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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Music: Initial count 8923 rated (+29), 937 unrated (-11). Again, a relatively high rated count, coming from all over the place. Third Rearview Mirror done. I need to write pieces this week on Miroslav Vitous and Jimmy Lyons for the Voice, and to fill in the blanks on another Recycled Goods -- although at this point Static's looking like a dead zine -- it's still online, but none of my year-end pieces have appeared.

  • Eva Cassidy: American Tune (1989-94 [2003], Blix Street). Cassidy died (age 33, melanoma) before any of these songs, or anything else that she had recorded, had been released. Since she died, this is her sixth (or something like that) posthumous album. Evidently she's sold a lot of records. (Her top-selling albums at Amazon.Com are ranked: 64, 212, 281, 353, 424, 1008.) It's easy enough to hear the attraction: she has a very strong, clear voice, which is framed nicely by spare arrangements. It's also pretty likely that the main reason she didn't have a career before she died was that she didn't write any of her own songs. There are few niches where non-writers can get a break -- jazz standards, teen pop, what else? She covered songs that she liked, and she tended to have corny tastes: in this batch we have "Yesterday" (Lennon-McCartney) and "American Tune" (Paul Simon) and "God Bless the Child" (Billie Holiday) and "Hallelujah I Love Him So" (Ray Charles) and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" (Duke Ellington) -- things that never got released because they are obvious to the point of disinterest. (Well, I like the Charles anyhow, although I don't think that it's as good as Roseanne Vitro's version.) At her best, she can be stunningly beautiful, which makes it easy to understand her appeal. So easy that I feel like a grouch for not rating it higher, but ultimately I find it a bit hollow, and I suspect that I could document that in hundreds of ways. I wonder how many more singers every bit as good there may be, who'll never get heard. Dozens, I would guess -- not many more, but not many less either. It's a harsh world. B
  • Four Tet: Rounds (2003, Domino). This is a side-project by a guy named Kieran Hebden, also involved in Fridge. This is the third or fourth Four Tet album, the others presently unheard. The beats tend to be workmanlike -- like climbing the stairs, a sense of effort and uplift. But the beats share space with sounds, a mix of conventional instruments and other captured bits and pieces, which often give it an industrial veneer. A-
  • Jan Garbarek/Ustad Fateh Ali Khan & Musicians From Pakistan: Ragas and Sagas (1990, ECM). The four ragas are credited to Khan, who sings. The one "Saga" falls second on the record, and is credited to Garbarek -- sagas are, after all, Viking tales. The Pakistani musicians play tabla, sarangi, and drums, with a second vocalist. The distinction between the Norwegian and Pakistani themes is too subtle for me to figure out, but as is so often the case, Garbarek's skill at playing to the rhythm wins out. The vocals aren't compelling, and the tabla could be sharper, but it works anyway. A-
  • Jan Garbarek/Miroslav Vitous/Peter Erskine: Star (1991, ECM). Garbarek's title cut has a fragmented, far-away feel to it, with Vitous more prominent than the usual bass player, and Erskine more subtle than the usual drummer. Four of the next five pieces are by Vitous, the exception and the finale by Erskine, leaving the seventh track to be jointly credited. Despite their relative stateliness, these pieces have real beauty -- Garbarek's tone is always something to marvel at, and the others play with great delicacy and erudition. Over many hearings Vitous, in particular, stands out. A-
  • Jan Garbarek: Rarum, Vol. 2: Selected Recordings (1974-95 [2002], ECM, 2CD). This is ECM's artist career spotlight series. Garbarek has been thought of as ECM's poster boy -- ECM's 500th release was Garbarek's Twelve Moons -- but Keith Jarrett beat him to Vol. 1 in the series. Garbarek started as a student of George Russell, the seminal American avant-garde pianist who constructed a whole notational system to explore his idiosyncratic ideas. But he made his biggest mark, at least early on, with Keith Jarrett's "European Quartet." Jarrett's Belonging is one of his greatest albums, and Gararek's saxophone is the lead and defining voice there. AMG lists Garbarek has having recorded 32 albums for ECM, starting with Afric Pepperbird in 1970. He also appears on another 45 albums, often prominently. (His first album was Esoteric Circle, from 1969, on Freedom; this was re-released by Arista in the mid-'70s -- my introduction to him, and long a personal favorite.) My all-time favorite of the bunch in Witchi-Tai-To (1973, with Bobo Stenson), where Garbarek starts to explore what would become a lifelong interest in world music, topped with an astonishing piece of Spanish bravado. Laura's favorite album by him was 1993's Officium, where he matches his soprano sax against mediaeval Scandinavian choral music by the Hilliard Ensemble, a startlingly beautiful combination. Aside from his breadth and curiosity, the most distinguishing thing about Garbarek is his tone: especially on soprano sax (he favors the miniature curved version, not the straight horn of Bechet and Lacy) he is rarely anything but crystal clear. He also plays tenor sax, to much the same effect, although the effect is not so piercing. This collection is just a spot check of his career at ECM, which is pretty much his career: 24 cuts from 23 albums, not in chronological order. The first disc starts with slow, intimate pieces: a duo with Palle Danielsson (bass); a duo with Ralph Towner (guitar); a duo with Kjell Johnsen (pipe organ); a trio with John Abercrombie (guitar) and Nana Vasconcelos (percussion); a small group with Bill Frisell (guitar), Eberhard Weber (bass), and Jon Christensen (drums); a small group with David Torn (guitar synth), Weber, and Michael DiPasqua (drums); a multitracked solo work where he plays flute as well as soprano; another pair of solo works; and so on. It is long and quiet and contemplative, but the first thing that breaks the mood is in fact one of the solo pieces, with Garbarek's percussion dominating his flute and tenor sax. Another piece that moves upbeat is the title track from Twelve Moons, where Garbarek plays soprano and synthesizer, Manu Katché drums, and Marilyn Mazur percussion. Four of the first five pieces on the second disc are with Jarrett -- the exception a long piece from Ralph Towner's Solstice, its taut rhythm holding for 10:58 while Towner and Garbarek explore their options. And then there's much more, including Norse folksongs and his first (and best) sessions with the Hilliard Ensemble. Much of Garbarek's work is very close to the inscrutable line which separates the very good from the actually great, and that line gets clobbered here. Still, his range and his tone and his great curiosity and integrity and perseverance prevail. A-
  • Jan Garbarek/The Hilliard Ensemble: Mnemosyne (1998 [1999], ECM, 2CD). The second coming of their 1994 Officium collaboration, expanded to two CDs. The balance, too, has swung to the singers and away from Garbarek. Fans of this kind of vocal music will love this one too. (At least I consulted one.) But I'm not much of a fan -- the scant medieval music that I do like has much more of a beat. Nonetheless, I thought Officium was terrific, not least for its improbability. This one, longer, slower, pretty (of course), more tedious, just feels inevitable. B
  • Billy Jenkins: Scratches of Spain (1987 [1994], Babel). Also credited to VOGC, or the Voice of God Collective. The cover is a take-off from Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain, but the music is, well, pure Billy Jenkins, if that means anything to you. Jenkins plays guitar and a little iolin. The VOGC evidently consists of 17 other credited musicians: I don't recognize many names, but Iain Bellamy (saxophones) is a key Jenkins sidekick; two other names I recognize are Django Bates (keyboards) and Steve Arguelles (drums). Actually, to follow the booklet strictly, Jenkins plays spaß guitar -- the only indication of what that means is that the three trumpets are qualified as "Straight," "Trad," and "Spaß." The saxophones are Spaß, Straight, and Bigtime (that's Bellamy, of course). What you get from all this instrumentation is manic noise, but for all its intended anarchy it's noise that stays loosely in formation. For most of the album he/they seem to be holding back, but they explode on the trad jazz finale, splattering dixieland all over the kitchen sink. This is only the second one I've heard of a dozen or more albums he's put out. The other, his deconstruction of Donovan-era '60s pop called True Love Collection, is an unqualified masterpiece. This is a bit fuzzier, but then anarchism's like that. A-
  • Al DiMeola/John McLaughlin/Paco DeLucia: Friday Night in San Francisco (1980 [1997], Columbia/Legacy). This one lists DiMeola first; the second meeting of these three listed McLaughlin first. DeLucia is actually the real master of Spanish guitar, but isn't nearly as well known in these parts. The first cut runs 11:31 and is frankly amazing: rarely has acoustic guitar been played with so much frenzy and intensity, with the three adding up to something that Art Tatum would have been impressed by. The crowd noises just add to the amazement. You wonder how they can keep it up; well, they don't. The second cut falls into quoting something that sounds like the Pink Panther theme. The later cuts flash some fancy guitar, but never quite amaze like the first one. B+
  • John McLaughlin/Al DiMeola/Paco DeLucia: Passion Grace & Fire (1982 [1983], Columbia). Three guitarists: one Spanish, one American but specializing in Spanish-tinged music, one Brit who draws influences from the world over. All acoustic, they make a thick racket of plucked strings. At several points I was on the verge of dismissing this, but they always managed to snap out of it somehow. Usually with something snappy. B
  • John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu: Adventures in Radioland (1986 [1993], Verve). A power group, with Bill Evans (saxes, keybs), Mitchell Forman (keybs), Jonas Hellborg (bass guitar), Danny Gottlieb (drums), Abraham Wechter (acoustic guitar). McLaughlin plays electric guitar and and guitar synth. First cut is built around pumped organ chords. Second one sounds like it was lifted from Pink Floyd's The Wall. In other words, this isn't a band that relies on subtlety or finesse. The keybs in general are awful -- the sound cheesy, with little rhythmic flair or self-discipline. Evans' sax is derivative. The final cut catches McLaughlin doing what he does best, but by then it's too little too late. C+
  • John McLaughlin Trio: Live at the Royal Festival Hall (1989, JMT). McLaughlin plays acoustic guitar and Photon guitar synth, Kai Eckhardt electric bass, Trilok Gurtu percussion. I have a lot of McLaughlin albums to wade through, but this strikes me as much of what I'm looking for in him, at least in his later years: this is still a pretty intense album; even though he's often on acoustic, the electric bass and forthright percussion keep things moving. A piece of scat toward the end is neither here nor there. B+
  • Time Remembered: John McLaughlin Plays Bill Evans (1993, Verve). With the Aighetta Quartet providing four more acoustic guitars -- I gather that they're a classical music group -- as if McLaughlin's isn't enough, and Yan Maresz on "acoustic bass guitar." I never recognize Evans' songs when I hear them, even though I recognize most of these titles. The overall mood is lush and romantic, which is a common take on Evans' famed sentimentality, although I've never managed to hear Evans' music that way. Transcribing these pieces to guitar almost sounds like they're being played on harpsichord -- an uncommonly resonant one, but they still ring out in distinct notes. Pretty, but the notes more so than the assembled music, which doesn't do much. B-
  • John McLaughlin: The Promise (1995, Verve). I've played this a few times, and it seems all over the map. There is a long list of featured musicians, but they are usually deployed in small, discrete groups. The first cut, "Django" (John Lewis) is typical Mahavishnu, with Jeff Beck adding guitar. "Thelonious Melodius" is a trio dominated by Joey DeFrancesco's Hammond B-3, and it's fine, too. A very brief verse from Dante -- the first of several. A short piece with guitar over synth. A duet with DeFrancesco playing trumpet with unspecified percussion -- McLaughlin's keyboards? Nice, sorta boppish piece. Then a Spanish theme called "El Ciego," with Paco DeLucia and Al DiMeola -- rather lukewarm as those things go. We can think of the next piece, "Jazz Jungle," as the centerfold: 14:45 long, a fairly straightforward jazz sextet with Michael Brecker conspicuous on tenor sax, McLaughlin doing his electric guitar thing, and a rhythm section of Jim Beard (keybs), James Genus (electric bass), Dennis Chambers (drums), and Don Alias (percussion). It's a fruitful pairing, but I find it a bit cold; despite all his chops, Brecker has never made me want to listen to him, and that's certainly part of it -- imagine the same thing with, say, Roland Kirk, and even without a stray whistle or siren it's easy to see that Brecker comes up short. But at this length it also falls into pointless jam mode, and the chuckle at the end just confirms it. Next piece goes to the Indian connection: Zakir Hussain (tabla), Nishat Khan (sitar), Trilok Gurtu (percussion). The midlife crisis is getting clearer, as we're recapitulating McLaughlin's life story -- unfortunately, without Miles to call some of the shots. "English Jam" is McLaughlin on noisy electric guitar, Sting on bass, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Short, as is the synth beats on "Tokyo Decadence" and the Zen Haiku. Then we get the "Jazz Jungle" group back, subbing David Sanborn for Brecker. This is, not surprisingly, much lamer than the piece with Brecker. Finally, we get "The Peacocks" -- the Jimmy Rowles ballad, with McLaughlin and Philippe Loli on acoustic guitar and Yann Maresz on acoustic bass guitar. Pretty, delicate. Finally a word or two from Garcia Lorca. And that's it: all over the map. It does sound better when you tear it apart piece by piece, but we don't generally listen to albums like that -- with the booklet open, and a ready cross-reference to the artist's complete works. There's good stuff here, but it also strikes me that most of the recapitulations that I'm most familiar with come up a bit short. So does the overall experience. B
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Mexico ([2002], World Music Network). 1. Astrid Hadad, "Qué Puntada" (pretty much what I expect Mexican music to soundlike); 2. Café Tacuba, "Las Flores" (1994; rock en espanol band, they've gotten to be pretty big); 3. Los Andariegos, "La Juanita" (sounds folkie, with trad Spanish guitars); 4. Banda el Recodo de Don Cruz Lizárraga, "El Nińo Perdido" (1995; circusy brass band, with a touch of polka); 5. Juan Reynoso, "La Tortolita" (1972-93; they call this "traditional country"; sounds a bit like parched bluegrass, with a little cajun fiddle and some fife-less drums); 6. La Negra Graciana, "La Guacamaya" (1994; very pleasing juxtaposition of vocal and harp); 7. Los Marineros de Apatzingán, "La Malagueńa" (primitive rhythm track with vocal and some sawing violin, very appealing); 8. Guillermo Velázquez, "Que Suene El Son" (another trad piece, with guitar and violin); 9. Eugenia León, "La Tirana" (big league singer); 10. Los Magańa, "Peregrina" (sparse guitar, delicate ballad); 11. Los Hermanos Molina, "El Pajarillo Jilguero" (three brothers, in a sort of country-ish, troubadour thing; nice); 12. Felipe Urbán Y Su Danzonera, "Horchata" (semi-big band instrumental; kind of soupy); 13. Salón Victoria, "Fandango Allende" (2000; rock band; I find this very messy); 14. Chuchumbé, "La Iguana" (somewhere between roots and rock); 15. Banda La Michoacana, "Silvia Sapichu (La Cervecita)" (another rather busy mess); 16. Trío Los Camperos Huastecos, "El San Lorenzo" (good violin intro; two vocals, more violin); 17. Los Halcones De Salitrillo, "Camilo Hernández" (norteńo, accordion to start, typical vocals); 18. Mariachi Reyes Del Aserradero, "El Cihualteco" (pretty good mariachi group, lots of violin); 19. Los De Abajo, "Joder" (2002; rock-fusion thing, although to their credit they keep the rhythm and background relatively simple); 20. Botellita De Jerez, "El Charro Canroli" (by far the most interesting of the rock en espanol groups, although this sounds like a rip from a rock song I can't quite put my finger on). The Rough Guide book describes Mexico as "much more than mariachi," which is a fair statement. The stylistic diversity here works against its value as background listening, and of course the documentation doesn't satisfy its need for history and context. (And whose bright ideas was it to put red print on top of an orange background?) Still, the intent here is to open up some doors, so we should cut a bit of slack just to know what's behind them all. I like the older, folkier stuff, classic son, norteńo, and even mariachi; rock en espanol is less promising, but it's a big country, and it's probably only a matter of time. B+
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Pakistan ([2003], World Music Network). As usual, the notes are helpful, but the disocgraphical information isn't quite helpful enough. Abida Parween may be "the world's leading Sufi (Islamic mystic) singer," but she only rates an empty artist entry with no discography whatsoever in AMG. The only artist here who has made much of a mark in our domestic references is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose eminence in qawwali rivals Louis Armstrong in jazz. Rough Guide's World Music book has a Pakistan chapter, but it is very slight, mentioning only one of the artists collected here (guess who), so it's hard to know whether this set is representative or merely eclectic. (The compiler, Jameela Siddiqi, co-wrote the Pakistan chapter Pakistani music seems to be poised (or perhaps torn) between Sufism and Bollywood, although the exaggerated Islamicism which defines what is otherwise a fractured and rather confused country favors the former. Songs: 1. Pathane Khan, "Mera Isqh Bhi Tu" (sufi poetry, carried mostly by the ululating vocal); 2. Abida Parween, "Yaar Di Gharoli" (2000; sufi, the rhythmic music whirling like its trademark dervishes); 3. Tsiganes De Sind, "Popular Melodies" (folk music from Sind; sounds like klezmer to me); 4. Farida Khanum, "Aaj Jane Ki Zid Na Karo" (an eminent ghazal singer [one record listed in AMG], in a relatively straightforward ballad); 5. Sultan Muhammed Channe & Shah Wali, "Traditional Pashtoun Song" (rahab [a lute] instrumental, with percussion; sounds like a scaled down sitar); 6. Mehdi Hassan, "Thumri in Raag Desh" (another ghazal singer, again slow and simple, and a bit other-worldly); 7. Vital Signs, "Guzray Zamaney Waley" (pop group, nice rhythm); 8. Sajjad Ali, "Jhullay Lal" (sufi hymn with a more pop beat); 9. Faakhir, "Dil Na Lagay" (fairly upbeat, but indistinct; supposedly "a patriotic song"); 10. Adnan Sami Khan, "Lift Kara De" (upbeat piece, fake horns, sounds like it could fly in Cairo); 11. Noor Jehan, "Jis Din Se Piya" (late '50s; actress/singer moved to Pakistan in 1947; I like this as much as anything here); 12. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, "Aj Rang Hai Hai Maa" (long piece, meant to cap the proceedings, tends to fade in and out, making it hard to follow). Thus far this just seems eclectic. B
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Russia ([2002], World Music Network). This seems to concentrate on "bard" singers -- poet-vocalists, what we would call singer-songwriters. They probably favor folk melodies, but they may waver into rock or Russian pop -- Russia has had a major impact on Euroclassical music, so I'd guess that Russian pop has classical roots, or vice versa. This does not include anything by Boris Grebenshikov, who is the one bard singer to have released much in the US. Aside from Kukuruza, I haven't heard of anyone here. This is necessarily a thin and somewhat arbitrary slice of the musical life of a very large and diverse country. Notes below are very fragmentary. My usual documentation complaints apply, and given how little recognized this music is in the US, I don't expect to be able to date much of anything. 1. Vladimir Vysotsky, "Dialog y Televisora" (1938-80; legendary bard singer, opposed to Soviet regime, but posthumously rehabilitated by Gorbachev); 2. Nol', "Chelovek I Koshka" (); 3. Zhanna Bichevskaya, "Dikoye Pole" (); 4. Loyko, "Djelem" (); 5. Alla Pugacheva, "Arlekino" (circus melody, starts and stops, good chuckle); 6. Sergei Nikitin/Tatiana Nikitina, "Brich Mulla" (); 7. Alexander Dolsky, "Sentyabr Dozhdi" (bard singer, ballad over bare guitar, rather pretty); 8. Natalia Dudkina, "Doktor Olya" (another mild-mannered bard singer, also pretty); 9. Sergei Nikitin/Tatiana Nikitina, "Proschanie S Parizhem" (); 10. Zhanna Bichevskaya, "Lyubo, Brattzy, Lyubo" (); 11. Alla Pugacheva, "Muzykant" (); 12. Pesni Nashego Veka, "Brigantina" (); 13. Mark Bernes, "Temnaya Noch" (1911-69); 14. Clavdia Shulzhenko, "Starinny Vals" (); 15. Gipsy Talisman, "Britchka" (); 16. Michael Alpert, "Zemlyanka (Dugout)" (); 17. Mashina Veremeni, "Povorot" (); 18. Kukuruza, "Beyond the Rocky Mountain (Za Skaloyu)" (1998; Russian "bluegrass" group; they've had some records released here); 19. Terem Quartet, "Diplomat Waltz (Diplomatichesky Vals)" (). The sub-title here is "emerging sounds: bards and balalaikas," which is at best a subdivision, maybe not much of one, and probably not the best one could do. I lost track while listening to this, but never heard anything that made me want to get back on track. The Wichita Public Library seems to be buying everything in the Rough Guide series, no doubt figuring that they're educational and at least cover wide ground. I suspect that this is neither, and the fact that I don't know for sure isn't a plus. B-
  • The Trio (1970 [1994], BGO, 2CD). This group consisted of John Surman (baritone and soprano sax, bass clarinet), Barre Phillips (bass), and Stu Martin (drums). Anyone only familiar with Surman's ECM recordings will be in for a surprise here: Surman's playing is free and daring here, while Phillips and Martin chart their own courses. This all comes out of the '60s avant-garde, but the playing is so vigorous, and the chemistry so explosive that this rises well above the norm on energy alone. Not that it is all energy. Every time I play it I'm more impressed with details -- a bass solo, a little baritone solo with occasional plucked tones and tinkles. This may just turn out to be one of the masterpieces of the era. (Morton & Cook reserved their crown on Surman's Tales of the Algonquin, a 1971 album that I haven't heard yet.) But at the very least: A-
  • Miroslav Vitous: Emergence (1985 [1986], ECM). Solo bass. First cut is called "Epilogue," and winds on for 8:07. Final cut is "Variations on Spanish Themes," a nod to Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain. In between are thoughtful titles, including the four-part "Atlantic Suite" and "Regards to Gershwin's Honeyman." Throughout is a lot of thoughtful bass -- mostly plucked, some arco, not a hint of the avant-gardist penchant for what I've elsewhere called "stupid bass tricks." These things always strike me as underdressed -- I've spent a lot of time listening to bass players in the last year or so, and I love the instrument, but it's almost always the backbone to something else, and it's hard to tell what until you see it fleshed out. B+

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Movie: Monster. Charlize Theron's unrecognizable performance here has gotten its Oscar nomination, and it's the sort of tour de force that tends to win there. She comes out with a hulking awkwardness that hasn't been seen since the Frankenstein movies, or maybe The Elephant Man -- the monster of the title as physical defect rather than as a program for action, the action coming as much out of our revulsion at monstrosity as from any defect of character. Aileen's job hunt sequence is as central as anything here; it's a lot more revealing than any of her hooker experiences, including those that leave dead bodies behind. I don't know just what the fascination with such monsters is. (One could draw up a sociopolitical laundry list of issues that are touched on here, but that seems beyond the point.) As for Oscar, the more you lift the clearer it is that you're doing real work. B+

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Dick Cheney came to Wichita last night, allegedly to bag $250,000 in Republican campaign contributions. The deal was $1000/plate, and reports said that they had 175 attendees, but that they picked up the whole $250,000. I guess that's about par for Republican math these days. Reporters inside tell us that the attendees didn't get to eat. Hell, they didn't even get to sit down. Cheney gave a 15-minute speech, then shook hands for another 15-minutes, then skedaddled. The speech reportedly included gems like "there is no question America did the right thing in Iraq." For 30 minutes of rubbing shoulders with such a perceptive and erudite observer, the attendees not only forked up their thousand bucks each, they got their asses searched on the way in. I was outside with 100+ protestors, so we had the pleasure of watching Cheney's bootlickers have their cars sniffed down by police dogs. Whatever happened after they parked was out of sight.

Cheney's arrival caused Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport to be shut down for an hour. They also shut down US-54/400, the highway from the airport to downtown. I didn't see this personally, but on the news later we saw pictures of a government sniper stationed on the roof of the hotel. We saw plenty of cops and secret service agents from our position across the corner from the front of the hotel. We didn't see Cheney's limo either. Presumably he was smuggled in the back door, but then judging from his speech he has a lot of myopia to preserve. I've heard one report that Cheney's security and support cost Kansas taxpayers $120,000. Of course, that wouldn't include the disruption at the airport and ont he highways, nor would it include what taxpayers in the rest of the country pay to keep Cheney isolated and protected from the public.

The headline in the Wichita Eagle this morning was "Cheney draws fans and critics." The three local television channels we checked out last night followed up their coverage of the confab with reports on the protest, so we got the last word in four out of four times.


U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, the village idiot of Goddard KS, managed to get an op-ed piece into the Eagle today. One line in particular dropped my jaw: "Tax relief, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, helped pull the economy out of the Clinton recession." Just try to tear that sentence apart: "tax relief" refers to Bush's tax cuts, which were proposed when the economy was booming and the rationale was to reduce the surplus. "Clinton's recession" must have been a diabolical scheme: what other politician has ever managed to create a recession that only started once his successor was ensconced in office? But have we really pulled out of that recession? One thing you can count on is that the moment Greenspan thinks that we're out of the recession woods is that he'll raise interest rates. But has that happened? Not that I've noticed. But also notice the verb "helped": that says that the tax cuts were just one of several factors, and doesn't say how much.

Clinton does have some culpability for the recession, but it's mostly in oblique ways: his globalization agenda was exporting jobs years ago, but this was masked by the high-tech boom; he did an inadequate job of policing the business elites responsible for so much corruption; his foreign policy left open sores in Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel/Palestine which have been exploited by terrorists. Still, you could easily spread that blame around a bit. Clinton's 1993 tax boost, targeting the rich, may have lucked out by catching the leading edge of a boom, but it sure didn't plunge the country into any sort of recession -- indeed, it set up the sort of budget surpluses that people had no hope of ever seeing again after Reagan took over. But late in Clinton's term, the Republicans managed to get a capital gains tax cut passed, which led to a sell-off, which helped blow out the stock market bubble, which is what at the end of Clinton's second term started to point the economy downward. Several things could have been done at that point. In particular, Greenspan could have lowered interest rates, which he did too little, too late. But Bush's tax cuts were precisely the wrong thing at the wrong time: an unearned, undeserved gift to the rich, combined with a long-term crippling of the fiscal integrity of the government -- at a time when there were plenty of looming issues (none involving defense spending). Greenspan himself lost all credibility when he endorsed Bush's tax cut plans. And every button that Bush has pushed on the economy since he took office has failed: the recession remains essentially stable, despite lowest-ever interest rates, massive deficit spending, and all that "tax relief" help.

A rule of thumb is that giving money to the rich will encourage them to invest in production, which will increase the production of goods and services, which ideally will be affordable enough to stimulate consumption. But if you're already in a situation where you have an oversupply of production capacity, giving more money to the rich doesn't really do anything, because they won't do anything with it. That's pretty much the way things stand now, which makes this just about the worst time ever to push an economic policy that favors the rich. Meanwhile, you have a tremendous erosion of America's working class -- jobs being exported, discarded, or just simply beat into the ground, and all that Bush has done about that has been to make it worse. You also have a major crisis in state and local governments, who simply are not raising the revenues that they expected -- exacerbated by lots of Republican-led tax cuts, all favoring the rich, leading to more tax increases, especially regressive sales taxes.

I've just been reading Paul Krugman's The Great Unraveling, which has plenty to say about this subject, and especially about Greenspan, whose tepid endorsement of Bush's tax cuts ran absolutely counter to everything he had stood for during Clinton's presidency. I had read Krugman's Fuzzy Math when it came out, so none of this is especially surprising, but time and again I find that even I am shocked by what this administration does. With their warchest primed for the re-election campaign, this is all that we have to look forward to from the Republicans this year: all the lies that money can buy. Tiahrt, Brownback (standing behind Cheney in pics of last night's speech), and Cheney are on the cutting edge.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Peter Sykes asked me for a top ten list of "the best jazz CDs by artists that have recorded primarily in the 1990s & 2000s," for his Jazz 100 website. Let's see. This is what I wrote back:

From your FAQ and just poking around your website, I take it that what you're doing is trying to synthesize from other data, as opposed to collecting and presenting raw data. A relevant example of the latter might be the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop polls, which let you look at each individual voter's response (often more interesting than the totals). At least I don't see that any of your lists are attributed.

The big problem with what you're asking for is the subjective question of which artists "recorded primarily in the 1990s & 2000s". It's very straightforward to say ask which records, but artists ebb and flow. David Murray has recorded more really good jazz records than anyone else since 1990, but he probably recorded more records in the '80s than he did in the '90s, and his earliest records go back to the late '70s. Do I include Murray?

Joe Lovano and William Parker are 3 years older than Murray. Lovano started putting records out under his own name in the mid-'80s, but didn't really hit his stride until From the Soul in 1991. William Parker recorded material under his own name in the mid/late-'70s, and by 1990 was clearly established as one of the all-time great bass players, but it wasn't until 1994-95 (especially Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy) when he started to put a lot of effort into his own recordings. Billy Bang is 5 years older than Lovano/Parker; his Rainbow Gladiator came out in 1981, but good as he was then, he got a whole lot better in the '90s. Then there's David S. Ware: 3 years older than Lovano/Parker, but he didn't start recording under his own name until 1988, and clearly did his important work in the '90s. (You can say exactly the same about Charles Gayle, who is 10 years older than Ware.) Do I include Lovano, Parker, Bang, Ware and/or Gayle?

There are probably others, but you get the idea.

Probably the best way for me to respond would be to include all of those guys, then let you throw out who you don't think qualifies:

  1. James Carter: Chasin' the Gypsy (2000, Atlantic)
  2. David Murray: Like a Kiss That Never Ends (2001, Justin Time)
  3. Spaceways, Inc.: Version Soul (2000, Okka Disk)
  4. Billy Bang: Vietnam: The Aftermath (2001, Justin Time)
  5. James Carter: The Real Quietstorm (1995, Atlantic)
  6. William Parker: Raining on the Moon (2001, Thirsty Ear)
  7. Vandermark Five: Target or Flag (1997, Atavistic)
  8. David Murray: Long Goodbye (1996, DIW)
  9. Harry Allen: Blue Skies (1994, John Marks)
  10. David S. Ware Quartet: Corridors and Parallels (2002, Aum Fidelity)
  11. William Parker: Scrapbook (2003, Thirsty Ear)
  12. Michael Hashim: Green Up Time (2001, Hep)
  13. David Murray: Creole (1998, Justin Time)
  14. Nils Petter Molvaer: Solid Ether (2001, ECM)
  15. David Sanchez: Obsesion (1998, Columbia)
  16. David Murray: Jazzosaurus Rex (1993, Red Baron)
  17. Joe Lovano: From the Soul (1991, Blue Note)
  18. Billy Jenkins: True Love Collection (1998, Babel)
  19. David Murray/George Arvanitas: Tea for Two (1990, Fresh Sound)
  20. James Carter: Conversin' With the Elders (1996, Atlantic)
  21. William Parker: . . . And William Danced (2002, Ayler)
  22. David Murray: Shakill's Warrior (1991, DIW/Columbia)
  23. Wolfgang Muthspiel: Black and Blue (1992, Amadeo)
  24. Stephen Scott: Aminah's Dream (1993, Verve)
  25. William Parker: The Peach Orchard (1998, Aum Fidelity)

That's 25, more than enough. But to be complete for 1990 and later recordings, I'd also have to factor in the following by generally older artists.

