Monday, September 30. 2013
Music: Current count 22093  rated (+27), 572  unrated (-7).
Didn't get back from Arkansas/Oklahoma until Wednesday night, so this is a bit more than a half-week's work, plus/including eight new releases this week (most written up earlier and held back). The HMs are interesting albums, but the week belongs to Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman. It's not easy to sort out his many albums -- he's as or maybe even more prolific, at least over the last five years, as Ken Vandermark, Joe McPhee, and Anthony Braxton -- and they rarely wind up high on my year-end lists, but they jump out of the speakers when compared to my typical weekly regimen (like everything else below). Enigma is easily the top one, followed by Serendipity from earlier this year.
With Christgau's Expert Witness kaputt and Tatum's Downloader's Diary only slowly dribbling in -- that September window has all but closed -- I'm on the fence again, tempted either to hang it up or double down: install that blog software over at terminalzone.net and open it up for interested fellow spirits, while resurrecting my long-neglected next-generation ratings/reviews database code and using the thousands of short reviews I've written as a skeleton for an opinionated reference resource.
On the down side, I've noted, for instance, that I'm no longer receiving records from ECM -- especially troubling given that Tina Pelikan was the first jazz publicist who showed an interest in me. On the other hand, I did just get a substantial package from NoBusiness in Lithuania -- not yet unpacked below -- and other desperate pleas for notice. (I'd hazard a guess that few self-acknowledged jazz fans have heard of more than a third of the 18 leaders/co-leaders below; at least a third were new to me.) Can't do this without them, but even as a critic not afraid to dredge up something obscure the gap between what I get and what I want keeps widening.
What Christgau has done for more than forty years, and I have attempted to do much more sporadically, has been to sort out as much music as might be of conceivable interest. That task is way beyond what any human can do, so we each have our cheats: he discards shit when it fails to engage him, and I write it up anyway (albeit not very well). He's managed (until now, anyway) to get paid for his considerable trouble, whereas I haven't (at least since the Village Voice editors lost interest in jazz, but really even before then). And that matters more to him, because he's always tried to make a living writing, whereas (even when I got paid) I never did.
When I moved to New York, I immediately sought out a typesetting job to make ends meet. On the other hand, I had a self-published zine, Terminal Zone, and had every intention of continuing to publish it. That blew up in a horrible misunderstanding with my partner, Don Malcolm, but even before that it had floundered on the question of whether we could get good writing cheap enough. I had expected that when I moved to New York I would meet all kinds of talent, but I mostly ran into expense, and I've never had the business chops to make that work. A couple years after losing Terminal Zone, I gave up writing about music, and started to make a real living, but that came to an end after 2000. Thanks to Christgau I then got an outlet for jazz reviews, and soon found that I could publish anything I wanted to write about on the web. In effect, it became possible to restart Terminal Zone -- but it hasn't happened yet, mostly due to technical problems: I'm not the programmer, or for that matter the worker, I once was, and every time I touch it I get stuck.
Also, let me throw out this offer: much of Terminal Zone is available on-line (here), but if anyone wants a physical copy, send me email. As I recall, I have a box full of extras in the basement. I won't guarantee very fast service, and I'm not sure what it's all going to cost (especially postage overseas), but right now I don't forsee any need to charge. It would also be nice to get the rest of the contents online -- I just did my own stuff, but I doubt that anyone else would object, and it would be especially nice to get Kathy's artwork scanned. For the address, look for the contact page.
Also, I have a file with links to a bunch of download links from commenters during the last week of Expert Witness. I expect they will progressively break over the next couple weeks -- some are already gone -- but they've been degunked and are more usable than trying to excavate them from the comments. Again, send me an email request.
Ted Brancato: The Next Step (2012 , Origin): Pianist, grew up in Seattle, "has worked in and around NYC" almost 30 years. This looks to be his first album: all original pieces, with one co-credit to percussionist Mayra Casales. Best known band member is bassist Ron Carter, probably the most recorded musician of all time. Credits list runs long, including guitarists with names like Carri Coltrane and Woody Allen, but the record is most attractive when he keeps it uncluttered. B+(*)
Brasslands [A Motion Picture Soundtrack] (2013, Evergreene): As usual, I have no idea about the film, but the soundtrack features two sets of Balkan brass bands, one from the old country (Serbia) and the other from Brooklyn -- Slavic Soul Party, with its jazz luminaries, I've run across before, but Veveritse Brass Band, Raya Brass Band, and Ziatine Uste are new to me. Same for the Serbian groups -- orchestras led by Dejan Advic, Demiran Cerimovic, and Dejan Petrovic. Not sure if any of them aim for the dance beats popular with Balkan bands in Berlin and Wien, but the rhythm is as central as the brass here and it isn't folkloric -- it flows. B+(**)
Lou Caimano/Eric Olsen: Dyad: Plays Puccini (2012 , self-released): Alto sax and piano, respectively. Second album together. Olsen has a previous album under his own name, two as Urban Survival. Tunes from the opera writer, done straightforwardly with instrumentation that plays up the melodies -- this was, after all, the pop music of the 19th century -- without those horrible voices. B [October 1]
The Matthew Finck Jonathan Ball Project: It's Not That Far (2012 , self-released): Finck plays guitar, Ball sax (tenor in the photo). Band includes Jay Anderson (bass), Adam Nussbaum (drums), and on three tracks Randy Brecker (trumpet/flugelhorn). Neither leader, unlike the others, has much prior discography, but the sax is striking, and as mainstream jazz this is entertaining and substantial -- e.g., "The Way You Look Tonight." B+(**) [October 1]
Erik Friedlander: Claws and Wings (2013, Skipstone): Cellist, composed this in the months after his wife of 22 years died, at once somber, affectionate, and lovely. With Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Ikue Mori on laptop. B+(***) [October 1]
Florian Hoefner Group: Falling Up (2013, OA2): Pianist, from Germany but based in New York, second album (as far as I can tell), reprising the group from his debut Songs Without Words: Mike Ruby (tenor/soprano sax), Sam Anning (bass), Peter Konreif (drums). Postbop with some edge and quick moves. All by Hoefner except for "Eleanor Rigby" -- usually unjazzable but he keeps it neatly cloaked until the punch line. B+(***)
Tim Horner: The Head of the Circle (2012 , Origin): Drummer, studied at Berklee, moved to New York in 1980; third album under his own name, several dozen side credits going back to 1982. All original material. Band includes Ted Nash (tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet, flute), Jim Ridl (piano), Steve Allee (accordion, keyboards), Joe Locke (vibes), and Dean Johnson (bass). Horner adds a scat vocal I don't care for, and the flute leaves something to be desired, unlike Nash's tenor sax leads. B
Keefe Jackson's Likely So: A Round Goal (2013, Delmark): Tenor saxophonist, b. in Fayetteville, AR; based in Chicago where he rotates several band projects -- notably Fast Citizens, which cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm borrowed for a superb album last year (Gather). This group is all saxes and clarinets, seven strong, a mix of Chicagoans (Mars Williams, Dave Rempis, Jackson) and Europeans (Waclaw Zimpel, Marc Stucki, Peter A. Schmid, Thomas K.I. Mejer) recorded live in Switzerland. A mixed bag, remarkable for stretches, annoying in spots, variously thin and shrill and thick and sumptuous. B+(**)
Ahmad Jamal: Saturday Morning (2013, Jazz Village): Pianist, has been recording steadily since Chamber Music of the New Jazz in 1955, mostly trios or, like here, quarters with extra percussion (Manolo Badrena) added to the bass-drums (Reginald Veal, Herlin Riley). At 82 he still runs the keyboard, lots of fleet arpeggios especially when Badrena has that Latin tinge moving, not that he doesn't also handle ballads authoritatively. B+(**)
RJ Miller: Ronald's Rhythm (2013, Loyal Label): Drummer, also plays keyboards and analog synths here, based in Brooklyn, first album; backed by bass, additional keyb or analog synthesizer on most tracks, accordion (Leo Genovese) on one. The analog synths, in particular, give this the feel of vintage electronica. B+(***) [October 1]
Billy Mintz: Quartet (2013, Thirteenth Note): Drummer, first album (although AMG, with its tendency to sort the last name first, credits him with a 1997 album that lists Steuart Liebig and Vinny Golia left-to-right). Quartet includes John Gross on tenor sax, Roberta Piket on piano and organ, and Putter Smith on bass, with Piket singing one. Best part is the sax chasing the beat, but there's also a lot of slow stuff. B+(*)
Michael Moss/Billy Stein: Intervals (2013, 4th Stream): Stein is a guitarist, based in New York; has a previous album that was a high HM back in 2005 (Hybrids). Moss plays clarinet, sax, and flute. He arrived in New York in the mid-1960s, played in a group called Free Life Communication, later Free Energy and Four Rivers. He recorded three albums 1978-80, then got a Ph.D. in psychology. Songs are credited to either or both but feel improvised, surprising even if they wander a bit. And for once I don't advise the saxophonist to tear the flute down and shelve it, although I suspect Stein deserves as much credit there as Moss. B+(***)
Tsuyoshi Niwa: At the End of the Day (2013, self-released): Soprano saxophonist, plays flute on one cut, b. 1972 in Tokyo, Japan; programmed computers, graduated with a degree in chemistry, moved to NY and studied with George Garzone, bounced around returning to NY in 2011. Has a couple previous albums. Starts this quintet off with "My Favorite Things," which thanks to John Coltrane has probably sold more soprano saxophones than any other song or artist, Sidney Bechet and Steve Lacy included. Other five cuts are originals. Randy Brecker's trumpet provides a strong contrasting horn. B+(*)
Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble: Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto (2013, self-released): Plays violin and erhu, b. 1973 in Tokyo, Japan; studied at Juilliard and is based in New York. Third album with this group: Anne Drummond (flute), Helen Sung (piano), Dezron Douglas (bass), and E.J. Strickland (drums). I find the CD to be totally impossible to read, so excuse the lack of info. Presumably the dozen pieces are from the very prolific Japanese composer/keyboardist, who started in Yellow Magic Orchestra and now has many dozens of albums (at least 80, half soundtracks, including his Oscar-winning score to The Last Emperor). The "chamber" rubric may be a cliché for violin-flute-piano but they cut against each other's excesses. Not sure Sakamoto isn't a hack, but he provides plenty to chew on. B+(**)
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Balazs Pandi: One (2013, Rare Noise): Tenor sax trio, with Morris playing electric bass for the first time on record -- he established himself on guitar, but has also played acoustic bass more frequently of late -- and Pandi on drums. Perelman's been knocking out a half-dozen records per year recently, with two good ones already this year -- The Art of the Duet, Volume One with Matthew Shipp, and Serendipity with Shipp, William Parker, and Gerald Cleaver -- and this, with its choppy intro and an inspired torrent near the end, is another inspired performance. A- [advance: October 1]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey/Gerald Cleaver: Enigma (2013, Leo): Tenor sax, piano, two drummers -- the doubling up isn't conspicuous or necessary even to balance out leaders who run on the loud side, but in an art where "the drummer plays with the band" their separate takes add subtle points -- not that you need them when the Brazilian saxophonist is on such a roll. A- [October 1]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Mat Maneri: A Violent Dose of Anything (2013, Leo): Tenor sax, piano, viola. Brazil's leading avant-saxophonist has been releasing six albums a year for a good while now, most with Shipp (their relationship goes back to 1996's Bendito of Santa Cruz duet), so one can wonder whether they wind up being too much of the same thing, or whether, having graded A- no less than ten of his releases since 2000 (13 since 1989) I've lost my objectivity. Perelman's forte is the sax trio: he's basically a free blower and nothing suits him more than a strong rhythm section pushing him on -- Shipp has nearly that same effect in a duo, even more so in a quartet. Perelman usually has more trouble with strings, but those records are just easier to dismiss. But this one is harder. Shipp and Maneri go back at least to a 1998 duo (I don't particularly recommend). The viola is particularly prickly here, often engaging like a second horn although sketching out a more treacherous terrain, which Perelman is eager to explore -- the first few minutes offer some of his most flightful work ever. Title comes from a film for which this is the soundtrack, but the seven pieces are long and coherent with none of the pastiche or cliché that marr filmwork. Played this more than the others and it's barely on the cusp, but in some ways the handicaps make it all the more remarkable. Bump those numbers up one more. A- [October 1]
Matthew Shipp: Piano Sutras (2013, Thirsty Ear): Pianist, a major one since c. 1990, plays solo here, something he's been doing more frequently lately as if he's trying to shake the taint of his early Blue Series albums' veer into jazztronica. The focus here is in dense chord patterns, lots of muscle rather than melodic lines. Two covers ("Giant Steps," "Nefertiti"), short ones for just a whiff of recognition. B+(**)
Dave Slonaker Big Band: Intrada (2012 , Origin): Los Angeles-based outfit, first record, Slonaker arranges and conducts but doesn't play. He grew up in Pittsburgh, studied trombone and piano, got degrees at Indiana and Eastman School of Music, and headed west to work in film and TV. Standard big band lineup (five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, piano, bass, drums -- many names I recognize but few real stars (Bob Sheppard, Wayne Bergeron, Peter Erskine are probably the best known). All Slonaker originals except for "It's Only a Paper Moon." B-
Matt White: The Super Villain Jazz Band (2012 , Artists Recording Collective): Trumpet player, studied in Miami, based in Nashville, has played in big bands at both stops but this is his own first album. Postbop, gets help from two saxophonists (Evan Cobb and Don Aliquo) plus piano-bass-drums, but his trumpet makes the deepest impression; wrote all but the Tom Waits cover. B+(**) [October 1]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, September 29. 2013
Big story this coming week will be the government shutdown, forced by Republicans in the House for no better reason than that they can. They've staked out an ignorant position, one voters should remember next November -- one the Democrats should relentlessly remind voters of. Moreover, I feel their vindictiveness is aimed explicitly at me. I'm 62 now and unemployed and the only way I'll be able to buy health insurance next year is through an ACA exchange. I don't have any links on this below, but that doesn't mean this isn't important.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, September 28. 2013
Most months I notice I'm a little short in this file about a week before I expect it to appear, then I start hustling and a file with twenty-some entries suddenly grows to 40-50 resulting in an average month. This month I didn't notice, and wound up instead driving down to Arkansas and around Oklahoma, visiting relatives from generations that never managed to adapt well to computers. And while I brought a laptop along, I didn't use it much -- partly because I didn't have much internet access, partly because I find the laptop itself rather clunky.
So this month is real short, and for that matter rushed at the end. Sometimes it breaks that way.
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 August 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (3720 records).
Arctic Monkeys: AM (2013, Domino): Brit group, never going to return to the punkish primitivism of their early work, but their growth and expansion is less annoying than last time -- maybe indication that they're stagnating? -- and the guitars have some ring to them. B-
Big Sean: Hall of Fame (2013, Def Jam): Sean Michael Anderson, raised in Detroit and groomed by Kanye West, second studio album, big money features and skits and beats that eventually pick up his initial roughness and make it flow. B+(*)
Body/Head: Coming Apart (2013, Matador): Kim Gordon's first post-Sonic Youth album, with Bill Nace on guitar -- Nace has several independent albums, nothing I've run into. Gordon sings, but whereas with Sonic Youth she cuts through the density, here she holds it up, sounding as tortured as Nico against the glum noise of Nace's guitar. B-
Burial: Truant/Rough Sleeper (2012, Hyperdub, EP): Counted a single with two 12-minute sides, William Bevan's latest electronica doesn't feel skimpy or sketchy at all. A-
Neko Case: The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You (2013, Anti-): Early records were with countryish bands, then she did a spell in the alt-rock New Pornographers, now she's a singer-songwriter with no particular roots or tics, but enough of a pro to turn in what may be her best album yet. B+(**)
Congo Natty: Jungle Revolution (2013, Big Dada): Michael West, from London, previously worked as Rebel MC, Conquering Lion, Blackstar, Tribe of Issachar, etc., as a reggae toaster, producer, and remixer. Not sure of the provenance of these tracks, their reggae beats reinforced with drum and bass, raps and sound samples, but it's a mix I find endlessly fascinating. Inspirational lyric: "This is my fucking country, lady!" A-
Mark Ernestus Presents Jeri-Jeri: 800% Ndagga (2013, Ndagga): Berlin DJ remixes eight fairly classic-sounding Senegalese tunes, toning the drums down to get a hollow thud -- reportedly the work of "a griot clan of Sabar drummers from Kaolack in Senegal" -- and tucking in the vocals as well, moves that don't seem promising but steadies rhythms that always seem ready to fly into their own space-time continuum. B+(**)
Mark Ernestus Presents Jeri-Jeri: Ndagga Versions (2013, Ndagga): Nominally the dub version, which mostly means the vocals which differentiate the pieces on 800% Ndagga vanish, leaving little more than the drum patterns -- even as elemental as they are, a fair trade. B+(**)
Factor: Woke Up Alone (2013, Fake Four): Hip-hop producer Graham Murawsky, from Saskatoon up Saskatchewan way, with 14 albums since 2002. Starts with a cheezy instrumental, then the first of a dozen feat.'s (only names I recognize are Open Mike Eagle and Astronautalis, but Onry Ozzborn and Evil Ebeneezer are names to remember). Still, only Eagle aces his feat., the rest too eclectic to cohere, not that it doesn't occasionally tantallize. B+(*)
Factory Floor: Factory Floor (2013, DFA): British group (Dominic Butler, Gabriel Gurnsey, Nikki Colk), dance beats that look back more to New Order new wave than to grime or dubstep or anything else that's likely to slip a cog or throw a gear every now and then. Could be we're not so post-industrial after all. B+(***)
Forest Swords: Engravings (2013, Tri Angle): Matthew Barnes, first LP after a highly regarded EP in 2010. Sheathes of synths, some vocals but of little import, loses a bit toward the end. B+(*)
Franz Ferdinand: Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action (2013, Domino): Scottish indie rock group, fourth album over a decade not counting live and dub joints, have an open sound, a distinctive singer, and a lot of song structure. As for the title cut, go left young man. B+(**)
Gold Panda: Half of Where You Live (2013, Ghostly International): Derwin Schlecker, based in London, likes to run samples up to a vocal breath then holds back. Leaves me short for words, but with a warm feeling. B+(**)
Joanna Gruesome: Weird Sister (2013, Slumberland): Welsh punk-noise-pop group fronted by singer Alanna McArdle, with 10 songs in 28:27, all but the closer upbeat -- and that last one, "Satan," reminded me a little of "Jesus" until they jerked it off in another direction. B+(***)
Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks (2013, Halo): Industrial group led by Trent Reznor, who has recently became more famous for soundtrack work. Hasn't sharpened up his game. B+(*)
No Age: An Object (2013, Sub Pop): Drum-guitar duo, Dean Spunt and Randy Randall, tagged with labels like "lo-fi" and "noise pop" because they're more into dense layers of sound than songs but what they do is catchy enough that songs count too. B+(***)
The Sadies: Internal Sounds (2013, Yep Roc): Canadian alt-rock band, have recorded quite a bit since 1998, both under their own name and as a backup band for Andre Williams, Neko Case, John Doe, Randy Bachman, Neil Young, Jon Langford, Roger Knox, and others. The latter include some good (and not-so-good) records, but on their own they've never been more than proficient. This is very proficient, but only perks up when they're joined by a guest singer (evidently Buffy Sainte-Marie). B+(**)
Superchunk: I Hate Music (2013, Merge): Mac McCaughan band, been around since 1989 with a slowly growing coterie of fans -- probably a live thing although it's possible that their songs are getting catchier and their riffs crunchier. I wouldn't know. I hate bands like this live, but when the catchy/crunchy level is this high they work for background. B+(**)
Robin Thicke: Blurred Lines (2013, Star Trak/Interscope): Pharrell Williams produced, going more for 1970s-vintage soul/disco motifs than anything else, as if the world desperately needs another Spinners album. Not a bad idea. Better still is "Give It 2 U" B+(**)
Trombone Shorty: Say That to Say This (2013, Verve): Troy Andrews, New Orleans trombone player (trumpet also), career took off after he changed his handle and got occasional spots on HBO's Treme. He's big enough here he managed to arrange a reunion of the 1978 lineup of the Meters. Not sure how much they play here, but at best this sounds like a run-of-the-mill Meters album, and they surely can't be blamed for it all (cf. "Dream On"). B-
2 Chainz: B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time (2013, Def Jam): Follow-up to last year's Based on a T.R.U. Story, an oblique way to recycle a title, but then the Atlanta rapper likes anagrams almost as much as he likes his dick. Lots of producers, writers, big money guests, and is suitably crackling, at least for a while. B+(**)
The Weeknd: Kiss Land (2013, Universal Republic): Having fallen for Abel Tesfaye's 2011 mixtape, House of Balloons, I haven't done due dilligence on the two follow-ups even though they've been repackaged in last year's Trilogy -- certain friends turned so hard against him I didn't feel up to the trouble. Still don't know: he has a sweet voice and a dirty (or perhaps just troubled) mind, the mix stabilized by a slick rhythm section. B+(*)
Betty Who: The Movement (2013, self-released): Pop tart from Australia, 21, four radio-ready songs, none more than four minutes, the first at least ("Somebody Loves You") has some sticking power. B+(**)
Chelsea Wolfe: Pain Is Beauty (2013, Sargent House): Singer-songwriter from Sacramento, father played in a country band so, naturally, she turned to goth, calling a previous album Apokalypsis and dressing in blood red against a black background here. I can't catch the songs -- something about "idealistic love" or maybe "lava" -- but like the textures and flow and don't find the atmosphere as suffocating as advertised. B+(**)
ZZK Sound Vol. 3 (2013, ZZK/Waxploitation): Dance beats from Argentina, or at least the label's from Buenos Aires, where there must be some kind of dance beat scene. A-
Monday, September 23. 2013
Music: Current count 22066  rated (+24), 579  unrated (-2).
I expect to be on the road by the time this Jazz Prospecting appears, but much of this has been sitting around for several weeks, and there's plenty enough to run, especially if you focus on the top grades. Should be back before the following Monday, but don't know how much work I'll manage to get in.
Howard Alden/Andy Brown Quartet: Heavy Artillery (2012 , Delmark): Two guitarists, retro-swing guys with special fondness for George Van Eps, backed with bass and drums. Alden, based in New York, is well established with close to 30 albums since 1985, most on Concord or Arbors. Brown is much younger, based in Chicago, has an album under his own name and a nice duo backing his wife, singer Petra van Nuis (Far Away Places). Nothing heavy here, let alone artillery-like: title song actually comes from Django Reinhardt, another shared hero. B+(***)
Geri Allen: Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations (2012 , Motéma Music): Solo piano, except for four duos: three with trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, one with alto saxophonist David McMurray. Three Allen originals, the rest Detroit themed, mostly Motown -- "Tears of a Clown" benefits from the subtle pianistic twists, but "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" is short on thrust. The horns jump out at you, while the piano sneaks slyly around. B+(**)
Marnix Busstra: Sync Dreams (2013, Buzz Music): Dutch guitarist, b. 1965, no idea how extensive his discography is, since at least some of it is buried in groups like Buzz Bros Band or credited to vibraphonist Mike Mainieri (co-leader of a quartet). This is a quartet with a pianist named Rembrandt and a bassist (acoustic) named Dooyeweerd. Brings out his inner John Scofield in particularly appealing ways. B+(**)
Claudia Quintet: September (2013, Cuneiform): John Hollenbeck's soft-toned group -- Matt Moran's vibraphone is more than ever the focal center, with accordion (Red Wienenge) and clarinet/tenor sax (Chris Speed) for color, and bass to round out the bottom. All pieces composed in various Septembers since 2001, a pivot point in Hollenbeck's career. One samples a speech -- sounds like Franklin Roosevelt, and is titled "1936 We Warn You," but I don't follow why he should be complaining about "the present administration" which would have been his -- chopping it up and replaying it for its musical tones. The rest are percussion jams, as inspired as ever. A- [September 24]
Joey DeFrancesco: One for Rudy (2013, High Note): Organ trio, with Steve Cotter on guitar and Ramon Banda on drums. Rudy is Van Gelder, possibly the most famous jazz producer and recording engineer of the last 50-60 years, and that concept sets up a vintage songbook -- Davis/Powell, Rollins, Monk, Hubbard, "Stardust," finished off with an original for the title track. No pumping or grinding, just a pleasing light touch on everything. B+(***) [September 24]
Anne Drummond: Revolving (2012 , Origin): Flute player, from Seattle, studied at Manhattan School of Music and is based in New York; third album, also plays piano on three cuts, yielding to Benny Green on six, David Chesky on the other; the tracks without Green have Vic Juris on guitar and/or Dave Eggar on cello. Two Green pieces, one Pixinguinha, the rest by Drummond. Aims for a chamber feel, but also comes off a bit corny, which is probably a plus. B
Kenny Garrett: Pushing the World Away (2013, Mack Avenue): Alto saxophonist, eighteen albums since 1984, graduated to a major label in 1989 and has been one of the most prominent mainstream players ever since. Wrote all original material except for Bacharach-David's "I Say a Little Prayer," but "Chucho's Mambo" (for Valdes) and the calypso "J'ouvert (Homage to Sonny Rollins)" don't fall far from the tree. Switches between two core bands (with common bassist Corcoran Holt), swaps in guests including strings, and fills up 72:06. Troubles me that the above-listed pro forma pieces are the most appealing -- the others don't stand out even when they push hard. B [advance]
Marsha Heydt and the Project of Love: Diggin' the Day (2013, Blujazz): Alto saxophonist, second album, also plays soprano and flute here. Good natured but unadventurous pop jazz, helped out by Daniel Sadownick on percussion and, especially, James Zollar on trumpet and flugelhorn. One vocal by Carla Cook, three cuts with strings plus a fourth featuring violinist Sam Bardfield. B
Oliver Jones: Just for My Lady (2012 , Justin Time): Pianist, b. 1934 in Montreal, studied briefly with Oscar Peterson's sister but didn't start recording until 1984, now up around 22 albums. The lady on the cover is violinist Josée Aidans, and they're backed with bass (Éric Lagacé) and drums (Jim Doxas), mostly Jones originals but the Gershwin tune at the end, "Lady Be Good," is the one that sticks in your mind. B+(***) [September 24]
Dave King Trucking Company: Adopted Highway (2013, Sunnyside): Drummer with the Bad Plus and Happy Apple; second album under this group name, with two tenor saxes (Chris Speed, Brandon Wozniak), electric guitar (Erik Fratzke), and acoustic bass (Adam Linz). The guitar is central here, not that King intends anything fusion-like but he has that rock beat he can fall back on, and he likes layering even when it gets a bit thick and sludgy. B+(**) [September 24]
Matt Mitchell: Fiction (2012 , Pi): Pianist, based in Philadelphia, first album under own name after side credits with Dave Douglas, Darius Jones, and Tim Berne. Duo, with Ches Smith on percussion, including vibes. Very sharp, angular attack in free time, sometimes out-percussing the drummer, although the pianist can't quite shake the beat, no matter how hard he tries to dodge it. B+(***) [September 24]
Jonathan Moritz Trio: Secret Tempo (2012 , Hot Cup): Tenor saxophonist (soprano too), b. 1977 in Tehran, Iran; moved to Southern California quite young, then to Belgium to study, then back for more study at California Institute for the Arts. Website offers nine records for sale: this is the first under his own name, but the others are mostly sax trios or quartets -- Trio Caveat, The Up, Evil Eye; The E.R.A. is a larger group -- that I would file under his name (at least once I recognized it). This one has Shayna Dulberger on bass and Mike Pride on drums. First impression was that this is the sort of sax record I fall easiest for. After several replays the soprano had me wavering, but the bassist sold the deal. A-
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Red Hot (2012 , Hot Cup): Moppa Elliott's Pennsylvania hick group takes its terror act to Dixieland, expanding from a quartet to septet along the way -- additions are at piano (Ron Stabinsky), bass trombone (David Taylor), banjo (Brandon Seabrook), while Jon Irabagon picks up the C melody sax, soprano too. The harmony is reminiscent of old times, but the group knows too many new tricks to go authentic -- free rhythm, abstract piano solos, some electronic drone. As usual, they're just out to mess with you. A- [advance: September 24]
Bill O'Connell + The Latin Jazz All-Stars: Zócalo (2013, Savant): Seems like I mess up a lot of credits/titles when I rush through the unpacking, but the actual title here is in very small and broken type, much harder to read than the label logo or the enlisted All-Stars: Conrad Herwig, Steve Slagle, Richie Flores, Luques Curtis, Adam Cruz. O'Connell is a pianist with nine (or so) albums since 1978 (unless my sources have him confused with the drummer with the same name). Moved into Latin jazz with his 2004 album Latin Jazz Fantasy, and shows real affinity for it, much like his trombonist. B+(**) [September 24]
Michael Pedicin: Why Stop Now/Ubuntu (2013, Groundblue): Tenor saxophonist from Philadelphia, mainstream guy although his quintet included both guitar and piano (Johnnie Valentino and Rick Germanson) instead of a second horn. Title matches the first and last songs. Has a big, bold tone. B+(**) [September 24]
Sachal Studios Orchestra: Jazz and All That: In Memory of Dave Brubeck (2013, Imagine Music): Large orchestral group, at least as configured here, based in Lahore, Pakistan: 24 violins, 3 cellos, sitar, tabla, dholoks/percussion, a chorus, 9 more listed as "UK Musicians" including trumpet, piano, guitar, and bass, but also harp, sarod, ghatam and moorsing. They play 13 songs arranged by Izzat Majeed, only one ("Blue Rondo a la Turk") I in any way associate with Dave Brubeck. Less jazz than exotica, or orchestral kitsch, especially on tunes like "Eleanor Rigby" and "The Pink Panther" that are infectious even when they're awful (which is most of the time). B-
Ira Sullivan Presents the Jim Holman Trio: Blue Skies (2011-12 , Delmark): Sullivan, b. 1931, came up in Chicago during the bebop era, playing trumpet and tenor sax; his discography is widely scattered, with an Introduces in 1956, a Bird Lives! in 1962, a prolific stretch from 1978-83, and roughly a record per decade since. Holman is a pianist, and there's some confusion here over who's in his trio, but drummer Roger Humphries is listed as "special guest." Holman does a fine job of framing these songs. Sullivan may have seemed like a minor figure way back when, but in his eighties if he isn't the real thing he's one of the last links to it. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Friday, September 20. 2013
We started working on remodeling the kitchen in late 2008. Finally got the last planned thing done, less than five years after we started. That was the backsplash between the solid surface (LG Hi-Macs) countertop and the large window, a small area about 74 inches wide by 8 inches high. It was previously painted light blue, but the plaster was deteriorating. We looked at lots of tile, but nothing quite fit the color scheme until we found this mosaic of 5/8-inch tiles covered with stainless steel. Added a pearl gray grout, and tried to bevel it around the edges. Looks like this, or did until we cluttered it up again:
Spice rack to the right. The countertop from it on back is stainless steel sheet, and there's a Capital 36-inch 6-burner range just out of the picture. Dishwasher is the old GE that we had before the remodel. We figured we'd replace it (and the refrigerator) with stainless steel front models when they broke, but they haven't obliged yet.
Monday, September 16. 2013
Music: Current count 22042  rated (+26), 581  unrated (+10).
Not real sure what happened, or didn't, this past week, but the inbox queues have started to fill back up. Was trying to listen to some new music on Rhapsody, but didn't get very far, and at least for now that's on hold. After the robbery, I built two new computers using Antec boxes. One was an AMD-powered Linux machine for everyday work, and I've since refitted it with new motherboard, cpu, and memory, and it's been rock solid as long as I don't run Facebook on it. The other was an Intel-powered Windows Vista box which I had speakers on and used for nothing but playing music and the occasional DVD. It's hosed now. We've had two power outages in the last few days. One occurred when I was asleep and persisted long enough to drain the UPS. The Windows box didn't reboot clean after that, but eventually did come up with I wasn't looking, so was able to run until the next shutdown. Now it's not coming up, and I'm unable to find the original repair discs -- the latter have to be somewhere, but that's the rub. The office has devolved into an incredible mess where I can't find anything. Straightening it all out is almost inconceivable -- I shudder even to think about it.
Good chance I'll take a trip later this week, so that will slow things down even more.
Adventure Music: 10 Years (2003-2012 , Adventure Music, 3CD): Mike Marshall, a mandolin player who started in bluegrass then developed an affection for choro, founded this label in 2003, initially to document his own collaborations with Brazilian musicians, then to give the latter a US outlet, and over time has expanded to include other musicians from South America, their allies and fellow travelers. I've been fortunate enough to follow this label from shortly after its inception, and have 66 of their records in my ratings database -- my favorites are the Moacir Santos compilation, Ouro Negro, and the 2006 record Renewed Impressions, by Brazilian trombonist Vittor Santos. This expansive label compilation was selected by vocalist Monday Michiru, and arguably favors singers a bit too much, but does a nice job of plotting out the label's breadth. B+(*)
Cacaw: Stellar Power (2012 , Skirl): Trio -- Oscar Noriega (sax), Landon Knoblock (keyboards), Jeff Davis (drums) -- but Knoblock wrote all the pieces. The electric keybs give this a flair that is alternately cheesy and rocky, at odds with the more avant inclinations of the others. Sometimes that even works for them. Favorite title: "Neutron Star, Eating Its Binary Neighbor." B+(**) [September 17]
Tom Dempsey: Saucy (2013, Planet Arts): Guitarist, five albums since 1998, backed by organ (Ron Oswanski) and drums (Alvin Atkinson) here, a soul jazz move when he's playing Buddy Montgomery or Lee Morgan or his own originals, less soulful with Paul Simon. B+(*) [September 17]
FivePlay Jazz Quintet: Five & More (2012 , Auraline): Quintet, principally Tony Corman (guitar) and Laura Klein (guitar), who split the writing 5-4, plus Dave Tidball (sax, clarinet, wrote one song), Paul Smith (acoustic bass), Alan Hall (drums). They have two previous albums, this one adding guests -- four clarinets on two cuts, four trombones on two other, some vibes. B [September 17]
Griffith Hiltz Trio: This Is What You Get . . . (2013, self-released): Canadian trio: Johnny Griffith (saxes, bass clarinet), Nathan Hiltz (guitar, bass pedals), Sly Juhas (drums). Regular beat, guitar more important than the sax, doesn't quite slide into either the fusion or smooth jazz ruts, too scrawny for the former, not slick enough for the latter. B [September 19]
Jessica Jones/Connie Crothers: Live at the Freight (2011 , New Artists): Tenor sax and piano respectively, duets, live, three improvs, one piece by Jones, three standards: "All the Things You Are," "In a Sentimental Mood," "There Will Never Be Another You." Crothers has nearly 20 albums since 1974. Jones has been much less prolific, but both are adventurous players, even if this is a little dicey. B+(*) [September 17]
Bryn Roberts: Fables (2012 , Nineteen-Eight): Pianist, originally from Winnipeg, based in New York, two previous albums. Quartet, with Seamus Blake (tenor/soprano sax), Orlando LeFleming (bass), Jonathan Blake (drums). Six originals, two standards ("In the Still of the Night," "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry"). B+(**) [September 17]
Samo Salamon Quartets: Stretching Out (2008-12 , Samo, 2CD): Guitarist, b. 1978 in the future Slovenia, has spent some time in New York but is still based in Slovenia; 13 records since 2003, this one a double, one disc each with an American quartet in 2008 and a European one in 2012. The latter, with Dominique Pifarely on violin, Bruno Chevillon on bass, and Roberto Dani on drums, is dense, scratchy, and ultimately rewarding although it took me a lot of time to pan out. The former, with Donny McCaslin on tenor sax, John Hébert on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums, is no trouble at all -- the guitarist brings back his John Scofield roots, and McCaslin follows seamlessly, never tripping himself up. A- [September 20]
Salsa de la Bahia: A Collection of SF Bay Area Salsa and Latin Jazz (2003-10 , Patois, 2CD): I don't have the eyes to sort through all the small print here -- the year range, for instance, only covers the first disc, so it's possible there are outliers on the second. The San Francisco area has become home to a huge range of world music, but I've rarely been impressed by what I've heard. This, however, holds up surprisingly well. Only name I recognize is John Santos, although there are doubtless more in the fine print. B+(**)
Zansa: Djansa (2013, self-released): Afropop group based in Asheville, North Carolina; led by Adama Dembele, who figures himself a 33rd generation musician, tracing his ancestry back through his native Cöte d'Ivoire. The rest of the band look like they crawled out of the Appalachian hollers, with Matt Williams' fiddle especially prominent. Ends with a striking fish-out-of-water story. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
A front page article in the Wichita Eagle this morning is titled "Summers out of running for Fed chairman." I wasn't able to find the article on the Eagle's website, but it is by Kevin G. Hall (McClatchy Washington Bureau), and here's a link. Above the headline, the article pointed out that "women's groups, others opposed nomination." Indeed, aside from some of Summers' fellow economists -- if I recall correctly, Brad DeLong is the one I'm most likely to credit -- the only person who seems to have favored Summers was Barack Obama. This has always struck me as a bit odd: if you read Ron Suskind's book on Obama's economic team, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, only Tim Geithner -- who flat-out obstructed Obama decisions against the big banks -- comes off worse than Summers, who comes off as a self-appointed bottleneck making sure that Obama never got advice he didn't pre-approve. Given that things didn't work out so great, you'd think the president would hold some lingering resentment of the stifling adviser, but evidently not. The article quotes Obama:
Say that again, "the kind of progress we are seeing today." As it happens, I just posted a chart at the top of yesterday's Weekend Roundup that shows "What's Up, What's Down" since July 2007, when the economy started to go south. What's up? S&P 500 +8, corporate profits +42%, financial profits +59%. What's down? Employment/population ratio 6.7%. I also cited a piece by Mike Konczal on how the richest 1% of Americans took home a larger share of the nation's income than in any year since 1928. (Key quote there: "the top 1 percent have enjoyed 95 percent of all income growth from 2009 to 2012.") I also cited Jeff Madrick's piece where he argues that unemployment isn't just a bit high, but has metastasized into an entire "jobless generation."
So when Obama talks about "the kind of progress we are seeing today" he must be seeing things than I am not and not seeing things that I am. In the decade before the collapse financial profits had grown to 40% of all corporate profits, something that was only possible due to the predatory behavior of banks. Obama and Summers not only didn't stem that tide. They've increase financial profits even further. Higher corporate profits feed off three main factors: financialization (corporations playing finance games), increasing monopoly rents, and squeezing the labor market. None of those are things that make the economy stronger, let alone things that lead to higher living standards for more people. Yet under Obama and Summers those trends have become even worse. Worse still, under Obama and Summers those trends are counted as "progress."
Hall's article goes on to quote Sen. Bernie Sanders:
Within the narrow confines of what Fed chairmen can do, I don't consider Summers a horrible choice -- he would, for instance, have been better than Ben Bernanke in 2009. (I've long felt that Obama's failure to appoint his own Fed chair was one of the worst mistakes of his presidency.) But there's little in his past to suggest that he wouldn't immediately become a captured regulator of the largest (and most corrupt) banks in America, and there are alternatives that don't carry his brand of arrogance and corruption. (And, by the way, Donald Kohn -- another Obama favorite -- isn't one of them.) But Summers is a relatively known commodity. What's more disturbing here is that Obama's own view of the economy seems to be so narrowly subservient to the bankers' view -- and so far disconnected from what's actually happened to workers in America.
By the way, had a power blackout during last night's storms, and that delayed (and forced a hastil conclusion to) yesterday's Weekend Update post. Also backed up Jazz Prospecting, which will come out late tonight or early tomorrow, unless we have another blackout. Sorry for the delays, but I also wanted to sneak this morsel in.
Sunday, September 15. 2013
Obama has had a lucky week. First, Vladimir Putin secured agreement with Assad to destroy Syria's chemical weapons -- a far greater result than Obama had even hoped for from his threat of an "incredibly small" but "not a pinprick" threat to bomb Syria. And now Larry Summers has finally ended speculation that Obama would appoint the chief architect of the 2008 banking meltdown to be chair of the Federal Reserve.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Thursday, September 12. 2013
A couple months ago I opened up files for both September and October Recycled Goods. The former had some unfinished business from my July roundup of 1960s records -- actually, the second in a series after May's 1960s obscurities -- and the latter started with some miscellaneous jazz records, with Ornette Coleman straddling both. Then I got a notice that a bunch of records on the Polish label Not Two were on sale, so I tried checking them out. Some of those were on Rhapsody, and after a pass through the sale items I started looking at the catalogue. And, well, I couldn't help myself. As September approached, I found I had much more in the "October" file than "September," so I swapped them. I didn't manage to get to all of them, but hit quite a few -- at this point I'm mostly missing early records by obscure Polish musicians (Cezariusz Gadzina, Tomasz Gwincinski, Emil Kowalski, Janusz Muniak, Beata Przybytek, Maciej Sikala, Arek Skolik, Agnieszka Skrzypek, Jarek Smietana, Tomek Sowinski, Maciej Strzelczyk, Karolina Styla, Piotr Wylezol, Janusz Zdunek) and some recent things, especially 2012 and later. (A full list of Not Two releases is here.)
Not Two Records was founded in 1998 by Marek Winiarski, who had previously co-founded GOWI Records -- one of maybe three labels in 1980s Poland that released avant-jazz records. (Tomasz Stanko was one of their big names.) In the early years Not Two mostly released records by Polish artists -- some avant, but many were more postbop. In 2003 they started recording occasional Americans when they'd pass through Poland -- the first was David Murray, who they teamed up with a Polish bass-and-drum duo (the Oles brothers, Marcin and Barlomiej Brat). In 2004 they recorded a 12-CD box of the Vandermark 5 live at Alchemia in Cracow. Shortly after that the majority of their releases were foreigners, and they started picking up studio tapes as well. They released 12-18 records a year, over 200 since 1998. (They started at MW 701 and are up to MW 904.) Over the last five years they've been one of Europe's finest labels -- roughly comparable to Clean Feed in Portugal and Leo in England, more prolific than Intakt in Switzerland. I've tried several times to get them to send me records, but have had very little luck with them -- the few records I do get, including Jazz CG Pick Hits like ROVA's The Juke Box Suite and Avram Fefer's Eliyahu have come from friendly musicians. So I had a lot of pent-up demand to hear what I've been missing. Rhapsody helped quench that thirst, but also imposed some limits: most records got one play, few more than two, and a lot of avant-jazz is hard to sort out that quickly. Still, I found a few items that made the grade, and there are probably some more gems buried in the high-B+ range. (The Steve Swell albums came especially close.)
The ACN includes a list of all the Not Two albums I've previously reviewed, including a few from Rhapsody Streamnotes. As I was working on this, I put several 2010 or later albums into last month's Rhapsody Streamnotes file. I could have done that with a few more here, but finally decided it makes more sense to run them here.
Everything here is jazz, but I do have a few things that didn't come from Not Two, and a couple things (Alan Broadbent, an early collection of the late Mary McPartland) are not avant at all. Still, the biggest side-trip was a stroll through the Ganelin Trio's 1980s recordings on Leo. I got there backing up from Live at Lugano, but ultimately didn't bother with Ganelin's other post-Trio work -- there are still a few more albums I haven't gotten to there. Could do a label thing on Leo some day. (Indeed, in addition to Ganelin I've done a lot of their Sun Ra recently.) Not sure how much of the catalogue is available on Rhapsody, but it is an important source, and there is a lot there I've yet to hear.
Ornette Coleman: Friends and Neighbors: Live at Prince Street (1970 , BGP): Not many live recordings when Coleman filled the hole Don Cherry left in his quartet with tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman. The title cut gets an amusing singalong treatment, but then it's down to business, the two saxes slipping deftly by one another, even when they reach for the heights -- Coleman's alto has the advantage there, both higher pitched and more familiar with the terrain. A-
The Cosmosamatics: Reeds & Birds (2004, Not Two): The reeds part is easy: Sonny Simmons (alto sax, English horn) and Michael Marcus (saxello, Bb clarinet). The group goes back to 2001 -- Simmons was making noise for ESP-Disk in the '60s, Marcus is a generation younger, and started recording in 1990. Original drummer Jay Rosen plays on the 24:36 finale, appropriately named "Avant Garde Destruct," while newcomver Clifford Barbaro handles the first seven tracks. The horns are high-pitched so a bit shrill, chasing and winding around each other, like the great sax jousts of yore. B+(***) [R]
The Ganelin Trio: Poco-A-Poco (1978 , Leo): Free jazz group formed in 1968 in the Soviet Union, with Vyacheslav Ganelin on piano, Vladimir Chekasin on reeds, and Vladimir Tarasov on drums. Around 1982 Leo Records, an English avant-garde label run by Russian emigré Leo Feigin, started releasing their records, and they established as a remarkably tight and original group -- the authors of The Penguin Guide bestowed their crown icon on Catalogue: Live in East Germany (1977-82), then changed their minds in favor of Ancora Da Capo (1980). I picked up those two and was duly impressed, but didn't delve deeper until now, finding a sizable cache of their records on Rhapsody. This seems to be the first -- it was, at any rate, only the second CD issued by the label. The Soviet system was notorious for its narrowminded focus on folk and classical music, and you can find bits of that here and there, quoted like Dexter Gordon would a nursery tune. B+(***) [R]
Joe McPhee: Nation Time (1970 , Atavistic): The 18:28 title cut is a black power funk classic, egged on by an MC shouting "what time is it?" and the horns pronouncing revolution. Then the second side starts with a powerhouse organ-driven polyphonic funk number called "Shakey Jake" and closes with a band jam called "Scorpio's Dance" -- a step down in power and forward in improv. McPhee, who plays both trumpet and tenor sax here, has had a long and wonderful career as the most determinedly rigorous of avant musicians, so I don't think he ever did anything like this again. A [R]
Szilárd Mezei Ensemble: Bot (1998-2004 , Not Two, 2CD): Viola player from Serbia, seems to have picked up the fine points of a Communist education -- respect for the classics, a touch of nostalgia for the folk, and a bit of revolutionary turn toward jazz. Only a couple of these long pieces -- only two less than 10 minutes, with the title track topping 25 -- drag or wander, but most are remarkable exercises in arranging for a band that most often features two reeds (oboe and Bogdan Rankovic on alto sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet), three brass (trumpet, trombone, tuba), three strings (viola, cello, bass), and drums. The horns tend to dominate, usually in tight formation. A bit scattered, and too huge to really take it all in, but more dazzling than not. A- [R]
The Resonance Ensemble: Kafka in Flight (2011, Not Two): I lost track of new Ken Vandermark releases a few years back -- he stopped sending them, I stopped bugging him, more ambivalence about my project than lack of interest, nor did it help that Seth Tisue gave up on trying to manage Vandermark's discography nor that Vandermark's own one-promising website has fallen into obscurity. In the last five years or so I've managed to sample Vandermark groups like C.O.D.E., Fox Fire, Made to Break, Platform 1, Side A, but somehow I missed his Resonance project. It started as a 10-piece big band with an LP in 2008, followed by a 10-CD box in 2009 which looks like a mix of small groups and big band. This returns to the original lineup, with four reeds (Mikolaj Trzaska, Dave Rempis, Waclaw Zimpel, and Vandermark), trumpet (Magnus Broo), trombone (Steve Swell), tuba (Per-Ĺke Holmlander), bass (Mark Tokar), and two drummers (Tim Daisy and Michael Zerang). Probably the most coherent of Vandermark's large groups -- certainly less screech than the Brötzmann Tentet or the various Territory Bands. A- [R]
Basement Research: Live in Münster (1999 , Not Two): One of many groups run by prolific bass clarinet/sax player Gebhard Ullmann, adopting the name of his 1995 album but swapping the ever versatile Tony Malaby in for the opposite sax role, keeping Drew Gress and Phil Haynes on bass and drums. B+(***)
The Michael Bisio Quartet: Live at Vision Fest. XII (2008 , Not Two): Bassist-led quartet, with Jay Rosen on drums and two tenor saxophonist: Stephen Gauci and Avram Fefer (who also plays some soprano); two long pieces, strong sax stretches, phat bass underneath. B+(**) [R]
Anthony Braxton/Sonny Simmons/Brandon Evans/Andre Vida/Mike Pride/Shanir Blumenkranz: Parallactic 54 (Sextet) 2003 (2003, Parallactic/Thought Authority): The first four play various saxes, Blumenkranz bass and oud, Pride drums; the interplay of the horns can is often marvelous even if it can get wild and wooly; as far as I can figure, this digital version matches the original release, but I also see a Complete Sessions over at Evans' Bandcamp site with four more cuts (and one less). B+(***) [R]
Anthony Braxton/Chris Dahlgren: ABCD (2003 , Not Two): Sax-bass duets, Braxton playing sopranino, soprano, alto, baritone, and bass saxes, plus some clarinet, and Dahlgren also credited with "preparations and electronics"; compositions printed on a deck of playing cards, shuffled and drawn to surprise everyone, artists included. B+(**) [R]
The Alan Broadbent Trio: Pacific Standard Time (1995, Concord): Pianist, from New Zealand, probably best known as part of Charlie Haden's Quartet West, with a very nice mainstream piano trio from an era when Concord practically cornered the market on mainstream piano jazz; one original, "This One's for Bud," and one by John Lewis plus a long list of songbook standards. B+(***)
Peter Brötzmann/Johannes Bauer/Mikolaj Trzaska: Goosetalks (2008 , Kilogram): Two saxophonists plus trombonist Bauer, with both Brötzmann and Trzaska playing a wide range of saxes and clarinets, the lack of any non-horns giving this a sax choir resonance, not that anyone here cares a whit for multi-part harmony. B+(*) [R]
John Butcher: Thirteen Friendly Numbers (1991 , Unsounds): Avant jazz saxophonist, plays all types but tenor is his main one, cut these solo but occasionally overdubbed extra sax parts, and used amplifiers so you get some hellacious vibrato; the tunes are not as friendly as he thinks, but he shows you range and depth. B+(*) [R]
Taylor Ho Bynum and Tomas Fujiwara: Stepwise (2009 , Not Two): Duets, cornet and drums, respectively; two musicians who have played together a lot and have a very close rapport. B+(***) [R]
Daniel Carter/Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz/Kevin Zubek: Chinatown (2003, Not Two): Sax trio, the leader playing tenor, alto, trumpet, flute, and clarinet, the bassist also doubling on oud; Carter is best known for playing in various William Parker groups, waiting until he was in his 50s before recording his own records; he is patient, resourceful, versatile here, the others providing notable support. B+(***) [R]
Daniel Carter/Alberto Fiori/Tom Abbs/Federico Ughi: Perfect Blue (2008 , Not Two): Piano-bass-drums behind the saxophonist-trumpeter, relatively conventional, at first anyway, until the piano breaks loose in a sort of Cecil Taylor jig. B+(**) [R]
Ornette Coleman: Tomorrow Is the Question! (1959, Contemporary): Second album, quartet with Don Cherry on trumpet but he had yet to find his rhythm section: Shelly Manne is the drummer, and the bass slot is split between Percy Heath on the first side and Red Mitchell on the second; the trademark sound is there, but they slow down and break up here and there. B+(**) [R]
Construction Party: Instruments of Change (2012, Not Two): Two-horn quartet -- Forbes Graham on trumpet and Dave Rempis on alto sax -- with piano (Pandelis Karayorgis) instead of bass, and drums (Luther Gray); the pianist isn't always a presence but when he kicks into high gear he's a tremendous propulsive force, and much the same can be said for Rempis. B+(***) [R]
The Cosmosamatics: Zetrons (2005, Not Two): Sonny Simmons and Michael Marcus again, the latter trading in his saxello for tenor sax, expanded to a quartet with Jay Rosen back on drums and Masa Kamaguchi on bass (guess it took them awhile to replace William Parker); the lower horn and extra harmonic depth helps settle the sound without dampening the joust. A- [R]
The Cosmosamatics: Free Within the Law (2008, Not Two): Michael Marcus on tenor sax and clarinet, Sonny Simmons on alto sax and English horn, again -- they seem a bit off their game here, perhaps working with new (and unknown to me) partners, Peter Herbert on bass and Art Lewis on drums. B+(*) [R]
Whit Dickey Trio: Emergence (2009, Not Two): Drummer, most of his side credits are with Matthew Shipp including a stint in the David S. Ware Quartet; trio includes Eri Yamamoto on piano and Daniel Carter on reeds-trumpet-flute; Carter both shades the piano and presents a range of lead moves, and they can kick out for a spell, too. B+(***) [R]
Dominic Duval: Songs for Krakow (2007, Not Two): Avant bassist, has several dozen name credits since 1996 but this solo date is one of the few where he's the focus; the result is a nice example of what he can do, his rich tone, his percussive effects, quite a bit of arco. B+(*) [R]
Marco Eneidi/Peter Kowald/Damon Smith/Spirit: Ghetto Calypso (2000 , Not Two): Don't know anything about "Spirit" -- credited here with drums -- but Eneidi is a tenor saxophonist, b. 1956 in Portland, OR, and based in Vienna, and the other two are bassists; this was belatedly dedicated to the late Kowald, but Smith is notable in his own right, and either way this is a good example of how the bass can frame everything. B+(***) [R]
James Finn: Great Spirit (2005, Not Two): Tenor saxophonist, had a couple albums on CIMP and another on Clean Feed within two years of this, and nothing else as far as I can tell; quartet with piano (Deanna Witkowski), bass, and drums; free jazz, strong tone, dynamics, solid effort. B+(**) [R]
The Ganelin Trio: Strictly for Our Friends (1978 , Leo): Live in Moscow, presumably the same music as the 1984 LP only split into eight tracks instead of the earlier two sides; poignant title for a group so far removed from the Soviet mainstream, but there's nothing here that smacks of Western decadence -- this is complex, rough, inventive, demanding, and like most of their albums hard to sort out. B+(***) [R]
The Ganelin Trio: Encores (1978-81 , Leo): CD collection of live dates in Moscow, West Berlin, and Leningrad, the former previously released as the LP Con Fuoco, starting with two good titles: "It's Too Good to Be Jazz" and "Who Is Afraid of Anthony Braxton"; Vladimir Chekasin plays seven different horns, several to joke effect, which makes this something of a hash, but of course an interesting one. B+(**) [R]
The Ganelin Trio: Old Bottles (1982-83 , Leo): Two long pieces, "Non Troppo" and "New Wine," carved up into separate LPs back in the day (Non Troppo was reissued by Hat Art as 2LP with a take of "Ancora Da Capo"); each has occasional dead spots where the action withers away, only to return, often explosively; Chekasin's range and humor have rarely been more in command. B+(***) [R]
The Ganelin Trio: Con Affetto (1983 , Leo): The 1985 LP trimmed "Semplice" to 28:07 split over two sides, with three encores of "Mack the Knife"; the CD gives you the full 57:33 along with the same three encores; after a slow start, Ganelin does a boogie woogie sendup with Chekasin wailing, a remarkable stretch I'd like to hear more of, but even the encores collapse back into breakdown. B+(**) [R]
The Ganelin Trio: Ttaango . . . in Nickelsdorf (1985 , Leo Golden Years of New Jazz, 2CD): Live in Austria, originally a double LP limited to 500 copies, an extra 29:18 added to the CD; the two monster tracks go their their usual motions, complex and full of surprises, while one of the new tracks ("Umtza Umtza") works up such a frenzy they can't help but chant and cheer. A- [R]
The Ganelin Trio: Opuses (1989 , Leo): A new trio, the old one fell apart around 1987 and this one came together after Slava (as he's billed here) Ganelin moved to Israel in 1989, with Victor Fonarov on cello and bass, Mika Markovich on drums; this shifts the focus onto Ganelin, who is strong but spotty, and when guest vocalist Uri Abramowich chimes in they fade into oblivion. B- [R]
Ganelin Trio Priority: Live in Lugano (2006 , Not Two): A return to the piano-sax-drums trio lineup with Petras Vysniauskas on soprano sax and Klaus Kugel on drums; there are spots where this all comes together, still one misses Chekasin's range and good humor. B+(**) [R]
Joe Giardullo: Weather (2004, Not Two): Soprano saxophonist, dedicated an album a year later to Steve Lacy although his own approach may be closer to Joe Maneri's microtones, offers a solo album here; awkward at first, eventually finding some traction looping through the difficult sequences. B [R]
Hasidic New Wave: Live in Cracow (1998, Not Two): American klezmer group focused on pushing the folk music forward both as jazz and as rock, as something wilder and weirder than its prototype; with Frank London (trumpet), Greg Wall (sax), David Fiuczynski (guitar), Fima Ephron (bass), and Aaron Alexander (drums). B+(**) [R]
Interzone: Crossing Atlas 45° (1998, Not Two): Piano trio featuring Mircea Tiberian (b. 1955 in Romania), with Horst Nonnemacher (bass) and Maurice De Martin (drums); postbop, plays nice without many rough edges, possibly before the label developed its avant taste. B+(*) [R]
Interzone: Interzone Plays With Adam Pieronczyk (2000, Not Two): Mircea Tiberian's piano trio meets up with Polish saxophonist Pieronczyk; the piano sticks to melodies, often lush ones, and while the sax can get on edge, Pieronczyk never strays that far. B+(***) [R]
Leszek Kulakowski: Katharsis (1999, Not Two): Polish pianist, cut three albums for Not Two 1999-2001 but seems to be more of a "third stream" type than an avant-gardist -- e.g., this is a piano trio combined with a string quartet, although that makes this seem less interesting, and a lot less fun, than it can be. B+(**) [R]
Los Angeles Jazz Quartet: Family Song (1998, Not Two): Bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz, b. 1963 in Wroclaw, moved to Los Angeles in 1988 and recorded with various ensembles named for his adopted home, before eventually truncating his last name to Oles; with Chuck Manning on tenor/soprano sax, Kevin Tullis on drums, and especially the very fluid guitar of Larry Koonse for a cool take on postbop. B+(**) [R]
Michael Marcus: The Magic Door (2006 , Not Two): Multi-reed player, just Bb clarinet here, backed by various bassists and drummers plus cello (Daniel Levin) on 3 (of 9) tracks; we're so used to hearing Marcus struggling opposite another horn player -- e.g., his duo with Ted Daniels, or in Cosmosamatics with Sonny Simmons -- that you lose track of how thoughtful and full of delight he can be on his own. B+(***) [R]
Michael Marcus: Lotus Symphony (2008, Not Two): The title refers to a 6:12 cut near the end, and neither it nor anything else here sounds symphonic. Mostly trio with Marcus on clarinet backed by bass and drums (two musicians each), with piano added on two tracks and Antoine Roney's tenor sax on one. B+(***) [R]
Michael Marcus: For Yes! (2010, Not Two): Much more fluttery, with Lenwood Turner's trumpet challenging and sometimes even unsettling the leader's clarinet; with John Austria on Rhodes (6 of 9 tracks), Rahsaan Carter on bass, and various drummers. B+(**) [R]
Marian McPartland: Timeless (1952-53 , Savoy): English pianist (1918-2013), studied classical music but left for vaudeville, entertaining troops during the war, marrying dixieland cornetist Jimmy McPartland on a military base, moved to Chicago and on to New York where she cut these early solo and trio sides; all standards, something she already shows a flair for. B+(**) [R]
Joe McPhee/Mikolaj Trzaska/Jay Rosen: Intimate Conversations (2008, Not Two): Two reed players and a drummer, McPhee on tenor sax, Trzaska playing alto sax, C-melody sax, and bass clarinet, but it's not clear to me how often both horns are engaged -- maybe this downplaying is part of their idea of intimate? B+(**) [R]
Joe McPhee/Peter Brötzmann/Kent Kessler/Michael Zerang: The Damage Is Done (2008 , Not Two, 2CD): Two free sax giants -- McPhee on alto plus trumpet, Brötzmann playing alto and tenor plus tarogato and B-flat clarinet -- with bassist and drummer from Chicago, recorded live at Alchemia in Krakow, running 1:42:24. B+(**) [R]
Szilárd Mezei Trio: Bármikor, Most/Anytime, Now (2006 , Not Two): Serbian viola player, in perhaps his most basic context with just bass (Ervin Malina) and drums (Istvan Csik); the leads sometimes seem to draw on folk music, but nothing else is quite that straightforward -- indeed, sometimes he sneaks up on Billy Bang, but the instrument's pitch isn't nearly so sharp. B+(***) [R]
Szilárd Mezei Vocal Ensemble: Fújj, Szél, Zenta, Visszhangozz Szél (2012, Not Two): A nine-piece band similar to the other Mezei Ensemble records -- more saxes here but no oboe, trumpet, or cello -- plus a singer, Kinga Mezei, who appears less than half of the time; she tends to be a bit arch, not that I'd go so far as to say operatic; the rest is an interesting mix, the viola more prominent than on Bot. B+(*) [R]
Joe Moffett: Ad Faunum (2012, Not Two): Trumpet player, pairs up with Noah Kaplan on tenor sax, backed by two basses (one electric) and Luther Gray on drums; free jazz with interesting twists but takes a while building up some momentum. B+(**) [R]
Ravish Momin's Trio Tarana: Five Nights (2006, Not Two): Indian percussionist, with Jason Kao Hwang on violin and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on oud and bass, a neat trick that covers the far reaches of Asia even though the latter two were born in the USA; live set, much like the studio albums, of which Climbing the Banyan Tree is still first call. B+(***) [R]
Joe Morris: Fine Objects (2008 , Not Two): More often a guitarist, Morris plays bass here, anchoring a sax trio with Petr Cancura (tenor, soprano) and Jazon Nazary (drums); mild-mannered freebop, the sax rarely en garde but consistently interesting, the bass audible enough to hold it all together. B+(***) [R]
MusiConspiracy: Do I the In? (2008, Not Two): Quartet with Franz Hautzinger (quartertone trumpet), Tellef Ogrim (fretless guitar), Joe Fonda (bass), and Jacek Kochan (laptop drums). The slow stuff has trouble keeping you engaged, but at mid-tempo this develops an attractive characteristic lope, and they can play around with that. B+(*) [R]
Lucas Niggli/Peter Conradin Zumthor: Profos (2009, Not Two): Two Swiss drummer-percussionists, Niggli well established since 1995, Zumthor having a previous credit on Niggli's 2008 Drum Quartet record; starts with gongs, but long stretches flow together into waves of sound, not quite drones but surreally ambient. B+(*) [R]
The Nu Band: The Dope and the Ghost (2005 , Not Two): Quartet -- Roy Campbell (trumpet), Mark Whitecage (alto sax), Joe Fonda (bass), Lou Grassi (drums) -- with five albums 2001-10, this one live in Vienna; starts with 17:08 of Whitecage reading angrily from the papers, a piece called "Bush Wacked" -- look for his album of that name, not that you want to be reminded any more; runs through two Campbell pieces, then ends on one by Fonda, with alto saxophonist Marco Eneidi helping out. B+(*) [R]
Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Free Drum Suite (2004, Not Two): Solo album, the drummer's set augmented with all sorts of birds and bells, even pipes and flute, but mostly percussion, and rather enchanting in its own limited way. B+(**) [R]
Marcin Oles: Ornette on Bass (2003, Not Two): Solo bass, eight Ornette Coleman songs (counting "Lonely Woman" three times), four pieces by the bassist; as solo bass goes, the emphasis is on the melody foregoing the temptation to coax weird sounds from the instrument; this makes it a rather limited work, albeit by a bassist of major import. B+(*) [R]
Marcin Oles/Theo Jörgensmann/Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Miniatures (2003, Not Two): German avant basset clarinet player, goes back to the late 1970s but isn't all that well known, flanked by Poland's leading bass-drums duo -- impressive enough in their own right that I have their 2008 Duo on the A-list; they are again superb here, the clarinet is very sharp and clear, and the "miniatures" concept keeps them on point. A- [R]
Marcin Oles/Adam Pieronczyk/Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Gray Days (2001, Not Two): Surnames only on the cover, but for some reason bassist Marcin usually gets listed ahead of his drummer brother; Pieronczyk plays tenor and soprano sax, an important and versatile figure in Poland, but seems to dial it back a bit, to keep the always fascinating bass in play. B+(**) [R]
Orange Trane: My Personal Friend (1998, Not Two): Polish group, only album, no names here I recognize (Dariusz Herbasz, Slawomir Jaskulke, Piotr Lemanczyk, Tomasz Losowski, plus guests, including accordion on two tracks); postbop, a bit on the lush side but flows nicely. B+(*) [R]
Adam Pieronczyk/Ed Schuller/Jacek Kochan: Plastinated Black Sheep (1999, Not Two): Tenor sax trio, the leader not quite 30 but already a significant figure on Poland's free jazz scene; solid in all respects, even when Pieronczyk switches to soprano. B+(***) [R]
Mike Pride: Scrambler (2005, Not Two): Drummer, his later albums on AUM Fidelity are energetic but none too artful; the advantage here is first-rate help, with guitarist Charlie Looker someone to look into, bassist William Parker and saxophonist Tony Malaby way beyond dependable. B+(**) [R]
Andrzej Przybielski/Marcin Oles/Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Abstract (2005, Not Two): Polish trumpet player, Discogs only credits him with three records before his 2011 death but most likely that's an understatement; paired with Poland's bass-and-drums duo of choice. B+(*) [R]
The Resonance Ensemble: What Country Is This? (2012, Not Two): Ken Vandermark's fine ten-piece Polish-Chicago band, three pieces dedicated to Czeslaw Milosz, Witold Lutoslawski, and Fred Anderson; more screech than the previous album, but the clarinets take the edge off and it's a wondrous thing when the doubled-up drummers move it all in sync. A- [R]
Revolutionary Ensemble: The Psyche (1975 , Mutable Music): Avant-jazz trio, with Leroy Jenkins, the great free jazz violin pioneer, plus Sirone on bass and Jerome Cooper on drums, in one of the few obscure albums from their initial 1972-77 run -- possibly the best, although I'm a little confused by a bit of piano. A- [R]
Pete Robbins's Unnamed Quartet: Live in Brooklyn (2009 , Not Two): Alto saxophonist, out of his normal postbop depth with avant-gardists Nate Wooley (trumpet), Daniel Levin (cello), and Jeff Davis (drums), playing five unnamed improvs. Not sure about the leader, but the trumpet takes charge and Wooley, who does this sort of thing a lot, has rarely found finer form. B+(**) [R]
Herb Robertson Trio + Marcin Oles & Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Live at Alchemia (2007, Not Two): Odd labeling, as I don't see the two saxophonists -- Frank Gratkowski and Julien Petit -- as constituting a regular trio behind the venerable trumpet player, whereas the Polish twins turn any horn player into a formidable trio leader; several hot spots here, especially the one I take to be Gratkowski's. B+(**) [R]
Rosa Luxembourg New Quintet: Night Asylum (2008 , Not Two): French group, not sure if that explains the misspelling of the German revolutionary's surname; group: Heddy Boubaker (alto sax), Piero Pepin (trumpet), Marc Perrenoud (electric bass, guitar), Fabien Duscombs (drums), Françoise Guerlin (voice), several doubling up on "objects" and other toy-ish instruments; the two horns clash and vie, the rhythm goes its own way, and the vocalist adds an anarchic touch. B+(***) [R]
Matthew Shipp/Sabir Mateen: Sama (2009 , Not Two): Duo, piano for Shipp, Mateen is credited with reeds -- lots of clarinet, some alto sax, possibly others, rapid riffing over the scales with the piano responding variously, some loud blocking, some gentle comping, a few ideas on their own. B+(***) [R]
Simple Acoustic Trio: Habanera (2000, Not Two): Piano trio, second of three albums after which they gained some measure of fame as Tomasz Stanko's "young Polish group" on his 2002 album, The Soul of Things -- anything to avoid the names, which methinks are as musical as the musicians: Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz, and Michal Miskiewicz. They've gone on to record three albums for ECM under those names, but this is as bright and rigorous as any. A- [R]
Simple Acoustic Trio: Lullaby for Rosemary (2001, Not Two): The Wasilewski-Kurkiewicz-Miskiewicz piano trio again, playing eight pieces written by jazz composer Krzysztof Komeda, a giant in Poland but only known in the US for his soundtrack to the movie Rosemary's Baby; not sure if any of these pieces are intended as lullabies, but they do work at ballad tempos, and that takes a bit of the edge of this talented group. B+(***) [R]
Harvey Sorgen/Steve Rust/Michael Jefry Stevens: Decade (2005, Not Two): Piano trio, Stevens should be better known -- he has played on more than 50 albums since 1982, but has an odd knack for getting his name listed after drummers (like Sorgen) or bassists (like Rust or, especially, Joe Fonda); Stevens isn't as visceral as a Cecil Taylor or Satoko Fujii, but he has a lot going on here. B+(***) [R]
Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite: Live @ the Vision Festival (2006 , Not Two): Group name, as is often the case, came after an album of that name; with Sabir Mateen (reeds), Matthew Heyner (bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums) from the original group, plus "guest" John Blum on piano for three frenzied 15-16-minute avant romps. B+(***) [R]
Steve Swell Presents Rivers of Sound Ensemble: News From the Mystic Auricle (2007 , Not Two): Three horns -- Roy Campbell (trumpet, flugelhorn), Sabir Mateen (tenor/alto sax, flute, clarinet), the leader (trombone) -- backed by bass and drums; three long pieces, dedicated to Sam Rivers, with Mateen's saxwork a constant highlight. B+(***) [R]
Oluyemi Thomas/Kenn Thomas/Eugene Wilson IV/Howard Byrdsong: Nigeria (2006, Not Two): Saxophonist, b. in Detroit and based in Oakland, plays bass clarinet here, backed by piano, bass, and drums; free jazz, the bass clarinet blunting the sharp edges, with Nigeria having very little to do with it, B+(*) [R]
Oluyemi Thomas/Henry Grimes: The Power of Light (2007, Not Two): Duets, Thomas adding soprano sax, flute, and percussion to his bass clarinet, Grimes on bass -- a remarkable figure, by the way, one who played on many important recordings in the 1960s, then dropped from sight until about ten years ago only to emerge as an outstanding player. B+(**) [R]
Oluyemi Thomas/Igeoma Thomas/Michael Bisio/Kenn Thomas [Positive Knowledge]: Edgefest Edition (2010, Not Two): Because the musician names are listed on the bottom of the front cover, many sources shift the group name into the title, but the reed player (again, mostly bass clarinet) and his vocalist wife have recorded quite a bit as Positive Knowledge; I find the vocals distracting but they shout for attention, and the group's free jazz focus has rarely been this intense. B+(**) [R]
3D [Christopher Dell/Chris Dahlgren/Maurice DeMartin]: Actually, It's Better Like This . . . (2004, Not Two): Vibes, bass, and drums, respectively; Bell is from Germany, shows up in several groups I've seen, should be better known, as he has a light touch but bends things subtly out of shape. B+(**) [R]
3D [Christopher Dell/Chris Dahlgren/Maurice DeMartin]: Not 3 (2008, Not Two, 2CD): Vibes-bass-drums trio, album split into two pieces even though they could have been squeezed into one disc (36:25, 38:14); the first has an offhand charm that might lose interest if it went on too long; the second gets weirder, ending in a piece of punk thrash. B+(*) [R]
Gebhard Ullmann: Basement Research (1993 , Soul Note): German reed player, favors bass clarinet over soprano and tenor sax in this quartet which pits him against another tenor saxophonist (Ellery Eskelin), backed by bass (Drew Gress) and drums (Phil Haynes); the experiment worked so well he kept the title for similar groups with various lineup changes. B+(***) [R]
The Wall-London Band: Birth & Rebirth (1999, Not Two): Tenor saxophonist Greg Wall and trumpeter Frank London, who also do business as Hasidic New Wave; this is more postbop than klezmer, the band including Josh Roseman on trombone and Ethan Iverson on piano, with a vocal by Ryvka Blumenleitz. B+(*) [R]
The Kris Wanders Outfit: In Remembrance of the Human Race (2009 , Not Two): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1946 in Netherlands, shows up on a handful of early European avant-garde records (e.g., Globe Unity Orchestra 1966-67), but moved to Australia in late 1970s with not much evident until this rough quartet, with Johannes Bauer sparring on trombone, plus bass and drums; seems too strained to bother with at first, but then various things come together -- Bauer has a lot to do with this. B+(**) [R]
Kris Wanders/Mani Neumeier Quintet: Taken by Surprise (2011, Not Two): Neumeier is a drummer, b. 1940, Discogs credits him with a couple dozen albums, including work with pianists Alexander von Schlippenbach and Irčne Schweizer; quintet matches Wanders with another tenor saxophonist, Brett Evans (who wrote two of the three pieces), as well as Yusuke Akai (guitar) and Rory Brown (bass); impressed by the guitar, but the saxes grind a lot. B+(*) [R]
Yuriy Yaremchuk/Mark Tokar/Klaus Kugel: Yatoku (2007, Not Two): Sax trio, the leader b. 1951 in Russia but based in Ukraine, seems to prefer Yuri Yaremtchuk as his transliteration, and plays all sorts of music but gives a more than credible free jazz performance here, at least when he gets the volume up; bassist Tokar and drummer Kugel play on a lot of Polish discs, and are first rate, as usual. B+(**) [R]
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 111, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3867 (3423 + 444).
Additional Consumer News
The following is a list of all the records on the Not Two label that I have previously rated. About half are records I bought or received; the other half were previously sampled on Rhapsody. B+ grades are shown stars-only.
Wednesday, September 11. 2013
Twelfth anniversary of the late Osama Bin Laden's orchestrated attack on the big buildings of New York and Washington, but today that appears strangely overshadowed by the first anniversary of a gunfight at the "US consulate" in Benghazi -- actually, just a CIA station, but an ambassador on the State Dept. payroll was killed along with three other Americans. The Benghazi attack has become a major bugbear for Republicans for reasons that have never made much sense, at least until recently.
Initially, the major complaint was that the administration (specifically UN Ambassador Susan Rice) confused the armed attack with angry but peaceful demonstrations at other US embassies over a YouTube film trailer that was believed to be blasphemously anti-Islamic, and failed to use the proper codeword ("terrorist") to describe the attack. While Rice no doubt misspoke, Obama himself never missed a beat in using the T-word or in avowing all the time-tested V-sentiments from vigilance to vengeance.
This gripe then evolved into a more general complaint that the Obama administration had covered up the event, which is true inasmuch as they tried to deny the central role and presence of the CIA, both in Benghazi on that day and in Libya during the summer-long operation that overthrew Gaddafi -- one where Obama had promised a limited NATO-led air offensive and "no boots on the ground." Obama's people never understood an issue here: presidents always have to lie to protect their covert operatives, and besides, weren't the Republicans way more hawkish on Libya than Obama was? Certainly John McCain and Lindsey Graham were, and weren't they the GOP's Fearless Leaders on foreign policy?
Well, we now know that McCain and Graham are no longer representative of the party: they're just a pair of superhawks, dedicated to getting the US into jams practically no one else wants to get stuck with. One hint should have been that when Obama belatedly went to Congress for approval of his Libya intervention, the Republican-led House refused to consent. Of course, that didn't matter much at the time -- Obama had done what he wanted to do -- but over time it became clear that a Congress that hadn't bought into the war in the first place felt free to snipe at every little setback: hence, Benghazi.
That turns out to have been a big part of the reason Obama went to Congress before bombing Syria. Back in the 1990s when Clinton would bomb Iraq Republicans may have seethed in private but they were so heavily committed to bombing Iraq themselves that they couldn't raise an objection to the act. McCain and Graham are still around, but most Republicans have quietly moved on. For example, consider this letter by William Stout in the Wichita Eagle today:
This letter didn't come from anyone in the traditional "peace and justice" camp. I would have toned it differently, but I can't say that I disagree with a word of it (well, I'm not wild about "treason" but it makes sense in context). I have several very different reasons for reaching the same conclusion, but if this is the way you think about the world, at least you're no longer the problem. And even if not every anti-Assad insurgent in Syria is anti-American, a US attack on Syria will push enough Syrians over the edge to make the net effect anti-American.
Personally, I could do without the word "terrorist": not that it is never applicable, but I've seen it used so casually to dehumanize people who are merely defending their homes -- Robert Fisk's big book on Lebanon, Pity the Nation, is so full of such examples it gradually eats at the author until he himself explodes. On the other hand, the assertion about sacrificing "freedom and personal liberty" is spot on: the monstrous NSA surveillance program could only have grown in an atmosphere of perpetual war.
I'm even more struck by the Eagle's editorial, titled Casualties still mounting, which starts like this:
This, by the way, was written by Rhonda Holman, who invariably takes the right-wing view on the editorial board. The first point is the active noun in the first sentence: "al-Qaida terrorists drew the United States into war." The US was suckered into a war that only compounded the initial suffering with more and more, a war where we can take no comfort in knowing that others have suffered even more.
Twelve years ago that rush to war was automatic, unthinking, a conditioned response to our self-image as the world's sole superpower -- the culmination of 55 years of patting ourselves on the back for saving the world in the second World War, and never admitting that we had made a mistake along the way. Osama Bin Laden recognized that hubris and knew how to play on it. He knew that empires including the British and the Soviet Union had crumbled in Afghanistan, and figured that he could topple the United States by luring it into war there -- and as much as we hate to admit it, he hasn't been proven wrong.
But if you carefully read Obama's "bomb Syria" speech last night, you'll see how skillfully he pushes the same buttons that let us be driven into war in 2001, but you will also feel that they ring hollow. This is partly because his arguments are exceptionally disingenuous and his logic is tortured, but it's mostly because we're no longer excited by the prospect of more war. Given that poison gas is on the menu, I'm most tempted to compare this to the first World War, which began with jubilant parades and ended four-and-a-half years later with 21 million dead, with its survivors holding much more somber views of war. (By the way, poison gas fatalities in WWI are estimated at close to 90,000 -- less than 4% of military deaths. Its use was largely discontinued after that not because it was universally abhorent so much as because it wasn't very effective or manageable. It doesn't seem to have been used on civilian populations, where it would have been more effective.)
But to return to Holman's editorial for a minute, she goes on to make an interesting point:
I'm not sure what to make of this. It is at least relatively easy to see how the debilitating injuries and PTSD make one more likely to commit suicide. But absent those exceptional stresses, this also suggests that mentally troubled people are more likely to join the military and/or are more fragile when exposed to military culture -- it does, after all, celebrate killing even for those not on the front lines. But also the military has become a very peculiar form of safety net for individuals who lack civilian opportunities, yet the skill set it leaves veterans with is increasingly at odds with what the economy needs.
(David Finkel has a new piece in the New Yorker, The Return, on veterans with PTSD -- unfortunately, only online for subscribers.)
The Eagle today also featured a frequent columnist writing what turns out to be an antiwar column: Cal Thomas: Mideast mistakes likely to be repeated in Syria:
Now, Thomas is no genius. In fact, he's one of the worst columnists working in America these days. And he's got virtually everything wrong about Iran. Carter may have been somewhat sympathetic to early demonstrators against Iran's Shah -- who had by then become one of the most embarrassing despots in America's shadowy closet of dictator-allies -- but he did nothing to overthrow the Shah, and his sole contribution to helping turn what was initially a democratic revolution into a theocratic one was by making the US public enemy number one by inviting the Shah to enter the US. And, by the way, the Shah did too have a nuclear program, and was involved in proxy fights (albeit against Iraq, not Syria).
So it's odd to read a column about the importance of history lessons written by someone with so little grasp of his subject, but even Thomas understands that bombing people to send a government a message isn't going to have the intended effect.
Today's reading on Syria:
War in Context has a series of posts arguing that the Russian-Syrian plan to give up chemical weapons will work in Assad's favor. This seems to bother Paul Woodward, although not everything he runs seems to be rebel propaganda. (Woodward's own piece on "Why Syria was so quick to support the chemical weapons deal," which I linked to yesterday, is a useful summary of that point-of-view.) Right now, the biggest risk to the chemical weapons deal is that the US and other "rebel" sympathizers will sabotage it in favor of trying to force regime change.
Tuesday, September 10. 2013
Note: This post was substantially written before Obama have his big speech tonight. The speech reiterates his desire to bomb Syria, either to punish Assad for using chemical weapons (adding to the death toll of Syria's civil war) or just to remind the world of America's might-makes-right moral superiority (adding to the death toll of Syria's civil war). And he still wants Congress to rally behind his leadership and bless his right to bomb Syria, but he's going to hold off on that for a few days -- not so much because Congress was prepared to vote against his war mongering as because he's willing to give Russia and the UN a few days to wrap up a deal where Syria would give up its chemical weapons (although he still wants the UN to authorize him to bomb Syria if they don't do it to his satisfaction). Not that he actually needs anyone's permission to bomb Syria -- he is, after all, the Commander-in-Chief and he can damn well bomb anyone he pleases: "That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional." And, uh, "God bless the United States of America."
One reason I've been harping so much on Obama's failures to engage Russia (and Iran) over Syria is that a deal such as the one Putin proposed (and Assad agreed) to on chemical weapons has always seemed possible. The Obama administration is now trying to spin this as a victory for their sabre rattling (see White House Takes Credit for Syria's Apparent Concession), but the main reason they have for embracing it is that it gives them an opportunity to put off potentially face-loosing votes in Congress. However, in order for the deal to go through, Russia insists that the US withdraw its threats to bomb Syria -- how, they argue, can you get a state to voluntarily disarm while under threat of attack?. Already, the French have attempted to undermine the deal by tying it to a UN Security Council Resolution that would authorize force. (See Russia balks at French plan for U.N. Security Council resolution on Syrian chemical arms). I've also seen reports that the insurgent groups are opposed to the deal.
For an example of how little effort the Obama administration put into diplomatic efforts, and how strong their mental blinders are, consider this quote from the latter article:
Lucky for us that Putin, at least, was paying attention. Also that he recognized that chemical weapons were a matter of some ambivalence for Assad. Chemical weapons have never been very effective -- the few exceptions were mostly cases where they were used on people who had nothing comparable to fight back with, such as when the British used them in Iraq in the 1920s or when the Italians used them in Ethiopia in the 1930s. Nor have they been an effective deterrent against powers like Israel and the United States. On the other hand, their possession can be pointed to in propaganda, as the US did with Iraq and is doing now with Syria.
As far as I can tell, Syria developed chemical weapons thinking they would provide a deterrent against Israeli attack, maybe even offering a cheap balance against Israel's arsenal of nukes. A second reason may have been Iraq, at least back when Saddam Hussein had (and was fond of using) chemical weapons. Syria and Iraq were both Ba'ath Party states, but they had split in terms of what that meant, and were rivals for the leadership of the broader Ba'ath movement (Arab nationalism). Syria was so hostile to Hussein it became an agitator for the US-led Gulf War against Iraq.
But the Ba'ath rivalty with Iraq is long past, and it never was clear that chemical weapons did much to deter Israel -- which continues to bomb Syria periodically, but is unlikely to send its army into Damascus, not because it fears the Syrian army but because there are just too damn many Arabs living there. So there's little reason for Syria not to give up its chemical weapons. Indeed, there's the risk that rebels will loot them for use against the government. So for Syria this isn't a setback. If anything, it makes the regime appear more reasonable and legitimate.
Aside from France, some Syrian insurgent groups, and superhawks like John McCain, everyone else is pleased by this turn of events. One more quote from the article is especially interesting:
This is an interesting choice of words, not least because the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia -- probably the three largest per capita military spenders in the world -- habitually accuse Iran of being the one militarizing a "Shiite Crescent" from Iran across to Lebanon. Afkham's choice of words not only express approval for ridding Syria of chemical weapons, they open the door to further demilitarization in Syria and elsewhere. Also, the word "resolve" is significant: the civil war could go on indefinitely without chemical weapons, but that doesn't seem to be Iran's intent or desire. We should look at this as one step of several toward a resolution.
It seems essential to me that there should be a ceasefire while the chemical weapons are being inventoried and secured. A ceasefire would freeze the current territorial division, and set up the basis for a negotiated resolution. It would stem the current torrent of refugees, and allow at least some to go home. It would be the right thing to do.
More reading today:
That's a good line to end on: "They have led the president into looking pretty stupid." Unfortunately, if you read his speech, you'll see that he has scarcely begun to recover.
Monday, September 9. 2013
Music: Current count 22016  rated (+40), 571  unrated (-3).
Late getting this up today. Spent the whole day fixing much too much Indian food for a dinner party for seven tonight: a lamb and potato curry (rogani ghosht), saffron pilaf with peaches, kali dal (a very rich small black lentil mash), cabbage, eggplant (bharta), yogurt with spinach (palak raita), served with a homemade lemon pickle, several store-bought chutneys and pickles, and heated-up (and not very good) paratha. My dessert pudding was inedible, but I had a can of gulab jamun and one of the guests brought ice cream, so we made do. (I have a long history of flubbing Indian desserts.) Much talk about Syria, which we all agree the US shouldn't bomb, although a couple people were more sensitive to the plight of the Syrians and more inclined to grasp at straws.
Didn't manage to play much today, or unpack today's mail. Last week, however, was pretty productive, especially as I close in on wrapping up September's Recycled Goods (which, as it turns out, won't be a 1960s special -- wound up spending much too much time listening to Polish jazz). Today's Jazz Prospecting list is perhaps the first to benefit from holding records back until release week. I started this practice over a month ago when I realized that I had managed to write up this week's top-rated album way ahead of its release date. After slow weeks for August and Labor Day, the new releases are picking up this week. (Though I will note that because I only had an advance copy of Dave Holland's new one, I missed its release date.)
Rated count topped 22,000 this week. With all the Rhapsody quickies, I'm rolling over thousand marks just about once a year. Still, I recall a conversation long ago -- perhaps as far back at the late-1970s although it could have been later -- with Bob Christgau and John Rockwell where record collection size came up, and those numbers stuck in my mind. Bob had something like 10K LPs stashed away at various addresses, but Rockwell, who wrote equally about classical music, had twice as many. I doubt that I had more than 3,000 LPs when I moved from New Jersey and sold most of them off. Of course, again thanks to Rhapsody, I doubt that I have half as many CDs as I have rated, and finding places to store those I do have is maddening.
Lucian Ban: Elevation/Mystery (2010 , Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1969 in Romania, based in New York. Seventh or so album since 2002, most with baritone saxophonist Alex Harding, and second one this year, following Transylvanian Concert with Mat Maneri on ECM. That stretched out his folkloric/classical side, but this one -- a quartet with Abraham Burton (tenor sax), John Hébert (bass), and Eric McPherson (drums) -- recorded live at Cornelia Street Cafe in NYC sets him in an avant context, especially when the saxophonist works up a full head of steam. Nor is a quiet spot with just the bassist any less interesting. By the way, the "Mystery" part of the title is obscured -- how clever some graphic designers are! I missed it on unpacking, and most likely others will too. A- [September 10]
Cheryl Bentyne and Mark Winkler: West Coast Cool (2013, Summit): Standards singers, both have long careers; Bentyne principally with Manhattan Transfer since 1979 but also 13 albums under her own name; Winkler with a dozen albums since 1985. The "West Coast Cool" songs start with Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker, include a Neal Hefti piece by that title, and inevitably end up with Nat Cole and Bobby Troup medleys -- the warmer and more personable Winkler makes "Hungry Man" a highlight. B+(**) [September 10]
Brandon Bernstein Trio: But Beautiful (2012 , Jazz Collective): Guitarist, based in Los Angeles, teaches at Pasadena City College, co-authored a book of Kurt Rosenwinkel transcriptions for Mel Bay; website refers to his "CDs" (plural), but I've only found one previous one, a collection of Tom Waits songs. This trio, with bass and drums, is all standards (two by Jimmy Van Heusen). Has a light tough, with a bit of Django. B+(**)
Brussels Jazz Orchestra/Joe Lovano: Wild Beauty (2012 , Half Note): Lovano is listed on cover and spine as "featuring" but he's more than just the guest draw here; he's the main point. Title could be, or subtitle probably is -- parsing album covers is such a wretched business -- Sonata Suite for the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, but I'll stick to the big type. The other name phrase on the cover is "arranged by Gil Goldstein." The compositions belong to Lovano, so it would make most sense to credit the whole thing to Lovano and combine title: subtitle. The big band -- no strings here other than guitar and bass -- has a huge sound and gallops hard, its occasional lurches and lapses annoying, but the leader towers above it all, a talent that goes back to his days with Woody Herman. B+(***) [September 10]
Stephan Crump's Rosetta Trio: Thwirl (2012 , Sunnyside): Bassist, eighth album since 1997, a turning point being 2006's Rosetta, where he introduced this trio with Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar and Jamie Fox on electric guitar, with 2010's Rosetta Trio album Reclamation the breakthrough. The group's sound has always been meticulously balanced so no single instrument dominates, but the risk is that none will stand out, which is the problem here. B+(**) [September 10]
Charles Evans: Subliminal Leaps (2013, More Is More): Baritone saxophonist, two previous albums including his solo debut, has a chamberish quartet here with David Liebman's soprano sax for contrast, Ron Stabinsky on piano, and Tony Marino on bass. No drummer to rush things along. B+(**) [September 10]
John Funkhouser: Still (2013, Jazsyzygy): Pianist, has at least one previous album under his own name, plus the 1998 eponymous group album Funkhouse suggesting that his name overdetermines his style. Mostly trio, plus guitar on 3 (of 8) cuts and Aubrey Johnson vocalizing on two cuts. Three covers: "House of the Rising Sun," "My Romance," "Little Rootie Tootie." Does get the funk idea. B+(*) [September 12]
Dave Holland: Prism (2012 , Dare2): This is being touted as a return to Holland's early days with Miles Davis at the birth of fusion. If he has to step back, I'd rather recall his work with Sam Rivers or Anthony Braxton -- Conference of the Birds, from 1972, remains his greatest record -- but you have to take what you can get. Quartet, with Kevin Eubanks on guitar, Craig Taborn on keyboards, and Eric Harland on drums. Jumps off with impressive flow, with Eubanks reminding one of another Davis alumni (Scofield, not McLaughlin), and Taborn showing why he's the most effective Fender Rhodes player of his generation. Still, lacks that extra point of reference Davis added, and trails off into ballad territory by the end. B+(**) [advance]
Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd: Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dreams Project (2012 , Pi): Ladd does spoken word projects, eleven since 1997, including two memorable discs with pianist Iyer providing the music: In What Language? (2003), and Still Life With Commentator (2007). This new project pulls texts from Iraq and/or Afghanistan veterans describing their dreams, the texts read by Ladd, Maurice Decaul, Lynn Hill, and Pamela Z. The words are vivid and often disturbing, a fair reminder of the hell our politicians have put these people through. Less sure what the make of the music, with Liberty Ellman (guitar), Okkyung Lee (cello), and Kassa Overall (drums), dreamy or just put together by chance, nor am I sure how much hell I care to listen to, just to reconfirm what a horrible idea that whole "war on terror" was. B+(**) [September 10]
Chad Lefkowitz-Brown: Imagery Manifesto (2013, self-released): Tenor saxophonist, first album, wrote all the pieces; group includes trumpet, guitar, piano, bass (Linda Oh), and drums for a complex and dense postbop gumbo. Website gave me a lot of aggravation, but that's neither here nor there. B+(*)
Pedro Martins: Dreaming High (2009-10 , Adventure Music): Guitarist, from Brazil, b. 1993 so Martins would have been 16 when this was recorded. (Looks like his first album, originally released as Sonhando Alto in 2011.) All original pieces. Guitar doesn't stand out a lot, but he gets good help, especially Josué Lopez on tenor sax. B+(*)
Pete McGuinness: Voice Like a Horn (2013, Summit): Vocalist, started out playing trombone which he still does here. Has a couple previous albums, one with a quintet, one with a big band, is co-lead with the New York Trombone Conspiracy; side credits include a lot more big band work. Backed here by Ted Kooshian's piano trio, plus "special guest" slots for Jon Gordon (alto sax) and Bill Mobley (trumpet), two cuts each. Songbook standards plus "Birks' Works" -- an occasion to let the scat fly. But his voice isn't really "like a horn" -- nothing wrong with his scat runs, but he has a firm grip on the text and the language, something vocalists who aspire to mimic horns often lose. B+(***)
M1, Brian Jackson & the New Midnight Band: Evolutionary Minded (2013, Motema): The late Gil Scott-Heron's one-time partner raises the banner again, recycling a list of songs for the revolution still to come, with help from various MCs -- M1 up front, Chuck D, Stic Man, Killah Priest, and Wise Intelligent get "feat." slots, as well as singers named Martin Luther and Gregory Porter, and spoken words from gun rights advocate Bobby Seale. B+(***) [September 10]
James Zollar: It's All Good People (2012 , JZAZ): Trumpet player, originally from Kansas City, only three albums under his own name since 1997 (the excellent Soaring With Bird), but his side credits include David Murray, Billy Bang, Sam Rivers, Don Byron, Bob Stewart, and quite a bit with Marty Ehrlich. Surprisingly goes for down home funk grooves here, with a bit of rap, vocals by Sheryl Rene and Erika Matsuo, a bit of Gregoire Maret harmonica, and a closer looking back at his elders, called "For Cootie & Clark." I'd be tempted to say he's wasting his talent here, but the trumpet is stellar, and I can't begrudge a guy for having a good time. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, September 8. 2013
Some scattered links this week (sorry, no cartoons):
Also, a few links for further study:
And today's reading on Syria:
Friday, September 6. 2013
Saw an article in the Wichita Eagle today about Obama bumping into Putin at the G20 conference in Russia. They greeted each other cordially, but didn't set up a much needed tete-a-tete on Syria. Although in general I don't like nations meddling in the internal politics of any country, the US and Russia are the principal arms suppliers to that conflict (so are in effect already involved) and also hold the most economic impact on the future of Syria. So right now the best chance for a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement lies in Obama and Putin putting aside their other differences and agreeing to press to end this war. But Obama isn't even trying for that chance.
I dashed off the following to the Wichita Eagle's Opinion Line:
I could have written a letter about this and unpacked it a bit more. It's worth recalling that both the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars were ended under the pressure of UN ceasefire resolutions that were hammered out by the USSR and US -- the arms suppliers and economic allies of the belligerents. An Obama-Putin agreement would be easily ratified by the UN. Putin could put a lot of pressure on Syria for a ceasefire, and most likely for some controls in chemical weapons -- something Obama has no chance of doing through bombing. Obama would have to give up his missile campaign, and his insistence on Assad's removal as a precondition for negotiation, and would have to put pressure on Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and any other "allies" arming the insurgents. But none of those "concessions" really hurt American "interests." Syria is not a proxy fight between the US and Russia (and/or Iran). It is something that happened locally, and has sucked in foreign powers because of their pre-existing conflicts. (The US should empathize: we have been sucked into more than a few civil wars in defense of dictators we should have wanted no part of -- lots of examples in Latin America, but the most costly one was Vietnam.)
Besides, there was already a good letter in the Eagle today, from Kathleen Butler (don't know her):
I would quibble a bit here. I doubt that the "sectarian differences" in Syria were checked by the dictatorship so much as were things that didn't much matter until the civil war led both sides to associate minorities with the Assad regime. Those differences would again vanish under a properly liberal democratic society, but civil war may turn the conflict toward genocide. Indeed, that's exactly what happened in Iraq, and for that matter in Afghanistan -- in both cases groups that had lived relatively peacably with one another for thousands of years soon became bitter enemies.
The Eagle also had a good opinion column from a local professor, Russel Arben Fox: Vote 'no' on Syria strike, for whatever reason. They've also run pro-war columns by Clive Crook and Cal Thomas, and something in between by Kathleen Parker ("Credibility matters, but so does being wise").
More useful links keep coming it (cartoon from Truthdig):
I saw a bit of TV discussion tonight where veteran Washington pundits were sitting around absolutely incredulous that Congress might reject Obama's war resolution -- one admitting that his own reporting didn't confirm anything he believed. It's been clear that ever since the "sole superpower" moment following the collapse of the Soviet Union -- the "end of history" and all that-- that the US was declining as a world power, and for lots of reasons: the hollowing out of the economy, a series of debilitating military misadventures, fiscal crises, neglect of education and even public contempt for science, gross internal divisions. But all along politicians of both parties pretended nothing was amiss. And now they worry that the president may face a "loss of credibility" when in fact they're the only ones so myopic as to still deny that it's already been lost. The congressional vote may finally be their comeuppance. Welcome to the real world.
Thursday, September 5. 2013
As long as the war drums are beating for Syria, we might as well keep the links coming. But first, let me quote myself. I was asked to write something for a Wichita Peace Center press release, and turned in the following paragraph. (I've since added some paragraph breaks.) Not sure what they did with it, but I gather it was longer than expected, so they trimmed here and there. Anyhow, it's a succinct position paper, touching on a lot of the central points.
I didn't want to play up the question of chemical weapons. I'm not convinced that Assad's forces have actually used chemical weapons, but I don't think they have any particular scruples against doing so. One of the many problems with Obama's "red line" speech is that it gives anti-Assad forces reason to fake chemical attacks in the hope that if credible such attacks might push the US into providing more anti-Assad support. If that turns out to be the case, Obama could wind up bearing some responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
In any case, we won't know more about recent alleged chemical attacks until the UN inspectors finish and publish their analysis. At that point the findings should be kicked up to the UN Security Council for action, which could condemn Syria, impose sanctions, and/or authorize the US to use force to punish Syria, or not. But unless that happens, the strikes that Obama is proposing are war crimes, nothing less. I didn't get into that point either, because at this point it's virtually impossible to win an argument on the basis that the action you're opposed to would be a war crime. The problem is that hardly anyone in the US appreciates the prospect of living under international law any more. Proof of that is that even if he passes on Syria, Obama is already a war criminal, one of many in a procession that dates back through Bush and Clinton and on to the other Bush and Reagan, and Nixon and Johnson, and arguably other presidents.
We could, of course, debate about the need for international law and what that law should cover, and we could go into the need for reforms that would make the UN more effective. But you don't have to be so idealistic to see the folly in Obama's plans, so that is what I chose to focus on. I also didn't get into the matter of how much open-ended war with Syria would cost, or what else should be done with the money. For one thing the reflexive politics of Washington will always find money for any wars they want to fight, and can never be counted on to allocate that same money to any other project.
Needless to say, anyone who wants to limit government, let alone safeguard freedom, should first cast a jaundiced eye at the military. But those who do fall into the "limited government" trap will never be persuaded by arguing that the same money could be better spent on schools and bridges. Indeed, most of them have repeatedly voted for war on the theory that if the government has to spend money, at least there it won't be spent on anything constructive.
Some links (plus cartoons from Truthdig):
Given that this issue will be voted on in Congress, this is a rare time when it might actually work to put as much pressure as possible on your representatives -- especially in the case of Democrats, who seem to be especially wobbly on Obama (as well as soft on Israel). Much of Obama's own legitimacy as a presidential candidate owed to his prescient opposition to the 2003 Iraq War, but he has squandered his reputation several times over since assuming office, and nowhere more clearly than here. The same standards should be applied to all his potential successors: in particular, Hillary Clinton has once again proven her unfitness for the Oval Office. By all means be clear about that.