July 2003 Notebook
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Sunday, July 27, 2003

Music: Initial count 8390 rated (+13), 942 unrated (+3).

  • James Brown: In the Jungle Groove (1969-72 [2003], Polydor). This reissues a 1986 compilation of Brown's circa 1970 peak, long on long groove tracks. Thought I should at least check to see how much overlap there is with the essential Star Time: six songs, none in the same version ("Funky Drummer" twice, both different), which leaves three songs not in the big box. Other comparisons: Foundations of Funk has two of these songs (different versions); Funk Power has two songs ("Get Up, Get Into It and Get Involved" is about the same length); Make It Funky has one song (different version). A+
  • James Brown: Motherlode (1967-76 [2003], Polydor). Another reissue of another set of leftovers -- some live, some remixes, some just got lost in the glut. The two bonus cuts are among the hardest. A-
  • Burning Spear: Social Living (1978-80 [2003], Island). The first US release of Spear's fourth studio album from their (his?) 1975-78 Jack Ruby-produced, Island-distributed period. Research indicates that the original title was Marcus' Children, and that it was released in Jamaica in 1978, followed by an Island UK release in 1980 (the only one cited in the notes). But it remained obscure until Blood & Fire revived it in 1994, a relase I've long treasured. This one adds two extended mixes, with the reprise of the title track especially welcome. A
  • Burning Spear: Man in the Hills/Dry & Heavy (1976-77 [2003], Island/Chronicles). Two more vintage albums, solid groove, less pointed message-wise. B+
  • Slim Gaillard: Laughing in Rhythm (1937-52 [2003], Proper, 4CD). Anyone who wondered what more there might be to Gaillard beyond Verve's 1994 Laughing in Rhythm comp will welcome this, which sustains his schtick over four relaxed hours without ever wearing out its welcome. Turns out that there is quite a bit more -- even if it is somewhat more of the same. A-
  • Globalista: Import-Export ([2002], Trikont). Songs: Magic System, "Poisson d'Avril" (from Ivory Coast, jumpy disco number, shades of EW&F); Mohammed, "Selou Rab Bi" (Senegalese ragga, loose beat, sounds like Arabic hip-hop); Leningrad, "Kogda Net Deneg" (Russian horns, shades of Gasolin); Panico, "El Combo Corazon" (garish latino pop, from Chile of all places); Sahraoui, "Je Suis Naif" (Fadela's Cheb, first-rate rai); Panjabi MC, "Sassi" (anglo-indian hip-hop, mixed over Bhangra folk); Nil, "Erkekler Yüzünden" (from Turkey, starts with a classical-sounding synth/harpsichord thing, shifts time a couple of times, with interesting vocal tics; very arty, quite remarkable); Adama Yalomba, "M'Bora" (from Mali, trad intro on kora [Issa Bagayogo?], but breaks out with more pop, salted with more kora strings); Trebunie Tutki & Kinior Future Sound, "Nie Patrzcie Przez Lupy" (from Poland, talky vocal over snazzed up syndrums and fake strings); Anthony B., "Not Guilty" (Jamaican dancehall stylee); Java, "Pépètes" (French hip-hop, which I guess means the samples come from accordions); Cui Jian, "Caged Bird" (Chinese underground rock -- what other kind is there?; like Leningrad, this projects aggressively, but with only a slight hint of Chinese flavor); Dania, "El Hilwa Di (Coucou)" (Lebanese singer, roughly similar to others with pop backing); La Rouge, "No Tang Sidong" (Dutch-Surinamese, sort of a speeded-up conjunto sound, multiple vocal threads, unusual percussion); Los De Abajo, "El Indio (Macaco Remix)" (Mexican punk band, but this sounds rather subdued); Macaco, "Pirata De Agua Salada" (Barcelona, again hip-hop influenced). A-
  • Hillbilly Boogie (1939-51 [2002], Proper, 4CD). 100 songs with "boogie" in the title, the light, bright, fun-loving face opposite to the grim honky tonk revolution that took over country music in the late '40s. A
  • Reverend Charlie Jackson: God's Got It: The Legendary Booker and Jackson Singles (1970-78 [2003], CaseQuarter). Most of these songs have a disarming simplicity to them, but Jackson's electric guitar has a metallic ring, a wee bit of distortion, and the rare fast one like "Morning Train" sounds like rockabilly. "The Goodness of God" is more sermon than song. A-
  • Joe Morris Trio: Symbolic Gesture (1993 [1994], Soul Note). With Nate McBride (bass), Curt Newton (drums). This is relatively minimal support for Morris -- I almost suspect he would be clearer solo, since the bass in particular tends to disappear, leaving big holes. Turn it up and it gets a bit better, and Morris cuts loose with some interesting lines. B
  • Funked Up: The Very Best of Parliament (1974-80 [2002], Mercury/Chronicles). By my count, this is the 5th 1-or-2 CD Parliament comp that Casablanca/Mercury has released. Six cuts longer than the canonical 10-cut Greatest Hits (originally on LP), the additions are: "All Your Goodies Are Gone," "Ride On," "Dr. Funkenstein," "Let's Take It to the Stage" (a Funkadelic song from their live album), "Fantasy Is Reality," "Agony of Defeet." I score two of those as plusses. 1995's 14-cut The Best of Parliament added "Ride On," "Agony of Defeet," "Dr. Funkenstein," and "Let's Play House" to the standard 10. (Although judging from time, it may have included some longer remixes, which is what The 12" Collection was intended to cover.) The 2CD Tear the Roof Off [1993] has 25 cuts, including all 16 here, plus "Testify," "Mr. Wiggles," "Party People," "Prelude," "Funkentelechy," "The Big Bang Theory," "Children of Production," "Rumpofsteelskin," "Funkin' for Fun." The 11-cut Millennium Edition is the only one that drops anything from Greatest Hits ("Do That Stuff," "The Black Hole Theme" -- replaced with "Dr. Funkenstein," "Testify," and "Agony of Defeet"). You definitely don't need more than one of the five, and of the three still in print, this is the least cost-effective. A-
  • Parliament: The 12" Collection and More (1974-80 [1999], Casablanca). Two alternate versions from Up for the Down Stroke (title cut and "Testify"), one Parlet ("Ridin' High"), the rest from their post-Funkenstein albums. Actually, I've never been all that big a fan of the post-Funkentelechy albums, which always struck me as funk groove on autopilot. This has the same four songs that always show up on Parliament comps yet again, but, like, who cares? B
  • 6 Degrees of P-Funk: The Best of George Clinton and His Funk Family (1979-96 [2003], Epic/Legacy). As they point out, at his late '70s peak, Clinton had deals with all sorts of record companies, but that doesn't mean that just anyone can pull together a good comp. Especially a company that he didn't have a deal with, although Sony is big enough to pretend otherwise. They have a 1996 Clinton album called T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M., Bootsy's 1988 What's Bootsy Doin?, and 1983's Urban Dancefloor Guerillas attributed to the P-Funk All-Stars: three albums, none top rank. But this set is filled out with other more dubious acts: Junie Morrison, Phillipe Wayne, Mutiny, the Sweat Band, and Mico Wave, but only Jerome Brailey's Mutiny isn't fakin'; in fact, he's calling Clinton out. Too bad they didn't put Mutiny on the Mamaship back in print, but they didn't even get the title right in the notes. B-
  • Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee: Sportin' Life Blues (1940-52 [2003], Proper, 2CD). This digs early into their careers, starting with several tracks Terry recorded with Blind Boy Fuller instead of McGhee -- Terry also appears on many Fuller recordings of the period, but these are the first in Terry's name. The early recordings are very messy, ill-shapen things, smears of harmonica without much going for them. The first disc as whole fails to show much evidence of what their later work was like, and while the second disc is much more characteristic, it doesn't go all the way either. B+
  • Toots & the Maytals: Funky Kingston/In the Dark (1972-73 [2003], Island). The US version of Funky Kingston was cobbled together from two Jamaican LPs, plus "Pressure Drop" -- can't forget that one. This restores the originals LPs in original order, with "Pressure Drop" added on (dated 1976, but it's more likely the same as on The Harder They Come, which dates from 1972). The US album was all hits; this one is hits + filler, not as intensely great, but more realistic. A-
  • The Essential Peter Tosh: The Columbia Years (1976-77 [2003], Columbia/Legacy). Just two years, two albums, in a post-Wailers career that passed like a daze, perhaps because he couldn't decide whether to be a saint like Bunny ("Equal Rights") or a badass ("Steppin' Razor"). B+
  • Scrolls of the Prophet: The Best of Peter Tosh (1964-81 [1999], Columbia/Legacy): aside from one early Wailers cut, and three slightly later cuts (1978, 1981) this isn't any broader than The Columbia Years, but the context helps a bit, "Bush Doctor" improves on "Legalize It," and "Don't Look Back" takes Motown to the tropics. A-
  • Ultimate Reggae: 20 Classic Reggae Riddims (1972-2001 [2003], UTV). "54-46 Was My Number," "The Harder They Come," "I Can See Clearly Now," "Marcus Garvey" -- hard to quarrel with that as a start (even if Desmond Dekker is the first name that pops into my mind), but Third World? Half Pint? Beenie Man? And given that you own Tuff Gong's catalog, how come the Marley here is Damian? Actually, the Half Pint song is a great one, and what seems to be a disproportionate interest in ragga keeps this from sounding overly familiar (at least to me). A-

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Music: Initial count 8377 rated (+11), 939 unrated (+7).

  • Dave Brubeck: Ken Burns Jazz (1953-91 [2000], Columbia/Legacy). Like most of this series, this hits the major newsworthy points in Brubeck's career, extending slightly beyond Brubeck's central Columbia recordings to include an early Jazz at Oberlin cut and a late one (the only post-1974) from Once When I Was Young. The set is longer on range than on consistency, which seems appropriate for the purpose. "Take Five," of course, is an extraordinary piece of music. The piece with Leonard Bernstein struggles with the whole weight of the New York Philharmonic, but comes out with only a few bruises. One piece you don't hear all that much is "The Real Ambassador," which starts sounding like tacky vocalese (courtesy of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross), until its anti-segregation message becomes clear (courtesy of Louis Armstrong). A-
  • Charles Gayle With Sunny Murray & William Parker: Kingdom Come (1994, Knitting Factory). Gayle's piano solos reveal him to be a Cecil Taylor wannabe. Gayle returns to tenor sax for "Lord Lord," an all-time ugly, at least up to the long drum solo. More piano. More sax. It's all tough sledding. B-
  • Ghana Soundz: Afro-Beat, Funk and Fusion in 70's Ghana (1966-77 [2003], Soundway). Not so much the roots of Fela's Afrobeat as the broader context for the specific LA-to-Lagos connection that Fela made, bringing funk back to the motherland to float his idiosyncratic political program. Except that without Fela there's nothing ideological here -- "Because of Money" is as deep as it gets, and "Psychedelic Woman" is closer to the average. Still, this is bright, sunny music. And the booklet is terrific, for once. A-
  • Joseph Jarman/Famoudou Don Moye: Egwu-Anwu (Sun Song) (1978 [1997], Indian Navigation, 2CD). Moye's percussion, sounding distinctly African, provides much of the interest here; Jarman's melodic themes, in an African mode as well, seem additive. Much of this is nice, and little if any is jarring; the African themes of some interest, but over the course of 83 minutes not an awful lot actually happens. B
  • Bob Marley & the Wailers: Live at the Roxy (1976 [2003], Tuff Gong/Island/Chronicles, 2CD). A "complete" 1976 concert, laid out on two unbalanced discs -- the first filled with the concert proper, while the encore runs 28:54 on the second. The songs are classics, although I've never been especially fond of "I Shot the Sheriff." Like so many live albums this sounds a bit thin and stretched. B+
  • William Parker: Lifting the Sanctions (1997 [1998], No More). Solo albums in jazz are rare -- excluding piano, very rare. Solo bass albums are among the rarest: I doubt that there are more than a couple dozen anywhere. This is Parker's second, lighter and more varied than 1994's Testimony, which is more intense. Useful for students, especially given the liner notes. Parker prefers the bow for his solo work, but I find his plucked "Macchu Picchu" to be the most gratifying piece here. B+
  • Trojan Box Set: Bob Marley & Friends ([2002], Sanctuary/Trojan, 3CD). One of those 50-cut 3-CD budget boxes, this stretches three Bob Marley cuts out with a lot of "friends": Aston "Family Man" Barrett (6), Judy Mowatt (6), Lee "Scratch" Perry (6), Glen Adams (5), Rita Marley (5), Marcia Griffiths (4), Joe Higgs (4), Carl Dawkins (3), Earl Lindo (3), Peter Tosh (3), Dave Barker (2). Not much here really stands out; the most noticeable things are the famous pop covers, which have a tendency to sound formulaic ("Let It Be"), although there are exceptions ("Son of a Preacher Man"). B
  • Trojan Box Set: Dub ([1998], Sanctuary/Trojan, 3CD). Even given occasional tracks by Lee Perry and King Tubby, this doesn't seem like first-rate dub, but it catches the basic atmosphere, with the stretched out reggae rhythms, the echoes and warbles and sound effects, and the occasional toast. Tommy McCook sneaks in -- instrumentals are almost like dub, but he's more properly thought of as the King Curtis of Kingston. B+
  • Trojan Box Set: Jamaican Hits (1960-73 [2000], Sanctuary/Trojan, 3CD). The series itself feels like a bunch of stocking stuffers -- the loose themes of the box titles (and Hits is about as loose as you can get), and the even looser song selection offer a semi-random sort of programming. A-
  • Trojan Box Set: Rocksteady ([1998], Sanctuary/Trojan, 3CD). The dates are probably in a fairly tight band from 1966-68, which was rocksteady's glory days. The steady beat tamed the exuberance of polyphonic ska, without quite skanking into the more limber, muscular reggae that finally broke worldwide. But Trojan's Let's Do Rocksteady comes close to canonizing the genre; this set sticks with obscurities that slip on by without calling much attention to themselves. B
  • Trojan Box Set: Upsetter (1968-2001 [2002], Sanctuary/Trojan, 3CD). Mostly Upsetters, although other Lee Perry thangs pop up as well, just like on Arkology (which is shares no cuts with). Dave Parker's "Prisoner of Love" is an early standout. A-
  • Trojan Box Set: X-Rated (1966-75 [2002], Sanctuary/Trojan, 3CD). The anonymity of the singers and the sameyness of the rhythms make it all the harder to focus on the dirt here -- it all just skips by without registering. B

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Music: Initial count 8366 rated (+19), 932 unrated (-4).

  • Albert Ayler: Goin' Home (1964, Black Lion). This is a quartet with Call Cobbs Jr (piano, never heard of him), Henry Grimes, and Sunny Murray. All covers, most attributed "trad. arr. Ayler," most gospel standards like "Down By the Riverside," "Deep River," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "When the Saints Go Marching In." Several of these have multiple takes. The arrangements are relatively straightforward, and Ayler plays soprano as well as tenor sax, so this is pretty much free of his typical honks and slurs. Whether this represents a less developed stage (it was Feb. 1964, and the real Ayler was very much in evidence later in the year, so if so he moved quickly thereafter), or is just an accommodation to the material, isn't clear. An analogue for the latter might be Coltrane's Ballads, which appeared well after the 1961 Vanguard sessions, but before he went off the deep end. Still, the band is capable of moving much further out, and Sunny Murray seems already to be there. Offhand, this doesn't strike me as very important, and its relative listenability isn't exactly what one looks to Ayler for. B
  • Albert Ayler and Don Cherry: Vibrations (1964 [1973], Freedom/Black Lion). This seems to be a quartet, with Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray, recorded on a European tour and not released until 1973 on Freedom (later Arista/Freedom, then picked up by Black Lion). The songbook is Ayler's, with two versions of "Ghosts" -- the second starts out like a bebop anthem, breaking up into an improvisation that is so Ayler it's almost a caricature, pivoting on honks out of register, with Murray sounding like nobody else. Then Cherry gets his crack at it, sounding more bebop in dodgy sound, then Peacock gets a solo which is mostly subliminal. The restoration of the theme is more chaotic. B
  • Albert Ayler: New York Eye and Ear Control (1964 [1965], ESP Disk). Ayler's music seems to have evolved rather quickly, with its biggest jump from Feb. 1964, when Goin' Home and Witches and Devils were recorded, and July 1964, with Spiritual Unity (generally regarded as his masterpiece) and this set. Although Ayler himself tended toward primitivism (his later recordings even more so), this is a very impressive group: Don Cherry (trumpet, cornet), John Tchicai (alto sax), Roswell Rudd (trombone), Gary Peacock (bass), and Sunny Murray (drums). Still, the music is more fragmentary than not, with little of interest -- some slurs, some fragmentary Rudd, Murray's drums. B-
  • Joey Baron: RAIsedpleasuredot (1994, New World). Very interesting: the front line pairs avant-jazzists Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax) and Steve Swell (trombone), producing an interesting mix of sounds, which both push aggressively. The only other musician is drummer Baron. Closes with a brief rundown of "The Girl From Ipanema," a fair indication of their stuff. B+
  • Roy Campbell Pyramid Trio: Ancestral Homeland (1998, No More). The drummer here is Zen Matsuura, who deft touch on exotic rhythms recalls Kahil El'Zabar. With Parker on bass, this is a rhythm section that can steal the show, but they tend to vanish on cuts like "The Positive Path," which Campbell takes deliberately. But the pace picks up with two Parker compositions, and the final cuts really come together. Campbell can play bop and can play free, but "Brother Yusef" reminds you that he cut his teeth under Lateef's wings. B+
  • Zusaan Kali Fasteau: Prophecy (1990-92 [1993], Flying Note). First, some research on the exotic instruments. Sheng: a Chinese mouth organ. Ney: a Persian wind instrument (end-blown hollow tube with finger holes). Kaval: a Balkan (Bulgaria, Macedonia, Turkey) end-blown flute. Shakuhachi: a Japanese bamboo flute Mizmar: an African wind instrument. Moursin: no idea what this is. Sanza: a South African thumb piano (mbira, kalimba). Balafon: percussion instrument from Africa (Ghana?), consists of wood slats (keys) of a range of lengths (like a xylophone) mounted on gourds for resonance. Berimbau: from Brazil (?), a bow-shaped instrument with a single steel string, a gourd at the bottom for resonance; the string may be hit or plucked. Tabla: from India, a pair of hand drums with different shape, size, pitch. Also in evidence are soprano saxophone, violin, cello, bass, piano, drums, tympani, gong, synthesizer, and voice. Haven't sorted this out well, but I noticed "Curved Space" (three cellos) and "Cosmopolis" (soprano sax, violin, bass, drums, sounds almost like regular jazz). The early strings are arch, and much of it seems unfocused, but it's not without novelty value. B
  • Zusaan Kali Fasteau: Sensual Hearing (1995 [1997], Flying Note). The fourth piece here, "Ebb and Flow," is basically a duet for bass (William Parker) and violin (Somalia Richards), lovely. One called "Lament to Wake the World" features Fasteau singing, or perhaps vocalizing is more accurate -- a deep-throated warble followed by some high notes. While most of these influences are Asian, "Kumba Mela" sounds African, with drums and chants, djembe and flutes, in barely contained chaos, and the audience participation only adds to the effect. B+
  • Kali Fasteau: Vivid (1998-99 [2001], Flying Note). A promising group, with Parker (bass), Hamid Drake (drums), Ron McBee (djembe & African percussion), Sabir Mateen (alto/tenor sax), Joe McPhee (soprano sax, pocket trumpet), and Fasteau (soprano sax, voice, and the usual kitchen sink). This is emerging as the most straightforward blowing date of the Fasteau records I have, although with Fasteau and McPhee both favoring the soprano sax, and switching off to even higher pitched instruments, the front line tends to sound high, thin, and a bit lonesome. Parker and Drake, of course, are superb. B
  • Joe Houston: Blows Crazy! (1951-63 [2000], Ace). Jump blues, nothing fancy, just a lot of blowing. Not that Houston didn't try to follow the trends -- later on he specializes in twist songs, and closes on a limbo. Kind of redundant if you already have the Specialty set. B+

Monday, July 07, 2003

Looking at a James Bennet article from The New York Times, Friday, July 4, 2003, called "Israelis Sense They've Won: A Guarded Optimism From the Catbird Seat." The article quotes Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon as saying "It is certainly a victory." We need to follow this up by asking two fundamental questions:

  1. What kind of victory is this?
  2. Is this the kind of victory Israel was working towards?

A third question might be: were Israel's tactics, at least since Sharon's election over Barak, an efficient means toward implementing this victory? But the third question sort of assumes that this is in fact a victory, as opposed to just spin on something else.

The real problem with using the word victory at this time is that it implies some sort of completion: the task is done, and the result is favorable (at least for the victorious side). A second problem is that declaring victory is also an assertion that the other side was defeated; there's an element of gloating to it, an element of taunting, and a risk that the assertion will rebound. But we have bigger issues to hash out than etiquette, so let's set that one aside.

What kind of victory is this? Well, at the moment it represents temporary relief from anti-Israeli terrorism. It also puts the Palestinian Authority (PA) back to work as Israeli agents against terrorism, where based on past history they are likely to be much more effective than the Israelis ever could be. But it also restores a good deal of autonomy and legitimacy to the PA, and while the PA may find it useful to do Israel's bidding, it does ultimately have its own agenda. And it does, under the Roadmap, ultimately owe more allegiance to the Roadmap Quartet powers than it does to Israel. And if the Roadmap and the powers behind it mean what they say, Israel's victory will ultimately come with a price tag that none of the post-Rabin governments (or for that matter pre-Rabin, and we're not so sure about Rabin either) have been willing to pay.

But more likely the thinking behind this "victory" is that Israel won't have to pay the bill this time either: what they have won is that they have effectively reset the clock on Oslo. Oslo, after all, started a similar process with the eventual promise of Palestinian independence. Since Oslo, two things happened: 1) the PA tried to make it work, even to the extent of accepting severe compromises, balking only at the final Barak deal, while 2) the Israelis, especially the Netanyahu-Barak-Sharon tag team, did everything in their power to erode the land, resources, and independence promised to and expected by the Palestinians. In resetting the clock, Israel gets to do it all over again.

However, the current Roadmap scenario is fundamentally different from Oslo: it has a timetable, which was sorely lacking from Oslo, and it has the backing of the Quartet powers, whereas Oslo was a terribly one-sided private deal between Israel and the PLO. This means two things: 1) that progress (or lack thereof) will be more measurable, and 2) that the PA will have the option of negotiating with the Quartet powers instead of Israel, and indeed that Israel will have to negotiate with the Quartet powers in order to amend the Roadmap in its favor.

So this may in a limited sense be a victory for Israel (Sharon), but to spin it that way you have to concede that: 1) the main thing Israel was fighting for was peace and security from terrorism; 2) that given peace and security from terrorism Israel is willing to give up the land it seized in the 1967 war. But is this what Israel, and Sharon in particular, have really been trying to do? We can, of course, argue this until blue in the face, but I think there's one simple, clear guide to the answer: the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. In the absence of a peace process, it might be possible to argue that Israel's building of settlements would help persuade the Palestinians to enter into negotiations because as long as they failed to do so they would be losing "facts on the ground." But why continue to build settlements once the Palestinians are cooperating in a peace process, as initiated at Oslo? There's really only one reason for doing so: to redeem the land, by making it too painful for present and future Israeli governments to give it up. And here it is worth remembering that Israel's process of buliding settlements in the occupied territories was accelerated by Rabin after Oslo went into effect, and consistently maintained by every Israeli government afterwards (especially by the reputedly pro-peace Barak).

Now, given the two alternatives -- peace and land, so clearly in opposition for so long that they've become cliches -- which one has Sharon really been fighting for? Pretty obvious, isn't it? It may be wrong to aver that Sharon hates peace, but if anything is clear it's that he doesn't fear war; if anything, war for him is opportunity, and he's built his whole career, his whole life, on war's opportunities. And when it comes to war, he's credible: he called his autobiography Warrior, and nobody smirked at that title. (Not that War Criminal wouldn't have been more appropriate.) He's not a guy who's just full of bluster, like John "Make My Day" McCain or George "Bring It On" Bush; he's indictable. But it's also important to realize that Sharon has spent many years in Israeli cabinets as Minister of Housing, which may seem odd to us -- after all, can you imagine Colin Powell turning down State to run HUD? -- but for Sharon housing has always been just another venue for war: settlers need houses, and settled houses redeem the land. This is because for true Zionists it doesn't suffice to beat the opposition army, victory only occurs when you take possession of the land. Which is what the settlers do, and both the Israelis and the Palestinians understand that completely. (Otherwise they'd fight over something less exclusionary, like civil rights. It is possible to imagine that both Israelis and Palestinians could have the same civil rights in the same territorial space, but it's not possible that they can occupy the same land.)

Of course, thus far Israel hasn't actually given up any land -- at least land that Israelis live on, which is the measure that matters to them. And Israel has many more cards to play before they do, including using all of their political sway to steer the U.S. into not enforcing its own understanding of what the Roadmap requires. But even if Sharon wins a few hands, he's boxing himself into a corner. And if peace becomes a realistic scenario, he's going to find himself the most useless person in Israel. (Much like England turned to Winston Churchill to fight WWII, then once that was done, got rid of him before he could start WWIII.)

As for the Palestinians, their "defeat" gets them out from under the yoke of the Intifada, a strategy little better than a mutual suicide pact, and puts them (perhaps for the first time) into a position where they can work world sympathy in their favor. Despite Israel's terrible power, Israel is still sorely dependent on the good will of the world, most of all the U.S. (which is in no small amount of trouble too). Their "defeat" also gets them out from under the yoke of Oslo, where they conceded too much in a vain attempt to woo Israel's good will. Israel may gloat for now, but the odds favor patience in the long run. For in the long run victory is a poor substitute for doing right.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Music: Initial count 8347 rated (+13), 936 unrated (+5).

  • The Blue Series Continuum: The Good and Evil Sessions (2003, Thirsty Ear). This is an advance, so I'm a little unclear on the titling and how these tracks came together. The musicians are: Roy Campbell (trumpet), Alex Lodico (trombone), William Parker (bass), Josh Roseman (trombone), and Matthew Shipp (piano), with "all other sounds played and made, sliced and diced, fixed and mixed by GoodandEvil and Miso," so I'll have to do some research to figure out just what that means (cf. goodandevil.net -- looks like two guys, Chris Kelly and Danny Blume (and maybe Ricky Quinones), who have a studio in Brooklyn and an interesting list of clients and project -- at least if you're the sort who's impressed by Sex Mob, Le Tigre, Northern State, and Josh Roseman. Cuts:
    1. "Brainwash" (dance beats for brass improv);
    2. "Then Again" ();
    3. "The Stakeout" ();
    4. "Close Call" (this cut stops and starts, with blares and dribbling, the inconsistency a bit annoying);
    5. "The Hideout" ();
    6. "On the Run" ();
    7. "Roll It Back" (this turns into a very attractive track, the mix contemplating the little horn riffs, which are firmly rooted in jazz);
    8. "Change of Plans" ();
    9. "Sweetbitter" ().
    B+
  • Nels Cline/Gregg Bendian: Interstellar Space Revisited: The Music of John Coltrane (1998, Atavistic). The Coltrane in question is the late, weird one, most specifically the duets with Rashid Ali. Here Cline plays the Coltrane role on guitar, while Bendian makes like Ali. It is noisy, natch, although the tail stretch of "Saturn" shows some sensitivity. Bendian is especially impressive, and Cline's at least got some neat tricks. B+
  • Chick Corea: Early Circle (1970, Blue Note). Studious avant-jazz, with Anthony Braxton sounding a little thin, Dave Holland sounding plenty phat, and Barry Altschul mostly out of the way. Same for Corea, which makes this far less bracing or enticing than the later Paris-Concert or Holland's formidable Conference of the Birds. B
  • Drums of Defiance: Jamaican Maroon Music From the Earliest Free Black Communities of Jamaica (1977-91 [1992], Smithsonian/Folkways). Modern Jamaican music starts around 1960, when US r&b and soul started to get the ska treatment, evolving in turn to rocksteady, reggae, roots, dub, dancehall, ragga, and so forth. Pre-ska Jamaicans tended to work in foreign styles: most notably calypso, most famously Harry Belafonte. Yet deep back in the prehistory of Jamaican music there were the Maroons, descendents of runaway slaves who carved out an existence in the hills of Jamaica. These are field recordings, made as part of an ethnographic study well after the fact -- mostly in 1977-78, with some additional material recorded in 1991. Like so many field recordings, they emphasize the primitive, with a lot of drums, some flutes and chanting. Hard to follow, and to my mind at least not all that interesting. B
  • Blind Uncle Gaspard, Delma Lachney, John Bertrand: Early American Cajun Music (1920s [1999], Yazoo). Early recordings from the 1920s, programmed just so when you think that the sound isn't bad it starts to get washy. The songs themselves are mostly ballads, and they come across with a smooth consistency that is relatively unusual in cajun music. Gaspard (1880-1937) played guitar, and evidently Lachney (1896-1949), who played fiddle, played on the same recordings (the attributions are 4 songs for Gaspard, 10 for Lachney, 10 for Bertrand). Bertrand (1891-1942) played accordion, and certainly fits in stylistically. Although the booklet is helpful, it lacks discographical information (sad considering the spiel they make about the importance of preserving such rare historic music), and the only recording date given is 1929. Perhaps a little too subtle, or perhaps I'm not giving it enough time. B
  • Jubilation! Great Gospel Performances, Vol. 3: More Black Gospel (1937-82 [1992], Rhino). Vol. 3 is a superb set of white (country) gospel; maybe a bit obvious, given that they have the whole vast river to fish in. Two volumes of black gospel aren't any more likely to overfish. Starts with a Soul Stirrers (Sam Cooke) cut, then a rousing Mahalia Jackson. There's a very recognizable bit in the Caravans' "Walk Around Heaven All Day" -- Moby sampled that. Then there's "Uncloudy Day," a song I know better from Willie Nelson than from the Staple Singers, who are certainly up to the task. "My Rock" is done by the Swan Silvertones, perhaps the most dependable of all gospel groups. And "Rough Side of the Mountain," by Rev. F.C. Barnes & Rev. Janice Brown, gets my attention every time through. This is all rather impressive fare, covering a wide swatch of major gospel acts. Still, I'm not quite convinced -- not just about Jesus, who I can do just fine without, thank you, but about the music and the mix, its power and uplift, things that do matter. Maybe I need to find Vol. 1 first? B+
  • Jemeel Moondoc Trio: Live at Glenn Miller Café Vol. 1 (2002, Ayler). Less exciting than the blowing session with Anders Gahnold recorded earlier the same day, and a bit cluttered with the informality of live performance, but Moondoc has a lot going for him. A-
  • Willie Nelson: The Masters: Sings the Country Hits (1964-84 [1997], Eagle). One of dozens of slapdash Nelson comps issued on fly-by-night labels, but I do appreciate the minimal documentation, especially dates and label sources for these 19 cuts. Most of the cuts here come from RCA, with a couple of later cuts from EMI. Nelson's RCA material included some of his best singing, and some of his worst production, and there's a bit of both here. Most of this material is familiar -- "Fraulein," "Waltz Across Texas," "Me and Paul," "I Gotta Get Drunk," his RCA remakes of "Hello Walls" and "Funny How Time Slips Away." Not bad, as these things go. B+
  • Willie Nelson & Bobbie Nelson: How Great Thou Art (1996, Finer Arts). Nine standard gospel songs, done simply and with Nelson's usual patient pacing, with Bobbie on piano and Jon Blondell on bass. Nice work. "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" is a highlight. B+
  • William Parker: Song Cycle (1991 [2001], Boxholder). Six tracks are duets with Parker and vocalist Ellen Christi. The other nine tracks have Parker, Yuko Fujiyama on piano, and vocalist Lisa Sokolov. As far as I know, this is the only vocal-centered album that Parker did before Raining on the Moon, with which it shares several songs. "A Thought for Silence" is an odd (and IMHO rather annoying) bass-voice duet, where Parker bows and Christi just moves her voice around exaggerating Parker's melody. B-
  • Chris Potter: Traveling Mercies (2002, Verve). This is basically a quartet album: Potter (saxophones, bass clarinet, alto flute, sampler, reed organ, and a vocal), Kevin Hays (piano, keyboards), Scott Colley (bass), and Bill Stewart (drums). Plus the occasional guest, such as John Scofield (guitar) on three tracks. But perhaps the most effective guitar here is by Adam Rogers on "Washed Ashore" -- a sparkling track. B+
  • Sorten Muld: Mark II (1999, NorthSide). Considered a Nordic folk group (they come from Denmark), their songs may be based on folk structures, but their music is mostly built up from electronic beats -- relaxed and agreeable ones. With the beats and all, this basically works as a pop album, but the Nordic ballads, the bagpipes and strings, etc., help steer them away from Abba-land (which is hinted at in one song). B+
  • Dial-a-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants (1986-2002 [2002], Rhino/Elektra, 2CD). In the booklet they make a claim "Installing and servicing melodies since 1982," but the earliest songs here come from 1986's fabulous They Might Be Giants album. Since then I've found them to be clever and inconsistent and sometimes annoying, which is about all I have to say about this career-spanning comp. On the annoying side, the middle of the second disc ranks high, with the Peter Stampfel cut-up "Fingertips" and the live "She's Actual Size." Good booklet. Has some reference value. B
  • The Trammps: Trammps (1975 [2002], Epic/Legacy). Next time out they sold their soul for disco, which was good for both sides. Here they're just a first rate Philly soul group. They work up a sweat on "Love Epidemic," and they keep the fast ones rolling, especially "Shout." B
  • VisionFest VisionLive (2002 [2003], Thirsty Ear).
    1. Muntu, "Truth Is Marching": Jemeel Moondoc (alto sax), Roy Campbell (trumpet), William Parker (bass), Rashid Bakr (drums).
    2. Dave Burrell and Tyrone Brown, "Existence": Burrell's piano is sharply executed, feels cubist with its high notes striking at odd angles; Brown's long bass solo, however, is subsonic, a dead spot unless you play it real loud.
    3. Billy Bang Trio, "Bangart 100": With Jin Hi Kim (komungo, a Korean "fretted board zither") and Hamiet Bluiett (baritone saxophone); each player takes a solo in turn; Bang starts with a tour de force, the komungo adds a tough, percussive string sound, and Bluiett closes out in aggressive free form, although the interplay is most interesting, the instruments standing in stark contrast rather than just blending together.
    4. Douglas Ewart Quintet, "Crepuscle IV in Powderhorn Park": With Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet), Joseph Jarman (reeds), Parker, and Hamid Drake (drums).
    5. Matthew Shipp String Trio, "Speech of Form": With Mat Maneri and William Parker.
    6. Karen Borca Quartet, "45 Hours": With Rob Brown (alto sax), Reggie Workman (bass), Newman Taylor-Baker (drums); Borca plays bassoon.
    7. Ellen Christi Quartet, "Synchronicity": With Rolf Strum (guitar), Parker, and Drake.
    8. Kidd Jordan/Fred Anderson Quartet, "Spirits Came In": Both on alto sax, with Parker and Drake; another Ayler piece? The twin saxes play this well, and Drake's drumming is awesome.
    9. Peter Kowald, "Improvisation": 10:35 of solo bass, from the master, three months before his death.
    B+
  • Wade in the Water, Volume II: African American Congregational Singing: Nineteenth-Century Roots (1989-92 [1994], Smithsonian/Folkways). Old fashioned church singing, recorded in old fashioned churches, which means lots of voices with little (if any, other than handclaps) accompaniment. Also means loosely recorded, so there's no focus on specific voices -- it's all group. This gives it a long dullness that is hard to shake; a minor exception being "Come and Go to That Land," where the simplicity and elegance of the melody comes through. But even if this is evocative of 19th century roots, it is recently recorded, an attempt to reconstruct history by capturing a bit of the supposedly naive oral tradition. B
  • Wade in the Water, Volume III: African American Gospel: The Pioneering Composers (1992 [1994], Smithsonian/Folkways). The composers are: Charles Tindley, Lucie Campbell, Thomas Dorsey, William Brewster, Kenneth Morris, Roberta Martin. A few names I recognize there, and they form the backbone of this collection, giving it a real structure based on solid songwriting. The performers are more obscure (excepting Sweet Honey in the Rock), although they are more professional than the other congregation-based titles in this series. Toshi Reagon does an especially solid job on "We'll Understand It Better By and By." B+
  • Wade in the Water, Volume IV: African American Community Gospel A little more piano than Volume II, and a little more professional, but much the same, and not all that impressive for either. B-
  • Kim Wilson: Lookin' for Trouble (2003, M.C.). The vocalist from the Fabulous Thunderbirds, a group which helped establish the notion that all a band of white boys had to do to sound pretty good was to play ordinary blues as if their lives depended on it. Or was that George Thorogood? Or Barrence Whitfield? (Who as I recall had the extra gimmick of being black, which helped with his Little Richard impression. Or was that Rufus Thomas?) This seems pretty ordinary until it gets to the title cut, which comes #12, and fine as it is it reminds me of a George Jones song, "Wrong's What I Do Best." Then he reels off two more good'uns, the second a boogie. Then they end with an instrumental. Odd way to sequence an album. Or maybe I'm just starting to get into it? B

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Cooked dinner for visiting friends, mostly dishes from Iran and Turkey: grilled cornish game hens, grilled chicken wings, catfish in a garlic and orange sauce, megadara (lentils, rice, onions), mast va khiar (my usual yogurt, cucumber, scallions, mint, raisins, walnuts), another yogurt dip with onions and spinach, a roasted eggplant dip, taramasalata, a chopped salad, spice cake.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Movie: Spellbound. This is a documentary, which picks eight 12-14 year old finalists in the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee and tracks them and their families through the contest. Much of the interest comes from the diversity of the candidates: even though it seems likely that they were selected to make that point, one wonders what a broader set of statistics might look like. But one thing that reinforces the sense of diversity is the arbitrariness of the competition. While most (although not all) of the selected competitors were near-fanatical in their studies (a couple way over the fanaticism line), it is telling that most of the words that were used to winnow down the competition were way beyond any generalist's vocabulary. Just using myself as a standard -- a good speller with a rather extensive vocabulary and a very rudimentary study of three foreign languages -- I don't think I've ever heard of any of the words that were used to eliminate seven of the eight contestants, and I found myself misspelling all seven of them. (One thing about the movie is that you find yourself inevitably taking part in the competition, much like TV game shows. But unlike the guy sitting next to me, I think I managed not to vocalize my spelling.) On the other hand, I did know, and could spell, the winning word. So when the process is to randomly pick arbitrarily difficult, mostly unknown, generally tricky words, given a set of contestants who are all talented beyond any practical need, it seems likely that the ultimate winner will be arbitrary. B+


Jun 2003 Aug 2003