February 2003 Notebook
Index
Latest

2017
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2016
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2015
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2014
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2013
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2012
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2011
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2010
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2009
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2008
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2007
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2006
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2005
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2004
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2003
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2002
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2001
  Dec
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb

Monday, February 24, 2003

Caught some of the Grammys last night on TV. Nice to be reassured that the music industry isn't, contrary to reports, dead; too bad it looks so torpid. Most pathetic moment: Herbie Hancock swooning over the Dixie Chicks. Most surreal: Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello lip-synching to "London Calling". Best dressed: Fred Durst.

The upshot of all this was to remind me of something Eric Weisbard said in Pazz & Jop:

Amazon.com spent 2002 discarding editors and switching its programming emphasis from reviews to automated recommendations. A friend there told me something uncanny: whether the customer liked roots, rock, r&b, or "alternative," virtually anything, those grinding servers always came up with the same suggestion--try Norah Jones!


I downloaded and installed the current Macromedia Flash web browser module, having run into too many websites that were too bitchy about the version. I was also hoping that it would have some controls that would let me shut it off. After all, it's my browser, my screen, my cpu, my time, and while once in a while Flash might be used for something worth watching, vast experience indicates that once in a while doesn't come around all that often. No such luck. Instead, it includes even more intrusive controls, such as allowing remote sites to store data on your machine (kind of like cookies, but less manageable) and to suck data out of a local camera and/or microphone. Ugh. I hate Flash! Hate it! Hate it!

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Music: Starting this week, I have 8014 rated records, and 801 unrated. The latter is no doubt short (in particular, I have a box of CDs from Table of the Elements that I haven't logged much less listened to. I need to write the second reissues column this week, and to round up all those missing records for the Rolling Stone Record Guide project.

  • King Sunny Ade: The Best of the Classic Years (1967-74, Shanachie). The most striking thing about these early cuts from the future King of Juju is how open and spacious they are -- the complex rhythms, the sweet guitar. A
  • Daniel Bedingfield: Gotta Get Thru This (2002, Universal). Reminds me of Matthew Sweet for the obvious topical reasons, otherwise it could be teen pop or something like that. B+
  • John Coltrane: A Love Supreme: Deluxe Edition (1964-65, Impulse, 2CD). This combines Coltrane's classic with a second live version (listed as "previously unissued," but probably the same as has appeared on French issues) and alternate takes. The latter are rougher, and the live take is much further out: at the time Coltrane was moving quickly toward his own personal apocalypse, and the tension in the original is the source of much of its greatness. I'm very skeptical about these "Deluxe Editions," but the word on this one is "Amen." A
  • Cuisine Non-Stop: An Introduction to the French Nouvelle Generation (1996-2000, Luaka Bop). I've been chewing on this for a while, forcing myself to write a CG (that I won't dupe here). But I'll add one more question: if the secret of the new generation is accordions, what does the future hold? B+
  • Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet: 20 Classic Allen Toussaint Productions for Minit Records 1960-1962 (Capitol). Some of the greatest music that ever came out of New Orleans. A
  • Coleman Hawkins: The Bebop Years (1939-49, Proper, 4CD). Hawkins invented jazz saxophone back in the '20s, and pushed the tenor sax to the front of the horn section in the '30s, but these were the years when he really hit his stride. One magnificent performance after another. A+
  • Howlin' Wolf: Moanin' at Midnight: The Memphis Recordings (1951-52, Fuel 2000). Even in his first recordings, Wolf emerged full-formed, a commanding vocal presence. A-
  • The Keystone Quartet: A Love Story (2000, 32 Jazz). Two changes from the Keystone Trio: the addition of saxophonist Eric Alexander is obvious, the substitution of Cyrus Chestnut for pianist John Hicks less so. (George Mraz and Lewis Nash are the constants.) The effect is to soften things up, to make it purty, to turn this into one of those quietstorm records. A nice one, of course. B+
  • New Order: Retro (1981-2002, London, 4CD). This reshuffles their anonymous-sounding dance tracks into four more sets, endlessly listenable, danceable even. A-
  • The Rough Guide to Salsa Dance (1964-99, World Music Network). I'm way behind the learning curve here: even though I've heard of at least half of these artists, the only one I actually own an album by is Celia Cruz. Big bands, lots of horns and congas, hard to say much more. This shows signs of being assembled on the cheap, and the dates are wild guesses -- most of these cuts cite as sources other anthologies. B+
  • Jimmy Rushing: Cat Meets Chick/The Jazz Oddysey of James Rushing Esq. (1955-56, Collectables). A-
  • Wayne Shorter: The Classic Blue Note Recordings (1960-89, Blue Note, 2CD). The first disc distills Shorter's solo albums into something stronger and more coherent than any of its sources; the second disc collects sideman performances, mostly from the Blakey years. I always thought he was overrated, but this impresses the hell out of me. A
  • Cecil Taylor: The Willisau Concert (2000, Intakt). This one's solo, so explosive and effusive it would be madness to insist on anyone else trying to keep pace. It would take quite a while to check, but I don't think I've ever rated a Taylor solo album quite this high. But long-time fan Gary Giddins wrote that he thought this to be Taylor's best ever. I can't verify that, but I will say that it makes me want to pay attention, wheras a couple of other Taylor CDs are languishing in my unrated pile. A-
  • Cecil Taylor: Qu'a: Live at the Iridium Vol. 1 (1998, Cadence). This is much closer to par for the course regarding Taylor: one long piece of free jazz meanderings, in a quartet setting but with all ears on the piano, just in case the master does something amazing. B
  • Chris Tyle's Silver Leaf Jazz Band of New Orleans: New Orleans Wiggle (1999, GHB). A rousing set of New Orleans-style classic jazz. A Penguin Guide crown record. A-
  • Warren Vaché/Bill Charlap: 2Gether (2000, Nagel-Heyer). A very intimate piano/trumpet duo, with Vaché and Charlap squarely in the mainstream, making purty music. Penguin Guide gave it a crown. A-
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Freedom Suite (2002, Aum Fidelity). Can't do this record justice at this point, but the only doubt about the grade is that it might be too low. The music starts off from Sonny Rollins, the length almost doubled because Ware is as voluble as ever. And the Quartet is well on its way to becoming legendary: Parker and Shipp have anchored, checked, and increasingly driven Ware since 1991. A-

Friday, February 21, 2003

In the last 24 hours I've been hit with the same thing from virtually all sides: America's new enemy is Saudi Arabia. First I read Nicholas Lemann's post-Iraq fantasy piece in The New Yorker (more on that in a bit). Then I get a piece of viral (pass-it-along) email that urges everyone to boycott gas stations that get their oil from middle eastern countries, with a list of 4-5 companies that are OK, and 4-5 companies that are not. The argument is that oil money goes to support terrorists. Then I go to the bookstore and find a new book called Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism, by an Israeli diplomat named Dore Gold, published by right-wing Henry Regnery, with back-cover praise by Richard Perle (the DOD "advisor" who has been pushing Iraq invasion for years, who recently has been quoted to the effect that the US should also occupy Saudia Arabia's oil fields). Now I see that Mark Fiore has an anti-SUV animation which ends on the note, "America: You can do your part to get Saudi Arabia moving again".

