September 2003 Notebook
Index
Latest

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

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Music: Initial count 8533 rated (+8), 931 unrated (+2). Slow, unproductive week -- there are at least a dozen items that I've been playing regularly, that I have a pretty good handle on without having taken the time to write them up. Part of this is that Recycled Goods seems to be in abeyance right now -- the September column has yet to appear, so while I should have spent last week crunching on the October column, I've mostly fretted about the evident demise of my publisher.

  • Rob Brown Trio (With William Parker and Jackson Krall): High Wire (1993 [1996], Soul Note). Brown plays alto saxophone, with beautiful tone on his one little ballad here, and forceful dynamics on the real high wire avant-garde shit. I've run across him a couple of times before in Parker's In Order to Survive band, which has produced a couple of amazing albums. This is his first album in his own name, working his own compositions. Very solid work. B+
  • FAB (Joe Fonda, Barry Altschul, Billy Bang): Transforming the Space (2003, CIMP). Bass-drums-violin trio. I read a review in Wire recently which grouped this with William Parker's Scrapbook, pooh-poohing the the latter for its rockish rhythm and touting this by comparison as the real thing, so I felt I should check it out. Even though I don't believe in "real things" -- got nothing in particular against them, just don't give them any extra credit for realness or whatever (authenticity?). For my money, Scrapbook is the best jazz record of the year. This shares the same great violinist, and Bang can be dazzling here. But Fonda's backseat bass doesn't put a charge into me like Parker's hard drive, and Altschul (even though he contributes some very nice solo work here) isn't Hamid Drake either. A second problem is the sound -- the quiet parts, at least at my usual listening level, are close to inaudible. This is, after all, a label that believes you should stick glued to your chair, hanging on every subtle nuance of the performance. I'm not docking it for philosophy, or even inutility, but I'm not bending over backwards either. I like what I can hear. But I really get off on Scrapbook. (But having written this Bang pulled some shit on "Coligno Battatta" that really caught my ear -- first plucking, then cutting really short swaths and expanding from there.) B+
  • Jon Gordon Quintet: Ask Me Now (1994 [1995], Criss Cross). Tim Hagans lays in some terrific trumpet. Bill Charlap ditto on piano. Larry Grenadier and Billy Drummond are a fine rhythm section. Gordon's fine too. They really tear up the joint on "Giant Steps." Closes with a subdued but nice Monk piece, "Ask Me Now." Not sure that it's really special, but it's first class. B+
  • Earl Hines: Once Upon a Time (1966 [2003], Impulse/Verve). At the time Hines usually led a small group graced by the wonderful Budd Johnson, and he had just started edging into what was to become the final phase of his career -- a series of remarkable solo piano albums. But this short "LP Reproduction" is neither. Rather, six of the seven cuts here are big band affairs, where the big band is conspicuously Ellingtonian. The other is a quartet with Hines, Aaron Bell (bass), Elvin Jones (drums), and Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet). The big band sides are about par for Duke's band of the period, which is to say they're gorgeous and exhilarating and extraordinary -- Johnny Hodges and Cat Anderson are conspicuous (as usual), but Jimmy Hamilton and Lawrence Brown and Paul Gonsalves and others are terrific. (Notable non-Ellingtonians include Clark Terry, Pee Wee Russell, and Elvin Jones.) Hines sounds delighted, like a kid who's given a shiny new Cadillac for a Sunday joyride. A-
  • James Blood Ulmer: No Escape From the Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions (2003, Hyena). The blues fare tends towards the obvious, but that I recognize "Are You Glad to Be in America" suggests that Ulmer has finally gotten comfortable with this material. This feels like Ulmer's best blues album ever -- not as spacy or jazzy as Black and Blues, and not better or more interesting than his best jazz records, but he does go more than go through the paces, and he has enough guitar chops to add something distinctive. A-

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Movie: The Secret Life of Dentists. The main draw here was director Alan Rudolph, although it's been quite a while since he's paid off as handsomely as he did in early work like Songwriter, Choose Me, Trouble in Mind, and Made in Heaven. But then, as with Mortal Thoughts, Rudolph didn't write this one -- he was just the director. But the story came from a well-respected novel, which seems to be a plus these days -- at least it means there is a story. This one is about the fragility and resilience of a marriage of a successful pair of dentists, and is dominated by their three daughters. There is a lot of "in sickness and in health" here, and the trials of sickness seem to weigh more than the lure of health, perhaps because aging has more to do with the former than the latter. The film's strength is in its details, commonplace as they are. B+

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Music: Initial count 8525 rated (+14), 929 unrated (+12).

