Thursday, August 31, 2006
I got the following letter from Robert Christgau today. Haven't
talked with him yet, but the letter ends "forward to whoever you
will," so I assume that this much at least can be posted.
If this comes completely out of the blue, I apologize.
It is now official -- Village Voice Media fired me today, "for
taste," which means (among other things) slightly sweeter
severance. This despite the support of new music editor Rob
Harvilla, who I like as a person and a writer. We both believed I
had won myself some kind of niche as gray eminence. So I was
surprised Tuesday when I was among the eight Voice employees
(five editorial, three art) who were instructed to bring their
union reps to a meeting with upper management today. But I
certainly wasn't shocked -- my approach to music coverage has never
been much like that of the New Times papers,
Bless the union, my severance is substantial enough to give me
time to figure out what I'm doing next. In fact, having finished
all my freelance reviews yesterday, I don't have a single
assignment pending. So, since I have no intention of giving up
rock criticism, all reasonable offers entertained; my phone
number is in the book, as they used to say when there were books.
What I don't need is a vacation--the three of us just had a great
two and a half weeks, and Nina matriculated at BMCC yesterday.
I shouldn't speculate about what this means, but I'll at least
throw out the most obvious point: that it seems unlikely that the
Voice will want my Jazz Consumer Guide without Christgau's Consumer
Guide. The only counterargument I can think of is that my column
is a lot cheaper than his -- especially if you factor in a chunk
of his Senior Editor salary. Certainly it's the end if "for taste"
is an aesthetic judgment, although you don't have to be much of a
cynic to view it as legal frosting on top of a matter of money.
Whether, if they still want me, I would still want them, is one
question I haven't given any thought to. But I was very pleased
with the way this week's Jazz CG came out, and I have half of
another one already written, plus all that stuff in the queue.
Until I figure out otherwise, I plan to keep doing what I'm
doing. Still, I wonder if I'd be better off in the long run
writing that damn political philosophy book.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Jazz Consumer Guide #10: Surplus
One of my housekeeping tasks that follows each Jazz Consumer Guide
is to cast a hard eye on the long list of records that I couldn't fit
into the format and schedule, and weed out as many of those as I can
see no prospect of using in the future. I've gotten to where most of
the purge occurs when I do prospecting notes, so what's left in the
"done" file is either worthy of honorable mention or a possible dud.
Still, I finished this cycle with 137 records in the "done" file. I
figured I should cut them down by half, but after a few passes I only
got them down to 90. That'll do for now, but what I missed will get
cut sooner or later. I managed to get 31 records into JCG #10, so the
math is pretty brutal.
Records get purged for lots of reasons. I'm somewhat reluctant to
spend Voice space on records that Francis Davis or others have already
reviewed in the Voice. For example, both Davis and Robert Christgau
reviewed the Odyssey the Band album, Back in Time, in glowing
terms, which pretty much sums up my own view. It could wind up in my
year-end top ten, but to put it in a Jazz CG just bumps some other
worthy, relatively unknown contender. Still, I haven't purged it yet,
but it's the sort of real good record that can lose out. Similarly,
I cover reissues in Recycled Goods, so I rarely double up on them in
JCG. But most records that get cut fall short in one way or another:
many are good ones that don't quite have the edge or interest to bull
their way onto the HM list. Sometimes I just get a record that I can't
think of anything publishable to say about. Jazz is mostly non-verbal,
so it isn't all that easy to write words about it -- especially when
we get into marginal distinctions, which happens a lot in the B/B+
range. I also time out on some records, when I notice a record that
has been sitting on the list three or more cycles without moving me
to write it up.
This cycle's purge totals 164 albums. The
surplus file has the whole
list. Recycled Goods covered 31 of these albums -- old music, but also
a few newer things that more/less fit my world music mandate, including
some Latin jazz. I wrote Jazz Prospecting notes on almost all of the
purged albums, and decided they suffice for 120. For the remaining 13
albums I wrote new notes/reviews, sometimes just explaining why they
got axed. That's the next section. For the lists, see the link above.
Despite all this, I still have plenty of records for the next column.
The current counts are: print backlog (15); done (90); pending (140).
Given an average run of 30 albums, that leaves 15 open slots for 230
albums, plus whatever shows up in the meantime. Of course, some will
miss the next column but make some future one.
Michel Camilo: Rhapsody in Blue (2005 ,
Telarc): This drags Gershwin back to classical music hell, with
a symphony orch that annoys me to no end, leaving me indifferent
or worse to the pianist. Still, I was reluctant to flag this as
a dud -- figured my prejudices are so automatic here the world
hardly needs a reminder. Then Francis Davis wrote up a sidebar
admiring this, so I kept it as a dud candidate. But in the end
I decided this isn't worth any more space than I'm using here.
Hard Cell (Berne+Taborn+Rainey): Feign (2005,
Screwgun): This came out before Berne's Paraphrase album, which
I made a Pick Hit, but I didn't hear it until later. Had I had
it at the time, it would have been an Honorable Mention. Much
the same idea, but the keyboard is more often in the way than
Drew Gress' bass was, and that slows Berne and Rainey down a
bit. Taborn himself is very engaged, and he's worth focusing on.
The Roy Hargrove Quintet: Nothing Serious (2006,
Verve): Sometimes I keep a B record around as a possible Dud du
Jour, but I haven't used one yet. But at most I only need to hang
on to one, and for now that's Cassandra Wilson. This one's too
forgettable not to be forgotten.
Lena Horne: Seasons of a Life (1994-2000 ,
Blue Note): Got an advance copy a long time ago, but never got a
final. Looks like it got delayed, then finally released in Jan.
2006, but at this point I've lost interest. As I understand it
these were outtakes from her '90s albums. Ten songs, four by
Billy Strayhorn, "Stormy Weather" to close. No surprises, no
gaffes, not much point.
Lee Konitz: Jonquil (2003 , Blue Jack Jazz):
Present at Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool sessions, which he
topped with his brilliant debut, Subconscious-Lee. More than
fifty years later, he's still active, still recording for labels so
obscure I can't even track them down. I just jotted his name down
on the Downbeat Reader's Poll ballot under "Hall of Fame," so I mean
no disrespect. I'd love to hear something new-ish from him I can
write about. But I'd rather not remember him for a strings album,
even one finessed reasonably well.
Brian Lynch: 24/7 (2002 , Nagel Heyer):
Crackling trumpet here, in a sharp, hard bop matrix, with a Latin
tinge, again a bebop throwback. Miguel Zenón plays Bird to his
Diz. Very solid, but it's been on the shelves quite a while.
Eivind Opsvik: Oversaes II (2005, Fresh Sound New
Talent): Unlike most bassist albums, this doesn't showcase the
leader very well. In fact, two pieces are celeste solos, with
different keyboardists, and were improvised as filler. Others
vary the keyboards and two saxophones, with Tony Malaby appearing
on half and making his usual fine impression.
Dafnis Prieto: About the Monks (2005, Zoho):
Cuban percussionist, hot shit ever since he hit New York. Real
fast, with Luis Perdomo's piano racing the percussion, and two
horns that rub me the wrong way -- Brian Lynch and Yosvany Terry,
two guys I like quite a bit in other contexts. This record got
terrific reviews, which got me thinking it might be worthwhile
to flag my dissent, but I never built up the confidence to go out
on that limb. Since then he's released Absolute Quintet,
which strikes me as better, but not enough to send me back to
this one. He's likely to be an important figure for a long time.
Sergi Sirvent: Free Quartet (2003 , Fresh
Sound New Talent). More like a piano trio with a double dose of
drums, the extra set accenting the angularity of the rhythms. I've
enjoyed this pianist all along, finally getting him an Honorable
Mention for the Unexpected, Play the Blues in Need. That's
the best, but this and others come close.
Trio East: Stop-Start (2005, Sons of Sound):
Trumpet-bass-drums, with trumpeter Clay Jenkins the probable leader,
even though drummer Rich Thompson gets first billing. Three originals,
six covers from Diz to Ornette, sharply played, just inside of out.
Another should-be honorable mention that timed out.
Bebo Valdés: Bebo de Cuba (2002 , Calle 54, 2CD):
Got this late, after Francis Davis had written about it. Wrote it up
in Recycled Goods, which will have to suffice. It is a terrific record,
the best Cuban jazz I've heard in a few years -- probably since one of
his son Chucho's records. I still need to dig up his '50s records.
Vibrational Therapists: The Radius of the Mind (2002
, Vibrational Therapists): Another album I liked but never got
back to: avant trio, alto sax or clarinet over block chord piano and
freewheeling drums. Saxophonist Henry P. Warner is the senior member.
He's done work before with William Parker and Billy Bang, and will
appeal to fans of both.
Zu: The Way of the Animal Powers (2005, Xeng): I'm
ambivalent on arguments about CD length. Certainly many are too long,
but at 25:47 this is uncommonly short -- especially in a jazz guide.
Anyhow, that's the main reason why this slipped through. The group
is a bass-drums-sax trio, with Luca favoring baritone over alto sax.
Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm guests. I like the deep rumble and edgy
rhythms, and the spoken piece at the end is a fine coda.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Jazz Consumer Guide #10: Shine Balls
The Village Voice has published my tenth
Consumer Guide. Although it seems like ages since I turned the thing
in, the August 29 posting date is almost exactly three months after the
previous one back on May 30, so what was initially conceived of as a
quarterly schedule seems to be holding. As usual, I wrote too much, so
a lot got held back. Looks like half of the next one is already written,
so maybe I should just push another half out and see how that works.
Next task will be some housecleaning. The reviews that got held back
this time will be moved to next time. The "done" file currently holds
137 records, I'll probably cut half of them, figuring they have no real
chance of making a future column, even though most deserve to. Some will
get turned into "surplus" notes, and I'll post them in the blog. The
"print" and "flush" notes move to the notebook. Prospecting for the
next Jazz CG has already started, so I've already set up the files for
that. The working file currently has 140 unrated albums -- 125 new and
15 compilations of old stuff -- so I need to work through that. Looks
like 34 of those records have already had one pass. Seems like a pretty
complicated system, but it works well enough.
Here are the notes on the JCG entries:
- Rabih Abou-Khalil/Joachim Kühn: Journey to the Centre of
an Egg (2004 , Enja/Justin Time).
Kühn is best known
in these parts for his duets with Ornette Coleman, but here he goes
further, playing alto sax as well as piano. Either way, he is an
attentive partner, pricking and prodding but never overwhelming
Abou-Khalil's surprisingly muscular oud. Jarrod Cagwin's frame
drums move things along, providing spare but effective propulsion.
- Batagraf: Statements (2003-04 , ECM):
unknown media announcers, something in Wolof, Sidsel Endresen uttering
words like "blowback" and "softworks" and reminding us that there are
things we don't know we don't know. The music is mostly percussion,
with Frode Nymo's alto sax and Arve Henriksen's trumpet making brief
appearances for emphasis. Leader Jon Balke remains inconspicuous on
keyboards. There's little flow, but a barren fractured soundscape.
- Randy Brecker w/Michael Brecker: Some Skunk Funk
(2003 , Telarc):
A partial reunion of the Brecker Brothers. Scanning
through the credits lists the only member of this band, aside from the
brothers, who was an alumni of their old fusion group is Will Lee. But
the new group isn't decisive here. This overheated concert tape from
Germany, "live at Leverkusener Jazztage," is dominated by the WDR Big
Band Köln, who manage to obliterate any sharp edge or crisp beat the
band throws their way. It's not that big bands can't play funk -- cf.
James Brown -- but this one can't. Can't play fusion either. And it's
rather sad to include an applause track on music this mediocre.
- Dave Burrell/Billy Martin: Consequences (2005 ,
A remarkable albeit rather limited meeting. Martin doesn't
drum along, because Burrell doesn't give him anything to drum along
with. He plays Tayloresque pianistics, if anything more abstract.
Despite its tuning and variable decay, on some level the piano is
just another percussion instrument, so why not think of this as a
percussion duet? It's rather arbitrary whether I make this a low A-
or a high B+, but for now I like it as an Honorable Mention because
I got a one-liner for it: Old pianist shows young drummer what real
percussion sounds like.
- Bill Carrothers: Shine Ball (2003-04 , Fresh
Sound New Talent):
Was wondering whether I hadn't graded Helen Sung's
piano trio too conservatively when I put this piano trio album on.
Turns out conservatively is right. Sung builds on the tradition, but
here Carrothers goes somewhere else. It's not just that he plays a
prepared piano -- not sure what "foreign substances" were applied
where, but the piano rarely sounds like anything other than a normal
piano, while the occasional metallic noises sound like they may just
as well be coming off Gordon Johnson's bass or Dave King's drum set.
The analogy to the banned baseball pitch is that Carrothers also
applied foreign substance to his piano. The idea is to surprise
the batter, or listener, with an unpredictable break, but as with
the pitch the real trick is control. As with many spitballers,
the prepared piano may itself be a feint -- mostly the piano
comes through clear and sharp, while the improvs sneak past.
- Ramón Díaz: Diàleg (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent):
When I see a sax-trumpet-piano-bass-drums quintet, I figure
it's either a throwback to the classic hard bop lineup of 1955-65
or some slick postmodernist with a bag of advanced harmonic ideas
up his sleeve. This one is neither, exactly. Unlike the harmonists,
the instruments are separated out, each to its own calling -- for
the piano that means slipping in a little Horace Silver or Bobby
Timmons boogie and blues. But it's not stuck in a time warp either:
less a throwback than a straightforward evolution forward. Never
heard of any of these guys, but everyone pulls their own. Led by
the drummer: guess we should call him the Art Blakey of the Canary
- Jon Faddis: Teranga (2005 , Koch):
1974-75 Norman Granz had Oscar Peterson do a series of Trumpet
Kings records -- Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison,
not sure who else -- which turned out to be mostly disappointing,
but the surprise, for me at least, there was one with Jon Faddis.
He was barely past 21 at the time, an electrifying player, but
he's had what seems like a nondescript career ever since then.
For instance, the current Penguin Guide doesn't even give him an
entry, and past editions have only credited him with one 3.5-star
album. This comes down to career choices, and the choices Faddis
made didn't produce much of a recorded legacy -- nine records in
thirty years. Charlie Shavers used to have an act where he'd riff
through the trumpet tradition, doing his impersonations of Louis
Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and others, but those
guys were Shavers' contemporaries -- he was saying, hey no big
deal, I can do this shit too. Faddis grew up in awe of those guys,
learned to imitate them, and that's where he got pigeonholed. He
was so good at it Dizzy Gillespie kept him on hand for years as
backup and for relief. Reminds me of the story where a cat was
dismissed for merely copying Charlie Parker; he then shoved his
alto sax at the detractor and said, "here, let's see you copy
Charlie Parker." Faddis also worked in the shadows of big bands,
filled in on studio dates; finally he moved into the big money
institutions, directing the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. This is
roughly the same career path that Wynton Marsalis, eight years
younger than Faddis, took, but Marsalis did a better job of
separating himself from his idols, wrote and recorded more,
and got a lot more hype -- in other words, the main difference
between Faddis and Marsalis is modesty vs. arrogance. For proof
of that, see Faddis's new album. He rips into some high note stuff
like you rarely hear these days and it's not obvious where it comes
from -- must be his own. But mostly you notice that he slots his
trumpet into the rhythmic roil rather than soaring beyond it: no
showboat virtuosity here, just serious chops. Most of the album is
quartet, and the rhythm section is exceptional: David Hazeltine is
superb as usual on piano, but unexpected muscle comes from bassist
Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Dion Parson. Then there are guests.
On most albums these days, guest shots are diversions, breaking
the flow, but Senegalese drums, Frank Wess flute and Gary Smulyan
baritone, one song each, are seamlessly integrated. Two diversions
in the middle are something else. One is a duet with guitarist
Russell Malone, a relative quiet spot. The other brings in Clark
Terry for a second trumpet and a dish of verbal chop suey, with
Faddis joining in. Breaks in the flow like that are plusses.
Another play or two and I may have a Pick Hit.
A [originally A-]
- Erik Friedlander: Prowl (2005 , Cryptogramophone).
Ditto the label comments on Ben Goldberg. This one's a quartet,
with Friedlander on cello, Andy Laster on alto sax or clarinet,
and Stomu and Satoshi Takeishi on electric bass and drums. The
latter are hard to overpraise -- I've noticed both separately,
but never together before. Laster is also an apposite choice,
deepening and developing Friedlander's music in many intriguing
ways. Cello is turning into a fascinating jazz instrument. It's
not just a higher-pitched bass; cellists have started to model
their instrument on roles guitarists have developed over the
last two decades. Choice cut is "A Closer Walk With Thee,"
which starts fractured and slowly assembles itself, building
volume until it becomes powerfully moving.
- Dave Frishberg: Retromania: At the Jazz Bakery
(2005 , Arbors).
Plays piano and sings, and that's all there
is to it, more or less familiar songs he wrote as far back as 1970.
Both piano and voice aren't much more than demo-worthy, but the
clever songs are worth hearing just that way. A series of seven,
plus patter, in the middle are based on baseball, and they date
back quite a ways, to Christy Matthewson, Hal Chase and the Black
Sox scandal, and his namefest starring Van Lingle Mungo. I know
enough about that history that I recognize every Mungo-era star
he lists; enough even to get choked up over "Matty," and not just
because I recall a point Frishberg doesn't include, about how a
whiff of poison gas in what we now call World War I pointed the
great pitcher to an early grave.
- Kenny G: The Essential Kenny G (1986-2004 ,
It always seemed appropriate that Kenny Gorelick's degree was in
business, not music. He has sold more than 30 million records --
he would be a major commercial venture in any style, but in jazz
he's off the scale. He's also beyond the pale -- no other musician
elicits such intense hatred. Part sour grapes, in that real jazz
went underground so long ago that all the masses ever hear these
days are the smooth poseurs of "contemporary jazz" radio. Part gut
reaction to his unnaturally pretty soprano sax and his knack for
profitable exploitation, such as his "duet" with Louis Armstrong.
I've never had either reaction: I'm not so insecure about real jazz
that I worry about what the likes of G might do to it, and I enjoy
conventional beauty when I find it, but I do find that it doesn't
take him long to get awfully tedious. At least, a compilation like
this tries to mix things up a bit, but ultimately it just shows you
how many ways he can annoy.
- Larry Goldings: Quartet (2006, Palmetto).
He's one of
the better regarded organists to emerge in the '90s, so the first
surprise here is to hear him take the first two songs on piano. He
also plays various other keyboard instruments, plus "glock" to add
to the toy instrument sound. Ben Allison and Matt Wilson are solid
as usual. The fourth corner of the quartet is trumpeter John Sneider,
providing a thin, shrill complement to the organ, but since mostly
this isn't an organ record, it often sounds thin and shrill. The
music wanders all over the map, adding to the inconsistency. It's
mostly slow, dulling the invention. Madeleine Peyroux joins for a
rendition of "Hesitation Blues" that is so hesitant it's almost a
parody, with Sneider sounding especially anemic. The against-type
abstraction might be considered a brave experiment, but discoveries
- Buck Hill: Relax (2006, Severn):
Haven't heard from
the longtime DC mailman for a while -- he recorded for Steeplechase
from 1978-83 and later for Muse from 1989-92, but only has a 2000
live album since then. Pushing 80, he's still sounding pretty good:
a broad tone on tenor sax, a fondness for blues licks, a typical
soul jazz backup group with organ and guitar. Nothing anyway near
remarkable here, but it welcomes us back home.
- Industrial Jazz Group: Industrial Jazz a Go Go!
(2004 , Evander Music).
The previous record by Andrew Durkin's
group confused me with its intricate scoring and fancy counterpoint --
what's industrial about that? This one feels like they've had a Sex
Mob transplant, but it's still on the fancy side. The most prominent
sources, cited in "Apologies/Thanks To" along with Dion and Elmore
James, are Perez Prado and Oliver Nelson -- that should give you a
good idea what this sounds like, and not just for the three pieces
with Spanish titles. Durkin plays piano, but the seven horns are so
domineering you rarely hear him.
- Manu Katché: Neighbourhood (2004 , ECM).
Like many session drummers, he calls in old chits for his own rare
albums, then builds his album around his guests. In his ECM 'hood,
the chosen neighbors are Jan Garbarek and three-fourths of Tomasz
Stanko's quartet. Like many sessions drummers, Katché is adaptive,
and here he's managed to write a near-perfect facsimile of the ECM
aesthetic -- slow, free, with the horns and, especially, pianist
Marcin Wasilewski standing out.
- Adam Lane Trio: Zero Degree Music (2005 , CIMP):
A young bassist with big ambitions. He cites Ellington,
Stockhausen, and Japanese noise band Melt Banana as influences
prime influences. A more extensive list includes actual bassists:
Charles Mingus, of course, and Bootsy Collins, why not? He has
one group called Full Throttle Orchestra, and another called
Supercharger Jazz Orchestra. He has orchestral works and solo
works. Also a quartet with John Tchicai, Paul Smoker and Barry
Altschul. I haven't heard any of those -- another SFFR. Before
I looked him up, this one struck me as avant-grunge, recalling
Christgau's first Nirvana review: "the kind of loud, slovenly,
tuneful music you think no one will ever work a change on again
until the next time it happens, whereupon you wonder why there
isn't loads more. It seems to simple." This is simple like that.
Lane's pieces are all pulse, some slow, most fast. Vijay Anderson
drums along, reinforcing the pulse rather than fighting it. All
this, especially stretched over 70 minutes, wouldn't amount to
much without the third member, saxophonist Vinny Golia. He's
another ambitious guy, with his own label and a huge catalogue
I've barely cracked, but here he too keeps it simple, riffing
over whatever pulse Lane lays out. Plays soprano and tenor, and
while I naturally prefer the big horn the small one works just
as well here. Could be upgraded. Could be a Pick Hit.
- Carl Maguire: Floriculture (2002 , Between the Lines):
This recalls Monk's quartet, both in lineup and in the
trickiness of the compositions: the leader plays piano while alto
saxophonist Chris Mannigan tries to negotiate the unexpected changes.
But whereas Monk mostly found odd notes that somehow worked, Maguire
is more devious in his twists and inversions. It's a credit to the
band that they hold it all together -- especially bassist Trevor
Dunn, who gets the added challenge of a tribute to Mark Dresser.
- Dom Minasi: The Vampire's Revenge (2005 ,
Dedicated to Anne Rice, inspired by her vampire books,
of all things, this like so many large-scale projects in the jazz
underground depends heavily on the auteur's friends. Critically,
I would say, because they're an interesting bunch and add all
sorts of strange and wonderful things to Minasi's amusing score.
Just to cite a few: Borah Bergman, Perry Robinson, Mark Whitecage,
Jason Kao Hwang, Herb Robertson, Steve Swell. Minasi's core trio
is solid too, with Ken Filiano and Jackson Krall joining the
veteran guitarist. The vampires, on the other hand, enter through
Carol Mennie's two scats-plus-shouts -- "just one more" repeats
ad infinitum until she takes her "bite" -- and Peter Ratray's
- Joe Morris Quartet: Beautiful Existence (2004 ,
Jim Hobbs is bound to turn some ears with his alto sax here, both with
his punchy free runs and his deft support of the guitarist's tricky
single-note lines. Bassist Timo Shanko and drummer Luther Gray also
pitch in -- never before have I heard Morris so confident or his music
fleshed out so completely.
- Michael Musillami's Dialect: Fragile Forms (2006,
The guitarist's songs might not seem so fragile if
pianist Peter Madsen treated them more gently, but that would
miss the point, not to mention some terrific piano. Drew Gress
and Matt Wilson square off the quartet, firming up the bottom.
The only problem with focusing on the fractures is that is slights
the Ellingtonian elegance of something like "Emmett Spencer."
- NOW Orchestra & Marilyn Crispell: Pola (2004
A large free jazz orchestra, led by Coat Cooke,
based in Vancouver, provincial enough that they still feel the
need to keep their anarchy intact. They've been around a long
time -- at least since 1987, maybe longer -- but they only record
when they get a guest, and Crispell is a dandy. I don't think
she's ever recorded in a group like this -- one's tempted to
compare them with Alex von Schlippenbach's Globe Unity Orchestra,
but the Germans are far more violent even if their pianist isn't.
Crispell's solos are the gems here, but the ensemble work impresses
more often than not. Could be I should hold this back in case it
convinces me to slide it up a notch, but working near the deadline
the best way to get it in is as what it certainly is, an honorable
- The Ed Palermo Big Band: Take Your Clothes Off When You
Dance (2006, Cuneiform):
I put this on without looking at
who, what, when or how -- just figured the day was about done, so
I'd get a taste of it before I went to bed and play it again in
the morning. Loud and brassy at first, then it gets stranger, then
I notice rockish guitar, then some guy comes on and sings absolute
crap. Impatiently waiting for it to end, and no it don't get no
second chance in the morning -- no telling how low the grade can
really go, I'll just take a guess and be done with it. Record's
over, so I pick it up and proceed with my paperwork. Turns out
there's a simple reason why it's so awful: all compositions by
Frank Zappa. So it's not just crap; it's secondhand crap.
- Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Big Band: The Subway Ballet
(1988-2005 , Evening Star).
Conceived as dancing commuters enter
and exit the series of subway stops from Brooklyn to Harlem, the music
fits the concept literally enough that the unchoreographed ballet is
unnecessary. The highlight comes with the Hassidic diamond merchants,
identified by David Krakauer's clarinet. As for the metatonal theory,
all I know is that it doesn't require a piano. Bonus: four tracks from
Sandke's early days as a fusion guitarist. Guess I was wrong when I
grouped him with all those young fogies he's spent most of his career
playing with and for.
- Helen Sung Trio: Helenistique (2005 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent):
Don't know when or where she was born, but her
"Chinese heritage" was tempered by growing up in Houston, and she
got a couple of music degrees in Austin before switching to jazz,
following the not-unusual track of study in Boston and career in
New York. Plays piano. Has a quote on her website from a similar
pianist named Kenny Barron, something about "her flawless technique,
great imagination, great harmonic conception and real understanding
of the language of jazz." As a critic, I probably would have fudged
that a bit, but he's basically right on the money. One original here,
"H*Town," leads off and reprised at the end, a vamp with some bite.
It holds up as well as everything else -- pop standards, jazz standards
including a Monk-Ellington-James P. Johnson sequence, Prince's "Alphabet
Street" -- and there's something interesting going on in all of them.
Comes with the Lewis Nash seal of approval.
- Trio 3 (Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille): Time
Being (2005 , Intakt):
Turns out that this group has
at least three more albums under the Trio 3 name, so I've changed
my attribution and filing here. The musicians' names figure large
on the cover, as well they should, so we'll keep them up front here,
in parens. Otherwise I'd just have to name them in the review body,
then point out that what they do is pretty much what you'd expect
them to do, given what they've each done, together and apart, over
their collective hundred-plus man-years on jazz's leading edge.
- Trio-X: Moods: Playing With the Elements (2004
McPhee started recording around 1968. He is one of the most accomplished
jazz musicians of the era, the kind of guy who should be climbing
up Downbeat's Hall of Fame ballot, yet I wonder how many jazz fans
have actually heard him. I haven't heard many myself: 9, compared
to AMG's list of 46 albums and compilations. This is because no
one has been more doggedly marginal, commercially speaking, but
it's also because he's such a firm believer in the magic of the
improvisatory moment that his records strike one -- me, anyway --
more as instances than statements. Half-a-dozen records in, you
sort of know what he can do, beyond which it isn't necessary to
hear all the times he does it -- not that I wouldn't mind. This
one strikes me as in that same vein, a good example of his range
that doesn't quite stand out. One unusual thing about McPhee is
that he is the only major jazz musician since Benny Carter to
distinguish himself on both brass and reeds. Here is plays tenor
sax, flugelhorn and pocket trumpet, and balances them evenly,
doing similar things in distinct voices. Duval and Rosen are
pretty much the Cadence combine's house band, a dependable free
base for any labelmate who shows up. Haven't heard their other
Trio-X albums, so can't compare them. Could be being overly
cautious here -- if you don't know McPhee, this is as good a
place to start as any.
- Erik Truffaz: Saloua (2005, Blue Note).
Don't know his earlier work, just that he's carved out a niche for
himself in jazztronica, a latterday fusion project that typically uses
regular synth beats. There's some of that here, including a soaring
piece of fusion I don't find terribly appealing ("Spirale") and
several, both hard/fast and soft/airy, that I do. But the album is
front-loaded with vocals: four in Arabic from Tunisian Mounir Troudi
and two (one overlap) in English from Swiss rapper Nya. Choice cut:
"Yabous," with Mounir's wail setting up Nya's peace proposal:
"Israelites and Ishaelites have to have equal rights and justice." Not
inconceivable I could upgrade this.
PS: His jazztronica -- electrobeats topped by trumpet -- is
attractive. The vocals, by Tunisian Mounir Troudi and Swiss rapper
Nya, work well, especially Mounir, whose sour note cuts against the
sweet grain of the beats.
- Unexpected: Plays the Blues in Need (2004 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent).
This is a trio led by Spanish pianist Sergi Sirvent Escué -- the third
record I've heard by him, and possibly the best. "Need" is a fairly
trivial twist on Monk's "Well, You Needn't," which works as well as
the original. Slow pieces poke at the edges; fast ones sharpen them
up. A vocal on the final "Waltz for Someone" stretches and breaks in a
manner rarely heard since Chet Baker. I have a tough time with piano
trios, and this one still gives me slight pause, but I like the
pianist, like the group -- Esteban Hernández on bass, Daniel Dominguez
on drums. Not so sure about the nudity.
- Johnnie Valentino: Stingy Brim (2004 , Omnitone):
What's immediately striking here is the instrumentation.
Three-fifths of the group would make an organ-guitar-drums trio,
but their music eschews groove for shifty postmodernist patterns.
The other two-fifths are horns, but they're meant to provide an
old sound: Bob Sheppard favors clarinet over tenor sax, and Randy
Jones plays tuba in its ancient bass mode. Organist Mick Rossi
also plays harmonium, mixing a little Italian roots music into
the New Orleans mud. The leader plays guitar. The promo sheet
says he "grew up in the '60s and '70s in a predominantly Italian
South Philadelphia neighborhood filled with musicians, including
guitarists Eddie Lang and Pat Martino." Lang died in 1933, so
that's a faux pas, even if he's a certain influence. Martino was
more direct, but Valentino's heady mix of old and new moves well
beyond his mentors.
- Francis Wong: Legends & Legacies (1997 ,
Two of Lawson Inada's poems detail the beginning and
the end of America's WWII internment of Japanese-Americans, while a
third testifies that the human spirit still offers "something grand."
Glenn Horiuchi's shamisen and Miya Masaoka's koto are the sounds
of the past, while tuba and Wong's reeds flesh out a jazz band
of the future, straddling the globe they came from. The odd piece
out is about police harassment of Latinos. For those who still
know history, that's nothing odd at all.
- World Saxophone Quartet: Political Blues (2006,
Jaleel Shaw is the fourth sax these days, but only
one cut here sticks to the original Quartet conception, and even
that one just adds a curtain of harmony to a David Murray solo.
I've never much liked Julius Hemphill's original concept even
though my admiration for the individuals (Hemphill included) is
nearly boundless. So the fact that the rest of the cuts have
bass and drums is welcome -- the springboard, I think, so some
of the most glorious honking in the three mainstay's careers.
The political themes are less incisive than I'd like -- David
Murray's line, "the Republican Party is not very nice," may be
the first understatement in his career. (He was trying to come
up with a rhyme for Rice, like "screws you twice" or "sucks
like lice" or "pulls a heist.") Oliver Lake rants on the New
Orleans smackdown. Hamiet Bluiett comes up with the sharpest
concept, "Amazin' Disgrace," but winds up short for words. One
guest who does have the words is Craig Harris, who takes his
home turf's neocons on in "Bluocracy." Blood Ulmer also sings
one, but the best he can come up with is "Mannish Boy" -- good
enough you won't mind, even if you have to wonder. Americans
hate politics, and with all due respect to Mingus, so do these
guys. But when they get their blood up, they sure can blow.
- Zentralquartett: 11 Songs -- Aus Teutschen Landen
(2005 , Intakt).
Two songs are original compositions by
pianist Ulrich Gumpert, but they fit stylistically with the nine
Volkslieder -- German folk songs, all attributed to Trad. The
songs provide the safe, bouncy melodic lines that the group
frequently returns to, but the group also kicks them out of
shape, tears them apart, twists them into strange shapes. Two
horns, Conrad Bauer's trombone and Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky's
reeds (alto sax, flutes, clarinet), lead the mayhem, while
Gumpert and drummer Günter Sommer get in their licks.
These are the notes for the albums from the "flush" file. These
are records that are no longer under active consideration for future
Jazz CGs. Some are separately reviewed in the "surplus" file. Some
were reviewed in Recycled Goods. Most appeared in Jazz Prospecting,
which in many cases suffices.
- Mindi Abair: Life Less Ordinary (2006, GRP):
Only got the advance on this, which has been out since April. In fact,
I don't get much pop jazz anymore, even though I prospect it dutifully,
and even wrote a Voice piece on it a while back. The bottom line is
that the good stuff is far from great -- more like disco than anything
in the jazz tradition -- and the bad stuff is pretty awful: a range
that in my experience goes from low B+ to C- and may well get worse.
This one is well above average. Abair has a nice, rich, blues-tinged
tone on alto sax -- reminds me a bit of someone like Earl Bostic --
and she plays comfortably on top of Matthew Hager's uncluttered synth
beats. She also sings every other cut or so -- a plain and cool voice
that exudes no particular sexiness. On the other hand, most people
trust their eyes more than their ears in that regard, and that's
worked in her favor. Like most pop records, the hook song -- "Do
You Miss Me" -- comes first.
- Ben Adams Quintet: Old Thoughts for a New Day
(2005 , Lunar Module):
Vibraphonist, seems to be a Kansas
boy -- received the "Kansas State Outstanding Percussion Award"
four consecutive years, before moving on to Berklee (Gary Burton)
and currently, well, somewhere near San Francisco. Quintet has
two horns -- Erik Jekabson on trumpet, Mitch Marcus on tenor
sax -- both of which have some bite to their solos. I'm less
clear on the vibes -- harder to hook onto them, but many points
catch one's attention.
- Eric Alexander: It's All in the Game (2005 ,
Same hand he's played all along, this time in a quartet
with no other horn to crowd his tenor sax. Harold Mabern and Joe
Farnsworth have been steady accompanists for quite a while, both
fitting comfortably into Alexander's mainstream band, along with
new bassist Nat Reeves. It's all Straight Up, completely
Solid, if not quite Dead Center. Know what I mean?
- Angá: Echu Mingua (2006, World Circuit/Nonesuch).
Angá is congalero Angá Díaz. Echu Mingua is his saint's name in the
Yoruba religion; relates to Eleggua, the God of crossroads, the owner
of all roads in the world. He says, "this album is the realisation of
all the ideas that I've gathered over the years." Methinks, too much
kitchen sink here; surely he could have kept a few ideas in reserve.
Most cuts have vocals of some sort: coros, chants, spoken word. Most
have percussion of many sorts: congas, bongos, timbales, clave, bata,
shekere, tamani -- a Malinke talking drum played by Baba Sissoko, who
also plays n'goni. Cachaito plays bass on most cuts. Various pianists
show up for a cut each, including Rubén González and Chucho Valdés.
Turntablist Dee Nasty is all over the joint. One idea was to redo an
Argentine piece by Pablo Nemirovsky, who drops in on bandoneon. Some
cuts have strings, others horns, one guitar, three flute. Angá himself
mostly plays congas, but adds some guiro on one cut. The result is an
Afro-Cuban smorgasbord, often tasty, but way over the top. I didn't plan
on covering this under jazz prospecting until I noticed "Round Midnight"
and "A Love Supreme" -- two more half-baked ideas -- and side credits
with Steve Coleman and Roy Hargrove. I expect that we'll hear more
from him, and some day it will make more sense.
- Ardecore (2005, Il Manifesto).
Italian sources classify this as folk or folk-blues, although I
suspect that this revisits at old Rome much like the Mekons rework
country and western or the Pogues recast Dublin. One clue is that
the title translates as "Hardcore"; another is that the core of
the band comes from Zu, a group that straddles the politics of
the Mekons and the Ex but usually ventures further into avant-jazz
territory. But here Luca Mai's bari sax burnishes the luxurious
sway of classic Italian melodies, while Giampaolo Felici sings
with the coarse authority of a griot or cantor.
- Lisa B: What's New Pussycat? Tunes & Tales About Cool
Cats (2006, Piece of Pie).
As a rock critic, I'm used to taking voices as they come, but
sometimes you get one that's so annoying nothing else much
matters. This is one such voice. The songs with their overstretched
conceptual ties are another problem, although I do sort of like the
lullaby "When Malika Sleeps."
- Jeff Barnhart: In My Solitude (Arbors Piano Series,
Volume 16) (2005 , Arbors):
Solo piano, a mix of stride and
slower pieces. One of Barnhart's two originals here is "Remembering
Ralph" -- for Sutton, an obvious influence. I find no real fault
with this, nor much interest either, except that I wouldn't mind
hearing more fast ones like "Stealin' Apples," the Fats Waller
piece that closes the album.
- Ray Barretto: Standards Rican-ditioned (2005 ,
According to the notes, all but one track had been completed
before Barretto died in January. That track has a scat vocal marking
where he intended to add a congo solo, as well as some overdubbed
conga by his son Chris. It feels more unfinished than that, but I
have no real sense of Barretto's career work -- no doubt a major
shortfall in my own learning. The pianist-arranger I know somewhat
better, and it turns out that he too has passed from the scene: so
this may serve as a double remembrance. Hilton Ruiz is the steady
center here. Maybe too steady, but it wasn't meant to be his show.
- Stefano Battaglia: Raccolto (2003 , ECM, 2CD):
The first disc is a piano-bass-drums trio, slow and free, fascinating
as it tiptoes around the edges of chaos without ever taking the plunge.
Second disc replaces the bass with Dominique Pifarély's violin, which
upsets the sonic balance, moving the piano back a notch.
- Beans (featuring William Parker and Hamid Drake): Only
(2006, Thirsty Ear):
Another advance, but street date here is April 4,
so this one should be out. Can't find the useless info sheet either, so
time I know even less than the usual next to nothing. Beans is half of
the former Antipop Consortium: raps a little, mixes beats. With Antipop
did a previous Blue Series album with Matthew Shipp. Parker and Drake
are a little out of their depth here, although the acoustic bass riff
is nice to hear as a pulse-line.
- Louie Bellson: The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson and the
Jazz Ballet (2000 , Percusion Power):
So the former
Ellington drummer follows in his master's footsteps in making an
earnest offering before meeting his maker. I don't recall Bellson
ever writing lyrics before, but it's a good thing he didn't try
to make a career out of it. Having studiously avoided CCM, I can't
say whether his words here achieve an unprecedented level in the
dumbing down of Christianity or whether they're just par for the
times -- the latter, I suspect. For example: "Throw the blues
away/come and live God's way/you will then rejoice/'cause you
made the choice/He is the one and only one/He's the Lord." USC's
student choir are overkill here -- the effect could be camp, but
I doubt it. USC's string orchestra are no better, but Bellson
brought in a couple of ringers to beef up the Jazz Orchestra,
with Bobby Shew and/or John Thomas cranking the trumpet up to,
well, Bellsonian levels. In such moments, you can remember why
Bellson could title albums Hot and Inferno and
get credit for understatement.
- The Essential George Benson (1963-80 
A good jazz guitarist, but conceptually he
never got out of Wes Montgomery's shadow -- even if I have to score
"California Dreamin'" in his favor, it's not much of a triumph. Turned
into a gritless soul singer, then got worse, but this compilation cuts
him off and doesn't dwell on all that. Instead, it packs sideman cuts
with Jack McDuff, Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Tony Williams, and
- David Berger & the Sultans of Swing: Hindustan
(2005 , Such Sweet Thunder):
The title here is à propos of
nothing -- it may put you in mind of The Far East Suite, but
the record offers nothing Ellingtonian beyond the instrumentation
of the big band. The gem-like arrangements do have some allure, and
Aria Hendricks's few vocals have some charm, but the Sultans come
up short of swing, and you know what that means.
- Jerry Bergonzi: Tenor of the Times (2006, Savant):
He has a couple of albums with his name shortened to Gonz in the title.
It fits: he has a huge tenor sound and plays with a lot of muscular
action -- even the ballad-tempo piece feels thick, dense, rock solid.
He's backed by piano-bass-drums, but rarely out of the spotlight: an
old fashioned saxophone colossus. Sure, it's been done, and better,
but not all that often.
- David Bixler: Call It a Good Deal (2005 , Zoho):
An in-betweener, not quite free jazz, but a good deal dicier
than the hard bop orthodoxy or your run-of-the-mill postbop. Bixler
plays alto sax. His main credit is working in Chico O'Farrill's
Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, which is a skill he doesn't make much
use of here. This is a quintet, with Scott Wendholt's trumpet the
other horn, and John Hart's guitar the chordal instrument. Both
take liberties with time, as does bass-drums, and that gives this
record an odd stutter that keeps it interesting. I'm not used to
Hart doing this sort of thing; he acquits himself well.
- Lou Blackburn: The Complete Imperial Sessions (1963
, Blue Note):
That would be two albums in one year with
the same lineup, including trumpeter Freddie Hill and pianist Horace
Tapscott -- not yet 30, and nowhere near as distinctive or dominant
as he became, but very solid throughout. Blackburn was a Los Angeles
trombonist without much under his own name, but these sessions are
bright, swinging hard bop, even the one released as Two-Note Samba.
Must have been a law in 1963 that everyone had to release a samba album.
- Ran Blake: All That Is Tied (2006, Tompkins Square).
Solo piano, something Blake has done a lot of. Blake is 70, having
recorded 35 records since his ESP-Disk debut 40 years ago. I've only
heard a handful, and can't say that I've ever made much sense out of
him. I just have a promo, with a quote on the front from John Medeski's
liner notes: "A journey into an intuitive, mystical, poetic, personal
and important world." Haven't seen the notes themselves, but that's
about what this sounds like, even if I don't have the imagination or
vision to see it myself. Francis Davis applauded this record. Brian
Morton went even further: "the most beautiful and challenging piano
record of the last 25 years." I don't doubt but that there's something
here, but I'm giving up on trying to get it.
- Art Blakey: Holiday for Skins (1958 , Blue Note):
One of Blakey's many multi-drum experiments, following
Drum Suite and Orgy in Rhythm, this one has three
trap sets, seven Latino percussionists (including Ray Barretto),
Donald Byrd trumpet, Ray Bryant piano, and Wendell Marshall bass.
Doesn't seem like the drummers -- Philly Joe Jones and Art Taylor
are the others -- ever get on the same wavelength as the Latinos,
but the latter are happy to play along with anyone or anything.
Especially Ray Bryant, who contributes some tasty moments.
- Michael Bolton: Bolton Swings Sinatra (2006, Concord).
First song is arranged for just strings; second for a big band with
horns. Score that battle of the bands for the horns. The band here
is slicker than Billy May's and hotter than Nelson Riddle's, which
means on average it isn't quite up to either. But the rael problem,
of course, is that what matters is the singer, not the song. If not,
Pat Boone would be Little Richard. Q.E.D.
- The Chris Byars Octet: Night Owls (2001-02 ,
A smallish big band, with two brass and three saxes, the
latter doubling on clarinet and flutes, plus the usual piano-bass-drums.
Pretty mainstream stuff, with the harmonies layered on unobtrusively,
none of that postmodernist harmonic theory. Even swings some. I'm more
pleased than impressed.
- Elliott Caine Quintet: Blues From Mars (2005 ,
Standard issue hard bop quintet, led by the trumpeter,
with a few extra frills: vibes (DJ Bonebrake) on three cuts, congas
on three more for a little Latin tinge, and theremin for the space
effects on the title track. Bright, blues-based, swings; probably
fun live, but at home you're more likely to reach for Lee Morgan.
- Michel Camilo: Rhapsody in Blue (2005 , Telarc).
George Gershwin is enough of a staple in the world of
jazz that one tends to forget about his contributions to classical
music. But this record, with Camilo playing with the Barcelona
Symphony Orchestra, is pure Gershwin classicism. I never liked
classical music, and this repeatedly reminds me why. I do have
a high opinion of Camilo's pianoship, but this doesn't remind
- Marc Cary: Focus (2006, Motema Music):
Cary's main business -- can't say about interests -- is in taking
his Fender Rhodes into funkier territory than the usual smooth jazz
jive, but this is a conventional acoustic piano trio and the fare
is respectable postbop, a bit faster and louder than usual. Cary
has some impressive credentials, including a stint working for
Betty Carter, and can clearly go anywhere he wants. David Ewell
plays bass and Samir Gupta drums plus a little tabla -- nice
touch, he might be another name to remember.
- Gilbert Castellanos: Underground (2005 ,
West coast (San Diego) trumpeter, originally from Mexico
(Guadalajara); plays in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra; has
quite a bit of session work over the last 10-12 years, especially
behind singers. Hype sheet compares him to "two of his earliest
influences": Lee Morgan (one song covered here) and Clifford Brown.
Doesn't sound a lot like either to me, although a cross isn't out
of the question. Plays on their home court, mainstream hard bop.
If that's your thing, I imagine you'd enjoy him live, and might
even want this skillfully played, thoroughly enjoyable record as
- Joe Chambers: The Outlaw (2005 , Savant).
Although his credits list includes drums, Chambers primarily plays
vibes here. Combined with Bobby Sanabria's percussion and Logan
Richardson's soprano sax, this has a playful feel almost totally
free of weight. Weird at first, then seductive.
- Chris Cheek: Blues Cruise (2005 , Fresh Sound
Just Cheek fronting Brad Mehldau's trio, doing four covers
and five Cheek originals, mostly blues based, smoothly played, richly
appointed, stretched out to the 5-7 minute range. Probably his least
ambitious album ever.
- Chicago Underground Duo: In Praise of Shadows (2005
, Thrill Jockey):
Two now, or again, just Rob Mazurek and Chad
Taylor. When they stick to their main instruments, cornet and drums
respectively, their spareness is attractive. However, they use the
occasion to work all sorts of extra junk into the mix -- most of it
can be categorized as electronics, but prepared piano and prepared
vibes also enter the mix. At its most otherworldly it even sounds a
bit like Harry Partch. Unfortunately, more often it doesn't sound
like much of anything.
- Jimmy Cobb: Marsalis Music Honors Jimmy Cobb (2005
, Marsalis Music/Rounder).
Cobb has fewer albums under his own
name -- this is his 5th -- than Carvin, but is less likely to need an
introduction: Cobb worked for Miles Davis circa Kind of Blue,
in a rhythm section with Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers that also
worked with John Coltrane, Art Pepper, and Wes Montgomery. As with
the Carvin disc, this is a quartet, this time with Ellis Marsalis
on piano, Andrew Speight on alto sax, and Orlando Le Fleming on bass.
There's nothing all that special here but much to like in this -- a
strong swing impulse from both the bass and drums, movement on the
piano, impressive work on sax.
- Bill Coon/Oliver Gannon: Two Much Guitar (2004 ,
I don't know, maybe I'm just getting soft on guitar at
long last. Two Vancouver-based guitarists aided by bass and drums.
Some of this is clearly electric, but most is subtly picked out, a
steady flow that's hard to resist. Coon has been playing for twenty
years, since 1995 in Vancouver. He has a previous trio album with
the same bass-drums as here. Gannon is somewhat older -- why is it
nobody bothers to put when they were born on their websites? --
with scattered credits going back to 1978, but only one record (as
far as I've been able to find out) under his own name.
- Cooper-Moore: Outtakes 1978 (1978 , Hopscotch).
The artist was born 1946 in Virginia, had a strong music education
including a spell at Berklee, moved to New York 1973. He's primarily
a pianist, but builds exotic instruments, and frequently plays a
one-string contraption called a diddley-bow. He didn't record much
until recently. I was much impressed by him in William Parker's In
Order to Survive quartet -- his piano has the sort of live-wire
intensity that reminds me of Horace Tapscott -- and recall reading
somewhere that the only musician he would work with was Parker.
Recently he's broke out of Parker's circle a bit, recording a couple
of piano trios with Tom Abbs and Chad Taylor, as well as albums with
Assif Tsahar, Susie Ibarra, and Bill Cole. By my count, his short,
erratic discography includes seven A-list albums -- damn impressive
for a guy who doesn't get out much. This is an odd mix of tracks,
without much discographical detail beyond that they were recorded
in 1978. Cooper-Moore's exotic instruments are present, including
ashimba on the opener and a piece on a clay fife, but most of the
interest will be the early tracks with David S. Ware, recognizable
a full decade before he formed his quartet.
- Chick Corea: The Ultimate Adventure (2006, Stretch):
I don't know, and couldn't care less, what this has to do with L. Ron
Hubbard, who wrote a book under the same title. But as a fusion album
this at least covers the basics: the sine qua non is groove, which
this delivers in spades -- first two cuts are impressive enough in
that regard I began to think this might amount to something. If this
doesn't quite pan out, the reasons are the usual ones: the change of
pace brings out the cheesiness in the keyboards and the choice of
wind instruments leans strongly toward the flutes. Corea's previous
Hubbard tribute, To the Stars, was a dud. This one isn't.
- Joan Crowe: Bird on the Wire (2004, Evensongmusic).
Her background as an actress, and maybe her summers spent on her
grandparents' dairy farm in Deutschland, led her to cabaret. Don't
know about her much touted comic skills, but she's a keen interpreter
and runs a band that's always there for her without ever intruding,
let alone tripping her up. A wide range of songs, with one original,
called "Petite Southern Woman," certainly not autobiographical. She
even tackles "Twisted," which she slows down and inches into, like
trying out an especially weird costume. Title song from Leonard Cohen.
Closing "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss" straight out of Marlene Dietrich.
- Roger Davidson: Pensando En Ti (2005 , Soundbrush).
Boleros and rumbas, mostly composed by the pianist-leader, played with
an easy rhythm that lets the richness of the piano shine through. The
group includes guitar, flute, and trumpet/flugelhorn, each folded in
neatly. Davidson has a classical background, but he's worked in Latin
forms before, notably on tangos with Pablo Aslan, who produces here.
Lovely record, but it's almost totally lacking in tension.
- Guillaume de Chassy/Daniel Yvinec: Wonderful World
(2004-05 , Sunnyside):
Piano and bass, respectively, although they mostly fill in around a
set of voice samples "recorded on a cheap machine on the streets of
New York City." Those include half-spoken, half-sung takes on "What a
Wonderful World," "It Could Happen to You," and so forth, as well as
song introductions and commentaries. A slight concept, but appealingly
- Sugar Pie DeSanto: Refined Sugar (2005 ,
Born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton in 1935, she got part of
her name when Johnny Otis marketed her as Little Miss Sugar Pie
in 1955. She recorded for Chess from 1959-66, then vanished until
1993 when she recorded the first of what now are four albums for
Jasman. Her voice has deepened, developing some real grit and a
fierce growl, and it carries what otherwise is a classic sounding
but unexceptional r&b record.
- Philip Dizack: Beyond a Dream (2005 , Fresh Sound
If you're interested in auspicious debuts, here's
one: Dizack was 19 when he cut this one, mostly with bandmates from
the Manhattan School of Music -- Greg Tardy is the ringer, the only
name here I recognize. Dizack plays trumpet, credits Nicholas Payton
and Terence Blanchard as influences -- wow, that's young! Chopswise
I'd say he's in their league already. My main caveats are that he
tries to too many things at once -- a common complaint I have about
well-schooled debut albums -- and that the messy two-sax sextet
crowds his trumpet. I reckon we'll be hearing more from pianist
Miro Sprague also.
- Dr. John: Mercenary (2006, Blue Note).
The good doctor attacks the Johnny Mercer songbook, growling and
snarling and occasionally kicking its ass. One Mac Rebennack original:
"I Ain't No Johnny Mercer." No shit!
- The Miles Donahue Quintet: In the Pocket (1999 ,
Donahue was born in 1944, but didn't start recording until
1995. He's produced quite a bit since then, but I've only heard these
two examples. Plays alto sax, tenor sax and trumpet; also gets credit
for keyboards, but the pianist you notice here is most certainly Fred
Hersch. The tenor sax is most likely Jerry Bergonzi, but no other
trumpet players are listed, and I like the trumpet here as much as
anything else. Not sure how the Quintet is actually aligned. Credits
list eight musicians, with three singled out as "featuring": Hersch,
Bergonzi, and Kurt Rosenwinkle [sic]. Looks like Hersch and Bergonzi
are in, but the guitarist is an add-on for four tracks. The record is
the sort of postbop that I find annoyingly pointless: it sounds just
like jazz, as opposed to something of its own creation. That isn't
very well expressed: a rather vague idea, but "just like jazz" is a
placeholder for something missing -- doesn't matter what that is,
just that it's not there. What is there breaks down into separate
pieces, most of which are impressive on their own. The stars -- Hersch,
Bergonzi, Rosenwinkel -- are easily recognized for their signatures,
which show how warranted their stardom is. Donahue's trumpet stands
out more than his alto sax, but he makes an impression on both.
- Miles Donahue: Bounce (2004 , Amerigo):
Two sessions with less starpower than In the Pocket -- the
names here are Adam Nussbaum on one, John Patitucci on the other,
Joey Calderazzo on both. Half the tracks have guitar (Norm Zocher),
others bass clarinet (Ernie Sola). All of this fits the usual bright,
bouncy, slinky postbop mold.
- Anne Ducros: Piano, Piano (2004 , Dreyfus).
Her website proclaims her "de la diva du jazz vocal" -- reflecting
perhaps a background steeped in classical music. I like her voice,
her moves, even her scat, and how she handles many of her tried and
true standards. On the other hand, she keeps her French pieces --
a Jacques Prévert song and a piece by Erik Satie -- outside of my
grasp. And I don't think the multiple pianist concept works: two
or three songs each by five pianists -- Chick Corea, Jacky Terrasson,
René Urtreger, Enrico Pieranunzi, and Benoît de Mesmay -- doesn't
sort out cleanly. But for the record, I did find myself looking up
one pianist each time out: Pieranunzi.
- The Essential George Duke (1977-90 ,
This series usually tries to span an
artist's career, even if that costs a little extra. But this one
cuts its losses, sticking to Duke's Epic catalog, nothing but
warmed over funk. Half sounds like secondhand P-Funk, replete
with Bootsy-like interjections. Other half sounds like what Pedro
Bell slammed as Turf, Hot Air & No Fire, except when the girls
sing -- you know, Sister Sludge. First disc is further marred by
a trip to Brazil, but the second, surprisingly, turns into tacky,
- Mark Elf: Liftoff (2005 , Jen Bay).
He's a bop-influenced mainstream guitarist with a fairly soft tone
and some speed, especially on the alternate take to the title
piece, which does indeed lift off. Reminds me more of Herb Ellis
than Wes Montgomery; may have some affinity to Pat Martino, but
that goes beyond my area of expertise. It also helps that he
works with a dream band here: David Hazeltine, Peter Washington,
Lewis Nash. Tight, clean, professional; just what you'd expect.
- John Ellis: By a Thread (2006, Hyena).
one of those albums that tries to do everything and does it well
enough to tease you into playing along. Instrumentally, Ellis
plays various saxes, bass clarinet and ocarina, backed by Aaron
Goldberg's keyboards and/or Mike Moreno's guitar -- not a large
group, but a loaded one. Musically, we have various shades of
postbop, including blues and funk riffs. It's all impressively
- Gil Evans: The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions (1958-59
, Blue Note):
This marks the emergence of Evans
not just as an arranger but as an auteur, and fittingly starts
by recasting the entire jazz tradition into his deftly layered,
intricate modernism. This disc combines two albums, released
as New Bottle, Old Wine and Great Jazz Standards -
the former with more of the latter, ranging from "St. Louis
Blues" to Charlie Parker, the latter with more contemporary
fare - not that anyone will be surprise to find "Straight No
Chaser" or "Django" there. These records have always long me
as cold, calculated, a bit cut and dry, but this time through
I'm struck by the solos on the latter half, especially Steve
Lacy and Budd Johnson.
- Amanda Ford: On Fire (2006, Alanna):
A pianist-singer-songwriter with little in the way of jazz connections --
probably unfair to consider her here, but it's usually a safe bet for
me to slot under jazz any unknown female vocalist who's not clearly
from Nashville or Austin. She's from Pittsburgh. The cover poses her
in an evening gown, sitting at a piano, with a candle on top. There's
a whole category these days of singer-songwriters marketed as jazz
for no better reason than that's their label's niche -- they're no
different from others marketed as folk, country, alt-rock, etc. This
is thoughtful, elegant, unexciting. Probably deserves another listen
now that I know what it isn't. Wish I thought I had time.
- Free Range Rat: Nut Club (1999 , Clean Feed):
Starts chaotic. I've never been a fan of what Impulse used to define
as "energy music" -- cacophony is the more normative term -- but
once in a while something interesting emerges from it, and that's
what more or less happens here. As far as I can tell -- another
skinny promo disc -- Free Range Rat started as a trumpet-sax duo,
John Carlson and Eric Hipp, respectively. Then they added bass,
Shawn McGloin, then drums, George Schuller, for one of those free
pianoless quartets, although a relatively messy one. This record
also has Doug Yates, clarinet and bass clarinet, listed as "special
- Frequency (2006, Thrill Jockey):
I'm tempted to file
this eponymous group album under Edward Wilkerson Jr., since he's
probably the senior member and definitely carries the loudest horn,
but most of his records are currently filed under 8 Bold Souls, an
avant big band he was definitely the main force behind. He plays
tenor sax and clarinet here, wood flute and bells. But everyone
plays flutes of some kind or another, especially Nicole Mitchell,
who ranges from piccolo to bass flute, plus melodica, Egyptian harp,
and plastic bag. She has four albums and a Downbeat rising star poll
win. She's also credited with two pieces to one each for the others,
and perhaps more importantly the flutes take over after an early sax
squall and the albums ends with a whimper. The other members are
bassist Harrison Bankhead and percussionist Avreeayl Ra, both steady
hands on Chicago's fringe. Lots of interesting spots here, but I
have trouble keeping the thread, and weary of the flute register.
- The Bob Gallo Quintet: Wake-Up Call (2005 , CD Baby):
No label evident here, not even the usual website, although
the hype sheet says this is available from North Country, and google
points to CD Baby. I've used the latter before on self-released albums
where no label is evident, so that will do here. No session dates
either, but CD Baby gives this as a May 2005 release, while the hype
sheet says Sept. 1, 2006. Gallo plays guitar. His resume mostly lists
TV work, which doesn't cut much grease hereabouts. The quintet includes
trumpet (Alex Sipiagin), piano (Misha Tsiganov), bass (Boris Koslov)
and drums (Gene Jackson). The music is competent postbop with nice solo
work from the the main three.
- Laszlo Gardony: Natural Instinct (2006, Sunnyside):
Hungarian pianist, emigrated to US in 1983, has seven albums listed
at AMG, which probably short-changes his early work. This is a trio
with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel. Soft and sweet,
worth listening to but not the sort of thing that demands you pay
- Linton Garner Trio: Quiet Nights (2002 ,
Linton was Erroll Garner's older brother. Born
1915, raised in Pittsburgh, played piano for Billy Eckstine and
others in the late '40s, moved to Montreal in 1962, and later
to Vancouver, where he was a fixture on the scene until his
death in 2003 -- 26 years after his more famous younger brother.
His trio here includes Ross Taggart on tenor sax and Russ Botten
on bass. The program offers standards with one Garner original.
Garner gets a lot of space to open up, and Taggart has a broad,
lush tone. It's all quite straightforward, very comfortable.
- Charles Gayle: Time Zones (2006, Tompkins Square).
I always appreciated Gayle's occasional piano forays. Even when he
ventured into Cecil Taylor territory they provided a brief respite
from his torrential sax. But a whole album of solo piano offers no
such contrast. And the last couple of cuts settle into a lovely
pastoralism -- compounding my usual confusion. He's looking good
on the cover. I'm happy for him.
- Jay Geils-Gerry Beaudoin and the Kings of Strings
(2005 , Arbors):
Two guitarists. Geils is the same guy who
ran the J. Geils Band, a venerable Boston rock group I never got
around to checking out. According to his bio, he was a big Benny
Goodman fan when he was growing up, and finally reverted to his
first love when he recorded Jay Geils Plays Jazz! (Stony
Plain; haven't heard it, but anything with Scott Hamilton is
promising in my book). Haven't heard Beaudoin before either --
he has several swing-oriented albums going back to the early
'90s. Beaudoin is also on Geils' jazz album, and they've taken
to calling themselves the Kings of Strings. The guitarists are
fine enough, but the only thing that keeps the hyperbole from
becoming laughable is the tag, "Featuring Aaron Weinstein" --
the young violinist whose debut, A Handful of Stars I
recommend highly. Beaudoin describes Weinstein as "the most
mature 19-year-old I've never met." Actually, he's the world's
youngest old fogie, a teenager who set his stars on Joe Venuti
and figured out how to get there. He's less impressive here than
on his own album, where he pointedly picked out his own choice
accompanists and went straight for Bucky Pizzarelli (and Houston
Person and Joe Ascione). Still, this is pretty enjoyable.
- Shawn Glyde: Alternate Rhythm (2006, Imuso):
The idea here was to start with an interesting rhythmic concept, then
flesh it out. Glyde recorded the drum parts first, lots of time
signatures like 13/16 and 19/16, but however alt they may be, they
still stick within fairly rigid grooves. The melodies and harmonic
layering was added later, with keyboarders Jason Galuten and Brad
French and fusion bassist Jimmy Haslip sharing credits. Other mix-ins
include sax (more soprano than tenor), guitar, and Meghan McKown's
scat (two tracks). Glyde describes this as "constructed backwards,"
but what he's backed into is a semi-smooth fusion album. Still, he
hasn't drained it of interest -- credit the oblique strategies.
- Gnappy: Unloaded (2006, Bean Pie):
from Austin TX, basically a sax-guitar-bass-drums quartet with a
wee bit of vocals, including a rap, plus some guests. I go up and
down on them -- means they can prick my interest, but have trouble
- Vinny Golia Quartet: Sfumato (2003 , Clean Feed).
Pianoless quartet, with Bobby Bradford on trumpet and Golia
playing clarinets, high saxes and low flutes for a wide range of
sounds. Interesting music, a wide range of sounds and textures,
solid backing from Ken Filiano and Alex Cline.
- Brad Goode: Hypnotic Suggestion (2005 , Delmark).
Trumpet player, in a quartet with pianist Adrean Farrugia. Harvey Pekar
notes that this 54-minute album was recorded in two and a half hours:
"That helped add spontaneity, a live feeling, to the proceedings." Yes,
but it also means that they kept what they came up with on the spot.
Which isn't bad, but after playing it three times I've invested more
time in it than they did, and have less to show for it.
- Dexter Gordon: Gettin' Around (1965 , Blue Note).
The last of the Blue Notes. Gordon sounds relaxed, his huge
sound towering over light but sprightly accompaniment from Bobby
Hutcherson on vibes and Barry Harris on piano.
- Grismore/Scea Group: Well Behaved Fish (2004 ,
Steve Grismore plays guitar. Paul Scea plays various saxes
and flutes. They open with Ornette Coleman's "Dancing in Your Head,"
which presumably frames their interests -- certainly fits their
instruments. Fun to hear that piece again, but none of their own
works move Coleman forward. Rather, they move toward a fairly
generic but spirited fusion, even keeping trumpeter Brent Sandy
on hand for those little Milesian riffs.
- Marty Grosz and His Hot Combination (2005 , Arbors).
For some reason I hadn't put together that Marty is the son
of German artist-satirist Georg Grosz. I knew that Marty was born in
Berlin in 1930, but it's not all that rare for Europeans to latch
onto prewar American jazz styles. In one of the stories here he
identifies himself as American, which makes sense -- he came over
with his father in 1932. Still, he sings the first verse of "Just
a Gigolo" in German, after a 6-minute historical intro. That sets
up a 10-minute explication of "English Blues." Those stories are
interesting, but they're not all that replayable. On the other
hand, the music pieces are delightful: he plays Condon guitar,
and sings like Waller, but less convinced of his genius. Good
band, too, including Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson and James
Dapogny -- all stars in a style that never loses its charm.
- Kip Hanrahan: Every Child Is Born a Poet: The Life &
Work of Piri Thomas (1992-2002 , American Clavé):
Effectively this does for Thomas -- author of Down These Mean
Streets, perhaps America's best known Puerto Rican writer --
what Conjure does for Ishmael Reed. The words are more prosaic,
but the narration has palpable impact. However, the music, meant
for a soundtrack, has less impact -- a little trumpet, but it's
mostly the Latin percussionists who save the day.
- Hard Cell (Berne+Taborn+Rainey): Feign (2005, Screwgun).
Two-thirds of the Paraphrase lineup, with pianist Craig
Taborn replacing bassist Drew Gress. My preference for the latest
Paraphrase album most likely has little to do with the change --
the other album just caught one of those moments when everything
clicked. Nonetheless, this isn't far off the mark. Taborn is very
engaged, and he is worth focusing on.
- The Roy Hargrove Quintet: Nothing Serious (2006, Verve):
The advance copy was attributed to the Roy Hargrove Quintet, but the
final backs down to the leader, the cover showing the musician in dark
portrait, the business end of his flugelhorn down on his chest, the
background all blurry. He looks confused, lost, or maybe just sad --
which explains nothing about the bright, brassy music inside, least
of all how serious to take it. If one insists on taking it seriously,
one has to wonder why he overreaches just to come up with clichés.
If not, why does he make going through the motions seem like so much
work? Don't know about him, but I'm confused, lost, and maybe sad
here. Only things I'm sure about: the unison harmony sounds awful;
Slide Hampton's guest spots are a plus; further play is more likely
to send this down than up.
- Winard Harper Sextet: Make It Happen (2006, Piadrum):
The way I parse the credits sheet, the Sextet seems to have eight
members, including three percussionists not counting a leader who
plays balafon as well as drums. Another five musicians show up for
several tracks, including quasi-stars Antonio Hart and Wycliffe
Gordon; also Abdou Mboup and his talking drum. Over fifteen tracks
running 77:56 they cover a lot of ground, starting with Charlie
Parker and working their way through pieces by six band members --
OK, maybe that's the Sextet? Too many different things going on
here to make a coherent album, but lots of good things in the
details: the African percussion pieces are notable; guest pianist
Sean Higgins romps on Ray Bryant's "Reflection"; guest trombonist
Wycliffe Gordon brings down the house in "After Hours"; probably
more. Harper's having a ball.
- Jeff Healey: Among Friends (2002 , Stony Plain):
Blind from age one, Healey is a Canadian who learned to
play blues guitar laying his axe flat on his lap. After several
albums, he picked up a trumpet and started playing trad jazz,
inspired and spurred on by Dick Sudhalter on this first rough
cut album, now reissued by his new label. I prefer the new one,
It's Tight Like That, and not only because Chris Barber
joins in. But there's nice stuff here, like the rhythm guitar
on "Stardust" -- also the roughness in his voice, which seems
to be on the right track.
- Heernt: Locked in a Basement (2005 ,
Trio, led by drummer Tom Guiliana, who also
dabbles in electronics. With electric bass (Neal Persiani) and
tenor sax (Zac Colwell, who also employs alto, clarinet, flute,
keyboards, guitar and whatnot) this is an oblique groove album
with some rough edges -- the sort of thing I tend to fall for,
but not the most compelling example. Last piece is a dirge,
"Brawling on Epic Landforms" -- good title, but a downer.
- Vincent Herring: Ends and Means (2005 , HighNote).
He's out to please here, sticking within comfortable
mainstream boundaries, playing bright and cheery, both on his
mainstay alto sax and on soprano. Half the album is done as a
quartet. The other half adds trumpeter Jeremy Pelt for a second
horn. Pelt has much the same virtues as Herring, making for a
- Andrew Hill: Smoke Stack (1963 , Blue Note).
It looks like it's finally Hill's time. This year's Jazz Journalists
Association Awards nominated Hill both for Musician of the Year and
Lifetime Achievement Award. He's got a good new album out on his
second returnt rip to Blue Note. And his new/old label has started
to put his catalog in order. This one is unusual among his early
records for its lack of horns. It's not quite a trio, in that he
uses two bassists, frequently playing arco. But it's a good example
of how far he could push his piano, especially as he surfs over
such volatile time shifts.
- Stevie Holland: More Than Words Can Say (2006, 150 Music).
Art song seems like the right term here: standards, plus a
couple of originals, played for dramatic effect -- slow, articulate,
drenched in strings, torchers by aroma if not by attitude. There are
at least half a dozen distinct strains competing under the general
rubric of vocal jazz. This is one that has little appeal to me --
despite a couple of pianists I admire, the music has no connection
to the jazz tradition, nor does the very talented singer. This just
reminds me that had Barbra Streisand grown up on cabaret instead of
Broadway musicals she'd be touted as a jazz singer too.
- Will Holshouser Trio: Singing to a Bee (2004 ,
Plays accordion, with Ron Horton on trumpet and David
Phillips on bass. The trumpet stands out starkly against accordion,
especially when Horton goes high. The bass, however, burrows under,
with little presence on its own -- seems like drums might have been
more useful. Touches of Weill seem inevitable, but nothing connects
with tango or klezmer -- Holshouser also plays with David Krakauer's
Klezmer Madness, but what's lacking on all fronts is momentum. (One
more gripe: Clean Feed, following Palmetto and others, has started
to only send out promo sleeves. I don't grade down for this, but do
find it annoying. I did manage to read the liner notes online --
something about haiku that made no sense to me -- but can't comment
on the real packaging.)
- Lena Horne: Seasons of a Life (1994-2000 ,
My advance says "in stores April 12, 2005," but I never
got a final copy, and doubt that it was ever released. As I understand
it, these were outtakes from her '90s albums for Blue Note. Ten songs,
four by Billy Strayhorn, "Stormy Weather" to close; Rodney Jones listed
as producer, various musicians. She sounds fine. No surprises, no
gaffes, alas not much point. It's not like she's never done "Stormy
- Ron Horton: Everything in a Dream (2005 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent):
Horton comes out of New York's Jazz
Composers Collective, a circle that includes Ben Allison, Frank
Kimbrough, and others. On a map of the jazz universe they'd fit
on the seam between academically respectable postbop and the more
formal segments of the avant-garde. In other words, they are
serious cats, seeking to advance the state of the art within
an acknowledged formal framework. This record here is nothing
if not ambitious, and there is much to admire in it. Horton's
own trumpet and flugelhorn are joined by two saxes, piano, drums,
and two basses. The saxes are John O'Gallagher (alto) and Tony
Malaby (tenor), both superb. All of the players have excellent
parts, including featured bass solos for Masa Kamaguchi and John
Hebert. I'm less pleased with how they come together. There's
something sour in the sax-trumpet harmony I find a real turnoff.
Maybe there's some new-fangled harmonic theory at work here? --
I've hade the same reaction to dozens of albums from this same
milieu. Still, it's hard not to admire what he's done here, even
if I can't quite bring myself to like it.
- Susi Hyldgaard: Blush (2004 , Enja/Justin Time):
Danish singer with four albums. Sings in English. Has no
jazz moves that I can recognize, nor any rock moves, so this album
feels rather sedentary. She plays piano. Some cuts have bass and
drums; others strings and/or vocal backup. Two cuts are remixes.
The beats on the last one help.
- Aaron Irwin Group: Into the Light (2005 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent):
Irwin plays alto sax in a quartet with
guitar, bass and drums. Tenor saxist Rich Perry also appears on
five of eight tracks. Moderate postbop, not much distinguished,
although guitarist Ryan Scott has some nice moments, and Perry
makes himself heard.
- Nancy Kelly: Born to Swing (2005 , Amherst).
I wish artist's websites would provide such basic info as when and
where one was born. Age in singers doesn't matter as much as it does
with baseball players, but every little bit of info helps. This is
Kelly's third album. The two previous ones, on the same label, came
out in 1988 and 1997, so she's, uh, pacing herself in nice nine year
intervals. Her website claims a "thirty-plus year career," but also
notes that she started at age four, so she could be no older than
Jack Benny. Standards stuff, swings heartily, like her voice and
poise, and especially like her saxophone player: Houston Person.
- Frank Kimbrough: Play (2005 , Palmetto):
Piano trio, with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Paul Motian --
for more than forty years now the pianist's best friend. Moderate,
tasteful postbop. If anything, too moderate, too tasteful.
- Rahsaan Roland Kirk: The Man Who Cried Fire (1973-77
Scattered live bits -- clarinet, three-horn theatrics,
talking, singing through his horn, honking, blues inside and out, a
bit on New Orleans -- ordered with no flow, little rhyme or reason,
except that the bits themselves are facets of a man unlike any other.
- Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom
(1974 , Hyena).
Live in San Diego a year before his stroke, this
lets Kirk loose to pursue his every idiosyncrasy, playing his gamut of
instruments and musics, rapping and philosophizing, enjoying a band
that includes Hilton Ruiz; check out the nose flute on "Fly Town Nose
Blues," or his appreciation of "Old Rugged Cross."
- Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Brotherman in the Fatherland
(1972 , Hyena).
One more live shot from the archives, a bit
earlier and a lot louder, with less talk and fewer tricks --
although the booklet does have a picture of Kirk blowing three
horns at once, and other bits of misdirection.
- Toby Koenigsberg Trio: Sense (2005 , Origin):
Piano trio, young guys who grew up together, based in Seattle. After
Kimbrough, I'm immediately struck by how much livelier this is -- not
just that it goes faster but slow spots develop in more interesting
ways. Some of this is repertoire: a couple of Bud Powell pieces, a
couple of variations on "Stella by Starlight."
- Lee Konitz: Jonquil (2003 , Blue Jack Jazz).
"Have sax, will travel" could be Konitz' motto. He is a brilliant
alto saxophonist, absolutely unique, continuing to work in whatever
configuration will have him more than fifty years after he first
emerged in the Miles Davis "birth of the cool" nonet and weaned
himself from Lennie Tristano's tutelage. This particular outing
finds him working with two combined groups: the Marco Kegel/Axel
Hagen Quartet and the Gustav Klimt String-Quartet. The strings
fill the background unmemorably, but Hagen's guitar stands out,
providing much of the shape and feel of the pieces. Kegel plays
flute, alto and tenor sax, but I suspect his main job here is to
make way for the master. Konitz repays the deference whenever he
come to the fore with tightly reasoned eloquence. The excess, even
the strings, doesn't do any real damage, but makes one wonder what
a tighter group organized around Hagen and Konitz might do. I only
rarely manage to get hold of recent Konitz records, so the chance
to hear him play like this is always a treat, but frequently one
winds up wondering whether there aren't even better examples out
- KTU: 8 Armed Monkey (2004 , Thirsty Ear).
K is for Kluster -- Kimmo Pohjonen on accordion and voice, Samuli
Kosminen manipulating samples thereof. TU is another duo, formed
by Trey Gunn on guitar and Pat Mastelotto on "rhythmic devices."
Gunn and Mastelotto also have late King Crimson on their resumes,
plus a good deal more. Not part of Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, where
the jazz credentials are stronger. Somewhere on the edge betwen jazz
and rock and electronica, the vocal samples have no great import,
the beat is fierce.
- Art Lillard's Heavenly Band: Reasons to Be Thankful
(2000 , Summit).
The big band can indeed be heavenly -- not only
when they work their Latin vibe, but when they flesh out the details
on more conventional fare. The vocal pieces -- six, with three lead
singers -- are nicely done, but not up to the rest of the band.
- Joe Locke-Geoffrey Keezer Group: Live in Seattle
(2005 , Origin):
A quartet with vibes, piano or other keyboard,
bass and drums. Most of this races along at quite a clip, which
seems to work for Keezer and against Locke. Indeed, in two plays
I've gotten very little out of the vibes, and I've gotten rather
tired of the galloping, crashing keyboards.
- Fred Lonberg-Holm Quartet: Bridges Freeze Before Roads
(2001 , Longbox):
The leader is based on Chicago, plays cello,
has done some interesting things -- I particularly like a 2005 album
called Other Valentines. Most recently he's replaced trombonist
Jeb Bishop in the Vandermark Five. This just appeared but dates back
a few years. The quartet includes Guillermo Gregorio on clarinet,
Jason Roebke on bass, and Glenn Kotche on percussion. The music is
dense and viscous -- it doesn't move so much as it seeps. Interest
is minimal, mostly as dull background din.
- Pamela Luss: There's Something About You I Don't Know
Good singer, with a lot of help, especially from
Vincent Herring, who produces like a kid in a candy store. Interesting
that the most familiar songs -- "Georgia on My Mind," "Fever," "My
Funny Valentine" -- are far and away the most irresistible.
- Brian Lynch: 24/7 (2002 , Nagel Heyer).
Lynch isn't far removed from old fashioned bebop. His quintet lineup
with Miguel Zenon on alto sax and Rick Germanson on piano is straight
out of Parker-Gillespie. His only quirk is a fondness for all things
latin, which again fits the bebop mold. He's not as flashy as Gillespie,
but then who is? He's very solid, and so is the record.
- Pete Malinverni: Joyful! (2005 , ArtistShare):
A gospel album, built around the pianist's quintet with Steve Wilson
and Joe Magnarelli doing notable work on alto sax and trumpet, but
dominated by a full-blown choir, the Devoe Street Baptist Church
Choir, and narrated by the Reverend Frederick C. Ernette, Sr. As long
as it stays traditional its joy packs a punch, but when the words stray
from the old themes, you start to wonder. Or I do, anyway. Like is it
true that Christians have gotten so much dumber even in my own lifetime?
Or is it just that what used to be personal faith has become a social
and political plague? Hard to see the joy in all that.
- Ray Mantilla: Good Vibrations (2006, Savant):
The vibes man is Mike Freeman, and he gets off to a terrific start
on two Lionel Hampton classics, but loses ground after that, as the
Latin percussion takes over -- "special guest" Steve Berrios as
well as the leader. Nothing wrong with that, but they need some
little thing extra to make it remarkable, and that only happens
when Enrique Fernández switches from flute to baritone sax for a
finale called -- what else? -- "Bari Con Salsa."
- Klemens Marktl: Ocean Avenue (2004 , Fresh Sound
Young drummer from Austria. Followed his studies
from there to Holland and New York. His resume cites a long list of
drummers he's studied under, headed by Lewis Nash -- a mainstream
master who rarely stands out but invariably makes whoever he's
playing with sound better. Marktl doesn't stand out either, but
he's got a good pianist here in Aaron Goldberg and he's got Chris
Cheek on his various saxes, and they work together to create a
seamless piece of postmodern cool.
- Billy Martin & Grant Calvin Weston: Live at Houston Hall
(2002 , Amulet).
I tend to reflexively discount drum records --
maybe that's my rock roots, the result of listening to John Bonham go
on and on and on. Martin, of Medeski and Wood fame, has more than a
dozen albums on his own label now -- solo drums, duo drums, electrobeats,
turntablists, remixes of all of the above. I've heard seven, which is
way more than any non-fanatic needs, but they're all interesting in
various ways. This, like most live albums, was probably more fun when
it was experienced live, but even now it strikes me as the best of the
crop, and one of the more consistently engaging, as well as exciting,
drums albums I've heard. Even so, I'm unsure how to rate it. Maybe if
Weston played more trumpet than just the splash midway through?
- Jordi Matas Quintet: Racons (2004-05 , Fresh Sound
Spanish guitarist, based in Barcelona. Quintet
includes saxophonist Marti Serra and pianist Jorge Rossy, as well
as bass and drums. His guitar is more up front than Stewardson's,
so it's easy to follow his clean, lean lines. Serra complements
him ably, but doesn't stand out like Malaby. Nice record.
- The Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra (2003 ,
I know very little by Maupin -- certainly nothing
that sounds like this. Looked him up on AMG and their Similar Artists
list starts: Branford Marsalis, David Murray, Howard Johnson, Sam Rivers,
Joe Henderson. Can't imagine what they have in common, much less in
common with Maupin. Chico Freeman is the next guy on the list (maybe
he's plausible) then Marty Ehrlich and George Coleman -- huh? Maupin's
main instrument here is bass clarinet, followed by tenor and soprano
sax, alto flute, and piano. The Ensemble adds bass, drums, percussion,
working around whatever Maupin brings front and center. Mostly he
brings an attractive, loose, low key album, that does little to
resolve his stylistic affinities. Maybe he doesn't have any.
- Jackie McLean: It's Time (1964 , Blue Note):
The alto saxist set his destination for out the year before in two
remarkable albums with trombonist Grachan Moncur, but this one is a
bit more equivocal. The group veterans lean back toward hard bop,
but McLean's pushes them hard, even getting some abstract comping
from Herbie Hancock. The newcomers are bassist Cecil McBee and
trumpeter Charles Tolliver, who writes three pieces, including the
- Jason Miles: What's Going On? Songs of Marvin Gaye
(2006, Narada Jazz).
His trivialization of Gaye is less offensive
than his trivialization of Miles Davis. But if I had time to listen
to Marvin Gaye's songs, I'd rather listen to Marvin Gaye.
- Hank Mobley: Dippin' (1965 , Blue Note).
Aside from a token ballad this could just as well be a Lee Morgan
album, since trumpet runs roughshod over sax at will, at least
when these two play; it holds up better than most because Harold
Mabern and the rhythm section keep things moving, but also because
Mobley gets to stretch out a bit on the ballad.
- Mold: Rotten in Rødby (2005 , ILK):
two horn quartet -- Anders Banke on saxes and clarinets, Stephan
Meinberg on trumpets -- only with Mark Solborg's guitars and gadgets
instead of bass. Can play dense and rockish or loose and free. Don't
know much about the group: three Danes, one German, met in New York,
one previous album, they like to muck around with capitalization,
usually spelling the group name moLd. There must be a dozen
more or less comparable groups in Scandinavia -- would be a project
to sort them out, and may become worth tackling before too long.
- Ben Monder Trio: Dust (1996 , Sunnyside):
Having appeared on ninety-some albums, Monder is a flexible postbop
guitarist who can be depended on to fit in and add something every
time out. This reissue of a 1997 album originally in Arabesque shows
him in the lead, laying out his kit, a fair approximation of the state
of the art in jazz guitar.
- Ben Monder: Excavation (1999 , Sunnyside):
Another reissue, originally on Arabesque. Pretty much the sum of its
parts: shifty microwaves of rhythm from Jim Black and Skuli Sverrisson
(aka AlasNoAxis), scat hymns from Theo Bleckmann, guitar-drenched
window dressing from Monder.
- Monk's Music Trio: Monk's Bones (2004 , CMB).
The trio -- veterans Si Perkoff on piano and Chuck Bernstein on drums,
and young Sam Bevan on bass -- is perhaps too respectful to uncover
anything truly new, but they handle the repertoire skillfully enough,
and Monk continues to be an inexhaustible fount of inspiration. But
the attraction here comes from the 'bones: Si's son Max, who gets to
play alongside superguest Roswell Rudd, who has earned enough esteem
that he can roughen up Monk any time he feels like.
- Monsieur Dubois: Ruff (2004 , Challenge):
This Dutch group bills itself as "danceable hard jazz." Reminds me
of a scene in Running on Empty when the music teacher asks
what's the difference between samples of Madonna and Beethoven,
and River Phoenix answers that you can't dance to Beethoven. The
reason is that shifting rhythm confounds dance. This group can
force its hard jazz to be danceable by straitjacketing the beat,
but is it still jazz? Seems like it could be, but it's tough to
see how. Rock solid 4/4 is no more common in jazz these days than
rhymed couplets in poetry. This isn't accidental: lack of formula,
of predictability, keys our interest in jazz. The result is that
I spent most of the first spin here wondering when something was
going to happen, oblivious to all their hard work. I suppose it
is to their credit that this didn't immediately register as smooth
jazz either. It's more like dance funk played by a standard issue
jazz quintet -- plus extra percussion, so it's actually a sextet.
Acid jazz, I guess.
- Lee Morgan: Tom Cat (1964 , Blue Note).
With three horns this is a little busy up front, but Morgan's
trumpet is never far from the spotlight. McCoy Tyner provides
some slick interludes when he gets the chance, and contributes
one song to make sure he does. The Penguin Guide has a clever
putdown of this album: "With complete absence of irony, the
final track is 'Rigor Mortis.'" The song in question is spelled
"Riggarmortes" and it's pretty upbeat. Still, there's something
wrong with an album where Jackie McLean doesn't bother to make
- Lee Morgan: The Gigolo (1965 , Blue Note).
A brisk, chunky hard bop quintet, with Wayne Shorter playing second
banana to the trumpeter, and perhaps more importantly pianist Harold
Mabern cooking up the grits and gravy.
- John Moulder: Trinity (2005 , Origin).
This sounds more like that vaguest of categories, soundtrack music,
than jazz. It is expansive, richly orchestrated, wears its emotions on
its sleeve. Moulder composed, plays guitar, and keeps it flowing, with
a lot of help from friends -- Laurence Hobgood piano, atmospheric
horns (including Paul McCandless), various percussionists. Impressive
but not all that interesting.
- Mujician: There's No Going Back Now (2005 ,
This stalwart Anglo-improv quartet goes back to 1990,
maybe earlier -- pianist Keith Tippett used the name in 1981 on a
solo album, so how do you count that? The Penguin Guide files the
group albums under saxophonist Paul Dunmall's name these days --
he's certainly the one who brings the noise. The others are Paul
Rogers on bass and Tony Levin on drums. They are less prominent
as leaders but have extensive discographies as well. Their circle
is one that I've never really penetrated: I've heard five out of
thirty albums Penguin Guide lists under Tippett and Dunmall, but
can't say as I've made much sense out of them. This one doesn't
help much either. There are moments of bracing sax, but they seem
few and far between. There are moments when the piano or bass
threatens to do something interesting, but they soon fade. Every
now and then the record sort of drops into the subsonic realm,
but only one piece is listed. Seems short, but 45:30 should be
plenty to get your point across, if you have one.
- Roy Nathanson: Sotto Voce (2005 , AUM Fidelity):
The first song reminds me of an Annette Peacock song. The second is a
sickly pop hit that Billy Jenkins got to first. In other words, both
are good, but remind me of better. The music throughout reminds me of
the Jazz Passengers, not surprising given that Nathanson was their
leader and Curtis Fowlkes is also on board here, but the music takes
a back seat to the words, and therein lies the rub. After the first
two songs this gets drab, starting with a riff on "Motherless Child"
and quickly descending into Brechtian territory, or do I mean Tom
Waits? Interesting ideas here, but too many allusions make me think
it should be better.
- David "Fathead" Newman: Cityscape (2005 , High Note).
I never got a chance to say so before, but Newman's I Remember
Brother Ray was the best of a spate of Ray Charles tributes that
came out following the movie, the hit duets album, and all that. Not
a great record, of course, so that's sort of a backhanded complement,
but to the best of my knowledge, Newman's never made a great record,
at least under his ownname, in the first half-century of his recording
plenty of good ones -- this is touted as "the beginning of David Newman's
second half-century," if you're wondering about the wording. With three
more horns for coloring (two brass and Howard Johnson's bari sax), a
little flute from the leader, and songs ranging from "A Flower Is a
Lovesome Thing" to "Goldfinger," this one is something of a mess --
but occasionally a beautiful mess. Highlights include a big solo on
"Here Comes Sonny Man" and a lovely, heartfelt "It Was a Very Good
Year." No doubt.
- Kevin Norton's Bauhaus Quartet: Time-Space Modulator
(2003-04 , Barking Hoop).
Trumpet (Dave Ballou), tenor/soprano
sax (Tony Malaby), bass (John Lindberg), drums/marimba (Norton),
mostly working through small changes in a rather abstract vein. It's
hard to get a handle on this, but I've kicked it back to the pending
queue too many times by now.
- Anita O'Day: Indestructible! (2004-05 ,
Well into her 80s, she doesn't swing as hard
as she used to, and her voice is more gone than not, but she
inspires a couple of near-faultness bands. Roswell Rudd rumbles
on three tracks, including "Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer."
Joe Wilder stands out on the other tracks. O'Day's post-prime
recordings have always been a matter of taste and sentiment:
you have to like her a lot to see past the decline. But I, for
one, can't see not liking her.
- Open Door: So Close So Beautiful (2006, Hipbone/Kindred
Actually a soft hip-hop album, reminds me a bit of the Stereo
MC's, perhaps crossed with some trip-hop. One cover: "DJ," from David
Bowie's Eno-produced period. Principals are Vicki Bell (vocals, remix),
Peter Adams (keybs), Ray Grappone (beats), with a bunch of guests.
- Eivind Opsvik: Overseas II (2005, Fresh Sound
Unlike most bass player's albums, this doesn't showcase the bass
very well. Two pieces, in fact, are celeste solos, with different
keyboardists, and were improvised for filler. Others vary the
keyboards and two saxophones, with Tony Malaby appearing on half
the tracks and making his usual impression.
- Brian Owen: Unmei (2005 , OA2).
First album by
a young (age 23) Seattle-based trumpeter. Basic hard bop quintet format,
with tenor sax (Jay Thomas), piano (John Hansen), bass and drums, but
it's more advanced than that, with elaborate flows and intricate work.
One of the more impressive debuts I've heard lately, but I should note
that the parts that most caught my ear turned out to be the work of the
- Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Eleventh Hour
(2004 , ECM).
The electro brigade is larger than ever, although
the acoustic side has grown a bit as well, with Agustí Fernandez on
more/less prepared piano to go along with the strings (Philip Wachsmann
on violin, Adam Linson on double-bass) and Parker's soprano sax. The
one piece in five parts has many effects but little shape, and the flow
is once again glacial. It wouldn't be hard to conclude that there's
nothing much here, and it can be argued that thinking otherwise is
just wishful thinking. But I think otherwise, even if I'm not real
sure of myself. The effects are the show.
- William Parker: Long Hidden: The Olmec Series (2005
, AUM Fidelity).
The reissue component is "In Case
of Accident," solo bass from an out-of-print self-release tacked on
as an afterthought because there was a bit of space left. Avant-jazz
bass solos aren't everyone's cup of tea, but this one is deep, intense,
and powerfully moving -- and at 14:09 long doesn't commit you like a
full album does. The new stuff includes three milder bass solos, three
solos on 8-string doson ngoni, and four complex rhythmic vamps by the
Olmec Group, an experiment in Mesoamericana. It all feels like a
sketchbook, any piece of which could be developed into something
- Dave Peck: Good Road (2003 , Let's Play Stella).
This is one of the better mainstream piano trios I've heard lately.
Standards, including two Ellingtons I'm not overly familiar with,
plus one original. Good touch, well measured, thoughtful. Solid
support from Jeff Johnson on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums. I
never have much to say about records like this, but know one when
I hear it.
- John Pizzarelli/The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Dear
Mr. Sinatra (2005 , Telarc):
Don't recall seeing this
in credits before, but for the record Pizzarelli wears Brioni suits
and formal wear. He's photographed walking on the beach in his Brioni
suit with an umbrella, but barefoot -- guess he doesn't have a shoe
contract yet. The title suggests the likely problem is too formal and
too respectful, and there's something to that, although formal is the
last word one would use to describe his soft-cushioned voice. The
Claytons, Hamilton, et al., know this music cold, and warm it up per
the instructions on the box. In other words, nothing new, but most
of the songs wear well anyway.
- Planet Jazz: In Orbit (2005 , Sharp Nine):
This is a tribute band to little known drummer Johnny Ellis, who
died in 1999 at age 44. Ellis wrote most of the songs, commonly
playing the others -- pieces by Charlie Shavers, Hampton Hawes,
Duke Ellington-Johnny Hodges. In fact, so many Ellis alumni are
on board that this could be considered his ghost band. Pianist
Spike Wilner is the main mover here, and he's pulled together a
solid mainstream band -- saxophonist Grant Stewart, trumpeter
Joe Mangarelli, guitarist Peter Berstein. The covers take off,
but the Ellis originals -- nonsense like "The Cow Is Now" and
"The Lemur Is a Dreamer" -- don't quite make it.
- Bobby Previte: The Coalition of the Willing (2005
Not sure about the iconography, but the big quote
under the clear plastic tray is from George Orwell's 1984, and
the liner notes end with "Wake up everybody." Previte, Charlie Hunter,
and Jamie Saft try to do their part by cranking up the volume, but
all they get for it is a pretty decent fusion album. Skerik and Steve
Bernstein help out, and Stanton Moore appears on one track.
- Dafnis Prieto: About the Monks (2005, Zoho).
One thing I've never gotten used to about Latin Jazz is the use of
fast-paced multiple horn lines to punch up the ceiling. The operative
word here is speed: Prieto is a drummer/percussionist who kicks up
a storm, while Luis Perdomo is a speed demon on piano. I don't quite
get the hang of what they're doing, but I'm impressed with how they
do it. The two horns, on the other hand, shoot off in tangents I
find little more than annoying. I know that Brian Lynch (trumpet,
flugelhorn) has a lot of experience in latin bands; Yosvany Terry
(reeds) is no doubt a native speaker.
- Dafnis Prieto: Absolute Quintet (2005 , Zoho):
Cuban percussionist, made it to New York in 1999, and and ever since
then folks who presumably know about such things have been raving
about him. I've heard him as a sideman on half a dozen albums, and
more often than not I've been impressed too. But I didn't like his
previous album, About the Monks, and I don't much like this
one either, although it's easier here to hear what his fans hear in
him. For one thing, his knowledge of Cuban music is encyclopedic,
but his ambitions are such that he tries to show it all off. One
choice cut is "The Stutterer" -- amazingly jerky percussion, real
strong sax blast from Yosvany Terry. That's followed by "Afrotango,"
more or less self-explanatory, with a nice Henry Threadgill guest
appearance. But then he delves into Spanish classicism on "One Day
Suite" and loses me.
- Andrew Rathbun/George Colligan: Renderings (2005 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent):
"Art of the
Duo" is a phrase that's been batted around by several labels --
I'm not sure if it's a regular feature with FSNT, but Concord had
such a series, and I recall an Albert Mangelsdorff album of that
title. Dave Liebman, who's done a few duos himself, wrote the
liner notes here. Like Liebman, Rathbun plays tenor and soprano
sax. Colligan plays piano. This is effectively chamber music. It
starts with a piece by Ravel, then runs through a seven-part 25:46
suite. Later, along with a couple more originals, there's a 22:08
piece by Spanish composer Federico Mompou. So overall, it feels
more like classical than jazz -- the piano plump, the sax shading.
I don't really get it, but find much of it appealing.
- Chuck Redd: Remembers Barney Kessel: Happy All the Time
(2005 , Arbors).
Tribute albums tend to three flavors. One is
the conventional look back into the tradition thing, like Randy Sandke
plays Bix Beiderbecke, or Scott Hamilton plays Zoot Sims. Usually
these follow an instrument. Another is the tangential sideman memoir:
a personal connection, like Mal Waldron on Billie Holiday. These most
likely shift the instrument. The third is what we might call the
contrived connection, neither organic like the first nor personal
like the second. These are usually marketing concepts, although on
occasion they pan out, as with Bud Shank (or Joe Lovano or Ruby
Braff) on Sinatra. This is a good example of the second, replete
with reminiscences and photos of days when vibraphonist Redd played
with guitarist Kessel; also photos and a warm note from Kessel's
widow. Five Kessel originals, plus standards that lend themselves
to his easy swing. Howard Alden and Gene Bertoncini contribute
some guitar, but it's not central. Redd does a lovely job of
swinging the vibes, and that does the trick.
- The RH Factor: Distractions (2005 , Verve):
Let's pretend there are two distinct concepts here, instead of just
one mess. On the one hand, we have four instrumentals -- two very
brief -- where Hargrove and Fathead Newman riff over contemporary
funk grooves. If he wanted to run with that, he could crank up the
heat a bit and aim for a state of the art update on Roy Eldridge --
that could be a lot of fun. On the other hand, he brings on a rehash
of the post-'90s r&b swamp with its cluttered vamps and turgid
grooves and muddled vocals, not even leaving much room for his horn.
I don't see much hope there, although I do dig the one blatant P-Funk
retread here ("A Place").
- Pete Robbins: Waits & Measures (2004 ,
Second album. Plays alto sax and clarinet. This is a
sextet with Sam Sadigursky on heavier reeds (tenor sax and bass
clarinet), Eliot Krimsky on keybs, guitar, bass and drums. First
song, "Inkhead," is delightfully disjointed, almost Monkish.
Nothing else stands out like that, but the album continues with
flashes of thoughtful, intricate, sometimes quirky music.
- Red Rodney/Herman Schoonderwalt Quintet: Scrapple From the
Apple (1975 , Blue Jack Jazz).
A live radio shot from
1975, with Charlie Parker's trumpeter "Albino Red" joining a Dutch
quartet led by reedist Schoonderwalt. The program leans on Parker's
songbook, with long pieces and generous solos. Aside from Red, pianist
Nico Bunink is most impressive. Terrific lead-off "On Green Dolphin
Street," but very solid throughout.
- Ari Roland: Sketches From a Bassist's Album (2005
Quartet with Chris Byars on tenor sax, Sacha Perry
on piano, Phil Stewart on drums. Roland plays bass, nicely featured
here; also wrote seven of ten pieces. Roland has been a stalwart
sideman on this label, particularly in Frank Hewitt's groups. This
one works the well-worn bop idiom with a bit more swing than usual,
a most comfortable and enjoyable outing.
- Carl Hancock Rux: Good Bread Alley (2006, Thirsty Ear):
Another advance, release date May 23, so it's out already.
Don't know Rux. Read that he does spoken word -- how does that
differ from rap? -- but this is all sung. Could be something here,
but it's hard to tell, and whatever it is it isn't jazz. Bad sign
is yet another riff on "Motherless Child."
- Terje Rypdal: Vossabrygg (2003 , ECM).
The guitarist was a student of George Russell, and his approach to
electronics and fusion bears Russell's stamp. His main collaborator
here is trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, also a Russell follower, with
several connections to Miles Davis. The electronics, complemented
by bass and two drummers, is interesting in spots, and Mikkelborg's
trumpet shines. The guitar is harder to sort from the mix.
- Paul Shapiro: It's in the Twilight (2005 , Tzadik).
Part of Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series. Shapiro's
website says: "You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Paul Shapiro's
music. But it helps to have a heart." So Jewish is a big part of
Shapiro's identity, all the more clear from the booklet, but had
you blindfolded me I would have missed it. Radical too, but I
might have picked the name of a band he founded in the '90s, but
I've never heard: Brooklyn Funk Essentials. And the big heart
theme is clear. Shapiro plays tenor sax, but he sound here is
thickened with a second tenor sax (Peter Apfelbaum) and trumpet
(Steve Bernstein), giving the record a fat, vibrant sound. Two
songs have vocal bits, which pop up informally for a social feel.
If I was doing Choice Cuts, one I particularly like is Shapiro's
Ribs & Brisket tune, "Oy Veys Mir" -- starts out like "Flat
Foot Floogie" and takes a boogie woogie piano break.
- Matthew Shipp: One (2005 , Thirsty Ear).
Shipp has developed into a marvelously percussive pianist since
he took over Thirsty Ear's Blue Series. But this solo piano album
reverts to the melodic explorations of his early solo albums,
with only a whiff of extra left-hand muscle. Not without some
interest, but not a lot of movement.
- Horace Silver: Silver's Serenade (1963 , Blue Note).
Silver's quintets were mostly interchangeable, but this line-up
was a bit shy of the others: Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook tended to
blare in unison, while Gene Taylor and Roy Brooks overreacted; center,
of course, was Silver's piano, a rollicking gospel-tinged party machine.
- Sergi Sirvent: Free Quartet (2003 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent).
More like a piano trio with a double dose of drums. The extra drums
accent the angularity of the rhythms, as Sirvent plays an intriguing
program with three Ornette Coleman tunes, some originals and group
- Sergi Sirvent/Santi Careta: Anacrònics (2005 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent):
Sirvent is a pianist who impressed me every
time out, even though I've yet to fall hard for one of his albums.
The best to date is filed under Unexpected and called Plays the
Blues in Need, and that's in my draft as an honorable mention.
That album plays off Monk, so it makes sense that the best of these
duets is the one where Sirvent runs away with "In Walked Bud." Lots
of standards here, a nice range of pieces, effectively character
sketches for the pianist. Careta is a guitarist and less assertive.
Don't have much feel for him, but he has another album on the shelf.
- Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet: Husky (2004 ,
The group breakdown is three reeds, two brass, Hammond, and
drums, with little or no electronics. The horns rarely break loose,
so the effect is long on groove with thick harmonics, much less so
on beat. I like most of what I've heard from Skerik -- think he has
the potential to cross both ways; like his analysis and instincts.
But when he calls one song "Go to Hell, Mr. Bush" -- the honorific
blunted a punch that should have landed harder.
- Jimmy Smith: Softly as a Summer Breeze (1958 ,
Standards fare with Smith comping lightly behind a series
of light-handed guitarists -- Kenny Burrell, Eddie McFadden, Ray
Crawford -- which despite some nice moments doesn't give you much
of a feel for anyone involved; Bill Henderson sings on four bonus
cuts -- he's not so incredible either.
- Dr. Lonnie Smith: Jungle Soul (2005 , Palmetto):
I probably should have placed Smith's previous Palmetto album, Too
Damn Hot!, on my Duds list, but I had no idea that anyone might
have been taken by such a slight and tepid outing. So that this one
is pretty good comes as a big surprise. I don't know what to make of
producer Matt Baltisaris's credits for "rhythm and acoustic guitar,"
but they can't have hurt. Guitar is central, most clearly electric,
almost certainly the work of Peter Bernstein, who displays a rare
knack for working within the soul jazz genre. Drummer Allison Miller
also works inside, most tastefully on the chilldown closer, "Jungle
Wisdom." Given such restraint from the group, even Smith dials his
Hammond down, finding a temperate range that's just right. Maybe the
previous album was too damn hot after all.
- The Bob Sneider & Joe Locke Film Noir Project: Fallen
Angel (2005 , Sons of Sound).
Film music -- don't get what film noir has to do with it, given that
the films and writers are second generation and then some -- Dave
Grusin, Mark Isham, Jerrald Goldsmith, Tomasz Stanko. Makes for smokey
atmospherics, but not much more.
- Sonando: Tres (2006, Origin): More gringos. Fred Hoadley
took his Berklee education to Seattle and founded a salsa band in 1983,
Bochinche, then moved on to Afro-Cuban with the founding of Sonando in
1990. He plays piano and tres guitar, and looks like the leader here.
Tom Bergersen studied conga at Stanford. Chris Stromquist went all the
way to Cuba for six weeks of bata instruction. Ben Verdier (bass), Chris
Stover (trombone), and Jim Coile (saxphones, flute) are also regulars,
but the record employs quite a few extras. The group has the basics down,
and Hoadley's tres is particularly elegant. But compared to the model
music I've heard out of Cuba, they keep it simple and moderate, easy
to follow and enjoy. That's no knock: I'd rather hear them push the
limits of their second language, which they do, than hear someone else
water down their first, even though both can be useful bridges.
- Sonido Isleño: ¡Vive Jazz! (2005, Tresero).
Regardless of how many people play here, the leader is guitarist
Benjamin Lapidus, and he cuts an interesting figure. It would
take some much more expert than I to disentangle the various
Latin strains here, but Afro-Cuban percussion seems to be the
dominant one -- albeit somewhat subdued. The grooves are more
compelling than the vocals, but the spoken one offsets nicely
against the riddims.
- Esperanza Spalding: Junjo (2005 , Ayva):
Quite a name. She comes from Portland OR, is barely old enough to
legally drink, plays bass, sings, and composed all or parts of four
of nine songs here. Well, sings is kind of a stretch: she reminds
me more of Keith Jarrett than Sarah Vaughan, although she's a good
deal more artful at scatting along than Jarrett is. The record's
a trio, with Aruán Ortiz on piano and Francisco Mela on drums, but
like all good bassist-leaders she gets the benefit of the mix. Nice
debut. Could pick up another star if I left it open and worked on
- Melvin Sparks: Groove On Up (2005 , Savant):
This comes out of the gate like gangbusters -- organ and flashpick
guitar, the cut is "MyKia's Dance" -- but this cools off quickly,
and not just because such a narrow concept of groove needs a change
of pace. That's what the two guest vocals are for.
- Rossano Sportiello: Heart and Soul (2005 , Arbors).
Volume 14 of the Arbors Piano Series, solo piano recorded
at the Old Church in Bowsil, Switzerland. Whereas Concord's Maybeck
Hall Series went for relatively name pianists, including some who
are a little bit out there -- Joanne Brackeen was an early one --
Arbors seems to be grooming the next generation of Dick Hymans. This
one is distinguished by an exceptionally light touch, bringing a nice
swing to everything he plays.
- Harri Stojka: A Tribute to Gypsy Swing (2004 ,
A set of fast-paced guitar-heavy instrumentals, more gypsy
than swing, but "Swanee River" is neither. Occasional references
to Django Reinhardt and four cuts with violin don't make this the
Hot Club, even out here in Cowtown.
- Colin Stranahan: Transformation (2005 , Capri).
Led by the drummer, a rather fancy postbop ensemble, with two saxes,
piano and bass, plus trumpet on four cuts, vibes on another. Much of
this impresses me despite some misgivings about the basic approach.
- Aki Takase/Lauren Newton: Spring in Bangkok (2004
Piano and voice, the latter more instrument than
verbal -- the exception is the semi-spoken "Das Scheint Mir," in
amusingly orchestrated Deutsch. Impressed as I am by Newton's vocal
prowess, I perhaps inevitably find the piano more attractive.
- The Best of Martin Taylor (1978-2004 , The
Guitar Label, 2CD).
Having only heard three of the Scottish
guitarist's many albums, I hoped this might provide a welcome overview,
but it's turned out to be frustrating and annoying. Inspired by Django
Reinhardt, Taylor emerged in the late '70s with Stéphane Grappelli,
and went on to record a splendid Spirit of Django tribute. He
has a light touch, which doesn't swing so much as it floats, dazzlingly
quick and clever. This works impressively in small contexts, solo even.
But he also has a fondness for cheese, which is indulged throughout,
but mostly on the first disc -- simpy songs, Kirk Whallum slickness,
smooth jazz that turns syrupy. Second disc is more interesting -- a
better best-of is clearly possible.
- Toots Thielemans: One for the Road (2006, Verve).
The reigning, all but permanent poll winner on "other instrument" --
in his case harmonica -- returns with an album of Harold Arlen songs.
Good songs, of course. Harmonica adds soulful texture, but on nine of
the songs it's background for nine guest singers, none of whom impress
me as much as Carrie Smith did on Sir Roland Hanna's Arlen tribute.
Also lurking in the background are uncredited strings.
- The Thing: Live at Blå (2003 , Smalltown Superjazz).
Two long pieces, each a medley of three parts, with
credits ranging from Joe McPhee to the White Stripes. The Thing
is a free jazz trio that makes a lot of noise, with Atomic's
bassist and drummer, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love
and reed man Mats Gustafsson, mostly on baritone sax. All three
should be well known by now for their various collaborations
with Ken Vandermark. I have a lot more trouble with Gustafsson
than Vandermark, possibly for the reasons the latter spelled
out in his liner notes to the former's Blues -- that
Americans play out of the blues, whereas Europeans play with
the blues -- although I'm more inclined to think of it as being
that Gustafsson swings a heavier axe and makes much more of a
mess. Still, at his best his mess can move you mightily.
- Thirsty Ear Presents: Nu Jazz Today (2002-06 ,
Another advance. Don't see a release date, so perhaps
this isn't a real release. In any case it's just a label sampler,
with two tracks each from five recent (or near-future) albums:
Groundtruther, Longitude; Sex Mob, Sexotica; Nils
Petter Molvaer, An American Compilation; Matthew Shipp,
One; Carl Hancock Rux, Good Bread Alley. The first
three fit into the label's jazztronica stream, even though Molvaer
evolved his own independently. Shipp's solo piano and Rux's soul
food fit somewhere else. Good stuff, but docked for uselessness --
unlike, I might add, their two previous samplers, Blue Series
Essentials and The Shape of Jazz to Come. Also, given
how Nu Soul stacks up, they should think twice about describing
anything as Nu Jazz.
- Trio Beyond: Saudades (2004 , ECM, 2CD):
The concept here was
to do a Tony Williams Lifetime thing -- cf. Emergency!, a
1969 album with Williams on drums, John McLaughlin on guitar, and
Larry Young on organ. DeJohnette is a fair match for Williams, but
Scofield and Goldings twist the dial away from Young and McLaughlin's
more outré fusion back toward soul jazz. Nothing much wrong with
that, especially with them playing hotter than they have in years,
but nothing much new with it either.
- Trio East: Stop-Start (2005, Sons of Sound).
Drummer Rich Thompson gets first billing, but the three originals are
all written by trumpeter Clay Jenkins, making him the probable leader
(although Thompson is credited as executive producer). Maybe the billing
is inverse-alphabetical, with bassist Jeff Campbell bringing up the rear.
The six non-originals hail from Gillespie, Coltrane (two), Ornette, Morgan,
and Waldron -- proximate springboards for postbop. Sharply played, just
inside of outside.
- Saadet Türköz: Urumchi (2005 , Intakt):
Swiss-based singer, originally from East Turkestan, reverses her
migration in returning to Almaty and on to Beijing to record her
solemn, stately folk music in the ancient style, with sparse
strings, scarce drums, haunting voice.
- Gebhard Ullmann/Chris Dahlgren/Jay Rosen: Cut It Out
(2000 , Leo):
With Ullmann playing bass clarinet and bass flute,
this is pitched low enough it may take a seismograph to fully sort it
out. I find it shifts in and out. Like what I hear when I hear it,
both the hard-earned lines and the residual rumble.
- The Uptown Quintet: Live in New York (2004 ,
A departure for the label, both in featuring non-Canadians
and in presenting something not recorded in Vancouver's Cellar. File
the group under pianist Spike Wilner, who wrote three of seven songs,
but also note front line Ryan Kisor (trumpet) and Ian Hendrickson-Smith
(alto sax), who add strong voices and a song apiece. As the names show,
this is a strong, mainstream, blues-swinging group. The atmosphere is
relaxed, they're comfortable, this is what they do.
- Diego Urcola: Viva (2005 , Cam Jazz).
his fellow Argentine and frequent collaborator Guillermo Klein,
Urcola plays Latin jazz but with a more extended European feel.
He's not as ambitious as Klein -- more like a well travelled
sideman who winds up calling in a lot of chits to make an album
that he does little to dominate. The group is strong all around,
with Antonio Sanchez and Pernett Saturnino on percussion and a
slew of guests -- Dave Samuels' marimba and Paquito D'Rivera's
clarinet stand out. Leader plays trumpet.
- Bebo Valdés: Bebo de Cuba (2002 , Calle 54, 2CD).
Bebo was a prominent Cuban bandleader in the '50s. Following the
revolution, he left Cuba, settling in Stockholm in 1963 and falling
out of the public eye. His son Chucho rose to fame in the '70s as
the founder of Irakere and as an outstanding pianist in his own
right -- try to imagine Art Tatum with congas. Bebo resumed his
recording in the '90s, finally scoring a worldwide hit with
Lágrimas Negras, featuring Flamenco singer Dieguito El
Cigala. The two sessions here -- the large canvas of his "Suite
Cubana" and a more intimate retrospective called "El Solar de Bebo" --
cap his comeback, and in many ways returns us to an ideal, blissful
remembrance of Cuban music. Unlike Chucho, Bebo plays piano with a
measured elegance, but his orchestrations are so generous you feel
like you're witnessing the full flowering of classic Cuban music.
- Vibrational Therapists: The Radius of the Mind
(2002 , Vibrational Therapits).
Avant trio, alto sax or clarinet over block chord piano and freewheeling
drums. Sounds very much of its type, even though it seems to come from
well off the beaten path. Alto saxist Henry P. Warner is the senior
member, with previous credits with William Parker and Billy Bang.
- Jerry Vivino: Walkin'; With the Wazmo (2006, Zoho):
A fixture in Conan O'Brien's late night orchestra, Vivino credits
Louis Prima and Louis Jordan, not to mention Louis Armstrong, as
inspirations. The title jump blues shows some connection to Prima,
at least, but his humor deficit leaves Jordan's "Knock Me a Kiss"
a little on the sweet side, and his third vocal doesn't even try.
His tenor sax has some growl to it, but he takes half the album
here on flute, and when he does that he gives away a lot of weight.
- Cuong Vu: It's Mostly Residual (2005, ArtistShare):
I've heard Vu in interesting contexts before, and this got some play
in last year's year-end lists, so I tracked it down. Mostly rather
noisy fusion work built on Stomu Takeishi's bass riffs, with Ted Poor
on drums and the leader on trumpet. I usually like Takeishi's work,
but don't get much out of him here. More interesting is "Patchwork,"
which at least starts quiet and measured, where "recruited guest"
Bill Frisell is conspicuously in the mix, then stretches out and
breaks up a bit.
- Fred Wesley & the Swing'N Jazz All-Stars: It Don't Mean a
Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing (2005 , Sons of Sound):
This is sponsored by or a benefit for something called The
Commission Project, which has something to do with golf, which has
something to do with swing, which brings us around to Ellington,
who always dug trombonists, which leads us to Wesley, who got his
name listed first because he's the only All-Star here you might
have heard of unless you're on the Sons of Sound mailing list.
Wesley actually only plays on seven cuts here, but nobody plays
on all eleven -- Marvin Stamm comes closest at nine. The other
All-Stars are: Carl Atkins, Mike Holober, Bob Sneider, Keter Betts,
Jay Leonhart, Akira Tana and Rich Thompson. One's a bass duet. Nice
record, but can't say it means much even if it swings a little.
- Carla White: A Voice in the Night (2001 ,
Singer. Been around a while, with eight albums going
back to 1983. Open, breathy, straightforward voice; not all that
jazzy, but she sings with authority, maintaining her presence on
the slow ones. Has a complimentary set of musicians here, with
John Hart's guitar and Claudio Roditi's trumpet and flugelhorn
- Jens Winther European Quintet: Concord (2005, Stunt).
Basic hard bop line-up, with Tomas Franck's tenor sax complementing
Winther's trumpet, Antonio Farao on piano, and most importantly Palle
Danielsson driving the bass line. Nothing unusual or special, but a
fine example of the archetype one thinks of first when asked to imagine
a first rate contemporary jazz ensemble.
- Yellowjackets: Twenty Five (2005 , Heads Up):
The group, founded in 1981 by Russell Ferrante and Jimmy Haslip and
a couple others now long gone, has been around for 25 years now. To
mark the occasion, we get a live album with old songs and a bonus
DVD with more of the same. The current group includes saxophonist
Bob Mintzer since 1990 and drummer Marcus Baylor since 2000. Haslip
plays electric bass. Ferrante and Mintzer play synths as well as
acoustic instruments. Never listened to them before I started Jazz
CG, but based on their previous album I found myself wondering which
smooth jazz group was the all-time worst -- their major competition
seems to come from Acoustic Alchemy and Urban Knights, but I can't
say as I've exhaustively researched the subject. This one, however,
isn't bad. It no doubt helps that they get to cherry-pick from their
songlist. It also seems to be the case that smooth jazz groups in
general, regardless of what they'll stoop to in the studio, fall
back on their jazz chops when they go live. Mintzer certainly knows
his way around Michael Brecker if not David Murray. Ferrante knows
his Chick Corea if not Dave Burrell. Baylor can play around the
beat as well as on it -- "Greenhouse" strikes me as pretty valid,
all the way down to Mintzer's solo coda. The "free bonus DVD" is
just another concert.
- Bobby Zankel & the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound:
Ceremonies of Forgiveness (2005 , Dreambox Media):
A large band with an even larger sound, this gets in your face from
the get go, and rarely lets up. Most of the solos jump out, including
Zankel's alto sax, Elliot Levin's tenor sax, and Tom Lawton's piano.
Their sound at least flirts with wonderfulness, but it also wears
down a bit -- maybe I mean wears you down.
- Pete Zimmer Quintet: Burnin' Live at the Jazz Standard
This is almost exactly what most people think of as
jazz these days: standard forms -- a blues, a waltz, some pop themes,
but all originals -- stretched out over 7-13 minutes with solos rotated
between trumpet/flugelhorn, tenor sax, piano, bass and drums, all of
which are articulate and swing hard. The live setting is appropriate --
we all know that the essence of jazz is its continuous invention, on
stage, before an audience. Zimmer is a young drummer, well schooled,
hard working, and he's got a perfectly solid group here -- Joel Frahm
is the biggest name and probably the senior citizen, but everyone does
their job. Only problem is that when it comes to recorded jazz,
this level of professionalism is the norm and therefore not all that
- Zu: The Way of the Animal Powers (2005, Xeng).
This Italian group is a bass-drums-sax (mostly baritone) trio,
sometimes (as here) using the common last name of Zu, bound to
an ideology called Zuism, not unrelated to anarchism. They make
alliances with similar-minded groups like the Ex, and have done
match-up albums with Ken Vandermark (Spaceways Inc.) and Mats
Gustafsson. Here they're joined by cellist Fred Londberg-Holm.
I like the deep rumble and edgy rhythms here, and the spoken
piece at the end acts as a fine coda. Short: 25:47.
- Zu/Mats Gustafsson: How to Raise an Ox (2004 ,
With two baritone saxes, this gets ugly fast and barely
lets up. Still, it has some groove to it, mostly thanks to Massimo's
bass, and it's the groove that holds it together.
Monday, August 28, 2006
The Downbeat Poll
The last few years I've written up a second opinion to Downbeat's
annual Critics Poll. This year's results were published in the August
issue, now eclipsed on the newsstand, so I'm running late. Thought
I'd do this on the road, since it's mostly just spouting off the top
of my head, but now I'll just try to do it fast. Still got a day to
send my Readers Poll ballot in. I don't vote in the poll, so this is
just another data point.
To speed things up, I'll list the winner, then limit my choices
to the top ten vote getters. Most categories also have a Rising Star
(RS) category, which I'll also do following the same rules.
Trumpet: Dave Douglas. Agreed. I don't always like his
records, but that's usually because he's playing over my head.
RS: Jeremy Pelt. He's makes an impression, but I'll go
with #4 Steven Bernstein, and note that a lot of people
I like made neither list, starting with Dennis Gonzalez.
Trombone: Steve Turre. Haven't heard enough from him
lately, but I still like #8 Ray Anderson. RS: Gianluca
Petrella. I like his record, but haven't heard enough to
pick him over #4 Jeb Bishop or #8 Wolter Wierbos.
Tenor Saxophone: Sonny Rollins. Lifetime, sure, but his
newest album was recorded in 2001. Lately, #5 David Murray.
RS: Chris Potter. I have to go with #4 Ken Vandermark,
who should be on the main list by now.
Alto Saxophone: Phil Woods. Several good options here,
but #12 Anthony Braxton has to be the first choice. RS: Miguel
Zenón. Agreed, narrowly over #8 Dave Rempis.
Soprano Saxophone: Wayne Shorter. I generally lean against
people who play soprano as a second instrument, which would rout this
list -- the exceptions I see are Jane Ira Bloom and Jane Bunnett, but
let's compromise a bit and go with #5 Evan Parker. RS: Ravi
Coltrane. None. Same problem here, even worse at the top. Looking
back through my database I find very few primary sopranos, but many
Baritone Saxophone: James Carter. A great tenor saxophonist
who dabbles on everything else, I don't see how he wins year after
year. The clear choice is #3 Hamiet Bluiett. RS: Claire
Daly. Don't know her well enough to say, but I'm not quite ready
to commit to #5 Mats Gustafsson or #6 Alex Harding yet either.
Clarinet: Don Byron. Agreed, but partly because the others
I'm tempted by also play other reeds -- #2 Marty Ehrlich, #8 Michael
Moore, and #9 Louis Sclavis. RS: Chris Speed. Agreed, but here
because #4 Ehrlich, #5 Sclavis, and #6 Moore should be established
Flute: James Moody. Again, mostly dabblers on the list,
of whom #4 Frank Wess remains the most consistent, but I think I'll
go with the equally dependable #5 Lew Tabackin. RS: Nicole
Mitchell. Don't even know her -- oh, yeah, her. Still, I have to
go with my old fave, #7 Robert Dick, even though he's my age
and I haven't heard anything from him in ages. His secret weapon is
that he goes for the heavyweight flutes, which can put him below
Guitar: Bill Frisell. Not sure. Seems like six or so of
these guys may have topped at one point or another, but on the basis
of recent work I'm inclined to pick #8 John Abercrombie.
RS: Kurt Rosenwinkel. I'll go with #10 Jeff Parker,
but #6 Marc Ribot and #8 Charlie Hunter are contenders.
Acoustic Piano: Keith Jarrett. I admire Jarrett more each
year, but I also take him for granted and suspect he's plateaued.
So maybe this is the year we credit #4 Andrew Hill. RS:
Jason Moran. I'll go with #2 Vijay Iyer. Moran seems to
have slipped a bit, and in any case has already risen to #6 on the
main list. Again, there are so many pianists that lots of people
I like didn't make either list -- some that quickly pop into mind
are: Dave Burrell, Marilyn Crispell, Matthew Shipp, Uri Caine,
David Hazeltine, Myra Melford, but there are many more.
Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer: Joe Zawinul. Clear choice
is #2 Uri Caine, even though he's probably better still on
acoustic. RS: Uri Caine. Agreed.
Organ: Joey DeFrancesco. No strong opinion, but the last
one I've really liked is #9 Melvin Rhyne. RS: Sam Yahel.
Bass (Acoustic & Electric): Dave Holland. My standard
here is #4 William Parker. RS: Ben Allison. Half of
this list, including Allison, are neck and neck, but I'll go
with #3 Drew Gress.
Drums: Jack DeJohnette. Agreed, but #7 Hamid Drake
and #8 Lewis Nash are in line. RS: Matt Wilson. Since he's still
on the list, I have to go with #6 Hamid Drake.
Percussion: Ray Barretto. Many different traditions here,
making it hard to compare. I could pick Drake again, but let's go
with #3 Zakir Hussain for a change. RS: Hamid Drake.
Agreed, if you evaluate his frame drums here, but I view him as a
drummer. But then the others I'm most tempted by -- #2 Susie Ibarra
and #7 Satoshi Takeishi -- are drummers too.
Vibes: Bobby Hutcherson. Agreed, certainly over the long
haul, but recently what does he have to show but the SF Jazz Collective?
RS: Stefon Harris. I'll give it to #2 Joe Locke, but
he belongs up top, maybe on top, with someone else moving in here,
like #6 Matt Moran.
Male Vocalist: Kurt Elling. Can't stand him, nor most of
the list, which leads me to #10 Bob Dorough. RS: Jamie
Cullum. Not much better, except for #6 Theo Bleckmann.
Female Vocalist: Cassandra Wilson. Easy, #6 Sheila
Jordan. RS: Luciana Souza. I'll go with #8 René
Violin: Regina Carter. Come on, #2 Billy Bang --
this shouldn't be close. RS: Jenny Scheinman. Agreed.
Miscellaneous Instrument: Toots Thielemans (harmonica).
This is an apples-and-oranges category, hopeless. I'll go with #8,
Rabih Abou-Khalil (oud). RS: Grégoire Maret (harmonica).
I'll take #6 Fred Lonberg-Holm, the third of three cellos in
the top six.
Record Label: Blue Note. Hard to say, but given this list
I'm inclined to throw a plug for Sunnyside.
Composer: Maria Schneider. I never have a real good sense
of how to judge composers, but one rule of thumb is look toward the
back of the band, since bassists and drummers have to convince others
to play their music. On this list, that argues for #6 Dave Holland.
RS: Vijay Iyer. Again, the rule favors #2 Ben Allison
or #3 John Hollenbeck, so flip a coin.
Arranger: Maria Schneider. This should be a little clearer,
but I'll go with my sentimental favorite, #2 Carla Bley. RS:
Steven Bernstein. Agreed.
Producer: Michael Cuscuna. No idea. RS: Branford
Marsalis. I'll give this to #7 Seth Rosner, the guy who
runs Pi Recordings. Don't know if it's his production, but everything
he touches is worthwhile.
Blues Artist/Group: B.B.King. Let's stay on the jazz side
and give it to #3 James "Blood" Ulmer. RS: Derek Trucks.
None, not that Trucks or several of the others are bad.
Blues Album: James "Blood" Ulmer, Birthright.
I like it, but better still is #6 Odyssey the Band, Back in
Time -- Ulmer's other record. But those and a bad Susan
Tedeschi album are the only ones I've heard.
Beyond Artist/Group: Elvis Costello. Not something they
know much about, but #5 Kanye West is fine with me.
Beyond Album: Ry Cooder, Chavez Ravine. I've heard
7 of 10 here, and have 4 at A- or above, including their winner,
but the easy choice is Kanye West, Late Registration.
Of coruse, there's a lot more to Beyond.
Jazz Artist: Sonny Rollins. Don't know what this means,
but I'm a product guy, and of the finalists the guy who seems to
be everywhere these days is #7 Paul Motian, so let's go
with him. RS: Vijay Iyer. Agreed.
Jazz Group: Wayne Shorter Quartet. None. I'm still stuck
with the idea that a group is something other than a leader's band,
but 11 of 12 here are not only leader's bands, they're named after
the leader. The other one is #11 SF Jazz Collective, but they don't
win either -- partly because they never sent their second album.
RS: SF Jazz Collective. I'm partial to #9 The Claudia
Big Band: Maria Schneider Orchestra. I like the recent
records by #4 Liberation Music Orchestra and #7 Gerald Wilson
Orchestra, but both strike me as ad hoc, so I'll go with #10
Either/Orchestra. RS: Either/Orchestra. Agreed,
but I thought they'd risen -- they've done more for longer than
Hall of Fame: Jackie McLean. Agreed. I've been griping
for years that he wasn't even on the ballot -- see my obit post.
Too bad he had to die to get some attention. Same thing happened
to Steve Lacy the year before. Next up should be #3 Lee Konitz,
but I hope he gets in while he's still alive.
Jazz Album: Andrew Hill, Time Lines. I only have
three of the top twelve albums at A-, and didn't even hear two more
(Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau). So I'll go for Liberation Music
Orchestra, Not in Our Name over Sonny Rollins and Wayne
Shorter, but my real album lists are available elsewhere. The only
one I had under B+ was Terence Blanchard, Flow.
Historical Album: Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane,
At Carnegie Hall. Agreed. Enough already.
After this exercise, I filled out my Readers Poll ballot -- real
quick, since this is the deadline day:
- Hall of Fame: Lee Konitz
- Jazz Musician of the Year: Ken Vandermark
- Jazz Album of the Year: Jon Faddis, Terranga
- Jazz Historical Album of the Year: Irène Schweizer, Portrait
- Jazz Record Label of the Year: Sunnyside
- Jazz Combo: Vandermark Five
- Jazz Big Band: Either/Orchestra
- Blues Musician/Group of the Year: James "Blood" Ulmer
- Blues Album of the Year: Odyssey the Band, Back in Time
- Composer: Ben Allison
- Trumpet: Dennis Gonzalez
- Trombone: Ray Anderson
- Soprano Sax: Joe Giardullo
- Alto Sax: Anthony Braxton
- Tenor Sax: David Murray
- Baritone Sax: Hamiet Bluiett
- Flute: Robert Dick
- Clarinet: Marty Ehrlich
- Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer: Uri Caine
- Acoustic Piano: Irène Schweizer
- Organ: Melvin Rhyne
- Guitar: Joe Morris
- Bass (Acoustic & Electric): William Parker
- Drums: Hamid Drake
- Percussion: Hamid Drake
- Vibes: Joe Locke
- Misc. Instrument: Rabih Abou-Khalil
- Singer Male: Van Morrison
- Singer Female: Sheila Jordan
I wouldn't put too much weight on this ballot. In a couple of places
I just pulled names off the top of my head. It's easy to say that none
of these are bad answers; saying they're the right ones is something
One thing I'm always struck by in Downbeat's polls is not just how
orthodox the critics are but how Blue Note they are. The label vote --
Blue Note 277, ECM 141, Palmetto 77, Mosaic (a Blue Note subsidiary)
59, Verve 55 -- is one indication, but the roster placements are even
more striking, especially in the anomalies. Obviously, I'm not talking
about what Joe Lovano, Don Byron, Wynton Marsalis, or even Jason Moran
and Bill Charlap are scoring -- Moran and Charlap help Blue Note's
reputation as much as the reverse. But Robert Glasper #3 RS piano? He
might turn out to be better than his album (note singular) indicates,
but there are literally hundreds of young pianists who have accomplished
more -- they just don't have that Blue Note contract. Glasper's just
the most glaring example, but everyone on Blue Note's roster places
somewhere, and usually well above where I would put them.
I always figured that critics are obligated to go out of their
way to survey as much turf as possible, so the clustering in this
poll strikes me as dereliction of duty. On the other hand, as a
working critic, one thing I can read between the lines is that the
aesthetic constriction has a lot to do with which labels support
the most critics. Nine of the top twelve record labels give me
consistent support, and the other three certainly ship a lot of
promos, even if not always to me. (Mosaic and ArtistShare are odd
cases; Nonesuch is presumably a problem that can be fixed.) Again,
you can prove this case by looking for anomalies. Pi Recordings
doesn't release much, but they support their releases well, and
their artists pop up here and there; e.g., under RS alto saxophone
we find #2 Rudresh Mahanthappa and #10 Steve Lehman. I don't mean
to knock either, but they wouldn't be there if critics didn't hear
On the other hand, even though I do a better job than most, I
get so much stuff coming to my door that I don't bother chasing
down a lot of things that I should -- especially when it comes to
labels like Tzadik and Leo that never send anything, that I hear
mostly when a musician sends something. Before I started writing,
I would buy anything that sounded promising -- but then I could
afford to, and now I never have the time to play anything after
I've written about it, so the prices look steeper than ever. Most
critics are in this same boat, which gives us these partial views.
The useful thing about a poll is that it statistically integrates
a bunch of views. Downbeat's poll is as skewed as Cadence's, but
it's useful nonetheless. You just need to figure out how to read
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Music: Current count 12268  rated (+30), 931  unrated (+1).
Two or three days of jazz prospecting, then a dive into Recycled Goods
to pull the September column together. At the moment, I'm up to 11 main
reviews, an "In Series" special on Stax Profiles, and a mess of
Briefly Noted -- total 59 records. That's more than enough, so I'm
starting to build up an inventory for October, and should be able to
wrap things up nicely in a day or two. Jazz CG should appear this week.
The pending queue there is getting huge. Still, I feel like I'm chasing
my tail on all this. The office space is a total mess; the shelves are
falling over. A lot of blog ideas are pending. Total mess. I'm starting
to wonder how I manage at all.
- Konono No. 1: Congotronics (2004 , Crammed Discs):
Second album, following the live Lubuaku on tiny Dutch label Terp.
This one is on a Belgian label, but better packaged as part of a series
of contemporary electrobeat from Kinshasa's favelas -- or whatever they're
called; in these parts they're called slums, and better distributed via
Ryko. Enough rock critics got this that is placed in last year's P&J
poll, but I haven't found that connection yet -- this is used loot. The
music is half likembe (thumb piano), half garbage percussion, giving it
a spare feel, even when they pump up the volume. A-
- Wilson Pickett: The Definitive Collection (1962-72
, Atlantic/Rhino, 2CD):
A soul shouter from the Alabama cotton patch, Pickett had a hit with
the Falcons with a line about "the midnight hour." Atlantic picked
him up, then sent him to Stax where he found his rhythm and turned
his line into a hit. He recorded for Atlantic until 1971, when Muscle
Shoals dried up and his Philadelphia makeover didn't take. But give
him a beat and he could rise above it, nailing improbable covers or
just projecting a macho posture so scary it could be true. His 1992
best-of A Man and a Half is still in print, offering everything
here plus 14 more songs for an extra $5 list. You won't miss those
extras here, nor mind them there.
- Savoy Blues (1944-92 , Savoy Jazz, 3CD):
The jukebox jazz of the '40s was called jump blues or just r&b,
and that sums up Savoy's take on the blues -- Hot Lips Page, Joe
Turner, Billy Eckstine, Helen Humes, Joe Williams, Esther Phillips,
LaVern Baker; that's good for half, the rest coming from catalog
acquisitions, with John Lee Hooker the odd man out.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #11, Part 4)
Another short jazz prospecting week, as I had to shift gears to
work on September's Recycled Goods column. That's almost done now,
though it's tempting to build up a hedge against October, as those
deadline tend to sneak up on me. The other project for this coming
week will be "done" file purge as the next Jazz CG gets started in
earnest. The last one, #10, should be out in the Voice on Tuesday
or Wednesday -- not sure of the details, since I don't normally get
to see the paper edition. Should be, I said; still don't have the
cut list, so you'll probably know what's in there before I do.
Meanwhile, the incoming queue has been piling up, with a lot of
things looking promising.
Tone Collector (2004 , Jazzaway): The group
here is Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Jeff Davis
on drums. The record was recorded live in Stockholm at the Glenn
Miller Café. I filed it under Malaby, but further research suggests
Opsvik may be, if not the leader, at least the guiding light. Malaby
doesn't even mention the record on his website. Opsvik lists a dozen
or more groups and projects, describing Tone Collector as "Mostly
free improvising trio, debut cd released on jazzaway records in
2005." That holds out the prospect for more, but this just seems
to have been one of those night when the group met, improvised
something, had it recorded, and let it out. Malaby is rougher and
more forthright than elsewhere -- a frequent sideman, he tends to
fit in rather than stand out. But Opsvik is equally conspicuous --
his bass has real presence here, often setting not just the pace
but the tone as well. Davis does what most drummers do in these
free-for-alls, which is to maintain a parallel commentary.
Crimetime Orchestra: Life Is a Beautiful Monster
(2004 , Jazzaway): Veteran bassist Bjørnar Andresen gets a
"featuring" credit here -- he passed away three weeks after this
session, but to say he was featured is a misnomer. The group is
large -- ten pieces, including three saxes, two brass, guitar,
keyboards, both electric and acoustic bass, and drums. The title
cut -- in seven parts, most of the album -- is straightforward in
its aim to create beauty out of monstrous sound, and in that it
mostly succeeds. The group is mostly -- maybe all -- Norwegian,
with tenor saxophonist Vidar Johansen first listed and perhaps
Anders Aarum Trio: First Communion (2005 ,
Jazzaway): Norwegian pianist, odds that he'll show up on ECM some
day are way better than 50-50. I regret not having cited his
Absence in Mind (Jazzaway) as an Honorable Mention back
in the JCG that featured that Sonny Simmons + strings record,
one Aarum contributed so much to. Only reason I didn't was that
I got tongue-tied, as often happens with piano records -- I do
know when I like one, but still have a lot of trouble explaining
why. This one is less muscular, more contemplative, which probably
means it's even more likely to slip through the cracks. Talks, or
groans, a bit like Jarrett. Plays a bit like him too.
Sonny Simmons: I'll See You When You Get There
(2004-05 , Jazzaway): The first of a planned three
Sonny-goes-to-Norway records matched the veteran avant saxophonist
with a sharp trio and a bank of strings. Now the second one goes
to the other extreme, giving him ten duets: six with bassist Mats
Eilertsen, two with pianist Anders Aarum, two with drummer Ole
Thomas Kolberg. The drums have the most immediate appeal, probably
because they add some snap, but the others are fine accompanists.
I'm less certain what I think of Sonny in this setting -- not used
to him playing so alone. Wonder what's next -- maybe like the three
bears the third will be just right..
Jazzmob: Infernal Machine (2005 , Jazzaway):
The nominal similarity between Jon Klette's Norwegian band and Sex
Mob seems to be based on a shared desire to advance jazz popularity
by simply juicing it up -- especially as opposed to waterng it down.
In flow and dynamics, this sextet sounds like a swing band, but the
tone is avant, and fusion is skipped over completely. They do this
with two saxes and trumpet, which play together less for harmony
than for comradeship -- pretty much the same reason people drink
together. Anders Aarum spends most of the record on Rhodes, which
qualifies as the avant-sounding successor to the B3. I don't quite
buy it all, but it makes for a good time anyway.
Santi Careta Group: Obertura (2005 , Fresh
Sound New Talent): Guitarist, Spanish (or Catallan) I would assume,
although the first website I found anything about him on appears to
speak Basque (Euskaraz) as a first language. I've also heard his
duo with Sergi Sirvent, but haven't heard the organ trio he plays
in, something called Asstrio. The Group here is a guitar-bass-drums
trio plus moody tenor sax on four cuts and a singer on one more.
The trio is itself rather slight, but Careta's guitar has a nice
ring. But the add-ons don't add much, and are somewhat in the way,
although I'm not quite sure of what.
Joyce Cooling: Revolving Door (2006, Narada Jazz):
My editor thinks I'm some kind of expert on smooth jazz just because
I've been a good enough sport to listen to what I've been sent. But
I get less and less of it, especially when guys like Anthony Braxton
score Pick Hits. Also when I review records like this one. Cooling's
a so-so guitarist who can handle a mid-tempo blues or maintain a
shallow groove. Her voice isn't bad but it's even less capable of
redeeming a bad song than her guitar. Typical here is "Cool of the
Night," which even with vocal oodles isn't a cheesy enough cliché
for disco. Still, this is a big improvement over her last one.
McGill Manring Stevens: What We Do (2001-04 ,
Free Electric Sound, 2CD): What I think of, referring back to Cream,
as a Power Trio -- electric guitar, electric bass, drums -- but no
vocals, minimal blues, a lot of jazz movement. The latter is more
clear on the studio disc, a collection of jazz standards that they
don't really murder, despite their liner notes: "Quick! Somebody
call the JAZZ POLICE! Where's STANLEY CROUCH when you need him?"
The second disc is a live set from 2001, mostly originals -- a bit
more power there, a bit cruder. I like what they do soundwise, but
find it a bit unadventurous at such length.
Anke Helfrich Trio: Better Times Ahead (2005 ,
Double Moon): Pianist, German I think, although her website bio only
starts in 1989 with studies in the Netherlands. This appears to be
her second Trio recording, both with featured guests -- Mark Turner
on 2000's You'll See, Roy Hargrove here. Hargrove plays on
three of nine cuts, including one of two Monk covers. The byword
here is lively: everything comes up bright, shiny, vibrant. Even
Hargrove, who sounds like he's having a lot more fun than he has on
his own records lately.
Miles Davis: Cool & Collected (1956-84 ,
Columbia/Legacy): Cool wasn't a defining attribute for Davis, but
assembling a superb compilation of his slow stuff from 1956-65 is
a no-brainer, as three-fourths of this one proves. But pushing the
Gil Evans angle to 1984 turns the ice to slush, and the remix is
even more plastic.
Stompin' at the Savoy: The Original Indie-Label
(1944-61 , Savoy Jazz, 4CD): Herman Lubinsky launched his
record label in 1942, but between the war and the recording ban
didn't release regularly until 1944. A notorious skinflint, or
perhaps just a cheat, he managed to keep his label in business
until his death in 1974. His early records were mostly jazz, and
later on he gravitated toward gospel, but this box focuses on
r&b singles. Early on he had hits with novelties like Dusty
Fletcher's "Open the Door Richard" and dance grooves like Hal
Singer's "Cornbread" and Paul Williams' "The Hucklebuck," but
they trail off over time, and only two songs on the fourth disc
cracked the r&b charts -- Big Maybelle's "Candy" is the best
known, and Nappy Brown his most consistent performer. Which means
that as the period's r&b labels go, little here is essential.
Nonetheless, it is remarkably consistent within its limits.
Savoy on Central Avenue (1941-52 , Savoy Jazz,
2 CD): Though based on Newark, Savoy seemed to have a pipeline into
Los Angeles. Just how this worked isn't clear from the scanty doc.
This mingles locals like Johnny Otis and Harold Land and visitors
like Charlie Parker, while running the gamut of '40s r&b and
jazz -- often the same thing.
Charlie Parker: The Genius of Charlie Parker (1944-49
, Savoy Jazz, 2CD):
I have a confession or two. I've always been turned off by the extreme
adulation accorded Parker. He was an exceptionally charismatic person,
in his early death as much as his fast life, and he had a huge, almost
immediate impact on the music. But encountering him late, after I had
absorbed Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton, it took me a long time
to hear how anything in Parker matched up with the hype. For one thing,
Parker's regarded as jazz's quintessential modernist, but already by the
late-'70s, when I first heard him, he sounded old -- his innovations so
commonplace they'd become mainstream clichés. He never made it to the
LP era: his records were short 78s -- head, flashy solo, reprise -- but
too arty for the jukebox. He was the pied piper who led jazz away from
its swing-era popularity, making up in intensity what he lost in numbers.
His cult was such that every scraps of live recording, regardless of how
crappy the sound, has been added to the canon -- more clutter for us to
sort through. But after having listened to all the Parker regarded as
great, the case comes down to the Savoy and Dial singles and the Royal
Roost live shots collected here -- not that there isn't more: the title
is actually recycled from an old 14-cut Savoy LP, but only three songs
are duplicated here. Some of the fast ones, like his solo on Dizzy
Gillespie's "Shaw 'Nuff" or his "Bird Gets the Worm" are remarkable
lines of improvisation. At a more moderate pace, his tone and poise
shines through on pieces like "Yardbird Suite." No doubt Bird deserves
at least some of his reputation.
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further
listening the first time around.
Jamie Stewardson: Jhaptal (2003 , Fresh Sound
New Talent): I'm less impressed by the leader-guitarist than by the
company he keeps: especially Tony Malaby, who again somehow manages
to keep his tenor sax toned down but still quietly carries the day,
but also Alexei Tsiganov on vibes, John Hebert on bass, and George
Schuller on drums. But it's hard to evaluate postbop composers --
Stewardson wrote all of the pieces here, evidently passing his best
lines to his band.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
The Ways of War
Andrew Bacevich has been an insightful critic of American militarism
recently, but he's made a faux pas in titling a recent
"The Islamic Way of War" -- unless we can blame the title on whoever
edits The American Conservative? It's safe to say that there is
nothing specifically Islamic about the war tactics used by Islamist
fighters against the US and/or Israel. Rather, the tactics represent
adjustments to the enemy, reflecting both sides' relative strengths
and weaknesses. In other words, what's happening is what happens in
wars everywhere: they grind toward an unwinnable stalemate.
Bacevich's formulation underestimates the skills of Arab fighters
in past wars. In particular, Egypt and Syria were more successful at
the start of the 1973 war than anyone expected -- even themselves,
which caused them trouble later on. Syria also held its own in 1982
in Lebanon, despite Israel's dominance of the air. Neither of those
cases involved guerrilla resistance because the Arab armies weren't
initially overwhelmed. There's no need to fight a guerrilla war --
the more general case of Bacevich's "Islamic way of war" -- until
you've been overrun. On the other hand, by the time the US invaded
Iraq in 2003, there were several clearly successful examples of
armed resistance to northern occupiers in the Arab/Muslim world:
the Algerian revolt against France, the Afghan revolt against the
Soviet Union, and Hezbollah's revolt against Israel. Palestinian
intifadas against Israel have been less successful but no less
tenacious. These revolts go back many years. Moreover, there are
no comparable examples of northern occupations in the Arab/Muslim
world that have not been similarly resisted. The US ran into the
same dynamics in Lebanon in 1984 and Somalia in 1992. So it took
a tremendous amount of self-delusion to think that we could just
roll into Baghdad and be welcomed with flowers.
The interesting thing about these wars isn't that the mujahedin
have managed to adjust and become more effective at fighting the
occupiers. It's that the imperialists -- the US and Israel -- show
signs of losing the will to fight. The first sign of this is that
they increasingly hide behind their air power, inflicting massive
collateral damage which undermines them politically but at least
allows them to kill from a safe distance. The Soviets' mining of
Afghanistan was a similar move. On the ground, the occupiers' fear
translates to exceptional brutality, to hostage taking, to torture,
all of which result in further political loss. The pointlessness
of the occupation starts to seep into the soldiers' consciousness,
reinforcing the fear, hostility, desire to escape, and doubt about
the program. Even when not conscious, the stress undermines essential
The key thing to understand is that the playing field isn't level.
The occupiers fail merely by not pacifying the people, and that can
be foiled by a small but dedicated minority. Bacevich sums this up:
What the Islamic Way of War does mean to both Israel and to the
United States is this: the Arabs now possess -- and know that they
possess -- the capacity to deny us victory, especially in any
altercation that occurs on their own turf and among their own
people. To put it another way, neither Israel nor the United States
today possesses anything like the military muscle needed to impose its
will on the various governments, nation-states, factions, and
political movements that comprise our list of enemies. For politicians
in Jerusalem or Washington to persist in pretending otherwise is the
It's time for Americans to recognize that the enterprise that some
neoconservatives refer to as World War IV is unwinnable in a strictly
military sense. Indeed, it's past time to re-examine the post-Cold War
assumption that military power provides the preferred antidote to any
and all complaints that we have with the world beyond our borders.
I would add that this WWIV thing is unwinnable by political means
as well, in large part because the military impulse backfired. The
only answer is to come to an accommodation based on giving up ground
that is not really tenable anyway. This should be easy, in that it
is hard to see much gross benefit for Israel occupying the West Bank
and Gaza, let alone Lebanon, or for the US occupying Iraq -- never
mind the net benefit once you factor the costs of occupation in. But
that accommodation is nearly impossible to make without changing the
whole tenor and direction of the political system that staked so much
on those wars. France didn't withdraw from Algeria until DeGaulle
came to power, and the Soviet Union didn't withdraw from Afghanistan
until Gorbachev committed what turned out to be political suicide.
Unfortunately, neither the US nor Israel have suffered enough to
come to their senses.
Friday, August 25, 2006
One Down, Another Downer
I've been slow blogging this week. Things have been interfering with
my normal life, plus I've been more successful than usual at tuning out
the news. Still, I thought I should note two items in Thursday's Wichita
The first is a lengthy obituary starting on Page 1B for Rev. Gary
Cox, the pastor at University Congregational Church. It's unusual for
the Eagle to devote so much space to any obituary. I don't know what
motivated the Eagle, but everyone I know who knew Cox held him in
exceptionally high regard. I hardly knew him at all, but he was a
founder of People of Faith for Peace, and I knew of him through his
steadfast work with local antiwar groups. But I also knew of him from
friends tracking news of his brave fight with renal cancer. He was
51. Interestingly, he only joined the ministry less than a decade
ago, after spending most of his adult life working in a car factory.
He only got his Divinity degree after he was diagnosed with cancer.
[See below for corrections.]
Cox's death is a setback for the antiwar movement here, but things
like that happen. Still, I found it bizarre that the the same issue of
the paper would have an editorial column from the paper's right-wing
idiot-savant Brent Castillo announcing that his wife is pregnant with
what he already counts has his seventh child. His column's title is
"Conservatives have fertility on their side." Of course, it's not just
Castillo who's contributing to this demographic trend. He cites a study
that shows that 100 random liberals have 147 children, while 100 random
conservatives have 208 -- "a 40 percent fertility gap, and it's growing
I suppose being a childless atheist makes this juxtaposition between
the admirable but unfathomably pious Reverend and the chipper moron all
the more painful. I can't argue that my concern with the fate of humanity
is born of self-interest for my genes, let alone my immortal soul. What
concern I do have has more to do with verifying that my understanding of
how the world works tracks reality, but I'm also more concerned with what
happens now than what might happen in the future -- what's happening now
is pretty alarming in its own right.
Castillo dismisses liberal concerns about overpopulation, then adds,
"research on the problem of overpopulation is debatable." Well, if you're
dumb enough, anything can be debated. It's only when you know something
that your debate options start to be limited. We actually know quite a
bit about population dynamics by observing other species. It's been hard
to apply that knowledge to humans mostly because human ingenuity has been
able, thus far at least, to expand our resource base enough to avoid a
severe crash. Julian Simon and other "cornucopians" have argued that the
resource base will always expand to meet our growth needs, and that growth
itself will drive this expansion. That argument is especially appealing
to people of faith -- in Castillo's sense, if not necessarily in Cox's --
because it exempts them from responsibility. All Castillo has to do is
have more children and God will take care of them -- unless, of course,
those dastardly liberals get in the way.
This argument is frustrating, not so much because it is wrong as
because its advocates are so determined to stay wrong regardless of
how much worse they make things. If one group could defeat another
by outbreeding them, the Palestinians would have had their way with
Israel. But the Palestinian birth rate hasn't even led to positive
economic growth, much less political power. And this is not just
Israeli repression: all around the world high birth rates correlate
with poverty, while deliberately depressed birth rates are often the
springboard to economic growth -- China is the poster nation here,
but is hardly alone. The reason is pretty simple: as our world
becomes more complex, more dependent on science and technology,
and more vulnerable to malicious disruption, parents need to put
more effort into raising their children; but time and energy is
limited, so it makes more sense to focus on fewer children.
Liberals understand this, even if sometimes they try to build
their intuition up into a plan to save the world. Lots of real
conservatives -- i.e., the kind with money to protect, as opposed
to Castillo's kind -- also get this: even if they can afford the
bills, they don't have more time than anyone else. The far right
used to be down right eugenic about poor folks breeding, at least
until they found they could gain votes attacking birth control.
And rolling back the trend toward smaller families does sort of
fit into their general plan to return to the robber baron age.
But the world of 1880 had half as many people and twice as much
easily tapped oil in the ground -- as such, they had leeway for
growth that we no longer have. But even they didn't have a smooth
ride ahead: the closest thing to a global disaster we've had to
face so far was the Great Depression of the '30s, which led to
Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, and World War.
Richard Heinberg's The Party's Over has a population
growth chart that tracks pretty closely to mankind's ability to
tap energy sources, principally oil. He then tries to project
that chart into the future when oil supplies diminish and become
increasingly, eventually prohibitively, expensive. Doing so he
forsees a population drop -- not all the way back to pre-oil
level, but a significant drop nonetheless. This is just one of
several looming crises we'll face over the next century or two,
and it's the sort of thing that no one alive today has the first
bit of experience at dealing with. Makes you wonder how anyone
will deal with it, much less Castillo's benighted kids.
Most likely the worst of this won't be my problem -- not that
what we're seeing now isn't plenty bad already. You do what you
can do, with the time you got. Gary Cox didn't get enough.
Postscript (2006-09-07): I got the following note from
Leigh Cox, the wife (now widow) of Rev. Gary Cox, correcting some
of my facts:
Rev. Dr. Gary Cox worked on an auto assembly line for only 3 years
in the late 1970s. In the 1980s and early 1990s, he worked as a
regional salesman for a division of ITT. He began seminary in 1996,
graduating from Phillips Theological Seminary in 1999 with a Master of
Divinity degree. Gary received his Doctor of Ministry degree from
Chicago Theological Seminary in 2005, after his cancer diagnosis.
I didn't see a way to patch up what I had written above, so just
noted the error, which comes around to reflect back on me. Not sure
if I knew about the sales work and just passed it over in favor of
the factory work. I tend to associate the latter with working class
notions of solidarity, which might have affected Cox's decision to
enter the ministry. On the other hand, factory work is often no more
than a way to make a living, and one shouldn't read too much into it,
especially for such a brief period. The sales background frames the
choice somewhat differently, but that may be wrong as well. I did,
of course, know that his ministry began before he was diagnosed with
cancer, and that he graduated from seminary before his ministry.
F5 Record Report (#4: August 24, 2006)
This week's F5 Record Report is up on the
The records reviewed are:
- The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Hey, Look Me Over (Arbors) A- [jazz]
- Charles Lloyd: Sangam (ECM) A- [jazz]
- Cheikh Lô: Lamp Fall (World Circuit/Nonesuch) B+ [world]
- The Rough Guide to Bhangra Dance (1998-2005, World Music Network) A- [world, dance]
- Run the Road Volume 2 (Vice) B+ [rap, dance]
- Darrell Scott: The Invisible Man (Full Light) B [country]
- Wayne Scott: This Weary Way (Full Light) A- [country]
- The Streets: The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living (Vice/Atlantic) A- [rap]
I sent next week's column off to the editor today, so it should appear
in print at the usual dropoff points here in Wichita on Wednesday, and on
the web around next Friday. I'm still mostly pulling stuff that I've
written previously, including some 2005 albums, but the Streets is new --
the notebook entry was useless on it -- and even the recycleds are coming
in for more editing than I expected. For example, in next week's column,
I picked out Bob Rockwell's Ben Webster tribute, then started wondering
whether the F5 audience knows much about Webster, so I doubled the length
of that review with a laundry list of essential Webster albums.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Billmon quotes a report on Bush's press conference, where he urged
France to step up to the task of leading the UN forces in Lebanon --
you know, the ones supposed to disarm Hezbollah after Israel failed
to do so:
"France has had a very close relationship with Lebanon," Bush said
during his Monday press conference. "There's historical ties with
Lebanon. I would hope they would put more troops in. They understand
the region as well as anybody."
France understands Lebanon, of course, because they ran the place
following WWI under a League of Nations mandate. They did about as
bad a job as the British did with their mandate in Palestine, and
for pretty much the same reasons: dividing the local population into
warring groups so they could appear to be the protectors of order.
The only difference is that the British imported Jews to buttress
their colonialism, while the French found local groups willing to
be adopted -- principally the Marionite Christians and the Druse.
Lebanon's civil wars follow the same pattern of local groups trying
to advance their interests by allying with foreigners. That Hezbollah
has looked to Iran for support fits this pattern, but it doesn't give
France any special insight -- other than the memory that as long as
France was in charge, the Shiites were kept at the absolute bottom
of Lebanon's confessional barrel. Also the memory that the last time
France sent "peacekeeping" troops like the Americans they sided with
Israel and left after a devastating suicide attack.
In other words, Bush's insistence that France lead the way in
disarming Lebanon is as historically deaf as the time he invited
the Brits, Turks and Mongols to help the US occupy Iraq.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Music: Current count 12238  rated (+30), 930  unrated (+22).
Kind of worn and weary after getting back from Detroit, so I spent most of
the week playing various finds from the record scrounging instead of working
on new jazz, recycleds, or whatever. Hence most of what there is to report
- AALY Trio/DKV Trio: Double or Nothing (1999 ,
Okka Disk): AALY is Mats Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and Kjell
Nordeson. DKV, more straightforwardly, is Ken Vandermark, Kent Kessler,
and Hamid Drake. Starts off with a hornless stretch, presumably to let
the rhythm sections establish themselves and start to mesh. The two
saxophonists never grate like they've done on occasion in the past,
but they do generate agreeable heat. B+(*)
- Horace Andy: Feel Good All Over: Anthology (1970-76
, Trojan/Sanctuary, 2CD): A durable star who navigated all the
changes in Jamaican music from rocksteady onward, Andy's voice is
light and sweet, his articulation subtle, his roots primly rasta;
even his hits take a while to sneak up on you. B+(**)
- Jean-Jacques Avenel: Waraba (2004, Songlines):
French bassist "with his Mande friends" -- flautist Michel Edelin
sounds like a ringer, but the kora, bala and ngoni players are no
doubt the real thing. The African music is exceptionally gentle,
with the bass laying back in the grooves and the flutes neither
here nor there. This is the sort of thing that I imagine New Age
aficionados would love if they ever got the chance to hear it,
which isn't likely on a Canadian avant-jazz label. A-
- Derek Bailey/John Stevens/Trevor Watts: Dynamics of the
Impromptu (1973-74, Entropy): This strikes me as typical of
the scratchy, abstract improv that Bailey recorded throughout his
career -- not that I've heard a lot of it (five albums, including
this one), nor made much sense out of it. This one doesn't help
shed much light on the guitarist, but Stevens and Watts add some
interesting wrinkles to the scratchy, abstract improv, and that's
enough to keep it interesting. B+(*)
- Scott Colley: Initial Wisdom (2001 , Palmetto):
Well regarded mainstream bassist, does a lot of session work, has won
a few Downbeat TDWR awards, recorded six albums under his own name.
This one is smartly conceived postbop -- a quartet with guitarist Adam
Rogers, drummer Bill Stewart, and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane. As far as
I know, Coltrane has done nothing in his career to embarrass himself.
It's probably unfair to say he sounds like his dad; more accurate to
say that he sounds like no one in particular, rather generic, which
these days is more Coltrane-influenced than not, but he's very good
with his dynamics, always has something interesting to blow. And he's
typically solid here, but Rogers is even more impressive. That may
well be a tribute to Colley's lines. B+(**)
- Eddie Condon/Wild Bill Davison/Ken Davern/Dick Wellstood/Gene
Krupa: Jazz at the New School (1972, Chiaroscuro): Condon
gets first credit alphabetically, but this also works as his swan
song. Davern, at 36-37, would be the youngster in the group, but he's
the standout. Fine old music at the New School -- nuthin' wrong with
- Skeeter Davis: RCA Country Legends (1953-71 ,
Buddha): As a solo artist, she doesn't have much worth remembering:
a fluke hit with the maudlin "The End of the World" and the better
advised, more spirited "Gonna Get Along Without You." So they've
filled this out with cuts from the Davis Sisters, her sister act
from the '50s. They try their hands at "Single Girl" and "Foggy
Mountain Top" and "Rock-a-Bye Boogie," distinguishing themselves
at none. B-
- Defunkt: Heroes (1990, DIW): Joe Bowie's funk
group, produced by the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Sounds good on paper,
but the two Hendrix covers neither ignite nor deviate in surprising
directions -- perhaps an instance of hero worship -- and the others
don't merit much more than a cursory notice. B
- Gogol Bordello: Multi Kontra Culti Vs. Irony (2002,
Rubric): Haven't heard Voi-La Intruder, which came out a few
months before this one, but had been recorded earlier. Don't know
what to make of Christgau's omission of this one after rating the
other a low HM -- later he says "for two albums, Eugene Hutz's
concept was better than his songs," so that's probably his view,
even if the accounting doesn't quite add up. (He wrote that after
J.U.F. bumped the count to three.) My preference for this
one over J.U.F. may be because I find the Gypsy punk concept
more accessible in this simpler form, or it may be just that I got
here last. Not sure that I haven't underrated all of the three albums
I've heard. B+(***)
- The Best of Lesley Gore (20th Century Masters: The Millennium
Collection) (1963-67 , Mercury): She had a #1 pop single
in 1963 with a teen tantrum called "It's My Party," a snappy follow up
with the #5 charting "Judy's Turn to Cry," and two more top ten singles
in the next six months. After the magnificent "You Don't Own Me" the
hits tailed off, and she was done by age 21. The 2-CD It's My Party:
The Mercury Anthology is way too much, but this series' artificial
(aka cheap) 12-cut limit fits nicely, covering all eleven of her top-40
singles plus the #76 "Hey Now." She was as good as she needed to be,
but like most teen stars she was someone else's creation, dependent
on others' songs and production -- Quincy Jones handled the latter.
Time: 28:06. B+(**)
- Craig Harris: Black Bone (1983 , Soul Note):
Trombonist-led quintet, with George Adams' tenor sax the other horn,
Donald Smith on piano, Fred Hopkins and Charli Persip in back. This
was his first album, after an apprenticeship that included Sun Ra,
Abdullah Ibrahim, and David Murray. Strikes me as full of ideas but
inconsistent, with the 13:02 "Blackwell" the standout on a rhythm
that justifies its length. B+(**)
- Tony Malaby: Sabino (2000, Arabesque): Early album
by a saxophonist who would turn out to be one of the most dependable
of the coming decade, working with a good group -- Marc Ducret,
Michael Formanek, Tom Rainey -- showing promise. B+(*)
- Bill McHenry: Graphic (1998 , Fresh Sound
New Talent): A tenor saxophonist I've heard good things about but
hadn't run into before, in a quartet with Ben Monder on guitar,
Reid Anderson on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Same lineup
and similar aesthetic to Scott Colley's record above, but a good
deal more delicate -- not what one would suspect from Anderson
and Cleaver, who rarely emerge from the shadows. But I like his
tone, and how Monder melts into the background. B+(**)
- Mylo: Destroy Rock & Roll (2004 ,
RCA/Breast Fed): Well, not really. They're mostly out to get
Michael Jackson, and even that's kinda fake. Cute, though.
- Paris: Sonic Jihad (2003, Guerrilla Funk): Never
heard his early albums, but his work on Public Enemy's latest got
me curious. PE and Dead Prez also appear here, and no doubt that
helps. Chuck D is probably the sharper thinker as well as the more
compelling beatmaster, but Paris has an attitude for the times.
He's more ideological, more paranoid than I am, but the main lines
of his analysis are valid. A-
- Mondo Mambo: The Best of Pérez Prado & His Orchestra
(1950-61 , Rhino): Drawn from the same well as Legacy's recent
The Best of Pérez Prado: The Original Mambo No. 5, I give the
nod to the more recent one, even though this is longer and covers more
of the angles -- more vocals, including one by Rosemary Clooney, more
guest shots, probably bigger hits, but the other one strikes me as
more consistent, which befits a mostly instrumental album. But I
haven't done my due dilligence here, so that's just an impression.
One of the -- perhaps the -- major figures of Afro-Cuban jazz
in the '50s. A-
- Stan Rogers: Fogarty's Cove (1977, Fogarty's Cove):
Canadian folksinger, originally from Ontario but adopts Nova Scotian
themes here, down to the celtic airs. This came highly recommended,
but I've put it on too many times over years without it connecting.
Someone else's cuppa something. B
- Max Romeo: Open the Iron Gate (1973-77 ,
Blood & Fire): A simple man with important messages and a superb
rhythm section. I'm not sure just how this intersects with Island's
Ultimate Collection, which covers the same period and a bit
earlier, and is recommended over this for "War Ina Babylon" -- here
you get the less clear but very similar "Fire Fe the Vatican." On
the other hand, the world could learn lessons here, especially in
matters of war and poverty. And "Open the Iron Gate" is tailor-made
for resolving the Palestinian conflict. Don't know if he was aware
of Jabotinsky's Iron Wall concept, but a wall without a gate isn't
even a prison -- more like a coffin. A-
- The Roots: Home Grown! The Beginners Guide to Understanding
the Roots Volume Two (, Geffen): In a bit of ambivalence,
I only bought Volume One when these came out, so picking up
this one rounds out the set. I don't have eyes good enough to sort
through the orange-on-brown booklet print to figure out when these
pieces were recorded.
- Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Matka Joanna (1994 ,
ECM): With Bobo Stenson, Anders Jormin and Tony Oxley, providing
straightforward support that leaves the trumpeter free to paint
his dark expressionism. This marked Stanko's return to ECM -- he
had recorded Balladnya in 1975, but otherwise was limited
to obscure Polish labels -- and started a remarkable series of
- Rappers Delight: The Best of Sugarhill Gang
(1979-85 , Rhino): One of the first groups to lift rap out
of Last Poets territory and put it on the pop charts, they didn't
convince me when they first appeared, and sound pre-Old School
now. It's not that the beats have lost their freshness -- disco
still sounds fine to me, too -- but what the words reveal is best
forgotten. Still, I've lost track of whatever it was that annoyed
me back in the day. Graded leniently for historians. B+(*)
- Steve Swell & Chris Kelsey: Observations
(1996, CIMP): Two-horn duets, a minor avant format that rarely
pays off, probably because the sound narrows too much when they
harmonize but doesn't spread out enough when they diverge. But
this one works better than most. Kelsey's soprano sax provides
some contrast with Swell's trombone. May also help that Swell
mostly sets the pace. B+(**)
- Territory Band-2: Atlas (2001 , Okka Disk):
This is the second instantiation of Ken Vandermark's big band, named
for but otherwise bearing no resemblance to the Kansas City blues
powerhouses of the '30s. I've yet to make much sense out of this
grouping. For one thing, I'm not sure whether it's a vehicle for
Vandermark's compositions, or whether the pieces are mostly holes
for free improv which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. The
group lineup has a couple of interesting twists beyond the usual --
three brass, three reeds, piano, bass, drums -- with Kevin Drumm's
electronics, Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello, and Tim Mulvenna's percussion.
The most distinctive thing on the record is a loud buzz that shifts
the whole album in a new direction. The cello also breaks loose in
interesting directions. Many more interesting details, including
some near-swing in the early going and slick clarinet later on.
- Miroslav Vitous: Miroslav (1976-77 , Freedom):
Classically trained in Hungary, an exceptionally talented bass player,
almost by accident he fell into fusion circles in New York, building
a reputation on one small facet of his talent. This one is something
else, not free or avant, but experimental in a low key way: overdubbed
bass and keyboards, with a little extra percussion from Don Alias and
Armen Halburian. Would be at home on ECM, which was developing much
the same aesthetic, but isn't quite developed enough to be compelling.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #11, Part 3)
I spent most of my week back from Detroit playing the odd things
that I picked up in the used shops north of town. So I didn't get to
unpacking some of the new jazz until late in the week. Thought about
slipping another week, but I figure next week doesn't look promising
either -- what with Recycled Goods looming. Still, I have a few things
to report here, and will have a few more next week. That's about when
the 10th Jazz Consumer Guide will finally appear in the Village Voice,
so it makes sense that prospecting for #11 won't move into high gear
until #10 is out. Lot of promising stuff on the shelves for then.
Art Ensemble of Chicago: Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City:
Live at Iridium (2004 , Pi, 2CD): Recorded a couple of
months after bassist Malachi Favors passed, this selection from a
long stand at New York's Iridium is intended as rebirth, renewal,
survival. Jaribu Shahid, from James Carter's old Detroit quartet,
is Flavors' replacement. Corey Wilkes does a pretty good job of
plugging the other hole, left by the irrepressible, but evidently
not irreplaceable, Lester Bowie. Roscoe Mitchell is more clearly
the leader than before, but that's not such a bad thing. Not sure
how high this should rate, but it's sure good to hear them.
Ted Nash & Still Evolved: In the Loop (2006,
Palmetto): Another album name reiterated as group name: Still
Evolved is Nash's postbop quintet, with Marcus Printup on trumpet
opposite Nash's tenor sax, and a rhythm section that frequently
works together: Frank Kimbrough on piano, Ben Allison on bass,
and Matt Wilson on drums. In many ways, this is the ideal postbop
group. Certainly there's much to admire here, but I find the fancy
harmony and slippery rhythm indecisive, when they're probably just
Soft Machine Legacy: Live at the New Morning
(2005 , Inakustik, 2CD): Half of the '70s lineup, with Hugh
Hopper on bass and Elton Dean on alto sax or saxello, but the
reunion group sounds much tougher with guitarist John Etheridge
replacing Mike Ratledge's keybs. Too bad that Dean died shortly
afterwards. His avant-riffing over steady grooves is a fine
solution to the fusion puzzle.
Scott McLemore: Found Music (2000 , Fresh Sound
New Talent): Drummer, originally from Virginia, now makes his home in
Iceland, which I suppose could be described as equally inconvenient to
everywhere. He wrote all of the pieces here, providing a near-perfect
left-of-mainstream postbop textbook. The band is equal to the task,
with Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Ben Monder on guitar, and Ben Street
on bass. Sounds a little scrawny for something so near-perfect, but
maybe I'm just a bit jaded these days.
Sebastian Noelle Quartet: Across the River (2005
, Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, based in Brooklyn, don't
know much more. Quartet has Ben Street on bass and Ari Hoenig on
drums, with the fourth member a saxophonist, either Javier Vercher
or Donny McCaslin. Based on past experience, I assume that McCaslin
is the slicker, more voluble one, but I didn't check the tracks for
sure. As befits a leader, Noelle is much more prominent here than
Ben Monder is on Scott McLemore's similar record, and his guitar
gives this a luxurious sheen.
Vicente Espí Quartet: Tras Coltrane (2006, Fresh
Sound New Talent): Any time a group covers A Love Supreme --
three-fourths of it, anyway -- they're begging for comparison with
the original, which is to say they're boxing way out of their weight
class. The four earlier tracks are more interesting, in large part
because they have more leeway on them. But any way you look at it, the
group here is pure tribute. The leader plays drums. Jesús Santandreu
gets the starring role. Albert Bover plays McCoy Tyner. Paco Charlín
gets the great Jimmy Garrison lines. They had fun, and if it sounds
a bit old, it's just because Trane was actually a lot heavier than
his postbop followers. They got that right.
Denis DiBlasio: View From Pikes (2006, Dreambox
Media): Leader plays baritone sax. Never heard of him before, but
a little digging tells me he played with Maynard Ferguson in the
'80s, teaches at Rowan College, and has a handful of his own albums
starting in 1998. He has a trio here with piano and bass, takes
most of the pieces at a leisurely pace, and lets the instruments
enjoy their natural sounds. Plays a little flute too, which is more
upbeat. Recorded at Maggie's Farm, with Matt Balitsaris getting an
engineer credit. Not much to it, but it's a lovely album.
Mort Weiss Meets Sam Most (2006, SMS Jazz): Title
could be extended: "Recorded live at Steamers Jazz Club & Cafe";
perhaps also "With Ron Eschete', Roy McCurdy and Luther Hughes."
Most is a name associated with bebop flute, although his earliest
credits suggest earlier sources -- Don Redman, Tommy Dorsey, Boyd
Raeburn -- and even later on he worked with older guys -- Teddy
Wilson, Red Norvo, Louie Bellson. That suggests he's ancient, but
75 is more like it. He recorded several mid-'50s albums with Debut
and Bethlehem, then a few more in the late-'70s with Xanadu. Most
also plays a little tenor sax here, which is a plus, and sings one,
which isn't. Weiss plays clarinet. A bit younger, he started with
trad jazz, but fell for Charlie Parker and Buddy DeFranco, then
dropped out of music in the '60s, only picking it up again when
he reached the usual retirement age. This is minor, but charming,
with Escheté's guitar the secret ingredient.
Mike Boone: Yeah, I Said It . . . (2005 ,
Dreambox Media): At the end of this record, Boone says, "I guess one
of the advantages of doing your own CD is that you can put on it
whatever you want." That about sums this up: a personal memoir of
a bassist who's been around at least since the early '70s but never
moved into the spotlight. Twenty-two pieces here, many not much
more than fragments. Eight are stories narrated by Boone, including
three or four about Buddy Rich, with samples of Rich Big Band or
Rich cussing in the background. The music is scattered all over
the map. No band: I count sixteen different musicians on drums or
percussion, none appearing more than twice, rarely two or more at
once. One story about a pianist named Barry Kiener has Uri Caine
tinkling in the background. The record is more interesting than
good -- so much so I'm not done with it.
Adam Unsworth: Excerpt This! (2006, Adam Unsworth):
Young French horn player, hangs with the Philadelphia Orchestra and
has some sort of association with Temple University. This is his
first album, reportedly assembled from ten years of compositions.
His dilligence is clear enough, but his decision to mix solo and
sextet settings breaks the flow and feels like two distinct things.
Not so much the problem as the limit to both parts is the horn, a
rather awkward if not exactly ugly thing. The solo pieces can get
tedious even when you don't doubt his skill or dexterity. But the
sextet is much livelier. Les Thimmig plays bass clarinet and flutes
-- contrasting horns with well-matched limits. With neither horn
player overpowering, the field is rather open for someone else to
stand out, and both Diane Monroe on violin and Tony Micelli on
vibes make the best of their opportunities.
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further
listening the first time around.
Sam Bardfeld: Periodic Trespasses (2004 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): Subtitled "The Saul Cycle," with Bardfield's
narration slipped into a "Peter and the Wolf" flow. I can't say as I
get, let alone care about, the story. The music seems to pursue flow
for its own sake, with bass and drums pushing violin and vibes along.
So it helps when Ron Horton's trumpet occasionally disrupts the flow,
as on "Harry's Mambo" -- a choice cut.
Ismael Dueñas: Mirage (2005 , Fresh Sound New
Talent): This is the second piano trio I've heard from Dueñas -- liked
the first one, like this one a bit more. Still, this is a tough one
for me to write about -- that Guillermo Klein's liner notes are in
Spanish is more an omen than an excuse. What I like is that this has
some crunch to it, that it turns in unexpected ways then nails the
deal down with a strong chord.
The following letter was written by Rabbi Michael Davis and
by the Wichita Eagle, Fri., Aug. 18, 2006.
READER VIEW: JEWS KNOW ABOUT PREJUDICE
I read with great interest, yet disappointment, the Rev. Bob Layne's
commentary ("Lay aside suspicion and hostility for a moment," Aug. 15
He opened by saying that "not all Christians support the Israeli
destruction of Lebanon." He continued by speaking well of our Muslim
neighbors and his experiences attending their mosque.
I am glad that Layne is coming "to know Muslims as neighbors, friends
and fellow Americans" and that he has found "no reasons to fear." As a
Jew and an American, these are notions that I do not need to learn
anew, for I have never forgotten them.
As a Jew, vilified, feared and reviled by some for millennia, I know
firsthand the dangers of prejudice and discrimination. As a Jew, I
have been taught by the prophets and sages of our people to love our
neighbors and to treat them with justice and with kindness.
But as a Jew and a lover of Israel, I am saddened by Layne's
implication that Israel's goal is the destruction of Lebanon. Nothing
could be further from the truth.
I would hope that both Christian and non-Christian might support
Israel's desire to protect its citizens from the deliberate targeting
by terrorists. I would also hope that Layne might see the difference
between these deliberate attacks against Israeli civilians and the
regrettable loss of life and limb suffered by Lebanese civilians as
Israel attempts to defend itself.
For Israel, the death of civilians is not the goal; the same cannot be
said of the terrorists.
Furthermore, I would like to extend my personal invitation to Layne to
attend our synagogue, as well as attending the mosque. Here, too, he
will find words of peace and not vengeance. Here, too, he will find
calls for responsibility. Here, too, he will hear prayers for all who
have suffered -- Muslim, Christian and Jew -- from this tragic war, as
I'm sure were offered at the mosque.
Yes, Jew and Christian can come together -- along with Buddhist,
Hindu, Bahai and others -- to pray for peace, to work for peace and to
create peace in our community and beyond. All it takes is an open mind
and an open heart.
Rabbi MICHAEL A. DAVIS
What Jews Know but Deny
On Friday the Wichita Eagle published a
written by Rabbi Michael Davis of Congregation Emanu-El here in Wichita.
Davis' letter was actually a response to a previous letter written by
Reverend Bob Layne, arguing that "not all Christians support the Israeli
destruction of Lebanon." I don't recall Layne's letter -- the quote is
taken from Davis quoting him, so I don't bother with that part of the
Davis letter. But his defense of Israel's self-defense is typical stuff,
and should be checked against reality. I wrote the following letter as
a response. Davis' letter was about 350 words, exceptionally long for
a letter in the Eagle. Mine comes in just over 600 words, which pretty
much dooms it as a letter, even if the arguments passed whatever muster
applies in the Eagle these days.
Rabbi Michael Davis ("Reader View: Jews Know About Prejudice")
asserted, "For Israel, the death of civilians is not the goal;
the same cannot be said of the terrorists." The facts don't
support this claim. Since war broke out on June 12, Hezbollah's
rockets managed to kill 44 Israeli civilians. On the other hand,
Israel has killed over 1,100 Lebanese civilians -- a toll that
grows daily as bodies are still being pulled out of the rubble.
The facts show that neither side, regardless of what they think
of as goals, respects the lives each other's people.
Rabbi Davis hopes that we'll "see the difference" between dead
Israelis ("from the deliberate targeting of terrorists") and
dead Lebanese ("the regrettable loss of life and limb suffered
by Lebanese civilians as Israel attempts to defend itself").
But the body counts are so disproportionate, to even equate
them implies that he places much higher value on the lives of
Israelis. While that view may be understandable from someone
who describes himself as "a lover of Israel," that argument
won't convince anyone who believes, as one of America's founding
fathers put it, that "all men are created equal."
But Rabbi Davis is right about one thing: Jews have known the
pain and fear of prejudice and discrimination, and at least in
the U.S. many Jews have distinguished themselves in struggles
not just for their own civil rights but for everyone's. But
too many American Jews have developed a blind spot for Israel,
not seeing that Israel was founded in 1948 in a war of ethnic
cleansing that drove 700,000 Palestinians from their homes to
squalid refugee camps, and rationalizing the belligerency ever
since as Israel's defense against the curse of anti-semitism.
What happened in 1948 is messy history, but over recent years
all Arab nations and most key militias have agreed to settle
the conflict along the lines laid out by the U.N. in 1967: to
recognize Israel's right to exist in peace within its pre-1967
borders, for Israel to give up all lands taken in the 1967 war,
and for claims to be settled for refugees unable to return to
Israel. But as this consensus has grown, Israel has chosen to
withdraw from the "peace process" (as they quaintly termed it)
and depend exclusively on the threat of force, peroidically
demonstrated, to bully all around them into submission.
Israel has been able to take this unilateral approach because
the U.S., and especially the Bush Administration, has backed
it all the way -- with arms, money, diplomacy. Such uncritical
favor is shared by many groups in the U.S. body politic, from
a military-industrial complex that counts Israel as its best
customer to Christian fundamentalists pining for the judgment
day, but most anomalously by liberal-minded Jews like Rabbi
Davis, who otherwise would be quick to recognize the horror
and injustice of self-perpetuating war. But such support only
indulges Israel's worst instincts, warped by lifetimes of war
and hate. If "friends don't let friends drive drunk" is good
advice, friends don't let friends bomb other countries should
become the mantra of Israel's true friends.
In destroying Lebanon while failing to intimidate Hezbollah,
the Israel-Lebanon War of 2006 shows us the moral, political,
and even military bankruptcy of Ariel Sharon's unilateralism.
The only way out of this debacle is the only true hope for
Israel: to make peace with its neighbors and with its people.
To admit mistakes, to apologize profusely, to start to make
amends, to learn to be generous, to earn the trust you desire.
As Rabbi Davis knows, there is much in the Jewish tradition
to facilitate this change. He could help but first he needs
to stop making excuses.
Even at 600-plus words, there is a lot to unpack here. My line
about 1948 being "messy history" is worth a few thousand words by
itself. I've been thinking a lot about the dislocations in 1948,
why they happened, and what they still mean half a century later.
I need to write that up at some point, but for practical purposes --
for deciding how to move forward, as opposed to understanding how
we got here -- it is largely a moot point. Part of my thinking
here is that since hardly anyone showed any interest in my little
peace proposal, I've mostly
reverted to the standard 1967 borders plan, which is backed by
international law and sweetened a bit by Saudi Arabia's support.
Its major selling point is that if Israel wanted peace, they could
make that deal immediately with no quibbles or resentment. Many
other formulations, such as the Geneva Accords, might be acceptable,
but far and away the fastest and safest way to close a deal is to
accept an offer already on the table. Whatever Israel might "leave
on the table" by not negotiating further would be trivial. On the
other hand, an up front concession on sovereignty might make it
possible to make it possible to negotiate a relatively gracious
transition, especially if that would aid the Palestinian economy.
On the other hand, Israel is still far away from seeking peace,
especially with the Palestinians -- whose rocket technology, antitank
weaponry, and guerrilla skills leave them far less formidable an
opponent than Hezbollah. It's also worth noting that Gaza gets far
less world press attention than Lebanon. But even in Lebanon Israel
has already violated the ceasefire with a raid in the Bekka Valley,
and Israel continues to weasel the wording of the UN resolution in
ways likely to provoke further hostilities -- the press likes to
refer to this as a "fragile ceasefire" but it's more accurate to
note that the asymmetric terms are intentionally destabilizing.
Still, the extent to which Israel's war failed to meet their goals
has yet to fully sink in. The fevered reaction of Israelis to rocket
threats played well as propaganda, but sent a clear signal to all of
Israel's opponents that rockets are an effective way to get on their
nerves. So expect more rockets, possibly from all fronts, and expect
more strenuous, more expensive efforts at defending against them. That
Hezbollah held together under Israeli fire will inspire others. That
the IDF performed so poorly makes others more eager to take them on --
we've already seen hotshots in the Syrian military eager to take the
Golan Heights back by force. Syria and Iran have become more credible
threats not only to Israel but to the US as well. The US has accused
Syria and Iran of helping Iraq's resistance with IEDs, but Hezbollah
proved to be even more effective with antitank weapons. It would be
bad news if such weapons found their way into Iraq.
But Israel's military shortcomings, even given their significance
under a regime that depends on nothing else, are trivial compared to
Israel's political losses. The wanton destruction of Lebanon, all the
more senseless given their inability to undermine Hezbollah, should
leave Israel more isolated than ever. The US, hopelessly mired in
Iraq and if anything losing ground in Afghanistan, is equally likely
to feel the chill. Israel had in many ways attempted to style its
efforts according to American interests -- what other reason was
there to present war with Hezbollah as "the western front of the
war with Iran"? The US has gotten a remarkably free ride of late in
western Europe as well as with the usual Arab cronies, but how long
can that really last?
A big part of the letter concerns what Jewish-American supporters
of Israel should do. Some, of course, are neocons or crypto-fascists,
so I'm not talking about them, but most aren't. Most have progressive
political records here -- are good on civil rights, better still on
civil liberties and church-state issues, and mostly opposed to Bush
including the war in Iraq. A good many have nominal peace positions
on Israel -- oppose settlements, favor two states -- but still they
reflexively defend every kneejerk belligerent response that comes out
of Israel's defense establishment, even though the net effect works
against their supposed preferences. They really need to get smarter
and start working against the unilateralist policies -- indeed, the
whole Manichaean mindset that condemns all opponents as terrorists --
of the Israeli right, not only for the direct effect they might have,
but to take cover away from the militarists and Armageddon groupies
who seek mere profit from Israel's wars.
I don't have any idea whether there's any hope for that sort of
political outreach -- I'm just an armchair theorist, not an activist.
But in theory that's where I'd place my bets. Certainly, many people
who supported this war have some second thinking to do.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Robert Fisk reports that Lebanon's death toll has topped 1300. It's
been obvious all along that Lebanese deaths were underreported. The
increase here are newly discovered bodies, and certainly won't be the
The Israeli government has released a preliminary estimate of the
war's cost to Israel and its economy: $5.3 billion. Again, that's a
number likely to grow as longer term effects are recognized. I don't
know of any authoritative estimate of damage to Lebanon. The only thing
that might keep such a total under $100 billion is that Lebanon's per
capita income is (or more precisely, was) less than 25% of Israel's.
So dollar figure damages aren't likely to be a true measure of the
difference in the damage level.
Meanwhile, there's no ceasefire in the Occupied Territories of
Palestine, where Israel's attacks have killed 207 Palestinians.
AP reports that a US airstrike killed ten Afghan border policemen.
Hamid Karzai complained, "I have repeatedly asked the coalition forces
to take maximum caution while carrying out operations."
Friday, August 18, 2006
Hersh on Lebanon
Hersh on the start of the Olmert war:
Several current and former officials involved in the Middle East
told me that Israel viewed the soldiers' kidnapping as the opportune
moment to begin its planned military campaign against
Hezbollah. "Hezbollah, like clockwork, was instigating something small
every month or two," the U.S. government consultant with ties to
Israel said. Two weeks earlier, in late June, members of Hamas, the
Palestinian group, had tunnelled under the barrier separating southern
Gaza from Israel and captured an Israeli soldier. Hamas also had
lobbed a series of rockets at Israeli towns near the border with
Gaza. In response, Israel had initiated an extensive bombing campaign
and reoccupied parts of Gaza.
The Pentagon consultant noted that there had also been cross-border
incidents involving Israel and Hezbollah, in both directions, for some
time. "They've been sniping at each other," he said. "Either side
could have pointed to some incident and said 'We have to go to war
with these guys' -- because they were already at war."
The war plans had been vetted and approved by the US months ahead of
the event that triggered/excused the war:
Earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah kidnappings, the
U.S. government consultant said, several Israeli officials visited
Washington, separately, "to get a green light for the bombing
operation and to find out how much the United States would bear." The
consultant added, "Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that
it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East
desk of the National Security Council." After that, "persuading Bush
was never a problem, and Condi Rice was on board," the consultant
The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, called for a major
bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation,
according to the Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli
thinking. Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon's infrastructure,
including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the
main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon's large Christian and
Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former
senior intelligence official. The airport, highways, and bridges,
among other things, have been hit in the bombing campaign. The Israeli
Air Force had flown almost nine thousand missions as of last week.
Bush administration support was largely based on using Israel's
war against Iranian-supported Hezbollah as an object example for a
threatened US bombardment of Iran:
A former intelligence officer said, "We told Israel, 'Look, if you
guys have to go, we're behind you all the way. But we think it should
be sooner rather than later -- the longer you wait, the less time we
have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of
Cheney's point, the former senior intelligence official said, was
"What if the Israelis execute their part of this first, and it's
really successful? It'd be great. We can learn what to do in Iran by
watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon."
Given how things turned out, the obvious lesson for the US viz.
Iran is to give it up. Nonetheless, Hersh quotes a "former senior
intelligence official" as saying, "There is no way that Rumsfeld
and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this. When the
smoke clears, they'll say it was a success, and they'll draw
reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran." Hard to say, but
the manifest failures will certainly stiffen resistance within
the non-political ranks to yet another insane adventure.
Two bonus quotes from Hersh. The first is a history special on
Kosovo, still remembered fondly by liberal hawks as some sort of
humanitarian exercise. What actually happened was a good deal messier
than is commonly remembered -- in fact, the place is still a strangely
In the early discussions with American officials, I was told by the
Middle East expert and the government consultant, the Israelis
repeatedly pointed to the war in Kosovo as an example of what Israel
would try to achieve. The NATO forces commanded by U.S. Army General
Wesley Clark methodically bombed and strafed not only military targets
but tunnels, bridges, and roads, in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia,
for seventy-eight days before forcing Serbian forces to withdraw from
Kosovo. "Israel studied the Kosovo war as its role model," the
government consultant said. "The Israelis told Condi Rice, 'You did it
in about seventy days, but we need half of that -- thirty-five
There are, of course, vast differences between Lebanon and
Kosovo. Clark, who retired from the military in 2000 and
unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for the Presidency in 2004, took
issue with the analogy: "If it's true that the Israeli campaign is
based on the American approach in Kosovo, then it missed the
point. Ours was to use force to obtain a diplomatic objective -- it
was not about killing people." Clark noted in a 2001 book, Waging
Modern War, that it was the threat of a possible ground invasion
as well as the bombing that forced the Serbs to end the war. He told
me, "In my experience, air campaigns have to be backed, ultimately, by
the will and capability to finish the job on the ground."
Kosovo has been cited publicly by Israeli officials and journalists
since the war began. On August 6th, Prime Minister Olmert, responding
to European condemnation of the deaths of Lebanese civilians, said,
"Where do they get the right to preach to Israel? European countries
attacked Kosovo and killed ten thousand civilians. Ten thousand! And
none of these countries had to suffer before that from a single
rocket. I'm not saying it was wrong to intervene in Kosovo. But
please: don't preach to us about the treatment of civilians." (Human
Rights Watch estimated the number of civilians killed in the NATO
bombing to be five hundred; the Yugoslav government put the number
between twelve hundred and five thousand.)
The other concludes the article:
Even those who continue to support Israel's war against Hezbollah
agree that it is failing to achieve one of its main goals -- to rally
the Lebanese against Hezbollah. "Strategic bombing has been a failed
military concept for ninety years, and yet air forces all over the
world keep on doing it," John Arquilla, a defense analyst at the Naval
Postgraduate School, told me. Arquilla has been campaigning for more
than a decade, with growing success, to change the way America fights
terrorism. "The warfare of today is not mass on mass," he said. "You
have to hunt like a network to defeat a network. Israel focussed on
bombing against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, it became more
aggressive on the ground. The definition of insanity is continuing to
do the same thing and expecting a different result."
I'll leave it there.
F5 Record Report (Aug. 17, 2006)
F5 Record Report
has been posted: number three in the series. Meanwhile, I turned number
four in this afternoon. Should be on the newsstands here in Wichita
next Wednesday or Thursday, and up on the web next Friday. This stuff
is routine enough it's almost anticlimactic to keep filing blog entries
announcing them. In theory I thought I'd be recycling old reviews, so
this would be a minimal work spinoff, but I keep editing, and a few of
the reviews are genuinely new. The roster this time is:
- Fred Anderson: Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark) A- [jazz]
- Balkan Beat Box (JDub) A- [world, rock]
- James McMurtry: Childish Things (Compadre) A- [country]
- Charlie Musselwhite: Delta Hardware (Real World) B [blues]
- The Best of Pérez Prado: The Original Mambo No. 5 (1949-59, RCA/Legacy) A [world, latin]
- The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara (1998-2004, World Music Network) A- [world]
- Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped (Geffen) A- [rock]
- Waco Brothers: Freedom and Weep (Bloodshot) A- [rock]
PS: The link above should get you whatever piece is most recent,
which in turn will have links to previous pieces.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I see from an Amira Hass piece that Hezbollah's rockets killed 41
Israeli civilians, including 18 Israeli Arabs. That would mean that
Israeli Arabs were more than twice as likely of being struck, although
the odds might go down a bit if we limit the per capita calculations
to the missile range. (Many Israeli Arabs live in Northern Israel, much
of which the UN originally allocated to the Arab partition in 1947. The
IDF conquered the territory with little resistance, resulting in few
refugees. Most Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were from Jaffa, dumped
there by the ever-helpful British.) I've seen reports that Israel did
little or nothing to provide shelters for Israeli Arabs, a piece of
negligence that should be factored into arguments about Hezbollah
using Lebanese civilians as human shields.
Wikipedia reports deaths as: 43-53 Israeli civilians, 120 Israeli
soldiers, 74 Hezbollah and allied militias (8 Amal, 1 PFLP-GC), 36
Lebanese soldiers, and 727-1009 Lebanese civilians. These numbers
all roughly confirm my understanding: Hezbollah's rocket attacks were
far less effective at killing civilians than Israel's air war; on the
other hand, Hezbollah was able to put up punishing resistance to
Israel's ground offensive. But the numbers also indicate different
strategies: Israel's air war was focused on long-term infrastructure
destruction, a form of collective punishment that moved a million
people out of their homes and is likely to total hundreds of billions
of dollars in economic damage, but Israel's ground war was limited
to short and temporary search and destroy missions which Hezbollah
made expensive. Hezbollah's goal was essentially defensive: to make
Israel pay a steep price for its aggression.
But to call Hezbollah's rocket attacks defensive assumes a theory
of deterence that I don't actually believe in. Deterence is a vile
threat that works only when it gives both sides an excuse not to
engage in war, and such excuses are only operative when both sides
are disposed to avoid war. However, deterence fails when one side
decides it would rather risk war. That's what happened here, and
the side that took the plunge -- as the numbers clearly show -- was
Israel. If you believe that nations have the right to self-defense,
and that credible deterence is essentially defensive -- and those
are assertions that Israel and the US have repeatedly made during
this war -- you should believe that Hezbollah's rocket attacks on
Israel were justified, or at least necessary. Whether it worked is
something that remains to be seen -- e.g., by whether Israel sets
off another volley of rockets by resuming their bombing.
Just for the record, I don't believe those things. I don't believe
that Israel, or any other country, has a right to self-defense. I'm
not surprised that a nation, or a group within a nation, would fight
back when attacked: that behavior is deeply ingrained in human nature
and indelibly carved in human history. But elevating that instinct to
a right is a recipe for an unending string of atrocities. On the same
grounds, I reject the idea that there is any such thing as Just War.
War, by its very nature, is an engine of injustice, so profane that
no provocation can justify it. War is not an extension of politics
by other means, as the Clausewitz cliché has it; it is the failure
of politicians by any and all means. It comes from overestimating
what might be gained, from underestimating what will be lost, and
from thinking in ruts -- fancy ones like the theory of deterence,
or plain stupid ones like good and evil.
If I seem to favor Hezbollah in these posts, it is not because
I believe that what they do is just or even productive. It's because
I view them as a reflection of Israel's war machine. They were, after
all, formed under and in opposition to Israel's occupation of Lebanon.
They have the instinct to fight back, in large part because that's
the only option Israel has been unable to thwart. And they've fought
back effectively enough to back Israel down. That's certainly not the
ideal way to get Israel to change its ways, but anything that limits
Israel's belligerence is a positive outcome, at least on that level.
The only way this conflict will end is when all sides are tired of
fighting it. Hopefully, this war will show enough people how futile
all these wars have been. Still, the people who faught this war are
a long ways from realizing this -- especially the guy Billmon refers
to as Commander Codpiece (aka President Psycho). He's so far removed
from reality, the Wichita Eagle published this Crowson cartoon today:
Small, hard to read bit in the lower right corner: "He has a
Plutonic relationship to reality."
Another figure in the Hass story is that the IDF has killed 188
people in Gaza -- the war that supposedly slipped onto the back burner
once Lebanon. Again, Israel's strategy has been to use its overwhelming
force to inflict collective punishment. The difference between Gaza
and Lebanon is that the Gaza militias are far less effectively armed
and organized than Hezbollah. In other words, that there's a ceasefire
in Lebanon but not in Gaza is only due to Israel's recognition of
opposing force. This example won't be lost on Hezbollah, or indeed on
anyone tempted to take up arms against Israel or its indispensible
ally, the US. Unfortunately, it won't be recognized until the cost
is too dear. Unless, of course, people wise up to the way the world
is working, and stop trying to force others into one's ideological
fantasies. The Olmert wars offer ample evidence of this. It would
be doubly tragic if we don't learn those lessons.
Losers and Sore Losers
Billmon on the outcome (more or less) of Israel's recent attack of
Strictly from a humanitarian point of view, it's both grotesque and
repulsive to have to listen to Ehud Olmert, Sheikh Nasrallah and the
Boy King all proclaiming victory in their nasty little war -- even as
the bodies are still literally being pulled out of the rubble. It
brings to mind Victor Hugo's description of Napoleon as a rooster
crowing on top of a dung heap, until God grew bored with him. (Except
in this case it's pretty clear who the smallest cock is.)
This is the kind of simian hooting and chest beating that makes me
wish I'd been born into a more respectable species -- like the hyenas
or the slime eels or the dung beetles.
Of course, nobody won the war. I'm not sure that anybody ever wins
wars. I suppose you could point to some cost-effective "butcher and
bolt" operations where the calculus is mostly limited to looting, but
even there you're likely to have to go back a century or more. Even
so, such wins are pathetic more often than not. Did Britain win the
Opium War? Well, they got to sell their opium, corroding the Chinese
political authority, but in the long run that just led to revolution.
But the real problem is that people still think they can win wars --
otherwise they wouldn't bother, would they? And the real danger in
this is that success, based on whatever warped criteria one chooses
to spin, breeds an appetite for more, while failure feeds a desire
for redemption and revenge. So regardless of the immediate outcome,
the long-term effect of war is to promote more war. Once whet, that
thirst only gives way to utter, abject defeat -- as happened to
Japan and Germany in 1945, at least until the US got the bright
idea of rearming them.
Olmert's victory claims are particularly hollow, given that none
of their original stated goals were met. They did manage to destroy
Lebanon's infrastructure, kill a thousand or more civilians, and
drive a million or more away from their homes -- all of which were
deliberate acts, just not what they advertised as goals. As you'll
recall, the original goal was first to recover two captured Israeli
soldiers, then to destroy Hezbollah. They did manage to successfully
promote the war within the Israeli body politic -- at least the part
that counts -- primarily by depicting Hezbollah as an existential
threat: a terrorist force committed to destroying Israel, implying
an intent to finish the Holocaust. Evidently some 80% of Israelis
are paranoid and myopic enough to buy that line, although that may
be too charitable -- some percentage of war supporters were merely
Ironically, the one thing Israel inadvertently established was
that Hezbollah is not an existential threat to Israel. Hezbollah's
rockets, while far more numerous and sophisticated than the Qassams
launched from Gaza, were remarkably ineffective. I don't deny that
they killed a few people, injured more, did some physical damage,
ignited fires, disrupted everyday life, and got on people's nerves.
They did all that, but it would take several orders of magnitude
more firepower to do anything remotely resembling what Israel did
to Lebanon. Moreover, the frequency and pattern of Hezbollah's
attacks followed Israel's air war, halting when Israel briefly
curtailed bombing after the Qana massacre. This means that there
is an effective method whereby Israel can limit the missile threat:
accept it as a deterence and Hezbollah as an effective defensive
force. Better still, settle the border and prisoner issues with
Lebanon and Syria, and kick in some money to repair the damages
and help those Palestinian refugees get on with their lives.
The best news that has come out of this is that at least some
Israelis have started to question Sharon's unilateral Iron Wall
strategy. Olmert's knee jerk attacks on Gaza and Lebanon were the
result of insisting on going it alone -- on not building any sort
of partnership on the other side of the wall. On the other hand,
there's little reason for optimism. The usual reaction to losing
a war on points, as opposed to a flat knockout, is to turn the
reins over to badder badasses. Given that Olmert-Peretz count as
center-left on Israel's spectrum, most of the opposition is on
the extreme right. Then there's the problem of the US, where Bush
favored Israel so blatantly that he wound up having to declare
victory too. It's hard to think of any respect in which the US
comes out of this better off than before, but the debate is so
fogged the only political threat Bush faces is from the extreme
right, who figured we've sold Israel down the river, not to
mention squandered a marvelous opportunity to blow up Iran.
Of course, if Hezbollah lets its "victory" go to its head,
they could become the threat Bush and Olmert made them out to
be. But for now the more dangerous "victors" are the ones in
Washington and Jerusalem, not least because they're the more
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Yellow Wind Blows Back
One thing I don't understand is why so many of Israel's leftish-liberals
went so gaga over Olmert's razing of Lebanon. During the first week we were
hearing that something like 90% of all Israelis backed the war. Certainly,
a large slice of the nominal Peace intellectuals and organizations saluted
and cheered. I don't think Peace Now officially changed its name to Peace
in a Couple of Weeks, but the main reason was that they couldn't see that
far ahead. Meretz lined up. Peretz went way over the deep end. Amos Oz and
David Grossman, two of Israel's most famous novelists, gave their blessing.
Ran HaCohen wrote a piece called "Israeli Intellectuals Love the War"
with a partial list
and some quotes: Ari Shavit says, "Israel is currently waging the most just
war in its history." A.B. Yehoshua says, "At last we've got a just war, so
we shouldn't gnaw at it too much till it becomes unjust." Oz rationalized,
"This time, Israel is not invading Lebanon. It is defending itself. . . . The
Israeli peace movement should support Israel's attempt at self-defense, pure
and simple, as long as this operation targets mostly Hezbollah and spares, as
much as possible, the lives of Lebanese civilians."
As the war has unrolled -- atrocities and casualties mounting while
the proclaimed aim of smashing Hezbollah proved impossible -- at least
some of these people have entertained second thoughts. The case of David
Grossman is particularly poignant, as his 20-year-old son Uri was killed
in one of Olmert's last-minute land grabs -- a desperate and pointless
attempt to assert some pretense to victory, quickly surrendered in the
post-ceasefire retreat. One never knows whether the price of supporting
the rush to war will be personal or just political. But Grossman should
have known better. He wrote The Yellow Wind, an important early
(pre-Intifada) book examining the human cost of Israel's occupation of
the West Bank and Gaza. He, of all people, should be able to imagine
how all sides feel and act. So why couldn't he find the will to oppose
this war when it might have made a difference?
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Music: Current count 12208  rated (+1), 908  unrated (+25).
On the road. Nothing much to report. Likely no jazz prospecting this week
No Jazz Prospecting
No jazz prospecting this week. Spent most of last week in the
Detroit metro area, away from the amenities of home. Took more
Recycled Goods with me than new jazz, but didn't get anything written
on them either. I can report that new albums by Art Ensemble of
Chicago and Ted Nash should please committed fans if not necessarily
skeptics. The same might be said of the new Dennis Gonzalez album on
Clean Feed, but being more of a fan I have higher hopes for it.
Jazz prospecting will return next week.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
F5 Record Report (Aug. 10, 2006)
My second F5 Record Report column has been
No introduction this time -- just a handful of short reviews:
- Billy Bang: Vietnam: Reflections (Justin Time) A-
- Hayes Carll: Little Rock (Highway 87 Music) A-
- Elvis Costello Live With the Metropole Orkest: My Flame Burns Blue (Deutsche Grammophone) B
- Everybody's Talkin': The Very Best of Harry Nilsson (1966-77, RCA/Legacy) A-
- Public Enemy: Rebirth of a Nation (Guerrilla Funk) A
- Amy Rigby: Little Fugitive (Signature Sounds) A
- Miguel Zenón: Jíbaro (Marsalis Music/Rounder) A-
Friday, August 11, 2006
The following quote comes from Dhar Jamail at
"I care about my people, my country, and defending them from the
Zionist aggression," said a Hezbollah fighter after I'd asked him why
he joined the group. I found myself in downtown Beirut sitting in the
backseat of his car in the liquid heat of a Lebanese summer. Sweat
rolled down my nose and dripped on my notepad as I jotted
"My home in Dahaya is now pulverized," he said while the
concussions of Israeli bombs landing in his nearby neighborhood echoed
across the buildings around us, "Everything in my life is destroyed
now, so I will fight them. I am a Shaheed [martyr]."
He asked to remain anonymous, and that I refer to him only as Ahmed.
The late afternoon sun was behind him as he told me just how hard
his life had been. When he was eleven years old, he and his youngest
brother had been taken from their home by Israeli soldiers and put in
prison for two years. I asked him what happened to him there, but that
was a subject he wouldn't discuss. One of his brothers was later
killed by Israeli soldiers. After his release from an Israeli prison
Ahmed was spending his teenage years in southern Lebanon when he was
caught in crossfire between Hezbollah fighters and Israeli soldiers
near his home. He was shot three times. Many years before, his father
had been killed by an Israeli air strike on a refugee camp in south
"What are we left with?" he asked, while the angle of the sun
through the windshield highlighted tears welling in his eyes, "I know
I will die fighting them, then I will go to my God. But I will go to
my God fighting like a lion. I will not be slaughtered like a
Nothing all that remarkable about the quote: it's a common enough
story. But after the last month it's going to be all that more common.
The people busted in the UK's "Air Scare" plot most likely have a
different story -- a combination of personal snubs and frustration
inflated by a global context that creates fighters like Ahmed and
a religious fable that comforts them. Stopping those fighters is a
tough, draining, dehumanizing task. How much simpler it would be to
just keep these stories from developing.
Just a quick list of stuff I've bought in Detroit this week:
- Horace Andy: Feel Good All Over: Anthology (1970-76 , Sanctuary/Trojan, 2CD)
- Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll (2005 , Downtown)
- Jean-Jacques Avenel: Waraba (2004, Songlines)
- Derek Bailey/John Stevens/Trevor Watts: Dynamics of the Impromptu (1973-74, Entropy)
- Big Youth: Screaming Target (1973 , Trojan/Sanctuary)
- Scott Colley: Initial Wisdom (2001 , Palmetto)
- Eddie Condon/Wild Bill Davison/Ken Davern/Dick Wellstood/Gene Krupa: Jazz at the New School (1972, Chiaroscuro)
- Skeeter Davis: RCA Country Legends (1953-71 , Buddha)
- Defunkt: Heroes (1998, DIW)
- Gogol Bordello: Multi Kontra Culti Vs. Irony (2002, Rubric)
- The Best of Leslie Gore (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection) (1963-67 , Mercury)
- Konono No. 1: Congotronics (2004, Crammed Discs)
- Tony Malaby: Sabino (2000, Arabesque)
- Bill McHenry Quartet: Graphic (1998 , Fresh Sound New Talent)
- Mylo: Destroy Rock & Roll (2004 , RCA/Breast Fed)
- Paris: Sonic Jihad (2003, Guerrilla Funk)
- Wilson Pickett: The Definitive Collection (1962-72 , Atlantic/Rhino, 2CD)
- Mondo Mambo! The Best of Pérez Prado & His Orchestra (1952-61 , Rhino)
- Max Romeo: Open the Iron Gate (1973-77 , Blood and Fire)
- The Roots: Home Grown! The Beginners Guide to Understanding the Roots Volume Two (, Geffen)
- Soft Machine Legacy: Live at the New Morning (2005 , Inakustik, 2CD)
- Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Matka Joanna (1994 , ECM)
- Rappers Delight: The Best of Sugarhill Gang (1979-85 , Rhino)
- Steve Swell & Chris Kelsey: Observations (1996, CIMP)
- Miroslav Vitous: Miroslav (1977, Freedom)
- Hank Williams III: Straight to Hell (2006, Bruc)
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Suckers for Slaughter
I saw a little bit of a debate between James Zogby and Alan Dershowitz.
Most of what Dershowitz said could be dismissed as baldfaced lies, but one
comment struck me as revelatory. He argued that deliberately hides behind
civilians in order to bait Israel into killing civilians because this
builds up public support for Hezbollah. This statement contains a rare
kernel of truth, if not necessarily about Hezbollah's intentions at least
about the practical effect of Israeli atrocities. But it also begs the
question: if Israel understands this effect, why do they repeatedly let
themselves be suckered into promoting Hezbollah like this?
The answer to that question is that, starting with Jabotinsky's Iron
Wall metaphor and winding up with Olmert's concrete instantiation, Israel
has systematically limited its options to just one: the application of
raw force. So even when they acknowledge that force doesn't work, or that
it works against them, they employ it anyway, because that's all they can
do. To do anything else would concede that their supposed enemies are
human, are entitled to respect, to rights, and to some kind of peaceful
accommodation. Start unraveling that thread and pretty soon the whole
Israeli conceit falls apart.
But more than the question and answer, what bothers me is how common
such casually self-contradictory argument is. When Tony Blair came to
Washington recently to snuggle up to Bush, he went into a disquisition
on how 9/11 changed things -- the usual platitudes, but buried in the
middle was a line that recognized that the US-UK wars in the Middle
East actually generate more terrorists. That's the sort of line that
an engineer or anyone with a scientific mind would jump all over, but
for Blair, Dershowitz, and others like them, this sort of thing is just
another catchphrase meant to advance some agenda.
I don't know what's causing this. It could be that folks are getting
stupider, at least as selected for public discourse. Could be that they're
just getting more cynical. Could be that the world has gotten so daunting
and complicated that most of us have reverted to primal instincts -- in
stress, trust the guy who's so sure of himself that he's willing to get
eaten first. In any case, it's making it hard not just to find the right
answer but to agree on any facts to base one on, or to recognize any role
for reason in sorting problems out. I've written in the past about ruts
of rhetoric, but we may be entering even more treacherous verbal terrain.
Hard to see a silver lining in any of this.
More From Karon
The link to the Tony Karon post I quoted yesterday is
here. Title is: "Israel Disappoints
the Neo-cons in Lebanon Proxy War." I jumped the gun a bit in writing
about the Krauthammer quote. The piece has much more worth reading,
including long quotes from Daniel Levy, Sidney Blumenthal, and Tom
Finding themselves somewhat bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, the
neoconservatives are reveling in the latest crisis, displaying their
customary hubris in re-seizing the initiative. The U.S. press and
blogosphere is awash with neocon-inspired calls for indefinite
shooting, no talking and extension of hostilities to Syria and Iran,
with Gingrich calling this a third world war to "defend
"Somewhat" is wry understatement. I think it's very likely that
Israel vetted the main outlines of their war strategy with the US,
and got a go-ahead for several reasons, starting with a desire to
get Iraq off the front pages. But the neocons also viewed this war
as an opportunity to seize the offensive, to employ the only ally
they trust in the Middle East, and hopefully to let the Israelis
show the American soldiers how to win. In doing so they brushed
aside the conventional wisdom that appearing too close to Israel
would do the US more harm than good in the Arab world -- a move
that soon came to look like nothing more than desperation. Levy
Disentangling Israeli interests from the rubble of neocon "creative
destruction" in the Middle East has become an urgent challenge for
Israeli policy-makers. An America that seeks to reshape the region
through an unsophisticated mixture of bombs and ballots, devoid of
local contextual understanding, alliance-building or redressing of
grievances, ultimately undermines both itself and Israel. The sight
this week of Secretary of State Rice homeward bound, unable to touch
down in any Arab capital, should have a sobering effect in Washington
The Blumenfeld quote gets into how the NSA is supplying signals
intelligence to Israel. This, as well as mapping data useful for
targeting all those bridges, oil depots and power grids, has been
widely assumed. Ron Suskind wrote about similar cases where CIA/NSA
data was used by Israel for capturing or killing Palestinians. This
not only binds the US and Israel into closely collaborating units,
equating them, it opens up new possibilities for expansion of the
war, based on whatever intelligence the US feeds Israel regarding
Syrian and/or Iranian support of Hezbollah.
After 9/11 Israel pushed hard to equate the anti-US terrorism
of Al Qaeda with anti-Israel resistance of Hamas and Hezbollah.
The net effect was to reinforce both countries worst instincts,
especially the notion that all problems can be solved with a
sufficient application of force. But the effect has been to give
each nation a share of the other's problems. The Tom Segev quote
suggests that Israel is paying a price for its eager subservience
to a Washington that is increasingly out of control:
Over time, we have grown accustomed to the Americans saving us, not
only from the Arabs, but from ourselves too. Not in this war. It is
still unclear whether this war was coordinated with the United States;
only the release of government records of the past three weeks will
shed light on this. Whatever the case may be, the impression is that
the Americans are linking the events in Lebanon to their failing
adventure in Iraq.
Segev goes on to describe how an Israel more attuned to Europe
than to the US might have handled Hezbollah's capture of those two
Israeli soldiers differently. Unfortunately, Europe doesn't seem
to be much interested in pursuing solutions like that, leaving the
field of international mischief wide open to the US. Still, these
wars are the joint production of a binational neocon movement --
politically successful in Israel and the US for the self-flattery
of their rhetorical bluster, but disastrous in application.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
When Stalemate Is Failure
I've been away from home, which means ducking most of the news,
with only sporadic Internet access via inferior equipment. Not that
much has changed. At first glance, the war in Lebanon continues much
as before: Israel continues to inflict obscene damage to everyone in
Lebanon except Hezbollah; Hezbollah manages to pester northern Israel
with occasional rocket attacks, and to effectively pin down Israeli
ground troops in their periodic adventures just over the Lebanese
border. Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice continues to frame the talk of
a ceasefire in ways that prevent it from happening, giving Israel
more time to reduce Hezbollah's threat. On the other hand, first
glances may be sufficient for people immediately affected, like the
hundreds of thousands of newly homeless Lebanese. But strategists
need to ponder not just the war but its perception, and this is the
level where Israel has been coming up short.
I found a Aug. 4 post by Tony Karon that sums this up nicely:
Hear, Oh Israel! Charles Krauthammer is disappointed. Very
disapppointed. And he clearly speaks for the rest of the
neo-conservative fraternity that has worked so hard to destroy any
distinction between U.S. interests and Israeli interests. That's
because, as we pointed out a couple of days ago, the Bush
administration sees Israel's war in Lebanon as its own war, by proxy,
against Iran. And Israel is quite simply failing to deliver the
knockout blow against Hizballah that Washington is demanding -- it
can't be done, of course, but reality has never restrained the neocons
from pursuing their fantasies, at the expense of thousands of
lives. Krauthammer offers candid confirmation of what many, including
Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, have suspected all along:
Israel's leaders do not seem to understand how ruinous a military
failure in Lebanon would be to its relationship with America, Israel's
most vital lifeline . . . America's green light for Israel to defend
itself is seen as a favor to Israel. But that is a tendentious,
misleadingly partial analysis. The green light -- indeed, the
encouragement -- is also an act of clear self-interest. America wants,
America needs, a decisive Hezbollah defeat.
He explains, as we've done, that the U.S. sees Hizballah as nothing
more than a cat's paw for Iran, which it sees as its major strategic
competitor in the Middle East. It therefore saw the Hizballah
provocation as a golden opportunity to strike a blow, by proxy, at an
organization deemed an important part of Iran's own deterrent
capability. It is also mindful of the power of the challenge offered
by Hizballah to further destabilize the decrepit autocracies in Egypt,
Jordan and Saudi Arabia on which its influence in the Arab world
Hence Israel's rare opportunity to demonstrate what it can do for
its great American patron. The defeat of Hezbollah would be a huge
loss for Iran, both psychologically and strategically. Iran would lose
its foothold in Lebanon. It would lose its major means to destabilize
and inject itself into the heart of the Middle East. It would be shown
to have vastly overreached in trying to establish itself as the
The United States has gone far out on a limb to allow Israel to win
and for all this to happen. It has counted on Israel's ability to do
the job. It has been disappointed . . . (Olmert's) search for victory
on the cheap has jeopardized not just the Lebanon operation but
America's confidence in Israel as well. That confidence -- and the
relationship it reinforces -- is as important to Israel's survival as
its own army.
From the horse's mouth.
I don't wish to minimize the human tragedy of this war, but I'm
beginning to think that this meta-level isn't working out as badly
as it first threatened. Plenty of really horrible scenarios are still
possible, but from a strategic standpoint the war looks like a bloody
awful stalemate. One reason that's not so bad is that the victory of
one side or another only leads to further arrogance of power. Another
is that in the long run it's important that all sides see how little
such a war with such great costs actually accomplished.
The key thing to understand about this war is that the initial goal,
subscribed to by both Israel and the US, was the complete destruction
of Hezbollah. That goal is scarcely even under discussion any more,
excepting pundits far from the front lines, like Krauthammer and Bill
Kristol -- so generous they are with other people's blood. It should
also be understood that the goal is inherently aggressive, so much so
that Israel and the US must be deemed the aggressors regardless of
who did what when that occasioned the outbreak. (The blame Hezbollah
position is very much equivalent to blaming on WWI on Serbia.) So for
Israel and the US, as Krauthammer notes, the war is lost by failing
to achieve its initial goal -- especially since the point behind the
goal was to establish the dominance of US-Israeli military power: to
teach those Arabs and Iranians the futility of defying us. Phrased
that way, the problem is obvious: by surviving, it is Hezbollah that's
teaching the lesson, that defiance is not doomed.
Still, Hezbollah's survival is not the sort of victory that leads
one to escalate one's ambitions. Their rocket attacks cause damage
but hardly threaten Israel's existence, and they've shown no sign of
wanting to advance the ground war into Israel. The argument that
their goal is the destruction of the Jewish State isn't validated
by their actions. Maybe that's just pragmatism on their part -- an
understanding that their limited success to date is largely due to
the fact that they are defending against an invading army. Still,
that pragmatism is a check against the sort of arrogance that the
US and Israel has shown. Contrary to the Rice line, it seems likely
that a ceasefire with an Israeli retreat from Lebanese territory --
not exactly status quo ante, given that the Sheeba Farms dispute has
been exposed as unwarranted Israeli occupation, so has become part
of any realistic deal, along with a full prisoner/hostage swap.
As for Syria and Iran, thus far cooler heads on both sides have
kept them out of the war. Again, what's made this possible has been
Hezbollah's success at fighting off Israeli incursions. As long as
Hezbollah is able to hold its own, Syria and Iran are under little
pressure to step up their support or put themselves at risk; as
long as Israel is tied down, and the US is tied down in Iraq, it
makes little sense for either country to bite off more. The real
losers in this stalemate are the warmongers, which is as it should
be. After all, they got the rest of us into this mess. And without
any success on any front, it's well nigh time realists both in the
US and Israel start to lock the neocons back in their closets.
But one lesson of this fiasco should be registered immediately:
Israel has proven no more competent at beating the Middle East into
obedience than the US. Maybe it's just not meant to be.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
F5 Record Report (Aug. 3, 2006)
F5 is a weekly tabloid published here in Wichita. It
was founded a few years ago by Chris Owen, the guy who owns an ISP
called Hubris Communications. I've known several of the people who
wrote for F5, and every now and then thought about contributing
something myself, but never got around to it. At the time I was
thinking more about doing opinion pieces than music, but they already
had a guy doing opinion pieces, and he wasn't even half bad. The music
section also looked overloaded, although nowhere near as well
However, Owen dumped F5 recently. Don't know the story, but a good
guess is that he got tired of pumping money into it. It's distributed
free, so depends on advertising. He sold it to a local advertising
company, and when it reemerged it came out as a faint echo of its
prior self. Only music writer was someone writing as Rock Girl doing
live reviews. So I thought it might be worthwhile to approach F5 about
doing a CG-style record review column. Figured I could mostly recycle
material that I was already writing. Also that it would give me a more
immediate outlet for some of the new records I get, or could get, that
I have trouble servicing in my current columns. Maybe it would even
impress that Rough Guides guy who worships print but hates web
Anyhow, the first of these columns appeared in the Aug. 3
issue. For some reason they delay posting the columns on the web --
probably want you to pick up the paper with its adversiting, since
there's no advertising on their website yet. So I've delayed
announcing this column until I had an URL to post. Not
sure how I'll handle this in the future. The column comes out weekly,
on Wednesdays here at distribution spots in Wichita, Friday maybe on
the web. I've handed in three columns to date -- the second should be
hitting the stands tomorrow. Looks like I'm averaging 6-8 records per
column. Some of the reviews are copied from my columns, prospecting
blogs, and notebook, but I still do some editing. But a few are
actually written from scratch -- e.g., Arctic Monkeys this
time. Initial batch of records:
- Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino) A-
- Nik Bartsch's Ronin: Stoa (ECM) A-
- Michael Bolton: Bolton Swings Sinatra (Concord) C+
- Johnny Cash: Personal File (1973-82, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD) A-
- Los de Abajo: LDA v the Lunatics (Real World) A-
- Maria Muldaur: Sweet Lovin' Ol' Soul (Stony Plain) A-
I wanted to have mostly good records, but at least one exception;
mostly new records, but at least one exception; mostly recent but
Muldaur's year-old one is close enough; some alt-rock, country and
rap, but didn't really manage the latter this time. As long as I can
keep this going weekly, the range should be pretty broad. We'll see
how it works out.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Music: Current count 12207  rated (+24), 883  unrated (-8).
Cut the week short due to travel. Wanted to pack everything up so I can
copy it on the notebook and take it on the road. Not that I expect to get
much done on the road -- never do. Just didn't want to foreclose the
- Geri Allen Trio: The Printmakers (1984, Minor Music):
With Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille, the latter meriting notice as
"special guest" -- does a special job, too. Allen plays rough and
tumble here, impressively so, probably more so than I've ever heard
her otherwise. B+(***)
- Apaturia Quintet: Apaturia (1994-95 , YVP):
Good postbop group, led by Roberto Ottaviano on soprano sax, with
Flavio Boltro on trumpet/flugelhorn, Nico Morelli on piano, Giuseppi
Bassi on bass, Marcello Magliocchi on drums. B+(***)
- The John Cowan Band: New Tattoo (2006, Pinecastle):
A bluegrass journeyman, Cowan plays bass but goes high and lonesome
when he sings. The fiddle, mandolin, and banjo are all up to spec,
and this moves along at an impressive clip, at least until the child
molestation song "Drown" brings things to a dreary close. Guess it's
cathartic. Hard to imagine. B+(*)
- Tresa Jordan (2006, South River Road): It must
serve as some sort of milestone in the comeback of neotrad country
that it can sound so perfectly realized and still fail to carry
the day. The problem is that the songs have no life to them, and
don't confuse that with beat. The opener is jaunty enough, but
its title, "Country High," only begins to suggest how corny and
pie-eyed she can get. Some other titles: "Angels Cry," "Underneath
the Wheels," "I Turn to Country," "Sweetwater Road," "Beyond the
Blue." Almost included "Dancin' on Daddy's Feet" in that list,
but I figure at least there she's trying. Music does sound good,
- David Murray & Low Class Conspiracy: At the Bim Huis:
First Set (1977 , Circle): One of a handful of live
albums from Murray's early years. Many different ways the artist
name and title could be parsed. The spine says David Murray Quintet.
The back cover adds "featuring Don Pullen and Stanley Crouch." Why
someone would be more impressed with Crouch on drums than Butch
Morris on cornet and Fred Hopkins on bass beats me, but even the
most marginal of labels think they have marketing geniuses. The
music isn't exceptional, but Pullen's part is interesting, and
ordinary Murray is still pretty impressive. B+(*)
- The Ravens: Their Complete National Recordings
(1947-50 , Savoy Jazz, 3CD): The first major black vocal
group of the postwar era, and as such the first stop on the road
to rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, funk, and everything
else; their signature was bass singer Jimmy Ricks, who anchored
"Old Man River," "Summertime," and other landmark hits; this is
way too much -- a single disc will do almost anyone just fine.
- Darrell Scott: The Invisible Man (2006, Full
Light): Not sure what kind of country singer is sorry he never
read books like War and Peace, but he's one. Tries to
make up for it with good intentions and gospel invocations, but
I'm not sure he's got the right bead on either. Half-inspirational
lyric: "I only wanted to be half crazy and to be half happy and
to call it a life." He's got half an album too.
- Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped (2006, Geffen):
Their basic album, not just consistent but remarkably even, in
speed, in tone, in their signature guitar tunings.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #11, Part 2)
On the road, so this is somewhat abbreviated. Next week is likely
to be even more so. Still no date on Jazz CG, not that I'm very close
to that loop.
Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Ballads
(2004 , Cam Jazz): What a lovely album! As the notes say, the
band needs no introduction. Title's pretty much to the point, too.
Jon De Lucia Group: Face No Face (2005 ,
Jonji Music): Leader plays alto and soprano sax. Group includes
guitar, piano, bass and drums, as well as one guest spot on kato
and shamisen. Pieces are longish, except for the Japanese one.
Rhythm is loose and ragged, sax postbop, arrangement postmodern.
Fresh Sound releases a lot of stuff like this, and I'm familiar
with several of the players here from releases there. Not bad,
but not much that distinguishes it either.
Gordon Grdina/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian: Think Like the
Waves (2006, Songlines): Motian and Peacock need no further
introduction here. Grdina is a young guitarist from Vancouver --
also plays oud in a group called Sangha. Also seems to be involved
in other groups: Loose Acoustic, Box Cutter, Maqam. There's a low
key, somewhat rough, somewhat abstract feel here -- Peacock is a
mentor to Grdina, so they play particularly close, while Motian
is all misdirection, as usual.
Charlie Musselwhite: Delta Hardware (2006, Real
World): Not as old as he looks, let alone sounds, not that that's
the problem -- age reinforces the blues, both by the accumulation
of suffering and by its survival. But his claim to fame used to
be his harp, and he needs to air it out more. He's too ordinary
a singer to get by on that alone.
Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint: The River in
Reverse (2005 , Verve Forecast): Mostly Toussaint
songs, mostly Costello singing -- all things considered, a
reasonable division of labor. Starts real strong with "On Your
Way Down," which sets us up for a level of message that may or
may not be delivered, but certainly doesn't kick in clearly.
Elvis Costello Live With the Metropole Orkest: My Flame
Burns Blue (2002-04 , Deutsche Grammophone, 2CD):
My copy is a large square booklet with two discs on little foam
buttons, but it looks like the more pedestrian jewel box version
contains all the same music, including the bonus CD "Il Sogno
Suite." The live album is bracing, with the Metropoles moving
boldly out front both on string and brass fronts, and Costello
crooning in the tradition to which he was born. Also helps that
he's kept old songbook standbys like "Clubland" and "Watching
the Detectives." The bonus suite is classical music in the vein
I learned to hate as a child, with no vocals, no song structure,
but a smattering of tympani. I have no idea how it compares with
its models, nor do I care, but I found it unannoying enough that
I didn't feel compelled to cut it short when I played it a second
time. That's at least one definition of a B record.
Tom Cohen: The Guitar Trio Project (1999-2001
, Dreambox Media): Cohen's a drummer. He's lined up six
guitarist and six bassists for trios -- not exactly six trio
combinations, but close. One odd thing is that I can't tell
much difference between the guitarists, even though I know
most of them from elsewhere. Songs are standards, starting
with "Caravan" and "Cherokee" -- gets this off to an overly
familiar start. Not bad, but I'm having trouble figuring out
Ann Hampton Callaway: Blues in the Night (2006,
Telarc): In front of Sherrie Maricle's Diva Jazz Orchestra, which
happens four times here, she reminds me a bit of Sinatra -- not
the voice, of course, but the brassy big band singer, at least
until she tries to scat. In front of her usually impresive trio --
Ted Rosenthal on piano, Christian McBride on bass, Lewis Nash on
drums -- the limits of her voice become more of a liability. The
song selection makes me wonder, too.
Geri Allen: Timeless Portraits and Dreams (2006,
Telarc, 2CD): The second "special bonus" CD is one song, 3:52
long, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," with the Atlanta Jazz Chorus.
Total playing time is 62:22, so it could have fit on the first
CD, which already has four songs with the Chorus on them. The
vocal cuts have gospel themes, although the one called "Well
Done" makes me wonder what it is about Christianity that dumbs
people down so. Wallace Roney appears twice on trumpet, and that
I have no problem with. Allen's piano is hard to follow, and her
trio mates are nearly inaudible -- all the more surprising since
their names are Ron Carter and Jimmy Cobb. Big change, given
that last time out Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette put her
over the top. Not sure how bad this really is, but thus far
it's pretty annoying.
Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol.
1 (2005 , Domino): Hebden usually does business as
Four Tet, with a couple of the better electronica albums I've heard
in the last few years. Reid is a drummer who can list James Brown,
Fela Kuti, and Martha and the Vandellas on his resume, but I know
him best for a self-released 1976 album with Arthur Blythe called
Rhythmatism (reissued in 2004 on Universal Sound). The
purported model here was a 1972 sax-drums album called Duo
Exchange with Rashied Ali and Frank Lowe (reissued in 1999
by Knitting Factory, and well worth searching out), but the match
isn't all that close. Reid enjoys a good beat more than Ali, while
Hebden's electronics are more diffuse than the solitary point of
Lowe's sax. Three pieces, just 36:45 long, recorded live with no
overdubs or edits -- about right for an early '70s vintage Impulse,
but they keep their spiritual concerns wrapped up in dense layers
Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol.
2 (2005 , Domino): Three more pieces from the same
sessions, slightly longer (53:30). Not as compelling, not because
they're longer but because the initial ideas just didn't work out
as well. That happens sometimes -- more often than not -- when
you try live improv. Not superfluous either, but check out Vol.
1 before you spring for the leftovers. That's why they packaged
them this way.
Deep Blue Organ Trio: Goin' to Town: Live at the Green
Mill (2005 , Delmark): Organ-guitar-drums trios were
far from mbitious even back in their '60s heyday, so groups like
this don't promise much today. Small pleasures, maybe. This one
definitely has more than its predecessor, Deep Blue Bruise
(2004). Mostly from guitarist Bobby Broom, who holds the lead
more often than not.
Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Messenger:
Live at the Original Velvet Lounge (2005 , Delmark):
Dawkins plays alto and tenor sax. The group includes trumpet and
trombone, bass and drums. Don't see a credit for vocals, but there
are quite a few -- blues shouts, hip-hop, and various hollers, not
to mention the patter. Dawkins himself seems to be more out than
in, but the ensemble is out for party more than art. A good time,
for sure, but I don't have it calibrated yet.
Hot Club of Detroit (2006, Mack Avenue): Founded by
lead guitarist Evan Perri, this is more explicitly Django-inspired
than the other "Hot Club" bands I can think of -- six of thirteen
songs were penned by Reinhardt. In addition to Perri, the group has
two rhythm guitarists, bass, clarinet and accordion. The guitars
sound is intriciate, meticulously precise, but the clarinet and
accordion soften the background and add a European, or perhaps
specifically Gypsy, folk flavor. But no Grappelli. Wouldn't be a
bad idea to invite Aaron Weinstein in for a session.
One for All: The Lineup (2006, Sharp Nine): This
group has been recording since 1997, with five albums on Criss
Cross and now three on Sharp Nine. Haven't checked all of the
rosters, but five of six players here were on the 1997 album --
only change is John Webber on bass in lieu of Peter Washington.
The group is an all-star throwback to a common '60s hard bop lineup,
with sax (Eric Alexander), trumpet (Jim Rotondi), trombone (Steve
Davis), piano (David Hazeltine), bass (John Webber) and drums (Joe
Farnsworth). The arrangement allows for plenty of solo moments,
and it's rare to focus on one and not notice what fine musicians
these guys are. But it doesn't add up to much: conservative, in
the decent, unadventurous sense; skillful, of course.
The Roger Kellaway Trio: Heroes (2005 ,
IPO): No drums, just Bruce Forman on guitar and Don Lutz on bass.
If that's not enough to remind you of Oscar Peterson, note that
the fifth song is "Night Train." A look at the notes cinches it:
they start with an interview where Peterson pays tribute to
Kellaway. Nice touch. Well earned, too.
Andrey Dergatchev: The Return (2006, ECM): Music
for a film by Andrey Zvyagintsev. Don't know when this was recorded,
but the film is from 2003 or before. Usual soundtrack ambience,
haunting tones, very minimal, with splotches of dialog, words,
whatever. One called "Titles-run" is more upbeat, very attractive.
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further
listening the first time around.
Sex Mob: Sexotica (2005 , Thirsty Ear):
The final copy at last has some useful information in the booklet:
who plays, what, when. Why's still an open question. About all I've
figured out about Martin Denny's music is that when bongos don't
suffice for exotica, he brings in the bird whistles. They're here
too, but less conspicuously. The group was as expected, but the
whole thing appears to have been further processed by Goodandevil,
thickening up the electronic undertow. This has grown on me a bit,
but still seems like a marginal idea, too inside a joke -- if that's
what it is -- for someone not in on it.
Friday, August 04, 2006
There's this little widget on the left column of the blog called
Calendar, and the dates get filled in every day I manage to post at
least one entry. It serves as a constant reminder of how much I
manage to get written, which most months isn't all that much. But
I got off to a good start in July, which made me think I might be
able to hit every date for the month. Did, too, although the
satisfaction was fleeting, as the day after I filled it out an
empty August calendar appeared. Already missed a day this month --
a day I would just as soon forget in general. Will most likely
miss quite a few more over the next two weeks. Going out of town,
so even on the instances when I am able to connect I won't have
my usual tool set, office, and all that.
I do have quite a bit I want to write about, even putting
aside Israel's going apeshit in Lebanon, which shot to the top
of the priority list in July. The priority should be easy enough
to explain. We like to talk about how 9/11 "changed everything,"
but that's just our usual myopia. It mostly became an excuse for
overreacting on a global scale, bringing out many of our very
worst characteristics. But while most of the rest of the world,
including a great many and possibly most Arabs, sympathized, the
world's tolerance of our great tantrum was bound sooner or later
to run thin. Israel's destruction of Lebanon, and Hezbollah's
defense of Lebanon, amount to another watershed event, and I
think for most Arabs and a great many Muslims this event will
resound like nothing in recent history. As an affront it is
comparable to 1948, where the pro-West Arab regimes were so
severely humiliated that most soon fell to coups led by junior
officers. The Arab nationalism of the officers was critically
damaged by the 1967 war, leaving the region's more progressive,
more secular forces moribund, opening the way for an Islamist
insurgency -- especially in the regions most oppressed by the
US-Israel alliance. But two things have happened in this war
that hadn't happened in 1948 or 1967: one is that the US role
has never before been so nakedly exposed, and this is bound to
taint every regime in the region with close ties to the US:
Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, the rump of Iraq.
The other is that Hezbollah has thus far frustrated Israel bad
enough to be widely seen as a viable force, and as such a model
for the whole long list of complaints the region has accumulated.
So the net effect of the US in Iraq and Israel in Lebanon will
likely be to drive the region into increasingly bitter strife
directed at us.
That may not seem like all that big of a military problem,
but the US and Israel have weaknesses that their arms don't
cover -- especially from people who aren't likely to back down.
Over the last few weeks I've read four books about oil, which
happens to be a pretty good place to start. The Saudi "oil
weapon" in 1973 was flawed in several ways that aren't true
any more, but even if it isn't deliberately employed, the US
is extremely vulnerable to even minor disruptions, and such
disruptions are likely to have sizable political costs. The
US is also economically vulnerable, especially to China, and
that's another front where arms aren't all that useful.
Meanwhile, the public in the US is totally clueless, and
not just the segment that still follows Bush or points even
loonier. The last month has made me vastly more pessimistic,
not so much because of all the things that have gone wrong --
and there's a lot in that department that will prove awfully
tough for many people to get over -- but for how little grasp
our so-called leaders have of it. I've spent a good deal of
my life watching corporate leaders follow the book straight
into the jaws of financial disaster -- I've worked for three
or four companies like that, and seen it coming every time,
each time more clearly. This is like that, but this time the
scale is humongous. This looks very bad.
Anyhow, for me at least it's probably good to take a break.
Get away from the news. Burn up some gas while it's still only
$3/gallon. Go to a town that actually has record stores. Maybe
read that Ruth Reichl book I haven't had time for. Learn to
tolerate a few holes in the calendar -- you just got the gist
of it anyway. And at the end of August, the calendar will flip
over and all those holes will be gone, replaced by a blank
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Recycled Goods #34: August 2006
The August 2006 Recycled Goods column is now up at
Multimedia. Mostly jazz this time, the big chunk being the
Impulse Records 45th Anniversary extravaganza: didn't get the box,
but did sort my way through ten artist comps and a best-of, which
felt insufficient enough that I added short notes on thirteen more
albums they slighted. The Impulse comps of Sonny Rollins and McCoy
Tyner intersect with Concord's Milestone Profiles series,
so I figured I should work their five titles into the column.
Again, I thought better of the compilers' art and added a note
on an older Sonny Rollins compilation, Silver City. Didn't
note it clearly enough, but that's just one of many cases that
show that critics make superior compilers -- John Morthland's
Okehs and Billy Altman's RCAs are two more.
The Monk/Coltrane and the jazz remixes also got tangled up in
threads that started with Impulse. Everything else was just slipped
in, but given how much space Impulse chewed up I wound up holding
quite a bit back for September.
- Concord (Fantasy): Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane, Milestone Profiles (5),
Delaney & Bonnie, Silver City
- Crammed Discs: Mahala Rai Banda
- EMI (Blue Note): Jackie McLean
- Heartbeat: Ska Bonanza, Freddie McGregor
- Piranha: Maurice El Medioni/Roberto Rodriguez, Boban Markovic
- Runt (Water): Allen Ginsberg (2)
- Sanctuary: Prince Far I
- Savoy Jazz: Re-Bop (2)
- Sony/BMG (Legacy): DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Marvin Sease,
- Universal (UME): Cream
- Universal (Verve): The House That Trane Build, The Impulse Story (10),
"further Impulses" (13), Impulsive
- WEA (Reprise, Rhino): They Might Be Giants, Neil Young
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
The Face of War
this poster picture on the Tennessee Guerilla Woman
strikes me as very evocative of the face of the war: how Rice
has moved to the forefront with Olmert smiling in the shadows.
As I understand it, the inscript translates as: "The massacre
of children in Qana 2 is the gift of Rice. The clever bombs.
What led me to this blog was a post of a Paul Krugman column
called "Shock and Awe" -- turns out to be mostly about Israel's
war in Lebanon. Krugman is pretty negative about Israel's bombing
campaign, but he seems seriously confused about what's going on
and why. The column starts:
For Americans who care deeply about Israel, one of the truly
nightmarish things about the war in Lebanon has been watching
Israel repeat the same mistakes the United States made in Iraq.
It's as if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been possessed by the
deranged spirit of Donald Rumsfeld.
Yes, I know there are big differences in the origins of the
two wars. There's no question of this war having been sold on
false pretenses; unlike America in Iraq, Israel is clearly
acting in self-defense.
Why is it that people like Krugman who should know better give
Israel such a wide berth to justify aggression in the name of
self-defense? Further down, Krugman writes: "There is a case for
a full-scale Israeli ground offensive against Hezbollah. It may
come to that, if Israel can't find any other way to protect
itself." Once again, we find the assumption that Hezbollah is
implacably obsessed with attacking Israel. But this flies in
the face of the facts: with minor exceptions, Hezbollah only
fights on Lebanese soil, and only fires rockets into Israel in
response to Israeli bombing of Lebanon. I'm enough of a pacifist
I can see the argument that Hezbollah is wrong to do so, but
that's not the argument Israel and its partisans make against
Hezbollah. Rather, they claim a right to self-defense. If you
grant any such right, you have to recognize that Lebanon also
has a right to self-defense. Hezbollah is very much a part of
Lebanon -- specifically, it is the part that defends against
attacks by Israel.
The source of this confusion is that Israel's partisans keep
changing the subject back to Hezbollah: insisting that we stand
up and condemn Hezbollah's violence while accepting Israel's
violence as self-defense; insisting that we stand up and reject
Hezbollah's motives while never questioning Israel's -- after
all, they're just trying to defend themselves. But everything
becomes much clearer if you simply forget about Hezbollah --
after all, what is Hezbollah but a side-effect of Israel's past
war in Lebanon? Nations have various options for self-defense.
They can, for instance, appeal to the UN for pressure to halt
and rectify cross-border attacks. Few nations have the sort of
firepower to respond to a minor border incident by taking out
a nation's airports and major roads and throwing up a naval
blockade, but Israel does, and effectively no one -- certainly
not Lebanon -- can stop them.
At some level, Krugman understands this -- he should, since
he's spent the last 3-4 years watching the Bush regime try to
apply Israeli methods to Iraq. Krugman writes:
The most compelling argument against an invasion of Iraq wasn't the
suspicion many of us had, which turned out to be correct, that the
administration's case for war was fraudulent. It was the fact that the
real reason government officials and many pundits wanted a war --
their belief that if the United States used its military might to "hit
someone" in the Arab world, never mind exactly who, it would shock and
awe Islamic radicals into giving up terrorism -- was, all too
obviously, a childish fantasy.
As Billmon has pointed out, Israel's war amounts to little
more than a gigantic tantrum -- this same desire to go out and
hit someone. Israel is no different than Bush in this regard.
In fact, Israel is the model, the chief argument that it works.
Except right now it's mostly just working to cause atrocities
and fevered resistance. The idea that more war is needed to
reach a "sustainable peace" is exactly wrong -- exactly as
wrong as the argument that the road to peace for Israel and
Palestine runs through Baghdad.
AMG's mid-term report: "The Best of 2006 So Far: Six Months' Worth
of Great Music": Legend: AK=Andy Kellman, CAl=Cammila Albertson,
CAp=Corey Apar, DJ=David Jeffries, HP=Heather Phrares, JB=Jason
Birchmeier, JCM=James Christopher Monger, JSM=J. Scott McClintock, MB=Marisa Brown, MF=Megan
Frye, MW=MacKenzie Wilson (cites songs, not albums), RT=Rob Theakston,
SL=Steve Leggett, STE=Stephen Thomas Erlewine, SW=Sean Westergaard,
- Li Alin: All In [HP]
- Ellen Allien: Orchestra of Bubbles [DJ]
- Ashley Parker Angel: Soundtrack to Your Life [RT]
- Architects: Revenge [CAp]
- Jon Auer: Songs From the Year of Our Demise [RT]
- Beatlemaniacs!!! The World of Beatles Novelty Records [STE]
- The Beauty Room: The Beauty Room [RT]
- Belle & Sebastian: The Life Pursuit [STE, TS]
- Belong: October Language [RT]
- Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys: Turntable Matinee [RT]
- Scott H. Biram: Graveyard Shift [MF]
- Boogie Uproar: Texas Blues and R&B 1947-1954 [RT]
- The Bouncing Souls: The Gold Record [CAp]
- Brand New Heavies: Get Used to It [DJ]
- Built to Spill: You in Reverse [JB]
- Camera Obscura: Let's Get Out of This Country [TS, JB]
- Regina Carter: I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey [RT]
- Neko Case: That Teenage Feeling [JB]
- Ray Cash: Cash on Delivery [DJ]
- C.J. Chenier: The Desperate Kingdom of Love [SL]
- The Church: Uninvited, Like Clouds [JCM]
- Cocteau Twins: Lullabies to Violaine [AK]
- Harry Connick, Jr.: Harry on Broadway, Act 1 [RT]
- Elvis Costello/Allen Toussaint: The River in Reverse [STE]
- Dabrye: Two/Three [RT]
- Danielson: Ships [JCM]
- Def Leppard: Yeah! [STE]
- Destroyer: Destroyer's Rubies [JCM]
- Taylor Deupree: Northern [RT]
- J Dilla: Donuts [AK, MB, JB]
- Bob Dorough: Small Day Tomorrow [JSM]
- Dr. Octagon: The Return of Dr. Octagon [MB]
- Drive-By Truckers: A Blessing and a Curse [JB]
- East River Pipe: What Are You On? [JSM]
- Echo & the Bunnymen: [?] [MW]
- Editors: The Back Room [MW]
- Eleventh Dream Day: Zeroes and Ones [SW]
- Envelopes: Demon [TS]
- The Essex Green: Cannibal Sea [TS]
- Donald Fagen: Morph the Cat [STE]
- The Fiery Furnaces: Bitter Tea [MB]
- Final Fantasy: He Poos Clouds [JCM, JSM]
- The Format: Dog Problems [CAp]
- Robert Fripp: Exposure [Bonus CD] [SW]
- Nelly Furtado: Loose [MW]
- The Futureheads: News and Tributes [HP]
- Ghostface Killah: Fishscale [AK]
- Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere [MB]
- Goldfrapp: Supernature [MW]
- The Gourds: Heavy Ornamentals [JCM, JSM]
- Grizzly Bear: Yellow House [HP]
- The Guillemots: From the Clitts [CAl]
- Oakley Hall: Second Guessing [MF]
- Herbert: Scale [AK, RT]
- His Name Is Alive: Detroia [HP]
- I Am Robot and Proud: The Electricity in Your House Wants to Sing [RT]
- Idol Tryouts Two: Ghostly International, Vol. 2 [RT]
- Jesu: Silver [RT]
- Kaizers Orchestra: Maestro [JCM]
- Toby Keith: White Trash With Money [STE]
- Mike Keneally: Guitar Therapy Live [SW]
- Jamie Kennedy/Stu Stone: Blowin' Up [RT]
- Kissing the Pink: Naked/Kissing the Pink [JSM]
- Chris Knight: Enough Rope [MF]
- Lacuna Coil: Karmacode [CAl]
- The Lawrence Arms: Oh! Calcutta! [CAp]
- Cari Lee & the Saddle-ites: Brought to You Via Saddle-ite [RT]
- Larry Levan: Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story [AK]
- Loscil: Plume [RT]
- Love Is All: Nine Times That Same Song [TS]
- Lucero: The Attic Tapes [CAp]
- Serena Maneesh: Serena Maneesh [MW]
- Miss Lauren Marie: Introducing Miss Lauren Marie [RT]
- Jah Mason: Princess Gone . . . The Sage Bed [DJ]
- Matmos: The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast [HP]
- The Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra [AK]
- Freddie McGregor: Bobby Bobylon [Bonus Tracks] [SL]
- Mikkel Metal: Victimizer [AK]
- Modern Memory: Fraction of the First [RT]
- Mogwai: Mr. Beast [HP]
- Mojave 3: Puzzles Like You [TS, RT]
- Barbara Morgenstern: The Grass Is Always Greener [JB]
- Morrissey: Ringleader of the Tormentors [MW]
- Murder by Death: In Bocca al Lupo [MB]
- Nada Surf: The Weight Is a Gift [MW]: 2005
- NOMO: New Tones [MB]
- Beth Orton: Comfort of Strangers [STE]
- The Paper Chase: Now You Are One of Us [MB]
- Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam [JB]
- Peeping Tom: Peeping Tom [CAl]
- Pet Shop Boys: Fundamental [DJ]
- Pink: I'm Not Dead [STE]
- Plastilina Mosh: Tasty + B Sides [CAl]
- Brian Prosehn: Live In: Nerd Rage [DJ]
- Brian Protheroe: Pinball and Other Stories: The Best of Brian Protheroe [STE, JSM]
- Psapp: The Only Thing I Ever Wanted [CAl]
- The Raconteurs: Broken Boy Soldiers [STE]
- James Raynard: Strange Histories [JCM]
- Rebel Meets Rebel: Rebel Meets Rebel [MF]
- Megan Reilly: Let Your Ghost Go [MB]
- Rihanna: A Girl Like Me [MW]
- Riverboat Gamblers: To the Confusion of Our Enemies [CAp]
- Carl Hancock Rux: Good Brea Alley [DJ]
- Saturday Looks Good to Me: Sound on Sound [TS]
- Paul Simon: Surprise [STE]
- Slewfoot & Cary B.: Rainin' in New Orleans [SL]
- Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped [HP, RT, JB]
- The Sounds: Dying to Say This to You [CAl]
- Bruce Springsteen: We Shall Overcome [STE]
- Stills: Without Feathers [JCM]
- Kelly Stoltz: Below the Branches [SW]
- T.I.: King [AK]
- Tool: 10,000 Days [JB]
- The Twilight Singers: Powder Burns [MB]
- The Velvet Teen: Gyzmkid [CAl]
- The Veronicas: The Secret Life of the Veronicas [STE]
- Triffids: Born Sandy Devotional [TS]
- Aki Tsuyuko: Hokane [HP]
- TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain [HP]
- Julieta Venegas: Limon y Sal [JB]
- Scott Walker: The Drift [AK]
- Keith Fullerton Whitman: Lisbon [RT]
- Hank Williams III: Straight to Hell [MF]
- Thom Yorke: The Eraser [AK]
- Young and Sexy: Panic When You Find It [TS]
- Benjamin Zephaniah: Naked [MB]