Tuesday, October 30. 2012
Woke up this morning thinking of the folly of drowning the federal government in a bathtub. For starters, like without the US National Hurricane Center would be much more precarious. Otherwise, who would have suspected that when Hurricane Sandy crossed Jamaica on Oct. 22 a week later it would drop 24 inches of snow on West Virginia? More important, of course, were the storm surge warnings and evacuations. For a recounting of death before such warnings see Erik Larson's book on the 1900 Galveston hurricane, Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, although recognize that even then Isaac Cline was a federal employee, working for the U.S. Weather Bureau. The Norquist mob would have had him in their sights as well, and may well relish how close he literally came to drowning.
Forecasting helps. For the past week responsible authorities have been preparing to repair the inevitable breaks and disruptions that the storm was expected to leave. The cleanup may look messy, but it would be far worse without the preparation and the concern, and that happens because of and through government -- which is right, because only the government represents the interest and will of the people. Private businesses may look out for themselves, and charities may help patch some of the cracks, but only government moves deliberately enough to make a big difference. (That is, of course, when it does try -- something Bush's patronage cronies had trouble understanding.) Ronald Reagan once joked that the most fearsome words in the English language were, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." Funny line, except in the midst of a disaster. In such times, no one sits around contemplating how the free market is going to come to their rescue. No matter what their political stripes, they demand action from their government: lots of it, and now.
I suppose the good thing about a disaster is that it helps focus the mind. Otherwise, some people can get pretty confused. Take, please, Mitt Romney. Ed Kilgore quotes Ryan Grim, quoting Romney (for video, follow the Grim link):
Decentralizing government is fine and dandy in principle, but it doesn't necessarily work, and is certain to fail for disaster relief. The obvious problem is that the states have much tighter budgets -- they have to pay as they go, which means they'd have to save ahead of disasters (most likely through buying private market insurance), whereas the feds not only have deeper pockets, they can refill them as needed. You might try arguing that you can have the feds fund (or at least insure) the states, but you'd still get a whole series of inefficiencies and inequities: redundant or missing expertise, coordination problems (many disasters, like Sandy, cross borders), inconsistent policies and red tape. Even now, with the feds doing most of the work, you have vast differences from state to state -- Florida, which has a lot of practice, is relatively effective in doling out federal money, while Mississippi and Louisiana don't seem to be able to do anything competently (or without the taints of corruption and racism).
Romney compounds his ideological delusions about disaster relief with further idiocy about the federal debt. The core fact is that the federal debt, unlike your mortgage or car payment, does not have to be paid off -- not in your lifetime, or in your children's, or in their children's. Sure, that doesn't mean that you can expand it infinitely, but it means there's no clock-running-out scenario. (Also, things get tougher for debts that are denominated in other currencies, as you can see from Greece, Spain, etc. But US debt is exclusively denominated in dollars, and within some limits can be floated in inflated dollars.) Such harping on the debt only works if you assume government have to live like you do -- an assumption that defies our every experience. (Another telling joke: if you owe a bank a thousand dollars, that's your problem, but if you owe the bank a billion, that's the bank's problem.)
The point Romney and other deficit hawks are trying to drive home is the idea that we're broke, and when we're broke we can't afford things no matter how much we need them. (So suck it up, and plod along until you can. Better yet, get rich like Romney -- ignoring that he did it all with borrowed money, the debts for which he was able to pass on to the companies he ruined.) But when disaster hits, debt is often the only way out: e.g., you need to clean up the muck and broken windows in order for your your business to earn the cash to pay for repairs. And disaster shakes loose your illusions about individualism, so it's not just about you: if you repair your business but your neighbors do not, your location is soon worthless. Likewise, you depend on access roads being repaired, the power grid; you depend on public sanitation and health; you depend on police and firemen and courts and a solvent government, and those are all things that federal disaster relief make possible. And you depend on the economy bouncing back so people will buy from your business. The Republican dream of drowning the government will make all of that impossible. "Starving the beast" just withers the hand you may someday depend on to rescue you.
John Nichols has another piece that quotes the same Romney transcript. Alex Seitz-Wald has another; also later a piece not on what Romney was thinking but on what he's doing in face of the actual disaster: collecting canned goods, the ultimate hack charity drive:
Today, we got a look at Romney's charity in action, when he held an event that he swears was not a campaign rally in Ohio aimed at "storm relief" (the choice of a song with the lyrics "Knee deep in the water somewhere" was perhaps ill advised). The Romney campaign encouraged attendees to bring canned goods, clothes and other items to be sent to hurricane victims. "We have a lot of goods here . . . that these people will need," Romney said in his brief remarks. "We're going to box them up, then send them into New Jersey."
Most likely he just wanted a photo op to look like he was doing something at a time when the actual president was -- a structural problem which, I think, is one of the reasons why we shouldn't let sitting presidents run for reëlection. Looks like Romney also flipped on getting rid of FEMA, although from what little sense I can make of his new position the least I can say is he didn't make a very clean landing.
While we're at it, Republicans are often confused about who actually benefits from that government largesse they incessantly moan about. Like the old canard about how everyone overestimates how much federal money goes to foreign aid, they also have (and prey upon) a truly irrational fear of supporting the needy (and unworthy). In fact, an awful lot of what government does is to support businesses and their owners, and disaster aid is one of many chunks that fit. Indeed, you have to wonder when the rich are going to wise up and realize that they need the government much more than the poor do, and that the wholesale destruction of public goods and values is going to come back to hurt them. Robert H. Frank has a piece that starts to make this case, although he could go a lot further. The piece is called "Higher Taxes Help the Richest, Too." More on that, later.
Monday, October 29. 2012
Music: Current count 20599  rated (+23), 655  unrated (+12). Lots of mail, but missed a couple days so the rated count is down, and Jazz Prospecting a bit slim. (Also, the Parker box is a big deal, one I wish I had been able to put more time into.) Also did a bit on Recycled Goods, which is coming due in a week or so: more from my unplayed pile, not that I'm finding enough treasure there to keep me focused.
Ed Byrne's Latin Jazz Evolution: Conquistador (2012, Blue Truffle Music): Trombonist, cut his teeth in Eddie Palmieri's band, second album; credits percussionist Carlos Clinton (congas, bongos, cowbell) as co-leader, adds another percussionist (Esteban Arrufatt on timbales and guiro), piano, sax, violin (Maureen Choi), and two bassists. Pretty basic rhythms, but the horns pack more muscle than the usual brass. B+(**)
Roman Filiu: Musae (2010 , Dafnison): Alto/soprano saxophonist, b. in Cuba, moved to New York in 2011; played with Chucho Valdes both in and out of Irakere, also in David Murray's Latin Big Band; second album, quintet with piano (David Virelles), guitar (Adam Rogers), bass (Reinier Elizarde), and drums (split between Dafnis Prieto and Marcus Gilmore). Does a nice job of keeping the rhythm wedged open, building up tension and never quite gets resolved. B+(*)
Ben Holmes Quartet: Anvil of the Lord (2012, Skirl): Trumpet player, b. 1979 in Ithaca, NY. Released a trio album in 2009, followed up here by adding a trombone (Curtis Hasselbring) and swapping bassists. As Louis Armstrong understood early on, the trombone is the perfect foil for a trumpeter, and that principle still applies here, even moving far into postbop territory. B+(***)
Steve Kuhn Trio: Life's Magic (1986 , Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1938, has dozens of records since 1963, including this one, cut live at the Village Vanguard and originally released on Blackhawk in 1987. Trio with Ron Carter on bass and Al Foster on drums, Kuhn remembers "feeling like a kid in a candy store". Half originals, half swing-period covers, LP-length, light and spry. B+(***)
Rob Mazurek Pulsar Quartet: Stellar Pulsations (2012, Delmark): Cornet player, based in Chicago, an essential part of Chicago Underground Duo/Trio (which morphed into Sao Paulo Underground) and a number of astronomy-themed groups: Starlicker, Exploding Star Orchestra, now Pulsar Quartet. With Angelica Sanchez (piano), Matthew Lux (bass guitar), and John Herndon (drums). The cornet is sparkling, and Sanchez makes a strong impression. B+(***)
Ferenc Nemeth: Triumph (2012, Dreamers Collective): Drummer, b. 1976 in Hungary; second album under his own name, plus two with Gilfema (a trio with Lionel Loueke and Massimo Biolcati). Above the line, this is styled as a star-laden quartet: Joshua Redman (tenor/soprano sax), Kenny Werner (piano), Loueke (guitar, vocals), but more names pop up in the fine print, including a woodwind section all the way down to the bassoon. Makes for a chamber effect, although the principals are interesting enough on their own. B+(**)
William Parker: Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987 (1976-87 , No Business, 6CD): The great bassist of my generation -- he turned sixty back in January -- Parker spent most of the 1980s piling up side credits, which ran close to 300 last time I counted, probably more like 400 now. His own discography only picks up around 1993, with 1995's Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy a breakthrough, and 1998's The Peach Orchard a triumph. But we now know that he experimented widely from 1974 on -- the 2003 release of Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace picked up bits from 1974-79 -- and he released limited runs on his own Centering label. The Lithuanian label NoBusiness collected his 1980-83 recordings with Jason Kao Hwang as Commitment in 2010 (cf. The Complete Recordings 1981/1983), and now they've gone much further with this lavish, lovely box set. The first three discs feature intimate groups with saxophonists Daniel Carter, David S. Ware, and Charles Gayle -- the latter some of the finest free sax blowing I've heard -- followed by a short (13:51) song set with vocalists Ellen Christi and Lisa Sokolov. The last three discs move into larger groups, ranging from the atmospheric dance accompaniment to the Big Moon Ensemble, one of the most explosive free big bands I've heard. A-
David Virelles: Continuum (2012, Pi): Pianist (also harmonium and organ), b. 1983 in Cuba, based in Canada, has a previous record on Justin Time in 2007 (Motion, not in AMG as far as I can tell), side credits mostly with Jane Bunnett (since 2001). Mostly quartet, with Ben Street (bass), Andrew Cyrille (drums, percussion), and Román Diaz (percussion, vocals), plus horns (Román Filiu, Mark Turner, Jonathan Finlayson) on the centerpiece cut. The vocals are the rub, although they might also frame an Afro-Cuban history lesson that I'm missing. B+(**)
Torben Waldorff: Wah-Wah (2012, ArtistShare): Guitarist, from Denmark, sixth album since 1999: quartet with Gary Versace (keybs), Matt Clohesy (bass), and Jon Wikan (drums). Usually a strong groove player, he starts out behind the piano and rarely steps out. B
Katherine Young: Pretty Monsters (2010 , Public Eyesore): Bassoon player, studied at Oberlin and Wesleyan, running into Anthony Braxton at the latter. Has a couple previous albums. This is a quartet with guitar (Owen Stewart-Robertson), violin (Erica Dicker), and drums (Mike Pride) -- the violin most prominent. All originals. Runs rough and ragged, with some more reflective moments. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks:
Sunday, October 28. 2012
The good news in this election is that loathsome Democrat Vern Miller isn't running for sheriff or anything else this time. I voted against him in my first election (1972), and voted against him four years ago. In fact, I've never found him running against a Republican so vile as to drive me into his column. On the other hand, the Republicans running for my state senate and representative seats have taken a drastic turn for the worse this year. They have a lot of money and they are serious threats to win, although at least they will have to overcome estimable Democratic candidates. Other than that, and a ballot question about fluoridating the city's water supply (something I'm ambivalent about), Kansas is a political wasteland this year. The statewide offices have been reserved for the off-years when turnout is down (and more to the Republicans' taste). The Senate cycle is fallow this year. And our Koch-owned congressman appears to be a lock -- at least I haven't seen any evidence of the Democrat allegedly running against him. And, oh, the state's presidential electors have already been conceded: I haven't even seen any statewide polls on Romney vs. Obama -- just some speculation that the margin will rival Reagan's 1980 trouncing of Carter. I expect it will be much closer, but I'm basing that on nothing whatsoever -- other than that Gore surprised me in 2000 by getting 37% of the vote (to 58% for Bush) on so little campaigning that I entertained the fantasy of Nader (3.4%) outpolling him. Turns out that even though Kansas Democrats are remarkably quiet they do exist -- and thanks to the right-wing Republican purge are likely to increase in number, if not in spirit.
In 2004 I wrote a relatively impassioned editorials for Kerry (or more pointedly against Bush) and in 2008 I must have done the same for Obama (certainly against the warmonger McCain). Against Romney, Obama is as clear a choice, even though there isn't much reason to cheerful or enthusiastic about the prospect. Obama has proven himself to be a cautious conservative with only the barest commitment to the general welfare of the majority of the people who voted for him in 2008. He is unimaginative and unresourceful, unwilling to put forth progressive proposals, uneager to stand up to the increasingly destructive program of the far right, or even to point out how much damage thirty years of conservative ascent has already done. And even within his own limited confines, more often than not he has proved inept: obvious examples include the 2010 electoral debacle, and the fact that his own reëlection is in peril despite running against running against a candidate as clueless as Romney and a party as malevolent as the Republicans, despite his evident tactic of sacrificing his party for his own personal gain -- one of many traits he's adopted from Clinton, who proved every bit as ineffective (or uninterested) at halting the nation's unpopular drift to the right.
I say "unpopular" because there's no reason to think that the vast majority of the American people actually approve of what the right has done, let alone intends to do. You can check this many ways, starting with the polling, although that's often muddied by the right's ubiquitous propaganda machine (often helped out by the mainstream media). Or you can look at the ways the right tries to obscure and confuse issues, by their savvy catch phrases, their constant repetition, etc. Or you can look at the right's more and more blatant efforts at disenfranchising and intimidating voters. Or you can take notice of such recent gaffes as Lindsey Graham's concession that the Republicans are losing "the demographic race" or Romney's blatant dismissal of the "47%" of the public who pay no income taxes, people he wrote off as "takers," people "unwilling to take responsibility for their lives": given all the other people Romney is writing off, it should be clear that the only way he can win an election is to keep most of that 47% from voting.
So that's one thing this election is about: whether this nation will remain a democracy. And oddly enough, because the Republican Party has operated in lock step over the last four years in its single-minded agenda to annul the 2008 election, to prevent the sort of change that that election mandated, to sabotage government and prevent it from being used to ameliorate the suffering and to improve the welfare of the vast majority of the people, and above all to make Obama look weak and ineffective, the only way to save democracy is to purge Congress of virtually all Republicans. (A simple thought experiment: how many views would an all-Democratic Congress have on most issues? All of them. All-Republican? One, maybe plus Ron Paul.)
Since Democrats are all over the map, voting a straight ticket might not seem like much of a solution, but Republican groupthink and discipline have created a unique problem: one that is severe enough it should be massively rejected. Otherwise, their obsession with seizing and holding power at all costs will prove ever more corrupting. We saw much of this during the Bush-Cheney years, when the anti-deficit arguments used to hem in Clinton and Obama were suspended, when government oversight was parceled out to lobbyists, when functions were privatized to create patronage. More recently, no matter how much the Republicans decried bank bailouts, they flocked to fight regulation needed to keep future disasters from happening, in a blatant attempt to coddle the big bankers. But more disturbing than hypocrisy and opportunism is how they've converted their power base into a form of extortion: give them the presidency and they'll mismanage government, plunge the nation into endless wars, wreck the economy, but deny them and they'll shut down the government, hold up your social security checks, and drag their feet on everything from unemployment comp to food stamps. They've even argued that the current slow recovery is Obama's fault for "creating uncertainty," causing "job creators" to hold back their magic and let the economy flounder -- when in fact Republican-demanded austerity measures have destroyed public sector jobs as fast as the private sector can generate them.
Moreover, the Republican mindset has turned even more greedy and nasty in the years since Obama was elected. The key abortion issue now seems to be the rights of rapists to force their victims to bear their children. Public education is being gutted, torn between textbook idiocies and prohibitive costs, and likely to suffer worse now that pious Republicans like Rick Santorum have decided that learning inclines students toward liberalism. Such notions, and the Republicans are full of them, are more extreme than we've ever witnessed in major party politics, and they're backed with more money and more pervasive media than ever. From the beginning, Americans have adopted the notion of countervailing powers as a means of checking tyranny: first in the government's separation of powers, and later in the development of a universal democracy that has repeatedly shifted, and moderated, between progressive and conservative tides. Arguably, the Reagan ascent in 1980 was a reasonable reaction to the successes of progressive movements in the 1960s and 1970s. (I wouldn't argue that, but I can see how corporate interests may have gotten spooked.) Early on, conservative measures seemed to do little damage, but over time they have accumulated into serious problems; meanwhile, the right has no sense of enough: they keep insisting on more, to the point of complete domination. (For example, in Kansas now, business owners are exempt from paying state income tax, joining Romney's freeloading 47%.)
The Republican juggernaut stalled in 2008 when it became obvious to nearly everyone that the Bush bubble had burst and took much of the world's economy with it. Then a remarkable thing happened: a handful of talk radio blowhards and behind-the-scenes schemers like Grover Norquist took over the GOP and gave it a fresh life in its own fantasy world. Much of what followed was stark raving nuts, and even now all Romney and Ryan represent are the sanest faces their sponsoring billionaires can put on such an unhinged movement. Even so, Romney's background is from the most predatory and destructive form of finance capitalism, and Ryan's solo claim to fame is his ability to fake a budget that promises to turn the nation into a third world oligarchy. And behind the front men, the advisers -- the people who would make up and run their administration -- are the same con men Bush used (Glenn Hubbard is the most obvious tip of the iceberg here).
These are people, a whole party of them, that must be stopped. For better or worse, all we have to stop them with are Democrats, so that's how I intend to vote, and so should you. Woe to us if we fail, but even if we succeed we'll still have much work to do. We can, at least, take solace in seeing the last four years of propaganda and obstruction fail to defeat Obama. And we can look forward to having somewhat more reasonable people to talk to, to argue with, and possibly on occasion to convince.
By the way, I see now that the Democratic candidate for sheriff, while not Vern Miller, is a guy whose sole comment on why he ran for office is that God told him to. Doesn't sound like much of a candidate to me, and I don't have anything in particular against the Republican, but I'll vote for him anyway. This is a year when anyone should be embarrassed to run as a Republican -- especially in Kansas.
Moreover, I recall how back in the early days of the conservative counterrevolution Reagan used to talk about the "11th Commandment": never speak ill of a fellow Republican. That allowed the Republicans to make gains in unlikely places, including electing mayors of New York and Los Angeles, as well as senators like the recently purged Richard Lugar. Of course, I won't stop speaking out when Democrats like Obama do bad things, but I may hold off until the season's over (now that it practically is).
Friday, October 26. 2012
Tenor saxophonist David S. Ware died in October 18, just a couple weeks shy of his sixty-third birthday. He suffered from kidney disease and came close to dying three years ago, but was rescued by a transplant. He was one of the most impressive tenors of the last few decades, and his long-running quartet -- with Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and a platoon of drummers -- produced more exceptional records than any other, John Coltrane's included.
I'm not up for writing a fresh piece at the time, but it occurs to me that it might be useful to collect and organize what I have written about Ware over the years: in Jazz Consumer Guide, and before that in a huge guide to his Quartet stars Parker and Shipp, Bass Fiddles and Nu Bop (filling in some missing records with database grades):
David S. Ware Quartet: Flight of I (1991 , DIW): Like Gayle, Ware is a staunch free saxophonist, but he seems to be more rounded, capable of finesse as well as fierceness. Having worked with Cecil Taylor and Andrew Cyrille, he formed a trio in 1988 with Parker and Marc Edwards (drums), and added Shipp in 1990. He's stuck with the quartet format ever since, with Parker and Shipp (and a series of drummers) as one of the longest running, most fruitful partnerships in jazz history. This album is an early peak, with Shipp exceptionally prominent, and Ware more often in pursuit of his collaborators rather than out on a limb. A-
David S. Ware Quartet: Third Ear Recitation (1992 , DIW): A-
David S. Ware Quartet: Earthquation (1994, DIW): B+
David S. Ware Quartet: Dao (1995 , Homestead): B+
David S. Ware Quartet: Godspelized (1996 , DIW): Ware's sequence of '90s albums (Third Ear Recitation, Earthquation, and Dao with Whit Dickey on drums; this one and Go See the World with Susie Ibarra replacing Dickey) are pretty much of a piece: one long, articulate argument for the saxophone colossus as the voice which cuts through the darkness of the world. Or if that seems too melodramatic, it is also an argument for the community of mutual support provided by one of the longest-running, most intense collaborations in jazz history. What lets Ware project such power and majesty is the solid foundation of Parker and Shipp. Ibarra, too, makes an immediate impact, so if this isn't the peak of the series, it is certainly a majestic rise. A-
David S. Ware: Go See the World (1997 , Columbia): Omitting "Quartet" from the artist attribution seems to have been Columbia's idea -- a concession to mammon that is in no way reflected in the music here, ineluctably the work of a very tight group. Ware's part is much in line with his other albums in this series, but I want to spotlight the stretch in "Logistic" where he lays out, because the remaining trio work belongs on a hypothetical Very Best of Matthew Shipp compilation. And a similar stretch on "The Way We Were" is equally powerful, and very different. But of course Ware is still the dominant voice here -- when he blows, heads turn. A-
David S. Ware Quartet: Surrendered (1999 , Columbia): A-
David S. Ware: BalladWare (1999 , Thirsty Ear): A-
David S. Ware Quartet: Corridors & Parallels (2001, AUM Fidelity): Shipp switches to synth here, trading in his stark piano chords for a smorgasbord of noodling effects, but this works both as backdrop and as counterpoint to Ware, who is challenged to blow some of his most expressive sax. And when the beat goes synthetic on tracks like "Sound-a-Bye" Ware just kicks it up a notch. The more regular beats go a long ways toward making this Ware's most accessible album, without in any way diminishing the power or the glory (cf. "Mother May You Rest in Bliss") of Ware's sax. A
David S. Ware Quartet: Freedom Suite (2002, AUM Fidelity): When the bebop movement flourished, much was made of the virtuosity of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, how their speed and improvisational skills stacked up against their antecedents, but the bebop pianists always had an insurmountable predecessor, namely Art Tatum. Like Tatum in the bebop era, Sonny Rollins stands outside and in many ways above and beyond the Ayler-Dolphy-Coltrane mainstream of avant saxophone. This is one of the few avant efforts both to pay tribute to Rollins and to try to make something new of his legacy, and it succeeds on virtually every level. In part, this is possible because Rollins' 1958 original was little more than a sketch with some improvisation. But mostly it's because the Ware Quartet works more on fleshing out the sketch than on competing with the improvisation, and because they bring group strength to the fore, whereas Rollins always seemed like he'd rather just do it all by himself. Ware's tone is heavier and more muscular, Parker is more active, and Shipp adds immensely to the mix. A-
The David S. Ware String Ensemble: Threads (2003, Thirsty Ear): I knew we were in trouble when the publicist started talking about how beautiful the new Ware + strings album is; then come the notes where Ware concedes that "there are enough records with me blowing my brains out." But this only adds two strings -- Matt Maneri on viola, and Daniel Bernard Roumain on violin -- to Ware's usual quartet, with the oomph still coming from Parker's bass and Shipp's synth. The idea is to focus on the Berklee-trained Ware as a composer, and to this end he lays out on three tracks, and lays back on the other three. But without his roiling sax the compositional ideas are primitive: the title cut rolls gently between paired notes for 13 minutes, the strings adding rich harmonic texture; "Ananda Rotation" is little more than a sheet of background synth, lightly etched with Ware riffs; "Carousel of Lightness" is merely a lazy river of tone; the two "Weave" pieces are drum improvs around sax backbones; and "Sufic Passages" rides its intro bass vamp into a plethora of variations. The latter is the best thing here: it reminds me a bit of Eno's Another Green World, but lushly overgrown. B+
David S. Ware Quartet: Live in the World (1998-2003 , Thirsty Ear, 3CD): A-
David S. Ware Quartet: Renunciation (2006 , AUM Fidelity): Reportedly the finale of the most formidable quartet since Coltrane's, with stars William Parker and Matthew Shipp and a series of drummers marking epochs within the era. One more live shot to go with Live in the World. A-
David S. Ware: Shakti (2008 , AUM Fidelity): A new quartet, with guitarist Joe Morris the second seed. The Indian motifs are part of Ware's spiritual quest, but when he plays it's hard to escape the here and now. While most tenor saxophonists have tried to sound like John Coltrane, Ware simply lived the life, finding his own unique way, elevating everyone around him. A-
David S. Ware: Saturnian (Solo Saxophones, Volume 1) (2009 , AUM Fidelity): The inevitable solo tenor sax-stritch-saxello album, practice as slow-motion performance. B+
David S. Ware: Onecept (2009 , AUM Fidelity): His life saved by a kidney transplant, the avant saxophonist's rehab continues: first the solo Saturnian improv with stritch and manzello for variety, now he adds bass and drums -- old hands William Parker and Warren Smith, who can follow him anywhere. He works up subtle schemata, but the main thing you hear is his towering sound. A-
David S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown (2010 , AUM Fidelity): More progress: a new quartet with older players than the old quartet, the old fire too. A-
Albums I missed:
Ware didn't appear on many albums under other names: two early records for Andrew Cyrille, at least one album with Cecil Taylor, not sure what else. Only one I've heard is a session with William Parker recently released on the Centering box set: very impressive, but I'm not done with the box yet.
Thursday, October 25. 2012
Been disconnected for the past week, so I'm catching up. Some links that caught my eye follow. Probably many more that I'll save for Sunday -- e.g., haven't even looked at Krugman yet.
Tuesday, October 23. 2012
Music: Current count 20578  rated (+2), 647  unrated (+4).
Had a visitor from last Monday evening to Thursday morning, so spent most of my time with her. Thursday I shopped for groceries and prepped for a cookout. Friday drove to Arkansas with my sister to see our cousin, Elsie Lee. Saturday we did our cookout:
Surprise I don't have more recipes available, since most of these are dishes I've fixed many times, including on similar cookout trips.
Left Elsie Lee's on Monday. Stopped for dinner with one of her daughters in Springdale, then drove on to Bristow, OK, to see some more cousins. Got in late Monday, but stopped to see Duan and Harold (and his wife Louise) today, before driving home to Wichita. The three cousins are aged 79-87. Their children (my first cousins, once removed), of which I saw four, are closer to my age, but a bit younger. All on my mother's side. She was passionate about keeping track of her scattered family. I'm not nearly as adept, but do treasure those connections, and try to make some variation on this trip once or twice a year.
It is very wearing, though, as I more and more feel my age. Drove 900 miles, most on two-lane roads, some on gravel. Made one cemetery stop: the resting place of two uncles, one set of grandparents, and parts of two previous generations, as well as a few others I recall -- Dow Cotter (1881-1960) was probably the oldest person I ever met.
I added a few new favorites to an old travel case to listen to music in the car, so nothing ungraded. Took a notebook computer, but never went anywhere with an internet connection, and never turned it on. Read a little, watched too much TV (with way too many political ads, mostly from Missouri), ate too much, slept too little.
Tuesday, October 16. 2012
Count is low by historic standards, but up one from last month, so let's not worry about that. The count will go up when we start seeing year-end lists, but my metacritic file is as far ahead of the learning curve this year as it's ever been. The count would go up now if I were even more dilligent about it, and worried about the black print near the top; currently, starting at 26: Purity Ring, Swans, Passion Pit, Grizzly Bear, Matthew Dear, Field Music, Father John Misty, Dirty Three, Chromatics, Damien Jurado, Allo Darlin', Flying Lotus, How to Dress Well, Mission of Burma, Screaming Females, Ty Segall Band, Six Organs of Admittance, Xiu Xiu, Actress, Baroness, DIIV, Richard Hawley, Here We Go Magic, Julia Holter, Redd Kross, Ty Segall/White Fence down to 100. Some of those I've looked for and haven't found, but most don't strike me as very good prospects.
On the other hand, in a month this thin nearly everything looks like a real prospect. A lot of them came with recommendations from Christgau and/or Tatum (DeMent, Hicks, Kid Koala, Low Cut Connie, Carolyn Mark, Andre Williams, but also Pink, P.S. Eliot, Patterson Hood, and Corin Tucker -- first three came close, and sharp readers will recall that there's ever been a Sleater-Kinney album I've liked half as much as my mentors did). On the other hand I salvaged Carly Rae Jepsen from Tatum's trash. I have a soft spot for teen dance pop and also for disco formalism and it hit both of them. As for Van Morrison, presumably I'm just out front for once. On the other hand, I don't recall anyone saying much about his 2002 masterpiece, Down the Road, the last time he's been this inspired.
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 September 18. Past reviews and more information are available here (2883 records).
Damon Albarn: Dr Dee (2012, Virgin): Former Blur frontman, has dabbled in Mali Music and Gorillaz and divers other projects for a long time. On his own brings out the English muso in him, resulting in an opera, complete with soprano diva, disconnected rhythm tracks, sound effects. C+
Alhousseini Anivolla: Anewal/The Walking Man (2012, Riverboat): Tuareg bluesman from Niger, previously in Etran Finatawa. Striking how spare this is, how basic the groove, how unadorned everything else is. B+(**)
The Bad Plus: Made Possible (2012, E1): Star-laden piano trio -- Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, Dave King -- ninth album since 2001, first to break their all-acoustic concept, adding synth bits, not that they matter much. What matters is their preference for grand gestures: so grand they threaten to cave in on themselves, but time and again they pull up just short of the crash. B+(**)
Brother Ali: Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color (2012, Rhymesayers Entertainment): White Muslim rapper from Minnesota, can't understand why anyone would be a conservative, and he's got a point here -- in fact, he's got lots of points, but he's in such a rush to get them out the beats get hard and brittle. B+(*)
Cat Power: Sun (2012, Matador): Chan Marshall has built up a popular, and belatedly a critical, following over nine albums since 1995. Have only heard the last two, but this one is solid and likable throughout. B+(*)
The D.A.: You Kids! (2011, self-released): Alt-rock debut from an El Paso group, "driving, melodic, engaged, humane, disillusioned" (quoting Christgau, all true), kept going on a bit past my interest level but not unpleasantly so. I wonder whether if I played this as many times as Low Cut Connie I wouldn't wind up liking it more, but probably not -- you didn't notice wit in that list, now did you? B+(***)
Iris DeMent: Sing the Delta (2012, Flariella): Her picture on the cover shows a face weathered beyond her years, but her voice hasn't lost an iota of charm or truth or sympathy, and the new songs -- her first album of them since 1996 -- signify so often on their first spin I can only expect them to grow on me. A-
The Flatlanders: The Odessa Tapes (1972 , New West): Lubbock legends -- Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Joe Ely -- cut these demo tapes a couple months before their set released in 1972 on 8-track as All American Music, later in 1990 resurrected on CD as More a Legend Than a Band -- still the one you want, but obsessives will find four previously unheard songs here, fans will enjoy the rest, and the ignorant will find them have some catching up to do. B+(***)
GOOD Music: Cruel Summer (2012, GOOD Music/Def Jam): Kanye West kept his name off this, but he shows up on seven of twelve songs, and is a writer and/or producer on three others -- that leaves two sludgy John Legend features, "Sin City" and "Bliss," and Kid Cudi's creepy "Creepers" -- heavy, loud, dull, with no snap or lift let alone wit. On the other hand, West brightens up everything he touches, and "New God Flow" comes close to fulfilling its considerable conceit. Maybe he should do his own album. B+(**)
Dylan Hicks: Sings Bolling Greene (2012, Two Deuces): Minnesota singer-songwriter, wrote a novel with a countryish singer character, wrote him some songs, and recorded them. The eloquence of the words is tempered by the breeziness of the music, and vice versa. A- [bc]
Patterson Hood: Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance (2012, ATO): Drive-By Trucker's third solo outing, restrained by the band's standards (even by his previous album's), which I find to be a blessing. Unsure of the details, reportedly autobiographical, not that that matters about someone you don't know. B+(***)
Wanda Jackson: Unfinished Business (2012, Sugar Hill): Had some rockabilly hits in the late 1950s, at one point touring with Elvis Presley, and when that ran out she found God and tried her hand at singing gospel, slowing down in the 1980s but in 2003 insisting that she was Live and Still Kickin'. Jack White picked her up for a 2011 dud, The Party Ain't Over, and now Justin Townes Earle gets a shot. In "What Do You Do When You're Lonesome?" he gives her a solid ballad, a change of pace from the uptempo stuff that always works, but his other picks are less successful. B+(*)
Carly Rae Jepsen: Kiss (2012, 604/Interscope/Schoolboy): Canadian dance-pop singer, second album, had a breakout single earlier this year ("Call Me Maybe") which is supposed to key this album, but catchy as it is hardly stands out, especially coming after "Tiny Little Bows" and "This Kiss" and followed by "Good Time." One could complain that the beats are so even-handed they risk monotony, but I find they're just right. A-
Kid Koala: 12 Bit Blues (2012, Ninja Tune): DJ, got his start twisting turntables, evidently piece this together by sampling old blues discs, replacing the surface noise with beat samples, turntable squeaks, ancillary commentary, coming up with something old and new and remarkable in its own right. A-
Kimbra: Vows (2011 , Warner Brothers): Last name Johnson, from New Zealand, a pop chanteuse, barely past her teens, with danceable beats, but I keep getting a whiff of prog perfume, like she grew up with a crush on Kate Bush. B
Lianne La Havas: Is Your Love Big Enough? (2012, Nonesuch): English singer-songwriter, parents Greek and Jamaican, debut record has a folkie's direct simplicity and enough voice for a soul diva. The songs, most co-written with producer Matt Hales, are striking -- an album that could well grow on you. B+(***)
Bill Laswell/Raoul Björkenheim/Morgan Ågren: Blixt (2011, Cuneiform): Guitar-bass-drums trio, the bassist getting first billing because he's more famous, but the guitarist from Finland is the true talent here, as anyone who has heard of Scorch Trio knows. What Laswell does is to even out the beat, moving the focus from jazz to instrumental rock, losing some edge along the way. B+(***) [dl]
Low Cut Connie: Call Me Sylvia (2012, self-released): Second album, much tougher to get into than the first one, probably because it develops in several different ways, the first half fishing hooks back from the Brit Invasion, the second settling in as a rowdy bar band, either upping the energy and antic levels above pretty much anything else I'm aware of in alt-rock-land -- not that I give other bands anywhere near this much chance. I must like them. A- [cd]
Corb Lund: Cabin Fever (2012, New West): Canadian singer-songwriter, country division, earns his spurs with songs about cows and guns and drinking and the Bible although none of them add up exactly per formula, like "Priceless Antique Pistol Shoots Startled Owner," or "Cows Around" -- too set in the country for Nashville, I'd say, but maybe not for Texas, or Alberta. Hayes Carll helped write and sing the best song, but not by much. B+(**)
Carolyn Mark: The Queen of Vancouver Island (2012, Mint): Canadian country singer, eighth solo album after one with Neko Case as the Corn Sisters. Short on twang not to mention fidelity to traditional family values, but the songs flow gracefully, bite when you don't expect it, especially when giving Nobody a tough time. A-
Tift Merritt: Traveling Alone (2012, Yep Roc): Singer-songwriter, originally slotted as country -- born in Texas, grew up in North Carolina -- in seven albums never giving us much reason to move her, even though this is produced by Tucker Martine with Marc Ribot on guitar. B+(**)
Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream (2012, RCA): R&B singer, Miguel Jontel Pimentel, second album plus some EPs (which I couldn't get into). Not the slickest guy around, he trips up on the second song ("Don't Look Back") and never really gets his mojo back, going short-term in "Where's the Fun in Forever," and over the top in claiming "Pussy Is Mine" -- I'd be surprised. B
James Morrison: Snappy Too (2012, self-released): Trumpet player from Down Under, did a record called Scooby Doo in 1990 with Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, and Jeff Hamilton; wanting to recapture the magic, but with two of his cohort dead, he went into the studio with some of their tapes -- not clear how much -- and dubbed in a 17-piece big band, playing everything himself but the drums (Hamilton's department). Seems like a dubious concept, but on "Up a Lazy River" he lays the brass on so thick I'm reminded of a vaguely remembered stripping tune -- I consider that a high point. B+(**)
Van Morrison: Born to Sing: No Plan B (2012, Blue Note): Back on a jazz label, something he's always been "close enough" for, especially given his fondness for punctuating his shuffle rhythm with sax flares. First three songs are of a piece with his great ones, and time will tell whether the rest add up. The lyric I need dig into deeper is "If in Money We Trust," but that's not his first jab against capitalism and materialism, and he follows up the ambiguous "God is dead" there by declaring for his "Pagan Heart." Never expected him to be a deep thinker. Just do love to hear him sing (and play a bit of sax). A [cd]
Mungolian Jetset: Schlungs (2011, Smalltown Supersound): Norwegian electronica group, their other albums reportedly remix-oriented, but this one is a series of jokes, starting with the fake-Strauss of "2011: A Space Woodysey" and moving on to mess with Giorgio Moroder. The vocals led one reviewer to liken them to 10cc. The instrumental "Moonstruck" is way better, yet still a joke. B+(*)
Jerrod Niemann: Free the Music (2012, Arista): Singer-songwriter from southwest Kansas, lodged in Nashville but a lot of things about his songcraft strike me as, well, rather prog, even when he tries writing about "Honky Tonk Fever" and insists that "Real Women Drink Beer" and "Only God Could Love You More." Most of his songs have co-writers, which may help him fit in, but he's not sure he wants to. B+(**)
Niki & the Dove: Instinct (2012, Sub Pop): Swedish electropop group, the singer Malin Dahlström, backed with keybs and drums; overwrought, always the easiest way to fake emotion, again the easiest way to fake engagement, so why pretend we care? B-
Pink: The Truth About Love (2012, RCA): Not promising: she's insisting on being called "P!nk" now -- hitherto a tic we could blame on her graphic designers -- and AMG acceded making it annoyingly hard to look her up. Back when I was setting type, I learned to correct copy to keep clients from making fools of themselves, as I've continued to do in cases like Kesha, Currensy, Tune-Yards, etc. More seriously, she insisted that her 2010 best-of, which is standard industry policy following her worst-ever album, be titled Greatest Hits . . . So Far! I've never seen an artist who insisted there are more to come actually deliver any, but she may have a couple here. Still, they mostly spin off her profanity -- I don't disapprove, but calling everyone else an asshole makes you wonder about her. She makes this more difficult than it needs to be. Even her lingerie looks like more trouble than it's likely to be worth. B+(***)
P.S. Eliot: Sadie (2011, Salinas): Alabama girl-punk band, twins named Alison and Katie Crutchfield, have a previous album and split up after this one, Alison going on to Swearin', Katie to Waxahatchee. Thirteen songs, short and punchy, except for the one slowed down to a whisper. B+(***) [dl]
Spider Bags: Shake My Head (2012, Odessa): New Jersey alt-punk group, the shine on their songcraft hints at Brit Invasion to me -- not least in the prog move at the end, what happens when you push a three-minute song over five. B+(*)
Swearin': Swearin' (2012, Salinas): Allison Crutchfield's latest punk band -- at 23 she seems to have run through several of them, with and without her twin sister Katie. Sound's a bit undecipherable, but the beat and basics are there. B+(**) [dl]
The Corin Tucker Band: Kill My Blues (2012, Kill Rock Stars): Ex-Sleater-Kinney. My position on the best-regarded, at least in circles I'm generally close to, rock band of their era (1995-2005) is that they had a great drummer and two singers I wished would shut the fuck up. Tucker was one of those singers, probably the less irritating one but I've never been clear on that. At least she's less irritating here, and on "Summer Jams" she fits in so seamlessly there's no irritation at all -- a spell she breaks with the moaning "Joey"; even there the guitar redeems, only to short out in "Tiptoe." B+(**)
Wildlife Control: Wildlife Control (2012, self-released): Debut from brothers Neil and Sumul Shah, who grew up "in the rolling hills and industrial decay of rural northeast Pennsylvania" and landed in Brooklyn, backed by some jazzbos from the same neck of the woods, not that you could ever pick them in a blindfold test. B+(*) [cd]
Andre Williams & the Sadies: Night & Day (2012, Yep Roc): B. 1936 in Alabama, had a minor R&B hit in 1957 ("Bacon Fat"), worked for Motown and Chess, did drugs and lived homeless, and when he got too old for that mounted some kind of comeback, devising styles he called "sleaze rock" and "punk blues" and often just winging it, cutting 16 albums since 1990, including at least one prior with Toronto's most supportive alt-country band. The rough ones are up front, including ones that challenge America and dismiss Mississippi, and the filler doesn't tail off much. A-
Monday, October 15. 2012
Music: Current count 20576  rated (+25), 643  unrated (+1).
Confused week: jazz enough to report, probably spent more time on Rhapsody Streamnotes, which will appear in a day or two -- not sure just when to pull the plug there. Rated count is a bit down. For one thing, I've played a number of jazz records I didn't feel like writing about yet. The two A- records took a lot of time, especially the SLF, and I'm still feeling they're pretty marginal. That's gotten me to wondering whether I've been too lax with A- grades this year, but the current list is at 80, which isn't much out of line with the expectation that I'll wind up around 120. (The 2011 list currently touts 131 A/A- records -- almost picked up another this week, before second thoughts backed me off.) So I'm probably being pretty consistent -- just a bit uncomfortable with how little time I can spend with all of these exceptional records.
I'm expecting to get little done this following week, what with guests coming and travel planned for the weekend into next week. So good chance for no Jazz Prospecting next Monday. (May even be hard to put a notice up.) The backlog queue has been piling up, so can't complain there (even though some times I still do).
Dan Block: Duality (2011 , Miles High): Reed player, mostly tenor sax and clarinet, but also here alto and baritone sax plus bass clarinet. Second album, nine duets and two trios -- one with bass/drums, the other with Scott Robinson and the same roster of reed instruments (at least that's what the credits suggest) plus Ted Rosenthal on piano (name misspelled; he appears on three cuts). His tenor sax cuts a deep swath, the clarinets impress as well, but the duets vary widely, with voice and vibes losing the pace. B+(**)
Chives: Dads (2012, Primary): Trio: Steven Lugerner (reeds), Matthew Wohl (bass), Max Jaffe (drums); first group album, all pieces jointly credited. The one we've heard of before is Lugerner, whose notable 2011 debut sprawled over two discs. This is much less ambitious, and more readily digestible, a compact sax/clarinet trio riffing smartly within the usual framework. B+(***)
The Billie Davies Trio: All About Love (2012, Cobra Basement): Drummer, website describes him as "post cool jazz & avant garde drummer" -- could parse that two ways, with a disconnect either way. Album, his first as far as I can tell, is a trio with trombone (Tom Bone Ralls) and bass (Oliver Steinberg). Tuneful -- well, anything with "Afro Blue" is that and this has two takes -- shifted into a lower register, a nice effect, more cool than avant, not my idea of post. B+(**)
Grupo Los Santos: Clave Heart (2010 , OA2): Latin-themed jazz group, based in New York, third album -- I liked their previous Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea quite a bit. I file them under tenor saxophonist Paul Carlon -- wrote 4 of 10 songs here, and has a mainstream tone that always gets my attention -- but bassist/bata-player David Ambrosio wrote the liner notes, and guitarist Pete Smith's email address is up for booking info. (Fourth member is drummer William "Beaver" Bausch, and a couple guests appear, notably tap dancer Max Pollak.) Not sure that the Cuba aficionados will be impressed, but a nice sax album with a little extra. B+(**)
Kelly McCarty 3: Roux Steady (2012, 72 Offsuit): Guitarist, plays 8-string, studied at Kansas State, based in Jacksonville; second group album, trio with tenor sax (John Diaz-Cortes) and drums (MJ Hall). Sax has some grit to it, and guitar some groove -- sounds like an organ-sax quartet minus organ, hardly missed here. B+(*)
Drew Paralic: Wintertime Tunes of Drew Paralic (2011 , self-released): Composer/arranger, from Brooklyn, fourth album, plays piano but not here. Six songs, two with vocals (Laura Kenyon), group includes tenor sax/clarinet (Mike McGinnis), piano (several players), bass, and drums. First song ("My Wintertime Sky") is catchy enough to be a standard, isolated bits of piano stand out (one song is called "How Bill's Heart Sings"), like the sax, but a bit scattered. B+(*)
Sonic Liberation Front: Jetway Confidential (2009-11 , High Two): This is percussionist Kevin Diehl's Baltimore-based Afro-Cuban group, built around the tuned bata drums at the center of Yoruba religio-cultural practice, their fifth album since 2000 (2004's Ashé a Go-Go remains the one to start with). Cut over a couple years with a spreadsheet of contributors, the horns grate sometimes, and the vocals go so deep into their roots they come out of a strange other world. Took me many plays to get into it, but a remarkable band, unique, and worth the trouble. A-
Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Mechanical Malfunction (2012, Thirsty Ear): Christopher Todd Walter was b. 1972 in Rockford, IL. He founded an avant-rock group, the Flying Luttenbachers, which featured Ken Vandermark on at least one album. He's described as a "composer and instrumentalist" -- credits are scanty here, but he seems to be the drummer. Halvorson plays guitar. She is a remarkable player with an erratic catalog that I don't fully appreciate, partly due to a spat with her publicist -- twice now her records have scored high in critics polls (meaning, among other things, that they were distributed widely, just not to me), and this year's Bending Bridges appears likely to be a third. Evans plays trumpet in the "bebop terrorist" outfit Mostly Other People Do the Killing, and likes to record solo albums on the side. Second album for the trio: avant noise, the guitar scratchy but probing, the trumpet poking through the clouds, the drummer on top of everything. A- [advance]
Sean Wayland: Click Track Jazz: Slave to the Machine (2012, Seed Music, 2CD): Pianist, mostly electronic keyboards here, b. 1969 in Sydney, Australia; has 21 since 1992 (the two volumes are available separately, at least on Bandwidth, but I haven't tried disentangling them here. Mostly groove pieces, cut with various guitar-bass-drums combos, Donny McCaslin tenor sax (2 cuts), Mark Shim EWI (1), Kristen Berardi vocal (1). B+(*) [advance]
Steve Williams & Jazz Nation with Eddie Daniels (2010 , OA2): Alto saxophonist, most of his background is in big band, including North Texas State, the Navy, and the Smithsonian, and now this group. Daniels is a well known clarinet player, has worked steadily since the late 1960s, and is special guest here, also writing 3 (of 8) songs -- Williams has four, and the other is by Mike Noonan. Solid group, few names I recognize, but hard to deny the thrill of the massed brass. B+(*)
Shingo Yuji: Introducing Shingo Yuji (2010 , Yujipan Music): Guitarist, b. in Kumamoto, Japan; based in Los Angeles since 2005. Debut album, mostly trio with bass and drums, first two cuts add tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, who makes an impression the rest of the album shies away from. Five originals; covers from Mingus, Lennon-McCartney ("Help"), and trad. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, October 14. 2012
I haven't thought about Barry Commoner, who died Sept. 30 at age 95, in quite a while. I'm not even sure I finished his 1971 bestseller, The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology, but he had a major impact on new left thought in the early 1970s, not just adding ecology to the list of concerns but showing how they all fit together. When I finally went to college, I spent my first year at Wichita State garnering credits and shopping for a better school. I was most impressed by the sociology department roster at Washington University, but after I applied, got in, and moved there, I found that their three biggest names had vanished: anthropologist Jules Henry (author of Culture Against Man, another book I spent lots of time thumbing through) died. Alvin Gouldner (author of The Coming Crisis in Western Sociology -- the definitive slam down of the Talcott Parsons school) and Commoner took leave, and as far as I know never came back.
But Commoner, at least, had recruited Paul Piccone, who was my main mentor for my two years at Wash. U. Piccone edited the quarterly Telos, and managed to wangle a Compugraphic typesetting machine from Commoner's budget. Aside from his synthesis of phenomenology and Marxian critical theory, I learned translation, editing, and typesetting from Piccone -- the latter giving me the profession that supported me for five years after my academic burn out. Commoner and Gouldner may have had an inkling that Danforth intended to crush Wash. U.'s sociology department. One critical blow was denying Piccone tenure in 1977. As far as I know, he never taught again, although he did continue to edit Telos until his death in 2004. (Looks like they're still chugging along: they've published a collection of Piccone's writings, and even have a nice website.)
Peter Dreier does a good job of summing up why Commoner was, and is, important. I'm quoting from the print version of The Nation, which appears to be edited down from his longer piece here.
The New Left isn't held in high regard these days. I especially cringe when I read people like Tony Judt, with his Old Left roots and later anti-Communist fixation, try to belittle the movement, but that's partly because he should know better. What's had far greater effect has been a 30-year propaganda assault by the right against what for lack of a better term they call "the sixties." What I think of as New Left was sort of the intellectual crust on top of a much broader-based push for social and political reforms -- a movement that itself never coalesced under a common brand name, like the early-20th-century Progressives: rather, you had movements for civil rights, antiwar, women's liberation, the environment.
It's worth noting that as the 1970s unfolded all of those key New Left movements were remarkably successful, both in terms of political effects and in shifting deep-seated cultural norms. Even after thirty years of well-funded counterrevolution, the right's attack on those four cornerstones is limited to fringe issues that more often than not have to be disguised. By some measures, the military has bounced back strongest, but no one entertains the prospect of restoring the draft, and for most people the endless grind of foreign wars has no sensible impact on their lives.
In retrospect, the main shortcoming of the New Left revolution was the failure to establish sustainable political institutions. This was in large part because the New Left was deeply distrustful of power in any form. It was also because natural allies nominally on the left side of the political spectrum, like the unions and the Democratic Party, were often viewed as enemies -- after all, it was LBJ who tragically escalated the Vietnam War, and Chicago mayor Daley who organized the police riot against demonstrators in 1968. Meanwhile, the unions had essentially given up on trying to organize the poor after Taft-Hartley became law, and by 1972 many were supporting Nixon (and later Reagan in 1980, including the air traffic controllers Reagan soon locked out).
The New Left grew out of an idealized self-image of America as an egalitarian middle class society -- something very different from previous left movements, which grew out of the inequity of economic relations, with the underclass organizing to fight for their own interests. For the most part, New Leftists were satisfied with their own station, but were sharply critical of the hypocrisy of their prosperous egalitarian society for allowing poverty and injustice to persist. The brilliance of the movement was in its relentless uncovering of that hypocrisy, starting with obvious ideologies like racism and sexism and militarism and imperialism and extending ad infinitum: for example, R.D. Laing wrote a piece picking apart the whole concept of obviousness. Eventually, all that analysis hit home -- in the 1970s I worked on a publication called Notes on Everyday Life -- but early on politics was all about helping other people, be they the poor in Appalachia, the segregated in the South, the peasants in Vietnam. Some even got worked up to the point of self-destruction (Weatherman is a case in point) but for most students it became a phase, giving way as personal life (families and mortgages and such) grew ever more complicated.
Ecology was a perfect concept for a time when we were coming to suspect that everything is related to and affected by everything else, and also that capitalism's gospel of infinite growth would sooner or later crash into the finiteness of the world. Commoner both introduced the concept and drew the key political conclusions. The environmental movement was quickly defanged by success, as the path from Earth Day to major legislation on air and water pollution and endangered species was almost immediate. But the next step toward facing the limits of capitalism never came close to making the public agenda, even less than the notion that civil rights should advance the economic profile of Afro-Americans.
When Commoner ran for president in 1980, he got crushed, as the nation decided to turn a blind eye to reality. I blame the Cold War, and for that I mostly blame the blind and cowardly acquiescence of liberals, including many labor union officials, in signing up for the anti-communist crusade. After the Russian Revolution, the new Soviet leader styled themselves as the leaders of world revolution, but they did very little -- other than to make affiliated communists look foolish -- until after WWII, when their armies occupied most of Eastern Europe and North Korea, and anti-fascist partisans from Albania and Yugoslavia to China and Vietnam had gained power bases.
Still, it wasn't inevitable that the US would choose to become the leader of the capitalist world, and would further decide to fight the Marx-inspired underclasses all around the world for the indefinite future. The US was itself formed by the world's first anti-imperialist revolution, and had traditionally avoided standing armies, international alliances, and -- except around its favorite "lakes": the Caribbean and, to a lesser extent, the Pacific -- foreign interventions. Even if the US wished to promote business interests abroad, it could have positively promoted the principles of independence, democracy, labor rights, and equal opportunities as an alternative to repressive systems both on the right and on the left, and it could have attempted to find common ground and interests with the Soviet Union and its bloc with the hope of ameliorating its repression and backwardness.
But a bipartisan succession of liberal presidents -- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon -- chose instead to wage an international class war, supporting any friend (no matter how brutal or corrupt), opposing any foe (no matter how principled and progressive). What happened then was often astonishing. Just a few highlights: the US backed decolonization for Indonesia but not for Vietnam, leading to a 30-year war in Vietnam that killed millions of people (including 50,000 Americans), one that could largely have been avoided by elections, cancelled by the US on grounds that our guy would lose; meanwhile, when Indonesia veered too far to the left, the US staged a coup followed by the murder of several hundred thousand people the CIA suspected of bad politics; in Iran, a CIA coup ended democratic rule and installed a megalomaniacal shah, who 25 years later provoked a revolution creating the first militantly Islamic regime in the Middle East -- to this day, the US is trying to break Iran with economic sanctions and cyberwarfare, and threatening to bomb it; in the Congo, the CIA had its first leader killed, installing Mobutu instead, who siphoned billions of dollars out of one of the poorest countries in the world, leading to a series of wars which have killed millions more; in Chile when a non-communist socialist was elected president, the US staged a coup and had him and thousands of his supporters killed; the US urged Saudi Arabia to export its Salafist Islam, especially to Afghanistan, where the US sponsored the birth of modern Jihadism, starting a series of wars in 1979 that tie down US troops to this day.
But the anti-communist crusade wasn't solely directed against the underclasses of the world. It was also focused on the working class inside the United States, and once conservatives like Reagan came to power, that became its primary focus. If you look at the rhetoric they use to smash unions, to rip up the economic safety net, to strip regulation of business, to cut taxes on the rich, it invariably recycles the jargon of Cold War propaganda. Moreover, the same tactics and dubious ethics apply: government is no longer of, by, and for the people; it is something that a handful of self-designated rich guys insist they have to "take back." Broad middle class prosperity is a thing of the past, while poverty is way up, and we're running the largest penal system in the world. Worldwide war is a permanent feature: the only thing government can be trusted to do (maybe because it deposits the incompetence elsewhere). But religion is back -- initially another piece of Cold War propaganda to needle the atheist communists. And science, and for that matter education, is out, or at least being priced out of reach -- the right suspects it makes people more liberal.
The effect of the Cold War on our welfare is actually easy to calculate: following WWII the US and Europe had pretty much the same labor rules and welfare policies, the main difference being that the US was flush with cash and Europe was in ruins. Since then the US has fought its Cold War and beat down its working class, while Europe has at most gone through the motions, and so has preserved a middle class egalitarianism that Americans only have a distant memory of. Europe has some problems now, mostly too many politicians beholden to the same money interests that dominate the US, but they are many miles behind their American counterparts, in large part because they don't have that Cold War legacy to beat up their citizens with.
The right is so wrong on so many counts now that it's hard to know where to attack first. So it might be time to return to Commoner's essential conclusion, that unbridled capitalism will wind up ruining the environment, which is to say the world we live and work in. To keep the environment livable, we need to understand better how it all links together, but we also need to rein in capitalism, and the right. Survival depends on it.
Wednesday, October 10. 2012
by Michael Tatum
Because I have so many worthwhile records still left untouched on the proverbial back burner, I probably won't be repeating last year's post-Halloween Trick or Treat bag, in which I took a tour of the year's worst records -- blame that partly on me skipping my August column, though I certainly have plenty of non-worthwhile records to write about as well. You'll see me before then however, as I have yet another in my continuing series of single-artist columns ready to drop mid-month. Until then, we're adventuring through far off climes: Mali, Brazil, Sweden, and, er, Canada. For bonus content -- videos, talkback, etc. -- feel free to hit me up on my column's Facebook and/or Twitter page, link provided below.
Zani Diabaté & Les Héritiers: Tientalaw (Syllart) Malian guitarist/bandleader Diabaté arrived on the international scene far too late, recording his only album, Mango's 1988 Zani Diabate and the Super Djata Band, long after the Rail Band and Les Ambassadeurs' respective heydays, narrowly missing the brief window when Paul Simon's Graceland briefly made Afropop a hot topic amongst musical dilettantes. So the modest success that greeted some of his better-known countrymen eluded him. Instead, he spent two decades toiling in Bamako clubs, occasionally traveling with the National Ballet, and mentoring young musicians he would eventually welcome to the fold. In a parallel universe, perhaps he recorded a string of excellent albums that Sterns Music might have judiciously excerpted and we might be talking about now. Instead, what actually happened was even better. With crucial assistance from his band of princely inheritors, including his guitarist son Sinaly, vocalists Moussa Fané, Sikasso and Baden Sangaré, and a fierce group of percussionists, Diabaté marched into a Bamako's Bogolan Studio and laid down a set that for all we know could very well be his greatest hits, practiced and honed over years in nightclubs, replete with ennervating rhythm shifts, fleet guitar, and joyous vocal arrangements that will inspire you to play their call and response games whether you know Bambara or not. And now he's gone, passed away in a Parisian hospital after an untimely stroke. This is his accidental testament: catchy, ebullient, far more propulsive than the Malian norm, and the best homegrown Afropop record in far too long. A
Divine Fits: A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge) Most musicians use "super group" side projects as pretenses to dump lesser material they wouldn't have risked on albums released under their established brands, but this Austin outfit, fronted by Spoon's Britt Daniel and Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner, constitutes the rare exception. Its appeal lies in an unsystematic spontaneity that prevents the principals from backsliding to their respective vices. Exempting Boeckner's austere "Civilian Stripes," the music is strikingly unpremeditated, most likely elaborations of riffs forged during impromptu jams, often structured around primitive patterns utilizing only two or three chords, dominated by Daniel's choppy synths but propelled by New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown's intense bash and roll. Because the aesthetic urges instinct rather than self-consciousness, it opens up the usually tightly-wound Daniel ("I wear a poker face so well/That even my mother couldn't tell," he confesses offhandedly) while simultaneously thwarting Boeckner from the introspection that might have afforded him the opportunity to craft the thoughtful doggerel that until now has been his trademark. Which makes them not a super group at all, but a band. Facetiously sequencing a song called "Like Ice Cream" next to one called "Neopolitans" -- the kind of drollery completely lacking in their previous identities -- is the reason they need to stay together. A
Bob Dylan: Tempest (Columbia) No one considered Together Through Life a masterpiece because Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics, and as Gene Simmons can tell you from painful personal experience, what point is there to collaborating with the Bard of Hibbing if he isn't going to at least throw you some scraps? But in fact Hunter is partly responsible for the buoyant opener "Duquesne Whistle," which doesn't refer to a train, but rather the "Dorothy Six," once the world's largest blast furnace -- the Delaware and Hudson Railroad that connected Kingston, New York to Carbondale, Pennsylvania didn't even run though Duquesne, and in fact, to "keep on going" after the Carbondale stop meant you were leaving that town's anthracite mines and traveling west. Somehow though, I suspect that the journey is rather a spiritual one, signaling "the coming of the Lord" in a very literal sense, which may be why Dylan spends so much time cramming in as many honeys, harlots, heavy-stacked women, and flat-chested junkie whores into his itinerary before he reaches that final destination. Some may bristle at the licentiousness quotient, preferring instead the righteous indignation of the killer one-percent diatribes "Pay in Blood" and "Early Roman Kings," but I say Dylan is better off indulging his apocalypse jones in service of laughs, whether political or sexual, than the leaden solemnity of the final three tracks, which take up almost as much time as the previous seven. If the end of the world is drawing high, I'm pretty sure James Cameron isn't one its soothsayers. And if dedicating a song to John Lennon was such a great idea, why did Dylan wait thirty plus to do it? "The Late Great Johnny Ace" at least boasted a compelling metaphor. "Here Today" offered up personal experience in the service of genuine pathos. All Dylan has are William Blake, the Lord's Prayer, song titles that could have been coughed up by a random generator, and not so thinly-disguised self-pity. Its subject sings from the grave: "Hey Bob, maybe you should serve yourself?" B+
Kid Koala: 12 Bit Blues (Ninja Tune) Considered state of the art when I was in high school, utilized by the Bomb Squad on Public Enemy's hip hop milestone It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, and beloved by producers for its ability to mimic the supposed "warmth" of vinyl recordings, the E-mu SP-1200 boasts a loop length of about ten seconds and is so elementary to operate the manufacturer printed the instructions on its top panel. Obviously these days, no one uses it anymore -- among other reasons, its reliance on floppy discs makes it cumbersome to load up -- and in fact Eric San spent years looking until he luckily chanced upon one on Craigslist. One wonders why he'd bother, other than perhaps a sentimental attachment to EPMD's Strictly Business, but one listen to this record, a knotty stitch-up of scratchy blues, gutbucket rhythms, and hip hop savvy, will tell you why: while Moby's Play achieved similar effects with comparable raw materials, in that case the new context lifted the music to the heavens. Here, San's impressively frowzy aesthetic drags these Depression-era obscurities through the mud, subtly arting up the structures while simultanouesly championing "mistakes" of the sort that on those old blues sessions the players often didn't have the money or resources to fix. Indeed, San's digital helpmate is antiquated enough so that it sometimes short circuits mid-song, last gasps that San cleverly utilizes to his advantage, though I wish he had erred on the side of noise or momentum rather than the stretches of languidly hazy somnolence that sink the middle of this record into tedium (well, he is "trip hop" identified, after all). But hey, he packages both the CD and vinyl with your very own, easily-assembled cardboard turntable (plus one plastic flexidisc) -- sewing needle and dexterous right hand not included. Can't get much more old school than that. A
Jens Lekman: I Know What Love Isn't (Secretly Canadian) Here's a breakup album with a sense of humor: at least four different women mentioned by name, not counting Everything but the Girl's perpetually melancholic Tracey Thorn ("All I know 'bout love I learnt from you," which explains everything), and a Edinburgh Gardens possum the lovelorn artiste names Samantha ("I offered a slice of apple from my hand/She would sniff it, frown and then lumber back to the trashcan"). Elsewhere, he dishes all sorts of observations about Jennifer (who should come with a pamphlet warning off prospective boyfriends) and Danae (a lesbian who humors Jens by rating female passers-by on the classic ten-point system), yet despite the chatty details, the key line here is "She asks you what's wrong/You say nothing, it's nothing." Part of me has doubts about encouraging the frustrated romantic exploits of a passive-aggressive who clearly lets his women do the dirty work, only engages when he's positive he's been set up for failure, and plays ambivalent one moment and clingy the next. "Well, at least he's honest, working through things," the boys protest nervously. "Maybe in song," the girls reply, "but then there's that thing called real life." I'll note that you don't have to be a sociopath on the order of Frank Sinatra to have your "shit figured out," nor do you need to don "a pair of cowboy boots" to walk the straight and narrow. And having said that, the top-drawer melodies, stylish arrangements, and witty aperçus render such petty objections moot, especially since he slips his failed paramours all the best lines, including this one that sums him up: "I wish you had cheated on me instead." A
Pet Shop Boys: Elysium (Astralwerks) I prefer to imagine "Elysium" as a nightclub where yesterday's pop culture figures wheedle away the wee hours. Bryan Ferry is there, at his usual table in that darkened corner, stirring his martini with a stainless steel pick, counterclockwise, as if attempting to turn back the years, forlornly staring at Kate Moss, who breezes by without looking directly at him. By now she's used to his ogling, but still finds him creepy enough that she avoids him in favor of Neil Tennant, who has his own spot in the center of the room, where he'll affably chat up anyone who approaches. "Neil Tennant!" she exclaims. "I thought you were dead!" "I am dead, sweetie," he replies drily. "I stick around in the land of the living to continue providing context for [here, gesturing around him] all of you beautiful people." Shrugging nonchalantly, he adds, "Though the party's over, and I'm not much use." His old mate Chris Lowe is there as well, crouching in the dark behind his sequencers and synthesizers, spinning subdued sounds over the club's sound system, occasionally glancing at his Issye Miyake blowup suit from Top of the Pops hanging proudly on the wall. American tourists, clearly out of place, approach: a boyish middle-aged man with jet black hair and his demure, blonde wife. The latter remarks: "You've been around but you don't look too rough, and I still quite like some of your early stuff," while her husband notes that even though he has his doubts about their new single -- a gay identity anthem masquerading as an Olympic theme -- he still loves their tunes and finds the one which sticks it to Sting hilarious. Tennant looks him over in bemusement, and snaps his fingers, at which Lowe reverts back to what could have been an oldie but goodie: "Face Like That." The couple looks at each other in surprise. And everyone, even doleful Bryan, gets up to dance. A
A Place to Bury Strangers: Onwards to the Wall (Dead Oceans, EP) Call this Brooklyn trio's genre wind-tunnel rock, an aesthetic they've mastered more splendidly than their Ontarian competitors in the somewhat tentative Weekend and the downright abysmal P.S. I Love You. They excel at noise because guitarist/bandleader Oliver Ackermann loves discord so much he actually owns and operates his own guitar effects pedal company, the fittingly dubbed Death by Audio -- check out those head-splitting detonations that close this five song EP's "I Lost You," which you can duplicate yourself at home with the "Fuzz War" for a mere $150.00 (the website avers: "a high-tech fuzz mutilator at an affordable price"). They sell that noise by keeping things simple, combining unadorned, modal song structures with remorseless rhythms that seamlessly merge their drummer of the moment (here, Robi Gonzalez) with the pitiless churning of machines, suggesting what Joy Division might have sounded like had Ian Curtis lived to have Arthur Baker remix them. This may not strike their fans as consistent as 2009's Exploding Head or the current Worship, but that's partly because the production is dirtier, burying Ackermann's lyrics to the point of incomprehensibility (er, I'm assuming he's going through a bad breakup?) but also because in the time-honored stopgap fashion, he's trying new things, like adding Moon vocalist Alanna Nuala to the anxiously taut title track. Hey, it worked for Phil Spector and his Wall of Sound -- why not this post-punk equivalent? A
A Place to Bury Strangers: Worship (Dead Oceans) Differentiating the stylistic shifts in their admittedly similar-sounding records may seem a daunting undertaking for those who can't distinguish their meticulously orchestrated cacophony from a battalion of pneumatic drills, but it can be done. While Exploding Head, their previous long player, is comparatively speaking a much more traditional "guitar" record -- check out the brutally thick riff that kicks off the wild "Is It Nothing" -- starting with the Onwards to the Wall EP, Oliver Ackermann abandoned conventional playing to embrace a sheets-of-sound approach, fuzzy striations that he layers over new bassist Dion Lunadon's rudimentary patterns. Here, the noise is more calculatedly utilized, integrated into songs rather than suicide bombing into them, which provides for better dynamics and, not coincidentally, leads to better songs. I still think that Alanna Nuala, who guested on the EP, endowed them with a much needed higher end -- doubling your melody at the octave may not be your idea of sophisticated harmony, but it did provide them with some much-needed additional color. Admittedly, they compensate for their lack of depth with a compelling singleness of purpose: cold, steely-eyed, unsentimental noise rock. As musical tricks go, it's persuasive. But it's the only one they have, and they can't keep doing it forever. A
Tom Zé: Tropicália Lixo Lógico (Lapa) I'm unable to provide very many concrete details for this little item, the title of which translates into the enticing "Junk Logic," as I haven't come across any related articles I haven't had to run through Google's piss poor translator. It's currently not available domestically, and without the benefit of a trot, the import of the lyrics eludes my meager grasp of Portuguese (what's with that delightful ditty about Maria Clara and the motorcar? and the line about Frank Sinatra in "Tropicalea Jacta Est?"). Yet as always, I'm both elated and enchanted by everything in this Brazilian's droll arsenal, from his impish vocalese, herky-jerk beats, whimsical arrangements, and occasional dollops of English, here represented by a number in which Zé takes Paul Simon's line about prophets scrawling poems on subway walls at face value (personally, I missed "Stand clear of the bloody cross" on the Green Line back to the Sherry Netherland). 2000's Estudando a Bossa: Nordeste Plaza looked backward, lovingly skewing the music of the artiste's youth, but this record, his wildest and edgiest since the '70s period immortalized on Luaka Bop's 1990 landmark compilation, braves the future, with the help of various newcomers: quirky pop star Mallu Magalhães, rapper Emicide, Los Hermanos' Rodrigo Amarante, even retired soccer star Washington Stecanela Cerqueira. From the pitch-tweaked vocal that opens "Amarração do Amor," the mock-tortured growl that introduces "Não Tenha Ódio no Verão," and the here-come-the-giants stomping that serves as his overture, there's plenty that will catch your ear. But I'm partial to the jarring segues, the way certain songs drop out mid-bar then dash straight to the next intro. Is this purposeful, or merely a sign my lowly download has been corrupted? The beautiful thing about Zé is that I have no idea. And I don't care. A
Kanye West Presents G.O.O.D Music: Cruel Summer (Island/Def Jam) Too commercially viable to give away for free, not good enough to issue under the overlord's name, and either way I hope he gives away the profits to the committee to reelect the president ("To the World," "New God Flow") ***
Diamond Rugs: Diamond Rugs (Partisan) If all it takes to form a super group with John McCauley is paying his bar tab, tell him I'm free this Friday ("Gimme a Beer," "Christmas in Chinese Restaurant") ***
Azealia Banks: Fantasea (free download) Nineteen track free mixtape competes with a four track EP she's selling for $5.98 -- where would you put the quality work? ("Fuck up the Fun," "Jumanji") **
Four Tet: Pink (Domino) The title signifies as "undercooked," though a few choice cuts toward the end are well done ("Pinnacles," "Peace for Earth") *
The xx: Coexist (XL) Baria Qureshi's musical departure emphasizes the space between the principals, which in turn emphasizes the space between the principals and their audience ("Angels," "Chained") *
Carly Rae Jepsen: Kiss (604) I can explain the addictive appeal of "Call Me Maybe" scientifically. Lyrically, it succinctly pins down a specifically adolescent state of being -- particularly in its ingenious use of that magical word "maybe" -- while at the same time musically reinforcing its mixed up romantic confusion by never quite settling on the tonic chord, i.e. the "home" key. In other words, the resolution that the ear craves -- the extra-verbal metaphor signaling that guy with the ripped jeans really will call the song's heroine back -- never comes, instead ping-ponging back and forth without setting the listener back on solid ground. It's such a cleverly simple trick one marvels why no one has ever thought of it before. Nothing else here however will distract you from the hard truth that this attractive but otherwise nondescript ingénue was a finalist on the fifth season of Canadian Idol -- thankfully (and surprisingly), she doesn't fall back on the mawkish ballads that epitomize her American counterparts, but she evinces a great deal less personality than, for example, guest star Adam Young, who's irritating to be sure, but who can at least be described uniquely, without resorting to stock universals like "youthful" and "perky." In fact, one wonders if the ubiquitous observation that this twenty-six year old comes off at least ten years younger than her actual age is only everyone's transparently diplomatic way of saying she acts a great deal dumber and immature than you'd expect from reading her bio. Or maybe not. I suppose Hilary Duff with one undeniable hit under her belt trumps Hilary Duff without one. But not by much. B
Caetano Veloso and David Byrne: Live at Carnegie Hall (Nonesuch) Ordinarily I stick to reviewing records rather than branching out to cover gallery openings, especially ones which skimp on the vino and meagerly compensate by offering up exotic cheese plates. But alas, the event in question also turns out to be a summit between two stiff ex-art rock heroes that reminds me of the old joke: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice, practice, zzzzzz." Veloso's mostly solo acoustic set is gorgeous, nuanced, and interminably boring, Judy Collins for Lusophones, featuring only one relatively well known song, "O Leãozinho," anthologized by Byrne on Luaka Bop's Beleza Tropical, although including his touching ode to Manhattan from 1998's Livro is a nice gesture. And then, seven tracks in, Byrne himself shows up, awkwardly reprising embarrassing duds from his solo career while forgetting that Talking Heads were great at least in part because their rhythm section rocked -- Allmusic's Fred Thomas tactfully describes Veloso percussionist Mauro Refosco as "understated," but I might opt for descriptors like "abstract" or "inconspicuous." Consider this record's "Life During Wartime," a specter of its former self, in which Refosco pathetically compensates for the loss of Chris Frantz' nervous pulse with a metronomic plip that I swear he's generating by popping his cheek with his index finger. And the audience's reflexive sycophancy is a downright annoyance -- is Veloso's floridly arch vocalese in "(Nothing But) Flowers" intended to be self-parodic? Or even funny at all? How would you know? He always sings like that. Amusing anti-climax: when Veloso encourages audience participation at the end of "Terra" -- and no one joins in. C
Bob Mould: Silver Age (Merge) Proof he's hit rock bottom: "Briefest Moment," a post-punk "When We Was Fab." B
Alanis Morissette: Havoc and Bright Lights (Columbia) Buffered little placebo. B
David Byrne and St. Vincent: Love this Giant (4AD/Todo Mundo) Yes, I get your references -- now shut up. C+
Passion Pit: Gossamer (Columbia) Critics flock to Michael Angelakos' bombastic synth pop because his testicles are at the very least a millimeter in diameter bigger than Owl City's Adam Young -- why, you can tell even without the benefit of an orchidometer! C+
Dan Deacon: America (Domino) Oh, beautiful -- a specious guy. C+
Monday, October 8. 2012
Music: Current count 20551  rated (+37), 642  unrated (-0).
Spent the early part of the week on Recycled Goods, not stopping with the October column post but trudging on for a couple days. Result is a healthy rated count with a relatively slim Jazz Prospecting. Streamnotes still struggling from neglect, but I'm listening to Carolyn Mark as I try to write this intro. In any case, Dowloader's Diary has been delayed until this week, and I probably won't run Streamnotes until a week later. (If I cram, that'll mean another slim Jazz Prospecting next week, but as you can see from the unpacking the new stuff has been pouring in.) Made a pitch to revive Jazz CG last week, but no response thus far, so I'm not optimistic. At some point I need to clear my desk of the piles of HM and better CDs I've been saving up.
No A-list records this week, after quite a few lately. Couple near misses, and some quality also-rans. Thought I'd like to see the cover I didn't get.
Rez Abbasi Trio: Continuous Beat (2012, Enja): Guitarist, b. 1965 in Karachi, Pakistan; based in New York; has at least seven albums since 1995, some referring back to the subcontinent's musical heritage, some (like this one) not: trio, with John Hebert on bass, Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. Five (of nine) originals, covers of Gary Peacock, Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk, with a short, delicate, very respectful "Star Spangled Banner" closing. B+(***) [advance]
Bill Anschell/Brent Jensen/Chris Smyer: Blueprints (2012, Origin): Piano, soprano sax, bass, respectively; recorded in Seattle, which is at least the pianist's home town. Jensen started out on alto but has become a specialist; he's a mainstream player, always precise and eloquent, should be regarded as one of the main players on his instrument. One group improv, eight standards, none in any way obscure ("All Blues," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Blue Monk," "Star Eyes," "Yardbird Suite" -- for example). Nothing daring about any of them, and the lack of a drummer ensures a leisurely pace, but they're tasteful and lovely, another feather for Jensen's hat. B+(***)
Clarice Assad: Home (2010 , Adventure Music): Brazilian singer, also plays piano, b. 1978. Third album, accompanied by percussionists Keita Ogawa and Yousif Sheronick. Three originals, pieces by Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Dorival Caymi, an Elis Regina medley, a few lesser knowns (i.e., no Jobim). Was playing Abbey Lincoln before, so I was struck by the similarity, but Betty Carter would have had the same effect, especially when Assad scats. B+(**)
Natalie Cressman & Secret Garden: Unfolding (2012, self-released): Trombone player, also sings, 21 (so b. 1991?), from San Francisco, based in New York (studies at Manhattan School of Music), first album, wrote 7 of 9 songs (covering "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" with Joni Mitchell's lyrics). The band adds trumpet, tenor sax, piano, bass, and drums for a suitably quirky postbop mix. B
Jeff Davis: Leaf House (2011 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, originally from Greely, CO; second album, plus a dozen-plus side credits since 2007, notably with pianist Kris Davis. This is a piano trio, with Russ Lossing and Eivind Opsvik doing all original compositions by Davis. B+(**)
Michael Formanek Quartet: Small Places (2011 , ECM): Bassist, tenth (or ninth) album since 1986, second on ECM after a decade-long break. All-star quartet: Tim Berne (alto sax), Craig Taborn (piano), Gerald Cleaver (drums). Aside from the pianist, the album is a little languid, with the sax painting background colors, tones only slightly brighter than the arco bass. But Taborn's developed into a remarkable pianist, and he shines here. B+(**)
Kalle Kalima & K-18: Out to Lynch (2011 , TUM): Guitarist, b. 1973 in Helsinki, Finland. Third album, quartet with Mikko Innanen on reeds (alto and baritone sax, flutes), Veli Kujala on quarter-tone accordion, and Teppo Hauta-aho on bass. The guitar doesn't ring out much, leaving the sax and accordion to duel, the latter holding its own in the noise department. B+(**)
Lisa Kirchner: Charleston for You (2012, Verdant World): Singer-songwriter, b. 1953, father was classical composer Leon Kirchner (1919-2009), himself a student of Schoenberg. Her credits include a 1976 Threepenny Opera, but her records didn't start until 2000, now numbering five. Cut in seven studios with changing support groups -- many just piano, only one with a horn -- half originals, half covers, including one Brazilian medley (De Moraes/Powell/Veloso); focused, assured. B+(**)
Max Marshall: Instant Camaraderie (2011 , Jazz Hang): Pianist, originally from Chicago, now based in New York; first album, wrote 5 (of 9) originals, adding one from a band member (alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity), Clifford Brown, John Coltrane, and "When I Grow Too Old to Dream." Quintet, with trumpet, sax, bass, and drums: the traditional hard bop lineup with some postbop curves. B+(**)
Maria Neckam: Unison (2012, Sunnyside): Singer, third album, writes her own music, occasionally pinching famous poets for lyrics (here: Hafez, Rilke, Neruda). Produced her own album, drawing on a talented core band -- Aaron Parks, Nir Felder, Thomas Morgan, Colin Stranahan -- working in horns on half the cuts, cello on a couple. No doubt a lot of talent and thought went into this, but the result is a sort of art song that I find all but unlistenable. Except, that is, when it isn't. C+
Russ Nolan: Tell Me (2012, Rhinoceruss Music): Tenor saxophonist, third album: quartet with piano, bass, and drums, sometimes electric, plus producer Zach Brock plays violin on three tracks. Four originals, five covers, the jazz sources from Oliver Nelson and Joe Zawinul, pop from Stevie Wonder and the Beatles; lets them kick up their heels. B+(*)
Zohar's Nigun: The Four Questions (2012, Rectify): Australian group -- Daniel Weltlinger (violin), Daniel Pliner (piano), Simon Milman (bass), Alon Ilsar (drums) -- playing Jewish music, some trad, some new, the violin in the lead. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, October 7. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Links for further study:
Thursday, October 4. 2012
Update: linked in, then removed, New Yorker cover. Clever, too big, not really the point I wanted to make.
I didn't watch the Obama-Romney debate last night. I've reached the point where I find both candidates hopelessly irritating, and I've never had much stomach for political cant. Also, from past experiences, I can't say that I've ever learned much from debates -- except not to trust impressions based on personal style or quirks. Judging from reports, had I watched I would have come away even more irritated, especially at Obama. Ever since his election in 2008, what's bothered me about Obama hasn't been his policies or programs -- inadequate, unimaginative, and often misguided as they are -- but his inability or unwillingness to speak up for anything better, or indeed even to articulate why his own programs matter. The debate just provides more examples of his failing.
The front page article itself, from McClatchy, was formally neutral, the headline: "Candidates Cordial, but Pull No Punches." Below I'll argue that Obama did little but pull his punches. (Krugman called him Capillary Man: "his instinct, as people said, was apparently to go for the capillaries.") Consider the four quotes that the Wichita Eagle spotlighted on the front page today, the first sense readers in these parts got of the substance of the debates:
Romney's two statements were direct, mostly true (albeit cynical and at least partly nonsensical). Obama's were evasive and incomplete, offering little reason to trust or even understand him. Romney was shameless, while Obama would prefer that we overlook what he has to be ashamed of. Whether you believe one or the other depends on how much you know about the matter. If you know nothing, you might be taken in by Romney's confidence, faux concern, and pat answers. If you know anything, you already know that Romney is a fraud, and in his debate answers and points you'll find nothing but more evidence. You will also know that Obama has struggled with huge problems in a political climate that has confused and confounded him. Part of his problem is that he is too invested in that climate. Part is that he's unclear on who voted for him and why, and all of that came through in his lackluster performance. No doubt we would be happier to have a smarter, more earnest, more dedicated, more trustworthy candidate, but we have no such option.
What we've gotten instead is another embarrassing moment in our democracy. Unfortunately, there will be more before this election is settled. In particular, next debate is supposed to be about "foreign policy" -- basically a contest to see which candidate can most convincingly project himself as a killer. There, at least, Obama will have the advantage of four years of practice. Expect to hear a lot about Bin Laden, but he's only one of thousands of people the US has killed on his watch, under his direction, and sometimes in direct response to his orders. In contrast, the worst Romney can claim is torturing his dog, but rest assured that he will do his best to convince us that he's badder than Obama could ever be. He's committed to more military, more war. He's committed to letting Netanyahu dictate US policy in the middle east. Most of all, he's committed to never backing down, never apologizing, never second guessing his own brilliance. That sounds to me like a perfect recipe for disaster.
And no doubt there will be more embarrassments down the road. Hard to pick a debate winner when everyone involved is such a loser.
Some post-debate links:
Bonus link: Matt Taibbi: This Presidential Race Should Never Have Been This Close: Written well before the debate, but more true than ever:
Of course, the reason the election is close is because so few understand Taibbi's points. Part of that is that the mainstream (and far right) media keep drubbing you with their "conventional wisdom." Part is that the Democratic Party leadership doesn't lead, or inform, or enlighten, or even campaign very much. The real key to the 2012 elections will be how many people vote -- if the turnout is close to 2008 Obama and the Democrats will win handily, and if it falls off to 2010 levels the Republicans will prevail. And the other is how effective unlimited spending by billionaires turns out to be. The fate of the nation hangs in the balance. Either we get four more years of the same mediocre melange we've enjoyed for the last four years, or the country collapses under the hubris of the superrich and falls off the deep end. The debates will be forgotten, unless you let yourself be suckered by them.
Tuesday, October 2. 2012
This continues last month's plunge into my still vast trove of unrated records (currently around 650, of which about 200 are new jazz albums I'll get to soon enough in Jazz Prospecting). Count is down some from September (53 vs. 88), and the A-list is down even more, all of which seems perfectly reasonable to me. Will keep doing this for a while, even expecting the returns to be increasingly paltry, since I'd like to clean out that shelf unit and move the stuff into more appropriate locations. Will try to work in some new reissues where I get them -- I think the Art Pepper is the only one here, but there are a few more in the queue. And I went to Rhapsody for a couple items this month, mostly to fill out loose ends: finding a better KC compilation, checking out the Roots N' Blues discs I missed (surprised there weren't more).
Bo Diddley: Rare & Well Done (1955-68 , Chess): Diddley's concept was so singular that you'd figure him to have an essential single-disc compilation -- The Definitive Collection (, Geffen/Chess) works for that -- so it came as a surprise that his 2-CD The Chess Box not only sustained his appeal, it broadened and deepened it. This set of alternate takes ("I'm a Man" is unnecessary; "No More Lovin'" is a surprising slice of doo-wop) and unreleased tracks doesn't come close to the surplus on The Chess Box, but manages a few finds -- noted on the fly: "She's Fine, She's Mine," "Bo Meets the Monster," "Cookie-Headed Diddley," "Please Mr. Engineer" (a reworking of the "Rock Island Line" con that morphs into "Train A-Comin'" or something else). Rhythm and jive, the jokes hit even when you see them coming, the beats keep you on your toes. A-
KC & the Sunshine Band: 25th Anniversary Edition (1973-94 , Rhino, 2CD): Disco popsicles from Miami, a little thin in the vocal department (H.W. Casey) but the chunky, funky rhythm department (Casey on keybs, Richard Finch on bass) launched a fistful of shallow but memorable hits -- "Get Down Tonight," "That's the Way (I Like It)," "Shake Your Booty," "Keep It Comin' Love," "Do You Wanna Go Party." No doubt they have an A- best-of in them (several are out-of-print, notably Rhino's 1990 The Best of KC & the Sunshine Band), but stretched to 2-CD you get more historical context, like their Four Tops covers, plus the inevitable Tom Moulton remix. Having lived through that history, I appreciate the documentation, but if I knew how I should reduce this to one disc and burn it. B+(***)
Knocky Parker/Dick Wellstood/Galvanized Washboard Band: In Gay Old New Orleans (1949-68 , GHB): The generally useful liner notes fail to mention the recording dates for this ramshackle collection, so I'm doing some guesswork. The first six cuts feature pianist Parker -- from Texas, mostly played ragtime and western swing -- and were released on GHB's first 10-inch LP. (The label was founded by George H. Buck in 1949, so if not then soon afterwards.) Two solo rags, a blues with drums, "Grandpa's Spells" with bass and drums, "Wolverine Blues" with oom-pah trombone, a trad jazz group cut. Wellstood is another pianist, a retro swing guy from Connecticut, but he only gets two cuts: one with washboard, the other adding horns, notably Joe Muranyi's clarinet. Wellstood recorded from 1947 to his death in 1987, so those cuts could have come any time, but my guess is early. That leaves 14 cuts from a band with washboard, banjo, tuba, trombone, cornet (Peter Ecklund), and clarinet (Tommy Sancton). The only clue here is that Sancton is described as "a nineteen year-old clarinetist from New Orleans"; he was born in 1949, so I figure 1968. They quickly make you forget wondering where the piano went, and Sancton is especially superb. B+(***)
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. Anyone who doesn't know him should work through the essential studio discs: The Return of Art Pepper (1956-57), Meets the Rhythm Section (1957), Smack Up (1960), Living Legend (1975), Straight Life (1979), Winter Moon (1980); for live Pepper, my fave is With Duke Jordan in Copenhagen 1981, narrowly over Thursday Night at the Village Vanguard (1977) -- but note that the whole Village Vanguard stand is available in a 9-CD box (and that the complete 1977-82 Galaxy Recordings can be savored in a 16-CD box). Simplest way to describe him is that he refracted up every modernist impulse from Parker to Coltrane to Coleman, but he also maintained the sweetest alto sax tone of all (well, excepting Johnny Hodges, of course). A-
Roots N' Blues: The Retrospective 1925-1950 (1925-50 , Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): "Roots N' Blues" was a logo Sony/Legacy used in the early 1990s for a series of blues reissues, nearly all of which are worth searching out (see the ACN below). No doubt there's some intersection with the series, but this is less a best-of or a sampler than a repository for all sorts of minor artists that wouldn't be slotted elsewhere (although I'd never call Charlie Poole minor, or Gid Tanner, Lucille Bogan, Charley Patton, Big Maceo Merritweather, Bill Monroe, Hank Penny, Molly O'Day, Rosetta Howard, a few others). Wobbles back and forth between country and blues, a distinction most thoughtful compilers of the period obliterate -- in his even more important 9-CD American Pop, Allen Lowe works in a lot of jazz as well -- with some scratchy Cajun and quite a bit of gospel (including a couple sermons), all making for a great treasure trove. Comes in an old-fashioned longbox, which makes the booklet easier to read (and easier to lose). A-
The Smothers Brothers: Sibling Revelry: The Best of the Smothers Brothers (1962-68 , Rhino): Folk duo, Tom on guitar, Dick on bass, but they spent more time talking than singing, with Tom's malaproprisms and mental wandering often stumbling onto something mildly subversive. In the mid-1960s that made them hip and landed them on TV, and by the end of the decade made them dangerous and got them kicked off -- at one point, Tom explains, "we have freedom of speech in America, so you better say what you're supposed to say." They recorded nearly a dozen albums, nearly all live -- or at least with laugh tracks, which get to be a bit much. B+(**)
The Art of Noise: In Visible Silence (1986, China/Polydor): Post-New Wave progressives, the vocal bits broken into collages, the dance beats aiming for symphonic grandeur; they must have seemed exciting (and a bit scary) at the time, but their art moment has passed, leaving this as a slightly amusing throwback. B+(***)
Gene Autry: Blues Singer, 1929-1931: "Booger Rooger Saturday Nite" (1929-31 , Columbia/Legacy): Before Hollywood, he had a pretty good Jimmie Rodgers impression, not least the yodel, with a touch of sugar in his voice and a sly grin that would take him far; note that Legacy's The Essential Gene Autry starts after this one ends, and is worse for it. B+(**) [R]
Pato Baton and the Reggae Revolution: Collections (1988-94 , IRS): Reggae DJ from Birmingham, UK, cut a record with Mad Professor in 1985, his first eight years collected here; argues that all the world needs is love, or at least sinsemilla, then moves into rap on "Save Your Soul." B+(***)
Beats & Rhymes: Hip-Hop of the '90s, Part II (1990-92 , Rhino): Second of three volumes, not decade wide, has trouble even getting out of 1991, and while the sources aren't all WEA, the home team predominates; nothing spectacular, but they flow fine and the beats hook, sometimes even the rhymes; useful, in that I doubt I have a third of these 15 cuts on albums, and only "Summertime" is certain to show up on other comps. B+(***)
The Best of B-Boy Records (1987-88 , Landspeed, 2CD): The house that launched Boogie Down Productions rounds up a couple years' worth of singles and EP cuts, with BDP's three cuts relegated to the end; nobody else you're likely to have heard of -- Levi 167? JVC FORCE? Busy Boys? Cold Crush Brothers? those are ones that make the cover; same sound, same beats, plenty of shout outs to the South Bronx and Scott La Rock, DJ Drew's "She's a Dog" -- old style returns incognito. B+(**)
Laura Boosinger: Down the Road (1998, Laura's Label): Folk singer, AMG considers her old-timey country, probably based on the A.P. Carter covers, but she also does a lot of trad., including "Tom Dula"; third of five albums, remarkably clear voice and graceful accompaniment. B+(***)
Boyz II Men: Cooleyhighharmony (1991, Motown): New jack swing vocal group, to use the contemporary term, a big hit at the time; the hip-hop influence doesn't amount to much, and the harmonies are most satisfying on the ballads. B+(**)
Henry Butler: Blues & More, Volume I (1992, Windham Hill): Blind New Orleans pianist, b. 1949, has a dozen or so albums since 1986 but as far as I know no Volume II to this one; solo piano, a dense thicket but no sense of the stride or boogie-woogie that drove all the other important New Orleans pianists from Byrd to Booker; mostly originals, but sings a pair of covers, not his strong suit. B+(*)
Otis Clay: Soul Man: Live in Japan (1983 , Blueseye Blues/Rounder): In Christgau's C+ review, he starts by pointing out that Clay is no Al Green, then adds Syl Johnson, O.V. Wright, James Carr, Howard Tate, Jimmy Lewis, Benny Latimore, McKinley Mitchell, and Z.Z. Hill to the list; that's pretty much true, but has more to do with his unoriginality -- he strictly works in the wake of those others, throwing in a little gospel for good measure -- than his pipes, his grit, his groan, which are all more than proficient, as is his band. B+(*)
Culture: Good Things (1989, RAS): The great reggae vocal trio, 12 years after Two Sevens Clash, one year after Nuff Crisis, a general decline from extraordinary to more of the same, still pretty good (although Shanachie reissued the superb 1979 Cumbolo at the same time, making the comparison more acute). B+(**)
Jesse Davis: First Insight (1998, Concord): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, from Marsalis-ville but sweeter than Branford, produced a steady flow of albums on Concord 1991-2000 but has rarely been heard from since, a shame; bright, effortless swing, knows his Kansas City as well as New Orleans, has a stellar band anchored by Kenny Washington; sings one, does a pretty good job. B+(***)
DeBarge: The Ultimate Collection (1982-87 , Motown): Harmonizing family group with a funk edge, one girl and four guys, with Eldra's falsetto carrying on a solo career after five group albums (one as The DeBarges, ignored here); fans adore their 1983 In a Special Way, which contributes 4 of its 9 songs here, becoming 4 of 16; I've never quite gotten them, and this may be too much. B+(**)
Giora Feidman: The Magic of the Klezmer (1986, Delos): B. 1936 in Buenos Aires, family played klezmer; moved to Israel, called his first album Jewish Soul Music, the title appropriated for a film about him; the soul, I reckon, comes from backgrounding the rhythm, which lets the clarinet tone stand out, although it helps to have that tone. B+(**)
Bob Florence: Jewels (1979-86 , Discovery): Jazz pianist, cut his first trio album in 1956 but spent most of his time arranging for big bands (Harry James, Louie Bellson, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich) and finally cut his own big band records with LA session cats in the 1980s, the subject of this sampler. B+(**)
Don Friedman: Don Friedman at Maybeck: Maybeck Recital Hall Series Volume Thirty-Three (1993 , Concord): Pianist, b. 1935, joined Dexter Gordon in 1956, cut some well regarded albums in the 1960s, continues today; solo, part of a series that sooner or later flagged damn near every important mainstream pianist in jazz. B+(*)
João Gilberto: Amoroso/Brasil (1976-80 , Warner Brothers): A major figure in Brazilian music from bossa nova on, one I haven't begun to sort out -- with his gentle guitar and lax vocals he is underwhelming at first, sinuous at best, with his "'S Wonderful" a fine example (despite the strings); this combines two US albums, a fairly arbitrary sample. B+(***)
Grits & Grooves! (1966-77 , Instant): New Orleans funk anthology, subcontracted from Charly with next to no documentation, 20 cuts, doubles up on Aaron Neville, Lee Dorsey, The Meters, Ted Taylor, Ann Sexton, Bobby Patterson, Tommie Young; didn't know the latter four, and found a few pleasant surprises, especially Taylor's not-so-funky "How Do You Walk Away From Fear." B+(**)
Loleatta Holloway: Queen of the Night: The Ultimate Club Collection (1978-2000 , The Right Stuff): Disco diva with a string of 1973-80 albums and singles, a couple hits on the dance charts; the first three cuts here are vintage dance singles, the rest look to be later remixes, mostly adding volume and clutter. C+
Si Kahn: New Wood (1974 , Philo): Folk singer-songwriter, just guitar and voice; father was a rabbi, he recorded over a dozen albums, in between political work on many fronts from civil rights to Appalachian strip mining, and wrote a few books (including one subtitled, A Guide for Rabble Rousers, Activists, and Quiet Lovers of Justice; this first album is full of finely detailed songs, humane, plainly done: one laughs at Nixon, another delves behind the curtains of Old Joe's house. A-
KC & the Sunshine Band: Greatest Hits (1974-80 , TK): Thought I'd check my assertion above, but the closest I found on Rhapsody was a "2012, RKO" that appears to be download only; however, it matches the original TK best-of, a 11-cut LP that closed out their prime period; everything you need, not that there isn't more. A- [R]
KC & the Sunshine Band: The Best of KC & the Sunshine Band (1974-82 , Rhino): Reshuffles and adds five songs to Greatest Hits, one post-1980, two from Part 3, one from the band's The Sound of Sunshine, and, most importantly, "Do You Wanna Go Party": definitely! A- [R]
Roger Kellaway/Red Mitchell: Life's a Take (1992 , Concord): Piano-bass duets, one hint being that both started out on the other's instrument, both mainstream players, the younger pianist more directly indebted to the older generation, the older bassist just a few months from his grave; something to savor. B+(***)
Talib Kweli: Quality (2002, MCA): Rapper, second solo album after breaking free from Mos Def in Black Star; mixed bag: likes having a child, dislikes the cops, likes farming out pieces to guest vocalists, who do him no favors. B
Bobby Lamb Meets Bob Florence with Trinity Big Band: Trinity Fair (1993 , Hep): Lamb was an Irish trombonist, spent the better part of the 1950s in the US in the Kenton and Herman big bands, amply preparing him for this meeting, but if I read the credits correctly he's only the director here. B
Eddy Lawrence: Used Parts (1992 , Snowplow): Singer-songwriter with a guitar, i.e., a folkie -- for good measure, backed up with bass, fiddle, and dobro -- writes up witty little tales and sings them at an easy loping gait; his previous one about catfish ranging (Whiskers and Scales) was more consistent; this one's typified by racoons rooting through the garbage. B+(**)
Barrington Levy: 20 Vintage Hits (1979-85 , Sonic Sounds): Reggae star, never got much traction in the US, but has more than two dozen albums; no doc here, so I took the years from the first and last singles; a journeyman, sure, but not without his appeal. B+(**)
Louisiana Saturday Night (1959-93 , Ace): Swamp Pop is what they call it, rock and roll with Cajun accents, or without, some bits borrowed from country or blues, anything you can dump into gumbo; still, not as frenzied as you'd hope, no one making me want to dig deeper, although I'll note that the label has options for Johnnie Allan, Tommy McClain (whose Don Gibson tune is a highlight here), and Rockin' Sidney. B+(*)
Macka B: Sign of the Times (1986, Ariwa): Christgau discovered this Brit-born Rastafari toaster in 1990 when he released three impressive albums, but missed this earlier album, his first; same themes here, defending civilization, decrying drinking (and war, and Thatcher, and Big Macs, and money-grubbing preachers, and apartheid), with all the authority of dub and Jah. B+(***)
The Magnetic Fields: Get Lost (1995, Merge): A bit more upbeat than Stephin Merritt's later work I'm familiar with, therefore a bit more engaging, but I always have a tough time with him, his deadpan suggesting that only the lyrics matter, his lyrics on the oblique side, and the effort wears one down; still, there's something to it. 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+(*)
Carmen McRae/Betty Carter: The Carmen McRae-Betty Carter Duets (1987 , Verve): Live at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, two very different singers even though their voices are closely matched, backed by a piano trio with Eric Danielson; McRae holds Carter to standards, but Carter won't leave them that way, and McRae gets a mischievous kick out of the liberty. B+(**)
MTV: The First 1000 Years: Hip-Hop (1982-98 , Rhino): Part of the Y2K madness, the conceit that they can look back to sum up a millennium of anything, much less something as novel as rap; dupes six songs from Rhino's Millennium Hip-Hop Party, improving the first half and tailing off a bit on the more recent back half, ending up two cuts short (69 vs. 77 minutes), so not the ideal intro to hip-hop's first 20 years, but a serviceable one. A-
Gene Phillips: Swinging the Blues (1947-51 , Ace): Jump blues shouter, played a mean electric guitar which could rival the sax he was usually paired with, but the unnamed saxman more than holds his own; has a hankering for plus-sized ladies ("Big Legs," "Big Fat Mama," "Fatso," "Short Haired Ugly Woman"), for slippin' and slidin' and jumpin' the blues, and swinging too. A-
Marvin Pontiac: The Legendary Marvin Pontiac: Greatest Hits (1999 , Strange & Beautiful): You can look up Pontiac's back story at AMG -- b. 1932, Jewish mother, father from Mali, worked as a plumber's apprentice in Lubbock, robbed a bank, cut a record, abducted by aliens, etc. -- but most sources regard this as the work of Lounge Lizard John Lurie; misses any niche I can think of, including blues and show tunes, which may at least have been in his mind. B+(*)
Bud Powell: From Birdland, New York City, 1956 (1956 , Jazz Anthology): Bebop pianist, had a tough life and is commonly thought to have been broken by this time, but it is possible to splendid recordings at least up to 1964 (he died in 1966); this is a live trio with Paul Chambers and Art Taylor, typical songbook, has its moments. B+(**)
Irene Reid: The Queen of the Party (1997-2003 , Savant): Like all of Count Basie's singers, she swung her blues, her career split between a stint in the 1960s and a five album late comeback, which this samples and sums up -- jump blues with a feminist vengeance, most cuts aided by Charles Earland and Eric Alexander. B+(***)
Billy Lee Riley: Blue Collar Blues (1992, Hightone): Sun Records study, cut "Red Hot" in 1957 and that's probably the only thing you've heard, unless you noticed "Flying Saucers Rock 'n' Roll," earlier same year; this was his first album in 24 years; rockabilly, fast, not quite as lean as in the 1950s, but appreciate the effort. B+(**)
Paul Rishell & Annie Raines: I Want You to Know (1996, Tone-Cool): Boston-based Rishell released two blues albums before teaming up with harmonica player Raines here (she also plays piano and sings some), a combo that went on to release three more albums up to 2008; wailing blues guitar, sharp harp, a voice somewhere between the Alvin brothers, a few originals but mostly standard old blues fare. B+(*)
David Rudder: Beloved (1998, JWP): Showcased on Sire's impressive 1987 primer, This Is Soca, Rudder personified Trinidad's shift from calypso to the heavier beat of soca, but there is a corresponding loss in of lyrical wit; nonetheless, Rudder has one song about immigrating to America where he shows a firmer grasp of history than most natives can muster. B+(*)
7L & Esoteric: DC2: Bars of Death (2004, Babygrande): Boston duo, DJ (George Andrinopoulos) and MC (Seamus Ryan), respectively; records go back to 1997, this their fourth album; they are preoccupied with violence, dis Bush, drop basketballer names, get tighter and harder as the long album winds on; choice cut: "That's Right." B+(***)
Slave: Stellar Fungk: The Best of Slave (1977-85 , Rhino): Funk group from Ohio, drummer-vocalist Steve Arrington the best known alumnus with a handful of albums 1982-87; don't know a technical definition of "fungk" but the word sounds a bit clogged up; the beats here fare better, but they never really breaks out the steady groove. B+(*)
The Slide Guitar: Bottles, Knives and Steel Vol. 2 (1927-34 , Columbia/Legacy): Nothing much here screams out slide guitar, especially given how easy Tampa Red makes it seem -- he has 7 of 20 cuts; Curley Weaver and Sylvester Weaver 3 each -- so just another grab bag of vintage blues and hokum, including two early Helen Humes vocals. B+(**) [R]
Hal Smith/Keith Ingham/Bobby Gordon: Music From the Mauve Decades (1993, Sackville): Drums-piano-clarinet trio, respectively, playing tunes that date from 1900-1920 ("the mauve decades"), so this predates trad jazz but that doesn't prevent the trio from swinging; Ingham is a natural here, Gordon eloquent, Smith gives it a little extra kick; found this looking up Smith, and this is the only album he has on Rhapsody (of a dozen or so). B+(**) [R]
The Sound of the Delta (1963-65 , Testament): Recorded by Pete Welding during the 1960s folk blues boom, when a few old guys like Mississippi Fred McDowell and Big Joe Williams were still young enough to record and got the chance as long as they sounded old as the hills; with a half-dozen others who never made a name for themselves, barely salvaged from obscurity. B+(**)
Stoney Lonesome: Lonesome Tonight (1991, Red House): Short-lived bluegrass group, cut this and a second album, Blue Heartache, the next year, with Chris Kaiser and, more importantly, Kate MacKenzie singing; fiddles around a bit, but when they latch onto heartbreak, they won't let it go. B+(**)
Caetano Veloso: Personalidade (1968-84 , Verve): A major figure in Brazilian music from the late 1960s on, one I know mostly from his occasional attempts to approach the US market, which leaves him in the category of research subjects; this sampler jumps around a lot without explaining anything, so not that great of an intro, not that songs here and there aren't intriguing. B+(**)
Bob Weir: Ace (1972 , Arista): Solo spinoff that doesn't fall far from the tree, seeing as how he retained his working band, aka Grateful Dead, for backup; less country harmony, more upbeat, boogie even. 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 100, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3460 (3037 + 423).
Additional Consumer News
Not sure this is complete, but as far as I know these the Columbia/Legacy "Roots N' Blues" reissues (1990-97), along with my database grades:
Bessie Smith's The Complete Recordings were also issued under the logo, in five volumes, two CDs each (only one for Vol. 5) in a long box: major packaging overkill. They came out in 1991, on the heels of the similarly packaged 1990 Robert Johnson box set, which turned out to be a big bestseller. I never owned any of the Smith boxes, so don't ratings.
Legacy also released a set of vintage gospel compilations during this period, under a "Gospel Spirit" logo. Might as well list them here too:
Like Bessie Smith, Mahalia Jackson got the 2-CD big box treatment, with two boxes of Gospels, Spirituals & Hymns, before settling on a single-CD The Best of Mahalia Jackson, the only one I've heard.
Monday, October 1. 2012
Music: Current count 20514  rated (+29), 642  unrated (-4). Another week, another bad one, slouching into another month, historically my favorite. Should have A Downloader's Diary by week's end. Recycled Goods continues from last month's shelf scrounging, not quite as fat (or prime) but hefty enough. Streamnotes is still very slim, so likely to wait until mid-month.
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Live (2009-11 , ECM, 2CD): Swiss pianist, group includes Sha (bass clarinet, alto sax), Björn Mayer or Thomy Jordi (bass), Kaspar Rast (drums), and Andi Pupato (percussion). Half dozen records together, this live summary pieced together from eight concerts although it could be seamless. Works mostly around a rhythm that is propulsive even when it shifts, and builds complex modulations on that, so stretching out is part of the art. A-
LaVerne Butler: Love Lost and Found Again (2012, High Note): Vocalist, b. 1962 in New Orleans, fifth album since 1992 (last one was 2001, on MaxJazz). All standards, arranged by pianist Bruce Barth, backed by Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, with Houston Person, never less than adorable, guesting on four tracks. Lots to smile about. B+(***)
Kevin Coelho: Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3 (2012, Chicken Soup/Summit): First album, the leader described on the back cover as a "sixteen(16)-year-old jazz organ prodigy," with a conventional soul jazz trio: Derek Dicenzo on guitar, and Reggie Jackson on drums. Doesn't have any of the high-falutin' airs or drama I associate with prodigies -- just steadfast service to the groove. B+(**)
Philip Dizack: End of an Era (2012, Truth Revolution): Trumpet player, originally from Milwaukee, moved to New York in 2003, cut an album in 2005; this is his second. Looks like two piano-bass-drums rhythm sections, tenor saxophonist Jake Saslow on five cuts, strings on three (one shared with the sax). All this backup isn't overly busy, but it isn't that helpful either -- only the trumpet really stands out. B+(**)
Jürgen Friedrich: Monosuite: For String Orchestra and Improvisers (2011 , Pirouet): Normally a pianist, from Germany, has ten or so records since 2000, conducts the Sequenza String Orchestra (11 violins, 5 violas, 4 cellos, 2 basses), on top of which several jazz musicians improvise: Hayden Chisholm (alto sax), Achim Kaufmann (piano), John Hébert (bass), and John Hollenbeck (drums). I go back and forth on it, the dark strings not compelling, the improvs less than striking, still wondering what I am missing. B
Adam Glasser: Mzansi (2011 , Sunnyside): Harmonica player, b. 1955 in Cambridge, England; spent some time as a youngster in South Africa, retaining an interest in African music that is showcased here: with tunes from Abdullah Ibrahim, Dudu Pukwana, and others, plus a long line of African vocalists and musicians. B+(*)
Beka Gochiashvili (2012, Exitus Entertainment): Pianist, sometimes electric ("Wurly"), b. 1996 in Tbilsi, Georgia, played festivals when he was 11, eliciting praise from noted jazz critic Condoleezza Rice: "Beka is one of the best jazz pianists I've heard anywhere." When someone compiles a list of Rice's greatest whoppers, that exaggeration falls far short of the one about the "mushroom cloud" or "the birthpangs of a new Middle East" -- probably even her reference to GWB has "my husband." He moved to New York in 2010, winding up with this debut album, produced by Lenny White, packed with household names (including four bassists, Wallace Roney, and Jaleel Shaw). Unlike so many ex-Soviet musicians, doesn't seem to be in thrall to classical music (although the vocal by Natalia Kutateladze is). Plays fast and fluid, easy to see how experts like Rice are impressed. B
Gerard Hagen Trio: Song for Leslie (2012, Surf Cove Jazz): Pianist, has a couple of previous albums, at least back to 1998; Leslie is his wife, singer Leslie Lewis. Trio adds Domenic Genova (bass) and Jerry Kalaf (drums). Three standards, two originals each by Hagen and Kalaf. Tasteful. B+(*)
Marc Johnson/Eliane Elias: Swept Away (2010 , ECM): Bassist and pianist, the latter from Brazil, both well established before they got hitched. While they've played on each other's albums before -- Elias has 25 since 1986, Johnson 10 since 1985 plus a lot more side credits -- I think this is the first time both names are up top. The songs split 5-to-3 for Elias, with two shared and "Shenandoah." Joey Baron plays drums, and Joe Lovano appears here and there on tenor sax in what may be the most underwhelming credit in his career -- all hushed tones and thin vibrato. Elias has also shelved her samba accent, leaving us with relatively placid but expert postbop. B+(*)
Greg Lewis: Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black (2012, self-released): Organ player, has been around this block -- soul jazz jerks on Thelonious Monk tunes -- before, but expands to a quartet this time, with saxophonist Reginald Woods joining guitar (Ronald Jackson) and drums (Nasheet Waits). Couple spots seem to stick them up, but "Little Rootie Tootie" shows how it works. B+(*)
Leslie Lewis with the Gerard Hagen Trio: Midnight Sun (2011 , Surf Cove Jazz): Standards singer, third album, lives in Paris but label claims to offer "Creative Jazz from California" and her own CV mentions London, New York, and Los Angeles. Has a terrific voice, deep and resonant, but has trouble with the slow ones -- the exception is her grandly gestured "Where or When," saved from excess by the tasteful rhythm section, Hagen's piano trio. The fast ones are helped by Chuck Manning (tenor sax) and/or Joey Sellers (trombone). B+(**)
Harold Mabern: Mr. Lucky: A Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. (2012, High Note): Pianist, b. 1936, came out of Memphis, has worked since 1968 but the '70s and '80s were a little thin, with his '90s records on DIW especially esteemed. Davis was an important entertainer in Mabern's lifetime -- indeed, in mine -- but his reputation hasn't endured well, in part because he released some of the worst records of his period, and even his big hits were often so cheesy it's hard to find a decent anthology -- plus he didn't write, and his best songs are just as likely to show up in his pal Sinatra's songbook. Still, I remember him well enough to vouch for Mabern's feel, but I'm less sure of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. One irresistible tune here is the closer, "Something's Gotta Give." B+(**)
Ron Miles: Quiver (2011 , Enja/Yellowbird): Trumpet player, b. 1963 in Indiana, moved to Denver at age 11 and is still based there. Ninth album since 1989 -- surprised that this is the first I've heard, although looking at his credits list I see at least a dozen familiar albums, most with Bill Frisell but also Fred Hess, Wayne Horvitz, Jenny Scheinman, DJ Logic, even a pretty good Ginger Baker album. This is a trio with Bill Frisell guitar and Brian Blade drums. Frisell does much to shape this, whether he's shifting the background, or working up one of his Americana twists, but credit the leader, too. B+(***)
Nadje Noordhuis (2010 , Little Mystery): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, b. 1977 in Australia, based in New York since 2003. First album, composed through, makes deft use of Sara Caswell's violin for background texture to offset the trumpet -- what many people hope for with strings but few pull off. With Geoff Keezer (piano), Joe Martin (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums), aside for a diversion on "Le Hameau Omi" with pandeiro and classical guitar, which works just as well. B+(***)
Houston Person: Naturally (2012, High Note): Tenor saxophonist, 77 when this was recorded, a mainstream fixture since the early 1960s who now must be counted among the all-time greats. With my idea of a supergroup: Cedar Walton, Ray Drummond, and Lewis Nash. Not that anyone's trying for super -- just relaxed, enjoying themselves, luxuriating in his sound. I know I always say nice things about him, but this is his best since To Etta With Love (2004). A-
Irene Reid: The Queen of the Party (1997-2003 , Savant): Singer, 1930-2008, came up in jazz bands including a stint with Count Basie, cut five records 1963-71 then faded until her 1997 comeback, Million Dollar Secret, with Charles Earland on organ and Eric Alexander on tenor sax, jump blues with a post-feminist vengeance. She cut five albums for Savant (plus they released a 1990 date as Thanks for You), so this serves as a best-of, an intro, a memoir. B+(***)
Jordan Young: Cymbal Melodies (2012, Posi-Tone): Drummer, has a previous album as Jordan Young Group. Organ quartet, with Joe Sucato (sax), Avi Rothbard (guitar), and Brian Charette on the B3. Two originals (one called "Mood for McCann"), plus a mix of standards (Irving Berlin), jazz riffs (Grant Green, Lee Morgan), and tacky pop (Bacharach, Webb, Sting). Picks up its groove along the way, but not much more. B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: