Thursday, March 28. 2013
After a short February, up to 56 records this month. Most of the good ones were first identified elsewhere -- cf. Jason Gubbels on Bomba Estéreo; Christgau flagged Monroe, Musgraves, Nash, Overall, and Waxahatchee, although sometimes Michael Tatum and/or Gubbels got there first. They also got to Stampfel first, but I wound up enjoying the hoedown more than they did, while other picks left me with reservations. The only prime record here I can claim to have found myself is the 2008 kiss-off to our former president. I may have cut it a bit of grade slack, but I appreciate the sentiment, not to mention the analysis.
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 February 26. Past reviews and more information are available here (3227 records).
Ellen Allien: LISm (2011-12 , Bpitch Control): Ellen Fraatz, born and lives in Berlin, fourteenth album since 2001, just one 44:58 track, a soundtrack for dancers. Mostly synths, some spoken word, the themes shifting around but captivating. B+(***)
ASAP Rocky: Long. Live. ASAP (2013, Polo Grounds/RCA): Rakim Mayers, loves those dollar signs, jumped from a well-received freebie mixtape to major label much like Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar last year, except he neglected to come up with a more impressive record. Still, two songs in the middle stand out: the Skrillex-remixed "Wild for the Night" and "1Train" with Lamar and more mixtape all-stars. Before that he gets by on Clams Casino beats, and afterwards he doesn't. B+(**)
Autechre: Exai (2013, Warp, 2CD): Electronica duo, Rob Brown and Sean Booth, eleventh album since 1993, basic beats and blips in a matrix that suggests primitivism but has more going on. Runs long, rarely a problem. B+(***)
Bilal: A Love Surreal (2013, E1): Neo-soul guy from Philadelphia, dropped an album in 2001 then the label shelved his follow-up and it took him a decade to regroup. Does a nice job here, although subtlety seems to always be the neo-soul trap. B+(**)
Bomba Estéreo: Elegancia Tropical (2012 , Soundway): Colombian group, has a couple albums, closer to house than to cumbia, forsaking the latter's grind for hints among Simón Mejía's loops and bass lines, topped with Liliana Saumet's cagey vocals. A-
David Bowie: The Next Day (2013, Columbia): Last of his records I have graded in my database: 1983's Let's Dance. This is his 13th since then, as steady as his 1967-83 production, where I only missed his debut and one or two more. So score this as a comeback, a batch of new songs that manage to sound identifiably like the old songs, especially c. Heroes (whose cover pic is recycled here but mostly blotted out). B+(*)
Cakes Da Killa: The Eulogy (2013, Mishka): The "MacArthur Park" intro is as hoary as "Also Sprach Zarathustra," but the Coochie speed-rap is promising, at least until dissolving into giggles. B+(**) [bc]
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Push the Sky (2013, Bad Seeds): Someone I was warned away from early and never took an interest in, although with twenty-some records since 1979 he has both a critical and popular following. So he'd be a project if I wanted one that bad. Indeed, this is listenable (albeit dark and moody), and "Jubilee Street" got me thinking of Leonard Cohen, at least until "I got a fetus on a leash" reminded me that words matter, and so does the music. B
Chelsea Light Moving: Chelsea Light Moving (2013, Matador): Thurston Moore's post-divorce incarnation of Sonic Youth, missing Kim Gordon -- always the human touch that elevated the band from good to great -- and perhaps adding an uncharacteristic bit of restraint, like he senses that this is no time to push buttons or breach borders. B+(**)
J Cole: Yours Truly (2013, self-released, EP): Five cuts, reportedly outtakes from an unfinished album, not much time but the tempo is so relaxed they stretch out nicely. The Spanish guitar sample in "Can I Holla at Ya" is perfect, the synth on "Crunch Time" comes close, the angst for "ODB" wanders into hood lore, you make your own bed, but you don't get to pick the sheets. B+(***) [dl]
Dub Colossus: Dub Me Tender, Vols. 1 & 2 (2011 , Real World): Jamaican-Ethiopian fusion, a marriage no doubt sanctioned by Jah. My sources leave the Ethiopians anonymous, while citing Nick Page, aka Dubulah, who presumably mixes up the brew. The single CD rolls up an earlier LP (Volume 1), expanding 8 tracks to 14 (hence Volume 2). More complex and less mannered than most dub; still rolls along effortlessly, like it should. B+(**)
Mary Flower: Misery Loves Company (2011, Yellow Dog): From Indiana, once led a group called the Mother Folkers, has close to ten albums leaning heavily on blues, which she sings straightforwardly, like no big deal. B+(**)
Ben Goldberg: Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (2008 , BAG): Clarinet player, has a dozen or so albums since 1992 not counting membership in New Klezmer Trio, Tin Hat, Myra Melford's Be Bread, etc. Joshua Redman's tenor sax blends in with the clarinet, but Ron Miles' trumpet breaks free, and provides most of the excitement. Goldberg also plays contra-alto clarinet, deepening Devin Hoff's bass. And while the group doesn't need two drummers, he evidenlty couldn't decide, so went with both of his regulars: Ches Smith and Scott Amendola. B+(***)
Ben Goldberg: Unfold Ordinary Mind (2012 , BAG): Clarinetist, arranged this group to feature his E-flat contra alto clarinet ("a weird member of the family, pitched below the bass clarinet"), with two tenor saxes at least nominally as the lead horns (Ellery Eskelin, Rob Sudduth), Nels Cline on guitar, and Ches Smith on drums. Goldberg's idea was to use his clarinet like a bass, but it's so resonant with the saxes it adds a deep well to the harmony -- except when Cline gets excited and turns this into some kind of heavy metal. B+(**)
Good Riddance, George W. Bush (2008, Selector Series): "Kill yourself," advises Immortal Technique. Mr. Lif adds, "You manifest evil." Ted Leo remains "Loyal to My Sorrowful Country," James Blood Ulmer moans over "Katrina," Sharon Jones plays the tax card, Ministry declaims "Señor Peligro," and the Blakes urge us, "don't send your money to Washington/to fight a war that's never done." This slipped out unnoticed in December 2008, ignored for the sake of hope and change, but we let him off the hook too easy. Hell, even these ten artists cut the vile motherfucker more slack than is called for. Like they say about the Holocaust: never forget. A-
Wycliffe Gordon: Dreams of New Orleans (2012, Chesky): Trombone player, could be the real life analogue of the trombone star in Treme except that he's generally more versatile -- just not here, where he not only recycles the old tunes but built a band with banjo and tuba to keep them sounding old. Why they're so subdued is another story. B
Emmylou Harris/Rodney Crowell: Old Yellow Moon (2013, Nonesuch): Crowell wrote 4 of 12 songs -- no idea whether they are new, but they needn't be, especially with Harris writing nada. She remains the greatest backing singer in country music, and she meshes as well with Crowell as she did with Gram Parsons -- enough delight to put the album over, plus they're both smart enough to pick songs worth hearing. B+(**)
Iceage: You're Nothing (2013, Matador): Danish rock band, seemed to have some promise on their 2011 debut but just get louder, heavier, denser, and dumber here. B
Koby Israelite: Blues From Elsewhere (2013, Asphalt Tango): London-based Israeli, plays everything but seems to prefer accordion, has several albums on Tzadik which I'd guess are more klezmerish, but on this Berlin gypsy label he zigs and zags and winds up no where in particular: a tough "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is followed by "East of Nashville" and "Bulgarian Boogie," winds up with "Just Cliches" and "Kashmir" (yep, Led Zeppelin's). B
Kool A.D.: 63 (2013, self-released): Das Racist MC, the less funny one, answers for his laziness by dropping two simultaneous mixtapes, named for Oakland bus lines that may or may not still run. Content? Well, it's supposed to spontaneously flow, but nearly every song has a "feat." or a guest "prod." to mix up the chemistry. B+(**) [bc]
Kool A.D.: 19 (2013, self-released): More, more, more, so much I figure this for the outtakes, but mostly because I recognize so few of the guest "feat." and "prod." credits, the more recognizable names kin the titles (like "Jaleel White" and "Jenny Holzer" and "Kriss Kross"). B+(*) [bc]
Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House: Strong Place (2012 , Intakt): German saxophonist, alto mostly, avant, has played with a lot of great musicians lately and is almost always the weakest one on their albums, not really spoiling things but making you wonder why Tony Malaby wasn't available. Here she rounds up four of them -- Kris Davis (piano), Mary Halvorson (guitar), John Hébert (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums) -- and they slow down to her speed. They even make it work, but it takes a while to get into it. B+(*)
Local Natives: Hummingbird (2013, Frenchkiss): Second album, falsetto singer and keybs tweaked high, threatening to break into something catchy, which would probably be even worse. B-
The Lone Bellow: The Lone Bellow (2013, Descendant): Three singers, Zach Williams dominant and mandolinist Kanene Doherty Pipkin his better half, play "Brooklyn country music": I wasn't sure what that meant until I heard an Eagles lick and tried mapped that onto the Dodgers, reversing their move from Flatbush to Chavez Ravine. OK, that doesn't help much. How about the Lumineers crossed with the post-crash Lynyrd Skynyrd? B-
Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition: White Buffalo (2012 , Fat Possum/Turnstile): Ex-Squirrel Nut Zipper, has a solo career now that straddles blues and Americana, grasping the forms while missing the point of each -- or at least not expressing it very well. B
The Mavericks: In Time (2013, Valory): Country-rock group, emerged in 1991, had a pretty good album in 1994 (What a Crying Shame), and never really folded up despite efforts from leader Raul Malo and others to pursue solo careers. More Tex-Mex this time, maybe with a dash of Cuban spice, like they're trying to turn into the Los Lobos of Miami. Choice cut: "As Long as There's Loving Tonight"; dud: "(Call Me) When You Get to Heaven." B
Pat Metheny: The Ochestrion Project (2012 , Nonesuch, 2CD): The guitarist's one-man band project, a room full of instruments that can be controlled from the guitar. The gear got a studio workout in 2010's Orchestrion album. Here it goes on the road. May be neat visually, but winds up a bit thin, something more than solo guitar, but not an awful lot. B
Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose (2013, Warner Brothers): Had an EP and an unreleased album as a teenager, joined Miranda Lambert as one-third of the Pistol Annies, and got another album shot here. It's a thin one, nine songs, 31:50, but most stick with you, and she has a lot more voice than Kacey Musgraves. Also has co-credits on all the songs, and a Blake Shelton duet at the end that drops two names and dismisses all too readily. A-
Gurf Morlix: Finds the Present Tense (2013, Rootball): Lucinda Williams' ex-lots-of-things, doesn't have much of a voice but can carve a song out of the blues and managed to write several good ones here, the one about guns ("Bang Bang Bang") especially right on. B+(***)
Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park (2013, Mercury Nashville): Young country singer from Texas, has a piece (but not all) of every writing credit. Not a huge voice, not much twang, but pleasantly effective, as are the twelve songs, with "Follow Your Arrow" likely to emerge as an anthem, albeit a modestly stated one. A-
Kate Nash: Girl Talk (2013, INgrooves): Third album, following two of the brighter Brit-pop records of the past decade -- not that she came close to Lily Allen. Here she kicks up the volume, tightens the rhythms toward punk. This has been roundly panned, but I liked it fine on first spin, and keep finding new things when I replay it. A-
Next Collective: Cover Art (2012 , Concord): Up and coming jazz stars -- Logan Richardson (alto sax) is the one I've been most impressed with, but also Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Matthew Stevens (guitar), Gerald Clayton (piano), Kris Bowers (keybs), Ben Williams (bass), Jamire Williams (drums), plus a couple guest spots for Christian Scott (trumpet), covering rock and rap tunes. For the most part, the instrumentation and flexibility win out, the songs losing their character and melding together into nothing much at all. B-
Kassa Overall: Stargate Mixtape (2011, Greedhead): Drummer, has some jazz cred working with Geri Allen and Peter Evans, some hip-hop with Das Racist and Kool AD, tries his own mixtape, rapping a little, along with the flow. No doc on who does what, where the samples come from, or whatever. A- [dl]
Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory: Elements of Light (2013, Rough Trade): German electronica producer Hendrik Weber goes with the bells this time -- rack bells, hand bells, blossom bells, tubular bells, dobachis, gong, triangle, vibes, marimba, waterphone, all sorts of drums and percussion -- and winds up with a nice slice of ambience. B+(**)
Madeleine Peyroux: The Blue Room (2013, Emarcy): Jazz singer, close in style and phrasing to Billie Holiday, comes up with an interesting song selection this time, most successfully country tunes ("Take These Chains," "Born to Lose," "I Can't Stop Loving You," "You Don't Know Me"), although the real prize is Randy Newman's "Guilty," which shines clear of Vince Mendoza's strings -- something otherwise promising songs from Leonard Cohen and Warren Zevon fail at. B+(**)
Pissed Jeans: Honeys (2013, Sub Pop): Hardcore, I guess, from Allentown, PA, which left them with a chip on their shoulders. Wonder if I'd like them better if I could lift the words out of the murk, but when I can, I don't. B-
Pye Corner Audio: Black Mill Tapes Volume 1: Avant Shards (2010, self-released, EP): Described as a selection of 1/4" and cassette tape transfers, this has an old-fashioned synth sound, mild ambient rather than danceable, short at 27:11. B+(*) [bc]
Pye Corner Audio: Black Mill Tapes Volume 2: Do You Synthesize? (2011, self-released, EP): Same idea, similar sense that we're dealing with an earlier generation of synths, but the emphasis leads to more variety, even if the final fadeout is pure ambience. A bit longer at 32:46, but that's just what you can stream -- the product packages seem to vary. B+(*) [bc]
Pye Corner Audio: Black Mill Tapes Volume 3: All Pathways Open (2012, self-released): At 12 tracks, 44:06 (plus a higher list price), we won't tag this one as an EP. The guy who assembled these "tape transfers" calls himself the Head Technician. Still, these feel less like technical exercises than basic IDM, which is more than just the addition of some beats (although the beats are critical). B+(**) [bc]
Rhye: Woman (2013, Polydor): Electronica merger, Milosh (Mike Milosh, from Canada but living in Berlin) and Quadron (Robin Hannibal, from Denmark), first album. Not much beat to it, and no idea about the singer (reportedly Milosh mimicking Sade). B
Carrie Rodriguez: Give Me All You Got (2013, Ninth Street Opus): Country singer, plays fiddle, came up working with songwriter Chip Taylor, went solo in 2008 and continues to get her act together. B+(**)
Caitlin Rose: The Stand-In (2013, ATO): Third album for the singer-songwriter, has a countryish matter-of-fact style and can belt them out. B+(*)
Boz Scaggs: Memphis (2013, 429): Old coot cranks out an easy-going blues album, working in a Steely Dan song for a jazz tinge. Not sure if his voice is shot or he's just resting it, nor that it matters. B+(**)
Sex Mob: Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti: Sex Mob Plays Fellini (2013, The Royal Potato Family): Meaning the music of Nino Rota, of course. The group -- Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Briggan Krauss (alto/baritone sax), Tony Scherr (electric bass), Kenny Wollesen (percussion) -- has been around since 1998, aiming (mostly) at avant-jazz takes on pop culture (Sex Mob Does Bond was an early title). Fellini may seem high-brow, but they rough him up plenty, much of the music still tends toward the sublime. B+(***)
The Slide Brothers: Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers (2013, Concord): Sacred pedal steel "icons" -- Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell, Aubrey Ghent -- serve up eleven gospelish blues covers, with "My Sweet Lord" the furthest stretch and sorriest result. B
Son Volt: Honky Tonk (2013, Rounder): Jay Farrar's post-Uncle Tupelo group, founded 1995, shelved 1999, returned 2005. Title suggests a deeper twang to the usual country-rock, but this settles into a pleasant, dusty sameness, like the abused plains. B+(*)
Alexander Spit: A Breathtaking Trip to That Otherside (2013, Decon): Underground rapper, the beats functional even though he's hoping to hop around the universe. B+(**)
Peter Stampfel & the Ether Frolic Mob: The Sound of America (2013, Frederick Productions/Red Newt): Can't find credits so don't know where these songs came from, much less who beyond the utterly unmistakable leader sings or plays, but "Deep in the Heart of Texas" is a cover given previously unfathomed depth, and the others are most likely relative obscurities. The group dynamic is hootenany with a dash of Spike Jones. A-
Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob (2013, Vapor/Sire): Canadian duo, started folkie but have fleshed their sound out with pop hooks and rock drums. Gives them a sound, all right, and I suspect they have some songs, but none grabbed me right away. B+(**)
They Might Be Giants: Nanobots (2013, Idlewild): Hard to overstate how much I loved their eponymous 1986 debut, but nothing since then has come anywhere close, and there's been an awful lot of it. Not that they haven't produced witty songs -- just nothing so deliciously sublime. This one is tempting. For one thing the music seems tougher and more sinewy than usual, and of course there's much to think about, including yet another song about Tesla. For it does drag on for 25 songs: excess remains their trademark. B+(***)
Richard Thompson: Electric (2013, New West): Thirty years since Shoot Out the Lights and he still sounds incomplete, although he's standing up strong on his own, his anger toned down -- aside from a song about needing his enemy -- the tempos moderate, no more guitar flash than is needed to sustain his rep, and he saves the good stuff for the closer. B+(**)
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience (2013, RCA): Boy group crooner turned dance-pop star, although he didn't spend the seven-year gap between his second and third albums working very hard, at least on the music -- the best stuff here sounds like watered-down Prince ("Strawberry Bubblegum" most explicitly). A couple morsels could pan out -- "Tunnel Vision" tempted me, but then I played it again. B+(*)
Torres: Torres (2013, self-released): Debut album, songs credited to Mackenzie Scott, 22, Nashville-based, no whiff of country in her voice or guitar -- more like Liz Phair, but slower, deeper into herself, less inclined to just say "fuck it," which is what this introspection needs. B+(**)
Waxahatchee: American Weekend (2012, Don Giovanni): Played this year-old debut after the new one. Eleven songs, 33:50, Feels crude and cramped, the voice struggling to be heard over the guitar strum, succeeding when she tones it down. B+(*)
Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt (2013, Don Giovanni): Katie Crutchfield, who had a punk band called P.S. Eliot with her twin sister Allison, alone here, sounding very alone with little but guitar shaping small songs on everyday subjects -- although occasional bass and drums adds muscle and flesh without detracting from the singer. A-
Omri Ziegele/Yves Theiler: Inside Innocence (2012 , Intakt): Sax-piano duets, same format as Ziegele's superb Where's Africa only substituting for the redoubtable Irène Schweizer. The previous album worked in large part because it cut against expectations into the mainstream. This one is more avant, abstract, except for some poetry. B+(*)
Tuesday, March 26. 2013
by Michael Tatum
It would be downright unprofessional for a rock critic to blame his occasional unpunctuality on "writer's block," but every now and then it certainly does feel that way. Then again, as far as inspiration goes, the artists aren't helping -- this has been an exceptionally dry month, and only one record in my current top ten is likely to be there by year's end. Maybe late March is a little too soon to declare an arts world recession, but I sure hope things pick up soon.
David Greenberger/Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound: They Like Me Around Here (Pel Pel) Commissioned by Sheboygan, Wisconsin's John Michael Kohler Arts Center for "Hiding Places," a multimedia exhibition devoted to exploring the relationship between art and memory, David Greenberger's newest batch of spoken word pieces based on conversations with octogenarians, nonagenarians, and centenarians doesn't differ thematically from anything he's curated previously. But with a real live backing band supplanting multi-instrumentalist Mark Greenberg's overdubs, Paul Cebar's arrangements are more playfully interactive than those on 2012's Tell Me That Before, and although Mac Perkins' bluesy call-and-response routine on that father-son recollection evoke Saturday Night Live at its corniest, in fact vaudevillian humor enlivened by the delightfully sideways logic of his geriatric charges is the idea: is "Nemo" a gender appropriate name for a female butterfly? Are "sentimentality" and "utilitarianism" really polar opposites? And would a father in Newton, Illinois really send for toys in nearby Quincy to perpetuate his children's belief in Santa Claus? I object to "The Thrill," in which we are set up to expect a tawdry sex story and in fact get a profound meditation on skydiving, mainly because the original speaker clearly didn't intend the double entendre implied by Cebar's musical misdirection. But I'm absolutely amazed by a piece in which a narrator's mother secretly votes for the first time in Woodrow Wilson's 1912 presidential election. At least I think it's 1912, because 1916 was Wilson's re-election. But wait a minute: only nine states (none of them Wisconsin) allowed women to vote that year. And Wilson didn't come out for women's suffrage until 1918, when political pressure forced him into it. Come to think of it, only Theodore Roosevelt included women's suffrage in his platform, and he split the Republican vote with Howard Taft, one more shift to the red state-blue state schism we're stuck in today. So who got her vote? That's the poignant, regrettably fragile thing about our memories -- we may never know, even when we think we do. A
Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose (Warner Bros.) No matter how many longtime residents of the 37203 zip code you might suspect are hiding up in the rafters pulling Hippie Annie's strings, it's Monroe's youthful sensibility -- indeed, the sensibility she shares with Kacey Musgraves and her Pistol Annies cohorts -- that rejuvenates these agreeable variations on the usual workaday moon-June-shotgun honeymoon tropes. Vince Gill's sparkling neo-trad production, fine as it is, could be anybody's (and often has been), and the nine outside song doctors do aid and abet Monroe's treatment of the standard Music Row subjects (paying the rent, unwanted pregnancy, good girl gone bad), but Monroe gets more mileage out of their meddlin' than someone twice her age precisely because at this point in time, mapping out the lives of working class post-millennial kids is undiscovered country. And with Miranda Lambert the exception and most likely the linchpin, not since the halcyon days of Dolly and Loretta has someone in this notoriously patriarchal genre this young gotten away with expressing her irascible self rather than solely depending on some hack to hand her a script, something you can't say about Kellie Pickler or (God knows) Carrie Underwood. Admittedly, Dolly and Loretta had a better developed sense of humor: although the karaoke contest in the gratifyingly broad Blake Shelton duet "You Ain't Dolly (and You Ain't Porter)" becomes even more amusing when you remember who wrote "I Will Always Love You" and for whom, the two cheeky Fifty Shades of Grey references are asinine if not downright repugnant. Let's be frank: the male protagonists in the current tidal wave of erotica are billionaires because when a rich man hits you, it's sexy, but when your trailer park sweetie hits you, it's domestic violence, a "distinction" that the author of "Gunpowder and Lead" would clear up straight away. But when Monroe abjures puns and novelty -- virginity lost in a painfully observed ballad, secret lovers treating each other cruelly in public -- you'll know who gives the Pistol Annies their soul. In the meantime, I await Angaleena Presley's solo album. A
Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer, Different Park (Mercury Nashville) As reality show singing competitions go, Nashville Star is no less meretriciously sappy than American Idol, yet it's somehow managed to produce two major artists where Idol has only squeezed out (and let's be kind here) around 0.5. Although I missed Miranda Lambert's television debut in season one (I caught up the year after, when the presumably predominately female viewership voted for snoozy Brad Cotter and George Canyon over endearingly goofy Roger Miller disciple Matt Lindahl) my best explanation for that statistical anomaly is that unlike Idol, which grooms contestants for the stultifying eventuality they will have little control over what minuscule career lays ahead of them, Star encourages versatility: singing of course, but also, crucially, songwriting. This native of Sulphur Springs, Texas (season five, finished seventh out of a field of nine) hasn't yet cultivated a distinctive vocal style, which may explain her disappointing placing. Instead, she lets her pleasing but plain-jane alto serve as the vehicle for her impressive songwriting, which though Musgraves herself would deny it, bucks traditional country hits-plus-filler philosophy by adhering to the Taylor Swift strategy, i.e., cultivating a strong batch of top ten potentials. In fact, despite Musgraves' downwardly-mobile greasy-spoon-waitress-makes-good aura, such homiletic bromides as "Silver Lining" and "Follow Your Arrow" sit firmly in the Swiftian tradition, except the more worldly Musgraves a) has no qualms shooting down sexist double standards, and b) extols bongloads and boys (". . . .or girls, if that's what you're into") as a corrective. You could argue there's more to heaven and earth than what is dreamt in her somewhat narrow philosophy, that dulling the pain of small town boredom with sex, dope, and consumer culture is no way to get off the merry go round common to blue states, as well as red. I say after years of Stepford blondes this twenty-four year old is a step in the right direction, and that's she's just getting started. A
The Rough Guide to Cumbia (World Music Network) Perhaps Senegal is on my mind because of that Rough Guide compilation I reviewed last month, but comparing that West African nation's music to the cumbia-exporting countries of Colombia, Venezuela, etc. is instructive. Though heavily influenced by that style, the Senegalese music scene is highly competitive: artists vie for the top spot in national contests, ensembles compete against each other to snare a job as a nightclub's house band, with individual members often defecting when a particularly good opportunity presents itself -- or, at least that's how it's always seemed after years of reading dramatic liner notes. By contrast, South American musicians aren't tribal so much as communal, often playing on each other's records, toiling for the handful of labels that dominate the market -- note that the majority of the songs on this compilation are borrowed from the cumbia kingpins at Disco Fuentes. I don't know what that says about Latin-African cultural differences, but I do know that on a good mbalax compilation, songs leap out, fight to distinguish themselves. On a good cumbia compilation -- like this one -- the songs string together seamlessly, with few clunkers spoiling the party, yet few tracks where you say to say yourself, "Oh man, I gotta hear that one again." Excepting the irritating opener "La Guacharaca" (named after the percussion instrument that supposedly inspired it, though "La Fluta" or "El Hustle" might be more appropriate, if anachronistic) this survey is as listenable as any I've ever heard, but boasts no peaks or climaxes, even when the music incorporates "rock" or even "hip hop" elements as a corrective to its inherent gentility. That's why I hope some smart person lassos up more of the artist on the (once again) excellent bonus disc from Los Corraleros de Majagual, whose plentiful hooks are as cheap as their esmoquines. I'll take a chatty accordion over a long-winded flute any day. A
Salva: Odd Furniture (Friend of Friends, EP) Paul Salva's 2011 debut Complex Housing isn't exactly a wash beat-wise, but it nevertheless suffers from the same musical vagaries that plague so many up and coming laptop musicians. This 5-track quickie, the title of which I can only assume is a snide jab at Tyler, the Creator's quickly disintegrating Ottoman empire, snaps to attention in the first bar with an enticing lickety-split rhythm that loops yet another obscure rapper you've never heard of: "You at the club/Every weekend/Bitch/Get a life," which even before the sampled cuíca and cell phone join the fun signal Salva's game: stupid dance music for smart people. Sure, you could complain about Salva dropping the b-word yet again into the hook for the next song, but who can resist the percussive drive of what suggests a dozen typewriters clacking in unison, accented by the whirr of a camera's rapidly advancing motor drive? Boosters insist that hip hop has always been one weapon in this producer's arsenal, but I'm betting his popular 2012 dancefloor remix of Kanye West's "Mercy" convinced him that a heavier dose of it would imbue his two-step with some much needed personality. There are some of those for whom a hook like "back back back back back back it up" repeated over and over at least a hundred times would be akin to Chinese water torture. If, like me, you're one of those people who would blast such a song over and over at the expense of your significant other's mental health, you know what to do. A
Serengeti: Saal (Graveface) I conceive Dave Cohn as sort of a hip hop John Cheever, constantly churning out snapshot vignettes illuminating the details of his place and time, with subcultural ne'er-do-wells replacing the gin-and-tonic set. Unlike Cheever however, whose main outlet still publishes forty-seven times a year, it's probably difficult to convince your otherwise sympathetic record label to pop out another dozen or so songs every time you're ready, nor will beatmasters always have copacetic beats lying around with which to frame your never ending cascade of stories. Nevertheless, the inexhaustible Cohn leapfrogs from collaborator to collaborator, label to label, exhibiting productivity so fecund you wonder why Ryan Adams even bothers. Here he's once again in avant-mode, teaming up with German minimalist musician Tobias Vethake, who provides sparse arrangements consisting of guitar, bells, and cello, against which Cohn sets some of his bleakest narratives: a lazy boyfriend who manipulates his codependent girlfriend from the comfort of his couch, a sorry creep who crashes an ex's wedding wearing a clown nose, a husband who wishes he could redo a ruined evening with his wife, who's most likely lying in the next room as he ruminates in self-pity. The wordplay is so astonishing it would be a shame if his fans lost them in the stillness of Vethake's subtle settings: an abusive mom who gives her karate-loving son "belts and stripes," a pimp who hates tennis because of "the rackets, the courts, the scoring/the time honored tradition." Think Cohn can keep this up for another thirty years, until someone consolidates his greatest hits in one capacious volume? Ask me again in three months. A
They Might Be Giants: Nanobots (Idlewild/Megaforce) In the bizarro world of Brooklyn's John Linnell and John Flansburgh, catchy tunes are like prime numbers: a multitude endlessly spiraling into infinity, mind-bogglingly random in their pattern, and when a new one is discovered, only MIT students give a shit. But though their cleverness quotient is such one figures they might one day prove Riemann's Hypothesis, it hasn't made for great longplayers since their 1986 indie debut, nor have they been able to take full advantage of the band they hired when they realized two men and a drum machine wasn't enough, and the pabulum albums they've released on their own label in the past decade have failed to make a case for autobot autonomy. That's what makes this record such a mindbender -- a dizzying song cycle suggesting the second side of Abbey Road infused with the spirit of Weird Al's polka medleys that dazzles whether the song length is three minutes or thirty seconds. While it goes without saying your subconscious won't know what to wake up humming the next morning, it's worth noting that while their usual modus operandi is to load up their tunes into an airgun, fire away, and see what sticks to the wall, here the tunes aren't just means without ends, they're often appropriated for devious cross-purposes: a sweetly meandering melody for a nonchalantly amoral drone pilot, a poignantly touching threnody for Nikola Tesla, two indelible bars of a saloon-styled singalong protesting Lyme Disease. The bouncy "You're On Fire" proves they've had sex enough times to figure out how to craft an irresistible dance song. In "Stone Cold Coup D'état," they don't just employez une expression étrangère quand anglaise suffira -- they do it twice! And in the rollicking, outrageous, and oh-so-true "Call You Mom" Linnell unashamedly dons a sailor suit and gets down to business with his own Oedipal Complex. The men don't know, but the perpetually boyish nerds understand. The men are missing out. A
Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni) While this unquestionably eclipses American Weekend's hollow bedroom demos, it would be hyperbole to claim former P.S. Eliot bandleader Katie Crutchfield has suddenly transformed her new brand from an art project into a working band. For one thing, the bass and drums -- both commandeered by roommates, one of whom happens to be her boyfriend -- drop in casually and intermittently: she arranges her opener solely for her voice and electric guitar, adds unobtrusive bass and tom-toms to the one that follows, and in both you forlornly wish the assertive crack of a snare drum would jolt the music out of its blankly wide-eyed detachment. Of course "intimacy" is one of Crutchfield's cardinal selling points, much like the early Liz Phair, who Crutchfield resembles in both her vulnerable candor and flattened alto, and certainly Exile in Guyville had its share of austerity, mooniness, woolgathering. But Phair also possessed a shrewd talent for pacing -- on Guyville, the startling immediacy of "6'1"" and "Help Me Mary" grab your attention before segueing into more challenging, nuanced material. Here, Crutchfield rounds out her first half with the loping brushstick pattern of the vaugely country-flavored "Lips and Limbs," another solo turn, then a slow-burning dirge where bass and drums provide the only accompaniment. It's not until track six -- a relationship metaphor disguised as tour van reminiscence, scuzzed up with grungy swirls of electric guitar -- that the players quit fooling around and start acting like a real band, and that song ends prematurely after an economic verse-chorus-verse in 1:46. Yet because Crutchfield no longer sings as if emoting to an opened guitar case or the dirty clothes littering her bedroom floor, now you can finally absorb her highly literate, deeply personal lyrics -- a bitterly observed wedding, an unnerving heroin confession, repressed anger boiling over on the blistering "Misery Over Dispute." And while I'm not sure the meaning of life is learning to "embrace the lows," there's enough spirit in her that I'm betting -- hoping, anyway -- that she rights herself before that swan dive into the asphalt. A
Wussy: Berneice Huff and Son, Bill Sings . . . Popular Favorites (Shake It free download) Sort of like the Beatles' Live at the BBC, except, well, the Beatles never gave it away for free ("Nomenclature," "Retarded," "Runaway") ***
Chelsea Light Moving: Chelsea Light Moving (Matador) Finds out the hard way that muculent riffs and laughably ersatz beat poetry are no way to sever the Gordonian knot ("Sleeping as I Fall," "Lip") **
Nuru Kane: Exile (Riverboat) Well-traveled Senegalese singer-songwriter-bassist does a little bit of this, a little of that, but sometimes I just wish he'd settle for making me dance ("Afrika," "Bayil") **
Marcos Valle: Previsão do Tempo (Light in the Attic) Brazilian singer-songwriter's unearthed 1973 record delights when it presages Tom Zé, intrigues when it celebrates classic tropicalia, and annoys when it blithely sails on The Love Boat ("Mentira (Chega de Mentira)," "Nem Paletó Nem Gravata") **
Richard Thompson: Electric (New West) Siobhan Maher Kennedy plays the Linda role, but not so much Richard would cede her an album credit ("Another Small Thing in Her Favour," "Where's Home?") *
Golden Grrrls: Golden Grrrls (Slumberland) I know there's no money or glory in being labeled the rightful heirs to Standard Fare, but they could up their Kelly Blue Book value by doling out their cute melodies one at a time ("Time Goes Slow," "Date It") *
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra: The Jazz Age (BMG) Don't get me wrong -- nobody likes parlor tricks, shell games, and pomo mind fucks more than I do. And for Bryan Ferry to "validate" the music he once drolly parodied by releasing an album of flapper-era recastings of eleven of his copyrights (six Roxy, seven solo) rather than the usual rehashing of the great American Songbook is pretty funny, and certainly the live-to-mono recording and pianist Colin Good's startling arrangements provide that soupçon of "authenticity." It's also downright ludicrous. Sure, the jitterbugging "Do the Strand" would have made a nifty epilogue to Roxy's For Your Pleasure. But Ferry's long suit has never really been melody -- "Love is the Drug" is many things: a dance floor classic, lead off to landmark album, the blueprint on which Duran Duran forged their sorry careers, and a great vehicle for Bryan's spiffy white tuxedo, but not necessarily a stellar tune. And stellar tunes are what Louis Armstrong and the like were elaborating on when they weren't pulling them out of thin air. I suppose it would have been fascinating to hear Louis and the Hot Fives run "Virginia Plain" or, hell, maybe even "This Island Earth" through some changes. Cornetist/trumpeter Enrico Tomasso is no Armstong. C
Iceage: You're Nothing (What's Your Rupture?) Many bloggers have accused this Danish quartet of dealing in crypto-fascism, most persuasively Scott Creney, who cites their appropriation of suspect iconography (hooded figures, Iron Crosses), their support of right-leaning bands (such as the National Socialist German death metal band Absurd), and lead singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt's racially-charged drawings. I've also seen plenty of passionate rebuttals -- many point out drummer Dan Kjaer Nielsen is Jewish, and I've even read a testimonial from guitarist Johan Surballe Wieth's mum, who notes the band's concern over the disconcerting populist influence of the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party. I'm sure that's true. But the band has thus far been unwilling to attach their loaded imagery and whatnot to meaningful context either in print or on record -- like Nixon or Reagan, Ronnenfelt continually blames the "media" for misconceptions he's evasive about clearing up. Me myself, I hardly think they goosestep even in the privacy of their own homes -- like the pathetic young punks in my neighborhood sushi joint who bedeck their walls with swastikas, I suspect they're attracted not to ideology, but shock value: they want to be perceived as dangerous, and I'm willing to bet they didn't expect their music to be famous enough outside of Europe so that they'd have to justify their dubious ruses to, say, the American press. I suppose it's easier for me to dismiss this band's sophomore effort because it's less hooky than 2011's New Brigade if equally inscrutable lyrically, but their continuing ambivalence to align themselves anywhere politically -- nothing deeper than the passive "this is what we see and feel" -- is disturbing, and I don't mean aesthetically. The Ramones may have dabbled in this shit too, but Joey and the gang yanked it by the nose and gave it an eye poke, undercutting their brutality with a gleefulness and charity these Danes suspiciously lack. What are they tearing down? What do they want to erect in its place? I have no idea. But nothing in these forbiddingly ascetic anthems for weekend stormtroopers tempts me to find out. B
Jamie Lidell: Jamie Lidell (Warp) "People in the house! Make some noise for MICHAEL SEMBELLOOOO!" B
Pissed Jeans: Honeys (Sub Pop) Less incontinent pants than incompetent rants. B
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell: Old Yellow Moon (Nonesuch) Author of best song: Roger Miller, rounded out by more questionable entries by Patti Scialfa, Matraca Berg, Kris Kristofferson, Crowell himself, and hmmm, some guys from Harris' 70s touring band. C+
The Joy Formidable: Wolf's Law (Atlantic) Ritzy Bryan's Welsh prog-rock trio will never catch on in America -- doesn't she know Rush fans are terrified of women? C
Grouper: The Man Who Died in His Boat (1-2-3-4-Go) Q: What do you call a hundred Enya imitators at the bottom of the ocean? A: a good start. D+
Monday, March 25. 2013
Music: Current count 21188  rated (+24), 595  unrated (+9).
Relatively light week, or maybe just a lot of distractions. One of my cousins, George Edward Hull, died so I attended to various family matters. Finished my project to add some wing shelves around the medicine cabinet in the downstairs half-bath. Listened to the Machito Properbox and wrote it up for April's Recycled Goods. Spent some time fleshing out the Rhapsody Streamnotes March file, which I'll post later this week.
Not really enough Jazz Prospecting below to bother with, but I might as well get it out of the way. Jazz Prospecting from Feb. 2012 up to this week now has its own archive section. (Before that, Jazz Prospecting was collected with the Jazz Consumer Guide, so there was one prospecting file per finished column.)
Michael Blanco: No Time Like the Present (2012 , Cognitive Dissonance): Bassist, based in New York, has a previous album on FSNT. New one is a sleek postbop quintet, with John Ellis on tenor and soprano sax, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar, David Cook on piano, and Mark Ferber on drums. Ellis does a nice job rifling through the changes. Blanco composed all the tunes, reserving one for his solo spot. B+(*)
Stan Bock & the New Tradition: Feelin' It (2012 , OA2): Plays trombone and euphonium, studied music at Fort Hays State and University of Northern Iowa, spent 19 years in the USAF band; moved to Portland, OR, and has three albums since 2003. Sextet, with two saxes (Renato Caranto and John Nastos), keybs (Clay Giberson), electric bass (Tim Gilson) and drums (Christopher Brown, also credited with alto sax). Bock wrote 4 of 13 songs, Nastos adding 3, Giberson 1, with covers from Cole Porter to Joe Zawinul to Leonard Bernstein. First cut is engagingly slippery, but much of the rest is more conventional. B+(*)
Hungry Cowboy: Dance (2010 , Prom Night): Quartet led by Jacob Wick (trumpet, compositions), with Briggan Krauss (sax), Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), and Mike Pride (drums) -- Krauss you know from Sex Mob, and Pride shows up lots of places. First group album; Wick seems to have a couple other albums (duo with Andrew Greenwald, trio with Jeff Kimmel and David Moré, group Tres Hongos and another, White Rocket). Avant horn split, loses a bit when they slow down. [bandcamp] B+(**) [advance]
Jack Mouse Group: Range of Motion (2012 , Origin): Drummer, did a tour with the USAF's Falconaires. First album; has a handful of side credits, half behind singer Janice Borla. He wrote all the pieces here (sharing one), for a typical postbop group: Scott Robinson (saxes, flute), Art Davis (trumpet), John McLean (guitar), Bob Bowman or Kelly Sill (bass). Some nice passages, especially for the horns. B+(*)
Dick Reynolds: Music & Friends (2012 , Origin): Pianist, based in Chicago, seems to be his first album although he's an old-timer, a professional musician at least since the 1960s. He wrote all the pieces here, several explicitly tributes (Ruben Alvarez, Johnny Frigo, Nancy Wilson, Carol Ettman, Ben Mocini, Stan Getz), and his friends list is extensive. The four big band cuts are crackling, the piano solo at the end a sweet coda. B+(*)
Twins of El Dorado: Portend the End (2012 , Prom Night): Art song duo, Kristin Slipp on voice (singing is a stretch) and Joe Moffett on trumpet, with a guest lyric from Emily Dickinson. Slipp's previous credits include three albums with Cuddle Magic. This is pretty arch, although the trumpet helps. [bandcamp] B-
Mark Weinstein: Todo Corazon: The Tango Album (2012 , Jazzheads): Flute player, sixteen albums since 1996, figured out early that Latin music suits his instrument, and has delved most deeply into Cuban music, with forays into Brazil and now Argentina. Can't fault his planning: Raul Jaurena is the real thing on bandoneon, and he hired bassist Pablo Aslan to arrange the classic tunes. Still comes off awfully flat. Maybe it's the flute? B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Saturday, March 23. 2013
In my books research, I came across a new anti-Obama hate book, David Harsanyi's Obama's Four Horsemen: The Disasters Unleashed by Obama's Reelection (2013, Regnery). The book description (at Amazon) reads:
I don't really feel like arguing these points, even though they are pretty severely disconnected from reality. The national debt, for example, is a problem -- and even then not much of one -- only if its growth isn't matched by growth of the economy, so attempts to "solve the debt crisis" by austerity, forcibly slowing down the economy, are counterproductive and irresponsible. One worries here that Obama and the Democrats, having bought into long-term national debt problem, will shy away from policies that would actually provide the necessary growth.
As for all those "takers" -- you know, the 47% who pay no income tax but live high on government hog -- that shouldn't be something one can argue about. If all those people consciously depend so much on government largesse, they should be aware enough to vote to protect their interest, since their votes and the national conscience are the only things that keep the dole coming. But do they vote? Most don't: because they aren't all that impressed by the federal bounty and/or because they regard the politicians of both parties are crooked.
The Inside Flap explains the four horsemen somewhat differently, with debt and dependency followed by "surrender" -- "the Obama administration kowtows to dictators, apologizes to those who hate us, refuses to defend American ideals, and is actively working to undo our superpower status" -- and "death" -- abortion, of course, which under Obama "is a positive good, to be subsidized and even exported at taxpayer expense." One only wishes, but that's another story.
As I've explained before, the whole mantra that "Obama hates America" is ridiculous from the start. America elected Obama president, twice, by substantial margins. How could someone with the ego to run for president have so little self-regard to hate a country that honors him so? You have to wonder if the real enemies of the real America -- the one that twice voted Obama president -- aren't the ones who hate Obama, and who have graduated from hating the leader to loathing all who voted for him. The right-wing may still love their idea of America -- it's just the folks who live and work here they can't stand.
Consider this: one of Amazon's reviewers quotes the book (p. 54):
Aside from the nonsensical evidence -- those mortgage bailouts never happened (unless, of course, you owned a bank), and "subsidized contraception" is a cost-savings measure for the still private health insurance racket; what's subsidized is health insurance for people who can't afford it, which is equally a subsidy for the whole health care industry -- the striking thing here is the complete inversion of common sense.
Harsanyi seems to believe that there is a state of nature without government where "we" are richer and more moral (ignoring the fact that much of western culture has been very suspicious of the morality of the rich). Let's be generous and call this state Eden, inasmuch as he seems to view government as Original Sin. Needless to say, his view is at odds with the traditional conservative position, which is that we need the state, both with its monopoly of force within the army and police and with its administrative bureaucracy, in order to force the masses to be more moral, to support the established social order, and to make (at least the leaders of that order) richer.
As for his fear of robbing the rich for the benefit of the poor, that classic trope (at least as "Robin Hood") dates back to the Middle Ages, way before liberalism and the modern bureaucratic state -- but alas not before the rich learned how to use state force and laws to exploit the poor. Throughout history, it's been the downtrodden, the poor, and those who imagined a more equitable order, who had most reason to fear the state. Only with the invention of democracy did it become possible for the masses to imagine using nonviolent votes to get a fairer shake. What Harsanyi and his ilk fear is that too many people -- especially young people -- have discovered how to do just that.
So they rail against the people's choice, damning all government, decrying any hint of redistributing the nation's wealth, declaring the very thought to be immoral, and damning those who dare think it to their long-winded, deeply paranoid wrath. In effect, what they are saying is that the people made the wrong choice, so to hell with the people. They're admitting that democracy worked against them, so they aim to subvert democracy. (Examples abound, from voter ID laws to unlimited campaign spending to Scalia's campaign to void civil rights law.) And most ominously, they insist on taking absolutist positions: their opposition to abortion becomes a defense of rapists, their absolute defense of gun rights becomes cover for criminals and license for crackpots, their "line in the sand" on taxes bankrupts the country and denies even themselves real services of government. They're nuts, divorced from reality, estranged from their neighbors, and spiteful, willing to cut off their own legs to make sure you immoral sluts can't catch a break.
A couple years ago John Amato and David Neiwert wrote a short book: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press). They barely scratched the surface, and never quite got to the heart of the problem. That seems to be here, in Harsanyi's delusions.
Thursday, March 21. 2013
Ten years ago this week George W. Bush launched his war against Iraq. He was almost solely responsible for the act, at least in the sense that had he decided not to go to war he would have met virtually no resistance. Yet he also had little real choice: he was a mental slave to the logic that had led his father to attack Iraq in 1991, and that had prevented either Bush or Clinton from making any serious effort to normalize Iraq. Moreover, he was still smitten by the political euphoria his father had briefly enjoyed when the 1991 war had initially seemed so successful, and he was convinced that his own "tougher resolve" would lock in the same political euphoria, allowing him to build up "political capital" for ever greater feats, like war with Iran, or wrecking social security.
Invading Iraq turned out to be a surprisingly difficult political play, especially compared to the utter ease with which Bush was able to sink the US military into a hopeless quagmire in Afghanistan -- one that, needless to say, still saps US forces while remaining as far as ever from resolution. Many figures came forth declaring Iraq "a war of choice," "the wrong war" (as compared to Afghanistan), but for me the real wrong choice was Afghanistan, especially following Bush's wholehearted support of Ariel Sharon's destruction of the Oslo Peace Process in Israel/Palestine. In an unguarded moment, Bush himself referred to his efforts to bend the Middle East to his will as a new "crusade": his "born again" certainty reinforcing the hubris of America's anti-communist triumphalism.
This was all clear at the time. And while I wrote little about Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11 -- my website barely existed then, I spent the month following 9/11 away from home, and I had yet to grasp the event's political importance -- by 2003 I was writing regularly. When I grep "Iraq" in my notebook file, I fish up more than 4000 lines. I thought I'd quote a few of them, mostly from March-April 2003, a few earlier (including one from Sept. 11, 2001), ending with a couple from August 2003. Reading through them, I see that I'm missing a lot of detail, especially the whole WMD controversy (a bogus argument if ever I've heard one).
Of course, much more happened after August 2003, and at least some of that shows up in subsequent posts. Then there are the books: I've read at least thirty specifically on Afghanistan and Iraq, another twenty on the Bush administration and the more general War on Terror. Of those, the Bremer administration is pretty well documented, except for the decision to put an idiot like Bremer in charge in the first place -- that's one thing I've never even seen a plausible denial on. After that, from mid-2004 to 2007, the history gets much harder to come by -- the US, especially with Khalilzad, becomes very secretive, and the whole country becomes dangerously inhospitable to reporters. From 2007 on, you get a lot of pro-military hype, especially from the platoon of Petraeus sycophants -- one of the few exceptions here is Nir Rosen's Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2011).
Many of the books are commented on (and some extensively quoted) in the books section, but it will take another post to properly index and annotate them.
More (much more) after the break . . .
Continue reading "Ten Years of Infamy"
Monday, March 18. 2013
Music: Current count 21164  rated (+33), 586  unrated (-16).
Healthy rated count, split between Jazz Prospecting below and Rhapsody Streamnotes, which may come out late this week or early next -- it's still pretty thin, both quantity and quality, with the only real find more than a presidential term old. Didn't come up with an A- record this week -- closest was Mikrokolektyw, which took about five plays before I decided the droney start should weigh in. (Similar complaint about Blaser starting slow, but that would be the runner up.) So I figured I'd rerun the Lovano pic: I wrote that album up as an A- in last month's Rhapsody Streamnotes, and a copy showed up in this week's mail.
A Downloader's Diary is coming in slow again, but I'd like to note that I got Tatum's review of David Greenberger/Paul Cebar's They Like Me Around Here before Christgau reviewed it in Expert Witness. (My own Jazz Prospecting A- note came out back on Feb. 18, so we'll call it a hat trick for an otherwise very obscure record.) He's also complained about the dearth of good new records. By my count, Christgau has only five new A- records in 2013 (Yo La Tengo, Parquet Courts, Ashley Monroe, David Greenberger/Paul Cebar, J Cole [EP]). I have 15, but 10 are jazz (or 11 if you count Greenberger/Cebar, or 12 of 16 if you count Miles Davis). Actually, I think good jazz releases have been coming along at a healthy clip. I'm just not so sure about everything else, but also I haven't been scouring the zines as closely as last year.
Neil Alexander: Darn That Dream: Solo Piano Vol. 1 (2011 , P-Dog): Pianist, looks like his second album, solo, mostly originals (obviously not the title song, here in two takes). Plays for dramatic impact, not unimpressive but leaves me cold. B-
Amikaeyla & Trelawny Rose: To Eva, With Love: A Celebration of Eva Cassidy Live! (2011, Patois): Two San Francisco singers on the make, backed by trombonist Wayne Wallace and his band. Songbook is from Evan Cassidy, who died at 33 of melanoma, had her records issue posthumously, and became something of a cult item -- I've only heard one of them, nothing there inspiring me to search further. This doesn't make me want to go back either, partly because the chances of her fronting a band this good are nil. The singers aquit themselves well, too. B+(*)
Amikaeyla: Being in Love (2012, Roots Jazz): Singer, based in Oakland, third album, wrote (or co-wrote) about half of these pieces, with covers from Jobim, Bill Withers, trad., and others -- an eclectic mix. Lots of guest spots, Weber Iago strings, a duet with "singing percussionist" Linda Tillery, flutes, pretty much the whole kitchen sink. Good singer overdoes it. B
Arnaoudov/Szymanski/Stefens/Pärt/Xenakis/Minchev: Sonograms (1974-97 , Labor): Those are the composers as their names appear on the cover and spine. They are postmodern/postclassical, and their pieces are performed by several Bulgarian musicians, usually solo, especially Benedikta Bonitz (recorders: 7 pieces) and Angela Tosheva (piano: also 7 pieces). There is one piece for string quartet (Steffens), one of the recorder pieces adds cello and Khandjari, another triangles, and one scales up to four recorders. Not quite minimalist nor merely abstract, the piano pieces have some teeth to them, and the recorders provide a nice contrast. I don't get much music like this these days, so it's hard to judge. B+(***)
Carlos Barbosa-Lima & the Havana String Quartet: Leo Brouwer: Beatlerianas (2012 , Zoho): Brouwer doesn't play here. He is a Cuban classical composer and guitarist, b. 1939, and he composed or arranged for guitar and/or string quartet the various pieces here, one quintet as early as 1957. Barbosa-Lima, b. 1944 in Brazil, plays guitar. The title piece is a string of seven Beatles songs, starting unimaginatively (for a string arranger) with "Eleanor Rigby" and ending (equally blah!) on "Penny Lane," with such obvious stops as "Yesterday" along the way. Even understood as kitsch it's hard to convey how awful it is. The later pieces do have some interest: Brouwer evidently had a modernist streak and he works some tough abstractions into the string mix. C+
Samuel Blaser Quartet: As the Sea (2011 , Hatology): Trombonist, from Switzerland, has a handful of albums since 2007. Quartet includes Marc Ducret on guitar, Bänz Oester on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. One title, four parts, 51:14 total. Starts slow and tentative, but builds up in interesting ways, especially when the guitarist works up a sweat, giving the trombone something to bounce off. Second album I've heard by him, but looks like he has a fair sampling on Bandcamp, including a solo: someone to explore further. B+(***) [advance, bandcamp]
Robb Cappelletto Group: !!! (2012 , self-released): Guitarist, from Canada, studied at York University, "grew up listening to prog metal as much as Wes Montgomery and Buddy Guy." First album, trio with John Maharaj on electric bass and Ahmed Mitchell on drums. B+(**)
Ken Hatfield Sextet: For Langston (2012 , Arthur Circle Music): Guitarist, close to ten albums since 1998. Langston, of course, is Hughes (1902-67), poet, essayist, activist, an icon of the Harlem Renaissance, and the lyricist for fourteen songs here. The singer is Hilary Gardner, possessing one of those soprano voices I often have trouble with, and her voice is smoothed out by Jamie Baum's flute -- a combination that gives this an arty flair. On the other hand, Hatfield's guitar is as tasty as ever, and I suppose people should know more about Hughes. B+(*)
Miho Hazama: Journey to Journey (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Tokyo, Japan; studied with Jim McNeely at Manhattan School of Music. First album, can't read the credits (microscopic pink-type-on-beige) but roughly speaking a big band (probably short in the brass section) plus a string quartet (Mark Feldman takes a solo). Half a dozen truly arresting passages pop out. B+(*)
Justin Horn: Hornology (2009 , Rotato): Singer-songwriter, studied at University of Idaho, based in Auckland, New Zealand. Qualifies for the jazz niche with his arrangements, notably a robust horn section. [bandcamp] B+(*)
Robert Hurst: Bob: A Palindrome (2001 , Bebob): Bassist, b. 1964 in Detroit, six albums since 1992 including two Unrehurst compilations, side credits include Wynton Marsalis. Draws in some big names here: Branford Marsalis (tenor/soprano sax), Bennie Maupin (alto flute, bass clarinet, tenor/soprano sax), Marcus Belgrave (trumpet/flugelhorn), Robert Glasper (piano/rhodes), Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums), Adam Rudolph (percussion). No track credits, not that it's hard to sort out the saxophonists. Liner notes mentions almost in passing that this was "originally recorded" in 2001: makes me wonder: (a) typo? (b) is this a newer recording? Everyone else goes way back, but Glasper would have been 23, two years shy of his debut. All Hurst pieces, at least one dating to 1985. No edge to the opening flute, but this picks up strength as its many facets emerge, even a thrilling bit of free thrash. B+(***)
Matt and the City Limits: Crash (2012, Island/Def Jam, EP): Singer-songwriter Matt Berman, debut, seven songs, 27:45, which combined with the major label made me think EP. Not really jazz, but he plays alto sax, keeps a tenor player at his side, and the drummer (Amir Williams) does more than keep time, and the guitarist picks out a solo rather than power through it. Intelligent songs and pretty good voice. Closes with an instrumental: "Bring It On Home to Me." B+(**)
Mikrokolektyw: Absent Minded (2012 , Delmark): Duo, from Wroclaw, Poland: Artur Majewski (trumpet, cornet) and Kuba Suchar (drums, percussion), both with electronics, which is to say pretty comparable to Chicago Underground Duo (Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor). Second album, at least on Delmark. Starts slow, agonizing drones mostly, but the pieces work out various rhythmic ideas, and in the end it depends on what the trumpet can do with, and beyond, them -- a lesson from Miles Davis' funk period, applies here too. B+(***)
Nicole Mitchell's Ice Crystal: Aquarius (2012 , Delmark): Flute player, b. 1967, based in Chicago where she's tapped into the AACM, intent on pursuing the avant-garde, but also for lack of flute specialists -- Frank Wess has dominated Downbeat's category poll for close to forty years, and he's main axe is the alto sax -- she's something of a mainstream star. I'm tempted to argue that the lack of good jazz flautists is no accident: the instrument has a limited expressive range and a high register distant from most harmony instruments; also that most jazz flautists are too rooted in classical, where they were at best pretty marginal (exceptions tend to be in Latin and other third world musics). I don't hate it all -- Sam Most's bebop is amusing enough, Robert Dick's bass flute is in its own world, James Newton and those Guadalupeans sure polished up David Murray's Creole -- but sometimes it seems that way. Credit Mitchell for steadfastly trying to make it work, as in this quartet where she finds a suitable partner in Jason Adasiewicz's vibes, or her rawest work with just bass and drums. B+(**)
Giovanni Moltoni: Tomorrow's Past (2012 , C#2 Music Productions): Guitarist, b. in Turin, Italy; has tought at Berklee since 1998. Fifth album, effectively a nice showcase for trumpeter Greg Hopkins, with Fernando Huergo on bass and Bob Tamagni on drums. Moltoni wrote 6 (of 9) songs, the others coming from the band (Hopkins 2, Huergo 1), his guitar weaving tastefully in and out. B+(**)
Dawn Oberg: Rye (2012 , Blossom Theory Music): Piano-playing singer-songwriter from San Francisco -- where "poets go to retox" -- second album, publicist tried to pass her off as the next Amy Rigby but her voice reminds me more of Dory Previn, and maybe the words as well. Literate -- lead song is "Girl Who Sleeps With Books" and she manages to rhyme Thucydides (and not just with Euripides) and name drop Fats Waller. B+(*)
Ron Oswanski: December's Moon (2012 , Palmetto): Organ player, also accordion and piano; studied at Manhattan School of Music; first album, with Tim Ries on sax, Jay Azzolina or John Abercrombie on guitar, John Patitucci on electric as well as acoustic bass. Stays away from soul jazz clichés. B+(*)
RJ and the Assignment: Deceiving Eyes (2012, self-released): Born in Chicago, based in Las Vegas, no indication of any other name pianist RJ is known by. His group, the Assignment, rotates three bassists and three drummers -- not sure I'd call that a group -- and slips in a saxophonist on two cuts, a singer on another. Half originals, with Herbie Hancock and Cedar Walton among the covers. Fine technique, moves along nicely. B+(*)
Troy Roberts: Nu-Jive 5 (2012 , XenDen): Saxophonist (probably alto), from Perth, Australia, fifth album (although only the second named Nu-Jive). Leads a quintet with guitar-bass-drums-keys, keeping up a steady funk beat which Roberts riffs over. Like many pop jazz saxophonists, he can stretch out, and unlike most he's willing to get a bit dirty. B+(*)
Dylan Ryan/Sand: Sky Bleached (2012 , Cuneiform): Rand is a drummer, hitherto mostly associated with the group Herculaneum although he has another dozen side-credits, the only one I recognize Rainbow Arabia (a good 2011 electropop album). This is a guitar trio, with Timothy Young the driving force, Devin Hoff on bass. Ryan wrote most of the pieces. Mostly keeps rockish time, so you can count this as fusion, but sometimes you sense they'd like to move beyond. B+(**)
Donna Singer: Take the Day Off: Escape With Jazz (2012, Emerald Baby): Singer, has this first album and an Xmas set from last year -- haven't gotten to the latter yet. Cover suggests the artist name should be "Donna and Doug" or "D&D" or "Donna Singer & Doug Richards" but the spine is more economical. She is married to Roy Singer, who produced and has some of the writing credits. Richards plays bass and leads the piano trio, which here and there is augmented by trumpet, alto sax, trombone, guitar, and/or extra drums. Some standards -- e.g., Richard Rodgers -- some by Richards, four by Patricia T. Morris. B+(*)
Tomasz Stanko NY Quartet: Wislawa (2012 , ECM, 2CD): Another set by the great Polish trumpeter, who started out on the avant-garde and moderated by age (70) and label still remains one of the world's most distinctive. A few years back he came up with a "young Polish quartet" who continue to work as a piano trio. Here he is traveling alone, picking up a band of locals, which in New York nets him Gerald Cleaver, Thomas Morgan, and a new pianist everyone seems to want to play with these days, David Virelles. Talented as they are, they tend to be deferential, but then it's the trumpet you want to hear anyway. By the way, "Wislawa" is Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012). B+(***)
Eli Yamin/Evan Christopher: Louie's Dream: For Our Jazz Heroes (2012 , Yamin Music): Pianist, b. 1968 in Long Island, has a handful of records since 1998's Pushin' 30, teams up with the clarinetist for salutes to Armstrong, Bechet, Ellington, Bigard, Mary Lou Williams, Mahalia Jackson, John Coltrane, and Amiri Baraka, plus a couple pieces recycled from Yamin's Holding the Torch for Liberty. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 17. 2013
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, March 16. 2013
This is the second collection of forty of my little book blurbs in several days. Scratch file currently has 84 more, so I could very well dump two more of these next week. Not as important as the ones in Thursday's post -- in particular, no books that I've already managed to read -- but still noteworthy.
Anat Admati/Martin Hellwig: The Bankers' New Clothes: What's Wrong With Banking and What to Do About It (2013, Princeton University Press): Presumably covers Dodd-Frank and still finds it wanting, which seems right. I'm inclined to go back to the "banking is boring" days, but I doubt if they go that far.
Eric Alterman/Kevin Mattson: The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism From Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama (2012, Viking): One of the few political writers who remains an unapologetic, unreconstructed, proud liberal -- cf. his 2009 book, Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals. One problem is that so many of his exemplars, not least the current president but also his first, have a checkered history, sometimes a mix of illiberal beliefs, sometimes just a willingness to chuck principle for political opportunism.
Ariella Azoulay: From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950 (paperback, 2011, Pluto Press): On 200 photographs from the war when Israel not only achieved independence but reduced the Arab population of the nation from 70% to 15%. She also wrote The Civil Contract of Photography (2012, Zone Books) and Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography (2012, Verso).
Max Boot: Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present (2013, Liveright): Notorious war lover, back to his favorite subject. But while The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (2002) was written to advance an argument -- that the US shouldn't think twice about getting into small wars because they always work out just fine -- it's not clear what the point is here (indeed, Boot's traditional fans tend to be on the COIN side (but not always, and results there haven't been so cheery).
Angus Burgin: The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression (2012, Harvard University Press): On economic theory, so markets are not so much reinvented -- they had never been banned -- as reideologized by various economists, from FA Hayek to Milton Friedman, especially through the Mont Pélerin Society.
John Burt: Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism: Lincoln, Douglas, and Moral Conflict (2012, Belknap Press): Big book (832 pp.) to just cover the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, compared favorably to Harry Jaffa's Crisis of the House Divided (1959), long regarded as the standard work on the subject.
Jeff Connaughton: The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins (2012, Prospecta): Ever wonder why banks are too big to fail? Why they're too influential even to be reorganized under bankruptcy law when they're tottering? What about why Jamie Dimon still has his job? One big part is their lobby, which is the author's main target here. Another is the incest which has allowed them to capture the Treasury Dept., the SEC, other regulatory agencies, and most importantly the Fed. Of course they win. They personify the greed Washington aspires to.
Fawaz A Gerges: Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment? (2012, Palgrave Macmillan): Moment to do what? The US hasn't had a moment to do anything constructive in the Middle East since 1991, when defeating Saddam Hussein led to the Madrid talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but even then Bush was too hamstrung by the Saudis on one side and the Israelis on the other, with festering wounds in Iraq and Iran unsettled. Obama made some concessions to Arab Spring, but ultimately couldn't support it, because the goal there would not just be to make the Arab world more democratic and prosperous but also more independent of the US.
Al Gore: The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change (2013, Random House): Smarter than he ever let on as a politician, but still . . . The six, more or less: "ever-increasing economic globalization" ("Earth Inc."); "worldwide digital communications" ("the Global Mind"); "the balance of power is shifting from a US-centered system to one with multiple emerging centers of power"; "unsustainable growth in consumption, pollution flows, and depletion of strategic resources"; "sciences revolutions are putting control of evolution in human hands"; "a radical disruption of the relationship between human beings and the earth's ecosystems, along with the beginning of a revolutionary transformation of energy systems, agriculture, transportation, and construction worldwide" -- no idea what that last one means, either.
Amy S Greenberg: A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 US Invasion of Mexico (2012, Knopf): Certainly a war of naked aggression by the US, aimed at removing Mexico if not yet the more numerous native population from the slice of North America from Texas west to California. Polk was president and orchestrated it. Clay was his most prominent Whig opponent, and Lincoln was a virtual unknown, but not for long.
David Harsanyi: Obama's Four Horsemen: The Disasters Unleashed by Obama's Reelection (2013, Regnery): The paranoid hate lit moves into its post-apocalyptic phase, oblivious to the fact that not much happened under Obama's first term and that even less is likely under the second. The "four horsemen" are "national debt, widespread dependence on government, turmoil in the Middle East, and expansion of the bureaucratic state" -- makes me think of GW Bush, but, well, you know. Also competing for the paranoid bigot's dollars: John R Lott Jr: At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge? (2013, Regnery); Wayne Allyn Root: The Ultimate Obama Survival Guide: Secrets to Protecting Your Family, Your Finances, and Your Freedom (2013, Regnery); Ken Cuccinelli: The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty (2013, Crown).
Dilip Hiro: Inside Central Asia: A Political and Cultural History of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tadjikistan, Turkey and Iran (2009; paperback, 2011, Overlook): Author of the encyclopedic The Essential Middle East: A Comprehensive Guide (2nd ed, paperback, 2003, Carroll & Graf), various books on Iran, Iraq, and oil, provides an overview to the ex-Soviet "-stans," which in addition to their continuing Russian (and Chinese) interests are also affected by Turkey and Iran. And yes, there's oil there, also Islamist militants, corrupt leaders, etc., everything you need for another round of "great games." Also available: Ahmed Rashid: Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (2002, paperback, Penguin Books); Olivier Roy: The New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations (updated ed, paperback, 2007, NYU Press).
Michael Hudson: The Bubble and Beyond: Fictitious Capital, Debt Deflation and Global Crisis (paperback, 2012, Islet): Economist, has a bunch of books but is perhaps best known for his 2006 essay predicting "the coming real estate collapse." He has ahead of the curve back then, and likely still is.
Louis Hyman: Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink (2011; paperback, 2012, Princeton University Press): On the expansion of consumer credit in America. Also has another book, Borrow: The American Way of Debt (paperback, 2012, Vintage), which appears to cover the same ground. Don't know what his angle is, but one way to think of the expansion of consumer debt is as an ersatz wage substitute: it allows people to buy more without being worth more. As median incomes have stagnated over the last 30 years, consumer debt allowed the illusion that the wage progress of previous generations has continued. As that seems unlikely to be sustainable, one would expect some sort of crisis to follow.
Susan Jacoby: The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought (2012, Yale University Press): A prominent anti-religious speaker from the golden age of Jacoby's previous Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.
Robert D Kaplan: The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (2012, Random House): Good writer, interesting journalist, someone who tries to think deep and invariably fails, mostly because his mind is locked in ancient struggles for domination. How confused can he get? Try this: "Afghanistan's porous borders will keep it the principal invasion route into India, and a vital rear base for Pakistan, India's main enemy." That hasn't been true since Babur: the Brits came in boats, the Americans wired in dollars, Pakistan (for better or, mostly, worse) has a direct border, and Afghanistan doesn't.
Matt Kennard: Irregular Army: How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror (2012, Verso): Hard to tell how big a problem this is, given that no respectable US reporter would make a point of describing US soldiers as psychos, although you do have all those suicides, the occasional mass shooter, and it doesn't stretch the imagination much to wonder how many militia nuts got their basic training in overkill at public expense.
Daniel Klaidman: Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency (2012, Houghton Mifflin): A look at the politics behind Obama's retreat from his initial promises to close Guantanamo and prosecute terror suspects in the legal system, his use of drones to assassinate supposed enemies, leading up to the preference for killing over capturing Bin Laden.
Timothy W Luke/Ben Agger, eds: A Journal of No Illusions: Telos, Paul Piccone, and the Americanization of Critical Theory (paperback, 2011, Telos Press): I knew Piccone very well, joining him (and Telos) when he moved from Buffalo to St. Louis, and he had a deep impact on my thinking, mostly forcing me to be more critical of everything, not least of him and his volcanic eruptions of deep thoughts and profanity. A dozen essays, Russell Jacoby and Robert D'Amico the only names familiar from my days, figure this to be the authorized story. Also: Confronting the Crisis: Writings of Paul Piccone (2008, Telos Press), which at 396 pp. is probably far short of his collected works, but I always wondered why such a know-it-all never bothered to pull it all together into a signature book.
Edward N Luttwak: The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy (2012, Belknap Press): Security strategist, best known for writing the manual on how to stage a Coup D'Etat, engages in the favorite parlor game of US security strategists: imagining China's out to top the US as the world's most bloated military power. Needless to say, he focuses much on Sun Tsu.
Greg Muttitt: Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq (2012, Free Press): The invasion and occupation of Iraq may or may not have been about oil -- like many things, depends on who you ask, and how candid they are -- but the oil is there, and the demand to book it, produce it, and market it is here. We know, for instance, from Steve Coll's Private Empire, that Exxon expected it would take ten years before they could move in and book oil properties, and that has proven about right, and that's just one example of what should be many.
Ralph Nader: The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future (paperback, 2012, Harper): Laundry list includes: reforming the tax system, making out communities more self-reliant, reclaiming science and technology for the people, protecting the family, getting corporations off welfare, creating national charters for corporations, reducing our bloated military budget, organizing congressional watchdog groups, enlisting the enlightened super-rich. I think I could do better than that, but probably wouldn't have thought of that last one. Previously wrote The Seventeen Traditions (2007), so has something about that number.
Greg Palast: Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps (paperback, 2012, Seven Stories Press): Leftist journalist/pundit, someone I've never bothered with because his past books -- The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse, Vultures' Picnic -- seemed to offer a slightly sensationalized gloss on the obvious, but this year's election pretty much comes down to his targets: unlimited campaign spending and the efforts to suppress the vote as much as possible.
Kevin Phillips: 1775: A Good Year for Revolution (2012, Viking): Returning to his theses originally outlined in The Cousins' Wars (1999) -- before he spent his last few books dissecting the catastrophe the Bush family brought to America -- this focuses more narrowly on the first year of the American Revolution.
Lawrence N Powell: The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans (2012, Harvard University Press): A history of the Crescent City, especially its first century-plus, up to statehood in 1812. During that time it passed from France to Spain to the US, engaged in slavery and commerce, perched on some of the most marginal land in the country. The latter is also the subject of Richard Campanella: Bienville's Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans (paperback, 2008, University of Louisiana Press).
David Quammen: Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (2012, WW Norton): Natural science writer, has written a couple essential books (e.g., The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction). Bacterial and viral infectious don't just appear. They evolve within host species, and occasionally jump to other species, sometimes with deadly consequences. This is likely to be the book that finally makes all that make sense.
Robert B Reich: Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong With Our Economy and Our Democracy, and How to Fix It (paperback, 2012, Vintage): Cover says "Expanded Edition" but I'm not sure to what. Three essays: one on how the "game" has been rigged, one on "The Rise of the Regressive Right," a third on "What You Need to Do." Pretty basic stuff: Reich is becoming more focused as the obvious problems keep boxing him in ever tighter.
Carne Ross: The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century (2012, Blue Rider Press): Well, that sounds pretty optimistic. Ross was a British diplomat, envoy to the UN, worked to mediate crises in the Balkans and the Middle East, previously wrote Independent Diplomat: Dispatches From an Unaccountable Elite (2007, Cornell University Press).
David E Sanger: Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (2012, Crown): As Obama was taking office in 2009, Sanger threw down a challenge in the form of a book, The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power. An unabashed, unrepentant fan of American power, Sanger was worried that Bush's ineptness had squandered and poisoned it, so now he's delighted that competency has been restored, and the nation is bigger and bullier than ever. I'm afraid I'm less pleased by all this: I've long said that things not worth doing are not worth doing well, and this is one of them. (The drug war, which many people think Obama realizes is a crock, is another of them.)
Landon RY Storrs: The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left (2013, Princeton University Press): The McCarthy period, like the original 1919 "red scare" a piece of postwar nostalgia aimed at preserving the nation's martial spirit by starting another war, and ultimately a far worse one in that it succeeded in not only establishing the nation's cold war stance but in purging the post-New Deal government of its leftist rank and file. The effect was not only to militate the nation against the Soviet Union but to turn the US against the working class everywhere, including in the US.
William J Stuntz: The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (2011, Harvard University Press): Famous legal scholar, died shortly before this was released, offering a broad rethinking of the entire criminal justice system as it exists in the US. Much reviewed and commented upon, some things that make sense to me and some that don't.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (2012, Random House): Author's day job is Professor of Risk Engineering, but he has built a reputation in mathematics and economics by writing books that cut against the grain of expectations (e.g., The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness). This looks like another.
Göran Therborn: The World: A Beginner's Guide (paperback, 2011, Polity): Swedish sociologist, one of the New Left Review Marxists, offers a short primer on everything.
Evan Thomas: Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World (2012, Little Brown): Portrait of the president as a sly peacemaker, which is a bit of a stretch, but as Thomas points out, when Eisenhower took office many top military strategists were advocating a first strike against the Soviet Union, China too, and use of nuclear bombs in the still hot but stalemated Korea War. He's onto something there, but I wouldn't push it too far, given what the CIA did during those years (Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, the U-2 incident), and given what a rabid hawk Eisenhower turned into when advising Johnson on Vietnam. Previously wrote The War Lovers, about 1898.
Jeffrey Toobin: The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court (2012, Doubleday): Journalist, specialist in the Supreme Court -- previously wrote: The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court -- a subject of perpetual interest given how the right has taken over and radicalized the Court.
Nick Turse: The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare (paperback, Haymarket, 2012): Short (107 pp) essay on the latest changes in US tactics, which keep the old imperial interface intact while reducing exposure and public consciousness of what the military is up to.
Craig Unger: Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove's Secret Kingdom of Power (2012, Scribner): Author has written a couple books on Bush, the first on his Saudi connections, the second on the Iraq war and other misdeeds, so he's been turning over rocks to see what he might find, and finally he's discovered Turd Blossom. Rove has spent his post-Bush days building a modern political machine, which is to say money laundering and propagandizing. Not clear to me that he's had a whole lot of success, but that's mostly because the crazies have out-crazied him. But he'll be back, not least because no one's more opportunist, nor corrupt.
Mark K Updegrove: Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency (2012, Crown): I reckon one reason Johnson's legislative record seems more impressive these days is that Obama's seems so thin.
Craig Whitney: Living With Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment (2012, Public Affairs): Rationalization for accepting a compromise with the gun industry in America, not that any are forthcoming. Like many on the left, I decided that this wasn't an issue worth the political fight: one better step would be to disengage from war and reduce the military, another would be economic justice (equalizing incomes and putting a floor under the impoverished areas), another would be to reduce crime by ending drug prohibition, another would be more realistic study and public information of the risks and benefits to gun ownership. This book may be useful, especially for historical background and insight into the constitutional issue. Related books: Adam Winkler: Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America (2011, WW Norton); Mark V Tushnet: Out of Range: Why the Constitution Can't End the Battle Over Guns (2007, Oxford University Press); Brian Doherty: Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle Over the Second Amendment (2009, Cato Institute); Saul Cornell: A Well Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press); Stephen P Halbrook: The Founders' Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms (2012, Ivan R Dee); David Hemenway: Private Guns, Public Health (2004; paperback, 2006, University of Michigan Press); Robert J Spitzer: The Politics of Gun Control (5th ed, paperback, Paradigm). Of course, lots of books by John R Lott Jr, too (e.g., More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws).
Richard Wolff: Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (paperback, 2012, Haymarket Books): Marxist economist, his previous book about the 2008 meltdown was titled, Capitalism Hits the Fan, so he's not afraid to use the C-word derogatorily. As for that D-word, for over 200 years now the right has fretted that common folk would use their votes in support of their own interests.
As I said, paperback reissues later.
Thursday, March 14. 2013
Again, way too long since the last 40-deep book prospecting post -- September 27 -- possibly because over the last couple months this has degenerated into a music blog (and a grumpy one at that). I'll try to catch up here in a hurry. Since I only do 40 books at a time, I should run about four of these in rapid succession. For the first helping, I've cherry picked the most important books in history, politics, and economics. I'll hold up on doing paperback reissues until I get that section sorted better.
Some of this stuff is so old I've managed to get it through my reading list, hence the illustrations. Chandrasekaran I even have notes on. Most likely the notes were written before I read the books -- Azoulay is the exception, and I added a line on Economix. The Avi Raz and Daniel Kurtzer books are in the queue.
Elliott Abrams: Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2013, Cambridge University Press): A self-serving memoir in the manner of Dennis Ross and so many other failures, but Abrams didn't fail -- he was pure evil, and was remarkably successful not just at wrecking any prospects for peace in Israel's neighborhood but in making everyone involved, including the US, much meaner and crazier. No idea how much of this he admits to -- such creatures usually prefer to dwell in the dark.
Stanley Aronowitz: Taking It Big: C Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals (2012, Columbia University Press): Mills was the most influential sociologist of his generation, at least on left-oriented students of my generation, so Aronowitz is well positioned to look both at what Mills did and what we made of him.
Ariella Azoulay/Adi Ophir: The One-State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine (paperback, 2012, Stanford University Press): Abridged from a much larger book in Hebrew, this is a theory-heavy structural analysis of Israel's occupation -- how various legal and military regimes have been evolved to repress revolt and manage the Palestinian population both within the Green Zone and in the occupied territories. They make no bones that the key is violence, sometimes naked (their term is "eruptive"), more often implicit (what they call "withheld"). Moreover, this violence is so much a part of Israeli rule that the only way to make peace is to replace the Israeli regime.
Bernard Bailyn: The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675 (2012, Knopf): Should as much be the story of the de-peopling of North America, as the native population died off while surrendering land to European (and African) newcomers. Especially in the early years, the population balance was treacherous.
Sheila Bair: Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street From Wall Street and Wall Street From Itself (2012, Free Press): A Kansas Republican, appointed by Bush to head the FDIC in 2006, Bair distinguished herself as damn near the only government official who attempted to do something about the financial collapse before the bottom fell out.
Antony Beevor: The Second World War: The Definitive History (2012, Little Brown): Big book (880 pp.), but the subject has been so exhaustively explored that this promises to be a primer, a reduction to bare essentials, which probably means one battle after another. Beevor himself has written whole (and pretty large) books on Stalingrad, D-Day, and The Fall of Berlin 1945, as well as his other "definitive" The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939.
Peter L Bergen: Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden: From 9/11 to Abbottabad (2012, Crown): Author interviewed Bin Laden back when he was nobody, and managed to ply that association into a lengthy career -- Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden (2001); The Osama bin Laden I Know (2006), The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda (2011) -- so this book was pretty much inevitable. Also inevitable was the deluge, some specific to Bin Laden, some more general: Mark Bowden: The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden; Mark Owen: No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden; Aki Peritz/Eric Rosenbach: Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns That Killed Bin Laden and Devastated Al Qaeda; Chuck Pfarrer: SEAL Target Geronomo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama Bin Laden; Eric Schmitt/Thom Shanker: Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda.
Alan S Blinder: After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead (2013, Penguin Press): Clinton economist, spent some time (1994-96) as vice chair of the Fed, reviews the 2008 meltdown and the various steps the Fed and Treasury took to save the big banks. He defends those unprecedented steps, but also finds need for further reform.
Breaking the Silence, ed.: Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies From the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010 (2012, Metropolitan Books): Oral history, interviews with Israeli soldiers, witnesses to occupation from the top down.
Naomi Cahn/June Carbone: Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture (2010; paperback, Oxford University Press, 2011): A look at how American families have been polarized by the red-blue culture divide.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012, Knopf): Mild-mannered journalist, laid back then wrote a damning chronicle of US incompetence in Iraq, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, moves on to Afghanistan. There, he focuses on Helmand, home of America's prewar "Little America" hydro-project, watching wave after wave of American power unable to do anything constructive. [link].
Joseph Crespino: Strom Thurmond's America (2012, Hill & Wang): The Dixiecrat's presidential candidate lived a full 100 years, and did something unspeakably vile in nearly every one of them. He was the first southern Democrat to switch parties, starting a trend that brought the GOP the likes of Jesse Helms, Trent Lott, Richard Shelby, and Phil Gramm.
Michael Dobbs: Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman, From World War to Cold War (2012, Knopf): The death of Franklin Roosevelt and the succession of Harry Truman was probably the key event in turning the US-Soviet alliance sour, even if most Cold War histories push the dates out a bit, all the easier to blame the Soviets. Trying to cram this transformation into the last six months of WWII -- from Yalta to Hiroshima, which as Gar Alperowitz argued was a diplomatic gesture aimed as much as Moscow as at Tokyo -- forces the issue, but I'm not sure it doesn't fit.
Robert Draper: Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the US House of Representatives (2012, Free Press): Previously wrote Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush (2007), one of the better books on that sorry subject. This goes deep inside the 112th House, which the Republicans took over following the 2010 elections. At this point I'd say wait for the paperback, out in May hopefully with some extras, also with a new title: When the Tea Party Came to Town: Inside the US House of Representatives' Most Combative, Dysfunctional, and Infuriating Term in Modern History (paperback, 2013, Simon & Schuster) -- not that the 113th won't give it a run for the money.
Jesse Ferris: Nasser's Gamble: How Intervention in Yemen Caused the Six-Day War and the Decline of Egyptian Power (2012, Princeton University Press): Nasser referred to his five-year intervention in Yemen as "my Vietnam": no doubt it both weakened and unfocused Egypt's military, which only added to the confidence Israel's generals felt in launching their 1967 blitzkrieg. Still, while everyone acknowledges that it aided Israel's win, it is rare to see anyone argue that it caused Israel's aggression, not least because it calls into question Nasser's motives and priorities.
Michael Goodwin/Dan E Burr: Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work), in Words and Pictures (paperback, 2012, Abrams Comic Arts): Comix-style, more history than theory, which probably helps both the illustrator and the reader. For many years Larry Gonick had a corner on scholarly (or at least nerdy) comix, but others are appearing: aside from this one on, Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein have two volumes of The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, one micro, the other macro. I've just finished reading this one, and it is a remarkably concise primer on nearly everything you need to know about politics and the economy since Adam Smith (plus it's a big help on Smith).
Michael R Gordon/General Bernard E Trainor: Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq From George W Bush to Barack Obama (2012, Pantheon; paperback, 2013, Vintage): Authors of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, back when they were embedded in high command, their typical viewpoint for all things military. Once again, they claim the inside story, backed by "still-classified documents" their sources don't trust to the public.
Michael Grunwald: The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era (2012, Simon & Schuster): Mostly on Obama's stimulus bill, now widely understood to have been way too small, not to mention oversold. Not sure what more has been hidden about the story, other than Obama's penchant for negotiating himself down while imagining that he's working up a bipartisan deal. There were no meaningful bipartisan deals during his watch -- only more or less egregious capitulations, which showed how little he was willing to stand up for the very people who elected him, even so much as speaking out in defense of their (and supposedly his) principles. Grunwald previously wrote The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise (paperback, 2007, Simon & Schuster), which I bought long ago but never got around to reading.
James Inhofe: The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future (2012, WND Books): Cover introduces Inhofe as "US Senator"; actually he's just a Republican from Oklahoma, but since the opposition to the science of climate change is overwhelmingly political, why not let a real politician (as opposed to a hack like Roy Spencer) do the talking: "Americans are over-regulated and over-taxed. When regulation escalates, the result is an increase in regulators. In other words, bigger government is required to enforce the greater degree of regulation. Bigger government means bigger budgets and higher taxes. 'More' simply doesn't mean 'better.' A perfect example is the entire global warming, climate-change issue, which is an effort to dramatically and hugely increase regulation of each of our lives and business, and to raise our cost of living and taxes." Nothing here about whether the science is true. Nothing about future effects. Nothing about whether it can be mitigated or controlled. The whole case for opposition is that it runs against Inhofe's political agenda, which is itself nonsense. There are many other books that oppose the supposed political agenda riding on top of climate science, and even a few that try to "debunk" that science. I published a long list in 2010; some more recent ones include: Larry Bell: Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax (2011, Greenleaf); Patrick J Michaels: Climate Coup: Global Warming's Invasion of Our Government and Our Lives (2011, Cato Institute); Brian Sussman: Eco-Tyranny: How the Left's Green Agenda Will Dismantle America (2012, WND Books); Robert Zubrin: Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (2012, Encounter Books).
Robert Kagan: The World America Made (2012, Knopf): A right-wing view of America as the world's indispensible nation, without which the whole world declines into war and chaos -- as opposed, I suppose, to the universe where the US causes all that war and chaos, i.e., the one we live in today.
Fred Kaplan: The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War (2013, Simon & Schuster): Kaplan wrote an important book a few years back on the "revolution in military affairs" which was put to the test when Bush invaded Iraq -- Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power -- so he should be fairly critical at reporting the military's latest theoretical hubris, COIN (counterinsurgency theory and practice). Petraeus was the marquis star of COIN: he wrote the book, which got him back in the game, not that he ever practiced what he preached. The guy suckered into that was Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose memoir is also newly available (My Share of the Task: A Memoir). No word from Petraeus yet, but Paula Broadwell: All In: The Education of General David Petraeus turns out to be more authorized than was initially imagined.
Ira Katznelson: Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (2013, Liveright): A substantial history of the New Deal. Previously wrote When Affirmative Action Was White, which showed how the New Deal shortchanged blacks, so I don't expect him to pull his punches on race.
Ian Kershaw: The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945 (2011, Penguin Books): He's written a lot of books about the Third Reich -- I have one on the shelf unread called Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 -- so it seems he's focusing now on hypotheticals. In this case: what held the Nazis together until Berlin was overrun, allowing no thought of trying to negotiate surrender terms. Looks like the publisher already has a sequel prepared: Gerald Steinacher: Nazis on the Run: How Hitler's Henchmen Fled Justice (2011, Penguin Books).
Daniel C Kurtzer/Scott B Lasensky/William B Quandt/Steven L Spiegel/Shibley Z Telhami: The Peace Puzzle: America's Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011 (2013, Cornell University Press): Could be sub-subtitled "An Autopsy" -- that at least is what the subject calls for, with some additional pieces on how Israel inspired the neocons, how Israel's flagrantly illegal counterterrorism tactics were adopted by the Americans, and how Israel played the Iran atomic issue to distract Bush and especially Obama from the real gaping sore in the Middle East. The authors shouldn't be uncritical, but Kurtzer (in particular) may have been too close to the process to call it the sham it has been.
Flynt Leverett/Hillary Mann Leverett: Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms With the Islamic Republic (2013, Metropolitan Books): Sensible appeal from diplomats and analysts who know more than a little about Iran. They've been arguing this for some time: lost some credibility when they told us to deal with Iran back when there were massive demonstrations against Ahmadinejad's reëlection, but they were right, and hoping for regime change has yielded nothing.
Richard Lingeman: The Noir Forties: The American People From Victory to Cold War (2012, Nation Books): The selling of the cold war is one of the most important, least debated topics in American history, undoing and reversing 160 years of isolation and anti-militarism in American culture and politics, undermining significant gains by workers and the poor, many of whom could aspire to "middle class" status, and leading to the calculated insanity of the new right. I'm sceptical of trying to argue politics through culture, but it is a puzzle. Otherwise, this is just a guide to the period's film noir.
Fredrik Logevall: Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam (2012, Random House): Huge (864 pp.) history of the French war, ending in defeat in 1954, to reassert imperialist control over Vietnam, a war the US supported and continued for another 21 years. Author has written about Vietnam before: Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (1999; paperback, 2001, University of California Press), and The Origins of the Vietnam War (paperback, 2001, Longman). In the former, Logevall argues that the war could have been negotiated away in 1963-65, but that US leaders chose to bet on war instead. We all know how that worked out (or should: the right has veered toward senescence here, as elsewhere).
Ami Pedhazur: The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right (2012, Oxford University Press): By "radical right" he means the followers of Meir Kahane, who were marginal (illegal even) a few decades ago, but following martyred mass murder Baruch Goldstein have wedged themselves into a stranglehold position over Israeli politics, making it impossible to dismantle the settlements, ensuring that the conflict will never end, and (in their minds) ultimately leading to an Israeli state purged of Palestinians. Netanyahu and Lieberman are pikers compared to them -- useful idiots, as Stalins liked to say. Author previously wrote The Israeli Secret Services & the Struggle Against Terrorism (paperback, 2010, Columbia University Press).
Harvey Pekar/JT Waldman: Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me (2012, Hill and Wang): Comic-style book, traces Pekar's coming to terms with his parents' embrace of Zionism -- his mother "by way of politics," his father "by way of faith," neither preparing him for the reality of the state, its belligerence, its paranoia, its domination and occupation.
Eyal Press: Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): A book on conscience-driven acts of disobedience, including a Swiss police captain allowing Jewish refugees to enter "neutral" Switzerland in 1938, and Israeli soldiers refusing to participate in the Occupation. Turns out to be a slim book (208 pp).
Avi Raz: The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War (2012, Yale University Press): Focuses on the first two years of postwar occupation, when Israeli thinking about the future was in great flux yet notably rigid: they had, after all, conquered the land of their dreams (well, excepting the East Bank, and South Lebanon up to the Litani), and as neocolonial settlers were reluctant to part with any of it.
Thomas E Ricks: The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today (2012, Penguin Press): Military journalist, wrote two books on being embedded with the high command that invaded and occupied Iraq (the first appropriately called Fiasco), extends his historical ruminations back to WWII, hoping he can finally find some generals worth flattering.
Shlomo Sand: The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland (2012, Verso): A logical successor to the author's The Invention of the Jewish People (2009), which questioned whether the Jews returning to Zion were in fact descendents of the Jews who left Palestine in Roman times.
Amity Shlaes: Coolidge (2013, Harper): Partisan hack historian as "revisionist," took on Franklin Roosevelt in The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (2007), goes one step further in attempting to lionize "Silent Cal" -- US president during the fat years of the roaring 1920s then got out before his bubble burst. Also new: Charles C Johnson: Why Coolidge Matters: Leadership Lessons From America's Most Underrated President (2013, Encounter Books). One reason Coolidge matters is as that he's an icon against public sector unions. Another is how steadfastly he served the rich under Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon.
Nate Silver: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- But Some Don't (2012, Penguin Press): Author writes an influential blog about election polling, useful to consult in season, in part because he has an uncanny track record of getting those things correct, no matter how unpleasant the results. This promises to offer more method, and the title issue is the crux of the matter. Most folks have a lot of trouble with statistics, so this promises to be helpful.
Oliver Stone/Peter Kuznick: The Untold History of the United States (2013, Gallery Books): The footnotes, a mere 784 pp, behind Stone's documentary series. Aside from some glances at the notion of "American exceptionalism," this starts with the imperialist grab of the Spanish-American War, the advent of "gunboat diplomacy," and Woodrow Wilson's World War as viewed through Smedley Butler's notion that "war is a racket" -- a truth that no amount of Cold War propaganda could ever erase. Also available: On History: Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone in Conversation (paperback, 2011, Haymarket), after Ali collaborated with Stone on the documentary South of the Border.
Nick Turse: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (2013, Metropolitan): Author has written several books on how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed the US military. Here he reexamines the grandaddy of those wars, Vietnam, reminding us how brutal and morally debilitating that war was. Christian Appy: "Nick Turse has done more than anyone to demonstrate -- and document -- what should finally be incontrovertible: American atrocities in Vietnam were not infrequent and inadvertent, but the commonplace and inevitable result of official U.S. military policy." Marilyn Young: "Until this history is acknowledged it will be repeated, one way or another, in the wars the U.S. continues to fight."
Joan Walsh: What's the Matter With White People: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was (2012, Wiley): Well, you know, they let themselves be manipulated by rich people they have nothing but race in common with, to shaft dark people who they have more in common with than they recognize. In short, dumb.
Michael Walzer: In God's Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible (2012, Yale University Press): Political scientist, best known for writing the book on "just war" theory -- Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations (1977, revised 1992, 2000, 2006) -- then renting out his blessings for the "war on terror." Most likely he'll prove equal ingenious in his support for Israel.
Eli Zaretsky: Why American Needs a Left: A Historical Argument (2012, Polity): Brief survey of the many things the American left has fought for and, in many cases, achieved -- the end of slavery, progressivism, the New Deal, civil rights. Don't know how well he covers the New Left, which I'd argue was substantially successful on all front except that our distrust of power kept us from establishing a base for defending those gains. Needless to add, even in times when such successes are few the need for a left continues -- in many ways, more than ever.
As I said, paperback reissues later.
Monday, March 11. 2013
Music: Current count 21131  rated (+28), 602  unrated (-3).
Working erratically, but the days come and go and when the week's done I wind up close to average -- a bit short in Jazz Prospecting this week, but trying to make some headway on Rhapsody Streamnotes in a year that thus far is short of obvious prospects. Meanwhile, very little incoming jazz, although the previous week's haul was above average, so maybe that means nothing.
I don't tend to pay much attention to release dates, but I've been vaguely aware that despite receiving finished copies the two A- records this week are officially schedule in the future. Turns out the Steve Coleman drops on March 26, and the Peter Evans release date is March 15. The latter was most perplexing because for the first time since I've been running cover scans I wasn't able to find one on the net somewhere. Had to made my own, and I'm pleased to note that wasn't too hard. One of those computer skills I should be much better at than I am.
Lot of high-B+ records too. I've taken Hamilton and Kuhn out in the car just for pleasure listening, and even further down, Alpiar and Zinn will turn some heads. But it looks like MOPDTK's year, with their flagship Slippery Rock on top of my current 2013 list, and Evans and Jon Irabagon (for Barry Altschul and soon for Dave Douglas) scoring strong.
Christopher Alpiar Quartet: The Jazz Expression (1995 , Behip): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, studied at Miami-Dade and Berklee, based in Atlanta. First album, quartet with piano-bass-drums, has been sitting on the shelf for quite some time. Alpiar wrote all five songs, ranging from 7-15 minutes. The long first cut is hugely evocative of Coltrane, and the rest of the pieces remain in that vein. B+(**)
Masha Campagne: Like Water, Like Air (2012, Impetus): Singer, b. in Moscow, moved to San Francisco in 1991. Second album, produced by pianist Weber Iago, one of several Brazilian connections. She write four songs, picks up a couple more from guitarist Guinga, one from Iago, a Jobim, "It Could Happen to You," a couple more. The Brazilian vibe runs deep. B+(*)
Ian Carey Quintet + 1: Roads & Codes (2012 , Kabocha): Trumpet player, based in San Francisco, looks like his third album. Figure alto saxophonist Kasey Knudsen for the "+1" since the others -- Evan Francis (flute, tenor sax), Adam Shulman (piano), Fred Randolph (bass), and Jon Arkin (drums) -- repeat from the previous quintet album. Mostly originals, plus Neil Young, Charles Ives, and Igor Stravinsky. Nice comic book packaging, until you read the fine print and see he's mostly grouching about critics. B+(*)
Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Functional Arrhythmias (2012 , Pi): Alto saxophonist, b. 1956, has used Five Elements as his primary group name since 1986, thirteen albums in all. Many explore funk/fusion beats, some are muddied up with vocals, the last couple I didn't care for at all. But this one is stripped way down: two wavering horns (Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet), bass and drums that fully implement the title, a little extra guitar (Miles Okazaki) on 5 of 14 tracks. Maybe too simple, but rarely has the continuous shifting of time come through so clearly -- one could say, functional. A-
Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Quartet: Beautiful Friendship (2010 , Planet Arts): The leader play guitar and bass. Third group album, although Ferguson also played on Dempsey's 1998 debut. Rounding out the quartet are Eliot Zigmund on drums and Joel Frahm on tenor and soprano sax. The latter has long been a superb accompanist and is the main reason to tune in here, but the leaders move it along nicely. B+(***)
The Kahil El'Zabar Quartet: What It Is! (2012 , Delmark): Chicago drummer, has twenty-some albums since 1982, many as Ethnic Heritage Ensemble; always interesting, but his best albums were lifted by bigger names -- David Murray on Love Outside of Dreams (1997), Billy Bang on Spirits Entering (2001). This time he goes with players I'm only barely familiar with -- Kevin Nabors (tenor sax), Justin Dillard (keybs), Junius Paul (bass) -- they have some side credits with Ernest Dawkins and Corey Wilkes. Nabors, in particular, has a strong voice, one you'll be hearing more from. B+(***)
Peter Evans: Zebulon (2012 , More Is More): Trumpet player, best known as one of the terrorists in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, but has a handful of records on his own, mostly more avant than the band's. Trio, with the ever-dependable John Hébert on bass and Kassa Overall on drums. Trumpet stabs, zips, kicks it up a notch, then another one. A-
Danny Green: A Thousand Ways Home (2012, Tapestry): Pianist, from San Diego, debuted with a solo in 2009, returns here with a trio expanded with sax (Tripp Sprague on 6 of 13 cuts), guitar/mandolin (various, again 6 cuts, one of those both), and voice (Claudia Villela, one cut). All originals, looks to Latin and Brazilian models and favors soprano sax so this has a slick breeziness. B+(*)
Scott Hamilton: Remembering Billie (2012 , Blue Duchess): Tenor saxophonist, once a "young fogey" but getting on now. His connection to Billie Holiday is through Lester Young -- I vaguely recall that he actually plays one of Young's old saxes. Songs Holiday recorded, half-a-dozen titles I can recall perfectly well but only the exquisite "God Bless the Child" makes me think of Holiday (as opposed to Hamilton) while playing. Duke Robillard plays guitar on two cuts, and "I'll Never Be the Same" is a gem. B+(***)
Stan Killian: Evoke (2012 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1978 in Texas, based in New York; second album. postbop quintet with both piano (Benito Gonzalez) and guitar (Mike Moreno), the latter softening the tone of the sax. B+(**)
Steve Kuhn: The Vanguard Date (1986 , Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1938, cut his first album in 1963; AMG lists 47 albums. This trio with Ron Carter and Al Foster was originally released on Owl, with the liner notes now buried somewhere in the data tracks. A fine set, about half originals, ending with a lovely solo "Lullaby." B+(***)
Joshua Kwassman: Songs of the Brother Spirit (2011 , Truth Revolution): Saxophonist (alto, soprano, clarinet, flute, melodica, piano one cut), studied at New School, first album, composed through. Only musician I recognize is guitarist Gilad Hekselman, but the most significant seems to be vocalist Arielle Feinman, not that I hear her enunciating any words. The notion that the voice is the most versatile forge of sounds is venerable but has yet to be proved. B-
Beata Pater: Red (2011 , B&B): Singer, also plays violin (5 of 12 cuts); from Poland, has six albums, this the third in her "color series"; 9 of 12 cuts were written by Pater and/or keyboardist Mark Little, the covers including fusion pieces by Herbie Hancock and Freddie Hubbard. B
Antonio Sanchez: New Life (2012 , CAM Jazz): Drummer, b. 1971 in Mexico City, fourth album since 2007, also has tons of side work. Super postbop band with Dave Binney on alto sax, Donny McCaslin on tenor sax, John Escreet on piano/fender rhodes, and Matt Brewer on acoustic and electric bass. I'm impressed when it's just them although I rarely get into such fanciness. Sanchez is also credited with vocals and additional keybs, definitely too much, even more so when Thana Alexa throws her voice into the mix. B
John Stein: Bing Bang Boom (2012 , Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, has more than ten records since 1995, usually tight groove pieces with a characteristic grain of metal, ups his game a bit with this quartet -- Jake Sherman keybs, John Lockwood bass, Zé Eduardo Nazario drums -- making me think of John Scofield. B+(***)
The Dann Zinn 4: Grace's Song (2012 , Z Music): Tenor saxophonist, based near San Francisco, third album since 1996. Quartet, with Taylor Eigsti (piano), John Shifflett (bass), and Adam Hall (drums). Wrote 6 (of 8) songs, attractive tone and dynamics. Covers are "House of Pain" and "Stardust" -- both appealing. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 10. 2013
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week, but first, today's Crowson:
Also, a few links for further study:
Tuesday, March 5. 2013
After last month's exploration of avant-jazz pianist Marilyn Crispell, I had more records left over by closely related artists like Barry Guy and Evan Parker, but soon gravity moved me into Irène Schweizer -- one of the few ways to search for old jazz on Rhapsody has been to glom onto one of the few labels represented there and poke around in that label's catalog: the Swiss label Intakt is a fine case in point, with a few records by Crispell and Guy and a lot more by Schweizer. Until this run, my main reference for Schweizer has been the marvelous 2-CD Portrait from 2006, which surveys 1984-2004 including pieces from many of the albums below. That's still the best single spot to land on, but the drummer duos are often extraordinary.
The Miles Davis set is new and important. The Jerry Lee Lewis was on my wish list from last year, and all the more attractive for including the legendary Hamburg date -- on my wish list practically forever. Even later his live albums often blow me away, such as Live From Austin TX (1983 , New West) and, even better, Rockin' My Life Away (1989, Tomato). I wound up holding back most of the non-jazz I had written up (well, only two records), but figured another pianist would fit in fine here.
Old avant-jazz exploration could go on indefinitely, the only problem being that it's hard to find and rather limited on Rhapsody. On the other hand, maybe I'll try filling in other gaps next month.
Art Ensemble of Chicago: A Jackson in Your House/Message to Our Folks/Reese and the Smooth Ones (1969 , Snapper, 2CD): Lester Bowie on trumpet, Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell on reeds, Malachi Favors on bass, everyone doubling up on all manner of percussion, the purveyors of Great Black Music spread themselves thin in 1969 by laying it on thick: this useful reissue collects three of more than a dozen albums they released in that watershed year. The preach and jive hasn't worn well, and the doodling can strain your patience. But there are times, like the ultra-bent funk on "Rock Out," where they astonish -- and there's something to be said for the fertile history. B+(***) [R]
As separate albums:
Miles Davis: Live in Europe 1969 [The Bootleg Series Vol. 2] (1969 , Columbia/Legacy, 3CD+DVD): No one in jazz reinvented himself more times than Davis, who followed up his first classic quintet by delving into modal jazz and Gil Evans soundscapes, then assembled a second classic quintet, and followed that with his singular take on plugged in fusion. These live sets represent the first step after the second quintet, with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette replacing the Hancock-Clarke-Williams rhythm section, but despite Corea's electric piano the look is avant, not fusion. This was a time when Corea and Holland were developing Circle with Anthony Braxton, a year before Holland's Conference of the Birds. Interestingly enough, the musician farthest out here is Wayne Shorter, who has never seemed more intent on channeling Ayler and Coltrane, although Davis takes a few fliers too. I can't say that it really works: I often find myself irritated by one line, then blown away by the next, a dynamic that lessens one's enjoyment even while posing an interesting historical puzzle. A-
Jerry Lee Lewis: The Killer Live (1964-1970) (1964-70 , Hip-O Select, 3CD): Only three top-ten pop hits, all 1956-57, followed by a whole lotta controversy, which he persevered by putting on the hottest rock and roll revival shows in the early 1960s -- he was as likely to play Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and a souped up Ray Charles as his own hits. Then in 1968 he turned to country for a change of pace, his hits running 1968-71 -- "Another Time, Another Place" to "Chantilly Lace" -- but even decades later he never lost his knack for turning on the gas. He cut four live albums 1964-70 and they're collected here with a few extras. The classic, of course, is the first Hamburg set, with more of his Sun hits, played louder and faster than ever. Later that year, in Birmingham, he slipped his mischievous ad-libs into Charlie Rich's "Who Will the Next Fool Be," and he trended more country after that, sometimes following Ray Charles, sometimes blazing his own path, and laughing more along the way. And so what if he landed in Las Vegas? A- [R]
As separate albums:
Art Ensemble of Chicago: Tutankhamun (1969, Black Lion): The usual bits and pieces -- pungent trumpet, slippery reeds, confusing verbal hoodoo, everyone winging it on percussion. B+(*)
Borah Bergman with Andrew Cyrille: The Human Factor (1992 , Soul Note): An underrated avant-garde pianist who passed last year (1933-2012) with a couple dozen albums from 1975 on, mostly intimate affairs like this duo with drummer Cyrille; his high speed flights can be exuberant and explosive (and sometimes melodramatic), his rarer balladry touching and precise ("When Autumn Comes" is a good example here). B+(***) [R]
Borah Bergman with Hamid Drake: Reflections on Ornette Coleman and the Stone House (1995, Soul Note): Piano-drums duo, playing six Ornette Coleman songs (with a Bergman co-credit on "Stone House"); the sharp angles undo the slipperiness of the originals, doubling down on a previously unnoticed percussiveness. B+(*) [R]
Marion Brown: Porto Novo (1967-70 , Black Lion): Alto saxophonist, a fierce avant-gardist working in a trio with Maarten van Regteren Altena on bass and Han Bennink on drums, the 11:55 title cut a highlight, especially for the drummer; CD adds two later (1970) duo tracks with trumpeter Leo Smith, both filling in on percussion so the horns rarely interact. B+(***)
Barry Guy: Fizzles (1991 , Maya): Solo bass, inevitable for an avant-gardist of his stature but a while coming as Guy has mostly focused on large groups; a broad range of sounds, but little envelope pushing, focusing on moderate arco melodies, pushing his unique musicality. B+(**) [R]
Barry Guy and the Now Orchestra: Study/Witch Gong Game 11/10 (1994, Maya): Away from his London Jazz Composers Orchestra, the avant-bassist finds a similarly disposed monster of an orchestra in Vancouver, one which rarely records except to honor its guest stars; two pieces here, both heat up, especially the long closer, and that's when the stars break loose. B+(*) [R]
Barry Guy: Symmetries (2001 , Maya): A second bass solo exercise, including "Seven Fizzles" reworking themes from his first album; the music is thin and scratchy, the fascination the broad array of sounds he coaxes from the big fiddle. B+(***) [R]
Charlie Haden: The Golden Number (1976 , A&M): Bassist, came up in Ornette Coleman's quartet and went on to a remarkable career, with this set of duets relatively early; four pieces, one each with Don Cherry (trumpet, flute), Archie Shepp (tenor sax), Hampton Hawes (piano), and Coleman (trumpet, played slow); Shepp and Hawes make the strongest impression, while his former bandmates draw out the bassist. B+(***) [R]
Keith Jarrett: Hymns/Spheres (1976 , ECM, 2CD): An exercise in baroque pipe organ played at Benedictine Abbey in Ottobeuren, Germany, the hymns sound appropriately (even stuffily) churchy, the 9-movement "Spheres" more new agey and more appealing for that -- you weren't expecting some B3 funk moves, were you? B+(*)
Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton and Marilyn Crispell: After Appleby (1999 , Leo, 2CD): The English avant-garde's long-running sax trio plus an explosive American pianist who works more frequently with bassist Guy; this runs long, and Parker's inside out technique limits the sonic range but the group makes a lot out of it. B+(***) [R]
Irène Schweizer/Louis Moholo (1986 , Intakt): Swiss avant-pianist, one of a handful of duo albums with drummers, this one a expat from South Africa, who brings along his baggage; cf. the lovely township jive of "Angel," sandwiched between "Free Mandela" and "Exile (Song for Johnny Dyani/Africa[na]/We Will Win the War" -- some exceptional piano in the latter. B+(**) [R]
Irène Schweizer/Günter Sommer (1987 , Intakt): Piano-drums duets, the drummer also from Switzerland, their relationship and rapport deep, he springs her loose for some of her most dynamic playing, lightning runs and thundering rolls. A- [R]
Irène Schweizer/Andrew Cyrille (1988 , Intakt): Piano-drums again, the drummer born in New York of a Haitian mother, went on to a long stretch playing with Cecil Taylor; Schweizer gets compared to Taylor a lot as few other pianists are as surprising or as volatile, but unlike Taylor she never loses the rhythm completely, with or without a drummer, and Cyrille is one of the best. A- [R]
Irène Schweizer/Pierre Favre (1990 , Intakt): Piano-drums duets, again, with another Swiss drummer; again, some of the most remarkable piano of the era, an irresistible rhythmic force; perhaps the best of the drum-duets series . . . A [R]
Irène Schweizer/Han Bennink (1995 , Intakt): . . . Or maybe this one is: more piano-drums, this time with the great Dutch percussionist, as lively as ever, able to work in a swing feel even in anarchic time; again, the pianist is outstanding. A [R]
Irène Schweizer: Chicago Piano Solo (2000 , Intakt): Solo piano, almost as many of those as she has duo albums, and hard to pick between them -- in fact, I'm not; just noting that this is typically vigorous and occasionally ingenious, but I don't quite feel the drive, or the challenge, that her best drummers bring. B+(***) [R]
Irène Schweizer/Pierre Favre: Ulrichsberg (2003 , Intakt): Piano-drums duet, second round, live -- like most of the others, although the crowd is more intrusive here; Favre remains a superb partner, and the piano just keeps on coming. A- [R]
Irène Schweizer/Omri Ziegele: Where's Africa (2004 , Intakt): More duets, but alto sax this time, and surprisingly mainstream; don't have song credits, but some names ("Monk's Mood," "Speak Low") and more melodies are familiar -- Ziegele even sings a couple ("Isn't It Romantic") -- nothing explosive from the pianist, and all the more charming for that. A- [R]
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 105, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3604 (3168 + 436).
Monday, March 4. 2013
Music: Current count 21103  rated (+30), 605  unrated (+5).
Rather minimal week of Jazz Prospecting, but what I did listen to came from the top of the deck and is well above average. (In fact, I held back an A- record for lack of a cover scan. Not sure of the release date, but I seem to be way out front on it. I'll also note that the two Clean Feed releases aren't official until March 18, but I've been listening to an advance of the Ches Smith for quite a while, and if I held them back I wouldn't have much left.) That leaves about twenty rated records unaccounted for, so figure most of them will show up in the March Recycled Goods later this week.
I'm not sure how useful this will be for people, but I've rolled up all of the Jazz Prospecting from 2012 here, with everything collected in monthly files, and indexing similar to what I do for Recycled Goods and Rhapsody Streamnotes. I started in January 2012 because that was roughly when Jazz Consumer Guide ended. Jazz Prospecting started back in 2005, so there is a lot more that can be rolled up similarly, but the pre-2012 entries are already rolled up in the Jazz Consumer Guide directory (one file per column, no indexing, no album covers). I plan on carrying the new format forward, but can't guarantee that I'll update it weekly.
The snapshot does show that I wrote 574 Jazz Prospecting entries in 2012. (If I folded in Rhapsody Streamnotes on jazz the total should hit 600; the RS total for 2012 was 605 records.) Not sure whether to be proud or depressed by that. The listening ranges from spotty to in-depth, and the writing leans toward get-it-out-of-the-way although there are some decent-and-better bits in there. But I would never, as Robert Christgau does in a recent interview, dwell on the merits of these squibs as fine writing -- not just because I'm not that fine a writer but because the intent is so basically utilitarian. For what it's worth -- and count it as rationalization if you will -- I still prefer the brash and personal early CG style, which Christgau now disparages, to his longer and more artful recent work.
Christgau talks more about careers, professionalism, and what he sees as the alternative -- and future, given the way the market for professional rock critics is collapsing, which is almost the same as the enemy -- what he calls the "gentleman amateur" (i.e., folks like me). No doubt he is right about the value of having an editor -- a good one, anyway, and I can attest that he is one. But a structure and format imposed by the market is less of a blessing. I doubt he is a believer in efficient markets theory. Nor, even without theory or math, should it be hard to demonstrate the myriad ways in which the market for rock crit is inefficient. One might even be able to fight, or even exploit, those inefficiencies to carve out a career, as Christgau has almost uniquely done. But there is another path, a far more liberating one, which is to ignore the market and just do what you understand needs to be done -- which is more or less what I've been doing.
Christgau wrote about 294 records in his Expert Witness column in 2012 -- 16 "Odds and Ends" totalling 128 records + 166 paragraph reviews. I wrote about 1588 records (574 JP + 605 RS + 409 RG). He got paid and I didn't, and he no doubt got a premium for his greater experience, superior skills, and reputation, but also for withholding some of his writing, creating a market for its (relative) scarcity. We both spent about 15 hours a day listening -- that's about anyone's limit. Assuming he played the records he wrote about an average of two more times than I did -- I think that's about right from comparing notes -- that still leaves him with about a 700 record deficit, made up of records he played but didn't write about. That's plausible, possibly even an underestimate if you count records he rejects well before finishing them. (I almost always play uninteresting records to the end, since I figure on writing something about them anyway.) So the main difference my bucking the market provides is transparency: it's clear what I've heard, and implicit what I haven't, and each reaction -- even ones not fully formed and articulated -- is mapped out along the way.
"Gentleman amateur" harkens back to 19th century England, where a number of the idle gentry came to dabble especially in science. Most were crackpots, but you could count Charles Darwin among their number, and I'll add Karl Marx, who managed a similar disinterest from the market. Such amateurs were crowded out over the course of the 20th century, partly as science became more capital-intensive, partly because academia expanded, and largely because work came to take such a big bite from our lives. The Republicans want to see the latter continue, and that's one big reason why working hours keep expanding in the US even as they shrink as other countries become more prosperous. (That most of us are losing ground is part of the plan; working harder lets you hang on a bit longer, but doesn't solve the problem.)
Until recently (again, cf. the Republicans), it seemed more likely that rock crit would wind up settling in some dehydrated state into academia. But "amateurs" -- Clay Shirky must have a better term for us -- have a chance collaborating over the internet to do things no professional rock critic could do, like break that 15-hour limit. I have no reason to doubt that what I do is useful for the dozens or hundreds of people who are aware of it. Maybe it can be scaled up, but if so it won't just be me. I'm tapped out, except of ideas.
Mario Adnet: Amazonia: On the Forest Trail (2012 , Adventure Music): Guitarist, from Brazil, arranges this tribute to the rain forest for string orchestra and special guests, including several vocalists (Mónica Salmaso, Vicente Nucci, Antonioa Adnet, Lenine, Roberta Sá). My first reaction to the strings was horrible, but something settled them out -- probably the vocals, which still seem more at home on the beach. B+(*)
Ehud Asherie with Harry Allen: Lower East Side (2009 , Posi-Tone): Mainstream pianist, from Israel, based in New York, playing standards with tenor sax -- in fact, about the closest thing you can get these days to Coleman Hawkins. They did this last year on Upper West Side, and these are basically the leftovers, probably from the same session -- less famous, and less obvious, songs, although they saved "When I Grow Too Old to Dream" for a closer. For me, this is what jazz sounds like, and although I rated other albums higher than I did Upper West Side, I didn't play any of them more often. More is more. A-
Kris Davis: Capricorn Climber (2012 , Clean Feed): Pianist, from Canada, has put together a strong discography since 2004 -- especially the records with Tony Malaby, like Rye Eclipse. This is a quintet, with Ingrid Laubrock (alto sax, also in Paradoxical Frog with Davis), Mat Maneri (viola), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums). Laubrock doesn't drive an album like Malaby, and Davis tends to lie back here, leaving the viola as the signature sound -- interesting as far as it goes. B+(**)
Food: Mercurial Balm (2010-11 , ECM): Named on the cover: Thomas Strønen (drums, electronics), Iain Ballamy (sax, electronics). Fifth group album since 2002, although Ballamy recorded the album Food back in 1998. First half-plus adds Christian Fennesz (guitar, even more electronics) for some pleasant ambient groove. The rest replaces Fennesz with Eivind Aarset, adding Prakash Sontakke (slide guitar, vocals) for a little exotica, plus trumpet (Nils Petter Molvaer) on one track. B+(*) [advance]
Keith Jarrett: Hymns/Spheres (1976 , ECM, 2CD): An exercise in baroque pipe organ played at Benedictine Abbey in Ottobeuren, Germany, the hymns sound appropriately (even stuffily) churchy, the 9-movement "Spheres" more new agey and more appealing for that -- you weren't expecting B3 funk moves, were you? B+(*)
Anders Nilsson/Joe Fonda/Peter Nilsson: Powers (2012, Konnex): Guitar-bass-drums trio. Anders Nilson has several excellent albums -- Blood, Aorta Ensemble, his Kalabalik meet up with Raoul Björkenheim -- and makes a strong impression as a sideman, but loses a bit of edge here, probably because the bassist tries to steer this into open improv waters, finding an interesting balance. B+(***)
Ben Sidran: Don't Cry for No Hipster (2012 , Unlimited Media): Pianist-singer-songwriter, b. 1943, started out in rock, especially with the Steve Miller Band, before eventually evolving into an "existential jazz rapper." Two dozen albums since 1971, first I've heard, first impression is that he's following Mose Allison, his "Hipster" skilled at getting gone, but sheltering a "Rich Interior Life." One cover: always good to hear "Sixteen Tons." B+(***)
Ches Smith & These Arches: Hammered (2012 , Clean Feed): Drummer, has a couple albums under his own name, a lot of side credits since 2001 on various avant and left-field projects -- Ben Goldberg, Mary Halvorson, Darius Jones, Marc Ribot, Jason Robinson. Wrote all the pieces here for two roughhousing saxes (Tim Berne and Tony Malaby), with Halvorson (guitar) and Andrea Parkins (accordion, electronics) supporting, sometimes as cross purposes, but this percolates madly. B+(***)
Eberhard Weber: Résumé (2012 , ECM): Bassist, b. 1940 in Stuttgart, Germany; 15th album since 1973, all on ECM, where he's long been the most pastoral of the label's artists. He had a stroke in 2007 and hasn't been able to play bass since, so for this album he started with previously recorded solos -- mostly bass but also some keyboards -- and brought in Jan Garbarek (soprano and tenor sax) and Michael DiPasqua (percussion) to dress them up a bit. The percussion tracks break out of the pastoral mode, and Garbarek is as lovely as ever. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 3. 2013
In case you're wondering what it's like to live in a Republican Paradise, look to Kansas where Republicans -- and none of those wussy RINOs anymore; we're talking the real thing here -- control every facet of government. The Wichita Eagle chose to dedicate its lead article today to celebrate "Kansas legislators' decisions so far in the session." So for all you blue-staters out there, see what you're missing, read and weep:
The article notes that more bills are pending: on further tax cuts (or increases, if you're poor enough); abortion (banning if done to select the sex of the child -- either will do); alcohol (allow more stores to sell); judicial appointments (let Brownback pick 'em); labor (no payroll deductions for unions); immigration (they probably mean Kris Kobach's nonsense, but the Chamber of Commerce is all for undocumented workers); and "more" (under the circumstances, the most ominous word in the English language -- the west Kansas feedlot and packing industries depend on them).
Only good news coming out of Topeka these days is that they make Richard Crowson's life easier. Here's his cartoon today (the subject is evidently part of that "more"):
The big item above is the education amendment, as this generation of Kansas Republicans renege on the commitment of a previous generation to provide all Kansans with a quality education. I suspect this has much less to do with education per sé than with the prerogatives of power. The courts have repeatedly ruled against the legislature's failure to appropriate adequate funds, and the lege can't stand the notion that they have to operate within a framework of law -- they were, after all, elected to make law, and they'll damn well make any kind of law they like, even if (as is increasingly often the case) what they want to do is contrary to the US constitution.
It's not hard to see where they got this attitude: from owning and running businesses, where they feel entitled to dictate every moment, and throw a fit at the slightest inconvenience -- laws, workers, even customers (although they still try to put on a better face there). Michael Kinsley has a critique of American politics as a collection of "big babies," but the biggest babies of all are those who feel entitled to make (and break) the rules. The Republicans are still inconvenienced by shreds of democracy in the political sphere, but in their businesses they've made major steps toward dictatorship. If they can force drug tests on their workers, why not require the same of the wards of the state? The object, after all, isn't drug control but humiliation. The old saw about "absolute power corrupting absolutely" is evident once again.
On the Eagle's editorial page, consider this Opinion Line item:
Beechcraft's failed bid was for small prop planes for the Afghan Air Force, a pretty large contract ($450 million, if memory serves). They lost the bid more than a year ago, pulled some strings to get it rebid, and lost it again. The tankers are an old subject in these pages. Boeing eventually prevailed in convincing the Air Force to waste $35 billion for a fleet of obsolete airliners -- at least, unlike the state-of-the-art 787, they're likely to fly -- dressed up as portable filling stations. Then, having won the bid, they shut down their Wichita plant, which had been promised the work -- a "no brainer" considering that Wichita had done the work on the "obsolete" tanker fleet, primarily based at McConnell AFB, also here in Wichita. Having used all their political assets in Kansas (which unlike the workers are still on the payroll), Boeing then decided to move the work elsewhere -- to whichever state will pay them the most (preferably one with fewer or no union workers).
This whole scam has been unfolding for more than a decade, and one thing you could count on is an editorial (and often a guest column) in the Eagle every month or so extolling the virtues of Boeing as the best company to build those desperately needed tankers. Back in January, I wrote two letters to the Eagle -- a longer "rough draft" and a proper letter paired down to their size requirements. They ran neither, nor anything remotely like it. The occasion was a series of articles on the Air Force's process for deciding where to base the new tankers. The longer letter follows:
McConnell AFB, which is to say the dreaded federal government, which is to say "your tax dollars," injects about $500 million into the Wichita economy each year. It was built not because the Air Force had an urgent need to station its aircraft as far as possible away from the nation's borders, but because it was just across the street from a very large Boeing plant -- one, by the way, built by the US government during WWII and used to build the majority of B-17 and B-29 bombers used during the war, and B-47 and B-52 bombers built during the heyday of the Strategic Air Command. It was also where Boeing turned its 707 airlines into KC-135 tankers. Those new planes stopped production around 1960, but Boeing continued to provide mods to update the B-52s and KC-135s still used by the Air Force. Again, without Boeing it's hard to see any reason for McConnell. The AFB's survival will depend on nothing more than political favor and inertia, neither of which are likely to save it from future rounds of defense spending cuts.
Personally, it wouldn't bother me if McConnell closed. No doubt it would hurt the local economy, but the facilities would be recycled and new business would emerge. Plus you'd get rid of those dreadful planes flying over east Wichita every few minutes. (I didn't even consider buying a house in the area because of the noise factor, not to mention memory of what happens when one of those loaded tankers drops from the sky and razes a neighborhood.) But we need the new tankers even less than the AFB, and the cost there is pure waste and corruption. Their role is to help move and project massive US firepower anywhere in the world, and the more difficult that task becomes, the better for the world (and for that matter for us).
This is a good time to talk about cutting back from the insane defense spending levels of recent years. Sequestration is probably the dumbest way to implement cuts, except to a military budget which produces much harm and virtually no tangible good. The only way you would ever notice even far greater cuts than the ones in effect would be if you yourself were on the dole. And while the loss of spending destimulates the economy, the multipliers for military expense are exceptionally low -- especially where spent abroad, or simply blown up.
On the other hand, if/when the tanker is cut from the defense budget, it will probably be in recognition of its obsolescence. The military is moving more and more to drones, which are vastly more fuel-efficient than fighters or bombers. So like everything with the military, there's not much point because what passes for thought in those circles is so far removed from real life -- except, of course, when it kills.