Monday, July 30. 2012
Music: Current count 20246  rated (+6), 696  unrated (-3). Figured this week would be washed out, but had no idea how severely. Did my big hardware swap on Tuesday. The hardware part worked very smoothly. Ubuntu 12.04 came with some unpleasant surprises, mostly in the form of a new window manager which, for starters, didn't make it at all evident how to get a command line shell. Also soon became apparent that aside from the browser (Firefox) the default install included none of the major software packages I depend on every day. I've fixed much of that now -- replaced Unity with Xfce, have Emacs as my text editor, Apache/PHP/MySQL for websites, Gimp for touching up album cover scans. I should be back in business, but I started running a fever Wednesday night. Most likely a generic flu. Should be clearing up about now, and indeed I feel a bit better today than yesterday, but I'm still down (and down in the dumps). I've done no Jazz Prospecting since last Monday, nor have I felt like writing about anything else. Not even playing music right now. When I do, it's all old stuff.
Monday, July 23. 2012
Music: Current count 20240  rated (+63), 693  unrated (-36). Rated count skyrocketed this week, partly because I found a lot of bookkeeping errors -- records I had written about but didn't update my database to reflect -- but also because I slogged through a lot of new jazz (see below). Computer rebuild has been postponed until tomorrow. Turns out I didn't have all the new hardware I need, so I had to pick up a SATA DVD-WR to replace the old IDE drives. There's also a change to the power supply, but I think I can get away with using my old one, with its 4-pin 12V plug even though the new motherboard takes an 8-pin. Will find out tomorrow. Worst case I'm out another $100 for a new power supply.
Lot of records below, but not much unpacking. Latter is at least partly seasonal, but may well represent a long-term trend as well.
Susie Arioli: All the Way (2012, Jazzheads): Singer, from Montreal, backed as ever by guitarist Jordan Officer, eighth album since 2000. All standards this time, starting off with an eery "My Funny Valentine," as if she's trying to take Chet Baker to his logical endpoint -- an effect she dispenses with by the third song, "Here's to the Losers" (guess the irony went too far), but returns to later on. She has an effective voice, but this seems a bit confused. B+(*)
Arts & Sciences: New You (2012, Singlespeed Music): Quartet, based in Oakland, Michael Coleman is the leader, plays various electric keybs (Wurlitzer, Yamaha CS-10, Fender Rhodes), with Jacob Zimmerman (alto sax, flute), Matt Nelson (tenor sax, effects), and Jordan Glenn (drums). Second group album; Coleman also has an unrecorded group called Cavity Fang, plays with Aram Shelton (who returns the favor playing bass clarinet on one track), and has a Tune-Yards side credit. More exciting when the saxes cut loose than when they coil tightly, but dense either way. B+(***)
Brooklyn Jazz Underground: A Portrait of Brooklyn (2011 , Bju'ecords): Composer co-op, the five members, young but notable leaders in their own right, pitching in two pieces each: David Smith (trumpet), Dan Pratt (reeds), Adam Kolker (even more reeds), Anne Mette Iversen (bass), and Rob Garcia (drums). Postbop, sometimes breaking free, lots of spin on the horns. B+(**)
Peter Brötzmann & Jörg Fischer: Live in Wiesbaden (2009 , Not Two): Sax-drums improv, Brötzmann playing his usual alto, tenor, clarinet, and tarogato, much as you'd expect -- which is to say, this isn't the album where you'll find any sort of breakthrough. The drummer does a fine job of keeping pace and egging him on. B+(**)
Charles Compo: Foolish Pleasure (2012, Chaos Music): Plays flute, sax, and guitar. Father played bass with Zoot Sims, and he started out in free jazz -- his 1994-98 credits are all with William Hooker. Then something happened and he moved into smooth jazz -- a 2003 album called Psycho Jammy may have been the moment. Mostly keybs here, the sax (of course) better than the flute, but fleeting either way. B
Marc Copland: Some More Love Songs (2010 , Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1948, has a lot of records and should be regarded as one of the top pianists of his generation, but also seems fated to be a guy I admire a lot but can never find an album to get excited about. This is a piano trio with Drew Gress and Jochen Rueckert, a sequel to his 2005 Some Love Songs (both start with Joni Mitchell and end with Victor Young). B+(**)
Rick Davies: Salsa Norteńa (2012, Emlyn): Trombonist, originally from Albuquerque, got a Ph.D. from NYU with a dissertation on Cuban brass, teaches at SUNY Plattsburgh while running a salsa band (Jazzismo) based across the pond in Burlington, VT. Side credits include Blondie, Michael Jackson, and Wyclef Jean, and he has at least one previous album under his own name (Siempre Salsa). No session info, but this looks like two sets with different players at trumpet, piano, and bass, one of those with Jorge "Papo" Ross singing, but one basic sound. Not sure if Davies intends to introduce something Mexican (which is what Norteńa means to me) or just to push the border up to Montreal, but it has a jump feel, and the brass is for muscle, not filigree. B+(***)
The Dan DeChellis Trio: . . . My Age of Anxiety (2012, self-relased): Pianist, b. 1970 in New Jersey, studied at Duquesne, mostly classical, and briefly with Ran Blake at New England Conservatory. Has a dozen albums since 1996. Trio with Mitch Shelly on bass and Zack Martion on drums. Nice touch; even the slow stuff at the end holds my attention. B+(**)
Luis Durra: The Best of All Possible Worlds (2011 , Lot 50): Pianist, b. 1961, looks like his third album (with a fourth released this month, but not in hand). Piano trio, impresses more with the melodies than improvs, often picking rock things that you don't expect but that aren't all that surprising -- Radiohead (twice), Dylan, Marley, Alanis Morissette (nice bit by DJ Rob Swift at the end). B
Duke Ellington Legacy: Single Petal of a Rose (2011 , Renma): Nominal leader here is guitarist Edward Kennedy Ellington II, the Duke's grandson. Pianist Norman Simmons does most of the arrangements, the two exceptions by saxophonist Virginia Mayhew. The songs are classics by Duke Ellington and/or Billy Strayhorn (plus Erskine Hawkins' "After Hours"). Nancy Reed sings three songs. The band keeps all the elements of Duke's orchestra in play but without the numbers: one trumpet (Jami Dauber), one trombone (Noah Bless), and with tenor saxophonist Houston Person appearing as "special guest" Mayhew fills in on clarinet. Great songs, nicely done. B+(**)
Jörg Fischer/Olaf Rupp/Frank Paul Schubert: Phugurit (2011 , Gligg): Drums, electric guitar, saxophones, respectively. Fischer also has a duo with Peter Brötzmann out. Not familiar with the others, but this is prickly free improv, nicely spaced out, interesting to follow. B+(***)
Danny Fox Trio: The One Constant (2009 , Songlines): Pianist, b. in New York City, studied psychology at Harvard, now back in New York. First album, trio with Max Goldman on drums and Chris van Voorst van Beest on bass. Consistently engaging. B+(**)
FFEAR (Forum for Electro-Acoustic Research): Mirage (2011 , Jazzheads): Quartet, with saxophonist Ole Mathisen and trombonist Chris Washburne doing the composing, backed by Per Mathisen on bass and Tony Moreno on drums. Starts with two long multipart pieces, ending with three more compact ones. The two horns range widely, the trombone especially notable. B+(**)
Matt Garrison: Blood Songs (2010 , D Clef): Saxophonist, not to be confused with the Jimmy Garrison's bassist son. Second album, postbop, pulls out all the stops, with trumpet (Greg Gisbert), trombone (Michael Dease), piano (Roy Assaf), bass, drums, a couple of guest guitarists, and Eric Alexander on one cut. Gisbert has the hot hand. B+(*)
The Alex Goodman Quintet: Bridges (2011 , Connection Point): Guitarist, b. 1987 in Toronto; second album as leader (plus one co-credited with saxophonist Brent Mah). Quintet includes Nick Morgan (reeds), Danny Myronuk (piano), Dan Fortin (bass), and Maxwell Roach (drums). Two classical covers (Chopin, Bartok), three "Intro" bits credited to band members, the rest Goodman originals. Overly fancy, I find, but I'm impressed by the intricate weave, and don't doubt his talent. B+(*)
Avi Granite's Verse: Snow Umbrellas (2010 , Pet Mantis): Guitarist, from Toronto, Canada; based in New York. Third album, a quartet with Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Jerry DeVore (bass), and Owen Howard (drums). Anything with Alessi is bound to be good, and Granite gives him lots to play off of. B+(**)
The Impossible Gentlemen (2012, Basho): Quartet, primarily pianist Gwilym Simcock and guitarist Mike Walker -- three and four song credits respectively -- backed by Steve Swallow on bass and Adam Nussbaum (who has the other song credit) on drums. Simcock (b. 1981) is a hot young player; Walker (b. 1962) has side credits from 1991 but only one record under his own name, yet they make a powerfully interesting match here. B+(***)
Branford Marsalis Quartet: Four MFs Playin' Tunes (2011 , Marsalis Music): Saxophonist (mostly tenor, plus some soprano, enough to establish a polling reputation), with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner. Two covers (Thelonious Monk, "My Ideal"), originals by all but the drummer, and they are tunes, not just riffs to improv off. I've never been a fan of the pianist, but he does more than just fluff them up, and the leader sounds exquisite. [By the way, I did finally check out last year's Songs of Mirth and Melancholy on Rhapsody, and it's nowhere close.] A-
Martin, Haynes and Driver: Freedman at Western Front (2012, Barnyard): Canadians Jean Martin (drummer, plays suit case here), Justin Haynes (guitarist, plays ukulele), and Ryan Driver (street-sweeper bristle bass). Freedman is composer Myk Freedman, recently seen playing lap steel in Saint Dirt Elementary School. They call this "rough jazz," as in roughing it. B+(*)
Virginia Mayhew Quartet: Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years (2010 , Renma): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1959, has seven albums since 1988, played with Earl Hines when she was young, and won the New School's first Zoot Sims Memorial Scholarship. This is a program of Mary Lou Williams pieces, with Ed Cherry on guitar to sweeten the swing, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone to deepen it, and no piano to confuse things. B+(***)
Bob Mintzer Big Band: For the Moment (2011 , MCG Jazz): Tenor saxophonist, best known as one of the Yellowjackets, but has had a long solo career including ten records with his Big Band, going back to 1985. The band has the usual 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, and piano-guitar-bass-drums rhythm section, plus this time they've added guitarist-vocalist Chico Pinheiro and percussionist Alex Acuńa for a tour of Brazil. The Latin twists recall Stan Kenton, but nothing really stands out, other than Pinheiro's blasé vocal on "Corcovado" -- something that's been done to death. B
Michael Pedicin: Live @ the Loft (2012, Jazz Hut): Tenor saxophonist, started out as Michael Pedicin Jr., to distinguish from his father, who led a Philadelphia band in the 1950s. Eleventh album. Group includes Johnnie Valentino on guitar, Jim Ridl on piano, bass and drums. Program includes three John Coltrane pieces, one called "Like Sonny." That's his tradition, and he follows it happily. B+(**)
Carol Robbins: Moraga (2012, Jazzcats): Plays harp, fourth album since 2000. The harp flourishes seamlessly mesh with, and often grow out of, Larry Koonse's guitar, with Billy Childs' piano anchoring the soft tone, and Gary Meek's sax and clarinet for contrast. B+(*)
Saint Dirt Elementary School: Abandoned Ballroom (2009 , Barnyard): Canadian group, Toronto (more or less), lap steel player Myk Freedman holds the copyright on the tunes, so figure him the leader. Band adds guitar, piano, analog synth, clarinet, alto sax, bass, and drums. Has an air which ranges between cartoons and cabaret. B+(**)
Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers (2011 , Cuneiform, 4CD): Hard to fault the desire for memorialization, but it does tend toward works that are overwrought and tedious, and that's certainly one's first impression in wading through Smith's thirty-year struggle with the civil rights movement, a subject that hasn't lost its relevance not least because it hasn't achieved its goals, and our hopes for it. Smith's pieces witness history, from "Dred Scott: 1857" to "September 11th, 2001: A Memorial," with most ranging from Thurgood Marshall in 1954 to Martin Luther King in 1968, but those are just titles. With no libretto to make connections obvious, the music can be abstracted from the intents, leaving you with 273 minutes of often overwrought and sometimes tedious neoclassicism, all the more so when played by Jeff von der Schmidt's Southwest Chamber Music -- strings, flute, harp, and the tympani that dominate the first disc. Smith's Golden Quartet/Quintet -- the difference seems to be the addition of a second drummer, Susie Ibarra or Pheeroan akLaff -- is more compact, the interplay between Anthony Davis' piano and the leader's trumpet often remarkable. In fact, Smith's trumpet is remarkable throughout, able to cut through his arrangements as well as dice with Davis. Focus there, and keep the faith. B+(***)
Bobby Streng's House Big Band: Getting Housed (2011 , self-released): Tenor saxophonist, based in Ann Arbor, also has a group called Saxomble -- basically, a sax quartet plus rhythm section. For his big band, he pulled 19 musicians I've never head of together and recorded them live. Guitar on two tracks, bass split between one guy on electric and another on acoustic, but really it's all about the horns, lots of punch and polish. I know big bands are supposed to be prohibitively uneconomic, but there sure are a lot of them on record. Part of that is that damn near every musician wants to be an arranger, but often enough they must be a hoot to play in. B+(***)
THOMAS: Janela (2010 , Barnyard): Best I can find out, "T H O M A S is the ongoing brainchild of Toronto's Thom Gill . . . exploring the world of song, at home and abroad, with blissfully confused audiences." Gill plays "guitar, tonebank, organ, vocals" -- joined by various others, mostly playing synths and/or adding vocals. The latter trend to the falsetto of nu soul. The rest exceeds my grasp of "the world of song," leaving me confused, and I wouldn't say "blissfully." C
Sumi Tonooka: Now (2010 , ARC, 2CD): Pianist, b. 1956 in Philadelphia, cut her first album in 1984, has seven now, on utterly obscure labels, although she's popped up in Penguin Guide and Francis Davis has written about her. This one is solo, covers on the first disc, originals plus a very nice Eubie Blake closer on the second. B+(**)
David Ullmann Quintet: Falling (2011 , Wet Cash): Guitarist, lifelong New Yorker, studied at New School, second album: quinet with Karel Ruzicka Jr. (sax), Chris Dingman (vibes), Gary Wang (bass), and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums). Various postbop moves, some strong sax leads, some intricate spots with the vibes sparkling. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, July 22. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Links for further study:
Saturday, July 21. 2012
Forty more book squibs. Last one was April 19, so I figured another one was overdue. Looking back at my scrach file, I found about sixty piled up, but many were just stubs with future publication dates starting in late April: examples include Paul Krugman's End This Depression Now, Steve Coll's Private Empire, John De Graaf/David K Batker's What's the Economy For, Anyway? -- books that I've managed to read while my research lagged. Normally, I'd dive in and fill out those stubs, but then I'd wind up with two columns worth of books, and I don't really have time right now. So here's what I do have.
Daron Acenoglu/James Robinson: Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (2012, Crown Business): The answer they find is "man-made political and economic institutions" -- an easy case study is to compare North and South Korea; harder ones go back to ancient Rome and medieval Venice, and try to predict where the US and China are going (mostly down, I gather). Authors previously wrote Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (2005, Cambridge University Press).
Terry H Anderson: Bush's Wars (2011, Oxford University Press): An attempt at a big view synthesis of Bush's seven-year war path, plus a bit more on Obama's prosecution of same, but at 312 pp he'll also have to boil a lot down. Billed as a "balanced history," that also means he'll have to tidy up the manifest failures of policies that could hardly have been more deranged.
Ken Ballen: Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals (2011, Free Press): Can't fault one for wanting to get a broader, deeper look at the people castigated as terrorists, even a federal prosecutor. Foreword by Peter L. Bergen.
Jason Burke: The 9/11 Wars (2011, Allen Lane; paperback, 2011, Penguin Global): British journalist, based in New Delhi, reports on various conflicts of the last decade, but mostly in and around Afghanistan. Previously wrote Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (paperback, 2004, IB Tauris).
Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (2012, Crown): Reassurance, support, defense, therapy for the one-third of all people classified as introverts, touting their little-appreciated advantages. Written by an introvert with a Harvard Law degree. She compares her book to Betty Friedan's, which is a bit of a stretch, but as someone who's explicitly been denied more than one job because he wasn't considered outgoing enough, I appreciate the effort.
William D Cohan: Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World (2011; paperback, 2012, Anchor): Finance writer, wrote House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street (2009, Doubleday) when the abyss opened his eyes. Big book on why Goldman Sachs was not just too big but too ruthless (and too well connected) to fail.
Nancy L Cohen: Delirium: How the Sexual Counterrevolution Is Polarizing America (2012, Counterpoint): Counterrevolution? The main thing that the political successes of the anti-abortion crowd shows is that the nation is becoming less democratic, less respectful of personal views, and less tolerant -- more eager to take advantage of temporary accidents (like the mass insanity of the 2010 elections) to impose an anti-popular straitjacket of law.
Lizzie Collingham: The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (2012, Penguin): Covers the whole world during the war, focusing on how the armies and civilians were fed, or in many cases not -- the Bengal famine one famous case, far away from any front but linked nonetheless.
Peter Corning: The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice (2011, University of Chicago Press): Tries to build a human nature case for equality, equity, and reciprocity as the basic building blocks of society. I'm always leery of biosociology, but the political case for the same strikes me as if not quite self-evident about the only one that can be reasoned. Another book along these lines is Samuel Bowles/Herbert Gintis: A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution (2011, Princeton University Press).
John D'Agata/Jim Fingal: The Lifespan of a Fact (paperback, 2012, WW Norton): Short argument over the difference between truth and facts, with D'Agata billed as the "author" and Fingal as the "fact checker." D'Agata previously wrote About a Mountain, on the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump, and evidently had some trouble with his facts (and fact-checkers).
Emanuel Derman: Models. Behaving. Badly.: Why Confusing Illusion with Reality Can Lead to Disaster, on Wall Street and in Life (2011, Free Press): A Goldman Sachs quant looks back on the art of model building, discovering some limits to models, and rethinking their usefulness. Mostly finance with some asides on science and philosophy -- Derman started out as a physicist. Would be interesting to look at other areas where modelling puts people out on a limb. Previously wrote My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance (2004; paperback, 2007, Wiley).
John Patrick Diggins: Why Niebuhr Now? (2011, University of Chicago Press): American cold war-era theologian, died in 1971, has returned lately as a touchstone for both pro- and anti-war politicians and polemicists -- Andrew J. Bacevich keyed one of his recent books off Niebuhr and wrote an intro to a reprint of Niebuhr's The Irony of American History, while Diggins also starts with laudatory quotes from McCain and Obama.
Peter Eichstaedt: Consuming the Congo: War and Conflict Minerals in the World's Deadliest Place (2011, Lawrence Hill): Valuable minerals, corrupt politicians, expendable people, you can focus on the post-1994 war that killed five million, or go back all the way to King Leopold, or for that matter earlier when Kongo was one of Africa's most prodigious slave entrepots.
Charles Fishman: The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water (2011, Free Press): Something on the future water crisis, more on the oddities of current use, and bits about Saturn and other esoteric sources. Previous book was The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works -- and How It's Transforming the American Economy, which suggests a journalist's eye and a quest for big pictures.
Don Fulsom: Nixon's Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America's Most Troubled President (2012, Thomas Dunne Books): Not quite the same thing as Nixon's Greatest Crimes -- most of which were hard to keep secret, and some were even bragged about -- but related in all sorts of dark and deviously backhanded ways.
Jonah Goldberg: The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas (2012, Sentinel HC): More from the guy who taught you that Fascism is friendly. Of course, liberals cheat: they use facts, logic, argue for the public good, advocate change in favor of greater fairness and more equal opportunity. And they don't go around calling people Fascists, except when they are.
Michael Grabell: Money Well Spent? The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History (2012, Public Affairs): Refers to the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009," which as I recall proposed well less than $1 trillion, and was further watered down with tax breaks that translated poorly into spending. (Grabell claims the higher figure "when extensions and inflation adjustments are factored in.") It's a fair question which deserves a fair treatment; doubt this is it.
Elizabeth Holtzman/Cynthia L Cooper: Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law, Plotted to Avoid Prosecution -- and What We Can Do About It (2011, Beacon Press): Former prosecutor and congresswoman, wrote a book during the Bush reign laying out the case for impeachment, remains hot on the miscreants' tails. Good thing someone is. Nothing Obama did or didn't do has disappointed me so much as his unwillingness to look back at the Bush years and expose the malfeasances there -- and not just because had he done so he would have been forced to think twice before repeating so many of them.
Robert Johnson: The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight (2011, Oxford University Press): A survey of the changing tactics used by Afghan warriors since the 19th century to fight off foreign aggression, which since 2001 means the US (and its NATO allies).
Peter D Kiernan: Becoming China's Bitch: and Nine More Catastrophes We Must Avoid Right Now (2012, Turner): Another self-declared "centrist" (and former Goldman Sachs partner) out to save the nation from problems like, "our semiconscious dependency on China, our lack of a centrally coordinated intelligence effort, our downward-spiraling health-care system, and the continually expanding problem of illegal immigration."
Andrew Kilman: The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession (paperback, 2011, Pluto Press): A Marxist critique of the Great Recession -- author previously wrote Reclaiming Marx's Capital: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency. Title seems a bit misleading: I doubt that there was a problem with production so much as declining profits sent capitalists elsewhere in search of higher gains, especially into finance where it was easy to create imaginary value, at least while it lasted.
Kristin Kimball: The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love (2010; paperback, 2011, Scribner): NY journalist moves to a 500 acre farm in Vermont, resolves to grow everything one needs for "a whole diet" -- meat and dairy as well as veggies and grains, so there's an element here of moving off the grid.
Charles A Kupchan: No One's World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn (2012, Oxford University Press): An antidote to the silly genre of books predicting who will dominate whom in the coming century, as domination itself becomes both less possible and less desirable.
Kwasi Kwarteng: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (2012, Public Affairs): British historian and politician (Conservative MP), parents came to England from Ghana, so he knows a bit about the late empire from both ends, but like many of his countrymen may tend to the effect, most of all the benefit, of having experienced British rule.
Walter Laqueur: After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent (2012, Thomas Dunne Books): Historian, now in his 90s, has written about Fascism, anti-semitism, Zionism (which he strongly identifies with, having escaped pre-WWII Poland for Palestine). Predicts gloom and doom for Europe.
David Marsh: The Euro: The Battle for the New Global Currency (paperback, 2011, Yale University Press): The background on how the Euro came about, and why it's not working out so well. Revised and updated from some previous book, possibly Marsh's 2010 The Euro: The Politics of the New Global Currency. Also related: Johan van Overtveldt: The End of the Euro: The Uneasy Future of the European Union (2011, Agate B2).
Chris Martenson: The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future of Our Economy, Energy, and Environment (2011, Wiley): Peak oil, of course, and peak damn-near-everything else, plus the notion of tipping points, suggest that the economic collapse may differ from previous recessions not just because we're treating it with uncommon stupidity -- there may be insurmountable structural problems beneath the usual cycles. I think there's some truth to this.
Richard Martin: Super-Fuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future (2012, Palgrave Macmillan): Tries to make the case for nuclear power plants fueled by thorium instead of uranium. Thorium is at least as plentiful as uranium. It is radioactive, but less so than uranium, which makes it a more expensive fuel, but also safer -- both in the reactor and as waste -- and has less proliferation risk. India has done the most work toward commercializing thorium power plants, and expects to get 30% of its electricity from thorium by 2050. Looks like the book greatly exaggerates its prospects.
Ralph Nader: Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win (paperback, 2011, Common Courage Press): Don't know whether he's running for president again, but it doesn't to hedge your bets with a campaign book. And I'm sure it was a hell of a lot easier to write than anything Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich brokered. Even has some value if he doesn't run.
James Lawrence Powell: Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West (2011, University of California Press): Lake Powell is currently about half-full, or half-empty if that's your preference, its needs tapped out by cities like Las Vegas that wouldn't exist but for Colorado River water (and hydroelectric power). It supply has long failed to satisfy the Colorado Compact which optimistically divvied up the water to various states, and global warming only promises drier years ahead. Also on the subject: Jonathan Waterman: Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River (2010, National Geographic); and Norris Hundley Jr: Water and the West: The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West (paperback, 2009, University of California Press).
Dylan Ratigan: Greedy Bastards: How We Can Stop Corporate Communists, Banksters, and Other Vampires from Sucking America Dry (2012, Simon & Schuster): Author has a daytime talk show, evidently left of center despite the hallucinatory title. I understand that "vampires" may be some sort of metaphor, but "corporate communists" is impossible to pin down (despite the smell).
Simon Reynolds: Bring the Noise: 20 Years of Writing About Hip Rock and Hip Hop (paperback, 2012, Soft Skull Press): Scattered essays and interviews -- looks like a reprint of his 2010 Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews. Also wrote Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past (paperback, 2011, Faber & Faber); Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 (paperback, 2006, Penguin); Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture (paperback, 1999, Routledge); and, with Joy Press, The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock 'n' Roll (1995, Harvard University Press).
David Rothkopf: Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government -- and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): What rivalry? Doesn't he know that government's been bought and paid for? That the only real conflicts left are between the corporate sponsors? That there is no such thing as a "public interest" anymore? Previously wrote Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making.
Ellen E Schultz: Retirement Heist: How Corporations Plunder and Profit From the Nest Eggs of American Workers (2011, Portfolio): I was enrolled in a pension plan only once in my working career -- with a company that wound up under Chapter 11. (Everything else has been 401k, if even that.) No sooner than the papers were filed, the creditors decided that the pension was "overfunded" and moved to dissolve it. I got a small check, and that was the end of it. So that's one example of the "plunder and profit" Schultz writes about. No doubt there are many more.
Martin Sieff: That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman's Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs (2012, John Wiley): Refuting Friedman's nonsense should be the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how people dumb enough to buy into Friedman actually did things. That they turned out to be damaging, well, that's easier.
Francis Spufford: Red Plenty (paperback, 2012, Oxford University Press): A novel (of some sort) based on the promise of central economic planning in the Soviet Union, a concept you probably expected to have been expunged in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nick Hornby called it "a hammer-and-sickle version of Altman's Nashville." Crooked Timber has done a whole series of posts on this book.
Barb Stuckey: Taste What You're Missing: The Passionate Eater's Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good (2012, Free Press): The science of taste, possibly the psychology, maybe even a bit of art. Possibly similar but heavier: Gordon M Shepherd: Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters (2011, Columbia University Press); older: Hervé This: Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor (paperback, 2005, Columbia University Press).
David Swanson, ed: The Military Industrial Complex at 50 (paperback, 2011, self-published): It bogles the mind to think what Eisenhower might make of his Military-Industrial Complex fifty years and many wars later. An interesting list of contributors, most of whom have elsewhere registered how appalled they are.
Nicholas Wapshott: Keynes/Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics (2011, WW Norton): Actually, when both were alive it wasn't much of a clash: Hayek was obsessed with communism, which Keynes properly regarded as irrelevant. Keynes was an immensely important analyst of the Great Depression, and Hayek was a right-wing crank -- someone who wouldn't be remembered today except that other right-wingers find him useful. So trying to square the two against each other is a bit far fetched. Why? Wapshott previously wrote Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage.
Colin Woodard: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011, Viking): Books indulging this impulse to hack us up and sort us out come every few years -- cf. Joel Garreau: The Nine Nations of North America and, maybe, Dante Chinni: Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth About the "Real" America. This one promises more history, hence more overdetermination.
My paperback notes are all stubs too, so will hold until next time. I shouldn't wait three months to do one of these, then not have the time to bring it up to date.
Wednesday, July 18. 2012
In this month's Downloader's Diary, Michael Tatum argued that there's too much good music this month to waste time on also rans or wannabes. That hasn't been my experience. Below you'll find the shortest monthly Streamnotes of the year, also the latest, and most significantly one with only one A-list album (and that a leftover from 2011). (I added the extra graphic because it was already on file, and a near miss.)
I have 31 records this month. My average for the first six months of the year has been 57, with only March dipping below 50. Had I listened to 20 more I might have found something, but it's been a bad month for finding things I looked for on Rhapsody, and few of the tips I usually follow have panned out. But I did bother to check out such unlikely prospects as Kindness, Usher, Mount Eerie, Smashing Pumpkins, and the Walkmen -- it continues to baffle me how anyone can like them.
Tatum's prime picks (Fiona Apple, Frank Ocean) are in the queue, my processing slowed down by actually having the luxury of real copies. (I did play Apple on Rhapsody, and on that one turn it would have been a mid-to-high B+, a record with one exceptional song, otherwise well-crafted but not something I much like. Ocean is still in the shrinkwrap.) Thought I might try to squeeze more into this month, but as late as I am, best to flush it out and start next month fresh.
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 June 12. Past reviews and more information are available here (2760 records).
Action Bronson: Dr. Lecter (2011, Fine Fabric Delegates): Ben Johnson, from Queens, of "Albanian and Jewish descent," chef on the side, must eat well too; namechecks Barry Horowitz, Larry Csonka, Ronnie Coleman, Buddy Guy, and Chuck Person, not to mention "Jerk Chicken" and "Forbidden Fruit"; beats by Tommy Mas are enough to get by on. A- [dl]
Action Bronson: Blue Chips (2012, Fool's Gold): One of the golden rules of rap -- yes, cash pun intended -- is that the bigger you get, the more guests you wind up hosting, until the whole neighborhood goes to hell. Some of that here, bumping up the drugs and hoes quotient to no good effect. More outlandish samples too, although Nick Nolte takes a bit too long to deliver his line. B+(***) [dl]
Alt-J: An Awesome Wave (2012, Infectious): Anglo alt-rock group from Cambridge, or maybe Leeds, UK anyhow, named after the Mac keyboard shortcut for a triangle, an instrument they employ along with a kitchen sinkful of effects. Highly elaborate, careful, arty, nothing I particularly go for but they make it work more often than not -- e.g., more often than Coldplay. B+(*)
Stephen David Austin: A Bakersfield Dozen (2011, self-released): Debut album, cover pic looks like he may have some gray in his beard, but that could just be photoshopped, for he's as up-to-date as "MySpace," as timeless as "Heroes and Heroin," Bakersfield enough to eulogize "The Day Buck Owens Died," and to underline the concept he covers a Beatles song ("Baby's in Black"). I'd be more impressed, or at least amused, if I hadn't heard "The Fat Kid" -- not that his heart's not in the right place, but I wonder about his head. B+(*)
Baloji: Kinshasa Succursale (2010 , Crammed): Congolese rapper, grew up in Belgium and made a mark while based in Paris, then returned to Kinshasa to hook up with Konono No. 1, his raps all the more effective when he's got the whole junkyard beat going, or some soukous, or something real spare. B+(**)
Azealia Banks: 1991 (2012, Interscope, EP): Four cuts, 16:06, including a couple minutes of comic skit sans punchline. Grade is kind of an extrapolation since Rhapsody isn't giving me a straight runthrough -- the dead track is "212," which I've sought out the video on, and would at least get you over the skit. B+(**)
B.o.B: Strange Clouds (2012, Atlantic): Guest list: Morgan Freeman, Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, Trey Songz, a couple more that don't ring my bell. One song even features Bobby Ray Simmons. Half are pretty listenable. Some aren't. B-
Chicha Libre: Canibalismo (2012, Barbčs): As near as I can figure out, a Brooklyn group put together as a sort of live tribute band after the label/club came out with its collection of vintage Peruvian "psychedelic cumbias," The Roots of Chicha. This has some of the same appeal, but one risk of catching up is overshooting. B+(*)
Rocco Deluca: Drugs 'N Hymns (2012, 429): Intent on being a bluesman, comes off a bit understated, at least when he's not flat out whiney. B
William Michael Dillon: Black Robes and Lawyers (2011, self-released): Convicted of murder in 1981, freed 27 years later when DNA testing proved him innocent; has several songs about that, a couple strikingly matter of fact, and has a few more songs about, uh, life. He's white, but on injustice he reaches for black music idioms -- backup singers, organ, even some reggae on his simplest freedom paean -- even though it doesn't come naturally. B+(**)
Far East Movement: Dirty Bass (2012, Interscope): LA group, mostly (or all) Asian-Americans -- rappers Kev Nish, Prohgres, and Jae Chong, backed by DJ Varmin -- but they recall Black-Eyed Peas and NERD with their big beats and synthy bass fuzz, and they draw lots of guests (including Justin Bieber), evening out the gender mix. Deluxe ed. adds remixes. B+(***)
The Hives: Lex Hives (2012, Disques Hives): Swedish group, established themselves as garage punk avatars in 2002 with Veni Vidi Vicious, and seem likely to repeat that formula ad infinitum. The crunch remains classic, the songs too loud for me to care about, but others may consider that a back-handed compliment. B+(*)
Hot Chip: In Our Heads (2012, Domino): Brit electropop group, been around since 2000; the dance beats still do the job, but the vocals make me wonder who these people are, not that I'm sure I care. A band that I once found intriguing, but lost the thread on. B+(*)
Kindness: World, You Need a Change of Mind (2012, Female Energy/Polydor): Adam Bainbridge debut, starts out with a spacey beat that soon turns incoherent on a couple of covers -- a clever choice might have been Paul Westerberg's "Swingin' Party," but by the time I placed it it had turned out dead ass dull. And there's nothing clever about writing originals that don't even measure up to that. C+
Lorn: Ask the Dusk (2012, Ninja Tune): Marcos Ortega, from Milwaukee (I think), crafts electronica with a lot of industrial overhang: crashing beats, hornlike synths merging into drones, voices adding to the effect (or not). B+(**)
Lushlife: Plateau Vision (2012, Western Vinyl): Philadelphia MC, has a couple priors but I'm not finding much bio. Can't make much sense of this either, but he keeps threatening to get interesting; then, uh, what? Feats include Shad, Heems, Cities Aviv, and there's something about Einstein and the founding of Israel. B+(*)
Pat Metheny: Unity Band (2012, Nonesuch): A serious jazz musician -- has recorded on separate occasions with Ornette Coleman and Derek Bailey, made a very public spectacle of despising Kenny G -- with popular and populist instincts, probably the most commercially successful SJM in America, comes up with an impeccably serious quartet -- Chris Potter on sax, Ben Williams on bass, and Antonio Sanchez on drums -- and turns them into an arena-worthy showboating outfit. Potter is game -- he's rarely blown this hot -- and Sanchez has never played this loud. The guitarist starts with a nice intro, then segues into the horribly synthy "Roofdogs." B-
Metric: Synthetica (2012, Mom + Pop): Canadian synth-pop band, singer is Emily Haines who was born in New Delhi and at various points has been based in Montreal, London, New York, and Los Angeles -- father was Paul Haines, who wrote the libretto to Carla Bley's Escalator Over the Hill. Fifth album since 2003. I liked 2009's Fantasies a lot. This has the same general soundscape, but I can't find much to grab onto. B+(*)
Rhett Miller: The Interpreter: Live at Largo (2011, Maximum Sunshine): Live, as advertised, solo too, just the singer and his guitar, and all covers -- Dylan, Beatles, Kinks, Bowie (twice), Paul Simon, Tom Petty, Elliott Smith, Francis Black (twice again), a few others -- a ramble through a personal past neither here nor there. B
Rhett Miller: The Dreamer (2012, Maximum Sunshine): Original songs, the best ones sorted to the top of the album, leaving you wondering how such a promising album managed to outstay its welcome. B+(**)
Mount Eerie: Clear Moon (2012, PW Elverum & Sun): Phil Elverum, based in Anacortes, on the Puget Sound north of Seattle, started out as the Microphones, then recorded an album called Mount Eerie, then switched monikers. Conjures up a complex moodscape with choral vocals and electronics, at one point getting dense enough he might be onto something, but soon pulled back into the murk. B
The Mynabirds: Generals (2012, Saddle Creek): Laura Burhenn plus band, second album, from Nebraska but more reminiscent of the strain of English singer-songwriters that descend from Kate Bush. Has promising moments, but doesn't quite cohere -- or maybe I'm missing something? B
Peaking Lights: Lucifer (2012, Mexican Summer): Husband-wife lo-fi synth duo, their second album started low but wound up on a lot of year-end lists. This has been called "more professionally recorded" [AMG] but they still aim lo with dub-like redundancy and just enough humor. B+(*)
A Place to Bury Strangers: Worship (2012, Dead Oceans): Third album, echoes of Jesus and Mary Chain, but louder, with more space overdrive, a very impressive sound carrying deadpan vocals I can't begin to make out (or didn't bother). I was equally impressed with their second album, and must have been in a better mood: rated it higher, then never returned to it. B+(***)
A Place to Bury Strangers: Onwards to the Wall (2012, Dead Oceans, EP): Five song, 16:41, came out four months before the album above. Some day these will be bonus tracks to a reissue of the album; now they're just advance outtakes, as strong as the album if you're besotten by the sound, as useless if you aren't, and more or less as cost-effective if you're somewhere in between. B+(**)
Royal Headache (2011 , What's Your Rupture?): Punk band debut from Sydney, Australia; only runs 26:45, but gives you 12 songs, with bridges even, so what more do you want? Sharper edges? More rudimentary power? Less royalty? B
Smashing Pumpkins: Oceania (2011 , Martha's Music/EMI): Never bothered with Billy Corgan's group's three highly regarded 1991-95 albums, recently reissued to much acclaim, in part because I often heard that this was one of the worst-ever live groups, also because I thought the whole Seattle grunge scene was vastly overrated. So I don't know whether this is entering into a prog phase or just adding to something that's always been there. Thick, with a singer who doesn't grate quite as much as Michael Stipe, but it's all quite tolerably uninteresting in the end. B
Otis Taylor: Otis Taylor's Contraband (2012, Telarc): Bluesman, leads with his voice rather than his guitar, and pulls the voice back into the songs, where he earns his craft. B+(***)
Usher: Looking 4 Myself (2012, RCA): Deluxe ed. ends with the upbeat "Hot Thing" -- the only one worth having of four extra tracks on an album already too long, plus it spoils the concept of ending in "Euphoria" (not that I noticed being there). He's a jack of all trades -- can go fast, slow, hip-hop, soul, listenable in all, exceptional in none. B+(*)
The Walkmen: Heaven (2012, Fat Possum): Garage rock group from New York, not that I remember many garages there -- more like a studio apartment group with surly neighbors always threatening to call the cops on them if they don't keep it down, and they've learned that lesson, managing to keep it way down. Closes with this inspirational lyric: "Oh, no, no, no, no. no." C
Bobby Womack: The Bravest Man in the Universe (2012, XL): Produced by Richard Russell, last heard framing Gil Scott-Heron's last hurrah, with help from Damon Albarn, who's scoured the ends of the earth in search of rough voices to back with his catchy, chintzy keyb. Womack has been around since the mid-1960s, a second- (or third-) tier soulman occasionally blessed with a hit, but his voice is shot and his swagger has gone, which oddly works here. B+(**)
Tuesday, July 17. 2012
by Michael Tatum
Rock critics and rock critic-o-philes love guessing what records will win, place, and show in the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll. Below, you'll find four picks that I'm fairly certain will wind up in the top ten, including the winner, with the Beach House record my only deviation from conventional wisdom. Perhaps because lately I've been so deluged with good music, I haven't had much time or patience to clear out much material for the Honorable Mentions and Trash sections, which for the last two months or so have been relatively scant. Trust me, if you wasted six plus hours of your life to that goddamn Fela Kuti live record you'd want to reward yourself with more worthwhile stuff, too.
Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Clean Slate) Like so many singer-songwriters, male or female, young or old, Fiona Apple is a narcissist -- if she's broken up with a guy named Jonathan, you can bet his name will grace a song title, and you shouldn't be surprised when she packages the resulting album with samples of her own "therapeutic art," scrawlings so dreadful they make Joni Mitchell look like Van Gogh. But what separates Apple from Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton, Suzanne Vega, and the like, aside from an awesome talent never quite in such sharp focus until this record, is that she has no interest in pretending to be nicey-nice -- she candidly owns her own massive failings and screw-ups, could care less about playing the doe-eyed ingénue, and delights in casting herself as the madwoman in the attic, provided you pay attention to the noise she makes on her floor/your ceiling. Plus, she actually has a sense of humor, something that absolutely eluded Joni Mitchell, from "I could liken (lycan?) you to a werewolf" to "I guess I just must be a daredevil/I don't feel anything until I smash it up," from rhyming "orotund mutt" with "moribund slut" to admitting "I'm a tulip in a cup/I stand no chance of growing up," all the way up to the irresistible novelty number in which she slyly offers you to cut her butter with your hot knife. And then there are the pleasures of the music, not merely those hip hop touches, expressed more in odd noises and sounds rather than the standard banal guest rapper, but her piano style, which regardless of its harmonic sophistication, in its approach to play reminds me of my high school friends and me fucking around during lunchtime on the choir room piano, devising songs to amuse each other. Think stuffing your album title with twenty-four words is pretentious? So does she -- the joke's on you. A
Beach House: Bloom (Sub Pop) Although admittedly not exactly a dream pop aficionado by nature, I know my resistance to this Baltimore duo's allure stems not from objecting to Victoria Legrand's mildly depressive temperament, but rather from her unusual detachment from it in song. "Help me to name it," she sings, as if holding this curious, strange new emotion to the light, turning it between her fingers, cataloging the nuances of each facet. Her sadness isn't the standard metaphorical "blue," but the more consciously arty "lapis lazuli." She observes of a break-up, "Other people want to keep in touch/Something happens and it's not enough." Though I don't subscribe to the idea that you have to "relate" to an artist to "get" them, this sort of compartmentalization of your feelings is so foreign to me that part of me suspects I resent her for being able to do it. Now I realize such judgments are not only unfair to Legrand as a person -- experience being relative, after all -- they also ignore the uncommon gorgeousness of the music, deeply affecting where 2011's Teen Dream settled for merely pretty. Without renouncing the basic harmonic simplicity of their previous work, the arrangements are now more expansive, slow-moving tidal waves riding the hypnotic pull of Daniel Franz's detailed drum loops. Although the music is even more beholden to electronic manipulation, there's something charmingly faux-organic about it: the "tin can" beats underneath "Myth," the "toy xylophone" that tinkles through "Lazuli." And though I'm mystified how a contralto this devoid of carnal suggestion could ever move any music scribe to describe it as "sultry," Legrand's cautious scalar ascensions and descensions, punctuated by the occasional glissando, are well-matched to her lyrics, which relinquish overweening metaphor in favor of straightforward language. Though when she sends off a lost love to a "strange paradise" where the next woman lies in wait, you have to wonder what runs though her mind when the song is over. A
Clams Casino: Instrumental Mixtape 2 (free download) The biggest mystery about Mike Volpe's highly in-demand production work is why he donates so much of it to second-tier rappers. The best way I can rationalize it, working on the fringes enables him the widest amount of creative freedom possible, though why would he feel the need to leak two download-only instrumental sets if he truly respected what Lil B and Soulja Boy did with his handiwork? Though Volpe would benefit from the discipline of a major label -- one that would encourage his creativity, allow him to challenge himself, and yet force him to work within certain strictures -- there's no denying that this sequel represents a major step forward: those who found last year's batch of rescued backgrounds a little obtuse or soupy will have no problem accessing these more user-friendly pieces. It's no secret that Volpe mines inspiration from the feminine -- two very different tracks employ the same Imogen Heap song, though as with the Lana del Rey and Washed Out "remixes," not so you'd actually recognize the original source material -- but like many admirers, I'm shocked how much some of this approaches New Age antecedents: Enya, Enigma, even those damn Benedictine Monks. What makes him superior are those spellbinding beats: sluggish but authoritative, spaced-out but dragged through mud. Best of all, this includes my favorite Volpe track, the absolutely entrancing "Unchain Me," the rare instance you might conceivably identify the sample. The implication? If he can do this shit with an overblown track from the teen vampire flick The Lost Boys, he can do it with anything. A
Lotus Plaza: Spooky Action at a Distance (Kranky) If you've resisted this Deerhunter spinoff, I fully sympathize -- although somewhat won over to that band's woozily alluring Halcyon Digest, Bradford Cox's pretensions (the Atlas Sound solo project, his one-hour Andy Kaufmanesque "My Sharona" piss-take) are often more fun to read about on blogs than actually listen to. But this nifty little record doesn't belong to Cox but rather his guitarist cohort Lockett Pundt, who gives up more shimmering hooks here than he does for his day job, worthy of Dean Wareham or Martin Phillipps, radiating a seductive beauty that brings to mind Tennyson: "And deep-asleep he seem'd, yet all awake/And music in his ears his beating heart did make." Although Pundt deliberately (and predictably) obscures his words via his nerdy baritone and lo-fi production, if you're patient enough to penetrate the music's attractive surface you'll discover that much like the mariners in that masterful poem, Pundt's dream world of beguiling, captivating melody is his anodyne for coping with the uncertainties of the outside world: a relationship threatened by distance, a friendship destroyed by drug use, days when "there's no going back" and it seems "you're on your own/there's no one else." But despite his rather offhandedly mesmerising gift for tune -- a complete surprise after the amorphous noodling of this project's 2009 debut proper -- what really made me take notice of all this was, of all things, the drumming, which while not powerful in the conventional sense, carries the music with a hypnotically bracing pulse. You'll wonder why Pundt doesn't recommend his band mate to his Deerhunter buddies. Then you'll peruse the liner notes and realize there's a reason for that: he's already in Deerhunter. He's the guitarist. A
Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (Def Jam) Even if Ocean had second-guessed outing himself and altered the pronouns and details in the last three songs here from the masculine to the expected feminine, this would remain an audacious, courageous record. He eschews sampling not because he fears late night visits from Don Henley's team of lawyers -- really, if Coldplay are willing to give away "Strawberry Swing" for free, one would figure anyone would have given Ocean eight bars for a chunk of the publishing -- but because he's been there, done that, and moving on. Having hooked the indie rock audience by playing pomo games with MGMT and the Eagles, he's now more interested in pushing the envelope of the music he grew up with, meaning not just Marvin and Stevie but D'Angelo and Maxwell -- i.e., form-free R&B, with the mid-tempo beats, non-linear melodic sensibility, and atmospheric arrangements that implies. In other words, he's asking both halves of his audience to meet him in the middle, on his terms. And once he's drawn you into his world with his seductively exquisite music, he'll captivate you with songs that empathize with strippers and moshers and crack addicts, take swipes at the idle rich, and denigrate any "bad religion" that forces him to his knees for professing his love for a man. Intelligent, humane, and absolutely fearless, you'll root for "Forrest Gump" to give him a second chance. A
Plug: Back in Time (Ninja Tune) I'd forgotten how much I had loved drum 'n' bass in theory: its sputtering beats, relentless loops, metallic arrangements, and sanded down chunks of noise, although perhaps I would have loved it more in practice had many of its practitioners hadn't fallen short of that ideal and tended toward John Williams, James Bond soundtracks, and nineteenth-century Romanticist twaddle. I didn't take much notice of Luke Vibert at the time, partly because there was so damn much to wade through, but also because he didn't fall neatly into any dance subgenre: like his buddy Richard James, Vibert straddled the line between workaholicism and releasing every last self-indulgent minute he committed to tape, not only under his own name, but also under the aliases Wagon Christ, for his trip-hop/ambient output, and Plug, for drum 'n' bass. You won't be disappointed if you spin his well-regarded, 1996 Drum 'n' Bass for Papa, which for me was lost in the IDM deluge and sounds pretty good now, even if the only moment that sticks in my brain is his sample of John Goodman's frenzied tirade from Barton Fink, erased from Nothing Records' 1997 reissue (and too bad -- "I'll show you the life of the mind!" really says it all, don't you think?). This vault-clearing of contemporaneous material has been dismissed as redundant in some quarters, but not only are the beats denser, busier, and more hectic, the samples are wilder and woollier, folding in -- and this is merely a partial list -- a rumbling timpani, a tip-toeing harp figure, a snake-charming flute, a Speak and Spell, James Brown concert patter, an uncomfortably bizarre male orgasm, a cheesy electric sitar figure more B.J. Thomas than Brian Jones, the "running away" sound effect from Scooby Doo, the cyborg stewardess from Eastside Connection's "Frisco Disco," and the hypnotic suggestion that "You might become aware of your anus or genitalia." A pretty direct admission that the life of the mind is infinitely richer when the extremities cooperate. A
Patti Smith: Banga (Columbia) It's become so de rigueur for rockers over the age of sixty to devote whole albums to mourning their own mortality it's startling to hear one unapologetically celebrating discovery, transcendence, and hope. Punk rockers have always exulted in ringing in the new while tearing down the old, and indeed part of me muses this record's fearless embrace of undiscovered countries both literal and figurative is appropriate for a woman who pledged much of her early career to reveling in post-apocalyptic vision. But this only makes for good copy. I imagine the real reason is more simple: she's a woman. More specifically, she's a woman who views her children, both biological and spiritual, not as competition or a reminder of her waning potency, but rather as "the hope of the world, embarking on adventures of their own." Those poignant words culminate her astonishingly gorgeous liner notes, which offer a more evocative view of her introspective journey than mere printed lyrics would have, looking both forward and backward to progenitors and inheritors alike, including not only art heroes like Mikel Bulgakov, Andrei Tarkovsky, Sun Ra, Maria Schneider, and Michelangelo Antonioni, but even Johnny Depp and Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins. But she's not just dropping names like she used to when she was a kid -- there's a sense of gratitude, humility, and grace, accompanied by calmly majestic singing and music that unquestionably signifies as the most nakedly beautiful of her career, only more remarkable when you register how many of the songs utilize only a handful of chords, or like the hypnotic title track or the tititanic epic celebrating Piero della Francesca, ride galvanically mesmerizing drones. "All is art," she wails, and of course, we've heard that before. But how about "All is future?" She won't see that future -- neither will you or I. But as the recontextualized Neil Young cover illustrates so lovingly, by necessity and by right, the future does not belong to us. A
Le Super Borgou de Parakou: The Bariba Sound (Analog Africa) The capital of eastern Benin's Borgou Department, Parakou is home to at least fifteen distinct ethnic groups; its name is derived from a Dendi word that translates into "the city of everyone." Benin's independence from France in 1960 promised democracy, but after a decade of turmoil marked by multiple regime changes, a weakened three-person "presidental council" crumbled, replaced by a brutal military dictatorship run by Mathieu Kérékou, who drove out foreign investment, crippled the educational system, ran the occasional sham election, and generated state revenue by turning his country into France's nuclear waste dump. It's against this backdrop that guitarist/bandleaders Moussa Mama Djima and Menou Roch conceived this superb Afro-funk powerhouse, which The Quietus' Richie Troughton claims mixes native folk influences with the usual American R&B appropriations, but my less savvy ears hear as a deft combination of highlife and Afrobeat, both exports of neighboring Nigeria. Hook hounds should note that these guys love to decorate their songs with catchy chants, and even if the rhythms aren't as polyrythmically insinuating as Fela or Adé, drummer Bori Borro does have a bag of tricks, my favorite being the rug-yanking change-up he pulls off on the opening "Gandigui." And while the limited vocabulary of the organist could easily have been disguised if they'd distorted the sound a little bit, the guitar playing is remarkably imaginative given its primitive mien, particularly in a passage that mimics a violin played pizzicato. And then there's the incendiary, endlessly repeatable "Abakpé," which wonders what Carlos Santana might have sounded like if he had forsaken John Coltrane for James Brown. A
Japandroids: Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl) Remember last night's keg and bong blowout? Remember when, remember when? ("Evil's Sway," "The House that Heaven Built") ***
Rhett Miller: The Dreamer (Maximum Sunshine) If only if he had the kind of ego and/or imagination that would inspire him to title his next record The Arranger ("Marina," "Swimming in Sunshine") **
Saint Etienne: Words and Music by Saint Etienne (Universal) Sarah Cracknell feels a right to the memories of her misspent youth because she knows she's now almost a memory herself ("I've Got Your Music," "Tonight") **
Metric: Synthetica (Mom + Pop) Boasts she's as "fucked up as they say," but fails to provide us with much corroborative evidence ("The Wanderlust," "The Void") *
Fela Kuti: Live in Detroit 1986 (Knitting Factory) Comprising four, er, "songs" lasting 29:33, 40:35, 34:06, and 38:57, this has to be the most appalling example of rockcrit sycophancy in recent memory. "You'll wish you'd been there," avers BBC Review's Steve Chick. "You'll wish it would never end." "[It] provides an exhilarating reminder of his presence as a live performer," swoons The Guardian's Robin Denselow. Inspiring the very first Downloader's Diary Throwdown: I challenge either of these clowns to upload a video of themselves listening to this two-CD document all the way through, from start to finish, without getting up, yawning, twiddling their thumbs, pounding their fists on the table, puncturing their eardrums with gardening shears, or displaying any other body language indicators of boredom, tedium, or mercy-begging. The prize: I will put you up in any Nigerian hotel, seven days and seven nights, all expenses paid (note: A Downloader's Diary is not responsible for any theft, kidnapping, or murder you may experience. Quarter at any foreign embassies is exempt from this offer). Fela was many things: icon, rabble-rouser, sloganeer, and sometimes, great bandleader. What he was not was a brilliant improviser on the electric piano. Four songs. Two hours and twenty minutes. Think about it. C
Carrie Underwood: Blown Away (Arista Nashville/19 Recordings) "Thank God for hometowns/And all the love that makes you go round/Thank God for the county lines that welcome you back in/When you were dying to get out/Thank God for Church pews/And all the faces that won't forget you" -- vomit, vomit, vomit, vomit. I mean, why not "Thank God for Gucci handbags/Dinner at the French Laundry/Thank God for Prada one-pieces/And a mansion on the hill?" Because after all, pandering to your target audience about the former batch of platitudes makes access to the latter bunch of goodies possible (and now that I'm on it, why not make explicit God is some combination of Clive Davis and Simon Cowell?). In any case, if the airbrushed vixen on the cover didn't clue you in, the record that Entertainment Weekly's Melissa Maerz unironically glows is her "most stadium-rock-friendly album yet" doesn't suck up to the country audience as much as it does the more potentially lucrative American Idol audience -- you can tell, because she doesn't sing as much as yell, showing up the title as not meaning "impressed" so much as "deafened by cavernously loud volume." A pity, considering she's clearly (and clumsily) toughening herself up on what's essentially a Miranda Lambert move. Though to be fair, Miranda would have passed on the one in which Carrie faces down Cupid in a Mexican standoff -- which Carrie's hyperactive emoting only makes even more patently ridiculous. C+
Bobby Womack: The Bravest Man in the Universe (Honest Jon's) He once was lost, and now he's still lost. B
Alt-J: An Awesome Wave (Infectious) If Radiohead specialized in madrigals, but replaced Thom Yorke with two Gary Numans. C+
Screaming Females: Ugly (Don Giovanni) Babe in Progland. C+
Royal Headache: Royal Headache (What's Your Rupture?) Described by the indie rock blogosphere as garage rock with "white-soul" vocalizing, the latter of which Pitchfork's Paul Thompson favorably compares to such "greats" as (find the ringers) Rod Stewart, Sam Cooke, young Roger Daltrey, Argybargy-era Glenn Tilbrook, and . . . Robert Pollard. C+
Monday, July 16. 2012
Music: Current count 20177  rated (+34), 729  unrated (-14). Been too hot to do much of anything else, so I've been whittling down the jazz queue. Big surprise for me was not one but two albums of solo overdub, something that hardly ever works. Another surprise was that I was goaded into playing one of them by a publicist who proclaimed it one of the year's three best. (I spent some time polling publicists a few years back, only to find further proof that Upton Sinclair was right about them too.)
