Wednesday, June 29, 2005
I covered 34 records in the latest Jazz CG. That leaves 286 records
in the "done" files, of which I'll probably use 60 in future Jazz CGs
(estimating 30, 20, 10 over the next three columns, 6-9 months). I also
have 170 records in the "pending" file, so those will compete for the
column slots too. Given this, most of what's in the "done" files might
as well be flushed out of the system now. The following are my notes
and preliminary drafts on the records I'm cutting now. (Presumably I
can find them again once they're in the notebook.) I've gone over the
criteria for how I make these decisions many times in the past, so
won't repeat that here.
- Across 7 Street: Made in New York (2004, Smalls).
Quintet (tenor sax-trombone-piano-bass-drums), probably led by the
saxophonist, Chris Byars, but they play together, often with a loose
postbop swing. This sounds unfocused to me, a diffuse vibe with none
of the voices distinct or particularly interesting.
- Active Ingredients: Titration (2003, Delmark).
Drummer Chad Taylor's band, built around his Chicago Underground Trio
(Tom Abbs, Rob Mazurek) with some ringers from New York (Jemeel Moondoc,
Steve Swell) thrown in. Taylor grew up on AACM shit and it shows in
his writing, but the backbone here is his drumming, which is meant
to drive everyone ever forward. The horns leap off from Taylor's base,
sometimes explosively, as in the joyous opener "Song for Dyani," the
avant-honk on "Slate," and the more melodic "Modern Mythology" -- and
those are the strongest cuts here. The drums are helped out by Avreeal
Ra on percussion, especially on Taylor's showcase solo.
- The Howard Alden-Dan Barrett Quintet: Live in '95
(1995 , Arbors).
The instrumental parts here are really delightful. The back cover claims
that the vocals are "a definite plus"; au contraire! They break up the
flow, often slowing things down. She's an OK singer, but she puts a bit
of a damper on the rest. Barrett's a rather ordinary Kid Ory-influenced
trombonist, which means he's a fun player in a limited repertoire. Chuck
Wilson is useful on alto sax and clarinet. But the key player here is
Alden, a superb guitarist, and he holds this piano-less group together.
- Monty Alexander: Live at the Iridium (2005, Telarc).
Piano trio with some extra percussion. Alexander plays fast, especially
at first. Real fast. Toward the end it does slow down a bit, which neither
helps nor hurts. Nothing much to say about this, except that I've either
enjoyed this every time I've played it or (more commonly) lost track of
it while it was playing. Not a bad note on it. Haven't noticed the rest
of the group either, except that they no doubt make it better.
- Rashied Ali/Arthur Rhames: The Dynamic Duo: Remember Trane
and Bird (1981 , Ayler, 2CD).
Arthur Rhames is one of those guys hardly anyone has ever heard of,
but every now and then someone who knew him or saw him will spin him
into a story of incredible talent. Rhames was born in Brooklyn in
1957; played guitar, piano, and saxophone, by most accounts with
equal poise and power; died at age 32 in 1989, without any records
under his name. Jan Ström snapped a picture of Rhames playing alto
sax on the street with an unknown drummer in 1980, and that planted
the thought for scrounging up this 1981 live tape. Rashied Ali played
with Rhames from the late '70s, and brought him to Willisau as the
other half of the Dynamic Duo. Ali and Rhames had connected through
their devotion to John Coltrane -- Ali is most famous for having
played with Coltrane on his final albums -- and this program is a
slashing fast excursion through Trane's songbook, including an
abridged version of A Love Supreme. Rhames plays tenor sax
and piano (no guitar), and is lightning fast and fullsome on both.
Coltrane's last music felt not just unfinished but like the start
of a new search, and I've never been sure that Ali was up to it --
although by 1991's Touchin' on Trane, with Charles Gayle,
he had made up plenty of lost ground. So this feels less like a
recapitulation than an attempt to solve the puzzle. They don't,
and the improvs on their own two "Extra, Extra" pieces strike me
as the best things here. Bird pops up for the encore, a medley,
almost an afterthought.
- Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass: Whipped Cream & Other
Delights (1965 , 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.
- Art Ensemble of Chicago: AEC With Fontella Bass
(1970 , Free America/Verve).
The gospel singer was meant to pump up the Great Black Music
collective with the fear of God. Her appearance does indeed hit hard
at the start, but soon enough the group's usual Africanized black
power moves take over, and the music flies off at odd tangents.
- Art Ensemble of Chicago: Certain Blacks
(1970 , Free America/Verve).
Chicago Beau crashes the party as Exhibit A to "Certain Blacks (Do
What They Wanna)" and throws the gang off their game. But they bounce
right back with an 11:38 Sonny Boy Williamson jam.
- William Ash Trio: The Phoenix (2004, Smalls).
Very nice guitar trio; boppish material, but not single-line hornlike
improvs. Not brilliant; just well done.
- Roni Ben-Hur: Anna's Dance (2000 , Reservoir).
Ben-Hur plays guitar in a subtle mainstream groove, an elegant variation
of a style similar to Jimmy Raney and Kenny Burrell. This is a lovely,
unassuming record, with no one risking a flashy performance, least of
all tenor saxophonist Charles Davis.
- Paul Bley: Improvisie (1971, Free America/Verve)
Bley sloughs off his strong suit by limiting himself to electric keybs,
and then-wife Annette Peacock adds to the synthetic estrangement by
doubling on electronics and singing a bit. Still, it's interesting in
its own right, and Han Bennink's percussions are remarkable.
- Ruby Braff Trio and Quintet: You Brought a New Kind of
Love (2001 , Arbors).
One more time, and why not? He finally got old enough he wasn't too
young for his old-fashioned tastes.
- Anthony Braxton: Donna Lee (1972 ,
Starts with slurred speed-bop. Then a patient, open-ended abstract
exploration. Then two takes on "You Go to My Head." Then another
original. An early quartet with Michael Smith on piano, a major talent
working out fragments of his kit.
- Anthony Braxton: Saxophone Improvisations Series F
(1972 , Free America/Verve, 2CD).
Solo alto saxophone, many series of practice runs work out almost
minimalist variations, for the most part lighter and less intense than
his For Alto breakout from 1968.
- Peter Brötzmann Tentet: Images (2002-03 ,
Despite my initial huge misgivings, this is getting to be a rather
fun group. The album lists two long pieces, but the CD is broken
up into 7 sections. Section 6, in particular, really moves along.
- Maurice Brown: Hip to Bop (2004, Brown).
Something of a hard bopper, although he's probably more versatile than
that. Bright trumpet voice, upbeat, seems like a talented guy. Enjoyable.
None too deep.
- Build an Ark: Peace With Every Step (2004, Plug Research).
It's hard to just sing about peace, let alone peace and love, without
sounding silly, and it's probably harder still for jazz singers, since
their typical affectations border on the silly anyway. Here we find
"Peace With Every Step," "Peace and Love," "Love Is Our Nationality,"
"You've Gotta Have Freedom," and so on. The names I recognize on this
ambitious and hopeful project are Adam Randolph and Phil Ranelin.
Rudolph's hand drums are a delight. Ranelin's contribution is more
limited: a piece called "Vibes From the Tribe," but that's a crucial
historical reference. The instrumentals are intriguing -- often just
drums and the odd flute, tribal sounds. The vocals sounds like they
had fun. Let's leave it at that.
- Billy Butterfield Joins Andy Bartha: Take Me to the Land of
Jazz (1969 , Delmark).
Ten cuts with the ex-Bobcats trumpeter, cornetist Bartha, and a crack
trad jazz band from sometime in the early '70s, plus five more with
Bartha (but not Butterfield) leading a similar band. The standards
are standards -- if you've never heard "Basin Street Blues" or
"Millenberg Joys" you're in for a treat, but most likely you've
heard them hundreds of times, many better -- but the band isn't
much above average in a strictly normative genre, and the vocals
- Ann Hampton Callaway: Slow (2004, Shanachie).
Slow, right. All of the arrangements run slow -- even the irrepressible
"Moondance" comes off a bit sluggish. Callaway's voice -- high, sometimes
ethereal, with a metallic shimmer and bright shine to it -- might grow
on you, but it could just as well turn into a serious annoyance. But
given the music's lack of swing or jump or jive or dynamics of any sort,
it's unlikely that anyone will sit still long enough to figure her out.
- James Chance: Sax Education (1978-88, Tiger Style, 2CD).
The combination of Chance's thin, skronky alto sax with August Darnell's
disco beats sounds like state-of-the-art jazztronica but dates from a
quarter of a century ago. At the time, Chance's idea was to follow CBGB
new wave with something weirder -- a James Brown beat damaged in the
larceny; sharp, whiney, yelping proto-punk vocals; toy keybs, guitar
drone, girlie choruses. Not sure if it was meant as comedy, but it is:
a lot funnier in reality than the idea of Albert Ayler playing disco-punk
fusion. First disc contains "the hits"; second is a concert, so he gets
to play the hits again.
- Charming Hostess: Sarajevo Blues (2004, Tzadik).
The three singers are much earthier than those mysterious Bulgarians,
although they do have less of a crowd to lose themselves in. Much of
this is just the singers with drums. Most of it is a cycle of songs
or screeds set in Sarajevo under siege. The harshness is unsettling,
but the critique is crude. In one called "Open Dialogue" one voice
asks, "So then what kind of Muslim are you?" to which another answers
"white." I don't find this charming at all. Evidently the text comes
from Bosnian poet Sem Mehmedinovic, which puts this into the bag of
orchestrated poesy, where the music is force fit to the poetry.
- The Nels Cline Singers: Instrumentals (2002,
First of all, the Singers don't actually sing, even on albums that aren't
called Instrumentals. Cline is an electric guitarist, a significant
talent with a lot of tricks up his sleeve, including a dash of heavy metal.
- Johnny Coles: Little Johnny C (1963 ,
Extra horns in the front line limit this as a showcase for the
leader's trumpet, but it's buoyant hard bop smartly done, and Duke
Pearson's piano has a gospel ring to it.
- The Contemporary Jazz Quintet: Actions (1966-67 ,
One of the earliest prime examples of new thing in Europe,
influenced by Ayler but with Hugh Steinmetz's trumpet piled thick on
top of Franz Beckerlee's alto sax it is denser and richly brassy.
- Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story (1938-64
Gabler was Crystal's uncle, but he's better known as the founder of
Commodore Records, the producer of Billie Holiday's anti-lynching
lament "Strange Fruit," and his long hit-making tenure at Decca.
At Commodore he specialized in hot jazz, only lightly sampled here
in tracks by Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davison. Commodore was a
small independent, but at Decca he worked with stars like Bing
Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Louis Jordan and Louis Armstrong,
while cultivating Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and launching two
key songs that paved the way for rock and roll: Lionel Hampton's
(aka Illinois Jacquet's) "Flying Home" and Bill Haley's "Rock
Around the Clock." With so much to choose from, Crystal selected
a rich and wildly disparate schmeer of mostly '50s pazz and jop.
Irresistible: "The Glow Worm"; marvelous: "Little Things Mean a
Lot"; de trop: "Three Coins in the Fountain"; perfect closer
snuck in on a technicality, Nat King Cole's "L-O-V-E."
- Billie Crystal Remembers Billie Holiday (1939-50 ,
Crystal predictably picks from the Commodore and Decca recordings his
uncle produced -- not her best-known work, not least because Gabler
never gave her the all-star bands that Teddy Wilson (early) and Norman
Granz (later) came up with; but if the point is just to hear her sing
she has rarely been more gripping, especially on the strings-backed
"God Bless the Child."
- Alexis Cuadrado Sextet: Visual (2004, Fresh Sound).
That this is the bassist's album shows through in several spots, most
pleasurably in his overdubbed bass-only "Te Recuerio Amanda." Otherwise,
working with three horns, guitar and drums, there is a lot going on.
Probably the best of this batch of Fresh Sound New Talent releases.
- Miles Davis: 'Round About Midnight: The Legacy Edition
(1955-56 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD).
This was the first album Davis delivered to Columbia. When Prestige
found out they forced Davis back to the studio where he knocked out
four albums in two days to satisfy his contract there. They turned
out to be the best, and most famous, albums Davis ever cut for
Prestige (Cookin', Relaxin', Workin',
Steamin') but this one, playing on Miles' reputation as the
coolest cat in bebop, was a mid-tempo marvel: it occupies comfortable
middle ground between the east coast drive of hard bop and the west
coast elegance of cool jazz, still very much rooted in bebop but not
interested in burning down the house. The extra disc is a short live
set for Gene Norman plus a Newport take of the title cut with various
all-stars. It is inessential -- reminds me a bit of Charlie Parker's
Roost recordings, except without Parker. The most memorable moment
is when Norman introduces the saxophonist as Johnny Coltrane.
- Miles Davis: Seven Steps to Heaven (1963 ,
A restart after a dead spot in Miles' career, with Ron Carter the
first tentative step toward a second great quintet. Tentative is the
word, with tinny ballads predominating.
- Miles Davis: Miles Davis in Europe (1963 ,
Herbie Hancock and 17-year-old Tony Williams add two more pieces and
get to show their wares, with the whole band cohering on older pieces
like "Milestones"; just another good show.
- Miles Davis: "Four" and More (1964 ,
Six months later, half of a New York Philharmonic concert that also
yielded My Funny Valentine. A much tighter group, practicing
state of the art hard bop.
- Miles Davis: Miles in Tokyo (1964 , Columbia/Legacy).
George Coleman gave way to Wayne Shorter, but for this one trip Sam
Rivers took over the tenor sax slot, giving Davis an experience with
a much freer player, an intriguing path not taken; Rivers is on his
best behavior, coming up with an attractive performance.
- Miles Davis: Miles in Berlin (1964 , Columbia/Legacy).
The arrival of Wayne Shorter marked the emergence of Miles' second great
quintet, which went on to produce major albums for the rest of the decade.
The band meshes elegantly on the usual songbook here, the chemistry of the
rhythm section fully formed, with Miles in particularly fine form.
- Miles Davis: The Best of Seven Steps: The Complete Recordings
of Miles Davis 1963-1964 (, Columbia/Legacy).
The inevitable sampler for the 6-CD box set, now (less a couple of
alternate takes) also available separately. This was a period of
transition when Miles returned to the road from a hiatus and assembled
his famous late '60s quintet -- Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron
Carter, Tony Williams, all stars not least due to their association
with Miles and each other. The box is a detail study, much of its
interest historical, although the music holds up fine, and there's
nothing wrong with the sampler except, perhaps, that it blurs the
- Joey DeFrancesco With Jimmy Smith: Legacy (2005, Concord).
DeFrancesco's piano is something of a shock when it first appears on top
of Smith's usual organ -- not just a sharper, more percussive instrument,
it's played in a grand style. He uses it on three cuts, a synth on another;
the rest of the album consists of organ duos, often peppered with guitar
and/or extra percussion, once with James Moody's sax. I find the whole
thing rather unsettling, though not without pleasure. I'm tempted to cut
the late master some slack, even when he sings "I've Got My Mojo Workin',"
but I'm less entranced by the heir apparent.
- Stefano di Battista: Parker's Mood (2004 ,
Four remakes of Charlie Parker songs; six more of songs that were
in Parker's songbook, counting two by Dizzy Gillespie and one by
Thelonious Monk. The point of the old bebop warhorses escapes me;
di Battista plays them well enough, but so did Parker, who added
a certain wrecklessness that isn't evident here. The ballads come
off much better. Parker's ballads never struck me as distinctive,
but di Battista gets a richer tone out of his alto sax and Kenny
Barron is one of the finest pianists around for this repertoire,
so they shine through with surpassing loveliness. So much so that
it's impossible to dislike this record, even if it seems pointless.
- The Best of Eric Dolphy (1960-61 , Prestige).
Started late, died young, giving him a carrer span of five
years; played bass clarinet or flute as often as alto sax; most famous
as a sideman for Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, with few albums
under his own name (especially if you weed out the concerts uncovered
after his death), but universally recognized as a major figure; this
early selection leans to his bop roots, with half the cuts featuring
ill-fated trumpeter Booker Little.
- Dave Douglas: Mountain Passages (2004 , Greenleaf
Douglas is still working with Peggy Lee and Dylan van der Schyff, but
this time he replaces Louis Sclavis with Michael Moore and Marcus Rojas
(tuba), which has two immediate effects: the hornpower increases, and
the record has a much less European folk feel. Also contributing to
this change is that here Douglas writes all the pieces, whereas on
Bow River Falls everyone had a hand -- especially Sclavis.
Douglas has a tendency to overwrite and overarrange, and most of
the horn parts here are played together, whereas with Sclavis they
functioned separately -- which gave Douglas a lot more room to show
off his considerable chops. This is still impressive work, just less
pleasing, perhaps because it is less surprising.
- Dr. John: The Best of the Parlophone Years (1998-2004
, Blue Note).
After his 15 minutes of fame back in the '60s he went back to basics
to show us that he had always been a studio pro, earning the right to
dabble, to mess around, to coast even, and here to condense four
recent records into one about as good as any.
- Harris Eisenstadt Quintet: Jalolu (2004, CIMP).
Interesting grouping: the drummer plus baritone sax and three trumpets
(counting Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet). Eisenstadt is a Canadian drummer
just back from a pilgrimage to the Gambia. His drumming doesn't sound
African; rather, he forms the free base from which the trumpets (Roy
Campbell, Paul Smoker) shoot off their avant-fireworks.
- Eldar (2005, Sony Classical).
The youngster from Kirghizstan (surname: Djangirov) can play. And
despite the label name, this is a pretty respectable jazz album.
He plays a couple of standards, including an upbeat "Sweet Georgia
Brown" and the usual "'Round Midnight." He lets bassist John
Patitucci have a solo, and guest saxophonist Michael Brecker (who
also gets a production credit) makes a contribution. I'm impressed,
but I can't get excited. This is the third foreign piano prodigy
I've run across in the last year. This guy is a lot better than
the kid from New Guinea, Andrew Choulai, but this record doesn't
have the unique sweep of Maksim Mrvica's strafing of the classics.
It's just a jazz album, with a pianist out to make an impression,
which he does by overplaying. Sure, he might be major someday.
More likely, he might be the next Adam Makowicz. But we tend to
overrate prodigies, then pay for it later.
- Kahil El'Zabar & David Murray: We Is: Live at the Bop
Shop (2000 , Delmark).
El'Zabar is an important conceptualizer of pan-Africanist world jazz,
but he can get to be annoying. He takes two long drum solos here,
lots of banging and thrashing, but they never quite come through
with whatever it is that drum solos are supposed to deliver. Worse
are his chants, grunts, and vocalizations, which only make sense
on "One World Family." On the other hand, Murray transcends all
that. Give him space to blow and he generates wonders. His tenor
sax intros to "Groove Allure" and "Blues Affirmation" are clear,
concise, and breathtaking. His plays bass clarinet on "One World
Family" and he's simply the all-time master of the instrument.
Murray's recorded a number of duos, and the one thing they all
have in common is a lot of great Murray. This is his third record
with El'Zabar. One World Family (CIMP) came from the same
year, covers much the same ground, and has pluses and minuses to
this one: the sound here is better, much warmer, at least for
Murray -- El'Zabar's vocals are clearer on the CIMP; this one
has live crowd noise and a lot more drum solo. I rate the CIMP
a tad higher, but they're very close. Better than either is the
trio with bassist Fred Hopkins, recorded in 1997 but unreleased
until 2002, Love Outside of Dreams (Delmark).
- Emergency: Homage to Peace (1970 , Free America/Verve).
Pianist Takashi Kako gets a rare quiet spot on "Kako Tune." Otherwise
he pounds chords to keep up with Glenn Spearman's saxophone squall and
Boulou Ferret's Hendrix-inspired electric guitar.
- Exuberance: Live at Vision Festival (2003 ,
Pretty much the usual avant-screech, with sax and trumpet up front, bass
and drums in the back. I like it just fine. Not sure I'd recommend it,
but it's growing on me. Reminds me that Morton and/or Cook once claimed
that their idea of easy listening music was Ascension. It's not
mine, but this might be. What fun.
- Fast 'N' Bulbous: Pork Chop Blue Around the Rind
Captain Beefheart's music is itself so quirky that it's a puzzle how
one can jazz it up. This project by Gary Lucas (guitar) and Philip
Johnston (alto sax) doesn't exactly try. Rather, it arranges the
pieces for a seven-piece band with four horns, muscling it up with
brass where Beefheart himself tended to be ascetic, letting the
music speak for itself. So it sounds first like an instrumental
soundtrack to Beefheart, then like a big band blow-up. I doubt that
it's meant to be either. Rather, it's mean to be fun, and mostly
is. Maybe if this group develops, e.g. like its labelmate Yo Miles,
this will seem like a firm foundation. But then history isn't ever
resolved until it's too late.
- Mongezi Feza: Free Jam (1972 , Ayler, 2CD).
Feza played trumpet in Chris McGregor's Blue Notes, the integrated
(i.e., McGregor is white) South African jazz band that went into
exile as soon as they started to get noticed, hanging around the
avant-fringe of Europe. Like Dudu Pukwana, Johnny Dyani, and Louis
Moholo, Feza made a name for himself weaving his ancestral township
jive into the worldwide stream of post-bop and free jazz, but he
didn't make much of a name -- and he died young, in sad shape. I
first ran across him on Robert Wyatt's Ruth Is Stranger Than
Richard, which featured one of his songs as well as his trumpet,
and I've been intrigued by him ever since. But very little of his
work is available -- an album called Music for Xaba with
Dyani and Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz is the only thing I've
run across, aside from his work with McGregor and/or Pukwana and
sideman appearances with Wyatt, Henry Cow, Gary Windo, and (of
all people) Robert Palmer. Still, he's probably better known here
than the leader of the quartet he joins here, Bernt Rosengren.
That's another shame: Rosengren is one of the finest saxophonists
Europe has produced. This belated album helps, albeit mostly to
bring these names back into some sort of spotlight. It isn't very
typical of either artist -- especially Rosengren, who elsewhere
is a remarkably measured and articulate player. But that's mostly
becaue the record earns its title: this was hacked out on the spot,
with titles like "Theme of the Day" (twice) and "Group Notes" (four
times) added after the fact. This tends to get by on energy and
good cheer, which it delivers in spades.
- Ella Fitzgerald: Sings the Jerome Kern Songbook
(1963 , Verve).
Great singer, pretty good songs, a perfectly adequate orchestra led by
the dependable Nelson Riddle; this came late in the songbooks series
and is something of a mop-up operation.
- Yves François: Blues for Hawk (1981-82 , Delmark).
Easy-going blues-drenched sessions with Chicago legends Franz Jackson
and Eddie Johnson joining the then-young trad jazz trumpeter-leader.
- Fred Fried: When Winter Comes (2002 ,
Richard DeRosa's string orchestratation isn't awful, although it
starts out in that direction. When the strings back off the trio
of Fried (acoustic 7-string guitar) and established pros Steve
LaSpina (bass) and Billy Drummond (drums) can be very engaging,
and even fun when they pick up the pace. As much as I dislike
the strings, it's possible that they frame the trio in some way
that enhances them.
- Full House: Champagne Taste (2002 , Nagel Heyer).
Not sure what this is: part hard bop, part soul jazz, part something else,
more rockish, I guess. David Hazeltine plays Fender Rhodes and Hammond B3;
he's a hard bop guy, but the electric keyboards slow him down a bit, and
cost him some sharpness, so his role is more rhythmic. Greg Skaff plays
guitar, but I can't make out a consistent style. The horn is Jim Rotondi's
trumpet; not a soul jazz instrument, but that makes for a distinctive
touch. The sound is immediate and forceful, caught in a live setting
where they made an impression. Rotondi is the interesting player in
this context -- the guy who gets to run with the ball.
- Curtis Fuller: Keep It Simple (2003 , Savant).
Most of what's notable here comes not from the veteran trombonist but
from Javon Jackson -- especially a long, lovely solon on Jackson's
own "Diane" with Fuller laying out. Still, it's good to hear Fuller
chime in after a Jackson solo, and the cuts without Jackson hold up
- Leo Genovese: Haikus II (2004, Fresh Sound).
Authoritative piano trio plus occasional horns, Genovese plays fast
and thick, rich feel, lot of action, good touch. One of the better
albums in this vein.
- Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy: The Music of John Birks Gillespie
(1950-63 , Verve).
Two problems with this compilation: one is that it is a tie-in with
Donald L. Maggin's biography of Gillespie, but it only covers one
chunk of Gillespie's career, leaving out his breakthrough (and most
famous) records on Musicraft, Savoy and RCA, the live concerts on
Vogue, the later sessions for Pablo; the other is that it slices
the Verve recordings so thin that it never develops any flow. Any
attempt to cover Gillespie's breadth would run into the latter
problem. We tend to think of bebop, hence Gillespie, as a small
group aesthetic -- as an explosion of individualist virtuosity
opposed to the previous big band era. Gillespie, of course, could
do that, but he grew up in big bands, invented bebop in big bands,
and continued to expand the horizons of big bands into the '60s --
indeed, the most scintillating music here is with his big band. If
this comp becomes your first encounter, you will be amazed. But be
aware that the two poles of his Verve recordings -- the big band
on Gillespiana and the jousts on Sonny Side Up are
more satisfactory and more amazing as separate discs. And that he
was even greater earlier on.
- Dexter Gordon: Mosaic Select 14 (1978-79 ,
Long Tall Dexter was a major voice on the tenor saxophone as far
back as the late '40s. John Coltrane, whose legacy has dominated
jazz saxophone ever since his death, started out as a Gordon
disciple. Gordon's Blue Note recordings from 1961-65 are his
best known: they're all in print, individually as well as boxed,
with a fine 2-CD sampler for dabblers. In the early '60s, Gordon
left the U.S. for Scandinavia, not returning until the late '70s,
when he was greeted as a living legend. At first, Mosaic's 3-CD
Select series collected works by relatively obscure Blue Note
artists who didn't quite fit their larger box set program: Paul
Chambers, Benny Green, Carmell Jones, Dizzy Reece, etc. But for
Gordon they stayed clear of his '60s work, settling on these late
'70s live sets that Blue Note had released, and soon deleted, as
Nights at the Keystone. There are many live Gordon dates
in print these days, especially on Denmark's Steeplechase label,
and this is very typical -- his magisterial tone, his penchant
for quirky quotes, the ever-accommodating and often magical
George Cables on piano.
- Onaje Allan Gumbs: Remember Their Innocence (2004,
I can't pin down the piano style -- fluid, but a little sweet. Three
songs have vocals, the third dragging a bit. Most of the rest have
sax or trumpet, adding a voice without having to carry the lyrics.
One solo piano piece is relatively clumsy.
- Iro Haarla & Ulf Krokfors: Heart of a Bird
This is a slow, meditative album. Krokfors, a bassist who shows up
on Finnish jazz records with considerable frequency, wrote most of
the pieces. He gives himself ample space, and isn't crowded out by
Haarla's piano. Both are thoughtful players; neither is exciting.
But what kicks this up a notch is guest saxophonistRasmus Korsström,
who joins in for four exceptionally lovely cuts.
- Iro Haarla/Ulf Krokfors/Loco Motife: Penguin Beguine
Haarla and Krokfors did a nice duo album last year. Loco Motife seems to
be a big band built around their songwriting. The band opens up various
options, which they exploit with such relish that by the end the record
looks to me like a giant springworks blown asunder. Anders Bergcrantz's
trumpet makes the first big impression. Mikko Iivanainen gets to show
off some Hendrix-isms on guitar. Johanna Iivanainen sings two pieces.
Any of these might be interesting directions to pursue, but not all at
- Scott Hamilton & Harry Allen: Heavy Juice
Too nice. Even more gentlemanly than Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Of course,
it's also too lovely to hate.
- Tardo Hammer: Tardo's Tempo (2004, Sharp Nine).
Hammer only offers one original in this piano trio recording, the
balance almost evenly split between standards and pieces out of the
bebop legacy. On first approximation, that marks this as one of so
many mainstream trio works, but it has more edge than that. He works
to add something distinctive to every piece he touches, and more
often than not he succeeds. The point, I suspect, isn't to step out
from the bop tradition so much as to find the residual radicalism
hidden deep within the orthodoxy. In this he reminds one a bit of
Lennie Tristano, who is often cited as a forebear. Sharply recorded.
- Richie Hart: Blues in the Alley (2004, Zoho).
Nice, somewhat bluesy guitar record. No big deal, but nothing to sneeze
at either. Especially "Well You Needn't," the Monk piece that opens it.
- Alex Heitlinger Sextet: Green Light (2004, Synergy Music).
Similar to the hard bop lineups of the '60s, with three horns (sax,
trumpet, the leader's trombone) up front, piano, bass and drums out
back. Like its prototype, it works best when everyone is loose and
the leads rotate their shots. It drags a bit when they get in unison,
and loses the appeal of the individual instruments. Nothing much
wrong with it, but nothing especially interesting either.
- Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez: Italuba (2004, Pimienta).
One of the major Cuban drummers, Hernandez played on over 300 albums
in Cuba before he emigrated first to Italy then to the U.S. This is
his first release as a leader, and he remembers his period in Italy
both with the title (a bridge from Italy to Cuba) and by reworking
a famous Dizzy Gillespie piece as "A Night in Torino." But everything
else is deeply Cuban: the typical high speed piano, piercing trumpet,
driving bass. But more than anything else this is a showcase for the
- The Fred Hess Quartet: The Long and Short of It
(2003 , Tapestry).
Hess is a tenor saxophonist, based in Colorado, where he founded the
Boulder Creative Music Ensemble, and continues to reside as some sort
of eminence grise (now age 60) in a relatively unknown local scene.
His AMG entry tries to draw comparisons between Hess and damn near
every saxophonist from Lester Young to Charles Gayle, but he sounds
pretty distinctive to me. For this quartet session, he's joined by
Ron Miles (trumpet), Ken Filiano (bass), and Matt Wilson (drums).
I've been finding sax/trumpet front lines to be a particular source
of annoyance recently, but here they sound distinct and sufficient,
and when they do play at the same time they often take off on
interesting tangents. Miles' most effective leads come in splotchy
discrete notes against a chug-a-lug rhythm, making for a comically
impressionist effect. Filiano impresses with bass solos that are
beautifully thought out and recorded clearly enough that they don't
drop out of the music. Solid, interesting work.
- John Heward Trio: Let Them Pass (Laissez-Passer) (2002
The same title is recycled seven times, essentially the same piece
improvised seven different ways. Joe Giardullo builds a layer cake
here, playing tenor sax on the odd-numbered pieces, other instruments
on the even numbers. But it's the drummer's album, and it pays to
concentrate on him.
- Andrew Hill: Dance With Death (1968 , Blue Note).
This is not the revelation of Hill's nascent arranging that the previously
unreleased Passing Ships was. Rather, this was a relatively late
(for Hill at Blue Note) small group session with an interesting front
line -- Charles Tolliver on trumpet, Joe Farrell on tenor and soprano
sax -- that sat on the shelf until 1980.
- Dave Holland Big Band: Overtime (2005, Dare2/Sunnyside).
Holland's big band is built around his quintet, the extra muscle being
a full set of saxophones and triplets of trumpet and trombone. There
is no piano, and Steve Nelson occupies his customary spot on vibes.
Plus, as with all bassist's albums, the bass is mixed up, providing
a clear and vibrant pulse throughout. The surplus of horns gives him
plenty options, but as often as not he merely uses them for luscious
brass backdrops. So the most striking thing here is the simplicity
of conception. Still, there's a lot of superb solos to go with the
- ICP Orchestra: Oh, My Dog! (2001, ICP).
I like the way they can string out a melodic section, but I don't quite
get the rationale behind the long static bits where they just seem to
be farting around.
- ICP Orchestra: Aan and Uit (2003, ICP).
Big band led by Misha Mengelberg with various other Dutch Masters along
for the ride. The good humor is undoubted, but they rarely pull it all
together -- even though when they do it can be extraordinary.
- Ilmiliekki Quartet: March of the Alpha Males (2003, TUM).
Trumpeter Verneri Pohjola puts a brassy sheen on everything he touches,
very elegant. Pianist Tuomo Prattala earns his keep, too. But the most
alpha of the alpha males is drummer Olavi Louhivuori, who drives things
and sometimes just bangs for the hell of it. He gets a terrific array
of sounds out of his kit. When the trumpet enters after a display, you
wonder whether it's come to play taps.
- Jazz Jamaica All Stars: Massive (2001, Dune).
This has its fun moments, but I don't quite get the point. Basically,
it's ska orchestrated for big band, and we do mean big: nine saxes,
six trumpets, seven trombone, various others including Juliet Roberts
singing two songs ("My Boy Lollipop" and "Walk On By"). Old sawhorses
like "Liquidator" and "Al Capone" (perversely medleyed with "[Love
Theme From] The Godfather") romp as expected, but then if everything
behaves as expected, like, what is the point? It's not like there
are no standards for this concept -- instrumentals were a feature
of Jamaican music almost from the git-go (that's where dub came from),
and nothing here makes me feel like discarding the Skatalites. No
doubt it's just meant to be fun. Most likely points are overrated.
But that's like saying so are critics.
- Billy Jenkins With the Blues Collective: S.A.D.
Like a Brit Blood Ulmer, an avant-jazz guitarist who likes to sing
gravitates to the blues. A pretty straight blues album at that --
even a horn section -- but titles like "Ain't Gonna Play No Jazz No
More" and "Jazz Had a Baby (and They Called It Avant-Garde)" betray
where he's coming from. Where he's going is harder to tell. The
closer, a slab of slide guitar psychedelia called "Goodbye Blues,"
formally resembles some of his pop-music contortions.
- Randy Johnston: Is It You? (2005, HighNote).
Half trio, half quartet with Xavier Davis on piano. Like much jazz
guitar this strikes me as light, but the closing "Groovy Samba" makes
the best of that, floating off into the ether.
- Anders Jormin: In Winds, in Light (2004, ECM).
Album feels alien, out of some Euro tradition, possibly classical.
Willemark's voice is static, high-pitched, arty, aloof, dominant.
Nelson's "church organ" much more prominent than Crispell's piano,
which continues in her slow-mo free jazz mode. Jormin plays bass,
always a problem when trying to develop a lead voice. This is not
without interest -- Jormin's bass playing is interesting, and
Crispell gets in some licks -- it is extremely stiff for my taste:
the last cut, to pick just one example, starts with a shrill scream
and towering church organ, the stuff of horror films.
- Kalaparush and the Light: Morning Song (2003 ,
Maurice McIntyre goes back to the avant-garde's heyday in the '60s:
an associate of Roscoe Mitchell, a founder of the AACM. His occasional
records frequently invoke the creator -- cf. the piece here called "I
Don't Have an Answer Unless It's God." If that reminds your of Albert
Ayler, that's a good start: he's more moderate than Ayler, but both
favor the simple as well as the searching. He's joined here by Jesse
Dulman on tuba and Ravish Momin on drums: a tenor sax trio only with
tuba subbing for bass. The tuba opens up some two-horn possibilities
without undue clutter, while providing a more robust, more metallic
- Steve Lacy: The Gap (1972 , Free America/Verve).
Starts scratchy, with both Lacy and Steve Potts on soprano sax and
Irene Aebi's cello added to bass and drums, but it levels out a bit
with songs dedicated to Johnny Hodges and Sonny Clark.
- Dave Liebman & Phil Markowitz: Manhattan Dialogues
I suppose this is meant to remind one of Liebman's duo recordings with
Richie Bierach, maybe even to carry on from there. But it doesn't make
me want to go back and revisit. This feels arbitrary and unhinged --
the two players don't connect well, and aren't especially eloquent on
their own. Liebman, at least, is more coherent when he switches to
- Maksim: The Piano Player (2003, MBO/EMI).
Like Eldar Djangirov, another young East European whose daunting surname
(Mrvica) has been suppressed by the marketeers. This one also plays
piano, and is even heavier into the grandiose period of euroclassicism:
Grieg, Chopin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov, plus a piece of "Exodus"
by Herbert Gold and a lot of Tonci Huljik that fits in seemlessly.
Its jazz quotient is close to nil -- reminds me a bit of the recent
Keiko Matsui, but even more so of Queen, who unlike ELP or Genesis
could steal from the classics with enough good humor to be forgivable.
Better than Queen, actually, because we don't have to deal with none
of that opera shit. I doubt that I'll ever play it again as anything
other than a grand joke, but in one spin it blew me away. That's
- Gui Mallon: Live at Montreux (2004, Adventure Music).
Brazilian guitar, thickened by strings and percussion, with flute and
sax for decoration -- weights not specified, but soprano is the most
prominent. Despite initial misgivings, I'm finding this quite charming.
Most of the record is filled up by "Brasil, Brazil Suite" -- a dozen
or more pieces strung together. One oddment is that it even includes
- Joe Maneri, Barre Phillips, Mat Maneri: Angles of Repose
(2002 , ECM).
Dense, abstract album; mostly slow stuff, with a lot of tension. I find
the Maneris, especially pere, rather difficult going, so I suppose it
means something that this makes for rather interesting background
noise. Not fun to listen to, but you get the sense they have something
going even if it's not at all clear what it is.
- The Best of Shelly Manne (1953-61 , Contemporary).
One of the few drummers to make the transitions from big band swing to
bebop to Ornette without the slightest hitch, Manne's drumwork was
inconspicuous but his ability to drive a band, keeping them light and
fleet but together, was uncanny. With the leader in the background
this sampler seems more arbitrary than most, starting points on paths
worth pursuing separately, but together a quick glimpse of the
diversity of the music Manne was most identified with -- west coast
- Mike Marshall & Choro Famoso (2004, Adventure
Brazilian choro music for mandolin, guitar, clarinet and percussion.
Sounds like a cross between bluegrass and klezmer, which is roughly
the idea: lithe and bouncy. Marshall is a mandolin player from Oakland
CA, with a background that covers a lot of bluegrass, but he's been
on a Brazilian kick lately, recording a previous Duets album
(also choro), and running the Adventure Music label, which is turning
into an interesting outlet for Brazilian music.
- Keiko Matsui: Walls of Akendora (2005, Narada Jazz).
This reminds me of classical music: not the old stuff that way back
in grade school I avoided like the plague, but the stuff that snuck
into my cranium through the movies when I was too ignorant to fathom
what was going down. The central role of classical music in Hollywood
was partly a historical accident, but the customary orchestration of
drama was bound to be useful -- contemporary soundtracks follow the
same ruts, even when they trade in string orchestras for synths.
Matsui borrows more from Morricone than Mozart, but eschews the
former's minimalism -- she likes to lay it on thick. I'm surprised
it's as effective as it is.
- Kate McGarry: Mercy Streets (2005, Palmetto).
She's a singer with a lot of technique but an unimposing, perhaps
even self-deprecating, air. I can see how folks might be impressed,
but she gets on my nerves. The songs are scattered widely, but the
one that both convinces me and turns me off the most is "Trouble of
the World" -- a piece of gospel suffering that evokes everything
I detest about religion. The dainty "Do You Know What It Means to
Miss New Orleans" is an odd closer, almost a throwaway as if she's
embarrassed to be here. This was mostly done with guitar, bass and
drums, but the guest pianist on three cuts is Fred Hersch, superb
- Chris McNulty: Dance Delicioso (2004 , Elefant Dreams).
A singer with a dusky voice, best matched to blues and slow torch songs,
a minor thread in this album. Low point is a Brazilian beat piece which
threatens to get her visa revoked, but trying to jazz up Annie Lennox
isn't a much better idea. She manages to draw some good musicians --
most valuable is Gary Bartz on four tracks. But one of those is a Cole
Porter standard that her voice seems too heavy for.
- Marian McPartland & Friends: 85 Candles -- Live in
New York (2005, Concord, 2CD).
There is some fine music here, but the parade of guest stars makes for a
very haphazard performance; especially the singers and the piano duets.
McPartland plays on half of the cuts, maybe a bit more. She's a splendid
hostess, of course, and she's earned the recognition. But I don't find
this parade of stars very appealing.
- Meat Beat Manifesto: At the Center (2005, Thirsty Ear).
Jack Dangers' beats are splendid, and they keep coming. His "want ads"
are odd, both in voice and content, which may or may not be a plus. He
also has a text more/less on American imperialism which strikes me as
fundamentally sound. Peter Gordon's "Flute Thang" is my favorite piece
of flute since Robert Dick. Dave King and Craig Taborn help out. Jazz
quotient isn't high, but it's in there somewhere.
- Myra Melford/The Tent: Where the Two Worlds Touch
This is an ugly, sprawling mess. I came close to putting this on the
Duds list, and even now don't like it much. Melford is one of the
major pianists of our age, and you can hear some of that here. But
recently she's taken to playing harmonium, an instrument that sounds
somewhere between organ and accordion, and that takes all of the
sharpness out of her playing. And she's joined here by Chris Speed
and Cuong Vu, who work with similar textures in their Yeah No group,
but Melford pushes them to extremes they never risk by themselves.
The first problem the album has is in pulling together the piano
and harmonium pieces, and that never happens successfully -- maybe
she should overdub? But dislikable as it is, it's impossible to
hate such vigorous music.
- Pablo Menéndez: Havana Blues Mambo (2005, Zoho).
California-born guitarist -- "Cuba domiciled," whatever that means.
The Afro-Cuban grooves are tasty enough, and I can't fault the guitar,
but the sax and flute don't do anything for me, nor the vocal fills.
Seems too cavalier as well as too complicated. Not awful; just falls
below the line.
- Jason Miles: Miles to Miles: In the Spirit of Miles Davis
That Jason Miles worked with Marcus Miller and Miles Davis on the
latter's late '80s albums from Tutu to Amandla is a
connection, but doesn't say much about spirit. Davis' post-'70 work
was built around electric bass and guitar with a live drummer, and the
keybs, even with Chick Corea, were just cheese sauce. But with Jason
the synth beats are central: that's what he does. And despite an
impressive array of guest talent that's about all he does.
- Dominic Miller: Third World (2003 , Alula).
Mostly solo guitar, with one vocal and small bits of percussion added
on a couple of tracks. Nice, in a very minor way.
- Miriodor: Parade + Live at Nearfest 2002 (1999-05 ,
French instrumental rock, mostly keybs, cute at first, never quite
annoying but feels less substantial as it piles up.
- Wes Montgomery: Smokin' at the Half Note (1965 ,
The front cover shows this as originally credited, with the Wynton Kelly
Trio on top, Montgomery on the bottom. The Kelly Trio had its start as
the rhythm section of the Miles Davis Quintet, but when Miles decided
not to tour in the early '60s Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb set
out on their own. Montgomery had done his major work for Riverside up
to 1963 before moving to Verve where he mostly cut overly slick and
saccharine versions of pop hits, but this date has grown in his canon,
regarded by many as one of the essential milestones in jazz guitar.
That judgment strikes me as overly generous. The five cuts on the
original album -- three actually recut in the studio by Creed Taylor
after finding the originals somehow lacking -- were precariously
balanced between Kelly and Montgomery, providing tantalizing moments
of each. This new edition tilts the balance decisively toward the
guitarist with six extra cuts meant for radio, most with MC intros
and chatter, but most also with sterling examples of Montgomery's
- Jason Moran: Same Mother (2005, Blue Note).
His usual trio, augmented by guitarist Marvin Swell, who wails like a
sax on "Jump Up," strings out the Prokofiev piece, and rocks "I'll Play
the Blues for You." Moran is at his most impressive in banging out chords
on the opening and closing pieces, both with "Gangsterism" in the title.
- Mozayik: Haitian Creole Jazz (2005, Zoho).
I would have expected Haitian jazz to conjure up more voodoo or ju ju
or something like that, but this group leads off with "Caravan" then
makes nice through eleven originals, relying mostly on guitar, bass
guitar, and a pretty slick pianist named Welmyr Jean-Pierre. Drums
too, subtler than you'd expect, but they come from somewhere off the
beaten path. Not much, but the groove is too irresistible for me to
- Idris Muhammad: House of the Rising Sun (1976 ,
Creed Taylor in extremis, best if you concentrate on the percussion,
which is the leader's calling, instead of the curious mix of
Meters-style funk and disco that Taylor thought might sell; not that
it deconstructs that cleanly, or that funk isn't its own reward.
- Michael Musillami Octet: Spirits (2004, Playscape).
Like Mario Pavone's album from the same label, this is a remembrance of
Thomas Chapin, who wrote all of the songs and whose spirit hovers over
the proceedings. But this is a little harder to get a grip on: the larger
group spreads the music and thins the musicianship, and Musillami's
guitar, which can be lovely, doesn't get much space. At various times
vibes, piano, or horns come up front -- Tom Christensen's saxophones
come closest to the Chapin model, unsurprisingly.
- Ted Nash and Odeon: La Espada de la Noche (2005, Palmetto).
With violin and accordion this might sound like tango even if it didn't
follow the familiar twists and turns. Along with Clark Gayton's tuba
or trombone and Matt Wilson's drumming they make a fascinating backdrop
for Nash's reeds -- mostly tenor sax, in a mode influenced by Lester
Young, but also alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, and alto flute.
- Natto Quartet: Thousand Oaks (2004 , 482 Music).
This doesn't give you much comfort -- just two Japanese instruments
(shakuhachi, koto), electronics and piano. Splotches of sound, with
little connective material. Not without interest, but in the end the
feel is rather hollow. Most likely their intention.
- Negroni's Trio: Piano/Drums/Bass (2004, Universal
Trio from Puerto Rico built around pianist José Negroni. Fast,
percussive latin jazz, varied a bit by guest Ed Calle on soprano
and tenor sax, one cut each.
- Steve Nelson: Fuller Nelson (1998 , Sunnyside).
Nelson has probably been the most successful vibes sideman in jazz over
the last twenty years, but he only has half-a-dozen or so recordings
under his own name. The best known, Full Nelson, came out in
1989, and this is a reprise, also with Kirk Lightsey (piano) and Ray
Drummond (bass). That sort of lineup shows up often on vibes records --
piano is similar in pitch and volume, less dynamic but with a richer
sound, so it complements vibes nicely without overwhelming. Lightsey
is a particularly good match for Nelson.
- Tommy Newsom and His Octo-Pussycats (2004 ,
Newsom, the former bandleader on the Tonight show (following Skitch
Henderson and Doc Severinsen, if memory serves), is in his mid-70s,
and the rest of the band younger, but there are eight musicians, so
maybe the group name has something to do with that. Nice, pleasant
swing album -- perhaps a bit better than that when he plays Ellington,
or when his cornet player gets some space. Cornet player: Warren
- Vardan Ovsepian: Akunc (2004, Fresh Sound).
Dark, subtle, mostly quiet, voice (Monica Yngvesson) a minor component
added obliquely. A quote from the artist sums it up: "After layers of
heavy silence each sound appeared as a harmony itself. Then, old and
new truths unfolded."
- Afonso Pais: Terranova (2004 , Clean Feed).
Lovely little guitar album, in a trio with bass and drums.
- Rick Parker Collective: New York Gravity (2002 ,
Good record, but having played it more than half-a-dozen times it still
hasn't made the leap from good record to something better. Parker plays
trombone; the Collective adds trumpet, saxophone, piano, bass and drums,
for a good deal of complexity. Every piece has lots of things going on;
in a smaller or more patient world I might be able to figure them out.
- Annette Peacock: Mama Never Taught Me How to Cook: The Aura
Years (1978-82 , Castle).
Married first to Gary Peacock then to Paul Bley, she was more of
a gadfly and joker than jazz musician, although Bley and Marilyn
Crispell wound up recording whole albums of her songs. She started
singing as input into the synthesizers that intrigued her and Bley,
then cut several more/less rock albums in the '70s -- two collected
here, plus some outtakes -- before fading away, as if she never
conceived of anything as deliberate as a career. Still, her "rock
shit" sounds remarkably like jazz even today. As a vocalist she's
often thin and undisciplined, but she takes enormous dramatic risks
with the title cut and her "Don't Be Cruel" cover. Elsewhere, as
on "Survival," she lapses into softly rapped philosophizing that
draws the music, a repetitive theme with improvised curlicues, up
around her like a warm blanket.
- Luis Perdomo: Focus Point (2005, RKM)
Perdomo is a Venezuelan pianist, and his piano forms the central pulse
through this series of pieces. Joined by Miguel Zenon on three cuts,
Ravi Coltrane on two, Max King (also tenor sax) on one -- just a duo,
and possibly my favorite piece here, plus various bassists, Ralph
Peterson Jr on drums, and (two cuts) Roberto Quintero on percussion.
- Leslie Pintchik: So Glad to Be Here (2003 ,
Tidy little piano trio. Bright sound on the piano, interesting percussion,
pretty good bass player. Much better than average for this sort of thing.
- Putumayo Presents: New Orleans (1956-2004 ,
Putumayo World Music).
Trad jazz has gone through four or five major revivals since Louis
Armstrong moved beyond it in the late '20s. This is the latest: the
official party music of the New Orleans Tourist Board. The earlier
revivals wished to return to the purism of polyphonous interplay;
this one means mostly to pump up the brass, and has a broad enough
sense of tradition to include hometown heroes Armstrong and Louis
Prima, whose out-of-period pieces here are like the statues coming
to life, and Dr. John, who reprises "Basin Street Blues" in case
you didn't get it the first time, and Deacon Jones' hopped up
"Going Back to New Orleans" -- a pop song from another great New
Orleans tradition, written by Jimmy Liggins in 1950. This time
it's just for fun.
- Putumayo Presents: Kermit Ruffins (1992-2002 ,
Putumayo World Music). The world according to Louis Armstrong is all
this hometowner needs or wants; his "Ain't Misbehavin'" is textbook,
while "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" and "When My Dream Boat Comes
Home" are cornier and more foursquare than anything Pops did after
he left King Oliver, not to mention more inspirational.
- Ike Quebec: Heavy Soul (1961 , Blue Note).
A tenor saxophonist with a heavy tone, lumbering through vibratoed
ballads, but capable of a soaring honk when the pace picks up, which
happens when organist Freddie Roach gets up a full head of steam.
Soul, because that is his right.
- Kenneth Rexroth/Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poetry Readings in the
Cellar (1957 , Fantasy).
The Cellar Jazz Quintet comps loosely behind Rexroth's furious paean
to Dylan Thomas, then opens up for Ferlinghetti's autobiographical
musings; the jazz is negligible, merely chasing the words, but the
words dig deep.
- Hanna Richardson and Phil Flanigan: Simply . . . With Spirit!
This seems rather plain at first, but Johnny Frigo gets a long violin solo
as a guest on his song, "I Told Ya I Love Ya, Now Get Out," and that cracks
the ice. By the time "Detour Ahead," the second Frigo song/guest spot,
comes around Richardson almost sounds soulful. Those are the high points,
but there are no low points. Smart bass, tasteful guitar, two more dashes
of Frigo, "They All Laughed," nothing wrong with that.
- Kurt Rosenwinkel: Deep Song (2005, Verve).
For all the professionalism here -- Brad Mehldau on piano, Joshua
Redman on tenor sax, first-rate bass and drums -- this leaves me
unmoved. Rosenwinkel wrote 8 of 10 pieces, only rarely taking full
command with his own skillful guitar.
- Roswell Rudd (1965 , Free America/Verve).
The great trombonist trades lines with alto saxist John Tchicaď
creating a bouncy polyphony that never quite slips into a groove.
A radio shot tape, sound quality so-so.
- Jerome Sabbagh: North (2004, Fresh Sound).
Another good-not-great album for the series, another new-not-brilliant
talent. Sabbagh plays tenor sax, notably sharing space with guitarist
Ben Monder. The rhythm is somewhat off-kilter, and the tone of Sabbagh's
sax is rather thin and metallic. Like most of Fresh Sound's New Talent
series, this is smart, disciplined, and moderate. It's hard to tell
them apart, hard to care which ones are a shade better than which
- Sakésho: We Want You to Say . . . (2005, Heads Up).
Andy Narrell's steel pans function alongside Mario Canonge's piano
much like vibes. They have a thinner, higher pitched, soft percussive
sound, which layers nicely on top of the piano. The piano-pans combo
runs best at a fair gallop, which is the usual pace here. Pleasant
enough, but not all that engaging.
- Dino Saluzzi/Jon Christensen: Senderos (2002 , ECM).
Bandoneon, reduced if anything past the bare bones level -- solo on four
cuts, with just a dab of percussion by Chrisenson on the rest. Equally
reduced in speed and punch, the aim perhaps to be meditative. Saluzzi
can do remarkable things, but the instrument is too cheesy to come off
- David Sanborn: Closer (2005, Verve).
He's been there, done that, put enough money in pockets to get a
recording budget and a listen from radio programmers who wouldn't give
Bobby Watson or Vincent Herring the time of day. It helps that he has
no interest in free time, and that his alto sax is a thing of beauty,
and it don't hurt much that he can play the devil out of it. This
isn't smooth in any definition, although the James Taylor song with
the Lizz Wright vocal would fit the bill. But if they the smooth jazz
powers slipped his perky "Tin Tin Deo" into their rotation it would
stand out like Madonna on '80s AM. And while his "Capetown Fringe"
does nothing that hasn't been done before, one wonders what the masses
who never heard it before will think. His covers show good taste, and
he doesn't muck them up even on the five tracks with strings. And he
wrote the closing ballad, which, strings included, is lovely.
- Martin Sasse Trio: Close Encounter (2003 ,
The key words on the cover are "featuring Vincent Herring." For the
most part, Sasse and company are a high-spirited hard bop trio,
which makes them the perfect foil for Herring's lustrous alto sax.
When you hear him play you have to wonder how anyone could fall for
any of those crossover horns: he's the real thing. (And I might add
much better here than on his own record.) For the other part, he
switches to flute for a lullaby, cutting his speed and lustre in
half. Not bad in its own right, but not his meal ticket either.
- Scanner + Dessy: Play Along (2005, Sub Rosa).
Scanner is Robin Rimbaud. Dessy is Jean-Paul Dessy. Two plain electronics
pieces don't do much -- relatively static doodling, pleasant enough. The
other (first) piece is interesting, with four strings (two violas, two
cellos) sawing in and out of tune backed with Scanner's tiny beats.
- Mario Schiano: On the Waiting List (1973 ,
Another obscure flashback, with rich horn voicings popping out of
an avant-garde matrix.
- Avery Sharpe Trio: Dragon Fly (2005, JKNM).
A bass player associated with McCoy Tyner and Yusef Lateef (who writes
some of the booklet), Sharpe has emerged lately as a composer. Still,
this is a rather problematic album. In Onaje Allen Gumbs he has a
pianist who fits into the Tyner mold, and Winard Harper is a first
rate drummer, but rather than working through the trio Sharpe throws
them knuckleballs. He switches to 4- and 6-string electric bass, the
latter working more like a guitar. He brings in guests: Chico Freeman
for "Evolution," Jeri Brown on "Change," both with some background
coloration for the swinging "Swingfield." In isolation these pieces
are fine -- "Change" may be the best thing here, with only Sharpe's
bass backing Brown, with slaps and nicks punctuating her scat -- but
the tangents raise more questions than they answer, like where does
he really want to go. Good to hear Freeman, even though he doesn't
do all that much. Sharpe talks about his childhood fear of dragonflies,
then concludes, "Maybe this is a metaphor for life. Fear can cloud
rational thought. When one thinks a situation appears one way,
something else can actually be the culprit."
- Archie Shepp: Black Gipsy (1969 , Free America/Verve).
Two long and one shorter pieces, blues-based although they wander a lot,
with one touching base in Rio de Janeiro and Casablanca before landing
in Chicago. The landing unleashes Chicago Beauchamp for a blues shout,
with most of the fun coming between his lines. Shepp plays soprano sax
here, which is indistinct, as is Noah Howard's alto and Clifford Thornton's
trumpet, but they harmonize with Leroy Jenkins' viola to keep the vamps
coming. Sounds thin and whiney at first but builds. A minor addition to
Shepp's soul jazz phase.
- Alan Shorter: Tes Esat (1970 , Free America/Verve).
Wayne's trumpet-playing brother is the nominal leader here but in all other
respects take a back seat to a pair of South Africans: Gary Windo on tenor
sax and Johnny Dyani on bass, piano, various flutes and bells. Dyani is up
to all sorts of mischief, including a rather abstractly percussive piano
solo, but Windo is just noisy, while Shorter just adds to the blare. The
fourth wheel is drummer Rene Augustus, whose free energy thing isn't a
problem, nor an answer.
- Wayne Shorter: Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne
Shorter (1960-2001 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD).
Shorter has been a major jazz figure since he recorded Introducing
Wayne Shorter in 1959, but he was unusual in his avoidance of the
spotlight. His major work early on was in bands led by Art Blakey and
Miles Davis, while his own records on Blue Note sort of lurked in the
background. He wasn't unnoticed: he was distinctive on tenor sax, and
later soprano sax, but he was even more noted as a composer, and his
tenures with both Blakey and Davis -- arguably the best periods either
ever had -- were built on his writing. But in 1970 he submerged under
Joe Zawinul's Weather Report fusion, and he wandered much thereafter,
only to emerge as a certifiable Living Legend with his recent string
of Verve albums. This particular comp was intended as a supplement
to a biography, so it's appropriate that it stradles every facet of
his career, but it does so uncomfortably. It ignores his Vee-Jays,
short changes his Blue Notes (cf. The Classic Blue Note Recordings,
with one disc from his own records and the other from others, and not
just Blakey), stoops to session work (Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell), and
ends with a mixed bag licensed from Verve, while padding heavily from
Legacy's own catalog. As befits a biography, it covers warts and all.
But most of us could pass on the warts.
- Judi Silvano: Let Yourself Go (2003 , Zoho).
A standards repertoire, dedicated to her mum on for her 80th birthday,
old songs mostly from the '30s, thick with Arlen, Warren, Rodgers &
Hart, Kern & Hammerstein, the Gershwins, above all Cole Porter. She
has an authoritative voice, nothing fancy or extreme, but clear and
strong, the power to make herself heard. The orchestra, arranged and
conducted by pianist Michael Abene, is full of notable soloists: Dick
Oatts was one that I noticed.
- The Sound of New York Jazz Underground (2003 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent, 2CD).
Fresh Sound's New Talent series has developed into a major forum for
slightly-left-of-center new jazz since its start ten years ago. Now,
for their 200th release, they've rounded up a substantial group of
their talent to commemorate their anniversary with. The company itself
is based in Barcelona, but New York is practically a second home --
the source and gathering place of most of their talent. Still, this
is atypical: most of FSNT's records have been small groups, but with
so much talent to showcase the "Sound" here is purely big band. There's
also a kitchen sink aspect, especially as they work various singers in.
Aside from the singers it mostly works: the arrangements are richly
textured and nuanced, with lots of razor sharp bits and a few standout
solos. (Ben Monder impresses me as MVP, his contribution a bit clearer
than most because he's the only guitarist. Chris Cheek and Miguel Zenon
are also prominent.) Still, I admire it more than I like it, and I find
it starts off too arty and ends up with too much bombast -- risks in
any such project. But this does reflect well on the label: rather than
going back for the usual rehash they've used the occasion to create
something new. And while I'm not a big fan of big bands, it's worth
noting that this sort of ad hoc assemblage is one of the few chances
musicians these days get to play en masse -- which is something they
seem to enjoy.
- String Zone: Mystery Bag (2003 , Nagel Heyer).
This is a group from Norway with two guitars, violin and bass. They
don't swing, at least in the sense of the Reinhardt/Grappelli (or
Lang/Venuti) tradition. And they aren't avant, like the Revolutionary
Ensemble or the String Trio of New York. If you imagine a diamond
with swing at the bottom and avant at the top, the other two corners
might be soul jazz and hard bop, which to the best of my knowledge
have never been played with this instrumentation -- even Grant Green,
who straddles those two corners, never played with a violin or without
a drummer. String Zone are smack dab in the middle of that diamond,
which means that they don't sound like anything I've ever heard before,
and they're also not what you'd call innovative or pathbreaking -- the
inevitable suggestion is that the reason why what they do has never
been done before must be because it wasn't worth doing. But actually
this is a very enjoyable group. Maybe that's the mystery?
- Suhkan Uhka: Suhka (2003, TUM).
Big band, led by bassist Antti Hytti, who also composes a little more
than half the material. About half of the band members are people I
know from other records, so it feels like a who's who of Finnish jazz.
Parts of this are impressive, much of it is lovely, some of it is just
- Martin Taylor: The Valley (2005, The Guitar Label).
Solo guitar, aside from three songs with vocals: Bryn Terfel and Sacha
Distel are the sort of vocalists who are likely to be much admired in
Welsh pubs. (Well, Terfel is Welsh; Distel is French, and a shade less
operatic, so he might not go over so well, but they sound much the same
from here.) The vocals took me a while to get over, but Terfel's songs
are as square and overblown as he is ("Bridge Over Troubled Water,"
"God Bless the Child"), and I can't begrudge anyone on "I've Got You
Under My Skin." Taylor, of course, is a marvelous guitarist -- never
more so than on "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," but
nothing else quite lives up to that standard.
- Gebhard Ullmann: The Big Band Project (2004, Soul Note).
The NDR Big Band makes for some interesting noise, but this is much too
scattered to make a coherent impression. Ullmann is supposedly the leader,
but he's severely outnumbered.
- Gebhard Ullmann: The Clarinet Trio: Ballads and Related
Objects (2003 , Leo).
Pretty abstract. Three clarinets, poking around at slow speed, the harmony
cancelling one another out, the divergences cancelling out too. Pay close
attention and some of it is interesting, but mostly it's over my head, or
too little reward for too much work.
- Urban Knights: Urban Knights VI (2005, Narada Jazz).
Maybe there is funk after life, but that doesn't make it a good thing.
When you're dead your done. Why warm it up?
- The Johnny Varro Trio: Pure Imagination (2004, Arbors).
Delightful piano trio, swings graciously and sometimes hard. I've played
it a lot for background, never failed to enjoy it, never suspected that
it might rise a notch.
- Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy: Mal Waldron With the Steve Lacy
Quintet (1972, Free America/Verve).
Waldron and Lacy made some fine duet records later, so the problem
here is the busy and rather squeaky Quintet, to which Waldron adds
some welcome punch.
- Per Henrik Wallin Trio: The Stockholm Tapes (1975-77
Small scale avant trio. I find this kind of thrash refreshing without
really being able to explain why. Ulander sounds somewhat like John
Tchicai or Jemeel Moondoc or probably a few others: an alto saxophonist
who keeps poking and prodding, and he dominates much of the action,
making a rather strong showing. Wallin is more in the background,
although he's more likely to chime against the grain than comp along.
- Joe Williams: Havin' a Good Time (1965 , Hyena).
Smooth as silk and rich as honey, as usual; with Ben Webster to plush
things up even more, and Junior Mance to keep the ball rolling. But not
a great showcase for Webster, who I figure to be the calling card.
- Pamela Williams: Sweet Saxations (2005, Shanachie).
Alto sax, with a tiny boost to her playing which reminds me a bit of
old guys like Hal Singer, but the rhythm matrix here is the usual
painless groove. The one token vocal piece ululates gospel, but the
basic grind is old fashioned r&b.
- Anthony Wonsey Trio: Blues for Hirosh (2004, Sharp Nine).
Beautifully recorded hard bop piano trio, typical for this label. Front
cover says "Swingin' with the Anthony Wonsey Trio," and "swinging" does
- Frank Wright: Uhuru Na Umoja (1970 , Free
Double-barrelled heavy blowing, with Noah Howard's alto sax
reinforcing Wright's earthshaking tenor, the strategy little more than
to knock you down and sweep you away in a tidal wave of high energy
and unchecked spirit.
- Patrick Zimmerli: Phoenix (2005, Songlines).
The musical textures are conjured by a string section with piano,
fretless electric bass and drums (or approximations thereof), with
Zimmerli adding occasional soprano saxophone. This ranges from
chamber music to something semi-industrial where the violins echo
old horror movie motifs. I like it best when the beat takes over,
or when the sax is otherworldly.
This drops the "done" file to 142 albums, about half of the original
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
The Village Voice published the latest
Jazz Consumer Guide
today. This is the fifth column in the series, appearing a year plus/minus
a week after the first. The lineup for this JCG is as follows:
- Pick Hits:
- William Parker Quartet: Sound Unity (AUM Fidelity)
- Tommy Smith & Brian Kellock: Symbiosis (Spartacus)
- Rez Abbasi: Snake Charmer (Earth Sounds)
- The Blueprint Project (Creative Nation Music)
- Brötzmann/Friis Nielsen/Uusklya: Medicina (Atavistic)
- Avishai Cohen Trio & Ensemble: At Home (RazDaz/Sunnyside)
- Douglas/Sclavis/Lee/Van Der Schyff: Bow River Falls (Premonition)
- Dudek/Niebergall/Vesala: Open (1977, Atavistic)
- FME: Underground (Okka Disk)
- The Frank and Joe Show: 33 1/3 (Hyena)
- Scott Hamilton: Back in New York (Concord)
- Raphe Malik Quartet: Last Set: Live at the 1369 Jazz Club (1984, Boxholder)
- William Parker: Luc's Lantern (Thirsty Ear)
- Steve Shapiro and Pat Bergeson: Low Standards (Sons of Sound)
- Dud du Jour:
- Chris Botti: When I Fall in Love (Columbia)
- Honorable Mention:
- Tony Malaby: Adobe (Sunnyside)
- Per Henrik Wallin: Burning in Stockholm (1981, Atavistic)
- Willie Nelson: Nacogdoches (1997, Pedernales)
- Malik/McPhee/Robinson: Sympathy (Boxholder)
- John Hagen: Segments (Cadence Jazz)
- Gian Tornatore: Sink or Swim (Fresh Sound NT)
- Jeff Parker: The Relatives (Thrill Jockey)
- Michiel Scheen Quartet: Dance, My Dear? (Data)
- John Ellis: One Foot in the Swamp (Hyena)
- Brötzmann Clarinet Project: Berlin Djungle (1984, Atavistic)
- Ricardo Silveira/Luiz Avellar: Live: Play the Music of Milton Nascimento (Adventure Music)
- Sonore: No One Ever Works Alone (Okka Disk)
- Noël Akchoté: Sonny II: The Music of Sonny Sharrock (Winter & Winter)
- Bobby Watson & Horizon: Horizon Reassembled (Palmetto)
- Cosmosamatics: Three (Boxholder)
- Fred Hess Quartet: Crossed Paths (Tapestry)
- Steve Cole: Spin (Narada Jazz)
- The Frank and Joe Show: 66 2/3 (Hyena)
- Sun Ra: Spaceship Lullaby (1954-60, Atavistic)
When I started this column over a year ago I was worried about not
getting enough material to review, but increasingly the problem is how
to handle the surfeit. I have no doubt that I could do this six times
per year, but the Voice has doubts about the space, and we inevitably
run into scheduling conflicts leading to delays. This column was all
but done back in April before I had to crunch down on the jazz labels
piece, but even so it was finished and edited by the end of May. The
next one, which you aren't likely to see until September or October,
is mostly set now -- except for Pick Hits and Duds, always the hard
items to settle on. Given the surfeit of good records, and the squeeze
on space and dealines, the big thing that's happened is that the
Honorable Mentions list has started to creep up on my long-established
Readers familiar with my record database and my year-in-progress
lists will note that the top six Honorable Mentions this month have
been graded A-. I pushed these records out as HM this time figuring
that it would be better to do so now than to wait until I can find
A-list space for them. One consequence is that the bottom half or
more of my B+ list is falling short of the HM list. Another is that
I opportunistically weed out items I can review elsewhere -- mostly
reissues at Recycled Goods -- or items Francis Davis writes about
in the Voice. For instance, the next RG will have reviews of two
rock-jazz fringe (not fusion) comps that I had originally planned
on working into JCG: Annette Peacock, My Mama Never Taught Me
How to Cook (Castle), and James Chance, Sax Education
To give you an idea what my backlog looks like, the following
records have been graded A- or better and not CG'ed to date -- some
will (perhaps as HMs), and some won't. (Many of the reissues have
already appeared in RG, or soon will.)
- Art Pepper: Mosaic Select (1956-57, Mosaic, 3CD)
- Billy Crystal Presents the Milt Gabler Story (1938-64, Verve)
- Annette Peacock: Mama Never Taught Me How to Cook (1978-82, Castle)
- Sirone Bang Ensemble: Configuration (Silkheart)
- James Chance: Sax Education (1978-88, Tiger Style, 2CD)
- James Blood Ulmer: Birthright (Hyena)
- Tina Brooks: True Blue (1960, Blue Note)
- Juhani Aaltonen Trio: Mother Tongue (TUM)
- Anat Cohen: Place & Time (Anzic)
- Ravish Momin's Trio Tarana: Climbing the Banyan Tree (Clean Feed)
- The David S. Ware Quartets: Live in the World (1998-2003, Thirsty Ear, 3CD)
- Larry Young: Of Love and Peace (1966, Blue Note)
- Miles Davis: Miles in Tokyo (1964, Columbia/Legacy)
- Houston Person: To Etta With Love (HighNote)
- Jerry Granelli: Sandhills Reunion (Songlines)
- Joshua Redman Elastic Band: Momentum (Nonesuch)
- Ibrahim Electric: Meets Ray Anderson (Stunt)
- Ted Nash and Odeon: La Espada de la Noche (Palmetto)
- John Surman: Way Back When (1969, Cuneiform)
- Sonny Stitt: It's Magic (1969, Delmark)
- Miles Davis: Miles in Berlin (1964, Columbia/Legacy)
- Triot With John Tchicai: Sudden Happiness (TUM)
- Happy Apple: The Peace Between Our Companies (Sunnyside)
- Benoit Delbecq Unit: Phonetics (Songlines)
- Tom Christensen: New York School (Playscape)
- Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio: Other Valentines (Atavistic)
- Billy Crystal Remembers Billie Holiday (1939-50, Verve)
- Ravi Coltrane: In Flux (Savoy Jazz)
- Eric Alexander: Dead Center (HighNote)
- The Nels Cline Singers: The Giant Pin (Cryptogramophone)
- Ari Hoenig: The Painter (Smalls)
- Russ Lossing: Phrase 6 (Fresh Sound NT)
- Wes Montgomery: Smokin' at the Half Note (1965, Verve)
- Andrew Hill: Dance With Death (1968, Blue Note)
- Dave Holland Big Band: Overtime (Dare2/Sunnyside)
- Jim Hall: Magic Meeting (ArtistShare)
- Graham Collier: Workpoints (1968-75, Cuneiform, 2CD)
- Pierre Dřrge & New Jungle Orchestra: Dancing Cheek to Cheek (Stunt)
- Miles Davis: The Best of Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964 (Columbia/Legacy)
- Dexter Gordon: Mosaic Select (1978-79, Mosaic, 3CD)
- The Best of Eric Dolphy (1960-61, Prestige)
- Miles Davis: "Four" and More (1964, Columbia/Legacy)
- Dave Burrell: After Love (1970, Free America/Verve)
- Art Ensemble of Chicago: Phase One (1971, Free America/Verve)
- The Best of Shelly Manne (1953-61, Contemporary)
The backlogged B+ list is even longer and more problematic. Reissues
will be noted in RG but probably dropped here. The bottom half is very
unlikely to show up in a future JCG, although I have no doubt that these
are good records that many people would find quite the treat. (Order is
very rough; my bottom HM this time, Fred Hess, was ranked somewhere near
Jarrett and Lloyd.)
- Mike Ladd: Negrophilia [The Album] (Thirsty Ear)
- Wolfgang Mitterer: Radio Fractal/Beat Music: Live at Donaueschingen 2002 (Hatology, 2CD)
- Copland/Abercrombie/Wheeler: Brand New (Challenge)
- James Finn Trio: Plaza de Toros (Clean Feed)
- Trygve Seim: Sangam (ECM)
- Motian/Frisell/Lovano: I Have the Room Above Her (ECM)
- The Fonda/Stevens Group: Forever Real (482 Music)
- Eugene Chadbourne: The Hills Have Jazz (Boxholder)
- Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: Round About Weill (ECM)
- Duo Nueva Finlandia: Short Stories (TUM)
- The Dave Brubeck Quartet: London Flat London Sharp (Telarc)
- Jason Moran: Same Mother (Blue Note)
- Dick Hyman and Randy Sandke: Now and Again (Arbors)
- Russ Johnson: Save Big (Omnitone)
- Kenny Wheeler: What Now? (CAM Jazz)
- Roni Ben-Hur: Anna's Dance (Reservoir)
- Rosenberg/Baker/Hatwich/Daisy: New Folk, New Blues (482 Music)
- David "Fathead" Newman: I Remember Brother Ray (HighNote)
- Miles Davis: 'Round About Midnight (Legacy Edition) (1955-57, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD)
- Eric Comstock: No One Knows (Harbinger)
- Charles Gayle: Shout! (Clean Feed)
- Meat Beat Manifesto: At the Center (Thirsty Ear)
- Johnny Coles: Little Johnny C (1963, Blue Note)
- Luis Perdomo: Focus Point (RKM)
- Iro Haarla & Ulf Krokfors: Heart of a Bird (TUM)
- John O'Gallagher's Axiom: Line of Sight (Fresh Sound NT)
- Ian Hendrickson-Smith: Still Smokin' (Sharp Nine)
- Enrico Pieranunzi/Paul Motian: Doorways (CAM Jazz)
- Roni Ben-Hur: Signature (Reservoir)
- François Carrier Trio: Play (482 Music)
- Ruby Braff: You Brought a New Kind of Love (Arbors)
- Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Ground (ECM)
- Putumayo Presents: New Orleans (1956-2004, Putumayo World Music)
- Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy: The Music of John Birks Gillespie (1950-63, Verve)
- Phil Ranelin: Inspiration (Wide Hive)
- Putumayo Presents: Kermit Ruffins (1992-2002, Putumayo World Music)
- Dennis González NY Quartet: NY Midnight Suite (Clean Feed)
- Mike Wofford: Live at Athenaeum Jazz (Capri)
- Critters Buggin': Stampede (Ropeadope)
- Mike Marshall & Choro Famoso (Adventure Music)
- Greg Burk Quartet: Carpe Momentum (Soul Note)
- Wasilewski/Kurkiewicz/Miskiewicz: Trio (ECM)
- Eric Felten: Meets the Dek-Tette (VSOP)
- Marshall Gilkes Quartet: Edenderry (Alternate Side)
- Mark Masters Ensemble: Porgy & Bess Redefined! (Capri)
- Trio East: Stop-Start (Sons of Sound)
- The Ken Walker Sextet: Terra Firma (Synergy Music)
- Louise Rogers/Rick Strong: Bass-ically Speaking (Rilo)
- Ernest Ranglin: Surfin' (Tropic/Telarc)
- Exuberance: Live at Vision Festival (Ayler)
- Mario Pavone: Boom (Playscape)
- The Howard Alden-Dan Barrett Quintet: Live in '95 (Arbors)
- Archie Shepp & Mal Waldron: Left Alone Revisited . . . a Tribute to Billie Holiday (Synergy Music)
- Ben Schwendener/Uwe Steinmetz: Apfelschaun (Gravity)
- Cor Fuhler: Corkestra (Data)
- Wallace Roney: Prototype (HighNote)
- Marc Copland With Greg Osby: Night Call (Nagel Heyer)
- Soweto Kinch: Conversations With the Unseen (Dune)
- Leslie Pintchik: So Glad to Be Here (Ambient)
- Kenny Wheeler & John Taylor: Where Do We Go From Here? (CAM Jazz)
- Yves François: Blues for Hawk (1981-82, Delmark)
- Anthony Braxton: Donna Lee (1972, Free America/Verve)
- Jim Snidero: Close Up (Milestone)
- Mongezi Feza: Free Jam (1972, Ayler, 2CD)
- Industrial Jazz Group: The Star Chamber (Innova)
- Curtis Fuller: Keep It Simple (Savant)
- John Scofield: That's What I Say: Plays the Music of Ray Charles (Verve)
- Kammerflimmer Kollektief: Absencen (Staubgold)
- Mick Rossi: One Block From Planet Earth (Omnitone)
- David Sanborn: Closer (Verve)
- Leo Genovese: Haikus II (Fresh Sound)
- Anthony Wonsey Trio: Blues for Hiroshi (Sharp Nine)
- Enrico Pieranunzi: Fellini Jazz (CAM Jazz)
- Dominic Duval/Joe McPhee: Rules of Engagement, Vol. 2 (Drimala)
- Afonso Pais: Terranova (Clean Feed)
- Vardan Ovsepian: Akunc (Fresh Sound NT)
- The Johnny Varro Trio: Pure Imagination (Arbors)
- Per Henrik Wallin Trio: The Stockholm Tapes (1975-77, Ayler)
- Richie Hart: Blues in the Alley (Zoho)
- Sangha Quartet: Fear of Roaming (Fresh Sound NT)
- Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: Mean Ameen (Delmark)
- Mike Holober and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra: Thought Trains (Sons of Sound)
- Monk Hughes & the Outer Realm: A Tribute to Brother Weldon (Stones Throw)
- Frank Wright: Uhuru Na Umoja (1970, Free America/Verve)
- Miles Davis: Miles Davis in Europe (1963, Columbia/Legacy)
- Art Ensemble of Chicago: AEC With Fontella Bass (1970, Free America/Verve)
- Introducing the Javier Vercher Trio (Fresh Sound NT)
- Pedro Madaleno: The Sound of Places (Clean Feed)
- Buyu Ambroise: Blues in Red (Justin Time)
- René Marie: Serene Renegade (MaxJazz)
- John Heward Trio: Let Them Pass (Laissez-Passer) (Drimala)
- Myra Melford/The Tent: Where the Two Worlds Touch (Arabesque)
- Paul McCandless: Shape Shifter (Synergy Music)
- Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts: Wake Up! (To What's Happening) (Palmetto)
- Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble: Musik (Enja)
- William Ash Trio: The Phoenix (Smalls)
- Wynton Marsalis: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Blue Note)
- Maurice Brown: Hip to Bop (Brown)
- Nanette Natal: It's Only a Tune (Benyo Music)
- Paul Brody: Beyond Babylon (Tzadik)
- Atomic/School Days: Nuclear Assembly Hall (Okka Disk, 2CD)
- Juhani Aaltonen and Henrik Otto Donner With the Avanti Chamber Orchestra: Strings Revisited (TUM)
- The Contemporary Jazz Quintet: Actions (1966-67, Atavistic)
- Roswell Rudd (1965, Free America/Verve)
- Anthony Braxton: Saxophone Improvisations Series F (1972, Free America/Verve, 2CD)
- Ike Quebec: Heavy Soul (1961, Blue Note)
- Martin Sasse Trio: Close Encounter (Nagel Heyer)
- Gui Mallon: Live at Montreux (Adventure Music)
- Clifford Thornton: The Panther and the Lash (1970, Free America/Verve)
- Paul Bley: Improvisie (1971, Free America/Verve)
- Hank Mobley: High Voltage (1967, Blue Note)
- Sasha Dobson: The Darkling Thrush (Smalls)
- Mushroom: Glazed Popems (Black Beauty)
- Mario Schiano: On the Waiting List (1973, Atavistic)
- Kenneth Rexroth/Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poetry Readings in the Cellar (1957, Fantasy)
- Lee Konitz/Alan Broadbent: More Live-Lee (Milestone)
- Ned Goold Trio: The Flows (Smalls)
- Jerome Sabbagh: North (Fresh Sound)
- Denys Baptiste: Let Freedom Ring! (Dune)
- Negroni's Trio: Piano/Drums/Bass (Universal Latino)
- Active Ingredients: Titration (Delmark)
- Judi Silvano: Let Yourself Go (Zoho)
- Alexis Cuadrado Sextet: Visual (Fresh Sound)
- Martin Taylor: The Valley (The Guitar Label)
- Keith Jarrett: Radiance (ECM, 2CD)
- Charles Lloyd: Jumping the Creek (ECM)
- The Randy Sandke Quartet: Trumpet After Dark (Evening Star)
- Dave's True Story: Nature (BePop)
- Fred Frith: Eleventh Hour (Winter & Winter)
- Mozayik: Haitian Creole Jazz (Zoho)
- Fast 'N' Bulbous: Pork Chop Blue Around the Rind (Cuneiform)
- Keiko Matsui: Walls of Akendora (Narada Jazz)
- Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up (Nonesuch)
- Enrico Pieranunzi: Special Encounter (CAM Jazz)
- Bill Cole/William Parker: Two Masters: Live at the Prism (Boxholder)
- The Jim Seeley/Arturo O'Farrill Quintet (Zoho)
- Dave Douglas: Mountain Passages (Greenleaf Music/Koch)
- String Zone: Mystery Bag (Nagel Heyer)
- Zach Brock and the Coffee Achievers: Chemistry (Secret Fort)
- Lea Delaria: Double Standards (Telarc)
- Vinkeloe/Cremaschi/Masaoka/Robair: Klang. Farbe. Melodie. (482 Music)
- Stefano Di Battista: Parker's Mood (Blue Note)
- Salvatore Bonafede: Journey to Donnafugata (CAM Jazz)
- SF Jazz Collective (Nonesuch)
- Randy Johnston: Is It You? (HighNote)
- Joe Williams: Havin' a Good Time (1965, Hyena)
- Kurt Rosenwinkel: Deep Song (Verve)
- The Fred Hess Quartet: The Long and Short of It (Tapestry)
- Dick Hyman and Tom Pletcher: If Bix Played Gershwin (Arbors)
- David Weiss: The Mirror (Fresh Sound)
- Scott Hamilton & Harry Allen: Heavy Juice (Concord)
- Tardo Hammer: Tardo's Tempo (Sharp Nine)
- Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez: Italuba (Pimienta)
- Rashied Ali/Arthur Rhames: The Dynamic Duo (1981, Ayler, 2CD)
- Michael Musillami Octet: Spirits (Playscape)
- Emergency: Homage to Peace (1970, Free America/Verve)
- Joey DeFrancesco With Jimmy Smith: Legacy (Concord)
- Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Band: The Mystic Trumpeter (Evening Star)
- Billy Jenkins With the Blues Collective: S.A.D. (Babel)
- Simone Kopmajer: Romance (Zoho)
- Hanna Richardson and Phil Flanigan: Simply . . . With Spirit! (Arbors)
- Maneri/Phillips/Maneri: Angles of Repose (ECM)
- Dr. John: The Best of the Parlophone Years (1998-2004, Blue Note)
- Onaje Allan Gumbs: Remember Their Innocence (Ejano Music)
- Erin Bode: Don't Take Your Time (MaxJazz)
- Rick Parker Collective: New York Gravity (Fresh Sound)
- Harris Eisenstadt Quintet: Jalolu (CIMP)
- Kahil El'Zabar & David Murray: We Is: Live at the Bop Shop (Delmark)
- Satoko Fujii: Sketches (NatSat)
- Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: Images (Okka Disk)
- Ilmiliekki Quartet: March of the Alpha Males (TUM)
- Kalaparush & the Light: Morning Song (Delmark)
- Steve Nelson: Fuller Nelson (1998, Sunnyside)
- Ella Fitzgerald: Sings the Jerome Kern Songbook (1963, Verve)
- Maksim: The Piano Player (MBO/EMI)
- Tommy Newsom and His Octo-Pussycats (Arbors)
- Suhkan Uhka: Suhka (TUM)
- Steve Swell/Perry Robinson: Invisible Cities (Drimala)
- Ullmann/Dahlgren/Herbert: BassX3 (Drimala)
- Avery Sharpe Trio: Dragon Fly (JKNM)
It would take three columns to work off these two backlog lists, and
there are many more unrated records in the queue. And of course many more
records are coming down the pike. I'm trying to capture as much of this
information as I can. But in many cases I'm running into a time squeeze
as well as a space squeeze. I try not to make snap judgments, which are
more likely to reflect prejudices than considered views, but many times
the good records that sneak up on you lose out because they don't get
the chance. That's one of the inevitable pitfalls in tryin to cast a
wide net. (Another is that no net is ever wide enough.)
Within the next week or so I'll go back through these lists and flush
out about half of the titles, moving the notes to the notebook. Progress
on sucking the notes out of the notebook, cleaning them up, and posting
them on Terminal Zone is so slow it hardly deserves mentioning, but I
still expect that much of this will wind up there eventually. I'm also
toying with the idea of doing a "Jazz CG Notebook" column where I can
note some of the more interesting bits of the overflow.
At the moment, I'm closing out July's Recycled Goods column. The
has a whole section on Atavistic's Unheard Music Series, which also
figures in this Jazz CG (Dudek, Wallin, Berlin Djungle, Sun Ra).
The July column will include a complete rundown of Verve's Free America
series, as well as the Peacock and Chase comps, plus much more.
I recently got a letter from a reader complaining about how he has
to go back to the pre-'70s period to find good jazz. Actually, there's
a vast amount of good jazz produced these days -- more than the c. 1960
peak, probably a lot more. The idea behind the CG column format is to
help you find good and interesting music without boring you stiff with
a lot of redundant words. I think it's working.
The following are the notes (first drafts) for the records included
in Jazz CG (5).
- Rez Abbasi: Snake Charmer (2005, Earth Sounds).
Bill Milkowski's liner notes touts Abbasi as among "the top ranks
of today's post-Metheny-Scofield-Frisell-Abercrombie-Stern crop of
plectorists." I hear a bit of Abercrombie in his lines and Scofield
in his grooves -- his ability to propel his pieces forward. These
particular pieces cycle between three complementary voices: Gary
Versace's organ, Dave Liebman's soprano sax, and Kiran Ahluwalia's
vocals. Liebman, last heard with Vic Juris (Abassi's polar opposite),
is doubly delightful. I'm not sure that he plays on more than two
cuts, but he nails them. Versace's tends to fill in rather than
pump up the volume. The vocals on the last two cuts are meant for
color, and the last one sets down so smoothly you hardly know you've
- Noël Akchoté: Sonny II: The Music of Sonny Sharrock
(2003 , Winter & Winter).
Sonny Sharrock was born in 1940 in Ossining NY, close in time but far
in distance from the sharecropper photos that accompany this record.
This is but one of many incongruities here. Sharrock's guitar work
was most famous for its wild attack, but Akchoté plays everything
here as miniaturist fragment. But Sharrock himself wasn't a one
trick pony, as proven by the atypically accessible Highlife.
- The Blueprint Project (2004, Creative Nation Music).
The core is a threesome -- Jared Sims on sax, Tyson Rogers on piano, and
Eric Hofbauer on guitar -- who met in 1997 at New England Conservatory
and have now crafted three albums. They write and play in the postbop
idiom du jour, not out but broad enough to incorporate much of what
once was. However, as a trio the mix of piano, sax and guitar doesn't
quite cut it. This time they bulked up with Cecil McBee on bass and
Matt Wilson on drums, and the result is a thoughtful, fullsome piece
- Chris Botti: When I Fall in Love (2004, Columbia).
His image may remind people of Chet Baker, but if he's the new Baker
the original could pass for Fats Navarro. But this album at least
breaks out of the smooth jazz formula: no funk, no groove, no beat.
With Botti's plaintive trumpet backed by string orchestra, the record
can be gorgeous as long as the songs are irresistible, like the title
cut. But he can't salvage tripe like "Cinema Paradiso," and three cuts
with guest vocalists, including his fairy-godfather Sting, just dull
the mood. This was the best selling mostly-instrumental jazz album
in recent memory.
- Brötzmann Clarinet Project: Berlin Djungle (1984 ,
Structurally this is similar to Peter Brötzmann's other big band projects,
ranging from Machine Gun (1968) to the recent Chicago Tentet (Plus)
projects, the main difference the obvious one: six clarinet players instead
of the usual mob of saxophones. The result is also the obvious one: the
use of the softer instrument cuts down on the noise squall. As I've noted
with his later work, Brötzmann is much easier to parse on clarinet than
on saxophone, where he often turns into such a force of nature that one's
only reaction is visceral. The music here is not just gripping -- it is
something that one can get a grip on. In addition to the clarinets, the
band includes a trumpet and two trombones, bass and drums. The brass
must be in there somewhere, but they're not conspicuous. But bassist
William Parker and drummer Tony Oxley make major contributions.
- Brötzmann/Friis Nielsen/Uuskyla: Medicina (2003 ,
With a career that started with Machine Gun, the big bang of European
free jazz, and unfolded through smaller group efforts with titles like
Die Like a Dog, it's tempting to call this Peter Brötzmann's easy
listening album, but it's merely easier. His increasing use of clarinet
and tarogato does take a little wind out of his sails, but even on tenor
sax it's possible to follow his intense yet inventive lines without
feeling the need to take cover. It helps that his is the only horn.
It also helps that drummer Peeter Uuskyla keeps a fascinating dialogue
- Avishai Cohen: At Home (2004 , RazDaz/Sunnyside).
Cohen writes that "the main engine driving this record is a trio," but
he's being too modest. It's the bassist, and engine is the operative
word because Cohen's pieces build around the pulse of his bass. Half
are trios with pianist Sam Barsh and drummer Mark Giuliana; the other
half add horns for color, most notably Yosvany Terry's saxophones.
- Steve Cole: Spin (2005, Narada Jazz).
I wouldn't call this smooth, but it's definitely been processed. Cole
mostly plays tenor sax, but lays in some alto sax, keyboards, and
acoustic guitar as well -- overtracked and interleaved, the harmonics
swamping his individuality. The beat is rock hard, a yoke that doesn't
allow much differentiation -- mostly just the rising yelp of stock
rock sax. It's not bad at first, but wears out its welcome fast.
- Cosmosamatics: Three (2003-03 , Boxholder).
After two albums as a quartet, they've ditched William Parker's bass,
leaving them with two horns and drums. Jay Rosen's drums hold it all
together, alternating between steady pulse and a flair for commentary
that rivals Tony Oxley. The horns provide the salt and pepper. Sonny
Simmons on alto sax is the more conventional improviser, a workhorse.
Michael Marcus on saxello adds a cosmic allure. But both occasionally
switch off, Marcus to the more conventional baritone sax, and Simmons
to the more cosmic oboe-like english horn. The lead cut, "Futura," is
irresistible, with Marcus' saxello dancing over Rosen's groove; the
trailer, "Requiem for Anne Frank," has a fitting Rosen solo. Wanders
a bit in between, especially on "Avant Garde Destruct," which may be
intended for wit.
- Douglas/Sclavis/Lee/Van der Schyff: Bow River Falls
One unusual thing about Douglas is how much of his work is rooted
in European folk traditions -- mostly Slavic (Tiny Bell Trio) and
Jewish (Masada). This evenly balanced collaboration with French
clarinetist Louis Sclavis and the young Canadian cello-drums team
continues in this vein. Sclavis is central, the backbone for pieces
that spring Douglas loose. This compares favorably to the follow-up,
Mountain Passages, where Sclavis is replaced by the extra
hornpower of Michael Moore and Marcus Rojas while the all-Douglas
program is overly complex.
- Dudek/Niebergall/Vesala: Open (1977 , Atavistic).
The records revisited by Atavistic's Unheard Music Series went unheard
for mostly good reasons -- it's nice to have Baby Dodds talking and
Sun Ra lullabyes in print somewhere, but they're not things that you
need to listen to more than once, if that. Old free jazz from Europe
in the '70s fares a bit better, but old Brötzmann and Schlippenbach
are unlikely to convince non-fans, and extreme rarities from Keith
Hazevoet and Mario Schiano will never be more than cult items. But
this one is a find. Dudek pursues Coltrane's ghost on two saxophones,
flute and shenai -- a double-reed oboe from India, like blowing into
a buzzsaw. Bass and drums aren't supporting roles: they add further
dimensions to the music.
- John Ellis: One Foot in the Swamp (2005, Hyena).
A saxphonist with New Orleans on his mind, his gumbo runs the gamut
from blues to funk to a latin/cajun analogue of township jive. Guests
John Scofield and Nicholas Payton add their own spices. Last cut
starts latin, swing cajun, ends like pennywhistle jive.
- FME: Underground (2003 , Okka Disk).
The initials stand for Free Music Ensemble, a nod to the famous FMP
label, but if free suggests falling back on your instinctive wits, for
Ken Vandermark that means blowing with rock roughness and r&b honk.
Especially when the group is built around Nate McBride (Spaceways
Inc., Tripleplay) and Paal Nilssen-Love (School Days).
- The Frank and Joe Show: 33 1/3 (2004, Hyena).
Took me a while, but I'm sold on this. Structurally it needs a fourth
vocal track, but Willie Nelson didn't show up for "Stardust," so they
just played it as a lovely denouement, after the Dave Edmunds-style
attack on Rimsky-Korsakov.
- The Frank and Joe Show: 66 2/3 (2005, Hyena).
Title doesn't mean that it doubles its predecessor; with two guest
vocals instead of three -- Dr. John is the non-repeater -- it's
more like a percentage, i.e., two-thirds.
- John Hagen: Segments (2001-02, Cadence).
Hagen recorded these pieces on two dates, both with Denman Maroney
on piano, but different bass/drums players. The name players made
the first date, Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway, but the guys I
haven't heard of, Shanir Blumenkranz and Todd Capp, make their mark
on the first cut -- especially Blumenkranz, whose bass rings with
authority. Over the course of fifteen pieces -- "the segments are
melodic lines used as places of departure and arrival in twelve of
these improvisations" -- Hagen's abstract lines are played slow and
clear, the interactions clear even if off beat and out of sync.
Maybe the future of free jazz is slow?
- Scott Hamilton: Back in New York (2004 , Concord).
He's looking older on the cover -- face thin, short gray hair around a
somewhat receding hairline. He's barely past 50, younger than I am, so
it's tempting to assert that all those years in service of an older
generation's music has made him prematurely old. Nonetheless, he sounds
fabulous: I'd have to go back quite a ways (maybe to 1993's East of
the Sun) to find another of his albums that sounds so effortlessly
in control. He's resettled in London, the absence no doubt making the
homecoming dearer. But his visit also brought out the finest supporting
musicians he's ever worked with: the impeccable Bill Charlap on piano,
and the Washingtons on bass and drums.
- Fred Hess Quartet: Crossed Paths (2005, Tapestry).
Hess is a veteran avant-garde tenor saxophonist based well off the
beaten path in Colorado. In his tone and dynamics he reminds me of
Von Freeman -- sort of high and scratchy, maybe even a bit wheezy.
But surprisingly for a regional player he's working with top notch
national players: drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Ken Filiano can
play anywhere they want, with anyone they choose. Trumpeter Ron
Miles is another important player. Dedicated to Steve Lacy, of
whom nothing here is particularly apropos, other than the desire
to create new music.
- Tony Malaby: Adobe (2004, Sunnyside).
I've noticed Malaby on a half-dozen or more albums in the last year,
always a bright spot, often the MVP. But this sax-bass-drums trio
is the place to focus on him.
- Raphé Malik: Last Set: Live at the 1369 Jazz Club
(1984 , Boxholder).
Historically this is interesting as Malik's only available recording
between 1979, when he left Cecil Taylor's group, and his renewed
work in the '90s. Also because he shares the spotlight with Frank
Wright, an important but rarely-heard tenor saxophonist from the
avant-'60s. Also because this is one of the earliest recordings
where bassist William Parker really flashes his stuff. But history
be damned: this is a rare case where the avant-garde gets down and
dirty. So much fun that Wright took to singing. So much fun you
won't mind that he's no good.
- Raphe Malik, Joe McPhee, Donald Robinson: Sympathy
(2002 , Boxholder).
Joe McPhee is the better known name, but this is Raphe Malik's record:
he wrote the songs, dedicated the album to his late mother, and plays
his ass off on trumpet. McPhee accompanies on soprano sax and doubles
the brassiness when he switches to pocket trumpet. Donald Robinson's
drums keep it stable. This runs long at 75:27, but never gets tired
- Willie Nelson: Nagadoches (1997 , Pedernales).
I've heard stories of Picasso paying for lavish dinners by doodling
on a napkin. Nelson has sung for the IRS, and now he's dusted off a
1997 tape where he sings songs like "How High the Moon" and "Walkin'
My Baby Back Home" and palmed it off to the Texas Roadhouse restaurant
chain as a jazz album. Not since Picasso has art looked easier or
laziness more inspired.
- Jeff Parker: The Relatives (2004 , Thrill Jockey).
I've been sitting on the fence on this one. Parker is a marvelous
guitarist, often adding a sweet filling to underground Chicago affairs
(including various Chicago Underground configurations), and sometimes
(as in his collaboration with Scott Fields) dabbling in Derek Bailey
abstractions (probably more Fields' fault). This is a quartet with
Sam Barsheshet on Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano; Chris
Lopes on various basses, C flute and percussion, and Chad Taylor on
drums/percussion. Taylor writes a piece, Lopes three, Parker three
(including a co-credit), and there's a Marvin Gaye cover, so this may
taken as a group effort rather than an auteurist project. It sounds
to me like Parker's trying to work out a framework where everything
reinforces the chime sound of the electric guitar. This gives it a
rather narrow focus, making it seem like less of an accomplishment
than it probably is. The sameyness of the harmonics, the consistency
of the groove, the lack of any real sharpness to the guitar -- all
those things make me doubt that this is a major album, but it isn't
like much of anything else. Hence the uncertainty.
- William Parker: Luc's Lantern (2005, Thirsty Ear).
Parker's most notable previous experience with piano trios was in the
late '80s when he provided the steady hand that anchored the Feel Trio,
while Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley made mayhem. That, of course, was
Taylor's trio. Parker's played on a vast number of albums, but piano
trios haven't been all that common, and since he started writing more
in the mid-'90s he's usually led groups with horns, in a couple of
cases with singers, and rather spectacularly his Violin Trio with
Billy Bang. Indeed, few bass players have led piano trios -- most
famously, Ray Brown in his later years. When they do they tend to
turn the bass up a bit, which Parker does here, not that you could
ever miss him. The pianist is Eri Yamamoto; the drummer Michael
Thompson. As opposed to a more expected pairing, say Matthew Shipp
and Hamid Drake, these two do what they are told, but they fit into
the framework nicely.
- William Parker Quartet: Sound Unity (2004 ,
This is what's often referred to as a piano-less quartet: sax and trumpet
up front, bass and drums in back, no piano to comp behind the horn solos.
The classic example is the Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Quartet, but they
pop up every now and then. The framework requires two horn players who
can take off in complementary or contrasting directions, and gives them
a lot of freedom to do so. Rob Brown and Lewis Barnes do just that, but
this piano-less quartet is weighted to the rear, where William Parker
and Hamid Drake are peerless. It's tempting to concentrate on them: how
they can set up a simple pulse that remains taut as a trampoline for
the horns, how they can shift time under a solo and skew it even when
the horn remains straight. They've done this before, on O'Neal's
Porch in 2000. This one is less adventurous, not quite as aggressive
when it swings outside. In particular, there's more open space where
the horns lay out.
- Michiel Scheen Quartet: Dance, My Dear? (2003 ,
A quartet with a lot of sharp angles, starting perhaps with drummer
Han Bennink and bassist Ernst Glerum, veterans of just about any Dutch
avant-configuration you can name. Scheen is a pianist who likes sharply
percussive chords -- reminds me a bit of Misha Mengelberg and Fred Van
Hove, although that may be unfair Dutch type-casting. The fourth hand
is played by Ab Baars, on tenor sax and clarinet.
- Steve Shapiro and Pat Bergeson: Low Standards
(2005, Sons of Sound).
Shapiro's vibes and Bergeson's guitar make a fine lounge act, but
on their own that's all they would be. But Annie Sellick has the
most pleasing standards voice I've heard in a long time, and she
alternates with Scott Kreitzer, who does his vocalizing through a
- Ricardo Silveira/Luiz Avellar: Live: Play the Music of Milton
Nascimento (2004, Adventure Music).
Freed of Nascimento's baritone, stripped down to guitar (Silveira) and
piano (Avellar) plus a little extra percussion (special guest Robertinho
Silva), this songs take on a new and refreshing urgency.
- Tommy Smith & Brian Kellock: Symbiosis (2004,
Standards like "Cherokee," "Moonlight in Vermont," "Honeysuckle Rose,"
"You Must Believe in Spring" -- just Kellock's piano and Smith's tenor
sax. Smith is really superb, and Kellock's as good as he needs to be.
- Sonore: No One Ever Works Alone (2003 , Okka Disk).
First point: this ain't no saxophone choir. The idea here isn't harmony.
This is just three major avant-garde reed players meeting more or less as
equals -- not that I don't suspect that the senior one, Peter Brötzmann,
isn't a bit more equal than the others: Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson.
Each brought a full arsenal of reed instruments: Vandermark and Brötzmann
have clarinets, Brötzmann his tarogato, all have tenor saxes, one alto,
two baritones, Brötzmann the bass sax. They definitely like the lower
registers, and I suspect that Gustafsson spent most of this session on
baritone. You can guess the noise level these three are capable of. I'm
thankful for the few quiet minutes, when it's possible to separate the
lines of thought out and weave them into conversations. Same basic idea
works when they get loud too. I found this appalling at first, and don't
advise playing it for dinner guests. Rather, I find it personal, almost
meditative. Especially when they ease into a hymn, one they call "Blessed
Assurance, Uninsured." Other titles include "Elements of Refusal," "Broken
Hymn," "Death Can Only Kill Me Once." The album title comes from Kenneth
Patchen. The graphic design by Brötzmann is striking.
- Sun Ra: Spaceship Lullaby (1954-60 , Atavistic).
Previously unreleased home-recorded rehearsal tapes of Sun Ra playing
piano behind doo-wop groups (the Nu Sounds, the Lintels, and the Cosmic
Rays). A few cuts near the end are helped out by Arkestra members, and
others benefit from Robert Barry's drums. The vocal groups are, well,
awful. It would be tempting to say that they are to the Mills Brothers
what Sun Ra's Arkestra was to Count Basie, but the Arkestra's skillset
was actually comparable to Basie's bunch -- just working in a different
universe. These vocalists would have trouble cracking the local barber
shop quartet. Absolutely the last place in Sun Ra's catalog to start
at, but weird enough that devotees might dig it anyway. After all,
Sun Ra selects for weird.
- Gian Tornatore: Sink or Swim (2003 , Fresh Sound).
This takes a while to find its groove, but by the time he gets to
"Three's a Crowd" you start to wonder whether you're listening to
outtakes from *Crescent* (that's one of Coltrane's greatest albums).
The early going is darker and slower; I'll have to listen more
closely to see whether it's the Chopin piece that kicks him free,
although right now I suspect it's Zach Wallmark's bass. He switches
off to soprano sax for a cut; everyone does that these days, ever
- Per Henrik Wallin/Johnny Dyani/Erik Dahlbäck: Burning in
Stockholm (1981 , Atavistic Unheard Music).
John Corbett's "Unheard Music Series" has brought dozens of deeply
buried, mostly forgotten bits and pieces of avant-garde arcana back
to the modern world. While many were interesting, one has to admit
that most went unheard because of their extreme marginality. This
session, with Johnny Dyani substituting for Wallin's usual bassist
Torbjörn Hultcrantz, is a rare exception. For one thing, Wallin's
piano rocks, setting up huge rolling cycles of rhythm, much like
Keith Jarrett does with Köln Concert, but tougher. Moreover,
bass and drums are constantly engaged -- the sort of continuously
creative interaction that's supposed to be the hallmark of creative
music, but is rarely worth caring about.
- Bobby Watson & Horizon: Horizon Reassembled (2004,
Watson has used the Horizon moniker as far back as Post-Motown Bop
in 1980, but not since 1993's Midwest Shuffle. The lineups have
changed frequently, but drummer Victor Lewis has been a key collaborator
since 1988. This particular reassembly matches the 1991-93 lineup, with
Terrell Stafford (trumpet, flugelhorn), Edward Simon (piano), and Essiet
Essiet (bass). If that sounds like Victor Lewis & the Jazz Messengers,
you're on the right track. Watson cut his eye teeth in Art Blakey's band,
and if the drum chair hadn't been filled you could bet on Lewis getting
his turn. Still, Watson earns his top billing. He gets a beautiful tone
here, and is one of the most lyrical saxophonists working today. It's
just hard bop, a little fancy for my taste, but the whole band works
on a very high order.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Music: Current count 10744  rated (+26), 909  unrated (-14).
Unrateds don't include some unpacking, which will probably wipe out the
drop. Working on July Recycled Goods.
- African Underground Vol. 1: Hip-Hop Senegal (2001-03
, Nomadic Wax). Benny Herson, who created this "Soundbombing
of Senegal" tape following up a thesis he wrote at Hampshire College,
contrasts the social conscience and political activism of Senegalese
hip-hoppers to the crass materialism of their apolitical American
counterparts. Still, Herson's liner notes are more explicit than
I can gather from the raps -- the ones in English and French anyway
(Wolof just sounds like Wolof to me). But what I do hear is a slightly
Africanized funk supporting the rappers, not much different than you
can find anywhere else -- although Senegal may be more saturated than
most places. It's the point in Africa closest to America, and has in
the past been the first part of Africa to cycle Afro-American musics
back -- salsa is one notable example. A-
- Jeff Black: Tin Lily (2005, Dualtone). Singer-songwriter
from Missouri; resume includes credits with Iris DeMent and Sam Bush,
opening act for John Prine and Maria McKee. AMG lists him as folk, but
he's more like John Hiatt, only without the weird voice or the weirder
sense of humor. Plays guitar and piano, but so do other people on the
album. Kate Campbell adds some backing vocals. Clearly, people with
smarts and good taste like him. I'm at least moderately impressed, but
doubt that I'll invest the time to figure out if he's more than a
thoughtful songwriter with a sense of structure. But he's certainly
that much. B+
- Cuadernos de Mexico (2004, Winter & Winter, 3CD).
A musical travelogue, not to cut-rate Mexico of NAFTA but to
the ancient seat of western civilization, whose modern lineage
flows through Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, artists in a vital
culture all too aware of its precarious location -- as one leader
put it, "so far from God, so close to the United States"; far
richer than a similar snapshot of Cuba, but limited by the lack
of time that tourists inevitably have to explore.
- Interpol: Turn On the Bright Lights (2002, Matador).
The guitar drone is utterly unremarkable -- comparisons to Joy Division
miss the latter's melodies, and comparisons to the Strokes miss the
latter's harmonies. One of those harsh, dull voices too. Lyrics are
unremarkable too, although how much so is a study I don't expect to
get around to. C+
- The Best of Gladys Knight & the Pips (1980-85
, Columbia/Legacy). Discographical info: had her first hit in
1961 ("Every Beat of My Heart"); Motown (1965-73), Buddah (1973-79),
Columbia (1979-85), MCA (1988-2000). Knight had recorded a solo album
for Columbia in 1979 while the Pips were recording two of their own
for Casablanca, but they reunited for 1980's About Love, which
is where this starts. So this is late, well past their best known
work. Starts off warmed-over disco, evolves into nondescript pop.
- Konono No. 1: Lubuaku (2003 , Terp).
Soukous from Kinshasa, but with the usual slick guitars replaced
by electrified likembes, a thumb-piano which at first sounds like
dissonant steel pans, and the usual slick vocalists supplanted by
intense shout choirs. The sound is so dirty that you suspect a new
concept in lo-fi, or a devolution back to the jungle. Sponsored
by the Ex -- roughly speaking, Holland's answer to the Mekons --
who arranged a tour and opened. They advise playing it loud, where
the energy overwhelms the noise. A-
- Joni Mitchell: Turbulent Indigo (1994, Reprise). "Sex
Kills" is a gloomy lyric, less convincing not to mention less hopeful
than the one the Roches sang about sex being the life force. But it's
also a button-down prime example of her, uh, mature skill at framing
a melody. When it's this neat I'm quite fond of that framework. The
even preacher "How Do You Stop" loses its potential power to a chorus
that doesn't have the good sense to argue with her. "Last Chance Lost"
is more formally a downer. I rather like the overall feel of the music,
but its lack of differentiation doesn't offer much traction. B
- Joni Mitchell: Taming the Tiger (1998, Reprise).
Her paintings on her albums have become so formalized that she shows
them framed. The music is formalized as well, the lyrics studded with
clever turns of phrase that don't add up to much. One upbeat song,
"Lead Balloon," was flagged as a Pick Hit by Christgau, but it's
not all that great. The tiger song isn't all that prophetic either.
And while the guitar at the end is nice enough, it doesn't add up
to much. B-
- The Only Blip Hop Record You Will Ever Need, Vol. 1
(1996-2002 , Luaka Bop). "Vol. 1" sounds like a hedge, but with
no Vol. 2 appearing maybe they're satisfied. These are minimal pieces,
herky-jerk beats but little adorned, providing a nice, rather neutral
- Primal Scream: Vanishing Point (1997, Reprise).
One of those groups I've heard of but had never heard. English art
school progressivism, with scattered electronics like Pink Floyd
or King Crimson, synth beats like Depeche Mode or Cabaret Voltaire,
brit-pop like Blur or Oasis, and a dash of industrial, but songs
like "Medication" and "Motorhead" rock harder than any obvious
referents, though not the Fall or Motorhead. Actually, this is no
less distinctive than any of the bands I've listed, but one has
to start somewhere. B+
- The Rough Guide to Cajun Dance (, World Music
Network). It's all dance music, but even if the point is to run with
the fast ones -- always a safe bet -- it's worth noting that two slow
ones vary the pace and add a note of soulfulness. Probably wouldn't
be hard to track down the dates on these non-rarities, mostly licensed
from the usual sources: Rounder, Arhoolie, and Swallow.
- Shrimp Boat: Speckly (1989 , Aum Fidelity).
The banjo has roots in Earl Scruggs, the soprano sax in John Coltrane,
the songs both countryish and jazzy but mostly built in a DIY garage
from junk they found in the pop-art dumpster. As their first real
album, this is both tighter and less fanciful than their Something
Grand trivia box, which seems closer to their lack of aspirations.
- Frank Strozier: Cool, Calm and Collected (1960
, Vee-Jay). Alto saxophonist working briskly in an expansive
post-bop mode. Billy Wallace plays piano. Don't recognize the bass
and drums. B+
- Wilco: A Ghost Is Born (2004, Nonesuch). Jeff
Tweedy is talented enough that his softish, straightforward songs
play gracefully. But his electronics drone piece is more than a
little annoying, and seems tacked on rather than part of whatever
his aesthetic is these days. This polled well in P&J where
the previous one won outright. Indications are that his fans cut
him slack, but his doubters didn't. I'm not much of either. B
Saturday, June 25, 2005
Karl Rove has managed to make the Democrats look foolish again.
All he had to do was to make a Big Lie speech, where he said:
"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared
for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted
to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our
attackers." The facts were that the Democrats were second to no one
in their 9/11 bloodthirst. (I was in New York at the time, and had
to cringe every time Hillary Clinton or Charles Schumer came on the
tube.) Ever since Rove's speech offended Democrats have clamored to
set the record straight: they were, after all, second to no one in
the hunt for Osama Bin Laden's head. (And, by the way, just where
is that missing head?)
The problem with that response is that it just reminds us how wrong
the Democrats were -- in particular, how their all-but-unanimous votes
for the Afghanistan war resolution and the PATRIOT ACT gave Bush a
blank check that rode all the way to Baghdad. The tragic idea that
the proper response to 9/11 was war was vouchsafed by the lack of any
serious opposition among the Democratic political class. This was bad
thinking both as analysis and as program. The main analytic failures
were: not isolating and limiting the impulse toward revenge; accepting
the war metaphor even though their was no conventional enemy; refusing
to consider how past American policies contributed to the motivations
of the attackers. The programmatic failure was in not anticipating how
the Bush administration would take advantage of their submission. The
Republicans, after all, didn't merely prepare for war after 9/11 --
they prepared for missile defense systems, for drilling oil in Alaska,
for tort reform, for tax breaks for the rich and giveaways to their
corporate sponsors, and most of all for reëlection in 2004. Democrats
gave them all that because the Democrats didn't have a clue what they
wanted or what they were risking -- they just reacted to events, much
as now they're reacting to pseudo-events like Rove's speech.
Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Richard Durbin was bullied into
making a tearful apology for a comment he made about America's
treatment of detainees in Guatanamo. The original quote was: "If
I read this [report on Guantanamo] to you and did not tell you
that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to
prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this
must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad
regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings.
Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the
treatment of their prisoners." There is a problem with this quote,
but it's not the association of the U.S. with reviled regimes of
the past -- it's that this quote suggests that Durbin wasn't aware
of what the CIA and the School for the Americas have been doing
for decades now. There should be no surprises here: give government
the power to abduct and detain anyone it sees as an enemy, with no
oversight and no legal recourse, that that government will tend to
act like any other unaccountable dictatorship you care to mention --
even the unmentionables.
The media loves these he said/he said controversies, most likely
because they're so easy to cover. But the Democrats invariably lose
out because they don't have an echo chamber like the right does.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Book: Aaron Glantz, How America Lost Iraq (Jeremy P.
There must be dozens of ways to write this book. Glantz is a radio
journalist for Pacifica, so his particular tactic was to interview
a variety of Iraqis, gauging their reactions to the U.S. invasion
and occupation of Iraq. Glantz made his way to Baghdad shortly after
the official war ended, and has been in and out of Iraq, including
a couple of trips through Kurdistan, from then until things got too
hot in the summer of 2004. By then he had seen enough. His early
interviews tended to dwell on Saddam Hussein's crimes, reflecting
popular gratitude for deposing the tyrant. But over the year the
U.S. managed to wear out its welcome, with the sieges of Fallujah
and Najaf and the Abu Ghraib torture revelations capping the story,
but the lack of electricity, clean water, the gas lines, the lack
of security and the inability of most Iraqis to see reconstruction
progress are the constant backdrops.
This isn't a very sophisticated analysis, but its one dimension
is fundamental. I suspect that the "gratitude" was always meant to
flatter the invaders, but Glantz takes it at face value and sticks
to the surface. The book also doesn't cover much ground. For the
most part, Glantz was sequestered in Baghdad, finding it hard to
get out or even get around. In many cases, when news beaks out in
other towns we find him interviewing Sunnis or Shia in Baghdad to
get their reactions. I don't think he ever made it as far as Mosul
or Basra, but he did get into Fallujah before and after the siege,
and got close to Najaf on one occasion -- coming back with a hoary
story of Sadrist sheiks executed by Americans in Hilla. Still, his
immobililty is itself proof of how far we've lost touch with the
realities in Iraq, and how far anyone is from bridging them.
Where the title misleads is the word "how" -- that America lost
is clear from the public opinion shifts, especially those who were
initially favorable to the US. But most of America's missteps noted
in the book weren't likely to have been deliberate policies -- the
lack of security, the inability to reconstruct the electric grid,
the callous recreation of Saddam's Abu Graib torture chambers. The
real story of how all that happened remains to be told, and it's
going to take a lot of digging to get down to the real dirt. But
Glantz's conclusion -- not just that America lost but that its
continuing presence in Iraq only makes matters worse for almost
all Iraqis -- is amply supported.
Tom Engelhardt just came out with a
the withdrawal debate. In it he cites a list of "paralyzing fantasies"
that are commonly offered as excuses why the U.S. cannot pick up and
- "A civil war in Iraq resulting in far greater bloodshed than the
current conflict, though presumably without further U.S. losses.
- "The transformation of western Iraq, which is dominated by Sunni
Muslims, into a haven for international terrorists from al-Qaida and
- "A collapse of U.S. credibility among nations of the Middle East,
whose leaders would probably distance themselves from Washington.
- "A collapse of the Bush administration's push for democracy in the
- "Instability in the Persian Gulf that could lead to steep
increases in oil prices, driving the cost of gasoline beyond current
The problem with these future calamities is that they've already
occurred, and the reason they've occurred is the Bush invasion and
occupation of Iraq. Moreover, they seem to be gaining ground steadily,
and nothing the U.S. does offers any promise to turn this juggernaut
around. The main problem the U.S. faces is that the resistance has
achieved enough popular momentum that the fight will continue at
least until the core demand of the resistance is achieved: that the
U.S. exit and leave Iraq in Iraqi hands. Once the U.S. leaves, maybe
the resistance will fight on in a civil war, or maybe the resistance
will make some sort of truce with Iraq's other factions. But until
the U.S. leaves it is the one faction in Iraq that will continue to
motivate the resistance. If you like Vietnam analogies, one that's
easy to grasp is that had we not pulled out of Vietnam in the '70s
we'd still be fighting there today. Sure, it's hard to imagine what
the country would have looked like after another 30 years of war,
but after 35 years of fighting the Japanese, the French, and the
Americans, is there any reason to think that the Vietnamese were
going to give up if we'd just been a little tougher?
The most key mistake that the U.S. made was in not welcoming all
Iraqis into an open tent based on guaranteed human and civil rights
to all. Democracy as we know it has less to do with majority rule
than with limitating government's ability to oppress minorities and
individuals. Iraq was a powder keg of resentments and injustices
which the U.S. did nothing to defuse and much to ignite. The U.S.
was never in a good position to do right by Iraq: in part because
the U.S. had done so much in the past to pick at and take advantage
of internal divisions, in part because the U.S. has shown no real
interest in justice, peace or democracy anywhere in the Middle East
(most clearly in Palestine/Israel). But America had worse problems
in Iraq than a bad track record -- it had George W. Bush, who has
no scruples about scamming a political system for ideological and
personal gain. Bush gambled big in Iraq. He wanted war because he
was drunk with American military might, and he has responded to
every failure in the only way befitting that might, by escalating
the war. Now if he backs down he loses all that he fought for: the
myth of American invincibility. On the other hand, that's just one
more paralyzing fantasy. We're stuck with one more painful instance
of Bush's inability to learn from his mistakes, because he's unable
to admit them.
It's easy to go back and see other paths that could have been
taken viz. Iraq, but each day that passes makes it all the harder
to get back to them. Juan Cole has a scheme for handing the mess
over the the U.N., conveniently ignoring the fact that the U.N.'s
stock in Iraq has done been poisoned, and that the U.N. itself is
really not a peacekeeping (let alone peacemaking) organization.
But Cole's biggest problem is, as it's always been, that he feels
that Iraq is a problem for the world to solve -- first by getting
rid of Saddam Hussein, now by getting rid of the U.S. occupation.
I think it's much more the case that Iraq is a problem that the
world has created, especially through the endless interference of
foreign powers with their own agendas. It's critically important
that we learn to let Iraq be -- to let Iraqis sort out their own
problems, free of foreign interest or intrigue. This may lead to
a bloodbath or to a set of reasonable compromises -- we can't
choose which, although we can choose (as we have) to implement
the bloodbath option.
I have my own hypothetical plan for a sensible U.S. withdrawal:
Back off to neighboring bases (mostly in Kuwait) while issuing a
threat to destroy any militia that tries to advance from its natural
base, and also a threat against any neighboring country that tries
to interfere in Iraq, e.g. by supporting any faction. This limits
the U.S. role to the only thing we're competent at -- blowing things
up -- but it also means that the U.S. can take no sides. The idea
here is that if no faction in Iraq can win, the best option for them
is to negotiate a shared state. Once they do that, they can invite
in the U.N. (or anyone else) in a non-threatening role to help out.
And if they don't sort their differences out, they'll just have a
failed warlord state (like Afghanistan).
Of course, my idea is fantasy too. Bush wouldn't do anything
like this because he's still drunk on America's military might.
He doesn't learn from his mistakes because he refuses to acknowledge
them. Or perhaps because he's so narrowly concerned with his own
political machine and so blasé about everyone else's tragedies that
he doesn't recognize them as anything more than minor annoyances --
like awkward questions at a press conference. Nor is he alone in
these delusions. I caught a few minutes of Fox News the other night
when Mort Kondracke declared that "we" had won in Iraq. The absurd
idea that the neocons are working in tandem with Osama Bin Laden
is liable to wind up passing Occam's Razor.
Monday, June 20, 2005
I've spent much of the last week here writing about Israel with
occasional breaks for short notes about avant-garde jazz. So I haven't
been paying a lot of attention to day-to-day news, but yesterday the
air conditioner bit the dust, so right now I'm trying not to overheat.
Some news I recall noticing lately:
The Onex purchase of Boeing's commercial aircraft plant in
Wichita is final now. The Eagle published a nice timeline from rumor
to completion. I plan on copying that down and annotating it a bit,
so will hold my tongue for now. Looks like my brother may have a job
elsewhere -- will be a step back, but not necessarily as bad as the
workers who weren't laid off have been hit.
Michael Jackson was acquitted of whatever he was charged with.
I know nothing about the charges or the case, and don't care to learn
anything. My interest is that I expect him to make better records out
of jail than he would in jail. I've never been a big fan, but his
latest one, Invincible, was pretty good, and his '80s albums
peaked as high as anyone's. I've finally gotten past blaming him for
MTV, and the stink of money he accrued back in the '80s has mostly
faded. Not that it didn't help him with the trial.
The Terri Schiavo autopsy confirmed what seemed most likely
beforehand: that she was cognizant of nothing and had no prospects
of ever recovering.
The most commented on "news" story of the last two weeks seems
to have been the free-for-all attacks on Howard Dean. This is perfect
for the media these days, as all it involves is collecting quotes from
people too willing to talk. The Dean quote was: "You think people can
work all day and then pick up their kids at child care or wherever
and get home and still manage to sandwich in an eight-hour vote? Well
Republicans, I guess can do that. Because a lot of them have never
made an honest living in their lives." First thing to note here is
that anyone who grew up in a labor family wouldn't have had a bit
of trouble parsing that sentence. In the traditional labor use this
doesn't strictly mean that Republican capitalists and their cronies
are crooks nor does it mean that they are lazy -- just that they get
ahead by exploiting the labor of others. That, of course, was a risky
thing for Dean to say. People might think he's calling them crooks,
especially since more than a few are.
Sharon has decided to destroy the housing that Israeli settlers
will be vacating in Gaza. I've seen this characterized as a make-work
program for the Palestinians, who will be paid to cart the rubble off.
I suppose it's fitting that Israel's last official act in Gaza will
be one of senseless destruction.
It seems like the last couple of weeks have marked a severe
change in American reporting about the resistance in Iraq. For a
while there we had been regularly assured that the resistance in
the post-election period had declined notably, but now we find out
that that same resistance has spiked to record levels and have been
like that ever since the election. What has also spiked is talk about
getting the hell out of there -- much of it coming from people who
couldn't conceive of such a thing just a few months ago. Ever since
the invasion there's been a steady stream of good news reports and
bad news warnings. While one was tempted to average them out, the
disturbing pattern was that the "good news" mostly came from flacks
while the "bad news" came from working people on the ground.
Bush's polls have dropped quite a bit in recent weeks. At the
same time people have started talking about impeachment. Personally,
I'd settle for an independent special prosecutor. The Downing Street
Memos and other tidbits about Iraq war planning leave room for a lot
of fleshing out, but that's only one reasonable course of inquiry.
I'd still like to know about the anthrax incidents in 2001 that so
much added to the post-9/11 paranoia and set in place a tangible
fear of Iraq's imaginary WMD.
Congress is cutting funding for public television in the US
while spending ever more for propaganda media in Iraq. Richard Crowson
has a brilliant cartoon in the
today which shows an Army recruiter trying to sign up tots, promising
them Sesame Street when they're sent to Iraq.
Tom Engelhardt has a quote
from Russ Baker about meetings that writer Mickey Herskowitz had with George
W. Bush back in 1999:
"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," said author and
journalist Mickey Herskowitz. "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One
of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a
commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political
capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted
it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much
capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed
that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful
presidency.'" . . . According to Herskowitz, who has authored more than
30 books, many of them jointly written autobiographies of famous
Americans in politics, sports and media (including that of Reagan
adviser Michael Deaver), Bush and his advisers were sold on the idea
that it was difficult for a president to accomplish an electoral
agenda without the record-high approval numbers that accompany
successful if modest wars."
This actually isn't a very original idea. I've read that one of
the arguments that Margaret Thatcher used on George H.W. Bush to
convince him to go to war with Iraq over Kuwait was to point out
how much political favor she had won in the Falklands war. But then
that was a much better definition of "successful if modest" than
either the Gulf War or the current debacle in Iraq. The idea that
a politician would throw a country into war to bolster his polls
is monstrous but not all that far fetched. It's inconceivable that
Bush and his handlers don't have the polling data. They've seen
it work, as when George H.W. Bush's favorable polls surged up to
90% with Gulf War I, and they've seen the risks, as with the same
Bush's re-election loss in 1992.
I don't recall the exact quote, but during the 2004 election
campaign Kevin Phillips made a comment to Bill Moyers, something
to the effect that every President or President's party has lost
in elections following the end of a war associated with the
President. The corrollary to this was that keeping a war going
tends to be worth more politically than ending it. Again, the
former Bush is a prime example, and one close to home. So what
are the chances that this Bush administration, remembering the
political failures of the previous one, and having to face up
to the obvious truth that Gulf War II is far from a success,
decided to exacerbate the war in order to keep Bush positioned
as Commander in Chief (supposedly his strong suit) and to keep
the rest of his atrocious record off center stage? This is the
sort of question nobody raises because it suggests nothing but
monstrous cynicism. Still, it would be blind not to wonder just
how domestic political considerations have warped occupation in
Iraq. After all, the only hearts and minds that really mattered
to Bush in 2004 were the voters he needed for reëlection.
Ray McGovern got a lot of flack recently because he opined
that the reasons Bush invaded Iraq were O-I-L -- an acronym of
Oil, Israel, and Logistics (American bases, all the better to
invade you with). The part he got flack for, of course, was
Israel, but really none of those components explain much. Oil
was certainly on the warmongers' minds, but in a free trade
world it's just a commodity, for sale to whoever wants to buy.
The usual assumption -- that Bush did this for cheaper oil --
was ill-fated if not downright looney. Oil supply was slashed
by the war, so prices rose -- perhaps not a bad result for Bush's
oilmen, but not one to brag about. (By driving the price of crude
oil toward $60/barrel we've more than doubled the value of the
oil companies' privately held reserves -- quite a windfall.)
Israel approved the war, but didn't need it. The main thing
Sharon gets out of it is that it keeps the American people in
an anti-Arab frame of mind, and keeps the Bush administration
too busy to worry about its lame Road Map commitments. Israel
is, however, an indirect cause in one important respect: the
neocons who pushed this war are without exception tremendous
fans of Israel. In particular, they love the way Israel throws
its weight around, with no concern for international niceties.
They want the US to act more like Israel -- to be unashamed of
its power, to pursue self-interest unabashedly. The bases, of
course, are just part of the baggage that goes with globally
domineering power -- hardly a cause in their own right.
Still, all this O-I-L is way too ideological for Bush. The
core competency of the Bush possee is their skill at pushing
buttons -- specifically the ones that drive Americans to the
right. Bush was born and bred to serve the rich, and he learned
well how to sell that program to enough of the not-so-rich that
he could win elections (close enough, anyhow). But aside from a
few kneejerk reactions the only thing he believes in is saying
whatever it takes to keep his juggernaut rolling. It makes much
sense that he should have started and manipulated this war for
reasons of naked political ambition; no other reason makes much
if any sense. Still, the poignant (and pathetic) part of the
Herskowitz quote is about how passing his program would make
him a successful president. The program itself is his biggest
problem: when everything you try to do is wrong the worst thing
that can possibly happen is to get your way. Bush's successes
should eventually be his downfall, as indeed his spendid little
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Music: Current count 10718  rated (+28), 923  unrated (-21).
- DFA Compilation #2 (2004, DFA, 3CD). Three discs
of upbeat electronica, singles and previously unreleased by nine
artists -- the only ones I've heard of are the Rapture and LCD
Soundsystem, but then I don't get into this scene all that often.
A couple of versions of LCD Soundsystem's "Yeah" are highlights,
the beats carrying the day.
- David Murray Quartet: Skahill's II (1993 , DIW).
A follow-up to Shakill's Warior, a 1991 album which also featured
Don Pullen on organ, providing an edgy soul jazz groove for Murray's
powerful improvisations. A-
- The Essential Pete Seeger (1941-64 ,
Columbia/Legacy). He wasn't much of a singer, even less of a banjo
player. His songs were utterly square, with their well-meaning and
principled politics, without a trace of irony or humor, let alone a
beat. He called his music folk in the naive hope that the folk might
bond with it, and he remained steadfast in that belief for over half a
century. Still, these fifteen songs are utterly familiar, even if the
versions -- mostly live, some singalongs -- aren't. They are the true
gospel music of America's red diaper babies. A-
- Subtitle: Young Dangerous Heart (2003-04 ,
Gold Standard Laboratories). Aka Giovanni Marks. Beats are indescript.
Words are worth the listen -- dense, smart, slipped. Guests don't make
much difference, but check Aceyalone and Busdriver for the neighborhood
- Lucky Thompson: I Offer You (1973 , Beast
Retro). There's no information in this package about when this was
recorded, but AMG has an entry for an out-of-print LP by the same
name released by Groove Merchant in 1973. Thompson gave up recording
in 1974, so this may be one of his last records. Thompson plays
soprano and tenor sax. The quartet is filled out by Cedar Walton
on piano and electric piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Louis Hayes
on drums. Thompson sounds great, much as he always does. B+
- Wide Right: Sleeping on the Couch (2005, Poptop).
Straight down the middle rock-n-roll, with a woman singer because
she's tougher than the guys, and has something to say as well. Also
note the Loretta Lynn cover, "The Pill." A-
- World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's a Real Thing
(1972-78 , Luaka Bop). African music often takes decades to
wash up on American shores. The process is so convoluted and arbitrary
that it's impossible to know much about what's really happening in the
mother continent from what little shows up here. But there's some
reason to think that the '70s, a post-independence high before the
worst rot of kleptocracy set in, were something of a golden age of
afropop. These twelve cuts come from a swath of West Africa from
Cameroun to Gambia. Psychedelia seems to be one of those labels in the
deranged minds of beholders -- the two previous volumes featured Os
Mutantes and Shuggie Otis -- but the common thread here seems to be a
cheesy funk deriving as much from American sources like Sly Stone and
the Temptations' own acid trips as native traditions. Ronnie Graham
contributes notes, which help but ultimately the music raises more
questions than it answers.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
Music: Current count 10690  rated (+24), 944  unrated (+5).
Rather quiet week, with most of the new ratings coming from the jazz pile.
Feeling rather listless, not to mention overwhelmed, at this point. Too
early to panic, but don't have a lot of RG backlog for next month yet.
Verve's Free America series is one thing on tap. Thus far the records
have not been great, but I've been cautious in dismissing them.
- Everclear: Songs From an American Movie, Vol. 2: Good Time for
a Bad Attitude (2000, Capitol). Playing this for the first time
five years after the two volumes were released, I wonder how this might
have fared as a standalone release. Compared to Vol. 1, this is
slight songwise, but the harder thrash of the first few songs holds up
just fine. Slows down a bit toward the end, in part to consummate the
- Kevin Mahogany: My Romance (1998, Warner Brothers).
In a very, very, very mellow mood. B+
- The Moody Blues: Days of Future Passed (1967 ,
Deram). Having avoided this group all my life, I thought I should give
them a critical spin, although I dare say I don't plan on spending the
time to nail down just how good or (more likely) bad they really are.
This is a concept album, the concept being a set of pieces chronicling
the cycle of a single day: begins, dawn, morning, lunch break, afternoon,
evening, night. The latter is "Nights in White Satin" -- a song that not
even I managed to totally avoid. More tellingly, the album is symphonic,
with the usual patches of strings and flutes, full horn sections and bits
of triangle, as well as the less usual moogs and moans. The great song
crashes at the first hint of criticism, its framing and filligree not so
much pretentious as absurd, the spoken poetry at the end just icing on
the hollowed out cake. Psychedelia is a peculiarly meaningless term, but
all the more so here. This was a pioneering effort to write lite classical
music and pawn it off on a pop audience. It succeeded comercially if not
artistically, leading to worse bands like Kansas and funnier bands like
Queen. That this was neither is hardly a point in its favor. C-
- The Residents: The Tunes of Two Cities (1982, East Side
Digital). A career based on making funny sounds, which don't necessarily
become funnier when recontextualized in serious music. B-
- Spanish Harlem Orchestra: Across 110th Street (2004,
Libertad). New York salsa band -- big, brassy, badass, but otherwise
hard to distinguish from others I barely know. When I first visited
New York I got a kick out of listening to salsa on the radio and on
boom boxes down on the lower east side (didn't get uptown much), but
I never got the hang of buying records that had the same appeal. Still
Friday, June 10, 2005
Haven't done a news item in a while, so most of this isn't fresh. Most,
in fact, is rotten to the core, but here goes:
The Onex takeover of Boeing's commercial division here in Wichita
continued with the purge of 250 workers from the SPEEA bargaining unit.
(This follows a purge of 800 workers from the IAMAW unit.) Purge is the
correct word here: no consideration was given to seniority and line
managers weren't consulted regarding performance. The decision as to
who was purged was based on some other criteria. My brother, who had
worked at Boeing for 25 years, was among those not given jobs. It is
possible that this was done because he had been active in the union
before he was briefly laid off last year. But it's also possible that
he was laid off because he is diabetic -- he tells me that four of five
diabetics in his department lost their jobs. It's worth noting that
Boeing is self-insured, and that Chief Finance Officer Mike Sears,
shortly before he was carted off to jail, had complained about the
cost of diabetics in Boeing's workforce. Onex, having failed to sign
contracts with any of Boeing's unions, is imposing their new terms.
This whole episode just underlines how the government's disregard for
labor rights costs workers and ultimately whole cities like Wichita.
It also points to how "our system" of private health insurance is
Delta Airlines is eliminating seven daily flights to Wichita,
as a way of punishing Wichita for failing to accede to their demands
for subsidies matching what the city pays to Airtran. I'm not a fan
of the Airtran program, but it was instituted after existing carriers
had collectively priced Wichita out of the air traffic market. Since
the airlines have had to compete with Airtran's discount fares the
volume of air traffic at Wichita's airport has increased over 50%.
Delta had brought a case before the FAA complaining that Wichita's
subsidies were unfair competition, at the same time they were trying
to extort comparable subsidies.
The revelation of Mark Felt's role as "Deep Throat" in exposing
the Watergate scandal was ironic given that Felt was so up to his neck
in his own dirty tricks that only a Ronald Reagan pardon saved him from
long jail time. It's hard to regard people like him as heroic in any
sense. Still, it's probably the case that many of the most damaging
leaks coming out of the Bush administration are from people I'd have
little regard for either, but then the Bush administration is so corrupt
and deceitful that anyone with the least sense of professional integrity
The "Downing Street Memo" ties in with a leak that I noticed in
my hometown newspaper and commented on back at the time. As I recall,
there was nothing else published for several months afterwards -- not
until the administration was ready to unveil its "new product." It is
clear now that the press failed utterly in uncovering this story when
it still might have made a difference.
Most discussion about Iraq these days revolves around the so-called
Iraq Army and what they can, or mostly cannot, do. The latest twist is
that the Shiite and Kurdish political leaders want to fold their militias
into the Iraq Army -- in effect they want to take the Army over. Lots of
people these days regard the situation in Iraq as pretty hopeless, but I
found this proposal especially striking: what does it say about Iraq when
its political leaders aspire to turn it into Afghanistan?
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Movie: Crash. The overworked metaphor, that Los Angeles
is so alienating that crash their cars, or really more than their cars,
just for human contact. The instant identification that race provides is
every bit as distancing as driving in metalloid shells, and the inevitable
crashes there at least as damaging. As a piece of writing, this impresses:
a set of arbitrarily interrelated characters, more than a dozen in combos
of two to four, crash, regroup, then crash again. Each gets a shot of
humiliation, and a shot at redemption, but not necessarily in that order.
As withering as the denouements are the grace is gratifying, proving not
merely that what goes around comes around, but that it doesn't necessarily
have to. But as a movie this isn't especially sharp or slick -- to dark,
the lights too bleary, the cold and snow unconvincing. But that doesn't
ruin the movie -- any writing that sticks so closely in mind can't be
dismissed so easily. A-
Movie: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Afterwards
I went back and started to reread the book, just to refresh myself on
what came from where, and what got left out. Since this only covers one
of the five books, and since they no doubt mean to leave room for the
rest of the franchise, the movie leaves out much, but since the books
as a whole are so jumbled most of what it leaves out wasn't there in the
first place. Actually, the movie cheats and borrows ahead, which is part
of why it makes more sense than the first book, and also why it flows
better. This helps -- at least it helps make up for the inevitable loss
of the unvisual conceptualizing that was the main charm of the books.
Aside from the matter of Zaphod Beeblebrox's two heads the visualizations
are marvelous -- especially the planet factory, which gives a new and
even more disturbing meaning to creationism. If it seems odd that I can't
get away from the subject of the books here, it's partly because these
are damn near the only novels I've ever read -- it's an angle I never
have the opportunity to explore -- but more so because the books were
signposts for how I learned to think about life, the universe, and
everything: only a small matter of faith prevents me from elevating
them to biblical status, but then the main point of them is that even
a small matter of faith is a terrible thing to indulge oneself in.
Movie: Kingdom of God. This one sent me back to the
books too -- the encyclopedia, at least. Most of what I knew about
the Crusades was Geoffrey Barraclough's theory that the Pope pushed
them to try to divert the Normans away from wrecking Europe. But
that would have been more like the First Crusade, which wasn't a
pretty picture no matter what angle you viewed it from. What Ridley
Scott actually focuses on is the fall of Jerusalem before the start
of the Third Crusade, roughly 100 years after the Crusaders' initial
triumph. That gives us a more moderate, more enlightened Crusader
kingdom which is ultimately lost due to the arrogance of incoming
Europeans -- I guess you could call them the neocons, the guys who
think the enemy is evil and compromise is shameful. Various pieces
of history get knocked around to clean up the story -- princess
Sibylla makes out the best for the rewrite -- which unsurprisingly
doesn't help clarify things. Some prominence is given to Saladin,
who evidently has his own neocons to deal with, but that mostly
underscores the commercial impossibility of trying to tell this
or any story from the other side. Still, it's an awkward story,
and the frequent bloodbaths just make it all the drearier. B
Monday, June 06, 2005
The twentieth installment of my
Goods came out this weekend. Ten paragraph-sized reviews, forty five
brief notes. One nice thing about this one is that it covers a bit of most
of what I've been trying to cover. World music is still underrepresented.
Country and blues are unlikely ever to recover to the levels of earlier
columns, but the Charlie Poole box is important, and Yazoo has continued
their second generation best-ofs. Hip hop is up, although the old music
requirement gets fuzzy there with the remakes and remixes. One thing I
like about this column is that I get to change the rules.
The total number of records covered by Recycled Goods is now up to 741 --
cf. the Artist Index. I have a little
more than two months of backlog on the shelf, which not surprisingly trends
toward jazz. One big chunk of jazz records was Atavistic's Unheard Music
Series. I've been getting new ones for the last year or so, and buy old
ones when I find them, but I kept holding them back, thinking they're more
interesting as a series than individually. The new "In Series" section is
one way to deal with that. Next time I plan to do the same thing with
Verve's Free America series. I have a couple of other series that may
be dealt with the same way, or not: they are samplers from major players.
Series are a very common thing in the reissues world. Some, like Universal's
"20th Century Masters," are easily recycled packaging offered up as brand
names. On the other hand, when a series does deserve to be taken as a whole,
"In Series" is a useful way of grouping.
Back on a regular schedule these days. A couple of months of backlog
in the queue. I haven't been searching far and wide lately, but there
are some interesting records coming up in the next couple of issues.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Lurking in the background of my 24 comments is a rather different
cluster of thoughts on terrorism, the threat terrorists pose, and how best
to deal with that threat. I want to draw out some of these ideas, not least
because they seem to way outside the realm of ordinary discourse. One big
problem with talking about terrorism is the lack of a clear definition. We
seem to be satisfied with the notion that we'll know it when we see it, so
why bother with fine points? This arbitrariness fits in well with the U.S.
establishment view, which is: terrorism is any form of politically driven
violence or threat of violence against the established order. One nice
thing about that definition is that the established order cannot be charged
with terrorism, even when they engage in the exact same violent tactics.
Another is that in our unipolar world where the U.S. is the established
order everywhere, so counterterrorism can be postured as a Global War on
Terror, or even more fancifully as An End to Evil.
Terrorism has proven to be a useful word for the great powers. The
reason it works is that it plugs into our fears in ways that political
policies, especially imperial wars, do not. America's military presence
in the Persian Gulf is a matter of little or no concern here -- before
the invasion of Iraq hardly something that we were even conscious of.
Over there, the U.S. military helps to keep a corrupt aristocracy in
power, which is good for U.S. capitalists because Arab capitalists
reinvest their petrodollars, while it is not so good for the locals,
who get trickles at best from their nations' oil resources. Al-Qaeda
attacked the U.S. on 9/11/2001 to make a point, which is that their
"far enemy" (the U.S.) should be held accountable for its trespasses
just like their "near enemies." But this concept was too subtle for
the American people, who viewed the attacks on innocents as coming
out of the blue, from an unseen, unanticipated, unimaginedly deranged
source, an enemy of civilization, a Force of Evil. Which, of course,
is just how the itchy triggers in Washington wanted us to react.
Since 2001 the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on
wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which have mostly made those countries,
long debilitated by American interference, even more unlivable, while
billions more have been spent on "homeland security" -- efforts to
protect against further terrorist attacks here. The question nobody
asks is how likely are we to get attacked again, and how much (if
any) effect does our Homeland Security budget have on that. Extra
credit for the question of how much does the Defense budget protect
us from war. I suspect the answers are very little -- that in fact
we spend a lot of money to get no additional security.
Music: Current count 10666  rated (+20), 939  unrated (-4).
Had a tooth pulled this week, which slowed me down both before and after
the event. No pressing deadlines. Recycled Goods should be up real soon.
Reading Seymour Hersh's Chain of Command, a refresher course from
his New Yorker articles.
- Broadway Project: The Vessel (2004 , Doubling Cube).
Interesting record by Daniel Berridge, sort of art rock with with heavy
film music overtones and minor electronica. I gather his/their earlier
work is more electronish. This one is song-oriented, smart, well-crafted.
Like the light-industrial shit at the end. B+
- DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid & Dave Lombardo: Present
Drums of Death (2005, Thirsty Ear). Spooky can crank his
machines up faster than Lombardo can drum, but not much, and not
otherwise comparably. Lombardo's drums are the treat here -- fast,
deep, mechanical. He comes from Slayer, a metal group I don't know
at all. The other treat is Chuck D, who raps as hard as Lombardo
drums. Spooky provides the context, and Jack Dangers helps out,
especially on the last track.
- The Hold Steady: Almost Killed Me (2004, Frenchkiss).
I need to go back and check out Lifter Puller, Craig Finn's previous band.
The one that I have heard, Half Dead and Dynamite, sounded good.
This one sounds better. Indeed, it almost gets by on sound alone: rugged
hard rock, dense guitar sounds with a lot of crunch. There must have been
hundreds of Amerindie bands like that, except that there weren't. A-
- The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday (2005, Frenchkiss).
Formally a big advance, which means that instead of revelling in sound,
this one tries to vary the sound to let the songs speak for themselves.
The more variable sound is mostly more complicated, not necessarily a
plus in a band built on a specific sound, but the songs do open up, and
are much easier to follow. Not my thing really, unless the songs redeem
themselves, which they've started to do. I've noticed a few of the "born
again" religious themes that other reviewers dwell on, but haven't put
them into any matrix beyond a certain literary realism. But then I don't
really have a problem with Christians -- at least not as long as they
mind their own fucking business. Which on record here, as far as I can
tell so far, they do. This will probably not be the last I have to say
about either of these records, but they're good enough to ballpark-grade
- Lifter Puller: Half Dead and Dynamite (1997, Restless).
This is old, Finn's first group's first album, but in some ways it sounds
like the best of each of the Hold Steady albums: the sound of the first
and the songs of the second. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Maybe
it's just taken a while to sink in. Don't know whether this shows up on
their Soft Rock compilation since I don't have that (yet, anyway).
This one I picked up in the junk pile when Wherehouse went out of business,
and it's been sitting on the shelf ever since. Amazing some things you
don't realize you have yet. A-
- Nuyorican Soul (1997, GRP). Two producers, Kenny "Dope"
Gonzalez and Lil' Louis Vega, aka Masters at Work, try their hand at a
Puerto Rican jazz fusion thang, with a wide range of New York talent.
Results vary enormously, with two small piano pieces by Eddie Palmieri
the high points, followed by Hilton Ruiz's horn arrangements for David
Sanchez and Steve Turre, and a bit of George Benson guitar (good enough
that it's not ruined by the George Benson vocal). I.e., the jazz side
of the fusion is in good hands, but the dance side is a very mixed bag,
with a very straight Roy Ayers disco uninteresting but not bad, and
some other shit just bad. B
- The Pointer Sisters: Hits! (1978-86 , RCA).
They started earlier, with several albums on Blue Thumb, and cut a
couple more later for Motown, but if they did anything notable outside
this period with Richard Perry I haven't heard of it. Most of these
are pro forma too, the exceptions definitive versions of "Fire" and
"Slow Hand" and a pretty credible "I'm So Excited." AMG lists eleven
best-of comps for RCA/BMG -- haven't checked, but I bet they intersect
- Kenny White: Symphony in 16 Bars (2005, Wildflower).
Singer-songwriter. Don't know where he came from or how he got here,
but looks to be in his 50s, with one previous unheard album on his
resume. The hype sheet makes references to Randy Newman, Tom Waits,
and Elvis Costello. Only one I hear is a bit of Costello, but he's
really got his own voice, and comes off smarter and simpler, or at
least more thoughtful and more plainspoken. On the other hand, Elvis
had the Attractions. B+
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
I've been meaning to write something about this past season of the
TV show 24 ever since I got roped into watching it. It would be
a gross exaggeration to pretend that this series represents anyone's
current thinking on terrorism, much less that it's likely to have any
real lasting cultural, much less political, impact. For one thing, it's
ridiculous. And it's not ridiculous is any useful or even particularly
amusing way, as in satire. It's ridiculous in the sense that its deep
assumptions about its subject have no connection to the real world.
This is, of course, true about much fiction, and for all I know it
may also be true about most contemporary television programming, but
that's beside the point. The ridiculous in popular art is rarely a
problem in general, because most of the time we have enough grounding
to sort out what is real and what is ridiculous. But when it comes to
terrorism most people are at a disadvantage, because what they believe
to be the reality of terrorism is as ridiculous as 24.
The show is based on the schema that a team of terrorists can
execute a complete series of terror plots, normally building to a
climax, over a 24-hour period, and that a team of counterrorists
can respond to those events quickly enough to thwart at least the
climax event. This schema is in many ways a side-effect of a core
concept, which is that the action takes place in real time (with
dead spots conveniently spaced for commercials, of course). Real
time is an intimation of reality, but by forcing everything to fit
in real time everything reduces to action, suspense, momentum. The
model isn't derived from literature, where writers usually strive
to tie their threads together to attain a coherent story; rather,
24 is a mere video game, where the good guy (Jack Bauer)
chases the bad guy (Marwan Habib) through a fast-paced gauntlet,
which many side-characters suddenly smashing and vanishing on the
sidelines while the rest look completely dumbfounded. In the end
the viewer is dumbfounded as well, but the producers are hoping
that the sense of exhaustion will predominate. 24 hours is, after
all, a long goddam day.
The most obvious problem with all of this is that terrorists never
work that way. Terror events occur all of a sudden, then they're done.
To suggest the menace of scale, terrorists try to coordinate multiple
events, but serializing them takes risks and requires resources often
beyond their abilities. 24 tries to get beyond this limit by
allocating stupendous resources to the terrorists -- way beyond anything
that has ever been hinted at in an alien environment such as the U.S. --
and even there the serialization is their undoing. (So-called terrorists
in Iraq can afford to attack frequently because they operate on their own
home turf.) But the only way 24 can fill up 24 hours of terror is
by vastly inflating the terrorists' resources while at the same time not
giving them enough brains to manage their risks.
On the other hand, in order to keep the game going the counterterrorists
also have to be allocated ridiculously superior powers -- the list is too
long to get into, but my favorite is the ability to get to or from any point
in greater Los Angeles in 20 minutes tops. The biggest timesaver is no doubt
CTU's ability to decrypt entire hard disks in seconds then instanly identify
the one critical clue that keeps them in the game. Even more remarkable is
how Jack Bauer is able to get viable information in seconds from suspects
he has just shot. But lest these super powers tip the odds excessively in
favor of the counterterrorists they also have some exceptional handicaps:
in particular, the whole management structure from three presidents down
to CTU management are vain, credulous, scheming morons. (The whole Chinese
consulate thread is Exhibit A here.)
Like I said, the problem with all this isn't just that it's ridiculous.
The problem is that these ridiculous things reflect misconceptions that
most of us have about terrorism, counterterrorism and the government. We
assume, for instance, that terrorists are much more numerous, powerful,
well funded, deeply ensconced, and above all nihilistic than they are.
We assume that the counterterrorists' tactics, especially torture but
also pervasive surveillance and massive databases, are effective means
of fighting terror. But we also assume that noble public servants like
Jack Bauer are kept from doing their jobs by incompetent and perfidious
politicians and bureaucrats and interfering do-gooders like the "Amnesty
Global" lawyer who springs one suspect. The politicians are so fickle
that Bauer, after saving his country, has to fake his own death and go
underground in order to avoid extradition to China.
Other threads resonate less because they don't register with our
cultivated paranoias. Foremost among these is the fact that nearly
all of Marwan's schemes involved hijacking dubious technology that
the government bought and paid for. Wouldn't the threat of terrorism
be much reduced if we didn't have those nuclear plants subject to
cyber attack? Or those nuclear bombs circulating through rural Iowa?
And what about the thread of the big defense contractor that employed
Marwan and covered up for him? Doesn't that say something about our
greed-is-good economic ideology? There's also an interesting lesson
here on management philosophy: time and again we see managers, both
politicians and bureaucrats, whose main qualification for the job
seems to be that they can make firm decisions based on a near-absolute
lack of valid information. We might also take a look at the effects of
nepotism and fucking around on the job here since the writers bothered
to put so much of it into the show: is this a case of cultivating clan
loyalties, or is it just that everyone here is so estranged from normal
life that the only people they can relate to are each other?
The problem with heavy questions is that they take time to sort out.
More often than not, I found myself wondering how characters would come
to understand what had happened on this fateful day over the following
weeks and months. That we'll never know because nobody involved with
24 cares about understanding -- all they crave is action. And
in 24 that's all they ever get.