October 2003 Notebook
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Friday, October 31, 2003

Reading Susan Sontag in Tom's Dispatch, and a subhead caught my eye: "Escaping the prison of national vanity."

Monday, October 27, 2003

Got back from Colorado: quick 3.5 day trip, mostly spent on the road, but we spent a day nosing around near Estes Park, so there was a bit of mountains to go with a lot of high plains.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Music: Initial count 8587 rated (+11), 936 unrated (+21). Quite a bit of material in float right now.

  • Johnny Cash: Greatest! (1956-58 [2003], Varese Sarabande). The first twelve cuts come from a 1959-vintage Sun comp, to which this adds four bonus tracks. It's nowhere near Cash's greatest -- in large part because it only includes two Cash originals: "Luther Played the Boogie" and "Get Rhythm" (plus a rough demo of "Rock and Roll Ruby" in the bonus wings). The covers lean towards Hank Williams, and "Hey Good Lookin'" is especially worthwhile -- the second version in the bonuses especially grabbed my attention, as did "Fools Hall of Fame." Cash's Sun session material seems to be up for grabs these days -- Varese has a bunch of them, and Collectables has run through them too. But with outstanding compilations available -- Rhino's The Sun Years came out in 1990 but can hardly be improved upon, while the first disc of Columbia's 3-CD The Essential Johnny Cash (1955-83 [1992]) is almost as good and carries on with similar tunes from Cash's early Columbia records -- one looks for hidden gems in secondary sets such as this. There are a couple here. "Katy Too" for one. "You Win Again" and "Thanks a Lot" and "I Forgot to Remember to Forgot" are songs that I associate strongly with others, but Cash comes close on all three, very different, counts. Same for Hank's songs. And "Get Rhythm" is a song for the ages. B+
  • Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1955-57 [2002], Varese Sarabande). This reproduces a 1957 compilation, which introduced such key Cash songs as "I Walk the Line," "Cry! Cry! Cry!," and "Folsom Prison Blues," as well as his "Rock Island Line." It also adds five bonus tracks, including second helpings of two of the above, plus "Hey, Porter!" and "Get Rhythm." Excellent take on Hank's "Lonesome Whistle"; good Cash song that I'm unfamiliar with called "Country Boy"; snappy take on Jerry Reed's "If the Good Lord's Willing" (a Hank-inspired novelty); "So Doggone Lonesome" is a Cash song so lithe it wouldn't detract from Rhino's A+ The Sun Years comp, which it turns out it's on; Cash's rhythm sense makes "The Wreck of the Old '97" the perfect bookend to his "Rock Island Line"; and "Doin' My Time" adds a fitting closer to "Folsom Prison Blues." I wouldn't say that anyone needs this who already has the Rhino comp (or its Columbia equivalent), but it does what you'd hope it might do: flesh out great songs you already know with good songs that add to and round out the experience. A-
  • Drive-By Truckers: Decoration Day (2003, New West). Not a lucky southern-tinged eccentric like Pizza Deliverance. Nor the self-conscious, concept slinging Southern Rock Opera. Just a smart, hard-rocking album by a band that's so good you don't have to like anything about them to be impressed. A-
  • Fiel Garvie: Leave Me Out of This (2003, Words on Music). Someone wrote me and asked for my address to mail me this: usually don't work that way, so either I'm flattered or they're desperate. Nothing yet on them on AMG, but the discography included with the package shows a single as far back as 1996, and lists this as their second album. More evidence there of how daunting a task AMG has set itself up for, and how inadequate they are to the task. The prop sheet alludes to half-a-dozen other supposedly analogous bands, but offhand they sound to me more like Jesus and Mary Chain than any of the bands mentioned -- not that I know what Lush, the Delgados, This Mortal Coil, or the Cocteau Twins sound like. (Probably brighter, lighter, and mellower than J&MC; at least Fiel Garvie is.) Pleasant, lightweight, enjoyable; one dull spot is all I noticed this time around. B+ [Later: B]
  • Liz Phair (2003, Capitol). As this is widely touted to be a great album, the indifference I feel for it may be merely personal -- I haven't heard a white rock album, much less a singer-songwriter vehicle, that I've felt anything more than grudging admiration for all year, and I'm not sure that I even feel that much here. But I can note that she's made a move back towards smut, which is probably good for her. "Hot White Cum" is philosophical enough that it reminds me how much I loved similar philosophy espoused by the Roches -- sex is the life force, you bet! "Why Can't I?" has both engaging turns of phrase and melody. And I'm sure there are more -- seems like it, but I wasn't quick enough to note them. Maybe I'll snap out of my funk, give this another spin, and get turned on. I don't know. But the odds would go up if I thought there was something funkier here than her boyfriend's underwear. B+