  1. Sonny Rollins: This Is What I Do (2000, Milestone)
  2. Don Pullen: Ode to Life (1993, Blue Note)
  3. George Coleman: My Horns of Plenty (1991, Birdology)
  4. Lee Konitz: Jazz Nocturne (1992, Evidence)
  5. Eddie Harris: There Was a Time (Echo of Harlem) (1990, Enja)
  6. Tenors of Yusef Lateef and Archie Shepp (1992, YAL)
  7. Arthur Blythe: Focus (2002, Savant)
  8. Stan Getz/Kenny Barron: People Time (1991, Verve)
  9. Billy Harper: Live on Tour in the Far East, Volume 2 (1991, Steeplechase)
  10. Marian McPartland: Plays the Benny Carter Songbook (1990, Concord)
  11. Chris Barber: Panama! (1991, Timeless)
  12. Ernie Wilkins: K.a.l.e.i.d.o.d.u.k.e. (1990, Birdology)
  13. Kenny Barron/Mino Cinelu: Swamp Sally (1995, Verve)
  14. Lester Bowie: The Fire This Time (1992, In+Out)

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Music: Initial count 8894 rated (+28), 948 unrated (-13). The high rated count had more to do with picking old jazz records off the shelf than processing anything new, but I did go through a flurry of blues cleanup after I decided to restructure Recycled Goods to be an all-blues extravaganza.

  • The Black Eyed Peas: Elephunk (2003, A&M). "Let's Get Retarded" is as dumb as it sounds. "Smells Like Funk" is as stinky as they wish. "Latin Girls" and "Sexy" are porno like they're spozed to be. "Anxiety" is an acceptable rock anthem. The closer "Where Is the Love" is uplifting after you've given up on them: remarkable music, big raps, bigger choruses. Had I done a singles list for 2003 it would have been on it (and had I known about it I might have). A-
  • The Very Best of Brand Nubian (1990-98 [2001], Elektra/Rhino). Counting a loose 1990 single, half of these 16 cuts date from 1990, the year of their debut One for All. Two later albums on Elektra, plus one cut borrowed from the 1998 drop on Arista, fill out the remainder. The first half makes you wonder whether the right answer is to buy the first album, but the second half holds up better than the albums that they came from: best-of, indeed. A-
  • Big Bill Broonzy in Concert With Graeme Belle & His Australian Jazz Band (1951 [2002], Jasmine). This was recorded in Dusseldorf, Germany, on 15 September 1951, which would be on Broonzy's first trip to Europe (not counting military service in WWI). Bell was an Australian who played piano and led a fairly decent dixieland jazz band. His band played quite a bit in Europe from 1947-52. Broonzy was about the first blues musician to tour Europe, and he frequently found himself in the company of trad jazz bands -- he later arranged for Muddy Waters to tour the UK with Chris Barber -- so this is probably a typical gig. This starts with six songs by Bell's band, then Broonzy plays two songs by himself, two more with the band, two more by himself, and then it gets mixed up, with a cut by Graeme Bell's Ragtime Four, two by Lazy Ade's Late Hour Boys, and two more cuts by Broonzy with the band (or vice versa). Ho, hum. Broonzy by himself is fine, but there's not a lot of that, and while the stage patter and crowd noise isn't embarrassing, it doesn't add much. The band is OK on their own, but they get lost easily with Broonzy, even when he throws softballs at them like "Who's Sorry Now" and "Mama Don't Allow." So this tends to fall into two pieces, neither of which are really necessary. Sound is pretty good. Graded leniently for historical significance. B
  • Big Bill Broonzy: Absolutely the Best ([2000], Fuel 2000). The first 10 of these 15 cuts were previously originally released as Big Bill Broonzy Archive of Folk Music FS-213. These were probably cut in 1956-57 (can't find a firm date). I have no idea when the other five cuts were cut, but they probably date from the '50s as well. For instance, the earliest Broonzy "Down by the Riverside" I can find was from 1952, On Tour in Britain, 1952 (Jasmine). "Midnight Special" also occurs on the 1952 live tape, but he did it many times, going back (at least) to 1934. "Black, Brown and White" also appears on that tour tape, but the other two cuts only show up on late comps: the only thing we can infer from that is that they came out after the Document series ends, 1947. But I can't say just when, and I'm getting tired of this. The recordings are strictly folkie, which was a la mode in the mid-'50s. Broonzy was a remarkably good sport, and he played that role to the hilt, but it was at best a tiny fraction of what he had accomplished. A good comp of the 1956-57 period is available as Trouble in Mind (Smithsonian/Folkways). The music here is no better/maybe not as good. The documentation is useless. And the title is a flat-out lie. Fuel 2000 has actually been doing some valuable reissue work, but they dropped the ball here. This one is graded harshly, for pissing me off. Note also that Fuel 2000 has also released a second Broonzy title, which adds one cut to the 15 here. That would really piss me off. B-
  • Cyrus Chestnut: You Are My Sunshine (2003, Warner Brothers). Trio with Chestnut (piano), Michael Hawkins (bass), Neal Smith (drums). Most of the pieces are gospels, and those that aren't don't miss by much. I like Chestnut's work, and this is filled with his good-natured robustness, but it doesn't have any edge to it, and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. I see that the record was co-produced by Marcus Roberts, another conservative pianist whose vision (not a reference to his lack of eyesight) is even narrower than Chestnut's, and whose chops are nowhere near. Maybe we can blame the shortcomings here on him. Not that those shortcomings by any means make this album unpleasant to listen to. B
  • Ted Curson: Traveling On (1996, Evidence). This splits into 3-4 four pieces, the confusion being that the two slow elegies (a long "Tears for Dolphy" at the end of the first slice, and a slightly shorter ode to Booker Ervin to close the album) are separated. The first slice is a set of latin tunes, which Curson plays brightly over. After "Tears for Dolphy" (I could have done without Mark Gross' flute there) and a mediation on Mingus, the other slice is a set of three tunes with Curson vocals: "Watermelon Man," "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "Flip Flop and Fly" -- of the three I'm always a sucker for "Saints," especially in the hands of a good trumpet player. The latin stuff is a strong start, and the ode at the end is lovely. The rest is rather mixed. B
  • Jesse Davis: From Within (1996, Concord). Davis is an alto saxophonist who is somewhere in the mainstream these days: he was a student of Ellis Marsalis, so you might even slot him slightly right of mainstream, as these things go. He picked up an extraordinary band for this date: Lewis Nash (drums), Ron Carter (bass), Hank Jones (piano), Nicholas Payton (trumpet). He plays beautifully, in a rather relaxed style. The whole album is very relaxed, with the solo work by Jones perhaps the most appreciated. The only thing I don't much like is the ensemble sound, although Payton and especially Davis get in good solos when they get the chance. B+
  • Either/Orchestra: Afro-Cubism (2002, Accurate). An always interesting big (10-piece) band. Tenor saxophonist Russ Gershon is the leader here (the only other household name here is baritone saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase, although John Medeski, Josh Roseman, and Matt Wilson are alumni). The "cubism" of the title only hints at the Cuban motifs herein, but that's just domain: it's the horn charts that count here. Big, brassy, smart, sassy. B+
  • Bill Evans: At the Montreux Jazz Festival (1968 [1998], Verve). With Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette. Evans is not a musician that I feel I have much of a handle on, although I'm as amazed by some of his work (e.g., Sunday at the Village Vanguard) as anyone, and I've been impressed by a couple of late sets as well. This one is a bit harder to judge: it sounds thoughtful, but also spry and limber, and the rhythm section is a big help. Evans' Verve recordings are generally not as well regarded as his Riversides, and I haven't paid much attention to them, but I don't see any reason to discourage this one. A-
  • John Forté: Poly Sci (1998, Ruffhouse/Columbia). Rapper, associated with the Fugees (this one is produced by Pras and Wyclef). Fairly straightforward beats and raps. B+
  • The Bud Freeman All-Star Swing Sessions (1935-62 [2003], Prestige). The last four cuts date from 1935; the rest come from two sessions, one in 1960, the other in 1962. The first eight cuts come from the 1960 session, featuring a quintet with Freeman (tenor sax), Shorty Baker (trumpet), Claude Hopkins (piano), George Duvivier (bass), and J.C. Heard (drums). This session is pretty tame; it is retro, but hard to place, neither swing nor an older style. The first of three 1962 cuts is a real throwback, "Darktown Strutters Ball," with extra brass (two trumpets, two trombones, a clarinet) to brighten it up, and it swings hard. The other 1962 cuts are similar, but with the band cut back a bit less jubillant. The 1935 sessions put Freeman back into his element, with Bunny Berigan (trumpet), Eddie Condon (guitar), Claude Thornhill (piano), Grachan Moncur (bass), and Cozy Cole (drums), a superb classic jazz lineup, with Berigan in particularly stellar form. B+
  • John Hicks: Lover Man: A Triute to Billie Holiday (1993, Red Baron). In contrast to James Carter's extravagant take on Holiday, this is pure simplicity: no horns, no strings, no wanting singers, just a superb piano trio, with Hicks, Ray Drummond (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums). Three Holiday credits here, including "God Bless the Child"; five other songs your mind's ear can hear her singing. Nothing outré here; they settle for the beautiful, which is quite good enough. A-
  • The Best of Grace Jones (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection) (1977-82 [2003], Island). A better model than an actress, and a better actress than a singer, but Sly & Robbie more than made up for that. Her one pre-S&R cut here, her disco remake of Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose," is plenty. Four cuts from Warm Leatherette, four more from Nightclubbing, two from Living My Life: that seems about right, although I have to admit I miss "I've Done It Again." A-
  • Jonny King: Notes From the Underground (1995, Enja). King's book, What Jazz Is, is one of those things that I feel like I really ought to read, but somehow never find time for. He's a smart guy, and a fine piano player. This is a well regarded album, and I'm duly impressed by the craft. Let's call this "textbook good jazz"; problem is I've played it well over a dozen times, and while it sounds fine, it really doesn't do anything for me. The big name guests are Joshua Redman, whose sound has been getting thinner and more syrupy the more he studies Lester Young, and Steve Nelson, a perfectly good vibes player who has never quite made it as a force on his own. (Unlike, say, Khan Jamal or Joe Locke.) B
  • Charles Mingus: East Coasting (1957 [2000], Bethlehem). Mingus really emerged as a composer in 1956-57, with major albums on Atlantic (Pithecanthropus Erectus) and RCA (Tijuana Moods), and even greater things to come in the next two years. This group has Mingus, Jimmy Knepper (trombone), Shafi Hadi (alto/tenor sax), Clarence Shaw (trumpet), Dannie Richmond (drums), and Bill Evans (piano). The album proper has five carefully plotted out Mingus pieces, plus a take on "Memories of You." The CD adds two bonus cuts, including an even more gorgeous "Memories of You." This was Mingus' "jazz workshop" period, and it has an experimental feel to it. Beautifully played, courageous, indisputably Mingus. The only possible caveat is that it feels a bit small compared to the albums around it. A-
  • Charles Mingus: Town Hall Concert (1964 [1990], Jazz Workshop OJC). Two longish cuts (17:48, 27:31), one called "So Long Eric," the other "Praying With Eric," both of which feel like jams named after the fact. (The fact being Eric Dolphy's death soon after the concert.) Band includes Mingus, Johnny Coles (trumpet), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Dolphy (alto sax, bass clarinet, flute), Jaki Byard (piano), Dannie Richmond (drums). This is fairly typical of Mingus in this period, with terrific playing all around. And, of course, a huge lift from Dolphy. A-
  • Jackie Mittoo: Tribute to Jackie Mittoo ([1995], Heartbeat, 2CD). Mittoo was the keyboard player with C.S. Dodd's Studio One house band, which alone would make him one of the most prominent instrumental voices in Jamaican music. These cuts were recorded "throughout the 1960s and early 1970s." Hard to peg them down more than that: the booklet mentions and dates 15 singles, none on the album. The early limit would be 1963, when Mittoo started working for Dodd; he was 15 at the time, so it seems unlikely (but not impossible) that he started recording these instrumentals that early. He played with the Skatalites during their brief first incarnation, which would be 1966-67. Mittoo moved to Canada in 1970. The latest date I can find for him is 1971. The singles that are listed in the booklet from from 1966-71, which if not exactly right is probably real close for this set. Only two vocal tracks here: one by Alton Ellis, and the other by Mittoo (on Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze"). The best stuff here tends to be simple rhythmic vamps without a lot of accoutrement. It tends to be a minimalist art, and the edge between working and not working is thin. These are, in effect, the skeletons of songs, where we're used to seeing flesh. They work often enough to be of interest, but I still wonder how well this represents Mittoo's work. It doesn't, after all, quite live up to his reputation. B+
  • Mississippi Sheiks: Stop and Listen (1930-35 [1992], Yazoo). Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon, working in a songster style that is similar to the Memphis Jug Band and a wide range of Memphis performers, from Gus Cannon to Bo Carter. Some important stuff here, including an early "Sittin' on Top of the World. Chatmon's violin adds a lot to Vinson's guitar, which is rudimentary. B+
  • Augustus Pablo: King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown (1976 [2004], Shanachie). Widely regarded as the greatest dub album ever, in large part because Pablo's "far east" melodies are so indelible that King Tubby's echo effects only serve to accent them. A
  • Augustus Pablo: Rockers Meets King Tubbys in a Fire House (1980 [2003], Shanachie). This has been expanded from a previous release that I pegged at B+, but the difference isn't really the bonus tracks, nor the improved sound: it's just that the Pablo's subtle, inscrutable groove has finally caught up with me. The three albums that Shanachie has recently reissued are so interchangeable that it's hard not to give them the same superlative grade. (Although I do think that the edge still goes to East of the River Nile.) A
  • "Big" John Patton: Along Came John (1963, Blue Note). Vintage soul jazz. Patton keeps the rhythm jumping -- he seems to have been exceptionally adept at that, but Grant Green helps, while Fred Jackson and Harold Vick add the usual sax. No surprises, but strong record. B+
  • Run-DMC: Greatest Hits (1983-93 [2002], Arista/BMG Heritage). Long on early material, from 1983's "It's Like That" up pretty heavy through 1988, with one 1993 cut good enough to make the cut. What blew me away when these cuts originally came out was how they could ramp up a rock anthem, like "Rock Box" and even "Walk This Way" (Aerosmith owes them, big time). Their beats were hard enough that you can think of Public Enemy as their second act. 1991's optimistically titled Together Forever: Greatest Hits was near the end of the road for them, the decline already evident. This has a slight edge, because they're done now -- the optimism gone, Jam Master Jay dead. So why not concentrate on the good times, when they were the hippest hop in town. A
  • Tarheel Slim & Little Ann: The Red Robin & Fire Years (1954-62 [1990], Collectables). Two 1954 Allen Bunn cuts. (Bunn was Tarheel Slim's real name.) The rest are duets with Little Ann, but Slim usually takes the leads. Fine period r&b. B+
  • Miroslav Vitous/Jan Garbarek: Atmos (1992 [1993], ECM). These are slow and relatively static pieces, mostly written by the bass player, who gives himself a lot of space. Garbarek plays along, either amplifying or answering the bass leads. Still, anything that Garbarek does is bound to be lovely: he plays tenor as well as soprano saxophone here, and gets a shimmering sound out of the tenor that is every bit as distinctive as his trademark soprano. Quite lovely. B+
  • Z-Man: Dope or Dog Food (2004, Refill/Hiero Imperium). New rapper, beats a bit on the soft side, raps mostly about sex, which is more complicated than it seems at first. But one song about God really stiffens his backbone ("God Was Watching": "that's the problem, God was watching/all God does is watch" [not sure if I god that right; trying to look up the lyric, I went to a website called zmanzone, which featured a picture of a pained-looking middle-aged white guy, running a blog which covers a wide range of interests and curiosities, mostly tied together by a preoccupation with Christianity; the only thing on music there was a slam on Janet Jackson in favor of Glenn Miller; I also found Z-Man games, a Zman project/story, and a program called zman which "is a man reader for the zaurus," a pro wrestler, a high school kid who likes Black Sabbath, and a Todd Rundgren fan]). The details are his edge. A-

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Movie: Big Fish. After a whole year of disappointing hype, a second great movie. The flashback stories have a cartoonish quality to them which is beautifully achieved and wondrously detailed -- the further fetched the more mechanical the pacing, as in the sequence where Bloom parachutes into a North Korean USO show (whatever the equivalent of USO is in North Korea, which evidently isn't much). The present benefits from the unraveling of tiny bits of truth in the tall tales. But the present also includes Jessica Lange -- admittedly in an underwritten role, but her bathtub scene is my favorite movie moment of the year. A

Friday, February 20, 2004

Dick Cheney is coming to town Monday, Feb. 23, for a fund raiser. I wrote the following for a possible handout:

In 2000 George W. Bush gave Dick Cheney the job of finding him a running mate. Cheney sifted through the dirt on some candidates, then recommended himself -- a move recently described by one of Cheney's friends as "the most Machiavellian fucking thing I've ever seen." [Stuart Spencer, quoted by Jane Meyer in The New Yorker, 2004-02-16] Cheney had served in Congress and in past Republican administrations, but at the time he was President of Halliburton, the huge oil services conglomerate. In the five years before Cheney took over, Halliburton had managed to secure $100 million in U.S. government credit guarantees. During Cheney's five years, Halliburton increased this total to $1.5 billion. Cheney had no business experience before he became Halliburton's CEO, but his government contacts paid off so handsomely that he personally collected over $40 million for his services. But even that pales in comparison to Halliburton's profits since Cheney returned to "public service": just one of Halliburton's many U.S. taxpayer-paid contracts in Iraq, to rebuild Iraq's oil industry, will pay them over $7 billion.