So that's two shots from the left, and two shots from the right, both not merely aimed at Saudi Arabia but capitalizing on a pent-up well of anti-Saudi hatred. The left, of course, has long detested the Saudis -- royalty, theocracy, misogynists, puppets of US imperialism, and filthy rich to boot, what's not to dislike? -- and they're mostly thinking along anti-oil lines, which may not be realistic but at least has some long-term logic behind it. However, by playing on anti-Saudi prejudices they're playing into the right wing's hands. The real question is why has the right wing, which has always been so fond of royalty, theocracy, misogynists, and imperialist puppets, not to mention the filthy rich, so soured on the Saudis? I'll hazzard three guesses here:

  1. The right wing in America is no longer merely reactionary: it has become activist, aggressive, offensive; it speaks of revolution, of effecting profound changes in society, culture, and the political order. It has, in short, overstepped the line that separates mere conservatives from Fascists, Nazis, etc.
  2. The right wing in America has fallen in love with the right wing in Israel -- in fact, guys like Dore Gold and Richard Perle are almost completely interchangeable -- with both convinced that their security and other goals can only be achieved by relentless expessions of raw power and brute force.
  3. And then there is old fashioned racism, broken down into simple us-versus-them so the simple minds that the right wing appeals to can follow it: the Saudis may be filthy rich, but they're not our filthy rich, they're Arabs, they're Muslims, they're people who in the long run we can't trust and will ultimately work against us. But the new twist is that the right wing has learned to usurp left wing rhetoric -- think of the anti-abortionists' use of the civil rights movement model -- which here shows up as our moral duty to liberate the poor Arabs from their rulers' tyranny and hatred. (Not that this is all that new-fangled, as anyone familiar with the phrase "white man's burden" should know.)

The Lemann article interviews a couple of DOD "thinkers" and works through a couple of documents. One is called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," which was written in 1996 by a committee headed by Richard Perle as advice for Benjamin Netanyahu. This was followed up by a book by David Wurmser (also on Perle's committee) called Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein. These document spin out a fantasy about how removing Saddam will spark a series of events which will reshape the entire political climate of the middle east. This is, of course, sheer fantasy. For example (from Lemann, p. 76):

One can easily derive from Wurmser's book a crisp series of post-Saddam moves across the chessboard of the Middle East. The regime in Iran would either fall or be eased out of power by an alliance of the radical students and the more moderate mullahs, with the United States doing what it could to encourage the process. After regime change, the United States would persuade Iran to end its nuclear-weapons program and its support for terrorists elsewhere in the Middle East, especially Hezbollah. Syria, now surrounded by the pro-American powers of Turkey, the reconfigured Iraq, Jordan, and Israel, and no longer dependent on Saddam for oil, could be pressured to coöperate with efforts to clean out Hamas, islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. As Syria moved to a more pro-American stand, so would its client state, Lebanon. That would leave Hezbollah, which has its headquarters in Lebanon, without state support. The Palestinian Authority, with most of its regional allies stripped away, would have no choice but to renounce terrorism categorically. Saudi Arabia would have much less sway over the United States because it would no longer be America's only major source of oil and base of military operations in the region, and so it might finally be persuaded to stop funding Hamas and Al Qaeda through Islamic charities.

The first thing to note here is that the end-goal of these machinations is that Israel will be delivered from all violent opposition. Still, it is naive to think that this might just happen -- since when have radical students in Iran been pro-American? (I even missed the part where the mullahs became moderate; my impression is that civil society in Iran has been inching away from the mullahs as people more and more just go about their everyday business, in the absence of war and domestic oppression that can easily be blamed on foreigners, as was the case when the Shah was in power.) Rather, the probable steps that this scenario has conveniently left out are: when the US destroys Iraq this will lead to an increase in anti-American activity all over the middle east, which runs the risk of pushing one or more Arab states into the "state sponsors of terrorism" category, which combined with the universal anti-Arab/anti-Muslim hatred that the right wing is generating could drive the US into destroying them, until all that is left in the wake of this destruction is rubble. It's hard not to suspect that the real goal of this strategy is not the promulgation of democracy (never more than a codeword for the right) but the reduction of Arab political power to something below the current fate of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

The question arises, then, is this really US policy, or just some right wing wet dream? Well, the latest word from George W. Bush is, "For the oppressed people of Iraq, people whose lives we care about, the day of freedom is drawing near. A free Iraq can be a source of hope for all the Middle East." Sounds like he's with the program.


I'm reading Joan Didion's Political Fictions while all this shit is coming down, where she writes (p. 271):

[Robert H.] Bork is worth some study, since it is to him that we owe the most forthright statements of what might be required to effect "a moral and spiritual regeneration," the necessity for which has since entered the talk-show and op-ed ether. Such a regeneration could be produced, Bork speculated in Slouching Towards Gomorrah, by one of four events: "a religious revival; the revival of public discourse about morality; a cataclysmic war; or a deep economic depression."

As this discussion was about Monica Lewinsky and the Clinton impeachment, we now know that Bork's first two options didn't go far enough to satisfy the right. So is "cataclysmic war" really the next card up the right's sleeve? ("Deep economic depression" would surely follow from such war, but there are other dynamics working on that front as well. Most immediately, someone should look into what would happen if the Saudis move their investments from the US to Europe, etc.; I suspect that the US is more dependent on Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states for capital returns than for oil.)

I think we really have to start calling into question the putative morality of people who would throw us into war and depression just to make a point about religion.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Here's a little quote from The Wichita Eagle, under the title "Electric, gas rate boosts may remain state secrets":

In the name of homeland security, legislators are proposing to keep secret increases in electric and natural gas rates to pay for utility security improvements.

A bill expected to pass the state House Utilities Committee this week would prohibit the Kansas Corporation Commission from telling utility customers how much they're paying when rates are raised to coverthe cost of the war on terrorism.

The bill requirse the extra charges "to be unidentifiable on customers' bills."

Backers of the bill say releasing information on utility security, even the cost the public will bear for it, would be like giving away secrets to the enemy.

This goes a step further than the usual scam, which is to inflate costs to try to ratchet up regulated utility rates. Homeland security is a marvelous excuse for conflating costs, and the ability to hide them from public scrutiny is a surefire formula for abuse. The notion that terrorists would select their targets by analyzing utility rate filings is in the realm of the absurd: grated, the CIA may have the resources to think that way, but most crooks would just case the joint, plant a mole, bribe or blackmail a guard, etc.

