Saturday, May 31. 2008
Still in semi-retired mode: what follows is merely the records that fit that I happened to get to during the month of May -- 14 this time, about the same as 12 in April, way below the 40-50 I was knocking off up through January. That suggests a new norm, but it may just be coincidence. Incoming mail has fallen way off, but I've started to pick up some items from download sources -- not the best way, especially as it gives me no clue to packaging. The Nick Lowe is one eight such records this time, but I still have the original import vinyl (alas, no longer the Bowi EP).
Nick Lowe: Jesus of Cool (1975-78 , Yep Roc): Before punk hit and new wave rolled in, there was a minor movement in Brit rock called "pub rock" which in retrospect looks like the first postmodern revival of old time rock and roll. Brinsley Schwarz, a band named for the future Graham Parker Rumour guitarist, was on the soft country end of the movement until bassist Lowe emerged as a world class pop jester, peaking with the 1974 New Favourites of Brinsley Schwarz -- never released in the US, only on CD as a BGO twofer with the sweeter Nervous on the Road. Lowe's debut didn't cross the pond intact either. The UK release was called Jesus of Cool, an unabashed reference back to the Beatles' conceit. Columbia aimed lower, calling its reshuffle Pure Pop for Now People, scrambling the cover, and tacking the lowbrow "Rollers Show" on to mitigate the highbrow tunes about castrating Castro, belittling Hitler, and devouring silent movie actress Marie Provost. Actually, the repackaging sharpened the record up a bit. The reissue is less a restoration than an expansion, picking up not just the album's spare parts but non-album one-shots, like Lowe's Bowi EP (capitalizing on David Bowie's Low album), and "I Love My Label" (generously contributed to a label sampler) -- 21 tracks in all. A
Orchestra Baobab: Made in Dakar (2007 , World Circuit/Nonesuch): Afro-Cuban music preserves more Africa than any other American creole form: the authorities made little effort to wipe out traditional African religions, which in any case were constantly replenished as the slave trade continued later there than anywhere else. One result is that there are as many Afro-Cuban musics as there were source clusters for the slave trade. Another is that Cuban music flowed readily back to Africa in the early 20th century, so much so that it's hard to sort out where the innovations came from. This Senegalese band is a case in point: they make their music in Dakar, but it is connected at the hip to Havana, a bridge that could be built from either side as long as they're eager to sample the other freely. A-
Toumani Diabaté: The Mandé Variations (2008, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Mali's most famous and best traveled kora player, working solo, remarkably plumbing his string instrument for melody -- sometimes two lines -- harmonics and rhythm; may be a tour de force, or at least a complement to Bach's variations on harpsichord, but the limited options impart a certain sameyness you have to meet more than half way. B+
Disco Not Disco: Post Punk, Electro & Leftfield Dance Classics (1974-86 , !K7, Strut): More like mechanistic new wave, with the obscurities outnumbering the classics -- James White's "Contort Yourself," Delta 5's "Mind Your Own Business," Material's "Don't Lose Control" -- and even those remain awkwardly gawky, well shy of the grand gestures of danceable new wave bands like New Order and Cabaret Voltaire. B+
Charlie Haden: The Best of Quartet West (1986-96 , Verve): A steady-flowing sampler from five albums, catching the legendary bassist at his most sentimental, with Lawrence Marable's light touch on the drums, Alan Broadbent's luxurious piano, and Ernie Watts' crooning tenor sax -- elegantly simple, even when Broadbent's string arrangements or an out-of-place vocal sample complicate things. B+
Louis Jordan: Jivin' With Jordan (1939-51 , Proper, 4CD): Small group band leader turned jukebox hero, the essential link between swing and rock and roll, and one of the funniest guys of his time; one can nitpick -- was "Jordan for President" too obscure for the British compilers? -- and he does thin out beyond about two discs, but not much here, in a massively satisfying bargain box. A
Kid Creole: Going Places: The August Darnell Years (1976-83 , Strut): Darnell appears as Kid Creole on four cuts, the rest ruses like Don Armando's Second Avenue and Geechy Dan's Beachwood No. 9, his debut with Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, and production jobs for ZE Records -- their own competing anthology is called Mutant Disco. A-
Liz McComb: The Spirit of New Orleans (2001 , GVE/Sunnyside): Her New Orleans album picks up some occasional horns and fancy rhythm, but the backbone is a classic gospel singer who bulls her way through four originals that fit snugly with songs as trad as "Old Man River" and "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and "Happy Working for the Lord." A-
Mission of Burma: Signals, Calls and Marches (1980-81 , Matador): Boston's answer to the first wave of Anglo postpunk art bands like Wire and the Buzzcocks, but not as good, not least because they were a miserable lot -- "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" was their catchiest rant; first EP, expanded to 8 songs on Rykodisc's 1997 reissue, now up to 10 in this "Definitive Edition" -- padded with a DVD I didn't bother with. B+
Mission of Burma: The Horrible Truth About Burma (1983 , Matador): Live album of mostly new material plus Stooges and Pere Ubu covers, rushed out when the band broke up and the cupboard was bare; the sound is more mechanical, proto-industrial; leader Roger Miller damaged his hearing, and if you crank this up you can too. B-
Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues (1970-76 , Soundway, 2CD): Scattered singles, guitar-driven highlife and/or afrobeat with the occasional funk lick; the only names I recognize are Celestine Ukwu and Sir Victor Uwaifo, second-tier stars that hardly stand out in a crowd where good vibes are consistent enough to flow and varied enough to prick your ears. A-
Orchestra Baobab: Pirates Choice (1982 , World Circuit/Nonesuch): A band born in Senegal's 1970s salsa boom, developed to compete with the mbalax revolution that thrust Youssou N'Dour onto the world stage, the high point in a catalog that only started attracting attention with their comeback decades later. A
Orchestra Baobab: Specialist in All Styles (2002, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Their reunion party, 30 years after they formed, 15 years after they broke up; with help from friends, including such touchstones as Ibrahim Ferrer and Youssou N'Dour, they prove they still know how to do it all. A
Sufjan Stevens: The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album (2005 , Asthmatic Kitty): Just what it claims, the surplus so idiosyncratic and fruitful it must have seemed a shame to let the first cut stand; still, I'd rather he move on: with 2 states down out of 50, he has a long ways to go, and I'd love to hear Kansas before I die. B+
Friday, May 30. 2008
One reason I haven't posted much recently is that I've been working on a long book list post, having spent much of my Detroit time trawling through bookstores. After Scott McClellan's book came out, I wrote up a little paragraph on it, but I might as well share it now:
The brouhaha this book has produced is amusing. With hardly an exception, the Republican establishment has circled wagons and counterattacked from their safest high ground: McClellan is a coward for not resigning earlier if this is what he felt, and in any case is not a team player for not waiting until the Bush administration is safely buried in the history books, Oh, and he's also a miserable money-grubbing miscreant. Bob Dole reportedly puts it this way:
Of all the stuff written about McClellan, by far the most interesting has been this item by Osha Gray Davidson, addressing the question of how much McClellan sold out for, and how much direction he got from his New York editor. The answer to both is at most not much and more likely very little. Davidson argues that PublicAffairs is notorious for their stingy advances -- McClellan's was "a five-figure advance" (i.e., between $10-100k; Karl Rove got $1.5 million from Simon & Schuster) -- and Davidson has written for the same editor McClellan had (Lisa Kaufman):
I'm still not all that interested in the book, mostly because the bounds of what McClellan knew then and knows now are so limited: much of what he has to say reduces down to "I misinformed the public because I was misinformed myself." That may mean a lot to him, but it's not like it wasn't clear to the rest of us even then, let alone now. Maybe the book has some useful details, and maybe some juicy quotes, but that's about as far as he can go. He did, after all, not just support but facilitate the war. Sure, he should have screamed bloody murder at the time, but it's hard to conceive of anyone who could (a) get the job as Bush's liar-in-chief in the first place, and (b) reject it publicly in real time. Ari Fleischer and Tony Snow are two examples of (a) who still haven't come close to wising up as much as McClellan.
Thursday, May 29. 2008
Jazz Dialogue: Gary Giddins in Conversation with Loren Schoenberg. Lots of stuff here, including this bit on Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong:
I stumbled onto the Giddins interview while I was looking at the Jazz Journalists Association's 2008 Jazz Awards finalist nominees. I'm not a member -- I was invited to join a couple years ago, but rather arbitrarily decided the $75 fee wouldn't have been cost-effective, preserving my amateur status -- but got a notice from the publicist. But I rarely miss an opportunity to test myself against a ballot, so here's how I would have voted, with the following provisos: see the link above for context; choices limited to their nominees (with no alternate suggestions); choices limited based on 2007-08 recordings (which among others eliminates Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins):
Note also that while some of these are strong choices, others are very marginal ones.
On his blog, JJA president Howard Mandel has a post on jazz polls/awards in general that I haven't been able to make much sense out of. I certainly don't see any point in using such occasions just to suck up to the rich. Rather, they do two (or maybe three) things: they test what James Surowiecki called the wisdom of crowds, providing a sanity check for the voters; they give some relative unknowns a chance for recognition; and (maybe) they present the best face of jazz to a few outsiders willing to take a chance on it. But there are problems with each of these points as well. In particular, the crowds thesis tends to fall down not so much on varying tastes -- that's probably its strength -- but on inequal information.
Monday, May 26. 2008
Back in Wichita after 3+ weeks on the road. Got my mail opened, but still don't have it all catalogued. For that matter, don't have my traveling cases unpacked, although I've started, and most of the following prospecting comes from stuff I took with me. Didn't directly get back into jazz prospecting. With so much stuff in flux, I started by streaming some oldies and a couple of new records, checking out some world music. That's how this report starts, but by midweek I started unpacking the cases and listening to stuff along the way. This is as far as I've gotten -- which is to say I've fallen far behind.
I should at least get organized this coming week. All of the bookkeeping to wrap up the Jazz CG #16 is done, so work on the next one can get a fresh restart. A lot of stuff has been leftover, so the next one is mostly done. The big need will be to identify a couple of pick hits. Some promising stuff in the incoming pile.
Charlie Haden: The Best of Quartet West (1986-96 , Verve): A steady-flowing sampler from five albums, catching the legendary bassist at his most sentimental, with Lawrence Marable's light touch on the drums, Alan Broadbent's luxurious piano, and Ernie Watts' crooning tenor sax -- elegantly simple, even when Broadbent's string arrangements or an out-of-place vocal sample complicate things. I would start with the nostalgic Haunted Heart, although some people find the appearance of Billie Holiday in this company unsettling. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Orchestra Baobab: Made in Dakar (2007 , World Circuit/Nonesuch): Formed in 1970, one of Senegal's major bands, stylistically they span Youssou N'Dour's mbalax revolution, preserving more Congolese guitar and Cuban feedback and less of the tricky rhythms. Newly recorded, but the songs date back to their 1970s heyday and even further. Less instantly compelling than their 1982 classic Pirates Choice or their 2002 comeback Specialist in All Styles, but equally hard to nitpick. A-
Toumani Diabaté: The Mandé Variations (2008, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Mali's most famous and best traveled kora player, working solo, remarkably plumbing his string instrument for melody -- sometimes two lines -- harmonics and rhythm. It may well be a tour de force, or at least a complement to Bach's variations on harpsichord, but the limited options impart a certain sameyness you have to meet more than half way to keep up with. B+(**)
Rigmor Gustafsson: Alone With You (2007 , ACT): Swedish vocalist, b. 1966, sings in English, has half a dozen albums, first one I've heard. Starts off with a soaring pop ballad, "In My World" -- pretty awful. She wrote all the songs, sometimes getting help with lyrics. Better when it gets jazzier, better still when the band takes the lead, but that's not a good sign in a vocalist's album, even if you're Betty Carter -- and this band isn't that good. B-
Howard Britz: Here I Stand (2007 , Tee Zee): Bassist, born in England in 1961, moved to US in 1991, passing through Boston (Berklee, New England Conservatory) and Philadelphia before settling in Brooklyn in 1998. Bop quintet with David Smith on trumpet/flugelhorn and Casey Benjamin on alto sax. Sometimes sounds standard, sometimes postbop, sometimes they even swing a little, or work in a little Latin boogaloo. Don't think much of the horns, but the pianist blows me away. George Colligan. Not the first time that's happened. B [advance]
Grand Pianoramax: The Biggest Piano in Town (2008, ObliqSound): Keyboards/drums duo, with Swiss pianist Leo Tardin in the lead role, Deantoni Parks on drums (replaced by Adam Deitch on one cut). A fairly minimal concept, dressed up with guest rappers and vocalists, most notably Mike Ladd on "Showdown" -- the bookend that both opens and closes the disc. B [advance]
Peloton: Selected Recordings (2007, Parallel): The peloton is a large cluster of bicyclists in a race -- as Wikipedia puts it, "the peloton travels as an integrated unit, like birds flying in formation." Album cover has an axle with spokes pointing out, presumably from a bicycle. I'd never heard of the word, but I ran across a number of music groups using the name, everything from San Francisco shoegazers to Finnish cartoon jazz. This particular group describes itself as Scandinavian but claims "peloton" means "fearless" in Finnish. Trumpet (Karl Strømme), sax (Hallvard Godal), guitar (Petter Vågan), keyboards (Steinar Nickelsen), drums (Erik Nylander). They live up to their teamwork concept: lead shifts are frequent and brief, the pace ranging from slow and moody uphill to fast and dangerous downhill. Godal is also in Fattigfolket, a group I remember liking. B+(**)
Will Bernard/Andrew Emer/Benny Lackner/Mark Ferber: Night for Day (2007 , Bju'ecords): Cover and spine just list last names, as if that's all the hint one needs. Drummer Ferber and guitarist Bernard are in my mental index, but not bassist Emer or pianist Lackner. All but Ferber write songs, as does someone named Strayhorn. File it under Bernard, whose primacy isn't just alphabetical. Although Lackner wrote more pieces, Bernard's guitar lines run away with them. B+(*)
Alexis Cuadrado: Puzzles (2007 , Buj'ecords): Bassist, from Barcelona (Spain), based in Brooklyn where he was a founder of Brooklyn Jazz Underground. Two previous albums on Fresh Sound New Talent. Wrote all pieces, using a quartet of sax (Loren Stillman), guitar (Brad Shepik), bass, and drums (Mark Ferber), with trombone (Alan Ferber) on three cuts, organ (Pete Rende) on one. Underground is less an attitude in jazz these days than a state of existence. Cuadrado plays moderate postbop, close to where the mainstream would flow if it did, but he's a sensible composer, and his bass helps lift the band. Shepik has several especially fertile stretches here. B+(**)
Anne Mette Iversen: Best of the West + Many Places (2006-07 , Buj'ecords, 2CD): Bassist, from Denmark, now based in Brooklyn, that's all I know. Quartet includes John Ellis (tenor and soprano sax), Danny Grissett (piano), and Otis Brown III (drums). On the first disc (Best of the West) they are joined by the string quartet 4 Corners; on second disc (Many Places) they appear on their own. Strings aren't my thing, but they provide a dreamy backdrop to the sax -- I'm reminded of Winter Moon, Art Pepper's lush masterpiece; while Ellis isn't as transcendent, he's rarely played this inventively -- and hold their shape on their own. Ellis opens up even more on the stringless disc. [B+(***)]
Jean Martin/Evan Shaw: Piano Music (2007, Barnyard): Following front cover; spine says Martin & Shaw but website says Evan Shaw and Jean Martin. Barnyard Records is a Toronto label -- sent me four records, three featuring drummer Martin (seems likely the label's his show). Shaw's an alto saxophonist, grew up in New Brunswick, based in Toronto. These are duets, free jazz, presumably improvs, with no piano audible anywhere. I like this sort of thing quite a bit, but it hasn't yet risen much above par. One cut adds a rap, or something spoken like that. B+(**)
Jean Martin/Colin Fisher: Little Man on the Boat (2007, Barnyard): More free, idiosyncratic duets, this time more of a mish mash as both rum the gamut of instruments: Martin's credits are drums, keyboards, trumpet, loops, bass; Fisher's tenor sax, guitars, bass, banjo, voice. Fisher is another Toronto denizen, with three albums as I Have Eaten the City and two as Sing That Yell That Spell. Scattered moments are interesting, but it isn't clear what holds them together. B+(*)
Lori Freedman & Scott Thomson: Plumb (2007 , Barnyard): More avant duets. Freedman plays clarinets, opening with the bass clarinet. Thomson plays trombone. The two horns offer a limited palette of sound, and the lack of rhythm instruments leaves them jarringly naked. Freedman is somewhat familiar from her work with Queen Mab. Don't know/can't find much on Thomson, but I figure him for a Roswell Rudd fan -- where Freedman came out of the box aiming for Braxtonian ugly, Thomson's first solo was laced with understated wit. Both are worth remembering, although you have to be pretty hard core to stick with this -- someone who reacts ecstatically to such solo classics as Anthony Braxton's For Alto and Paul Rutherford's The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie. In that case, this may double your fun, but I can't guarantee it. B+(*)
Barnyard Drama: I'm a Navvy (2005 , Barnyard): Toronto group, second album, not counting five volumes of Christmas Singalong. Core group pairs drummer Jean Martin with vocalist Christine Duncan, adding guest guitarists Justin Haynes and Bernard Falaise this time. Blindfolded, I'd call this experimental rock: most beats are steady, often rifflike simple, although Martin's electronics can amble. Duncan's vocals range from art-abstract to Lydia Lunch softened by Portishead, but rarely cohere into songs. The guitars are a plus. Can't find the booklet, one more reason to hold this back. [B+(**)]
Wayne Horvitz and Sweeter Than the Day: A Walk in the Dark (2007 , [no label]): Pianist, b. 1955 in New York, now based in Seattle. Has a substantial discography since 1981. Sweeter Than the Day was a 2002 quartet album that has retained its shape as a group in a couple of later albums, with Timothy Young's guitars complementing Horvitz's piano, Keith Lowe on bass, and Eric Eagle on drums. Nice record, Horvitz likes a steady beat, and the guitar adds something. B+(**)
Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet: One Dance Alone (2007 , Songlines): Interesting take on the chamber jazz concept, using an unusual mix of instruments: cornet (Ron Miles), bassoon (Sara Schoenbeck), cello (Peggy Lee), piano (Horvitz). Horvitz has been known to bury his piano in his compositions, or even to dispense with it completely, and he doesn't appear to lead here. More like walk along with the flow, such as it is -- with no drums or bass this doesn't move much. Nonetheless, the group's previous record, Way Out East surprised me with an Honorable Mention; this one doesn't make so strong a mark, but its modest, somber assurance is notable. B+(*)
Poolplayers: Way Below the Surface (2006 , Songlines): Cooly conceived, barely stated, minimal without any of the repetition that makes minimalism. I filed this under Norwegian trumpet player Arve Henriksen because he's made a habit of such records -- he may be the least splashy trumpet player in jazz history. The other group members are Benoît Delbecq (piano, bass station), Lars Juul (drums, electronics), and Steve Argüelles (Usine, delays, Sherman filter -- don't know what any of those things are, but he's usually credited with drums/percussion). Don't know what to make of it all -- sort of a mood thing that charms within its limits. B+(*)
Laszlo Gardony: Dig Deep (2008, Sunnyside): Hungarian pianist, based in US since 1983, teaches at Berklee, has 8 or so albums. Piano trio, with John Lockwood on bass, Yoron Israel on drums. Loud, clear, mostly sharply rhythmic pieces, pretty much what a standard mainstream piano trio should be. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Sunday, May 25. 2008
Each cycle I make an effort to cut back the list of records I've kept in my active file, realizing that there's no way I'm ever going to find space to work them all into the column. Most are just noted in the surplus file, referring back to my Jazz Prospecting notes. A few I feel like noting again in a blog post, a sort of consolation prize, often guilt at cutting down a record that I wish I had been able to give more time/space to. This cycle that list is shorter than usual, mostly because I've cut less than usual, and figure I won't have the time anytime soon to do more or polish up my comments. So see below.
Jazz Prospecting may (or may not) run a day late this week. I have enough to publish, but I haven't caught up like I had hoped. Not much can be done about that in a day, but Monday is a holiday, we have a guest who needs attention, and there are other pressing matters to attend to. Will try to get it out by the end of Monday; if not, Tuesday.
Joan Hickey: Between the Lines (2006, Origin): Chicago pianist, makes her living teaching, recording rarely. The plus and minus is that as an academic she has a firm grasp of the state of the postbop art but hasn't done anything all that unique with it. There are a lot of academics who now and then feather their résumés with a respectable recording. This one is a notch or two above that. B+(**)
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Setting Standards: New York Sessions (1983 , ECM, 3CD): The first three "Standards Trio" albums, repackaged as a box, a nice little souvenir with all the talent and concept the marquis promises, but not quite all the chemistry they developed over the next 25 years. Would have made sense as an HM alongside the superior Montreux album, but didn't make the space squeeze. B+(**)
Slavic Soul Party!: Technochek Collision (2007, Barbès): Gypsy brass from downtown jazzbos led by Matt Moran, who composes everything not credited to Toussaint or Trad., but not all that jazzy. Wrote this up in Recycled Goods, but figured it was good enough and close enough I could slip it into Jazz CG as a very high HM. But every time the space crunch hits, I find that it's expendable. Still worth mentioning here. A-
Friday, May 23. 2008
Tom Engelhardt: Welcome to the Age of Homeland Insecurity. Starts with something about Tai Chi, then makes a point I've tried to argue for 5-6 years now:
Terrorism is an act of the desperate as much as the dastardly. The terrorist act itself settles nothing. What really matters is the reaction. Rarely the reaction is to cave in -- like Britain did in surrendering to the Stern Gang, or Reagan backing out of Lebanon after realizing that his provocations had backfired -- but in those cases the underlying power dynamics were already tilted against the targets. Slightly more often terrorism cracks open an existing fissure, but only if it provokes a harsh and unconscionable reaction -- the Boston Tea Party kicked off the American Revolution but only because the British cranked up the repression, outraging hitherto unconcerned colonists. Again, this works only where the latent political power favors the terrorists.
Al Qaeda had no such power base -- not at all in the US, and not really anywhere else, even in Afghanistan where the ruling Taliban was torn between their traditional courtesy of respect for guests and their dislike of Osama Bin Laden's mischief. But Al Qaeda hit the bullseye on 9/11, not only in terms of record numbers of people killed but more importantly in how they pushed George W Bush's button. Since then the US has done all the heavy lifting in its own bankrupt self-destruction. The rest of the piece documents that decline, with the emphasis on bankruptcy.
Al Qaeda is never going to triumph in even their small part of the world, no matter how poorly the US fares. They simply don't have the political appeal to mainstream Muslims, let alone anyone else, and the weaker the US becomes the more their one legitimate calling card fades away. Now the big problem is that Bush and his supporters have painted themselves into a corner by arguing that any US retreat will be seen as a victory for terrorism. The real answer is that both sides have lost, and sheer stubbornness keeps them losing more. Someone needs to come up with a politically palatable explanation for that -- my own is that no one wins at war, so it's always better to reduce conflict.
Wednesday, May 21. 2008
Thumbing through the mail pile. The May 26, 2008 issue of The Nation has a piece by Benjamin Lytal on Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun. I don't have time/interest to read through it, but I was struck by the big print teaser:
He wasn't alone on that, and he still isn't. It's almost instinctive that in times of stress people line up behind whichever would-be leader seems the strongest, most determined, most self-assured. Mussolini and Hitler exploited that instinct. So did Winston Churchill. So did George W. Bush. You can add more names to that list, mostly disasters. (I could write a book on why Churchill is no exception; even his prosecution of WWII should be viewed skeptically.)
Perhaps this instinct was useful back when humans were organized in small tribes, their threats limited to neighboring tribes and occasional wild animals. The instinct is certainly dysfunctional now, and not just because fearless leaders like Bush are little more than fakes. Threats nowadays have become as complex as our lives, requiring a very different set of skills. Sooner or later we'll adjust our instincts, but later seems more likely, and too late is a distinct possibility -- even with such clear examples as Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill, and Bush to learn from.
Tuesday, May 20. 2008
Dee Davis: Why don't those hillbillies like Obama? Another meditation and/or sermon on West Virginia. The argument that Democrats can't win the presidency without winning the marginal rural states doesn't convince me, although it should be noted that the New Deal coalition was largely built on Roosevelt's initiatives including rural electrification. It is true that Democrats have taken their eye off of rural America -- partly because it keeps shrinking, and partly because in trying to hang on while the Republicans were winning they had to chase the money. It's good to see rural poverty back in the headlines, not because it's critical but because it's one piece in the bigger puzzle. And in the end it's likely to help Obama, because the first step toward dealing effectively with any problem is recognition. Also because the Republicans don't have any answers: all they ever do is poke a problem with a stick and hope the anger and spite lashes out at the other side. Whether Obama will come up with anything that convinces rural white not-so-well-off voters remains to be seen, but at least he won't be surprised by the problem.
I spent a few days with relatives in northern Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma on my way back from Detroit. The Republicans are pretty quiet these days, and the Democrats are pretty noisy. The latter all voted for Clinton, and some may not follow Obama -- I heard the usual canards about flags and Islam -- but most will. It seems to me that a stronger argument could convince more. One case example: a second cousin, his wife active in local Republican politics. They bought a big, expensive new house, planning a lot of renovation on it, before they got stuck unable to sell their old house. They both have good middle class jobs, but they're way overextended on the houses. He's developed a severe back problem; good thing he has a secure government job that's been able to maintain his insurance and work around his disability, even though most Republicans frown on such jobs. She's been laid off twice in the last year, but thus far has managed to find new jobs. To make ends meet they've had to borrow from parents, including my antiwar first cousin who grew up in the Depression and remembers why her family became Democrats. (This part of Arkansas was traditionally Republican, going back to when my great-great-grandfather arrived carpetbagging from Ohio, where he was a Captain in the Union Army.) The Republican Party appeals to hard working middle class folks who think bad things only happen to other [weak, shiftless] people and can't/won't happen to upstanding folk like themselves. This family still has their heads above water, but just barely.
Not a scientific study. Several military families, but they're more quiet than they were a couple of years ago. No blacks, but no rabid racists either. No Baptists, for whatever that's worth. Northern and especially northwestern Arkansas strikes me as much more prosperous than it was when I was growing up, and it's not surprising that the Clintons get a lot of credit for that. Can't say the same about Oklahoma, which may be the most politically retrograde state in the country.
Eyal Press: Is the Party Over? The Republican Party, that is. The piece moves around a bit, mostly ducking and weaving around various theories of various Republican pundits about why people don't buy their wares any more. The simpler explanation is that the vaunted Republican "ideas" just don't work. End quote:
How the elections turn out will depend less on how skillfully the Republicans manage to spin bullshit than on how many Americans get to the point where they won't believe anything the Party is selling.
Looks like Clinton has beat Obama by about 240,000 votes in Kentucky, 65% to 30%. Notably, exit polls are showing that only 33% of Clinton's supporters would be willing to vote for Obama against McCain. I expect that by November those numbers will move a bit, but I wonder how much of that is directly attributable to the polarizing campaign. To be fair, her Arkansas supporters I talked to focused approvingly on her stature as a fighter, and none dignified race with any role in their decision. (They also knew very little about Obama, and much of what they thought they knew was wrong.) On the other hand, one of the basic impressions I have of her came from a radio interview back when her health plan was tanking in 1993-94, where she revealed herself as anything but a fighter: when asked for her reaction if she lost the battle, all she could muster was that she'd feel sad for America. Remember that we're talking about the most important political issue in a generation, the signature issue of Clinton's mandate, an issue she maneuvered to take personal charge of, and that's all the emotion she can bring to bear: sad?
Clinton's worked real hard on acting tough since then, and a lot of folks buy the act. I don't buy it, not because I doubt that she can follow through resolutely but because I find her mostly in tune with kneejerk reactions. That may play well to the crowds, but it's rarely the smart way to handle real problems.
Charles Blow: Skirting Appalachia. More data, but actually I want to quote from Paul Woodward's comment:
Monday, May 19. 2008
This week's meager selection follows the same rules as last week's: first pass notes based on listening to music only, no packaging, rather minimal research, all grades tentative. Didn't get very far, as the experiment was suspended when I hit the road from Detroit. Just got back to Wichita late Monday. In between, I took a long detour through northern Arkansas, northeast Oklahoma, and southeast Kansas, visiting relatives, none of whom provided me with internet connections. Didn't drag the music inside either, and tended to listen to old Louis Jordan and Johnny Cash comps while driving.
Got home only to find a mountain of mail, roughly four feet in diameter, over a foot high. Haven't opened anything yet, but will start working on it tomorrow, so next week should see a belated return to normalcy here. (Maybe not instantly: I still need to figure out how to integrate the new laptop into the setup; in the meantime, working on the laptop is relatively unproductive.)
As noted before, Jazz CG #16 came out last week. I didn't send out the usual notice because I didn't have the address list handy, but will do so soon. Also haven't done the usual intercycle cull and some of the related bookkeeping. Something else to try to get done this week. One bit of good news is that the threat to make Jazz CG online only has lifted. Don't fully understand the crisis, but it looks to be temporary, and editor Rob Harvilla appears to be strongly committed to the column.
Spring Heel Jack: Songs and Themes (2008, Thirsty Ear): John Coxon and Ashley Wales built up their brand name as DJs mixing techno, but parts of their hearts and/or brains were more attached to free jazz, resulting in a series of inconsistent, sporadically fetching records. The big names here are saxophonist John Tchicai and trumpeter Roy Campbell, with other oddities packed in like Orphy Robinson's vibes, J. Spaceman's guitar, and the leaders' samples. Doesn't add up, but now and then threatens to. [B] [advance]
Misha Alperin: Her First Dance (2006 , ECM): Ukrainian pianist, currently based in Norway. Has a couple of well regarded ECM albums from 1995-97, but little since. Everything in ECM's current batch (well, except for the Evan Parker) can be viewed as some sort of chamber music, but this one most of all. Unorthodox trio, with Arkady Shilkloper on French horn and flugelhorn and Anja Lechner on cello -- a combination that doesn't produce much momentum. [B+(*)] [advance]
Sal Mosca Quartet: You Go to My Head (2001-06 , Blue Jack Jazz): Pianist, studied under Lennie Tristano, recorded in Lee Konitz's group in 1949, recorded spottily over the years, often with Konitz, Warne Marsh, or here with Jimmy Halperin -- a saxophonist who sounds like one of the family. Mosca died in 2007 at age 80, so this is a memento as well as a very late showcase, covering standards like "How High the Moon" and the title track, standards like "Scrapple From the Apple" and "Groovin' High," and an appropriate non-standard: "Sub Conscious-Lee." [B+(***)]
Dafnis Prieto: Taking the Soul for a Walk (2008, Dafnison): Cuban drummer, made a big splash when he showed up in New York in 1999. I no longer have any doubts about his talent, but still haven't gotten the hang of his music -- mostly Afro-Cuban with those weird sharp rhythmic shifts, way too complex for my taste. But he manages his horns well here -- saxophonists Peter Apfelbaum and Yosvany Terry blend nicely on the relatively straight "Until the Last Minute," and Avishai Cohen's trumpet impresses. I may get the hang of it eventually. [B+(*)]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Thursday, May 15. 2008
Jonathan Tilove: Obama's Is an Appalachia Problem, Not a Whites Problem. Actually, Tilove blames/credits it to the Scots-Irish, whom James Webb lionized in his pre-Senate book, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. But as a person who puts more stock in history and culture than genes, I'd say Appalachia's isolated economy and culture -- which significantly in America includes long isolation from black people -- have more to do with it. The bottom line is that it was Clinton, rather than Obama, who captured the Lynndie [Abu Ghraib] England vote. Big fucking deal.
West Virginia was part of the pre-Civil War anti-slavery south. I remember long ago reading about a prominent southern anti-slavery polemicist, Hinton Helper, whose critique of slavery was fundamentally racist: the institution of slavery brought black people to America, so opposing slavery was a way to attack black people. Counting Helper as an abolitionist is a lot like taking Charles Lindbergh as a WWII pacifist. Appalachia isn't as principled as Helper, and as such it isn't as racist -- although they didn't give Sen. Robert Byrd any sweat back when he was in the KKK.
Didn't expect to make a post today. I'm in a motel in Terre Haute, IN, but they have wireless internet and my new Dell Inpsiron laptop with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed picked up their network painlessly. First time I ever had a computer working on wireless, so I'm thrilled. But don't have time to natter on -- was thinking about my possibly Scots-Irish paternal descent (which we never discussed, and certainly didn't bestow me or my father with any fighting genes) and my Ozark (virtual Appalachia) maternal descent. Maybe later. As it happens, I'm driving to the Arkansas Ozarks today. Gotta get going.
Wednesday, May 14. 2008
My 16th Jazz Consumer Guide column is up on the Village Voice website now -- presumably also on the streets of New York City. I evidently misread the message about no cuts, as it got hacked up quite a bit, although mostly within my guidelines. (Exception: only one of three Harry Allen albums made it through. Also note that Nannette Natal's name was misspelled Natali.)
Still away from home, getting ready to leave Detroit and head back towards Kansas. Planning a few stops with relatives along the way, so I don't know when I'll get back. I'm likely to be offline the next few days. Don't have time to write much now, or do my usual cyclical cleanup. Also unable to send out my usual email notice to the many jazz publicists who help me out. Hope they read about it here.
Josh Marshall: Upcountry. Subtitle this one "What's the Matter With West Virginia?" Marshall argues that Clinton has consistently beat Obama by 2-to-1 margins throughout Appalachia, from New York through Mississippi (not that the Appalachian mountains actually reach Mississippi). This provides a caveat against more simplistic explanations that whites, rural voters, and older voters favor Clinton (although all combine in Appalachia). West Virginia is an interesting case for the Democrats precisely because it used to be such a stronghold. It isn't now, and not just because Bush learned to say "clean coal" with a straight face. Don't have time to figure out why, but a big part of it is that Democrats have mostly come to realize that rural poverty isn't very fertile ground either for votes (there's less of it all the time, mostly because of population shifts -- certainly not because folks are escaping poverty) or for contributions (which should be obvious enough). We'll see proof of that soon enough, as Clinton's people try to hype her win there, and most likely will get little or no value out of it.
Tuesday, May 13. 2008
Andrew Leonard: The Peak Oil Culture Wars. Starts out from Paul Krugman's NY Times column on oil prices, specifically Krugman's note on how the conservatives are the ones atypically blaming speculators for the high prices. Then he goes on to make a point that is, I think, the linchpin to why modern American conservatism fails:
Of course, it's more than anathema. The central principle of modern American conservatism is that we all benefit when the rich get richer. This could be by trickle down, or it could simply be due to the superior moral model the rich provide -- and in any case the real trick to the equation is figuring out just who doesn't get included in that We. But in order for that logic to work at all, you have to assume that growth approaches infinity -- after all, the rich may have to get an awful lot richer before enough trickles down so that their servants become rich as well. Resource limits have the nasty effect of a positive sum game into zero sum or worse. In zero sum, one can win only at someone else's expense: hence rich and poor must inevitably struggle. And when they struggle, the outcome can easily sum up to less than zero. (This is a good part of the reason no one wins at war.)
Of the two great issues, oil depletion worries me much more than global warming. The latter is likely to take its toll indiscriminately, not least because climate is not something that can be owned. Oil, on the other hand, is something valuable that can be fought over. One big problem with conservatives is that they like to fight; moreover, they have no scruples about using force to deprive others of a resource (except, of course, when they themselves get mugged by a commoner). But oil also provides a clearer opportunity to reject conservatism and its two handmaidens: inequity and war. Or to put it equivalently: if we choose to reject inequity and war, we will necessarily reject conservatism.
If I had to bet, I'd bet against it, because I've only rarely seen lessons learned anyway but the hard way. Still, in a resource-starved, environmentally-stressed world, the options are hoarding and war on the one side, sharing on the other. Politically, that boils down to conservatism and democratic reform.
Monday, May 12. 2008
Still on the road, just stable and connected enough I can file this brief note. Should be back home by the end of the week, unless more bad things happen between now and then. Village Voice is again due to publish Jazz CG this week. Haven't heard otherwise, but also haven't heard any layout details. I've been pondering its future, given that the Voice's music editor wants to make it online only. That's probably still worth doing, although a compromise occurs to me: publish a short precis in the paper (400-800 words, whatever fits easily in their format) which then refers to the website for the full column. I haven't proposed that yet, but most likely will. Thanks to those readers who wrote in with their comments. I've been hard pressed to respond individually given the logistics here.
Haven't really been doing jazz prospecting either, but late in the week I negotiated a compromise with myself and decided to start doing some exceptionally brief notes with provisional grades just to have something to show and tell. Didn't get much done. Didn't even get out of the ECM's at the front of the case. Will try to continue in this mode as I travel this week, and promise to get to work when I get back.
Evan Parker/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Boustrophedon (2008, ECM): Large group, like those of Parker's other ECM efforts, in what sounds a bit like a revival of Globe Unity Orchestra, or maybe Barry Guy's LJCO -- Guy is present here, part of the European side of the Transatlantic Art Ensemble. The Americans are led by Roscoe Mitchell, whose large group efforts are also relevant here. Long and scattered, often ornery, the sax noise limited to alto and soprano, with clarinet and flute, trumpet (Corey Wilkes), strings (violin, viola, cello, two basses). Craig Taborn has interesting moments in piano. Not coherent enough for a tour de force, but several interesting diversions. [B+(***)]
Jacob Young: Sideways (2006 , ECM): Norwegian guitarist -- American father explains the unusual name. Previous album, Evening Falls, was an elegant HM. This one follows suit, probably the same quintet, with Mathias Eick on trumpet and Vidar Johansen on tenor sax/bass clarinet. Seems a little more subdued. [B+(*)]
Ketil Bjørnstad/Terje Rypdal: Life in Leipzig (2005 , ECM): Norwegian pianist, b. 1952, not sure how many records, but at least a dozen since 1990, some recordings since 1973; also has written 20-some books, mostly novels. Guitarist Rypdal is better known, a major figure at ECM since 1970; trends toward fusion, although he can also wax lyrical, and has produced a good deal of aural wallpaper. Duets, reprising several pieces from The Sea, a 1994 album by a quartet of the same name, a superset. Rypdal's riffs dominate the sound here in one of his more robust performances. The piano mostly adds rhythm, a fair trade. [B+(**)]
Jon Balke: Book of Velocities (2006 , ECM): Norwegian pianist, has 6 previous albums on ECM and Emarcy with groups Oslo 13, Magnetic North Orchestra, and Batagraf. This one is solo piano, 19 pieces organized into 3 Chapters and an Epilogue. Played this several times and haven't connected with it yet. Some parts are unusual sonically, and the spacing and ordering can be interesting given enough attention. [B]
Marilyn Mazur/Jan Garbarek: Elixir (2005 , ECM): Finished cover shows Mazur's name above title in white, with Garbarek's below white title in black -- a little more pecking order than my credit suggests. I'm not familiar with Mazur's previous work. I was under the impression that she's a vocalist, but there are no vocals here, and sources agree that she is primarily a percussionist, with other credits including vocalist, pianist, and dancer. She plays a wide range of percussion instruments -- the list starts with marimba and ends with various metal utensils. Her pieces are varied miniatures, some solo, most accompanied by Garbarek's tenor sax, soprano sax, or flute -- spare, elegant, often flat out gorgeous. The one record I've played in the last two weeks Laura complimented then asked me who it was. Not the first time that's happened with Garbarek. In fact, it's happened so often I had to laugh before telling her. [A-]
Marilyn Crispell: Vignettes (2007 , ECM): One of the major jazz pianists of our times, working mostly on the avant-garde, including a long run with Anthony Braxton's Quartet and numerous independent albums on obscure labels until ECM urged her to slow down and develop a quieter, more meditative side. I found her last ECM album, The Storyteller, nothing short of enchanting. This one is harder to gauge, for the obvious reason that it's solo, and as such requires too much attention span. No swing or boogie, and little noise; deliberately fragmentary, with long, chamberish lines, artfully plotted. [B+(**)]
Marcin Wasilewski Trio: January (2007 , ECM): Piano trio. Group drew first notice as three-fourths of Tomasz Stanko's "young Polish quartet." Beyond three albums with Stanko, and a couple with Manu Katché, this is the trio's second album on their own. Top line of the album also names bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz. First song is followed by a stretch of five covers: Gary Peacock, Ennio Morricone, Prince, Stanko, Carla Bley. The covers sustain the melodicism, but what really carries the album is its measured logic and attention to detail. [B+(***)]
Eri Yamamoto: Duologue (2008, AUM Fidelity): Pianist, from Japan, in NY since 1995, notably working with superbassist William Parker. Has a previous fine piano trio on AUM Fidelity, and evidently has a batch of three more 2007 albums on Jane Street that I haven't heard (haven't heard of the label either). Don't have info on this, but I gather these are duets, matching her piano with drums (Federico Ughi or Hamid Drake), bass (Parker), or sax (Daniel Carter). Each of the pieces are interesting, and they don't seem to scatter excessively, as this format is wont to do. Drake and Parker are especially worth focusing on. [B+(***)] [June 24]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
PS: Did finally hear back from the Voice. Looks like Jazz CG is a go this week. Even better, I hear they somehow managed to squeeze it all in.
Sunday, May 11. 2008
WarInContext: News & Views Roundup: May 11. Today's news seems milder than yesterday's: Hizbollah is backing out of their West Beirut seizures cutting the government some slack; something of a truce in Sadr City; an evolving relationship between US Jews and Israel. Someone's still taunting the liberal interventionists to save Burma the hard way. Frank Rich sees a clear road to victory for Obama, and Bill McKibben offers civilization one more chance.
The sudden shifts of the Siniora and Maliki governments, one day lurching aggression against militias that are more independent than oppositional (to said governments, but more clearly anathema to the US), the next day backing into wary truces, just goes to show how spasmodically the US is pulling their strings. (Helena Cobban reports that the US response to the intra-Iraqi ceasefire was to bomb Sadr City.) The Bush regime may be the last holdout on earth in their steadfast belief that force settles things. (Even Israel, which happily indulges, doesn't seem to harbor any faith about the results -- as much as anything else they do it to keep the ball moving.)
Peter S. Goodman: The Dollar: Shrinkable but (So Far) Unsinkable. More of the usual about the shrinking dollar and its increasing detachment from the norms of financial integrity.
Which is one of several reasons the world continues to indulge us. Another is that the US government (especially but not exclusively the Bush regime) serves generously as a flagship for the capitalist class worldwide, a class which retains substantial influence in many states, enough so they prefer not to embarrass their benefactor. Still, the rationalization can get out of hand:
How do you make sense of the last line? The military is the largest single drain on the US economy. It has some Keynesian value in pumping money through the system, creating jobs and cash flow, but it doesn't actually produce anything of note, and it's largely financed on credit, which immediately weakens the dollar. One thing it does generate is a lot of risk -- unexpected costs, liabilities, and ill will. No other nation at present wastes so much resource. Few throughout history have come close, and decay and/or destruction have followed those that have. Why this should vouchsafe US credit is hard to imagine.