Monday, January 5. 2009
With the house wrecked, not much time at the computer these days. Voice has the Jazz CG draft. No print schedule yet. Don't have all of my transitional paperwork done -- e.g., haven't culled through the "done" file to trim down the surplus of records I'll never find space for. Meanwhile, I've started prospecting for next time. The following represents two weeks of relatively light prospecting.
One thing I did spend some time on was the Village Voice Jazz Poll. Last year I retabulated the results by listing each album, the critics who voted for it, and my own grade. This year I did the same, and then some: added the minor categories. I've listed the records in order of finish where that was tabulated, but beyond that I ignored the points system and just counted votes. Mostly this was a lot easier, but I think it's also better information. Mechanically converting 1-10 rank into 10-1 points makes one person's top record count for 10 times as much as a number 10 record, a spread which would almost never occur if voters assigned their own weights. (The Pazz & Jop poll allows that, dividing 100 points with an album range limit of 30-to-5 points, a 6-to-1 maximum. Given the choice, very few voters use more than a 4-to-1 range, and many much less. When Idolator tried to simplify that system they proposed a 15-to-6 scale, giving a 2.5 range.)
I haven't done much with this yet. A simple counter tells me that 329 records received votes, and that I managed to get to 59% of them. Obviously, some of those missing 40% are records I should try to track down. Also I need to find my copy of Rudresh Mahanthappa's Kinsmen and make up my mind about it -- last time I played it the South Indian classical synthesis was sounding more credible, richer and more expressive than the simpler Apti, which I fell for on the first play. I should also pull that Charles Lloyd CD off the shelf and give it another shot. I'll look at this more over the next couple of weeks. May learn something.
Anat Cohen: Notes From the Village (2008, Anzic): I knew I had this somewhere. Made several searches in the last couple weeks of last cycle looking for it, but only found it too late. So chalk it up to the curse of the advance/promo only: they start off with little motivation to be played, then languish in hard-to-find limbo, and finally (if I can't dismiss them out of hand) put back into limbo, perhaps wondering why finalize my opinion on a non-final copy. What I can say: Cohen seems to be following her polls, in that she's leading with clarinet here; that's not such a bad thing, but her one tenor sax feature, an original "Lullaby for the Naive Ones," fairly jumps out of the grooves. Her originals certainly hold up. Her take on "A Change Is Gonna Come" is a bit tentative, and the Brazilian piece is neither here nore there, but she gets a lot of mileage out of "Jitterbug Waltz." Good band support, with strong solos from pianist Jason Lindner. Probably her best since Place and Time, before all the hoopla began. A-
The Matt Savage Trio: Hot Ticket: Live in Boston (2008, Savage): Child prodigy, now a seasoned vet at age 16. I took a swipe at him last time; was a little surprised he came back for more. I still think he has some growing up to do to develop real depth, but can tinkle those ivories, and I like the slow one where he gives the bassist some ("El Fuego"). Can't follow the live commentary. B-
Steve Herberman Trio: Ideals (2008, Reach Music): Guitarist, based in DC, has a couple of previous records. A subtle craftsman, hard to pin down -- cites Joe Pass, Joe Diorio, Lenny Breau, and Gene Bertoncini on his website, which gives you an idea of family resemblance, but he's better than three of those, and different from Pass. Covers include pieces by Weill, Jobim, Gershwin; also "Will You Still Be Mine?" and "Delilah" and Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes." Originals flow nicely. With Tom Baldwin on bass, Mark Ferber on drums. B+(***)
John Escreet: Consequences (2008, Positone): Young pianist, 24 (evidently b. 1984), somewhere in UK, moved to NYC 2006, Manhattan School of Music, studying with Kenny Barron and Jason Moran. Leads a quintet with some hot avant moves -- Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Dave Binney (alto sax), Matt Brewer (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums). First piece, "The Suite of Consequence," runs out to 30:28; nothing else over 10:19, with the closing cover, Andrew Hill's "No Doubt," just 4:00. Some strong spots, especially where the piano blocks and tackles for the horns. A little rough around the edges. B+(*)
Melody Gardot: Worrisome Heart (2005-06 , Verve): Advance copy, has been languishing quite a while; can't find any supporting hype, credits, anything more than a song list. Singer, b. 1985, from Philadelphia, was disabled in a car wreck at age 19, somehow channels that into her music, or so one says. Nice singer, not much jazz effect, more of a singer-songwriter. "Some Lessons" is a striking song, sensible, thoughtful. B+(*)
Massimo Biolcati: Persona (2008, ObliqSound): Bassist, b. 1972 in Sweden, grew up in Torino, came to US on a scholarship to Berklee, moved on to USC then to New York. First album, split into "Motion" and "Stillness" sections. The former provides a nice showcae for guitarist Lionel Loueke; the latter includes one vocal each by Lizz Wright and Gretchen Parlato, neither making much of an impression, but Peter Rende's piano gains stature, as does his accordion. B [advance]
