Sunday, April 12. 2015
The big, and for that matter good, news today is Chapa, the missing beaver, returns home to Riverside Park. That Hillary Clinton chose today to launch her 2016 presidential campaign just shows she doesn't have the sort of control over the news cycle she'd like. If you want to fret about Clinton, you can start with Bill Curry: Hillary Clinton just doesn't get it: She's already running a losing campaign. Still, for me, the most interesting line was:
A couple months ago, the Koch's made news by threatening to raise just shy of $1 billion for their war on democracy in 2016. Suddenly, that doesn't look like such a daunting amount of money. And the fact is, Clinton is probably a good investment for her big-money donors -- at least compared to the sort of morons running for the Republican nomination. And while the middle class aren't likely to get much from Clinton, they're not where that $2.5 billion is coming from. Main thing they can hope for is less collateral damage in the partisan struggle between pro-growth money and the people who'd rather wreck the economy than see any of their spoils levelled down.
I've paid very little attention to the Republicans who aspire to be president. The "tea party" reaction did little more than double down on the dumbest, crudest platforms of the party, and now there is nothing left there. For example, one thing that has been popping up a lot is the idea of convening a constitutional convention to pass an amendment forbidding the federal government from running a deficit. They might as well poke their eyes out -- that's the level of self-mutilation such an amendment would produce. Clinton has nothing to offer, but at least she's not that stupid. Or take Iran: Clinton has frequently made her mark as a hawk, but she's not so delusional as to think we'd be better off rejecting negotiations with Iran that gave us every assurance we wanted.
I opposed Clinton in 2008 and I would do so again given any real chance of winning something tangible. But I don't see who else is going to raise the sort of money she can raise, and more and more it looks like that money will be needed to make it plain enough how necessary it is to beat the Republicans in 2016. I just hope to see some of that money trickle down the party ticket.
Some more scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, April 6. 2015
Music: Current count 24797  rated (+29), 404  unrated (+5).
Close enough to thirty, which is, after all, only an arbitrarily roundish number, I doubt I have any need to apologize. Or even note that the 29th record (Bradley Williams') was a double which got more plays than needed because it made for good ambiance while focusing on last night's Iran opus. Two new A- records, although if so inclined you might enjoy Leo Welch or Rae Sremmurd as much. Welch's 2014 debut, Sabgoula Voices, made a deeper impression, possibly because it came first. Christgau likes Sremm Life, but I didn't find the "party rap" as fun as advertised -- then again I didn't give it the second and third plays rap records often need. The other high B+ items are more certainly where they belong.
Two old-music A- records, too. I played the second Carter-Bradford first and had it at A-, then dialed it back when Flight for Four came in much clearer. The records show up now because I gather they've been reissued on one of Ace's labels (BGP?), but the digital copies correspond to the original Flying Dutchman LPs, so I credit them as such. If Ace -- one of the world's premier reissue companies -- wants to start sending me shit, I'll show them more respect. Rhapsody listed the Eddie Higgins album under Scott Hamilton. I always jump on unheard Hamilton, and he really shines on these standards.
Van Morrison's useless Duets got me to check up on Chris Farlowe, but I only found the one early compilation and doubt that it's as good as could be -- holes include his only UK hit single. He does have the only voice on the album that adds something to Morrison's, but evidently he didn't always have it.
I've finally made some significant progress at sorting out the many piles and baskets of CDs that made walking in my office area treacherous. I had the idea that I could put all of the Jazz CG A-/B+(***) CDs into seven of those cheap $20 CD cases -- six on a desk blocking the window behind me, one to my left for the most recent ones -- but I keep finding more such records. Plan B is to empty out two more cases that currently house especially interesting B+(**) records and fill them up with surplus B+(***). Anything graded lower goes into storage downstairs, unless it's by someone I keep in the upstairs shelves. Unless I slow down, I should make it through the rest in another week. After that, I'll be able to move around enough to install a new router and a long-planned network upgrade. The next huge mess will be sorting out the tools.
It's possible that I have enough storage now for all of the books and CDs, but I'm feeling increasing pressure to finally start weeding out the least useful items. I've never sold CDs -- I did sell off most of my vinyl when I moved from New Jersey in 1999 (a bad experience) -- so I'm inclined to start donating them (Wichita State University is interested). (I know I've threatened/promised to do this before, but this time seems likely to actually happen.) I figure I'll work on this gradually, in batches of 100 or so, and see how it feels. In deference to the efficiencies of the market, I'd consider running a private sale list if anyone wants to pick up something I'd otherwise give away. Let me know, and if there's enough interest I'll put something together.
One of the first things that should go is the hoard of music mags I've been saving up over the last fifteen years (I doubt if there's anything older than the 1999 move). One reason I kept these was that I was thinking of going back through them and extracting quotes for my long-planned music review website. It's pretty clear now that I'm never going to do that. (There may still be a site with a lot of my writing but not with that research investment.) There should be complete decade-or-longer sets of Jazz Times, Downbeat, and Cadence (except for the last year or two). Also large stacks of Wire and Blender, Signal to Noise and Mojo, and scattered other titles. I've organized everything from upstairs but that still leaves a row about eight feet long in the basement plus a large bin full of Cadence. Any (or all) of that is free to the first person who wants to haul it off. WSU isn't interested, although I may get them to post a notice for their students. (I may change my mind and keep Wire, although I stopped buying new ones several years ago.) Rolling Stone is already gone. Recycle bin is currently full of paper, but won't be picked up for another week.
I thought about driving to EMP this year, but couldn't get myself organized in time. Everyone tells me it's interesting, plus I have an ulterior motive, in that I want to track down some long estranged relatives in Washington. So I still want to make the trip sooner or later this year. Just not this week.
Did manage to knock out tweets on the new records this week. I also passed on a link to Old Time Musketry's Gather, which is on Bandcamp here. I imagine I'll do a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Draft file is currently close to 90 records.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 5. 2015
I've been groping for some handle on understanding last week's deal between the US and Iran. The deal is very good news. What it means is that certain crazy people will not pre-emptively launch a disastrous war to impose their will secured in their conviction that they represent a higher power. (Not that those people -- "neocons" in the US along with their allies in the ruling camp in Israel -- are taking this agreement lying down. They're doing everything they can to undo it, as it both admits exception to their cherished prerogative to start wars, it also normalizes one of their most successful fear-inducing bogeymen.) It also suggests that key leaders in the US may have learned something from the Bush debacle in Iraq -- even though the return of US troops to Iraq to fight ISIS shows that they haven't learned enough.
The Iran Nuclear Scare is almost precisely a repeat of the Great WMD Scare that led up to the Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003. The theat was invented largely from whole cloth, and sold on the basis of a paranoia largely rooted in Israel (where every conceivable enemy is quickly seen as Hitler reincarnate). The only possible solution was held to be regime change, and while one held hope that the Iraqi/Iranian people would rise up and throw off their oppressive regimes, the only timely way to affect that is to invade and conquer. (Fortunately, secure in the conviction that we will be greeted as liberators.)
Of course, Bush could have negotiated with Iraq in 2002-03. Iraq had allowed UN weapons inspectors full access and they were well on the way toward establishing that Iraq had none of the proscribed WMD, a finding which should have defused the crisis. But Bush wanted war, not just to save us from the threat of imaginary WMD but to show the world what US power could do, and that resistance to US power would be futile. And Bush hadn't just aimed at overthrowing Iraq: he conured up an "Axis of Evil" to serve notice to Iran (Iraq's mortal enemy) and North Korea (even more isolated from Iraq and Iran than from the US) that they would be the neocons' next target.
While the US invasion of Iraq was overwhelming, the occupation soon fell into disarray and disaster, something the US survived by playing Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds off against each other. In the end, what Iraq proved was not the invincibility of American power but how inept, corrupt, and clueless it really was. (Of course, that lesson was already available from the occupation of Afghanistan a little more than a year earlier, but disaster there unfolded more slowly, probably because Bush didn't put as much effort there.)
At the time it was widely recognized that Iran and North Korea would be more formidable military opponents than Iraq -- one widely quoted neocon line was, "anyone can go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran." Iran is much larger, with over three times as many people. Although its military struggled to a draw with Iraq over eight years in the 1980s, it hadn't been degraded after 1990 like Iraq's: it still has an air force, a navy, a substantial number of missiles which could conceivably hit US bases in the region (although not the US directly). Iran could conceivably block shipping through the Straits of Hormuz, which would greatly reduce the world supply of oil. Iran had also cultivated allies abroad -- notably Hezbollah in Lebanon -- that could conceivably retaliate against a US strike on Iran. Given all that had gone wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all that could go wrong with Iran, we are fortunate that cooler heads prevailed.
As for North Korea, the US military had even less interest in indulging neocon fantasies -- despite the fact that North Korea (alone among the Axis of Evil) actually had programs to develop nuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles (successfully testing a bomb in 2006 and twice since). Even assuming that China wouldn't come to North Korea's aid, as they did in the stalemated 1950-53 war that cost the lives of over 35,000 US soldiers, North Korea is the most thoroughly militarized and best bunkered nation on earth. Moreover, their primary threat should war start is a mass of thousands of pieces of large artillery aimed at South Korea's capital, Seoul (pop. 10 million): they could kill thousands almost instantly without bringing out the nukes.
It's worth noting that during the 1989-92 thaw when the Soviet Union broke up and Communist governments collapsed from Mongolia to Albania, the only ones that survived were the ones that had fought most directly with the US, and (aside from China) had consequently been singled out for punitive sanctions: North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. Similarly, US sanctions against Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya only served to harden those regimes. Presumably, all this experience finally weighed in for Obama as he chose to negotiate rather than continue the malign neglect that US presidents had long considered the more prudent course. Cuba is another example, but Iran has been more difficult for Obama not so much because there was ever anything to worry about in Iran's "nuclear program" as because Iran has been caught up in the neocons' ideology, the increasing Islamophobia of the "terror wars," and Israel's own calculated Holocaust anxiety.
The basic fact is that America's relationship with Iran got off on the wrong foot in 1953 and we've never had the self-consciousness to recognize that or the will to repair the damage. Iran was never officially a European colony but in the 1800s England and Russia took advantage of the weakness of the Qajar dynasty and obtained various rights and privileges at the expense of Iranian sovereignty -- for instance, an English company (BP, formerly Anglo-Iranian) was bought very cheaply exclusive rights to all the oil in Iran. After the Russian Revolution, Lenin renounced Russian interests in Iran, but the British hung on, and in the 1940s deposed the first Shah Reza Pahlavi (the first post-Qajar Shah), replacing him with his more compliant son, Reza Mohammed Pahlavi, but shifting authority (if now power) toward the Majlis -- Iran's parliament. By 1953, Mohammad Mossadeq was Prime Minister, and he had nearly unanimous support within the Majlis to confiscate British oil holdings in Iran. Mossadeq was very popular both in Iran and in America, which he had recently visited. But when Eisenhower became president, his security team (the Dulles brothers, one secretary of state, the other head of the CIA) were persuaded by the British that Iran had become a hotbed of Communist insurrection, so they set in motion a coup to overthrow Mossadeq. The result was that Mossadeq was imprisoned, the Majlis was suspended, the Shah became an absolute despot, and Anglo-Iranian's oil interests were sold to a consortium of mostly US oil companies. (For more details, see Stephen Kinzer's book, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror .)
The coup was run by a CIA operative named Kermit Roosevelt, a son of president Theodore Roosevelt. Two aspects of the story struck me as particularly telling. The atmosphere for the coup was started by staging various demonstrations in Tehran, and for the counter-demonstrations Roosevelt mostly bribed local imams -- one of the first instances of CIA alliances with Muslim clergy. The second was that when Mossadeq realized he was in trouble, he went to the US embassy hoping his American friends would help him, when in fact they were running the coup. (Under Truman the US had not infrequently leaned against British efforts to restore their prewar empire.)
Of course, the US was delighted by the post-coup Shah, and didn't even mind when he finally did what Mossadeq had set out to and nationalized Iranian oil. (He did, after all, sell the oil through American companies, and had no qualms about selling oil to Israel.) The Shah bought weapons from the US and built a vicious police state which suppressed all opposition -- the communists, socialists, liberals, and just as well conservative clergy like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who went into exile in 1964 after denouncing a "status of forces agreement" which would give US soldiers stationed in Iran immunity from Iranian law.
The Shah became an increasingly hated figure in Iran and was deposed by massive street demonstrations in 1979. At the time the Shah fled, the revolution was a broad coalition of left and right, but after Khomeini returned he was able to consolidate power in the clergy, largely based on his longstanding critique of the Shah as an American puppet. At this point many Americans were delighted to see the Shah deposed, but the relationship between Americans and the revolution turned sour after Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to take refuge in the US. Remembering Mossadeq's folly at the US embassy in 1953, a group of Iranian "students" seized the embassy and held 52 Americans hostage there for over a year. (They were released immediately after Ronald Reagan became president. It is widely believed that the Reagan campaign, fearing an "October surprise," secretly negotiated with Iran to keep the hostages until after the 1980 election.)
The US was alternately upset at losing its client and influence and at its own impotence at securing the return of its diplomats. Khomeini, for his part, found it useful to blame the US both for the Shah and for Iran's post-revolution isolation. Khomeini caused further problems in attempting to exploit his notoriety for standing up to the US (the "great satan" rhetoric comes from this period) to export Iran's revolution elsewhere in the Middle East -- notably to Saudi Arabia, and more effectively to Lebanon, torn up by its own civil war. The US, meanwhile, rallied its Sunni clients around the Persian Gulf against Iran, and they largely bankrolled Iraq's war against Iran. That war lasted from 1980-88, with horrendous losses on both sides, but especially to Iran.
Carter had previously declared the Persian Gulf as a strategic interest of the US and started building bases around the Gulf. US troops occasionally clashed with Iran: shooting down a civilian airliner, attacking an offshore Iranian oil rig. Under Reagan, the US sold arms to Iran via Israel (embarrassingly, and illegally, what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal), then tilted toward Iraq and sold arms to Saddam Hussein. After the Iran-Iraq War, oil prices tanked and Iraq was pressed to repay war debt to Kuwait. Hussein answered by invading Kuwait, but was ejected in 1990 by a multinational force led by the US, with Syria an ally and Iran a supportive non-combatant. Since then the US and Iran have often had their interests in the region align, but the US was unable to let go of past affronts -- let alone to own up to its own past transgressions.
From Independence Day (1948), Israel pursued a strategy to ally with non-Arabs against Arabs throughout the Middle East. This led to close relationships with Turkey and Iran as well as subversive support for Marionites in Lebanon and Kurds in Iraq. After the revolution, Israel continued to enjoy a close relationship with Iran, which even extended to bombing Iraq's nuclear center during the Iraq-Iran War, and acting as a conduit for American arms under Iran-Contra. After the 1990 Gulf War, Iraq ceased to be a serious threat to Israel, so Israel cast about and decided that Iran would work as an existential threat to justify maintaining the high level of Israeli militarism. The main reason Iran worked was that American officials were already primed to view Iran as a renegade and enemy. As it happens, Iran had started a fledgling nuclear program with US support under the Shah, so Israel could point to the reactor project as a development path toward nuclear weapons. From there it was a short step to the equation: Islamic fanaticism + nuclear weapons = Judeocide.
Israeli leaders started projecting that Iran was five years or less away from testing a nuclear bomb as early as 1996. That it has never happened -- that Iran has disavowed any intention of developing nuclear bombs, that Iran continues to belong to the NPT, that IAEA inspectors have never shown any evidence of bomb development, that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa declaring that nuclear bombs are contrary to Islam -- has never led Israel to tone down its hysteria, nor has it phased the credulity of American politicians, often shameless in their devotion to all things Israeli.
Moreover, if anything the level of Israeli hysteria jumped a notch when Netanyahu became Prime Minister in 2009. At that time Obama gave former Senator George Mitchell the task of negotiating a peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- something Netanyahu could not possibly be bothered with discussing as long as Israel was at the mercy of Iranian bombsights (although Netanyahu had plenty of time to plan more illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank). And now that there is a deal which ensures that Israel will never be threatened by the prospect of an Iranian bomb, Netanyahu is pulling out stops in his haste to scuttle the deal. It seems that the only thing Netanyahu fears more than Iran developing nuclear weapons is Iran signing a detailed, verifiable deal that precludes any possibility of developing nuclear weapons and which ends the isolation and hostility that has pushed Iran into such a defensive posture that there seemed to be a need for nuclear deterrence.
It's as if Israel's worst fear is living in a world where it has no existential enemies, except perhaps living in a world where Jews and non-Jewish Arabs enjoy equal rights and justice. The great irony of the deal is that Obama seems to have taken Israel's concerns so literally that he held out and wore Iran down until the point where he could deliver the most ironclad assurance to Israel possible. Indeed, the deal is so strong it's hard not to see any opponent of the deal as a completely bonkers warmonger -- an interesting trap for Netanyahu and for the Republicans who instinctively assume that anything Obama would agree to must be weak-kneed appeasement.
The more interesting question is why would Iran agree to such restrictions on rights they regard as their under the NPT, rights that many other nations are clearly allowed. (Germany and Japan, for instance, have such extensive nuclear facilities and know how that their "breakout" time is unlikely to be more than a few months.) One is that Iran's leader must realize that while having the skills and know how to build a bomb may offer some prestige, the weapons themselves are effectively unusable, so giving them up is hardly a sacrifice. One might argue that nuclear weapons mean deterrence against foreign attack, but Iran's most threatening enemies are Israel and the US, and Iran has no hope of winning an arms race with either. (Pakistan and India came close to a fourth war in 2002. The fact that both had demonstrated nuclear weapons by then may have contributed to the cool down, but so did other factors like the chilling effect war would have had on foreign investment. South Africa developed nuclear weapons but they turned out to be useless against their own beleaguered majority, let alone against world opinion. Israel's nuclear weapons may have ended any hopes by neighboring Arab countries of ending Israel's existence, but by the time they became public knowledge Egypt was suing for peace and Syria had no hopes without Egyptian support.)
It's also possible that Iran's interest in nuclear power has waned, particularly has oil prices have dropped and the popularity of nuclear power in Japan and Germany has plummeted -- right now only India seems to be particularly bullish on nuclear power. That leaves things like medical isotopes as something Iran can continue to work on -- a mere fig leaf for all the investment, but ending sanctions and normalizing relations and trade is worth much more, especially in the short term. Indeed, given the intransigence the US has displayed in perpetuating its view of its enemies, one has to wonder what else Iran could have created to trade for normalcy. The costs to Iran of sanctions have been great, but the costs to the US from isolating Iran -- mostly slightly higher oil costs and extra defense spending, both of which have influential political beneficiaries in the US -- have been trivial.
Some Iran links:
If I had the time, I could probably dig up many more links -- e.g., Philip Weiss: The epic season of spinning the Iran deal begins!, Gareth Porter: Iran Won Upfront Sanctions Relief, but With Potential Snags, Rachel Shabi: Poof! There goes Netanyahu's Iran bogeyman (ever hear of the "Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis"?), Paul Waldman: The Insane Logic Underlying Republican Opposition to the Iran Deal, Josh Marshall: The Emerging GOP War Platform.
Monday, March 30. 2015
Music: Current count 24768  rated (+33), 399  unrated (-10).
Average week, but the mix below is a little peculiar. I've been trying to declutter. I have these 13x15.75-inch Stearlite plastic baskets that hold two rows of CDs, about 75-80 total. Back when Jazz CG was jumping, I used two baskets to hold the incoming queue, and sorted them somewhat, so one basket had a row of unpromising shit and a row of vocals, while the other basket had instrumental jazz, sometimes sorted further but more often not. Under this scheme the unpromising shit almost never got touched, so most of it still dates from before the initial sort -- 2011 or 2012, maybe even 2010. Sometime last year I started filing the vocals with the new jazz. Couple weeks ago I merged the baskets, so now I have one basket, with the row of the old unpromising shit on the left and everything else on the right. Under this scheme I've finally started to deplete the left(over) row, and you'll see a fair amount of 2008-10 "new" releases below. Some are not as bad as I expected -- Chris Massey, Project Trio, Times 4, Bossa Brasil -- but none (so far) are things I'm ever likely to want to play again.
Some of the incentive for running through this queue is to get them out of my sight. After I play them, if they are graded B+(**) or less and are by someone I don't have a serious interest in (by definition, for the "unpromising shit" row), then go into another basket. When that basket fills up, I haul it downstairs and empty it into an unsorted shelf unit full of similar records that I can't imagine ever wanting to play again. (These are not necessarily "bad" records -- by definition, anything B+ is actually pretty good, but it's all relative. Unless I'm travelling or something, I almost never play as many as ten previously graded records in a week -- for pleasure or nostalgia or whatever. In a house with, conservatively, ten thousand CDs, well, you do the math.)
When that downstairs shelf unit fills up -- actually, it's the last of three with open space -- I'll be in a quandry. When I moved to Kansas in 1999 I sold off 90% of my LPs for a pittance (35-cents apiece), more to avoid the shipping costs than for what little money I made. I've never sold surplus CDs -- in part because the only decent used stores here shut down long ago -- but I imagine it would wind up being the same miserable experience. I could build more shelves, but I'm running out of space, not to mention patience. Best idea I've come up with is to donate the surplus to a local library. I took a step and contacted Wichita State University last week. Getting cold feet now, but I do need to do something. My main goal over the next month or so is to get rid of all the baskets on the floor except for my one incoming queue. (Looking around, I count nine, plus a couple hundred CDs in front of other CDs in a bookcase. Also need to get several piles of books off the floor.) I'm not exactly a hoarder, but I do have too much shit.
One cluster of exceptional records here comes from Robert Christgau's Expert Witness last week: The Paranoid Style and The Close Readers, two groups I had never heard of -- indeed, their 2013-14 records never appeared in my metacritic files. I sorted the Paranoid Style's EP a bit differently, but remarkable finds.
No less obscure is my jazz pick, Gabriel Amargant. My new jazz queue got very short before some late-week mail game in, so I was scrounging around for some new jazz on Rhapsody. It's been several years since I received whole batches of Fresh Sound New Talent releases, but I've been finding them fairly reliably on Rhapsody, and I've checked out a few names I'm familiar with, but Amargant was a total unknown to me. Still, with nothing else obvious to choose, I looked him up and was blown away. Reminds me that when I did get whole batches, about half of the releases were Spanish artists and I found a fair number of worthwhile records there -- still, few as good as this one.
The other A- this week is by Courtney Barnett. An Australian, she got a fair amount of attention for her "Double EP" compilation last year, A Sea of Split Peas (finished 59th in Pazz & Jop). Still, this first real album is a huge leap forward. For whatever it's worth, I also came real close to giving Action Bronson an A-. I finally backed off because I have a hard time following rap lyrics, especially on computer, and I suspect he's something of an asshole. I could be wrong, and sometimes the music overcomes my doubts. But after three plays, the lower grade felt right.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 29. 2015
No Weekend Roundup this week. Got distracted with what follows, and time got away from me. But if I had the time, the thing to focus on this week is Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen. This isn't the first time -- Saudi Arabia and Egypt were fighting in Yemen in the mid-1960s -- but they've never been this overt about it (possibly because Egypt seems to be on their side this time). The US should be appalled, expecially since it's being done with US-manufactured armaments. The UN should condemn this blatant aggression, sanction all countries contributing to war in Yemen, and try to arrange a democratic resolution between the eleven distinct armed groups vying for power there. And needless to say, if democracy is the goal, Saudi Arabia and Egypt cannot be the solution.
When I started writing this blog, I would include more or less short notes whenever I saw a movie, along with grades, but at some point I stopped doing so. I still have some rough notes in my scratch file for movies that date back to 2011-12 (Hugo: B+; The Skin I Live In: B+; The Lincoln Lawyer: A-; Source Code: B+). It seems like we see fewer movies each year. Four independent theaters have closed since we moved to Wichita in 1999, leaving us with Bill Warren's monopoly, and Warren got rid of an older theater that he used for relatively arty films -- said he was looking for a "higher use" for the property and wound up selling it to a church. At the time he promised he'd keep showing those films in his other theaters "because his wife liked them," but within a year he divorced her, too. We also haven't rented movies since moving here -- a fairly regular occurrence when we had a store around the corner in Boston. We've been watching more TV series, but not many films on TV.
I wrote a long post about American Sniper the other day, but didn't wrap it up in a capsule review, so I thought I'd do that here, and round it out with the rest of the little we saw from 2014. I also went back and checked for releases in 2012 and 2013. I would have guess that the number of movies I've seen last year was down, but I came up with 20 in 2014, only 18 in 2013, and 20 in 2012. I can remember back in Boston it seems like we must have seen one or more per week, but those days are long gone. These are collected from various annual release lists, so may well be incomplete -- it's also possible that my memory is fading
The Lego Movie (Feb. 1): Animated, got rather amazing hype when it came out. Lots of famous actor-voices, with Will Ferrell as the villain, Lord Business. I suppose there is a lesson there about capitalism, which I might have appreciated more had not everything else been so annoying. C+
300: Rise of an Empire (Mar. 4): Sequel to 2007 film 300 (which I haven't seen), based on ancient Greek war legends as Sparta and/or Athens battles Persia, tied to an unpublished Frank Miller graphic novel which raises everyone and every thing to the level of war porn. Of course, as porn I enjoyed Eva Green (Artemisia) much more than Sullivan Stapleton (Themistocles), even though with the fate of civilization at stake she was consigned to the wrong side. [TV] B-
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Mar. 6): Wes Anderson movie, based on various writings by Stefan Zweig, mostly set before and during WWII, told through flashbacks from much later. The hotel appears to be not in Budapest but somewhere in the Austrian Alps -- at least in some mountains somewhere in Central Europe. Remarkably deep cast; Oscar wins for production design, costume design, makeup and hair. Quite a story too. [Saw it a second time on TV] A-
Noah (Mar. 10): Bible epic from Darren Aronofsky, although it could have come from one of those graphic novels, especially as the "Watchers" take over. God destroys the world, but the decision as to whether mankind should expire seems to be Noah's, and he's in a foul mood. Happy ending, of course. [TV] B-
Ida (May 2): Polish movie, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, about a sheltered orphan girl raised in a convent from WWII seeking insight into her past. Turns out her parents were Jewish, killed by a farmer who hid her in a convent. More interesting is her aunt, a lawyer who joins the search, and pays a terrible price. In black and white, slow and heavy. [TV] B+
Belle (May 2): The story of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, the daughter of a British Captain Sir John Lindsay and an enslaved African woman in the West Indies, adopted in 1765 and raised as a "free gentlewoman" by Linday's uncle, William Murray, Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice (a perfect role for Tom Wilkinson), who eventually writes a key legal ruling that advances the cause of abolition. A-
Boyhood (June 11): Richard Linklater film, shot over 12 years as its principal subject (played by Ellar Coltrane) grows up from six to eighteen, from first grade to leaving home for college, and less closely follows his sister (a couple years older), mother (Patricia Arquette's Oscar role), estranged father (Ethan Hawke, who was evidently absent for most of the previous six years but takes a consistent interest here). Several ill-chosen stepfathers come and go, which provides most of the stress and strain. It all seems rather eventful and remarkable compared, say, to my own life, but also quite ordinary, which is the charm. I left hoping they had shot enough extra footage to craft a Girlhood starring older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Otherwise this will remain unique. A
Snowpiercer (June 27): Directed by Joon-ho Bong from a French graphic novel, depicts a future dystopia where the class system is rigidly stratified from the back to the front of a train endlessly racing through frozen wastes. The oppressed masses in the back revolt and try to seize the master in the front. The class analysis became more interesting in retrospect once the action subsided. [TV] B
The Hundred-Foot Journey (August 8): Lasse Hallström food film, with Helen Mirren running a Michelin-star restaurant in the south of France, Indian emigre patriarch Om Puri setting up shop across the street, his son (Manish Dayal) developing into a chef good enough for Mirren to poach, and Charlotte Le Bon as intermediary. The food itself is a little over-the-top, and the story is a bit pat, but both are easy to enjoy. B+
A Most Wanted Man (July 25): Film of a John Le Carré novel starring the late Philip Seymour Hofman as a dissheveled German spy chief, who finds and attempts to use a Chechen refugee to trap a Muslim philanthropist into disclosing a financial conduit to a terrorist organization. The CIA gets involved, turning all of Hofman's reassurances into lies. With Le Carré the fiasco may be the point, but one still expects more of the world within movies. B
Magic in the Moonlight (July 25): Woody Allen movie, with Colin Firth as a illusionist/sceptic who's not skeptical enough, and Emma Stone as a charlatan and love interest. Suffers from some of the worst philosophizing of Allen's career -- reminiscent of his earliest movies but less funny. I wouldn't have minded so much, but Laura went beyond hating this and spent the second half heckling. B
Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Aug. 27): Oscar-winning movie by Alejandro Iñárritu, about an actor (Michael Keaton), a big star in Hollywood playing a cartoon superhero ("Birdman") seeking to salvage his acting credentials by staging a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. Problems ensue, including a scene-stealing co-star (Edward Norton) and the vow of a critic (played by Lindsay Duncan) to pan the opening. Many continuous pan shots turn the theater into a labyrinth, adding to the claustrophobia. Even more annoying were the frequent lapses into fantasy or magic -- Keaton levitating, smashing objects, quarrelling with his Birdman alter-ego. At the climax of his opening, Keaton takes a real gun instead of the stage prop and kills himself -- the ending the movie seemed to be aiming at -- but not even that came off right: we find out that he merely shot his nose off, and that the critic came around for the guy willing to spill his own blood for art. Then he jumps out the hospital window and flies away -- I suppose as Birdman repossesses him. Not without its virtues -- Emma Stone's supporting role is one -- but pretty full of shit. B
Nightcrawler (Sept. 5): Jake Gyllenhaal plays a crook and self-help devotee who finds his calling in shooting gory video at car wrecks and crime scenes -- he's advised, "if it bleeds, it leads" -- and selling it to news broadcasters. He then finds that he can get even more sensational footage by orchestrating the events -- in particular, he stages a shootout between cops and home invaders he tracked down. Creepy. B+
The Imitation Game (Sept. 27): Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing (mathematician, cryptanalyst, a major figure in the development of computer science), focusing on his work during WWII in breaking Germany's Enigma encryption codes, but extending from grade school to his arrest for homosexuality in 1952 and death in 1954. The latter events were ghastly by any standards, and they make Turing a martyr, but the film plays this up in all sorts of perverse ways, making Turing appear more dysfunctional and stranger than he actually was, distorting his work, and consigning his colleagues at Bletchley to the sidelines, cheering or (more often) booing as he solves all the problems single-handedly. (See Wikipedia's section on "Accuracy" -- the longest I've ever seen.) Keira Knightley has a nice supporting role, again riddled with inaccuracies but something the movie could have used more of. B-
Gone Girl (Oct. 3): David Fincher film of a bestselling novel which Laura and virtually all of her friends had read. Rosamund Pike plays the wicked wife who frames her husband, played by Ben Afleck, for her murder, and he's guilty enough the charges have some traction. Of course, a body would help, but she loses nerve and doesn't go through with her planned suicide. Instead, she returns to a former boyfriend, finds him a bore, murders him, and passes it off as self-defense. Many times you see a movie and leave wondering what happens next, but with these people it's impossible to care (and probably ridiculous to boot). B+
Inherent Vice (Oct. 4): Paul Thomas Anderson film of a Thomas Pynchon novel, set in southern California in the 1970s, with close to a dozen odd characters improbably interconnected in multiple ways -- all that looping back has a whiff of conspiracy, but my brief familiarity with Pynchon (V. is my all-time favorite novel; I failed to get through Gravity's Rainbow but still intend to finish it some day) suggests that's just the way the world is wired. Doesn't feel like a great movie, but a persistently interesting one. A-
St. Vincent (Oct. 24): Bill Murray plays a surly Vietnam Vet -- smokes, drinks, gambles, has a wife with Alzheimer's in a nursing home he can't afford and a Russian prostitute (Naomi Watts) in his bed when he can; otherwise he's just a dirtbag and asshole, until he reluctantly befriends a neighbor kid (starting with a scam for babysitting money). The kid goes to Catholic school, and evidently the only thing they teach there is saints, so when he get an assignment to write up "a real-life saint" he does some research and settles on Murray. Probably the best scene is when some mobsters try to shake him down for money he has a stroke and creeps them out. What creeped me out was the sanctimoniousness over his Vietnam "service." B-
American Sniper (Nov. 11): Clint Eastwood's Iraq War film traces the path of Chris Kyle from good-hearted Texas simpleton to serial killer but gets caught up in the action sequences, leaving us with only the sketchiest sense of how he played his "legend" into postwar fame and fortune, or even how he got martyred as an advocate for the therapeutic value of shooting guns for the mentally ill. Sienna Miller reminds us that wives can be forgiving as well as hysterical. Bradley Cooper plays Kyle partly as modest stoic and partly as action junkie, clearly preferring the hunt to his home life, not that he has the critical facilities to question any convention. That any Iraqis emerge with more dimensions than paper targets is due to the scriptwriter's fabrications, but even they turn out to be clichés, and even more absent is any hint of the thinking that made American soldiers arbiters of life and death in that miserable country. I could imagine someone making a mirror movie from the sniper Mustapha's viewpoint, with all that discipline and craft ending as his head explodes from Kyle's distant shot, but who in America would pay to see such a thing? We'd rather be fed the self-adulatory pablum this picture delivers. Still, it's sad that the only pride America can take from this war is the efficacy of its assassins. B-
Selma (Nov. 11): Daniel Oyelowo does a fine job as Martin Luther King as the SCLC moved into Selma, Alabama to campaign for voting rights in 1965, and great care was taken in the casting of the many others who made up the movement, including the tensions between SCLC and SNCC. The white violence against the marchers was also palpable (although several incidents were merely mentioned). On the other hand, I was constantly irritated by how far portrayals of major political figures strayed from my own vivid memories from the day: especially Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon Johnson and Tim Roth as George Wallace. (I was more forgiving of Dylan Baker, who often plays psychotic killers, as J. Edgar Hoover, although the resemblance was equally remote.) One could have made a stronger point that the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which came from demonstrations in Selma, coincides with recent Republican moves to gut the Act and once again to deny poorer Americans the right to vote. B+
I suppose it wouldn't hurt to include 2015 (to date):
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Feb. 26): Two or three storyline threads stretch our favorite Indian hotelier, Sonny Kapoor (played by Dev Patel) way past the breaking point, but this is saved by the same thing that saved its predecessor: it's a marvelous showcase for venerable British actors and actresses -- Bill Nighy and Ronald Pickup have the most to do sorting out their love lives, and Penelope Wilton makes a brief show for a trailer laugh. On the downside, it seems like they spent a lot of time at the end trying to kill Maggie Smith off, then couldn't do it. Ends inevitably with a big Bollywood dance. B
Movies I didn't see but would have liked to:
For a baseline, I went through the 2013 film list. Just wrote down grades (and can't guarantee my memory is perfect there).
Time prevents me from going back further. One last statistical check is for how many A/A- records in each year: 2014: 4; 2013: 6; 2012: 5. Down last year, but not much more than random chance.
Friday, March 27. 2015
I finally got around to seeing Clint Eastwood's American Sniper film yesterday. It took me so long mostly because my wife, who usually picks the films we see, wanted no part of it: I had to go alone, something I hadn't done since I caught the "last chance" showing of Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In in 2011. I didn't argue very hard. Everything I had read suggested that the movie has many problems and few virtues. More importantly, I read Nicholas Schmidle's profile of the sniper in question, Chris Kyle (In the Crosshairs), so I had a pretty good idea what the story was going to be. The only question was whether director Clint Eastwood might add some nuance and conflict that Kyle doesn't seem to have ever grasped. But after Eastwood's senior moment at the GOP convention, and given his occasional infatuation with American jingoism, that wasn't guaranteed.
It turns out that the movie is remarkably compressed (despite a 2:20 running time). It starts with what became the trailer, a scene with Kyle on a rooftop in Fallujah contemplating shooting a child and/or his mother as armored vehicles inch down a rubble-strewn street with US soldiers methodically going house-to-house, kicking doors in. He ultimately kills both, but before the shots are fired, the scene is interrupted for a little background.
We see a pre-teen Kyle hunting with his father, and fighting with schoolkids. At the family dinner table, his father explains that there are three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs, who protect the sheep from the wolves -- Kyle's worldview in a nut shell. Grown up, Kyle rides bulls and broncs in a rodeo. Then, after a news report of a terror attack he signs up for the Navy Seals. We then get many scenes of sadistic basic training, a bar break where he picks up a wife, intense sniper training, 9/11, and his first tour in Iraq, where his first kills were that child and mother.
The bulk of the film recounts his four tours in Iraq, each staged with an intense action sequence, separated by brief returns home as his family grows. Two of the action sequences involve talking to his wife on the phone, so she gets in on the war experience. As a sniper, Kyle lurks patiently on rooftops and in buildings, surveying the war calmly, methodically picking off "bad guys." But over time he seeks more action, so he joins in on clearing buildings, and is close by as two of his closest buddies get shot (one killed instantly, the other survived but was blinded and died in a later surgery).
The action intensifies, with the final battle ultimately won by Mother Nature as a sandstorm engulfed Sadr City. That was the one where he made an "impossibly long shot" to kill his nemesis, a notorious Syrian sniper, only to have his building surrounded by swarming enemies with AK-47s -- the intense action interrupted by a call to the wife to tell her he's "ready to come home now." Of course, the crowds ate it up. The postwar scenes were anticlimactic: at first he showed signs of PTSD, but they fade away as he dedicates his life to helping other veterans. He takes one multiple-amputee to the shooting range, and when the disabled vet hits the target, he announces that he feels like he got his balls back. Salvation through shooting becomes Kyle's cause. In the last scene, he gets into a truck with another PTSD-damaged vet. Then the movie cuts to black, revealing that the vet murdered Kyle that day. The movie ends with footage of Kyle's funeral, and indeed it is touching. Just not clear for what.
The film is based on Kyle's autobiography, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, written with two co-authors. The book came out in 2012 and was a bestseller before his death in 2013, and has sold many more copies (more than 1.2 million) since. The movie doesn't show anything about Kyle's post-Navy business or how the book and his self-promotion affected his life. The movie doesn't bring up Kyle's claim to have shot looters after Hurricane Katrina from atop the Superdome, or his story about "punching out Scruff Face" -- Jesse Ventura, who successfully sued Kyle's estate for libel (see Nicholas Schmidle: The Ventura Verdict).
This would be a good time to quote Wikipedia's paragraph on "Historical accuracy":
"The Butcher" is an "Al-Qaeda enforcer" who is shown attacking a child -- the son of a "sheik" who gave info to Americans after Kyle's team broke into his house -- with a drill. He is killed in the firefight after the scene with the weapons stash. Mustafa is an enemy sniper -- an Olympic-winning marksman from Syria who appears at least three times in the movie, becoming a personal obsession for Kyle. Kyle kills him with his 2100-yard long shot, as part of the climactic battle scene.
