Monday, April 29. 2013
Music: Current count 21338  rated (+36), 615  unrated (-3).
Probably spent more time last week working on Rhapsody Streamnotes (posted) and Recycled Goods (still in progress) than Jazz Prospecting, but got off to a good start when two (of three) Ivo Perelman titles came through, then two more albums got big lifts from their sax players. Result is probably the best quality week of the year so far -- actually even better if I count two Rhapsody A- albums (Allison Miller, already posted, and Roscoe Mitchell, in the file for May). More promising things in the mail, too.
JD Allen: Grace (2012 , Savant): Tenor saxophonist, from Detroit; has a handful of albums since 1999. Originally a hard charger, has backed off quite a bit lately, especially here. Quartet includes Eldar Djangirov on piano, playing with exceptional delicacy. B+(**)
Duo Baars-Henneman: Autumn Songs (2012 , Wig): Ig Henneman on viola, Ab Baars on tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi. Henneman tends to lead, pushing the limits of high lonesome. Baars is complementary, especially on clarinet. B+(***)
Michiel Braam: EBraam 3 (2012 , BBB): Dutch avant pianist, just credited with "keys" here, his bassist Pieter Douma on bass guitar, with Dirk-Peter Kölsch on drums, a group he calls "eBraam (in which case the album is just 3). Closes with a Hugh Hopper song -- not sure who does the vocal, but it comes as a surprise. B+(*)
Cristina Braga: Samba, Jazz and Love (2012 , Enja): From Brazil, plays harp and sings, tenth album since 1998 (according to AMG), some classical, but her 2010 Harpa Bossa started to recast classic samba using harp instead of guitar, and this continues in that quest. Group includes trumpet, bass, vibes, and percussion, the harp not all that obvious until your clued in. Voice reminds one of Astrud Gilberto. B+(**)
Kaylé Brecher: Spirals and Lines (2012, Penchant Four): Singer, based in Philadelphia, fifth album since 1992. Don't see song credits but most seem to be originals -- obvious covers are "When Johnny Goes Marching Home" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," but she segues the latter into a corny patriotic anthem ("The House I Live In") and updates a Mingus blues for the white collar world. Long list of musicians, none I had heard of, shuttle in and out, including four trumpet/flugelhorn players and three trombonists but her favorite accompanist is Jimmy Parker on sousaphone -- mine too. B+(***)
Boyd Lee Dunlop: The Lake Reflections (2012 , Mr. B Sharp): Pianist, b. 1926 in North Carolina and spent most of his life in Buffalo, working in steel mills and railyards and playing piano in clubs at night; a local Hall of Famer but only cut his first album after turning 85. This is his second, solo piano improvisations; doesn't try to dazzle you, but keeps the ideas flowing. B+(**)
Ross Hammond Quartet: Cathedrals (2013, Prescott): Guitarist, based in Sacramento, CA; has a handful of albums. Last cut here is a duet with drummer Alex Cline, a good chance to hone in on Hammond's attractive technique. But the rest of the album is dominated by Vinny Golia (tenor and soprano sax, flute) in an amazing tour de force that reduces Cline to keeping metronomic time. Steuart Liebig plays bass. A-
Barbara Morrison: A Sunday Kind of Love (2010-12 , Savant): Singer, b. 1952 in Michigan, got her start opposite Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson in 1974, toiled a couple decades in the Johnny Otis Show, has a dozen records since 1995. I haven't heard any of them, but would be real surprised if any hold a candle to this one. The secret isn't a fine-but-who-are-they pianio trio -- Stuart Elster? Richard Simon? Lee Spath? -- so it must be Houston Person, who is more than just featured here. But it's the singer who hits one softball after another out of the park: "I'm Just a Lucky So and So," "The Green Door," "A Sunday Kind of Love," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "Let's Stay Together" -- only "I Cover the Waterfront" is out of her zone. Exquisite: the medley of "Smile/Make Someone Happy." I dare anyone not to. A
New York Voices: Live: With the WDR Big Band Cologne (2008 , Palmetto): Long-running vocal group, down to a quartet here -- Darmon Meader, Kim Nazarian, Lauren Kinhan, Peter Eldridge -- with seven albums since 1989. This is a live shot backed by the WDR Big Band Cologne -- a sharp group we've heard with damn near everyone, and here they provide uniformly solid support, a big help for a group where the voices slide all over the place. B-
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of the Duet, Volume One (2012 , Leo): The Brazilian avant-saxophonist has been releasing records at a furious pace recently, including two batches of three each last year, and three more recently. All of this batch include Shipp, who played piano in David S. Ware's now-legendary quartet among much else, including a 1996 duet with Perelman (Bendito of Santa Cruz). Over the last two years no one has produced more top flight music than Perelman, but I'm starting to wonder if we're getting too much of the same thing. At least that's where I was stuck on the two new quartet albums, but the duets here are clear and sparkling, both sides coherent and connected. Not that the inevitable Volume Two won't be too much . . . On to the quartets. A-
Ivo Perelman: The Edge (2012 , Leo): Tenor sax quartet with Matthew Shipp (piano), Michael Bisio (bass), and Whit Dickey (drums) -- Dickey goes way back with Shipp, and Bisio is the current bassist in Shipp's piano trio. Perelman indeed seems on edge early on, where the going is rougher than need be, but he does finds himself by the end. B+(**)
Ivo Perelman: Serendipity (2011 , Leo): Another tenor sax quartet, reportedly accidental: session was originally scheduled to be trio with Matthew Shipp (piano) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- that trio was recorded a week later as The Foreign Legion -- but when one was late they called in bassist William Parker and wound up with a quartet. Sometimes hard to judge exactly what Parker adds, but Perelman is remarkably relaxed and fluid from the start, and builds up to some of his most impressive blowing ever. A-
Jan Shapiro: Piano Bar After Hours (2012 , Singing Empress): Standards singer, came out of St. Louis and wound up teaching at Berklee. Has at least three previous albums. This one is almost only accompanied by piano, with five pianists in rotation -- one cut has bass and drums. A very precise, disciplined vocalist, she doesn't need much help, but great songs work better than not-so-great ones. B+(*)
Melvin Taylor: Taylor Made (2012 , Eleven East): Guitarist, sings some -- one song here, with another sung by Bernell Anderson, no better -- has a half-dozen albums going back as far as 1982. Band includes bass (a second Melvin Taylor), keyboard, and drums. Six songs, one from Isaac Hayes. Nice little groove record. B+(*)
Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet: Hustlin' for a Gig (2012, Housekat): Ginny Carr, Robert McBride, André Enceneat, and Holly Shockey, with all but one of the songs penned by Carr ("This Is the Life"). Third group album, but they (Carr and McBride, at least) claim to have been together for twenty-some years. The spirited interplay and cleverness wears on you (or me, anyway). B-
John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Culture (2012 , Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet player, came up in Woody Herman's band, should explain his taste in bright and brassy. Fourth album with his unconventional big band Abstract Truth. Pieces include a 3-part suite and an arrangement of "Footprints." Strong solos, some interesting quirks in the arrangements. B+(***)
Bob Wolfman: Transition (2012, self-released): Guitarist-singer-songwriter, from New York, first album, produced by Larry Coryell with piano, bass, and drums. Aside from the blues cover ("Born Under a Bad Sign") Wolfman's a truly awful singer. Some nifty guitar work here and there -- until proven otherwise, I'd chalk that up to Coryell. C
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 28. 2013
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, April 27. 2013
One thing about the gun debate is the lack of specific case examples, especially for arguments that putting more guns into the hands of "good" people will limit the amount of gun violence perpetrated by "bad" people. The contrary argument, that reducing the number of legal guns -- which, by the way, simplifies the task of enforcing prohibitions against illegal guns -- reduces the overall amount of gun violence, can be argued with gross statistics. That argument, by the way, seems convincing, but we aren't just statistical aggregates. We're individuals, and even if more guns in general endanger us, it seems at least possible that there are some cases where a gun could save one's life or thwart a crime. So why don't "second amendment rights" advocates give us more concrete examples? (Aside, of course, from the fact that it's a lot easier to spout pieties, a form of laziness and sloppiness you hear on all sides of virtually every issue.)
Someone could (and should) do some actual research on shootings: map out what kinds of confrontations happen -- e.g., home invasion where perpetrator is shot by home resident (or vice versa, in which case was resident armed or not?) -- and count them all up. (As I understand it, the government is prohibited from undewriting any such study, thanks to the NRA, which seems to fear any actual research into gun use or abuse.) But not every confrontation has an obvious right and wrong side. For example, consider the case of Dustin Cheever, here in Wichita.
What happened was: Cheever suspected that the son of a neighbor, Robert Gammon, had stolen a motorcycle. Cheever didn't take his suspicions to the police. Instead, he and a friend (Steve Grose) searched for the motorcycle in Gammons' backyard -- they entered Gammons' property without his permission or knowledge. Gammons confronted them, pointing a BB pistol (which plausibly appeared to be a real gun) at them, and threatening them. Cheever, however, was carrying a real gun. Rather than backing away, he decided that he needed to defend himself and/or his friend, so he pulled his gun, shot, and killed Gammons. Cheever is currently being tried for second degree murder, which seems about right.
Had Cheever pulled his gun and Gammons killed him, Gammons would have been in a stronger legal position. He was, after all, at home, whereas Cheever and Grose were trespassing. Gammons misjudged twice that his gun would protect him: first, as is so often the case, the gunfight was determined not by right or wrong, good guy or bad guy, but by who was quicker with more deadly aim (a fact which, by the way, tends to favor the more experienced bad guys); but second, had he not brandished the gun, had he instead just threatened to call the police, Cheever would have had no excuse to defend himself with his gun, and most likely the pair would have just left.
That Gammons' gun was actually a non-lethal BB pistol is pretty much irrelevant here: it looked like a real gun and was given extra credibility by Gammons' threats to kill with it, plus Cheever had no reason to doubt that Gammons could have owned a real gun, since guns are pretty much the norm here in Wichita. Also, Cheever may well have belatedly understood that Kansas's Stand Your Ground law gave Gammons a legal excuse to shoot first -- had Gammons realized that Cheever was in fact armed (something he might reasonably have suspected). It is often argued that the expectation that the other person is armed leads to more moderate behavior -- that seems to be a big part of the argument that all "good guys" should carry guns -- in this case such expectations pretty clearly escalated the conflict.
So this case, at least, doesn't provide much support for the notion that we are better off with more guns: one gun owner, attempting to defend his property from trespass, is dead; another, intent on taking the law into his own hand in searching for his stolen property, faces second degree murder charges. Neither of those outcomes would have happened had either (much less both) parties been unarmed, nor would they have happened had either (again much less both) turned to the police to settle their dispute.
There may be other gun confrontations where it's easier to tell who is "good" or "bad," where it's clearer who's right and wrong, but I suspect this sort of mess is more common. Moreover, it's more reflective of the mentality of people who think guns are an answer for their problems dealing with other people: they overestimate the value and grossly underestimate the risks; and they almost never have the skills and judgment they'd need to make the gun work for them, and often lack the self-awareness to realize when they're getting into trouble. Indeed, the police, who are trained both in the law and the proper use of guns, often screw it up. Why would a random individual expect to do better?
There are simple solutions here, but not practicable ones. The statistics are clear, but no one wants to be a statistic. As long as people think they need guns for self-protection, it's awfully hard to take them away. Moreover, it's hard to say "trust in the police" when the police aren't all that trustworthy, nor can one say "have faith in our system of justice" when that system is far from just. Those are, I'm tempted to argue, bigger and more urgent problems than guns. On the other hand, so many of the reasons that people give for insisting on arming themselves are so patently false you have to argue with them just to attempt to open up a space for public sanity.
No such argument is more ridiculous than the one that you need guns to protect yourself from the government -- although the one that the government needs guns to protect itself from you is every bit as specious, not to mention the one -- which costs us about a trillion dollars a year -- that the government needs armies and navies and air forces to protect us from foreigners. War doesn't protect us from war: war is war. Guns don't protect us from gun violence: aside from a few museum pieces, they create gun violence.
Friday, April 26. 2013
Had promised to post this today, so be it. But I was tempted to slip in something else in its stead. First thing I saw in the paper this morning was a piece on Obama (and Clinton and Carter and the old man, whose face is on a T-shirt I have captioned something like "I wish I had pulled out") saying nice things about the worst president in US history on the occasion of the opening of a library built by the taxpayers in his name. There are lots of reasons to be unhappy with Obama these days, but none galls me more than his utter failure to expound on the incalculable damage that the presidency of George W. Bush did to this country. By not doing so, he let the nation forget, and thereby learn nothing. Indeed, within two years the Republican Party not only recovered as a political force, it did so under much more extremist leadership. And also by not speaking up he tacitly accepted the legacy Bush left as a new norm: hence it became his recession, his deficits, his bloody wars.
Then when I got on the net, I discovered that George Jones died. That would have been worth a post, too -- for now, let me just refer you to my Rolling Stone CD Guide piece on him. My mother was a huge fan of his, so his music became a bonding point -- going as far back as when there weren't many such points. The day Jones wrecked his SUV, I flew home to Wichita, got in real late, and let myself into her house. She had been sleeping but got up to greet me, and all she could talk about was Jones. She was crying, slobbering; I could hardly understand a word, and for the first time wondered whether she was losing her mind. Turned out, she had forgot to put her teeth in. Always wished we could have taken her to see Jones, but by the time we did get a chance to see him, she had passed, and he was barely able to sing -- very disappointing show.
Nothing much to say about the following streamnotes. I've been checking out what I could, not much taken by recent recommendations by Christgau and Tatum (although the African stuff has mostly kept out of reach), doubtful that they will approve of my minor finds. So feeling alone out here. And cranky. Damn cranky.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on March 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (3274 records).
Actress: R.I.P. (2012, Honest Jon's): Darren Cunningham has a new EP I can't find, but last year's album has belatedly appeared. Most songs are built from simple patterns with minor oddities, adding up in interesting ways. B+(***)
Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine: White People and the Damage Done (2013, Alternative Tentacles): Eric Boucher, ex-Dead Kennedys, has nine "spoken word" albums (1987-2006), formed this band in 2009 to record The Audacity of Hype. Guitar heavy, not pop-punk but maybe power-punk, lyrics political though I'm not sure how useful. B+(*)
James Blake: Overgrown (2013, Polydor): Considered electronica for his dewy electroglop, but nothing conveys bathos like the juvenile human voice -- as AMG put it, "the faintest hints of Chet Baker's springtime loneliness buried in Blake's mumbling blue-eyed R&B vocals." Of course, he's less cracked than Baker, and more authentically bereft. What a sad world he portends. B
Bombino: Nomad (2013, Nonesuch): Tuareg guitar hero, goes with an American producer this time, who decides to crank up the guitar (and bass and drums) -- not a bad idea, but a bit limiting. B+(***)
Charli XCX: True Romance (2013, Iamsound): British electro-diva Charlotte Aitchison, age 20, first album (not counting a promo, EPs, and a couple mixtapes). Voice is so-so and her raps barely flow, but the multi-producer synth pop buoys her, at least until the tedious "How Can I." B+(**)
Chicha Libre: Cuatro Tigres (2013, Barbès, EP): Brooklyn group built around the "psychedelic cumbias from Peru" that the label first anthologized on The Roots of Chicha (2007). After two albums, a four track, 14:48, EP, starting with a cover of the Clash's "The Guns of Brixton" -- a signifier that they are of our world, as is their take on the Simpsons theme music, but "Rica Chicha" suggests a more interesting one. B+(*)
Eric Church: Caught in the Act: Live (2011 , EMI Nashville): Country singer-songwriter with three pretty good and pretty popular records under his belt, consolidates them into one 75-minute set here -- the sound cranked up to fill his arena and to keep the crowd psyched. Recorded with a lot of fan cheer, annoying at first, eventually settling into something akin to groove wear. B+(*)
Chvrches: Recover (2013, Glassnote, EP): Glassgow electropop group with singer Lauren Mayberry and two keyb players, tiptoes into the pop arena with an EP, 5 cuts, 21:23, but actually the two longest cuts are remixes of the title cut -- stretches out the undoubted pleasure, but impresses me less. B+(*)
DJ Koze: Amygdala (2013, Pampa): Stefan Kozalla, from Hamburg, Germany, has a handful of albums since 2000, titles like Music Is Okay, All People Is My Friends, and Wo Die Rammelwolle Fliegt. His beats are slight but deeper into the album become hypnotic. The vocals, some in German, are awkward, but ultimately superfluous. A-
Maxmillion Dunbar: House of Woo (2013, RVNG Intl.): "Left-field house" from Andrew Field-Pickering, has a previous album and the usual pile of short forms and DJ mixes, dishes up sparkling synth sounds that hold your interest even when he wanders from the beat. A-
Steve Earle & the Dukes (& Duchesses): The Low Highway (2013, New West): Not sure that hanging around the set of Treme did him much good -- his Cajun comes up a bit shy -- but "That All You Got?" may wind up the most memorable of Katrina songs, and two co-credits with Lucia Micarelli -- Eleanor Whitmore plays the fiddle -- wrap up a tidy package in the midst of an otherwise down-and-out album. He also treads ominously with a loner threatening to burn WalMart down, and other characters are no less sullen, but that's where he finds his purpose. A-
Jonny Fritz: Dad Country (2013, ATO): Formerly known as Jonny Corndawg, whose 2011 album Down on the Bikini Line tried to be funnier, all grown up and sober now, with a dozen songs I don't recall clearly enough, except that I'm pretty sure they don't suck. B+(**)
Ghostface Killah/Adrian Younge: Twelve Reasons to Die (2013, Relativity/Soul Temple): Cover of this mock soundtrack reads "Adrian Younge Presents . . . Starring Ghostface Killah," but I figure go with the big type first. It's another hoary gangster chronicle, replete with 1970s spaghetti western musical effects, so hackneyed it's almost funny, something that could grow on you if you never took it seriously. B+(***)
Greyboy Allstars: Inland Emperor (2013, Knowledge Room): Started out in the mid-1990s during the brief acid jazz boom with DJ Greyboy the organizing force, and while I wouldn't call them stars, at least I've heard of saxophonist Karl Denson and organist Robert Walter. The instrumental funk is not without interest (e.g., "Trashtruck"), but the vocals are. B
The Knife: Shaking the Habitual (2013, Mute, 2CD): Swedish electropop duo, Olof Dreijer and sister-singer Karin Dreijer Andersson (aka Fever Ray). Some confusion: there's a 77:18 single disc version and a 96:19 double, but Rhapsody's comes in at 86:16. Several terrific cuts here, at least when they stay upbeat and oblique, with the slow ones slipping back into the ordinary. Could be that all versions are just a hair too long. A-
The Knife: Silent Shout (2006, Rabid/Mute): The Swedish siblings' second, and probably best-regarded, record: the beats seem a bit better crafted and less exciting, the songs a bit more consistently crafted -- seems to be their level. B+(***)
Lapalux: Nostalchic (2013, Brainfeeder): Stuart Howard, English but attached to Flying Lotus, which shares a lot of the choppy pastiche, but is better at it. B+(*)
Lil Wayne: I Am Not a Human Being II (2013, Cash Money): "I would sing about my dick/but that'd be a long story." Instead, perhaps inspired by his dick, he focuses on pussy. B+(**)
Major Lazer: Free the Universe (2013, Secretly Canadian): Reggae/dancehall/ragga project by Diplo (Wes Pentz) and Switch (Dave Taylor), a bit removed from Jamaica but so is everything since roots reggae got lost in the 1980s. Third album, their most natural and most expansive, and not just because they get help on "Bubble Butt." B+(***)
The Men: New Moon (2013, Sacred Bones): Brooklyn post-whatever band, have started to mix up the punkish formula with countryish ballads and hooks wherever they can find them, but haven't found much, and are better off when they revert. B
Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom: No Morphine No Lillies (2013, Foxhaven/Royal Potato Family): Drummer, third album, her second called Boom Tic Boom a smashing piano trio with Myra Melford and Todd Sickafoose plus "guest" violinist Jenny Scheinman. Some "second system complex" here as Scheinman becomes a regular, giving the group two stars to try to keep in sync, and a new batch of guests, including a Rachel Friedman vocal, Erik Friedlander cello, and a pair of trumpets. Too much to sort out quickly, but the pianist is brilliant as ever, and the closer with the trumpets is deliriously over the top. A-
Willie Nelson and Family: Let's Face the Music and Dance (2013, Legacy): He turns 80 this year, taking it easy by doing what he's done pretty much ever since Nashville, and he's put as little effort into this as he's ever done: just a bunch of semi-standards done Family style -- less likely to tax his voice, which is still remarkably prime at a time when peers like Haggard and Jones are shot to shit. Easy suits him. B+(**)
OneRepublic: Native (2013, Interscope): Arena rock band from Colorado Springs, not something we really need, but their avalanche of synths is tuneful more often than not, and I don't detect any of the ickiness you get with bands like Journey. Sample shallow sentiment: "And if we only die once I wanna die with you." B
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: English Electric (2013, Relativity): New wave synth group from 1980, when their first two albums were fresh and danceable despite the fact that all they could do were variations on their formula -- "Enola Gay" remains the archetype. Having nothing better to do, they regrouped after a 12 year hiatus in 2008. This is pleasant filler until "Helen of Troy" earns a spot on their best-of, then this turns into more interesting filler. B+(**)
Brad Paisley: Wheelhouse (2013, Arista Nashville): What do you do about a guy who'd really like to be smarter, kinder, and more decent than his cohort, but who frets that it may cost him sales and huzzahs down at the local redneck honky tonk? Especially since it probably already has, although more for the way he keeps picking at his self-inflicted scabs than his lack of backbone. Has anyone ever written a lazier, wobblier-kneed anthem than "Southern Comfort Zone"? ("Accidental Racist"? Despite its platitudes, lazy as they are, not an anthem.) Oh, and by the way, the real lesson of Sherman's march through Georgia isn't that Dixie got wronged. It's what the man said: "War is hell." B
Palma Violets: 180 (2013, Rough Trade): British group debut, punk-related, black-and-white cover suggesting their basic approach, but a little fancier, especially with the organ -- more Jam than Ramones. B+(**)
Paramore: Paramore (2013, Fueled by Ramen): Fifth album from a band formed in Tennessee, fronted by singer-songwriter Hayley Williams, the eponymous album a way of doubling down after two other band founders split. Big voice, big beat, grand gestures, a bit of pop sheen, all of which leaves me cold -- unlike the 0:52 "I'm Not Angry Anymore," which suggests a different path. B
Pennybirdrabbit: Safer (2013, Big Beat, EP): Second EP, four songs, 14:13. The hype, aside from citing her appearance on a Skrillex joint, dwells on how cute she is, but her electronica is pretty tasteful, the vocals forthright, and the songs smarter than you had any reason to expect. B+(**) [sc]
Phosphorescent: Muchacho (2013, Dead Oceans): Group alias for Matthew Houck, singer-songwriter based in Athens, GA. Did a Willie Nelson tribute two albums back, but could also do one for Bon Iver, not that he should -- his own songs are better. B+(**)
Salva: Odd Furniture (2013, Friends of Friends, EP): Paul Salva, from LA. Five cuts, 20:04, hard beats and emphatic repetition remind some of Skrillex, not much of a recommendation in my book. B [bc]
Shlohmo: Laid Out (2013, Friends of Friends, EP): Henry Laufer, from Los Angeles, has a couple albums and a handful of EPs, this one running 5 cuts, 26:52. Even the one with the annoying vocal-like samples has a structure that makes use of them; better still when the sounds have their own appeal. B+(**) [bc]
Skrillex: Leaving (2013, Owsla, EP): Showboat techno, at least that's what I concluded after not being able to stomach his commercial breakthrough, Bangarang, although I rather liked his earlier, still extravagant, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. He files everything in his catalog as EP, but this one really is -- 3 songs, 12:41 (Bangarang ran 29:56, and three remixes pushed Scary Monsters even longer). First two bang his gong, although less irritating than before; title track is measured and pleasant. B+(*) [dl]
William Tyler: Impossible Truth (2013, Merge): Solo guitarist, in the mode of John Fahey with all the rich harmonic reverb but less of a sense that he's an authentic primitive. Rumbles a bit early on, then sweetens up: "The World Set Free" is more than a good idea. B+(**)
Kurt Vile: Wakin on a Pretty Daze (2013, Matador): Singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, name not an alias, which helps explain why he is blander -- less witty and less menacing -- than you would expect. He's also lost whatever lo-fi gestalt he started with, winding up here with a rather nice guitar groove album regardless of how the songs break. B+(*)
Charles Walker & the Dynamites: Love Is Only Everything (2013, Gemco): Veteran blues shouter fronting a Motown-tinged r&b group: hard to see what could go wrong there, but now you can construct a catalog of annoying tics, none redeemed by a hopelessly catchy hook. B-
Will.i.am: #Willpower (2013, Interscope): Black Eyed Peas majordomo, has produce some of the catchiest arena funk of the last decade but even when he steps up front he remains a background persona -- perhaps he doesn't have much else. This has been predictably panned, and indeed the rhymes are lazy and the "let's get dumb" party philosophy shallow but "Ghetto Ghetto" isn't shallow -- just a little tongue-in-cheek with the kiddie chorus. B+(*)
Wire: Change Becomes Us (2013, Pink Flag): More than any other 1970s group, the one that engineered the transition from punk to new wave, something they've immortalized in their guitar tunings and bass crunch -- cf. "Eels Sang," a throwback for more than its brevity, a rule "& Much Besides" fruitfully sets aside; other tracks less so. B+(**)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Mosquito (2013, Interscope): Despite all the vampire hoopla of the last decade, the real blood-sucking killer is the lowly mosquito, and their title song plays it up for all the horror you should feel. Half of the songs are equally remarkable -- "Sacrilege" sure is, "These Paths" burbles ominously, "Area 52" destroys the earth, and the ballad helps with the healing. A-
Wednesday, April 24. 2013
by Michael Tatum
I'm delighted by the symmetry of touting two pick hits from Mali featuring the ngoni (I'll explain in a minute), both distributed by German imprint Out Here. Unfortunately for me -- and, I'm afraid, for you -- Rokia Traoré's CD should have been re-issued stateside by Nonesuch, who as of this writing have pushed back the release date indefinitely. I have no idea if it's a licensing issue, but nevertheless, enough publications have run reviews on the record that I'm justifying its inclusion this month. If need be, do yourself a favor and hunt for a good price on the import -- or at least bug WEA to put it back on their release schedule. Good rock and roll is so hard to find these days.
Dieuf-Dieul de Thiès: Aw Sa Yone Vol. 1 (Teranga Beat) Outshone in their time by a certain nonpareil Dakar outfit, these competitors from nearby Thiès couldn't garner the necessary financial backing to commit these 1982 sessions to cassette, let alone the more expensive vinyl. So even if thirty plus years later the resulting CD is prone to the occasional channel drop out, be thankful Baobab producer Moussa Diallo had the foresight to record them live at the Sangomar Night Club gratis when no else would. Although their name translates to "collective good deeds undertaken in hopes of future profit," one gathers from the testimonials from bandleader/guitarist Pape Seck and singer Gora Mbaye -- both of whom take pains to remind us that they've had no recompense from this project -- this short-lived aggregation was a labor of love that, despite its failure to live up to its nominal promise, has been unmatched musically or spiritually for either man before or since. Mbalax fans will find much to appreciate in Bassirou Sarr's dynamic tenor, but what really distinguishes this band -- and keeps their spellbinding jams going for an average of nine minutes each -- are insinuating, serpentine rhythms that rumble rather than rock, and two wild card saxophonists whose expansive, incisive solos actually go somewhere. In short, for those who covet the idea of garage rock, but are more persuaded by the kind of scrappy upstarts who are too poor to own a car -- let alone a garage. A
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko (Out Here) Showcasing passionate vocal performances not only from Kouyate himself but also lifemate Amy Sacko, Khaira Arby, Kassé-Mady Diabaté, and my favorite, leather-larynxed Zoumana Teretayou, you might be led into believing this is a singer's album. Of course, it is -- inasmuch as so many Malian records are -- but it owes its majesty and power mainly to the ngoni, a lowly stringed-instrument fashioned from wood or calabash and covered by a layer of dried, stretched animal skin: in other words, if one had a hankering to "shred one's ax," no match for a Fender Strat. In theory. But because its string placement makes it ideal for executing dazzling, pirouetting runs, and because this is arranged for not one but four players shadowboxing around each other, this is a guitar workout like few others, and with the help of amplification, effects pedals, and two percussionists who must have at least four hands each, their desert protest blues is powerful rock and roll indeed. Recorded with careful thought to space by Arcade Fire hand Howard Bilerman, Kouyate's leads are as lightning-quick as you'd expect, but he's equally deft at string-bending and one-note freakouts reminiscent of Santana or the Doors, resulting in an album with no dead spots, right down to the Howlin' Wolf tribute and the sprint-to-the-finish-line named after Kouyate's son. And the manic climax to "Ne Me Fatigue Pas" says more about doom and uncertainty about Mali's recent political coup than mere words ever could. A
Kate Nash: Girl Talk [Deluxe Edition] (Ingrooves) Nash's riot grrrl move makes a lot more sense when you work your way back through her discography. Compared initially to Lily Allen because each masked her privileged upbringing by cultivating a Mockney accent and a potty mouth after her egalitarian parents sent her to public school, one could argue the British record buying public cottoned to them because although they swore like Liverpudlian sailors, they remained "proper birds" about it. Even so, Allen herself would never have countenanced the tart homemade production of Nash's Made of Bricks and My Best Friend Is You, nor would Allen's bright, fluttery soprano have been capable of tackling Nash's new material -- hints of the nasal yowl the latter employs here have been hinted at in her darker timbre all along. And most crucially, many of Nash's songs, beginning with the anti-bullying "Dickhead" on the debut, address relationships with women: platonic of course (the phrase "best friend" reoccurs in song after song), romantic up in the air, and either way for you and The Daily Mirror to puzzle out. So while this first sounds like a mess, immersion reveals itself to be both a logical progression and a good way to stick it to the British pop music journalists who would turn their noses at the prospect of putting a "lightweight" on the cover of Mojo. And though the domestic release ends with a whimper -- the fey "You're So Cool, I'm So Freaky," followed by a lullaby that rubs its mawkish orchestral arrangement in old fans' faces -- the import deluxe concludes with three good-to-great tracks, including the self-explanatory "I'm a Feminist, You're Still a Whore," preceded by an ode to Pussy Riot that speaks feminism's universal language ("Meow, meow, meow, meow"). And note how Nash connects to her Russian compatriots: "They're the kinda girls that you'd be friends with/Cause they look cool and they give a shit/About the kind of things you give a shit about." Sisters gotta stick together. Brothers, take notice. A
Orchestra Super Mazembe: Mazembe @ 45rpm, Vol.1 (Sterns Africa) Although identified with Nairobi benga -- their biggest hit, the lovely "Shauri Yako," appears on the magnificent 1991 Earthworks compilation Guitar Paradise of East Africa, though not here -- the Super Earth Shakers are actually carpetbaggers who came up in the 70s from the Congo, less to flee Mobutu's kleptocracy (one could hardly argue Daniel arap Moi's vile police state as an improvement) but because Kenya promised bigger money. Their basic approach, covering both sides of an affordable, ten-shilling, 45 rpm single, will be familiar to benga/soukous/what-have-you fans: luminescent verses/choruses, followed by a brief caesura, after which the music bursts into a breakneck reverie in which voices and guitar bounce off each other so ebulliently you'll be thankful compiler Doug Paterson, as with the great 2010 D.O. Misiani compilation he also curated, painstakingly fuses both sides together (besides, who wants to get up and turn over a record while he's dancing?). Unlike most Afropop combos, there is no prime mover here: the band had as much a revolving door policy as the Drifters or Parliament-Funkadelic -- the liner notes list twenty members, plus nine confederates of indistinct involvement. And they sung the majority of their material in their native Lingala, a language denizens of their adopted country understand only slightly more than you and I. So with beauty, beats, and Atia Jo's buoyant bass their only non-variables, why do you suppose sold these records like hotcakes? Clues can be found in the included pics, one displaying the band goofing around in hardhats and yellow slickers (their name also translates to "construction workers"), another a group shot in which they lightheartedly mug for the camera. Eager to please any which way, they're almost a little too accommodating -- this isn't nearly as lively, resourceful, or magical as Guitar Paradise of East Africa, which I guess is my way of saying eleven bands are better than one. Or maybe I mean one band is better than none -- the band's lack of cohesive identity is a problem. Beauty against adversity may be Africa's gift to the world, but that's no excuse to make pleasure feel like business. A
