Friday, October 31. 2014
Three weeks on the road put a crimp into this month's output: I
pushed the deadline out to the end of the month and still only came
up with 62 records. Not a lot of finds either, although it's possible
that the A-list is getting so full so early -- I currently have 100
records listed (I expected to wind up around 120, but hit 147 last
year, after 131 in 2012, 132 in 2011, 132 in 2010, so maybe I'm not
that far ahead) -- that I'm starting to think twice before letting
anything the least bit marginal in. On the other hand, the two jazz
records didn't get in by much, nor did Allo Darlin'. A larger problem
is likely the breakdown of my scoutinig network, especially with the
demise of Odyshape. Nor has Christgau's return been much help -- he
fell so far behind I had heard most of what he's written about (with
the usual adjustments up and down).
Most of the old music this month is by Oscar Peterson. I started
playing him on the road when I got some flak from over some avant
jazz from a piano jazz fan -- figured who could object? I held this
month to records up to 1962, chiefly from the 1959 Song Book series
(usually composers Peterson surveyed in 1952-54, which many reissues
tack onto the later albums). Peterson is a marvelous piano player
but he tends to stay in his own comfort zone, using his spectacular
technique to dress up rather than deconstruct standards. He raced
through the 1954 and 1959 sessions so quickly that he rarely came up
with anything new, and when you listen to a lot of them the initial
dazzle quickly wears off: so while those albums are uniformly good,
none are really great. So the grade average is a bit off, but that's
also because I skipped previously graded records, including these
A- efforts: At the Concertgebouw (1957); Night Train
(1962). I tried to identify Song Book reissues that pick up
the 1952-54 material as a bonus, and chose not to split them apart --
in part because the early albums don't seem to be in print anywhere
(although you'd think European copyright laws would allow that).
One more thing about Peterson: he was an exceptional accompanist,
as is clear from albums like the following:
- Benny Carter: Cosmpolite: The Oscar Peterson Sessions (1952-54 , Verve) A
- Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong: Ella and Louis (1956 , Verve) A
- Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong: Ella and Louis Again (1957 , Verve) A+
- Coleman Hawkins: The Genius of Coleman Hawkins (1957 , Verve) A-
- Coleman Hawkins: Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (1957 , Verve) A+
- Clark Terry: Oscar Peterson Trio + One: Clark Terry (1964 , Emarcy) A
- Ben Webster: Soulville (1957 , Verve) A
- Ben Webster: Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson (1959 , Verve) A-
- Lester Young: The President Plays With the Oscar Peterson Trio (1952 , Verve) A
Peterson remained very productive well into the 1990s, and there is a
lot of material on Pablo (his reunion with Norman Granz) that I haven't
The odd-record-out in the old music is the Richmond Fontaine that
Christgau singled out in a recent EW post. It's more or less as he says,
but my two plays lean toward less, not enough to get me to dig through
a catalog with a dozen titles, especially knowing that The High
Country only hit B.
Recent compilations include two Rough Guides, a label I
continue to loathe -- but it helps me (if not you) that I've largely
given up trying to figure when the music comes from. It looks like
everything they do now is coming out as 2CD sets. Their pricing
suggests grading the first disc alone under its title, then their
bonus disc separately as its original release. I'm not sure how
well this will work out, or how much I can find, or how much I
can stand, but that's working theory for now.
I bought the Spruill set on the recommendation of an EW-fan who
declared it the best compilation to have come out in this millennium.
I don't quite agree with that judgment, but my wife does.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from
Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays,
accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on
September 30. Past reviews and more information are available
here (5468 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Jhené Aiko: Souled Out (2014, Def Jam): Slotted as
an r&b singer, she doesn't really have the voice, but manages to
turn that into a charm, at least as long as the beats hold up.
Allo Darlin': We Came From the Same Place (2014,
Slumberland): Brit guitar-rock group led by Australian singer
Elizabeth Morris, third album, all at a very high level.
Marcia Ball: The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man
(2014, Alligator): Blues-singing boogie-woogie pianist from Texas
although she's also at home in New Orleans -- check out how Hot Springs
is "way up in Arkansas." Always starts with a fast one, and rarely lets
Kenny Barron/Dave Holland: The Art of Conversation
(2014, Blue Note): Piano-bass duets, both masters who have been working
since the 1960s -- Barron perhaps most famous for accompanying Stan Getz,
Holland associated with Miles Davis and Anthony Braxton, but also a major
bandleader of late. Despite both principals having long songbooks on
their own, interesting how the Monk pieces stand out.
David Binney: Anacapa (2014, Criss Cross): Saxophonist --
lists alto ahead of tenor then soprano and throws in some synths -- backed
by John Escreet (piano, FR), two guitarists (Wayne Krantz and Adam Rogers),
and electric bass (Matt Brewer). The electronic soup is neither here nor
there -- neither grove-centered nor postboppy -- but sometimes the sax
Samuel Blaser/Paul Motian: Consort in Motion (2010
, Kind of Blue): Trombone quartet, with Russ Lossing (piano) and
Thomas Morgan (bass). The trombone offers a sort of gruff determination,
but by the end everyone is dancing, gingerly, to the drummer's off-kilter
riddim. The others help out without being too conspicuous about it.
Buck 65: Neverlove (2014, WEA Canada): Canadian rapper,
a legend in these parts, turns in an album streaked with his usual
brilliance but it's also a major bummer of a breakup album, with "Gates
of Hell" opening into "That's the Way Love Dies" and "Love Will Fuck
You Up" and more until "She Fades." More often he's rapping against a
female vocal backdrop -- Francesca Anderson or Tiger Rosa -- which
with his voice veers toward Eminem, who's much clearer about his
fucked up relationship(s).
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian
Concerts Volume 2 (2013 , FMR): Alto sax, drums, piano,
respectively -- the first two close collaborators from Quebec going
back to the 1990s, the pianist joining them on five albums now. This
one is a shade less consistent and/or impressive than Volume 1
(came out earlier this year).
Jack Clement: For Once and for All (2014, IRS Nashville):
Died in 2013, leaving this as his fourth album, including one from 1978
and another credited to Cowboy Jack Clement in 2004 -- if the name seems
vaguely familiar, it's probably because he worked as Sam Phillips'
engineer during Sun Records' heyday and went on to become an important
Nashville producer. This record stakes his claim as a songwriter --
not a lot of classics here, but a couple songs I know well ("Miller's
Cave," "Just a Girl I Used to Know") and solid fare, done with a light,
Neil Cowley Trio: Touch and Flee (2014, Naim Jazz):
British pianist, has a fine touch and rhythmic command that reminds
me of semipopular groups like EST -- notable that he cites James
Brown as an influence, ahead of Erroll Garner and Ahmad Jamal. Evan
Jones (drums) has offered steady support for more than a decade now.
Lajos Dudas Quartet: Live at Salzburger Jazzherbst
(2012 , Jazz Sick): Clarinetist, b. 1941 in Budapest, Hungary,
studied at conservatories named for Béla Bartók and Franz Liszt,
long based in Germany. Quartet features longtime collaborator Philipp
van Endert on guitar, plus Kurt Billker on drums and Jochen Büttner
on percussion. Slow start but ultimately quite lovely, some tasty
guitar, and the rhythm helps.
Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (2009 ,
Jazz Sick): Back cover says "20 Years of Lajos with Philipp, 1993-2013 /
The Jubilee CD" but all of this comes from a single date in Vienna, with
Philipp van Endert on guitar and Leonard Jones on bass. Four originals,
two pieces from Attila Zoller, standards from Monk, Gershwin, and Porter.
Chris Dundas: Oslo Odyssey (2014, BLM, 2CD): Pianist,
from Los Angeles, one previous album back in 2000, picks up a band in
Norway with bassist Arild Andersen, Patrice Heral on drums, and Bendik
Hofseth on tenor sax, and runs on for 1:44:21. The Dundas-composed
first disc opens up gracefully for the sax. The improvised second
takes a bit longer to find its métier.
Mark Elf: Returns 2014 (2013 , Jen Bay Jazz):
Jazz guitarist, has more than a dozen albums since 1987; sounds like
he's picked up on the early generation of bop-oriented guitarists,
like Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel (or Tal Farlow, the one he has a
tribute album for). Backed by a dream band: David Hazletine, Peter
Washington, and Lewis Nash, plus some extra percussion on one track.
El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels (2013, Fat Beats):
Producer and rapper, respectively, the former's deeply shrouded beats
sometimes run away with the flow, otherwise are sharp and heavy, while
the rapper tries to get his political points in.
El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels 2 (2014, Mass Appeal):
Usual sequel problems: longer, trying to make up for having shot their
best material on the debut. Beats still hard and sharp, and Mike still
has things that piss him off. Don't really make him for a killer, though.
Bill Frisell: Guitar in the Space Age (2014, Okeh):
Aside from two retro-originals, all these songs are buried deep in
the 1960s, so the first point that occurs to me is that Frisell is
acknowledging that the "space age" is a thing of the now-distant
past. You still hear the cliche that "if we can put a man on the
moon, we can do x and y," but we haven't put anyone on the moon in
more than forty years, so how sure can you be that we still can?
Isn't it possible that we've lost that skill to the new Dark Ages?
Frisell is old enough to recall when the Space Age meant the future --
I know because I'm his age -- but now it means "Rebel Rouser" and
"Pipeline" and "Telstar." That isn't nostalgia, except for a time
when we felt like we had a future.
Alice Gerrard: Follow the Music (2014, Tompkins Square):
Folksinger, up around 80 these days, belonged to the Strange Creek
Singers back in the 1960s along with Mike Seeger and Hazel Dickens,
but is best known for her duet albums with Dickens, starting with
the 1965 classic Pioneering Women of Bluegrass. Way back when
her voice moderated Dickens' deep drawl, but as she's started to put
together a modest solo career since 1996, Gerrard's voice has gotten
strangely distinctive in its own right, especially when she goes a
David Hazeltine: For All We Know (2014, Smoke Sessions):
A fine mainstream piano player, his trio the perfect framework for tenor
saxophonist Seamus Blake.
Benjamin Herman: Trouble (2013 , Dox): Dutch
sax trio expanded with piano/keyboards and vocals by Daniel von Piekartz,
listened as "featuring" on the cover. The vocals are rather ambiguous
sexually, stretched and sentimental -- the sax too, but so much clearer.
Darrell Katz and the JCA Orchestra: Why Do You Ride?
(2013 , Leo): A big band arranger whose work has been buried
on avant labels -- first record on Cadence Jazz in 1993 -- although
it's less than clear why: nothing very free here other than his desire
to go his own way. This one is built around texts, often involving
Albert Einstein, sung by Rebecca Shrimpton, but the most compelling
music doesn't have to carry the weight of the words.
Tove Lo: Queen of the Clouds (2014, Island): Swedish
electro-pop singer, upbeat but not much fun, nothing much sticks.
The Mike Longo Trio: Celebrates Oscar Peterson: Live
(2013 , CAP): Pianist, worked for Dizzy Gillespie 1966-73, and
earlier still studied with Oscar Peterson and played with Red Allen
and Coleman Hawkins -- cover has a picture Peterson embracing the
young pianist. Celebrating here means playing standards -- fair game
since Peterson played all of them with everyone -- so from "Love You
Madly" through "Daahoud" the songs carry the album. With Paul West
on bass and Ray Mosca on drums.
Branford Marsalis: In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral
(2012 , Okeh): Solo sax, no evidence of the Ellington tune but
the idea remains, with no effort to stretch the instrument's boundaries,
to play up the percussion or such. Rather, you get a very nice "Stardust,"
an adapted "Sonata in A Minor for Oboe," four minor improvs, and warm
Tineke Postma/Greg Osby: Sonic Halo (2013 ,
Challenge): Two alto saxophonists -- Osby was something of a big deal
when he first appeared but he's receded somewhat, possibly because
he's taken second billing on a number of albums. (Friendly Fire
with Joe Lovano was one of the first.) Here he's meshed completely
with Postma. Quintet is superb all around with Matt Mitchell especially
striking on piano, Linda Oh on bass, and Dan Weiss on drums.
Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class (2014, Saddle
Creek): Debut album from the last third of the Pistol Annies to make the
move, and probably the best of the bunch. Noteworthy that the title song
sees union membership as the key to middle class identity.
Prince: Art Official Age (2014, Warner Brothers):
For some reason seems like an artist far removed from present concerns,
even though I have to look back less than a decade to find not one but
two A- records (2004's Musicology and 2006's 3121) -- it's
just that I have no recollection of either, so I'm reluctant to grant
too much to the perfunctory funk tracks here.
Prince/3rdEyeGirl: Plectrum Electrum (2014, Warner
Brothers): Could be the "all-female power trio" should get top billing --
I've seen this printed both ways. "Power trio" seems to mean they've
memorized all of Cream's bass lines but they're less monumental when
Joshua Redman: Trios Live (2009-13 , Nonesuch):
Sax trios, from two sets (hence two token soprano cuts), both with
Gregory Hutchinson on drums, Matt Penman and Reuben Rodgers the bassists.
After various conceptual missteps, nice to just hear him blow. [Rhapsody
has 5/7 tracks].
Sylvain Rifflet & Jon Irabagon: Perpetual Motion: A Celebration
of Moondog (2013 , Jazz Village): Louis Hardin (1916-99),
aka the Viking of 6th Avenue, aka Moondog, is a SFFR (Subject For Future
Research), someone I've long meant to check out but never have. Like
Hardin, both leaders play tenor sax, Rifflet with a couple albums,
Irabagon with a more auspicious resume. The instrumental passages are
intriguing, the saxes strong, but I'm unclear how the chorus should
fit in -- seems like a distraction so far.
Rafael Rosa: Portrait (2014, self-released): Puerto
Rican guitarist, based in Brooklyn, seems to be his first album, runs
warm and lyrical, playing up the guest spots and leaving plenty room
for saxophonist Edmar Colon.
Matthew Shipp: I've Been to Many Places (2014, Thirsty
Ear): One of the great jazz pianist of the last thirty-so years, with
yet another solo album -- I must admit I'm getting a little tired of
those, not necessarily because this one seems to be thicker and heavier
Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Laswell: The Stone (Akashic Meditation)
(2014, MOD Technologies): Trumpet-bass duo, one 38-minute cut, stark and
Spoke: (R)anthems (2013 , River): Two-horn
quartet -- Andy Hunter (trombone), Justin Wood (alto sax, flute) --
backed with bass and drums, plus congas on two cuts. Tightly knit
postbop, including covers from Mingus and Monk (and the unspeakable
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Saturday
Night/Sunday Morning (2014, Superlatone, 2CD): Ralph Stanley
used the same concept and title c. 1992, but bluegrass is always
looking back. The band earns its name especially on the upbeat
first disc, while the singer (presumably Stuart) does a fairly
grizzled Jerry Lee impression. The gospel side generally avoids
the obvious, and sometimes suggests they're not really done with
Tricky: Adrian Thaws (2014, !K7): Not the first alias
to release an album after his original name -- Richard D. James came
first to mind, but Marshall Mathers is more famous. Touches on most of
his career, throwing out such a range of poses it's hard to tell who's
putting on whom.
Ulf Wakenius: Solo: Momento Magico (2013 , ACT):
Swedish guitarist, played with Oscar Peterson, has a couple fine albums
dedicated to pianists so he has a fine sense of melody. Solo he goes
for thick chords, adding gravitas to an intrinsically lite album.
Ezra Weiss Sextet: Before You Know It: Live in Portland
(2013 , Roark): Pianist, based in Portland, sixth album since
2003, including some "children's musicals" I've neglected and The
Shirley Horn Suite (which I rather liked). What lifts this above
the postbop norm is some growl and fury in the horns (Farnell Newton
on trumpet, John Nastos on alto sax, Devin Phillips on tenor). And
after they warm up the joint, he closes with a really lovely ballad.
Dann Zinn: Shangri La (2014, self-released): Tenor
saxophonist, also plays processed sax and wood flute here, cut his
first album in 1996. This one is a trio with Chris Robinson on guitar
(etc.) and Peter Erskine on drums (etc.). Originals except for Brahms,
Puccini, and Green Day -- not much appeal there.
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Charlie Haden/Jim Hall: Charlie Haden/Jim Hall (1990
, Impulse): Guitarist Hall died last year, followed by bassist
Haden this year, so some nostalgia is in order. This was recorded at
the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1990, a year after the many volumes of
The Montreal Tapes, a festival that recapitulated much of the
bassist's career. Haden has done guitar duets -- Egberto Gismonti
(1989) and Pat Metheny (1996) -- but he is especially tuned into
Hall, whose often understated style ripens luxuriously here.
Jerry Heldman: Revelation(s) (1973-74 , Origin,
2CD): Credited here with acoustic bass, piano, flute, and vocals), a
longtime fixture on the Seattle jazz scene, died in 2013 at age 76.
Not sure if any of his work had previously been released -- cursory
search suggests not. Starts with a Bible reading (I could do without),
then saunters into some period fusion with Sam Lipuma on guitar and
bassist David Friesen sometimes taking over the piano.
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harry Warren & Vincent Youmans
Song Books (1952-59 , Solar, 2CD): Between July 19 and
August 9, 1959, Peterson's trio -- Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen
on drums -- recorded virtually the whole of the "songbooks" series,
a pace which didn't produce much innovation but showcased their chops
and let the songs shine. It was his second troll through Warren and
Youmans, the first occurring for a pair of 1954 LPs with Brown and
Barney Kessel or Herb Ellis on guitar, so those LPs are the source of
most of the "bonus tracks" -- the other find is a 12:52 "Tea for Two"
from a live shot in 1952.
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Richard Rodgers Song Book
(1954-59 , Solar): Most likely the same deal, with his 1954
Plays Richard Rodgers tacked on as a bonus to the 1959 frog
march through the hits, although I'm not sure that's all -- e.g.,
where did the odd vocal come from?
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Irving Berlin Song Book
(1952-59 , Solar): Mostly such marvelous songs that Peterson's
magical touch adds surprisingly little, while the occasional slip
makes you wonder how such a thing could happen. Again, looks like
two albums tacked together, the 1957 (recorded 1952) Plays Irving
Berlin tacked onto the 1960 (recorded 1959) songbook album.
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jimmy McHugh Song Book
(1954-59 , Solar): Tunes written for the Cotton Club in the
1920s are highlights here, again given two treatments, one with
bass and guitar from 1954 and the later one with bass and drums.
The Rough Guide to Arabic Jazz (, World Music
Network, 2CD): Traditional Arabic music has long had an affinity to
jazz, but that prospect has only sporadically been developed in recent
years, leading to this skimpy and eclectic collection: the best known
musicians here are Lebanese oudist Rabih Abou-Khalil and French bassist
Renaud Garcia Fons, aside from Cuban percussionist Roberto Rodriguez
(exploring a Sephardic riff with Tunisian pianist Maurice El Médioni --
the highpoint of the album but the least Arabic thing here).
Bonus Disc: Hijaz: Chemsi (2011, Zephyrus): Based in Belgium,
with Moufadhel Adhoum on oud providing the Arabic component, Niko Deman on
piano, Vincent Noiret on bass, and Chryster Aerts on drums, plus various
guests on violin, duduk, ney, tabla, and percussion.
The Rough Guide to Bollywood Disco (1965-93 ,
World Music Network, 2CD): Film music, but given how often Bollywood
breaks out in dance it must not have been hard to program an ear-opening
compilation. Also, for once, relatively easy to check the dates, since
the songs are keyed to films. The pre-disco Manna Dey is a highlight,
suggesting that some day we'll see a Rough Guide to Bollywood Twist
Bonus disc: Kishore Kumar: The Rough Guide to Kishore Kumar
(, World Music Network): Kumar (1929-87) scored three songs on the
main disc. Don't know where or when these come from.
Wild Jimmy Spruill: Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story
(1956-63 , GVC, 2CD): An r&b guitarist (1934-96), Spruill cut
a few sides under his own name but his story is spread out in session work,
especially for producers Danny and Bobby Robinson at Fire, Fury, and other
New York labels. This collects 61 songs, bracketted by two Wilbert Harrison
songs, his big hit "Kansas City" and eventual sequel, "Goodbye Kansas City."
Not much else here is as famous, although Solomon Burke and the Shirelles
show hints of major talent, but unfamiliarity opens up the era to fresh
Lester Young: Boston, 1950 (1950 , Uptown):
Recently discovered radio shots, with Jesse Drakes on trumpet, Kenny
Drew on piano, Connie Kay on drums, various bassists, running through
standards with Steve Allison or Symphony Sid as MC.
Oscar Peterson: The Oscar Peterson Trio at Zardi's
(1955 , Pablo/OJC, 2CD): Live trio with Herb Ellis on guitar
(and occasional percussive effects) and Ray Brown on bass. Hard to
quibble with, or to fault Ellis when he manages to break loose.
Oscar Peterson: Plays My Fair Lady (1958, Verve):
Piano trio, with Ray Brown and Gene Gammage, playing songs from
Lerner and Loewe's hit musical.
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harold Arlen Song Book
(1954-59 , Verve): The prototype for the recent Solar reissues
above, combining Peterson's 1954 Plays Harold Arlen with his
1959 Plays the Harold Arlen Song Book, replacing guitarist
Herb Ellis with drummer Ed Thigpen for the latter.
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Cole Porter Song Book
(1959 , Verve): Just the 12-cut album from the 1959 "song book"
round, although I imagine it's only a matter of time before someone
pads this out with cuts from 1951-52's Plays Cole Porter --
the first such album Peterson cut. Actually, the brevity is a relief
after listening to many songbook combos, but one still feels that
the mass production of the 1959 sessions missed some opportunities.
Oscar Peterson: Plays the George Gershwin Song Book
(1952-59 , Verve): Padded to 24 cuts with the 1954 Plays
George Gershwin packed onto one disc. The early sessions with
Barney Kessel (guitar) stand out.
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Duke Ellington Song Book
(1952-59 , Verve): Another twofer, picking up the 1952 Plays
Duke Ellington (with Barney Kessel on guitar) along with the
1959 trio sessions.
Oscar Peterson: A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra
(1959 , Verve): Twelve songs, so snappy most don't top three
minutes and only one makes it to 3:41 (total: 25:25). Sinatra needed
a full big band to swing these tunes, but the trio is more than
enough, the piano so bright you hardly miss the vocals -- in part
because you're bound to sing along.
The Oscar Peterson Trio: Fiorello (1960, Verve):
Songs from the Broadway musical -- add an exclamation mark for the
title -- by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock based on the life of New
York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
Oscar Peterson Trio: West Side Story (1962, Verve):
Songs from the hit Broadway musical by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen
Sondheim, although the only one you run across much in the standards
repertoire is "Somewhere."
Oscar Peterson: The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson/Affinity
(1959-62 , Verve): Two trio albums -- Ray Brown on bass, Ed Thigpen
on drums -- packed onto a single CD, with much more of the bright, fast
postbop they've always excelled in.
Richmond Fontaine: Winnemucca (2002, El Cortez):
After reviewing a pile of Willy Vlautin novels, Christgau jotted
down a HM squib for Vlautin's female-fronted Delines debut, then
decided this old Vlautin-fronted album was the prize of more than
a dozen dating back to 1997. Off and on it is, but Colfax
impressed me more.
Matthew Shipp/Guillermo E. Brown: Telephone Popcorn
(2005 , Nu Bop): Piano-drums duo, two members of David S. Ware
Quartet at the time.
Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade,
usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone
else's review or list makes me want to check it again:
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jerome Kern Song Book
(1959 , Verve): One of the best sets to roll off the 1959
assembly line, perhaps because the juxtaposition of the bright
fast ones and the delicate slow ones works to benefit both.
[was: B+(**)] B+(***)
Wednesday, October 29. 2014
Music: Current count 23933  rated (+40), 543  unrated (+17).
Back from three weeks on the road. I did manage to file a few blog posts
with link comments, but there wasn't much I could do with Music Week, or
indeed much to do until I got back. The incoming mail jumped up a level
while I was gone. I didn't take any new CDs with me. I did take a Chromebook
and listen to Rhapsody and jotted down a few record reviews, but I didn't
have a lot of time for that. (I got flak for playing Wadada Leo Smith, so
wound up switching to Oscar Peterson, but I wasn't able to sort out the
songbooks until I got home.)
I also fell out of the habit of writing tweet-length review lines, and
it doesn't seem like it would either be fun or all that useful to try to
catch up at this point. I'm due to post a Rhapsody Streamnotes before the
end of October, so you'll get the reviews soon enough. I only have about
50 notes in the draft file, so it will likely be the shortest one all year,
but those are the breaks.
I'll resume the grade-tweets after this post. One thing on my "todo"
list is to update the
Music Tracking 2014 file. One thing
not on my "todo" list is to organize another Turkey Shoot on Thanksgiving.
I wouldn't mind running it if someone else stepped forward (or you could,
as Christgau suggested to me, self-publish it on Medium). I am leaning
toward doing a metacritic file based on year-end lists (as opposed to
previous years when I folded year-long review data in). And I expect
there will be a Jazz Critics Poll, but don't have any details yet.
New records rated over the previous three weeks:
- Jhené Aiko: Souled Out (2014, Def Jam): [r]: B+(*)
- Kenny Barron/Dave Holland: The Art of Conversation (2014, Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
- David Binney: Anacapa (2014, Criss Cross): [r]: B+(*)
- Samuel Blaser/Paul Motian: Consort in Motion (2010 , Kind of Blue): [r]: B+(***)
- Buck 65: Neverlove (2014, WEA Canada): [r]: B+(**)
- Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (2009 , Jazz Sick): [cd]: B+(***)
- Lajos Dudas Quartet: Live at Salzburger Jazzherbst (2012 , Jazz Sick): [cd]: A-
- El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels (2013, Fat Beats): [r]: B+(***)
- El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels 2 (2014, Mass Appeal): [r]: B+(**)
- Bill Frisell: Guitar in the Space Age (2014, Okeh): [r]: B+(***)
- David Hazeltine: For All We Know (2014, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(***)
- Branford Marsalis: In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral (2012 , Okeh): [r]: B+(**)
- Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class (2014, Slate Creek): [r]: A-
- Joshua Redman: Trios Live (2009-13 , Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
- Rafael Rosa: Portrait (2014, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
- Spoke: (R)anthems (2013 , River): [cd]: B+(*)
- Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Laswell: The Stone (Akashic Meditation) (2014, MOD Technologies): [r]: B+(*)
- Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Saturday Night/Sunday Morning (2014, Superlatone, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
- Dann Zinn: Shangri La (2014, self-released): [cd]: B
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Jerry Heldman: Revelation(s) (1973-74 , Origin, 2CD): [cd]: B
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harry Warren & Vincent Youmans Song Books (1952-59 , Solar, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Richard Rodgers Song Book (1954-59 , Solar): [r]: B+(**)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Irving Berlin Song Book (1952-59 , Solar): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jimmy McHugh Song Book (1954-59 , Solar): [r]: B+(**)
- Lester Young: Boston, 1950 (1950 , Uptown): [r]: B+(*)
Old records rated this week:
- Oscar Peterson: The Oscar Peterson Trio at Zardi's (1954 , Pablo/OJC, 2CD): [r]: A-
- Oscar Peterson: Plays My Fair Lady (1958, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harold Arlen Song Book (1954-59 , Verve): [r]: B+(**)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Cole Porter Song Book (1959 , Verve): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the George Gershwin Song Book (1952-59 , Verve): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Duke Ellington Song Book (1952-59 , Verve): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra (1959 , Verve): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Fiorello (1960, Verve): [r]: B+(*)
- Oscar Peterson Trio: West Side Story (1962, Verve): [r]: B
- Oscar Peterson: The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson/Affinity (1959-62 , Verve): [r]: B+(**)
- Richmond Fontaine: Winnemucca (2002, El Cortez): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jerome Kern Songbook (1959 , Verve):
[was: B+(**)] B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last three weeks:
- Greg Abate Quartet: Motif (Whaling City Sound)
- Allison Au Quartet: The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey (self-released)
- David Borbo & Paul Pellegrin: Kronomorfic Entangled (Origin)
- Nels Cline & Julian Lage: Room (Mack Avenue): advance, November 25
- Freddy Cole: Singing the Blues (High Note)
- Kevin Conlon/The Groove Rebellion: In Transit (Blujazz)
- Michael Denhoff/Uli Phillipp/Jörg Fischer: Trio Improvisations for Campanula, Bass and Percussion (Sporeprint)
- Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group: Samsara (Whaling City Sound)
- Jean Luc Fillon: Oboman Plays Cole Porter: Begin the Night . . . (Soupir Editions)
- Brad Goode Quartet: Montezuma (Origin)
- Jonathan Kreisberg: Wave Upon Wave (New for Now Music)
- Thomas Marriott: Urban Folklore (Origin)
- Delfeayo Marsalis: The Last Southern Gentlemen (Troubadour Jass)
- Sam Newsome: The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation [The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 2] (self-released)
- Clarence Penn & Penn Station: Monk: The Lost Files (Origin)
- Rex Richardson & Steve Wilson: Blue Shift (Summit)
- Boris Savoldelli/Garrison Fewell: Electric Bat Conspiracy (Creative Nation Music)
- Ryan Schultz Quintet: Hair Dryers (Origin)
- Pat Senatore Trio: Ascensione (Fresh Sound)
- Judy Silvano with Michael Abene: My Dance (JSL): January 6
- Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy (Pi)
- The Spin Quartet: In Circles (Origin)
- Lyn Stanley: Potions (A.T. Music)
- Brian Swartz & the Gnu Sextet: Portraiture (Summit)
- Natsuki Tamura/Alexander Frangenheim: Max (Creative Sources)
- Touch and Go Sextet: Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (Nine Winds)
- Marlene VerPlanck: I Give Up, I'm in Love (Audiophile)
- Walter White: Most Triumphant (Summit)
- Jason Yeager Trio: Affirmation (Inner Circle Music)
- Peter Zak Trio: The Disciple (Steeplechase)
- Miguel Zenón: Identities Are Changeable (Miel Music): November 4
Sunday, October 26. 2014
Having jotted down one or two of these on the road, I figured on doing
a Sunday links column, followed by a Monday music column, just like normal
times. Didn't work out that way, but thanks to the magic of back-dating
my tardiness will eventually be forgotten.
Alex Henderson: Rise of the American police state: 9 disgraceful events
that paved the way: Let's just list 'em:
- Ronald Reagan Escalates the War on Drugs
- Rodney King Beating of 1991
- 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
- Waterboarding and Torture at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base
- Growth and Expansion of Asset Forfeiture Laws
- National Defense Authorization Act and Erosion of Habeas Corpus
- Department of Homeland Security Promoting Militarization of Local Police Departments
- Growth of the Prison/Industrial Complex
- NYPD Assault on Occupy Wall Street
Note that nothing facilitates the creation of a police state like war --
even pretend-wars like the one on drugs, but see how the pace picks up with
Paul Krugman: The Invisible Moderate: A more accurate assessment of
Obama than the one Krugman put forth in his Rolling Stone puff
I actually agree with a lot of what David Brooks says today. But -- you
know there has to be a "but" -- so does a guy named Barack Obama. Which
brings me to one of the enduringly weird aspects of our current pundit
discourse: constant calls for a moderate, sensible path that supposedly
lies between the extremes of the two parties, but is in fact exactly
what Obama has been proposing. [ . . . ]
Well, the Obama administration would love to spend more on infrastructure;
the problem is that a major spending bill has no chance of passing the House.
And that's not a problem of "both parties" -- it's the GOP blocking it.
Exactly how many Republicans would be willing to engage in deficit spending
to expand bus networks? (Remember, these are the people who consider making
rental bicycles available an example of "totalitarian" rule.)
[ . . . ]
It's an amazing thing: Obama is essentially what we used to call a
liberal Republican, who faces implacable opposition from a very hard
right. But Obama's moderation is hidden in plain sight, apparently
invisible to the commentariat.
Actually, when I think of Obama as a "liberal Republican" I flash
back to an earlier Illinois senator, Charles Percy, who was better on
foreign policy and no worse on economics or civil rights than Obama.
But Obama doesn't have the luxury of being a liberal Republican, or
for that matter a centrist Democrat. Today's Republicans allow no such
luxury, nor do today's problems. As far back as 1998, Jim Hightower
warned: "there's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes
and dead armadillos." Today there's just more roadkill.
By the way, Krugman's too kind to Brooks, whom he quotes as saying,
"the government should reduce its generosity to people who are not
working but increase its support for people who are. That means reducing
health benefits for the affluent elderly . . ." You may wonder why the
party of the rich proposes adding means tests to Medicare. It's because
they don't want anyone to think they have a right to medical care.
Seth McElwee: Why Turning Out the Vote Makes a Huge Difference in Four
Charts: The charts show that non-voters are consistently more liberal
than voters, which reinforces the by-now-conventional view that Democrats
win when then can get the vote out, while the key for Republican gains is
voter suppression. This doesn't go into the question of why non-voters
don't vote, even though voting is one of the few ways they have to advance
their own interests. Clearly one reason is that the economic costs of
voting (which include things like the time it takes to vote) are high
enough to suppress turnout. Another likely reason is widespread cynicism
about politicians -- especially about Democrats, who appeal for public
support on election day but more often than not spend the rest of their
time triangulating between interest group lobbies, raising money that
they often see as more valuable in securing reëlection than any work
they do to benefit their constituents.
When voter turnout is discussed in public it is often treated as a civic
obligation, rather than a means to advance individual interests. Republican
candidates often denounce low-income voters for voting for the party that
best advances their class interests (while at the same time supporting
massive tax cuts for their rich constituents). Yet when Benjamin Page
interview the rich he finds that they, "acknowledged a focus on fairly
narrow economic self-interest" when discussing their engagement in the
political process. In this way, the recent Lil' Jon video, "Turnout For
What," while tacky, has reframed the voting as a means to forward political
interests, rather than as a civic obligation. Since some 41 percent of
non-voters claim that their vote wouldn't matter, this message is important.
It's also important to remove barriers to voting. Research by Jame Avery
and Mark Peffley finds, "states with restrictive voter registration laws
are much more likely to be biased toward upper-class turnout." In contrast,
states that have adopted same-day registration and vigorously enforced the
National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) have lower levels of class bias in
their electorate. Research also suggests that unions are an important
mechanism for low and middle income voters to engage with the political
process. Attempts to disempower than should also be viewed through the
lens of voter suppression.
Indeed, Republican opposition to unions seems to have more to do with
reducing their political effectiveness than as a favor to the rich. Since
their blip in 2010, when Obama voters took a nap, Republicans have seized
the opportunity to do as much as they could to suppress voting (as well
as to distort it through the infusion of extraordinary sums of money).
I expect this to produce some kind of backlash -- the message for those
who bother to pay attention is that your vote must be worth something,
otherwise why would they be so eager to take it away? -- but thus far
the clearest message is how shameless Republicans have become about
their desire to exclude a really large segment of the American people.
For more on voter suppression efforts, see
Jeffrey Toobin: Freedom Summer, 2015 (and from 2012,
Jane Mayer: The Voter-Fraud Myth).
Paul Woodward: Terrorism exists in the eye of the beholder: I was
in Arkansas Tuesday [October 22], when a soldier on duty at a "war
memorial" in Ottawa [Canada] was shot by a lone gunman, presumably
the person shot and killed later that day in Canada's Parliament
building. The TV was tuned into CNN, where they spent the entire day
blabbing on and on based on scant information and fervid imagination.
The shooter was later identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
In 2012 there were seven murders in Ottawa (population close to a million),
2013 nine murders, and so far in 2014 there have been five (including
The overwhelming majority of the crazy men running round shooting
innocent people are on this side of the border. What makes them dangerous
is much less the ideas in their heads than the ease with which they can
lay their hands on a gun.
It's often hard to be clear about what should be described as
terrorism. What's much easier to discern is hysteria.
By the way, Zehaf-Bibeau's gun was evidently a
Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle, a design that dates back to
1894 and is limited to eight rounds, which have to be individually loaded --
a very inefficient choice for a "shooting rampage."
Then on Friday [October 24], a high school student in suburban Seattle
went on his own
shooting rampage, killing two and injuring three more before shooting
himself. I missed CNN's wall-to-wall coverage (assuming that's what they
did), but it's safe to guess that the talking heads spent much less time
speculating on the shooter's ties to ISIS. For one thing, shooting each
other is just something Americans do.
- I don't have time to dig through Israel's recent garbage, but if you
do here are some typical links from Mondoweiss:
Also, a few links for further study:
Tom Engelhardt: Entering the Intelligence Labyrinth: An introduction,
or precis, of Engelhardt's new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance,
Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World
(paperback, Haymarket Books). It bears repeating that the US annually
spends $68 billion on 17 major "intelligence" agencies -- sorry for the
quotes but it's hard to think of them without choking on that word --
that do, well, what exactly? Sorry, that's a secret, but thanks to the
occasional leak or boast we do know a wee bit:
You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance
state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their
communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into
avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a
penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect
information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail
might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for . . .
well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the
system you've created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane
world, that act of "spycraft" gains its own name: LOVEINT.
You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet.
You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees,
creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first
order. You break into the "backdoors" of the data centers of major
Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create new outfits
within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and
intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted
among those 17 agencies). Your leaders lie to Congress and the American
people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your
acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of
events and regularly rubberstamp them -- and whose judgments and
substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to
You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information
about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn't
make it into our world. You even have the legal ability to gag
American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects
that would displease you (and they can't say that their mouths have
been shut). You undoubtedly spy on Congress. You hack into congressional
computer systems. And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell
the American public anything unauthorized about what you're doing, you
prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a
foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American
people as if they were a foreign population). You do everything to wreck
their lives and -- should one escape your grasp -- you hunt him implacably
to the ends of the Earth.
As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving
door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the
intelligence-corporate complex. [ . . . ]
Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence
began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the
9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth.
That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions,
or even explosions, in history. (And mind you, no figure in authority in
the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way
for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.)
However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power,
their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power,
they have succeeded impressively.
Speaking of secrets, also see:
Nick Turse: Uncovering the Military's Secret Military (back from
2011, more relevant than ever):
In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command
carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level
targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night
raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with
indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.
Once "special" for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are
special for their power, access, influence, and aura.
That aura now benefits from a well-honed public relations campaign
which helps them project a superhuman image at home and abroad, even
while many of their actual activities remain in the ever-widening shadows.
Typical of the vision they are pushing was this statement from Admiral
Olson: "I am convinced that the forces . . . are the most culturally
attuned partners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most responsive,
agile, innovative, and efficiently effective advisors, trainers,
problem-solvers, and warriors that any nation has to offer."
I suspect that the main target of that propaganda campaign is the
president, to drive home the point that "special forces" are a no-risk,
high-return, small scale option for any problem that can be solved
simply (with a bullet, that is).
Rory Fanning: Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?: I can't be the
only person who finds the constant adulation given to the "troops" of
the US military downright disgusting, but it sure is hard to find anyone
saying so in print. America has always cultivated hypocrisy, and those
in my generation suffered through more than usual dose. We noted the
beginnings of a cult of the troops in the Vietnam War, where failure
on the battlefield was ever-more-generously decorated with medals, but
memory was too close to WWII to get carried away: WWII was an intense,
all-encompassing collective effort; with so few uninvolved it would have
seemed silly to declare everyone a hero (although as memory dimmed that
eventually happened with the "greatest generation" hype). The obvious
excuse for putting troops on a pedestal today is that so few people
sign up (and many of them are tricked into thinking it's some sort of
jobs program). Still, this idolatry obscures one of the fundamental
political questions of our time: do the sacrifices of US troops do any
good for the vast majority of Americans who are otherwise uninvolved?
The answer, I'm certain, is no. If all the US had done after 9/11/2001
was to put out a few Interpol warrants, I doubt that even the tiny
number of "terrorist attacks" we've seen since would have happened.
Had we practiced policies in the Middle East favoring democracy and
basic human rights for all but eschewing intervention and arms sales
we probably would have missed out on 9/11 (and both Gulf Wars). Sure,
the troops had no real say in the decision to squander their lives in
a vain attempt to buttress the Neocon ego, but I'm not so sure they
shouldn't shoulder some of the blame. Back in the Vietnam War days
there was a popular saying: "suppose they gave a war and nobody came."
We were under no illusion that most of those who "came" for the war
then were compelled to do so. I can understand, and even sympathize,
how one might succumb to the force of the state -- I did, after all,
feel that force -- but for me that made those who resisted, either
by going to jail or avoiding that fate, were the era's real heroes;
nothing one could do in battle came close. Since the draft ended,
the choice to deny the war machine its bodies is less fraught, and
indeed most people choose that path. So today's troops range from
malevolent to the merely misinformed, but they all help to enable
a set of policies that ultimately do massive harm to the nation and
its people. And often, of course, they do great harm to themselves,
adding to the public costs of war. (Aside from the dead and maimed,
Fanning mentions that "there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes
in this country," nor does the PTSD stop there.) Of course, there
are more nuances to the whole phenomenon, but at root is a common
misconception that those who "served" did something to protect the
rest of us, something that we all should be grateful for. That simply
did not happen. That they sacrificed for something we should regret
and be embarrassed by, well, that's more to the point. Only once we
recognize that can we get past the charades, and that will be better
for all of us.
David Bromwich: American Exceptionalism and Its Discontents:
Speaking of hypocrisies, here's the hoary mother lode, the notion
that we're so special the world wouldn't know what to do without
our enlightened guidance. Needless to say, the tone has changed
over time. Once America was unique in declaring that "all men are
created equal"; today our self-esteem is the very celebration of
David Gerald Finchman: The hidden documents that reveal the true borders
of Israel and Palestine: In 1947 David Ben Gurion begged the UN to
vote in favor of partition borders for Palestine which would give 55% of
the mandate to a majority-Jewish nation that represented only 35% of the
total population, and 45% to an almost exclusively Arabic-speaking nation.
In 1948 Israel's Declaration of Independence proclaimed a Jewish State
but said nothing about borders. This unwillingness to define borders has
kept Israel in a state of war ever since, with Israel grabbing another
23% of the Mandate's territory during the 1947-49 war, and the remaining
22% in 1967 (plus chunks of Egypt and Syria). This piece looks into the
decision-making process from UN-borders to no-borders. A longer version
Karen Greenberg: Will the US Go to "War" Against Ebola? It's telling
that Obama's initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was to
send in the US military. That made some sense inasmuch as AFRICOM has
money to burn and some expertise in logistics, but it also imposes a
rigid worldview and introduces a dangerous level of intimidation. The
one thing Ebola does have in common with Terrorism is an exaggerated
level of hysteria, but that seems of a piece with the media's highly
orchestrated kneejerk reactions. I'm reminded of the anthrax scare of
2001, which would have soon gone freaking insane had the perpetrator
not had the good sense to stop. Greenberg points out many ways Ebola
differs from the Terrorism model.
Louis Menand: Crooner in Rights Spat: A useful review of copyright
Baldwin joins Saint-Amour, the law professors Lawrence Lessig, Jeanne
Fromer, and Robert Spoo, and the copyright lawyer William Patry in
believing that, Internet or no Internet, the present level of copyright
protection is excessive. By the time most works fall into the public
domain, they have lost virtually all their use value. If the public
domain is filled with items like hundred-year-old images of the back
of Rod Stewart's head, the public good will suffer. The commons will
become your great-grandparents' attic.
As it is, few creations outlive their creators. Of the 187,280 books
published between 1927 and 1946, only 2.3 per cent were still in print
in 2002. But, since there is no "use it or lose it" provision in
copyright law, they are all still under copyright today. Patry, in
his recent book, "How to Fix Copyright," notes that ninety-five per
cent of Motown recordings are no longer available. Nevertheless, you
can't cover or imitate or even sample them without paying a licensing
fee -- despite the fact that your work is not competing in the
marketplace with the original, since the original is no longer for sale.
Katha Pollitt: How Pro-Choicers Can Take Back the Moral High Ground:
An excerpt from Pollitt's new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.
A man's home is his castle, but a woman's body has never been wholly her
own. Historically, it's belonged to her nation, her community, her father,
her family, her husband -- in 1973, when Roe was decided, marital rape was
legal in every state. Why shouldn't her body belong to a fertilized egg as
well? And if that egg has a right to live and grow in her body, why shouldn't
she be held legally responsible for its fate and be forced to have a cesarean
if her doctor thinks it's best, or be charged with a crime if she uses
illegal drugs and delivers a stillborn or sick baby? Incidents like these
have been happening all over the country for some time now. Denying women
the right to end a pregnancy is the flip side of punishing women for their
conduct during pregnancy -- and even if not punishing, monitoring. In the
spring of 2014, a law was proposed in the Kansas Legislature that would
require doctors to report every miscarriage, no matter how early in the
pregnancy. You would almost think the people who have always opposed women's
independence and full participation in society were still at it. They can't
push women all the way back, but they can use women's bodies to keep them
under surveillance and control.
Peter Van Buren: Seven Bad Endings to the New War in the Middle East:
I know what you're saying: "only seven?" Van Buren doesn't get to the
political effects of continuing the War on Terrorism -- of continuing to
fund the surveillance state, of the increasing militarization of police
departments, of the circumvention of the justice system, of how public
funds are being drained as remote and preventable problems are prioritized
over real and immediate ones by a political establishment deeply in hock
to the security phantom.
Saturday, October 25. 2014
When I was sixteen I probably knew every lyric to every Beatles song
extant, so it wasn't hard to recall at least the refrain of the jaunty
little title tune on my 64th birthday. "Will you still need me? Will you
still feed me?" Back then I wouldn't have had a clue who "you" might be,
but I never worried about food: my mother's theme song should have been
Cab Calloway's "Everybody Eats When They Come to My House" -- a house I
also didn't have a clue how to escape. I celebrated my 16th birthday a
couple months late by dropping out of high school. I stayed home a couple
days after Christmas when a cousin was visiting. I went back the next day
and was so sickened I never returned.
For the next five years I basically hid out in my attic room. I skewed
my hours to minimize contact with my parents and siblings, going to sleep
minutes before my father got up for work, waking mid-afternoon just in
time to watch Dark Shadows and Star Trek reruns. I had a
tiny black-and-white TV that ran out of stations shortly after midnight,
a tinny stereo with not much more than a dozen LPs, a typewriter, and a
growing collection of books and periodicals -- what I spent nearly all
of my $10/week allowance on. Evenings I could take the family car out,
mostly downtown to bookstores and the library. I was only at ease when
surrounded by books, and while my own life was locked down reading made
me aware of other worlds and other possibilities.
As I was traveling last week, it occurred to me that there are two
types of people in America today: those who can mentally put themselves
in other people's predicaments and empathize, and those who can't (or
just don't). What triggered this thought was a depression-era story
about Uncle Ted: he had heard vigilante threats against a destitute
family that had been stealing, so he picked them up and drove them to
another county where they had kinfolk; he explained later to his family
that he could imagine being so hungry that he might resort to stealing
too. Whenever I heard this story, I first think of my harsh experience
with thieves, but having known Ted and something of his life and history
I wind up recognizing that this story is more complex and nuanced than
my own narrow experience knows.
Of course, the point was reinforced many times as I watched political
commercials last week. The "two types" don't precisely split along party
lines. Indeed, Democrats can appeal to a majority along self-interest
lines -- and do so effectively when they point out how Republicans like
Tom Cotton (their Senate hopeful in Arkansas) are out to undermine and
even dismantle Social Security and Medicare -- but the Republican appeals
almost invariably depend on drawing lines between the voters they court
and everyone else (all those people outside their identity group, most
obsessively president Obama).
Of course, I didn't get to the ability to empathize with others very
early. As a child I was exceptionally selfish and greedy, and as an
adolescent I withdrew from my social network even before I physically
isolated myself. Therefore, much of my early reading focused on my own
experiences: education, psychology, religion. One most influential book
on the former was Charles Weingartner/Neil Postman's Teaching as a
Subversive Activity. Their main argument was that the most valuable
thing schooling could do was to encourage students to develop their own
finely tuned "bullshit detectors." Needless to say, school as I had known
it was strongly focused on rote learning -- including the stock moralism
of the day. But there was no shortage of bullshit in the late 1960s, so
detection soon became easy. I was soon reexamining every assumption I
had been brought up to believe. I had an earlier interest in mainstream
politics, so my move to the New Left had conventional framing (except
that my ancestral reference system was rooted deeper in Populism and
Republican Progressivism than in New Deal/Great Society Liberalism).
As I thought more critically, I came to realize that what gets called
madness is often just social nonconformity -- something I had developed
a literary and artistic taste for. As for my personal dysfunction, I was
much taken with Gregory Bateson's "double-bind theory of schizophrenia":
I could see how impossible it was to satisfy all the contradictory moral
authorities of my youth. That insight turned my personality problem into
a matter of logic, something that reason, and therefore I, could sort out.
Not that it was so simple. I had to force myself to socialize. In 1970
I got a GED and enrolled in Wichita State University. A year later I had
59 units of straight-A credit and a scholarship to transfer to Washington
University (St. Louis). Two years later I got my first job, was finally
able to support myself, and had had a couple of sexual relationships. A
couple years later I moved to New York and soon moved in with my first
wife. After she died several years later, I found another relationship,
and we've been together for more than twenty-five years now.
And now I'm sixty-four -- a milestone monumental enough to inspire a
pop song forty-eight years ago, but today it mostly means that I have
one more year to suffer through Obamacare (and, sure, be thankful for
that) before Medicare kicks in, eliminating one of the great worries of
my de facto retirement. Fifteen years ago I used to joke on my "career
assessment forms" that my "career goal" was retirement -- one of many
times I've crossed some unstated but expected line of conformity --
but I'm more or less there now. My father retired from his factory job
as soon as he could afford to, and thereby got a few good years before
a stroke pinned him down. For him, as for most people fortunate enough
to be able to afford it, retirement was freedom. I've enjoyed that same
freedom since SCO let me go in 2000. But while my work ethic hasn't
much flagged, I've become increasingly uncomfortable with my lack of
accomplishment (what in engineering we call "deliverables").
My recent travels gave me some time to think about this. I spent,
for instance, some time with the same cousin I played hooky to see
when I was sixteen. We reminisced, but also she poked some holes in
my inequality book outline, making me realize how difficult it's going
to be to craft arguments that are almost too obvious to me. I believe
that inequality is the core political issue of our time, but not so
much to balance everyone's supply of stuff as because it profoundly
corrupts our sense of justice, and losing the sense that the political
order is ultimately just unravels the whole social fabric. Indeed, it
may be that stuff is the wrong way to account for inequality. My working
title, Share the Wealth (from Huey Long), could just as well be
Share the Freedom -- assuming, as I've concluded, that it takes
a certain level of wealth to be free, although it's not clear that more
wealth makes one more free (although it has been shown that excess wealth
doesn't make one happier).
Better developed is an outline for an essay on Israel, something I
talked to several people about. The first two sections would explore the
only issues of importance to understanding why Israel's leaders have
acted for the better part of a century. The first concerns colonial
settler demography: the only places where settlers have retained power
are places where the population mix tilted decisely in favor of the
settlers (the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina) while
everywhere settlers remained in the minority power has reverted to the
majority (most relevantly in South Africa and Algeria). Israel is in
between -- secure enough within its 1967 borders but far less so with
the Occupied Territories.
The second issue -- perhaps the first chronologically in that it
concerns the initial founding of the Zionist movement, but I think
it makes more sense to treat it second -- is the dependent dialectic
between Zionism and anti-semitism, how it has played out over history,
and how it has been twisted around in Israeli self-consciousness. As
anti-semitism has waned in the West this link can be questioned, but
it is deeply held within Israel, and that has many ramifications that
have to be understood. (Israel's obsession with security, for instance,
has as much to do with imagined enemies as with real ones.)
The third part would review all significant "peace" proposals since
the Peel Commission (or maybe the Balfour Declaration) and pick apart
why they have failed -- almost invariably because Israelis have been
unable (or unwilling) to reconcile their colonial project with emerging
standards of international law on human rights, and lately because
Israelis have been able to exploit the archaic rightward turn in US
foreign policy. In the past I've written up my pet ideas about how
the conflict could be resolved, and some of those ideas may return in
an epilogue but my experience is that few people care for my ideas as
long as they can hope for something more advantageous.
The other book-like project that came up here and there is the idea
of writing a memoir: basically a huge expansion of this post, although
I also see it as an occasion to write a personalized history of the era
from October 1950 -- a point just before the Chinese entered and turned
the tide in the Korean War -- to the present: a long history of imperial
decline, with most of the rot on the moral side. (It isn't exactly irony
that the US empire expanded as long as we were plausibly anti-imperialist,
then declined once we started believing in our destiny. It's just hubris.)
A memoir would also let me look back at where my family came from, how
they represented America, and what has happened to more than just me. I
could work in some of the stories we batted around on the Arkansas leg of
my trip. One of the political ads I saw last week lamented that Arkansas
was 48th of 50 states in job creation, but I know good and well that's an
old story: seven of my mother's cohort of eight siblings left Arkansas in
the 1930s looking for work elsewhere. (Three came to Kansas.) Their stories
are interesting, and while I'll never know enough to do them justice, I'd
like to know more, and use that as some sort of context. As odd as I grew
up, I came from remarkably average roots, and maybe there's some hope
Sunday, October 12. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Thomas B Edsall: The State-by-State Revival of the Right: Points out that Republicans have "complete control" (governors and state legislatures) in 23 states, "more than at any time since Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952." Also that "they are exercising their power to gain partisan advantage far more aggressively than their Democratic counterparts."
The most visible effort is the drive to gut public sector unions, a key source of votes and financial support for Democrats. Wisconsin, under Republican Governor Scott Walker, has led the charge on this front. With support from the Koch brothers, the state has severely restricted collective bargaining rights for public employees, ended mandatory union dues and limited wage hikes to the rate of inflation.
Both supporters and opponents of Walker's initiative realized that this was a key battleground -- pathbreaking, in fact -- hence the rallies, the recall and so on.
Many Republican-controlled states have weakened or eliminated laws and regulations protecting the environment. In North Carolina the state legislature cut the budgets of regulators and prohibited local governments from enacting strict pro-environmental rules. The state chapter of the League of Conservation Voters has rated members of the legislature every year since 1999. Between 1999 and 2012, the group issued North Carolina a total of 48 scores of zero. In 2013 alone, 82 North Carolina Republicans got zeros. [ . . . ]
Democrats today convey only minimal awareness of what they are up against: an adversary that views politics as a struggle to the death. The Republican Party has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice principle, including its historical commitments to civil rights and conservation; to bend campaign finance law to the breaking point; to abandon the interests of workers on the factory floor; and to undermine progressive tax policy -- in a scorched-earth strategy to postpone the day of demographic reckoning.
One key point here is that this does not represent a turn in public opinion toward the right. The Democratic Party collapsed in 2010 because Obama gutted the successful national organization that Howard Dean had built, then muddled all the key issues, many by thinking that bipartisan approaches would be superior to partisan ones -- clearly a mistake the Republicans didn't make.
Paul Krugman: In Defense of Obama: If some pollster came along and asked me the standard question of whether I approve or disapprove of the job Obama has done as president, I'd have to answer "disapprove." I'm not unaware of, or unappreciative of, some positive accomplishments under Obama. And I wouldn't withhold my approval just because I thought Obama could have done more and better than he did. On the other hand, I can't give him credit merely for not being as bad as any Republican -- especially John McCain and Mitt Romney -- one might vote for a "lesser evil," but that is no reason to approve of one. Nor should one go to the lengths of creating strawman arguments like Krugman does here:
There's a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who "posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit." They're outraged that Wall Street hasn't been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that "neoliberal" economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have constrained even his much more modest efforts. It's hard to take such claims seriously.
That's hardly the only critique of Obama from the left, but it shouldn't be dismissed so cavalierly. One reason Obama failed to implement much of the "change" he campaigned on in 2008 was that he stopped talking about the need for such change as soon as he was elected. By backpedaling he not only gave up on success, he let the issues vanish from public discussion -- creating a vacuum that all the Tea Party nonsense quickly filled. Maybe we expected more from Obama than he was ever willing to deliver, but the ease with which he moved from critic of the status quo to defender should have been alarming. What alarmed me more than anything was how readily he dismantled the very successful Democratic Party organization that Howard Dean had built -- giving credence to David Frum's quip that where the Republican Party fears its base, the Democratic Party despises its core constituency. Time and again the people who paid the price for Obama's retreats were the people who voted for him, whose trust he squandered, whose interests he sold out.
I pretty much accept Krugman's arguments for Obama's health care and finance reform programs, and for various other details -- the value of the stimulus, of higher tax rates on the rich, of more aggressive environmental regulation, etc. Where I disagree most strongly is on foreign policy, where Obama has failed to break decisively with neocon orthodoxy on everything from Israel to Russia to Iran to Iraq. That is -- what else can he do? -- the point where Krugman resorts to the argument that Obama isn't as bad as McCain. That strikes me as wishful thinking, inasmuch as Obama has wound up doing exactly what McCain wants.
Rick Perlstein: The Long Con: Written in 2012, hence the introduction on "Mittdacity," but the background info on the long association between Republican propaganda and mail order scams and other cons is as apposite as ever.
Wednesday, October 8. 2014
OK, this is an on-the-road experiment: instead of collecting a week's (or half-week's) links and comments, then posting the final result, I'll try it bit-by-bit (with a delayed posting date):
Peter Beinart: Without a two-state solution, Americans will challenge Zionism itself: Behind their paywall, but the basic argument is that American liberals have tended to support Israel because they like the appeal of Israel as a liberal democracy (like us) -- and the only thing holding up the long-promised "two-state solution" is Palestinian intransigence. However, that is in fact wrong -- pretty much categorically so, as should be clear to anyone who listens to what Netanyahu and his cohort say. If, in the end, all the "Jewish state" has to justify itself with is an ethnocracy empowered by gratuitous violence -- i.e., about the only plausible explanation of Netanyahu's tantrum this summer -- few Americans (neocon militarists and Apocalypse-minded Christians) will be willing to continue supporting Israel. That strikes me as fair, even if a bit removed from the jingoism still dominant in US political discourse.
This dawning of reality would be taken as good news by most critical thinkers, but Beinart remains committed to the Zionist idea that Israel's existence is a good thing for Jews not only in Israel (where they are, in Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar's phrase, "lords of the land") but also in the Diaspora. A more accurate analysis would show that Zionism is intrinsically hostile to the Diaspora, no matter how conveniently Zionists suck up to generous (albeit misguided) foreign donors.
I still believe the best answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a democratic Jewish state alongside a democratic Palestinian one. I believe that because, in a post-Holocaust world, I want there to be one country that has as its mission statement the protection of Jewish life. And I believe it because among both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, nationalism remains a massively powerful force. To assume each community could subordinate its deep-seeded nationalism to a newfound loyalty to secular state strikes me as utopian. Secular binationalism barely works in Belgium. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea it's probably a recipe for civil war.
But this requires arguing that Israel/Palestine is, at least right now, fundamentally different than the United States. It requires defending Zionism as something alien to the American experience, something necessary because in Israel/Palestine, the civic nationalism we revere here is neither possible nor desirable. That's very different than arguing that the United States should support Israel because it's America’s Middle Eastern twin.
But if you take the "twin" aspect away, it's hard to see many Americans caring about Jewish nationalism, especially since the anti-semitism that Israel is supposedly the solution to is hardly evident -- nor is it clear that Israel's "solution" really works.
Paul Krugman: Why Weren't the Alarm Bells Ringing?: Review of Martin Wolf's The Shifts and the Shocks: What We've Learned -- and Have Still to Learn -- from the Financial Crisis, which explains the 2008 financial meltdown and ensuing depression using the now-standard Minsky model: that prolonged economic stability leads to financial laxness, excessive leverage, and collapse. Krugman is skeptical that that's all there is to it.
First, while the depression that overtook the Western world in 2008 clearly came after the collapse of a vast financial bubble, that doesn't mean that the bubble caused the depression. Late in The Shifts and the Shocks Wolf mentions the reemergence of the "secular stagnation" hypothesis, most famously in the speeches and writing of Lawrence Summers (Lord Adair Turner independently made similar points, as did I). But I'm not sure whether readers will grasp the full implications. If the secular stagnationists are right, advanced economies now suffer from persistently inadequate demand, so that depression is their normal state, except when spending is supported by bubbles. If that's true, bubbles aren't the root of the problem; they're actually a good thing while they last, because they prop up demand. Unfortunately, they're not sustainable -- so what we need urgently are policies to support demand on a continuing basis, which is an issue very different from questions of financial regulation.
Wolf actually does address this issue briefly, suggesting that the answer might lie in deficit spending financed by the government's printing press. But this radical suggestion is, as I said, overshadowed by his calls for more financial regulation. It's the morality play aspect again: the idea that we need to don a hairshirt and repent our sins resonates with many people, while the idea that we may need to abandon conventional notions of fiscal and monetary virtue has few takers.
I've always found "secular stagnation" to be an oddly opaque term. The "persistent low demand" at its center is most certainly the effect of increasing inequality, where most people are increasingly denied the option to spend on real goods, while the rich often find their gains wrapped up in the illusion of inflated asset prices. This is, of course, a much deeper and more persistent problem than the stability of the banks. The Bush-Obama (or Paulson-Geithner) solution was to save the banks, figuring that if the front lines of the crisis held people wouldn't suspect that there was anything more rotten at the core of the crisis. But
the fact that the "Obama recovery," like the "Bush recovery" before it, feels so hollow should dispel us of such illusions.
Krugman's note on
2011 and All That is worth quoting at length:
But [Bill] Gross was by no means alone in getting these things wrong. Indeed, 2011 was a sort of banner year for bad macroeconomic analysis by people who had no excuse for their wrong-headedness. And here's the thing: aside from Gross, hardly any of the prominent wrong-headers have paid any price for their errors.
Think about it: 2011 was the year when Bowles and Simpson predicted a fiscal crisis within two years. There was never a hint of crisis, but BS are still given reverent treatment by the Beltway media.
2011 was also the year when Paul Ryan warned Ben Bernanke that he was "debasing" the dollar, arguing that rising commodity prices were the harbinger of runaway inflation; the Bank for International Settlements made a similar argument, albeit with less Ayn Rand. They were completely wrong, but Ryan is still the intellectual leader of the GOP and the BIS is still treated as a fount of wisdom.
The difference is, of course, that Gross had actual investors' money on the line. But you should not take that to imply that the profit motive leads to intellectual clarity; Gross has been forced out at Pimco, but I've seen hardly any press coverage tying that to his having the wrong macro model.
Speaking of getting things wrong, also see
Jeff Madrick: Why the Experts Missed the Recession. Madrick's sources are primarily recently released FOMC debates and "Greenbook" economic forecasts, which show how completely events blindsided the very "experts" who were responsible for setting Fed interest rates, and thereby adjusting the economy.
Monday, October 6. 2014
Music: Current count 23893  rated (+23), 526  unrated (+5).
Actually, the week for me ended on Friday, October 3.
New records rated this week:
- Marcia Ball: The Tatooed Lady and the Alligator Man (2014, Alligator): sings blues, plays boogie-woogie, spins a fine yarn then goes for the filler [r]: B+(*)
- François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts Volume 2 (2013 , FMR): more if you want more, but start with superv Vol. 1 [cd]: B+(***)
- Jack Clement: For Once and for All (2014, IRS Nashville): the late Nashville producer reclaims a few of his songs, with genteel smiling cowboy aplomb [r]: B+(***)
- Neil Cowley Trio: Touch and Flee (2014, Naim Jazz): Brit piano trio for fans of EST and Jarrett continue to keep semipopular jazz respectable [r]: B+(*)
- Mark Elf: Returns 2014 (2013 , Jen Bay Jazz): guitarist who admires Tal Farlow backed by David Hazletine, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash dream band [cd]: B+(**)
- Alice Gerrard: Follow the Music (2014, Tompkins Square): pioneering harmony woman of bluegrass belatedly strikes out on her own, ancient and ragged [r]: B+(***)
- Prince: Art Official Age (2014, Warner Brothers): wondered if he was done, but give him a major label and he'll lay out some major label funk for you [r]: B+(*)
- Prince/3rdEyeGirl: Plectrum Electrum (2014, Warner Brothers): "all-female power trio" means they know Cream's basslines but don't sing like Jack Bruce [r]: B+(*)
- Matthew Shipp: I've Been to Many Places (2014, Thirsty Ear): yet another solo piano record, louder than ever in case you didn't get the point yet [r]: B+(*)
- Tricky: Adrian Thaws (2014, !K7): discovers own name and recovers old tricks for a wide range of poses, must be some kind of midlife crisis [r]: B+(***)
- Ulf Wakenius: Solo: Momento Magico (2013 , ACT): solo guitar, goes for thick chords to add gravitas to an intrinsically light album [r]: B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 (1974-79 , Analog Africa): obscurities from the heart of the heart of West Africa [r]: B+(**)
- The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932 (1995 , Delmark): Seattle trad jazz band with banjo and tuba, makes the old songs zing [cd]: A-
- Charlie Haden/Jim Hall: Charlie Haden/Jim Hall (1990 , Impulse): live in Montreal a year late for Haden's big fête, but this is more about the guitarist, drawing him out [r]: A-
- The Rough Guide to Arabic Jazz (, World Music Network, 2CD): rougher than need be, especially with the scene-stealing Cuban ringer the best cut by far [r]: B+(*)
- The Rough Guide to Bollywood Disco (1965-93 , World Music Network, 2CD): dance dance dance with a pre-disco highlight that reminds me of Chubby Checker [r]: B+(***)
- The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition] (1980-2013 , World Music Network, 2CD): label annoying as ever, not that they can't program a songlist [r]: B+(***)
- Wild Jimmy Spruill: Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story (1956-63 , GVC, 2CD): various singers sharing Spruill's guitar, a still vital r&b period compiled [cd]: A
Old records rated this week:
- Ruby Braff: Linger Awhile (1953-55 , Vanguard): early sessions led by Buck Clayton and Vic Dickenson, showing the company he keeps and progress [r]: B+(**)
- Matthew Shipp/Guillermo E. Brown: Telephone Popcorn (2005 , Nu Bop): piano-drums duo, half of David Ware's quartet, not quite finished [r]: B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Alessandro Collina/Rodolfo Cervetto/Marc Peillon/Fabrizio Bosso: Michel on Air (ITI)
- Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (Jazz Sick)
- Lajos Dudas Quartet: Live at Salzburger Jazzherbst (Jazz Sick)
- Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1: The Rite of Spring (Creative Nation Music)
- Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2: Quintet for the End of Time (Creative Nation Music)
- Will Holshouser/Matt Munister/Marcus Rojas: Introducing Musette Explosion (Aviary): November 1
- Bill Watrous/Pete Christlieb/Carl Saunders: A Beautiful Friendship (Summit)
Friday, October 3. 2014
A quick listing of some open tabs as I'm shutting down the computer:
Dean Baker: Eric Holder: The Reason Robert Rubin Isn't Behind Bars
Rosa Brooks: But This Threatiness Goes to 11 . . .
Patrick Cockburn: Does David Cameron Have Any Idea What Kind of War He's
Tom Engelhardt: Failure Is Success: Subtitle: How American Intelligence
Works in the Twenty-First Century. "Intelligence," of course, is not what
the word implies.
Glenn Greenwald: After Feigning Love for Egyptian Democracy, US Back to
Openly Supporting Tyranny
William Hartung/Stephen Miles: Who Will Profit From the Wars in Iraq
Paul Krugman: How to Get It Wrong. His blog is also full of examples
of people getting it wrong; e.g.,
Bill Gross, and
Kate: 'Only a suicidal country doesn't recognize the Bedouin problem':
Israeli minister seeks ways to lower Bedouin birthrate: and other
stories of life under the Zionist state. For another, earlier report:
J'lem settlers amok: 10-year-old Palestinian is run over, 11-year-old
is nearly abducted.
Richard Silverstein: Shin Bet Murders Palestinians Who Killed Three Israeli
Border Police Special Forces Command Confirms Execution of Hebron
Why be curious about "Capital in the Twenty-First Century"?
Meanwhile, TPM is still specializing on stupid people saying stupid
Ed Board Member: Give US Credit for Voluntarily Ending Slavery.