In other words, each and every significant encounter Kyle has with any Iraqi was invented for dramatic effect. (Presumably at least some of the anonymous, long-distance sniper kills come from the book. Kyle was credited with 160 kills. The movie shows maybe a dozen.) No doubt the fiction adds to the movie's drama. Perhaps it also whitewashes the US war effort, but Kyle was never more than a small cog in the military machine -- his rank after four tours was Chief Petty Officer, basically a sergeant -- and his approach to the war was so simplistic you hardly expect anything more: kill "bad guys"! Who are the "bad guys"? The ones who are trying to kill you.
One of Donald Rumsfeld's most indelible one-liners was that "you go to war with the army you have, not necessarily the one you want." The actual army that Kyle belonged to is defined simply: they are trained to be extraordinarily lethal, when deployed they are very focused on their own self-defense, and their primary defense strategy is to be as aggressive as possible. No one in Kyle's army questions why they are in Iraq. No one doubts their right to be where they are or go where they want. And everyone is deeply affronted any time they meet any form of resistance. No one recognizes that other points of view are possible. For Kyle, in particular, everyone he kills is evil; if not, he wouldn't have killed them. The whole movie, from the sheepdog story on, is testament to Kyle's moral certainty, and the tearful funeral excess just serves to elevate his moral certainty to the nation as a whole. And that's why the movie elicits such a solemn reaction from a certain kind of American: the one who believes that America is the greatest nation in the world, so great that the rest of the world can (or should) prostrate itself at our feet.
Nothing in the movie gives you a chance to question either the politics or the wisdom of Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, let alone the wider trajectory of US involvement in the region. Even though most of the movie takes place in a foreign land, it never leaves an American mindset. For that reason it works as propaganda: even without explicit lies it reaffirms the war by not questioning it. What makes that worse is that the trajectory of understanding the Iraq war started to change with the Surge in 2007. The early period, 2003-04, was eventually viewed as an unmitigated disaster, but that boiled down to three things:
It's hard to remember that when Bush et al. conjured up this war, even though they led with the fear card, they tried to present the war like we'd be doing the Iraqis one big favor. That sentiment was one of the first casualties of the war. There's an old joke that goes: it's hard to remember that your mission was to drain the swamp when you're ass-deep in alligators. In the early days, Iraq was seen as an epic adventure in nation building. In the end, it's no more than alligator killing, which is probably why the SEALs are the last soldiers standing tall.
Moreover, the worldview has changed. Early in the War on Terror, the "bad guys" were few: the religious fanatics of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Baathist elites of Iraq and Syria, a few others -- as much oppressors of their own people as enemies of the US. However, it turns out that the US was never "greeted as liberators" -- that everywhere the US bombed turned into enemy territory. That should have led us to question our entire approach, indeed who we are, but not being capable of introspection, we've changed out view of them instead. Looking at the US response to ISIS, even we can imagine no upside: just a long slog of killing a neverending supply of "bad guys," because once we enter a region, practically everyone turns into "bad guys."
Of course, if you're not entranced by this latest, most vicious twist on "the American religion," it's possible to view American Sniper differently. It is a celebration of a cold blooded killer, but it also details his descent into PTSD, as he turns into someone his wife at one point says she no longer recognizes. Kyle at least saves himself by doubling down on the militaristic pietism that made him rich and famous, but he is surrounded by other vets who can't make that work -- including the one who killed him. It takes an extraordinary amount of empathy to watch this movie and conclude that the war has been disastrous for Iraqi families, even though there are scenes that show just that. But it should be easier to see how expensive the toll on American lives has been, whether you do or do not accord any special value to the lives of soldiers. Kyle should be viewed as a tragic figure in American history. He sure is no hero.
 Some links from previous posts:
We can add a few more:
One more thought about the movie. One thing that is loosely implied is that Kyle got a perverse satisfaction out of sniping, at least for a while. Bradley Cooper plays Kyle as exceptionally modest -- lots of other characters dub him "The Legend" and offer other accolades, but Kyle mostly sloughs them off. Even though he's always teamed with a spotter, sniping is patient and methodical work, not something full of adrenaline rushes. But as he goes from tour to tour, he keeps getting drawn back for more and more -- although he never articulates it, there is something to sniping that he never experienced before and that once he experienced it would be missing from his life. It reminded me of a remarkable interview in the second season of The Fall, where serial killer Paul Prescott explains the intense sensation of living that he feels when he kills someone. Of course, Prescott killed far fewer people than Kyle, and did so furtively against the law whereas Kyle was on his government's payroll -- the difference was that Kyle never had to hide what he was doing -- but both were similar in the meticulous, artful way they set up and dispatched their victims. (You can find a summary of the episode here, although it skips the part I'm referring to.)
Monday, March 23. 2015
Music: Current count 24735  rated (+34), 409  unrated (-11).
Eighteen records below come from Rhapsody. I played Kendrick Lamar and Modest Mouse three times: one clicked, the other did not. I see that Christgau has given Modest Mouse six A- grades plus a relatively long ungraded review (not in his Dean's List so presumably B+ or less). I have them with four A- records (including the one Christgau missed), so I'm less of a fan but not unable to tune into their shade of alt. This one just strikes me as real patchy.
Also played Vijay Iyer three times, also on the computer because ECM -- once the best-bankrolled label in jazz -- has lately gotten cheap. I'm often hard pressed to explain why I like some piano trios and less so others (unless there's a lot of crashing involved, often the case with Irène Schweizer or Satoko Fujii), but I usually know (as I did with Iyer's two previous albums with this trio) but this time I didn't. I'm a bit bothered that in recent lists both Jason Gubbels and Chris Monsen -- two critics who usually line up very closely with me -- picked Break Stuff as among the best jazz albums so far this year, and I'm always aware that listening on the computer is far from ideal. But I feel like I gave Iyer a fair shot, and besides I have a bigger disagreement with Gubbels and Monsen: Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls, number 3 and 1 respectively, a record I dislike far more than the B+(*) I gave it suggests. Iyer and Mahanthappa have huge reputations I mostly agree with (in my database, Iyer has 10 A- grades and Mahanthappa has 5, plus each has one full A). Otherwise I scoured the lists for records I hadn't heard (6/16 from Gubbels, 2/6 Monsen). Checked out DRKWAV and Makaya McCraven from Gubbels list, and have them at B+(***).
More surprising for me is that only one of the eleven jazz albums on my 2015 A-list is on either list: Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (my #1, #2 on Gubbels). The others:
I expect most of them will get there eventually. One curious thing about this list is that all of my A-list jazz has come actual CDs (some in curious advance packaging), and none from Rhapsody or downloads. (All four of my non-jazz A-list records are from Rhapsody.) I've rated 19 jazz records this year based on a computer source: 6 ***, 7 **, 4 *, 1 B, 2 B-. The grade breakdown for physical jazz CDs: 11 A-, 22 ***, 29 **, 21 *, 12 B, 3 B- -- similar curve aside from the shutout at the top. One might conclude I'm susceptible to bribes. Maybe I just tend to appreciate the effort. Or maybe there's a selection effect, where people send me things I'm more likely to like (and skip things I'm more likely to dis). Or maybe it's just the speakers and the audio quality.
Robert Christgau's 2014 Dean's List has finally appeared at BN Review. He came up with 63 records, for some reason omitting Steve Reich's Radio Rewrite (rated A- on Jan. 30, same date as two other list items) and Angola Soundtrack 2 (A- on Mar. 13, same date as Aby Ngana Diop). Only one record on the list hasn't been reviewed in Expert Witness: Sunny Sweeney's Provoked. He offers some excuses for the shorter-than-usual list -- he's come up with close to 90 in recent full-employment years, and slacked off toward 60 during a previous CG hiatus -- then concludes: "Maybe the field is thinning out, or maybe the downtick is a blip." My own experience was that I came up with an all-time record 170+ A-list albums released in 2014, so I can only conlcude that the music is there if you have the time and tenacity to dig it out. The industry's bottom line may suck, but there's no evidence that lack of incentive is keeping musicians from making good music. And with streaming, more music is probably accessible to more people than ever before.
On the other hand, I can't say anything hopeful about incentives for writing about music.
Another deadline snuck up on me, so no Twitter reviews this week.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 22. 2015
The top story of last week's news cycle was Israel's elections for a new parliament (Knesset). Many people hoped that the voters would finally dispose of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but in the last minutes "Bibi" swung hard to the racist right and wound up with a six-seat plurality, mostly at the expense of small parties nominally to the right of Likud. That still leaves Netanyahu only half way to forming a new Knesset majority coalition, but few observers see that as a problem, although it probably means further concessions to the "religious" parties -- Shas, United Torah, etc. Best place to start reading about this is Richard Silverstein: Israeli Election Post-Mortem: Rearranging the Deck Chairs:
Some other links on Israel:
Weiss also quotes the Zionist Camp activist Yaniv as saying "We need a Mandela." The problem is more like Israel can't even come up with a De Clerk. (Arguably Yitzhak Rabin auditioned for the part, but he couldn't deliver, partly because he didn't face the demographics and worldwide ostracism white South Africa faced, and partly because he got killed before he could rise to the situation -- if indeed he could.) Still, nobody remembers De Clerk as a great man, partly because his hands were plenty dirty before he relinquished power, partly because Mandela took the glory when he showed such grace and dignity in assuming power.
Still, Israel's situation isn't exactly analogous to De Clerk's. It's not that the Apartheid metaphor isn't applicable. If anything, Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is more rigorous, terrifying, and dehumanizing than anything South Africa did. And it's only a matter of time until most of the world sees Israel's Occupation as a gross affront to human rights, peace, and justice, and takes action to isolate and ostracize Israel. But the demographics will never be equivalent: whites in South Africa amounted to no more than 15% of the population, whereas Jews are a majority within Greater Israel, and that majority could be grown by lopping off territory with large concentrations of Palestinians (most easily, Gaza). Sure, free return of Palestinian refugees from 1947-49 might tip the scales, but realistically that's not going to happen.
This demographic position gives Israel's leaders options, but time and again they've chosen to maintain the status quo, at the cost of continued strife and insecurity. They've done this partly because they've psyched themselves into both into believing they'll always live in peril -- that the world will never accept them as peaceable neighbors -- and into thinking they will always win. (This mentality was amply illustrated in Tom Segev's 1967, which showed how terrified Israeli civilians were of impending war and how utterly confident Israel's generals were of their victory.)
History also gives Israel's leaders options. The Zionist movement is now 135 years old, more than a century has passed since Britain's Balfour Declaration opened up Jewish immigration, and the state of Israel has existed for 67 years, under its current borders for 48 years (aside from returning Sinai to Egypt in a deal that established that Israel could coexist with a neighboring Arab state). Fifty years ago one could imagine Israel meeting the fate of Algeria, but no one believes that now. By 2001, all Arab states were willing to recognize Israel in exchange for a deal which would create a Palestinian state from the territory Israel seized in 1967. The PLO had already agreed to that, and Hamas has since come to that position. Only Israeli greed and intransigence has prevented a peace deal from happening. Well, that and the gullibility of American political leaders, who for one reason of another have been spineless when they needed to stand up to Israel.
Netanyahu's great value to Israel has always been his ability to manipulate US opinion -- something he's been known to brag about, unseemly as that may be -- but lately he bound his fate to the Republican Party. In doing so he has started to alienate Democratic supporters of Israel, but more than that he has opened up a mental association between Israeli and Republican policies -- militarism, racism, harsh justice, targeted assassinations, an omnipotent security state, increasing economic inequality, and much more.
I'll try to write more later about what should be done, but for now I just want to leave you with a warning. Unless something is done to correct the trends we're seeing in Israel, the situation there will continue to grow more desperate and unjust, and unless the US can break its tail-wags-dog subservience to Israel we will wind up in the same dystopia.
Wednesday, March 18. 2015
Roughly speaking, the same record count this time as the last two, but it took me a little over four weeks this time vs. three before, so maybe I'm slowing down. But part of that is that this is the first column that's mostly 2015 releases (88/113, or 78%), and 2015 itself seems to be starting a bit slow. I suspect this is because we don't yet have the benefit of year-end lists, plus the number of critics that I regularly consult is way down this year. I currently have 14 new A-list records this year, and they break down: 10 jazz, 2 hip-hop, 1 dance pop, 1 quasi-country. Most years split about 50% jazz, 50% non-jazz. The imbalance this year probably because I have my own resources for jazz (all 10 so far are records sent to me; I've also checked out 13 jazz albums on Rhapsody or via downloads, but nothing very impressive yet; I listened to all 4 of the non-jazz A- albums on Rhapsody).
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on February 13. Past reviews and more information are available here (6157 records).
