June 2003 Notebook
Index
Latest

2017
  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

Sunday, June 29, 2003

For a while now I've been thinking of making occasional notes on magazines. The Nation is one that comes to the house, but which I rarely do more than scan. Still, I found myself actually reading close to half of one issue, and a fair amount of another, so I figure today may be the day to start. Magazine: The Nation (June 30, 2003):

  • William Greider, "Deflation": To Greider, deflation is a worse spectre than locusts; it basically represents the collapse of conventional economicthinking, given that so much economic thought routinely assumes growth. He's actually not the only one who's brought up this spectre recently -- it has been on Greenspan's mind, and has even been reported on in some mainstream media. Still, it's never been all that clear to me just what the big problem with deflation is, and I can't say as Greider has made any real progress in explaining it. In fact, from where I stand a little deflation sounds like a pretty good thing. But in saying that, perhaps I should qualify myself in saying that deflation, like inflation, for me mostly means consumer prices. The hegemonic economic system, as we know and love it, has always worked to maximize profits, but what we've seen more and more in the last few decades is a system which very often has been able to eliminate or marginalize competition, hone and tweak its advertising message, and push prices up to the threshold of pain. Even today, at least in sectors where demand hasn't fell into the toilet, we see significant inflation in consumer prices. (Health care, especially perscription drugs, and education are two such areas.) The models used to fix prices like these are intrinsically exclusionary: i.e., they are designed to leave the price point beyond the pain threshold for at least some consumers, and those consumers are the losers in the system. But if, for instance, we take the unfashionable view that the goal of the economic system should be to meet consumers' needs, especially in areas where we want to treat demand as a right (health care and education being two big ones), that pricing scheme, amplified by anticompetition, simply fails us. In those cases (and why not more?) it seems like a little deflation, at least in the sense of lower prices, would be a good thing. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's the only possible solution: in order for any goods/services to become universally accessible, they simply have to get cheaper, which can only happen if we systematically work towards that goal.

    Admittedly, there are other definitions of inflation, ergo deflation. The one that the Fed seems to have watched most closely in the last decade or two is the cost of labor, which has been eroding worldwide. The two obvious culprits there are antiunion activities (both legal and legally ignored) and globalization, both of which are intended to reduce the cost of labor by increasing competition. (Much as I propose to reduce prices by promoting competition.) Personally, I'm not sure that this is totally a bad thing. (Certainly a lot of it is bad, especially the antiunion part, because that alienates workers from their jobs, which undermines productivity, even if management thinks the savings are worth the cost. I mean, anyone who thinks management has much on the ball hasn't spent much time working in U.S. industry.) The reason I think that is because, ultimately, everything we consume depends on labor to produce it, and like everything else, the cheaper labor is, the more of it will be sucked into the economy. And since labor is the source of everything we have that passes for wealth, the key to increasing that is to encourage more labor to produce more wealth, which helps make everyone happier, and ultimately less likely to go around killing each other. Capisce?

    But then, what do I know about economics? That's something I find myself wondering about too often. One big difference, obviously, is that Greider is thinking within the system, whereas I'm somewhere way out of the box. Greider points to Japan as a long-term stagnant economy, due of course to the collapse of the financial bubble in the late '80s, and prolonged (sez Greider) by weak, indecisive action by the Japanese government. The U.S. situation has similar birthmarks. Like Japan, the U.S. has found itself in a state of protracted suppressed demand, which has multiple causes and tends not to respond to the usual perscriptions -- interest rate reductions, stimulus spending, etc. But let's get real here: in the first Bush recession interest rates dropped to near-zero, but the money all went abroad instead of into the U.S. economy, to fuel financial bubbles in Mexico, East Asia, etc., because capital is free to move globally, and because that's where the best/easiest profits seemed to be available. Yet nobody drew the obvious conclusion from this, which is that a government can't stimulate a nation out of a recession by giving money to capitalists, because the money won't stay inside the nation. Also because what capitalists do with the money (aside from old fashioned gambling, which is what most of it goes for) is generally to build more production, except when demand is suppressed, they have no reason to do so. Thirdly, one of the things that suppresses demand is the sense that debts have become too burdensome (especially acute in the wake of a burst financial bubble, which can eradicate one's sense of savings and security remarkably fast). For the last 20/30/50 years, the whole world has been playing this game where instead of trying to more equitably balance wealth the rich have been loaning money to the not-so-rich, maintaining and enhancing their power through the yoke of debt. For the not-so-rich, this seems like an OK idea as long as everything looks up-and-up, but in a recession that all falls apart.

    Now, Greider touches on much of this, but his remedies are stuck in the concepts of inflating the money supply, running government deficits, debt reduction (mostly for business), and providing stimulants. But if you really want to stimulate consumption, there are only two choices: lower prices and/or raise wages. I don't really see any general way to raise wages -- certainly globalization needs to be managed better, but in the end people everywhere are going to be demanding good/better jobs, and the world would be a better place if they could have them, so just trying to lock up good jobs in countries like the U.S. isn't the right thing to do. Also, we have to realize that there are a lot of people who don't work -- the old, the young, the filthy rich, criminals -- so rising wages wouldn't much help them, but reducing prices would. Which is basically why I think we need deflation. Admittedly, deflation would be a bumpy road, especially if we try to navigate it in Bush's Humvee, but it's an answer to the real problem, and I think it's the only one that works. (There's also an anti-growth ecology argument to it, and while I've praised labor above, what I'm really talking about is the effective use of labor to produce things/services that people need/want, as opposed to needless make-work, so I'm theorizing some limits to the maximum amount of labor needed, too.)

  • Renana Brooks: "A Nation of Victims": She is a clinical psychologist, and this is a very interesting article on how Bush uses language: especially to make people feel threatened, powerless, and dependent on Bush's leadership skills. This seems to be based on some generally recognized research, which means that it's quite possible that Bush (or more likely his handlers) are working off a similar understanding to achieve this very effect. One thing that's become a hallmark of the modern world is how much of what we encounter in everyday life has been scientifically research, carefully plotted, and executed in order to obtain specific predetermined results. We've seen this especially in advertising and public relations, so it's not surprising that politicians are increasingly working the same way.

  • Francis Davis: "Bob Hope, Prisoner of War": Terrific piece, I think. But then I seem to have hit the same basic age seam as Davis, where I recall Hope as an important and viable entertainer, despite his obsequience to the Yankee war marchine.

  • Dennis J. Kucinich, "The Case for Public Patents": Not in the issue, but posted on the website. Anyone who's given any real thought to the drugs-for-seniors debate, or for that matter the growing health care disaster in the US, should have come to the conclusion that the cost problem with perscription pharmaceuticals is the result of monopoly pricing, which is something that the government permits, encourages, and enforces through patent law. This piece is the first indication that anyone in Congress has given this any real thought, even though Kucinich's proposal for "public patents" still comes up shy of the notion of getting rid of patents altogether. But he's on the right track, even to the point of recognizing that the US and other governments need to take over the finance and development of new pharmaceuticals. It's also noteworthy that Kucinich invokes open source software as a model for how things ought to work. However, it should be noted that patent-free pharmaceuticals won't be as easy, and not just because there are billions of dollars at stake for the beneficiaries of the current system. This is basically because it costs real money both to develop and test new drugs, and to tool up to manufacture the approved drugs. Of course, if you buy into the idea of directed public financing for crucial products and services that we currently depend on the private sector for, that won't be a problem. But selling that idea to a public that believes that private sector greed is good for everyone is going to take some serious work. Even if it seems absolutely obvious.

Magazine: The Nation (July 7, 2003):

  • Jonathan Schell: "The New American Order": Schell writes about Robert Kaplan and his Atlantic Monthly article, "Supremacy by Stealth: Ten Rules for Managing the World." Shit, I was gonna do that -- which we'll have to take as a future magazine review assignment.

  • John W. Dower: "The Other Japanese Occupation": Dower, who wrote the book on America's occupation of post-WWII Japan, here argues that the US occupation of Iraq bears less resemblance to the US in Japan than it does to Japan's occupation of Manchuria from 1931-1945. The common points lean heavily on the use of dishonest and cynical code words -- "democracy" and "co-prosperity" and shit like that. However, I think one big difference is that the fascists worked to build up state and national economy (at least in terms of its war production), whereas Bush is treating the U.S. government and what's left of the domestic economy like a garage sale. It seems likely that this will prove to undermine Bush's imperialism even before the rest of the world has to get together and put a stop to it. Still, if you're inclined to view what this administation is doing as fundamentally evil, the analogies are worth pondering. It's also noteworthy that when the US finally brought Imperial Japan to justice, the actual crimes specifies were crimes against peace -- criteria by which the US is already guilty as sin.


Music: Initial count 8334 rated (+25), 931 unrated (+1). Didn't manage to get the Parker/Shipp CG wrapped up, although there has been quite a bit of progress there. But the new Recycled Goods column is done.