  • Aerosmith: Gems (1973-82 [1988], Columbia). Good hard rock band, albeit one I never gave a hoot about. Second-hand "greatest hits" comp -- only thing I recognize is "Train Kept a Rollin'," but then I never gate a hoot about them, and I learned the song as a teenager from the Yardbirds, which is no doubt where they learned it too. (Hard to believe they might've started with Tiny Bradshaw or even Johnny Burnette.) B
  • Johnny Cash: The Fabulous Johnny Cash (1958 [2002], Columbia/Legacy). This was his first post-Sun album, and the rhythm is still very much with him. This era we know from anthologies, where the high points seem seemless and the filler seems to be extraneous, so it takes several listens to find the album lurking behind the hits. It's there, and the gospel pieces shore it up. A-
  • Johnny Cash: American IV: The Man Comes Around (2003, American). He sounds fucking ancient, his once-robust voice breaking up and creaking. He picks songs you never knew you wanted to hear him sing, and he winds up owning most of them. He spent most of his life making it all sound too easy, so maybe it helps that he makes this one sound so hard. Maybe that's what it takes to appreciate him. Or maybe just the shock of realizing that now he's gone. As is the archetype of America that he had come to iconify. A-
  • Yes I Can! The Sammy Davis Jr. Story (1949-77 [1999], Rhino, 4CD). I was too young to get much out of Nat "King" Cole when I was growing up, so Davis was the most conspicuous black entertainer in my world. I always enjoyed him, but I especially recall interviews where he talked about growing up poor and under the thumb of racist prejudice. His music was secondary, although I always loved "That Old Black Magic." Of course, I also hated his 1972 hit "The Candy Man" -- on disc three. I don't have the booklet (got this from the library), but it looks like the first three discs are studio, with the fourth disc consisting of live performances. The overwhelming majority of the cuts come from 1955-67. A couple of earlier singles start off the first disc, and there are seven 1972-74 cuts on the third disc, plus one live cut from 1977 on the fourth. The 1949 number features a little tap dancing. The first disc has orchestras directed by Sy Oliver, Morty Stevens, and Buddy Bregman. After that we get a lot of Marty Paich, more Morty Stevens, and others who don't ring a bell. Much of the first disc sounds like slightly subpar Sinatra, but "Soliloquy" (Rodgers & Hammerstein) is fully overwrought opera, just awful. And it gets worse from there: the second and third discs are stuffed with seriously wretched orchestral music and hideous oversinging. On the other hand, the lighter, more modest efforts are quite professional. Davis doesn't have a distinctive voice, but he is a highly competent singer. The live disc reprises several of his better songs, and includes a skit where he does "Rockabye Baby" is impressionist voices: the usual '50s icons from Abbott & Costello to Bogart to Cagney to Jimmy Stewart, with a few singers thrown in, including Nat Cole, Frankie Laine, Dean Martin, and Louis Armstrong. The latter is skillful enough to imagine that had he not fallen in with the Rat Pack he could have done something very different. Another funny bit is his Jerry Lewis -- he quips afterwards that he looks like Lewis but not like Harry Belafonte. Davis turns out to have had an interesting role in the racial politics of mid-20th century America: no other black entertainer so thoroughly removed himself from any shred of black history or culture, yet Davis was inescapably black, and he never apologized for that -- rather, he was a proud man who demanded acceptance for what he was, and recognition for how hard he worked to make himself. But as far as his music was concerned, he was never more than a second-rate Sinatra. And while it's interesting that both him and Sinatra considered that an achievement and a calling, it diminishes his work over time -- there is, after all, an awful lot of first-rate Sinatra still on the shelf. Graded leniently for old-times sake, for documentary purposes, and because I don't want to play it again and try to figure out just how awful it all really is. C
  • Eazy-E: Eazy-Duz-It (1988, Ruthless). In his CG review, Christgau quotes this line: "I might be a woman beater but I'm not a pussy eater." Didn't have to dig too hard for that one, on the first song. Which continues: "you can quote me now 'cause I'm still talking shit." Truer words were never spoken -- on this record, anyhow. Actually, I can't help but laugh at most of this: the cocksmanship is sure funny, and his gangsta rap is almost as ridiculous, and Dre gets crystal clear sound from his beats and turntablism, and occasionally chips in what comparatively passes for a word of wisdom. But what exactly explains the G-rated "Radio" but desperate market analysis? And what's with "Merry Mutherfucking Xmas"? (Docked a notch just for that.) C+
  • Gregory Isaacs: Ultimate Collection (1974-88 [2001], Hip-O). Having trouble sorting out the dates of my other Isaacs comps: The Prime of Gregory Isaacs ([1998], Music Club) comes from 1975-76; Best of Gregory Isaacs Volumes One and Two ([1992, Heartbeat) is a reissue of a pair of GG comps that originally appeared in 1978 and 1981; My Number One ([1990], Heartbeat) looks to be GG material from the same period. Isaacs' first album on Mango was More Gregory in 1981, but this set reaches back before Mango, as far back as "Love Is Overdue" (1974, GG), "Black a Kill Black" (1975, African Museum), "Thief a Man" (African Museum, 1976), "Mr. Cop" (1976, Micron), "My Number One" (1977, GG), etc. So with the overlap, you have to figure that this might actually stand a chance of taking the measure of most of Isaacs' career. A-
  • Memphis Minnie: Me and My Chauffeur (1929-44 [2003], Proper, 2CD). The usual comprehensive job, although I'm not sure that this is as good as it could have been done. (Just checked: this has 19 of the 22 cuts on Indigo's Bumble Bee: The Essential Recordings of Memphis Minnie.) A-
  • The Perfect Beats: New York Electro Hip-Hop + Underground Dance Classics 1980-1985, Volume 4 (1971-90 [1998], Timber). This time they spread the net -- the 1971 cut is from James Brown, who's earned his inclusion. They also saved "Looking for the Perfect Beat" for the end. In between they lean more toward the classic disco era than its oddball evolution, but by keeping clubwise they avoid the overly obvious. Splendid set. A

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Music: Initial count 8511 rated (+15), 917 unrated (-3).

  • Arabesque Tlata 3 (1988-2002 [2003], React). At least two absolutely surefire pieces here: "N'Sel Fik" (Chaba Fadela & Cheb Sahraoui) and "Baroud" (Cheb Khaled & Safy Boutella). Other artists are fairly well known: Rachid Taha, Cheika Remitti, Natasha Atlas, Aisha Kandisha's Jarring Effects. The version of "N'Sel Fik" comes from the Bill Laswell-produced Walli album, instead of the original from Fadela's You Are Mine, so the oldest cut here is Khaled's, and the rest of the material dates from 1996 forward. A-
  • Debbie Davies: I Got That Feeling (1996, Blind Pig). Blues singer/guitarist, perhaps the easiest gig in the world to sound good without doing anything particularly interesting. I've been wanting to hear something by her for a long while, but this is my first taste. Davies wrote three of these songs; don't recognize the rest, but Albert Collins (a previous employer) gets one credit. She sings fine. She plays fine. The band tends to go overboard, and "Homework" is an awful mess. But her own "Talk to Me" is solid and straightforward and personable. Makes me think she's got a better album in her somewhere. B
  • Humphrey Lyttelton and His Band: Snag It! (1948-52 [2003], ASV Living Era). Humph was one of the founders of Britain's postwar trad jazz movement. A-
  • Cheb Mami: Dellali (2001, Mondo Melodia). Algerian crossover: it's easy enough to hear why many people like this, and why some don't. In its favor are a catalog of beats and riffs. On the other hand, the strings and horns give it a pop lushness that feels excessive. B
  • The Mighty Echoes: Doo Wop Til You Drop (2003, Brooklyn International). The four faces on the cover look suspiciously white -- reminding me that this wouldn't be the first time for whites to lovingly take over a black music once it no longer retained any special value to the black public. (E.g., Dixieland.) Not just doo wop, but acappella. They're good, of course, but how far does that go? Their repertoire is a mix of the sacred ("Sh-Boom," "Blue Moon," "The Lion Sleeps Tonight") and the profane ("Teddy Bear," "Monster Mash," "Do You Love Me?"), nothing new, nothing revelatory. I'd enjoy them in a supper club or at a bar mitzvah, but if I filed them next to, say, the Spaniels, would I ever take them off the shelf? I doubt it. C+
  • Thelonious Monk: At Newport 1963 & 1965 (1963-65 [2002], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD). The first disc features a quintet with Pee Wee Russell as well as Charlie Rouse; the second is the usual quartet. Curiously, the quintet has five cuts, while the quartet just does four. The songs are all Monk standards. B+
  • Thelonious Monk: Criss-Cross (1962-63 [2003], Columbia/Legacy). Fine renditions of such signature tunes as "Hackensack," "Rhythm-a-Ning," "Crepuscle With Nellie," and "Pannonica" -- with Charlie Rouse as his perfect foil -- plus a thoroughly Monkified "Tea for Two." A-
  • Thelonious Monk: Underground (1967-68 [2003], Columbia/Legacy). Relatively late recordings, mostly trio with Larry Gales (bass), and Ben Riley (drums); three cuts add Charlie Rouse, and one cut features a Jon Hendricks vocal. This edition restores solos (mostly bass) that had been edited out of the original LP and later CD issues, and adds three alternate takes. B
  • Keith Nichols Cotton Club Gang and Janice Day With Guy Barker: I Like to Do Things for You (1991 [1992], Stomp Off). Delightful old-fashioned small group swing, with singer Janice Day playing the flapper girl to a tee. The male vocals (Nichols himself, someone named Johnny M, maybe the Happidrome Trio) don't have anywhere near the same appeal, but the music holds up, and the instrumental cuts are full of marvelous wit -- Graham Read holds up the bottom end with tuba, sousaphone, and bass sax -- no string bass here, the only strings being Mike Piggott's spare-but-welcome violin and quite a bit of banjo. However, I didn't notice Barker's cornet much. B+
  • The Perfect Beats: New York Electro Hip-Hop + Underground Dance Classics 1980-1985, Volume 2 (1981-84 [1998], Timber). Just played this, enjoying it a lot without recognizing anything until New Order came on with "Confusion" -- and who can complain about that? Looking at the roster, I find (in decreasing order of familiarity) Chaka Khan, Loleatta Holloway, Jellybean, ESG, Shannon, and nine others I've definitely never heard of. So one thing you can say about this is that it fulfills its mission: this shit is far underground, distinctive, impressive. A-
  • The Perfect Beats: New York Electro Hip-Hop + Underground Dance Classics 1980-1985, Volume 3 (1981-85 [1998], Timber). Like Vol. 2, this kicks off with a piece by Shannon. More obscurities: the Afrika Bambaataa song is "Renegades of Funk" -- not their best -- and the only other names that I recognize are Heaven 17 and Seidah Garrett. Mostly good work, but nothing really stands out. B+
  • A Place Called Africa: Songs of the Lost Tribe (1967-83 [2002], Sanctuary/Trojan, 2CD). Not the roots collection I was hoping for: Desmond Dekker's "Pretty Africa" is one of the best things here -- a jaunty little ska trifle -- and about typical depthwise. Junior Byles' title song is a bit deeper (mentions slavery). Alton Ellis' "Going Back to Africa" is a lot shallower -- as jaunty as a trip to the beach. Winston Jarrett's "African People" is a rip from a song about the American Indians, and Delroy Wilson's "Adisababa" recycles "House of the Rising Sun." B
  • Cheikha Rimitti: Anthologie du Raď ([1996], MED). Pace Cheb Mami, this is much closer to the dessicated minimalism that one expects in Saharan music. Remitti (the more common transliteration; "Rimitti" here) has been recording since the '40s, so she predates the "Rachid-style" rai of the '70s and later that first came to our attention on Rai Rebels (Earthworks). The latter were electrified, discofied rave-ups grown on traditional roots, so you can take this as a return to the roots, or perhaps as the roots themselves. Hard to say. The booklet is in French, which makes it difficult but not impossible for me to read. But from skipping through it I can't find any indication of when or where these cuts were made. And aside from pieces on comps, this is the only record of hers that I have heard. So I'm hoping for better packaging elsewhere -- if not necessarily better music. Meanwhile: B
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Gypsies (1994-99 [1999], World Music Network). The music combines the signature beat of the Balkans with a slight Middle Eastern/Turkish flavor, although the booklet details music from as far away as Spain and Rajasthan. Dates above are based on tracking down less than a third of the sources here. Strong beats make for interesting exotica. B+
  • Alexander Von Schlippenbach Trio: Pakistani Pomade (1972 [2003], Atavistic). With Paul Lovens (drums) and Evan Parker (soprano and tenor sax). This was a "crown" LP way back with the first edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz, but has long been out of print. This is what Morton & Cook had to say back then: "The Living Music . . . comes at a vintage juncture in the FMP catalogue, wedged in between sax Goth Peter Brötzmann's extraordinary Machine Gun and his own trio, Pakistani Pomade, which, along with the later Detto Fra Di Noi (recorded on Paul Lovens's small label), represents the apex of Schlippenbach's free improvisatory approach. The latter album, consisting of three long pieces ('Fra Di Noi' unfortunately is split between sides two and three, clear case for a future CD transfer), has a unity and unanimity of voice that replaces the briefer and rather more antagonistic (in the word's neutral sense) confrontations of Pakistani Pomade." Unfortunately, that doesn't say much, other than to suggest just how raw and nasty this music can be. B+
  • ScoLoHoFo: Oh! (2003, Blue Note). Superstar quartet: John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Dave Holland, Al Foster (drums). The first three need no introduction; Foster is less recognized because he has no work in his own name, but AMG has him appearing on about 230 albums (excluding various artist comps, but picking up a few redundant artist comps, so figure more like 200 albums), the biggest chunk with Miles Davis, then Joe Henderson and McCoy Tyner. This is a very talented group, and you can point to small pieces by each of the players that show off their skill level nicely -- especially Lovano -- but overall this comes off as too slick, too insubstantial. I'm inclined to blame Scofield, who has always been too slick, and who seems to be becoming lighter and fluffier over time. (Not that I've been following him all that closely.) B
  • School Days: Crossing Division (2000, Okkadisk). This is a quartet with Ken Vandermark (reeds), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten (bass), and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). The group name comes from the Steve Lacy/Roswell Trombone album -- another reeds/bone combo, but Vandermark prefers tenor to Lacy's soprano, and there's no evident dependency on the Monk and Herbie Nichols songbooks. But there are two Roswell Rudd pieces on the menu here, two Jeb Bishop, and four (with the usual dedications from Vandermark. One standout is the Harry Carney tribute, "Passenger," which gets much of the Ellington ballad flair. Rudd's "Rosmosis" starts with a long bass solo, then works into some slow trombone, which is works out nicely for ten minutes or so before Vandermark launches a tenor sax explosion that raises the roof, and that continues even after the band drops out. A-

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Music: Initial count 8496 rated (+27), 920 unrated (-7). Got off to a fast start, but lost several days while I was off to Arkansas.

  • The Apples in Stereo: Velocity of Sound (2002, SpinArt). This seems to move a bit from their Beatles-inspiration to something a little more postmodern, like the Flamin' Groovies. Especially on the bonus track "She's Telling Lies" -- had to check the author on that one, because it jumps out like a cover. The other cuts are likable power-pop with slight thrash. The CD is organized as two virtual sides, but other than as a backward glance to the LP era I haven't found any significance in that. Not a band I pay much attention to, but this is good and given the chance could grow on you. B+
  • Franck Avitabile: Right Time (2000 [2001], Dreyfus). Mostly piano trio, with Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen (bass) and Roberto Gatto (drums), plus a second bass (Louis Petrucciani, brother of Michel) on two cuts. Avitabile was a protege of Michel Petrucciani, and there's a clear likeness in their work -- aggressive, rich, resplendent. Reckon that Bud Powell is the patron saint of French pianists; there's definitely a line of development there. Everything here repays attention, but the take on "Cherokee" is particularly marvelous. A-
  • A Night In With Boy George: A Chillout Mix (2002, Moonshine). Don't really know what the story is here. The cuts tend to oscillate between delicate grooves and fey vocals -- somehow I never managed to listen to Boy George or his group Culture Club, but that seems to approximately parameterize his taste and sense. Closes with an oriental-sounding piece which seems slightly out of character, in part because it has some vocal muscle. B
  • Joanne Brackeen: Take a Chance (1993 [1994], Concord Picante). With Eddie Gomez (bass), Duduka da Fonesco (drums), and Waltinho Anastacio (percussion and a vocal). Most of the songs are Brazilian (Jobim, Nascimento, Egberto Gismonti, Ivan Lins), with three originals clustered near the end. It also slows down and unwinds a bit there, but in general she's a flashy pianist, and the accompaniment keeps the rhythm going. Nice record. B+
  • Jane Bunnett and the Cuban Piano Masters (1993, World Pacific). The masters are two: Jose Maria Vitier and Frank Emilio Flynn. I've never heard of either, but that's not the real problem here. One problem here is that Bunnett's flute and soprano sax don't add enough to the piano; another is that there's no percussion, just a bass for rhythm. The piano isn't all that stellar either. B-
  • Fannypack: So Stylistic (2003, Tommy Boy). They seem minor to me -- the beats goofball, cartoonish; the words more rooted in generic teendom than anywhere more specific. Not that I claim to know anything about teenage girls, and not that I expect to learn anything here. But I do sort of get off on the freshness. And the goofball, cartoonish beats. A-
  • Bellavista Terrace: Best of the Go-Betweens (1982-88 [1999], Beggars Banquet). With 9 of these 14 also on the more generous 1978-1990 (28 cuts on 2LP, 22 cuts on 1CD), and most of the albums worth owning on their own, this isn't anywhere near essential. The dupes are great ones, very familiar; the others are good, similar pieces. A-
  • Lily Haydn: Light Blue Sun (2003, Private Music). The typical sound here is a light electrobeat topped with a dollop of violin. This is a quite agreeable sound, reiterated throughout, but it hardly goes anywhere. Beyond that, she sings a little -- in a thin voice that reminds me of some of the '70s disco singers -- the white waifs with minimal range and dynamics. This, too, is agreeable, but to be anything more the piece has to have some dynamic of its own, like disco. "Anything" -- reprised at the end in a "radio edit" -- sort of qualifies. B
  • Dave Holland Big Band: What Goes Around (2002, ECM). Everyone who heard this last raved about it, so all I can belatedly do is to second the motion. It does exactly what you want a big band to do, which is to dazzle you with details while spinning on a dime. The band itself is longer on competence than on creativity, so you gotta figure it's Holland who makes the difference. Still, it's far from perfect, with stretches of little more than texture, and the occasional dull spot. A-
  • Etta James: Let's Roll (2003, Private Music). Timeless truths from the lexicon of the blues. Sure, both the timelessness and the blues formalism are distancing -- "The Blues Is My Business" is as rote as any other quickie business plan. But "On the 7th Day" is a more convincing case -- a remarkable song in its own right, but the resonance with her earlier rendition of "God's Song" (actually Randy Newman's, but the sarcasm is laid on thick from on high) gives it extra bite. B+
  • Rick Margitza: Heart of Hearts (1999 [2000], Palmetto). With Joey Calderazzo (piano), Scott Colley (bass), and Ian Froman (drums). Margitza (tenor/soprano sax) is pretty much the definition of mainstream today: while his albums don't break new ground, they manage to sound right yet feel fresh. I particularly like a couple of them -- Work It (1994, Steeplechase) and Hands of Time (1994, Challenge) -- but the fact is that he never disappoints. Not this time either, although there is also nothing here that really delights me either: the fast ones kick up a cloud of dust which is impressive at the moment but less so once it settles out, while the slow ones don't quite have as much personality as I'd like. Among mainstream saxists, the reigning voice these days is Bennie Wallace, who seems to be getting slower each time out. Margitza isn't ready for that, yet. B+
  • Thelonious Monk: It's Monk's Time (1964 [2003], Columbia/Legacy). Perhaps the best of Monk's Columbia albums -- the good ones depend heavily on Charlie Rouse, but the most distinctive things here are Monk's solos on "Lulu's Back in Town" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It." Three bonus cuts are more of the same. This hasn't been in print in the US for a long time -- I have a French import, which is now obsolete. A
  • Thelonious Monk: Solo Monk (1964 [2003], Columbia/Legacy). Solo piano has never been my cup of tea, but among soloists only Basie rivals Monk for not playing with a full deck. Basie was infamous for knowing which notes to leave out, but he mostly recorded with a band so big that he often went unnoticed. Monk is even less fancy, although he's as likely to throw an odd note in as leave one out. I'm reminded always of Geoff Dyer's quote, imagining Monk at the piano in the mental ward: "Played a few chords on the piano and the doctors thought they noticed some untutored musical instinct twitching from his hands, hitting notes that had a kind of ugly beauty. Tinkly, thunking things." B+
  • Sinéad O'Connor: Sean-Nós Nua (2002, Vanguard). This is her album of traditional Irish standards, performed with all due reverence, and not a hint or irony. She is an artist that I've never had any feel for, nor much empathy with, so I wouldn't expect much from burying her in a traditional music that I've also never had any feel for, nor much empathy with, didn't seem like a promising move. But this is appropriately haunting music -- clearly sung, expertly played. "Paddy's Lament" stands out -- familiarity helps, but the sadness and longeur come through matter-of-factly, which is all you can ask for. B+
  • Sonic Youth: Dirty (Deluxe Edition) (1992 [2003], Geffen/Chronicles, 2CD). The first disc has the classic album -- their all-time best, by my reckoning -- followed by four "B-Sides." The second has four more "B-Sides" -- a tentative "Is It My Body" and a dulled-out "Personality Crisis" -- followed by "Rehearsal Recordings." The disc one B-sides continue the flow OK. The two recognizable covers start the second disc, the bulk of which is an instrumental rundown of the album: taut, muscular, less arresting than the finished album. B+
  • Ralph Stanley (2002, DMZ/Columbia). He looks old. He sounds old. The songs, too, are old -- not old-familiar, but old-obscure, old-strange, old-bizarre (cf. "Little Mathie Grove"). I've seen this compared to Rick Rubin's Johnny Cash records, and the similarity is certainly conceptual: both are tributes not so much to their fabled singers as to the myth that ancient giants built America, and that they sit in stern moral judgment over the mess that we've made of it. But for all their rough-hewn virtuosity, such records are easy to make. B+
  • Yes Sir, That's My Baby: The Golden Years of Tin Pan Alley: 1920-1929 ([2002], New World). This reissues a LP-era compilation, originally released in 1977, which explains the miserly 14 cut limit. Still, the pieces here are intelligently selected, broadly representative, generally interesting: Paul Whiteman's instrumental "Whispering"; Al Jolson; Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians; Ethel Waters on "Dinah"; Ted Lewis; Jack Smith; Ruth Etting; Sophie Tucker; Cliff Edwards; Blossom Seeley doing "Yes Sir, That's My Baby"; the Rhythm Boys (including Bing Crosby); Gene Austin doing "My Blue Heaven"; Rudy Valee; Louis Armstrong on Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'." Good documentation. B+

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

My cousin, Bob Burns, died today. He was 74, and had been suffering from emphysema for what seems like ten years or more -- long-term, debilitating, his lungs gradually choking his body of oxygen. Until he retired and moved to Bella Vista, AR, he lived in nearby Augusta, KS, and worked most of his life at Cessna Aircraft. His mother, my Aunt Ruby, lived in Wichita, so she was always close by when we were growing up. Aunt Ruby had divorced his father sometime near (plus/minus a few years) when I was born, and I never met him. Bob had two older brothers, Orbrey and J.D. (known to all but family as Pete -- I only recently found out that the initials stood for Jerold Dean). Both brothers were ambitious, successful executives for aircraft companies in California. Orbrey was, I've always heard, the youngest vice president in Lockheed history; he had left Kansas before I was born, and although I'd see him when he came back for visits, I never got a chance to know him until recently. My first recollection of J.D. was when he was when he was living in Tulsa, working his way through law school by working at Douglas Aircraft. He went into Douglas's sales organization, eventually making vice president too. Bob never made it that far. He, too, was an aircraft company man, but with a much smaller company, and an important but peripheral role in charge of Cessna's avionics publications department. (Airplanes can't fly without paper, but the guy in charge of the paper doesn't get a lot of credit for that.) But Bob was also the guy who stayed home, close to the family. He spent untold hours helping Aunt Ruby out, and was always around, always accessible. One of my earliest memories of him was when he gave me a precious package of drawings and blueprints of Cessna airplanes. He was a bachelor then, seemed younger than he was although he was clearly on the adult side of the dividing line. I didn't know then that he had been married and divorced, or that he had served in the Marines in Korea. (Bob remarried when I was 10 or so, a marriage as solid as any I've seen, so his wife Jane has been part of the family for forty years now; she has been remarkably strong during Bob's long illness, and thankfully remains in pretty good health herself.) I did know that he was this dashing, skinny, good-natured young man, who wore suits and slacks and played golf -- not really anything that I could identify with, but Bob was always there, always friendly, always reasonable, always accessible. As the Vietnam War and the real consequences of what class means in America radicalized me, Bob was a guy who could see both sides of the divide. He didn't really have answers, but at least he had concerns.

I always wondered what it was that let Bob, J.D., and Orbrey ascend so easily up the class structure in America, while my own family was stuck so firmly in the working class. Nor was it just us: Max Brown was/is a mutual cousin who, like Bob, worked 30+ years at Cessna, and Max and Bob were close in some respects -- both were avid hunters -- but Max did his career in the shop, never advancing any further than my father did at Boeing. The distinction was always clearest to me when Orbrey and J.D. would visit from California, and just to kick the conversation along would ask my dad how Boeing was doing; my father, of course, had no answer, and couldn't have cared less. Aunt Ruby was 7-8 years older than my mother. When my mother first moved to KS, she lived with Ruby and family in Augusta -- the three boys were still teenagers then. During WWII, both got aircraft jobs at Beech. My mother quit her job when she got pregnant with me, but with Ruby's divorce she kept her job, working in the plant until she retired. There were the usual sibling differences between Ruby and my mother -- I always remember Ruby as being self-effacing, sweet and generous, whereas my mother was more of a brat -- but they were cut from much the same cloth. So I always assumed that the unknowable Randall Burns was the difference. (Other members of my mother's family have been financially successful, but usually by starting their own businesses -- the Burns brothers are unique in succeeding through the corporate ladder.) Still, I've spent enough time in the corporate jungle to get a better feel for how such things actually work. There have been times when I was close enough that I've effectively been part of senior management, but I've never been promoted from there, never even really accepted there, in large part because the higher-ups never really trusted me to take their side. I got into those situations by working hard and smart and thinking of how my work and the work of others could push those companies forward, but my fundamental loyalties were always to my fellow workers, and to the workers of customer companies who used our products. This instinct toward solidarity is something you grow up with, and in the corporate world it functions as a prison. It's easy to see how I got it, how my brother got it, how Max Brown got it, and so forth. But somehow the Burns brothers didn't get it -- when management beckoned they stood up and saluted, and being hard-working guys with brains and social skills that opened the door and let them in. Of course, it probably also helped that they worked for big companies that have been consistently successful over the years -- at least as compared to the start-ups and Chapter 11 basket cases I've worked for.


Aug 2003 Oct 2003