Nancy Ajram: Nancy 8 (2014, In2musica): Lebanese pop star, cut her first album in 1998 at 15 and this seems to be her 9th, her previous album (Nancy 7 or 7 or N. 7 -- same variations show up here) having sold some eight million units (more than half in Egypt, where it went 9x Platinum). I feel like I should hedge on such an obvious SFFR, but even the synth-strings resound, the ballads seem real, and the fast ones hardly need translation -- probably on a par with Shakira. A-
Béatrice Alunni/Marc Peillon: Dance With Me (2014 , ITI): Alunni plays piano and wrote seven (of ten) pieces. Peillon plays bass and wrote the other three. I can't really imagine anyone dancing to this, although the liner illustrations show ballet moves, so I guess that says something about my [lack of] imagination. Pretty, though. B+(*) [cd]
Aphex Twin: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments, Pt. 2 (2015, Warp, EP): Thirteen tracks, 27:52 long, sort of an afterthought to last year's Syro, which makes it much more interesting than the ambience Richard James had peddled for a couple decades. B+(**)
Gene Argel: Luminescent (2014 , Origin): Pianist, based in Maui since 1982; Discogs credits him with a 1980 LP but this seems to be the first since. Quartet, Jay Thomas plays alto and tenor sax and trumpet, adding bright colors to the luxurious flow, with Chuck Deardorf bass and Mark Ivester drums. B+(**) [cd]
Atomic: Lucidity (2014 , Jazzland): Norwegian jazz group with more than a dozen albums since 2000, with a hard bop quintet lineup that leans more toward avant -- horns (Magnus Broo on trumpet and Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor sax and clarinet) bristling, piano (Håvard Wiik) complex and slightly ornate, the rhythm section (Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass) usually a powerhouse although they lose something here with a change at drums (Hans Hulboekmo replaces Paal Nilssen-Love). B+(***) [cd]
Ab Baars Trio: Slate Blue (2014 , Wig): Dutch tenor saxophonist (also plays clarinet and shakuhachi here), in a trio with Wilbert De Joode (bass) and Martin Van Duynhoven (drums) -- Baars' primary group dating back to 1990. A little mellow as these things go, a mood that suits this group. B+(***) [cd]
Ab Baars Trio & NY Guests: Invisible Blow (2012 , Wig): Fine print notes that this was recorded in Amsterdam, which helps explain why the New Yorkers seem less than optimal: Fay Victor (voice) and Vincent Chancey (french horn). Much of the album is poorly articulated -- more like "Inaudible Blow" -- although Victor can make an impression when she's so inclined. B [cd]
BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (2015, Lex): Cover isn't clear, but most sources credit the Canadian jazz trio (keyboards, bass guitar, drums) first, ahead of the much more famous rapper. I'll note that three (of twelve) cuts are short instrumentals. I've never been much impressed by BBNG but their tight, noir-ish flow makes this short (32:55) album work -- not that they would hold up half as well without the rhymes. A-
Belle and Sebastian: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (2015, Matador): Scottish group, name comes from a children's book, seems most pop when Stuart Murdoch's vocals give way to Sarah Martin's, which doesn't happen often enough here. B+(*)
Daniel Bennett Group: The Mystery at Clown Castle (2014 , Manhattan Daylight): Saxophonist, has done interesting work in the past but this veers toward too much: too much circus, too much shouting, too much flute. Does have a sense of humor, and enjoys a good beat. B+(*) [cd]
Phil Bowler: Phil Bowler & Pocket Jungle (2013 , Zoho Music): Bassist, cut an album in 1984 and now has two, although he has 40+ side credits going back to 1977 including Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Jackie McLean, various Marsalises, and the World Bass Violin Quartet. He tried to put this project together 20 years ago, with sax-guitar-drums that went to Grupo Los Santos, and finally got them back for a mild-mannered Afro-Cuban tryst. B+(*)
Andy Brown: Soloist (2014 , Delmark): Guitarist, from Chicago; I first noticed his rather minimalist backing for singer Petra Van Nuis (Far Away Places) and his two-guitar quartet I filed under Howard Alden (Heavy Artillary -- noticing now that I misspelled that title in my database, unless you want to argue that they misspelled it on the cover). This, of course, is solo, that same understated approach left with nothing else to prop it up. Fans of George Van Eps will be more impressed than fans of Joe Pass. B+(*) [cd]
Maureen Budway: Sweet Candor (2014 , MCG Jazz): Jazz singer, died at 51 in January a couple weeks before this first album came out; taught at Duquesne, married to pianist David Budway, who plays here. First thing I really noticed was the "Americana Suite" midway, noticing that "The White Cliffs of Dover" took the prize for patriotic schmaltz, and approving of the segue into "Hard Times Come Again No More" (if not "Say It With Fireworks/Song of Freedom"). The other high point is a "Gershwin Medley" all Americans can be proud of. B+(**) [cd]
Mike Campbell: Close Enough for Love (2014 , ITI): Standards singer, mostly (two originals here), has at least eight albums going back to 1985, his standards here including Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan, also Kenny Loggins and Paul Williams. B+(*) [cd]
Harley Card: Hedgerow (2012 , self-released): Toronto-based guitarist, second album although he's also appeared in Hobson's Choice, a group I've heard of. This group includes David French on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Matt Newton on piano/Fender Rhodes, plus either of two bass-drum pairs. Postbop, greased by the guitar. B [cd]
Ernesto Cervini: Turboprop (2014 , Anzic): Drummer, from Toronto, leads a vibrant sextet with two saxes (Tara Davidson and Joel Frahm), trombone, piano, bass, and drums. Cervini wrote four pieces, picked up one from Frahm, with covers like Charlie Parker's "Red Cross" and Keith Jarrett's "The Windup" -- the latter a particularly spirited closer. B+(**) [cd]
Chamber 3: Grassroots (2013 , OA2): Trio, with Christian Eckert on guitar, Steffen Weber on sax, and Matt Jorgensen on drums, although they've sensibly added a fourth wheel, bassist Phil Sparks. All three write, Eckert foremost, and the one cover makes a fair case for adding "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to the jazz repertoire. Not much what you think of as "chamber jazz" (other than tight). B+(*) [cd]
Anat Cohen: Luminosa (2014 , Anzic): One of the top clarinet players in jazz, also plays bass clarinet and tenor sax here -- underrated in that more competitive category. Backed here by piano trio (Jason Lindner, Joe Martin, Daniel Freedman -- with guests periodically kicking the record into a Brazilian orientation: percussionist Gilmar Gomes, guitarist Roberto Lubambo, most importantly two cuts with Choro Aventuroso (accordion, 7-string guitar, pandeiro) that kick this into a higher orbit. B+(***) [cd]
Lainie Cooke: The Music Is the Magic (2014 , Onyx Music): Standards singer, has a couple previous albums; this one, produced by Ralph Peterson, leans more toward jazz than cabaret. Myron Walden adds some sax appeal. B [cd]
Dena DeRose: Travelin' Light: Live in Antwerp, Belgium (2010 , MaxJazz): Rhapsody only has 4 (of 13) tracks, so I (and you) should hedge but they're probably representative. She plays piano and sings standards here (and scats a bit) -- solo, live, some patter and applause, but mostly she holds your focus. B+(*)
Laura Dickinson: One for My Baby: To Frank Sinatra With Love (2013 , Blujazz): Singer, first album under her own name but she has sung in a bunch of Disney animated films. Her selection from the "Sinatra songbook" is much more conventional than, say, Dylan's, as is the big band + strings -- conventional as in tried and proven -- while her voice is distinctive enough. B+(**) [cd]
Dahi Divine: The Element (2013 , Right Direction): Tenor saxophonist from Philadelphia, first album, blows over West African rhythms while pianist Brett Williams smoothing the rough edges. B+(**) [cd]
Justin Townes Earle: Absent Fathers (2015, Vagrant): Quickie sequel to last fall's Single Mothers, more melancholia over broken relationships and busted families. B+(*)
Steve Earle & the Dukes: Terraplane (2015, New West): Reportedly this represents some kind of turn to the blues, but the songs are all originals, and these days down-and-out is just ordinary life. So why not ordinary songs to go with it? Not his best idea, nor does hiding behind the band help much. B+(**)
Silke Eberhard/Dave Burrell: Darlingtonia (2010 , Jazzwerkstatt): Alto saxophonist, from Germany, has a handful of albums since 2002 including a couple by his Dolphy-tribute group Potsa Lotsa. Duet with pianist Dave Burrell, always a treat. B+(***)
Silke Eberhard/Ulrich Gumpert: Peanuts & Vanities (2011 , Jazzwerkstart): Another alto sax-piano duo, but Gumpert doesn't make near the impression of Dave Burrell. Six pieces called "Peanuts" followed by six more called "Vanities," but the former are juxtaposed with two fragments of "Salt Peanuts" and the latter is followed by "The Peanut Vendor." The patterns are interesting enough, just not very exciting. B+(**)
Paul Elwood: Nice Folks (2011 , Innova): Banjo player, graduate of Wichita State University and SUNY Buffalo, teaches in Colorado. Has a previous album called Stanley Kubrick's Mountain Home, which AMG files under classical. This starts out like a folk singalong, then takes off in various directions, including free jazz and deep worldly groove. Calls his band the Invisible Ensemble. Only one I've heard of is percussionist Famoudou Don Moye. B+(***) [cd]
George Ezra: Wanted on Voyage (2014, Columbia): Brit singer-songwriter; cites Dylan, Guthrie, and Leadbelly as inspirations; first album, topped UK charts and peaked at 19 in US. Strikes me as a little heavy-handed for folk-rock. Reviews use the word "spooky"; I'm tempted to add "creepy." B-
Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (2015, Sub Pop): Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman, second album, kind of a big deal in alt/indie circles, had sort of a folkie rep early on but now that he can afford more drums and synths he's over that. But his newfound big production frames a voice I don't find appealing, and when I notice a lyric -- one I jotted down is "let's put a baby in the oven/wouldn't I make the ideal husband?" -- that's usually not a good thing. B
Lupe Fiasco: Tetsuo & Youth (2015, Atlantic): Hip-hop record, his first three were superb (and yes, I include the much-panned Lasers in that list), stretches here are equally brilliant although sometimes the rhymes seem not just forced but downright gymnastic, and elsewhere I have no fucking idea what's going on. B+(*)
Free Nelson Mandoomjazz: Awakening of a Capital (2014 , RareNoise): Sax trio from Scotland, second album -- the first bore the aggrandizing title The Shape of Doomjazz to Come/Saxophone Giganticus and was as audacious as the joke. Sequel seems more modest, with Colin Stewart's fuzzy electric bass riffs more prominent because Rebecca Sneddon's snarling alto sax is less so -- or maybe just less snarling? B+(***) [cdr]
Janice Friedman Trio: Live at Kitano (2011 , CAP): Pianist-singer, has a handful of albums going back to 1993, wrote three (of ten) pieces here and shares a fourth with Frederic Chopin, backed by Ed Howard on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. Has a nice touch and doesn't wear out the voice. B+(*)
Gang of Four: What Happens Next (2015, Metropolis): Leeds post-punk group, released a brilliant debut in 1979, two more very good albums in 1981-82, then bowed out in 1984 after the misnamed Hard, only to revive periodically (in 1991-95, 2005, 2011, now). But where the 2005 reunion brought the original quartet back, now only guitarist Andy Gill remains. First song ("Where the Nightingale Sings") comes up with new ways to tuck noise into the crevices between the beats, suggesting they may still be capable of an A-list album, but they have trouble sustaining that level, and sometimes even lose their sound. B+(*)
Maxfield Gast: Ogo Pogo (2014 , Militia Hill): Saxophonist from Philadelphia. I file him under "jazz-pop" which is ever more off-base, but he likes synth-beats and EWI -- were it not for the saxes I'd move him to "techno." This is mostly electronica with commentary, including digressions on the differences between "serious" and "funny" music. Of course, the world isn't that simple, nor, fortunately, is Gast's music. B+(**) [cd]
Otzir Godot: In- (2014 , Epatto): Finnish drummer, Jouni Koponen, has at least two previous records. This one is solo, the metallic drums most captivating, the more ambient washes of sound less so. B+(**) [cd]
Gramatik: The Age of Reason (2014, Lowtemp): Denis Jasarevic, from Slovenia, has 7 or 8 albums, 3 or 4 EPs since 2008, probably more by the time you read this, produces them cheap -- most likely splices them together on a laptop -- and gives them away, an SFFR if I ever bother, but pleased so far: electronics, of course, but embedded with chunks of hip-hop and rock, nothing obvious (or even particularly identifiable like you find with Girl Talk). B+(**)
Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space/Time · Redemption (2013 , TUM): Graves is an avant-jazz drummer, first appearing on a number of ESP-Disk records 1963-66 (including his own Percussion Ensemble), then rarely from 1969 (Sonny Sharrock's Black Woman) to about 2000, when he started appearing (mostly on Tzadik; 1992's Real Deal, a duo with David Murray, was a rare exception). Laswell is a bassist and producer, more into fusion than free but something of a gadfly around the fringes of respectability. So not a huge surprise that the two would record together, but it is that a bass-drums duo would come up with anything so vibrantly textured. A- [cd]
The H2 Big Band: It Could Happen (2013 , Origin): Big band led by Al Hood (trumpet) and Dave Hanson (piano), with Hanson arranging. Recorded near Los Angeles, credits vary a lot with horns thinning out and/or strings added on some cuts. Four cuts feature singer René Marie, who is very effective. B+(**) [cd]
Ross Hammond: Flight (2014 , Prescott): Jazz guitarist, ninth album since 2003, plays this one solo, using 6-string, 12-string, and acoustic slide for a whiff of blues. Originals, several trad. pieces, "You Are My Sunshine" (which might as well be trad.): "recorded on locations throughout California" -- if not roots, at least digging in. B+(**) [cdr]