Ron Blake: Shayari (2007 , Mack Avenue): Saxophonist, sticks to tenor here but plays soprano elsewhere, b. 1965, Virgin Islands, based in NYC, several albums since 2000. Seems torn between the idea of crossing over and developing more of an inside jazz rep. This one swings hard toward the latter. Most cuts are duos with Michael Cain on piano, introspective ballad fare. Two cuts add bass (Christian McBride), five drums (Jack DeJohnette), three percussion (Gilmar Gome), one violin (Regina Carter), although the additions never really shift the equation. Impresive straightahead player. Still not sure what he'll find when he finds himself. B+(**)
Yoshie Fruchter: Pitom (2008, Tzadik): Part of John Zorn's far-ranging, mostly admirable Radical Jewish Culture series, the twist this time being a guitarist-led "punkassjewjazz" band; sounds more heavy metal than punk, more amusing copping Black Sabbath riffs than klezmerizing Frank Zappa. B-
Delmark: 55 Years of Jazz (1944-2007 , Delmark, CD+DVD): Bob Koester is still in charge 55 years after founding this estimable Chicago label, known more for its renowned blues catalog than for its underrated, and rather scattered, jazz efforts. The CD picks interesting if not all that representative material, with some archives -- Coleman Hawkins' early bebop from Rainbow Mist -- and a mix of interests: trad jazz from George Lewis and Art Hodes; honking r&b from King Curtis; an early adventure by Sun Ra; a vocal by Francine Griffin; some quasi-mainstream hard bop; stray excursions into pan-Africanism; a groove piece from Ted Sirota's otherwise further out Breeding Resistance. Nothing pushes you very hard -- don't look for Anthony Braxton's For Alto, or Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, or Ken Vandermark, all facets of Delmark's history. The DVD has less to choose from: the dates there range from 2004-07 and they hold less interest, mostly bare concert shots, sometimes with cheap effects -- Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio with guest Billy Bang is the exception, a much better showing for Ari Brown than his own date; a 15:30 excerpt from Chicago Underground Trio is compelling musically, but unwatchable. B+(*)
Savina Yannatou/Primavera en Salonico: Songs of an Other (2007 , ECM): Greek soprano, neither folk nor classical as far as I can tell -- rather, she rises far above the fray; I much prefer the stretches where the band, including accordion, violin, oud, and nay, find their ground in Balkan rhythms, when her contrast becomes ethereal. B+(*)
Samba Meets Boogie Woogie (2008, Adventure Music): An ad hoc group, with guitarist Mario Adnet the probable leader, a half dozen vocalists named on the cover, and a strong set of Rio de Janeiro studio pros, none with any obvious expertise in boogie woogie; so no surprise that samba predominates, or that it reduces the concept to cute and clever -- that it starts to win you over is the real surprise. B+(*)
Putumayo Presents: Women of Jazz (1998-2008 , Putumayo World Music): If you trust Putumayo to do your programming, you won't be disappointed here: with so much to choose from, they could hardly fail. Still, they came up with nothing more than a decade old -- Etta Jones is the only artist who worked much earlier. Some standards, some singer-songwriter fare, not much scat, nothing avant, no reason to get alarmed; no one to remind you of Betty Carter or Sheila Jordan. I hear a lot of jazz vocalists -- note that all ten picks are vocals; none are instrumentals -- and would have picked a completely different set, with Della Griffin the only find here I would have regretted missing. Not very useful, but still a very listenable set. B+(*)
Herbie Hancock: Then and Now: The Definitive Herbie Hancock (1964-2008 , Verve): This could have been programmed by an accountant: two title cuts from classic Blue Notes; an obvious title from Fat Albert Rotunda; two cuts from the bestselling Head Hunters; the overwrought Stevie Wonder turn from Gershwin's World (on a song by W.C. Handy -- what was that doing there?); a piece from the Round Midnight soundtrack (Hancock did a nice bit of acting there); two takes of "River," the bonus with Joni Mitchell as herself; a Nirvana song from The New Standard; a Billie Holiday song from the Starbucks vanity plate album Possibilities, with Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan; a cheaper live take of "Rockit" from a stray DVD. This does indeed span Hancock's career, from hard bop to funk to fusion to cashing in and coasting. His later material fares poorly, and the fusion hasn't aged very well -- although "Rockit" is still a hoot. But the first cut thrilled me as much as ever: I finally got to this album the day Freddie Hubbard died, and there he was, unmistakably brilliant, playing with four-fifths of the Miles Davis Quintet and easily displacing the leader. The album, Maiden Voyage, is still brilliant. Start there and you'll never want to go here. B [advance; PS: later found my final copy]
Tim Ries: Stones World: The Rolling Stones Project II (2008, Sunnyside, 2CD): Rolling Stones songs. Ries plays tenor sax, quite a bit of soprano too. Spent some chunk of his career touring with the Rolling Stones, which may or may not give him some special insight, but certainly helps when he needs a drummer -- Charlie Watts on 5 cuts here -- or a little lap steel (Ronnie Wood) or harmonica (Mick Jagger). The original The Rolling Stones Project came out in 2005, an eclectic sampling of idiosyncratic band arrangements, most with guests singers of uneven merit. This one is even more so: think of it as The Rolling Stones Project hits the road. The sessions are labelled: Africa, Brazil, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, NYC, Paris, with most of those plus Mexico somehow joined into a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual "Salt of the Earth." Huge range of guests: flamenco in Spain, fado in Portugal, a Tuareg group in Africa, Milton Nascimento in Brazil, tablas in India, Eddie Palmieri in Puerto Rico, Bill Frisell in New York, Keith Richards in Japan. So many disparate ideas here it's hard (probably futile) to make sense of them all -- might be a better candidate for Choice Cuts. Second disc is "enhanced," whatever that means. In the CD player it adds four tracks to the nine on the first. [B+(**)]