  • The Bad Plus: These Are the Vistas (2003, Columbia). This group (Reid Anderson on bass, Ethan Iverson on piano, David King on drums) is the latest left-field hope for jazz to make some sort of popular breakthrough. In their previous record, they cut a version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which they reprise here. (It's not like anyone actually heard the old record, on Spain's Fresh Sound label.) A second rock song, Blondie's "Heart of Glass," is also here. The Nirvana piece works best: like all those old Charlie Parker tunes, it starts with a strong, recognizable theme, which lays out the chords for the improvisation that follows, and ties it back together in the end. The Blondie pieces doesn't work quite as well, probably because it doesn't have the classic bebop structure. Hard to say what their crossover potential really is: aside from the Diana Krall phenomenon (Patricia Barber, Norah Jones, et al.) every previous attempt at a jazz-rock fusion has depended on electronic instruments, but this is a plain old fashioned piano-bass-drums trio, all acoustic. That it works as well as it does is a tribute to the players: Reid Anderson, in particular, gets a commanding sound out of his bass and is able to really drive the rhythm. When I first heard him, I imagined a musclebound Jack Bruce flailing the big acoustic bass around, because what I was hearing was more like lead guitar lines, except played on bass. Although collectivism is the ideology here, and Iverson has a pretty impressive resume already, it seems like Anderson is the de facto leader here, which in and of itself makes this different from every other piano trio. I have several back-up records to sort out as well. Not the next big thing, but certainly one more impressive twist among all the things that jazz can be. A-
  • Don Byas: Complete American Small Group Recordings (1944-46 [2001], Definitive, 4 CD). Just starting to cruise through this, and while the first two discs have good material (surprisingly including some Big Bill Broonzy), the third disc is really blowing me away. The weak spots, not surprisingly, are the vocals: the Bill Broonzy material coming as a surprise, but the typical jazz vocalists are typical. Byas' bebop was state-of-the-art, but his real forte was playing ballads, and in that he's really supreme here. There's a follow-up Complete 1946-1951 European Small Group Master Takes. Wish I had a copy of that. A-
  • Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble: Seasoning the Greens (2001 [2002], Boxholder). Cole plays oddball instruments: digeridoo seems to be his main axe, and the others are things I'll have to look up someday: sona, hojok, shenai, nagaswarm. Cooper-Moore seems to have abandoned piano for what he calls "homemade instruments": flute, mouth bow, horizontal hoe-handle harp, penny whistle, rim drums. The group is fleshed out with a few more conventional instruments: bass (William Parker), drums (Warren Smith), alto sax (Sam Furnace), tuba (Joseph Daley). There's also an Atticus Cole who works in congas and bongos. So, yes, this is exotic, avant-jazz. The opening notes come from Cole's digeridoo, a very awkward, very low-pitched instrument, in a slow piece called "Grouded." From there we have in effect a world tour: "The Triple Towers of Kyongbokkang," "South Indian Festival Rhythm," "Ghanian Funeral Rhythm," "South Indian Marriage Rhythm," "Colombian Rhythm," "Free Rhythm," "A Man Sees a Snake, a Woman Kills It: No Matter, as Long as It Is Dead." While performed as a continuous suite, the rhythms constantly turn over, augmented by whistle-like things. By the time of the "Colombian Rhythm" Furnace's alto is smoking. The "Free Rhythm" piece, surprisingly, slows down for some intimate plucking of exotic string instruments. A-
  • Guy Davis: Call Down the Thunder (1996, Red House). His second album, just before the point where I picked up on him with You Don't Know My Mind. The first cut, "Georgia Jelly Roll," is a sprightly little thing that's sure to make his future "best-of." The second cut has a Muddy Waters beat, and a little harmonica. The third is a Robert Johnson song. Two more covers, one from Mance Lipscomb and the other from Cannon's Jug Stompers. The rest of the album matches pretty closely all of his later albums: he's got a big, wide, good-natured grin, which makes for big, warm songs. This may be an inch or two short of the later albums, but it comes damn close. B+
  • Zusaan Kali Fasteau & Donald Rafael Garrett: Memoirs of a Dream (1975-77, Flying Note, 2CD). Garrett was a musician who mostly played clarinet and bass, recording with Roland Kirk, Archie Shepp, Eddie Harris, and John Coltrane in the '60s. Fasteau has played a wide range "since early childhood in Paris and New York." They met in 1971, married, and set out to travel the world for the next 14 years. They recorded an album for ESP in 1976 called We Move Together, under the name the Sea Ensemble. These two performances date from the same period: the first a little over 30 minutes, the second up in the 60 minute range. The instrumentation is exotic more often than not, and the music tends to be minimalist around the instrumentation. For example, one interesting track is "Dromedary Dance," where Garrett plays two Turkish straight flutes (kaval, zurna), and Fasteau drums. The next cut combines cello, sanza (an mbira-like thumb piano), and Coltrane-ish clarinet. Most of these pieces make use of voice, mostly just for sonic effect. While this smacks of deliberate eclecticism, in effect the collection of exotic timbres and rhythms for their own sake, it is in fact a rather likable, and charming in its intimacy. B+
  • Charles Gayle: Testaments (1995, Knitting Factory). A trio with Wilber Morris (bass) and Michael Wimberly (drums). Gayle starts out nasty, and gets nastier; in other words, he's always been an acquired taste (and probably a marginal one at that), and his records are inevitably more of the same. Still, about 6 minutes into the second cut ("Parables") there's a collective paroxysm which is truly notable, especially when you realize that someone is playing piano (which would be Gayle his bad self). But then Gayle picks up his saxophone again, so you can suffer through one called "Christ's Suffering" (only fitting). Actually, it's not that bad, but "Faith Evermore" is as about as hoary as Gayle gets. And there I notice a bit with both sax and piano at the same time -- is he overdubbing? B
  • Charles Gayle Quartet: Daily Bread (1995 [1998], Black Saint). The Quartet consists of Gayle (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, viola on two cuts, and piano on two other cuts), William Parker (cello, piano on three cuts), Wilber Morris (bass), and Michael Wimberly (drums, violin on two cuts). The strings come together on the second cut, "Our Sins," an interesting setup for string quartet. Third cuts starts out with a Gayle piano solo, which runs for the 7:10 of the piece. The fourth cut starts with what sounds like bass clarinet, but it quickly breaks into runs that I've never heard before on that instrument. And here, as elsewhere on this disc, Gayle's in impresive form. One of his more varied and impressive recordings. B+
  • William Parker: Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace (1974-79 [2003], Eremite). These are early recordings, mostly collected and released on Parker's own Centering Records label in 1981. The new edition adds a fifth piece and expands "Desert Flower" to full length (19:42). "Desert Flower" is rich with brass, with a superb solo by Daniel Carter. The previously unreleased title piece is built on two violins, cello, and flute, without Parker playing. This is probably the toughest piece on the album, the violins piercing and the cello not quite enough bottom. "Rattles and Bells and the Light of the Sun" features solos by Charles Brackeen and Jemeel Moondoc. "Commitment" is built simply around Parker's bass, with Arthur Williams on trumpet and John Hagen on tenor sax, each taking solos before Parker. The solos are excellent: Williams taking a precise, almost pointilistic approach, while Hagen is more in the Coltrane/Gayle mode. Good piece, although at 18:36 it starts to lose interest. "Face Still Hands Folded" finds Parker thoughtfully reciting over a pair of violins, including Billy Bang. B+
  • Wiliam Parker Trio: . . . And William Danced (2002, Ayler). April 15, 2002: Parker and Hamid Drake go to Sweden, and cut two records in one day. I haven't heard the second, released as the Jemeel Moondoc Trio, Live at the Glenn Miller Café (Ayler), but earlier in the day they went into a studio with alto saxophonist Anders Gahnold and cut this one. Three long pieces (17, 18, 30 minutes), loosely organized. But this is as good as I've ever heard Drake and Parker play together, or for that matter as good as I've ever hard Drake play. Once you listen past the horn, the rhythm play is just completely fascinating. And as for the horn, Gahnold is terrific. His tone is a bit hoarse, a mini-vibrato. A
  • The Rough Guide to Calypso & Soca ([1999], World Music Network). The 14 tracks here are all licensed from one source (Rituals Records), so it may lack something in range. Lord Pretender, Mighty Sparrow, and Kitchener are top calypsonians; David Rudder and Shadow are major soca performers. Beyond that the list isn't obvious. As usual, tracking down the dates is a thankless task -- especially given that most of the tracks come from compilations, and most of them look to be recent (e.g., Soca Stampede: The Ultimate Trinidad '99 Original Hits). As a guide to calypso this strikes out completely, but it's not even that much help as a soca comp, and we could use a good soca comp these days. B-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Scandinavia (1980-2000 [2000], World Music Network). This leads off with Maria Kalaniemi, a Finnish accordionist who is the only one here I have any previous experience with. It bears some resemblance to cajun music, except it invariably pulls its punches. The following cuts sounds like celtic lite: again they're short on edge. Sorten Muld is an interesting duo that works with electronics, a plus both for beat and texture. Tallari's cut is rather lovely as folk goes. Hedningarna is another notable cut, with a propulsive group sound. The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra with the Langholt Church Choir sounds much like you might expect. I was able to check dates on about 3/4 of these cuts, with the earliest record coming out in 1997, so the overwhelming majority of these cuts are very recent. But the booklet says that the Louis Andreasen piece was recorded in 1980, so we'll go with that as a starting date. The cuts I noted are probably the high-points; nothing is really awful (not even the church choir). B
  • Keith Rowe & Jeffrey Morgan: Dial: Log-Rhythm (1997 [1999], Matchless). Rowe is a guitarist closely associated with the experimental AMM group -- a group much esteemed by the Penguin Guide authors, and surprisingly well represented at my local public library. Still, I can't say as I've ever gotten much out of them. Morgan plays alto sax, which timbre-wise seems to be a pretty close match for what Rowe does with electric guitar -- i.e., torture it. Tortured saxphone, of course, is a well established field. I can't distinguish between the sounds of the instruments all that clearly: the honks are certainly sax, but a high-pitched warble could be either, and what I suspect is going on here is that Rowe is extracting sounds from his guitar that are intended to match the tortured sax idiom. So that's the set-up. What's the payoff? Well, the sounds aren't really all that interesting -- this is more muted than, say, Brotzmann/Bailey, but torture's still torture. B-
  • Sun Ra & His Intergalaxtic Arkestra: Second Star to the Right (Salute to Walt Disney) (1989, Leo). Cute idea, but even with the guy from Saturn singing (or is that James Jackson?) these songs are terminably cute . The band, of course, is loose and in good spirits, and there's some good trumpet. Done live, with crowd noises and lots of handclaps. But the final cut, "Whistle While You Work," lets them finally cut loose and blow a bit. B
  • Scratchology: Mixed by the X-Ecutioners (2003, Sequence). Presented as an education lesson: the history of scratch techniques in the evolution of hip-hop. The intro provides tips on techniques, and then it kicks into notable examples -- Grandmaster Flash, Herbie Hancock, Public Enemy, Gang Starr, others less familiar. Long on scratches and breaks, mixed continuously. A little heavy-handed, but interesting. B+

Monday, June 23, 2003

Headline in today's Eagle: "Brownback pushes change for Iran." In large type: "Using the same philosophy that drove the war in Iraq, the Kansas senator is leading a drive for new leadership for its eastern neighbor." What the hell, here's another letter with zero chance of ever getting printed:

Poor Senator Brownback. I hate to pick on someone so obviously suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder, but his Iran Democracy Act is nothing more than a rerun of the same mistakes that we made with Iraq. When Congress voted to make regime change in Iraq national policy, they started us down the road to the still smoldering war there. That road was paved with lies and fantasies, and anyone who's taken the time to notice has been struck by the growing chasm between reality and the hawks' expectations. But obviously Brownback hasn't noticed anything: he's off stalking bigger, more dangerous game.

The basic fact is that over the last fifty years the U.S. has done nothing at all right by Iran. We say we want to promote democracy in Iran today, but in the early '50s the CIA overthrew the democratically elected Mossadegh government, immediately resulting in U.S. oil companies getting control of most of Iran's oil. The U.S. then installed the megalomaniacal Shah Pahlevi, sold him arms, and trained his vicious security police; the Shah eventually became so unpopular that every segment of the Iranian people revolted against him, a tumultuous revolution that was in the end dominated by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Then the U.S. and its oil sheikh allies in the Persian Gulf encouraged Saddam Hussein to attack Iran, a horrendously bloody eight-year war leaving perhaps a million Iranian casualties. So what in this history makes Brownback think that Iran needs any more U.S. help?

The only people in Iran likely to benefit from a deluge of American propaganda are the ayatollahs, who are certain to use this to reinforce the case that only they can protect Iran from evil foreigners and the misguided citizens who inadvertently provide aid and comfort to the enemy. But then that's the same line used by Sharon in Israel, by Castro in Cuba, and by Bush here: sabre-rattling is, after all, a time-tested recipe for keeping despots in power despite their incompetence. Maybe Brownback feels his own career needs a little sabre-rattling as well? (After all, while Wichita's economy has been collapsing, he's spent most of his time railing against cloning.) But if by chance he really does want to do something to undermine the ayatollahs in Iran, here's what he should do: support international programs to promote women's rights in Iran and throughout the world, including birth control and abortion. That is, after all, where the ayatollahs are most vulnerable. Too bad the same thing can be said about Brownback.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Music: Initial count 8309 rated (+4), 930 unrated (+7). Spent most of last week thrashing -- probably the lowest weekly +rated count since I've been tallying them. Most things carrying forward. Actually, I'm over 50% done on the Parker/Shipp piece, and about 1/3 done on next month's (i.e., this week's) Recycled Goods, so both are due for a big push this week.

  • The Very Best of the Beach Boys: Sounds of Summer (1962-88 [2003], Capitol). The 30 cuts here were picked by chart position, but at least they were reshuffled a bit, so this starts with "California Girls" and ends with "Good Vibrations," instead of the chronological bookends, "Surfin' Safari" and (thump) "Kokomo." The mixes veer strangely back and forth between mono originals and stereo remixes, but overall it's hard to complain about the song. The concept, however: the Beach Boys long career breaks into at least three distinct periods, which are echoes of the previous ones, increasingly desperate attempts to recover the magic. During Brian's doldrums period this happened at best sporadically -- one thinks of "Wild Honey" and "Do It Again," which pep up the tail end of this set. However, this isn't exactly a group that benefits from reduction -- the effect of reducing their career to one CD is really just to homogenize them. Which given how weird they truly were, misses out on the real fun. B+
  • The Beach Boys: Surfin' Safari/Surfin' U.S.A. (1962-63 [1990], Capitol). Their first two albums, plumped up with some definite outtakes, they got surf sloshing through their brains (or is that root beer?), but the harmonies are in force even if songs like "The Baker Man" and "Ten Little Indians" make them seem utterly pat. And they do as lame a version of "Summertime Blues" as you'll ever hear. But while the hits are OK (actually, a bit on the over-familiar side), the charm is in the junk -- e.g., the one about chugging root beer. Still, not much here. B
  • The Essential Byrds (1965-71 [2003], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD). Billed as "career spanning," which this time doesn't include the post-career dreck from the box set. The first disc goes up through Younger Than Yesterday, which makes it directly competitive with Greatest Hits, originally released in 1967; from which, this drops "The Bells of Rhymney" (from Mr. Tambourine Man, an album worth owning whole), retains the three extra tracks on the 1999 expanded edition, and adds three cuts: "She Don't Care About Time" (1965 single version), "He Was a Friend of Mine" (from Turn, Turn, Turn), and "Renaissance Fair" (from Younger Than Yesterday). It is interesting that the Byrds at first just seemed like popularizers for their favorite songwriter, one B. Dylan -- although by "5D" Roger McGuinn finally wrote a song that was a dead ringer for the great one. But nowadays the Byrds are mostly remembered as an early stop on Gram Parsons' path. So the first disc is pretty great, but little if any improvement over Greatest Hits. The second disc covers more varied territory, including the classic Gram Parsons vehicle Sweetheart of the Rodeo. This starts with the single "Lady Friend," the only song in the set with David Crosby listed as sole author: it sounds unfinished. "Old John Robertson" starts out old-timey, then breaks into something else. Three good cuts from The Notorious Byrd Brothers, then two choices barely touch Sweetheart of the Radio. "This Wheel's on Fire" is a dud. "Jesus Is Just Alright" could've used a shot of Gram Parsons. "Chestnut Mare" is a silly masterpiece, and "I Wanna Grow Up to Be a Politician" sounds like an old Byrds song. "Tiffany Queen" is time to quit, but "Farther Along" might've gotten them a reprieve. So yes, the second disc is as messy as you'd expect. A-
  • Flagg & Scruggs: The Complete Mercury Recordings (1948-50 [2003], Mercury/Chronicles). Duplicates 1992's The Complete Mercury Sessions, and every bit as good. A-
  • Flowers in the Wildwood: Women in Early Country Music 1923-1939 ([2003], Trikont). Aside from the Carter Family (2 cuts), the Coon Creek Girls (2 cuts), the Chuck Wagon Gang (1), and Patsy Montana (1), I hadn't heard of anyone here. "Wish I Was a Single Girl," of course, I know from Rose Maddox, but this record starts off with Lulu Belle & Scotty doing it, from 1939. So this certainly works for rare. The first three cuts are protofeminist, or at least pro-single. It would be interesting if they could sustain such themes, but the latter half of the disc mostly consists of gospel numbers, some straightforward, and some as odd as they come. A
  • Lefty Frizzell: Country Favorites/Saginaw Michigan (1951-64 [2003], Collectables). Two LPs on one CD. Country Favorites was a 1966 compilation of 1951-56 cuts: it's his prime period, but isn't really a Greatest Hits -- 4 of 10 songs also show up on the 2-CD comp Look What Thoughts Will Do ("Bring Your Sweet Self Back to Me," "Run 'Em Off," "I Love You Mostly," "Give Me More, More, More (of Your Kisses)"), although "My Baby's Just Like Money" sounds real familiar. A-
  • Daniel Johnston: The Early Recordings Volume 1 (1980-83 [2003], Dualtone, 2 CD). From the cover it looks more like this should be called "Songs of Pain" or maybe "Songs of Pain and More Songs of Pain," but the title on the spine is as above. Songs of Pain was actually the title of Johnston's first album, back from 1980. He's knocked out a dozen of more since then, and I've heard none of them, but he's a name that I was cognizant of when this came out, possibly because he had done some work with Jad Fair. Still, Early Recordings is a fair description: these actually sound like they were cut on one of Edison's wax rolls. The cuts have surface noise, the dynamic range could have been recorded through a telephone. Johnston plays piano that sounds like a broken toy, and his vocals sound like they're being deformed through braces. As for the songs, here's a line from "Never Relaxed": "now when Sid discovered masturbation/he just couldn't keep a good thing down." From "Lazy": "I think I'm going to quit/being a quitter." The second disc sounds a bit better (though there are exceptions), but the songs are as crude and/or puerile. One I count out to be "Blue Cloud" is particularly annoying to listen to. Obviously, he's doing this shit on purpose. Not without talent, but it's also not the case that we need to subject ourselves to this. C
  • Harmonica Frank Floyd: The Missing Link (1979 [2002], Memphis International). Seventy years old when he recorded this in a high school in Memphis, a few years before his death, he comes off like a slightly paler Mississippi Fred McDowell, but whereas McDowell made a point of not playing no rock & roll, Frank only draws the line at "grand opry." Presumably he means "opera," but he may never have gotten to Nashville either. B+
  • Hank Locklin: RCA Country Legends (1956-67 [2003], BMG Heritage). Good singer -- he's got a flexible baritone with a fair amount of twang. I was impressed with his work on Willie Nelson's Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack. However, he doesn't have much of a songbook, and some of his "hits" have been eclipsed. For instance, he was quick to record "Why Baby Why" in 1956 before its writer was able to establish himself, but nowadays why beg comparison to George Jones? (On his own song, even.) The closing "Bonaparte's Retreat" is OK, but recently I've listened to versions by Willie Nelson and Peter Stampfel, who are not merely good singers. Locklin also gets damaged by the Nashville treatment -- strings, backing choruses, all kinds of goop. Still, some of this is fine, and I'm glad to have it, but it helps to keep it all in perspective. B
  • Roger Miller: All Time Greatest Hits (1964-85 [2003], Mercury/Chronicles). This has nothing before the Jan. 11, 1964 session that produced "Dang Me" and "Chug-a-Lug," and has six songs (starting with "Little Green Apples") from his coasting period. Miller has two main threads in his writing: on the one hand he achieved a remarkable plainness and humbleness in his everyday songs, a sense of powerlessness and wish for decency that shows up in things like "Husbands and Wives"; on the other hand, his raucous humor exploded in songs that came across as novelties, where his scat shtick was always good for an instant laugh. Someone could try to separate those two threads into separate comps, or tie them together into one. But just picking the songs from the hit list does neither; in fact, it strips all of his pre-"Dang Me" work, and adds on his late period when he coasted on his fame and his still good voice. This may, cut-for-cut, be better on average than the box, but the box fleshes him out so much more, warts and all. A-
  • Gettin' Funky: The Birth of New Orleans R&B (1941-50 [2001], Proper, 4CD). This culls a large amount of early New Orleans R&B. The strategy here is to group cuts up by artist, and to group similar artists on the same disc, which makes them rather patchy. The cutoff at 1950 also seems to be statutory, given Europe's 50-year copyright limits, but that leads to some anomalies, like cutting Fats Domino off before he really gets warmed up. Disc by disc:
    1. Piano Power: Champion Jack Dupree (3), Professor Longhair (18), Archibald (7). Dupree certainly influenced Longhair. (Actually, Dupree claims Longhair ripped off a piece Dupree called "my special.") Longhair we mostly know from his later work, but it's really all of a piece.
    2. The Pioneers: Bave Bartholomew (9), Paul Gayten (10), Smiley Lewis (8). The Bartholomew cuts are possibly the highlight of the set: jump high, ace trumpet, heavy saxophone. Some of Gayten's cuts feature a second vocalist, Annie Laurie.
    3. The Hit Makers: Roy Brown (13), Fats Domino (12), Larry Darnell (3). Brown's cuts, originally on DeLuxe, are familiar, starting with "Good Rockin' Tonight" on through "Rockin' at Midnight." Domino's cuts are from 1949 on Imperial, with "The Fat Man" the most famous. Don't know about Darnell.
    4. Hip Shakin' Mamas, Crooners and Shouters: Starts with six songs by Chubby Newsome from 1948-49, then four songs by Alma "The Lollipop Mama" Mondy: both women are fine singers -- Mondy seems a little more limited, but compensates with grit -- with jump blues bands and sax appeal. After that the only singer who gets more than two cuts is Jewel King, toward the end. Rather, we have a series of little-knowns: George Miller, Little Joe Gaines, Hosie Divine Craven, James "Blazer Boy" Locks, Erline "Rock'n'Roll" Harris, Johnson Brothers, Tommy Ridgley, Joe "Google Eyes" August. Of those, Locks was a piano balladeer somewhat like Charles Brown; August does "I Cried" with background boo-hoos. All in all, a decent set of minor early r&b.
    I'm familiar with the early Longhair and Roy Brown material. The only other things here that are especially good are the Bartholomew cuts, although the fourth disc smorgasbord is entertaining. Booklet and discography are good, and it's basically $20 for 4 packed CDs, so it's a bargain, but it's hard to call it essential. B+
  • New Orleans Funk: The Original Sound of Funk 1960-75 (1960-75 [2000], Soul Jazz). Strange: this comes slipcased with a pretty substantial booklet, including paragraphs on each of the artists, but nowhere can I find specific discographic information on the songs. Not much here that I recognize -- "Big Chief," "Mama Roux," "Dap Walk," but only because the latter was on 16 Funky Corners -- but most of the names are recognizable. Excellent mix, good scholarship, completely delightful. A
  • William Parker/Joe Morris/Hamid Drake: Eloping With the Sun (2001 [2002], Riti). Morris is the front-man here, although his fingerpicked banjo and banjouke don't generate any real volume, and function more as rhythm than for melody. Drake's drum matches up evenly; Parker is more back in the mix, not all that easy to follow -- he's credited with playing "zintir" -- will have to look that up (Moroccan bass lute). Minimalism. B+
  • William Parker Clarinet Trio: Bob's Pink Cadillac (2001 [2002], Eremite, 2CD). Bass-drums-clarinet, but the brilliant idea here was to get Perry Robinson for the clarinet. Robinson's first record, Funk Dumpling (1962, Savoy), was eloquent and just far enough out to have a little edge to it. This is, of course, a bit further out. Walter Perkins is the drummer. A-
  • William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook (2003, Thirsty Ear). This is an advance -- don't have a lot of details. But the trio consists of Parker, Billy Bang, and Hamid Drake -- Bang is the violin. I need to go back and jot down the pieces before making notes, but there's a piece here where it sounds like Bang is picking his violin like a guitar on top of Parker doing the same on bass. Will have to listen more carefully, with better notes, but this really sounds extraordinary -- Bang obviously has the lead voice, and this is more free than, e.g., Vietnam, but he's at the top of his game, and Parker and Drake are always there for him -- extraordinary interaction. "Dust on a White Shirt" has a fanciful rhythm: meant as a dance, it has the delicacy of a minuet, but reframed as a hoe-down. "Urban" cuts out more aggressively, bass chasing violin. "Holiday for Flowers" starts out with Parker laying down a little shuffle, with Drake playing along, then Bang lays a little melody on top. A
  • Pet Shop Boys: Please/Further Listening 1984-1986 (1984-86 [2001], Parlophone, 2CD). The high spots in the Further Listening are remixes of the high spots on the albums, so it's hard to say they're essential, but it's otherwise hard to quarrell with the disc. A-
  • Pet Shop Boys: Very/Further Listening 1992-1994 (1992-94 [2001], Parlophone, 2 CD). The album is one of the greatest ever, so the only question here is whether the Further Listening is worth the trouble. This starts off with a previously unreleased mix of "Go West" -- simply magnificent through 6+ minutes, then it devolves to an instrumental with a toy voice sample. Most of these pieces are fine, but "If Love Were All" is pretty dross. The live "Girls and Boys" is pretty good. The stuff remixed from the album is great. Other stuff is so-so, seemingly not as good as the other Further Listening discs in the series. The booklet, of course, is a plus. The main album is A+, but that's rated separately so shouldn't have much weight here. Can't say as the excess is really worth it this time, but I'll go with a muddled compromise grade. A-
  • Bud Powell: Paris Sessions (1957-64 [2002], Pablo). Powell is widely considered to be the greatest of bebop pianists, but he incurred a number of traumas in his short life, including a severe beating in 1945, shock treatments, and all sorts of drugs. In 1959 he relocated to Paris, where he was befriended by a fan, Francis Paudras, who managed to record twelve LPs worth of Powell performances. While it's widely held that Powell's skills declined as time took its toll, there are at least exceptions to that rule: for one example, his guest spot on Mingus at Antibes (1960) is the apex of an astonishing record. This set selects highlights from the Paudras tapes, mostly just Powell trios, but a couple of cuts have guest horns. The sound is variable, but reportedly much improved over the LPs, and the music is instantly recognizable Powell, with the advantage that he gets to stretch out a bit compared to his legendary 78s. A-
  • Amy Rigby: Til the Wheels Fall Off (2003, Signature Sounds). "Why Do I" is good enough to elbow its way onto her A-rated best-of -- "I kiss the boys/but I'm the one who cries." "Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again" is pretty great too. Several more. While the writing seems generally strong, the music seems a little pale compared to prior efforts. Still a real good record. A-
  • The Rough Guide to Highlife ([2003], World Music Network). The lack of date information is especially annoying this time. Most of this material evidently dates from the 1960s, although tracking down the details is difficult. Let's go song-by-song and see what we can figure out:
    1. Celestine Ukwu, "Igede": currently unavailable; there is a Greatest Hits (1976 [1997], Flame Tree).
    2. Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, "Ka-Anyi Jikota": from Kedu America (1994 [1996], Xenophile).
    3. Jerry Hansen & the Ramblers Dance Band, "Ekombi": from Hit Sound of the Ramblers Dance Band, Vol. 1 ([1995], Flame Tree).
    4. Joe Mensah, "Bosoe": from Bosoe, Bonsue and More ([2001], J Mint, but probably from the '60s).
    5. Sir Victor Uwaifo, "Guitar Boy": currently unavailable, although the same song with similar time appears on Greatest Hits ([2002], Premier).
    6. Nana Ampadu & the African Brothers, "Bone Biara So Wo Akatua": from Afrohili Soundz (unknown).
    7. Alex Konadu, "Asare": from Best Of, Vol. 1 (unknown). Konadu has a record called One Man Thousand ([1998], Akuboat), which on its cover has the legend "Classic Highlife."
    8. Inyang Henshaw, "Esonta": currently unavailable.
    9. E.T. Mensah, "Medzi Medzi": from Day by Day (1991, RetroAfric).
    10. Victor Olaiya, "Omo Pupa": currently unavailable.
    11. King Onyina, "Ohia Asoma Wo": from King Onyina's Guitar Highlife (2000, P.A.M.).
    12. Rex Lawson, "Bere Bote": currently unavailable, although same title is on Rex Lawson's Greatest Hits (1997, Flame Tree).
    13. TO Jazz, "Agyeman Baidoo": previously unreleased.
    14. Orlando Julius, "Binu Binu": currently unavailable.
    15. George Darko, "Hilife Time": currently unavailable; probably from the album Highlife Time (1983, Celluloid).
    This leaves us somewhere in the '60s, up to 1994, maybe later. Confusing. Rough Guide has generally improved their booklets starting 2-3 years ago, but they still just provide a hit-and-miss paragraph on each artist/song, and rarely think to mention where/when it comes from. Annoying. This hurts most here because this is one case where they do reach for more obscure material. Also because the music is pretty good, which one would think would make it worth more knowing about. A-
  • The Best of Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs (The Millennium Collection) (1965-68 [2003], Mercury/Chronicles). "Wooly Bully" was a huge hit. I've even seen decade-spanning singles countdowns where it wound up as the single of the '60s. "Lil' Red Riding Hood" was the follow-up, and it's fine too. "Pharaoh A-Go-Go" is pretty much a jive instrumental version of "Wooly Bully." B+
  • Seven Come Eleven: Texas Swing on Radio & TV (1946-64 [2002], Country Routes). Adolph Hofner, The Home Folks (Johnny Gimble), Moon Mullican, some others, in little snatches with some intro/theme material (e.g., advertising). Minor stuff, leaning heavy on the Bob Wills songbook, for which you might as well listen to Bob. But Gimble has a version of "Dance With Me Henry" that's delightful. Rusty Locks's set has dimmed down sound, but "Blue Suede Shoes" is interesting, and "Devil's Dream" is good ole hoedown. B
  • Spring Heel Jack: Live (2003, Thirsty Ear). A smaller group than Amassed, with Shipp (Fender Rhodes), Evan Parker (tenor saxophone), J Spaceman [Jason Pierce, of Spiritualized] (guitar), William Parker (bass), and Han Bennink (drums). Two long pieces, neither with anything as obvious as a theme: it really feels more like a playground, with every conceivable sound emerging somehow somewhere. At its best it is very interesting, but it has its rough spots as well. B
  • Tarheel Swing (1946-53 [2003], Krazy Kat). Quality archival work, spotlighting several western swing-influenced North Carolina singers, previously unknown to me: Glen Thompson (9 cuts), Clyde Moody (4), Tommy Little (4), Cecil Campbell (3), Jim Hall (2), Billy Strickland (1), Preston Miller (1), Smiley Wilson (1), Gene Ray (1), Harry Fowler (1), Jim & Don (1). Of these, only Clyde Moody has any discography in AMG. (The link to Jim Hall gets you the jazz guitarist.) Some of this is quite good -- Jim & Don's "What Is Life Lived Alone" is one standout -- and none of it is bad. None of the five "boogie" songs made it to Proper's Hillbilly Boogie box. B+
  • When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 6: Poor Man's Heaven (1928-40 [2003], Bluebird). This starts with "Eddie Cantor's Tips on the Stock Market" -- Cantor was invested deeply enough in 1929 that he felt the pain of the depression quicker than most. A second spoken piece is by Rev. J.M. Gates, "President Roosevelt Is Everbody's Friend." In between there are a lot of down-on-their-luck show tunes and more than a few down-in-the-dumps blues. The blues are the least of the interests here: the show tunes pack more punch because the everymen they appeal to can feel not merely the pain, they can feel the loss. A
  • Ye Ren (Gary Hassay, William Parker, Toshi Makihara): Another Shining Path (1998 [1999], Drimala). Hassay plays alto saxophone, and is reputedly a bulwark of the Allentown PA avant-jazz scene. (Which may answer the burning question of why AMM recorded Live in Allentown USA.) Makihara is a drummer from Philadelphia, who's also recorded with Thurston Moore. Parker is, by comparison, an international superstar. As a trio, they aim for utter democracy, but as a practical matter Hassay and Makihara leave Parker a lot of space, and work around him carefully, which is what makes this such a good showcase for Parker's art. B+

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Music: Initial count 8305 rated (+11), 923 unrated (+5). Moved unfinished records forward again. Thought last week would be the big push forward on Parker/Shipp; maybe this week will be the one.

  • Andrew Barker, Matthew Shipp, Charles Waters: Apostolic Polyphony (2001 [2003], Drimala). The pieces are credited to "Waters/Barker/Shipp," which suggests that the cover order is alphabetical, but that Waters (who plays alto sax and clarinet, which makes him the frontline here) seems to be the main force. Barker is a drummer who AMG lists under Electronica for no reason I can discern. Waters' previous associations include Gold Sparkle Band, which AMG likens to Peter Brötzmann's Die Like a Dog, and it's true that Waters' playing here is in that ballpark, but he also reminds me a bit of Thomas Chapin, who is usually a lot easier to take than Brötzmann. Shipp, of course, needs no further introduction, and his playing really anchors these pieces. A-
  • Guillermo E. Brown: Soul at the Hands of the Machine (2002, Thirsty Ear). He's the latest drummer in the David S. Ware Quartet. And this is a drummer's record, albeit more a matter of dazzling and diddling rhythms than simply banging on things -- with synths both for percussion and color, and Daniel Carter the only horn (flute, trumpet, clarinet, sax) and only on half of the tracks. So it doesn't grab you so much as just percolate in the background, enticing and rather delicious. B+
  • William Parker/In Order to Survive: The Peach Orchard (1997-98, Aum Fidelity, 2 CD). Quartet with Cooper-Moore (piano), Rob Brown (alto sax), Susie Ibarra (drums), with Assif Tsahar guesting on bass clarinet on "Posium Pendasem #3." The first disc is intense, with a lot to listen to from all, but it may make the most sense to try to concentrate on Parker, even when Cooper-Moore is dazzling. Parker's duet with Ibarra on "Moholo" (obviously a title with a drummer in mind) is particularly good. "The Peach Orchard" itself starts out with a stretch of Rob Brown screech -- not bad as these things go, but tougher listening than most of the album -- on top of Cooper-Moore's repetitive rhythm, which continues well past the sax solo. About midway Parker gets an arco solo, recapitulating Cooper-Moore's rhythm, with occasional shots from piano and drums: it all makes for a rather intense piece. The second disc is more of the same, but "Theme From Pelikan" seems to follow a slightly more regular beat, giving it an agreeable funkiness -- and Rob Brown and Susie Ibarra have a lot of fun with it. A
  • William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: Mayor of Punkville (2000, Aum Fidelity, 2 CD). "James Baldwin to the Rescue" is a fine piece, with a vocal by Aleta Hayes that reminds me a bit of Sheila Jordan, some superb alto sax (by Rob Brown? only solo credit is Chris Jonas on soprano), and a great deal of discipline for a large ensemble (slimmed down a bit from Sunrise in the Tone World). "I Can't Believe I'm Here" gets louder and longer, with quite a bit of brass. The second disc is louder still, especially on "The Mayor of Punkville," which is raucous enough (credit Steve Swell, among others) to do that cathartic thing that redeems at least some loud free jazz. The "Interlude" pieces are moderate little transitional works, not much free-for-all. The closing "Anthem" is similarly elegant. B+
  • Spring Heel Jack: Masses (2001, Thirsty Ear). I've gotten to this one after Amassed, but it was cut earlier, and may be considered the prototype. Whereas Amassed was built around Europe's avant-garde, the players here are mostly Americans (exception: Evan Parker) with prior connections to Shipp. The other difference is that the music here is more obviously the work of Coxon/Wales: little snippets of electronics that the jazzmen improvise off of. The second cut, "Chiaroscuro," is an industrial-ish dirge, with a riveting sax solo that may be Daniel Carter (one of the artists listed with that cut) but sounds more like Tim Berne. A-

Here's some extra lisening notes, mostly of soundclips from the Drimala website, mostly on records related to Parker/Shipp (although I do wander a bit). I haven't heard any of these records, and the clips are short, so the grades are nothing more than self-notes about the evident potential based on what little I've heard.

  • Borah Bergman: The River of Sounds (Boxholder): with Conny [Konrad] Bauer (trombone) and Mat Maneri (violin); two very different pieces: the first measured piano, with minor adds, the second much more dynamic, with Bauer adding some smear. [B+]
  • Roy Campbell Pyramid Trio: Ancestral Homeland (1998, No More): two short samples start with Parker on bass, then drummer Zen Matsuura and Campbell join in; nice work. [B+]
  • Roy Campbell: It's Krunch Time (2001, Thirsty Ear): with Khan Jamal (vibes), Wilber Morris (bass), Guillermo E. Brown (drums); Jamal is a very active vibes player, so tends to dominate; Morris gets a bass solo on the last piece. [B]
  • Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble: Seasoning the Greens (2001 [2002], Boxholder): Cole plays exotic wind instruments (digeridoo, sona, jojok, shenai, nagaswarm; only recognize the first, so I may be off here); with Cooper-Moore ("homemade instruments"), Sam Furnace (alto sax), Joe Daley (tuba), Parker, Warren Smith (drums), Atticus Cole (percussion); the rhythmic figures come from all over the map, and are very interesting; the sax high and lonesome; the fourth cut is a plucked string thing, very nice. [A-]
  • The Cosmosamatics (Sonny Simmons, Michael Marcus, William Parker, Jay Rosen): The Cosmosamatics (2001, Boxholder): two horns up front (not counting guests -- James Carter on bass sax is mentioned); first cut has a bit of unison work, then Simmons bursting out on alto; second cut sounds more like Marcus, with Samir Chatterjee's tablas; the third cut is longer and messier, much as you might expect, but not without interest. [B]
  • The Cosmosamatics (Sonny Simmons, Michael Marcus, Curtis Lundy, Jay Rosen): The Cosmosamatics II (2002, Boxholder): substitutes Curtis Lundy on bass for Parker, but otherwise is expectedly similar; Lundy is a more straightforward bassist than Parker, but that works as well (or better) as a base for Simmons/Marcus. [B]
  • Kali Fasteau: Oneness (2003, Flying Note): Parker is not on this one, although she's done several albums with him; she plays various saxes, piano, drums, kitchen sink, and sings a little, and the band includes an arsenal of djembes and mizmars and flutes and things you can hit, recapitulating her globetrotting education with their own worldwide reach; "Beyond Words" is more of a sax piece; "Silverfish" is percussion with a bit of something flute-like; the last cut is more atmospheric, with some nice piano. [B+]
  • Joel Futterman, William Parker, Jimmy Williams: Authenticity (1998 [1999], Kali): first cut has Futterman on piano, a lot of perambulating, with Williams' guitar contrasting to Paker's bass; second cut has Futterman on a rather thin-sounding soprano sax, working with Parker; both of these snatches have a high difficulty quotient, although neither are particularly loud. [B-]
  • Mat Maneri & Randy Peterson: Light Trigger (2000, No More): viola/drums duet; the first cut is in the deeper register of the viola, and is appropriately gloomy, somewhat musclebound; the second is higher pitched, more intricate; not bad, but not easy listening either, more the sort of thing for hardcore specialists. [B-]
  • Mat Maneri: Blue Decco (2000, Thirsty Ear): with Craig Taborn (piano), Parker, and Gerald Cleaver (drums); title cut is fairly lively; the other cuts are slower, with Maneri's deliberate violin plotting out interesting courses. [B+]
  • Jemeel Moondoc & William Parker With Hamid Drake: New World Pygmies, Vol. 2 (2000 [2002], Eremite, 2CD): two cuts of Parker songs I know from elsewhere; evidently the first disc is just Moondoc and Parker, with Drake added for the second disc; the first cut is just bass and alto, nicely played; the second is similar, with drums. [B+]
  • The Music Ensemble (1974-75 [2001], Roratorio): an early group for Parker, with Roger Baird (percussion), Billy Bang (violin), Malik Baraka (trumpet), Daniel Carter (tenor/alto sax), and Herb Kahn (bass); the first cut has violin with percussion, rather pretty; the second uses trumpet and possibly alto sax, again with a sort of glass-tinkly percussion; hard to judge. [B]
  • The Nommonsemble: Life Cycle (2000 [2001], Aum Fidelity): Whit Dickey (drums, leader), Shipp, Rob Brown (alto sax, flute), Mat Maneri (viola); first cut is fairly airy; second cut more upbeat and adventurous, with Brown taking the lead, and Maneri filling in for the missing bass. [B]
  • William Parker: Lifting the Sanctions (1997 [1998], No More): Parker's second solo bass album; two brief cuts, both bowed, hard to judge. [B]
  • William Parker Trio: And William Danced (2002, Ayler): two short samples, Parker up front, with Hamid Drake (drums) and Anders Gahnold (alto saxophone) cutting in; Gahnold, a longtime collaborator with South African bassist Johnny Dyani, has an airy sound, which suggests a lighter touch on this album. [A-]
  • Matthew Shipp: Symbol Systems (1995, No More): solo piano; two short cuts, not a lot to go on, but characteristic. [B]
  • Alan Silva, Kidd Jordan, William Parker: Emancipation Suite #1 (1999 [2002], Boxholder): the first cut has a full-bodied classical music feel, the drums and much of the orchestration presumably coming from Silva's synthesizer; the second cut features Jordan (tenor sax) more; both strike me as cluttered and mannered. [C+]
  • Craig Taborn: Light Made Lighter (2001, Thirsty Ear): piano trio, with Chris Lightcap (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums);

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

I've been trying to read Jedediah Purdy's Being America: Liberty, Commerce, and Violence in an American World (2003, Alfred A. Knopf). It's basically a defense of liberalism, and it scores its best points in arguing that liberalism is the best thing that the U.S. has going for it in the world, and that illiberalism in U.S. policy works against that advantage. Still, I've never had much truck with liberalism, so if that's the best Purdy has to offer I can't say it amounts to much, other than confusion. The best things in the book are the little vignettes of Purdy's travels in the outer world (Egypt, India, Indonesia, China -- although the latter chapter is rather fussy). Most of what they show is confusion as well: mixed feelings over America's ubiquitous civil culture, and apprehensions over America's imperial visage. But Purdy doesn't make much out of what he discovers, and if anything throws his hands up when faced with such a big old complicated mess of a world. The problem, I think, is that he doesn't begin to understand economics. And I suspect that the reason here is that he's so young that he just reflexively rejected anything remotely Marxian without bothering to learn a thing from it. While it's true that most lefties have reduced Marx to a few overly simplistic anti-imperialist platitudes, Purdy just throws the baby out with the bathwater. Consider this quote:

Global capitalism is a triumph of freedom. Markets produce wealth, disrupt settled customs, and pry open the barred gates of hierarchical societies. They humble the great, elevate the lowly, and bewilder those who thought they knew their world. At their best, they turn personal liberty from a privilege of the powerful to an everyday expectation of ordinary people; they overwhelm deference and privilege with a modest but solid equality, in which titles and ancestors count for less than effort and intelligence. Every bit as much as wealth, this image of liberty and equality led Adam Smith and other early thinkers to endorse the market society.

There's some sleight of hand here: note the casual equivalency of "global capitalism" and "markets" and "market society," which works to obscure the very real differences between real global capitalists and the idealized free entrepreneurs of Smith's market society. More generally, this obscures the basic fact that unfettered markets are more often than not opposed by real capitalists. (Look in every business plan for the section on "barriers to competition"; while competition may be a sacred principle of capitalism, it's hard to find any real capitalists who don't seek to undermine their competitors.) But first, let's start out with the second sentence, which anthropomorphizes markets, transforming them into actors instead of the more conventional use of the word, more akin to the stage. "Markets produce wealth": it's hard to construct a sentence this simple that misses the boat so many ways. Let's start with "wealth": what is that? Roughly speaking, it's the accretion and consolidation of value; i.e., it's value that persists over time (that is not immediately consumed). Where does value come from? For all intents and purposes, value comes from labor. (This is what Marx called "the labor theory of value," and while that was not an original idea, it is the absolute basis for the whole of Marx's economic thought.) This isn't to deny that raw materials and energy have value (although you can also think of them as potential value: value that requires some addition of labor to realize), or that capital is usually needed to realize value. But the first thing that the sentence hides is labor, which is the first thing that you have to have: wealth comes from labor, not from capital and not from markets. And from this basic fact many things derive, including the contributions of equality and liberty and freedom, because those are attributes that encourage people to produce greater value through their labor. (There are, of course, other systems which also compel labor and thereby produce value and wealth -- slavery is the classic example -- but it should be clear by now that free labor outproduces them, just as that free access to markets more effectively distributes the goods and services produced by free labor.)

Since markets don't produce wealth -- indeed, don't produce anything -- just what are markets? Well, a market is a system of distribution through exchange. The market doesn't act; it's merely a stage on which people act, in the roles of sellers and buyers. Or more abstractly (markets need not be physical), it is the context in which exchange acts take place. There are lots of things that can be said about markets, but I want to just mention two here. The first is that access to markets rewards overproduction. If there were no markets, the only reason for labor would be self-sufficiency, and there would be no need to produce anything that cannot be self-consumed. But most goods and services can in fact be produced more efficiently in bulk, and since access to a market makes it possible to exchange excess production for other useful things, it generally becomes advantageous to produce more than is needed for self-sufficiency, up to the market's limit to consume. This in turn leads to differentiation, division of labor, etc., which generally make labor more efficient and productive, which leads ultimately to a surfeit of value and wealth. This is why markets facilitate the development of wealth, but it is fundamentally wrong to say that they produce it.

The second point is that there are real differences between the sort of ideal markets that Adam Smith was so enamored with and what we actually see in real markets. In particular, ideal markets are distinguished by the buyers and sellers having perfect information about the goods and services being offered for sale, and that the exchanges are politically unfettered. Markets which approximate the ideal are often described as being "free markets," and the measure of how free a market is may be how closely it approximates the ideal. The big advantage that free markets have over less-than-free markets is that they more efficiently transfer value from seller to buyer. (Note that price and value are often independent attributes here; one way to measure the inefficiency of less-than-free markets is to note the variation between price and value, although since value is so abstract, variability of price irrespective of demand is another indicator). We can think of markets functioning in terms we borrow from physics, including resistance (the loss of power due to friction), inertia, and entropy.

The other two parts of the second sentence are also flawed in various ways, beyond the obvious anthropomorphic faults. "Markets . . . disrupt settled customs" -- he probably means pervasive changes, such as the opening of markets that were closed or shuttered before. "Markets . . . pry open the barred gates of hierarchical societies" -- in this case, the opening of markets changes the balance of power within a society, in effect becoming a political weapon. In both of these cases, we are not talking about intrinsic properties of markets so much as specific historical effects of coercively opening certain markets in societies that have not had time to adjust to them constructively. That the opening of markets can be viewed as a political weapon is something that has been overwhelmingly established by now: England's war to force the Chinese to open their domestic market for opium is perhaps the classic case example here.

This, by the way, puts the emphasis in the first sentence not on "freedom" but on "triumph." Indeed, there are many examples where capitalists have flourished with very little in the way of freedom: pre-WWI Germany is a classic example, pre-WWII Japan another, cold war Korea a third, and it looks much like contemporary China is/will be another. Note that I used the word "capitalists" in the previous sentence instead of "capitalism." If in theory capitalism is wed to freedom, in actual practice capitalists have always tried to consolidate their gains (Marx's concept of "surplus value") as power, which almost always opposes freedom. Global capitalism may or may not be a triumph of freedom here, but freedom is perhaps the last thing it holds in store for the rest of the world.

Purdy then backpeddles a bit in the following paragraph:

Global capitalism is an abomination of freedom. Markets sweep across the land like a natural disaster, driving whole populations before them. They make familiar ways fo surviving impossible. Markets tear farmers from their land and fishermen from their nets as surely as drought and disease. They can topple governments, but cannot replace or rebuild them. They throw up new inequalities, often abrupt and crass, without even the hint of grace and threads of noblesse oblige that dignified the old hierarchies. A kind of personal isolation is possible in commercial societies that hardly has a precedent in human history. Some souls waste away and societies move in and out of chaos so that many -- but not all -- can grow rich.

It's easy enough to recognize much of what he talks about here, but it's hard to ascribe them even metaphorically to markets. In this guise, a market is nothing more than a front, vouchsafed by our most exalted economists, for extending the power of the capitalist rich, with little or no regard to the consequences. If Marx were still alive today, I have no doubt that he'd see right through this as class war. That Purdy cannot see something so clear leaves him seriously confused, and consequently makes the book much less useful than what is needed.

Funny thing is that I've spent the last 20+ years shying away from any sort of Marxian analysis: as early as the time when I was conceiving of my never-to-be-written Secret Agents book I had written Marx off as a hopelessly archaic bourgeois remnant. Still, when guys like Purdy throw out the labor theory of value, or indeed the very notion of class, and treat history just as a big pile of news, they're not moving beyond the antiquated ideas of the past: they haven't even caught up to them.

As I write this, I've only managed to get to page 232 of Purdy's book, and it's due for return to the library. Glancing ahead, I notice the bibliography, which looks to be worth reading. I also ran across another more explicit Marx-related quote (p. 296):

Capitalism is not what Karl Marx and generations of Marxists believed, a system of relentless and unjust exploitation whose dynamism builds up to self-destruction. Neither is it what libertarians have imagined, by itself the best arrangement of human affairs, a formula for securing freedom to all and bringing wealth to those who deserve it. The free market remains the most powerful human practice for creating wealth, and a great source of individual liberty, just as Adam Smith wrote. . . .

I stopped before it started getting stupid again. ("The free market also produces factory towns that, although they offer better lives than those in some Cambodian and Indian villages, are defined by desperation and vulnerability.") But as far as I went, this isn't terrible. Certainly, Marx expected capitalism's contradictions to do it in, whereas in fact it mostly escaped revolution by moderating itself, and by extending rights to most/all people beyond the ranks of the capitalists. And Marx may have overrated the power of economics (e.g., personal and class interests) to direct human behavior: clearly the pursuit and defense of power for its own sake has had a marked effect on human history, often in defiance of economic reason. But a more interesting argument is that capitalism harbors more fundamental contradictions that have had (and will continue to have) more profound effects: in particular, that the principles and freedoms of the bourgeois revolutions form a long-term check on all powers (including the capitalists) that in the long run moderate and equalize its behavior, and that the enormous increases in productivity generated in free and equitable societies will eventually lead to the marginalization of economics as the dominant fact of human life. Walter Benjamin once wrote that Baudellaire was a secret agent -- an agent of the bourgeoisie's secret discontent with its own rule. The point of my unwritten book was that Marx and his whole cadre of followers were secret agents too -- agents of unfulfilled bourgeois desires. As history rolls on, as things change, the specific forms and arguments of such agents fade into irrelevance, which is largely what has happened to Marx. Purdy is another such secret agent: a guy who's very much a part of his time and country and class and who has enjoyed the many benefits his upbringing has offered him, yet still he feels a sense in which his wonderful world has to keep changing in order to better secure what's wonderful about it.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Got back from Arkansas last night. A quick four-day trip with my sister. Visited two cousins. We had a brief stop to see Bob Burns, who has been long suffering from emphysema and is now under hospice care at home, very weak; nods off frequently, and his palsy seems worse -- not strong enough to keep it under control. Still, we talked a bit, and at his best he is alert and coherent. We went on to Baxter County and spent two nights with Elsie Lee Pyeatt. Saw her four children and their families (Brenda and Richard back in Springdale, on the first night; Rhonda and Tammy at Elsie Lee's), including all nine grandchildren. My mother's ancestors moved to this part of Arkansas shortly after the civil war. My mother was born on a farm near the former town of Vidette in 1913. Her older brother Ted was the only one of eight to stay his whole life in Arkansas, and Ted's farm was next to and eventually swallowed up my grandfather's farm. (My grandfather died in 1936, well before I was born, so I had always thought of the place as Uncle Ted's.) Elsie Lee was Ted's daughter: the only one of three to stay in Arkansas, so we had always seen her and family when we would go visit -- usually once a year when I was a child. We made a circuit of the back roads, stopping at the Fluty Cemetery and Uncle Ted's old farmhouse (still owned by the family, but now I hear up for sale). Other than that, we just hung out, visited, and ate a lot.

Took an exceptionally slow route back: crossed over Lake Norfolk up to Gamaliel and Bakersfield, then crawled along southern Missouri through Branson (hadn't been there since it turned into whatever it is these days). Thought we'd at least be able to find lunch there, but we walked out of one unappetizing place, found others closed on us, and wound up on a boat dock down on Table Rock -- scads of huge catfish circling the dock, but none on the menu. More twists and turns before we ditched the hills for I-44, then took U-166 across southern Kansas -- a lovely road, actually.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Music: Initial count 8294 rated (+4), 918 unrated (+9). Lots of stuff in float, carried forward.

  • The Great Ellington Units (1940-41 [1988], RCA). I remember Tom Piazza raving about these Ellington spinoffs, but they went out-of-print almost instantly, and it took me years to track down a copy. The eight Johnny Hodges cuts are supreme classics. Eight cuts from Rex Stewart, and six from Barney Bigard, aren't far behind. A
  • Johnny Hodges: The Jeep Is Jumpin' (1937-52 [2003], Properbox). Unlike ASV's superb Jeep's Blues, this sticks to dates led by Hodges -- which means that the singers on the early cuts are more likely to be Mary McHugh or Jean Eldridge than Mildred Bailey or Billie Holiday. Still, the piano player is often someone named Ellington. From the late '30s it became common for big bands to spin off small swing groups -- Benny Goodman's are especially famous, but Ellington's spin-off bands, usually under the names of Hodges, Cootie Williams, or Rex Stewart, produced some of the era's finest music (cf. Columbia's two 2-CD The Duke's Men sets, RCA's out-of-print The Great Ellington Units and/or The Indispensible Duke Ellington and the Small Groups, Vol. 9/10 (1940-1946), and especially RCA's early Hodges showcase, Passion Flower). A
  • Machito: Mambo Mucho Mambo: The Complete Columbia Masters (1951-57 [2002], Columbia/Legacy). Machito and Mario Bauza were major figures in post-Cuban music, by which I mean the big band salsa that emerged in New York in the early post-WWII period. It's always been a bit difficult to listen to -- the rhythms are exciting, the horns are a mixed blessing, the vocals often leave something to be desired. The completeness includes a few things that I could do without, and the occasional bit of English doesn't help. But the first 3-4 cuts offer seminal grooves, and the rhythms rarely let up. As for the mambo obsession, that seems to be an affectation of the period, which gives it an agreeable quaintness, but I suspect that by the time Cuba was cleaved by revolution these guys were not merely happy exiles, they had already insinuated themselves into the yankee power structure. Not that that matters -- it's just music, after all. A-
  • Joe Maneri, Joe Morris, Mat Maneri: Three Men Walking (1995 [1996], ECM). Joe Maneri was in his 60s before he started to record regularly, with a dozen or more albums out since 1993. He mostly plays clarinet, but here appears as often on sax (alto, tenor), and a bit on piano. He's legendary as a microtonal theorist. AMG's list of similar artists is peculiar: Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Barre Phillips. Given his instruments, he sounds more like Joe McPhee, although that may be a bit superficial: both play difficult music, although the edge in difficulty no doubt goes to Maneri. Mat Maneri is Joe's son, a violinist who tends to play similarly difficult music, although he doesn't make much of it here. Joe Morris plays guitar, usually long lines of single notes in a style not all that far removed from bebop. The most striking thing about this record is that none of the musicians really play with each other: rather, aside from a little violin squeak in the background, most of this consists of one long, precise, delicate solo after another. One little bit that I like is the closer, where Joe Maneri plays piano, in a style that could be described as a more peaceable Cecil Taylor. Morris has some nice runs too. B
  • Evan Parker / Patrick Scheyder (2000 [2001], Leo). Scheyder is reportedly best known as a classical musician -- pianist, Chopin specialist, even. Parker, of course, is the prodigious avant-jazz multi-reed player, emphasis perhaps on soprano saxophone. Each gets a short (as these things go) solo piece, leaving a good 55 minutes of duo play. Scheyder's solo piece sounds fine to me: abstract, angular, nothing that smells particularly euroclassical to me, except that he doesn't, how you say it? . . . swing. But he does gallop a bit, which sets off nicely against Parker's . . . long-windedness. I find this more appealing thus far than most of what I've heard from Parker. B+
  • William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: Sunrise in the Tone World (1997, Aum Fidelity, 2 CD). This is a big group: the back cover lists 26 musicians plus Parker. Still, the first track ("Sunrise in the Tone World") sails through elegantly, with light instrumental interplay and voices. The second piece, "The Bluest J," seems more typical of such large avant-garde groupings, with interesting sounds competing against a lot of backdrop. Long, too (26:05). All these pieces have a lot of interesting shit going on, and given the large ensemble it's inevitable that the horns dominate. On "Mayan Space Station" the trombones stand out. All in all, the first side holds together pretty well. However, the 40:10 opener on the second disc, "Huey Sees Light Through a Leaf," does wander quite a bit, threatening to decompose into the usual avant void, and the second disc never quite rights itself. Maybe they got a little tired? B
  • William Parker / Hamid Drake: Piercing the Veil, Volume 1 (2000 [2001], Aum Fidelity). Don't know if there is/will be a Vol. 2. This is, I think, the most successful of Parker's duos, perhaps because working with just a percussionist Parker gets to provide most of the color. And while Parker mostly operates on bass, he's also credited with balafone (an African percussion instrument, looks a bit like a wooden xylophone), slit drum, shakahachi (Japanese wind instrument, a sort of bamboo flute), bombard (a primitive oboe?), dumbek (a small drum). Drake plays drums, but is also credited with bells, tablas, and frame drum. A-
  • Cecil Taylor: It Is in the Brewing Luminous (1980 [1990], Hat Art). A sextet: Taylor, Jimmy Lyons (alto sax), Ramsey Ameen (violin), Alan Silva (bass, cello), Jerome Cooper (drums, african bellaphone), Sunny Murray (drums). One piece, 68:58. A lot of this sounds fairly typical -- assuming you can adjust your frame of reference to the point where anything Taylor does is typical (and I'm starting to worry a bit that I can) -- but around 42 minutes in Ameen conjures up a kind of ethereal comping with Murray riding lightly on the cymbal, and Taylor dances all around them. Later on Jimmy Lyons does good work. Then it gets typical again. B+
  • Cecil Taylor: Erzulie Maketh Scent (1988, FMP). One of Taylor's vast series of albums recorded in a week or so in Berlin in 1988; this one is solo, which with Taylor is a mixed blessing: the good news being that it's relatively easy to follow him, and as usual he has no trouble keeping an astonishing level of inventiveness going for an astonishingly long time. The bad news is that he's got so many solo albums and that it's damn hard to distinguish among them. I'll go out on a limb and conjecture that this is one of the better ones. B+
  • Cecil Taylor European Orchestra: Alms / Tiergarten (Spree) (1988, FMP, 2CD). Two disc-long pieces. Taylor kept his American bassist (William Parker, who wouldn't?), but doubled up on bass with Peter Kowald (given the opportunity, who wouldn't?). The band is otherwise full of top drawer European avant-gardists, including: Enrico Rava, Tomasz Stanko, Peter Brotzmann, Hans Koch, Evan Parker, Louis Sclavis, Gunter Hampel, and Han Bennink. The first piece, "Involution/Evolution," starts out moderately, and the piece unfolds without the usual Taylor chase. Like most avant big bands, the pleasures are in the details: a little snatch of vibes, a riff of trumpets, a little stretch of incipient melody. Some of the players are distinctive: Parker's circular breathing is unmistakable, and the sound of horses being slaughtered (not one I'm partisan to) is very likely Brotzmann's doing. And of course there's the piano player: even when he's laying back and enjoying the show Taylor's manages to throw in the occasional pounding chord, and his abstract rhythms are remarkable when counterposed against the dull roar of backing trombone. The second piece is more of the same. There's a nice stretch around 28-minutes in where a melody starts to swell over the trombones, but that plays itself out to not much effect. These big band things are always complicated, messy, frustrating -- even when there are lots of wonderful details. B
  • Carlos Ward: Live at the Bug & Other Sweets (1994 [1995], Peull Music). The "Live at the Bug" section is pretty solid free jazz: a trio, with Pheeroan Aklaff and William Parker. The "other sweets" include some film music, some synth sketches, and a few sketchy vocal pieces, none of which does much for me. B-

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Music: Initial count 8290 rated (+18), 909 unrated (+0).

  • Dope & Glory: Reefer Songs der 30er und 40er Jahre (1925-47 [2002], Trikont, 2CD). Marijuana was legal in the U.S. until 1937, and efforts to stamp out its use -- the U.S. busts close to 750,000 citizens a year -- don't seem to do much more than drive up the price and tempt the poor with cheaper, riskier drugs. Even if musicians were no more prone to toke than the population at large, there would be scads of reefer songs, and of course there are: ranging from Frankie Jaxon (two of the best cuts here) in the '20s up through Nelly and NERD. Thematic compilations surface every now and then, but this one is one of the richest, not so much for its theme as for its history of jive. Long before Peter Tosh offered to advertise it, there was Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong. Most are less than explicit (my own take on spinach isn't far from Julia Lee's "Spinach Song"), and Armstrong's "Muggles" and Don Redman's "Chant of the Weed" are just instrumentals, guilty only by inference. With stuff this clever, you don't even have to partake to get a giggle. A-
  • The John Kirby Sextet: Complete Columbia & RCA Victor Recordings (1939-42 [2000], Definitive, 2CD). Alternative title: The Biggest Little Band in the Land. Kirby was a bass player who had worked in the Fletcher Henderson band. His sextet was an exemplar of small group swing, with Charlie Shavers (trumpet), Buster Bailey (clarinet), Russell Procope (alto sax), Billy Kyle (piano), and O'Neill Spencer or Specs Powell (drums). Bailey and Procope were Henderson veterans -- Procope also played quite a bit with Ellington. Kyle played with Louis Armstrong's All-Stars after the war. Shavers was probably the most notable voice here: he plays most of this muted, but he could play anything (I have a history of the trumpet he did, where he impersonates Armstrong, Eldridge, Gillespie, and others). It's all rather subdued (although Bailey gets in a beautiful solo on "It's Only a Paper Moon"). One notable thing is the number of classically-derived pieces (credits to Grieg, Chopin, Dvorak, Schubert, Donizetti, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven; the latter on something called "Beethoven Riffs On," which is probably not its original title). With their tails and bow ties, they scooped the Modern Jazz Quartet; perhaps we should consider them the coolest band in small group swing? A-
  • Bill Monroe: Anthology (1950-81 [2003], MCA Nashville/Decca, 2CD). Higher and lonesomer. A
  • Cecil Taylor Unit: Dark to Themselves (1976 [1990], Enja). With Raphé Malik (trumpet), Jimmy Lyons (alto sax), David S. Ware (tenor sax), and Marc Edwards (drums). One 61:45 piece, with two titles ("Streams," "Chorus of Seed") presumably due to the original abridged LP release. The three horns are as cacophonous as expected, and Edwards and of course Taylor are quite busy as well. I'm trying to figure out whether the straining saxophonist around 25 minutes in is Ware -- seems likely, but there's enough range overlap that Lyons can't be excluded. This would be one of Ware's earliest recordings, and it's not unlike the farthest out of his '90s works, but the pianist here is something else. But then we already knew that. Tough listening. The horns lay out for much of the homestretch, which provides a good example of how inventive Taylor can be. But there's lots more where that came from, too. B
  • David S. Ware: Third Ear Recitation (1992 [1993], DIW). Although they don't get billing, this is a Quartet album, with William Parker, Matthew Shipp, and Whit Dickey. The second cut is Sonny Rollins' "East Broadway Run Down" -- an early '60s piece that was meant to give Coltrane and Dolphy a run for their money -- and Shipp has an interesting piano interlude: one hesitates to call it a solo because it is really just a series of rhythmic figures, which continues in the background when Ware returns to finish the piece off. Ware's "The Chase" starts out remarkably, before it evolves back into a Ware blowfest. Throughout, Ware's saxophone is bracing. On the cover he stands on a promontory (looks a bit like Bear Mountain) and blows out into the wilderness. For much of this album the wilderness has to take notice: Ware's playing is rarely less than ferocious. But the closing "Autumn Leaves" has an intriguing quiet spot, and Ware's reassertion of the melody is both forceful and articulate. There's a lot going on here, especially with Shipp, and I'm nowhere near close to having it figured out. A-


May 2003 Jul 2003