But it does go to show that the self-inflicted costs of terrorism keep growing and growing. One thing that's happening here is that homeland security has entered into an expensive arms race with its own paranoia, which is, of course, aided and abetted by anyone who smells a buck in the deal. Certainly it would be a lot cheaper to just pretend that terrorism isn't even a problem. It would also make for a more honest and respectable society. And the evidence that we'd be any less safe is far from indisputable.


I got a copy of a letter that someone from the Peace and Justice Kansas group wrote to the Eagle, following a particularly dumb and nasty set of editorials in the yesterday (including a comment from Senator John McCain comparing France to a washed-up, wrinkled actress, a pretty ignorant comment even by McCain's standards). So I started thinking about making a more succinct point. Here's my letter:

While all the hotheads are complaining about France and Germany spoiling Bush's war party in Iraq, has anyone stopped to consider that the aerospace company that so many are pinning their hopes on to help Wichita recover from this war-induced recession is Airbus, owned by France and Germany? Or that a big part of the reason that France and Germany are doing so much better than the U.S. in this recession is that they haven't been squandering their wealth on war toys and that they don't have leaders who start bombing things every time they get piqued.

Maybe Wichitans should start warming up to France and Germany. I mean, Bombardier and Raytheon don't think we're poor enough yet to keep working for them, and the more they cut their "costs" (as in jobs) the more anxious we're going to be for Airbus to expand here.

By the way, Wichita is in the midst of a mayoral compaign, where basically everyone is talking about the need to get more businesses to come to Wichita, while Bombardier (formerly LearJet) threatens to close their plant here, and Raytheon (formerly Beech) plots to outsource their work.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

I heard this from Laura; don't know where she got it, but it may have been a march chant, but it sounds like a rap couplet to me:

George Bush has lost his mind
Talks about killing all the time

Monday, February 17, 2003

Movie: The Hours. Presumably it would help to actually know something about Mrs. Dalloway -- what little I know was gleaned from the movie, and mostly forgotten. Presumably the book itself fleshes this story out considerably -- again, I haven't read the book. But it does tighten up a bit in the end; in the meantime it is mostly marked by stellar acting from a rich and varied cast. Still, the emptiness and dependence and despondency in the lives of the three principal characters seems forced, subjected to a thread of narrative that the evidence doesn't really support. So while we can applaud the ingenuity of the author(s) and the virtuosity of the performers, what it has to do with anything is another story. To my mind, it is just one more proof that whatever life is, it isn't a work of art. A-

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Music: Starting this week I have 8001 records graded, but the Unrated list has crept back to 800, a deluge of new acquisitions (not all in the database yet).

  • Craig Armstrong: As If to Nothing (2002, Astralwerks). Not sure which sect of electronica this piece of orchestral synth belongs to -- AMG says "trip-hop," but it sounds more like new age to me. Except when he introduces a beat like industrial, but in the end the glop prevails: it's not even new age industrial? C
  • Art Blakey and the Afro-Drum Ensemble: The African Beat (1962, Blue Note). The dominant drum, of course, is still Blakey's. And the other notable voices are two American ringers with Islamic names, bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and multireedist Yusef Lateef. By contrast the Africans are scattered and relatively tame. But there's nothing really wrong with the experiment, and Blakey and Lateef, in particular, are having a good day. B+
  • Cody Chesnutt: The Headphone Masterpiece (2002, Ready Set Go!, 2CD). As a soul singer, he's as unique as Swamp Dogg. If the goal of an artist is to be distinct, he's there. But the record here is at best a glorious mess: sure, you might be able to reconfigure it as an A-rated single CD, but you could also reconfigure it as a C-rated single CD, and it's likely that some of the same songs would be on both. I presume that the songs with hooks are covers, but I can't confirm that: the booklet is so full of "I'm giving thanks to be blessed Creator" and "The Lord is my Shepherd" that it gives me cooties, and the lack of songwriting credits suggests that it's all divinely inspired. If so, God's got quite a thing about dick, the subject of six or eight or a dozen of these pieces. B+
  • Marty Ehrlich/Ben Goldberg: Light at the Crossroads (1996, Songlines). Two clarinets, bass and drums, an intimate set of mild-mannered avant-jazz. Takes a while to negotiate, but nice. B+
  • Ricky Nelson: The Legendary Masters Series, Volume 1 (1957-60, EMI America). Nelson grew up on TV, in a showbiz family that went back further than even people in the '50s could recall. He was well tended to, in some sense as synthetic as Fabian and Frankie Avalon and all those other teen idols who looked and sang like clones. But he was better than them, better than Pat Boone, better than, well, not Buddy Holly, but we're getting closer. The most striking thing about Nelson was how easy he made it all look; he was a natural, a guy who could make rockabilly look effortless, who could put a winsome ballad over, who could make the girls swoon and not let it go to his head. A
  • Rick Nelson: The Best of Rick Nelson, Volume 2 (1956-62, EMI America). Less consistent -- "Summertime" isn't his kind of song -- but this adds a couple of big hits missing on Vol. 1, but the obscurities just show off his technique. In a better world -- i.e., one where we let rock critics program reissues -- someone could take the better half of this one and add it to the better two-thirds of Vol. 1 and come up with a definitive showcase. A-
  • Pretenders: Loose Screw (2002, Artemis). I've never gotten close to a Chrissie Hynde album, never found her easy to listen to or to care about; she doesn't have a lot of range that I can discern, the music very consistent from 1980 to present. And this one has been languishing on the shelf long enough that I can't claim any great excitement here either, but every time I notice this record I'm noticing something smart, focused, well crafted, and sustained effort reveals subtler joys. A-
  • Django Reinhardt: Bruxelles 1947/Paris 1951 1952 1953 (1947-53, Musidisc). A rather inconsistent set of late sessions, most of which venture into be-bop territory, with the customary sonic degradation. Not uninteresting, but not top of the game either. B
  • Amy Rigby: 18 Again: An Anthology (1996-2000, Koch). Condensed from three albums that are worth owning whole, this adds nothing but reminds me just how sharp her songwriting is, and how tough and resilient a smart woman has to be to keep engaging a world that damn well ought to appreciate her more. A
  • The Rough Guide to Scottish Folk (1978-99, World Music Network). Seems like a good enough survey, but there's nothing good enough to seriously tempt me into further exploration. Part of this may be that they just didn't dig deep enough to find any roots, which is a shame because you'd think this would be the compilers' home turf. B
  • Steinski: Nothing to Fear: A Rough Mix (2002, Soul Ting). Not an easy album to get hold of, especially out here in the wheat chaff. Steinski is a legend I had long heard of but never actually heard before now: his "The Payoff Mix" was suppressed for lack of copyright clearances, and the same is/will be likely for this one. What he does is fairly simple: he lays down fairly straightforward dance tracks, sometimes constructed with samples (a start-stop-repeat stutter from "Duke of Earl" kicks things off), topped with speech fragments (most funny, some odd, all striking). This rolls along for an hour and is pretty amazing. A-
  • Linda Thompson: Fashionably Late (2002, Rounder). Ex-husband Richard has never been the same without her (although he put on a heroic front for a few albums); what Linda misses without him is a little musical muscle and a lot of aggravation. She refers to this as "Weary Life," and seems at last satisfied by it, although one senses that lethargy is what made her second solo album so late. Anglo folk-rock, carefully measured, beautifully sung, not quite special enough. B+
  • Justin Timberlake: Justified (2002, Jive). This is a confident contempo-soul album, soft, slick, slightly funky, a little too long not to wear thin, but quite pleasant. Not really a soul man, but definitely more than a boy toy.B+

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Got a letter from Don Malcolm: having looked over my recent writings, he requested more movie reviews. The fact is that these days I doubt that I'd ever see a movie were it not for Laura's persistent lobbying. But we saw one today, which I wouldn't mind seeing again. So here goes:

Movie: Talk to Her. The latest by Pedro Almodovar, the look alone is enough to wow me, and to remind me that aside from Alan Rudolph he's the only director in recent history who can induce me to watch his movies more than once. This one remind me why fiction is fiction, and why that matters. As a strictly non-fiction guy, I tend to equate fiction with false, a license to fabricate, to orchestrate, to hype, to hack; but it's also a way to think about life in a way that not only breathes life into concept but gives them the autonomy to go their own way. The set-up here is extraordinarily improbable--two young women in comas, one attended by a sentimental lover who feels detached, the other attended by an admirer who becomes more and more involved. But the set-up is irrelevant, because the movie isn't about that -- the movie is about caring. And it's not a concept of caring, nor a metaphor: there's no reason to think that the women, nor the men, are anything more than the humans they obviously are. A

Later in the day we went to a "flashlight" antiwar demonstration, downtown on the Douglas Ave. bridge, is nasty frigid weather. I'd say at least a hundred (probably closer to 150) people showed up, and we got extra credit on the evening news for the weather. Earlier in the day there was a larger march in Newton, a town 20+ miles north of Wichita, with a substantial Mennonite presence. There seems to be some debate as to whether the march in Newton or one in Lawrence today was the largest antiwar demonstration in all of Kansas history.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Every now and then I think of someone who I'd like to build a website for, to put that person's works into easily accessible order. Today I pulled out a slim volume of columns by George P. Brockway, Economists Can Be Bad for Your Health. Then I searched for him on the internet, as I had several times in the past. I'm shocked and saddened to find out that Brockway passed away, back on Oct. 9, 2001. Here's a web page In Memoriam. As the page says, "We have lost a good man."


The big headine in the paper today reads "Awaiting U.N.'s word", above which it says "WAR WITH IRAQ APPEARS INEVITABLE", and below "Bush asks nations to stand firm against Iraq in decision today." Bush is pictured holding court on a warship (admittedly near Jacksonville, FL). Below is a second major article, headlined "U.S. troops are already in Iraq". I find the latter disconcerting, even though Laura tells me that this is old news. Still, the fact that it's being rolled out today in advance of the latest Blix disarmament report looks like intimidation by fait accompli. Even if some U.N. countries buckle under pressure, this is certain to leave a bitter taste. In fact, the only similar case of using such threats to gain a diplomatic pass to allow a big country to invade a small country was Hitler vs. Czechoslovakia in 1937 (i.e., Munich).

Of course, there are differences: that the U.S. does not intend to permanently occupy Iraq; that there will almost certainly be military and civilian resistance to U.S. occupation, including the strong likelihood of a long guerrilla struggle that will ultimately wear down U.S. resolve to occupy; that the countries who are expected to knuckle under are not themselves risking war, but that those same countries are being bullied to become complicit in a war that threatens vast destruction and many years to come of hatred and retribution. I've long hated Nazi analogies, but Nazi Germany is one vivid example of what happens when a supposedly civilized nation goes over the brink and becomes insatiably hateful and vengeful. Another example might be Britain's 19th century Opium Wars against China, which is a classic case of one country forcing another into a capitulation which ultimately tore Chinese civil and political society apart. The U.S. "opening" of Japan is yet another example -- a more "benign" one, apparently, but one which started Japan down the path to its destruction in WWII. What all three of these examples in common is the threat (and in two cases use) of war to intimidate and destabilize other countries, with complete and callow disregard for the people who live in those countries.

Sure, it's not hard to convince me that the U.S. is not Nazi Germany -- in particular, we lack and recoil at the everday brutality that the Nazi SA wrought before and shortly after Hitler's rise to power. But this does make me wonder how ordinary citizens can tell when and how their country actually slips over the brink and descends from civilization to barbarity.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

An item from the Wichita Eagle (Feb. 13, 2003, p. 3C):

A federal judge set a Feb. 23, 2004 trial date for a lawsuit the [Chicago] Cubs filed. The team contends the rooftop owners violate copyright laws and directly compete with the club for ticket sales.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages and some of the defendant's profits. The suit also wants the rooftop owners banned from marketing the Cubs without the team's permission.

The article suggests that there's more to this story, something having to do with a proposed expansion of the ballpark, which I suppose could damage the sightlines of the rooftop owners, and I wouldn't be surprised if there's another frivolous lawsuit to that effect. Still, this raises a bunch of questions. Most obviously, how can copyright law apply if there is no copying involved -- i.e., the rooftop people are seeing the original performance, not a copy.

What bothers the Cubs seems to be what economists call the "free rider" problem, which occurs when someone gets something for free that other people pay for. This happens a lot. A typical example might be that someone buys a newspaper, reads it for a while, then leaves it in a public place (e.g., a bus or subway seat) where someone else can pick it up, read it for a while, then leave it or discard it. Most businesses just live with such inefficiencies -- publications even factor free riders into their advertising sales pitch -- but more and more we see businesses thinking of free riders as negative revenue, and becoming apoplectic over the losses.

One thing that gets lost in this clash of interests is that copyright law exists in the first place in order to promote copying, and thereby to promote the creation and dissemination of works of art. And that the underlying reason is that we as a society and a culture and a polity are better off having an abundance of publicly accessible art. However, what we're seeing more and more of is the use of copyright law to restrict copying and to prevent public use of art. The music industry is notorious in this regard, a fact that I am reminded of on hearing Steinski's Nothing to Fear: A Rough Cut, which is an hour's worth of uncleared beats, samples, and talk that has been fashioned into a unique listening experience. That this record is original and creative is abundantly clear, as is the fact that its previously copyrighted components are owed no more responsibility for the final product than the wood and nails and other artifacts Rauschenberg used to compose his pieces.