The Matthew Herbert Big Band: There's Me and There's You (2008, !K7): The leader was born 1972 in England, works primarily as DJ and producer, has a couple dozen albums since 1996 and a ton of remixes, most as Herbert, some as Doctor Rockit, Wishmountain, and Radio Boy. Fourth Matthew Herbert Big Band album. Didn't recognize this as a promo at first -- smashed jewel box fooled me -- but cover is one sheet blank on back, with no obvious information. Only found one hype sheet, not clearly complete: claims album features "the cream of British jazz musicians," but doesn't bother to identify any. (I gather from secondary sources that the lead singer is named Eska Mtungwazi.) Most songs have vocals, and they have a brassy, Broadway sound. I have trouble following the plot (if there is one). Herbert also has a rep as a political theorist, which I don't have any real grasp of. Could be better if I did, or worse. B [advance]
The Ron Hockett Quintet: Finally Ron (2008, Arbors): Trad jazz clarinetist, based in DC for last 29 years, mostly with the US Marine Band, plus 9 years with the Jim Cullum Jazz Band in San Antonio, leads his first album. Arbors treats him right, filling out the quintet with John Sheridan (piano), James Chirillo (guitar), Phil Flanigan (bass), and Jake Hanna (drums). One original blues; covers as obvious as "Beale Street Blues" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street," and as modern as Bob Wilber. Doesn't sound important, but does sound terrific. I keep forgetting how much I like Chirillo. ]B+(***)]
Nicole Henry: The Very Thought of You (2008, Banister): Singer, MySpace page says she's 90 years old, although from the pics I've seen I wouldn't put her a day over 39. Based in Florida. Second or third album. Favors standards -- "Almost Like Being in Love," "At Last," "All the Way," the title cut, a relatively obscure obligatory Jobim -- which she approaches with respect and care. Figure her for a Carmen McRae lineage. Impeccable, for whatever that's worth. B+(*)
Carol Fredette: Everything in Time (2008 , Soundbrush): Vocalist, standards singer, or maybe I mean cabaret? Fourth or fifth album -- one attributed to David Matthews & New Satelite gives her a "featuring" credit. Previous ones include one with Steve Kuhn, another singing Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough songs. Band varies, including a number of Brazilians. One Jobim tune -- "Vivo Sonhando (Dreamer)" -- of course, plus one from Ivan Lins, another from Jayme Silva -- "O Pato (The Duck)", with lyrics by Jon Hendricks, an amusing novelty tune -- but they are overwhelmed by the usual standards. Voice has a subtle but interesting character. B [Feb. 10]
Ruby Braff: For the Last Time (2002 , Arbors, 2CD): Touted as Braff's "Historic Final Performance," with a sextet including tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and pianist John Bunch, a mixed and rather tepid souvenir; not clear whether Braff was ailing but he rarely takes charge, or tops Hamilton, who has many memorable moments. B+(*)
Fay Claassen: Red, Hot & Blue: The Music of Cole Porter (2007 , Challenge): Dutch vocalist, b. 1969, fifth album, counting her 2-CD Chet Baker tribute as one. The Cole Porter songs are all from the top drawer -- first three are "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Easy to Love," and "Love for Sale." Backed by a piano trio which doesn't quite deliver the requisite, or at least expected, swing. A capable singer, but doesn't add much of interest here, except for her scat breaks -- not often when I find a record where I enjoy the scat more than the text. B-
Viktoria Tolstoy: My Russian Soul (2008, ACT): Swedish vocalist, b. 1974, née Kjellberg, but for her career assumed the surname of her great-great-grandfather, Leo Tolstoy. Eighth album since 1994, past titles notably including White Russian and My Swedish Heart. For this record, she bases most of her compositions from Russian classics, especially one "P. Tschaikowsky," presumably the same guy Chuck Berry meant to clue in on rock and roll. Maybe that's giving her too much credit: the lyrics, in English, are credited to Anna Alerstedt (with two exceptions, neither to Tolstoy), and the music was adapted and arranged by Jacob Karlzon (also pianist here) and Joakim Milder (saxophonist, a well known name in his own right; he specifically gets credit for the ubiquitous but not all that intrusive strings). Album was produced by Nils Landgren, whose trombone smears are the only thing that seems out of place in what otherwise soundsp like an album of pristine show music. B-
The Leonisa Ardizzone Quintet: The Scent of Bitter Almonds (2008 , Ardijenn Music): Vocalist. Has an evidently successful daytime career as an educator, but has also maintained a group with husband-guitarist Chris Jennings since 1994. Her previous record, Afraid of the Heights, has been on my HM-to-do list since it came out in 2007 -- I liked it when I heard it, then largely forgot about it. This is much more mixed: "My Romance" sounds awkward, "Take the 'A' Train" sillier than ever, but the normally treacly "Willow Weep for Me" scores both on the vocal and the guitar solo, and "Well You Needn't" makes a plausible case for vocalese -- both of those are tough tricks. B+(*)