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Senegal & Gambia (1980-2000 [2000], World Music Network). Songs: Cheikh Lô, "Jeuness Senegal" (2000, from Bambay Gueej; Mali-like acoustic strings piece, nice beat); Assane Ndiaye & Le Raam Daan, "Nguisstal" (1999; Youssou-like vocals, rhythms, less intense); Baaba Maal & Mansour Seck, "Loodo" (1998, from Djam Leelii: The Adventurers, although it is possible that this is just an extended reissue of the 1989 album -- this particular track is 6:08 either way; haunting piece, distant vocals added to subtle instrumental textures); Orchestra Baobab, "Mouhamadou Bamba" (1980, from Bamba, a 1994 reissue; Cuban-influenced, although not strongly); Tata Dinding Jobarteh, "Bitillo" (2002, at least that's the date that I have for the Gambian compilation this comes from; sort of delicate, not very compelling); Ifang Bondi, "Salimata" (1998, from Gis Gis; even less compelling); Youssou N'Dour, "Letter" (from Best of 80's, which roughly defines it; typical piece for N'Dour, complex mbalax rhythm, impressive vocal); Baaba Maal, "Wango Arti" (1994, from Wango; percussion intro, has a little start/stop rhythm that doesn't flow well but carries some vocal weight); Dembo Konte & Kausu Kuyateh, "Kairaba Jabi" (1987-94, from Kairaba Jabi, released 2000; kora players); Malang Mané, "Diamano Bifoula/Hal Ma Ti Wouna" (1996, from Balanta Balo: Talking Wood of Casamance; balofon, gurgling percussion, again with a light touch, although the vocal beefs it up); Ismaël Lô, "Tear Doucey" (2000, from Tadieu Bone; richer, more of a pop thing); Mass Lowe, "Aminatta" (2000, from same Gambian comp as Jobarteh); Mansour Seck, "Yelayo" (1996, from Yelayo; elegant guitar, seductive vocal, with just a hint of backup). While this is a useful, typically broad-based sampler, the effort to sort out such a rich and varied music -- from an area which is really quite small -- leads to some flow problems, inconsistency, etc. The two main poles are the acoustic (mostly traditional instruments) folk pieces, which suggest the openness of the desert -- something more in common with Mali -- and the urban mbalax of N'Dour. Useful, but I don't find it all that revelatory -- and that's probably not because I'm expert, although I'm probably familiar with 20+ albums from this area already. B+
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of South Africa ([1999], World Music Network). Big subject, so expect a slightly scattered treatment, but aside from Lucky Dube's alien reggae, this rolls along nicely on the classic South African rhythmic wave. As usual, tracking down the songs is a chore (bear in mind that the dates below are often late -- a couple postdating this compilation): Izingquncqulu Zomhlaba, "Nigizongena Kanjani" (from Sxaxa Mbij', 1997, translation: "Pulling Together"; mbaqanga, rhythmic push and roll); Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens, "Nyamphemphe" (from Stoki Stoki, 1996; thickly bouncy piece, the groner not in evidence much; not their best -- sort of anonymous); Noise Khanyile & the Jo'Burg City Stars, "Groovin Jive No. 1" (from The Art of Noise, 1986; relatively long at 8:09, rhythm piece, quite good); Lucky Dube, "House of Exile" (from House of Exile, 1992; reggae, big Bob Marley influence, rhythmically dull in this crowd); Yvonne Chaka Chaka, "Motherland" (from The Best of Yvonne Chaka Chaka, 1995 or earlier; she's considered the premier SA bubblegum artist, although this sounds like typical mbaqanga); Tebogo, "My Kind of Jazz" (from Kwela Tebza, 1996; kwela of course, simple pennywhistle jive, nice little instrumental breather); Spokes Mashiyane, "Meva" (from King Kwela, album reissued in 2001, but don't know when it originally came out; slightly heavier kwela, sax instead of pennywhistle); African Jazz Pioneers, "Jive Township" (from Shufflin' Joe, 2000, although they've been playing at least since 1990; very good, but typical, township jazz band); The Elite Swingsters, "Yaze Yangala" (from A Call for Peace, 1998; another township jazz band); Bheki Mseleku, "Celebration" (from Celebration, 1991; jazz pianist, this takes a more mellow, more measured approach, gradually building up rhythmic nuance and layered instrumental muscle, including chantlike vocals; Steve Williamson plays soprano sax); West Nkosi, "Ungithatha Kanjani" (from Village Bump, 1995); Soul Brothers, "Udlame" (from Soul Mbaqanga, 1994); Boyoyo Boys, "Tsotsi" (from From Marabi to Disco, 1975); Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks, "Inkomo Zodwa" (from Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks Vol. 1, 1997, although I think this material is relatively early in her career -- the Skylarks were formed in 1958; pennywhistle); Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds, "Mbube" (from From Marabi to Disco, also appears on Mbube Roots, 1976, which contains Zulu choral music from the '30s-'60s; mbube obviously, recycled "Wimoweh" vocals); Ladysmith Black Mambazo, "Kangivumanga" (from Thuthukani Ngoxolo, 1996; typically beautiful piece; how many SA comps end with them?). Like most regional Rough Guides, this tries to cover a bit more ground than would make it stylistically consistent, but as an intro it gives a good taste, and it has little that is likely to be redundant for folks who have even a fairly broad experience of the music. Don't know what to say about dates -- the earliest material here probably dates from the '50s, and of course some comes from the '90s, possibly late. A-
  • Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez: The Trouble With Humans (2003, Texas Music). He's been around for ages. He's a songwriter who's penned minor hits for the Hollies, Barbara Lewis, Janis Joplin, Juice Newton, Linda Ronstadt, and the Pozo-Seco Singers, plus a major hit for the Troggs ("Wild Thing" -- was there any other?). He sings is an offhand way with a minor drawl, accompanies himself on guitar, and has managed to record a dozen or so countryish albums: few still in print, none that I had heard -- or before this one heard of. If that sounds like a guy who's manage to saunter through life on luck and charm and his good looks, it may be worth noting that his big brother, Jon Voigt, paved the way. Carrie Rodriguez is maybe half his age, maybe less. She looks and sounds like a more concerted, more serious version of Rosie Flores, which helps to give Taylor's songs more weight than they would carry otherwise. Take the leadoff song for example: "Don't Speak in English," which is nonsense for a song sung in English, but makes more sense when misheard as "anguish." B+

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Music: Initial count 8576 rated (+23), 915 unrated (-11).

  • Buju Banton: Ultimate Collection (1992-99 [2001], Hip-O). This leans heavily on two good albums that I didn't quite fall for, so it has taken a while for me to work through this one too. He has a wolf of a voice -- like with Howlin' Wolf, the fact that he has any agility with it at all is miraculous, but his dancehall (or is it ragga?) forces his cadences, making them more angular, more forced, whereas his mentor could just roll over easy. So lack of gracefulness hurts, but his songs hit often enough to keep him in play. Just not often enough to push this up to the next level, which his best work warrants. B+
  • George Jones: The Gospel Collection (2003, Bandit/BNA, 2CD). I wonder, had my mother known that this was coming out, would she have had something sufficient to live for after dad died? We had doubts about her grasp of Christianity -- the only serious theological discussion we ever had was about card-playing, which she insisted was not a sin as long as you don't play for money -- but she unequivocally loved country gospel music, and her devotion to George Jones was equally strong. I remember that the first record that she ever approved of me playing was by Jones. Much later I recall going home for a visit: I got in late, and she got up from bed to greet me, but this was right after Jones had had his car wreck, and that's all mom could talk about -- she was disconsolate, incoherent, slurring everything she said. I had never heard her like that, and started to wonder whether she was losing her mind, but I finally figured out that she hadn't put her teeth in. Jones was a big part of our relationship, and I know she'd just adore this record. But I don't adore it. For me this is just another commercial ploy -- after all, my mother is hardly the only one who'd fall for this. Sure, Jones sings great -- you could look up dozens of writers who've hailed Jones as the greatest singer in American music, or at least country music, and you'd probably find my name on that list, so of course he sings great. But he's always been able to project profound conviction without ever having any real convictions himself, which has made him, sometimes inadvertently, the most ironical singer in country music -- this was true as far back as 1955's "Why, Baby, Why", and it's been his staple during his '90s comeback, but the effect is merely distancing on such unironic material, which leaves us with what? Professionalism -- he's always been a pro, and he hasn't slipped a notch. Then there's Billy Sherrill, the architect of all of Jones' worst albums, banished since 1989 when Jones decided to stop coasting and put the trad back into neotrad, but here he's back again, with his studio overkill, strings, and a list of backup singers that reads like the Nashville phone book. So as Jones records go, this one is coasting, profit-taking, obvious to a fault, and not nearly enough centered on the guy with the voice to make it work. Still, when he does get a chance to sing something with some character, like "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again." But personally I'd rather see her play cards. With Alone Again or I Am What I Am or A Picture of Me or Walls Can Fall or Cup of Loneliness playing in the background. B
  • George Jones: Still the Same Ole Me (1979-81 [2002], Sony Music Custom Marketing Group). Bracketed by "Still Doin' Time" and "Same Ole Me," if the rest were mere filler this would be a slightly better-than-usual Billy Sherrill-era Jones album, but Jones sings the hell out of songs I've never heard elsewhere on the second side -- "Good Ones and Bad Ones" and "Girl, You Sure Know How to Say Goodbye" are what he's meant to do, and "You Can't Get the Hell Out of Texas" is filler anyone can get away with. The only dud here is "Daddy Come Home," sung by daughter Georgette. I'd hate to know what Jones did to have to pay up like that. B+
  • The Klezmatics: Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! (2002 [2003], Rounder). "I Ain't Afraid," repeated a second time in plain English for those who most need to hear the message, is secular protest music I have no trouble getting behind: it is not the artifacts (churches, temples, mosques) or the beliefs of religion that are to be feared, but the acts of fanatics in the name of their God. Rise up from fear. This runs slower and more methodically than their previous albums. I suspect that's because their klezmer is becoming more the medium for their roles as contemporary artists than as a tradition to pursue, even if irreverently, for its own sake. A-
  • Jerry Portnoy and the Streamliners: Home Run Hitter (1995 [2003], Sanctuary/Castle). Blues harmonica guy, did some time with Muddy Waters during his Blue Sky phase. He's cut three albums since 1991, with another seven from his pre-1993 Legendary Blues Band group. This is the middle one, reissued with no evident change. The short album list is probably due to the fact that he doesn't sing much -- most of the vocals on this one are atributed by Charlie Baum. Duke Robillard shows up as a guest. All of this info spells competency, and the album bears that out -- but how many competent contemporary blues albums come out each year these days? A dozen? Two dozen? More than I can keep track of, that's for sure. One exceptional moment here is the opening notes to the title song, quoting "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is such stinging amplified harmonica that it reminded me of Hendrix playing "Star Spangled Banner." But then I was listening to Hendrix in the car last night, so I didn't have to reach all that far back for the comparison. B
  • Alan Price: Between Today and Yesterday (1974 [2003], Sanctuary/Castle). The former Animal, his solo career goes back to 1966 (or maybe a bit earlier), and seems to have produced a regular stream of albums up through 1985, with infrequent (possibly retreaded) works after that. This Price Is Right (1968, Parrot) has a good reputation, but I haven't heard it, nor Castle's recent I Put a Spell on You and Other Great Hits comp, which is probably what's in print these days of Price's '60s work. This one is reputed to be his masterpiece -- if that's the right word. Not knowing anything else by him, it's hard to put this in any real context, but it feels like a singer-songwriter move -- remember when the '70s were the "me decade"? -- with an incipient artsiness that stradles ye olde Englishe music hall and ye moderne studio du jour, and occasional vocal flourishes reminiscent of David Bowie at his most fey. That sounds like the sort of overly dramatic pretentiousness that we found so unbearable back in the day, but 30 years later I'm inclined to grant it a little old-fashioned charm. It may be a masterpiece, but I doubt that it is one that I will ever care enough to sort out. Five bonus tracks -- three single versions and two 1986-vintage remixes or remakes -- and the singles at least really are bonuses. B
  • The Rough Guide to Raï ([2002], World Music Network). As usual, tracking down dates is a pain: Abdou, "Ana Aachki Bahloul" (); Cheb Mami, "Lazreg Saâni" (2001); Malik, "N'Touma" (); Cheb Zahouani, "Moul el Bar" (); Cheb Anouar, "Moulay Ibrahim" (); Cheikha Remitti, "Guendouzi Mama" (2000 [comp]); Bellemou, "Nediha Gaouria" (exceptionally powerful beat and vocal); Cheba Nouria, "Consulat" (2000 [comp]); Cheba Zahouania, "Shab el Baroud" (); Cheb Hasni, "Menghirek Entia Fi Dounia" (); Cheb Khaled, "Ya Loualid" (); Fadela & Sahraoui, "La Verité" (). Well, worse than a pain -- this entry has been sitting in the notebook for weeks now, but through many plays I can agree that this is a fine collection of the genre, reinforcing much of what I know from elsewhere without indulging in redundant obviousness. I just with I could keep track of it better. A-
  • Selena: Ones (1990-95 [2002], EMI Latin). One CD of songs, plus a DVD of videos -- we'll pretend the latter doesn't exist, and hope you don't have to pay for it. (I got this from the library.) Since her death there's been a new compilation of Selena's hits or whatever just about every year. I've heard none of them, and have no reason to think that this is better or worse than any of the others. To me she's just one more name on the long list of names to listen to one of these days -- for what little it's worth, I've still never heard Gloria Trevi either, and I'm sure there are dozens more that I can't even recall the names of. So I have no real framework in which to evaluate this young Mexicana, and I haven't given this much of a chance either. But I did notice the songs getting stronger, and the deliveries more impressive, as the disk winded on. So I do think that there's something there. Some day I may try to figure it out. B+
  • Skatalites: From Paris With Love (2001 [2002], World Village). The venerable ska band rolls on -- far removed, perhaps, from the band of yore, but they deliver jaunty instrumentals with a lot of oompah. Today's lineup is: Lloyd Brevett (bass), Cedric Brooks (tenor sax), Will Clark (trombone), Devon James (guitar), Lloyd Knibb (drums), Dizzy Moore (trumpet), Doreen Shaffer (vocals, few and far between), Lester Sterling (alto sax), Ken Stewart (keyboards). Evidently Brevet and Moore are originals. I'm especially interested in Brooks because of his Light of Saba work. They have modernized the classic ska instrumental sound -- sounds clearer, jazzier, more virtuosic -- which doesn't necessarily make for improving fare like "Guns of Navarone" but keeps them from falling into the oldies trap. Fun, lively music. B+

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Music: Initial count 8553 rated (+14), 926 unrated (no change).

  • Aceyalone: Love & Hate (2003, Project Blowed). The "Love & Hate Theme" is a bit pushy for my taste, but I love it when he stretches out on something like "The Saga Continues." A-
  • Gene Ammons: Bossa Nova (1962 [1989], Prestige OJC). With Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd running amok, this was the fad du jour. Here Bucky Pizzarelli and Kenny Burrell do the guitar, Hank Jones plays piano, and bass-drums-bongo are also present. Short (34:31), pleasant, nice guitar, and of course Ammons' marvelous tone and straighforward swing. Nothing to not like, but how far can you go with it? B
  • David Berkman: Communication Theory (2000, Palmetto). His previous record, Handmade, impressed me quite a bit -- that was cut with Steve Wilson, Tom Harrell, bass and drums. This one is cut with the same bass and drums (Ugonna Okegwo and Brian Blade), plus three saxophones -- Chris Cheek, Wilson, and Sam Newsome -- tenor, alto, and soprano, although part of the time all three play soprano. A pianist who surrounds himself with so many horns doesn't leave himself a lot of space to show off, but every time this cuts to the piano it dazzles. But the saxes carry most of the weight here -- they are often remarkable (especially Cheek, who otherwise I hardly know), but the overlayering gives the affair a ruddy color as well as the usual harmonics, and I find myself slightly annoyed by the lack of clarity. Perhaps that's because this come off as the essence of thoroughly modern jazz -- not free or avant, not even progressive so much as the fruit of all that progress. A-
  • Booniay!! A Collectoin of West African Funk ([2002], Afrodisiac). Not much discographic information to go on here. One reviewer describes this as "mostly from the '70s and mostly from Ghana." The pictures of album covers in the inside of the booklet might help, but none of these artists are well known. Songs: Brigth Engelberts and the B.E. Movement, "Get Together" (Discogram Productions/Badmus International Records); Gyedu Blay-Ambolley, "Akoko Ba" (Essiebom Enterprises, Ltd.); Mutata, "Good Samaritan" (President/Soul Posters Recordings; short, jumpy, in English); William Onyeabor, "Body and Soul" (Wiliams Ltd.; synth intro, long groove track, minor James Brown grunts); George Danquah, "Hot and Jumpy" (Kwami Records; horns, guitar, organ); Gyedu Blay-Ambolley, "Fa No Dem Ara" (Essiebom Enterprises, Ltd.); Brigth Enbelberts and the B.E. Movement, "Tolambo Funk" (Discogram Productions/Badmus International Records); Atomic Bomb Zigoto, "Menyeckse" (Tessy Records Cameroon); Vis a Vis, "Susan Sue" (Ambassador Records); Gyedu Blay-Ambolley, "This Hustling World" (Essiebom Enterprises, Ltd.; in English [at least I can recognize "hit me"]; more guitar-organ rave-up with a JB feel). Compiled by Fischer P and DJ Haul. Bright, bouncy stuff -- organ, guitar, the occasional horn; the English lyrics don't impress, the other don't distract. Not sure that it's not on average better than Ghana Soundz!, but I appreciate the latter's scholarship, and it's certainly not much better. Maybe even generic; hard to say. B+
  • Buck 65: Talkin' Honky Blues (2003, WEA Canada). Just working off an advance on this, but I've had it for a while, and can say with absolute certainty that it's the best thing he's ever done. Will write more about it in the future. For now, just take my word. A+
  • Congo to Cuba (1981-2001 [2002], Putumayo World Music). Eleven cuts: 6 from Africa (2 Guinea, 1 each: Congo, Benin, Mali, Senegal), 5 from Cuba. The sloshing back and forth betwen African and Cuban music has gone on long enough that I've managed to forget which side of the pond rhumba originated from. The African cuts go down easier here than the Cuban, which tend to be brassy. Not sure of the dates -- those given are copyright/print dates, which in a couple of cases come after artist deaths. Otherwise the documentation tries to be useful, and the music pushes all the right rhythmic buttons. B+
  • Desert Roses & Arabian Rhythms (1995-2001 [2001], Mondo Melodia). Songs: Natacha Atlas, "Mon Amie La Rose" (1999; mid-tempo torch song, with a touch of castanets); Faudel, "La Valse" (1997; also mid-tempo, more forced/emotive, good strings); Khaled, "Aalach Tloumouni" (2000; more beat, faker strings, ululating as usual); Latifa, "Inchallah" (1999; rich percussion, strings, background chant of title, strong vocal, best thing so far); Sting and Cheb Mami, "Desert Rose" (warbly synth with top hat and Mami emoting); Andy, "Chie Begam" (1998; full name is Andy Andranik Madadian, from Iran but lives in America; heavily orchestrated, slightly trashy); Soraya, "I'm Yours" (1997 for the single; from Colombia, like Shakira, with Simon Shaheen on oud; in English -- so much for exoticism); Amina, "Dis Moi Pourquoi" (1999; had trouble finding this, because she has acted in at least three movies [including The Sheltering Sky -- what a great movie], so I had to wade through three google pages of links to celebrity nude photographs; one of the better songs here); Cheb Mami, "Hay Wadi Hay Galbi" (1995; one of the better things I've heard from him); Trans-Global Underground, "Pomegranate" (2001; English ethno-techno group, no longer featuring Natacha Atlas; in English, strings the usual synths, not much of a singer); Hakim, "Esma Yalli" (2000; strong singer, good rhythms, rocks along); Kazem Al Saher, "La Titnahad" (2000; relatively upbeat, not bad); Rachid Taha, "Qalantiqa" (2001; from the great Made in Medina, a strong closer). This is almost a label comp -- the packaging has two panels of catalog album covers, half of which are excerpted here, but maybe half the cuts come from left field, so it's hard to say. Also hard to generalize about the music: I find the instrumentation and arrangements and vocalizing rather typical throughout the genre -- the marginal differences truly marginal. Obviously, subtlety is lost on foreign ignorami (by which I mean people like myself), but the weak spots here break the mood down a bit, and nothing really put this comp over the top -- I do, after all, have better albums by Khaled, Faudel, Hakim, and Taha. B
  • En Vogue: Funky Divas (1992, EastWest). I had been tracking down some discography shit and noticed that I had this ungraded, then noticed it on the shelf, so threw it on. What fun! The first 4-5 cuts cook, the acapella "Yesterday" is way over the top, and the end note "Thanks/Prayer" can be chalked off to having to come down and end it sooner or later. A-
  • Roy Haynes: Love Letters (2003, Eighty-Eights/Columbia). Haynes has folks lining up in the hall for the chance to play with him. On piano he rotates between Kenny Barron and Dave Kikoski. On bass, the choices are Dave Holland and Christian McBride. His guitarist is John Scofield. The sax player is Joshua Redman. Drummers needn't apply. This isn't a drummer-as-composer album, either: only one original here, amidst standards like "How Deep Is the Ocean?" and "Stompin' at the Savoy." But the drummer is having a lot of fun here, and Redman and Scofield put up their best work in several years, at least. A-
  • Takashi Hirayasu & Bob Brozman: Nankuru Naisa (2001, Riverboat). Hirayasu's traditional Okinawan sanshin meshes nicely with Brozman's guitar -- slide, Hawaiian, whatever -- and they're able to generate some propulsion, but I'm finding his vocals cloying -- perhaps just a personal tic (those things happen), but this album depends more on vocal prowess whereas the earlier one tried to get by on novelty. After all, novelties don't need second acts. B
  • Takashi Hirayasu & Bob Brozman: Jin Jin / Firefly (2000, Riverboat). Got the new one from the library, so now's the time to fish the old one out of the queue and deal with it. This was a big deal in World Music circles when it came out. I have the same reaction to the vocal here, but less intense, partly because I detect an offhand jauntiness. The trickier guitar-work also helps -- especially the high-pitched flights into the void, Hawaiian tones run amok. B+
  • Susie Ibarra / Assif Tsahar: Home Cookin' (1998, Hopscotch). Normally she plays drums, and he plays tenor saxophone. Here they switch off at places, particularly on the eight short Dream Songs -- she goes to thumb piano, he to violin; she balafon, he talking drum; she djembe, he bass clarinet; she tympani, he flute; she toy gamelan, he bells; and so forth. Tsahar's saxophone works its way through fast, searching runs, like Coltrane via Daniel Carter -- which can make it unclear just how original they are. One of the longer pieces, "At Dawn," has Tsahar playing softly as Ibarra adds bells. Pay close attention and this gets interesting; otherwise it doesn't do much for background. But both in spirit and in its neighborly proximity, this is very much an album of the Parker orbit. B+
  • Skip James: Devil Got My Woman (1967, Vanguard). One of two (or three?) legendary albums that James cut for Vanguard during his mid-'60s rediscovery: Robert Santelli ranks this one #55 on his all-time blues list, and pegs Today! even higher at a while now, then noticed that I had this 12-cut, 49:41 CD sitting and waiting on my shelves. One of the puzzles was what got released given how good the "rare and unreleased" recordings are, so this is at least part of that answer: this is superb. A-
  • Keith Jarrett: El Juicio (The Judgment) / Life Between the Exit Signs (1967-71 [1999], Collectables). This twofer omits one cut from El Juicio ("Pardon My Rags"). It also omits the original liner notes (reproduced for the other album), and gives the original release date (Atlantic 1673) as 1975. The best discography I can find has the release date as 1972, and the recording dates as July 8-9 and 15-16, 1971. The album was recorded by Jarrett's US-based quartet -- Dewey Redman (tenor sax), Charlie Haden (bass), Paul Motian (drums). Life Between the Exit Signs was recorded in 1967 with a trio -- Haden and Motian -- and released in 1968. Both records are interesting: the first (latter) more experimental, more diverse (with Redman), and a conscious nod toward Ornette -- the 2:31 percussion only "Pre-Judgment Atmosphere" is distinctive, leading into the piano-drums intro to the title track; the second (earlier) is richer pianowise, while Haden and Motian get in some nice licks. This is early work in Jarrett's career, but it helps explain why he made such a huge splash. A-
  • Keith Jarrett Trio: Standards Live (1985 [1986], ECM). The trio (Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette) hardly needs introduction. Not too obvious here -- "Too Young to Go Steady" seems exceptionally good, replete with Jarrett's Glenn Gould-ish grunts which are as much a part of the music as Fred Astaire's taps. I have the first two volumes of Jarrett standards down at B, which will need to be re-validated at some point -- I don't know if this is any better, but the live ambiance does add something to the mix. And of course in the 18 years since Jarrett got into his standards kick and put this marvelous trio together he's recorded such a mountain of trio work that it all sort of blends in together, yet cries out for someone to sort it out. As an impulsive dabbler, I doubt that I can do that. B+
  • Chérif Mbaw: Kham Kham (2000, Detour). From Senegal. He starts sounding like a Youssou N'Dour wannabe, but before he's done he's sounding more like a Youssou N'Dour clone. Cut in Paris, with a large cast of excellent supporting musicians, Mbaw sounds assured both fast and slow. His acoustic guitar also bears some resemblance to players like Ismael Lo -- what I suppose is more of a country feel than N'Dour's more highly charged mbalax. But groping for points of reference just exposes the point that from such a distance it is hard to make fine distinctions. But this is a finely tuned, warmly satisfying performance. A-
  • Jane Monheit: In the Sun (2002, N-Coded Music). Another competent standards singer. The jazz pieces, like "Squeeze Me" (if not "Cheek to Cheek") work OK, and the Brazilian bits benefit from Ivan Lins and Rene Toledo's guitar, but the string-drenched ballads like "Haunted Heart" risk torpor, and the Justin Kaz torch song "Love Has No Pride" is just gawd-awful. She has enough budget to hire first-rate talent (Alan Broadbent, Ron Carter, Tom Harrell, Kenny Washington, Lins, Toledo), which means there must be a market for this swill. She could certainly do better. C
  • Jason Moran: The Bandwagon (2003, Blue Note). On the one hand, this is a piano trio doing something live with a repertoire that ranges from Brahms to "Planet Rock"; on the other hand, this mixes in some unusual ingredients -- mostly bits of speech -- and it proceeds in a way that is difficult to hear ergo difficult to follow. Moran has an outstanding track record so far: I have all four of his previous records listed at A-, which for a jazz musician is almost unprecedented. (Brad Mehldau's major label records run: A-, [-], B+, B+, B+, [-], [-], U, [-]; [-] indicates that I don't have the record, and U means I have it but haven't made up my mind. But then I was thinking of pianists; James Carter is: A-, A-, A, A, A-, A+, A-; Joshua Redman is: A-, A-, B+, B+, B+, B+, A-, B+, [-]; I have two Tim Warfield albums at A-, but don't have the other two.) When I grit my teeth and concentrate here, I can hear much of the same logic of Moran's other records. The problem here isn't really the musicianship, which is thoughtful and dense and intricate, but the sound is exceptionally hard to focus on. For instance, Jaki Byard's "Out Front" explodes in a fit of forceful piano, but when the piece ends it is followed by some minor tinkles and indecipherable speech. Two pieces have spoken bits which presumably set up trajectories for the music, but aren't intelligible per sé -- that the first one is in Turkish may seem like a plausible excuse, but I doubt it. Aside from the originals, there's the usual eclecticism: Brahms, Byard, "Body and Soul," "Planet Rock." I love the latter, of course -- it was also key to Modernistic. He's held this trio together throughout his career, and they are tight and down. He's brilliant. But I got to dock this a bit for making me work too hard. B+
  • Youssou N'Dour: Birth of a Star: 11 Giant Dakar Hits (1979-85 [2001], Manteca). Presumably these are Etoile de Dakar cuts. Let's see (#X for Stern's Etoile de Dakar comps, 80s for Celluloid's Best of '80s, 84-85 for Celluloid's Inedits 84-85): "Mane Kouma Khol Thi Yao" (#1), "Alboury" (#4), "Ndar" (80s), "Bekoor" (84-85), "Soula Sadoome Toogne" (#3), "Djino" (80s), "Youssou" (#4), "Jalo" (#1), "Yalaye Dogal" (#3), "Bes" (80s), "Wagane Faye" (84-85). Don't have the Celluloid releases, so don't know whether they can specify the dates more precisely, but 1979-85 is about right for the dates. Peter Culshaw's liner notes (also on Manteca's website) are generic, having little to do with the particular songs here. By stretching into the '80s, this features N'Dour's vocal prowess a bit more than the strange and wonderful rhythms of early Etoile de Dakar. Rich, superb, packed. Wish it had better notes. A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Jamaica (1957-93 [2001], World Music Network). Subtitled, "roots music from the loudest island on the planet." Rough Guide already had a reggae comp in the catalog. Reggae is sometimes used as a broad description of Jamaican pop music, and sometimes as a specific style that emerged c. 1970 evolving from rocksteady. Presumably this is intended to be broader than just the narrow reggae definition, and that's sort of what is going on here, but one thing this isn't is roots music -- neither roots in the old folkloric sense, nor as made legendary by ital rastafarianism. Rather, we start an early mento-derived song by Laurel Aitken; slip through a handful of ska stars like the Maytals and Ken Boothe; add a calypso from Lord Creator; swoop through dub from I-Roy and Big Youth; and wind up with the new old-fangled music of Shabba Ranks and Luciano. There are few strains of music which offer more choices, so there would be no excuse for coming up with anything second rate, but there's also little need for intro comps that just recycle the same pieces over and over. But the most obvious things here are Phyllis Dillon's fabulous "Don't Stay Away" and the Maytals' "John and James," while Cornel Campbell's "I Shall Not Remove" sounds like it should have been canonized (give or take an occasional dub effect). A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Okinawa ([2001], World Music Network). Aside from Takashi Hirayasu, who has teamed up for a couple of well-regarded albums with American guitarist Bob Brozman, the music of this subtropical annex to Japan is unknown to me. I won't bother trying to track all of these things down. Overall the flavor is distinctly Japanese, string-and-flute things. One piece by Nenes struck me as annoyingly plodding, but as I started to describe it it developed a distinctive beauty. Useful scholarship (although it could be a whole lot better), useful sampler, more proof that there is more interesting music in the world than we'll ever get a grip on. B
  • Joe Williams: At Newport '63 (1963 [2002], Bluebird). The original LP slipped three studio cuts into this live album; this reissue adds the original live cuts at a bonus. Actually, the studio cuts were jigged to recreate the live feel, with Williams' calling out his bandmates on "Some of This 'n' Some of That." B+

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

I'll paste this letter into the notebook, for whatever marginal interest it has. It is in response to a proposal from Brett Hickman, who also writes for Static, and who wrote:

I want to write a feature story on the history of Television, the art-punk group from the heyday of the 70s CBGB days. I absolutely hate this band and am way perplexed at the critical drooling these guys get. I want to interview a few critics about their history and review the two remastered reissues of Marquee Moon and Adventure.

My response/comment:

I know quite a bit about this story, although I moved to New York just a bit late to catch it unfolding in person. By the time I got there, the big four CBGB bands had dropped their first albums -- although I did manage to see Blondie play what was probably their last CBGB gig. I saw Talking Heads as a trio, opening for Bryan Ferry at the Bottom Line. I saw the Ramones opening for Iggy Pop in an old theatre on 14th Street. I saw more of the next wave bands early on -- Pere Ubu, B-52s, before they recorded albums. But I never saw Television, nor did I see Richard Hell after he split. But I did have one Television experience: I was in Robert Christgau's apartment when he got the advance on their first album, "Marquee Moon"; Bob unwrapped it, put it straight on the turntable, and was instantly rapturous. Having never heard them before (although I had read much about them) I was more impressed by Bob's reaction than I was by the record itself. After the album came out, I played it for everyone I could -- mostly to observe their reactions. (I had a similarly detached relationship to the first Ramones album; was surprised later on to find that it was the only album that I had ever actually known all of the words to.)

I've always suspected that you had to have been there and done that to, as you say, "drool" over Television. You also pretty much have to be a guitar afficionado. (I'm not. I think I can hear what others hear in Jimi Hendrix, say, but I rarely find myself caring, pace every guitarist I've ever met.) And I think the band had both art- rock and arena-raveup tendencies that were at odds with the punk movement that was taking shape at the same time. I also think that it's possible to argue that they were rather quickly eclipsed in what turned out to have been a very fertile period; one might even argue that they benefited excessively from appearing early in what was (at least at the time -- I was there, even though I didn't buy this argument) widely viewed as a doldrums period for rock & roll. Still, I find it disturbing that you should "absolutely hate" the band. I can't think of any band that remotely sounded like them, and I find it hard to believe that anyone can credibly dispute their talents -- Verlaine's ecliptic vocals, and of course all that guitar. Without being a guitar fetishist, I'd still have to say that "Marquee Moon" is as distinctive and powerful as any of its iconic peers -- things like "Axis" and "Layla" and Led Zep's first album; funny that I can't think of anything on that level that came later. But as music I liked the toned-down "Adventure" nearly as much, and several of Verlaine's solo albums are every bit as good -- "Cover" is one that comes to mind, although they do sort of blend in together. But maybe you have some misleading expectations, perhaps because the critics who loved Television were thinking that they were thinking of the future, when the band may have fit better in the past, and the future to come (which presumably is your past -- don't know how old you are, but nowadays most folks are a lot younger than me) turned out to be something else.

I haven't heard the live albums -- ROIR's "The Blow Up", and the new Rhino Handmade ($25 by the time you pay for postage, which sez I is cause to boycott, and fuck 'em), but the ROIR is much more important for background, even if the later gig is better music. As for the critics, both the personal experience and the opportunity to reassess might be of interest, but that depends on what you want to find out and/or prove. Christgau was very close to the CBGB scene -- physically, as well as every way else. Also the guys at "New York Rocker", which rivalled the "Voice" as the movement organ. Also Ira Robbins. Some veteran critics who were around then but who had slightly different centers of interest were Billy Altman, John Morthland, Dave Marsh, and John Rockwell. Tom Carson came around a bit later, but that was his scene. You probably have your own list, but one important writer is John Piccarella. He came of age in that scene, and wound up co-authoring (with Christgau) the notes to "The Blow Up" (btw, if you get that, please send me a transcript, so I can post it on the Christgau website). When I broke in at the Voice, there were half-a-dozen or so intellectually ambitious young writers working for Christgau (including Carson and Roger Trilling), and I've always thought that Piccarella was the best writer and most sensible thinker of all of us.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Music: Initial count 8539 rated (+6), 926 unrated (-5).

  • King Sunny Ade: Synchro Series (1982-83 [2003], IndigeDisc). Two Nigerian albums, cut around the same time Adé was making his worldwide debut on Island. The surmise that these were intended as quickie throwaways while he had his eyes on the crossover prize is mere guesswork: he cut a great many albums from 1967 on, very few of which are readily available, so it's hard to get a handle on what his typical work might sound like. These two particular albums are lightweight affairs, but that is ultimately their charm: the delicate polyrhythms and glistening sweet guitar of the former is easy listening of the most enchanting kind, while the latter album's remixes of his "Synchro Series" riffs offer a faint echo of Jamaican dub. More reissues are promised. Keeping them straight is likely to be a problem, but enjoying them is easy. A-
  • Gene Ammons: A Stranger in Town (1961-70 [2002], Prestige). Pieced together from several sessions -- an Oliver Nelson big band from 1961 and smaller groups later -- separated by a long stint in prison, the only thing that holds this pastiche together is the remarkably uniform beauty of Ammons' saxophone voice. A-
  • Gene Ammons: Fine and Mellow (1972 [2003], Prestige). Gorgeous work -- Ammons didn't have the personable vibrato of a Ben Webster, nor the rigorous logic of a Coleman Hawkins, nor the effortless swing of a Buddy Tate, nor the raw rambunctiousness of guys like Eddie Davis and Sonny Stitt (who he loved to spar with), but just in terms of tone he was the perfect saxophonist: none of the above is as instantly recognizable as Ammons, and that's quite a claim. This starts with three close encounters with strings, which Ammons shucks off easily. After that come the organ grinds and the ballads, really superb work. Faron Young proposed to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful memory. Faron failed in that regard, and just as well, but Ammons -- dead less than two years after these sessions -- succeeded in spades. A
  • Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt: God Bless Jug and Sonny (1973 [2001], Prestige). Tenor jousting is a venerable American sport, and Ammons-Stitt matchups go back as far as 1950, but this one is far and away their best, perhaps because they seem more intent on having a good time than on drawing blood. A-
  • Black Uhuru: Sinsemilla (1980 [2003], Island/Chronicles). Their first album with all the pieces in place -- Sly & Robbie producing and propelling, Michael Rose writing and singing roots music a tad more cosmopolitan than Burning Spear, Puma Jones and Duckie Simpson on the side -- sounds protean but not quite realized. Bonus tracks are disco remixes of "Sinsemilla" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" -- their strongest hooks, if not necessarily their smartest songs. B+
  • Black Uhuru: The Dub Factor (1983 [2003], Island/Chronicles). Like most dub, this is long on echo and short on ideas -- typical being the bonus track that is long on brimstone but where is the fire? B-
  • CIMPosium -- Volume 12 ([2003], CIMP). This is a label sampler: one cut (or fraction thereof -- times range from 3:27 to 7:03) each for CIMP albums 266-280. Songs: Matt Lavelle Quartet, "Roy Campbell" (the trumpet player isn't Campbell -- it's Lavelle, and the relationship to Campbell isn't clear; Ras Moshe adds some nice saxophone); Khan Jamal Quintet, "Odean" (hey, here's Campbell, plus Jemeel Moondoc, excellent, plus lots of Jamal's fine vibes); Bob Washington Trio, "1940-1949 Painful 'Hip' Recollections" (Washington recites a coming-of-age narrative, with trombonist Steve Swell and bassist Dominic Duval improvising in the background; similar to some work that George Lewis has done); David Taylor Trio, "Tri-Tiered Timbred Tribute to a Muse" (Taylor plays bass trombone; unknown to me, but "a legend among trombonists"; with bass and drums -- Duval and Jay Rosen seem to be the default rhythm section in this part of New York; I guess I'm a sucker for 'bones); Alex Harding, Dominic Duval, Jay Rosen, "Invocation" (Harding plays baritone sax, giving this a lumbering feel, but he works up some heat on the upswing); David Wertman, Charlie Kohlhase, Lou Grasi, "Sky" (bass-sax-drums, this cut features the sax; nice work, heavy bass-drums in background); Ursel Schlicht-Steve Swell Quartet, "Bluesy" (piano-trombone + bass-drums; I've only heard Swell as a sideman, but I've always been impressed -- e.g., his work with Joey Baron and Elery Eskelin -- and this is fine); Carl Grubbs Quartet, "Two Fellas" (sax from Grubbs and Odean Pope; don't know Grubbs, but this sounds like Pope -- fast, adventurous, arpeggiated; second sax is more melodic, but I'm not sure I like the blend); Lucian Ban & Alex Harding, "Invocation for Wilber" (piano-baritone sax; starts slow); Frank Lowe Quartet, "Lowe-down & Blue" (the late great saxman -- website sez this was recorded two days before he had lung surgery; he died a couple of weeks ago, so about a year after this was recorded; website talks about him being "more robust than usual," but I don't hear that -- this has a measured, delicate tone which is not the Lowe I'm used to, but very pleasant; with Duval, Michael Carvin on drums, and Bern Nix on guitar); Elliott Levin-Marshall Allen-Tyrone Hill Quintet, "March on Cumberland Street" (tenor, alto, trombone, bass, drums, some switch-offs; I love the r&b-inflected unison intro, good alto solo, good trombone solo, terrific cut); Lucian Ban & Alex Harding Quintet, "Harmology" (piano, baritone sax, plus alto sax, bass and drums; more complicated mix, slightly bopish, not bad); John Tchicai, Pierre Dorge, Lou Grassi, "Loop for Susan R." (interesting combo; Grassi is a drummer I need to bone up on; Dorge a guitarist who tends to play rhythm; Tchicai is fairly in for this number, looping through an interesting series of riffs, with a lot of drums, closing out with a drum solo that I like a lot, and finally a little guitar and some lovely sax; I like this one quite a bit); Dylan Taylor & Kelly Meashey, "Simple Gifts / Ode to Joy" (bass/cello, voice; website is very defensive about vocal recordings, pleading to give this one a chance; minimal accompaniment, a little blues and grit to Meashey's voice, and not much scat, enough dynamics to avoid the usual art-song trap, not to mention suspicions of divadom; not bad); Kevin Norton Quartet, "The Dream Catcher" (Norton plays drums/vibes; with Roy Campbell [trumpet], Tomas Ulrich [cello], Hill Greene [bass]; a tribute to bassist Wilber Morris, website says "a date with real definition," but definition is precisely what I don't hear here). Same cuts available as mp3 on their website. The good thing about avant-jazz comps is that they don't get stuck like too many of the albums do. And these pieces/fragments stand up well enough on their own, giving this some utility as easy listening as well as easy marketing. B+
  • Jimmy Cliff in The Harder They Come (Deluxe Edition) (1968-72 [2003], Hip-O/Island, 2CD). America's first real taste of reggae -- way back before Bob Marley & the Wailers toured here -- came from Perry Henzell's film, or more likely from his soundtrack. The film was a vehicle for ska star Jimmy Cliff, and Cliff got five songs onto the soundtrack. But with America a blanks late, and all of Jamaica at his disposal, Henzell framed Cliff with some of the greatest songs of the era -- "Rivers of Babylon," "007 (Shanty Town)," "Pressure Drop," "Johnny Too Bad." It's easy to imagine that Cliff's own songs -- from the hopeful "You Can Get It If You Really Want" through "Many Rivers to Cross" and "Sitting in Limbo" to the denouement of "The Harder They Come" -- are so plotful that you hardly need to see the movie to understand them. This expanded "Deluxe Edition" just adds more context: if the original was the de facto primer to the music, this is just more so, and it stays clear enough of Tougher Than Tough (at 4 CDs, still the definitive primer) that it isn't redundant. A
  • Jimmy Cliff: Anthology (1962-93 [2003], Hip-O/Island/A&M, 2CD). Billed as "the first Jamaican superstar," what launched him was his performance in the movie The Harder They Come and its landmark soundtrack, which fleshed six good Cliff songs out with context as ripe and relevatory as "Rivers of Babylon" and "Johnny Too Bad" and "007 (Shanty Town)" and "Pressure Drop." This reminds you quickly that Cliff also had two classic ska period hits, "Miss Jamaica" and "King of Kings." This then moves quickly into his peak movie period -- "Wonderful World, Beautiful People," "Hard Road to Travel," "Viet Nam," "Many Rivers to Cross," "You Can Get It If You Really Want It," "Sitting in Limbo," "The Harder They Come." But those seven tracks are all on the expanded soundtrack, plus a couple of extra versions. The second disc starts with the title track to his follow-up album, Struggling Man, and indeed he struggled after that. Perhaps the best song on the second disc is "Give the People What They Want" -- a reggae anthem, a bit overproduced, but the scant horns help. B+
  • Liquidator: The Best of the Harry J All Stars (1969-72 [2003], Sanctuary/Trojan). Instrumental group -- not exactly what you'd call Jamaican elevator music, but not exactly Booker T & the MGs either. "Liquidator" is a classic track. Harry Johnson is actually the producer here; the group (four-strong on the cover, five inside) is keyed by Winston Wright on organ. Among the better cuts are "Jay Moon Walk" and two attributed to the Jay Boys: "Del Gado" and "Young, Gifted and Black." B
  • Gregory Isaacs: More Gregory (1981 [2002], Island). He's the sort of unprepossessing artist whose compilations come up just short of great, yet his albums don't fall far behind. I've played this one dozens of times by now, and it's won me over without ever once blowing me away. Near perfect (as near as matters). A-
  • Luciano: Ultimate Collection (1993-2000 [2003], Hip-O/Island). A bit surprising for a young guy to have his head so much in the roots, although the music is more from the middle of the old reggae road -- reminds me a bit of guys like Dennis Brown. This is growing on me, but it also seems rather limited. Some good songs, some overproduced and overpasteurized. B
  • Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Dual Pleasure (2002 [2003], Smalltown Supersound). Nilssen-Love is the talented Norwegian drummer who plays with Vandermark in School Days, a quartet inspired by the Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd album, where they are joined by trombonist Jeb Bishop and Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten. School Days is a very impressive group, but this duo is equally intense. The top billing for the drummer seems appropriate: the drums are not only upfront, they set up the pace and dynamics of Vandermark's accompaniment. The second cut, "Anno 1240," provides some examples of this: a stretch where the drums take on a martial regularity provides the backdrop for a scathing series of runs from Vandermark, after which the drums drop out and the sax slowly feels its way around. While most of this is typically free, the final cut ("Dual Fiction") sounds like r&b to me (which is my way of throwing a compliment). There are lots of very good Vandermark albums out there. This ranks high among them. A-
  • Trojan Box Set: Nyahbinghi (1968-75 [2003], Sanctuary/Trojan, 3CD). Fifty songs, breakdown: Ras Michael (13), Bongo Herman (11), Count Ossie (10), Dadawah (5); 1 each for: Prince Student, Morgan's All Stars, Heaven's Singers, Max Romeo, Linkers, Typhoon All Stars, Samuel the First, Jimmy Cliff, Soulites, I Roy, Now Generation. Dadawah seems to be another name used by Ras Michael, so let's say 18 for him. A-

Saturday, October 04, 2003

These are some thoughts on the long curve of the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict:

  1. The idea behind Zionism was honorable:

  2. The achievement of Israel was highly improbable, and only succeeded within the context of imperialism:
  3. The Arab rejection of the Zionist settlement was based on an astute and accurate analysis:
  4. The war to secure the state of Israel is over, and Israel has won it:
  5. Israel's problem is that it is still fighting war after it has won its primary goals, and its extended agenda is invalid.
  6. The main reason that Israel is still fighting is the marriage of right-wing interests in the USA and Israel.
  7. The rationale for Zionism is no longer valid:

Friday, October 03, 2003

My review of David S. Ware's Threads has been accepted by the Village Voice. I had it pegged at A- for a long time, but it has always sounded a bit marginal to me, and the extra 10-20 spins that I gave it while thinking about the review have led me to drop it down a notch (B+). Of course, that still counts as a good record. I still love "Sufic Pasages"; still enjoy the Ware-Brown duos; still find the longer, heavily textured pieces interesting and enjoyable.


Sep 2003 Nov 2003