Brad Paisley: Wheelhouse (Arista Nashville) Musically, Paisley's crazed strategy here reminds me of long-dismissed grunge reprobate Art Alexaxis: begin with a genre record, flirt with crossover, scurry to an apology, then heroically stage-dive into a full-fledged, gonzo sellout. The difference is that because he theoretically comes from right field, Paisley risks far more, not just by nodding three times to "rap" (the best by Charlie Daniels, who makes me wonder if "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was the antebellum "The Breaks"), but with samples, my favorite from a Roger Miller song I'm willing to bet that before this no one who actually own a Pro Tools setup has actually heard. Yet the knee-jerk conservatism of the lyrics shows how much Paisley is hedging his bets. It's one thing to remind red-staters that not everyone owns a gun, another to muse affectionately about "Those Crazy Christians" (Jeff Foxworthy: "If you bless a casserole or pray before a football game, you might be a Christian"). And while I love the gleeful abusive boyfriend revenge fantasy "Karate," songs like that have been staples of the genre long before Garth Brooks. But consider "Runaway Train," where Paisley opines, "When I was a young'un, my momma used to pray/That I'd find me a Christian girl and settle down someday," without revealing what kind of strong-willed woman took that archetype's place, or "The Mona Lisa," who regardless of her status as a ne plus ultra is seen, not heard, or the beer-commercial plots of "Harvey Bodine" and "Death of a Single Man." And while I'd point out that the Bob Doles of the world don't fear Bill Cosby or Ben Carson as much as they do brothers in gold chains and do-rags, you don't have to be Dolores Kearnes Goodwin to doubt the veracity of LL Cool J's closing benediction to Robert E. Lee (!!) and Abraham Lincoln in "Accidental Racist." Next time, Paisley should ring up Chuck D. But somehow I doubt Chuck's gonna return to the calls of someone who spends two "sensitive" verses rationalizing his reasons for proudly displaying the Confederate flag on a T-shirt. B+
Rilo Kiley: Rkives (Little Record Company) Completists complain -- and don't they always? -- why not include the juvenilia from their obscure first EP? Why not "Big Break" (the desultory b-side to "The Moneymaker")? Or the acoustic "Somebody Else's Clothes" (which appears only on the Live at Fingerprints EP) or "Xmas Cake," their bummed-out contribution to Nettwerk's Maybe This Christmas Too? Diligent Youtube research reveals however that these sixteen rarities plus one hidden novelty comprise the cream. Sure, there's Blake Sennett's mealy-mouthed demo "Rest of My Life," as well his petulant title-says-it-all "Well, You Left," which lies stillborn until Jenny Lewis adds a backing vocal to a disingenuously joyous coda. Yet although it took me several spins to suss it out -- the band would never have left a potential radio hit on the cutting room floor -- this is the rare odds and sods deal that can stand with the original records, and with three of the stragglers from 2004's heartfelt More Adventurous and seven more from 2007's slicker Under the Blacklight, what it offers in sonic variety makes up for what it lacks in thematic heft. Jenny is the star -- that goes without saying. But it never before occurred to me how much Sennett brought to the table until I heard how much muscle and imagination he put even into Lewis' second-stringers -- and had the benefit of Lewis' slightly more perfunctory solo efforts with Johnathan Rice and the Watson Twins for comparison. Great singer-songwriters are one thing. Great bands are another. A
Rokia Traoré: Beautiful Africa (Out Here) You won't be disappointed if you backtrack through this Malian singer-songwriter-guitarist's four previous albums, but as a whole they're slightly static: graceful to be sure, but also a tad too subtle, understated, and as deliberate as a piano recital, thus inaccessible to "world music" holdouts who thinks Oumou Sangare's records "all sound the same." This record poses no such hurdles. Beginning with the shotgun entrance of trap drum dynamo Sebastian Rochford, this electrifying set announces itself as nothing less than a rock record -- if you're wondering what might have inspired PJ Harvey confidante John Parish to sign on as producer, Traoré's crunchy guitar riffs, off-kilter time signatures, and awe-inspiring vocal gymnastics (from trilling coo to banshee wail to playful purr) must feel like familiar territory. And with the exception of the regretful "Mélancolie" this doesn't let up, including the two in English, a tough title anthem and a gorgeous song of praise for women. Not that you should let the ones in French and Bamako scare you off -- the killer girl-group backing vocals make the parlez vous ring out like doo wah diddy, hey-ya, hey-ya. A
Wire: Change Becomes Us (Pink Flag) Some bands evolve out of necessity; some evolve out of boredom. These shrewd shell-gamers evolve as to whatever fits their currents needs. If new wave bleaches punk, we'll bleach it even further by hiring Depeche Mode's producer. If our drummer quits, we'll lean harder on the drum machines. When our drummer returns, we'll get back to basics. And when guitarist Bruce Gilbert retires, we'll recycle and renew fragments from 1981's chaotic Document and Eyewitness like we were the Rolling Stones rolling from Some Girls to Emotional Rescue to Tattoo You, though letting thirty years pass by rather than three, well that's just shrewd shell-gamers for you. Their more obscure lyrics still don't signify without memorable melody -- the breakdown in communication theme may finally justify Graham Lewis' penchant for acronymic gobbledygook on "Re-invent Your Second Wheel," but it's still gobbledygook (and no, it's not code, Graham -- I applied a substitution cipher). But especially on the first half, catchier and more propulsive than their similarly-textured 2011 Red Barked Tree, their blast-chilled art punk makes the most out of lines like "How I adore your island/You're the one who should be spared," and a pile-driving anti-anthem that makes the change promised in their album title sound like a threat. And in the embittered opener, Colin Newman re-imagines "Reuters" from the point of view of an "ally in exile": "He breaks down in this theatre, but hopes not under these lights/Specifically those which gain strategic insights/By the best of good fortune, he had provisions in store/He doubles, then trebles the locks on his door." B+
Suede: Bloodsports (Suede Ltd.) Okay I'm swayed, but the word "aniseed" appears in back-to-back songs, and "Like a cause without a martyr/Like an effigy of balsa/Like a hairline crack in a radiator/Leaking life" is from one of the good ones ("Barriers," "It Starts and Ends With You") ***
Atoms for Peace: Amok (XL) Joey Waronker isn't my idea of an Afrobeat drum titan any more than Phil Selway, but for chilly DOR he'll do ("Default," "Reverse Running") ***
Telekinesis: Dormarion (Merge) The question isn't can you be a one man band, but should you? ("Power Lines," "Dark to Light") **
The Rough Guide to Acoustic Africa (World Music Network) In which even songs I liked in other contexts are subsumed by a concept that could use its own change of pace (Syran Mbenza & Ensemble Rumba Kongo, "Mbanda Nasali Nini? (Madeleine)," Shiyani Ngcobo, "Yekanini") **
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience (RCA) Maybe Smokey belabored the corny metaphors too, but he had the good sense not to stretch them out over an average song length of seven minutes ("Don't Hold the Wall," "Strawberry Bubblegum") *
David Bowie: The Next Day (Columbia) I have no idea what has taken hold in David Bowie's mind and body -- whether it's psychological, biochemical, or the thought of time waiting in the wings and speaking senseless things -- but whatever it is, it's scaring him to death: "Here I am/Not quite dying/My body left to rot in a hollow tree/Its branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me/And the next day/And the next/And another." Yet as he grips with the thought of his own mortality -- for real this time, no romanticized bullshit -- his Anglophile acolytes pretend, as they have for the last twenty-five odd years, that this represents a new dawning, another phase in a many storied career no one will admit has too many vacancies on the uppermost floors. Both the album title and the Dadaist appropriation of 1977's Heroes cover imply that this record is the one that should have surfaced in 1979 rather than Lodger -- a pretty bold statement, I'd say -- yet nothing here hits as hard as the first three songs on that underrated record's b-side. Meanwhile, Tony Visconti's production (another connection to his lost past) recreates old affects without that fertile period's air of discovery (the disjointed beat of "Dirty Boys" recalls "Breaking Glass," the squishy synth-snares of "Love is Lost" evoke "Sound and Vision"). Only on "The Stars Are Out Tonight" does the artist completely abjure sad nostalgia (the Potzdamer Platz, the Nurnberger Strasse) for directness and Visconti's chilly art rock find a purpose. Read the lyric sheet and you'll find that the celestial bodies in question have curious names like Birgitte, Jack, Kate, and Brad, and spend their time aimlessly wandering, never sleeping: "The dead ones and the living." And, one assumes, those in between. Peace be with you, David. B
Johnny Marr: The Messenger (Sire) You don't need to shoot him because there is no message -- message (and I use that word with reservations) was his old songwriting partner's department. So maybe the title should be Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Guitar Player? Except on the basis of this record, he doesn't have anything interesting to offer in that realm anymore either. Besides, who needs "message" anymore when your sole frame of reference is what Fran Healey and the Gallagher brothers were doing better in the '90s? Although if there's a "Some Might Say" or (ulp) "Writing to Reach You" here, I'll happily scarf up whatever Morrissey's serving up at the Staples Center. C+
Roger Knox & the Pine Valley Cosmonauts: Stranger in My Land (Bloodshot) Proves that "blacks" are alike the whole world over, singer-songwriters too. B
Josh Ritter: The Beast in Its Tracks (Pytheas Recordings) He just went through a terrible divorce -- can you tell? C+
Bilal: A Love Surreal (Entertainment One Music) Or: A Lunk Supreme: Airhead's Redux. C+
Holly Williams: The Highway (Georgiana) Shows restraint by not mentioning Grandpa Hank until track two, whose own "highway" is more lost than you think -- the title track is a self-pitying plaint about being on tour. C
Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg (Mercury) Or, The Freewheelin' Lonnie Donnegan. C
Tuesday, April 23. 2013
Still trying to unpack the overhang accumulated up to the March 14 post, with a second installment on March 16, although this one is delayed about as much as I should normally do -- one result is that the queue isn't getting noticeably shorter. So here's another batch of forty more/less recent book titles, with more to follow relatively soon.
Nicholson Baker: The Way the World Works: Essays (2012, Simon & Schuster): Fifteen years of short pieces by the mostly novelist, including a couple I would certainly want to read ("The Charms of Wikipedia," and "Why I Am a Pacifist," the first of three in the section on War). I haven't read his fiction, but Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization is a great book.
William J Baumol, et al: The Cost Disease: Why Computers Get Cheaper and Health Care Doesn't (2012, Yale University Press): An important subject, although it's not clear that Baumol has got the answer right: health care is a dysfunctional market with a lot of hidden (and frankly cancerous) monopolies. Other factors may add to this, including some Baumol identifies (labor costs, lack of productivity improvements).
William Blum: America's Deadliest Export: Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else (paperback, 2013, Zed Books): Longtime critic of US foreign policy. Previous books include: The CIA: A Forgotten History (1986); Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (2000); West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (2002); Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (2000; revised 2003); Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (2004).
David Byrne: How Music Works (2012, McSweeney's): Talking Heads frontman, Luaka Bop honcho, applies his experience to a big topic, although I can imagine lots of different tangents for "works" to take off in. Most likely: how music works for me. Still, a topic of some interest.
Caitlin Carenen: The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel (2012, New York University Press): The US has lots of reasons for being exceptionally sympathetic to Israel, ranging from the founding bond of both being white settler nations to the symbiosis of our overbloated arms industries, but one of the most important is how Israel has played in protestant thought -- both early on with liberal guilt over the Holocaust and later with evangelicals pining for the apocalypse.