Lisa Hearns: I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good (2006 , [no label]). Vocalist, has a published birthday but not year, grew up in Massachusetts, graduated from Berklee, based in New York. First album. Presumably self-released, without bothering to think up a label name. Out of her depth on the title song, which shouldn't be sung by people with no plausible reason to complain, and therefore nothing to overcome. Standards, arranged by bassist Kelly Friesen, who does a fine job; pianist Keith Ingham helps out, and guitarist Howard Alden shines on four tracks -- especially "Plus Je T'Embrasse," a fast one in French even I can follow, which turns this album from slightly annoying to moderately engaging and charming. B+(*)
Yuganaut: This Musicship (2005 , ESP-Disk): Piano trio. Steven Rush doesn't actually list piano among the dozen-plus instruments. Moog and Fender Rhodes are his main instruments, plus lots of percussion and blow-toys (ranging from harmonica to elk calls). Rush teaches at Michigan, where he directs the Digital Music Ensemble, an out fit that plays John Cage, Philip Glass, and LaMonte Young. Bassist Tom Abbs -- the member I recognize due to his work with Assif Tsahar and others in New York -- wanders to violin, cello, tuba, didjeridoo, and percussion. Drummer Geoff Mann adds cornet, flute, and mandolin to the more expected vibes, mbira, and percussion. Something of a scattered noise fest, interesting here and there, cluttered, not so much annoying as random at worst. Last cut, the 10:09 "Hymn for Roscoe" (presumably Mitchell), is unusual for its straightforward structure, even when it erupts in the album's loudest passage. Choice cut. B+(**)
Shakers n' Bakers: YfZ (Yearning for Zion) (2008, Little (i) Music): Scary music, although it loosens up and calms down a bit in the end. The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming, as the Shakers were formally known, split off from the Quakers in 1747, forming utopian religious communes dedicated to expunging sin and purifying the soul. They worked themselves into trances -- I'm tempted to say delusions -- which became ritualized in song and dance. I still doubt that their songs bore any resemblance to Jeff Lederer's avant skronk, but he's turned them into a vision of heaven and hell that can move even nonbelievers. Mary LaRose and Miles Griffith declaim the presumably authentic texts. At least some of the music comes from recent neoclassicism -- John Adams, Gyorgy Ligeti, Arvo Part. The rest of the band and guests are well known jazz pros. A lot going on here, but it's not for the squeamish. B+(**)
Bob Mintzer Big Band: Swing Out (2007 , MCG Jazz): Looking at Wikipedia, Mintzer's credits are pretty evenly split between Yellowjackets and his Big Band. The latter has been cranking since 1985, 6 years earlier than his tenure started with the Yellowjackets. Both groups have their points, but neither are consistent enough to recommend. While Mintzer is easily the best player in the Yellowjackets, it's less clear that anyone stands out in the Big Band. This one sounded strong and brassy at first, then gradually wore out its welcome with too much of the same bombast. One track in the middle features boy singer Kurt Elling, who recapitulated that dynamic even faster. B-
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Harry Shearer: Songs of the Bushmen (2008, Courgette): The research here is pretty thorough, ranging from Colin Powell's knack for slipping responsibility to Dick Cheney's witness protection program for Scooter Libby. High points include Condoleezza Rice's workout routine "Gym Buds"; Donald Rumsfeld's "Stuff Happens" song and dance; and ever willing to take one for the team, the serving up of "The Head of Alberto Gonzalez." The songs read critically, but given their subjects they strike me as much too nice. I don't know that more direct rants would be more effective, but I wish someone would try: it is hard to heap too much abuse on the Bush administration. Indeed, it's hard to completely grasp how vile this government has been. B+(***)
Tobias Gebb & Trio West: An Upper West Side Story (2008, Yummy House): Joel Frahm's tenor sax commands your attention on the four tracks he guests on, sharing two with an equally imposing vocalist, Champian Fulton. The guest shots punctuate a drummer-led piano trio, which fills in the remaining spaces with wit and class. B+(***)
Friday, January 2. 2009
This is by far the longest Recycled Goods since I brought the column back off the shelf in April, even if you don't count the blow-by-blow Anthony Braxton breakdown, even if you don't count a handful of new albums included for no better reason than I thought you'd like to hear about them. What's missing is any sort of system here. I duplicate (or boil down) Jazz Prospecting notes when they touch on historical and/or worldy albums. I don't get much in the way of mainstream reissues (even jazz), but I do still get a few world music albums. They used to be a sideline, but they make up a plurality below. The Chet Baker and Dizzy Gillespie are things I picked up in Detroit -- about the only chance I've had all year to shop for used CDs. The Braxtons are an exercise in breaking up the box. Hopefully Sony/Legacy will take a hint and recognize the real treasure they picked up hidden behind all those Barry Manilow and Kenny G records and come up with new editions with bonus tracks.
