March 2005 Notebook
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Sunday, March 27, 2005

Music: Initial count 10439 [10390] rated (+49), 893 [887] unrated (+6). Surprised the rated total climed so much, but I've been slogging through the unrated new jazz at a furious pace, not stopping to write much. New Recycled Goods is waiting post at Static; new Jazz CG should be posted this week; smooth jazz piece might come out the following week (at least I'm getting production-type questions about it). Doing research work on jazz labels. Mail picked up, with a box from IndieGo, a Denver publicist handling Dune and Synergy Music, and a big package from Verve with the Free America reissues.

  • Janssen Glerum Janssen: Zwik (1996-97, Geestgronden). That's Guus Janssen (piano), Ernst Glerum (double bass), Wim Janssen (drums). The first Janssen builds this mostly out of riddim fragments, which is what I like to hear. A-
  • David Sanborn: Timeagain (2003, Verve). I really have no complaints about Sanborn's alto sax playing. I like his tone, and am rarely disappointed by his logic. He does something sensible with "Isn't She Lovely" (Stevie Wonder) here, not just instrumentalizing it but improvising a bit. What we can complain about is everything else: the synths are background, the voices coloring. He's like a live character in a cartoon, acting against an empty backdrop that will be filled in by the animators. That he's as good at it as he is may be because his musical ambitions are so circumscribed. B
  • Sun Ra: Languidity (1978 [2000], Evidence). Typical bubbling gumbo. B+
  • Bettye Swann (1968-70 [2004], Honest Jons). Another obscure late-'60s soul singer following in the wake of this label's Candi Staton archaeology; she isn't an earthshaking singer, but she satisfies those craving for more -- at least until the ideas get thinner than her voice. B+
  • Wesla Whitfield: With a Song in My Heart (1999, High Note). A full program of Rodgers and Hart, done as simply as possible with just piano and bass accompaniment. Some good stuff here, but some of it drags too. B

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

More quick comments:

  • Juan Cole has an interesting post comparing the Republicans' handling of the Schiavo case to Islamist tactics. The difference is that we don't exactly have sharia courts here to enforce religious interference with personal life. What Cole doesn't do is to point out that such tactics in the U.S., at least thus far, are designed to fail, and by failing are meant to further convince the religious right that the heathen court system is hellbent on destroying Christianity. The "ten commandments" cases are examples of this. Of course, we can't count on them failing forever. It was easy for Thomas Frank to write that no amount of voting against abortion in Kansas has outlawed it, but it does make a difference when the Attorney General can use his office to harrass abortion clinics, as he has done repeatedly.

    The Schiavo case completely dominated the editorial page of the Eagle today, with left (Molly Ivins) and right (Cal Thomas) columns, a Crowson cartoon, and most of the letters section. The low point was Thomas comparing Schiavo to Rosa Parks. I didn't bother reading Ivins, probably sparing myself the revelation that Tom DeLay is vermin, but Crowson got it right. First panel: "Why do 70% of Americans say Congress has no place at the bedside of Terry Schiavo?" Second: "Maybe it's because so many Americans have stood by similar bedsides, like my family did . . . and never once wished for a politician."

  • Helena Cobban's blog has a counter called "Democracy Denied in Iraq Watch": it's now 52 days after Iraq's much touted free and democratic elections, yet no new government has been allowed to come to power. I think that it is now clear that the 2/3 supermajority requirement was, if not designed strictly to fail, at least designed to make it impossible for an anti-U.S. government to take power. The Bush administration remains convinced that the secret to winning is not losing, and the longer than can keep from losing the better their chances of winning. Assuming, of course, that there's anything left to win. The other precept here seems to be that chaos favors the side with the most guns and bombs, which is clearly the U.S. Again, even if the U.S. didn't deliberately work to provoke civil war in Iraq (and I'm not convinced that it didn't), it certainly didn't do any of the things that were necessary to prevent it. Such cynicism is rarely correct, but this may be an exception.

  • Rare good sense from an economist, in James K. Galbraith's Salon piece on Greenspan and deficits: "But just how is it that pensions for the elderly and payments to doctors and nurses hurt the economy? To begin with, such payments are the economy . . . Purchases of medical care add directly to GDP, as do expenditures of the incomes provided to seniors." Galbraith goes on to argue that the Democrats should give up their latterday flirtation with fiscal responsibility. Balanced budgets depress the economy, and the U.S. economy is already threadbare from decades of inadequate infrastructure spending, so any depressive effect is likely to be an insurmountable burden. What we really need is to make those neglected investments, and if that means deficit spending we'll still be better off in the future. Still, all of this depends on a skill that economists, or for that matter politicians, have never developed: the ability to distinguish between worthwhile investments and foolish ones. Both, after all, add to the GDP, but not everything that adds to GDP makes our lives better.

  • One of the major gas station/convenience store chains in Wichita, Quick Trip, has just switched to a pre-pay scheme. This sort of thing bothers me a lot: I prefer to pay cash for gas, I always fill up the tank (and therefore never know just how much it's going to cost), and I hate the waste of making two trips to the checkout counter. I also deplore the lack of trust that this shows -- sure, it's not personal, but that's why I see it as a societal problem. Quick Trip offers a way around this: an identity card that can be plugged into the credit card slot to turn the pump on. No doubt the FBI will appreciate the data.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

News and such:

  • Second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I could say more, but how about "I told you so?" In particular, see:

    There's more where those came from, plus 2004 and more. I don't claim to be any sort of oracle. Some things I expected to go wrong didn't really materialize, and I didn't anticipate many other things. The level of American political incompetency has regularly astounded, but the single most astonishing thing is how this disaster helped to win Bush the 2004 election.

  • Meanwhile, the big news story is how Congressional Republicans are working to put Terry Schiavo back on her feeding tube. I suppose the fact that she has no functional brain or sensation and is utterly dependent on an umbilical cord for life, such as it is, has reduced her to some kind of fetus. Until the politicians got involved this was a sad personal story of no real interest beyond the family, and it ought to have been dealt with there. Issues like this happen often enough these days. I've been involved in two such cases -- with my first wife, and with my mother -- but those decisions were made by consensus with others. This case is exceptional not so much because of the facts as because the family wasn't able to get together on what to do.

    There are difficult problems in "medical ethics" -- I think that's the term people use for the sort of decisions that recent advances in medical technology makes more and more common -- and this case has some of them. But its emergence as a political cause is very peculiar and rather disturbing. We've seen a growing tendency to personalize political issues, confusing them with celebrity matters -- I'm thinking of things like the Brady Bill and Megan's Law, but there are many more examples. This works because we can relate to personal problems, but we don't seem to be able to conceive of the gravity issues acquire in aggregate. One person in a coma, torn between husband and parents, is a situation we easily relate to, which makes it an easy situation to exploit politically. Hundreds or thousands of people who can't get time-critical emergency treatment, e.g. for heart attack or stroke, because we don't have enough emergency room capacity -- that's a real political problem, but it seems abstract until you start mapping it to real people. That could be done, of course -- both sides can and do play this game. But shifting focus from the general to the personal especially benefits the side opposed to aggregates, like the masses. Moreover, the person doesn't have to be sympathetic, especially when you wish to focus wrath -- e.g., the War Against Saddam, in which hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iraqis are mere statistics.

  • Airtran has come back to the Wichita city government with hat in hand looking for increased subsidies. A few years back Wichita was squeezed by airlines charging so much to fly in and out of town that many residents had taken to driving to Kansas City or Oklahoma City in order to get affordable rates. Wichita finally lured Airtran to open low-priced flights to Chicago (since cancelled) and Atlanta by guaranteeing certain revenue levels. Airtran maxed out its subsidy that year and two more, and now wants uncapped subsidies for next year. The idea that they needed those subsidies until business took off is fading. Just goes to show you that welfare cheats won't stop taking as long as gullible politicians are willing to shell out.

    Despite all the so-called free market fundamentalism that Kansas is famous for, there is a long tradition of government financial support for businesses here -- not least being the $500M in bonds that the state underwrote for Boeing before the company sold off its plant here. One thing we should have learned from all this experience is that there is a big difference between businesses whose owners live here and businesses who only come here for the money. Wichita grew back when the airplane companies were owned by Wichitans. So I'm wondering, if the whole city/area depends on good, reasonably priced airline connections, why bribe Airtran? Why not start our own airline? Wichita would be a hub, and the government could subsidize the airport and similar expenses. The talent basis for running a small airline certainly exists here, and the airline would create real jobs here. It would take some serious financing, but if the state can swing $500M for Boeing, it should be able to help out here. And to keep the ownership local, how about selling stock with strict limits against too much concentration (like a 1% maximum)? Sure, the stockholders might be more concerned with what the airline can do for Wichita than how much profit they can squeeze out of it. But would that be a bad thing?

  • Michael Lind on Paul Wolfowitz (in Salon): "Wolfowitz is the Mr. Magoo of American foreign policy. Like the myopic cartoon character, Wolfowitz stumbles onward blindly and serenely, leaving wreckage and confusion behind." And: "We live in a country in which privates are punished for the crimes of generals, so it is only natural that Wolfowitz should be rewarded for his blunders, errors and miscalculations that have cost the American and Iraqi people so much by promotion to the World Bank. That's the way it is with Mr. Magoo. Whenever he steps blindly out of a building he has accidentally set on fire, a truck is always conveniently passing by."

    Joseph Stiglitz, the former chief economist at the World Bank and author of Globalization and Its Discontents, has also come out against Wolfowitz's nomination. The good thing, I suppose, is that it would get Wolfowitz out of the Defense Department before he can start another war. But the whole third world has plenty to blame the World Bank and IMF for already, and it probably wouldn't take much for those disputes to erupt into revolts. That's a pretty dangerous situation to throw Mr. Magoo into.


Music: Initial count 10390 [10372] rated (+18), 887 [880] unrated (+17). Finished Recycled Goods, pending edit. Finished Smooth Jazz piece, edited. Mostly played new jazz, and didn't make up my mind much, so the newly rated count took a dive. Actually, there are some good things in the queue: Avishai Cohen, William Parker, Jerry Granelli, Happy Apple, Tony Malaby, Russ Johnson, Sirone Bang Ensemble, Blood Ulmer, Rez Abbasi, Jeff Parker, Dave Ellis, Jason Moran, DJ Spooky, Ian Hendrickson-Smith. Don't think they're all A-, but those that aren't are solid B+. Would like to make some progress on JCG and RG this week, although neither are urgent. Might be a good time to knock off some backlog.

  • The Arcade Fire: Funeral (2004, Merge). Rated high in most year-end lists for last year. It has an impressive pop largesse, but feels heavy to me, like most of the prog side of the fence. Doubt that it will grow on me enough to put it over the top. B+
  • The Clash: London Calling: 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition (1979 [2004], Epic/Legacy, 2CD+DVD). The original LP is one of the greatest rock records ever made. It retained much of the power and fury of their first album, added the production skills of the second, and took the songwriting to a whole new level. It's available separately, without a shred of doubt an A+. This adds a second disc of "previously unheard rehearsal sessions including five new songs"; also a DVD and a booklet. Booklet's nice. The unheard tapes remind us how little is left in the attic given all the previous exploitation. The DVD is, well, a DVD -- haven't watched it, probably won't. Documentation is a plus, but not a big one. B
  • Dub Syndicate: Pure Thrillseekers (2005, Shanachie). Guests from Gregory Isaacs to Luciano give it up to Adrian Sherwood's dub laboratory, yielding an impeccable and timeless and ultimately rather anonymous entourage of dub effects; a perfect album, if you like, or if you don't. B+
  • The Reverend Al Green: Everything's OK (2005, Blue Note). Despite the honorific in the credit, this isn't a Green gospel album. It has some charms of his classic albums ("You Are So Beautiful" is one of those covers that henceforth, for better or worse, he owns), but it strikes me as rushed and artificially pumped up. Everything's not OK, not really, and while on some level I envy his ignorance, I can't envy his enthusiasm about it. B
  • Patty Griffin: Impossible Dream (2004, ATO). A singer-songwriter on the folk periphery. This has a tight, intimate feel, which nicely sets off her rather plain voice. Not sure how good this record really is: working off a library copy, so I can't spend much time here, and it's not the sort of thing I do a good job of concentrating on. B+
  • Zbigniew Karkowski: One and Many (2005, Sub Rosa). Intended as "an ode to loudspeakers" -- various electronic drones of various pitches and volumes, the transitions sometimes shocking. Maybe the loudspeakers dig it. My backgrounder says that Karkowski studied with Iannis Xenakis, who was another composer with an inordinate fondness for stupid amplifier tricks. C-
  • M.I.A.: Arular (2005, Beggars/XL). Not sure where the beats come from, but they're looser and more idiosyncratic than Bhangra. Not sure where the words are going, but I trust the beats. A-
  • Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins (1993-94 [2004], Matador, 2CD). The tracks on the second disc were unreleased experiments -- some rough drafts for the album, most just idea pieces. That they work as well as they do is a tribute to the band's buoyancy. They were the definitive rock group of the mid-'90s, and they did it by taking exceptionally difficult music and making it sound miraculous. The first disc starts with the 42-minute album, then appends B-sides and ephemera like the tail on a kite. The music dips and flutters and soars. A-
  • The Rough Guide to Bellydance ([2002], World Music Network). Middle Eastern dance music, one Turkish, mostly scattered Arab, including a couple from California; recent (as far as I can tell), but sounds archaic, with a focus on beat and body movement. B+
  • Sun Ra & His Solar-Myth Arkestra: The Solar-Myth Approach, Vol. 1 & 2 (1970-71 [2001], Fuel 2000, 2CD). Typical, I think -- widely scattered riffs and effects, often quite remarkable, few that could be anticipated. B+

Thursday, March 17, 2005

More news items:

  • Bush's nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank could hardly be riper. The comparisons to Robert McNamara are inevitable: both were shuttled from the DOD and disastrous wars they were largely responsible for. But Wolfowitz is no McNamara. For one thing, McNamara had a real career in business before he became Secretary of Defense, whereas Wolfowitz has never been anything but an academic and a political flack. In other words, McNamara had experience in real world problems; Wolfowitz, in turn, has specialized in theory and rhetoric -- most of which have proven to be spectacularly wrong-headed. Wolfwitz's take on economics is as wrong-headed as his delusions about war and politics. He is far to the right of the so-called Washington Consensus -- the set of far-right economic doctrines that seek to make the world safe for investment by undermining any option that states may actually seek to serve their citizens.

    This subject is so rich that I can't begin to do it justice here. But one more thing that I have to point out is that this is further proof that Bush has suspended the Peter Principle: the idea that people rise to their level of incompetency and stay there. Until Bush came along incompetency was seen as at least something to downplay; now it's the aspiring bureaucrat's meal ticket. I've said this before, but it bears repeating: first rate people hire first rate people; second rate people hire third rate people. I'm not even sure Bush is second rate these days.

  • Iraq's "freely elected" National Assembly finally assembled yesterday, without agreement on a new government, and therefore with the old bunch of cronies still in place. Plus ça ne change pas, plus c'est le même fucking chose. Nothing in Iraq will change for the better until there is an Iraqi political force that can throttle the American occupation. The idea that the U.S. can just stretch out sham democracy until it has time to beat down the resistance is criminal.

  • Looks more likely that Bush will be able to give the oil industry a big chunk of Alaska to drill in. I'm actually surprised that they haven't been able to get away with this before. As a long term proposition, it is certain that every drop of Alaskan crude will be sucked from the ground and converted into greenhouse gases -- this is only a matter of time and details: who profits? who suffers? who gets paid off?

  • Other Bush legislative "victories": tort reform and bankruptcy reform. I have no doubt that both need reform, and no doubt that what the Republicans have pushed through isn't the sort of reform needed. But I'm fuzzy on details, in large part because these are residual issues -- i.e., they are the spoils of more basic problems. The right to sue companies for compensation for all sort of malfeasances is but one rather inefficient way to check corporate abuses. The more basic problem is the economic system and its attendant morality (or lack thereof) that motivates those abuses. Similarly, bankruptcy is a way of mitigating economic calamities that are caused by other problems -- 50% or more by medical expenses, some smaller portion by credit card usury. The pre-reform laws were basically safety nets that limited the powerful from abusing their power. The reforms were meant to weaken the safety nets and to buttress the powerful, who can only be expected to become more arrogant. When this happens the system inches closer to catastrophe and collapse. It's unlikely that either of these issues will loom large in that collapse, but they are steps in that direction. The rule of thumb is that every Bush "victory" is another thing that will eventually have to be undone.

  • Headline: "Obesity could curb U.S. life expectancy." The projection now is that life expectancy in the U.S. will decline by 2-5 years in the coming decades. Couldn't possibly be because the politically sheltered health care system is dysfunctional, for many inaccessible, and generally rotten to the core.

I still haven't followed through on moving the blog political articles back to Notes on Everyday Life or various other projects and reorganizations in the works. Been writing about Smooth Jazz, of all things. More on that later. Maybe more Wolfowitz too. The interesting thing about that nomination will be to see whether the U.S. still has enough clout in capitalist world to push such a blatantly political nominee through the system. When the World Bank was founded the U.S. was banker to the world; today we're the world's largest debtor nation. It's interesting that Bush and the Republicans have no qualms about surrendering U.S. sovereignty to capitalist-run organizations like the W.T.O., but they refuse to join the World Court. If they did, the Hague could do us all a favor and indict Wolfowitz for war crimes. He is the poster boy for America's abuse of power in the world today.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Music: Initial count 10372 [10312] rated (+60), 880 [903] unrated (-23). The big jump in ratings was due to two special factors: I went through the unrated list and found a bunch of things that had been rated elsewhere but not copied into the database; I also went through the old writings where I had written CG reviews of various '70s LPs that weren't in the ratings database, so I added most of them -- even though some I have only the vaguest memory of. Probably did more new records this past week than I have since before I took ill 5-6 weeks ago. Unrated list dropped under 900 for the first time in six months or so. I have stuff here that I haven't listed yet, but it's more like ten than twenty records. Need to write the smooth jazz piece this coming week. Also to finish the "February" Recycled Goods, which should have been done long ago. Still no news on when Jazz Consumer Guide runs.

  • Acoustic Alchemy: Radio Contact (2003, Higher Octave). Greg Carmichael plays nylon string guitar; Miles Gilderdale plays steel string guitar: that gives you an idea of the dynamic range of this group. Sometimes they get bit more ambitious and bring in Chuck Loeb to play electric guitar. Bass, keyboards, and percussion also show up, but the loping guitar riddims are the essence of the group. Easy listening almost to the point of sensory deprivation. C+
  • The Essential Gene Autry (1931-51 [2005], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD). Before he became the king of the celluloid cowboys, he did a pretty decent Jimmie Rodgers impersonation; his signature hits have a common elegance that argues that he earned his stardom, but this goes on too long -- over the deep end of Korean War jingoism, with at least five songs I never want to hear again, starting with an atomic-charged "God Bless America" and ending with the definitive "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." B-
  • Brian Culbertson: Come On Up (2003, Warner Brothers). Seventh album, going back to 1994. Plays a little trombone, but his main function here is keyboards and programming. Guest features for Steve Cole (tenor sax), Marcus Miller (bass), Rahsaan Patterson (vocals), Rick Braun (trumpet), Norman Brown (guitar) -- did he forget anyone? Culbertson wrote or co-wrote everything here but the one great song, "Serpentine Fire," where the horns sound like they came from a synth even though a real horn section was attributed -- can't let brass get in the way of the leader's piano track or Miller's bass funk. B-
  • Rosco Gordon: No Dark in America (2002 [2005], Dualtone). A whiff of fame from his feature in the Martin Scorsese blues series gets him a new record, then he dies, which may be why they didn't try to clean up or sort out this mess; he's all pounding piano and gravelly voice here, strikingly crude on "You Look Bad When You're Naked." B
  • Arthur Lipner: The Magic Continues (1993, Palmetto). Marimba, vibes, one cut with steel pans. Bob Ward is credited with "chuckles, grunts." Other credits include electric guitar, electric bass, keyboards. IOW, this roughly fits into the smooth jazz realm, although it is still attached to the post-bop jazz orbit. Light, mostly inoffensive. B-
  • Now That Sounds Kosher! (1955-2004 [2005], Shout! Factory). most of the jokes are as obvious and trivial as "Be True to Your Shul" by the Beach Boychiks and "Man of Constant Tsuris" by the Soggy Matzoh Boys, but songs by Mickey Katz, Allan Sherman, and Tom Lehrer are classics of a type, and Mel Brooks' Torquemada musical is classic; choice cut: "You'll Never Get the Party Started," by Mrs. Pinkus. B+
  • Lonnie Liston Smith & the Cosmic Echoes: Visions of a New World (1975, Flying Dutchman/RCA). Smith's keyboards are rather dreamy but insubstantial. Donald Smith's vocals are a good deal more problematic: the first piece, "A Chance for Peace," at least has a message, and something of a beat; beyond that this wanders and warbles. Hard not to get dizzy amidst all the cosmic echoes. B-
  • 30 #1 Hits of the '30s (1930-39 [2005], Collectors' Choice). More jazz than the so-called Jazz Age of the '20s, with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey all scoring hits; more conventional pop, too. A-
  • 20 #1 Hits of the '20s (1920-29 [2005], Collectors' Choice). A-
  • Urban Knights V (2003, Narada Jazz). If the opener sounds unusually funky, check the credits: it's Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up," and it's never sounded lamer. The other obvious piece is "I Can See Clearly Now" -- ditto. The piano player (Ramsey Lewis) is not without talent, the cover art is nice, and the faux funk is a bit more varied than what I heard on VI, but I'll be damned if I'm going to play them again to figure out which one has the edge. C

More ex-LP items, usual caveats:

  • Ashford & Simpson: Is It Still Good to Ya (1978, Warner Brothers) B+
  • Kevin Ayers: Joy of a Toy (1970, Harvest) B+
  • Jackson Browne: Running on Empty (1977, Asylum) B
  • The Buzzcocks: Lest We Forget (1988, ROIR) B+
  • Dirty Tricks: Night Man (1976, Polydor) B+
  • Al Jarreau: Look to the Rainbow (1977, Warner Brothers) C+
  • Andy Pratt: Resolution (1976, Nemperor) C+
  • Simple Minds: Themes for Great Cities (1981, Stiff) B-
  • Sparks: A Wolfer in Tweeter's Clothing (1972, Bearsville) B-
  • That Petrol Emotion: End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues (1988, Virgin) B-
  • Pete Wingfield: Breakfast Special (1975, Island) B
  • Charles Wuorinen: Time's Encomium (1968-69, Nonesuch) A-
  • Iannis Xenakis: Electro-Acoustic Music (1972, Nonesuch) B+

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Some recent news items worth noting:

  • More than a month after the Iraqi elections -- you know, America's gift to democracy in the Middle East -- the U.S.-appointed government is still in power, and there are persistent rumours that Iyad Allawi -- the U.S.-appointed incumbent who got 15% of the vote -- is trying to pull together some sort of coalition to remain in office. The two-thirds supermajority rule looks to be doing its job as a spanner in the works.

  • Yesterday's massive Hizbullah demonstration in Beirut should make one think twice before jumping on the anti-Syrian propaganda bandwagon. Syria has a checkered history in Lebanon and ought to withdraw, but as a foreign occupier they've managed to maintain their presence far more deftly than the U.S. in Iraq or Israel in the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon itself from 1982-2000.

  • U.S. forces in Iraq shot an Italian hostage being freed and killed her escort. There's debate as to whether this was deliberate or an accident. I don't think the accident scenario makes the U.S. look any better. As Frank Smith wrote [Peace and Justice Kansas email list]:

    If you'll recall, Bush I "accidentally" bombed and flattened the impoverished El Chorillo barrio in Panama when he was trying to get his old CIA ally, Noriega. Reagan "accidentally" bombed a mental hospital in Grenada and "accidentally" bombed the French Embassy in Tripoli, Libya. Clinton "accidentally" bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. We bombed, strafed and napalmed fleeing civilians in Korea and Viet Nam. We annihilated the largest Christian community in Japan when Truman atom bombed the fairly insignificant military target of Nagasaki.

    We've "accidentally" bombed wedding parties of the "liberated" in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've "accidentally" killed Pat Tillman, an Arizona Cardinal football star in Afghanistan, and Bush I's forces "accidentally" shelled U.S. tanks during the first Gulf War and Bush II's "accidentally" shelled the Palestine Hotel, full of journalists, in Gulf War II.

    Smith could have added the ski lift in Italy that a U.S. Air Force pilot took out a few years ago. Let's face it, Accidents 'R' US.

  • Two important articles on religion and politics appeared in the last few days. Bill Moyers, in New York Review of Books, has an essay on end-of-times theology and environmental policy -- who needs an environment when we're all gonna die? William Dowell, in TomDispatch, writes about the far right's Ten Commands fetish. It's one of the clearest explanations I've read on how breaking down the separation between politics and religion cheapens and destroys religion.

  • Another Boeing executive bites the dust: Harry Stonecipher, who is also a major stockholder from the McDonnell-Douglas side of the merger. He got dinged for a consensual affair with an employee, which is one of those odd twists like Bernard Kerik's nanny problem, or Al Capone's tax returns. Stonecipher seems to have been the main architect of Boeing's recent transformation from the world's largest airframe manufacturer and America's largest exporter to second place behind Airbus. This was accomplished by shedding jobs and assets (including Wichita's huge Boeing plant) so that the company could concentrate on its real core business: political influence peddling. Given how ineptly they've handled their corruption racket, it may be a good thing that they're not going to be actually building airplanes any more.


I've been thinking about this blog. The idea here was to write more frequently and more varied notes -- shorter ones. But thus far this blog has been taken over by political rants, which is supposed to be the purpose of my Notes on Everyday Life site. I think the thing to do is to go back and copy the political stuff here to Notes, and in the future just put the pieces there, with notices and links from here. Will take a while to do that, but that's the new operational plan.

A change here is that I'll add categories for News and Media. I'm thinking that News will be a series of short comments on the days news stories, without breaking them down into topics. Media will comment on newspapers, magazines, television, things like that -- radio, I suppose, not that I ever listen to radio. Don't watch much TV either. I already have separate categories for Books, Music, and Movies, so they're excluded from Media.

Also working on recasting this website to use a common design layout -- this one, perhaps unfortunately -- and tools. This has dragged on for weeks, and I haven't posted what I've done. In the long run "ocston" will go away, but I continue to do most of my work there. Just broke smooth jazz out from the regular jazz listings. I don't mean to be a snob there, but it really is a distinct form of music, and the breakout makes it easier to gauge.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Music: Initial count 10312 [10281] rated (+31), 903 [900] unrated (+3). Mostly listened to Brazilian music early in the week; smooth jazz late. Neither took a lot of concentration, so the rated count is back up over 30 for the first time since I took sick. Still feel lousy, although the symptoms are less specific. Getting old and creaky, I guess.

  • Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass: The Lonely Bull (1962 [2005], Shout! Factory). The graphic designers did a wonderful job on these reissues, framing the original covers with the fancy "signature series" pseudo-binding. But "Tijuana Sauerkraut," with its waltz time and biergarten aesthetic, is still third rate kitsch. C+
  • Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass: South of the Border (1964 [2005], Shout! Factory). A more consistent album, which means that the filler doesn't break down so bad, even when they do "Hello Dolly" and the Beatles; easy listening that's easy to listen to. B-
  • Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass: Lost Treasures (1963-74 [2005], Shout! Factory): All fake plastic, natch, some with the consistency of cheese puffs. Such malaprops as "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" and "Flowers on the Wall" and "Killing Me Softly" are too ambiguous to be comedy material, but they can be taken that way. These things, after all, were left in the attic for a reason. The vocals, in particular, show why he never went that way. Now they're kitsch. I'm more amused than my grade lets on, but I don't expect you to be. C
  • Chico Buarque: Personalidade ([1987], Polygram). Most of this sounds like smart tropicalia; i.e., samba pushed harder and further than it's meant to go. Slow stuff less compelling. Don't have dates, but Buarque recorded regularly for Polygram from 1970-80, but little (if anything) during the '80s. B+
  • Nat King Cole: The World of Nat King Cole (1944-91 [2005], Capitol): I find it really annoying that this doesn't have dates. (Found chart information in the publicity.) Cole's period with Capitol ran from 1943-64, and those years apply pretty consistently for his many career-spanning comps, so they can be assumed here. The 1991 date comes from Natalie Cole's version of "Unforgettable" -- that's when she added her vocals to an unfinished track, constructing an after-the-fact duet with her father. A
  • Classic Judy Garland: The Capitol Years 1955-1965 (1955-65 [2002], Capitol, 2CD). Not a singer I particularly noticed while growing up, probably because I viewed her as a movie star and had little regard for movie music (still a valid position, don't you think?). Turns out she had other stakes -- on stage and on TV, the former of little concern, the latter one I somehow missed. At any rate, I find this collection terribly arch. I don't doubt that she was a helluva singer. Also don't much care. This is the only thing I have by her, so I have no idea how representative it is. B-
  • Astrud Gilberto: Compact Jazz (1963-67 [1987], Verve). Two classics. "The Girl From Ipanema," of course: her vibratoless second-language voice is perfectly clear after husband João struggles with the first verse, and forms a bridge to Stan Getz' transcendental sax solo. The other is "Summer Samba" -- as delightful as anything in the genre. B+
  • Vijay Iyer & amp; Mike Ladd: In What Language? (2003, Pi). I've been hearing a lot about Iyer's piano, and it lives up to reputation. Ladd adds words. I don't get them all, and wish I had more time to do so, but this is cearly pathbreaking. Will consider it more, but for now I'm impressed. A-
  • Daniela Mercury (1998, Eldorado). One of the main singers from Bahia. (One of these cuts was on the Rough Guide Bahia comp.) This is a Brazilian release, everything in Portuguese. Songs include Gilberto Gil and Carlinhos Brown. Pretty good. B+
  • Helen Merrill: Compact Jazz (1954-58 [1987], Mercury). Old, out-of-print compilation, from what is likely her most prime period. The opening "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," with Clifford Brown, is classic. Haven't quite connected with the slow stuff yet. B+
  • Scissor Sisters (2004, Universal). "Best Buy Radio" describes them as "genre-busting." AMG describes them as "a genre and gender-defying mix of rock, pop, and dance inspired by burlesque, drag queens, and glam rock." Well, they sound like the Bee Gees to me -- don't sing as well, got a better bassist, pose more, aren't as danceable. "T*ts on the Radio" sounds like a taunt to radio programmers rather than a critique. Falsetto is timeless, but evidently they depend on an actual female to achieve it -- that's more "gender-defying" than having a band of sisters where four-fifths are male. Aside from the last song they manage to keep a beat and flash pop without flaunting it, so while it's a '70s throwback it's not unwelcome -- it's not like the Bee Gees have been doing anything for us lately, nor Roger Waters (who provides the one cover). The finale's called "Return to Oz" -- maybe it's meant to be awful? B+
  • Swing Out Sister: Where Our Love Grows (2004, Shanachie). Brilliant multipart harmony pop group, dating back to the '80s. The back cover promises "endless summer days and jazzy, soulful reveries . . . the Lounge Motown of your dreams." But I don't recall ever having dreams like that. B
  • ZZ Top: Mescalero (2003, RCA). This bangs hard right out of the box, and doesn't let up. It waxes bluesier than they've done in a long time. I note a four-year hiatus from their last one. We know from Deguello that rest does them good. This may be their best one since their best-ever. "Liquor" sounds like a rougher, nastier outtake. Then, unannounced, they do "As Time Goes By," with steel guitar. A-


Also added grades for some old LPs. This was mostly based on digging through old writings, plus the power of memory (for better or worse).

  • Be-Bop Deluxe: Futurama (1976, Harvest) B-
  • Be-Bop Deluxe: Modern Music (1976, Harvest) B+
  • Be-Bop Deluxe: Drastic Plastic (1978, Harvest) B
  • Randall Bramblett: That Other Mile (1975, Polydor) B+
  • Randall Bramblett: Light of the Night (1976, Polydor) B
  • Cate Brothers: Cate Brothers (1975, Asylum) B-
  • George Crumb: Ancient Voices of Children/Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III) (1971, Nonesuch) B+
  • The Dictators: Manifest Destiny (1977, Asylum) B+
  • Duke and the Drivers: Cruisin' (1975, ABC) B
  • Loggins & Messina: Native Sons (1976, Columbia) C
  • G.T. Moore: G.T. Moore (1974-75, Mercury) B-
  • Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers: Sleepless Nights ([1976], A&M) C+
  • Starry Eyed and Laughing: Thought Talk (1975, Columbia) B-
  • Billy Swan: Rock 'n' Roll Moon (1975, Monument) B
  • Third World: Third World (1976, Island) B-
  • The Tremeloes: Shiner (1974, DJM) B-
  • Mike Vernon: Moments of Madness (1973, Sire) B+
  • Rusty Wier: Don't It Make You Wanna Dance? (1975, 20th Century) B+


Got a letter questioning why we dropped the review of Merle Haggard, This Is Merle Haggard (Music Club) from the Christgau website -- the record, originally graded A, turned out to be re-recordings of old, classic hits, which even though they sounded pretty good opened up some thorny issues. The question was: "Why is that a bad thing? If the disc is good and is a bargain, why not review it? Seriously, I'm wondering. It's not like Hag hasn't had a gazillion reissues, and someone's got to slog through them for us." I wrote the following response; thought it might be worth saving here:

As a working critic (cf. here), I have doubts that anyone can, must less must, make that slog. I wrote the Rolling Stone CD Guide entries on Willie Nelson and George Jones and worked through everything I could find and didn't come close to getting them all. (Links above, including album lists). Nelson and Jones have been recording longer than Haggard, although I wouldn't be surprised if Haggard hasn't recorded more. Haggard has certainly re-recorded more, although the others have done the same. AMG lists 195 comps for Nelson. I doubt that I've heard 20, and I wouldn't have heard half that many except for the RS work. (AMG lists 171 Haggard comps; I've heard fewer than 10.) On the other hand, I doubt that I've missed much (Nelson at least; Haggard is another story), since most of these things are redundant. Most are also out-of-print. Many are by fly-by-night labels, and even reputable labels often omit discographical info. (Proper's Nelson comp, Broken Promises, comes with a long biographical essay on Nelson that's pretty good, but doesn't bother to explain where any of the music comes from. Same thing for their George By Jones, but they do a good job of documenting their sources for pre-1952 music, which is the bulk of their catalog.) Bootlegs, radio shots, transcriptions, demos, all sorts of redundancies muddy the picture further. Sometimes these variations are of genuine interest, but critics need help to know where things come from and why they're being reissued. Otherwise it's real hard to tell, just from the sound, what you're dealing with. I remember that I could tell that there was something wrong with Haggard's For the Record (1999, BNA) because his 1999 voice wasn't the same as his 1970 voice, but it was only the fine print that confirmed that these were re-recordings. I don't know the Music Club Haggard comp, but the label in general produced very good-sounding comps with very little documentation, and in this case the label engaged in something very close to fraud. The big problem with fighting fraud in this business is that there's too much of it out there.

Maybe if the label had extended the title to something like This Is Merle Haggard ... Re-recording His Old Hits Because He Ain't Got No New Ones" the record would have deserved a proper appraisal. Or maybe not.

BTW, The Essential Merle Haggard: The Epic Years is a good, useful comp -- picks the right songs from albums with lots of weak spots in them, and his aging relative to the Capitols adds to his persona. The Capitol/Rhino comps that came out in 1990 are classic; the 4CD box is de trop. Haven't heard the more recent Capitol comps, which look to be redundant. I've never heard a MCA comp I like, although there are good songs from that period. I have Hip-O's Ultimate Merle Haggard down as an A-, although I can't guarantee its authenticity.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

I was struck by a line from Allen Barra, in a Salon piece on "American Idols": "As a nation, we've become like the detective in Memento: our memories stop at a certain point in the past and we seem incapable of creating new ones."

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

What with his constant battling of smut and child slavery and human cloning and stem cell research and anything with the slightest whiff of abortion, you'd think that Senator Sam Brownback wouldn't have time for fomenting wars, but that's just another of his pet issues. A few weeks ago he was chomping at the bit to topple the government of Iran, but now he's set his sights on easier game: Syria. Now he's accusing Syria for the revolt in Iraq: "I don't want to discount the Iranian role, but even with the Iranians, the ties to command-and-control of these operations go back onto Syrian soil." Brownback went on to state that he will work "to support democratic movements in Syria by funding opposition groups." He has similar ties to anti-Iran groups, and longstanding ties to Ahmad Challabi and company viz. Iraq.

Meanwhile, a Lebanese alliance including Maronite and Druze political parties has accused Syria of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Israel has accused Syria of responsibility for the latest suicide bombing, which otherwise provided a convenient excuse to stall on commitments negotiated with Abu Mazen. And more American far-right nutcases like Brownback are piling on. This convergence of opposition strikes me as very suspicious, like we're witnessing the sinking of the Maine or the Gulf of Tonkin incident, with no more clue now than then. I don't have any real idea what goes on in Syria, but it's worth keeping in mind that prominent among the enemies of Syria's regime are Salafist terror groups like Al-Qaeda. Syria also has a past history of allying with the U.S. against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, and of countering the PLO in Lebanon. Following the 9/11 attacks Syria turned over to the U.S. a lot of anti-terrorist intelligence info, and some degree of cooperation continues, as shown by Syria's recent capture and extradition of Saddam Hussein's half-brother.

So it doesn't make any sense that Syria would choose now to unleash a wave of assassinations and suicide bombings to provoke its already hostile neighbors further. On the other hand, those neighbors each have their own reasons for rattling sabers. It all looks fishy to me, and now that Brownback's jumped in it smells too.


Movie: The Aviator. One thing this biopic of the life of Howard Hughes shows is that Martin Scorsese has arrived at the level where he can afford to stage huge and lavish historical dramas. The Hollywood parties alone would strain many of his earlier budgets, not to mention the airplanes and their fabulous crashes. Hughes makes for an interesting story, especially given that these days he is associated with little more than Las Vegas. But there is also something merely idiosyncratic about his aviation prowess, or for that matter his movie career. The two big planes at the center of this story were advanced in obsolete ways: they lost out to jets, which ironically was the thing Hughes became most famous for at TWA -- and which ultimately cost him control of the company, but that story is past the end reel here. As for his phobias, they are abundantly on display here, but not well explained. The flashback of his mother quarantining him may be emblematic of the problem but in itself isn't much of an analysis. The point, such as it is, could have been made more economically. The Owen Brewster scenes are amusing, especially given how orthodox free market dogma has become, but then this was well before the breakup of AT&T -- a company with a huge vested interest in the idea that monopoly was the most efficient system possible. Aside from the phobia sequences, everything else was well done -- the dinner at the Hepburn manse was one scene that sticks out. But when you're done what more do you have than an extravagantly lurid segment of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous? B+


Feb 2005 Apr 2005