Compared to what Cheney has done for Halliburton, his trip to Wichita amounts to chump change. Here he's just the bag man, collecting kickbacks in the form of $1000 per person contributions to George W. Bush's re-election campaign, from the tiny number of Kansans who owe (or fear) the Bush administration: the oil companies who wrote Bush's energy plan, the utility companies who rewrote the "clean air" regulations, the pharmaceutical companies whose senior drug plan subsidizes them at the expense of Medicare, the timber companies who came up with the formula for "healthy forests," the defense contractors and security companies who are looking forward to a future of a permanent against terrorism, the companies that have been "privatizing" government functions, creating a huge new system of political patronage. Take a good look at those people who file in to pay their tribute to what has become the most arrogant, ignorant, and incompetent Presidency in American history: a den of ideologues who think that the might of American arms makes right, in league with a pack of scoundrels who pursue private profits through public plunder. After all, the people who pay to support Bush and Cheney are the people who make this system possible. But also consider who doesn't attend these dinners, who can't come close to affording $1000 just to rub shoulders with a war monger: the people who actually do every bit of work that our well being depends on, the people who have been pushed out of the the job market through corporate greed and incompetence, the people who thought they were protecting their country when they were swept up and sent to Iraq to garnish Halliburton's profits, under the cover of falsehoods and delusions. Nor will you find dining there the children who will inherit the debts and bills that this short-sighted administration is piling up, and who will have to fend in a meaner and dirtier world that Bush and Cheney are leaving in their wake.


Someone sent me mail pointing to Ralph Nader's "naderexplore04" website. I wrote a letter to this website, explaining my take on the prospect of Nader running in 2004:

Ralph,

When I watched the foreign policy debate in the 2000 presidential election between Bush and Gore, I was sadly struck by the fact that there was virtually no substantive difference in the stated views of the two candidates -- sad because it was clear to me that those views and the policies that go with them would lead to near certain disaster. History has in fact made my case more dramatically than I could ever had imagined -- at least regarding the path that history actually took, which was through Bush. It is not clear, even now, whether that path would have been much different had it passed through Gore, although I do believe that at least some of the worst aspects of Bush's presidency would have been avoided or at least mitigated. You, on the other hand, in 2000 did offer a clear and prescient alternative on these very same critical issues. I voted for you then, and have never regretted my vote. (But then, since I live in Kansas, it could be argued that my vote never could have had any impact anyway.)

However, the context of the presidential race in 2004 is much different than it was in 2000. Bush, in particular, can only be judged on his established record, which is perhaps the most vile in American history. Moreover, his administration is on record as advancing policies that are certain to multiply the damage already done. I think that it is clear at this point that this administration is such a clear and present danger to all that I, and I'm sure you, hold dear that it has become a matter of the utmost importance that Bush be deafeated in the coming election. I am under no illusion that the leaders in the Democratic Party have much of a clue as to how to solve many of the problems that we face today and will face in the near future. But I find myself agreeing with many people -- perhaps a large majority of the people who do take seriously the need for a more fair and just world -- that the one and only goal we share in this presidential election is to defeat George W. Bush. Accordingly, whether you run or not (and you should consider above all whether your message under these circumstances will be heard as anything other than divisive), I will vote for the Democratic Party nominee.


The Nader website has a list of issues, under the heading "Ralph wants to know: In the 2004 election, should these issues be part of the debate?" I thought I'd comment briefly on this list. In particular, I think that some of these issues are misguided, and that many of them are improperly formulated. These are, of course, big issues, and I can't possibly do them justice here. The numbered bold italics lines are quoted from Nader's Issues Page; the rest are my comments.

1. Full public financing of public elections with the necessary, broad changes for a more fair and representative election process, replacing present charades;

This is obvious, but it's probably impossible to actually level the field. What's needed is to neutralize the advantages that money gives by discrediting them in the minds of voters. Do that, and the reforms will fall into place, because there won't be an advantage to denying them.

2. A responsive political system to expand the civic energies of the American people by, among other ways, facilitating the banding together of workers, consumers, taxpayers, small investors, and communities.

These groups have different interests and concerns, which aren't necessarily compatible or in any reasonable definition of the public interest. For instance, unions ("the banding together of workers") usually form to counteract the abusive power of employers, which implies that they wouldn't exist if employers didn't drive their workers to them. (I've mostly worked in non-union companies, and I've rarely felt that I would have been treated better if I had a union.) Power abuses by employers are often a problem, but the best solution might not be unions; e.g., it might be better to extend more statutory rights to workers, or to encourage worker shareholding. As for the other named groups, taxpayers are presumably represented by democratic government, as are communities. Consumers are an especially interesting case because of their structural weakness in the market (few vendors, many consumers; vendors are protected by trade secrets legislation; regulation and torts provide some form of balance, but they don't work very well).

As a general point, this makes little sense. Each of these cases is specific, and needs to be broken down.

3. A serious drive to abolish poverty using long-known policies;

Which, of course, need to be detailed. I can think of lots of "long-known policies" that don't work, including most of what has passed for "welfare" in the U.S. As far as I've been able to tell, there are three pieces to abolishing poverty: 1) putting people to productive work; 2) limiting exploitation of that work; 3) not destroying the property that workers have accumulated. The first point may involve investments in skill building (education) and in public health (failure to do this keeps people from working). Slavery is an extreme example of #1 without #2. War and crime are examples of failures at #3. When you think about people who are poor, those people are either denied work, exploited during the act of work, or ripped off after the fact. It's probably impossible to achieve 100% efficiency at any of these points, in which case some sort of relief program may be necessary (assuming some moral choices on the part of society), but transfer programs are merely zero-sum -- they even out wealth distribution, but they do not alleviate poverty. Only work overcomes poverty.

4. Universal health insurance -- single payer embracing prevention, quality and cost controls;

The key to this whole issue is quality, not cost control. That is also the key to selling technical aspects of the implementation, such as "single player" (common funding). It is also important to note that expectations for health care services are expansionary: the more you provide, the more people demand. Therefore, it is important to plan solutions for the long term, with expanding demand factored in.

5. A living wage for the tens of millions of workers making less than $10 an hour -- many full time workers at $5.15, $6, $7, $8, and long overdue labor rights reform;

Although the concept here is fundamentally correct -- anyone who works full-time should be earning a wage which permits one to live according to societal norms of decency. However, this is more a function of the costs of a minimally decent standard of living than anything else. If, for instance, costs were reduced one could work for less and still maintain the same standard of living. In theory, one could calculate the minimum wage to match this standard of living, but currently that is impossible because many factors are too variable: rent and various other costs vary regionally; things like health care and education are highly individual. One thing that would help in establishing a fair and viable minimum wage would be to factor out variables -- especially health care and education.

I think that it is clear that the current minimum wage does not match up realistically with commonly accepted definitions of a decent standard of living. However, there is a second consideration in determining the minimum wage, which is that raising it at some point puts people out of work, and we as a society/economy need work to keep going -- work is, after all, the only cure for poverty. (By the way, if raising the minimum wage does not put people out of work, that only proves that that particular minimum wage was set too low -- that everyone working at that wage was being exploited.) I could go into this at much greater length, but I think that in general we should work more on reducing the cost burden of a decent standard of living than we should work on increasing the minimum wage. (Just one example, as the population ages there is more work needed for personal services to the aged; that work is very difficult to automate, so there is little prospect of limiting it; and that work is effectively overhead on the rest of the working population, so it tends to be price-sensitive; as such, it tests our sense of decency in terms of what level of services we are willing to pay for to support our elderly.)

6. An adequately funded crackdown on corporate crimes, fraud and abuse that have cheated trillions of dollars from taxpayers, investors, pension holders and consumers, plus specific corporate reforms;

To think that this is just a matter of cracking down is, I think, naive. I also think that fraud and malfeasance, as we define it, is far less significant than the normal costs of running an economy based on profit motives. (On the other hand, profit motives have, as a general historical rule, been more effective at producing wealth than political motives, despite the obvious inefficiencies, so one should be careful in going about trying to reform such a system.)

Again, there are a lot of things loosely grouped here, which need to be broken out and detailed, in view of a provisional understanding of what we expect and need from business. I tend to take the view that we should let businesses be businesses, and that we should tolerate a fairly generous strain of avariciousness on the part of businessfolk in the normal course of their work, but that we should compensate for the problems that this causes outside of the internal workings of the companies.

7. A comprehensive and determined nurturing of the physical and educational needs of children;

This is presumably the education plank, and obviously it needs a lot of work. The education of children, of course, is important in that we are training them to work (e.g., to support us when we're too old to work), and that we are training them to be good citizens (which among other things means that they should be able to achieve come level of happiness and self-satisfaction, as opposed to becoming rotten bastards). However, we also need to do something about the education of adults -- both remedial education for those who fail the goals of educating children, and ongoing education for all of us who have to cope with a complex and changing world.

8. Reform of the criminal injustice system and defense of the precious pillars of our democracy -- civil liberties, civil rights and civil remedies for wrongful injuries -- which are under relentless assault by corporate interests and the present government;

Again, several issues. This one, in particular, is formulated to recognize the fact that one question is what should be done, and quite another is to prevent things happening that only make the systems worse. In particular, the question of "civil remedies for wrongful injuries" is a big mess -- the current system works very badly, but the proposed "tort reform" scenarios seem intent on making a bad system worse.

A more fundamental question here is just what should it take to constitute a crime? The prime case here is drug prohibition, which like alcohol prohibition before it has effectively criminalized such a large segment of the U.S. population that it is likely to undermine the whole justice system.

A second fundamental question is what should the nature of punishment be? Punishment has two roles: before the fact its threat functions as a deterrent (belief in which has caused punishments to escalate rather dramatically in recent years), but after the fact its finalitude makes it a restrictive, inflexible dead-end. The effect of such escalating punishments is to make people branded as criminals disposable, which ultimately diminishes the value we put on each other. The criminal justice system in the U.S. right now is trapped in its own rhetoric. It is also trapped in its own methodology -- in particular, the adversary system, which tends to run over the weak. One problem with mounting a desperate defense of the system against the civil rights onslaughts of the Republican administrations (including in this case Clinton's) is that we lose track of the real purpose of a system of justice, which is to establish justice.

9. A multi-faceted foreign policy to wage multilateral peace and promote arms control, plus utilizing the many assets of our country's knowledge base to lift prospects for the impoverished people abroad;

The problem with poverty abroad is the same as the problem with poverty here -- just an awful lot bigger. Globalization cuts both ways here: on the one hand, we export jobs and capital, which creates opportunities throughout the world for work; on the other hand, we exploit that work very systematically, and recapture most of the capital gains, so not much is left to alleviate poverty. (And in the worst cases, which are plentiful, local corruption saps much of what is left, in many cases leaving the workers poorer than ever.) Globalization is primarily a function of the private sector -- i.e., the private sector drives it, but government facilitates it at the private sector's behest. One thing that this helps point out is that government could conceivably take a different role: it could counterbalance the private sector to mitigate the worst effects and turn globalization into a much more viable force against poverty.

World poverty is a huge problem, but it tends not to be taken seriously in U.S. foreign policy, because U.S. foreign policy is dominated by the notion of advancing U.S. interests. (There are several such interests: U.S. companies, capitalism in general, and various strategic military considerations.) This tends to be a very short-term view, and it tends to discount the fact that the "developing world" is going to develop with or without us, or more pointedly with or against us. But the real problem with U.S. foreign policy here is not just that it is short-sighted: it is that U.S. foreign policy (especially as it is executed through such proxies as the IMF, and even more so throught he private sector) actively undermines standards of living in the developing world. It does little good to blame the private sector for this -- their very nature is to maximize profits, which largely occur as exploitation, and they are useful to a point even given their limits. On the other hand, the very nature of government is to act deliberately, which in this case means that they government can act against the grain of globalization, to tame and channel it in order to achieve goals other than private sector profits. It's easy to identify some goals that are desirable: peace, human rights, cooperation against terrorism, environmental protection. However, to do this requires a fundamental change of heart on the part of U.S. foreign policymakers: the goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to help the rest of the world to live better. It could be argued that this would mean the triumph of long-term goals over short-term interests, or that this is really just a necessary counterbalance, given that the private sector is already pursuing its globalization policy with its own narrow interests.

10. A redirected federal budget for the crucial priorities of our country and away from the massive waste, fraud and redundancy of what President Eisenhower called the "military-industrial complex," as well as the massive costs of corporate welfare;

The key struggle here is to reduce the demand for the U.S. military, which is tied to (although not strictly dependent on) the amount of war and strife throughout the world. The sheer cost of the military to the U.S., which is at this point a drag on the economy with no real benefits, is one reason for seeking world peace, but is by no means the most important one. The method to achieve this goal is not to reduce the military (although in its current bloated form there is little risk in doing so) but to establish organizations and systems that eliminate the justification for armed conflict.

11. The crisis of commercial food, water, and diet policies, in addition to agribusiness domination over dwindling, rural, small farm economies;

I think that it's clear at this stage that agribusiness is here to stay. Obviously, there are some problems with it, but the solution is to fix those problems (or at least ameliorate them), rather than to attempt to return to older systems of food production.

Nutrition itself is primarily an education and public health issue. One of the most consistent flaws in Nader's thinking is that he always tries to solve problems on the supply side instead of working on the demand side. That's tempting, of course, because it's always easier to regulate supply than demand. But demand is the arena of individual freedom, so manipulating supply irrespective of demand is covertly an attack on individual freedom. There may be cases where this is in fact so crucial that it must be done -- nuclear proliferation is one such example (probably at the top of the list).

12. The need for renewable energy and energy efficiency, instead of costly oil, gas and nuclear boondoggles;

I'm very skeptical of this as a platform issue, partly because it tends to be used by fools and demagogues (e.g., the hydrogen car scam). I don't think that there are any good solutions to oil dependency. In the long run, of course, most of the oil will be burnt up, what's left will become real expensive, and economics will force us to adjust. We could simulate that effect by raising oil taxes, which is basically what Europe has already done. But while that is in general a good idea, I'd also be careful to soften the impact of such taxes on rural America, which is already economically endangered and which has no practical alternatives to oil, at least for transportation. While taxing oil seems simple, there are lots of problems with it: in particular, so much of the U.S. economy depends on cheap oil that making it more expensive will hurt, in some cases quite a lot.

The influence of burning fossil fuels on the environment -- both the immediate pollutants and the long-term accumulation of greenhouse gases that threaten to perturb global climate (hell, that already have) are additional reasons to cut back, but in the end I expect that all accessible oil will be burned before we change our ways. (Indeed, I expect that a lot of alcohol will go up in smoke, too.) That's too bad, but as priorities go I don't rate this one very high -- and I would rate it even lower if I didn't recognize that oil purchases have such an adverse role in foreign trade balances.

13. The housing problem for the millions of households who can't afford the rents or can't escape gentrification and sprawl;

Again, there are many issues here, many of which (incomes vs. cost of living, property values, environmental issues, zoning) are tied into other questions. Gentrification and sprawl are two countervaling trends: one could argue that gentrification is the solution to sprawl, and also that it is part of the solution to poverty (e.g., if the working poor can accumulate capital in the form of their increasingly improved homes). Since WWII cities have been thinning out as people flee to the suburbs, but in many ways cities are much more efficient ways to live than suburbs, and that efficiency may turn out to be crucial for solving long-term problems like transportation (oil dependency). Cities also have major impacts in terms as economic and cultural engines. Sprawl, on the other hand, cuts into available farmland or recreation land. spreads pollution, etc. On the other hand, there are issues with small towns that are quite separate from the issues with cities. And none of this really addresses the question of providing housing for the poor, but then a separate (and probably more important) goal is to eliminate poverty.

14. The relief of highway congestion and the promotion of modern public transit;

If highway congestion is the problem, why not just build more roads? Public transit, even where it exists (which isn't many places) never has the utility of private automobiles, and doesn't begin to address the needs of trucks, emergency vehicles, etc.

15. The pull-down effect of corporate globalization on labor, the environment, consumers and our democratic processes.

I don't know what the latter means, unless it refers to the ability of multinational corporations to avoid regulation under national laws. The globalization of capital effectively exempts it from responsibility to any particular local or national polity, and of course where power exists without the constraints of responsibility there will be abuse. This, for instance, allows capital to seek the lowest possible wages, the weakest possible environmental regulation, the most remunerative political deals, etc. This is a problem, of course, but simply stating the problem doesn't yield an obvious solution.

16. The consequences of media concentration over our public airwaves.

Presumably this refers to the ownership of broadcast media, since the Bush administration has worked to permit greater concentration there. That seems to be just one of a great many problems regarding the media.

In going through this list of "issues" the main thing that I'm struck by is that I'm actually reading a laundry list of problems, with little or no indication of possible solutions. Many of these problems are, of course, problems that are already in the mainstream political discourse, so I wonder what's distinctive about Ralph Nader bringing them up. In 2000, with Gore having had a long record of running on a Republican Lite (DLC) platform, it was relatively easy for Nader to distinguish himself, and in many cases the mere mention of a problem would suffice to do that. This situation has changed markedly for the 2004 election, where the DLC candidate (Lieberman) and the "labor hawk" (Gephardt) found themselves with virtually no support and were eliminated early. The remaining candidates (as of this writing Kerry and Edwards, and maybe a ghost of Dean) recognize virtually all of the problems above. So in order for Nader to distinguish himself on issues now he has to come up with solutions that are distinctive, which I don't see. He also needs to convince us that his solutions are doable, and he needs to be able to describe some realistic path to get from here to there. I don't see him managing to do any of that -- indeed, I have some serious questions about both his analysis of the problems and his approach for solving them. Beyond that (that is, in the event that he is able to justify his candidacy on the basis of the superiority of his issues and solutions), in the current climate (which is dominated by the fear that Bush will somehow be able to use his money and media to pull out re-election) he is likely to be dismissed even by people who largely agree with him on issues because those people feel that defeating Bush is much more important than being right on issues. (Evidence of the power of this sentiment is clear from the inability of Dennis Kucinich to achieve any traction whatsoever in this election; Kucinich has if anything failed to achieve Nader's 2000 numbers, even though he should have basically the same appeal -- and to my mind actually has a firmer grip on the issues and their solutions.)

Monday, February 16, 2004

Movie: Les Triplettes de Belleville. This is an animated film by Sylvain Chomet, with a minimum of dialogue and a few musical numbers. Hard to describe, but it uses animation for its potential to stretch its characters to absurd dimensions. Busy, hard to follow, deliberately ugly. Clever, too. I started liking it more once it was over. B+

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Music: Initial count 8866 rated (+15), 961 unrated (-2). Recycled Goods done, although I may fiddle with it a bit, especially given the present turmoil at Static -- but also I want to move quickly into the next one, in large part because I'm tired of the blues overload. (Actually, I wound up splitting out all of the non-blues, holding that for next time, upgrading a couple of briefly noted albums, and tacking on a couple of other things: a newly acquired Big Bill Broonzy, a pending Dr. John, a not-too-old Eddie Vinson.) Also I'll note that I've snuck OutKast into the lower reaches of the A- list. The proximate cause, I admit, was that OutKast won the Voice's Critics Poll, so it's fair to charge that I've let myself be persuaded by the critical consensus. However, I think that the consensus itself amplifies the albums' charms -- OutKast is the most potent crossover force in rap these days (perhaps not commercially, since other records like 50 Cent have substantially outsold it, but certainly in demographic breadth) -- while diminishing the significance of its inconsistencies. As I noted at the time, the records always had the potential to grow in their importance, and the consensus is just one more reason to invest the time. (Not that I have, yet.)

  • Basement Jaxx: Kish Kash (2003, Astralwerks). They kick up quite a racket -- lots of layers, lots of action. But they're also pretty sloppy. B+
  • Before the Blues: The Early American Black Music Scene, Vol. 1 (1926-37 [1996], Yazoo). Songs: 1. Andrew and Jim Baxter, "Bamalong Blues" (1926-29; fairly sedate string-band music); 2. Henry Thomas, "Run Mollie Run" (1927-29, like a country jig, maybe an early prototype for "Tenbrooks and Mollie"); 3. Sam Collins, "Lonesome Road Blues" (1927-31; plaintive ballad); 4. Mississippi Mud Steppers, "Jackson Stomp" (1928-31; snappy rag, with Charlie McCoy on mandolin); 5. Seventh Day Adventist Choir, "On Jordan's Stormy Banks We Stand" (1926-31; gospel call-and-response); 6. Rube Lacy, "Mississippi Jail House Groan" (1928-30; groan is the operative word, over a simple guitar strum); 7. Taylor's Kentucky Boys, "Forked Deer" (1926-29; classic fiddle breakdown, with banjo by Marion Underwood); 8. Little Hat Jones, "Bye Bye Baby" (1929-35; guitar, marginal blues); 9. B.F. Shelton, "Pretty Polly" (1927-37; ballad, with simple banjo accompaniment); 10. Weaver & Beasley, "Soft Steel Piston" (guitar instrumental, has a slight Hawaiian feel); 11. Evans & McClain, "Two White Horses in a Line" (1927-31); 12. Bayless Rose, "Jamestown Exhibition" (1927-30); 13. Willie Walker, "Dupree Blues" (1927-30); 14. Papa Harvey Hull, "France Blues" (); 15. Rev. Gates & Congregation, "Dying Mother and Her Child" (1926; more heavy church-moaning); 16. Buell Kazee, "John Hardy" (Kazee recorded this in 1958, but this is very likely an earlier version; Kazee recorded from 1927 to sometime in the '30s, but I'm not finding any records of what/when; another ballad with banjo); 17. Lottie Kimbrough, "Wayward Girl Blues" (1928-29); 18. Cincinnati Jug Band, "Newport Blues" (1928-36); 19. Dick Devall, "Tom Sherman's Barroom" (); 20. Mississippi John Hurt, "Stack O'Lee Blues" (1928); 21. Teddy Darby, "Lawdy Lawdy Worried Blues" (1929-33); 22. Robert Wilkins, "I'll Go With Her Blues" (1928-35); 23. Denson Quartet, "Christian Soldier" (). Wish I had dates on these: Yazoo's typical "from the 1920s and 30s" could be improved on, although usually that means something like 1927-35. I'm listing it as 1926-37, although it could be narrower than that (could be wider, too). It seems to me that a couple of white guys snuck in here -- Kazee, at least. Aside from the black religious music, most of this is indistinguishable from white stringband music of the period, which seems to be the point. Interesting reference material. B+
  • Before the Blues: The Early American Black Music Scene, Vol. 3 (1925-40 [1996], Yazoo). Songs: 1. Memphis Minnie, "Frisco Town" (1929-30); 2. Mississippi John Hurt, "Spike Driver Blues" (1928); 3. Cannon's Jug Stompers, "Feather Bed" (1928-30); 4. Henry Thomas, "Fox and the Hounds" (1927-29); 5. Buster Carr/Preston Young, "A Lazy Farmer Boy" (1931); 6. Luke Jordan, "Pick Poor Robin Clean" (1927); 7. Bobby Grant, "Nappy Head Blues" (1926-35); 8. Taylor's Kentucky Boys, "Sourwood Mountain" (); 9. Alger "Texas" Alexander, "Levee Camp Moan Blues" (1927); 10. Joe Evans/Arthur McClain, "John Henry Blues" (1927-31); 11. Biddleville Quintette, "Coming to Christ" (1926-29); 12. Clarence Ashley, "House Carpenter" (1930); 13. Lil McClintock, "Furniture Man" (1927-31); 14. Charles "Cow Cow" Davenport, "Alabama Strut" (1925-29; boogie piano with a woman rapper egging him on); 15. Furry Lewis, "Kassie Jones, Pt. 1" (1927-28); 16. Blind Boy Fuller, "Thousand Woman Blues" (1940); 17. Blind Blake, "Champaign Charlie Is My Name" (1929-32); 18. Moses Mason, "Molly Man" (1928); 19. Frank Stokes, "Chicken You Can Roost Behind the Moon" (1927-29); 20. John Hammond, "Little Birdie" (1927-37); 21. Barbecue Bob, "Black Skunk Blues" (1928-29); 22. Coley Jones, "Drunkard's Special" (1929); 23. Blue Boys, "Easy Winner" (1927-46). The Fuller piece seems a little late in the game, but he only started recording in 1935, so the possibility of an earlier version won't make much difference. Again, we have a couple of white guys here: Clarence Ashley, of course; also Buster Carter & Preston Young, judging from appearances. Namewise this seems further advanced into blues, but soundwise it's hard to tell the difference from Vol. 1. Might give it a very slight edge. B+
  • Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: The Freedom Rider (1961 [1998], Blue Note). Prime band, prime period, although only two Wayne Shorter compositions. Some real fine Shorter saxophone. A lot of typically brilliant Lee Morgan. A rare Blakey writing credit, and guess what? Mostly drums. He was, after all, a great drummer before he became a great bandleader. A-
  • Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: Indestructible (1964 [1987], Blue Note). Toward the end of Blakey's superb string with Blue Note, the lineup here: Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton, Reggie Workman. That's still a really primo lineup. Shorter wrote two pieces, Fuller two more, Morgan and Walton one each. Hard bop, of course, although Walton's "When Love Is New" is a gorgeous ballad, with a lovely solo by Shorter. A-
  • Big Bill Broonzy: The Essential (1930-42 [2001], Classic Blues). The blues may be a bunch of patches, but if you tried to pick one central figure you'd have to pick Broonzy. Born in Mississippi, raised in Arkansas, he got a sense of the world when he was drafted and shipped off to France in the Great War, and got a distaste for the South as soon as he got back. He moved to Chicago in 1920, learned guitar, and cut tons of records -- Document has collected 291 songs in 12 CDs, which just takes him up to 1947, and skips dozens of collaborations issued under other names. He sang what he called "the old blues," but he bridged the whole songster tradition, joined Georgia Tom and Tampa Red in the Famous Hokum Boys, and he advanced the music through his progressive combos. Chicago Blues starts with Broonzy, and new arrivals like Muddy Waters sought him out. He toured Europe in the '50s, playing with trad jazz bands and planting the seeds for blues rockers from the Animals to the Yardbirds. Late in life he traded in his slick suits for overalls and spearheaded the folk blues boom, which was taking off when he died in 1958. He was an extraordinary musicians, and by all accounts an extraordinary human being. You can dive into his recorded legacy at any point and come up with treasures. This set, culled from Document's often scratchy 78s, is a bargain ($12.98 list): the sound and documentation could be better, but it cuts a broad swath through the catalog, including some fascinating sideman pieces. Yazoo's comps are as good or better. Columbia's are nearly as good. JSP has a new 5-CD box that I haven't heard -- in general they can be counted on for superior sound, although 30-second snatches that I've heard off the web show that there is still some surface noise. A
  • Thomas Chapin Trio Plus Brass: Insomnia (1992, Knitting Factory Works). Chapin's trio consists of Mario Pavone (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums). They cut a very taut rhythm for the lead piece ("Pantheon"), with Chapin on flute, before the brass cuts in. The brass consists of two trumpets (Al Bryant, Frank London), two trombones (Curtis Fowlkes, Peter McLachern), and tuba (Marcus Rojas). The second piece proceeds similarly, but with Chapin on alto, which gives him more range to stretch out his avantish lines. There's a small tendency here to use the brass as an old-fashioned brass band, and in any case they carry little improvisational responsibility. But they serve as interesting foils, while Chapin and his trio have a terrific time. A-
  • Alex Cline Ensemble: The Constant Flame (2000, Cryptogramophone). Cline is the drummer, and the producer is another drummer (Peter Erskine), but I only counted one major drum solo here (a major one, indeed). The music is fleshed out with Wayne Peet's keyboards, violins, guitars (with Cline's brother Nels in the second column), bass, and various other instruments, only one of which is a horn (Vinny Golia on soprano sax, on one track). This music is interestingly atmospheric, but the mood is dominated by the vocals, mostly by Aina Kemanis. The vocal pieces (most of the album) feel static to me -- the old art song thing. B
  • Stanley Cowell: Back to the Beautiful (1989, Concord). With Steve Coleman (alto/soprano sax), Santi Debriano (bass), Joe Chambers (drums). Coleman is the key name there: he plays an attractive postbop which tends to overwhelm everyone else, while Cowell -- with half a load of covers, including two Ellingtons and "But Beautiful" -- plays pretty, mostly in the background. Not a typical album for Cowell, but not a dumb one either. B
  • Ida Cox: The Essential (1923-40 [2001], Classic Blues). Document has released five CDs worth of Cox's material, reduced to two in this package. Most of these were cut in 1923-27, but a 1939 session featured top jazz players (Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham, Edmond Hall, James P. Johnson/Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, and Lionel Hampton) and the 1940 session had more (Red Allen, Higginbotham, Hall, Cliff Jackson, Billy Taylor [bass, not the more famous pianist], Jimmy Hoskins). A 1938 session features members of Count Basie's band. The early sessions also feature first class jazz accompaniment (Lovie Austin, Johnny Dodds, Fletcher Henderson). "Weary Way Blues" has some marvelous clarinet. B+
  • Rodney Crowell: Keys to the Highway (1989, Columbia). First play sounded good. Second play most of the songs really kicked in. A-
  • Celia Cruz: Exitos Eternos (1994-2001 [2003], Universal). Salsa, sounding rather like it all sounds alike -- very busy, lots of horns, congas, etc. "Oye Como Va" I recognize from Santana, of course, which doesn't help: this one is tougher, snappier, more compressed. There's also a live, heavy-handed "Guantanamera." Don't know how representative this is -- it's late, and her voice sounds heavy, but it's hard to tell with all the bombast. B-
  • DJ Cheb I Sabbah: As Far As: A DJ Mix (2003, Six Degrees). A mix of Indian and North African material, with beats added. The former include Najma, Asian Dub Foundation, and Trilok Gurtu; the latter Natacha Atlas and Gnawa Impulse. Don't know how this compares, but sounds pretty good. B+
  • Dr. John: Hoodoo: The Collection ([2000], Music Club). These cuts seem to match up with another Dr. John collection, The Crazy Cajun Recordings ([1999], Edsel). Don't know when they were cut. One possibility would be the mid-'70s, after he washed out as a rock star. Another would be the mid-'60s, before his "Gris Gris" fluke. The best evidence for the former is that he did play sessions for Huey P. Meaux during that period. But then he was also playing sessions for David Bromberg, Garland Jeffreys, and Carly Simon back then. Most of this sounds minor, but "You Said It" has some scratchy, fragmented guitar that makes it distinctive. (Of course, if I had his autobiog this should be easy to look up.) Marginal as this is, he does keep coming up with interesting twists, and nothing is overly familiar, so it keeps an element of surprise going. B+
  • Dr. John: All By Hisself: Live at the Lonestar (1986 [2003], Hyena). Solo piano and vocal. Comes with a DVD (ugh). Dr. John gave up the gris-gris for gumbo in 1972, showing hisself to be expert in all manner of New Orleans piano. In 1981 he cut a solo album, Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack, and he followed it with another solo in 1983, The Brightest Smile in Town. His 1984 live album may have been solo, too; his 1989 album In a Sentimental Mood was his first studio album with a band in a decade. A-
  • Kirk Franklin and the Family (1993, Gospo Centric). The "Family" is all (or almost all) female, and they dote on him, responding to his every urge. They get a big sound, but for me it's way over the top, and I tire quickly of the Jesus vibe. C+
  • Macy Gray: The Trouble With Being Myself (2003, Epic). Her voice has moved from idiosyncratic to sui generis to a standard in its own right. The songs are spotty, but "She Don't Write Songs About You" is a very good one, and her take on justifiable homicide, "My Fondest Childhood Memories," is a memorable artifact. "Screamin'" is done with a sort of kiddie chorus echo, slurring the words. She can get beat up by overproduction, but most of the excess just slides off. B+
  • Bob Hope & Friends: Thanks for the Memories (1938-57 [1992], Decca/MCA). Hope's "complete Decca recordings": 13 cuts, all duets, four with Shirley Ross, eight with Bing Crosby (including one with Peggy Lee, and two alternate takes), and one with Jimmy Durante. These all (possibly excepting the Durante) came from motion pictures. Hope doesn't appear to have recorded much music, but he actually had a very pleasing voice, and he holds up well against the more seasoned Crosby. Most of these songs are fun, and "Chicago Style" in particular is a real delight. B+
  • Lightnin' Hopkins: Drinkin' in the Blues: Golden Classics, Part 1 (1959-60 [1989], Collectables). Starts with a story about trading in his T model Ford for a big black Cadillac. Finally he breaks into a song, "Big Black Cadillac Blues," then knocks off 15 more, evidently before a live crowd, never missing a beat. About as good as anything he's ever done. A-
  • Franz Koglmann: Cantos I-IV (1992, Hat Art). Four long pieces. A large group, with a wide range of horns, including oboe and two French horns. Koglmann himself sticks to flugelhorn. There is a lot of craft here, a complex layering of sounds, but it doesn't do much for me. B
  • NOFX: White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean (1992, Epitaph). Punk rock, pretty good in fact, with a couple of curves for change of pace. Nothing strikes me as particularly unique. But it does make me wonder why I panned Punk in Drublic so. B+
  • N.Y No Wave: The Ultimate East Village 80's Soundtrack (1978-80 [2003], ZE). Songs: 1. James White & the Blacks, "Contort Yourself" (twisted sax skronk); 2. Lizzy Mercier Descloux, "Wawa" (); 3. Lydia Lunch, "Lady Scarface" (disingenuously dumb tramp vocal, over jazz backdrop; one of my favorite pieces from the period, "my attention span is just not that great"); 4. Suicide, "Mister Ray" (protoindustrial vamp, one of the best things they ever did); 5. Mars, "3E" (another post-Velvets vamp); 6. Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, "The Closet" (screech vocal, sax twist, cranks up energy as it goes); 7. Rosa Yemen, "Rosa Vertov" (another post-Velvets vamp, another screech vocal); 8. Arto/Neto, "Pini, Pini" (spoken vocal, about "a fine man" or "a bull cow" or something like that, over minimal skronk); 9. Lizzy Mercier Descloux, "Torso Corso" (borderline disco beat); 10. James White & the Blacks, "Almost Black" (who did the vocal on this? more mechanical groove than most of their cuts, and better for it, plus the usual twisted sax); 11. Mars, "11 000 Volts" (post-Velvets back guitar, drone vocals); 12. Lydia Lunch, "Mechanical Flattery" (); 13. Rosa Yemen, "Decryptated" (); 14. Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, "Empty Eyes" (); 15. The Contortions, "Designed to Kill" (); 16. Arto/Neto, "Malu" (violin? bowed guitar? a little bass, adding to the two scratched out rhythms juxtaposed here; probably the weirdest thing on the album); 17. Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, "Less of Me" (pounding rhythm, hardass vocal, twisted sax); 18. Rosa Yemen, "Larousse Baron Bic" (); 19. James Chance & Pill Factory, "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" (); 20. Rosa Yemen, "Herpes Simplex" (); 21. The Contortions, "Twice Removed" (); 22. Suicide, "Radiation" (). Soul Jazz Records has recently released a competing comp called New York Noise, which covers similar ground with two intersections to the above (Contortions, Lizzy Mercier Desclous; Mars also appears). The other artists: Liquid Liquid, Konk, the Dance, Material, DNA, Rammelzee Vs K Rob, Glenn Branca, the Bloods, Dinosaur L, Theoretical Girls, Bush Tetras, ESG, Defunkt. Which probably makes it a bit more disco-oriented (Dinosaur L, ESG), with more ties to jazz and avant. The other discographical kin is Brian Eno's No New York (1978, Mango), which featured four songs each by the Contortions, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, Mars, and DNA (Arto Lindsay's first band, the Arto of "Arto/Neto" above). B+
  • The Rapture: Echoes (2003, Strummer/Universal). At its best this sounds a lot like Public Image Ltd. I guess that qualifies this as "post-punk," but the idea here is to produce dark, brooding, propulsive textures: the cover picture, faux-colored multiple exposures on a black background, gives you the idea, as does the title. I was impressed at first, but didn't find it growing on me. B+
  • Dianne Reeves: A Little Moonlight (2003, Blue Note). Ye olde standards. Elementary accompaniment: piano, bass, drums, all mostly out of the way, with a little guest guitar (three tracks) and one track with trumpet (Nicholas Payton, intimate background on "You Go to My Head"). Very tasteful. Probably the most drop-dead gorgeous "I Concentrate on You" I've ever heard. In general, this works best when the songs have a little momentum, like "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," and unlike "Skylark." However, the slowed down lullaby version of "Lullaby of Broadway" works nicely. The closer, "We'll Be Together Again," is another slow one that works, perhaps because it smolders. B+
  • Yannick Rieu: Non Acoustic Project (2001 [2002], Effendi). Rieu is a Canadian saxophonist, who for this project plays flute a bit and has done some sampling. He's joined by trumpet (at least some of this is acoustic), electric bass, drums, and more keyboards/programming. Nonetheless, his saxophone dominates over the programming -- this isn't jazztronica. But it is interesting work. B+
  • George Russell Sextet: At the Five Spot (1960 [2000], Verve). David Young (alto sax), Alan Kiger (trumpet), David Baker (trombone), Russell (piano), Chuck Israels (bass), Joe Hunt (drums). This is well thought out, densely overlaid music, which showcases Russell at his most systematic. A-
  • McCoy Tyner/Jackie McLean: It's About Time (1986, Blue Note). With Al Foster on drums, Marcus Miller or Ron Carter on bass, sometimes Steve Thornton on percussion, sometimes Jon Faddis on trumpet. McLean lays out on one piece, a Tyner-Carter-Foster trio. But all in all, this is pretty much what you would expect: McLean plays with typical aplomb, and Tyner is his usual distinctive self. This was cut about the same time as a similar duo that McLean did with Mal Waldron, Left Alone '86 (Evidence), which I regard as one of the high points in either player's resumes. Tyner is, overall, a talent roughly comparable to Waldron, but he is a more complete and self-contained player; whereas Waldron challenges and provokes his partner, Tyner soothes and supports him. McLean, in turn, swings effortlessly here, whereas his playing with Waldron has a real edge to it. B+
  • The Frank Wess-Harry Edison Orchestra: Dear Mr. Basie (1989, Concord). Basie's ghost band, five years after the great man's death, but further pumped up with alumni like Edison and Joe Newman. Five trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, piano (Ronnel Bright), guitar (Ted Dunbar), bass (Eddie Jones), and drums (Gregg Field). Don't know any of the latter four, but they swing hard. The horn section is littered with stars. "Jumpin' at the Woodside" has rarely sounded better: the flair of the early band, and the glossy overkill of the late "atomic" band both in evidence. Powerful, intoxicating stuff. A-
  • Yaz: Upstairs at Eric's (1982, Sire). Early synth duo, with Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet. "Don't Go" sounds like a hit. The last song, "Bring Your Love Down (Didn't I)" is nearly as good. In between reside mostly forgetable, but never bad, minimal dance tunes. B+

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Movie: House of Sand and Fog. I'm not sure if this is the point of the movie or not, but what happens here is that the Americans fuck up coming and going, but in the end it's the Americans who come out on top, while the immigrant (Iranian) family is destroyed. The Iranian patriarch, one of the Shah's colonels played by Ben Kingsley, has more than his share of flaws: pride, most obviously, although to some extent that pride is a front, a necessity for a person whose ambition has been reduced to compulsion. The colonel is a man of rules, and his articulation of those rules is perhaps the most fascinating part of this movie. However, the notion that he's an immigrant seeking the American dream doesn't wash: he's an exiled elite from one of the nastiest and most brutish regimes of the 20th century, and he wears his elitism like a badge. He feels entitled because he was entitled; combined with his toughness and drive, he comes off as ruthless. Two comments (one from the colonel and one from his wife) putting down Arabs remind you how the Shahs used to trumpet their Aryan ancestry. His recurrent dream, of when he ordered of huge trees cut down so he could enjoy a clear view of the Caspian from his seaside bungalow, suggests that his success in Iran was the triumph of his will -- the same will that drives him in California. Kingsley is extraordinary here; the sense of barely-controlled violence that he was so praised for in Sexy Beast is tightly controlled but ever present here, and all the more effective for that. In one scene, he denies having been associated with Savak, which you're welcome to doubt. The wife (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and son (Jonathan Ahdout) also give deeply nuanced performances. As for the Americans, well, they fuck up coming and going. And if the film kept on going to straighten out the mess, there's little doubt that they would come out of it relatively unscathed. To fuck up again another day, no doubt. A

Amidst the Oscar debates, I was reminded of a couple of other movies that I saw but never wrote about sometime during 2003:

Movie: In America. Another exile movie, misleadingly styled as an immigrant movie. The exile is personal, as the Irish family flees from the death of their young son; the immigration is incidental, and what this says about America is negligible. I found it very tedious, at least until the bogeyman downstairs (Djimon Hounsou) opened up to the daughters. It stabilizes after that, warms up a bit. B

Movie: Laurel Canyon. Frances McDormand's portrayal of a pop music producer struck me as dead-on: a combination of old and young, idle and hard-working, irresponsible and not really. The son (Christian Bale), the daughter-in-law (Kate Beckinsale), his sullen rejection of his mother, her fascination, all of these things fit together smartly. Could have used some better music, I suppose. A-

Movie: Seabiscuit. The documentary backdrop of the Great Depression was much appreciated. Jeff Bridges' itinerant entrepreneur and Chris Cooper's cryptic horsehand were about as good as they could be -- and they were the obvious casting slots, because they've already proven how good they could be. William H. Macy's bit part is a riot, too. But there there was the horse story, and all the come-from-behind sports film clichés, and so forth. B+

Movie: Finding Nemo. Now that animation voices are marquee stars in their own -- remember when no one knew who Mel Blanc was? -- it may be best to try to process films like this as two separate spectacles running simultaneously. On the one hand, we have superb Pixar animation based on aquatic themes; on the other hand, we have a sitcom starring a fumbling Albert Brooks and a goofball Ellen DeGeneres. Put them together and you have an anthropomorphic mess, but apart each has its own integrity and charm. B+

Movie: The Kid Stays in the Picture. I suppose it would take a producer to find the common thread in Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, Chinatown, Popeye, Urban Cowboy, The Cotton Club, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, but here it is. Luckily, he got stung for buying cocaine, and fired from Paramount, otherwise his life would have been one dull success after another. Narrated from his audio book, which limits the story to first-person, making it more self-serving than would have been interesting. One truly bizarre moment: when he cajoles Henry Kissinger into attending his opening of The Godfather, making for his Perfect Day. B+

Monday, February 09, 2004

A quote from Ray McGovern (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity): "In 40 years of following such issues quite closely, I have never seen politicization of intelligence so synical, so sustained, so consequential. And I was there for Vietnam." Of course, we have no confidence that the Bush-appointed commission is going to get to the bottom of anything. The commission is stocked to the brim with hawks. What are the chances that they'll wind up recommending that we spend a lot more money on the spoook gangs?

But the WMD issue, which is what most people are talking about these days, is at most the second most significant intelligence failure. The big one is estimating the costs of invading and occupying Iraq, and tying those costs to some acceptable measure of performance. When Congress voted to authorize Bush to wage war, they were presumably making a judgment based on some sort of cost-benefit analysis. Putting an end to Iraq's possible (potential?) WMD programs was presumably a benefit. (That Iraq had none such lessens the benefit.) On the other hand, that and possibly other benefits (not that I can think of any offhand) necessarily came with a cost: lives, money (including long-term debt), something the economists call "opportunity cost" (i.e., by spending the money to wage war in Iraq, we are foregoing opportunities to spend that money elsewhere). By voting for war, Congress said that they thought that the benefits were worth the cost. But go back to pre-invasion statements by the administration and its flacks: how accurate were those?


Here's a Richard Perle quote: "If you look around the world, you'll be hard-pressed to find a democracy initiating an aggressive war." Aside from wondering what he means by "democracy" and "aggressive war," the interesting thing about this quote is how much more sense it makes if you substitute "colony" for "democracy."


Just noticed the Village Voice film poll. I've actually seen a few of the movies -- it seems like it's getting harder and harder to get out for such purposes: 1. Lost in Translation; 9. Kill Bill Vol. 1; 11. Mystic River; 12. School of Rock; 19. In America; 25. Spellbound; 39. Finding Nemo; 46. The Secret Lives of Dentists; 53. A Mighty Wind; 54. The Good Thief; 72. Thirteen; 104. Bend It Like Beckham; -. The Pianist; 116. About Schmidt. I haven't even heard of (or if so, have completely forgotten about) half of the top twenty. Some, like The Fog of War, haven't come here. Others, like Capturing the Friedmans and American Splendor came and went before we found an opportunity to go. Don't know that I ever even knew about the second place film, Gus Van Sant's Elephant.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Music: Initial count 8851 rated (+19), 963 unrated (-8). Another "Rearview Mirror" written; another "Recycled Goods" near completion. Not much bookkeeping work.

  • Classic Old-Time Music: From Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (1958-85 [2003], Smithsonian/Folkways). A mix of old guys recorded late (Clarence Ashley, Dock Boggs, Clark Kessinger) and young guys playing old (New Lost City Ramblers, Red Clay Ramblers, Doc Watson), it nonetheless holds together admirably well, redeeming Folkways' mission. B+
  • Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup: When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 7: Rock Me Mama (1941-54 [2003], Bluebird). Elvis made him, and Elvis broke him, but he sung his songs with a lot more aplomb than Otis Blackwell, and this comp rocks harder and sounds cleaner than its predecessor. B+
  • Blind Willie McTell: When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 9: Statesboro Blues (1927-32 [2003], Bluebird). From Georgia. Like Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller -- unlike Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie Johnson -- McTell is a subtle and beguiling singer and delicate guitarist. Which means that even at his best he has to sneak up on you. B+
  • Johnny Otis Show: Cold Shot/Snatch and the Poontangs (1969 [2002], Ace). I've been looking for Otis' version of "Signifyin' Monkey" for many years -- had it on an old LP, and never before this saw it on a CD. This one has both the dirty "Part 1" and the dirtier "Part 2." Aside from "Signifyin' Monkey," Cold Shot itself is mostly the usual period jive -- good cover of "C.C. Rider," that sort of thing. Snatch and the Poontangs is deliberately X-rated, aiming for the obscene rather than the merely suggestive. Cover art looks like R. Crumb; inside spread looks like Gilbert Shelton. A-
  • The Essential Frank Sinatra: The Columbia Years (1944-52 [2003], Columbia/Legacy). Having generally been warned against Sinatra's early Columbia period, I've never ventured there until now. At 15 cuts spanning 8 years/285 songs, this is plenty selective. (Although with 8 previously unreleased alternate takes this is also a bit suspect.) What do we get? The opening "Saturday Night" is good enough to slip easily into a Capitol best-of. Nothing else has that much swing in the band, but Sinatra's voice is consistently a wonder of nature. Future staples like "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "All of Me" are superb. Some band pieces sound like they've been mugged by Mitch Miller, and the worst is hideous. The super-patriotic "The House I Live In (That's America to Me)" is ultimately pristine liberalism. I still don't know how far I feel like going into his Columbia recordings, but this one is pretty remarkable. A-
  • Peter Ustinov: The Grand Prix of Gibraltar! (1958 [2003], Riverside). The great actor does voices and sound effects for this politically incorrect satire of Grand Prix auto racing in the '50s; for the most part this depends on the listener's ability to keep the likes of Girling Foss and Jose Julio Fandango straight, but Origini's commentary is timeless: "we always have hope of winning, because the others might lose." B+
  • An Introduction to Ethel Waters: Her Best Recordings 1921-1940 ([1994], Best of Jazz). Starts with a 1921 take on "There'll Be Some Changes Made" -- an auspicious debut, although the sound is badly muted. Most of this is first rate -- it duplicates 8 of the 17 songs on Columbia/Legacy's Incomparable Ethel Waters, while increasing the total to 22 songs. Sometimes she tended to get all melodramatic in the overbearing style of the times, as on this disc's "Memories of You." On the other hand, the sassy crunch with which she sings "You Can't Stop Me From Loving You" is hers alone. A legend to many pre-WWII connoisseurs, I find her a bit dated; but she connects often enough to be more than just history. A-
  • Larry Young: Mother Ship (1969 [2003], Blue Note). Jazz organ in the '60s rarely moved beyond the soul moves and boogaloo vamps that Jimmy Smith pioneered -- music that I'm quite happy with -- but Young went way beyond the pack, projecting the sort of power and intensity that fusion aimed for; this, his last Blue Note session, puts Young behind Herbert Morgan's thoughtful sax and Lee Morgan's cheery trumpet. B+
  • Joe Zawinul: Faces & Places (2002, ESC). This is, in effect, a fusion album, although it's hard to tell between what. Most of the pieces have vocals, though they don't really have a voice. (Tricky's albums are also like that.) The album does have a rhythmic pulse, partly informed by Zawinul's native corner of Europe. Some new strain of third stream world fusion, maybe. B+

The following blues albums will take a little extra work, because I only received advances of the albums, then got booklet info in a very alien file format. The booklets provide licensing info, but not necessarily recording dates. So the following notes will try to sort all that out.

  • Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Reverend Gary Davis (1935-71 [2003], Shout! Factory). Songs: 1. "Samson & Delilah" (1960, Bluesville; also known as "If I Had My Way," one of Davis' signature songs); 2. "Death Don't Have No Mercy" (1960, Bluesville; "oh death always in a hurry/in this land . . . death won't give you time to get ready/in this land"); 3. "Cross & Evil Woman Blues" (1935, ARC); 4. "Can't Be Satisfied" (1964, Prestige); 5. "Lord I Wish I Could See" (1971, Columbia); 6. "Twelve Gates to the City" (1960, Bluesville); 7. "Out on the Ocean Sailing" (1969, Adelphi); 8. "Whistlin' Blues" (1971, Biograph); 9. "Candy Man" (1957, Folklyric); 10. "How Happy I Am" (1971, Biograph); 11. "I Belong to the Band - Hallelujah!" (1935, ARC); 12. "Bad Company (Brought Me Here)" (1961, Folklyric); 13. "Crucifixion" (1961, Bluesville); 14. "You Got to Move" (1961, Bluesville); 15. "Cocaine Blues" (1957, Biograph); 16. "Soon My Work Will Be All Done" (1969, Adelphi).
  • Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Son House (1930-65 [2003], Shout! Factory). Songs: 1. "My Black Mama, Pt. 1" (1930; these represent 3 of the 4 titles on House's segment of Document's Son House and the Great Delta Blues Singers); 2. "Walking Blues" (1930, unissued test); 3. "Dry Spell Blues" (1930); 4. "Country Farm Blues" (1942; the 1941-42 recordings were made by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress; there were 14 songs [plus an alternate version] on the Biograph CD, 10 of which are included here); 5. "Levee Camp Blues" (1941); 6. "Walking Blues" (1941); 7. "Shetland Pony Blues" (1941); 8. "Delta Blues" (1941); 9. "Special Rider Blues" (1942); 10. "Depot Blues" (1942); 11. "American Defense" (1942); 12. "Am I Right or Wrong" (1942); 13. "Walking Blues (Death Letter)" (1942); 14. "Grinnin' in Your Face" (1965, from Sony, Father of the Delta Blues: The Complete 1965 Sessions [1992]; Alan Wilson, the founder of the blues-rock group Canned Heat, plays here); 15. "Empire State Express" (1965, from Fuel 2000, which would be from a performance at New York's Gaslite, released as the second disc on an album called Revisited [2002]); 16. "John the Revelator" (1965, from Fuel 2000). Despite his legendary status as the mentor of Charley Patton and Robert Johnson, and later Muddy Waters (who pointed Lomax to House in 1941), he doesn't appear to have recorded much in the '30s. He did record quite a bit from his 1965 revival up into the early '70s -- the 2-CD Columbia set (sampled just once here) is in many ways his most striking work. Given that the 1941-42 recordings are available separately, this is a rather unfocused substitute rather than a general introduction. B+
  • Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Skip James (1930-68 [2003], Shout! Factory). Songs: 1. "22-20 Blues" (1931, from Document; these cuts were recorded in 1930, but first released in 1931); 2. "Little Cow, Little Calf Is Gonna Die" (1931, from Document); 3. "Special Rider Blues" (Adelphi, from Skip's Piano Blues [1996]; James cut She Lyin' for Adelphi in 1964; Adelphi's website says that these recordings, previously unreleased, were made "shortly after his return to the limelight in 1964"); 4. "Vicksburg Blues" (Adelphi); 5. "How Long Blues" (Adelphi); 6. "Devil Got My Woman" (1964, Biograph); 7. "Sick Bed Blues" (1964, Biograph); 8. "I Don't Want a Woman to Stay Up All Night" (1964, Biograph); 9. "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" (1964, Biograph); 10. "Skip's Worried Blues" (1964, Biograph); 11. "Illinois Blues" (1964, Biograph); 12. "Cypress Grove Blues" (1964, Biograph); 13. "Cherry Ball Blues" (1964, Biograph); 14. "Crow Jane" (1966, Vanguard, Today!); 15. "Everybody's Leaving Here" (Vanguard; was previously unreleased when it appeared on Blues From the Delta [1998]); 16. "I'm So Glad" (1966, Vanguard). This works both as a general intro and as '60s filler (combining a useful selection of Adelphi and Biograph recordings), and gives fair weight to his piano. But he's an acquired taste, and I don't hear anything here that's going to put him over to the uninitiated. This is actually a typical problem with this series -- a difficult compromise between accessibility, catalogue interests, and completism: trying to capture the imagination of novices while knowing full well that most of their market comes from devotees. B+
  • Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Furry Lewis (1927-70 [2003], Shout! Factory). Songs: 1. "Furry's Blues" (1927, BMG; these cuts are also on the Document and Yazoo compilations); 2. "Cannonball Blues" (1928, BMG); 3. "Judge Harsh Blues" (1927, BMG); 4. "Judge Boushé" (1969, Adelphi, Take Your Time [2000], with Lee Baker, Jr.); 5. "Natural Born Eastman" (Adelphi); 6. "If You Follow Me Babe" (Adelphi); 7. "Take Your Time" (Adelphi); 8. "Why Don't You Come Home Blues" (Adelphi); 9. "When I Lay My Burden Down" (1968, Biograph; this seems to have come from a 1970 LP split with Fred McDowell); 10. "St. Louis Blues" (1969, Adelphi); 11. "John Henry" (1969, Adelphi); 12. "Long Tall Gal Blues" (1961, Fantasy, Shake 'Em On Down [1972]); 13. "Baby That's All Right" (Biograph; not sure when this was done, since it doesn't show up in the listing for the 1970 album); 14. "Shake 'Em on Down" (1961, Fantasy); 15. "I'm Going to Brownsville" (1961, Fantasy); 16. "Baby You Don't Want Me" (1961, Fantasy). A-
  • Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Mississippi Fred McDowell (1960-71 [2003], Shout! Factory). Songs: 1. "Write Me a Few Lines" (1964, Arhoolie); 2. "Trouble Everywhere I Go" (1971, Heritage); 3. "Shake 'Em on Down" (1971, Revival); 4. "Louise" (1964, Arhoolie); 5. "61 Highway" (1969, Capitol); 6. "My Baby" (1969, Arhoolie; has a band backup, at least bass and drums); 7. "Been Drinkin' Water Out of a Hollow Log" (1960, Atlantic); 8. "Get Right, Church" (1964, Testament; with Annie Mae McDowell); 9. "On the Frisco Line" (1971, Heritage); 10. "Pea Vine Special" (1968, Origin Jazz Library); 11. "You Gotta Move" (1966, Arhoolie); 12. "Drop Down Mama" (1960, Atlantic); 13. "Red Cross Store" (1969, Capitol); 14. "Keep Your Lamp, Trimmed and Burning" (1966, Testament); 15. "Kokomo Blues" (1964, Arhoolie); 16. "Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed" (1964, Testament). Unlike most of the other '60s folk blues revivalists, McDowell hadn't recorded before Alan Lomax "discovered" him in 1959. He was able to generate a richly metallic guitar sound, reminiscent of Son House. A-
  • Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Ma Rainey (1923-28 [2003], Shout! Factory). Songs: 1. "Jealous Hearted Blues" (1924); 2. "Prove It on Me Blues" (1928); 3. "Hear Me Talkin' to You" (1928); 4. "Walking Blues" (1928); 5. "Bo Weavil Blues" (1923); 6. "Mountain Jack Blues" (1926); 7. "Those All Night Blues" (1923); 8. "Grievin' Hearted Blues" (1926); 9. "See See Ryder" (1924); 10. "Oh Papa" (1927); 11. "Yonder Comes the Blues" (1925); 12. "Blues Oh Blues" (1927); 13. "Seeking Blues" (1926); 14. "Don't Fish in My Sea" (1926); 15. "New Bo Weavil Blues" (1927); 16. "Black Eye Blues" (1928). Booklet by Allen Lowe. Duplicates from Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (Yazoo): 5. Duplicates from Ma Rainey (Milestone): 7. The three compilations are very comparable -- hard to choose between them, though Milestone has more cuts. A-

Monday, February 02, 2004

Last week I saw a clip on TV where Howard Dean criticized John Kerry for voting for the 2002 Iraq War resolution and voting against the 1990 Iraq War resolution. Dean argued that Kerry had gotten it backwards. I don't know what Kerry's reply (if any) was. Lately, Kerry has been arguing that he voted in favor of the 2002 resolution because he wanted to help make George W. Bush's threat of force against Iraq more credible to Saddam Hussein. That seems naive, at least as regards Bush, who has turned out to be the much graver threat to world peace. But the more interesting question is whether Kerry still defends his 1990 vote. He could plausibly contend that had he prevailed in 1990 none of the following events would have transpired. However, he's unlikely to do so, because the 1990 war is now conventionally viewed as a right cause. Dean, for instance, seems to view it as a triumph of measured, multilateral defense of international law, even though it left a festering scar. The Neocon hawks, in turn, saw it as a mere half-victory, demanding a second round of war. Only the Pragmatists, which would include the ruling Saudi and Kuwaiti families, saw it as wholly satisfactory: an extension of their license to rule and exploit.

It's unsettling that the two more prominent opposition party critics of Bush's conduct of the Iraq War -- and Wesley Clark would certainly make it three -- can't even settle on what went wrong, or why. Indeed, the more theories you read about why the U.S. undertook this war, the more confusing the story gets. A big part of this is due, of course, to the current Bush administration: the reasons they give -- the WMD threat, the war on terrorism, the liberation of Iraq -- are far and away the easiest to discard. But the bigger problem is that, at least in the U.S., the search for reasons has shown a blind eye both to history and to structure and dynamics of domestic political debate in the U.S. I want to propose a framework here to help us sort out the real causes of this war.

The history of the U.S.-Iraq conflict should be broken down into three major stages:

  1. The 1990 War (U.S. Operation Desert Storm): This starts not with Iraq's 1989 invasion of Kuwait, which was done in the context of official U.S. indifference (at least as expressed by the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq at the time), but with the U.S./U.K. decision to wage war against Iraq to forcibly expel them from Kuwait. This stage was completed when Kuwait was returned to its previous rulers, and Iraq agreed to cease fire terms.

  2. The Containment Period: This continues up to the ultimatum preceding the U.S.-led "coalition" invasion of Iraq in 2003. This could be subdivided, but the whole period is marked by consistent efforts by the U.S. to destabilize the Iraqi regime, especially by impoverishing the Iraqi people.

  3. Invasion and Current Occupation: From the ultimatum and invasion through the "end of major hostilities" and the subsequent occupation and resistance. During this period, almost all of the prewar claims by U.S. hawks have been discredited.

The build-up to the 1990 war was critical to everything that followed. It is important to remember that this debate occurred in the wake of the collapse of the Cold War, at a time when significant disarmament was on the table -- this was a time when even politicians could be heard talking about a "peace dividend." The net effect of the decision to go to war was that the U.S. military saved itself by discovering a new enemy. The antiwar debate at the time was centered not on what Iraq had done, but on what role the U.S., weary and battered by the long and brutal battle against Communism, should take in the coming, undivided world. The Bush administration was tactically split -- the "pragmatists" happy to act as mercenaries as long as their Saudi buddies footed the bill, the "neocons" itching for the U.S. to take advantage of its victors' spoils in the Cold War. The pragmatists won the war, but it was George H.W. Bush himself who ceded the post-war to the neocons, by his hard sell of Saddam Hussein as "another Hitler." In doing so, his "failure" to prosecute the war all the way to Baghdad -- the logical end expected by an American public who grew up on WWII and Roosevelt's insistence on Hitler's unconditional surrender -- cast him as the new Neville Chamberlain. Republican etiquette, of course, didn't dwell on such comparisons, but Democrats like Al Gore didn't feel compelled to be so delicate.

Given that the 1990 war left the villainized Saddam Hussein in power, containment of Iraq and eventual "regime change" remained on the agenda -- a "make work" program for the U.S. military and spook agencies. Bush, having hung the Hitler tag on Saddam, didn't dare try to negotiate a resolution that would have left Saddam in power. Clinton soon found that he could always score safe points by bombing or badgering Iraq: the containment and impoverishment of Iraq cost him nothing politically, either viz. the Republicans or viz. America's sordid allies in the region. The irresistible impulse of Republican rhetoric, in turn, moved them ever more under the neocon spell. This is the period when it became commonplace to talk about the U.S. as "the world's only superpower" -- and what's the good of being a superpower if you can't boss other countries around?

Having failed to stop the march to war in 1990, the antiwar movement lost its opportunity to demilitarize America. A big part of the problem that they ran into was that much of the argument against war was based on fear of a Vietnam-redux quagmire. The ease of the initial military triumph over Iraq seemed to put those fears to rest, even though the triumph was partial, and portended a long war of containment. The latter was largely unchallenged in American political discourse: the universal acceptance of Saddam's pariah status precluded any resolution that would have left him in power, while the war took place largely out of sight, costing nothing in U.S. casualties, and largely tolerated by the U.N. and all other world and regional powers.

The net effect of the villainization of Saddam Hussein, the build-up of U.S. military forces aimed at his containment, the indifference of the American citizenry to the human tragedy caused by sanctions, and the increasingly desperate desire to assert America's superpower status -- challenged and inflamed by Al Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- led directly to the second Bush administration's resolve to invade and occupy Iraq. Bush was also much impressed by how easily the U.S. military had achieved apparent victory in Afghanistan -- an assessment which now seems to have been premature and partial.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Music: Initial count 8832 rated (+17), 971 unrated (+30). The growth in unrated has several causes: a big package of Ken Vandermark records is part of the story, but most of the increase is just catching up on my bookkeeping. Expect more of that this week, too.

  • Dee Dee Bridgewater: This Is New (2002, Verve). Another tour of Kurt Weill's songbook. I'm normally a sucker for that sort of thing, and this has some striking material. Still, this doesn't seem like an especially keen match: she's a slick, sassy singer, and the band's a rather flashy mainstream jazz ensemble (don't recognize the names). Giddins loves this; Morton & Cook hate it. I'm sitting on the fence. B
  • P. Brötzmann Group: Fuck de Boere: Dedicated to Johnny Dyani (1968-70 [2001], Atavistic). Two pieces here: from 1968, 17:34 of "Machine Gun" by Brötzmann's Nonet, with four saxes (Willem Breuker, Brötzmann, Gerd Dudek, Evan Parker), piano (Fred van Hove), two basses (Peter Kowald, Buschi Niebergall), and two drums (Han Bennink, Sven-Ake Johansson); and from 1970, "Fuck de Boere" by the Peter Brötzmann Group, with three saxes (Breuker, Brötzmann, Parker), four trombones (Malcolm Griffiths, Willem van Manen, Niebergall, Paul Rutherford), guitar (Derek Bailey), piano/organ (van Hove), and drums (Bennink). Brötzmann's original Machine Gun is in many ways the birth of Europe's avant-garde, a violent, unruly siege of sonic anarchism that I've never had much use for. This take of "Machine Gun" is blessedly short, with a faint melody finally emerging in the background and assuming form to close the piece. B
  • Cash Money Records: Platinum Hits (1997-2001 [2002], Cash Money/Universal). Dates are approximate. The main artists here are Juvenile and Lil Wayne; tack on the Big Tymers, Hot Boyz, Turk, and Cash Money Millionaires. I've only run into one of these "hits" before ("Back That Azz Up"), but then I don't get around that much. Still, I'm impressed by the consistency of the sound and the resiliency of the beats. Other than that, there's a lot of crass materialism, and a soupçon of minor thuggism. There are worse things to worry about. A-
  • Carl Craig: More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art (1997, Planet E). Rather famous album by the Detroit techno producer. Aside from a piece of vocal scat, these pieces have a rather static feel to them, sometimes evocative of Eno's green worlds, usually a little more complex, but still tight. It's grown on me every time I've played it, without ever quite sweeping me away. Don't know what else he's done -- evidently there are a lot of pseudonyms aside from the albums in his own name. A-
  • Reverend Gary Davis: From Blues to Gospel (1971 [1992], Biograph). Davis has more records than he has songs -- or at least distinct songs -- which among other things make minor imperfections in his albums stand out. So while this relatively late live set has much of the feel of his earlier work, it runs the risk of being too much. The fine "Samson and Delilah" has been done many times before. The latter third of the album, however, gets to be a tad too strident for an artist who so often got by on matter-of-factness. B
  • Al Grey: Snap Your Fingers (1962 [2003], Verve). Trombonist Grey's mainstream group featured tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell, but the surprise star here is the very young and nimble Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. B
  • Hard Times Come Again No More, Vol. 2 (1927-38 [1998], Yazoo). Offhand, this comp of vintage depression songs looks to be about half black (Barbecue Bob, Bo Carter, Sleepy John Estes, Joe Williams, Blind Blake), half white (Uncle Dave Macon, Sam McGee, Ernest Stoneman). Such retrospective integration is fitting and welcome. I can't speak for Vol. 1, although it appears to share the same booklet as this volume. The only indication on dates is the front cover line, "Classic Recordings from the 1920's and 30's" -- a Yazoo staple. (In the past that usually works out to 1927-35. There doesn't seem to have been a lot of early '20s recordings, at least in salvageable shape, and the late '30s seem to move a bit beyond the label's focus.) The old-time country pieces here are terrific: things like "Price of Cotton Blues," "Cotton Mill Colic," "Boll Wevil," "Wreck of the Tennessee Gravey Train." Note that the white guys play brighter, and complain louder. Note that Joe Williams' "Providence Help the Poor People" is as down-and-out as blues ever got. Trying to sort out the dates here: 1. Allen Brothers, "Price of Cotton Blues" (1927-30); 2. Cofer Brothers, "Keno, the Rent Man" (); 3. Barbecue Bob, "Bad Time Blues" (1928-29); 4. Sam McGee, "Wreck of the Tennessee Gravey Train" (); 5. Clayton McMichen/Riley Puckett, "The Arkansas Sheik" (); 6. Peg Leg Howell/Jim Hill, "Away from Home" (1928-30); 7. Earl Johnson, "I'm Satisfied" (1927); 8. Carolina Tar Heels, "Got the Farm Land Blues" (1930); 9. Bo Carter/Walter Vinson, "Times Is Tight Like That" (1928-31); 10. Fisher Hendley, "Weave Room Blues" (1927-38); 11. W.A. Lindsey/Alvin Conder, "Boll Weevil" (); 12. Joe Williams, "Providence Help the Poor People" (1935-41); 13. McGee Brothers, "The Tramp" (1926-34); 14. Dave McCarn, "Cotton Mill Colic" (); 15. Charley Jordan, "Starvation Blues" (1930-31); 16. Ernest Stoneman, "Broke Down Section Hand" (); 17. Jules Allen, "Little Old Sod Shanty" (); 18. Sleepy John Estes, "Down South Blues" (1929-37); 19. Red Brush Rowdies, "No One's Hard up But Me" (); 20. Lee Brothers, "Cotton Mill Blues" (); 21. Blind Blake, "No Dough Blues" (1927-28); 22. Charlie McCoy/Bo Carter, "The Northern Starvers Are Returning Home" (1928-32); 23. Jim Baird, "Them Good Old Times Are Coming Back Again" (). Lots of misses, so this is approximate: 1927-38. A-
  • John Lee Hooker: Blues Kingpins (1948-55 [2003], Virgin/The Right Stuff). The first 9 cuts here are among the first 14 on The Legendary Modern Recordings 1948-1954, released in 1993 on Flair/Virgin, and ranked #6 among Robert Santelli's top 100 blues albums. Those cuts span 1948-51. After that the two comps go off in different directions, up to their 1954-55 end dates. It's not at all clear why the two compilations split off like that -- the new one doesn't have good discographical information, but the booklet text suggests that the songs recorded here were also cut for Modern, or for Modern's RPM subsidiary. (One thing to note here is that Hooker cranked out a lot of material during this period: Capitol's 1995 Alternative Boogie compilation fills three CDs just up to 1952, and JSP's The Classic Early Years, has 100 cuts up to 1951.) A-
  • Lightnin' Hopkins: Blues Kingpins (1946-54, Virgin/The Right Stuff). My favorite Hopkins of the period is Jake Head Boogie (1951-54 [1999], Ace), an intense completist collection of 31 songs cut for Modern. It looks like 7 of these 18 cuts overlap. The Complete Aladdin Recordings (1946-48 [1991], EMI, 2CD) shares 8 cuts. The other three are: "Rocky Mountain Blues," "Sugar Mama," "Tim Moore's Farm (Tom Moore Blues)." A-
  • J.J. Johnson: J.J.'s Broadway (1963 [2003], Verve). One of the "LP Reproduction" series, half recorded with a small group, including a lovely but uneventful "My Favorite Things"; half recorded with a bunch of extra trombones; a transitional album, somewhere between J.J.'s early virtuosity and his later panache for arranging, which means it's neither here nor there. B-
  • Hank Mobley: Straight No Filter (1963-66 [1995], Blue Note). With bonuses tacked on, this is a jumble of sessions. The common denominator is the trumpet-sax-piano-bass-drums lineup. The trumpets are: Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd; pianos: McCoy Tyner, Barry Harris, Andrew Hill, Herbie Hancock; bass: Bob Cranshaw, Paul Chambers, John Ore, Butch Warren; drums: Billy Higgins, Philly Joe Jones. The start of this album -- three cuts including the title piece -- strikes me as the best: Lee Morgan is the trumpet, and McCoy Tyner particularly distinguishes himself on piano. The rest flows along in the usual hard bop vein -- nothing wrong with that, but nothing very special either. B
  • Hank Mobley: The Flip (1969 [2003], Blue Note). This is a crackling hard bop session, my main caveat that Mobley often takes a back seat to trumpeter Dizzy Reece. But Reece has a field day, and Slide Hampton's trombone boosts the brass quotient. B+
  • Lee Morgan: Sonic Boom (1967-69 [2003], Blue Note). The first half was a 1967 session issued under the same name (although not until 1979), with David Fathead Newman, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter, and Billy Higgins. It's mostly Morgan originals, even the one called "Fathead." The second half is a 1969 session with Julian Priester, George Coleman, Harold Mabern, Walter Booker, and Mickey Roker, which was originally released as padding for a 1978 double-LP release of The Procrastinator. The latter includes only two pieces by Morgan, with others by Mabern, Coleman, Priester, and Roker. B+
  • Putumayo Presents American Blues (1972-2002 [2003], Putumayo World Music). Songs:
    1. Arthur Adams/B.B. King, "Get Next to Me" (1999, Bobby Bland-style sweet soul ballad, with B.B. guesting on guitar);
    2. Keb Mo', "Hand It Over" (1996, retro slide guitar with a gospel flourish, a good example of his schtick);
    3. Ruth Brown, "Good Day for the Blues" (1999, blue anthem with lots of brass and neoclassical guitar, big voice, the works);
    4. Henry Gray, "How Could You Do It" ("recorded in the late 1990's," this showed up on a 2001 album);
    5. Taj Mahal, "Cakewalk Into Town" (1972, a country retro classic, with handclaps and tuba);
    6. Robert Cray/Albert Collins, "She's Into Something" (1985, the credit to Johnny Copeland dropped for some reason, and Cray shuffled ahead of Albert Collins, who [I believe] sings this; big guitar break);
    7. Sugar Pie Desanto, "Hello, San Francisco, Pt. 1" (1995, another big blowout production; I find it kind of rote);
    8. Raful Neal, "Call Me Baby" (1998, easy striding soul number, not far from Z.Z. Hill territory; complementary vocal by daughter Jackie Neal, good harmonica);
    9. Otis Rush, "I Got the Blues" (1998, widely recorded standard, Willie Mitchell produced, more horns, pretty good guitar);
    10. Sunpie, "Sunpie's Romp and Stomp" (2002, aka Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes, has some albums filed under cajun [zydeco], boogie beat instrumental with some fine harmonica);
    11. Eric Bibb, "Needed Time" (1995, traditional song, delicate guitar and vocal with a bit of harmonica, sacred feel, really beautiful piece of work);
    12. Chris Thomas King, "Why Blues" (2000, quiet vocal, measured guitar, the question "why" just lays out there, not really expecting an answer);
    13. Susan Tedeschi, "Just Won't Burn" (1998, token white, sounds heavy, like she's trying to conjure Bessie Smith because she can't quite hack Janis Joplin; I like her guitar more than her moan);
    14. Solomon Burke, "None of Us Are Free" (2002, backed by the Blind Boys of Alabama).
    B+
  • Art Tatum: The Best of the Complete Solo Masterpieces (1953-55 [2003], Pablo). Selected from the 8 separate CDs, or the 7-CD box, it's impossible to know whether these really are the best, but at least it's nice that someone took the effort to sort them out. Tatum solo is a marvel to behold, although it's not something I'm so taken with that I might feel like wading through eight hours of it. In some ways, I suspect that they went as much for well known songs as for the performances. But then, who's to second guess the performances? I'm going to take this on faith as all the solo Tatum I really need. And treasure it accordingly. A
  • Art Tatum: The Best of the Complete Group Masterpieces (1954-56 [2003], Pablo). Tatum's group recordings are a lot easier to sort out, and the best-of suffers a bit from variability -- not so much quality as just the fact that the individual discs hold together so brilliantly. Still, for the casual fan it's hard to go wrong here. The work with Webster and DeFranco (and Carter and Eldridge) comes from CDs worth owning whole. Same for the Red Callendar/Jo Jones trio, which provides some brilliant pianistics here. The other sessions with Lionel Hampton are less valuable on their own, but in limited doses liven things up here. A
  • Ike Turner: Blues Kingpins (1952-61 [2003], Capitol/The Right Stuff). Turner switched from piano to guitar early in the r&b game -- an accommodation to his first wife/partner, Bonnie, who played piano. His guitar, played through a broken amp, upstaged saxophonist Jackie Brenston on "Rocket 88" -- the 1951 song considered as a primo candidate for the first real rock & roll song. It was also the turning point from which the guitar displaced the saxophone as the biggest, baddest instrument in rockin' bands. (Before Turner electric guitar was the province of Charlie Christian and Les Paul and various Hawaiians -- talented folks, but without much rock potential.) The big problem with early Turner comps, though, is that he was often not the leader, and often not the lead voice even when it was his band. So we tend to have both a mix of vocalists and a bunch of guitar-driven instrumentals -- an interesting but volatile mix. Turner's Rhino best-of, I Like Ike!, went a long ways to resuscitating his reputation (pretty much pulverized and left for dead by ex-wife, ex-partner Tina). But while the years overlap considerably, there is only one cut on this comp also on the Rhino: the instrumental (and one of his best), "Prancing." B+
  • Sonny Boy Williamson: When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 8: Blue Bird Blues (1937-47 [2003], Bluebird). Born John Lee Williamson, he did more than anyone in his time to establish the harmonica as a blues instrument. But he was killed in a robbery in 1948, when he was 34, and shortly thereafter he even lost his good name to a shady character named Aleck "Rice" Miller. Despite being older, Miller's career as the second Sonny Boy Williamson completely buried the first: Miller matched his model on harmonica, had a much more distinctive voice, and had a sense of timing that was just uncanny. But the original Sonny Boy had recorded over 120 songs -- many becoming blues standards, some best known as sung by Miller, but some done definitively by Williamson. A-
  • Larry Young: Young's Blues (1960 [1994], Prestige/New Jazz OJC). An early session (Young's second album), cut with relative unknowns on guitar-bass-drums. Young sticks closely to blues themes, including a taken on Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream." Young's organ dominates the proceedings, but guitarist Thornel Schwartz cuts loose with some nice Grant-Green-ish guitar, especially on "Nica's Dream." Simple formula, nice album. B+
I've managed to finish constructing the old list recovery project, but haven't sorted through it all -- plus there are other albums that I didn't find on the lists but remember clear enough (e.g., where are all those Kiss albums?), so I expect to be adding a few things to it later.


Jan 2004 Mar 2004