Victor Cha: The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future (2012, Harper Collins): Former Bush admin NSC Korea hand -- you know, the folks who concocted "the axis of evil" meme -- tries to explain North Korea, something I'm not sure anyone can do. A couple years ago, when Barbara Demick wrote Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2009) there weren't many books, but that's started to change. Relatively new: Andrei Lankov: The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia (2013, Oxford University Press); BR Myers: The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters (2010; paperback, 2011, Melville House); Bruce E Bechtol Jr: The Last Days of Kim Jong-Il: The North Korean Threat in a Changing Era (2013, Potomac Books). Still, I doubt if any on these shed much light on the latest round of threats and condemnations.
Noam Chomsky: 9-11: Was There an Alternative? (2001; revised paperback, 2011, Seven Stories Press): Right then, right now. Wish he could write better, but decades of being right and ignored have taken a toll on his patience.
Noam Chomsky: Occupy [Occupied Media Pamphlet Series] (paperback, 2012, Zucotti Park Press): Short (128 pp.) pamphlet, meant to advise the Occupy movement. Looks like there will be a series of these things, with additional titles by Stuart Leonard (Taking Brooklyn Bridge), Mumia Abu-Jamal (Message to the Movement), and Marina Sitrin/Dario Azzellini (Occupying Language).
Noam Chomsky: Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to US Empire (paperback, 2013, Metropolitan Books): Continues a long series of interviews with David Barsamian, a context which draws out his wisdom without cluttering up the page.
Climate Central: Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas, and the Weather of the Future (2012, Pantheon): Written by Emily Elert and Michael D Lemonick but credited to their "nonprofit, nonpartisan science and journalism organization"; with just-the-facts-style reporting, not that they ignore the applicable science.
Susan P Crawford: Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age (2012, Yale University Press): Argues that the 2011 merger of Comcast and NBC Universal "create the biggest monopoly since the breakup of Standard Oil a century ago." During much of that time AT&T monopolized the telephone industry, but at least it was recognized as such and tightly regulated -- so much so that it begged for breakup. The new monopoly combines content as well as networking, which is what makes it not just too expensive but far more dangerous.
Guy Debord: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1987; third edition, paperback, 2011, Verso): Debord's original essay was written in 1967. When I first read it (in Radical America, 1970) it illuminated all sorts of things, but the basic idea is simple enough it requires little elaboration. The essay is short, as are the comments (94 pp.); still, I've never figured out what you do with the concept -- more likely than not it just leaves you awestruck.
John De Graaf/David K Batker: What's the Economy For, Anyway?: Why It's Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness (2011; paperback, 2012, Bloomsbury Press): Good question, one also explored by Robert Skidelsky/Edward Skidelsky: How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life (2012); Juliet B Schor: Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010); and Joseph E Stiglitz, et al., Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Ad Up (2010). [link]
Ross Douthat: Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (2012, Free Press): Conservative New York Times columnist, tries to appear reasonable and rarely succeeds, wants to bring back that old time religion, or something like that. We would at long last do us a favor if he helps break the binds between religion and partisanship, but the old time religion never was much good at respecting others.
Peter Dreier: The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (paperback, 2012, Nation Books): Thumbnail biographies, 4-6 pages each (adding up to 512 pp.), political people you should know at least something about, even though one can nitpick the roster coming and going. Only two are younger than me (Michael Moore and Tony Kushner). Three of the last ten are musicians, and two are athletes, so the spectacle seems to have won out, especially over the writers who have provided so much insight and kept the flame going (Chomsky and Ehrenreich are about it since C. Wright Mills).
Jeff Faux: The Servant Economy: Where America's Elite Is Sending the Middle Class (2012, Wiley): Previous book was The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future -- and What It Will Take to Win It Back, so presumably this returns to American specifics. Lots of recent books on the destruction of the middle class, the ripe corrollary to the same old, same old of rich-getting-richer and poor-getting-poorer.
Jonathan Fetter-Vorm: Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (2012, Hill and Wang): Much shorter than Richard Rhodes' epochal The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words. I've toyed with the idea of writing graphic histories on the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli Conflict -- critical assumption here is that I can get my nephew to illustrate -- mostly because I wish to sharply focus on key understandings rather than to just spew out a lot of narrative, and graphic histories seem to offer a unique opportunity to state and reinforce basic points.
Robert K Fitts: Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan (2012, University of Nebraska Press): Previously co-edited Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game and wrote Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, reports on one of the most famous exhibition tours in history: a key event in Japan's adoption of America's pastime as its own favorite sport, but also cover for Moe Berg's espionage. Not sure who got assassinated.
Stephen M Gardiner: A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (2011, Oxford University Press): A philospher's take on the problem, seeing ignorance and inaction as a lapse in ethics, looking into geo-engineering, etc.
Brandon L Garrett: Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong (2011; paperback, 2012, Harvard University Press): DNA evidence has shown that quite a few innocent people have been convicted of serious crimes. Analyzing those cases should help identify how the justice system gets it wrong and winds up creating injustice. Other recent books on this: Jim Petro/Nancy Petro: False Justice: Eight Myths That Convict the Innocent (2011, Kaplan); Daniel S Medwed: Prosecution Complex: America's Race to Convict and Its Impact on the Innocent (2012, NYU Press).
Wenonah Hauter: Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America (2012, New Press): "Local food" farmer, director of Food & Water Watch, explains how agricultural policy has been designed to aid Cargill, Tyson, Kraft, and ConAgra.
Tim Kane: Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It's Time for a Revolution (2012, Macmillan Palgrave): Right-wing economist (Hudson Institute, John McCain), former USAF "intelligence" officer, "startup maven" (to quote Bush economist Glenn Hubbard). I suspect his thesis is right, but I have my doubts that "great leaders" is something the we need the military to have, right now, or just about ever. Bean counters and shrinks, that's another story.
Frederick Kaufman: Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food (2012, Wiley): Starting with Domino's Pizza, hits all the usual stops surveying the contemporary food industry, how it's all related and tied more to finance than to old-fashioned interests like agriculture. Related: Kara Newman: The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets (2012, Columbia University Press).
George Lakoff/Elisabeth Wehling: The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic (paperback, 2012, Free Press): Lakoff thinks we can solve all our problems by coming up with better terminology to frame our arguments -- i.e., something other than what Frank Luntz comes up with. Supposedly this is that.
Chris Lamb: Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball (2012, University of Nebraska Press): Previously wrote Blackout: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training, digs deeper here into the press attitudes that reinforced the color line in baseball, and a few journalists -- mostly blacks and/or communists, by the way -- who thought differently.
Charlie LeDuff: Detroit: An American Autopsy (2013, Penguin Press): Local journalist, has watched Detroit decline from 1.9 million people to fewer than 700,000, as people left the city for the suburbs or beyond while industry crumbled. I recall that when I was visiting Detroit it was hard to find books on the city, but that at least is looking up. For example, another is Mark Binelli: Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis (2012, Metropolitan).
Jonathan Lethem: The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. (2011, Doubleday): A novelist based in Brooklyn dumps off scattered essays, mostly lit, some about music. Poking around Amazon's "look inside" I can't get a sense of the whole, but one fragment on "Disnial" is certainly sharp.
Jonathan Lethem: Talking Heads' Fear of Music (paperback, 2012, Continuum): Part of their 33 1/3 series of short books, where a writer picks out a single record and riffs on it. This is number 86, a rare case with a celebrity author.
Audrea Lim, ed: The Case for Sanctions Against Israel (paperback, 2012, Verso Books): Twenty essays here, including Omar Barghouti, Naomi Klein, Ilan Pappe, Joel Beinin, John Berger, Neve Gordon. Sanctions are a relatively non-belligerent way of expressing concern over Israel's manifest unwillingness either to free occupied Palestinians or to treat them equitably. Sanctions helped to tip the balance in South Africa to end the apartheid regime. At some point I fear they will be necessary to make any degree of progress toward peace and justice in Israel-Palestine. Also see: Omar Barghouti: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (paperback, 2011, Haymarket Books).
William Marsden: Fools Rule: Inside the Failed Politics of Climate Change (2011, Knopf Canada; paperback, 2012, Vintage Canada): Canadian journalist, so good chance this focuses more on Canadian politics than on riper targets in the US, not that the anti-science opposition in both countries isn't driven by the same oil and coal companies. Author previously wrote a book on oil shale: Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (and Doesn't Seem to Care).
GJ Meyer: The Borgias: The Hidden History (2013, Bantam): Of interest mostly, I suspect, if you've followed Neil Jordan's TV series and want to fill in some details, although it looks like this book takes some unexpected turns. Also available, and perhaps more conventional: Christopher Hibbert: The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1919 (2008; paperback, 2009, Mariner Books).
Loretta Napoleoni: Maonomics: Why Chinese Communists Make Better Capitalists Than We Do (2011; paperback, 2012, Seven Stories Press): Previously wrote Rogue Economics: Capitalism's New Reality (2008), and ups the snark quotient here. Certainly is the case that China's economic growth has outpaced ever corner of the capitalist world for at least the last decade.
Mark Owen/Kevin Maurer: No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden (2012, Dutton): Also subtitled, The Autobiography of a Navy Seal. Second guy up the stairs. First guy to cash in. Isn't that -- making a killing out of a killing -- what America is really all about?
Joel Salatin: Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World (2011; paperback, 2012, Center Street): The Virginia farmer who loomed so large in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma speaks for himself -- not for the first time, either: previous books include: You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise (paperback, 1998, Polyface); Holy Cows & Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food (paperback, 2005, Polyface); Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front (paperback, 2007, Polyface); The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer (paperback, 2010, Polyface).
Josh Schonwald: The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches From the Future of Food (2012, Harper Collins): Enthusiastic survey of speculations about how food will be engineered and manufactured in 2035.
James Gustave Speth: America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (2012, Yale University Press): Environmentalist, previously wrote The Bridge at the Edge of the World, which questions growth for growth's sake. Should expand on that here.
John Swenson: New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans (2011; paperback, 2012, Oxford University Press): A rock critic of my generation goes to post-Katrina New Orleans and finds inspiration in the music -- where else would one work?
Gary Wills: Why Priests? A Failed Tradition (2013, Viking): Always an interesting writer, although his commitment to Catholicism has always baffled me, the issue here seeming like someone else's personal fight.
Bob Woodward: The Price of Politics (2012, Simon & Schuster): Another inside-out first draft of history, his second on Obama after four volumes on Bush, the first extolling his genius for leadership and the last wondering where all that went. Focuses on the budget battle with congressional Republicans, not anyone's best hour. New Yorker review: "Woodward, who has here the elements of a devastating study of Washingtonian pettiness, has instead written a book that in many ways exemplifies it."
Luigi Zingales: A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity (2012, Basic Books): Chicago economist, argues that American capitalism is dying as the market gets ever more regulated not just by "anti-market pitchfork populism" but by crony corruption he associates with "Europe and much of the rest of the world." Quick fix: trust the markets.
Still don't have the paperback report together. Maybe next time.
Monday, April 22. 2013
Music: Current count 21302  rated (+27), 618  unrated (+12).
Big week in that I have three -- count 'em, three -- A- records, but the inside story is that two of them took an awful lot of plays (more than a dozen each) before I set aside my usual rule-of-thumb ("if you can't make up your mind, go with the lower grade"). The exception was Halley, which clicked so fast I didn't get around to writing anything substantial about it. His sax has nearly always been so my minor reservations about past his quartet albums concerned the second horn, but they play less in sync here, with the trombone most often either comping or jumping out front, either of which helps.
Eskelin is doing more of a ballad thing this time, so he's not as aggressive as usual, and Versace doesn't push him much, but the record has some really gorgeous passages. Douglas is just being Douglas: fantastic chops, really explosive at times, but his songs can get strange and veer off in unsettling directions. Irabagon, at least, is too much of a scrapper to get boxed up in a harmony role, so this never goes splat like some Douglas albums have done. I've had an advance (and only that) for a long time, so I was tempted to wait and see if a final arrived.
More plays might help push Snidero over the edge. He's very sharp here, as he was on 2009's Crossfire. The other HMs are certainly just that. Wanted to work in the latest batch of Ivo Perelman records, but it's hard to juggle three at once, and thus far they're all sounding pretty much the same. Also held back potentially good records by John Vanore and Craig Taborn.
Should have a Downloader's Diary this week, followed by a (currently short) Rhapsody Streamnotes -- latter may cut into my jazz time, but got a lot of mail this week.
Berserk! (2013, Rare Noise): Collaboration between singer Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (aka LEF, has appeared in groups Transgender, Litania, Ashes, Costituto, Somma, Owls, Obake) and bassist Lorenzo Felicati. Extra musicians include some jazz names -- Gianluca Petrella (trombone), Jamie Saft (keybs), Eivind Aarset (guitar) -- but record is rockish, veering toward doom near the end. B+(*) [advance]
Jaimeo Brown: Transcendence (2012 , Motema): Drummer, first album, has a few side-credits going back a decade. Front cover shows an old black church, and features two additional names: JD Allen (tenor sax) and Chris Sholar (guitar, electronics). (Geri Allen might have been a better marketing pick, but she plays on only one track, where Sholar is always there.) The sax is a huge asset here, but everything else is swamped in gospel vocals -- Falu, Marisha Brown, Selah Brown, samples from Gee's Bend Singers -- a meditation on Afro-American history (including a side trip to Ghana) that doesn't seem to resolve much. B+(*)
Dave Douglas Quintet: Time Travel (2012 , Greenleaf Music): Same lineup as last year's Be Still -- Jon Irabagon (tenor sax), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda Oh (bass), Rudy Royston (drums) -- minus the singer and the solemn tone, which gives them space to repeatedly flare out, even if the compositional matrix is the same fancy, slippery postbop Douglas has honed for years. The main thing you get is chops: he remains in a class by himself, so confident he's game to take on the hottest saxophonist he can find -- Potter, McCaslin, Strickland, now Irabagon, who is having one helluva year. A- [advance]
Ellery Eskelin: Trio New York II (2013, Prime Source): Sax-organ trio, with Gary Versace on the B3 and Gerald Cleaver on drums; second album together, the first dedicated to the tenor saxophonist's organ-playing mother. Likewise, this one is all standards, with a Monk piece, ohers like "Just One of Those Things," "After You've Gone," and "Flamingo." Versace stays clear of the usual soul jazz moves, giving this an odd delicacy, undercutting the spark but bringing out some of Eskelin's most poignant ballad craft. A-
Ken Fowser/Behn Gillece: Top Shelf (2012 , Posi-Tone): Tenor sax and vibes, respectively; fourth album together, songs split 7-3 for Gillece. Backed by a sextet, with trombone, piano, bass, and drums. Postbop, runs fast and slick. B
Rich Halley 4: Crossing the Passes (2012 , Pine Eagle): Tenor saxophonist, has recorded since the 1980s, more so since he's approached retirement age. Quartet adds a second horn -- Michael Vlatkovich's trombone -- to bass (Clyde Reed) and drums (son Carson Halley). A-
Curtis Hasselbring: Number Stations (2012 , Cuneiform): Trombonist, studied at New England Conservatory and played in Boston bands like Either/Orchestra, then moved to New York, recorded in groups as disparate as Slavic Soul Party and Ballin' the Jack, finally recording his own album as The New Mellow Edwards. That band name is "featured" here, on his third album, and they're a motley bunch: Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Trevor Dunn (bass), Matt Moran (vibes, marimba), and two drummer/percussionists: Ches Smith and Satoshi Takeishi. Compositions have something to do with numeric codings read off shortwave radio broadcasts, but what you get is a mish-mash studded with brilliant solos, much as you'd expect if a band this talented just winged it. B+(***)
Joe Locke: Lay Down My Heart: Blues & Ballads Vol 1 (2012 , Motéma): Vibraphonist, has close to 30 albums since 1983, most paired off with pianists -- Ryan Cohan here, plus David Finck on bass and Jaimeo Brown on drums. Two originals, seven covers, the most immediately appealing the ones that skip around the edges of the familiar, like "Ain't No Sunshine" (Bill Withers) or "Makin' Whoopee." B+(**)
Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge: River Runs (2011 , Summit): Composer/arranger, has three albums on Sea Breeze (1995-2004), one on MAMA. Jazz Surge is his big band, introduced on the 1995 album, so it's not like he's jumping on a bandwagon. He subtitles this "A Concerto for Jazz Guitar, Saxophone, & Orchestra," and aside from the prominence of guitar (LaRue Nickerson) and tenor sax (Jack Wilkins), this really is contemporary classical music more than jazz, especially with the added orchestra (flutes, oboes, bassoon and harp, three French horns, and a phalanx of strings, the violin solos reserved Rob Thomas). Seems like I should hate it, and I started to, then lots of little things won me over. Nice booklet. B+(*)
Shamie Royston: Portraits (2011 , self-released): Pianist, first record, piano trio, with Ivan Taylor on bass and her father Rudy Royston on drums, plus a Camille Thurman vocal. Nice piano work, with a gentle swing. Can't say the vocal is a plus. B+(*)
Markus Schwartz/Monvelyno Alexis: Vo-Duo Nou La (2011 , Lakou Brooklyn): Drummer, b. in Copenhagen, Denmark, based for the last twenty years "in the heart of Lakou Brooklyn," "learning the wealth and complexity of traditional Haitian religious music." Alexis, born and raised in Haiti, plays guitar, sings, and co-wrote most of the songs. B
Jim Snidero: Stream of Consciousness (2012 , Savant): Alto saxophonist, 17 albums since 1987, generally a mainstream/postbop guy, but looking for "strong, free-spirited younger players" this time, coming up with Paul Bollenback (guitar), Linda Oh (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). Actually, he winds up running away from them more often than not. B+(***)
Jacqui Sutton: Notes From the Frontier: A Musical Journey (2012, Toy Blue Typewriter): Interpretive singer from Houston, second album, some kind of concept on discovering America. Starts with an interesting banjo-paced take on "Summertime," then segues to something unsingable. Album continues to teeter like that, with some hot trumpet the high spot. B-
The Verve Jazz Ensemble: It's About Time (2012 , self-released): Five musicians are credited, but only four pictured: Tatum Greenblatt (trumpet), Jon Blanck (tenor sax), Matt Oestreicher (piano), and Josh Feldstein (drums) -- odd man out is bassist Chris DeAngelis. First album, six bop-era standards plus three alternate takes, nice job on each. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 21. 2013
Some scattered links of special interest. Caught most of them today, which shows it isn't all that hard to find trouble these days:
Thursday, April 18. 2013
Some links and comments. Originally started last week, then postponed to mid-week, then a bit later:
Monday, April 15. 2013
Music: Current count 21275  rated (+18), 606  unrated (+1).
Not enough Jazz Prospecting to bother with this week -- just three notes in the scratch file. Can't point to the distraction of working on Rhapsody Streamnotes either -- just four records in my draft file there. Actually, most of the rated increase this week came from fixing bookkeeping errors, which I discovered while compiling this year's Downbeat Critics Poll ballot. My notes are here. Thought I'd get around to cleaning them up, expanding them a bit, and turning them into a post, but at this stage I might as well settle for a link. Besides, trying to rank musicians is somewhere between impossible and incoherent (if not quite malicious). I'm mostly looking for names I think could use a little more recognition.
Not sure what all happened last week. The Downbeat poll took a lot out of me. Also spent a couple days out of town, as I went to visit my last living aunt, 98 years old. Her dementia has gotten so bad that the best she can do is to acknowledge that she still recognizes someone in an old picture. She only knew me after prompting. I don't think she recognized her daughters when they showed up a couple days before. She has little physical strength -- is unable, for instance, to adjust her position in a chair. I baked a coconut cake, which she did enjoy. Not much one can do, other than appreciate small moments and gestures, and remember. When she was able to take care of herself she lived closer and I saw her much more often. We threw her a 90th birthday party, had 40-50 guests; she was completely at home with them. She may live to be 100, but that now seems like the last time to celebrate.
Spent more time with my cousins, who are a few years older than I am: they knew me when I was a baby, and remember their father, my uncle, who was killed in a car crash before I was two. I started to cry when I recalled the year one lived in Wichita: seems like her friendship and love was all that held me together that year. Also recall how her older sister guided me through the draft maze, where jail would have been preferable to the army -- again most likely saving my life. This could have been a very poignant week for me, but it seems like I spent the whole thing dumbstruck.
Should return with Jazz Prospecting next week -- probably a short one, but some choice records. Would be longer but it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick up some items for Rhapsody Streamnotes, plus I have ambitious plans for May's Recycled Goods.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, April 8. 2013
Music: Current count 21257  rated (+40), 605  unrated (+14).
The huge rated count is the result of working on May's 1960s-themed Recycled Goods, using Rhapsody rather obsessively to quickly check out items of interest (especially, but not exclusively, from Spin's list). It will be a while before all that appears. In the meantime, I almost forgot to do any jazz prospecting, but it's been a banner mail week, and I finally got inspired at the last minute.
Lots of distractions coming up this week, which will certainly cut into my listening time. Also need to knock off this year's Downbeat ballot, so I'll post my notes on that later this week. New Dave Douglas out this week, Time Travel. I've played the advance a lot, and held it back, as I'm still on the fence. One thing I will say is that it's certainly another feather in Jon Irabagon's cap.
Lot of incoming mail this week, including some things I'm really looking forward to.
Aguankó: Elemental (2012 , RKO): Alberto Nacif, conguero (plays congas), b. in Mexico, based in Michigan, has been in groups like Tumbao and Tumbao Bravo. First album for this group, with Jose Espinosa (b. in Havana, Cuba) on bongos, timbales, and guiro; Paul Finkbeiner on trumpet, Chris Smith on trombone, Wesley Reynoso on piano, and various others. Afro-Cuban jazz, sometimes relaxes a bit but feels plenty authentic to me. B+(***)
Anthony Branker & Word Play: Uppity (2012 , Origin): Composer, originally played trumpet but stopped after a medical problem; studied at Princeton, Miami, and Columbia, and directs the jazz program at Princeton. Sixth album, second with this group: Ralph Bowen (tenor sax) and Jim Ridl (piano) are the names you've likely heard of, plus trumpet (Eli Asher), trombone (Andy Hunter), bass (Kenny Davis), and drums (Donald Edwards). First two cuts are terrific, upbeat things just bubbling over. Less impressive when he gets solemn, with uncredited strings (Hunter also has a keyb credit) and Charmaine Lee's vocal fills on a Nigeria-themed number, but it builds to an impressive swell, whereas his similar "Ballad for Trayvon Martin" goes for elegiac simplicity. A-
Roger Chong: Live at the Trane (2012 , self-released, CD+DVD): Guitarist, based in Toronto, third album, live with a keyboards-bass-drums quartet. Originals plus three covers which provide up moments: "Exactly Like You," "Work Song," "Mo Better Blues." Light fare -- hype sheet cites George Benson and Norman Brown as his influences -- and sometimes the keyb seems in the way (but sometimes it kicks back a soul jazz vibe, or states the melody in a useful way). But it's played loose, always pleasurable, and interesting enough. B+(**)
Giacomo Gates: Miles Tones: Sings the Music of Miles Davis (2012 , Savant): Singer, from Connecticut, sixth album since 1995, but he got a late start and is probably in his 60s. The music, by or more often associated with Miles Davis, is an invitation to vocalese, which he handles ably enough -- he's one of the few singers around who can scat handily. B+(**)
The Kandinsky Effect: Synesthesia (2011 , Cuneiform): Sax trio, based in Paris, recorded this debut album in Iceland. Walter Walker, from California, is credited with "saxophone/effects," writes most of the pieces. Gaël Petrina (bass, effects), from Argentina, and Caleb Dollister (drums, laptop), from Reno or Nashville or Los Angeles and based in New York, complete the trio. Rhythm veers toward jazztronica without being overly electronic, just enough to provide a stable base for Walker to riff over. B+(***)
Daniel Lantz Trio: Plays Bond (2012 , Do Music): Pianist, b. 1976 in Sweden. Has two previous trio records, plus one record with "funk sextet" Beat Funktion. Trio includes Erik Ojala on bass and Daniel Olsson on drums, playing 12 themes from James Bond films. That should be pretty dull, but they make liberal use of two "featuring" artists, tenor saxophonist Roger Nordling and vocalist Sani Gamedze, and both do a fine job of rounding this out. B+(*)
El Niño Machuca: Searching Your South/Buscando tu Sur (2012 , Ozella): Guitarist, from Sevilla in Spain, signs his songs Paco Machuca (about half here). First album, accompanied by Neil Doyle (bass, flugelhorn), Javi Ceballas (Spanish guitar), jaleos and handclaps. B+(**)
Rob Mazurek Octet: The Skull Sessions (2011 , Cuneiform): Chicago-based cornet player, part of Chicago Underground, also São Paulo Underground, combines both angles here and then some. The Brazilian contingent: Mauricio Takara (cavaquinho [a ukulele], percussion), Guilherme Granado (keyboards, electronica), Thomas Rohrer (rabeca [a fiddle], C melody sax), and Carlos Issa (guitar, electronics). From Chicago: Nicole Mitchell (piccolo, flute, voice), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), John Herndon (drums), and Mazurek. Combination is busy, noisy, chaotic. Helps to focus on the cornet, which usually soars above, or the sheer energy vibe, especially when the cornet is engulfed. B+(***)
Reg Schwager/Michel Lambert: Trio Improvisations (2001-02 , Jazz From Rant): Guitarist Schwager was b. 1962 in Netherlands, moved to New Zealand when he was 3, moved again at 6 to Canada, based now in Toronto. Has a handful of albums since 1985. Drummer Lambert plays with François Carrier and Maïkotron Unit. To make a trio they add Misha Mengelberg (piano), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), or Michael Stuart (sax, probably tenor) for three improv cuts each. Mengelberg and Wheeler are very famous and acquit themselves well. Stuart isn't famous: b. 1948 in Jamaica, moved to Toronto in 1969, did a tour with Elvin Jones but has scant discography. (AMG gives him a couple dozen credits, but many are for engineering classical recordings, and some are dubious -- e.g., playing percussion on Love's Forever Changes.) His cuts are as strong as the stars', making him someone I'd like to hear more from. B+(***)
Jacky Terrasson: Gouache (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1966 in Germany, has about 15 albums since breaking in on Blue Note in 1994. Very eclectic here, trying lots of things -- some electric, a few cuts with bass clarinet (Michel Portal) or flugelhorn (Stephane Belmondo), two vocal cuts (Cécile McLorin Salvant), non-vocal covers of Justin Bieber and Amy Winehouse, a couple pieces that celebrate his own fleetness (one called "Try to Catch Me"). Pretty much all works, too. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 7. 2013
Occasionally I look at No More Mister Nice Blog, and a couple posts on practical politics caught my interest. One asks, Why Gay Marriage and Not Other Issues? Indeed, we're suddenly seeing an astonishing amount of progress on gay marriage at the same time far right Republicans, at least where they've seized power, are passing draconian anti-abortion laws, are restructuring tax bases to even more favor the rich, are underming public employee unions and bankrupting school systems -- all things that are vastly unpopular according to every known poll, but they seem to be able to run roughshod anyway. So, why gay marriage?
One can think of a few other reasons: that at least some politically connected big donors are gay or otherwise deeply engaged in this issue, so there's actually money behind this issue; that gay people are often well-regarded, and well-publicized, celebrities; that nearly everyone knows actual gay people and increasingly respects them; that marriage reinforces the conservative "family values" meme; that anti-gays almost always are recognized now (mostly for the reasons above) as ignorant louts. The latter is perhaps the biggest change: perhaps as recently as ten years ago homosexuals were the last group it was respectable to hate. And bigotry is one of those traits that thrives in crowds: it is a chit to join the crowd, and thereby the crowd validates your own base instincts. But as the mob thins out, people become more reluctant to join in. A decade ago right-wing preachers led the assault, but more and more they stand alone, losing their cloak of community leadership and turning into dead-end cranks.
Of course, one other reason is that gay marriage doesn't change anything else that really matters. It does nothing to reverse the slide toward economic inequality. It has nothing to do with the financialization of the economy. It offers virtually no support for job security or social security. It doesn't touch the culture of corruption that pervades politics and the media. It won't stop us from going to war. And the list could go on and on. One reason lack of a marriage option discriminates against gays is that it makes it harder to get health insurance. Gay marriage helps that problem, but only very marginally -- the real solution there is universal health insurance.
But I think the author is right, that the main reason is that there has been an organized political movement to advance equal rights for gays. That also is the case for marijuana legalization, which also in the last decade has gone from something no politician would dare talk about to something that has begun to poll favorably -- one recent poll gives it majority support. Yet other issues (abortion and guns most obviously) trend the opposite way, even against popular opinion, largely because they have intense pressure groups that can be effective given the general corruptness of the political system.
Here's another quote from No More Mister Nice Blog (I guess we'll have to call him NMMN), starting with the observation that there's something like 90% support for background checks for gun sales, but nobody's going to make that happen, because a small number of gun nuts are much more organized than the masses who'd like to keep guns away from the crazy and malicious:
I could go into a screed here about how corrupt the political system is, and how we need to get the money out of it, but that still wouldn't account for the intensity advantage that single-issue obsessives have over general interests, or the advantage that private interests have over public concerns. What's needed there is some kind of organization drive to counter all the other organized interests. One can look to a few examples in history. We tend to view unions as a special interest group now, but that wasn't always the case: during their peak period (in the US), they tended to take a broader view. The civil rights movement, and the new left movements of the late-1960s and early-1970s -- anti-war, women's rights, environmental concerns, consumer interests -- each served to unify broad swathes of the populace, and had significant effects at least at the time (not that they've stuck around the defend our gains).
I don't have a full proposal ready to go here, but for me the key issue of our time is reversing inequality and building public goods to increase the general wealth. Back around 1935, Huey Long set up a national network of political clubs to support his run for president, and he came up with a slogan that fits the times today as well as it did then: Share the Wealth. Long's own thinking on this wasn't very well developed -- he mostly came up with redistribution schemes, not that there's no need for that -- but the sentiment is right, plus he hitched the slogan to the organizational drive needed to promote it. This is only the germ of an idea, but it's the right combination.
Thursday, April 4. 2013
Short month. Not only did I not work on this much during the month, I put virtually no time into topping it off. Given more focus, it might have grown more. I noticed the Leon Thomas sets in my metacritic lists, and was prepared to dig up more like that. And the Baobab comps finally showed up on Rhapsody, making me wonder if more sets like that lurk somewhere. But I got sidetracked, taking a look at Spin's "alternative" 1960s list, and holding my first reviews there back for May. So short, scattered month this time. Big 1960s theme next time. Balances out, more or less.
Note the ACN this month. In particular, Supersnazz is probably the best truly "alternative" album left off Spin's list (look for "Spin - Alternative 1960's" toward the bottom). Another new reissue that I won't be writing about because it's an old (A+) record to me is Swamp Dogg's 1970 masterpiece, Total Destruction to Your Mind, on Alive Natural Sounds. Had it come out a year earlier, it should have come close to topping Spin's list.
Machito and His Afro-Cubans: Ritmo Caliente (1941-51 , Proper, 4CD): Born Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, probably in Havana, Cuba in 1908, moved to New York in 1937 and founded his big band, singing and playing maraccas, in 1940 with trumpeter Mario Bauza. The first disc here covers 1941-42 before he got drafted. The second disc picks him up in 1947 playing with Chano Pozo, and follows him through numerous live shots (Royal Roost, Birdland), running through a long list of singers and bouncing off such notable jazz musicians as Howard McGhee, Milt Jackson, Brew Moore, and Zoot Sims. Not as clear or consistent as his later 1951-57 Mambo Mucho Mambo: The Complete Columbia Masters (Columbia/Legacy), but important in its time, the flip-side to Dizzy Gillespie's Latin-leaning bebop. B+(**)
Leon Thomas: The Creator 1969-1973: The Best of the Flying Dutchman Masters (1969-73 , BGP): In a simpler time, he would have been a classic blues shouter. In the late 1960s he was networking with Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Oliver Nelson. He got his fluke hit with Sanders, "The Creator Has a Master Plan," and a record contract that ran five years and six albums, all long out of print. Early on he tried to continue the cosmic-black-power-funk vibe from Sanders and Shepp, to which he added a yodel that sounds weirder now than it did then, and when he ran out of new ideas he reverted to shouted blues and soft soul moves. I've sampled these records lightly, and always imagined that someone could pull a great compilation out of them. But this isn't it. I don't know whether that's because they avoided both the political cuts -- no "Dam Nam (Ain't Goin' to Vietnam)" -- and the long ones -- no "Pharoah's Tune (The Journey)" and a shorter "Umbo Weti" -- or they just failed to look beyond his headline albums to the side credits where he made his mark. B+(*) [R]
Bettie Serveert: Palomine (1992, Matador): Debut album for a still-extant Dutch guitar band fronted by Carol Van Dijk; they later developed their knack for pop hooks as well as guitar depth, but the straightforward presence of the singer wins out here. B+(**)
Samuel Blaser Quartet: Boundless (2010 , Hatology): Swiss trombonist, reprised this group -- Marc Ducret (guitar), Banz Oester (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- on the new As the Sea, interesting enough to want to work my way back; one suite in four parts, much less up front, especially from the guitarist. B+(*) [bc]
Dur-Dur Band: Volume 5 (1987 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): From Somalia, a few years before the civil war, the Bush mission, "black hawk down," Al-Qaida, the Ethiopian invasion, piracy and drone warfare turned the country into such a shithole; recorded at Radio Mogadishu, presumably after other volumes which seem to have disappeared without a trace; not groundbreaking or earthshaking, but catchy, danceable, pleasing, peaceable, and picks up its game a bit when a female singer takes over. B+(***) [R]
Mac Gollehon: La Fama (1980-96 , self-released): Live big band shots from early in the trumpeter's career, backed with lots of Latin tinge percussion, setting up trumpet which is, to use the leader's favorite word, smokin'. B+(**)
Scott Healy-Glenn Alexander Quartet: Northern Light (1991 , Hudson City): Alexander is a light fusion guitarist with three albums 1987-96; Healy is a studio pianist associated with Conan O'Brien who decided to get ambitious and launch a label behind his big band project; this is an old tape dusted off to flesh out the label catalog. B
Moreno and L'Orch First Moja-One: Sister Pili + 2 (1977-83 , Sterns Africa): Four cuts from Batamba Wendo Morris, born in the Congo and emigrated to Kenya as did the guitar-driven soukous of his 1983 album, here padded out with some 1977 tracks from Tabu Ngongo not notably different in any way important -- more irrepressible groove from the guitar paradise of East Africa. A- [R]
New Order: Lost Sirens (2003-04 , Rhino): Outtakes from the sessions that produced Waiting for the Sirens' Call -- the last New Order album, or at least the last one with bassist Peter Cook; nothing extra memorable, but it all sounds right, and maybe half hits the groove/grind that made them legends. B+(**) [R]
Orchestra Baobab: La Belle Époque (1971-77 , Syllart, 2CD): Discographical experts worry about how much of this intersects previous comps On Verra Ça and N'Wolof, so caveat emptor; this promises a deeper history of Senegal's second greatest band, completist enough to start with a handful of crappy live tracks, but they're forgotten by the time they hit their stride. A- [R]
Orchestra Baobab: La Belle Epoque Volume 2 (1973-76 , Syllart, 2CD): Much more, and without recourse to the booklet or an authoritative discography, much more obscure, the early sides deeper voiced, the later sides thicker with guitar, both louder than the previous volume; a bit less essential, I'd say, but it still feels like a major band. [NB: Rhapsody also lists a Volume 3, with the same cover art, and a song list matching the second disc of Volume 2.] A- [R]
The World Needs Changing: Street Funk & Jazz Grooves 1967-1976 (1967-76 , BGP): Never politically explicit enough to qualify as a "black power" compilation, even on the Gil Scott-Heron cut, while the jazz grooves tend toward perfunctory -- Groove Holmes, Lonnie Liston Smith, leaving the musical highlight Little Eva Harris medleying "Get Ready" and "Uptight." B+(*)
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other identified stream source; otherwise assume a CD). The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments -- although that's always a risk.
For this column and the previous 106, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3616 (3179 + 437).
Additional Consumer News
I ran across a company called Culture Factory which makes what it calls "Compact-Disc Deluxe Vinyl Replicas": compact discs with single or gatefold cardboard jackets matching the original LP cover artwork (except much smaller), the discs themselves black finish as if vinyl. So far they have 96 releases, mostly 1970s reissues. I went through the catalog and picked out the items I have database grades on their original issues. List follows:
Other artists reissued by the label: 38 Special; Bob Welch, Chris Spedding; Diana Ross and/or the Supremes, Hot Tuna, James Taylor, Jean-Patrick Capdevielle [label appears to be French-owned], Kim Carnes, Kim Wilde, Martha Davis, Martin Circus, Moon Martin, Murray Head, Paul Collins, Rare Earth, Starshooter, The Motels, The Romantics, Triangle, Variations, Walter Egan, Wang Chung, Wishbone Ash, plus they have three original soundtracks.
Wednesday, April 3. 2013
Missed Weekend Roundup on Sunday -- was working on another post that didn't quite work out -- but I hit a few scattered links today that I might as well post now.
Monday, April 1. 2013
Music: Current count 21217  rated (+29), 591  unrated (-4).
Average week. Blah, blah, blah. Some new stuff in the queue may be promising, but the old stuff I've been playing (not to mention the even older stuff I'm still avoiding) hasn't offered much -- minor surprises from Reinmar Henschke and Monica Ramey, steady improvement from Edward Simon, a Chicago avant quartet that has never matched high expectations.
Should have a short Recycled Goods by the end of the week. Don't expect to add much to it, as I've started thinking about doing one on 1960s music, so my mind has already wandered off.
Antonio Adolfo: Finas Misturas (2012 , Adventure Music): Pianist from Brazil, has close to 20 albums since 1992. Half originals, half jazz covers (Coltrane, Gillespie, Evans, Jarrett, Corea), with two guitarists, bass, drums, and Marcelo Martins on tenor sax and flute. B+(*)
Akua Allrich: Live!: Uniquely Standard (2012, self-released): Singer, from Washington, DC; second album, a live one with one-and-a-half originals, the standards doubling up on Nina Simone. Allrich can be a fierce, riveting singer, as the first half of "Black Coffee" shows, but she has no restraints and can scat with the worst of them, as the second half of "Black Coffee" proves, not to mention the worst version of "Afro Blue" I've ever heard. B-
Caswell Sisters: Alive in the Singing Air (2012 , Turtle Ridge): Sara Caswell is a violinist, two albums under her name, more than a dozen side credits. Her solos here are fine, articulate, and get some real lift from pianist Fred Hersch, who does more here than any singer can ask. The other Caswell is Rachel, singer, working a standards songbook. Main complaint with her is the excessive scat, although her lyrics don't stick with you either. B-
The Engines w/John Tchicai: Other Violets (2011-12 , Not Two): Chicago quartet -- Dave Rempis (saxes), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Nate McBride (bass), and Tim Daisy (drums) -- playing live with the soon-to-be-late Afro-Danish saxophonist John Tchicai. Gets off to a rather slow start, perhaps the band too deferential to their guest, or their guest slow to suss out the band, but it picks up significantly toward the end. B+(***)
Lisa Forkish: Bridges (2012 , self-released): Oakland-based singer, originally from Oregon; second album, wrote a little more than half of the songs -- covers include "For What It's Worth," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "No More Blues" (Jobim, of course, and possibly the best thing here). Didn't sink in, but I did enjoy hearing "solidarity" in a song. B+(*)
Reinmar Henschke: On Air (2009 , Ozella): Pianist, b. 1959 in Germany; looks like his eighth album since 1988, although this is the only one AMG lists. Piano and keyb tracked with percussion and electronics, with bits of guest sax, vibes, guitar, percussion, clarinet, flute. Before I could sneer "pop jazz" it started growing on me, the rhythm figures hypnotic, the piano a bit sumptuous. One vocal, in English by Pascal von Wroblewsky (a name to remember) is a plus. B+(***)
Lisa Kirchner: Umbrellas in Mint (2012 , Verdant World): Singer-songwriter, sixth album since 2000, although her musical experience goes back further, all the way to being daughter of classical composer Leon Kirchner, whose work she has produced. Wrote all the songs this time, in contrast to her 2011 album, where she wrote lyrics to pieces by modern classical composers from Ives to Marsalis. Group here includes Xavier Davis (piano), Sherman Irby (sax), Ron Jackson (guitar), and "Bill" Schimmel (accordion). Moves along smartly, the lyrics engaging. B+(**)
The Dave Lalama Big Band: The Hofstra Project (2012 , Lalama Music): Pianist, teaches at Hofstra, pulled this big band together from Hofstra alumni, including tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama (seems to be his brother). Lalama learned his craft with Woody Herman, as should be clear from the punchy section work (not that anyone steps up to play clarinet). Not much more, though. B
Steve Owen: Stand Up Eight (2011 , OA2): Just composer-arranger here, but plays sax elsewhere. Big band, conducted by Dan Gailey, some names I recognize in the reeds -- Todd DelGiudice, Don Aliquo. Owen studied at UNT and University of Northern Colorado, and teaches at University of Oregon. First record, as far as I can tell, although he appears on similar big band efforts by Dan Gailey and Dan Cavanagh -- probably a lot of intersection in those groups. Wrote 7 of 9 pieces, covering Cole Porter and Radiohead. He gets a wide range of effects, many I don't care for, although the spoken word and shadings of "State of the Union" is an exception, and the solo spots are striking. B
Bill Peterson Trio: Ruby Diamond (2011 , Summit): Pianist, teaches at Florida State, first album, a trio with Rodney Jordan on bass and Jamison Ross on drums. Mostly originals (one by Jordan, also "Shenandoah" by trad.), mostly shout outs to fellow pianists ("Thelonious," "Horace," "Oscar," "McCoy," "Bob James," "Mr. Wynton Kelly"; "Marcus" is probably Roberts -- Jordan came from his trio). Solid grounding. B+(**)
Monica Ramey: And the Beegie Adair Trio (2012 , Adair Music Group): Standards singer, second album, rolls out 14 songs, 72 minutes, backed by Adair's piano trio plus horn spots for George Tidwell (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Dennis Soles (saxes, flute). As is often the case, this rises or slips on the songs -- "I Thought About You" caught my ear, then the pairing of "Witchcraft" and "This Could Be the Start of Something Big" -- but she frames them nicely, can turn on the gusto or sass or take a delicate ballad. The band does the job, which is all it really takes. B+(***)
Edward Simon Trio: Live in New York at Jazz Standard (2010 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Venezuela, a dozen or so albums since 1993, at least three with this trio: John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums). Live they stretch out on five long pieces, three Simon originals and covers of Jobim and Coltrane. Bright, lively piano jazz. B+(***)
Dayna Stephens: That Nepenthetic Place (2012 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1978, third album since 2007, I recognize him more as a sideman -- looking at his credits list I see few memorable albums, but looking at my notes he was repeatedly the standout musician on those albums. Quartet -- Taylor Eigsti (piano), Joe Sanders (bass), Justin Brown (drums) -- plus guests on scattered tracks: Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Jaleel Shaw (alto sax), Gretchen Parlato (vocals). The vocal feature's slow burn is nice in itself, the horns more dynamic, the tenor again the best thing here. Looked up "nepenthetic" and didn't find anything (else). B+(**)
Michael Webster: Momentus (2011 , OA2): Tenor saxophonist, from Ottawa, Canada; studied at Manhattan School of Music, based in New York. Second album, expansive postbop with Ingrid Jensen's trumpet/flugelhorn for contrast, Jesse Lewis on guitar, Chris Dingman on vibes, plus bass and drums. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: