February 2005 Notebook
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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Music: Initial count 10281 [10256] rated (+25), 900 [906] unrated (-6). Picked up the pace a bit last week, including a pile of Brazilian music. Jazz CG in, pending edit. Maybe I'll finish Recycled Goods (nominally February) this week. Also have a "smooth jazz" project, and quite a bit of that piled up. Some partial entries in the notebook below that I had meant to write more on. Been working on the website redesign (following the blog design -- the key there isn't the design per se but getting all the files to follow it), which is coming along slowly.

  • Antologia de Música Electrónica Portuguesa (1972-97 [2004], Tomlab/Plancton). 15 short pieces by 15 experimenters hitherto unknown to me, some pieces happy just to coax novel sounds from their gadgets, others expand those sounds into fascinating tapestries; not being an expert I can only report that I find this pleasingly old fashioned in its celebration of the new. B+
  • Ray Charles: The Early Years (1949-52 [1995], King). Early stuff, before he developed any sort of signature sound. Sounds pretty good, but not familiar, and not major. Note the blues, "Sitting on Top of the World"; note the country song, "You Always Miss the Water (When the Well Goes Dry)." On his way. B+
  • The Doo Wop Box (1948-87 [1995], Rhino, 4CD). Big box, extensive booklet. More is more, at least this far. A-
  • Ronny Jordan: A Brighter Day (1999 [2000], Blue Note). AMG refers to him as "one of the acid jazz movement's most prominent guitarists." Never knew what acid jazz was; he strikes me as a pleasantly funky guitarist working in the synth-dominated smooth jazz field. But it's worth noting that when he wants vibes he brings in Roy Ayers or Stefon Harris, when he wants a flute he goes to Steve Wilson, and for a guest piano spot he taps Onaje Allen Gumbs. Finally, he brings in Mos Def for a remix. With such talent you'd expect this to be, like, not bad. Wish it were that clear. C+
  • The Only Doo-Wop Collection You'll Ever Need (1954-65 [2005], Shout! Factory, 2CD). The title is presumptuous and argumentative: it asserts that 37 songs exhaust your interest in the subject, and that these are the 37 songs. One can quibble about the selection, but if I had to pick 37 I'd pick two-thirds of these, and feel bad about the ones I cut. Your interest level, of course, is your own damn business, but there is an awful lot more where they came from, even if one keeps the usual limits, excluding early groups like the Ravens and 5 Royales, later groups groups like the Shirelles (girl groups), the Miracles (Motown), the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys (post-Dion), and major '50s groups like the Drifters, Clovers, and Coasters. For practical purposes, doo wop tends to be limited to one-shot singles groups. Rhino's 1989 The Best of Doo Wop Ballds and The Best of Doo Wop Uptempo set the pattern -- with two discs and 38 songs they've long been my idea of the doo wop canon. But is that enough? Rhino didn't think so when they came out with their 4-CD The Doo Wop Box, then did it again. Neither of the Rhino boxes are what I'd call essential, but they stretch the field out a bit, hit often enough to remind you that there's more worth exploring, and well documented. The music here is beyond reproach, but the box is docked a notch for arrogance. On the other hand, had they called it Doo Wop 101 it would have been docked a notch for its paltry documentation. A-
  • Putumayo Presents: Acoustic Brazil (1979-2004 [2005], Putumayo World Music). Maybe a bit folkier than average, certainly a lean towards tropicalia, but the guitars that dominate mainstream Brazilian pop have always been acoustic -- often with nylon strings for a less metallic sound -- so "acoustic" means little here; a mix of some famous names and some possible comers, fine as far as it goes. B
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Brazil: Bahia ([2004], World Music Network). As far as I can tell there's nothing here before the '90s. Up the coast from Rio, south of the easternmost tip at Pernambuco, Bahia was the core of the old Brazil -- the Brazil of sugar and slavery, its people uprooted but not far removed from Africa. Compared to the sambas of the southern cities, the beat is harsher, the harmonics more obscure, as if in pursuit of a primitivism that Africa gave up long ago. The exception is Edson Gomes' sambafied reggae, my favorite track here. That suggests I'm not getting it all -- always had trouble with tropicalia, especially Tom Zé; axé is easier to latch onto. B+

Friday, February 25, 2005

Another event tonight: "Peacemaking in Palestine: An Evening With Joe Carr." Carr is a young (age 23) activist who has worked with the International Solidarity Movement and Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestinian occupied territories. He was working with ISM in Rafah when Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall were killed. More recently he has worked with CPT in the West Bank south of Hebron.

The idea of ISM is that the presence of Internationals (anyone not Israeli and not Palestinian) will inhibit Israelis from acts of violence against Palestinians. Often that works, but sometimes it doesn't. In many cases we're talking about violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, which seems to be largely tolerated by the Israeli military and judiciary. Carr detailed several cases where CPT members escorting children on their way to school had been attacked and injured severely enough to require hospitalization. How common this is across the occupied territories is hard to assess, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that it exists and in some areas at least is rather common. Hebron is particularly notorious, which is one reason CPT was drawn there.

Carr had a rather polished presentation, including several points where he broke to dramatically recite poetry or play guitar and sing songs that he had written. I lost my taste for poetry and folk music agitprop long ago, so we'll skip over that part. He had a good set of maps, including good deal of detail on the Rafah and Hebron areas, the current/projected "security fence" path, and a set of four maps detailing how Palestinian land control shrank from 1946. Interestingly, he had a corresponding set of four maps of how American Indian territory shrank from 1850 on. (Of course, maps from 1650 would have shown even more.)

He had, I think, a somewhat oversimplified sense of the big picture: quick to condemn the U.S., quick to ascribe American positions to racism and/or capitalist greed, a tendency to view Israel as subordinate to U.S. whims, that sort of thing. He said very little about Israelis, although he did praise the peace movement there -- especially those who demonstrated at the wall -- and, in q&a, he said that he thought that most Israelis were very sheltered from news of the sort of violence his groups faced everyday. But the value of his talk was in the small picture: that looking up at the bulldozers, the walls, the gun towers, the settlements that devour your land, the army that protects those settlers and elevates them above the laws of any civil society.


There are a lot of things about economics that I don't understand. For instance, economists are obsessively concerned with savings, and they promote any government policy that promises to promote savings. This was just pointed out by Alan Greenspan in advocating a national sales tax, but you also run into it from economists as far away from Greenspan as Paul Krugman. (For instance, in his New York Review piece on "The Social Security Scam" Krugman defends the wisdom of building up a Trust Fund as a hedge against the impending retirement of the Baby Boomers, and goes on to recommend more of the same as a prudent hedge against expected increases in Medicare costs.)

But the first confusing thing here is the word "savings" -- what does that really mean? If I put my pennies in a piggy bank I'm saving them for future use -- at least as long as I don't get robbed, and I don't forget where I put them -- but that isn't what they're talking about. Simply taking money out of circulation doesn't do anything for the economy; if anything, delaying or foregoing consumption reduces demand, which slows growth, puts a damper on prices and profits, and ultimately puts people out of work. That may be good for the ecosystem, but that's hardly something that excites economists.

What economists really mean by savings is more like what the word "investment" means: giving your money to a business, in exchange for a promised rate of return or a future claim on profits, so that the business can spend the money on things businesses spend money for. If nothing goes wrong, you can expect your savings/investment to appreciate in value, so that you can consume more (or better yet, save/invest more) in the future. Meanwhile, all that really happens is that you transfer your spending to a business who, economists believe, will spend it more wisely. This leads us to a couple of big questions:

  1. Do businesses really spend their money more wisely than individual consumers do?

  2. Even where businesses do spend their money more wisely, is this the most efficient way to do so?

The first, at least, should be an empirical question: something that we can go out and measure and answer more/less definitively. (Admittedly, the word "wisely" calls for some subjective judgment; "productively" is a word that economists might prefer, or better than that, "profitably" -- turn the problem into one of counting money, but the story of Midas is just one cautionary tale about such a reduction. Moreover, "profitably" raises more questions: profitable to whom?) I can't answer this, but I can point out that many instances of household expense are not mere consumption: some save other expenses, some may appreciate in value, some make life easier or more productive or more rewarding. Greenspan talked about savings leading to "capital formation," but household spending on durable items like appliances, computers, vehicles, tools, etc., is also capital formation. On the other hand, there are many cases where business spending does not lead to capital formation, or (more basically) to the employment of productive labor. When a company builds a factory and employees workers to produce useful things, that adds meaningfully to our gross product. But when a company merely buys another company it doesn't produce anything, and may actually reduce gross product by laying people off and closing plants, while reducing value by eliminating competition.

Clearly, there are useful things that companies can do that households don't do, such as building factories. The question that I'm raising is how much savings/investment actually goes into making such useful things possible and how much doesn't? I don't know the answer there, but I'd be real surprised if it worked out to be more than 20%. (My first guess was more like 10%, but I hedged because a lot of business expenses are hard to classify. But note that it is very rare when buying stock actually increases the working capital of a company -- in most cases you are just buying from other speculators.) A big part of the reason private investment is so inefficient is that each investor and business only seek to maximize their own gains, and many opportunities to do so are at the expense of other investors and businesses -- or, an even bigger problem, at the expense of labor. From a big picture point of view this doesn't seem to be very efficient -- especially compared to public sector investment. The public sector manages to spend virtually 100% of its funds. The only question there is how wise/productive/profitable its spending is.

In the U.S. at least, government spending has a reputation for being grossly unwise/unproductive/etc. Whether that reputation is deserved is something we can argue about. Certainly there are plenty of instances where the charge is true, but there are also exceptions -- the management of health insurance is one such case. Governments also spend heavily in areas where there is no viable private sector business strategy, such as building roads, maintaining waterways, providing disaster relief. But there is reason to think that regardless of how efficient or not public investment has been historically, it could be made much more effective if guided by better principles. In particular, one of the major problems with public spending at present is the extraordinary level of corruption throughout the U.S. political system.

I'm not advocating a wholesale shift from private sector to public sector business finance, but it seems obvious that there are areas where such a shift would be beneficial. (I also think that we should look into reforming policies that tend to make private sector investment ineffective -- a big topic I can't go into here.) But the current political drift is moving the other direction, toward more and more privatization. This sounds like another pet theory of economists I don't understand, but in one critical respect it fits in perfectly: just as savings is a scheme to transfer money to business, so is privatization. It shouldn't be hard to figure out what all these businesses, sucking up private savings and public expenses, have in common: they are the province of the rich.

One begins to suspect that economists are just apologists for the rich. The political program of the rich is get all the money, and they pursue this program with methodical desperation because they compete not with the poor but with their fellow rich. Most economists, especially the ones you're likely to run into on TV or in the press, happily rationalize this program, often spouting utter nonsense as scientific truth. (An astounding example of this is the assertion that it didn't matter who took control of Russia's businesses, just as long as they were privately owned. Most soon fell into the hands of Russian mafiosi, who proceeded to destroy over a third of Russia's GDP.) At least that's my best theory to account for most of what I don't undersatnd about economics.


When I started this piece, I meant to comment on Paul Krugman's piece on Social Security. By the time I wrote it Alan Greenspan had taken over the news, arguing for slashing Social Security benefits and proposing a national sales tax while decrying the budget deficits that he help create in supporting Bush's tax cuts.

Three more points I want to make about Krugman's piece (which otherwise is level-headed and reasonable):

  1. Regardless of its merits (or, I think, lack of) the Social Security trust fund dating back to the 1980s set a very unfortunate political precedent, which was to reinforce the public's idea that Social Security is some sort of trust fund as opposed to a pay-as-you-go welfare commitment. The idea that Social Security could go bankrupt, which is the stick driving the Bush program, depends on the notion that it is funded in advance. (The carrot is the equally fallacious idea that private accounts would generate more benefits.) Without this principle of advance funding: (a) there is nothing to invest (i.e., to feed the rich), and (b) the idea that sometime in the distant future America's voters will decide to stop supporting the welfare of the old and infirm is mere speculation. So I believe that this was a political mistake even if it made economic sense.

  2. Krugman has two levels of defense for the trust fund. One is the idea that we should save for the future, which I think is sound policy for individuals -- that at least is the way my mother raised me -- but dubious for the nation as a whole. But the other idea is that we should prepare for forseeable future liabilities by getting our affairs in better order today: in particular, by paying off as much government debt as possible in order to make it easier to face up to future burdens. I don't have a problem with that.

  3. Krugman argues that the increase in medical expenses is due to the continuous addition of new medical services, and that this will continue for the forseeable future, thereby increasing the share of GDP that goes to health care and adding to the burden of health insurance programs like Medicare. That's true as far as it goes, but within this macro picture there are systemic distortions of cost and quality of service (mostly denial), and those problems are critical. The only thing Krugman proposes is another trust fund. Much more needs to be done, not the least of which is transparent public funding of medical research replacing the current system of private monopolies.

Greenspan's proposal for a national sales tax is nothing more than an attempt to shift the tax burden away from profits (aka the rich) and onto everyone else. He justified this, of course, by claiming that it would encourage savings and capital formation. It isn't clear to me why he thinks we don't have enough capital, but the more fundamental issue there is whether the rich have enough money, which of course they don't -- they never do. The rationale behind this scheme is that if consumption becomes more expensive (as it does when taxed) people will have more incentive to save instead of consume. That assumes that their consumption is optional, that it can be refactored as savings, and that the difference is significant enough to lead people to change their behavior. But it should be obvious, even to a sheltered banker like Greenspan, that much of what most people spend their money on isn't really optional -- it goes for things like food, shelter, utilities, transportation, communication, basic necessities, most of which instantly become more expensive, if anything leaving less money for savings. Secondly, even among the middle classes, who could afford to save more if they lived more spartanly, there is little eagerness to do so. On the contrary, most of them are deep in debt, and a higher tax burden isn't likely to get them to rethink their lifestyles. That leaves the only beneficiary of this bit of wishful thinking to be, duh, the rich.

Actually, I think that there is a case that could be made for a national sales tax (probably in the form of a VAT, although I would do it differently than in Europe). But that would be as one part of a tax strategy that would be more progressive elsewhere, especially in taxing estates. But that's another story, and it's safe to say that that's not what Greenspan has in mind.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The second of the two lectures intended to supplement the Emily Jacir exhibit at WSU was held tonight. The lecture was given by Issam Nassar, a history professor at Bradley University. The talk was called "Palestine at the Crossroads: From al-Nakba to the Aftermath of the Peace Process." The lecture was attended by a crowd which overflowed the allotted 80 seats.

Nassar recounted a pretty straightforward conflict history from 1948 to the present. Two significant parts of the lecture help to provide essential background for Jacir's artwork (which he did not address directly). The first was by emphasizing the pivotal role of 1948 in forming Palestinian identity -- al-Nakba, the loss of land, community, home. The second was the evolution of legal status for Palestinians by locality, especially after 1967 and again after Oslo, which is reflected in the travel restrictions that are the basis for Jacir's exhibit. (This restriction of Palestinian rights contrasts starkly with Israel's extension of citizenship rights to foreign Jews under the Law of Return.)

The q of the q&a was pointedly partisan. One question pointedly invited Nassar to identify Sharon as the person responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacres; he declined to answer. Another pointed to the Arab armies massed as Israel's borders in 1947 and 1967, the terrorism and suicide bombing of later years, then asserted that Israel has only tried to defend itself and that there would be peace if only the anti-Israel violence would stop. Nassar responded by discussing the wall, which is being built less for Israeli security than to pin the Palestinians down into smaller cages. Another question had to do with Palestinian textbooks not showing maps that recognized Israel, and Palestinian schoolchildren being taught to seek martyrdom. Nassar explained that he had studied the textbooks issue and that much of the problem is that Israel has preserved the pre-1967 Jordanian texts -- part of this is tied to international law. He also said that he had never seen or heard of any instance of Palestinian authorities training children for martyrdom, and that he couldn't imagine why Palestinian parents, or any other parents, would want anything other than future health and well-being for their children.

A more open-ended question asked about the Camp David accords and Barak's allegedly generous offer. Nassar explained this reasonably well, and pointed out the progress made in subsequent talks at Taba, then he sharply criticized the incoming Bush administration for lack of interest in continuing the talks. This I thought was noteworthy because nobody really talks about it. We tend to assume that the Peace Process was doomed before Bush took over, but one could make the case that Bush's inaction was in fact a signal to Israel to go ahead and elect Sharon. The Bush/Sharon elections not only put an end to all negotiation in the Peace Process, they led to an enormous increase in the level of violence: in the first three years under Sharon more Palestinians and more Israelis were killed than in the whole period since 1967. One thing Nassar did not point out is the unofficial negotiations that followed, leading to the Geneva Accords. Nobody talks about Geneva these days, but the fact is that there is a comprehensive peace agreement signed by key members of Barak's and Arafat's negotiating teams waiting for the powers in Jerusalem and Washington to take an interest. Which says as much as one needs to know about Sharon and Bush -- not that we don't know so much more.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Found in the Wichita Eagle "Opinion Line" (a good source of wise cracks and insane rants): "What a complete joke that Hillary Clinton is, quoting the Bible in her speeches." One reason I note this is that she has been getting a lot of flack on a local mail list I subscribe to for her murky position on abortion rights and her hawkishness on Iraq and any other potential cruise missile target you'd care to name. Juan Cole reports that she's also managed to tick off the presumptive next Prime Minister of Iraq. Clearly she's launched her campaign, but I have to wonder what her prospects are with an increasingly polarized public where both ends of the spectrum can't stand her. Maybe that would have worked to her advantage in the '90s when few cared about issues and most distrusted those who did.

I remember listening to a radio interview with her back in '93 or '94 when she was asked what her reaction would be if her health care reform was rejected, and she said that would be a shame. That might have been savvy had she been sure of winning, but when her plan went down is was just aloof. It was worse than a shame -- it was tragic, not so much what her lousy plan lost as that she blew a huge amount of political capital on something that wouldn't have solved the problem in the first place, that substituted for a serious plan, and that by failing cut the Republicans loose to do all the damage they've done since 1994. That health plan was the same sort of too clever straddle-the-middle tactic she's building her campaign on. I'm hoping that someone will take her to task in the NY Democratic primary in 2006 and knock her out.


The Boeing plant in Wichita KS, where my father worked for over 35 years, and my brother worked for 23 years before his layoff last year (he's back now), has been sold to a Canadian company called Onex. This illustrates various things, including the return of the U.S. trade deficit in exchange for another chunk of property here. For the short term Boeing will buy parts from Onex, which will allow the plant to continue operating as before. But Boeing expects those parts to cost less than when it owned the plant, and in any case can be expected to shop around for even cheaper parts. Onex, in turn, will have to run the plant more efficiently than Boeing did -- not a tough goal, according to my brother, but one that will pressure workers on all fronts, most likely including pay and benefits. The possible upside is that Onex can search out other customers, but the overall prospects for U.S. manufacturing aren't good.

Boeing's constant whining about how it has to reduce costs in order to compete with Airbus makes little sense when you consider that the dollar has lost something like 40% against the Euro in the last four years. Meanwhile, Boeing has lost market share, and stands to lose more as long as the 7E7 is vaporware. The latter is a problem because Boeing prematurely announced the 7E7 in order to pursue what's become its primary business: auctioning aviation jobs to local and foreign governments. The state of Kansas coughed up $500 million to secure some of the work in Wichita. The city of Tulsa OK chipped in another $350 million -- their Boeing plant has also been peddled off to Onex. China and Japan also get big chunks of work. In past years Boeing always insisted that it wouldn't make any difference if it farmed out fuselage work because the critical component of their business is the wing, but now Japan will build the wings. Meanwhile, Airbus has opened an engineering group here in Wichita to design wings, and they're looking for a manufacturing facility somewhere in the U.S. -- presumably to undercut Boeing's already undercut American-built pitch, although the cheaper labor may be a factor, too.

Boeing is keeping some of their military business here -- nobody's sure just what the facilities split is. Much of the Boeing plant here was actually built by the U.S. government during WWII, where a series of legendary bombers were built: B-17, B-29, B-47, B-52. Wichita nearly doubled in size during the 1940s when farmers like my father moved to town to build airplanes. Boeing is much smaller here now, but still by far the largest employer in town. For my father's generation it was good work. Today Boeing is a hopelessly corrupt deadbeat company that survives through inertia and political scams. (Another Boeing executive just went off to jail.) I'm tempted to say good riddance, but it's more likely to be a long, agonizing decline. Reminds me that a big part of the reason I left Wichita 27 years ago was my recognition that the local businessfolk were too dumb to stand working for.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Ad in The Nation:

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Obviously, I'm not qualified for this job, nor am I particularly anxious to move to New York, but I thought it would be interesting to write something about how I would approach it. Stand by . . .


Gary Giddins finally wrote up a year-end list. It appeared in his "Cadenza" Jazz Times column. No numbers. He broke the list out into loose categories like "big band" and "boudoir break." I've been collecting year-end lists in my notebook, but this time I thought I'd take his list and hang my own comments on it. Everyone comes to the table with slightly different experiences and orientations and agendas, so this juxtaposes two. The grades refer back to my CGs or notes, with ? indicating undecided.

  • Percy Heath: A Love Song (Daddy): Lovely album, a modest but fitting statement after all these years. [A-]
  • Don Byron: Ivey-Divey (Blue Note): Everybody loves this; me too, although I was a bit slow getting to it. [A-]
  • Clark Terry: Porgy and Bess (Americana): I hated this at first; warmed a bit, then cooled. Giddins points out that Gil Evans and Miles Davis did this way back when. But they were inventing something which stretched the use of the studio, at least as far as jazz was concerned. This is just sentimental repetory. [B-]
  • Steve Turre: The Spirits Up Above (HighNote): Haven't heard this one, but I shouldn't have missed a Kirk tribute with James Carter.
  • Alice Coltrane: Translinear Light (Verve): Don't think this was organized very well or thought through, but her piano carries the record further than I would have expected. [B+]
  • Marc Copland/Greg Osby: Night Call (Nagel Heyer): Don't have it. I've never heard Copland, although I've read good things about him, and I need to check him out. Osby's a better sideman than leader, which is to say that his chops are better than his concepts. Note that Vincent Herring's guest shot on Nagel Heyer was a lot better than his own album on HighNote.
  • Charles Lloyd/Billy Higgins: Which Way Is East (ECM): Home recordings, intimate and crude, a wonderful set. [A-]
  • Fred Anderson/Hamid Drake: Back Together Again (Thrill Jockey): Good match; best I've heard from Anderson, a guy I've had trouble with. [A-]
  • Houston Person: To Etta With Love (HighNote): Don't have. Quality soul jazz guy, especially on ballads.
  • Arthur Blythe: Ace (Midlantic): Didn't even know this exists. His previous albums with David Eyges are good.
  • Cecil Taylor: The Owner of the River Bank (Enja/Justin Time): With the Italian Instabile Orchestra, who I don't know despite several attempts to track them down. Missed this one, too.
  • Andrew Hill: The Day the World Stood Still (Stunt): Don't have. I'm not a fan of Hill's recent large band records, but he's a great pianist.
  • Madeleine Peyroux: Careless Love (Rounder): I found this off-putting, although I don't doubt her appeal, and there's probably a choice cut or two. Giddins cites Abbey Lincoln as an influence, as well as the obvious Billie Holiday. I've tried hard to like Lincoln, but never made it. [B]
  • Andy Bey: American Song (Savoy): Another singer I've never much liked, although I've softened a bit in the last year. [B]
  • Joe Lovano: I'm All for You (Blue Note): Ballad album; the musicians are so talented they manage to keep it from capsizing, but it really doesn't work for me. I don't think he has any feel for ballads, and ballads are mostly about feeling. His new album with Motian and Frisell is comparably slow, but they're up to something else there, and it works better. [B]
  • Kenny Davern: At the Mill Hill Playhouse (Arbors): Fine record, lots of fun, but didn't strike me as having enough of an edge to really stand out. [B+]
  • Great Piano Trio: Someday My Prince Will Come (Eighty-Eight's/Columbia): Good piano trio, anyway, plus a sympathy vote for Elvin Jones. [B+]
  • Jessica Williams: Live at Yoshi's, Volume One (MaxJazz): She's very good, but she records a lot, and they all tend to blur together. [B+]
  • Mulgrew Miller: Live at Yoshi's, Volume One (MaxJazz): He's very good too, but he looks so much like McCoy Tyner he might be advised to try playing like someone else. [B]
  • Keith Jarrett: The Out-of-Towners (ECM): It's been more than 20 years since he put this trio together, and great as they all are in some respects he's just punching the clock. [B+]
  • Dave Burrell: Expansion (High Two): He's one piano player who never punches the clock, but the time signatures get so weird here that I just can't follow them. In many respects this is an amazing record, but it's pretty strange too. [B+]
  • Geri Allen: The Life of a Song (Telarc): Sounds great, with big assists from Holland and DeJohnette. [A-]

One comment I will make on Giddins' picks is that they're less avant than in previous years, and note that the exceptions are all well into their 60s. (Taylor will be 75 this year.)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Music: Initial count 10256 [10240] rated (+16), 906 [905] unrated (+1). Been trying to get Jazz Consumer Guide done, but seem to be word-tied on the critical pick hits and dud of the month, so I've been picking around the edges. Got no non-jazz backlog done at all this past week, and lowest newly-rated count in years.

  • Brizzi do Brazil (2004, Amiata). Aldo Brizzi is an Italian, reported a modern classical composer. This is effectively a tribute album, done by Brazilian stars like Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Virginia Rodrigues, Carlinhos Brown, Arnaldo Antunes, Tom Zé. The new wave rhythms are exciting, but the vocals are rooted in the classical tradition -- not operatic so much as churchy. I find this to be a very mixed bag. B
  • Splish Splash: The Best of Bobby Darin Volume One (1958-71 [1991], Atco). The held back "Mack the Knife," "Beyond the Sea," "Clementine," and others to salt a second volume, although the division is stylistic as well. This one has Darin's more rockish things -- "Splish Splash," "Dream Lover," various things deriving from Ray Charles. All but the last three cuts here date from 1958-61, after which Darin moved on to Capitol. Darin was a talented singer, but these things don't cohere into much -- "Dream Lover," especially, sounds like a perfect Ricky Nelson hit, but nothing else does. This one charts better than Volume Two: 16 chart songs, 6 top ten, vs. 6 and 2 on Volume Two. But Atlantic was a great rock label, so that's the direction hey steered him towards -- not necessarily where he wanted to go. B
  • Mack the Knife: The Best of Bobby Darin Volume Two (1958-61 [1991], Atco). After Darin went to Capitol he tried his hand as a swinging big band singer -- the trade of idols like Sinatra, but a declining proposition in the '60s. These are early steps in that direction, including his biggest hit ("Mack the Knife"), the signature song Kevin Spacey tapped for his biopic title ("Beyond the Sea"), and a bunch of hard-swinging standards -- "Clementine" and "Artificial Flowers" are particularly effective, and even "Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home" works. This seems to be more his thing. B+
  • The Legendary Bobby Darin (1962-73 [2004], Capitol). Past his initial rock hits (some reprised live, some very briefly), he croons competently in front of anonymous big bands and covers trifling pop songs of the day. B+
  • Celine Dion: The Collector's Series, Volume One (1990-99 [2000], Epic/550 Music). A Quebecois pop singer filed under rock for no discernible reason, a substantial star, but one I've hitherto managed to avoid. Don't know how this fits her "Greatest Hits" profile -- I gather that the French and Spanish songs weren't meant for Middle America, while the citation for "The Power of the Dream" is "performed at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games." The music is thick and schmaltzy, the voice faux operatic, the lyrics, well, better in Spanish. (Perhaps they'd be better still in Finnish?) Still, this isn't quite as appalling as it all sounds -- well, except for the duet with Andrea Bocelli. I'm a bit of a sucker for the French, and occasionally enjoy the grand gesture. C-
  • Gerry Hemingway: Electro-Acoustic Solo Works 1984-95 ([1996], Random Acoustics). Experimentation, scratchy noise, little blips and fades and whatnot. It's OK, but don't know what for. B
  • Jazz Satellites, Vol. 1: Electrification (1968-96 [1996], Virgin, 2CD). I tracked down about half the dates here, with most dating from 1968-73. Most of the rest (by names like Divine Styler, Fat, UI, Bedouin Ascent, 16-17, Slab) are likely to be remixes. So this is some sort of post-fusion beat down. It don't make much sense to me, and I'm not sure that I like it, like at all. But it's not without interest, and it was plenty hard to find. Could be better documented. B
  • Magic Moments: The Best of '50s Pop (1950-59 [2004], Shout! Factory, 3CD). This was the adult music of my childhood, the grand pop synthesis that survived the decline of the big bands. I remember it mostly from television (Perry Como, Dean Martin, Nat Cole, Andy Williams) and movies (Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds); indeed, its cross-media dominance reminds you that monopoly power over culture was at its peak then, even as minority musics proliferated on the margins of the industry. I hated this music when I was growing up, although not without exception, and I still have a low opinion of the anonymous bands, the omnivorous strings, and the operatics. But there are glorious moments here, songs like "The Tennessee Waltz," "The Wayward Wind," "Que Sera Sera," "Singing the Blues." Rhino's Sentimental Journey series surveyed much of this: 18 of the 60 songs here are repeats. This ranges a bit broader, picking up some novelty songs, a little mambo influence, more stultifying orchestras, convergence from the Platters, and a couple of my own first favorite songs -- "Sixteen Tons" (Ernie Ford, not Merle Travis) and "Mack the Knife" (Bobby Darin, not Lotte Lenya). B+
  • Mario Pavone: Toulon Days (1991 [1992], New World). With Thomas Chapin (alto sax), Joshua Redman (tenor sax), Steve Davis (trombone), Hotep Idris Galeta (piano), Steve Johns (drums), Marty Ehrlich (clarinet and flute, two cuts). Pavone plays bass; I regard him as an important player. This is earlier than his other albums I'm familiar with. Recently he's been reliving his experience with Chapin, so this points in that direction. B+
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band: New Orleans, Vol. II (1981 [1982], CBS). Trad jazz group from New Orleans, where they no doubt served an important tourist function. AMG rates their first as a five-star classic, then disparages this one. I haven't heard the first one, so I'm tempted to go cautious on this one. Key player is trumpeter/vocalist Percy Humphrey. The songs are old, tried and true. The rhythm a bit clunky. B
  • Pure Brazil: Bossa4Two: Great Duets for Great Moments (1963-97 [2004], Universal Latino). Elis and Tom, Tom and Chico, Toquinho and Chico, Toquinho and Vinicius, Tom and Astrud, Astrud and João, Ivan and Beth, Tom and Dorival, and so forth; Jobim is at the center of most of these duos (some plus, including Stan Getz on you know what), writing as well as performing. B+
  • Pure Brazil: Bossa4Two Vol 2: Great Duets for Great Moments (1977-2002 [2004], Universal Latino). Younger, more recent than Vol. 1; also less consistent. Caetano Veloso is the most frequent appearance here, but the others bear little relationship to him, so that seems to just be an accident of programming. B
  • Pure Brazil: Feijoada: 14 Delicious Sambas (1963-2000 [2004], Universal Latino). Perhaps the best thing here is "Alguem Me Avisou," attributed to Maria Bethania but dominated by guests Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. The beat is an idealized strolling down the beach in Rio with nothing else to do -- nothing conveys the good life as effortlessly as samba. There are variations on this -- mostly a bit faster, one a piece of solo guitar that provides a nice break from the vocals. Most of the pieces come from the '70s, but you'd need the notes to figure out which is which. The album is named for the national dish of Brazil: a rich stew of black beans and pork parts. Brazilian food is like Brazilian music: not bland, but as subtle as you can get without getting bland. A-
  • Pure Brazil: The Girls From Ipanema: From Astrud to Bebel (1963-2000 [2004], Univesal Latino). Actually, the years are 1963-75 except for one song at the end by Bebel Gilberto, daughter of first song sing Astrud Gilberto. B
  • Pure Brazil: The Girls From Ipanema Vol. 2: From Astrud to Bebel (1963-2003 [2004], Universal Latino). Despite the common end points most of this is more recent than Vol. 1, more obscure, more idiosyncratic, but that doesn't make it any better or worse. B
  • Pure Brazil: Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars: Bossa Nova Sung in English (1965-2001 [2004], Universal Latino). The problem here isn't that singing in English loses the mystique of Brazil, or that the lyrics leave something to be desired. No, the real problem is the belief that Yanks love swill, especially wrapped in strings. Even if they have marketing data to prove it, that's no reason to buy. Nor is Sergio Mendes. C+
  • Pure Brazil: Samba Social Club: The Masters Sing Their Best (1974-2002 [2004], Universal Latino). Presumably the title reference is to Buena Vista Social Club -- the concept a bunch of old guys keeping the music going. The best known of these "masters" is Martinho da Vila, b. 1938, which doesn't quite make him a geezer. Don't have ages for the others, but their discographies suggest that they are younger. The recording dates are mostly '70s, although at least a third are recent, which suggests that their folkish, purportedly pre-samba sound is mere Braziliana. Still, even if the introduction of old-sounding instruments like banjo is recent, this adds another dimension to the music. B+
  • Pure Brazil: Samba Soul Groove (1969-2001 [2004], Universal Latino). What differentiates this? The soul horns are a giveaway. The guitar is a little straighter, the nylon string sound giving way to good old fashioned steel. Os Mutantes even throws in an organ riff -- they're often touted as psychedelia, but "She's My Shoo Shoo" sounds more like bubblegum to me. Jorge Ben gets more space here; Gilberto Gil gets one song, and Caetano Veloso is absent. B
  • Vernon Reid: Mistaken Identity (1996, 550 Music/Epic). Pre-Yohimbe Brothers. Minus a brother. An important one. B
  • The Rough Guide to Mambo (1948-2003 [2004], World Music Network). Years are uncertain: Noro Morales comes from a 1948-51 comp; Xavier Cugat from 1950-52; Cal Tjader is from 1954; Perez Prado from a 1956 album; Tito Puentes from sometime in the '50s. I don't think that anything here is earlier. Eddie Palmieri is from a 2003 album, so that's probably the latest. As usual, they rarely give dates, and often the albums they cite are compilations that don't help much. I like the endpoints (Morales, Fruko) for their simple formalism, and the track that speaks most directly to me, "I Don't Speak Spanish (But I Understand Everything When I'm Dancing)." B+
  • Jimmy Smith: Organ Grinder Swing (1965, Verve). Featuring Kenny Burrell and Grady Tate. Produced by Creed Taylor. Mostly blues riffs, nice take on "Satin Doll." Nothing much wrong with it, but he did a lot of albums like this, many better. B
  • Tenacious D (2001, Epic). Bad taste in heavy rock. Ineptly played. Liberally salted with bad jokes. Ineptly told. I spoze this could be satire, but don't you have to give a shit in order for satire to work? C-


Book: Max Boot: The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (2002; paperback: Basic Books, 2003).

This, along with Kevin Pollack's The Gathering Storm, is one of the books that bears some blame for Bush's Iraq misadventure. For his part, Pollack added a voice putatively outside the Bush administration that willingly pushed the WMD claims that were supposedly the casus belli. Boot's contribution was his argument that the Powell Doctrine unreasonably inhibited America's willingness to rush into small wars to defend American interests and promote American values and, as needed, punish transgressors. To make his case, Boot catalogued dozens of small wars going back to the shores of Tripoli, albeit skipping over the halls of Montezuma. The lesson Boot draws from his survey is that small wars, often with little planning, unclear directives, improvised campaigns, and no clue to an exit strategy, have mostly worked out for the best anyway. Or at least worked out better than the big war approach to counterinsurgency that was such a fiasco in Vietnam.

Boot's lesson for Iraq was go in light and don't worry about the consequences. As such he weighed in on the Rumsfeld-Feith side, as opposed to Gen. Shinseki and others who argued that 120,000 soldiers weren't nearly enough. I haven't followed Boot's prolific columns since the war began, but I suspect that he'd argue that the fiasco in Iraq, much like the one in Vietnam, had nothing to do with how many troops were put in play; rather, it depended on how quickly the U.S. could stabilize the situation, build ties with the people, and win their support. In such a scenario, all a big footprint does is to step on unnecessary toes. America's overwhelming firepower, utter dominance from the air, massive logistic requirements, and phobic obsession with its own soldiers' safety did nothing more than create new enemies while keeping potential allies at bay. On the other hand, just adding more of what the military was already doing would have multiplied the problems without adding much of a solution. As far as this critique goes, it makes a lot of sense. But bad as the approach taken was, that doesn't mean that there was an alternative that would have worked. One might fantasize about Special Forces with the right language skills and cultural experiences, but getting them on a scale to pacify Iraq wasn't in the cards for a six month run-up to war -- or, for that matter, ever.

One of the big problems with the political debate leading to the Iraq war, and for that matter the one in Afghanistan, was that we mostly talked about the faults of the enemies and almost never took consideration of our own limits. One of Rumsfeld's famous quips was that you go to war with the arms you got. He could have extended this line to include the army you got, the intelligence services, the political prejudices, the ethics and morals of the Commander in Chief. All of those were inappropriate, often grossly so, for the tasks at hand -- chief among which was convincing the Iraqis (and Afghans) that they would be better off with us than against us. As it were, the only real credible argument they heard not to be against us is the destruction we'd wreak otherwise -- in many cases the destruction we senselessly delivered anyway.

This gets us to the core problem with Boot's thesis. Actually, there are two of them:

  1. The belief that an American foreign policy based on the pursuit of American interests aligns closely enough with the desires (long term, at least) of the people whose countries we intervene in that those people can be persuaded to support out interventions.

  2. The more basic notion that war can ever be used to solve a problem without creating more, and possibly worse, problems.

As a conservative, Boot would reject the way I phrased these two points. In particular, he defends the need for punitive wars, which almost by definition show nothing but contempt for the punished. He also refers back fondly to the British tradition (although he cites American examples) of "butcher and bolt" operations, which had no purpose other than intimidation. More generally, Boot assumes that wars are a necessary thing -- that there are always people out to take away your freedom and your property, and that the only thing that deters them is vigilance and punishment. Toward the end of the book he goes through all the usual rationales, including quoting Vegetius in Latin (translation: "let him who desires peace prepare for war").

But for all his stuborn insistence, the chronology he tracks is one that shows that war, even as practiced by the enlightened rulers of the United States, has become increasingly useless and debilitating. The costs of war, both to wage and to defend, go up and up; benefits decline. The risks of global conflagration necessarily limited the scope of wars in Korea and Vietnam, precluding direct wars with Russia and China. With the goals of war so limited, and the risks to the nation similarly limited, the costs one was willing to bear declined: after the total warfare of WWII we became increasingly protective of our own soldiers through Vietnam and Iraq, fighting a war in Kosovo where our chief claim to fame was zero casualties. A similar trend was evident in the Soviet Union: after sacrificing vast numbers of soldiers and citizens in WWII the Russians became very unwilling to sacrifice themselves in Afghanistan, ensuring their defeat. Modern armies are able to project truly horrifying firepower, but do so at ever greater distances, where indiscriminate injustice becomes inevitable. The increasing incidence of suicide bombers shows an asymetry of desire to match the asymetry of power. But the most such desire can accomplish is to prolong the struggle.

It is time that we realize that war isn't a last resort. It's a fundamental failure in the political process. That we arrive there so commonly shows how little our political leaders have learned, how poor they are at spotting trouble, and how indifferent they are to the consequences of their acts. In the U.S. that may be because we haven't suffered from war like we've made others suffer. Of course, that only gets worse when you have a President and Administration that so shamelessly represents the interests of the most sheltered, privileged, and demented sector of the country. They like Max Boot because his advice reinforces their presumptions, at least to the paltry extent that they understand it. They bought his Iraq war, then went off and fought their own.


Speaking of Pollack, he has a new book out, this time on Iran (The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America, 2004, Random House). I've read quite a bit on Iran, so I doubt that Pollack has much more to offer -- I suspect that, despite reports that he doesn't think it's a good idea to invade this time, he's likely to be more nonsense than anything else. (For the key story of the 1953 CIA coup, see Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror [2003, Wiley]; nothing much about the terror angle there, which was just the publisher's way of trying to hype the book.) But Reza Aslan's review in The Nation has a paragraph that suggests that my own reservations were too mild:

In truth, Pollack's book is less analysis than psychoanalysis. He begins it by casting the Unitd States and Iran as "former lovers who went through a messy divorce" and concludes with the assertion that until Iran comes to grips with its "emotional baggage" and its "unresolved pathologies," it is simply not "psychologically ready" to have a "meaningful relationship with the United States."

It's not so much that what he's saying is invalid as that it's so absurdly unreflexive -- you think Iran has "emotional baggage" and "unresolved pathologies"? Take a look at America, please! (Still, I have huge reservations about the usefulness of psychologizing interpersonal relationships, let alone relationships between countries.)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Movie: Million Dollar Baby. I know a businessman here whose email signature reads: "Lottery (noun): A stupidity tax." I've had him explain to me how he expects to turn his business into millions of dollars, and I don't doubt that he will. He's a smart guy, but more than that he has an angle. Still, when I notice people buying lottery tickets it's more clear that they don't have the angle than that they don't have the brains. One could rephrase: "Lottery (noun): A tax on hopelessness." Or more precisely: "A tax on the hopes of the hopeless." Boxing may be the sport of the stupid, but this movie makes a case that it is the sport of dreams of the hopeless. That much sums up the boxers in this movie, a point driven home with stark economy in the two scenes where Hillary Swank faces her family. That doesn't sum up the fans, whose bloodlust frames the fight scenes. And that doesn't sum up the old guys -- the one-eyed ex-boxer Morgan Freeman, who's found a certain nirvana beyond stupidity and dreams, and a methodical but uneasy Clint Eastwood, who perhaps reaches his peace after the movie ends. Or perhaps not. Eastwood's struggle with his distrust of his religion makes for an interesting subplot -- never quite explained so it can never be judged. Along the way we get an intro to sweet science philosophy and technique, often the opposite of the initial instinct to fight. Triumph and tragedy follow, but they're hardly the point -- just the pace quickening and slowing down so the end can play out in its own time. I lost my stomach for boxing long ago -- never had the belligerent drive, and soured on the notion that something so primal could be redeemed as sport -- so none of that appealed to me. But the film has remarkably fine detail, keystone performances, economy and grace. It earns its keep. A-

Friday, February 18, 2005

Max Boot, in The Savage Wars of Peace, lapses into a bit of fantasy discussing the "lost opportunity" of the U.S. intervention in Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution (p. 229):

Given how close the outnumbered and outsupplied Whites got to victory on their own, it is hardly outlandish to assume that, with a little nudge from the Allies at one of these crucial junctures, the Russian Civil War might have had a different outcome. If the Bolshevik Revolution had been strangled in its crib, there would likely have been no Stalinist terror, no great famine in Russia, no Cold War, no Communist takeovers in China or Eastern Europe -- and quite possibly no World War II, since if Russia had not had a Soviet government, it might have joined with the West to nip Nazi expansionism in the bud (no Molotov-Ribbentrop pact). Tens of millions of people might have been spared an early death. This is only speculation, but there is little doubt that the Bolshevik hold on power was precarious and that concerted foreign intervention might have made the difference. Instead, Britain and America sent just enough soldiers to allow Lenin to claim that the Bolsheviks were fighting foreign aggression -- but not enough to win. The story of the Anglo-American expedition to Russia in 1918, then, is the story of one of the great lost opportunities of history.

It's interesting how these inferences leap about. What gives them such vitality is that they conveniently ignore underlying reality, and that they idealize the hypothetical alternate routes. The weakest of these is the idea that a non-Soviet Russia might have stopped Nazi Germany before 1939 where the West alone had failed. The idea that a non-Soviet Russia wouldn't have created Communist buffer states in Eastern Europe makes some sense, but that there would have been no Communist revolution in China doesn't follow. The ascension to power of Lenin in 1917 and of Stalin following Lenin's death is, of course, highly contingent, and those individuals imposed a highly arbitrary shape on the Soviet Union. But they didn't do it alone, and in many ways they were typical products of the Tsarist police state. There were hundreds of like-minded leaders, thousands of militants, millions of oppressed cadres, and deep tears in the politico-economic fabric of the country -- the empire, really, since Russian dominance was built on the backs of hundreds of subjugated peoples. Even had the Whites broken the Revolution, they would have had to deal with the mess that the Tsars created -- in many ways they would have had to do what the Soviets did just to pull the fractured empire back into order.

The idea that all subsequent history changes from this one contingency is a convenient way of ignoring the deeper truth that Bolshevism (Communism, Marxism) was itself the inevitable offspring of the contradictions appearing with the triumph of capitalism. Suppressing it never made the problem go away, and therefore never eliminated the potential of revolution. The one thing that did work was the reform of capitalism, which more or less happened in the U.S. and Europe. Where communists did manage to seize power was in the backwaters of imperialism, where there had been no bourgeois revolution, where liberalism was weak but radicals were worldly and desperate, where most people were still locked in feudalism, where foreign imperialists and/or local oligarchs ruled viciously. In such cases, Communists more often than not came to recapitulate their oppressors, making a poor case for their ideals.

But if we want to indulge in "what if," we should at least take a look at what happened in the most similar case: what happened to Hungary after the Whites put down Bela Kun's revolution. Like Russia, Hungary had been an absolute monarchy, with no liberal traditions, even though it sported a much more developed capitalist economy. Having defeated the Reds, Hungary turned to fascism, becoming an ally of Hitler in WWII. Given this, why would anyone expect that a triumphant White Russia would have allied with the West? On the contrary, a fascist Russia allied with Germany and Japan would have been the West's greatest nightmare.

A more interesting "what if" question is what would have happened had Kerensky abandoned the war after the March Revolution. The war had put a huge strain on Russia, leading to the fractures that eventually allowed the Bolsheviks to triumph. Had the liberals and moderate socialists worked directly on healing those wounds instead of prolonging a senselessly destructive war they might have kept the more extreme Bolsheviks at bay. This didn't happen for a number of reasons, including that Kerensky's potential allies in the West were themselves committed to the war -- in fact, as Boot points out, much of the rationale behind the Anglo-American intervention was to try to steer Russia back into the war. But this sort of speculation isn't likely to enter Boot's mind, for the simple reason that is believes that war is a force for positive change. In America's "small wars" he sees what George Bush nowadays calls "democracy on the march." That's why Boot was such a staunch advocate of another small war in Iraq.

Which makes one wonder what might have happened differently if interventionist ideologues like Max Boot had managed to keep both feet grounded in reality.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

I have a new Recycled Goods column posted today. This is the seventeenth such column I've written since Feb. 2003. The current format is to write a brief introduction, ten paragraph-sized reviews, a bunch of single-line (Briefly Noted) reviews (a record 46 this time), and some additional one-liners on notable records recently reissued where I haven't scored a copy of the reissue. My original plan was to split the coverage up roughly one quarter each between: jazz, rock, roots (blues, country, folk), and world. The breakdown this time is: jazz = 27 (47%), rock = 12 (21%), roots = 8 (14%), world = 10 (17%), plus, well, I don't know what the hell Jim Nabors is. Bottom line is that regardless of how I'd like to split it up I get more jazz reissues than anything else, so that's what I wind up reviewing. Over the 17 columns I've now covered 581 records.

The columns have been growing in length. The paragraph reviews have been getting longer and the "one-liners" often string together two or three distinct thoughts. Without getting trivial or pedantic, it seems to me that most albums can be summed up in three sentences or less, and Briefly Noted does that in almost haiku-like form. The grades are one more thought. While the form can only conjure up unpleasant memories, they save me from having to weigh adjectives and make it clear whether and how much I actually like the record. There's no other way to say so much so succinctly.

I have enough backlog written up already for my next column. I'd like to get back onto a regular monthly schedule, which was tough to do in 2004 because of various publishing glitches. Wouldn't hurt to make it a bit shorter, I suppose.


The following is a quote from a new book by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton, The Dominion of War, a long look at empire, freedom, and militarism in North America from the 17th century to Colin Powell. The subject is the Philippine rebellion that followed that "splendid little war" of 1898, better known as the Spanish-American War (p. 339):

President Roosevelt declared the insurrection at an end on July 4, 1902, but resistance continued among the Moro people, Muslims of the southern islands, until 1913. The costs were high. At least 20,000 insurgents lost their lives between 1899 and 1902, along with perhaps 180,000 of their countrymen, most of whom succumbed to starvation. The United States spent $400 million -- the equivalent of perhaps $30 billion today -- to suppress the insurgency. More than a thousand Americans were killed in combat and more than 2,800 were wounded, and roughly 3,000 men died from disease or other causes. Some 125,000 Americans intervened in the Philippines to promote civilization, democracy, and the rule of law as well as to secure the interests of the United States and its citizens. They would exercise dominion over the islands until the people they had liberated proved capable of governing themselves; that is, until a sufficient number of Filipino leaders could overcome what American deemed the ignorance and recalcitrance of a primitive race, accept American values and institutions, and rule their society in ways acceptable to the United States.

The most immediately striking thing is the similarity in the raw numbers between then and Iraq now. Of course, losses due to disease are down -- American losses, anyhow -- and starvation hasn't been noted, not that the media noted it then. The costs of waging war have gone up too, although part of the difference is that the U.S. had fewer forces in the Philippines then. Max Boot, who also wrote about the Philippines in The Savage Wars of Peace, puts the maximum U.S. troop count at any one time at 69,000. There are many other differences: Boot attributes the U.S. "success" in quelling the rebellion to the U.S. soldiers' experience at counterinsurgency campaigns -- most of the U.S. officers had experience in the Indian wars -- and to their ability to develop viable intelligence. There is little evidence of either in the occupation of Iraq. Other points are that U.S. motives, such as establishing naval bases, were relatively benign in the Philippines, and that the U.S. was inclined to be more generous to Filipinos who bow to American wishes. Over time the U.S. did manage to build a more honest and equitable political order in the Philippines than the previous Spanish occupation, but desire for independence remained, and there remains a century later quite a bit of anti-Ameican feeling there.

Still, the big difference may be to come: the cumulative effect of losing vs. winning. The more the U.S. was able to suppress the Filipino rebellion the more leeway the U.S. had to disarm it -- to secure territory and rebuild, to recruit its leaders, etc. On the other hand, the more the U.S. has to fight in Iraq the less it can do to win allegiance. The recent elections there provide a measure of how little grip U.S. hegemony has on the country. The problem is not just that the Sunni minority didn't participate, or that the crony Iyad Allawi slate lost badly. It's also a problem that the Kurdish and Shiite sectors retreated into the shells of their respective sectionalisms. Instead of propagating an open, inclusive political culture such as is idealized in the United States, Iraq has turned into an embattered and embittered set of enclaves. How far this has progressed can be measured by the turn to religion, always a shelter in a storm.

When the U.S. decided to "de-Baathify" Iraq, it cut the legs out from under the single most popular, most broadly supported secular party in the region. Of course, other secular parties, like the communists or socialists, are anathema to the U.S. as well. The religious parties became the compromise-of-choice, as indeed they have often been for the U.S. in the Middle East, and the increasing hardships of war and occupation drove many Iraqis who in peaceful times would have been secularists into the arms of the clergy. This was easy enough to predict. The question is: was this intended?

Dominion of War is largely a book about how Americans have repeatedly manipulated the rhetoric of freedom and human rights to bring about empire. For most of American history this has had a measure of truth to it, but that changed during or immediately after World War II. The promise of Americanism was largely the promise of the bourgeois revolution: free men and free markets, which produced vast wealth distributed equitably enough to raise almost everyone's standard of living. But it never quite worked that way -- the corruptions of power and fortune all too often siphoned off more than their fare share. Communism was an alternate theory of how to achieve the fairness that bourgeois revolutions lacked, and as such it was a challenge to Americanism. But rather than let the two models compete, the U.S. gave in to the dark side of its empire and waged a tenacious war (sometimes military, sometimes economic) against communism and all it stood for -- much of which Americanism had once (if imperfectly) stood for as well. This became the struggle of the powerful for their prerogatives, of capital over labor on the global stage -- the containment of the Soviet Union abroad was paralleled by the diminution of the AFL-CIO at home. Along the way the right, the party of the rich and mighty, gained ground, eventually turning into the Bush Administration -- a cabal so cynical and jaded that they would poison the environment and wreck the Social Security program which keeps so many elderly and infirm Americans out of the grips of poverty. This was all done while continuing to use the same rhetoric that Americanism had always used. And they're very good at the words these days -- so good they've stripped them of all meaning.

A century ago America still held some promise to places like the Philippines, and that was decisive in persuading people to give up their own instincts for autonomy. America today offers no such promise to the world -- at least not a credible one. Few if any Iraqis believe that the U.S. has any intention of helping them. Despite its rhetoric, the Bush Administration must know that, otherwise they wouldn't have obfuscated the elections so completely. (That the elections were held at all was to validate the occupation for Americans who do need to believe, and to give the Shiites reason not to join the revolt yet.) It remains to be seen whether the elected Iraqis will be able to peaceably free Iraq from America's grip.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

North Korea's announcement that they possess nuclear weapons was met first by some incoherent bluster by Condoleezza Rice, then by a marginally more thoughtful U.S. threat: let's see if they can eat their nukes. This is hardly America's first attempt to win hearts and minds through empty stomachs. During the Korean War the U.S. bombed dams to ravage Korean farmland. The many years of crippling economic sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on North Korea ever since then have resulted in chronic malnutrition and starvation. Now the idea is to tighten up the sanctions even more. It's not really clear how that can be done, but if it can be done one net effect will be to punish a people even more for their misfortune in leaders. Another will be to remind the world of how callous and cruel the U.S. can be.

Following WWII the U.S. established a reputation as being a gracious victor, but the stalemate at the end of the Korean War left a sour taste in the mouth of American triumphalism. Since then the U.S. has responded to each occasion where its will was rejected with the petty vindictiveness of a sore loser: Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq. After the shooting stopped in Korea the U.S. proceded to punish North Korea with every weapon short of invasion. North Korea's response was to internalize the threat, developing a defensive posture that makes invasion a very risky proposition and a deterence capability that could devastate the South Korean city of Seoul, while occasionally making aggressive, grimacing gestures. More recently, North Korea has made overtures to normalize relations, especially with South Korea -- that seems like the one way to escape America's death grip isolation. But the obstacle to normalization is the U.S., especially the factions in control of the Bush Administration -- for whom North Korea is most useful as a threatening enemy: especially as a rationale for their "missile defense" boondoggle, although one also suspects that they find North Korea's threat useful for keeping Japan in line.

Whether North Korea actually possesses nuclear weapons or not matters little. If they do and use them they risk utter devastation. Otherwise they are just one more deterrent against an attack that is already too risky to contemplate. Common sense should recognize that regardless of what's wrong with the North Korean government war isn't an option -- indeed, war hasn't been a viable option for more than fifty years now. But the U.S. persists in thinking that starvation is an option, and that starvation doesn't run the risk of being interpreted as an act of war. No country has used nuclear weapons against a nuclear-armed foe. As such, so despite their terrible risks (and the eternally ominous Murphy's Law) nuclear proliferation has actually led to a more stable world. But this depends on recognizing the dangers, and on overcoming the temptation to settle matters by war. The Bush Administration, with its pre-emptive war doctrine, has proven to be singularly dense in this regard. Convinced of its overwhelming power and righteousness, Bush identified three nations as an "axis of evil," then proceded to wage war on what was by far the weakest of the trio, while continuing to villify and threaten the other two. In Iraq, a nation with virtually no military resources and a severely divided populace, Bush has already bit off more than the U.S. military can chew. Provoking additional strife in Iran and North Korea cannot possibly work out better, yet Bush knows nothing but his blind faith in the civilizing power of punishment. And if that leads him to escalate what is already a severe and insensitive regimen of punishment on the North Korean people, it is possible that his hubris will blow up on him.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Derek Penslar, of the University of Toronto, gave a lecture at WSU tonight. This was sponsored by the Ulrich Museum at part of their nervousness over the Emily Jacir exhibit, which they've conflated to "Two Peoples, One Land: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." Penslar's lecture was called "Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism: A Historical Assessment." The lecture was given in one of the Museum exhibit halls, and the crowd exceeded the available seating. The lecture was even-handed and historically accurate, although some things that he touched on could have been developed further. He didn't betray much of a political position, although at one point he seemed to embrace the desirability of a Jewish state, at another he criticized several Mideast Area professors for letting their politics get ahead of their academic responsibiities, and finally he criticized the current U.S. administration for not taking a more active role to bring about peace.

Penslar started by outlining a recent document attributing many events from the JFK assassination to 9/11 to a Jewish conspiracy -- the idea was to illustrate the paranoid dimension that animates so much anti-semitic propaganda. He then made a distinction between what he called "classic" anti-semitism and more recent anti-zionist anti-semitism. The former he likened to a psychosomatic illness, the latter to an allergic overreaction. The difference is that the latter is actually based on something real -- the political struggle over Israel-Palestine -- whereas the former is purely in the mind of the fantasists. He then went on to show instances where various anti-zionists have confounded their arguments with conspiracies borrowed from classic anti-semitism, most notoriously "Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

The key point there is that anti-zionism and anti-semitism, despite their occasional conflation, are two different things, and he pointed out numerous examples where they remain distinct. Where he was most useful was in pointing out a wide range of Arab reactions to zionism and placing them in their contingent context, especially in terms of the Arab experience of European imperialism and colonialism. He concluded with a thought experiment which asked us to imagine a world where WWI did not end in the breakup of the Ottomon Empire and the creation of the British mandate of Palestine. In such a world it is extremely unlikely that zionism would have succeeded in creating a Jewish state. And in such a world it is very unlikely that we would witness the sort of anti-semitism that tends to erupt in Arab countries today.

Penslar pointed out that incidents of anti-semitic violence have become more frequent, especially in Britain and France, over the last 5-6 years -- although he emphasized that the level is still nowhere comparable to the '30s, and he pretty much dismissed Phyllis Chesler's alarmist book. He could have added that the the last 5-6 years coincide with the collapse of the Oslo Peace Process and the violent repression of the Intifada under Barak and Sharon, but he preferred to generalize.

He could have said more about zionism and anti-zionism. He did point out that many Jews were/are opposed to zionism -- communists and many socialists as well as most orthodox Jews. He didn't bring up more recent debates like the idea of post-zionism. He started to say something about anti-semites who might embrace zionism, but the sources he cited were French and German and the point he drew from them was that anti-semites in the pre-WWII period didn't take zionism seriously -- if anything, they considered it yet another semitic trick. Not discussed were British anti-semites, probably because they were less interesting as ideologists, but to a large extent it was British anti-semites, most notably Balfour and Lloyd George, who actually sponsored the zionist project. Also important for now would be a discussion of the protestant fundamentalists who provide much of America's political support for the Israeli right.

None of this is, or should be, controversial. The real question is why does anti-semitism matter, at least as opposed to any other form of paranoid and/or politically expedient bigotry -- of which there are many other current examples, including anti-Arab bigotry, especially in Israel and America. Part of the reason is that the Holocaust is such a horrendous historical proof of how much damage bigotry can cause. Another reason is that anti-semitism is not merely a description -- it's a brand name, coined by an ideologue who feared and hated Jews at the height of an age when racism was promoted as a cover for imperialism, and marketed by demagogic politicians to disastrous ends. But the fashions that made anti-semitism such a deadly force in the past have eclipsed. Yet the idea is kept alive, partly by memory, but more forcefully as a ruse to obfuscate a real current conflict that is related only through the Jewish identity of the Israeli state. It is, in other words, a shield: something meant to deflect a critical view of Israel today -- both how the state behaves, and how its people think of themselves.

I suspect that it would have been more interesting to explore what anti-semitism has in common with other bigotries, not least because we know from other cases how one group's bigotry becomes another group's revenge. But more than that, we need to figure out how anti-semitism created zionism and why zionism seems to need anti-semitism in order to survive. Then we might be able to show how Arabs have to discard their anti-semitic tendencies in order to overcome the inequities of zionism.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Music: Initial count 10240 [10219] rated (+21), 905 [903] unrated (+2). Completely horrible week. Been down with what's mostly a cold, and just haven't felt like working. [This is embarrassing, not to finish the week with anything on this list. Did some jazz during the week, elsewhere.]


This is another purge from the Jazz Consumer Guide "done" file. This is basically a holding pen for notes/reviews of records that have been considered for JCG. However, the file has bloated to well over three hundred records. Given that I was only able to work 29 records into JCG #3, a lot of records (including some rather good ones) have no chance of making the cut. This is a quick culling, including some pretty good records, a lot of average ones, plus a few bad ones. There are few hard and fast rules about what gets covered and what doesn't, but in general:

  1. I tend to skip records that have been covered by other Voice writers, especially Francis Davis.
  2. I tend to avoid reissues except when I find them exceptionally interesting. I do, however, cover a lot of reissues in Recycled Goods.
  3. It looks like I'll never have Honorable Mention space for about half of my new B+ records. Until now I've held onto all of these, but the space has gotten just too tight. The ones that drop off tend toward the bottom of the range, but they also include things that are very proficient but not especially interesting, and they may also include things that I rarely have much to say about (like piano trios).
  4. The B records are neither good enough nor bad enough to bother including.
  5. Sub-B records are possible Duds. I prefer to list Duds that are serious failures rather than just non-starters or things that I dislike for more personal reasons, so the latter are more likely to get flushed out here.
  6. In general, the longer something sits around without getting included, the more likely it should be dropped.

With all that in mind, here goes. This cuts the "done" file by about half:

  • John Abercrombie: Class Trip (2003 [2004], ECM). Equally prominent is Mark Feldman's violin, which Abercrombie likes to duck under and weave around rather than put in its place. Superb rhythm section (Marc Johnson, Joey Baron), too. When this all comes together (as on "Descending Grace" and "Illinoise") one is impressed by the potential power as well as the intricate control of the whole ensemble. When it doesn't come together it tends toward atmospherics. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] B+
  • John Abercrombie/Jarek Smietana: Speak Easy (1999, PAO). Smietana is a Polish jazz guitarist, a leader of several groups and co-leader of the Namyslowski-Smietana Quartet (which may not mean much to you, but I consider Zbigniew Namyslowski's Winobranie to be one of the outstanding avant-garde jazz albums of the '70s). Abercrombie, of course, is a household name by now. The two guitar line-up (plus bass and drums) works like a charm here: both have sensible things to say, and they fill in nicely around each other. B+
  • Claudia Acuña: Luna (2004, MaxJazz). There's always a danger when you face something different that your expectations are so off base that you'll just miss whatever's going on. So I have some doubts about my judgment on this Chilean singer's third U.S. album, but I don't find this very impressive or likable. The music has a bit of latin percussion but nothing I particularly recognize -- no salsa or son or, what the hell, mariachi or polka; it feels stiff, devoid of any of that limberness we expect in jazz, and short of groove as well. And the singer is starchy -- most of all when she tries to sing in English, but the Spanish doesn't make for much either. I'm probably missing something, but I don't think it'll make much difference. C+
  • Noël Akchoté: Cabaret Modern: A Night at the Magic Mirror Tent (2003, Winter & Winter). Polyglot Eurosong, rooted in cabaret ancien, but not stuck there. Singers come and go, some in French, some in German, some in Italian, some in English. Some songs as new as Kraftwerk's "Radioactivity" and Lou Reed's "All Tomorrow's Parties" sound as old as "Bella Ciao" -- a labor anthem reportedly done per the original. The crowd is never far off, nor the tinkling of their glasses nor the sounds of the workers. Still, it comes off a tad quaint, not folkie but still völkisch. B
  • Ben Allison & Medicine Wheel: Buzz (2003 [2004], Palmetto). The rating is just an impression that this is a pretty good example of postmodern group composition these days, even though I'm hard pressed to identify who's doing what, let alone why. Allison plays bass and wrote four of seven tracks -- the others come from Lennon-McCartney, Andrew Hill, and one of two sax players here, Michael Blake. Allison is not strongly evident, detracting a bit from comparisons between him and Mingus. The saxes (Blake, Ted Nash) and trombone (Clark Gayton) tend to be tightly arranged, which seems likely to be Allison's doing. If this were split into a two-sided LP, the first side would be faster and more idiosyncratic, especially rhythmically, while the second side would be the chill-down one. Don't have any idea whether it was intended that way. Mysterious record. B+
  • The Jimmy Amadie Trio: Live at Red Rock Studio: A Tribute to Tony Bennett (2003, TPRecordings). Personally, I don't associate any of these songs with Bennett, but what do I know? No doubt he did sing "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," "Stella by Starlight," "The Very Thought of You," "Come Rain or Come Shine," etc., (well, maybe not "Fill the Woods With Music"), but the substitute here, "special guest" Phil Woods, is more to my taste anyway. B+
  • Arild Andersen: Rarum XIX: Selected Recordings (1975-99 [2004], ECM). Jazz in Scandinavia took a fateful turn when George Russell arrived, putting aside earlier bebop influences to evolve something more avant yet distinctively nordic. The most directly influenced were Jan Garbarek (saxophones), Terje Rypdal (guitar), Arild Andersen (bass) and Jon Christensen (drums), and to a huge extent Manfred Eicher built the ECM label and the ECM sound around their work. Andersen has recorded over a dozen albums under his own name or that of his late '80s band Masqualero, which featured pianist Jon Balke and introduced trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer. The Rarum series often runs into trouble trying to mix and match pieces that don't fit well, but by focusing sharply on the bass, this one manages the shifts between quiet and dynamic, simple and complex. A-
  • Noah Baerman: Patch Kit (2004, Lemel). Good, rather conventional piano trio, with famous rhythm section of Ron Carter and Ben Riley, who help out a lot. B+
  • Anita Baker: My Everything (2004, Blue Note). Not a jazz record by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, the same could be said for Al Green and Van Morrison, but they at least were the greatest, most visionary, most transcendent singers of our lifetimes, and they deserve to keep doing it till they drop. Baker was an overrated torcher who gets new makeup as a soft soul queen. Not terrible, but not very interesting either. B-
  • Chet Baker: Prince of Cool: The Pacific Jazz Years (1952-57 [2004], Pacific Jazz, 3CD). Lots of people adore Chet Baker, but I don't. I've always found his trumpet work anemic, even while conceding that his logic is beyond fault. He didn't play fast or high, and he rarely showed a shred of emotion -- at least any of the warm and fuzzy ones. But his vocals were even more affectless, and that's what his fans really fell for. He had been cajoled into singing as a teenager and developed a style that engaged the songs as minimally as possible. I suspect that the root of my problem with him is that I find his style embarrassing, but he managed to persevere, turning embarrassment into disinterest, which could easily be taken for vulnerability. Nobody else sang like that, and the fragility of his singing soon infected his trumpet. With the swing bands on the wane and the beboppers flaunting their virtuosity, Baker's extreme contrast epitomized something else: cool. From his emergence as a leader around 1952 to his death in 1978 his career waxed and waned but his music was remarkably consistent -- the only change being that as he accumulated the wear and tear of a rough life his indifference became even more poignant. Baker's early work for Pacific Jazz has been sliced and diced many times over -- the booklet here shows the covers of no less than 20 other albums or compilations, many redundant. This one splits him three ways: "Chet Sings," "Chet Plays," and "Chet & Friends" -- the most conspicuous friends were Art Pepper and Gerry Mulligan, with Baker's modest formality a fine complement for his voluble partners. Still, I'm not sure that "best of" is a concept that fits Baker well: his aesthetic is so convoluted and so personal that there's little if any common ground for evaluating him. So this winds up being just another slice and dice job. B+
  • Chet Baker: Ensemble (1953 [2004], Pacific Jazz). The group here has Baker, three saxophones, piano, bass and drums. The saxophones are rich enough that Jack Montrose is credited with arranging. The arrangements are straightforward enough. But even this early in his career Baker's trumpet sounds a bit dull; certainly not able to pierce through the dense fog of his ensemble. But from its birth cool jazz was an arranger's art, and Montrose at least breathes some life into it here. B+
  • Chet Baker: Sings and Plays (1955 [2004], Pacific Jazz). Cover adds: with Bud Shank, Russ Freeman and strings. Actually, Shank and the four cellos only covers about half the disc. The transitions between the two groups/sessions are actually fairly seamless, as the cellos add pleasantly to the background. The other notable thing here is how clear Baker sounds. "Let's Get Lost" and "I Remember You" are especially good; a few others are awkward, as usual, but this may be his most consistent vocal album. A-
  • Chet Baker: Big Band (1956 [2004], Pacific Jazz). Two sessions, both in October 1956, with slightly different bands, ten or eleven members. The constants were Phil Urso, Bobby Timmons, and Jimmy Bond. The arrangements are credited to Urso, Pierre Michelot or Christian Chevallier. All pretty much standard fore for the time and place, meaning that they are light and snappy, but that's about it. The nominal leader's role is harder than usual to make out, especially given that they didn't even put his picture on the cover. B
  • Chet Baker: Sextet (1954-57 [2004], Pacific Jazz). As the front cover notes, the sextet features Bud Shank, Bob Brookmeyer and Russ Freeman, which doesn't leave a helluva lot of room for the self-effacing nominal leader. Jack Montrose, Johnny Mandel, and Bill Holman each arrange a couple of tracks, turning this into a miniature big band. B
  • Chet Baker: Love Songs (1953-74 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). Slim pickings: five cuts from the 1953-54 Chet Baker & Strings, which like all period jazz star + strings outings is saddled with a dreadful classics-drenched string orchestra, although occasionally the jazz musicians (including in this case, Zoot Sims, Bud Shank, and Jack Montrose) have something worthwhile to contribute. The rest comes from 1974 recordings for Creed Taylor: more anonymous big bands, even more strings. Very slight work, so far from prime it's tempting to deprecate it. C+
  • Chet Baker: The Last Great Concert: My Favorite Songs, Vol. 1 & 2 (1988 [2004], Enja/Justin Time, 2CD). This concert was recorded two weeks before Baker, 59 and looking a good deal older, fell to his death (or was pushed) from a window in Paris. It was recorded with the NDR Big Band and the Radio Orchestra Hannover, although some songs were cut with smaller groups, including Herb Geller and Walter Norris. It reruns Baker's usual songbook, featuring his limp trumpet and barely cohesive vocals -- the trumpet sorely eroded with age, the voice lapsing into a bored beauty. He's one of the few major jazz figures I've never come around on, and this clearly isn't the place to start. Great only if you're already in love with him, but occasionally pretty nonetheless. B-
  • Jon Balke & Magnetic North Orchestra: Diverted Travels (2003 [2004], ECM). This oscilates between Miles Davis-like stretches of rhythmic tension with embellishments, the usual ECM atmospherics, and Per Jørgensen's folkish-operatic vocals. The vocals I could do without, but Jørgensen's trumpet is a real plus here. So is Balke when he kicks the rhythm up. But that just leaves us with a mix of attractive bits and other stuff, and while the other stuff isn't uninteresting, it isn't that interesting either. B
  • Danny Barrett: Indian Summer (2004, Danny Barrett). His voice is a deep, rich baritone, the sort of thing people used to go ga-ga over in the '40s, something so resplendent of testosterone that he doesn't lose a shred of masculinity even when he sings "Blue Gardenia." In other words, it is a voice that I find fundamentally unlistenable, and my initial reaction was so negative that I can only begrudgingly admit that he is pretty smooth and facile with it, and that "It Might As Well Be Spring" in the closing medley is something of a marvel. The other piece worth noting here is "Baseball Interlude (I Once Knew a Man)," his only credit if not exactly original: sandwiched between slow choruses of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" he gives a eulogy for Jackie Robinson and invites everyone to come to Cooperstown. B-
  • Count Basie: The Count Basie Story (1957-59 [2004], Roulette, 2CD). The new testament band reprises their favorite stories from the old testament, from "Moten Swing" to "Red Bank Boogie"; the atomic precision is a marvel to behold, but the retrospective begs comparison with the swaggering territory band Basie moved to New York, reminding one how much "Lester Leaps In" depends on Lester. B+
  • Count Basie & Friends: 100th Birthday Bash (1957-62 [2004], Roulette, 2CD) This is a pseudo-event imagined 100 years after Basie's 1904 birth, long after most of its participants have passed on; an excuse to gather up a pastiche of atomic-era Basie with guest stars, including Ben Webster, Illinois Jacquet, Nat Cole, Billy Eckstine, Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan; of these, only Vaughan adds much to the band's impeccable crackle. B
  • Cheryl Bentyne: Talk of the Town (2003, Telarc). Big budget solo album for the cute redhead in Manhattan Transfer, this makes the usual tour through the classic songbook, with a side of mambo and two shots of vocalese. The songs come off with a delicacy and taste that the parent group often lacked, in part because the budget was wisely spent on a superb quartet of musicians, led by Kenny Barron, plus a few strategic guest shots, including Fathead Newman. But also because the singer never overreaches (except a bit in the Barron-less finale); she just works the nuances, a wink here, a slight grin there, nothing too clever or too dramatic. B
  • David Berger & the Sultans of Swing: Marlowe (2004, Such Sweet Thunder). The label name signals an aim to sound Ellingtonian. Berger and his orchestra accomplish the incidental details expertly enough, but they miss out on much of what matters. I hear things that could fit in an Ellington suite, but I don't hear that ineffable something that distinguished a suite as by Ellington. That is partly because among the five reeds and seven brass I don't hear a soloist with the presence of Tricky Sam Nanton, much less Johnny Hodges. But it also bespeaks a shortfall of swing -- not that it doesn't go through the motions, it just doesn't feel them in its bones. Or make you feel them. So at its best this is clever, but I don't feel much more from it. Nice packaging. B
  • The David Berkman Quartet: Start Here . . . Finish There (2004, Palmetto). I'm sure this record is [just] an Honorable Mention, but hard pressed to explain why. Berkman is a smart writer, and there's a lot of ideas afloat here. Oatts is a skilled player, and he sounds fine articulating them. The piano breaks are sharply detailed. B+
  • Andy Bey: American Song (2003 [2004], Savoy Jazz). Four of ten songs comes from Ellington and/or Strayhorn, so one thing that he has no trouble establishing is that he's a better singer than Herb Jeffries. He's actually more comparable to Jimmy Scott, except he eschews the tricky moves, or Billy Eckstine, except that he never quite goes that smooth. Those are all (well, except Jeffries) major singers, but theirs is a style that has never appealed to me, and it's going to take something more to convince me. More vocal meat in the songs, maybe. The band, especially Geri Allen, is flawless, so they don't put this over either. B
  • Birdbrain: I Fly (2004, Persian Cardinal). Clever concept: singer Yvette Perez bops along with two saxes and a trombone on ten short songs. It's startling at first, but by the end you realize they just front-loaded the album. B
  • Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: 'S Make It (1964 [2004], Verve). Blakey recorded mostly for Blue Note from 1954 (A Night at Birdland) to 1964 (Free for All and Indestructible), and it's possible that he never made a bad album during that stretch. He built a series of outstanding bands which virtually invented and certainly defined the East Coast's hard bop sound. Then from 1965 he pretty much drops off the map, resurfacing around 1978 with bands that featured Bobby Watson and/or the Marsalis brothers. This is the first post-Blue Note album, one of four issued on Limelight from 1964-66. It's still basically a continuation of the 1964 group, with Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller up front, John Gilmore guesting on tenor sax, and a young John Hicks replacing Cedar Walton on piano. Hicks was yet another feather in Blakey's cap. But the preponderance of ballad material, along with the squishy opener, doesn't give anyone much chance to stand out, least of all the drummer. Morgan still has a lovely tone on the ballads, but little fire. Fuller and Hicks do good work. Not bad, but the force wasn't with them. B
  • Carla Bley: Rarum Vol. 15: Selected Recordings (1961-99 [2004], ECM). Some things about Carla Bley: she's been married to three major jazz musicians (Paul Bley, Michael Mantler, Steve Swallow), yet she is more famous and arguably more important than any of them -- the arguable exception is Paul Bley, a more prodigious and imposing pianist; she wrote the first avant-jazz opera, the wonderful and sometimes horrible Escalator Over the Hill; with Michael Mantler, she organized the Jazz Composers Orchestra Association (JCOA) to perform large scale works by avant-jazz composers who couldn't otherwise afford to work on that scale, Watt Records to release albums by her and/or Mantler, and the New Music Distribution Service (NMDS) to distribute Watt and other labels; she had enough cachet that when Mick Taylor left the Rolling Stones to form a new (never realized) supergroup with Jack Bruce she was to be the secret ingredient; my favorite of all her albums is still Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports, a daft and hilarious thing with Bley's songs and Robert Wyatt's vocals released under the Pink Floyd drummer's name in hopes of sharing the unwary; the only album under her own name that I have listed at A- or better is Looking for America (2003, ECM). The last point may be because I've lost track of some of her early '70s records where she first impressed me, but it also points out that she's become a very adept big band arranger -- that's always been an interest, but the recent album is the first one I've noticed that really pays off. But they it seems that I haven't been paying enough attention: "On the Stage in Cages," from 1993's Big Band Theory, is every bit as sharp -- probably the best thing in this compilation. The :rarum series as a whole suffers from the inconsistencies of cherry picking from varying groups and phases, and that tends to be more so when the featured musician plays a rhythm instrument, or is a composer. Bley is one of the few major figures of our age who counts more as composer than musician -- this is perhaps tipped off when she closes with a piece that she wrote but didn't play. This one has to straddle her big bands with small groups, down to a duo with Swallow, and it does manage to flow reasonably well. But it doesn't cohere as well as I'd like. For one thing, the last-in-first-out ordering is a strange twist. B+
  • Bley/Sheppard/Swallow/Drummond: The Lost Chords (2004, Watt). Carla Bley is being too modest in the attribution here: these are her songs, her arrangements, her musicians, her mode that they play in. Her piano is also the central instrument. Andy Sheppard can be voluble and eloquent in his own work, but he mostly steps around Bley here. Still, this feels both abstract and tentative, and none of it really comes together -- at least until the final, three-part title piece. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] B+
  • Arthur Blythe: Exhale (2003, Savant). Blythe's quartet is anchored by Bob Stewart's tuba: not just an alternative to bass, a whole 'nother dimension for the bottom, more metallic, more resonant. Stewart's a master -- not so much a question of control and virtuosity as that he understands and eploits the humor at the base of the instrument. Blythe has used Stewart on a string of marvelous albums now, most notably Focus and Spirits in the Field. Here, however, he seems to be scratching for ideas, roping in pieces from Ellington, Coltrane, and Miles, "Night Train" and "Straighten Up and Fly Right." The Coltranes are the highlight, particularly "Equinox." B+
  • Lenny Breau/Don Francks/Eon Henstridge: At the Purple Onion (1962 [2004], Art of Life). Francks is a singer who sounds like he learned his craft at the feet of Lenny Bruce. His "A Gentile Sings the Blues" is way over the top, while "A New Electric Chair" is mostly monologue. Given this, you can imagine how puerile "Tea for Two" sounds. Breau is a guitarist who died too young. He has a reputation but I've never managed to sort him out. He plays a bit here; sounds interesting when he does. Joey Hollingsworth joints for the last three cuts, starting with "Work Song." He tap dances, which given the lyric turns this back into a minstrel show. C+
  • Dave Brubeck: Private Brubeck Remembers (2004, Telarc, 2CD). The first disc is an interview, where Brubeck recounts his experiences in Europe during WWII. Brubeck worked, or lucked, his way into a band called the Wolfpack, which under the patronage of a General managed to stay just behind the front lines -- at least as long as the front lines stayed somewhat orderly, which broke down during the Battle of the Bulge. Brubeck recounts an army policy where wounded soldiers who had musical backgrounds would be reassigned to bands, so most of the Wolfpack were combat veterans, and they would wear their Purple Hearts when they played, which helped establish a rapport with the soldiers they played for. The interview is conducted by Walter Cronkite, who had the added insight of having been there. The second disc is solo piano, including a number of songs mentioned in the interview. It's almost beside the point: the pieces are lovely, and one is impressed that the octogenarian Brubeck still has so much control over the piano, but they aren't all that interesting as jazz. B
  • Lenny Bruce: Let the Buyer Beware (1948-66 [2004], Shout! Factory, 6CD). I wonder how many people born after Bruce's death in 1966 have any idea who he was. Can't be many: comics don't have much of a shelf life, especially ones with no tv exposure. Older generations will know the name, even though few actually saw him perform, heard his LPs, or read his book. No, he was famous for getting busted -- 15 times in two years, mostly for saying bad words. Bruce was one of those Jews who adopted a goyische stage name to start his career, then spent nearly every moment on stage reminding you that he was Jewish: he savaged Barry Goldwater for changing his religion and not his name; he ran through lists of entertainers ("the Mills Brothers were goy; Coleman Hawkins was a Jew; Ben Webster was so Jewish, he was an orthodox Jew"); he poured so much Yiddish into his act the box includes a dictionary. Most of his shtick has dated: even with the biographical notes you had to have lived through Lawrence Welk and the Lone Ranger to get those bits. He barely touches politics -- nothing on Vietnam or Israel, but lots on race and homosexuals and the hypocrisies of the pious and the merely liberal. And by featuring mostly unreleased tapes the box aims to flesh out a portrait that only his devoted fans can fully dig. But excessive and peculiar as it is, those fans fear it may become timely again. America in the '50s was a cloistered society of deeply repressed people, and Bruce sliced through all that false consciousness, with an innocent's faith in simple justice and a mischievous glee. He didn't live to enjoy the liberating lifeforce of the '60s, but he had something to do with making it possible -- in death as much as in life. For most of the years since he's just been history, but some bits here do seem to be coming back to life: take his "Religions, Inc." and substitute Jerry Falwell for Oral Roberts, or let him quote Will Rogers again, "I never met a dyke I didn't like." So maybe it is time to resurrect him; after all, Jesus wasn't the only Jew who died for our sins. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] A-
  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Black Sex Y'All: Liberation & Blood Random Violets (2003, Trugroid, 2CD). The cup runneth over. By my count, 37 musicians contributed to two long discs here, usually in subsets of 5-8 members. Nobody appears with any consistency, not even oblique strategist Greg Tate, the nominal leader. So perhaps it's not surprising that so much of this sounds so anonymous. Some pieces are grooveful ("Funky Rich Medina," "Moonchile"), others are atmospheric; some are built out of conventional instruments, but most are slicked out or tripped up with electronics. And while voices appear all over the lot, the only one that articulates a message is Max Roach's "Driva Man/Freedom Day" -- written, I suspect, before the majority of this crowd was born. I don't have a problem with this in principle, but over the course of two long hours I find damn little to care about in practice. B
  • Don Byron: Ivey-Divey (2004, Blue Note). Byron continues to invent a role for the clarinet in the modern jazz world. [NB: reviewed by Larry Blumenfeld in Voice. I included it in my year-end top ten. I should have written more, but I was slow getting to it. This was probably the consensus jazz record of the year.] A-
  • Uri Caine Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (2004, Winter & Winter). Played this for the first time right after writing up Bad Plus, so I was struck first by how conventional this sounds, then by how dazzling it sounds for a conventional jazz piano trio. Starts with Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," reflects on Irving Berlin, ends with an original called "BushWack" which I take as the right sentiment and wish was more vicious. Caine can do pretty much anything he wants to do on the piano. Here he mostly wants to play fast and put on a good show, which he did. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] B+
  • Candido Camero: Candido (1956 [2004], Verve). Joe Puma's guitar adds as much latin flavor as Candido's congas, but in the end all the salsa just sets up Cohn's genteel mainstream sax. It feel slight, but it's hard to get to much of Cohn swinging out the likes of "Perdido" and "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "Cheek to Cheek." B+
  • Canela & Vidal: Univers Miles (2002 [2004], Fresh Sound). Carme Canela's not a bad singer, but she's handicapped by very limited accompaniment -- just Lluis Vidal's piano -- and she doesn't do anything interesting enough with these standards to lift this album out of its self-made rut. When I listen carefully I like the little nuances of her work, but they're so subtle they take a lot of attention to fish out. B
  • Bill Charlap Trio: Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein (2004, Blue Note). Charlap is one of the most important young pianists working today, and his particular strength is in working within and against the standards songbooks. Bernstein is a composer who hasn't been given much attention, so there's reason to hope that Charlap can draw something interesting out of the songbook. But something just doesn't click here: the songs, probably. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] B
  • Peter Cincotti: On the Moon (2004, Concord). He's very young, but one of the most impressive singer-pianists to come down the pike lately. On his first album he kept everything simple, scoring on a wide range of interpretive material. This time they go for more complex arrangements, including strings on five cuts, and a full horn section for a big band blast that sounds like Sinatra. His interpretations are interesting, the material far ranging. He is especially effective in introducing a song vocally, as on "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "You Don't Know Me." But the progress from his first, eponymous album in 2003 moves him more from hip small combo jazzbo to big-time interpreter. And his songwriting doesn't measure up to his other skills. A step forwards, backwards, and maybe two sideways. He's yet to find himself, but he's got a pretty good grasp of the rest of the world. B
  • The Colors of Latin Jazz: Música Romántica (1982-2003 1982-2003 [2004], Concord). More plunder from Concord's Latin catalog, never a strong starting place, but these appear to have been selected for their exceptional lameness. Only one I like is Tito Puente's "Sophisticated Lady" -- a song I rarely care for, done with a breeziness rarely attempted. How low can you go is demonstrated by the closers: Gato Barbieri on barbitruates, and Eddie Palmieri strangling himself in strings. C+
  • Alice Coltrane: Translinear Light (2004, Impulse). I don't know about her records from 1968-78: they looked suspiciously mystagogic at the time, and I've never trusted their reputation (such as it was), suspecting favoritism or at least sentiment for her late, very great husband. Probably unfair; definitely one of those "subjects for further research." This is her first record since 1978, enabled by son Ravi Coltrane, who inherited more than genes from the father he never actually knew. This one is a mixed bag, with suspect spots coming both from her vedantic interests and the Coltrane songbook, but I'm reluctant to call them weak spots. They just aren't worked into a coherent whole, like the whole thing is a bit misconceived and a little undercooked. On the other hand, her piano and organ make an impression, and the strongest and clearest parts here are the ones which feature her. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] B+
  • Dylan Cramer: Bumpin' on Sunset (2003, Nagel Heyer). Cramer goes out of his way to play pieces by Stevie Wonder and Vangelis for the same reasons he plays Jobim and "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" -- because he thinks they're pretty. And they are: he gets a lovely tone from his alto sax, and he enjoys swing rhythms and nice little bop things (two from Wes Montgomery here). This is a sumptuous recording, but Ron Johnston spends more time on synth than on piano, making it a little cheesy as well. B+
  • The Kenny Davern Quartet at the Mill Hill Playhouse (2003, Arbors). Davern started playing professionally at age 16 in 1954, so that's (roughly) where you get the subtitle, "Celebrating Fifty Years of Recording." Records under his own name started coming out around 1977, and they've come steadily ever since. He played old-time swing music from the start -- primarily on clarinet, but he also joined up with Bob Wilber for Soprano Summit, a pairing that has periodically reappeared to keep Sidney Bechet's legacy alive. This is a lovely quartet, with James Chirillo adding tasty chops and rhythm on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass, and Tony DeNicola on drums. It strikes me as a thoroughly typical Davern outing: old songs, old-fashioned swing, distinctive clarinet. B+
  • Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964 ([2004], Columbia/Legacy, 7CD). Seven discs, starting with a nondescript L.A. studio session released as Seven Steps to Heaven, stepping through a series of live recordings including the date in Berlin when Wayne Shorter completed the Quintet, the most famous Davis group of all. As the pieces come together -- Ron Carter from the start, Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams to finish the studio album in New York -- the band starts to sizzle and Davis plays as imaginatively as ever. In retrospect one likes to see this period as transitional, but the one disc with Shorter is anticlimactic. One thing this box should do is give George Coleman, who plays tenor sax on five discs here, some well deserved respect. Even more intriguing is the road not taken: Sam Rivers lights up the stage in Tokyo, prodding Davis to play as far out as he ever got. All but six cuts are previously released, but only the studio album has been in print recently. When/if this gets cut up, look first for the Antibes and Japan sets. A-
  • Miles Davis: My Funny Valentine (1964 [2005], Columbia/Legacy). Carved from the Seven Steps box and rushed to the Lovers Market (Valentine's Day, get it?), this was the Philharmonic Hall concert where four-fifths of the future Miles Davis Quintet got it together -- the other fifth being George Coleman, also in fine form. A-
  • Devorah Day & Dominic Duval: Standard (2003 [2004], CIMP). Bass-and-voice duos are always tough, even when we're talking Sheila Jordan and Harvie Swartz. CIMP's recording methodology makes it all the tougher -- I routinely have to kick the volume up on their CDs just to keep huge low volume holes from opening up, and the bass in particular rarely registers. Duval, who has turned into CIMP's first call bassist (this is his 38th record with them), is not necessarily the ideal partner, either -- certainly he doesn't have the fat tone that Swartz gets. So I didn't expect much here, and I'm still not so sure what I've found. Day has a high, somewhat smoky voice -- when she out of her narrow band it sounds like someone else butted in. The songs are all standards (more or less), so it is clear enough how she works the songs -- slow, patient, methodical, but sometimes to surprising effect (as in "Ain't Misbehavin'"). Still, it's a tough record. B-
  • Deep Blue Organ Trio: Deep Blue Bruise (2004, Delmark). Organ trio, with Bobby Broom on guitar and Chris Foreman on the Hammond B3. Also drummer Greg Rockingham, who learned the ropes working with Charles Earland. The novelty here is an odd choice of songs, ranging from "These Foolish Dreams" and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" on the one hand to "Light My Fire" and "Raspberry Beret" on the other. Best thing is their own thing, something called "Deep Blue Bruise," where they do what soul jazzers always did: take a blues and boogaloo it. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing new either. B
  • DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid: Celestial Mechanix (2004, Thirsty Ear, 2CD). Two sets of remixes of various Thirsty Ear Blue Series beats and blips, some passed through the remix mill previously. The source music is often magnificent, but its familiarity doesn't distinguish the mix. A minor, relatively unimportant exercise, though enjoyable. B+
  • Dr. Macaroni Brass Band: Cum Laude (2004, TCB). With three weights of sax, three of brass, and separate drummers for snare and bass, they look like an oom-pah band. B+
  • Christy Doran: Corporate Art (1991 [2004], Winter & Winter). Doran plays electric guitar. He's joined on electric bass by Mark Helias, who is a major avant acoustic bass player, but I've never seen him on electric elsewhere. Bobby Previte plays drums -- an ideal choice for an electric lineup. Gary Thomas plays tenor sax -- I'm not a big fan. Too bad I didn't take notes on this record. B+
  • Bob Dorough: Sunday at Iridium (2004, Arbors). He has a weaselly little voice, but he lives by his wits. Which he's more likely to concentrate in a studio album; the live album is just too informal. Guest stars don't add much, but the two pieces with the Bobettes (cf. Ray Charles' Raylettes) work best. He did a couple of good albums for Blue Note on his comeback, but this just marks time, and he isn't witty enough for that. B
  • Christiana Drapkin & Charles Sibirsky: Songs About You (2004, Iana). Good singer, some interesting songs. I don't dislike this in any way, but don't think it amounts to much either. B
  • Ismael Dueñas Trio: La Tiranía de la Cosa (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound). Piano trio, very conventional but first rate, with sharp sound from the piano and solid bass/drums support. Seems like there must be hundreds of equivalent albums, but there are merely dozens. B+
  • Paul Dunmall Moksha Big Band: I Wish You Peace (2003 [2004], Cuneiform). Dunmall is impressive on tenor sax, and his leads here are effective and powerful. The big band is big and loud, but doesn't do much other than provide a platform for Dunmall. The record consists of the single title piece, broken down into three parts, a total of about 53 minutes. B
  • Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers, Kevin Norton: Go Forth Duck (2003 [2004], CIMP). Rogers' A.I.L. bass gives this record a broader range of sound effects than you'd expect -- it's a bass with extra strings likened to a sitar. Still, they're little more than sound effects, and that is the basic problem here. While Dunmall's tenor sax is a force to be reckoned with, his soprano sax and bagpipes are more just sound effects. B-
  • Duke Ellington: Blues in Orbit (1958-59 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). This was some sort of an answer to the age of Sputnik, done quick by harnessing blues forms (including a couple of older pieces, like "C Jam Blues" and "In a Mellotone"), but the execution is pure Ellington. And the result was one of Ellington's finest period albums. The bonus tracks are mostly alternate takes, so the remastered album goes out with a slight excess of reprise. A
  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: The Jaywalker (1966-67 [2004], Storyville). Previously unreleased recordings from Ellington's "stockpile" -- the orchdestra is magnificent, as you'd expect, but the program isn't as distinctive as one might hope. How much Ellington does one need? Quite a bit, but the line falls well short of this. How much can one truly enjoy? Lots more. B+
  • Sergi Sirvent Escué: 9 Muses (2004, Fresh Sound, 2CD). Ambitious extra-long work by a Spanish pianist previously unknown to me. This weaves in and out of consciousness, impressive in small bits (especially the tenor sax on the first disc, which may be Fredrik Carlquist and/or Miguel "Pintxo" Villar), but ultimately hard to keep track of. Someone less harried might enjoy this more. B
  • Kali Z. Fasteau: Making Waves (2000-04 [2004], Flying Note). Kali has managed to cut back both on her cornucopia of exotic instruments and on her tendency to fragment her albums into lots of irreconcilable pieces, but both tendencies persist. What unifies the sound here is the presence of Kidd Jordan on 12 of 15 tracks. Jordan plays tenor sax in the Ayler-Gayle tradition, where every piece is an uphill trudge, and redemption is few and far between. B
  • Marco Figueira: Brazilliance (2004, Blue Toucan). The difference between this Brazillian jazz and your ordinary run of the mill Brazillian pop is too subtle for me to discern. Figueira plays guitar and sings. Paulo André Tavares arranges, and the band consists of Brazilians and sympaticos. This doesn't move me one way or the other: competent, maybe better, certainly sharper than what I consider the baseline to be. B
  • Five Play . . . Plus (2004, Arbors). All-female swing band, led by Dr. Sherri Maricle, who drums and also runs the even larger DIVA Jazz Orchestra. The bassist and pianist come from Japan. One saxophonist is from Israel, the other from Austria. The "plus" are a pair of trumpeters, Americans with Masters Degrees. The whole band sports educational credentials. They do a lot of things here, and some of it is duly impressive. I particularly like Anat Cohen's clarinet on "That Old Feeling" and enjoy her tenor sax on Hank Mobley's "Funk in a Deep Freeze," set off with a splash of brass. There are lots of moments like that, so I'm a bit puzzled that I find the band so disinteresting. Obviously, I can't hear the monosex, but I suspect that if that's the point they're aiming too low. Proficiency's fine, necessary even, but what else do you have to offer? B
  • Joel Frahm/Brad Mehldau: Don't Explain (2004, Palmetto). Sax/piano duo, patiently working their way through a rather eclectic songbook. As such, this tends to sound sparse, especially when one or the other finds himself playing alone. But it also sounds thoughtful, each statement a carefully considered response to the previous. B+
  • Von Freeman: The Great Divide (2003 [2004], Premonition/Koch). As he's sailed past his 80th birthday, Von Freeman has suddenly become so prolific that he risks overshadowing his once more famous son, Chico. He's always been very distinctive on tenor saxophone. His tone sounds pinched, almost strangled, but the effect gives him an eery lightness: imagine Lester Young levitating Sam Rivers. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] A-
  • Ghazal: The Rain (2001 [2003], ECM). Kayhan Kalhor comes from Iran and is a master of the kamancheh, a four-stringed ancestor of the fiddle. Shujat Husain Khan plays sitar, a family craft for seven generations. Sandeep Das plays tabla (hand drums). Their "Persian and Indian improvisations" are subtle but gradually build up a fine-tuned tension -- almost one dimensional but remarkable nonetheless. This was recorded live in Switzerland. Seems like a good sample but not quite a compelling case. B+
  • Globe Unity Orchestra & the Choir of the NDR-Broadcast: Hamburg '74 (1974, Atavistic). The tight discipline of the choir is poignantly absurd in the midst of all these anarchist horns, where the idea of bringing down the house is more like blowing it up. B
  • Wycliffe Gordon: Joyride (2000 [2003], Nagel Heyer). He's definitely got chops; grits too, and an extra helping of cornpone. Primarily a trombonist, he also plays (overdubs?) trumpet and tuba here, plus he sings or scats on three cuts, and takes the closing gospel "Blessed" on piano, with perhaps a bit too much stride. The blues pieces are the strongest, and Farid Barron's piano adds a lot to them. "The Island Boy" is a Jamaican throwaway. "Wishing Well" sounds more like lounge jazz, with Victor Goines (who contributes solidly on tenor sax) switching off to clarinet. B
  • Sean Grace: New Frontier (2003, NCA). Back cover says, "Smooth Jazz - New Age - Celtic." Flute album, but not too tweety. Nice groove. Not a lot of substance, but quite a bit of glitz and a little too much bombast. Not many vocals, but they don't help. B-
  • Benny Green & Russell Malone: Bluebird (2004, Telarc). Piano-guitar duo, from the best known of the young Montgomery acolytes and a pretty good mainstream pianist. Green is fortunate in having the more versatile instrument: he can hold down the bass line ("Reunion Blues"), sketch out the melody ("Love for Sale"), and comp behind Malone's guitar. Malone's guitar can shade a bit behind Green, or plot out the long hornlike lines that are bebop's legacy, but his tone is thinner than any horn (something I've been noticing with other guitarists, like Joshua Breakstone), and it doesn't seem to have any compensating merits. One consequence of this is that Malone's solo piece just sort of flops over without making any mark. B-
  • Burton Greene: Live at Grasland (2002 [2004], Drimala). Greene says that these pieces were selected from a large amount of material because they "breathe in and out." This seems like an apt description. This is solo piano, nowhere near as bracing as his mid-'60s work on ESP, but not chopped liver either. His output twixt then and now has been sporadic, picking up the pace a bit in the '90s with albums on the Dutch label BVHaast (mostly as Klezmokum) and various arms of the Cadence empire. Several of these cuts also show up on one of the BVHaast albums, attributed to Burton Greene's Klez-Thetics (which I haven't heard, like everything else he's done since 1965). I'm not sure that my ambivalence about this one isn't just my disinterest in solo piano, but then once I breathe in and breathe out, I'm ready to put something else on. B
  • Johnny Griffin Quartet (1956 [2004], Verve). Eight songs, the longest clocking in at 3:52, the whole album a very quick 26:15. Three Griffin originals, a piece from bassist Wilbur Ware, and four standards. Griffin sounds uncharacteristically mainstream as opposed to pure bebop, and doesn't improvise much in such limited space, but his tone and reflexes are tops, and he gets good support from Ware and Junior Mance. I'm not generally inclined to dock a CD because it's too short, but this one is. B+
  • Groundtruther: Latitude (2004, Thirsty Ear). The marquee order here is Bobby Previte and Charlie Hunter, in that order, above the Groundtruther line, with Greg Osby listed as "special guest" below the line. That's the way I hear it, too, although the expected pecking order would be saxophone, then guitar, then drums. The piece titles work from "North Pole" and "Arctic Circle" through "Horse Latitudes North" and "Equator" down to "Antarctic Circle" and "South Pole," but they assure us that it's all improvised. Key to everything is Previte's drums and electronics, and pieces like "40th Parallel" and "Tropic of Cancer" are predominantly pulse, with Hunter bulking up the rhythm, and Osby filling in. But when Previte lets up ambiance or fatigue take over, especially at the South Pole. Maybe snow-blindness is a concept too? [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] B+
  • Guaranteed Swahili: Three More Years (2002 [2004], Fresh Sound). With two saxopohonists on the front line, bass, drums, no piano, this fits the classic mold of pianoless quartets. Alto saxophonist Eric Rasmussen seems to be the main mover here -- he holds all of the writing credits except for one song contributed by Jason Hunter, the other saxophonist (tenor, soprano). This is one of a bunch of nouveau mainstream albums that make for perfectly good music but can't convince me that they have a good reason to exist. Retro is easier, because at least it remembers the past fondly; avant is easier because it attempts to do something new. In between there's a vast range of things that try to be state-of-the-art, and that's a tough challenge: even when you are we wonder why. I go up and down on this album -- don't much like the two-horn harmony, think either alone is just fine (Rasmussen seems to have the edge there, but then they're mostly his songs and he sticks to alto so has a consistent voice), think the rhythm is competent, songs ok. Don't know what else to say. B
  • Charlie Haden/Joe Henderson/Al Foster: The Montreal Tapes (1989 [2004], Verve). In Montreal in 1989 Charlie Haden played a series of eight concerts with musicians from various stages of his life. Five were released in 1997-99, and a duo with Egberto Gismonti came out in 2001. This is the seventh to be released, leaving only the one with Pat Metheny and Jack DeJohnette. Not clear why this one has been released now, nor why it wasn't released with the others -- although the performances weren't exceptional by any measure. Now it's styled as a "Tribute to Joe Henderson," and that's fair enough. Maybe three years after Henderson's death they miss the big guy. B+
  • Herbie Hancock: V.S.O.P.: Live Under the Sky (1979 [2004], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD). Not great jazz, but these live-in-Tokyo sets are still fun; after all, great jazz musicians can fake it at the drop of a hat, and all five superstars have their moments, especially Ron Carter and Tony Williams; the second set is previously unreleased, repeating the same set list to more scattered effect. B+
  • Happy Birthday Newport! 50 Swinging Years (1955-76 [2004], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD). Duke Ellington was born again at Newport in 1956. Johnny Hodges had just returned to the fold, but it was Paul Gonsalves who rocked the house with one of the most famous solos in jazz history. "Diminuendo in Blue" is the centerpiece of the first disc here, and arguably the one key performance that George Wein's Newport Jazz Festival on the map. But you can (and should) go to the Ellington section of your favorite record vendor for that story, now available in two glorious CDs. The festival has hung on now for fifty years, much of it mere inertia from its heyday in the late '50s. This box is welcome, but marginal. Newport's recording legacy is spotty, and this selection limits itself to eight years (1955-58, 1960, 1963, 1973, 1976). Aside from Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" and Hancock's "Maiden Voyage," and sidetracks by Muddy Waters and Mahalia Jackson, this is a nice, loose snapshot of the jazz legends of '50s. The booklet provides some of Wein's reminiscences, but little history. B+
  • Donald Harrison: Heroes (2002 [2004], Nagel Heyer) Impending death may focus the mind, but standing alone in front of Ron Carter and Billy Cobham focuses the pressure too. Harrison has to stretch like we've never seen before. B+
  • Kees Hazevoet Quartet: Pleasure (1970 [2004], Atavistic). The ringer here in this group of Dutch unknowns is Louis Moholo, the famed South African drummer. Part of Atavistic's Unheard Music Series (original release run was 250 copies), editor Jon Corbett quotes Kees Hazevoet on the importance of choosing a good drummer. As it happened, Moholo was in town when Hazevoet had the studio booked, and he more than fit the bill. Hazevoet bangs on the piano, plays some interesting clarinet, and dabbles a bit on trumpet; Kris Wanders struggles with the alto sax, and Arjen Gorter rounds out the lineup on bass. This is ye olde European Free Jazz as we know and mostly can't stand it, but at its best it pricks your nerves and makes your hair stand on end, and the catharsis can feel sublime afterwards. B+
  • Vincent Herring: Mr. Wizard (2004, High Note). This is a quintet in the standard mode of Charlie Parker and so many hard bop progeny, with Herring's greased lightning alto sax and emerging trumpet superstar Jeremy Pelt up front, piano-bass-drums in the back. They swing their way through "All God's Children Got Rhythm" to start, but left to their own devices (four band members contribute songs, plus there are two more less obvious covers) they fall back on their chops. And they got chops to spare, but ideas are something else. B
  • Hil St. Soul: Copasetik & Cool (2004, Shanachie). Shanachie markets this as jazz, but it's actually very straight R&B, with only a slight distance in the accent, softness in the beats, and lack of gospel roots separating it from mainstream fare. But then it's from England, where such differences are par for the course. The group consists of producer Victor Redwood-Sawyer (keybs, programming) and Zambia-born singer Hilary Mwelwa. B+
  • Ron Horton: Subtextures (2002 [2003], Fresh Sound). This kind of postmodernism is starting to get to me: avant enough to scare off the masses, too unspecific for me to get a handle on. Horton has played with Andrew Hill and in the Herbie Nichols Project, and he works in something called the Jazz Composers Collective, along with his better known bandmates (Frank Kimbrough, Ben Allison, Matt Wilson). These are all impeccable credentials, so why am I not impressed? Not sure, but when I start wondering whether I'm missing shit because I don't have the requisite technical grasp, I tend to retort that good music shouldn't depend on technical grasp -- that what we're hoping for is somethat that makes a visceral connection, rather than just an intellectual one. One cut which I believe he plays on flugelhorn (the register is lower than usual), "Mutability," starts to do that. Maybe others will kick in. B
  • Bobby Hutcherson: Now! (1978 [2004], Blue Note). The earlier pieces have lyrics and vocals by Gene McDaniels plus backing chorus, a silly mix of hipster crooning and black power, only intermittently relieved by Harold Land's tenor sax; the later pieces revive the earlier ones with no vocals but the supremely unswinging L.A. Philharmonic; buried deep are patches of brilliant vibes play and some fascinating rhythm. B-
  • Weber Iago: Os Filhos do Vento (Children of the Wind) (2004, Adventure Music). Brazilian pianist. The title comes from the 32-minute suite that ends the disc. Aside from reeds and/or English horn from Paul McCandless on two tracks, the lead instruments here are flutes: the basic line-up is flute(s), piano, bass/cello, percussion. I like the piano solos quite a bit, appreciate the percussion, have some doubts about the flutes. The core problem for me is that Iago stretches his pieces out into long more/less euroclassical suites, and I've never been able to relate to that. Ends strong. Too much orchestral texture for me. B-
  • Jon Jang/David Murray: River of Life (1998-2001 [2002], Asian Improv). A mixed bag. Murray is frequently outstanding in duo frameworks, so the surprise here is that he seems to be the source of the trouble. He feels awkward on several of these pieces, probably because they don't have a lot of melodic flow. Nor is this problem all Jang's fault: Murray takes another shot at his "Requiem for Julius," which is as difficult as anything Julius ever wrote. Also the bass clarinet doesn't seem to fit a couple of pieces. On the other hand, when he's hot he's hot. This starts strong, and ends stronger. The other high point is Jang's arrangement of a Chinese piece. Jang actually is interesting throughout. Like I said, a mixed bag. B+
  • Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra: Celebration of the Spirit (2003 [2004], CIMP). This takes some volume to get going, but I'm impressed by how robust the group sounds. The multiple composers add some variety. Nothing here has the piling-on effect of so many large-scale free orchestras; rather, there's a lot going on but it all seems well thought-out and orderly, but none to oconventional. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] B+
  • Jazz for Couch Potatoes! (2004, Shanachie). Done by the Couch Potato All-Stars, but I don't think we'll need to file their name in the artist database. The main mover here is guitarist Chuck Loeb, with additional help from much of Shanachie's roster -- the good (Eric Alexander), the bad (Kim Waters), and the ugly (David Mann), plus various extras. Light but tasteful arrangements, clever to downright mediocre tunes (e.g., Bob James' theme for "Taxi"). Not that tasteful goes very far with such obvious fare: I can imagine pretty much what Charlie Parker would have done with the chord changes from the head to "Gilligan's Island," and had he made the session he would've landed a Choice Cut. But Mann seems to have fainted from the head alone, so Loeb took the solo. As it is, the only legit jazz solos here are from Alexander on "Bewitched" and Loeb on "The Andy Griffith Show," but it could have been much worse. B
  • Jazz Moods: Sounds of Autumn (1977-2003 [2004], Concord). More catalog plunder, topically organized as follows: songs with autumn in the title: 5; September songs: 3; October songs: 2; which leaves the leaves ("Lullaby of the Leaves"). Yes, "September Song" is one of the September songs, although by the time Gene Harris gets through with it you can barely recognize it, and can't care less. Songs with singers: 6 (Karrin Allyson, Mel Tormé, Mary Stallings, Tony Bennett, Carol Sloane, Diane Schuur). Best thing here is Steve Wilson's saxophone on Charlie Byrd's "Autumn in New York." Worst are the singers, excepting Allyson. This is approximately the 20th album in this series. Thank the venture capitalists who bought Concord: they deleted 300+ albums, at least a third B+ or better, easily the world's great catalog of whatever you'd call the white folks' version of soul jazz (not quite fair, since only 80% or so of Concord's artists are actually white -- Harris, Stallings and Wilson are the exceptions here, although Wilson isn't a leader in the catalog); instead, now we get repackagings like this. B-
  • Jazz Moods: Twilight in Rio (1982-99 [2004], Concord). This series is nothing but catalog plunder, but this one is relatively useful. Concord's Brazilian catalog is a mix of soft exotics like Manfredo Fest and Hendrik Meurkens and tourists like Karrin Allyson and (not present here) Susannah McCorkle, but Charlie Byrd looms large here, both leading off and closing. Byrd was the guy who fed Stan Getz his samba beat. In later years Concord practically cornered the market for mild-mannered guitarists, and Byrd was one of many. He's not terribly interesting in his own right, but can be delightful in small doses, and matching him up with Ken Peplowski was a smart move. B
  • Hank Jones: The Talented Touch/Porgy and Bess (1958-59 [2004], Okra-tone). Two quartet albums from the late '50s, with guitar but no horns. Nothing remarkable about either, at least if you accept Jones' usual level of expert touch as your norm. B
  • Sheila Jordan: Little Song (2003, High Note). Not sure whether to get into this or not, given its age, but it finds Jordan is good voice and good company. A-
  • Frank Kimbrough: Lullabluebye (2003 [2004], Palmetto). All three members of this piano trio show up in each others' groups, all spinoffs of the Jazz Composers Collective. They also show up in the Herbie Nichols Project, which might be relevant here -- Nichols like Kimbrough being a pianist. If so, I can't quite make the connection. This seems smart and careful, but nothing here really jumps out and calls attention to itself. The notes say: "There are no arrangements per se -- we try to let the music happen in an organic way, so that each time we play, it's different. My main objective as a composer is to give each player something to work with as an improviser, so that we make music that's honest, interactive, and in the moment." That's evident, but it also strikes me as lazy, prone to self-indulgence, and unlikely to produce much of anything worthwhile. B
  • Steve Kuhn With Strings: Promises Kept (2004, ECM). Just piano and bass in front of a large string orchestra, Kuhn described this project as "a life's dream." I feel like I should be more sympatetic: Kuhn's delicately crafted melodies unwind slowly, and their loveliness is heightened by the string backdrop, even though the string arrangements have little interest in their own right. The effect is, indeed, often undeniably gorgeous. But over the course of a whole album all this lushness makes me woozy. Still, I can't be harsh either: it's not so much that I respect his "life's dream" as that I have to acknowledge that Kuhn's piano has rarely sounded more erudite. B
  • Steve Lehman Quintet: Artificial Light (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound). Lehman plays alto saxophone, and he's leading a quintet here with a second saxophone (Mark Shim, on tenor), vibes, bass and drums. Several motifs (or maybe they're just tricks) dominate this album: he plays long boppish solos with some facility, but he also tends to build up songs in discrete toots, effectively stopping the music on each note (this can be used to sketch out a melody, or more commonly to set up a rhythm); then there's the vibes, all over the place. The opening track is really just a vibes solo over a tooted rhythm; the last track is mammothly choppy, a mess of rhythms flying off at odd tangents, although it ends with another, more emphatic, horn-based rhythm, with a drum solo on top. At its best this has a certain weird appeal; at its worst it annoys me. B
  • George Lewis: Ice Cream (1953 [2004], Delmark). Among ancient New Orleans trumpeters, Buddy Bolden was an unrecorded legend and Freddie Keppard barely got his cup of coffee, but once Bunk Johnson got a new set of teeth in 1942, his comeback kicked off a revival of classic New Orleans jazz. The chief beneficiary of the revival was Johnson's clarinet player, the thin, unassuming George Lewis. Never more than a sideman in the old days, Lewis toured the world and recorded dozens of albums from the mid-'40s to his death in 1968. His was a music that had been frozen in time since Louis Armstrong's revolution, but that hardly detracts from the eloquence of his clarinet or the rousing good cheer of his band. With so many records so fundamentally similar distinctions are subtle. This one was cut by Lewis' most typical group, and is a fine introduction to their art. Better still is The Beverly Caverns Sessions (Good Time Jazz), cut a month earlier with the same group: the clarinet a bit lighter, the trombone a bit heavier, the trumpet a bit more shiny, fewer vocals, marginal distinctions that somehow add up. B+
  • Ramsey Lewis: Love Songs (1972-88 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). Without vocals how do you know they're love songs? With Nancy Wilson, why should you care? Excepting a simple trio take on "Please Send Me Someone to Love," this offers nothing but tinkling piano in a sea of goop. D
  • Pete Malinverni: The Tempest (2003 [2004], Reservoir). Good record, rock solid piano trio, goes through the mainstream motions with aplomb. I could play this another dozen times, enjoy each time, and still not be able to tell you why this is better than a dozen other similar trios. So that doesn't say much for me as a jazz critic, now does it? But it helps nail down the grade, because the very fact that I can't tell you why says that it must not be all that great. So that's where we stand. B+
  • Shelly Manne: Steps to the Desert (1962 [2004], Contemporary). Subtitled "modern jazz versions of favorite Jewish and Israeli songs," the jazz isn't all that impressive, nor are the songs. Teddy Edwards and Victor Feldman (at least on vibes) play competently enough, but one suspects a general lack of purpose, or lackadaisicalness. B-
  • Nancy Marano: You're Nearer (2004, Munich). She's a veteran jazz singer, but little known after seven albums. The booklet here, and her website there, try too hard in pushing the laudatory quotes from critics and musicians who regard her highly. Their praise isn't unfounded: she has a luxurious voice, and has the discipline to sing skillfully at any speed. Her intro to "Detour Ahead," sung/spoken against the barest accompaniment, is nothing short of astonishing. With a fine Dutch band, she can swing through the fast ones, and her guitarist doesn't embarrass her on Jobim either. My problem is with the slow torchers, which she handles capably but still for me they drain the pleasure out of one of oh-so-many standards albums. B
  • A Proper Introduction to Dodo Marmarosa: Dodo's Dance (1946-48 [2004], Proper). A fair selection of work by a minor pianist of the bebop era, which elevate a notch when joined by tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson. B+
  • Branford Marsalis: Steep Anthology (1983-98 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). He's less ambitious, and more fun than his famous little brother, perhaps because the legacy of respected (PC) sax is broader and more adventurous than for trumpet. Also because he can switch off to soprano, getting a distinct sound which he does little with other than to invokes Bechet. In his early years he didn't do much to justify his big label contract, but he kept plugging at it, even taking on difficult trio spots, and he eventually turned himself into a pretty solid player. Still, this comp is rather randomly selected from his wide range of albums, with most of the threads cancelling each other out. In particular, his boppish trysts sound lame; and while the Bechet shots are fun, they pretty much stand outside the real body of his work. Part of the problem is endemic in jazz comps -- trying to force a "greatest hits" out of a form that tends to run long and differentiate subtly -- but much of it is just poor selection. He's got a better comp in him; got some better records, too. B
  • Billy Martin: The Turntable Sessions, Volume 1 (2001-03 [2004], Amulet). Divers DJ encounters, mostly with DJ Olive spinning around Martin's beat stock, recorded live and "currated." Mixed bag with a couple of choice cuts: "Marty," named for and starring Marty Ehrlich, with Matt Moran on vibes; "Ramblin' Man," with Mike Ill singing the Hank Williams song, making it darker and more godforsaken than even Williams was wont to. A following vocal (Dean Bowman on "Giliad") is similar but somewhat less convincing. B+
  • Billy Martin/Grant Calvin Weston/DJ Logic: For No One in Particular (2003, Amulet). Two drummers plus a turntablist -- the latter not just outmanned but outgunned as well. Interesting, as far as that goes, but only one cut comes together strongly enough to make you listen, an extra effort to listen elsewhere pays off only modestly. Choice cut, with gratified but gratuitous applause: "Hustling Raindrops." B
  • Billy Martin: Illy B Eats, Volume 2 (2004, Amulet). After all is said and done, these are just drum fragments. They may be useful to DJs, mixers, students, whatever, but they don't offer much consistency or dynamics or perversity just for listening. B
  • Rebecca Martin: People Behave Like Ballads (2004, MaxJazz). Miscast as a jazz singer, she's really a singer-songwriter: she wrote everything here, plays guitar, and keeps the arrangements absolutely simple. As such, it all centers on the songs, which are so plainspoken they rarely rhyme -- not that close listening discerns much content. But then, if the songs turn out to be word-encrusted voids, maybe she is a jazz singer after all? Too subtle for me. B-
  • Jack McDuff: The Prestige Years (1960-65 [2004], Prestige). Dependably funky on the Hammond B3, Brother Jack cranked out 23 albums in a six year stretch with Prestige. Nothing extraordinary here, but he was one of the workhorses of the soul jazz era. He was usually paired with a guitarist (Kenny Burrell, George Benson) and/or saxophone (Gene Ammons, Jimmy Forrest, Red Holloway, Harold Vick), and his high points often depended on his partners. My own favorite is Kirk's Work, with a young Roland Kirk (not yet Rahsaan), but that's another label. B+
  • Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath: Bremen to Bridgewater (1971-75 [2004], Cuneiform, 2CD). Following the earlier (2001) release of Travelling Somewhere, this is much more: three more radio performances, with variable lineups of Europeans joining McGregor's South African core. The predecessor has an edge because the South African roots are more evident: while the horns play plenty free, the rhythm keeps moving like they were playing a dance. Here, everything is freer and more cacophonous, so you have to work harder to sort it all out. Not that it isn't worthwhile, or fun. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] B+
  • Jackie McLean: Action (1964 [2004], Blue Note). A minor masterpiece from McLean's Blue Note years, which were full of them. This one features young (22) Charles Tolliver and (23) Bobby Hutcherson. Tolliver wrote two of the songs, and his trumpet solos match up well with McLean. A-
  • Metz'n Around: A Late Night Party With the Metz Family (2004, Arbors). Ed Metz, Jr. is a drummer who plays on quite a few Arbors releases. This is meant as a family showcase, especially for Ed Metz Sr., who plays pretty respectable stride piano. Brother Tim plays bass, and mother Joey, coming off as a gray haired floozy, sings four cuts. Two extra Arbors hands play trombone and tenor sax -- possibly the best thing here is Teddy Myers' sax on "Old Folks." Other points of interest include Ed Sr.'s uncommonly light touch on James P. Johnson's "You Can't Lose a Broken Heart" and Joey's surprising "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None O' This Jelly Roll." B
  • The Mulgrew Miller Trio: Live at Yoshi's, Volume One (2004, MaxJazz). His speed and touch recall Oscar Peterson and McCoy Tyner, and as a first approximation he evenly splits the differences between those two. This might be taken as criticism, the expectation being that the younger player would try to advance beyond Tyner, whereas in fact he's a tad more conservative -- although the two are uncannily similar when backing other horn players. In a straightforward trio session Miller does pretty much what you'd expect: he puts mostly standards through their paces, picking up speed on the opener until it smokes, then slowing down a bit toward the end. Speed, touch, perfectly enjoyable, what more do you want? Ideas? B
  • Dom Minasi's DDT + 2: Time Will Tell (2004, CDM). Minasi is a guitarist in the pleasant swing tradition, but Thomas Ulrich gives this record a bit more bite with his cello, and Ken Filiano thickens the sauce on bass. The "+ 2" are drums and singer, although the singer in particular doesn't get a lot of work. B+
  • Blue Mitchell: The Thing to Do (1964 [2004], Blue Note). Good showcase for Horace Silver's trumpet man, with Junior Cook and Chick Corea kicking out the hard bop. Starts loose, with a calypso. B+
  • Thelonious Monk: Monk 'Round the World (1961-65 [2004], Thelonious/Hyena, CD+DVD). The second of who knows how many CDs (and DVDs) of live Monk, featuring Charlie Rouse playing the same songs you've heard them play again and again and again. How much of this anyone needs is an open question, but it's hard to fault the music. As for the video, the B&W footage just proves that Monk's piano looks as odd as it sounds. B+
  • Bill O'Connell: Latin Jazz Fantasy (2003 [2004], Random Chance). Not really a latin jazz record, even in its fantasies. O'Connell is a skilled pianist who wants to be a great arranger, and he's a pretty good one. But his arrangements, especially for full-blown orchestra (five horns and eight strings here) don't do much for me, except for "Barcelona," where he gets a tight, dark, roiling storm of sound. His smaller group settings make more of his musicianship, and in this he is much helped by tenor saxophonist Bob Malach. B
  • Anita O'Day and Billy May: Swing Rodgers and Hart (1960 [2004], Verve). Similar to their better known Cole Porter album. The songs you know, the orchestra a little top-heavy, the singer fine but overmatched. May did similar work with Frank Sinatra, but he was a more imposing singer. This works best when they work together, as on "Ten Cents a Dance" and the macabre "To Keep My Love Alive." Four cuts with an anonymous string section replacing the horns are as lame as you'd figure. B
  • Orquestra Popular de Camara (2004, Adventure Music). World music, not just from our own peculiar vantage point but from Brazil's own peculiar vantage point -- the giveaway is that they start with a song from Turkmenistan, cribbed off Peter Gabriel's label. I'm sure that wherever they come from they are progressives, but that makes them doubly difficult. There are things that I like here. There is little that I understand. B
  • Greg Osby: Public (2004, Blue Note). Cut live like his best-ever Banned in New York -- the simplicity befits him, while the studio tempts him to get over-slick. On the other hand, he sounds kind of scraggly live, and guest trumpeter Nicholas Payton keeps this from getting simple enough. Osby's best performance in in "Equalatogram," for just these reasons. Still, if he can reel off such long, scraggly Coltrane-isms at will why do they matter? He comes no closer to Parker on "Shaw Nuff" than Payton does Gillespie, and the shortfall sounds more like chops than concept. But I do rather like the vocal on "Lover Man," by Joan Osborne of all people. She may have a future career in cabaret somewhere, and if her pop muse doesn't return she'll need it. B
  • Eddie Palmieri: Ritmo Caliente (2004, Concord). One of my objectives on my trip to New York City before deciding to move there was to check out the local salsa music. I came home with two LPs that I never quite got the hang of -- one was Palmieri's Unfinished Masterpiece -- and I never got up the courage or fortitude to explore much further. But I did pick up Palmieri's Palmas (1994) and was duly impressed, and this one seems roughly on that same level. For all I know this could be his usual level, with dozens of comparable albums. What I do know is that the big band is always in gear, and it pays to listen for the pianist. [NB: CG by Robert Christgau in Voice.] A-
  • Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: Memory/Vision (2004, ECM). Dedicated to philosopher Charles Arthur Musès (1919-2000), whose ideas about "chronotopology and resonance" had something to do with the inspiration behind this record. Hard to figure out just what; harder still to decide whether it matters. This feels like quite a bit of the electronic musique concrete that has dribbled out of the academy over the last forty-or-so years: not much obvious impact from Parker or his usual cohorts (Barry Guy, Paul Lytton), although there are moments when they gain notice. The piano is more notable, and the little blocks of electro-noise are more common -- the main building blocks to this work. I'm impressed by the conceptual seriousness of the whole effort. If only it were more enjoyable. B
  • Bucky Pizzarelli: Flashes: Solo 7-String Guitar, Volume 3 (Arbors). The spoken intros set this up as a stroll down memory lane, but don't do what they need to do to hold up, which is to be more interesting than the music. Moreover, they break up the music, which never achieves the intensity or flair that it needs to sustain interest. Not that it isn't lovely. He's a lovely player, no doubt a lovely person. We all know that. B
  • Positive Flow: Can U Feel It? (2004, Shanachie). Donna Gardier sings. Jesse Reuben Wilson writes the songs, arranges, produces, plays keybs, concocts the beats. At its best, as on the lead track ("hit single") "The City Streets," this is innocuous soul lite, where clever little beats distract you from the contentlessness of the lyrics. Still, even the hit isn't clever enough to keep up the ruse for its full length, much less for the two remixes tacked onto the end as "bonus cuts." The worst, as in "Sunflower" or "Positivity," doesn't begin to cover its tracks. C+
  • Bud Powell: Bebop (1948-64 [2004], Pablo). This is the third installment in Pablo's repackaging of the tapes that Francis Paudras assembled and released on his Mythic Sound label. Most of the material comes from late in Powell's career, after Powell moved to Paris and was befriended by Paudras -- by now a well known story, loosely the basis of the movie 'Round Midnight. But this one starts with a live broadcast from the Royal Roost in 1948, MCed by Leonard Feather: typical bebop, play a head and let the solo fly, with Max Roach keeping things honest; also typical live bebop, with thin, indistinguishable sound. B+
  • The PrimeTime Sublime Community Orchestra: A Life in a Day of a Microorganism (Corporate Blob). The title cut is a three-part "pseudo science education film soundtrack (c. 1960) for extraterrestrial adolescents." Narrated by Bob Schumucklehead over a light classical orchestra populated mostly by musicians who show up in clown makeup and bright hair, it explores a day in the life of a stereotypical family, starting with mom dreaming of Tupperware and dad dreaming of silk stockings. With harp by Jane Parker Fruitcake and percussion by Fred & Ethel Merz, well, no point spoiling the story. Elsewhere on the album are pastiches of electronics, samples, more light classical, and a piano solo by Tony Macaroni. Reminds me of Joe Byrd & the Field Hippies, but Byrd was close enough to the '50s to convey dread as well as amusement. This one is updated to the era of Billionaires for Bush, who might consider "Fashion Flag for a Part-time Patriot" as a possible theme song. B+
  • Hugh Ragin: Revelation (2004, Justin Time) It is tempting just to sit back and listen to the bass and drums -- the marvelous duo of William Parker and Hamid Drake -- but the two horns, Ragin on trumpet and Assif Tsahar on tenor sax or bass clarinet, are impossible to ignore. Both are aggressive avant-gardists, and together they can peel paint, but individually they offer a lot to listen to. A bit too aggressive to recommend broadly, but sharp enough that even when I disapprove I'm impressed. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] B+
  • Edward Ratliff: Barcelona in 48 Hours (2002, Strudelmedia). In the final analysis, smart but ordinary soundtrack music. B+
  • The Revolutionary Ensemble: And Now . . . (2004, Pi). The 27 years between the last Revolutionary Ensemble album and this one are a vast stretch of time not least because we've heard so little from these three along the way. Leroy Jenkins was at one time the only name who might come to mind when you tried to think of avant-garde violin, and he's continued to work with some frequency since then. Sirone and Jerome Cooper were busy in the '70s but infrequently employed since then. That they have survived and reunited is a blessing. That they are older is obvious: the bass and drums are tighter, Jenkins' violin more melodic and more textural. This makes not just for a welcome album, it's a lovely one. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] A-
  • Sam Rivers: Contours (1965 [2004], Blue Note). For Rivers' second album, Blue Note parked him in the middle of a simulation of the Miles Davis quintet, with Rivers reprising the job he lost to Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard doing his usual Miles-in-disguise bit. Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter are on hand, but Joe Chambers replaces Tony Williams, and that hurts. I suspect that what others like about this is that it gives Rivers a chance to expand his arrangements to bigger and presumably better heights. But I much prefer his debut, Fuschia Swing Song, because it really shows off Rivers' compressed, frantic tenor sax, whereas he is often buried here. (Especially when he switches to flute.) But also because Williams was not only a far superior drummer -- he had grown up working with Rivers and they had a chemistry that is missing here. B+
  • Linda Ronstadt: Hummin' to Myself (2004, Verve). She's almost frighteningly credible as a jazz standards singer. The big voice you know about, but her control over minor shifts in speed and nuance reminds me of Sarah Vaughan, and when she turns it on, well, not even Vaughan could light up like that. (Ella could, and Ella could swing Ronstadt into cardiac arrest, but she didn't have that up-on-a-pedestal voice.) She also has access to some first rate jazz musicians, and especially on the cuts with Alan Broadbent, Bob Mann, Christian McBride and Lewis Nash, the musicians more than hold their own. The record has four of them, and by the time she aces "Cry Me a River" and the title cut you're thinking tour de force, but wondering about "Miss Otis Regrets." She finesses that one as a slow torcher with a couple of weepy strings, a sigh of relief, but she stays in torch mode for the rest of the album, a victim of too many cooks and too little brains. B
  • Hironobu Saito: The Remaining 2% (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound). Walter Smith's tenor sax and Darren Barrett's trumpet make their marks, establishing this as somewhat to the left of mainstream, but their moves don't differentiate easily from dozens of others. Besides, this is the guitarist's record, and the horns in that respect are distracting. It doesn't help that the guitarist has little to add on top of the usual Montgomery-influenced lines. But I can't be certain: I'd like to hear him in a context which focuses more on him, or I'd like to hear him with a better saxophonist. B
  • Jody Sandhaus: A Fine Spring Morning (2004, CAP). Not bad, but not very interesting either. She has a thin voice, which can turn interesting in something like the noirish "Whatever Lola Wants," but mostly doesn't grab you. Just done with piano-bass-drums, including the excellent Peter Malinverni on piano. B
  • Moacir Santos: Ouro Negro (1965-92 [2004], Adventure Music, 2CD). It's tempting to think of Santos as some sort of Brazilian Quincy Jones, although he certainly doesn't have Q's business skills. But Santos is best known as as an arranger, composer and conductor, usually working behind more luminous stars -- Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil, João Bosco, and others sing a track each here. Santos plays tenor sax, but rarely draws attention to himself. (In fact, most of the sax here is played by others.) His own compositions are typically titled "Thing #N" (with some number for N) and they are remarkable for their simple and elegant texture -- the arranger's art, viewed in its own right instead of as a means to the usual ends of cranking out hits. This is all very mainstream music, but outsiders rarely get a chance to see so clearly how it works. A-
  • Basya Schechter: Queen's Dominion (2004, Tzadik). She plays oud, Alan Kushan santur, Meg Okura violin, Jarrod Gagwin percussion. The instrumentation is oriental, but the music itself strikes me as a bit stiff, more European, as in Bach. B
  • Ben Schwendener/Marc Rossi: Living Geometry II Volumes 1 & 2 (2003 [2004], Gravity, 2CD). Aside from horns (Joe Maneri, Uwe Steinmetz) added to the last four cuts, these two discs are banged out with two grand pianos. The two pianos strike me as quasi-classical in their leanings, and the mesh of such comparable sounds and styles doesn't much appeal to me. Maneri's own style is closely connected to avant-classical ideas, such as the use of serialist microtones, giving him a tightly stuttering effect that I've always found to be a marginal pleasure at best. I'm somewhat loathe to pan something I understand so poorly, but I'm also disinclined to study it more carefully, other than to note that some of it sounds possibly interesting. B
  • Tony Scott (1967 [2004], Verve). The clarinetist on a mission to seek out the future in the past, exploring old jazz standards like Ellington and "My Funny Valentine" and trans-Asian exotica with oud, dumbek and sitar. The repertoire is split between two groups, one conventional, the other exotic; as such it is tempted to fall into two parts, but the clarinet binds them together, the search made palpable. A-
  • Archie Shepp: I Know About the Life (1981 [2003], Hatology). B+
  • Archie Shepp: St. Louis Blues (1998 [1999], PAO). He sings on two covers, briefly, creakily, toward the end. He plays everything slow, and his tone seems a bit fragile, like he's getting old. Murray and Davis rarely emerge, although Davis' arco solo on "Total Package" makes for some interesting interplay. The record moves progressively into avant-garde territory, much like he's intent on recapitulating the whole history of jazz, or at least the flow that matters most to him. B+
  • Shirim Klezmer Orchestra: Pincus and the Pig: A Klezmer Tale (2004, Tzadik). Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" rendered as klezmer, narrated by Maurice Sendak, performed by the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra. Don't know whether to laugh or cry here. The narration is full of explosive Yiddish, which breaks the flow of the music. The music is further complicated by a mapping scheme of instrument to character, where the tuba and trombone have to double up in unison to pick up a straggler. Oy! Following the tale is a job. But the story runs out after 11 cuts, leaving four pieces of nicely orchestrated klezmer, with the same instruments, presumably not with the same characters. B
  • James Silberstein: Song for Micaela (2004, CAP). This is a fairly conservative post-bop guitar album, with Silberstein making fast, elegant horn-like runs over spry rhythm, with friendly guests like Randy Brecker and Eric Alexander, plus Carla Cook for a vocal. This is Silberstein's first album. Don't know anything about him, but this is consistently enjoyable. B+
  • Yotam Silberstein Trio: The Arrival (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound). Gilad Abro (bass) and Doron Tirosh (drums) also get billing on the album cover, but the picture is centered on the young guitarist leader. After months of complaining about Wes Montgomery-influenced jazz guitarists, I have to admit that I like this one. Hard to say just why: perhaps it has as much to do with the good cheer of his cohorts as his own lean, delicate lines. B+
  • Horace Silver: The United States of Mind (1970-72 [2004], Blue Note, 2CD). He always sounds like he's just come from church, but this time he brought the choir with him, preaching and signifying, hell bent on raising the race not to mention the rafters; focus on the words and you're bound to lose faith, but your ass knows better. B+
  • Sonny Simmons: Jewels (1991 [2004], Boxholder). The problem is that solo saxophone is inherently unlistenable. It just produces one tone, and there's nothing to fill in or carry past the breaks in the breathing. Bobby Watson got around these limitations by doing a lot of short, melodic pieces. Anthony Braxton did the opposite, to mixed reviews. Jimmy Lyons sounded much like he was practicing. Simmons sounds like an average of those approaches: melodic fragments embedded in pieces ranging from 8:40 to 19:00. B
  • Nina Simone: For Lovers (1964-87 [2005], Verve). As absurb a concept as awarding Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize, but they still should have been able to come up with something more amorous than "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" -- nor does piling the strings on help. C-
  • Zoot Sims With the Joe Castro Trio: Live at Falcon Lair (1956 [2004], Pablo). Seems strange to hear Sims playing alto sax. In his hands the horn is lighter and airier, devoid of the bright shine of someone like Art Pepper. However, in the end Sims' tremendous sense of swing comes through. B+
  • Jimmy Smith: Home Cookin' (1959 [2004], Blue Note). Same old chitlins, cornbread and collard greens, but a rare guest appearance from r&b saxophonist Percy France (the "5" Royales, Bill Doggett) is as fine as sweet potato pie. B+
  • Joe Smith: Melodic Workshop (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound). Drummer led, with a second drummer (Jorge Rossy), two quality saxophones, keyboards and electric bass, this fits the "workshop" concept by trying to be a little bit of everything. Smartly conceived postbop, for the most part, but sandwiched inside are slower, more densely harmonic experiments, which I find less satisfying. Last song adds a vocal group, again to thicken the harmony -- again, who cares? B
  • Doctor Lonnie Smith: Too Damn Hot! (2004, Palmetto). Not really: too damn cool is closer to the mark, even on the title song. Smith's organ is agreeably funky without getting into the grease. He's joined by two guitarists, with Rodney Jones getting the backseat "rhythm" credit and Peter Bernstein the leads. Drums too, split evenly between Greg Hutchinson and Fukushi Tainaka. B
  • Stuff Smith: Cat on a Hot Fiddle (1959 [2004], Verve). Jaunty violin leads over swing tunes -- seven (of eleven) of them vintage Gershwins. Two vocals that barely register. Impeccable, of course, but the degree of difficulty is near zero. B+
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Kabell Years 1971-1979 ([2004], Tzadik, 4CD). From Albert Ayler to Pharoah Sanders to Peter Brötzmann, the avant-garde in the '60s was enthralled by the idea of pushing limits, of generating a louder and more discordant sound than ever before. They proved their point, leaving the next generation with a big problem: now what? Free jazz no longer a goal in the '70s; it was an assumption, but thus far its meaning could only be defined by what it was not. Into this void came the theoreticians -- the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins. Smith came out of those same circles, working with Braxton and Jenkins as the Creative Construction Company, recording with Abrams and Marion Brown. During the '70s Smith's own work appeared on his Kabell Recods, his own label. Only now has a sizable chunk of it appeared on CD. Of the four CDs, two are solo works or trumpet and/or percussion, the other two small groups -- one with Oliver Lake on flute and sax, both with Anthony Davis on piano. The solo works are shot full of holes, silence being part of Smith's rhythmic arsenal. The groups are more expansive. Nothing here is particularly fun to play, but often it is fascinating to listen to. Smith's later records, even the solo Red Sulphur Sky (2001, Tzadik), have grown more lyrical, and he's added another dimension to his work with projects like Yo Miles! But this is one of the key documents of the gestation of what they could only call creative music. B+
  • Magali Souriau Trio: Petite Promenade (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound). Soft set, with piano, bass, and tenor/soprano sax. Souriau is credited with vocals on four tracks, but she doesn't sing much -- the vocals are more like ad-libs, only slightly more coherent than Keith Jarrett's grunts. The originals seem tentative and underdone, but it doesn't hurt to listen closely. Interspersed are pieces by Monk, Ellington, Satie, and others, which are more overtly shaped -- although it is interesting that "Caravan" comes off sounding more like one of Monk's. Chris Cheek plays sax, and mostly keeps it in the background. The word of the day here is subtle. B+
  • Michael Jefry Stevens & Michael Rabinowitz: Play (2004, Drimala). Drimala's releases recently have mostly been duets, a meeting ground for a pair of avant-gardists to improvise in a polite, intimate setting. This is a pretty self-limiting process, limiting both risk and reward. Occasionally something snaps together and works nicely, but not often. Still, the intimacy is a blessing -- a chance to listen and learn. I have heard of but don't otherwise know these two musicians. Rabinowitz is one of only two jazz musicians I'm aware of who tries to make his living off bassoon. Stevens is a British pianist, well regarded by the Penguin Guide even though they dropped him from the latest edition. Reminds me a bit of Borah Bergman at his most introspective, but (here at least) that's about all of his game that he shows. The bassoon has never made it as a jazz instrument. I don't know what to make of Rabinowitz, but he doesn't put it on the map here. A pleasant, sort of noodling, record. B
  • Robert Stewart: Heaven and Earth (2003 [2004], Nagel Heyer). Bill Norwood's vocals on a little less than half the cuts here aren't much of a blessing. He sings in an old-fashioned '50s style: a strong, masculine baritone, a little musclebound in the larynx. When he takes on a song from the Luther Vandross songbook he reminds you how much more supple and sexy Vandross is. Stewart's tenor saxophone is also a throwback to the '50s: reminds me of someone like Bill Perkins, a west coast guy with a similarly buttery tone. Stewart's backup to the vocals is expert; his solos are close enough to sublime that it's impossible to get too agitated. There were far worse singers back in the '50s. B+
  • Sticks and Stones: Shed Grace (2004, Thrill Jockey). The weak link in this Chicago trio is Matana Roberts, whose alto sax as well as clarinet feel like they've been piped in from down the hall. Josh Abrams has a solid showing on bass, and Chad Taylor has a field day on drums. It's like they're aiming for something transworld like the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, but their chops keep dragging them back to the avant-garde. Still, sometimes Roberts' frailness pays off, as in his shrunken head version of "Isfahan." B
  • Joan Stiles: Love Call (1998-2002 [2004], Zoho). An album of arrangements for standards, barely tipping into the bop era with Clifford Brown's "Daahoud" and her one original, the Monk-inspired "Spherical," featuring her piano and various guest horns -- notably Clark Terry or Warren Vaché on trumpet, Frank West on tenor sax. Everything is nicely done, and Stiles' piano is rich and vibrant, but the arrangements break so little ground that you wind up wondering why bother? B
  • Loren Stillman Quartet: How Sweet It Is (2001 [2003], Nagel Heyer). Stillman's alto sax has a rather eery, hollow sound, more like clarinet than the bright sonorities that we are used to. His songs extend that sound, sometimes darkly ("Chicken"), sometimes delicately (title song). He makes ambitious postmodern jazz -- not avant, not bop, not anything I particularly recognize, which may mean that he's trying to orchestrate this more along classical music lines (something I know nothing about). I find it all daunting and confusing; perhaps that's why I'm still uncomfortable and a bit unpleased with what appears to be a rather high level of accomplishment. B
  • Rick Stone: Samba de Novembro (2004, Jazzand). The title samba is a lovely piece, lilting guitar over a rhythm section including Tardo Hammer on piano. In fact, it's all quite nice, but what if that's all there is to it? B
  • John Surman: Rarum Vol. XIII: Selected Recordings (1976-99 [2004], ECM). Surman's early career is notable here in its absence, although one cut from Barre Phillips' Mountainscapes, the earliest piece here, provides a taste. That early work remains only fitfully in print (aside from John McLaughlin's Extrapolation), but his trio (err, The Trio) with Phillips and Stu Martin was exemplary. When he got to ECM he toned down quite a bit, and sometimes his work feels like it's in a rut. Several pieces here are just rudimentary synth tracks that he laid down and plays over, and one dispenses with the synth altogether. Still, Surman is a master on baritone and soprano sax and bass clarinet, and he's distinctive and innovative on each. Still, his own work here feels almost clinical, and more ambitious settings with brass band or string quartet don't amount to much more than backdrops. It's worth noting that the two pieces from other people's albums are among the best, and that there's a lot more when they came from. He's a major player, but he's tough to digest. B+
  • Tierney Sutton: Dancing in the Dark (2004, Telarc). A stroll through Frank Sinatra's songbook, a serious undertaking with a lot of gravitas, not to mention dead weight. The singer's voice carries a good deal of that weight, the piano-bass-drums combo does little to lift it, and the string-heavy orchestra paves over any open spaces they find with quick setting concrete. None of this is enough to destroy songs as indelible as "All the Way" or "Where or When," but "Only the Lonely" has never sounded drearier, and that's more typical. One brief ray of hope here is a "Fly Me to the Moon" that seems to suit her. B-
  • Natsuki Tamura: Ko Ko Ko Ke (2003 [2004], NatSat). Solo trumpet, most of which plays soft and slow, interspersed with vocal bits. I suspect that someone who understands the Japanese might take these as koans wrapped in trumpet, whereas "interspersed" is the necessary description of one who cannot fathom a word. The slow pacing undercuts any drama in the music itself, and gives little opportunity to exhibit technique -- tone is about it. So this is particularly hard to judge, its redemption mostly in the contemplative spirit that seems to suffuse it. B
  • Giulia Valle Group: Colorista (2004, Fresh Sound). Intermittently interesting album, but it runs into what's become one of my pet peeves: twin saxophone leads, almost always playing lines matched for harmonic effect. Valle plays bass and composed everything here but an Ornette Coleman tune. B
  • Sarah Vaughan: Love Songs (1949-53 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). Her Columbia recordings, with their lush but utterly swingless orchestration, were her pedestal period: she was the perfect singer ("a startlingly pure contralto with a four-octave range") bathed in adulation like decadent royalty; I can't stand those records, but this one is short and ends with two cuts caressed by Miles Davis' trumpet. B-
  • The Ben Waltzer Trio: One Hundred Dreams Ago (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound). Waltzer is a good, sensible pianist, and this trio recording is solid and inventive and impressive from stem to stern. The original "Our Rhythm" kicks off quickly; he slows down quite a bit for "Hymn and the Blues Up High," which gets by on lyricism. I noticed that Waltzer wrote a long and very fine piece on Ahmad Jamal, evidently for the N.Y. Times, and that seems to slot Waltzer reasonably well. This is his fourth album in Fresh Sound's New Talent series. B+
  • Ben Webster: For Lovers (1954-64 [2005], Verve). The slowest songs they could find, which except for the one with strings are little more than the big man breathing, sighing, wooing through his horn, with a vibrato as thick and luxurious as mink. A-
  • Doug Wieselman: Dimly Lit: Collected Soundtracks 1996-2002 ([2003], Tzadik). Soundtrack-type stuff, little melodic fragments, mood pieces, odds and ends. Wieselman is credited with "all instruments" except for a short list; his main instruments seem to be guitar and clarinet. Nice stuff, but I find it becoming less interesting over time, as is often the case with soundtrack-type stuff. B
  • Jack Wilson: Easterly Winds (1967 [2004], Blue Note). Hard bop, the three horns tending to blend together, with only Lee Morgan making much of an impression. But then it's the pianist's album. Reminds me of similar work by Duke Pearson and Horace Parlan, not to mention Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. All of those guys recorded piano-based, horn-drenched hard bop albums for Blue Note in the '60s. Wilson is a good pianist, but doesn't quite have the distinctive touch of the others, and the horns make the distinctions even more marginal. Unless, that is, they carry the day, which here they don't. B
  • Nancy Wilson: R.S.V.P. (2004, MCG Jazz). With featured one-shot guests on eight or nine of twelve cuts -- depends on how you count, and I'm not counting the "All-Star Big Band," where the only stars I recognize are Rufus Reid and Lewis Nash; the quibble involves Phil Woods, who appears twice, once with the Big Band and once with Toots Thielemans -- this is contemporary marketing at work. Still, it's surprising how little impression the guests leave: Gary Burton doesn't even get a solo, Paquito D'Rivera's song is so slow that anyone could have played his clarinet, every line Ivan Lins sings gets topped instantly. George Shearing and Phil Woods fare a little better, and the big band is rock solid, but the focus is tight on Wilson. She sings exceptionally well here, for what that's worth. Most of the songs are excruciatingly slow, and she endows them with remarkable nuance and feeling. Moreover, the songs don't do much other than to showcase Wilson's technique. I'm impressed, but not much pleased. B-
  • World Saxophone Quartet: Experience (2004, Justin Time). If Hendrix's songs were just scaffolds for great guitar, why not great sax? The group has been fleshed out here with drums (Gene Lake), bass guitar (Matthew Garrison), violin (Billy Bang) and trombone (Craig Harris, also credited with didgeridoo and spoken word, which mostly amounts to "foxy lady"). That gives them what they've always needed, with is a bottom, a beat, and some sonic differentiation. (Otherwise, the saxes, even given the richness of the interplay, often seem much too much the same color.) Not a complete success, in part because it too complicated for Hendrix's songs, which worked just fine in the simplest of trios. [NB: reviewed by Francis Davis in Voice.] B+
  • Yohimbe Brothers: The Tao of Yo (2004, Thirsty Ear). Not clearly marked as part of Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, although you have to figure that Matthew Shipp digs it. Vernon Reid and DJ Logic, plus the good and evil folks at GoodandEvil (Christian Castagno, Danny Blume). Perhaps less striking than the first Yohimbe Bros. album, but more pointed politically: "Party people in the place to be. We going broke to the sounds of the GOP. Starting to feel it in the streets cocaine prices higher than Cheech. You know it's bad when drug dealers can't eat." Some pieces like "30 Spokes" are just instrumental minis. They take a latin twist on "Pistolas," of which they have none. And they got the line on TV: "Got my TV! That's all I Need! Got My TV! I Don't need to read! . . . I got my TV and a big old chair! Got my TV! I don't care." [NB: CG by Robert Christgau in Voice.] A-
  • Denny Zeitlin: Slickrock (2004, MaxJazz). Seems like a real solid, albeit conventional, piano trio. Fast, sure action. Real good rhythm section. B+

Friday, February 11, 2005

Poking my way through Pazz & Jop ballots, running across some possibly interesting people:

  • David Adler: all jazz, 2-3 I like, 4 I haven't heard: Craig Taborn, Andrew Hill, Fly, Steve Lehman, Rabih Abou-Khalil, Nels Cline, Louis Sclavis, Geri Allen, John McNeil, Claudia Acuna.
  • Don Allred: eclectic but mostly old: Haunted Weather, Steinski, Arthur Russell, Albert Ayler, DNA, Notekillers, Nicky Siano; makes me wonder about Texas Terri Bomb.
  • A.D. Amorosi: all over: Tinariwen, Notekillers, Orchestra Del Sierto, DFA, Albert Ayler, Diplo, Lady Saw, Nancy Sinatra.
  • Larry Blumenfeld: mostly jazz: Charles Lloyd/Billy Higgins, Andy Bey, Bebo & Cigala, Moacir Santos, Don Byron, Joe Lovano, Alice Coltrane; also: Youssou N'Dour, Bjork, Carl Hancock Rux.
  • Jon Caramanica: mostly hip-hop, some country (Julie Roberts, Gretchen Wilson).
  • Jeff Chang: mostly underground (excepting Jill Scott and Joni Mitchell), including Build an Ark, Danger Mouse, DFA, DJ Nuts, Konomo No. 1, Maroons; two old obscures: Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample, Third Unheard.
  • Samuel Chennault: all rap, left to underground: Madvillain, Nas, Ghostface, Cam'ron, De La Soul, Mos Def, Murs, Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Third Unheard.
  • Nate Chinen: jazz writer, but no jazz on pretty mainstream list: Brian Wilson, Nellie McKay, Kanye West, Franz Ferdinand, Bjork, TV on the Radio, Shins, Dizzee Rascal, Modest Mouse, Rilo Kiley. How mainstream? Ranks #15 on McDonald list.
  • Steve Dollar: mostly jazz (Cooper-Moore, Jenny Scheinman, Tony Malaby, Charles Lloyd/Billy Higgins, Steven Bernstein, Dave Burrell), plus Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Jolie Holland, Youssou N'Dour.
  • Banning Eyre: all African (as far as I know): Youssou N'Dour, Shiyani Ngcobo, Ba Cissoko, Daara J, Eva Ayllon, Gangbe Brass Band, Lobi Traore, Tinariwen, Mory Kante, Papa Wemba.
  • Lee Froehlich: mix of jazz (Vandermark 5, Jenny Scheinman) and country (Alan Jackson, Stanley Brothers), plus Nas and stuff I don't recognize.
  • Jesse Fuchs: mostly CG picks, with extra credit for Magnetic Fields and the Naysayer, but #1 is Harmonix: Karaoke Revolution Vol. 3, which as far as I can tell belongs on some kind of game box.
  • Lee Hildebrand: two trad jazz picks (Wynton Marsalis, Dr. Michael White), Blind Boys of Alabama, Duke Robillard, Mavis Staples, bad fusion (Jing Chi).
  • Christian Hoard: for a guy who reviews a lot of hip-hop for Rolling Stone, it's interesting that all he picks here are Kanye West, Madvillain and Dizzee Rascal. Ranked #79 on McDonald list, below RS's higher editors (#26 Nathan Brackett, #40 Joe Levy), but above RS's designated outer-bounds scout (#176 David Fricke).
  • Eugene Holley Jr: all jazz, mostly world-ish: Alice Coltrane, Matthew Shipp, Moacir Santos, Bebo & Cigala, Conrag Herwig, Buyu Ambroise, Soweto Kinch, David Sanchez, Joe Sample, Great Jazz Trio.
  • Dave Hucker: mostly afro-latin: Ruben Blades, Ska Cubano, Orchestra Bembeya, Sur Caribe, Riba Dempel, Ray Santiago, Los Van Van, Tirso Duarte, Puerto Rican Masters, Edwin Bonilla.
  • Edd Hurt: two Archeophone albums, old Howard Tate, James Brown Soul on Top; Montgomery Gentry?
  • Robin James: mostly jazz, mostly stuff I missed but didn't worry about: Bill Banfield, Diego Urcola, Eric Alexander, Fay Victor, Frank Kimbrough, Lafayette Gilchrist, Queen Latifah, Russell Gunn, Stefon Harris, Wynton Marsalis.
  • Mark Jenkins: some African (Youssou N'Dour, Tinariwen, Daby Toure, Rokia Traoré; should we count Richard Crandell: Mbira Magic?); the Ex (a record I like a lot), the Libertines (didn't like the first one), things I don't know but might be interesting: the Delays, Q and Not U, Wiley.
  • Robert Kaye: tied for bottom of McDonald's critical consensus list, which means he picks shit nobody else likes -- in this case mostly Eurocentric jazz fusion (Bill Bruford, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Jeff Berlin, Trilok Gurtu, Renaud Garcia-Fons), some stuff I don't recognize (Piloto & Klimax, Ostblocket). He's tied with Ethan Padgett (hip-hop, some as well known as Ja Rule and Silkk the Shocker) and Aurora Flores (latin, never heard of any of them). Jeffrey Morgan missed the bottom by 0.1, and offhand I can't tell you why -- never heard of anyone on his ballot, and can't even discern a genre pattern.
  • Glenn Kenny: half-old: DNA, Notekillers, Albert Ayler, Fripp & Eno, Red Krayola, Arthur Russell; more mainstream: Brian Wilson, Madvillain, Sonic Youth, Franz Ferdinand.
  • Marty Lipp: wide world: Ojos de Brujo, Ozomatli, Angelique Kidjo, Omara Portuondo, Radio Tarifa, Sharon Shannon, Youssou N'Dour, Mercan Dede, Asteriskos, Rokia Traore.
  • Cameron MacDonald: electronica (Fennesz, Bizz Circuits, Soft Pink Truth, DJ Olive, Ultra-Red), more exotic things (Haunted Weather, Cambodian Cassette Archives).
  • Jim Macnie: jazz writer (Louis Perdomo, Magali Souriau, Keren Ann, Bad Plus, Jenny Scheinman); Rilo Kiley, Brian Wilson, Youssou N'Dour, Loretta Lynn, Nellie McKay.
  • Michaelangelo Matos: eclectic list, less than half in his usual electronica field (United State of Electronica, DFA, Streets).
  • Greil Marcus: a guy who believes in ballot stuffing, I think he's always given his #1 record the maximum 30 points; this year it's the Mendoza Line. I get the reference, which is one reason why it's never inspired me to investigate further.
  • Milo Miles: wide-ranging: J.U.F., Tinariwen, De La Soul, Drive-By Truckers, Mastodon, Nellie McKay, Maria Schneider, Beautiful Dreamer, Buddy Miller, Elliott Smith.
  • Seth Mnookin: some jazz (Don Byron, Brad Mehldau, Masada String Trio); Talking Heads reissue.
  • Sonia Murray: mostly soul (Van Hunt, Usher, Jill Scott, John Legend, Isley Brothers; close to Roots, Saul Williams); also Bad Plus.
  • Dan Ouellette: mostly jazz, mixed bag including that awful Saxophone Summit album; non-jazz choices: Jonatha Brooke, Citizen Cope.
  • Nate Patrin: interesting mix of underground rap and dance things: RJD2, Devin the Dude, Dizzee Rascal, MF Doom, Sonic Youth, Ghostface, M.I.A./Diplo, Dungen, Jason Forrest, Hold Steady; shades of Matos here.
  • Steve Pick: one jazz album: Charlie Haden (the year's most lovely); mostly Americana (or Canadiana, as the case may be).
  • Daniel Piotrowski: presumably the head of High Two records, but didn't push any of his own albums, not even the one I had at #1, or any jazz for that matter; looks to mostly be alt-rock (Modest Mouse, Clinic, Loretta Lynn, same thing this year).
  • Michael Point: not-very-inteesting jazz (Kahil El'Zaber/David Murray, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Keith Jarrett, Roy Hargrove, Medeski et al.), blues, Tom Waits, Los Lonely Boys.
  • Derk Richardson: some jazz (Patricia Barber, Miles Davis, Nels Cline), African (Rokia Traoré), Jon Langford, Sam Phillips, Ghost, Devendra Banhart, who is Kathryn Williams?
  • Matt Rogers: African (Antibalas, Rokia Traore, Youssou N'Dour), latin (Johnny Colon, Pucho), jazz (Build an Ark), old soul (Wheedle's Grove, Baby Huey Story), Roots.
  • Jody Beth Rosen: four picks from Sublime Frequencies, plus Unclassics (Environ), Popular Electronics (Basta), Volga Select: So Young But So Cold (Tigersushi); nothing more mainstream than Fiery Furnaces and Walkmen.
  • Mike Rubin: Masada String Trio, Arthur Russell, Joanna Newsom, !!!, Devendra Banhart (twice), Ada; Sami Koivikko?
  • Gene Seymour: all jazz, pretty mainstream: Maria Schneider, Geri Allen, Don Byron, Chris Potter, Madeleine Peyroux, Nellie McKay, Luciana Souza, Branford Marsalis, Keith Jarrett, Alice Coltrane.
  • Tom Smucker: max votes for Smile, no surprise there; Souad Massi, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Iris DeMent, Maria Rita, Gretchen Wilson, Bonnie Koloc, Paula Morelenbaum, Ben Harper, Ruben Blades; Smith and Morelenbaum are good albums that I didn't think interesting enough to take seriously, but I like it that someone connected with them.
  • Eric Snider: half jazz (Dave Douglas Strange Liberation, Bill Frisell, Greg Osby, Steven Bernstein), two Fat Possums, otherwise scattered.
  • Jeremy Tepper: mostly Americana (Wilco, Elvis C. the biggest stretches; Gretchen Wilson, Loretta Lynn, Steve Earle, Drive-By Truckers are all fair game), including Jack Clement and tributes to Johnny Paycheck and Wanda Jackson.
  • K. Leander Williams: Jon Langford, Todd Snider, Tinariwen, Bebo & Cigala, Youssou N'Dour, Mekons, Buddy Miller, Nellie McKay, Dave Douglas (Bow River Falls), Super Mama Djombo; the eight I know are A-list (sure, I have McKay at B+, but chances are I've underrated her), the other two are Christgau A-list African albums I haven't gotten to yet; the two non-Christgau A-list albums are on mine; one of the few ballots which lifts everything listed.

Some records I ought to find out more about:

  • Bizz Circuits: Intifada Offspring, Vol. 1 (Mille Plateaux Media)
  • Chamillionaire: King Koopa: The Mixtape Messiah (Chamilitary)
  • DJ Nuts: Cultura Copia (Mochilla/Wax Poetics)
  • Dogs Die in Hot Cars: Please Describe Yourself (V2)
  • Jolie Holland: Escondida (Anti-)
  • Monk Hughes & the Outer Realm: A Tribute to Brother Weldon (Stones Throw)
  • Sami Koivikko: Salmiakki (Shitkatapult)
  • Texas Terri Bomb!: Your Lips . . . My Ass! (TKO)


I want to reiterate and extend one of my comments that was printed, rather off topic, in the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop comments:

One problem is that even trying to fix various problems is likely to, at least in the short term, make them worse. And it's hard not to get blamed for that. A big case is fairly simple: the US is able to run consistent long-term trade deficits, because the world likes dollars, and capitalists around the world find it attractive to reinvest those dollars mostly in the US, mostly because the US is regarded as a safe and lucrative place for capitalist investment. Any effort we make to change tax and regulatory policy will reduce the capital inflows that make up for the trade deficits. If that happens US trade preferences will suffer, and credit status (the US is the world's largest debtor nation) may get hit even worse. These cycles are so deeply embedded that they would crash the US economy. On the other hand surrendering control over public policy to the capitalists causes all sorts of other problems, including long-term impoverishment that will eventually lead to violence and rampant criminality. In the long term those are, I think, bigger problems, but how do you campaign on a program of short-term pain?

What I should have added to this is to point out the example set by the music industry. Something close to 80% of the records sold in the U.S. come from "the majors" -- now just four companies, with the merger of Sony and BMG. None of these four companies are what you'd think of as American owned. The largest, Universal, is part of Vivendi, which is headquartered in France. Sony is Japanese and BMG is German, so the merged company is something like that, with Sony most likely the dominant partner. EMI is English. WEA was carved off from AOL/Time-Warner and sold for several billion dollars to one of the Bronfmanns, so that makes the controlling interest Canadian. Each of these has sucked up dozens of previously independent labels, building up huge portfolios of copyrights. The U.S. movie industry is similarly under foreign ownership.

Not that U.S. ownership would make any real difference to you or me, but it does have an effect when it comes to repatriating profits. For many years U.S. companies have invested a lot of money in the rest of the world, and have brought home a lot of profits from those investments. (Although they've also parked a lot of them in the Bahamas and elsewhere.) As foreign companies buy up assets in the U.S., they expect to do the same -- i.e., to suck money back out of the country. Everyone involved has every reason to try to keep these processes relatively stable, which is why it's in their interest to keep the money going in and going out relatively balanced, but if the ship starts listing it'll be every capitalist for himself -- i.e., panic.

It's probably more correct to view these capital flows as between classes instead of between nations -- the dominant flow is to the rich from everyone else, which is clearly shown by the eagnerness of the U.S. Congress to extend copyright grants that nowadays mostly benefit foreign proprietors. But the national flows are still worth looking at, because they imply great risks to those people who work within a nation, as opposed to the capitalists who've largely escaped national limits. The news today is that the U.S. trade deficit rose 24.4% in 2004, to an all-time high of $617.7 billion. That's three straight record-setting years for the Bush administration.

The Associated Press article attributed this to "soaring oil prices and Americans' insatiable appetite for everything foreign, from cars to toys to food." The latter point strikes me as pretty dubious: only by looking at the fine print does one realize that most of what's on sale at WalMart is foreign-made, and that the share is increasing year-by-year. The deficit with China is up 30.5% to $162 billion, which includes no oil and no big ticket items like cars or heavy machinery, but includes an awful lot of WalMart. It's also worth noting that these trade surpluses are occurring at the same time as the dollar is sinking to new lows. That, of course, is part of the problem, in that it makes foreign goods cost more, but all we hear from economists is how the low dollar helps American exports. It probably would help, if American business was trying to export, but most businesses still find it cheaper to replace their manufacturing with imports.

As I stated in my quote, reversing these trends is likely to be painful. Which most likely will be cause for denial now, and catastrophe later.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Serious lapse in my ability to get any writing done. Down with a sore throat last week. Feels more like a nasty head cold right now, lots of sinous agony. Couldn't get into doctor's office on Friday, so had to wait until Monday, during which time things got worse. Even then diagnosis was just a guess: throat looks red, exposed to strept throat, ergo prescribe amoxycillin. Got a belated flue shot since I was there and they had a surplus. Perhaps there's some weird interaction, if not there then with something else, since I've been miserable ever since.

Needed to set up some new software on webserver yesterday, which was incompatible with rev level of other software on server, and impossible for me to fix. Spent yesterday and all day today struggling with that. Websites up and more/less working, but mail still broken. New operating system rev uses postfix instead of sendmail -- not that I ever really understood sendmail, but postfix is totally new.

Jimmy Smith died today. About time I finally played Retrospective, the 4CD set Blue Note released last year.


The Village Voice's annual "Pazz & Jop" Critics Poll came out this week. It's the last and biggest of the year-end pop polls, with 793 critics casting 100 points for ten albums each, plus a somewhat simpler poll for singles a/k/a songs. I have connections to this on several levels. Most commonly, I vote in it. Voters are invited to submit comments, which are then plundered to fill out the section. Partly because it suits my temperament to sort things out and sum things up, and partly because it's an opportunity to push some lines of thought that I don't get to indulge in otherwise (especially in my other writing for the Voice), I tend to go overboard in my own comments -- got four excerpts this year. I'm also connected in that I slurp up parts of the poll to post on Robert Christgau's website. Finally, this year the editors finally let me peek at the results ahead of time, which allowed me to identify a bunch of errors in their initial sort of the data.

In previous years I've tried my hand at various ways of analyzing the P&J data. This has become interesting since the Voice started posting each individual ballot, so we can actually connect records to voters. Haven't had time to do any of that this year, but some other people have taken a whack at it. In particular, Glenn McDonald has calculated his critical alignment rankings again this year. This is designed to sort the voters by how much in tune they are with the final results (the critical consensus). I came in #519 (out of 793), which means my choices ran a bit more esoteric than the average critic. Had I been able to restrain myself from voting for Brian Wilson and Rilo Kiley I would have been much closer to the bottom of the list. (I had actually considered just that -- not to be esoteric but knowing that those albums would get plenty of votes anyway, I was tempted to at least register something worthwhile but bound to be passed up.)

To recap my votes, only this time the bracketed number is the total number of voters for the record:

  1. Sonic Liberation Front: Ashé a Go-Go (High Two) [1]
  2. Le Tigre: This Island (Universal) [17]
  3. Matthew Shipp: Harmony and Abyss (Thirsty Ear) [4]
  4. Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous (Brute/Beaute) [66]
  5. Vandermark 5: Elements of Style . . . Exercises in Surprise (Atavistic) [3]
  6. Brian Wilson: SMiLE (Nonesuch) [164]
  7. David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters: Gwotet (Justin Time) [2]
  8. Pipi Skid: Funny Farm (Peanuts & Corn) [1]
  9. Todd Snider: East Nashville Skyline (Oh Boy) [17]
  10. Capital D: Insomnia (All Natural) [2]

One thing being able to track back the voters means is that you can figure out who agrees with you. Ignoring Wilson (which probably intersects heavily with Rilo Kiley anyway), the following critics had at least two of my records on their lists: Robert Christgau, Carla DeSantis, Keith Harris, Dylan Hicks, Danny Hooley, Robert Johnson, Michael Lach, Craig Marks, Britt Robson, Michael Tatum (3!). I only know two of these people (Christgau and Tatum), and there's some connection there -- it probably took both of them to egg me into buying Rilo Kiley (they also got to Snider and Wilson first, and Tatum turned me onto Le Tigre, while I turned Tatum onto Vandermark. Still, these are low-grade statistics, which I believe are mostly due to the top ten constriction -- an artifact from the '70s origins of the poll, I'd say. I tried constructing a similar poll for people on the Christgau website mailing list where I allowed voters to list as many records as they liked, allotting 3 votes each for #11-20, 2 votes each for #21-30, and 1 vote each thereafter. Those polls were limited by a small number of voters, plus most voters were non-critics (the critics average more than 50 records, while the non-critics, and these are still serious fans, averaged less than 30). The last time I ran that poll was 2003 -- you can see the results here.

My actual year-end A-list came to 129 records this year, up from 96 the year before. Big difference is that I listened to a lot more jazz this time around. That took up so much time that I didn't manage to hear many albums in the P&J consensus: I've heard 6 of the top 10, 10 of the top 20, 16 of the top 40. Unfortunately, we don't have any data on how that ranks vs. the rest of the critics -- few of whom, I'm sure, have heard Pipi Skid or Capital D, Shipp or Vandermark, let alone SLF. One thing that every such poll measures whether it admits it or not is how much exposure critics have had to various records. And that works at several levels, including the distribution of critics' interests as well as the companies' publicity largesse. Sure, quality counts for something, but only among records you've heard.

Monday, February 07, 2005

This from an interview with Michael Pollan reprinted on TomDispatch:

He understood that journalism, in this country, is largely licensed by politicians, by the leadership of the two political parties.

What do you mean by "licensed"?

Sanctioned. I mean that if points of view are not represented in the circle of mainstream Congressional opinion, they do not have a voice.

Can you give an example?

Look at an issue I know something about, genetic engineering. Why was its introduction into our food supply not a contested fight in America?

Over labeling that would say that the food was genetically engineered?

About labeling, but also, before that, about whether we should even approve this technology. The reason there was not a fight is because both political parties were on board for it. The Republicans were predictably pro-business and anti-regulation. And the Democrats had allied themselves with the biotechnology industry, had picked it as one of the growth industries in the early 1990s. Also, the biotech industry, in the person of Robert Shapiro, the president of Monsanto, was very close to Clinton and his administration.

The key moment, when the rules and regulations were being decided for the industry, came at the end of the first Bush administration and the beginning of the first Clinton administration. Both parties agreed that the industry should proceed with as little regulation as possible. The result was that biotech was introduced with no political debate and remarkably little journalistic attention.

The larger meaning here is that mainstream journalists simply cannot talk about things that the two parties agree on; this is the black hole of American politics. Genetically modified crops were in the black hole until the Europeans reacted so strongly against them; then we began to have a little bit of politics around the issue, but still not very much. The things journalists should pay attention to are the issues the political leadership agrees on, rather than to their supposed antagonisms.

War, for one?

War, definitely. Globalization is another example. There's a bit of a split now in the Democratic Party over free trade. But, essentially, both parties agreed to sign on to GATT and the WTO and those kinds of agreements. And you scarcely read a critical word about free trade in the New York Times during that period of complete collusion.

It's easy to name lots of other issues like this. My big one is the War on Terror, which I contend is utterly bogus from the git-go, but nobody questions it because nobody legitimate questions it. On the other hand, people considered legitimate can stretch the bands of big media discourse. Bush does this all the time: after all, did the media get worked up back when Peter G. Peterson was the only one out there crying about the impending bankruptcy of Social Security?

I suspect that this is all a consequence of reporters chasing politicians' tails, as opposed to looking for real stories. But then how does a reporter recognize a real story? Politicians act as a filter for the news as much as the news filters politicians. This has some interesting implications for political change: one is that ideas won't enter the mainstream media unless you can get politicians or other legitimate leaders to espouse them. Another, I suspect, is that third parties -- attractive because they have a low threshhold to run -- can never succeed in putting an idea into the mainstream media, because they're never recognized as newsworthy (i.e., legitimate) movements.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Music: Initial count 10219 [10183] rated (+36), 903 [902] unrated (+1). Had a rather unproductive week, but resorted to playing a lot of old non-work jazz and cleaning up the dregs of the reissues queue -- things like Jane Olivor and Jim Nabors -- and working all day today, so I wound up with a pretty high rated count anyway. Finished a Recycled Goods -- allegedly January's. Most urgent need is to get Jazz Consumer Guide finished, for which I have a bunch of rated albums that I haven't written reviews of yet, so that's likely to chew up this week.

  • Beequeen: The Bodyshop (2003-04 [2005], Important). AMG lists them as "dream pop" -- indeed, many of their instrumental segments have a shimmering, dreamy quality to them. Group is basically a duo with Frans De Waard (sounds and electronics) and Freek Kinkelaar (instruments, sounds and electronics). They seem to be from the Netherlands, and their website lists a discography going back to 1990, but this is only their second album listed at AMG. Interesting, but the emphasis is on sounds, not music, which makes it a little too obscurantist for my taste. B
  • Big & Rich: Horse of a Different Color (2004, Warner Bros.). A change of pace in a year when either: a) Nashville abandoned the common man, or (more likely) b) the common man had his head stuck ever deeper up his ass. Some of the jokes are great ones, and there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the attitude. Too bad not all the songs are up to snuff. B+
  • Joanne Brackeen Trio: Power Talk (1994, Turnipseed Music). With Ira Coleman and Tony Reedus. She's playing fast. Really fast. B+
  • Can: Future Days (1973 [1998], Mute/Spoon). The title song bears an uncanny resemblance to the Clash's "Lost in the Supermarket": it came earlier, has the same beat, and the lyrics are buried deep enough in the mix that you can sing the Clash's song to it. The whole album is like that, more or less: Holger Czukay's bass sets up tight little riddims which everyone else fills into -- it would take a geologist to sort the strata out. Damo Suzuki's vocals are barely there, just another seam of coal or whatever. B+
  • Can: Ege Bamyasi (1972 [1998], Mute/Spoon). Earlier, a bit more song-oriented, a bit more punk, more rough spots, but otherwise similar. These are possibly important albums, although at the moment they seem more transitional: experimental for their times, pathbreaking even, but we've moved on, haven't we? B+
  • The Birth of a Dream: Capitol's Early Hits (1942-49 [1992], Capitol). Released on the 50th anniversary of Capitol Records' founding, this gives us an interesting baseline for one of America's most important labels during the 1950's. First hit: "Cow Cow Boogie" by Ella Mae Morse. Second: Paul Whiteman's "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo." Third: Tex Ritter's "Jingle Jangle Jingle." The big band records move on to Benny Goodman and Stan Kenton. The c&w includes Jack Guthrie ("Oklahoma Hills"), Merle Travis, Tex Williams, Jimmy Wakely and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Johnny Mercer comes in with "G.I. Jive" and is good for three cuts here. Other pop singers include Jo Stafford, Betty Hutton, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, and most importantly Nat King Cole, who appears to be the only black performer here. (Oops, Paul Whiteman's singeron "Trav'lin' Light" is unmistakably Billie Holiday.) Some classic stuff here, but mostly a label indulgence. B+
  • The Cars Are the Stars: Fragments (2004 [2005], Chez Moi). Electronica from France, although it could be from anywhere -- most songs have some words, sometimes in French, sometimes in English, sometimes, well, whatever? Mix of upbeat and trip-hoppy stuff, each appealing, the fit more problematic. B+
  • I'm Not a Gun: Our Lives on Wednesdays (2005, City Centre). Instrumental constructions, mostly guitar which sets the dominant tone, with beats adding to rather than setting the rhythm. There's a lovely, almost effortless flow to the pieces, making it feel a lot more organic, natural at least, than, say, Fripp and Eno. Real nice. A-
  • Larsen: Play (2005, Important). AMG has this as experimental rock, but sounds like electronica to me. Sure, the Torino-based group uses guitar, bass, drums, accordion, some other instruments (this one has guests on violin and cello), some vocals, in addition to the occasional keybs, but the music is made up of marching riddims (first piece, anyway) and synthy tableaux (almost everything else) -- somewhat reminiscent of good ole krautrock. Like the fast stuff more than the slow, but that's always the case. The slow has a rather classic shape that we don't hear much of these days, giving it some interest. B+
  • Paula Morelenbaum: Beribaum (2004, Universal Latino). Nice, capable Brazilian samba singer, enjoyable record. B+
  • Mosaïc: Ultimatum Plus . . . (1976-78 [2004], Mio): French rock group in a prog vein from King Crimson and Gong, i.e., long instrumental stretches with violin and thumping bass, but rougher and heavier, like they're getting antsy for punk to come along. B+
  • Pago Libre: Wake Up Call: Live in Italy (1997 [1999], Leo). Group with John Wolf Brennan (piano), Tacho Theissing (violin), Arkady Shilkloper (french horn, flugelhorn), Daniele Patumi (bass). I list Brennan first because he's the one name I recognize: he has been featured glowingly in the Penguin Guide, and Pago Libre albums were originally listed there under his name. The group goes back to 1990 and has six albums thus far. But Theissing deserves lead credit: presumably it's him doing the high-pitched plucking that surprises so in "Toccattacca" -- and he's all over the record. Shilkloper is a trip too, especially as he tops off "Kabak" after a long rhythmic run-up. Brennan mostly comps, but without a drummer that means he mostly drives, and this has some muscle to it. A-
  • Putumayo Presents: Blues Lounge (2000-04, Putumayo World Music). Taking a clue from Moby's gospel samples, this rounds up a set of electronica remixes of blues songs, giving them a light patina of rather soothing electronic beats. Includes a cut by Moby, plus various others unknown to me. Nice. B+
  • Ann Zimmerman: Blue Wild Indigo (2004, A-Z Music). She's a folk singer from Salina KS. I ran across her name when a friend was trying to rouse up some lobbying to get her a gig at the Kansas State Fair. I figured this state's small enough I ought to know some of the musicians in it, so begged a copy of the album. It strikes me as a bit overarranged, and I didn't quickly take to the high soprano she lifts the title song with, but those reservations have faded away, given that there are half-a-dozen or so first rate songs here -- the choicest being the overly modest "If I Had Been Beautiful." Also prime are a song for Kansas sufragette Jennie Mitchell Kellogg, the antiwar anthem "Not Far From Emmanuel," and the gospel-powered "Good Houses." I also like a little jig with the line, "the wedding was as June as June." And who can complain about "Elmer's Tune"? In an album that's nearly half covers it's worth noting that all but one of the songs I picked out are originals. A-

Saturday, February 05, 2005

More kvetching today in the Wichita Eagle about the Emily Jacir art exhibit, this time from David Eichhorn (associate professor of chemistry, Wichita State University, and vice president, Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation), complaining that the exhibit doesn't explain why Israel restricts the travel of Palestinians. He says, "During the last decade, Palestinian terrorists have injured and murdered thousands of innocent people in Israel -- attacks carried out primarily by individuals from the Palestinian territories sponsored by terrorist groups whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel. Travel restrictions are an attempt to curtail these terrorist activities and have been credited with preventing even higher casualty totals."

I wouldn't phrase it that way, but what he says is more/less correct, as far as it goes, but as usual much is left out. For one thing, the travel restrictions go back to at least to 1950, way before there was any terrorist threat. In the early '50s Israel was much concerned with "infiltrations" -- attempts by refugees to return to Israel. Such infiltrations were rarely violent, at least until Israel started making punitive attacks in Gaza and the West Bank -- Ariel Sharon first made a name for himself in one such attack. In response, Egypt started organizing fedayeen raids from Gaza. More restrictions were established in the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and annexation of Jerusalem, but travel within Israeli-controlled territories was limited but somewhat possible during the period from 1967-89. What changed then was the outbreak of the Intifada.

Israel's propagandists like to blame all of the restrictions on Palestinian rights on the Intifada, but that conveniently ignores the fact that the West Bank and Gaza were under military rule for 22 years before the Intifada broke out. During all this time the Palestinian economy was strictly regulated by a system of permits; Palestinians could be arrested and detained without cause, and could be deported; they had no legal recourse to Israeli civilian courts. Meanwhile Israel had started building settlements, had launched a major war in Lebanon, and had elected the right-wing governments of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, which had the cumulative effect of crushing Palestinian hopes for independence.

The Intifada was a reaction to forty years of Israeli domination and intransigence. Israel's response was to tighten the screws even further. Palestinians were denied work permits in Israel, damaging their standard of living. As is so often the case, the pressure led to more intense resistance. Still, the notion that Israel only did these things in response to Palestinian terrorism puts the cart before the horse. It's worth taking a look at the following chart from Johnston's Archive, which tracks the number of Israelis killed by Palestinians from year to year:

The number of Palestinians killed by Israelis is much higher. (For the years 1988-2002, the numbers are 3310 vs. 1069, a ratio of 3:1; if we stop at 2000, before Sharon came to power and the second Intifada really took off, the numbers are 1808 vs. 462, a ratio of 4:1.) But just looking at these tallies is profoundly misleading: the only aspect of the struggle where there is any sort of parity is in deaths and injuries. How many Israelis have been subject to home demolitions? property seizures? arrest and detainment without legal recourse? curfews? harassment at checkpoints? travel restrictions? This is, and always has been, an extremely asymmetrical struggle. The power is overwhelmingly in Israel's hands. And (again take a look at the chart) what Israel has done with all that power has mostly been to make matters worse.

Eichhorn concluded his letter with two comments. The first: "If you view the exhibit, empathize with the Palestinian's plight, but recognize Israel's obligation to secure its borders, protect its citizens, and ensure its right to exist." The latter points seem sensible, but Israel's methods have only made those goals more elusive. Unfortunately, Eichhorn's instinct to defend Israel is so strong that he can't bring himself to admit any fault, even when facts move him to emphasize with Palestinians. His sort of blank check support only encourages the most reactionary forces in Israel.

The second: "It is hoped that that recent events, including Mahmoud Abbas' election as Palestinian leader, can lead to a comprehensive peace agreement resulting in a Palestinian state alongside Israel based on mutual trust, security and respect." But Israel's own actions, including unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and continuing construction of the "separation fence" argue otherwise. In order for respect and trust to be mutual, Israel must participate, and given the power imbalance Israel must lead. This is, to say the least, a lot to ask: Zionism was predicated on the belief that the goyim are always out to prey on the Jews, so Zionists came up with the doctrine of the Iron Wall. They never expected respect or trust, but by building an unassailable fortress they hoped to keep their enemies at bay. This strategy has worked viz. Israel's Arab neighbors, but the fortress has wound up displacing or trapping too many goyim, leaving Israel with an intractable identity problem -- the persistance of people they cannot respect and cannot trust because they have wronged, much as the goyim have over the ages wronged the Jews. To question this is to question the moral basis for Zionism, for Israel, for the Jewish State. What makes Eichhorn's statement so annoying is its passivity: "it is hoped," as if all one can do is wait and watch.

Eichhorn is right that respect and trust are central issues to the conflict. (It is easy to derive security from respect and trust; the problem, of course, is attaining respect and trust in the absence of security, but permitting the lack of security to promote further injustice leaves you in the sort of hopeless morass Israel/Palestine is in today.) I put respect first, because that's where it belongs -- once you show people that you respect them, they can begin to trust you. There is a lot of work that needs to be done on both sides there, but it won't get done until people who care about Israel, as Eichhorn obviously does, step up to the task.


For another reaction to Emily Jacir's exhibit, see Christin Call's review in F5. A quote: "Would Americans accept being confined to certain areas without certain amenities, suffer a myriad of checkpoints just to get to work in the morning? Considering the amount of road rage exhibited by drivers on Kellogg between Edgemoor and Rock at present, I would say not."

Friday, February 04, 2005

Someone named Jim Clark (associate director of the Center for Economic Education and is the associate dean of the Barton School of Business at Wichita State University) wrote a "My View" piece in the Wichita Eagle today [Feb. 4], called "Get Facts Straight on Social Security Reform." I fired off a letter:

The big problem with the Social Security reform facts that Jim Clark wants to get straight is that they aren't facts yet: all he's done is speculate about the future. For instance, he assumes that Americans in the future won't have the moral backbone to increase taxes if necessary in order to fund the Social Security needs of the old and infirm, even though ever since the founding of Social Security they have done whatever needed to be done. Moreover, he asserts that the federal government of the future will default on its borrowing of the excess taxes that workers have paid into Social Security since the last time the politicians "fixed" it. If this is true we have much more serious things to worry about than pensions in the latter half of the 21st century. The only way Social Security can go bankrupt is if the U.S. government goes bankrupt first. Given Bush's tax cuts and exorbitant spending on war and corporate welfare, the trade imbalance and the sinking dollar -- that's the real threat we need to take seriously.

Clark also argued that Bush's privatization scheme wouldn't lead to telemarketing scams trying to fleece the new private accounts. He asserted that all of the proposed schemes involve a small number of options of conservatively managed funds. This gets into one of the intrinsic contradictions of the anti-Social Security movement. On the one hand they promise higher returns than the current fund gets from federal government securities. On the other hand they need to minimize the appearance of risk, since most people realize that the stock market can go down as well as up. But increased management fees will take a cut out of the returns, so where does that leave us? More importantly, why should we care? If the point behind greater returns is to justify benefit cuts, the bottom line is at best a wash, at worst a disaster.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Movie: House of Flying Daggers. I'd be curious to know why Zhang Yimou's Hero got major distribution, a big opening in lots of theatres, and a big gross, while this one was limited to one showing per day in the grungiest theatre in town. Maybe that Hero affirms the hero's sacrifice to let the villainous Emperor unify the nation, settling for hero status in death rather than justifying avenger, while the heroes here fight against the government? Aside from the political overtones, this is the more straightforward story (although not by much), the more realistic martial arts fighting (although not by much), the more poetic cinematography (lots of outdoor scenes, forests and meadows, amazing bamboo forest scenes vs. the stark interiors and military encampments of Hero). I don't have much patience for the genre, but found this one rather pleasing. B+


Movie: Vera Drake. We've been watching the trailer for this for months now, but it's taken until two weeks ago this film to show up in what the anti-abortion brigade used to refer to as "the abortion capitol of the world." Despite its Academy Award nominations, two weeks is all the run it got. Mike Leigh directed this film about a British woman in 1950 who "helps young girls" and winds up in jail for her efforts. It's a remarkably simple film, sketching out the life of a 50-ish working woman, keeping house for her husband and two grown children, helping her elderly mother, working at various housecleaning jobs, and practicing her forbidden craft. One aside shows how, by contrast, the rich do it: the daughter of one of Drake's well-to-do housecleaning clients is date-raped and is able to arrange a clean, straightforward hospital abortion. This contrasts with the several women Drake helps, where one fearful visit by the reassuring Drake leads to an unattended miscarriage a day or two later -- except for the case that goes bad, leading to a hospital visit, inquiries, an arrest and interrogation and conviction that shakes Drake and her family. None of the political melodrama that would be inevitable today. Drake isn't apologetic so much as crushed by the hopelessness of her situation, and her defense is little more than begging for mercy. Those were good old days? I put on a comp of hit songs from the '20s, and was struck by the line from "Ain't We Got Fun?": "the rich get richer and the poor get children." One of Drake's clients had six children already, plus a husband who couldn't work. Most were frightened young girls. They had plenty to fear. A-


George W. Bush claims that Social Security "is on the road to bankruptcy." When CNN reported this, they noted that "Democrats say that's an exaggeration of problem." Clueless as ever, those Democrats. Stuck in that old-fashioned reality-based paradigm. Bush's statement wasn't an assertion. It was a threat. Here's how you should read it: Social Security has been overtaxing workers in order to build up a cushion against future claims. This excess has been invested in U.S. bonds. When the future claims catch up with Social Security, all we need to do is to cash in those bonds. U.S. bonds are normally a safe, dependable investment, and those savings are sufficient to keep Social Security viable, even without tax increases, for a long time. So where's the problem? Well, there's no problem, at least as long as the U.S. government remains solvent.

The problem here in the Democrats' logic is that they, like every other financial planner in the world, assume that the U.S. government will always be able to service its debts. But Bush's tax policies chop away at the government's ability to remain solvent. Back in 2000 the U.S. government was running a surplus, so the excess Social Security tax could have been used to reduce the government's other debt load, making it easier to refund Social Security when the flow shifts. But Bush didn't do that: he used the surplus to fund huge tax cuts for the rich. Every years since then, even when there was no surplus, Bush pushed for more tax cuts for the rich. His State of the Union address this year, coinciding with his warning about the impending bankruptcy of Social Security, contains yet more tax cuts for the rich. Exorbitant spending on war and corporate giveaways hurt too, as does the trade imbalance and the magically deflating once-almighty dollar, but Bush's tax-cut jones doesn't leave him any other future: the U.S. government is headed for bankruptcy, and when it goes, well, Social Security's going down with it.

Bush's Social Security proposal isn't actually meant to fix this problem. It's more like what you might call a pre-emptive strike on the future. Moving tax money into private accounts adds a huge element of risk to the scenario, and that will help explain to future retirees why they won't receive anything like the Social Security that pre-Bush retirees have received: good idea, but bad luck. Of course, it's also a bonanza for Bush's patrons in the finance business, and it locks up more savings where the rich can make more money. But mostly it disabuses ordinary people of the idea that when they get old and infirm their fellow citizens will look out for them.

The weird thing about Bush's Social Security con game is that now he's pretending that we owe this to our children, when he's been totally oblivious about what the growing debt burden might mean to them. Not to mention other long-term issues, like the environment. His whole program seems to be built on the notion that end-times are well nigh upon us, so we never have to save or preserve anything. He wants to pump all the earth's oil now, chop down all of nature's tree, mine every profitable mineral. He's so short-term he leaves no prospect of a viable long-term untouched. But now we have to slice through all this pompous rhetoric about the sanctity of our children's retirement.

I've never taken proposals to privatize Social Security all that seriously, because they are inevitably too crackpot to be taken seriously. Sure, the poor and the working classes get screwed all the time, but the pain that bankrupting the U.S. government would cause doesn't stop there. Nobody gets more value from the government than the rich, and nobody stands to lose more in its meltdown. You'd think that they, at least, would start to put the brakes on their Boy Wonder.

But the other thing that bothers me about Social Security is that we're losing track of the moral basis of the program. It used to be a pay-as-you-go program, and the logic there is simple: we, as a nation, understand that we have an obligation to support the welfare of those of us too old or infirm to work and support themselves. Given that understanding, when expenses rise, we simply have to pony up whatever it takes to cover the bill. An older demographic may be a challenge to Social Security, but it cannot be a crisis. The only way Social Security can be in crisis is if we shirk our moral responsibilities. This, of course, is the very essence of Bush's political program. He seeks to convince us that we are never responsible for anyone other than ourselves, and that by exclusively pursuing our own interests everything will work out for the best. The patent fallacy of his worldview is most clearly illustrated by pointing out what a fine example he has set.


There's something curiously satisfying about the current state of the Iraq elections. The votes have presumably been cast, but we don't know the results -- none of that instant denouement that we experience in the U.S. when the networks proclaim the winners the moment the polls close. But then we didn't even now who was running before the votes were cast -- Iraq has given us a whole new definition of "secret ballot." But the immediate beneficiaries of this blanket of blissful ignorance are the right-wing pundits, who get to wax eloquent about how brave the Iraqi people are to have come out in such numbers to exercise their right to vote. What numbers? Well, we don't know that yet. Vote for whom? Well, we don't know that either.

The only real questions in Iraq are: 1) when will Iraqis have enough political power to tell the U.S. to leave? 2) will the U.S. do so? and 3) how much destruction will the U.S. wreak in the meantime. There's no doubt but that most Iraqis want the U.S. to leave. The question is whether the elections will reflect and advance that position. There is reason to be skeptical: the elections, not to mention the continuing war and terror, were designed to make it impossible to articulate an anti-U.S. platform; the siege on the Sunni triangle disenfranchised a large segment of probable anti-U.S. voters; the hidden candidate lists and secret deals make it unclear who voted for what; and the Bush administration has dirty hands in every election they've touched thus far. The long period between when the votes were cast and when the results will be announced allows a lot of elbow room for manipulation.

When Bush gave his big speech last night, he asserted that the U.S. occupation of Iraq will continue "indefinitely." That could be a hedgeword, or it could suggest that Bush thinks the fix is in. The usual meaning of "indefinitely" is "way into the future." If Iraq actually does enjoy a degree of democratic political power that won't happen. If they don't, the elections are just another Bush fraud, and the war will go on and on until eventually we give up and go home.

In short course we'll find out whether these elections did any good or not: the cloak of ignorance and bliss will drop. Still, we should recognize that all the machinations that went into this election have only prolonged Iraq's agony and made the results more dubious. Bush's political escalation of the conflict has done incalculable damage: before the war the U.S. proclaimed that it would only seek to punish a very small number of Saddam Hussein's top henchmen (after all, the wanted deck only had 52 cards); then they decided the entire Baath Party had to be routed (excepting a few turncoats like Iyad Allawi); finally they waged war on the entire Sunni-Arab population. The many delays before elections were finally held showed bad faith. The appointment of a crony government, which could and did use force to buttress its own political position, unfairly biased the elections. (The U.N. had recommended an apolitical interrim government to avoid this impression. The U.S. rejected this in order to promote its henchman.) Real democracies try to be fair and inclusive, and that's what gives them legitimacy. For Bush the only thing that matters is winning. And as long as we think ignorance is bliss he'll make the best of that.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Yesterday my hometown newspaper had an article about how Bush's health care plans are proceeding at a faster pace than his efforts to wreck Social Security. We can't quite talk about his plans for health care is an intent to wreck, because the system itself is in such ill repair that wrecking it would almost be superfluous. For a quick overview, take a look at the recent book by Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele, Critical Condition: How Health Care in America Became Big Business -- and Bad Medicine (2004, Doubleday). I just finished reading this book -- mostly stuff that I already knew, but spelled out in detailed case histories that even I found shocking.

The Bush plans are centered around Health Savings Accounts -- yet another tax-avoidance scheme for the rich -- tied to mandatory high-deductible catastrophic health insurance. As far as I can tell, there are two ideas here:

  1. If you're rich enough, you can finance your own health insurance; if you're healthy, you'll save some money that way, and if you're not, you're still covered for worst case scenarios.
  2. If you run a business, you can push your employees into this sort of plan, cutting your insurance costs by shifting them to employees. If they're healthy, they may not notice; if not, they won't be your problem.

The net effect is to force individuals to manage their spending decisions on health care, much as they decide whether it's worth the extra money to buy a brand name detergent vs. the store brand. Economic theory tells us that responsible shopping would wring a lot of wasteful overtreatment out of the system. The problem is that health care doesn't work like detergent. With detergent you go to the store, look at a shelf with 5-20 alternative choices, look at the prices, read what little info is provided by on the boxes, and guess which one to buy. If it works, fine; maybe you can experiment with a lower-priced one, or maybe the potential savings on the lower-priced one doesn't matter enough to bother. If it doesn't work -- if, say, it destroys your clothes -- you throw it out and never buy anything like it again. Worst case is you have to buy some new clothes. With health care, you know next to nothing about what's wrong with you or what one doctor vs. any other doctor might do about it; you don't even know what they'd charge. You can't even get that information -- if doctors had to sell you on every detail of their practice and competence they'd never have any time to treat you. In many cases the doctors would rather not treat you, so you usually wind up begging and hoping, and are stuck with whoever will see you. Moreover, the worst case scenario is you die.

Given this, all that making you spend your own money to get in the health care door means that those who cannot afford it will avoid the door as long as they can -- in many cases allowing their diseases to become critical, in some cases fatal. That this would happen isn't mere economic theory: we have more than 40 million people in the U.S. right now who have no insurance, and a great many more who have inadequate insurance -- including many with the sort of high deductibles that come with the HSA scheme. Many of those people are undertreated for their ailments; many die, and many suffer needlessly. Pushing high-deductible health insurance means that more people will fail to get necessary health care.

However, the silver lining in Bush's proposals comes in the form of government-backed catastrophic health insurance. The need for this was shown in an article in today's newspaper, titled "Bankrupt cite health bills as a top woe." As you may know, bankruptcies have increased virtually every year in the last two decades. The article attributes 50.35% of all bankruptcies to illness or medical debts. The article also points out that 68% of those filing bankruptcy for reason of illness or medical debts actually have insurance. The problem is that many private insurance company plans max out at some limits -- i.e., they don't really insure you against illness or injury -- and many more disallow claims for myriad reasons. Bush's plan won't help anyone lead healthier lives, but it should at least cut down on some of the bankruptcies. That would be a good thing, but note who benefits: the creditors, i.e., the health care industry and the bankers. That, at least, is a constituency Bush cares about.


Jan 2005 Mar 2005