Monday, December 31. 2007
Last week turned out to be a poor one for jazz prospecting. I spent the first half week cooking, and was tied up with visitors for much of the rest. Worked on the house some. Played some of the things I still need to write about to finish Jazz Consumer Guide #15, but didn't get finished. I could dump out what I did manage to write, but it's pretty trivial and mostly off the subject. The weather has been brutal, too.
The Voice jazz poll, originally scheduled for last week, fell back, presumably to this week. More on that when it drops. I've done a little more work on year-end list notes, and I've streamed a few more records from Rhapsody. More on that later, too.
Jazz Consumer Guide #15 should be finished by the end of the week. January's final Recycled Goods should be done shortly thereafter. I'm looking forward to a little break after that.
Sunday, December 30. 2007
Juan Cole: Top Ten Myths about Iraq 2007. The surge? Reduced violence? Political unity? Economic progress? What do American troops have to do with it? Cole's daily reports cut through the propaganda.
Tariq Ali: A tragedy born of military despostism and anarchy. On the Benazir Bhutto assassination: "In the past, military rule was designed to preserve order - and did so for a few years. No longer. Today it creates disorder and promotes lawlessness." This strikes me as an apt general observation, where Pakistan is an especially obvious instance. It derives from the fact that it's getting harder and harder for militaries to control their own civilian populations -- let alone to occupy foreign lands.
One interesting sidebit is that Ali had a personal relationship with Bhutto -- it's hard to imagine any prominent US politicians similarly acquainted with Marxist critics. On Democracy Now, Ali talks further about Bhutto's first term:
One effect of the Bush Administration's constant meddling in Pakistani politics is that it's impossible to say that we had no responsibility for the assassination. But given how superficial our understanding is and how trivial our interests, it's also impossible to assign any deliberate reasoning behind our fateful acts.
Ahmed Rashid: The Void Left Behind. Some quotes:
Stephanie Zacharek: Charlie Wilson's War. We saw the movie this weekend. I'll say something about it when I get around to writing about movies again, but for now I want to capture a quote from Salon's review, with a story from the book that didn't show up in the movie:
I haven't read Crile's book, and distrust its focus on Wilson -- he certainly kicked up the dollar level, but the idea of trapping the Soviet Union in "its own Vietnam" goes back to Zbigniew Brzezinski, who started funding the covert war before the Soviets marched in to help an allied but largely incompetent regime -- indeed, US funding was intended to set the trap. As such, the movie's line that Wilson et al. were inspired by the heartbreaking plight of Afghan refugees runs counter to the extreme cynicism the US actually practiced, and the reckless disregard the US always had for the Afghans. (Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to suffer the same disregard today.) But one thing I do credit the movie for is that they didn't make anyone in the movie look flat-out stupid -- not Wilson, not the CIA, not even Wilson's "jailbait" staff. Obviously, they couldn't have done that had they included the North-Perle story.
Wednesday, December 26. 2007
I got a temporary free account with Rhapsody recently, a perk for helping move a batch of Robert Christgau reviews to their engineers. I've had very little time to try it out recently, but figured it to be the only chance I'd have to make a quick sweep through a list of albums that are likely candidates for the year end polls. If it works out it could finally break me of the habit of buying things just to get a chance to hear them. In most such cases, I wind up filing them on shelves with little chance of ever hearing them again -- sadly, that happens even with good records, let alone not-so-good ones.
On the other hand, this results in snap judgments, which aren't always the best ones. The ones I did buy, like Spoon and Rilo Kiley, have been getting more play, at least in part because they're more convenient -- although both those cases took so long because they had me sitting on the fence, eventually leaning up for Spoon and down for Rilo Kiley. There are a few cases below where another play or two might very well nudge a record up a notch -- Pharoahe Monch is the most likely such candidate.
Not sure how much more of this I'll do, but there's enough below for a preliminary report. I have a pretty comprehensive set of notes on albums likely to figure large in year-end polls. The only one in the top ten I haven't checked out is Radiohead, which doesn't seem to be available, although there are others I haven't gotten to (and may not be able to), like: Band of Horses, Battles, Iron & Wine, Jay-Z, Kings of Leon, Okkervil River, Wilco, and Wu-Tang Clan. I'll do at least one more report, probably in a week or so, but not on any fixed schedule.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Some Loud Thunder (2007, clapyourhandssayyeah.com): Liked their first record, which had a Feelies-like groove going for it. This second one starts so ugly I wondered whether the download software was defective, but I gather that's supposed to be "a cheeky sonic joke" [as Christgau put it]. I'm not so amused. Nor does it help that the first hint of groove devolves into something called "Satan Said Dance." B-
The Go! Team: Proof of Youth (2007, Sub Pop): Still having some sound problems here -- for one thing, the subwoofer was set too low, but it's also easy to set it too loud. In any case, this is deliberately trashy, the sound layers piled on way beyond tacky. It would be dreadful if it didn't move, but it pretty much can't stop, or won't bother. B+(**)
The White Stripes: Icky Thump (2007, Warner Brothers): No doubt Jack White has talent. Just when I'm starting to wonder whether I've lost the cognitive skill to latch onto a rock lyric, he hits a dozen times or more -- nothing profound, but enough to prick up my ears. Plays some guitar, too. I'm less certain about the drums, which seem mixed way up, or maybe my subwoofer is still berzerk? The songs with "Blues" in the title are really superb, but there are other pieces where he reaches for a worldbeat motif and loses me completely -- "Conquest" [evidently a cover, which wasn't known while streaming] is one song I'd just as soon never hear again [Christgau praises it as "an anti-sexist jump blues . . . reconceived here as flamenco mariachi"]. B+(*)
Imperial Teen: The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band (2007, Merge): Lighter than I remembered them, which after the icky thumper was especially welcome. Can't say I got a lot of this, but played it twice, starting good, getting better. I imagine that with a few more plays most or maybe all of the songs will prove memorable. As it is, things like "Sweet Potato" and "21st Century" secure their titles deeply, the title song justifies its place, the first song ("Everything") kicks off hard, and two or three soft ones please while holding interest. A-
Les Savy Fav: Let's Stay Friends (2007, Frenchkiss): Postpunk, I guess -- they let their guard down here and there, but mostly keep their dukes up. The crunch is refreshing, and it helps that they keep it hooky. Something I didn't follow about a president, but I assume it's negative. A-
Buck 65: Situation (2007, Strange Famous): Another surfeit of wonders. He sounds older and like he's laboring, resigned maybe that he's not going to break through to any measure of stardom, but even his proletarian beats are several cuts above the competition, and he can't help but flaunt the brains behind the words. A subject for further study. Doubt that it ranks among his top 3-4, but I need to get a real copy. A-
Panda Bear: Person Pitch (2007, Paw Tracks): Noah Lennox, part of Animal Collective, another well regarded prog group I've heard little of. This seems even more prog, artfully complex, with some textures I can imagine getting to enjoy, but I'm not sure I want to go down that route. [Pitchfork's #1 record.] B+(*)
Justice: Cross (2007, Vice/Ed Banger): Album cover doesn't seem to have a title -- don't know about spine, booklet, etc., one of the problems working like this. Most sources list this as Cross, although the cover looks more like a coffin or maybe a stiffened scarecrow. French group (Xavier de Rosnay, Gaspard Augé), different from jungle producer Tony Bowes' alias, and possibly others. They favor bass riffs, the heavier the better, which often means keybs. At speed they turn into cartoonish grotesques, which is much of the fun. The vocal mixes are less successful, possibly because live humor is harder to fake than cartoon humor. B+(*)
Amy LaVere: Anchors & Anvils (2007, Archer): A slight voice which she uses slyly, sneaking up on you with more substance than you -- unless you're paying enough attention to notice the ambush on the first track. What I noticed were little bits of fiddle and guitar that provide a consistently interesting background. She wrote some of the songs, and the others fit nicely. A-
Lori McKenna: Unglamorous (2007, Warner Brothers): She's got a great country voice, and this starts off sounding more poised than Miranda Lambert's much praised album. It loses ground when the songs slow down -- not that they lose interest, although the dense guitar backup doesn't offer much relief. A couple more listens could put it over, but I'm not quite sure. [Fifth album, first on a major label. She wrote or co-wrote all the songs. AMG lists her as folk, but this is country.] B+(***)
Elizabeth Cook: Balls (2007, Thirty Tigers): Yet another country chanteuse, about midway vocally between McKenna and LaVere, doesn't throw hard, but does put some twang on it. Title cut (actually called "Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman") is a little heavy in the refrain but has something in the verse. A cut about rock 'n' roll has a nice lilt to it. She must know something about that because she covers Lou Reed's "Sunday Morning," a smart touch. A couple of other cuts stand out: "What Do I Do" and the closer "Always Tomorrow." Played it twice and it filled out nicely. A-
Joe Ely: Happy Songs From Rattlesnake Gulch (2007, Rack 'Em): Only saw this on one very minor list. First album since 2003's Streets of Sin (Rounder), which was much better than anyone gave it credit for. The songwriting here lists a bit to the superficial ("Sue Me Sue" and "Miss Bonnie and Mister Clyde" both build on repeating the overly obvious), but retains his usual feel and style. Early on the horns run roughshod over the album, but later on they carry it. B+(**)
Ghostface Killah: The Big Doe Rehab (2007, Def Jam): I actually bought this when it came out, but was too busy to play it, then when I finally did it freaked out, unplayable. Now it looks like Rhapsody's copy is missing three cuts ("Supa Gfk," "I'll Die for You," "Shakey Dog Starring Lolita" -- first time I've noticed this; is it common to hold back?). This seeds an irritation factor that grows fast as they lay down the gangsta shit -- "Walk Around" hits too close for my comfort, although it and the preceding "We Celebrate" are musical highpoints. I haven't done the numbers yet, but I suspect that hip-hop is down on my list this year. This has a blustering sound to it, with choice samples, hopping beats, lots of bullshit blather. B+(***)
Amy Winehouse: Back to Black (2007, Universal): Starts off with two pretty great songs -- "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good" -- and packs on a second take of the latter for a closer, like Lily Allen did with "Smile." In between only the title song comes close -- "Wake Up Alone" has some promise, but doesn't deliver. I hear she's a notorious reprobate, which in my book doesn't count for much unless she can turn it into worthwhile music. She does have a distinctive voice, although reports of her jazz phrasing are, shall we say, exaggerated. B+(**)
Feist: The Reminder (2007, Cherry Tree/Interscope): That would be Leslie Feist, soft-voiced Canadian singer-songwriter. Half spare ballads, little more than guitar and voice, not witty or clever enough to get my attention. The other half pick up the pace a bit, as with the gospel touches on "Sea Lion Woman" and the horns on "1234," and that helps a lot. B
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights (2007, Daptone): I'm a sucker for old-fashioned soul, especially with a voice like Jones has, but this never quite rose above the ordinary, and hit a confusing stretch in the middle, as if entertaining a foray into progressive territory. Didn't do anything with it, and it didn't stick. B
Mavis Staples: We'll Never Turn Back (2007, Anti-): The cover photo is the first sign that this invokes the civil rights movement. The first song is JB Lenoir's "Down in Mississippi," good for context setting up two old warhorses: "Eyes on the Prize" and "We Shall Not Be Moved." Other trad songs like "This Little Light of Mine" and "Jesus Is on the Main Line" are adapted to powerful effect. Ry Cooder produced, added things to the songs, and no doubt is the reason the music remains so spare and muscular. With Staples' firm voice, the whole record broadcasts strength and determination. A
Ry Cooder: My Name Is Buddy (2007, Nonesuch): Tales of Buddy Red Cat, Lefty Mouse, Reverend Tom Toad: Cooder's been mining Americana since the early 1970s, so these originals attempt to put some back. That Cooder's imagined past is leftist reminds me of things that I'd almost forgotten and that most never knew. It's a fit past for a future we're not likely to enjoy. B+(***)
The Fall: Reformation: Post TLC (2007, Narnack): After 30 years and at least as many records, you'd think they'd have a following, but when I couldn't find this behind all the Fall Out Boy albums at Best Buy, I was told that it had been dropped from the store inventory a month or so after it came out. Needless to say, they didn't have any of their others either, not even the best-ofs that concentrate and elevate their basic sonic trademark riff. This does the same, less consistently of course, but close enough and with a few curves tossed in, one sung by leader Mark Smith's wife, keyboardist Elena Poulou, in sort of a Kim Gordon move. A-
The National: Boxer (2007, Beggars Banquet): Deep monotone voice, calm demeanor, deep foursquare drums, little guitar flash (although they can lift it up a notch), some words reflect the times ("Fake Empire," "Start a War") but I didn't follow close enough to analyze. (On replay, the latter sounds domestic.) I find the steadiness appealing, but can't get excited about it. B+(*)
Kenge Kenge: Introducing Kenge Kenge (2007, Riverboat): A group from Kenya, voices thick, percussion rough, very little of the Congolese guitar that turned much of their region into paradise. Rather, their instrumentation sounds primitive, similar to Konono No. 1, a more recent Congolese influence -- arguably both more modern and more improverished, which seems to be the trend. B+(**)
Burial: Untrue (2007, Hyperdub): This tops Metacritic's list of best-reviewed albums in 2007, a result which is surely skewed by limited exposure to specialists -- the numbers range from 80 to 100, and how they average out to 92 isn't intuitive obvious (looks to me like the median is 90 and the mean a bit less). Electronica, not fast, fairly low keyed beats, some sound swirls, and lots of voices, mostly tracked to repeat. Strikes me as insignificant, but I like it nonetheless, and can see how someone can become habituated to it. B+(***)
Pharoahe Monch: Desire (2007, SRC): Got shortchanged here again, with two cuts dropped from Rhapsody's stream. That convinces me to go conservative on the grade, hoping I can revisit this someday with the full album. Otherwise, this is one of the best hip-hop albums I've heard this year, with the obligatory Bush dis (the obviously titled "Welcome to the Terrordome") and stories that hold up (even the crime melodrama "Trilogy"). Presumably "Push" was reworked from Joe Zawinul (AMG credits "Jamerson, Zawnul"; presumably Jamerson is the name Monch cashes his checks under). Hope to revisit. B+(***)
Bright Eyes: Cassadaga (2007, Saddle Creek): It's easy enough to see how someone might take Conor Oberst to be one of the more important pop artists of recent years, but I haven't been able to make up my mind whether that's a good thing or not. Lifted has been languishing on my shelf for a couple of years now, just something I don't seem to be able to make up my mind about. But the game rules here don't allow such procrastination: after one or two plays, the record gets the highest grade I'm pretty much sure of, even if it seems like more play might help. So at this stage "Make a Plan to Love Me" still seems like little more than a superior quality 10cc song, as does "Soul Singer in the Session Band" with Billy Joel. I'm not sure whether such comparisons demonstrate his craftsmanship, lack of erudition, or dumb luck. Some words grab my ear, but after I jotted down "if you can't understand something it's best to be afraid" I decided that wasn't so deep either. B+(***)
Of Montreal: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (2007, Polyvinyl): Athens GA group, led by fawn-voiced Kevin Barnes. Been around since 1997, with quite a few albums. Sounds a bit like the Brains at first, but only when they bother to extend a groove. AMG lists several styles, including neo-psychedelia, which barely scratches the problem. I'm impressed by the cleverness here, but I'm also sorely put off by it. Christgau is right that "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal" is a choice cut, but that's only because the music overpowers the grotesquerie. That doesn't happen often here, and that's probably deliberate. C+
Against Me!: New Wave (2007, Warner Brothers): Florida punk group led by a Tom Gabel, with several albums out, specializing in exclamation marks and wordy titles. Christgau claims this is "the best political punk in years." I played it twice and have my doubts, both the analysis and the crunch, although they don't miss every time. On the other hand, how difficult can it be? Butch Vig produced, for better and worse. B+(**)
Art Brut: It's a Bit Complicated (2007, Downtown): English rock band, had a terrific debut album, so this is their sophomore slump. Not that they don't still sound terrific. It's just the usual story: the best songs got used up the first time around, and the obligatory follow-up came too soon. B+(**)
Babyshambles: Shotter's Nation (2007, Astralwerks): Spinoff group by Pete Doherty of the Libertines -- second album, may be his main concern. I never cared for the Libertines, but I can't deny the tough, hooky popcraft here -- even the slow ballad at the end holds up. B+(***)
Tuesday, December 25. 2007
We had family get-togethers are our house last night and today for the first Christmas ever. My parents bought a house in 1949 a year before I was born, and lived there until they died three months apart in 2000. After then my brother moved into their house and continued their traditions until he landed a contract job in Oregon and decided it was permanent enough to move his family there in October. They came back to Wichita this week, largely at the urging of their grown children, who live on the east coast and still have friends here. The house is still in the family, occupied by our favorite Superartists, but they spent the weekend elsewhere, returning just in time to eat. So I threw out a plan for a small meal with presents on the Eve and a bigger meal on the holiday proper. Those have always been rudiments, but I got a chance to vary the menu this time.
My sister liked to point out that my mother's love of Christian holidays was essentially pagan: Easter egg hunts; Christmas trees, candy, and presents; and most of all an obligatory family dinner. My parents never evinced any doubts about Christianity, but there never was anything religious about Christmas. I missed a bunch of those while living on the east coast, then when I moved back to Wichita got sick and missed what proved to be the last one with my parents. It's never been the same since then, and never will again. I planned my menus to shove Jesus a little further out in the snow. (I can't recall a previous white Christmas in Wichita, but it snowed on Saturday and has barely melted since.) For the Eve, I went Ashkenazi:
We usually make latkes during Hannukah, but didn't manage it this year, so they seemed overdue. I've picked herring in the past, but couldn't find any this time.
For dinner today we did something I call Moroccan Grill and Matt Superartist calls the Meat Meal. The dishes actually include items from Turkish and Iranian cuisine, so we can chalk most of the meal up to Muslim influences -- even the Sicilian eggplant, with the desserts of more uncertain providence. The grill items were:
The sides and desserts:
Matt ran the grill, and Mike did a lot of the prep work. We fed 12 the first time, 13 the second. The food was pretty great. I messed up the rice recipe several ways but it still came out. Had a lot of problems keeping the space organized and finding places for everyone to sit, so from my standpoint it seemed especially hectic -- and at my age pretty tiring. Rachel took some pictures, which will probably appear sooner or later at Porkalicious.
We gave nothing but books this year: Reginald Hill, Carl Hiassen, Doris Lessing, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Matt Taibbi's Smells Like Dead Elephants, Molly Ivins' Who Let the Dogs In?, Steve Rinella's The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine, America (The Book), art books, cook books, and an HTML tutorial.
Still hasn't felt like Christmas since 1999, but it does mark a transition of sorts. Unfortunately, it also seems unlikely to happen again, given the distance between here and Portland, the increasing cost and difficulty of winter travel, and the general tendency that we all have to disperse and settle into our own little lives. The sense of family that my parents had and the knowledge they handed down are quickly disappearing -- with all but a couple of my aunts and uncles gone, I've already lost track with just about everyone at my cousin level. Having read Jane Jacobs, this just reminds me of Dark Ages Ahead.
Monday, December 24. 2007
I spent last week obsessing over year-end lists instead of getting Jazz CG finished by Xmas, a goal I had set back around December 1. It's been an interesting week, and I'll write more about it later, but for now I'm busy cooking for tonight and tomorrow, so this is about all I can get together right now.
Meanwhile, for a survey of how the year-end polls are likely to shape up, look at my cribsheet.
Dave Allen: Real and Imagined (2007, Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, born in Philadelphia, attended Manhattan School of Music in 1988, presumably still based in New York. AMG lists 29 Dave or David (or more famously, in bold type, Daevid) Allens, none of which appear to be him. But he does have a 2005 album, so this is probably his second. It's a quartet with Seamus Blake on tenor sax, Drew Gress on bass, and Mark Ferber on drums. Wrote all the pieces. Has a metallic tone and adept rhythmic sense that fills in well behind and beside the sax. First rate rhythm section. B+(*)
John Chin: Blackout Conception (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist. Born 1976 in South Korea, grew up in Los Angeles, went to Cal State when he was 14, got interested in jazz piano, graduated at 19, headed on to Rutgers, where he studied under Kenny Barron. First album. Starts as a quartet where the first thing you notice is the tenor sax: Mark Turner. He plays on the first two cuts, the fourth and sixth. The other three drop back to a trio and let the pianist stretch out. He sneaks up on you. [B+(***)]
Robert Wyatt: Comicopera (2007, Domino): He has straddled the jazz and rock worlds for 35+ years, remaining so unique in both that nobody knows where he fits. His barely controlled high-pitched voice is unprecedented and unlikely to be followed, yet he has produced such compelling vocal albums as The Hapless Child (under Michael Mantler's name). He has a few more scattered masterpieces, but also quite a lot that is barely (if at all) listenable. Few artists take more risks. None that I know of put less ego on the line. I was a fan early on, but couldn't handle many of his recent, even highly touted, records (e.g., Shleep). This seemed like another at first, with his vocals fitting awkwardly over odd melodies and fractured rhythms, but the record is sprinkled with wondrous instrumental bits -- Gilad Atzmon sax, a piece with vibes and electronics, Eno keybs, something Latin, bits of cornet. Several plays later it's filling out. [B+(***)]
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Shamokin!!! (2006 , Hot Cup): Quartet led by bassist Moppa Elliott, originally from Scranton PA, now in New York. Elliott wrote all of the pieces except "A Night in Tunisia," the closer they hack up into extended solos -- blurb calls it a "twenty-one minute jazz orgy [including] references to the majority of recorded sound of the last century." Most of the noise comes from the two horns: Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto sax. This strikes me as "free bop" -- more tethered to the jazz tradition than similarly configured avant groups, but unruly, eager to break loose, clash, get down and dirty. Might have cracked my Top Ten list had I gotten to it earlier. A-
David Buchbinder: Odessa/Havana (2006-07 , Tzadik): Canadian trumpeter, previous groups include the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band and Shurum Burum Jazz Circus. (AMG also cites an "Arabic fusion ensemble" called Medina, but it doesn't show up in his credits or in his website bio.) Here he trades compositions with Cuban pianist Hilario Durán, who lives in Canada and has worked with Arturo Sandoval. The band is a mix of klezmer and Cuban specialists, including Quinsin Nachoff on reeds and flute, Aleksandr Gajic on violin, Dafnis Prieto on drums, and Roberto Occhipinti on bass. Actually, more klezmer than Cuban, largely because the horns and violin drown out the piano and percussion has trouble keeping up. (Contrast this with Roberto Rodriguez, who starts with Cuban rhythms and adds klezmer on top, a more effective strategy.) One slow spot works nicely. Some of the orchestration is overblown. Nachoff has some strong sax parts. B+(**) [advance]
The John Brown Quintet Featuring Ray Codrington: Merry Christmas, Baby (2006-07 , House of Swing): Brown plays bass, teaches at Duke, also has an Art Blakey tribute album out (more on that later). Codrington plays trumpet in the quintet, and gets to sing here. He's hardly special, but brings good cheer to songs that are nothing but -- God gets dutifully thanked in the liner notes, but the only song here that might upset devoted secularists is "Happy Birthday, Jesus," which reminds me more of Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday" to JFK. Frosty, Santa Claus, and Rudolph all swing like mad, and it snows all over the winter wonderland. Not even I dare rain on their parade. B+(*)
The John Brown Quintet: Terms of Art: A Tribute to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Vol. 1 (2007, House of Swing): Bassist, leading a standard hard bop quintet, with Ray Codrington on trumpet, Brian Miller on saxophones, Gabe Evens on piano, Adonis Rose on drums. Most of these songs I recognize from Blakey's group -- none written by Blakey, only some by group members like Wayne Shorter and Bobby Timmons. I don't really see the point in doing such straight recreations of material that effectively consolidated bebop into mainstream. The result is less notable than Brown's Xmas record, but I wouldn't feel right to grade it lower. B+(*)
Roger Mas 5tet: Mason (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish (or, more precisely, Catallan) pianist, although his favored instrument here is Fender Rhodes. Quintet includes tenor/soprano saxophonist Jon Robles, guitarist Jaume Llombart, no trumpet, but the group is augmented with "special guest" Enrique Oliver on tenor sax. Two covers, one from John Coltrane, the other from Antonio Carlos Jobim. The record has a slick postbop feel, the saxophones omnipresent, the guitarist taking more solos than the leader. B+(*)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (2006 , Winter & Winter): The Trio has Chris Potter on tenor sax and Larry Grenadier on bass. The "+ Two" are Greg Osby on alto sax and Masabumi Kikuchi on piano. Smells like a quintet to me, but there is probably some arcane logic in the division -- e.g., Motian, who made his reputation backing pianists, for a long time avoided pianists in his own groups, but this isn't the first time Kikuchi has appeared as an add on. Motian is a slippery drummer, and he often throws the saxes off their stride. They deserve credit for keeping their composure and making something of the tricky terrain. B+(**)
Alessandro D'Episcopo Trio: Meraviglioso (2005 , Altrisuoni): Fine piano trio, leaning hard on four Monk pieces, which set the rhythmic frame for a few originals, a trad. Neapolitan song, and the title track from Domenico Modugno. B+(**)
Doug Beavers Rovira Jazz Orchestra: Jazz, Baby! (2006 , Origin): Children's songs, sung by Matt Catingub and Linda Harmon, punched up with big band arrangements. Can't say whether your kids will get off on it, but at least you won't be bored shitless playing this for them. You may even figure it's good for all concerned. B+(**)
Sunday, December 23. 2007
Early in the week I saw a cluster of pieces on WarInContext that shocked me with their vicious belligerence: mostly rants by Israelis about Iran and Hamas. I thought I should write something about them, but never got around to it, and they gradually scrolled off the end. The most striking thing I see there now is a quote from Fareed Zakaria in favor of Obama's identity vs. Clinton's experience: "But when I think about what is truly distinctive about the way I look at the world, about the advantage that I may have over others in understanding foreign affairs, it is that I know what it means not to be an American." [emphasis in original]
But I wound up spending the week immersed in music -- more on that later -- and at weekend found I had only written the following.
Lee Lowenfish: Throw the bums out of baseball's Hall of Fame. When I first heard about this essay I figured it had something to do with the steroids hysteria, but it turns out to be just one of those periodic rants about people one doesn't like and doesn't understand cluttering up the concept of a pantheon of undoubted greats. Thanks to statistics, it's pretty easy to figure out which players produced more wins than which other players, but that's only occasionally been a big concern among the deciders, and even then the criteria can get confused. But fame has always been a more subjective thing. Joe Tinker wasn't the best shortstop of his era (that was Honus Wagner) or the second (that would be George Davis), but he was third or fourth or fifth, something like that, and easily more famous than the others (except maybe Rabbit Maranville). It's a little late for a recount, although the belated induction of the vastly superior Davis helps smooth the irritation over. Tinker isn't the worst of the player cases, nor are many others that Lowenfish chooses to pick on -- Gary Carter, Early Wynn, Gaylord Perry, even Chick Hafey seem pretty respectable to me, although I have little trouble thinking of players not inducted who stack up very strongly against Tommy McCarthy, Jesse Haines, Travis Jackson, and Fred Lindstrom, but even there they mostly did it more quietly and consistently -- e.g., Stan Hack never hit .375 like Lindstrom, but he was more consistent longer. It's just that the margin of error is such that if you keep trying to shore up the weakest players you wind up spiraling downward indefinitely. Even that doesn't bother me much: the Stengel Yankees were at least as good a team as Frankie Frisch's Giants, and a good deal of the credit goes to players like Joe Gordon, Hank Bauer, Cletis Boyer, and Roger Maris, who were at much the same level as Jackson and Lindstrom. Still, what really set Lowenfish off had nothing to do with players: it was the decision to induct Bowie Kuhn and not Marvin Miller. This points out one of the big problems with BBHOF, which is its one-size-fits-all treatment of nearly everyone related to the game. The exceptions are writers and broadcasters, who have their own halls. Something similar would make a lot of sense for executives, managers, umpires, and possibly others -- scouts, for instance, have no presence anywhere, nor do labor leaders, nor technical contributors (although Candy Cummings is in for allegedly inventing the curve ball, as is Alexander Cartwright for laying out the baseball diamond, but what of the scientists who came up with those steroids?). The latest non-BBWAA inductees are three executives (Kuhn, Barney Dreyfuss, and Walter O'Malley) and two managers (Billy Southworth and Dick Williams). The managers are neither spectacularly good nor bad choices, but execs/owners have always been hard to judge, and commissioners seem to get in no matter how little they do (Morgan Bulkley) or how badly they do it (Kuhn; can Bud Selig be far behind?). A big part of the problem is that BBHOF never decided what they really wanted to be or do. They just sort of blunder along, lurching too far in some direction, getting stuck and doing nothing, lurching somewhere else, with little rhyme or reason.
King Kaufman's Sports Daily. Speaking of Selig, this is a pretty apt evaluation of his role in the steroids scandal/report:
I used to follow baseball very closely, and at the time I knew a huge amount about baseball history. I stopped following baseball after the lockout -- don't even remember the year now, sometime in the 1990s. I think last year was the first year ever when I didn't see a single baseball game on TV or live. Selig was running the business when I checked out. He's still there. Bound for the HOF, no doubt.
Friday, December 21. 2007
I sent my Pazz & Jop ballot to the Village Voice today. The new albums list:
The numbers divide up 100 points. I sent the same ballot into Idolator, but couldn't get their website interface to let me log in, and missed their early deadline (5PM EST) by less than an hour (i.e., 5PM my time). They use a different, less flexible point scheme. We'll see whether they count it.
I didn't offer a singles ballot. I don't think of music these days in terms of singles, and didn't make any notes on them (as I had in the past, but never consistently). Idolator asked for 5 reissues, so I offered:
This was impressionistic and does not match the ordering of my published lists. There are a lot of problems sorting out reissue lists. These just seemed more worthy of mention than, e.g., Howlin' Wolf, The Definitive Collection, which is exactly as great as you have every reason to expect it to be.
If there's a theme to this year's list it's that world beats are coming to America. Two of five (Youssou N'Dour, Papa Noel) are Africans doing African things, but three more are first world integrators (Manu Chao, Gogol Bordello, MIA), as much at home here as wherever there is. Making room on the list are drops from usual totals in jazz (three) and hip-hop (one). John Fogerty is the odd man out. I often have had a slot for a mainstream rock record, and he not only fills it, he is the very definition of classic rock. I seem to be in a very small minority in liking his record, but it sounded great from first play, and antiwar screeds get extra credit around here. Lots of jazz further down the list. Hip-hop, especially alt/underground, has been my main change of pace from jazz over the last few years, but the only others to have made my A-list so far are Buck 65 and So Called, if you count them.
Currently, the rest of the list, minus jazz and late 2006 and old stuff newly discovered, looks like this:
The asterisks denote records that I got from the library (*) or heard by streaming from Rhapsody (**). These tend to be exceptionally snap judgments, but are a bit more than educated guesses. The whole list is exceptionally volatile right now. I've spent most of this week scrounging through others' lists, trying to get a feel for what everyone else knows and/or thinks. I'm collecting a set of notes on everything I'm streaming, and will post them sooner or later.
In looking for year-end lists, I stumbled across a roundtable in Slate called "The Music Club": Jody Rosen, Ann Powers, and Robert Christgau. I found it because Christgau disclosed his "provisional" top 30 list. This is actually the third of nine pages, three each, but you can find your way around from there. Not many surprises on the list, although note that Lily Allen has risen from A- to the middle of the A pack. Only two records I hadn't heard about: Babyshambles and Soulja Boy.
His year-end conclusion is true for me as well: "But every year I keep hearing more wonderful stuff than I'll ever be able to fully access again, all re-articulating a democratic vitality that shakes me free of my staler habits without destroying the fabric of my daily life." Another quote struck my fancy:
He then goes down through his list. I imagine I could make much the same argument for my list, although in my case I suspect it has more to do with the subtext of the music.
Monday, December 17. 2007
My reservations on the year-end jazz list have mostly been put to rest. Still not as strong as in previous years, but the more I listen, the more good things I hear. I finally returned to the replay shelves and found that most of what I had held back rewarded further attention. My non-jazz year-end list is still way short, but again the problem is more likely with me than with the world, which seems as productive as ever. Still a lot of new stuff I haven't gotten to, not to mention a couple dozen 2008 releases that I've been avoiding on purpose.
I had hoped to get Jazz Consumer Guide done this coming week, and that's still possible, although the week looks like trouble. I have all the words that will fit, but haven't settled on the mandatory pick hits and dud. Also have a couple of things I want to squeeze in, even though that means squeezing something else out. I also want to fill out a couple of year-end polls, and I've started to pull together a cheat sheet to keep track of what others are saying. This is likely to prove way too much to chew, at least in the allotted time.
Bloodcount: Seconds (1997 , Screwgun, 2CD+DVD): This is Tim Berne's mid/late-1990s group, a quartet with Jim Black (drums), Michael Formanek (bass), Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), and Berne (alto sax, baritone sax). With Marc Ducret on guitar, the group recorded three CDs of Paris Concerts in 1994, which is the subject of Süsanna Schonberg's Eyenoises . . . The Paris Movie, packed in here on the DVD. The film doesn't offer much visually: black and white, tight close ups, cut between practice and concert not that it's always easy to tell, with some ambling about town here and there. Musically, it seems to pull a single piece together through multiple iterations. Watching Black, you get the sense of the rhythm working its way through his whole body. Ducret can be a potent force but he mostly holds back, and he isn't missed much on the live sets documented on the CDs. The reason is the interlocking reeds. Most two-horn free quartets use trumpet and sax not just for contrast but to set each loose on its own trajectory. Pairing two reeds -- most often alto/tenor sax, with tenor/baritone sax and clarinet/alto sax the other options -- poses a tougher challenge. Here the similar tones slip in and out of phase, never falling far apart. The result is free rhythmically, lose melodically, but tight harmonically. Although the two discs only repeat one song, the form is so dominant that effectively they are multiple views of the same thing. That may seem like too much, but I find the redundancies to be fascinating. [FYI, Berne's been down this road before, releasing a 3-CD live set from 1996, Unwound, which I haven't heard but should be much more of the same sort -- according to Penguin Guide, "raw, immediate and proudly unproduced."] A-
Marco Benevento: Live at Tonic (2006 , Ropeadope, 3CD): Pianist, although he's likely to play any kind of electronic keyboard. B. 1977, New Jersey. Has a couple of albums with drummer Joe Russo as Benevento/Russo Duo, which tend to get filed as experimental/instrumental rock. Involved in Bobby Previte's Coalition of the Willing and Garage A Trois, which elicit similar confusion and collectively define a niche of beatwise future fusion. This was put together from five November nights -- no date given, but presumably 2006: solo (sometimes plus Scott Metzger); duo (Mike Gordon); trio (Reed Mathis, Matt Chamberlain); quartet (Steven Bernstein, Dave Dreiwitz, Claude Coleman); and "drum night" (Previte, Russo, Mike Dillon). De trop, of course, although at $19.98 list not a ripoff. Some good things, with the second disc starting strong and ending with a striking take on "Elmer's Tune." B+(*)
Charlie Hunter and Bobby Previte as Groundtruther + Special Guest John Medeski: Altitude (2006 , Thirsty Ear, 2CD): Hunter plays 7-string guitar. Previte is a drummer who dabbles in electronics. They both have notable solo careers -- Previte's a decade longer, from 1987 -- and now have three Groundtruther albums together, each named for geographical dimensions (Longitude, Latitude), each with an extra guest (or two). This one adds keyb player Medeski, of Martin & Wood fame. First disc is labeled "Below Sea Level," which lets Medeski exploit the whole gamut of bubbly burbling organ effects, a tedious onomatopoeia that ultimately fails to evolve gills and expires in the deep. The second disc is "Above Sea Level," which lets Hunter air out his guitar for some pleasant flightiness, eventually coaxing Medeski to switch to piano, which for once surprises. B
Gregg August Sextet: One Peace (2006 , Iacuessa): Bassist, originally from Schenectady NY, went to SUNY Albany, then Juilliard. Worked in Barcelona. Traveled to Cuba. Second album. Previous one (Late August) had more of a Latin twist; this is more straightahead postbop, mostly sextets with three horns, Luis Perdomo on piano, and EJ Strickland on drums. Myron Walden's beboppy alto sax sets the dominant tone, with tenor and trumpet for shading, a harmonic scheme much favored by postbop arrangers, one I find rather unappealing. B-
Quartet San Francisco: Whirled Chamber Music (2007, Violin Jazz): Classical string quartet format, with two violins, viola, cello, no bass. Group formed in 2001. Now has three albums. This one is long on Raymond Scott, but not quite a tribute (7 of 18 pieces), with no other source used more than once -- not even group member Jeremy Cohen, who penned the sole original. They do manage more of a jazz than a classical sound, and the good humor in the Scott pieces helps, but the choice cut is "The Mooche." B+(*)
His Name Is Alive: Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion Brown (2007, High Two): I imagine that most readers know who Marion Brown is, but that may not be a slam dunk. He's an alto saxophonist, born 1935, made a few notable avant-garde albums starting with ESP-Disk in 1965 up through a couple of remarkable Mal Waldron duos in the 1980s, but he's recorded little since, evidently having multiple health problems. Very few of his records are in print, so if you weren't aware of him when he was active, there's not much likelihood of being reminded of him now. His Name Is Alive is more/less a front for guitarist Warren Defever. In the early 1990s he recorded quasi-rock albums with singer Karin Oliver. Robert Christgau recommended a couple of his/their albums. I bought one, made no sense of it, and never paid any further attention to him/them. Now, a few dozen mostly self-released albums later, comes this Marion Brown tribute. Three cuts were recorded live in 2004, the others undated studio cuts. The musicians mostly come from the Ann Arbor group NOMO, with Michael Herbst on alto sax, Elliot Bergman on tenor sax, Justin Walter on trumpet, Olman Piedra on congas and cajon. None of these players make much of an impression, except occasionally the guitar. Long stretches are rather fallow, occasionally dirgelike. [PS: Looks like Why Not? is available at the ESP-Disk website, as good a place to start as any.] B
Santos Viejos: Pop Aut (2007, Cacao Musica): Some fancy packaging here, a fold-out wallet with the disc slipped into a slot on the right panel, and a spiral bound booklet on the left. A lot of words, too, even with half or more in Spanish. The label is Venezuelan, flush perhaps with petrodollars? The group is Venezuelan too, described initially as Venezuelan Rock, then as Pop Autóctono, or native pop. In any case, it isn't jazz. And it doesn't have enough force to overcome the language barrier, although the booklet may give them a chance to recover. I have four more records pending with the same packaging. No need to dig deeper right now. [B]
Eddie Daniels: Homecoming: Live at the Iridium (2006 , IPO, 2CD): Plays clarinet and tenor sax, much better known for the clarinet although I rather prefer the sax here -- slows down the bebop runs and feels more centered in a band that includes vibes (Joe Locke) and piano (Tom Ranier). Originally from New York but lives in Santa Fe, hence the title. B
João Lencastre's Communion: One! (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Portuguese drummer, don't have much to go on, but MySpace page lists "Jazz/Drum & Bass/Experimental." His group here is a quintet with Phil Grenadier (trumpet), Bill Carrothers (piano), André Matos (guitar), and Demian Cabaud (bass). For a quintet this is a rather lean and mean group with a very spare sound -- the trumpet is lean with no other horns to harmonize, and Carrothers is an edgy pianist. Matos is also Portuguese, although he lived in Boston for a few years, studying at New England Conservatory. [B+(**)]
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Richard Galliano Quartet: If You Love Me (2006 , CAM Jazz): Gary Burton's vibes provide fast light accents to Galliano's accordion, which carries the emotional weight of pieces that are neither fast nor light. Both players have a connection to Astor Piazzolla, who wrote the majority of these pieces. When Burton played with Piazzolla back in the 1970s, he was more fan than help. Here he fits better, not least because Galliano is in a mood to woo, not race. B+(**)
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux (2001 , ECM, 2CD): The dozens of albums Jarrett's "standards trio" have released since 1983 blur together, but here two Fats Waller pieces jump out, lightening the load and brightening the day. Jarrett is every bit as adept with "Four" and "Straight, No Chaser" and the inevitable ballad, and DeJohnette shows you why Jarrett has stuck in his trio rut all these years: who else would you rather play with? A-
McCoy Tyner: Quartet (2006 , McCoy Tyner Music/Half Note): The Coltrane Quartet pianist's first investment in his own label is both low budget and surefire: a live album with a new quartet that rivals the old one but fits a little more comfortably around his own substantial songbook. Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano rises to the occasion, but Tyner can still muscle in to make a point. A-
The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Music From Guys and Dolls (2007, Arbors): I'd like this better, at least would have gotten to like this quicker, if I liked Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls in the first place, but the few times I've heard it I've found much to resist. I'm still not much impressed with Eddie Erickson's half of the vocals, but I'm fine with Rebecca Kilgore, and she gets the sharper lines and the catchier melodies. Still, no vocal compares to how sublime Allen sounds, and guitarist Cohn seems to be getting better each time out, carrying the soft spots that hold the narrative together. A-
Harry Allen: Hits by Brits (2006 , Challenge): The songbook doesn't cramp a single disc -- "Cherokee," "These Foolish Things," "You're Blasé," "A Nightingale in Berkeley Square," "The Very Thought of You" are the five most obvious of ten -- and Allen is in his usual form in high gear and in low. But the second horn, John Allred's trombone, does slow him down a bit, and the contrast is a mixed blessing. Sidekick guitarist Joe Cohn is also on hand, as are bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Chuck Riggs. B+(***)
Joe Temperley/Harry Allen: Cocktails for Two (2006 , Sackville): Baritone saxophonist Temperley earns top billing on this sunny set of standards, recorded at Sunnie Sutton's in Denver with a notable band -- John Bunch on piano, Greg Cohen on bass, Jake Hanna on drums. Temperely sets the leisurely pace, and his husky tone leads. Allen's tenor sax fills in and sweetens the mix. He's always been one who shows respect for his elders. B+(***)
Bill McHenry: Roses (2006 , Sunnyside): Tenor sax quartet with guitar, bass, drums. I'm tempted to say that Ben Monder and maybe Reid Anderson want to rock, but Paul Motian won't give them a steady rhythm. McHenry stradles this tension, often inventively, but he's not as slick or as self-assured as a Chris Potter or Donny McCaslin, which if anything helps to open up the interplay. B+(**)
Brent Jensen: One More Mile (2006 , Origin): Thanks to Origin Records, Seattle has one of the better documented regional jazz scenes. Their house rhythm section -- Bill Anschell on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass, John Bishop on drums -- is flexible and dependable, but that's usually as far as it goes. Jensen isn't even Seattle. He teaches woodwinds in Idaho, and doesn't write much, but he has a distinctive tone and rigorous logic on soprano sax. Studied under Lee Konitz, which probably has something to do with it. A-
François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Kathmandu (2006 , FMR): Alto sax/drums improvisations, recorded live in Nepal. After the first piece, someone (presumably Carrier) announces that the piece was called "Kathmandu Improvisation." He then introduces the next piece, also called "Kathmandu Improvisation." He invites people to dance to their improvs, observing that others have done so. The released album does have song titles: "White Summit," "Dancing Light," "Joyfulness and Playfulness," "Prayer for Peace," etc. Sometimes pure improv works, sometimes not so much. One part reminds me how ugly the lower range of the alto sax can be. B+(**)
Michel Portal: Birdwatcher (2006 , Sunnyside): Parts of this record sound terrific but it doesn't quite add up or hang together. Portal mostly plays bass clarinet, with one song each on clarinet and alto sax. He mostly adds subtle coloring and comping, but every now and then his stunt double, Tony Malaby, takes over and sets the house on fire. The rhythm section works in shifts, with Happy Apple bass guitarist Eric Fratzke trading with acoustic François Moutin while other cuts team Jef Lee Johnson and Sonny Thompson on electric guitar and bass. Portal has a longstanding fascination with African rhythms, which are sometimes approximated by Airto Moreira. B+(**)
Marcus Strickland Twi-Life Group: Open Reel Deck (2007, Strick Muzik): I think he's a tremendously exciting young saxophonist, and his quartet, with electric guitar and bass and equally talented brother E.J. on drums, is state of the art. But there are points here where this drags, and not just the guests -- actually, Malachi Rivers' spoken word act focuses the mind, even if it distracts from the music. B+(***)
Ravish Momin's Trio Tarana: Miren (A Longing) (2006 , Clean Feed): There's a disquieting moment here where violinist Sam Bardfeld breaks into some sort of Scottish march, reminding me that not all world musics are equally worthy of fusion. Changing oud players from Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz to Brandon Terzic may not have had much effect, although they did lose the bass option in the deal. But Bardfeld isn't nearly as interesting, at least in this context, as Jason Kao Hwang, who brought a rich but little known Chinese classical expertise into the mix. Still, the basic idea remains, which is Momin's Indian percussion in a non-Western string context, and much of this is as mesmerizing as its predecessor. B+(***)
The Blueprint Project: People I Like (2006 , Creative Nation Music): Core group is a trio of college chums: saxophonist Jared Sims, guitarist Eric Hofbauer, pianist Tyson Rogers. All three write, do interesting work. Could use a drummer, and maybe a bassist. Last time out they filled those roles with Matt Wilson and Cecil McBee, and got a nice postbop album with a bit of edge. This time they went for Han Bennink, and he's already turned them into a bunch of dadaist anarchists. Can't say it's an improvement, but it's an interesting turn, with the percussion fracturing the soundscapes. B+(***)
Jason Kao Hwang/Sang Won Park: Local Lingo (2006 , Euonymus): Park's zithers -- the 6-string bowed ajeng and the 12-string plucked kayagum -- and voice make up the core here. I can't decide, or even hazard a guess, whether he's playing folk or classical or some sort of avant-garde that would seem as strange in Korea as it does here. Hwang is easier: he knows his way around classical Chinese music, but he's also a remarkable jazz violinist who dances gracefully around the more static core. B+(**)
Tom Teasley: Painting Time (2007, T&T Music): One thing that has changed in jazz, and probably in all other art forms, is that way back when way back when musicians sought to develop distinctive trademark sounds, whereas many now are happy to sound a little bit like lots of people. This has something to do with postmodernism, in particular the idea that we've run out of new ideas so the best we can do now is to recycle old ones. But some of it's just education: musicians grow up knowing much more about the music that came before them so they inevitably find themselves working within those traditions. Economics may even select for such education -- it's certainly the case that many jazz musicians stress their teaching and it's evidently a big part of their incomes. Teasley is a drummer/educator who doesn't sound like anyone in particular but does a good job of synthesizing beats from everywhere, producing sinuous, enticing rhythms, which he then dresses up with various horns, including a healthy dose of trombone. I suppose if I attended his class he'd point out the bits from Africa, India, Brazil, the Middle East, and so forth, not to mention the "searing bop-informed flute solo" that somehow slipped by me. Still, it seems to me that something this catchy should be pop jazz, but isn't because it's deemed excessively knowledgeable. B+(***)
Allen Lowe: Jews in Hell: Radical Jewish Acculturation (2004-06 , Spaceout, 2CD): I've played this half a dozen times, and read the book, and I'm still not clear what Hell is -- maybe it's somewhere in Maine, where Lowe lives? Or maybe the in suburbs of Long Island, where Jews ate pork and embraced postmodernism, putting Lowe on a path where his radical Jewish impulses were acculturated (or is it pickled?) in Americana? (Compare to city boy John Zorn, who kept his Radical Jewish Culture free of American trash, probably because urban life reinforced community while suburban life stripped it bare.) Or maybe the whole thing is much more metaphorical than a pragmatist like myself can imagine. One reason it's hard to tell is that Lowe doesn't seem to be completely honest here. One of the alternate titles he offers is, "Dance of the Creative Economy: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Space Gallery and Love the Music Business." The Space Gallery is a music joint in Maine that Lowe can't get a job at, and there's little evidence here that he's stopped fretting, not to mention bristling, at that. As for his love of the music business, he certainly hasn't adjusted to its first principles -- money and glamour. On the other hand, he does have friends on the fringes of the business. He touts their names on the cover -- Marc Ribot, Erin McKeown, Matthew Shipp, Randy Sandke, Lewis Porter -- and he keeps their features in the mix no matter how tenuous their connection to his themes may be. First few times through I was irritated by his unwillingness to edit, condense, throw anything away. Lowe plays assured, fluid alto sax, but features it rarely here, but spends most of the record playing grungy guitar, overdubbing keybs, and singing stuff he has no voice for. (There is some dazzling guitar here, but credit that to Ribot.) In the end I stopped worrying: "Lonesome and Dead" should be ugly, and "Suburban Jews," "Where's Lou Reed?" and "Jews in Hell" are hard to ruin. First disc holds closer to concept ("Tsuris in Mind," "The Old Stetl (Where I Was Bonr)," "Oi Death"). Second is more scattered and scrapbooky. B+(**)
Alex Kontorovich: Deep Minor (2006 , Chamsa): Some more biographical notes: born 1980, in Russia, don't know where, or when he came to US -- no later than 1999, although he was a research fellow in Israel 2000-02. Got his Ph.D. in math at Columbia 2007, and now teaches at Brown in Rhode Island. Research interests include analytic number theory, stochastic processes, and game theory -- studied the latter at Princeton with John Nash, better known as A Beautiful Mind. Plays clarinet and alto sax, mostly in klezmer groups, some with ska angles -- The Klez Dispensers, KlezSka, Frank London's Klezmer Brass Alltars, Aaron Alexander's Midrash Mish Mosh, King Django's Roots and Culture Band. Also reports playing with the Klezmatics and Boban Markovic. This is a jazz quartet with a lot of klezmer input, but he also offers "Waltz for Piazzolla," "New Orleans Funeral March," and "Transit Strike Blues," and rolls up a bit of infectious fusion called "AfroJewban Suite." Brandon Seabrook sets most of these pieces up with guitar, banjo, and tapes. A-
Joachim Kühn/Majid Bekkas/Ramon Lopez: Kalimba (2006 , ACT): Musically you can attribute this to Bekkas, a Moroccan whose voice, guembri, oud, and kalimba provide the core of an intriguing world music album. Kühn adds the note of jazz improv that kicks it up a level. While he mostly plays piano, his Ornette-ish alto sax is more than respectable. B+(***)
Steve Nelson: Sound Effect (2007, High Note): The sort of album that sounds like you expect jazz to sound like, almost stereotypically so -- the fuzzy flutter of bebop, stretched out into healthy doses of group interplay and improv. Five covers, including a Jobim. Three originals from the leader, a well-established vibraphonist who doesn't write or lead much. The vibes are fleshed out by voluble pianist Mulgrew Miller, and the bass-drums combo is the always superb Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. B+(**)
Los Angeles Jazz Ensemble: Expectation (2007, Kind of Blue, CD+DVD): A set of pop and jazz standards, given attractive, respectful, easy going treatments. The leader here is Darek Oleskiewicz, who's expanded his Los Angeles Jazz Quartet for the occasion: Bob Sheppard (sax), Alan Pasqua (organ), Larry Koonse (guitar), Peter Erskine (drums), and Janis Siegel (vocals on 4 of 12 pieces). DVD captures a bit more than 30 minutes of studio time, with everyone working in separate rooms. B+(**)
Térez Montcalm: Voodoo (2005 , Marquis): She has a voice that's one half whisper, kind of like her fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen back when he was young, although she's more adept at singing with it. Wrote three songs, but they're much less striking than her covers: especially "Love," "Sweet Dreams," "I Want to Be Around," "Voodoo Child," but others make you wonder about her judgment -- she may be young enough to have learned "How Sweet It Is" from James Taylor but that doesn't make it right. Plays guitar, which gives this all a rockish cast, but puts her ahead of the game for interpretive jazz singers. B+(**)
Manu Katché: Playground (2007, ECM): Seductive but understated album, the big difference from his previous Neighbourhood is the presence of cleverly textured but unstriking horns (Mathias Eick, Trygve Seim) in place of ones that that force your attention (Tomasz Stanko, Jan Garbarek). Katché, a drummer who composes but doesn't make a lot of noise here, did manage to hang on to two thirds of Stanko's young Polish trio, with Marcin Wasilewski's piano the charm here. B+(*)
Sunday, December 16. 2007
Having a lot of trouble with updates this week, partly because some thing I would be posting earlier get held back here, mostly because of the deadline pressure. Year-end jazz list is done and handed in -- more on that in Jazz Prospecting. Jazz CG has reached its word count but still needs more work to get the records I want in. Next week will be better, unless the holidays strike early. Should have some book stuff anyway.
TomDispatch interview: Jonathan Schell, The Bomb in the Mind. Schell has written a number of books about nuclear weapons, such as 1982's The Fate of the Earth. The most recent being The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger -- the occasion for this interview. There have actually be a sudden rash of books on nuclear weapons -- I have new ones on my shelf by Jeremy Bernstein and Richard Rhodes, and there are plenty more I could have picked up, like Joseph Cirincione's Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and Douglas Frantz/Catherine Collins' The Nuclear Jihadist: The True Story of the Man Who Sold the World's Most Dangerous Secrets. The reason is no doubt the preoccupation with the prospects of all those Evil Axis countries. The interview focuses more on the idea of nuclear weapons, which is (thankfully) the only realm where they are readily deployed. Schell relates a thought that occurred to him in the 1960s (evidently while taking a course from Henry Kissinger): "I remember this thought: That the people who were for the bomb were politically sane but morally crazy, while the people who were against the bomb were morally sane but politically crazy. These seemed like two universes that would never meet." Schell goes into the reasons why nations seek nuclear weapons:
Francis Davis: Rookies of the Year. Reviews four "notable 2007 debuts," featuring Tyshawn Sorey's That/Not (Firehouse 12). Sorey is a young drummer who's made a big impression in several side credits, but when I asked for a copy I was politely turned down, with implications that it was none of my business, mostly because my short reviews are unworthy of such a momentous work. Davis' review was cited as the way it should be done, and I can't argue with that, although I think his Bill James analogy is a bit off base. I have heard the three other debuts, concurring strongly on Rafi Malkiel, mostly on Amir ElSaffar, and more/less on Champian Fulton -- the latter made the lower tier of my B+ range, which is better than David Berger has managed on his own.
Steve Fraser: Concocting the Perfect Electoral Storm. In many ways the 2006 election is analogous to the 1930 election, when a sitting Republican president saddled with disaster narrowly lost control of Congress, setting up a massive shift in the presidential election that followed in 1932. Bush's disaster centers on his wars, whereas Hoover's was economic, but it's quite likely that Bush and the Republicans will run into increasing economic problems over the next 10-12 months. Fraser spends most of this article laying out the prospects for just such an economic downturn. The thing about the subprime mortgage crisis that people don't talk about much is that the initial extension of what credit was politically motivated to help shore up the post-9/11 recession and see Bush through the 2004 election. It's not like it actually made sense that there would be a housing bubble at the same time jobs and real wages were falling, but that's what happened. The recovery since 2004 has consistently underperformed, for much the same reason: declining real wages resulting in declining demand. The artificial demand stimuli -- deficit spending, loose credit, currency inflation, auctioning assets off to cover the current accounts deficit -- have all been worked so hard over the last 7 years that their magic is wearing thin, and much of their credibility is shot. Obviously, the worse the economy tanks in 2008 the worse it will be for Republicans.
Another sign that the Republicans are tanking is their roster of presidential candidates. In 2000 Bush was able to make people think that he was some sort of consensus party candidate, a guy amenable to virtually every faction in the party. The candidates today are virtually all factional candidates with little or no appeal beyond their niches. Romney is the money guy, but hard to believe on anything else. Giuliani is the superhawk terrorism guy. Huckabee is the fundamentalist wingnut. McClain is trying to be Giuliani with principles and Bush with brains but isn't trusted by either of those camps. Paul has the libertarians pumped up, but nobody else in the party can stand them. Thompson seems to be aiming for the morons, but it's hard to distinguish himself among people who can't grasp distinctions. Only one of those guys is going to get the nomination, and everyone else will be more/less ticked off. The rank and file factions are likely to believe that, like Goldwater, it's better to be right than to win. The money factions are likely to see which way the wind is blowing and take their business elsewhere.
Tuesday, December 11. 2007
The introduction explains more about where Recycled Goods came from and why it's going. I'll just add here that this isn't the end of me writing on this kind of music. I haven't had time to do any freelance work in the last year-plus, and that should open up a bit. I would still be interested in doing a shorter, more frequent, more varied column, like I did for F5 in 2006. Alternatively (or maybe also) I'm thinking about a music blog, either home rolled or with some more reputable publisher. I will continue working on Jazz Consumer Guide for the Village Voice. Over time my jazz coverage has been getting stronger while my reissues coverage has waned, so that's part of what tipped the balance. (Money is another part.)
Of course, there are other projects. One is to take the 2100 Recycled Goods reviews I've accumulated, plus hundreds or maybe thousands of other scattered notes and reviews, and turn them into a reference website. And there's always the politics book. It's been a hard decision to make this break. Hope I manage to turn it into a good move.
Monday, December 10. 2007
Spent the whole week pulling previously unheard records off the incoming shelves, making a dent, but leaving a lot to go. There is no chance that I'll be able to play the rest before Friday's year end list deadline. One thing I will have to do is to go back to the replay shelves and at least review the most promising things there. That will probably bag half of the deficit I thought I saw this year. Two good Stomp Offs below also help, as does Bloodcount, a Tim Berne joint that just missed today's cutoff.
Recycled Goods is still held up. It should be out later this week. Not much more to report there. I got invites to the Idolator and Village Voice year end polls, which are due the following week. I feel better about the non-jazz lists than the jazz list, largely due to a strong world-rock showing this year. But I wonder how much time I'll have to scrounge around for second tier records (for which there are many candidates).
Koko Taylor: Old School (2007, Alligator): Allen Lowe starts his book That Devilin' Tune with a set of quotes, including this from Julius Hemphill: "Mostly playing the blues got you more work playing the blues. I don't think playing the blues encouraged anybody to do anything different." Taylor is past 70 now, and this is her first record in 7 years. She hasn't done anything new since she started in the early 1960s, and back then the only thing that set her apart was that she sang louder than anyone else. On the other hand, the fact that blues singers can keep doing the same thing on and on and on suggests not only that they were on to something pretty timeless in the first place, the more interesting point is that blues performers, almost uniquely, get stronger as they get older. If blues is about anything, it's survival, and it takes some aging to build up credibility. But nothing proves the point like virility, which is why Muddy Waters called his comeback album Hard Again. Taylor's comeback is like that: loud, aggressive, in your face, up your ass. She may settle for that "piece of man," but you know she'd rather have the mule. A-
Dave Douglas Quintet: Live at the Jazz Standard (2006 , Greenleaf/Koch, 2CD): Working off a copy from the Wichita Public Library, which is too bad because I'll have to give it back in way before I can sort it out. The music comes from December 2006, and is part of a massive 12-hour set being sold download only. The group consists of Douglas on cornet, Donny McCaslin on tenor sax, Uri Caine on Fender Rhodes, James Genus on contrabass, and Clarence Penn on drums. In other words, it is to our era roughly what the Miles Davis Quintet was in 1965 when they recorded their 7-CD Plugged Nickel set. I don't doubt that it's good to have it all available, and as much as I dislike download-only product, I must admit it makes a lot of sense in this case. The 2-CD release is an afterthought, meant for those of us who don't have the patience to wade through the whole thing. For me it still may be too much. Douglas is way too fancy for my taste, combining amazing chops with ideas that sail way over my head. Caine is in the same league, although I find him easier to follow, and write off what I don't get to his euroclassical passions. McCaslin certainly has chops to match, but he doesn't give me the same sense of bedazzlement. In any case, this is Douglas in full command. His pieces explode, scintillate, dumbfound. I doubt that I'll ever figure them out, and certainly don't have time now. I'll resume this if/when I get another chance to listen. B+(***) [PS: I hear a copy is on the way, so I may reopen this.]
Amir ElSaffar: Two Rivers (2007, Pi): B. 1977, near Chicago, Iraqi father, American mother, studied trumpet at DePaul, worked in classical and jazz contexts. Journeyed to Iraq in 2002, learning to sing maqam and play santoor (a hammered dulcimer), leaving before Bush brought it on. Maqam are habitual note patterns in Arabic music, based on uneven microtonal scales, hard to notate and therefore handed down from person to person. ElSaffar's santoor and vocals presumably fit the model. He says he's adapted his trumpet style as well -- at first it sounded typical hard bop, but by the end I was no longer so sure. The band spreads out between east and west: Carlo DeRosa (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums) provide jazz rhythm, while Zafer Tawail (violin, oud, dumbek) and Tareq Abboushi (buzuq, frame drum) improvise in Arabic modes. The sixth member is Indian-American alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who has a head start on Asian-Coltrane fusion. The piece was intended as a suite, based on the Tigris and Euphrates, from their sources to the Shatt al-Arab. But the rivers are just as aptly Iraqi and American, only played out in mutual respect, as jazz not war. B+(***)
The Adam Shulman Quartet: On Second Thought (2007, Kabocha): Pianist, based in San Francisco, studied in Santa Cruz, cites second generation beboppers (Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Bill Evans) and their followers (Fred Hersch) as influences. First album. Wrote all the sounds. Quartet features a soft-touch tenor saxophonist named Dayna Stephens. Also John Wiitala on bass and Jon Arkin on drums. Very nice, but nothing more. B
Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble: Black Unstoppable (2007, Delmark): Young flutist, based in Chicago, has mostly avant-garde connections, but has all the marks of stardom, at least at the sort of level Regina Carter enjoys. Won Downbeat's Rising Star category three straight years -- admittedly not a lot of competition, but it hasn't been close either -- and likely to bump James Moody from the top spot in a year or two. Not just involved in AACM, she's co-president. I've noticed her on various projects, including a live trio that made my HM list, but missed her main vehicle, the boisterous Black Earth Ensemble, which has three previous albums. She wrote and arranged everything on the new one. I find it maddening, with stretches of marvelous music -- e.g., Jeff Parker's guitar, a funk vamp topped by David Boykin's honking -- and bits I can't stand, starting with the gospel vocals. Played it twice, and haven't tried to diagram the ups and downs, which I suppose I should if I decide to make this my featured dud. Flute's not an instrument I much care for, but it's not the problem here. No jazz flutist has done more since Robert Dick came on the scene. (Also available on DVD, which I have but haven't watched.) B-
Terence Blanchard: A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina) (2007, Blue Note): The title strikes me as a philosophical muddle, although I suppose if you think it was a willful act of a purposeful God, His hurricane may merit some form of tribute. The title emerges chanted at the start of the first cut, "Ghost of Congo Square," and returns near the end of the piece, but doesn't break out beyond that. Congo Square was the site of the old New Orleans slave market, which back in its heyday was also felt by some to be part of God's will. Despite the words, the piece is striking, with Kendrick Scott's percussion conjuring up an African vibe, and Blanchard's trumpet clear and eloquent. Most of the deluge of post-Katrina albums pick their themes obviously -- titles here include "Levees," "The Water," "Wading Through," "In Time of Need," "Ghost of 1927," "Funeral Dirge," and "Dear Mom" -- then map out their music in predictable clichés. Blanchard doesn't escape this, but his horn stands out on record like his silhouetted images on the front and back covers. My main caveat is the orchestra that appears on several pieces, which paints a pretty backdrop while adding nothing of substance. B+(***)
Jentsch Group Large: Brooklyn Suite (2005 , Fleur de Son): Led by Chris Jentsch, guitarist, based in Brooklyn. Has a couple of previous albums I haven't heard, including one called Miami Suite -- got his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from University of Miami. Group numbers 17, including conductor JC Sanford, five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, guitar, bass, drums -- familiar names include John O'Gallagher, Dan Willis, Russ Johnson, Jacob Garchik, Alan Ferber. Big, swimming sound, but I'm not all that well disposed to the swaggering moves and the fancy orchestration. Ends with two non-Suite pieces which develop the guitar and individual horns better. B+(*)
Lee Konitz-Ohad Talmor Big Band: Portology (2006 , Omnitone): Konitz came in #3 in Downbeat's Hall of Fame ballot last year, behind recently deceased Andrew Hill and Michael Brecker (who got in on the popular ballot) and ahead of still ticking (actually, like Konitz, still working) Hank Jones. Unless someone important dies, he should be next in line. (Jackie McLean, embarrassingly, wasn't even on the ballot when he died, then lept to the top of the list.) It's taken him a long time, but he's never been anywhere near the mainstream. Early on he was way ahead of his time -- looking back I'm tempted to call his 1949-50 Subconscious-Lee the first great postbop album -- and even when time caught up he remained sui generis. Even in the middle of a big band built for camouflage it's trivial to pick him out. On the other hand, don't know much about Ohad Talmor, who is here billed as conductor, arranger, musical director, and co-composer. He was born in France of Israeli parents, grew up in Switzerland, moved to New York in 1995. Plays tenor sax in his own groups, but works more as arranger/director in projects with Konitz and Steve Swallow. I dudded his Swallow project record. Haven't heard his previous work with Konitz. This one makes use of an extant big band from Portugal, Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, which I've previously on an album with Chris Cheek that I also disliked. So I'm inclined not only to credit this to Konitz but to give him extra credit for degree of difficulty. Or maybe I should save it for another spin. [B+(**)] [advance]
Anthony Braxton: Solo Willisau (2003 , Intakt): I need to go back and listen to For Alto again. It was recorded 35 years earlier, is legendary as the first solo saxophone record (although Coleman Hawkins and possibly a few others did solo pieces). Penguin Guide ranks it as a crown album. Last time I played it I noted that it was the ugliest thing I ever heard. I doubt that I say the same now, but you never know. To this day when my wife wishes to show extreme disgust over some quarrelsome saxophonist I'm playing, she asks if it's Anthony Braxton. That's unfair and way off base. For Alto aside, when I first started listening to jazz in the mid-1970s, the first two artists I really keyed onto were Braxton and Ornette Coleman. (I figure that's why I grew up thinking Charlie Parker was a piker.) After Lee Konitz, Downbeat's critics should give Braxton some serious Hall of Fame consideration -- although that seems a long ways away, given that he's not on the ballot and stuck down around #9 in the alto sax category. This new one isn't anywhere near the ugliest ever, but it is solo, which gives it a narrow tone range and makes it tough to sustain much rhythm. He does "All the Things You Are" and seven originals, each running 8-12 minutes. At least some of it is sustained invention of a high order, but it's abstract, difficult, tough to keep up with, and ultimately of rather marginal interest. [B+(**)]
Steve Lehman Quintet: On Meaning (2007, Pi): First artist website I've bumped into since I got rid of Flash that has zero non-Flash info. Life without Flash has been swell: no browser hangs or crashes since I removed the plug-in. What brought this on was that AMG was serving Flash-based ads that wrecked my browser. But even benign ads can achieve high levels of annoyance when implemented in Flash. Glad to be rid of it. Lehman's not unfamiliar. Plays alto sax, which he studied under Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton. This is his 5th or 6th album. First I heard was Artificial Light, a quintet I didn't care for, and probably missed a lot in. Next was Demian as Posthuman, a mix of smaller groups including duos which were simple enough to give his abstractions recognizable shape. This one is a quintet again, with Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Chris Dingman on vibes, Drew Gress on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Hype sheet says: "Each of On Meaning's eight compositions addresses the challenge of creating fresh environments for modern vision of compositional form, harmony, rhythm, and orchestration" and describes Lehman's sax as "combining a highly advanced harmonic language, microtonal playing, extended techniques, and a deeply rooted rhythmic sense." I don't know what most of that means, but I do hear it in the music, especially the rhythmic sense, which gives his complex abstractions a jingle-jangle quality. Sorey continues to impress, too. B+(***)
Ari Brown: Live at the Green Mill (2007, Delmark): Chicago saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano, sometimes at the same time, also a little flute. B. 1944, came up through AACM in the 1970s, playing with Muhal Richard Abrams and Lester Bowie, more recently in Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio. Third album as a leader, a sextet (mostly) with Pharez Whitted on trumpet, Kirk Brown on piano, Yosef Ben Israel on bass, Avreeayl Ra on drums, Dr. Cuz percussion. Back cover quote: "Not impossibly virtuosic or unnecessarily complex." Also on DVD with an extra cut. Played it, but can't say I actually watched it all. B
Brad Goode: Nature Boy (2006 , Delmark): Trumpet player, from Chicago, now based in Colorado. Sixth album since 1988, when his debut was titled Shock of the New. Haven't heard that one, but I doubt that it was very shocking. Very mainstream, bright tone on the trumpet, standard quartet with Jeff Jenkins on piano. Has a nice stretch of covers early on, including "I Remember You," "Sealed With a Kiss," "Tres Palabras (Without You)." Originals more conventionally postbop. B+(*)
Dennis González NY Quartet: At Tonic: Dance of the Soothsayer's Tongue (2003-04 , Clean Feed): Actually, only 34 minutes were recorded at Tonic in 2003; the rest comes from a later studio session, added when the label thought 34 minutes was too short to release. This is the same group that recorded NY Midnight Suite in 2003: González on trumpet, Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax, Mark Helias on bass, and Michael T.A. Thompson on what he calls soundrhythium percussionist. Each have typically strong spots. B+(**)
Herb Robertson NY Downtown Allstars: Real Aberration (2006 , Clean Feed, 2CD): Trumpeter, from New Jersey, attended Berklee, settled into New York's downtown avant-garde scene in the early 1980s, where he's a steady performer who's never garnered much attention. The other stars are Tim Berne (alto sax), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), Mark Dresser (double bass), Tom Rainey (drums). I don't know much about the pianist -- AMG files her work under Avant-Garde, not Jazz, not that those distinctions are all that trustworthy -- but she seems the odd one out. Also odd is Dresser, who starts each discs/piece with bass solo, but I rarely have any idea what he's up to. The music has no casual utility, just more or less interesting effects -- the trumpet, for one. B
Alípio C. Neto Quartet: The Perfume Comes Before the Flower (2006 , Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, from Pernambuco in northeast Brazil, studied in Portugal. Not sure where he's based now, but this was recorded in Brooklyn. Pianoless, Herb Robertson's trumpet is the other slash and burn horn, Ken Filiano plays bass, and Michael T.A. Thompson does his soundrhythium percussionist thing. Three (of five) numbers also pick up Ben Stapp on tuba, which adds a bubbly bounce to the otherwise free rhythm. B+(*)
Carla Bley: The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (2007, Watt): The Lost Chords was a 2004 group/album name, the group led by pianist-composer Bley and including Andy Sheppard (soprano and tenor sax), Steve Swallow (bass), and Billy Drummond (drums). Fresu is a well-regarded trumpet/flugelhorn player from Sardinia. He has a couple dozen albums since 1985, almost all on hard-to-find Italian labels -- a half-dozen filtered down to my shopping list, but I've never managed to pick up any. He fits in very nicely here, topping out Bley's melodies, including an extended meditation on bananas, and burnishing Sheppard's sax lines to a bright brassy sheen. B+(**)
Mário Laginha Trio: Espaço (2007, Clean Feed): Not living anywhere near a decent record store, I've never been able to figure out whether the new format Clean Feed promos are the same packaging as their released albums or something especially cheap just for the writers (like their old promos obviously were). The new ones at least give me a package that I can file on a shelf and identify by reading the spine. I've never seen that sort of package in the stores, but it matches the album covers I see, and it comes close enough to my requirements that I've stopped flagging them as advances. I mention that here because this came in much better packaging: three-fold cardboard, a plastic tray glued down in the middle, and a separate booklet that slips into a slot. Clean Feed mostly releases American avant-gardists, but every now and then they come up with some local (Portuguese) talent that they like, even if far removed from the edge. Laginha plays piano, and this is a standard piano trio. Website is in Portuguese, so I'm not really sure what he's saying there about Deep Purple and Jethro Dull -- probably that he liked them before he discovered Powell, Evans, and Jarrett. B. 1960 in Lisbon. Has a discography going back to 1983, mostly accompanying singer Maria João -- the later records often list both names -- but also including a duet album with pianist Bernardo Sassetti. This may be his first trio album. It has a quietly understated eloquence, deft but not too flashy. B+(**)
Alan Pasqua: The Antisocial Club (2007, Cryptogramophone): Pianist, b. 1954 in New Jersey, studied with Jaki Byard and George Russell (one song here is titled "George Russell"). Has nine albums since 1993, which seem to be rather scattered stylistically, with one foot in postbop and the other in fusion -- played in Tony Williams' Lifetime early on and has had a long relationship with Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine. This one is squarely in the fusion camp, tied most closely to early-1970s Miles Davis. Pasqua mostly plays electronic keyboards. The lineup closely follows the Davis groups, with Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Jeff Ellwood on sax, Nels Cline on guitar, Jimmy Haslip on bass, Scott Amendola on drums, and Alex Acuña on percussion. A lot of déjà voodoo. B+(*)
Mark O'Leary: On the Shore (2003 , Clean Feed): Irish guitarist, based in New York. Has a half-dozen albums since 2000 on Leo, mostly well regarded, some with interesting names (Tomasz Stanko, Matthew Shipp, Mat Maneri, Uri Caine, Cuong Vu, Tom Rainey), none that I've heard. This one looks to have been on the shelf for a while. It was recorded in California with percussionist Alex Cline and a couple of trumpets. Hard to get a handle on it: mostly atmospheric, but not so consistently so that you can be sure of his intent. One note says this was influenced by Arvo Part, but also by Edward Vesala. Don't know what to make of that either. [B+(*)]
The Harlem Experiment (2007, Ropeadope): Related, although I can't tell you how, to two previous Ropeadope releases: The Philadelphia Experiment and The Detroit Experiment. The promo cover speaks of "a quilt of sounds that speak to the real Harlem," but I suspect that has less to do with the actual Harlem of today than the mythic Harlem of yore -- a scene still haunted by Langston Hughes and Malcolm X, where "Reefer Man" is still funny, "A Rose in Spanish Harlem" is a lonely jíbaro serenade, and the Jewish past still lingers in Don Byron's clarinet lead "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," with token entries for funk and a plea for rhyme as serious lit. In other words, an album of distinct pieces composed into an artificial mural. Vocals by Queen Esther, Taj Mahal, James Hunter, Olu Dara. Steve Bernstein smears his trumpet over Malcolm X. DJ Arkive is credited with cuts and bruises. B+(**) [advance]
Double Duo: Crossword Puzzle (2005 , Libra): Two piano-trumpet duos, one from Japan (Satoko Fujii, Natsuki Tamura), the other from the Netherlands (Misha Mengelberg, Angelo Verploegen). Not much different than a single duo would have been, given that both duos leave ample room for the other. B+(*)
Carla Kihlstedt/Satoko Fujii: Minamo (2002-05 , Henceforth): Violin-piano duo. Kihlstedt is best known for her work in Tin Hat, although she's shown up in a number of contexts, including ROVA's latest assault on Ascension. The first three tracks, totalling 20 minutes, were recorded as an opening act for a ROVA concert in San Francisco. The final 28:40 tracks was recorded at Wels in Austria. The latter set meshes better, probably because the violinist is more aggressive. The pianist can brawl with the best of them, but she tends to hold back when not provoked. Which is OK too, in the limited way of duos. [B+(**)]
Joe Fiedler Trio: The Crab (2007, Clean Feed): Trombonist. Based in New York. Third album as leader, plus a substantial sideman list, divided between salsa bands, big bands, and work with avant-gardists (Anthony Braxton, Satoko Fujii, and Chris Jonas show up repeatedly). A previous trio was called Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff, also on Clean Feed, which did a good job of framing trombone as a lead instrument. This trio, with bassist John Hebert and drummer Michael Sarin, builds on that, although it also shows the basic limits of volume and dynamics. B+(**)
Scott Fields Ensemble: Dénouement (1997 , Clean Feed): Actually, a double trio: two sets of guitar, bass and drums. On the left channel: Jeff Parker, Jason Roebke, Michael Zerang. On the right: Fields, Hans Sturm, Hamid Drake. Most or all Chicago musicians. Fields has a dozen or more records since 1990, maybe earlier, including a duo with Parker on Delmark. This was originally self-released on Geode Records in 1999. Fields explains: "For most of the compositions, the trios are working in different but interlocking pitch sets and compound time signatures. These structures result in pip-popping little kicks and difficult-to-pin-down harmonies." Strikes me as dabbling: a bit here, a bit there, no particular urge to pull it all together. B+(*)
Los Angeles Guitar Quartet: LAGQ Brazil (2007, Telarc): Four guitarists: original members John Dearman, William Kanengiser, and Scott Tennant, plus Matthew Greif, who joined in 2006 replacing Andrew York. Group began at USC in 1980 under Pepe Romero, although York didn't join until 1990 and I can't find any discography that goes back further than 1993 (Dances From Renaissance to Nutcracker, although an album called Recital evidently precedes it). An album called Labyrinth featured "Zeppelin to Sousa, Basie to Copland." One called Air & Ground included Afro-Cuban, Macedonian, Native American, Brazilian, and Celtic pieces. So they're used to exotic repetoire, but they aren't specialists. Brazilian music is friendly, perhaps inevitable, guitar ground. This is pleasant and unchallenging. Guests pop in on a couple of songs: Kevin Ricard percussion, Katisse Buckingham flute and soprano sax, Luciana Souza vocals (two songs; she's never been a plus on anything I've heard, and ranks as a minor irritant here). B
Yerba Buena Stompers: San Francisco Bay Blues (2005, Stomp Off): Wasn't looking, so I got this one out of order. Real New Orleans jazz, as rediscovered in San Francisco in the 1940s -- yep, another Lu Watters tribute. One thing to note is that John Gill is singing better (3 songs) than on the early records, especially on "Take Me to the Land of Jazz." Trombonist Tom Bartlett still takes one tune, "Trouble in Mind," and also shows improvement. This is a very consistent band. B+(***)
Yerba Buena Stompers: New Orleans Favorites (2002, Stomp Off): Starts with "Tiger Rag" and "Tin Roof Blues;" ends with "Panama" and "Dipper Mouth Blues," with plenty more you'll recognize along the way -- "Doctor Jazz," "Ory's Creole Trombone," "Muskrat Ramble," not to mention "When the Saints Go Marching In." But you might not exactly recognize them because they're tuned back to the pre-swing era, and with their lack of solo power one can even say pre-Armstrong. The lineup again: two trumpets, trombone, clarinet, piano, banjo, tuba, drums. Echoes of Lu Watters; reverberations of King Oliver. They do "play that thing." A-
Yerba Buena Stompers: San Diego Favorites 2002-2003 (2002-03 , Diamondstack): Live tidbits from the San Diego Dixieland Jazz Festival. The songs all show up elsewhere in their catalog, and the studio versions usually have more polish and often a bit more bounce. Also short on vocals. This only pales in comparison. B+(*)
Yerba Buena Stompers: The Yama-Yama Man (2007, Stomp Off): A couple of personnel changes in what has been a pretty stable lineup: Orange Kellin replaces Evan Christopher on clarinet (before Christopher, Larry Wright played clarinet); Clint Baker moves over from drums to tuba, replacing Ray Cadd, and Hal Smith joins on drums. Until now they've evidently kept close to the arrangements worked out by Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band, which includes a few originals by Watters and Turk Murphy as well as old songs they brought back in the 1940s Dixieland revival. Here they start to move on, picking old songs Watters missed and treating them accordingly. The title song, for instance, dates back to 1908, although Murphy had done it in 1957. Several songs come straight from King Oliver, which matches the orchestration to a tee. Others come from the Red Hot Peppers, which is about as modern as they get. Locking onto their fixed reference points, they freeze history, foregoing the sense of progress that even then was all the rage. That should make them dry, but their chosen moment is hard to resist: it was a point when the excitement of jazz jumped out of the horns and off the stage. Playing through the whole set of five studio albums shows two things that are rare in any such sequence: remarkable consistency and no sense of progress or evolution whatsoever. Both may be attributed to lack of individuality, which may have something to do with the fact that leader John Gill plays the most unprepossesing of instruments: the banjo. These are unjazzlike traits, but the music is primevally jazzy. A-
Ted Des Plantes' Washboard Wizards: Thumpin' and Bumpin' (2006 , Stomp Off): Des Plantes is a pianist who plays stride and knows his Jelly Roll Morton. He has five albums on Stomp Off, a few more on Jazzology, going back at least to 1991. I can find very little info on the web, but turned up a photo with Dave Greer's Classic Jazz Stompers ("a territory band from Dayton, Ohio") showing a guy with a mustache and a deficit of mostly gray hair. Also found quotes from a couple of reviews he wrote for The Mississippi Rag (as in ragtime). I've heard one previous Washboard Wizards album, Ohio River Blues (1994, Stomp Off). This is a little more modern than the Yerba Buena Stompers albums, at least in two respects: the song focus is Harlem 1924-37, so it swings more, and Des Plantes wrote two new songs to slip in with the old ones. But the band lineup is similar, with banjo and tuba, and four players in common: Leon Oakley (trumpet there, cornet here), Hal Smith (drums, also washboard here), Clint Baker (tuba there, trombone here), and John Gill (banjo). The main difference is replacing the second trumpet with an alto sax -- again, a post-Oliver New York move. Five (of 17) vocal tracks: four by Des Plantes, one by Gill. Des Plantes is the more engaging vocalist, and the dollop of sax and dash of swing give this a slight edge. A-
Satoko Fujii Quartet: Bacchus (2006 , Onoff): There are (at least) two Satoko Fujii [-Natsuki Tamura] Quartets, one with Mark Dresser and Jim Black, and this one with electric bassist Takeharu Hayakawa and drummer Tatsuya Yoshida. This one did a record called Zephyros in 2004 which I liked enough to put on my top ten list -- a marvelous mix of fusion grooves and avant bash. However, this one strikes me as an idea gone bad. The music is rockish at the fragment level, but without much to hold it together -- the groove plodding and cartoonish when it exists at all. But there is plenty of volume, especially with Tamura splattering his trumpet uncharacteristically. Not sure if she's famous enough to spend a dud slot on, but this is a very unpleasant, disappointing record. C+
Omer Avital: Arrival (2006 , Fresh Sound World Jazz): Israeli bassist, working in New York since mid-1990s, with a handful of albums -- The Ancient Art of Giving (2006, Smalls) is a personal favorite. This, however, is not. It's a very advanced, sophisticated postbop sexet, with Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Joel Frahm (saxes), Avi Lebovich (trombone), Jason Lindner (keyboards), and Jonathan Blake (drums). There is a lot of art to the layering of the horns, producing dizzying swirls of sound. It's not clear why this came out in a World Jazz series: Avital plays oud on a couple of cuts, but that doesn't fix them in any kind of world -- meaning foreign to the west -- music. Nor does the fact that the rhythm is pretty regular count for much beyond its galloping rush. So maybe he's just gotten too old to pass for New Talent? B-
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Sunday, December 9. 2007
I've been reading Trita Parsi's Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, which has become all the more timely with the CIA's dismissal of any Iranian nuclear weapons threat. A major theme of the book is how Israel has always managed to find enemies to justify their arms buildup, and how they've often tried to maneuver the US into sharing their enemies -- all the better since the US is their leading arms supplier. We see this same dynamic working here, with factions in Israel and the US working so close in tandem that it's impossible to tell who's leading whom.
Fred Kaplan: Nuclear Meltdown. On the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, conceding that Iran halted any nuclear weapons work in 2003, and that even if they changed their minds they'd be many years away from developing any nuclear weapons. This knocks off the rationale for a Bush Doctrine preëmptive attack, although it's not clear that that's sunk into the depleted cranium of The Decider yet. The right is trying to spin this as proof that tough talk and sanctions work. The timing actually suggests that invading and occupying Iraq had more to do with it. You could chalk that up to the Madman Theory, but number one any Iranian list of potential enemies to deter was Iraq under a post-sanctions Saddam Hussein, and Bush effectively eliminated that threat. Kaplan's conclusion:
I've been reading reports that the CIA conclusions have been known for at least a year, but were leaked now to check the World War III talk coming out of the White House. One thing that Elizabeth de la Vega points out in her Bush impeachment book is that it isn't necessary that Bush know he is lying to be guilty of fraud; he is just as guilty if he fails to make the effort to get the truth. Bush is claiming that he only recently found out about the CIA report. He could certainly have gotten access to those findings earlier if he had any wish to do so.
Mark Follman: An Iran bombshell for Bush. An interview with Flynt Leverett ("a former senior director on Bush's National Security Council"): "Oh, I think the president knew this was coming, and I think he was deliberately shifting his rhetoric on the issue to redefine the problem. Up until the fall, Bush's rhetoric literally for years had been that it's unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. All of a sudden, that shifts to it being unacceptable for Iran to have the knowledge of how to build a nuclear weapon."
Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett: Bush's real lie about Iran. "President Bush's worst misrepresentations about the Iranian nuclear issue do not focus on whether Tehran is currently pursuing a nuclear weapons program or when Bush knew the U.S. intelligence community was revising its previous assessments. Rather, the real lie is in the president's claim that his administration has made a seroius offer to negotiate with the Islamic Republic, and that Iranian intransigence is the only thing preventing a diplomatic solution." Leverett reviews the diplomatic history. In 2003 (when Iran is believed to have halted whatever nuclear program they had) it was EU-3 (UK, France, Germany) who started negotiating with Iran, while Bush refused to participate.
Paul Krugman: Innovating Our Way to Financial Crisis. This is something of an explanation of the looming financial disaster, although it's still not clear just how this bottoms out. Krugman notes that the housing bubble "made even less sense than the dot-com bubble," but he doesn't go on to remind us that one of the reasons -- aside from the usual finance industry greed -- is that the expansion of easy housing credit was the only thing Bush had to prop up the US economy during his first term, establishing a partial sense of normalcy that was just good enough to squeak to reelection.
Saturday, December 8. 2007
I made my first pass at my year-end jazz list last night -- my piece for the Voice is due next Friday, and my ballot for Francis Davis is due earlier -- and was rather shocked in the way that only statistics can do: by highlighting otherwise inscrutable trends. All I did was to pull the jazz records out of my Year 2007 list: 65 records at present, 37 jazz. The shocking thing is how much down the totals are. I don't know where the overall list stood a year ago, but the current Year 2006 list stands at 116 records, with only 8 of those records added since the Jan. 12, 2007 freeze date. So my current overall list is down 40% (65 from 108) with one month to go. The jazz part is down a little less, 37 from 55 (at the freeze date), about 32%. (Ergo, the jazz share of the A-lists has increased from 51% in 2006 to 57% in 2007, but that is likely to narrow over time, and may wind up dropping.)
I didn't think the reason for these drops could possibly be a shortfall in records, but the rated totals are actually down a fair bit: 555 this year vs. 668 last year (freeze list). But the difference there is accounted for by the pending list -- 180 at present vs. 87 at freeze time last year. I see 4 first-pass A- records in the pending list, so that will reduce the deficit a bit. But I've spent all this week playing what look to be the most promising unrated records, and haven't found anything that I felt like adding to the A-list. (Two non-jazz records did make the list this week: Koko Taylor's triumphant comeback, Old School, and Youssou N'Dour's Rokku Mi Rokka, which is likely to move further up the list.) The rest of the shelf doesn't look so promising, but there's probably a surprise or two or three lurking somewhere. Still, it really feels to me like there's been a downturn this year. Part of this is just my subjective feel for how the top of the list hangs together. The top 10 at the moment looks like this:
Closely followed by: David Torn, Prezens (ECM); Matt Lavelle, Spiritual Power (Silkheart); David S. Ware, Renunciation (AUM Fidelity); Logan Richardson, Cerebral Flow (Fresh Sound); Vijay Iyer/Mike Ladd, Still Life With Commentator (Savoy Jazz); Pablo Aslan, Buenos Aires Tango Standards (Zoho); and Louis Sclavis, L'Imparfait des Langues (ECM). These are all good records, but I'm not wild about this list. Compare it to the 2006 list:
Offhand, the 2007 list strikes me as weaker at the top, weaker at the bottom, and less pleasantly balanced. The 2005 list had pick hits in the 6-7-8 slots, and the 9th place Billy Bang record strikes me as stronger (maybe not as pleasantly gratifying) as this year's 4th place Bang. This year's 8th place Muthspiel isn't as good as the one I missed in 2006, and the 9th place Tsahar is no better than Lost Brother, which missed the 2005 list. I'm also surprised to see van Veenendaal in 5th -- less because it's an extremely obscure pick than because it's the first piano trio to make the list. Go figure. (I'd guess there are about 10-12 piano trios on the combined A-lists.)
Of course, this will settle down more in the next week. I started this exercise wondering whether I was losing my taste or grip or raw excitement -- I really doubt that the jazz world itself is slipping. But already I see that any such deficits are rather marginal, maybe even statistically insignificant. Will know more in a week. What I suspect now is that I've fallen slightly behind schedule, and won't have time to catch up as much as I'd like. So whereas last year I added 10 records to the 2006 A-list after publishing the year-end list, this year a few more will come in late -- I'm guessing 15-20.
Monday, December 3. 2007
I didn't manage to do any new jazz prospecting this week, other than playing a couple of promising items in the car. December's Recycled Goods column is due, and I've made the rather momentous (to me, anyway) decision to stop writing it. I wanted to finish it off by clearing out as much of my pending shelf as possible -- especially the big ticket boxes -- so I spent the whole week on it. By week's end I had 92 records written up, so decided I might as well split them, making January the finale. That brings the final tally for five years to 51 columns, 2142 albums, 215,000 words. I've enjoyed doing Recycled Goods, but it has gotten to be a drag this past year. I've repeatedly found myself playing catch up with my shelf. The effort to cover everything I got kept me from chasing down the things I should have been getting, and the consequence was that the mix grown more idiosyncratic -- not that it was ever possible to comprehensively cover reissues, let alone the world music I tried so hard to work in. I also thought about dropping Jazz Consumer Guide, but ultimately decided it's worth continuing. The contrast between the two columns is pretty clear cut. I cover enough jazz to establish myself as something of an authority, and it also helps that Jazz CG appears in the Village Voice, benefitting from the rock solid reputation Gary Giddins built over several decades before I showed up, and from Francis Davis since Giddins left. It feels like I've made steady progress with Jazz CG, whereas Recycled Goods/Static Multimedia have been sort of languishing. I'm happy with a lot of the writing I've done there, but never got the sense that it was recognized. How much music writing I do in the near future will depend on whether any new opportunities appear. I'd fancy doing some kind of blog combining smaller, more frequent chunks of reviews with other notes and comments on music, but only if I can find a publisher who can bring an audience beyond what I bring myself. I also wouldn't mind doing some freelance reviews. Lately I've done none because I've been so booked with the two columns. If nothing else happens, I still expect to relaunch my Terminal Zone website sooner or later with a blog, a reference database, and several thousand reviews I've accumulated from RG, JCG, and a few other sources, but I'm not in a big rush on that. Most immediately, I need to finish this JCG and knock out a year-end piece for the Voice, as well as the usual end-of-year wrap up.
The reviews below are just the fallout from doing Recycled Goods. Not many titles, but I count 51 CDs: 36 for That Devilin' Tune, 6 for Davis, 3 for Barber, 2 for Freeman. Next week should be just about all new jazz, and I especially need to tackle the most promising prospects. I don't know that there's enough time to do anything about it, but I'd be especially interested in any serious top ten candidates readers might point out that are not already pending or rated in my 2007 list.
Bennie Maupin: The Jewel and the Lotus (1974 , ECM): Plays "reeds" which sounds like a sneaky way to slip the flute in, although soprano sax and bass clarinet are also featured in his toolkit; best known for headhunting fusion with Herbie Hancock, who returns the favor here, but this is an early exercise in ECM pastorale, what New Age would be if brains or guts were required. B
Dewey Redman Quartet: The Struggle Continues (1982 , ECM): With Ed Blackwell on drums, Joshua's esteemed father can work Ornette Coleman territory at will; with Charles Eubanks on piano, he can take a break, and occasionally wax lyrical on his tenor sax; with Mark Helias on bass neither impulse strays far from the edge. B+(*)
Von Freeman: The Best of Von Freeman on Premonition (1996-2006 , Premonition, 2CD+DVD): You could call Freeman a late bloomer, but one could also argue that he's always been around but never caught a break until in his 70s. Born 1922, he played with Horace Henderson before the war, the Navy during, and the Pershing Ballroom house band when he got out. He joined Sun Ra in 1948 and hung with the AACM later, but he was also chums with Gene Ammons and Johnny Griffin, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk liked him enough to produce his debut album (1972, age 50). He had one of the most idiosyncratic, instantly recognizable tenor sax sounds ever -- he attributes some of that to being a poor boy playing cheap saxophones, and there's a legend that he built his first sax at age 7 out of a Victrola horn. But he's mellowed since he hit 80, developing a richer, cleaner sound that still falls far short of lush. He cut a couple of 1970s records for AACM-connected Nessa, and two more in 1992 for Steeplechase in Denmark, but didn't get much attention until Half Note released his 75th Birthday Celebration. Then Premonition picked up his 1996 Live at the Dakota and started recording him regularly. The material anthologizes well -- it's all quartets with piano or guitar excepting a solo and a duo with Jason Moran -- and includes a couple of previously unissued bait tracks. The DVD just shows him speaking, first in an interview and then to a street crowd at the dedication of Von Freeman Way. He's a natural comic, mature like his music, which sums up a short century of saxophone wisdom -- he reminds me of Sonny Rollins, even if at best he's more like Newk's scrawny little brother. A-
Patricia Barber: The Premonition Years 1994-2002 (1994-2002 , Premonition, 3CD): Jazz singer, pianist, and composer, her career forms something of an underground parallel to Diana Krall's -- her voice dusky and shrouded where Krall's is bright and articulate, her piano more substantial but still secondary, a successful niche player whereas Krall crossed over. This takes five albums and reshuffles them by category: pop songs, standards, and originals. All are slow and somber, but at least the rock-era pop songs start with some bounce as well as catchy melodies -- "Use Me," "You Don't Know Me," "Black Magic Woman," "The Fool on the Hill" are given especially learned readings. The older vintage standards are less surprising. The originals are less obvious, but thoughtful and sometimes haunting. I see little value in sorting them this way: her albums are mixes of all three -- trending toward more originals over time -- and often work just because these mulitple facets fit. A fine example is Modern Cool (1998). B+(***)
Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters: Hope Radio (2007, Stony Plain): Winner of an honorary "shut up and play yer guitar" award. Filed under blues, although they could pass as a soul jazz organ group -- trio plus two extra bassists, one also playing a bit of piano. Earl's blues guitar is clean and fluid. Still, at its best it reminds me of the guitar breaks in blues-infatuated rock records -- like Big Brother and the Holding Company with no Janis Joplin. B
Putumayo Presents: New Orleans Brass (1989-2006 , Putumayo World Music): Jazz may have originated in the Crescent City, but by 1930 virtually every great jazz musician who grew up there had moved on to Chicago, New York, California -- hell, Sidney Bechet went all the way to Paris; 70 years later you can hear the same songs the town couldn't support back when it had musicians who could play them and make them sound fresh. B
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 1 (1895-1927 , WHRA, 9CD): Whereas Martin Williams, in his canonical The Smithsonian Collection of Classical Jazz disposes of where jazz came from by juxtaposing two versions of "Maple Leaf Rag," one by composer Scott Joplin and the other by Jelly Roll Morton, compiler Allen Lowe digs deep into many roots besides ragtime -- minstrels, songsters, march bands, James Reese Europe's orchestra. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (1917) doesn't appear until the 3rd disc. Ethel Waters and Mamie Smith (1921) make the 4th, and Jelly Roll Morton (1923) the 5th, but the series doesn't start to sound predominantly jazzy until the 6th or 7th disc. While he sprinkles in early bits of Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, and Bennie Moten, he holds Louis Armstrong back until the last cut -- maybe top play down the notion that Armstrong invented jazz, or just because he couldn't find anything to follow "Hotter Than Hot" with. A-
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 2 (1927-34 , WHRA, 9CD): Bix Beiderbecke leads off with 3 of the first 9 tracks, contrasting with 2 cuts by obscure trumpeter Louis Dumaine. The book takes on the always annoying question of race in jazz, plugging numerous whites -- including an argument that Beiderbecke was the first cool jazz proponent -- without ceding any arguments to Richard Sudhalter's Lost Chords. The records wend their way through numerous intimations of swing to come, punctuated by occasional blues and country tunes that are hardly less jazzy. A-
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 3 (1934-45 , WHRA, 9CD): Swing is here, announced by Jimmie Lunceford, Red Norvo, Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, and Ray Noble on the first disc. Second disc tees off with Bob Wills, a westerner who swings too, and moves on to Count Basie. The most consistently satisfying of the boxes, at least until 1940 (disc 7) when Lowe starts looking for premonitions of bebop -- Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie show up on disc 8, but disc 9 (1944-45) is a broad smorgasbord of retro dixieland (Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson), elegant Ellington, singers like Billie Holiday and Nat Cole, saxophonists like Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas. A
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 4 (1945-51 , WHRA, 9CD): Bebop takes over, but of course it isn't that clean a cut. Disc 4, for instance, starts with Bing Crosby and Al Jolson singing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" -- the fourth take, following Collins and Harlan (1911), Louis Armstrong (1937), and Bunk Johnson (1945). Then, after Sidney Bechet, comes Chano Pozo's "Ritmo Afro Cubano." That disc wanders especially wide: Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald, Lenny Tristano, Mutt Carey, Astor Piazzolla, Hank Penny, Nelly Lutcher, Buddy Rich, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker. But before long bebop has driven most of the other contenders from the depopulated clubs -- exceptions are the occasional throwback like Kid Thomas, and an especially ugly bit of projectile vomit from Stan Kenton. I suppose there's a lesson there: I would have picked something listenable, but if you have to acknowledge Kenton, why whitewash him? A-
Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions (1972-75 , Columbia/Legacy, 6CD): The eighth, and reportedly last, of Legacy's deluxe metal-spine multi-CD box sets, which have attempted to reframe the Davis catalog in its broader studio context. While some of the earlier boxes did little more than repackag well known material, the later sets undid Teo Macero's edits, returning to the original session tracks. That hasn't always been a plus: the Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson session boxes largely vindicated the edits. But here it is a plus. On the Corner was rudely dismissed by virtually all jazz critics at the time, even those who bought into the earlier fusion albums. Indeed, by Ornette Coleman's rule-of-thumb it wasn't a jazz album at all -- Coleman argued that in rock the band plays with the drummer, while in jazz the drummer plays with the band. But rewrite that rule to make funk bassist Michael Henderson the focal point, with the drums (including congas and tabla) just the first layer of elaboration. Davis by the early 1970s was a pop star as well as a jazz legend, which led him to conceive of his evolution in terms of James Brown and Sly Stone, but unlike his fusion followers, he had no intention of watering anything down. He spent this period working with British avant-gardist Paul Buckmaster, listening to Karlheinz Stockhausen, neither offering any pop potential. What Davis learned here was to be comfortable with repetition, a very unjazzlike attitude. He let the bass line stretch out endlessly, opening up space that he could pierce at will with his trumpet. Over three years, he took various groups into the studio 16 times, releasing the edited down On the Corner and two more bundles of scraps, Big Fun and Get Up With It. The edited albums never quite let the music breathe, which turns out to be key. Until now the period was best represented by live albums, and Dark Magus is still the one to turn to first -- no doubt because audience rekindled the jazz legend's love of improvisation. But this history fleshes out the story. Those waiting for Davis to stumble will have to look further. A-
Sunday, December 2. 2007
Dahr Jamail: How to Control the Story, Pentagon-style. Not exactly news, but worth reading amidst all the fluff propaganda coming out of the White House on how good things are going in Iraq, especially the bit about the "enduring" deal that Bush and Maliki are reported as nearing (maybe in mid-2008) to permanently base US troops in Iraq. Bush will forever be remembered as a war criminal: the Decider who insisted in launching an aggressive war that has caused the deaths of a million or more Iraqis, that has turned millions more into refugees, and that shows no end in sight.
Catherine Collins/Douglas Frantz: The Proliferation Game. An excerpt from the authors' book on AQ Khan and the Pakistani nuclear bomb racket. The authors argue first of all that the roots of the Pakistani atom bomb program lie in "Eisenhower's 1953 Atoms for Peace program, billed as a humanitarian gesture aimed at sharing the peaceful potential of atomic energy with the world." Moreover, the execution of the program was achieved primarily through the multinational business community that built up around so-called peaceful nuclear power. Khan was adept at exploiting this network, and went further in organizing the whole business. Thanks to global warming, nuclear power seems to be creeping back onto the agenda again. (Gwyneth Cravens' book, Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy [2007, Knopf], looks to be a relatively articulate pro-nuclear argument, although a lot of the comparisons strike me as suspect; e.g., "A person living within 50 miles of a nuclear plant receives less radiation from it in a year than you get from eating one banana.") No matter how good an idea nuclear power seems, unless you can provide a clean way to separate it from nuclear weapons it remains fraught with danger. It remains unclear whether that can be done, but the example of Pakistan shows us two things: one is that the dichotomy between the haves and the have-nots is always ripe for levelling; the other is that the have-nots can and will find a way. I think Collins and Frantz are probably wrong in calling Khan a Jihadist, although what he's done certainly makes nuclear armament much more accessible to Jihadists. But he's also shown that the nuclear powers will be increasingly unable to keep their nuclear monopoly.
Paul Woodward: The Annapolis Peace Train - destination unknown. Quotes David Ignatius saying that the very words "peace process" have a narcotic effect. Quotes Olmert on how the suffering of Palestinians has "formented the ethos of hatred toward us," then notes how Olmert plans to cut off the electricity in Gaza, increasing that suffering and hatred -- Woodward adds, "This is honey-sweetened sadism."
Kaveh L Afrasiabi: Iran: The uninvited guest at peace summit. One reason why Annapolis will fail:
Actually, the weakness is not intrinsic in the positions of Bush, Olmert, and Abbas. It's in their positions, which aim to divide the forces and dismiss the universal appeal to justice. Inviting Iran wouldn't solve anything in terms of the political pressure Iran might apply to Hamas, Hezbollah, etc., but it would signify a step toward including all sides in the settlement. Inviting Hamas and Hezbollah would go even further. But Bush, Olmert, and Abbas all seek nothing more than leverage against their enemies.
Michael Schwartz: Why Bush Won't Leave Iraq. Midway through, this asks one of the fundamental questions of our age: "What does the Bush Administration want in Iraq?" Schwartz returns to the question of oil, which continues to be an intrisic part of Bush's demands for Iraqi reform. "American ambitions -- far more than sectarian tensions -- constitute the irresolvable core of Iraq's political problems. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis oppose the occupation. They wish the Americans gone and a regime in place in Baghdad that is not an American ally. . . . For four years, Iraqis of all sectarian and political persuasions have (successfully) resisted American attempts to activate the plan first developed by Cheney's Energy Task Force."
Tom Engelhardt: A Basis for Enduring Relationships in Iraq. This continues from Schwartz's essay, attempting to decipher the "Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America" -- the recently touted agreement-to-agree meant to pepetuate Bush's occupation of Iraq for future administrations. This, again, has much to do with oil, as well as the military's endless expansion of "enduring camps" that provide the matrix for a long-term garrisoning of the region. What's missing from the reporting is Iraqis like Maliki are thinking in playing along with this game. Maybe the agreement-to-agree isn't much of a concession. Iraq has a weak government, which despite its elections doesn't seem to have much popular support. What really backs the government is massive American military firepower, but that has to be a source of embarrassment for any Iraqi politician who hopes to survive the eventual withdrawal. We all know that's not going to happen on Bush's watch, so the game continues, with the Iraqis not forcing what they certainly know has to happen, and Bush making like it never will -- that in the end his war will be redeemed, unless of course the cowardly Democrats pull the plug.