January promises to be above-average too, if only for the amount of stuff I held back -- nothing you can't wait for.
Buena Vista Social Club: At Carnegie Hall (1998 , Nonesuch, 2CD): The other shoe finally drops: a soundtrack to the grand concert that consummated the first new album of old Cuban pros that any significant number of yanks managed to hear. The album spawned a film which sold the album, setting up further albums by Rubén González, Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo, Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez, but at the time the guy who got most of the attention was Ry Cooder, an earnest musicologist who was out of his depth. Doubters of the studio album think this is an improvement: more focus on the Cubans, less on Cooder, the chemistry of the crowd, the feeling that this was an event. All that is true, but the improvement is marginal, and the downside is that it's more than a little redundant. Still, the political thaw that made this possible is due around again. US policy has been held in thrall by Cuba's deposed owner class -- only a few generations removed from the hemisphere's last slaveholders. On the other hand, Cuba's legendary musicians are the hemisphere's most intimately connected to Africa, the most recent imports to the least assimilated part of the Americas. Opening the door to Cuban music is a revolution in its own right, and this engaging supergroup was the first over the barricades. B+
Oana Catalina Chitu: Bucharest Tango (2008, Asphalt Tango): Bucharest, styled as "the sleazy Paris of the East," embraced tango both for its low class and its high drama. Played by Gypsy folk musicians, it defined an era that faded under the Ceaucescu chill, especially after the 1963 death of "the Romanian Piaf," Maria Tanase. Chitu delves into the world of lost tango songs, perhaps a bit too starchily because you can't play with a memory until you've brought it back. B+
Curlew: 1st Album/Live at CBGB 1980 (1980-81 , DMG/ARC, 2CD): George Cartwright's avant-fusion group in early creative ekstasis, to borrow a word guitarist Nicky Skopelitis later used to name his own group, pairing a debut album plus bonus tracks with a live shot with Denardo Coleman commandeering the drumkit. The rock element bounces off New York No Wave in a way that radicalizes the jazz element, so Cartwright's sax wails more tunefully than Lydia Lunch, and funk rhythms are free for the taking. A-
Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006 (, Columbia, 2CD): Dylan started raw, but like most stars sharpened up fast, making the records he'll always be known for in a short burst from 1963 (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan) through 1966 (Blonde on Blonde) or maybe 1968 (John Wesley Harding), then went into an idiosyncratic decline: even his staunchest fans admit the fall-off after 1975's Blood on the Tracks, an album I personally never could stomach. Unlike most stars -- Lou Reed is a similar but lesser case -- Dylan came out of his funk much later, producing an excitedly hyped comeback in 1997 (Time Out of Mind) and putting anyone's doubts to rest with Love and Theft in 2001 and Modern Times in 2006. One thing that helped was that after 1992's covers album Good As I Been to You and 1993's World Gone Wrong -- little recognized at the time, but easily his best since 1975 or earlier (like 1968) -- he's taken a leisurely 4-5 years between albums. Looking back, in some ways the comeback can be traced a bit earlier, to the Don Was-produced Under the Red Sky in 1990 where he picked up a better drummer and clearly started enjoying the music and not sweating the words, or even 1989's Oh Mercy, which provides a couple of outtakes to this decade-and-a-half of trivia. As Jewels and Binoculars, a jazz group with three marvelous albums of Dylan songs, have shown, Dylan has always been an underrated melodist. Free of his album's conceptual constraints, he just flows here. Many alternate takes of album songs are familiar, but none iconic like his '60s hits: just exceptionally finely drawn songs, easy to hum, worthwhile to read. Nothing earth-shaking, but we've had too much of that already. A-
Jesus H Christ & the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse: Happier Than You (2008, Jesus H Christ Rocks): Their eponymous first added surprising wit and raunch to a joke group name that otherwise wouldn't have carried an album. Actually, the hornsmen aren't apocalyptic, but they do slam their share of jokes home. I can't imagine spokeswoman Risa Mickenberg up on any cross, but she's good for an exclamation, especially an ironic one tinged with profanity. This, their second album, moves even further beyond their brand name. The songs are not just hooked; they're full of precise, telling details, living up to their disclaimer that they're really fiction. "Liz the Hot Receptionist" is so complete you could package it as a sit-com. Same for "Alcoholics in My Town," but you probably couldn't sell it. "I Hope You're Happy" is too truthful for TV. "Back Burner Guy" is a simple but fully formed idea, as is "I Miss Your Arm" and "You've Gotta Have a Dream." Some, like "Vanity Surfin'," just work as music. A-
La Cherga: Fake No More (2008, Asphalt Tango): Based in Austria, a group of former Yugoslavs -- Bosnia and Macedonia, as far as I can tell -- who fantasize a connection to Scratch Perry and bill themselves as a live sound system. The Jamaican rhythms are less prominent than the old Balkan ones, both kicked up with modern electrobeats, but at least they don't spare the horns. Irina Karamarkovic is the featured vocalist -- reminds me a bit of Portishead's Beth Horton, the Weltschmerz giving way to joy. Straw polls put Portishead's Third high in the record-of-the-year race, but head on I can't imagine anyone not prefering this record. Why be so depressive when you can enjoy "radical unity party music" like this? A
Putumayo Presents: Women of Jazz (1998-2008 , Putumayo World Music): If you trust Putumayo to do your programming, you won't be disappointed here: with so much to choose from, they could hardly fail. Still, they came up with nothing more than a decade old -- Etta Jones is the only artist who worked much earlier. Some standards, some singer-songwriter fare, not much scat, nothing avant, no reason to get alarmed; no one to remind you of Betty Carter or Sheila Jordan. I hear a lot of jazz vocalists -- note that all ten picks are vocals; none are instrumentals -- and would have picked a completely different set, with Della Griffin the only find here I would have regretted missing. Not very useful, but still a very listenable set. B+
Harry Shearer: Songs of the Bushmen (2008, Courgette): The research here is pretty thorough, ranging from Colin Powell's knack for slipping responsibility to Dick Cheney's witness protection program for Scooter Libby. High points include Condoleezza Rice's workout routine "Gym Buds"; Donald Rumsfeld's "Stuff Happens" song and dance; and ever willing to take one for the team, the serving up of "The Head of Alberto Gonzalez." The songs read critically, but given their subjects they strike me as much too nice. I don't know that more direct rants would be more effective, but I wish someone would try: it is hard to heap too much abuse on the Bush administration. Indeed, it's hard to completely grasp how vile this government has been. B+
Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby (2007-08 , Stiff): Eric Goulden was a second-tier new wave pub rocker, just one of the "bunch of Stiffs" behind the label's resident geniuses: Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Ian Dury. In 1979 he had a fluke single and a pretty solid album called The Whole Wide World. Ever since, he's ambled in and out of bands like Captains of Industry, Le Beat Group Electrique, and Hitsville House Band, for a middling career that I never gave a second thought to. Amelia McMahon is a few years younger, but got a late start, after marrying and divorcing dB's drummer Will Rigby and keying a vocal trio called the Shams. Turns out she's another genius, her 1996 Diary of a Mod Housewife kicking off a series of five extraordinary albums, peaking with 2005's Little Fugitive. The two met, got married, and crafted this musical merger. It's a little murky at first, with shadowy photography like they're trying to hide their age, and bits of sixties-ish Brit-pop which they mostly picked up secondhand, but the songs and jangles and even some of the tape scat gradually emerge. She wrote most of the best songs, natch, but they're not as sharp as in the days when she had ex-boyfriends to skewer. Meanwhile, he makes the best of "The Downside of Being a Fuck-Up." And the Johnny Cash song at the end is more than filler. A-
Mosaic's big Anthony Braxton box (see below) is a straight reissue of Braxton's nine Arista albums -- some legendary, all long out of print. No bonus cuts, no alternate takes or false starts, no studio chatter. As such, it's easy to break the box back down to its constituent albums.
Anthony Braxton: New York, Fall 1974 (1974, Arista): Split into two sides, one showing how brash and vibrant a state of the art avant quartet -- Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland, Jerome Cooper -- could be; the other a set of ponderous experiments -- a duet with Moogist Richard Teitelbaum, a sax choir with three-fourths of the future World Saxophone Quartet, a slower quartet plus violinist Leroy Jenkins. B+
Anthony Braxton: Five Pieces 1975 (1975, Arista): A breathtaking quartet with Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland, and Barry Altschul, the rhythm section swinging diagrammatic compositions that might otherwise seem arcane, the leader attacking with his full arsenal of reed instruments; plus a delicate bass-sax duet on "You Stepped Out of a Dream," a reference point, in fact, a song. A-
Anthony Braxton: Creative Orchestra Music 1976 (1976, Arista): A tour de force, with his massive orchestra drawing explicitly on Sousa-like marching band brouhaha, which he slices up and reconstructs, then checking off Basie, Ellington, maybe Mingus and Russell too, while breaking new ground in every direction; full of delightful details, there's little doubt that Braxton is in complete command. A
Anthony Braxton/Muhal Richard Abrams: Duets 1976 (1976, Arista): First item in Braxton's discography was on Abrams' Levels and Degrees of Light (1967); the AACM's two most cerebral composers working here in an improviser's context, the originals widely scattered in mood and effect, the two covers -- Eric Dolphy's "Miss Ann" and Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" -- explosive with good cheer and startling musicianship. B+
Anthony Braxton: For Trio (1977, Arista): Concept art at its most systematic: one piece, "Opus 76," performed by two trios, each filling an album side; all players -- Henry Threadgill and Douglas Ewart on side 1, Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman on side 2, Braxton on both -- play the same range of wind and percussion instruments, in a meticulously laid out cycle of pick something/do something; the sounds make little sense, but the liner notes are brilliant. B
Anthony Braxton: The Montreux/Berlin Concerts (1975-76, Arista, 2LP): Two quartets, Braxton's most accessible format: 3 cuts (29:22) from Montreux with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, 4 cuts (57:21) from Berlin with trombonist George Lewis, a rare treat to hear him cut loose at such length. A-
Anthony Braxton: Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979 (1978-79, Arista, 2LP): Solo alto sax, a little like masturbation -- always a greater pleasure for the doer than for the observer -- and a lot like practice; Braxton was notorious for his first solo album, 1968's For Alto, which I long regarded as the ugliest thing I ever heard but others regard as a landmark; this is more balanced, plumbing every nook and cranny of the instrument, cylcing through moves that would grow up to become themes. B+
Anthony Braxton: For Four Orchestras (1978, Arista, 3LP): An extravaganza, with four 39-piece orchestras recruited on the cheap at Oberlin College; given all the firepower, the results are relatively mild, the sort of post-classical abstractions that now seem to be part of the times then; listen continuously on 2-CD, as opposed to flipping the original 6 LP sides, and it just flows amiably in the background, never uninteresting. B+
Anthony Braxton: For Two Pianos (1980, Arista): One of those things he does -- in 2008 Leo Records came out with a career-summing 9-CD set called Piano Music (1968-2000), played not by Braxton but by Geneviève Foccroulle; Braxton doesn't play here either, although he could certainly handle the zither and melodica diversions; rather, he uses two of the period's finest avant-classical pianists, Frederic Rzewski and Ursula Oppens, who crawl over his dense, 49:28 script with remarkable steadiness and grace. A-
Anthony Braxton: The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton (1974-79 , Mosaic, 8CD): Typical Mosaic packaging: LP-sized box/booklet, four jewel cases with two discs each, packed so the albums overlap discs, but not jarringly; no alt-takes, nothing previously unreleased, but this pathbreaking jazz has been out of print so long it's reassuring to have it all in one safe place. A-
Chet Baker: Peace (1982 , Enja): Part of a new "24-bit master series," the remastering brings out the subtle elegance in Baker's trumpet, light as a feather here, but offset from David Friedman's marimba and vibraphone it carries all the weight; no vocals, two alternate takes. B+
Funkadesi: Yo Baba (2008, Funkadesi): Chicago world music group, a melting pot from India, Africa, and the Caribbean, though that hardly exhausts all their twists and turns; a song on disaster capitalism in "No Leans" reads like Naomi Klein; the most appealing cuts are the reggae, including Bob Marley's "Stir It Up," which they do. B+
Dizzy Gillespie: Sittin' In (1957 , Verve): A JATP-style jam session, with the trumpet ace burning up "Dizzy Atmosphere" and "The Way You Look Tonight," separated by two ballad medleys favoring the tenor saxophonists, abundant, profusive, and profound: Stan Getz, Paul Gonsalves, and Coleman Hawkins; with Wynton Kelly, Wendell Marshall, and J.C. Heard. A-
Marco Granados: Music of Venezuela (2008, Soundbrush): Venezuelan flute player, bright and bubbly, played at bebop speeds over cuatro, bass, and maracas. B
Willi Johanns: Scattin' (1987-2002 , TCB): Scraps from an English-singing German big band singer with flair and a load of scat, backed by trumpeter Dusko Goykovich's Bebop City for five 1987 cuts and a 2002 session with RTS Big Band Radio Belgrade, hard swinging, razor sharp, also featuring Goykovich. B+
Nobel Voices for Disarmament: 1901-2001 (2008, Smithsonian Folkways): Spoken word, with Michael Douglas narrating, speech excerpts -- the oldest being Alfred Nobel's introduction of his Peace Prize -- and a little solo violin at the end; physicists, physicians, feminists, Linus Pauling, Kofi Annan, a lot of nuclear bombs, a little on land mines; moderately interesting, but not the sort of thing I'd ever listen to again. C+
Plastilina Mosh: All U Need Is Mosh (2008, Nacional): Mexican group, not really rock en español because a lot of it is en inglés, nor are the beats all that rockish -- some favor hip-hop, some remind of me trans-world labelmate Manu Chao. B+
Putumayo Presents: Café Cubano (1998-2006 , Putumayo World Music): By word association, café music is folkie music, here at least, why not in Cuba, or Miami, or wherever these unknown Buena Vista Social Club wannabes reside? Shuffles nicely, croons sensitively, includes a mojito recipe with a bit more kick than the music. B
Putumayo Presents: A Jazz & Blues Christmas (1950s-2006 , Putumayo World Music): More tolerable than anything I heard in the stores this season, easy enough to do but pivoting on a 1985 Ray Charles "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" really does nobody any credit; two other pre-1996 songs show up the latecomers -- more evidence that the genre is spent, not that it was ever worthwhile. B-
Putumayo Presents: Acoustic Arabia (1997-2008 , Putumayo World Music): Perhaps the best flowing record this boutique label has released in several years; useful too, with only two artists I recognize -- Maurice El Médioni and Souad Massi -- and others I won't remember but will welcome next time they come around; acoustic as in guitar or oud, easy strumming, gentle beats, subtle flavors like cumin and zataar. A-
Quadro Nuevo: Ciné Passion (2000 , Justin Time): German "acoustic quartet" -- meaning reeds, guitar, accordion, bass -- with a subtle tango bent running through movie themes -- Morricone, Piazzolla, Rota, James Newton Howard -- with the usual overdose of schmaltz. B
Ximena Sariñana: Mediocre (2008, Warner Music Latina): Young Mexican singer-actress, looks very prim and proper on the cover, the music equally prim and proper -- in biz-speak, "adult contemporary pop-rock/jazz vocalist"; I can't swear she has nothing to say, but the only title I can translate works handily as a review. B-
Jamshied Sharifi: One (2007, Ceres): From Kansas, Iranian father, American mother, picked up classical Persian music and much more on the rebound, mostly working on soundtracks where his exotica stretches out into thin coloration; guest vocalists include Paula Cole, Abdoulaye Diabaté, Hassan Hakmoun, Youngchen Lhamo, and Vishal Vaid, some more operatic than I'd like, most riding on taut rhythm tracks. B+
Daby Touré: Stereo Spirit (2007, Real World): Singer-songwriter, grew up in Mauritania and Paris in a griot family that traces its roots back through Senegal to Mali, most notably including his father's group Touré Kunda; he overdubs a one-man band, crafting comfortable pop songs as sparse and softly exotic as his Saharan roots. B+
Savina Yannatou/Primavera en Salonico: Songs of an Other (2007 , ECM): Greek soprano, neither folk nor classical as far as I can tell -- rather, she rises far above the fray; I much prefer the stretches where the band, including accordion, violin, oud, and nay, find their ground in Balkan rhythms, when her contrast becomes ethereal. B+
Thursday, January 1. 2009
Tony Karon: Understanding Gaza. The conclusion, which confusedly appears on the home page as the lead before the "Read more" link, is very much on the mark:
Starts discussing a NY Times editorial, space the "paper of record" turned over to Benny Morris ("a de facto editorial writer for Ehud Barak"). Israel, it would seem, has to lash out at Hamas in order to prevent a second Holocaust. Karon takes this apart many times, such as:
Karon's links are worth following up on, especially:
Robert Fisk: The self delusion that plagues both sides in this bloody conflict. Directed more at Israel, but not without a critical eye to Hamas.
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff: Hamas is hoping for an IDF ground operation in Gaza. Robert Fisk would argue that Hamas isn't anywhere near as prepared or disciplined to take on an IDF invasion as Hezbollah was in 2006, and he's probably right. The article itself doesn't make a strong case that its title is true -- e.g., it points out that Khaled Meshal, the Hamas honcho in Damascus, has been calling for a cease fire, but Hamas leaders on the ground haven't been paying much attention, not least because they've been dodging Israeli bombs; it it also argues that Israel is looking for a diplomatic out, which doesn't seem to be true either. Still, it's worth noting just because it points out the growing sense that Israel is charging into a trap, much like they did in 2006. Paul Woodward, at WarInContext, comments:
Hussein Agha/Robert Malley: How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East. A book review, clearly written before the onslaught, but relevant as background, especially for assaying the confusion and obfuscation in the current and future administrations' reactions. The books are by past (and probably future) US diplomats: Aaron David Miller: The Much Too Promised LAnd: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace; Daniel C Kurtzer/Scott B Lasensky: Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East; and Martin Indyk: Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East. The authors all had roles in the neverending disaster of US diplomacy in the region, including things they've each come to regret. Alas:
The reviewers don't go into this much further. Had they did, it would most likely reflect on the political clout of the Israeli lobby, which invariably oversells Israel's position, and in doing so manages to hold all US diplomats in thrall. When they finally do break away, or just catch a breath of fresh air, they can't imagine what got into them -- surely can't be the omnipotence of the Israeli lobby?
One of the better descriptions of Bush's scattered approaches to the conflict:
Worth also quoting the review on Clinton's 2000 Camp David fiasco, in case you haven't gotten the word yet:
The reviewers advise Obama to back off and take it easy -- they are especially critical of suggestions that Bush's policy problem has been that he's allowed the US to be disengaged. It is true that the US has often made grand gestures that proved meaningless, and that sometimes the US has actively sabotaged peace efforts. Given the political quandry any US politician is inevitably locked into by the Israeli lobby -- and Obama's prostration at AIPAC shows he no exception -- the US is neither an honest broker nor capable of showing any genuine leadership. So it's clear that any steps toward peace that can happen are going to have to come from Israel itself. That seems less likely than ever: the stark political opportunism of the ongoing razing of Gaza shows just how debased politics in Israel have become. About the only hope we can have is that the whole misadventure will fail so badly everyone involved will be permanently discredited, and some new kind of open-minded reform will emerge. Odds of such a failure are high; odds of anyone learning anything from it much less so.
From Paul Krugman:
The first word that popped into my mind was "weenie" -- not one I use much more than once a decade, but it does fit the bill here. I would have contributed a comment but they had hit some sort of throttle and comments were no longer accepted. None of the 112 comments had anything close to my suggestion -- maybe that had something to do with shutting them up.
The rest of Krugman's post:
I wouldn't use "weenie" in this case, perhaps because "no one suffers more" is a turn of phrase commonly used for hyperbole rather than as a sober assessment of the facts. Perhaps also because there's something charming about someone so myopic she can't conceive of any real suffering. What's not so charming is her inability to see the connection between what her husband has done for the last eight years and what has happened to the world on his watch.