Wednesday, July 30. 2014
Fewer new records, but more old ones, for one of the larger Rhapsody Streamnotes posts of the year. I've written about the various factors driving my old music searches, especially in Monday's "Music Week," so won't try to repeat that here. New records have been harder to find, so I jumped on three of this week's releases: Jenny Lewis, Shabazz Palaces, La Roux. Each came close, but only Lewis improved on the second, and not quite enough to crack the A-list.
Those with a better memory than me will recall that I folded Jazz Prospecting into Rhapsody Streamnotes back in January (and no sooner). I got confused when I expected and failed to find the William Parker box in the Rhapsody Streamnotes index, so I dusted off last year's best jazz list review and included it here. Then I realized my mistake when I looked for more omissions and found more than I thought possible. Still, I kept the revised Parker review, if for no reason than I had bumped the grade up.
Everything of note has been tweeted about -- the easiest way to follow my researches is to follow my twitter feed here. The tweets are then rolled up in my weekly Music Week posts, along with some comments. Then, sooner or later, Rhapsody Streamnotes appears, rolling it all up with blurbs not limitd to 140 characters.
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 July 8. Past reviews and more information are available here (5100 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Dee Alexander: Songs My Mother Loves (2014, Blujazz): Standards singer out of Chicago, started out in gospel but the concept here gives her a secular album with classic songs -- "As Long as You're Living," "Now or Never," "What a Difference a Day Makes," two takes of "Perdido." Mostly piano-bass-drums, but the bassist is Harrison Bankhead, and the guest horns Ari Brown, Oliver Lake, and Corey Wilkes. B+(**) [cd]
Al Basile: Swing n' Strings (2013 , Sweetspot): Basically a light-toned blues singer with a touch of Mose Allison in his voice, also plays cornet, with more than ten records since 2001. The strings here turn out to be two guitars, Fred Bates and Bob Zuck (who also sings a couple). No drums, but a bit of sax. B+(**) [cd]
Gerald Beckett: The Messenger (2013 , Summit): Flute player, from Beaumont TX, studied at UNT, has a couple albums. Artwork here is very dark, but the album sloshes along agreeably, the sax boppish and the flute buoyant, flittering even. B [cd]
Kris Berg & the Metroplexity Big Band: Time Management (2014, Summit/MAMA): Bassist-led big band, second album, drew some guest stars here including Phil Woods and Wayne Bergeron. B+(*) [cd]
Todd Bishop Group: Travelogue (2014, Origin): Drummer, has a couple previous albums, leads a quartet with Richard Cole (not Richie Cole) on saxes, bass clarinet, and flute; Jasnam Daya Singh (better known as Weber Iago) on piano and fender rhodes; and Chris Higgins on bass. Flighty postbop, don't quite see the point. B [cd]
Drew Ceccato/Adam Tinkle: Eidolon (2014, Edgetone): Sax duets, Ceccato playing tenor and baritone, Tinkle alto, free and prickly but rather tethered in. B+(*) [cd]
Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra: Shrimp Tale (2013 , Crown Heights Audio Network): Pianist, based in Los Angeles, debut album featuring a 17-piece big band, not many names I recognize but sharp and contemporary, with a spoken word narrative that works. B+(*) [cd]
Dagens Ungdom: Dagens Ungdom (2014, Metronomicon Audio): Norwegian pop/rock group, debut album, recommended by Chris Monsen: "[their] sophisticated lyrical wit may not easily translate into English, but their melodies should to anyone attuned to preppy and jangly British or Kiwi guitarpop from the 80's." I wouldn't say jangly (let alone preppy, something I have no sense of), given the elegant flow. B+(***)
Jason Derulo: Talk Dirty (2014, Warner Brothers): He's always had a knack for singles hooks, finally stringing together a full album of them -- admittedly a short one (37:56), with none of eleven songs topping 3:53. A-
Drumheller: Sometimes Machine (2014, Barnyard): Canadian group, second album, best known member is drummer Nick Fraser (whose Towns & Villages I recommend), but alto saxophonist Brodie West, guitarist Eric Chenaux, trombonist Doug Tielli, and bassist Rob Clutton all contribute songs. Interesting free-ish work, but nothing really jumps out. B+(*) [cd]
Dub Thompson: 9 Songs (2013 , Dead Oceans, EP): Two 19-year-olds from Agoura Hills (near LA), Matt Pulos and Evan Laffer, debut with an eight-track 29:36 mini-album, postmodern postpunk, loud and brash but at one point ("Dograces") dissolving into distant circus sounds. A-
The Equity & Social Justice Quartet: The Whisper of Flowers (2013 , Edgetone): Bay Area group, led by bassist Markus Hunt, with Henry Hung (trumpet), David Boyce (sax), and and Timothy Orr (drums). Album benefits the Homeless Children's Network in San Francisco, not that there's a huge market payback for such understated, disciplined free jazz. B+(**) [cd]
Grenier/Archie Pelago: Grenier Meets Archie Pelago (2014, Melodic): Archie Pelago is a New York trio, classically trained, acoustic instruments (sax, trumpet, cello), providing the texture here for DJ Grenier's synth beats -- all they need to move the chamber music to the dancefloor. B+(***)
Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become (2014, Virgin): Heaton was the voice of the Housemartins and Beautiful South, recording some of my favorite albums, like, ever, and Abbott added her voice to the latter. I haven't sussed out all the meanings here -- is the title track only about obesity? what does "lost him to a DIY" mean? why, exactly, must Phil Collins die? -- but I'm hooked enough on the music. A- [cd]
Jazzhole: Blue 72 (2014, Beave Music): Acid jazz duo, Warren Rosenstein and Marion Saunders, sixth album since 1995, a set of 1972 pop tunes stretched into a languid downtempo groove with vocals by Saunders and several women -- Michelle Lewis, Rosa Russ, Lindsey Webster. The bossa-fied "Rocket Man" is particularly attractive. B+(**) [cd]
Jua: Colors of Life (2014, Chocolate Chi Music): Jua Howard, first name Swahili for "sun," second album, tries to cross between neo-soul and jazz, the latter helped by pianist-producer Onaje Allen Gumbs. B- [cd]
Sherie Julianne: 10 Degrees South (2014, Azul Do Mar): Singer, from the Bay Area, first album, Brazilian standards, produced by pianist Marcos Silva, who knows what he's doing. B [cd]
Dave Kain: Raising Kain (2014, Stop Time): Guitarist, third album (after Citizen Kain and No Pain, No Kain), a trio with bass and drums. All originals, nice tone, plays inside but doesn't fall into any obvious schools or traps. Vic Juris praises him. Dom Minasi too. B+(**) [cd]
Søren Kjaergaard/Ben Street/Andrew Cyrille: Syvmileskridt (2014, ILK Music): Piano trio, fourth album for Danish pianist, his rhythm partners well known, not pushed very hard in a rather stately album -- almost a series of slow march pieces, though there is much more to it than that. B+(***) [bc]
La Dispute: Rooms of the House (2014, Vagrant): Considered a "post-hardcore" group, they do grind out heavy guitar riffs but they also make way for Jordan Dreyer's more spoken than sung (or screamed) vocals, in part because he has something worthwhile to say. B+(***)
La Roux: Trouble in Paradise (2014, Cherrytree/Interscope): Elly Jackson is the singer and co-writer of all nine songs, danceable, mostly about sex. B+(***)
Le1f: Hey (2014, Terrible/XL, EP): Underground rapper, Khalif Diouf, started on Greedhead (Das Racist) and is inching his way into a major label with this 5-track, 15:36 EP. Beats are bleepy and words tumble fast but more funny than furious, until an end which could be a pop hook but hasn't snagged anything yet. B+(**)
Jenny Lewis: The Voyager (2014, Warner Brothers): I'm a sucker for women with pop hooks and brains, and this, like everything she does, at least meets the minimal formal requirements. But looking back it's possible I overrated her three previous albums (including the one with Johnathan Rice but I'm not counting Rilo Kiley here), and nothing here much impressed me until "Love U Forever," soon followed by the mythifying title tune. Gained a bit on the second play. B+(***)
Paul Marinaro: Without a Song (2014, Myrtle): Crooner, throwback to the 1950s, in fact starting with an acetate of his father singing "That Old Black Magic" -- nostalgia in many ways. B+(*) [cd]
Terry Marshall: Arrival (2014, self-released): Pianist, from DC, wouldn't quite call this smooth jazz but it is worn down into something very ordinary. Several songs have vocals from Iva Ambush or Kendra Johnson, one of the latter a particularly stilted duet with DeCastro Brown. C+ [cd]
¡Mayday x Murs!: ¡Mursday! (2014, Strange Music): Third album for "genre-buster" hip-hop group Mayday!, first to feature underground rapper Murs, nearly every track jumping the grooves. Much more here than I can sort out at the last moment, which is when I found this. Could move up. A-
Mark Meadows: Somethin' Good (2014, self-released): Pianist, sings some, has a couple previous records. This one closer to neo-soul than smooth jazz, not that either side offers much. Covers include "Come Together" and "Groovin' High." B- [cd]
Roscoe Mitchell: Conversations II (2013 , Wide Hive): A trio with Craig Taborn (piano) and Kikanju Baku (drums), like its predecessor a set of improvs where the saxophonist gets downright nasty, although not so often or so much as to spoil the adventure. B+(*)
Bob Mould: Beauty & Pain (2014, Merge): I liked Hüsker Dü well enough back in the day -- my grades usually trail Christgau's by a notch -- but hated Sugar, totally ignored Mould's solo career, and haven't listened to any of it in well over a decade, so reports that this is a return to form didn't exactly send me rushing to check it out. But yeah, those reports are mostly right: that guitar echo/rattle is his sound and he does his best to sing under it, and some of the fast ones remind one of the allure, but breaks clear on occasion (e.g., "Let the Beauty Be") and that's more promising. B+(**)
William Parker: Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012 (2006-12 , AUM Fidelity, 8CD): Got this box after reviewing three-fourths of it as digital releases -- that much appeared on Rhapsody -- then discovered much later that while I wrote this up for my year-end list I neglected it here. Let's focus on the two discs I missed: a septet live at the Vision Festival in 2009 with Billy Bang, Bobby Bradford, and James Spaulding joining Parker's stellar Quartet (Lewis Barnes, Rob Brown, and Hamid Drake -- they've been together since the extraordinary O'Neal's Porch in 2000); and a big band (William Parker Creation Ensemble) live shot at AMR Jazz Festival in Geneva in 2011. Both discs zing, as does, really, the rest of the box. The two early live sets weren't as consistent as I'd like (cf. 2005's Sound Unity), but their top spots are rarely equalled, and the last two discs -- an expansion of the group that cut Raining on the Moon and a revival of In Order to Survive with an outstanding performance by Cooper-Moore on piano -- just raise the bar. Music at this level deserves to go on and on and on. A [cd]
PJ Rasmussen: Another Adventure (2013 , Third Freedom Music): Guitarist, second album, claims "inspiration from the classic Blue Note tradition," works with piano-bass-drums plus three horns, expanded to five on two cuts. Varied program, the last piece meditative and, well, I forget the rest -- a postbop mix, I think. B [cd]
Real Estate: Atlas (2014, Domino): Third album, easy-rolling tunefulness, the gentle lope touched up with a bit of guitar jangle. B+(**)
Ellynne Rey: A Little Bit of Moonlight (2013 , self-released): Standards singer, first album, including a Jobim ("Dindi") and an English "Besame Mucho," a Monk mixed in with the Berlin and Styne. Band includes scrawny piano-bass-drums-percussion but the one thing you soon focus on is Gene Bertoncini's guitar, a sweet spot in an otherwise rather dry album. B [cd]
Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Cimmerian Crossroads (2014, Edgetone): Plays alto and soprano sax, sometimes (judging from pictures) at the same time. Has close to ten records since 1995 -- the first I heard was last year's Truth Teller, and I'm turning into a fan. I wouldn't have ID'ed the fourth cut as Ornette Coleman because it sounds to me like what Charlie Parker should have sounded like if he was really as great as they say. (But Coleman was my first alto sax crush, so I'm easily swayed on the subject.) Romus' other alto master is Arthur Blythe, who wrote one piece and is subject of another. A- [cd]
Jochen Rueckert: We Make the Rules (2014, Whirlwind): Drummer, has a couple albums, this a quartet with Mark Turner (tenor sax), Lage Lund (guitar), and Matt Penman (bass). This sort of thing is becoming the new norm for postboppers, relying most on guitar with the sax for extra flavor. B+(**) [cd]
Amanda Ruzza/Mauricio Zottarelli: Glasses, No Glasses (2013 , Pimenta Music): Guitar and drums; expecting that I was surprised by the keyboards, their prominence and how they center this fusion, and surprised again that the keyboardist is Leo Genovese, whose name (unlike the headliners) I recognize. B+(***) [cd]
Nicky Schrire: To the Spring (2013 , self-released, EP): Singer, London-born, grew up in South Africa, based in New York, has a couple albums. This six-song EP runs 30:06, backed by Fabian Almazan on piano and Desmond White on double bass. All originals, a detectable nod to Joni Mitchell (although her website also mentions Tori Amos). B- [cd]
Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty (2014, Sub Pop): Hip-hop duo from Seattle on an alt-rock label, descriptions range from "left-field rap" to "Basquiat-styled broken boombox boom-bap" -- emphasis I would say on "broken" as this chugs-a-lug-on, a couple points so broken I doubt it can ever recover, but more often it remains interesting. B+(***)
Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses (2013 , Tzadik): Saxophonist, plays alto/soprano/tenor here, also shofar, the ram's horn on the cover drawfing the alto, part of Tzadik's "Radical Jewish Culture" series although it will mostly appear to jaded r&b fans, featured in the comic, "The Book of Shapiro: A Tale of Rhythm & Jews." Not sure how that's packaged, but aside from the leader, the stars here are Adam Rudolph (frame drums, udu drum, shakers, bell) and Marc Ribot (guitar) -- the latter's most scorching performance to date. A [cdr]
Mitch Shiner and the Blooming Tones Big Band: Fly! (2014, Patois): Drummer, originally from Milwaukee, first album, an 18-piece big band, recorded in Bloomington, Indiana. Has a fondness for schmaltz standards, most obviously "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." Docked for the last-track vocal. B- [cd]
Sia: 1000 Forms of Fear (2014, RCA): Sia Furler, has a voice similar to Shakira but not that Latin tinge -- Australia, which at least gives her a little distance from the gloom of so many of her Anglo contemporaries. B
Donna Singer: Destiny: Moment of Jazz (2014, Emerald Baby): Standards singer, has a couple previous albums including an Xmas thing I have but haven't bothered with. Nice voice, ably backed by the Doug Richards trio (Billy Alfred on piano, Richards on bass) with various special guests. Competent enough the songs decide: I'm a sucker for "Time After Time" and "Where or When," but not "Yesterday" let alone something called "I Believe I Can Fly." B [cd]
Vinnie Sperrazza: Apocryphal (2012 , Loyal Label): Drummer ("et cetera"), has a handful of albums and many side credits, wrote everything here for a superb quartet: Loren Stillman (alto sax), Brendon Seabrook (guitar), Eivind Opsvik (bass). Can get sludgy or weepy at times, but the guitarist, in particular, is a powerhouse. B+(**) [cd]
Isabel Stover: Her Own Sweet World (2010 , self-released): Standards singer, debut album, "Nature Boy" and "The Song Is You" are two of the better ones, with Taj Mahal an outlier. Dave Tidball's sax is a plus. B+(*) [cd]
Tilting: Holy Seven (2013 , Barnyard): Montreal quartet led by bassist Nicolas Caloia, adopting as group name the group's first title. Jean Derome plays freewheeling baritone sax and bass flute to fit the bass tones, with Guillaume Dostater on piano and Isaiah Ceccarelli on drums. B+(***) [cd]
Peter Van Huffel/Michael Bates/Jeff Davis: Boom Crane (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto sax-bass-drums trio, the leader (from Canada, based in New York) also has a "punk-jazz" group called Gorilla Mask but achieves a comparable roughness here, the main difference being the really superb rhythm section here. A-
Anne Waldman: Jaguar Harmonics (2014, Fast Speaking Music): Poet, website lists 53 "books & pamphlets" going back to 1968 -- the highpoint of my interest in beat poetry although I don't recall her, a missed connection, as she would have impressed me back then. Website also mentions 18 audio recordings (but not this one), the last four with music by Ambrose Bye (her son), credited with "sounds and percussion" here. Striking music from cellist Ha-Yang Kim, plus free jazz horns by Daniel Carter and Devin Brahja Waldman (her nephew). A- [cd]
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Cabaret Voltaire: #7885 Electropunk to Technopop (1978-85 , Mute): Dismissed by Christgau as "dadaist dance musicians," I got to them late and have scarcely scratched the surface, but I was blown away by a 2003 comp, The Original Sound Sound of Sheffield '83/'87. This, which favors shorter 7-inch versions over the 12-inchers that so impressed me, does much the same, the beats all but regimented but irresistible, with talkie vocals marking time. A-
Miles Davis: Miles at the Fillmore (Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3) (1970 , Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): The complete four sets from June 17-20 at Fillmore East, doubling the material previously released as Miles Davis at Fillmore: Live at Fillmore East (, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD). This was one of the weakest of the five 2-CD "electric Miles" sets issued in 1997, but without comparison to the others expands nicely to full sets, and people tell me the sound is much improved (but they have CDs). The band had Steve Grossman on sax (tenor/soprano), Chick Corea on electric piano, Keith Jarrett on electric organ, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and Airto Moreira on percussion. Their fusion is still loose and funky, but the real attraction is the leader's knack for picking his spots. B+(***)
Nancy Harrow: Wild Women Don't Have the Blues/You Never
Know (1960-62 , Fresh Sound): Two LPs, one on Candid
back by Buck Clayton's Jazz Stars, the other on Atlantic with Gary
McFarland Orchestra and a quartet/quintet led by John Lewis. Clayton's
group is indeed stellar, with Buddy Tate and Dickie Wells standouts,
although the disclosure in Ida Cox's song is worth pondering: "wild
women are the only kind that really get by." In this company Harrow
sounds like Helen Humes, but she comes more into her own with
McFarland's relatively nondescript backing. Harrow wasn't heard
from again until 1979's Anything Goes, starting a string of
16 albums up to 2010.
Craig Leon: Early Electronic Works: Nommos Visiting (1981-82 , Aparte): Best known as the producer of rock albums, starting in the 1970s with eponymous LPs Ramones, Blondie, and Suicide along with Richard Hell & the Voidoids' Blank Generation, later Dwight Twilley, The Bangles, and the Go-Betweens' Tallulah, and much later classical albums, but in the early 1980s he released these two albums of electronic music -- too beatwise for "new music" but not snappy enough for techno, closest in spirit to the ambient exotica Jon Hassell was developing, but sui generis nonetheless. [Also available on 2LP as Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1: Nommos/Visiting (RVNG Intl.); Rhapsody omits one 15:20 track.] A-
Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Play Morricone 1
& 2: The Complete Recordings (2001-02 , CAM Jazz, 2CD):
A marvelous pianist who's made a study of all the major Italian film
composers, building on Morricone's melodies without bothering with the
rhythm or sonics of the composer's best known electronics -- puts this
back into the whitewater of piano jazz. The trio, by the way, started
long before and extends long after this peak recording. The second set
may be a bit excessive, but the reissue is a deal.
George Adams/Don Pullen: Don't Lose Control (1979 , Soul Note): Tenor sax and piano, joined Charles Mingus and drummer Dannie Richmond around 1973 and kept the group going after Mingus passed, subbing Cameron Brown at bass. Pullen was by far the more adventurous player. Adams had a gorgeous tone and enough speed to keep up, and he was a credible blues singer so you get some of that, and he lays out on Pullen's choppiest romp, then returns with fractured flute over percussion, more like Brown tapping his box than anything coming off the drum set. B+(***)
George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet: Earth Beams (1980, Timeless): Adams can growl and wail with anyone, but this really takes off four songs in with Pullen's stratospheric piano runs -- no one else has ever played piano like this. The song is "Saturday Nite in the Cosmos," and it loses little when Adams switches to flute, not that we don't appreciate the tenor's imminent return. Nothing else hits that peak, but how could it? A-
George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet: Life Line (1981, Timeless): Featuring Dannie Richmond (drums) and Cameron Brown (bass). Mixed bag of swing, postbop and avant, a couple blues with Adams singing, though nothing he aces. B+(*)
George Adams & Don Pullen: Melodic Excursions (1982, Timeless): Just a duo, the former's buttery tenor sax and some exceptional piano runs by the latter, but also a bit too much flute. B+(*)
George Adams-Dannie Richmond: Gentlemen's Agreement (1983, Soul Note): Feat. Jimmy Knepper (trombone), Hugh Lawson (piano), Mike Richmond (bass), same as their 1980 Hand to Hand. The tenor saxophonist is a more vigorous leader here, at least to start, but the record tails off a bit. B+(*)
George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet: Decisions (1984, Timeless): Ends with one of Adams' blues pieces, actually a song about marriage which he sings as a blues and the band swings around, happy for once to just play and not have to invent. B+(**)
The Chris Anderson Trio: Inverted Image/My Romance (1960-61 , Fresh Sound): Two early trio albums for the Chicago pianist, and pretty much all he recorded until the 1990s -- see the album below with Charlie Haden, my introduction to him. All standards, everything above mid-tempo with a brisk vitality and playful touch, the minority ballads touching in various ways. Certainly no clue here why he didn't have a career on a par with, oh, Sonny Clark, or Ahmad Jamal. A-
Conrad Bauer: Hummelsummen (2002 , Intakt): The trombonist with Zentralquartett (more below), has about twenty albums more/less under his own name (sometimes as Conny Bauer, or as Konrad Bauer, some with brother trombonist Johannes Bauer). This is solo, something few trombonists try: with few exceptions, the pieces feel thin, like practice, but not without interest. B+(**)
Conrad Bauer/Johannes Bauer: Bauer Bauer (1993 , Intakt): Both brothers play trombone and have substantial careers, so a duo was inevitable sooner or later. Nothing especially rough: they tend to build harmonically, getting a richly layered sound but still wholly trombone. B+(**)
Conrad Bauer/Peter Kowald/Günter Sommer: Between Heaven and Earth (2001 , Intakt): Kowald sets the tone here with his unmatched mastery of every odd sound one can squeeze out of the big bass fiddle, first pushing the trombonist to his own exploration, then opening up into more vigorously avant fare. A-
Ron Carter/Herbie Hancock/Tony Williams: Third Plane (1977 , Milestone/OJC): Piano trio, a reunion of the rhythm section of Miles Davis' legendary 1960s quintet, playing "Stella by Starlight," three Carter tunes, one each by the others. The bass is mixed way up and is a thing of beauty, and the pianist is refreshing, playing off the lines instead of hijacking them. B+(***)
Duke Ellington and Ray Brown: This One's for Blanton (1972-73 , Pablo/OJC): Bassist Jimmy Blanton joined Ellington's band in 1939, playing until he was sidelined with tuberculosis in 1941 (dead in 1942 at age 23). His tenure coincided with a golden age for Ellington, and his impact was such that the group was informally dubbed The Blanton-Webster Band -- the title of a 3-CD RCA set covering the period. These are piano-bass duets, most from the day, along with a 4-part "Fragmented Suite for Piano and Bass." B+(***)
Art Farmer: Out of the Past (1960-61 , Chess): Rolls up two albums on Argo (Art and Perception, minus one track each), both quartets, one with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Harold Mabern on the other. Mostly ballads, the latter half Farmer's first all-flugelhorn album. B+(***)
Charlie Haden: Quartet West (1986 , Verve): With Ernie Watts (tenor sax), Alan Broadbent (piano), and Billy Higgins (drums), the first of seven albums (with Lawrence Marable replacing Higgins), a series that grew increasingly sentimental and schmaltzy over time (not that I wasn't enchanted by Haunted Heart, with dubbed-in vocals by Billie Holiday, Jo Stafford, and Jeri Southern). This is closer to standard Haden, a mix of Ornette Coleman and his own tunes, a Charlie Parker, "Passion Flower," "My Foolish Heart." B+(**)
Charlie Haden/Chris Anderson: None but the Lonely Heart (1997, Naim): Bass-piano duets, Anderson (1926-2008) only lightly recorded over a long career -- two 1960-61 trios recently reissued on Fresh Sound, several 1997-98 solo and duo albums on Naim. Mostly standards, these are especially touching. A-
Fred Hersch: Fred Hersch Plays Rodgers & Hammerstein (1996, Nonesuch): Solo piano, the famous songs hewing none too close to the standard form, presumably the point. B+(***)
Earl Hines: Blues in Thirds (1965 , Black Lion): Solo piano from one of the all-time greats, remarkable both how much he does and how easy he makes it look. Not much of a singer, though. A-
Earl Hines: One for My Baby (1974 , Black Lion): Another superb solo outing, seven Harold Arlen tunes, stretching "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" out to 12:01 (without singing any). A-
Earl Hines: Plays Duke Ellington, Volume Two (1971-75 , New World): Originally four LPs (Volume One was 2-CD, leaving just a little over an hour here), a major survey by a pianist who was a contemporary of Ellington's and in many ways a significant figure even earlier, but Hines kept up with the times and has a lot of fun playing circles around Duke's indelible melodies. B+(***)
Johnny Hodges/Earl "Fatha" Hines: Stride Right (1966, Verve): Starts with three Hines staples, followed by five prime pieces of Ellingtonia and something called "Tippin' In" -- nothing here to break a sweat on, but the principals handle the pieces as you'd expect, sublimely. As does guitarist Kenny Burrell, still several years away from his masterful Ellington Is Forever (1975). A-
New Orleans Rhythm Kings: The Complete Set: 1922-1925 (1922-25 , Retrieval, 2CD): One of the first significant jazz groups to come out of New Orleans -- a white group, although some of their recordings were joined by pianist Jelly Roll Morton -- they were considerably more advanced than the better known Original Dixieland Jazz Band (from 1917), and the latter half of this historical milestone set really starts to jump. A
Don Pullen: Healing Force (1976, Black Saint): Solo piano, a marvelous player although this early he exhibits more muscle than finesse, and hadn't yet developed his knuckle-bruising crescendos. B+(**)
The Don Pullen Quintet: The Sixth Sense (1985, Black Saint): More advanced as a pianist, but he comes up with an oddly matched quintet, with Olu Dara on trumpet and Donald Harrison on alto sax, Fred Hopkins on bass and Bobby Battle on drums. After fluttering around, they go trad on the closer, but it only lasts 1:58. B
Art Tatum: Classic Early Solos (1934-1937) (1934-37 , MCA): Not really a proponent of the stride school, just a guy who played piano with both hands so deftly you sometimes wondered if he had more. But here at least the two hands are clear, making this a fair place to start. B+(***)
Art Tatum: The Standard Sessions: 1935-1943 Transcriptions (1935-43 , Music & Arts, 2CD): Sixty-one standards ranging from "Tiger Rag" through what's since become known as the Great American Songbook, given the Tatum treatment and compiled from radio shots -- great songs always help, and here give the wizard much to work with. A-
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume One (1953 , Pablo/OJC): One of Norman Granz's "get rich slow" (Robert Christgau's term) projects: from 1953-56 he corralled Tatum in a studio, getting him to record 119 solo pieces and a similar number of small group pieces, eventually released on 15 CDs (8 Solo Masterpieces, 7 Group Masterpieces). Tatum died in 1956 so effectively they're his last testament, blessed with the best sound quality of his career. It's impossible to casually sort through the solo discs, each studded with a few breathtaking performances, and a lot of the highly ornamental pianistics that only Tatum could perform. B+(***)
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Two (1953-55 , Pablo/OJC): Ho hum. B+(**)
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Three (1953-55 , Pablo/OJC): Hum ho. B+(***)
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Six (1953-55 , Pablo/OJC): Not at his most athletic, but sometimes he takes a song you know well and turns it inside out so many times it's totally reinvented, and that's what happens on "Night and Day" here. He does that sort of thing a lot, but it's easier to follow on songs you know well. Several here give this a slight edge for me, but his more devoted fans will tell you he does it all the time. A-
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Seven (1953-55 , Pablo/OJC): Not peak material, either in terms of songs or performance, but only when he slows down do you get a sense of how much thought he puts into his readings. B+(***)
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Eight (1953-56 , Pablo/OJC): It's not clear to me how the eight volumes are organized, but this seems to be the only disc with pieces from the final August 1956 session. Nor do I know where the last two cuts ending in live applause come from, but this "Willow Weep for Me" is one of the series' highlights. B+(***)
Art Tatum: The Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces (1953-56 , Pablo, 7CD): Originally released on 13 LPs c. 1975, the 8 volumes available individually on CD run 15-16 songs each, but the box here saves a disc by squeezing in 18-21 songs per. I've been surprisingly resistant to the individual discs, not that I didn't recognize remarkable moments or the overall high level of consistency, but that's partly because none of them really stood out -- ok, Volume Six, barely; I'll also note that Volume Four and Volume Five were previously rated at B+. Usually when I review multi-disc sets, the grade sinks to the lowest common denominator, but as a whole this enterprise adds up to something slightly greater than its parts. It's not the pinnacle of Tatum's solo art, but it does give you a sense of how massive his accomplishment was. A-
The Cecil Taylor Quartet: Looking Ahead! (1958 , Contemporary/OJC): Taylor's second album, after Jazz Advance, is a piano trio plus Earl Griffith's vibraphone to add that extra percussiveness. B+(***)
Cecil Taylor: Silent Tongues (1974, Arista/Freedom): Solo piano, something Taylor's done dozens of times and can, like Tatum, be impossible or pointless to sort out. This one was live at Montreux Jazz Festival, a big venue, and the sustained energy blows you away. Close reading of Penguin Guide, where they credit Taylor with more 4-star albums than anyone else, suggests that they prefer For Olim (1986) and The Tree of Life (1988) among the solos. I'd say this smokes them. A-
Cecil Taylor: Algonquin (1999 , Bridge): A duo with Mat Maneri on violin, a dark and dapper cloak around Taylor's still-powerful pianistics. B+(***)
Trevor Watts Moiré Music Trio: Moire (1995, Intakt): British alto saxophonist, appears at many critical junctures in the avant-garde -- e.g., cut one of the great albums in 1969 (Amalgam's Prayer for Peace) -- but only has a spotty discography to show for it, including a large hole from 1981 to this date. With Colin McKenzie on bass guitar and Paapa J. Mensah (from Ghana) on drums, African percussion, and occasionally vocals, Watts rides the riddims looking for patterns, mixing a fair amount of soprano sax into the complex weave. A-
Trevor Watts: The Deep Blue (2008 , Jazzwerkstatt): Solo, but not just alto and soprano sax: Watts has dubbed in keyboard and percussion tracks, so he winds up playing with himself, a formula John Surman developed much earlier. The difference is that Watts' fascination with African rhythms make this a much livelier outing, upbeat and enchanting, and while at first it seems a bit pat, like another point of view might help, the backing is remarkably vivid, and the sax profound. A-
Zentralquartett [Conrad Bauer/Ulrich Gumpert/Ernest-Ludwig Petrowsky/Günter Sommer]: Zentralquartett (1990 , Intakt): Trombone, piano, alto saxophone/clarinet/flute, and drums, the same group previously recorded as Synopsis (1974-77) and Günter Sommer et Trois Vieux Amis (1984), but have since adopted this album title as their group name, and it should be applied here too. Bauer is central here, but not enough of a virtuoso to pull off anything especially remarkable, not that the others don't have interesting ideas to thrash about. B+(***)
Zentralquartett: Plié (1994, Intakt): Trombone, drums, piano, alto sax -- the trombone central for the depth of vamps and riffs and so much resonance they can dispense with a bass, in turn allowing the alto to spend much time in the stratosphere. The pianist aspires to Monkishness, but he can also kick up a fairly convincing boogie woogie. Quite extraordinary when it all comes together. A
Zentralquartett: Careless Love (1997 , Intakt): A maturing group, evoking chaos one minute then dropping into something slow and semi-minimalist with African overtones ("Fünf Andere Miniaturen"), starting the W.C. Handy title cover at a crawl then opening up the brass at something more like a fox trot. Each musician gets his due, and they all add up to an exceptional group. A-
Zentralquartett/Synopsis: Auf Der Elbe Schwimmt Ein Rosa Krokodil (1974 , Intakt): FMP's 1976 release was credited to Synopsis, but same lineup so the reissue is credited as above. This is completely of its time in Europe's early avant-garde: discordant, harsh even, with Petrowsky's alto sax clearly in the lead, the others criss-crossing chaotically. Interesting, then on the final piece ("Mehr Aus Teutschen Landen") simply amazing -- credit Ulrich Gumpert for kickingout the jams. A-
Additional Consumer News:
Nothing above on the small group sessions Norman Granz organized for Art Tatum, subsequently collected in The Art Tatum Pablo Group Masterpieces (1954-56 , Pablo, 6CD), because I previously graded all eight volumes separately. For the record, the grades:
I haven't reviewed The Complete Pablo Group Masterpieces, but I suspect that the individual volumes are better in that they keep the sessions separate, whereas to squeeze everything into six discs required splitting the sessions up, so each disc gives you part of one and part of another.
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, July 28. 2014
Music: Current count 23570  rated (+43), 541  unrated (-7).
Finally got hot here in Wichita last week, so I spent most of my time inside, listening to music, trying to add some flesh to the bones of a Rhapsody Streamnotes column that should be posted before July burns out. The new jazz queue is running low, and much of what remains (possibly including some records below) doesn't officially release until September, so I focused on Rhapsody. So I wound up going for old jazz, glancing at my Penguin Guide 4-star list but digging a little deeper when something caught my fancy -- for instance, Trevor Watts' The Deep Blue was never reviewed by Penguin Guide (although an earlier, similar solo album was). The Chris Anderson and Nancy Harrow twofers also came out later: Anderson I looked up when I was doing his Charlie Haden duo last week, and I noticed Harrow as a side-effect.
The big discovery was Conrad Bauer's wonderful Zentralquartett. I had previously heard (and graded A-) their 2006 album, 11 Songs -- Aus Teutschen Landen, back when I was on Intakt's mailing list, and had long had Plié on my "shopping list," so I expected good things and found even better. Intakt is making more and more of their catalogue available on Rhapsody, and I'm picking them up about as fast as I can find them: 27 in past Streamnotes columns (including a deep dive into Irène Schweizer's work -- her Portrait and Alexander von Schlippenbach's Monk's Casino were the two top releases of my tenure with the label) -- and eight more below. I'll also note that when I received them, their jewel boxes were packed precisely into indestructible mailers, by far the most impressive attention to detail I've seen. (Swiss, you know.)
Not much in the mail this week, but there was one prize, a book by Rick Lopez: The William Parker Sessionography: A Work in Progress. Back cover says, "Attempting a complete historical arc." The book comes to 482 large (8.5x11-inch) pages with 370 illustrations, paperback, weighs 3.2 lbs., and sells for $50 list. The data has long been accumulating on Lopez's website, conveniently in one huge file here, and it chronicles everything Parker played since January 19, 1974 (or February 1, 1974, since Parker noted that he was not at the previous concert), up to the moment. The book, of course, will be instantly obsolete -- the last entry there is for the four sets Parker played at the Nineteenth Annual Vision Festival June 11-15 this year, but it's lovely just to thumb through.
Presumably I got my copy because Lopez used a quote of mine as a blurb: "I want to point out the wonderful discographies that Rick Lopez has produced . . . -- treasure troves of information, some of the finest scholarship available on the internet today." As the plural indicates, Parker has not been the only musician blessed with Lopez's attention, but he has been by far the most prodigious. The quote saves me from writing a review -- not that I won't someday -- but for now let's add that it's also, or should soon be, some of the finest scholarship available in America's finer libraries.
My quote, by the way, comes from a piece I originally wrote for Static in 2003, called Bass Fiddles and Nu Bop: A Consumer Guide to William Parker, Matthew Shipp, et al., which offered Consumer Guide-style reviews to 57 albums. (The link goes to my archive, which includes many additional notes -- that's where you'll find the blurb comment.) The idea for the piece came up after Shipp and Thirsty Ear sent me a huge pile of albums for my Rolling Stone Record Guide entry on Shipp, then Steven Joerg of AUM Fidelity matched that with a deep selection of Parker's work for his label. Several other musicians and label heads helped out, and I made a few strategic purchases. At the time, I distilled a discography from Lopez's data (and other non-Parker sources), listing 259 records, 97 of which I had heard. At some point I should collect all the subsequent reviews and create an updated page -- there must be another 50-100 records since 2003, depending on tightly we narrow the focus on Parker.
A couple more listening notes: I finally broke down and gave the new Miles Davis bootleg one fast 4-hour spin, so the grade there is very perfunctory. The Jarrett-Corea combo is more famous than great, with neither doing what they do best but having fun nonetheless. There's a good chance that comparative listening would have found some chunks (relatively speaking) in this particular set -- certainly Dark Magus and Live at Philharmonic Hall are superior. I note that the one the new release build on is the second weakest of the five -- the worst is the slightly earlier Miles Davis Live at the Fillmore East (March 7, 1970), with Jarrett-Corea the main culprits. Still, I haven't listened to any of those records in years, so it's possible that I was swayed by the reacquaintance with the always attractive trumpet-on-rhythm shtick. On the other hand, the 4-CD set offers more choices that are less exhausting than one 4-hour fly-through. And like I said, listening through my computer I can neither confirm nor deny reports of superior sound. In a set this size, all this matters more than usual. This is one case where I requested a copy and didn't get a reply.
The New Orleans Rhythm Kings also got a relatively cursory one-shot listen. Again, actual CDs would have been a plus, but I was inclined to be generous: I have about half of this on a 1992 Milestone release (the Jelly Roll Morton sides), a set I love, and the sound here (even on computer) is clearly better; the record is a Penguin Guide Crown selection, historically important -- the sort of thing many of us would want to have just to have a proper overview of the history -- and the last third or so simply blew me away. Normally, I wouldn't give a full A to a record heard just once, but consider this a very educated guess.
That's probably true of Cecil Taylor's Silent Tongues as well, but being a single I gave it two spins. What I didn't do was any comparative listening to other Taylor solos, of which there are many. Penguin Guide has this at 4-stars, but they rate two others even higher (For Olim and The Tree of Life, both in their "core collection"). I have those records at B and B+ respectively, last heard long ago and quite possibly underrated. With Taylor as with Tatum, you are probably an all-or-nothing type -- at least most critics are, Morton & Cook included. I'm not: I admire both but don't want to be inundated by either, and I recall I went through a stage where a lot of Taylor's stuff turned me off.
More depth on all of this in Rhapsody Streamnotes, out later this week. Don't know whether I'll continue this pace into August. Maybe travel of something to take a break. By the way, three A- records among the relatively hit-and-miss new records. One was recommended by Jason Gubbels, one came off Chris Monsen's list, one came from both plus Michael Tatum (who gave me the first heads up). Also one A which just popped up in my mailbox.
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, July 27. 2014
Scattered links this week, mostly Israel (but what else can one do?). Information is less forthcoming in the world's other hotspots -- Libya has emerged as one, alongside Syria and Iraq, and Ukraine. One thing I wonder about the latter is how intense the fighting has been as the central government attempts to beat down the seccessionists. It seems likely that Russia provided the latter with the BUK missile believed to have shot down the Malaysian Airlines plane, and that the rocket was fired by someone expecting Ukrainian military planes rather than a neutral airliner. The downed airliner should be a cautionary lesson for both sides, but instead has been up as a political tool, to villify Russia, making matters worse rather than better. I don't doubt that there is some amount of villainy on the Russian side, but the other side (Ukraine? Europe? America?) is hardly innocent either, and restarting the Cold War will only be worse for all. At times like this, one needs statesmen. Instead, all we got is Obama, hounded by spooks like Lindsey Graham.
Let's start with a couple twitter images, reportedly Gaza City's Sheijayia neighborhood before and after Israeli bombing. Not the same views, but you get the idea:
Meanwhile, back to the links:
Also, a few links for further study:
In local news, sorry to hear that Randy Brown died: a longtime newspaperman, journalism professor, and political dabbler, certainly a positive presence in Wichita. And here's a sampler of his columns. In other Wichita news today, the Eagle published Sen. Jerry Moran's op-ed on why it would be better to let the lesser prairie chicken go extinct than to inconvenience any Kansas oil or gas producers. And in the big money 4th Congressional District primary, the Eagle endorsed vile Mike Pompeo (R-Koch) over evil Todd Tiahrt (R-Boeing). I can't find the candidate questions box, but Tiahrt's professed desire to be a public servant was almost touching, until he added that bit about standing up to special interests. In his sixteen years in the House, no one was a bigger corporate whore. The best you can say for him is that he sold himself cheap, and not a lot of the money stuck to his fingers, so you could buy into his sincerity thing, if only you were part of the public he so dedicated himself to serving. Curiously, Tiahrt's gained in the polls recently by attacking Pompeo's defense of the NSA -- a position he almost certainly wouldn't have thought of had Pompeo not been so rabid on it. If I could ask a debate question it would be about where they stand on the Export-Import Bank: the tea party (and most likely the Kochs) are all agitated against it, but the main beneficiary is Boeing -- and even though Boeing abandoned Wichita, I can't imagine "Tanker Todd" parting with them.
Monday, July 21. 2014
Music: Current count 23527  rated (+26), 548  unrated (+14).
When I got back from my aunt's funeral, there was a surprisingly large pile of new records waiting. I didn't get around to listing them last week, so this week's haul looks more robust than usual. I do, however, get the sense that I've fallen well out of the realm of being a mainstream jazz critic. This week's unpacking list doesn't quite prove my point -- there are a number of reputable artists there I recognize and welcome (Todd Bishop, Bobby Broom, Wayne Horvitz, Ryan Keberle, Greg Reitan, Steve Swallow, Ohad Talmor, Adam Nussbaum, Matt Ulery) most of the records I get these days are from unknowns, with the occasional cult favorite slipping in. (Two of the latter wound up with A- grades, and I doubt that you'll be reading much about either elsewhere.) Part of this is my fault, of course: formerly reliable publicists at labels like High Note and Sunnyside took my hint and stopped sending, and I've done a poor job following up on available downloads from labels like ECM -- I'm not even sure what I do or don't have there, but haven't had time (or curiosity) to sort that out.
When I got back, I didn't feel like facing the queue, so I took a look at my Penguin Guide list and started playing some old jazz from Rhapsody. First three records were high B+, which seems like par for the course. Then Charlie Haden died so I looked up his duet album with Chris Anderson, and the more I played it the more I was entranced. I then moved on to Earl Hines and Art Tatum -- one of the biggest chunks on the Penguin list was Tatum's Solo Masterpieces, which Morton & Cook love indiscriminately. I had long ago picked up Volume Four and Volume Five (both B+), plus I had a 2003 release, The Best of the Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces (A). So I spent a big chunk of time going through the other six volumes, then for good measure I gave the whole box a spin. Much of it is indeed remarkable, none of it without interest, and I didn't mind the time.
I think the reason I graded the box over its constituent volumes is that when grading the latter the question arises as to which discs are relatively better investments, and the way they are organized makes it impossible to say -- I gave Volume Six an edge mostly because of two or three especially striking songs as opposed to the dozen or so run-of-the-mill Tatums. On the other hand, the box does make sense as a whole, and it is a remarkable accomplishment both within Tatum's career and over the entire history of jazz. Given all that, my nitpicking wasn't enough to drop it below A-. Still, I much prefer The Standard Sessions, which offers livelier performances and concentrates more great songs. Only minor sonic issues, plus my general reserve about solo piano, held it below an A.
I didn't do The Art Tatum Pablo Group Masterpieces because I own and have long graded every one of them. Tatum mostly recorded solo, so the 1954-56 Granz sessions just added to an already huge legacy, but the group sessions are almost the only time Tatum ever appeared in groups -- at least with horns. They vary more in quality, but the best are really extraordinary, both as group efforts and by freeing Tatum from having to carry the rhythm he gets a chance to perform some of his most spectacular embellishments. The best are: Volume Eight (with Ben Webster: A+); Volume Two (with Roy Eldridge: A); Volume Seven (with Buddy DeFranco: A); Volume One (with Benny Carter: A-).
Tatum is as universally revered as Charlie Parker, which may be why I quibble. I'm always reminded of what Tom Piazza wrote in The Guide to Classic Recorded Jazz: "Ask ten pianists to name the greatest jazz pianist ever and eight will tell you Art Tatum. The other two are wrong." I've made a career out of being wrong, so I don't mind telling you that my answer to that question is Earl Hines. He was easily the greatest pianist in 1928 when he (and Louis Armstrong) cut some of the most classic jazz sides ever, and he was dazzling when he toured with Armstrong's 1946 All-Stars. In between he ran a very important big band, and in the 1960s he led a wonderful quartet with Budd Johnson on tenor sax. Later still, he recorded many solo piano albums, including a couple listed below (Tour de Force is probably the first pick, at least the choice title, but these come close). That, in turn, led me to an obscure Johnny Hodges album which couldn't possibly go wrong.
After Tatum and Hines, I pulled out all those jazz vocal albums I've been avoiding and slogged through them. Poet Anne Waldman's album jumped out of that pile. It is a jazz/poetry album somewhat similar to the Rich Halley-Dan Raphael album Children of the Blue Supermarket, which was my favorite album in 2011, although vocally it reminds me more of Patti Smith, with the sax closer to Ornette Coleman (hence my tweet).
Looks like a pretty awful week coming up, both personally and all around the world. I have made some progress on the crashed server, but it's going to be a long while before it's all history.
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 (plus):
Sunday, July 20. 2014
This week's scattered links, but for one reason or another most still focus on Israel (for one thing, this weekend has been much bloodier than the previous week). Having recently read Stephen F Cohen's Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (2011), I expected to have more to say about the civil war in Ukraine and the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines airliner, but in my short time I didn't run across much that improved upon speculation (one of the worst pieces was Bob Dreyfuss: Vladimir Putin Should Take Responsibility for the MH17 Shootdown.) As someone who is inclined to suspect that Putin was responsible for the Moscow apartment bombings that he used as a pretext to re-open the Chechen War, there's not much I would put past him, but neither evidence nor logic is yet compelling, and the unfounded charge is actively being used to further estrange relations with Russia, which quite frankly Obama needs to mend even if that means giving up ground in Ukraine. As I wrote below, Obama has made a colossal error in re-entering Iraq, on top of making an almost utter hash of Syria, and the only way out of the latter is some sort of understanding with Russia. Cohen's book, by the way, is very prophetic about Ukraine -- not necessarily about the country itself but about the massive level of cold war hangover America's foreign policy nabobs suffer from and their utter mindlessness in facing anything having to do with Russia. I've long said that the whole neocon vision was for America to behave all around the world with the same reckless dominance fetish that Israel exhibits in the Middle East. In the last two months that's pretty much what we've been seeing. The only real surprise here is how pathetic it makes the leaders look: Netanyahu, for instance, is wailing about how Hamas is forcing Israel to kill Palestinians, as if he, himself, has no control over his government. Nor does Obama seem to be any more in control of his policies. It's really quite shameful.
Nor am I the only one saying these things. Just looking at my recent twitter feed:
[Actually, the third since Obama was elected president, but Operation Cast Lead occurred before Obama took office. I like to refer to it as Israel's pre-emptive strike against the Obama administration.]
Also as Michael Poage noted, today's Kansans for Peace in Palestine demo today in Wichita drew about 500 people. It led on the KWCH News, ahead of a fairly even-handed report on Gaza that put more emphasis on dead Palestinians than on live Israelis whining about rockets.
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, July 19. 2014
Up-to-date information on Israel's latest major siege of Gaza -- dubbed Operation Protective Edge, at least in English (the Hebrew is closer to Solid Rock) -- is scarce and hard to sort out, especially since Israel sent ground troops into Gaza. The latest totals I have are that since July 8 Israeli forces have killed 303 Palestinians, while 1 Israeli soldier and 1 Israeli civilian have died. (The latter, by the way, would easily have met Israel's criterion for declaring a Palestinian a "militant" in the propaganda battles over who killed whom. The former was killed by an Israeli tank shell, "friendly fire." It's worth recalling that a third of the Israeli soldiers killed in 2008's Operation Cast Lead were killed by fellow Israelis.) [A later report now says 341 Palestinians have been killed, with 40,000 people "internally displaced" -- i.e., bombed out of their homes.] One of the more pointed stories I've read recently was reported here by Richard Silverstein:
Stories like that are going to be harder to come by since NBC pulled its correspondent from Gaza (who broke that story), Ayman Mohyeldin. CNN also pulled one of its reporters, Diana Magnay, after she reported on how Israelis camp out on hills near the Gaza border to watch and cheer the bombardment. That kind of damage control helps Israel avoid embarrassment, but only temporarily. [The uproar over Mohyeldin has since convinced NBC to send him back to Gaza.]
Past Israeli incursions (2006, 2008, 2012 -- the frequency is reflected in that choice Israeli phrase, "mowing the lawn") have always been met with appeals and pressure for ceasefire, but the Obama administration has been shockingly cavalier about the slaughter and destruction this time. Part of this may be the full court press of the Israel lobby, not least that Obama has been serially beat up by Israel for nearly six years now, but part may also be due to Obama's desire to escalate US involvement in the wars in Iraq and Syria, plus all the reckless hawkishness on Ukraine, plus the 15 people just killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan. They say, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Evidently, Obama is way too busy making war to spare a few moments to plead for peace. And if the US doesn't step up to restrain Israel, who else can?
It's wholly predictable how Israel's current operation will end. Like all of its predecessors going back to 2006, it will end in a ceasefire with Hamas as firmly in charge of Gaza as ever, with Israel in possession of the keys to a ghetto containing 1.8 million trapped, terrorized people. Many buildings will be destroyed, including critical infrastructure -- electric power, sewage treatment, water treatment, hospitals, roads, food resources. A few hundred Palestinians will have been killed, and a few thousand injured -- some intended targets but most just unfortunately in the way, and some like the children on the beach just capriciously targeted by bored soldiers who know that no matter what they do they'll never be punished.
Israel will have destroyed a few tunnels, and the rocket stockpiles will have been more or less depleted -- not that they were ever a threat anyway. (Both sides seem to tacitly agree that the symbolism of Gazans defying Israel and shooting rockets over the walls matters much more than the scant damage they cause.) But in the end the cumulative weight of atrocities will embarrass Israel, as should the increasingly genocidal emotions the war is stirring up among Israelis. Israel is on the verge of losing whatever sympathy and support they had built up -- especially in Europe, but even in the US (with the exception of Congress) they are losing their grip. So they'll wind up about where they started. At least that's Israel's best-case scenario. They could hit some world opinion tipping point -- like they did with Turkey in 2008. Or they could give in to their hawks and crank the war machine up, moving from hundreds to thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands of Palestinian deaths. Or they could ignite a sympathetic intifada in the West Bank, which could link up with ISIS. You can't predict what will happen once you go to war.
One thing that's lost in all the chatter about rockets and atrocities is that there is a very simple solution to the Gaza problem (and hence to all those rockets and atrocities): just cut Gaza loose from Israel and let the people there fend for themselves. For many years, debate over how to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been divided between a "1-state solution" and a "2-state solution." In the latter there are separate Israeli and Palestinian states alongside each other, dividing up the land of the former British mandate of Palestine. Most scenarios call for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, and a Palestinian state to be created in the remaining 22% of the land: the small Gaza Strip on the west and the larger West Bank (including East Jerusalem) in the east. Other variations are possible, including "mutual land swaps" (which the "Clinton parameters" and the "Geneva Accords" specified) or Israel just keeping more (the de facto result of Israel's "illegal settlements").
In the "1-state solution" Israel keeps all the land, but also has to grant full and equal rights to all the people living on that land. This has the great advantage of avoiding dismantling the settlements or transferring any additional people, but means that Israel, which prides itself as "the Jewish state," would wind up with a rather large percentage of non-Jews, perhaps even a majority. Most Israelis -- at least most Israeli politicians -- don't like either "solution": as Levi Eshkol described the conquests of the 1967 war, "we received a very nice dowry [the land], but we don't really like the bride [the people]." Since then, Israel has devised a sophisticated system for taking the land while excluding the people, denying the latter even basic human rights, corralling them into ever tighter ghettos, and hoping they'll just go away. The cost of this system is that the conflict grinds on forever: for Israel, this means paying for a huge military and police state, engaging in a propaganda war that eventually turns self-deluding, and suffering the corrosive morality of militarism and racism; for Palestinians it means living under a system of extreme regimentation and regulation, one that degrades their humanity and denies them opportunities all people expect as a human right.
Most Israelis, in short, want no solution. They accept their lot as a people that has been oppressed for millennia because they believe that their state (and only their state) can defend them, and must do so now and forever more. Anyone well acquainted with Jewish history can appreciate that position, but most of us recognizes that we are not doomed to endlessly replicate the past: that conflicts can be resolved fairly and equitably, and that when they are they disappear into the depths of the past. The prerequisite for any solution is to see it as possible. Unfortunately, that's been the undoing of both "1-state" and "2-state" solutions: many Israelis reject the former because they can't stand the idea of sharing their state with so many Palestinians, and they reject the latter because they feel that would mean the end of the Zionist project of reclaiming their "promised land."
For some time, Palestinians have indicated they would be happy with any solution. Political elites may tend toward "2-state" because that would carve out a state they could control, while the less ambitious may just welcome the opportunity to participate in Israel's prosperous economy without the present discrimination and conflict. But either way they have been at the mercy of Israel's rejection of any sort of solution, at best hoping that some higher power (like the US) will weigh in to support their aspirations. They problem there is that at the US becomes ever more inequitable internally, it becomes ever less sensitive to the human rights of people elsewhere, and that leads to this current hideous stalemate.
On the other hand, there is no reason for stalemate on Gaza. In 2005, Israel (under Ariel Sharon) withdrew from and dismantled every one of its settlements in the Gaza Strip, and since then there has been no effort on Israel's part to recolonize Gaza. It should be clear to everyone that Israel has no interest in Gaza -- at least, other than the "security threat" an independent Gaza might create. The West Bank and Jerusalem are complicated places where it is hard (if not impossible) to resolve the conflict, but Gaza is simple: Israel doesn't want it, and any interest Gazans have in uniting with a Palestinian state in the West Bank is something that can be dealt with if/when such a state is created. Why not solve the one piece that can be solved now, and cut Gaza free of Israel?
This seems to obvious to me that I'm astonished that no one is pushing the idea. The closest I've seen to a discussion along these lines is the Hamas ceasefire proposal, which promises a 10-year truce in exchange for the following ten provisions:
Most of these points are completely reasonable, things that Israel should agree to in any case. They highlight that the basic problem that Gaza has faced since 2005 has been the stranglehold that Israel (and to some extent Egypt) have had over Gaza, and how that's been used to keep Gaza from developing a normal economy and everyday life. In exchange for a more normal life, Hamas is offering a truce -- which is to say, no rockets or mortar shells launched over the wall, and no tunneling under the wall. The demands fall short of sovereignty for Gaza, but they do try to substitute UN for Israeli supervision, and as such they offer some hints as to where Hamas would be willing to limit Gazan sovereignty. One can easily build an independence proposal on top of this ceasefire proposal, and reasonably expect that it would be agreeable to Hamas, the current de facto governor of Gaza.
This is a quick first draft, but this is what I'm thinking of:
I think this covers six or seven of Hamas' ten points. It allows Gaza to develop a normal economy and civil society. There should be no cases where Israelis continue to hold power over residents of Gaza. Israel's security concerns are satisfied in several ways: by limiting the military power of the West Palestinian state; by outlawing a wide range of military hardware; and by imposing a substantial cost to the state for any acts by Gaza residents which actually harm Israeli life and/or property. On the other hand, Israel is similarly penalized for any hostilities against Gazan life and/or property. If these schemes prove insufficient, it's always possible that Israel could withdraw from the treaty and declare war on West Palestine -- the agreement does not in any way limit Israel's warmaking capability, nor for that matter does it reduce whatever deterrence Israel enjoys from its overwhelming firepower advantage. I didn't include anything about Hamas' demand that Israel back its tanks away from the border because I thought that level of regulation unnecessary -- all that is really necessary is that Israel not fire tank shells, or any kind of ordnance, into Gaza. As long as they are not used, where Israel parks its tanks is of little practical concern.
The imposed constitution is something Gazans may not appreciate, but it greatly expedites the transition to self-rule, and it provides reassurance in many ways that the resulting government will remain democratic and will respect individual rights of all its citizens. The constitution should be broadly open to a mix of capitalist and socialist approaches, to be determined by the legislature. (I suspect this will actually prove to be a bigger sticking point with American ideologists than the lack of a sharia foundation will be with Muslims, although the latter will likely get more print.) The constitution should eventually be amendable, although perhaps not for 10-20 years (subject to UN approval) to give it a chance to work.
The matter of donor money is also critically important, both because it is urgently needed and because it provides an elegant insurance system to reinforce the peace. Personally, I think a lot of that should come from Israel, which I regard as solely responsible for the destruction and degradation of life in Gaza especially in the last decade (although really going back to 1948), but fat chance of that, so the world needs to step up. Eventually, of course, the money will run out and West Palestine will need to stand on its own economy. It is important, therefore, that the government build an efficient tax system. I haven't said anything about currency, figuring that's a detail other people are more competent in. The other especially important thing I've left out is water. I wanted to minimize the burdens imposed on Israel, but some fair allocation of the miniscule Gaza watershed is essential.
There will no doubt be other technical issues to work out. Some may be best worked out bilaterally between Israel and West Palestine. Questions like permits to pray at Al-Aqsa certainly fall in that category. While that may be something Gazans care deeply about, it doesn't strike me as a war-or-peace issue. To gain any agreement, the international community (not least the US) is going to have to put pressure on a very recalcitrant Israeli government, and that's easier to do if the demands are minimal and separable. Israel's security policy regarding Gaza is both malicious and demonstrably ineffective, so that has to change. But while it would be a nice thing to allow more personal travel between countries, that isn't a necessary condition for peace. The only necessary conditions for peace are to stop the bombing, the shooting, the blockade, and to allow all people on all sides to live a normal life. That's what this proposal does.
The decision to disband Hamas in Gaza is largely cosmetic: it will simply make everyone more comfortable to bury past terrorism with the agreement. It also allows Hamas to go on in the West Bank, doing whatever it is they are doing. I thought about adding more strictures separating West Palestine groups from any sort of work in the West Bank. The fact is that after agreement the conditions will be very different and incomparable. The question of refugees is one that may need more thought, as it is one thing that remains a common problem for a free Gaza and an occupied West Bank, but it is a thorny problem, here at least best swept under the rug.
One reason no one talks about a Gaza-only solution is that at least some people on both sides have been seduced by the notion that it is possible to come up with a "final status" resolution. Arguing against this is the fact that no one has come close, but also the more general point that nothing is ever really final. So I think one of the basic principles of resolving this conflict is that we should always do what we can when we can do it, then take stock and consider problems remain and what else can be done about them. I have no doubt that a Gaza-only solution will help move all sides closer to an eventual West Bank solution.
Wednesday, July 16. 2014
In 2010 Norman Finkelstein wrote a book about Israel's 2008 war on Gaza. His title was "This Time We Went Too Far": Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion. Like Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon, their so-called Operation Cast Lead ended having accomplished nothing so much as the revelation of Israel as a serial committer of atrocities, of crimes against humanity -- acts they tried to cover up with a thin propaganda at once asserting their victimhood and threatening ever graver results should anyone defy or deny their omnipotence. The problem was not just that Israel far exceeded the provocation. The problem was that it was hard to discern any reason for Israel's actions other than to further poison the well. The only thing Israel's leaders fear is peace, so they stir up the pot every few years, hoping to reinforce the "no partner for peace" canard.
They're at it again, and again they've gone way too far -- at least for anyone paying the least attention. Their current operation's pretext dates to June 12, when three Israeli teenaged settlers of the West Bank were kidnapped and killed -- a crime certain to arouse sympathy for Israel even though that involves overlooking the much greater violence committed by Israel in 1967 when they invaded the Jordanian-held West Bank and the 57 subsequent years of military occupation. The best you can say for the "boys" is that they were unwitting pawns in Israel's effort to permanently secure the lands of the West Bank by settling their "chosen" people and privileging them over the people who lived and worked there before they were overrun by war and overwhelmed by police force. That does not mean they deserved to be kidnapped and killed, but neither have thousands of Palestinians who have met similar fates since 1967.
On July 6, I wrote a piece that reviewed what turned out to be the first of two stages (so far) in the current escalation: A Case of Kidnapping and Murder. In short, Israel's response to the crime was not to focus on the killers -- they identified as suspects two members of a Hebron clan that is well known for acting on its own to sabotage relatively peaceful periods in the conflict -- but to use the crime as a pretext for a systematic attack on nearly everyone affiliated with Hamas in the West Bank. Moreover, it should be obvious that Hamas' real offense was that they had agreed to form a unity government with Fatah. That should have been good news for anyone with the least desire for peace, as it meant that for the first time since the failed 2006 coup to overthrow Hamas in Gaza there would be a unified, broadly popular Palestinian representation. But since Israel (above all Netanyahu) hates peace, it became imperative to break the unity government up by showing that Hamas is still committed to terrorism, something which pinning the murders on Hamas would aid. So Israel proceded to arrest hundreds of Hamas members -- the distinction between arrest and kidnapping here is no more than a thin legal veneer -- and soon had killed more than a dozen Palestinians, and soon enough Israeli racism was riled up so much that a group of Israeli settlers bent on revenge kidnapped and burned to death a Palestinian teenager.
That's about where my previous post ended. Most of this had been limited to the West Bank (although the revenge kidnapping took place in Jerusalem), but Israel was also making menacing gestures toward Gaza, which is still nominally controlled by Hamas. Since then, Israel has repeatedly attacked Gaza, and as a result have faced some measure of rocket fire from groups in Gaza (evidently including Hamas). While I've been on the road, this situation has continued to deteriorate. The following links are my attempt to catch up.
Finally, I want to cite one more piece: John Feffer: Mowing the Lawn in Gaza, which goes back to 2006, to the specific wrong turn that lead to today's seemingly intractable conflict. (Of course, it doesn't explain the entire conflict, which goes back much further, most critically to 1948, but the die was cast even earlier.):
Israel's political leadership -- the PM at the time was Ariel Sharon -- took this position because it wants to sustain a state of military occupation and it dreads any resolution to the conflict. The US political leadership -- that was G.W. Bush -- acceded to Israel because it was stupid (and because the Israel desk was run by foreign agents like Elliott Abrams). Hamas offered a fresh opportunity to work on resolving the conflict, especially if we had been willing to negotiate short-term accommodations (like truces for economic freedom) instead of focusing on "final status" issues, which had proved so difficult for both sides. Moreover, Hamas had credibility from not having been involved in the Arafat deals and decisions, and they offered the prospect of bringing a far greater degree of Palestinian unity to the table than Abbas could ever achieve on his own. However, by rejecting Hamas, the US allowed Sharon and his successors to ignore every US-backed peace proposal.
We should be clear here: while Israel has no desire for peace, the US has no future in the Middle East without it. In its efforts to form a unity government with Fatah, Hamas has offered the US a present, but in order to use it the US now has to stand up to Israel in favor of the sort of ceasefire that Hamas has offered. That's a tall order for Obama and Kerry, one that requires them to rise above their basic political cowardice.
Monday, July 14. 2014
Music: Current count 23501  rated (+13), 534  unrated (-4).
I got the news that my aunt Freda Bureman died Tuesday morning and drove to Independence, KS on Thursday afternoon. She had moved there about six years ago, living in Eagle Estates, where she could be closely attended to by her son, my cousin, Ken Brown. The funeral was Friday, with Ken and his older sisters, Lou Jean Fleron and Jan Barnes, giving touching and eloquent testimony to how much Freda meant to them, and really to us all. She was 99, had suffered from increasing dementia over the last few years, and had been unresponsive the last few weeks, essentially wasting away -- a slow fade into oblivion in stark contrast to how engaged I recall her at, say, her 90th birthday party. So I spent most of the week with my cousins, some of their children and many of their grandkids (the great-grand was among the missing), and as a result was pretty much off the grid -- my cell phone carrier didn't even provide coverage for Independence.
Hence, very little music to report below. Also, although I got back early enough today, a long nap and some TV kept me from getting the incoming packages logged. Things should return to normal, or to whatever the new normal is, next week.
I should also note that the dedicated server that I lease from Hosting & Designs was hosed a week ago. It crashed, and when they finally got it running again all of the configuration and data was erased. I've yet to receive an explanation of what happened, and don't have backups in any form that makes it easy to reconstruct, so it will be a while before I get that all running again (if indeed I do). Needless to say, I was very distracted last week. Hopefully I will be able to focus more this week.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (does not include end of week):
Tuesday, July 8. 2014
I feel like I've been sleepwalking through the last 2-3 weeks. That hasn't stopped, or even slowed down much, sorting through these records. At least the numbers are strong. Hard to judge whether it has anything to do with the relative shortfall of A-list albums. I currently have 63 A or A- records on the 2014 list, which seems like about right for this time of the year, but it's possible that a couple of the non-jazz HMs might have clicked with more time -- best candidates are Kasai All-Stars, Popcaan, and War on Drugs.
I should note that Rhapsody Streamnotes has now passed the 5,000 album mark. That's a little more than 20% of my total rated count (as of this minute, 23498), and the RS count has been inflated somewhat this year since I started doing actual CDs here, but it shows how much streaming has helped broaden my ability to cover the whole semi-popular music spectrum. Also, as my review copy stream dries up, it keeps me from folding up my tent and quitting: more than half of my A-list records this year (32 of 63) were at least first encountered on Rhapsody or some other digital source. (Actually, the ratio in 2013 was even higher: 76/146. The three previous years were lower: 61/131, 62/132, 60/132.)
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 June 21. Past reviews and more information are available here (5017 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Ab-Soul: These Days . . . (2014, Top Dawg): Rapper from the Black Hippy group, can't say as I can follow him very well, except for the 23:00 "W.R.O.H." -- sort of a beatless bull session, just the rapper with a small audience, probably some kind of bonus. B+(**)
Darren Barrett: Energy in Motion: The Music of the Bee Gees (2014, dB Studios): Trumpeter from Canada, studied and teaches at Berklee, won a Monk prize in 1997, not sure how serious to take him given how bad the idea of jazzing up the Bee Gees is. The melodies can hardly help but come through as muzak, while the disco effects can't help but be cheesy. B- [cd]
Darren Barrett dB Quintet: Live and Direct 2014 (2014, dB Studios): This shows Barrett to be an upbeat, fairly aggressive postbopper, and suggests that "dB" stands for loud as well as his monogram. Myron Walden plays tenor and soprano sax, Takeishi Onbayashi piano. The applause is ambivalent. B [cd]
Beat Funktion: Voodooland (2014, DO Music): Just what you'd expect, except from Sweden, where this probably qualifies as acid jazz. Second-rate disco is more like it, minus any attempts to move the dance floor. B- [cd]
Itamar Borochov Quartet: Outset (2011 , RealBird): Trumpet player from Israel, father a notable musician and brother Avri plays bass here, first record, with Hagai Amir on alto sax and Aviv Cohen on drums. Close to hard bop at the start, varies more toward the end. B+(**) [cd]
Camper Van Beethoven: La Costa Perdida (2013, 429 Records): A very important band in the mid-1980s, broke up in 1990, returned a couple times since 1999, but this was their first since 2004. They get back a fair bit of their sound and some of their nonchalance, and a single called "Northern California Girls." B
Camper Van Beethoven: El Camino Real (2014, 429 Records): Similar artwork to last year's album, but they've made progress in getting their sound back, and have reinforced that with a handful of memorable songs -- a stark one about bigotry in "Sugartown," a good-natured invite in "I Live in L.A.," a tentative farewell in "Darken Your Door." B+(**)
Mark Charig/Georg Wolf/Jörg Fischer: Free Music on a Summer Evening (2010 , Spore Print): Charig plays cornet and alto horn, a brass instrument which pairs with cornet much like the flugelhorn does with trumpet. Both horns are a bit scrawny in a rather scratchy avant context. B+(*) [cd]
Sébastien Chaumont Quartet: Still Walkin' (2011-13 , ITI): French alto saxophonist, backed by piano-bass-drums. Not finding much info, even on the hype sheet -- presumably "Nice" is his home town and not a succinct review, although it would work: he has a rich tone and hits the sweet spot for a mainstream alto sax quartet. B+(**) [cd]
Jeff Colella/Putter Smith: Lotus Blossom (2013 , The American Jazz Institute/Capri): Piano-bass duets, one original each, six covers including the title track from Strayhorn. Rather quiet, unimposing, all the lovelier for that. B+(**)
Ry Cooder/Corridos Famosos: Live at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco Aug 31-Sept 1, 2011 (2011 , Nonesuch): A live sampler after forty-some years, with some songs dating back to his heyday as a folk revivalist in the early 1970s and others from his strong run of albums since 2005. B+(**)
Davina & the Vagabonds: Sunshine (2014, Roustabout): Minneapolis group led by singer Davina Sowers, who wrote 8 (of 11) songs, finishing with covers of Eddie Miller, Fats Waller, and Patty Griffin. Group has a blues orientation with more jazz feel, the instrumentation including trumpet, trombone, and vibraphone. B+(**) [cd]
Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence (2014, Interscope): Everything's slow and nothing's much fun, not that she doesn't drop many hints that she might be an interesting person, or at least one unique enough to bear watching. Sonically I should bump this up a notch, but I'm not sure I want to get to know her better. Love guns and roses? Even generically speaking, that's not true. B+(***)
Andrew Downing/Jim Lewis/David Occhipinti: Bristles (2013 , Occdav Music): Bass, trumpet, guitar respectively, makes for low-key chamber jazz group, playing six joint pieces (probably improv) and six standards (Schwartz-Dietz, Mercer-Mandel, Styne-Cahn, Jobim). B+(*) [cd]
East India Youth: Total Strife Forever (2014, Stolen): Alias for William Doyle, young man with a synthesizer, first album, some nice rhythmic runs here but his efforts at ambient are far less pleasant. At best I'm reminded of early Eno, a reference his fans probably don't know, but then I think of the coming dark ages and all the other references being forgotten, as postmodern reverts into premodern. B
Kali Z. Fasteau: Piano Rapture (2014, Flying Note): From a very cosmopolitan (and as she says, "musical") family, Fasteau got into avant-jazz through husband Donald Rafael Garrett (1932-89), who had some connections with AACM and played on several late Coltrane albums. They toured the world together, and after his death she kept recording, playing dozens of exotic instruments and singing some, an eclectic mix that never led to very satisfying albums. But lately she's developed a rapport with a regular band -- Kidd Jordan (tenor sax), L. Mixashawn Rozie (soprano and tenor sax), J.D. Parran (alto flute and clarinet), and Ron McBee (percussion). Here she finally settles into just playing piano and turns in a surprisingly solid performance, centering horns which otherwise like to scatter chaotically. Still has some spots you wonder about, but overall remarkable. A- [cd]
Lee Fields: Emma Jean (2014, Truth & Soul): Soul singer from Georgia, a reissue of his 1979 album Let's Talk It Over showed him to be a worthy chip off James Brown. He's still around, and if the new one has lost a step, that just means more ballads, a strong point anyway. B+(**)
Danny Freyer: Must Be Love (2014, Blue Bend): Crooner, throwback to the 1950s trying to conjure up "That Old Black Magic" and tossing in a bit of "Yardbird Suite" (seguing into "Let's Make Babies Baby"). "Dean Martin looks and a Sinatra voice" sez the website -- one look at the picture makes you wonder if the voice is really as far off the mark. Pleasant enough with a jazz band, but the strings are really awful. B- [cd]
Ben Frost: Aurora (2014, Bedroom Community): Ambient sturm und drang, something else we didn't need, but all the banging around is not without its interesting, even industrial, moments. B+(**)
Future Islands: Singles (2013 , 4AD): Synthpop band based in Baltimore, four albums, singer Samuel T. Herring takes a bit of getting used to but the songs stand up, not as singles so much as album building blocks. B+(*)
Mary Gauthier: Trouble & Love (2014, In the Black): Folk singer-songwriter from Louisiana, always has a finely detailed sense of her subjects. These eight songs move slowly, which gives them all the more resonance. A-
Brian Groder Trio: Reflexology (2013 , Latham): Trumpet player, hangs in avant circles -- trio mates are Michael Bisio and Jay Rosen -- but doesn't sound so far out. Indeed, front cover shows a footprint with various points mapped to musicians, with Oliver Nelson out on a toe, Mingus and Joe Farrell at the arch, and Monk on the heel. B+(***) [cd]
Luke Haines: New York in the '70s (2014, Cherry Red): Former Auteurs/Black Box Recorder namechecks Alan Vega and Jim Carroll and proclaims "Dolls Forever" using tunes picked up wholesale from Lou Reed then dipped in starch and irony. B
Holly Hofmann: Low Life: The Alto Flute Project (2014, Capri): Flute player, 14 albums since 1989, few that I have heard have any appeal to me, but it helps here that she sticks to alto flute, also that in addition to longtime accompanist Mike Wofford (piano) she has a rhythm section that flows and sometimes even swings: Anthony Wilson (guitar), John Clayton (bass), Jeff Hamilton (drums). B+(*) [cd]
Bobby Hutcherson/David Sanborn/Joey DeFrancesco: Enjoy the View (2014, Blue Note): After the three principals, who each contribute two or three originals, we see "featuring Billy Hart." You don't run into many organ-vibraphone pairings but the combination works well here. As for Sanborn, he reminds you that he has the chops to be a well respected alto saxophonist, but you can never quite trust him. B+(*)
B.J. Jansen: Ronin (2013 , ARC): Baritone saxophonist, from Cincinnati, now in New York, has a couple albums, this one backed by piano-bass-drums, fairly mainstream leaning toward quiet storm. B+(**) [cd]
Kasai Allstars: Beware the Fetish [Congotronics 5] (2014, Crammed Discs, 2CD): A large Kinshasa group, their band built with thumb pianos and makeshift percussion shared, at least in this series, with Konono No. 1. I find the vocals a bit rougher and less compelling, and the length wears you down, although disc-buyers will only play one half at a time. B+(***)
Seun Kuti + Egypt 80: A Long Way to the Beginning (2013 , Knitting Factory): Fela Kuti's youngest son seems to have inherited the old band, probably because he's able to keep up the intensity, even more than the old days -- his main innovation is to introduce raps, which cut sharper than the still more common chants. B+(***)
Dawn Landes: Bluebird (2014, Western Vinyl): Singer-songwriter from Kentucky, at one time married to Josh Ritter, mostly quiet and personable guitar-and-vocals. B+(**)
Peter Lerner: Continuation (2014, OA2): Guitarist, from Chicago, second album, lists a large group but in two columns, suggesting that the core group consists of pianist Willie Pickens (listed as "featuring" on the cover) and bass and drums, with the second column -- three horns including Geof Bradfield on saxes and flute plus Joe Rendon on percussion -- supplementary. Still, they all fit together nicely -- I'm tempted to use the word "slick" but that would raise some false connotations. I haven't run across Pickens before, but he earns his feature. B+(***) [cd]
The John A. Lewis Trio: One Trip Out (2014, Valarteri): Pianist, originally from Dallas, studied at SMU, played trumpet in R&B bands, has been a musician "for over thirty years"; website only shows this one record, a nice mainstream piano trio. B+(*) [cd]
Roberto Magris Trio: One Night in With Hope and More, Vol. 2 (2008-10 [2013, JMood): Pianist from Italy, rooted in 1950s bebop styles, which this album (and its predecessor) pay tribute to. Trio, some cuts with Tootie Heath on drums. Terrific bonus track with Paul Carr on tenor sax, and 4:25 of "audio notebook." B+(**) [cdr]
Roberto Magris Septet: Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan Vol. 2 (2010 , JMood, 2CD): A broad selection of tunes by the hard bop trumpet great plus two African-influenced pieces by the pianist-leader. They work hard to get the rhythmic feel right and build up the harmonics, but don't expect Hermon Mehari to make you recall, much less forget, Morgan. B+(*) [cdr]
Roberto Magris Quintet: Cannonball Funk'n Friends (2010 , JMood): The subject of this tribute is Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, although only one song originates with him -- other sources include Duke Pearson, Frank Rosolino, Walter Booker, Oscar Pettiford, and Eddie Vinson, plus two originals by pianist Magris. Emphasizes funk beats over bebop, and Hermon Mehari's cornet shines more than Jim Mair's alto sax. B+(**) [cdr]
Roberto Magris Space Trek: Aliens in a Bebop Planet (2011 , JMood, 2CD): Concept is an alien discovering bebop and working through it, with covers of Fats Navarro, Sir Charles Thompson, Kenny Clarke, "The Gypsy," and "Giant Steps," and originals venturing as far as fellow space traveller Sun Ra. Magris' piano is up to the demands, but I'm often even more entranced by saxophonist Matt Otto, who has a lock on the cool. Eddie Charles' three vocals are neither here nor there. Paul Collins' "audio notebook" is a fully overblown review. B+(***) [cdr]
MARS 4-Tet: The Blind Watchmaker (2014, Summit): Acronym for Don Murray (bass), Jeff Antoniuk (sax), Frank Russo (drums), and Donato Soveiro (guitar). First album, although Antoniuk has a couple previous efforts, and shares the songwriting with Soveiro. Solid mainstream group, one you'd be delighted with if you walked in on them with no expectations. Covers: Monk, Jarrett, "Black Dog" (a Led Zeppelin blues). B+(**) [cd]
The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra: Strength in Numbers (2013 , Summit): Trombone player and sometime singer (three tunes here), working with a big band here -- mostly familiar New York names, with pianist Mike Holober (a big band specialist) notable. Many striking passages, the vocals more an acquired taste (e.g., "You Don't Know What Love Is"). B+(*) [cd]
Willie Nelson: Band of Brothers (2014, Legacy): Billed as Nelson's first album of "mostly original" songs since 1996's Spirit, most are co-credited to Buddy Cannon, and 5 (of 14) don't have Nelson's name on them. A while back Legacy included Nelson in their Valentine's Day release of Love Songs, inadvertently showing that no country singer in our memory has pitched less woo or waxed less romantic than Nelson, but he tops himself time and again here -- if "Used to Her" and "Wives and Girlfriends" seem too witty, there's "I Thought I Left You," where he compares his beloved to measles and the whooping cough. The warmest he comes is "I love you because you're crazy like me," but he didn't write that. Nor did he write "it's hard to be an outlaw who ain't wanted any more" -- that's Billy Joe Shaver's line. But he did write "I can't forget the shit you put me through, and of course I can't forgive you because that's just what I do" ("I've Got a Lot of Traveling to Do"). A-
Conor Oberst: Upside-Down Mountain (2014, Nonesuch): Singer-songwriter, has a knack for pop melodies although these are less cut and dry than usual. B+(**)
Beata Pater: Golden Lady (2013 , B&B): Jazz singer, mostly standards but nothing from the standard songbooks save Jobim, not the only nod toward Latin America. B [cd]
Matt Pavolka: The Horns Band (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist, second album, formed this group around three horns -- Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Jacob Garchik (trombone), and Loren Stillman (alto sax) -- with Mark Ferber on drums. Not the brightest sound, but the post-whatever shuffle is worth keying on. B+(**) [cd]
Felix Peikli: Royal Flush (2013 , self-released): Clarinetist (including bass), from Norway, first album, quintet with guitar, piano, bass, and drums, plus guests, some "special," some not. His speed is impressive in a group that can keep up with him, like Ralph Peterson's Fo'tet, but can be overly lush, especially when the guests add vocals and/or flute. B [cdr]
The Ralph Peterson Fo'tet Augmented: Alive at Firehouse 12: Vol 2: Fo' n Mo' (2013 , Onyx): I didn't get Vol. 1, with a group drummer Peterson calls the Unity Project. Peterson's Presents the Fo'Tet appeared in 1989 and that's been rubric for his small group ever since: currently Felix Peikli (clarinet, bass clarinet) and Joseph Doubleday (vibes). The "Mo'" is Steve Wilson (soprano sax) and Eguie Castrillo (percussion), and they help plenty, but the core group is impressive too. B+(***) [cd]
Popcaan: Where We Come From (2014, Mixpak): Jamaican singer, came up doing dancehall although this strikes me as more idiosyncratic than that. B+(***)
Rallidae: Paper Birds (2013 , self-released, EP): Vocal trio, where Angela Morris also plays tenor sax, Scott Colberg bass, and Alex Samaras just sings. Group name refers to the family of coots, crakes, and gallinules (collectively rails), mostly small birds found in wetlands. Four songs, 23:24. The vocals fall out of the classical art-song tradition I generally despise, but the instruments are jazz. B- [cd]
Andrew Rathbun Quartet: Numbers & Letters (2012 , SteepleChase): Saxophonist (credited here "reeds, voice"), from Toronto, lists George Russell and George Garzone among his tutors, a postbop guy. Backed by a veteran piano trio here -- Phil Markowitz, Jay Anderson, Bill Stewart -- with two guest spots for Taylor Haskins on trumpet. Starts off bold, but in going through the various phases and changes loses impresses more than interests. B+(**) [cdr]
Sam Reed Meets Roberto Magris: Ready for Reed (2011 [2013, JMood): Alto saxophonist from Philadelphia, childhood friend and protégé of Jimmy Heath, has been around long enough to have a story about Charlie Parker asking him to hold his horn between sets, but only has side credits to my knowledge: Teddy Pendergrass, but also Odean Pope's Sax Choir. Relaxed, very charming mainstream set with a full band, led by pianist Magris but including a trombone. Record ends with an "audio notebook" -- an interview where you get to know a bit more about Reed. B+(***) [cdr]
Jefferson Rose Band: Feel Like Dancing (2014, self-released): Seattle group led by bassist Rose, second album, describe themselves as "a tightly honed ensemble of world music players," although at first blush they sound like a salsa band -- losing that spell only when singer Alex Kitchen takes up a lyric in English. Upbeat enough to justify the title. B [cd]
Harold Rubin/Barre Phillips/Tatsuya Nakatani: E on a Thin Line (2009 , Hopscotch): Clarinetist, also notable as a visual artist, b. 1932 in South Africa, moved to Israel in the 1960s after running afoul of the Apartheid regime, has at least 10 albums since 1990 (AMG counts 2). This is the first I've heard, and I'm struck by his distinctive avant approach. B+(***) [cd]
Saxophone Summit [Dave Liebman/Ravi Coltrane/Joe Lovano]: Visitation (2011 , ArtistShare): The first such "summit" was in 2004 with Liebman, Lovano, and Michael Brecker -- their Gathering of the Spirits was awful, even with the comic relief of their wood flute special. Coltrane is a more compatible replacement, and the first thing you notice is how tightly the horns fit together, then how ably the rhythm section -- Phil Markowitz, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart -- help out. Six pieces, one from each, each for all. B+(***) [cd]
Bobby Selvaggio: Short Stories (2013 , Origin): Alto saxophonist, has seven albums over the last decade. Quartet here, with Aaron Goldberg on piano. Reminds me of Donny McCaslin with his fast, swooping, virtuosic sax runs, which dominate this album. B+(**) [cd]
Sonny Simmons: Leaving Knowledge, Wisdom and Brilliance/Chasing the Bird? (2006-14 , Improvising Beings, 8CD): This arrived in a water-soaked plastic bag, the cardboard box destroyed, so it was unclear just what the title was, some web sources suggesting 80th Anniversary Box Set. Other web sources, and the now dry remains of the box, lean toward the title above. Simmons started on alto sax with ESP-Disk in the mid-1960s, recorded little in the 1970s and 1980s, cut a couple major label albums in the mid-1990s (Warner Bros.), and then from 2001 on has had a remarkably productive stretch flittering around avant spots in Europe -- his main labels Norwegian, Polish, and now French. The music here follows from a fairly basic concept even though it's been elaborated into more than seven hours of variations: Simmons plays alto sax and cor anglais, backed by amplified Indian instruments, guitar and/or keyboard, and percussion. Extravagant exotica, randomly replayable. Don't know how I was so fortunate to get a copy, especially at a time when Sony can't be bothered to answer my email. B+(***) [cd]
Sonzeira: Brasil Bam Bam Bam (2014, Talkin' Loud/Virgin): British DJ Gilles Petersen assembled various Brazilian stars for this (as well as ringer Seun Kuti) and mixed the results, an Afro-Brazilian dance tape with attractive quirks. B+(***)
Storyboard [David Boswell/Alex Locascio/Rod MacDowell]: Hello (2014, My Quiet Moon): Guitars/synth, drums, electric bass. Boswell cites Pat Metheny as a formative influence, and McDowell cites Jaco Pastorius, but all they wind up with is a basic groove album. B [cd]
Strand of Oaks: Heal (2014, Dead Oceans): Indiana singer-songwriter Timothy Showalter, second album, don't know if the first is amped up like this one, which starts with a dense guitar scream and rarely descends below heavy, except to declaim something intensely emotional. B-
Sun Kil Moon: Benji (2014, Caldo Verde): Mark Kozelek group, although the extremely personal first person songs and simple arrangements don't allow for much group. Blue collar confessionals, mostly about family, some about work, not much of a love life -- no idea whether this is Kozelek's norm, but I'm touched and fascinated. B+(***)
Swans: To Be Kind (2014, Young God, 2CD): Michael Gira's group dates back to 1982 with a breakup from 1997-2010. Before the breakup they were an obscure postrock/noise band (titles included Soundtracks for the Blind and Public Castration Is a Good Idea). Since regrouping they've become a "critics band" -- this one is currently the top-rated Album of the Year. With one piece topping 30 minutes, others filling out more than two hours. B
Allison Adams Tucker: April in Paris (2012 , Allegato Music): Jazz singer, from San Diego, second album, one original, eight standards including a Jobim and a Beatles song, several in Romance languages (Italian, French, Portuguese; her website also has a Japanese version, as she lived in Japan at some point). She nails "It Might as Well Be Spring" but wanders after that. B [cd]
Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Four (2013 , OA2): Trumpet and baritone sax, plus their ever-shifting collective, this time just guitar, organ, and drums. The organ gives them a nice little boost. B+(*) [cd]
Sharon Van Etten: Are We There (2014, Jagjaguwar): A critically hailed singer-songwriter although I can't tell you why: slow, heavy, one could even say leaden, presumably effects that set up the melodrama, if indeed that's what it is. B-
Cornelius Veit/Eugen Prieur/Jörg Fischer: Stromraum (2012-13 , Spore Print): Guitar trio, Prieur playing electric bass; second group album, the first in 2005, the trio going back as far as 2000. Even scratchier than Fischer's trio with Marc Charig, but the cohesiveness of the sound helps frame the invention. B+(***) [cd]
Brahja Waldman Quintet: Sir Real Live at Resonance (2013 , self-released): Two-sax quintet, the leader on alto, Adam Kinner on tenor, with piano (Damon Shadrach Hankof), bass, and drums. Live vamp pieces, the repetition easy on the ears but with points to jump off from. [Limited vinyl.] B+(**) [cdr]
The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (2014, Secretly Canadian): Currently the number three highest ranked album this year over at Album of the Year (behind Swans and St. Vincent; a while back it was number one). I love the guitar textures, but notice the singer flinging lines out like Dylan, only with none of them sticking. B+(***)
Walt Weiskopf: Overdrive (2013 , Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, 16 albums since 1989, a mainstream player with a lot of drive, gets more help then he needs here -- piano (Peter Zak), guitar (Yotam Silberstein), vibes (Behn Gillece), bass and drums -- a little clutter, which the fast ones only scatter. B
Wild Beasts: Present Tense (2014, Domino): English art rock/deam pop group, fourth album, the slack beats and falsetto vocals conjure up that dream effect and it's pretty tolerable while it lasts. B
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Dexter Johnson & Le Super Star de Dakar: Live à l'Étoile (1969 , Teranga Beat): The leader was a saxophonist, born in Nigeria and based in Senegal at the time, later in Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire. Songs have a crude ska-like feel, more likely derived from soul (there's a Wilson Pickett cover) and boogaloo (the Latin tinge is pronounced), the vocals par for the period but they bounce off the sax in captivating ways. B+(***)
Oscar Peterson/Ben Webster: During This Time (1972 , Art of Groove): Recorded in the NDR studios in Hannover, backed by Neils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass and Tony Inzalaco on drums, this was just a year before the tenor sax great's death, although I find him playing faster than anything I've heard by him in the previous five years, and just slightly off his finest ballad tone -- a pleasant surprise even though you'd expect the pianist to perk up anyone. Packaged with a DVD. A-
Air: Open Air Suit (1978, Novus): An important avant jazz group from the mid-1970s, with Henry Threadgill on various saxes (and too much flute), Fred Hopkins on bass, and Steve McCall on drums. Four pieces, titled as if selected from five, meant to imply something larger. B+(**)
Chris Burn: Music for Three Rivers (1995-97 , Victo): English pianist, records infrequently with avant musicians like John Butcher and Lol Coxhill, plays solo here, two long pieces and a bunch of short ones. Not much momentum, hard to get a handle on this. B+(*)
Gerry Hemingway Quartet: Devil's Paradise (1999 , Clean Feed): The BassDrumBone trio (Mark Dresser, Hemingway, and trombonist Ray Anderson), which date back at least to 1987, plus tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin -- a dream group, although the latter fits in awkwardly, the choppiness a trademark of the trio. B+(***)
Joe Henderson: Our Thing (1963 , Blue Note): The tenor saxophonist's second album, a typically strong showing with trumpeter Kenny Dorham sharing the front line and writing half the songs (3 of 6). Pianist Andrew Hill is often the most interesting player here, mixing up what otherwise would be a hard bop outing. A-
Joe Henderson: Joe Henderson Quintet at the Lighthouse (1970 , Milestone/OJC): With Woody Shaw on trumpet and George Cables on piano, these tracks were initially released on several albums and lost a track in the squeeze when they were belatedly reassembled. The trumpet raises Henderson's competitive blood, but that's not necessarily a plus. B+(**)
Joe Henderson: Joe Henderson in Japan (1971 , Milestone/OJC): Tenor sax quartet, the leader picking up a sprightly rhythm section led by Hideo Ichikawa on electric piano (with Kunimitsu Inaba on bass and Motohiko Hino on drums, the latter a name I recognize). Four cuts, the spaced-out solos most impressive. B+(***)
Joe Henderson: Relaxin' at Camarillo (1979 , Contemporary/OJC): Tenor sax quartet, pieced together from two sessions with different bass-drums, but Chick Corea plays sparkling piano throughout, and the leader is in fine form. A-
Joe Henderson: Joe Henderson Big Band (1992-96 , Verve): Riding high on a major label comeback, the fourth (of five) albums Verve released, with three early tracks produced by Don Sickler, the other five by Bob Belden with a huge list of musicians, few common to both sessions. Buries the star, but has some snap as Belden albums go. B+(*)
Art Hodes: Keepin' Out of Mischief Now (1988, Candid): Born in Russia, moved to Chicago as an infant, mastered stride piano and recorded in trad jazz groups from the 1940s. He was 84 when this solo set was cut, a batch of songs he'd spent his life with, nothing fancy, nothing to rush him, all the more poignant. A-
New Air Featuring Cassandra Wilson: Air Show No. 1 (1986 , Black Saint): The "New" signifies that Pheeroan Aklaff has replaced Steve McCall on drums; otherwise, bassist Fred Hopkins and alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill (also flute and banjo) carry on. Wilson is an effective singer here. B+(**)
Oscar Peterson et Joe Pass: À La Salle Pleyel (1975 , Pablo/OJC, 2CD): Piano and guitar, Pass has mostly recorded solo, calling an early album Virtuoso and mostly adding numbers onto subsequent efforts. The record starts with Peterson solo, then adds a solo Pass set, then finally six duets. Peterson is a formidable solo performer too, but even better when socializing. A-
The Michael Jefry Stevens/Dominic Duval Quintet: Elements (1994 , Leo): The leaders play piano and bass, but this is more of a group effort, with all but two Stevens pieces attributed to the group, including Mark Whitecase (alto sax), Dom Minasi (guitar), and Jay Rosen (drums). B+(*)
Monday, July 7. 2014
Music: Current count 23488  rated (+29), 538  unrated (-1).
Cut this off Sunday night, so I don't have Monday's mail in the unpacking. Main reason I fell short of thirty records was that I spent two days playing almost nothing but the Sonny Simmons box. Main reason I even came close to thirty records was that I went through Album of the Year's The Highest Rated Albums of 2014 and played a lot of things on Rhapsody that I had missed. The notebook has a table of the top 100 records with my grades where I have them. Thus far I've heard 40 of those 100, pretty concentrated toward the top of the list (18 of top 20, 24 of top 30, 27 of top 40, 32 of top 50, only 8 of the next 50 (Sharon Jones, Dolly Parton, Laura Cantrell, Schoolboy Q, Future, Luke Haines, YG, Lykke Li).
AOTY's list isn't very useful for prospecting. Only 6 of those top 100 albums are on my 63-album A-list (Todd Terje, Cloud Nothings, Ought, Parquet Courts, Miranda Lambert, Laura Cantrell -- I haven't heard the UK-only Paul Heaton/Jacqui Abbott record at 56, although Michael Tatum and Jason Gubbells have convinced me I'll love it ), 11 more as high HMs (St. Vincent, The War on Drugs, Sun Kil Moon, Neneh Cherry, Carla Bozulich, EMA, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Isaiah Rashad, Tinariwen, Sturgill Simpson, Fear of Men).
Most of my missing A-list is jazz, but skipping the non-vocal jazz records, the following records on my A-list didn't make AOTY's top 100: Lily Allen, The Strypes, Jenny Scheinman, The Hold Steady, Old 97's, Pharrell Williams, Shakira, Barbara Morrison, Rodney Crowell, Deena, Big Ups, Mary Gauthier, Grieves, Catherine Russell, Jon Langford, Wussy, Company Freak, The New Mendicants, Willie Nelson, Dave Alvin/Phil Alvin, Leo Welch, Amy LaVere, and Supreme Cuts. I'm partial, of course, but it strikes me that the difference between these artists and the AOTY ones I downgraded is personality (and maybe brains).
For a second opinion, I checked Michael Tatum's grades, skipping compilations. He has 10 AOTY 100 records graded A- or above (Against Me!, Laura Cantrell, Cloud Nothings, EMA, Freddie Gibbs/Madlib, Paul Heaton/Jacqui Abbott, Bob Mould, Parquet Courts, St. Vincent, Tinariwen -- two records there I haven't heard); and 22 A-list albums not in the AOTY 100 (Lily Allen, Katy B, Toni Braxton/Babyface, Company Freak, Deena, Drive-By Truckers, Hold Steady, Chrissie Hynde, Kool AD, Kool and Kass, Amy LaVere, Steve Malkmus, Modern Baseball, The New Mendicants, Conor Oberst, Old 97's, The Roots, Shakira, Withered Hand, Wussy, Young Thug/Bloody Jay, Young Thug/Gucci Mane -- I had 23).
I didn't bother writing up tweets for many of the AOTY records. Some of them I just played and felt next to nothing, they were so instantly forgettable. Some, like Ab-Soul or Conor Oberst, weren't so bad but left me feeling I had little to say. I've promised in the past to do better on that, but this week I slipped up a bit.
Some personal things are very much up in the air right now. My last remaining aunt, Freda Bureman, appears to be dying. If/when that happens, I'll have to drop whatever I'm doing and take care of some things. Also, the server I lease looks to be dead (and the support staff doesn't seem too healthy or alert either). I had a bunch of work I wanted to do on that machine, so that's totally up in the air. Indeed, I may wind up having to reconstruct everything previously stored there (at best, a lot of unpleasant work; at worst, impossible).
Barring disaster, I should post Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. (I currently have 77 records in the draft file.) I hope to get through the Roberto Magris records by then. Meanwhile, the incoming queue has dried up so severely I could remove one (maybe two of three) baskets from my floor. Perhaps it's time to buckle down, clean up, put all this crap behind me.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, July 6. 2014
Short after spending so much time trying to follow what's happening in Israel, but still have some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
On June 12 this year three Israeli teenagers -- Naftali Frenkel (16), Gilad Shaer (16), and Eyal Yifrah (19), residents and yeshiva students in Israel's occupied territories -- were kidnapped while hitchhiking from Gush Etzion, an illegal settlement in Area C, the section still under full Israeli military control. One of the three was eventually reported to have been able to call authorities to alert them of the kidnapping, but that was initially treated as a prank call. The three dead bodies were found on June 30, in a field northwest of Hebron. Details are sketchy: I gather that then were shot and killed shortly after their abduction. Piecing information together from news sources is very difficult, but there is a good overview at Wikipedia.
If this was an isolated, atomic event, it would be treated as it should be, as a heinous crime, with the public waiting passively -- aside from the usual media sensationalism -- while authorities sifted through evidence, tracked down, apprehended, and tried and punished the perpetrators. But the crime could not be isolated from its context, and it set off a series of subsequent events -- many of them criminal as well -- that continue to this day and into the future. Someone with a clear vantage and access to all the data could write a book showing the myriad ways the crimes and the conflicts reflect and refract each other, creating a cage which traps anyone and everyone committed to the conflict. The only way out of this cage is to see each crime in its own light, and never justify a new crime on the basis of an old one.
Of course, everyone behaved predictably. In Israel there are two kinds of kidnapping. One is very common, on the order of 1,000 or more instances per year: this is when any of Israel's various security outfits "arrests" Palestinian "suspects." They can be held without charge or legal cause pretty much indefinitely, although in practice they tend to be held a few months then released. As such, the total number of Israeli-held "prisoners" is limited -- in 2008, Adallah put the number at 11,000 -- but many more Palestinian men have been cycled through the system. In the weeks immediately following the kidnappings, Israelis "arrested" another 400 Palestinians, as if they were stocking up for an eventual exchange to ransom the three Israeli teens.
Much rarer are Palestinian kidnappings of Israelis: by far the most famous the kidnapping of an IDF soldier on the Gaza border in 2006, Gilad Shalit. He was held for five years by Hamas operatives and eventually repatriated in a deal that that involved release by Israel of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. With many thousands of more Palestinians locked away in Israeli prisons, there was some sentiment among Palestinians in favor of kidnapping more Israelis, but in fact there have been very few such cases, especially leading to successful hostage exchanges. Still, given the costs of getting Shalit back, it's easy to understand why Israel would overreact to a new kidnapping.
And overreact is precisely what Israel did. Aside from snatching up more than 400 prisoners, Israelis have thus far killed at least 10 Palestinians. Much of this was initially done by the IDF in what they called Operation Brother's Keeper, as they went through various Palestinian villages and refugee camps, searching and damaging over 1,000 buildings. Early on, the Netanyahu government decided to blame Hamas for the kidnappings. They quickly identified two Hebron residents as suspects, and claimed that they had been Hamas operatives. While there is no doubt that Hamas was responsible for the Shalit abduction, Hamas has recently agreed with Fatah to form a "unity government" in the Palestinian Authority, something the Netanyahu government rejects and is very keen on breaking up.
It's very important to understand that Netanyahu in particular (and for that matter nearly all prominent Israeli politicians today and in the past going back to Ben Gurion) has absolutely no desire to negotiate any sort of conflict resolution with the Palestinians. They have at present pretty much what they want: all of Jerusalem and the ancient land of Samaria and Judea, the Golan Heights, a system which keeps Palestinian and Arab violence to a low level despite subjecting the Palestinians to grossly unequal treatment, an absence of credible threats from regional powers, a generous subsidy of their military by the US, friendly alliances with the US and most nations in Europe, and a high standard of living. They may on occasion give lip service to negotiations, but in fact they give up nothing as they continue building on Palestinian land and tightening up their matrix of control. They see negotiation as a losing proposition: to resolve the conflict, they'd have to give up land and money, they'd have to give equitable rights, and for little improvement in security they'd obsolete a military system that defines so much of what Israelis live for -- that is in fact the main path to personal success, in business as well as politics.
Of course, that's a rather myopic view of Israeli success, but one they work very hard at propagandizing. They try to push two contradictory messages simultaneously: to the Palestinians, they emphasize their overwhelming power, trying to drive home the futility of resistance; to Israeli Jews, they reinforce a culture of victimhood, where their only protection is the state; and to the world, they play up every act of violence against them while playing down the much greater violence they perpetrate.
So Israel's security forces react to the kidnapping in several ways: they use the incident to reinforce their propaganda messages, and they use it as an excuse to pursue their political goals. The biggest threat to Israel's propaganda line is Hamas seeking to gain international legitimacy as a representative of the Palestinians, so Israel has used this incident to track down and pick up everyone they know of with Hamas connections. But the IDF also used this as an excuse to raid Mustafa Barghouti's Palestinial National Initiative (BDS) organization and confiscate its computers. And they subjected hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to curfews, and shut down various checkpoints.
By June 20 Israel's operations generated more resistance, which they answered with more violence. Wikipedia:
Until June 26, when the bodies were found, Israeli censorship had prevented publication of suspicions that the three teenagers had been killed. Among other things, this gave a cover of urgency for Israel's widespread military operations. After the bodies were found, Israeli politicians started talking more about collective punishment. On July 1, Israeli jets and helicopters struck 34 locations in Gaza. These were answered by small rockets launched from Gaza, so Israel bombed Gaza again, and again. Collective punishment is nothing new to Israel. The British practiced it to suppress the Arab Revolt in 1937-39, and Israel has made an art of it, from Ariel Sharon's Qibya massacre in 1953 to the sonic boom flyovers of Gaza after Israel dismantled their settlements there in 2005. Israel is reportedly massing troops along the Gaza border again, for a possible attack on Hamas like they did in 2006 after Shalit was abducted, and again in 2008's Operation Cast Lead.
One thing the Wikipedia article doesn't go into much is the widespread eruption of hatred against Palestinians within Israeli civil society, at least occasionally turning to violence. (One 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohamed Abu Khdai, was killed by being burning alive.) For a sense of this, see this Haaretz piece by Chemi Shalev:
For an example, Allison Deger (The Aftermath: Home demolitions and dead Palestinian teen follow Netanyahu call for revenge) interviews an 18-year-old Israeli settler, Mier Sh'aribi, at the same hitchhiking spot where the three teens were abducted, then continues:
Anyone who's read Max Blumenthal's Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel will not be surprised by these reactions. The roots of this loathing run deep: the most striking thing about Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East is the extreme contrast between Israel's supremely confident military leaders and its intentionally terrified citizenry. That the military was proven justified in the Six-Day War gave them a free hand for subsequent adventurism, always be bolstered by panicking a public that grew up on holocaust stories. More often than not, those ventures -- Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008 are prime examples -- had to be ended early because they had turned into public embarrassments.
Israel's heavy-handed response to the kidnapping and murder of the three teens will also eventually be seen as a public embarrassment, but thus far the hasbara machine has milked the deaths for maximum sympathy while keeping most of everything else under wraps -- most reports of hostilities along the Gaza border focus on toy rockets (invariably attributed to Hamas) as if they are equivalent to F-16 sorties. (Of course, in some moral sense they are, but as a practical matter they are as far apart as any other measurement of relative violence in the conflict: e.g., abductions, house demolitions.) Similarly, the media routinely accepts the legitimacy of Israel's security forces, even when they operate in occupied territories, where they are allowed to invent laws on whim, selectively enforce them, all in support of illegal settlements. No one wants to point out that the three teens were illegal settlers, pawns in a political drama that's meant to dispossess and degrade the Palestinians who have lived on the land for many centuries. That's because no one wants to besmirch the innocence of the victims, but you don't need to deny facts -- that the occupation is illegal and immoral, and that the teens are, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, are part of that occupation -- to see the killings as despicable. All one needs to understand is that no crime in the series justifies the next.
Where the story threatens to get out of hand is with the hate mobs and their revenge killings -- as opposed to the casual deaths that inevitably follow IDF operations in Palestinian villages. Israel did finally manage to arrest six Israelis for kidnapping and torturing (burning) Mohamed Abu Khdai to death -- here "arrest" is the right word: they are charged with specific crimes and entitled to the legal rights including a fair trial (although "fair" for whom is open to debate, as the Israeli legal system has been notoriously lax when it comes to crimes committed by Jews against Arabs. One of the first things I noted in reading about the kidnappings was that the two 16-year-olds (and for that matter the bloodthirsty 17-year-old quoted above) are considered to be juveniles under Israeli law, but 16-year-old Palestinians are tried (when they are tried at all) as adults.
A system is racist when it divides the population into two (or more) groups and makes legal distinctions among them, such as the law that treats Palestinian teens as adults while at the same time treating Jewish teens as juveniles. That's just one of dozens or hundreds of cases of legal discrimination practiced by Israel. Another is that Israel has no death penalty for its citizens, but Israeli security forces have assassinated hundreds of Palestinians with no judicial review whatsoever -- some with F-16s resulting in dozens of collateral deaths. One might still debate whether Zionism is intrinsically racist -- certainly some Zionists are not -- but the actual State of Israel clearly is, as is a substantial portion of its citizens (especially concentrated in the settlements in the occupied territories -- for the history of which, see Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settleements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007, with Blumenthal, op. cit., a useful update).
There is much more one can mention here. (One of the suspects Israel named belongs to the Kawasmeh clan in Hebron, which has some Hamas connections but also has a long history of freelance operations counter to Hamas truces. The guilt of the suspects is presumed because they recently disappeared. Israel went ahead and demolished the suspects' houses rather than stake them out.) As I said, someone should write a book, because the whole conflict is woven into this story, provided you look at it comprehensively enough.
Thursday, July 3. 2014
Last New Book Notes was on April 2, the one before that on February 11, so this is about when I should be coming up with another collection of forty blurbs. If anything, I'm a little late, but then I always seem to be late. Actually, I have another batch of forty in the draft file, so I may well come up with a second post this week.
Anyhow, these are the most interesting titles I've noticed on real and virtual bookstore shelves recently:
Julia Angwin: Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance (2014, Times Books): A journalist surveys the surveillance nation -- not just the NSA but your phone company and Google too -- senses that the response to surveillance will be self-censorship to the point of losing freedom, and tries to figure out ways to cope, even to carve out some measure of privacy.
Gary J Bass: The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (2013, Knopf): About the 1971 revolt and war that split Bangladesh off from Pakistan, and how Nixon and Kissinger were so wrapped up in their Cold War machinations they didn't notice (nor did they care) that millions of people were perishing. Bass has a rotten history as one of those liberal hawks who invariably wants the US to jump into wars everywhere there's a chance to save lives, and this is a case that suits him to a T. (As I recall, Noam Chomsky cited India's intervention as one of the very few cases where a war actually did some good.) And it never hurts to be reminded that Nixon and Kissinger were war criminals of the highest order. Still, beware the hidden agenda.
Michael Burleigh: Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World, 1945-1965 (2013, Viking): Given the years covered, most of those faraway wars were revolts against European (and American) imperialism, many of which got caught up in the Cold War as the United States forsake liberalism in favor of any tinpot despot who could be counted as anticommunist. That adds up to a pretty big book (668 pp) with "18 distinct story lines of terrorism, counter-terrorism, intrigue, nationalism, and Cold War rivalry." Good chance he spreads himself thin, as well as missing the upshot -- which is that the Cold War was primarily responsible for undermining democracy and undoing the middle class in America.
Tyler Cowen: Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation (2013, Dutton): New York Times pundit, on the conservative side, does at least approach real problems while denying that they can be fixed (often by reassuring us that the right people are working on it). E.g., his brief on the economic decline of the middle class was The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better. This book is about how inequality is good because, well, it generates more millionaires.
Robert F Dalzell Jr: The Good Rich and What They Cost Us (2013, Yale University Press): The pictures on the cover depict George Washington, Oprah Winfrey, and two guys in the middle -- I gather one is John D. Rockefeller, who despite the enormous foundation that still bears his name was never much regarded as "good," for the public at least. Probes the contradiction between a public committed to democracy and one that seems to celebrate the rich.
John Demos: The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic (2014, Knopf): A study in racism, really, as Demos examines a school set up by New England evangelists for "heathens" from around the globe -- Henry Obookiah, from Hawaii, was a famous student here -- and how the Connecticut community reacted to that school.
Barbara Ehrenreich: Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything (2014, Grand Central): A memoir of sorts, about the search for truth or knowledge or understanding. One of the few people I'd read anything by.
Graham Farmelo: Churchill's Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race (2013, Basic Books): One can argue that early in WWII Britain had the best shot at inventing the atomic bomb, and that Churchill for one reason or another ceded that lead to the US -- that seems to be the thrust here, and it would probably be interesting to find out what Churchill did and did not understand about the project, although in the end it's hard to see it mattering much. The British Empire could hardly stand on its own let alone pay for the mother country's disastrous wars, so it was no surprise that Britain emerged from the war reduced to America's loyal (and dependent) sidekick -- something else Churchill may or may not have understood, but ultimately couldn't do anything about.
Carlotta Gall: The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014 (2014, Houghton Mifflin): Longtime war reporter argues that the US war in Afghanistan failed because the "real enemy" wasn't the Taliban. It was Pakistan. That's not exactly news, but it opens up more questions than it answers, and more importantly it leaves unexamined America's contribution to its own failure.
Timothy F Geithner: Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises (2014, Crown): Obama's Secretary of the Treasury was already deeply involved in the struggle to save the big banks as head of the New York Fed in 2008. I doubt he has much to say about other financial crises, but for the one he experienced first hand he's happy to take credit for saving not only the banks but the bankers who ran them into the ground. As for the rest of the economy, well, that's more complicated, and as far as I can tell not something Geithner reflects on much, or even cares about.
Malcolm Gladwell: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013, Little Brown): Stories showing how underdogs can leverage their weakness to get ahead, or something like that. I don't have a strong opinion on him one way or the other: he has a knack for making trivial points, and a great fondness of success even when it's pretty superficial, but sometimes he runs across something interesting or important and he's rarely stupid or inelegant about it.
Anand Gopal: No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes (2014, Metropolitan): Focuses on three examples (a Taliban commander, a member of the US-backed government, and a village housewife), showing through each how the occupying Americans are viewed in Afghanistan, and therefore the limits of what they can hope to do.
Glenn Greenwald: No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State (2014, Metropolitan Books): A lawyer, Greenwald reacted to the Patriot Act by becoming a blogger focused on how the security state is encroaching on civil liberties -- a transformation he explained in his book How Would a Patriot Act? Since then he's found more and more to worry about, most dramatically when Snowden passed him leaked info about NSA spying.
David Harvey: Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (2014, Oxford University Press): English Marxist, has been picking at the scab of capitalism for many years, churning out books like Limits to Capital (2007), A Short History of Neoliberalism (2007), and The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010) -- I read the latter and found it tedious but deeply insightful. No surprise that he finds capitalism rife with contradictions -- many are obvious even casually -- or that they periodically crack up but that "end" has proven elusive.
Ann Jones: They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America's Wars: The Untold Story (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Former NGO worker, wrote Winter in Kabul: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan about what she saw in Afghanistan in 2002, and two more books following the casualties: War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict, and now this short book on maimed US soldiers -- the real VA scandal.
Robert D Kaplan: Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific (2014, Random House): Former travel writer to uncomfortable backwaters, has proven to be useful enough to the US security state he got appointed to the Defense Policy Board, where he's probably regarded as a deep thinker. No doubt he'd like nothing better than to stir up a Cold War with China, giving the Pentagon cover for buying up another generation of war toys.
Harvey J Kaye: The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (2014, Simon & Schuster): The Four Freedoms -- "Franklin Roosevelt's vision of a truly just and fair America" -- was war propaganda and thus easily forgotten once FDR died and the war against Germany and Japan was concluded. They are, however, something we can and should aspire to today, especially given the beating at least two freedoms (from want and from fear) have taken from the right in recent decades. Kaye previously wrote Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (2005, Hill and Wang).
Lane Kenworthy: Social Democratic America (2014, Oxford University Press): Argues that the US has been progressing slowly toward the social democracy common in most wealthy nations, but isn't that a stretch given how hard it is to talk about such things in their customary terms? So I expect this is longer on prescription than description, but mapping popular programs like Social Security and Medicare into the social democratic matrix is a step toward realizing what we're missing.
Benjamin Kunkel: Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis (paperback, 2014, Verso): Short "crash course" in the latest Marxist/Leftist thinking on the economy -- names dropped include Zizek, Harvey, Graeber, Jameson. Previously wrote the novel Indecision.
Costas Lapavitsas: Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (paperback, 2014, Verso): British economist, previous book focused on Eurozone issues, sees "financialization" as the root of most of our current evils. There can be little doubt that most of the profits capitalism produces these days go to the financial sector, and it would be interesting to understand why.
Nathan Lean: The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (paperback, 2012, Pluto Press): One of many (mostly but not all critical) books on the fear of and hatred against Muslims that has been cultivated in the US and Europe recently, concurrent with the US War on Terror and the termination of Israel's "peace process." Lean sees a right-wing conspiracy as responsible, with the Israel lobby at least complicit. I suspect it's uglier and dumber than that, in part because the hatred has overshot US neo-imperial goals, turning right-wingers anti-war (as we saw with Syria). Other recent books (no idea if they're any good or not): Chris Allen: Islamophobia (paperback, 2010, Ashgate); Carl W Ernst, ed: Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance (paperback, 2013, Palgrave Macmillan); John L Esposito/Ibraham Kalin, eds: Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century (paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press); Peter Gottschalk/Gabriel Greenberg: Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy (2007, Rowman & Littlefield); Deepa Kumar: Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire (paperback, 2012, Haymarket Books); Stephen Sheehi: Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims (paperback, 2011, Clarity Press); John R Bowen: Blaming Islam (2012, MIT Press); Walid Shoebat/Ben Barrack: The Case FOR Islamophobia: Jihad by the Word; America's Final Warning (2013, Top Executive Media). I could also mention: Jack Shaheen: Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2nd ed, paperback, 2009, Olive Branch Press); and Martha C Nussbaum: The New Religious Intollerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age (2012, Belknap Press).
Michael Lewis: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (2014, WW Norton): A book on high-frequency trading, entertaining and informative no doubt, with something of a moral centre even though the journalist is inordinately fond of rich people.
Isaac Martin: Rich People's Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One Percent (2013, Oxford University Press): That would be the Tea Party, the best irate mob money can buy, which gave an air of faux populism to some of the most extremely reactionary ideas of the last few decades, struggling above all against the idea that the government should serve the people who elected it. Title here reminds one of the Frances Fox Piven/Richard A Cloward classic, Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (1977; paperback, 1978, Vintage Books).
Mariana Mazzucato: The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (paperback, 2013, Anthem): Two myths seem especially prevalent today: that public investment only comes at the expense of private investment, and that that's a bad thing. I can think of others, but that's not necessarily the point here: she seems to be focusing on technology and business subsidies governments give out that are ultimately snapped up by private sector investors -- an obvious case in point is support of "green energy" sectors like wind and solar (efforts so hated by the oil-bound Kochs).
Suzanne Mettler: Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream (2014, Basic Books): Until the 1970s public support of higher education tended to make American society and economy more equitable, but that has since changed. Personally, I think education has long been overrated, especially as a panacea, but lately it's higher costs and mountains of debt have turned into a cruel trap. The real roots of inequality are political, and the very suggestion that you can compensate for that by raising an educated caste is itself part of the problem -- maybe even one that prefigured the political shift?
Ian Morris: War: What's It Good For? (2014, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Edwin Starr could answer that in far less than these 512 pages: "absolutely nothing." Morris likes to jump all over the place, as in his previous Why the West Rules -- For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future, but his bottom line seems to be "war made the state, and the state made peace." I'm tempted to add: but only after making war unbearable, and even now way too many people haven't learned the lesson.
Ralph Nader: Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State (2014, Nation Books): Given how extensively the "grass roots" right has been underwritten by the same corporations Nader decries, I have to question the wisdom of any such "alliance" -- even when left and right may agree on a point, such as the TARP bailout slush fund, all the two sides can conceivably do is to block something particularly foul. What they can't do is to create something that would work fairly, because the right is fundamentally set on destruction of the public sphere. Still, if obstruction is the sole goal -- as in keeping Obama from bombing Syria, or allowing the NSA to spy on all Americans -- sure, there's some potential there.
Richard Overy: The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945 (2014, Viking): Attempts to broaden our understanding of the air war over Europe by including the experiences of the bombed, especially in horrific fire storms like Hamburg and Dresden. The US edition omits a complementary survey of the German bombing of England, some 300 pages from the UK edition (The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945).
Nomi Prins: All the President's Bankers (2014, Nation Books): Wrote one of the better books on the finance meltdown (It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street). This seems to go deeper into the historic relationship between bankers and politics, as if JP Morgan had anything to do with our current mess. Of course, he probably did, and Andrew Mellon and David Rockefeller and Walter Wriston too.
David Reynolds: The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century (2014, WW Norton): One hundred years after the Great War (as it was known at the time, WWI as it was renamed, or the opening of the "30-years war of the 20th century" (as Arno Mayer reconceived it), we're suddenly seeing an avalanche of books on the subject, with much arguing over how it all started, and much detailing of the exceptional gore (WWII was much worse on civilians, but rarely matched the earlier war for pitched battles -- Stalingrad was an exception, but still couldn't match Marne). This book at least tries to make good use of the intervening century. I've noted a fair number of these books separately (Christopher Clark, Geoffrey Wawro), but also: Tim Butcher: The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War; Prit Butlar: Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 (Osprey); Charles Emmerson: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (2013, Public Affairs); Peter Hart: The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War (2013, Oxford University Press); Max Hastings: Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (2013, Knopf); Paul Jankowski: Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War (Oxford University Press); Philip Jenkins: The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade; Nick Lloyd: Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I (Basic Books); Margaret MacMillan: The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (2013, Random House); Gordon Martel: The Month that Changed the World: July 1914 (7/1, Oxford University Press); Shawn McMeekin: July 1914: Countdown to War (2013, Basic Books); William Mulligan: The Great War for Peace (Yale University Press); Michael Neiberg: The Military Atlas of World War I (Chartwell); TG Otte: July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914 (Cambridge University Press); William Philpott: War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War (Overlook); Ian Senior: Invasion 1914: The Schelieffen Plan to the Battle of the Marne (8/19, Osprey); Gary Sheffield: Morale and Command: The British Army on the Western Front (Pen and Sword); David Stone: The Kaiser's Army: The German Army in World War I (7/24, Conway); Kristian Coates Ulrichsen: The First World War in the Middle East (7/25, Hurst); Alexander Watson: Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I (10/7, Basic Books).
Amanda Ripley: The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (2013, Simon & Schuster): Like TR Reid in The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, Ripley travels around the world searching out what seems to work and offering it as an alternative to what doesn't work in the US: an easy approach that avoids theory but also misses many of the pitfalls theory introduces. I doubt however that the process will work as well, because it's easier to define what a good health care system is -- one where fewer people get sick and stuck in that system -- than what would make for a good education system: indeed, much of the "theory" out there is really a dispute over what education should do (e.g., make people smarter vs. train people better to fill assigned slots).
Dana Roithmayr: Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage (2014, NYU Press): Examines how racial advantages and disadvantages have persisted despite the establishment of supposedly color-neutral legal rights and systems.
Jake Rosenfeld: What Unions No Long Do (2014, Harvard University Press): Have much political clout for one thing, which is a problem given how much our system depends on countervaling powers to keep from going insane in favor of one interest group -- mainly business. But also they don't seem to care as much about the broader groups of people who aren't unionized, effectively leaving them without political representation. (Arguably, American unions have always been weak there, but still.)
Daniel Schulman: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty (2014, Grand Central): Much in the news recently for their efforts to destroy democracy in the US (err, to safeguard the freedom of second-generation oil billionaires), this gives you some background on who they are, where they and all their money came from, and how they've evolved from John Birch Society paranoids to Tea Party astroturfers.
Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Short (100 pp) collection of essays, the title one about male mistakes in talking to women, and others about war, Virginia Woolf, and the IMF.
Joshua Steckel/Beth Zasloff: Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty (2014, New Press): The author left his job at a ritzy private school to try to guide poor kids into college, and illustrates that task with profiles of ten students, the innumerable problems they faced, and some measure of success, sometimes.
Matt Taibbi: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (2014, Spiegel & Grau): Defines "the divide" as: "the seam in American life where our two most troubling trends -- growing wealth inequality and mass incarceration -- come together . . . what allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime." So this expands upon his previous fraud-focused book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010), broadening the context, and probably looks back to his earlier work on politics.
Elizabeth Warren: A Fighting Chance (2014, Metropolitan): I don't put much stock on books by politicians, but before she ran for office she co-write The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke (2004), a timely issue if ever there was one. This one is more of a memoir, but the path from where she came from to where she is now feels authentic, and her grip on how policy affects ordinary people is smart and shrewd.
Geoffrey Wawro: A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire (2014, Basic Books): Focuses on Austria-Hungary, which gambled on its ability to seize Serbia and lost everything in the first world war -- a failure he finds rooted in the previous decline of the empire.
John F Weeks: Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy (paperback, 2014, Anthem): Uh, sure. Even if economics somehow managed to only study the actual workings of the economy it would be most useful to the rich for uncovering opportunities to profit, but in fact most economists not only study capitalism but are in thrall to it and more than willing to propagandize on behalf of the rich, even making arguments that contradict well known maxims. Weeks is far from the first author to notice this.
Some books previously mentioned that have since come out in paperback. Normally I'd write a bit on each, but I've had trouble researching this section, and it turns out that my draft file is mostly stubs (some rather old), so for this time (at least) I figure I should just flush it:
Maybe with a fresh start I'll write more next time. Usually there's an implied recommendation in the paperback listings -- I don't go out and look to see if books I have no interest in have been reprinted -- but the only ones above I have read are: Louisa Thomas' fine book on her ancestors (most famously Norman Thomas); and three books on Israel (Rashid Khalidi, Shlomo Sand, and Patrick Tyler). I do, however, have Corey Robin, Christia Freedland, and Breaking the Silence on the shelf and mean to get to them sooner or later. Several others are things I'd like to read if I can find the time.