage to Medicare was a very popular proposition. Most health insurance plans provide some sort of coverage. Originally it was a relatively cheap benefit, but under its cover pharmaceutical companies were able to push prices way up, which made the omission all the more glaring in Medicare. It was one issue that Democrats seemed to have some traction with, which is basically why Karl Rove felt the need to sweep the issue away. Once Rove and the Republicans decided to do something, the actual legislation was pure giveaway to the industry. So popular demand wanted the benefit, but not the law as written. In particular, the prohibition against the government negotiating drug prices had no popular benefit -- it greatly increased costs, some of which were passed to seniors in forms like the "donut hole" and the rest fobbed onto taxpayers. The law was clearly an inside deal, but it is true that if the benefit hadn't had such broad popular support it wouldn't have been pushed or passed. So in that sense Medicare D wasn't purely the work of ensconsed elites. On the other hand, the Iraq War was.
No one denies that popular opinion limits what elites can do, nor that it can provide a wedge for one set of elites to campaign against another. However, the latter happens very infrequently, in large part because there are rarely serious splits between elite opinion. One finds, for instance, that both parties hire Treasury officials from the same sets of Citibank and Goldman-Sachs executives. The defense and foreign policy establishments are nearly as integrated. For some 30 years now the US relationship with Israel has been hamstrung by the Dennis Ross-Elliot Abrams tag team, who are nothing more than foreign agents, yet they've managed to pin down what we like to think of as a popular democracy.
When popular opinion demands health care reform, Obama consults with the usual industry lobbyists and comes up with a right-wing think tank plan. The Democrats response to global warming, which quite a few people are seriously worried about, is yet another right-wing think tank scheme. The right then abandons both plans to move the debate even further right, even further away from the issues people actually care about. Working through these charades you wind up with a disaffected populace that doesn't even bother to vote -- it's not like there are any candidates anyway.
: Later on I see Henry quoting Krugman on this:
Emphasis added. The other budget-busters were sold to the public, and you can cite some polls showing that the selling was successful, but not ones that show that the people who were sold to understood what they were buying.
Winecoff later argues that most Americans don't want a healthcare system run by the government, then tries to broaden "anti-government ideologues" to include those masses. In fact, very few Americans have any major problems with the healthcare systems that are actually run by the US government -- Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Adminstration. It's only imaginary ones they object to, which makes you wonder if they really know what they are opining about.
This, in turn, is followed by 262 comments. Some are worth quoting.
An examination of the character of Karl Rove is all that is required to support Krugman's thesis of irresponsible and incompetent elites. This "Mayberry Machiavelli" could in no way be described as a public servant. He was a cynical manipulator of public opinion relentlessly pursuing the the political agendas of his patron(s). To suppose that a creature like Rove was simply responding to the wishes of the public is lunacy.
Kindred Winecoff :
I pretty much gave up on Winecoff's frequent comments after here. At one point he argues that elite opinion is divided then gives Krugman as an example of an elite who disagrees with various Bush policies. In fact, I wound up stopping near the point where Winecoff wrote, "The consensus here seems to be that I should shut up."
Area Man :
Martin Bento :
Jim Harrison :
Regarding the presence of evil in political leadership, there is a simple test. Knowingly making false representations to achieve goals that are harmful to the general electorate, but beneficial to one's patrons, is evil. People who regularly do this to advance their political careers are evil. [ . . . ]
There is a valid criticism of Krugman to be made in particular as regards the financial crash -- while it was of course made possible by deregulation, that deregulation was a necessary component of the financialisation of modern capitalism that in turn is a response to the problems of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and the surplus absorption problem. Seen this way, it IS indeed simplistic to blame the actions of elites, as in, individual members of the elite, for it.
This is one that could use some unpacking, but even if you regard financialization as an inexorable law of capitalism -- David Harvey wrote a Marxist take on this, and Kevin Phillips wrote a non-Marxist one -- it still comes down to actual, well-moneyed elites to grease the wheels and make it happen. If it was just surplus absorption, one could find plenty of poor workers to distribute that to -- but the bankers had other ideas.
You know, that's enough for today. Only got to the 193rd comment, one from Henry, which sent me off on a tangent. This comment was mostly a quote from Banjamin Wallace-Wells' New York profile What's Left of the Left: Paul Krugman's Lonely Crusade. We can close on this quote, which says something about Krugman's contention that his politics is driven by his understanding of the data:
A lot of things fall out of this observation. One, for instance, is why Krugman regards Ron Paul as an ultra-rightist instead of as someone who has some very favorable traits, especially his steadfast opposition to using American military force abroad. It also shows why Krugman is always able to find a rationale to favor a Democrat over a Republican, even if he can say nothing else nice about the Democrat. Also helps explain why he consistently views Clinton as better than Obama -- there's even a bizarre section where he imagines the Democratic Party revolting to nominate Clinton in 2012 (he gives that the same odds as Michele Bachmann winning the election).
Not as good a profile as one might hope for. Still worth quoting the best line, in a back-and-forth section on Larry Summers:
One more, an insightful lesson from Argentina that many others missed:
Thursday, May 19. 2011
Somehow I got way behind on Paul Krugman's twice-weekly New York Times columns. Rather than clutter up the Weekend Roundup with them, I thought I'd kick out the salient points here. Actually, although the columns are always well thought out and tightly crafted, most of my many Krugman quotes come from his blog, where he strays wider from his basic themes and strikes things at more interesting angles. In the columns he tends more to harp on the same points, not that they don't deserve some harping.
People read this stuff and get the silly idea that Krugman is some kind of radical, but he's nothing of the sort. He qualifies as being on the left because he thinks that a more equitable society is a good thing; that people should be able to feel more secure, and that we are all better off when people have more opportunities and freedom, but he's no utopian: he's pretty happy within the bounds not just of most modern social democracies but within the exceptionally modest one we enjoyed from the New Deal through the Great Society. He's really moved very little since he worked for Reagan 30 years ago. What's scary is how far the right has slid past him, how dogmatic and intractable they've become. Even so basic an idea as that the government should provide deficit-financed countercyclical spending to lessen the damage caused by recessions is now fought tooth and nail by a party whose own presidents (as late as G.W. Bush) were first in line to open the tap.
Thought I might do a post about Krugman as a bonus, but it's taking me too long to sift through the comments (which are worth sifting), so maybe tomorrow.
Monday, May 16. 2011
First week after publication, but actually mid-round. Trying to cover as much stuff as I can as fast as I can handle it, so expect some short circuits. Did find a couple real good records, and I've heard a couple more but didn't manage to write them up. Will try to do this for a couple more weeks, then see how we stand on closing a column. Ironically, I've been mostly missing the high priority queue because it's slid into a poorly illuminated corner of the office mess. Also it's stuffed with reissues which will take a few days to dig through, and I'm still not sure where Recycled Goods is going.
Mail's been fairly skimpy the last few weeks, but I got inundated on Saturday, and again today, so once again I'm losing ground.
Diego Barber: The Choice (2010 , Sunnyside): Guitarist, b. 1978 in Lanzarote, Canary Islands; studied in Lanzarote, Madrid, and Salzburg, before moving to New York in 2007. Second album. Cover has small print: Featuring: Seamus Blake, Larry Grenadier, Ari Hoenig, Mark Turner, Johannes Weidenmueller. No per track credits, but their contribution is small too, and vanishes completely for the final three-track "Sonata Banc D'Arguin." B
Mark Weinstein: Jazz Brasil (2010 , Jazzheads): Flautist, plays an alto flute on the cover pic, credits also specify concert and bass flutes. Has about 15 records going back to 1996, mostly Latin-themed although one early title is Shifra Tanzt, and a more recent one leaned on Monk for Straight No Chaser. The Brazilian twist here comes from the rhythm section -- Nilson Matta on bass and Marceito Pellitteri on percussion -- and they come alive on the few Brazilian tunes, especially Ary Barrosa's "Brazil." Their treatment is more cautious on two Monks, "Nefertiti," pieces by Herbie Mann and Joe Henderson. Kenny Barron plays piano. B+(*)
Shane Endsley and the Music Band: Then the Other (2010 , Low Electrical): Trumpet player, from Denver, studied at Eastman, based in Brooklyn, second album, looks like 30-40 side credits since 1998 (with Steve Coleman). Quartet with Craig Taborn (piano), Matt Brewer (bass), and Ted Poor (drums). Good group, was feeling kind of ambivalent about the trumpet until the sharp finale, "Gallery Piece." B+(*)
Ken Peplowski: In Search of . . . (2007-10 , Capri): Plays clarinet and tenor sax; b. 1959, AMG lists 33 albums since 1987, plus numerous side credits, a very steady, unspectacular retro swing player. This pads a quartet session -- Shelly Berg on piano, Tom Kennedy on bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums -- with three cuts from 2007 with Greg Cohen (bass) and/or Joe Ascione (drums) and Chuck Redd (vibes) on one cut. Best when it gets lively, as in "Peps"; otherwise this shades into prettiness, which isn't so bad either. B+(**)
Bobby Sanabria: Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!! (2008 , Jazzheads): Drummer, b. in New York, grew up in South Bronx, studied at Berklee. Sixth album since 1993, the last few big band affairs: the band here is billed as Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Sanabria. This program of Tito Puente standards blows out all the gaskets, which is to say it sounds an awful lot like a vintage Puente disc. Looks like one too: I imagine some customers will be fooled, not that they'll mind much. B+(***)
Michael Feinberg: With Many Hands (2010 , self-released): Bassist, b. 1987 in Atlanta, "raised on hip hop, international grooves, resurgent singer/songwriters and indie rock"; based in New York. Bio says this is his second album (looks like first was Evil Genius in 2009). Lists a sextet's worth of musicians on cover but no instrument credits: as best I can figure, Godwin Louis (alto sax), Noah Preminger (tenor sax), Alex Wintz (guitar), Julian Shore (piano), Daniel Platzman (drums). Postbop verging on freebop: jumps around a lot, shifting times, the sax(es) up front pushing limits. B+(**)
Femi Kuti: Africa for Africa (2010 , Knitting Factory): Fela's eldest son, also plays alto sax, grew up in his father's band and continues the Afrobeat groove, with 15 albums now since 1989. This is close to formula: the beats, the sax, the chant vocals, the politics (but the pidgin English remains far short of eloquent). Fourteen moderate-length songs adds up to a long album (total 62:56), but nothing stretches out like the old Fela albums used to. B+(**)
Michel Reis: Point of No Return (2009 , Armored): Pianist, b. 1982 in Luxembourg, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory -- about the two-thousandth musician I've seen to mention George Garzone on his resume. Based in New York. Third album, with flugelhorn (Vivek Patel) and soprano sax (Aaron Kruziki) adorning what's at heart a piano trio album. (The horns appear on 3 of 9 cuts, together on the first, just flugelhorn on the other two.) B+(**)
Nick Stefanacci Band: 26 Years (2010, NS): Saxophonist (alto, tenor, soprano), also plays flute and keybs; based in New York; first album, not much of a bio but he could be doing one of those Adele things with his title. What throws you at first are the vocals: Kenny Simmons, reminds me of Blood Sweat & Tears, which I don't regard as damning although you might. (Still, what they mostly remind me of is a relative who confided in me that she didn't like them at first until she saw them on TV and realized they were white). Stefanacci sings some too. I find it all rather corny, and a bit sweet, but don't expect anyone else to. B
Matt Panayides: Tapestries of Song (2010 , Pacific Coast Jazz): Guitarist, b. in Cincinnati, raised in Indianapolis; been in New York "for more than 10 years." First album, all originals; in a quartet with Rich Perry (tenor sax), Steve LaSpina (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums). Liquid tone with a slight metallic sheen, remains clear even with the sax running over it. B+(**)
Max Wild: Tamba (2008 , ObliqSound): Alto saxophonist, from Zimbabwe; second album. "Tamba" means dance in Shona, probably the language of most of the lyrics here -- sung by various people, primarily Sam Mtukudzi. Has a joyous township vibe to it. B+(**) [advance: 2010]
Danny Frankel: The Interplanetary Note/Beat Conference (2010, self-released): Drummer, has a couple records under his own name, quite a few side credits since 1980 (very few jazz). Trio with Nels Cline on guitar, Larry Goldings on organ. Guitar is distinctive, especially for an organ trio, and the rhythm is relatively slinky, which reduces the organ to filler. B+(*)
Jared Gold: All Wrapped Up (2010 , Posi-Tone): Organ player, fourth album since 2008, coming out fast. I was most impressed by him on Oliver Lake's Organ Quartet album Plan. This, like the Lake record, is a quartet with sax, trumpet, and drums, but mainstreamers Ralph Bowen and Jim Rotondi can't cut the grease like Lake and Freddie Hendrix. Leaves a lot of slick spots. B
Jim Snidero: Interface (2010 , Savant): Alto saxophonist, b. 1958, eighteen records since 1987. I missed his early stuff on Criss Cross, RED, and Double-Time; finally caught up with Savant -- thought Crossfire was exceptional. Quartet with bass, drums, and Paul Bollenback on guitar (always a nice touch). Often sounds terrific, but this seems a bit cryptic. B+(**)
Papa John DeFrancesco: A Philadelphia Story (2010 , Savant): Organ player, Joey's father, seventh album since 1992, which is to say he didn't really get his career going until after Joey started recording. Mostly trio, with John DeFrancesco Jr. on guitar and Glenn Ferracone on cover. Despite the cheesesteaks on the front cover and the girth on the back, Papa John has a light touch on the Hammond, and this skips along pleasantly. Three cuts add horns: Joe Fortunato's tenor sax on "Blues in the Closet," plus two tracks with Joey playing trumpet: doesn't stretch much but he's actually pretty good. B+(*)
The NYFA Collection: 25 Years of New York New Music (1988-2010 , Innova, 5CD): I've been avoiding this, if for no more reason than sheer length. NYFA is the New York Foundation for the Arts, set up in 1983. Since then they've provided fellowships for over 200 new music composers, and they're showing off 52 of them in this set. They run the gamut, but have been programmed to flow somewhat: the third disc is the most jazz-centric, with Iconoclast, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Fred Ho, John Lindberg (sometimes d/b/a BLOB), Newman Taylor Baker. The fourth and fifth shade more classical. The first is more avant, mostly primitivist rhythm pieces. Packaged in a double-width jewel case with a loose booklet for each disc packed with lots of information in small type, and priced like a sampler. B+(**)
The Sway Machinery: The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1 (2010 , JDub): Brooklyn collective centered around Balkan Beat Box guitarist-vocalist Jeremiah Lockwood, "inspired by ancient Jewish Cantorial music, blues, afro-beat and rock," goes to Mali's Festival in the Desert and comes back with featured singer Khaira Arby and such guests as Djilmady Tounkara and Vieux Farka Touré, mixing it up with horns from Antibalas. Sounds interesting, and is, but the parts clash more than mesh, and much of the interest comes from the wreckage. B+(*) [advance]
Dan Raphael/Rich Halley/Carson Halley: Children of the Blue Supermarket (2008-09 , Pine Eagle): Raphael is a poet, b. 1951 in Pittsburgh, changed his name from Daniel Raymond Dlugonski (says his driver's license reads Dan Raphael Dlugonski); influenced by the beats, studied at Cornell; moved to Portland, OR in 1977. Has six books. I've never read him -- haven't read poetry since the late 1960s, when I read everyone he was reading, Yevtushenko included. Not sure if he's ever been recorded before, but he's terrific here: the phrases just shoot out, nearly every one hitting an unexpected target somewhere beyond you. Too fast for me to scribble down -- the two I got near the end were "because night is when we get to talk back" and the last line, "my brain is the largest city in the world." Wish I had a lyric sheet. Behind him is Rich Halley, a gray-haired tenor saxophonist who spent most of his adult life as a field biologist, and a drummer with the same last name, presumably his son. Striking as the poetry might be on its own, the sax shadowing it heightens every line. He has a distinctive sound and style, comparable (not to say similar) to Von Freeman. He can't stretch out much here, but is terrific nonetheless. My only quibble is the line equating Kansas and Iowa: not the same at all (except in the middle of a corn field, of course). Suggest he read Richard Manning: Grassland and do some exploring. Not that he's wrong about Malta's low level of coronary heart disease. A
Other Dimensions in Music featuring Fay Victor: Kaiso Stories (2010 , Silkheart): Group was originally formed in 1989 with Roy Campbell (trumpet), Daniel Carter (alto sax), William Parker (bass), and Rashid Bakr (drums). They cut a group improv album for Silkhear then, then reappeared in 1997 with two albums for AUM Fidelity, one with Matthew Shipp added. This is their fourth, with Charles Downs taking over the drums for Bakr, but the more important change is adding vocalist Fay Victor. As Lars-Olof Gustavsson explains in the liner notes, he was looking to do a vocal album, found Victor, then matched the band. Victor is a very strong, distinctive vocalist -- when I reviewed her Cartwheels Through the Cosmos all I could do was compare her to Betty Carter -- and she takes yet another twist here, exploiting her Trinidadian roots with eight lyrics from classic calypso tunes (Roaring Lion, Lord Executor, Lord Kitchener, Mighty Sparrow) and 1939 field recordings. The free jazz improv doesn't make this easy, introducing a tension as Victor is torn between tying the rhymes down and surrendering to the chaotic rhythm. B+(***)
Alexis Cuadrado: Noneto Ibérico (2009 , Bju'ecords): Bassist, from Spain, based on Brooklyn; fourth album since 2001. Brooklyn nonet, Marc Miralta's cajon and percussion adding to the Spanish flavor, as do a trio of "special guests" on four tracks -- not explained on the album but the website credits them with "Flamenco Handclaps and 'Jaleos'." The rest of the group are names I recognize: Perico Sambeat (alto/soprano sax, flute), Loren Stillman (alto/tenor sax), Avishai Cohen (trumpet/flugelhorn), Alan Ferber (trombone), Brad Shepik (guitar), Dan Tepfer (piano), and Mark Ferber (drums). Groups that size often get cluttered or break into pieces but this one is cohesive throughout, the horns weaving and bobbing, the flow inexorable. Don't have a recording date, just that the piece debuted in October 2009. A-
Nordic Connect: Spirals (2008 , ArtistShare): Trumpet player Ingrid Jensen, b. 1967 in Vancouver, BC, Canada; studied at Berklee; AMG counts six albums since 1994, coutning her previous Nordic Connect album but not this one. Group includes sister Christine Jensen (alto/soprano sax), Maggi Olin (piano, often Fender Rhodes), Mattias Walin (bass), and Jon Wikan (drums) -- Olin and Welin are Swedish, Wikan from Alaska with Norwegian roots (married to the trumpeter). Olin wrote 5 of 9 pieces, and her electric piano is the center point of the action, vs. just one piece for Ingrid Jensen (two for Christine, one for Wikan), so AMG may be justified in treating this as a group effort. Still, the trumpet is what shines brightest here. B+(***)
Pitom: Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes (2010 , Tzadik): Guitarist Yoshie Fruchter's group, adopting the name of their possibly eponymous first album, as seems to happen over and over and again. With Jeremy Brown (violin, viola), Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (bass), Kevin Zubek (drums). Evidently has to do with Yom Kippur, attonement, and "punkassjewjazz." Heavy guitar riffs with dense metallic filler over Jewish riddims. No vocals, so they neither make nor break it. B+(**) [advance: Feb: 22]
Marc Copland: Crosstalk (2010 , Pirouet): Real good postbop pianist, has a couple dozen record since 1988, paired in a quartet with real good alto saxophonist Greg Osby. Wonder why it didn't work. (Thumbing through my database, I see they've done it before, only slightly more successfully, on Night Call in 2003. B+(*)
Iro Haarla Quintet: Vespers (2010 , ECM): Plays piano and harp, b. 1956 in Finland, 5th album since 2001, two on the Finiish label TUM, two on ECM. Quintet gives her two horns -- Mathias Eick (trumpet), Trygve Seim (tenor/soprano sax) -- bass (Ulf Krokfors) and drums (Jon Christensen). Seems soft at first, then chilly, then you finally notice the hidden strength of the horns -- not surprising given that Eick and Seim regularly produce strong albums under their own names. B+(**)
Chris Donnelly: Solo (2008 , ALMA): This has been sitting around awhile: package says 2008, artist's website says released in September 2008; AMG says 2009 and also says 2010; my records say 2010; can't find the hype sheet. Pianist, from somewhere in Canada, studied and currently teaches in Toronto. Debut record -- looks like there is a later one but I didn't get it. Solo, like the title says. Donnelly wrote 7 of 11 tracks; the others are Bill Evans, Bud Powell, a set of variations on Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," and a "Cinderella Medley." Pretty decent as these things go, the originals well-conceived exercises, the covers have their intrigues. Bet he'd sound even better with bass and drums, even at the expense of some clarity. B+(*)
Taeko: Voice (2009-10 , Flat Nine): Singer, full name Taeko Fukao, born and raised near Kyoto, Japan; based in New York, not sure how long. Second album. Wrote one song, picks two more from Japanese sources, picks others from Ellington to Monk to Hancock and Shorter to Marvin Gaye and Sly Stone. Scats quite a bit early on. B
Mon David: Coming True (2009, Free Ham): Singer, from somewhere in the Philippines, based somewhere in US. Second album. Mostly standards, some (like "Footprints") jazz pieces run through the vocalese mill. Technically impressive, and in some ways rather likable, but I have little taste for his mannerisms -- comparisons to Mark Murphy are lavishly earned -- so in the end I find this more annoying than not. Includes a duet with Charmaine Clamor, another talented Filipino. B-
Jessica Williams Trio: Freedom Trane (2007 , Origin): Pianist, b. 1948, has close to 40 records since 1976, a lot of solos, many more trios. Four Coltrane songs here, plus four originals. Impeccable, as usual. 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, May 15. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Thursday, May 12. 2011
Just got a piece of email from Craig Aaron at freepress.net. I get a lot of mail like this but this is the first time I've just copied it verbatim:
Baker's new position is actually Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, working directly for Comcast. Baker was appointed to the FCC by Obama, assuming office July 31, 2009, and has been an opponent of "net neutrality" ever since she landed. She's listed as a Republican, married to the son of Reagan-Bush consigliere James Baker. I have no idea how she got appointed, but this is a question that anyone who thought that Obama might actually change anything important needs to contemplate.
Whether this is the most blatant corruption ever is something we can debate. When Boeing paid Pentagon procurer Darleen Druyun off with a Vice President job, she (but not the Boeing execs who hired her) wound up in jail. When Billy Tauzin pushed the Medicare D bill through the House -- the one that prohibited the government from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies -- he didn't even bother to finish his term before cashing in as President and CEO of PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry lobbying conglomerate. Those are two of the more blatant cases I can think of, but there are many more. On Obama's watch, the biggest one thus far has been Peter Orszag, who served as CBO Director before landing the job as Citigroup's Vice Chairman of Global Banking: you can say that was less blatant, but Orszag was an important peripheral figure in the bank bailouts and the new job is worth millions.
I'm sure we'll be hearing much more about this over the next few weeks, including numerous campaign quotes from Obama about how he was going to clean up the stench of corruption that smells just like this.
Don't have any new links, but the NLRB ruling against Boeing for building a new aircraft assembly plant in South Carolina is heating up. Boeing is acting dumbfounded, as well you might expect given how little flack they've gotten for their anti-union activities in the recent past. (Among other things, when the office workers in Wichita unionized, Boeing sold off the plant in a private equity deal, then managed to decertify the union from the tiny rump group they kept for military work.) What I find even more disturbing than the anti-union aspects of the South Carolina move is that they got the state to fork over $900 million in bribes to build the plant. Even there, only the size of the booty is surprising: for quite a while now Boeing has made a practice of selling jobs to state and local politicians, both in the US and abroad. Their whole business swims in an ocean of corruption: that they can't deliver new aircraft like the 787 and that they aircraft they do sell like the 737 have been turning up to be defective is a side effect. Like all good US corporations, their real business is making money for investors (and upper management), and their products hardly matter.
Tuesday, May 10. 2011
New Jazz Consumer Guide on the Village Voice website today, out on the streets tomorrow: Pure Joy and Hard Work. This is the 26th column going back to July 2004, now up to 963 records (see index and/or artist index). Previous one was published December 22, so this has taken a good deal longer than the usual three months: mostly my fault as I slogged through a miserable winter, but the change of the guard at The Village Voice added to the delay. (Mostly before, rather than after, Maura Johnston took over. Once she got hold of the lost draft she turned it around in little more than a week.)
Space got cut back a bit: my word count is 1488 where we've been running close to 1600 lately. Still running late: I think the only 2011 release here is Vijay Iyer's Tirtha, and I'm not sure there aren't any 2009 (or earlier) albums. Four records got cut from the draft I sent in, and I had left out a lot more -- enough for the next column (and then some). And I still have about 250 records in my prospecting queue, so this all takes time.
One format change this time: I didn't bother turning in any Duds, and the new editor didn't seem to miss them. When Robert Christgau restructured his Consumer Guide in 1991 he wanted to eliminate the Duds and just look for good records. The editor at the time (I forget who) talked him out of it, so he carried on with a Dud of the Month and an alphabetized, ungraded list of Extra Duds -- plus he was still expected to spend a couple miserable months each November shooting turkeys. Finally with his Expert Witness blog he's gotten past all that nonsense. I started off doing a featured dud per column, then cut back to an annotated dud list. I could have done one this time, but didn't want to spend the space. They're relatively easy to write, and I do the painful part -- the listening -- anyway, so it really comes down to space and interest. And while some readers may get off on me whacking some unfortunately misconceived unlistenable crap, I don't. The other reason I've heard for doing Duds is to prove that I don't fall for everything. But the fact is that I keep notes on everything, it's all in the Prospecting files and in the year-end lists. You can look through either of them and find all the Duds you can stand.
The Jazz Prospecting that went into this column is archived here: 227 records, plus 96 carryovers from the previous round. That's about typical for a column -- over the last few years I've ranged from 207 to 293. Most of those records get dismissed after prospecting: the record of that is kept in the surplus file here. The more I fall behind, the harder I try to catch up by cutting out records that are marginal for one reason or another. In most cases I refer you to the Jazz Prospecting notes, but some of the cuts deserve further explanation. The rest of this post are near misses from the surplus file. Some of the best are Ivo Perelman records that I mentioned in the review and expand upon here. Cutting them out helped to work other things in, but he really had a great run this past year.
Jason Adasiewicz: Sun Rooms (2009 , Delmark): Chicago's go-to vibes guy, shows up everywhere one of his neighbors wants a little extra splash around the percussion, but supported by bass and drums is front and center here, a real calling card. With Nate McBride and Mike Reed -- not just the go-to guy, he know who to go to himself. B+(***)
Aeroplane Trio: Naranja Ha (2010, Drip Audio, CD+DVD): Canadian trio, JP Carter on trumpet should be the focus, but after two-and-a-half replays I'm not finding much focus -- just lots of interesting sound effects. Still haven't watched the DVD. Was tempted to downgrade it a notch, but as I started writing the temptation faded away. B+(***)
BANN: As You Like (2009 , Jazz Eyes): Group name an acronym based on musicians' last names -- all people I recognize as leaders or frequent sidemen, but I can't quite bring myself to call them a supergroup. See how well you do, even if I add the first initial and the instrument: SB (tenor sax), JA (bass), ON (guitar), AN (drums). (Admittedly, recognizing names ia a lot easier than racking your brain for pattern matches.) Pretty good modern postbop, where the guitar leads sonically match the sax, and then some. B+(***)
Roni Ben-Hur: Fortuna (2007 , Motema): Israeli guitarist, does a pretty good Wes Montgomery impression, luxuriously supported by Ronnie Matthews, Rufus Reid, and Lewis Nash, with some extra percussion from Steven Kroon. As much as I like the album, I've been dragging my feet on the review for years, not feeling it says enough to earn the space. B+(***)
Dadi: Bem Aqui (2009 , Sunnyside): Brazilian, seems to have been more songwriter than singer over the years, but steps out here with one of the better Brazilian pop records I've heard in several years -- Tom Zé is the reason I shied away from saying "best" and that's mostly because he's tough to compare to. Bounced it out because it doesn't feel like a jazz album, but lots of certified jazz singers dabble in Brazilian tunes and come up with far less. A-
Dawn of Midi: First (2010, Accretions): Piano trio, from Morocco, India, and Pakistan via Paris -- pianist Amino Balyamani, bassist Aakaash Israni, percussionist Qassim Naqvi, individual names we're going to have trouble remembering but so tight as a group we may not have to. It strikes me that the piano is more rhythm and the bass more melody. Played this many times, and never managed to reduce it to a one-liner. B+(***)
The Dominant 7 and the Jazz Arts Messengers: Fourteen Channels (2009 , Tapestry): Two student groups from Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts (CCJA), directed by Paul Romaine: a septet (plus a guest on one cut) and a nonet. Tightly arranged postbop, but avoids the usual harmonic pitfalls, offering plenty of solo options. No one I've heard of, not the sort of thing I have any predeliction for, a pleasant surprise on almost every level. B+(***)
Ricardo Gallo's Tierra de Nadie: The Great Fine Line (2009 , Clean Feed): Replayed twice and didn't come up with a snappy one-liner, and this label has so many HM-worthy records. The pianist is not as far out as he sometimes gets; just lets his band shoot off interesting feelers, contrasting Dan Blake's sneaky soprano sax with Ray Anderson's bombastic trombone, working around unheralded bassist Mark Helias, with the drums split between Pheeroan Aklaff and Satoshi Takeishi. Very tasty. B+(***)
Theo Jörgensmann/Marcin Oles/Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Live in Poznan 2006 (2006 , Fenomedia): The Oles twins, bass and drums respectively, are as telepathic a rhythm section as one could imagine. One of them sent me a package of three not-too-new discs and the pick of the litter turned out to be their duo, with the bass coming emphatically to the front. The others are trios, this with the bassett clarinetist who as I read their discography is their most frequent collaborator. (Closest competition looks to be Adam Pieronczyk, although the list of saxophonists passing through Poland in need of local support and winding up with records is who's who material, starting with David Murray and Ken Vandermark.) This is exceptionally neat and intimate. B+(***)
Jin Hi Kim/Gerry Hemingway: Pulses (2009 , Auricle): The weaker of Hemingway's batch of three duos -- the ones with Ellery Eskelin and Terrence McManus made my A-section -- not because Kim's electric komungo disappoints but because it crowds the stage with too much sound, and so awes Hemingway that he shies away: not the point of a drummer duo. Nonetheless, a fine way to meet Kim, who in a jazz context gets to break away from classical propriety. B+(***)
Charles Lloyd Quartet: Mirror (2009 , ECM): Same group as his high-polling Rabo de Nube; damn near same record too, and only slipped a bit in the polls, adding to Jason Moran's sweep. Fewer originals, but Monk and trad. make up for that. B+(***)
Oles Brothers with Rob Brown: Live at SJC (2008 , Fenomedia): The third disc in the Oles package, with alto saxophonist Brown -- well known in these parts for his work in William Parker's bands -- in the catbird seat. He's brash and inventive, as usual, but stretched a bit thin, overwhelming a rhythm section that has more to offer. B+(**)
Ivo Perelman/Brian Willson: The Stream of Life (2008 , Leo): Coming into the closing weeks of this round, I had top-section reviews written on 10 A- albums -- close to all I could use -- and had rated another 26 records that high, two more columns worth plus change. I was looking at the prospect of records becoming old and gray before I could ever get the word out. Two tricks I could use to cut back the field: one is to drop an A- record into the high honorable mentions (which is what I did to Ben Syversen's Cracked Vessel; another is to try to gang up multiple reviews. With a cluster of three A- records plus an HM by Perelman -- one that had already slipped a couple of review cycles -- I really cheaped out: wrote a review of the flagship Mind Games where I mentioned the other three. This energetic, intimate duo with drummer Willson is the HM, a bit less well rounded than the sax-bass-drums trio on Mind Games, but Willson is an impressive partner on both discs. Gets his name spelled correctly here. B+(***)
Ivo Perelman/Gerry Hemingway: The Apple in the Dark (2010, Leo): Duos, not just tenor sax/drums but on half of the pieces Perelman switches off to piano, which the liner notes liken to Garner and Monk, but sounds more like Cecil Taylor to me -- a revelation. Hemingway, of course, has his usual touch and wit. A-
Ivo Perelman/Daniel Levin/Torbjörn Zetterberg: Soulstorm (2009 , Clean Feed, 2CD): Tenor sax, cello, and bass -- sort of a sax-with-strings album, dark and moody, rough and tumble, but mostly sensitive and eloquent. Perelman has played some cello in the past, so it's not surprising that he has exceptional insight into how to make this work at length. A-
Archie Shepp: The New York Contemporary Five (1963 , Delmark): One of two John Tchicai groups at the time, both appropriating New York in their names but settled more in Denmark -- the other was New York Art Quartet, with Shepp's trombonist Roswell Rudd. This set has been kicking around in various versions, good to have back in print, especially for Don Cherry's contrasting cornet. B+(***)
Nobu Stowe: Confusion Bleue (2007 , Soul Note): Japanese pianist, based in Baltimore, writes titles on French for a record on an Italian label. Translating roughly, four movement, three intermediaries, an intro and an epilog -- adds up to a fancy layer cake. While Stowe stacks everything neatly together, Ross Bonadonna rips fore and aft, mostly on guitar, but sometimes on alto sax when he wants a rougher sound. B+(***)
Trichotomy: Variations (2007 , Naim Jazz): Australian piano trio, previously known as Misinterprotato, with a brash, beatwise, populist feel. Two tracks are dressed up with extras -- violin, viola, alto sax on one, trumpet and electronics on the other. All those combinations work nicely. B+(***)
Melvin Vines: Harlem Jazz Machine (2010 , Movi): Less Harlem than a worldwide melting pot, as the Ohio-native leader and his Japan-native wife (Kay Mori) run through pieces from Latin-tinged bebop to South African township jive to "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." B+(***)
Doug Webb: Renovations (2009 , Posi-Tone): Journeyman saxophonist, feed him a bunch of juicy standards and he'll turn them into an exquisite quiet storm album. B+(***)
Monday, May 9. 2011
I complained last week about no acknowledgment from the Village Voice over my pending Jazz Consumer Guide column. That's all been straightened out now. They have the piece. It's been edited. It's slated to run this Wednesday. Looks like it's too long for the space, so things will get cut. I've offered a list, all painful, and will probably find out when you do (although you'll be less conscious of it). I still have a lot of stuff I've written up and didn't include with the draft. Maybe we can get the next one expedited, too.
Quite a bit of Jazz Prospecting this week, and I'm finding better records, although I'm also pulling stuff almost at random, including some from the lower priority queues.
Ben Kono: Crossing (2010 , 19/8): B. 1967, grew up in Vermont, studied at Eastman and UNT, did a stretch with the Army's Jazz Ambassadors, settled in New York in 1998. Plays reeds; credited here with: oboe, english horn, flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, shakuhachi. Has mostly appeared in big bands: John Hollenbeck, Chris Jentsch, Ed Palermo, Jamie Begian. First album, with Hollenbeck (drums), John Hébert (bass), Pete McCann (guitar), Henry Hey (keybs), and Heather Laws (voice and french horn). One thing this shows is that not all horns are created equal: the sax sections are terrific, the flutes and oboe superfluous (all the more so when Laws weighs in). B+(*)
Q.E.D. [Ben Thomas/Chris Stover/Alex Chadsey]: Yet What Is Any Ocean . . . (2010 , Origin): Seattle trio; all three write songs (Thomas 4, Chadsey 3, Stover 2). Thomas plays vibes, cajon, bandoneon, percussion; has three previous albums. Stover plays trombone; Chadsey piano. Makes for a nice combination of sounds, especially when they work up a groove. B+(**)
La Cherga: Revolve (2011, Asphalt Tango): Not jazz, more like trans-Yugoslav dubstep, with its Balkan brass run through a Jamaican sound system. Their previous, even better album (Fake No More) featured a striking vocalist, replaced here with Adisa Zvekic (from Bosnia) and occasional guest MCs; evolution turned around -- maybe that's how they translate it. A-
Rich Pellegrin Quintet: Three-Part Odyssey (2010 , OA2): Pianist, first album, wrote three of eight pieces, drawing on band members R. Scott Morning (trumpet, flugelhorn), Neil Welch (tenor sax), and Evan Flory Barnes (bass) for all but one of the rest -- the odd piece out is "Piano Phase" by Steven Reich. The other quintet member is drummer Chris Icasiano -- odd enough, the one name I'm most familiar with. The eight pieces are organized into three parts, hence the title. Postbop, but the horns can get pretty aggressive, and the piano blocks well. Rather like the Reich intermission too. B+(**)
Darren Johnston/Aram Shelton/Lisa Mezzacappa/Kjell Nordeson: Cylinder (2011, Clean Feed): No recording date given -- unusual for this label -- but songs are all copyright 2011, so this may be the first recorded-in-2011 album I've gotten to. Familiar names: trumpet, alto sax/clarinet/bass clarinet, bass, drums. Each writes two songs, or three for Shelton. Free jazz, struggles a bit here and there but has lots of fine moments, especially the trumpet. B+(**)
Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters: Imaginary Sketches (2010 , Origin): Trumpet and piano, respectively, leading a quartet with Chuck Deardorf on bass and John Bishop on drums. Third album for McCullough, not counting his work in the Kora Band; based in Seattle. The pianist was b. 1980 in Belgium; looks like he has one previous trio album, several group efforts. Pairing does a nice job of bringing out the rich lustre of the instruments. B+(*)
Giancarlo Vulcano: My Funny Detective (2008 , Distant Second): Guitarist, grew up and is based in New York, second album, the soundtrack for a movie that doesn't exist (a film noir, no less). Credits include working as music director for the TV show 30 Rock. This has some of the usual traits of soundtracks: short vignettes (6 of 12 finish in less than two minutes), fill up space, don't leave much aftertaste. Most distinctive thing is the use of two trombones (Brian Drye and Ryan Keberle) as the only horns. B+(*)
The Chris Byars Octet: Lucky Strikes Again (2010 , SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, plays some soprano as way too many do, but actually started on alto; AMG hasn't bothered to provide a biography yet, but for those who have paid attention he is one of the major arrivals of the past decade (e.g., his Photos in Black, White and Gray was one of my pick hits). What you might call a hard-core bebopper (not same as hard bopper). Focused on Gigi Gryce last time out, moved back a bit back to Lucky Thompson this time, who hit the cusp between swing and bebop almost perfectly -- aside from his own superb records he played in the septet on some of Charlie Parker's most famous singles, and for my money he was the star. Byars gets a lot of help here, adding Zaid Nasser's alto, Mark Lopeman's baritone, Scott Wondholt's trumpet and John Mosca's trombone, which saves him from a more direct comparison. Eloquent arrangements, rich and flowing, with a touch of swing. [PS: First thing I did when I got this was to ask the publicist to fill in the gap left by two recent Byars albums on SteepleChase I didn't get. Still waiting.] A-
Landon Knoblock/Jason Furman: Gasoline Rainbow (2008 , Fractamodi): Piano-drums duo, based in New York but originally got together in Miami. Second album together. Knoblock, b. 1982, has two other albums since 2007. Strong performance, a lot of rumble in the piano. B+(**)
Cuong Vu 4-tet: Leaps of Faith (2010 , Origin): Trumpet player, b. 1969 in what was then called Saigon, in Vietnam. Came to US in 1975, grew up in Bellevue, WA; studied at New England Conservatory; spent some time in New York, then moved back to Seattle, teaching at UW and having a pretty significant impact on the area. He's long had a fusion focus, and I haven't been much impressed by what he's come up with, but this is an advance: adding a second electric bassist (Luke Bergman) to his trio (Stomu Takeishi on electric bass and Ted Poor on drums) adds a lot to what I reckon you can call the grunge factor -- all the more amusing when burying standards like "Body and Soul" and "My Funny Valentine" but it neatly sets off the trumpet. B+(**)
François Carrier/Alexey Lapin/Michel Lambert: Inner Spire (2010 , Leo): Alto saxophonist, from Canada (Quebec actually), b. 1961, has been on a tear since 1998. I've recommended a bunch of his albums. Trio, with his longstanding drummer Michel Lambert, plus pianist Alexey Lapin -- picked him up when they cut this in Moscow. He works his usual free jazz charms; piano doesn't quite come out, but has promising moments. B+(***)
Fredrik Carlquist: Playing Cool (2010 , FCJazz): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1969 in Jönköping, Sweden; based in Barcelona; fourth album since 1999. Two originals, ten covers intended to explore "his influences from players llike Paul Desmond, Stan Getz and Lars Gullin." Helping with the latter is "special guest" baritone saxophonist Joan Chamorro on three tracks; rest is sax-guitar-bass-drums quartet. That adds up to a pretty mild mannered sax album. One song is even called "Sweet and Lovely," but really they all are. B+(**)
Benjamin Drazen: Inner Lights (2010 , Posi-Tone): Saxophonist, alto and soprano, from Roslyn, NY, b. 1972; studied at New England Conservatory with George Garzone (who else?); moved back to NYC in 1995. Debut album, quartet with piano (Jon Davis), bass (Carlo de Rosa), and drums (Eric McPherson); seven originals plus "This Is New" and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." Fat pitch right down the middle. B+(**)
Orrin Evans: Captain Black Big Band (2010 , Posi-Tone): Judging from the credits, seems to be a very big band, with 10 trumpets, 5 trombones, 14 saxes and a bass clarinet, 3 pianos, but I also note that it was recorded in three chunks, the first day and track in Philadelphia, two more days (4 and 2 tracks respectively) later in New York, so I wonder if everyone was really everywhere all the time. (Some of the bass and drums players are linked to specific tracks.) Pianist Evans wrote 4 of 7 pieces, the last four. The band is crackling hot, but I'm not getting much out of it, just a lot of drive and energy. B+(*)
Christian Weidner: The Inward Song (2010, Pirouet): Alto saxophonist, b. 1976 in Kassel, Germany; studied in Hamburg, Stockholm, and Berlin, where he is currently based. Second album. Quartet with Colin Vallon on piano (Vallon has a new ECM album in my queue), Henning Sieverts on bass, and Samuel Rohrer on drums. All originals. Light, delicate sound, almost lurks behind the piano, giving it all an ECM-lite feel. B
Fernandez & Wright: Unsung (2009 , New Market Music): Singer Vanessa Fernandez, guitarist Steve Wright, home base Melbourne, Australia. First album, backed with piano, organ, bass, drums, percussion. Wrote their own material. Has a dark, dank sound, a resonant voice with occasional jazz fillips. B
Jenny Davis: Inside You (2009 , self-released): Singer, from Seattle, third album. Wrote one of ten songs, the others scattered standards with Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" and Lennon & McCartney's "Blackbird" on the far edges. Barely backed by Chuck Easton (guitar, flute) and Ted Enderle (bass), with Louis Aissen's tenor sax on one cut. The boppish stuff has a touch of Sheila Jordan, not pushed so far, but she doesn't need a lot of support. Ambivalent about "Blackbird" -- almost invariably a disaster -- not to mention the obligatory Jobim. B+(**)
Annie Kozuch: Here With You(2009 , self-released): Standards singer, raised in Mexico City, got a Dramatic Arts degree from Mills College in Oakland, CA; based in New York. First album. Leads off with Jobim, but rather than getting him out of the way she returns three songs later with one of the nicest strolls through "Corcovado" I've heard, and later on returns with a third Brazilian piece, this one by Pixinguinha. Spanish songs from Pedro Junco and Armando Manzanera are less successful, but she nails English-language songs (what she calls "jazz tracks") like "I Love Being Here With You" and "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me." B+(**)
Jonathan Kreisberg: Shadowless (2010 , New for Now Music): Guitarist, b. NYC, grew up in Florida, came back in 1997. AMG lists eight records since 1997. Probably too simple to take this as a fusion play, but that's easy to do with guitarists. With Will Vinson on sax, Henry Hey on piano, Matt Penman on bass, Mark Ferber on drums. Sax and piano don't add much. B
Nicholas Urie: My Garden (2010 , Red Piano): Composer, b. 1985, listed as conductor here. Second album. Music for poems by Charles Bukowski, the lyrics sung by Christine Correa, who always strikes me as a tad operatic. Attractive packaging, but the light blue type on off white is too subtle, downright unreadable. The music itself has numerous interesting passages, the group only slightly below big band weight (4 reeds, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, piano-bass-drums), mostly names I recognize including John Hébert, who usually lifts everything he touches. Problem here is a common one: the curse of trying to wrap music around words meant to stand on their own. B
Jake Fryer/Bud Shank Quintet: In Good Company (2009 , Capri): Fryer is a young British alto saxophonist with a trad bent, which nowadays is as likely to embrace 1950s mainstreamers -- Shank, of course, also Phil Woods -- as the pre-boppers. Shank died shortly after this: a West Coast alto saxophonist, b. 1926, came up in progressive big bands and recorded some sweet cool jazz records in the 1950s, although by my reckoning his best records came out in the early 1990s (cf. Lost in the Stars and I Told You So!). I haven't managed to untangle the two saxes here, which makes it possible to view the whole thing as a sharp revival for Shank, and a fine memento. With Mike Wofford (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass), and Joe La Barbera (drums). Fryer wrote 6 of 9 pieces -- titles like "Bopping With Bud," "Tip Top and Tickety Boo," "Breaking Loose," and "In Good Company." A-
Big Neighborhood: 11:11 (2006, Origin, 2CD): Group: Chris Fagan (alto sax), David White (guitar, guitar synth), Doug Miller (bass), Phil Parisot (drums). Second album. Been on my shelf a long time. Partly I've avoided it because I rarely feel up to tackling multi-disc sets by unknowns, although it turns out that all this could have been squeezed onto a single CD. White and Miller split most of the writing, with one piece by Parisot. Flows along nicely on the guitar, the sax mostly window dressing. B
Vince Norman/Joe McCarthy Big Band: Bright Future (2009 , OA2): Norman plays various saxophones, tenor probably his first choice; his father, Ray Norman, played in the big bands of Claude Thornhill and Charlie Barnet, and he played in the Army's Jazz Ambassadors. McCarthy, a drummer, played in the Navy's Jazz Ensemble. Second album together, both big bands, the only thing unconventional is that they rely on guitarist Gary Malvaso for more than rhythm. B+(*)
Rondi Charleston: Who Knows Where The Time Goes (2009 , Motéma Music): Singer, from Chicago, father taught English and played jazz piano, mother taught voice; studied at Juilliard. Third album since 2004; starts mostly covers (Sandy Denny, Stevie Wonder, Jobim of course), but winds down with four songs co-written with pianist Lynne Arriale and the annoying "Freedom Is a Voice" ("freedom is a man"; no lyric sheet but that's what it sounds like). Best thing here is "Please Send Me Someone to Love" -- but even there she'd rather come on strong. B-
Cheryl Bentyne: The Gershwin Songbook (2010, ArtistShare): Singer, b. 1954, best known as part of Manhattan Transfer since 1979, but has ten solo albums, most since 2002. This one is a lock, mostly top drawer songs, given light, delectable treatments with piano (Corey Allen or Ted Howe), Peter Gordon's flutes, and Ken Peplowski's bubbly clarinet. Mark Winkler joins for "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Only disappointment is "Summertime," which has yielded so many great versions I've long wanted to dump them all into a mixtape. Here she goes falsetto, with a lot of warble to the backup, which just seems weirdly off. B+(*)
Tania Gill: Bolger Station (2009 , Barnyard): Pianist, lives in Toronto; first album, also credited with organ and voice. Group includes Lina Allemano (trumpet), Clinton Ryder (bass), and Jean Martin (drums). I don't get a strong sense of direction here; interesting little piano bits, some trumpet twists, two Gill vocals, so plain that's probably her limit, but not without charm. B+(*)
Trio Richochet: February 2006 (2006, self-released): Nobu Stowe (piano), Tyler Goodman (bass), Alan Munshower (drums). First of a bunch of background music Stowe sent me. Aims at "post-fusion," where "post" is something new and "fusion" is a bit of everything. One cover ("Nardis"), the rest Stowe originals. Bright, upbeat, dynamic; some ballad-type things to mix it up. B+(***)
Blaise Siwula/Nobu Stowe/Ray Sage: Brooklyn Moments (2005, Konnex): More background. Siwula plays alto and tenor sax, bass clarinet, bamboo flute; Stowe piano; Sage drums. Siwula was b. 1950 in Detroit; has a couple dozen albums (AMG's discography starts in 1994, which strikes me as late). All improv, rough to start although they mix it up, and the bass clarinet part softens the blows. First record by Siwula I've heard, so I'm way behind here. B+(***) [cdr]
Blaise Siwula/Dom Minasi/Nobu Stowe/Ray Sage: New York Moments (2006, Konnex): Siwula plays soprano, alto, and tenor sax here -- no bass clarinet; Minasi guitar; Stowe piano; Sage drums. More spontaneous composition, group improvs, twice dropping down to trio strength. At times it all works, but often it feels a bit crowded, or cramped. 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, May 8. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week, plus a belated comment at the end on Bin Laden:
Killing Bin Laden
I held back from making any rash comments about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and don't have much to say now. I never believed that the US should have taken military action against Afghanistan in 2001, either to pursue Bin Laden or to overthrow the Taliban (Bush's either-you-with-us-or-against-us theory). I never had a problem with the assertion that Bin Laden was a criminal or with conventional (non-military, non-CIA) efforts to bring him to justice. His culpability for the 9/11 attacks and for previous crimes like the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania is well established including by his own unforced (and boastful) admissions. Moreover, he has provided ideological cover for any number of similar criminal acts. And while he's not the only one responsible for the US -- one hesitates to blame this solely on Bush although he was, as he liked to proclaim, "the decider" -- response to his provocations, he claims to have acted aware of and actually hoping for the US to strike back at Afghanistan, launching a horrific war. Given all this, plus the failure of pre-2001 efforts to apprehend him, I could even see a case for taking extraordinary actions to capture or kill him. But I do draw the line well short of sending an army and air force to occupy another people's country, which is what the US did and for ten years continues to do.
For one thing, no system of justice is perfect, and ours breaks down especially when it comes to the most staggering crimes: politicians who commit acts of war, violently depriving people of human rights. The fact is that most such people have never had to face justice. As unfortunate as it was the Bin Laden to have escaped after 9/11, worse things have happened: one of which is that the US lost all sense of what justice means. Today we instinctively equate might with right, since the only sense in which we have been right over the last ten years is in our ability to get away with it. We have come to admire and emulate gangsters -- people who think that all they have to do to solve their problems is to kill those in the way.
It bothers me not at all that Bin Laden is dead. My position on capital punishment was never that the person doesn't deserve to die; it's that the government has no right to kill. Does the US have the right to send commandos into a foreign country to kill someone there? No. On the other hand, that Bin Laden was executed by a team of Navy SEALS does have a certain justice to it: it was, after all, his scheme to get the US to invade his adopted homeland and wage war against him and the people who adopted him. You can't say he didn't have it coming, and you can't say he hadn't asked for it.
I could also try to look at this pragmatically. Killing Bin Laden doesn't justify the US mission in Afghanistan (and Pakistan), but does it help end that mission? Killing Bin Laden was one of the main rationales for getting into Afghanistan in the first place. Now that he is dead, why not just say "mission accomplished" and get out? If indeed that happens the killing will be a blessing. There are lots of things I don't like about this, but anything that extricates us from occupying Afghanistan and meddling in Pakistan would be good news.
One aspect of this that is rather disturbing has been Obama's own elation over the killing -- not least his "victory lap" going to NYC and sucking up to the troops. Some of it is that he took a rather cynical political position when he reframed his opposition to the Iraq war as mistaken priorities -- he didn't want to be seen as an anti-war candidate, so he pushed Afghanistan as the right war, and Bin Laden as the true object of that war, so he gains on two counts by killing Bin Laden: he vindicates his policy vs. Bush, and he gets a tangible milestone which allows him to get out from under the millstone of an endless, fruitless war. But what's truly disturbing is how much he's getting into his role as killer-in-chief. He got his first taste of directly ordering death in a Somali piracy event shortly after he took office. However, this week he's really hitting his stride: killing one of Gaddafi's sons in Libya, missing his target in Yemen (but killing a couple people anyway), and the big kill of Bin Laden. Moreover, there's very little to stop him from doing this: the military and CIA are geared up to keep doing this (indeed, moving Petraeus from one to the other looks like a policy decision to shift targeted assassination programs into ever more secretive and informal frameworks), the Republicans and the media will just cheer him on, and the ICC can't touch him; that just leaves his conscience, such as it is.
I thought about ending this with several trivial observations, but will leave you with just one. I noticed several pieces trying to parse Obama's speech: specifically the phrase "captured and killed," reading the two verbs as serial. My theory is that the person on scene said something like "we have Bin Laden and he is dead." Being a much better writer than the average Navy SEAL, Obama's instinct was to punch up the line, eliminating passive voice and using action verbs. Still, as a lawyer, you'd think he would have thought better. But I guess he's been in politics too long for that.
Saturday, May 7. 2011
A month's worth of snooping around, relief from jazz prospecting but otherwise pretty much waste of time. The main thing this column reminds me of is my own amateur phase, when I felt like anyone should be able to comment on anything. Got most of these out of my metacritic file, which is useful (except when it's not) -- and even more than these notes is my favorite waste of time.
Of course, playing Bootsy reminds me of my '70s as well (wrote about him here). Much else here merely shags the more ambitious efforts of others. In that, I'm well aware that my non-rave of Tune-Yards [sic] exposes me as hopelessly unhip. Myself, I wonder if I hedged it too high; I gave it more plays than the first play indicated would be worth the trouble. Missing here is the new Paul Simon, which suffers from the opposite problem: he's an artist I've long made a point of dissing -- I'll leave it to you to search my '70s writings for proof on that point -- who occasionally makes an album I have to admit is pretty good, before I go back to never playing it again. So Beautiful or So What looks like his third such, but I figure the least I can do is drag my feet. Also missing here are Tatum's big A+ finds -- The Weeknd's download and the Cartagena compilation -- which I haven't written up yet but figure to be solid A. Meanwhile, there's plenty here to chew on.
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 April 13. Past reviews and more information are available here.
Adebisi Shank: This Is the Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank (2011, Sargent House): Second album, following their debut, This Is the Album of a Bank Called Adebisi Shank. Instrumental rock -- they evidently exhausted their lyrical skills on the album titles -- which differs from electronica how? Well, the beats are little demonstrative, and while the keybs dominate the guitar and bass tend to shift momentum. Listenable enough, but a fairly minor accomplishment. B
Amadou & Mariam: Remixes (2011, Nonesuch): The Blind Couple of Mali provide vocal samples to be jacked up by all sorts of DJs I barely recognize -- from Akon to Miike Snow to pick two names I do recognize but not for much. The originals inspire upbeat fixes and upbeat usually works best any way, so it's hard to dislike this, or to count it much significance. Just note that the average remix album is far worse. B+(**)
An Horse: Walls (2011, Mom & Pop): Two-person group indie-rock group from Australia: Damon Cox drums, Kate Cooper plays guitar and sings. Second album. First was pretty good, and this is much like it -- maybe rocks a little harder, because I'm having more trouble latching onto words, or recalling the Go-Betweens. B+(***)
Atmosphere: The Family Sign (2011, Rhymesayers Entertainment): The uxorious partner -- not just lover -- in "She's Enough" is inspirational, but the no-good "Bad Bad Daddy" isn't, and Slug's world hasn't yet banished the latter. The music is as strong as ever; probably his/their best since God Loves Ugly (2002). B+(***)
Aurelio: Laru Beya (2011, Sub Pop): A Garifuna from Honduras, presumably the same artist who released Garifuna Soul (2006, Stonetree) as Aurelio Martinez. (AMG keeps the entries separate.) Sounds closer to African than to Latin, not that it's easy to pin down -- allusions to Brazil are more likely equidistant from Africa than direct. B+(**)
Susana Baca: Afrodiaspora (2011, Luaka Bop): From Peru, was featured on the label's Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru and remains their exemplar of the style. Concept here is to touch as many Afrodiaspora bases as possible. Hits a bit too close to home on "Hey Pocky Way"; fares a bit better when they slip in some rap, but is most persuasive when skirting South America, Brazil as well as her native turf. B+(*)
Rory Block: Shake 'Em on Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell (2011, Stony Plain): Probably the first of a wave of white women picking slide guitar and singing blues, with 26 records since 1975. Lately her shtick has been tributes to Mississippi bluesmen, starting with Robert Johnson in 2006, then Son House, now the more recent but no less vintage-sounding Fred McDowell. Four originals (titles include "Steady Freddy" and "Mississippi Man"), seven McDowell songs, one from Sonny Boy Williamson's stash ("Good Morning Little School Girl"). I hadn't heard her since the 1980s when she didn't seem to have much more than conviction, but age and practice work out here. B+(**)
Blueprint: Adventures in Counter Culture (2011, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Ohio rapper Albert Shepard, cut a good one in 2005 (named 1988) and took his time returning for seconds. Sharp rapper when he takes on something important, but I don't hear that happening often enough -- and if the point of "Radio-Inactive" is that we don't turn on the radio because we're too busy listening to God that's wrong on many levels. Sings too much, too. And while the instrumental "Soul Music" isn't bad, it doesn't amount to much either. One play isn't enough to sort this out. B+(**)
Chris Brown: F.A.M.E. (2011, Jive): Says he can "do it all night," but what? Sounds like "feel the bullshit," but that can't be right -- I'm pretty sure he's faking that. Starts with a pretty nasty break-up song. Acronymic title stands for "Forgiving All My Enemies." Good idea, especially for a dude who comes by them so readily. B-
Burial: Street Halo (2011, Hyperdub, EP): Three cuts, run 6:21-7:36 each, sometimes spec'd as a single but adds up to an EP. With its watery echoes, pretty low key/mysterious for dubstep. B+(**)
Bootsy Collins: Tha Funk Capital of the World (2011, Megaforce): It's been a while, so he starts didactic, with a voice from the mothership laying out the trinity of funk: James Brown, George Clinton, and the bassist from Cincinnati who energized both and went after the kiddies with his own Rubber Band. Professor Cornell West helps out at Funk U, hip-hoppers pay their respects, one song reminds us that JB's "Still the Man," and Samuel L. Jackson decodes "After These Messages." It's all very grown up until they slip into the "Kool Whip"; even later they're still paying tribute to late guitarists Gary Shider and Catfish Collins, but they also drop revelations like "nothing's too good to be true." And the thang closes with three transcendent ditties: the spacey "Stars Have No Names (They Just Shine)"; the funky "Chocolate Caramel Angel"; and a yummy remake of "Munchies for Your Love." A-
Edwyn Collins: Losing Sleep (2011, Heavenly): Scottish rocker, formerly in the 1982-84 group Orange Juice which got a lot of publicity for the 7CD retrospective . . . Coals to Newcastle. On his own has seven albums since 1989. Strikes me as muscular, with a sense for rock's sweet spots, but too straight, able to make a record that is at once attractive and uninteresting. B
Crystal Stilts: In Love With Oblivion (2011, Slumberland): New York group, second album, punkish with a lot of guitar echo, upbeat enough it should be catchy, but something is a serious turn off: bass vocals? drumming? Maybe just the volume. B-
Dengue Fever: Cannibal Courtship (2010-11 , Fantasy): Los Angeles band, led by Ethan and Zac Holtzman, started with the idea of rocking 1960s Cambodian pop, picked up singer Chhom Nimol for authenticity, rolled in some Bollywood. Fourth album since 2003, second I've heard. I get the feeling they're losing the concept, which would reduce them to a loud farfisa circus band, but for now they're just interesting enough. B
DJ Quik: The Book of David (2011, Mad Science): West coast rapper David Blake, cut his first in 1991, this his 14th. Kind of scattered, most agreeably bouncy, nothing terribly stupid. Call it progress, or maturity. B+(**)
Duran Duran: All You Need Is Now (2010 , Tape Modern): Quintessential 1980s new wave pop band, snappy synth-based beats, meaningless flair. Big stars on MTV -- did much to convine me that music videos were a waste of time. This is billed as something of a comeback, but they've merely slowed down from a record per year to one every three or four. Often enjoyable, mostly harmless. I could see someone waxing nostalgic if only I thought they had done anything I wanted to remember. B
Steve Earle: I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (2011, New West): Album title obviously comes from the Hank Williams song -- as low down as Hank ever got, which is saying something -- but the song isn't here: nothing but eleven Steve Earle tunes. Not weary, too fascinated with the world to want to leave it. B+(***)
Egyptrixx: Bible Eyes (2011, Night Slugs): Toronto DJ, David Psutka, considered dubstep and synth pop, the latter most likely tied to his distinctive high whistle sounds. Big loopy beats, not many vocals, not as much fun as the beats and whistles. B+(***)
Elbow: Build a Rocket Boys (2011, Fiction/Polydor): English group, fifth studio album since 2001, won the Mercury Prize for previous album The Seldom Seen Kid. Mostly synths, soft and stately, occasionally threatens to build up some momentum but soon fizzles. So much for rocket science. B
The Feelies: Here Before (2011, Bar/None): New Jersey group, distinctive jangly guitar sound, started with a real good album in 1980 and hung it up after a great album in 1991. Twenty years later, they remind me of certain pop painters who established an immediately identifiable style on a set of famous pieces, then returned much later with more that was immediately recognizable but a bit off -- Roy Lichtenstein is one I'm thinking of. This is like that, the same but not quite. B+(*)
Colt Ford: Every Chance I Get (2011, Average Joe's): Country rapper, b. Jason Farris Brown in 1969, Chuck Eddy calls him a "hick-hopper" -- a term likely to stick as generic. "Waste some Time" with Nappy Roots is properly miscegnated, but "This Is Our Song" is stuffed with hick-proud gratuitous political ignorance, the sort of thing that gives red-necked white guys such a bad rep. If you got to go dumb, I'd rather stick with "Titty's Beer." Still, they got the right idea on "Overworked & Underpaid" -- just too dumb to know why (and bringing Charlie Daniels in for a guest spot doesn't help). B
Garage ŕ Trois: Always Be Happy, but Stay Evil (2011, The Royal Potato Family): Originally a Charlie Hunter project, with Skerik's honking sax and Stanton Moore's drumming and Mike Dillon too, their Outre Mer was a pleasant surprise in 2005 -- one of three A- records in my Pop Jazz file (not that it was actually smooth jazz fodder; nor for that matter was Tucker Martine's Mylab). Fourth album here, Hunter's guitar has been replaced by Marco Benevento's keybs, really not a fair trade at all. B
Emmylou Harris: Hard Bargain (2010 , Nonesuch): Pretty close to 30 albums since 1975 -- rarely missed a year up to 2000, but has slowed down a bit lately: 2003, 2006, 2008, 2011. Mostly originals, mostly nondescript -- one of the lamer post-Katrina songs ("New Orleans," as if she never got around to thinking up a real title). B
Hauschka: Foreign Landscapes (2010, Fat Cat): Volker Bertelmann, from Dusseldorf, has a reputation for playing prepared piano. AMG lists him in Avant-Garde along with Cage, Cowell, and Wolff, but also slips in Post-Rock and Indie-Electronic. AMG lists 7 albums, the latest not on Rhapsody. This one is mostly strings, mostly minimalist patterns, with a little piano and some things that are likely electronic. B+(**)
Holy Ghost!: Holy Ghost! (2011, DFA): Exclamation mark distinguishes them from plain old Holy Ghost (four house albums 1996-2005). Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel, formerly of Automato (good eponymous hip hop album in 2004); first album after a bunch of singles since 2007. Dance beats, pop riffs, male vocals, don't follow but don't mind. B+(*)
Hunx & His Punx: Too Young to Be in Love (2011, Hardly Art): Seth Bogart, formerly of queercore Gravy Train!!!! -- three albums plus some EPs 2003-07 -- goes into girl group revival, debuted last year with a Gay Singles compilation. Falsetto doesn't hold up, and the basic concept has been done better, but coming up short of the New York Dolls is no surprise. B+(**)
Lia Ices: Grown Unknown (2011, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter, from Connecticut, second album, gets a little churchy echo out of her keybs, a formula for heavenly pop if only she could set more hooks, or come up with lyrics that make you notice. B
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit: Here We Rest (2011, Lightning Rod): Former Drive-By Trucker on his third solo album. I'm not close enough to the band to have a sense of its multiple forces -- a subject much discussed by those who paid such close attention -- so I'm a bit lost here. Pretty decent country-ish rock, not a lot of guitar muscle and no songs that I find especially memorable, but I do like the click of the piano. B+(*)
Jessie J: Who Are You (2011, Universal Republic): English dance-pop sensation, all of 23, first album, complete with horrible reviews. First cut, "Price Tag," sounds like one of the singles of the year, terrific beats, perfectly poised, nice little cameo from B.o.B., I even like the message. However, second song is horribly oversung ("Nobody's Perfect" -- no shit). Kicks back and forth after that, never matching the initial single. Too bad. Still, better than Adele. B
Joan as Police Woman: The Deep Field (2011, PIAS): Joan Wassner, originally from Connecticut, involved with Jeff Buckley before he dornwed in 1997; joined Antony and the Johnsons in 1999; debuted as Joan as Police Woman in 2006, her three records appearing first and most successfully in UK. B+(*)
Kool Keith: The Legend of Tashan Dorsett (2011, Junkadelic): AMG has this confused with the 2009 Tashan Dorsett album. New cover and title (as far as I can tell), but same superhero, pretty much the same song titles (even "New Shit") but remixed. Maybe I should start with the original, but dived in here first, and find the echoes and fluff diverting enough, even though remixers more often than not fall back on their usual bag of tricks. B+(*)
Kool Keith: Tashan Dorsett (2009, Junkadelic): Back to the source, which with Keith means the beats are spare and sly and the idiosyncrasy -- hell, the comic weirdness -- of the lyrics come out much clearer. B+(**)
Alison Krauss & Union Station: Paper Airplane (2011, Rounder): America's best known bluegrass artist, a fine fiddler with a pristine soprano voice -- something I could tire of, but Dan Tyminski's occasional vocals spell her nicely. B+(***)
Low: C'mon (2011, Sub Pop): Duluth, MN slowcore band, husband/wife team plus bassist, 14th album since 1994 (not counting a 3CD decade of b-sides). Seemed like a promising idea, but most of their songs are little more than repetitions of some stock phrase, like "oh nightingale" or "nothing but heart"; that's bad enough, but wait until they unpack a lyric like, "just because you don't hear their voices/don't mean they won't kill you in your sleep" -- in a song dreary enough to be a lullaby. C+
J Mascis: Several Shades of Why (2011, Sub Pop): Initial stands for Joseph [Donald], from MA, was in Dinosaur Jr. with and after Lou Barlow. I never paid much attention to them, and disliked their 2009 comeback Farm, but this is charming in every respect, warm, tuneful, dilligent. A-
Metronomy: The English Riviera (2011, Because): English electronica group, main person is Joseph Mount but seems to be an actual band, like with guitar(s) and drums. Third album. Catchy sometimes; only intermittently rhymes with monotony. B+(*)
Middle Brother: Middle Brother (2011, Partisan): Everyone seems to be going with the eponymous group/album title, but cover actually lists three surnames above the pic, the title below -- surnames belong to John McCauley (Deer Tick), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), and Matthew Vasquez (Delta Spirit). McCauley is probably the key one -- at least I figure he's the guy with the most voice, although the songs are pretty evenly divided. A-
Nuriya: Tanita (2011, Musica Almaya): From Mexico City, grandparents were Arabic Jews from Iraq and Syria who aimed for New York and got rerouted; grew up "between Mexico, L.A., and New York," then studied in Cuba, Israel, and France. Music reflects all of that, with some flamenco and Oum Kalthoum thrown into the mish-mash. Might have saved herself some trouble by idolizing Shakira, and still might. B+(**)
Obits: Moody, Standard and Poor (2011, Sub Pop): New York guitar band, garage punk more or less, second album, vocalist Rick Froberg is reported to sing this time instead of yelling. Songs are tight, cogent; nothing fancy, just the sort of rock album I could see enjoying. Title namechecks two of the big three bond rating companies, as responsible as anyone for destroying the world, but the names were included in quotes -- probably just caught their fancy (unlike, I guess, Fitch). B+(***)
Panda Bear: Tomboy (2011, Paw Tracks): Noah Lennox's side project from Animal Collective, up to four albums since 1998. Densely overlayered, vocally reminds me of classical choral music smudged up so you can't make out a word, tracked to an exaggerated beat. I don't really see the point. B
Josh T. Pearson: Last of the Country Gentlemen (2011, Mute): Pearson comes out of a group called Lift to Experience with another Josh -- something else that makes me nervous; when I was growing up no one named their kids that -- and their major album was called The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, a combo which sounds, well, terrifying. That one gets compared to My Bloody Valentine as well as Tim Buckley, but this solo debut is downright primitive: just voice over guitar and not even much of that -- the exception is a bit of added fiddle in one spot. The songs run on: 5 of 7 top 10 minutes. It's the sort of record that demands to be taken on its lyrics, but I don't have a good handle on that -- other than to note that the first song (one of the short ones) takes off on an ominous religious tangent. Could go up a bit or down a lot. B
Pet Shop Boys: The Most Incredible Thing (2011, Parlophone, 2CD): Soundtrack, to a three-act ballet, spread out on 2CD running 83:23. Many instances of trademark beats, but they (or Neal Tennant, who is credited with composing the whole thing) tap into the usual gamut of symphonic instruments (or synthesized approximations), making sweeping gestures like the dead classicists used to do. The occasional vocals tend toward choral sounds. Sometimes amusing, sometimes inadvertently so. B
Plan B: The Defamation of Strickland Banks (2010 , 679/Atlantic): Ben Drew, b. 1983 in London, UK; has a previous album, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words (2006), got him cast as a grime rapper, but there is little of that here -- no sooner than I type those words I hear a rap section, but it's on the tenth song; can't swear there's no more, but this is mostly sung. Concept album, about a soul singer named Strickland Banks -- you know, fame, drugs, jail, whatever. Heard it all before; just rarely this loud, with such sweeping bit beat music. Came out in UK last year, but shows up as new in US this year. B
Rainbow Arabia: Kabukimono (2009, Manimal Vinyl, EP): New album, Boys and Diamonds, not available -- cover shown but no songs available -- so I clicked on this 7-track EP. LA duo, Tiffany and Danny Preston, picked up some Arabic tunings from a Casio program, and that's evident here along with some jumpy dance-punk. B+(***)
Gil Scott-Heron/Jamie XX: We're New Here (2010 , XL): Basically, a remix of Scott-Heron's well-received 2010 album I'm New Here, the short original (28 minutes) stretched out to 35 minutes by Jamie Smith (of The XX). The loopy electronics seem to help at first, then fall flat and turn annoying. Gone is the cover shot of Scott-Heron dragging on a cigarette, but the voice remains. B
The Streets: Computers and Blues (2011, Vice): Mike Skinner, the original grime rapper, shoots his heavily accented everyman spiel over beats that started as uncommonly modest as the producer, but have now mutated into all sorts of bizarre and baroque contortions. I find the juxtaposition, well, weird, making it hard to hang on every word, even though most are worth the trouble. B+(**)
The Streets: Everything Is Borrowed (2008, Vice): While on the subject, thought I should check out the one (of five) album I missed. Beats are toned down, more even, none of the oddness of the following album. They fit his speech nicely, but he doesn't come up with enough to get by on that alone. Pretty much a wash. B+(**)
Swollen Members: Dagger Mouth (2011, Suburban Noize): Hip hop group from Vancouver: Mad Child, Prevail, and Rob the Viking; sixth album since 1999. Got a steady beat which lets the words surface, including: "fuck being a gangster and fuck being dead for it"; favors free wit over free will, but I didn't grab that line fast enough to quote here. Much more worth the study. A-
Those Darlins: Screws Get Loose (2011, Ow Wow Dang): Cowpunk grrlgroup, or something like that, based in Nashville, second album. Straight up, anthem seems to be "Be Your Bro" which is alright as far as that goes, but does it matter? B+(*)
Tune-Yards: Whokill (2011, 4AD): More typographic mayhem here, as if the music wasn't bad enough. Second album. Band, mostly a front for someone named Merrill Garbus, likes to be called "tUnE-yArDs" -- their name pieced together like a ransom note. The music is similarly hacked up and pasted back together, chop suey for the knees. A lot of people I like love it, and sometimes it gets so bouncy and/or whimsical I don't mind it -- at best she's like a real American Tom Zé. Maybe if I got a copy and spent the time getting re-educated I'd get with the program. B+(***)
TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light (2011, Interscope): Brooklyn rock group, fourth or fifth album. The only one I own is Dear Science, which overwhelmed my critical resistance but never tempted me to play it much. It dominated 2008 year-end lists, and I wouldn't be surprise if this one does as well, but I sure can't tell you why. Can't even come up with a generic description: melodies are kind of spacey but focus in on subtle pop hooks, vocals are kind of soulful but generic, words -- well, don't recall any words, even bloopers. But it flows so nice I've stopped worrying. A- [cd]
Generation Bass Presents: Transnational Dubstep (2011, Six Degrees): Long (77:24) VA comp, don't recognize any of the fifteen dubstep artists except maybe Jajouka Soundsystem (or maybe that sounds so obvious it rings a fake bell; the other one like that is Celt Islam). Presumably UK, although I doubt anyone is checking identity cards, the gimmick being to run world music echoes through the Jamaican dub chamber. Works easily. A-
The Karindula Sessions: Tradi-Modern Sounds From Southeast Congo (2011, Crammed Discs): Recorded at a three-day party in Lubumbashi down in the Congolese Copper Belt; the style also known as kalindula across the Zambian border, in both cases named for a large banjo-like instrument that beats out a skeletal rhythm; otherwise, all we hear are vocal shouts and lots of percussion, remarkable for its extreme primitivism and volume -- goes through stretches when it gets annoying, then charming, then too much. B
Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody:
Thursday, May 5. 2011
Paul Krugman: How Should We Think of the Civil War?: Not often I disagree with Krugman these days, but he's out of his depth here:
I don't have much beef with Coates here, even not understanding however it is that the Civil War's "so often portrayed": the real issue is what actually happened in those wars, and what happened is often far removed from anything we might be inclined to take pride in. But before you go around glorifying wars, I think you have to ask some hard questions: Did the war achieve the intentions you are attributing to it? Did the people who fought the war, especially at the command level, understand and act on those intentions? Did the prosecution of the war undermine them? Did the aftermath of the war implement them? Did the war cause unintended consequences that complicated or compromise or deprecated its intentions? Ask those questions and I think you'll find that both wars are highly problematical.
The Civil War ended the institution of chattel slavery in the US and influenced its elimination elsewhere (in Brazil at the time and in Cuba twenty-some years later). Had the Confederate States been able to secede and form a modern state based on the institution of slavery, the system would have continued for at least a generation, no telling how much longer. It is not impossible that slavery could have continued well over a century, into our lifetimes and possibly into the present, even though we cannot now conceive of such a world persisting. The Union's suppression of the secession changed history so profoundly that we might as well embrace it because we can't make sense out of the alternative. Nor is it just descendents of slaves who were affected and therefore owe their lives to the war.
However, while the Confederate States seceded to protect the legal institution of slavery and the economic system built upon it, the Union had other reasons for suppressing the rebellion: above all, it did so to preserve the integrity and power of the nation state, to protect and promote its economy, and to position the United States as a more significant imperial power. The secession profoundly tipped the balance of power, resulting in a tariff to protect industrial development and a Homestead Act to accelerate the absorption and integration of frontier territories. With the Union victory, the economic gains from the power shift continued, while the ideals of ending slavery atrophied: slaves were freed nominally but soon subjected to economic and political controls, including a reign of terror, that left them as destitute (if not as hopeless) as before. Moreover, in the decades following the Civil War "free labor" throughout the Union was more often than not reduced to conditions of near-slavery (what came to be called "wage slavery," most blatantly in company towns).
One has to wonder to what extent the extreme brutality of the Civil War -- it was at the time the deadliest war in human history -- contributed to undermining the anti-slavery ideals. It certainly became a point of honor in the South both to reduce and roll back the initial gains of the Freedmen and to restore the antebellum social and political order. The South was willing to suffer great poverty and economic backwardness for over a century to make a point of revenge -- something the North permitted because those in power in the North were little troubled by gross inequality or even by the use of terror (indeed, Northern plant owners were as likely to hire goons to bust strikes).
Whereas the Union was pretty clearly the aggressor in the Civil War -- and set an example for many other nations to suppress their breakaway regions, Congo-Katanga, Nigeria-Biafra, Russia-Chechnya, and Serbia-Bosnia are among the bloodiest recent examples; that each was a choice based on dubious principles is clearly shown by the exception, Czech-Slovakia -- one can make a good case that war was thrust upon the US (and many other countries) by the Axis. I can quibble with that. The war was fundamentally about how the world should be carved up into colonial empires, each a broad swath of the world dominated by a relatively small and autocratic home base convinced of its racial superiority over its dominions. As early as the 17th century, the model for such empires was set by England and France (outflanking earlier efforts by Portugal, Spain, and Holland). Only in the latter half of the 19th century did Germany and Italy (previously not unified states), the United States (revolutionized by the Union's Civil War victory), and Japan forcibly "opened" by the US) decide that they needed to enter the game and play catch up -- indeed, each of these nations often saw their own aggressions as necessarily defensive. (Two other empires come into play here, Russia and China, but they were constructed on more ancient lines, by subjugating their neighbors, much as the Romans and Ottomans had done. Whereas Italy and the US primarily intended to build their empires along Anglo-French lines, Germany and Japan combined both models.)
The progressive idea attributed to the Civil War was abolition of slavery and establishment of civil rights: the latter failed, in large part because so much of the Union was unwilling to work to make it happen, indeed because so much of the Union didn't believe in it. (One result was that the Civil War was refought in the 1960s, much less violently even if it seemed pretty nasty at the time.) The progressive idea attributed to WWII was the abandonment of the colonial empire system and the establishment of universal human rights. The problem here was that both sides were committed to their respective empires, and indeed the US-UK-France had been more successful at it than the Axis powers ever could be. Indeed, the western Allies entered into the war not because they had been directly threatened but because their dominions and international interests were at risk. When Chamberlain sacrificed a sliver of Czechoslovakia, he made a calculated cost-benefit analysis; when asked to do the same over half of Poland, the results changed (but even then he didn't begrudge Stalin for scooping up the leftovers, because the Soviet Union was not deemed anywhere near as serious a challenge to British interests as Germany was). While Roosevelt was admirably principled about not firing the first shot, he was far from neutral, arming and financing China and Britain while embargoing Japan and Germany, all but daring them to sink US ships (Wilson's entrée to WWI) or, as happened, to bomb US bases in the Pacific. The US had become the world's largest economy well before WWI, the largest trading country, a net exporter (safe behind high tariff walls), and as such a net invester and lender, so the people who thought about such things realized that the world couldn't be trusted to handle anything so important as a World War on its own: the US had to take part, because US interests were already involved. The big problem was selling this war to the people who didn't have any real money at stake, and that's where progressive ideas -- anti-imperialism and human rights, also fear of Fascism -- came in handy. It helped that New Deal progressives were in power, and it helped that the Soviet Union was already in the war. But progressive ideas had always served to sell war -- at least ever since selling became necessary, at least since the American and French Revolutions. (It may seem laughable now, but "white man's burden" passed for progressivism in its time; even more cynically, King Leopold vowed to rid the Congo of slavery.) About the only thing those trying to nudge the US into WWII didn't use as a reason was the need to prevent the Nazi extermination of Jews from all over Europe.
There's no doubt that WWII resulted in some progressive things: it conclusively ended German and Japanese imperialism and militarism; it wiped out all of the Fascist and/or ultraconservative states in Eastern Europe (replacing them with Soviet-dominated satellites, which you may not like but was still an improvement in most cases); it led to a communist revolution in China (which again you may not like, but it put an end to foreign depredations like Britain's Opium War and eventually led to the fastest growing economy of the last 20 years); it significantly weakened the victorious western imperial powers, speeding up the liquidation of their colonial states (Spain and Portugal, their Fascist regimes having skipped the war, held out the longest, except for the US which gave up the Philippines but still holds onto scattered outposts); it led to an international declaration of human rights and to the United Nations and other international organizations (which ultimately proved inadequate to fulfill their promises but on balance have been more progressive than not); it resulted in a recognition of the horrible injustice of genocide; perhaps most important to an economist like Krugman, the war solved the chronic demand shortage of the Great Depression and laid the basis for several decades of widespread affluence. Needless to say, only the first item was on Roosevelt's progressive agenda when he led the US into war, and even that wasn't conceived of progressively: US Treasury Secretary Morgenthau wanted to reduce Germany to nothing more than a 17th century agricultural economy. The rest was made up on the fly, or happened on its own, but so did much else.
On the other hand, much else happened during and after the war. Some seventy million people were killed, including some ten million people in German concentration camps -- mostly Jews in the Nazi's deliberate program to eradicate "the race," but also huge numbers of communists and other political opponents and Russian prisoners of war. Some 22-25 million of the dead could be considered combattants, including 410,000 Americans -- a number that is small only compared to 2 million Japanese, 3-4 million Chinese, 5.5 million Germans, and 8-10 million Soviets. But the overwhelming majority of those killed were non-combattants. One number I can't find is how many perished by the main new technology of the war: aerial bombardment. When the war started, the US was very high-minded about limiting bombing to strictly military targets, but the war ended with the US wiping out entire cities with nuclear weapons.
Beyond those dead were many more wounded, millions dislocated, many forced into slave labor. In the German-Russian borderlands from Latvia to Ukraine prewar populations were reduced by 15-25%. The war changed people, and while many (especially in Europe and Japan) resolved to live in peace, some developed a taste for war. The Chinese communists continued to fight the Kuomintang army. The Vietnamese fought against the return of the French. Indonesia, the Philippines, and India would have erupted but were quickly granted independence (the Indians turning on themselves when the British decided to partition the country, resulting in more than a million deaths). Both sides of divided Korea plotted to unify the country, resulting in a horrendous war from 1950-53, sucking in the US and China. The Zionist settlement in Palestine revolted against Britain and seized three-quarters of the land, fighting off several Arab armies and driving 700,000 Palestinians into an exile that has still not been resolved. Israel was initially backed by the US, the USSR, and France, partly out of sympathy for the Holocaust, possibly out of a desire to settle displaced Jews elsewhere, with an almost absent-minded disdain for the Palestinians signifying that the colonial mentality had not yet been broken. The result was the creation of the most belligerent nation of the postwar period, one which still denies basic human rights to several million people -- one of many not-so-progressive things that emerged from WWII.
Then there was the US, the nation which gained the most and suffered relatively little, with virtually no civilian casualties, the homeland never seriously threatened. The war rescued the US economy; fear of slipping back into recession made the idea of maintaining a permanent war economy attractive. Moreover, the war swelled the American ego to a humongous degree: we had, after all, saved the world from extraordinary evils; we led the world, were good enough to rebuild Europe; our ideals were the world's. Except, that is, for the communists, who soon turned out to be more useful as enemies. They gave us reason to keep the military economy in gear, and they gave the right an opportunity to purge the left -- which they proceeded to do with generous but suicidal support from the liberal establishment.
Nearly everything bad that has happened to America since 1945 can be traced back to the unsatisfied sense of winning WWII and the craving for more. Tom Carson was right when he said that the worst thing that ever happened to the US was winning WWII. That isn't to say that losing would have better, or that we shouldn't have entered at all. But it should be understood that war isn't something one wins; it's always a loss, the real dilemma being how you handle that loss. It should also be understood that war itself is never progressive. The whole idea behind progressivism is to deliberately arrange society and economy in ways that work more productively and more equitably for all. Going to war doesn't do that, not least because in going to war you throw your fate to the winds. Maybe you'll learn something from the experience and use that insight to do something progressive: for instance, racism became much less popular after watching what the Nazis did with it, and that lesson helped revive the US civil rights movement, and indeed helped fuel anticolonial movements around the world. But real progressives didn't need, let alone want, that example. Had progressives been more successful before WWII they'd be less likely to think WWII a progressive war because they would have had less ground to make up, and less to learn from really awful events. Indeed, had they been more successful there might not have been a WWII.
Pacifism is a philosophy to live by; not one to judge history by. The prevalence of wars throughout history shows two things: that war is a plague upon human society, and that through so much history we haven't had the good sense to prevent it. One might cold-heartedly look back on history and say some war made for a turning point after which we decided to become more progressive. Maybe Krugman's favored wars qualify, but taking pride in them strikes me as not just excessive and selective but foolish. For every progressive impulse or moment, we should recognize two things: that it could and should have been done less violently, and that the process of going through war damaged us in too many ways to fully comprehend. For example, what abolitionist who supported the Union in the Civil War could imagine the residual power of George Wallace and Jesse Helms more than a century later? What liberal democrat (or communist) who understood the urgency to defeat Hitler could imagine the bloodthirst of Dick Cheney and Ariel Sharon sixty years later?
The lesson is that war begets iniquity and further war, and that is nothing ever to take pride in.