April 2005 Notebook
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Friday, April 29, 2005

Some news items:

  • I was surprised to read yesterday that Sgt. Tim Milsap, a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq this week, was the first Wichita resident to die in this war. Approximately 1 out of 778 Americans live in Wichita. Thus far 1578 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, so a normal expectation would have been two. One would have expected Wichita to be above average, for lots of reasons that you don't have to read Thomas Frank to guess. Part of my surprise was that I've heard news reports of dead soldiers in the past, but it turns out that they all came from suburbs -- more precisely, there have been four dead soldiers from Derby, KS. It might be more accurate to describe Derby as a suburb of McConnell AFB, which lies between Derby and Wichita. But four dead soldiers there is off the scale -- about 24 times the normal rate given Derby's population.

    Another reason I was surprised was that I remember that during the Vietnam War two dead soldiers came from less than a block where I grew up -- one next door. This just reminds me that the impact of the war in Iraq is scarcely felt by most Americans: in my case one dead in a city of 360,000, or five dead in a metropolitan area of over 500,000. Given that there is no equalizing factor like the draft, the few deaths that do occur are intensely concentrated in military enclaves, like Derby and Leavenworth in KS. Even Vietnam, with some 55,000 dead U.S. soldiers, had little direct impact on most Americans. (The ratio of U.S. deaths in Vietnam to Iraq is currently 34 and dropping steadily, but it will never come close to one because the U.S. military will never be so wasteful of professional soldiers as they had been of draftees.)

    As it happens, I'm reading Anatol Lieven's America Right or Wrong, and just came across this quote (p. 58): "While Americans remember in their guts that Vietnam was an unpleasant experience the repetition of which should be avoided, its deeper lessons remained largely unlearned, and in our own time it has proved possible to 'reaffirm these discredited notions.' One reason for this was that while the Vietnam War was a dreadful experience for those Americans who fought in it, their numbers were small, and -- as mentioned before -- unlike European and Asian wars, or for that matter the experience of the Vietnamese, Americans at home were physically unaffected: 'for most Americans the tangible consequences of the debacle in Southeast Asia seem inordinately slight.' This lack of personal knowledge of war was of course true of Reagan himself, and is true of George W. Bush and all the other men in his administration of 2000 to 2004 who were of military age during the Vietnam War but for some reason failed to serve."

    One could trace this back further, in that no American non-soldiers have experienced war first-hand since Sherman marched through Georgia under the motto "war is hell." (Well, except for a few plains Indians.) One thing Lieven points out is how similar nationalist rhetoric is between the U.S. today and Europe in the run-up to the 194 World War. Europe and Asia learned important lessons from the two World Wars of 1914-45, but while U.S. soldiers paid a high price in those wars, their domestic effect was to invigorate the economy and to bolster an arrogant and ignorant culture of triumphalism. This culture is so pervasive that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were taken to be acts of war, as if deep down we suspected all along that we were due.

  • The article on Bush's press conference stressed how he's still pushing Social Security privatization. Key line: "[Bush's] 60-day campaign to pump up support for his proposal to partially privatize Social Security failed to do so. Polls show fewer people support his idea than before he started, and it is gaining no ground in Congress, where virtually all Democrats and some Republicans oppose it."

  • Todd Tiahrt, whose congressional district includes Wichita, was one of twenty Republicans to vote against undoing the ethic rule changes that Tom DeLay had tried to cover his sorry ass with. Tiahrt has spoken repeatedly in defense of DeLay -- he even went so far as to reiterate DeLay's threats against "activist judges" on the same day DeLay was apologizing for them. Note the careful wording above to avoid saying that Tiahrt represents Wichita. Tiahrt represents Boeing, but because he occupies the district congressional seat, nobody represents Wichita. I maintain that he's the worst congressman in the country, but on the evidence of this vote he still has nineteen competitors.

  • Senator Sam Brownback has taken over the District of Columbia committee in the Senate. His first act there was to make sure that gay marriages performed in Massachusetts won't be recognized as legal in D.C. While most of what Brownback does is obnoxious, please excuse me if I take this one personally. I have a niece, born and raised here in Wichita, who went to college in Boston, met a nice girl and got married there. They've recently moved to D.C., where my niece is studying law. Most people look at political issues as something rather abstract, failing to recognize the real people impacted. This is one case where I can fill in a real person, and in that context Brownback is nothing but a priggish homewrecker.

  • The Iraqi parliament has finally approved a cabinet 88 days after the highly-touted election. It remains to be seen whether it will have any real power. The real test will be in throttling the U.S. military presence, which has an uncanny knack for making bad things worse. But the many compromises required to overcome the two-thirds hurdle are likely to undermine the authority of the new government, which again is probably part of the plan. Quisling PM Iyad Allawi is out, as is his entire list. Nothing to date promises to split the resistance by bringing Sunni Arabs into government. Some of the appointments are "temporary" -- the most astonishing one is convicted crook, Iranian spy, and former Pentagon darling Ahmad Chalabi as Petroleum Minister. Not that Iraq is pumping much oil these days, but he can probably steal plenty anyway.

  • I came across a book last night by Morris P. Fiorina called Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America. It makes use of extensive polling info to establish that most Americans still have moderate positions on most politico-cultural issues. The rest of the bookshelf argues otherwise, and incredible as it may seem there's been an uptick in the incivility of the far right -- new titles include Ann Coulter's How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) and Michael Savage's Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder. Less nasty but more worrisome are the spate of new let's-bomb-Iran books, including one from the hack who wrote the bestseller against Kerry's Vietnam record, Unfit for Command. Fiorina is probably right, but there's no hay to be made from that for the right, and mass opinions are so couched in ignorance that they don't interest much the left -- I for one would rather read something about the real world than merely redigesting opinions. But Fiorina may have some tactical value: issues where the right diverges from the more moderate middle are opportunities to show how extremist the right has become. The political spectrum is not balanced between right and left. The right is in its own world, and the left is trying to cope with the real one while fending off constant attacks from the right. Bush's Social Security schemes are one key rea where the moderate middle has proven to be defensible ground.

  • Kansas dodged another anti-abortion bullet when Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed a bill designed to harrass abortion clinics by piling tons of unnecessary regulatory paperwork on them. Same bill passed and was vetoed last year, and will continue to do so until they get a pliant governor or a few more legislative zealots, in which case they'll start conjuring up something even worse. Moderation don't work with the anti-abortion fanatics -- they take everything you concede, and keep coming back for more.

  • I just got word that Howard Johnston passed away. He was an outstanding supporter of the peace community here in Wichita, and will be missed sorely.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

News:

  • The Onex buyout of Boeing's Wichita plays is hung up in giveback negotiations between Onex and the unions. Onex wants pay cuts, benefit cuts, work rule changes, a big layoff regardless of seniority. Evidently the whole deal could crash. If so, Boeing will probably be vindictive. One irony is that they have so much work backed up right now that many Boeing workers are doing overtime. The backstory here is political, not economic.

  • Wichita has paid Airtran $7.5 million in subsidies to get a discount route to Atlanta. Before the deal the airlines systematically jiggered their prices to make it twice as expensive to fly to Wichita as to Kansas City or Oklahoma City, but with Airtran as an option prices have come back down all across the board. In other words, the subsidy managed to break down the airlines' price fixing, which is more than the U.S. Antitrust enforcers have tried to do. Now Delta wants a subsidy, and for leverage they've lobbied the FAA to cancel federal grants to Wichita's airport because Wichita unfairly subsidizes their competitor. I still believe that the best solution would be for Wichita to start our own airline, with its hub here. The airline would be owned by a wide range of local citizens, much like fans in Green Bay own the Packers. It wouldn't be a publicly held company, but it would be owned by enough of the public to remain responsible to the public.

  • Knight Ridder headline: "Democrats' goals: limit abortion, trim deficit." This is unspeakably stupid. Admittedly, we're talking about Congressional Democrats, but even they should realize that the options are nil for doing anything constructive with Bush in the White House and the Republicans in complete control of Congress and much of the judiciary, not to mention most of the media and business lobbies. The only worthwhile thing Congressional Democrats can do is to scream bloody murder and obstruct whatever Republican schemes they can. And they can't do it by adopting watered-down Republican positions. What the Republicans are doins is flat-out wrong, ignorant at best, evil more often than not.

  • Chicago Tribune headline: "Democrats change tactics in Social Security debate." Evidently the old tactics were too successful, so they've decided to give the Republicans another chance.

  • Knight Ridder headline: "Iraqis impatient as leaders stumble." If Bush had to get 2/3 approval of Congress to form his government, he'd stumble a bit too. Although given that the Democrats have only found ten of several hundred Bush judicial appointees bad enough to challenge, they probably wouldn't be effective anyway. (John Bolton doesn't look like he has much chance even now.) It's been 86 days since Iraq's elections without the majority-elected part being able to take power. This has been sabotaged by the Bush Administration's transitional laws.

  • AP headline: "Bush seeks Saudi help to reduce oil prices." Of course. No sweat. I mean, look at all Bush has done to help out the Saudis. One good turn deserves another. What goes around comes around. Right.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Music: Initial count 10560 [10527] rated (+33), 882 [868] unrated (+14). Spent most of last week working on the RG backlog. I have more than I need for May, and almost have June filled up -- final cut and intro not done yet, but for once I'm on top of this. Have plenty of ratings for JCG as well, just need to focus and write, which will be the task this week.

  • The Essential Kris Kristofferson (1969-99 [2004], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD). Christgau's review of Kristofferson's first album bites as hard as his legendary putdown of Phil Ochs' guitar playing (from memory: "couldn't be worse if his fingers were webbed"): "But he's the worst singer I've ever heard. It's not that he's off key--he has no relation to key. He also has no phrasing, no dynamics, no energy, no authority, no dramatic ability, and no control of the top two-thirds of his six-note range." With practice he got better, but not much. He was, at least, a pretty good songwriter, best known for "Me and Bobby McGee," which is best known for Janis Joplin, who could sing. But he went further as an actor than in music, and not much here extends beyond 1980: one cut "recorded late '90s" (released 1999), just four more from the '80s. The first disc here doesn't get past 1971: his two best-known albums (including the one Christgau was complaining about, although he liked the second one even less). The second picks up a few duets-or-more, including a cut by the Highwaymen. Two good songs there: "Jesus Was a Capricorn" ("owed to John Prine") and "If You Don't Like Hank Williams." B-
  • Cyndi Lauper: At Last (2003, Epic/Daylight). I like the back cover, where you see her back, in black evening gown and long black gloves, arms raised, apparently singing over a expanse of water aimed at the Statue of Liberty, which rather vacantly waves back. On the front cover she appears to be emerging, in same evening gown and gloves, from a manhole, which is probably where she found her career. The covers inside are less amusing. She doesn't exactly have a voice for "Unchained Melody" or "La Vie en Rose"; more surprisingly, she's too far gone to have fun with anything here. The closest thing to a high point is a bit of Stevie Wonder harmonica. C-
  • Jennifer Lopez: On the 6 (1999, Work). Christgau flagged "Let's Get Loud" as a Choice Cut, then ignored the rest of her career (at least to date): she's recorded a record per year, but no turkey shoot, no duds, no honorable mentions, no more choice cuts, nothing near the A-list. This isn't real surprising: after all, music is just a sideline to her career. She's a good actress, capable of playing Plain Jane roles she should be ridiculous in. The camera loves her, as does Blender and Rolling Stone, not to mention Playboy, where she developed her first fan base. She can sing, and she has connections -- she was hanging with Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy) when this came out. But there isn't much here: the latin moves feel fake, even with Marc Anthony in tow; the rap with Big Pun and Fat Joe is throwaway, and "Let's Get Loud" doesn't strike me as all that choice either. C+
  • Jennifer Lopez: This Is Me . . . Then (2002, Epic). Where her first album sounded like an effort to try to synthesize a public persona around a model with ambitions of acting and singing (a bit), this one sounds like they've given up trying. Evidently, the records sell readily enough based on fame and cheesecake, so this doesn't sound like anything -- doesn't even sound bad. Guess we can classify it as Corporate Soul, but even that's a joke worn thin. C
  • Wayne Newton: Ultra Lounge: Wild, Cool & Swingin' (1963-67 [1999], Capitol). Following the fine print in this "File Under 'Lounge'" series: Artist Series, Volume Four. He was a freak, with a boyish voice backed by flashy big bands, a career launched on TV and institutionalized in Las Vegas. I avoided him until I had to admit that "Danke Schoen," on the Milt Gabler comp, was pretty good. So I ran across this underdocumented comp at the library, and now I have questions, like where did that sax solo on "But Not for Me" come from? I'm impressed by two things here: one is that the uncredited big band kicks ass, and this from a period when most such bands were on life support; second is Newton's professionalism. This particular compilation seems to have gone out of its way to pick songs indelibly identified with major performers: Nat King Cole ("L-O-V-E"), Frank Sinatra ("Strangers in the Night"), Tony Bennett ("I Left My Heart in San Francisco"), Dean Martin ("Volare"), and Newton hangs tough on all of them. He doesn't even get tripped up on stuff he has no business doing, like "Ol' Man Moses" (Louis Armstrong) and "Michelle" (you know who). Nothing brilliant, but far exceeds my expectations. B+
  • Unclassics: Obscure Electronic Funk & Disco 1978-1985 ([2004], Environmental). Europe's take on disco was to lay off the soul vocals they couldn't hack and marvel in the beat machinery -- indeed, anything mechanical, not least processed robot-speak; the 13 cuts Morgan Geist rounded up here are more "un" than classic, freaks of evolution as newly discovered legacy, all the more welcome because they tap straight into the aorta of modern dance music. A-

Friday, April 22, 2005

I started writing this entry a few days back, lost my thread, and don't seem to be able to get it back. I had the idea that the right's more paranoid mode of discourse is a muddled acknowledgment of major problems coming -- in many ways the same problems that we fear, even if they articulate them differently, and propose a radically different course of action. One of the big problems we have is that the political concepts, even the language, that we filter our perceptions through gives us distorted ideas about the nature of these problems and what to do about them. It looks like it's going to be a long hard project to sort them out. I think that a lot of our misunderstandings go back to the ideologies and practices of anti-communism -- a program that went beyond opposing a few hostile, tyrannical states to promoting the interests of capital over labor worldwide, and which operated by politicizing the most conservative religious sectors and by forging alliances with corrupt agents all around the third world. (In effect, war against the communist left advanced the power of the right against everyone.) The success of anti-communism added to the prestige of the military and espionage organs, psyched all the more to find new enemies. But there are deeper channels that concern us: the idea the pursuit of self-interest is always best; the idea that the world imposes no finite limits on the economy; the idea that the world can always be made to conform to our wishes; the idea that our ends justify whatever means. As political discourse has become corrupted -- as it has become a mere tool to advance political aims -- we've lost our objectivity, our connection to reality. Increasingly this disconnection gives way to myth and fantasy, vouchsafed by faith and impervious to reason. Religion has always been a method of coping with ignorance; it gives us conviction in the face of fears. As the future becomes ever more uncertain religion has increasingly become an attempt to hide deep in an imagined past. The fears are real, and faith prepare us poorly to face them.


The sense that we in the United States are headed towards disaster is palpable and growing. The left, of course, is obsessed with this, but the paranoid rants from the right are equally convincing. Another sign is the alarming growth and aggressiveness of religion in public life. Faith has always been a tonic for fear. Religion is defensive: it seeks to bind us together through shared ritual and myth, and by separating us from the other. Before civilization people defended themselves by huddling together in tribes. All of the progress that we have achieved -- longer lives, population growth, material wealth, science and culture -- came about by breaking down tribal boundaries. For much of the 20th century the U.S. was at the forefront of this civilization -- admirable in concept if not always in fact -- but something very profound has gone wrong, and today we find ourselves in the midst of a frantic retribalization.

It's tempting to let loose a scathing critique of religion, but that would be like treating a fever instead of the infection that caused it. Religion is symptomatic; one of many, like knee-jerk patriotism and blustering militarism, tribalism with fangs and a nasty snarl. When disaster falls, the country is likely to break along longstanding faults in its foundation, but picking at such old cracks as racism won't help much either. The problems that we face are profound. Let's try to list a few of them, in no particular order:

  • The earth's population of human beings has expanded to levels that are absolutely unprecedented, and continues to grow. Virtually all of the earth's inhabitable land area and most of its biosphere have been taken over to support this population. Arguments over how many people the earth can support are complex and varied, but it seems merely a matter of time before we start banging up against limits imposed by the finite size of the planet. The U.S. may be particularly vulnerable to those limits, for two reasons: (1) our own habits in using natural resources have historically been more wasteful than in most other countries; and (2) most of the rest of the world aspires to our standards and habits of living, so demand is likely to increase much faster than population. Each resource poses its own limits and issues. We've already seen local depletion of resources like fisheries and forests. We've seen how limits on the supply of oil has had significant economic effects even where real shortages do not yet exist.

  • Human activity has already become so extensive that it is having a measurable impact on the earth's climate, and is likely to perturb the climate in significant and unpredictable ways. This occurs in many ways, ranging from local discharges of toxic wastes to a global increase in carbon dioxide which tends to trap solar heat in the atmosphere to a global increase in atmospheric particles which tends to reduce the amount of solar energy that reaches the earth. Present human settlement patterns are very sensitive to climate, so climatic dislocations are likely to produce amplified disruptions.

  • Humans are also threatened by natural disasters, such as earthquakes. These are presumably not affected by human activity, but the more intensely we settle the earth the pronounced are the risks and consequences. For example, two 8+ magnitude earthquakes in Missouri had very little human impact back in 1811-13 but a future repeat would cause almost unimaginable damage. Extreme climate events are also considered natural disasters, and again their impacts are amplified by intensive settlement.

  • We depend heavily on advanced technology for most of the things we do. That technology is often poorly understood and carries various risks including software defects, susceptibility to misuse, and unintended consequences. The Y2K crisis was one instance of this -- in that particular case fears were promoted for business purposes, but it tapped into a deeper unease. Many technologies have been promoted widely then found to be harmful, including asbestos, lead, DDT, freon, and many pharmaceuticals. There are many issues surrounding nuclear power. The list could go on and on and on.

  • New diseases appear with some frequency and can spread very fast given fast air travel and greater population density. AIDS is one new disease that has already had a major demographic impact, especially in Africa. Recent outbreaks of Ebola, SARS, and avian flu have produced epidemics. There also appears to be increasing trends in cancers and other disorders that may be particularly related to environmental factors. These risks are increased in countries which do not have adequate public health care systems -- a growing problem in the U.S.

  • Development and proliferation of advanced military systems, including the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction is a major source of concern in many parts of the world. In the U.S. most people worry about such weapons falling into the hands of Rogue States and terrorists. In most of the rest of the world people worry more about the U.S. and its trigger-happy regime.

  • There exists currently vast iniquities of wealth by all definitions, both between and within nations, and in many cases the gaps are widening -- the U.S. is one such case. This creates the perception that political and economic power is being wielded unjustly, which creates resentment in many forms, ranging from apathy to crime to rebellion. Crisis amplifies resentment, and may also lead those in power to press their relative advantages even harder in order to minimize their losses, further amplifying resentment. (Conversely, people who feel that their social order is just are more likely to share the burden of hardships.) The dominant model of capitalism is very unbalanced in its favoring capital over labor and developed over underdeveloped worlds.

  • The U.S. has many specific political and economic problems. With its weak labor rights the U.S. exports jobs while building up huge trade deficits. The economy is therefore hugely dependent on an inflow of foreign profits and capital. With declining real wages, the economy has also long been pumped up by increased debt. The U.S. government itself runs a large deficit, also accumulating debt which has recently been satisfied only by foreign lenders -- chiefly China and Japan. The political system itself has become very corrupt, so little of its spending contributes to public capital: military and security expenses are almost totally unproductive. These factors have already resulted in significant decline in the value of the dollar. Stock market equity has barely held steady despite massive political preference shown to capital, and real estate prices have bubbled up based on record low interest rates, but both are quite precarious.

  • It also seems to be a fact of human nature that even when we objectively have less to fear we develop new and more troubling fears. Most subjective fears that Americans have are if anything wildly exaggerated -- not least of which is fear of terrorism. Part of this is because common subjective fears have been manipulated by political and business interests. Manipulation of fear has been a major part of most U.S. political campaigns in recent memory, especially those of the Republican party. This happens more and more becuase it has proven effective, and in business as well as politics the only thing that matters anymore is winning. That means short-term thinking -- what you can get away with now, regardless of the consequences.

That list, at least, strikes me as one general way to sum up the core problems. On top of this list one can add another thanks to the amazingly counterproductive instincts of our political ideologues. Worried about gas prices? Give more tax breaks to oil companies. Crime? Build more prisons. Drugs? Tougher sentences. Terrorism? Go kill Muslims. Can't get health insurance? Tighten up the bankruptcy laws. Faulty, untrustworthy high-tech products? Sounds like a job for Tort Reform. But this is more than ineptness: it shows that we've developed some fundamental misunderstandings about how the world works. And while these seem to be highly concentrated among the neoconservatives, the neoliberals fare little better. Indeed, the old left-right political dichotomy has been supplemented by something new and ominous. Traditionally the right has been the party of property rights, against which the left advocated broader human rights. There is at least room for compromise along that axis, but politics today, at least in the U.S., splits along lines that are impossible to merge: between science and faith, or more pointedly, between reality and fantasy. Clinically, this is starting to look like a question of sanity, but nobody really wants to go there.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Francis Davis wrote a piece in the Village Voice this week on Verve's reissue of fifteen albums of circa 1970 avant-garde jazz originally issued on the America label in France. I have these records, and will get to them when I get to them, but for now I just want to point out two things: (1) faced with such volume Davis did the simplest, most comprehensive thing: he did a paragraph on each artist, clumping albums together in only two cases; and (2) he didn't grade them, leaving the reader wondering whether, and how much, he likes each one. Grades are not without problems, but they do convey useful information very compactly. I don't know whether the idea of grading came up during the writing or editing. Aside from its utility grading carries a lot of baggage, but the main downside is that it urges the critic to be judgmental, even in cases where it's sufficient just to be informative. I haven't gotten very deep into these records -- haven't yet played most of them -- but offhand I'd say they're less likely to be great albums than interesting ones in their historical context.

Davis also wrote about new albums by Ted Nash and Grachan Moncur III. I like the Nash quite a bit, but don't much care for the Moncur -- an octet album, a configuration I often find unwieldly. Larry Blumenfeld has a piece on the David S. Ware live set, which I've written a JCG entry on (A-, unpublished, and probably now deprioritized). One comment I'll quibble with: "Bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp, who've ranged widely to great acclaim as leaders, do their most complete work with Ware." Unless "complete" has some meaning I hadn't met yet, that's way off base: Ware is such a dominant presence that they are inevitably role players, even though they are such strong individuals that they make their mark nonetheless -- especially in the more open concert space. I've listened to most of their albums, and they do lots more on their own than they do with Ware. (In particular, I've pencilled Parker's new quartet record, Sound Unity, in as a Pick Hit for the next JCG.)

Speaking of Parker, Downbeat gave Charlie Haden a blindfold test in their May 2005 year, and Haden was totally flumoxed by a Parker sample, finally commenting, "I don't know who William Parker is, or any of the other players." The others [Rob Brown, Cooper-Moore, Susie Ibarra] I can sort of understand, but Parker? This must say something about how isolated circles of jazz musicians have become.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Movie: Sin City. Too misanthropic, not to mention too gory, for my tastes, even with the artificing filters of black/white cinematography, spot color, and minimizing effects where live action jumps back onto the pages of the comic strip. Unless, that is, the central story of the ruthlessly corrupt politician (Powers Boothe) and his saintly cannibal son (Elijah Wood and/or Nick Stahl) is meant as an analogue to the Bush clan, in which case they've managed to paint an even viler image than I could imagine. Power corrupts, and absolute power is off the scale. Then there's the matter of the amazon whores, which reminds me that this is mere fantasy. B


Movie: The Merchant of Venice. This was the first play I ever read by Shakespeare -- in fact, the first and only piece of classic literature that I ever read in high school and actually appreciated. Most recently, I ran across Shakespeare quoted at some length in Michael Hedges book on war, where he drew fine points on the folly of ill ambitions. Shakespeare's influence on the English language is so profound that his Jewish financier's name here has been parlayed into an anti-semitic stereotype, but anti-semitism is in the mind of the beholder, including its opponents. As I hear this, Shylock has his just reasons for sealing the deal for a pound of Antonio's flesh: the latter's Christian hauteur is so warped by his sense of superiority that he scarcely considers his risk. But in rejecting the plea for mercy Shylock falls prey to his own ill designs, as the power he thought he had under right of law turned against him. Mercy, it seems, is a one-way street in old Venice. In the end Shylock is stripped and beaten, losing his daughter, his money, and his identity, as Antonio's own bigoted sense of mercy insists that forced conversion is a blessing. Michael Radford's movie goes far in framing this story, and Al Pacino's performance is powerful and moving. A-

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Music: Initial count 10527 [10496] rated (+31), 868 [871] unrated (-3). Time to nail down next JCG and RG lineups.

  • Africa Unite: In Dub (2005, Echo Beach). The group name comes from a Bob Marley song, reinforced here by the opening remix of Marley's "Is This Love." The second piece is an exceptionally lovely one called "A Sangue Freddo E In Pieno Dub" -- after all, the group, which dates back to 1981, comes from Italy. Much of the rest was mixed or remixed, dubbed or redubbed, by Mad Professor -- a relationship that isn't especially clear, especially given that I haven't heard dub so light and graceful since Augustus Pablo. Just goes to show that dub is universal, world music defined not as foreign but as coming from everywhere. A-
  • Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass: Whipped Cream & Other Delights (1965 [2005], Shout! Factory): An album of food songs, more famous for Dolores Erickson's cover pose 'neath a mountain of shaving cream than for the tune that got mashed up with Public Enemy for my favorite bootleg of 2003. B
  • Altan: Local Ground (2005, Narada): For 20+ years one of Ireland's most famous groups, I've seen them described as "traditional" and "contemporary" and "fusion" even, but can't begin to tell the difference; fiddle and accordion, guitar and bouzouki, vocals by a fair maid named Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, I'm tempted to call this "typical" or "exemplary" but again I'm unclear on the distinction. B
  • Alpha Blondy: Elohim (1999 [2005], Shanachie). French reggae from Cote D'Ivoire, its loose skank sounding much cheerier than the words, which detail transitions from fake democracy to dictatorship, to sabotage and kleptocracy, and (perhaps metaphorically) on to cannibalism. B+
  • Blueprint: 1988 (2005, Definitive Jux). Important line: "With great power comes great responsibility." Underground rap, sharp beats, smart rhymes, easy, right? A-
  • Kate Campbell: Songs From the Levee (1995 [2004], Compadre). Her first album, remastered with bonus alternates of songs likely to show up on a genuine best-of -- "A Cotton Field Away," "Trains Don't Run From Nashville," "Bury Me in Bluegrass," but not the one extolling the comforts of "Jerusalem Inn." B+
  • Kate Campbell: The Portable Kate Campbell (2004, Compadre). Born the daughter of a Baptist preacher in New Orleans, raised in Mississippi, educated in Alabama, works these days out of Nashville: Campbell is a singer-songwriter usually filed under folk because her music and her observations are so straightforward. The major event in her life was the civil rights breakthrough of the '60s, which she recalls in "Crazy in Alabama" and "Bus 109" with some amazement -- she was a young child at the time, discovering wrong in the heady atmosphere of fixing it. She recorded seven albums before signing with Compadre, at which point she remastered her first album and rerecorded most of the next three -- to capture how the songs have evolved along with her life. This one gets the more story-like songs -- historical, topical, secular. Good place to start. A-
  • Kate Campbell: Sing Me Out (2004, Compadre). A second helping of rerecordings from her second through fourth albums, plus one new one called "Would You Be a Parson"; thematically they reflect a world tied to the church -- perhaps her father's church -- all the way down to the "Funeral Food." But the title song is more universal. B+
  • Patsy Cline: The Definitive Collection (1956-63 [2004], MCA Nashville). Owen Bradley's reputation as a legendary producer begins and should have ended with Cline. His countrypolitan strings and choral goop are like makeup that looks gorgeous on one star, garish on another, and pointless on a third. Cline's voice could take it, and basked in its glory, but when you listen to her later songs -- even the magnificent "Sweet Dreams" -- you can hear the treatment wearing thin. She became an icon when Jessica Lange played her in Sweet Dreams, and her work has been consistently and confusingly in print ever since. Few singers have been anthologized so completely and so insensitively: look at her pictures and what you'll see isn't Lange -- it's a big-boned, gawky country girl; listen to her songs and what you'll hear isn't Bradley's soup -- it's an ideal country voice that towers above the arrangements. This is obvious if you search out her live albums -- Live at the Opry and Live at the Cimarron Ballroom. But her studio hits, Bradley and all, were her legend, and this does a fine job of presenting them. She was a singer who could claim "Half as Much" from Hank Williams, "Faded Love" from Bob Wills, "Crazy" from Willie Nelson, "Sweet Dreams" from Don Gibson, "Always" from Irving Berlin. A
  • The Essential Dion (1961-68 [2005], Columbia/Legacy). Four key early hits tilt this toward the doo-wop he is famous for and away from his interesting '60s folksinger phase (c.f. Bronx Blues: The Columbia Recordings), but a couple of oddities break the mood, and at 14 singles-length cuts it feels arbitrarily short. The first half, of course, is marvelous, the transition from the Laurie hits to the early Columbias seamless. That could have been doubled into a better comp than anyone has assembled from his hard-to-find Lauries. Career-spanning is difficult with Dion: aside from the disjunction when he moved towards folk, he has several decades worth of odd and infrequent comebacks, not without interest. But it's impossible to put them together and come up with a coherent whole, so you gotta pick your spots and work with them. B+
  • A People's History of the Dismemberment Plan (2003, DeSoto). A tombstone for a group with four albums from 1995-2001. Christgau liked them quite a bit, but the only one I bought sits ungraded on the shelf, the lyrics unfathomed, the punkish herky-jerk rhythms unappreciated. Thought this evident retrospective might help, but it confounds the issue, because it's not a retrospective -- it's a remix collection. That accounts for the suplus of dub effects, but the overall indigestibility persists. Not uninteresting, but probably not the best place to start, either. One of these days I'll go back and dig up the unrated Emergency & I. B
  • The Insect Trust: Hoboken Saturday Night (1970 [2004], Collectors' Choice). The only person I'm aware of who has proclaimed this strange album a masterpiece also annointed himself the Dean of American Rock Critics. The album is so deeply ensconced in Christgavian lore that when I played it for someone who had known the Dean even longer than I have she expressed surprise -- said she had always figured it for an urban legend. I managed to track down a scarce copy sometime back in the '70s, but hadn't made much sense of it. Even today it is sui generis, and only partly a creature of its time. They weren't anywhere near jazz, even though two members played reeds and flutes, and the guy they brought in to play drums on the album was none other than Elvin Jones. They mixed the horns with banjo and steel guitar, took lyrics from Thomas Pynchon and one member's six-year-old son, and featured a singer, Nancy Jeffries, whose in-your-face style anticipated the Waitresses' Patty Donahue. This was eclectic bohemia, postmodern before modernism had given up the ghost. A-
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Strings of the English Chamber Orchestra: No Boundaries (2004, Gallo/Heads Up): This sounds uncommonly pretty at first, but the strings are standard issue euroclassical and by the end they've sucked the life blood from this marvelous mbube choir; let's hope they recover. B-
  • Misha Mengelberg: Two Days in Chicago (1998, Hatology, 2CD). You can focus on Mengelberg's style on the 27-minute "Chicago Solo" which opens the second disc (the "Live" one). In particular, he likes to punch out rhythm figures with his left hand while his right hand works flights of fancy. This seems simple enough on its own, but when he works in groups he brings life to the party. Groups is what he found in Chicago. The first disc (the "Studio" one) features various trios and quartets, including two cuts with a trio filled out by Ken Vandermark and Hamid Drake, and two longer ones in a quartet with Fred Anderson, Kent Kessler, and Drake. Anderson doesn't match Vandermark's flow and volubility, but he makes for an interesting contrast, and Kessler has rarely played better. The Studio disc (first, but recorded later) is quite wonderful. The Live disc takes more patience. Not sure who plays in the duos there (most likely Ab Baars). B+
  • Mystikal: Prince of the South . . . the Hits (1995-2004, Jive/Zomba). The gravel in his voice reminds one of Howlin' Wolf, and the beats and rhymes are tough enough to make you wonder what Wolf might have done had he lived in an era when he could exaggerate his attitude instead of having to circumscribe it; one would hope that Wolf might have come up with something deeper than "Shake Ya Ass," but the odds of catchier are slim. A-
  • Olivia Newton-John: Greatest Hits (1973-76 [1984], MCA). An object-of-hate back when she broke out, not so much because her big hit aspired to trite cliche ("Have You Never Been Mellow") as because some hucksters considered this England-native the next big thing in country. Nowadays the hit wouldn't be unwelcome on a well-selected comp of '70s pop twaddle, and the steel guitar on "Please Mr. Please" makes for a nice follow-up. But "Sam" is still awful. As her compilations go, this one is short at twelve songs, but the chances that a longer one might improve on it are slim. C+
  • The Essential O'Jays (1972-78, Epic/Legacy). Upbeat even though their people had much to fret about, probably because they made money while black power burned, but compared to what came later they were public spirited; and scoured of the slick Philly crud that padded their albums, here they sound classic. A-
  • Art Pepper: Straight Life: The Savoy Sessions (1952-54 [1984], Savoy). Pepper's earliest work was most clearly following in Charlie Parker's footsteps. Pepper had a much sweeter tone on alto sax than Parker, and he missed some of Parker's rhythmic quirks, giving him a smoother, more measured attack. Perhaps this was because his big band education was under Stan Kenton whereas Parker started with Jay McShann. But the program was much the same, and it's rarely less than tantalizing. A-
  • Washington Phillips: The Key to the Kingdom (1927-29 [2005], Yazoo): An exceptionally clean and conscientious restoration of ancient recordings by the mild-mannered gospel troubadour, who revealed, "I am born to preach the gospel, and I sure do love my job." B+
  • Putumayo Presents: Mali (1999-2005, Putumayo World Music). One of the most fertile musical regions of Africa, the distinctive strings and plaintive griots as bare and open as the margins of the Sahara; this is agreeable enough, but lacks star power, and falls well short of the country's heritage. Notables present include Boubacar Traoré, Tinariwen, Issa Bagayogo, Idrissa Soumaoro, Habib Koité; among the missing are Salif Keita, Ali Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate, Oumou Sangare, Rokia Traoré, Amadou et Mariam, and many more. B
  • Putumayo Presents: South Pacific Islands (1997-2002 [2004], Putumayo World Music). Contemporary artists from New Zealand, New Guinea, Melanesia, Micronesia, Rapa Nui [Easter Island], doesn't sound like anything I can put my finger on -- not Hawaii, not Okinawa, not Indonesia, not Madagascar; more like generic afropop, which means it's probably been bounced around a few times; upbeat and effusive, tourists probably like it. B
  • Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali: Day of Colours (2004, RealWorld). Pakistan's post-Nusrat new wave, actually two nephews of the master, sounding rather old wave this time, which means they're learning to trust their voices to reach Allah, as opposed to using electronics to reach the dance floor. B+
  • The Rose & the Briar: Death , Love and Liberty in the American Ballad (1927-2004 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). Q: "What does the American ballad say about America?" A: "There are many answers: for one, that America is a place of great stories and storytellers." Doh! B-
  • The Sound of Dub: Rare and Soundful Pearls From South Africa in Dub (2005, Echo Beach). Echologists scour the world for signs of intelligent dub, finding cosmopolitan grooves from natives like the Kalahari Surfers and DJ Dope; beware that the connection to reggae is weak, and that the connection to mbaqanga is weaker still. B+

Saturday, April 16, 2005

I've been neglecting the news over the last couple of weeks, but unfortunately the news has not been neglecting us. Some items, mostly from inattentive memory. In no particular order:

  • Terri Schiavo died, unremarkably. Then the Republicans who had decided to turn her pitiful existence into a political issue threw a tantrum. Tom Delay and John Cornyn used the occasion to threaten "activist judges" with violence. (Given that the Schiavo case took thirteen years "activism" doesn't seem to have much to do with "active.") Even as Delay was eating his words, our own alien Congressman Todd Tiahrt was reiterating them. These days the definition of an "activist judge" seems to be any judge who will stand up for the rule of law and the rights of citizens as opposed to the whims and tirades of politicians.

  • Pope John Paul II also died. This was followed by a stream of hoo-hah the likes of which we haven't seen since, well, Ronald Reagan died. This pope was responsible for some promising policies, like his suggestion that no resort to war is justifiable, as well as a lot of awful policies. Prominent among the latter was his sponsorship of a greater political role for the Roman Catholic church. While it's true that the Papacy has never been aloof from politics, the long term trend had been toward secularization and the separation of church and state. The past 25 years have seen a marked reversal of that trend, as clerics from most religions have moved aggressively into the political sphere. This trend in many ways dates from the accession of John Paul II and his use to the U.S. as an anti-communist tool. This notably parallels the U.S. promotion of Islamic jihadists in Afghanistan and elsewhere, also justified as anti-communism. Some day we will come to recognize anti-communism as worse than the monster it opposed. Thus far the right wing has been able to pick and choose from Vatican positions. But it's not inconceivable that this tool will also turn on its thoughtless masters.

  • Kansas passed an amendment to the state constitution to prohibit marriage or civil unions among homosexuals. It was a silly piece of legislation which elicited much indifference, but in the end the votes were an overwhelming 70%. How do they do that? The media, like the Eagle, was generally opposed, but the machine got out the votes anyway. I have no particular interest in this issue, and would probably oppose gay marriage (although favoring steps to mitigate discrimination against unmarried couples, homosexual or otherwise) were it not for the right's poisonous obsessions. Meanwhile, Connecticut is well on their way to passing a civil unions bill, which suggests that there is something to the red/blue states split.

  • The Kansas state education board is planning hearings on plans to bring "intelligent design" into the science curriculum. They had done this several years ago, embarrassed themselves and the state, got voted out of office, but they're back again. Most reasonable people are planning on boycotting the hearings, since the board is stacked already. I'm tempted to write something on my own experience: as a child I had always wanted to go into science, but after my experience with an especially moronic 9th grade biology teacher I never took another science class. If we wish to have competent scientists we need to have an education system which encourages students with the brains and inclination to go into science, like me forty years ago. Cluttering up the curriculum with nonsense doesn't help. We live in a world that's becoming so complex and so dependent on its advanced technology that we are increasingly dependent on scientists and engineers, yet in Kansas the people in charge of education are engaged in a mad pursuit of ignorance.

  • John Bolton and John Negroponte have been appearing before the Senate to plead for confirmation to their new posts. Watching them is like a preview of their eventual war crimes trials. The latter will be more satisfying.

  • The "democracy denied in Iraq" counter has reached 76 days. Minor progress has been made in naming a government, but the old crony regime is still in place, and the power, to destroy if not to build, is still monopolized by the U.S. occupation authorities. But even when/if a government if formed based on January's flawed elections and the rigged "transitional administrative law" there will be no real progress toward democracy in Iraq until the U.S. is told to leave. The question then will be whether the damage to Iraqi civility that has been inflicted by the U.S. and many other forces will permit reconstruction and healing. There is a lot of evidence indicating that the damage already done will persist a long time, and that the U.S. will not do anything to make things better. I suppose it's possible that Bush's people did not intend to leave Iraq in ruins in a state of perpetual civil war, but I'm hard pressed to cite any instance where their policies haven't tended toward that effect.

  • Reports are that Bush's "bipartisan" commission on "tax reform" is about to unleash its recommendations -- shifting even further to consumption taxes, away from investment taxes, the usual shaft the poor/spare the rich strategy. Meanwhile, the House is working on finishing off the estate tax. The problem with repealing the estate tax is not that it favors the rich; it's that estates perpetuate aristocracy, rewarding people who have done nothing worthy of reward while making opportunities scarcer for everyone else. The estate tax should not be repealed; it should be made much stronger, at some level confiscatory. A basic economic principle is that taxes depress economic activity, so it is important that taxes be as painless as possible. Taxing estates is as painless as it gets: the dead don't respond to tax disincentives. As for their would-be heirs, they should work to build their own estates, like everyone else.

  • Here's one from the Eagle: "The State Department decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered." Also: "Last year, the number of incidents in 2003 was undercounted, forcing a revision of the report."

  • Today's paper announced an article in tomorrow's paper on how Kansas' own Senator Sam Brownback is contemplating a run for the U.S. Presidency in 2008. It's hard to imagine a more ridiculous candidate, but then it's hard to imagine that such a piece-of-work could have been elected Senator either, even from Kansas, much less re-elected by the same mysterious 70% margin as the marriage amendment.

That's all I remember, but then I wasn't paying attention. Sorry about that.

Friday, April 15, 2005

A little late in the day, but here's another Year-2004 best-of list, from Bruce Lee Gallanter of Downtown Music Gallery. In alphabetical order:

  • AMM: At the Roundhouse (Anomalous)
  • Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake: Back Together Again (Thrill Jockey, 2CD)
  • Art Ensemble of Chicago: Reunion (Il Manifesto)
  • Jamie Baum Septet: Moving Forward Standing Still (Omnitone)
  • Tim Berne: Hard Cell: Acoustic & Electric Live (Screwgun)
  • Jaap Blonk/Makigami Koichi/Paul Dutton/Phil Minton/David Moss: 5 Men Singing (Victo)
  • Boredoms: Seadrum (Warner Bros./Japan)
  • [Michiel Braam Sextet] All Ears/Line: Foamy Wife Hum (BBB, 2CD)
  • Tim Brady/Nouvel Ensemble Moderne: Playing Guitar: Symphony #1 (Ambiances Magnetiques)
  • Anthony Braxton: 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (Leo, 4CD)
  • Brotzmann/Mcphee/Kessler/Zerang: Tales Out of Time (Hatology)
  • Burnt Sugar/Arkestra Chamber: Not April in Paris: Live at Banlieues Bleues (Trugroid, CDR)
  • John Butcher/Fred Longberg-Holm/Michael Zerang: Tincture (Musica Genera)
  • Daniel Carter/Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz/Kevin Zubek: Chinatown (Not Two)
  • Claudia Quintet: I, Claudia (Cuneiform)
  • Nels Cline/Andrea Parkins/Tom Rainey: Ash and Tabula/Out Trios, Vol. 3 (Atavistic)
  • The Nels Cline Singers: The Giant Pin (Cryptogramophone)
  • Richard Crandell: Mbira Magic (Tzadik)
  • Alvin Curran: Maritime Rites (New World, 2CD)
  • Elton Dean: Sea of Infinity (Hux)
  • Dave Douglas/Louis Sclavis/Peggy Lee/Dylan Van Der Schyff: Bow River Falls (Koch/Premonition)
  • Paul Dunmall & Paul Rogers: Awareness Response (Emanem)
  • Paul Dunmall/Paul Rogers/Philip Gibbs: Nimes (Duns, 4CDR)
  • Trevor Dunn's Trio Convulsant: Sister Phantom Owl Fish (Ipecac)
  • Ellery Eskelin: Ten (Hatology)
  • James Fei: Alto Quartets (Organized Sound Recordings)
  • SFQ [Simon Fell Quartet]: Four Compositions: Three Quintets/Liverpool Quartet (Red Toucan, 2CD)
  • Morton Feldman: Patterns in a Chromatic Field (Tzadik)
  • 4 Walls: Which Side Are You On (Red Note)
  • Robert Fripp & Brian Eno: The Equatorial Stars (DGM)
  • Fred Frith/John Zorn Duo: Vol. 5: Zorn 50th Birthday Celebration (Tzadik)
  • Satoko Fujii Trio: Illusion Suite (Libra)
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra: Blueprint (Natsat)
  • Frode Gjerstad Trio: St. Louis (FMR)
  • Vinny Golia & Peter A. Schmid: Birdology (Leo)
  • Gold Sparkle Trio With Ken Vandermark: Brooklyn Cantos (Squealer)
  • Dennis Gonzalez NY Quartet: NY Midnight Suite (Clean Feed)
  • Annie Gosfield: Lost Signals and Drifting Satellites (Tzadik)
  • Frank Gratkowski Quartet: Facio (Leo)
  • Milford Graves/John Zorn: 50th Birthday Celebration Volume Two (Tzadik)
  • Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Ithica (Intakt)
  • Robin Holcomb/Wayne Horvitz: Solos (Songlines)
  • Susie Ibarra: Folkloriko (Tzadik)
  • Jewels & Binoculars: Floater (Ramboy)
  • Kidd Jordan/Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder Trio: Live at the Tampere Jazz Happening 2000 (Charles Lester Music)
  • Kaufmann/Gratkowski/De Joode: Kwast (Konnex)
  • Klaresque Ensemble: Approachable Perspectives/Music of Ernesto Klar (Fresh Sound World Jazz)
  • Peter Kowald: Global Village (Free Elephant)
  • Peter Kowald 3: Deep Music (Free Elephant)
  • Joelle Leandre & Gianni Lenoci: Sur Une Balancoire (Ambiances Magnetiques)
  • Steve Lehman/Mark Dresser/Pheeron Aklaff: Camouflage Trio (Clean Feed)
  • Lukas Ligeti: Mystery System (Tzadik)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Mother Tongue (Pi Recordings)
  • Joe McPhee & Dominic Duval: Rules of Engagement, Vol. 2 (Drimala Records)
  • Mephista: Entomological Reflections (Tzadik)
  • Paul Murphy: Red Snapper: Paul Murphy at CBS (Cadence 1167)
  • The Necks: Mosquito/See Through (ReR Necks, 2CD)
  • Olga Neuwirth: Bahlamms Fest (Kairos, 2CD)
  • Kevin Norton's Bauhaus Quartet With Dave Ballou/John Lindberg/Tony Malaby: Time-Space Modulator (Barking Hoop)
  • Evan Parker/Alex Von Schlippenbach/Paul Lytton: America 2003 (Psi, 2CD)
  • Evan Parker/Peter Brotzmann Double Trio: The Bishop's Move (Victo)
  • William Parker & Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: Mass for Healing (Black Saint)
  • Mario Pavone: Boom (Playscape 91003)
  • Barre Phillips/Joelle Leandre/William Parker/Tetsu Saitoh: After You Gone: In Memory of Peter Kowald (Victo)
  • Radian: Juxtaposition (Thrill Jockey)
  • The Revolutionary Ensemble: And Now . . . (Pi)
  • Sam Rivers/Adam Rudolph/Harris Eisenstadt: Vista (Meta)
  • Adam Rogers: Allegory (Criss Cross)
  • Ned Rothenberg Double Band: Parting (Moers Music)
  • Keith Rowe/Axel Dorner/Franz Hautzinger: A View From the Window (Erstwhile)
  • [Rutherford/Wachsmann/Lovens/Sjostrom/Hauto-Aho] Quintet Moderne: Well Springs Suite (Cadence)
  • Kazue Sawai/Michel Doneda/Kazuo Imai/Le Quan Ninh/Tetsu Saito: Une Chance Pour L'ombre (Victo)
  • Jenny Scheinman: Shalagaster (Tzadik)
  • Schlippenbach/Parker/Lytton: Compression: Live at the Total Music Meeting 2002 (ALL)
  • Scorch Trio: Luggumt (Rune Grammofon)
  • Elliott Sharp/Melvin Gibbs/Lance Carter: Raw Meet (Intakt)
  • [Sonny Simmons/Michael Marcus/Jay Rosen] Cosmosamatics: Cosmosamatics III (Boxholder)
  • David Simons: Prismatic Hearing (Tzadik)
  • Sirone: Concord (NotTwo)
  • Wadada Leo Smith & Anthony Braxton: Saturn, Conjunct the Grand Canyon in a Sweet Embrace (Pi)
  • Spring Heel Jack: The Sweetness of the Water (Thirsty Ear)
  • Irving Stone [various artists]: The Irving Stone Memorial Concert (Tzadik, 2CD)
  • Steve Swell/Sabir Mateen/Heyner/Kugel: Slammin' the Infinite (Cadence)
  • Craig Taborn: Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear)
  • Cecil Taylor: Incarnation (FMP)
  • Cecil Taylor & Italian Instabile Orchestra: The Owner of the Riverbank (Enja)
  • John Tilbury & Eddie Prevost: Discrete Moments (Matchless)
  • Trapist: Ballroom (Thrill Jockey)
  • Trio x 3: New Jazz Meeting: Baden-Baden 2002 (Hatology, 2CD)
  • Gebhard Ullmann: The Big Band Project (Soul Note)
  • The Vandermark Five: . . . Exercises in Surprise (Atavistic)
  • Jack Wright/Michel Doneda/Tatsuya Nakatani: From Between (SOS Editions)
  • Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Quintet + Tatsuya Oe: ONJQ+OE (P-Vine)
  • Otomo Yoshihide/Bill Laswell/Yoshigaki Yasuhiro: Soup Live (P-Vine, 2CD)
  • [Ensemble Modern Plays] Frank Zappa: Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions (RCA Red Seal)
  • John Zorn/Masada String Trio: 50th Birthday Celebration/Volume 1 (Tzadik)
  • John Zorn/Arto Lindsay/Anton Fier: 50th Birthday Celebration Vol. 3: Locus Solus (Tzadik)
  • John Zorn: Magick (Tzadik)
  • John Zorn: The Classic Guide to Strategy Vol. 3: The Fire Book/50th Birthday Celebration Vol. 9 (Tzadik)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

My "smooth jazz" piece has been posted by the Village Voice. I grew up in the generation of rock critics who believed that good rock records should be, and for the most part were, popular, and that popular records (rock anyhow) must be doing something right, otherwise they wouldn't be so popular. That belief got beat in the mid-'70s, mangled beyond recognition (despite Prince and Madonna) in the '80s, and degenerated to dark humor in the '90s (despite Nirvana, I guess, or was that the point?).

Looking back, the argument's applicability to jazz waned in the '40s and vanished utterly in the late '60s, such that by now several generations of jazz artists have never imagined anything but their own inevitable commercially marginal status. But every now and then there would appear some jazz-like artists with substantial sales, and I've always wondered whether they had something valid more than their marketing edge. Six or seven years ago I tried to interest the Voice in me taking a fresh look at Kenny G, then at something of a peak. No go on that, and I never bothered pursuing the idea on my own. But when I started getting records for my Jazz Consumer Guides some smooth jazz showed up now and then, and I found myself hoping that I might find something enjoyably funky -- perhaps an analog to contemporary r&b comparable to soul jazz in the '60s or disco instrumentalists like Bohannon in the '70s. Invariably the records came up short, and when I did find something enjoyably funky, like Jim Cifelli's Groove Station it didn't fit the smooth jazz orthodoxy close enough to fly in those circles. But I couldn't work these thoughts into CG reviews -- the best of the records weren't compelling enough to make the grade, and the worst were so inevitably bad they had no interest either.

So this piece came into being as an attempt to figure out just how smooth jazz fits into the greater jazz universe. But two facts dominate this question: 1) smooth jazz has an order-of-magnatude sales advantage over mainstream jazz, and 2) smooth jazz has no critical standing whatsoever among mainstream jazz critics. And many things follow, especially from the sales equation. A typical independent-label jazz album might sell 3k copies, with a ceiling around 30k copies -- roughly speaking, the minimum sales figure for a smooth jazz album, while smooth jazz hits can break 100k, much more for Kenny G's bestsellers. This equation affects things like the budget for the album, the promotion push, and above all the distribution. Looking around Wichita, I noticed that WalMart has about one foot of rack space for jazz; Circuit City has three feet; Best Buy has nine feet. But all three have exactly the same jazz mix: smooth jazz hits plus a few Dead Legends. (With its extra space Best Buy has a few more mainstream artists on major labels and more old catalog -- I've even seen a copy of Ascension, which I'd love to hear on "Best Buy Radio" -- but nothing from labels that don't feature smooth jazz product.) Those are the sort of channels that serve most of America, and real jazz is locked out of that level of distribution. This lockout creates a closed circle, with a small coterie of labels, artists, producers, radio, distributors locked into a narrowing niche.

I have a lot more research I could present, but I haven't sorted it out very thoroughly. What I will add here are capsule reviews of the smooth jazz albums (plus a couple of ringers) I've heard over the past year. There's more that I haven't heard -- Norman Brown, Paul Brown, Richard Elliott, Dave Koz, Chuck Loeb, Joe Sample, Soul Ballet, Wayman Tisdale, Peter White, those are all names I noted. Also missing are the singers, who are in a slightly different class -- actually, one with more upside sales potential. And I've skipped a wide range of crossover moves that haven't intersected with smooth jazz, such as jazztronica, nu soul, and whatever it is that Dune Records is up to in London. But this should give you an idea, and none of it's likely to show up in the broad sweep of Jazz Consumer Guide.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Music: Initial count 10496 [10463] rated (+33), 871 [880] unrated (-9). Jazz CG and Recycled Goods both posted last week. I have enough new jazz records rated to finish a new Jazz CG, plus most of another RG written up, so it would be cool to get them straightened out this week -- if not fully written.

  • Atmosphere: Seven's Travels (2003, Rhymesayers/Epitaph). The music seems more rushed than before -- the beats harder, the rhymes crammed together, maybe even blue-shifted. B+
  • The Jeff Beck Group: Beck-Ola (1969 [2000], Epic). I had a copy of the LP way back when. Never rated it, having had no recollection of what it sounded like. Maybe I never played it? By the time this came out Beck's fellow ex-Yardbirds had moved on to Cream and Led Zeppelin, with Derek & the Dominos just a year off. Singer sounds like Rod Stewart, who had a better band to sing for at the time. Liner notes advise: "So sit back and listen and try and decide if you can find a small place in your heads for it." Maybe I did play it, but couldn't find a place small enough. C+
  • Anthony Braxton: Dortmund (Quartet) 1976 (1976, Hat Art). Four pieces with diagrammatic titles, performed live by a rather extraordinary quartet, with trombonist George Lewis joining Braxton up front, with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul in the back. Braxton plays flute and clarinet as well as three weights of sax (soprano, alto, contrabass), which gives him a wide range of looks. Impressive work all around. A-
  • David Bromberg: My Own House / You Should See the Rest of the Band (1978-79 [1999], Fantasy). Combines two albums, the first more down home, the second juiced up a bit, including Garth Hudson on organ and Peter Ecklund on trumpet. Both feature medleys. Fairly classic Americana, nicely done. B+
  • David Bromberg: Wanted Dead or Alive (1974, Columbia). Singer-songwriter with an archivist bent: about half the songs are originals, most of the rest oldies, one from Dylan, who at a comparable age/career-stage looked a bit like Bromberg looks on the back cover -- maybe a little less scruffy and a little less nerdy. At this stage (third album) he was likely viewed, at least by Columbia, as another Dylan, but instead of making the transition to rock 'n' roll he moved to Fantasy and reverted even further into folkiness. This one seems neither here nor there. B
  • Guus Janssen and His Orchestra: Dancing Series (1988, Geestgronden). A big band led by the Dutch pianist, with many of the usual suspects on line. Which means it can achieve a comic, almost circus-like atmosphere, or it can break down into squalls of sound. The piece called "Jojo Jive" is a fine example of the former, shuffling along with occasional dissonance. B+
  • Louis Prima: Say It With a Slap (1947-49 [1999], Buddha). Transitional, it says in the booklet, which means one foot in New Orleans, the other groping for Las Vegas. Keely Smith shows up for the last song, replacing the equally fine Cathy Allen. His own vocals are as thin and pathetic as ever -- just how corny he can get is shown by his take on a rare standard, "All of Me." The big band is thick but swings easily, and Prima's trumpet is always a treat. B+
  • Paul Rutherford: The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie (1974, Emanem). I can't unreservedly recommend an album of solo trombone, but I find this one fascinating. He works mostly in short discrete notes, often played fast, but without the sort of smears that often come with the instrument. The tone is ruddy, as opposed to something that might be mistaken for J.J. Johnson, so much of this has a staccato ring to it, or do I mean static? Fascinating, nonetheless. B+
  • US3: Hand on the Torch (1993, Blue Note). Mild-mannered raps, layered over jazz with samples from Art Blakey, Donald Byrd, Bobby Hutcherson, etc., plus some new jazz by Steve Williamson. Judging from the back liner it looks like a venture capital investment by Blue Note. Flows OK, but doesn't register very strongly. B
  • Viktor Vaughn: (VV:2) Venomous Villain (2004, Insomniac). Featuring Doom, Kool Keith, Manchild (Mars Ill), Poison Pen, Carl Kavorkian, Iz-Real, not that that gets us very far. Words and scratches, boom beats and blasts, tall tales and horseshit. I don't know what to make of it. B+
  • Dwight Yoakam: Tomorrow's Sounds Today (2000, Reprise). Another solid outing; three, maybe four, good songs; rock solid neotrad sound, so nothing sounds bad. Don't have time to see if it grows on me. B+

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

My Recycled Goods reissues/world music column has been posted by Static Multimedia. This is the 18th more/less monthly column I've done for Static, dating back to Feb. 2003. I keep them archived on my website, and keep an artist index there. I've covered 638 albums there. I started to install the reviews at Terminal Zone, but haven't gotten very far. There they can be combined with the Jazz Consumer Guide reviews and the hundreds of notebook reviews (at least the ones that are fit to keep). The big difference between Recycled Goods and Jazz Consumer Guide is that I have unlimited space with RG, so I can fit in an introduction and include pretty much everything I get, whereas JCG is very compressed due to the limited allotment of space. This shows up not only in how many records get included but also in how many words I write per record. With JCG I have to weigh every word like it's a zero-sum game: an extra word here means one less word somewhere else. It's much harder to write, but also better written. (Much of the credit there has to go to Robert Christgau's editing -- it's tough to slip anything sloppy past him. Michael Tatum's editing of RG is immensely helpful as well, but he's not nearly so picky.)

Another difference is that I make a much more serious effort to make JCG comprehensive. I try to hear all the new jazz worth hearing for JCG, and the publicists are usually obliging. On the other hand, reissues are such a huge domain that I can only hope to poke around selectively, and I usually have so much backlog that I'm less likely to go out of my way to track things down. Moreover, some publicists figure that anyone can write for a webzine, so Static has less pull than the Voice does, even though I'm much more likely to actually publish something about an RG candidate than a JCG candidate. All this makes RG more arbitrary. When I look through the reissues sections of Mojo, Blender, Rolling Stone, most of what shows up there never makes it to my door. On the other hand, I get a lot of jazz, and I get more from Sony/Legacy and Shout! Factory than I ask for -- I guess there wasn't a lot of requests for that Jim Nabors worst-of -- so they show up disproportionately. On the other hand, UMG's reissues division has clammed up, BMG's difficult, and WEA's impenetrable. Reissues is a segment that is overwhelmingly dominated by majors -- they accumulate catalogs, and make good money in their recycling. There's some interesting stuff out on the fringes, and I wish I had more time to track it down. But for now I cover what I can, which is still quite a bit.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

My fourth Village Voice Jazz Consumer Guide column appeared today. The first column appeared in July, 2004, followed by one in September, then another in January, 2005. I haven't been working to a schedule here -- early speculation on how frequently the column would run ranged from three to six times a year -- but it's actually run almost like clockwork every three months. This is something of a surprise to me, since what I notice day-to-day are the delays -- how long it takes to assemble, to edit, to schedule space and lay out. Each time I write more than fits, then haggle over where to cut, then think I have the next one half done already, expecting to finally pick up the pace. Early on I was short for material, but these days I have so much material that's so remarkable that I find myself cutting lots of genuinely good records realizing that I'm never going to find space for them, even if I do somehow manage to pick up the pace.

The Jazz Consumer Guide is the front end of a system for sorting as much new jazz as I can get my hands on and find time to make sense of. Behind it I have a series of files that I use to keep track of everything I get, and more files that try to list what else is out there. (It's impossible to know what you don't know, but there are ways to measure what you don't know, and less perfectly to assess how much your ignorance detracts from your knowledge.) One shift evident in this column (and it's probably exaggerated) is that I'm doing a more effective job of seeking out records as opposed to just responding to what shows up in the mail. The breakdown this time is 8 to 4, the 8 including two records I bought and 4 that I got by approaching the artists (3 self-labelled), while only one of the 4 (Potter) was likely to have shown up in most working critics' mail. (The Björkenheim/Ligeti was actually a side-effect of trying to track down Juhani Aaltonen's records, about which you'll hear more next time.) Branch Rickey's famous maxim is that luck is the residue of design. It may be lucky to find such great records in such out-of-the-way places, but there's a lot of logic and organization behind the search, and it seems to be paying off.

My system puts a ridiculous amount of emphasis on grades. This is wrong in that it suggests that there is a measurable standard against which the records are evaluated. Of course, there is no such standard. The closest simple grading system I can come up with would be to measure two factors: how expertly do you fulfill my expectations for a type of music, and how surprising is the result. In other words, competency and invention. But two such factors are incommensurable, often even contradictory. Quantify the two and multiply them and the answers is bound to be nonsense. Yet that's more or less what grading does. Still, I do it. I see two advantages in it: one is that it helps in managing quantities of data; the other is that it makes my writing more economical. With the grade at the end you know whether I like the record or not, and approximately how much -- no need to tune adjectives. And the data is large: I get about 400 jazz albums a year, and the grades map those 400 into a context provided by over 10,000 grades in my album database.

The grading system I use is roughly based on what Robert Christgau has done in his Consumer Guides, but I'll give you my definitions here. First, a B record is a good one: competent, skilled, pleasing, unremarkable. I could play B records all day long and never complain, but presumably I'd wind up wondering why I bothered. I've mostly tuned my ears to not notice B records. Anything below B has somehow managed to annoy or offend me. I rarely go very far down the grade list, and don't claim much precision there -- once a record dips below the line of tolerance I lose interest in it. In general, a C+ record is probably a competent piece of hackwork, while a C- record is likely to be a much less competent atrocity. Lower grades usually indicate pain, as opposed to mere annoyance.

A B+ is a consistently enjoyable album or one with remarkable features that I may not fully appreciate or value. I've found many of my favorite albums in Christgau's B+; you will likely find treasures in mine. In practice, the upper third are records I enjoy a lot; the bottom third include records that I admire more than I like, but they all have much to recommend. It's just that the A- records have more -- sometimes much more. Higher grades are rare -- in the database they are usually records that have stood the test of time, that exemplify a unique artistic vision, but sometimes they just make me deliriously happy from beginning to end. I'd like to think that A and A+ records are universal -- that even someone who doesn't think they like avant-garde jazz, for instance, could really get into records like Dave Holland's Conference for the Birds or Amalgam's Prayer for Peace.

Based on what I get, I'd have to say that the distribution for current jazz records is a bit above normal -- the mean record is somewhere in the low B+ range. My own results skew this way mostly because I seek out good records while bypassing not so good ones, but if I did get everything, and managed miraculously to grade it all, the mean should drop into the mid B range, but the distribution wouldn't be normal -- it would be skewed high, more B+ than B-/C+, maybe more A- than C/C-. Most of the reasons for this are systemic -- they apply to any kind of music, where good musicians (however you define that, and there's a wide range of opinion) simply get more opportunities to record than bad musicians, where good records get promoted more than bad ones, etc. But I will mention two reasons that are relatively specific to jazz. One is that it's a relatively homogeneous form of music -- mostly instrumental, mostly out of a specific historical tradition, with common conventions. The other is that jazz is relatively untouched by commercial pressures -- and things that go with money, like production budgets. Proof of these points can be gleaned by looking at the exceptions: vocal jazz grades much more variably than instrumental, while the most commercial jazz variants skew quite a bit down. (The mean for "smooth jazz," in my rather limited experience, is close to the B-/C+ border, and I'm rather open-minded on the subject.)

I think that the four Jazz Consumer Guides to date have shown progressive grasp of the domain, sharpening of my sort skills, and possibly a little tighter writing. I expect the next year to progress similarly -- there's still a lot out there that I don't know about. It's also made me more aware of my preferences and prejudices: love tenor sax, especially in small groups; don't like multiple overlapping horn lines, either in small groups or big bands; don't have much to say about piano trios or solo; don't like strings or flutes, especially when they remind me of classical or new age; like world fusion exotica, but often find myself dumbfounded by latin; give singers a tough time; rarely think avant-garde solos and duos pay off; find smooth jazz too formulaic, although synth beats are fine. I'm getting better at following avant-garde, free, creative, whatever you call it, although I still suspect that a lot of the experiments are half-assed and don't work. I'm having trouble finding as much traditional jazz as I'd like. But there are exceptions to all of this, and in the end the exceptions are more interesting than the rules.

Time to clean up the system again. I keep a "done" file with notes for everything that I've rated but haven't used, and clean that out on each column publication, putting the notes into the notebook. The "done" file started with 279 records, of which 31 appeared in the Jazz Consumer Guide. I've culled the following albums, listed in rank order (best to worst). These are records I've heard, rated, noted, and decided not to include in future Jazz Consumer Guides. There are various reasons for this: some were written about by other Village Voice writers and I don't have much to add to their comments; some I wrote about in my Recycled Goods reissue column; some are of marginal interest to jazz; a lot are B+ albums that lose out in the space crunch -- I listed 15 Honorable Mentions this time, leaving 157 B+ candidates, about ten columns worth; almost everything B rated; some lower rated records I don't feel like picking on for one reason or another. Total cull is 108 records, leaving 152 rated/107 unrated. From the latter, plus whatever shows up in the meantime, I'll write up 30 or so records next time.

Here's the cull list. The notes are in the notebook.

  • Gordon Beck Quartet: Experiments With Pops (1967, Art of Life) [A-]
  • The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions (1952-54, Verve, 5CD) [A-]
  • Peggy Lee: Black Coffee (1953-56, Verve) [A-]
  • Henry Kaiser & Wadada Leo Smith: Yo Miles! Upriver (Cuneiform, 2CD) [A-]
  • Jimmy Smith: Retrospective (1956-86, Blue Note, 4CD) [A-]
  • The Swinging Side of Bobby Darin (1962-65, Capitol Jazz) [A-]
  • Gerry Hemingway: Songs (Between the Lines) [A-]
  • Dominic Duval/Mark Whitecage: Rules of Engagement, Vol. 1 (Drimala) [A-]
  • Bob Wilber and the Tuxedo Big Band: More Never Recorded Arrangements for Benny Goodman, Volume Two (Arbors) [B+]
  • Branford Marsalis Quartet: Coltrane's A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam (Marsalis Music/Rounder) [B+]
  • Pink Martini: Hang On Little Tomato (Heinz) [B+]
  • The Frank Hewitt Trio: Not Afraid to Live (Smalls) [B+]
  • Andre Ward: Steppin' Up (Award/Orpheus) [B+]
  • Fred Hersch: The Fred Hersch Trio + 2 (Palmetto) [B+]
  • Groundtruther: Latitude (Thirsty Ear) [B+]
  • Eyvind Kang & Tucker Martine: Orchestra Dim Bridges (Conduit) [B+]
  • Claire Ritter: Greener Than Blue (Zoning) [B+]
  • David Sánchez: Coral (Columbia) [B+]
  • Miguel Zenón: Ceremonial (Marsalis Music/Rounder) [B+]
  • Kirk Lightsey: The Nights of Bradley's (1985, Sunnyside) [B+]
  • Statesmen of Jazz: Multitude of Stars (Arbors, 2CD) [B+]
  • Barbara Montgomery: Little Sunflower (Mr. Bean and Bumpy) [B+]
  • Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath: Bremen to Bridgewater (1971-75, Cuneiform, 2CD) [B+]
  • Keith Jarrett: The Out-of-Towners (ECM) [B+]
  • Glauco Sagebin: When Baden Meets Trane (Blue Toucan) [B+]
  • Jim Cifelli: Groove Station (Short Notice Music) [B+]
  • Trio Mundo: Rides Again (Zoho) [B+]
  • Stanley Turrentine: Don't Mess With Mister T. (1973, CTI/Epic/Legacy) [B+]
  • Marcus Belgrave: Gemini (1974, Universal Sound) [B+]
  • Incognito: Adventures in Black Sunshine (Narada Jazz) [B+]
  • Josh Workman: Jumpin' at the Border (Tetrachord Music) [B+]
  • Bruno Råberg Nonet: Chrysalis (Orbis Music) [B+]
  • Eric Vloeimans: Hidden History (Challenge) [B+]
  • Jazz Ambassador: Scott Robinson Plays the Compositions of Louis Armstrong (Arbors) [B+]
  • José Alberto Medina/JAM Trio: First Portrait (Fresh Sound) [B+]
  • Kerry Linder: Sail Away With Me (Blue Toucan) [B+]
  • Jessica Williams: Live at Yoshi's, Volume One (MaxJazz) [B+]
  • Slow Train Soul: Illegal Cargo (Tommy Boy) [B+]
  • Monk's Music Trio: Think of One (CMB) [B+]
  • The John Sheridan Trio: Artistry 3 (Arbors) [B+]
  • Rob Wilkerson: Imaginary Landscape (Fresh Sound) [B+]
  • Juan Martin: Camino Latino (Flamencovision) [B+]
  • Enrico Rava: Easy Living (ECM) [B+]
  • William Gagliardi Quintet: Hear and Now (CIMP) [B+]
  • Courtney Pine: Devotion (Telarc) [B+]
  • Klaus Paier/Stefan Gfrerer/Roman Werni: Live: Vol. 1 (PAO) [B+]
  • Benny Golson: Terminal 1 (Concord) [B+]
  • Spike Wilner Ensemble: Late Night: Live at Smalls (Fresh Sound) [B+]
  • Carlos Michelini: Charactera Below Zero (Fresh Sound) [B+]
  • Paul Bley: Nothing to Declare (Justin Time) [B+]
  • McCoy Tyner: Illuminations (Telarc) [B+]
  • Dave Rempis Quartet: Out of Season (482 Music) [B+]
  • Bob Brookmeyer: Get Well Soon (Challenge) [B+]
  • Medeski Martin & Wood: End of the World Party (Just in Case) (Blue Note) [B+]
  • Pharoah's Daughter: Out of the Reeds (Tzadik) [B+]
  • Holly Hofmann: Minor Miracle (Capri) [B+]
  • Robin Holcomb/Wayne Horvitz: Solos (Songlines) [B+]
  • Sammy Sherman: A Jazz Original Live at Chan's (Arbors) [B+]
  • The Jay Leonhart Trio: Cool (Sons of Sound) [B+]
  • Joaquín Chacón: Out of This World (Fresh Sound) [B+]
  • Diana Krall: The Girl in the Other Room (Verve) [B]
  • Herbie Hancock: The Piano (1978, Columbia/Legacy) [B]
  • Joe Carter/Nilson Matta: Two for Two (Empathy) [B]
  • Grachan Moncur III Octet: Exploration (Capri) [B]
  • Michel Camilo: Solo (Telarc) [B]
  • Stian Carstensen: Backwards Into the Backwoods (Winter & Winter) [B]
  • Steve Howe/Martin Taylor: Masterpiece Guitars (P3) [B]
  • Gerald Albright: Kickin' It Up (GRP) [B]
  • Gordon Lee and the GLeeful Big Band: Flying Dream (OA2) [B]
  • Al Jarreau: Accentuate the Positive (Verve) [B]
  • Claudia Villela with Kenny Werner: Dreamtales (Adventure Music) [B]
  • Madeleine Peyroux: Careless Love (Rounder) [B]
  • Doc Powell: Cool Like That (Heads Up) [B]
  • Brian Bromberg: Choices (A440) [B]
  • Jeff Parker & Scott Fields: Song Songs Song (Delmark) [B]
  • Arve Henriksen: Chiaroscuro (Rune Grammofon) [B]
  • André Bush: Start From Silence (Old Culture) [B]
  • Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: Signs (Okka Disk) [B]
  • Brooklyn Sax Quartet: Far Side of Here (Omnitone) [B]
  • Joe Lovano: I'm All for You (Blue Note) [B]
  • BeatleJazz: With a Little Help From Our Friends (Lightyear) [B]
  • Ron Levy's Wild Kingdom: Voodoo Boogaloo (Levtronic) [B]
  • Amina Figarova: Come Escape With Me (Munich) [B]
  • Bradley Leighton: Just Doin' Our Thang (Pacific Coast Jazz) [B]
  • Craig Chaquico: Midnight Noon (Higher Octave) [B]
  • Eric Darius: Night on the Town (Higher Octave Music) [B]
  • Jeff Lorber: Flipside (Narada Jazz) [B]
  • Territory Band-3: Map Theory (Okka Disk) [B]
  • Russell Malone: Playground (MaxJazz) [B]
  • Jesse Chandler: Somewhere Between (Fresh Sound) [B]
  • Mindi Abair: Come As You Are (GRP) [B-]
  • Harry Connick, Jr.: Only You (Columbia) [B-]
  • Down to the Bone: Cellar Funk (Narada Jazz) [B-]
  • Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: A Love Supreme (Palmetto) [B-]
  • Robert Wyatt: Solar Flares Burn for You (1972-2003, Cuneiform) [B-]
  • Kenny Barron Quintet: Images (Sunnyside) [B-]
  • Nestor Torres: Sin Palabras (Without Words) (Heads Up) [B-]
  • Aaron Choulai: Place (Sunnyside) [B-]
  • Boney James: Pure (Warner Bros.) [B-]
  • Justin Mullens & the Delphian Jazz Orchestra (Fresh Sound) [B-]
  • Kenny G: Ultimate Kenny G (1986-2002, Arista) [B-]
  • Jing Chi: 3D (Tone Center) [B-]
  • Bobby Hutcherson: Now! (1978, Blue Note) [B-]
  • Euge Groove: Livin' Large (Narada Jazz) [C+]
  • Makanda Ken McIntyre: In the Wind: The Woodwind Quartets (Passin' Thru) [C+]
  • Joyce Cooling: This Girl's Got to Play (Narada Jazz) [C]
  • Manhattan Transfer: Vibrate (Telarc) [C]


Jazz Consumer Guide (4) came out today. The following are the notes for the covered records from the "done" file (279 records before I started this housecleaning).

  • Amalgam: Prayer for Peace (1969 [2002], FMR). The authors of The Penguin Guide to Jazz have a soft spot for the English avant-garde of their youth. Their highest rating is a crown, which they reserve for a few personal favorites: 74 in the 7th edition, out of more than 13,000 records surveyed. Yet they give crowns to six English jazz albums from 1968-72 -- a famous one by John McLaughlin and five others unlikely to be known by anyone who hasn't carefully studied their Guide. They are interesting records -- that's why the Guide is so essential -- but this one stands out. The sound has amazing presence -- the bass literally hugging you, while the drums ping off your bones and Trevor Watts' alto sax cuts right through you. When he shifts from the dirge-like intro to full metal screech you can feel the earth move, but the record never flies out of control and never loses its touch or its humanity. A classic, but who knew? A
  • Patricia Barber: A Fortnight in Paris (2004, Blue Note). Seems short for a fortnight, or perhaps that just means she leaves us wanting more. In an age when jazz has become the last refuge for the interpretive singer, she writes, and on "Crash" leads an instrumental built around her power piano. Moreover, the songs are worth reading -- "Whiteworld" the bright, nasty face of imperialism. Still, she does throw in a few covers -- "Laura" is a languid ballad which frames Neal Alger's guitar solo; "Norwegian Wood" is a starkly lovely reading; "Call Me" is a gentle closer. I'm impressed by each of these, yet not quite swept away. B+
  • Gorka Benitez: Sólo la Verdad Es Sexy (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound). At two discs this seems at first a bit excessive, but the discs aren't packed (first runs 41:39, second 41:22) -- the music wouldn't fit on one disc, but it would come close. The music is mostly played at ballad speed, with a quiet dignity triumphing where the quiet storm falls off. B+
  • Raoul Björkenheim/Lukas Ligeti: Shadowglow (2003, TUM). Improvised guitar and drums, sometimes prepared, sometimes something else (tri-sonic steel guitar? electric viola da gamba? Chinese tam-tam?). Each piece is built around a trick, perhaps an exotic rhythm Ligeti picked up on his African travels. But Björkenheim doesn't just tease odd sounds from his axes: he knows his power chords, and can pound out lines with a deeply metallic tone. A-
  • Jim Black: Habyor (2004, Winter & Winter). Post-fusion, or maybe creative rock? Whereas fusion dumbed down jazz and tried to compensate with energy or at least a little funk, this starts from the guitar dominance of alt-indie-whatever, then skews it, stretches it into free time, turns it into harsh, unpolished texture. Black calls his band Alasnoaxis, and this is their third album together. The presence of Chris Speed on tenor sax/clarinet, as well as the drummer's leadership, suggests a parallel with John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet, but whereas the latter is light and beat-centered, this one is dense and tense. In both cases Speed blends in rather than stands out, an interesting chameleon act. B+
  • Anthony Braxton: 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (2003 [2004], Leo, 4CD). Four CDs is overkill for others but with Braxton it's just one of the rituals of getting acquainted. His catalog is so huge that keeping up is all but impossible. One thing that you can lose track of with his compositions is what an extraordinary musician he is, but with standards you get a handle to hear him by and he gets proven melodies to exploit. On his recently re-released *Charlie Parker Project 1993* (Hatology) the point seems to be to leave Bird in his dust, but here he takes everything at a nice leisurely pace: the pieces average over ten minutes, and leave ample time for guitarist Kevin O'Neil and a rhythm section that, well, swings. A-
  • Claudia Quintet: I, Claudia (2004, Cuneiform). John Hollenbeck's postjazz/postrock band sounds more like post-Partch; sans exotic instruments and microtones, but he finds other ways to drive toward abstraction. The pieces are all rhythm and tone: the former from drums and vibes, the latter from accordion and clarinet, all lightly colored instruments of marginal distinction. The rhythm doesn't swing, but it doesn't aspire to minimalist repetition either. Most pieces start simple and build, the likely fault being that he starts too simple and builds too slowly. (Perhaps that works live, where there is more palpable anticipation; listening to the record you're more likely to forget what you're doing and wander off.) One exception is "Misty Hymen," which gets down to business quick -- in part because Chris Speed switches to the deeper and more distinctive tenor saxophone. A-
  • Miles Davis: Birdland 1951 (1951 [2004], Blue Note). Nobody in jazz history has ever shown greater flair for hanging out with the right crowd than Miles Davis. He stumbled out of Julliard into Charlie Parker's band just in time to play (or not play) "Ko Ko"; was nominal leader of the Gil Evans-Gerry Mulligan-Lee Konitz Birth of the Cool sessions; finally formed a stable quintet with John Coltrane in the front line; and, well, you know the rest. The bands behind these 1951 airshots are comparably infamous: one with Sonny Rollins (age 21 at the time), J.J. Johnson, Kenny Drew, Tommy Potter, and Art Blakey (32); the other with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Big Nick Nicholas, Billy Taylor, Charles Mingus, and Blakey again. However, it's hard to argue that any of these greats (subtract Potter and Nicholas from the list) were great yet. (Blakey's first recordings under his own name came in 1954, although by 1951 he was already at the head of the very short list of competent bebop drummers, along with Max Roach and Kenny Clarke.) The sets here come from airshots, and sound quality is dubious -- although no worse than dozens of in-print Charlie Parker sets. Musically there's nothing here but breakneck bebop. The trumpeter seems flashy enough, the trombone is first rate, and I like the tenor sax on the last set (without knowing whether it's Davis or Nicholas). The theory seems to be nothing but speed -- certainly nothing like ideas. I still don't trust Parker when he plays like that, so I don't see much point here. Historians might beg to dispute. B-
  • E.S.T.: Seven Days of Falling (2003 [2004], 215 Records, CD+DVD). That would be the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, under the leadership of the Swedish pianist. They are in many ways the complement to the Bad Plus, but their sense of exploitable rock references runs more to Radiohead than to Nirvana -- although the piano-heavy Coldplay may be closer to the target. Whether they are racing through a riff piece or regarding a gentle snowfall, the textural elements they use fit neatly into a rock matrix. B+
  • Dennis Gonzalez Inspiration Band: Nile River Suite (2003 [2004], Daagnim). Gonzalez acts locally but thinks globally. He teaches mariachi at a high school in Dallas. He moonlights making avant-jazz records with no discernible folk elements other than a core belief in the magic of the universe. His theme here is the ancient river of civilization: the Nile runs through New York, the Nile runs through my heart, the Nile runs through us all. Featured is ex-Ayler bassist Henry Grimes, rediscovered after a three decade absence, and surprisingly fit as his fiddle. Also inspiring are Sabir Mateen and Roy Campbell. A-
  • Henry Grimes Trio: Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival (2004 [2005], Ayler). With Revenant's big, well-publicized box dominating the jazz press, one might call 2004 the Year of Albert Ayler. The box confirmed a growing consensus recognition of Ayler's importance, a long path with many signposts, including David Murray's early composition, "Flowers for Albert" and the naming of Jan Ström's Swedish record label. One such auspicious moment occurred in 2002 when Ayler's long-lost bassist Henry Grimes reappeared, Rip Van Winkle-like, after having vanished from the scene in the late '60s. Grimes has worked regularly since his return, and this is touted as the first album in his name since his 1965 Trio record on ESP with Perry Robinson (clarinet) and Tom Price (drums). The new one is another "Henry Grimes Trio" -- recorded at the Kerava Jazz Festival in Finland, with David Murray and Hamid Drake. This particular setting honors Grimes but doesn't do him many favors: he gets ample solo space, but the live recording isn't all that sharp. Even Murray's bass clarinet doesn't come through very clearly, but his tenor sax is rip-roaring, as usual. So without the back story, this is one more serving of Murray's off-the-cuff magic. More welcome than ever, since he's gone all conceptual on his studio albums. B+
  • Scott Hamilton: Live in London (2002 [2003], Concord). Has there ever been anyone who makes playing the tenor sax sound easier than Hamilton? The hard swingers like "The Squirrel" (Tadd Dameron via Wardell Gray) and "The Goof and I" (Al Cohn) effortless, and eases into ballads like "When I Fall in Love" without belaboring his tone. Obvious melodies like "Easter Parade" and "When You Wish Upon a Star" are ear candy. The only original is from bassist Dave Green, who offers a nod to Oscar Pettiford and Lucky Thompson, and Hamilton's made a whole career out of Thompson. B+
  • Fred Hersch: Leaves of Grass (2005, Palmetto). I don't know what it is about composers that drives them to write music to score the words of their favorite poets, but words not written as songs almost never find a second life there. They sound stilted, losing their cadence as speech while tripping up the music. This time the words come from Walt Whitman, so they carry an additional burden in that they mean nothing to me, or perhaps a bit less in that I learned to dislike Whitman back in the days of my grade school miseducation, and have found all subsequent references to him to be suspicious. The problem here is not the music, which is composerly but interesting when it gets a chance to breathe. Just a bad idea from the start. B-
  • Frank Hewitt: We Loved You (2001 [2004], Smalls). Hewitt was one of countless guys who spent their lives playing in obscure dives, never lucking or bulling his way into the spotlight. For nine years up to his death in 2002 he worked and sometimes lived at Smalls, an after-hours club in NYC, garnering fans like Luke Kaven, who founded this label to right the wrong that Hewitt had never released a record. It's easy enough to guess why the industry passed: their ideal pianist is a young guy with a distinct edge -- a Brad Mehldau or a Jason Moran. Hewitt sounds warm and comfy, like someone you'd cast for atmosphere before cutting back to the plot, but he doesn't get corny or sentimental. A-
  • Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Walking With Giants (2004, Hyena). A radically different twist on the usual piano trio, in that Reed Mathis doesn't just play bass, and doesn't just bring up the rear. He also plays cello, sitar, 12 string guitar, and something called "octave pedal-induced bass." The latter produces a front-line sound, like a synthesized electric viola, something in that range. It's the most distinctive sound on the album, letting the piano and drums just crunch in the background. When they do go conventional, they work in thick slabs of sound, somewhat like the Bad Plus but less flashy. B+
  • Jewels & Binoculars: Floater (2003 [2004], Ramboy). A-
  • Jessica Jones Quartet: Nod (2003 [2004], New Artists). Pretty good record. I don't know what the division of labor is between the two Joneses: both Tony and Jessica play tenor sax, but Jessica gets top billing. I gather that they are married, and have two kids, a 21-year-old daughter who sings "These Foolish Things" (amateur hour here, with Jessica playing piano) and an 11-year-old son who takes a silly/funny turn on Joseph Jarman's "Happiness Is." Jarman plays on two cuts; they strike me as the weak spots, but Jones is probably honored. Connie Crothers also appears on piano on two cuts, and she earns her keep, as does Mark Taylor on French horn. Jones has worked with Don Cherry, whose spirit smiles on this record. These are the real family values. B+
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Mother Tongue (2004, Pi). One is tempted to conclude that the mother tongue is Coltrane, ably assisted by Vijay Iyer in the key of Tyner. B+
  • Branford Marsalis Quartet: Eternal (2003 [2004], Marsalis Music/Rounder). Branford's personal meditation record. Starts slow and pretty, then slows down, then slows down again. Most of the pieces are by the band, so it doesn't really qualify as a "ballad book." Branford isn't really a ballad guy anyway. But look at the album covers. The front is a waterfall without color; the latter shows Branford on the lonely end of a bench in a garden, looking bored out of his fucking skull. I guess he's not really much of a meditation guy either. B-
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: Live: Steamer (2002 [2004], Sula). With his samples and loops, not to mention DJ Strangefruit's vinyl, live Molvaer differs little from studio. Even on trumpet he owes less to Miles Davis than to Jon Hassell, but whereas Hassell dreamed of the far east, Molvaer connects most intimately to his machines -- which keeps Molvaer more intimately connected to reality. Even though Davis played little on his "electronic period" records, he stood on his own: the band played for him, and he responded, whereas Molvaer (like Hassell) blends into the band, adding distinctive color to a process that is otherwise largely synthetic. The marginal difference between this and his last three albums (Khmer, Solid Ether, NP3) is that this one is more ambient -- an unseemly sag in the middle -- but that isn't so bad either. B+
  • Mount Analog: New Skin (2004, Film Guerrero). A Tucker Martine production, like Mylab, but more primitive, less melodic, more ambient. Many of the usual collaborators show up, but they are used sparingly: the only one who makes much impression is Eyvind Kang (viola). The early part goes fast without evoking much notice. A piece called "Gospel Melodica" is rather nice. B-
  • Mylab (2004, Terminus). If a jazz auteur can play orchestra, why not computer? Producer Tucker Martine and keyb man Wayne Horvitz started with samples of old folk melodies, then built up these musical tableaux by adding whatever struck their fancy -- banjo and viola, sax and flugelhorn, church organ and electro blips, but mostly rhythm, supplementing Martine's beats with Bobby Previte's drums. A-
  • Evan Parker: The Snake Decides (1986 [2003], Psi). Four pieces of solo soprano saxophone, unfurled as long lines of circular breathing -- 19:56 for the title cut, 6:01 for the finale. The sound is constantly modulated, creating a rhythm and a vast range of amazing harmonics. The Penguin Guide gave this a crown as much for its recording quality as for the performance, which is as riveting but limited as soprano saxophone gets. B+
  • The Flip Phillips Quartet: Live at the Beowulf (1977-78 [2004], Arbors, 2CD). A bargain: two discs for the price of one. The back cover adds: "A Double CD -- Arbors Historical Series, Volume 5." Two quartets differing only on bass, recorded when Phillips was in his young sixties, well before he died at 86 in 2001. First disc kicks off swinging like you haven't heard in ages; second disc takes a pair of ballads before sliding back in gear. They don't make 'em like they used to. One reason is that now all the JATP jousters have passed on. B+
  • Chris Potter Quartet: Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard (2002 [2004], Sunnyside). Potter's studio albums have always struck me as too slick and too complex. Perhaps too conservative, too. But put him in a club with an all-name quartet: the songs stretch, the solos spread, rough spots break up the pace and chops overcome the damage. This may be why so many jazz fans swear it's not jazz unless it's invented on the fly. But reified, it's one Potter album that isn't slick or complex. A-
  • Steve Reid: Rhythmatism (1976 [2004], Universal Sound). A drummer, not to be confused with the Rippingtons' drummer, Reid did studio work for Martha & the Vandellas, James Brown, and Fela Kuti before drifting into avant-garde obscurity, mostly working with Charles Tyler. He recorded four albums in the late '70s on his own label. His rhythm here is irresistibly snappy, but the main reason for noticing is a wild and wooly Arthur Blythe, in peak form shortly before his major label debut. A-
  • Lisa Sokolov: Presence (2002 [2004], Laughing Horse). She impresses me as the most extreme jazz vocalist to have emerged since Sheila Jordan and/or Betty Carter. She doesn't make the usual effort to make her voice work like an instrument; she'd rather work in a domain where only voice can reach. The sequence of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" (where her voice breaks out like sunshine only more startling), "You Do Something to Me" (that "voodoo that you do so well"), and "Chain of Fools" ("ch-ch-chain" torqued up as in "ch-ch-chainsaw massacre") is astonishing. Nonetheless I find this too extreme for me; at least too extreme to settle down on. The other covers, like "And When I Die" and "Home on the Range" and Jacques Brel's "Sons Of," are also inspired. The originals are filler. She's so dramatic, so extreme, that she's scary. But I'm not sure that I've ever heard a more commanding performance than her "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning." A-
  • Triage: American Mythology (2004, Okka Disk). A Vandermark Five spinoff, with Rempis and Daisy plus Jason Ajemian on bass. More similar to the V5 than Rempis' own album; more similar still to V5 spinoffs like Spaceways Inc. Several pieces are built around Daisy's drumwork, which Rempis complements smartly. More are powered through by Rempis on sax, including some of the most exhilarating out play I've heard this year. Possible Pick Hit. A
  • Greg Wall: Later Prophets (2004, Tzadik) This is based on the prophetic visions of Ezekiel, starting not just with the story but also with traditional Jewish music associated with the story. Not knowing the story, let alone growing up with the music, I'm not able to make what may be obvious connections, but I will say that I sensed the presence of a narrative when the guitar started to sound like Pink Floyd. Wall mostly plays tenor sax, and gets a thick, robust tone out of it. He also plays some clarinet, which comes in handy in one section that fits as klezmer. Impressive record. B+
  • Yeah No: Swell Henry (2003 [2004], Squealer). This is the flip-side of the Claudia Quintet, with Chris Speed's reeds, Cuong Vu's trumpet, and accordion or keyboards or "Speak & Spell" working back from the textures instead of forward from the rhythms. B+
  • Jacob Young: Evening Falls (ECM). Young plays guitar. He isn't especially distinctive here, but he wrote all the pieces, and fills in admirably. The reasons he doesn't have to dominate the album are Mathias Eick (trumpet) and Vidar Johansen (bass clarinet). This is a lovely atmospheric thing. B+


This is also a good time to clean out the "done" file of various entries which, for one reason or another, aren't real prospects for future Jazz Consumer Guides. For the most part, these records are victims of the numbers crunch. As of this point, my graded backlog is as follows: A: 1; A-: 37; B+: 157; B: 32; B-: 26; C+: 4; C: 4. In this column I listed 12 A/A-, 15 HM, 5 Duds. This means that if I tried to dump out two more columns just to flush my backlog, I'd still be left with 13 A/A- and 112 B+. The current unrated backlog is 108, and more stuff is coming down the pike. So from a practical standpoint, even though I'd like to make all B+ records HM I'll never be able to do that. Hence I need to clear them out of the way to get down to things with a realistic chance. (Previous culls cut most of the B albums off the list. The actual distribution of what I receive is skewed above a normal B-centered distribution, but not so much as the numbers above indicate.)

Aside from grades, other reasons for cuts here are: reissues that I've adequately covered in Recycled Goods, releases that are dated (especially from well-publicized labels), releases in styles of marginal jazz interest. In the latter regard I'll go ahead and cull a bunch of smooth jazz here, since I have a separate essay on smooth jazz coming out in the Voice soon that covers most of what ought to be covered there. It's always possible that something cut here will creep back in later -- as happened this time with the Maria Schneider record.

  • Mindi Abair: Come As You Are (2004, GRP). Young blonde saxtress, she lacks the bright tone of most smooth alto saxes, nor does she go in for showy dynamics. Sings three songs with a thin, whispery voice that matches her sax. But two pieces stand out: "New Shoes" has an old-fashioned west coast horn arrangement for propulsion, and "Cyan" has a little bite to it. B-
  • Gerald Albright: Kickin' It Up (2004, GRP). Saxophonist, mostly alto, can play some. I heard a story about him going off on a solo which had to be cut because it was disruptive. So credit him with some chops, and also some taste: the vocal here, by a guest I don't recognize, is a plus, and the non-funky closer, "If You Don't Know Me By Now," is done tastefully. His funk licks are perfunctory, and the usual keyb/synth/groove bottom is workable but not exceptional. B
  • Kenny Barron Quintet: Images (2003 [2004], Sunnyside). One of the world's great pianists, but mostly in the context of someone else leading -- a saxophonist like Stan Getz, or on his own albums a commanding rhythmic force, like Mino Cinelu on Swamp Sally or Joe Locke on But Beautiful. But this quintet is a trio augmented as weakly as possible, with flute and vibes. It also seems to hurt that the four players surrounding Barron are so young. They mostly defer, lagging behind the piano especially on Barron's more plodding pieces. The exceptions show some promise: Anne Drummond's flute properly leads "Song for Abdullah," where Barron fills in expertly, and Stefon Harris goes to town on Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," as you'd expect him to. Barron's solos are admirable, as always. B-
  • BeatleJazz: With a Little Help From Our Friends (2005, Lightyear). This is the fourth album of mostly Beatles songs (plus two from John Lennon's post-Beatles songbook and the Goffin-King "Chains" -- the connection there slips my mind) by the duo of drummer Brian Melvin and pianist David Kikoski, plus various bass players, and this time guest shots by John Scofield, Mike Stern, and the Notorious Brecker Brothers. Sounds like a terrible idea to me, but in fact it's done very tastefully. One might compare this with Jewels and Binoculars (the Dylan songbook group led by Michael Moore and Lindsay Horner), but the differences are obvious: the songs are instantly recognizable, only in part because they're done more straightforwardly; also the lack of a consistent horn voice leaves them without an obvious focal point. Maybe the intention is to extend the songs rhythmically around Melvin's drums and tabla. But maybe that's too subtle a take on music that's already taken much too seriously. B
  • Marcus Belgrave: Gemini (1974 [2004], Universal Sound). Born in Chester PA, Belgrave moved to Detroit when he was 17 and became a local legend and, these days, an elder statesman of the Detroit jazz scene without ever really breaking out of town. This early album was cut with musicians centered around Phil Ranelin and his Tribe, such as Wendell Harrison (tenor sax), along with Detroit drummer Roy Brooks. They work in what for lack of a better word we'll call a left-wing hard bop idiom: nothing here sounds like they're into pushing boundaries, but they certainly listen to cats who do, even though they're more into togetherness. So this is tight and closely held together. Belgrave's trumpet is delightful, but the largish group limits his focus. Good record, but not sharp enough to be a great one. B+
  • Paul Bley: Nothing to Declare (2004, Justin Time). Bley's done a lot of solo piano over the years. Never a guy to just hit a note and leave nine fingers idle, there are lots of minor trills and embellishments here, but this isn't anywhere near as flashy as he can get. Four long pieces (one 8:35, the others in the 14:15-18:39 range), all moderately paced. The title piece is the most satisfying piece; "Blues Waltz" the least, perhaps an idea too conflicted from the start. Nothing to get excited about. Nothing to regret. B+
  • Brian Bromberg: Choices (2004, A440). Plays electric bass, including a piccolo bass tuned to sound like a guitar. Like most bassists, he specializes in funk lines although he can also conjure up chiming and ringing sounds, distinguishing him a bit from the crowd. Keyboardists vary, but Gary Meek is his sax guy, playing more tenor than soprano. Goes South African at the end. B
  • Brooklyn Sax Quartet: Far Side of Here (2005, Omnitone). I've never met a sax quartet I've really liked. Without the addition of some contrasting instruments the four horns sound thin together. Moreover, the intent to play together -- to harmonize the various weights -- takes much of the expressiveness away from the sax voice. This one is more/less as good as the rest. David Bindman and Fred Ho are the leaders, John O'Gallagher plays soprano, and the alto slot is either Sam Furnace or Rudresh Hamanthappa. All of these guys are good players; their heads are sharp, their hearts are in the right place. The titles intrigue me. But I can't help it -- I feel like burying the record. B
  • Peter Brötzmann Tentet: Signs (2002-03 [2004], Okka Disk). More is probably a bit too much. B
  • André Bush: Start From Silence (2005, Old Culture). Not bad, by any means, but I find that the galloping progressivism wears me out rather than turns me on. Bush plays guitar. On most tracks he's joined by Art Lande (piano) and Bruce Williamson (reeds, mostly soprano sax), and when the three of them (plus bass and drums) play they don't complement each other so much as race. B
  • Michel Camilo: Solo (2005, Telarc). I'm not much of a fan of solo piano, and this isn't the sort of record that overcomes my prejudices, but it is thoughtful, delicate, and lovely enough that it disarms much of them. He's good. Piano fans will enjoy this. I rather enjoy it myself. But I can't see pushing it too hard. B
  • Joe Carter/Nilson Matta: Two for Two (1999-2000 [2001], Empathy). Brazilian guitar with bass, an inevitably low-key combination. I don't doubt but there's a real art to picking through these pieces, but what always appealed most to me about samba was the exquisite rhythm, which gets lost in the intricacy here. My grade here is less a question of disliking the music than it is an expedient, a way of saying that this is beneath my radar. No hard feelings. B
  • Stian Carstensen: Backwards Into the Backwoods (2002 [2004], Winter & Winter). Some interesting ideas here, but five solo improvisations (mostly on accordion) in the middle of the record knocks the wind out of it, not that it ever put enough of those interesting ideas together in a row to go very far. Some interesting riddims. Some odd textures. Some art shit. B
  • Joaquín Chacón: Out of This World (2004, Fresh Sound). Exceptionally nice guitar/piano quartet, with pianist Ben Besiakou taking much of the space. But not much to write about. B+
  • Craig Chaquico: Midnight Noon (2004, Higher Octave). Ozzie Ahlers' keyboards are merely par for the course, but it no doubt helps that this was cut by a touring band rather than pieced together by a producer and the usual bevvy of studio hands. The leader's guitar also has more zing to it than is usually deemed appropriate for smooth jazz. He may have picked that up in his previous rock band career, although it sounds more like Allmans than Starship. B
  • Aaron Choulai: Place (2003 [2004], Sunnyside). Interesting backstory: 21-year-old pianist from Papua New Guinea via Melbourne, Australia moves to New York and gets James Genus to play on his first record. He picked up on his Jewish grandfather's passion for Bach, made a brief tour of Melbourne's blues clubs, and wound up with a jones for Bill Evans. He is talented and seriously ambitious, but he hasn't developed an especially interesting style: most of this sounds like the usual postmodern third stream mishmash, especially when trumpeter Scott Wendholt lines up with saxophonist Tim Ries. But when he keeps it simple his music can charm, as on the hornless "Lotte" and on the ballad "You Don't Know What Love Is," a lovely showcase for Ries. B-
  • Jim Cifelli: Groove Station (2005, Short Notice Music). Mild-mannered funk album, with the leader's trumpet working over guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums, with sax from Dan Cipriano thrown in. I was first attracted to it as an example of what "smooth jazz" ought to be, but on a non-label it won't get a chance. Too bad, because unlike most of what goes under that trademark it has some space -- the players are individuals, and they work together instead of the usual blending. B+
  • The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions (1952-54 [2004], Verve, 5CD). These jam sessions were like NBA all-star games: there's too much talent to coach or coordinate, so just turn the stars loose and let them show off. The sessions were released on LPs, imposing a fifteen-minute-per-side regime, and each piece -- a few standards, often strung together as medleys, plus staples like "Jam Blues" and "Funky Blues" -- was stretched with solos. The most famous jam sequenced solos by the three most famous alto saxophonists of the era: Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker, and Benny Carter. A typical trumpet lineup was Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie. A tenor sax lineup was Illinois Jacquet, Flip Phillips, and Ben Webster, although Stan Getz and Wardell Gray get their licks in on the second disc. The pianist, of course, was Granz stalwart Oscar Peterson -- except when Count Basie and/or Arnold Ross sat in. The only surprise here is forgotten bebop clarinetest Buddy DeFranco, who steals the second disc and much of the last two. A-
  • Joyce Cooling: This Girl's Got to Play (2004, Narada Jazz). So be it. But does she also have to sing? Her straight guitar groove pieces are nothing special, but at least they have direction, unlike producer Jay Wagner's keyboards. C
  • The Swinging Side of Bobby Darin (1962-65 [2005], Capitol Jazz). Atlantic groomed him as a rock star, but Capitol lured him away with an offer he couldn't resist: they auditioned him for Frank Sinatra's vacancy, and he was smashing, swinging with Billy May's powerhouse orchestra, winding his way through Bob Florence's more delicate arrangements; the songbook is a bit obvious, the record is short, the time had past, and he didn't stick with it, but for a moment it was all he ever wanted to do. A-
  • Eric Darius: Night on the Town (2004, Higher Octave Music). Another pretty good, but lightweight, disco album. Darius has that nice bright tone on alto sax (much less so on tenor), and he gets some help from Ken Navarro with the beats. The originals (two with Navarro) move along nicely, which judging from their titles ("Joy Ride," "Let It Flow," "Cruisin'") seems to be their sole reason for being. Two soul covers ("Let's Stay Together," "Love TKO") are more structured, and therefore less groovesome. B
  • Down to the Bone: Cellar Funk (2004, Narada Jazz). British group, according to AMG in the tradition of Brand New Heavies and US3. Not sure who the three blokes in the booklet picture are: a subset of the musicians: not even Ian Crabtree (guitar) or Neil Cowley (keybds) appear on every track. That must make producer, arranger, additional programmer Stuart Wade the mastermind. They use two bass players (Richard Sadler, Simon T. Bramley), an extra keyb player (Neil Angilley), occasional horns. No drummers, ergo no risk of interference with the beats. Two pieces have vocals (Flora Purim on one), maybe more, but none distinctive. Rather, these pieces are pure groove exercises, funk beats with occasional vamps. They feel empty to me. B-
  • Dominic Duval/Mark Whitecage: Rules of Engagement, Vol. 1 (2003, Drimala). A-
  • Amina Figarova: Come Escape With Me (2004 [2005], Munich). She's a young pianist from Azerbaijan with five albums under her belt. Seems to have a good classical education, nice touch and plenty of movement on the piano, and an interest in arranging. Her group includes a flute player, two reeds, and trumpet/flugelhorn, as well as bass and drums. The horns are usual overlayed, giving this an orchestrated feel, on top of the usual smart-but-riskless postbop. B
  • Kenny G: Ultimate Kenny G (1986-2002 [2003], Arista). The grand duke of smooth jazz, the guy with the sales figures that created and sustain the genre. The first point one must make is he really does have an uncanny knack not only for playing pretty but for developing arrangements of surpassing gorgeousness. Nothing wrong with that, but G pursues one narrow definition of beauty with the relentlessness of his first calling, which is business. But it should also be noted that when he tries adding vocals he loses his touch -- aside from the one he stole from Louis Armstrong. He is much hated by people who are devoted to jazz (not to mention fans of hip-hop, heavy metal, and dozens of other niches), perhaps more as a false commercial god than for anything he might lack in technique (not much, although it's hard to tell) or inspiration (quite a bit, there). B-
  • William Gagliardi Quintet: Hear and Now (2003 [2004], CIMP). Gagliardi's tenor sax and John Carlson's trumpet sometimes bump into each other, but they can leave space for one another, as on "Surfin' the Tigrus," or they can combine to raise the rafters, as on the last cut, "Exaltation." Ken Wessel's guitar is usually good for a break, while the bass and especially the drums tend to roam free. The seven pieces all run long, with various stops and shifts. It's a mixed bag overall, although definitely more positives than negatives. B+
  • Benny Golson: Terminal 1 (2004, Concord). Golson was in the second tier of late '50s tenor saxophonists, along with Hank Mobley, a bit behind Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins. Like Benny Carter, he spent much of his productive career in Hollywood; like Carter he was the technical master of his generation, and like Carter he restarted his career when he got old enough to retire. Since then he's cranked out one solid mainstream album after another, none too special (unlike Carter). This one was occasioned by a small speaking role Steven Spielberg's movie Terminal, but aside from the new title piece it mostly works back through his songbook. Eddie Henderson joins on trumpet and steals the show early on. The bit in the movie is built around Tom Hanks asking for Golson's autograph -- a favor for his father, who had managed to collect autographs from everyone besides Golson who appeared in the "Great Day in Harlem" photo. Good thing that Golson is still alive. In some sense that seems to be his calling card here, but he's still enough of a player to earn his keep. B+
  • Euge Groove: Livin' Large (2004, Narada Jazz). A pseudonym for Steve Grove, he plays tenor as well as soprano sax, and is nimble enough on the larger horn to gracefully engage Paul Brown's stock grooves deserve. Two takes on a Sly Stone song -- as a rap and as an instrumental reprise -- fail to connect either with song or subject. C+
  • Herbie Hancock: The Piano (1978 [2004], Columbia/Legacy). Although Hancock is universally considered as one of the most important pianists in jazz history, I've never managed to get a good feel for just what he sounds like, or what he does, as a pianist. His role in the Miles Davis Quintet is well known; he made some marvelous records under his own name for Blue Note in the '60s; he did some interesting fusion work in the '70s, in a couple of cases portending breakthroughs, in others dead ends. Since then he's inconsistently straddled fusion and mainstream. Solo work often brings out the individuality in a pianist, revealing idiosyncrasies that color their group work. But in Hancock's case the performance is too subtle to enlighten, and not flamboyant enough to entertain. B
  • Gerry Hemingway: Songs (2001 [2002], Between the Lines). Twelve of them, averaging six minutes, so no one's in a hurry, but they do hold together not just as music but as songs, with lyrics and all that. The singer is Lisa Sokolov, but compared to her Presence she's contained here, working within the structure of the songs, like a brilliant floodlight caged up in a lighthouse. But the song length has more to do with the musical prowess. James Emery's guitar, John Butcher and Elery Eskelin on tenor sax, Herb Robertson's trumpet, Walter Wierbos' trombone -- all stand out. This is a unique item, and not just in Hermingway's oeuvre. A-
  • Arve Henriksen: Chiaroscuro (2004, Rune Grammofon). Atmospheric electronic tableaux, decorated with a little trumpet. The first cut opens unpleasantly with vocal warbling. I much prefer the electronics that come later, especially when they start to kick up a groove, but we're not talking Miles Davis groove, nor Nils Petter Molvaer groove, nor even Jon Hassell groove -- just a little pulse. B
  • Fred Hersch: Fred Hersch Trio + 2 (2004, Palmetto). Hersch's trio is sharp enough they can play a Beatles song and not get sunk by it. The "+ 2" are Ralph Alessi (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Tony Malaby, and Malaby in particular pulls the trio outside. Sharp playing all around. B+
  • The Frank Hewitt Trio: Not Afraid to Live (2002 [2004], Smalls). The second of who knows how many tapes left over from the local legend. Since what finally turned me on to the first was its warmth, I find this one a bit more formal, more distant. But the two are pretty evenly matched. For two months this is the one I played and puzzled over more. He has a knack for something, but I'm not sure what it is. B+
  • Holly Hofmann: Minor Miracle (2004, Capri). As a rule, I don't care for flutes: the pitch range is narrow and high, with none of the brassiness of the trumpet that gives high notes that ability to pierce. Nonetheless, I can't dismiss this one out of hand. This is just a horn plus rhythm section album, but Hofmann leads with consistent relish, and the rhythm section is first rate. B+
  • Robin Holcomb/Wayne Horvitz: Solos (2004, Songlines). Wife and husband, taking turns playing solo piano, sometimes on the other's pieces. This is out of character for both. I have her misfiled under folk music, where she is a singer-songwriter of eclectic tastes, not particularly known for her piano. He is a well-known jazz pianist who mostly works on the fusion fringe, with connections ranging from Bobby Previte to Bill Frisell to Tucker Martine. Moreover, he often works with electronic keyboards, which is not the case here. These pieces are spare and simple, delicately played. Give them time and attention and they are charming, but for the most part they're so unobtrusive that one doesn't give them much thought when they're on. B+
  • Steve Howe/Martin Taylor: Masterpiece Guitars (2002, P3). Guitar duos, intricate, pleasant. Howe produced. He's famous from the rock group Yes, but that was a long time ago, and a lot of guys from the prog side the rock divide back then have wound up more/less in a jazz orbit. Taylor is one of the finest acoustic guitarists working today. Nothing wrong with this; just not enough right to overcome my doubts, although I always enjoy "Moon River." B
  • Incognito: Adventures in Black Sunshine (2004, Narada Jazz). English disco group, splitting the distance between Chic and EWF without the distinctiveness that made those groups so great. Which still leaves them with a dependable groove, the sort of anonymous vocals that blend into the mix, and a warm and sunny disposition. Their relationship to smooth jazz is tenuous, but I guess you take the market niche you can get. B+
  • Boney James: Pure (2004, Warner Brothers). Every piece has at least six credits, with many adding a horn section or a string section, with Boney's sax tucked into the matrix so neatly that you notice neither the complexity nor the craft. Indeed, this record comes as close to nothing as any I've ever heard: the rough edges have all been smoothed over, the beats routinized, any trace of personality expunged, even the guest vocals fade into oblivion. B-
  • Al Jarreau: Accentuate the Positive (2004, Verve). I find most male jazz vocalists impossibly mannered, and Jarreau is no exception -- more like an archetype. Still, a series of standards early on ("The Nearness of You," "I'm Beginning to See the Light," "My Foolish Heart," the title track) are impeccably professional. He has a sly voice, gets good backing, and keeps his manners in check, but things deteriorate with "Betty Bebop's Song" with its slinky force-the-vocal-around-the-contours mannerism, and "Waltz for Debby" with its lapse into vocalese. I tried to get into him long ago, and couldn't. Still can't, although he's got something going for much of this. B
  • Keith Jarrett: The Out-of-Towners (2001 [2004], ECM). How many records have these three put out now? The latest Penguin Guide lists 13, counting the 6-CD At the Blue Note as one. Add this one, and Up for It from last year, and you get to fifteen. ECM does a good job of keeping their catalog in print, and Jarrett is practically their flagship product, so that may be it. In fact, it's not exceptionally prolific considering that they got together as "the standards trio" in 1983. On the other hand, they're just a piano trio: how much do you really need? The flip side of this is that since 1983 Jarrett hasn't done much of anything else: one trio record with Paul Motian instead of Jack DeJohnette, a couple of solo albums. It seems fair to argue that he's in a rut, and that's reinforced by the fact that this has been plucked out from a three-year-old live show -- with all the applause intact, as if to cheer him up. It's also worth noting that DeJohnette's drums aren't that sharp -- compare him, e.g., on Geri Allen's Art of a Song. But also note that the five-of-six standards aren't expected or obvious either: he's still working his way around the idea of repertoire. Also that the piano is as bright and supple as ever, although not played with as much bombast as he's capable of. On balance, an ordinary album by extraordinary musicians. About what you'd expect. B+
  • Jing Chi: 3D (2004, Tone Center). One of those chronic sideman supergroups. Only guitarist Robben Ford has much of a discography under his own name, but bassist Jimmy Haslip has appeared on over 100 records and drummer Vinny Colaiuta over 200. Together, they sound like a more tuneful, more grooveful, more blissful West, Bruce & Laing. Moreover, they don't try to sing, although Robert Cray shows up to bland out a Blind Willie Johnson tune -- has there ever been a blues singer more diametrically opposite to Johnson than Cray? Still, Cray's the high point, then Ford's "Blues Alley," showing once again that the hardest dishes to screw up are the simplest. B-
  • Henry Kaiser & Wadada Leo Smith: Yo Miles! Upriver (2005, Cuneiform, 2CD). The first Yo Miles! was meant as, or at least taken to be, a tribute. As such, it wasn't surprising that it came off a bit pale compared to the master -- most notably by lacking the dominant bass line that Michael Henderson fed Davis. But having done their dues, Kaiser and Smith have released two more double-disc sets. Evidently they like the neighborhood and have decided to settle down. Both Kaiser and Smith are meeker and fussier players than McLaughlin and Davis, but this means their improvisations are more interesting within the broader context, even if their leadership doesn't pull that context into new terrain. When fusion split off from Davis the main groups (Weather Report, Return to Forever) were dominated by keyboard players and their music rapidly turned to prog-rock mush. This is the side that never really developed, so restarting from the start is a canny move. A-
  • Eyvind Kang & Tucker Martine: Orchestra Dim Bridges (2004, Conduit). Non-swinging, non-rocking, non-newage instrumental music -- viola and guitar, plus lots of electronics -- assembled not improvised. Martine is a producer who works on the edges of jazz and electronica while paying his bills wiring up singer-songwriter albums. Kang plays viola, most prominently on Martine's albums. Intended for people who thought Eno was onto something with *Another Green World* but lost the trail with *Ambient Music* and lost even that trail with *Music for Airports*, et al. B+
  • Diana Krall: The Girl in the Other Room (2004, Verve). Her covers (Mose Allison, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell) have a lot more sonic punch than the originals, mostly minor pieces with Elvis Costello lyrics. A couple of the latter come through, and someday this may be seen as a transitional album for her. Or it may be a detour. B
  • Gordon Lee and the GLeeful Big Band: Flying Dream (2004, OA2). One thing I'm surprised by is how many big band records are coming out. The economic viability of big bands ended half a century ago, but it seems like everyone still fancies themselves as arrangers. This one is much like most of them: thrilling for moments, dull and dawdling for others. A song called "Tobacco Monkey" could be a Choice Cut. There are other good moments, but not enough to tempt me to stick with it. B
  • Peggy Lee: Black Coffee (1953-56 [2004], Verve). Cut with two small jazz groups that do everything right, Lee works through a fine set of standards with equal aplomb; recommended to the Kansas Board of Education: "It Ain't Necessarily So." A-
  • Bradley Leighton: Just Doin' Our Thang (2005, Pacific Coast Jazz). I don't dislike flutes as much as Christgau does, but I'm not much of a fan either. Leighton's alto flute is a bit of an improvement over the more familiar, higher pitched instrument. His song selection is hard to characterize: Bobby Hebb ("Sunny"), Charlie Parker, Henry Mancini, Gershwins ("Summertime"), Bobby Womack, Santana, Bill Withers, Kurt Weill & Ogden Nash, three originals. The title suggests that his oddness is deliberate, and the album has an agreeable hookiness to it. But flute and organ? Maybe someday this will be recognized as a classic statement of bubblegum jazz, but I doubt it. B
  • The Jay Leonhart Trio: Cool (2004, Sons of Sound). The model is Oscar Robertson's trio with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis, but that's just the starting point. Pianist Ted Rosenthal is in the mode but not the real McCoy; guitarist Joe (son of Al) Cohn prefers Wes Montgomery, which whittles the swing down a bit. And the leader plays bass, so that gets mixed up front, and sings a bit, which unfortunately does too. It has a '50s vibe, cool not in the sense of laid back and debonair, more like hipster jive. The album cover is one of those cheapie two-color jobs like Prestige used to do, or maybe Pacific Jazz. It's a likable record, but almost trivial. B+
  • Ron Levy's Wild Kingdom: Voodoo Boogaloo (2005, Levtronic). Nothing unobvious here: pumped-up organ, blues vamps, plenty of boogaloo. I've been filing his listings under "blues" -- but no vocals here, just the usual histrionics, err, excitement. B
  • Kirk Lightsey: The Nights of Bradley's (1985 [2004], Sunnyside). After hours work for Lightsey and bassist Rufus Reid, playing at the time in Dexter Gordon's band. Lightsey is a tough pianist to describe. Perhaps because he developed mostly working behind singers, but also because he was a perennial in other players' groups (e.g., the Leaders), he makes it a point to fit in, but doesn't make a show of it. Reid is a strong bassist; he is prominent here, and very lyrical when he takes the lead. Lightsey is less obvious, but always close to the mark, and when he's done you are gratified, but can't quite describe how or why. At least I can't. B+
  • Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: A Love Supreme (2005, Palmetto). Wynton Marsalis' arrangement of the John Coltrane Quartet's singular classic is, at least, goofier than I would have suspected. I enjoy the way he interleaves such a wide range of horns into the chant theme. But the same trick in the slow concluding "Psalm" movement loses its humor -- the best you can say for it is that the occasional shrillness helps cut the corn. I don't know what the idea here was. Perhaps it's just to try to ease high culturedom's most famous jazz orchestra into more modern (only 40 years old) repertory, allowing them to fan out a well-known small group piece instead of rehacking big band standards. In any case, Marsalis' devotion to classicism leaves him few options as an arranger, so he twiddles instead of trying to break out into something new. As an exercise, he might try "Ascension" next -- but Dave Liebman and ROVA have already gone there. B-
  • Kerry Linder: Sail Away With Me (2004, Blue Toucan). Very likable Brazilian vocal album. Linder actually hails from Curaçao, but sings ably in Portuguese as well as English. The songs are split between U.S. and Brazilian sources, with "That's All," "As Time Goes By," "Song for My Father," "God Bless the Child," and something from Paul Simon given the Brazilian treatment, but I'm more impressed by the authentic standards, like Baden Powell's "Deixa." One original, written on the anniversary of 9/11. She explains, "I startd to put down my feelings on paper an drealized that what people need is music -- beautiful music, soothing music -- that will take them to a better place." Sure beats Afghanistan. B+
  • Jeff Lorber: Flipside (2005, Narada Jazz). There is a light, confectionary quality to Lorber's piano. Like much of the genre the synth beats lope along and everything else is tucked in neatly, including more trumpet and saxophone as the album winds along. Still, the extra instruments add little weight or diversity; rather, they intensify the sense that the music is mere mirage, a nothing that appears enchanting from a distance. B
  • Joe Lovano: I'm All for You (2003 [2004], Blue Note). I thought about making this Dud of the Month, but Hank Jones doesn't deserve the knock -- maybe Kenny Barron or John Hicks or the late, great Tommy Flanagan would have been a better choice, to name three players who have a slight edge at finnessing ballads, but Jones isn't the problem here. I'm not sure that Lovano is either, although he does lack the one thing that great balladeers can't afford to lack: a really distinctive tone. Ben Webster, obviously, was the all-time king in that respect, but players as diverse as Ernie Watts, Scott Hamilton and Bennie Wallace have distinguished themselves on ballads. Lovano plays thoughtfully, but the only cut that lets him stretch out is John Coltrane's "Countdown," distinguished by the long lines Lovano is a master of. It's also the one cut where Motian takes an active role -- elsewhere you wonder whether he's wondering why they even need a drummer if all they're playing are ballads. Mraz, as well, is mostly wasted, although his solos are impeccable as you'd expect. B
  • Russell Malone: Playground (2004, Max Jazz). A rather complicated lineup that doesn't seem to give anyone much space to play, least of all the guitarist. The moods shift; much of this is rather upbeat, but it's so indistinct that I have trouble remembering it two minutes after it's done. Gary Bartz is credited on alto sax. When you can't remember him playing something's wrong. Still, I'm more tempted to pull my punches than go back for another round. I can't remember hearing anything dislikable either. B
  • The Manhattan Transfer: Vibrate (2004, Telarc). The doo-wop finale is too cute by half, but the source music is so great that I almost cut them some slack. Not so with the vocalese or the Beach Boys or whatever else lurks in these grooves. C
  • Branford Marsalis: Coltrane's A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam (2003 [2004], Marsalis Music/Rounder, DVD+CD). A disturbing trend: this has been packaged as a DVD with a bonus music CD. I have no interest in the DVD, and wouldn't have noticed this had it not been for a correspondent. I also missed Marsalis' previous studio version of "A Love Supreme," which was packaged with a new version of Sonny Rollins' "Freedom Now Suite" on Footsteps of Our Fathers (2002). Given the extended nature of those pieces, that doesn't quite qualify as an oldies album. One suspects that the big frameworks should be attractive for the opportunities that they open up. But at least in this case the attraction is that Coltrane's solemn classic turns out to be fun to play. Certainly a helluva lot more fun than the ballads on Eternal. B+
  • Juan Martin: Camino Latino (2001-02 [2002], Flamencovision). Martin is a flamenco guitarist with more than ten albums out. Despite a plethora of credits, this one is mostly sharply stung acoustic guitar with handclaps, castanets and other percussion. The songs bridge several latin forms -- rumba, bossa nova, bulerias, guajira, and cancion are noted, while song titles like "Cuba y España," "Bossa Rumba," "Gitana Latina," and "Milonga Tango" suggests further agendas. Not sure how or why I got this -- don't see it as a jazz record, although there is something there. B+
  • Medeski Martin & Wood: End of the World Party (Just in Case) (2004, Blue Note). I like them just fine, but can't say that they've mastered the art of partying like it's 1999. Of course, Prince was approaching a phony phantasm of apocalypse. Bush, Cheney, et al., are something more sobering to fear. B+
  • Makanda Ken McIntyre: In the Wind: The Woodwind Quartets (1995-96 [2004], Passin' Thru). McIntyre plays everything, overdubbing four part harmonies using various clusters of related instruments: clarinets, flutes, double reeds, saxophones. As you might guess, only the saxophones have any bite -- perhaps because that's what McIntyre normally plays. Especially with the flutes and clarinets, the harmony doesn't amount to much, and the melodic divergences are slight. And in each cluster of instruments the lack of contrasting color amounts to white-out (or looking at the back cover, maybe pink-out). This description probably sounds abysmal, but mostly I'm annoyed by a very talented saxophonist indulging a patently bad idea. Were I not so annoyed, I'd point out that parts of this do grow on you, much like minimalism lowers our standards to the point where we can appreciate minor details. C+
  • José Alberto Medina/JAM Trio: First Portrait (2004, Fresh Sound). Slow paced, carefully wrought, strikingly sensitive piano trio. Mostly originals by Medina and bassist Juan Pablo Balcazar. Presumably the influence is Bill Evans. I like this fine, but otherwise don't know what to say about it. B+
  • Carlos Michelini: Charactera Below Zero (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound World Jazz). Even though this is on Fresh Sound's "World Jazz" imprint, it doesn't sound all that different from their "New Talent" fare. Michelini is from Argentina, which keeps him closer to Europe than to Afro-America. Moreover, even though one number has "Piazzola" in its title, nothing hints of tango here. Mostly long, thoughtful sax lines (Michelini), often enticing guitar (Julio Santillon), impressive piano (Leo Genovese). B+
  • Grachan Moncur III Octet: Exploration (2004 [2005], Capri). One problem with octets is that the horns sort of melt into each other. That may be the arranger's intention, but it rarely pleases me: cuts down the individuality of the performers, even when there is a parade of soloists, as there is here. The hornpower looks impressive on paper, especially Gary Bartz, Billy Harper, and Gary Smulyan on the saxes. Bass and drums are first rate, and no piano. But only Tim Hagans makes an impression that sticks with me. I feel like I ought to put it back and try it again, but I've done that too many times already. Just not my thing. B
  • Monk's Music Trio: Think of One (2004, CMB). Sure, this is old hat. There must be hundreds of all-Monk albums out there. Probably half of them piano trios. And thousands of Monk songs on other albums. Most jazz musicians try to work something off the changes, but the songs invariably rebound: let's face it, Monk is Monk. So why bother? Beats me. This one is well done, sound bright, moves a bit. Bass and drums get some space and use it well. Pianist Si Perkoff has a sharp, percussive attack. If you ever hear this you'll enjoy it. But it doesn't go any further than that. B+
  • Barbara Montgomery: Little Sunflower (2002, Mr. Bean and Bumpy). Her precise and weighty voice grabs your attention. There's nothing more standard here than a couple of Chick Corea pieces. She wrote the rest -- the lyrics at least, mostly with melodies from pianist Chris Sames, in two cases going back to instrumentals by Freddie Hubbard and Duke Pearson. The lyrics include a couple of thoughtful laments for the post-9/11 world. The music is precise but light; it keeps a prudent distance, never overwhelming her vocals, just nudging them along with a genteel postbop swing. John Swana is particularly useful, his trumpet adding just the right shine and lift. B+
  • Justin Mullens & the Delphian Jazz Orchestra (2004, Fresh Sound). This is a nouveau big band record: a 16-piece group assembled from New York musicians (best known is Chris Cheek), working through Mullens' elaborately tailored postmodernism. While there is a great deal of art to the tailoring, I find that there is little here that catches my interest and makes me care. Certainly not the vocalist, whose scat is merely one more instrumental texture. B-
  • Klaus Paier/Stefan Gfrerer/Roman Werni: Live, Vol. 1 (2002-03 [2003], PAO). Trios function two ways: as minimal support for a dominant leader (e.g., Sonny Rollins) or as minimal communities for interaction (e.g., the Bad Plus). This one is both: Paier would be Rollins, but accordion doesn't dominate the way tenor sax does, and anyway Gfrerer (bass) and Werni (drums) won't be denied. Not sure where they come from, or where this was recorded, but the record company is based in Austria. Sounds to me like the Hot Club of Salzburg, or some other small Austrian burg. Haven't heard Vol. 2, where they are joined by the Movimento String Quartet. B+
  • Jeff Parker & Scott Fields: Song Songs Song (2004, Delmark). Fields seems to have the upper hand here. I don't know his work, but whereas Parker has tended to work in postbop lines, this is much closer to Derek Bailey/Fred Frith territory. When it works it's interesting, but it doesn't work all that often -- even though I've played it enough to get used to it as background. B
  • Madeleine Peyroux: Careless Love (2004, Rounder). The first thing you notice is how much she sounds like Billie Holiday. The second thing is how superficial the resemblance is. The match is based on vocal tone, which rings like struck crystal. That's a more difficult trick than the phrasing, which can be learned by careful approximation, or could if Holiday could be approximated. Familiar songs like "Weary Blues" really bring this out. But when she tries something different, like Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome," she falls off her game. I'm ambivalent about this, neither wanting to credit her for impersonation nor to deny her her right to pursue an artistic vision. Singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, June Christy, etc., are archetypes -- there are legions of followers behind each, some working subtle changes, some just latching on for the ride. But I'm not aware of any previous jazz singer running the risk of comparison to Holiday; I suspect the reason is not so much that it's difficult as that her unapproachability is part of her allure. I have no idea whether Peyroux understands any of this -- it's the sort of argument that feels like a personal quirk. Still, Peyroux hasn't accomplished anything here impressive enough to avoid such thoughts. She could use a better band. B
  • Pharoah's Daughter: Out of the Reeds (2000 [2004], Tzadik). Traditional texts with more/less traditional music, mostly by guitar/oud player Basya Schechter, but accompanied by many regulars and guests -- most of whom sing, chant, or at least clap along. B+
  • Courtney Pine: Devotion (2003 [2004], Telarc). Pine seems to be undervalued as a jazz musician and overvalued as a pop star, not that he meets anyone's expectations as either. Were he a more complete pop star his albums would flow better and hook harder. On the other hand, if he concentrated more as on his jazz he would open up more space to play in, to explore, to develop his musicianship. His saxophones, bass clarinet and alto flute cut a rather thin profile here; his other credit is on Pro Tools, and his main mark here is in conception and production. After all, this is built like a pop album: the intro and outro pieces give it conceptual structure, but in between breaks down to standalone songs -- two with vocals (the better features Carleen Anderson in "When the World Turns Blue"), one with brass for Nigeria's Osibisa, one with sitar and tabla, the gospel-tinged title song, the upbeat "Sister Soul." It makes for an odd mix; if this be crossover he could just as well be trying to cross over from pop to jazz as the other way around. B+
  • Pink Martini: Hang On Little Tomato (2004, Heinz). I guess I'd classify this as "world pop" -- the first song offers a bit of tango, the second more like mambo, later on they engage in French and Italian and Japanese and something Slavic (translations provided, but they don't note the language translated from). The two singers are named China Forbes and Timothy Nishimoto -- Forbes is particularly appealing. The band includes brass and strings and vibes and more exotic instruments, including the ubiquitous "percussion." There's a picture of the group backed by the Eifel Tower. I could imagine falling for them, but after a half-dozen-plus spins I'm more impressed and bewildered. B+
  • Doc Powell: Cool Like That (2004, Heads Up). Powell's a pleasantly funky guitarist, with work for Wilson Pickett and Luther Vandross on his resume. Centerpiece here seems to be "Let It Be" -- done both as an instrumental and with a guest vocalist. The guest vocals (two in number) are easily forgettable; so are the instrumentals, but they hold up better. B
  • Bruno Råberg Nonet: Chrysalis (2004, Orbis Music). A nonet isn't quite a big band, but it offers as many options as a Swiss army knife, and it's tempting for a composer/arranger (in this case also the bassist) to get carried away. This he does right from the git-go and often enough thereafter that I was prepared to dismiss this. In a sense I am still dismissing it, but I have to note that he comes up with clever things for all nine pieces, and there are quite a few points where my ears perk up. B+
  • Enrico Rava: Easy Living (2003 [2004], ECM). The sixty-year-old, gray-haired avant-gardist looks comfortable and relaxed on the cover, which roughly sums up this album. It is not reminiscent of any cutting edge, nor is it stuck in any recognizable genre. Not fast. Not slow. Not difficult. Not too easy. Comfortable, engaging music. MVP: pianist Stefano Bollani. B+
  • Dave Rempis Quartet: Out of Season (2004, 482 Music). Two-fifths of the Vandermark Five (Rempis plus Tim Daisy on drums), along with bassist Jason Roebke and Vandermark's Steelwheel Trio pianist Jim Baker. Exploratory avant-jazz, ranging from quiet patches with little structure to explosive bursts of energy. I'm more impressed by the potential than the actuality, but after several listens I think he's up to something. B+
  • Claire Ritter: Greener Than Blue (2004, Zoning). A student of Mary Lou Williams and Ran Blake, Ritter strikes me as a composer first, pianist second. The pieces here are short, the blue side more rhythmic, the green side ("World Poems for Peace") more subtly colored. The cover notes "Featuring: Newest Trio," but the pieces use four musicians in various combinations, and Ted Low plays viola instead of the expected bass. Stan Strickland plays soprano sax and bass clarinet, working on about half of the pieces. She also toys with exotic percussion, and Low plays erhu on the final cut. Music this subtle and intricate requires attention, but the details are worth it. Except the voice, that is. B+
  • Jazz Ambassador: Scott Robinson Plays the Compositions of Louis Armstrong (2004, Arbors). The idea here is to take the songs that Armstrong actually wrote and treat them as a songbook. Robinson thought of this while following the master's footsteps in a State Department Jazz Ambassador's tour. A second idea is that Robinson chose to play many of these pieces with a wide range of non-standard, often archaic, instruments: echo cornet, C-melody sax, F mezze-soprano sax, trombonium, double bell euphonium, ophicleide. Neither of these are particularly deep ideas: they work more through their good cheer than because they reveal new subtleties in their subject matter. After all, Armstrong's songbook doesn't go far beyond things like "Potato Head Blues" and "Cornet Chop Suey" -- showcases for Armstrong and death traps for anyone else. But as good cheer goes, note that Mike LeDonne's organ caries "Gully Low Blues" -- until Robinson's bass sax finishes the job. B+
  • Glauco Sagebin: When Baden Meets Trane (2004, Blue Toucan). Brazilian jazz pianist, in a standard trio, half originals, half standards including Jobim and Buarque and a marvelous "Fascinating Rhythm." Title cut refers to Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, aspiring for a North-South connection, with Sagebin's homeland providing the fodder and framework for his real calling, which is jazz. Very solid work. B+
  • David Sánchez: Coral (2004, Columbia). Meant as one of those "dream come true" (Sánchez' words) projects, but ultimately just another sax plus strings thing. Aside from Stan Getz' Focus, all such records flounder on the reduction of the strings to backdrop -- pretty at best, more likely syrupy. Sánchez brings a first rate latin group to the party and a set of latin themes (two of his own, plus Jobim, Ginastera, Villa-Lobos, and Franzetti). For the strings they hooked up with the City of Prague Philharmonic, who no doubt are masters of their own legacy, but reduced to anonymous backdrop here. Sánchez plays with great care, although the pieces and the arrangements don't support the exuberance he displayed on his remarkable Obsésion album. Of this one he says, "I wanted to produce something of great beauty." He did, but beauty isn't all it's cracked up to be. B+
  • The John Sheridan Trio: Artistry 3 (2002 [2004], Arbors). The "3" at the end of the title is a superscript, as in cubed. That's about the only thing pretentious about this mild mannered piano trio. They work through old standards, swinging with easy grace and a light touch. B+
  • Sammy Sherman: A Jazz Original Live at Chan's (1994-98 [2004], Arbors). A memento of the late trombonist/violinist, assembled from several live dates recorded well into his 80s, playing with better-known daughter Daryl Sherman on piano (plus two vocals) and various band members from the Arbors orbit. He's enjoyable but unexceptional on trombone, which gives this a somewhat amateurish air. Some good guitar, cornet, an interesting "Summertime." I like it, but it's minor. B+
  • Slow Train Soul: Illegal Cargo (2004, Tommy Boy). Neo-soul (or nu-soul) thing, a keyb programmer (Morlen Varano) and a singer (Lady Z), a combination that I've seen before (pass off as smooth jazz, even), but better done here. What keeps these things a notch below the state of the art is vocal anonymity, but that isn't such a bad thing -- especially compared to gospel ululations. Attractive, loose, spacious feel. Don't think it amounts to much, but I rather like it. B+
  • Jimmy Smith: Retrospective (1956-86 [2004], Blue Note, 4CD). Smith raised the Hammond B-3 organ from a toy to a serious jazz instrument. He pumped up the blues with the organ's churchy sound, then worked out boppish variations at a feverish pace. He was so fast, so versatile, that his records were often attribued to The Incredible Jimmy Smith. Something like Soul Jazz had long existed as an instrumental analog to R&B, but after Smith it morphed, its signature sound Smith's organ. Dozens of organists followed in his footsteps, but for his tenure with Blue Note from 1956 to 1963 he was the undisputed master. Early on he mostly played in trios with guitar and drums, often with Kenny Burrell or Grant Green. As time passed he worked more with horns, most comfortably with Stanley Turrentine -- Back to the Chicken Shack and Prayer Meetin' are definitive Soul Jazz albums. With only one cut after 1963, this just covers his formative period, but he never changed much -- his performance on Joey DeFrancesco's Legacy (Concord), cut shortly before his death, is every bit as true to form. A-
  • Statesmen of Jazz: Multitude of Stars (2004, Arbors, 2CD). Clark Terry reigns as Music Director, but he's merely the first among equals. The two discs here are filled up with six distinct groups plus one solo cut by pianist Jane Jarvis. The groups are small-ish, usually 4-6 pieces, each with its own leader but a largely common swing-based repertoire. There are many delights -- Carrie Smith's vocals (just two cuts), Frank Wess tenor sax, Buddy DeFranco clarinet, Johnny Frigo's violin. Ed Polcer's group aces "Honeysuckle Rose," with Ken Peplowski filling in for the late Benny Carter. B+
  • Territory Band-3: Map Theory (2002 [2004], Okka Disk, 2CD). There are spots here where the big band shines, where the horns come through and the joint rocks. But they are far and few between. Much of this is taken up by chicken scratches, little bleeps and barks and blips that don't connect and don't go anywhere. Vandermark's liner notes are touching, and sometimes I think I'm starting to get it, but in the end I find it underwhelming. Not what you'd expect in avant-big band. On the other hand, I can't quite bring myself to put it on the Duds list, even to show I'm not a sucker for every album he puts out. B
  • Nestor Torres: Sin Palabras (Without Words) (2004, Heads Up). Torres hails from Puerto Rico, plays flute, and has been making easy listening latino jazz records since 1989. At his best, his band kicks up an irresistible latino groove and he flies above it adding something distinct. At least three songs here fit that bill, especially the title song, which especially benefits from his use of the larger, breathier alto flute. He's good enough to be fun to listen to, but his band (or more accurately, his studio musicians) aren't. Aside from horns on one cut, all he gets going are guitar, bass, and keybs, with maybe a hint of conga among the programmed beats, and that doesn't really do it. B-
  • Trio Mundo: Rides Again (2004, Zoho). The star here is probably Dave Stryker, the guitarist, who has quite a few impressive albums under his own name. But the focus is on Manolo Badrena, who serves up the latin rhythms and takes vocals on most of the pieces. The vocals hit and miss, rarely adding anything to the music, which is quite attractive. Bassist Andy McKee completes the Trio, but for this time (their second album) the group expanded to include saxophonist Steve Slagle -- a solid contributor, especially on the mid-tempo "Dream Maurice." B+
  • Stanley Turrentine: Don't Mess With Mister T. (1973 [2004], CTI/Epic/Legacy). Turrentine's tenor sax is deep, rich, vibrant, as always. He followed in Ben Webster's footsteps, and was in turn followed by Houston Person. Turrentine's early work was done with soul jazz organ, and Richard Tee reprises that here, but what's more distinctive about this album is Bob James' electric piano, which gives a sharper harmony on top of the organ. If producer Creed Taylor had stopped there he might have come up with a more compelling album. Instead, he tacks on a whole string ensemble. At best, they can be ignored. At best, Turrentine soars so high above them that they just don't matter. The bonus tracks are more, including more exciting. B+
  • McCoy Tyner: Illuminations (2004, Telarc). Tyner takes an all-star band to the races, and whups their asses. He does four of his own songs; one each by bandmates Gary Bartz, Terence Blanchard, and Christian McBride (Lewis Nash got left out); a couple of standards. Bartz plays the sort of fast, sweet, riffy, boppish sax that he's famous for. Blanchard takes a lot of shots up high, clearly enjoying himself. McBride and Nash are mixed way down, their solos dull but the band swings so hard they must be doing something right. And Tyner rips off one torrential solo after another. Surefire formula for a great musician running out of ideas: get an equally great band together, and party! B+
  • Claudia Villela With Kenny Werner: Dreamtales (2004, Adventure Music). I assume she's from Brazil, but there's nothing uniquely Brazilian about this record. Her songs are in English, even "The Girl From Ponta Negra." And it's just her and Kenny Werner's piano, so the usual trappings of guitar and percussion are nowhere to be found. Werner brings some intensity to his role as accompanist, while she focuses as much on her scat as the words -- probably more. The intimacy here is appealing. B
  • Eric Vloeimans: Hidden History (2003, Challenge). This seems both typical and exemplary of Jazz in Europe these days. Pianist Rita Marcotulli had been playing in a duo with Roberto Gatto (drums) when Vloeimans (trumpet) joined them. The group was fleshed out with veteran bassist Palle Danielsson, went on tour. Then they cut this admirable album, with four trumpet solos and two trumpet-piano duets stitching together pieces by all the band members (plus "Over the Rainbow"). B+
  • Andre Ward: Steppin' Up (2004, Award/Orpheus). This is the best crossover/smooth jazz album I've heard all year. It reminds me of the left-wing mostly instrumental disco made by guys like Bohannon, except it's not so left-wing -- Ward's warm alto sax is far to comfy for that. I would rate it higher but the vocals don't hold up -- he probably has some marketing data to justify them, but they beg comparisons to nu-soul, which as far as I've been able to figure out takes a great singer to make a merely good record. Chantel Rose and Maurice Jacobs aren't great singers, but they merely interfere here; their cuts are a small subset. B+
  • Bob Wilber and the Tuxedo Big Band: More Never Recorded Arrangements for Benny Goodman, Volume Two (2002 [2003], Arbors). Wish I had heard Vol. 1, which was limited to Fletcher Henderson arrangements. This includes work from a wide range of other arrangers, plus a Wilber original written for the band ("Tuxedo Stomp"). On the one hand, this sounds spectacular: the band gets deep into Goodman, and their cohesiveness as a unit is impressive. On the other hand, the soloists perhaps inevitably lack the personality of Goodman's stars. Wilber takes all of the clarinet solos, which he handles with great skill but still comes up short compared to Goodman's own light touch. The drums also lack the kick of Gene Krupa. In a sense these are just quibbles -- the real payback is in hearing a band that is neither recreating the old nor pioneering the new but continuing an old music into the present day. B+
  • Rob Wilkerson: Imaginary Landscape (2002 [2003], Fresh Sound). Eloquent post-post-bop saxophonist, sez he's influenced by guys like Mark Turner and Reid Anderson, so maybe we need a few more posts in there. Mostly mid-tempo improv, does a good job of developing his lines and a nice job of atmospherics, but runs the risk of getting stuck in the post-avant mainstream like so many others. Chris Cheek adds a bit of harmony, but isn't much of a jouster. Jesse Chandler acquits himself well on organ, which is nicely matched as a support instrument. B+
  • Jessica Williams: Live at Yoshi's, Volume One (2004, MaxJazz). She's got ideas: a lot of different things going on here, as interesting on the fast ones as the slow ones, although her originals take a little more probing. Good trio. Good selection. B+
  • Spike Wilner Ensemble: Late Night: Live at Smalls (2003, Fresh Sound). Enjoyable album, four cuts with just piano trio, the rest with sax and guitar added, fleshing out a well-rounded group. Mainstream, runs both bop and swing depending on the material. (Hendrickson Smith is more of a swing/mainstream player; Wilner tends more to bop. Not an important album/group, but probably a low honorable mention. B+
  • Josh Workman: Jumpin' at the Border (2004, Tetrachord Music). A wide range of things, as if he's trying to cram everything he can do into his debut record. Several latin pieces (choro, bolero, Brazilian pieces), gypsy swing, bluesy swing, lots of swing, bebop from Parker and Gillespie, something "Monkish," a "You're Blasé" based on Joe Pass, a piece with the Hot Club of San Francisco, two Kim Nalley vocals. I hate to complain that a guy's trying too hard to please, but this leaves you wondering where he really wants to go. Or whether he even knows. My guess is that he just loves borders. B+
  • Robert Wyatt: Solar Flares Burn for You (1972-2003 [2003], Cuneiform). Wyatt is one of my favorite singers, but I don't doubt that he is a taste that wears hard on most listeners. He sings in what might be called a failed falsetto -- he reaches high but rarely succeeds -- and his decidedly English accent colors every phrase. B-
  • Miguel Zenón: Ceremonial (2004, Marsalis Music/Rounder). He's an auspicious talent on alto sax, brilliant tone, forceful dynamics. This has a distinct latin tinge, but fits more properly into the stream of post-Coltrane modal saxophone, with its long, searching runs. Also with its religious themes, which here and there are given choral voices. I could do without the exultation, myself. B+

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Music: Initial count 10463 [10439] rated (+24), 880 [893] unrated (-12). Jazz CG and Recycled Goods should be published this week. Been doing a lot of research on jazz labels, as well as cleanup work related to JCG. Don't have a fixed listening agenda, although it would be good to make progress on next set of columns. Or at least to knock down some backlog. Need to do taxes. Haven't touched the blog in a week, so need to do some of that too.

  • Trace Adkins: Chrome (2001, Capitol). Like the title song, about a girl whose's favorite color is chrome. Dislike one called "I'm Goin' Back" -- the overpowering swoop and swerve bombs out his more likably offhand style. Last cuts dig deeper into the strings. B
  • Joey DeFrancesco: Where Were You? (1990, Columbia). I remember sometime around 1990 some writer claiming that it's no accident that all the major jazz organ players are black. At the time I was listening to Barbara Dennerlein, who isn't, but over the subsequent decade DeFrancesco, who also isn't, was the one who emerged as jazz's best-known young organist. This is an early album, but he's moved far out of the usual soul jazz rut, mostly into big band terrain. I find that overkill, but guest shots by John Scofield and especially Illinois Jacquet are welcome. B
  • Joe Diffie: Tougher Than Nails (2004, Broken Bow). The title song, first up, is about Jesus. Second song is about radio. Who says country singers don't know how to pander? He's just one of a bunch of country singers I don't know from squat, and this is just one of a half-dozen or so albums he's dropped in the last decade or so. He's got a deep, rich twang, and employs a standard issue neotrad band, which means he sounds better than he reads. One good song, "Something I Do For Me" ("I work overtime 'cause my boss is a jerk," but mostly he just drives around for the hell of it, which I can relate to). Closer, "My Redneck of the Woods," is crap, with fiddle that could have been Charlie Daniels but isn't. Probably a good sign that he co-wrote the good one and not the bad one. B
  • The Incredible String Band: 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion / The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (1967-68 [2002], Collectors' Choice, 2CD). Second and third albums from the English folk (or folk rock?) group, or duo (Mike Heron, Robin Williamson) as the case may be. The former album sounds like they may be onto something, the suspect folk sounds with a little rockish bounce, perhaps flirting with psychedelia. But the latter (much sparser) album goes over the deep end, reminding me of Syd Barrett at his most deranged -- perhaps not quite as tuneful, but the sitar adds something exotic. Earlier separate editions on Hannibal seem to be out of print. They could be rated B and C, respectively. C+
  • The Last Poets featuring Kain: Poetry Is Black ([2002], Collectables). But anyone can spew bullshit. No info on when these rants with occasional drums were recorded -- the label's website says late '60s, which could be true: group got together in 1968, recorded first album (on Douglas, last seen on Fuel 2000) 1970. That album is pretty impressive, but these bits are pretty crude. This doesn't show up in AMG, or in any discography that isn't just a record catalog. This does have a lot of overlap with a 1970 album, Right On!, but the notion that it's a reissue runs against the fact that Collectables has a reissue of that album as well. Gets better than they throw a little jazz behind it, as on "Look Out for the Blue Guerilla." B-
  • The Perceptionists: Black Language (2005, Definitive Jux). Akrobatik, Mr. Lif, DJ Fakts One. More power than they need, or deploy separately. I don't get the line about soldiers not realizing that they'd be killing women and children -- these guys aren't that dumb, even if the soldiers they sing about are. A-
  • George Schuller/The Schulldogs: Tenor Tantrums (1999, New World). Great title, don't you think? Still, Schuller's just a drummer, so what does he know? The two tenor saxes here are wielded by Tony Malaby and George Garzone. Malaby's control is so complete one isn't tempted to describe anything he does as a tantrum. Garzone has had his fringe moments (if you know what I mean), but he seems to have mellowed with age. This actually has that nice, slightly abstract sound to it, giving everyone a little elbow room without wandering too far. B+
  • Two Siberians: Out of Nowhere (2005, WA/Heads Up). The names sound Russian to me -- Yuri Matveyev on guitar, Artyom Yakushenko on violin, both plugged in -- but there are many more Russians in Siberia these days than natives. Just wanted to point out that we're not listening to the latest wave in Chukchi folk music these days. Some other musicians here and there, including Mino Cinelu, Don Byron, and the ubiquitous Michael Brecker (who also gets a production credit). B+
  • Markus Stockhausen: Possible Worlds (1993-95, CMP). This is annoyingly quiet, meant to make you come to it. The payoffs are slight, but there are some. This is considered to be jazz, most likely because the leader plays trumpet, but it fits in closer with his more famous father's work -- little blips and noodles, mostly discrete. In other words, no flow, not a lot of interaction, just some interesting sounds on a spare tableau. B-
  • Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico: Terra Nostra (2001 [2003], ECM). Recorded live in Athens, an excuse to play their Eurasian, or in one case Guadeloupean, fringe folk upbeat; Yannatou is a pure soprano, giving this an arcane churchy feel, but that may just be a kneejerk reaction. B
  • Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico: Sumiglia (2004 [2005], ECM). Traditional folk songs from a narrow universe centered on Greece, extending west to Spain, north to Moldavia, east to Armenia, south to Palestine, a geography almost united by the Ottomans, or perhaps the Sephardim; the instrumentation strikes me as Turkish (accordion, oud, violin, nay), the sensibility modern, but the past remains inescapable. Yannatou's soprano blends in better, or perhaps that's because the second voice (Lamia Bediqui) has vanished. I'm tempted to describe Yannatou as the Björk of Thessalonika, but that probably shows more ignorance than can be excused. B+


Mar 2005 May 2005