Speaking of the music industry, a fragment from my Pazz & Jop Comments has been published in the Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll under the title Loss Leaders. One might be tempted to draw the conclusion from this that I'm full of contempt for the music industry, but actually the feeling is more like pity. Not pity that they're losing their shirts, but pity that so many of them lost their souls first. My old-fashioned viewpoint is that the reason you have an industry is to produce something useful, which is just a general way of saying that the music industry should first and foremost be concerned with producing music. (I'm even tempted to say the obvious, to produce good music.) The same thing is true of every other industry: you need people who care about the actual products, not just the bottom line.

However, what's happening across the board is that businesses are becoming controlled by people whose passionate interest is money (and perhaps the power that goes with it), and they have been getting better and better at tuning the system to their own peculiar interests. The problem with that is that their actions are bleeding the real industries of their real reason-for-being. I don't mean this as the usual rant against capitalism. The fact is that there are lots of forces at work in unfettered capitalism, and finance is just one of them -- others include customers (consumers), workers (producers), and various intermediaries -- but power and control is becoming ever more concentrated in the hands of the money people. Somehow I feel that we have to start nudging that power back into the hands of the people who care most about the products, otherwise we all wind up suffering.


Speaking of MBAs, that's what George W. Bush's degree is in, right? You'd think we'd start seeing a major backlash against the MBA, based on Bush's performance. The thing is, much of what is peculiar about Bush is typical of modern business thinking: he has enormous self-confidence (the trait that looks like arrogance to outsiders), bordering on sheer wrecklessness; he's very goal-oriented, and he's rigorous (I'm tempted to say ruthless) in pursuit of those goals; yet those goals are very short-term things, and often run substantial long-term risks. This is quite a departure from presidential norms: politicians instinctively seek solid ground, rooted in consensus and wary of conflict, but Bush has managed to take the tiniest political edge and turn it into a bludgeon. It's hard to believe that his level of political activism will sit well with a polity that actually seemed to enjoy the stalemate of the Clinton/Gingrich years.

The other association that Bush has working against himself is sports. Sports metaphors are rife in business, from the teamwork that subordinates are expected to show to the hardened determination of champions and the notion that winning is all that matters. There are lots of problems with this beyond the obvious excess of testosterone: most basically, that civilization is not a zero-sum game.


I read a couple of days ago that the U.S. had sent a high level envoy to the Vatican to get the Pope's support for war against Iraq. Last time the Pope indulged such fantasies was the Crusades, an event still remembered in Bin Laden's ugly "Crusaders and Jews" comment. One would think that Bush would be as leery of the Pope's blessing as he is of Sharon's assistance, but thus far Bush's main offensive in his war on Iraq has been against domestic (and European) opposition to his war, many of whom are Roman Catholic, and his shortsightedness is such that he can't see how winning this battle might undermine him in the next. The Pope's blessing might assuage a few Catholics, but it would be a red carpet invitation to Jihad.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Pazz & Jop Critics Poll is out. One of the main attractions here is to find things that I didn't know about. Two lists here. The first are the top-40 finishers that I haven't heard.

  1. The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
  2. Missy Elliott: Under Construction
  3. Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf
  4. Solomon Burke: Don't Give Up on Me
  5. Elvis Costello: When I Was Cruel
  6. Interpol: Turn on the Bright Lights
  7. Norah Jones: Come Away With Me
  8. Neko Case: Blacklisted
  9. Sigur Ros: ( )
  10. 2 Many DJ's: As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2
  11. Andrew W.K.: I Get Wet
  12. Super Furry Animals: Rings Around the World
  13. Scarface: The Fix
  14. The Doves: The Last Broadcast
  15. Clinic: Walking With Thee
  16. Soundtrack of Our Lives: Behind the Music
  17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Those were all among the 108 albums in my "Hyped" list (although I may have cheated once or twice -- the evidence is pretty much destroyed at this point). The second list starts from #41 but only includes records not listed in my "Hyped" list: these are the real marginal surprises (and I won't bother with the positions, since that's extra and increasingly uninteresting typing, but I'll add the labels):

  • And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead: Source Tags & Codes (Interscope)
  • Black Dice: Beaches and Canyons (DFA)
  • Nas: God's Son (Columbia)
  • Johnny Cash: American IV: The Man Comes Around (American)
  • Felix da Housecatt: Kitten and Thee Glitz (Emperor Norton)
  • Cassandra Wilson: Belly of the Sun (Blue Note)
  • Paul Westerberg/Grandpaboy: Stereo/Mono (Vagrant)
  • Caitlin Cary: While You Weren't Looking (Yep Roc)
  • Notwist: Neon Golden (City Slang)
  • Out Hud: S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. (Kranky)
  • Rilo Kiley: The Execution of All Things (Saddle Creek)
  • Jurassic 5: Power in Numbers (Interscope)
  • Low: Trust (Kranky)
  • Donnie: The Colored Section (Giant Step)
  • Iron and Wine: The Creek Drank the Cradle (Sub Pop)

  • Wire: Read & Burn 01 (Pinkflag)
  • Ryan Adams: Demolition (Lost Highway)
  • Audioslave (Epic)
  • Peter Gabriel: Up (Geffen)
  • Lambchop: Is a Woman (Merge)
  • Walkmen: Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone (Star Time)
  • Radio 4: Gotham! (Gern Blandsten)
  • Eels: SoulJacker (DreamWorks)
  • Kronos Quartet: Nuevo (Nonesuch)
  • Neil Halstead: Sleeping on Roads (4AD)
  • Mirah: Advisory Committee (K)
  • Hot Hot Heat: Make Up the Breakdown (Sub Pop)
  • Bryan Ferry: Frantic (Virgin)
  • David Bowie: Heathen (ISO-Columbia)
  • Devendra Banhart: Oh Me, Oh My . . . (Young God)
  • McLusky: McLusky Do Dallas (Too Pure)
  • Tweet: Southern Hummingbird (Elektra)

  • Josh Rouse: Under Cold Blue Stars (Rykodisc)
  • Soft Boys: Nextdoorland (Matador)
  • Nas: The Lost Tapes (Ill Will/Columbia)
  • Destroyer: This Night (Merge)
  • Hot Snakes: Suicide Invoice (Swaami)
  • Nina Nastasia: The Blackened Air (Touch and Go)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling (Rounder)
  • Bobby Bare Jr.: Young Criminals Starvation League (Bloodshot)
  • Recloose: Cardiology (Planet E)
  • Rush: Vapor Trails (Atlantic)
  • Mooney Suzuki: Electric Sweat (Gammon)
  • High on Fire: Surrounded by Thieves (Relapse)
  • Robert Plant: Dreamland (Universal)
  • Chuck Prophet: No Other Love (New West)
  • Cornelius: Point (Matador)
  • Amon Tobin: Out From Out Where (Ninja Tune)
  • Tom Petty: The Last DJ (Warner Bros.)
  • Brendon Benson: Lapalco (StarTime International)
  • Pere Ubu: St Arkansas (SpinArt)
  • Sahara Hotnights: Jennie Bomb (Jetset)
  • Elbow: Asleep in the Back (V2)
  • Phantom Planet: The Guest (Sony)
  • Division of Laura Lee: Black City (Burning Heart/Epitaph)

  • Mudhoney: Since We've Beocme Translucent (Sub Pop)
  • Oneida: Each One, Teach One (Jagjaguwar)
  • Aluminum Group: Happyness (Wishing Tree)
  • Guy Clark: The Dark (Sugar Hill)
  • Guided by Voices: Universal Truths & Cycles (Matador)
  • Underworld: A Hundred Days Off (V2)
  • Ruben Blades: Mundo (Sony Latin)
  • Hem: Rabbit Songs (Bar/None)
  • Mike Ireland: Try Again (Ashmont)
  • Negro Problem: Welcome Back (Smile)
  • Reigning Sound: Timb Bomb High School (In the Red)
  • Blind Boys of Alabama: Higher Ground (RealWorld)
  • Kinky: Kinky (Nettwerk)
  • Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man: Out of Season (Go! Beat)
  • Jazzanova: In Between (Ropeadope)
  • Ralph Stanley (DMZ/Columbia)
  • Black Heart Procession: Amore del Tropico (Touch and Go)
  • Patti Griffin: 1000 Kisses (ATO)
  • Primal Scream: Evil Heat (Epic)
  • Future Bible Heroes: Eternal Youth (Instinct)
  • Coral: The Coral (Sony International)
  • Thievery Corporation: The Richest Man in Babylon (ESL)
  • Pulp: We Love Life (Koch)
  • Tangent 2002: Disco Nouveau (Ghostly International)
  • Dalek: From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots (Ipecac)
  • Delgados: Hate (Mantra)

  • Porcupine Tree: In Absentia (Lava)
  • Gomez: In Our Gun (Virgin)
  • Michael Mayer: Immer (Kompakt)
  • System of a Down: Steal This Album! (Sony/Columbia)
  • Dolly Parton: Halos & Horns (Sugar Hill)
  • Buddy Miller: Midnight and Lonesome (High Tone)
  • Nappy Roots: Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz (Atlantic)
  • The Figgs: Slow Charm (Hearbox)
  • Christina Aguilera: Stripped (RCA)
  • Comet Gain: Réalistes (Kill Rock Stars)
  • The Mendoza Line: Lost in Revelry (Misra)
  • Saint Etienne: Finistere (Mantra)
  • Radar Brothers: And the Surrounding Mountains (Merge)
  • Nickel Creek: This Side (Sugar Hill)
  • 8 Mile (Interscope)
  • Floetry: Floetic (DreamWorks)
  • Immortal: Sons of Northern Darkness (Nuclear Blast)
  • Quix*o*tic: Mortal Mirror (Kill Rock Stars)
  • Lone Pigeon: Concubine Rice (Domino)
  • Snoop Dogg: Paid Tha Cost to Be Da Boss (Priority)
  • Boom Selection_Issue 01 (Boom Selection)
  • Consonant (Fenway)
  • Joi: Star Kitty's Revenge (Universal)
  • Bad Religion: The Process of Belief (Epitaph)
  • David Cross: Shut Up You Fucking Baby! (Sub Pop)
  • David Gray: A New Day at Midnight (ATO/RCA)

  • Godspeed You Black Emperor: Yanqui UXO (Constellation)
  • Rasputina: Cabin Fever! (Instinct)
  • Comets on Fire: Field Recordings From the Sun (Ba Da Bing)
  • Richard Buckner: Impasse (Overcoat)
  • Morelenbaum/Sakamoto 2: Casa (Sony)
  • Faith Hill: Cry (Warner Bros.)
  • Isis: Oceanic (Ipecac)
  • Pearl Jam: Riot Act (Epic)
  • Susan Tedeschi: Wait for Me (Tone-Cool)
  • Billy Joe Shaver: Freedom's Child (Compadre)
  • Gogol Bordello: Multi Kontra Culti Vs. Irony (Rubric)
  • Woven Hand: S/T (Glitterhouse)
  • Angelique Kidjo: Black Ivory Soul (Columbia)
  • Santana: Shaman (Arista)
  • 25 Suaves: 1938 (Bulb)
  • The Distillers: Sing Sing Death House (Hellcat)
  • Playgroup (Astralwerks)
  • Robert Randolph & the Family Band: Live at the Wetlands (Warner Bros.)
  • The Hives: Your New Favorite Band (Poptones)
  • Lifter Puller: Soft Rock (Self-Starter Foundation)
  • Roman Candle: Says Pop (Outlook)
  • Starsailor: Love Is Here ()
  • ESG: Step Off (Soul Jazz)
  • Mark Timony: The Golden Dove (Matador)
  • Orthrelm: 2nd18/04 Norildivoth Crallos-Lomrixth Urthiln (Three.One.G)
  • 90 Day Men: To Everyone (Southern)
  • Jorma Kaukonen: Blue Country Heart (Columbia)
  • Casino Vs. Japan: Whole Numbers Play the Basics (Carpark)
  • The Tragically Hip: In Violet Light (Zoe/Rounder)
  • The Greenhornes: Dual Mono (Telstar)
  • Bigger Lovers: Honey in the Hive (Yep Roc)
  • Idlewild: The Remote Part (Parlophone)
  • Koop: Waltz for Koop (Quango/Palm)
  • Six Organs of Admittance: Dark Noontide (Holy Mountain)
  • Sparta: Wiretap Scars (DreamWorks)

This gets us down through #280. The next 40 have three records that I have (Apples in Stereo, Elvis Presley, Alan Jackson) and two on the "Hyped" list (William Parker, Playgroup). #321-#360 has two in hand (Neil Young, Kimya Dawson) and three "Hyped" (Patricia Barber, Chemical Brothers, Paulina Rubio); #361-#400 has two in hand (Hank Williams III, Warren Zevon), one "Hyped" (Ms. Dynamite). So from here on out we'd basically be retyping the list.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

Music: Closing in on 8000 records rated.

  • The Howard Alden Trio: Your Story -- The Music of Bill Evans (1994, Concord). I don't have any sense for the Bill Evans songbook -- clearly he was a major figure, but it's never been all that clear to me just what he did or why it matters, and I certainly couldn't recognize any of these eleven Evans compositions. Still, Alden's guitar has much of the charm and intricacy of Evans' piano, and "special guest" Frank West warms the trio up with tenor sax and flute. Alden's easy swing has always made him one of the best of the Concord guitarists, but this has an engaging intimacy and good cheer that sets it apart. A-
  • Beck: Sea Change (2002, Interscope). I liked Beck's ersatz soul album Midnite Vulture better than many critics, and I thought his layered synth on the Hank Williams Timeless tribute was just find, but this set of sub-Hank sad songs under layered synth is rarely more than pretty, and usually a lot less than poignant. B-
  • Colombia (1981-2000, Putumayo World Music). I give this a slight edge over Rough Guide to Cumbia, mostly on sonic brightness and the abundance of hooks, which I understand is because this is not strictly a cumbia compilation. Some day I'll figure out what that means. A-
  • Kimya Dawson: I'm Sorry That Sometimes I'm Mean (2002, Rough Trade). Neoteny is a theory that species can evolve by systematically retarding the transformation to adulthood in many respects. Human beings are a good example: juvenile human beings resemble juvenile apes much more closely than do their adult versions, and the extension and retention of juvenile characteristics, such as play and learning, goes far toward explaining the evolutionary leap from ape to human being. But neoteny cannot work across the board: sexual reproduction is still necessary to survival, so the corrolary to neoteny is the juvenilization of sex. If there is a unifying theme to this album, it might as well be neoteny: how else do you make sense of what is essentially a children's album with a "Parental Advisory" sticker? Ever since I first played this, I've found it uncomfortable: she sings as plain as Moe Tucker, with backing vocals from tuneless kids and their even more monotonic toys; the songs are devoid of wit or innuendo or anything even remotely smacking of sophistication; the music is barely even there. But what's really unsettling is its juvenility -- the sense that everything is new and fresh. I've never bought the notion that good rock & roll should (let alone has to) be dangerous, but this is. A-
  • Christy Doran/John Wolf Brennan: Henceforward (1989, Leo Lab). Doran plays guitar; Brennan plays piano. Both are well-regarded in the Penguin Guide, and this was just a record that I ran across in a used store, and figured why not check 'em out. Turns out it's quite a record, the major revelation being how complementary Doran's guitar sound is to Brennan's piano and "prepared strings." Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if Doran hasn't done something funny to his strings, but the odd tunings work because the music has so much rhythmic force. A-
  • Kahil El'Zabar/Billy Bang: Spirits Entering (2001, Delmark). El'Zabar is a Chicago-based percussionist who tries to bridge between AACM jazz and transafrican world music: his records are invariably interesting but how good they are depends much on his guests du jour. David Murray elevated my favorite-to-date, but here Billy Bang comes in a respectable second. A-
  • Tift Merritt: Bramble Rose (2002, Lost Highway). She sounds great: finely twanged voice, nice guitar, deft country that is just a bit trad. Unfortunately, when I notice her songs (which is sort of the point in this music) I'm more likely to smirk or scoff than smile bemusedly. I've always said that writers can learn to play, but players can't learn to write. I'm not sure that she's hopeless, but I am sure that she's not there yet. At least when I don't pay too much attention, she sounds great. B
  • George Mraz: Morava (2000, Milestone). Mraz is one of the world's great bassists, and perhaps the greatest pleasure of this album is listening to him solo. But not even Mingus made albums out of his own bass playing, and so the focus here is on Moravian songs, played by pianist Emil Viklicky and sung by Zuzana Lapcikova. They are slow, stately, plaintive, thoughtfully played, beautifully rendered. B+
  • Elvis Presley: 30 #1 Hits (1956-76, RCA). This album features UK as well as US chart positions: the first 10 were #1 US, 12 of the remaining 20 were #1 UK but not #1 US, including a song partly in German that didn't chart (was it even released?) here. (Although also note that only 5 songs were cut after 1963; Elvis the rocker was doomed from the moment Frank Sinatra welcomed him back from Germany.) Thus the balance shifts from '50s rockabilly to '60s schlock, and in turn the focus changes: this Elvis is really just a singer, a pretty great singer, who takes arbitrary songs and molds them into consummate performances. Oh, and I think the bonus remix is terrific: the king is dead, long live the king! A
  • Public Enemy: Revolverlution (1989-2002, Koch). Hard beats, hard agitprop. Some of this is old, some new, some just dated. "Son of a Bush" fits the latter category: not that it's been diminished by events, just that it's now too short. After all, he's not just "the son of a bad man" anymore. A-
  • The Rough Guide to Cumbia (World Music Network). This has a couple of dull spots, but is another good cumbia collection. B+
  • Tomasz Stanko: From the Green Hill (1998, ECM). Too atmospheric, perhaps. It takes a while to sort out the textures, and it takes patience to just let it envelop you, but there is a payoff in the end. The textures themselves are mostly the work of Dino Saluzzi's banoneon, which John Surman elaborates and Stanko embellishes. B+
  • Toots & the Maytals: 54-46 Was My Number: Anthology 1964-2000 (Sanctuary/Trojan, 2CD). This isn't career-spanning: the one 2000 remake that closes is the only thing cut after 1974. So properly this predates Island's fine Time Tough anthology, with duplication from the classic singles that Island rounded up for Toots' US debut in 1973, Funky Kingston -- redundancy you can always deal with. This also misses the earliest 1963-64 singles (although the notes provide an extensive 1963-74 singles discography). The early cuts are cloudy soundwise, and it took a while for Toots to emerge from and dominate the trio (these records were credited to "The Maytals"), but by the start of the second disc (the title cut) this is clearly Toots' show. While the first disc is rough, the second is classic. A-
  • Tuck & Patti: Paradise Found (1998, Windham Hill). A first, and by no means definitive, taste: a duo, husband/wife, guitar/vocal, white/black, filed under jazz, from a label better known for new age, but both artists tout classical training. The music is as intimate as their cover art, and I rather fancy Tuck's melt-in-your-mouth guitar, but Patti's voice varies between Joni Mitchell (without anguish) and Nine Simone (without gravitas), leaving an overall impression of empty and mannered. Or maybe they just look too happy? B-
  • Paul Whiteman: Greatest Hits (1920-28, Collector's Choice). The first time I heard of him I figured him for a joke; now I wonder whether at the time his audience even caught the irony. One of the biggest names of the Jazz Age, yet he bears little resemblance to any '20s jazz musician that we actually still listen to today, nor does he do much for his most famous singer, Bing Crosby (who sings on two cuts here, in what is mostly an instrumental album). But what we have here is rather carefully constructed big band music, with a dab of jazz coloring and a slight ambition toward classicism (only fully indulged in his famous Gershwin piece). Even in a world unswung by Count Basie, this hardly qualifies as hot, or even danceable, but in its middlebrow ambitions you can see that what made it popular wasn't that it was made by the white guy -- it was what white America naively aspired to. B

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Music:

  • Nat Adderley: That's Right! (1960, Riverside OJC). The group here backs Nat with five saxophones (Yusef Lateef also brought his flute and oboe along), but (aside from Lateef's atmospherics) none distinguish themselves: the whole thing is awash in section play and harmonic overtones, which distract from Nat's own fine playing. Busy, busy. B
  • Nat Adderley: Little Big Horn (1963, Riverside OJC). Co-credited to the Junior Mance Trio and guest guitarists Kenny Burrell and Jim Hall (who play on alternate tracks, not together): pretty easy to put together a first class group with so much talent around. The flavor is hard bop, but the pianist and the guitarists like to show off their considerable chops, and Nat can take a slow one with Jim Hall (the slower and prettier of the guitarists) and wax eloquent. A-
  • Paul Bley / Jimmy Giuffre / Steve Swallow: The Life of a Trio: Saturday (1989, Owl). This music isn't difficult so much as it just takes patience: it seems in fact unnaturally slow, but it's also spacious, with Bley and Giuffre feeling their way around vast spaces with nothing particularly memorable to mark their way. B+
  • Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: Light and Lovely (1977, Black & Blue). A fine mainstream session -- Davis was always a solid player, and the presence of Sweets Edison here is an added treat. B+
  • Franco: The Very Best of the Rumba Giant of Zaire (1956-87, Manteca). Sorting through the half-dozen or so almost random Franco discs in my library isn't easy -- comparisons to James Brown suggests that differentiation isn't his strong point, but also that repetition just makes him all the more irresistible. The only thing this career-spanning compilation shares with Rough Guide's career-spanning compilation is the ineluctable finale, "Attention Na SIDA," a stern warning against the disease that did him in recited over a piece of music as lovely as anything on Omona Wapi. This comp has a slight edge: for one thing it's longer. A+
  • Franco: 1972 / 1973 / 1974 (Sonodisc). One of a dozen or more slices of Franco's career that Sonodisc has released. I find them all uniformly good, frequently borderline great. Wish I could discriminate better, but considering that the compilers probably cut 6-8 albums down for this selection, maybe they're pretty good at discriminating. Or maybe it doesn't matter. But the more time I spend with this one, the more extraordinary it sounds. A
  • Clifford Hayes and the Dixieland Jug Blowers (1927-28, Yazoo). Hayes played violin, while Earl McDonald played jug, Cal Smith banjo/guitar, and Hense Grundy trombone -- that's the core lineup for fourteen scratchy tunes that sound more jazz than blues, but come out of a primitive interstice where the distinction hardly matters. Unlike the Memphis Jug Band, there's not consistent vocal feel here (five vocals, three singers). And the primitivism doesn't stop when the piano is taken over by one Earl Hines. Tough call. B+
  • Steve Kuhn: Years Later (1992, Concord). Pretty good piano trio. B+
  • Peter Leitch: Trio / Quartet '91 (1991, Concord). This seems about par for Leitch, Concord, and post-Montgomery jazz guitarists the world over. John Swana plays trumpet/flugelhorn on occasion, but even there the guitar runs dominate. B
  • Furry Lewis: Shake 'Em on Down (1961, Fantasy). Delta bluesman with guitar. Cut a few sides in the '20s, then was rediscovered around 1960. Like Mississippi John Hurt, who he resembles a bit, and Son House, who he doesn't resemble at all. Like Hurt, what makes him (or at least this set) compelling is a certain inner calmness, although he never manages the clarity that Hurt achieves so effortlessly. Still, a good set. B+
  • Kirk Lightsey: Everything Is Changed (1986, Sunnyside). This is the only thing I have in Lightsey's name, although he shows up on many fine records in the avant-garde-meets-the-tradition spectrum. These are mostly bop-era pieces -- Parker, Monk, J.J. Johnson -- and the take on "Billie's Bounce" is revelatory: Jerry Gonzalez plays the riff and improvs on thin (muted?) trumpet, much in the Parker mold, but Lightsey is working something different on piano -- more abstract, free even. The following piece is a change-of-pace ballad, but the juxtaposition (as opposed to the interplay) of Gonzalez and Lightsey sets the pace. A very engaging little record. A-
  • The Mountain Goats: Tallahassee (2002, 4AD). Today's generation of singer-songwriters are shier than their predecessors back in the '70s, or at least they take pains to make their auteurship more inscrutable. This guy reminds me whoever that guy behind the Magnetic Fields is: here we have fourteen more love songs (more or less), minimal rock in the service of words that don't wear out. Just when I was thinking that auteurs were so depassé. A-
  • Charlie Poole: The Legend of Charlie Poole, Vol. 3 (1926-30, County). I'm coming to view Poole as the great white songster of the period -- maybe not as interesting as Jimmie Rodgers, but he does a better job of framing and performing a song, and that says quite a bit. County has three volumns of his work, and if anything they get better. A
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Hawaii (World Music Network). I've never thought of myself as being particularly fond of Hawaiian music. (Two Raymond Kane albums in the database, the better one a B+.) But few of these twenty cuts come short of delighting me, even the stuff that sounds a little like Peter Paul & Mary, even the most unswinging "St. Louis Blues" ever recorded. The latter was recorded c. 1927, and most of this is on the old side (why can't they provide the discography?). A-
  • Radio Tarifa: Cruzando el Rio (2001, World Circuit/Nonesuch). This is a folk-pop group from the south of Spain, with a strong interest in Moroccan roots dating back to pre-Inquisition Andalusia. It's a mixed bag, and I can't claim that I particularly understand it. But on the whole it is a listenable record, with moments that command attention. A subject for further research: maybe someday they'll make an album that forces the issue. B+
  • Wayne Shorter: Footprints Live! (2002, Verve). This emerged as the consensus jazz album of the year, yet it seems rather slight, at least in concept: old Shorter compositions, young acoustic band, live performance. Shorter's sound, which has always tended to come off light, seems strained, tortured, fragile. Yet the effect is one of constantly building and releasing tension, spread out over the broad spaces carved up by the rhythm section, especially Danilo Perez's piano. Which is indeed impressive, albeit not the jazz album of the year. A-
  • Robert Wilkins: The Original Rolling Stone (1928-35, Yazoo). Another easy-rolling delta bluesman, neither as light nor as grave as John Hurt or Furry Lewis, more in the songster tradition. B+

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Movie: The Pianist. Based on a true story -- no point trying to make up stuff like this. The history is familiar; what's unique is how individuals try to navigate it. A-


Jan 2003 Mar 2003