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:
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 heard.
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. B+(*)
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. A-
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 up. B+(*)
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. B+(***)
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 prevails. B+(*)
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. B+(***)
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). B+(**)
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). B+(***) [cd]
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, gracious touch. B+(***)
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. B+(*)
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. A- [cd]
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. B+(***) [cd]
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. B+(***) [cd]
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. B+(**)
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. B+(***)
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. B+(**)
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. B+(***)
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 cappella. B+(***)
David Hazeltine: For All We Know (2014, Smoke Sessions): A fine mainstream piano player, his trio the perfect framework for tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake. B+(***)
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. B+(*)
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. B+(*) [cd]
Tove Lo: Queen of the Clouds (2014, Island): Swedish electro-pop singer, upbeat but not much fun, nothing much sticks. B
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. B+(**) [cd]
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 applause. B+(**)
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. B+(***)
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. A-
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. B+(**)
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 they sing. B+(*)
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]. B+(**)
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. B+(*)
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. B+(**)
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 than usual. B+(*)
Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Laswell: The Stone (Akashic Meditation) (2014, MOD Technologies): Trumpet-bass duo, one 38-minute cut, stark and meditative. B+(*)
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 "Blackbird"). B+(*) [cd]
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 Saturday night. B+(*)
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. B+(***)
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. B+(*)
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. A- [cd]
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. B [cd]
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. A-
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. B [cd]
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. B+(***)
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? B+(**)
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. B+(***)
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. B+(**)
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).
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
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 ears. A
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. B+(*)
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. A-
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. B+(**)
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. B+(**)
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. B+(***)
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. B+(***)
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. B+(***)
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. B+(***)
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. B+(*)
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." B
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. B+(**)
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. B+(***)
Matthew Shipp/Guillermo E. Brown: Telephone Popcorn (2005 , Nu Bop): Piano-drums duo, two members of David S. Ware Quartet at the time. B+(*)
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:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last three weeks:
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.
Also, a few links for further study:
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 in that.
Sunday, October 19. 2014
Links for further study:
Sunday, October 12. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
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):
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:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Friday, October 3. 2014
A quick listing of some open tabs as I'm shutting down the computer:
Tuesday, September 30. 2014
Time to wrap another batch of Streamnotes up: 21 days after the September 9 column. I've been running these approximately every three weeks this year, and the average count has been close to 90. The Old Music section focuses on Steve Lacy, after starting out with the much smaller catalogs of Julius Hemphill and Henry Threadgill. The line between Old Music and "Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries" is vague, but generally speaking the latter were released in the last couple years -- I go back as far as 2011 there.
The usual caveats about listening to music on the computer apply. It's rare that I'll settle on an A- grade in only one play -- Sun Ra and Roger Miller are two such cases, but they cover ground I'm familiar with from elsewhere. On the other hand, low-B+ and below rarely get more than one spin: I'm not especially concerned whether I get those grades right, since plus or minus a notch makes little consumer difference. More often I'm sure enough about the grade but unclear on how to write the review: it's rarely worth my while to give a record an extra spin just to write a better review, although I did that routinely back in the days when I got paid for reviews.
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 9. Past reviews and more information are available here (5406 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams (2014, Blue Note): Instantly regretted spinning this, knowing that by the time it was over I'd neither grasp whatever intricacies may exist in the lyrics nor care. Prolific, something like 14 albums in 14 years -- surprising at this late date he'd go to the eponymous title, usually an introduction but sometimes a fresh start, in his case more a collapsing worldview, just his face (and a lot of hair) on the cover, just guitar around his voice. B
Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: From the Region (2013 , Delmark): Vibraphonist, has made a big splash since starting to work with Chicago avant groups a few years back. Trio with bass (Ingebrigt Håker Flaten) and drums (Mike Reed), third album together (starting with the one called Sun Rooms, natch), and goes a long ways toward establishing the vibraphone a lead instrument. B+(***) [cd]
Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast (2014, Sub Pop): Cincinnati group, had seven albums 1988-98, broke up, returning for this one. I've only heard one of the old albums and don't recall it at all. This strikes me as heavy, an attribute in rock I have little desire for, but very accomplished for its type, I guess. B+(**)
Aphex Twin: Syro (2014, Warp): Richard D. James, enjoyed a measure of fame in the mid-1990s for his "ambient works" -- can't say as I was impressed, nor do I recall following any of the aliases he's used since the last Aphex Twin album in 2001. This, however, is fun throughout, a trippy mix of bass lines and beats, with a little ambient coda at the end. A-
Avi Buffalo: At Best Cuckold (2014, Sub Pop): Southern California group led by Avi Zahner-Isenberg, has a falsetto lead and occasionally pines for the "In My Room" side of the Beach Boys. B+(*)
Iggy Azalea: Ignorant Art (2011 , Grand Hustle, EP): Australian rapper, Amethyst Amelia Kelly, released her debut album this year (below), but on the way to checking it out, I noticed this thing -- her debut mixtape, credited as "Iggy Azalea Presents" ("Dirt in Your Pussy Ass Bitch" is someone else's sketch [T.I.?]). Runs nine tracks, 26:33, built around the video-ready single, "Pu$$y," a sharp and nasty calling card. B+(**)
Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (2014, Island): Rapper from Australia, but her mentor is T.I. and her state-of-the-world production is post-Gaga, post-Minaj even, a "pop/rap hybrid" that eschews the soft center, aiming both sharp edges at the other. "Fancy," of course, is irony, but anyone who'd describe herself as "his new bitch" is bound to be trouble. Metacritic grade: 57. A-
Daniel Blacksberg Trio: Perilous Architecture (2012 , NoBusiness): Trombonist, based in Philadelphia, background ranges from klezmer to Anthony Braxton. Backed with bass and drums, keeps it interesting. B+(***) [cdr]
Frank Catalano/Jimmy Chamberlin: Love Supreme Collective (2014, Ropeadope): Tenor sax and drums, respectively, plus Percy Jones (bass), Adam Benjamin (keys on 3 of 4 cuts), and Chris Poland (guitar on the other cut). The four cuts are laid out like A Love Supreme, but run short (21:58), and rough. B+(*) [cd]
Causa Sui: Pewt'r Sessions 3 (2014, El Paraiso): Third collaboration between the Danish "heavy psych explorers" (i.e., fusion group) and Ron "Pewt'r" Schneiderman, who evidently does similar stuff in Massachusetts. Three tracks for a vinyl-length album, expansive with a slow burn at the end. B+(**)
Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems (2014, Columbia): His "golden voice" is more gone than ever, but his tactic of using female backing vocals keeps him limping along. As for the songs, they're becoming more biblical not because he's thinking of death so much as he's pondering very old things. A-
Jack Cooper: Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra (2014, Planet Arts): Jazz Orchestra means big band -- 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, guitar, piano, bass, drums -- and Ives for that gristmill isn't far from the postmodern big band norm -- not swing but not terribly Third Stream either. B+(*) [cd]
Bo Dollis Jr. and the Wild Magnolias: A New Kind of Funk (2013, self-released): New Orleans "Indians" -- a featured story line in HBO's Treme, their showy plumes and deep funk a phenomenon many of us were hepped to in 1976 when The Wild Tchoupitoulas appeared, or even earlier in 1974-75 when the Wild Magnolias released two albums. The latter group was led by Theodore "Bo" Dollis, and now his son, born seven years later but in the crew since he was 13, is at the helm of the family business. His funk moves are hardly pathbreaking, and his use of a bit of rap is tentative, but the basic shtick is irresistible, and the best thing here is the most trad and true, a burnburning "Liza Jane." B+(***)
Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy (2014, Mello Music Group): Rapper, west coast guy, very laid back, soft-edged, which oddly enough draws you in. B+(**)
Hal Galper Trio: O's Time (2014, Origin): Piano trio, with Jeff Johnson and John Bishop -- picked them up on a Live in Seattle album in 2009 and they're back for a fourth album. They're fine players, and this album has impressive moments. B+(**) [cd]
Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio: We're Back (2014, Whaling City Sound): Drummer, son of vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, first album was called Thrasher (1995), evidently an apt nickname, his Dream Trio debuted on a 2013 album, consists of Kenny Barron and Ron Carter so I can't claim he's given to overstatement. Booklet has a picture of 13-year-old Thrasher: looks like he's been opening presents and is showing off his new LPs (two Ron Carter records). Back cover says, "Jazz Interpretations of R&B Classics," and as befits a '70s child most are from Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire -- "What's Going On" and "Pick Up the Pieces" are among the others. (Personally, I was more into George Clinton during the 1970s.) They add guest stars you notice when they're present but don't miss when they aren't: Larry Goldings (organ), Warren Wolf (vibes), Steve Wilson (alto/soprano sax). B+(**) [cd]
John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender (2014, New West): Singer-songwriter going back to the mid-1970s, when he had a younger and weirdly slurred voice and sang about crushing ants and waterskiing to heaven; some marvelous work, but was never as good after he had a freak hit and kept cranking out albums nearly every year whether he had worthy songs or not. This is his best in ages (probably since 1983) -- the songs matter, his voice has achieved a new level of surrealism, and he's learned something from Adorno: "old people are pushy/'cause life ain't cushy." A-
Kevin Hildebrandt: Tolerance (2012 , Summit): Guitarist, sings several songs, leads a trio with Radam Schwartz on organ and Alvester Garnett on drums. Four Hildebrant originals, one from Schwartz, covers include "House of the Rising Sun," "Night and Day," "Further On Up the Road," "I Fall in Love Too Easily." Swings harder than soul jazz. B+(**) [cd]
Homeboy Sandman: Hallways (2014, Stones Throw): Underground rapper from Queens, usually sells himself short but lets this one run a healthy 41:48. Beats seem a little off, but he talks his way around them, and usually pays off. A-
William Hooker & Liudas Mockunas: Live at the Vilnius Jazz Festival (2013 , NoBusiness): Sax-drums duets, the drummer getting top billing because he's the best known or came the furthest or maybe it's just alphabetical. Mockunas, at home in Lithuania, plays soprano, alto, and tenor, and is consistently impressive on four long improvs. A- [cd]
Jennifer Hudson: JHUD (2014, RCA): Soul diva, lost her American Idol bid to Fantasia Barrino but snagged a role in the movie Dreamgirls and got an Oscar for it. Third album, built around big disco beats and that gospel wail soul divas are so given to. B+(*)
Tommy Igoe: The Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy (2014, Deep Rhythm): Drummer-led 14-piece Bay Area "supergroup" -- Aaron Lington is the only name among the regulars that rings a bell, but some "guest conspirators" are better known: Randy Brecker (trumpet, one track), Kenny Washington (vocals, two). Not really a groove album, just more of the usual big band blare. B- [cd]
Imarhan Timbuktu: Akal Warled (2014, Clermont): Desert blues group from Mali. First album here but group dates back to 1993. The rhythmic lilt is stock in trade for the genre, and the vocals never threaten to break ranks -- the very constancy of their sound over the entire album is their main charm, which is to say this makes for nice background music. B+(**) [dl]
Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics: Jaiyede Afro (2014, Strut): Nigerian saxophonist, one of the founders of Afrobeat -- Fela Kuti started out in Julius' band -- gets rediscovered by English quasi-jazz group which previously brought some attention to Ethio-jazz master Mulatu Astatke. In this one the sax bulls right past the beat, impressive in its own right. A-
Just Passing Through: The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook Vol. II (2014, ALMA): That would be composer Don Breithaupt and lyricist Jeff Breithaupt -- evidently a big deal in Canada and aiming at Broadway. The first volume was prefaced Toronto Sings. This one evidently casts a wider net, although I hardly recognize any of the singers. And I've yet to find a reason to care about the music, which isn't to say that it's bad. B [cd]
Kalle Kalima & K-18: Buñuel de Jour (2013 , TUM): Finnish guitarist, quartet adds Mikko Innanen (alto sax), Veil Kujala (quarter-tone accordion), and Teppo Hauta-aho (bass, percussion). The lead instruments tend to melt together into a thick, richly flavored stew. B+(***) [cd]
Sami Lane: You Know the Drill (2014, self-released, EP): DJ from Bournemouth, has uploaded several mixtapes to Mixcloud, this one a 29-minute continuous hip-hop flow, pretty hard-edged, lots of N-words. She (I think that's right) has no discernible reputation, just a Twitter account and 23 followers on Mixcloud, one of whom is Alex Wilson, who currently ranks this 23rd on his 2014 list, just behind Kris Davis (his only jazz pick) and ahead of Tacocat. I had heard 39 of his top 41 so I thought I'd track this down. One annoying problem with Mixcloud is that it keeps playing into her old catalog, which is more EDM. B+(**) [dl]
Gianni Lenoci/Kent Carter/Bill Elgart: Plaything (2012 , NoBusiness): Piano trio. Pianist Lenoci, who credits Mal Waldron and Paul Bley as teachers and plays much like them, has at least 15 albums since 1991. A spirited improv set. B+(***) [cdr]
The Mark Lomax Trio: Isis & Osiris (2012 , Inarhyme): Drummer, teaches and therefore is based in Columbus, Ohio, which keeps him and his sax trio out of the limelight. They have a previous album, The State of Black America, on my top-ten list for 2010. This one drags a bit near the start -- probably bass solos, something too soft to hear -- but when Edwin Bayard's tenor sax breaks through it's often mesmerizing. And the drummer's pretty special too. A-
Alexander McCabe/Paul Odeh: This Is Not a Pipe (2014, Wamco): Alto sax/piano duets. McCabe has impressed me in the past (cf. 2010's Quiz), and continues to in this sparer format. B+(**) [cd]
Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood: Juice (2014, Indirecto): There's more to guitarist John Scofield than the organ groove albums he did in the early 1990s although they were inspired fun; more to MMW than organ grooves too, but a nice stretch with Medeski on piano doesn't go very far. B+(*)
The Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise (2014, Cuneiform): Founded in 1980 with pianist Joel Forrester and soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston writing their songs, they broke up in 1990 and regrouped in 2006 with Mike Hashim (a superstar in my book) taking over the tenor sax spot -- group has four saxes and no brass -- and since then they've done no wrong. I'm more struck than ever by the gentle swing that permeates so many of their songs. A- [dl]
Jason Moran: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (2014, Blue Note): A jazz pianist, Moran's early career was auspicious, debuting on a major label with a series of brilliant albums. In 2011, he won a MacArthur "genius" grant, and that led to a project called the Fats Waller Dance Party, and ultimately this album. He tapped Meshell Ndegeocello, Lisa E. Harris, and Charles Haynes as vocalists, and added some horn spots to his trio: Steve Lehman gets a superb sax solo, and Moran's keyboard work is often dazzling, but the vocals strike me as way off base -- so serious, so dour, even on "Ain't Misbehavin'." B+(*)
Nicholas Payton: Numbers (2013 , Paytone): New Orleans trumpet player, although you'd hardly guess that from this album, where he spends most of his time noodling on a Fender Rhodes, with guitar, bass, and drums cranking out underdeveloped funk instrumentals. B-
Peripheral Vision: Sheer Tyranny of the Will (2014, self-released): Canadian postbop quartet with "co-leaders" Michael Herring (bass) and Don Scott (guitar), plus Trevor Hogg on tenor sax and Nick Fraser on drums, with Jean Martin lurking somewhere in the background (co-producer, "mixing & additional recording"). Read somewhere that their influences list is topped by Wayne Shorter and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Sounds like it. B+(*) [cd]
RED Trio & Mattias Ståhl: North and the Red Stream (2013 , NoBusiness): Portuguese piano trio -- Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, Hernani Faustino on bass, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums -- first appeared with an impressive eponymous album in 2010 (on Clean Feed). They're joined here by vibraphonist Ståhl, who does more than add tinkle but can get caught up in the grind. B+(**) [cd]
Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (2012 , TUM, 2CD): Trumpet great, has been working on large canvases lately -- I count four 2CD releases since 2009 plus the 4CD Ten Freedom Summers -- but this feels rather small and spotty as it spurts and sputters, just one more horn: Henry Threadgill (alto sax, flute, bass flute) plus bass (John Lindberg) and drums (Jack DeJohnette). It does, however, remind me what a marvelous drummer DeJohnette is. B+(***) [cd]
Wadada Leo Smith/Jamie Saft/Joe Morris/Balasz Pandi: Red Hill (2014, Rare Noise): We might have to start talking about Pandi as an exceptional drummer as well, and he's not the only surprise here. Saft first came to my attention playing organ for Joshua Redman, but his piano here is a million miles from there, out somewhere you'd have to triangulate off Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor to find. Morris, we should note, plays bass, not guitar. And while the trumpeter starts with dark tones, he can't just sit on that in this company. A-
Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: Settle (2012 , NCM East): Leader plays bass clarinet and alto sax, in a quintet with Russ Johnson on trumpet and Nir Felder on guitar -- front-line musicians who can handle the whiplash speed changes. B+(***) [cd]
Rosenna Vitro: Clarity: Music of Clare Fischer (2014, Random Act): Standards singer, has a dozen albums since 1982, more often than not trying to search out some new terrain for ye olde songbook -- an effort that works best when the songs have natural swing, like Catchin' Some Rays: The Music of Ray Charles (1997), as opposed to The Music of Randy Newman (2011). The subject here is Clare Fischer, a bit on the stuffy side, but pianist-arranger Mark Soskin lightens and opens him up, Sara Caswell's fiddle is a plus, and the singer can get by with the odd arch moment. B+(*) [cd]
Loudon Wainwright III: Haven't Got the Blues (Yet) (2014, 429 Records): Starts unexpectedly with a bit of rockabilly fluff, "Brand New Dance," but soon enough reverts to form, which is just fine ("I Knew Your Mother"), until he tries his hand at irony on a song that kicks back like an untethered Uzi: "I'll Be Killing You This Christmas." You know how much I hate Xmas music? This is one present I hope to never hear again. B+(*)
Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin' (2014, Sugar Hill/Welk): Country singer, doesn't write so has some trouble maintaining a persona -- she's too sweet to convince you she's the hopeless drunk of Chris Knight's "Send It on Down" but maybe she does sleep with the devil -- at least that's where she's picking her songs these days. (I normally tire quickly of Jesus songs, but you're not likely to run across any of these in church.) The move from countrypolitan MCA Nashville to a more trad label helps too. A-
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Rashied Al Akbar/Muhammad Ali/Earl Cross/Idris Ackamoor: Ascent of the Nether Creatures (1980 , NoBusiness): Cross was a trumpet player from St. Louis (1933-87), played in bands led by Charles Tyler and Rashied Ali, but this is the only album Discogs lists by him. Saxophonist Ackamoor was originally Bruce Baker, b. 1950 in Chicago, has a bit more, including a foundation in San Francisco. Don't know anything about bassist Al Akbar. Drummer Ali, b. Raymond Patterson in 1936, is Rashied Ali's brother, has a 1974 duo album with Frank Wright, and has appeared on some of David S. Ware's last albums. So, a two-horn free jazz quartet of some vintage, recorded in the Netherlands and reissued in Lithuania in limited edition (300 copies) vinyl. B+(***) [cdr]
Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 (1974-79 , Analog Africa): A backwater even by African standards, but wedged between Mali and Ghana, triangulated by Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea, you get a little bit of the whole region, minus the stars. B+(**)
Aby Ngana Diop: Liital (1994 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): From Senegal, six cuts, 31:59. Mostly drums and shouted voices, the lead singer not obviously female, some synth or something on a few tracks but window dressing to the drums. B+(***)
The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932 (1995 , Delmark): Trad jazz band from Seattle, eight pieces (at least at this point -- a 1990 album had six) including banjo and tuba (Tom Jacobus, the designated leader). Trombonist David Loomis sings a couple songs, and the clarinet (Craig Flory) is exceptional. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for this kind of music. A- [cd]
John Hiatt: Here to Stay: Best of 2000-2012 (2000-12 , New West): Christgau sent me Hiatt's first two albums in 1975 -- ones that he ultimately graded B but which became personal favorites. It may have helped that I saw him playing solo in Indianapolis, a bit of totally unplanned serendipity. So he became a guy to keep tabs on. Two of his next five albums were pretty good, but the others weren't, and I remember John Piccarella wanting to write about him in the Voice, only to get stuck with Warming Up to the Ice Age. Yet somehow I missed his 1987-94 period on A&M, which reportedly produced some hits. He moved to Vanguard in 2000 and New West in 2003, and I've been checking him out since I got onto Rhapsody, until this year finding a regular series of low B+ albums. This "best-of" does what it should, picking out his most indelible songs from six or seven albums and packing them into the only album you need from the decade. A-
The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition]
(1980-2013 , World Music Network, 2CD): The label's second round
compilations -- never specified as such so check the artwork and numbers --
tend to recycle newer pieces that have been farmed up through the label,
and come with bonus discs reissuing albums that had no traction under the
original artists' names. Can't tell from Rhapsody whether the booklets
have improved -- in cases where I've seen them, they usually raise more
questions than they answer. This Sahara extends from Mariem Hassan of
Western Sahara/Morocco through the Mali-Niger heartland to Libya, Sudan,
and Egypt, with Ali Hassan Kuban's Nubian music the clincher and the
ringer -- much earlier if not older-sounding.
Shaver: Shaver's Jewels: The Best of Shaver (1993-2001 , New West): Billy Joe Shaver was a veteran with some very clever songs under his belt and some relatively uninspired albums when he teamed up with his guitar-playing son Eddy Shaver for five albums, a gig that ended when Eddy overdosed in 2000. The extra guitar brought some spunk and polish to the albums, and the compilation weeds out the weak spots. A-
Sun Ra & His Arkestra: In the Orbit of Ra (1957-78 , Strut, 2CD): Cover starts out "Marshall Allen Presents" -- indeed who better to pick out a centennary selection of Herman Blount's Arkestra? -- but I'm dropping Allen's name so as not to confuse this with the ghost band he still leads. These are, after all, vintage recordings -- at least I've been able to match them up to the date range above, allowing a few seconds variation for the remastering. Vocals on close to half of the tracks -- more than I wanted but they do establish a theme, one that's out of this world. A-
The Buddy Tate Quartet: Texas Tenor (1978 , Sackville/Delmark): From Sherman, Texas; played in territory bands until 1939 when he joined Count Basie, replacing the late Herschel Evans. My favorite album of his is Buck and Buddy Swing the Blues -- "Buck" of course is Basie bandmate, trumpeter Buck Clayton, and the title is exactly right. This set was originally released as The Buddy Tate Quartet as if the group was somehow more than something he picked up touring. They scarcely deserve the compliment, but every time the sax blows Tate is nothing short of resplendent. A- [cd]
Ruby Braff: Linger Awhile (1953-55 , Vanguard): Assembled from three early sessions -- wish I could find the session details, but one cut comes from a 10-inch LP called Buck Clayton Meets Ruby Braff, and the others were possibly led by trombonist Vic Dickenson -- front cover has three photos: Dickenson, Clayton, and Braff, and the credits include Edmond Hall, Buddy Tate, Nat Pierce, and Sir Charles Thompson. Varies, but most of it swings, and the ballads are lovely. B+(**)
Columbia Country Classics, Vol. 5: A New Tradition (1967-87 , Columbia): The last of five various artist volumes, released with similar artwork along with many notable single-artist compilations (see ACN?). Sony's catalog is so deep that the first two volumes -- Vol. 1: The Golden Age (1935-53) and Vol. 2: Honky Tonk Heroes (1946-61) -- are nearly as definitive as the first two volumes of Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection. The next two volumes -- Vol. 3: Americana (1954-84) and Vol. 4: The Nashville Sound (1953-73) -- are far from definitive, as is this grab bag of label stalwarts (Johnny Cash, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, latecoming Merle Haggard, an out-of-his-depth Bob Dylan) and a younger generation intent on retaining the tradition (Asleep at the Wheel, Ricky Van Shelton, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash). B+(**)
Julius Hemphill: Raw Materials and Residuals (1977 , Black Saint): Sax trio, the leader playing alto and soprano, with Abdul Wadud (cello) and Don Moye (percussion). Begins with a boppish thrill ride. Ends with a tune that sticks in your head. [4/5 tracks] A-
Julius Hemphill/Warren Smith: Chile New York (1980 , Black Saint): Improv duets, Hemphill playing alto/tenor sax and flute, Smith percussion. B+(**)
The Julius Hemphill Sextet: At Dr. King's Table (1997, New World): Hemphill died in 1995 after a prolonged debilitating illness that left him unable to play from the early 1990s. But he continued to write and organize sax choirs -- he was the main driving force behind the World Saxophone Quartet. His last album was Five Chord Stud (1993), a sax quintet including a young James Carter. But he left some unrecorded music, including this set, posthumously recorded under his name by a sax/clarinet/flute sextet: Marty Ehrlich, Sam Furnace, Andy Laster, Gene Ghee, Andrew White, and Alex Harding. Some marvelous blending of harmonies here, but as is often the case with sax choirs (even WSQ) I find myself yearning for some contrasting tone, or maybe just a drum. B+(***)
The Julius Hemphill Sextet: The Hard Blues: Live in Lisbon (2003 , Clean Feed): The late saxophone choirmaster's ghost band carries on with Andrew Stewart replacing Gene Ghee -- carrying on: Marty Ehrlich, Sam Furnace, Andy Laster, Andrew White, Alex Harding. Same plus and minus ledger, although they can get a bit rowdier live, and that's a good thing. B+(***)
Orlando Julius: Super Afro Soul (1966-72 , Vampi Soul, 2CD): Nigerian saxophone player, formed a group called the Modern Aces in 1965, a missing link between highlife and Afrobeat -- Fela Kuti started out in Orlando's band. This starts with a Modern Aces album, then adds a somewhat later second disc by Orlando Julius & His Afro Sounders -- one difference is that the three-minute songs of the former give way to 6-8 minute pieces, the extra length adding to the flow. B+(**)
Steve Lacy: Early Years 1954-1956 (1954-56 , Fresh Sound, 2CD): A collection of five albums where Lacy is a sideman -- nominal leaders are: Dick Sutton (Jazz Idiom, Progressive Dixieland), Tom Stewart (Sextette/Quintette), Whitey Mitchell (Sextette), and Joe Puma (Modern Jazz Festival) -- and they illustrate the oft-made point that Lacy started in trad jazz influenced by Sidney Bechet before making the jump all the way to the avant-garde. Obviously, the story isn't that simple, as this is more transitional if never terribly boppish. B+(**)
Steve Lacy: Soprano Sax (1957 , Prestige/OJC): First album by the man who defined soprano sax over a 47-year career, up to his death in 2004. The quartet includes Wynton Kelly on piano -- not the sort of pianist Lacy would work with later but a real treat here -- as well as Buell Neidlinger (bass) and Dennis Charles (drums). A couple standards, two Ellington tunes, one Monk -- a delightful if somewhat conventional set. Gotta start somewhere. A-
Steve Lacy: The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy (1960 , Candid): Smart moves toward Lacy's unique style, working over tunes by Thelonious Monk (3), Cecil Taylor (2), and Charlie Parker (1). Mostly trio with John Ore (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums), plus Charles Davis (baritone sax) on one cut. A-
Steve Lacy with Don Cherry: Evidence (1961 , New Jazz/OJC): Quartet with bass and drums (Billy Higgins), playing four Monk tunes and two Ellingtons (at least on the original album; Rhapsody adds six "bonus cuts" with Wynton Kelly, but I can't find any physical release with them, so I dropped them on second spin. B+(***)
Steve Lacy: Scratching the Seventies/Dreams (1969-77 , Saravah, 3CD): Lacy first visited Europe in 1965 and moved to Paris in 1970. After his early albums with Prestige and Candid, he had trouble finding labels in the 1960s, but once he landed in France he recorded tons of albums for small European labels, including five for this French label, now rolled up into a 3-CD box. I decided it would be best to treat the albums one-by-one, so they follow. Overall: B+(*)
Steve Lacy: Axieme (1975 , RED): Solo soprano saxophone, originally released on two LPs then combined on a single CD. [Rhapsody only has "Parts 3 & 4" for 25:09, so is 21:40 short of the full release.] B+(*)
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo/Kent Carter: In Concert (1976 , Ictus): Discogs agrees with Rhapsody on the title, but the best Lacy discography calls this Live (probably the title of the 1977 LP release). This version, with two extra tracks, was part of a 12CD anniversary box Ictus released in 2006. Soprano sax trio, the extra depth of Carter's bass helps round the sound out. B+(***)
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Clangs (1977 , Ictus): Duo, mostly soprano sax and drums, but Lacy is also credited with "bird calls, pocket synthesizer, crackle box" and Centazzo employs whistles and a wide range of percussion. The result is the sort of rickety contraption imagined in the title. B+(**)
Steve Lacy Quintet: Troubles (1979, Black Saint): With Steve Potts (alto/soprano sax), Irene Aebi (violin, cello, vocals), Kent Carter (bass, cello), and Oliver Johnson (drums): Starts with a group vocal that turns into a very slippery slice. Aebi returns with a vocal called "Blues" -- another very tricky tune. In between is a short one called "The Whammies!" -- later taken as the name of a marvelous Lacy tribute group. B+(***)
Steve Lacy: The Flame (1982, Soul Note): A trio with Lacy on soprano sax, Bobby Few on piano, and Dennis Charles on drums. Still going through a phase where he flails a lot, bits of genius but lots of collateral damage. B+(*)
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Tao (1976-84 , Ictus): Duets, soprano sax with percussion, a set of numbered pieces that appear on many Lacy albums of the period. The last four come from an earlier live performance and they fumble a bit at the start, but the later recordings are superb, constant invention highlighted by the percussion. B+(***)
Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: Live in Berlin (1984 , Jazzwerkstatt): The pianist played on Lacy's second album, Reflections, and they've appeared together many time since, especially on duos like this one -- the first recorded one is from 1971, the last 2002; Sempre Amore (1986), with its all-Ellington/Strayhorn program, is a personal favorite. This is a mixed bag, denser than most, somewhat fanciful. B+(**)
Steve Lacy Trio: The Window (1987 , Soul Note): With Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass) and Oliver Johnson (drums), all Lacy originals (one piece co-credited to Mary Frazee), six tunes, 7:00-9:14 each. A fine example of Lacy's style, dazzling actually, with none of the things that occasionally make his other albums irritating. A-
Steve Lacy: More Monk (1989 , Soul Note): Sequel, like Lacy's 1987 Only Monk all Monk tunes, done solo on soprano sax. Plays them fairly straight, which makes me wonder, why? B+(*)
Steve Lacy Double Sextet: Clangs (1992 , Hat Art): Twelve musicians (counting two vocalists, Irene Aebi and Nicholas Isherwood), but the only instrument doubled is piano (Bobby Few joins Eric Watson), the second-stringers adding trumpet, trombone, vibes, and percussion to Lacy's long-running Sextet with Steve Potts (alto and soprano sax). One revelation is that Lacy's penchant for starchy vocals isn't purely a matter of indulging his wife. But also, once you get past the vocals, he does a marvelous job of integrating the lush instrumentals. B+(**) [cd]
Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: "Let's Call This . . . Esteem" (1993, Slam): Another duo album, four Monks, Ellington, Strayhorn, two originals each. Typical of what they do, how they interact, which is to say masterful but somewhat estranged. B+(**)
Steve Lacy Trio: The Rent (1997 , Cavity Search, 2CD): Basic Lacy, a trio with longtime collaborators Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass) and John Betsch (drums), recorded live at Old Church in Portland, OR before an enthusiastic crowd. B+(***)
Steve Lacy Trio: The Holy La (1998 , Freelance): Same trio, with Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass, kalimba) and John Betsch (drums), cut in a studio in France -- the group have finally learned to stretch out and relax, with the kalimba section sounding especially lovely. Two vocals by Irene Aebi, arch and starchy as usual, but somehow I'm getting to where I can stand her. [Sunnyside reissued this in 2003; the Rhapsody version is missing a track, but Sunnyside's own website indicates that the reissue is complete.] B+(***)
Steve Lacy: The Beat Suite (2001 , Sunnyside): The soprano saxophonist expanded his trio -- Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass, John Betsch on drums -- to include George Lewis on trombone, notable sonic heft, and wife/collaborator Irene Aebi for the vocals on ten texts lifted from Beat writers (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Bob Kaufman, Lew Welch, Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley, Jack Spicer, Anne Waldman/Andrew Schelling, Kenneth Rexroth). The problem, of course, is Aebi, who would sound stilted singing Irving Berlin, much less texts written with no concern for music, then scored with Lacy's angular whimsy. B
Steve Lacy: November (2003 , Intakt): Solo session from a festival in Switzerland, a little more than six months before he died. One vocal is way off base, but the soprano sax is unique, as ever. B+(**)
Ron McClure Quintet: Descendants (1980 , Ken): Bassist, played with Blood Sweat & Tears in the 1960s, has a couple dozen albums since 1979, mostly on Steeplechase, this the only one I've heard. Features Tom Harrell (flugelhorn), with both piano (Mark Gray) and guitar (John Scofield). No real sense of how you would niche this other than postbop with prominent bass solos. B+(**) [cd]
Medeski Martin and Wood: Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps): Best Of (1991-1996) (1991-96 , Gramavision): Organ-bass-drums trio, relatively popular jazz-groove merchants in the 1990s, with this collection sampling their second through fifth albums. Keyboard player John Medeski and drummer Billy Martin have since mounted serious solo careers -- forget about Chris Wood's Wood Brothers -- while keeping the group going (their first album I A-listed was 2012's Free Magic). Best example here: the medley "Bemsha Swing/Lively Up Yourself." B+(***) [cd]
Brad Mehldau: The Art of the Trio: Volume One (1996 , Warner Brothers): With Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums, the first of five Art of the Trio volumes -- a claim that rises as a challenge, and execution that plays off. Penguin Guide picked this one for their "Core Collection." I find it a smidgen on the soft side, and I'm always suspicious when jazzers take on the Beatles -- "Blackbird" is especially suspect, but they do a remarkable job. B+(***)
Brad Mehldau: Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard (1999, Warner Brothers): The Village Vanguard, that is, site of The Art of the Trio Volume Two. More snap than the first one, but not clear that makes it better. A superb pianist but I can't tell you why, partly because no single thing stands out. B+(***)
The Brad Mehldau Trio: Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5 (2000 , Warner Brothers, 2CD): Had this on long on the shelf, so after I played it and found it remarkable in the usual ways I've never been able to articulate, I checked Rhapsody for the Art of the Trio volumes I had missed -- turns out that Vol. 1 and Vol. 4 are the top-rated ones in Penguin Guide, while this is the bottom-rated one. Beats me why. Still a remarkable piano trio -- Larry Grenadier on bass, Jorge Rossy on drums -- stretching out on a mix of originals and standards, always precise, thoughtful, compelling, and, well, long. B+(***) [cd]
Brad Mehldau: Anything Goes (2002 , Warner Brothers): Same piano trio run through ten standards, starting with a tentative "Get Happy," including Monk, Porter, Paul Simon, Radiohead, "Smile," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." B+(***)
Roger Miller: The Best of Roger Miller, Volume One: Country Tunesmith (1957-67 , Mercury): Anyone with a hankering for Miller's mid-1960s novelty tunes -- from "King of the Road" to "England Swings" to "You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd" and maybe "My Uncle Used to Love Me but She Died" -- should go straight to the 12-cut 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection (1964-66 , MCA), or the broader 20-cut All Time Greatest Hits (1964-85 , Mercury/Chronicles), or the deeper 21-cut The Best of Roger Miller, Volume Two: King of the Road (1957-72 , Mercury) that came out on the heels of this set. Before he was a star, Miller was a struggling Nashville songwriter, making his living feeding wry and sentimental tunes to Ray Price ("Invitation to the Blues"), George Jones (cowrote "Tall Tall Trees"), and others while his own recordings languished. Even the 3-CD 1995 box set, King of the Road: The Genius of Roger Miller, which I've long regarded as canonical, only snares 8 of these 21 tracks while adding 8 pre-1964 songs and more from the overlap period. But if you're set with (or don't care for) the hits, or just a sucker for the homelier side of honky-tonk, this opens up the most unsung period of one of country music's heroes. A-
Henry Threadgill Sextett: You Know the Number (1986 , Jive/Novus): Alto/tenor saxophonist, formerly of Air, actually runs a septet here with Rasul Siddik (trumpet), Frank Lacy (Trombone), Diedre Murray (cello), Fred Hopkins (bass), and two percussionists. Avant but very upbeat, boisterous even. A-
Henry Threadgill Sextett: Easily Slip Into Another World (1987 , Jive/Novus): This picks up where the previous one left off, adding up to some of the group's most inspired interplay. However, they also run into some tough spots, which may (or may not) include Asha Puthli's vocal. B+(***)
Henry Threadgill: Song Out of My Trees (1993 , Black Saint): Five pieces with various lineups -- three guitarists in various combinations, two cuts with Ted Daniel on trumpet, one with Myra Melford on piano, two with Amina Claudine Myers (one harpsichord, one organ), one with Mossa Bildren grieving (backed by accordion, two cellos, and that harpsichord) while Threadgill plays his most visceral sax. An odd one. B+(**)
Monday, September 29. 2014
Music: Current count 23870  rated (+27), 521  unrated (-2).
My brother was in town Sunday so I spent the day cooking old-fashioned "soul food" -- fried chicken and pan gravy, baked potatoes and cornbread, baked beans and creamed corn and greens with bacon -- with a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. Couldn't concentrate on processing records, so I wound up playing Coleman Hawkins, Lefty Frizzell, and Johnny Cash from the travel case. Couldn't come up with a Weekend Update either. Suffice it to say that the insane wars of the previous week are still with us, as are the usual stories of police brutality, corruption, inequality, bad economics, the subversion of democracy by the usual claque of billionaires, and that old standby -- global warming. Safe to say there'll be more of them next week (if there is a next week) and next month and next year as well.
Wasting Sunday kept the rated count under 30, but it was actually a remarkably good week quality-wise. I broke queue protocol and took the Buddy Tate reissue with me in the car even before I catalogued it, and it's kept me in a good mood all week -- not anyway near his most consistent record, but so glorious every time the sax appears. Roger Miller came up in some email correspondence -- I thought I had this particular album, so when I saw it unrated and on Rhapsody I dived right into it.
Four very different Sept. 23 releases wound up at A-: Aphex Twin, Leonard Cohen, Wadada Leo Smith, and Lee Ann Womack. I gave each at least three plays, hoping it's possible to be both first and right. Chris Monsen seems to prefer Smith's The Great Lakes Suites, which both overwhelmed me with its length and underwhelmed me with its music -- Red Hill has an air of danger and excitement I find lacking in the larger work, but Suites put a lot of talent on display, including Henry Threadgill and Jack DeJohnette. Microscopic Septet is another Monsen recommendation, languishing in my mailbox for months. Orlando Julius appeared on a Phil Overeem list (also Bo Dollis and a bunch of other records I haven't gotten to yet; worth noting that Overeem has John Coltrane's Offering: Live at Temple University on top of his "old stuff" list -- I wasn't all that impressed by it, but I often react negatively to Coltrane's last phase). Another EW person mentioned the Sun Ra. Only gave it one play, but it was a delight, and I think I tracked down all the dates (except for one of three previously unreleased cuts).
Given the extra overhead of managing the "faux blog" I may not have a Music Week (let alone a Weekend Update) post next week -- it may in fact be several weeks before I catch up. We're planning a trip east in October. Laura is flying to Boston and back from Newark, so that's tightly scheduled. I'll be driving, so that's real loosey-goosey -- I'm thinking Buffalo on the way out, and DC (and maybe Nashville) on the way back. There will be a few days on Cape Cod, but the main stretch will be six days at a friend's big country house in the NJ Appalachians. I'm hoping we can entice friends from NYC and environs to come out to visit. (One enticement is that I plan on cooking.)
I've lined up some new technology for the trip. I picked up a cheap Chromebook to replace the old Linux laptop, so I can try working in the cloud. That won't really allow me to do much in terms of programming, but maybe I'll focus more on writing. Also picked up a Bose MiniLink Bluetooth speaker, which works nicely with the Chromebook. I'll still have travel cases of CDs for the car, but may leave the boombox home and play Rhapsody when I'm stationary.
Should leave by the end of the week. Don't know when I'll get back. Best way to track whatever I post will be Twitter. Meanwhile, this week expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes (most likely tomorrow -- if not I'll have to rename files). Maybe a Mid-Week Roundup or a Book Report before I leave. If you want to get in touch during the trip, holler at me, and we'll see what makes sense. (I'm not looking to hook up with strangers, but know so many people along the way it's impossible to personally contact everyone I might want to see.)
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Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, September 22. 2014
Music: Current count 23843  rated (+29), 523  unrated (-5).
A sub-30 week. For a while I thought it was going to be even lower. On the other hand, more A- records than usual. Much of the credit for the latter goes to Robert Christgau: the return of his Consumer Guide (or as he now prefers Expert Witness) alerted me to Homeboy Sandman and Shaver, and prodded me to check out John Hiatt's latest -- I knew it was out there, but given his last half-dozen albums I wasn't in a big hurry to file another low B+. As it was, I followed up with Hiatt's best-of, which combs those low B+ albums for a much better collection. Christgau also wrote about Iggy Azalea in his new Billboard column. I knew the name and thought her appearance on the Ariana Grande album was its high point, but hadn't put together how much I might like her.
Blog status is still uncertain. I noticed I've been getting a lot of spam comments (I hardly know any other kind), which is an indication that the database is accessible. I also heard from a reader depending on the RSS feed, wondering whether I was all right. The "faux blog" doesn't generate any RSS, so that notification avenue had been blocked. (Pretty good solution: follow me on Twitter.) So I went back and added all the missing posts to the "real blog," and have kept them in sync for the last week. That's a pain, but not understanding what happened, and having no confidence that it won't happen again, for now I lack a better solution.
Shopping advice request: I'm going to be traveling a lot soon, and I'd like to buy a small Bluetooth speaker bar, like a Bose MiniLink (strikes me as pricey) or Jambox Mini (clearly not as good). Anyone have some advice/experience? I think it should allow for a wired stereo connection (so I can plug in that IPod I foolishly bought a couple years ago), but it will mostly be used with a new Chromebook, which should make it possible to listen to Rhapsody on the road (if not in the car).
New records rated this week:
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, September 21. 2014
This week's scattered links:
Wednesday, September 17. 2014
Every year dozens of books are published about a topic that only a handful of Americans care about: specifically, those with cushy "think tank" jobs, plus a few military officers and State department bureaucrats who aspire to those jobs. Most assume that the US has a rightful role running the World Order, with some fretting that China or some other nation is going to butt in and offering sage advice on how the US can secure its rightful role. Against these stalwart hegemonists, now and then someone will argue that a "multipolar" isn't such a calamity, but they are in the minority, and are still so obsessed with dominance they needn't fear about losing their status as Very Serious Thinkers.
The books, of course, are nonsense, predicated on unexamined ideas: that chaos and war are the natural state of the world, that order is so valuable you have to accept it from whoever can impose it, that inequality is the best we can do given man's venal nature. That is, of course, the way conservatives think about everything. Unfortunately, it is also the way liberals usually think about the foreign world, given how readily they have sucked up the prejudices of the West's imperial past. In 2003 Jonathan Schell published an antidote to that kind of thinking, a book called The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People. It was published just as the neocon ideology had become fashionable and powerful enough to "create new reality" in Iraq, and predicted failure for such hubris. Ten years later the results should be clear, but still the foreign policy elite natters on, too absorbed in their own prejudiced thoughts to have noticed their failures.
Case in point: a new book called World Order by America's most venerable war criminal, Henry Kissinger. Fortunately, we don't have to actually read the book: we can skim through the New York Times' review by John Micklethwait -- editor-in-chief of The Economist, the kind of journalist who makes his living chronicling the rarefied world of conservative "think tanks." (Micklethwait's most famous book is The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, which every 4-5 pages reiterated the mantra that conservatives are America's "idea people." He also wrote A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization  and God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World , extolling the wonders of free capital flows and fundamentalism, respectively. His latest is The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, about how the future belongs to oligarchies that are able to usurp the powers of the state.) Rarely has reviewer and subject been so perfectly matched to bring out the worst in a book.
However, before we dive into the review, I should point out that there is an alternative approach to international relations that is wholly absent in the thinking of Kissinger and Micklethwait: the idea that order can be obtained through the consent of equal nations with a common commitment to basic, inalienable human rights and a just body of international law. In the wake of two horrific world wars, and the advent of even more destructive nuclear weapons, that idea got so far as the founding documents of the United Nations -- before that body got turned into a cartel of superpowers -- and the basic ideas have reappeared occasionally since. I could elaborate more, but for now just keep the idea in mind.
The first quarter of Micklethwait's review is sheer flattery:
It's not as if Kissinger didn't have the ear of the Bush Administration after 9/11. He was, after all, Bush's first pick to chair the commission that would report on the 9/11 attacks. (He turned the job down for fear of having to disclose who his consulting clients were.) If he had any reservations about Bush's approach to Iraq or anything, he was remarkably circumspect about voicing them. And since when has Churchill been an expert on anything? He always said he hadn't been elected to preside over the dismantling of the British Empire, but no one did more to wreck it, which he repeatedly did by insisting on substituting his prejudices for any understanding of or empathy for the empire's subjects. On the other hand, Kissinger's own record is nearly as bad. The suggestion that he would have handled Syria and Ukraine better than Obama has -- admittedly a low bar -- overlooks how much his own policies contributed to those conflicts today.
The Westphalia treaties ended the 30 Years War in 1648 with a set of agreements between nations/states/cities to respect each other's autonomy and work with each other in prescribed ways. This later led to an ever-adjusting set of alliances to maintain a balance of power -- which mostly worked to keep the peace in Europe (and to export war to the third world) until its colossal failure in 1914. Kissinger always thinks in the past, and far enough back as to ignore recent novelties like the European Union, so balance of power is the best he can do. Unlike the neocons, he recognizes that the US isn't the sole power in the world, one suspects this has less to do with realism than with the fact that it takes multiple powers to balance.
After all, while the neocons hate Kissinger, he has never really reciprocated. The reason, I think, is that both worship power. It's just that the neocons think they have so much power they can create their own reality, and Kissinger, well, he's never been to type to point out "the Emperor's new clothes" -- he's too much of a flatterer for that, too worshipful of power.
The review goes on and on iterating Kissinger's past examples, a litany of Richelieu, Metternich, Palmerston, Talleyrand -- curiously enough, courtiers like Kissinger and not the monarchs they served. Kissinger goes on to belittle the European Union:
For Kissinger, historical change not accomplished by force hardly counts. Then he explains Putin and Russia:
Again, nothing like a historical factoid to explain away current behavior or policy. This one is about as facile as trying to explain the Bush occupation of Iraq as the latest wrinkle on Manifest Destiny. It may indeed be that a nation capable of the former is predisposed to the latter, but that leaves a lot of intervening history unexamined in favor of a pat answer.
I suppose this is where you notice that Micklethwait is British: he can't quite fall for the poor, tiny, beleaguered Israel line that is political orthodoxy in the US. Kissinger has been around the block enough to know better too, but to say so would take principles, or courage, neither a Kissinger staple. Propounding ignorance about Islam, on the other hand, takes neither. It's right up his alley.
Another remarkable example of Kissinger's ability to look at al the complexities of history and only see power relationships, then to take the narrowest thread and explicate it through some totally unrelated event in European history. Sure, Britain united India politically -- more Bismarck than Napoleon, I'd say, until they also split it into two warring halves -- but they also destroyed India economically. (One thing I wonder is whether Kissinger would have been so successful had stayed in Europe, where his audiences and patrons might actually know much of the history he revels in.)
Middle Kingdom? Another example of forcing the present into the distant past so he can avoid having to understand what's happening there. I like the line -- "Good men do not become soldiers" -- but modern China does not lack for soldiers, or for nails. While modern China must in some sense continue to reflect and resonate ancient China, the nation's remarkable economic growth of the past 20-30 years is more due to forced modernization. This is a modern (perhaps even postmodern) phenomenon -- unexplainable through ancient history, but also non-analogous to the processes that created similar results in Europe and America. In particular, China (and most of East Asia, Japan a partial exception) achieved its wealth without building on imperialism, so is unlikely to look at the world the same way Europe and America do. Needless to say, that's a thought Kissinger is incapable of.
One of my favorite rock lyrics is from the band Camper van Beethoven, and goes like this: "If you weren't living here in America/you'd probably be somewhere else." There are several problems with being self-centered. One is that you can't see yourself as others see you, and as such you have no clue when you do something wrong. Back when the US army was smaller than Bulgaria's it still did things that were wrong -- 1890, the very year Micklethwait cites, was the date of the Wounded Knee Massacre -- but those wrong things were much smaller in scope and more isolated from the rest of the world than they are today. I don't know why Kissinger/Micklethwait complained about the size of the 1890 army. Back then, the US was already the most prosperous nation in the world, without getting into the trap of managing overseas colonies (although it often treated Central America like one). Nor was the US isolated: with the possible exception of the UK, no nation traded more all around the world. What more do they want?
The notion of America as an "indispensable nation" dates from WWII, when latent industrial might turned the tables against the Axis -- although we conveniently forget that most of the actual fighting was carried out by the Soviet Union and China. Unfortunately, Americans had too good a time in that war -- a massive Keynesian stimulus, strict profit controls, and a sense of common purpose pushed a previously depressed economy into overdrive, while all of the war's destruction took place elsewhere. By the time the war was over, over half of the world's industrial capacity resided in the US, and America alone had the financial power to jumpstart the world economy. After some early gestures to build a peaceful world community, Truman got distracted and decided that the US should side with capital in the international class war, so efforts like the Marshall Plan were turned into political weapons against not just the Soviet Union but the whole working class. The "Cold War" somehow managed not to destroy the world, but the US repeatedly supported desperate attempts by colonial powers to recapture their empires, and corrupt dictators and oligarchs when independence was inevitable, while isolating nations that had the gall to turn toward communism. Ultimately, the big loser of the Cold War wasn't the Soviet Union, which gave up the game, but America's own middle class democracy.
Micklethwait, possibly echoing but at least distilling Kissinger, described the Cold War thusly:
After the Soviet Union fell, America's foreign policy elites were beside themselves with triumphal glee -- proclaiming The End of History and looking forward to The Clash of Civilizations -- but their triumph was little more than a con. Had Reagan's rhetoric caused the Soviet Union to disintegrate, why did communist states the US confronted much more aggressively (like Cuba and North Korea) stay communist? If communism was a dead end, how was China able to post the world's strongest economic growth record over the last 25 years? Moreover, when you sift through the real rubble of the "Cold War" you find enormous chasms where the US took the wrong side of history and left enormous destruction in its wake: the "chaos in the Middle East" that Micklethwait bemoans is largely the result of America's Cold War embrace of Salafist jihadism -- a program, by the way, initiated in the 1970s when Henry Kissinger came up with the bright idea of propping the ultraconservative Saudi monarchy up as a US proxy in the Middle East (and soon thereafter Afghanistan). To say "America's moral order worked" is well beyond insane.
This isn't to say that the US should have no role in the world (although that would clearly be an improvement over the one the US has practiced for nearly seventy years now). Clearly there are useful and valuable things a large and rich nation can do in the world -- the $750 million Obama just proposed to fight the ebola epidemic is a nice gesture (although, as Nick Turse recently documented, the US has a terrible track record of running "humanitarian projects" in Africa). But what needs to be done is for the US to meet other countries in forums that give everyone a fair and equal shake, and for that to happen the US has to stop throwing its weight around, trying to bully everyone else into submission. More specifically, the US needs to develop a genuine commitment to peace and human rights, to equality and justice, to a sustainable stewardship of the earth. To do that, a good first step would be to stop listening to Henry Kissinger. In fact, a good step would be to extradite him to the Hague, to finally be tried as the war criminal he was (and is).
Monday, September 15. 2014
Music: Current count 23814  rated (+39), 528  unrated (+4).
After posting Rhapsody Streamnotes last Tuesday, I kept diving into the old music, moving from Julius Hemphill to Henry Threadgill, then to Steve Lacy (still not done there). I was surprised to find that I liked the two early albums so much (both *** in Penguin Guide; I went back and replayed the 4-star all-Monk Explorations but left it at B+). And I was further surprised that none of the later albums rated that high -- though I am just filling in holes in a catalog I've previously heard much of. (Before this week I had 37 albums rated filed under Lacy's name; now 51; there are still 21 unheard albums in the database.) For the record, I previously had the following Lacy records rated A- or A (counting one filed under Roswell Rudd's name):
A couple of those came out after his death in 2003. I suppose I should also note that Lacy has more low grades (B or below) than nearly any other jazz musician of his stature: I find a lot of his 1970s work to be very sloppy, and I have a lot of trouble any time he hands the mic to his wife, Irène Aëbi (although my horror has somewhat diminished with this latest batch of records). He also has a lot of solo albums that are intrinsically limited -- Only Monk (1985) is one of the B records, even though it seems like it should be better. Some more in the queue, and any time I find something more I'll give it a listen.
Not many new records: most of last week's haul came in today and barely got catalogued. Spent a lot of time with the two TUM records. It should be noted somewhere that they have the best documentation and packaging of any jazz label in the world. Also spent quite a bit of time with Lomax, whose 2010 album, The State of Black America, made that year's top-ten list. Saxophonist Edwin Bayard is key to both, one of the most powerful young players I've heard this decade.
I've kept the original tweet grade for Loudon Wainwright III below, but the database grade is somewhat more generous. Although I single out one extraordinarily bad song, it should be noted that nothing else on the album rises to the level of Older Than My Old Man Now (my top-ranked record of 2012). Also, my complaint about that "2nd Amendment Xmas anthem" isn't political (as I tweeted, "even if it's satirical and anti-gun"). Some brilliant ideas just don't work, nor do stupid ones, regardless of artistic license. (By the way, Matt Rice has a more judicious Wainwright review here.)
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: