Tuesday, November 27. 2012
Held this back to let the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Shoot run first: that way the Jason Aldean review below would be new, instead of recycled (like here). Also thinking I might pluck more turkeys from this month's roster -- Gary Clark, Jr., One Direction, and Tame Impala were some of the possibilities (I got to Jon Irabagon too late). Still, no more turkeys than there are below, I must not have been looking very hard. (Django Django, Grizzly Bear, Mumford, and Purity Ring were claimed by others; Bat for Lashes, Julia Holter, Bob Mould, and Neil Young were nominated, but I did some due diligence and rejected the latter.)
I imagine that with year-end lists coming up, I won't have trouble getting next month's column out earlier in the month. Most pressing for me is the jazz poll (ballots due Dec. 6), so I started by grabbing seven jazz releases -- a good deal more than usual. But then this month's total of 52 is more than usual -- more than any month since June.
One 2010 record below, by Actress: missed it then, but found it looking for a new one (missing now). Four good records previously nabbed by Expert Witness Robert Christgau (also four more that came up short for me, or six if you include his B+ picks). Neil Young, making a comeback from Americana, which regardless of its formal audacity is one record I never want to hear again. And an album I've only seen one review of (in Roughstock at 3.5 stars, which for them translates to about a 30 percentile), but Chris Knight has never made an average album, and this one's a lock for my year-end top ten.
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 October 16. Past reviews and more information are available here (2937 records).
Actress: Splazsh (2010, Honest Jon's): UK left-field house producer Darren Cunningham's second album -- found this looking for this year's R.I.P., missing as this one was two years ago. Minimalist electronics, dance beats with little blips and filips over mild-mannered synth rumble; simple enough as a formula, but rarely this interesting. A-
Jason Aldean: Night Train (2012, Broken Bow): They call this Contemporary Country, a label even blander than the music, but his male competitors usually give you more voice, not to mention swagger. Aldean, on the other hand, occupies the middle range, not far from nowhere. He doesn't write either, so occasionally he manages to buy a decent song -- the humbly stubborn "The Only Way I Know" or the plaintive "I Don't Do Lonely Well" -- but he doesn't have enough sense to stay clear of the trite, or save himself from the indulence of stripper-and-cocaine slumming melodrama like "Black Tears," nor keep him from trying to wind up even the ballads with a gratuitous rave up. C+
Bat for Lashes: The Haunted Man (2012, Capitol): Third album for Natasha Khan, this one trimmed of past excesses for a straightforward, modest run of electropop, uneventful; listenable, for sure. B
Andrew Bird: Hands of Glory (2012, Mom + Pop Music, EP): Eight songs, only gets to 35:04 with an ambling and not all that coherent 9:14 finale, so it seems fair to label this an EP, especially after his 60:14 album back in March. Smart guy, sings well, plays fiddle which gives him a comfy, almost countryish, air, freshened with three covers. B+(*)
Black Moth Super Rainbow: Cobra Juicy (2012, Frenchkiss/Rad Cult): Pittsburgh group, long on synths -- someone who calls himself, and has otherwise recorded as, The Seven Fields of Aphelion -- the vocals achieving a cartoonish aspect this time, inept but still appealing. B+(*)
Michael Blake: In the Grand Scheme of Things (2012, Songlines): Tenor saxophonist, one time Lounge Lizard, born in Montreal, finally settled back in Vancouver working with locals JP Carter (trumpet), Chris Gestrin (keybs), and Dylan van der Schyff (drums). The two horns can be edgy, but not when they slow down, nor when the wit he long got by on fails him. B
John Cale: Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood (2012, Domino): Discography shows at least one album every other year since 1970, remarkably consistent for someone whose records vary so much. Here he returns to his most accessible song mode, muddied a bit like his Vintage Violence debut as opposed to his peak Guts roar, but he never meant to be too easy. B+(**)
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Wreck & Ruin (2012, Sugar Hill): Chambers would have had the best country voice in Dixie except she hails from Australia. She first appeared in 2000 and has a steady stream of records, picking up duet partner/co-writer Nicholson for 2008's Rattlin' Bones, and improving on that here. Rhapsody has a "deluxe edition" that tacks on five extra songs, an annoying ploy that has quickly spread to boutique labels. B+(***)
Gary Clark Jr.: Blak and Blu (2012, Warner Brothers): Young blues singer, a niche he probably picked out more because he liked the flash of latterday guitar slingers than because he hated picking cotton. His voice is untraveled and untrampled, but he does have some fire in the guitar. Still, I don't quite understand why critics like to compare him to Hendrix, as opposed to, say, Slash (or fill in your own metal mediocrity -- Slash gives Clark too much credit). B-
Crystal Castles: (III) (2012, Casablanca): Synth-based band, too dark and dreary to count as pop but their sonic experiments maintain an accessible pulse and the textures are real enough. Record has something to do with oppression, which they're probably against. B+(**)
Daphni: Jiaolong (2012, Merge): Daniel Snaith, from Canada, looks to be on his third serial alias after Manitoba (2000-03) and Caribou (2006-10). Dance beats without much synth dressing, simple and retro, a good idea. B+(***)
Matthew Dear: Beams (2012, Ghostly International): Electropop producer from Texas, finds a fairly minimal groove here and sticks to it, with traces of Talking Heads and dub. B+(*)
Diamond Rugs: Diamond Rugs (2012, Partisan): Side project from John McCauley (of Deer Tick) turned into some kind of semi-supergroup with the addition of two more guys with resumes that impress their fans more than they do me -- much like last year's Middle Brother spinoff/group, except the twang and grind are a bit more diluted. B+(**)
Django Django: Django Django (2012, Because): Brit art students, traditionally the mother lode for rock bands, find a pop hook here and there, but mostly settle for effect on tunes that often appear skeletal: low risk, less gain. B
Paul Dunmall/Tony Bianco: Thank You to John Coltrane (2011 , Slam): Prolific British saxophonist -- Discogs credits him with nine albums in 2012 -- plays Coltrane classics in a duo with drummer Bianco, but roughly compressed and bent, like the guys spent more time studying Charles Gayle's Touchin' on Trane than the originals. B+(***)
Ergo: If Not Inertia (2012, Cuneiform): Third group record, but really this is trombonist Brett Sroka's baby, with Shawn Baltazor (drums) returning from their second, newcomer Sam Harris (piano, Rhodes), and guest guitarist Mary Halvorson and Sebastian Krueger. Sroka's sampling creates a compelling rhythmic underflow for his rumbling horn, but not much else emerges from the mix. B+(*) [dl]
Donald Fagen: Sunken Condos (2012, Reprise): Steely Dan's ex-singer's records get classified as "jazz rock" but they mean jazzy, especially with the vibraphone tinkle even more than the tasty sax breaks. Aside from a funk number that is way too rote, the music here has an appealing, off-handed bounciness. But two plays didn't reveal any memorable lyrics, unlike his one great solo album, now more than 30 years old. B+(**)
Rosie Flores: Working Girl's Guitar (2012, Bloodshot): Country singer, inclined toward rockabilly, had a real fine eponymous album in 1987 and has never quite found songs that good since then, but she works hard at it, strangely here trying to match the title track with "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." B+(*)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (2012, Constellation): Canadian postrock group, named for a film about Japanese bikers, founded 1994, disbanded 2003, regrouped 2010. Two 20-minute pieces, two 6.5-minute ones, the timing aimed at vinyl. Instrumental rock, closer to 1970s space prog than the dull contemporary experimentalism. B+(**)
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs: Long Distance (2012, Transdreamer): British singer, sometimes songwriter, named for Truman Capote's heroine, especially after she dropped her surname, Smith. Has a cartoonish drawl and a band that wavers between blues and rockabilly. Songs are reportedly recycled from previous albums, not that I've heard them before. B+(*)
Grass Roots: Grass Roots (2012, AUM Fidelity): Improv quartet, with saxophonists Darius Jones (alto) and Alex Harding (baritone), Sean Conly on bass and Chad Taylor on drums; the bari comes off more like a loud bass, comping rather than jousting, while Jones works his high energy screech. B+(**)
Gordon Grdina's Haram: Her Eyes Illuminate (2012, Songlines): Guitarist from Vancouver, has a half dozen albums, wide-ranging, always interesting, most recently the Mats Gustafsson-fired avant-garde of Barrel Fire. Has often played oud, dabbling in Middle Eastern improv, but here he dives into Arabic music big time, picking up venerable Egyptian and Iraqi works, including many by trad, packing his tentet -- JP Carter (trumpet), Chris Kelly (tenor sax), François Houle (clarinet), Jesse Zubot (violin), Tommy Babin (electric bass), Kenton Loewen (drums) -- with traditional instruments (ney, riqq, darbouka), and Emad Armoush singing. B+(***)
Grizzly Bear: Shields (2012, Warp): Not sure what indie signifies with a band like this -- bestselling, has a prog sound geared to fill statiums. First couple songs started to convince me they could do it, then they slowed down and got precious, and I lost interest. B-
Nona Hendryx: Mutatis Mutandis (2012, Righteous Babe): Labelle singer, went solo in 1982 although her most notable work was for Bill Laswell's avant-disco group Material. First album since 1992, her writer's block relieved by the label's willingness to let her politics vent -- "Tea Party," "Rush Limbaugh," "Mad as Hell" -- and to let her favorite funk groove be (still fails her on her even stranger "Strange Fruit"). B+(*)
Joe Hertenstein/Achim Tang/Jon Irabagon: Future Drone (2012, Jazzwerkstatt): Sax trio with the drummer billed up top, all the better for an album dedicated to Paul Motian. Nice and respectful to start, with the drummer out front until he loosens up, but what's the point (not to mention the fun) of hiring Irabagon then keeping him on a leash? "Rotten Strawberry" is where he finally breaks loose -- not that his inside game is lacking. B+(**)
Julia Holter: Ekstasis (2012, RVNG): Singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, conjures up dark and dingy keyb music, her first album based on Greek tragedy, this one carrying on in a similar vein. B
Homeboy Sandman: First of a Living Breed (2012, Stones Throw): Angel Del Villar II, from Queens, gave up law school for his rap career, probably the right decision, but with a couple albums and a few more EPs nothing is breaking big enough to swell his head or ruin his life; level-headed common sense and common sensical beats, maybe his breakthrough after all. A-
Jon Irabagon's Outright!: Unhinged (2012, Irabbagast): Mischievous tenor saxophonist, won a Monk award a few years back that had as its prize a record deal with Concord, and played the tradition against itself so cleverly the label couldn't stand it and dumped him. This is supposed to be his quintet thing, but it's not the same as on his 2007 Outright!, and he shuffles so many guests in and out it doesn't really live up to its all-star billing either. If I had a copy I'd try to sort it out, but he slips in and slides out of so many contexts the center eludes me. Or maybe the center is the 30-person orchestra he rounds up to guest on the middle cut, evidently forcing them to fake their arrangements on the fly. B-
Jamey Johnson: Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran (2012, Mercury Nashville): Cochran (1935-2010) cut a handful of albums, but was more noted for writing country hits like "I Fall to Pieces" (Patsy Cline) and "Make the World Go Away" (Ray Price). Johnson has the neotrad tools but his own songs are prone to annoy. The songs are solid here, not that Cochran's songbook is especially deep. Johnson's guest list is long, the extra help helpful but rarely inspired. B+(***)
Toby Keith: Hope on the Rocks (2012, Show Dog Nashville): Drinking songs of no great consequence: don't get you high, or low down, but don't give you a hangover either, or even leave you with a bad taste. B
Chris Knight: Little Victories (2012, Drifter's Church): Kentucky singer-songwriter, cut his eponymous album in 1998 and five since then plus two volumes of Trailer Tapes demos -- even then he was too deep and weathered for juvenilia. He doesn't have much range, but his every song rings true, his voice cuts right through you, and the simple guitar strum is all he needs. Signature line: "I've done a lot of thinking about right and wrong/I'm digging myself out of this hole." A
Bumpy Knuckles/Statik Selektah: Ambition (2012, Gracie): Rapper James Campbell, introduced to the world as Freddie Foxxx back in 1989, moves on to another alias, backed with Patrick Baril's hardest beats. Enunciation is emphatic, thuggish even, a tale of hard knocks and fierce rejoinders, gangsta if you insist, but that's not really his idea. B+(**)
Lukid: Lonely at the Top (2012, Werk Discs/Ninja Tune): Luke Blair, fourth album since 2007, produces electronica with a slow burn and a bit of skank, short enough it's disappeared twice now before my brain could lock in. B+(*)
The Lumineers: The Lumineers (2012, Dualtone): Denver folk-rock trio, low key, no bombast, not much bullshit (that I could detect). Name got dropped on that new Nashville TV dramedy thing, not for any reason I could tell (although I reckon there's always payola). B+(*)
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: The Heist (2012, self-released): Seattle rapper and his producer, has lots to say, and is most effective when the production is trimmed back to the beats. B+(***)
Mala: Mala in Cuba (2012, Brownswood): London dubstep producer, Mark Lawrence, one half of Digital Mystikz, working alone to simplify things; tweaking some rhythm tracks recorded in Cuba, although on the face of things they could have come from anywhere, especially his own studio. B+(*)
Bob Mould: Silver Age (2012, Merge): Hüsker Dü founder, always kept the same guitar sound but without that zing that saved it from monotony; nothing new here, just that huge trademark sound in the squarest box ever. B
The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth (2012, Merge): John Darnielle's band/project, sixteen albums since 1992, has found a sweet spot where the new songs gracefully pile up into stretches that are hard to distinguish from album to album. But this one seems to cut a bit deeper, or at least rocks a bit harder. A-
Mumford & Sons: Babel (2012, Glassnote): English folk-rock band amplified several gold, their revivalism having less to do with country roots than religious movements, where their mixed bag of platitudes and metaphors invariably tie themselves up in knots. B-
Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang: En Yay Sah (2012, Luaka Bop): Hails from Sierra Leone, got out in 2002 and found some chums in Brooklyn who can execute his beats, or at least split the difference in a way that is grooveful and persuasive. A-
Ne-Yo: R.E.D. (2012, Motown): Young soul man, on his fifth album -- AMG rates them as declining in order, but this one strikes me as touching all the right bases, with a Stevie Wonder singing voice and a few low-key raps -- Wiz Khalifa is featured on one -- that hit the spot. B+(***)
One Direction: Take Me Home (2012, Syco/Columbia): Brit pop boy group, lead off with two singles-worthy songs carrying on from their fun but unimposing debut, then they try a nice little ballad -- not bad but not the point either, but then the pop skein falters. The extra bombast of "Last First Kiss" (vs. "Kiss You") may have something to do with the four extra writing credits, but it trips up their trademark multi-part coordination, and they never get it back -- which leaves their inanities exposed, and by the time "Summer Love" (another 7-credit collision) expires even their harmonies are lost. C+
Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra: Theatre Is Evil (2012, 8 Ft.): A performance artist, I guess, with a couple previous albums, a preference for the theatrical no matter how evil it is. Starts out about as murky as art song gets, her ambition to be a "bottom feeder" telling, but by the time that song appears she's found an oasis of clarity -- "Lost" is the one song that isn't. B
Purity Ring: Shrines (2012, 4AD): Canadian electropop duo, Megan James and Corin Roddick, manages a nicely disjointed sound -- voice out of sync with synth, or maybe just offset -- at first, although they seem to run out of inspiration on the home stretch, settling into dream space. B+(*)
Karriem Riggins: Alone Together (2012, Stones Throw): Drummer, AMG considers him jazz -- side credits include Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, but also Common, J Dilla, Erykah Badu, and Madlib -- and this is on the hip-hop side, or rather on the beat side of hip-hop. B+(*)
Sofrito: International Soundclash (1976-2011 , Strut): London DJs go tropical, playing the new world off against the old, as African rhythms get Latinized, and vice versa. B+(***)
Robert Soko: Balkan Beats Soundlab (2012, Piranha): DJ from Bosnia, based in Berlin, mixes gypsy and dance beats from sources well known -- Slavic Soul Party, Boban i Marko Markovic, Shukar Colective -- and obscure B+(***) [cd]
Ned Sublette: Kiss You Down South (2010 , Postmambo): Lubbock singer-songwriter, has a half-dozen albums that get him classified as country or avant-garde or nothing at all, but he should be best known for his books -- the definitive Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo, and some day for his promised sequel, which he keeps putting off to write books about New Orleans. Don't have the song credits, but I gather some are new and some are very old -- all done solo, just guitar and voice, and not an especially interesting voice, so the songs must matter. A-
Tame Impala: Lonerism (2012, Modular): Band from Perth, the lone city on the west end of Australia, considered a bit psychedelic because they like to slur the guitars or keybs as with Sgt. Pepper, a habit which is more ingratiating when they rock out than when they switch time sections like they learned in classics class. B
Two Fingers: Stunt Rhythms (2012, Big Dada, 2CD): Amon Tobin project, with Joe Chapman (Doubleclick), the real stunts are in the sample sounds which are coarsely amusing. The second disc bonus tracks add some feverish raps -- haven't begun to penetrate them, but the extra percussion helps. B+(**)
Why?: Mumps, Etc. (2012, Anticon/City Slang): Styled as a alt-rock group on an underground hip-hop label, they still sing a few with a folky twang, but have mostly gone over to rap, the rambling rhymes waxing wise over skeletal beats. B+(**)
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill (2012, Reprise, 2CD): Studio album, its nine songs stretched out to 87:41, the opener "Driftin' Back" ambling on for 27:37, the guitar sound practically a trademark but never rushed and rarely frantic. Felt like a long, warm bath to me, but Stephen Thomas Erlewine put it even better: "it's noise rock as comfort food." A-
Monday, November 26. 2012
Music: Current count 20724  rated (+25), 619  unrated (-7).
Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll (7th Annual) is coming up -- ballots due December 6, if I recall correctly -- so it's time to buckle down and at least spin the unplayed records (154 on my pending list at the moment) that look most promising (a lot less, although I'm certain to be wrong about something). I did catch some of them below, with an above-average three A- records below, plus six high B+ and other items of interest. As usual, I feel completely unprepared at this moment -- especially as compared to someone like Tim Niland, who's already posted his ballot. Looking at it, I see that I've heard 9 of his top 10 (two Rhapsody only), none of the reissues, the vocal and Latin but not the debut. The things I miss out on bother me the most -- especially, those over at Improvised Communications (which reps superb artists like Myra Melford, Jon Irabagon, Mary Halvorson, and labels like AUM Fidelity and Playscape), but I'm also reminded that there are a lot of good labels I've lost contact with (Arbors, CIMP, Fresh Sound, Intakt, Smalltown, Songlines) or never had it (Leo, Hatology, Not Two, RogueArt, Steeplechase, Tzadik, the list goes on and on), that regularly produce records worthy of year-end consideration. (At some point in the next few weeks I should go through my metacritic file and come up with a "wish list" -- at present the file lists more than 600 new jazz releases, a number that will expand when more year-end lists appear.
I'll write some more about the metacritic file and year-end lists sometime in the near future. I've been scrambling to bring it up to date before factoring in year-end lists, a task that is near hopeless. Meanwhile, I plan on posting November's belated Rhapsody Streamnotes on Tuesday. I held it back in case I wanted to steal anything from the draft for the Turkey Shoot. Downloader's Diary is scheduled for Thursday. Recycled Goods some time early December, but I don't have much there -- mostly redundant jazz reviews at present, since I haven't continued the last couple months process of cleaning out the unrated shelf.
Greg Abate: The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods (2012, Rhombus): Unreconstructed bebopper, b. 1947, alto sax is his first instrument but he also plays soprano, baritone, and flute (too much, if you ask me). Five (of ten) cuts drop down to quartet with piano-bass-drums; the other five add Woods, doubling down on the heritage. B+(*)
Bobby Bradford/Frode Gjerstad/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love: Kampen (2010 , NoBusiness): Bradford is a name you should know but may not: b. 1934, plays cornet, is most legendary for the group he co-led with John Carter. Here he landed in Oslo, with Frode Gjerstad (clarinet, alto sax) filling in the Carter role, and the first choice in rhythm sections. [Limited edition vinyl: 300 copies.] B+(***) [cdr]
François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Shores and Ditches (2011 , FMR): From Quebec, alto saxophonist and drummer, have worked together for well over a decade, and one-on-one their free improvs are hard to beat. Joining them at various points are guitar (Daniel Thompson), flute (Neil Metcalfe), and bass (Guillaume Viltard), which is where the record lags a bit. B+(***)
Ernest Dawkins: Afro Straight (2010-12 , Delmark): Saxophonist, b. 1953 in Chicago, came up through the AACM, has a half dozen albums on his own plus many credits, notably with Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. Here he goes for something more mainstream, covering two Coltrane and three Shorter tunes, "Woody 'N You," "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," and a really lovely "God Bless the Child," and he makes a party out of them, with Corey Wilkes jousting on trumpet, and lots of congas. Two originals: his title tune, and "Old Man Blues," which he sings in a voice not nearly old enough -- the only mis-step here. A-
The Fat Babies: Chicago Hot (2012, Delmark): Led by bassist Beau Sample, based in Chicago, a "young band" playing old music, drawing more on Jelly Roll Morton than on Austin High, but so did the Austin High crowd. Tuba player Mike Walbridge rates a "special guest" shout out: he was one of the notable players in what I reckon to be the third generation of trad jazz musicians, a venerable but still viable link. (His contemporary, Kim Cusack, did the liner notes.) This group is more like the fifth generation, but that happens with music this vital. No matter how much bebop I listen to, I doubt I'll ever escape the conviction that this is what real jazz sounds like. B+(***)
Scott Fields: 5 Frozen Eggs (1996 , Clean Feed): Avant guitarist, b. 1952, based in Chicago, has about twenty albums since 1993, several of which have been picked up and reissued by Clean Feed. Seems like most are cranky solo affairs, but some aren't, and this one is dominated by Marilyn Crispell's piano, at her iciest, creating fractured landscapes that Fields, bassist Hans Sturm, and drummer Hamid Drake trek through. B+(***)
Jan Garbarek/Egberto Gismonti/Charlie Haden: Carta de Amor (1981 , ECM, 2CD): Norwegian saxophonist (tenor and a very distinctive curved soprano), Brazilian guitarist (also plays piano here), legendary bassist and citizen of the world. Note date. The same trio recorded two albums in 1979 with Haden's name first: Folk Songs and Magico. This is a previously unreleased live tape, recorded in Munich, which shares two songs from each. The writing/arranging credits are distributed not quite evenly -- Gismonti has the edge, and the lead. B+(*)
The Peggy Lee Band: Invitation (2012, Drip Audio): Cellist, based in Vancouver, has a half dozen albums since 1999, mostly with more/less the same group here: Brad Turner (trumpet), Jon Bentley (tenor sax), Jerome Berkman (trombone), Ron Samworth (guitar), Tony Wilson (more guitar), Andre Lachance (electric bass), and Dylan van der Schyff (drums). Aside from one by Mary Margaret O'Hara, all Lee compositions. She spots all the pieces and ties them together into a melodic suite that classical training dreams of but almost never achieves. Final piece even reminds me of township jive. A-
Bill McHenry: La Peur du Vide (2012, Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, studied with George Garzone, dozen albums since 1998, AMG considers him avant-garde but I've always thought of him as a postbop modernist. Quartet with Orrin Evans on piano, Eric Revis on drums, and Andrew Cyrille on drums, each in their own way nudging the saxophonist out of his comfort zone. B+(***)
Liudas Mockunas & Barry Guy: Lava (2011 , NoBusiness): Duets, saxophonist from Lithuania with a half dozen albums since 2001, and bassist from England with dozens since 1972, many as founder and direct or of London Jazz Composers Orchestra. I've always had trouble with Guy's big bands, but here you get a chance to actually hear all the sound he can coax from the bull fiddle, an astonishing range. [Limited edition vinyl: 300 copies.] B+(***) [cdr]
Ratchet Orchestra: Hemlock (2012, Drip Audio): Huge Canadian outfit led by bassist Nicolas Caloia, thirty-some pieces (seven of those strings, plus two guitars), dates back to the early 1990s and an interest in Sun Ra, although I'm not finding any other recordings. Trends avant, but not because they want to see how much noise they can make; more like that's where the cutting edge is. B+(**)
Michael Sahl & Eric Salzman: Civilization and Its Discontents (1978 , Labor): Sahl is a postclassical composer, a year older than Salzman, his collaborator on several music theatre pieces, this one billed a comedy though more often tagged as their opera. Rocks more than most avant-classicists, but like most modern opera tries to stuff too many words into too little music. B
Felipe Salles: Departure (2011 , Tapestry): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano, flute, bass clarinet), originally from Brazil, teaches at U. Mass (Amherst); fifth album since 2004. Went for a big band suite last time, but scales back to a sextet here, with violin the unorthodox instrument, and gets in some impressive sax runs. Trumpeter Randy Brecker gets in some licks, too. B+(**)
Eric Salzman: The Nude Paper Sermon/Wiretap (1966-72 , Labor, 2CD): Composer, b. 1933; worked as a music critic for New York Times, Stereo Review, and others; produced an important series of post-classical records for Nonesuch. This reissues two of his early records. He describes his The Nude Paper Sermon (1969, Nonesuch) as "tropes for actor, renaissance consort, chorus, and electronics" -- mostly vocals, the voices trained but not hammy enough for opera, abstract and unsettled. The four pieces on Wiretap (1974, Finnadar) delve further into electronics -- Ilhan Mimaroglu was the producer -- and found sounds, even more abstract and unsettled, and all the more invigorating for that. B+(*)
Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society: Whispers From the Archive (1970-78 , Porter): B. 1942 in California, Sultan played percussion with Jimi Hendrix, played with Archie Shepp on records like Attica Blues, eventually became a Christian minister. This is the second slice from his archives, following Father of Origin in 2011 (on Eremite, unheard by me). These pieces are scattered over the years, the only constant someone named Ali Abuwi (oboe, flute, percussion), although one 19:20 track doesn't credit either. This kicks off with a 20:45 piece called "AMS," with Sultan on bass, Abuwi on oboe, and everyone but the guitarist on percussion -- James "Blood" Ulmer is too busy stealing the show. That's followed by 1:27 of "Shake Your Money Maker," the first of several vocals that bind the extended groove pieces to a sense of community. Last two pieces break out the flutes, and for once I don't mind. A-
Gian Tornatore: The Heights (2012, Sound Spiral): Tenor saxophonist, b. in California, studied at Berklee, based in New York since 2002, fourth album. Has a lovely tone, which I fell for on his 2004 debut album, Sink or Swim, and is evident from the start here. Mainstream postbop, a bit on the lush side with trumpet (Gordon Au) for shine and both piano and guitar -- Nate Radley takes the most impressive solos. B+(*)
Wave Mechanics Union: Further to Fly (2012, HX Music): Played this twice while trying to get other work done, so I didn't manage the necessary notes, but sure don't want to spin it a third time. Lydia McCadams is the singer, operatic at the end but cabaret-ish along the way -- maybe that was the Tom Waits cover, or the Fiona Apple or Steely Dan but probably not King Crimson. The orchestra is overstuffed -- flutes and bassoon, tuba and strings -- and some of the arrangements have some appeal. Second group album. B-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 25. 2012
Some scattered links I collected over the previous week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Thursday, November 22. 2012
In 1984 and then again every year inclusive from 1988-2005 Robert Christgau published a "Turkey Shoot" edition of his Consumer Guide, almost always in the edition of the Village Voice that came out Thanksgiving week. The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the day the Christmas shopping season begins. And it is approximately when most music magazines start to trot out their year-end best-of lists. Amid all that seasonal "ho-ho-ho" it's only fitting that real critics should chime in with downcast "hum." After Christgau decided in 1990 to only pursue A-list records (with an occasional high B+), the Turkey Shoot became a form of penance as well as a balancing corrective. However, when he moved the Consumer Guide to MSN the timing no longer worked out -- and an intensive period of picking out the year's most noteworthy crap was never any fun.
Back in my record-buying days, I could have done without the Turkey Shoot: whatever its critical value, it was no help in finding anything good, which was my main interest in reading the Consumer Guide. However, from time to time I've heard various people lament its demise, so this year I thought maybe we should run an experiment and see if we could get a committee to put one together. Hence, the 2012 Turkey Shoot Invitational. The invitations were shotgunned out: I posted requests on my blog and in the comments to Christgau's Expert Witness blog, and I followed up with email to 25 more or less professional writers in the hopes they might jump in. (Some did. Most didn't.) I promised I'd post the results on Thanksgiving Day, and here they are.
I was looking for one or two paragraph-sized reviews from each contributor, allowing the possibility of up to four. I was hoping to wind up with about twenty reviews, all of records graded B or below. I wound up with sixteen by deadline, then Dan Weiss sent three more in -- two so short I considered not using them, but too spot on to ignore. (The short ones didn't get album covers, which wouldn't have fit nicely anyway.) Had I planned better I could have slipped in a few more like that. (Joe Levy wrote in to pan One Direction's Take Me Home and Gary Clark, Jr.'s Blak and Blu, but didn't offer to write them up. I have pans in my Rhapsody Streamnotes file, which I could have adapted had the idea occurred to me sooner.)
For me what made Turkey shooting possible was Rhapsody. So far I've managed to listen to 13 of these 19 records. None came in the mail, and only Kendrick Lamar has enough of a rep that I might have considered buying a copy (not that I did). I still don't go way out of my way to seek out unpleasing music, but I do check out things that get a lot of favorable press, if only to get a sense of where the world is going. (Sometimes I find it is running away from me, as I can't fathom the interest many critics have in some bands -- Dirty Projectors, for one, or even more so the Walkmen.) On the other hand, even with Rhapsody I don't go after records by artists I'm pretty sure have nothing to offer: I haven't heard this year's offerings by Ryan Bingham, Matt and Kim, or Passion Pit (to pick three I've missed) but I have heard prior works. Similarly, I suspect that this year's Lady Antebellum is as awful as last year's, but I don't know anyone who bothered to listen to it.
That leads up to a point: we have some standards about what qualifies as a turkey here. All of the records here got at least ten reviews in publications monitored by metacritic.com; almost all got enough favorable reviews to score high in my own metacritic file. (The exception, I think, was Flo Rida, which qualified based on its charts; Jason Aldean was also a bit marginal, but I wanted to broaden the genre mix -- something which didn't really happen.) On the other hand, I rejected proposals that went after various records that Christgau, Tatum, and/or myself had reviewed favorably -- don't have a list handy, but Bob Dylan's Tempest was one (all three of us had it at B+, not exactly high praise but not a turkey either.
The most controversial record that made it through the process was undoubtedly Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City -- which Jason Gubbels and Dan Weiss like quite a lot, and which Jason Gross panned gently with a B -- the highest grade we would accept, and the only record below to fair that well. I didn't (and still don't) have much of an opinion on it, although the review strikes me as fair and I'm glad to have it. But part of the nature of the Turkey Shoot is that you hardly ever get one where you agree with every reviewer. I wanted to provide a sanity check on this by putting together a table at the end (see the archive file) where every reviewer gets a chance to rate every record. This section hasn't been a huge success -- a lot of reviewers have yet to send in their ratings (this was all very tight schedule), and many who did managed to miss most of the candidates). Still, the chart is available (and I'm open to adding to it over time), and it does help a bit.
Alabama Shakes: Boys and Girls (ATO)
Jason Aldean: Night Train (Broken Bow)
Ryan Bingham: Tomorrowland (Axster Bingham)
Django Django: Django Django (Because)
Father John Misty: Fear Fun (Sub Pop)
Flo Rida: Wild Ones (Atlantic)
Grimes: Visions (4AD)
Grizzly Bear: Shields (Warp)
Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (Top Dawg)
Lambchop: Mr. M (Merge/City Slang)
Mark Lanegan Band: Blues Funeral (4AD)
Matt and Kim: Lightning (Fader)
Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream (RCA)
Mumford and Sons: Babel (Glassnote)
Of Monsters and Men: My Head Is an Animal (Universal Republic)
Passion Pit: Gossamer (Columbia)
Purity Ring: Shrines (4AD)
SpaceGhostPurrp: Mysterious Phonk: Chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp (4AD)
Bobby Womack: The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL)
Thanks to all the contributors, listed below, plus a few others who at least wrote in, made suggestions, and/or at least cheered us on. Also to Robert Christgau, who pointed the way, then got out while the getting was good. Chuck Eddy's piece was based on a much longer review he wrote for Spin.
Go to the archive page for the ratings table and more notes. It's much easier to update the archive page than the blog, so check it for further updates.
Monday, November 19. 2012
Music: Current count 20699  rated (+20), 626  unrated (+10).
Don't know what to attribute the low rated count to. I only did enough Jazz Prospecting to keep this week's post alive, the rest of my effort going into the Rhapsody Streamnotes file, which I'll post shortly after Thanksgiving's Turkey Shoot. One possible problem is that five of the ten records wound up in the high HM range (***), and they generally got 4-5 spins before I finished writing them up. The (**) records also took a lot of time, and Taylor's was a double I had been passing over for months. Not even sure I could rank the top five: Dunietz peaks highest, probably followed by Sanchez (yes, I mean Malaby), but Attias is the one that might sneak up on you.
Someone brought to my attention a Kyle Gann post about his experience writing his Village Voice Consumer Guide to "new" or "postclassical" music: in particular, trying to factor cross-genre accessibility into the grading scheme. By the time he was writing, my interest in that music was residual -- something barely left over from my academic demise, although my acquaintance with Tom Johnson helped keep it alive -- but I bought a few of his top-rated items, but didn't get much out of them. (Much more useful was Jon Pareles back when he was writing for Crawdaddy, but he was a pop critic with a taste for esoterica, like myself.)
Unlike Gann, I never got lectured on how to grade, but that may have seemed unnecessary. I've never offered anywhere near as many full A grades as previous Jazz Consumer Guiders (Gary Giddins and Francis Davis), or even as many as Christgau, but the reason there has less to do with nitpicking or trying to be tough as the fact that I had already set a grading curve over the whole sweep of jazz history, which means lots of records by names like Armstrong, Ellington, Hawkins, Holiday, Monk, Mingus, Davis, Coltrane, and Coleman. That's a tough crowd to break into, and it usually takes time, something I haven't had much of with all the new stuff coming in. So I wind up focusing on the A-/B+(***) line: to break that a record has to be consistently pleasurable, interesting, more than a little distinctive.
But does it have to be accessible? Certainly not to people who arbitrarily refuse to listen to jazz: that's an impossible demand, and one I have no interest in dignifying. But I do like to think that the records I pick are so good that someone not intimately involved with the specific subgenre might still grasp the appeal. And that appeal is something I expect to be far stronger at the full A level -- although occasionally I'll come decide I like a record so much I don't really care what other folks think.
The grade level I'm probably most suspect at is B+(*), which for the most part signifies something beyond ordinary competence but lacking exceptional interest. The fact is that there are very few bad jazz records -- and most that do exist are deliberately slotted for the smooth market, which isn't really jazz at all -- and there's even less reason to get nasty about marginal interest. It's also a time-saver not to have to figure out how unsatisfying those records are. But there are two examples below, and while I did save some time with them, I really doubt that they would sink deeper with further analysis. They are what the grade signifies: pretty good records, pleasant enough to listen to, but not what you'd pull off a shelf that -- since both are by guitarists -- actually has prime records by Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, John Scofield, and Sonny Sharrock. So I'm trying to be nice about it, but those are the breaks.
Accidental Tourists: The L.A. Sessions (2010 , Challenge): Piano trio, file it under pianist Markus Burger, b. 1966 in Germany, with a handful of records since 1999. He's joined by Bob Magnusson (bass) and Joe LaBarbera (drums), playing seven originals and five covers, in a nicely balanced, engaging set. B+(**)
Michaël Attias: Spun Tree (2012, Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, b. 1968 in Israel but has been around, with long stretches in France and the US. Postbop quintet, superb Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Matt Mitchell centering on piano, with Sean Conly on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. Lots of fast, slippery changes. B+(***)
Kelly Bucheger: House of Relics (2011 , Harder Bop): Alto saxophonist (tenor too), based in Buffalo, first album as far as I can tell but has been around long enough to have a story about being eight years older than James Carter: Bucheger was lead tenor in a Marcus Belgrave big band, when they picked up a 16-year-old Carter for second chair, an experience so scarifying that Bucheger quit music for a while. His favorite relics are hard bop, and this is mostly quintet with Tim Clarke's trumpet complementing his sax, and Michael McNeill on piano -- far less avant than on his superb recent Passageways -- and Bruce Johnstone's bari sax added on three cuts. Calls his blog (worth checking out, including the Carter story) "Harder Bop," but the music isn't harder, edges more into postbop, which happens when your favorite relics clash. B+(**)
Graham Dechter: Takin' It There (2012, Capri): Guitarist, from Los Angeles, second album, quartet with piano (Tamir Hendelman), bass (John Clayton), and drums (Jeff Hamilton). Starts out with Wes Montgomery, then Barney Kessel, sources his band enjoys. B+(*)
Maya Dunietz/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Cousin It (2008 , Hopscotch): Avant piano trio, recorded in London, home base of Edwards (bass) and Noble (drums). Pianist Dunietz, b. 1981 in Israel, seems to have a varied career ("active in jazz, rock, funk, polka -- both classical and avant garde, both local and international"), also playing accordion and singing, but just piano here. Superb when she plays with the drummer, adding to the free percussive frenzy. B+(***)
Jeff Holmes Quartet: Of One's Own (2012, Miles High): Pianist, b. 1955 in Massachusetts, studied at Eastman, teaches at U. Mass., looks like he has one previous album, plus a couple with New England Jazz Ensemble; also plays trumpet/flugelhorn, but not here. Quartet includes Adam Kolker (tenor, soprano, bass clarinet), James Cammack (bass), and Steve Johns (drums), with Kolker making a strong impression. B+(**)
Jason Kao Hwang: Burning Bridge (2011 , Innova): Violinist, b. 1957 in New York, worked his way back to his Chinese roots which ultimately affected his tone, and led him to include pipa (Sun Li) and erhu (Wang Guowei) in this octet. With Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn), Steve Swell (trombone), Joseph Daley (tuba), Ken Filiano (bass), and Andrew Drury (drums) -- a lot of brass to play off against the strings. B+(***)
Weber Iago: Adventure Music Piano Masters Series Vol. 3 (2010 , Adventure Music): Pianist, from Brazil, at least seven albums since 2004, working solo here, all original compositions in a mainstream jazz vein, measured and thoughtful, a pleasant surprise. B+(**)
Frank Kimbrough Trio: Live at Kitano (2011 , Palmetto): Pianist, b. 1956, more than a dozen albums since 1998, part of the Jazz Composers Collective in New York, along with Ben Allison and Matt Wilson. He's the one I've been least impressed with, but this hits a sweet spot as a slow, thoughtful manoeuver through five covers (Pettiford, Ellington, Motian, Hill, "Lover Man") and three originals. With Wilson on drums and Jay Anderson on bass. B+(***)
Melvin Taylor: Beyond the Burning Guitar (2010 , Eleven East, 2CD): Guitarist, b. 1959 in Mississippi but raised in Chicago where he developed his blues chops. Four albums 1982-2002, plus this his first in a decade, also the first without a blues theme. Liner notes cite Hendrix and Montgomery, but I only hear the influence of the latter. Credits include an extra line citing "Melvin Taylor" for bass guitar -- maybe there's another one. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 18. 2012
In 1947, when the UN attempted to partition Palestine, it allocated the Gaza Strip and adjacent land extending up the Mediterranean coast more than half way to Tel Aviv to the Arab part, simply because none of the people living in that section were Jewish. In 1948, the Zionist leadership in Palestine declared independence and founded the state of Israel, but even though they had lobbied heavily for passage of the UN partition plan, they did not accept its borders. Among their expansion campaigns, they pushed down the coast, compressing the Gaza Strip to half of its original size, and more than doubling its population with refugees.
When the 1949 armistice agreement was signed, the compressed Gaza was ceded to Egypt, but unlike Jordan (which claimed the West Bank and East Jerusalem) Egypt made no effort to annex Gaza. It was kept as a trust, preserving its makeshift refugee camps as a continuing marker of the injustice of Israel's refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their native country. Israel invaded Egypt in 1967, seizing Gaza and Sinai up to the Suez Canal. In 1979, Egypt signed a treaty with Israel which Sinai to Egypt, making it whole again, but Israel kept Gaza, placing it under military occupation. In 1993, under the Oslo Accords, Israel subcontracted its occupation to Yassir Arafat's Palestinian Authority while keeping Gaza sealed off from the rest of the world. In 2005, Ariel Sharon dismantled the few settlements that Israelis had established in Gaza, reducing its on-ground presence to zero, while still controlling the air space, the sea, and borders, with the entire land border surrounded by high security fences. The net effect was to turn Gaza into a 365 square mile open air prison, holding 1.7 million people.
Conditions in Gaza have been dire since 1948, but they deteriorated markedly after 2007. In 2006, the Palestinian Authority held parliamentary elections, which were won by Hamas. Israel, supported strongly by the US, attempted to overturn the elections, most dramatically by staging a coup to seize power in Gaza. That coup failed, resulting in Hamas seizing control in Gaza. Israel responded by tightening its economic stranglehold. Gazans sought relief by digging tunnels to smuggle goods in from Egypt -- under Mubarak, Egypt was tightly complicit with Israel in isolating Gaza (a relationship that is changing as Egypt becomes more democratic). Outsiders have attempted to deliver supplies by boat into Gaza -- Israel continues to prevent them, sometimes violently.
The Palestinian in Gaza are not part of a monolithic mindset, any more than Israelis or Americans are, but they all start out with the shared experience of Israeli containment. (Occupation may no longer be the right word as it implies boots on the ground and on your neck, but Israel controls the flow of goods and people, and always threatens death from the sky, a situation that often amounts to a siege.) Faced with Israeli oppression, some people will inevitably try to fight back, some will resist non-violently, some will capitulate, some will attempt to profit, some will be confused, and many will vacillate between these strategies, especially since none have been proven to work. (Israel, as a government, has its own options and policies, but mostly they act from strength which they underscore by frequent violence -- a lesson that no Palestinian is unaware of.)
Israel's current "Operation Pillar of Defense" started on Nov. 14 with an Israeli airstrike that assassinated Ahmed Jaabari, reportedly the head of the military wing of Hamas, also killing his son and others. The stated reason for the operation was to clamp down on rockets fired by Gazan "militants" into southern Israel, so the assassination was followed up by Israel bombing hundreds of sites in Gaza. The response, of course, was that those "militants" shot off more rockets in three days than they had in the past six months. (Here is a list; I haven't found a corresponding list of Israeli bombings and shellings of Gaza, but a timeline should show that they match up, with Israeli attacks most often provoking the rocket barrages.)
I don't in any way approve of shooting rockets from Gaza into Israel, but it is easy to understand the attraction. For starters, there is Israel's blockade meant to damage, demean, control, and sometimes just punish 1.7 million people, and the most visible symbol of that blockade is the wall that makes Israel impenetrable from Gaza. The main thing a rocket can do is what no Gazan can do: leap over the wall. The tiny, primitive Qassam rockets can't do much more than that: they have no guidance system, they rarely hit anyone or anything, and they don't do much damage when they do, but Israel likes to play the victim and the rocket attacks make for good publicity, so they play them up, harp on the fear they stoke, constantly reminding anyone who'll listen about the Palestinian commitment to killing Jews. (Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, recently described the rockets as "more than a crude attempt to kill and terrorize civilians -- they were expressions of a genocidal intent.") Of course, good publicity for Israel is bad for the Palestinians, but those who shoot off the rockets at least can take some satisfaction in how much they are getting under their enemies' thin skins. For your basic Gazan "militant," shooting off a rocket is a way to get noticed, to stand up to the oppressor, and make them recognize you.
Gaza has been under Israel's control since 1967, but this week's level of hostilities is unusual -- much greater than a similar clash in March, probably more deadly than any time since January 2009, when Israel's Operation Cast Lead actually invaded Gaza, killing 1,417 Palestinians (IDF figures: 1,166; Israel lost 13, 10 of those soldiers, 4 of those due to "friendly fire"; the operation actually started Dec. 27, 2008, and ended Jan. 18, 2009). It seems far from coincidental that both operations started soon after US presidential elections and shortly before Israeli elections. In 2008 it seemed likely that Israel wanted to get her kicks in before Obama took office in case he was inclined to caution -- the net effect was that Bush let Israel go on long enough to embarrass themselves with their brutality while Obama was held speechless, the first of many humiliations America's dearest ally inflicted on him. This time the US election probably didn't matter. (What may matter is that the "militants" were able to fire some new, larger Iranian rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, previously well out of range -- not much of a threat, but it does play into Netanyahu's desire for starting a war between the US and Iran.)
Israel's prime ministers changed between the two operations, but the Defense Minister remained the same: Ehud Barak, the former PM who was elected in 1998 to finish up the Oslo Accords and who wound up destroying the last (at least the latest) good chance we had of resolving the conflict. When Barak was defeated in 2001, George Bush's view was that, "Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things," and Ariel Sharon indulged him, plunging the conflict into the murk of endless reprisals and posturing, where it remains today. In 1967 it seemed quite simple to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict: Israel would give up its newly conquered territories in exchange for peace treaties, a solution that was codified in two UN resolutions, backed by the US and even (with some weasel wording) Israel. Eventually all of the Arab nations, including the Palestinians, came around to that view, but by then Israel and the US (Sharon and Bush) had moved on, thinking they could solve all their problems with a resolute show of force.
That commitment to force is why Israel is fighting its third Gaza War since 2006 (not counting hundreds of skirmishes in a neverending war of attrition). One popular definition of insanity is the belief that repeating a strategy will somehow produce a different result. By that criteria, Netanyahu and Barak clearly are insane -- their sole out is to realize that they are in fact getting the result they want: that by periodically shaking the hornet's nest they get to keep the conflict's definition tied to relative strength, and away from basic human rights.
There is a simple solution here, one so simple it's amazing that no one talks about it. Due to Israel's settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, it's become very difficult for Israel and the Palestinians to sort out a fair and equitable division of lands there, and indeed they may never be able to clean up the mess that Israel's illegal settlement program has made. But relative interests in Gaza are totally clear: Israel has no settlements within Gaza, and no desire to ever extent Israeli citizenship to Gaza's residents. Therefore, why not hand Gaza over to the UN to organize elections and secure its status as an independent nation?
I don't want to have to rehash all of Israel's security issues about an independent Gaza (or Palestinian) state: they are easily dismissed on many grounds. And other than security, what is there? Water, I suppose. A very trivial bit of economic advantage Israel enjoys. And it would involve "agreeing to disagree" on unresolved issues, like the "right of return" and the relationship between Gaza and Palestinian enclaves in the Occupied Territories, but independence would eliminate more than 90% of the reason Gazans have to be "militant" -- some may still bear grudges over not being able to return to their ancestors' homes and land, but that is fading, and will fade faster without the constant reminder of Israel's military dominance.
I've been trying to think of "out of the box" solutions to the broader conflict here. Some basic ideas: do what you can when you can, and don't let it prejudice the future; try to convert issues into things that can be solved with money, and apply lots of money to them; forget about who was at fault in the past; kick the stuff you can't agree on far down the road; but keep your eye on the one fundamental goal, which is that in the end everyone should wind up with full and equal rights in a secure state. Gaza, which Israel has no real interest in, is the simplest case: break it loose, open it up, rebuild, legitimize its government, and expect it to live in peace, minding its own business. The other problems are messier, and will take time and fresh thinking. But Gaza is easy.
Conversely, Israel's habitual practice of attempting to beat the Gazans into submission only leads to more war, more ill feeling, more injustice. Israel's militarist elite have deluded themselves into believing that disproportionate force works (see this useful "fact sheet" on their Dahiya Doctrine, which only goes back to 1987, but bear in mind that Ariel Sharon first became a popular public figure in Israel by leading the 1951 Qibya attack, a classic case of overkill excused as retribution). Israelis view their carpet bombing of the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut as the key victory in their 2006 war against Hezbollah -- the explanation as to why Hezbollah hasn't attacked Israel in the years since. The 2006 war was at the time regarded as a huge fiasco: Hezbollah's rockets (far more numerous and powerful than anything Gaza possesses) were ineffective, but Hezbollah was very successful at repelling Israeli efforts to invade southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah was more effective than the government at providing relief for those neighborhoods leveled by Israel's air barrage, so the consensus opinion at the time was that Hezbollah came out of the war stronger. The more likely reason why the Israel-Lebanon border has remained quiet is that Israel hasn't provoked another war there.
It is true that Hezbollah hasn't provoked Israel into another war either. But the reason isn't fear of Israel so much as the fact that Lebanon is an independent country, with a democratic political system that Hezbollah participates in but doesn't dominate, and a functioning economy connected to the rest of the world. Hezbollah doesn't have to fire rockets to remind the world that Israel has locked them up in a cage, because Israel hasn't. (That Israel has cast a pallor of terror over the nation is another story, but lately in remission. It may still inspire some "militants," but they are kept in check by an organization that has a stake in the system, and in keeping the peace.)
Gaza could be peaceful too, but only if Israel leaves it alone (or works with it constructively). What Israel should be worried about is that it's going to happen anyway. Egyptian complicity in sealing off and strangling Gaza is no longer automatic: that border has started to open up, and will become more so -- among other things, that makes it easier to smuggle more deadly weapons in (something Iran has little motivation not to indulge). Foreign investment money has started to trickle into Gaza. Before long, the Strip will be a de facto independent state, recognized by many countries, perhaps even by the UN. By then this Operation will look like a last, futile attempt to stem the path to freedom. And unless they stop real soon, this will be another chapter in Israel's senseless brutality toward its neighbors and, indeed, toward its own people. The problem with violence is not just what it does to its victims, but the monsters it makes of its perpetrators.
 Quoted by Paul Woodward. He also quotes Phan Nguyen calculating how many rockets it would take, given their general ineffectiveness, to kill off the Jewish population of Israel: nearly 4.5 billion rockets. Woodward's statistic is that Gaza rockets have killed an average of 2 Israelis per year over the last 12 years. The latest figure I have for the current operation is that 3 Israelis have been killed by more than 740 rockets and mortar shells. During the same time, 46 Palestinians were killed (including 22 "militants").
By the way, the Phan Nguyen piece, Dissecting IDF Propaganda: The Numbers Behind the Rocket Attacks, goes way beyond the calculations cited above, providing a list of Israelis killed by rockets and mortar fire from Gaza, looking into the timing of the launches, and picking over IDF propaganda on the attacks.
 Quoted in Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine.
I used Saturday's Wikipedia figures on Operation Pillar of Defense. Finishing this up on Sunday, so the current tragic numbers keep climbing.
On Nov. 16, Paul Woodward noted that:
Stephen Walt quotes larger figures from B'tselem: "Israel has killed 319 Palestinians since Cast Lead in 2009, while Palestinians have killed 20 Israelis."
For whatever it's worth, the "stone age" experiment has already been tried, in Afghanistan, and guess what? You can destroy every shred of civilization, wipe out the economy, put people into the dark, keep them ignorant and unaware, and the only things they'll still be able to do are shoot rockets and improvise bombs.
However, the other thing about the "stone age" is that at that level of technology and social organization it is impossible to keep 1.7 million people alive in 365 square miles: reducing Gaza to a "stone age" place would either directly or indirectly amount to genocide. Is that what Israelis really want? Rabbi Yaakov Yosef would rather get it done with faster. Follow the links there for more, including Eli Yishal, Israel's Interior Minister -- inside the government, presumably someone in the know -- saying, "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages."
A few more links consulted:
Quote from the Levy article, cited above:
Quote from the Walt article, cited above:
Monday, November 12. 2012
Music: Current count 20679  rated (+35), 616  unrated (-9).
Juggling a lot of things right now, including above-average political blogging, trying to update the metacritic files before year-end lists start flooding in, adding to the Rhapsody Streamnotes file, getting the Turkey Shoot organized (yesterday was the deadline for proposals, but I meant today), fighting with computer problems, various household chores, etc. Falling behind a bit with Jazz Prospecting, but at least there is enough to run. An exceptional mainstream piano trio this week. While I often doubt my skill at sorting such records out, mostly because most leave me feeling impressed but unexcited, I know better than ever to doubt Peter Washington.
By the way, I've decided to hold Rhapsody Streamnotes back until after the Turkey Shoot runs on Thanksgiving Day. It's no longer too puny to run, but I figure there will be some intersection and I want to run that first in the Turkey Shoot. Same thing is likely for the November Downloader's Diary -- I have enough to know that there will be one, but don't know when yet.
Harry Allen & Scott Hamilton: 'Round Midnight (2012, Challenge): Two generations of retro-swing tenor saxophonists, reigning champions respectively -- Allen a Coleman Hawkins stalwart, Hamilton more of a Lester Young/Zoot Sims swinger -- backed by piano (Rossano Sportiello), bass (Joel Forbes), and drums (Chuck Riggs). One Allen original ("Great Scott"), a bunch of standards, a riff piece from Lockjaw Davis, they sound great together, making it look all so easy. B+(***)
Kait Dunton: Mountain Suite (2012, Real and Imagined Music): Pianist, based in Los Angeles, second album, a hard bop quintet in postbop mode -- John Daversa (trumpet), Bob Mintzer (tenor sax), Derek Oleszkiewicz (bass), Peter Erskine (drums) -- the horns smartly orchestrated, the piano always impressive. B+(**)
Jacob Garchik/Jacob Sacks/David Ambrosio/Vinnie Sperrazza: 40Twenty (2011 , Yeah-Yeah): Trombone, piano, bass, drums, respectively. Garchik is a busy guy, with lots of side-credits in addition to his own projects, most notably his "atheist trombone album," The Heavens. He stays nimbly out front in this enjoyable postbop group. B+(**)
Vinny Golia/Marco Eneidi/Lisa Mezzacappa/Vijay Anderson: Hell-Bent in the Pacific (2012, NoBusiness): Free improv, cut in San Francisco but released in Lithuania. Eneidi plays alto sax; Golia mostly tenor but also sopranino, soprano, clarinet, and bass clarinet. They clash hard early on, but sort out their differences thereafter. Mezzacappa plays bass and Anderson drums. Artist order from the spine and back cover; front cover seems to put Mezzacappa first. B+(**)
Mahlis-Panos Project; Protoleia (2011 , self-released): Dimitris Mahlis on oud and nylon string guitar, Anastasios "Toss" Panos on drums and percussion, Dan Lutz on acoustic and electric bass. Not much bio: Panos, at least, is based in Los Angeles, and hype sheet refers to their "shared Greek heritage" so they are likely a generation (or more) removed. The oud is sharp and tart, nicely accented by the drums. And, as usual, the bassist makes it all sound better without grabbing the credit. B+(**)
Sam Newsome: The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1 (2011 , self-released): Saxophonist, b. 1965; nine or so records since 1999; I have him listed tenor first but he plays soprano here, solo, but he tricked me at first, tapping out a percussive rhythm on the Ellington opener that reminded me of steel drums. That's a neat trick, and by no means his only one. He returns to Ellington two more times, interleaving "A Love Supreme" and series of Africana, including a bit of Fela. B+(***)
Paradoxical Frog: Union (2011 , Clean Feed): Trio, second album, adopting as group name the title of the debut. Kris Davis (piano), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor and soprano sax), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums, melodica, trombone), all three contributing songs. Sorey is a bit hard to pick out of the mix, which plays more like a duo with his drum or whatever sneaking in unexpected. B+(**)
Eric Person: Thoughts on God (2012, Distinction): Plays alto and soprano sax, has more than a dozen albums since 1992, spent some time in the alto slot with the World Saxophone Quartet. Says he envisioned this project in 1984, "a dream of mine." He did manage to round up a talented array of horns: five reeds, four brass, more to play up the choral aspect than to show off his big band arranging. Still, I have to wonder, why does anyone think God likes flutes? B
Preservation Hall Jazz Band: 50th Anniversary Collection (1962-2010 , Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): By all accounts, jazz originated in New Orleans, but from the 1920s on jazz musicians couldn't wait to get out of the Crescent City. Meanwhile, the native jazz of New Orleans became trad jazz, eclipsed by swing and bop and cool and avant and all manner of postmodernism, so archaic it could be welcomed back as tourist music -- all of this within the lifespan of musicians like De De Pierce, George Lewis, and Cie Frazier, who were welcomed back as folk heroes. In the 1960s Allan Jaffe opened Preservation Hall and organized its Jazz Band, an institution that has continued for fifty years, though dozens of personnel changes all dedicated to maintaining the old sound. They've mostly achieved that aim, but with fifty years to choose from, the compilers have opportunities to mix it up, like guest vocals by Tom Waits, Richie Havens, and Del McCoury. Still, I prefer the old stuff, especially guys like George Lewis, whose take on the music had less to do with respecting history than with staying alive. B+(***)
Reggie Quinerly: Music Inspired by Freedman Town (2012, Redefinition Music): Drummer, from Houston, a neighborhood of which was organized as Freedman Town in the 1860s by emancipated slaves, the history at the roots of his compositions. Enoch Smith, Jr., fills you in on some of that history. The piano (Gerald Clayton, or maybe Smith) has a way of crossing ragtime and avant-garde, while Tim Warfield's tenor sax goes for the soul. Closes with two covers: Sarah Elizabeth Charles singing "I'm Old Fashioned," and a "Sentimental Journey" that wears heart on sleeve. B+(**)
Bobo Stenson Trio: Indicum (2011 , ECM): Pianist, b. 1944 in Sweden, AMG credits him with sixteen albums since 1971, a figure that doesn't include his joint-headlining with Jan Garbarek on the marvelous Witchi-Tai-To. Piano trio with Anders Jormin and Jon Fält. Starts off with a Bill Evans piece and tends to stay in that mode. B+(**)
The Urban Renewal Project: Go Big or Go Home (2012, Lombardy): Los Angeles "big band" -- 12-pieces, horns aplenty, can swing or play funk but it gets dicey when they try to both at the same time. Leader is tenor saxophonist R.W. Enoch, Jr., who splits most of the song credits with someone named Logan -- most likely the freestyle rapper who does business as Logic the Topic. His raps help focus the group, but they also employ a singer, Kenny Neely, with an uncanny and seriously annoying combination of slick and sour -- he drives me up the wall. C+
Peter Zak: Nordic Noon (2011 , Steeplechase): Pianist, from Ohio, studied at UC Berkeley, based in New York, ten albums since 1989, mostly trios -- I count one solo, and one with a sax added, plus side dates, mostly with trumpeter Ryan Kisor. This is another trio, with Peter Washington and Billy Drummond -- hard to imagine a better mainstream rhythm section. Three originals, most of the eight covers from 1960s and 1970s jazz sources, a tradition he builds on. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 11. 2012
Some scattered links, as usual. But first, the quote of the week comes from Maureen Dowd (of all people):
Also good that she quoted Karen Hughes (who had much more claim to having been Bush's Brain than Karl Rove ever did): "If another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue."
I suppose I could inaugurate a section on truly stupid ideas, like Kevin Drum's nomination of Mitt Romney for Treasury Secretary: "How much friendler toward banks could he be than Tim Geithner?" Is that the standard to look for? And I thought Erskine Bowles was a bad idea.
Haven't found anything useful yet on the Petraeus-Broadwell affair, but it strikes me as something of more than prurient interest: no general since MacArthur has worked so assiduously and successfully at courting the press than Petraeus (unless it was Colin Powell, who if he did managed the feat much less conspicuously) but did you really expect him to stoop this low? At this point, Broadwell's motives are less clear, especially with all the innuendo, but the least one can say is that she went well beyond professionalism to get the story -- or a story, the one that promoted her source's career.
Reading Chandrasekaran's recent book on Afghanistan makes it clear that Petraeus threw his COIN strategy under the bus as soon as he was dropped into his protégé McChrystal's command post, then he hastened his exit before he could get excessively tarred with the war's utter failure. It was only a matter of time before history caught up with one of the great frauds of our time. Still, surprise that the tabloids got him first.
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, November 10. 2012
If I find time, I'll do more post-election links tomorrow, but I thought I'd preface them with one from Kevin Drum, We Should Probably All Calm Down a Bit, since I want to quote virtually all of it. He addresses two bullet items, one to liberals and one to conservatives, and he basically gets them right, although I have a few more points to add. First:
First part is true. Political power is still pretty evenly divided, with the Republican House, a Democratic majority in the Senate hung up for abuse by its own rules (the filibuster, of course, but also the evident right of Richard Shelby and Tom Coburn to block any appointment they take exception to, which is pretty much all of them), and Obama in the White House, at least until recently thinking he has the touch to compromise meaningfully with terrorists. Republicans also control most of the governorships and state houses, most of the judiciary, and they have a working majority on the Supreme Court. Right-wingers also have a huge preponderance in the media, and they continue to draw on their think tanks and propaganda arms, on industry lobbyists, and above all on lots of money.
In most respects, the Democrats didn't win so much as dodge a bullet. This was the billionaires' election, and didn't prevail, although the fact that it was so close when the interest breakdown had never been more clearly drawn between the 1% and the 99% is telling. Similarly, Republicans spent much of the last four years erecting roadblocks on the path to the polls. Given that Obama won, you might be tempted to say that they failed, even that there was a backlash against the right's assault on democracy, but the fact is that the number of people who voted this time dropped by over 9 million (122,146,119 vs. 131,393,990 in 2012). How much of that can be attributed to voter suppression as opposed to general cynicism and indifference -- both of which are conservative goals -- isn't clear, but it can't be dismissed.
It should also be noted that while the Republicans enjoy a 49 seat margin in the House, the actual vote for Representatives gave a plurality to the Democrats (54,301,095 to 53,822,442). Nate Silver has estimated that the Democrats have to get 3% more votes than the Republicans to break even in the House -- some of this is due to gerrymandering following the Republicans' 2010 state house wins, and some of it is due to the concentration of Democrats in compact urban districts (i.e., cities). What I think all of this means is that the Democrats could have done significantly better than they did with a more level playing field: with more people voting, with less money distorting the races, with a Democratic Party that was better organized (especially at the House and state levels).
The great thing about election day is that it's the one day in the year where the people count. Leading up to it politicians of all stripes try to appeal the the people, and afterwards they slide back into the real corridors of power, which is mostly the province of money but also of institutional interests. I think it would be a mistake to read Drum's line that a "lot of them are still pretty nervous about a big part of our agenda" as meaning that the people (Democrats anyway) are nervous about their leaders taking them far to the left. Nervousness may be called for, but it's more likely that they (well, we) fear that Democrats we elected to represent us will wind up compromising our interests to the moneyed powers, the corporations, the warmongers, and so forth. I wouldn't go so far as to argue that the median voter is well to the left of the politicians, but you get a whiff of that in, e.g., the referenda legalizing recreational marijuana use.
Still, the left has lots of work to do to overcome myriad obstacles -- the right, the middling center, the professional ranks of Democratic politics -- and much of that is done by correcting bad ideas. Drum gives us an example in his assertion, "long-term deficit reduction and entitlement reform really are pretty important." In theory, I could go either way on deficit reduction, but it's worth noting that throughout US history the only way it's ever actually worked is through growth and/or inflation -- neither party actually has the political will to soak the people with taxes to pay down the debts, especially in a protracted slump. (Clinton at least had a huge tech boom for cover, and all his "success" netted was irresponsibility from his successor.) I'd like to see some more progressive taxes not so much to balance the budget as to start to nudge incomes, society, and democracy toward more equality. But it also turns out that taxing the rich results in less drag on the economy -- forget all that "job creator" garbage and all their "uncertainty" and "confidence" confabulations -- than taxing anyone else, and I'd combine that with more spending, especially on public works that help reduce inequality and boost opportunity -- education, infrastructure, small business support, and, yes, income transfers. The "fiscal cliff" moment, despite such misleading terminology, is a teachable moment, something we should take advantage of.
As for "entitlement reform," any so-called progressive who utters such a term should be pummeled with a whiffle bat. The truth is that retirement incomes are earned, and that welfare for those unable to provide adequately for themselves is a sign of civilization, one that we should take pride in, not demean. And the only way those sums should be "reformed" is upward, not least because we've let our selfishness (or rather the greed of the rich and powerful) and a false sense of impoverishment cut too deep already. That people live longer may mean that working people will have to pay more to support those who cannot work, and therefore overall taxes will have to rise. But to cheap out and deny your fellow citizens the right to live in decency and out of poverty would morally bankrupt us.
Drum's second point:
This is all straightforward and true, but then why did Republicans not do the smart and gracious thing and accept Obamacare, "cap and trade," Obama's "middle class" tax deal, and so forth as concessions to the power of their ideology? It's certainly not because they have any sort of enlightened comprehension of the long-term interests of the superrich. (They're not even that sharp on short-term interests: the rich plunged furthest in the recession, although they've bounced back healthily, the stock market more than doubling during Obama's term even though unemployment persisted and we're still a long ways from regaining the lost output.) Anyone rational will tell you that health care costs are eroding the entire economy, handicapping every business that doesn't directly profit from them. Same thing is true with the banks. And global warming is ultimately a much greater threat to property owners than it is to migrant workers. And you can keep going down the list: starving education may mean more people will be dumb enough to vote Republican, but it doesn't help American businesses needing competent and innovative workers to compete in the global market. And wars, pollution, the dumbest approach imaginable to crime.
I think what's happened is that the Republicans have fallen victim to their rank and file, a group that basically has nothing going for it other than their rage against everyone else. It must have seemed like a clever idea: getting the whites against the blacks (and everyone else), getting men (and the Catholic church) against liberated women, getting the hawks against the doves, getting the born against against the humanists, getting the gun nuts against their own paranoia, wrapping it all up in paeans about family values and responsibility, God and flags, prayer and the pledge of allegiance, success and prosperity, with a bunch of guys who inherited many millions to bankroll it all. Moreover, the ideology was sold on the simplest level possible: no more taxes, shrink the government so it can be drowned in a bathtub, but carte blanche for the military, and no amnesty (put more people in jail than any other country) and make no excuses (plunge the nation into debilitating foreign wars at the slightest provocation).
It worked for a while, not least because rather than fight it Democrats fell all over themselves to burnish their patriotic and militarist and religious and free enterprise credentials, all the while chasing the same moneyed interests, sometimes even outbidding the Republicans to service them. But the spell is fading, and not just because other demographics are outpacing angry white males (as Lindsey Graham recently lamented). Part of the problem is that more and more people are being pushed outside the Republican tent. But it's also because while thirty years of conservative ascendancy has done much to make the rich richer, it has treated everyone else so shabbily. Believers still have little clue, but the proof is how desperately they hold on to nostrums that no longer work.
Sure, in theory the Republican establishment can seek out a more moderate and more defensible ground, but how can they sell ideas that violate the moral certainties of their rank and file. A good example of this was how a series of Republicans, starting with VP candidate Paul Ryan, decided they were more profoundly against abortion than rape, so wound up in effect arguing that the law should enforce a rapist's right to force his victim to bear his child. Conservatives always insist that their truth is timeless, eternal, unchangeable, so indeed how can they change? Indeed, throughout history they don't. They can only be resisted, stopped, defeated: often, as in America's Revolution and Civil War through violence; sometimes, if we're lucky, democratically, as in the 1930s New Deal and the 1960s civil rights movement. Of course, conservatism keeps bouncing back -- as long as there is a privileged order to defend -- but at least in defeat they drop some of their worst habits.
One lesson we should take away from the 2012 election is that they've been set back, but they haven't been defeated soundly enough yet.
Wednesday, November 7. 2012
Generally pleased with the election results, especially the Senate, which includes several genuinely promising Democrats (Baldwin, Warren) as well as more of the ordinary variety, and the defeat of some (but not all) of the most odious Republicans. Also pleased to see some of the ballot issues, especially the breakthroughs on marijuana -- the whole drug war needs to be rethought and mostly ended, but it's been nearly impossible to find working politicians to stand up despite the fact that it's long been significantly unpopular.
Much less pleased with the House, which I expected to be more competitive despite the lack of polls or other indications that it would be. Even now, I haven't been able to find much in the way of useful information as to what happened, let alone why. One thing I would like to see is the total vote by party: I suspect it is much closer to even than the division of seats -- redistricting after the 2010 census and elections, when the Republicans grabbed a lot of state houses, has a lot to do with this, but so does the expense of challenging an entrenched incumbent. (I know that my congressman has been building up a war chest he mostly didn't need to tap into this cycle, making him all the more unassailable in the future. He won a second term with about 62% of the vote against a virtually invisible challenger, which suggests that on a level playing field he might be vulnerable to a stronger, better heeled candidate.) For more on the House problems, see Nate Silver's June 23 piece.
With the House locked down under Republican control, and their leadership in thrall to the unbroken radical fringe, Obama will find it impossible to implement anything progressive for at least the next two years. Whether it's as bad as the last two years is hard to project, but the Tea Party momentum from 2010 has ended -- whether the arrogance and sense of entitlement has remains to be seen. Also unclear is whether Obama has fully learned the obvious lessons of the election, which is that he has to be more aggressive in facing up to Republican intransigence. Nothing would help him more than to start putting together a ground organization to take back the House in 2014: find strong candidates, support them, feed them issues. The Democrats did make gains this year where they had strong candidates, but ignoring the House they missed an important opportunity.
As for the presidential race, I've managed to crunch some numbers. Obama lost about 5% of margin from 2008 to 2012. Turnout currently looks to be down about 8%: this number will go down a bit as the last of the ballots are counted, but right now it looks like about 120 million votes this year vs. 131 million in 2008 (but also there should be more voters this year, so the percentage voting may wind up down even more). That probably explains most of the drop, but I ran state-by-state comparisons, and the granularity varies quite a bit from state to state.
An across-the-board 5% drop should have cost Obama four states: Indiana, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio (won by 4.59% in 2008; Virginia was next closest at 6.30%) -- the resulting electoral margin would have been Obama 285, Romney 253, which isn't unreasonable given Obama's 2.7% raw vote margin. But the drop wasn't even everywhere. For the most part, Obama dropped less than 5% in the states he had won in 2008, and Romney gained more than 5% in the states McCain had won in 2008. From Obama's side, most of that came down to money and where he spent it. I don't know how the money split this year, but Romney had a lot more to work with than McCain, who was outspent by more than two-to-one, did.
The first big difference I noticed was Romney's gains in Indiana (+11.09%) and Missouri (+9.46%), the two most closely contested states in 2008 (Obama won Indiana by 1.04% and lost Missouri by 0.14%). But this year, with less money and facing a tighter race, Obama didn't seriously contest either state. Same thing with Montana, -2.27% in 2008, a 10.63% improvement for Romney this year. (Interesting that Democrats won Senate seats in all three states, despite big Obama losses.) Other big Romney gains include North Dakota (+11.17%) and South Dakota (+9.59%) -- both were won by McCain but by less than 10% -- and traditionally Democratic West Virginia (+13.38%) -- two more Democratic Senate wins there, although Joe Manchin spent more time running against Obama than against his Republican opponent.
Elsewhere, in uncontested Republican states, Romney gained 19.73% in Utah, 9.06% in Wyoming; slightly above average in Idaho, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee (5.43%); and below average across the South (where McCain had pretty much locked up the white vote) -- Texas (4.03%), Arkansas (3.74%), Georgia (2.79%), Oklahoma (2.30%), South Carolina (1.93%), Alabama (0.72%), with small losses in Louisiana (-1.43%) and Mississippi (-1.48%). Romney did 3.08% better than McCain in Arizona (all sorts of factors at work there), and 8.03% worse in Alaska (no idea about that).
Obama's change figures are more scattered, but the main thing that matters was that he kept the loss tight in the key battleground states: Florida (-2.21%), North Carolina (-2.53%), Ohio (-2.69%), Virginia (-3.30%), New Hampshire (-3.91%), Iowa (3.94%), Colorado (-4.25%), New Mexico (-4.25%). It's tempting to argue that such intense focus distorts the results, but despite his incumbency I feel that Obama had an extra-hard time getting his message out -- the Republican media machine, of course, but also the nature of Romney's lies and Obama's early reticence to tackle them left an awful lot of people sadly misinformed about the issues -- so the battleground states had the clearest picture of the case for Obama. The corollary here is that had Obama the means to contest more states, the results there would have shifted toward him.
Obama had more trouble in Nevada (-5.90%), Oregon (-7.05%), Wisconsin (-7.21%), Michigan (-7.97%), and Illinois (-8.94%) -- states he may have taken for granted. Elsewhere, he kept most of his support, especially in the northeast, such as New Jersey (+1.43% -- along with Alaska, the only states he gained in, but voting is still incomplete there), Rhode Island (-0.02%), New York (-0.05%), Maryland (-1.15%), Vermont (-1.20%), Maine (-1.21%), District of Columbia (-1.63%), Massachusetts (-2.61%), Pennsylvania (-5.25%), Connecticut (-5.37%), Delaware (-6.39%). Other states: Hawaii (-2.47%), Minnesota (-2.64%), California (-4.01%), Washington (-4.77%).
Doing better than average on your home turf is a tendency that has become increasingly prevalent in recent years -- in Obama's two elections, in Bush's two before that, and to a lesser extent in Clinton's (who, you may recall, did a bit better in the South, and a lot better in West Virginia). There are many reasons for this, ranging from habit to the feedback effect of Republicans reducing people's interest and expectations in government by running it so corruptly. But one net effect is to spread states out into "red" and "blue" camps, which in a national election leaves little to contest. That's the main reason Nate Silver has been able to project state odds that are both overly dramatic -- Florida was a toss up at 50.3% odds for Obama, but his next closest states were North Carolina (74.4% for Romney), Virginia (79.4% for Obama), and Colorado (79.7% for Obama). If Florida holds up (which looks right, with a 47,028 Obama edge with 100% reporting), he managed to get them all right -- a result which would might be less impressive but for a couple weeks of right wing sniping against him.
Checking against Silver's final polls, I found that Obama topped his final projections in every competitive state except Ohio (-1.7%), Pennsylvania (-0.8%), Oregon (-0.2%), and Minnesota (-1.0%). Those first two suggest that vote suppression (or fraud) may have had some small effect. Silver was most criticized for giving Obama a 90.6% chance of winning Ohio (based on a poll average of +3.6%); the actual difference was a much closer +1.9%. Romney trailed his polls in South Carolina (-2.0%), Georgia (-0.7%), Alaska (-7.6%), and Kansas (-1.2%). He also had the biggest gain over the polls, +10.3% in West Virginia. Obama did +9.0% in Hawaii.
I heard Romney's concession speech. It was short and decent -- Chris Matthews proclaimed it the best thing he'd done all campaign -- giving credence to the rumor that he had only written one speech ahead of time, presuming a victory. Of course, that's something that can easily happen when you live in the bubble of your own propaganda.
I also listened to Obama's victory speech, one that he clearly had put some time and thought into. Some good stuff in it, but about every third or fourth clause rubbed me some wrong way -- by emphasizing the unimportant, by grasping some cliché, mostly by waxing eloquent on the limitless virtue of the American people. But if he had even an ounce of insincerity, he did an amazing job of covering it up. I don't see how anyone can doubt that he is deeply in love with the country that has now elected him president twice. Nor do I see how anyone can doubt his deep personal conservatism. I understand that the American people -- most of them, anyhow -- demand this sort of flattery as a condition for holding public office, but it doesn't bode well for his intellectual honesty and critical perspicacity. What promises more is that his sense of American mythology is fairer, more inclusive, and more just than that of his democracy-phobic right-wing opponents. I date my own politics to an idealized (and no doubt ahistorical) view of the American Revolution and the various populist and progressive veins that refer back to it, so I see hope in trying to build something tangible out of those myths.
So I'm glad he won. I wish, in fact, he had won more overwhelmingly, enough so to permanently discredit the counter-myths the right insists on spreading. More personally, I'm glad I'll be able to buy reasonable health insurance when my current COBRA policy runs out. I hope I live long enough to enjoy socialism in America, but until then, "Obamacare" is a plus -- not a word I like to use, but thanks to the Republicans for reminding us of something tangible Obama has done to better our lives.
Tuesday, November 6. 2012
I've been kicking this idea around for a while, and finally decided to commit to it. On Thanksgiving Day, November 22, I want to publish a "Turkey Shoot" Consumer Guide to recognize (or warn against) the most overrated and/or downright awful records released in 2012. (This was a longtime Robert Christgau tradition, one which lapsed when he left the Village Voice. A variation appeared on it last year in one of Michael Tatum's Downloader's Diary columns.) However, I don't want to write it all (or even much of it), and I especially don't want to have to listen to all the crap one has to sift through (especially the shit that turns out to not even be bad enough to write about). So my plan is to open this up to the masses, and hope enough of you will contribute a review or two (maximum four) to make this worthwhile.
I'll try to be flexible when I can, but the deadline is pretty tight, and my decisions, no matter how arbitrary, are final. The framework is as follows:
Anyone who wants to contribute should email me with their proposals no later than Sunday, November 11. (Email address is on the Contact page.) I should get back to you by the 13th. If accepted, your reviews are due nolater than Sunday, November 18. This gives us a few days to edit and circulate the reviews.
There are some minimal requirements for Turkeys. Records that are hopelessly obscure are uninteresting here: we'd rather shot a fat, overrated bird than a scrawny one, let alone a pigeon or a parakeet. There should also be some degree of consensus among the contributors that the record really is a turkey. Otherwise, we're likely to wind up with just a bunch of random contrarian statements, which may be amusing but would swamp each other out. Record significance is easier to establish than group consensus. Any of the following works to establish significance:
Everyone who submits a proposal will be added to a mailing list, and I'll circulate all of the nominated records (sometime shortly after Nov. 11) asking for an up/down turkey consensus vote. I'll decide then which (if any) proposed albums to exclude due to lack of consensus. (Not sure what the criteria will be until I see the data. I also might publish the grade info on excluded albums, if I decide that would be interesting and useful.)
It might be a good idea to avoid picking on records I've rated B+(***) or above. I won't automatically reject such a proposal, but that's one strike against establishing a consensus that the album is a turkey. (Same may be said for records graded by Christgau and/or Tatum.)
The jury will be asked to grade albums no later as soon as I have a proposal list, so most likely Monday, November 12. They will be able to revise their grades and add comments up to Tuesday, November 20. (I should be able to fix things later, even after posting, but don't rely on that.)
I won't set up a formal mailing list, but will use an alias within my local mailer to blast out frequent email notices on how this is coming along. The list will start with everyone who makes a proposal (at least one I deem serious), and may be whittled down to the actual contributors. Editing will be done via email. (Again, my decisions are final.)
Results will be published on my blog, and possibly on Terminal Zone (if I manage to get that up on time).
No one will be paid for their contributions. No one will make any money off this. Copyrights are retained by the owners. We assume that submission constitutes permission to publish. Any questions, ask me.
This is the third month of my campaign to hack my way through the unrated file -- specifically, the subset of older releases that I have been sitting on since I gobbled up several hundreds of CDs in closeout sales nearly a decade ago. (The file also contains about 200 new jazz records which most likely I'll get to in Jazz Prospecting about as soon as the next 200 come in.) Like most tasks, this was more exciting early on, with the column swelling to 88 records in September. It dropped to 53 last month, and to 42 this, with the number of A-list items sinking even more precipitously -- mostly because I grabbed the most promising items first. I still have enough material left to keep doing this at current levels for another three or four months -- although last time I looked at the unrated list I noticed that a lot of the records there aren't on the unrated shelf, so finding them is likely to be more of a chore. Some are also old LPs, and some of them are gone. So we'll see how that plays out.
Meanwhile, I haven't been doing much to cover the recent reissues turf. I still get occasional jazz reissues (including two boxes this time). And occasionally, I get inspired to track something else down, like this month's Dicks reissue. Will probably do more of that once the unrateds thin out, but probably not much more.
The Birth of the Third Stream (1956-57 , Columbia/Legacy): One thing I recall from the 1950s (or early 1960s) was being taught that classical music was the real, serious, artful stuff, and all other musics were somehow inferior. By then jazz was all those things, and becoming unpopular to boot, so various folks started thinking about how to hoist jazz into the pantheon. Duke Ellington, for instance, started writing suites, and even arranging some classical pieces for jazz orchestra. Stan Kenton affected a kind of modernism inspired by Stravinsky (even if critics were more likely to compare it to Wagner). John Lewis (Modern Jazz Quartet) invented a form of chamber jazz. In those times, Gunther Schuller, a certified classical music scholar, thought about coming up with a classical-jazz fusion he called Third Stream, and he organized the Jazz and Classical Music Society to record some. This collects two LPs: Music for Brass and Modern Jazz Concert, with pieces by John Lewis, J.J. Johnson, George Russell, Charles Mingus, Jimmy Giuffre, and Schuller himself, played by large brass bands -- no strings, not sure if the roster includes classicists (the bassoon and French horns are most suspect) but I recognize a who's who of jazz royalty, including Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Art Farmer, Hal McCusick, Jimmy Knepper, Milt Hinton, and Osie Johnson. Strikes me as a bit heavy-handed, ponderous even, especially on Schuller's pieces. On the other hand, Mingus steals the show by sounding like Mingus, there are occasional bits of wonder (like the Davis solos), and a lot of history in the booklet. B+(***)
Excello Vocal Groups (1955-60 , AVI/Excello): Nashville label, a subsidiary of gospel-oriented Nashboro, active 1953-74, best known for their "swamp blues" sound -- Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown, Roscoe Shelton -- dabbled a bit in doo-wop, with the Gladiolas' "Little Darlin'" and the Marigolds' "Rolling Stone" indelible songs if not quite hits. Those two are the only songs here (out of 31) that appear on either AVI's 1994 The Best of Excello Records or on either of two 1990 volumes on Rhino (Sound of the Swamp and Southern Rock 'n' Roll) -- compilations I recommend heartily. Slimmer pickings here, partly because the roster didn't get much deeper, and partly because they dug up ten previously unreleased songs (especially by the King Krooners) and a few outtakes. So file this under obscurities, but enjoy nonetheless. B+(***)
Bill Laswell: Deconstruction: The Celluloid Recordings (1979-87 , Restless, 2CD): Bassist, likes a good beat, but also enjoys playing with free sax terrorist Peter Brötzmann, who tangles both sides up in knots before the groove resumes. Only 4 (of 25) cuts are directly credited to Laswell, plus six to Material (his main ride), others to Deadline, Massacre, Time Zone, Last Exit, and then there were African artists Laswell produced and otherwise toyed with, including Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango, and Touré Kunda, and proto-rappers the Last Poets. He was, in short, in the middle of a hive of activity bouncing off anything new that felt good, and he had his own record company to release it. He's worked at the same furious pace ever since, but these were his good old days. A-
Polk Miller & the Old South Quartette: Music of the Old South (1909-28 , Flaherty): Born in Virginia in 1844 on a plantation with over 200 slaves, a firsthand experience that in the 1890s Miller attempted to retrieve in his traveling show, "The Old Virginia Plantation Negro." In 1909 he cut seven Edison cylinder records with The Old South Quartette, and in 1928, after his 1913 death, the Quartette regrouped to make seven 78s, giving us the 14 songs here. I don't know how to spin the racial politics: the 1890s saw the triumph of the Jim Crow laws, and by the 1920s segregation was solidly ensconced, not least in the federal government. Miller was white, the Quartette was black, and evidently neither went in for blackface or farce. Miller's cuts grab you harder -- his "Old Time Religion" sounds so ancient you could imagine Abraham doing it. This version comes in an illustrated, oversized 24-page booklet -- not heavy enough for your coffee table, but unlikely to fit anywhere else -- with extra "digital" versions repeating the first set, crisper and stronger than ever. (Overpriced at $28. Tompkins Square, in 2008, released a cheaper edition with just the 14 originals, titled Polk Miller & His Old South Quartette. And way back in 1991, Document included all 14 tracks as well as 9 by other groups in The Earliest Negro Vocal Quartets 1894-1928 -- haven't heard them, but that label never let a worn master slow them down.) A-
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-
Preservation Hall Jazz Band: 50th Anniversary Collection (1962-2010 , Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): By all accounts, jazz originated in New Orleans, but from the 1920s on jazz musicians couldn't wait to get out of the Crescent City. Meanwhile, the native jazz of New Orleans became trad jazz, eclipsed by swing and bop and cool and avant and all manner of postmodernism, so archaic it could be welcomed back as tourist music -- all of this within the lifespan of musicians like De De Pierce, George Lewis, and Cie Frazier, who were welcomed back as folk heroes. In the 1960s Allan Jaffe opened Preservation Hall and organized its Jazz Band, an institution that has continued for fifty years, though dozens of personnel changes all dedicated to maintaining the old sound. They've mostly achieved that aim, but with fifty years to choose from, the compilers have opportunities to mix it up, like guest vocals by Tom Waits, Richie Havens, and Del McCoury. Still, I prefer the old stuff, especially guys like George Lewis, whose take on the music had less to do with respecting history than with staying alive. B+(***)
Sound D'Afrique (1979-81 , Mango): Touted as the "first compilation of African dance music to be issued in North America by a major label" -- a qualification that overlooks John Storm Roberts' Original Records compilations, starting in 1972 with the still remarkable Africa Dances -- this runs six cuts, 44:07, drawing on former French and Belgian colonies (Senegal, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, Cameroun, Congo, and Zaire). No liner notes, only two artists I've run into again (Youssou N'Dour d/b/a Etoile de Dakar, and Pablo Lubadika), only two songs I can date, but the suspicion is this came together quick using recent tracks -- makes it dubious as a genre sampler, but hard to fault the music (although N'Dour takes a bit longer to sink in). A-
Heiner Stadler: Brains on Fire (1966-74 , P&C Labor, 2CD): German pianist, moved to New York in 1965, hooking into the avant jazz scene, winding up with the original release of this album in 1973 (three cuts), followed by a second volume (three more cuts) in 1974. This drops one track from the second volume ("Pointed") and adds three previously unreleased pieces, one a blowout with the Big Band of the North German Radio Station (including Manfred Schoof, Gerd Dudek, Albert Mangelsdorff, and Wolfgang Dauner). The rest are small groups, mostly with Jimmy Owens on trumpet and Tyrone Washington or Joe Farrell on tenor sax; the exception is a bass-vocal duet, Reggie Workman in fine form, but Dee Dee Bridgewater is barely audible. B+(**)
Tony Allen: Home Cooking (2002, Narada): Nigerian drummer, played a prominent role in Fela Anikulapo Kuti's Afrobeat orchestra, lived to carry on the flame; most successful when the groove stays close to the model, although his gravel voice is more suited to rap. B+(**)
Joan Armatrading: Track Record (1976-83 , A&M): Black British singer-songwriter, born in St. Kitts, doesn't carry any particular stylistic roots and rarely bothers to hook her songs; "Rosie" is the exception, appearing here -- (the first of several more or less redundant best-ofs -- after twelve songs you have to chew on. B+(**)
Joe Arroyo: Super Fiesta Con Joe Arroyo (1990-99 , Disco Fuentes): Colombian cumbia star, one of the few to have established a large discography, not that it's easy to sort out exactly where these loud and brassy hits came from, a place to start exploring beyond the compilations (which remain the place to start with cumbia, although I can attest to Arroyo's La Noche, on Riverboat). B+(**)
The Corruptor: The Soundtrack (1999, Jive): In the movie, Chow Yun-Fat and Mark Wahlberg play cops, but the soundtrack is all gangsta, tough and vivid and remorseless. B+(**)
Cheryl Crow: Tuesday Night Music Club (1993, A&M): Debut album, several striking songs, all co-credited to producer Bill Bottrell (and often others). B+(***)
Dicks: Kill From the Heart/Hate the Police (1980-83 , Alternative Tentacles): Austin hardcore group from the decade when all the Richards I knew wanted to be called Rich, moved to San Francisco when singer Gary Floyd came out, rails against the Klan and other domestic Nazis when not aping them, tacking their 1980 debut single onto their 1983 album; true to form, most songs dip under two minutes, the 11:28 "Dicks Can't Swim: Cock Jam/Razor Blade Dance" truly exceptional. B+(***) [R]
Dominic Duval/Jason Kao Hwang: The Experiment (1999 , Blue Jackel): Avant string duo, bass and violin respectively; the violinist starting to come into his own as a major avant figure, the bassist studiously assisting. B+(**)
Herb Geller: Playing Jazz: The Musical Autobiography of Herb Geller (1995 , Fresh Sound): An alto saxophonist of the West coast cool school, one of the greats, really, sets his autobiography to music, his first sax at age nine, early inspiration from Benny Carter and Charlie Parker, working with comics like Lenny Bruce, his short-lived wife, asides on Chet Baker and Joe Albany and Al Cohn; the story is fascinating, the music spot on, the skits and libretto sometimes awkwardly wedged in, worth hearing, but may be too wordy to repeat much. B+(***)
Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins & More: Battle of the Saxes (1944-46 , Tradition): A short (28:05) sampler from the "birth of bebop" years, focusing on tenor sax with two cuts each from the teenaged Getz, the master Hawkins, Charlie Ventura (the most boppish), and Ben Webster (the hardest swinger), plus one each from Ted Nash (uncle of the better known alto player) and Don Byas (a lovely ballad), all but Hawk in quartets -- he adds yet another tenor sax great, Budd Johnson, and Emmett Berry on trumpet. B+(***)
Shirley Horn: You Won't Forget Me (1990, Verve): A striking jazz singer, especially on the slow standards that predominate here, she started in the 1960s, but got a restart when she signed to Verve in 1987; her trio -- she plays piano, expertly enough to show up on other singers' albums -- gets the occasional guest star addition here, including Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis. B+(**)
Italian Instabile Orchestra: Skies of Europe (1994 , ECM): Eighteen-piece avant big band, founded in 1991, featuring some of Italy's best known musicians -- Pino Minafra, Mario Schiano, Gianluigi Trovesi, Carl Actis Dato, Giorgio Gaslini among them; two extended suites, dense, many strong passages, some meandering. B+(**)
Judgment Night: Music From the Motion Picture (1993, Immortal/Epic Soundtrax): Eleven stabs at rap-metal fusion, each matching a (mostly white) band with one or more (mostly black) rappers, a novel concept at the time (although Ice-T, paired here with Slayer, followed up); needless to say, metal wins out, sinking the rhymes to the bottom. B+(*)
Lemon Jelly: Lost Horizons (2002, XL): British electronica duo, Nick Franglen and Fred Deakin, released four albums 2000-07, this the second; some guitar, not many vocals, chills out nicely. B+(**)
Abbey Lincoln/Hank Jones: When There Is Love (1992, Verve): A jazz singer I've often had problems with -- voice too low, too slow, her early stuff (except Max Roach's We Insist! Freedom Now Suite) too scattered -- but she wowed nearly everyone else, especially once she got to Verve in 1991; just singer and pianist here, and Jones provides the ideal mix of assurance and support, making her so comfortable for once she doesn't overreach. B+(**)
Mano Negra: Patchanka (1988, EMI/Virgin): Manu Chao's old group -- other members may beg to differ, but that's how you will hear it -- in their first album, starting live to convey how hot and frenzied they can be; includes a very strange arrangement of "Rock Island Line," closer to their average than you can imagine, but average nonetheless. B+(**)
Mano Negra: King of Bongo (1990-91 , EMI/Virgin): Don't have Manu Chao's French/Spanish group's second album, Puta Puta, but this extends that album's move to English lyrics, now in the majority; that may help convey their political points, but more often than not those lyrics are yoked to conventional American rock rhythms. B+(*)
Mano Negra: Amerika Perdida (1988-91 , EMI/Virgin): A compilation, draws 5 tracks from Patchanka, 9 from Puta's Fever, 1 from King of Bongo, plus the new title track; main thing here is that in ditching the rock en anglais they rediscover their own uniqueness. B+(***)
Mourmourika: Songs of the Greek Underworld (1930-55 , Rounder): Also known as rembetika, a forlorn pre-WWII folk music regarded as more than a bit disrespectable, recorded with the fidelity of old field recordings, the surface noise preserved as a sign of antiquity. B+(*)
Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio: Timezones (1990, Amadeo): German guitarist, often likened to Pat Metheny and/or John Scofield although he is consistently more eloquent than either; this looks to be his first album, his trio augmented by splendid saxophonist Bob Berg on three cuts, testy pianist Aydin Esen on two, and both on one -- artists that tug him back and forth. B+(*)
Randy Newman: The Best of Randy Newman (1968-99 , Warner Archives/Rhino): A dozen brilliant songs here, maybe a couple more, but you could just randomly line up his songs with a dart board to much the same effect (and probably wouldn't wind up with "Short People" or "Rednecks"), or you could go with any of half a dozen primo albums, including one (Harps and Angels) that came out after the cutoff here, further underming the title. B+(***)
Pass the Mic: The Posse Album (1988-95 , Priority): Label sampler billed as "13 Rap Classics," the concept is freestyle cutting sessions where two or more rappers get their shots in, rapid fire, the beats jacked up to keep everyone on their toes. A-
Ivo Perelman Duo Featuring Borah Bergman: Geometry (1996 , Leo): Tenor sax-piano duets, the Brazilian leader in typically strong form working through free territory, the pianist -- who, by the way, passed away on Oct. 18 after a 35-year career -- attacking obliquely but having some trouble getting heard. B+(***)
The Persuasions: Man, Oh Man: The Power of the Persuasions (1971-72 , Capitol): Accapella soul group, draw their rhythm from the deep voices which makes them a natural for gospel and folk blues, less so for covering Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield; from three early albums, a nice sampler for a long-running group without an obvious best-of. B+(***)
Spike Robinson: Very Live in Boulder, Colorado (1974 , Hep): Early archival tape from the late tenor saxophonist (1930-2001), a mainstream player with a light "Four Brothers" tone, flitting through standards including "Scrapple From the Apple"; only familiar name in the quartet is guitarist Dale Bruning, b. 1934, who's had a similar career of looking back while inching forward, and is often notably eloquent here. B+(*) [R]
The Loren Schoenberg Quartet: S'Posin' (1990 , Musicmasters): Tenor saxophonist, perhaps best known as a historian and writer, especially for his relationship with Benny Goodman; with bass, drums, and Kenny Werner on piano, a couple originals and standards including the title tune by Paul Gonsalves. B+(**)
Ricardo Silveira: Storyteller (1995 , Adventure Music): Brazilian guitarist, ten albums since 1988, this reissue his latest before Mike Marshall's adventurous label picked him up in 2003; some solo cuts, most with keybs and rhythm, upbeat, guitar striking as usual. B+(**)
Southern Journey, Volume 2: Ballads and Breakdowns: Songs From the Southern Mountains (1959 , Rounder): One of thirteen volumes in this series of Alan Lomax field recordings, returning to the turf of his early discoveries and finding little has changed; sharp fiddles, shrill voices, the best known Hobart Smith, at least as remarkable Texas Gladden. A-
Southern Journey, Volume 3: 61 Highway Mississippi: Delta Country Blues, Spirituals, Work Songs & Dance Music (1959 , Rounder): Another one, short on the promised dance music, if you ask me, but the main find is a grump who went on to some degree of fame as Mississippi Fred McDowell. B+(***)
Spearhead: Chocolate Supa Highway (1997, Capitol): Michael Franti, before he started putting his name up front, mostly works in a murky trip-hop groove which becomes all the more effective when he drops his voice, but whenever he thinks he wants to signify "Rebel Music" he drags in the reggae vibe, sometimes for a whole song. B+(***)
Dick Sudhalter & His London Friends: After Awhile (1994, Challenge): Cornet player (trumpet here), founded the Classic Jazz Quartet, wrote biographies of Bix Beiderbecke and Hoagy Carmichael plus a book called Lost Chords complaining about how white jazz musicians (1915-45) were underappreciated; his long list of London friends are trad jazzers, rotating through here in small groups which do a fine job of spotlighting the trumpet. B+(**)
U Roy and Friends: Your Ace From Space (1969-70 , Trojan): Ewart Beckford, pioneering Jamaican DJ/toaster, working with Alton Ellis, the Paragons, the Melodians, and others, produced by Duke Reid, backed by Tommy McCook's group; 30 cuts, no hits, no misses, fractal details from a remarkable period. A-
Jack Walrath and the Masters of Suspense: Hip Gnosis (1995 , TCB): Trumpet player, joined the Mingus band in 1974 and continued to play in various Mingus big bands; the group includes two members of Screaming Headless Torsos -- vocalist Dean Bowman and guitarist David Fiuczynski -- working through a Latin-funk-fusion that seems much richer than four instrumentalists. B+(**)
Ben Webster: Birdland 1952 (1952 , Jazz Anthology): Live shot, basically a bootleg, of the tenor sax great backed by John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke, better known as the Modern Jazz Quartet; the Brute struts through "Confirmation" as well as "Cottontail," and wrings every last tear from "Danny Boy"; the vibes seem a bit odd at first, but Bags can't help but swing. B+(***)
Dottie West: The Essential Dottie West (1963-74 , RCA): Country singer, grew up with an alcoholic, abusive father she eventually got packed off to jail, latched onto Patsy Cline, and enjoyed some success after Cline died; a few recognized songs (although I can't swear I associated them with her), two duets with Don Gibson, a song with the ugliest child vocal I've ever heard, and this comp ends before she went pop or "adult contemporary" or whatever you call it. 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 101, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3502 (3070 + 432).
Monday, November 5. 2012
Music: Current count 20644  rated (+45), 625  unrated (-30). Spent much of the week trying to pull Recycled Goods together, where I continue my recent practice of pulling things off the long-term unplayed shelf. Should run tomorrow. Won't be as many record as in the last two months -- last month had already tapered off -- and having cherry-picked from the start I'm finding less to get excited about, but I'll have a couple interesting surprises.
Meanwhile, you'll find some Jazz Prospecting below, including two A-listed vocal albums, both semi-marginal but Douglas snuck up on me, and Krall never let go. In fact, almost had three, but I held Pallo back from last week to recheck it, and a bit of the novelty wore off. I suppose I might even have had four had I stuck longer with Avery Sharpe's tribute to Sojourner Truth: Jeri Brown probably has the most vocal chops of the group, and every voter really should hear her do Truth's famous "Ain't I a Woman?" oration -- it's as essential a part of American history as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and one all too have forgotten.
Dave Douglas Quintet: Be Still (2012, Greenleaf Music): The modernist trumpet great gets sentimental, marking the death of his mother with hymns and folk songs, even a plaintive bluegrass singer, Aoife O'Donovan (of Crooked Still). Jon Irabagon joins on tenor sax, with Matt Mitchell on piano, Linda Oh on bass, Rudy Royston on drums. I feared an art-song move at first, but the context helps, as does the fact that Douglas's brass band experiments have provided an interesting parallel to Bill Frisell's string band Americana. The more conventional group doesn't belabor the point, nor does the saxophonist heave any bombs, although his occasional solos are notable. A-
Carlos Franzetti: Pierrot et Colombine (2012, Sunnyside): Argentinian composer; moved to Mexico, then New York, writing ballet music and soundtracks and symphonies and winning a Grammy. He pulls these pieces out of tango and French café music, imagining they fit classic characters in commedia dell'arte, and he plays Hohner melodica along with piano, violin, clarinet/alto sax, bass, and a string orch that for once manages to keep out of the way. I never found him this charming before. B+(*)
Manu Katché (2012, ECM): Drummer, b. 1958 in France, cut a record in 1992, then nothing until joining ECM in 2006, now up to four there. Side credits include Jan Garbarek, who put his 2006 album (Neighbourhood) over the top, and various rockers, from Sting to Dire Straits to Tori Amos to Jeff Beck. Quartet here with Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet), Tore Brunborg (tenor/soprano sax), and Jim Watson (piano, organ) -- Molvaer provides some loops, but Katché keeps the rhythm easy and conventional. B+(**)
Diana Krall: Glad Rag Doll (2012, Verve): Singer, plays piano, b. 1964 in British Columbia; thirteenth album since 1993, over 15 million copies sold (wonder whether that's more than her famous, older, and more prolific husband), which seems to have generated some backlash. As a singer she's a model of precision and economy, and this, like most of her albums, mails one finely wrought standard after another. These reportedly date from the 1920s and 1930s (although "Lonely Avenue" is later), the archive work credited to her father's collection of 78s. Producer T-Bone Burnett is right at home in the era, most of his moves in the guitar-ukulele-banjo section. My copy has four "bonus tracks" -- piano-voice only outtakes, nice but inessential. A-
Bill Laswell: Means of Deliverance (2012, Innerhythmic): B. 1955, usually plays bass when he plays, although he shows up more as producer, composer, and/or engineer; AMG credits him with 77 albums since his 1983 debut Baselines, and they give him credits on 949 albums, although those credits include things like mixing Jivamukti Basic Yoga Class and fiddling with at least a ton of reggae/dub comps. This one is solo acoustic bass (plus a tiny bit of vocal sample). He sticks to basics, minimal figures that keep the beat moving, about as engaging as possible. B+(**)
Jimmy Mulidore: Jazz for the Ages (2012, Muldoon Jams): Plays reeds, from Youngstown, OH; lists 11 CDs on his website, but no dates, and only two show up at AMG. This was cut at four sites, two live, with different studio bands, the live cuts borrowing from both. He plays clarinet, tenor/alto/soprano sax, flute, and bass clarinet here, with clarinet enjoying a 4-3 edge over alto, soprano, and flute, with one cut each for the others. Mix of originals and sax standards ("Doxie," "Freedom Jazz Dance," lots of Coltrane starting with "Giant Steps"). Anita Lea sings one. Randy Brecker, Richie Cole, and Eric Alexander drop in -- only time my ears really pricked up was on the latter's solo. (Note: I also have, but haven't watched, one of his DVDs, Jimmy Mulidore and His New York City Jazz Band.) B
Negroni's Trio: On the Way (2012, AA): Pianist José Negroni, from Puerto Rico, and his son, drummer Nomar Negroni, plus various others. Fourth album as Negroni's Trio, which indeed started as a trio (with Jaime Rivera on bass), but is up to quintet now, with Josh Allen taking over the bass slot, Ed Calle on tenor and soprano sax, and Federico Britos on violin. Calle adds a sharp edge to the Latin rhythms, and the violin broadens the sound. B+(**)
Lou Pallo of Les Paul's Trio: Thank You Les (2012, Showplace Music Production): A tribute to pioneering electric guitarist Les Paul, from his long-time rhythm guitarist, the first album under Pallo's name. I've never quite known what to do with Paul, ultimately filing his records under "vocal-20" even thought he actual singer was his wife, Mary Ford, and that only for a small slice of a sprawling career. Best thing I ever heard him do was on Jazz at the Philharmonic's The First Concert, but I've never heard him do anything like that ever again. The one other record I can recommend is his collection with Ford, The Best of the Capitol Masters: 90th Birthday Edition (1948-57 , Capitol), where their penchant for kitsch works out more often than not. But this tribute comes close, and may even win out in the end. The guest list salts the famous (Keith Richard, Steve Miller, Billy Gibbons, José Feliciano, Slash) with virtuosos (Bucky Pizzarelli, Frank Vignola) but works just as well with lesser knowns (Blondie Chaplin, Nicki Parrott!) and unknowns (Johnny A?). Again, the key is kitsch, from "Vaya Con Dios" to "Nature Boy" to "Smile" to "Over the Rainbow." And while I count thirteen guitarists, I really only hear one -- which sounds like Paul on a good day. B+(***)
Jason Robinson: Tiresian Symmetry (2012, Cuneiform): Tenor saxophonist, based in San Diego, teaches at UCSD, has a handful of albums since 2002. Goes big this time with a nonet -- more like a 5-horn octet but he doubled up at drums (George Schuller, Ches Smith). Robinson, JD Parran, and Marty Ehrlich play various reeds/flutes, Marcus Rojas and Bill Lowe double on tuba (with Lowe also playing bass trombone); also Liberty Ellman on guitar and Drew Gress on bass. Doesn't quite gel, but offers some moments, notably the guitar. B+(**)
Avery Sharpe: Sojourner Truth: ". . . Ain't I a Woman?" (2011 , JKNM): Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was the adopted name of a woman both into slavery in New York, emancipated in 1827; she became a notable abolitionist reader, an excerpt from her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech featured here. This is the bassist's 11th album since 1988, possibly his most ambitious, not just in its historical subject matter but in his expansion of the band -- Craig Handy (tenor and soprano sax) and Duane Eubanks (trumpet) join Onaje Allen Gumbs (piano) and Yoron Israel (drums), plus Jeri Brown recites and sings, very effective, touching especially on "Son of Mine" (Truth's son was illegally sold from NY to Alabama; she successfully sued to win back his freedom). B+(***)
Ricardo Silveira: Storyteller (1995 , Adventure Music): Brazilian guitarist, ten albums since 1988, this reissue his latest before Mike Marshall's adventurous label picked him up in 2003. Some solo cuts, most with keybs and rhythm, upbeat, guitar striking as usual. B+(**)
Ezra Weiss: Our Path to This Moment (2012, Roark): Composer-pianist, b. 1979, has a half dozen albums since 2003, this one played by the Rob Scheps Big Band with "special guest" Greg Gisbert (trumpet) on 3 (of 7) cuts, and Weiss himself sitting down at the piano on three. Pretty average big band until they ignite on the finale ("Wayfaring Stranger"), led by the trumpet, presumably Gisbert. B+(*)
Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:
The Billie Davies Trio: All About Love (2012, Cobra Basement): In my review of the drummer's debut record, I referred to "him" and "his" when I should have written "her." Not sure how I got confused about that. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 4. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
For all you undecided voters, we'll break out the endorsements (or otherwise) here:
To repeat something I've more or less said before: I believe that the most important goal this year is to elect a Democratic House, second a Democratic Senate, then Obama. Unfortunately, Obama, like Clinton before him, isn't much help with Congress, but a Democratic Congress would be more effective with a Democrat in the White House (even Obama). I can understand not wanting to ratify Obama's first term, but at this point a third party is an idle gesture, and in general I'd rather see progressives run in the Democratic Party, where their natural constituency is, than away from the Party. And anything that validates or legitimizes the monstrosity that the Republican Party has become should be avoided at all costs. They need to be discredited, and while the easiest way to do that might be to let them run the country into the ground (as Bush did), the left can't afford to be complicit in that.
Links for further study:
Saturday, November 3. 2012
With every big storm you find a lot of people wanting to talk about climate change again. Sandy, especially with its record coastal surges, is one such storm. In its wake, Andrew Leonard wrote:
It's normally impossible to attribute a specific storm to something with such a broad sweep as climate change, but Trenberth does a good job of putting the factors into perspective:
Those numbers sound credible to me: global warming is small part of the storm, and it's easy to see how that small part makes big storms more likely, and given enough time inevitable. However, it's also easy to see why so many people don't get it: weather itself is so much more variable than climate, and unless you're a farmer or someone attuned to subtle climate disturbances weather is what you experience. You're used to temperatures changing 30 degrees or more in the course of a single day, so why should you get wound up over a barely perceptible 1 or 2 degree average change? Ocean levels vary several feet over a single tidal cycle, so how is a sea level rise of a few inches any different? Of course, it is different, as those inches get magnified by tides and low pressure and high winds into a record storm surge.
On the other hand, I'm convinced that there is a mind set that instinctively overreacts to climate change. I've noticed this most convincingly in paleontology, where every extinction event is bound to be written off to climate change before anyone can develop any actual evidence. I've never quite understood how this works, even if I can think of some specific cases where it might. Again, the problem is that climate changes are so much smaller than everyday weather changes, any shift of a degree or two is within what the species has adapted to. Many species can move, and some adapt fast enough. Clearly, there are cases where climate change cause species to go extinct: where mobility is blocked, or where new competitive pressures develop.
Still, we've found many examples where climate change hypotheses turn out to be unsatisfactory. The late Pleistocene extinctions of large animals have become a clear case, despite widespread and often very dramatic climate change. It turns out that what correlates far better with the extinctions is the arrival of human beings -- in Australia 40,000 years ago, in the Americas after 20,000 years ago, in isolated islands like New Zealand much later, in Mauritius (the dodo) in historical times. It may not be true that humans hunted down every last mammoth. It may even be true that their numbers were stressed by the end of the Ice Age, but it wasn't just climate.
Similarly, it's hard to imagine that any amount of climate change would decimate the human population. People have already adapted to nearly every plot of land on earth. Major climate change would push people to move, and cause local problems -- low-lying islands are an obvious concern -- but people would adapt. Property owners would be harder pressed: farms may no longer function as expected, and those premium seaside resorts may vanish under the rising tides. Expect an economic impact, especially from freak events like Sandy. But don't get overly worked up about "saving the earth" -- sheer hubris, especially when compared to a geologic record that shows the planet, if not necessarily much of its fauna, surviving far worse.
Bill McKibben is one such person who overreacts to climate change, especially in his sweeping metaphors like "the end of nature," but he's spent a lot of time and effort distilling the science. And he has a useful critique of the gospel of unlimited growth which is as far out of step with mainstream Clinton-Obama Democrats as it is with Republicans. One nit I'd like to pick is that it isn't human change to the environment didn't begin with greenhouse gas warming: we've been remolding the environment for hundreds, indeed thousands of years -- ever since we got rid of all those mammoths. For me, the full extent of human change on the landscape was driven home some years ago when I drove from Boston to Wichita and couldn't identify a single vista that would have been the same 500 years ago (even if you discount the missing bison).
It beggars the mind to understand how anyone, given how deeply humans have disturbed the world, can doubt that we have had a significant impact on the weather. If you want clear proof, you have to look no further than to the days after 9/11, when all private aircraft were grounded: over three days, the temperature rose three degrees simply because of how much sunlight was no longer deflected by vapor trails. No less clear is the physics of greenhouse gases, something we've understood for more than a century. As carbon dioxide concentration increased steadily over the 20th century, the question wasn't whether the physics was valid, just how the captured heat affected the weather. It's clear now that vapor trails, other pollution, and increased cloud cover helped mask the greenhouse effect -- less so in the Arctic, for reasons that should also be obvious -- but in the last 10-20 years the thermometer has been catching up with the physics, turning predictions we had blithely ignored into news, like last week.
People like Leonard jump on those occasions because the basic facts are so obvious, yet for so many people denial has become hopelessly ingrained -- so much so that they are unapproachable with facts, with reason, with anything. Even people who know better -- Barack Obama being a conspicuous example -- shy away from bringing up the subject, so fierce is the resistance. For many years that resistance was easily traced to a handful of carbon dioxide-producing companies, notably ExxonMobil -- they style themselves as oil, gas, and coal companies, after their immediate products, or as energy companies, after the service we obtain from their products, but in the final analysis most of what they produce ultimately wafts through the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (and a few other noxious chemicals). But in recent years, the company propaganda has gone viral, infecting the oxygen-starved brains of self-appointed conservatives -- you know, the people who'd rather wreck and waste things than conserve them.
I don't know, or at least can't explain, all of the reasons the right has for maximizing the transfer of fossil fuels to the atmosphere. In particular, I'm not sure whether the fundamentalist religious issue is that God gave us dominion over the earth and that makes it property so it's ours to ruin, or that the rapture is coming soon anyway, so why not use it before we lose it? (Either view is simply nuts.) Three reasons are clearer: one is the right's instinctive deference to the rich and powerful, a class that includes plenty of oil and coal magnates; another is that externalities -- unaccounted for side-effects of the sale of products -- are a form of market failure, but the right believes that markets are perfect so they persist in ignoring failures; and the third is that the only way to correct market failure is for a superior party like the government to step in and regulate the market, and that, of course, is the root of all evil.
Ergo, since the only way to arrest or limit climate change is for government to take a more involved role, in order to fight back the government the right winds up denying the rationale -- either that climate change is happening, or that anything can be done about it, at least any intrusion on their lifestyle that the American people will tolerate, at least as long as they don't know any better. Admittedly, the right isn't always consistent about these things: they rarely balk at using government force to limit things they don't like, such as drugs or illicit sex (or its enablers, like birth control and abortions). But oil and coal are things they like, because the far right was literally built on those fortunes.
But as we see -- and as Leonard, among others, keep reminding us -- the right's ability to snuff out debate over climate change in mainstream media and political circles doesn't suffice to make the weather behave itself. The issue keeps bouncing back, because it keeps affecting people in myriad ways. And when people get hurt by the weather, which in the US happens hundreds of times in dozens of ways every year, they tend to look to the government for help, partly because the market is no help, partly because charity is inefficient, but mostly because in the deep recesses of their minds they still harbor the far-left idea that a democratic government works for them. And the funny thing is that when disaster strikes, even confirmed ideological right-wingers -- the very people who laughed at Reagan's joke about the scariest thing you can hear being: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help" -- demand to be helped.
At some point, you'd think the right would try to sort out its own schizophrenia: to recognize that sometimes markets don't work and sometimes government does and is necessary, and a long list of other related issues that keep driving them crazy. But for now they can't: they'd rather bury themselves in ignorance, blind themselves with superstitions, live in a Dark Age of their own delusion. Or so they think, when they think at all.