I haven't been monitoring the depth of my jazz queue, but have noticed that I'm down from three to two baskets, and that the "high" (actually, "normal") priority rows are no longer stuffed. I even opened up a bit of wiggle room in the vocal queue, and pulled at least two records out of the "low" priority row -- which until recently had things piled on top, so it was out of sight as well as out of mind. Anyhow, the queue is now down around 175 records. Don't know where it's usually stood, but 225 is a reasonable guess. I've spoken of my jazz reviewing "business" as being in a "death spiral" as my access to new records dries up. This is evidence of that, and while I could probably reverse the trend if I put a lot more energy into it, the whole thing is wearing.
On the other hand, I do take some pleasure in tidying things up, so there's that.
Downloader's Diary will be up tomorrow, or maybe late tonight, where Michael Tatum argues that there's a lot of good new music out there. Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week, where I'll complain about the dearth thereof.
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Jeb Bishop: Burning Live at Jazz Ao Centro (2011 , JACC): Portuguese saxophonist, mostly tenor, always an impressive free player -- I recommend his 2010 album, Searching for Adam (Not Two). His Motion Trio, including Miguel Mira (cello) and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums), debuted on a 2009 eponymous album. Bishop is a trombonist from Chicago, one of the founding members of the Vandermark 5; his record elsewhere has been spotty, and he mostly muddies the waters here, with three long joint improv pieces. B+(**)
Arild Andersen: Celebration (2010 , ECM): Norwegian bassist, a major figure since 1975, his most recent triumph a 2007 small group with Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith, Live at Belleville. Here he follows Smith home to Glasgow for another live date, this with Smith's beloved Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, working their way through a set of modern jazz standards (Dave Holland, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Trygve Seim, Keith Jarrett, and Andersen). The stars have separate problems here: to make the bass audible the Orchestra has to go quiet, and while Smith has enough volume to tower above his protégés, he doesn't take enough space to redeem the record. In between, the sound seems compressed and shallow. B
Sylvia Bennett: Sonrie (2011, Out of Sight Music): Singer, b. in Italy, raised in US, got her "big break" in 1980s singing for Lionel Hampton; has a half-dozen albums. This one is all in Spanish, all the way down to the liner notes and credits, where the name of Hal S. Batt stands out (bateria y percusiones programadas; guitarras; coros; programación, bajo y cuerdas; producido por; grabado y mezclado por; ingeniero de grabación) plus two songs. No horn credits, so that must be Batt too, but he does seem to have had some help with the strings. I'm tempted to find the arrangements hokey, but Bennett makes it all seem credible. B+(*)
Bill Carrothers: Family Life (2009 , Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1964 in Minneapolis, has 18 albums since 1992, should be counted as a major figure. This one is solo, always something hard to get excited about; thoughtful, logical, as always. B+(**)
Isaac Darche: Boom-Bap!tism (2011 , Bju'ecords): Guitarist, originally from California, now in Brooklyn. First album, an organ trio with Sean Wayland on the B-3, Mark Ferber on drums. Wayland wrote three pieces, Darche four, one cover (Rogers & Hart). Lines are trickier than the norm, and the guitar-organ harmonics are tight. B+(*)
Steve Davis: Gettin' It Done (2011 , Posi-Tone): Trombonist, b. 1967, studied with Bob Brookmeyer and Jackie McLean, played in Art Blakey's last band, has more than a dozen albums since 1996. Basic hard bop sextet here, with Josh Bruneau on trumpet and Mike DiRubbo on alto sax, Larry Willis on piano, plus bass and drums. Mostly upbeat, cools off a bit toward the end, but gets it done -- especially when DiRubbo takes over. B+(***)
Joey DeFrancesco/Larry Coryell/Jimmy Cobb: Wonderful! Wonderful! (2012, High Note): Superstar confab: organ, guitar, drums, all upbeat, rousing even. Plus DeFrancesco plays trumpet on one cut -- damn good at it, too. B+(**)
Yelena Eckemoff: Forget-Me-Not (2011 , Yelena Music): Pianist, from Moscow, Russia; came to US in 1991. Divides her albums between classical, original instrumental, and vocal -- the jazz fits in the middle (and largest) category. Piano trio, with Mats Eilertsen on bass and Marilyn Mazur on percussion. Smart, precise, tasteful, as is everything I've heard from her. B+(***)
Ari Erev: A Handful of Changes (2011 , self-released): Pianist, from Israel, second album; group favors electric bass and extra percussion, and adds Ofer Shapiro's alto sax and clarinet on one track each, but the real news is on the front cover: "Featuring Joel Frahm" -- five cuts on tenor sax, three cuts on soprano, in peak form on both. Piano sparkles, too. B+(***)
Christian Escoudé Plays Brassens: Au Bois de Mon Coeur (2010 , Sunnyside): French guitarist, b. 1947, has a couple dozen albums since 1975, would have picked up a Django Reinhardt influence even without his gypsy ancestry. Songs by Georges Brassens, mostly guitar and not just Escoudé -- Jean-Baptiste Laya is also on most cuts, and Bireli Lagrčne and Swan Berger get featured slots; some cuts add clarinet or violin, most bass and drums. B+(***)
Essex Improviser's Collective: Lifting the Light (2012, Fred Taylor Music, 2CD): Two horns -- Bob Ackerman (alto/tenor sax, flute, clarinet) and Herb Robertson (trumpet/flugelhorn, valve trombone, percussion, voice) -- bass (Chris Lough) and drums (Fred Taylor, with Adrian Valosin doubling up on half the tracks). Two 75 minute discs of group improv, lots of space to open up in. Robertson is the best known player here, and is especially strong. Never ran across Ackerman before, but he has a half dozen albums on avant labels since 1993; seems like someone to look into further. B+(**)
Curtis Fuller: Down Home (2011 , Capri): Trombonist, b. 1934, cut his first records as a leader in the 1950s, and is still running a hard bop sextet here -- Al Hood plays trumpet, Keith Oxman tenor sax, Chris Stephens piano. Has a light touch with pretty conventional material -- no need to go retro when you're the original. B+(*)
Dan Gailey Jazz Orchestra: What Did You Dream? (2009 , OA2): Saxophonist, teaches at Kansas University, doesn't play here but composed and arranged all six pieces, for a conventional big band -- names I recognize (among many I don't) are Al Hood and Don Aliquo -- plus vibes on one cut, but guitarist Steve Kovalcheck plays a larger-than-usual role. Also large are the saxophone parts, something Gailey has genuine feel for. B+(*)
Jacob Garchik: The Heavens: The Atheist Trombone Album (2012, Yestereve): Trombonist, third album, looks like he overdubbed all the parts to his trombone choir (plus sousaphone, baritone horn, slide trumpet, and alto horn), although for his July 25 Release Show he's recruited a who's who of NYC trombone (plus Brian Drye on baritone horn, Joe Daley on sousaphone, and Kenny Wolleson on drums), looking, no doubt, to further raise the rafters. All horns, some recognizable gospel swoops on the turbulent flow. The song notes are more rational, citing Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, Stanley Crouch and Mark Twain and Woody Allen. Conclusion: Be Good. A-
Eddie Gomez: Per Sempre (2009 , BFM Jazz): Bassist, b. 1944 in Puerto Rico; has about 25 albums since 1976, along with hundreds of side credits, perhaps most famously with Bill Evans' trio 1966-77. This was recorded live in Bologna, with Marco Pignataro (tenor/soprano sax), Matt Marvuglio (flute), Teo Ciavarella (piano), and Massimo Manzi (drums). All but the drummer contribute songs, plus they cover "Stella by Starlight." B
Chris Greene Quartet: A Group Effort (2011 , Single Malt): Saxophonist (mostly tenor), b. in Evanston, IL; studied at Indiana; based in Chicago; looks like his seventh album since 1998. Quartet with Damian Espinosa (piano, keyboards), Marc Plane (bass), and Steve Corley (drums), with song credits for all but the drummer, plus Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa" to close. After a preposterous intro by William Kurk, they find a mainstream groove and settle in, with a drum solo setting up Dorham's magnificent riff. B+(*)
Grupo Falso Baiano: Simplicidade: Live at Yoshi's (2010 , Massaroca): Brazilian choro band from San Francisco, fake Bahians Zack Pitt-Smith (reeds), Brian Moran (7-string guitar), Jesse Appelman (mandolin), and Ami Molinelli (percussion). Given that nearly every Brazilian-flavored record I've heard from the Bay Area has been awful, this didn't seem very promising, but this sets a fast pace from the start, even before Jovino Santos Neto (who is the real thing) sits in on piano. Still, even with Neto piano rarely feels right for choro. B+(*)
Jackson Garrett: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (2011, self-released): Ten-piece band (or less, credits aren't clear), led by singer-songwriter Christopher Gore, horn arrangements by Marty Steele (who gets co-credits on four songs), nobody in the band named Jackson and/or Garrett. Gore started out in Maine, passed through Montreal c. 1985, wound up in California. Fourth group album, some female vocals, featured spots for Slim Man and EWF saxophonist Gary Bias. Not enough zip, or maybe just too many clumsy horns, for disco. Truly awful ballad: "Take Me Back to Heaven." C-
Irčne Jacob & Francis Jacob: Je Sais Nager (2012, Sunnyside): French-Swiss actress, b. 1966, has appeared in 40-some films, but this looks to be her first album, backed by her guitarist brother, who wrote the music and a bit more than half of the words. (Four cuts are listed as "inspired by Gilles Deuleuze.") Music has a café feel, but feels more somber, or at least more philosophical. B+(*)
Karen Johns & Company: Peach (2012, Ptarmigan Music/Jazz): Singer-songwriter (pianist Kevin Sanders has co-credits for music on most, but not all, of her songs), works in four covers here, her third album, with husband James Johns playing guitar and producing, the band including sax and trumpet. The covers are most successful, "Chattanooga Choo Choo" a throwback, "Maglio Stasera" and "Sentimentale" excursions into Italian. B+(*)
Jessica Jones/Mark Taylor: Live at the Freight (2011 , New Artists): Tenor sax and French horn respectively -- the latter not to be confused with the Seattle-based tenor saxophonist of the same name -- in a two-horn quartet with John Shifflet on bass and Jason Lewis on drums, a live shot at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, California. Mostly free, the horns have a dull lustre, and they stretch out for a long set, interesting but understated. B+(**)
Bruce Kaphan: Quartet (2012, Wiggling Air): Pedal steel guitarist; AMG classified him as new age, probably for his 2001 album, Slider: Ambient Excursions for Pedal Steel Guitar. Quartet includes piano (John R. Burr or Rick Kuhns), bass, and drums. Pedal steel is essential to Hawaiian music, best known in country (especially Wesern swing), and has popped up in gospel, but I couldn't think of jazz musicians using it. Still can't. B-
Stacey Kent: Dreamer in Concert (2011 , Blue Note): Standards singer, although her husband, saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, writes some tunes, including two here that she matched to texts by Kazuo Ishiguro. B. 1968 in New Jersey, based in England, AMG lists 17 albums since 1997. She has a small voice that I find especially charming in French. This is live, a long set, a bit of everything she does, including two Jobims (that she aces), yet another "It Might as Well Be Spring" (the most distinctive of the many I've heard this week). She plays some guitar, and Tomlinson's sax is always supportive. B+(***) [advance]
Sara Leib: Secret Love (2011 , OA2): Standards singer, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory, settled in Los Angeles. Second album; second one I've played today that started off with "It Might as Well Be Spring." Band has some strong spots, including Dayna Stephens on tenor sax, Eric Harland and Richie Barshay on percussion, Taylor Eigsti or Aaron Parks on piano. Has a warm but indistinct voice, sounds especially nice on "All I Have to Do Is Dream," but much of this just slipped past me. B
Rusk (2012, Fenetre/The Loyal Label): Various artists compilation, out of Norway, although the better known artists are based in New York -- including Filipino altoist Jon Irabagon (doing a dubbed WSQ goof), Korean cellist Okkyung Lee, Norwegian bassist Eivind Opsvik, and trumpeter Nate Wooley. Mostly solo pieces, a few duo, two trios -- Splashgirl's closer is as close as anyone gets to catchy. Packaging is short on notes and legibility; gave it a second shot after locating the hype sheet, written by Chris Monsen. B+(*)
Jane Scheckter: Easy to Remember (2011 , self-released): Standards singer, has acted on stage and in sitcoms, fourth widely spaced album (1988, 1993, 2003). She nails virtually every song, with a band built around Tedd Firth (piano), Jay Leonhart (bass), and Peter Grant (drums). But the "featuring" guests are even better, with Tony DeSare up for a duet, Gil Chimes adding harmonica on an especially delicious "Where or When," and "featuring" slots from the Arbors set: Bucky Pizzarelli, Aaron Weinstein, Warren Vaché, and every singer's best friend, Harry Allen. B+(***)
Christian Scott: Christian aTunde Adjuah (2012, Concord, 2CD): Trumpet player, from New Orleans, b. 1983, nephew of alto saxophonist Donald Harrison. Not sure what the intent of this big time gesture is, especially what all the Africanisms refer to, but it maintains a persistent groove, and (aside from the opening bars) features Scott's most impressive trumpet to date. B+(*) [advance]
Jesse Stacken: Bagatelles for Trio (2011 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, b. 1978, fourth album since 1978, a trio with Eivind Opsvik (bass) and Jeff Davis (drums). Thirteen numbered pieces called "Bagatelle" -- abstract playthings, built around odd rhythms. B+(*) [advance]
Heiner Stadler: Brains on Fire (1966-74 , P&C Labor, 2CD): German pianist, moved to New York in 1965, hooking into the avant jazz scene, winding up with the original release of this album in 1973 (three cuts), followed by a second volume (three more cuts) in 1974. This drops one track from the second volume ("Pointed") and adds three previously unreleased pieces, one a blowout with the Big Band of the North German Radio Station (including Manfred Schoof, Gerd Dudek, Albert Mangelsdorff, and Wolfgang Dauner). The rest are small groups, mostly with Jimmy Owens on trumpet and Tyrone Washington or Joe Farrell on tenor sax; the exception is a bass-vocal duet, Reggie Workman in fine form, but Dee Dee Bridgewater is barely audible. But everything else crackles. B+(**)
John Surman: Saltash Bells (2009 , ECM): Plays reed instruments -- soprano, tenor, and baritone sax; alto, bass, and contrabass clarinet this time -- and has since the late 1960s. Also plays synthesizer and harmonica, and multitracks various combinations throughout here. Not sure how many times he's done this before -- must be a handful -- but I don't recall any of them being this charming. A-
Richard Sussman Quintet: Continuum (2012, Origin): Pianist, b. 1946, based in New York, teaches at Manhattan School of Music. Fourth album -- first was Free Fall in 1979. I don't get much out of the leader's piano, but he managed to line up Randy Brecker on trumpet/flugelhorn and Jerry Bergonzi on tenor sax, and they are stellar, as usual. Also guests Mike Stern on one cut. B+(*)
Take 6: One (2012, Shanachie): Six-part gospel vocal group, fourteen albums since 1988 (counting at least three Xmas joints). Not quite a cappella but the main instrumental credit is programming, usually Khristian Dentley, sometimes David Thomas. One song by Stevie Wonder, who checks in for quality control. In a world where hundreds of iterations of "Alleluia" counts as an original, they need help. C+
Erena Terakubo with Legends: New York Attitude (2011 , 4Q): Alto saxophonist, b. 1992 in Sapporo, Japan, which would make her about 19 when this was recorded (don't have dates, but the record was originally released in Japan last year); attends Berklee. The Legends are Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, Lee Pearson (drums), and Dominick Farinacci (trumpet). Two originals, mostly hard bop covers. Nice, bright tone, some sharp trumpet breaks, and the rhythm section keeps her shakin'. B+(**)
Yvonne Washington with Gary Norman: Trust in Me (2011, Mercator Media): Standards singer, b. in San Antonio 60-some years ago, based in Houston since 1973. Second album as far as I can tell, following a Billie Holiday tribute c. 2001. Norman plays piano, all the accompaniment she gets, or needs; her church voice and intricate phrasing are striking, but she does have a tendency to pile on too much of a good thing. B+(**)
Cory Wong: Quartet/Quintet (2012, self-released, 2CD): Guitarist, b. in Poughkeepsie, NY; grew up in Minnesota. Second album, one disc Quartet, the other Quintet, the difference subtler than you'd expect: the Quartet alternates pianists Dan Musselman and Kevin Gastonguay, while the Quintet keeps Musselman on piano and moves Gastonguay over to Fender Rhodes, while using a couple different bassists (including Wong). Maintains a nice groove, not a lot more than that. B
Miguel Zenón & Laurent Coq: Rayuela (2011 , Sunnyside): Puerto Rican alto saxophonist, one of the most impressive to emerge since 2000, teams with a French pianist with a half-dozen albums of his own since 1999, for a set of tunes loosely based on a novel by Julio Cortazar. With Dana Leong, who has much more fun with his trombone than with the cello -- the latter is my main reservation here, not the first time that Zenón's fondness for strings has tripped him up. Also Dan Weiss, on drums, tabla, all things percussive. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, July 15. 2012
Someone asked yesterday whether I'd be running a Weekend Roundup this week, and I replied "no, probably not." Didn't have anything stashed away, but since then I found a few things. Classification sysem is a little ricketty, as I wound up quoting from some of the links I had intended as future references, while leaving the top section dominated by Romney bashing. There will be a lot more of that before the season's out. And hopefully it will get nastier, because if anything these critics are too kind.
Links I saved but never did much of anything with:
And, in non-political news:
Tuesday, July 10. 2012
It's rather interesting, given how much lip service we give to business, how few notable businessmen have been elected president. (You do find more Senators, especially on the chronically underfinanced Democratic side where self-financed candidates are appreciated.) The most successful businessman of any president in the last 150 years was Herbert Hoover, who presided over the nation's greatest depression. About the only others to come remotely close are Jimmy Carter and the two Bushes, which add up to three more recessions plus the current depression. Three of those were one-termers, and the fourth wasn't exactly elected in the first place. The Bushes, of course, came from a political dynasty where their businesses were largely subsidized by their political friends -- all the more reason to discount them.
So the evidence suggests that successful businessmen haven't been at all successful as presidents: that the skill sets are different, as is the measure of success. Krugman barely scratches at the surface as to why this is. The second Bush, more with his Harvard MBA than due to his failed businesses, indicates how deep the downside of electing a businessman can be. After all, by his own lights Bush was a fabulously successful president -- albeit only for his class, but then that's all a CEO is expected to do. He cut taxes on the rich, while propping the economy up through massive fiscal stimulus, which is to say debt; he all but stopped antitrust enforcement, allowing the economy to become ever more cartellized; he planted lobbyists in every federal department, drastically curtailing regulation; he tipped the scales of justice, making it harder for people to sue corporations, making bankruptcy more difficult, and packing the courts with cronies; he outsourced federal jobs, weakening the civil service and creating whole new classes of patronage. He did a lot more bad stuff, like starting two major wars and sticking his successor with them, but that's beyond his business training. During his watch the very rich -- the kind of people who sponsor politicians like himself -- did quite well, while everyone else got screwed.
Romney worked in a different field of business -- private equity capital -- and made a lot more money on the way, but he bears a lot of resemblance to Bush, starting with a political-pedigree name that opened doors in business and offered the promise that some day he would repay those favors in politics. How much he actually contributed to Bain Capital's bottom line isn't clear, but there is no reason to think he broke any new ground in the business. The basic scheme of private equity is straightforward: you look for businesses, preferably undervalued but with a reliable cash flow, with owners who want to cash out; you cash them out by putting up a small amount of your own money and getting the company to borrow the rest; you squeeze the company, selling off assets, cutting costs including wages and jobs, and paying yourself huge management (often paid for with more debt); then you restructure and cash out, or if you were too efficient at squeezing, go bankrupt. Bain was one of dozens of outfits following this formula, and having a telegenic figurehead with a recognizable name must have aided the con. (Indeed, the elder Bush went to work for Carlyle Group after losing the 1992 election, doing the same sort of thing with more emphasis on military contracts and Saudi cash, the sort of graft he was most expert in.)
Krugman is right that private equity is an unsavory business: one that makes nothing but profits stripped from company assets, most notably the company's credit rating. One might expect Romney to ruin the federal government the same way Bain Capital ruined its acquisition companies, a frightful thought. But that's pretty much exactly the way Bush ran the government: I wouldn't want to go on record denying that Romney could add anything worse, but the test of his style of business management has already been made, and we are living with the results.
Aside from Hoover, the examples of businessman-presidents are all recent, suggesting that we've become more benign in our view of businessmen only recently -- since, I would say, the Cold War invested so much effort in lionizing capitalism and in burying the working class. Most recent is the popularity of the term "job creator" as a synonym for businessman, even though every private sector pink slip in history was originated by business management: "job destructor" would be just as accurate, although really the employment rate is determined more by the government's macroeconomic policy than by anything businessmen do. All businesses do is seek to maximize profits under the prevailing circumstances, boom or bust.
What's been forgotten is that throughout American history most people were conscious that businesses profited at their expense. Krugman looks back on Andrew Carnegie as the principal builder of the US steel industry, but more accurately he was the architect of the trust that monopolized that industry, and during his lifetime he was better known for a strikebreaking massacre than for his libraries. Henry Ford, even more so, was a guy who built things, but he was clearly not the sort you would want to place the public trust with -- he was another infamous strikebreaker, and perhaps America's most notorious anti-semite. "Robber baron" wasn't exactly a term of endearment.
We haven't completely lost that sense of the villainy at the heart of so many businesses, and it is making a comeback. One person who's paving the way is Mitt Romney, who's become emblematic of one of the worst strains of capitalism in the world today.
By the way, a big story here in Wichita is that what used to be Beech Aircraft is being sold to the Chinese. Beech was founded in Wichita, and run locally until 1994 when the Beech family sold out to Raytheon, a big defense contracting firm based near Boston. In 2006, Raytheon cashed out, selling Beech and Hawker to a group of private equity investers led by Goldman Sachs and Onex, to form an independent company saddled with a ton of debt. Hawker Beechcraft filed for bankruptcy in May of this year, and now has an offer to buy what's left by a Chinese company, Superior Aviation Beijing. There's no reason to think the company wouldn't be viable without all the debt the private equity companies piled on (and paid themselves with). This doesn't look good for the workers, who have already paid time and again for each change of ownership. Even if the Chinese keep the plants open here in Wichita, they will transfer technology and know-how back home, undercutting our local industry.
Elsewhere Krugman points to this TPM article on Romney fundraisers (in the mansions of Ronald O. Perelman, Clifford Sobel, and David Koch), which in turn points to a Los Angeles Times article, including this quote:
Interesting how Romney manages to tie together so many strands of the ruling class in this country, dragging them out in public so all can see.
Monday, July 9. 2012
Music: Current count 20143  rated (+27), 743  unrated (-13). In the normal cycle of things I'd hold off on the new jazz and pay more attention to Rhapsody, especially as July's Streamnotes column still looks anemic (27 records, only one A-, and that not on Rhapsody), but I haven't been able to think of much I wanted to play. (Rhapsody's own new release suggestions: Prodigy of Mob Deep, Infamous, Flo Rida, Linkin Park, Chris Brown, R. Kelly, Delicate Steve, Flaming Lips, Maroon 5, Justin Bieber, The Offspring, Joe Jackson, some stuff I haven't even heard of. And I'm not finding much more with my metacritic file.) And the heat wave has been relentless, so I just wound up attempting to knock down the new jazz queue.
One minor methodological note: I've started holding back reviews of records that I'm still uncertain about, specifically high B+(***) that time and further play might (conceivably, but not necessarily) nudge over the A- cusp. In the old days I'd offer a preliminary bracketed grade and return to them later, but I've fallen out of that practice. Ari Erev's A Handful of Changes triggered this change, and I also have Branford Marsalis Quartet's Four MFs Playin' Tunes in the same limbo. Also sitting on Miguel Zenón's Rayuela, which isn't scheduled for release until July 31. Nonetheless, two records escaped my inclination to hedge.
J.D. Allen Trio: The Matador and the Bull (2012, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1974, seventh album since 1999, has a strong individual voice, usually able to hold center court even with just bass and drums -- Gregg August and Rudy Royston this time -- support. But this one seems awfully tame, his tone not quite pitched for a ballad thing, but not enough energy for anything else. B+(*)
Bill Barner: Ten Tunes (2011 , self-released): Clarinet player, first album, wrote all ten tunes, played with Stan Smith on guitar, Roger Hines on bass, and Danny Aguiar on drums. Draws in bits of world music, some raga, Brazilian rhythms, a whiff of klezmer keeping the album moving smartly. B+(*)
Bruce Barth: Three Things of Beauty (2012, Savant): Pianist, b. 1958 in California, studied at New England Conservatory and Berklee, has about ten records since 1994. This is piano trio plus vibes (Steve Nelson), lively postbop with lots of accents. B+(**)
Chloe Brisson: Blame It on My Youth (2011 , self-released): Standards singer, cut a record in 2007 when she was 13, so she must be something like 17 here. Has studied with Sheila Jordan, who joins in for the last song here, and she's managed to round up a reputable band here, including Fred Haas on sax, Marvin Stamm on trumpet, Bill Mays on piano, and Matt Wilson on drums. B+(*)
Cactus Truck: Brand New for China! (2011 , Public Eyesore): Dutch trio: John Dikeman (saxophones), Jasper Stadhouders (guitar and bass), Onno Govaert (drums). They make a lot of noise, much like The Thing but they're not very good at controlling and focusing it. B
Cynthia Felton: Freedom Jazz Dance (2012, Felton Entertainment): Standards singer, third album. Producer and arranger credit: Dr. Cynthia J. Felton; also executive producer. When not flaunting her Ph.D., she's also good for cheesecake photos. Voice is a little hard to peg, unusual enough it stands out for better but also for worse. She runs through a long list of musicians here: cover gives "featuring" credits to Cyrus Chestnut, Robert Hurst, Ernie Watts, Wallace Roney, John Beasley, Terri Lyne Carrington, but most of those last for only one or two cuts (Hurst 3, Beasley tops at 6). Songs are all over the map, a tribute to her learning more than to her talent. B
Katie Guthorn: Why Not Smile? (2012, self-released): Standards singer, moved to Bay Area in 1978, has taught voice since 1988, performed in the Zazu Pitts Memorial Orchestra, but this looks to be her first album. Mixes "more contemporary compositions, by Joni Mitchell, Ben Folds, R.E.M. and Stevie Wonder" in with the old moldies. Band includes three guys named Haggerty, with Tim the producer/arranger, bass and keyb player, presumably responsible for the string and flute sounds and maybe the bubbly Latin beats. Some songs, including "Call Me" (the Tony Hatch song, a hit for Petula Clark) and "Lush Life," work fine, but others stiffen up, or get swallowed by the goop. B-
Human Spirit: Dialogue: Live at the Earshot Jazz Festival (2011 , Origin): Seattle group, named for recent Thomas Marriott album -- Marriott plays trumpet, Mark Taylor alto sax, and Matt Jorgensen drums, each contributing tunes (Marriott 4 of 8, the others two each), but since that doesn't quite make for a modern postbop band, they added "special guets" Orrin Evans (piano) and Essiet Essiet (bass) -- Evans was an especially inspired choice. B+(*)
Andy Jaffe: Manhattan Projections (1984-98 , Big Round): Pianist, director of the jazz program at Williams College, has three albums since 1984, also a book, Jazz Harmony. This was his first album, six cuts released on Stash in 1985, a CD reissue in 1992, another reissue in 2001 from Playscape. This edition adds a seventh cut from the original session, plus five more from 1991 and 1998 -- the former with tenor sax, French horn, and trombone; the latter piano duets with Tom McClung. The original album featured Branford Marsalis (tenor/soprano sax), Wallace Roney (trumpet), Ed Jackson (alto sax), and Tom Olin (piccolo and maybe baritone sax on a cut or two -- accounts differ). Marsalis and Roney were emerging as powerhouse mainstream players at the time, so it's fun to hear them blowing away. Also nice to hear the piano emerging in the later pieces, but neither highlight is all that remarkable. B
Sabrina Lastman: The Candombe Jazz Sessions (2011 , Zoho): Singer-songwriter, b. in Uruguay, based in New York, passing through the Jerusalem Academy of Music & Dance. Has at least one previous album. Backed by Emilio Solla (piano), Pablo Aslan (bass), and David Silliman (drums) here, plus occasional guests. Candombe is an Africa-derived music from Uruguay and Argentina, with a distinct set of drums. Makes an appearance here, along with various hybridizations I can't begin to sort out. B+(*)
Linda Lavin: Possibilities (2012, Ghostlight): Standards singer, presumably the same as the actress who headlined the TV sitcom Alice (1976-85), which would make her 74 -- cover photo notwithstanding. (Inside cover photo does look older, but still not 74. On the other hand, Hal Prince's liner notes start with a reminiscence of meeting her in 1961, when she was already working on Broadway.) Billy Stritch plays piano, arranges, leading a band that includes trumpet and guitar. Most songs work nicely ("It Might as Well Be Spring," "'Deed I Do," "Rhode Island Is Famous for You," "Walk Between Raindrops"); only the obligatory Jobim ("Corcovado") falls flat. B+(*)
Jeremy Long: In Suspension (2011 , Innova): Saxophonist (unspecified, pictured with a tenor on the album back, with an alto on his website). First album, trio with Steven Snyder on organ and Jason Tiemann on drums. Lets is rip. Nothing wrong with that. B+(*)
Manner Effect: Abundance (2011 , self-released, CD+DVD): Group debut album, with singer Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Caleb Curtis on saxophones, Logan Evan Thomas on piano, PJ Roberts on bass/guitar, and Josh Davis on drums: at least that's what the website says -- don't see any credits on the album. Group members (especially Charles, but rarely alone) wrote most of the songs, with Chick Corea, Michael Jackson, and Antonio Carlos Jobim the outsiders. Has some moments, like the sax break on "Corcovado" -- or any time the sax nudges the singer to the side. Didn't watch the DVD. B-
Tony Monaco: Celebration: Life-Love-Music (2012, Chicken Coup/Summit): Organ player, has a half-dozen records since 2001, mostly live. This one returns to the studio, lots of upbeat organ groove, occasionally punctuated by Ken Fowser's sax. Two vocal pieces, one a big choral hymn, the other a croon. B+(*)
Ivo Perelman/The Sirius Quartet: The Passion According to G.H. (2011 , Leo): Brazilian tenor saxophonist, prolific in free jazz for over twenty years, meets up with a New York-based string quartet, classical in form (two violins, viola, cello) but leans more avant-garde. I figure the titular "G.H." to be violinist Georg Huebner. I'm torn here between the often extraordinary sax leads and the strings, which hit tones I find maddening and often hang on to them long enough to turn into something else. B+(**)
Ivo Perelman/Matt Shipp/Gerald Cleaver: The Foreign Legion (2011 , Leo): Avant Brazilian tenor sax player, has developed into a very expressive player, in a power trio with piano and drums -- no bass, but that just gives Shipp more room to maneuver, and he has some tricks up his sleeve. Second play I turned the volume down and it revealed an unexpected subtlety to Perelman's blowing. Turn it up and he just blows you away. A-
Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Clean on the Corner (2010 , 482 Music): Drummer, from Chicago, has made a point of excavating the city's avant jazz lore, often to remarkable effect. Fourth album by this project/ensemble -- also has a group called Loose Assembly. Looks back with One song each by Roscoe Mitchell and John Jenkins, forward with six originals. Core quartet spins two saxophones off each other, with Greg Ward on alto and Tim Haldeman on tenor, plus Jason Roebke on bass. Adds Craig Taborn on two cuts -- past midway you suddenly realize there's a piano in the mix -- and Josh Berman (cornet) on two others. A-
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: XXI Century (2011 , 5Pasion, 2CD): Pianist, b. 1963 in Cuba, moved to US in 1996 but had already built up an international reputation. Has close to thirty records -- The Blessing (1991) and Paseo (2004) are my favorites. This is trio (Matt Brewer, Marcus Gilmore) plus featured guests -- percussionist Pedrito Martinez on most cuts, guitarist-vocalist Lionel Loueke on two, drummer Ignacio Berroa on one. Four originals (one reprised); pieces by Brewer and Loueke; covers from important pianists Lennie Tristano, Bill Evans, and Paul Bley. Superb piano. B+(***)
Woody Shaw: Woody Plays Woody (1977-81 , Savant): Previously released material, live from Keystone Korner in San Francisco, five cuts from 1977, one from 1981; all originals to show off the leader's compositional skills, but of course they're mostly frameworks for hot and heavy trumpet blowing. B+(*)
Rich Thompson Trio: Generations (2011 , Origin): Piano trio, led by the drummer, with Chris Ziemba on piano and Miles Brown on bass. Thompson studied at University of Oklahoma, teaches at Eastman School of Music, has appeared in the Count Basie and Glenn Miller ghost bands, and has side credits going back to 1984. Mostly covers (Ornette Coleman, John Scofield, Barry Harris, "I Thought About You"), with one piece by Thompson and three by Brown. Ziemba doesn't seem to have much of a discography, but his light touch works nicely here. Doug Stone's tenor sax on the closer is another lift. B+(*)
Tumbledown House: Fables and Falsehoods (2012, Silent Coyote Music): Duo, singer Gillian Howe and guitarist Tyler Ryan Miller, bill themselves as "gritty saloon jazz from Bozeman, Montana" and, with help from a few players from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, "an upbeat, 1920's big band romp." Despite the jazz shadings, from the principals as well as the band, the murder ballads mark them as Americana, and the light touch should be welcome there. B+(**)
Turn Around Norman: We Turn Around (2010 , TAND): Quartet, name is a character in the Tom Robbins novel Skinny Legs and All, first album: Cam Collins (alto sax), JJ Wright (piano, wurlitzer), Adam Hopkins (bass), and Nathan Ellman-Bell (drums), with all but the drummer contributing pieces. Mostly freebop, mostly sharp, but the final piece bulks up and slows down. B+(**)
Matt Ulery: By a Little Light (2012, Greenleaf Music, 2CD): Bassist, from Chicago, has at least two previous records, one as Matt Ulery's Loom. Makes a major effort here as a composer, spreading twelve pieces across two discs. Personnel varies, using either Ben Lewis or Rob Clearfield for piano, Jon Deitemeyer or Michael Caskey on drums, Jim Davis on trumpet, Michael Maccaferri on clarinets, Tim Munro on flutes, plus two or three strings, and occasional vibraphone or marimba. Second disc adds voice, either Grazyna Auguscik or Ullery. Goes some way toward arguing that jazz is the new classical music, or is it vice versa? B+(*)
Joanna Weinberg: The Piano Diaries (2011 , Kissingpoint): Singer-songwriter, b. in London, studied acting at University of Cape Town in South Africa, moved to Sydney, Australia in 1997. Only album I've found, although bio says she's "written 3 musicals and 9 one-woman shows, all of which have been performed on the professional theatre circuit in Australia and South Africa." Inspiration here was resuming piano lessons "after 20 years," but she got her teacher, Rafael Hazario, to play on the album. Does have that show tune feel, even a bit of cabaret at the end. B+(**)
Florian Wittenberg: Artefacts: Solo Electronics (2005-11 , GEMA): B. 1973 in Berlin, studied Music Technology at Utrecht School of the Arts (Netherlands), and in 2005 moved on to Centre de Création Musicale Iannis Xenakis in Paris. Five pieces of solo electronics, two titled "Nuageux" with numbers. No beat, not much volume, long on texture. B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (actually, two weeks):
Saturday, July 7. 2012
I more or less gave up on reading Matthew Yglesias's blog shortly before he moved to Slate, and have rarely looked at him since. Don't know whether I will much in the future, either, but I thought I'd give him another try, and scrolled through a month's posts -- he does produce a lot of material. And I pulled out the most interesting quotes below -- generally (but not always) things I agreed with. Would have pulled out a different set if I tried to critique him: I'm not convinced by his knee-jerk efforts to find market mechanisms (or at least tax manipulations) to solve all problems, and he has an anti-left streak that often slips into mere contrarianism. And I'm not sure what I think of his urbanism -- obviously something that means much more to him than to me.
Reversed the order, so the old stuff is first. Not sure if it's worth digging back deeper, but I was getting diminishing returns -- a lot of his posts have a pretty limited shelf life.
Friday, July 6. 2012
Several stories going around recently about Jonathan Krohn, one-time 13-year-old conservative wunderkind, now at 17 some sort of movement apostate supporting Obama and gay marriage -- e.g., this one by Benjy Sarlin, and another by Alex Pareene. Reminds me that I wrote a squib on his 2010 book:
I remember that when I was nine I gave a speech, on the occasion of Wichita being selected as an "All American City," to my entire elementary school that was full of patriotic platitudes, and when I was thirteen I fell under the influence of a close friend who was a rabid Barry Goldwater supporter -- although I seriously doubt that even then I had any sympathy for Goldwater's anti-civil rights views, nor for his rabid belligerence, especially vs. Vietnam. (Within a year, my views on those subjects firmed up, and by the time I was seventeen I was solidly new left -- a stance I eventually moderated but never disowned.)
So I was familiar with the notion that one could shift political views after age thirteen. On the other hand, I'm not sure how often it actually happens. I doubt, for instance, that my Goldwater friend ever moved much, although I haven't heard of him in 45 years. Among what passes for thinkers on the conservative side, nearly all were born to the calling, and few ever gave it a second thought (Buckley Jr. and Bill Kristol certainly didn't). After all, it could hardly be easier to think that all is right in a world you were born to lord over.
Tuesday, July 3. 2012
Continuing to follow my nose here. Joe Cocker popped up on some lists a few months back, but I wound up holding the note up -- never expect to cover him like I did Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer last time. Plug, Soul Stirrers/Swan Silvertones, and Francis Bebey were recent Christgau picks. Found the Swan Silvertones and the Alex Bradford on my unplayed shelves, and streamed an extra Soul Stirrers, but nowhere near all of them -- my patience for gospel is pretty thin, even though these are prime specimens. Liked the Cash contrast, but I still haven't heard Bootleg Vol. III. Wrote a little squib on Bebey and tried to beg a copy. Never got one, nor even a reply, but I like the looks of the album cover in the right-side stack. The Franklin was a leftover, something I listened to when I was doing her catalogue but left out because I didn't want to get into comps. Might have been nice to also do the companion set, The Very Best of Aretha Franklin: The '60s, but I had rated it previously -- an A, of course.
I did receive a copy of the Woody Shaw box (but none of the others mentioned below), so I wanted to move that. In that case I had previously heard two of the give constituent albums, plus five more sets, enough to get a sense of what his rep was about. Also had the Savant in the queue, and thought I'd explore some more. Didn't find much, but didn't hit everything there, either. Still, he does have records better than those reviewed here: I mentioned The Moontrane (1974) in passing, and there's also In My Own Sweet Way (1987), one of his last. So this isn't quite a career summary for Shaw, but neither was last month's tour through what I didn't know about Franklin. Recycled Goods is still in some sort of limbo, where it make sense to me to include some things and not others.
The Small Faces sets are an example. There are four new 2-CD sets, each adding an extended list of outtakes and whatever to one of their first four albums. They're one of the few Brit Invasion groups I never much listened to -- at least beyond the occasional "Itchycoo Park" -- and I've long admired Ronnie Lane, so I made a project of them. But I didn't feel like trying to swallow them whole until I had an idea of the records proper, so I went into Rhapsody, brought them up, and whittled off the ephemera (what they call "bonus tracks"). After that I felt even less like delving into their trivia.
Peter Appleyard and the Jazz Giants: The Lost Sessions 1974 (1974 , Linus): Previously unissued session with a little-known English vibraphonist and a group who justify their billing as Jazz Giants: Bobby Hackett (cornet), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Urbie Green (trombone), Hank Jones (piano), Slam Stewart (bass), and Mel Lewis (drums). Lost Sims albums are always welcome, Jones sparkles, and the vibes add some twinkle. Over-padded with 25 minutes of outtakes at the end, the chatter less a problem than the quick-stop fragments. B+(**)
Paul and Linda McCartney: Ram (1971 , Hear Music): One wonders what young people today might make out of a first listen of "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" -- an ubiquitous single at the time, but actually just a pastiche of ye old music hall with spurious sound effects -- let alone the deservedly obscure rockers that are mostly reiterations of titles like "Monkberry Moon Delight" and "Too Many People" and "Love Is Long" (oh, that's "Long Haired Lady"). At the time he probably thought he was pushing the envelope, although more likely he was just licking it, hoping for drugs. At any rate, he hadn't yet turned into the hack he became. What Linda contributed is anyone's guess. B- [R]
Plug: Back on Time (1996 , Ninja Tune): Short-lived alias for Luke Vibert, who's done more business as Wagon Christ, more still under his own name. In 1995 Vibert issued three drum 'n' bass EPs as Plug, followed by the album Drum 'N' Bass for Papa in 1996 -- all later compiled into a 2-CD set I haven't heard. These tapes date from that period. I've never sorted out what makes drum 'n' bass different from any other electronica flavor, but I like these beat fine, and find the scattered vocals -- samples mostly -- add useful bits of character to the mix. A- [R]
The Soul Stirrers: Shine on Me (1950 , Specialty): The venerable gospel group dates from 1926 in Texas, but more important landmark dates are 1936 when Alan Lomax made the group's first field recording, and 1937 when R.H. Harris joined as lead singer. They were reportedly popular in the 1940s, but I'm having trouble finding recordings before they cut these 24 sides for Specialty in 1950. Then Harris quit, and was replaced by the much younger, and much smoother, Sam Cooke. Harris' voice, while high enough to come clear, would never be taken for angelic -- his rough edges convey the struggle ordinary men have to face in everyday life, supported by his cohort's rhythm but little else. A-
Woody Shaw (1944-89) was the last trumpet player featured in Tom Piazza's very useful The Guide to Classic Recorded Jazz (1995, University of Iowa Press). He recorded from 1965-87, starting up in hard bop -- cf. Horace Silver's The Jody Grind (1966) -- and never really going anywhere else. His early records were mostly for Muse, with 1974's The Moontrane possibly as good as he got, although he rarely sounded less than exemplary -- even on otherwise uninteresting albums.
He got a break in 1977 when Columbia signed him -- reportedly at the suggestion of Columbia's trumpet star, Miles Davis -- and turned him loose on five albums, reviewed below. Sony's Legacy division has started to release compact "complete Columbia albums" boxes of their major jazz artists, and Shaw's box is the first (and thus far only) one I've been able to inspect. The others I'm aware of (some drawn from Sony's RCA catalog): Dave Brubeck (19 CDs), Stanley Clarke (7), Paul Desmond (6), George Duke (6), Stan Getz (8), Dexter Gordon (7), Mahavishnu Orchestra (5), Return to Forever (5), Wayne Shorter (6), Nina Simone (9), Grover Washington (9), and on a completely different scale (71) Miles Davis; also a few non-jazz artists: The Byrds (13), Leonard Cohen (11), Sam Cooke (8), John Denver (25), Kansas (11); and some classical music, including Arturo Toscanini (85) and Arthur Rubenstein (142).
Woody Shaw: The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (1977-81 , Columbia/Legacy, 6CD): An inch-thick box which cracks open to reveal six stiff LP-replica covers plus a 20-page booklet, with Stepping Stones spread over two discs with different sets of cover art; for album details, see below, but in general this depends on how much you luxuriate in Shaw's rich, deep tone -- rarely recorded more lushly; also note that Victor Lewis plays drums on the first five. B+(*)
Woody Shaw: Rosewood (1977 , Columbia): The trumpeter's first major label album is majorly ambitious, the crack quintet of two cuts expanding to big band strength on the balance, with bandmates Onaje Alan Gumbs, Clint Houston, and Victor Lewis contributing songs; not sure if the title reflects on the 1923 massacre in Florida that John Singleton turned into his surreal 1998 film, but the album was reissued at the time. B+(**)
Woody Shaw: Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard (1978 , Columbia): Live quintet shot, with Carter Jefferson (tenor and soprano sax), Onaje Alan Gumbs (piano), Clint Houston (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums); hard to think of this as postbop given that they're still enthralled by the notion that speed is all that matters; matches the 2005 reissue, which lost one track from the 1979 original but picked up three (two previously unreleased). B+(*)
Woody Shaw: Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard [Bonus Tracks] (1978, Columbia): Continuing on, one track gerrymandered from the original album, four more -- only one from the band, the others: "Solar," "On Green Dolphin Street," and "Days of Wine and Roses" -- previously unreleased, but returns with the 1979 cover art; more varied, plus a lot more Carter Jefferson. B+(**)
Woody Shaw: Woody III (1979, Columbia): All originals, starting with three numbered, self-named pieces arranged for a dozen musicians, with the fourth piece reduced to a sextet with dueling alto saxophonists Rene McLean and James Spaulding, and the saxes trimmed for the closer so the leader can wind up. B+(*)
Woody Shaw: For Sure! (1979-80 , Columbia): Larry Willis moves into the piano chair and contributes a song, but only 2 (of 7) songs are limited to Shaw's quintet (Curtis Fuller's trombone the second horn), the rest adding extra brass (Steve Turre), reeds (Gary Bartz, Carter Jefferson, James Spaulding), percussion (Nana Vasconcelos), and strings; the latter threaten to ick up the works, but the trumpet is sharp and bracing, clearing the air. B+(*)
Woody Shaw: United (1981, Columbia): Quintet plus Gary Bartz (alto sax) on 2 (of 6) cuts, Steve Turre's trombone the second horn, Mulgrew Miller in the piano seat, Tony Reedus taking over the drum slot, title song by Wayne Shorter; the least ambitious and least exciting album in the series, and also the last, not that the trumpet doesn't have a few sterling moments. B
Francis Bebey: African Electronic Music 1975-1982 (1975-82 , Born Bad): A minor legend from Cameroon and Paris, started in the early 1960s, died in 2001; this pulls together synth-backed ditties from what must have been his prime, mostly in French, a couple in English. A- [R]
Alex Bradford: Rainbow in the Sky (1954-58 , Specialty): Also known as Prof. Alex Bradford, dominates his group, so dynamic he gets likened to Little Richard (and vice versa); mostly unissued tapes, loses something when the choir (or Bessie Griffin) gets out front -- they tend to wail, but the Prof. knows the way. B+(***)
Johnny Cash: Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth (1975-83 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Three gospel albums from the fat middle of his career -- as opposed to his 1959 Hymns and his 2003 My Mother's Hymn Book, a lifetime concern that I credit less to his piety than to his need to "keep movin'": one shelved in 1975, a double from 1979, and another set from 1983 with outtakes to boot; in awe of the power of salvation, earnest in his failings, and too modest to condemn others, with flashes of his trademark rhythm, a little boogie even. A- [R]
Joe Cocker: Joe Cocker! (1969, A&M): One of the great English blues voices applied to contemporary rock songs, pumped up by Leon Russell's church-trained organ, this was the album that set up the tour documented on Mad Dogs and Englishmen; having gotten to the latter first, I find this a bit superfluous, but at the time this must have impressed mightily. B+(***) [R]
Joe Cocker: With a Little Help From My Friends (1969, A&M): His first album, a few months ahead of the eponymous one, a few songs with his name on the credits -- not his strong suit; title arrangement is brilliant but wearing; of two Dylan songs, "Just Like a Woman" is unexceptional, but "I Shall Be Release" sweeps away the original. B [R]
Cotton Mather: Kontiki [Deluxe Edition] (1997 , Star Apple Kingdom): Austin band, cut three albums 1994-2001 of which this one has the rep, including the Oasis seal of approval; sounded more Byrds than Beatles to me at first, but filtered through Big Star and distorted further, at times annoyingly so. B+(*)
Aretha Franklin: The Very Best of Aretha Franklin: The '70s (1970-76 , Rhino): Part of a generally superb series of 16-cut, design common comps, split into two slices for Franklin because, well, why not? The '60s slams harder, of course, and doesn't have anything as iffy as "Bride Over Troubled Water" (not that she doesn't turn in the best one ever), but the relative obscurity just shows what a pro she was becoming. A- [R]
Carole King: The Legendary Demos (1962-71 [2012, Hear Music): A legendary songwriter before she stepped up to the mic and recorded the best selling album of the 1970s, of course she has a shelf full of song demos, and of course they should be legendary -- too bad they aren't: oversung, ham-fisted pounding piano, many with superfluous background vocals, half bound for Tapestry, the others for better singers and arrangers. B- [R]
Wes Montgomery: Echoes of Indiana Avenue (1957-58 , Resonance): Early tapes, four cuts from an unknown studio session and the rest gigging around Indianapolis, his fingerpicking less fluid than it would soon become, the pianists more into boogie, but there are hints of charisma and genius, especially on a final blues improv which you don't have to read any future interest into. B+(***) [R]
Motel Lovers: Southern Soul From the Chitlin' Circuit (1989-2006 , Trikont): The title comes from Marvin Sease's 1989 song, but most of the songs here are from the 2000s, with most of the artists in their 60s, aging blues and soul singers like Bobby Rush and Gwen McRae out to prove they can still talk the talk, and occasionally discover a new wrinkle, like Barbara Carr's "Down Low Brother." B+(***)
Porter Ricks: Biokinetics (1996 , Type): Layering Thomas Köner's ambiences electroniques over Andy Mellwig's heartbeat-like throb, eight tracks adding up to 70:19 of minimalism, acute enough you could dance to it, but you'll probably just enjoy the aura of life. B+(***) [R]
Woody Shaw: Blackstone Legacy (1970 , Contemporary): Possibly Shaw's first album as a leader -- Cassandrite was mostly recorded earlier, but came out later -- a blistering sextet initially spread out over two LPs, six songs on four sides; saxophonists Bennie Maupin and Gary Bartz claim their space and play rough, which turns the trumpeter on. B+(**) [R]
Woody Shaw: Little Red's Fantasy (1976 , Savoy Jazz): Three originals, plus compositions from bassist Stafford James and pianist Ronnie Matthews, in a quintet with Frank Strozier on alto sax and Eddie Moore on drums; a little weak to start, and the postbop tendency to rumble along never quite gains traction. B+(*) [R]
Woody Shaw: Woody Plays Woody (1977-81 , Savant): Previously released material, live from Keystone Korner in San Francisco, five cuts from 1977, one from 1981; all originals to show off the leader's compositional skills, but of course they're mostly frameworks for hot and heavy trumpet blowing. B+(*)
Woody Shaw: Night Music (1982 , Elektra Musician): Hoping for a little quiet storm, but the only time this slows below a gallop is on the closing "All the Things You Are," which gives the trumpet some room but loses the band; trombonist Steve Turre doesn't offer much as second horn, nor does "special guest" Bobby Hutcherson (on vibes). B- [R]
Small Faces: Small Faces (1966, Decca): Latecomers to the Brit Invasion, Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane tried to make up for it by scratching their blues licks raw and bloody, but didn't come up with anything that sounded like a hit, or a blues, or Cream or Led Zeppelin, even though they were certainly trying. B+(*) [R]
Small Faces: From the Beginning (1965-66 , Decca): Second album, cobbled together quickly from earlier sessions, hence the title, but the first two cuts veer from their blues thrash into fashionable psychedelia (e.g., "My Mind's Eye"), and the second side is stuffed with soul covers ("Come Back and Take This Hurt Off Me," "Baby Don't You Do It"), still better than their originals. B [R]
Small Faces: There Are but Four Small Faces (1967 , Immediate): Moving on to Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label, their third LP was again eponymous in the UK, but renamed and reordered in the US to feature "Itchycoo Park," the closest they came to a hit single; the songwriting is tighter, less genre-specific, and I hear more Ronnie Lane, but they struggle, and occasionally suffer (e.g., "Tin Soldier"). B [R]
Small Faces: Ogden's Nut Gone Flake (1968, Immediate): Post-Pepper, everyone's a conceptualist, carried through here with connective dialogue, songs that sink all the way through psychedelia into folkie singalongs, and special packaging you thankfully don't have to deal with in the digital era; in four short albums, they've gone from the Yardbirds (without chops) to the Bonzo Dog Band (without jokes). B [R]
The Soul Stirrers: Jesus Gave Me Water (1951-55 , Specialty): When R.H. Harris departed, baritone R.B. Robinson recruited a 19-year-old replacement: Sam Cooke; early on he fills in, then shares leads with Paul Foster, and later Julius Cheeks -- all three names make the front cover; you'll have no trouble recognizing Cooke in his solos, but you mostly notice the rough tumble of the backing voices. B+(**) [R]
Swan Silvertones: Love Lifted Me/My Rock (1952-53 , Specialty): Another venerable gospel group, founded in the 1930s, featuring Claude Jeter and Robert Crenshaw in a vocal group that never fails to lift you up, even when they sing about Jesus. A-
Henry P. Warner/Earl Freeman/Philip Spigner: Freestyle Band (1984 , NoBusiness): Spigner's hand drums set up a nice homely vibe that Warner's clarinet sometimes flows with and sometimes cuts against; Freeman plays electric bass and piano, most often against the current, just to keep it all interesting. 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 98, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3319 (2920 + 399).
Monday, July 2. 2012
Music: Current count 20116  rated (+25), 756  unrated (-6). Was ill most of last week. Doubt that it was anything serious, but didn't feel like listening to music, much less writing about it, and when I did finally feel a bit better I skipped new jazz for Recycled Goods. Rated count is a bit inflated because I also did some work comparing database files and fixed some discrepancies. So Recycled Goods is in fairly good shape, due to run tomorrow. However, no Jazz Prospecting this week. Not sure about next week either. Only have 23 records in the draft for July's Rhapsody Streamnotes, but that seems about par this time of the month, at least for the last 3-4 months. Downloader's Diary is also drifting toward mid-month. What's unusual is that I don't have any A- records queued up -- best I can do is B+(***): Far East Movement, A Place to Bury Strangers, Otis Taylor, Bobby Womack. Nor does much else look promising.
I've seen some people kicking around mid-year lists. I currently have 48 records on this year's A-list. Can't compare exactly to last year's total, when I wound up with 121 (by freeze date, Jan. 18; I've added 8 more since then). But I am able to compare Christgau's database: in 2011 he had 39 A-list records by July 1, and 94 by Jan. 18, so he got 41.4% by this time. If I'm to wind up with 121 like last year, I've nabbed 39.6% of them thus far. That's too close to support a claim that this year sucks, even though I'm starting to feel that way. Christgau has 40 A-list records so far this year -- one more than last, so no real change. He counts compilations, which I don't, and he likes EPs much more than I do, but I cover much more jazz, so I usually end the year with about 20% more A-list records.
Haven't processed the week's unpacking yet. Next time.