Mark Helias Open Loose: The Signal Maker (2014 , Intakt): I screwed up here, originally filing this under Tony Malaby, the saxophonist whose name shows up first left-to-right mid-cover, followed by bassist Helias and drummer Tom Rainey. But when I noticed that Helias wrote all the pieces (with group help on three), I looked a little closer and found the big (but not very distinct) type. Sax trio, smolders ambitiously but never quite ignites. B+(***) [cd]
Eddie Henderson: Collective Portrait (2014 , Smoke Sessions): Trumpet player, grew up on Miles Davis and never strayed far from his model, even now at 74. Classic hard bop quintet, loud and clear paired with alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, with George Cables rolling the blues riffs on piano. B+(**)
Scott Hesse Trio: The Stillness of Motion (2014 , Origin): Guitarist, based in Chicago after ten years in New York, trio includes Clark Sommers on bass and Makaya McCraven on drums. B+(*)
The Ted Howe Jazz Orchestra: Pinnacle (2013 , Hot Stove): Pianist-composer, although Geoff Haydon takes over the piano slot for most of the album. Slightly less than a conventional big band -- three reeds, three trumpets, two trombones, but includes guitar -- not that the loss is palpable. Cover says "featuring John Patitucci" because the bassist is the only player you're likely to have heard of. B [cd]
I Never Meta Guitar Three (2011-13 , Clean Feed): Back cover adds: "Solo Guitars for the 21st Century." Third such volume Elliot Sharp has produced, eighteen solo pieces by various avant-jazz guitarists -- all electric, no devotees of Reinhardt or Montgomery or for that matter McLaughlin, a few I've heard of and many more I haven't. Scattered, but John King's opener grabs your attention. B+(**) [cd]
Ibeyi: Ibeyi (2015, XL): Twin sisters, Cuban-born, French-raised, Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz, draw on Afro-Cuban roots -- album opens with a "chant to Eleggua" -- but is moderated through trip-hop and the like so much it rarely registers. B
Mikko Innanen: Song for a New Decade (2010-12 , TUM, 2CD): Finnish saxophonist, alto and baritone, plus a few odd instruments here and there (Indian clarinet, Uilleann chanter, nose flute, whistles, percussion). Should be better known, and after this will be. Two discs: the first with William Parker on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums, pretty much everything an avant-saxophonist could dream of; the second a little leaner, just a duo with Cyrille. A- [cd]
Kitten: Kitten (2014, Elektra): Pop-rock band from LA, lead singer Chloe Chaidez, first album after a couple EPs. Some songs strike me as overly pumped up, although others have a raw edginess that could develop into something. B+(**)
The Susan Krebs Chamber Band: Simple Gifts (2014 , GreenGig Music): Jazz singer, fifth album; none of the songs are originals but they're not really standards either -- title song is Shaker traditional. Band credits: piano (co-producer Rich Eames), woodwinds (Rob Lockhart), percussion, violin/viola -- the latter adds a crucial weepy effect. B+(***) [cd]
Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Always With Us (2010-12 , self-released): South African iscathimiya (Zulu a cappella) group founded in 1974 by Joseph Shabalala with thirty-some albums -- so many and so similar (at least for us non-Zulu speakers) one hardly notices new ones. Still, this one is different: Shabala's late wife Nellie had organized her own female choir and this memorial merges the two group's voices. A-
Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (2015, Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope): Los Angeles (or should I say Compton?) rapper spins another long (75:17) album, the uneasy path of another good kid in the mad city. Pumped up early on with rejuvenated P-Funk, fades out at the end with what seems like an interview. More here than I'll ever manage to sort out. A-
Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (2013 , Clean Feed): Bassist, called his second album Bigmouth in 2003 and kept the name. Two tenor saxes (Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek), Craig Taborn on keyboards (mostly Wurlitzer, in case you need a refresher in why he wins those polls), and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Lightcap's originals tend to be strongly pulsed. The one cover is "All Tomorrow's Parties" -- simply magnificent. A- [cd]
Madonna: Rebel Heart (2015, Interscope): Much more anticipated in my world than the new Sleater-Kinney -- I suppose more successful too, but that's all relative: after five plays I've gotten to where I like nearly every song here, but none enough to program it onto a choice singles tape (let alone slip it into The Immaculate Collection). It's all clear, sharp, danceable, even pushes a few envelopes, but risks becoming routine too. Not sure what it means that I like the bonus tracks (at least "Veni Vidi Vici" and "S.E.X.") more than the common ones. B+(***)
Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm: Spark (2014 , Water Street Music): Singer and guitarist, respectively, the former's voice light and whispy, the latter adding a gentle strum that fits the mood perfectly. One Sturm original, the covers include Carole King, James Taylor, and Elvis Costello ("Watching the Detectives"), as well as more standard fare -- including a Jobim a bit too slow. B+(**) [cd]
Nilson Matta: East Side Rio Drive (2014 , World Blue): Brazilian bassist, based in New York, pretty much the go-to guy there for that sort of thing. The underlying groove is little changed since the 1960s, but he gets a wide range of looks by shuffling guests -- front cover list features Cyro Baptista (percussion), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Edsel Gomez (piano), Craig Handy (tenor sax/bass clarinet/flute), Anne Drummond (more flute), Vince Cherico (drums). Also a singer or two, with one song stripped down all the way to acoustic bass. B+(*) [cd]
Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters: Abstract Quantities (2014 , Origin): Trumpet and piano/keyboards, respectively, backed by Piet Verbist on bass and John Bishop on drums, continuing the Seattle/Netherlands balance of the leaders. Postbop, so skilled I played it twice and had nary a complaint, not that I noticed much of anything. B+(*) [cd]
James McMurtry: Complicated Game (2013-14 , Complicated Game): Son of a famous novelist, slowly establishing himself as a serious storyteller in his own right. Nothing here has the instant political cred or (more importantly) musical punch of "We Can't Make It Here" (from Childish Things) or "Cheney's Toy" (from Just Us Kids) but he's smart enough not to blame his hard luck songs on Obama. Several sneak up on you, especially the one about fishing out of season. A-
Chris McNulty: Eternal (2013 , Palmetto): Jazz singer, originally from Australia but based in New York, seventh album since 1990; one original, standards that tend to be treacherously modernist ("A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," "What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life," "Nature Boy," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"). Steve Newcomb's Chamber Ensemble negotiates the twists and turns. B+(*) [cd]
J.D. McPherson: Let the Good Times Roll (2015, New Rounder): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, dresses his country impulses up as rockabilly. B+(**)
Myra Melford: Snowy Egret (2013 , Enja/Yellowbird): On my short list for best jazz pianists since her debut in 1990, but this quintet shortchanges her piano for her compositions, centered more on Liberty Ellman's guitar and Stomu Takeishi's bass guitar. Ellman has many fine moments, Ron Miles helps out on cornet, and Tyshawn Shorey is a superb drummer. B+(***) [cd]
Billy Mintz: The 2 Bass Band . . . Live (2014 , Thirteenth Note): Drummer, has appeared on nearly 50 albums since 1977 -- most frequently with Vinny Golia -- but this looks to be his first as leader (notable also that he wrote all the compositions). Group is a tentet with (as advertised) two basses (Cameron Brown and Masa Kamaguchi), four brass (Dave Scott and Ron Horton on trumpet, Brian Drye and Samuel Blaser on trombone), and three reeds (John O'Gallagher, Kenny Berger, Adam Kolker), mostly established names, not quite avant but leaning that way. B+(**)
Modest Mouse: Strangers to Ourselves (2015, Columbia): One of those alt/indie groups from the 1990s which often enough seemed so formally sharp I graded their albums up before I forgot them. After their longest hiatus -- only an EP since 2007 -- they're back, sounding more like Pavement than ever, so upfront about it I have more than my usual reservations. B+(**)
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Hannover (2014 , Jazzwerkstatt): After five superb studio albums (plus a live shot and whatever you call Blue), they have enough material they can build their live concerts from medleys -- the opener here runs over 30 minutes -- a technique pop stars use to acknowledge hits they don't want to dwell on, although here the intent is less clear. B+(***)
Tisziji Muñoz & Marilyn Crispell: The Paradox of Independence (2014 , MRI): Brooklyn-born guitarist, started in a doo-wop group, worked with Pharoah Sanders in the 1970s, and started recording prolifically around 2000. Recorded live at the Falcon in Marlboro, NY; backed by a bassist and two drummers (one Rakalam Bob Moses), so not limited like a duo. I find Muñoz rather erratic, but the pianist is typically brilliant. B+(**)
Tatsuya Nakatani/Kris Tiner/Jeremy Drake: Ritual Inscription (2012, Epigraph, LP): Percussion, trumpet/flugelhorn, electric guitar, avant jazz from Bakersfield. Not sure whether they sent me the vinyl or a CDR, but the record was in my system as ungraded and when I looked it up I found it on Bandcamp, so that's convenient. Two tracks, one 18:35, the other 13:07, the ground fractured and forever shifting. B+(**) [bc]
Kyle Nasser: Restive Soul (2013 , AISA): Tenor saxophonist (also soprano), first album, all original pieces, backed by guitar-piano-bass-drums, an increasingly standard postbop lineup -- guitar (Jeff Miles) can solo but mostly adds to the harmonic complexity. Plenty of that here. B+(*) [cd]
Hailey Niswanger: PDX Soul (2013-14 , Calmit Productions): Young, blonde tenor saxophonist from Portland, second album, goes full r&b in a couple live sets with a lot of help, including three singers on four songs -- the bluesier the better. While I can't quite describe what she does as honking, she does let it rip. B+(***) [cd]
Not Twice: Flight Plans (2012 , Epigraph, EP): Avant-trumpet player Kris Tiner plus two musicians credited with keyboards and electronics: Jordan Aguirre and Andrew Koeth. The later produce a quasi-ambient background that doesn't offer much traction for the trumpet. Very limited cassette, but short enough (26:46) to be treated as an EP. B [bc]
John O'Gallagher Trio: The Honeycomb (2014 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto saxophonist, a guy who often stands out in a crowd, up close here leading a trio with Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. A- [cdr]
Open Field + Burton Greene: Flower Stalk (2012 , Cipsela): Greene's an avant-pianist, recorded a couple ESP albums in the mid-1960s, has regained a limited measure of fame since 2000. He adds notable bite to the Portuguese string trio -- João Carnões on viola, Marcelo dos Reis on guitar, and José Miguel Pereira on double bass. Viola has some bite, too, and guitar and piano are sometimes prepared. B+(***) [cd]
Ahmet Özhan: Gülmira (2014, Esen Muzik): Turkish singer, b. 1950 (or earlier), seems to be slotted under Turkish classical music rather than pop or folk, although we'd file it under World; also has a film career, but I'm not finding a lot of info. The music comes with a lot of beat as well as that classic oriental sway. And no doubt he's an authoritative singer. B+(***)
Lisa Parrott: Round Tripper (2014 , Serious Niceness): Alto and baritone saxophonist from Australia, sister is bassist Nicki Parrott, discography lists three albums as "co-leader" but I think this is the first under her own name. Quintet, with Nadja Noordhuis on trumpet/flugelhorn, Carl Dewhurst on guitar, Chris Lightcap on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. Mainstream, but the baritone gives it a little extra heft. B+(**) [cd]
Renaud Penant Trio: Want to Be Happy (2014 , ITI Music): Drummer-led piano trio, with Steve Ash on piano and Chris Haney on bass. All standards, divided between jazz themes ("Quasimodo," "Bean and the Boys," Bud Powell, Cedar Walton) and songbook ("Love for Sale," "Autumn in New York," a Jobim, the title tune). B+(**) [cd]
Gretchen Peters: Blackbirds (2015, Scarlet Letter): Country singer-songwriter, close to a dozen albums since 1996 after establishing herself as a Nashville songwriter. Some of this clicks and some doesn't, and it's probably not cost-effective to sort it out further. Reprises the title song at the end, and that much pays off. B+(*)
John Petrucelli Quintet: The Way (2014 , self-released, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, from New Jersey but based in Pittsburgh, first album but stretched it out. Quintet includes both piano and guitar as well as bass and drums -- no one I've heard of aside from Victor Lewis (guest on three cuts). Originals plus "I Hear a Rhapsody," "Early Autumn," a Monk. Sax bears many influences, starting with Coltrane. B+(*) [cd]
Kate Pierson: Guitars and Microphones (2015, Lazy Meadow Music): B-52s singer goes solo, brings some of the old sound with her but feels a bit narrower -- I guess Fred Schneider added the zingers even though he wasn't the one you wanted to hear. B+(**)
Roberta Piket: Emanation (Solo: Volume 2) (2014 , Thirteenth Note): Pianist with close to a dozen albums since 1997, this one solo, something I almost never get excited about. Two or three originals, standards including "Con Alma" and "Ba Lue Bolivar Ba Lues" and pieces by McPartland and Hancock, winding up with "Fantasy on a Theme by Chopin." B+(*) [cd]
Lucas Pino: No Net Nonet (2013 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Phoenix, studied in New York, first album, a nine-piece group that plays smaller but with all the harmonic spots neatly tucked in -- three saxes, trumpet (Max Jodrell takes advantage of the solo space), trombone, guitar, piano, bass, drums. B+(**) [cd]
A Place to Bury Strangers: Transfixiation (2015, Dead Oceans): Sort of a heavy metal shoegaze group -- the latter aspect keeps them focused within a narrow rhythmic range, but rather than adding soft, fuzzy noise they go for the hard stuff. Their formula blows me away for a few minutes, then eventually turns wearing. Your mileage may vary. B+(***)
