Friday, April 27. 2012
I haven't had much time to post, or even surf, this week, but I do want to point out two remarkable charts from Paul Krugman's blog.
First, under Cameron's Remarkable Achievement, shows that the austerity program of Britain's Tory/Liberal government has managed to drag the recovery into a ditch, making this recession worse in the UK than the Great Depression was:
Of course, Britain in the 1930s was home not just of Keynesianism but of John Maynard Keynes himself. I dare say no current economist will make a comparable mark without a fundamental change in politics, since the whole mantra of austerity is little more than ideological cover for an upper class which would rather wreck the economy than lose even a tad of their relative advantage.
The second one is from American Austerity, which tracks public employment under the first terms of Clinton and Bush -- you may recall, Clinton inherited a recession in 1992, and Bush had one develop as the stock market deleveraged from the dot-com boom and 9/11 happened -- and Obama, who inherited a grossly larger recession. Obama, with a fairly large stimulus program, should have far exceeded either of them, but in fact he's had the rug pulled out from under his administration with massive cuts, mostly at the state and local level:
Krugman's been beating on the austerity fad all week, especially in his column: Death of a Fairy Tale, but also in blog pieces like The New Voodoo (another chart there, plotting austerity vs. change in GDP and showing that it consistently reduces growth, often winding up on the negative side), and The Secret of Our Non-success (another chart on how government expenditures, exclusive of transfers, have plumetted), and It's All So Confusing, including this quote from Dean Baker:
And next week he'll have a book out to reiterate all of this, and remind us he's been right all along. Which he has been.
Tuesday, April 24. 2012
This is the second year I've voted in Downbeat's Critics Poll. As I went through their electronic ballot, I tried to take notes below. In most cases this consists of going through their suggestions and noting anyone who seems plausible, then going through my own previous notes and database and adding anyone who seems equally deserving. Then I pick three, and sometimes try to justify that pick. Or all to often I gripe about the category, the suggested ballot, the sometimes odd decisions about who to list in the "Rising Star" section. The ballot process inevitably takes more than a day, and can get quite painful. I hear they give voters a T-shirt for their trouble, but they didn't send me one last year.
To see the rest of my notes, go here.
Monday, April 23. 2012
Music: Current count 19806  rated (+34), 762  unrated (-1). A fairly normal week, with about half of the newly rated records down in Jazz Prospecting below, the other half stashed away for Recycled Goods and Rhapsody Streamnotes in early May. Perhaps inspired by last week's massive bookkeeping clean up, I started off by picking well-aged items from the queue -- six 2011 releases, none remotely close to breaking into last year's list. I still have 40 2011 releases pending, so I'll try to keep knocking them down, but they sure don't look promising.
Clipper Anderson: The Road Home (2010-11 , Origin): Bassist, originally from Montana, first album, leads a piano trio with Darin Clendenin on piano and Mark Ivester on drums. Wrote 6 of 11 pieces, the covers including two from Bill Evans. Mixed bag. The pianist most likely would be happy to play Evans all night, but there's also a piece where the bass actually leads, and another (less successful) where guest vocalist Gretta Matassa scats out front. Anderson croons one too, a lullaby, sort of. B-
Lynne Arriale: Solo (2011 , Motéma): Pianist, b. 1957 in Milwaukee, 14-15 albums since 1993, pretty sure this isn't her first solo outing. Half originals, two Monks plus standards from Lerner & Lowe, Cole Porter, Billy Joel -- she nearly always drops in something from the rock era. B+(*)
Chris Brubeck's Triple Play: Live at Arthur Zankel Music Center (2011 , Blue Forest): Dave Brubeck's son, plays trombone, bass, piano, sings. Triple Play adds Joel Brown (guitar) and Peter Madcat Ruth (harmonica, ukulele, hi-hat, jaw harp), both with more vocals. Cut live with special guests Dave Brubeck (piano) and Frank Brown (clarinet). Song list is evenly split between Brubeck standards and old blues ("Rollin' & Tumblin," "Phonograph Blues," "Black and Blue," "St. Louis Blues," "Brother Can You Spare a Dime"), so you find these stretches of fancy time-shifting piano in between the harmonica blues. Seems at odd with itself, but Chris Brubeck compounds the conundrum with a "5/4 boogie woogie" called "Mighty Mrs. Hippy" with a long intro to explain the pun, and that segues into a harmonica-led "Blue Rondo a la Turk." B+(***)
Mindy Canter: Fluteus Maximus: One Session, One Take (2011, Mindela Music): "16 songs were recorded live, in a small, one room studio in northern California. All songs were done in one take including Hammond B3 (dubbed in same session)." Canter, who has a few previous albums, plays flute and keyboards, backed with guitar, bass, and drums. All covers, from "16 Tons" and "Happy Trails" to "Watermelon Man" and "Do It Again" -- oh, and "Mercy Mercy Mercy." Light pop funk on the first half; then Denny Geyer starts singing, proving he's not Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Tennessee Ernie Ford (nor Merle Travis). B-
Andy Clausen: The Wishbone Suite (2011 , Table and Chairs): Trombonist, from Seattle, website says he's 19, has been a bandleader since 14, won a "Gerald Wilson Award for Jazz Composition" in 2009, graduated high school in 2010, studied at Juilliard that fall, returned to Seattle to cut this in 2011. Group is a quintet, with Ivan Arteaga (clarinet), Gus Carns (piano), Aaron Otheim (accordion & piano), and Chris Icasiano (drums & glockenspiel). Interesting combination of instruments, mostly soft sounds, reminds me a bit of Claudia Quintet, maybe a bit more baroque. Not what you'd expect from a trombonist, let alone a teenager. B+(**)
Romain Collin: The Calling (2012, Palmetto): Pianist, b. 1979 in France, won a Monk prize, studied at Berklee, based in New York, second album. Mostly piano trio (Luques Curtis and Kendrick Scott), with extra guitar on three tracks, plus overly sweet cello on two of those. Has a distinctive rhythmic sense, making this lean and dense, except when it isn't. B+(*)
Jared Gold: Goldenchild (2010 , Posi-Tone): Organ player, based in New York; fifth album since 2009, a trio with Ed Cherry on guitar and Quincy Davis on drums. About half originals, covers starting with "A Change Is Gonna Come" and winding up with "When It's Sleepy Time Down South." Light touch, intricately weaved with the guitar for mild mannered funk. B+(*)
Jim Holman: Explosion! (2009-11 , Delmark): Pianist, from Chicago, first album, a very upbeat affair, even a whiff of boogie woogie in the piano. Gets even more uproarious on the four cuts with tenor saxophonist Frank Catalano from the 2011 session. Finishes with four earlier cuts, two with alto saxophonist Richie Cole. B+(**)
Kenny & Leah: All About Love (2011, K&L): Soderblom is their shared last name. Kenny plays tenor sax, has a real nice tone. Leah sings, mostly standards, plenty of love songs for that, including "Corcovado" for the obligatory Jobim; has a crisp edge to her voice. Fifth album together, big age difference but for now it seems to work. Five songs with a big string orch drag a bit, but the combo pieces move along. B+(*)
Jocelyn Medina: We Are Water (2011, self-released): Singer-songwriter, studied at Berklee and Manhattan School of Music, based in Brooklyn, second album. One cover here, from Hermeto Pascoal. Band, built around Kristjan Randalu on piano with Rodrigo Ursala on tenor sax and flute, has a real jazz feel, and she likes to scat -- is more convincing then than with her lyrics. B-
Eivind Opsvik: Overseas IV (2011 , Loyal Label): Bassist, from Norway, moved to New York in 1998; has average 5-6 side credits since about 2006. Describes Overseas as a band name, this being their fourth album. Group includes Tony Malaby (tenor sax, a frequent collaborator), Brandon Seabrook (guitar), Jacob Sachs (harpsichord, farfisa, piano), and Kenny Wollesen (drums, tympani, vibes). Rather rockish, but in using repeated rhythmic signatures and in indulging in complexly layered noise -- Seabrook's guitar leads more than the sax -- but the harpsichord offers an ironic nod to chamber music, as does the organ to church music. A-
Mark O'Toole: The Crooner (2011, self-released): Crooner, like he says, more Bennett than Sinatra, based in Las Vegas, where there is a market for this sort of thing. Songs are classic. Arrangements way past their expiry date. You may find yourself hating this and still feel compelled to sing along. You may even improve on it. C+
John Raymond: Strength & Song (2011 , Strength & Song): Trumpet player, based in New York, first album, produced by Jon Faddis, with Gilad Hekselman on guitar, Javier Santiago on piano and Fender Rhodes, plus bass and drums -- pianist Gerald Clayton and alto saxophonist Tim Green get cover "featuring" credit for two songs each. Trumpet leads are strong and clear, and the guitarist does a notable job weaving in and out. B+(*)
Ro Sham Beaux: Ro Sham Beaux (2011 , Red Piano): First album for Boston group: Zac Shaiman (saxes), Luke Marantz (keyb), Oliver Watkinson (bass), Jacob Cole (drums, glockenspiel). Don't know anything about the band or what they think they're up to. Wouldn't call this pop or fusion or experimental rock or much of anything else: name presumably means something else, but bounces around in my brain and comes out rambling shambles. B
Jim Van Slyke: The Sedaka Sessions (2011, LML Music): Singer, second album, does 15 Neil Sedaka songs, two duets with the auteur. Backed by piano trio, simple enough, the main question how to react to his voice, high-pitched, struck me as girly at first, but that may just have been "Love Will Keep Us Together." The later songs get more theatrical. B
Mark Weinstein: El Cumbanchero (2011, Jazzheads): Flute player, sixteen albums since 1996, nearly all of them Latin, at least since Algo Más in 2004. With Aruán Ortiz on piano, who also did the arrangements -- strings on most tracks. B+(*)
Dan Wilensky: Back in the Mix (2011 , Speechless Productions): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1961 in Ann Arbor, MI; cut a record in 1997, and now three more since 2010. Mostly quartet with Mark Soskin (piano), Dean Johnson (bass), and Tony Moreno (drums), adding trumpeter Russ Johnson on four cuts. Nice, rich tone, shows off especially well on tunes like "Falling in Love With Love." B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 22. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Thursday, April 19. 2012
Another batch of 40 more/less new books. Last one came out on February 9, and as it turns out I almost have enough piled up for an immediate follow-up, so I mostly went with the most promising political, economic, and historical efforts. Next time, especially if it's sooner rather than later, will be more scattered.
Andrew J Bacevich, ed: The Short American Century: A Postmortem (2012, Harvard University Press): Collection with eight other contributors, including Walter LaFeber -- one of the first to document this century of hubris and folly.
Dean Baker: The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive (paperback, 2011, Center for Economic and Policy Reserach): Short (168 pp.), defines "loser liberalism" as policies that "want to tax the winners to help the losers," and argues that progressives would be better off working "to structure markets so that they don't redistribute income upward." Seems like the right idea to me.
Peter Beinart: The Crisis of Zionism (2012, Times Books): Liberal hawk, in fact made a big stink about the point, insisting that only liberals can "win the war on terror" -- a thesis that held up fairly well during the Bush reign but hasn't fared so well under Obama. Also a big-time Israel-lover, eager to defend Zionism even though its record is even more tattered than that of the liberal hawks, but again with a proviso -- something about how the occupation is destroying the soul of Zionism. Even goes so far as to argue for boycotting products from Israel's West Bank settlements, which has made him public enemy number one to the other big-time Israel lovers: the ones who really dig the Chosen People's dominance over the natives -- makes them feel that Old Testament virility.
Josh Bivens: Failure by Design: The Story Behind America's Broken Economy (2011, Cornell University Press): I doubt that America's economy was designed in any meaningful sense, but comparing it to a design -- which is to say determining whether it serves any purpose, and what -- should be good for some insight into its dysfunction.
Otis Brawley/Paul Goldberg: How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America (2012, St Martin's Press): An oncologist, practices in a hospital in Atlanta that is the last resort for patients without means, which is largely why he goes in for evidence-based medicine and doesn't go in for kickbacks. Turns out that some of the most lucrative cancer treatments in America do little good and/or much harm, and he's got cases.
David Brock/Ari Rabin-Havt/Media Matters for America: The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network Into a Propaganda Machine (paperback, 2012, Anchor): Probably the single most important factor in America since Obama was elected has been the existence of a full-time, full-press propaganda force dedicated to tearing him down. No other president has had to face such a persistent and unscrupulous foe -- well, Clinton, maybe, but that was during Fox's infancy, where these methods were first hatched but far from perfected. Evidently much of this comes from Brock's website, which exercises the proper level of due dilligence, so you and I don't have to.
Chuck Collins: 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It (paperback, 2012, Bennett-Koehler): Short (144 pp) book by the director of IPS's Program on Inequality and the Common Good, and he has other activist credentials. The fact of growing inequality should be beyond any doubt at this point. The bigger problem is explaining why it is such a problem, in large part because instead of there being one large reason, there are so many small ones.
Steven A Cook: The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square (2011, Oxford University Press): Survey of Egypt's history post-Nasser, made all the more timely by the revolt against Mubarak's sclerotic rule. Was looking for a book like this back when the revolution was unfolding, but such books always show up late. Cook previously wrote: Ruling but Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey (paperback, 2007, Johns Hopkins Press).
David Corn: Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party (2012, William Morrow): Starts with the 2010 elections and tries to turn that sow's ear into a silk purse (repealing Don't Ask/Don't Tell, passing New START, caving in on the Bush tax cuts, killing Bin Laden, etc.). A piece of political history, no doubt, but inspirational?
Douglas Dowd: Inequality and the Global Economic Crisis (paperback, 2009, Pluto Press): Another book on the consequences of inequality, making some of the connections to financial collapse that the new James Galbraith book (Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis) makes. I could append this there, as I do sometimes, but everything written on this topic is important.
Mary L Dudziak: War-Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences (2012, Oxford University Press): Looks at how we've traditionally thought of times at war, and why such concepts have become so confused as the US has warlike conflicts without any sort of formal nation-wide mobilization.
Russ Feingold: While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era (2012, Crown): There are several books the former senator could have written now that he has the time, including one on the sordid influence of money in elections -- a big part of why he was turned out. This one appears to focus on how the Senate responded to 9/11: how little they knew, how they were handled by Bush's warmongers, how little they cared about the consequences of their (in-)actions. I doubt that he goes as far as he should, but he was one of the few people who didn't get totally swept up in the hysteria, so at least he should stake out that much.
James K Galbraith: Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis (2012, Oxford University Press): His last book, The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should To (2008) is my pick for the best political book of the last decade. This look to go deeper into the inequality chasm growth that preceded what he calls the Great Financial Crisis, and tries to show how one caused the other. I think that's right, and will move this to the top of my must-read list.
Joshua S Goldstein: Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide (2011, Dutton): I think the thesis is basically right, although I'm less certain about the effectiveness of international peacekeeping forces than I am about the general sense that war is a losing proposition, inimical to everything we aspire to in life today.
Arthur Goldwag: The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right (2012, Pantheon): Blurb talks more about the old hate -- "hysteria about the Illuminati," McCarthyism, Henry Ford's anti-semitism -- which leaves us short of understanding what's new about the new hate. No doubt there are plenty of examples, but why it resonates is more important. Only by skimming the surface can you treat Henry Ford as a populist.
Jonathan Haidt: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012, Pantheon): Heard a line recently that sums up politics these days: "either you're preaching to the choir, or talking to a wall." This psychologist thinks he knows why, something having to do with our tendency to react emotionally with our "moral taste buds" while only seeking post hoc reinforcement from reason. For an example of how people find what they want, an Amazon reader wrote: "This book is a fun read for conservatives because it pokes more holes in liberalism than it does in conservatism."
John Horgan: The End of War (2012, McSweeney's): Science writer, argues that war is not intrinsic to human nature nor inevitable, and that we are in fact trending towards ending war. I think one way to look at this is to look at the rationales that are used to advocate and serve in war: they've changed markedly over the last few centuries. One might point out that the US used to have a War Department that rarely went to war, but now that we've renamed it the Department of Defense it's always involved in one shootout or another, so this is a thorny subject, correct I think, but a habit hard to break.
Van Jones: Rebuild the Dream (2012, Nation Books): Obama's "green jobs" czar for a few days in 2009 until Obama left him high and dry, lynched on Rush Limbaugh's tree. He's back now, with an organization he named his book for, like the eery shadow of a campaign theme Obama used in 2008 and is unlikely to bring up ever again. Pitch: "America is still the best idea in the world. The American middle class is still her greatest invention. Rebuild the Dream is dedicated to the proposition that -- with the right strategy -- both can be preserved and strengthened for generations to come."
Michael T Klare: The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources (2012, Metropolitan Books): The next logical evolution of his argument after Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum and Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Politics of Energy. I've long thought that the conflict part of the equation is overrated, in part because it is impossible to see any national public interest in what the US does to support capitalists (with virtually no distinction between US and foreign), in part because the US military posture is so counterproductive.
Robert Jay Lifton: Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir (2011, Free Press): A psychiatrist, b. 1926, studied brainwashing during the Korean War, went on to study survivors of Hiroshima and of several incidents of genocide, writing a number of remarkable books along the way: e.g., Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (1968); Revolutionary Immortality: Mao Tse-Tung and the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1968); Home From the War: Vietnam Veterans -- Neither Victims nor Executioners (1973); The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (1986); Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism (2000); Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation With the World (2003). He didn't do a full book on Abu Ghraib, but did weigh in on the subject, so I expect there's some of that here.
Michael Lind: Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States (2012, Harper): Big subject, 592 pp. is likely to require much conceptualizing while still compressing the subject. Lind has usually nipped around the corners, sometimes usefully, sometimes not (I can't see ever forgiving his defense of the Vietnam War). [April 17]
Marc Lynch: The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East (2012, Public Affairs): After a rash of quickies last year, the books on the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and throughout the Arab world are starting to appear in earnest. Could try for a list, but they're still a bit scattered. Lynch has a longstanding understanding of the region, plus has some contacts with US diplomatic sources (given more play in the blurb than I suspect they're worth).
Tracie McMillan: The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table (2012, Scribner): Author worked in the fields of California, at Walmart in the produce isle, and in the kitchen at Applebee's, and got a sense of how we treat food these days, and as such how we treat ourselves.
Chris Mooney: The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don't Believe in Science (2012, Wiley): A delicious title, but I doubt he can deliver the goods, and not just because brains don't seem to be the operative organ governing Republicans. By all accounts, his first book (The Republican War on Science) was spot on, but he's gotten sloppier as he's gotten more aggravated.
Cullen Murphy: God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World (2012, Houghton Mifflin): Murphy dates the Inquisition as an official process to 1231 and tracks it for nearly 700 years, but also points out that many more recent processes share its essential features -- McCarthyism is one that occurs to me, and the burgeoning US security state continues in its wake. Murphy is a "big picture" historian, as shown by his previous book, Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America.
John Nichols: Uprising: How Wisconsin Reneweed the Politics of Protest From Madison to Wall Street (paperback, 2012, Nation Books): The American people did something monumentally stupid in November 2010, allowing a fanatic cadre of Republicans to take over the House of Representatives in Washington and to sweep nearly all of the state houses in the upper midwest. When the consequences of this lapse of sanity became obvious, the people of Wisconsin were first and foremost in standing up to right. This sketches out what happened there, in Ohio, and on to Occupy Wall Street: instant history, in case you weren't paying enough attention. Also see: Erica Sagrans, ed: We Are Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Uprising in the Words of the Activists, Writers, and Everyday Wisconsinites Who Made It Happen (paperback, 2011, Tasora Books); Mari Jo Buhle/Paul Buhle, eds: It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest in America (paperback, 2012, Verso, with an intro by Nichols); Dennis Weidemann: Cut From Plain Cloth: The 2011 Wisconsin Workers Protests (2011, Manitenahk Books); Michael D Yates: Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back (paperback, 2012, Monthly Review Press).
Elaine Pagels: Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation (2012, Viking): The history of the odd book at the end of the Bible. The main points strike me as familiar, but it's helpful to spell them out at length -- to show how the historical specifics are reflected as hysterical prophecy. Pagels has written a lot on early Christianity, e.g., The Gnostic Gospels. One intriguing title: The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics.
Bill Press: The Obama Hate Machine: The Lies, Distortions, and Personal Attacks on the President -- and Who Is Behind Them (2012, Thomas Dunne): The key is the last clause: I don't see much point in rehearsing all the nonsense unless you can tie it all down to sources, especially ones that certainly must know better.
Ahmed Rashid: Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan (2012, Viking): Wrote the standard book on the pre-2001 Taliban (Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia) and a major book on how the US war in Afghanistan has destabilized the region (Descent Into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia). More specifically on Pakistan, which as the US finally backs out is likely to remain as the main legacy of the near-sighted, myopic mess. Also new: Stephen P Cohen, et al: The Future of Pakistan (paperback, 2012, Brookings Institution Press).
Noam Scheiber: The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery (2012, Simon & Schuster): Reportedly some kind of inside story, like Ron Suskind's 2011 Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, so much of it must be redundant other than carrying the story a bit further -- the lack of subsequent good news making the "fumbling" all the more pointed. Suskind's title was clever, but this one is nonsense.
Anthony Shadid: House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): American journalist, has covered the Middle East remarkably for many years -- cf. his book on the US invasion of Iraq, Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War -- before dying early this year in Syria. A memoir of rebuilding his family's ancestral home in Lebanon, thinking about the world around it.
Robert J Shiller: Finance and the Good Society (2012, Princeton University Press): Major economist, especially authoritative on bubbles and their consequences -- he was, I think, the first guy to smell out the housing bubble, but he had the advantage of having written Irrational Exuberance about the high-tech stock bubble, and also co-authored a book on behavioral economics called Animal Spirits. More big questions here.
David K Shipler: Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America (2012, Knopf): Quick sequel to his 2011 book, The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties. Has written big books in the past, and obviously felt like saying more here.
Jeffrey St Clair/Joshua Frank, eds: Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (paperback, 2012, AK Press): With so much room to snipe at Obama from the left, I'm disappointed that no one has really hit the mark. (I've read Tariq Ali, who rung up Bush like nobody's business; also Roger Hodge, Robert Kuttner, Tom Engelhardt, and Chris Hedges, but not Glenn Greenwald, at least in book form.) But this seems like a particularly cheap way to do it, not just by assembling pieces from such principled critics but by adopting that whole hope/illusion nonsense.
David C Unger: The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs (2012, Penguin Press): For 60+ years now, the US has responded to every lapse and chink in its defense by building more defense, and by deploying it ever more aggressively around the world. The result has been a self-sustaining avalanche of failures for which we have but one answer: more, the inevitable answer given the stress on absolute security.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel: The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama (paperback, 2012, Nation Books): A collection of columns, blog posts, whatever, swept up over several years regardless of relevance.
Tim Weiner: Enemies: A History of the FBI (2012, Random House): Previously wrote Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, a useful book that could be more critical. The FBI should be more straightforward, but probably isn't. The first clue is that their preoccupation seems to be not criminals but "enemies."
Gary Weiss: Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul (2012, St Martin's Press): Looks into Rand's web of influence since her death in 1982 -- most obviously Alan Greenspan and various Tea Party crackpots. Not sure if Weiss is a believer or a critic, but you'd have to have an exaggerated sense of Rand's importance to bother exploring this matter.
Jeffrey A Winters: Oligarchy (paperback, 2011, Cambridge University Press): An enduring concept -- case studies include ancient Athens and Rome, medieval Venice and Sienna, and, of course, the modern US.
Matthew Yglesias: The Rent Is Too Damn High: What to Do About It, and Why It Matters More Than You Think (e-book, 2012, Simon & Schuster): Short essay (about 70 pp?) on urban planning, argues that rent control and zoning restrictions lead to high rents and high costs of living in dense cities. I've largely stopped reading his blog, in part because I zone out when he writes about these specific topics (and especially parking). I might care more if I lived in one of those cities, or if he got into the large picture of how rentier interests have corrupted public policy.
Some forthcoming books I'm looking forward to:
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010; paperback, 2012, Free Press): Now that racial discrimination has been formally banned, why is it that "more African Americans are under correctional control today . . . than were enslaved in 1850"? Why does the US (you know, "the land of the free") hold more of its people in prison than any other country in the world?
Adam Hochschild: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (2011; paperback, 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Focuses on England during the first World War, especially on those who opposed the folly of that war, in contrast to those who promoted and luxuriated in it.
Bethany McLean/Joe Nocera: All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis (2010; paperback, 2011, Portfolio Trade): One of the best-regarded of the scads of books on the financial meltdown of 2008, which political stupidity has compounded into the greatest depression of our lives.
Bill Moyers: Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues (2011; paperback, 2012, New Press): Interview transcripts, most with interesting people, get to many interesting questions. I've found that the interview format often offers an exceptionally focused yet friendly introduction to a person.
Jason K Stearns: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (2011; paperback, 2012, Public Affairs): I doubt that as many as one in five Americans who are aware of the Rwanda genocide have any idea that the subsequent war in neighboring Congo has wound up killing many more people. One of the few major books on the subject. Another is Gerard Prunier: Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe (2008; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press).
Trying to scratch up the paperbacks, which I was very short in, I've picked up a bunch more books, so the next installment should be sooner rather than later. It would be easier if one could just look for books in a bookstore, but that's becoming impossible. (I think books account for less than 40% of the floor space in our last remaining Barnes & Noble.)
Wednesday, April 18. 2012
Atrios has run a series of posts, starting with nine runners up and converging on "the one true wanker of the decade." He distinguishes "wankers" from "wingers" so as to give a pass to the furthest right ideologues, propagandists, and lunatics -- possibly because there's no end of them, also because the research quickly overwhelms anyone's sense of humor. So his game are mostly self-professed centrists who repeatedly wind up doing the right's dirty work. He also looks for writers perched on big media outlets. (Alex Pareene has done similar, more comprehensive lists. See his Hack Thirty from 2010 and his 2011 Hack List.)
The Eschaton list in top-to-bottom order:
I don't have strong feelings here, mostly because these are people I almost never read -- Sullivan is an exception, and I find his ranking a bit puzzling -- and in some cases have never heard of. (Fred Hiatt is one, but I'm told he runs the Washington Post's editorial page, which makes it possible to knock all these blokes off with just one slot: "Krauthammer. Broder. Hoagland. Kristol. Novak. Cohen. Lane. Cupp. Thiessen. Kurtz. Samuelson. Diehl. Kelly. Noonan. Will. Ignatius. Parker. Marcus. Milbank. Gerson." A couple names there don't ring a bell either, but I can fill in first names (and more) for most of them -- Robert Samuelson being a particular pet peeve.
What I'd like to see are some more specific lists: especially, which journalists/pundits were most effective at shutting down any sane discussion of 9/11 and the march to war in Afghanistan? I have a much clearer picture of Iraq (Judith Miller and Kenneth Pollack are key figures there, also George Packer). And what about the insanity of thinking it safe to turn Congress over to Republicans in 2010? I mean, a lot of "opinion makers" were simply negligent in not realizing what that would mean.
Monday, April 16. 2012
Music: Current count 19772  rated (+142), 763  unrated (-115). Every now and then I find unrated records in the database that I know I've written up somewhere. After bumping into a few of those over the last couple weeks, I finally took a close look at the unrated list and found about 120 bookkeeping lapses. The actual rated count for this past week is probably close to 25 -- 16 Jazz Prospecting below, plus a few items for May's Rhapsody Streamnotes. There should be two major chunks on the unrated list: I bought a lot of stuff real cheap during record store closeouts c. 2002-03, before I started getting lots of new stuff in the mail, and those things have been sitting around ever since; then there's the new stuff I haven't gotten to yet. In between there are a few things I got and never bothered with -- Verity gospel, those United States Air Force Band sets, some prog-rock advances, a lot of Xmas records. I have a box with about 16-inches of low priority jazz stuff that I haven't looked at since I sorted it, and another box of advance-only things that are getting old. There are also some old LPs that I may not even have any more -- sold off most of the LPs when we left NJ in 1999, and there are things that may just be lost. But it's been depressing to have made so little progress in knocking down the unrated number, so I'm glad to find that such a large part of the problem has been bookkeeping error. (The unrated list is here. As I've been writing this, I've knocked five more records off it, which will be accounted for next week.)
Eric Alexander & Vincent Herring: Friendly Fire: Live at Smoke (2011 , High Note): Two stellar mainstream saxophonists, Alexander on tenor, Herring on alto, flashy piano solos by Mike LeDonne, with John Webber on bass and Carl Allen on drums. Standards (except for Herring's closer) -- one I haven't heard in a long time is "Sukiyaki," a pop instrumental hit from the 1960s. Bright and upbeat, but no evidence of cutting -- very friendly, indeed. B+(**)
Terence Blanchard: Red Tails (2011 , Sony Classical): Trumpet player doing soundtrack work -- the movie is based on the Tuskegee airmen who broke the color line as fighter pilots in WWII. He's done that before, starting with scoring Spike Lee's Malcolm X in 1992, and he has no qualms about cranking out clichéd movie pomp -- lots of brass frills and typmani here, storm clouds everywhere. Even works "America the Beautiful" into his "End Credits" here. The only respite comes with the four period tunes he didn't write tacked on at the end, credited respectively to Harry James, the Andrews Sisters, Maxine Sullivan, and the Ink Spots. C+
Michel Camilo: Mano A Mano (2011, Decca): Pianist, b. 1954 in the Dominican Republic, I count 17 albums since 1985, has the chops to have a real tour de force in there somewhere. This is a trio with Charles Flores on bass and Giovanni Hidalgo doing Latin percussion. Covers from Lee Morgan and John Coltrane, lots of originals, smart and savvy, nicely spiced. B+(**) [advance]
Oscar Castro-Neves: Live at Blue Note Tokyo (2009 , Zoho): Brazilian guitarist, b. 1940 in Rio de Janeiro, has a dozen albums since 1987, now based in Los Angeles. Shares vocals with Leila Pinheiro on a mixed bag of tunes, some classic -- can't complain about the Jobim when it tops the show. B+(*)
Mike Cottone: Just Remember (2011, self-released): Trumpet player, from Rochester, studied at Eastman and Juilliard, based on New York. First album. Hard bop group, with Jeremy Viner on tenor sax, Kris Bowers on piano, the latter making the strongest impression. Nice "Stardust" at the end. B
Ryan Davidson: Ryan Davidson Trio (2010 , Debris Field): Guitarist, in a trio with Ryan Hagler on bass and Ryan Jacobi on drums. Tight, electric sound, with a whiff of Americana (first song is "Ghost Riders in the Sky"). B+(*)
Conrad Herwig/Richie Beirach/Jack DeJohnette: The Tip of the Sword (1994 , RadJazz): Trombonist, b. 1959 in Oklahoma, has close to 20 albums since 1987; veered into Latin jazz with his 1996 Latin Side of John Coltrane, and has rarely returned, but this earlier set has none of that. If anything he leans avant here, although Beirach's piano softens the tone. The drummer needs no introduction. B+(**)
In One Wind: How Bright a Shadow! (2011, Primary): Six-person group from somewhere -- website refuses to show me any info until I upgrade Flash, which I have blocked anyway -- only name I recognize is flute-clarinet player Steven Lugerner, but he's only here for decoration any way. Three singers, guitar, bass, and drums, plus extras whenever they feel the need for more flutes. I find the record unlistenable -- they seem incapable of sustaining a tempo more than two bars, but of course I mean unwilling -- but not uninteresting (which means they sometimes make it work, but not as often as, say, Captain Beefheart). C+
Josh Levinson Sextet: Chauncey Street (2011 , self-released): Trumpet player, from Brooklyn, not aware of him having any previous records, although he's probably been around a while (for one thing, he dates the title song to the 1990s). Straightahead hard bop group, with Kenny Shanker on tenor (and soprano) sax, Noah Bless on trombone, Jeb Patton on piano, plus bass and drums. Beat has a funk influence and occasional Latin tinges, and the trombone helps. B+(*)
Alex Lopez: We Can Take This Boat (2011, Lopez Music): Tenor saxophonist, studied at New England Conservatory, which means Jerry Bergonzi and George Garzone. First album, piano-bass-drums plus guitar on 5 (of 8) tracks. All originals. Mainstream, strong voice. B+(**)
Jeff Parker Trio: Bright Light in Winter (2011 , Delmark): Guitarist, b. 1967 in Bridgeport, CT; based in Chicago, with a handful of records more/less under his own name, more than thirty side credits, mostly avant-leaning groups, not least Chicago Underground. This is a trio with Chris Lopes (acoustic bass, flute, synthesizer) and Chad Taylor (drums), all three writing pieces. Milder than I expected, focusing on delicate melodic lines. Grows on you. B+(**)
Enrico Pieranunzi: Permutation (2009 , CAM Jazz): Piano trio, with Scott Colley on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Seems like I'm always impressed but never have a lot to say about him. B+(***)
Eric Reed: The Baddest Monk (2011 , Savant): Pianist, b. 1970, lots of records (AMG counts 23) since 1990, basically a mainstream player. Did a Monk-themed album last year, The Dancing Monk, which left much to be desired, but fixes those problems here. Taps Seamus Blake for Monk's favored tenor sax role, and adds Etienne Charles' trumpet for a change of pace and extra polish -- Matt Clohesy plays bass, and Henry Cole drums. The combo lights up the brightest pieces, especially "Bright Mississippi." "'Round Midnight" remains the odd song out, an irresistible choice even though it doesn't fit. The idea here is to turn it over to singer José James, and that's an idea. Two Reed originals meditate on Monk, including the title song done solo, which makes for an effective coda. B+(**)
Andy Sheppard/Michael Benita/Sebastian Rochford: Trio Libero (2011 , ECM): Saxophonist (tenor and soprano here), b. 1957 in England. Won a prize with a record contract at Antilles in 1989: the one record I heard was a rather dazzling pop-fusion thing, leaving the impression that he's sort of the British David Sanborn, but I could be totally off. A string of records for Provocateur ended in 2004. Later I noticed him in Carla Bley's entourage, and now he has two records on ECM. This is a sax trio with Benita on bass and Rochford on drums, credits well distributed. Everything is done at a slow burn, repaying your attention all the way. A-
Melissa Stylianou: Silent Movie (2010 , Anzic): Singer, from Toronto, fourth album since 2003. She co-wrote three pieces, one with pianist Jamie Reynolds, and combined them with nine widely mixed covers -- Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, James Taylor, "Smile," "The Folks Who Live on the Hill," "Moon River," one Brazilian tune (not by Jobim). With Pete McCann on guitar and Anat Cohen on clarinet and sax providing nice touches. B [advance]
Nils Weinhold: Shapes (2011 , self-released): Guitarist, b. in Germany, based in New York, first album, trading leads with tenor saxophonist Adam Larson, backed by Fabian Almazan on piano/rhodes, Luques Curtis on bass, and Bastian Weinhold on drums. B+(*)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Gerry Beaudoin: The Return (2011 , Francesca): Stumbled across this on Rhapsody, spun it once, and was disappointed. Later received a copy, so figured I'd give it another try, and it turns out to be pretty much what I had expected. Beaudoin's a tasty guitarist with a thing for swing, and his quartet here features hard-swinging tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, who elevates everything he touches. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 15. 2012
I spent most of Saturday, April 14, watching television. The only shows on was the weather, which I could supplement with the radar feed from Weather Underground. The Storm Prediction Center had forecast "a high risk of severe weather" -- the last time that was forecast was April 7, 2006, in advance of an outbreak of over 100 tornadoes -- and the dead center of the risk area was very close to (maybe a bit south of) Wichita, KS. The day's weather map showed a cold front straight north-south along the Colorado-Kansas and New Mexico-Texas borders, and a stationary front hanging from the north end of the cold front northeast across Nebraska toward Chicago. As the cold front swept across Kansas southerly winds swept moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico, collecting into storm cells tracking from 30-70 mph north-northeast, turning more east as they crossed I-70 in north Kansas. These cells generally started across the border in Oklahoma, or possibly in Texas, and they started in the west.
Weather is serious business here in Kansas, with the television station competing fiercely for viewership with the latest, fanciest radar system feeds, live storm tracker reports, viewer-supplied photos, etc. (It's a big farm state, and not unusual for city people to have come off farms -- both of my parents did.) So it was possible to watch nothing but weather from noon, when the first tornado touched down in Hodgeman county (southwest KS, north of Dodge City) until well after midnight. At a typical moment late-afternoon, there were four widely separated storm cells, each moving northeast, each with a well-defined hook on the south edge near the rear of the storm indicating a large tornado. The new radars can measure wind shear, and they can distinguish hail from rain and debris sucked up by a tornado from hail -- remarkable images, I can say, as someone who's watched tornados come and go ever since the one that obliterated Udall, KS back in 1955.
Wikipedia lists 122 reported tornadoes during this outbreak, but currently only lists 13 as confirmed. Some of the reports are redundant, referring to the same tornado as it progressed -- presumably, as they evaluate the damage and sort out the paths the spottings will be sorted out. Some of the early tornados passed through territory I knew well. The Hodgeman county tornado was very close to the farm where my great-great-grandfather homesteaded c. 1870, and moved north of Spearville, where my father was born, and Kinsley, where an aunt lived for many years -- I must have visited that are a hundred times. Later a tornado kicked up between Geneseo and Little River, in Rice county, which is where my grandfather had a farm in the 1950s. That tornado then moved northwest toward Marquette, where he had moved in 1960, and where an aunt lived, then skittered northeast toward Salina.
Another tornado formed between Mullinville and Greensburg, south of Kinsley, then moved very fast northeast, crossing US-50 near St. John, and turning east to take another pass at Marquette. A later tornado took a similar path, slightly to the north, near Kanapolis and Brookville, then just missed Salina to the north. I later looked at a map of accumulated precipitation that consisted of four or five long streaks following these storm paths, separated by troughs that got virtually no rain.
Later storms moved a bit closer, into McPherson county, but all of those storms were well clear of Wichita, which was overcast all day and intermittently windy. First storm that worried me popped up north of Enid, OK, and crossed into Kansas near Bluff City -- reported as a "half-mile wide wedge tornado." This same cell cut across Harper and northwest Sumner counties into Sedgwick, aiming toward Haysville in Wichita's south suburbs. I haven't heard of any damage in Haysville, but a couple miles east an EF-3 tornado did massive destruction in Oaklawn, then hit the massive Spirit (formerly Boeing) plant, crossed McConnell AFB, did some damage at US-54 and Greenwich, and proceeded northeast past Andover and El Dorado for another 80 miles or so before eventually blowing out over the Flint Hills east of Cassoday.
We live just northwest of downtown Wichita, about six miles from the storm path. We spent about an hour in the basement, with only the radio on, so we were a bit sensory-deprived. We got some very heavy rain, possibly a bit of hail and wind, but mostly rain -- much more than the new drain I dug in the backyard could handle. Elsewhere there was quite a bit of local flooding. Electric power was a bit iffy here, but held up. Doesn't seem to have been much damage outside of the tornado path, but there over 100 poles were knocked down, blacking out 20,000 people and closing roads.
After that cleared, another line of storms developed to the west and started moving east: I suspect this was finally the cold front moving through. Around 2am the Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Sedgwick county, but the storm weakened and passed through Wichita by 3am with some lightning and more rain. That would seem to have been enough drama for one day and night, but the worst for us happened about 3:30am when I heard a loud hissing sound, and went into the bathroom to find the supply hose broken loose from the toilet and spraying water all over the place. I turned the valve shut and mopped up the water, including big drops collecting on the ceiling.
Got up around noon to a bright and sunny day where everything seemed normal again. Drove to the hardware store to get the part to fix the toilet, and saw no damage in the area -- river was a bit up, and saw some baby ducks on it. I haven't tried to drive anywhere near the damage, but looked through the slide shows at Kansas.com. I've also seen photos of isolated damage out west and north, but most of the territory those storms crossed is empty -- farms and ranchland -- so there isn't much to hit. (The population of Hodgeman county is 1,916; one of the lowest in Kansas.) What differentiated the Wichita tornado was that it had something to hit, but even so it was only a glancing blow.
According to the TV news tonight, there were 93 tornados in this bout. The TV people were all very happy that no one had been killed in Kansas last night, but when I woke up this morning 5 people had been killed in Woodward, OK. After the storm cleared Wichita I had figured that the later storms would be weaker, so I was distressed to see that there were still new tornado warnings in Oklahoma. The Woodward one (in northwest Oklahoma, just east of the panhandle) hit around midnight, so that would have been one of the ones I saw.
The Wichita tornado was last spotted near Cassoday shortly before midnight -- since that cell had developed in Oklahoma it had covered over 200 miles in about six hours, nearly all the time with a large tornado on the ground. That was the last Kansas tornado, although today there was one more in Oklahoma, several in Nebraska, one in South Dakota, another in Minnesota.
Gov. Brownback was quick to declare Sedgwick County a disaster area, and to come to Wichita to survey the damage at Spirit, and promise state aid to get the factory back into working order. I don't know whether he spent much time in Oaklawn, which before it was hit was one of the poorest neighborhoods in the metro area. Ironic, you might think, for a guy who spends so much of his time trying to undermine and dismantle government, but there's really no one else to turn to when disaster strikes. I've been saying all along that disaster response is the fundamental test of how well government serves -- something Clinton proved when he promoted FEMA to cabinet level, and something Bush found out when he tried to gut the department.
But also important is the Weather Service. Without them we would have been in Udall yesterday. (Or Mississippi, which invariably leads the nation in the most people killed per tornado.)
 The Udall tornado in 1955 was the deadliest ever to hit Kansas, killing 77, more than 10% of Udall's population, injuring another 270 (close to 50%), damaging every building within city limits, destroying most. Udall is 24 miles southeast of Wichita, just off a road we used to take to go visit relatives in Oklahoma. The Weather Bureau failed to forecast the storm, and there were no warnings. Afterwards, there was a major push to create a storm warning system.
Tuesday, April 10. 2012
Raw numbers are up, as is the A-list: for one thing, more jazz is showing up here because it's not showing up in my mail box (although I did score the Scheinman after the review). Slow getting to the two choice underground hip-hop items (Jason Gubbels nabbed both before me). The Soriano isn't out yet, but will be later this month, and I've been sitting on a finished copy for a long time now. Tried to get a copy of Kevn Kinney but got no response: seems to me like Rhapsody screwed up, but could just be the record.
After doing the indexes, I see that the total number of records reviewed since I started Rhapsody Streamnotes has topped 2,500 -- 2,518 to be precise. Quite a resource for expanding the breadth of what I hear, even if it also means shallowing the depth.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on March 6. Past reviews and more information are available here.
Balkan Beat Box: Give (2012, Nat Geo Music): New York group, principally Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat, describes their music as "Mediterranean-influenced" although Eastern Europe and Middle East are more like it, pumped up with beatbox electronics. The beats win out here, so much so they can slack off and still lead, framing themes like "Political Fuck" and "Money" that lack the simplicity to become anthems but are no less pointed. B+(***)
BBU!: Bell Hooks (2012, Mishka): Chicago crew (Epic, Illekt, Jasson Perez, DJ Esquire), mixed by DJ Benzi, initials stand for Black, Brown, and Ugly, or Bin Laden Blowin! Up, or something like that. Beats rock, fast and hard but nice and regular, the words just flying off, dissing gangsta, denying star ambition, rubbing in some politics, also some party-time "woo woo" background. The "feat." from Das Racist is another clue. A- [bc]
Dierks Bentley: Home (2012, Capitol Nashville): Country singer, from Tempe, AZ; attended fancy East Coast prep schools, then settled into Nashville at Vanderbilt. Sixth album since 2003, pretty conventional, but makes a virtue out of it -- especially on the long, slow "Thinking of You." B+(*)
Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself (2012, Mom + Pop Music): Singer-songwriter, from Chicago, has been prolific since 1996, first instrument was violin although he probably plays more guitar now, knows his way around classical and jazz and folk and blues without showing much evidence of any of those. Thoughtful songs, likable for sure, nothing to get excited about. B+(**)
Blu: NoYork! (2011, New World Color): Los Angeles rapper, Johnson Barnes, started with an EP in 2003 and has cranked out a huge pile of material since 2008, none of it even remotely aboveground. Several rhythm tracks here veer toward incoherent, but he's just playing with you, going for a skewed vibe giving you a slice of life in a different light. Dozens of guests and nearly as many producers shift in and out. A- [bc]
Blu: No York E Mo Work (Rmx Z 1.3) (2012, download): Remixes 9 of 17 tracks from NoYork!, the cover replacing a natural disaster with a man-made one. The added sounds obscure the charms of the original while tripping over the tricky parts. Like the towers you expect the whole edifice to crumble in the end. B [bc]
Eric Bobo/Latin Bitman: Welcome to the Ritmo Machine (2011, Nacional): Bobo comes out of rap group Cypress Hill. Bitman is a DJ from Chile. Beats first, raps in Spanish are beats too; same with the less frequent English. B+(**)
Brother Ali: The Bite Marked Heart (2012, Rhymesayers, EP): Seven cut EP, 27:26, free download dropped as a Valentine's Day special. Nice, easy, steady vibe. B+(*)
Burial: Kindred (2012, Hyperdub, EP): English techno of some sort -- AMG's stylings of garage and dubstep don't begin to get at the collage mixup of voices and occasional horn samples, not to mention the underwater beats and vinyl noise. Two albums 2006-07, since then a DJ-Kicks and some EPs. This one runs three cuts, 30:45; substantial enough to allay my anti-EP prejudice, but I'm still on the fence -- this can be mesmerizing but not consistently, and it isn't big fun. Perhaps I should get hold of the LP everyone loves, Untrue, and reboot? B+(***)
Joe Cocker: Hard Knocks (2010 , 429 Records): A succés d'estime as one of the few post-Elvis intrepretive rock singers, at least from 1969-72, after which no one much cared. Still, he's cranked out a new record every couple years since -- the biggest gap I see in his discography was 1978-82, and he's rarely waited more than two years. Still has enough voice to keep it out front ahead of the orchestras and gospel choirs and whatever, but producer Matt Serletic's songs (5 of 11) have never been and never will be standards, so what's to interpret? B-
Corrosion of Conformity: Corrosion of Conformity (2012, Candlelight): Punk-metal fusion band from North Carolina, cut seven albums 1983-96, a couple more up to 2005, so this is a comeback bid, same lineup as 1985. The chunky rhythm keeps this listenable, and the hoarse vocal snarl keeps it unintelligible, which is probably for the best. B
Die Antwoord: Tension (2012, Zef): South African rap group, second album up here, quite possibly as ignorant and crass as their detractors claim -- crass seems to be a given, and the skits are plenty creepy, but I can't help but enjoy "I Fink You Freeky" and more. Does help to get rid of the '$' fetish. B+(*)
Dr. Dog: Be the Void (2012, Anti-): Journeyman group, seems like they're reaching more for significance after nearly a decade when rocksteady sufficed -- "Lonesome," they call it. B+(*)
Dr. John: Locked Down (2012, Nonesuch): Word, attested to by the cover headdress, is that this represents the Doctor's return to the Nite Tripper gris-gris of the late 1960s. Word is partly right, in that this is both harder and denser than he's played in decades -- just not more fun. B+(**)
Craig Finn: Clear Heart Full Eyes (2012, Full Time Hobby): First solo album from the leader of Hold Steady (and before that Lifter-Puller), the main difference being that he has less volume and less rhythmic drive pulling his songs forward, which makes their frequent Jesus references -- a pervasive force in his song world, a crutch and a comrade -- stand out peculiarly. And what redeems them isn't faith much less glory. More like their human frailty. B+(***)
Melanie Fiona: The MF Life (2012, Universal Republic): Surname Hallim, from Toronto, parents immigrated from Guyana, second album: a credible r&b diva until a song called "Change the Record" comes on and makes you want to. B+(*)
Fun.: Some Nights (2012, Fueled by Ramen): Indie pop outfit formed by veterans of Format, Steel Train, and Jellyfish -- doesn't mean anything to me, either. Second studio album, some catchy tunes turning on the drum mix (cf. "All Alone"), but while "It Gets Better" may be well-intentioned I doubt it's true. B
Gangrene: Vodka & Ayahuasca (2012, Decon): Side project from producer Alan Maman, best known as The Alchemist, with rapper Oh No (b. Michael Jackson, son of Otis Jackson, nephew of Jon Faddis). Dense, dirty, a bit drug-addled (one title: "Livers for Sale"), although I couldn't follow it close enough to sort out the details. B+(***)
Robert Glasper Experiment: Black Radio (2012, Blue Note): Major label pianist, got a lot of hype early on as the guy who could bridge hip-hop and jazz. I don't doubt his chops, but I also don't think he's ever made either term in the equation work. Still, he gets some mileage here, almost by not trying: he offers simple settings for a dozen featured vocalists, mostly soft soul crooners of both sexes, Lupe Fiasco and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) the lone rappers, and the softer the better. B+(*)
Kevin Gordon: Gloryland (2011 , Crowville Media): Singer-songwriter from Louisiana, which slots him into Americana if not quite country. Songs are plain-felt and -spoken, so self-effacing he can't turn the title song into an anthem; guitar has some resonnance, and he loosens up with ZZ Top. B+(*)
The Habit: Lincoln Has Won (2010 , Reel to Reel): Brooklyn band, aiming for all Americana, with credible songs about "Cowboys and Canyons" and "Wild Wild West." Three singers -- would like to hear the woman (Siobhan Glennon) more: she takes the lead on "War Is Done," which should have been a hit. B+(***) [cd]
Charlie Haden/Hank Jones: Come Sunday (2010 , Emarcy): Bass-piano duets, one of the last things Jones did before death caught up with him at 91, a sequel fifteen years after their superb Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Songs. Pretty straightforward, with no interest in shaking things up. Sentimental, sure. B+(*)
Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves of Destiny: Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose (2012, Mute): Brit singer-songwriter, from Newcastle Upon Tyne, describes herself as an "anti-folk songstress." I've also seen her pegged as punk -- she does, after all, have a song that ends, "fuck off" -- but the word that occurs to me is baroque, what with all the fiddles and choppy birdy voices. B
I See Hawks in L.A.: New Kind of Lonely (2012, Western Seeds): Country-ish group from L.A., which has a legacy of such, ranging from the Flying Burrito Brothers to the Eagles, although this group has nowhere near the ego to scrap in that company. This one is done simple, acoustic in a circle, the harmonies inexpert but the songs observed, with twang. B+(*)
King Midas Sound: Without You (2011, Hyperdub): A project of Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, with London/Trinidad poet Roger Robinson and Japanese singer Kiki Hitomi, previously on an interesting 2009 album called Waiting for You. Same or similar song titles reworked here by Kuedo, Flying Lotus, Gang Gang Dance, Hype Williams, Kode 9, Maia, and a few others I don't much recognize. Less focused than the original, as usual. B+(*)
Kevn Kinney: A Good Country Mile (2012, self-released): Frontman for the Georgia band Drivin' n' Cryin' since 1985, branched out three albums in with a solo album in 1990, staggered them for the rest of the decade, leaning more toward his solo career from 2000 on. I gather his solo albums tend more roosty-acoustic, but this one is backed by Anton Fier's Golden Palominos -- Fier even co-wrote five songs -- who get to rev guitars like Lynyrd Skynyrd, except on two slower pieces where the leader holds his own. [NB: Rhapsody has about a minute where a high volume drum riff sounds stuck; disconcerting and annoying. Docked a notch for that, but will try to check further.] B+(***)
La Sera: Sees the Light (2012, Hardly Art): Branching out project by Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman: rock but doesn't rock hard, pop but doesn't hook tight, safely in between almost any set of qualifiers you can come up with, doesn't sound bad but then I've already forgotten what it sounds like. B
Lyle Lovett: Release Me (2011 , Lost Highway): Eleven covers, starting with a trad instrumental, plus three Lovett songs, none especially fresh, fashioned as a label kiss-off. As an interpretive singer, he makes more out of "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" than "Baby, It's Cold Outside," let alone "White Boy Lost in the Blues," but he takes them all slow enough to stretch out to 51:55, a slow burn that picks up late on "White Freightliner Blues" then drops dead on the closer. B+(*)
Madonna: MDNA (2012, Interscope): New label, moving past her new ex-husband, she's focusing on arena dance anthems again, and she comes up with more than she has since, well, Music (2000) at least. Tails off toward the end, which suggests no need to bother with the "Deluxe Edition" -- I wouldn't mind losing "Falling Free" either. A-
The Magnetic Fields: Love at the Bottom of the Sea (2012, Merge): Stephin Merritt's band/vehicle offers fifteen more love songs, as perfunctory as the famous 69 Love Songs, but with extra percussion. I still find him too arch to be seductive, let alone sexy, but he's catchy enough to be a tease, and make you wonder past your initial doubts. B+(***)
Spoek Mathambo: Father Creeper (2012, Sub Pop): South African rapper, or so they say -- the guitars can sound like they could belong to any old alt/indie band on the label, but this also falls into keyb-dominated sloughs. Also, he sings more than he raps. One song did catch my ear: "Grave." B
The Men: Open Your Heart (2012, Sacred Bones): Brooklyn post-punk group, second album, patently generic name -- -- at least it's less ironic than Girls. They go acoustic on one song but can't think of a better title than "Candy" ("Ripped From CCR" occurs to me). After a screecher they just walk a lead riff for three minutes before adding some vocal dirge -- liked that intro better. B+(**)
Monolake: Ghosts (2012, Imbalance Computer Music): Berlin-based group, principally Robert Henke, with ten albums since 1997, utilizing some custom hardware Henke developed. Stays within a narrow range of beats, moderately paced, offset enough to keep your interest. Quite pleasing, really, although it also seems so easy you wonder how this fits into their oeuvre, and whether it is in any way distinct. Something to hedge for now, study later. B+(***)
The New Trio [Günter Baby Sommer/Floros Floridis/Akira Ando]: Melting Game (2010 , Jazzwerkstatt): Floridis, from Greece with a discography going back to the early 1980s, plays alto sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet, so figure this as an avant-sax trio. Bassist Ando is from Japan, passed through New York in the late 1980s, recorded with William Parker and Billy Bang, and wound up in Berlin. The German drummer goes back further and is better known. But this is no blow out. The trio establishes their balance early, then toward the end picks up a little groove -- if not a tango, then something comparably seductive. A-
Nneka: Soul Is Heavy (2012, Decon): Born in Nigeria, based in Germany, sings (and sometimes raps) mostly in English, fourth album, draws on reggae and hip-hop and I'm not sure what else, breaking new ground here. B+(***)
Odd Future: The Odd Future Tape Vol. 2 (2012, Odd Future): LA collective, dropped their WGKTA (Wolf Gang Kill Them All), probably after being advised of their fifth amendment rights. Despite their rep as a collective, their group thing breaks down to featured individuals, and therein lies the rub. Best known and most distinctive artists here are Frank Ocean, a singer of exceptional subtlety and taste, and Tyler, the Creator, some kind of moron. B-
Jimmy Owens: The Monk Project (2011 , IPO): Trumpet player from the Bronx, has a few 1968-78 records that aren't all that well regarded but somehow wound up arranging a bunch of Monk tunes into what sounds like a New Orleans tailgate party. All of the horns swagger, with Owens bouncing off Marcus Strickland featured on tenor sax, but especially the bottom dwellers: Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and Howard Johnson on baritone sax and tuba. B+(***)
Evan Parker/Zlatko Kaucic: Round About One O'Clock (2009 , Not Two): Live at the 50th Jazz Festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia -- presumably where drummer Kaucic is from. Parker dedicates the record to fellow avant-saxophonist Mike Osborne, who died in 2007. He runs through long and intricate lines -- trademark stuff, especially the circular breathing. B+(**)
Perfume Genius: Put Your Back N 2 It (2012, Matador): Mike Hadreas, from Seattle, second album, has a penchant for slow, soft-toned sulks with a fuzzy aura to pretty them up. Captivating, as such things go. B
Punch Brothers: Who's Feeling Young Now? (2012, Nonesuch): Considered bluegrass mostly because leader Chris Thile plays mandolin, abetted by Noam Pikelny on banjo, Gabe Witcher on violin, plus guitar and bass but no drums. Considered "progressive bluegrass" because they don't sound like bluegrass. Took their name from a Mark Twain story, so seems fair to ascribe literary ambitions. I never could stand to read Twain myself, not that my inability should suggest that they might really have something in mind. B
Frankie Rose: Interstellar (2012, Slumberland): Singer-songwriter, came up as a drummer in Shitstorm, Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Crystal Stilts. Has a previous album as Frankie Rose and the Outs, but plays this one inside, with moderately toned vocals surrounded by an aura of synthy echo. Could use a drummer. B
Jenny Scheinman: Mischief & Mayhem (2010 , self-released): Violinist, has done striking work in the past and returns to form here. String-focused group, with Nels Cline on guitar, Todd Sickafoose on bass, and Jim Black on drums. Faster pieces take off, sometimes with bluegrass and sometimes with rock feel; slower ones open up and enjoy the atmosphere. A- [cd]
Shearwater: Animal Joy (2012, Sub Pop): Rock group, spun off from Okkervil River but not up to six albums. Big sound, better than I expected but not something I have any real interest in. That happens on this watch. B
The Shins: Port of Morrow (2012, Columbia): A huge alt/indie rock band at least for their 2001-03 albums, with only a 2007 effort between now and then. They're still big enough that Metacritic registered 30 reviews as of release date -- possibly the most of any new record this year (Springsteen and Guided by Voices have 34 and 33 respectively in my data file, but both were re-checked after their debut date) -- but the score is a relatively modest 71 (but Pitchfork still loves them). They have a sweet pop sound and good sense for hooks, backed by the usual guitar power. I'm not indifferent, but I'm not quite smitten either. B+(*)
Todd Snider: Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (2012, Aimless/Thirty Tigers): Starts with two pointed political songs, the topical one meant to contextualize why New York bankers aren't just clever bastards, the other wondering why "we still need religion to keep the poor from killing the rich." Then he reaches for a Jimmy Buffett cover that extends the vibe without making his head hurt. If he was thinking more clearly, he'd see that it isn't envy of people having too much shit that drives the poor against the rich. It's injustice: the sense that the rich are free to live in ways the poor cannot. When you hear conservatives moan about this or that assault on freedom, they mean on their freedom, and you should ask free to do what, and to whom. A [cd]
Joan Soriano: La Familia Soriano (2012, IASO): A "bachatero" -- a guitarist and singer from the Dominican Republic where the shantytown music is called bachata. Has a previous album (El Duque de la Bachata) that promoted him above the names that fill up the compilation lists, and is even more impressive here -- partly because his sisters Nelly and Griselda take most of the vocal leads giving the affair pop/dance élan, but the contrast deepens the soulfulness of his leads, and his guitar carries it all along. A- [cd]
Esperanza Spalding: Radio Music Society (2012, Heads Up): Bassist, sings in a little girl voice that is thankfully free of gospel inflection, a combination that seems to have enormous appeal -- I felt the tug myself on her first two albums, but had to admit the music didn't deliver much. Then she won a Grammy on her third -- a dud if I've ever heard one -- and now it's gone to her head (or at least her producer's). Pianist Leo Genevese is her only steady companion, with drums split between Terri Lyne Carrington, Jack DeJohnette, and Billy Hart. The American Music Program (Big Band) appears on three cuts -- overstuffed when you look at the credits, underwhelming on wax. Plus scads of guests on one or two cuts each -- I won't bother listing them, since they're all pretty much wasted. B-
Speech Debelle: Freedom of Speech (2012, Big Dada): Soft-spoken Brit rapper, Jamaican descent, original name Corynne Elliot, has a couple albums and a Mercury Prize. When you just get satisfied with her easy flow, she picks up the beat. B+(**)
Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball (2012, Columbia): Possibly his most political album, certainly his most polemical, and just as likely hise most obvious -- "Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale)" is given its most literal treatment possible, seguing into the immigrant anthem "American Land" set to an Irish jig. Big gestures, big sound, just contained enough to acknowledge the energy crunch, a future not just greener but grayer. His early albums pumped up American myth so grotesquely it's not surprising that he believed in it. I prefer this scaled down version: his champions always insisted his integrity would prevail, and strangely enough it has. A-
Pete Swanson: Man With Potential (2011, Type): From Portland, OR, previously one-half of Yellow Swans, something of an experimental electronic noise band. Same deal here, with long stretches of repetitive patterns working sounds that are just on the cusp of being unpleasant -- especially the high-pitched warbles (good thing there are no dogs in the house). B+(*)
Tanlines: Mixed Emotions (2012, True Panther Sounds): Brooklyn duo: Jesse Cohen (drums), Eric Emm (guitar, vocals), some synths somewhere. Dance music, within its rather narrow niche, with no special wit but pleasant enough. B
THEESatisfaction: Awe Naturale (2012, Sub Pop): More capitalization nonsense, from a Seattle duo -- Stasia Irons raps, Catherine Harris-White sings -- who got their own shot after working on Shabazz Palaces' Black Up. Has a liquid feel that blurs everything together. B+(*)
Ana Tijoux: La Bala (2012, Relativity): Born in France, her parents Chileans who fled to escape Pinochet; she returned to Chile in 2004 and established herself as a hip-hop star. In Spanish I can't begin to follow, choppy little beats with synth backdrops, strikes me as dreamy, but what do I know? B+(*)
The Unthanks: Diversions, Vol. 1: The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & the Johnsons (2010 , Rough Trade): English folkie group, formerly Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, the simpler name more respectful to autharpist, singer, and sister Becky Unthank. Fifth album, "Live from the Union Chapel, London" on two nights, the six Antony Hegarty songs grouped up front, followed by nine songs by or associated with Wyatt (one by Anja Garbarek is from Comicopera). Antony's songs are radiantly pretty but trifling. Wyatt's are more varied and substantial, and it's interesting to hear with without his voice -- a marvel of nature, but so distinct it tends to overwhelm everything else. Applause and patter break the mood, for better or worse. B+(*)
Ken Vandermark: Mark in the Water (2010 , Not Two): Another solo album: 2 cuts on clarinet, 4 each tenor sax and bass clarinet, each keyed to a legendary reed player (except for the one for bluesman Fred McDowell). The portrait of Coleman Hawkins and the piece for Joe McPhee are measured and eloquent. Some of the others -- especially the hyperventilation for Steve Lacy -- can get on your nerves. B+(*)
The Vandermark 5 [Special Edition]: The Horse Jumps/The Ship Is Gone (2009 , Not Two, 2CD): After putting out a record nearly every year, the latest from Ken Vandermark's "flagship group" is a couple years old, a live double from Chicago's Green Mill, and without checking I'd say these are mostly old songs. Whether the group is defunct or just lying low, this shelf filler is pretty impressive. By "special edition," they mean that there are a couple extra musicians on stage: Magnus Broo (trumpet), and Hĺvard Wiik (piano) -- two/fifths of Atomic for more than a decade, veterans of various Vandermark projects, including two mash-ups between Atomic and School Days. When the noise breaks up, this can sound like one of those, but mostly it's more coherent, muscular, graceful. Dave Rempis, back to alto (and baritone) as Vandermark has reclaimed his tenor slot, is the big difference, but also Wiik is fast and clever enough to pick his way through a firestorm. A-
VCMG: Ssss (2012, Mute): Joint project of Vince Clarke (Erasure) and Martin Gore (Depeche Mode), highly agreeable synth dance beats with no vocals to strain credulity. Inspirational title: "Single Blip." Faux attempt at irony: "Skip This Track." B+(**)
Paul Weller: Sonik Kicks (2012, Island): A big deal in England, with a record damn near every year since 1992, following tours leading the Jam and the Style Council, but I've scarcely paid him any attention since the Jam's debut. This has a big beat, a flair for the dramatic, some interest as noise, but little appeal, least of all as a singer. B
Tommy Womack: There, I Said It! (2007, Cedar Creek): Singer-songwriter, started in a Kentucky rock group called Government Cheese (1985-92) -- wrote a book about them, Cheese Chronicles: The True Story of a Rock 'n' Roll Band You've Never Heard Of -- went on to the Bis-quits (1994) then landed in Nashville with a solo album in 1997, and five more since then. Title here comes from a song where he admits that he'll never be a rock star, although he holds out hope for his drummer son. B+(***)
Tommy Womack: Now What! (2012, Cedar Creek): Big step forward, not so much in the stories, which were richly detailed on the previous album, as in the way the words and music fit together. High point's "Guilty Snake Blues" which lays down dozens of clever couplets against a sax riff -- "it's been a downward spiral/and an uphill climb"; "I don't care about the facts/as long as you tell me the truth"; "you can pray for anything/but don't expect God to change his mind"; "politics bore me/let's not bring it up at all/you're either preaching to the choir/or talking to the wall." A- [cd]
Monday, April 9. 2012
Music: Current count 19630  rated (+50), 878  unrated (-4). Rated count up this week, partly because I've been adding to an overstuffed Rhapsody Streamnotes (should be up tomorrow), partly because I've been streaming other stuff for May's Recycled Goods (more avant-jazz, but not from FMP), and partly because with all the poking around I caught quite a few bookkeeping errors where I had failed to note previous grades. Also, there's a fairly hefty slab of Jazz Prospecting below.
Also, under unpacking, you'll note that the previous week's mail drought ended -- although the hoped-for package from Clean Feed has yet to materialize (although one from our friends in Lithuania did). Need to think about future this week, especially now that lots of things that have dragged me down over the last month have started to clear up. [Update: The Clean Feed package arrived later today.]
Joe Chambers Moving Pictures Orchestra: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (2011 , Savant): Drummer, b. 1942, broke in big in 1964 on albums by Freddie Hubbard and Andrew Hill, and was a regular on Blue Note in the 1960s. Picked up the vibraphone along the way, and has a dozen or so albums under his own name -- but not much like this live big band effort. Chambers' "Moving Pictures Suite" -- three movement at the top of the record, plus the fourth at the end -- is a mess. But the five pieces in between let the nearly-all-star band shine -- especially the three that don't feature vocalist Nicole Guiland, especially the one that started out in Count Basie's big band. B
Meredith D'Ambrosio: By Myself (2011 , Sunnyside): Singer, plays piano, b. 1941, 16th album since 1978, only her 2nd since 2001. She writes some, but this is all written by Arthur Schwartz, mostly with Howard Dietz's lyrics (also Maxwell Anderson, Johnny Mercer, and E.Y. Harburg, one song each). Done simply, just her piano and voice, nice and easy, a very quiet, intimate night music. B+(**)
Rick Drumm and Fatty Necroses: Return From the Unknown (2010 , self-released): Drummer, first album as far as I can tell, the group name a reference to the cancer Drumm was diagnosed with in 2009. Like most drummers, he likes a groove. Guitarists Fred Hamilton and Corey Christiansen add to it, and the horns -- Pete Grimaldi on trumpet, Mike Brumbaugh on trombone, and especially Frank Catalano on sax -- build on that. B+(*)
Jürgen Hagenlocher: Leap in the Dark (2011, Intuition): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1967 in Germany. Website lists 10 albums since 1997 (AMG has three of them). This is a snappy post-hard-bop quintet assembled in New York: Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), David Kikoski (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass), and Nate Smith (drums). Moves right along, the rare slow bits just there to feature the rich tones. B+(**)
Jeff Hamilton Trio: Red Sparkle (2012, Capri): Drummer-led piano trio, with Tamir Hendelman on piano and Christoph Luty on bass -- no formal credits table on the package, but they are mentioned in passing in Leonard Maltin's liner notes. Hamilton has ten albums since 1982, but is best known as co-leader of the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra -- the big band backup much favored by singers like Diana Krall. B+(*)
Ross Hammond Quartet: Adored (2012, Prescott): Guitarist, based in California (Sacramento, I think), has five previous records since 2003, nothing much in his bio. Quartet adds Vinny Golia (tenor/alto/soprano sax), Stuart Liebig (bass), and Alex Cline (drums), with producer Wayne Peet on piano for one cut. Not getting anything from Golia's Nine Winds label, it's a rare treat to hear him elsewhere, and he puts on a terrific performance here, fierce and lyrical. Harder to tell about the guitar. B+(***)
Billy Hart: All Our Reasons (2011 , ECM): Veteran drummer, didn't have much under his own name until this star-laden group promoted him to front man, but he's responded this time by writing 4 (of 9) songs -- pianist Ethan Iverson and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner split the remainer, 3 to 2, with bassist Ben Street just helping out. Too bad the pieces aren't crisper: Turner isn't up to speed, and no one else picks up the slack. B+(*)
Steve Horowitz: New Monsters (2011 , Posi-Tone): Bassist, based in San Francisco, has eleven (or more) albums since 1993, some with the group Mousetrap. Quintet, with two saxophones -- Steve Adams, from ROVA on alto and soprano (and flute), and Dan Plonsey on tenor -- plus piano (Scott Looney) and drums (Jim Bove). Actually, I'm not sure why this isn't Plonsey's record: he wrote all of the tunes (except for the Coltrane/Dolphy medley). Plonsey is another Bay Area performer I hadn't heard of: has a half-dozen albums since 1997, plus side-credits like Eugene Chadbourne, Anthony Braxton, and Tom Waits. The monsters on the cover strike me as an attempt to play up the humor while sneaking through what is by far the most avant record this label has yet released. B+(***)
Tommy Igoe and the Birdland Big Band: Eleven (2011 , Deep Rhythm Music): Drummer, has one previous album in 1996, plus there's a 2007 album credited solely to Birdland Big Band. Igoe has scattered side credits going back to 1989, notably with New York Voices (which explains the two Darmon Meader songs here; no vocals, though). Band credits 19 members, but if you factor out the guests (only on some tracks) and the trumpet platoon it drops down to conventional size (no guitar, only three trombones). Don't recognize many names, but appreciate the crisp section work and rhythmic drive. You have to wonder why more big bands don't do "Moanin'." B+(*)
Sheila Jordan/Harvie S: Yesterdays (1990 , High Note): B. 1928, but aside from the one-shot Portrait of Sheila in 1962 she didn't really get her career going until the late 1970s, and still hasn't been given her due -- although she's spent so much time travelling and teaching since 1990 I'm not finding dozens of aspiring jazz singers acknowledging their debts to her. Early on she paid plenty of dues, chasing Bird, and catching his pianist Duke Pearson. George Russell finally put her in front of a microphone: I'd put that on the list of his major accomplishments-- along with synthesizing Cuban be-bop for Dizzy Gillespie, teaching Miles Davis and John Coltrane how to use modes, introducing electronics to jazz, and inspiring a whole generation of Scandinavian jazz stars. I first ran into her on Roswell Rudd's mid-1970s albums -- the totally forgotten Numatik Swing Band and the even-more-marvelous Flexible Flyer -- and followed her through Steve Kuhn's group, into her solo albums -- many with nothing more than bass fiddle for accompaniment. This set, recorded "live in concert, circa 1990," is one of those, with the former Harvie Swartz on bass. More standards, less be-bop/vocalese, than her studio albums, which means more touchstones you think you know but will hear something new in here. Her control is so remarkable that even though she breaks up laughing in the Fats Waller medley she never misses a note. Only in the closer, "I Could Have Danced All Night," does she finally lose it, a joke you can't help but enjoy. A-
Anders Jormin: Ad Lucem (2011 , ECM): Bassist, b. 1957 in Sweden, has at least a dozen albums since 1988. Song cycle, texts in Latin, commissioned for Swedish Jazz Celebration 2010, with two vocalists: Mariam Wallentin (of a group I've heard of, Wildbirds and Peacedrums) and Erika Angell (of two I haven't: Thus:Owls, The Moth). The vocal pieces, which aren't quite art-song or choral, let alone folk or pop, don't especially interest me. The instrumental passages, with Jon Fält on drums, lots of plucked bass, and superbly tasteful clarinet and tenor sax by Fredrik Ljungkvist, do. B+(*)
Jonny King: Above All (2010 , Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1965 in New York, studied at Princeton and Harvard Law, had three albums 1994-97, and now a fourth, a trio (Ed Howard on bass, Victor Lewis on drums), all original pieces. Mainstream piano jazz, fast and assured. B+(**)
Guy Klucevsek: The Multiple Personality Reunion Tour (2011 , Innova): Accordion player, b. 1947 in Pittsburgh, AMG classifies him as avant-garde but in many ways he's a traditionalist, poking his way through European folk music. Eclectic mix here, with three Satie pieces, progressive folk group Brave Combo on six more, scattered jazz musicians like Dave Douglas, Marcus Rojas, and John Hollenbeck, some talk, some song, lots of accordion. B+(**)
Neil Leonard: Marcel's Window (2009 , Gasp): Plays alto and soprano sax, originally from Philadelphia, teaches at Berklee. Looks like he also has a 2001 album (Timaeus), although his website doesn't mention it. Postbop quartet, pianist Tom Lawton nearly steals the show in a couple of sections, plus Lee Smith on bass and Craig McIver on drums. B+(*)
Davy Mooney: Perrier Street (2011 , Sunnyside): Guitarist-vocalist, originally from New Orleans, now based in New York; has two previous records. As a vocalist, has a Chet Baker affectation, giving way to Johnaye Kendrick on five songs. As a guitarist, he's too buried to tell, although the slinky postbop occasionally takes shape, at least when saxophonist John Ellis takes charge. C+
Piero Orodici: Cedar Walton Presents (2011 , Savant): Fine print: "with the Cedar Walton Trio" -- Walton (piano), David Williams (bass), Willie Jones III (drums). One thing that sets Walton apart from nearly every other pianist since he started in the mid-1960s is his featured use of saxophonists (both on his own records and, especially, as Eastern Rebellion). It's relatively easy to focus on his piano here, because what he does goes way beyong comping -- he sets up all the structure the saxophonist needs. The saxophonist in question, Odorici, was b. 1962 in Bologna, Italy, and has a fistful of records on Italian labels, starting with First Play in 1989. Odorici's tenor sails through six standards and one original each by Odorici and Walton, an impressive intro, although it's the rhythm section that makes this special. B+(***)
Johnny Padilla: Bright Morning (2012, self-released): Saxophonist (soprano, alto, tenor -- the latter is pictured), second album (I've been able to find) after one in 1998. Likes to play long and fast bebop runs, with guitarist Zvonimir Tot getting some similar solo space. Bits of Latin percussion add little, and the delicately colored change-of-pace is dull. B
Marc Rossi Group: Mantra Revealed (2009-11 , Innova): Pianist, teaches at Berklee, AMG lists three records since 1988. This one starts off with a piece for Carnatic guitarist Prasanna and moves on in genre-hopping world-fusion fashion. B+(*)
Cinzia Spata: Into the Moment (2010 , Koine): Singer, from Italy, where I gather she has a considerable reputation, now based in New York. Second album (as far as I can tell), backed by pianist Bruce Barth, bass and drums, with some trumpet by Ken Cervenka and tenor sax by George Garzone. Mostly standards -- "My Favorite Things," "Soul Eyes," "Tea for Two," "East of the Sun" -- horns nicely arranged, striking voice, likes to scat. B+(**)
Thollem/Parker/Cline: The Gowanus Session (2012, Porter): Thollem McDonas is a pianist from San Francisco, has played on 20-some albums since 2005; might file half under his name, since his specialties seem to be solo and duo sets. The others are bassist William Parker and guitarist Nels Cline. Group improv, broken into six tracks but pretty much one movement, with a lot of rough spots along the way. B+(***)
TriBeCaStan: New Deli (2011, Evergreene Music): Mostly John Kruth, who writes most of the material, and Jeff Greene, plus assorted hangers on, guests, and "special guests," on their third group album. Kruth and Greene play scads of world instruments, Kruth leaning toward mandolin/banjo, Greene more of a percussion guy. Steve Turre and Claire Daly are among the better known guests, and Badal Roy is a "special guest." I applaud the cosmopolitanism, but in three albums they've never managed to turn this into more than a very agreeable mix. B+(**)
Anne Walsh: Go (2011 , self-released): Standards singer, mostly (wrote one original here). Originally from Massachusetts. Fourth album since 2006. Nice, clear voice, a light bounce to the arrangements, not the strings help. B+(*)
Mike Wofford/Holly Hofmann Quintet: Turn Signal (2010 , Capri): Piano and flute, respectively; married in 2000, which has intertwined their discography. With Downbeat's poll approaching, I'm reminded that Hofmann will be near the top of the flutist list -- she has a dozen or so albums since 1989, and there aren't many flute players in jazz -- and Wofford -- with twice as many albums going back to 1966 -- won't even make the piano ballot. He is a superb player, but not quite someone you'd slot ahead of contemporaries like Ran Blake and Paul Bley. He carries the album here, with Hofmann and trumpet player Terell Stafford scratching and clawing to keep up. For once I don't mind the weakness of the flute, but the sound is tuned down so low that Terrell's trumpet doesn't sound any brighter. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 8. 2012
by Michael Tatum
This column's newly expanded format (suggested by Noisecritic's Joey Daniewicz) has presented me with a few unexpected problems. Where once I could merely dump a record under the "trash" heading and wipe my hands clean of it, now I'm forced not only to assign each a letter grade, but also concoct a succinct dismissal to justify it -- a task that might sound easy, yet I've been finding myself at a loss to describe such inexplicably hyped items as Ital's Hive Mind, Grimes' Visions, and Jon Talabot's Fin, even after subjecting myself to more than the requisite five listens. I suppose the best way I could (as a for example) sum up the Ital record for the curious reader would be to attempt a sort of post modern review in which I repeated the phrase it doesn't matter if you believe in him it doesn't matter if you believe in him it doesn't matter if you believe in him for a few pages, like that climactic scene in The Shining, but something tells me you'd rather hear about music more worth your consideration. So would I. Onward.
Air: La Voyage Dans La Lune (Astralwerks) As fans of George Orwell and Disneyland's defunct Adventure Thru Inner Space ride know, what its contemporaries regard as futurism has a nasty way of dating itself very quickly -- in the introduction to his collected short stories, J.G. Ballard glibly recalls how a reader took him to task for describing his poetry-composing computers as operating on "valves" rather than chips and wires, after which the author bemusedly notes he didn't have the foresight in the early sixties to imagine PCs and pagers either. Georges Méličs' 1902 science fiction classic doesn't fall into that trap -- relying more on the whimsical and the fantastic, Méličs ridicules his scientists and scholars, shoots his heroes' rocket into l'oeil de l'homme lune, and populates the moon's surface with little green men. This makes the duo of Nicholas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, no stranger to beautiful but otherworldly kitsch -- fromage-vert, you might say -- perfect for scoring the restoration of this film's once-thought-lost hand-colorized version. The resulting fifteen minute film can be easily found online and is worth watching to appreciate how well Godin and Dunckel understand their countryman's sensibility -- they decorate the theme for the "Astronomic Club" with mock-regal drum rolls and synth-brass proclamations that lampoon the explorers' befuddlement, while the brief snippet that plays underneath the factory scene (frustratingly absent from the album) rattles with evocative clinks and clanks redolent of hammers hitting anvils. Padded out with material not used in the film, including two tracks featuring the usual vocalists for hire, the track order might initially be confusing, forsaking the film's chronology to sequence the more atmospheric material toward the end. But this is a minor quibble: their soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's 2002 The Virgin Suicides was arid by necessity, as it filled empty space in a dialogue-heavy film, but because here they're providing music to supersede the original narration, they're forced to be more creative in their attention to detail. The result: their most consistently beautiful and beguiling record since the last time they took a safari to the moon, way back in 1996. A
Chiddy Bang: Breakfast (Virgin) Drexel dropouts whose combined ages barely surpass that of your humble downloader, Chidera "Chiddy" Anamege and Noah "Xaphoon Jones" Beresin came up through mixtapes, one of which brought them to the attention of England's Parlophone Records, best known to you and me as the label that gave the world the Beatles -- perhaps a propos for a duo who claim to have a thing for British shorties and sample such non-R&B entities as Sufjan Stevens, MGMT, and Radiohead. But don't fall under the impression they're arch or arty, even in the slightest: musically, this duo is a nonstop pleasure machine, doling out playful hook after playful hook, mining kiddie pop sources as disparate as Sweden's Icona Pop and British soul singer VV Brown and incorporating them into a seamless, sparkling production style that gives you plenty of sweet stuff to chew on. But speaking as someone who rarely indulges in the meal that nutritionists always remind us is the most important, their aesthetic is less ham and eggs than Count Chocula, especially when you hone in on the lyrics. Although heartwarmed by Amamege's admission in the delightful "Mind Your Manners" that he had a crush on his junior high school principal -- "I guess I was turned on by the leadership," he muses, which I doubt, but okay -- I don't find much evidence of the intelligence that he vows not to dumb down in the title cut. He's clever for sure, but that's slightly different -- I'm not wanting wisdom or enlightenment as much as I am a little imagination, or at least a worldview that extends beyond the mundane pursuit of girls and weed, not necessarily in that order. Certainly, anyone whose list of life goals includes getting high with Keith Richards probably shouldn't have to ponder why the women in his uncomfortably naďve relationship songs keep telling him to grow up. Then again, I was probably a lot like Anamege when I was his age -- only a great deal less witty, warm, and outgoing, all qualities best appreciated on the dynamite "Ray Charles," which turns Anamege's obliviousness with the ladies into one of this year's must-hear singles. And if you're wondering why those qualities can't quite sustain a whole record, fast forward to the finale, in which he vows to go out "hard in the fourth quarter," at least two quarters too late. A
Karantamba: Ndigal (Teranga Beat) Gambia's Bai Janha is the consummate Afropop journeyman -- as a writer, arranger, and guitarist, his résumé includes Black Star, the Whales Band, Fabulous (later "Supreme") Eagles, and the Alligators. The latter group disbanded, reformed without Janha, and recorded as Guelewar, the band whose 1982 live recording Teranga Beat label founder Adamantios Kafetzis excavated and released as 2011's Halleli N'Dakarou. By this point in his career, Janha had moved on and founded this aggregation, essentially a "school of mbalax" for young, upcoming musicians, which as legend has it beat Youssou N'Dour and Super Etoile de Dakar by two places in Senegal's Zone II Music Festival -- must have been a sensational night. This particular item captures Janha and his charges in a live recording from Janha's Club Sangomar in Thiés, Senegal, and if it's as not as hot as prime Etoile de Dakar, that's not to say it doesn't often come close. As you might expect, Janha's wailing guitar reflects the standard Santana influence so common to West African musicians, and his authorative tenor commands impressive gravity, but in all fairness, this is not his record: the explosive synergy and blazing groove is dominated by the woefully uncredited percussionists, who thump their sabar drums so forcefully they muscle their way center stage for the entire set. I don't know if these nameless players wound up going to medical school or driving taxis. But they deserve far more than the one night they got. A
The Magnetic Fields: Love at the Bottom of the Sea (Merge) Stephin Merritt must have secretly loathed recording for Nonesuch. Sure, among major labels the patience and latitude extended to its roster, from humoring Jeff Tweedy's migraines to providing a forum for various world music summits, approaches a rare degree of corporate sainthood. Nevertheless, they do exude a certain aura of propriety, the kind that turns up its judiciously-trimmed nose and sniffs: "Yes, I listen to NPR on my drive to work, read The New Yorker on my lunch hour, and take two brisk, environmentally conscious showers every day." This might explain the relative conservatism of most of Merritt's projects for that label, which aside from last year's vault-clearing Obscurities included four soundtracks and the Magnetic Fields' so-called "synthesizer free" trilogy -- note that in the former category, the sole standout is the hilariously macabre Gothic Archies companion to buddy Daniel Handler's Lemony Snicket books, while his proper band's outré Jesus and Mary Chain homage Distortion trumped the limply soft-rock i and the sterile Joshua Rifkin simulation Realism. Now back on Merge, the triumphant return of cheap synths and cheaper jokes suggest the delight of a young boy who's just discovered he can get away with dropping f-bombs without the censure of his parents -- subjects here include premarital sex, vibrators, orgies, putting out a contract on your ex's new flame, running away to join the fairies, and leaving the big city for Laramie, Wyoming, all executed compactly between 2:01 and 2:35. As both a fan and unapologetic dispenser of lowbrow humor, I wholeheartedly approve. But what's missing is that moment when the artist lets his guard down and reveals the vulnerability that sarcasm so often veils -- the only song that approaches anything resembling depth is the gender-fucked "Andrew in Drag," about falling in love with a girl who doesn't exist, because he's actually a guy (and contains the most loving use of the epithet "fag" you've ever heard). Nothing wrong with plumbing the lowbrow depths. But a moment or two of profundity might have made these fifteen quickies as memorable as the sixty-nine he made back before the taste makers crammed him into the respectability box. A
Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (Universal Republic) "[On] my first album I was very guarded," the artiste revealed to Ryan Seacrest last Valentine's Day. "I felt like I was making music to please everyone else. I had to be politically correct, but on this album I am just creating music, and there's such a big difference." But then, only a breath later, she adds: "I've tried to make it very, very balanced, because I don't ever want to be boxed in, and that's always what drives me. So I made a very diverse album." If those two thoughts read like they contradict each other, you'll have no problem sorting out this semi-disappointing sophomore effort's incommensurate halves. The first seven tracks thrill in the same way that Terminator X's beats and samples once did: they're abrasive and hard to hear, but not because of the music per se, which of course is high grade, juiced-up commercial hip hop, but because of Minaj's voice, which grunts, growls, and whines without sacrificing any of her innately pleasurable musicality. And the joy she takes in allowing her id to run rampant in this sequence is palpable, especially in the much-maligned "put my dick in your face" segment, which I think is hysterical -- first manipulating her voice with studio effects to ugly it up even more, then sweetening her delivery for an uproarious a cappella breakdown: the musical equivalent of what's she's threatening to do. After that, she hits the brakes and cruise-controls through what's basically a quality Rihanna record -- except for the bathetic power ballad "Marilyn Monroe," which dubiously updates Bernie Taupin for the Reality TV generation, fine as such stuff goes, but completely safe. More importantly, alter-ego Roman Zolanski completely disappears, materializing again only for the outlandish, endlessly repeatable, whoop-whooping finale, "Stupid Hoe." "I am the female Weezy," she brags as the song screeches to a halt, and sometimes I find myself marveling how close she comes. I just wished she also didn't have designs to be the Trinidadian-American Fergie. B+
Skrillex: Bangarang (Atlantic, EP) Sonny Moore's impressively swift ascendancy to the dance-pop heap offends snooty John Talabot fans, and I'll say this for him: any hairstyle that resembles a palomino's hindquarters when viewed from an elevated height commits cosmetological crimes so outrageously grotesque they could send Korn's Jonathan Davis into a raging fit of trichotillomania. Fortunately, these follicular quibbles have minimal impact on Moore's electrifying, exhilarating dance-pop -- anyone who champions Sleigh Bells has no right to be slamming this guy. Like that band's Derek Miller, Moore harbors a weakness for '70s stadium rock that he updates with dynamic, sledgehammer beats, although since ravers rather than rockers constitute Moore's target audience, his mallet-blows to the head are more cannily timed, a boon to those mindful of their aspirin consumption. Perhaps absurdly, I'm reminded of R.E.M.'s "King of Comedy," a song I'm certain Moore has never heard, but might serve as a suitable entry point for all of you agnostics out there who still cling to the fallacy, like the chump Moore samples at the beginning of 2010's Grammy-validated Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, that musical artistry equals two guitars, a bass, and a drum. On this EP comprising seven songs and no remixes -- which in itself signifies as an improvement over his 2010 EP -- Moore elaborates on his industrial-strength minimalism by enlisting numerous collaborators and experimenting with arrangements, unquestionably peaking with the sensational "Breakin' a Sweat," in which the surviving members of the Doors not only re-affirm that people are strange, but also kindly donate a snippet of the Lizard King intoning from beyond the grave about a future in which lone musicians rely solely on "tapes, machines, and electronics." Now, I've personally always regarded as ravers as the present day hippies. But won't those sixties holdouts freak when they not only realize their sainted Jimbo really was a prophet -- was there any doubt? -- but that he forecasted the existence of the very music that sends so many of them into apopletic convulsions? I'm playing it for my father the first chance I get. A
Sleigh Bells: Reign of Terror (Mom + Pop) The kids are bummed about this one, but hey, aren't the kids always bummed about something? Once a debut lays down the ground rules, noise technicians as severe as these only have a few options when it comes time to return the studio: they can repeat themselves, in which case they'll be accused of playing it safe. They can take the dissonance even further, in which case they run the risk of alienating their audience. Or, they can do as what Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss do here: experiment and branch out, which as you might expect has confused a few of their former supporters, many of whom have taken an annoying amount of smug satisfaction in reminding us Krauss clocked hours in a teen R&B outfit. But if we're to trust interviews over liner credits (which blur the details somewhat) and Krauss contributed more to this record than 2010's Treats, her input actually ups Miller's game, introducing him to such pop conventions as middle eighths, the 6/8 time signature, trickily layered harmonies, deft countermelodies, and even a dash of optimism for "Comeback Kid." Most importantly, the new lyrics speak to teenagers, directly, in their language, rather than condescending to them with stray references to good grades, telephone calls, and what your boyfriend might think about your new braces -- bet Krauss wrote the lyric for the painful morning-after plaint "End of the Line" and post-breakup "Leader of the Pack." Leaving Miller to pursue his perverse dream of transforming himself into the indie rock Roy Thomas Baker, which he damn near accomplishes. A
Todd Snider: Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (Aimless) Preferring songwriters to mere storytellers, I was comparatively mild on Snider's 2011 live double -- sure, his sardonic sprechgesang never fails to put his words over, but as with most acerbic guys with acoustic guitars, he often needs musical color to drive those words home. Hence, his proper studio albums are the best place to access his righteous sarcasm and caustic wit, and this ranks as his best since 2006's The Devil You Know. The major advance here is the addition of backing vocalist and violinist Amanda Shires, who saws at her strings as if felling an oak, the perfect musical foil for songs that in one bitter lyric after another address the Americans that have fallen straight thought Mitt Romney's mythical safety net, from a New York banker who rips off an entire school faculty's pension fund to an cranky small-town reactionary who kindly suggests the local rabblerousers improve their lot by picking up trash in the park. Of course, there are scores of Martin-toting wags similarly sticking it to the one-percent, if not with such wit and accuracy. What separates Snider from so many other smartasses is the purposefully uncultivated grain of his music -- compare Jimmy Buffett's original "West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown," which plays out like a kitchen-sink melodrama and sinks its potent punch line in a morass of strings, to Snider's striking cover, which makes every consonant smack like a slap in the face and doesn't stoop to reducing a young woman's life to a cheap genre exercise. And pithy truisms like "Good things happen to bad people" and "The best revenge is revenge" sting all that much more soaked in the vinegary tang of Snider's out-of-tune guitar. A
Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball (Columbia) Lee Greenwood for Liberals ("Shackled and Drawn," "Death to My Hometown," "Easy Money") ***
Carolina Chocolate Drops: Leaving Eden (Nonesuch) More soulful than a Civil War re-enactment, but equally as unconvincing in that you sense they're not too keen on deviating from the script ("No Man's Mama," "Country Girl") ***
Balkan Beat Box: Give (Nat Geo) Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat once again DJ the bar mitzvah of your dreams, but Tomer Yosef's simplified sloganeering suggests a future career emceeing at Reggae Sunsplash ("Political Fuck," "Money") ***
Escort: Escort (Escort) The spirit of August Darnell exits their disco dance party far too early ("Chameleon Chameleon," "Cocaine Blues") ***
The Shins: Port of Morrow (Columbia) Won't change your life, but will certainly perpetuate the one you already have ("No Way Down, "Simple Song") **
Lee Ranaldo: Between the Times and the Tides (Matador) More tuneful than Bill Callahan, but still needs Kim and Thurston for roughly ten changes of pace ("Xtina as I Knew Her," "Shouts") **
Sinéad O'Connor: How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? (One Little Indian) I do not want what I haven't got, I do not want what I haven't got, okay maybe I do ("4th and Vine," "The Wolf is Getting Married") **
Wire: The Black Session: Paris: 10 May 2011 (Pink Flag) And now for something truly perverse: the quintessential frigid art-punks at their warmest ("Drill" "Map Ref. 41°N 93°W," "Two People in a Room") **
Jamie Woon: Ghostwriting (Verve) Sino-Briton Woon plays Craig David to William "Burial" Bevan's Tricky, and guess who's the weaker link ("Shoulda," "Lady Luck") *
Lilacs and Champagne: Lilacs and Champagne (Mexican Summer) Half of the post-rock quartet Grails imagine an aural utopia in which Josh Davis would never dream of trolling record stores to sneak his product into the hip hop section ("Nice Man") *
The Men: Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones) Superficially, this improves upon last year's Leave Home by bearing down on a fierce groove that rarely lets up -- clearly, touring has tightened these Brooklynites' brutal prog-punk. But while it's hard not to be impressed by the velocity of a fast moving freight train, what sort of goodies do these guys have stowed in their hopper car? Lyrics? Tunes? None that I can discern. They can't even be said to craft hot guitar riffs -- most of the tracks here, especially the longer ones, are really only extended one-chord vamps on which guitarists Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi solo, and not especially imaginatively at that. In fact, the only reason they choose "Open Your Heart" as the title track isn't because they want you to think they're succumbing to unguarded vulnerability, but rather because that song is the closest they get to traditional verse-chorus-verse, not counting the totally bizarre Laurel Canyon ringer "Candy," in which they attempt the kind of bone-simple country rock that wouldn't have gotten John Fogerty a quarter mile out of Lodi. B
Tennis: Young and Old (Fat Possum) I too am charmed by kissy-face newlyweds, but in this case, a record whose most dramatic moment occurs when the two principles miss each other in a train station only goads me into secretly hoping one of them develops a severe drinking problem. B
The Cranberries: Roses (Downtown) These roses are blue, and will never be read. C+
Dierks Bentley: Home (Capitol Nashville) The gag-worthy "Diamonds Make Babies" cements this Arizonian's well-deserved rep as the finest country singer ever to graduate from New Jersey's prestigious Lawrenceville prep school. C+
Belbury Poly: The Belbury Tapes (Ghost Box) Air gets Georges Méličs; Jim Jupp makes like Robert Moog out to score a colorization of Ed Wood. C+
Heartless Bastards: Arrow (Partisan) Humorless actually-the-youngest-of-two Erika Wennerstrom compares life to a marathon for an endless 6:10 and actually titles her "redemptive" anthem "Got to Have Rock and Roll," by which I presume she means '70s AOR -- her band sure does. C+
The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 and Beyond (Republic) I have seen the post-apocalyptic future, and its impoverished survivors still apparently record their music in sports arenas and coffee shops. C
Wilson Phillips: Dedicated (Sony Masterworks) If they really wanted to be honest to their birthright, they'd re-name themselves "Gilliam Rovell." D
Thursday, April 5. 2012
From the lead article in the Wichita Eagle today, titled "Five Days with No Courts":
It's impossible to overstate what an embarrassment the Kansas state legislature has been since the 2010 elections. While neglecting to keep the state government in decent running order, they've passed laws to restrict voting rights and to make abortions even more costly and more inaccessible. They've killed off state funding for the arts, thereby sacrificing federal funding, but the state has wound up spending close to $500,000 in court trying to defend the constitutionality of their new anti-abortion laws. They still haven't managed to pass a law with new congressional districts: one idiot plan that some keep pushing is to attach heavily-Democrat Wyandotte county (Kansas City, KS) to the sparsely populated far West district that gave a rookie Republican extremist a 72% vote in 2010.
The post-2010 legislature isn't much different than the ones that preceded it -- both were overwhelmingly Republican. The difference is that after 16 years of moderate Republican and/or Democratic governors (Graves, Sibelius, Parkinson), which limited the damage the increasingly right-wing legislators could do, the new guy in the mansion is Sam Brownback. You may recall that Brownback ran for president in 2008 -- miserably, I might add. Now, his ambitions are undiminished, and he's trying to rack up a record as a man of action with his social engineering programs.
But the legislature hasn't bowed down to Brownback. They've actively connived to make his proposals even worse then he intended. For example, Brownback's income tax plan proposed to exempt the Kochs and Ruffins from paying state income taxes, while ending the Earned Income Credit for the poor and gutting deductions for the middle class. The lege -- I might as well start using Molly Ivins's Texas nomenclature since it's equally applicable here -- kept the worst ideas but turned it into a budget-busting monstrosity. It's still up in the air, but the relatively small matter of shutting down the court system is but a taste of what the lege is promising.
It's hard not to think that the end if the Republicans go unchecked in Kansas is a wasteland. Sometimes they do it on purpose. Sometimes they just screw up.
Tuesday, April 3. 2012
Once again, a few days short of the end of the month I looked at the working file and it was nearly bare (four records, I think). Don't have much on the shelf either -- big thing is Woody Shaw's The Complete Columbia Albums Collection; little things: Sufis at the Cinema: 50 Years of Bollywood Qawwali and Sufi Song 1958-2007 and a 1980-98 Aretha Franklin comp -- so I'm ever more dependent on streaming (and for some reason, Rhapsody is real weak when it comes to picking up recent compilations, but part of that may be that their browsing tools are so poor I just can't find things).
After hustling a bit I wound up with 18 records, down one from March, up one from January. Seems to be the new norm, a far cry from the 50-60 per month when I was posting on Static.
Government Cheese: Government Cheese: 1985-1995 (1985-95 , Cedar Creek, 2CD): Postpunk group from Bowling Green, KY, named for a processed cheese the USDA generated from milk price support surplus and palmed off on welfare recipients. They released an EP in 1985, another in 1987, a live LP in 1989, the inevitable eponymous album in 1992, and a single in 1995: presumably most or all of that is here, along with some miscellany -- set starts off with an unreleased cover of "People Who Died," then drops into an original that quotes Stephen Foster. I figure they were scrounging for bait, but their basic three-chord thrash holds up admirably over the long haul. Bound for obscurity, they were revived by leader Tommy Womack's book (Cheese Chronicles: The True Story of a Rock 'n' Roll Band You've Never Heard Of), a reunion based on Womack's solo career, and this compilation. I checked this out because of Womack's recent solo albums. His songcraft starts to peek through on Disc 2 with "For the Battered." B+(***) [R]
Julius Hemphill: Dogon A.D. (1972 , Arista Freedom): I've missed my chance to pick this up twice now: once in 1977 when Arista picked up the Freedom catalog and I managed to snag most of their reissues, and again last year when International Phonograph decided to make their reissue one of those limited editions that is already an out-of-print collector item -- judging from year-end polls I seem to be about the only jazz critic in the US not served with a copy, and I'm only hearing this now thanks to a reader. This was Hemphill's first album, with Baikida Carroll on trumpet, Abdul Wadud on cello, and Philip Wilson on drums. The alto sax leads a weird dance which breaks free even when the rhythm holds tight -- Wilson is especially impressive. Then they do it again with the leader on flute, even bluesier. The 2011 reissue adds a 20:07 bonus cut, "The Hard Blues," cut at the same session with baritone saxman Hamiet Bluiett added, also available on Hemphill's second album, Coon Bid'ness. A- [cdr]
Bill Hicks: Philosophy: The Best of Bill Hicks (1990-93 , Rykodisc): Comedian, died in 1994 at age 32 -- pancreatic cancer, a cruel irony for a guy who spent much of his time in public extolling cigarettes and drugs. Like Lenny Bruce, he blasphemes religion and flirts with philosophy, but he tends to fall back on loud and dumb, and would rather go on about porn: the two quotes I jotted down are "all governments are cocksuckers" and "by the way, there are more dick jokes coming." Should have grabbed the one about if there are any gays dumb enough to want to join the military, power to them. B+(**) [R]
Sheila Jordan/Harvie S: Yesterdays (1990 , High Note): Born 1928, but aside from the one-shot Portrait of Sheila in 1962 she didn't really get her career going until the late 1970s, and still hasn't been given her due -- although she's spent so much time travelling and teaching since 1990 I'm not finding dozens of aspiring jazz singers acknowledging their debts to her. Early on she paid plenty of dues, chasing Bird, and catching his pianist Duke Pearson. George Russell finally put her in front of a microphone: I'd put that on the list of his major accomplishments-- along with synthesizing Cuban be-bop for Dizzy Gillespie, teaching Miles Davis and John Coltrane how to use modes, introducing electronics to jazz, and inspiring a whole generation of Scandinavian jazz stars. I first ran into her on Roswell Rudd's mid-1970s albums -- the totally forgotten Numatik Swing Band and the even-more-marvelous Flexible Flyer -- and followed her through Steve Kuhn's group, into her solo albums -- many with nothing more than bass fiddle for accompaniment. This set, recorded "live in concert, circa 1990," is one of those, with the former Harvie Swartz on bass. More standards, less be-bop/vocalese, than her studio albums, which means more touchstones you think you know but will hear something new in here. Her control is so remarkable that even though she breaks up laughing in the Fats Waller medley she never misses a note. Only in the closer, "I Could Have Danced All Night," does she finally lose it, a joke you can't help but enjoy. A-
Back in December I got a letter from the good folks at Destination Out with a proposal that "We could easily furnish gratis downloads for you to listen to" if I would agree to review their FMP reissues over at their Bandcamp store. I dawdled a bit, then wrote back and explained that I had already reviewed most of what they had available (see April 2011 and November 2011). The key to reviewing them, of course, was that they had the entire records available for streaming (as well as purchase) -- that is common (but not universal) practice at Bandcamp, and has made it possible to supplement my Rhapsody Streamnotes with some of their fare.
I never heard back from them, and when I decided time had come to scoop up another helping of their reissues, I discovered a not-so-funny thing had happened at their store: a lot of previously available tracks disappeared. Moreover, most new records were presented only with samples -- generally about half of the album, sometimes less. That may be enough for prospective buyers, but it's not enough basis for me to review on. So I did a careful sort of what they have available, and wrote up notes (below) on the releases I hadn't previously reviewed that are still available complete. This will probably be the end of the road for me -- unless they respond by giving me access to complete downloads (which is less convenient than streaming for me, but presumably higher quality and burnable), or they change their business strategy and go back to free public streaming.
Meanwhile, the incomplete records on the site that I haven't been able to review are:
My biggest regret there is the late Hans Reichel. Destination-Out recently ran a piece calling him The Greatest Guitarist You've Never Heard Of. As someone who's poked through every page of nine editions of The Penguin Guide, I had indeed heard of him, but hadn't actually heard him until I reviewed Erdmännchen back in November (graded it A- in November, and it's still available whole, well worth checking out -- while you still can).
Somewhere between a third and half of the records I reviewed have been pruned back. I am, however, almost certain that this occurred after I reviewed them -- I really doubt that I wouldn't have noticed the cuts before.
Willem Breuker & Leo Cuypers: . . . Superstars (1978, FMP): Of the Dutch avant-garde, anyway, usually heard in larger conflagrations, but just the two of them here, Breuker on various saxes and clarinets, Cuypers piano; not intimate, nor even much of a duo, the two mostly switching off like tag team wrestlers, Breuker often reaching not for the right note but the funny one, and playing two saxes simultaneously on his "Kirk" tribute. B+(***) [bc]
Günter Christmann/Detlef Schönenberg Duo: We Play (1973, FMP): Trombone player, born in Poland during the war, like Roswell Rudd in many ways, including his ability to tap into Kid Ory while playing stuff from another world: free grunge, kicked left and right by his percussionist cohort. B+(***) [bc]
Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity 73: Live in Wuppertal (1973, FMP): Alexander von Schlippenbach's pathbreaking free jazz orchestra, ten horns -- counting Peter Kowald's tuba -- plus piano, bass and drums; I might be happier had they explored "Wolverine Blues" further -- their trad jazz deconstruction anticipated Air -- or if they dabbled more in recognizable forms, like their idea of a "Bavarian Calypso" or the march "Solidaritätslied," but there's no energy crunch here: their full bore cacophony -- Schlippenbach and Kowald are credited with "conduction," more like artillery guidance, as the "Maniacs" finale brings down the house. A- [bc]
Georg Gräwe Quintet: New Movements (1976, FMP): Pianist-led group, with trumpet, sax, bass, and drums -- no names that I instantly recognize -- in what may be his first record, more than a decade earlier than anything AMG or Discogs list; the 20-year-old pianist would have been the most unknown of the lot at the time, but he shows remarkable poise in the midst of a very lively free-for-all. B+(**) [bc]
Peter Kowald: The Complete Duos: Europa America Japan (1986-90 , FMP, 2CD): The German avant-garde's premier bassist cut many duets, including three albums (Europa, America, and Japan, for where they were recorded) shuffled into two CDs here -- an initial sampler released in 1991, and a second volume in 2003; 37 cuts, ranging from 2:19 to 7:00, with 26 partners, the Berlin and New York sessions with familiar names and instruments, the Tokyo sets much less so, a peculiar form of exotica; one could whittle this down -- a first approximation would be to keep the saxes, drums, and the remarkable pianist Irčne Schweizer, while dropping the vocalists and thinning out the Tokyo sessions -- but largesse is the essence here, the more contexts the bassist navigates, the more impressive. B+(***) [bc]
Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky: SelbViert (1979 , FMP): Saxophonist, b. 1933 in Germany and wound up in the East after the war where he seems to have been an important figure, although the records I've noted him on have been free jazz efforts in the West, including his work with Globe Unity and Zentralquartett; this is a freewheeling quartet with Heinz Becker's trumpet bouncing off his soprano, alto, and clarinet, with Klaus Koch on bass and Günter Sommer on drums; rough at first, but one dare devil move after another works, improbably for sure. B+(***) [bc]
Michael Smith Quartet: Live in Berlin: Austin Stream (1976 , FMP): A pianist from Kentucky, moved to France in 1972 and cut this and one more album before returning to the US in 1980; with Claude Bernard (alto sax), Kent Carter (bass), and Laurence Cook (drums); the saxophonist makes a strong impression, as do the piano leads. B+(**) [bc]
Günter Sommer: Hörmusik (1979 , FMP): German drummer, a significant figure in the avant-garde, tries his hand at a solo album -- not all drums, but everything that doesn't go bang at least flutters and twitters; one piece, 34:49, originally split over two LP sides, now pasted back together. B+(*) [bc]
Keith Tippett & Louis Moholo: No Gossip (1980 , FMP): Piano-drums duets, an intense fury of percussion from both artists, with titles suggesting the South African's politics, not that anyone here dissents. B+(***) [bc]
Ruby Braff: Hi-Fi Salute to Bunny (1957, RCA): A tribute to 1930s trumpeter Bunny Berigan with clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, pianist Nat Pierce, and others, bright, richly toned, a latter-day swing classic; reissued on CD in 2007 by Mosaic Select, and now dumped out digital-only. A- [R]
Alex Chilton: Free Again: The 1970 Sessions (1969 , Omnivore): The missing links between the teen-pop Box Tops Chilton fronted (1967-70) and the pathbreaking new wave band Big Star (1971-75) he led, although it takes a lot of redundancy to stretch them out to CD-length. B+(**) [R]
Karen Dalton: 1966 (1966 , Delmore Recording Society): A folksinger from Oklahoma, had an underground reputation in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, yielding only two 1969-71 albums that are treasured and not bad; these newly unearthed home recordings are a minor event, mostly trad., Tim Hardin (4), and Fred Neil (2), plus a "God Bless the Child" to test her Billie Holiday rep, pinned down by the weak sound and dynamics. B [R]
Goldfrapp: The Singles (2000-12 , Mute): A decade's worth of less-than-hit electropop, plus two spare tunes the now-former label figured they might as well use as bait -- uh, singles; I liked their 2010 album and still like its singles here, but instead of bringing the older material into focus all too often they fade into fuzzy utopian dreamscapes. B+(*)
Tronics: Love Backed by Force (1981 , What's Your Rupture?): Non-group front for a Brit named Ziro Baby, who sounds a bit like a cross between Syd Barrett and Brute Force aping the Ramones ("My Baby's in a Coma") or the Modern Lovers ("Love Tan"); tacking on the contemporaneous single "Shark Fucks" would have added to the historical import, but they settled for a straight 36:20 LP reissue. B
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other identified stream source; otherwise assume a CD). The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments -- although that's always a risk.
For this column and the previous 95, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3199 (2801 + 398).
Monday, April 2. 2012
Music: Current count 19580  rated (+35), 882  unrated (-7). Saw a report this week that Wichita is the 6th worst city in the country for allergies right now, and I must say I've rarely been more miserable. Don't think it got to the predicted 90° mark yesterday, and doubt that it will today either, but it will come close enough -- closer to summer temperatures than spring, but I can remember snow this late in the year. Rainy cold front in a couple of days should provide a bit of relief, but the rebound from that should be really awful. Allergies have bothered me for more than 25 years now, and they're always worse in spring. Thought I was escaping the worst when we moved to Wichita from NJ, but it seems to have caught up with us.
Spent most of my listening time preparing for Recycled Goods, which should appear tomorrow, and Streamnotes -- which I'll hold until after A Downloader's Diary appears, probably midweek. So I didn't write up much Jazz Prospecting this week (and wound up holding back one piece, since it's a dupe from Recycled Goods -- at least so far). I figured I wouldn't have enough this week, but this batch has enough quality I might as well let it go. Also, I got so little incoming mail this past week I don't want to further the impression that I'm a has been. Still hoping it's just slow mail keeping me from the new batch from Clean Feed. If not, I probably am done for.
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: In Motion (2010 , Leo): Third record for this trio in the last year or so, after Inner Spire (Leo) and All Out (FMR), and they're all pretty close to interchangeable: Carrier's alto sax always probing and poignant, his decade-plus relationship to drummer Lambert has long been telepathic, the Russian pianist something of a mystery, but he's by now so tightly entwined he's integral to the set. A-
Ellery Eskelin/Dave Ballou/Michael Formanek/Devin Gray: Dirigo Rataplan (2011 , Skirl): I filed this under drummer Devin Gray, who wrote all the music and dominates the publicity materials, but the cover suggests the attribution above. Starts off with a section that sounds like they're trying to find their key, but once they settle down this starts to get interesting -- the two horns (Eskelin on tenor sax, Ballou on trumpet) slipping in and out of synch, the bass and drums fluttering about. B+(***)
John Moulder Quintet: The Eleventh Hour: Live at the Green Mill (2011 , Origin): Guitarist, has 5-6 albums since 1993, figure him for postbop but don't put too much weight on what that might mean. Group includes Geof Bradfield (saxes, bass clarinet), Jim Trompeter (piano), Larry Gray (bass), and Paul Wertico (drums). Live in Chicago, a long set, Bradfield is typically strong which gives the guitar something to play off against. Struck by how the finale rises at the end, like a rock band would do. B+(*)
Evan Parker/Wes Neal/Joe Sorbara: At Somewhere There (2009 , Barnyard): Parker, of course, is one of the giant figures in the English/European avant-garde, with well over 100 records since 1967 -- with Globe Unity Orchestra, followed in 1968 with appearances on Peter Brötzmann's Machine Gun and Spontaneous Music Ensemble's Karyobin. The latter two are Canadians, playing bass and drums, part of the free-ish AIMToronto Orchestra, in effect Parker's local pick-up band for this live, single-cut improv blast. With so many albums, it's hard to pick and choose, but I like this one because he sticks to tenor sax and keeps it short (39:56) and simple -- but not too simple. A-
Scott Tixier: Brooklyn Bazaar (2011 , Sunnyside): Violinist, b. 1986 in France. First album, with guitar, piano, bass, and drums (bassist Massimo Biolcati is the name I recognize); wrote all his own pieces, and makes an impression dashing through the less interesting arrangements. Vocals on one piece add to the chamber music aura. B
The Michael Treni Big Band: Boy's Night Out (2011 , self-released): Trombonist, from Falmouth, ME; studied at University of Miami, taught there and at Berklee; ran a technology company from 1985 on, and claims a couple patents. Booklet starts with the line: "the history of jazz is rife with dramatic comebacks where big league musicians returned to the spotlight with renewed power and conviction after years of scuffling in obscurity," citing examples Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, Frank Morgan, and Henry Grimes. About all I can find for Treni's pre-hiatus period is a side credit with Bobby Watson, but he returned with an album in 2009, and a better one here. Conventional big band (piano, no guitar), plus a string quartet on two cuts, tightly arranged, flows exceptionally well, not a lot of solo space, few names I recognize (Jerry Bergonzi is the major exception). B+(**)
Upper Left Trio: Ulternative (2011 , Origin): Piano trio -- Clay Giberson (piano, keyboards), Jeff Leonard (basses), Charlie Doggett (drums) -- fourth album, all write (but Doggett only gets one song in). Very solid postbop group, nothing spectacular but I've played this a half dozen times and it's never been less than engaging. B+(***)
Piet Verbist: Zygomatik (2010 , Origin): Bassist, b. 1961 in Belgium; graduated Brussels Conservatory in 1994. First album; doesn't have much of a side discography either, but wrote all the pieces, leading the album off with a bass intro a la Mingus. Uses Fender Rhodes instead of piano, and features tenor sax, adding a bari sax on three cuts. The tenor is split between Fred Delplancq early on and Matt Renzi on the latter half. No surprise that Renzi bumps this up to a higher energy level, adding the edge that makes this album memorable. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 1. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week: