December 2005 Notebook
Index
Latest

2017
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2016
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2015
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2014
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2013
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2012
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2011
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2010
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2009
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2008
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2007
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2006
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2005
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2004
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2003
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2002
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2001
  Dec
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Village Voice published my year-end top ten jazz list, titled Fractious Solidarity for Troubled Times. This, along with Nate Chinen's list, was published as a sidebar to Francis Davis's featured piece.

This turned out to be a rather awkward list for me to put together. Not a difficult one: I just took 8 of the 9 top jazz albums from my annual list, then tacked on Sirone Bang and the big Vandermark 5 box from only slightly lower down the list than the two I skipped over: Scott Hamilton and Gerry Hemingway. One consequence is that the list is very strongly tilted toward the avant-garde. One reason that was awkward is because I don't normally think of myself as a free jazz partisan -- I like some things in almost every shape and form, and try to keep some balance in the Jazz Consumer Guide, but this year 9 of 10 records were well to the left of mainstream. (The exception is Tommy Smith, doing an exceptionally mainstream set.) So I worry a bit that I'm turning into a shrew here, but having listened to more than 500 new records this year, probably 75% of them jazz, I have to say that this list is where the excitement lies.

The other record I skipped was the Monk/Coltrane At Carnegie Hall, picked #1 by Davis and Chinen and damn near everyone else who's put a jazz record on their list. Aside from the big orchestra at Town Hall, it is probably the best live Monk album ever, and once Coltrane gets a chance to latch onto a standard it ranks as one of the few really satisfying early (pre-Giant Steps) Coltrane performances. So I had no qualms about giving it an A and featuring it in Recycled Goods, but I didn't include it in my list because I didn't get anything new out of it. (That's basically why I skipped over Hamilton, whose album was a more return to form than anything new.)

Beyond Monk, not much consensus in these three lists. Davis and Chinen both included Vijay Iyer's Reimagining, which I would have listed top-30. My only intersection with Davis was Craig Harris, but most of the Davis list is somewhere on my A-list (Monk, Charlie Haden, Randy Sandke, Iyer, Sonny Rollins, Billy Bang, Gerald Wilson, Harris, Roswell Rudd; also in the fine print: Ravi Coltrane, Jim Hall, Ted Nash, Marc Ribot, Triptych Myth, David S. Ware, Dianne Reeves). My A-list currently runs to 63 jazz albums (out of 400 rated).


I filed my Pazz & Jop ballot, dividing 100 points among ten 2005 albums:

  1. Amy Rigby: Little Fugitive (Signature Sounds) [15]
  2. Kanye West: Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella) [13]
  3. William Parker Quartet: Sound Unity (AUM Fidelity) [12]
  4. The Perceptionists: Black Dialogue (Definitive Jux) [10]
  5. Amadou & Mariam: Dimanche à Bamako (Nonesuch) [10]
  6. FME: Cuts (Okka Disk) [10]
  7. Rachid Taha: Tékitoi (Wrasse) [8]
  8. Buck 65: This Right Here Is Buck 65 (V2) [8]
  9. Blueprint: 1988 (Rhymesayers) [8]
  10. Jerry Granelli: Sandhills Reunion (Songlines) [6]

Didn't file a singles ballot this year. I don't listen to singles except in the context of albums, so don't think of them much. Aside from Rigby and West, I'd be hard pressed to identify any singles on any of these uniformly excellent albums.

The breakdown here is: 3 jazz albums, 4 hip-hop (3 underground), 2 world (Mali and Algeria, although France could claim both), 1 Nashville singer-songwriter. These came from a constantly evolving A-list that currently totals 106 records, and seems likely to grow beyond 130. (The 2004 A-list list totalled 97 records when I made a frozen copy back on Jan. 10, 2005, but subsequent discoveries have extended it to 119 records.) For once, I didn't just use the top ten. To do so would have given me 6 jazz albums, which would be fair inasmuch as that reflects what I've listened to this year -- 63 of this year's 106 A-list albums are jazz. And progressive, given that I believe that jazz should be taken more seriously as popular music. But having just submitted a top ten jazz list to the Voice already, I wanted to list a few things I hadn't mentioned before, even another jazz album -- Granelli, a real delight.

The real problem with these lists is that the short length combined with the fractured growth of the domain they're selected from is making them increasingly arbitrary. Back when I voted in the late-'70s it was relatively easy to pare the list down. But it's not just that there are more records these days, and that they are harder to compare, it's also that I don't live with favorite records like I used to. I've been so rushed this year that aside from Rigby I don't think I've played any record on this list as much as twice between when I initially wrote about it and when I started working on year-end list.

A couple years ago I devised a P&J-like poll for contributors to Robert Christgau's website. I added one wrinkle to the formula, which was to allow voters to list as many records as they felt like. Records #11-20 would get 3 points each; #21-30 get 2 points each; any beyond #30 gets 1 point. The extra points don't have much effect on the standings, but you get many more albums -- most voters came in with 20-30 records, with a few like me approaching 100 -- and you get better data, in large part because you lose the incentive to not list something you like.

I'm working on year-end comments and a round-up Recycled Goods, so more on that soon.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Music: Current count 11401 [11394] rated (+7), 828 [814] unrated (-14). Nominally working on year end lists, which meant a lot of listening to things I rated earlier and hardly got a chance to play since then. Plus playing some new candidates, but I've had a lot of distractions, which kept the counts way down. Jazz prospecting postponed a week.

  • Balkan Beat Box (2005, JDub): From NYC, a place where it's possible to bring this mixed bag of Bulgarians, Moroccans, and Israelis together without gunfire; Big Lazy drummer Tamir Muskat provides the mostly electronic beats, and Gogol Bordello reeds man Ori Kaplan fleshes out the box, while guests come and go. A-

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Music: Current count 11394 [11378] rated (+16), 814 [820] unrated (-6). Working on year-end lists, which involves more listening to records I've already rated than new ones. Mail as been slow and spotty too.

  • Elton Dean: Just Us (1971-72 [1998], Cuneiform): Saxophonists in rock bands almost always relate to jazz first, and Dean's rock band, the Soft Machine, was more than half-way there. So these sessions are something of a side project. They come from a historical juncture when England was simultaneously developing an avant-garde and building on the fusion groove that Miles Davis and John McLaughlin developed independently and together. This fits the time -- the underlying rhythm is fusion, especially in Neville Whitehead's electric bass -- but the horns point outward, especially Mark Charig's cornet and Nick Evans' trombone. Dean eventually moved firmly into the avant orbit, so his relative tameness here can be seen as transitional. An interesting document from interesting times. B+(**)
  • A Skaggs Family Christmas (2005, Skaggs Family): When I want to hear some nifty mandolin, I'm more likely to reach for some sourpuss like Bill Monroe. Especially come Xmas, when bah humbug is in the air. This is very conventional, which is the point. B-
  • XXL: ¡Ciaütstico! (2005, Important): XX is Xiu Xiu, L is Larsen. Xiu Xiu is some kind of art-pop band from San Jose -- James (or Jamie) Stewart, Caralee McElroy. Larsen is an Italian post-rock group -- Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo, Marco Schiavo, Paolo Dellapiana, Roberto Maria Clemente. Music mixes synths with guitar and drums, usually to interesting rhythmic effect. Stewart's vocals are less pleasing -- comparisons to the Cure aren't far off base. And how surprising is it that the ambient stuff doesn't go anywhere? Gets better after the first two cuts. B


With the 7th Jazz Consumer Guide now printed by the Village Voice, this starts the prospect search for its successor, JCG #8. Top part are snap judgments, mostly on first impressions. Any grades in brackets are approximate, subject to further listening/revision. Bottom part are final grades based on relistening. Going into this round, I have 35-40 records I've put back for further review, while the shelf of new jazz is relatively bare -- maybe ten, mostly 2006 advances and a couple of holiday things that invariably bring out the bah humbug in me. I'm expecting to do one of these per week until the column closes. May be spotty until after January 1, since I'll be juggling various year-end tasks until then.

Kenny Burrell: Prestige Profiles (1956-63 [2005], Prestige): I still haven't come to grips with Legacy's big guitar box, so perhaps should withhold my generalizations until then. Burrell is one of several second tier guitarists to come out of the bop ferment -- the top tier is Wes Montgomery, and everyone else is arguable (Jim Hall, Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Raney, Barney Kessel, Mundell Lowe, Grant Green, Joe Pass). The problem here isn't Burrell, whose solos are fluid and imaginative. The problem is Prestige, whose quickie product process did little to help their artists develop. That hardly hurt for artists like Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Lockjaw Davis, Gene Ammons, or others who were already on top of their game. But for Burrell it meant throwing him into the studio with random sets of musicians, including dominant voices like Hawkins and Coltrane. This tries to sort out the mess, latching on to cuts with fine guitar solos, but even selecting for Burrell they're mostly cuts where everyone takes a solo, even the bassists. B+(*)

The Red Garland Quintets Featuring John Coltrane: Prestige Profiles (1957-61 [2005], Prestige): And Donald Byrd, for the quintessential bebop quintet lineup. Except for one piece with a different quintet, with Richard Williams and Oliver Nelson. Starts with "Billie's Bounce," which never sounded more retro. Best thing here is Garland's own "Soul Junction," with a long intro that lets you enjoy the piano, before Coltrane enters like he's easing into a warm bath. B+(**)

Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar (1906-2001 [2005], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): Guitar has always had a problematic place in jazz. It's been present since the beginning, but hasn't had a consistent role or focus like other instruments. In part this is because technology has transformed the sound of guitar more than any other instrument -- electric amplification, effects devices. But it's also because most guitar developments took place outside of jazz, so jazz guitarists often import musical ideas along with the technology. The idea behind this box is to cover it all, but that's a tough job, especially as one gets into the home stretch. In the early days guitar was almost exclusively a rhythm instrument -- so much so that Eddie Condon and Freddie Green were famous for was never taking solos. The improvisers were more likely to come from elsewhere -- the first disc here widens the net to pick up bluesmen Lonnie Johnson and Casey Bill Weldon, western swingers Leon McAulliffe and Eldon Shamblin, and notables from the far ends of the earth: Sol Hoppii (Hawaii), Oscar Alemán (Argentina), and Django Reinhardt (France). Charlie Christian might have changed everything, but he died in 1942, and his legacy -- bebop-inflected lines cleanly picked on electric guitar -- developed gradually through the '50s, culminating in Wes Montgomery. The second disc here covers this period rather loosely, including Les Paul and Chet Atkins as well as the usual suspects. While the first two discs make for interesting archaeology, the subject gets messier for the other two, and the chronology breaks down. The third disc introduces fusion, again starting with a notable outsider, Jimi Hendrix, followed by John McLaughlin. The fourth disc recasts fusion into smoother groove music, with examples including Eric Gale and Larry Carlton. But neither disc focuses at all tightly. The third includes tastes as varied as George Benson, Sonny Sharrock, Derek Bailey, John Abercrombie, and Ralph Towner, while the fourth has James Ulmer, Bill Frisell, John Scofield and Marc Ribot. So this covers a lot of ground. It's tempting to add that it also misses much, but that's mostly because the raw numbers and stylistic variety of jazz guitarists have exploded in the last twenty years, and it's too soon to figure out what that means. A box of any other instrument would have similar problems, but guitar much more so. All this jumping around limits the box's listenability, especially on Disc 4. But then the box is best viewed as a reference set, and the 144-page booklet is by far the best thing here. B+(***)

Kenny Drew Trio (1956 [2005], Riverside): Bright, sharply etched bebop piano trio with Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, buoyed with standards that always stand out, notably "Caravan," "Taking a Chance on Love," "It's Only a Paper Moon." B+(***)

Bill Evans Trio: At Shelly's Manne Hole (1963 [2005], Riverside): The end of Evans' run at Riverside, with Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker balancing out the trio. Understated but clever how they inch around standards as well worn as "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "'Round Midnight" without getting predictable. B+(***)

The Essential Sonny Rollins: The RCA Years (1962-64 [2005], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): Rollins established his reputation in the late '50s, then stopped recording in 1959. He finally returned to the studio three years later with an album called The Bridge, and followed that up with six more LPs in rapid succession. Rollins left RCA for Impulse, where he recorded three more albums up to 1966, then he took another leave, not recording until 1972 when he signed with Milestone. Rollins' RCA recordings have never been accorded much fame, although they've been kept more or less consistently in print, and wrapped up in a 6-CD box with the usual outtakes. The meetings with Don Cherry and Coleman Hawkins reinforced Rollins' status as a loner, but his quartets with Jim Hall showcased some fascinating guitar. Lurking in the background is the haunting question of what Rollins should do viz. the avant-garde -- this was, after all, the period when John Coltrane emerged as his great rival. But there is no answer to that question -- despite the later interest of folks like Ken Vandermark in Rollins' '60s recordings, the great man's own belated answer was to return to form. This is a useful sampler of his RCA work, but what makes it so compelling isn't how well it represents the period -- it's that it consistently finds Rollins' great voice in a rather mixed bag, and as such redeems a body of work we've always been uncertain about. A

Art Pepper: Winter Moon (1980 [2005], Galaxy): Saxophone-with-strings has been a holy grail, sought by many but rarely with any success. The problem has usually been the strings. Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins played majestically against mediocre semiclassical string arrangements. One major exception is Stan Getz's Focus, where Eddie Sauter's arch-modernist strings actually steal the show. But no album combines the lush texturing of strings with saxophone more organically than this one. A+

Marian McPartland: Piano Jazz With Guest Teddy Wilson (1978 [2005], The Jazz Alliance): Of course, it's ridiculous trying to rate records like this. This is one of McPartland's "Piano Jazz" radio programs, where she talks shop with a guest, plays a little piano, has the guest play, does a duet or two -- almost everything is improvised on the spot. She's been doing this since 1978 -- no telling how many of these programs she's done, but AMG lists 32 titles up to 2002. That's when Concord slashed their back catalog. Since then Concord redesigned the artwork and has started reissuing select old titles, like this one, plus a few new ones, like Elvis Costello and Bruce Hornsby. Those numbers suggest that they try to be selective about what they release -- there must be hundreds of interviews to choose from. However, given the format, this is the sort of thing that can be fascinating to hear once, but inevitably becomes distracting to replay. To a large extent, grading records is an attempt to estimate how much future replay pleasure they may hold. How valuable these are depends not just on who the guest is, but on how curious you are about the guest; given how technical the conversation can turn, it may depend on whether your curiosity is also technical. That's the sort of thing I can't evaluate at all, so I tend to grade these things within a relatively narrow band. Turning to this particular show, from McPartland's first season, the obvious point is that Wilson is one of the most important jazz pianists ever, but also that he is a very deliberate and studious performer. He talks a good deal about Benny Carter, who first hired him, and Art Tatum, who he was close to before they both moved to New York. He also talks about John Hammond, Fats Waller, some guy named Horowitz who plays classical music. He doesn't talk about Billie Holiday, whose name currently resides on many records that originally came out under his name, and he doesn't bite on any of the bait McPartland throws out about his skills as an accompanist. All that is interesting, as is the piano. I'm glad I heard it. I'm also glad I didn't have to pay for it, even though at $11.98 list the label meets you part way. And I doubt that I'll play it again, unless I have some specific research to do. B+(*)

Marian McPartland: Piano Jazz With Guest Steely Dan (2002 [2005], The Jazz Alliance): Usual format, but she's a bit out of her league here. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were the most jazz literate of pop stars, so they come off as knowing more about her world than she does of theirs. She compensates for that with shameless flattery. On the other hand, the generation gap is apparent when McPartland reminiscences about Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, mere idols to her guests. Closes with "Chain Lightning" and "Black Friday" -- the Steely Dan pieces include bass and drums, for a full sound. B

Marian McPartland: Piano Jazz With Guest Bruce Hornsby (2003 [2005], The Jazz Alliance): Here I'm at a disadvantage, in that I've never heard Hornsby's records -- got warned off him early, and never ventured there. As a pianist he gets compared to Elton John a lot, but the conversation here revolves more around Powell and Evans. He's very forthright, enthusiastic. His most interesting stories were about playing with the Grateful Dead. On the other hand, I still don't have any real feel for his music, and none of his originals here made much of an impression. Did like his boogie woogie version of "Blue Monk." Grade is pretty arbitrary. B-

Marian McPartland: Piano Jazz With Guest Elvis Costello (2003 [2005], The Jazz Alliance): Costello sings here, playing a tiny bit of piano at the end. Talks about his father, also a singer. Talks about how he wrote "Almost Blue" with Chet Baker in mind, singing it and a couple of Baker's standards. Displays some gratuitous range and operatic flair. McPartland plays well as an accompanist, but she tends to bring out the worst in Costello, and the music never steps beyond slow, gloomy ballads. B

Diana Krall: Christmas Songs (2005, Verve): I've read that Christmas records outsell jazz records, a rather appalling factoid. Hopefully, this record will at least confuse the issue. She's a terrific singer. The songs are mostly crap. The Clayton/Hamilton Orchestra fades away toward the end, but they have a lot of fun with "Jingle Bells" -- enough so that for a while I found myself wondering whether this was the best Xmas album since Ella. But I gave up that notion, and don't consider it a subject for further research. B

Craig Chaquico: Holiday (2005, Higher Octave): The guitar effects sometimes obscure the songs, which are otherwise pretty obvious. Relatively painless compared to what's playing in the malls these days -- but beware that the last song has vocals. C+

Anita Baker: Christmas Fantasy (2005, Blue Note): This closes with the non-traditional "These Foolish Things" for a pleasant note of normalcy after a ride that started by ragging "Frosty the Snowman" and threatened to expire when "O Come, All Ye Faithful" got stung by the Yellow Jackets. This is trite fair for torching, but it doesn't succumb to our greatest fears -- just flirts with the trivial ones. B-

Dr. John and the Lower 911: Sippiana Hericane (2005, Blue Note): Mac Rebennack owes his career to the Big Easy, and here rushes out a quickie to pay a bit back. (Proceeds go to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Jazz Foundation of America and The Voice of the Wetlands.) The emphasis is on quickie, with the first cut (reprised at the end) little more than an extemporaneous moan, and the bulk of the album filled up by a "Hurricane Suite" that could have been transcribed from CNN. Not much thought went into the title either. Graded leniently. B

Michaël Attias: Credo (1999 [2005], Clean Feed): Brief bio: born Israel 1968, Moroccan parents, grew up in France, played violin as a child before taking up alto sax, moved to New York in 1994, studied with Lee Konitz and Anthony Braxton. Attias has been a steady sideman downtown, composes, released his "first" album early in 2005, a fine trio called Renku with John Hebert and Satoshi Takeishi. Now comes an earlier set, a complex series of trio, quartet and sextet pieces -- where the later album is elegant in its simplicity, this one is as tangled as his roots. He explains these pieces referring to Israel, France and Morocco, but "Hot Mountain Song"'s fiddle reminds me more of the Ozarks, and the Torah-based "Berechit" sounds to me, and perhaps to bassist Chris Lightcap, like old-time Mingus. B+(**)

Zé Eduardo/Jack Walrath Quartet: "Bad Guys" (2004 [2005], Clean Feed): Walrath has had twenty-some records under his own name over the last quartet century, but he's largely faded from sight. A major web retailer only lists four of his records -- none of the ones he cut for Blue Note and Muse, only one since 1996's Hip Gnosis. So my first reaction was a welcome back, but even here, he's on a Portuguese label and the local bassist gets top billing. The quartet fills out with Jesus Santandreu on tenor sax, who complements but doesn't compete with the trumpet, and Marc Miralta on drums -- often the most interesting player here. This quartet lineup has produced some of the year's best albums, but they depend on bounds-stretching performances on all four corners, whereas here the players keep one another in check. Not bad, by any means, but certainly not as bad as they promised. B+(*)

Hard Cell (Berne+Taborn+Rainey): Feign (2005, Screwgun): This came out before the Paraphrase album, but I didn't get it until afterwards. Both are trios, the difference swapping Drew Gress on bass for Craig Taborn on piano. This trio recorded previously on The Shell Game, and on a couple more albums with guitarist Marc Ducret, so this is a group that knows its ins and outs. Still, this strikes me as a typical Berne record rather than an extraordinary one -- it fractures pieces into abstraction rather than pulling them together. Could be I just need to give it a bit more time. [B+(***)]

Deanna Witkowski: Length of Days (2005, ArtistShare): She plays piano and sings, not the other way around. Her piano has a rough hewn adventurousness which seems orthogonal both to the Monk and Ellington pieces here. Her quartet includes saxophonist Donny McCaslin, whose first-listed soprano is as artful as his second-listed tenor is robust. On the other hand, her vocals are perplexing, if not downright annoying. The scats are meant more for harmony than for diversion. The songs are more ordinary. B

The Earl May Quartet: Swinging the Blues (2005, Arbors): A nice little swing quartet led by the veteran bassist, with pianist Larry Ham and alto saxist David Glasser contributing a few originals to go with the standards. The title comes from a Count Basie piece. The balance is neither all that bluesy or all that swinging -- the group's moderation is much of its charm -- but Glasser gets to air out his horn on Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" and Lester Young's "Lester Leaps In." Barry Harris spells Lam on two tracks. B+(*)

Bernardo Sassetti Trio²: Ascent (2005, Clean Feed): My first reaction to this was the relatively useless one, that it is very pretty. On second spin, I recognize that there's more to it, including some rough edges of the Monkish persuasion. The superscript 2 appears to mean two extra players added to the piano trio: cello and vibes. I still don't have any fix on the vibes -- the music is well to the slow side, which doesn't sit well with the instrument. The cello, on the other hand, gets a fair amount of space. Don't know much about any of these people, other than that I've heard that Sassetti is the label's best-seller, and that a previous trio album with the same bass-drums shows up in the Penguin Guide with four stars. I'm impressed, surprised, want to know more. [B+(***)]

Scott Anderson/Nia Quintet: End of Time (2004 [2005], BluJazz): Anderson's name is on the spine, but not the cover. He intends to work his music out within a standing group, but he still seems to be very much the leader. The quintet is your basic bop arrangement, with Anderson on trumpet, Daniel Nicholson on various saxophones and alto flute, piano, bass and drums. Sounds postbop to me, skillfully turned out, mostly upbeat, with a nice slow one to close. [B+(**)]

Joe Fielder Trio: Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff (2003 [2005], Clean Feed): The Penguin Guide describes Mangelsdorff as "the virtual inventor of modern German jazz." Following him, German jazz took a vigorously avant attack in the late '60s -- major figures in German jazz following him include Alexander von Schlippenbach, Peter Brötzmann, and Peter Kowald, their scope extending far beyond Germany. (Schlippenbach's big band was called the Globe Unity Orchestra, and the English avant-garde, in particular, was joined to the Germans.) Still, he's virtually unknown in America, and his discography is in terrible disrepair -- his work in John Lindberg's groups is the easiest to find, and relatively accessible. So this record is most welcome, all the more so because the trombone-bass-drums lineup strips his music down to bare essentials. [B+(***)]

The Crimson Jazz Trio: King Crimson Songbook, Volume One (2005, Voiceprint): Back in the '70s I picked up a double-LP called A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson, but I never made much headway with it, and barely remember it now. Picked up a couple other albums too, and again hardly remember them. A couple of weeks ago I got the two 4-CD boxes of The 21st Century Guide to King Crimson, still unplayed on the shelf, but at least they've been elevated to the status of a project. I've long been curious about English prog rock -- back in the '70s it was something I paid a lot of attention to even though it often came up with things I didn't much care for. I didn't realize this at the time, but part of the fascination was how it was associated with jazz fusion. The central enigma of King Crimson may have been how the wretched English pastoralism of lyricist-singers Greg Lake and Pete Sinfield coexisted with instrumental improvisers like Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford. The boxes may shed some light on that, or just tote up the differences. This group -- Joey Nardone on piano, Tim Landers on fretless bass guitar, and Ian Wallace on drums -- is a different way to probe the sources. I don't have my bearings, but I'll note that as piano trios go this one is exceptionally dense and moving. Also, I like the bass sound Landers gets. Looks like a project. [B+(**)]


And these are final grades/notes on records I put back the first time around.

Randy Reinhart: As Long as I Live (2004 [2005], Arbors): A trad jazz sideman at least since 1994, playing cornet and trombone alongside the likes of Keith Ingham and Marty Grosz, this is Reinhart's first album as a leader. But really it's a group effort, and this is quite a group. Kenny Davern, Dan Barrett, and John Sheridan each make more of an impression than on their own recent Arbors albums, and guitarist James Chirillo has as many high points -- maybe Arbors should have given him an album too. B+(***)

Dominic Frasca: Deviations (2003 [2005], Cantaloupe/Series Music): Minimalism done on 6- and 10-string guitar, the improv constructed not from notes but from whole looping segments. It's been done before on computers, but is especially attractive with the guitar harmonics. B+(***)

Mark Whitecage & the Bi-Coastal Orchestra: BushWacked: A Spoken Opera (2005, Acoustics): One lyric dates from 1776, addressed to a previous George who also had problems with insurgents; title dates from 1990, a previous Bush who meddled cavalierly in Iraq then left the mess to posterity; the rest are clippings from recent news, including reports on Ashcroft and Jesus; none of which matters as much on record as the anarchic jazz that swirls around the words. A-

Dominic Duval/Mark Whitecage: Rules of Engagement, Vol. 1 (2002 [2003], Drimala): Aside from BushWacked, this is the only other Whitecage album I know, but I suspect it may be a good place to start with him. Accompanied by Duval's bass, Whitecage works through a set of exercises on clarinet, alto and soprano sax that give a good sense of his range and dynamics. He's an interesting player on the postbop left -- reminds me a bit of Jimmy Lyons in how he evolves and extends compositional fragments for improvisation. This is also a good place to hear Duval -- not a virtuoso, but he's been a workhorse, especially for Bob Rusch's CIMP label, and gets the last word here with a bass solo. This has been on my shelf for a while -- I wrote about it in my 2003 round-up, so it was already a bit old when I started my Jazz CG in 2004, but I think it would be useful to include it as an Honorable Mention along with BushWacked. A Vol. 2 came out later, with Joe McPhee in place of Whitecage -- also good, but I prefer this one. A-

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Two numbers struck me in reading about the California execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams:

  • 22: the number of years Williams has spent on death row. The murder he was convicted of dates back still further, to 1979, 26 years ago.

  • 647: the number of people on death row in California. Compare this to the number of people actually executed in California since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977: 12; since 2001: 2.

The next guy up on California's death row is Clarence Ray Allen, a 76-year-old blind diabetic convicted of contracting a murder in 1980. I don't want to delve into the question of whether these individuals deserve to die. I don't know the details, haven't weighed the arguments, and don't much care. It's not that I'm indifferent to the crimes, or sympathetic to those convicted of them. Williams was convicted of murdering four people, shotgunned point blank, during commission of two robberies within a couple of weeks -- a ghastly crime. When I say I don't care, what I mean is that capital punishment is a state policy -- to evaluate it you have to look at the state, not at the condemned or their crimes.

That's where these numbers loom large. In California at least capital punishment has become absurd. The 25 years it typically takes to execute someone undercuts the relationship between crime and punishment. In Williams' case it means the person California executed is no longer the gangster who murdered four people -- he's also a children's book author admired by many for the stand he's taken against gang violence. In Allen's case it means the state will wind up executing a sick old man likely to die soon anyway. The net effect is that the executions can be viewed not as consequences of crime but as separate crimes committed by the state in the service of politicians. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has play-killed hundreds of characters in movies, but now he's really killed two people by signing death warrants.

The delays come from several sources. One is due dilligence to make sure the facts have been properly ascertained and the law has been faithfully applied. The legitimacy of the state depends on people accepting that its justice is just, and executing a wrong person is damaging. Another is that we've gradually increased our respect for human life, and decreased our deference to the state. Many nations have given in to the logic of these trends, but in America popular opinion and political opportunism managed to keep capital punishment going.

A few years ago I tried to write an argument for a pro-capital punishment position. I have no real beef with the idea that some people deserve to be put to death -- it's not like I'm "pro-life" -- although most of the examples I can think of come from the world of politics, where it's possible to kill on an extraordinary scale. Given when and where I grew up, the first person I think of as a mass murderer is Richard Nixon, whose cynical prosecution of the Vietnam war, including its extension into Cambodia, killed more or less a million people, not counting the suffering he inflicted here. On the other hand, once he resigned from office he ceased to be threat to the world. And while I would have preferred that he be punished, it's hard to think of any punishment commensurate to his crimes. Politics turns out to be a tricky matter when it comes to great crimes, since political power often decides what crime is, and capital punishment just renders that verdict terminal. More often than not, such power is used to rid nations' rulers of their political opponents -- even in the U.S. one can find an example in the purely political execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

Aside from the Rosenbergs, most executions in the U.S. are of common criminals, mostly convicted of murder. Most are poor and had inadequate legal representation. A disproportionate percentage are black, which reinforces the perception that the justice system in America is racially biased. One reason the appeal process is so lengthy is that the initial trials are often dubious. This, as much as anything, is because we depend on an adversarial system to seek justice, but the state's resources far exceed the defendant's. A recent cartoon summed this up thusly: "a jury trial is when twelve jurors listen to both sides and pick the one with the best lawyer." In other words, the courts weigh evidence but don't seek truth on their own. The result is disputation and doubt. We try to compensate in the appeals process, but that's subject to politics where one side seeks to short-circuit the process and the other tries to keep it going indefinitely. Thanks to the politics, the death penalty is applied very inconsistently across the nation, which leads to the sort of absurdity we're seeing in California.

The conclusion I came to was the one that most of Europe and much of the world has come to, which is that capital punishment should be abandoned. The argument that finally convinced me is that it is important that we limit the powers of the state, and the most basic limit is to deny the state the right to kill. It's clear to me that politicians cannot be trusted with such power. Also that politicians who have that power are more likely to use it outside of the legal system -- Bill Clinton and George W. Bush got their first taste of blood as governors approving executions, like Schwarzenegger, before they moved on to greater war crimes.

The death penalty still exists in the U.S. because it's popular in the abstract even though it's absurd in practice. As Todd Snider put it, "in America we like our bad guys dead" -- a logic that not only supports capital punishment at home but favors assassination, torture and war abroad. Getting rid of the death penalty would mean that we learn to manage our bad guys, if necessary by keeping them in jail for the rest of their lives, instead of killing them. It would take the state out of the death business. It would mean that politicians can't show how tough they are by signing death warrants. It would end one obvious proof of racist discrimination. It would clear up many of the appeals that clog up the court system. It would simplify what are now capital cases, making them more likely to seek truth and distancing them from vengeance.

An example of the benefits of discarding the death penalty is the case of Dennis Rader, aka BTK, here in Wichita. Rader killed ten people in 1974-91 before finally being apprehended this year. His crimes are as heinous as those of anyone executed recently. (I suppose you could make a case for Timothy McVeigh on sheer numbers, but McVeigh never knew his victims as intimately as Rader.) But he wasn't tried as a capital case. The trial was short and to the point. He confessed to the crimes, was convicted and will not appeal. He was given ten life terms, and will spend the rest of his life in jail. Case closed.

Rader, and Kansas, lucked out because there was no death penalty law in force when the murders occurred, and the current law has been ruled unconstitutional (although rabid right-wing Attorney General Phill Kline is appealing that ruling; in any case, no one has been executed in Kansas since 1976, although seven people were on death row when the law was overturned).

Monday, December 12, 2005

The long awaited 7th Jazz Consumer Guide has been posted by the Village Voice. I got off to a slow start on this one, then spent a long time prospecting, so the ellapsed time since the last one is about 3.5 months. Next one will appear in early February, about two months from now. Quite a bit of stuff got pushed back, and my prospecting is well ahead of where it needs to be, so figure the next one is already half-done, maybe more. Next step will be to do a year-end list for the Voice -- strikes me as redundant given how much I've posted thus far, but maybe something surprising will strike this week.

One thing that's happened this round is that I've done a lot of reorganizing how I keep track of everything. The Jazz Consumer Guide master files have been moved to a new directory. The work files have been renamed based on series number, and each new work file when finished will have two adjunct files: one for prospecting, the other surplus. This cycle I wrote up seven batches of prospecting notes, posting a batch each week to the blog. The prospecting forced me to write some notes first time I listened to each new record. If I settled on a grade, I'd note it, otherwise I'd jot down a rough guess and return to the record later. The latter case would eventually generate a new prospect note with a final grade. For this cycle, I made notes on 212 records. Given leftover, I probably considered more than 300 records for this column. Inevitably, some (well, most) didn't make it. Some of those will get another shot next time, but let's get real: by next time I'll have more new records, and the old ones will just get older. Most won't ever make the squeeze, so having a surplus file gives me a way to say a few things about them.

The reviews in the surplus file are generally shorter than my notes: they're meant to sum up and move on. I'll accumulate surplus reviews as each cycle progresses, then post them on my blog when a column runs, pruning back to start the next cycle. Not everything I decide not to use will show up in surplus. If I review something in Recycled Goods, which is the fate of most reissues, there's no need to dupe it in surplus. Also, if I post a prospecting note on a record and feel like that's my final word on it, I also see no need to dupe it in surplus. One consequence of this is that I expect that surplus will get shorter in future cycles -- the main reason it's so long this time is that I'm dumping a lot of albums from before the period when I started prospecting.

This system doesn't make it easy to find any arbitrary record, but it does make a lot of information available for those who are interested enough to look. This will get easier when I come up with a guide on where to look, and easier still when I finally stuff all this data into a database. (Don't expect either soon.) I'm not making progress as fast as I'd like -- probably spending too much time listening and writing. Aside from the short reviews in prospecting and surplus, which are meant to be posted on the blog, my working files have what I call notes, which may be the same text as the reviews or may be different -- longer, shorter, whatever. The notes start out in the working file, then move to a holding file, then eventually get dumped into the notebook. The notebook is where I keep track of stuff. It includes almost everything that goes into the blog plus a lot of other stuff that these days is probably only of interest to me. Under the new scheme, there are three holding files for notes, which I call bk-print (the notes for records in future columns), bk-done (notes on rated records that are still candidates), and bk-flush (notes on rated records that are surplus). When I publish a column, bk-print and bk-flush are emptied (except for hold-overs) into the notebook.

For this week's column, the prospecting notes are here and the surplus reviews are here.


The following are the notes for the records included in Jazz CG (#7):

  • Fred Anderson/Hamid Drake/William Parker: Blue Winter (2004 [2005], Eremite, 2CD). In a live recording with four long improvs straddling two discs, Parker and Drake sound huge, filling up the soundscape with shifting grooves and potent rumble. In contrast, Anderson's tenor sax is a model of economy -- no shrieks or splatter, no rutting, just calm, cogent precision. A-
  • Peter Apfelbaum & the New York Hieroglyphics: It Is Written (2004 [2005], ACT). None of the pieces here have less than ten musicians, and the total roll call comes to 26, including some interesting people. Apfelbaum's own contribution ("woodwinds, keyboards, percussion") is hard to discern in all the bombast and clutter. Two vocals by Abdoulaye Diabate are fish out of water, Malian griot vocals on backgrounds with no distinctive African tableaux. Strikes me as a mess, but sometimes they make something out of it. B-
  • Anthony Braxton: 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (2003 [2005], Leo, 4CD). Four more CDs from the same tour that yielded last year's 4-CD 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003. The bounty comes from Braxton picking fresh songs each show -- jazz pieces more often than the usual chestnuts, with old favorites Brubeck and Desmond most prominent. The pieces stretch out leisurely, with Kevin O'Neil's deft guitarwork often the highlight, and Braxton's saxes favoring the high registers. Smart and cool, the most accessible and simply pleasurable set he's done. (That I'm aware of, anyway. Braxton's catalog is probably the largest of working saxophonist -- Lee Konitz, with a two-decade head start, might come close; younger players like David Murray and Ken Vandermark have approached Braxton's pace, but not for nearly so long.) A
  • The Dave Brubeck Quartet: London Flat London Sharp (2005, Telarc). Nice to hear Brubeck in a quartet again. Bobby Militello is the one stuck trying to fill Paul Desmond's shoes. While he doesn't have the sheer beauty of Desmond's tone, he partly makes up for it with his sprightly dynamics. B+
  • Will Calhoun: Native Lands (2005, Half Note, CD+DVD). Don't know when these cuts were recorded, but the constantly shifting cast suggests not all at once. Comes with a DVD which I haven't viewed, but that might explain more. Meanwhile, hope it doesn't cost you extra. (Looks like it doesn't.) My problem with this album is that it spends much time showing you all the things Calhoun can do instead of building on a few things that really work. But maybe that means I just wish he had kept Pharoah Sanders around for more than five cuts -- Sanders leads off the first four cuts, and the album never hits that level again. The rest are mostly stripped down beat pieces, with Wallace Roney playing Miles on a couple; Antoine Roney's soprano sax and Gregg Marret's harmonica are the only other lead voices. Fascinating album. Maybe I should look at that DVD. B+(***)
  • Bill Charlap/Sandy Stewart: Love Is Here to Stay (2004 [2005], Blue Note). A very subdued make-out album, modelled perhaps on the Bill Evans/Tony Bennett album, but less so -- far less. Credit Charlap's lead billing to the marketing folks -- he barely plays, but then Stewart sings so measuredly that she leaves him little to work with. Stewart has a touch of opera in her voice, an instant turn-off for me, but your mileage may vary. As usual, a great song, like the title tune, lifts the interpretation, but anything less reduces to affect. B-
  • Tom Christensen: New York School (2005, Playscape). Christensen's compositions draw inspiration from the circle of poets and painters around Frank O'Hara, but that tells you nothing about the music. He writes for pairs of reed instruments, mostly matching timbres rather than looking for contrasts. He's joined here by Walt Weiskopf and a bass/drums combo that keeps things moving as he and Weiskopf work their way up and down the equipment rack. The tenor sax duel is the liveliest, but the interplay fascinates even when they draw flutes. A-
  • Anat Cohen: Place & Time (2005, Anzic). Nat Hentoff, in his liner notes, compares Cohen to Ben Webster, which on the surface seems preposterous. She plays soprano sax and clarinet, as well as Webster's tenor sax, so her tone and dynamics have to spread out more, but even on tenor she never even suggests Webster's trademark vibrato. But this album does have the sort of rough-hewn beauty that came as naturally to Webster, at least in his later/sadder years, as breathing. But Cohen's roughness comes differently, perhaps from Israel, where the mix of old and new semitic and western musics lies unsettled beneath the surface. Ever since Coltrane soprano sax has suggested the orient, while the post-Byron resurgence of the clarinet has injected a dose of klezmer into jazz discourse. Those traditions, more than the lore of the tenor sax, are at work here. A-
  • Marc Copland/John Abercrombie/Kenny Wheeler: Brand New (2004 [2005], Challenge). With no bass and no drums, nobody's in much hurry to get things done. Rather, they discourse, three masters going about their business, each with a distinct style and set of interests. The closer, "Taking a Chance on Love," is especially lovely. B+(***)
  • Ernest Dawkins' Chicago 12: Misconceptions of a Delusion Shades of a Charade (2005, Dawk). "We're not here to create disorder. We're here to preserve disorder." The variation on Boss Daley's 1968 malaprop is thematic to this 35th anniversary celebration of the Chicago 7 trial. Recorded live in Paris -- no date, but 2003 would account for 25 years -- by a large group with a lot of baritone sax and brass, speachifying from the black power era, and a roughly rambunctious "Watermelon Man" thrown in the for the hell of it. B+(***)
  • Herbie Hancock: Possibilities (2005, Hear Music). This time Downbeat put my Dud of the Month on the cover before I called the shot. In some ways it's unfair: this is not a jazz record by any stretch of the imagination. Hancock has been overrated since 1973 (Headhunters) or maybe even since he left Miles (1968), and hasn't produced an A-list record (that I know of, and I know of a dozen that aren't) since Empyrean Isles in 1964. Of the has-beens and wannabes on the cover -- how much did that cost 'em? -- the worst are back-loaded (Damien Rice & Lisa Hannigan, Raul Midón, Trey Anastasio), but only slightly worse than the mid-section stars (Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, Sting). Jonny Lang & Joss Stone are kinda cute, but Christina Aguilera singing Leon Russell takes has-been wannabe-ism to highly improbable levels. Some facts from the Downbeat article: over 9,200 Starbucks stores, sold over 750,000 copies of Ray Charles Genius Loves Company (out of 5-6 million worldwide, as I recall), with a customer rate over 33 million. The stores are mostly small, the music kiosks smaller. Not sure how many titles they carry -- two dozen seems a stretch. Clearly, the multiple names thing, a variation on the duets thing, means cross-marketing. It's business, and it's probably not the end of music, but it bodes ill anyway. And while I keep wanting to write that it's not awful -- what I really mean is that Hancock's not awful -- it does suck. C
  • David Hazeltine: Modern Standards (2004 [2005], Sharp Nine). Bacharach and Mancini, let alone Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sondheim, don't exactly strike me as Moderns. Nor are the Beatles and Bee Gees and Isley Brothers cutting edge. Nor is the bold march beyond Johnny Mercer necessarily a good thing. But few of these concerns matter much for a pianist as deft as Hazeltine. He's a superb mainstream pianist, and he keeps these songs light and lively. This is one I've been sitting on the fence on for a long time now, and it's still on the cusp. B+(***)
  • Gerry Hemingway Quartet: The Whimbler (2004 [2005], Clean Feed). I like this as much (maybe more) as the Dennis Gonzalez record I picked as a Pick Hit, and held this one back partly because it might be next column's Pick Hit, but also because it is so fundamentally similar to the Gonzalez album: same label, same lineup (substituting Ellery Eskelin's tenor for Oliver Lake's alto sax). The difference is the drummer, most of all that Hemingway creates a more intriguing rhythmic foundation for his pieces. There are points when this could be taken as a groove record. A-
  • Gerry Hemingway Quintet: Double Blues Crossing (2002 [2005], Between the Lines). Whereas Hemingway's Quartet on The Whimbler hums along with a steady beat and playful expression from the two horns, this one is darker in mood, lighter in sound, and stranger in the mix. The two horns are pitched farther apart, with Frank Gratkowski on clarinets and alto sax and Walter Wierbos on trombone. Kermit Driscoll has less pulse at bass, even though, like Mark Helias, he plays both acoustic and electric. The fifth instrument here is Amit Sen's cello, an unusual choice. The songs, especially five-part title suite, tend to come apart in spacious abstraction, but they don't all stay there, and several patches cook furiously. B+(**)
  • Billy Jenkins: When the Crowds Have Gone (2003-04 [2005], Babel). Jenkins' previous foray into the blues featured his Blues Collective, but this time he must be feeling way down, as he's gone solo. With just acoustic guitar, harmonica, his voice more ragged than ever, he moans and cries, the closest thing to his usual wit being the title "Sitting on the Dock of Ebay." That's also about the only thing that moves this out of the era of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie Johnson -- that plus not even the Lord's much comfort. When the crowds have gone, you're left alone. B+(***)
  • Hank Jones: For My Father (2004 [2005], Justin Time). A delightful little piano trio, with George Mraz and Dennis Mackrel. Light touch, easy swing, not as boppish as he was fifty years ago, but he has no need to prove himself -- enough just to be himself. B+(***)
  • Mike Ladd: Negrophilia [The Album] (2004 [2005], Thirsty Ear). I'm torn on how to rate this album. Compared to Ladd's previous In What Language? this is neither as clear lyrically nor as lucid musically, but in other ways it is an admirable step forward in his ambitions. The source is an exhibition in Paris on Negrophilia, at least as expressed by the Paris intelligentsia in the early 19th century. In Anglo-American imperial culture racism is pretty straightforward, a brew of fear, revulsion, and blinkered arrogance. The French are certainly not lacking in arrogance: their current ideas on how best to police the former third world are something to worry about not least because they show better sense than the U.S. But the words here focus on more obscure matters: the chic appeal of "les negresses," the harsh chant of "banana." The music itself is chopped up and pasted back together, the flow of Andrew Lamb's reeds, Roy Campbell's trumpet, and Vijay Iyer's piano broken into odd bits. Guillermo E. Brown had much to do with the music here. B+(***)
  • Marian McPartland & Friends: 85 Candles -- Live in New York (Concord, 2CD). B
  • Mizell: The Mizell Brothers at Blue Note (1972-77 [2005], Blue Note): the best of the worst of a once-great jazz label on its death bed -- Blue Note folded in 1979, to be revived as EMI's jazz brand name in 1985 -- organized as a tribute to producers Larry and Fonce Mizell; forgettable funk and lightweight disco, every cut with vocals, most with Donald Byrd trumpet; note that the only cut with any meat on it was previously unreleased (Gary Bartz, "Funked Up"). C+
  • Sunny Murray: Perles Noires Vol. I (2002-04 [2005], Eremite). This is the first of two volumes of duos-plus between the veteran free jazz drummer and saxophonist Sabir Mateen. Only one cut is actually a duo. Dave Burrell (piano) joins on four, and his block chording on "Three Is a Crowd" is the best thing here. Louis Belogenis (tenor sax) and Alan Silva (bass) join for two cuts, including a tasty "Lonely Woman." Mateen's thankless job is to riff frantically, while Murray gets to dazzle. A very long trek through rough terrain, worth listening to, but wearing. And this one is only the start. B+(**)
  • Sunny Murray: Perles Noires Vol. II (2004 [2005], Eremite). More, much more. Aside from Murray and Sabir Mateen, in their expected roles, the guests are Oluyemi Thomas (bass clarinet and c-melody sax) on four cuts and John Blum (piano) on the other three. Thomas provides a greater contrast as a second horn than Louis Belogensis on the first one. Blum roughly approximates Dave Burrell's performance on the first volume. The two volumes are evenly matched, hard to choose, although I'd rather arbitrarily pick Vol. I for the real Burrell. B+(**)
  • Paraphrase: Pre-Emptive Denial (2005, Screwgun). Alternatively, the artist's own names also grace the front cover -- Tim Berne, Drew Gress, Tom Rainey -- so one could file this under Berne et al. and construe Paraphrase to be part of the title. On the other hand, the record could hardly be more clear. Two long group improvs, distinguished from most such inventions by a relatively steady pulse, with Berne mostly working inside a cage framed by Rainey's drums. The pieces ebb and flow, with minimal sections of solo bass, and maximal power when all three play flat out. I've been slowly warming up to Berne over the years -- a Julius Hemphill disciple who stayed true, in the past he's often made music ambitious beyond his reach, but his recent stretch of records have grown more measured and more focused as a result. This is the best one I've heard, a possible pick hit. A-
  • Enrico Rava: Full of Life (2002 [2005], CAM Jazz). Rava's recent records all have a similar elegiac quality: tasteful, economical, graceful. This strikes me as the best of the bunch, but the distinctions are subtle. The most important one is the contrast provided by Javier Girotto's baritone sax. B+(***)
  • Dianne Reeves: Good Night, and Good Luck (2005, Concord). "Music by and inspired by the motion picture," which she had a small part in -- nothing plotwise, just atmosphere. The inspiration expands five songs into fifteen, picking up a broad swath of '50s pop, played not for nostalgia but for context and atmosphere. The decade of American triumphalism was still haunted by ghosts past and present, where the deepest of TV journalism struggled heroically to just barely scratch the surface. I'm still ticked off at the bowdlerized "TV Is the Thing This Year," but even it is good, and "How High the Moon," "Pretend," "Solitude" (maybe the best version I've ever heard), and "One for My Baby" are considerably better than that. Also adore Matt Catingub's tenor sax on the instrumental "When I Fall in Love." Still barely above the cusp. Sometimes I slip an A- album into the Honorable Mentions, and that's what I plan to do here. Partly because I mentioned Reeves in my Mary Stallings piece -- they are similar singers, and I give Stallings the edge for reasons that illuminate the contrast -- and partly because I say what I want to say in the short context. A-
  • George Russell and the Living Time Orchestra: The 80th Birthday Concert (2003 [2005], Concept Publishing, 2CD). This is a little oversimplistic, but the original emergence of a jazz avant-garde in the latter half of the '50s -- i.e., before Ayler, before Coltrane flipped out, before all that other '60s revoltion -- can be traced to four singular musicians: Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and George Russell. (In retrospect, Steve Lacy might have been a fifth, but at the time he was associated with Taylor.) Russell is the least well known of the four (or five): more composer than pianist, more theorist than composer, he moved to Europe and only sporadically appeared with recordings bearing little resemblance to anyone else's jazz. But he made it to age eighty, and here finds himself fêted by a superb big band as they work through two of his longer pieces, plus fragments of two more, plus his arrangement of Miles Davis' "So What" that turns into the perfect vamp for introducing the band. Marvelous music, breathtaking sweep. Possible pick hit. A-
  • Jenny Scheinman: 12 Songs (2004 [2005], Cryptogramophone). She has quickly established herself as a versatile violinist working everywhere from ROVA to the Hot Club of San Francisco, but she flashes little of her virtuosity here. She makes her mark developing folk songs into luminous textures, shaping her melodies but leaving it to others to buff up the highlights -- Ron Miles' cornet, Doug Wieselman's clarinets, Rachelle Garniez's accordion and piano, but most of all Bill Frisell's never more shimmering guitar. A-
  • Mary Stallings: Remember Love (2004 [2005], Half Note). Without stopping to count them, there must be at least six distinct types or niches of jazz singers. Like Billie Holiday (but not Ella Fitzgerald), Dinah Washington (but not Sarah Vaughan), and Carmen McRae (but not Betty Carter), Stallings is a classic black pop singer, her jazz credentials limited to interpretive grace, ye olde American songbook, and good taste in musicians. She opens and closes with one of Washington's signature songs, and sparkles on everything mid-tempo, while keeping a respectful distance from the slow ones. Geri Allen herds the musicians, and she can call on a choice horn anytime she wants the effect -- Frank Wess, Vincent Herring, Wallace Roney. As neatly done as I've heard in years by this particular type of jazz singer. A-
  • Ralph Sutton and Dick Cary: Rendezvous at Sunnie's 1969 (1969 [2005], Arbors). Sutton was the postwar era's nonpareil stride pianist, so he offers little here that hasn't already been demonstrated many times. So focus on Cary, who cut his teeth on piano with Louis Armstrong and trumpet with Eddie Condon. Here he sticks to trumpet and alto horn -- looks like a miniature tuba -- adding a wizened, soulful voice to Sutton's flashy little trio. A-
  • The Vandermark 5: Alchemia (2004 [2005], Not Two, 12CD). Five nights in Krakow, two sets each night, plus a couple of jam sessions, every note preserved. In theory one can plot out the variations in multiple takes of songs, or pick up the first performances of three new pieces that reappeared later in The Color of Memory, much like critics claimed you could do with Miles Davis' Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel. But more likely you'll just pick discs at random and savor the rough and ready excitement each one brings. A-
  • The Vandermark 5: The Color of Memory (2004 [2005], Atavistic, 2CD). It's tempting to assert that this could have been edited down to a superior single disc release, but harder to figure out where to cut. Certainly not the longer pieces on the second disc, which start and end with muscular sax, while the longest piece spreads out. The first disc is harder to get a handle on. The ballad pieces feel unfinished, and the idea of jamming the late greats -- Ray Charles, Elvin Jones, Steve Lacy -- into one is a bit of a rush job. Part of the reason may be the announced departure of trombonist Jeb Bishop, a charter member, and replacement by cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm -- a different cat altogether. This album may be shaded more toward Bishop, although it's hard to be sure. More certain is that this one doesn't have the tight, spin-on-a-dime snap of the previous two -- largely made possible by the growth of Dave Rempis. Which makes this one more ordinary, but in the end there's something impressive in every piece. A-


The following are the notes from the bk-flush file. These records are no longer under active consideration for Jazz Consumer Guide.

  • Juhani Aaltonen Trio: Mother Tongue (2002 [2003], TUM). A bit old, with at least two subsequent records available from Aaltonen, but for now we'll track it here. Powerful, searching movement on tenor sax, straining at the limits of the instrument. At least two cuts on flute nearly match the experience, all the harder to do. Impressive record. A-
  • Juhani Aaltonen, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille: Reflections (2003 [2004], TUM). This replaces the Finns with two famous Americans, who are worth following anywhere. Aaltonen plays more flute here, which I'm inclined to discount, but he plays it with rare authority. A-
  • Juhani Aaltonen and Henrik Otto Donner With the Avanti Chamber Orchestra: Strings Revisited (2003, TUM). This refers back to a 1976 collaboration between Aaltonen and Donner called, you betcha, Strings. Donner composed the pieces, and his Avanti Chamber Orchestra lays down the strings, which Aaltonen's trio (Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille) work around. The strings are thick and heavy, the sax dilligent. Not having heard the predecessor, my framework for comparison is Focus, the Stan Getz classic, possibly the only sax-plus-strings album ever where the strings were as interesting as the sax. This comes close, for much the same reason. The strings are dark and swirling, casting shadows everywhere. The sax has to work harder here, but Getz could make anything look easy. B+(**)
  • Ahmed Abdullah's Ebonic Tones: Tara's Song (2004 [2005], TUM). Four of five band members are Sun Ra alumni, the exception being the youngster of the group, baritone saxist Alex Harding. Abdullah played trumpet for Sun Ra from 1976 on, and here he sings two Sun Ra lyrics that sound like they were channeled from far out in space. The other key players here is violinist Billy Bang, who plays a supporting role but in his spots is one of the best things here. The opening Gigi Gryce piece and the "Blue Monk" in the middle are delightful upbeat pieces, with more difficult matter -- including two of Abdullah's originals -- sandwiched in between. Closer is a rousing "Iko Iko" -- which after the Sun Ra sounds positively pop. A-
  • Eric Alexander & Vincent Herring: The Battle: Live at Smoke (2005, High Note). Presumably the model is Jug and Sonny, but Herring's alto is short of weight and tends to slip into the tenor's harmonics. Surprisingly, Alexander doesn't seem to be up for the challenge either. The semi-slow one doesn't develop much juice. Pianist Mike LeDonne plays fast, taking several leads. B
  • Buyu Ambroise: Blues in Red (2004, Justin Time). As a saxophonist Ambroise strikes me as the Stan Getz of Haiti, as opposed to, say, Jacques Schwarz-Bart, who's more like John Coltrane. Of course, the standards are a bit lower, as I've just exhausted my encyclopedic knowledge-base of Haitian saxophonists. But Ambroise has a bit of Getz' tone, and he can enjoy a melody. Accompaniment is heavy on piano (Frederic La Fargeas) and short on percussion (although there are some guests to do that sort of thing). The one vocal is distracting. I've gone up and down on this, but it doesn't stay up long enough to make a compelling case. B+(*)
  • Paul Anka: Rock Swings (2005, Verve). The concept here is simple enough: take rock songs and arrange them for big band. That explains half the title; "swings" is a problem of a different sort. Sure, big bands from the '30s up into the '50s were primarily swing bands, but just being big had nothing to do with swing, and this record proves as much. Strictly speaking, it doesn't prove that it's impossible to swing Bon Jovi or Van Halen, but it sure ain't easy. Pieces from R.E.M. and Nirvana and the Pet Shop Boys don't work any better. Anka is a proficient singer, similar to Bobby Darin but less fun. Don't know who's in the band, but I imagine Lawrence Welk, after the fizz has left the champagne. C+
  • Atomic/School Days: Nuclear Assembly Hall (2003 [2004], Okka Disk, 2CD). Yet another two band Vandermark mash-up. Atomic is a Norwegian band led by Fredrik Ljungkvist (sax), Magnus Broo (trumpet; both also in Firehouse, a somewhat more rockish free jazz band) and Kjell Nordeson (vibes), with Havard Wiik (piano), Ingebrigt Baker Flaten (bass), and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). School Days is led by Vandermark and Jeb Bishop (trombone), also with Baker Flaten and Nilssen-Love. Wiik has also previously played with Vandermark in Free Fall. So one difference here is that it doesn't double up on bass and drums. Each member of the group winds up with one song. B+(**)
  • Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble: Musik (2004, Enja). The German spelling bespeaks a destination in old Europe, pre-jazz and pre-rock, perhaps a world where cosmopolitanism was undimmed by nationalism, where capitalism hadn't been trivialized into consumption, where socialism still had faith in a future where it offered more than a few modest reforms to patch up cracks in the present. Problem is, this vision is so strange today that it winds up sounding like mere circus music. Atzmon's soprano sax has visceral impact, but the vocal pieces seem like distractions. Justin Time has balked on releasing this in North America, which could mean that they understand it well, or more likely that they are even more confused than I am. I think Atmon's painted himself into a corner. It will be interesting to see where he pops out next time. B+(*)
  • Gregg August: Late August (2003 [2005], Iacuessa). Bass player, writes all the pieces, plays one as a solo, one as a duo, one with guitar and drums, the rest with a crack quintet, joined once by Frank Wess. Mainstream with a latin twist; the group swings, the spotlight pieces less so. Good stuff, as far as it goes. B+(**)
  • Albert Ayler: New Grass (1968 [2005], Impulse). This was Ayler's r&b move, heralded as revelation by Ayler himself in the opening "Message From Albert," hated by pretty much everyone else. One thing it's not is a sellout. Pretty Purdie and Bill Folwell may keep strict 4/4 time, but Ayler plays as furiously and as ugly as ever -- the juxtaposition is the most pleasing thing here. On the other hand, it does cede a lot of ground to girlfriend Mary Parks, aka Mary Maria, whose vocals dominate the second side. Another record along these lines, Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe, followed before Ayler's untimely and rather mysterious death. I regard this as one of many experiments at the time to form a bridge between avant-jazz and black power street politics. As the '70s wore on, that movement faded into oblivion, but when this was cut it was just gathering steam. B+(*)
  • Billy Bang: Sweet Space/Untitled Gift (1979-82 [2005], 8th Harmonic Breakdown, 2CD). Bang, a nickname William Walker picked up as a teenager, played a little violin in school but didn't stick with it. He got drafted and shipped to Vietnam for a harrowing year in the jungles. He got back and found that many of his friends had fared even worse back in the Bronx. Confused, haunted, he found solace in avant-jazz -- Coltrane, the AACM. He picked up the violin again, moved downtown, dived into New York's emerging "loft scene"; he got some pointers from pioneering avant-jazz violinist Leroy Jenkins, and some ideas from Ornette Coleman's own violin experiments, but mostly taught himself, coming up with a sound all his own. This is a reissue of two of his early, self-released albums -- slapdash affairs where excitement and good cheer abound. The first is a septet with Frank Lowe leading a trio of horns in vamps and variations, with Bang taking a few horn-like violin solos. The reissue adds a second set, doubling up on the first. The second album is a quartet with pocket trumpeter Don Cherry, making for more intense interplay in a more structured musical context -- including two compositions by Coleman. Bang comes through much more clearly -- the advances in his sound, style and confidence are striking. As is a superb performance by drummer Dennis Charles. A-
  • Billy Bang: Vietnam: Reflections (2004 [2005], Justin Time). This is Bang's second Vietnam album, a sequel to Vietnam: The Aftermath. While the former did a wonderful job of picking up elements of Vietnamese music and weaving them into Butch Morris' conduction, the focus there was on the American soldiers and the bitter sensation of war. Bang's violin made it all work: its taut, lonesome, biting tone characterizes the music of the Far East. This one moves forward. Oliver Stone's trilogy of Vietnam movies starts with one about American soldiers in the war, then follows one after the war into the antiwar movement, then returns to Vietnam finally to acknowledge the other side of the story. In moving from Aftermath to Reflections, Bang introduces Vietnamese singer Co Boi Nguyen and dan tranh player Nhan Thanh Ngo, adding to the authenticity, but more importantly to the healing. A-
  • Denys Baptiste: Let Freedom Ring! (2003, Dune). This is a big band album, a little longer in the string instruments than in the brass. Baptiste plays tenor sax, but he doesn't stand out much. Rather, he leads the group, and the group as a whole swings hard through four long pieces with political points but not a lot of political content. The latter comes from Ben Okri's infrequent bits of poetry, and is much appreciated. B+(*)
  • Gato Barbieri: Chapter Four: Alive in New York (1975 [2005], Impulse). Like many live performances, this one picks up speed as it progresses, eventually delivering on its Coltrane to cha-cha-cha promises. Like many live performances, it's also thinner sounding than its studio predecessors. B+(*)
  • Cheryl Bentyne: Let Me Off Uptown: The Music of Anita O'Day (2005, Telarc). I'm willing to accept Jack Sheldon doing the Roy Eldridge bit, but frankly I'd rather hear the originals, for Gene Krupa as well as O'Day and Eldridge. Sure, I'll take Bill Holman over Billy May any day -- May's always been a poor match for O'Day, and consequently a lot of O'Day's standards work got buried in May's bombast. O'Day was small physically, but had a big voice and a lot of sass, which I've always figured could have been put to better use in smaller groups. Bentyne is enough of a flirt to almost carry this off -- songs like "I Won't Dance" and "Let's Face the Music and Dance" are light enough to work, and a ballad like "Skylark" is pretty enough to escape comparison. But I guess the temptation to rev up the production was too much to resist. Too bad. I'd like to encourage Bentyne's moonlighting, especially given how miserable her day job with Manhattan Transfer is. B
  • Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Drum Suite (1956-57 [2005], Columbia/Legacy). The first third is the first of several African and/or Cuban multi-drummer experiments, and not much comes of it -- proof is that the most memorable contribution is pianist Ray Bryant. Second third is a Messengers group with Bill Hardman and Jackie McLean. Third (the bonus) is a slightly earlier lineup showcasing Donald Byrd, with Ira Sullivan in the sax chair. Blakey never made a bad record in his first decade at the helm of the Messengers, but it's the bonus cuts that save this one. B+(*)
  • Erin Bode: Don't Take Your Time (2004, Maxjazz). She put her least attractive photo on the cover, probably because she figures that what counts is what's inside. Covers, of course: these days all interpretive singers are bagged as jazz, even though there's nothing much jazzy about her. She takes all of the songs slow: the Beatles, Bill Monroe, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Stevie Wonder, plus some songbook stalwarts. High lonesome violin marks the Monroe, and Steve Nelson vibes touch up the Wonder -- those are probably the high points, but closing with "Count Your Blessings" was a stroke of genius. B+(**)
  • Richard Bona/Lokua Kanza/Gerald Toto: Toto Bona Lokua (2004 [2005], Sunnyside). Universal is an apt name for the world's largest music business, even though the name came from a movie studio first Bronfman then Vivendi picked up. They're everywhere, but the main office is in France, and Universal France manages to release a lot of music that Universal's many tentacles in the US fail to pick up. Sunnyside is one of the labels that looks for attractive scraps left on Universal France's table, which is where they found this one. It's not jazz, although AMG wasn't being ridiculous when it reminded them of Bobby McFerrin's multitracked vocal projects. I was thinking more in terms of South Africa's mbube, but that's not right either, and not just because Bona plays a wide range of instruments. With all three singing, there's more interplay here, not just layering, which gives it a light feel. Toto and Lokua are from Africa -- Cameroun and Congo (I'm guessing the ex-French colony, not the ex-Belgian one) respectively. Bona was born in Paris with roots in the Caribbean, which means Africa too. B
  • Anthony Braxton/Matt Bauder: 2 + 2 Compositions (2003 [2005], 482 Music). Not a lot of action here. Bauder plays saxophone and clarinet, as does Braxton. He also contributes two compositions, matching Braxton. Hard to tell them apart. The record as a whole is decorated by notes -- dots, let's say (actually the title of a Bauder piece) -- with nothing much to connect them. That leaves a puzzle of some interest, but it has to be limited, since the demand on the listener's cranium to put all the pieces together excludes most of us. On its own terms, though, not without interest or pleasure. B
  • Zach Brock and the Coffee Achievers: Chemistry (2005, Secret Fort). Brock is a violinist, and that tends to bias the music in certain ways -- e.g., toward a bit of tango. The bass-drums-keybds are thickly layered, so the music tends to move as one. When it works it can be compelling, otherwise it can be annoying. Vocals add to the complication, but afterwards seem to be an afterthought. I disliked this at first, but came to like it more/less. Still don't know what to make of it. B+(*)
  • Paul Brody's Sadawi: Beyond Babylon (2004, Tzadik). Post-postmodern klezmer, as Brody takes the works of Ben Goldberg, Frank London, David Krakauer and others as starting point to push even further afield. Still, it stays closer to the klezmer text than Steven Bernstein, Jenny Scheinman, and others in Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series. B+(**)
  • Bucketrider: Guignol's Band (1998, Dr. Jim's). This is a rockish avant-jazz band from Australian, led by trombonist James Wilkinson and saxophonists Adam Simmons and Timothy O'Dwyer. They have a half-dozen albums. I've worked through three of them, and they're an interesting, brainy, daring group who make messy records that I can't quite bring myself to love. This starts with a piece of screech, then moves on to some impressive postrock roll. Despite its rough spots, this may be their best record -- at least the best I've heard. Given how old this one is, not a real JCG candidate. B+(***)
  • Bucketrider: Le Baphomet (2001, Dr. Jim's). Similar in tone and construction to the previous Guignol's Band, but nothing here pushes the envelope far enough for amazement. Just a good, solid record, a complex of sounds with some propulsion. B+
  • Bucketrider: L'Événements (2004, Dr. Jim's). The booklet doesn't explain much more than that the events referred to date from May and June 1968. Since the titles are in French, I assume that we're talking about the student revolts in Paris. Many of these pieces refer back to movements in the arts and politics: surrealism, dada, situationism, anarchism, etc. All of this tempts one to think of this as some sort of soundtrack. The pieces switch between soft scratches that do little and harsh noisefests that also do little but much it much more loudly. There's enough worthwhile material here to convince me that this is still an interesting group, but this isn't the place to try to figure that out. B
  • Alex Bugnon: Free (2005, Narada). Bugnon plays a happy piano, and the snappy beat of the title cut and a few more is down right infectious. However, this slips a notch on occasion when the electronics of his sidekick Phil Davis get the upper hand. Then it merely sounds like what it's spozed to: smooth jazz, just a knick better than average. B
  • Katie Bull: Love Spook (2004 [2005], Corn Hill Indie). Singer with a strong backing group (including Joe Fonda, Frank Kimbrough, Matt Wilson). She works hard, stretching and teasing at the songs -- some as well worn as "My Favorite Things" and "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," a few originals like "Leftover Blues" which argues that Chinese is always better the next day. That's dead wrong, but the song just seems to be a foil for the singer, so maybe profundity isn't the point. But if technique is, that doesn't offer much. B-
  • Bull Fonda Duo: Cup of Joe, No Bull (2005, Corn Hill Indie). I didn't care for Katie Bull's last album, but this one works better. Part of this is that the alternation of standards with originals keeps her close to solid songs, which she pokes and prods but ultimately lets stand on their own. The accompaniment is just Joe Fonda's bass, which adds a warm resonance without interfering with the vocals. B+(*)
  • Greg Burk Quartet: Carpe Momentum (2002 [2004], Soul Note). Just what you'd want in a really contemporary state-of-the-art jazz session. Burk is a first rate pianist, able to fill in or take the lead with equal aplomb. Jerry Bergonzi has a warm, distinctly human sound on tenor sax, keeping everything on an even keel. Bass and drums complement as expected. This could be a desert island disc. And maybe given the concentration being on a desert island would provide, I might then be able to zone in on the craft and smarts for its own sake, instead of my usual search for cheap thrills. B+(**)
  • Greg Burk Trio: Nothing, Knowing (2003 [2005], 482 Music). Burk is a young pianist who plays dense, difficult chords, and this trio with veterans Steve Swallow and Bob Moses is wound tight, threatening at any point to explode. Moses, in particular, seems to be having a ball. B+(**)
  • Kenny Burrell: Prestige Profiles (1956-63 [2005], Prestige). I still haven't come to grips with Legacy's big guitar box, so perhaps should withhold my generalizations until then. Burrell is one of several second tier guitarists to come out of the bop ferment -- the top tier is Wes Montgomery, and everyone else is arguable (Jim Hall, Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Raney, Barney Kessel, Mundell Lowe, Grant Green, Joe Pass). The problem here isn't Burrell, whose solos are fluid and imaginative. The problem is Prestige, whose quickie product process did little to help their artists develop. That hardly hurt for artists like Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Lockjaw Davis, Gene Ammons, or others who were already on top of their game. But for Burrell it meant throwing him into the studio with random sets of musicians, including dominant voices like Hawkins and Coltrane. This tries to sort out the mess, latching on to cuts with fine guitar solos, but even selecting for Burrell they're mostly cuts where everyone takes a solo, even the bassists. B+(*)
  • John Butcher/Mike Hansen/Tomasz Krakowiak: Equation (2002 [2003], Spool/Field). Hansen's credit is "record players" -- presumably he's the one who laid down the static noise that forms the backbone of two suites based on physics equations. Butcher's saxophones and Krakowiak's percussion never change the texture of the material -- any way you slice it, this remains high concept/low yield noise. Not my thing, really, and even less likely to be yours, but this is one of the few such albums that holds my attention. Not sure whether that makes it a success for its type, or a failure. B+(*)
  • François Carrier Trio: Play (2000 [2004], 482 Music). Recorded live in a tour of Canada. This is my kind of album, an edgy saxophonist in a minimal setting. B+(***)
  • Sara Caswell: But Beautiful (2004 [2005], Arbors). Caswell is a young violinist, well schooled both in classical and jazz -- her parents are both musicologists, and her sister Rachel sings on three cuts here, plays cello (but not here), etc. Songlist doesn't fit Arbors' usual return-to-swing curriculum -- "The Way You Look Tonight" starts out there, but Monk, Shorter, Ron Carter, Billy Joel, and someone named Mihanovich also make the list, plus a couple by good ol' "traditional" and one original. The point, I suppose, is to showcase her versatility, but I can't discern any other. Good pianist in Lynne Arriale, underused. "Shenandoah" is a nice closer, even with the vocal scat. B
  • Bill Charlap: Plays George Gershwin: The American Soul (2005, Blue Note). The big change here is the addition of a horn section to Charlap's usual superb trio. The horn section is equally impeccable: Phil Woods on alto sax, Frank Wess on tenor sax, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, and Slide Hampton on trombone. These are players who know the book and know how to sweeten up the harmony, but they don't add much in the way of energy. Charlap himself reworks these pieces extensively, but he's so respectful of them that in the end he tucks them all back together again. B+(*)
  • Billy Childs Ensemble: Lyric: Jazz-Chamber Music Vol. 1 (2004 [2005], Lunacy Music). This is so far away from anything that interests me that I have to punt. More specifically, this has all the hated accoutrements of euroclassical music: a string section, the minor wind instruments of classical orchestrae (oboe, bassoon, french horn, flutes up the wazzoo), harp even. Childs' piano fits right in, without a trace of swing or stride or even bebop. On the other hand, I have to admit that it doesn't churn my stomach like ye olde classics so often do, and when the orchestra melts away to reveal the piano it can be quite pretty. Note that the longest piece, called "Hope, in the Face of Despair," was inspired by Art Spiegelman's Maus. B
  • Tim Coffman: Crossroads (2004 [2005], BluJazz). Three horns (piano, bass and drums) is typically an arranger's lineup, not something I normally look forward to, but it does improve the odds a bit that the leader plays trombone. Songlist mostly comes from the hard bop era, with Juan Tizol's "Caravan" the only throwback -- and one of the nicer things here, although the arrangement breaks no new ground. Nothing here excites me, but it's all tastefully crafted, the horns interlocking smoothly, with generous solo space for the trombone. B+(*)
  • Bill Cole/William Parker: Two Masters: Live at the Prism (2005, Boxholder). Cole is a master of eclecticism and exotica. He specializes in odd reed instruments from around the world, giving first place to the digeridoo. His two previous albums of Duets & Solos felt experimental, as he dabbled with everything in his closet juxtaposed against various partners. Parker was his most notable partner, leading to this duo. But while Parker's mastery of the bass fiddle is unmatched, he too likes to dabble. He high/low point here is a duet with both masters squaring off with nagaswarms. It's called "Election Funeral Dance" -- while it was recorded earlier, the record was mixed on Nov. 3, 2004, so I suspect that's when the title took over. It sounds a bit like the work of two snakes who've disposed of their charmers. The other pieces are more agreeable -- especially with Parker's hand drums. Interesting things here, but it wears a bit thin as well. Cole's done albums with larger groups -- Seasoning the Greens is one I particularly like. B+(*)
  • Graham Collier: Workpoints (1968-75 [2005], Cuneiform, 2CD). The British never paid bebop much heed. Well into the '60s British jazz was dominated by the trad jazz movement -- Ken Colyer, Humphrey Lyttelton, Chris Barber, Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball. Then in the late '60s Britain developed a distinctive avant-garde culture, built as much on the ideas of ultramodernists like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Cornelius Cardew and the suddenly expanding vistas of art rock as on anything in the jazz tradition -- least of all bebop. (The few exceptions to the no-bop rule included Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott, remembered mostly as eccentrics.) These two concerts led by bassist Collier are good examples of the evolution of the new British jazz. The first is a large band -- nine horns, vibes, bass and drums -- working in extended forms, striking in the intricate layering of horns and the muscularity of the rhythm. The other is a sextet, also working long pieces, this time centered around Ed Speight's guitar. In both the composer maintains control while letting the bands work out the details -- a mid-point between the dominating arrangements of the classic swing bands and the pure improvisation just around the corner, but neither compromise nor transition. More like a new foundation for a postclassical European music invigorated by jazz. A-
  • Raynald Colom: My Fifty One Minutes (2004 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent). Young Spanish trumpeter, probably his first album, and if the title is any indication, possibly his last. He's mostly working in a mainstream post-bop mode, alongside a saxophonist, electric keyboard, acoustic or electric bass, and drums, except for an interlude which is pure funk replete with vocal. The one saxophone bit you notice is guest Jesse Davis. B-
  • John Coltrane: One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note (1965 [2005], Impulse, 2CD). Radio broadcast tapes, long circulated as bootlegs, finally cleaned up for an official release. The group is the famous McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones quartet, but near the end of their run, with Coltrane ready to head off for other dimensions. Worthwhile, of course, but not as fresh as some of the earlier live material, of which there is quite a lot. B+(***)
  • Ravi Coltrane: In Flux (2005, Savoy Jazz). He isn't, and never will be, the force that his father was, in large part because he works so much more deliberately. But he tracks his father's muse at least as assiduously as Hank Williams Jr. does his, and unlike Williams shows no evidence of being an asshole. In fact, he seems pretty normal. He's got a first rate group here; he works within it and builds from that. Gets expansive toward the end. I've never been sure that I didn't overrate his first record, but this one tempts me the same way that one did. If his name was, oh, Tim Warefield, he wouldn't suffer these odious comparisons, but then he'd be much less well known. Can't have it both ways. But what makes me think he may be overrated is that he plays so elegantly within his given framework rather than pushing outside of it, like we expect major artists to do. He isn't major, at least not in that sense. But he is very good at what he does, and this album is such a nonstop pleasure there's no reason to go sour. A-
  • Common Ground: High Voltage (2004 [2005], Delmark). Something about the two-violin lineup doesn't mesh quite right. My guess (and I don't claim this to be anything but) is the rhythm section -- piano-bass-drums, good mostly for a hot tempo that lets the violins saw. Unlike horns, a violin doesn't move air the way a voice does, so its utility as a lead instrument is diminished. Someone like Billy Bang solves this problem by tightening up for a searing sound, but simply doubling up the violins give neither anywhere to hide. Still, it isn't bad: a lot of movement, plus an interesting twist on a Beatles (George Harrison) song to finish. B+(*)
  • Eric Comstock: No One Knows (2005, Harbinger). At first he sounds like he might be the next Sinatra, then you notice he's aiming more at Pizzarelli. A patch of three Strayhorn/Ellington pieces shows you how carefully he navigates, but also how cautious he can be. But he keeps moving on, tackling songwriters and pulling his punches. When you expect him to pull out the stops on "Old Devil Moon" he dampens down even more. There's something to be said for an artist who constantly defies expectations, but I'm not sure what it is. He is smart and articulate, and has impeccable taste in musicians. B+(**)
  • Harry Connick Jr.: Occasion: Connick on Piano 2 (2005, Marsalis Music/Rounder). The previous album in what's now a series, Other Hours: Connick on Piano 1, matched Connick with relative unknowns Ned Goold, Neal Caine, and Arthur Latin II (Goold and Caine have records on Smalls). This one strips down to a mere duo, with far-from-unknown Branford Marsalis the unannounced collaborator. This is a curious marketing choice: duo albums usually name both collaborators -- if nothing else, it cross-markets. Connick does sell better than Marsalis, but the latter isn't chopped liver, and this album is much more likely to be of interest to the saxophonist's fans. I've played this 6-7 times, and the only adjective that comes to mind for Connick is competent. Marsalis' work is nice, but it's so tightly modulated to the piano framework that he doesn't deliver much. B
  • Rita Coolidge: And So Is Love (2005, Concord). Originally tagged by her associations as country rock, Coolidge was a very minor singer who managed eleven albums for A&M from 1971-84 but has only worked sporadically since then. So why not give her a shot at "Sentimental Journey" and "Cry Me a River"? She's old enough for Adult Contemporary, still has a voice with a bit of personality, and Concord can always round up useful musicians. This was cut with two piano trios plus various extras, of which Ronnie Cuber's one bari sax appearance is the most useful. She doesn't wreck the good songs, and doesn't salvage the not-so-good ones. Sounds professional. B
  • Jackie Coon: The Joys of New Orleans (2005, Arbors). Cover says, "All sales proceeds donated to the Jazz Foundation of America for the benefit of New Orleans Musicians' relief." Looks like they pulled this old tape off the shelf for just that purpose. Don't know how old Coon is, but he recorded back in the mid-'50s with Jack Teagarden and Barney Bigard. Most trumpeters also pack a flugelhorn these days, but Coon is unique among trad jazz players in preferring the larger horn, and he sticks to it here, with Connie Jones complementing him on cornet. Strikes me as ordinary New Orleans fare, regardless of the cause, a good one no doubt. B
  • The Dan Cray Trio: Save Us! (2005, BluJazz). Good piano trio. Quick out of the box with a Stevie Wonder piece, then "When You Wish Upon a Star," then on to Cole Porter, Tadd Dameron, Monk, Shorter, Silver, ending with an original (or two). Mainstream, good taste, not a deconstructivist. B+(**)
  • Dave's True Story: Nature (2005, BePop). Dave is presumably guitarist Dave Cantor, who writes the songs and plays along with bassist-producer Jeff Eyrich and extra studio hands. Kelly Flint is the singer and the centerpiece. Starts off with a couple of good songs, with a straight but warm and comfortable jazz framework. B+(*)
  • Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: Mean Ameen (2004, Delmark). The title cut is a tribute to trumpeter Ameen Muhammad, with Maurice Brown handling the key instrument. With Dawkins' alto or tenor sax and Steve Berry's trombone the group is thick with brass and raucous. B+(*)
  • Lea Delaria: Double Standards (2002 [2005], Telarc). Her first album came from her standup comedy act, released under the title Bulldyke in a China Shop. This one is a surprisingly straight set of jazz vocals: she sings, scats even, with impressive skill, and she has a solid mainstream jazz band anchored by Christian McBride and Bill Stewart, with Gil Goldstein on piano and Seamus Blake on tenor sax. But the songs aren't vintage standards -- she picks them from Patti Smith, Los Lobos, Blondie, No Doubt, Jane's Addiction, the Doors ("People Are Strange"), Green Day, the Pretenders, Robert Wyatt, Neil Young ("Philadelphia"). But she makes them sound like standards, which is harder than you'd figure -- or at least beyond the grasp of almost any name brand jazz singer you can name. An impressive trick, but I wouldn't mind a little more collateral damage. [Previously issued by Warner Brothers in UK, but new here.] B+(**)
  • Sarah DeLeo: The Nearness of You (2005, Sweet Sassy Music). Young vocalist, identifies with singer Peggy Lee, not cellist Peggy Lee; a passel of standards, mostly backed with guitar (Chris Bergson), bass and drums, sometimes with keybs, two cuts with trumpet. So competent, and so likeable, the ups and downs merely mirror the songlist. B+(*)
  • Whit Dickey: In a Heartbeat (2004 [2005], Clean Feed). Roy Campbell and Rob Brown make a fine pair. Joe Morris throws some knuckleball guitar into the mix, with his abstract comping behind Brown perhaps the highlight of this set. Chris Lightcap and Dickey complete the group, with Dickey writing four of five pieces. I like all the pieces here, my main reservation that they don't fully ignite the way you might expect. B+(*)
  • Sasha Dobson: The Darkling Thrush (2004, Smalls). Pretty much exactly what they wanted: a singer with some edge on a set of standards, a band (Chris Byars' Octet) good enough to stand on their own. There are dozens of movies with this setting: go into a smoky nightclub to conduct some business or just chill out, find a singer on stage doing a first-rate job even though nobody's paying attention. She lets the songs do the work, zipping through "I'm Beginning to See the Light" and struggling a bit with "Sophisticated Lady." B+(*)
  • Down to the Bone: Spread Love Like Wildfire (2005, Narada Jazz). Smooth jazz, but the groove is hard to deny, even if there is nothing terribly interesting about it. B+(*)
  • The Edge: David Axelrod at Capitol Records (1966-70 [2005], Capitol Jazz): although intended as a tribute to Axelrod's prowess as a producer, the clearest picture emerges from ten cuts released under Axelrod's own name: elaborate quasi-classical music most often encountered in soundtracks, but possibly intended as prog rock; half the rest fit the same mold, including a heavy one from Cannonball Adderley that's as close to jazz as the album gets; that leaves three cuts from the inner fringes of r&b, the one that most admires Paul Robeson. B-
  • Harris Eisenstadt: The Soul and Gone (2004 [2005], 482 Music). Sextet led by drummer Eisenstadt, with several familiar Chicago players: Jeb Bishop (trombone), Jeff Parker (guitar), Jason Roebke (bass). Also a couple of Jasons I'm unfamiliar with: Adasiewicz (vibes) and Mears (alto sax, clarinet). It may be that Eisenstadt's got too many resources here for his rather abstract music -- lots of little sounds pop out of nowhere and vanish as quickly. Interesting stuff, in principle, and listenable as well, but I suspect he could have done more with less. B+(*)
  • Either/Orchestra: Éthiopiques 20: Live in Addis (2004 [2005], Buda Musique, 2CD). Francis Falceto's Éthiopiques series provided a comprehensive survey of Ethiopia's short-lived pop music flowering in the early '70s, a period soon choked off by infertile war and revolution. Now Falceto has come full circle with new recordings, both of Etiopians and of western musicians who discovered Ethiopia through his unique series. A few years back, Russ Gershon rearranged several pieces from Éthiopiques 13 for his big band. That led to Gershon's Either/Orchestra playing an extended program of Ethiopian music at a festival in Addis Ababa, recorded here. The session starts with five west-meets-east pieces where the orchestra's discipline doesn't tame the source material so much as muscles it up. But it keeps its African roots, especially thanks to guest percussionist Mulatu Astatqé. After that start, more Ethiopian guests join in -- several singers, and explosive saxophonist Gétatchèw Mèkurya. A-
  • Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio: Live at the River East Art Center (2004 [2005], Delmark). The 4:39 piece of Kahil "testifying" - arguing that we should live life fully and not be boring - is both too explicit and too wishy-washy for my taste. Don't care much for his singing, chanting, or whatever either, but I accept the proposition that his late bassist, Malachi Favors, was a big big man, "big Favors" indeed. But the music in the four long pieces keep up an easy, patient groove. El'Zabar's percussion is at the center of this, but Ari Brown's tenor sax sings true. Bang doesn't blow this crowd away, as he could, but his acid bow contrasts strongly with Brown, and handles any curves El'Zabar and Yosef Ben Israel throw his way. B+(**)
  • Avram Fefer/Bobby Few: Kindred Spirits (2004 [2005], Boxholder). Bobby Few worked with Steve Lacy for many years, so expecially when he starts into the Monk songs it's tempting to think of Fefer as a Lacy fill-in. That doesn't work for several reasons, including that Fefer plays tenor sax and clarinet as well as soprano sax, but most of all because he's just not Lacy. Still, the four Monk pieces, plus two from Mingus and one from Ellington, have a nicely rounded, intimate feel to them. The Fefer originals at the end are less shapely, but maintain the intimate mood. B+(**)
  • Avram Fefer/Bobby Few: Heavenly Places (2004-05 [2005], Boxholder). This one is free improv, with three long, relatively unstructured pieces. As such, it's bound to be tougher listening than the standards on their Kindred Spirits, and indeed it is. Fefer's tenor sax has a frog down the bell somewhere, but his clarinet is clearer and more thoughtful. The good spots are short, the sort of interplay that grabs you when you least expect it. Few's spots fare a bit better, as does his work behind Fefer. Few has a background with Steve Lacy, so that may be the model here, but Fefer isn't Lacy, by a long shot. B
  • Eric Felten: Meets the Dek-Tette (VSOP). This was conceived as a tribute to singer Mel Torme and cool jazz arranger Marty Paich, and that defines it for all practical purposes. Felten doesn't have the sweetness in his voice that Torme had, but he makes a strong impression. The band, with old pros like Herb Geller and Jack Sheldon, comes off even stronger, while the Brent Wallarab's new arrangements have a crispness that wouldn't be evident if they had just recycled Paich's originals. B+(**)
  • Amina Figarova: September Suite (2005, Munich). Haven't gotten much more out of this. The suite is heartfelt, soberly executed; the musicianship dutiful. She's better at "Numb" and "Emptyness" than "Rage" -- which is good in a human, but not necessarily in an artist. B+(*)
  • Renée Fleming: Haunted Heart (2005, Decca). I gather that she's a famous opera singer, and that this is just a change of pace. (Even so, the credits include names like Berg and Mahler, along with Lennon-McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, and Stephen Foster.) She called an earlier album The Beautiful Voice, but isn't beauty in the ear of the beholder? She dwells in the deep end of an extraordinary range, has remarkable diction, and can turn on and modulate a vibrato like no one I've ever heard. So she can sing, but the only song that she really elevates is "My Cherie Amour" -- but then Stevie Wonder is one pop star with no future crooning jazz standards (cf. his "St. Louis Blues" on that Herbie Hancock record). Fleming may measure up as a pure singer to Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter, but she doesn't hold a candle to them as a jazz singer. But what makes this matter as jazz? Nothing, really, except that her accompanists have notable jazz reps, even though there's nothing very jazzy about what they do here. Which isn't to knock them. Fred Hersch is as near-perfect as I've ever heard him (which is saying something), while Bill Frisell is a model of economy and elegance. (They both play on two cuts, leaving six with just Frisell, seven with Hersch only.) But they dutifully keep their seats behind the voice. I find this both remarkable and repulsive, not quite the monster I expect, but not without menace nonetheless. B
  • Fred Frith: Eleventh Hour (1990-2002 [2005], Winter & Winter, 2CD). Frith makes for scratchy, plucky minimalism -- none of the neat electronic blips that originally defined the genre, but the extended motifs with negligible shifts of rhythm and texture fit the mold. Here is he more composer than musician: the first disc is dominated by the Arditti String Quartet, while Frith's guitar is more prominent on the second. I haven't followed Frith since his early prepared guitar solos, so I have no idea how this fits into what is now a long career. B+(*)
  • Mitchell Froom: A Thousand Days (2005, Kontextrecords). Well known as a producer and part-time Latin Playboy, this is a sharp change of pace: a short (38:03) solo piano album, original material, moderately paced, modestly done. Nice. Handsome cover. So what? B
  • The Red Garland Quintets Featuring John Coltrane: Prestige Profiles (1957-61 [2005], Prestige). And Donald Byrd, for the quintessential bebop quintet lineup. Except for one piece with a different quintet, with Richard Williams and Oliver Nelson. Starts with "Billie's Bounce," which never sounded more retro. Best thing here is Garland's own "Soul Junction," with a long intro that lets you enjoy the piano, before Coltrane enters like he's easing into a warm bath. B+(**)
  • Charles Gayle: Shout! (2003 [2005], Clean Feed). Seems like a typical Gayle album, right down to the curveball piece where he plays piano. He's no more awkward on piano than he is on tenor sax. He plays both with rough abandon, but he keeps his sax on a shorter tether than in the old days - lots of strained notes, a pressure that builds and rarely releases. On the other hand, he can cut loose more on piano without the ceiling crashing down. This complements his performance on the Sirone-Bang album. B+(**)
  • Rick Germanson: You Tell Me (2004 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent). Mainstream piano trio, sure of foot, bright, vibrant, richly played. No real complaints, but virtues like that don't go all that far either. B
  • Terry Gibbs: Feelin' Good (2005, Mack Avenue). Easy swinging date for the veteran vibraphonist, with guests Eric Alexander and Joey DeFrancesco carrying a lot of weight, along with guitarist Dan Faehnle. Gibbs himself goes back as far as Tommy Dorsey (1946), Woody Herman (1948), and Benny Goodman (1951). B+(*)
  • Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker: Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945 (1945 [2005], Uptown). Jazz critics write about Charlie Parker as if he was Jesus. He came unto the world to deliver us from swing, and after a few breathtaking, turbulent years he died for our sins. His death was greeted by denial and resurrection, as in the ubiquitous "Bird Lives!" graffiti of the '50s. His acolytes have scoured the land for every scrap of solo he left, so now there are dozens of bootlegged live tapes in print -- most in execrable sound quality, but cherished nonetheless. All this reverence has always turned me off, and I've been slapped down more times than I care to recall for saying so. To my ears, which perhaps significantly had absorbed Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton before I ever turned to Parker, he's always been a one trick pony: he played off chord changes at breakneck speed. There's no doubt that he's an important, even pivotal, figure in jazz history. But Jesus is only for true believers, and I'm just not one. So when this newly discovered treasure came in the mail I put it on the shelf, not into the changer. Now that I've finally gotten to it, I can report: first, this is Gillespie's group, doing Gillespie's songs, which means that Parker really has to work to steal the show (which he does at least twice); the sound is pretty clean and well balanced; Symphony Sid is as boring as ever; there are no new revelations here, but this gives you an idea what the excitement was about. B+(***)
  • Jeff Golub: Temptation (2005, Narada Jazz). Better-than-average tasty funk guitar on top of Paul Brown's smooth jazz puree. Pleasant enough, but not exactly engaging. B
  • Dennis González NY Quartet: NY Midnight Suite (2003 [2004], Clean Feed). This takes a while to kick in, but the interplay between Gonzalez and Eskelin is especially worthwhile. Not strongly, or even remotely, latin; very typical contemporary avant-garde, of a high order. B+(**)
  • Dexter Gordon: Daddy Plays the Horn (1955, Shout! Factory). Between drugs and busts, the bebop's first major tenor saxophonist recorded little in the mid-'50s; this exception shows that it had nothing to do with his skills -- the big tone, the powerful swing, his wit and demeanor are all evident, as is Kenny Drew's redoubtable piano. A-
  • Gush: Norrköping (2003 [2005], Atavistic). The quiet spots are more annoying than the squalls. The piano has a rinky-dink feel, but Mats Gustafsson's baritone sax has some muscle. B
  • Julie Hardy: A Moment's Glance (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent). Mild singer, likes to scat, but doesn't have the lungs for it. Backup is mainstream and not especially distinguished. B
  • Donald Harrison/Ron Carter/Billy Cobham: New York Cool: Live at the Blue Note (2005, Half Note). Same lineup as Heroes, an album recorded in 2002 that challenged Harrison to work in a tight trio context, but helped him out with an extraordinary rhythm section. But this reprise has the easy structure of a concert performance, with traditional fare, long pieces, even a healthy-sized drum solo. In other words, nothing so challenging -- even if much is enjoyable, including the drum solo. B
  • Richie Hart: Greasy Street (2005, Zoho). Hart's last one, Blues in the Alley, was such a straightforward blues romp I was reluctant to file it under jazz. This one is certainly jazzier, with a preference for shimmering notes. Not dislikeable, not even when Dr. Lonnie guests. Sweet even, but weren't they aiming for greasy? B
  • Andrew Hill: Mosaic Select (1967-70 [2005], Mosaic, 3CD). One of the most important pianists to emerge in the '60s, Hill recorded extensively for Blue Note from 1963 to 1970, but as the label declined he increasingly found his recordings stuck on the shelf. After many years of quietly recording on European labels, Hill re-emerged with Dusk (2000, Palmetto) gaining accolades for his arrangements. Blue Note soon came out with the previously unreleased Passing Ships, which in its intricate arrangements for a six piece band was the perfect bookend opposite Dusk. This box answers the question of what else by Hill is in Blue Note's basement. It leads off with a 1970 sextet session featuring Charles Tolliver in brilliant form and closes with a 1967 sextet with Sam Rivers in chronic breakdown. In between are a basic trio session from 1967 and an intriguing strings session from 1969. B+(**)
  • Mike Holober and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra: Thought Trains (1996 [2004], Sons of Sound). Another NYC-based big band of convenience, including a few well known players working for the relatively unknown pianist/composer/arranger. More conventional than, e.g., Justin Mullens' crowd, which is part of the reason they sound much better. B+(**)
  • Elmo Hope: Trio and Quartet (1953-57 [2005], Blue Note). This combines two early 10-inch LPs -- one a trio, the other a quintet with Freeman Lee on trumpet and Frank Foster on tenor sax -- plus three tracks from a later quintet with Stu Williamson and Harold Land. Hope was a fine bebop pianist, best heard on the sparkling trios, but interesting throughout, even when he takes a back seat to Foster's swinging leads. Land, of course, is more boppish, but less compelling. B+(***)
  • Wayne Horvitz/Ron Samworth/Peggy Lee/Bill Clark/Dylan van der Schyff: Intersection Poems (2003 [2004], Spool/Line). Four musicians from Vancouver, one from Seattle, meet for free form improvisation, with no one much in control, and no real direction in mind. Sometimes it sounds like something might come of it, then it wanders off again. I certainly haven't paid it the attention it might deserve, but then I expect records to tell me when they're important, and this one didn't. B
  • Dick Hyman and Tom Pletcher: If Bix Played Gershwin (2004, Arbors). Bix Beiderbecke played with Paul Whiteman's orchestra around the time when Whiteman recorded Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," but evidently Bix wasn't on the record. Hyman, as adroit a scholar of prewar jazz as wel have, and a remarkable chameleon on the piano, claims that "Gershwin pieces were peculiarly absent from Bix's play list." But that just sets up this thought experiment. In any case, Hyman and Pletcher, who plays cornet, are thinking of Bix's earlier work with Frank Trumbauer -- Dan Levinson plays c-melody sax per his model. It's a minor delight, but not the Gershwin showcase you might have expected -- so used are we to Gershwin in swing. B+(*)
  • Dick Hyman and Randy Sandke: Now and Again (2005, Arbors). Hyman provides support without ever taking charge: he is so professional he almost disappears. Sandke, meanwhile, is coming more distinctively into his own. He even writes two pieces, which set nicely among the Armstrong and Morton classics, the Porter and Mercer standards, and one piece penned by Hyman called "Thinking About Bix." B+(**)
  • Vijay Iyer: Reimagining (2004 [2005], Savoy Jazz). Iyer is such a domineering pianist that the presence of a saxophone in his quartet just gives him an extra hurdle to clamber over. His quartet here is less avant than the bass-less trio Fieldwork. Stephan Crump's bass has a leveling effect, and Marcus Gilmore's drums don't push the edge like Elliott Kavee (or Tyshawn Sorey, who has replaced Kavee since Fieldwork's second album dropped), but the main difference is in the saxophonists: Rudresh Mahanthappa shows a strong Coltrane influence, while the more acerbic Steve Lehman comes out of Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton. The constant, of course, is Iyer. I came to this one after Fieldwork, and in general I'm only starting to work my way backwards through Iyer's work. This is more intricate, measured, and polished than Fieldwork, and as such it doesn't have the physical punch. In the long run that may favor this album, but not yet. I am, however, suitably impressed. A-
  • Keith Jarrett: Radiance (2002 [2005], ECM, 2CD). Solo piano, recorded in Japan in 2002, released near his 60th birthday. Jarrett did a lot of this in the early '70s. This resembles his early marathons, particularly in how he turns small movements over to create large ones. But it does feel less olympic, less a feat of endurance and athleticism, more meditative. After all, he's getting on. B+(*)
  • Jazzmob: Pathfinder (2003, Jazzaway). Norwegian quintet led by alto saxist Jon Klette. Hard to pigeonhole, since avant-trad-fusion doesn't clarify much of anything. Except perhaps by suggesting a cosmic wormhole to the similarly named Sexmob, who do a better job of keeping what they're spoofing straight. B
  • Billy Jenkins: Still . . . Sounds Like Bromley (1995 [1997], Babel). This is a very strange record, which at various times has freaked me out, at others filled me with awe. The lineup is huge and diverse. The sounds they create could fill the ultimate psychedelic circus. There is an intense playfulness here. One suspects satire at points, but satire without irony is impossible, and this seems way too naive to be ironic. Rather, it's mania at play. If you don't resist too much, you'll enjoy yourself. A-
  • Billy Jenkins: Suburbia (1999, Babel). The credits include screaming kids, lawn mowers, and the kitchen sink. The kids, at least, appear in a piece called "Coke Cans in Yer Garden," with Jenkins' electric guitar soaring around them. This starts with a cryptic, broken blues piece, and ends with an r&b sendup that concludes that suburbia is "a place to come from." Intermittently amazing, as usual, just a little more intermittent than some of the competition. B+(***)
  • Antonio Carlos Jobim: Symphonic Jobim (2002 [2005], Adventure Music, 2CD). A better idea than "symphonic Rolling Stones," but still a specialty item. The project was led by Paulo Jobim and Mario Adnet, recorded with members of the Orquestra Sinfónica do Estado do São Paulo, conducted by Roberto Minczuk, with Milton Nascimento crashing the party. Overall, it's short on beat, and Nascimento's vocals don't do anything for me. B-
  • Sean Jones: Gemini (2005, Mack Avenue). I have mixed feelings here. Jones is a young trumpeter (27) on his second album, without much sideman experience to point to, but the blurb points out that Wynton Marsalis picked him up for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He can play, and can kick up his heels; the bits I like best are the ones where it's just him and rhythm. The producers often add more, some of which works, some much less so, but none of it is really unpleasant. B
  • Anders Jormin: Xieyi (1999 [2001], ECM). Mostly a solo bass record, and a rather slow, sedate one at that, but it draws my attention. The exceptions are six short pieces for brass quartet (trumpet or flugelhorn, french horn, trombone, bass trombone), which are slight and elegant. A record this slight could easily slip by without getting proper notice. B+(*)
  • Jumala Quintet: Turtle Crossing (2000 [2005], Clean Feed). Three horns, bass and drums. The saxophones, in various weights and combos, are played by Paul Flaherty and Joe McPhee, except when McPhee switches to pocket trumpet. They each go their own way, as you'd expect even if not warned that they had never played together before recording -- hadn't even discussed what they were going to play. The third horn is Steve Swell's trombone, who fits in or stands out, as the case may be. This is one of those pure improv things that seems to always be on the edge between self-indulgence and self-discovery, but it's more consistently interesting than most. B+(*)
  • Kammerflimmer Kollektief: Absencen (2005, Staubgold). Kraut rock as the rhythmic base for some scratchy sax improv, of which I wish there were more. The synths are mostly dreamy, with one track kicking up the reverb to sound like Hawaiian pedal steel. Choice cut: "Lichterloh." B+(*)
  • Peter Kenagy: Little Machines (2003 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent). Young (b. 1977) trumpet player from Seattle, based in Boston. This is his first album, a sextet with two saxes, guitar, bass and drums, on a thoughtful but slow moving program. B+(*)
  • Soweto Kinch: Conversations With the Unseen (2003 [2004], Dune). Kinch plays saxophone with a combination of r&b excitement and Coltrane-ish expansiveness, much like Ravi Coltrane. This makes his instrumental flights almost irresistible, but that's hardly the end of the story. He seems to shelter ambitions of pop stardom, at least at the Courtney Pine level if not quite Dizzee Rascal. The three odd cuts out here are "Intro," "Intermission," and "Outro" -- all rap pieces. The bookends are just verbal vamps -- "Outro" is just a riff on the phrase "we're shutting it down," repeated until they do. The middle piece has a story to it, although Kinch's accent and phrasing are more interesting. I find the raps a turn-off, not least because I listen to enough rap to see these as second rate. But the man can blow. B+(**)
  • Ilona Knopfler: Live the Life (2005, Mack Avenue). I'm surprised first of all that I find the many French songs here to be little short of annoying. The hype touts her "clear, powerful voice" but I find it to be rather light, lacking gravitas. A second problem is the music, which approaches big band mass without picking up any real punch -- not that I'm asking for Billy May or anything like that, just something to hold on to. B-
  • Lee Konitz With Alan Broadbent: More Live-Lee (2000 [2004], Milestone). A second CD of duo performances from the Jazz Bakery in 2000. Much like the first, with Konitz searching deliberately and thoughtfully, and Broadbent discursively answering. No drop off; maybe even an edge over the first, inasmuch as Konitz is a shade more prominent. B+(**)
  • Simone Kopmajer: Romance (2005, Zoho). A singer, she has a touch which is precise and just nuanced enough to bring you in close. The band, piano trio plus Eric Alexander on tenor sax, is impeccable. The songs are standards, with two takes of Bill Withers' "Whatever Happens" adapted for torching. B+(*)
  • Kathy Kosins: Vintage (2005, Mahogany Jazz/Lightyear). She has a voice that commands attention, and a band that rewards it. She looks for songs that haven't been beat to death, and writes a bit of one. The most famous song here is "These Boots Are Made for Walkin," which doesn't resolve into the recognizable until the chorus, and then wanders off into a riff on boots and walkin, concluding "don't forget Bootsy Collins" (for those of you who denied your Funk Permit, that's a reference to Bootsy's This Boot Is Made for Fonk-n). Will Friedwald's notes liken her phrasing to Tony Bennett's, which seems roughly true, especially on the closing ballads. But she's hipper than Bennett (not to mention Friedwald), even though the cover photo looks like a scrap from the '40s. B+(**)
  • Steve Kuhn Trio: Quiéreme Mucho (2000 [2005], Sunnyside). Gringo piano trio works its way through an all-Latin songbook, including such well known pieces as "Bésame Mucho" and "Duerme." Sharply played, bright sound, but while the melodies are recognizable the "Spanish tinge" is somehow missing. B
  • Yusef Lateef: Psychicemotus (1965 [2005], Impulse). There is something odd about Lateef's world music -- in some ways he's ahead of the times, but in others it feels like he found his exotica in old National Geographics. Here he hops about the globe from flute to bamboo flute, never settling anywhere long enough to get comfortable, neglecting the tenor sax which is his true calling. Pianist George Arvanitas gets the last cut for a solo. He's earned it, but not necessarily here. B
  • Bradley Leighton: Groove Yard (2003, Pacific Coast Jazz). Flute record, on top of a pretty decent rhythm section, working from a a list of standards including two Jobims and the title cut from Wes Montgomery. It's OK, but file under flutes. B
  • Ramsey Lewis: With One Voice (2005, Narada Jazz). Church music. Big church, performed live, with sixty voices in the choir, shaking the rafters on "Oh Happy Day," and guest vocalists Smokie Norful and Darius Brooks leading a song each. The group varies by song, sometimes a dozen or more strong. Kevin Randolph co-wrote several pieces with Lewis, and plays keyboards throughout, but Lewis' piano pokes through as the single most authoritative instrument. I don't expect much from Lewis these days, so the joy and power of the opener caught me by surprise. This plays out as a solid, but hardly transcendent, gospel album. B
  • Charles Lloyd: Jumping the Creek (2005, ECM). Seems like a typical album for Lloyd these days. B+(*)
  • Joe Locke: Rev-elation (2005, Sharp Nine). Front cover attributes this to Joe Locke and the Milt Jackson Tribute Band, and names the rest of the group: Mike LeDonne, Bob Cranshaw, Mickey Roker. Spine just lists Locke. Booklet explains that the "driving force" behind the band was ex-Jackson pianist LeDonne. AMG only lists one Jackson album that LeDonne appeared on: 1997's Sa Va Bella, one of the vibes master's last -- although the Penguin Guide says that LeDonne played with Jackson "for many years." The booklet says that LeDonne, Cranshaw and Roker played with Jackson for a decade. In any case, this is LeDonne's second Jackson tribute, following 2001's Bags Groove, on Double-Time, with Steve Nelson working the mallets, along with Cranshaw, Roker, and four horn players. The list of eight songs includes one by Jackson, LeDonne, and Locke, plus five covers that no doubt showed up somewhere on Jackson's hundred-plus albums, including one by Ray Brown called "Used to Be Jackson." I'm beating around the bush here because I don't quite get the point. My ear isn't sharp enough to readily pick out differences between vibraphonists, but two things stick in my mind about Jackson: one was that the main thing that he brought to his own records was his effervescent swing, which was one thing that made his records with Basie so memorable; the other was his ability to accentuate the rhythmic sense of his pianists, starting with his amazing work with Monk. I don't feel either of those senses here, although Locke has done similar things with more modern pianists, like Kenny Barron. Of course, shorn of its concept, this is a fine sounding, if somewhat backward looking, piano-vibes quartet album. B+(*)
  • Frank Lowe/Billy Bang Quartet: One for Jazz (2001, No More). A quarter century past their initial collaborations, two years before Lowe's death, this is a group at home with itself, playing music that only outsiders might view as on the edge. So much of their personalities come through in the music that it's a rare pleasure just to kick back and listen. A-
  • Pedro Madaleno: The Sound of Places (2003 [2004], Clean Feed). Portuguese guitarist, tends to be subtle but his work is elegant, and tenor saxophonist Wolfgang Fuhr, who is also subtle but on a louder instrument, draws out the highlights. B+
  • Sherrie Maricle & the DIVA Jazz Orchestra: TNT: A Tommy Newsom Tribute (Lightyear). Maricle's all-woman orchestra powers through ten Newsom arrangements. Maricle appeared on Newsom's Octo-Pussycats record, and on an earlier album with Newsom's Tonite Show predecessor, Skitch Henderson -- connections that garnered her an approving blurb from the late Johnny Carson. Band is quite solid, swings hard, has some bright voices. B+(*)
  • René Marie: Serene Renegade (2004, MaxJazz). I was surprised (shocked was more like it) when Morton & Cook singled out her album Vertigo for one of their crowns. I haven't heard that one, but this one and its predecessor show a very skillful singer, but not one I've connected with. She writes, too -- all but two songs here: she struggles a bit with "A Hard Day's Night" but aces "Lover Man." B+(**)
  • Wynton Marsalis: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2004, Blue Note). The most inspired music inspired by Jack Johnson belongs to Miles Davis, but it isn't of Johnson's period, and doesn't fit the expected scope of a Johnson biography, which is inevitably tragic. Moreover, Ken Burns isn't the sort of videomaker who could find let alone flesh out what Miles found in Johnson. Burns naturally turned to Wynton Marsalis, as he had in his jazz series. Marsalis went back, if not to Johnson's actual period, at least to the period Marsalis understands best, and stitched together a series of short pieces of vintage New Orleans jazz. Marsalis is overrated as the new Miles Davis and ridiculous as the new Duke Ellington but he can be quite enjoyable playing with Jelly Roll Morton, and that's what he does here. This has many of the usual problems of soundtracks, including some gloomy piano music for when times get tough at the end, but mostly just the shortness and disconnections of the pieces. B+(**)
  • Wynton Marsalis: Amongst the People: Live at the House of Tribes (2002 [2005], Blue Note). The opening hard bop workout of "Green Chimneys" is a fair barometer of Wynton's skills at this stage: he runs a first rate band, plays first rate trumpet, and has enough fun to be infectious. The closing "2nd Line" is even better: a straight, old-fashioned New Orleans romp with exultant voices (presumably the crowd?) leaking in at every opportunity. Too bad Wess Anderson had to play the trombone bits on alto sax, but otherwise it's hard to fault. In between are ballads and rave-ups, all expertly played, most fun to hear. He's a great player. His only weakness is when he tries to think. And he's only dangerous when he lets Stanley Crouch do the thinking for him. Which is why the liner notes are better smoked than read. B+(**)
  • Mike Marshall: Brazil Duets (2005, Adventure Music). Not as egregious as most duets albums these days -- no singers, just a choice of second instrumentalists to go with Marshall's mandolin or guitar. Marshall initially established himself in bluegrass, but took such an interest in Brazilian choro that he founded Adventure Music, a label that has done a fine job of connecting the dots between Brazil (and other parts of Latin America) and the U.S. He manages to do some interesting stuff here, but the common problem is that the music winds up thin with just two players -- and none of the seconds add to the percussion -- and from song to song the feel shifts strangely. Maybe he took duets too literally. B
  • Hugh Masekela: Revival (2005, Heads Up). South Africa's most famous jazz trumpeter returns home to a scene run amok with kwaito -- South Africa's take on hip-hop -- and works through his own twist on South African r&b, singing most of the songs, but making more of a mark with his horn. The more trad "District Six" I recall the title of a Chris McGregor album, but don't recall the significance -- something from the Apartheid era. "Working Underground" is another hardship song, no doubt as felt today as it was back then. B+(**)
  • Jackie McLean: Consequence (1965 [2005], Blue Note). McLean made dramatic advances toward the avant-garde during his tenure with Blue Note, but he also cut straight hard bop sessions like this one. One key is the lineup: Lee Morgan, Harold Mabern, Herbie Lewis, Billy Higgins. Another is a first song called "Bluesanova" -- more blues than nova, of course. A minor album in McLean's discography, not released until a housecleaning in 1979. Still, fans of Mabern and Morgan will be pleased. B+(*)
  • Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up (2005, Nonesuch). Metheny's tirades against Kenny G are such common knowledge that Richard Thompson wrote a song about the dispute, siding pointedly with his fellow guitarist. But this record found itself #2 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz chart, stuck behind, you guessed it, Kenny G, and leading a crowd of smooth jazz icons. There is nothing in the music here that suggests that slotting -- a clue, perhaps, is that the only other artist on the Contemporary Jazz chart with any real jazz credibility is Bill Frisell, also on Nonesuch. Metheny himself is a guy we've never been all that sure of. On the one hand, he's worked with abstractionists like Derek Bailey, cut a near-unlistenable solo album called Zero Tolerance for Silence, and provided commercial camouflage for Ornette Coleman's dazzling Song X. On the other hand, his longstanding Group with keyboardist Lyle Mays has been the most consistently popular fusion group of the last 25 years. This album adheres to none of the conventions of smooth jazz. In fact, it's a suite: an opening and three parts, each running past the 15 minute mark. I can't conceive of how they can edit it for airplay, but it does have one smooth connection: it's an elegant piece of texturing, and as such it fades gently into the background. But the texturing feels organic, and Cuong Vu's trumpet adds color. It's not compelling enough for either an artistic or commercial breakthrough, but it's not complacent or formulaic either. B+(**)
  • Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman: Song X: Twentieth Anniversary (1985 [2005], Nonesuch). Anyone even roughly familiar with Coleman's evolution from Science Fiction in 1971 up through Virgin Beauty in 1988 will instantly recognize the real author here. Metheny got top billing because he made the deal that got the album released. Likewise, the reissue is part of Metheny's deal with his latest label. This makes for some interesting contrasts that have little to do with music. Metheny has enjoyed rare commercial favor thoughout his career, receiving major label support everywhere he's gone. Coleman, on the other hand, never worked consistently with a label after his early Atlantics and Blue Notes, and often has opted not to record rather than to feed the exploiters. One result of this is that only two Coleman albums from the '70s and '80s are still in print -- making him far and away the most obscure genius in jazz. So maybe you don't know those albums? In the '70s Coleman started working with electric guitar and bass, producing albums that were true fusion -- in the sense that fusion produces new elements plus copious energy, not just a mix of the old compounds. Metheny had early on recorded an album of Coleman pieces, and had worked quite a bit with Coleman bassist Charlie Haden, so however strange Song X may seem within Metheny's crossover-dominated catalog, he clearly knew what he was doing here, and plays with exceptional skill. Haden and Jack DeJohnette also work to steady the platform, letting Metheny and Coleman cut loose. The result is a satisfying mix of old-and-new Ornette, an interesting contrast to Coleman's own 1985 album, In All Languages, where he kept his new and reformed old groups separate. The new issue adds six scraps that didn't fit the original LP length, putting them seemlessly up front where they warm up the themes the album proper extends. A
  • Hendrik Meurkens: Amazon River (2005, Blue Toucan). Meurkens plays Brazilian jazz. His first instrument was vibes, but here he has mostly shifted over to harmonica. The main effect is to thicken the sound as the harmonica overwhelms everything else. Two vocals each by Dori Caymmi and Oscar Castro-Neves tend to make things murkier, especially Caymmi. B
  • Wolfgang Mitterer: Radio Fractal/Beat Music: Live at Donaueschingen 2002 (2003, Hatology). This was built around a long computer track (nearly two hours, split over two discs) which Mitterer assembled mostly from found sounds - among the more recognizable are saws and planes, and of course there are voices. Extra sounds are added via electronics and a turntablist, as well as by musicians playing conventional instruments - drums, guitar, baritone sax. I prefer the more beatwise parts, of which there are many, but even when it indulges its musique concrète jones this sounds sharp, well thought out, whatever the opposite of aleatory is - not planned so much as deliberate. Two discs just give you more, including some variation in the playing. Moreover, the second is shorter and has more beats. B+(***)
  • Ben Monder: Oceana (2004 [2005], Sunnyside). A guitarist I run across frequently in side roles, where he is often a notable asset. This shows the range of skills that makes him so useful on the side, but doesn't cohere into much. Two solo cuts, some with bass-drums, some with Theo Bleckmann, whose sounds more like a theremin than a vocalist. The common denominator is an icy coloration, joining the electric beat-heavy "Rooms of Light" and the Fripp-and-Eno-ambient "Spectre." B+(*)
  • Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane: At Carnegie Hall (1957 [2005], Blue Note). Small world it was back in 1957. The program for Carnegie Hall's Thanksgiving Jazz concert -- two shows, top-priced tickets going for $3.95 -- lists a few other folks you might like to hear: Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker with Zoot Sims, Sonny Rollins ("introducing in concert the brilliant"), and "special attraction" Ray Charles. But Monk's two sets add up to 50:35, and satisfy our craving to hear something more substantial from his short-lived, rarely recorded Coltrane quartet than that cruddy-sounding Five Spot tape that was acclaimed as Discovery! back in 1993. It turns out that the concert was recorded by Voice of America for overseas broadcast, but the tapes have languished ever since in the Library of Congress vaults until Larry Appelbaum made his discovery. The sound is fine. Monk engages quickly, but Coltrane is revelatory, especially on the one non-Monk tune where he kicks everything up a gear, then sustains that level to the end. A
  • Barbara Montgomery: Trinity (2005, Mr. Bean and Bumpy). Slower and heavier than her previous (quite likable) album, which fits the two Leonard Cohen covers fine, leaves Stevie Wonder and Van Morrison in limbo, and is rough on her originals. B
  • Moraz/Bruford: Music for Piano and Drums (1983 [2004], Winterfold). Even though Moraz wrote all of the pieces here, this feels like a rather even-handed, or even-weighted, collaboration. That's because Moraz works the rhythmic angle of the piano, often setting up short figures or vamps that Bruford can play off of. The three live Bonus Tracks are closer to the prog-rock spirit of their Flags collaboration -- in fact, "Flags" is one of the pieces. B
  • Moraz/Bruford: Flags (1985 [2004], Winterfold). Moraz came out of Yes, Bruford from King Krimson. Bruford's become a pretty solid jazz drummer. He launched his own label, Summerfold, and now he's added a reissue subsidiary, Winterfold. If you're thinking hot shit vs. cold shit, you're basically right. This was transitional for both, although Bruford at least landed somewhere. Moraz is still stuck in a prog-rock vein, wandering because there's little to hold him down. First song is full of poof, but this settles down a bit after that, perhaps because Moraz moves from electronic to acoustic piano. Uninteresting, but not unpleasant. B-
  • Sarah Morrow & the American All Stars in Paris (2005, O+ Music). I don't quite have the hang of what this is or how it came to be. Morrow plays trombone, and seems to be an American based in France. Organist Rhoda Scott and tenor saxist Hal Singer are also featured among the otherwise unknown all stars. (Well, I've heard of John Betsch, but have you?) This swings pretty hard, and is a lot of fun. Would like to have heard more trombone and less organ, but that's just me. Hadn't heard from Singer in ages. B+(**)
  • Morthana (2004, Jazzaway). Group name appears to come from drummer Morten Olsen and guitarist Anders Hana, leaving little acknowledgment of Andrew D'Angelo's reeds (bass clarinet, alto sax). Judging from the sound that probably is the pecking order, although the back cover credits are alphabetical and/or front-to-back. Mostly a noise group -- bracing at best, annoying otherwise. B
  • Moutin Reunion Quartet: Something Like Now (2005, Nocturne). Bright, bouncy mainstream jazz from France, led by Moutin brothers François and Louis on bass and drums, with a fine pianist in Piere de Bethmann and the wonderful Rick Margitza on tenor sax. First rate, but unexceptional. Good to hear Margitza again. B+(*)
  • Mushroom: Glazed Popems (2004, Black Beauty, 2CD). This is a San Francisco-based group with at least seven records in the last ten years. AMG classifies them as: Indie Rock, Experimental Rock, Noise. But this one at least is almost all instrumental, with wind instruments (Ralph Carney on various saxes, clarinets and flutes; Michel Pinta on trombone, tuba and bass trumpet), keyboards, and guitars. The most extensive review of the album I've seen was on fakejazz.com, but while this may be fake jazz, it is still, as my father used to say, "close enough for government work." At least it isn't new age: it has some swing even if not a lot of swagger. The two discs are titled "London" and "Oakland." The former is meant to evoke the '60s when English folk and jazz intersected in the work of artists such as Bert Jansch, and it achieves an interesting synthesis. The latter is spozed to be funkier, and I spoze it is, but it still sounds like it's meant for the mind as opposed to the ass. The guitar reminds me of Burnt Sugar, but the latter is a lot heavier. B+(*)
  • Nanette Natal: It's Only a Tune (2004, Benyo Music). Definitely a jazz singer, she mostly works at ballad tempi and projects deep noir. With seven albums scattered over 24 years, all on her own label, you get the feeling that she works deliberately and patiently, that she won't fall for hype or pander. It's a level of expertise that is real and substantial yet unlikely to go anywhere. She works here with guitar, bass and drums, alto sax, trumpet and two trombones -- none are obtrusive or excessive, the sax decorating typically, the trombone making a strong mark on the closer. She wrote, arranged, and produced the whole thing. B+(*)
  • Meshell Ndegeocello Presents: The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel (2003 [2005], Shanachie). This album feels like an experiment in progress, where the data is still incomplete and nowhere near understood. The leader, her name recently changed to Meshell Suhaila Bashir-Shakur, doesn't sing on any of three vocal tracks, nor play bass on most of the rest, but she has a piece of writing credits on seven of eight tracks, and an arrangement on the other one. In other words, she sets up these experiments, then steps back to observe. Whatever Spirit Jamia is, it isn't a band: the musicians come and go, with only Michael Cain appearing on a majority of the tracks, and no less than seven stars credited with "horns" on a track or two -- three for Kenny Garrett. Strip away the singers (Sabina, Cassandra Wilson, Lalah Hathaway) and the horns and what you have left are soft funk grooves, mere background music. But the one horn you won't want to strip away is Oliver Lake's alto sax. He's the only one who plays rough enough to breathe life into these experiments. Choice cut: "Luqman." B+(**)
  • Oliver Nelson's Big Band: Live From Los Angeles (1967 [2005], Impulse). Four trumpets, four trombones, six saxes (counting Nelson on soprano), piano, bass, drums, guitar on two cuts -- your basic big band brass orgy, staffed by west coast stalwarts who checked their cool at the door. Not much of a swingfest, but the brass pyrotechnics are thrilling. B+(***)
  • David "Fathead" Newman: I Remember Brother Ray (2005, HighNote). One of no doubt many albums cashing in on Charles' recent death, or perhaps more to the point, Charles' recent feats at the top of the bestseller list. Newman, a soulful tenor saxophonist who often took the spotlight in Charles' primetime orchestra, has as much right as any. He takes the usual songs at a leisurely pace, like a hearse headed to drop off its load, but thankfully there's no loss of decorum -- no vocals, no guest stars, no bullshit. He gets able assistance from John Hicks and Steve Nelson. B+(**)
  • Niacin: Organik (2005, Magna Carta). Upbeat organ trio. Irrepressibly upbeat, tediously upbeat even. John Novello's occasional insertions of piano into the mix occasionally add a bit of welcome crunch, but they don't last, so it's back to Hammond B3. Read the song titles ("Barbarian @ the Gate," "Nemesis," "Blisterine," "Hair of the Dog") and it comes clear what they're after: heavy metal soul jazz. B-
  • Organissimo: This Is the Place (2005, Big "O"). This is a tasty little organ trio, with Jim Alfredson on the Hammond B3, Joe Gloss on guitar, and Randy Marsh on drums. One song gets some guest sax, two extra percussion. I'm most impressed by the guitar. B
  • Michael Pagán Big Band: Pag's Groove (2005, Capri). In the category of institutionally supported big bands (cf. my previous note on the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra), the largest subcategory are university bands -- and I don't mean the marching bands you see at college football games. There are quite a few such bands, and one label in particular (Sea Breeze) specializes in their output. Not sure that this qualifies, but it was recorded at the University of Northern Colorado, and annotated by a prof at the University of Colorado. I don't recognize any of the musicians here, nor Pagán for that matter. I may just be getting tired as I near the close of this round of prospecting, but all I have to say about this record is: everyone seems to be in fine spirits, doing good work, but this really doesn't do much of anything for me. B
  • Eddie Palmieri: Listen Here! (2005, Concord). A typically impressive outing, but more impressive in its parts than as a whole. The eight-person group is rather lean for big band salsa, but this isn't really big band salsa -- the only instrument duplicated is the relatively inconspicuous trombone. Donald Harrison gets a good feature. So does Brian Lynch. The drums-congas tandem runs away with a couple of pieces. Palmieri's piano rarely stands out. The songbook includes three old bebop warhorses, each impressive in its own right. B+(**)
  • Mario Pavone: Boom (2003 [2004], Playscape). Deeply influenced by the late Thomas Chapin, with whom he played bass for many years, this is one of several recent albums attempting to explore and build on Chapin's legacy -- including another one by Pavone on Knitting Factory that I haven't heard. Two Chapin songs. Eight Pavone originals. The group is a quartet with Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano sax, Peter Madsen on piano, and Matt Wilson on drums. The group has terrific balance, reminiscent of Chapin's own groups, which relentlessly pursued an avant-garde edge while keeping in touch with the notion that beauty matters too. Which is also, more or less, the mission of Pavone's own records. B+(**)
  • Art Pepper: Mosaic Select (1956-57 [2005], Mosaic, 3CD). Pepper never got comfortable. He spent most of his adult life in jail,and each time he got out he kicked his music up another level. The bushel of records he cut in the last four years of his life, after a long stretch in Sing Sing, are among the most amazing in jazz history. But these sessions, cut for Aladdin following a year in the Fort Worth slammer for narcotics, and followed quickly by his more famous Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, were his first career peak. His previous recordings for Savoy revealed a sweet-toned Charlie Parker disciple, but here he recasts Parker in his own voice, much as he would later incorporate Coltrane. This box adds a couple of alternate takes to the three volues that Blue Note previously released as The Complete Art Pepper Aladdin Recordings. The additions are minor, but the music is so vital it's unfathomable how it ever slipped out of print. A
  • Danilo Perez: Live at the Jazz Showcase (2003 [2005], ArtistShare). The pianist is impressive, especially on the closing piece where this threatens to finally take off, but it's taken so long to get there that I'm not sure the run-up is worth it. Piano trio. Mostly original pieces, plus two from Monk, one each from Stevie Wonder, Silvio Rodriguez, and Ruben Blades. With Adam Cruz just working the drum kit this doesn't get close to the latin percussion standard. I could imagine bumping this up a grade if I stuck close to it, but it would still be out of the running. Admittedly, piano trios are tough for me to call. That's why I wait for the ones which knock me over. B
  • John Pizzarelli: Knowing You (2005, Telarc). A big rebound from that awful Bossa Nova album, but really just typical fare, with the instrumentation barely lurking behind his offhand vocals. A song like "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?" is perfect for him. "God Only Knows" strikes me as an indulgence, but he handles it reasonably well. Support includes Larry Goldings, Harry Allen, Ken Peplowski, and his old man, but none stand out. B
  • The Essential Tito Puente (1949-63 [2005], RCA/Legacy, 2CD). A Puerto Rican from Spanish Harlem, Puente took over the drum kit in Machito's Afro-Cuban band when he was 19, and a decade later was running his own band, garnering plaudits like "the king of mambo," or just El Rey. He played anything you can hit with a stick or mallet, but was best known for timbales -- a kit with two tuneable drums, cowbells and cymbals. He recorded more than one hundred albums, working steadily up to his death in 2000, but his classic recordings date from the '50s, when he as much as created the craze for mambo and cha-cha. His bands were huge, the brass driving home every point, the complex percussion flat out racing. My appetite for salsa, which roughly speaking is the next generation beyond Puente and Machito, has long been limited by its slick overkill, but for once the title here is right: this is essential. A-
  • The Best of Tito Puente (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection) (1991-99, Hip-O). Well down the road -- the first of the RMM albums sampled here was called The Mambo King: His 100th Album, and the last was cut a year before he died at age 77; the live "Oyo Como Va" at the end has seen better days, but everything else is typically bright and sprightly. B+(*)
  • Putumayo Presents: Swing Around the World (1964-2004 [2005], Putumayo World Music). The ringer here is Clark Terry's "Mumbles," dating back to his 1964 encounter with the Oscar Peterson Trio -- a legendary performance on one of the finest records either jazz great ever turned in. Terry and Peterson both had connections to Count Basie, the gold standard for swing. Nobody else here comes closer than admiring the records. Yet "Mumbles" slips agreeably into a compilation where only one cut predates the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the best known of the recent wave of American nouveau swing bands. The "around the world" concept gets off in high gear with a good band from Zimbabwe and a better one from Mauritius, but after that they settle for old-time swing strongholds: the U.S., Italy (Renzo Arbore sounds like Bobby Darin doing a Dean Martin impression), and France (Romane keeps the spirit of Django alive). B+(*)
  • Pip Pyle's Bash!: Belle Illusion (2002-03 [2004], Cuneiform). Mostly a jam funk band, led by drummer Pyle, with Hammond, guitar and bass keeping the groove rolling. Guitarist Patrice Meyer has some sharp moves. Elton Dean drops in for two cuts and adds a lot. B+(*)
  • Abbey Rader & Billy Bang: Echoes (1999, Abray). Rader gets top billing because this came out on his label. Bang wrote all but one of the songs, and leads throughout -- even recites his poem for Dennis Charles. Still, the drums help to pace and steady the violinist, and they add the echoes of the title. B+(**)
  • Rader Schwarz Group: The Spirit Inside Us (1998, Timbre). Abbey Rader is a drummer who developed in the SoHo lofts before heading to Europe, where he hitched a ride in Gunter Hampel's big band. Gunter Schwarz is a tenor saxophonist with no other credits that I'm aware of, but he matches up well with Rader. Zam Johnson contributes some electronic squelch to go with Ed Schuller's bass and Bang's violin. It all makes for a nicely balanced, somewhat understated set of free jazz. B+(*)
  • Abbey Rader & Dave Liebman: Cosmos (2001 [2003], Cadence Jazz). Rader is a drummer who came to my attention while researching Billy Bang. He more than held up his end of Echoes, a duo with Bang, and he holds up his end here as well. The bigger surprise is how adroitly Liebman handles these duets. His little used tenor sax is gruff and puckish, but even the soprano, which has become his main axe of late, retains its tartness. B+(*)
  • Phil Ranelin: Inspiration (2004, Wide Hive). For all intents and purposes, the Tribe is back in business again. Ranelin is a trombonist who likes big bands because they feel like big families. He's got nine pieces here, not counting the special guests, and plenty of them play horns. B+(**)
  • Ernest Ranglin: Surfin' (2005, Tropic/Telarc). A little surf twang to Ranglin's guitar, but the core to his music is reggae -- he's one of the great session guitarists to ever hark from Jamaica, so why not go with what got him here? One vocal, for no good reason I can think of. Delightful record, not that there's much to it. B+(*)
  • Marc Ribot: Spiritual Unity (2004 [2005], Pi). Who is Albert Ayler? And, more importantly, why is everyone so nice to him, or more properly his memory, all of a sudden? The first is easy enough: Ayler was a tenor saxophonist who made a mark in 1964 recording several albums that pioneered a new and distinctive path in avant-garde jazz, what you might call religious passion music, and continued erratically until his mysterious death in 1970. Before Ayler the avant-garde tended to be cerebral, dedicated to searching out new patterns of musicmaking -- examples included Ornette Coleman, George Russell, Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy, Eric Dolphy. But Ayler was a primitivist, his music built out of simple folk tunes and gospels, and his music was above all cathartic. Coltrane's last period can be viewed as trying to bridge Ayler and the avant-garde, although he wasn't very successful at it. Since Ayler's death, others have followed in his footsteps, most notably Charles Gayle, Frank Lowe, and David S. Ware, but Ayler himself mostly languished until the last couple of years, when he's made an astonishing resurgence. One sign was the welcome back accorded Henry Grimes, who played bass in Ayler's groups but dropped out of music before Ayler's death. The comeback accelerated last year when Revenant released a huge box set of previously unissued Ayler that was reviewed warmly by everyone who got a copy. (But not by me: I got two copies of the sampler, but no box.) This record is another step in Ayler's comeback. The spine credits it to producer-guitarist Marc Ribot, but the front cover just lists the band members alphabetically: Roy Campbell, Grimes, Ribot, Chad Taylor. The title, possibly a future group name in the manner of Yo Miles, comes from Ayler's masterpiece. The five pieces are all Ayler titles, although I don't see any attribution in the booklet. The idea here is to rekindle the process -- not to reproduce Ayler, but to produce like Ayler. Ribot's guitar replaces the prophet's sax, shifting the timbre and expanding the dynamics while cutting back the tendency to overblow. Any loss of energy from that switch is compensated for by Campbell's trumpet. Ayler's groups often included his brother Donald on trumpet, but that match up doesn't help much: Donald was so limited that Campbell could blow rings around Donald even with his fingers in splints. A-
  • Tim Ries: The Rolling Stones Project (2002-04 [2005], Concord). Nine Rolling Stones songs (or ten -- "Honky Tonk Women" gets two takes) followed by a chilldown piece by Ries. Each gets a distinct studio treatment, with 25 guest musicians weaving in and out of the lineup, including Ron Wood for one cut, Keith Richards for two, and Charlie Watts for five -- the most appearances of any guest. Most tracks have vocals, with Lisa Fischer up three times, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones and Claudia Acuña one each. Guitarists include Bill Frisell, Ben Monder, and John Scofield, as well as the aforementioned Stones. Ries plays tenor and soprano sax. He put this together over a couple of years, and the care and patience shows. This struck me as a bad idea from the start, mostly because tributes with guests tend toward crass commercial opportunism -- John Scofield's Ray Charles album is a recent example. Indeed, the industry's so desperate for sales that the temptation's unavoidable. Moreover, even when a promising idea does emerge, it gets abandoned with the next guest star. And vocals skew close enough to the originals that they often beg comparison. Still, this doesn't come off so badly. For starters, the songbook holds up, especially less obvious songs like "Slippin' Away" and "Waiting on a Friend." Frisell is interesting everywhere he appears, especially so on his near-solo "Ruby Tuesday." Norah Jones' "Wild Horses" is a choice cut. The ravers have more problems, but at least they have a first-rate drummer. B+(**)
  • Bryn Roberts: Ludlow (2003-04 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent). Another new pianist/composer, placed in a quartet with Seamus Blake on tenor sax, Drew Gress on bass, and Mark Ferber. Blake dominates the sound, playing at his usual level, his scattered runs roughing up the otherwise lush postbop sound. B+(*)
  • Adam Rogers: Apparitions (2004 [2005], Criss Cross). Rogers is an interesting guitarist who doesn't quite fit any of the niche styles I associate with the craft, and he's by far the most interesting player on this record. But the record itself is busied up with tenor saxophonist Chris Potter and pianist Edward Simon flashing undoubted skills to little effect. Rogers wrote all of the pieces, and talks in the booklet about how much he likes to write for other instruments. Also about his interest in classical music and how he incorporates elements from classical guitar into his writing. None of which means much to me. B+(*)
  • Sonny Rollins: Without a Song (The 9/11 Concert) (2001 [2005], Milestone). Rollins picked these seventy-three minutes from a marathon two hour, forty minute concert in Boston four days after he was evacuated from his apartment near New York's World Trade Center. But he's too modest, opting for features with a lot of space for trombonist Clifton Anderson and pianist Stephen Scott while shortchanging himself. As he says in his introduction, "music is one of the beautiful things in life." But when he cuts loose, especially on "Global Warming," his music is an overpowering life force, even in the wake of so much death. Exxon may not believe the science, but they'd be fools to doubt him. A-
  • Poncho Sanchez: Do It! (2005, Concord Picante). Veteran conga player, apprenticed in Cal Tjader's band, then set out on his own around 1980. This is my first taste of his work, and I have damn little idea how to evaluate it. The percussion is slicker than the Afro-Cuban things I've been liking. The brass is tight and punchy. The vocals aren't awful. Overall sounds pretty good, but I can't begin to quantify that. PS: Holds up solid enough, especially in the instrumentals where the riddim rules. Vocals so-so. B+(*)
  • Pharoah Sanders: Elevation (1973 [2005], Impulse). The 18-minute title piece is a rough retread on "A Love Supreme" -- the constant reference inevitably detracts from its originality. The next two pieces find Sanders without horn -- the pieces are built around Joe Bonner's piano and myriad percussion, the latter a piece of Nigerian juju with Sanders' vocal striving to keep up with Bonner's piano. The last two pieces are rather shapeless, the psychedelic percussion winning out in the end. B-
  • Randy Sandke and the Inside Out Band: Outside In (2005, Evening Star). This group has devolved from the Inside Out Collective to the Inside Out Band -- the difference being that the members' contribution to the song list dropped from one per each to one each for Ray Anderson and Marty Ehrlich, with Sandke making up the difference. The band still sparkles, but the easy blues cops from the previous are few and far between, while Sandke's harmonic theories get more play. In other words, this one's less fun -- except, that is, a spoken word thing called "Mobius Trip" consisting of a series of "I went to X" set-ups and "someone said" punch lines: "I went to Birdland, and someone said, 'jazz will never die as long as people can listen to it with their feet.'" A-
  • Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Band: The Mystic Trumpeter (2003-04 [2005], Evening Star). Small group, but with three frontline horns this moves like a big band. I found it awkward at first, perhaps the residue of the Walt Whitman poem that inspired the title suite, but the second half, "Symphony for Six," managed to put that awkwardness to good use. Sandke has written a book on harmonic theory, and this seems to be his prime testing ground. Not much of the traditional swing he favored, even though the musicians are similarly inclined. Strange to think of him as a modernist, but here he is. B+
  • The Randy Sandke Quartet: Trumpet After Dark (2005, Evening Star). Subtitled "jazz in a meditative mode," but sounds at least as much like quiet storm make-out music. Sandke's quartet includes the estimable Bill Charlap, but they are supplemented by Parthenia, described as "a consort of viols" -- a string quartet of some sort. Slow and pretty. A-
  • Arturo Sandoval: Live at the Blue Note (2004 [2005], Half Note, CD+DVD). The Cuban trumpeter tends to go over the top, but this record suggests that that's the only way he clearly identifies himself. This is more moderate in many respects, but still messy, and it leaves me more confused than annoyed. Some fertile patches here, but lots of weeds, too. Comes with a DVD, which doesn't matter to me. B
  • Sangha Quartet: Fear of Roaming (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound). In the "New Talent" series, but none of these guys are new: Seamus Blake, Kevin Hays, Larry Grenadier, Bill Stewart. Blake and Hays split the writing/arranging credits, aside from a piece by Björk which starts out warbly but over ten minutes develops into an interesting and powerful piece, with Hays vamping on Fender Rhodes and Blake punctuating on tenor sax. Hays favors the Fender Rhodes here, using piano mostly for accents. This gives Blake a more cushy level of support, with less emphasis on trade-offs. Which should make Blake the leader. He's been a notable sideman for quite a while, but given the chance to lead he remains discreet. B+(*)
  • That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles (2005, Verve). Another entry in the Ray Charles Sweepstakes -- oh, the things that a bestselling album, a hit motion picture, and dying (in no particular order) does for a franchise! Like most tributes, this doesn't stand up all that well against the original -- an effect underscored by the half-dozen singers, of whom only John Mayer is good for a passable imitation. (But then the inevitable Aaron Neville and Dr. John have trouble these days imitating themselves.) I'm conflicted about this. On the one hand I'd rather dispense with the vocals and let the jazz masters just do what they presumably do best, which is to work their tricks against the melodies. On the other hand, I'm not sure that Scofield is up to it, although his limited takes on pieces that any of us can supply mental words to -- "Busted," "Let's Go Get Stoned," "Hit the Road Jack" -- are fine, but not so much so that the vocals don't provide a palpable lift. Larry Goldings is indispensible. No significant horns, which might have been an alternative. But most likely the market research called out for vocals, so that's what they did. B+(*)
  • Shining: In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster (2005, Rune Grammofon). Jørgen Munkeby wrote these pieces, and plays all manner of reeds, keyboards, and string instruments here, although he also gets help with the percussion. Some interesting sounds, some interesting moments, but I can't make much sense out of it. B-
  • Rebecca Shrimpton and Eric Hofbauer: Madman's Moon (2005, CNM). Hofbauer's a guitarist who has done good work in the past, but is so low key here it's hard to notice him. Shrimpton is a dusky vocalist who never gets out of second gear. B-
  • Adam Simmons Toy Band: Happy Jacket (2002, Dr. Jim's). Simmons plays saxophones from bass to sopranino, plus a little bass clarinet and shakuhachi. In that mode this is good, clean avant fun. But the band's name reflects another dimension: all members also dabble in toy instruments. Don't do it enough that it takes over the album, but it does toss in the occasional oddball sound. B+(**)
  • Simply Red: Simplified (2005, Verve Forecast). AMG describes them as a "British soul-pop band," formed in 1984. This is their tenth album. Don't understand what they're doing on a jazz label, but maybe it's silly these days to regard Verve Forecast as anything of the sort. Mick Hucknall has a pretty voice, soft and somewhat soulful. Some songs are re-recorded from earlier albums, and they appear in various arrangements, like the electro-funk of "Something Got Me Started," the big band (with sax solo) of "Sad Old Red," the string-drenched ballad of "For Your Babies," a standard croon with bare piano and eventually a taste of flugelhorn on "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye." B-
  • Sirone Bang Ensemble: Configuration (2004 [2005], Silkheart). A live recording from CBGB's in New York, the sound is a bit thin and hollow, and the applause is real but hardly rapturous -- not a real jazz venue, I guess. But the pairing of the Revolutionary Ensemble bassist with violinist Bang was meant to generate lots of friction, and for good measure they brought along Charles Gayle, who for once blows within the limits of his name, as opposed to his usual hurricane force. Perhaps in honor of the venue, there's a certain rockishness to their approach. In particular, "Freedom Flexibility" works a call-and-response motif where straight lines are answered freely. Don't know where they found drummer Tyshawn Sorey, but he has a blast. A-
  • Alan Skidmore Quintet: Once Upon a Time (1970 [2005], Vocalion). Another one from the early days of England's avant-garde, with John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler more florid than you'd expect, and the leader channeling Coltrane. Harry Miller and Tony Oxley are also on board. Skidmore is actually the least well known of the group, but he keeps working and has some records out recently (not that I've heard them). B+(**)
  • Slammin: All-Body Band (2003-04 [2005], Crosspulse). Acapella group, with "beat box" and "body music" -- Keith Terry is the source of the latter. A quote from the website explains: "claps his hands, rubs his palms, finger-pops, stamps his feet, brushes his soles, slaps his butt and belly, pops his cheek, whomps his chest, skips and slides, sings and babbles and coughs, building his music out of a surprisingly varied register of sounds and clever rhythmic variations." Not bad. Not jazz. Not something I find particularly interesting. B
  • Jim Snidero: Close Up (2004, Milestone). Mainstream album with a bright boppish flair courtesy of the leader's alto sax. Eric Alexander joins on five cuts. Solid all around. B+(*)
  • Luciana Souza: Duos II (2005, Sunnyside). Brazilian songs, just voice and guitar, the latter divvied up between four guitarists. In many ways this is the core of Brazilian jazz, but it's so stripped down it's hard to find the groove. Which probably isn't the point. I doubt that I'll really warm up to this, but another listen is advisable. PS: Further listening lets these voice-plus-guitar duos shape up. It's still too minimal and too subtle for me to get enthusiastic, but it makes for attractive background music, with alluring details when one happens to focus. B+(*)
  • Cinzia Spata: 93-03 (2005, Azzurra Music). She's a Sicilian vocalist who loves to scat, or just let her voice float around melodic curves. I feel rather indifferent about what she does -- for pure texture, give me Donny McCaslin's soprano sax. But the hidden gem here is Marc Copland's piano, which impresses even when he's just filling in cracks. B+(*)
  • Bobo Stenson Trio: Serenity (1999 [2000], ECM, 2CD). Another background disc, or two in this case -- the total doesn't run a lot over 80 minutes, but they decided not to cut it. As noted too often, I've never got the hang of describing piano trios -- what I like, what I don't, and why, but I know one when I hear one, and this one works. Calm, deliberately paced, subtle, refined, stately. None of those attributes can be depended on, but they all work here. One common denominator in all the better piano trio albums is that the bass and drums hold up their ends equally. Anders Jormin is often fascinating here. Jon Christensen, of course, is a given. By the way, Stenson was the leader on my all-time favorite Jan Garbarek album, Witchi-Tai-To. The leader of a close second in the Garbarek sweepstakes was Keith Jarrett, as frantic as Stenson is calm. A-
  • Nicola Stilo/Toninho Horta: Duets (1999 [2005], Adventure Music). Horta plays guitar and sings in Brazil's chanson lite. Stilo plays flute, inevitably more lite. The result has some appeal, in large part because it seems so unpolished, but it's still awful lite. B
  • The Stryker/Slagle Band: Live at the Jazz Standard (2005, Zoho). Two veterans from the '80s, when they recorded consistently solid albums for Steeplechase. Together, they're still consistently solid. B+(*)
  • John Surman: Way Back When (1969 [2005], Cuneiform). One wonders whether the title existed when this session was recorded, or merely tacked on when it was rediscovered a third of a century later. Looking at the booklet photo of Surman it's hard to imagine that anyone that young had such a concept. With his Beatle haircut, Sgt. Pepper mustache, and paisley shirt he could hardly have been thinking more than 3-4 years back, if that. On the other hand, he was even then a near legend for his work with Mike Westbrook and John McLaughlin, and next up was a group with Barre Phillips and Stu Martin brash enough to call themselves The Trio. This set was built around Brian Odgers' electric bass and John Taylor's electric piano, a steady pulse that owes more to soul jazz than fusion, but it sets a firm foundation for Surman to work many variations on a little figure. Surman was especially distinctive on soprano sax, giving the instrument a firmness that one expects only from heavier horns, such as his light and dexterous baritone sax. Mike Osborne joins on alto for the last two pieces. A-
  • Tierney Sutton Band: I'm With the Band (2005, Telarc). I take it as a brave move that she identifies with the band instead of the spotlight, but it would be smarter if she had a better band. They go with the flow, but rarely set it. It's also brave to tear at these venerable chestnuts the way she does, but she doesn't have the voice to get much traction with them, even if her technical skills are rock solid. These strike me more as endemic problems than personal -- how many ways are they to do "Cheek to Cheek" or "I Get a Kick Out of You"? Pierre Dørge came up with a "Cheek to Cheek" that I adore, but he had a singer and a band that made it sound luxurious. It's actually one of the better things on this album, and it still feels rushed and thin. B
  • Steve Swell/Perry Robinson: Invisible Cities (2004, Drimala). A duo, just trombone (Swell) and clarinet (Robinson), with no rhythm, no bottom, no filler, nothing chordal -- nothing to push it along, to fluff it up, to put it over. It shouldn't work and, well, it doesn't work, except to separate the serious pontificators from the benighted slobs who merely enjoy music. Which is to say that if you pay careful attention you might get some of the wit, the puns, the whirligigs and whatnot, the clever little things that two rather amazing musicians can slip past the unwary. On the other hand, as background music you might as well listen to a defective vacuum cleaner sucking up marbles. I don't really approve, but I'm somewhat impressed. B+(*)
  • Gabor Szabo: Spellbinder (1966 [2005], Impulse). A jazz guitarist from Hungary -- left the country just before the 1956 crackdown -- offers clean metallic picking over the latin beats of Willie Bobo and Victor Pantoja, with Ron Carter and Chico Hamilton steadying the light swing. His deadpan "Bang Bang" vocal works as a novelty. Not certain about how much his folk music background plays into this mild exotica, but he's much affected by the gypsy jazz masters like Django Reinhardt. B+(**)
  • Susan Tedeschi: Hope and Desire (2005, Verve Forecast). She's a blues singer, one of a flock of white girls to find a niche there since the early '90s. She used to have something of a rep as a guitarist too, but the guitar credits here are all in the capable hands of Doyle Bramhall and Derek Trucks. She used to sing blues songs too, but Jagger-Richards, Dylan, Redding, DeMent, Stevie Wonder, even Percy Mayfield and Dorsey Burnette are at least one step removed. Joe Henry produced. One suspects he had something to do with the song choices, and most everything else. She's a strong but indistinct singer. Which adds up to an intelligent but pointless roots rock album. Not much of a stretch, either for Henry or Tedeschi. B-
  • Stanley Turrentine: That's Where It's At (1962 [2005], Blue Note). Mr. T's robust tenor is in full swing, especially when pianist Les McCann picks up the pace, which is most of the time; on the other hand, the ballads drag a bit compared to T's more typical organ-based soul jazz, but not enough to dampen spirits. B+(***)
  • Gebhard Ullmann/Chris Dahlgren/Peter Herbert: BassX3 (2004, Drimala). Dahlgren and Herbert play bass, although Dahlgren is also credited with toys and electronics. Ullmann plays bass flute and bass clarinet. Like his other recent records, this is slow, odd, abstract, but at least it provides an interesting setting, a little more conventional than either the big band or the clarinet trio. Some interesting stuff, but marginal. B+(*)
  • Introducing the Javier Vercher Trio (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound). Young (b. 1978) Spanish tenor saxophone player, lives in New York now. Studied with Bob Moses, who contributes three songs here. Vercher wrote the rest, except for the lead-off piece from Ornette Coleman. He is a feisty player, willing to get bruised up a bit for his art. I'm not yet sure what that art is: this sounds much like a lot of other people's work, but too roughly so make one want to make fine distinctions. A fun record, nonetheless. B+(*)
  • The David S. Ware Quartets: Live in the World (1998-2003 [2005], Thirsty Ear, 3CD). Three discs, three concerts, three drummers. Aside from the drummers, the Ware Quartet is the longest running small group in history. Ware almost never works outside of the group, but his cohorts, William Parker and Matthew Shipp, have distinguished careers in their own right, and their own stardom gets more play in these looser concert gigs than on the studio albums. Looking back, the energy jolt that arrived with Susie Ibarra and the shift to electronics heralded by Guillermo E. Brown may have been side-effects of the maturation of the three mainstays. That the drummers matter less is made clear on the date with the redoubtable Hamid Drake sitting, and merely blending, in. A-
  • David Weiss: The Mirror (2004, Fresh Sound). This is a largish group with a lot of horn-power: Weiss plays trumpet, plus there are alto sax, tenor sax, and on the last cuts trombone and baritone sax or bass clarinet. This is crackling hot postbop, right from the gate, with more subtle variations ensuing. Like much on this label, I'm impressed by the thought and craft that has gone into it, and I recognize the beauty of the voicings, but . . . well, I can't get excited about it. B+(*)
  • Ezra Weiss: Persephone (2005, Umoja). There's a lot going on here, but I particularly like Weiss when I'm able to isolate his piano. The clutter comes from three horns, and it would take much more time to sort them out than seems worthwhile at this juncture. Michael Philip Mossman is a trumpet player I regard highly; Antonio Hart is an alto saxist I'm not much impressed by. But I can't tell you that one's a plus and the other's a minus. This just isn't that simple a record. Thoughtfully arranged, complex modern postbop. Not a big turn on for me, but hard not to respect. B+(*)
  • The Deborah Weisz Quintet: Grace (For Will) (2004 [2005], Va Wah). Rather complicated free-based music, with the leader's trombone, Andrew Sterman's tenor sax, and "special guest" Olivier Ker Ourio's chromatic harmonica making for a spotty but exacting front line, and Sheryl Bailey's guitar supplementing bass-drums. Sometimes vigorous, often interesting, but rarely all that compelling. B+(*)
  • Björn Wennås: Static (2004 [2005], Beartones). Young Swedish guitarist, moved to Boston in 1999 to attend Berklee, and recording this album there. It's unusual in several regards, but mostly for featuring singer Carmen Marsico on four tracks. When she sings, or more commonly scats into the stratosphere, the music takes strange curves, swerving for unusual dramatic effect. I don't much like the effect, but it has its own peculiar integrity. Phil Grenadier plays trumpet on most of those pieces, providing a contrasting voice. The other pieces are simpler, providing a more basic framework for the guitar. At his best he sounds distinctive and refreshing. Most likely there will be better albums coming. B
  • Michael White: The Land of Spirit and Light (1973 [2005], Impulse). A violinist, born 1933, recorded quite a bit in the '70s -- five albums on Impulse, two each on Capitol and Elektra -- and hardly at all before or since. This one is his consensus pick -- AMG calls it "a spiritual jazz classic," whatever that means. Impulse in the '60s was best known as John Coltrane's label, but after his death in 1967 the ship steered increasingly toward widow Alice's otherworldly concerns, and this sort of fits. So this is a clash of styles, with White's violin weaving between Bob King's guitar and Prince Lasha's woodwinds and various percussionists, achieving a form of world fusion rooted in no place in particular. It gets most interesting when Cecil McBee's bass picks up the groove and the odds and ends flow together. B+(*)
  • Mary Lou Williams: Mary Lou's Mass (1969-72 [2005], Smithsonian/Folkways). I find this unlistenable, which is a shame given how marvelous the few wordless pieces can be; written for choreographer Alvin Ailey, fragments whose drama is meant to be seen flounder like opera without the visual action, and the overbearing religiosity adds the dead weight of otherworldliness when the initial title, "Music for Peace," should do us more good in the here and now. B
  • Gini Wilson: The San Francisco ChamberJazz Quartet (2005, Music Wizards). Alternate title, SFCJQ -- sometimes it's hard to tell, and sometimes you wonder whether the artists know either. The ChamberJazz name is fitting: the group projects a polite and cozy intimacy. Wilson plays piano and wrote most of the pieces. Steve Heckman plays soprano and tenor sax, clarinet, and flute. Both are appealing, but the framework feels rather constrained. Several pieces with guest vocalist Jackie Ryan are neither here nor there. B
  • Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts: Wake Up! (To What's Happening) (2004, Palmetto). Wilson explains: "The more I play improvised music the less I want to understand it. . . . You see, I want to approach music with the same innocent playfulness I see in my children. Their awareness allows them to flow effortlessly with new discoveries. Their passion allows them to act on their instints, often with disregard to what anyone else thinks. . . . Their inspiration has recently elevated my enthusiasm to a new carefree level." In other words, he doesn't care that this is an eclectic mix of recycled tunes that each goes its own peculiar way. But he's lucky that Terell Stafford manages to hold it all together. And it don't hurt that the drummer is an ace. B+(**)
  • Mike Wofford: Live at Athenaeum Jazz (2004, Capri). Nothing with Peter Washington and Victor Lewis can be bad, but they distinguish themselves here more by being steady than by their virtuosity. Wofford is a fine pianist, and this not-very-familiar standards program gives him a good workout. Very nice, as these piano trio things go. B+(***)
  • Andrea Wolper: The Small Hours (2002 [2005], Varis One Jazz). Another slow vocalist. Her voice is more flexible than Rebecca Shrimpton's, and in this context Ron Affif's swing-influenced guitar works better. Bassist Ken Filiano is also a plus, and Frank London makes a tasteful appearance on trumpet. All of which add up, but not to very much. B
  • Lizz Wright: Dreaming Wide Awake (2004 [2005], Verve Forecast). Only three originals (counting two co-credits), so she's still not much of a singer-songwriter. The only recognizable covers are by Neil Young and Chester Powers ("Get Together" -- Youngbloods hit, also Chad Mitchell, We Five, Carpenters, Ray Stevens, Indigo Girls), so it's not clear that she's an interpretive singer either. Interesting voice, but with the guitar leading the slow, unsexy grooves she sounds much like Tracy Chapman -- more cosmopolitan than folkie, to be sure, but maybe that's just her producers? Several songs caught my interest, but didn't sustain it. Probably an improvement over Salt. B
  • Stich Wynston's Modern Surfaces: Transparent Horizons (2004 [2005], TCB). Guitarist Geoff Young wrote six songs to drummer (and to a lesser extent, pianist) Wynston's four. The quartet fills out with saxophonist Mike Murley and bassist Jim Vivian. Recorded in Canada, the group maintains affinities to Paul Bley and Kenny Wheeler, a soft and spacious strain of avant abstraction. Pleasant enough as wallpaper, but hard to tell where it's going. B+(*)
  • Larry Young: Of Love and Peace (1966 [2004], Blue Note). Young pushed the Hammond B-3 organ further than any other musician of his era, moving from his early blues albums into new thing territory. His masterpiece was *Unity*, cut in 1965 with an all-star lineup -- Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Elvin Jones -- that necessarily tied down all the loose edges. His follow-up had no such constraints: Jones was replaced by two no-name drummers, Henderson by two lesser saxophonists (his steady bandmate George Morgan and the ubiquitous James Spaulding), while Shaw gave way to Eddie Gale, a fiery trumpeter then working with Cecil Taylor. The group pushed Young harder and farther than ever, and he responded with some of the most vigorous organ ever cut -- for three cuts, anyway. The fourth and final, a meditation on Islam called "Falaq," is slow and spacious. A-
  • Denny Zeitlin: Solo Voyage (2005, MaxJazz). Five pieces of solo piano, followed by "Solo Voyage," a 29-minute suite that's not quite solo: Zeitlin plays synthesizer with horn voicings then accompanies himself on piano. As always, a thoughtful, elegant pianist. Nice, quiet, meditative. B+(*)
  • Zucchero: Zucchero & Co. (2005, Concord/Hear Music). Silly me. I had filed this in my jazz prospects list because that's my first guess for unfamiliar artists on jazz labels, but this isn't jazz, nothing close. And, following AMG, I had filed the listing under Latin, but Zucchero, né Adelmo Fornaciari, comes from Italy, which may claim on a technicality, but I won't sustain it. In any case, he mostly sings in English, and the few possible Latin songs are mucked up beyond classification. I also figured this as new, but he starts off singing with a dead guy. Depending on how you read the booklet, the dates are 2001-04 or 1988-2003, with the latter most plausible, given that it intersects with Miles Davis' lifespan. About the only thing I got right was to leave it on the shelf 4-5 months before playing it. Don't expect to ever play it again, either. C-

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Music: Current count 11378 [11337] rated (+41), 820 [841] unrated (-21). December Recycled Goods is up. Jazz Consumer Guide is up. Working on year-end issues, just trying to clean up. Found a couple of good things I wasn't expecting on the shelf. Also found some junk, which I was expecting.

  • Clint Black: Spend My Time (2004, Equity Music Group): Any doubts about why "She's Leavin'" are easily answered by playing the song. When his voice jumps an octave, you suspect he's putting you on. But the rest of the album makes you doubt it. C-
  • Marty Brown: Here's to the Honky Tonks (1996, Hightone): He did three albums for MCA from 1991-94, starting with one called High and Dry that got a lot of favorable press. (I remember Ken Tucker writing a Country Consumer Guide in the Village Voice. Lasted one column, and as I recall Brown was a Pick Hit. Christgau acknowledged it with a B+, but I felt I got snookered and gave it a B-.) This is his fourth, and ten years later possibly his last. In an era of neo-traditionalism, Brown tried his damnedest to be a paleo-traditionalism. His drawl is so extreme it sounds like an exaggeration. Not so dislikable this time, but maybe that's because there's so much less riding on this minor label release. B
  • Ry Cooder: Chávez Ravine (2005, Nonesuch): We've heard much from the Brooklyn side about the hole ripped out of the city's heart when Walter O'Malley sent the Dodgers packing west, but Cooder asks a reasonable question nobody else has thought to ask: what was lost when Los Angeles ripped up the Mexican neighborhood of Chávez Ravine to make way for the Dodgers' new ballpark? A-
  • Nanci Griffith: Hearts in Mind (2004, New Door): Inside the booklet: "This recording is dedicated to the memory of every soldier and every civilian lost to the horrors of war." First song, "A Simple Life": "I want a simple life/Like my mother/One true love for my older years/I Don't want your wars/To take my children." A couple of post-Vietnam songs. One called "Mountain of Sorrow" about 9/11. Not every song is so occupied, and in the end there are more cuts than good songs. But this starts strong, and the sentiment is right. B+(*)
  • Petra Haden and Bill Frisell (2005, Sovereign Artists): She's Charlie Haden's little girl -- spent a couple of years in a pretty good alt-rock band called That Dog, recorded a solo album called Imaginaryland, then came out with a couple of unclassifiable objects this year. One was a remake of The Who Sell Out -- haven't heard it, and can't quite conceive of it, given how little sense I've been able to make out of the original. This is the other, a duo with guitarist Bill Frisell, produced by Tucker Martine, who seems like the ideal intermediary between these two. One original each here, the slightest items partly because the covers are choice and far ranging -- Elliot Smith and Dave Grohl don't impress me much as the first two choices, but they're followed by something traditional from Tuva and "Moon River," and later on by "When You Wish Upon a Star," Stevie Wonder's "I Believe," and "John Hardy Was a Desperate Man." She has a high, clear voice without much effect, so it seems strange to call her an interpretive vocalist, but that's what she is and does. In this, Frisell is a marvelous foil. He's no more obviously a jazz guitarist here than Haden is a jazz vocalist, but he frames everything she does, and that tinkly jewel-like sound he gets adorns her like fancy crystal earrings you know she'd never wear. Choice cut: "I Believe." B+(**)
  • High Rollers! From Las Vegas ([2005], Capitol): Spare parts in this series, including two songs each by three Vegas standbys without standalone comps: Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole. All singers are backed by smashing big bands, plus Nelson Riddle and Billy May get their own features. No real surprises, but would be nice to hear more from Lee. B+(***)
  • Louise Hoffsten: From Linköpping to Memphis (2005, Memphis International): Swedish blues singer, writes good songs, sings them competently, plays a little harmonica. B+(**)
  • King Crimson: Lizard (1970, EG): Progressivism with a twist of jazz, with Mel Collins on reeds and Robert Fripp on the usual Frippertronics, all saddled to Peter Sinfield's "words & pictures." Don't really have a good feel for this in short exposure, so this grade is tentative in intent, but final in that I don't expect to revisit it soon. Can't really be much better. Could, I suppose, be worse. B
  • Marian McPartland: In My Life (1993, Concord): Took a brief break from her Piano Jazz albums to hear some real music. Her trio swings easily on a range of tunes from Alec Wilder to Ornette Coleman, but most of the record is taken over by guest Chris Potter, who has rarely sounded better. A-
  • Wayne Newton: Mr. Las Vegas (1963-67 [2005], Capitol). "Oddly, for someone so closely connected to the city, Wayne Newton never recorded a live album in Las Vegas. Back in 1964, however, Capitol did record Newton live at the Crescendo Nightclub in Hollywood, California. As a bonus, we've included two tracks from that performance here to showcase Newton's appeal in a live environment." So when/where was the rest of this recorded? I gather from AMG thes the first 19 cuts are studio, which puts them into the 1963-67 timeframe when he recorded for Capitol. Aside from his signature hit "Danke Schoen," every song here on this thinly disguised best-of has been done better by someone else -- someone with a name like Sinatra, Cole, Darin, Martin, Bennett, Armstrong. The surprise is how good these second-tier performances sound. At first it seemed like he came too late to cash in as a big band crooner, but he got in on Las Vegas early enough to make a fortune, and never left. B+
  • Todd Snider: That Was Me 1934-1998 (1994-98 [2005], Hip-O): Snider is a singer-songwriter who can perform credibly with just his guitar for accompaniment, which these days makes him a folk singer. Any doubts about that were dispelled by his live album, Near Truths and Hotel Rooms (2003, Oh Boy), where his between-songs humor improves songs that were pretty funny in the first place. Those songs came from three albums on MCA and two more on John Prine's Oh Boy label, and this usefully condenses the former. He works in familiar grooves -- the first album's hidden track, "Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues," is straight out of Dylan; "I Can't Complain" does Prine like Strayhorn did Ellington -- so he has to get by on his wit and wisdom. Among his most memorable is his critique of "Easy Money": "you get a man strung out on green/he'll give up everything he's got/for just one shot at havin' it all." A-
  • Soweto Gospel Choir: Voices From Heaven (2005, Shanachie): 32 voices, more than enough to elaborate a mixed bag of South African and American gospel themes, but such obvious fare as "Amazing Grace" and "Many Rivers to Cross" benefits little from such care. B
  • Soweto Gospel Choir: Blessed (2005, Shanachie): better, as if they took their Ladysmith Black Mambazo comparisons to heart and did some homework; more African, which is the point; still too much English -- the more camouflage the better, I figure, but I'm always willing to make an exception for "Oh Happy Day." B+(*)
  • Martha Wainwright (2005, Zoë): Pretty good half a song, "When the Day Is Short," until it picks up speed. Before that point this is pretty indescript. After it just gets weirder. "Bloody Mother F***ing A**hole" doesn't offer a verse up to its chorus. "TV Show" strums along ominously. I suspect weirder is better, but I'm not sure if the distinctions are worth the trouble at this point. B


Diane Wahto, of Wichita's Peace and Social Justice Center, asked for someone to respond to Rep. Todd Tiahrt's op-ed column in the Wichita Eagle today. I wrote the following back to her mailing list. The Eagle doesn't publish any of my letters, and this one is certainly too long, but the points are worth registering here:

President Bush's "plan for victory" reminds me that long ago, when the U.S. was mired in the Vietnam quagmire, Senator George Aiken proposed that we simply "declare victory and go home." Aiken's successor in Congress these days is Rep. John Murtha, who argues that the U.S. has done all we can in Iraq, so now's the time to "redeploy" our troops. Both Aiken and Murtha sought to salvage some measure of self-respect for America after foolish and deceitful military adventures. Both were attacked by hawks, insisting that victory would be ours if only we had the resolve to win.

Judging from foot-soldier Todd Tiahrt's op-ed (Resolve to win in Iraq), Bush's "plan" still needs some fine tuning. This is probably because the "plan" was constructed not by someone knowledgeable about Iraq but by PR whiz Peter Feaver, whose research found that the word "victory" would elicit a positive response from the American electorate. From the beginning, the war over Iraq has had another front, the war for the Americans' resigned consent, if not necessarily for our hearts and minds. When Bush took office no one outside of a few neocons and Iraqi expatriates on the CIA payroll wanted the U.S. to invade and occupy Iraq. The Bush administration was masterful in manipulating fear of WMD, hope for freedom, revenge for 9/11, and the prospect of lucrative business deals, while arguing that there was no down side: that Iraqis would welcome us with flowers, that Iraqi oil would pay for reconstruction. They had more trouble convincing the world, but through bribery and intimidation stitched together a "coalition of the willing," which PR-wise was a good enough substitute for U.N. sanction, but in the end they did exactly what they wanted to do: march into Iraq, move into Saddam Hussein's mansions and prisons, and clumsily wreck the country.

Bush was able to win on the home front because the propaganda war is fought in the realm of imagination, where carefully researched words like "victory" and "resolve," "freedom" and "democracy," and the "war on terrorism" resonate powerfully. Unfortunately, the other front -- the one in Iraq -- is stuck in reality. The U.S. has been in retreat there since Bush backed down to Ayatollah al-Sistani and scheduled elections. America's chosen candidate in last January's elections, Iyad Allawi, received less than 15% of the vote, while Sistani's UIA received a majority. There will be another round of elections this week which the UIA, even more dominated by pro-Iranian SCIRI and anti-American Sadr, will no doubt win. Most Iraqis by now realize that the U.S. will be no help in reconstructing Iraq -- Merle Haggard is in tune with the American public in insisting that we rebuild "America First" -- and that the U.S. creates more terrorists than it kills. So it is only a short matter of time before the democratic government of Iraq that Tiahrt is so proud of tells us to take a hike.

Back in Vietnam, when the Diem government embarrassed us, we just staged a coup, installing more compliant "leaders." After all the proselytizing about democracy, that hardly seems like an option in Iraq. Far easier it would be to tout capturing Saddam Hussein and establishing democratic rule, declare that to be victory, and gracefully bow out. Maybe all this newfound victory talk is just PR paving the way to accept what otherwise might be construed as defeat. Our greatest danger right now is that the people like Bush and Tiahrt who sold us this war are so desperate to avoid the tag of defeat that, like Johnson and Nixon in Vietnam, they might choose instead to escalate the war, to prolong the damage. Even today, hawks blame the American people for losing their resolve and thereby losing Vietnam. But look back at history and you'll see that the Vietnamese fought the French and Japanese for thirty years before the Americans showed up in force, and you'll realize that had we not left they'd be fighting us still. The "course" in Iraq eventually leads home, no matter how much Bush procrastinates. The Iraqis don't want us there. We don't want to be there. The only resolve we need is to recognize that reality trumps our fantasies, and to punish the fantasists come election time.

I hadn't thought much about the analogies to Vietnam before, but it occurs to me now that the anti-Diem coup was one of the most utterly arrogant things that the U.S. ever did. The message there was that our mission of fighting communism is more important than the interests of the people we were supposedly fighting for. Tiahrt's letter is full of the same arrogance, especially when he talks about terrorism. Some excerpts:

By rooting out the terrorists and making Iraq the central battleground in the global war on terrorism rather than the United States, we are indeed making America safer. However, we must support our military and allow it to finish the job it has started to ensure our country's future security.

[ . . . ]

Iraq is paramount in the terrorist strategy to destroy Western civilization. A July 9 letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, two senior al-Qaida members, clearly articulated the terrorists' goals.

First, the terrorists will force American and coalition troops out of Iraq. Second, they will destabilize the democratically elected Iraqi government and replace the region's moderate Muslim governments with Islamic jihadists, creating a Pan-Islamic state. Third, they will use Iraq to launch attacks against the West, including the United States. The terrorists also call on using the media to forward these goals.

This is the reality in Iraq -- the reality facing our troops every day. The terrorists want to kill us and destroy our way of life.

[ . . . ]

Disengagement in Iraq will not bring peace; it will embolden enemies to move the war back to the United States and resume direct attacks on American citizens.

The terrorists did not stop with the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers, the 1998 bombings of two east African U.S. Embassies, or the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Al-Qaida still killed 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.

The terrorists will not stop if we leave Iraq. The terrorists will not stop until they are destroyed.

[ . . . ]

We must be vigilant, and we must win. Only then will America truly be safe from terrorism.

First point is that the al-Zawahiri letter is almost certainly a forgery. When this letter first appeared, Juan Cole noted several phrases that were inconsistent with Arabic that al-Zawahiri would have used. In any case, the destruction of western civilization has never been an al-Qaeda goal -- they're more modestly concerned with saving Islamic civilization. They view their struggle as a defensive jihad -- that means, in defense against enemies of Islam who over the last two centuries have attacked and occupied Islamic lands, in many cases installing quislings to do our bidding. One thing that's relatively distinctive about Bin Laden and Zawahiri is that they dare to attack the "far enemy" (the U.S. and narrowly defined allies) as well as the "near enemy."

When the U.S. invaded Iraq we did two things that played straight into Al-Qaeda's hands: we took down Saddam Hussein's secular Baathist regime, which had been one of Al-Qaeda's most effective near enemies, and we put ourselves in their place. In other words, we promoted ourselves from "far enemy" to "near enemy" -- the argument that we're fighting them there instead of here is a matter of perspective. Try looking at it from their side: we've just served them up 160,000 prime targets, that they can attack without having to travel half way around the world, learn English, wangle visas, etc. Moreover, we've turned 25 million Iraqis into targets, as we make them choose: either they're with us, in which case Al-Qaeda tries to kill them, or they're against us, in which case we try to kill them. Subsequently, we've proven that we can't protect Iraqis who choose, and that we have so little skills for distinguishing among Iraqis that we often detain, torture, and/or kill Iraqis who aren't necessarily against us.

As a script, this is too stupid to take seriously, yet it's what the Bush administration has done. One clue is that most of these arguments are recycled from Vietnam, another war we fought there so we wouldn't have to fight here, another war aginst fanatics out to destroy our way of life. No one seems to have thought of the counterargument that had we waited to fight the war here we would have won. Given that the U.S. cannot successfully subdue Vietnam or Iraq, what are the odds that Vietnam or Iraq could successfully invade and occupy America?

Of course, that was never really the issue. The problem is that Americans have no clue what their government really does abroad. Al-Qaeda never fingered Sweden or Switzerland as the far enemy, even though they are if anything more civilized western nations than the U.S. Until Al-Qaeda, Americans at home never had to pay any price for what the U.S. did abroad, which is a big part of the reason Americans are so convinced of their innocence, indeed of their benevolence. 9/11 should have been a wake-up call, an occasion for Americans to take a hard, close look for whatever it was that the U.S. government had done that may have led Al-Qaeda to decide that their attack on us was just. But it wasn't -- it just became an excuse to make matters worse.

The other thing that the argument about fighting there instead of here says is that their lives don't matter like our lives do. There's nothing terribly surprising about believing this -- most people do -- but it is the height of arrogance to act on it, and off the scale of hypocrisy to assert that we're killing them to help them achieve freedom. When Bush talks of victory in Iraq, I have no idea what he means because it's impossible to resolve all the contradictions in his rhetoric. This, again, is not new. The quintessential Vietnam moment was when an American officer explained how we had to destroy the village in order to save it. This isn't irony. This is madness. America's unwillingness to look in the mirror and make amends leaves us blindly striking out at the world. 9/11 was too short to wake us up, too easily blamed on others. Iraq, on the other hand, was clearly a war of our own chosing. If it doesn't lead us to change our ways, we are truly lost.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Juan Cole raised a bit of a stink when he launched an attack on what he called "the looney left" in his posting on Howard Dean's comments on Iraq -- which Cole dubbed "winning smart in Iraq." I don't have the exact quote, since after receiving quite a bit of heat from his readers, Cole subsequently edited his comments. But early in the debate, he explained:

I'm hoping none of my readership considers itself on the looney left, so I can't see how any of them could be insulted by the language. I'm referring to a discourse that always thinks anything the US or the US military does is always evil and always worse than anything anyone else could do. When Saddam massacred the Shiites and put them in mass graves, none of these observers on the far left said anything at all about it. And, from what they are saying now, a lot of them couldn't care less if the neo-Baath and the Salafi Jihadis did it all over again.

Anyway, it is true that people have attacked me simply for urging that we get most ground troops out, but use air power judiciously to attempt to forestall a possible resulting hot civil war, which could become genocidal. Their premise is apparently that any US use of force is always evil.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding here -- either that or a fundamental disagreement. But first, let's dispose of two pieces of toxic rhetoric. First, "looney left" is a phrase that the right uses, mostly to dispense with the whole left. One reason they use it is that it has a ring to it -- the "l" words flow evenly, but also because "looney" suggests that what the left strives for is unrealistic, impossible even, and that reiterates the right's core position: that human nature and socio-economic stratification are immutable conditions, and that any effort to change is foolish, mischievous, and bound to fail and lead to misery. But also it leaves the user an out. When challenged with obvious examples of sober, responsible leftists, one can always refine the definition and argue that one only attacked a subset of leftists -- you know, the looney ones. Cole's usage is a self-serving variant on the latter. As a self-described "man of the left" he only means to tar a subset of the left, but he's using the right's slur to do it. This is what he got chewed out for, and what he apologized for, and that's all there is to say about it.

The other piece of toxic rhetoric is the word "evil" -- another key item in the right's toolkit. I'm not against using the word ever, but it has the effect of slamming the door on further discussion. In this context, Cole's assertion -- "Their premise is apparently that any US use of force is always evil" -- conceals his own premise: that anyone who rejects the idea that US force could be used beneficially must be looney. I want to argue that this point isn't a premise. It's a rather generalized form of a carefully considered conclusion, and it deserves to be taken seriously. I'd go even further and claim that any leftist who doesn't take these arguments seriously is bound to get lost.

The argument consists of four pieces:

  1. US foreign policy is not representative of or accountable to the overwhelming majority of the American people. The stakeholders are primarily corporations with foreign business interests and the professional elites who work for them. This selection occurs because the US political system favors special interests over anything like a public interest, and rich special interests over poor ones. Plus the US as a whole, but especially the currently dominant right, buys the idea that the pursuit of self-interest works out for the best. Ergo, US foreign policy works primarily for international capital in its narrow support of profit, and this limits other possible agendas, including anything so cost-ineffective as humanitarian.

  2. US military and intelligence agencies are not representative of the American people. They have their own distinct cultures, interests, and agendas, and these limit what they can do, what they are willing to do, and how they are willing to do it. They consume tremendous resources, and are largely able to escape accountability. They are self-protective, averse to risks, slow when it comes to adopting new tasks. Accordingly, they do little more than endlessly practice for wars that no one expects or wants. Consequently, they have little experience in real conflicts, which they handle crudely given their self-interest.

  3. Militarist foreign policy works against the domestic interests of the left and in favor of the domestic agenda of the right. Partly this is because lavish defense support starves domestic welfare, but it's also because the military exudes an authoritarian, hierarchical psychology and the shared commitment of war binds us together under the a supposedly strong leader -- the Führerprinzip, as it used to be called, or what George Lakoff dubs "the strong father" these days. The icons of allegiance are exploited as patriotism, which in the US are increasingly associated with the military. The left, by contrast, represents the weak, the poor, those who merely work -- characteristics easily attacked in times of fear.

  4. All acts of war have immense and often unforseen consequences. They cause collateral damage which is inherently unjust, and as such the war parties are readily viewed as unjust. They cause environmental damage, often severe and/or long-lasting. Combatants die, are maimed, are psychologically scarred. People living in war zones often flee, their lives disrupted. Children who grow up under war suffer special hardships and carry the memories for the rest of their lives. Losers and winners, including non-combatants, are both permanently changed by war -- one tendency is that winners return to war again and again until they finally succumb. Even the most justifiable wars exact their terrible costs. The obvious lesson is that war is to be avoided if at all possible. The main tool here is the extension of law, based on universally accepted standards of human rights and justice.

The first three points are specific to the US. While they are deeper and most likely longer lasting than George W. Bush's presidency, Bush represents a uniquely dangerous alliance of capital, the military, and the ideological right, as we've seen from the very beginnings (pre-9/11) of the administration. The fourth point is universal: recognizing the horrors and futility of war, committed to justice and human rights, many leftists regard war as wrong, but also as unworkable. (The latter point is one that can be elaborated at much greater length than I wish to do here. One finds, for instance, that revolutions tend to be more self-destructive the more they are born in violence. One finds that the communist regimes of the cold war era were more likely to collapse peacefully the less stringently they were challenged by the US.)

Leftists who understood these points -- the general one about the dangers of war and the three interrelated ones about the constitution of American military power -- instinctively recognized that the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq would be bad for the left and for all we stand for. They are therefore the people Cole called "looney" -- I'd argue that more accurate terms are sound, sensible, right. I've tried to argue this mostly from principles, but one can also make the same argument from history. US foreign policy has had a dreadful track record ever since the cold war doctrine began to expand from minimal containment (e.g., the Korean War), despite the fact that the US has long had a relatively strong record (with a couple of major blemishes) of supporting freedom and human rights at home.

None of this depends much on the specifics of Iraq, but of course the specifics matter as well. The specifics make the difference between a war that is wrong and bad for us and a war that is disastrous for everyone involved. Cole is an expert in this history, and to his credit found reason enough to oppose the war before the fact. It should also be noted that he has always argued to reduce and resolve the conflict, and that even his proposals that countenance the use of US air power are intended as nothing more than a hedge against a reasonable fear of greater bloodshed in its absence. (I find those proposals to be rather fanciful in that they presume that US air power can be used impartially -- something that I'd argue is impossible given present orientations of US political and military power -- and without too much collateral damage. I also suspect that the likelihood of greater civil war once the US leaves is somewhat less than Cole evidently expects, but I can't argue that based on expertise -- it's more of an intuition of how politics works.)

My four pieces of the argument can be developed much more extensively. I don't, for instance, argue that capital is the sole director of US foreign policy, and I especially don't believe that the capitalists' interests are homogeneous. In particular, most international business would be better off with less war -- even the armaments companies are likely to enjoy the treat of war more than the real thing. Similarly, while international business and the ideological right overlap, they are by no means the same. Many businessmen are liberals, and in many ways liberalism suits their interests much better than the right does. Also, I believe that Bush, Cheney, et al. belong not to capital -- the top two have proven to be astonishingly bad businessmen -- or to the military or even to the right, but instead are political sceamers who have taken charge of the right's political machinery and miscalculated their way into Iraq and other disasters. (Ronald Reagan was easily as misguided and deluded as Bush, but at least was inept enough not to shoot himself.)

My point here is that the "looney left" isn't looney at all. Our distrust in Bush and Cheney was justified. Our distrust in the US military was justified. Our expectation that Iraqis would resist US occupation was justified, as was our expectation that their resistance would provoke the US to make matters worse. Our expectation that the US military, and eventually the American people, would grow weary of this pointlessly tragic war was justified. Our expectation that when the US finally quits Iraq we will do so with the same bitterness and disdain we showed in leaving Vietnam may well be justified as well. Admittedly, it was easy for us to see these things, because we know all too well that George W. Bush isn't our president, and that the army he sent to Iraq isn't our army. We know in fact that Washington DC is occupied by an alien government that doesn't represent us and isn't dedicated to our welfare and freedom. So we don't have any big problems understanding what's going on, because we already understood it.

Not everyone on the left has been able to see clearly through this war. This usually means that the leftist still buys into some part of the deal. This could be a residual faith in the benevolence of the US government, or it could be sympathy with some segment of the Iraqi people, or it could be the belief that Salafi-Jihadists like Al-Qaeda are such enemies to human rights that aligning with Bush is preferable. The latter position, which includes people like Christopher Hitchens, is pretty easy to dismiss: it starts with an unrealistic estimate of the threat, based more on Islamophobia than anything else, then aligns with forces only capable of turning their fears into self-fulfilling prophecy. The overwhelming majority of Muslims want war no more than anyone else does. It's only the presence of foreign occupiesr who give the Salafi-Jihadists any credible claim to defend Islamic world.

The other positions are naïve but otherwise hard to dismiss. Any leftist working within the US political system necessarily invests some faith in that system. This has much to do with why Democratic politicians have had such trouble formulating any sort of opposition to Bush's war. It's easy for someone like me, with no power and no responsibility, to advocate a clean break from the conflict, but it's real hard for someone trying to establish a credible claim to lead the country -- someone like Howard Dean or John Kerry -- to argue that US policy should be changed to recognize the clear fact that the US government cannot be trusted in Iraq. (There's a big rat hole we could go down here relating to what the Democrats' anti-war strategy should be. On the other hand, the actual strategy -- what Dean referred to as an emerging consensus -- is likely to be based on the Murtha resolution, which means to salvage the military and the Al-Qaeda focus of the War on Terror. I think that misses all the big points, but it still may be good tactics. At least, Murtha would pull the frying pan away from the fire.)

I have less sympathy for the sympathizers -- the soft-hearted liberals who make up most of the left -- not so much because I disapprove as because I find it embarrassing how easily they can be taken for suckers. Iraqis have had problems for a long time now, and Saddam Hussein has been responsible for many of those problems. But Bush is singularly unqualified to be of any help. His attitude toward democracy should have been clear from the 2000 Florida recount, following his record-setting attempt to buy the election. His view of freedom is clear from the USA PATRIOT Act, his gulags, his torture edicts. His commitment to women's rights takes a back seat to his membership in the anti-abortion jihad. His own sympathy for human suffering? Even when faced with events as apolitical as natural disasters, he's never been moved by the news -- only by the polls afterwards, and the opportunity for reconstruction graft. The Bush war and occupation in Iraq has been one false step after another, fueled by hidden agendas, spun by outrageous lies. How anyone could fall for this is beyond me, especially given that the right has a telling term for liberal suckers -- "useful idiots."

Of course, the real reason Bush gets away with his faux concern act is that those well-meaning liberals let their hopes get ahead of their heads. They see the tragedy, and they don't see any other relief, so they cling to hopes that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the US might ultimately have some use in holding still worse events at bay. Cole is a good example of someone caught in this trap, all the more so because he knows too much to just hope for the best. He fears that the sectarian tensions that the US so exacerbated will, once the US withdraws, flare up into a genocidal civil war, and he could well be right about that. (I doubt this, but then compared to him who am I?) So he looks for some agency that can maintain a modicum of control, and while he would much prefer the UN he'd settle for the US air force. My problem here is that the US is still the US, Bush is still Bush, and Bush is still president of the US. The US can't stay in Iraq and become a neutral moderator because Bush cannot be neutral -- in general terms, you can't implement a policy of disinterest, which is what any "honest broker" policy requires, based on a system devoted to the pursuit of self-interests.

(We could go down another rat hole here and talk about the general problem many liberals have in thinking that they ought to solve other people's problems for them. My own view is that people have to solve their own problems. Maybe sometimes you can intervene and point out or enable some solution, but in the end that only works if the people themselves embrace and implement it. On the other hand, many problems are created and/or exploited by outsiders, and can get worse when the outsiders think they're trying to make things better. In most cases, I'd argue, it would be better to get out and leave the mess to those who have to live in it, sad as that may seem. The "you broke it, you fix it" line fails two critical tests: if you can't fix it, you'll only make it worse; and once you break something, most people are sensibly wary of your continuing interest.)

To recap, the people Cole has dubbed "the looney left" are the part of the left which understood from the beginning that the Bush war in Iraq could come to no good. We understood that US occupation would not be received as benign. We understood that it would be resisted, and America's response to resistance would be to stiffen it. We understood that America's obsession with killing terrorists, combined with America's ignorance, would lead to killing others. We understood that nothing could be reconstructed as long as the war rages on, and that no amount of hardship imposed on the Iraqi people would make it stop. We understood that the Iraqis we used would be viewed as collaborators, and that the longer we stayed the more people would be tainted. We understood that in the end the US would have to leave Iraq, and won't be fondly remembered for its stay. What has happened to Iraq is truly tragic, not least because it was so easy to predict.

We also understand that the big question isn't what should be done about the future of Iraq -- not least because we understand that we can have no positive effect there. Our position is "out now" because that's a clear, simple, uncompromised position: it offers a clean separation between the Iraq problem and the rather larger and more daunting America problem. Iraq may get worse or better after the US leaves, but at least America won't continue to be the cause. But any sort of effective disengagement is a step in the right direction. The American people want out. The US military wants out. The Iraqi people want the US out. It is only a matter of time before even someone as stubborn as Bush cuts his losses and tries to spin some sort of victory storyline out of retreat. Since "out" is the end state of whatever course we're trying to stay, "out now" isn't looney -- it's pragmatic.

The other position we could take is "impeach Bush" -- clearly, nothing the US might attempt to do in Iraq can have any credibility as long as Bush, so totally identified with the war and its tragic consequences, remains in power. Dump Bush and Cheney, replace them with someone new and untainted by the war, and then maybe we can talk about the US taking positive steps to stabilize Iraq. I have my doubts -- real reform would have to go far deeper, but maybe there is a path that points us in the right direction, much like "redeployment" would point the US military out of Iraq. But at this point there really isn't much other than leaving that the US can offer Iraq: we've failed at securing the peace, we've failed at reconstruction, we've failed at building any sort of economy. For a nation whose foreign policy ideologues since the early '90s have been deliriously drunk on their unipolar superpower status, Iraq has been a bitter come down. The world has in turn learned lessons about the limits of power, the delusions of arrogance, and the vulnerability of civilization to revenge against injustice. We saw this coming from far back. The rest of the left should give us some credit, and stop throwing insults at us. Now who's looney?


Sometimes you wonder whether even the people who write newspaper articles comprehend what they're writing. The following appeared in the Wichita Eagle today:

The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and al-Qaida on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former officials.

The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and al-Qaida only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.

In other words, the guy lied to avoid torture, and he got away with it because he correctly intuited what his interrogators wanted to hear. But that's not what the writer concluded. The article continues:

The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of al-Qaida members and others detained as part of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

In other words, if only al-Libi had been tortured by American professionals we would have correctly concluded that when he said what we wanted to hear he was lying. Other interpretations are possible. One is that torture doesn't really work all that well. Another is that violating the rule of law -- rendition is, after all, just a euphemism for kidnapping, and torture is criminal assault -- doesn't pay. But the problems don't stop with what the U.S. did to al-Libi. Anyone the least bit interested in truth would have regarded al-Libi's testimony as suspect and tried to falsify it. But in the Bushworld politics trumps truth -- that is, after all, the real meaning of taunting the "reality-based" community.

Congress is currently debating an extension of the USA PATRIOT Act, which is meant to give the U.S. federal government extraordinary powers at the expense of our customary liberties. Maybe in some circumstances some of these powers can be justified, but only if you believe that the government is firmly in the hands of people who seek truth, who respect liberty, and who are sensitive to injustice and abuse of power. As long as George W. Bush is in power that is certainly not the case.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Static Multimedia has posted my Recycled Goods column for December 2005. Nothing unusual about this one: a little bit of everything I cover, with a little more than a few jazz reissues down in Briefly Noted and Additional Consumer News. The most pleasant surprise was Blue Note's latest Connoisseur batch -- I even held a couple of those back for a snowy February, including an A- for Ike Quebec. In comparison, Verve's recent batch of Impulse LPRs, mostly from the '70s, are period oddities -- interesting, obscure, good to have in print, but not on the same level.

This column came out a few days late. I got jammed working on Jazz Consumer Guide, then had to scramble this time. One consequence was that I shied away from box sets -- traditional Xmas gift items. I can note that Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar is nicely done, but more educational than entertaining, and that the delayed-release Miles Davis Cellar Door Sessions is much more Live Evil. In other words, both sets are attractive to those already attracted. The one box I did get to is Cameo Parkway. It should be noted somewhere that the box has been followed by a bunch of individual artist best-ofs, but I don't have them and haven't heard them. My guess is that they gain in consistency but I wonder how many of the artists really have the catalog depth.

Recycled Goods in January will be a one-shot round up of 2005 new releases. I've managed to cover new jazz pretty effectively this year, although there are still avant-garde labels, especially in Europe, that do worthwhile work but haven't shared with me. On the other hand, my coverage of new non-jazz is at something of an all-time low this year -- I'm trying to catch up, but like most people not in the loop, I'm sure there are lots of things I won't hear about until everyone else's lists are compiled. So if you know about something I really should find out about, pleas let me know. Old stuff returns to Recycled Goods in February. Last month I complained about my backlog getting short, but three of the four majors pitched in. Still would like to hook up with more independents -- especially those dealing with African music -- but I manage to get more than I have time, so shouldn't complain.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Haven't seen many movies lately, but haven't written about the few I've seen, so here's some catching up:

Movie: Lord of War. The opening sequence sums the movie up more economically than the rest does. It starts in a factory with the manufacture of a bullet -- stamped, assembled, inspected, packed, shipped, received, unpacked, loaded, fired into the skull of a teenaged boy, probably in Liberia or Sierra Leone. The subject here is the arms trade -- especially the arms from the defunct Soviet empire that flooded into Africa. Nicolas Cage plays a dealer from New York's Little Odessa with an uncle in the Ukraine Army -- as I understand it he's a composite of five real arms dealers. (Ethan Hawke plays a composite of even more Interpol agents, always on Cage's tail.) Told in flashbacks highlighting Cage's close scrapes over the years, the seduction of his wife and the destruction of his brother, whatever action occurs is anomalous -- an inadvertent breakdown of everyday business, which on rare occasions gives us a glimpse of the destruction such business facilitates. The dearth of feeling is both the film's power and weakness -- there is no human interest here, even of the victims. The visuals, on the other hand, can be interesting -- aerial shots of Africa, the remarkable disassembly of an airplane. B+

Movie: Broken Flowers. Also starts with an opening sequence, this time tracing the path of a letter through the USPS. Bill Murray plays a retired computer executive, who in response to the letter and prodding from nosy neighbor Jeffrey Wright is sent on a search for four old girlfriends who might have sent the letter -- anonymously, warning of an unknown son assumed to be seeking Murray out. The four women run the range of possible reactions, almost stereotypically. More satisfying for its nuances than storyline. B+

Movie: A History of Violence. One thing you got to give Hollywood is that they can make violence more attractive than it ever is in real life. Cafe owner Viggo Mortensen gets pushed too far three times, and responds with breathtaking accuracy and economy. Of course, he's got experience, but his son levels a bully with the same effectiveness. These are dream sequences, and it helps that they happen quicker than anyone can signal. This is classified as a "thriller," but unlike all the others it doesn't dwell on the omens -- it cuts to the chase. Maria Bello has a very tough role as Mortensen's wife. She handles it well, and thankfully doesn't have to kill anyone. Ed Harris and William Hurt get the easy roles as villains, and add something anyway. Peter MacNeill, as a smalltown sheriff, should be remembered for Supporting Actor come Oscar time, but won't. A

Movie: Good Night, and Good Luck. Shot in black and white, interweaved with newsreel footage of Sen. Joe McCarthy doing his thing. David Strathairn is note-perfect as Edward R. Murrow, but his role as McCarthy's nemesis is hard to judge. The self-importance of the backstage news production always threatens to overwhelm the story, so merely showing it runs the risk of exposing the hubris the networks are famous for. In fact, CBS has become such a kick toy for the right these days that it's hard not to see what's coming when you watch this. So parallels between then and now cut both ways. One thing I was struck by was how emphatically Murrow could defend his own anti-communism -- something that Don Hollenbeck, a newsman hounded to suicide, could not do. Given how discredited McCarthy is these days, I came away wondering when someone would come up with the guts to mount a sympathetic movie in defense of real communists. Like Ethel and, especially, Julius Rosenberg. A-

Movie: Capote. Despite growing up in Kansas at the time, I have no memories of the Clutter Family killing -- only the occasional references back to the crime, which became vastly more famous once Truman Capote published In Cold Blood. On the other hand, I remember Capote's appearances on the Tonight show rather well -- his voice, his hands, his haughty insistence that his sympathies were with the victims. Never read the book, but much later I saw the movie, which covers the killers enough. So, at least personally, this this movie, by concentrating on a writer far more enigmatic than his subjects, closes the circle. Philip Seymour Hoffman has a tough job doing Capote -- he gets the mannerisms close enough, but is so large compared to Capote that he comes off as an ungainly monster whereas Capote was more like a dilletantish dwarf, his mannerisms projected from his body rather than trapped inside. Moreover, Capote's crippling self-obsession as the execution looms doesn't quite jive with my remembrance of him after the book's publication, but perhaps there's something to it -- as the movie points out, Capote never wrote another book. Catherine Keener as Harper Lee helps out immensely. Yet despite the unease I felt at the time, this movie continues to gain stature in my memory. Saw the trailer for it again later, and it added to the depth of the movie. A-

Movie: Paradise Now. A film by Hany Abu-Assad, who previously did Rana's Wedding. He has a sharp eye for the everyday hardships of Palestinians under occupation, but he's not heavy-handed about it, and he's at least as interested in how life goes on despite the hardships. But this time the problem he tackles is how to fight back. On one side, there is a woman, the daughter of a local "martyr," who argues that violence surrenders the moral high ground. On the other, underground political operatives plot their response to a previous attack by setting up a suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv. In between are two young Palestinian men, the designated bombers, who get a second chance to think it over when the original plans go awry. One, Khaled, is caught in the usual economic trap. The other, Said, is haunted by his father's history as a collaborator -- a "weakness," for which he was killed. Said gives a tightly argued speech on why he intends to go through with the plan -- the key point is to make them feel the pain we feel. The operatives may be more cynical, or more manipulative, but one senses they understand the difficulties of the choice all too well. In the end the screen fades to white -- the focus is on intentions, not on consequences. Similarly, the Israelis are mere faces without words -- this is a debate in and of the Palestinians. While those are fair artistic choices, they are blind politically, in large part because no possible choice works. Kind of like the trap Israel has set for the Palestinians. B+


For the last seven weeks running I've been posting "Jazz Prospecting" notes each week as I was working on the seventh installment of my Jazz Consumer Guide column. Over those seven weeks I've slogged through 212 albums looking for items of interest. Found a few -- more than I can use, actually, so it's good to at least give them some exposure in my weekly blog postings. But no posting this week, and maybe none next week. Jazz Consumer Guide #7 is done, edited, scheduled to appear on or near Dec. 14. Last week I shifted gears to work on the December Recycled Goods column -- late, but real close to done now and should be up later this week -- so wouldn't have much to report on this week anyway.

I've also put off updating the website for another week or so, as I restructure the Jazz Consumer Guide files. Aside for the blog posts, the rest of the website is batch-updated, which is trouble when things are up in the air. Music writing continues to suck up nearly every available cycle. I was hoping that after RG I'd get a chance to work on the book project, but coming up over the next two months: a year-end jazz top ten for the Voice, a year-end special new record roundup for Recycled Goods in January, my annual Pazz & Jop ballot and screed, a piece on Sheila Jordan for the Voice, yet another Jazz Consumer Guide, and a return to reissues for Recycled Goods in February. The only good news is that I have about half of the latter two columns done at this point.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Music: Current count 11337 [11312] rated (+25), 841 [857] unrated (-16). Jazz CG in, edited, done, should be out week after next. Recycled Goods complete pending edit, should be up in a few days. Next RG will be year end round-up of 2005 new albums, a change of pace. February RG returns to usual formula. On the way I need to write a jazz top ten for the Voice. Also plan to write something on Sheila Jordan for Voice. Reorganizing Jazz CG files, moving them into their own directory. Not much jazz prospecting last week, so I'll hold what I have there back for another week. Actually hoping to start doing some non-music writing this coming week.

  • The Appalachians (1927-2003 [2005], Dualtone): Front cover adds, "A companion to the public television series." Mix of old stuff and cheap stuff from the label's catalog that mostly sounds like old stuff. Documentation is trivial and relatively useless. Songs by Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Blind Alfred Reed, etc., are classic but available elsewhere. B
  • Cameo Parkway 1957-1967 (1956-67 [2005], Abkco, 4CD): Bernie Lowe's label scored over 100 chart singles during its decade, but the most striking thing about this 115-song collection is how much it all sounds like something else. This is partly because Allen Klein, who picked up the defunct label in 1968, has been sitting on it all this time. But it's mostly because Lowe, lyricist Kal Mann, and producer Dave Appell were masters of derivation. Nor did they specialize: they did big band swing, crooners, teen idols, doo-wop, rockabilly, girl group, dance anthems, folkies, mariachi, cowboy, bubblegum, punk, spoken word novelties, you name it. Typical is the label's biggest star: named for his Fats Domino impression, Chubby Checker took Hank Ballard's "The Twist" to the top of the charts -- twice, not counting its derivatives and variants. Checker's heyday was the label's prime, in large part because the doo-wop and girl groups and dance crazes were such maleable formulae. The label faded fast when the Brits invaded and Motown crested, and Lowe sold out in 1965. The final third here is only sporadically interesting, with novelties like Senator Bobby's "Wild Thing" before the corporate shell discovered its last #1 hit in Flint, "96 Tears," as part of a regional search that netted Bob Seger's James Brown impersonation on "Sock It to Me Santa." One could argue that there's a real good album buried somewhere in this mess, but historians of a certain age and temperament will be delighted to have it all. (I, for one, am thrilled to hear "Wolverton Mountain" again.) On the other hand, youngsters and prudes and the supercilious will be dismayed. Those were the days when popular culture was meant to be trashy. B+
  • The Very Best of Canned Heat (1967-73 [2005], Capitol): the most devoted of America's blues rock bands back in the day when American rockers were just discovering the blues locked away in their closets; two freak hits from 1968, three cuts from Monterey Pop in 1967, two cuts from best album Future Blues, three cuts from the period when Bob Hite tried to carry on after Alan Wilson died, one with Little Richard. B+(***)
  • Rosanne Cash: The Very Best of Rosanne Cash (1979-2003 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): Nepotism was suddenly fashionable in the election year of Bush vs. Gore, but after years of Eugene Scalia and Michael Powell, not to mention GWB, a backlash is overdue. Rosanne certainly benefitted from her dad's experience and connections, not to mention branding, but she had her own sound early -- she hopped from country to pop without wasting a minute on countrypolitan -- and developed into a thoughtful songwriter. Her albums from 1985's Rhythm and Romance through 1993's The Wheel are as well crafted and smartly observed as anyone's, and Rules of Travel lost very little despite the ten year gap. As with most album artists, a best-of that skips lightly around two decades of work misses as much as it hits. But having proved her independence, she welcomes her father back for a guest duet. A-
  • All Over the World: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra (1973-2001 [2005], Epic/Legacy): Forget "Evil Woman" -- or better still, imagine it was prophetically about Thatcher, and don't sweat the details, since the whiney lyrics are belied by the music anyway. The concept here is a rock band with dancing cellos and falsetto vocals, but it wouldn't work if ex-Move songwriter Jeff Lynne didn't have a knack for cheap hooks as well as flagrantly over-the-top arrangements. It all comes together in "Don't Bring Me Down," as exuberant a piece of popcraft as anything released in the early '70s. Nothing else works so completely, but half-baked genius follows -- the proto-disco "Turn to Stone," the post-Pepper "Diary of Horace Wimp," the Move-to-Queen missing link "Rockaria!," the trademarkable "Strange Magic." Lynne's a rock and roller -- the strings are an extravagance -- but curiously when he indulges them he sounds most like Dave Edmunds. Their songbook runs out before the disc does, but this is more fun than any other '70s prog band. A-
  • John Fogerty: The Long Road Home (1969-2005 [2005], Fantasy): The first fruit of Fogerty's reconciliation with Fantasy Records is that he gets his early records back, and that stabilizes a career retrospective that would be skimpy otherwise. The numbers tell the story: sixteen Creedence Clearwater Revival songs, including two new remakes, vs. nine post-Creedence songs, again including two new remakes. Still, they're all written by Fogerty, all of a piece. The biggest surprise for me are remakes of two songs from Fogerty's eponymous 1975 album -- I missed that one, but know the songs well from other artists, never realizing that what sounded like vintage rock and roll classics had been penned by the man whose every new song back in 1969-70 sounded like a long-lost timeless classic. The difference between the old songs and the live remakes is sonic: the old ones sound more relaxed, weary even, and thinner, while the remakes are more immediate and urgent. The post-Creedence songs fit in -- he's not a guy who's evolved much. So I wouldn't recommend this over a superb Creedence collection like Chronicle, but not by much. A
  • Lightnin' Hopkins: Prestige Profiles (1960-64 [2005], Prestige): the first and thus far only artist on Prestige's Bluesville label to be included in this series; past his prime, but while he changed with the fashions, he never changed much, and age just sharpened his features; prolific as always -- this reduces a 7-CD box, but doesn't improve it much. B+
  • Bob Marley & the Wailers: Africa Unite: The Singles Collection (1970-80 [2005], Island/Chronicles): Marley eventually got the recognition he deserved. Maybe even more. A search at an internet retailer lists over 300 Marley titles. His best known best-of, Legend, has sold over ten million copies. For many he not only is reggae, he's all that reggae is. Quite an accomplishment for a guy who died at 36. The discography isn't all that complicated: Marley cut his first song as a teenager for Leslie Kong. He joined Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston, and others to form a group soon called the Wailers, and recorded for Coxsone Dodd's Studio One from 1963-66, cutting two classics, "Simmer Down" and "One Love." The group split, then reformed in 1968, working with Lee Perry's Upsetters. They moved to Tuff Gong in 1971, then signed with Chris Blackwell's Island Records for U.K. and U.S. distribution. Island released ten Bob Marley & the Wailers albums -- the first two, before Tosh and Livingston split, as the Wailers. One source of confusion here is that Marley's early-'70s albums were released separately in Jamaica and on Island -- the Jamaican albums have been recompiled by Trojan, overlapping Island. Still, the majority of in-print Marley albums are redundant Studio One and Upsetters reissues, and while those records can't be dismissed, it's safe to say that had Marley died before Catch a Fire came out in 1973, he'd be less famous today than Alton Ellis. Even within the Island series Marley's fame lagged his accomplishments. The first two albums with Tosh and Livingston were extraordinary, and the first solo album, Natty Dread (1974) was even better, but the first U.S. hit was the relatively lackluster Rastaman Vibration (1976). The rest of the studio albums were solid or better. The second live album was so-so, but the first was a revelation, demonstrating that what truly made Marley unique was his ability to transplant reggae into the arenas of Babylon. When Marley died in 1981, his acclaim kept growing. A posthumous scraps album appeared in 1983 with a fine single, "Buffalo Soldier," then a canonical collection of U.K. singles, Legend appeared in 1984. Subsequent efforts to compile him, including the Songs of Freedom box, never added much. But the endless search for more product gives us another singles-based collection, duplicating 12 of Legend's 14 or 16 cuts. The bait includes four pre-Island singles (available on Trojan's Trenchtown Rock anthology), an outtake from 1979, and two remixes -- none of which improve on the missing "Redemption Song." So this is redundant and mostly superfluous, but what else is new? A-
  • The Best of Shel Silverstein: His Words, His Songs, His Friends (1965-85 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): A few songs he wrote and performed ("A Front Row to Hear Ole Johnny Sing"), more he wrote and others sung ("A Boy Named Sue," "Freakin' at the Freakers' Ball, "Cover of the Rolling Stone"), spoken bits from his children's books (A Light in the Attic); any of these might be worth exploring on its own, but together they're merely scattershot. B
  • Studio One Women (1966-81 [2005], Soul Jazz): Ten (or more) albums into in Soul Jazz's Studio One series, this may be no more than a way of grouping obscurities that didn't make it into any of the extant categories -- Ska, Roots, Rockers, Scorchers, Funk, etc. B+


Nov 2005 Jan 2006