Potsa Lotsa Plus: Plays Love Suite by Eric Dolphy (2014 , Jazzwerkstatt): Group name comes from a Dolphy composition -- was also the title of Willem Breuker's Dolphy tribute. The core quartet here (Silke Eberhard on alto sax, Patrick Braun on tenor sax, Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet, Gerhard Gschloßl on trombone) previously recorded The Complete Works of Eric Dolphy. I gather "Love Suite" was left out of the earlier album because Dolphy died before he could record it. The "Plus" adds clarinet, tuba, and live electronics. B+(**)
Chris Potter Underground Orchestra: Imaginary Cities (2013 , ECM): The tenor saxophonist's underground thinking first emerged in his quartet's 2006 album. Here he expands the concept to eleven pieces, mostly by piling on stringed instruments -- guitar, bass guitar, a full string quartet -- plus Steve Nelson's vibes and marimba. His orchestral arrangements still don't amount to much, but he remains a tremendous tenor sax soloist. B+(**) [dl]
Prism Quartet: Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 (2014 , Innova, 2CD): A saxophone quartet -- Timothy McAllister, Taimur Sullivan, Matthew Levy, Zachary Shemon -- been around since 1990 (at least), but their catalog picked up in 2002 and accelerated around 2007, and this is something of a breakout project, as they've invited six better known saxophonists to compose pieces and join in: Steve Lehman, Dave Liebman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Greg Osby, Tim Ries, and Miguel Zenón. B+(**)
Reggie Quinerly: Invictus (2014 , Redefinition Music): Drummer, originally from Houston, second album, composed everything here but "My Blue Heaven." Warren Wolf's vibes seem to lead here, with Yotam Silberstein's guitar and Christian Sands' piano adding to the frothy lightness. B+(*) [cd]
Nate Radley: Morphoses (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, a mild-mannered mainstream jazz guy, backed by bass (Matt Pavolka) and drums (Ted Poor) with saxophonist Loren Stillman adding some bright splotches of color. B+(*)
John Raymond: Foreign Territory (2014 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Not his first album but an advance, showcasing his trumpet in front of a very solid rhythm section -- Dan Tepfer (piano), Joe Martin (bass), Billy Hart (drums). Well within contemporary postbop bounds, but pretty sharp for that. B+(**) [cdr]
Dawn Richard: Blackheart (2015, Our Dawn): Aka Dawn Angeliqué, ex-singer in Danity Kane and Diddy-Dirty Money, previous album was Goldenheart. Some interesting beat production here, but I find it cluttered and cranky. B
Denia Ridley & the Marc Devine Trio: Afterglow (2014 , ITI Music): Standards singer, backed by Devine's piano trio, a common formula, but she has a winning voice with just a touch of Holiday, and the songs are dependable friends, front-loaded with Gershwin and Porter, ending with "At Last" and "I Cried for You." B+(***)
Schlippenbach Trio: Features (2013 , Intakt): Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, saxophonist Evan Parker (just tenor this time), and drummer Paul Lovens. I have no idea how many records they've recorded together, but the trio goes back at least to 1972 when they recorded Pakistani Pomade (FMP, reissued by Atavistic in 2003), a "crown" record in the first edition of the Morton-Cook Penguin Guide to Jazz (and since its reissue). I should recheck that record (and whatever else I can find -- Discogs lists twelve Trio albums, and this is my fourth), but this must be one of the most fully realized. A- [cd]
Benny Sharoni: Slant Signature (2014 , Papaya): Tenor saxophonist, born in Israel, parents from Chile and Yemen (to which he attributes his head start in Latin and African rhythms), moved to US in 1986. Second album, mainstream postbop with a Latin lilt, Jim Rotondi on trumpet, both piano and guitar. B+(**) [cd]
Songsmith Collective: Songsmith Collective (2014 , Blujazz): A group of Western Michigan University's jazz students, writing arrangements for various poems (Yeats, Frost, Hughes, WMU professor Traci Brimhall) for nonet plus two singers, under the direction of Dr. Andrew Rathbun -- not a player here but an estimable saxophonist in his own right. Two vocalists, sounds like art-song to me but I take that as testimony to the extent jazz is displacing classical music in academia -- so one cheer, even though it's not really my thing. B [cd]
Spin Marvel: Infolding (2014 , RareNoise): British group somewhere in the experimental rock/jazztronica orbit -- Martin France (drums), Tim Harries (bass), Terje Evensen (electronics), Emre Ramazanoglu (production and further drums) -- released an eponymous album in 2006 (different drummer), back here with Nils Petter Molvaer guesting on trumpet. Darker and harder than Molvaer's own records -- something else in the post-Miles underworld. B+(***) [cdr]
Pops Staples: Don't Lose This (1999 , dBpm): The patriarch of gospel group the Staples Singers, Pops died in 2000 leaving this set of incomplete demos, lately fleshed out by daughter Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy. More blues than gospel, a lovely memento. B+(**)
Story City: Time and Materials (2012, self-released): Jazz-rock (why not call it fusion?) group from Minnesota -- sax, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, more percussion -- more strain in the sax and tension in the rhythm than seems safe for pop jazz, but not interesting enough to slot anywhere else. B [cd]
John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet: Live Beauty (2012 , Origin): Stowell plays guitar. He cut a couple well regarded albums in New York 1977-78, then moved to Portland and mostly vanished until Origin picked him up in 1998. Zilber is a saxophonist, just credited with "saxes" but pictured with a tenor and something that looks like a curved soprano. The unnamed others are John Shifflett (bass) and Jason Lewis (drums), and they each contribute a song (Zilber wrote three, and they cover "My Funny Valentine" and John Scofield's "Wabash III." Still, the sax makes a strong impression, and whenever I notice the guitar Stowell is doing something interesting. B+(***) [cd]
Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (2015, RCA): Tempted to say this runs the gamut from "Dumb" to "Stupid Girl," but there's more to it than that. Admittedly, nothing all that useful: living the showbiz life, what Tom T. Hall once referred to as "putting on a front," and occasional romantic angst. B+(***)
Tanya Tagaq: Animism (2014 , Six Shooter): Full name Tanya Tagaq Gillis, from Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island in what used to be Canada's Northwest Territories, the eastern part now known as Nunavut. Tagaq developed her own version of Inuit throat-singing, which she deploys along with more conventional vocals framed by far from conventional music produced by jazz violinist Jesse Zubot, with percussionist Jean Martin in the band. Last song is called "Fracking," an attempt to express what the Earth feels when oilmen set explosives underground to fracture rock and break loose hydrocarbons. B+(***)
Katie Thiroux: Introducing Katie Thiroux (2014 , BassKat): Bassist-singer's first album, composed three originals but relies on standards, especially for lyrics. Jeff Hamilton produced, using Graham Dechter's guitar instead of piano, adding Roger Neumann's tenor sax for color and mood, both offering standout solos as well as complementing the bass -- mixed up, it provides both signature and flow. A- [cd]
Tradisyon Ka: Gwo Ka: Music of Guadeloupe, West Indies (2014, Soul Jazz): A French colony in the Lesser Antilles since 1674, briefly independent in the 1790s when the slaveholders defied orders from the French Republic to free the slaves, regained by France in 1814 and currently an Overseas Department. (Slavery was finally abolished in 1848.) Gwo Ka is their traditional drum-and-chant music, and this group sticks to basics, with little variation even though six different singers are featured. B+(**)
Ryan Truesdell: Lines of Color (2014 , Blue Note/ArtistShare): Second album by Gil Evans' ghost band, following 2012's Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans -- some more new discoveries here, but it seems more accurate to think of this as Gil Evans' Greatest Hits . . . Live! Arrangements are properly credited to Evans, dated as far back as 1947. The band has lots of star power, intricately shadowing one another while one or another breaks out in precisely framed solos. Wendy Gilles sings three tunes, including "Everything Happens to Me." A- [cd]
Tuxedo: Tuxedo (2015, Stones Throw): Retro-disco group formed by Mayer Hawthorne (aka DJ Haircut) and Jake One. Seems like a logical progression from Hawthorne's 1960s Motown shtick, gaining traction with each play. A-
Typefighter: The End of Everything (2014, Huge Witch): DC-based garage-pop band, which is to say punk basics plus accessible hooks. B+(**)
Gebhard Ullmann/Johannes Fink/Jan Leipnitz/Gebhard Gschlößl: Gulf of Berlin (2012 , Jazzwerkstatt): Free quartet, respectively: bass clarinet/soprano/tenor sax, cello/double bass, drums, trombone/sousaphone -- the low reeds and brass making this an alternate, less flashy but no less substantial Basement Research. B+(***)
Wormburner: Pleasant Living in Planned Communities (2014, Dive): At first blush, the most attractive postpunk band I've heard in a long time, much credit to Hank Henry's vocals, clear and distinctive at once. Then it occurred to me that the archetype was really the Hold Steady -- still an impressive trick, though I'm not as sympathetic to battered soldiers as to wayward girls. A-
Jack Wright/Ben Wright/Kris Tiner: For Instance (2014, Epigraph): Jack Wright is a free jazz saxophonist (alto and soprano here), been around a long time, only haphazardly recorded (AMG likes a 1999 set on CIMP with Fred Lonborg-Holm on cello). Ben Wright is his son, playing bass. This was recorded when the duo wandered into trumpeter Tiner's lair in Bakersfield, with four rather tentative LP-length (32:50) improvs. B+(*) [bc]
Carlos "Zíngaro": Live at Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha (2012 , Cipsela): Spanish violinist (surname, I think, is Alves), started in avant-classical but is increasingly recognized as a superb jazz musician. This is solo, with the usual limits that implies, but still remarkable. B+(**) [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Ata Kak: Obaa Sima (1994 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): Ghanian musician Yaw Atta-Owusu recorded this in Toronto, then released it in a cassette-only run of 50 copies. Brian Shimkovitz picked up one of those copies in 2002 and liked it enough to feature it in his first Awesome Tapes From Africa blog post in 2006, which in turn led to his label, and finally this reissue. Seven tracks, 35:06, vocals tend toward rap, beats run on -- struck me as overly simplistic at first but grew on me. A-
Anthony Braxton: Trio and Duet (1974 , Delmark/Sackville): Early work recorded in Toronto, originally released on Sackville in Canada. The Trio cut is one of Braxton's diagrammatic titles, running 19:08, with (not yet Wadada) Leo Smith on various trumpets and percussion and Richard Teitelbaum on Moog and percussion -- one of those tuneless abstractions that eventually become engaging. The other side of the LP was a standards duo with bassist Dave Holland -- "The Song Is You," "Embraceable You," "You Go to My Head" (all remarkable readings), with two more added for the reissue ("I Remember You" adds to the theme; "On Green Dolphin Street" doesn't). A- [cd]
Connie Converse: How Sad, How Lovely (1954 , Squirrel Thing): In Greenwich Village of the mid-1950s, she worked odd jobs and wrote songs, recording these in Gene Deitch's kitchen, just her voice and guitar, effectively folk music but not that easy to pigeonhole. She gave up on music by 1961, and depressed in 1974 wrote several farewell letters and vanished without a trace. This finally appeared in 2009. Robert Forster is a fan. B+(**)
Coleman Hawkins/Clark Terry: Back in Bean's Bag (1962 , Essential Jazz Classics): More mainstream swing than bop, the tenor saxophonist sounds typically grand, with the trumpet player chipping in, coming more into his own on the bonus tracks that double the reissue's length -- where the album finally won me over. Tommy Flanagan plays piano, another treat. A-
Next Stop . . . Soweto, Vol. 2: Soul, Funk and Organ Grooves From the Townships 1969-1976 (1969-76 , Strut): First volume focused on mbaqanga, the signature pop music that made South Africa's townships famous, although it tried to stay on the steamier side, as if obscurity is a virtue. This favors chintzy funk grooves, obscure because they're derivative and unexceptional, not that they don't broaden your world. B+(*)
Next Stop . . . Soweto: Vol. 3: Giants, Ministers and Makers: Jazz in South Africa 1963-1978 (1963-78 , Strut, 2CD): Many African bands retained "Jazz" names without coming close to western jazz, but a number of South Africans adopted modern forms (without ever losing their love of South African textures and rhythms), usually going into exile -- Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana are two such here, mixed in with the more native bands. Wide ranging, quite enjoyable, but mostly as an odd sampler. B+(**)
No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the North-West Grunge Era 1986-97 (1986-97 , Soul Jazz, 2CD): I've often said that the early-1990s dominance of grunge and gangsta was what finally drove me to become a serious jazz fan (and to fill in all that early country-blues-r&b I missed growing up in the 1960s), so I didn't hold much hope for exploring the roots of something I never cared for in the first place, but here it is: 28 tracks by 23 bands which had at least one member who played on a bill with Nirvana. I did have some hope for Vampire Lezbos' "Stop Killing the Seals" until he rest of the lyric turned out to be "because they're my friends." Picks up a bit toward the end (Treehouse, Attica), well after I jotted down this Inspirational lyric: "I'm so bored/I'm so bored/I'm so-o bo-o-ored." The main lesson of grunge is that the laziest way to create something new is to forget all that happened before. B
The Rough Guide to African Rare Groove: Volume 1 (, World Music Network): Pan-African: sax jive from South Africa, others from Mozambique, Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria; not many clues as to from when, but 1980s and 1990s are mostly suspect. Not top drawer stuff -- more like "spare groove." B+(**)
The Rough Guide to the Best African Music You've Never Heard (, World Music Network): Like programming the continent for random play, you get bits from Senegal, Morocco, Sudan, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Mali, and probably other spots -- Lesotho if you count the "bonus disc," a reissue of a 2012 album by Sotho Sounds. Shouldn't be hard to pick out music "you've never heard" but a third of these groups have separate albums on the label's Riverboat subsidiary, and I have heard at least three of those (four counting Sotho Sounds) -- not that I remember them. B+(**)
Lennie Tristano: Chicago April 1951 (1951 , Uptown, 2CD): Previously unreleased live tracks, picked from a week at the Blue Note Jazz Club in Chicago. Sextet, with Lee Konitz on alto sax, Warne Marsh on tenor sax, and Willie Dennis on trombone. The pianist developed his own unique conception of bebop, one that sounds radically explorative even sixty-some years later. A-
Moppa Elliott: Moppa Elliott's Mostly Other People Do the Killing (2004 , Hot Cup): First album -- I didn't get on board until Shamokin!!! came out in 2007, by which time the bassist-composer had taken his name off the masthead. The quartet's lineup has remained the same for more than a decade -- Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (saxes), Kevin Shea (drums). Elliott's originals only hint at where they're going, but the "Moanin'" cover at the end is magnificent. B+(***)
Chico Hamilton and Euphoria: Arroyo (1990 , Soul Note): West coast drummer from the "cool jazz" generation, named this group after their 1989 album, built around guitar (Cary DeNigris) and electric bass (Reggie Washington), with Eric Person (alto/soprano sax) weaving in and out. B+(**)
Chico Hamilton and Euphoria: My Panamanian Friend (1992 , Soul Note): A tribute to Eric Dolphy who wrote seven tunes here, all but the brief opening and closing passages. Kenny Davis takes over at bass (acoustic this time, I think), with Cary DeNegris' guitar still the focal point while saxophonist Eric Person wastes away on flute (though he does eventually get some prime sax time). B+(**)
James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards: Live in Aught-Three (2004, Compadre): Christgau likes how this sums up his early songbook (six albums from 1989 to 2002) -- having only heard one, I appreciate the economy of this option, probably also the sonic unity and the fact that he doesn't try to jerk these story songs into rave-ups. May take a little longer to get into them, but he's the sort of writer you'd rather let sink in. A-
Tangerine Dream: Phaedra (1974, Virgin): Edgar Froese's pioneering Krautrock group, fifth album, regarded by many as their peak. The title cut has a just enough rhythmic tension to maintain interest through its 17:39 length. The three pieces on the backside are more synth-ambient. B+(**)
Buddy Tate Quartet & Quintet: Tate a Tete: At La Fontaine, Copenhagen (1975 , Storyville): The Texas tenor live in Denmark, his quartet one of those local pick-up bands although pianist Tete Montoilu is justly famous enough he gets "featuring" credit on the cover -- the bassist is Bo Stief, drummer Svend-Erik Nørregaard, and for a couple tracks the group grows to five with Finn Ziegler on violin. Tate sings "Buddy's Blues," and plays as only he can. B+(**)
Dinah Washington: Dinah Jams (1954 , Verve): Taped in a studio with a live audience to conjure up the air of an after-hours jam session, with a rotating cast of star musicians -- the trumpeters are Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, and Maynard Ferguson -- and well-known songs, which Washington, ever the pro, nails. A-
Dinah Washington: Sings Fats Waller (1957 , Fresh Sound): Adds nine cuts, mostly from The Queen, to the 1957 LP. Ernie Wilkins' big band runs hot and heavy, and Eddie Chamblee's vocal duets aren't up to snuff, but Washington's superb, and "Black and Blue" is a tour de force. B+(**)
Dinah Washington: Sings Bessie Smith (1957-58 , Fresh Sound): Washington is the more polished singer, but she savors the gritty blues, and Eddie Chamblee's band drives the point home by emphasizing the trombone (Quentin Jackson or Julius Priester). B+(***)
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, March 16. 2015
Music: Current count 24701  rated (+14), 420  unrated (+0).
Oklahoma trip chewed up three days, so doesn't completely explain this week's shortfall. While I felt rather depressed before and melancholy (and tired) after, could be that the rest of the drop came from giving Madonna and Myra Melford at least five spins each before my lack of an A- response sealed their fates. Neither album reduces my estimation of the artist, but when I want to hear them I'll go elsewhere. I wound up landing on B+(***) a lot this week: six times out of fourteen records. Tanya Tagaq has by far the most uncertain grade, with some upside if I cared to work at it more than I'm willing, but also some downside. Most likely to be overrated are Atomic and Hailey Niswanger, although they gave me more pleasure than Melford or Madonna.
The one A- is Ryan Truesdell's second Gil Evans Project album. It also took about five spins. I didn't go back to recheck its predecessor, 2012's Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. At the time I was duly impressed giving it B+(***), but many other jazz critics were wowed and it wound up fourth in the Jazz Critics Poll. Possibly deserves a revisit, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that the more proven arrangements and the live sparkle still give the new album the edge.
Not much mail either. And despite adding quite a bit of bulk to the Music Tracking file, I'm not finding much of interest to look up on Rhapsody, and often not finding what I look for. I do have some downloads from Cuneiform and ECM but haven't been in a hurry to get to them. Haven't been in much of a hurry to do anything.
Should have a Rhapsody Streamnotes out in a day or two. While I was belatedly hacking out the tweets collected below, Matos wrote:
Sure rained on my parade. Been one of those days.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 15. 2015
It's been a slow week for me, as I spent much of it in Oklahoma, visiting relatives and attending the funeral of my cousin Harold Stiner. Harold was just shy of his 90th birthday, and is survived by his wife, Louise, whom he married in 1948 and lived with until death did they part. Their life together was a sweet story, but I wouldn't go so far as to dub it the American Dream -- they never made the sort of money American Dreamers feel entitled to, but they never really wanted either, and left behind two children, four grand-kids, and eleven great-grands, so it certainly counts as a human success story. The one part of the funeral I was somewhat troubled by was the "military honors" -- the flag-draped coffin, two soldiers standing at attention, one playing "taps," the ritual folding and presentation of the flag. It's not that Harold hadn't earned the honor. Like most Americans his age, he got sucked up into the US military in the closing stretch of WWII and wound up in the army that occupied Japan, where he served as a guard in the courts that tried Japanese war criminals. He talked about that experience often, but never talked about actual combat -- and he was a mere 20 on VJ day. My own father (only two years older) was also in the army at that time, but he never invested any identity in being a veteran, and died in 2000, before the War on Terror turned into a bizarre Cult of the Troops. I wondered whether Harold's identity was conditioned by that newer Cult, and felt like the stink of America's recent wars (Vietnam most certainly included) hasn't come to taint Harold's more honorable service.
Just a thought, but war does imbue this week's select links:
Monday, March 9. 2015
Music: Current count 24687  rated (+95), 420  unrated (-79).
Saturday evening I checked the rated count and found I was only +17 for the week, a pace that would leave me well short of a productive +30 week. I decided that would be a good time to make a pass through the unrated file and see if any of those albums had been rated elsewhere (checking against the year-end files and sometimes the indexes for Recycled Goods or Rhapsody Streamnotes). I've made less systematic sweeps in the past and often netted a dozen or two missing grades. This time I picked up 72 albums, turning a slack week into a monster, statistically speaking.
Wound up with 26 records below, so not much shy of a normal "good" week. Two new non-jazz A-list releases (or three if you count a reissue of a cassette that only previously had a run of 50 units) so that may finally break the 2015 drought -- although all three are close to the borderline, and McMurtry and Tuxedo nearly got written up as HMs until 4-5 plays nudged me over the line. The live McMurtry was something I've been meaning to check out, so this seemed like a good time.
My Rhapsody Streamnotes draft file is already long enough to post. Good chance I'll post it some time this week, although I won't promise. For one thing, I'll be out of town a few days: one of my cousins, Harold Stiner, passed away on Saturday, so I want to at least make an appearance at the funeral. He was 89 -- a teenager when he joined the Army and wound up stationed as a guard during war crimes trials in Japan. When he returned, he bought a small farm north of Stroud, married Louise Byrd, and they both lived there until moving to a nursing home a few months ago, more than 65 years. We went down there often when I was a child, and I spent a lot of time fishing his pond. He was an exceptionally kind, open, generous person, and will be missed and remembered fondly.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 8. 2015
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, March 2. 2015
Music: Current count 24592  rated (+32), 499  unrated (+6).
Surprised at all the mail that came in this past week, especially today. (I don't always get Monday's mail added into Unpacking, but this week I did.) In particular, I've gotten more than a few packages from publicists who seemed to give up on me years ago. I'm not sure whether I should be gratified by the recognition. I've actually been quite bummed this winter with my inability to move on to what seem to me to be more serious writing projects.
A mid-week check suggested that the ratings rate was falling off, possibly because the EOY Aggregate File seems finally to be finished. (Don't know what happened to the Dean's List I promised last week.) But bad weather kept me inside, and the growing queue encourage me to pick some items off. May also have helped that I have more than the usual number of recommendations to make this week. I started off last week checking out some records featuring the late trumpet player Clark Terry: Dinah Washington was the first of a great many singers to tap Terry; I only found one record he recorded with Coleman Hawkins, but it grew on me (as Hawk almost always does); the Buddy Tate didn't include Terry (some confusion on my part, but I followed through anyway).
I looked for the Tristano several months ago but it wasn't available. I haven't received Uptown's vault releases for a couple years now, but have tried to catch them when they showed up on Rhapsody. I usually found them disappointing -- often sound, sometimes annoying patter or just uninspired performances, but Chicago 1951 grabbed me right away. There are other good examples of the interplay between Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz, but this is the best example I've found of Tristano's innovative playing. Braxton's duets with Dave Holland are also remarkable: Braxton has often been much easier to follow on standards than through his own knotty compositions, but you rarely get to focus so intently on his bass playing. The relationship between the two musicians goes back a couple years earlier, at least to Holland's 1972 album Conference of the Birds, with one of Braxton's most virtuosic performances ever.
Three new jazz albums made the grade -- all on European labels. Chris Lightcap's album jumped to the top of my nascent 2015 list. Non-jazz 2015 A-list albums continue to lag: I could cite Ghostface Killah's disc as the first of the year, but even there top billing went to the Canadian jazz group BadBadNotGood. I was tempted by A Place to Bury Strangers, but didn't feel like a second spin would make a difference.
Also in today's mail were copies of Robert Christgau's new memoir, Going Into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man, and Carola Dibbell's first published (but not first written) novel, The Only Ones. I read an early draft of the former, and my wife read an even earlier draft of the latter. Christgau's book was released last week, so I've been gathering links of reviews and interviews for possible use on his website. I'm not sure how many of these we will use on the website, but here is my current, unexpurgated list:
For more on Carola's novel, look here.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
The Kansas state legislature has past the half-way point in their scheduled session this year, and the Republicans there have already succeeded in their most evident goal: to make Kansas the laughing stock of the nation (with all due respect to the state legislatures of Texas and Missouri). Crowson's cartoon:
This primarily refers to a bill that passed the Senate (see Luke Brinker: Kansas could put teachers in prison for assigning books prosecutors don't like), but the war on public schools has gone through a number of skirmishes: first and foremost a massive funding cut -- from levels that the courts had already established were the minimum required by the state constitution. But also there have been two bills to rejigger the election of local school boards (a festering ground for people likely to sue when the state doesn't deliver its mandated funding): one is to move the election dates and make them partisan (assuming the Republican brand holds; voters have been known to accidentally elect Democrats in non-partisan elections), and another to make it illegal for any schoolteacher or relative of a schoolteacher to run for any school board (this would, for instance, disqualify 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis). There is also a bill, still pending, where the state would pay foster parents more for foster children who are privately- or home-schooled.
Some more scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study: