Sunday, September 30. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Links for further study:
Thursday, September 27. 2012
Once again, it's been way too long since the last batch of new book notes -- July 21 -- and how far behind I've dropped is only beginning to sink in as I've spent the last few days searching around. Forty follow, all politics and history: many important, a few dangerous (or at least despicable). There's at least as many left in the file -- admittedly, some stubs -- plus I expect to find more the more I look. That could result in a follow-up next week or in a month or two.
Donald L Barlett/James B Steele: The Betrayal of the American Dream (2012, PublicAffairs): Journalists, wrote their first book on this subject back in 1992 (America: What Went Wrong?), then followed it up in 1996 (America: Who Stole the Dream?), and nothing's happened since then to take their subject away. They tend to lead with an onslaught of facts, so expect that. I used to be wary of Middle Class/American Dream arguments, partly because the implicit narrative behind them is one of aspiring to be ever richer. However, the new story line is one of struggling to avoid poverty, nipping at your heels, meaner than ever.
Michael Bar-Zohar/Nissim Mishal: Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service (2012, Ecco): One of a rash of recent books on the world's best-publicized spy force, boasting of their great works, not just abductions and assassinations (although there have been plenty of those). Others include: Gordon Thomas: Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad (784 pp.; , sixth ed., paperback, 2012, St. Martin's Griffin); Dan Raviv/Yossi Melman: Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars (paperback, 2012, Levant Books); Ephraim Lapid/Amos Gilboa, eds.: Israel's Silent Defender: An Inside Look at Sixty Years of Israeli Intelligence (2012, Gefen). For a somewhat more balanced view, see Daniel Byman: A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism (2011, Oxford University Press).
The Bush Institute: The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs (2012, Crown Business): After eight years as president with virtually no net growth once they blew away the housing bubble, Bush's advisers think they've finally figured out how to grow the economy. GW wrote the forward. The book proper claims five Nobel economists, starting with Robert Lucas -- probably the most completely discredited man in the profession -- and ending with Myron Scholes, the genius behind Long Term Capital Management (long since defunct).
James Carville/Stan Greenberg: It's the Middle Class, Stupid! (2012, Blue Rider Press): Note: comma omitted on front cover, suggesting several alternative parsings. Professional political hacks, i.e., people who somehow get paid for getting it all wrong. I've never liked Obama's middle class fetishism, but that's probably his idea of defensible ground, along with all the other God and patriotic gore he peddles. If Carville has any redeeming merit, it's that he's often crass, and once in a blue moon right.
Michael J Casey: The Unfair Trade: How Our Broken Global Financial System Destroys the Middle Class (2012, Crown Business): Australian reporter, takes an international view of the crisis. Not sure how well the "middle class" angle ties in here, although the drive of the financial elites to skim an ever greater slice of the profit and the race to the bottomn of the labor market are certain to take their toll on anyone in between.
Steve Coll: Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (2012, Penguin Press): A corporate biography from the Exxon Valdez disaster to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, with plenty of bumps along the road. [link]
Gail Collins: As Texas Goes . . . : How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda (2012, Liveright): Political reporter, raised in Ohio, groomed in Connecticut, tramps around Texas in search of what stinks, which turns out to be pretty much everything, except perhaps the people's sense of humor. Previously wrote When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present (2009, Little Brown); before that America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines (2003, William Morrow), and Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celegbrity, and American Politics (1998, William Morrow), and most recently a biography of William Henry Harrison (in a Times Books series -- looks like she drew the short straw).
Edward Conard: Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You've Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong (2012, Portfolio): Romney's buddy at Bain Capital, takes pseudo-contrarian stands mostly to argue that he (and Romney) should be making even more money, that inequality is a great thing, and that if you don't believe him you're just a sore loser, an envious shithead.
David Crist: The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran (2012, Penguin Press): Latest news charges Iran with launching denial-of-service cyberattacks against New York banks. Wonder where they got that idea? Google "stuxnet": a computer virus the US developed and Israel used against Iran. Cyberattacks are effectively acts of war, even though they have yet to escalate to guns and rockets. There is much to complain about the Iranian government, but the 30-year conflict Crist writes about was born of ineptness at how badly the US reacted to the ouster of a Shah originally installed by the CIA but who had mutated into an embarrassment -- a wound that the US has continued to ineptly pick at, mostly hubris but aggravated once Israel decided to make Iran their public enemy number one. Today we seem closer than ever to war -- arguably with the cyberattacks, assassinations of Iranian scientists, support for the MEK terrorists, and above all sanctions meant to cripple Iran's economy, the US is already committed to war by one means or another.
Christopher de Bellaigue: Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup (2012, Harper): Background on the man who may have been the best hope ever for a democratic, peaceful Iran, except that he objected to Britain's fraudulent control of Iranian oil -- a 19th-century grant of the long-defunct Qajjar dynasty -- so the British pressured the US to orchestrate a coup in 1953.
EJ Dionne Jr: Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (2012, Bloomsbury): Liberal-leaning political journalist, gives more credit to conservatives than they deserve, but that doesn't necessarily lead to the sort of confused centrism that is the norm of the socalled liberal media. Seems likely that Dionne will make the point that sometimes people back conservatives for good reasons -- although most clearly what they get are ignorant brutes set on destroying what's left of civilization.
John Dower: Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering: Japan in the Modern World (2012, New Press): Wrote two important books on Japan (War Without Mercy and Embracing Defeat, then took his eye off his niche when the Bush people tried to claim Japan as a model for how well they'd do rebuilding Iraq, but here he returns to his chosen field. Looks like this carries the first two books forward in history as both countries made mental and cultural adjustments that allowed them to work together (even if not on equal terms).
Dinesh D'Souza: Obama's America: Unmaking the American Dream (2012, Regnery): Having previously discerned Obama's inner Mau-Mau (Newt Gingrich: "the most profound insight I have read in the last six years"), right-wing America's favorite adopted con man further discovers that Obama "wants a smaller America, a poorer America, an America unable to exert its will, an America happy to be one power among many, an America in decline so that other nations might rise -- all in the name of global fairness." Of course, as a matter of principle, the right's against anything that smacks of fairness, but four years into Obama's presidency, that's the best case they can make? I should probably do a full post on the latest round of Obama hate literature, but it's so uninspired and empty. Some examples: Deneen Borelli: Backlash: How Obama and the Left Are Driving Americans to the Government Plantation; Ann Coulter: Mugged: Racial Demagoguery From the Seventies to Obama; Bruce Herschensohn: Obama's Globe: A President's Abandonment of US Allies Around the World; Hugh Hewitt: The Brief Against Obama: The Rise, Fall & Epic Fail of the Hope & Change Presidency; Paul Kengor: The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor; Aaron Klein: Fool Me Twice: Obama's Shocking Plans for the Next Four Years Exposed; Edward Klein: The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House; Stanley Kurtz: Spreading the Wealth: How Obama Is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities; David Limbaugh: The Great Destroyer: Barack Obama's War on the Republic; Richard Miniter: Leading From Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him; Kate Obenshain: Divider-in-Chief: The Fraud of Hope and Change; Katie Pavlich: Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and the Shameless Cover-Up; Michael Savage: Trickle Down Tyranny: Crushing Obama's Dream of the Socialist States of America; Phyllis Schlafly: No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.
Peter Edelman: So Rich, So Poor: Why's It's So Hard to End Poverty in America (2012, New Press): Could it be because once Nixon appointed Donald Rumsfeld to head up Equal Opportunity nobody cared and nobody tried? Edelman worked for Robert Kennedy in the 1960s, much later for Bill Clinton in the 1990s before resigning when Clinton signed the 1996 "welfare reform" bill -- Clinton's own term for it, as I recall, was "a sack of shit."
Kurt Eichenwald: 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars (2012, Touchstone): Focuses on 18 months, a little over 500 days, from 9/11/2011 to the invasion of Iraq, following Bush and company through their tortured logic leading to tortured prisoners, countering terror with "shock and awe" -- as someone must have said, "the mother of all terrors." Digs up some juicy quotes, my favorite so far Chirac's "Does anyone know what he was talking about?"
Charles H Ferguson: Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (2012, Crown Business): Director of the Oscar-winning film Inside Job -- in his acceptance speech Ferguson pointed out that three years into the depression no one has gone to jail for the financial manipulations that nearly bankrupt the country, so the point here seems to be to name names and lay out the case for the prosecution.
Norman G Finkelstein: Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance With Israel Is Coming to an End (2012, paperback, OR Books): Hard to guess how this will play out as political prophecy, but it certainly is the case that there has been a steady erosion of Jewish-American support for Israel as the David-Goliath table has turned, as Israel's has become more right-wing anti-democratic, as Israel's political leaders become ever more contemptuous of human rights and the desire for peace -- in short, as Americans learn more about what actually goes on under the aegis of The Jewish State. At the very least, Finkelstein can be counted on to help understand the history. Finkelstein also has another short (100 pp) book, What Gandhi Says: About Nonviolence, Resistance and Courage (paperback, 2012, OR Books).
Richard L Hasen: The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown (2012, Yale University Press): Book came out in August, but would be much longer if author had waited until after November to assess the rash of voter ID laws Republicans put in place after winning so many 2010 elections. Say what you will about Obama, the economy, health care reform, and the Tea Party, the difference between 2008 and 2010 came down to a massive drop in voting, from 116 to 83 million: the more people the Republicans can keep away from the polls, the better their chances. Don't know whether Hasen spells this out or not, but "gaming the system" is no less than an attack on the fundamentals of democracy.
Christopher Hayes: Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (2012, Crown): The idea that anyone could rise in America commensurate with their talent, effort, and achievement, is passé. America is an oligarchy, not a meritocracy, and Hayes at least has finally figured that out. Lots of reasons are possible here: the simplest is that in a declining economy -- the measure of which is median wages and wealth, and both in real terms have declined for more than 30 years -- the elites have fewer job slots available, and the rich want them for their own idiot offspring. By the way, it wasn't Obama and Clinton who decided to tank the country -- they were poster boys for the meritocratic impulse, or would have been if their politics were more right-wing; it was the business elites who thought they were maligned in the 1970s and who thought they were brilliant in the 1980s who pushed their short-term self-serving game way past its limits and luck.
Chris Hedges/Joe Sacco: Days of Destruction Days of Revolt (2012, Nation Books): Pine Ridge, SD; Camden, NJ; southern WV; Imoakalee, FL; Occupy Wall Street. Hedges reports, and rails; Sacco illustrates (although he has a book in his own right called Journalism).
Tom Holland: In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire (2012, Doubleday): Wrote two books of ancient history, one on Rome (Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic) and one on the Middle East (Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West), and now has two more even more complementary, The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West, which runs from Otto to the Crusades, so this adds to the back story, the rise of Islam. When I read Forge, I was struck by the nastiness of his take on Islam, which doesn't bode well here.
Seth G Jones: Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of Al Qa'ida Since 9/11 (2012, WW Norton): RAND analyst, wrote a useful book on Afghanistan (In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan), but lately has turned into a full-time apologist for the US occupation of Afghanistan. If this book is honest, one thing you will see is how little the US military contributed to the "hunt" -- even granting that the Bin Laden kill was their action. Still, you won't find Jones questioning the whole mission, or how the US earned Al-Qaeda's enmity in the first place.
Yaakov Katz/Yoaz Hendel: Israel Vs. Iran: The Shadow War (2012, Potomac Books): Documents Israel's ongoing activities to wage war against Iran -- assassinations, computer viruses, sanctions, political subversion -- as well as various Israeli wars against supposed Iranian fronts like Syria, Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, finding them all inadequate, favoring a full-out attack. For more pro-war propaganda, see Robert D. Blackwill/Elliot Abrams, et al., Iran: The Nuclear Challenge (paperback, 2012, Council on Foreign Relations Press).
Paul Krugman: End This Depression Now! (2012, WW Norton): A basic, straightforward guide to what is wrong with the economy today, and what can (and should) be done about it. Analysis is basic macroeconomics from Keynes to Minsky to Bernanke (who used to know something about this before he became the bankers' tool). Doesn't put as much emphasis on the role of inequality as I would, but does at least recognize that the recovery is stalled mostly by political design, and can prove that. Also lots on the Euro, which is a different problem, also political.
Mike Lofgren: The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (2012, Viking): Some sort of Washington insider, which may be why he's stuck in the trap of blaming both parties, when the main thing wrong with the Democrats is that they let Republicans play them for suckers -- a problem exacerbated by the middle-of-the-roaders who keep legitimizing the right, but it's deeper than that: in a system where success depends on chasing money, the Democrats who are most successful are most easily estranged from their constituents. In that, the main difference between the parties isn't their common ideology, but how they shape that message to be palatable by their voters. No idea whether Lofgren gets this, but at least he's started to notice that the collateral damage is getting close to home.
Keith Lowe: Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II (2012, St Martin's Press): Focuses on the turmoil Europe suffered after the defeat of the Third Reich -- the massive destruction, the displaced people, the more/less punitive (or sometimes just inept) occupations (especially the Soviets in eastern Europe), the struggles between partisans and collaborators, etc. Quite a few books have started to focus on this, perhaps because way too many policy people had such a rosy view of occupation going into Iraq in 2003.
James Mann: The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power (2012, Viking): Wrote a book about the Bush administration which was less inside story than useful background (Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet). This suggests less coherence, which is likely true, especially as one tries to fathom the depths of the military-security state and how intractable it seems -- not that it helps that Obama doesn't have a coherent view in the first place.
Thomas E Mann/Norman J Ornstein: It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism (2012, Basic Books): The US Constitution predates the development of political parties, assuming that a delicate balance of powers would lead reasonable men to compromise. This system has failed several times, notably over the issue of slavery leading to the 1861-65 Civil War, and is failing again, as the Republicans have combined a winner-takes-all view of tactics with an ideology that argues that anything government does is likely to be bad so there is no downside to obstructing a government led by their enemies. Previously wrote The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (2006; paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press).
David Maraniss: Barack Obama: The Story (2012, Simon & Schuster): Big bio (672 pp.) that doesn't get very far: he leaves off with Obama still in his 20s, leaving plenty of room for future volumes, a project I've seen likened to Robert A Caro's still-unfinished LBJ series, expecting him to spend most of his career digging up trivia about Obama and his family.
Miko Peled: The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine (2012, Just World Books): Memoir, touching on his father's complicated role in Israel's wars and postwar politics, and on his niece, the victim of a suicide bomber, but mostly on the country he grew up in.
Paul Preston: The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain (2012, WW Norton): Less well known than the early Inquisition launched in 1492 to rid Spain of its Jews and Muslims, but actually linearly connected, the rubric under which Franco executed tens of thousands from 1936 to 1945, a period when he was allied with Nazi Germany. Preston previously wrote, The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, and Revenge (2nd ed, paperback, 2007, WW Norton).
Seth Rosenfeld: Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Another big book (752 pp.), but the author managed to get hold of 250,000 pages of FBI files on student radicals from Berkeley's Free Speech Movement into the 1970s. J. Edgar Hoover got his first taste of power in the Palmer Raids of 1919, so he rarely missed an opportunity to sniff out subversives -- an obsession with thought control you'd think un-American. One story uncovered is how close Hoover was to Reagan, who built at least one leg of his career on bashing students. Seems like an important book.
Michael J Sandel: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Philosopher, previously wrote Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (2009), poses various questions about what should or should not be up for sale. If he can find anything, the notion that markets have limits is significant.
Kay Lehman Schlozman/Sidney Verba/Henry E Brady: The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Policy (2012, Princeton University Press): Argues that "American democracy is marred by deeply ingrained and persistent class-based political inequality," and backs that up with enough statistics to choke a horse (728 pp). True, of course, as is the intuition that democracy depends on an effort to effect and affirm equality even if it isn't strictly factual. This isn't impossible, or even terribly difficult: for most of US history the notions that we were created equal, that we stand equal before the law, that we should enjoy equal opportunities, that the government is subject to the will of the people, etc., has been ensconced in patriotic myth -- anything else would be un-American.
Robert Skidelsky/Edward Skidelsky: How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life (2012, Other Press): Pivotal question, one that should provide against all sorts of other obsessions, including working yourself to death. It should help that Robert Skidelsky is the biographer of John Maynard Keynes, who thought even more about the good life than he did about the pursuit of money.
Joseph E Stiglitz: The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future (2012, WW Norton): The top 1 percent of Americans control 40 percent of the nation's wealth, which makes that wealth unavailable for remedying the real problems we face. Let's go a bit further and say that that much inequality is itself a problem, which I hope Stiglitz manages to demonstrate. Nor is the problem just numbers, as Stiglitz's Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Add Up shows.
Charles Townshend: Desert Hell: The British Invasion of Mesopotamia (2011, Harvard University Press): The original Gulf War, 1914-24, when Britain drove the Ottomans out of Iraq and found their colonial intentions quite unwelcome and imperial cronies unwelcome -- "a cautionary tale for makers of national policy."
Nick Turse/Tom Engelhardt: Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare 2001-2050 (paperback, 2012, CreateSpace): What it says, although maybe not the first. See also: Medea Benjamin: Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (paperback, 2012, OR Books). There is also a small shelf full of drone techie books, like Bill Yenne: Birds of Prey: Predators, Reapers and America's Newest UAVs in Combat (paperback, 2010, Specialty), and Matt J Martin: Predator: The Remote-Control Air War Over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot's Story (paperback, 2010, Zenith Press).
Patrick Tyler: Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country -- and Why They Can't Make Peace (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Nearly everyone in Israel (women as well as men, but not Palestinians, and not some Ultra-Orthodox) is drafted into the military, most remaining in the reserves until they're 49 -- a degree of militarization unknown anywhere else in the world. The military in turn becomes a stepping stone toward career success, especially in politics but also in business. The net effect is to drive Israel ever more to the right politically, into a bind where the greatest threat to the system that so many key people benefited from is peace. So this in itself is a big part of why there is no peace in the region.
Richard Wolff: Occupy the Economy: Challenging Capitalism (paperback, 2012, City Lights): Economic professor, doesn't like the way things have been going, "in conversation with David Barsamian," so he likely keeps it basic and to the point. In 2009, Wolff wrote Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
James Carroll: Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignored Our Modern World (2011; paperback, 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): The city in history and myth, from Abraham through the Assyrians and Romans and Crusaders to Arafat and Olmert, a sad tale -- an object lesson in fetishism, don't you think? [link]
Thomas Frank: Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (2012, Metropolitan Books; paperback, 2012, Picador): Disgraced by reality -- the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the inept government response Katrina, the revolt against Bush's "mandate" to gut social security, the collapse of the entire Western economy followed by trillions of dollars of bailouts -- the right bounced back by embracing fantasy, and cowed the media (much wholly owned by the right anyway) to go along and pump up the "tea party" effort. [link]
Richard Wilkinson/Kate Pickett: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (2009; paperback, 2011, Bloomsbury Press): Important book on how greater inequality is bad for your health, as well as general well being. [link]
Monday, September 24. 2012
Music: Current count 20485  rated (+31), 646  unrated (-12).
Nothing special to add about this week. Remarkably ordinary, at least as far as music is concerned: in addition to depleting some of the jazz backlog, finding lots of better-than-average albums, October's Recycled Goods draft stands at 33 albums, Rhapsody Streamnotes at 8, both slowly growing. Unpacking looked anemic until I added in today's haul (not in the stats above) -- now it's close to par, about 50 per month, or 600 per year, close to what I usually get, even though a couple publicists seem to think I've died.
Also wrote a bit on the Terminal Zone web plan. Would be interested in any comments, wish lists, and/or technical advice -- especially if you have any experience building Mediawiki sites. Thus far all I've been able to do is install it, after which it sits blankly, possibly realizing that I have no clue what to do next.
Josh Berman & His Gang: There Now (2011 , Delmark): Cornet player, based in Chicago, third album, His Gang an octet, with five horns -- Berman, Jeb Bishop (trombone), Guilhermo Gregorio (clarinet), Jason Stein (bass clarinet), and Keefe Jackson (tenor sax) -- vibes (Jason Adasiewicz), bass (Joshua Abrams), and drums (Frank Rosaly). The horns (even the clarinets) have a lot of firepower, often glorious, sometimes fracturing or skidding, while the vibes do a nice job of following the crowd. B+(***)
George Cables: My Muse (2012, High Note): Pianist, b. 1944, worked his way through Art Blakey's boot camp, recorded frequently (and magnificently) with Art Pepper (1979-82), has 30-some albums since 1975, a mainstream stylist of exceptional touch and taste, which makes it all the harder to pick among his many trios, like this one with Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis. I'm especially touched by his "My Old Flame." B+(***)
Ed Cherry: It's All Good (2012, Posi-Tone): Guitarist, b. 1954, played with Dizzy Gillespie 1978-92, also with Henry Threadgill's Very Very Circus group; cut three albums 1993-2001, with this his fourth. Organ trio, with Pat Bianchi and Byron Landham. Tasty, but rather light. B+(*)
Anat Cohen: Claroscuro (2011 , Anzic): Israeli reed player, based in New York, leads with her clarinet here but also plays tenor and soprano sax. Mostly quartet, with Jason Lindner on piano, Joe Martin on bass, and Daniel Freedman on drums. About half Brazilian tunes, with Paquito D'Rivera guesting on four. Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon joins in on two, and sings "La Vie en Rose." Closes with Abdullah Ibrahim's "The Wedding." B+(***)
Denise Donatelli: Soul Shadows (2012, Savant): Singer, fourth album, not sure I'd call these standards except for "All or Nothing at All," but she's fine when the songs and arrangements are up to it. Geoffrey Keezer plays musical director and piano. He likes extra percussion, just a touch of horns and strings, the latter icky. "Another Day" is the odd song out, or in. B
Joe Fiedler's Big Sackbut (2011 , YSL): Trombone player, b. 1965, sixth album since 1998, including a tribute to Albert Mangelsdorff, and an A-listed album last year (Sacred Chrome Orb). This is a trombone quartet, or close -- Ryan Keberle and Josh Roseman also play trombone, but Marcus Rojas plays tuba. Not the first to try something like this (cf. Ray Anderson's Slide Ride), but the tuba gives this some extra bounce, and the bones take the hint. B+(***)
Gato Libre: Forever (2011 , Libra): Fifth album for this group led by Japanese trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, who writes all the pieces, with Satoko Fujii playing accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura guitar, and Norikatsu Koreyasu bass. Not much action out of the accordion this time -- when they recorded live in Europe Fujii seemed to tap right in to the folk-dance tradition -- so interesting as this is it never really takes off. B+(*)
Uli Geissendoerfer: Colors (2011 , Black Coffee Music): Pianist, b. Munich, Germany; two previous albums. This "world jazz quintet" is mostly a vehicle for singer Pascale Elia, who is engaging enough -- I even find myself enjoying her take on "Norwegian Wood," normally one of those kiss-of-death jazz album songs. B
The Harris Group: Choices (2011 , self-released): Lots of competing users for this name, but this looks to be a Chicago group led by guitarist Ric Harris, with bass, drums, and vibes, plus Chris Greene guesting on soprano sax (two cuts). As groove music -- or should we say soul jazz? -- bass/vibes offers a refreshing contrast to the usual Hammond, lighter and faster than the norm. B+(*)
Mark Masters Ensemble: Ellington Saxophone Encounters (2012, Capri): Big band arranger, b. 1957, started on trumpet, cut records for Sea Breeze in the 1980s, founded American Jazz Institute in 1997. This adds to his tribute projects (Jimmy Knepper, Clifford Brown, Porgy and Bess, Dewey Redman: five saxophonists -- Gary Smulyan, Pete Christlieb, Gene Cipriano, Gary Foster, and Don Shelton -- have a go at Ellington's sax legends, with no one quite reminiscent of Johnny Hodges or Ben Webster, not that that's a fair complaint. B+(**)
Donny McCaslin: Casting for Gravity (2012, Greenleaf Music): Tenor saxophonist, technically among his generation's greats, often known to explode and run away with other people's records, but his own records more often than not leave me cold -- exception, 2008's Recommended Tools, especially with the fancy postbop layering. The backing here is relatively straightforward, with Jason Lindner favoring electric keybs over piano, Tim Lefebvre on electric bass, and producer David Binney slipping in some further synth -- all of which mean the sax is constantly front and center. B+(***)
Hendrik Meurkens/Gabriel Espinosa: Celebrando (2012, Zoho): Meurkens was born in Germany, Dutch parents, gravitated to Brazilian music early (his 1989 album was called Samba Importado), initially playing vibes but switching to harmonica. Espinosa is from Mexico, has a similar fascination with Brazil (his first album was called From Yucatan to Rio), plays bass and sings (five songs), composed four songs here (as did Meurkens; piaist Misha Tsiganov contributed two more). Anat Cohen (clarinet, tenor sax) and Antonio Sanchez got their names on the front cover and pics on the back. It's a mess. C+
Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. VII: Sankei Hall, Osaka, Japan (1980 , Widow's Taste, 2CD): I've probably lost my credibility here, given that this makes six straight Pepper authorized bootlegs I've given this same grade to -- they cheaped out on Vol. VI and only sent a sampler, so that's the hole in the list, but even with excess talk, thin sound, and a set list I've heard several times before, I can't go lower. For one thing, he's got George Cables on board -- the pianist he used on most of his studio recordings, but has been absent thus far on the boots. But also he's at a personal peak, which for him means more or less midway between jail and death. Simplest way to describe him is that he refracted up every modernist impulse from Parker to Coltrane to Coleman, but (excepting Johnny Hodges, of course) he also maintained the sweetest alto sax tone of all. A-
Bobby Sanabria Big Band: Multiverse (2011 , Jazzheads): Drummer, b. 1957 in the Bronx, folks Puerto Rican; studied at Berklee, and perhaps more importantly with Mario Bauza, who gets a toast here. Started with small groups, moving up to a big band with 2007's Big Band Urban Folktales, and he pretty much owns that niche now. Picks up momentum, ending with a La Bruja rap that starts with history and plunges into the future. B+(***)
Elliott Sharp's Terraplane: Sky Road Songs (2012, Enja): Guitarist, b. 1951, has a huge discography including 17 solo albums, a bunch of string quartets and orchestral pieces, and now seven albums with Terraplane, his blues group. He dedicates this one to the late Hubert Sumlin, including a sample. Songs are new, some written by Joe Mardin, who appears on nearly every song with one odd credit or another. Eric Mingus and Tracie Morris sing, Alex Harding and Curtis Fowlkes blow, Dave Hofstra and Don McKenzie keep the beat straight. B+(*)
Wadada Leo Smith & Louis Moholo-Moholo: Ancestors (2011 , TUM): Duets, trumpet and drums, not that either should need introduction, Smith coming out of the AACM, Moholo (not sure why he expanded his name) from South Africa's legendary Blue Notes. Cut in Finland, a little spare but both players continually rise to the occasion, providing a lot to focus on. A-
Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii: Muku (2011 , Libra): Married couple, longtime collaborators, reduce their focus to trumpet and piano duets; should be intimate, but their styles clash and the instruments tend to separate out, a thrill when Fujii breaks out knocking chords every which way. B+(**)
Leon Foster Thomas: Brand New Mischief (2012, self-released): Plays steel pan, b. 1981, has a previous record. Group here includes Allen C. Paul on piano, plus bass and drums. The steel pan is similar enough in tone to the piano that this starts off like an upbeat piano trio before the pan tones emerge clearly. Nice trick. B+(*)
Ryan Truesdell: Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans (2012, ArtistShare): Of course, this is much more enticing as Gil Evans' unfinished work, on his 100th birthday no less, than it would be attributed to unknown arranger Truesdell, and I've seen reviews that go whole hog and file the record under Evans' name. It stands up nicely, if not all that consistently, on its own, the huge orchestra -- 32 instrumentalists plus three vocalists slotted with one song each -- is full of players who don't need to hide in a crowd. Aside from the solos, I found myself tracking the vibes (Joe Locke), a little sparkle on top of all the lushness. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Wednesday, September 19. 2012
I understand that Jeffrey Goldberg and others have attacked an op-ed by Maureen Dowd for being anti-semitic. The offending line seems to have been the title, Neocons Slither Back. To understand how anti-semitic this title is, you first have to realize, as Goldberg put it, that in using "slither" "she is peddling an old stereotype, that gentile leaders are dolts unable to resist the machinations and manipulations of clever and snake-like Jews." You also have to assume that neocons are Jewish, a mental process that involves blotting out such infamous figures as Dick Cheney, John Bolton, and Fouad Ajami, although I suppose she (or Goldberg) could be arguing that those neocon gentiles (as well as their followers, like G.W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney) are really manipulated dolts.
I picked up the Goldberg quote from Dylan Byers at Politico, who provides many more uselessly out-of-context quotes, like Daniel Halper calling "it" (whatever it is) "outrageous," and Jonathan Tobin describing something as "particularly creepy." Byers quotes Max Fisher as saying, "[The] weirdest part of the anti-semitic tropes on the Dowd column is how lazy they are," without explaining what tropes those were, or why they were "on" the column and not "in" it -- I'd parse this as meaning Goldberg et al. were the lazy ones.
Parsing itself is fairly critical here. As someone who's had his titles mangled by everyone from editors to typesetters, I try to say what I mean at least once in the article. Dowd uses the word "slither" only once in the article, when she quotes Paul Wolfowitz, "slimily asserting that President Obama should not be allowed to 'slither through' without a clear position on Libya." But here the imputed serpent isn't Jewish (or neocon, or Republican); rather, it sounds at least vaguely racist, but then that's easy to do when the object of one's scorn happens to be black (or for that matter Jewish). In many cases the writer is just trying to spritz up a bit of language, and it's best not to read too much in it.
That's certainly the case with Dowd, whose piece often appears to be written in a private language. For instance, her first line threw me: "Paul Ryan has not sautéed in foreign policy in his years on Capitol Hill." It took some delving into Wiktionary to come up with any plausible deciphering of this line, but it turns out that the French verb sauter has a slang usage "to bang, jump, have sex with." Still, if what you wanted to say was that Ryan was a virgin in foreign policy, wouldn't it have been much clearer to say, "Ryan was a foreign policy virgin"? (Personally, I'd rather say, "Ryan has never fucked with foreign policy, and therefore has never fucked it up.")
And Dowd does more spritzing to even more dumbfounding effect: Romney foreign policy adviser (or, as Dowd puts it, "neocon puppet master") Dan Senor was "secunded to manage the running mate [Ryan]" -- presumably she means "seconded" (temporarily assigned). She refers to Romney and Ryan as "both jejeune about the world"; most likely "jejune" (naive, simplistic, lacking matter, devoid of substance). She also refers to Romney as "Mittens," but not consistently enough to make a style or attitude out of it; more like a brain fart.
I don't normally read Dowd, so this column mostly served as a reminder why. Still, she did come up with one remarkable quote from Ryan:
As I recall, "moral clarity" was a favorite G.W. Bush term, which is to say the guy who's response toward peacemaking in Israel-Palestine was, "Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things." The decade prior to that was the only period where the US took a role in attempting to bridge the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and and Bush squandered that by endorsing Sharon's show of force. After Bush, Obama made a pathetic gesture at returning to America's pre-Bush role as an "honest broker" in favor of peace, an effort Ryan decries as "indifference bordering on contempt" because it presumes that Israel would benefit from peace, even though Netanyahu wants no such thing.
But in terms of moral clarity, the bit about Syria and Libya is even more confused. Many of those "dissidents" in Syria Ryan wants to help are Islamists, as were the "dissidents" the US helped in Libya (who in turn attacked the Benghazi consulate there). Indeed, the US has a long history (at least back to the Afghan mujahideen in 1979) of supporting Islamists who ultimately turn on us, a track record that would give anyone knowledgable and sane pause. Obviously, that excludes Ryan and Romney (who may well not know better), and their neocon advisers like Senor (who probably does but doesn't care, so committed are they to perpetuating US conflicts in the region).
MJ Rosenberg, on Dan Senor:
Some relevant links in Dowd's defense (along with Rosenberg above):
Tuesday, September 18. 2012
Given my total wipeout in the month of August, it seemed likely I would wind up skipping a month with these notes, but I figure I picked up enough in the last couple weeks to make a showing. They are, after all, the easiest calls I make: often just one play, then jot down some quick notes (often before it's done). Things that seem exceptionally good (or promising) may get a second spin, if for no other reason to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. But stuff that sounds like crap from the start (yes, I'm thinking of Dirty Projectors, also Animal Collective) doesn't get a second chance, at least for now. Actually, I could see getting into AC's relentless termite munch, but I doubt I would be better off for the experience. And it's possible that one might bend the mind to the DP's unmusicality to recognize something highly improbable (and therefore remarkable -- Pavement is the classic example), but not even its fashionability convinces me I should bother: I'd rather spend more time with ZZ Top, not to mention searching out more exotic beats, like Mati Zundel and Kottarashky.
At 33 records, the shortest month of the year, but not that far behind March (36). I've recently resumed updating the metacritic file -- still have quite a bit to do, which will push recent releases (including AC and DP) further up the list. A lot of pecking order things don't feel right yet (Spiritualized tied for 4th? El-P tied for 7th?), but it's never been more than a gross, rough hewn guide.
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 August 17. Past reviews and more information are available here (2844 records).
Animal Collective: Centipede Hz (2012, Domino): Busy, busy: nearly every song has something to like, and something to hate or at least shake your head in dumbfounded wonder, a ratio that compares unfavorably with their last two poll-topping releases. More exposure may help reconcile the antipodes -- Tatum, for example, reacted as negatively to his first spin of the new Dirty Projectors, and in my book that record is much worse than this one, but he stuck with it until it won him over, or vice versa. Even though I sometimes do recommend difficult music, I don't find this promising enough to work it through. B-
Bang On!: [Sic] (2012, Big Dada): Liverpudlian rapper Elliott Egerton, styles his grime as "punk-donk-dub-hip-hop," preferring a heavy bang to quick beats. B+(**)
David Byrne/St. Vincent: Love This Giant (2012, 4AD): Like Sting, Byrne now has many more records on his own than with the band that made him famous, and likewise nothing he's done since holds a candle to his prime band period, but you have to give him credit for trying odd things out. Third collaboration in a row, this with Annie Clark (who would probably sell more records without him). He sounds same as he ever did but even more into his idiosyncrasies, so she offers periodic returns to normality. Album cover pic gives me the creeps. B+(*)
Calexico: Algiers (2012, Anti-): Tucson band, its roots in California, its heart (sometimes) in Mexico, whence you get whiffs of mariachi, so mild you'd scarcely notice if they didn't occasionally slip into Spanish. Large catalog going back to 1997, nothing I've heard before, so it's hard to place this placid but not uncharming offering, recorded in New Orleans, or anywhere. B
Ravi Coltrane: Spirit Fiction (2012, Blue Note): Saxophonist, can't help but follow in his father's giant steps given that nearly everyone else is doing the same. Sixth album, split between two groups: a quartet with Luis Perdomo, Drew Gress, and E.J. Strickland with three joint improvs, and a quintet with Ralph Alessi, Geri Allen, James Genus, and Eric Harland that does three pieces by the trumpeter. Due dilligence here might involve listening to each group separately rather than shuffled, as my first sense is that this is jumbled, all over the place. Does have its moments, though, especially when the trumpet jumps in. B+(**)
Ry Cooder: Election Special (2012, Nonesuch/Perro Verde): Topical political songs as classic blues, only the one about a Republican going to Tampa to party takes a view that isn't down and out -- or, I suppose, you could describe Mutt Romney as up and out. Jim Crow appears a couple times, which may not be topical but seems to be something in the Kool Aid. B+(***)
Amy Cook: Summer Skin (2012, Roothouse/Thirty Tigers): Singer-songwriter from San Jose, based in Austin, has struggled with self-releases since 2000, titles like The Firefly Sessions and Bunkhouse Recordings. Not much stuck here, but I like the basic vibe, and probably should have paid more attention. B+(*)
Elizabeth Cook: Gospel Plow (2012, Thirty One Tigers, EP): After two good country albums -- Welder, of course, but also Balls -- a 7-cut 19:31 EP, gospel songs, more or less, starting with Blind Willie Johnson and winding up with Lou Reed ("Jesus"). Stopgap product, niche filler, no disappointment, nothing you need. B+(*)
Dan Deacon: America (2012, Domino): Last four cuts here, 21:47, are considered a suite, electronic tapestries with heavy beats, especially in "USA, Pt. 1: Is a Monster" -- a mix closer to prog than to minimalism or ambient. That part is fun as long as you can project through its clownishness, but the occasional vocals detract, not so much by humanizing as by tipping the mix over the top. B+(*)
Divine Fits: A Thing Called Divine Fits (2012, Merge): Socalled "indie supergroup" debut, meaning the principals have resumes in bands you may have heard of: Spoon, Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, New Bomb Turks. Tunes and beats are above average, vocals OK, pleasant enough but nothing memorable after four plays, the sort of record you might convince yourself is good but will wind up shelving and forgetting. B+(***)
JJ Doom: Key to the Kuffs (2012, Lex): Daniel Dumile (MF Doom) project, with producer/MC Jneiro Jarel (Omar Jarel Gilyard). Underground beats, blips, bloops, whistles and warbles; rhymes mysterious, underwater, oblique, but maybe that's just Doom's delivery. B+(**)
Bob Dylan: Tempest (2012, Columbia): First thing I noticed is how his voice, which seemed to fashionably maleable four decades ago, has narrowed into self-caricature, his lines chewed up and spit out, punctuating a rhythmic tic that must make it even easier to write songs. People complain about the two long topical songs at the end -- the title song on the Titanic and a lament for John Lennon -- as they complained about Desire, possibly preferring enigma to narrative, probably because you can read so much more into the former, maybe because the latter makes you wonder if he's just a hack. A pretty great hack, I'd say, but he's done better, much. B+(**)
Nanci Griffith: Intersection (2012, Proper): Songs for the new depression, from the abandoned steel mills of Pennsylvania to the perpetual blight that is Mississippi, with covers from Loretta Lynn and Blaze Foley, and the primal scream of "Hell No (I'm Not Alright)," which starts off as a domestic breakdown and rages on to the halls of Congress. B+(**)
Hiss Golden Messenger: Poor Moon (2011 , Tompkins Square): M.C. Taylor, formerly of country-rock group Court and Spark, moved to NC to get closer to the roots -- not clear that he succeeded, but he has a light, good-natured folk appeal, and is aware that "A Working Man Can't Make It No Way." B+(*)
Kottarashky & the Rain Dogs: Demoni (2012, Asphalt Tango): From Bulgaria, Nikola Gruev offers minimalist samples of folk and dance, elaborated by a band featuring guitar and synth by Hristo Hadzhiganchev plus clarinet-bass-drums. The grooves pull up short of gypsy hyperdrive, suggesting less is more, and making the case nearly every time. A-
Jens Lekman: I Know What Love Isn't (2012, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter from Sweden, third album (plus a couple EPs), sensitive relationship songs, slow enough he can make all of his points, a touch of lushness; I've resisted him, but it's getting hard -- "you don't get over a broken heart/you just learn to carry it gracefully" sums him up nicely. A-
Lionel Loueke: Heritage (2012, Blue Note): Jazz guitarist, born in Benin, studied in Ivory Coast, Paris, and Boston (Berklee). Works mostly with recognizably African rhythms and chants, but doesn't strike me as particularly adroit at either. Got help from Robert Glasper, if that's what you call it. B
Pet Shop Boys: Elysium (2012, Astralwerks): Getting old, hanging on, recycling beats and motifs, nudging them toward the middle of the oeuvre where nothing stands out so you might as well listen to the lyrics, which remind that their ace in the hole has always been smarts. No chance this will wind up as the PSB album you go back to, but I expect to play it a few more times. Getting old myself. A-
Schoolboy Q: Habits & Contradictions (2012, Top Dawg): Rapper, Matthew Hanley, young enough he cites 50 Cent as an influence, and honors him by working within the same range, just tighter and more contented -- what more does a young man need than weed and sex? B+(**)
Serengeti: C.A.R. (2012, Anticon): Chicago rapper, deep underground, very prolific, should make a project of sorting him out some day. Christgau's review is chuck full of quoted couplets that don't strike me as convincing on their own, but the densely overtoned beats kept my interest, and everything else was gravy. A-
Serengeti: The Kenny Dennis EP (2012, Anticon, EP): Six cuts, 17:01. Dennis is a character (or real person?) who's appeared on several of Serengeti's albums: white working class, Cubs authority, not sure what else. This grabs you at the ball game, but then I lose track. B+(**)
Mark Solborg: Solborg 4+4+1 (2012, Ilk): Danish guitarist, had a group called Mold with saxophonist Anders Banke, here fortifies his quartet with an extra horn section (trumpet, tuba/trombone, alto and tenor sax), then adds saxophonist Chris Speed as featured soloist. The horns would give an arranger a lot of options, but tend to slow down and bunch up in the middle. B
Staff Benda Bilili: Bouger Le Monde (2012, Crammed Discs): Kinshasa street musicians, the main four brought together by the shared crippling experience of polio, not that they're lamenting anything. Second album since they were discovered by French filmmakers and a Belgian label, as uplifting as the first, maybe even more transcendental. A-
Traxman: Da Mind of Traxman (2012, Planet Mu): Chicago DJ, Cornelius Ferguson, first album; short synth pieces, small concepts repeated enough to get the point, some with vocals, just as terse. B
Uncle Dave & the Waco Brothers: Nine Slices of My Midlife Crisis (2004, Buried Treasure): Dave Herndon, "an itinerant journalist who's been knocking around New York for decades," claims to have picked up the rudiments of songwriting from Lonesome Bob, although what attracted me to this obscurity was Jon Langford's cover art and backing band, which lifts the songs out of the gutter, which may be beside the point (cf. "Table for One"). B+(*)
Elle Varner: Perfectly Imperfect (2012, RCA): Soul diva, first album, a little husk to her voice, smoothed out by the album's plentiful hooks, guests, etc. My main problem is when she stretches into full diva mode, something she can't quite pull off, not that anyone should. B+(**)
Jessie Ware: Devotion (2012, Island): Brit soul singer, debut album after singing on SBTRKT's eponymous disc. Voice could be adorning someone else's electronic album here, but the DJ remains anonymous, not without reason. B
Keith Fullerton Whitman: Generators (2012, Editions Mego): Electronics whiz from NJ, did business early on as Hrvåtski, has 15 albums since 2002. Two pieces here, each 17:34, the first dedicated to Eliane Radigue, both starting from small seeds to generate intricate constructs of sine tones. B+(*)
Keith Fullerton Whitman: Occlusions (2012, Editions Mego): Subtitle: "Real-Time Music for Hybrid Digital-Analogue Modular Synthesizer." Two 17-18 minute pieces. A narrow palette of old-time synth sounds that hang tough, get dense, keep you guessing. B+(***)
The XX: Coexist (2012, XL/Young Turks): Two singers, enough to make or break a relationship, and a beatmaster whose recent moonlighting seems to have depleted his inventory. B+(*)
Yeasayer: Fragrant World (2012, Secretly Canadian): Brooklyn group, electrofunk, more or less, less focused on the one than on the many. B+(*)
Mati Zundel: Amazonico Gravitante (2012, Waxploitation/ZZK): Aka Lagartijeando, claims the "rhythms of the Argentinian backwoods" for his dance tracks, but a couple tracks in I'm thinking Tom Zé with the beats jacked up by Manu Chao, although by the end the melodies have straightened out and the drum machine has won out -- it's just that I never knew Argentina had "backwoods" (pampas are grasslands, and they got the leeward side of the Andes, presumably dry where Chile is verdant). But as a dancebeat album, this is laced with guitar, sly vocals, occasional raps, something else. A-
ZZ Top: La Futura (2012, Mercury): Rick Rubin-produced comeback, his main trick to get them to sound like they always did, at least when they were up to it, and remembered where those blues licks came from. They even get a little feisty toward the end. Aside from Mescalero (their last, in 2003), their best since Deguello. B+(***)
Monday, September 17. 2012
Music: Current count 20454  rated (+38), 658  unrated (-6).
Somewhat short Jazz Prospecting this week, but more than the usual number of albums at or near the top. Rated count is robust because I've started using Rhapsody again. The monthly Rhapsody Streamnotes post has gradually slipped from first to second or third week in the month, mostly because I prefer to run it after A Downloader's Diary, and Tatum ran late for several months, finally skipping August. I had given some thought to skipping September, but after this past week I feel I have enough material to post something tomorrow. Last month Streamnotes appeared on the 17th. Tomorrow will be the 18th, so that's a month. It will probably wind up being the shortest of the year -- draft file currently has 28 entries, enough to chew on. (March had 36; every other month this year topped 50, with 87 back in January trying to mop up 2011.)
Tim Carey: Room 114 (2011 , self-released): Bassist, teaches in Seattle. First album, mostly guitar, piano, bass, drums -- a second drummer is credited on five tracks. All originals, intricately woven together. B+(*)
Hugo Carvalhais: Particula (2011 , Clean Feed): Portuguese bassist, second album -- I usually don't bother crediting headliners as composer, even though they often make a point of it on their websites, on the theory that virtually everyone makes that claim, but often with bassists the compositions are the main point. Describes Gabriel Pinto (piano, organ, synth) and Mário Costa (drums) as "regular band mates," adding Emile Parisien (soprano sax) and Dominique Pifarély (violin) for this date. Gives him a lot of options to play off against each other, or occasionally pile up. B+(***)
Ricardo Fassi: Sitting in a Song (2009 , Alice): Pianist, b. 1955 in Italy, has more than a dozen albums since 1986, mostly on Splasc(H). Calls this group New York Pocket Orchestra, and it's well stocked with stars: Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), Dave Binney (alto sax), Gary Smulyan (baritone sax), Essiet Essiet (bass), and Antonio Sanchez (drums). First cut ("Random Sequencer") delivers everything the band promises, but the postbop moves lose interest over the long haul. B+(*)
The Fish: Moon Fish (2010 , Clean Feed): French trio: Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto sax), Benjamin Duboc (bass), Edward Perraud (drums). They have at least one previous album together; Guionnet has maybe a dozen since 1998 but it's hard to sort them out (e.g., first two were duos with Eric Cordier, credits listed in different orders). Three long improv pieces, the sax grasping for traction and chewing up the room. B+(**)
Hairy Bones: Snakelust (to Kenji Nakagami) (2011 , Clean Feed): Second group album, various typographic problems on the packaging -- they've decided they don't like to space out the group name, and prefer "e" to umlaut in the saxophonist's name, but for history's sake we'll straighten those quirks out. Of course, a mere moment's attention will satisfy you that the saxophonist is Peter Brötzmann, even when he's playing clarinet in what he may well think of as New Age mode. Toshinori Kondo, who worked with Brötzmann back in the Die Like a Dog quartet, adds mischief with trumpet and electronics. Zu electric bassist Massimo Pupillo smoothes things out, and Paal Nilssen-Love is the drummer. One 53-minute blast, but it moves up and down and around enough they could call it a suite if they had such pretensions. They don't. A-
Fred Hersch Trio: Alive at the Vanguard (2012, Palmetto, 2CD): Pianist, has more than three dozen records since 1984, went solo for last year's Alone at the Vanguard, returns with a trio (John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums) and stretches out. Half originals, half standards, half of those from jazz icons (Parker, Monk, Rollins, Coleman). The rhythm section fleshes out the music, but he doesn't push them very hard. B+(**)
Johnny Hodges: Yeah . . . About That (2012, Veritas): Trumpet player, originally from Oklahoma City, started playing cruise lines in 1991, lives in Kissimee, FL -- you expecting maybe someone else? Looks like his first album, also credited with rhythm programming, and aside for a couple of guest spots that's about it. Scrawny, but not without a certain charm. B
Keith Jarrett: Sleeper: Tokyo, April 16, 1979 (1979 , ECM, 2CD): Live double, featuring Jarrett's European Quartet: Jan Garbarek (saxes, flute), Palle Danielsson (bass), Jon Christensen (drums) -- their surnames staggered on the front cover, but only the leader's on the spine. All Jarrett pieces, only the encore clocking in under 10 minutes, "Oasis" stretching to 28. Interesting to hear Garbarek struggling with Coltrane's ghost -- much more rugged than I recall even from his early work -- and, of course, the piano is dense and divisive. B+(***)
Sam Kulik: Escape From Society (2012, Hot Cup): Trombonist, from western Massachusetts, studied at Oberlin, wound up in New York. Second album, "inspired by the song-poem phenomenon of the '70s and '80s, in which everyday people would respond to magazine ads seeking lyricists": twelve lyricists are credited here, Kulik the only repeater, David Greenberger the only other name I recognize. Band is quartet, crediting Kulik with vocals, brass, guitar; others with bass/keys, drums, and tenor sax. At first sounds almost like country music, matter-of-fact until the quotidinary gets too ordinary and the brass starts to peek through. Then Kulik switches horses on the last two cuts, one group moving toward free jazz, the other avant-industrial, or as the title puts it, "Infinite Shit." B+(*)
Fred Lonberg-Holm's Fast Citizens: Gather (2011 , Delmark): Chicago group, sextet, with three horns -- Aram Shelton (alto sax, clarinet), Keefe Jackson (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Josh Berman (cornet) -- plus Lonberg-Holm on cello (and tenor guitar), Anton Hatwich (bass), and Frank Rosaly (drums), with everyone doubling up on trumpet or cornet somewhere. Third group album, but the leaders have rotated depending on who came in with the songs -- the other two are filed under Shelton and Jackson. The cellist has released some squelchy electronics albums, and appeared in the Vandermark 5, but he's never had this kind of front line, and he makes quite a lot out of it. A-
The Odd Trio: Birth of the Minotaur (2012, self-released): Brian Smith (guitar, vox), Marc Gilley (saxophones), Todd Mueller (drums), a lineup we've seen a few times lately, notably on last year's Inzinzac album: guitar can rival sax as a lead instrument, as well as add chordal harmony, especially when you're doing something rockish (or should I say punkish?), often the case here. B+(**)
Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul: Reunion: Live in New York (2007 , Pi, 2CD): Rivers died in 2011, so the only way to get more is to scrounge for it. This first effort uncovers two fully improvised sets with bass and drums, backing Rivers on tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, and piano. The tenor, of course, is his main instrument, and I'd be happy if that's all there was, but the flute is engaging, and the piano is a revelation. The bass is more of a reminder: we've listened to Holland as leader and composer so long one forgets just how vital he was during his avant-garde phase, but here it all comes back. A-
Josh Rosen/Stan Strickland: Instinct (2012, Ziggle Zaggle Music): Duets. Rosen plays piano, teaches at Berklee, has a previous album as 3 Play +. Strickland plays various flutes, bass clarinet, soprano sax, and sings -- he has a vocal jazz album from 2005, and also teaches at Berklee. A little thin on both sides. B-
Florian Weber: Biosphere (2011 , Enja): Pianist, b. 1977 in Germany, classical ed gives him a chamber jazz rep; released a trio in 2006 called Minsarah, used that group name for his 2010 follow-up. This is a quartet with Lionel Loueke (guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums, tabla). A lot of flutter and shuffle, all tucked in, at least until the end when they slow down and consolidate, rather touchingly. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, September 16. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Links for further study:
Saturday, September 15. 2012
There's a very succinct description of how private equity works in Matt Taibbi's Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital:
Under the debt load, with new management planted by Bain who knew nothing about the toy business but knew enough to rubber stamp Bain's dividend, KB went bankrupt. That may have been disappointing to Bain -- the longer KB survived, the more its owners could bleed it -- but Bain's investors and owners had already made a handsome return on the deal. And deals are what private equity is all about, one deal after another, each one a windfall. Back during the S&L crisis someone pointed out that the best way to rob a bank was to own one. Turns out that's true for any business.
But it used to happen less frequently. Several reasons come to mind, the most obvious being that business owners have fewer scruples now than they used to. The most corrosive idea behind this shift is the notion that the sole responsibility of business owners is to maximize profits, especially given that we can only truly measure profits in the short-term. This has always been a latent idea among business owners and (especially) financiers, but for most of our history has been limited both by law and by custom.
For instance, family-owned companies have good reason to take a longer-term view of a business that will be handed down through the generations. Even the case of a broadly held corporation is likely to have a mix of short- and long-term-oriented investors, and need to balance those interests off. On the other hand, when a company is taken over through a LBO, the ownership is narrowed drastically, and the debt overhang all but forces the owners to focus on the short-term.
Other trends add in. When owners live in the same locale as the plant, they are less likely to harm the community. Replace them with outside owners and those scruples go away. When owners are expert in their industry, they are more likely to strike a balance between short- and long-term needs, because they see their whole careers developing within a single industry which has few options should they blow up. Replace them with finance people and those considerations vanish: to a financier, all companies look the same, and there are always more companies around the corner. (Financiers, after all, don't build companies; they buy them -- and usually with other people's money.)
A unionized work force also limits the management's options, so the loss of union protection has made it easier for companies to be looted and plundered. Then there is the law: most of us still believe that business owners are still subject to law, that they are prohibited from criminal activity (significantly including fraud), but the overall trend had been toward less regulation, toward less effective enforcement, and toward less exposure to torts: the result is that business owners need have fewer scruples about their compliance with the law. (Possibly the best example of this was the Citibank-Travelers merger, at the time blatantly illegal, but rather than prosecuting the Clinton administration arranged to change the law, making the merger retrospectively legal.)
The result of all these trends is that we are now plagued by a new breed of businessman: one that's only in it for the money, and willing to take the money from anywhere it's available, using any methods he can get away with. The particular scheme that Romney practiced at Bain is especially odious because even in cases where the extra debt and looting don't kill the business, everyone related to the business (workers, customers, neighbors) except for the owners is much poorer as a result, while only a handful of already rich investors get richer. But they're just the worst of the worst. The whole financial sector has more than doubled in the last thirty years as the business of business has shifted from making products and providing services to making deals with huge payouts to the dealmakers, those profits to be squeezed out of everyone else.
Thursday, September 13. 2012
On September 10, a US airstrike in Yemen killed seven people, including Saeed al-Shihri, alleged to be "al-Qaida's No. 2 leader in Yemen." This follows numerous other US airstrikes in Yemen, including one that killed US-born Anwar al-Awlaki.
On September 11, a demonstration at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, turned violent, and the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed. Most likely the demonstration was incidental, providing cover for an independent attack force (see the Quilliam report, which describes a video released by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri with a call "to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al-Qaeda's second in command killed a few months ago"). The US responded by sending a small detachment of Marines to Libya -- not enough for an occupation, but quacks like one, and will be taken as such by those so inclined.
What this shows is that after eight years of Bush and nearly four of Obama virtually nothing has changed. The US still throws its weight around the Arab world, siding with tyrants it finds conveniently corrupt, helping them kill and imprison their own people, getting trapped in blood feuds, and blamed for the dearth of progress that keeps these nations poor. Sensible persons back away from tactics that don't work; US politicians stumble forward, convinced that losing credibility would be far worse than throwing away lives and treasure.
Oil gets blamed for this, and indeed there are lots of things one can pin on the oil companies, but they prefer to work quietly, and were doing nicely in places like Saudi Arabia until external politics got in their way. The rub there is Israel, ever more a warrior state, which has spent the last four years goading Obama into a pointless and potentially tragic showdown with Iran. That may seem nothing more than good sport for Israel, much like their dabblings in US domestic politics, like smacking down uppity presidents with congressional resolutions and radio flak.
For Israel, hostilities are a win-win proposition: either they kick ass, or they burnish up their victimhood cult, renewing their claim to the moral high ground. (And while they whine about their losses, they're never so severe they disturb the warrior ethos.) On the other hand, for the US war is lose-lose: like Todd Snider's bully, what kicking ass winds up meaning is you got to do it again tomorrow, and again and again and again, all the while exposing your inner wretchedness. Israel, behind its Iron Wall, can fancy that it's better to be feared than liked, but the US needs good will to do business, so with every misstep risks losing it all. That's why the two days both wind up in the loss column.
In the wake of the embassy incident, Obama promised to bring the killers "to justice": the first thing that flashed through my mind was Pershing chasing all over Mexico after Pancho Villa, nothing but a wild goose chase. But even nominal success most often rings hollow, as Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden have proven. (Ultimately, both happened after killing more people than the evildoers had themselves, making one wonder what a higher power should do with Bush and Obama.)
Meanwhile, Romney accused Obama of "apologizing for America" when the State Department tried to disclaim and disown the video that triggered (or served as the pretext for) the demonstrations. Presumably, Romney thought that Obama should have stood up for gross slander of a religion with one trillion followers -- presuming that Romney was thinking, as he's likely to disavow the video himself by week's end. Still, even if he walks back the particulars, you've seen his basic instinct: to plunge headlong, chin up, into every conflict that comes his way, as if, like Israel, he's convinced that every fight is win-win.
That last point is the secret behind the Neocons' slavish idolatry of Israel: envy. They want to fight, and they want to win. They want to thumb their noses at the world, and have the world cower before them. They see that on a small scale with Israel, and even there they don't actually see very well, but they're convinced that if only our leaders had the vision and the guts we could scale Israel's formula up and leave the world awestruck. Romney, of course, is as committed to Neoconnery as McCain and Bush -- see John Judis: never apologize, never negotiate, never think, just act. After all, you're America: always right, invincible (except when led by cowards like Obama, Clinton, and Carter).
Update: Minor edit above, changing "Israeli movie" to "video." Initial reports were that the demonstrations were against a movie produced by a California-based Israeli named Sam Bacile. WarInContext has a post that suggests that it was in fact produced by an Egyptian Christian living in California. As I understand it, the title is Innocence of Muslims, and at present it is only distributed as a 14-minute excerpt on YouTube, so it is not clear to me whether words like "film" and "movie" are appropriate. These details don't have any real bearing on the argument above. The video may be a convenient pretext for a demonstration, but the real issue is US interference in the region, including support for regimes that do real violence to people, especially Israel's occupation.
Speaking of which, I see now that Obama has dispatched several Navy ships to the Libyan coast, and has started flying drones over Libyan air space "to search for the perpetrators of the attack" -- once again the instinct of US leaders is to make it all worse. Romney, clueless as ever, argued: "It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." What he means is that the government should stand up in solidarity with every bigot identified as American because failure to do so could be construed as "apologizing for America," and the World's Greatest Nation should never apologize for anything.
Further Update (Sept. 15): Two items from Washington Monthly's Lunch Buffet:
It's easy to see how such great minds can get confused. The nominal purpose of America's "Oil Wars" -- the long string of US operations in the Middle East (and Afghanistan) since Carter declared the oil in and around the Persian Gulf a "national interest" in 1979 -- has always been to help our good Muslims against those bad Muslims (the definitions sometimes changing, e.g., in Afghanistan), so the US has always had to be careful not to make offense against Islam. But it's always been easier to sell those wars to the American people with a dollop of racial and religious bigotry -- you could even call it "Crusader zeal" -- and as the wars have unfolded, most of what you actually see is Americans killing Muslims, the "good" inevitably mixed in with the "bad" -- and this results in a polarization that undermines the original premise. For someone like Bachmann, the enemy winds up being all of Islam. Romney is more of a neocon, so he has to keep the notion that we're helping "good Muslims" in play, even though he doesn't always remember that before he speaks.
Wednesday, September 12. 2012
by Michael Tatum
Because the hyperactive British music industry covers such little geographic ground, careers can often explode, burn, then smolder into ash in alarming record time, which explains why this beloved Manchester quartet could release four albums and ten standalone singles in a mere four years, never chart a 45 higher than #10 in their homeland, yet be missed so intensely after their breakup that they've been offered millions of dollars to re-form for an afternoon -- proposals they've shot down without exception. Choosing their moniker precisely for its anonymity, the Smiths revolved around the strangely glorious partnership of two opposites, forged when nonpareil guitarist Johnny Marr (born John Maher) knocked on the door of bohemian eccentric Stephen Morrissey (who would drop the Christian name he hated soon enough) to play Leiber to his Stoller in May of 1982. Although the duo originally imagined themselves as songwriters rather than performers, they soon rethought that strategy, and with the addition of bass player Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce -- both, like Marr and Morrissey, working class and of Irish ancestry -- the band came together in December of the same year. Despite their collective professional inexperience, success arrived surprisingly quickly: they released their debut single, the bewitching "Hand in Glove," in May of '83, recorded four legendary sessions for John Peel's radio show between May and August, while simultaneously hashing out their debut album on Rough Trade (then the UK's preeminent indie label) with Teardrop Explodes guitarist Troy Tate. But when pro-producer John Porter worked magic on an interim single -- the masterful comedy routine "This Charming Man," in which a "jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place" talks Morrissey's sexually confused nerd-protagonist out of an ill-advised marriage -- Rough Trade prexy Geoff Travis was impressed enough to ask Porter to salvage the job everyone in the band's orbit thought Tate had botched. And how did that turn out? That and more in this, A Downloader's Diary's second full-artist exploration (the first was KISS).
The Smiths: The Smiths (1984, Sire) Their legions of acolytes unfairly blame producer John Porter for this debut's flat sound rather than copping to the early Smiths' tendency for woolgathering -- indeed, the band had already recorded most of these tracks three or four times without success. That in itself must have been dispiriting, though it's worth noting Porter himself found the duo's early material "meandering," and having been together only a short time, the band must have been too preoccupied feeling out their dynamic to brighten the arrangements -- Andy Rourke in particular is more sedate here than he would be from the spritely "This Charming Man" onward. Revisiting this record for the first time in years however, the overall tone strikes me as fitting to the material. With the exception Morrissey's well-timed delivery of the slacker credo "No, I never had a job/Because I never wanted one," the wit that would become their calling card is purposefully almost completely absent. Instead, they languidly unfurl -- in what had to have been a first for rock and roll -- a somber bildungsroman in which a teenage boy loses his virginity to an older man: "It's time the tale were told/Of how you took a child and made him old." With occasional detours for class-conscious sarcasm and punk nostalgia, this part tender, part painful experience and its aftermath is explored from all angles: wistfully on "Reel Around the Fountain," role-reversed on "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle," out-and-proud on "Hand in Glove," bitterly on "What Difference Does It Make," and on two ill-advised heterosexual detours thrown in for good measure, with abject humiliation. Leading up to a song the significance of which I had never fully registered: "Suffer Little Children," a lugubrious rumination on Manchester's gruesome "Moors Murders." Years later, it's still unlistenable, but thematically it's revealing -- a song about the vulnerability of trusting innocence falling into the wrong hands, a metaphor for what might have happened had young Stephen's first sexual experience been with someone more devious. So maybe we should shift the blame for this one to the auteurs, one of whom wasn't ready to be a star, and the other of whom merely followed his lead. B+
The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow (1984, Rough Trade) An accidental classic, released budget-priced in the UK because Rough Trade conceived it as stop-gap product between proper records, the unlikely definitiveness of this compilation suggests divine intervention. Famously comprising ten songs culled from the BBC radio shows that preceded their proper debut and peppered throughout with six songs originally appearing on singles, one wouldn't expect it to cohere. Showcasing the attractively agile jingle-jangle hooks that made them famous would be one thing, but this adds an unlikely extra dimension by documenting the fiery energy completely absent from their later records, which were sometimes emasculated to the point of passive asexuality -- comforting to their doleful acolytes, but completely useless to curious outsiders. If several of the songs later remade for The Smiths are a draw (surprise: session rat Paul Carrack does have his uses), this primal "What Difference Does it Make" punches holes in the studio wall, while the remaining obscurities display the band at their most graceful (the fluttering "Back to the Old House," the exquisite Shelagh Delaney re-write "This Night Has Opened My Eyes") and brutal (the salaciously carnal "Handsome Devil"). And the landmark singles reveal how key producer John Porter was to their early success, including three from one legendary twelve-inch: the cattily anti-marriage "William, It Was Really Nothing" and the deceptively beautiful "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" each get their business done in roughly one hundred and twenty perfect seconds. Their B-side, this record's centerpiece, the monolithic "How Soon Is Now," was the reason scrawny teenage kids like me coughed up import-prices for this collection's first CD reissue in the late '80s, after which it took permanent residence in our record collections, right next to Murmur and Candy Apple Grey. Were we fools to blow those hard-earned twenty bucks on a mere sixteen songs? You shut your mouth. A
The Smiths: Meat Is Murder (1985, Sire) With Margaret Thatcher de-regulating the market, crippling the power of unions, and invading the Falklands to boost her sagging approval ratings, England circa 1985 would have been a fine time for agitprop. Unfortunately, despite what you've heard, this ain't it -- unless you count the repulsively carnophobic title track and the two that come out against corporal punishment (the latter especially not a particularly controversial stance) there's nothing here that could be described as explicitly political per se. Even the one in which the Moz drops his pants to the Queen ("I'm a man of means/Of slender means,") signifies more as satire than protest. But of all Smiths records, this is the one that engages the most with the outside world, which I suspect is why many fans consider this the dark star in their catalog, and also why -- what a coincidence -- it rocks the hardest, particularly on the first six songs of the original UK release (leave "How Soon Is Now" on Hatful of Hollow where it belongs, please). The middle triptych on side one sympathetically addresses a working class that only finds release from provincial boredom in sex and violence -- a stabbing at the fairground juxtaposed against lovers scrawling their names on their arms with a fountain pen, illicit sex in a railway station alley when the marriage bed gets dull, the "tattooed boy from Birkenhead" who awakens the prudish bookworm's libido in the pile driving "What She Said." And the two songs sandwiching that sequence are two of their undeniable peaks: "The Headmaster Ritual," a condemnation of "the belligerent ghouls who run Manchester schools," and "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore," in which Morrissey joylessly blows a smug journalist in the backseat of his car, only deriving satisfaction from the knowledge that someday, inevitably, that empty cynic will one day be as lonely as he is. B+
The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead (1986, Sire) Americans guffaw at the bald-faced football mentality of UK music magazines, like when NME myopically declared the Arctic Monkeys' debut the fifth all-time greatest British album the month of its release. Though I'm sure a similar argument could be mounted against Rolling Stone and its reflexive five star reviews for Bob Dylan, in a perverse sort of way I admire the Brits for that -- what links the Kinks, Blur, and the Jam (not Oasis) is a healthy disinclination to cater to the tastes of the American audience, undoubtedly why their countymen cherish them, even if those bands sometimes sound grumpily reactionary to us Yanks. This analysis applies as well to the record Q anointed the third best album of the '80s, which limits its political statements to swipes at the Royal Family, spends two songs dishing on Morrissey's gleefully antagonistic relationship with the British press, and dedicates two more to Dole Age denizens who would rather spend their time debating Wilde and Keats in graveyards than suffering through the indignation of day jobs. Though not wholly convinced myself of its supposed masterpiece status, as a compact disc this makes more sense than a piece of vinyl -- "I Know It's Over" may be their most epic weepie, but sequenced alongside the dirge-like "Never Had No One Ever," it's a leaden doorstop in the middle of side one. Likewise, even if one of the two throwaways charmingly celebrates a cross-dressing vicar, their positioning toward the end of side two ends the record on a misbegotten note. That leaves their two greatest achievements. In the title powerhouse, the band razes Buckingham Palace with a wrecking ball while Morrissey greets Her Majesty with "a sponge and a rusty spanner" to chat her up on the wretched state of the nation. The other is a tribute/parody to melodramatic teenage death ballads in which the undying light of young love is subsumed by an oncoming double-decker bus. Following that with a bemused ode to a nudie calendar is an act of typically droll British self-deprecation. Which is funny. But still. A
The Smiths: The World Won't Listen (1987, Rough Trade) This half-cocked gambit to assemble a Hatful of Hollow 2 might have made the grade had Rough Trade waited a measly three months -- this band was that prolific -- for the twelve-inch of "Sheila Take a Bow," which would occupy three of the first four tracks on this record's stateside equivalent Louder than Bombs, released later that spring. Instead, they compensate by lazily reprising four mega-obvious titles from their previous two studio releases to pad this out to the requisite seventeen tracks (the infamously horrid Twinkle cover "Golden Lights" was added to subsequent digital reissues). The five good-to-great A-sides (including one rejected) prove the band had mastered the catchy single -- the eternal cheap shot "Panic," with its irresistible exhortation to "Hang the DJ!" is an obvious highlight -- but except for the startling bridge of the culture-thieving "Shoplifters of the World Unite," what's missing is depth. I know that's a tall request from such perpetual post-adolescents, but it reminds me why smart people prefer albums to singles -- not because they're organically conceived by the artist rather than than thrown together by some label lackey (indeed, a good compilation would qualify in this category) but because good ones are laid back to front in such a way that respects variety, flow, and nuance. By contrast, this is inevitably more haphazard, making room for two superfluous instrumentals (instrumentals? from the Smiths?), the self-parodic "Unlovable" ("I wear black on the outside/'Cos black is how I feel on the inside?") and the socially irresponsible suicide paean "Asleep." Leaving profundity to four-count-'em-four stellar obscurities: two very different takes on kids leaving the North for the big city, Morrissey's truest/only celebration of sexual devotion, and the astonishing "Rubber Ring," in which the auteur acknowledges that "the songs that saved your life" -- i.e., his songs -- will fade into sentimental memory once his audience grows up. B
The Smiths: Louder than Bombs (1987, Sire) Purchased on an innocent whim by yours truly on a San Francisco choir trip to impress high school crush L, the nostalgist (and perhaps solipsist) in me believes "Is It Really So Strange?" should be the first Smiths song everyone should hear -- better to convert the benighted to the Moz's unique persona with a wacked-out travelogue in which the protagonist murders a nun in a dither of sexual confusion than with a stately ballad in which a variation on that character loses his virginity to an older man, even if in the end, the latter is truer to his vision. This twenty-four track pig-out, designed as a primer for the American audience and similar in functionality to Sire's less messy (if more juvenile) Catching Up With Depeche Mode, starts off strong and doesn't include any tracks owners of their three proper studio albums would have already owned -- even the lone repeat, "Hand in Glove," is the superior single version. But it ignores chronology, frustratingly compresses the mix, signs off with the two-song nadir of The World Won't Listen, and chooses inferior versions of "These Things Take Time" (slicker), "Back to the Old House" (more conventional), and "Stretch out and Wait" (would you believe, Morrissey turns out to be an impressively subtle vocal stylist?). If this was the only Smiths record I owned, I'd probably (please excuse the cliché) play it to death. But in more ways than one, this could give unsuspecting young people the wrong idea. B+
The Smiths: Strangeways Here We Come (1987, Sire) Bored with feeling locked into six-string jingle-jangle and perhaps -- though Marr denies this -- slightly pressured to beef up the sound to take the band to the stadiums like R.E.M. and U2, this boldly announces its paradigm switch by not even incorporating guitar into the tango-ready arrangement of the destiny-manifesting opener "A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours." Consciously taking The White Album as its model, this flitters all over the genre map: glam, zydeco, folk, whatever the fuck the two-minute travesty "Death at One's Elbow" is. When it works, as on the cataclysmic "Death of a Disco Dancer," which casts a cynical eye at the baggy hordes collapsing from extreme dehydration at Ecstasy-fueled raves, or the lovely "Girlfriend in a Coma," which shows up adolescent revenge fantasies for the empty boasts they are, it almost justifies Stephen Street's dense, theatric production. But when it doesn't, as on the overrated "Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me" (Morrissey rips the t-shirt from his chest while emoting atop Mt. Sensitive), the limp threat "Unhappy Birthday" (didn't you learn your lesson on "Girlfriend in a Coma?"), and the sourly prescient "Paint a Vulgar Picture" ("Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!") you're reminded how much of a difference a carefully drawn lyric can make. When your pettily banal closer only gains its modest modicum of interest from its putative hidden message to your songwriting partner, that's a problem. B
The Smiths: Rank (1988, Sire) A post-mortem live album borne out of contractual obligation presents all kinds of problems, beginning with the obvious fact of being at the mercy of the material left at your disposal, in this case a set recorded at Kilburn's National Ballroom in October 1986, right around the release of "Ask" and naturally showcasing material from the current The Queen Is Dead. One would figure Morrissey's impishness would translate well to a live setting -- consider stunts as the band's Top of the Pops performance of "William, It Was Really Nothing," in which he crooned the initial verse while dreamily propping his head on his hands, then coming to life for the chorus by ripping open his shirt to reveal the sardonic slogan MARRY ME. But on that appearance they mimed to pre-recorded tracks -- here, the band rushes the tempos, at times reducing Morrissey to flubbing lyrics so that they resemble incomprehensible animal noises. Likewise, Marr's guitar-playing, often elegantly interwoven on these songs' studio incarnations, here leans heavily on vague wah-wah washes and depressing showbiz moves like replacing the lilting highlife figure dancing through "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side" with a bluntly loutish bleat worthy of an Aerosmith solo. Although I will say the brief but delightful snippet of "Marie's the Name (of His Latest Flame") that contextualizes "Rusholme Ruffians" for the young'uns does make me pine for a whole album of Elvis covers. It's not too late, guys. B
The Smiths: The Sound of the Smiths (2008, Rhino) It's said that singles represent this band's natural métier, which is why most fans revere 1995's self-explanatory Singles, which marches chronologically from "Hand in Glove" (May 1983, didn't chart, and what do you expect with homoerotic cover art) to "Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me" (December 1987, highest UK chart-placing #30) and encoring with the single-that-should-have-been "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out." It's serviceable and consistent in ways their proper studio albums are not, and can be found cheap from the usual online sources. But though the deluxe 2-CD version adds an extra disc of unwisely chosen ephemera, I prefer this more thoughtfully compiled 2008 upgrade, which augments Singles' original eighteen tracks with five mostly early vintage add-ons that remind us first and foremost they were a rock band, not merely a cult pop phenomenon. Occasionally you could imagine subbing a selection here and there -- I would have switched Meat Is Murder's laughable funk workout "Barbarism Begins at Home" with "What She Said" or "Rusholme Ruffians," and Marr's folk leanings are criminally shortchanged. But from declaring your short-lived romance by bragging that "the sun shines out of our behinds" to offhandedly noting that "eighteen months hard labor" is a fair enough penance for your interpersonal fuckups, this smashes the canard this band was strictly for mopes and schoolmarms -- with a few devastating exceptions, almost every one of these songs boasts at least one line that will make you laugh out loud. I'll assume you already knew that. But this improved configuration more deftly showcases the wily moves and clever riffs of the greatest British rhythm guitarist this side of Keith Richards. Play "Brown Sugar" alongside "The Headmaster Ritual," or "Jumpin' Jack Flash" alongside "Bigmouth Strikes Again" and "How Soon Is Now," and ask yourself the real reason why Johnny Marr's former partner hasn't been the same since NME declared the Smiths were dead. A
Monday, September 10. 2012
Music: Current count 20416  rated (+33), 664  unrated (-12).
Ratings count looks healthy enough, but nearly all of that was inertia from Recycled Goods: still have a big shelf unit of unplayed records, and they're much easier to deal with than new jazz: I must have played the Konitz album five times before I could write something about it, and I had trouble with Feinberg last night and Cantrall today. (Most of what follows was actually written some weeks back.) Shouldn't have so much trouble with the new Hairybones, which is assaulting the speakers as I type.
Not sure how I feel at the moment -- I suppose we can count that as an improvement, given how bad I've felt for the last six weeks. I don't think there will be a Rhapsody Streamnotes this month, or if there is one it will be pretty short (draft file only has 4 records so far). A Downloader's Diary and Recycled Goods also lost a month this summer -- unintended, but it's been like that.
Joe Alterman: Give Me the Simple Life (2011 , Miles High): Pianist, originally from Atlanta, moved to New York in 2007 to study at NYU. Second album, mostly piano trio with James Cammack on bass and Herlin Riley on drums, joined on four cuts by the redoubtable tenor saxophonist, Houston Person. Wrote 2 (of 12) tracks, with "Georgia on My Mind" the only cover I was sure of. Nice, spry piano, and of course the guest is superb. B+(**)
Angles 8: By Way of Deception: Live in Ljubljana (2011 , Clean Feed): Swedish alto saxophonist Martin Küchen's big group, expanded from six to eight this time -- Eirik Hegdal (baritone sax, soprano sax) and Alexander Zethson (piano) are the adds, although he's also swapped trumpeters (Goran Kajfes replaces Magnus Broo). The piano pays dividends, and Mattias Ståhl's vibes glitter throughout, but the horns are rich, vibrant, triumphant. A-
Bill Cantrall & Axiom: Live at the Kitano (2010 , Up Swing): Trombone player, from and based in New York, studied at Northwestern and Queen's College. One previous album, Axiom, named his band -- basically a hard bop quintet with trombone instead of trumpet -- after it: Stacy Dillard (tenor/soprano sax), Rick Germanson (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass), Darrell Green (drums), plus he picks up Mike DiRubbo (alto sax) and Freddie Hendrix (trumpet, comes as a surprise) for a 23:57 expansion of "Axiom." B+(***)
Michael Feinberg: The Elvin Jones Project (2012, Sunnyside): Bassist, b. 1987, second album, takes the Coltrane Quartet as his starting point, starting and ending with Elvin Jones compositions, covering Coltrane, Steve Grossman, Frank Foster, and Jimmy Van Heusen ("Nancy With the Laughing Face") in between, with one Feinberg original. Group is overloaded with talent: George Garzone, Tim Hagans, Leo Genovese, Billy Hart, plus guitar (Alex Wintz) on two tracks. Lots of superb runs, and the drummer has fun. B+(**)
Lee Konitz/Bill Frisell/Gary Peacock/Joey Baron: Enfants Terribles (2011 , Half Note): The drummer, at 56, is the youngest here, so "enfants" as much of a joke as "terribles." The eldest is the alto saxophonist, at 85 -- presumably he's the guy at the end who can't remember his bandmates names, although you'll recognize them. I kept listening for Konitz, and hearing Frisell, playing Konitz-like twists on the standards repertoire. Not that the alto sax isn't present. He just works a around the lines, letting the band for this "Live at the Blue Note" disc support him. B+(***)
Igor Lumpert Trio: Innertextures Live (2011 , Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1975 in the future Slovenia, studied in Austria, spent some time in Munich playing for a group that won a "Best Jazz Group of Germany" award, wound up in New York. With Chris Tordini on bass (presumably "Christhopher" is a typo) and Nasheet Waits on drums. All originals, smart free jazz, shies away from excessive drama and volume. B+(**)
Pat Martino: Alone Together With Bobby Rose (1977-78 , High Note): Pre-aneurism, previously unreleased, Rose adds a second guitar but is more rhythm accompaniment than duet partner. B+(*)
Michael McNeill Trio: Passageways (2010 , self-released): Pianist, b. 1982, based in Buffalo, first album, a trio with Ken Filiano (bass) and Phil Haynes (drums). I often despair of my inability to sort out the vast wave of piano trios that come my way, but sometimes I'm caught by surprise -- just rarely by someone I've never heard of before. First clue here is the bassist, who never plays on uninteresting albums. Filiano kicks off the 20:34 opener -- that length another sign that something is up here -- but when the pianist takes over he darts in and out, never settling for something ordinary. The other four pieces range 5:48-9:58. A-
Platform 1: Takes Off (2011 , Clean Feed): New Ken Vandermark group, with Magnus Broo (trumpet), Steve Swell (trombone), Joe Williamson (bass), and Michael Vatcher (drums). All but the drummer contribute songs -- Vandermark's two dedicated to label head Pedro Costa and Roswell Rudd, good news for the trombonist, who has the hot hand here. When the horns are flaring, as impressive as any band working, including Vandermark's previous Five. Don't quite get the dead spaces, though. B+(***)
Trespass Trio [Martin Küchen/Per Zanussi/Raymond Strid]: Bruder Beda (2011 , Clean Feed): Like Angles, Exploding Customer, Sound of Mucus, another Martin Küchen group, a trio with Küchen on alto sax, Per Zanussi on double bass, and Raymond Strid on drums. Second group album. Slowly, cautiously navigates the free jazz shoals, at once daring and moderate. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Tuesday, September 4. 2012
Normally I would have released an early August column even if it came up short, but seeing as how this is my 100th Recycled Goods guide, I felt something more substantial was called for -- certainly more than the half-dozen entries I had piled up by August 1. I get, and for that matter pursue, very few reissues these days -- not even much jazz, and the world music I tried to slip in is also way down. I've partly made up for that by consulting Rhapsody, but even when the records are available, there are a lot of things I'm reluctant to do, for lack of essential packaging documentation, and/or in the case of box sets lack of patience.
So what I wound up doing this month was to tackle my vast unrated file. Until lately that file listed about 750 records: things I have but hadn't got around to. Of that, slightly less than 200 records are in the incoming new jazz queue. Some of the other 550 are old LPs and newer promos -- mostly rock bands I had never heard of -- that I may never get to. But most of the 550 are in a handy shelf unit, and most of them were picked up real cheap when the last decent record stores here in Wichita went out of business. At the time I used to carry around a 20+ page printout of all the records I had heard about and would consider buying if I ran across them cheap enough. (For instance, it included all of the Penguin Guide 3.5- and 4-star records I didn't have.) As the closeouts approached $1 each a lot of records hit that threshold and I went into a feeding frenzy, buying hundreds of CDs, many so marginal I've yet to get to them. (This was back around 2002-04. Since then my threshold has moved: factors include a decade of struggling with storage problems, loss of income, lack of access to good used stores, plus the growing realization that I'm never going to get to it all.)
So what follows is a dive into my unrated file, salted with a few recent world music purchases (Karantamba, Souleyman, a Rough Guide). In early August I was so bummed by this that I athreatened to shelve the column after number 100. But I have a few more things in the queue, including a promise from Shanachie that I feel I have to honor. Plus, there's still a lot more in the rack.
One more point that bears repeating: Michael Tatum talked me into starting this column, edited it during its prime period when it was posted at Static Multimedia (even after he stopped working there), and has encouraged and helped me all along. This column, and the 3400 reviews to date, would not exist but for him.
Svend Asmussen: The Extraordinary Life and Music of a Jazz Legend (1935-49 , Shanachie): I don't think this CD was ever released: it showed up in the promo packet for a DVD with the same title, but the PR sheet explains that because the DVD was stuck with following the Danish fiddler's video trail, it's three hours of music missed much of Asmussen's best jazz. (Actually, the DVD covers says this was released on iTunes, which as a long-term Apple-phobe I wouldn't count.) Asmussen was born in 1916 in Denmark, plays violin, made an impression in the late 1930s, and at 96 is living in Florida, with a new album as recent as 2009. Light swing, lush violin, often with vibes, even Hawaiian guitar; about half with vocals (mostly Asmussen), neither here nore there. B+(***) [advance]
The John R T Davies Collection: Volume 1: Jazz Classics (1928-35 , JSP, 4CD): One of England's most effective connoisseurs of early jazz and blues, Davies (1927-2004) had an exceptional talent at extracting and cleaning up the music from old pressings, a skill he used to build most of JSP's catalogue. The label likes to release 4-CD sets, so decided to memorialize Davies with this collection of odds and ends, roughly one disc each of four interesting figures. Needless to say, the sound is impeccable. The advertised "100 sides" come up a bit short, at 92. Still a huge bargain.
Duke Ellington: Swing Legends: 24 Classic Hits [Robert Parker Classic Years in Digital Stereo] (1929-47 , Nimbus): I hear that audiophiles hate reprocessed stereo, but I've never been picky or discerning enough to care, or maybe even to tell the difference. On the other hand, it's just possible that Parker (1936-2004) has done something different with his Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo and Classic Years in Digital Stereo series: I can't think of another version of "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" that has as much presence at this one here, and what I've heard thus far sounds fine to me. This is a 24-cut intro to Ellington's classic period, with a bit from the Bubber Miley era (4 cuts 1927-29), lots more from the Webster-Blanton (10 cuts from 1940 alone), barely enough to scratch the surface (the Classics label covers these years in 26 CDs), but everything here is essential and magnificent. Of course, I'd recommend that you dig deeper: A+ records include RCA's criminally out-of-print Early Ellington (Jazz Legends covers the same ground, and then some, in The Bubber Miley Era: 1924-1929) and the 1940-42 Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band, but you also need to sample Ellington's small groups and at least hear the 1940 Fargo concert. This is merely a starter kit. A
Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon: Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Volume 1 (1926-1929) (1926-29 , Document): B. 1895 in Kansas City, a diminutive orphan, performed in vaudeville in his teens, sometimes as a female impersonator. He played piano, cut enough records to fill up three CDs, plus some after 1936 with Harlem Hamfats. Aside from his piano, not really a bluesman -- a snappy song-and-dance guy, a crack comic, a jive artist long before Cab Calloway and Slim Gaillard. Quite a bit of surface noise early on, but it gets better. Someone should compile a canonical single-disc best-of, but even here I can predict disappointment over the cuts. A-
Spike Jones: Musical Depreciation Revue: The Spike Jones Anthology (1942-59 , Rhino, 2CD): As a musician, Jones perfected a rousing circus style augmented by whistles and gongs and other odd hard-to-describe sound effects. His singers, including Mel Blanc, were skit artists, sometimes murdering classics, more often skewering popular songs -- a favorite technique is to add context, explaining why "All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth" came about), with a few sui generis concoctions like "Wild Bill Hiccup" -- probably an update to a vaudeville parlay. The comedy is cheap, and dated, and this isn't something I'll feel like playing much in the future, but it's so unique (and frequently thrilling) I can't complain much. A-
Louis Jordan: Five Guys Named Moe (1943-45 , Charly): A useless collection, with absolutely no documentation as to when these 20 cuts originated, and nothing on the internet to make up for the deficit, although the music is prime, and the titles don't intersect much with MCA's two essential Best Of volumes -- haven't checked against Proper's 4-CD Jivin' With Jordan, as good a place to start as any. Two songs are introduced as V Discs -- recordings Jordan and many others made for Armed Forces Radio during WWII, so that seems like a possibility, but adding to the confusion Charly released a second Jordan comp in 1993 explicitly based on the V Discs: Five Guys Named Moe (The V Discs) -- 14 cuts, all titles also here (hmm?). The same 14 cuts show up in Collectors' Choice's 1998 release of Jordan's V-Disc Recordings, so that seems to be that -- a reasonable guess is that this is the V Discs (1943-45) plus six more or less contemporaneous recordings, which would make it a bargain and a nice supplement to Jordan's jukebox hits. Still, unforvibable that they tell you none of that. B
Roland Kirk: Rahsaan: The Complete Mercury Recordings of Roland Kirk (1961-65 , Mercury, 11CD): I bought this long ago but only recently cracked it open, giving it one quick pass -- ten hours (550:08) -- without bothering to break out the constituent albums (most out of print anyway). Aside from Kirk's Work (on Prestige), these are all of Kirk's early recordings, various studio and live groups, including an impressive set cut with Quincy Jones' big band. Some of it is brilliant, but much of it is widely scattered, including a lot of flute, some r&b vocals, and Kirk's famous three-horn gimmick, where he simultaneously plays tenor sax, strich, and manzello -- the latter two his inventions, although they are now well known if not exactly common. Much to study here, one of the most distinctive saxophonists ever, but the less studious (and less flush) may prefer to seek out the two constituent albums here that have generally remained in print: 1961's We Free Kings, and 1965's Rip, Rig & Panic -- two career peaks. B+(**)
OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, 1948-1980 (1937-82 , Ellipsis Arts, 3CD): "If you're under ninety, chances are you've spent most of your life listening to electronic music," Brian Eno exaggerates in his foreword. Eno himself appears on the last song on the last disc, and chances are you haven't heard anything else here that preceded him -- well, maybe Jon Hassell, Steve Reich, Terry Riley; maybe even Raymond Scott, John Cage, or Olivier Messaien, but probably not his 1937 experiment that resulted in a shouting match between excited and appalled fans. As background music this is a veritable catalog of drones and beeps, sounds that have since become common in more beatwise music. Also doesn't help that most of these composers came out of the classical tradition, and some retained their preference for soprano divas -- I'd be happier had they stuck with the machines. Also, La Monte Young's long warble closing a second disc with more than its share of rough spots could drive you to hit eject. But the 96-page book is superb, the history both fascinating and important. Reminds me that I took a serious stab at this music back in the 1970s -- lots of familiar names here, and a few notables (like George Crumb and Charles Wuorinen) didn't even make the cut. A-
The Rough Guide to Highlife [2nd Edition] (, World Music Network, 2CD): The bracketed notation is for you and me, signifying that this edition of the title has nothing in common with the label's out-of-print 2003 edition of the same title: not a problem, given how easy it is to pick out classics from Ghana and Nigeria in the 1970s. As usual, no dates, but the pre-Afrobeat Fela Kuti opener most likely dates from 1969, and the closer comes from Earthworks' superb 1981-84 Ghana compilation, The Guitar and Gun (not "the Gun"). Includes Seprewa Kasa's eponymous 2008 album as a bonus, worth having [previously rated B+(***) here]. A
Aesop Rock: Daylight (2001 , Definitive Jux, EP): A nominal EP quick on the heels of the alt-rapper's second album -- seven tracks, six 4:16-5:40, the closer 24:32 on paper, but much of that is dead space; try as I can, most of the words slip past me as rhythmic rubble, but the near-instrumental "Forest Crunk" is remarkably seductive. B+(**)
Arthur Alexander: Lonely Just Like Me (1993, Elektra/Nonesuch): Mild-mannered soul singer -- he's usually defined as "country soul" -- had a string of singles 1962-77 with albums in 1962 and 1972, then vanished until this comeback effort, just months before he dropped dead; very much at ease here. B+(**)
Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994, Sire, 2CD): Long skeins of unobtrusive dithering, repeating a sound until it vanished into the background, or undercutting the edges until they no longer stand out; I have my doubts that this is what we listen to music for, otherwise why even turn it on? B
Sidney Bechet: In Paris: Volume 1 (1953-64 , Disques Vogue/RCA): A nice, attractive series of French reissues from the 1950s as American jazz stars washed up on the Left Banke; the Bechet is the exception, two suites with classical orch leaving him little room to improvise. C+
Blue Lu, Wee Bea & Baby Dee: Don't You Feel My Leg (1946-50 , Delmark): "Apollo's Lady Blues Singers": nine cuts by Blue Lu Barker, five by Wee Bea Booze, four by Baby Dee, all devotees of a stripped down style, part tease, part trying to hold back and do what's proper. B+(***)
Boards of Canada: Music Has a Right to Children (1998, Matador/Warp): Duo from Scotland, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin, released four albums 1996-2005, this the best known; starts with a chilly ambiance, but moves in and makes itself comfortable, easy listening as engaging as you're up to. A-
Tiny Bradshaw: The EP Collection . . . Plus (1950-55 , See for Miles): Singer (1907-58), played piano and drums, led bands from 1934 on, moving from swing into jump blues once he signed with King in 1948; had a hit with "Train Kept A-Rolin'" in 1951, and filled out this collection with an endless supply of Red Prysock sax jumps; the first half here really jumps, but the instrumentals that pad this out to 29 songs just fall into the groove. B+(**)
Cajun Vol. 1: Abbeville Breakdown (1929-39 , Columbia): Early cajun recordings from the Columbia vaults, mostly Beaux Freres and the Alley Boys of Abbeville, neither major figures but they get the basic sound down, the washboard rhythm and rocking accordion and/or fiddle. B+(***)
Calypso Rose: Soca Diva (1993, Ice): McCartha Lewis, b. 1940, first woman to win the calypso prize in 1978, with most of her records (on Straker's) 1984-91; don't know whether these are new songs (they do have new copyright dates), new recordings, or what, but the beat is infectious, and when she tees off on Chris Columbus she dings up her target pretty bad. B+(**)
Clifton Chenier: Bayou Blues (1955 , Specialty): The "King of Zydeco" from the mid-1950s until his death in 1987, or as the back cover puts it, "King of the South"; plays accordion, adding a Cajun lilt and a bit of French accent to time-tested blues riffs; this early record is typical, one could even say classic. B+(***)
June Christy: The Misty Miss Christy (1955 , Capitol): One of Stan Kenton's singers, emerging as the definitive voice of cool in the 1950s; one of her key works, her voice as authoritative as ever, but Pete Rugolo's strings were never much of a strong point. B+(**)
Guy Clark: Dublin Blues (1995, Elektra/Asylum): Texas singer-songwriter, has dropped an easy-going, homespun album every couple years since 1975's Old No. 1; one of the better ones, citing Hank Williams, recycling the tale of "The Randall Knife." B+(***)
Leonard Cohen: New Skin for Old Ceremony (1974, Columbia): A still young man sounding old and jaded, a role he ever more grew into, leaving this album -- which must have sounded daring, risqué, even shocking at the time -- unfinished, a sketchpad of incomplete ideas. B+(**)
Steve Coleman/Robin Eubanks/Greg Osby/Cassandra Wilson: Flashback on M-Base (1985-90 , JMT): The one M-Base record is attributed to the Collective, but this second package of archival material falls back to the Collective's most prominent figures; the idea was funk-jazz fusion, which this achieves more often than not; the nots are tripped up in Wilson's arty vocals. B+(*)
Bootsy Collins: Glory B Da Funk's on Me: The Bootsy Collins Anthology (1976-82 , Warner Archives/Rhino, 2CD): Bass player, worked with James Brown and George Clinton and had a huge impact on both, while running Bootsy's Rubber Band as a side project of Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic franchises; I was blown away by his first two albums, less impressed by the next four, which all figure into this compilation; better to search out the later single Back in the Day: The Best of Bootsy, or the first two (which loom larger in the single); packaging is a little strange here. B+(**)
Elizabeth Cotten: Live! (1983 , Arhoolie): Folksinger, her main claim to fame a couple albums recorded in the late 1950s for Folkways, but you can add this live set from when she was close to 90, picking her guitar and talking her way around the songs. B+(***)
Don Covay: Checkin' In With Don Covay (1973-74 , Mercury): Minor soul singer, released nine albums 1965-77, two of which are excerpted here (Superdude and Hot Blood), no idea how representative they were, but they sound like he was attempting a mid-career adjustment toward funk, and hadn't got the hang of it yet. He more assured with old-fashioned adultery-murder ballads like "There's Something on My Mind." B
Pee Wee Crayton/Percy Mayfield/Memphis Slim/Jimmy Witherspoon: Blues From Dolphin's of Hollywood (1953-55 , Specialty): Nine cuts from Crayton; three, four, and four from the others, plus two each from Little Caesar ("You Can't Bring Me Down" a choice cut), Floyd Dixon, and Peppermint Harris; only Mayfield has a better comp, and sandwiching the blues shouter Witherspoon between the pianists (Slim's "Pete's Boogie" is another choice cut) serves him right. A-
Cymande: Promised Heights (1974 , Newhouse): British funk crew with a Jamaican connection, their first something of a cult album, but this is their third, which rolls along pleasantly, with nothing really standing out, except maybe the rastafari nod. B
Craig David: Born to Do It (2001, Wildstar/Atlantic): Brit soul singer, father from Grenada, maternal grandfather orthodox Jewish; first album, sold well; languid beats, not too slick, an mix of things. B+(**)
Craig David: Slicker Than Your Average (2002, Wildstar/Atlantic): Spawned four top-10 UK hits, not that I can pick them out, let alone tell you why; maybe slicker, but still eclectic, the rough spots more intriguing, but the effect minor any way you slice it. B+(**)
DJ Logic: The Anomaly (2001, Ropeadope): Jason Kibler's third album, electrobeats and turntable squiggles with a few raps and some jazz dressing; he veered further into jazztronica on Matthew Shipp's Blue Series, and teamed with Vernon Reid for two fine Yohimbe Brothers records; the rough roots of his career are all here, rough. B+(**)
Early Mandolin Classics (1927-34 , Rounder): Sixteen cuts, starting with the Dallas String Band playing "Hokum Blues," with more hokum to follow than bluegrass, although the best known name among these obscurities is Gid Tanner's Skillet Lickers, playing a rag -- most intriguing name is King David Jug Band. B+(***)
The Firesign Theatre: Shoes for Industry! The Best of the Firesign Theatre (1967-75 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The main difference between Christgau and myself is that he can discern the subtlest innuendo of lyrics in real time, whereas for me every rhyme sounds like "Louie Louie"; he thinks this is remarkably funny, but all I hear is disconnected background noise -- I don't recall laughing once, but I can tell you that the satire about wars in general and the war on drugs in particular is sadly undated. B
Dick Gaughan: Handful of Earth (1981, Green Linnet): Scottish folk singer, 18 albums since 1972, this the top-rated one at AMG; heavy accent, thick guitar, slow laments, some I take for class consciousness, but that may be sheer stubbornness. B+(**)
Genius/GZA: Liquid Swords (1995, Geffen): One of the first solo albums to drop out of the Wu-Tang collective, wrapping some Samurai shit around gangsta business -- sounds smarter when you rap about it than when you do it, but either way the fatalism gives you up in the end. B+(***)
Merle Haggard: Serving 190 Proof (1979, MCA): It would be fun to go back and sort through Hag's early records one-by-one, but having been introduced to him through comps, the first thing that strikes me here is finding the source of two familiar classics -- "Red Bandana" and "My Own Kind of Hat"; the old records are all short (34:32 here), but the nine other songs -- seven by Haggard, the other two the most pre-fab -- are substantial, even if the weariness of turning 41 turned out to be short-sighted. A-
Merle Haggard: The Peer Sessions (1996-99 , Audium): A dozen covers, limited to songs published by Ralph Peer, but that includes a fair helping of country classics: Jimmie Rodgers, Jimmie Davis, W. Lee O'Daniel, Tommy Duncan, Floyd Tillman; he's a fine interpreter, especially of Rodgers (whom he had a head start on: cf. his 1969 album, Same Train, Different Time). B+(**)
Al Haig: Al Haig Today! (1965 , Fresh Sound): An important bebop pianist, especially in the early 1950s, knocked out this trio with Ed DeHass on bass and Jim Kappes on drums; one original, the rest standards, the melodies nicely laid out, nothing fancy piled on top. B+(*)
Roscoe Holcomb: The High Lonesome Sound (1961-74 , Smithsonian/Folkways): Kentucky coal miner, died of emphysema at age 68, cut two CDs worth of falsetto moan over banjo for folk purists, sounding much older and more ragged than his years; his "House of New Orleans" has never been done uglier, but he finds a form of serenity by the end, if you can stand the sameness. B+(*)
Industrial Strength Machine Music: The Framework of Industrial Rock 1978-1995 (1978-95 , Rhino): Hard synth percussion, mechanical repetition, not much for vocals, least of all for anything that might humanize the aesthetic; starts with Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, passing through Einsturzende Neubauten, Ministry, Revolting Cocks, winding down with Nine Inch Nails; tries to keep an even keel, underplaying the noise potential, clogging along. B+(**)
D.D. Jackson: Anthem (2000, RCA): Canadian pianist, protégé of Don Pullen, had some early 1990s albums with David Murray, wound up briefly on a major label which culminated in this kitchen sink production; some moments, including James Carter's two spots but also some piano, are brilliant, but there are also vocals, faux classical and faux Africanism, stuff I can't even characterize close enough to insult. B
Herb Jeffries: Say It Isn't So (1957 , Bethlehem): A matinee-idol crooner, most famous for his brief (1940-42) tenure with Duke Ellington, never the best judge of vocal talent; Russ Garcia's strings try to play to Jeffries' strengths, a marble-like stature and a sense that time stretches to infinity. B-
Tom Johnson/Eberhard Blum: Rational Melodies (1993, Hat Art): Johnson wrote for the Village Voice about "new music" from 1972-82, and toward the end was composing some of his own; his "Rational Melodies" dates from 1982 and has been recorded several times, here by flautist Blum; even hard-core flutophobes should give this a chance, the instrument's tell-tale timber melting away when faced with such logic. B+(***)
George Jones: And Along Came Jones (1991, MCA): Wrote one song, with Ray Price so it doesn't seem that fresh, title is "You Done Me Wrong," which pretty much sums up his aesthetic, even though in real life he was plenty culpable too; the other songs are pro forma, but any time he wants he can throw his voice around to make them special. B+(**)
George Jones: I Lived to Tell It All (1996, MCA): All turns out to mean drinking songs. Probably healthier to sing them than to live them. B+(*)
George Jones & Tammy Wynette: Together Again: The Encore Collection (1972-85 , BMG Special Products): False advertising: they're only together in the cover picture, where both look like they have better places to be; starts with four Jones songs -- good to hear his slapdash "Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half as Bad)" -- five from Wynette (wouldn't you love to hear Jones harmonize on "D.I.V.O.R.C.E."?) then Jones gets the last word in: "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" -- a problem neither has ever had a problem with (actually, it's about deeper concerns: Elvis, Hank, and Lefty). C
Kansas City Hot Jazz [Robert Parker's Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo] (1926-30 , ABC): Early, the formative years of Kansas City's reputation as the home of the territory bands, the 18 cuts mostly divided between Bennie Moten (11 cuts) and Andy Kirk (4), with Walter Page, Hattie North, and George E. Lee garnering one cut each -- Count Basie appears only on the last of the Moten cuts; transitional, not as hot as other contemporaries, not quite ready to swing -- Basie changed that, but he becomes a much larger figure in Moten's 1931-32 band. B+(**)
Karantamba: Ndigal (1984 , Teranga Beat): Cut in Senegal and previously unreleased, featuring Gambian guitarist Bai Janha who also led the group Guelewar, a jumble of everything from mbalax to afrobeat, the guitar and vocals central, but it's the drums that grab you. A-
Lotte Lenya: Lenya Sings Weill: The American Theatre Songs (1955-66 , Sony Classical): German actress-singer (1898-1981), married to composer Kurt Weill, divorced, then reunited in New York as exiles from the Third Reich; with her clear voice and accent, she always had an edge in singing Weill's songs, and nothing holds her back here, not even Maurice Levine's orchestra; ends with several takes leading up to Louis Armstrong's hit version of "Mack the Knife." A-
Lil Wayne: The Drought Is Over 2: The Carter 3 Sessions (2007, Mixtrap): Superstar rapper, currently has 10 studio albums, 25 free mixtapes; I bought a CDR of this during the first flush of interest in his mixtapes, packed it for travel, never figured it out; the repeating theme is something about "the empire strikes back," punctuating a wide range of pieces including a memorable sample from the Beatles' "help"; a cornucopia of rich rips and dubious philosophizing, not much sticking in your mind. B+(***)
Lil Wayne: Da Drought 3 (2007, mixtrap, 2CD): More like Da Deluge, some in response to Katrina, but most because with the relaxed rules governing mixtapes he just lets it all flow. A-
Lord Kitchener: Klassic Kitchener: Volume Three (1970-91 , Ice): Aldwyn Roberts (1922-2000) emerged as a major calypso singer during his UK period (1948-62), rivaled Mighty Sparrow for dominance of calypso competitions in the 1960s and 1970s; of Ice's three volumes of Kitchener hits, the first is essential, the second dispensible, and the third, mostly drawn from the 1970s, splits the difference. A-
Nellie Lutcher: The Best of Nellie Lutcher (1947-51 , Capitol): R&B singer from Louisiana, accompanied herself on piano, had a few marginal hits -- "Fine Brown Frame" is especially indelible. b+(**)
J.E. Mainer & the Mountaineers: 18 Gospel Favorites (1967-69 , Rural Rhythm): North Carolina string band with Mainer (fiddle) and Morris Herbert (banjo) sharing vocals, backed by guitar, dobro, bass, and washboard; they date back to the 1930s, and we're assured they play these songs just like they did back then, but they seem to originate on albums Mainer cut for the label just before his death in 1971 (possible some of these are earlier: Rural Rhythm released twenty LPs of The Legendary J.E. Mainer and His Mountaineers in the late '60s, but only one lineup is listed here, so that must tighten the range); some familiar tunes, most obscure, his "Log Cabin in the Lane" too sprightly to be credible, but fine nonetheless. B+(**)
Marley Marl: The Best of Cold Chillin': In Control Vols. I + II (1988-91 , Landspeed, 2CD): Producer, in control of a pair of records that are rarely captured by their featured artists -- Roxanne Shanté's "Wack It" is one exception; old school beats, and a few old school boasts, continuous flow, the second volume doubling the song count, trying to substitute quantity for the quality drop. B+(**)
Mighty Spoiler: Unspoilt (1953-60 , Ice): Another 1950s calypso champion, Theophilus Philip (1926-60), made his first mark in 1946 but it's not clear from the microscopic type in the booklet that anything here predates "Bedbug"; more vintage calypso, with with steel pans. B+(**)
Garnet Mimms: Cry Baby: The Best of Garnet Mimms (1963-66 , EMI): R&B singer from Philadelphia, had a hit in 1963 with "Cry Baby" -- later made even more famous by Janis Joplin -- and a couple more modest hits, is career petering out in the 1970s; 25 songs is more than you need, with few jumping out of the pack -- "A Little Bit of Soap" is one. B+(**)
The Minutemen: Post-Mersh, Vol. 2: Buzz or How Under the Influence of Heat/Project Mersh (1983-85 , SST): Two EPs, one before and one after the group's landmark Double Nickels on the Dime, the before unmersh enough to include a song called "Dreams Are Free, Motherfucker," the mersh experiment featuring a cover ("Hey Lawdy Mama"), but the mersh move got much better on the following album, 3-Way Tie (For Last). B+(**)
Willie Mitchell: Soul Serenade: The Best of Willie Mitchell (1964-74 , Capitol): Best known as Al Green's producer, but played trumpet, cut more than a dozen instrumental albums 1963-71, plus a couple later on -- mild-mannered funk, aimed at Booker T., but most fell short. B
Modern Vocal Groups, Volume 3 (1949-55 , Ace): Collectorama, part of four volumes mopping up all the doo-wop on the Modern, Flair, and RPM labels -- the Cadets, the Chimes, the Flairs, the Ebonaires, Richard Berry, Arthur Lee Maye, Shirley Gunter, Etta James -- the latter the only one I've ever heard of; the basic sound is so vital, it takes a while to sink in why all this remains so obscure -- just not very good. B
Modern Vocal Groups, Volume 4 (1954-56 , Ace): Again, more obscurities, no hidden gems, even from B.B. King, except the two songs you might recall: The Cadets' "Stranded in the Jungle" (or you may just know it from the New York Dolls), and Jesse Belvin's magnificent "Goodnight My Love." B+(*)
MTV's AMP (1996-97 , Caroline): Can't say what (if anything) the brand name tie-in means, but this slice of then-contemporary electro-dance music is earnestly industrial, as machine-friendly as can be, without the menace of its industrial precursors, at least menace you should take seriously; Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, Photek, Future Sound of London, Underworld, Prodigy, Goldie, The Crystal Method, Atari Teenage Riot, like that. B+(**)
My Rough and Rowdy Ways, Vol. 1 (1920s-30s , Yazoo): "Early American Rural Music, Badman Ballads and Hellraising Songs" -- more bad men than anything else, some as well known as Dave Macon and Ernest Stoneman, Doc Boggs and Clarence Ashley and Peg Leg Howell, most faint blips. B+(**)
Albert Nicholas: Albert's Back in Town (1959 , Delmark): Sparsely documented New Orleans clarinetist (1900-73), played for King Oliver 1925-27, with Luis Russell, Jelly Roll Morton, Mezz Mezrow, and here on a visit to Chicago with Art Hodes' All-Star Stompers, including Floyd O'Brien on trombone, Mike Wallbridge on tuba, and a young Marty Grosz on guitar; superb trad jazz, especially the clarinet. A-
Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound in 1970s Nigeria (1970s , Soundway): Leads off with Fela Kuti, the first out to master the synthesis of James Brown funk with uptempo highlife; follows up with enough scattered names to make a movement, not that anyone else quite pulled it off. B+(**)
Sinéad O'Connor: So Far: The Best of Sinéad O'Connor (1986-97 , Capitol): Irish heretic, like many singer-songwriters she borrows liberally on the folk tunes; nothing here has the feel of a hit, excepting the Prince cover; vain enough to insist that her premature best-of is only the beginning, but 15 years later I don't know how you'd go about improving on it. B+(**)
The Original Sound of Cumbia (1948-79 , Soundway, 2CD): I have half a dozen Colombian cumbia compilations, and this one on paper is the most vintage, with relatively crude instrumentation and sound, relentless upbeat, and frequent shout outs to their idiom, winds up sounding the most classic. A
Other Dimensions in Music Special Quintet w/Matthew Shipp: Time Is of the Essence Is Beyond Time (1997 , AUM Fidelity): William Parker group, predecessor to his Quartet, with two horns -- Roy Campbell trumpet, Daniel Carter sax -- spinning free, Rashid Bakr on drums; normally pianoless, but here add Matthew Shipp, knocking them around a bit rather than pulling them together. B
Hot Lips Page: An Introduction to Hot Lips Page: His Best Recordings 1929-1945 (1929-45 , Best of Jazz): Given name Oran Thaddeus Page (1908-54), played trumpet with Walter Page's Blue Devils and sang in his own 1938-40 small swing groups, good for 12 of 22 cuts here; the rest come from bands Page joined, with singers like Jimmy Rushing and Billie Holiday, leaders like Chu Berry, Artie Shaw, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Sidney Bechet. B+(***)
Procol Harum: The Best of Procol Harum (1967-72 , A&M): English boogie band, had one remarkable hit, a prog fluke ("A Whiter Shade of Pale") they never came close to duplicating (OK, "Conquistador"), which left them without a practical identity. B
Rock 'n' Roll Party: Volume 1 The Early '50's (1947-56 , RCA): Compiled by Billy Vera, who has an ear for this stuff, also an eye for obscurities -- so while RCA's vaults could have yielded more recognizable names than Jazz Gillum, the Robins, and the Five Keys, he was probably just as happy chasing down the Billy Bunns and Mr. Sad Heads; Bunn's "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" is a find, even more than the party music, which had yet to trickle down to the teens. B+(**)
Roy Rogers: Country Music Hall of Fame Series (1937-42 , MCA): B. Leonard Slye in Cincinnati in 1911, moved to California and remade himself as a singing cowboy, first in Sons of the Pioneers, later in numerous movies and television shows: an ubiquitous figure for many years, soon forgotten, not least because his huge repertoire of expertly sung music has worn so thin. B+(*)
Raymond Scott: The Music of Raymond Scott: Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights (1937-40 , Columbia/Legacy): Composer, inventor, pianist, "the man who made cartoons swing, as the liner notes subhed puts it"; this documents his quintet, when he emerged from the shadows to score some hits; clever, to tightly arranged to really swing. B+(***)
Solesides' Greatest Bumps (1992-97 , Quannum Projects, 2CD): Bay Area hip-hop label comp; not sure how much of this came off their primo records -- roster includes DJ Shadow, Blackalicious (Gift of Gab), Latyrx (Lateef the Truthspeaker, Lyrics Born), Mack B. Dog -- aside from Latyrx the Album the catalog links point to EPs/singles, and only Blackalicious consistently brings their A-game. B+(***)
Omar Souleyman: Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts (2009-11 , Sublime Frequencies): Fourth album on his eclectic collector label, the first two indecisively labeled "folk and pop" with the side story that he's a wedding singer, but these cuts were recorded far away from Syria, blazing speed with minimal variations; hope he stayed out. A-
Speckled Red: The Dirty Dozens (1955-57 , Delmark): Rufus Perryman (1892-1973), older brother of Willie Perryman (aka Piano Red), their nicknames alluding to their status as albinos, both boogie woogie pianists of note; one interview cut which could, if anything, go longer; three versions of his signature "Dirty Dozens," one "Dirtier" and another "Dirtiest" -- I take him at his word, but too bad I don't have a crib sheet. B+(***)
Spring Heel Jack: Oddities (2000, Thirsty Ear): Brit drum 'n' bass duo, John Coxon and Ashley Wales, released a couple of bright pop albums before they developed a relationship with this label and revealed themselves to be big AMM fans; the label gave them this chance to indulge their incoherent side, and they took advantage. B-
Ralph Stanley: Saturday Night (1992, Freeland): The prelude to Sunday Morning, the yin and yang of country music, except that true to his high-and-lonesome bluegrass roots, Stanley isn't much up for fun on Satruday night; he lists a stellar array of duet guests, but first time through I can't say as I noticed anyone but him. B+(*)
Buddy Tate with Humphrey Lyttelton: Swinging Scorpio (1974 , Black Lion): One of the legendary Texas tenors, always at home on a blues with a swing rhythm, and England's premier trad jazz trumpeter; probably would have been better had they excluded the extra horns, which encouraged them to slide into an easy groove and stay there. B+(**)
The 2 Tone Collection: A Checkered Past (1979-86 , Chrystalis, 2CD): A label retrospective from the UK home of ska groups the Special A.K.A., the Selecter, Madness, but nothing from the English Beat, who show up on the label's highly regarded 1983 This Are Two Tone; this collection of singles, live shots, outtakes, and similar trivia has a few choice moments, but they're pretty checkered. B
Unsung Heroes: Unleashed (2000, 75 Ark): Quickly forgotten, a one-shot underground rap effort -- evidently some UK, some US; don't know who was involved or whatever came of them -- but it sticks to the basic vibe, many voices working over basic samples; subtitle: "B-Boy Mayhem in a Universe Gone Mad" -- one can do a lot with that theme. A-
The Waitresses: King Biscuit Flower Hour (1982 , King Biscuit): Chris Butler's female-voiced group, a live radio shot between their first and second (last) albums, released well after the fact, but shortly after singer Patty Donahue died, age 40, lung cancer; sloppy, loud, not as clever as the album but vibrant, something you appreciate more after a death. B+(*)
Tom Waits: Used Songs (1973-1980) (1973-80 , Elektra/Rhino): His breakthrough came in 1993 with Swordfishtrombones, where he found an appropriate sound for the down-and-out songs he'd been crafting for a decade; these are those songs, selected with an eye toward his future, easy to do now that future has slipped into the past. B+(**)
Tom Waits: Alice (2002, Anti-): Released same day as Blood Money, and therefore joined at the hip, it is pure luck that I've heard this one and not its mate (generally regarded as the better album); this is characteristically creaky, old songs roughly done, his down-and-out mode as counterculture. B+(***)
The Wandering Eyes: Songs of Forbidden Love (1998, Lazy Sob): Dedicated to Mel Street, all cheating songs all the time, so relentless it comes close to establishing a new normal; singers include Rosie Flores, Dale Watson, and Kelly Willis, and pickers come and go as often as partners. B+(**)
Dionne Warwick: The Very Best of Dionne Warwick (1962-74 , Rhino): Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote fourteen of these sixteen songs, enough to cast her as a girl group tool, but she gave the writers what little cool they ever enjoyed -- not that she actually was cool. Before Black Power she was as prim and proper as a black diva needed to be, a strange mix of empowerment and rot, a whiff of which is never far below the surface. A-
Dick Wellstood: Live at the Sticky Wicket (1986 , Arbors, 2CD): A fine, old-fashioned pianist, working solo in a bar, playing rags and swing and even a little bebop (e.g., "Giant Steps" as a rag), negotiating the tunes as he goes along; released ten years after his death, this is meant as a remembrance, so nothing is left out, which seems about right. B+(***)
Neil Young: Road Rock, V. 1 (2000, Reprise): Live tour quickie, don't expect we'll be seeing a V. 2 any time soon; cover promises "Friends & Relatives"; credits include Spooner Oldham, Duck Dunn, Jim Keltner, Astrid and Pegi Young (backing vocals), and Chrissie Hynde joins in for a Dylan closer; the 18-minute opener establishes the guitar sound, and two others stretch out past 10 minutes. 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 99, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3407 (2992 + 415).
Monday, September 3. 2012
Music: Current count 20383  rated (+46), 676  unrated (-30).
Didn't do any Jazz Prospecting this week. Still feeling bad, but I've actually been more productive, as you'll see tomorrow when I post the 100th edition of Recycled Goods. I've pretty much given up on trying to track current reissues -- cf. the metacritic file for a fairly exhaustive list, in most cases either stuff I'm not interested in or items I can't get hold of -- and instead decided to dive into my own sagging shelf of unplayed/unrated CDs. Most of these were picked up during store closeouts while I was still buying not indiscriminately but liberally, before I resumed writing about music, which is to say c. 2002. Still adding stuff to it, but last count was 82 records. Like I said, tomorrow. Should have some jazz next week.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: