Monday, June 30. 2014
Music: Current count 23459  rated (+36), 539  unrated (-20).
Highest rated count in some time, although a couple of those came from catching bookkeeping omissions. With nothing (of note) coming in, I took a big bite out of the jazz queue -- but still haven't gotten into the stack of Roberto Magris albums, or the Sonny Simmons box. I had one reader ask why I haven't said anything about the Miles Davis bootleg, but despite asking for it I didn't receive, and I'm not in any hurry to try to judge three discs on Rhapsody with none of the doc that is essential for "historical" releases.
Knocked out five tweets while wrapping this up, skipping the Joe Henderson albums from nearly a week ago. They'll be in the next Rhapsody Streamnotes, along with the previous week's Hendersons. My twitter feed is now up to 50 followers, so I guess that's a milestone, but it doesn't seem like much of one. Those who have signed up have seen 238 tweets.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, June 29. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, June 28. 2014
Tweeted this today:
The book is Daniel Schulman: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty. B&N has it on sale for 35% off -- a much better deal than Amazon offers (looks like the publisher is one of those Amazon's been trying to shake down). B&N's website lists is as the 7th best selling book in politics & current events, just ahead of Elizabeth Warren's A Fighting Chance and Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State. Wichita is the home turf of the Koch family and their company, probably the second (or third) largest employer in town, so you'd think their would be more than average interest in the book here -- certainly not zero. So you don't have to be paranoid to wonder whether someone's arm's been twisted a bit.
I've seen a couple excerpts from Schulman's book in Mother Jones, and they strike me as basically fair:
I've also seen a piece (don't have link) where Schulman speculates that the Koch's libertarianism could help steer the Republicans back to more moderate positions on "culture war" issues. I've never seen any evidence of this. Presumably, for instance, as libertarians the Kochs support abortion rights, but no enough to break with any Republican who comes close to them on money issues. And they should be against drug prohibition and every aspect of America's military presence in Asia and Africa, but those issues never seem to factor into their political patronage.
Monday, June 23. 2014
Music: Current count 23423  rated (+29), 559  unrated (-9).
Most of what follows showed up on Saturday's Rhapsody Streamnotes column -- Mary Gauthier's lovely little record is an exception, as are several of the "old music" entries, including two Joe Henderson sets. (More Henderson next week -- such splits are what you get with arbitrary cutoffs.) With Henderson, I've started to go beyond Penguin Guide 4-stars (Our Thing) to pick up a few 3.5 stars (Relaxin' at Camarillo, which by the way I think is the better of the two, probably because he's more comfortable as the sole horn). The unrated 4-star list was already 950 long and I was in no worry about running out (even with Rhapsody's omissions cutting that list way down). It just seemed likely that I would find some of the 3.5-star records more appealing -- indeed, I know that's often the case. I've started to put an unrated 3.5-star record list together, and it will have a bit more than 4000 records. I doubt that I'll put much effort into tracking them all down, but when I hit an artist I'm inclined to explore further (like Henderson, or the late Horace Silver) I'm likely to delve a bit deeper down the list.
Finished painting my basement steps, and that looks like a real improvement. Probably the next step is to paint a segment of basement wall that I want to build some new storage in and around. At some point I want to cover up the cement floor with something nicer, but it will take a number of steps to get there, and that wall is the start. On the other hand, the real critical project is reducing the clutter around my workspace -- a bummer, I'm afraid, every time I enter and try to work on something. Not just hideous but ridiculous.
Note that the incoming mail practically dried up this week. Indeed, only two (of five) records were by names I recognized -- one of those by a recently deceased flute player. Sorry I haven't been able to keep up with tweeting all the old music grades. I need to hit them more in real time to avoid clustering.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, June 22. 2014
Let's start with Richard Crowson's cartoon of the week for a little dose of Kansas politics:
Mike Pompeo is the current two-term Republican congressman from the greater Wichita area. He is generally regarded as a Koch crony, although he's extremely hawkish, a first-line defender of the NSA. Todd Tiahrt is his eight-term predecessor, a Tom DeLay disciple, closer to the Christian right, closer still to Boeing (Bush nicknamed him "Tanker Todd"), and he feels entitled to reclaim his House seat, so they're fighting it out in a big money primary. And being Republicans, that means they're trying to out-asshole one another, something both have real talent for (although I have to give Tiahrt the edge there, ground Pompeo will try to make up with money). And, of course, the shifty-eyed guy on the right is Gov. Sam Brownback, who's actually done the sort of damage that Pompeo and Tiahrt only dream about.
Some scattered links this week (mostly on Iraq):
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, June 21. 2014
Seems like a lazy, lackadaisical summer. At least I haven't felt up to much, nor gotten much done. Took me more than three weeks to reach the usual seventy records below, and that was largely due to the long troll through Dylan's dark ages -- done because I thought it might help me with the Dylan in the '80s tribute (praised, excessively I think, by Tatum and Christgau), and partly because I could. I didn't expect to find much there, and didn't. I had, after all, been warned away from them by trusted critics, and in the end my grades don't waver much from Christgau's.
The other "old music" entries include a couple items from the Penguin 4-star search (Miles Davis, Terrell Stafford) and a couple more that weren't: the Gil Evans records I was curious about (the Lacy duo was an old unrated LP although I took the easy route and streamed it from Rhapsody), and the Horace Silvers were checked out on his death. Both exercises in completism (Dylan and Silver) are accompanied by lists of previously rated records. It's no accident that those are the ones to check out first, as they include the ones I was advised to check out first. Dylan, of course, I was conscious of from nearly the beginning -- at least from my singles purchase of "Rainy Day Women" -- but I didn't get to Silver until the 1990s. He was especially important to me as the guy who broke the ice on hard bop.
New records are down to 39 this time -- 50 seems to be the norm, although the April 15 Rhapsody Streamnotes only had 40. I'm still maintaining my 2014 tracking list, but not finding much there that I feel like chasing down. So most of my new records (24 of 39 this time) come from my jazz queue. Like I said: lazy.
Next time will be sometime in July. Good chance that column will top 5000 albums. (I am currently 62 short.)
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 May 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (4938 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Jason Ajemian/Tony Malaby/Rob Mazurek/Chad Taylor: A Way a Land of Life (2006 , NoBusiness): Two-horn avant quartet -- bass, tenor sax, cornet, drums, both Ajemian and Mazurek also credited with electronics -- most evident when they slow down. Otherwise, the horns impress, as expected. B+(***) [cdr]
Jason Ajemian: Folklords (2012 , Delmark): Not the avant-jazz record I was expecting, even though the first two suites are built around Monk and Mingus. Reportedly the first of a series titled Mythadors, the nearest analog I can think of for the vocals is John Lydon in Public Image Ltd., but the singer (presumably Ajemian) doesn't have quite the range or presence, and the rhythm is a lot knottier. Quartet: Kid Bliss on alto sax, Owen Stewart-Robertson on guitar, Jason Nazary on drums. Lyrics in the booklet, but I can't say as I've read much less followed. A- [cd]
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin: Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (2014, Yep Roc): Broonzy had a light touch which suited the folk blues idiom and you won't get that here -- seek out the originals -- but his songs could handle some extra muscle, as Muddy Waters proved on Sings Big Bill Broonzy in 1960. This just pushes them a little harder, with Phil's voice adding a tartness that Dave's dry drawl can't provide. A-
Angles 9: Injuries (2013 , Clean Feed): Martin Küchen's superb group continues to grow -- I last heard them as Angles 8 in By Way of Deception: Live in Ljubljana but I missed an intervening release that was vinyl-only or something like that. Nonet, new drummer but the the main change adding Magnus Broo on trumpet (Goran Kajfes moves to cornet). Superb ensemble work, marred only by a couple spots of uncertainty. B+(***) [cd]
Tigger Benford & Party: Vessel of Gratitude (2014, self-released): Percussionist, has three previous albums, mostly plays amadinda here, a Ugandan xylophone, with various musicians but usually Todd Isler on drums, Arthur Kell on bass, and David Schulman on violin, for a seductive little groove album. B+(*) [cd]
Boogaloo Assassins: Old Love Dies Hard (2013, Sicario, EP): LA-based salsa group, looks back to NYC boogaloo in the 1970s, a moment when salsa started to make sense to rock-and-rollers. Seven cuts (counting the radio edit of the opener), 29:53, including a fun "Do You Wanna Dance" in English and an instrumental "Evil Ways." B+(***)
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts (2013 , FMR): Canadian alto saxophonist Carrier and drummer Lambert have been playing together since the 1990s, and recently have been traveling to Russia to play with pianist Alexey Lapin: this is their fourth album together, and they seem to be getting better -- the pianist is more fully engaged here, and the saxophonist probes ever deeper. A- [cd]
Tom Chang: Tongue & Groove (2012 , Raw Toast): Guitarist, from Toronto but has passed through LA and NYC, first album but seems to have been around a while. Postbop, works off two adventurous saxes (Greg Ward and Jason Rigby), has a hot rhythm section (Chris Lightcap and Gerald Cleaver), plus a couple guys who realize his interest in South Indian Carnatic classicism. B+(**) [cd]
Mac DeMarco: Salad Days (2014, Captured Tracks): Young singer-songwriter, '70s vibe but a little slack, like Jimmy Buffett with no humor, or Boz Scaggs with no sex appeal. B
Digital Primitives: Lipsomuch/Soul Searchin' (2011 , Hopscotch, 2CD): Group named for their 2007 debut album, with Assif Tsahar on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Chad Taylor on drums, and Cooper-Moore on a variety of homemade string instruments, notably his diddley bo -- covers about three times the normal bass spectrum, warping time and space for long stretches. And the tenor is always searching and soulful. A [cd]
Dave Douglas & Uri Caine: Present Joys (2013 , Greenleaf Music): Trumpet and piano duets, with Douglas providing the bulk of the songbook. You couldn't ask for more brilliant musicians, but you might wonder why they're generating so few sparks. B+(**) [cd]
Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One (2014, ATO): Nominally a tribute album, that peculiar genre where various artists serenade some sage songwriter, although the choice of 1980s-vintage Dylan is odd in several respects, not least that you're unlikely to recognize a single song here. Nor do I recognize more than a handful of the artists, at least as anything more than mere names (e.g., Dawn Landes, Glen Hansard, Carl Broemel). And while I find it credible that they do more with the songs than Dylan did, that's scant praise given how much of the decade was spent in self-parody. But at least this reiterates a point I learned from Jewels & Binoculars (the marvelous Michael Moore-Lindsey Horner-Michael Vatcher jazz trio with three albums of Dylan songs): he is a remarkably resilient melodist. B+(**)
John Fullbright: Songs (2014, Blue Dirt): Oklahoma singer-songwriter, third album, aims for plainspoken simplicity and if anything overshoots his target. B+(*)
Paul Giallorenzo's GitGo: Force Majeure (2013 , Delmark): Chicago pianist, has a couple previous albums, group name reminds me of Mal Waldron and the piano reinforces that. Quintet includes two horns from the original Vandermark 5: Jeb Bishop on trombone and Mars Williams on various saxes. They were the fun guys then, the ones who threatened to cross over while tripping over the edge of the avant-garde. Closes with an irresistible bit of reggae. B+(***) [cd]
Hat: Twins (2012 , Hot Blues): Spanish quartet, third album by my reckoning, the eponymous first recommended. This one, with electric keybs, guitar, and bass, moves far enough into jazz-rock it's tempting to call it fusion but that would pigeonhole it too much. B+(***) [cd]
Chrissie Hynde: Stockholm (2014, Caroline): After ten records with (or as) the Pretenders, first in 1979, last in 2008, she goes under her own name with Björn Yttling producing. Unmistakable, but nothing especially grows on me. B+(*)
Ideal Bread: Beating the Teens: Songs of Steve Lacy (2013 , Cuneiform, 2CD): Third album for the quartet -- Josh Sinton (baritone sax), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Adam Hopkins (new on bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums) -- all focused on Steve Lacy tunes. Sinton avoids the obvious by transposing the same tricks to the heavier horn. Seems like a formula they can run with a long time, but maybe they shouldn't bite so much off at once. B+(***) [cd]
José James: While You Were Sleeping (2014, Blue Note): A jazz singer from Minneapolis, leans toward soft soul or what's lately been dubbed "neo-soul" -- his limits never clearer than when he tries to close with an Al Green tune. B
Beat Kaestli: Collage (2013 , B+B Productions): Swiss jazz singer, favors trad French chanson, even the inevitably soupy "Frere Jacques." B+(**) [cd]
Miranda Lambert: Platinum (2014, RCA Nashville): Fifth album, tempting to say she's achieved preëminence in a major Nashville niche -- she only has credits on half the songs, nearly all on the back half, only one exclusively hers, so the song mills are pitching her stereotypical fare like "Smokin' and Drinkin'" and "Old Sh!t" -- but she's still the only one in it. And if she seems to be coasting, it's not like anyone is catching up. A- [cd]
Joe LoCascio and Woody Witt: Absinthe: The Music of Billy Strayhorn (2011 , Blue Bamboo Music): Piano-sax duets of nine Strayhorn compositions (only one Ellington co-credit), Witt playing tenor, alto, and soprano. Houston-based LoCascio has at least ten albums since 1988. Witt seems to be a good deal younger. B+(**) [cd]
Tony Malaby Tamarindo: Somos Aqua (2013 , Clean Feed): Avant tenor saxophonist, tends to shine especially bright as a sideman but has a couple dozen albums under his name, including one this trio is named for. Trio, with William Parker on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums, who do what you expect. Malaby is often terrific as well, even on his soprano, featured a bit too much. B+(***) [cd]
Alon Nechushtan: Venture Bound (2012 , Enja): Pianist, based in New York, has a couple previous records, this one a quartet with John Ellis and Donny McCaslin alternating at tenor sax. B+(**) [cd]
Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (2014, What's Your Rupture?): Brooklyn-based band of ex-Texans, debut album made my P&J ballot mostly on the basis of impeccable post-Velvets sound, something this adds to, subtracts from, and mostly fucks around with. A-
Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke (2014, Sony Masterworks): Still a bankable star, but this time she takes some of her advance and reinvests it the way only stars can, recruiting Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson for duets, covering Bob Dylan and Bon Jovi and "Banks of the Ohio," slinging some French merdre. Some of it works -- the bluegrass Dylan is terrific, the French is amusing, and the Rogers duet sounded good enough I thought it was Guy Clark -- and some of it doesn't. B+(*) [cd]
Lenny Pickett With the UMO Jazz Orchestra: The Prescription (2012 , Random Act): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1954, played with Tower of Power 1972-81, has mostly toured with rock acts, and held a regular gig with Saturday Night Live since 1985 (musical director since 1995). Lots of side credits, but only the second album to feature his name -- the other came out in 1987. Backed by the famed Finnish big band, a smarter choice than the usual European big bands, although the main thing is to let the leader show off his chops. B+(***) [cd]
Cene Resnik Quartet: Live: From the Sky (2013 , Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist from Slovenia, quartet adding violin (Emanuele Parrini), bass, and drums. Resnik has half a dozen albums since 2000, but this is the first I've heard. Stealthy avant moves, not exceptional but group is tight. B+(**) [cd]
Röyksopp & Robyn: Do It Again (2014, Cherrytree, EP): Five tracks, 35:26, could just as well call it an album, but it feels like the title single plus filler, some helping, some less so. B+(***)
Samo Salamon Bassless Quartet: 2Alto (2012 , SteepleChase LookOut): Slovenian guitarist, has put together a solid discography since 2004, most notably last year's Stretching Out. Here he goes with two reputable alto saxophonists (Loren Stillman and John O'Gallagher), has Roberto Dani on drums, and dispenses with the bass. The saxes hit the center of the guitar range, so they all occupy the same space with minimal harmonics and not much drive. B+(*) [cd]
Adam Schroeder: Let's (2013 , Capri): Baritone saxophonist, second album, figure him for a mainstream guy by the company he keeps, but Anthony Wilson's guitar is a fine contrast to the big horn, and John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton are a solid rhythm section -- actually fun to hear without the big band baggage. B+(***) [cd]
Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014, High Top Mountain): Country singer from Kentucky, second album, wise to the postmodern totality of his chosen art but aside from some rockish feedback doesn't let that distract himself from the basics of the craft. B+(***)
Spiral Mercury Chicago/São Paulo Underground Feat. Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah & the Underground (2013 , Clean Feed): Live at Jazz em Agosto in Lisbon, no idea what "Spiral Mercury" means as only the title is on the spine, but the idea was to combine Rob Mazurek's Chicago Underground duo (Chad Taylor) with his São Paulo Underground and top it off with the tenor saxophonist. Half the cast dabbles in electronics, which makes for some quirky effects, but the star has trouble emerging from the mix. B+(*) [cd]
Assif Tsahar/Gerry Hemingway/Mark Dresser: Code Re(a)d (2011 , Hopscotch): BassDrumSax, if you know what I mean -- of course, Tsahar's tenor sax is more agile than any trombone (even Ray Anderson's), reeling off one long searching sequence after another, a fusion of Ayler and Coltrane, what you might get if both were pushing the same instrument at the same time. A- [cd]
Assif Tsahar/Tatsuya Nakatani: I Got It Bad (2014, Hopscotch): A short snatch of the Ellington classic, followed by 19 sax-drums improvs, many impressive but some don't quite get off the ground. B+(***) [cd]
François Tusques: La Jungle du Douanier Rousseau (2013 , Improvising Beings): French pianist, b. 1938, cut an album called Free Jazz in 1965, another called Le Piano Préparé in 1977 -- a couple dozen in all, although this is the first I've heard. Some solo stretches, some add tenor sax, Alexandra Grimal or Sylvain Guérineau or both. B+(**) [cd]
The David Ullmann 8: Corduroy (2014, Little Sky): Guitarist, has a couple albums, recruited a mix of postbop players here -- the horns are Loren Stillman (sax), Mike McGinnis (clarinet), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Brian Drye (trombone); vibes instead of piano. B+(**) [cd]
Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask: Bite My Blues (2013 , Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, from Canada, based in Berlin, several previous albums, this an avant-grunge trio with Roland Fidezius on electric bass and Rudi Fischerlehner on drums. Rough and relentless from the very start, not pure ugly but plenty ugly. Then there's a stretch near the end where they almost pull it off. B+(*) [cd]
Jack White: Lazaretto (2014, Third Man): Would-be blues rootsman, starting off with a Willie McTell credit and morphing into Led Zeppelin, which is older than the auteur. But while he can quote the quote, he can't leave well enough alone as song after song flies off the rails, wreckage we should be inured against from watching video games, except that I don't. B-
Neil Young: A Letter Home (2014, Third Man): Mostly solo, covers of old folkie songs played out in a refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph vinyl recording booth and produced by Jack White, who adds a bit of piano and voice. There are points where this strikes me as sweeter and more deeply felt than Americana, but it also risks being slighter -- and triter. B+(**)
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Jaki Byard: The Late Show: An Evening With Jaki Byard: Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 3 (1979 , High Note): Solo piano, with some live patter and "thunderous applause." B+(**)
John Coltrane: Offering: Live at Temple University (1966 , Impulse, 2CD): Previously unreleased, very late, well into Coltrane's avant phase, although the song list is dominated by his standard fare -- "Naima," "Crescent," "My Favorite Things" -- five tracks in all, all but the title track topping 16 minutes. The side credits are as difficult to find in the booklet as they are to hear on record: Pharoah Sanders is on hand but the only thing I'm sure is his is the piccolo; Alice Coltrane on piano, Sonny Johnson on bass, Rashied Ali on drums, and several others (including three conga players) take part, but this starts off with a long stretch of solo sax, searching on a quest that never really gets anywhere. Last cut has an episode of Coltrane ululating at the mic. It all seems a bit off. B+(**) [cd]
Sleepy John Estes with Hammie Nixon: Live in Japan (1974 , Delmark): An old blues whiner from Tennessee, cut his most memorable sides 1929-41 (cf. I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More: 1929-1940 on Yazoo, or Brownsville Blues: His 23 Greatest Songs on Wolf), is 75 here, a couple years short of his death. Nixon is a hometown harmonica player, a close and genial fit, for a rough but remarkable set. B+(***)
The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali [Second Edition]
(1996-2013 , World Music Network, 2CD): A landlocked slice of
Saharan desert and western Sahel including a stretch of the Niger River,
population 14 million (50% Mande with Fula, Tuareg, and Songhai also
prominent), Mali has probably produced more significant music stars per
capita than any other African state, but has fallen into chaos lately
as Libyan arms have fed Tuareg and Islamist rebellions, and the French
have intervened. This leans more to the lately fashionable arid blues
and Saharan rock of the north, with Oumou Sangare the exception in all
Miles Davis: The Complete Birth of the Cool (1948-50 , Capitol Jazz): Gil Evans doesn't play but is the closet leader of this nonet, roughly half of Claude Thornhill's big band. The group included Davis, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Barber (tuba), J.J. Johnson or Kai Winding (trombone, John Lewis or Al Haig on piano, French horn, bass, and drums, with Kenny Hagood singing "Darn That Dream." The twelve studio cuts weren't collected until 1971, when the idea that the then-unknown musicians had invented something -- specifically the west coast "cool" sound that Mulligan had indeed a significant role in -- took root, partly because it made Davis seem like he had a hand in everything (except avant-garde). Still, they feel half-baked to me. The CD doubles the length with live shots of the nonet at the Royal Roost putting a bit more emphasis on Lewis. B
Miles Davis: In Person: Friday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco: Complete Volume 1 (1961 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): With Coltrane and Adderley moving on to their own spectacular careers, the sax slot goes to Hank Mobley, who only lasted one studio album but opens up more in this live context -- as does Davis and the stellar Wynton Kelly-Paul Chambers-Jimmy Cobb rhythm section. Originally the two days were fileted into two LPs, but here each night grows to 2-CD, and this is one of those dates where more is more. A-
Miles Davis: In Person: Saturday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco: Complete Volume 2 (1961 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Possibly a slight drop from Friday Night although you sure can't blame pianist Wynton Kelly, especially superb at driving the band through the fast ones. A-
Miles Davis: In Person: Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk: Complete (1961 , Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): Penguin Guide grades this higher than either of its 2-CD parts (4 stars to 3.5), suggesting some kind of greater organic whole, or that the critics simply appreciate the big box payola more. Having approached this box one night at a time, I'm just averaging: hard to quibble with music this uniformly excellent, but I doubt if this will keep adding up like, say, the 7-CD The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel. A-
Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. II (1962-71 , Columbia): Four years after Dylan's initial Greatest Hits, stretching out to 2-LP by claiming nine songs from the previous period vs. six from newer albums, five previously unreleased tracks, and a new single ("Watching the River Flow") that tops anything on Vol. III. Still, it's like a random set from his better albums, plus an attempt to reclaim a few songs that were hits for others. A-
Bob Dylan: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973, Columbia): Soundtrack for the Sam Peckinpah film, which included a minor acting role for Dylan. One notable new song ("Knockin' on Heaven's Door"), some minor vocals, and strummed filler that makes me imagine vast desert tableaux. B-
Bob Dylan: Dylan (1973 , Columbia/Legacy): Outtakes from his 1970 covers album, Self Portrait, dumped on the public in 1973, presumably as revenge for Dylan signing with Asylum, a minor blip to be ignored with his 1975 return to Columbia -- bypassed when even more outtakes were rolled up into the Bootleg Series Another Self Portrait but necessarily remastered for The Complete Columbia Albums. How bad are they? Two (maybe three) songs initially strike you as amusing trivia, until they don't. The rest don't get that far. C-
Bob Dylan: Hard Rain (1976, Columbia): A live souvenir from Dylan's much hyped Rolling Thunder Revue, recorded with the thin, brittle sound common to 1970s live rock doubles (although they limited themselves to one 51:06) LP. None of the frantic revisualization of Before the Flood, and it says little that I prefer this battered "Shelter From the Storm" over the maudlin studio original. ("Idiot Wind" too.) C+
Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan at Budokan (1978 , Columbia): Third live album in the decade, with Dylan again eager to try new angles and treatments, like burying "Mr. Tambourine Man" in flutes or playing "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" as reggae. C
Bob Dylan: Street Legal (1978, Columbia): Gradually in the late-1970s Americans lost touch with reality -- how else can you explain Ronald Reagan? -- so in retrospect it makes sense that Dylan should have too. I date this back to 1974 and "Forever Young," but at least then he articulated a common fantasy. Here he's moving toward incoherence, with the big band and backing singers conspiring in the cover up. B-
Bob Dylan: Saved (1980, Columbia): The confusion deepened when Dylan announced his conversion to Christianity, which led to a minor uptick (Slow Train Coming, not that I've played it in over a decade), then to this one, where both word and music are reduced to a single-minded concern with salvation -- something his phalanx of backup singers can't help with (though I'm can't be sure he knows that). B-
Bob Dylan: Shot of Love (1981, Columbia): Frequently touted as the third album in Dylan's "Jesus trilogy," but only "Property of Jesus" lives up (or down) to that billing. His "Lenny Bruce" starts out like "The Death of Emmett Till," making me wonder about how limited the clichés Dylan draws on in dealing with the recently deceased. But the music is more focused around the organ, a return to the Band in spirit even if the actual band is a strange mix of LA hacks and guest stars (Ron Wood! Ringo Starr!). At least songs like "Dead Man, Dead Man" come alive. B
Bob Dylan: Infidels (1984, Columbia): After three albums mired in "born again" Christianity, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that Dylan's next turn would be to Zionism (celebrating Israel as the "Neighborhood Bully"). How much further off the deep end he goes is something I can't bother focusing on, nor can I argue against Christgau's conclusions that Dylan's become "a self-serving hypocrite" and "a hateful crackpot." Despite all this, he still comes up with songs that appear vaguely Dylanish. B-
Bob Dylan: Real Live (1984, Columbia): Yet another live album, this one recorded in England and Ireland, with Mick Taylor, Ian McLagen, and a guest shot by Carlos Santana. Six vintage songs, "Tangled Up in Blue" from the '70s, "I and I" and "License to Kill" later -- a normalization of his career that moves him one step closer to a jam band. B-
Bob Dylan: Knocked Out Loaded (1986, Columbia): Skipping Empire Burlesque (1985, not on Rhapsody) gets us to this mixed bag: the 11:00 rap/ballad "Brownsville Girl," co-credited to Sam Sheppard, is vastly entertaining despite the almost cartoonish horns-and-choruses -- Dylan was developing a real fondness for clutter and kitsch, which often got the best of him. B
Bob Dylan: Down in the Groove (1983-87 , Columbia): Two new Dylan songs, two co-credits with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, an arrangement of "Shenandoah," plus five covers -- wouldn't want anyone thinking Self Portrait here although the "odds and sods" effect is the same, recorded over several years with thirty-some musicians, many famous but none worth recognizing. B-
Bob Dylan/Grateful Dead: Dylan & the Dead (1987 , Columbia): Another live album, with the tour's co-headliners reduced to a backup band because they neither have the songbook nor a competitive singer. But they're a pretty decent backup band, free of the circus claptrap that has dogged Dylan since Rolling Thunder, although they're as far devolved from Live/Dead as Dylan is from John Wesley Harding. B-
Bob Dylan: Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1973-90 , Columbia): Hits are relative in these things, but even so the unreleased outtakes and the single B-side are stretches. But he never much of a singles artist -- the last of his four top-tens was "Lay Lady Lay" in 1969 and only four songs here cracked top-forty (the last "Gotta Serve Somebody" from 1979). At least this doesn't cheat and reach back into the pre-Vol. II era -- not even for his uncollected "George Jackson" (number 33 in 1971), which would have been a plus -- nor does it double-dip any of the albums (not even the overrated Blood on the Tracks). So this is close to useful as a period survey, and is fairly evenly listenable, but no better than it is, you could also take it as a hint to avoid the whole series. B+(**)
Bob Dylan: Playlist: The Very Best of Bob Dylan '80s (1980-89 , Columbia/Legacy): Fairly generous with 14 cuts including the 11-minute "Brownsville Girl," but the main effect is to underscore what a barren wasteland the 1980s were for Dylan. B+(*)
Bob Dylan: MTV Unplugged (1995, Columbia): Mostly old songs (two from the '80s, one from the '70s, none from the '90s) done in a nice, clear, even-tempered style, as if little is riding on the outcome, although he does swell up a bit on "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." B+(*)
Gil Evans: Gil Evans & Ten (1957 , Prestige/OJC): Evans plays piano on his first album, so the musician count is eleven. Most famous are Steve Lacy and Lee Konitz in the sax slots, up against two trumpets, trombone, French horn, and bassoon -- a maudlin sound for standards from Leadbelly to Bernstein with one Evans original. B
The Gil Evans Orchestra: Into the Hot (1961 , Impulse): Evans' masterpiece was his 1960 Out of the Cool, so this title makes sense as the next step, but the album itself is schizo, with two dull orchestral tracks led by trumpeter John Carisi (they do seem to wake up for the third), and three slices of something else by Cecil Taylor's quintet (Archie Shepp, Jimmy Lyons, Henry Grimes, and Sunny Murray, adding Ted Curson and Roswell Rudd on the closer). [The Taylor tracks were later reissued along with a Rudd session as Mixed.] B
Gil Evans/Steve Lacy: Paris Blues (1987 , Owl): Evans' last album, bringing him back to piano for duets with the soprano saxophonist who had appeared on his first album. Ellington title track, three Mingus tunes, Lacy's "Esteem," an extra tracks from each on the CD. Mostly of interest to Lacy fans, but count Evans among them. B+(**)
The Horace Silver Quintet: The Tokyo Blues (1962 , Blue Note): The Japanese effects make sense because they are stereotypical, but otherwise they're woven into melodies that are pure Silver -- no one in jazz could write catchier tunes, let alone accentuate them with bits of Latin rhythm and church piano. Blue Mitchell's trumpet and Junior Cook's tenor sax are the horns, not that Silver needs them for the ballad. A-
Horace Silver: Paris Blues: Olympia Teater, Paris, 1962 (1962 , Pablo): Later in the year, the same quintet repeats two songs from The Tokyo Blues, adding "Where You At," "Filthy McNasty," and "Doin' the Thing," each running 10-16 minutes. B+(**)
Horace Silver: The Hardbop Grandpop (1996, Impulse): This doesn't start his 1990s comeback -- there were two 1992-93 albums on Columbia -- but it does kick it up a gear with an all-star septet (Claudio Roditi, Steve Turre, Michael Brecker, Ronnie Cuber, Ron Carter, Lewis Nash). Silver's music remains distinctive, but the stars don't do much more than play it. B+(*)
Horace Silver: Jazz Has a Sense of Humor (1998, Verve): Last album, with Silver returning to his classic quintet lineup, with younger players as was his wont in the old days -- Ryan Kisor (trumpet), Jimmy Greene (tenor/soprano sax), John Webber (bass), Willie Jones III (drums). B+(***)
Terrell Stafford: Centripetal Force (1996 , Candid): Mainstream trumpet player, second album, working with similar-minded but notable players, the core band including Stephen Scott (piano) and Victor Lewis (drums), with a raft of guests not that the ballad-heavy menu needs much help. B+(**)
Additional Consumer News:
Previously graded Bob Dylan (studio albums):
Previously graded Bob Dylan (live albums and "bootlegs"):
Previously graded Bob Dylan (compilations):
That leaves only two ungraded albums: Empire Burlesque (1985), and Christmas in the Heart (2009). For some reason, Rhapsody doesn't have the former. (There is no The Traveling Wilburys, Volume 2.)
Previously graded Horace Silver:
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Friday, June 20. 2014
I read Jill Lepore's The Disruption Machine: What the Gospel of Innovation Gets Wrong with great interest and a little nostalgia. Her subject is Clayton M. Christensen, who became an instant business guru with his 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. From 1980 through 2000, I worked in a variety of businesses -- two large typesetting equipment manufacturers, a prepress software startup, and an operating systems spinoff -- as a software engineer and product manager. Almost from the beginning, I had unusually close access to top management, in part because I always tried to look at the big picture, at how the business worked and what it needed to survive and grow. In this I was often informed by reading business management books, although I often took them with a grain of salt.
The first big fad book I ran into was In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies (1982), by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. The executives at my company at the time, Varityper, were much taken with the book, taking great pains to list out all the areas where their own management could be rated excellent. There was, in fact, little evidence for their conceit. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how they even managed to stay in business, and eventually came up with an understanding of how a company with mediocre products and service could muddle through. But the relevant lesson here was realizing how fickle top management could be, how readily they could fall for the flattery of self-appointed business gurus.
Christensen's book had a similar impact when I was working for SCO much later. Like In Search of Excellence, The Innovator's Dilemma attempts to promulgate a set of general lessons from a handful of carefully selected case studies. Lepore goes back and reviews those cases, showing how arbitrarily they were selected and how systematically they were misanalyzed, effectively demolishing the book's research claims. But like Peters, who parlayed his fame into a lucrative consulting business (and continued to churn out increasingly ecstatic books, including: Thriving on Chaos, Liberation Management, The Pursuit of WOW!, and after Christensen came around, Re-Imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age), Christensen moved to cash in almost immediately.
The notion of "disruption" made a certain intuitive sense to anyone in the computer industry. The essential fact of electronics since the advent of integrated circuits has been radically falling costs and increasing capacity. The central challenge that high-tech companies faced was to find new markets for newly cost-effective technology, and often as not this was done by startup companies. By definition, their success was innovative, and that contrasted with the staid "cash cow" management strategies popular in "mature" industries. Christensen's innovation was to add the word "disrupt" to management vocabularies, which made him a big hit with managers flattered by this swashbuckling identity.
Christensen's book set off a great snark hunt for "disruption." SCO's business was selling UNIX operating systems ported to Intel microprocessors. They mostly sold OS licenses for about $1000 per machine through VARs, who would combine relatively inexpensive PC hardware, UNIX, and their own applications software into some kind of turnkey system which would be price/performance competitive against offerings from Sun and other UNIX-based "workstation" vendors. You could make an argument that SCO's business model was disruptive, and indeed companies like Sun would lose a good deal of business in the following decade. Moreover, SCO's business plan called for them to continue to profit as ever-faster-and-cheaper Intel chips powered larger-and-larger "enterprise" computers. SCO's management hired Christensen to speak at one of their gatherings, and sure enough he blessed their business plan as "disruptive."
However, when I read the book, I drew a different lesson. I saw that SCO was increasingly vulnerable to Linux, the "open source" UNIX-like operating system that anyone could use and work on for free. Companies that adopted it could add features that they needed. They just couldn't keep those features exclusively, but sharing the code reduced their costs and helped Linux grow rapidly for larger and more powerful computers. (At the time, I often quipped that SCO could sell UNIX to people who were too smart for Microsoft, or to people who were too dumb for Linux, but not both at the same time.) Needless to say, despite their endorsement from Christensen, SCO got disrupted before they could disrupt anyone. They enjoyed record revenues leading up to the Y2K drop dead rate, then collapsed and were effectively out of business a couple years later.
I don't really think that Christensen's original research and thesis were as bad as Lepore makes out. I did get several useful insights from the book: particularly, a reminder of how desperately managers cling to existing margin models. (Not really news to me: I recall Varityper's VP of Marketing explaining to me that he would like to sell a publishing front end based on Apple's $10k Lisa computer but couldn't afford to sell one based on Apple's then-forthcoming $1.5k Macintosh. The former turned out to be an overpriced stepping stone, while the latter turned out to be the desktop publishing platform that ate the entire typesetting industry. We were, by the way, fully aware of DTP start-ups like Aldus, but we were petrified by our business model.) But what I find indefensible about Christensen is how he turned his research into a business, and how easily he perverted that research into paid advertising.
My academic background was in sociology, and my focus there was in understanding how sociological research is perverted to reproduce the assumptions of its practitioners. Happens all the time, even when the researcher isn't the least bit corrupt or deceitful. But sociology at least aims at being a science. The same can't be said of whatever you call what business departments do: like, say, seminaries, they train people to fulfill a function (e.g., CEO) and to that end provide some common cultural information, scattered skills, and contacts. I don't know what all goes into the making of an MBA -- I imagine one popular course would be "Sports Clichés for Managers" but it could be that everyone in the program would test out of that -- but the essential insight MBA programs aim for seems to be that money is everything (at least all that matters). That's the environment that produces con men like Christensen.
Some other posts commenting on Lepore's piece:
Krugman makes the best point, which is that not only does the cult theory of disruptive innovation flatter rich high-tech entrepreneurs, it lets them be more insensitive to the plight of others (the people commonly known as losers. Krugman also recalls how Schumpeter's famous definition of capitalism as "creative destruction" has the same effect, hence its popularity among capitalists.
Thursday, June 19. 2014
I was thinking about doing a roundup of Iraq/Syria war posts, but despite finding some useful links -- cf. Juan Cole: Who are Iraq's Sunni Arabs and What Did We Do to Them?; Bob Dreyfuss: How Iraq's Crisis Got Started, and How It Didn't -- they seemed to be coming in rather scattershot. Then I ran across the following Obama quote in a comment and it pretty well sums up the essential incoherence of the American position(s). Obama's quote was from November 2010 on occasion of "The Erbil Agreement" which secured a second term as Prime Minister for Nouri al-Maliki:
Maliki got his first term in 2006 when the Bush administration conspicuously meddled in Iraq's political process to get rid of then-Prime Minister Ibrahimi al-Jaafari, an intellectual who was considered too socialist and too timid when it came to controlling the Sadr Movement militia (the Mahdi Army), perceived by the US as a major threat to its occupation. Maliki proved to be an effective strong man, but that was partly because the US could offer Sunni Awakening groups protection against Shiite assassination squads. With the departure of US troops, the protection and bribes that the US had provided vanished behind a thin cloud of rhetoric such as Obama spouts above.
Obama's speech is doubly dangerous. The obvious problem is that what he's describing is pure fantasy: Maliki is a sectarian, and the entire basis for his government, indeed the very structure of that government, was a set of tradeoffs designed to cultivate and reward sectarian parties. It may be obvious to Obama that what the Iraqi government needs to do is to is to become more inclusive and fair, but there was no reason to think that any politician in Iraq would put the public interest above his own pocketbook (and that of his own family, clan, etc.). That just wasn't in the cards, and that wasn't an accident: the US built Iraq that way.
Beyond the obvious problem of its fantasy lies a deeper problem in Obama's speech: he's trying to use Iraq's progress toward stability and prosperity as something vindicating Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq. For someone who gained a large chunk of his credibility for his early opposition to the Iraq War, his stance is stupid and insane. It's stupid because it wasn't true and it's falsity would become clear as soon as Iraq's government faltered -- which is what just happened. It's also stupid because it shifts the blame for Iraq's failure from Bush (who was solely responsible for the war) to Obama (casting away the credibility he gained from his antiwar stance). What Obama should have done is to remind people that this was Bush's war each and every time the subject came up, that it was a disaster, and what the real costs have been. Instead, Obama's legacy is littered with speeches like the one above, where he not only lies to us, he lies to himself. That's insane.
Many commentators (e.g., see Dreyfuss above) have pointed out that the Sunni Islamist insurgencies in Syria and Iraq are joined together. That is, after all, embedded in the name ISIS. They've also pointed out that while Iran and Qatar are consistent in supporting their co-religionists, the US is confused, backing Maliki while opposing Assad. It's certainly hard to see either government as worthy of support, nor is there any reason to think that either insurgency would solve anything. Indeed, the only sensible lesson that one can derive from either war is that all those who resort to violence should be condemned. But Obama isn't drawing that lesson, and you have to wonder why. The simplest explanation is that Maliki is "our" guy while Assad isn't, but that assumes continuity between the Bush administration (which was responsible for empowering Maliki) and Obama. Then there's the notion that the US can't help but choose sides and back one with military power -- there's simply no one in power who can think differently.
Still, that's hardly reassuring for the guy who campaigned on how he wanted to change the way we think about war.
Monday, June 16. 2014
Music: Current count 23394  rated (+24), 568  unrated (-6).
Everything down this week, myself especially. The hardest blow, of course, was the death of Alice Powell. The obit describes her as a "Hollywood liberal activist," but I recognized her as a Jewish "red diaper baby" with with the resilience and rock-solid political principles of those who expect nothing more than a lifetime of struggle -- an creed I could map to the old "protestant ethic" I admired but could never quite believe in. She was first and foremost an activist, working the masses from her first day in Wichita, not just through the venerable Wichita Peace group but through anyone who would have her -- notably, she organized a speaker program for an ad hoc group of liberal Republican women. With more than a little Hollywood glamor -- she was married to screenwriter Dick Powell, and before that to folksinger Cisco Houston -- she was exotic for Wichita, but she put on no airs. She was not just committed, she was genuinely interested in the people she met -- I'm tempted to say "everyone she met," but what I'm most certain of was that she took a special interest in me. I spent very little time with her on picket lines, but we wined and dined each other -- her parties were plainly meant to broaden our social horizons -- and we exchanged books. She cajoled me into giving a lecture on jazz to "the group" -- I dreaded it but it turned out not to be a disaster. She sent me Otmar Ottolenghi's Jerusalem cookbook, which I used for a fancy dinner the night before she died. We saw her last in March in Florida, when she had partly recovered from an initial round of cancer treatments -- possibly the one sweet spot in her ordeal. We were very lucky that she dropped into our lives. It doesn't seem like it was only five years.
And, of course, there's other stuff, not worth talking about. I only caught up with my tweets last night. The two A- records this week are marginal: Tsahar's is not as impressive as his Digital Primitive album last week, but after I wrote my line comparing him to Ayler and Coltrane I listened to the recent Coltrane vault dig -- while the sound was as expected, it turned out to be far more tedious than expected, something Tsahar never is. Ajemian's probably runs too long, and I doubt many rock crits will prefer it to PIL's Metal Box, but that's only the obvious comparison because there's so little like it.
Not a lot on Rhapsody this past week. (In fact, when I tried last night it wouldn't run for me.) Would probably be a good idea to run Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week -- I think I'm up to about 50 records, still well below recent averages in the 70s but enough to go around. I'll also work on that Pazz & Jop Product Report spec -- got a good start on that, then haven't found time to get back into it.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, June 15. 2014
Rather than spending the day chasing down odds and ends, I want to focus on one key piece: Tom Engelhardt: A Record of Unparalleled Failure. This came out nearly a week ago (June 10), well before the Iraqi government -- the legacy of six year of US occupation -- lost control of the nation's second or third largest city (Mosul). Now that large parts of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and large swaths of north Africa are under (sunni salafist) Islamist control, often identified with Al-Qaeda, it should be clear that the Global War on Terror G.W. Bush launched in 2001 has not only failed; it has blown back spectacularly.
Of course, the people who brought you all that war have a solution: more war. They blame the stalemate in Syria on Obama's reluctance to arm the so-called "moderate Syrian rebels" -- allowing the Islamist rebels to take over. And they see the chaos in Iraq as a consequence of the US pulling its troops out: firepower that both limited the Sunni insurgency and restrained the Shiite-dominated government. And they have more or less similar fixes for everything else, like the drone warfare over Yemen and the recent insertion of US Special Forces into Chad. They blame Obama for his week-kneed, wobbly responses. He, in turn, without any success on the Israel-Palestine diplomatic front, has been unable to resist the hawks' browbeating, repeatedly putting himself into lose-lose positions, where the hawks get to characterize the failures of American force as the results of "too little" rather than "too much."
There is an alternative view that virtually no one in Washington in any way invested in US foreign policy would dare bring up. Engelhardt makes this view succinctly:
Engelhardt's memory of America's wars goes back past the GWOT, all the way to Korea and Vietnam in the anti-communist era (the so-called "Cold War"), and he doesn't find any exceptions there either (nor in the so-called "little wars" that Max Boot is so fond of). The essay continues with him going back over all five points, adding details to reiterate the case. But he doesn't go after deeper answers. He doesn't, for instance, wonder how the American fetish for individualism and obsession with profit warp a military culture which has traditionally depended on selfless sacrifice. He doesn't go into the changes brought about as the Army abandoned the draft in favor of career soldiers (something Andrew Bacevich goes overboard on in his latest book, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country). He doesn't even note that all of "America's wars" have been fought on foreign ground for political reasons that have had nothing to do with "the American way of life." He doesn't note the fickle tendency of American leaders to pick sides in fights they hardly understand, and how this almost invariably leads to the US allied with corrupt and ineffective leaders. He doesn't delve into how the desire to impose American-like systems of government always wind up reproducing the most unjust aspects of American society -- a problem that only became worse as conservatives gained power. (This is, of course, why Peter Beinart argued that only liberals could win the War on Terror, ignoring the fact that liberals had tried and failed to win the anti-communist wars in Korea and Vietnam.) Nor does he go into factors extrinsic to the US, such as the analysis that Jonathan Schell summed up perfectly in his book title, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People: could it be the case that one reason the US has always failed was that time and again it attempted the impossible?
When you think about it, not only is what Engelhardt says true, it's pretty obviously true for lots of easily identifiable reasons. Yet hardly anyone with a stake in power realizes that. Engelhardt reminds us: "keep in mind that we are inside an enormous propaganda machine of militarism, even if we barely acknowledge the space in our lives that it fills. Inside it, only certain opinions, certain thoughts, are acceptable, or even in some sense possible." There are lots of components to this propaganda machine, but I think the blinders that most elites have that prevents them from doubting the efficacy of "the military option" are rooted in two great myths.
The first is that the US always fights for right, and therefore our motives and goals are beyond question. For this, one can cite our major wars: the War for Independence, which established our democracy free from foreign rule; the Civil War, which ended the odious "peculiar institution" of slavery; and the World Wars, when Germany and Japan threatened to subdue whole continents and subject them to racist and colonialist exploitation. Of course, this ignores the 1848 Mexican-American War and 1898 Spanish-American War, which were blatant imperialist land grabs, and slights the many Indian wars, which were land grabs with a whiff of genocide thrown in. But after WWII, the anti-communist wars aligned the US with capital (and its cronies) against labor, ultimately leading to grave damage to America's own working class -- which is to say to the detriment of most Americans, as well as most people in the countries we fought or subverted. Moreover, where the US failed to impose its will, it turned out to be remarkably petty and vindictive, as we see even today in US efforts to blockade Cuba and North Korea.
The problem here is not just that our motives are impure -- if you look close enough you'll find that they never were, although it certainly suited the people who led those wars to get us to think so -- but that this sense of self-righteousness results in a huge blind spot around the terrible costs of war. Indeed, how blind one can be is amply demonstrated by WWII, which saw the US carpet-bombing Europe, creating horrific firestorms in Japan, and ultimately using nuclear weapons that obliterated whole cities. The notion that that was "the good war" is frankly obscene. What was "good" about it was that it was run by the most fair-minded and equitable administration the US ever enjoyed, one that worked hard to instill in all Americans an unprecedented sense of joint purpose and solidarity, and that was what felt good. But on the war fronts, which few Americans actually experienced, the usual atrocities of war prevailed.
And ever since then, that sense of solidarity is remembered in unthinking ritual, in waving the flag and commemorating veterans and cheering the troops, as if what they do now has anything to do with our declining standard of living.
The second myth has to do with the ever-increasing efficiency of killing that the US military wields. The problem here isn't that the efficiency is mythical (although it takes on mythical airs in some respects, like the doctrine of "shock and awe"), but that it gives our political elites a false sense of superiority and, indeed, invulnerability which makes them excessively confident and therefore more likely to use "the military option." On the other hand, the military's measures of killing efficiency turn out to be of very little value in the real world. No enemy since the Chinese in Korea have fought anything resembling a conventional war against the US, yet that never stopped them from finding effective ways to fight -- especially as the US is always fighting on foreign territory, ostensibly in support of local allies which necessarily provide cover for their enemies.
We also need to consider the touchy subject of defense. The US military has become increasingly reluctant to risk the lives of its soldiers: eliminating the draft has much to do with this, but one should also factor in the decreasing stakes of the wars the US has entered into -- maybe Iraq matters to Exxon, but is it worth your while to risk your life for slightly cheaper gasoline back home? The worst case scenario for Iraq might embarrass some politicians and generals but won't change a single thing in everyday life back home -- except, of course, for the ex-soldiers wounded and traumatized, and recognizing that helps push survival to the top of nearly every soldier's priority, changing the risks they're willing to take, and reducing their effectiveness at everything but killing.
The bottom line here is that the first time anyone in power says anything about "hearts and minds" you know that the US has lost the war, because American soldiers don't do "hearts and minds": they kill people, they blow shit up, they act menacing and invincible, but that's it. They may be the most efficient killers in the world, but for anything else they're useless, in large part because they're scared shitless any time they're not on the offensive.
While I was contemplating writing about Engelhardt's post, I ran across another piece that says the exact same things (working in a few of the extra points that I chided Engelhardt for not digging up): Gordon Adams: Blame America ("The United States tried to build a stable state in Iraq. We should've known better."):
Back during Bush's runup to the Iraq War, it suddenly became very popular to talk about the US occupation of Germany and Japan as huge success stories. Anyone familiar with the details should have objected, as indeed John W. Dower (author of War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War and Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II) did, explaining both that Iraq had next to nothing in common with Japan, and that the United States in 2003 was nearly as far removed from the US in 1945. Some of the big differences:
Iraq and Afghanistan had their own experiences with colonial and quisling rulers. As Muslims, they had grown up with the historical remembrance of the Crusades and the knowledge that their ancestors had beaten back the infidel invaders. (Afghanistan, of course, was responsible for the utter rout of British colonial forces in the 19th century, as well as the more recent destruction of the Soviet Union.) So the idea of fighting back was deeply embedded in both places, and the pathetic performance of the Saddamist and Taliban armies smelled more like desertion than defeat, and happened to haphazardly that the people wound up with large stockpiles of arms.
The Bush administration, on the other hand, was utterly cynical about government, seeing it as little more than a vast store of pilferage and patronage -- they invested more in Iraq for the bare reason that there was more to steal there. Moreover, they were absolutely shameless in their manipulation of constitutions and elections, seeing them as games to be scammed to make sure that the resulting institutions were dependent on and submissive to the US, as opposed to representative of their constituencies. (In other words, pretty much the same attitude Republicans have toward elections in the US.) And when things went wrong, they talked a lot about "hearts and minds" and sent the military out to do the only thing it does at all well: kill. And when that didn't work, they whipped multiple sides up and aimed them at killing each other, a divide strategy that didn't conquer so much as protract the embarrassment of defeat. Obama finally pulled out not so much because he knew better as because the entire war machine was so wore out that they preferred to move on to greener pastures -- drone warfare, Libya, north Africa, places where they can do their damage without getting their boots dusty (or bloody).
Still, Engelhardt and Adams are very exceptional in pointing out the obvious about US military power. It's very hard for politicians to do the same, not because they can't see failure all around them so much as that hawk patriotism is so entertwined with self-flattery of Americans, and politicians understand that flattery works. Give us a prospective crisis like, say, preventing the destruction of the Shiite shrine in Karbala and no self-revering American will concede that there's nothing we can do to save it, and that if we even tried the most likely outcome would be that we blow it up ourselves.
Ultimately we need to understand: there is no answer to war but no war. Until we take that to heart, we'll be stuck in this endless cycle of futility.
Tuesday, June 10. 2014
The Wichita Eagle ran my little "Opinion Line" squib yesterday:
Opinion Line is anonymous, limited to 50 words or less (mine was 36, but still half again too long for Twitter), published daily next to the letters on the editorial page. Mine refers back to May 30, when the front page article was "Final Air Force plane leaves Boeing Wichita" while Tiahrt's announcement that the former congressman (1995-2011) would run against incumbent Mike Pompeo (2011-) in the Republican primary was further back.
Some background: Stearman Aircraft was founded in Wichita in 1927, one of several dozen airplane companies back then. Stearman wound up as part of Boeing in the late 1930s, and Boeing's Wichita plant grew enormously during WWII, becoming the main manufacturer of a series of Boeing bombers (B-17, B-29, B-47, B-52). My father worked at Boeing for 38 years, and my brother for 23, but Boeing started breaking down their Wichita operations (for several reasons, one of which was that Wichita was the most heavily unionized plant Boeing had). In 2005, most of the plant was merged into a private equity company called Spirit AeroSystems, set up by Onex. At the time, Boeing kept the small military part of the plant attached to McConnell Air Force Base. A large part of their military business was maintenance of the KC-135 tankers based at McConnell, but Boeing came up with a scam to replace the aging tanker fleet with planes modified from the obsolete 777 commercial airliner. The leading advocate in Congress for those tankers was Todd Tiahrt -- so much so that Bush's nickname for Tiahrt was Tanker Todd. All through the long sales effort Wichita was promised 1,000 jobs if the deal went through, but as soon as it did, Boeing announced they would close their Wichita plant and move the work elsewhere.
Tiahrt was first elected to congress in 1994. He was one of the crop of political activists who developed out of the so-called "Summer of Mercy" when anti-abortion activists targeted Wichita. He was on Boeing's payroll before he was elected, and remained as one of Boeing's most reliable lackies throughout his eight terms. He was a religious fanatic, but he was also very close to Tom DeLay and deeply involved in the culture of corruption around DeLay. (DeLay rewarded Tiahrt with a seat on the House Appropriations Committee.) Tiahrt was an extreme right-winger, but not the sort of principled Tea Partier who would vote against Big Pharma's Medicare drugs scam.
In 2010 Tiahrt ran for an open Senate seat and lost the Republican primary to Jerry Moran, also a Congressman initially elected in 1994, but slightly more libertarian, and much closer to the Kochs. Tiahrt's seat was picked up by Mike Pompeo, a businessman very close to the Kochs. Tiahrt tried his hand as consulting, and seems to have been involved in Boeing's decision to leave Wichita. Pompeo, meanwhile, has been relatively active in Congress. He's worked hard to promote the Kochs' line on ending subsidies for renewable energy (even though wind power is very popular here in Kansas), and he's generally been critical of the sort of "corporate welfare" that Tiahrt specialized in (although I don't think he's questioned the Air Force tanker deal, and he managed to pass a deregulatory bill that's very popular with local general aviation interests). But he's also taken a very hawkish stand in favor of the NSA spying on Americans -- most libertarians are against those things, but the Kochs don't seem to care much as long as it doesn't affect their bottom line. And he's a West Point graduate, so jingoistically pro-military he got appointed to the House's Benghazi! circus committee.
In short, Pompeo is awful, but Tiahrt is evil. It's hard to know where to start. It's not just his perfect sense for the worst possible policies -- his tireless promotion of the Boeing tanker scam, his "Tiahrt amendment" sheltering deals between gun sellers and criminals, his campaign to send US troops into the Philippines in 2001 (resulting in needless deaths), barely start the list -- but also his sanctimonious demeanor and charismatic appeal to the worst instincts of his followers. (And, of course, who know why one of his sons killed himself? What can I say? The guy is downright creepy.)
Pompeo was recently reported as having $2.1 million left in his campaign slush fund. Tiahrt routinely collected more money than that. Good chance the campaign will be nasty and brutish.
Some more Opinion Line today, by others but along similar lines:
I can't forsee much fun in this campaign, but I do hope that both drain their campaign coffers in the primary, and in the process thoroughly expose themselves to be the malignant political forces they both are.
Monday, June 9. 2014
Music: Current count 23370  rated (+28), 574  unrated (+17).
Although the rated count doesn't look too shabby, I fell way behind in new jazz this past week, partly because more mail came in than any week this year, partly because I didn't find much time for it. My main time sink this past week was a woodworking project: I built a stand to mount a large TV on. To keep the clutter out of the house, I did most of the work in the back yard, and the weather wasn't very accommodating. There were a lot of rain breaks -- as of May 1 we had suffered through the driest first four month stretch in Wichita history; we're still 3.5 inches low, but unlikely to set any further records -- and when it wasn't raining it was uncomfortably hot and humid. Plus both sawdust and paint irritate my allergies, so I've been suffering and as grouchy as can be. Finally got the stand bolted to the wall on Saturday, then spent several trips to the hardware store until I got some VESA mounting screws that worked. Then we had to find some generous muscle to lift the TV into place -- finally got that done today. Maybe we'll catch up on Game of Thrones after I get this posted.
The other major time sink this past week has been Bob Dylan. Michael Tatum gave a surprise (to me, anyway) A- to Bob Dylan in the '80s, a tribute album out in March, then Robert Christgau wrote a very favorable review of the album in Spin. But rather than dive straight into it, I thought it would be helpful to fill in the gaps in my own Dylan database -- two 1973 albums, and literally everything from 1976-88, plus a couple best-ofs. Dylan was a huge figure for my generation but he was less than monumental for me. I recall buying a single of "Rainy Day Women" when it came out, but I didn't pick up any Dylan LPs until the early 1970s, and often had mixed feelings about them. For various reasons, I hated The Times They Are a-Changin', "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," and "Forever Young" -- pet peeves that stuck in my mind -- but worst of all was an album nearly everyone praised, Blood on the Tracks but I found little short of nauseous. My initial response to Desire was more favorable -- "Hurricane" had become the second Dylan single I bought -- but when various critics slammed it I demurred and gave up any interest. I stopped buying, and stopped listening, a streak that didn't break until Christgau hyped Under the Red Sky as a major comeback. Premature, that turned out to be, but I found myself rather liking 1992's Good as I Been to You, and that was followed by a remarkable series of albums, at least up to 2009's Together Through Life.
I'm not quite through with that exercise, and I didn't find the time (or inspiration) to craft tweets as I worked my way through, so you'll have to wait for the next Rhapsody Streamnotes for more info than the grades convey. The grades, by the way, rarely wander more than a notch from Christgau's -- Dylan & the Dead was probably the largest shift (up), which I'm inclined to explain by comparison to his numerous so-called live albums. (I also didn't tweet the various versions of Miles Davis' In Person, as they would all have wound up saying the same thing.)
One other item worth noting here is that Chuck Eddy recently made a pitch for a revival of the Pazz & Jop Product Report. The original ran 1976-77, with ten critics asked to rate up to ten records they like on a 1 . . 10 scale (except no 9, 6, or 4), and up to four records they dislike on a -1 . . -4 scale. These votes would then be summed up, cumulatively over time. A monthly report would list the top ten records with at least one new vote each month. For a sample, see this scan (thanks to Brad Luen for finding it).
I'm thinking about writing up a brief technical proposal for such a thing. Could be a variation (or even a subset) of two other projects I have been thinking about.
Also note that the first three June 3 releases I checked out got A- grades (the Alvins, Miranda Lambert, Parquet Courts). I even bought the only one available in the local Best Buy. Haven't yet checked out Fucked Up, Die Antwoord, Meshell Ndegeocello, Camper Van Beethoven, Joe Henry, Bob Mould, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Lee Fields, Sage Francis, Harry Dean Stanton, or anything else in an exceptionally promising week.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, June 8. 2014
Spent most of the past week working on a stand for a large TV as we attempt to adopt some 21st century technology. Project should be done by now, but for lack of some muscle isn't. Very frustrating. As, of course, is the news, once again generating some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, June 2. 2014
Music: Current count 23342  rated (+8), 557  unrated (+2).
A very skimpy music report this week. We had a visitor for much of the week, so we drove around and ate out a lot, including a drive up Coronado Heights and a pilgrimage to Brookville Hotel for their famous fried chicken dinner. I cooked a dinner party -- pad thai and teriyaki salmon plus a couple sides, probably the easiest surefire menu combo I've discovered. I spent most of my spare time working on a carpentry project: built a cage that I can attach to a wall and mount a pretty large TV on. I still have to add some sliding shelves to it, anchor it to the wall, extend an HVAC register to the front of the contraption, figure out some wiring issues. Oh, and buy and mount a new TV, but the hard part is done. Looks kinda ugly but functional. Then on top of all that Laura spent the weekend in the hospital. She's back home now, and things are returning to normal.
All this distraction not only reduced my listening time, it also kept me from tweeting album grades as they happened, so I caught up working on this. Sometimes I wonder "why bother" -- as when I read this snippet on Facebook by a guy who picked three words way out of context from last week's Wussy review:
Others objected to the facts of the matter, where they may well have a case: I've never had much of an ear for lyrics, so don't do well at distinguishing songs differentiated by little else. But this comment was something else. Indeed, the suggestion is that I should stop writing to avoid further embarrassing myself. I can see where "samey" -- like "boring" -- may reveal more about the limits of the listener than the record, but it also has a literal descriptiveness that I have to insist is sometimes appropriate. (How often can one write "undifferentiated"? Appears twice in my notebook, vs. seven times for "samey"; well, plus six for "sameyness" or "samey-ness"; "loud" is more common, but when I grep for it most of the finds are related to "cloud").
Others turned on my "late to the cult" comment: they suggested various alternatives to "cult," but I'd say my point was born out by the evident fact that of 72 records in that column, the only one they cared to comment on was the one they already knew. It seems unlikely they're upset that I gave twelve other records the same A- I gave Wussy -- even if you reduced my review to "loud and samey" that grade alone puts a lot of distance between it and any of dozens of other rock records I could say the same of -- or the three I gave full A grades to. (The Lily Allen is one there's a lot of disagreement over. The Steve Lehman is more widely admired and will probably end up in the top ten in jazz critic polls -- ours more likely than theirs. The Junior Mance is a forgotten classic.) Expert Witnesses, after all, aren't jealous god types: they search pleasures out all over the map rather than focusing on a few archetypal favorites, although their Wussy fetish does seem to have jumped from a reified to a social signpost (I'm thinking here of the reports of sightings and meet-ups at concerts and pilgrimages to Shake It Records in Cincinnati -- things that wouldn't be out of place in the teen fanzines I read when I was a teen).
Still, good chance I'll keep trudging along, wherever my ears take me. Took a long nap this afternoon. Decided not to work on the TV stand again until tomorrow. Next week's Music Week will rebound, though maybe not all the way. Taking it easy and finally listening to Miles Davis At the Blackhawk now.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: