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Friday, September 29, 2006

F5 Record Report (#9: September 28, 2006)

Here's the latest installment in my F5 Record Report. Roster this week:

  • Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Downtown) A- [rock]
  • Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble: Musik (Enja) B+ [jazz]
  • Maurice El Médioni Meets Roberto Rodriguez: Descarga Oriental: The New York Sessions (Piranha) A- [world]
  • Irving Fields Trio: Bagels and Bongos (1959, Reboot Stereophonic) A- [jazz]
  • Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: Mayim Rabim (Tzadik) B+ [world]
  • The Klezmatics: Wonder Wheel: Lyrics by Woody Guthrie (JMG) A [folk]
  • Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars: Carnival Conspiracy (Piranha) A- [world]
  • Rufus Thomas: Stax Profiles (1967-75, Stax) A- [r&b]

Got off on a Jewish kick this time. Started off planning on doing the Klezmatics and Art Brut. After I wound up quoting the latter's Israel-Palestine line, I went scrounging. Once I found El Médioni the pattern was set. Fields and London were revised from Recycled Goods. Atzmon was a record that had just missed Jazz CG, but it's worth noting, and doing it let me drop a plug for Exile. Gottlieb was in the incoming queue. It's a not-so-radical release in John Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture series, which could have contributed more interesting records. Rufus Thomas doesn't fit the pattern, but I never planned on doing thematic columns -- although I do tend to pair up complementary records, as with Dylan/Jewels & Binoculars last week. One thing about this week's Jewish music is how varied it all is.

Handed another one in today, with a cluster of world jazz, so the cycle continues.


Letter to publicists:

The Sept. 28 installment of my weekly F5 Record Report is now out all
over Wichita KS. The URL below will get you the latest column, and
the "next article" link will cycle you back through the old columns.

  http://www.f5wichita.com/mba.php?id=55

The columns are also archived and indexed at:

  http://www.tomhull.com/ocston/arch/f5/

I send these notices out each week, but only to publicists connected
to records reviewed that week. This week, the label index is:

  Concord (Stax): Rufus Thomas
  Downtown: Art Brut
  Enja: Gilad Atzmon
  JMG: The Klezmatics
  Piranha: Maurice El Medioni, Frank London
  Reboot Stereophonic: Irving Fields
  Tzadik: Ayelet Rose Gottlieb

Thanks for your interest and support.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Music: Current count 12396 [12361] rated (+35), 900 [897] unrated (+3). This week's bump came mostly from working on Recycled Goods, and more specifically from working off the bottom of the deck there. Pain focuses the mind, providing a strong incentive to make up my mind on one play.

  • Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Downtown): Unlikely to succeed in their ambition to write "the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along," let alone one "as universal as Happy Birthday." But they vary their guitar-band art punk with enough panache to wow critics, or anyone able to savor their references or cope with the irony of decrying songs about sex and drugs after exclaiming over seeing a new girlfriend naked and demanding a drug that works. A-
  • Atmosphere: You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having (2005, Rhymesayers): Ant's beats are harder and samples thicker than I'm used to with this duo, which makes it harder to follow Slug's words -- aside from his Iraq diagnosis ("what the fuck did you expect?"), and his uncertain advice to "Little Man," which is what made him interesting to follow in the first place. B+(***)
  • Roy Brown: The Complete Imperial Recordings (1956-58 [1995], Capitol): Not a major figure, although his "Good Rockin' Tonight" was a landmark even if a lucky strike -- the original was by Wynonie Harris. That was on the rather inconsistent King anthology Rhino put out in 1994. This is more rock-influenced, with Fats Domino a factor, and some indication that he's been listening to Elvis toward the end. B+(*)
  • Coldplay: X&Y (2005, Capitol): Keyboard-led English group, rocks harder than their prog brethren; tougher than Radiohead, maybe even Blur, but pussies compared to Manic Street Preachers. Liked their previous album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, better. B
  • Franz Ferdinand (2004, Domino): A largish hit with a substantial critical following. It's easy enough to see why: the guitar band rock is fast and crisp, a couple of songs sharp enough to hook, nothing dull enough to miss. Working quick off a library copy, which is enough to make me cautious, but I can why they clicked. B+(***)
  • Journey: Greatest Hits (1978-96 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): They had 17 Top 40 hits from 1979-87, plus one from the 1996 reunion counted as a bonus here; this loses five and adds three -- don't know why, but it's unlikely to matter; skipping past the bulk that plain sucks, their hits were interchangeable, contentless stealth rock -- perfect once radio decided the key to share was simply not provoking listeners to change the channel. C
  • Sonya Kitchell: Words Came Back to Me (2006, Velour): Seventeen-year-old singer-songwriter from western Massachusetts. Has a voice that reminds me a bit of Joni Mitchell, except on a blues that has Janis Joplin in mind. An appealing debut, but half a dozen plays have left me feeling something's missing -- perhaps it's too easy to say experience and suffering, but that could be it. B
  • Anne McCue: Koala Motel (2006, Messenger): Australian singer-songwriter, doesn't have Kasey Chambers' voice or local detail, but she's probably been focusing more on Lucinda Williams, who appears on one track, is evidently a fan, and certainly a model. McCue plays all the guitar here aside from a bit of pedal steel. B+(*)
  • Putumayo Presents: Music From the Wine Lands (1991-2005 [2006], Putumayo World Music): They've done coffee, tea, chocolate -- I tried lobbying for cocaine, but they insist on keeping their vices, like their pop music, legal and mellow; the only thing remarkable here is that you can take thirteen songs from eleven countries and make them all sound the same -- the wines vary more than this. B


Jazz Prospecting (CG #11, Part 8)

Didn't get into the replay shelves this week, mostly because I spent the first half working on Recycled Goods. That also explains why this week's prospecting starts with more world-oriented items. More Recycled early this week, then I'll work on pulling a Jazz CG together. Don't know any more about what's going on at the Village Voice, although I can think of some pretty good arguments why they should keep Jazz CG going.


Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: Mayim Rabim (2006, Tzadik): These notes are necessarily quick reactions, as opposed to fully considered reviews, so sometimes my reactions stray from the text. Sometimes I bring up aspects of the process, like when I complain about having to work off slipcase promos -- by the way, I always get fan mail when I do that. This isn't even that: just a CDR in a purple plastic wrapper, stapled to a relatively fancy press kit. I assume this is all John Zorn's fault, but let me explain. When I started this column, Tzadik was very high on my label wish list. I was told that they never send promo copies out, but that as a press person I could buy discounted copies at the same price they sell copies to their artists. Now, if you're a consumer, that's a good deal -- I've bought a couple of things on my long-term wish list, and should buy some more if/when I ever find the time/money. But it's way too expensive to go fishing. And while Tzadik produces some of the most interesting records around, they also put out some very strange, even unlistenable, shit. So the writer economics are, to say the least, dicey, but the "artist price" bothers me too. I do manage to get a few Tzadik records in the mail, either directly from the musician or through a publicist the musician hired, and every time that happens Tzadik's cash register rings in my head. Gottlieb figured a way around that -- while I don't like working off this, I can't say as I blame her. As for the music, she seems to see herself as a jazz singer, but this is something else. She's taken texts from the "erotic biblical love poem Song of Songs." Sung in Hebrew, I suspect the translations lose something -- "My beloved stretched forth his hand from the hole/And my insides beat wildly"? The voices radiate over clever arrangements of clarinet, piano, cello and percussion, unpeeling the popular artifacts of Jewish music to reveal roots that sound timeless. B+(*)

David Krakauer: Bubbemeises: Lies My Grandma Told Me (2006, Label Bleu): Front cover credits also include Socalled and Klezmer Madness. Socalled is credited with samples and sequences. Klezmer Madness is the band. Socalled was around for Krakauer's 2004 Live in Krakow, but fits in much tighter here -- in many cases the tracks begin with the samples, beats and a bit of rap, which sets up a contrast that Krakauer's manic tendencies have long needed. [B+(***)]

Raúl Jaurena: Te Amo Tango (2005 [2006], Soundbrush): Tango may have originated in the brothels of Buenos Aires, but these days it extends from popular dance to classical music. This sounds more classical than most, thanks to the Sinopus String Quintet, the operatic singer Marga Mitchell on four tracks, and to the slow grind of bandeonist Juarena's dense melodies -- an intensity that works, up to a point. B+(**)

Vittor Santos: Renewed Impressions (2005 [2006], Adventure Music): It's very rare to hear a Brazilian record with a lead horn of any sort, much less trombone. Santos doesn't do anything very fancy: his tone is somewhat muted, just short puffs leading the piano-bass-drums (or in two instances Hamilton de Holanda's mandolin). But in the context of this relaxed samba that's definition enough. A Mario Adnet tune, "An American in the Samba," is especially delightful. [A-]

The Andy Biskin Quartet: Early American: The Melodies of Stephen Foster (2000 [2006], Strudelmedia): Biskin is a clarinettist, originally from Texas, studied at Yale, worked for Alan Lomax, now in New York. The quartet gets an old-fashioned sound from Chris Washburne on trombone and tuba; Pete McCann plays banjo as well as guitar, and John Hollenbeck drums. Biskin slips four originals in with the Foster tunes. The latter strike me as sounding ancient and fragile, at points awkwardly so. Not sure to what extent this is deliberate, or matters. [B]

Andy Biskin: Trio Tragico (2005 [2006], Strudelmedia): The contrast to Biskin's clarinet comes from Dave Ballou's trumpet. The third wheel is bassist Drew Gress, who provides background and some pulse, but has neither the ability to drive nor accent that has made drummers the norm in two-horn trios. It also seems like the two horns play in unison a lot, which puts the focus back on the composer and his clarinet. He's doing some interesting things here -- possibly building on his evident interest in early Americana. [B+(*)]

Mark Feldman: What Exit (2005 [2006], ECM): Most of the time I play the stereo at moderately low volume, often opposed to those annoying "play it loud" instructions some labels like to affix. One consequence of this is that I've developed a pet peeve over faintly recorded segments which tend to disappear under the hum of the computer fans, not to mention the notorious Kansas wind and the occasional tornado siren. This got off on the wrong foot with a segment long enough I wound up checking the health of the equipment. When I went back and turned it up, I found interesting composerly moments, with Anders Jormin's bass reinforcing Feldman's violin, and pianist John Taylor taking scenic sidetrips. They can generate some momentum when they want, but not much volume. The sort of record that gains stature the more you get into it, but for my purposes, at 70+ minutes, it's more work than it's worth. B

Keith Jarrett: The Carnegie Hall Concert (2005 [2006], ECM, 2CD): I don't dislike Jarrett. I wouldn't argue with anyone who ranked him as one of the most important jazz pianists of the forty years he's been recording. Beyond that it's hard to say. Few people have recorded as much, as long, at such a high level -- Cecil Taylor is one that jumps to mind, but that's a tough comparison to make; looking through my lists, I'd say the most comparable pianist to Jarrett is Abdullah Ibrahim, and that's high praise. Nonetheless, I get a little tired with the constant volley of trio and solo albums that are about all Jarrett has done over the last twenty-plus years. This one is a solo. The booklet lists all of Jarrett's ECM solos. How many? Counting this one, 24, including 11 doubles and one 6-CD set -- 40 discs in all. The few I've heard, excepting The Köln Concert, all tend to blur together for me. This doesn't strike me as exceptional, but two notes: I thoroughly enjoyed "True Blues," but then I have Otis Spann albums that are at least as true; and I find the applause distracting and ultimately annoying, partly because it makes me wonder what he get to elicit that applause. Maybe it was just being so good for so long? B

Mitchel Forman: Perspectives (2005-06 [2006], Marsis Jazz): Pianist, including electronic keyboards. Not familiar with his own albums. Most of his side credits seem to be fusion (starting with John McLaughlin) and pop jazz (Chuck Loeb, Rick Braun, Jeff Golub, Najee, list goes on), but two early credits were with Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz. This is half acoustic, half synthesized, often with sequenced percussion. Two originals, two Beatles songs, various covers which most likely represent a personal view of the tradition -- Hancock, Corea, McLaughlin, Shorter, Ron Carter, Russell Ferrante, and most importantly two from Keith Jarrett. Coming after Jarrett in my queue, this popped my ears right up. Will have to play it some more. [B+(***)]

Omer Avital: The Ancient Art of Giving (2006, Smalls): After Frank Hewitt, Israeli bassist Avital is the second little-known Smalls regular Luke Kaven has set out to document. Volume 1 was compiled from 1996 tapes and released earlier this year as Asking No Permission. It featured a long list of post-Branford saxophonists -- the best known being Mark Turner. I found it hard to sort the compositions out from the clutter, but a decade later he's got it nailed down. The quintet features Turner on tenor sax, Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Aaron Goldberg on piano, and Ali Jackson on drums. Avital's pieces set the horns free -- neither Turner nor Cohen have pronounced avant leanings, but they enjoy the freedom. Jackson avoids the hard bop clichés, playing light and letting the rhythm slosh around a bit. Piano gets a few nice runs too. Recorded live on two nights at Fat Cat. Seems like I've been complaining about applause a lot recently, so I should note that there is some here, but unlike the Jarrett record, it's proportional, often coming at opportune moments -- always a good sign when the audience swings with the band. A-

Frank Hewitt: Fresh From the Cooler (1996 [2006], Smalls): Rules of thumb: I know what I like in a piano trio, but I rarely know how to explain just why one is able to pique my interest while so many others just sound like, well, so many others. It's certainly important that the bass and drums stay in the game. Ari Roland and Jimmy Lovelace qualify here, but barely -- aside from some heavy-handed drums on "Tenor Madness," Hewitt's piano is key throughout. He just seems right on the mark. Need to check it again, but my first impression is that this may top his first posthumous album -- Hewitt was one of those guys who played for decades but never made a record, at least before his death at 67 in 2002. [A-]

Gilad Hekselman: Split Life (2006, Smalls): Guitar-bass-drums trio, led by a young Israeli guitarist, with Joe Martin on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums, recorded live at Fat Cat in NYC. Similar to a piano trio, although jazz custom tends more toward improvising single-note lines. Nice record, similar to another half-dozen I've heard, mostly on Fresh Sound. B+(*)


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

Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge (2005 [2006], Delmark): This is Chicago's answer to a traditional New Orleans tailgate party, with Maurice Brown's trumpet to shine up Dawk's sax, and Steve Berry's trombone to get it dirty again. No one is credited with vocals, but that doesn't stop the shouts, hollers, whelps and raps, let alone the patter. B+(***)

Von Freeman: Good Forever (2006, Premonition): He's always had a distinctively thin, fragile sound, so the surprise here is how well he keeps it hidden. At 84, he may have slowed down, but that's possibly because this mainstream quartet never pushes him. Even so, sometimes he does reach for notes that aren't there, slipping into a muffled screech. Only then does his sax balladry reverts to form. B+(***)


9/11 and the Children of a Lesser God

It's a couple of weeks old by now, but Tony Karon has a remarkable 9/11 piece posted on his blog. It's about Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, the Middle East, and most pointedly about us. If I started quoting it I'd wind up quoting it all. But here's just the first line:

Imagine, on September 12 2001, Condoleezza Rice had jetted in to town to tell New Yorkers that the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center and the two thousand lives lost there represented the "birth pangs of a new Middle East" . . .

Postscript: I should have written more on this, but it was late, and there was too much. Karon nominates Rami Khouri as Person of the Year for his coverage and analysis of the recent war in Lebanon, citing Khouri's invitation to Israeli journalists "to take a more Jewish approach to their work!" This isn't irony. It's shared heritage, forgotten by too many on all sides of the divide. Karon cites Hillel's fundamental definition of Jewishness: "That which is hateful unto yourself, do not do unto others; all the rest is commentary." Khouri cites Deuteronomy: "Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue." Personally, I find that the word "justice" has become so poluted with vengeance that I prefer to use a simpler, less combative principle: respect. Pretty much everything I have to say about politics derives from that one principle.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Storm

Ivor van Heerden describes himself as a disaster scientist. He was born in South Africa, but was drawn to Louisiana, first to LSU, then to the wetlands. He holds a Ph.D. in marine sciences, teaches civil and environmental engineering, is deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center, and director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes. His background and strategic position offers a unique perspective on the Katrina disaster, as least in terms of New Orleans.

I've also read Michael Eric Dyson's Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster, which provides a good chronology of the hurricane and what happened after, as well as a longer meditation on how race factors in, especially on the response end. I don't want to go down that rathole, but my own view is that race didn't factor much into the post-disaster fiasco. On the other hand, there's no doubt that the poor were hit hardest and had the least recourse, and the deep history there has much to do with race. Indeed, the race politics of the Jim Crow south laid the foundation for government that recognizes no responsibility to its poor, while serving itself and its wealthy patrons with cronyism. FEMA's response to Katrina is just one example of the application of such Jim Crow politics -- minus the race baiting, mostly, but with the same contempt for anyone not hooked into the ruling class.

But van Heerden is invaluable for understaning just what happened, why it happened, what we knew about it and when, and how Katrina fits into the general pattern of hurricane threats. In addition to his scientific and engineering expertise, he was well connected, both to the media and to various political bodies -- even though he wasn't always welcome, as when the Army Corps of Engineers tried to obstruct his investigation of their levee failures.

The following are some long quotes from van Heerden's book, The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina -- The Inside Story From One Louisiana Scientist (2006, Viking). Mike Bryan is listed as second author, probably deserving much credit for the easy flow of the prose, but the story is told as a first-person memoir. The first quote sums up [pp. 10]:

Over thirteen hundred citizens in Louisiana and Mississippi died due to Hurricane Katrina -- the number as of February 2006, and certain to go up, perhaps dramatically, as the missing are reclassified. Six months after the storm, one hundred thousand families were still homeless. Some of those deaths and some of those dislocations were inevitable, because Katrina was a natural disaster. Others -- the majority -- were man-made. I don't see how we can avoid that conclusion. The levee systems failed inexcusably. We now thoroughly understand the need for coastal restoration as a buffer against the big storms, but land loss continues at an alarming rate. So what next? Should we clean up and rebuild New Orleans -- to the extent even possible -- if we then repeat the mistakes of the past? No, because the point overlooked in much of the Katrina media coverage is the fact that this hurricane was not the big one. I've learned that people don't want to hear this, because it makes them angry. But there it is.As Katrina should have affected New Orleans proper, she was decidedly a medium hurricane. Sometime in the foreseeable future a bigger storm will not take that last-minute jog to the east and every square foot of New Orleans -- all of it, not just 80 percent -- will be underwater, and deeper underwater than this time. Unless, that is, the right measures are authorized and funded immediately, then executed promptly and properly.

I don't like to see good science pushed to the sidelines just because it conflicts with narrow inteests pushing their self-serving agendas. Such politics as usual helped to inundate New Orleans in 2005. If science and engineering had been allowed to play their proper role in the development of policies for the wetlands and the levees, we wouldn't be in this situation today. If nothing changes in the future, one fifth of the state of Louisiana -- everything south of Interstate 10, including the city of New Orleans in its entirety -- will disappear beneath the waves, gone for good, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves. Future historians will be writing books about the "Cajun Atlantis."

Hard as it is to believe, nature has actually given us a bit of a second chance. There's something left to work with in New Orleans. We must put aside the politics, egos, turf wars, and profit agendas if we're going to reconstruct this city effectively, engineer proper levees, and restore the buffering coastline.

Van Heerden surveys the various scientists working with him at LSU's Hurricane Center, including a group he calls the "surge warriors" -- the people who gather the raw data for the Center's surge flow models, which predicted the extent of flooding due to overtopping levees [p. 40]:

Notice that about half of the surge warriors are not American-born, and no surprise. This is where we're at in this country today. More and more of the faculty and the majority of graduate students in engineering and physical scences are from foreign soil, and not just at LSU, everywhere in the United States. American kids are not that interested in long, demanding graduate programs that don't guarantee riches in the end. I think MBA programs may be sucking more than their fair share of the best students away from the sciences and engineering.

There are various stories about FEMA's arrogance and incompetence. At one point, van Heerden suggests the use of tent cities for evacuees: they are cheap, easy to assemble, can be provisioned for, and keep folks safe but close by so they can return quickly and maintain a labor pool for clean-up. They're actually common practice in many parts of the world, but FEMA rejected the idea out of hand, explaining that Americans don't live in tents. Instead, they shipped folks everywhere, to places with no provisions, while leasing cruise ships and buying up mobile homes. On the other hand, the Center for Disease Control appears to be just about the last bastion of science and sanity in the federal government [p. 59]:

The CDC's two-page list of health impacts included West Nile virus, rabies, waterborne gastrointestinal diseases, burns, pulmonary irritations -- the usual suspects, and more -- and it was the job of both our center at LSU and the CDC to be prepared to provide relief officials and policymakers with the best information regarding all of them. The CDC provides medical support teams to any state requesting their help, and it also has rapid-assessment teams, a critical part of any response to a major disaster. They can assure that the correct medical supplies, health resources, and manpower are available as soon as possible. Because of our research we could give them a good heads-up on what to expect after Katrina.

I was not surprised by the CDC's prompt and efficient response to the telltale surge model. They're on teh ball. Compared to some of the FEMA officials with whom we had dealt in the past few years, they are disciplined, scientific, fact-based, and results oriented.

A major part of the book concerns the levee failures and the Army Corps of Engineers' responsibility and cover-up [pp. 94-95]:

It must be repeated: If the only sources of water in New Orleans had been the rainfall from Katrina (seven to ten inches), the predicted overtopping of the levees of the Intracoastal Waterway and the Industrial Canals, the overtopping of the Lakefront Airport levee, and the breach at the CSX railroad junction, the flooding in the Orleans East and St. Bernard bowls on the eastern side of Greater New Orleans would have been much less damaging, and the flooding in the Orleans Metro Bowl, the heart of the city to the west, would have been relatively insignificant. According to our latest calculations, 88 percent of the flooding in the Orleans Metro Bowl, by volume, was due to the breaches on the London Avenue and 17th Street canals. In Orleans East, 69 percent of the flood was due to breaches. In the St. Bernard Bowl, 92 percent. Thus, on average, 87 percent of all the water that ended up flooding the greater New Orleans metro area was the result of levee failures that totaled less than 400 yards on the drainage canals and 650 yards on the Industrial Canal.

Van Heerden's other major interest is in wetlands restoration [p. 161-162]:

So the first point to know regarding the relationship of the disappearing wetlands and the peril in this part of the state is the irony that the flood-control measures necessary to create and then protect the infrastructure in this entire part of the state are contributing to the loss of land on which this infrastructure sits. The second point is the impact of the oil and gas industry, without which the state of Louisiana would practically collapse, economically. Our wetlands are the nation's number-one source of crude oil (pumping more than the Alaska pipeline) and the second-leading source of natural gas, and in order to support and transport this production the companies have carved, by one calculation, eight thousand miles of cuts and canals throughout the wetlands. Since this entire network ties into the Gulf of Mexico, it provides opportunity for salt-water encroachment. It is subject to erosion and disrupts the natural flow of waters in the marshes. The whole artificial system works to the detriment of the wetlands. No one claims otherwise. The third undisputed factor is shoreline erosion, inevitable at all times but especially relevant when the natural sedimentation processes offer no compensation.

More on wetlands [p. 167]:

Thanks to subsiding land and rising oceans, the southern part of Louisiana is three feet lower than it was one hundred years ago, relative to mean sea level. The state loses twenty-five square miles of wetlands every year, over twenty times the rate recorded in the early part of the last century, when wetlands gain for the most part equaled wetlands loss. Since the 1930s, this has come to more than a million acres of lost land. In another one hundred years, if we don't get serious about rebuilding these wetlands, the land will be another three feet lower and, for all practical (and aesthetic) purposes, no longer land at all.

And more [p. 169]:

Real estate developers hungry for terra firma are running out of acreage, so they dig canals to drain marshes and build ad hoc levees to protect the new sod from storm surge -- until it doesn't. What companies would ever insure such homes? Louisiana and Texas traditionally rank one and two in flood insurance claims. Increasingly, insurers are not writing homeowner policies in the wetlands, or they attach an explicit rider excluding hurricane damage. I hate to vote witht he insurance companies, but on this issue, who could blame them?

Van Heerden takes apart what he calls the Army Corps of Engineers' party line: "The levees were sound, but the event exceeded the design. Congress told us to design to a Cat 3, and that's what we did. Our hands were tied. Katrina was a Cat 4 storm." [p. 200]:

Simply not so, and at the LSU hurricane centers we were immediately suspicious of this whole scenario. The lowest of the levees in question were supposed to be fourteen feet above mean sea level, and the ADCIRC surge models had predicted a surge in the lake topping out at ten feet, maybe eleven, because the lake was on the western, or weaker, side of Katrina, where sustained winds were 75 mph. That's a Cat 1 storm, folks. The catastrophic storm surge had been to the east of New Orleans and, especially, on the Mississippi coast. For New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain and the levees, Katrina was not a major hurricane. It's that simple, but as I mentioned in the introduction,I know from experience that people don't want to hear this. They want to have lived through this monster, and they want the catastrophe to have been caused by this monster. In the city itself, this just wasn't the case.

In October, we got word from NOAA that, indeed, Katrina might have been just a Cat 3 at landfall, and then the National Hurricane Center confirmed the number in late December. Additionally, the forward speed was fast, 14 mph to 17 mph, so over the lake and the city was a fast-moving Cat 1 hurricane -- nothing approaching the storm the Corps claimed the levees were designed to withstand.

Finally, this is his summary [pp. 289-290]:

I'm on record defending the radical idea that the same federal government that drowned New Orleans with the failure of its levees should compensate all of those who lost lives and homes. Instead, the best we have come up with so far is the plan devised by Congressman Richard Baker from suburban Baton Rouge to allot homeowners and lenders 60 percent of the pre-Katrina value of their demolished property. Sine the federal government is responsible for 100 percent of the losses, why not compensate for 100 percent of them? Still, coming from a conservative Republican, this was a pretty radical, progressive idea, and is appreciated as such. Of course, the Bush administration has declared the plan dead, but in February 2006, Governor Blanco announced a state initiative that adds $4.2 billion authorized by Congress for community development block grant funding to the $6.2 billion already guaranteed. Blanco proposed a cap of $150,000 on the money available to each homeowner to repair, rebuild, relocate, or accept as a buyout. A program to register potential homeowners is currently under way.

Let's face it. A just outcome for the homeowners is highly unlikely. Lord knows there are plenty of civil cases shaping up against various defendants, including the Corps, contractors, and insurance companies, but this litigation is guaranteed to last forever, and it is unlikely to deliver full justice to those who have lost everything. The state of Louisiana cannot possibly afford to pay for the program.

There are various drawings of levee cross-sections, details on the underlying geology -- weak soils, sands, peat, all of which are bad news, requiring steel piling to be driven much deeper than had been done. (The post-flood repairs often go 50 feet deeper.) Also details on the effect of canals, levees, destruction of barrier islands, and so forth on wetlands. Also various political tidbits, like the story of what he calls the "Pelican Brief" -- the short-lived post-flood economic recovery bill that Louisiana's senators proposed, stuffed to the gills with irrelevant pork projects. My favorite was a little item where, just before the flood, Senator Vitter filed a bill to promote mining the cypress trees that hold together the remaining wetlands.

A big part of van Heerden's message is that it is technically possible to build levees and flood control systems that, combined with a major program of wetlands recovery, could keep New Orleans and its key economic infrastructure secure from even a Category 5 hurricane. Of course, that doesn't factor in the likelihood of sea level rise due to global warming. But more immediate problems are still obvious: our system of profit-driven politics, real confusion over risk management and the role of government, and the increasing tide of contempt for science and reason. A good deal more than the future of New Orleans rides on how we face up to those problems, but it's hard to imagine a more graphic or immediate example.

Friday, September 22, 2006

F5 Record Report (#8: September 21, 2006)

Another F5 Record Report has been posted. Roster this week:

  • Big Al Anderson: After Hours (Legacy) B+ [rock]
  • Dixie Chicks: Taking the Long Way (Open Wide/Columbia) B [country]
  • Bob Dylan: Modern Times (Columbia) A- [rock]
  • Jewels & Binoculars: Floater (Ramboy) A- [jazz]
  • Earl King: The Sonet Blues Story (1977, Verve) A- [r&b]
  • Todd Snider: The Devil You Know (New Door) A [rock]
  • Neil Young: Living With War (Reprise) B+ [rock]

One reason for doing this column is to get a chance to write about some new records that I wouldn't normally be covering. But this one is unusual in that extent. I usually get caught short and wind up recycling, but this time only Jewels & Binoculars and Earl King come from my archives -- King is actually something I wrote for a future Recycled Goods, so even it is appearing first here. Jewels & Binoculars is actually a couple of years old, but occurred to me as a nice tie-in to the new Dylan.

Handed another one in today, so the cycle continues.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Torture and Its Discontents

Reading Nikki Keddie's Modern Iran and the following quote [pp. 254-255] jumps out at me, not only because torture is featured:

The Khomeinists used Tudeh support to help put down their other opponents and to facilitate relations with Moscow. Until 1983 the Tudeh was allowed to publish and spread its influence. In early 1983 the government turned on the Tudeh, arresting over seventy members, including several from the Central Committee and the armed forces. The party was accused of spying for the Soviet Union and planning to overthrow the government. Their army officers were executed, while ideologues like Ehsan Tabari and Nureddin Kianuri were imprisoned. They then appeared on television asking for forgiveness and mercy, condemning their past, implying their party was a spy network for the Soviets, and saying that Shi-ism was superior to Marxism. Some observers said the confessions, and also confessions during these years by those with non-Tudeh affiliations, were based on torture and drugs. Some of the Feda'iyan Majority were also arrested, and both parties were declared illegal in May 1983. This left the IRP and the Freedom Party the onlyparties allowed to function.

In April 1982 Ghotbzadeh was arrested; he confessed that he had planned to oust the government and said [Ayatollah] Shariatmadari had knowledge of the coup plot. Ghotbzadeh was executed, and Shariatmadari was condemned and put under house arrest until his death in 1986. One by one the Khomeinists had efficiently got rid of their rivals; the rivals never united, and in several cases they helped the government against one another.

Of course, Khomeini didn't introduce torture to Iran. Its use no doubt goes back millenia, but before 1978 the practice was primarily associated with SAVAK, Shah Reza Mohammed's US-trained and -equipped secret police. Torture is a political tradition that persists through revolutions, which merely change who is torturing whom. To take the obvious example, the brutality of Lenin and Stalin was learned from the Tsar's police, a continuity that gives Putin license to do much the same. Torture is, therefore, not a practice of left or right, or of any ideological interest. Torture is an instrument of power, used to break whoever threatens that power. It shows who has the power to hurt, indeed to destroy. But it also shows that the torturer has no moral authority to govern -- by claiming power through ruthlessness, they reduce themselves to oppressors, villains, madmen.

Russia and Iran have many such generations of such, as do many nations scattered around the world. But they all have one thing in common: they depend on the exclusion of some or nearly all of their subject population from political representation and power-sharing. The reason for this is that torture entails costs. The torturers are psychically damaged by the experience. The tortured are sometimes broken or killed, or sometimes just hardened. And while the fact of torture may deter some opposition, it confirms the need to resist and raises the stakes, leading to a more desperate, more violent insurgency. Those are costs that political elites don't taken on unless they've already written people off. For proof of this, look not to dictators, who've written damn near everyone off, but to democracies like Britain and France, who limited their torture to the unfranchised in the colonies.

In Iran's case, the Shah, as an absolute monarch, was eventually opposed by everyone, but especially SAVAK's targets on the left and in the clergy. Khomeini led one key faction in the revolt against the Shah, but was able to carve up all the other factions in order to consolidate power first in the clergy and finally in himself as Supreme Jurisprudent. The repression and megalomania of the Pahlavis made this possible, with torture begetting torture, but even there two events brought out the worst in Khomeini instead of holding him to his more liberal pre-revolution advertisements: one was taking the US embassy hostage, allowing him to focus revolutionary fervor in a way that undercut more moderate factions; the other was Iraq's invasion, which threw Iran into a long, brutal war of survival.

George Bush's case for torture is, likewise, pre-conditioned by war, allegedly a desperate matter of survival, but it really seems to be deeper seated -- in some childhood neurosis, where Bush is convinced not only that bullying works but that he'll be applauded for his toughness. This may well tap into one part of the national psyche, but it runs against others: our sense that we are actually decent, dignified, well-meaning folks, and our utter ignorance of what the post-WWII government has done abroad in our name. The latter is what makes us think they attacked us even though they've almost invariably managed to do it over there, and the former makes us think that they are deranged for doing so.

Of course, the other problem is that Bush's torture record hasn't exactly worked out. Guantanamo has turned into a major embarrassment. The CIA's kidnappings, secret prisons, and "special renditions" have undermined public support, especially in Europe. Abu Ghraib was a huge fiasco, and its impact on winning Iraq has been negative -- not that winning was actually ever in the cards. Much the same has happened, more quietly, in Afghanistan, another looming failure. So why exactly Bush wants to keep promoting such tactics isn't all that clear -- or do I mean sane? It's not that torture never works, but Khomeini used it to decimate a domestic opposition among a populace where he started with enormous prestige and credibility -- both for his religious credentials and for his steadfast opposition to the Shah. Even there, it's hard to call isolated, war-torn, repressive Iran much of a success -- worldwide public disapproval added to the high costs of such tactics. On the other hand, Bush has no such advantages, and all the more to lose.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Torture and the Holy Rollers

I've paid little attention to the various stories and debates over torture that have plagued the Bush administration. Didn't the CIA write the book on torture back in the '50s? Haven't they franchised the practice through the School of the Americas that long? Somewhere along that road I've lost the ability to be shocked, so it surprises me when others are shocked -- especially given how bloodthirsty the administration's supporters seem to be. But today's Wichita Eagle editorial today came out against Bush's bill to cover his ass from the Geneva Conventions, and Richard Crowson's cartoon follows:

The editorial starts: "Several leading GOP senators are taking a brave stand against the Bush administration's creeping moral relativism on torture, which threatens not only this nation's authority on human rights but also its success in the war on terror." It then goes on to urge Sen. Sam Brownback to come out against the bill, buttering him up with: "Brownback has been a notable conservative champion of human rights abroad, opposing the brutal treatment of prisoners in North Korea, Iran and elsewhere. He was one of the first senators to back Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., last year in his amendment blocking White House efforts to undermine the Geneva Conventions." The piece concludes: "Instead of joining a race to the bottom, Brownback should join those senators who are holding America to its higher ideals." In fact, the editorial title is: "Brownback should oppose torture."

It's hard to know how much of this was meant as irony, but one point certainly is: by concentrating on Brownback, they showed up Pat Roberts -- the supposedly more moderate Kansas senator who is already firmly attached to Bush's ass. Brownback's independence from Bush is more likely to swing even further to the right, but it's not inconceivable he could take the bait here -- it would fit his holier-than-thou image, would put some useful daylight between him and Bush, and help set up the argument that Bush's failures were shortcomings of his faith.

Of course, I find US use of torture appalling. Where I seem to differ from the people who single it out as an aberation is that I see it as symptomatic of a more basic, and ultimately worse, problem: aggressive wars of imperial domination. Once you start such wars, torture is just one of many horrors you commit. To isolate it misses the point. In particular, torture is not about obtaining information -- it's a matter of showing folks who's boss, who has the power of life and death. Given that the goal of the War on Terror is to cower folks into not challenging your domination, it's easy to see where torture comes in.

On the other hand, it's good that folks who haven't thought the whole thing through at least recognize that they don't want to represent themselves to the world as torturers.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Music: Current count 12361 [12334] rated (+27), 897 [901] unrated (-4). Don't have all the new stuff catalogued, so the dip below 900 unrated is temporary. Prospected through a lot of new jazz, but it keeps coming in. This tends to go slower than Recycled, since the old stuff is easier to decide on.

  • Black Eyed Peas: Monkey Business (2005, A&M): Not as consistent as Elephunk, but almost as far over the top. B+(*)
  • Common: Be (2005, Good/Geffen): Still negotiating intricacies of sexual politics. Not sure whether he's a slow learner, or just trying to be meticulous. B+(***)
  • Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2006, Geffen): Didn't see the movie, but heard it was worth seeing. Never saw him on TV, where evidently he was a big hit. Did see him on the cover of Blender, which is tough to pull off without tits. Soundtrack features a bunch of hip-hop acts, mostly slots for the commercial end of alt -- Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Roots, Blackstar, Dead Prez, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu. Leans hard, maybe party scene, maybe live sound. Some spoken intros or transitions, which may make more sense in the movie. Not bad, but nothing here makes me feel like wanting to sort it all out. B
  • Dixie Chicks: Taking the Long Way (2006, Open Wide/Columbia): The first three songs whine about how the country bigots blacklisted them, but while they offer no apologies -- they're "Not Ready to Make Nice" -- they also manage to take "The Long Way Around," studiously avoiding repeating the words that got them into trouble: something about Bush being an embarrassment to Texas. The fact is Texas has always been torn between the Waco rightists who rule and ruin, and the Austin hippies that make the music. They always came from Austin, but I wish they'd be more forthright about it. B
  • Jackie Greene: American Myth (2006, Verve Forecast): Singer-songwriter. Don't know much about him, but he's tuneful and pleasant. Has me thinking this may be a pretty decent record, but nothing jumps out until he cops a Dylan melody at the end, blatantly enough I opted for the lower of two possible grades. B
  • Dinah Shore: The Dinah Shore Collection (1941-48 [1999], Vocalion, 2CD): Fifty cuts, not all that well documented. A fine singer, but rarely enough to overcome a rather undistinguished run of orchestras. First five cuts were on originally on RCA 1941-42, picked from something like 75. The rest appeared on Columbia 1946-48. B
  • Todd Snider: The Devil You Know (New Door): A couple years back Snider came to Wichita, opening for his label master, John Prine. His set recapitulated his live album, with wit clever enough it helped to have heard it before. But what commended him to Prine was only the start. Two albums later he rocks harder and his humor has a dark edge, mostly because the losers he relates to but never coddles have had rough years -- like the construction worker who learned in jail to "watch what you say to someone with nothing/it's almost like having it all." On the other hand, one song is about the winners -- a couple of rich kids, frat boys, who always got away with it, even at Camp David. A


Jazz Prospecting (CG #11, Part 6)

Spent most of the week prospecting new jazz, putting quite a bit of stuff up on the replay shelves. Didn't get to the replays -- the shelf there is nearly full, so I'll probably shift to it this coming week and start to pull a Jazz CG column together. No news from the Voice, nor have I heard anything lately about Robert Christgau's future search. It's been a rough week for me personally -- had a lot of work done on the house, which has been taking much of my time as well as disrupting my normal hours. Probably another 25 unplayed jazz albums in the queue. I haven't been chasing things down, partly because I don't know what the future will bring.


Mike Melvoin Trio: You Know (2006, City Light): Website says he's been playing piano since he was three, so that gives him 66 years of practice. Mainstream -- so mainstream I was surprised to count five originals wedged in among the obvious standards. I was further surprised to find myself enjoying such straightforward music. And I was further surprised when I went back to the database and found I had given his last album a B+. I notice now that the black and white cover on the self-released album has a thin gold border, just like his black and white website, so it would appear that he has an aesthetic beyond DIY. It's too subtle to sink in, but too elegant to ignore. B+(**)

Barbara Fasano: Written in the Stars (2005 [2006], Human Child): Can't go wrong with Harold Arlen. As I recall, the Arlen records stand out in Ella Fitzgerald's songbook series. I even picked out Carrie Smith's Arlen tribute in my first Jazz CG. I never tire of "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" or "Come Rain or Come Shine" or "One for My Baby" and have no complaints about the versions here. A couple of the more obscure songs may drag a bit, but Fasano has a serviceable voice and a viable band, including Joel Frahm on tenor and soprano sax, and this is a fine survey. B+(*)

Nick Russo + 11: Ro (2005-06 [2006], On the Bol): Ambitious debut project. Russo plays guitar, and in simple contexts, like just bass and drums, can be quite engaging. He also plays a little tenor banjo, a very different sound that leads into his world, or at least Indian, music interests. There are pieces with horns, most notably Mark Turner. Pandit Samir Chatterjee plays tabla. At least three tracks have Miles Griffith vocals, mostly scat effects. Some of this swings easily, some breaks free, some just sort of scratches along. I'm duly impressed, but don't see how it all adds up. B+(**)

Club D'Elf: Now I Understand (1998-2006 [2006], Accurate): I can't say as I understand, but at least I'm intrigued. This is a Boston-based group, with a core membership of one (bassist Mike Rivard), three (website also lists drummer Erik Kerr and oudist Brahim Fribgane), four (website photo) or five (insert photos, none identified). The website also lists lots of "special guests" and "rotating cast" and "occasional conspirators" -- some of each show up now and then, plus there are a few others on the record but not on the website lists (complain to the webmaster; especially the two Kerr girls who make the irresistible closer "Just Kiddin"). Name droppers will recognize John Medeski, Billy Martin, Mat Maneri, DJ Logic, and maybe the Your Neighborhood Sax Trio. Jere Faison, Jerry Leake, Jay Hilt, Randy Roos, and Mister Rourke appear with some frequency, and the writing credits include a name that doesn't show in the performing credits: Jeff Misner (I suspect turntablist Mister Rourke). The music is long on world fusion grooves, layered pretty thick, with "Vishnu Dub" typically self-explanatory and exemplary. Jenifer Jackson gets a feature song. The brief "Introduction" could be by MF Doom. It took them eight years to record all this, so I'm not about to sign off on one play. [B+(***)]

So Percussion: Amid the Noise (2002-06 [2006], Cantaloupe): Three percussionists, schooled on Cage and Reich -- a previous recording is of the latter's Drumming. Not much in the way of a jazz feel: they like chime-like sounds which retain discreteness and definitely do not swing. Back in the '70s I had a minor interest in minimalism like this as well as more arcane forms of post-classical music, but lost the thread and never picked it up again. Thus far I'm ambivalent about this, but since it refers to something out of my experience that, at least in principle, I might pursue further, I'll keep this open, albeit far back on the burner. [B]

DJ Logic: Zen of Logic (2005 [2006], Ropeadope): Just have an advance here, although the record has been out for months. DJ Logic (Jason Kibler) is the most likely turntablist to show up on a jazz album, partly because he's able to draw so much music out of his scratches, but also because his interests in Miles and Trane led him into various jazz circles -- especially those with an interest in bridging from the jazz end. Not sure who all does what here, but the guest list includes John Medeski and Charlie Hunter. Still, despite namechecking Coltrane, this is very much on his home turf: hip-hop beats, lots of scratches, a few raps. My only complaint is that I can't find the hook; otherwise I like this kind of thing a lot. B+(*)

Stanton Moore: III (2006, Telarc): Personnel credits don't list Moore, but he's the drummer. He was probably the main guy in Garage A Trois, whose Outre Mer ranks as my favorite pop-jazz-fusion album of the Jazz CG era -- not that it has a lot of competition. The key there was that they kept the mix lean and the groove sharp. This is even leaner, a bare bones organ trio, at least when the two guests -- Skerik on tenor sax, Mark Mullins on trombone -- don't weigh in. It no doubt helps that Moore's two bandmates have produced memorable albums on their own -- specifically, ones that impressed me more for their instrumental prowess than their overall achievement. The Hammond guy is Robert Walter. The guitarist is Will Bernard. First cut is just the three of them, something called "Poison Pushy," and it clicks. Beyond that I'm less certain, but for now it's worth noting that Skerik earns his keep. He's carved out a niche for himself as a postmodern honker -- a Joe Houston for Coltrane's kiddies. [B+(***)]

Saborit: Que Linda Es Mi Cuba (2006, Tumi): Campesino music from east Cuba -- at one point they translate "campesino" as "peasant," at another they extrapolate: "This is Cuba's answer to country music." Country, sure, like jibaro is Puerto Rican country, but this isn't an answer to anything. The group is named in honor of Eduardo Saborit, who long ago wrote the title song. The group has been around since the early '80s, but this is their first recording. Coming from the Cuban Oriente, this is less Afro and more Spanish -- more guitar and voice, less percussion -- than the urban music of Havana; as such, it travels easily across the Caribbean, mixing son and guaracha with cumbia. Not jazz, but too infectious not to note. I have a pile of Cuban classics on my shelf. I wonder if this will sound so good after I work through the masters. [A-]

Ollabelle: Riverside Battle Songs (2006, Verve Forecast): Five vocalists with a fondness for old-time music, as opposed to the more recent old-timey variety, even when they write it themselves. But their arrangements of old fare, including one by namesake Ola Belle Reed, are easier to gauge. Especially striking is "Riverside" -- as in "down by the" and "ain't gonna study war no more" -- both for its complex layering and its weariness. B+(**)

Solomon Ilori: African High Life (1963-64 [2006], Blue Note): A Nigerian -- sings, drums, plays pennywhistle -- who came to the US in the late '50s with the thought of introducing African music to a nation that only knew it as a deep memory, Ilori hooked up with Art Blakey on The African Beat, and got this album as an afterthought. This is neither as high nor as lively as the later, intensively guitar-charged highlife I'm familiar with, and I wonder if the drummers were really on top of their game. But the reissue has three long cuts from a later, much jazzier session, with Donald Byrd, Hubert Laws, Bob Cranshaw and Elvin Jones jamming with the drums and pennywhistle. They're fascinating, both on their own and for the suggested dialogue that rarely followed. But then who knew? Blue Note shelved them, until now. B+(**)

Pete Zimmer Quintet: Judgment (2006, Tippin): Drummer-led group. Seven credits for this "quintet": two bassists alternate, except on two cuts that are just duos; the other extra is tenor saxophonist George Garzone, who gets a "featuring" plug on the front cover. Garzone's name usually pops up these days as an educator -- seems like every saxophonist who's ever been to Boston has stopped in for some pointers. He doesn't record much, but has a distinctively muscular sound that is the main reason for tuning in here. He also wrote four of nine, but only plays on six. The other tenor saxophonist is Joel Frahm, who tends to fit in neatly while Garzone stands out. Don't know pianist Toru Dodo, but he does some nice work here. B+(*)

George Lewis: Sequel (For Lester Bowie))(2004 [2006], Intakt): Mostly electronics, with "laptop" the most common instrument, but guitar (Jeff Parker, Ulrich Müller), bass (Siegfried Rössert), drums (Guillermo E. Brown), and the leader's trombone make occasional appearances -- the latter most welcome. A lot of quiet spots and odd, abstract, disconnected sounds. Somehow I think Lester Bowie would have preferred something a bit funkier, but this might have piqued his sense of humor. I wish it did more for mine. [B]

Irčne Schweizer: First Choice: Piano Solo KKL Luzern (2005 [2006], Intakt): The first record by the Swiss pianist since I made her 25-year Portrait a pick hit. This one is solo -- no opportunity for interplay, like I saw so impressed with, and a greater demand for inventiveness, which she more/less achieves. Don't have it calibrated yet. [B+(**)]

Mark Helias' Open Loose: Atomic Clock (2004 [2006], Radio Legs Music): This one's so directly up my alley I'm a little suspicious, or maybe just extra cautious. Aside from one cut, this is a trio with Helias on bass, Tom Rainey on drums, and Tony Malaby on tenor sax. Anyone who likes Tim Berne's records with Rainey will have no trouble tuning in this one. All three are often terrific, but I find myself nitpicking on the slower ones, where there's a slight stall risk. The other cut adds Ellery Eskelin for a second tenor sax, but it's one of the slow ones, more contrasting harmony than joust. [B+(***)]

Mario Adnet: From the Heart (2006, Adventure Music): A Brazilian guitarist, but more notable as an arranger -- he passed his last album off as the work of studio legend Moacir Santos, orchestrating his "things" for something like a big band. He works outward from the supple sweetness that has long been samba's soft spot, layering on various combinations of piano, accordion, brass, vocals -- sounds progressive rather than folkloric, but here and there works like magic. B+(**)

Hamilton de Holanda Quintet: Brasilianos (2006, Adventure Music): De Hollanda plays a 10-string mandolin. Backed with acoustic guitar and electric bass, this group has a dense string sound, which they crank up on the fast ones. Instead of horns, the topping comes from Gabriel Grossi's harmonica, adding sweet and sour notes on top of the propulsion. B+(**)

Daniel Santiago: On the Way (2005 [2006], Adventure Music): Three-fifths of Hamilton de Holanda's Quintet, the energy level tuned down without the mandolin and harmonica, and with the bassist going acoustic. Still, there is considerable bite in his strings -- no nylon here -- even when he takes it slow, which isn't all the time. I wonder how real aficionados of Brazilian guitar will react -- I'm not one, but this strikes me as a notable example. B+(*)

Philippe Baden Powell: Estrada de Terra/Dirt Road (2006, Adventure Music): The son of legendary Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, Philippe plays piano and composes elegant pieces that don't fit into any concept I have. Four pieces are trios. Others bring in an isolated guest -- bass flute, trumpet, guitar, mandolin, strings. Some are quite appealing, like the one with Myke Ryan's trumpet. I suppose that lack of a conceptual hook is why I find myself feeling so ambivalent about this, especially given that the skills and evident intelligence make it so hard to critique. B

Winds of Brazil (Um Sopro de Brasil) (2004 [2006], Adventure Music): Eleven songs, each a feature for a notable Brazilian wind musician -- flutes, reeds, brass, harmonica, backed by a large strings and percussion orchestra. This is classical music in attitude if not necessarily form, something safely removed to the concert hall where proper folks give it proper respect. C+

Willie Bobo: Lost and Found (1969-78 [2006], Concord Picante): Dates are approximate -- not specified per cut, they're gleaned from a booklet that really requires better eyes than mine. Born in Spanish Harlem, played congas and timbales, made his reputation in the '60s recording for Verve. These odds and sods come from after he moved to L.A., where he had a role on Bill Cosby's show; the finds are scattered and discrete, of minor interest to non-specialists. B

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Kobe: Kobe Yee!! (2006, Crab Apple): I need to pace myself here. This is one of four new live big band recordings, differentiated by city -- don't know what else, at least not yet. Just some random notes for now. The baritone sax honks set the tone. Second cut erupts in blares that remind me of the Batman theme -- such humor, inadvertent or not, recurs periodically. Title track is leaner and stronger than the rest, something for her "best of" anthology. The piano stands out more than on her other big band albums -- at least the ones I've heard so far. Three more to go. [B+(**)]

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Nagoya: Maru (2006, Bakamo): Fujii only conducts -- no piano on this one. Program has three of her pieces, two by husband-trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, one by guitarist Yasuhiro Usul. Band has five reeds, seven brass, guitar, bass, drums. The arrangements are very tight, and the integration of the horns is very effective, so you get the volume you expect plus nimbleness. The guitarist gets some space, and is a plus. This could go higher, but length and distractions caution me. The parts I managed to follow closely are quite impressive. [B+(***)]

Satoko Fujii Orchestra NY: Undulation (2005 [2006], PJL): This is more what I expected from Fujii's big band, probably because I've heard this group before, and I'm familiar with most of the NY-based players. They're loud. Sometimes the sheer power delivers the message. Sometimes it just overwhelms you. B+(*)

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Live!! (2005 [2006], Libra): The Kobe and Nagoya Orchestras are brand new, but Fujii has worked with the Tokyo and New York groups for some time now, as they represent her two bases. The New York group seems more of a free for all, whereas this group seems tighter, even when they play as loud. Avant-big band rarely works -- it's just awfully tough to keep all the freedom from canceling each other out -- but Fujii is remarkably adept as keeping her hordes together. Only the NY album strikes me as having peaked. The Japanese groups open up some interesting prospects for large scale arrangement. Comes with a DVD, which I haven't gotten to. [B+(**)]

Territory Band-5: New Horse for the White House (2005 [2006], Okka Disk, 3 CD): Satoko Fujii still isn't the most exhaustively documented jazz artist, even in the big band division. Her four large orchestra discs are marginally outnumbered by Ken Vandermark's Territory Band, with two releases this year totalling five discs. I never got Territory Band-4 -- an oversight, I'm sure, although I wasn't all that kind to Territory Band-3. This one is in the same vein. It's difficult to distinguish between the ones I've heard, as they all offer mixed bags of astonishing improv and unfathomable noise, some of which is exhilarating anyway. Part of the setup here is the use of electronics, but they still haven't emerged from the background. Two studio discs, with two two pieces each ranging from 16:43 to 25:30. The third disc is a live one, with all four pieces reprised in only slightly shorter versions -- the short one actually gained a minute. [B+(**)]

Paul Lytton/Ken Vandermark/Phillip Wachsmann: CINC (2004 [2006], Okka Disk): Wachsmann's violin and electronics are central, which makes this an alternate version of Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, with Vandermark in Parker's shoes -- at least that was my thought on "Ljubljana 2," where his chosen reed instrument is in the soprano sax range (although I suppose it could be a clarinet, which he plays much more frequently). On tenor sax he beefs up the rough sound. But the group as a whole is much leaner, so the reeds matter more.j B+(*)

Chet Doxas Quartet: Sidewalk Etiquette (2004 [2006], Justin Time): Tenor saxophonist from Montreal, with his drummer brother in the group, as well as a nicely developed keyboard player named John Rooney -- plays Fender Rhodes as well as piano. Mainstream stuff -- Doxas sounds fine on the hard swinging stuff, but I find some minor tics annoying when he slows it down. B

Florian Weber/Jeff Denson/Ziv Ravitz: Minsarah (2006, Enja/Justin Time): Normally I know what I like in a piano trio, but have trouble describing it. Played this one at a time when I couldn't write about it at all, but at least it passes the "like" test. Minsarah is probably the group name, but as a first album with the individual musician name above the line, I'd rather file it that way. Denson and Ravitz both contribute compositions, three and two to Weber's four. Reminds me a bit of E.S.T. [B+(***)]

Kat Parra: Birds in Flight (2006, JazzMa): I get nervous when I read about a singer's 3 octave range. For one thing, I'm not technical enough to know whether I should be impressed. (I do recall reading about Minnie Ripperton's 5 octave range, but I was never impressed by her singing in any of them.) But the main thing is that it suggests a preoccupation with voice over music, a dubious and sometimes dangerous choice. That's unfair given how much care she puts into chosing her music -- mostly Cuban, even when the originals come from Jorge Ben or Duke Ellington -- but is still a recurring thought when I hear her modulate. Where she comes from and how she got here are probably interesting stories, but not ones I've been able to find out much about. Evidently she spent some time in Chile when she was young, now works mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, and studied with Patti Cathcart. A couple of interesting songs here -- in particular, the Ben opener, which starts in serious trouble and works its way out, eventually dropping in a rap by someone named Pat Parra. Probably an untold story there too. B


Poor Trudy

Poor Trudy Rubin. She has brains enough to recognize when things go horribly wrong, but when she tries to draw a conclusion from those insights she short circuits into nonsense. Consider this, from her column "Despite mess, we can't leave Iraq any time soon":

What Bush has neglected to say is that Americans face a bitter choice produced by the mess the White House has made: Pull out U.S. troops soon and face certain disaster, or leave them in to enforce a policy that is failing.

There is, of course, a third choice: Change a failed U.S. policy. Rethink what it would take -- in money, men and time -- to make Iraq more secure.

The president no longer has the credibility to lead that debate. Do Democrats have the guts?

That quote skipped over 75% of her column, which is about how hopeless the situation in Iraq is -- no need to rehearse all that here. Logically, there are two explanations for why the Bush gang screwed this up so bad. One is incompetence, but the simpler one is that it never stood a chance of working in the first place. But before you can answer that, you need to know what "it" was, and that's a subject Bush and company have yet to provide a clear definition of. They had some short-term goals like deposing Saddam Hussein and halting his non-existent WMD programs, but you know that's not "it" because they weren't satisfied when they'd done that. They had some long-term propaganda about democracy, but that's not "it" either, because they kept interfering to push their favored candidates and policies. Rather, "it" appears to have been something like creating a docile client state, friendly to Israel, with US "enduring bases" to intimidate neighbors like Iran, and concessions to US companies to develop the oil industry. The odds of something like that being passively accepted by the Iraqi people are zero. That's why, no matter how incompetent the Bush gang has been in Iraq, their cardinal sin was arrogance.

But if Bush's goals weren't impossible enough before invasion, they've become all that more unattainable since. So, if the goals are unattainable, why keep fighting? The conservative answer is to postpone the discredit of having started and lost a major war. You may gussy that up with something about how losing here would undermine American prestige and embolden our enemies, then reach for rhetoric like "failure is not an option" -- but for Bush this is personal, since he was the one who lost. The liberal answer has something to do with helping the Iraqi people: to settle with the resistance to our invasion and occupation, to resolve the civil war we started, to rebuild all the stuff we destroyed -- hey, why don't we raise the dead while we're at it? The liberal answer is as arrogant, as self-centered and self-serving, as anything Bush has done. But worse than that, it's pathetic.

As president, Bush can act without having to disclose let alone debate the details of his agenda. And he's so dug into his stance that reforming him is out of the question. Indeed, any argument that maintains a US role in Iraq, no matter how critical of Bush's execution, plays into his hands by accepting that the US can play a positive role. Which is why it's such a big problem that people who actually know better, like Rubin, can't bring themselves to say so. As for Democrat politicos, they need guts all right -- to stand up for peace, equality, justice and freedom. But they also need brains, which means rejecting confused experts like Rubin.


The Return of the Taliban

I've noted the relative paucity of reporting on the US debacle in Afghanistan compared to the one in Iraq. One recent book may be of help here: Sarah Chayes, The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (Penguin Press). Chayes moved to Kandahar after the Taliban's fall in late 2001, trading her journalism job to run an aid organization. So her view is no doubt colored by her assumed stake, but judging from David Rohde's New York Times Book Review, she has dug deep into the history and culture of the Taliban's old stronghold. Rohde writes:

Far more than a travelogue, Chayes's book is a detailed critique of American policy in post-Taliban Afghanistan. She argues that a combination of American ignorance and arrogance, an unwillingness to confront Pakistan, and a need to divert American troops and resources to Iraq caused the United States to implement a disastrous policy in Afghanistan. The United States backed corrupt and dictatorial local warlords, she writes, rather than engage in what Afghans desired: the slow, costly and messy process of turning Afghanistan into a relatively stable country with an Afghan form of self-determination. [ . . . ]

She contends that Gul Agha Shirzai, the warlord governor of Kandahar, has been able to convince the American military officers constantly rotating through the city that he is a loyal supporter of the new Afghanistan. But in fact, she writes, he and his relatives hid their own sweeping corruption, along with bitter complaints from other tribes. Today, Afghans who long for a modern and stable country express disappointment with Hamid Karzai and his American backers for creating a hugely corrupt Afghanistan. In rural areas, support for the Taliban is rising.

It's worth remembering that the Taliban's original rise to power was based largely on reaction to warlord corruption -- for the most part, the same warlords the US restored in 2001. The other base of support for the Taliban was Pakistan. The Taliban fell quickly when the US pressured Pakistan to back away, but evidently some degree of Pakistani support has resumed. Rohde writes:

Chayes's most explosive charge is that Pakistan -- the United States' supposed ally in the war against terrorism -- is actively supporting the Taliban as a way to counter the spreading influence of its regional rival, India. To placate the Americans, Pakistan occasionally arrests a senior Qaeda operative. But at the same time, the resurgent Taliban fighting and killing American soldiers in the "new" Afghanistan were "manufactured and maintained, housed, trained and equipped by stubborn, shortsighted officials in that very Pakistani government," she writes. "I was at a loss to understand why American decision makers could not see how suicidally contradictory their alliance with Pakistan was. To us on the ground, it was obvious."

Well, it's a complicated world. Given how little Musharaf has gotten for Pakistan's War on Terror alliance, and how much risk he runs, it's remarkable that he humors the US at all. On the other hand, if the US pushed harder, they could break Musharaf's regime in half, in the worst case scenario trading a nominal ally for a hostile, nuclear-armed opponent. Such risks justify occasionally looking the other way -- most likely, Musharaf is doing the same with Pakistani factions supporting the Taliban. But the baseline is that the US has long been willing to work with local tyrants as long as they salute when we ask -- that warlord in Kandahar is small fry but typical, and we keep them in the program by not asking too many questions, least of all about who they torture or how much they steal. It's not like we don't do the same.

Pakistani support for Taliban may help explain their recent successes, but corruption and the Karzai regime's inability to deliver any political and economic benefit to the countryside provide the fertile ground necessary for revolt. What remains to be seen is how it plays out within Pakistan itself.


Another New York Times Book Review book that looks interesting is Sharon Weinberger, Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld. Way back in WWII the US put many of the world's most notable scientists to work on weapons -- especially, but not exclusively, in the Manhattan Project. Since then, scientific quality has declined, but for a long time DARPA actually developed some useful things in addition to the bombs and guns -- the Internet is a major example. But for some time now many, perhaps most, of their projects have been utterly useless, even for such misbegotten purposes as dominating the earth or, failing that, destroying it. The hafnium bomb is the prime example in this book, but I get the impression such fantasies are the rule and not the exception. The "Star Wars" anti-missile system was a major turning point -- the DOD's prime example of politics trumping science and reason. That the same dynamic has played out in so many other areas implies that dumbing down wasn't invented in the Pentagon, even if that's where it's been most heavily subsidized.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Lost in Afghanistan

War in Context cites two recent articles on Afghanistan that make for sobering reading. I was opposed to the war in the first place for many reasons, but I've been ambivalent about insisting on U.S. withdrawal, figuring that the continuing war, with its inevitable damage, is rather limited, and at least partly balanced by development efforts. However, it looks like the war has turned. Graham Usher, in Al-Ahram Weekly, writes:

Brigadier Ed Butler was blunt. "The violence in Afghanistan is now worse than in Iraq," he told a meeting of NATO's defense chiefs last week. He was referring to the ferocious battles that have assailed NATO troops since they took over most combat operations in Afghanistan from US-led forces in August.

One theory as to why this has happened is that the war in Iraq drained resources that were needed in Afghanistan, while inspiring further resistance. However, the failure is more political and economic than military -- not that the military approach hasn't caused its own problems.

The military flaws have been compounded by a "corrupt and inefficient Afghan administration without resources", says another Afghan analyst, Barnett Rubin. Since 2001, billions have been raised for Afghanistan, he says. However for every dollar spent on development ten have gone on security and/or purchasing fealty to the government of President Hamid Karzai. "Not a single new dam, power station or major water system has been built, and only one intercity highway has been completed," says [Ahmed] Rashid. The result is only six per cent of Afghans have access to electricity, over half remain impoverished and 63 per cent are illiterate. This is no better than when the Taliban ruled under sanctions.

Iraq was doomed from the start, and there's been a lot written about how and why that disaster unfolded. On the other hand, not much has been written about Afghanistan, and the full measure of the failure hasn't really sunk in, but when it does, it may even more sharply limit the expectations of what US intervention can accomplish. Afghanistan had several advantages over Iraq: foreign troops generally took a support role to the Northern Alliance, so the military footprint was relatively light and Afghanistan was never really occupied by the US, as Iraq was; the US had a broad international coalition, providing both troops and economic aid; Afghanistan was so backward and so war-torn that even relatively modest economic aid might have made a positive impact.

However, it now looks like none of that worked, and largely due to the same fundamental flaws the Bush administration brought to Iraq. The military was preoccupied with fighting and killing its supposed enemies -- Al Qaeda and the Taliban -- and were insensitive to the corrosive political effects of collateral damage, detaining and torturing locals, etc. The US political operatives were more concerned with symbols of success like Karzai's election than with establishing broad, democratic representation -- no surprise, given that the Bush-Rove view of democracy only recognizes elections that can be won by the deepest pockets. Reconstruction and aid projects were marked by the same corruption Bush has promoted throughout the US government, both at home and in Iraq. Ultimately, these problems are deep seated in the view that foreign policy should promote the nation's interests, and that the nation's interests are defined by what's benefits the ruling clique.

Still, Afghanistan is so poor we always figured that something of value might have trickled down and been of benefit. Little of that seems to have happened: on the one hand, Bush's contractors have been remarkably efficient at pocketing government money and delivering nothing for it -- most seems to go for "security"; on the other, by continuing to haphazardly pursue the war for their domestic political purposes -- and the drug economy figures large in this -- they've kept the resistance going, making it impossible to show any real progress.

The other article War in Context cites is an interview with UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, admitting that the biggest mistake he/we made was in not negotiating with the Taliban to bring them into the post-invasion government. The US, of course, wouldn't allow that, because we don't talk to our enemies. The effect is to drive everyone who has a beef with us into a common defense. This is a theme I've brought up again and again. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not one and the same. They are different groups with different interests which we've joined together by treating them as one -- and note that Bush did this more out of arrogance and spite than anything else.

Still, it's rather surprising how badly the US has fared in Afghanistan. At least four provinces have reverted to Taliban control, but the Karzai government seems to have little power outside of Kabul. The latter has rather perversely turned into a high-rent zone for foreigners, which undermines its potential as an economic engine for Afghans. Whole chunks of Pakistan's frontier provinces are under tribal control, providing redoubts for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The opium trade has grown huge, possibly larger than Afghanistan's "legit" economy. And there appears to be positive synergy between resistance movements in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's something else we understand little about -- in particular, how the fact of Iraq limits what we can do in Afghanistan.

Like the proverbial bull in a china shop, maybe it would be best for all concerned if we just left.

Friday, September 15, 2006

F5 Record Report (#7: September 14, 2006)

Another F5 Record Report has been posted. Roster this week:

  • Andrew Hill: Time Lines (Blue Note) B+ [jazz]
  • Maximum Joy: Unlimited (1979-83, Crippled Dick Hot Wax) A- [rock]
  • Augustus Pablo: King David's Melody (1975-82, Shanachie) A- [reggae]
  • Bobby Pinson: Man Like Me (RCA) A- [country]
  • Rachid Taha: Tékitoi (1998-2004, Wrasse) A- [world]
  • Erik Truffaz: Saloua (Blue Note) B+ [jazz]

This was another week that sent me back into the past drafts file. I'll finally get to Bob Dylan and Todd Snider next week. On the other hand, this week's crop are worth reiterating.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Quotations From Chairman Billmon

Another Billmon quote, from a post on Al Qaeda's war strategy that starts with a Mao quote, and lays out some comparisons therefrom. The discussion of urban vs. rural redoubts is of minor interest, but the following quote stands out. Nothing here I haven't said elsewhere, but it bears repeating, especially when well written:

How likely is that scenario? I don't know, and I don't know if anyone does know. But the Cheney Administrations seem determined to improve the odds by helping the jihadist movement overcome its ideological deficiencies.

Like most extreme reactionary movements, Al Qaeda has no meaningful economic or political program (Land to the Tillers, All Power to the Soviets) to offer the Islamic masses. It's call for the strictest possible interpretation of Shari'a law is divisive and repels rather than attracts international sympathy. But what it does have going for it are wide and deep fears of cultural penetration and Western domination, and the ancient religious duty of all Muslims to defend Islam and the community of believers.

These are precisely the fears the administration and the neocons appear determined to stoke with their sweeping demands for "democratic" but slavishly pro-American regimes, privatization, women's rights, Western-style individualism, etc. Even worse, instead of using public diplomacy to highlight and, where possible, promote the enormous diversity of Islam, the Cheneyites are now doing precisely the opposite. They're conjuring up the spectre of a vast, monolithic and powerful Islamic fundamentalist movement, implacably hostile to the West. They're implicitly and even explicitly defining all who oppose their maximum program for a "new" Middle East as extremists -- the enemies of civilization.

They should be more careful what they wish for, because they might actually get it. This latest turn towards fear-mongering rhetoric is practically an open invitation to any Sunni Muslim who supports "traditional values" to line up with Al Qaeda. The Cheneyites are going to great lengths to alienate people who might otherwise find the jihadist ideology too radical and too destructive.

Gilles Kepel wrote the book on pre-Bush Islamism and found that the movement was in decline and near bankruptcy before 9/11 -- its key problem lack of appeal to most Muslims, even the relatively devout. Casey Stengel used to say that the secret to successful managing was to keep the guys who hate you -- every baseball team has a couple at the far end of the bench -- separated from the guys who aren't sure and could go either way. What Bush, Cheney, et al. have done is exactly the opposite of that. They've taken a very marginal problem that could be made even more marginal with a modest show of decency on our part and built it up into a war of the worlds -- presumably just because they thought that a little war would be good politics.

Once you realize this, it's obvious that Bush's war only feeds Al Qaeda and its kin, while abandoning the war leaves them without their only attraction: their willingness to fight our imperialism. In this regard, the anti-Islamist wars are nothing like Vietnam: when we left Vietnam, it fell, because most Vietnamese preferred their communist-nationslist liberation movement. No such outcome is guaranteed in the Middle East -- even in Iraq, despite all we've done to ensure the grizzliest outcome possible -- because popular support for extreme Islamism depends almost exclusively on its ability to fight the imperialists and their proxies. Take the fight away, and you take away their usefulness.

More from the same post:

One can only hope the inherent limitations of the jihadist ideology will outweigh even the Cheney Administration's mind-boggling blunders. After all, if Hanoi and the Viet Cong had offered their supporters nothing but hatred for the French and the Americans, with no vision of a better future for the average Vietnamese peasant or worker, would they still have won the war?

Maybe it's best not to answer that question. Hatred of the colonizer, of the foreign occupier, is an incredibly potent force -- particularly when they are as arrogant, obnoxious and, above all, clueless as the United States government seems to be now.

That last statement is particular apt. The understanding I grew up with is that even when the people who run this country can't be counted on to do the right thing (i.e., most of the time) at least you can count on them to do something that more or less works. But that no longer seems to be the case. Lester Thurow used to have this notion that somewhere in the upper echelons of America there was this Establishment -- the people who really controlled things behind the scenes -- so the way to get reasonable things done is to appeal to this hidden Establishment. They Bush-Cheney mob isn't really the Establishment, no matter how much they flatter the rich and promise to do their bidding. They're really just a bunch of crooks and conmen who weaseled their way into big time power. But what if the invisible hand that always seemed to keep America from going over the deep end doesn't exist?

The War in Context

I haven't written much about the Middle East wars lately. Haven't had a lot of time, and haven't had much to add other than to repeat what I've previously said. The one fact that needs to be highlighted right now is that while there is a ceasefire -- always described in the media here as "fragile" -- in Lebanon, nobody has made any effort to arrange a ceasefire in Gaza. The stranglehold there continues, with grave effects, but the lack of interest elsewhere is perhaps the most worrisome. Public opinion, especially in the US and Europe, has always acted as a limit on what Israel could do, but if no one cares, what keeps Israel from doing much worse? And how far can they go without arousing those publics? Clearly, one thing that Israel did achieve in Lebanon is that they pushed the West's tolerance for atrocity to a point where, by backing off a bit, they appear to have gained some leeway.

I haven't been following the news all that closely, but I want to point out that the most useful website for me lately has been Paul Woodward's The War in Context. The following are titles of some of the posts there over the last two weeks. I've added notes in some cases, but didn't track down the permanent links. This is, after all, mostly news, and rather transitory at that. Several stories do appear to be significant. One is that Pakistan has largely given up on reasserting control over frontier provinces effectively controlled by Al Qaeda. At the same time, the US has largely given up on Anbar province in Iraq. Both of these are rather astonishing admissions of defeat. Another story is the Palestinian unity government, which seems likely to at least get Hamas off the terrorism hook with Europe, and possibly move towards a ceasefire there. Third, the US military, at least, appears to be trying to squirm out of the War on Terror yoke. What all of these suggest is a certain amount of exhaustion is setting in. That doesn't add up to any chance of peace breaking out -- the political mindsets, especially the wedged one in the White House, haven't begun to come around.

Most recent first, going back about a week:

  • Taliban exposes cracks in Nato: Evidently, some members -- France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are mentioned -- are reluctant to commit to the request for 2,500 more troops, while "some nations are carrying more of the burden than others."
  • Hamas declares EU to lift PA siege: Looks like Europe will lift its economic embargo of the Palestinian Authority if/when Hamas resigns and forms a unity government. In a separate article, Blair said he would support this. However, another article announces: U.S. wary of Palestinian plan.
  • What 9/11 means to Iraqis: "For Iraqis, 9/11 led us to our current life of death and destruction. A sad moment for Americans was the reason for a sad life for us. With 3,000 civilians killed every four weeks, my country suffers its own 9/11 on a monthly basis."
  • IDF commander: We fired more than a million cluster bombs in Lebanon: "In addition, soldiers in IDF artillery units testified that the army used phosphorous shells during the war, widely forbidden by international law." Woodward adds a comment, quoting Ehud Olmert: "The claim that we lost is unfounded. Half of Lebanon is destroyed; is that a loss?"
  • U.S. hopes Syria will join war on terror after embassy attack: Tony Snow quoted as saying, "We are hoping they will become an ally and make the choice of fighting against terrorists." Actually, Syria has had a very effective war against terrorists going, partly because they fight them at home, and partly because they don't double their risks by allying themselves with Israel.
  • How U.S. merchants of fear sparked a $130bn bonanza: The homeland security business. "The figures are stunning. Seven years ago there were nine companies with federal homeland security contracts. By 2003 it was 3,512. Now there are 33,890." Indiana, with 8,591 certified terrorism targets, gets the most money.
  • Iraqi elections believed to have worsened divisions, report says
  • A piece of the lame for the Middle East?: Tony Karon, on peace prospects between Blair, Olmert and Abbas.
  • Why are we suddenly at war with "Islamic fascists"? A neologism that signals a change in strategy as elections near: John Dean. "The risk of death from an act of terror is at the bottom of any realistic risk assessment list." Dean cites John Mueller: "the lifetime chance of an American being killed by international terrorism is about one in 80,000 -- about the same chance of being killed by a comet or a meteor."
  • 62,006 -- the number killed in the "war on terror": Counted, at least; if other estimates of uncounted deaths "are included, then the toll could reach as high as 180,000."
  • Bin Laden trail "stone cold": U.S. commandos "have not received a credible lead in more than two years."
  • The basis for Iran's bellierence: Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was in the Barak government: "The question today is not when Iran will have nuclear power, but how to integrate it into a policy of regional stability before it obtains such power. Iran is not driven by an obsession to destroy Israel, but by its determination to preserve its regime and establish itself as a strategic regional power, vis-a-vis both Israel and the Sunni Arab states. The Sunnis are Iran's natural foe, not Israel. The answer to the Iranian threat is a policy of detente, which would change the Iranian elite's pattern of conduct."
  • U.S. count of Baghdad deaths excludes car bombs, mortar attacks: How to lie with statistics, chapter one.
  • Army official: Rumsfeld forbade talk of postwar: "In fact, said Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid, Rumsfeld said 'he would fire the next person' who talked about the need for a postwar plan." Scheid retires in three weeks.
  • The Taliban, regrouped and rearmed: Peter Bergen.
  • U.S. accused of covert operations in Somalia
  • The Long War: A Self-fulfilling prophecy of protracted conflict -- and defeat: Michael Vlahos article. Note that the longer a war lasts, the more likely it will be seen as defeat. As costs go up, possible gains go down, and margins even faster.
  • "Gaza is a jail. Nobody is allowed to leave. We are all starving now"
  • Why Iran has the upper hand in the nuclear showdown: Tony Karon.
  • Body count in Baghdad nearly triples
  • European watchdog calls for clampdown on CIA
  • In border zone, Pakistan backs off from Taliban: It looks like Pakistan has given up on militarily penetrating its frontier territories controlled by Al Qaeda or its allies, even signing a peace accord. Inasmuch as Pakistan has been the only effective force against Al Qaeda's upper echelons, that pretty much ends the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
  • Car bomb rocks Kabul near U.S. embassy, killing 16
  • NATO general wants more troops in Afghanistan south
  • Turkey's high-stakes march into Lebanon
  • Lebanese ports still blocked
  • Analysis: Terror war may need name change: The proposal comes from "the chief of strategic planning on the Pentagon's Joint Staff," which makes me think he wants out of the business.
  • Bush justifies CIA detainee abuse
  • "Quiet transfer" in East Jerusalem nears completion: Update on Israel's progress at decertifying Palestinian residents of Jerusalem -- effectively, ethnic cleansing.
  • Senate nixes new restraints on cluster bombs: 70-30 vote.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Great Decline

Yesterday I mentioned a long list of problems the Bush administration has at best ignored, more commonly exacerbated, and in some cases flat out caused. I didn't bother with the tiresome task of enumerating, but Billmon has come up with a reasonable summary, occasioned by the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 atrocity:

You can learn a lot about a country in five years.

What I've learned (from 9/11, the corporate scandals, the fiasco in Iraq, Katrina, the Cheney Administration's insane economic and environmental policies and the relentless dumbing down of the corporate media -- plus the repeated electoral triumphs of the Rovian brand of "reality management") is that the United States is moving down the curve of imperial decay at an amazingly rapid clip. If anything, the speed of our descent appears to be accelerating.

The physical symptoms -- a lost war, a derelict city, a Potemkin memorial hastily erected in a vacant lot [the still-empty hole where the WTC used to be] -- aren't nearly as alarming as the moral and intellectual paralysis that seems to have taken hold of the system. The old feedback mechanisms are broken or in deep disrepair, leaving America with an opposition party that doesn't know how (or what) to oppose, a military run by uniformed yes men, intelligence czars who couldn't find their way through a garden gate with a GPS locator, TV networks that don't even pretend to cover the news unless there's a missing white woman or a suspected child rapist involved, and talk radio hosts who think nuking Mecca is the solution to all our problems in the Middle East. We've got think tanks that can't think, security agencies that can't secure and accounting firms that can't count (except when their clients ask them to make 2+2=5). Our churches are either annexes to shopping malls, halfway homes for pederasts, or GOP precinct headquarters in disguise. Our economy is based on asset bubbles, defense contracts and an open-ended line of credit from the People's Bank of China, and we still can't push the poverty rate down or the median wage up.

I could happily go on, but I imagine you get my point. It's hard to think of a major American institution, tradition or cultural value that has not, at some point over the past five years, been shown to be a) totally out of touch, b) criminally negligent, c) hopelessly corrupt, d) insanely hypocritical or e) all of the above.

The next line is: "It's getting hard to see how these trends can be reversed." Then Billmon starts comparing the US to the Soviet Union in the '80s. He recommends a book by David Satter: Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union. I have some other reading planned on the post-fall depression. The thing I find most interesting about Russia isn't the stupidity of the (especially late) Communist years -- it's the absolute collapse of living standards following the fall. We're so used to the idea of progress that we have trouble seeing decline even when the facts are hard to read otherwise. This collapse hit Russia so the hard life expectancy metrics declined. A quarter or more of Russia's GDP vanished. There are other examples scattered around the world, especially war-induced losses like in Iraq, and war-inducing ones in parts of Africa.

In some measures living standards in the US have been declining since roughly 1970. This has been masked by technological progress, by debt accumulation, by scapegoating, and by political delusion. Take medicine, for instance: science and technology have advanced, but insurance and delivery of basic health care has in some cases actually regressed, such that US life expectancy has finally begun to decline, especially compared to other wealthy nations. But the new stuff gets the press and sets the perception. Only when you need it do you find out you can't get it, or it doesn't really work, or something else goes wrong.

Immigration is another source of cover-up. Illegals provide low skill labor that compensates for demotivating our own unskilled labor. There's a lot of scapegoating over that, but more important is legal immigration, which is needed to compensate for our failures to educate and develop knowledge workers -- everyone from school teachers to computer programmers to doctors. Immigration stimulates the economy, but it also levels the world. It's not necessarily a problem per se, but what it covers up is.

Beyond the obvious declines, there's a steady build up of risk and liability, as well as plain old depreciation. I've been reading complaints about not putting enough money into infrastructure for decades now. It's like, if you have a house with termites, it may look fine for years, especially if you don't look very close. Then one day a gust of wind, or just gravity, will bring it down. That's basically what happened to the Alaska pipeline. That's what happened to the New Orleans levees. Katrina wasn't the big storm everyone had so feared, but it was big enough anyway, because we didn't realize how vulnerable we had become.

That sort of rot has been accumulating for a long time -- George Brockway dated a lot of recent economic problems to the Republicans' first attempts to dismantle the New Deal when they took over Congress in the 1946 elections. Laws they passed like Taft-Hartley had little immediate effect, but over time undermined labor unions and working wages and the very principle of equal opportunity. Banking laws, as well as later deregulations, have had similar long-term effects. The long-term dip in growth rates occurred during the Vietnam War, which had many other corrosive effects -- especially as the politicos have dug themselves ever deeper in duplicity and cover-ups.

By now they have to keep denying, they have to keep runing from the truth. Acknowledgment is failure, and as long as they keep from failing they can pretend they're succeeding, which is what keeps the whole scam going. But sometimes failure strikes too suddenly and/or unshakeably to spin. The last five years have shown us some examples like that.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Election Anxiety

Billmon has a post on Republican plans to salvage the 2006 elections by pounding home the only platform they have left to run on: digging up dirt on Democrats. Deep down in the post, he reminds us that he's rooting for the Rovians to just hang on to Congress:

As previously stated, I'm rooting (through gritted teeth) for the Rovians to win this match -- or, more accurately, not lose it -- because I think both the Cheney Administration's fake reality and the genuine article have even more unpleasant surprises in store for this country, and I don't think either the Democratic Party or the American people can handle them at this point. (The plurality/majority may have soured on internationalism, but I seriously doubt they're ready to accept the kind of social and economic changes an authentically anti-imperialist foreign policy would require.)

Personally, I tend to believe it will take a rather massive eruption of reality -- and probably a catastrophic one -- to produce fundamental political change in America, of the kind that might allow a progressive left-wing movement to smash the Rovian machine, break the political stranglehold of private wealth and bring the corporations, including the corporate media, back under some kind of check and balance.

I've worried about something similar, which is that when/if anyone starts to seriously tackle the major problems that the Bush years -- and of course most of them didn't start there -- the experience is going to be so painful that it'll provoke a nasty backlash. You can get a small taste of this by looking back at Carter, who made a real attempt to address two deep problems -- inflation and oil imports -- and got trashed for his efforts. Reagan's election wasn't a turn to conservatism so much as a turn away from reality, and the political class, if not necessarily the rest of us, has been living in a fantasy world ever since. That was easier to do when we were a country that just had a few things wrong, but 25 years of systematic neglect has left us in much worse shape.

Certainly the Democrats aren't prepared to take on such daunting tasks: they are weak on war, meaning they don't have the principles to oppose it, and they are weak on economics, not least because they don't have the guts to stand up for their working class voters, and they are weak and wobbly on almost every other issue that matters. But I see at least two reasons for not siding with Billmon on this.

One is the Hippocratic Oath principle, which is to refrain from making matters worse. If anything is clear by now, it's that any margin the Republicans get, by hook or crook, will be extravagantly abused. Taking Congress away starts to drive home the idea that they can't get away with everything. Maybe it also makes it tougher to advance their agenda, and maybe they back off from some of the most extremist appointees.

The other is that powerlessness hasn't done the Democrats any favors. Losing tends to draw them toward the center -- presumably where their margin is, but that tends to muddy the issues, blunt their opposition, and encourage passivity. Winning both emboldens and provides more credibility in articulating problems and pushing solutions. Even if they're not on top of those problems yet, they have to start somewhere -- else nobody will.

One worry is that the political parties currently seem to be locked in asymmetric warfare: the Republicans seem to be able to do things and get away with them that the Democrats can't -- or often would never even think of. Most of this has is based on the Republicans' skill at manipulating symbols and controlling the discussion, which leads us to worry about every downside, knowing that we'll never hear the end of it. So what if the Democrats take control of Congress? Then the Republicans will blame them for obstructing the president, as if Bush would have been able to solve everything if only he had a friendly Congress. That fear exists because it's been done before: by Harry Truman in 1948, and to a lesser extent by Bill Clinton in 1996. So if that's a rule, the wouldn't it be better to lose in 2006 to set up a sweep in 2008, after Bush and the Republicans have on their own driven the country that much further into hell?

I was thinking 1930-32 might be a counterexample, but it looks like the Democrats didn't quite gain control of either chamber in 1930, losing the House 216-218-1 (Farmer Labor) and the Senate 49-50-1 (Farmer Labor; the tie-breaking VP was Republican) in the Senate, before sweeping in 1932. On the other hand, it looks like due to replacing vacancies both House and Senate did change hands between the 1930 and 1932 elections, which may be why I thought of it. But what I suspect 1930 shows is not that the time for a change wasn't yet present but that it's just hard to attain that sort of realignment in a scattered set of Congressional races.


Postscript: In a subsequent post, Billmon quotes Andrew Bacevich: "Those who think that merely throwing the rascals out will remedy our problems are deluding themselves." Billmon adds, "It's true, but you have to start somewhere."

I thought that was part of my point.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Music: Current count 12334 [12305] rated (+29), 901 [907] unrated (-6). Spent most of the week working on new jazz, so the prospecting notes are pretty long, but not much here. Did a bit on Recycled Goods as well, and didn't do my usual job of bringing those reviews back here. All in all, a productive week.

  • Big Al Anderson: After Hours (2006, Legacy): He's the founder of NRBQ, the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet -- a group meant to be to rock and roll what the Modern Jazz Quartet was to jazz, but wasn't because rock had no interest in genteel formalism. This is warm, good-natured, folksy, everything you'd want except great. B+(***)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #11, Part 6)

Coming off Recycled Goods, I started with some old comps, then segued through a good portion of the queue. Looks like I have about as many new records still unplayed. I figure next week will be more first-pass prospecting, then I'll settle down and try to pull a new column together. In doing so, I'll shoot for the minimum 1600 words rather than the 2000-2400 I've been handing in.

I don't have anything more to report on my status re the Village Voice. The music editor hasn't gotten back to me, and in any case isn't necessarily the one calling the shots. Whether it would be "weird" to continue publishing my column without Christgau's is one dangling thread. If that's all it is, I suppose we could call it something else and slip it by. Rob Harvilla did express an interest in me continuing to do something on jazz for the Voice, so that's another dangling thread. Where Christgau lands may or may not have an effect. He's been talking to a lot of people, but I don't know the details or whether any of it is even promising. My own best suggestion is that he institutionalize himself, setting up some sort of foundation for the advancement of rock crit -- in effect, go back to being the Dean, a role he somewhat retreated from when he gave up the music editor slot at the Voice to focus on his own writing.

I'm willing to entertain offers or suggestions as well -- for the Jazz Consumer Guide or some form of derivative. I've never had much luck freelancing. I thought I had a gig at St. Louis Today a week before they went out of business. I had something in D.C. set up, then got sick and left town. Lester Bangs encouraged me to write for Creem, then he quit and left town. I can think of three or four other things that never panned out. I did get the Rear View Mirror column at Seattle Weekly for a few months. I wrote part of Rolling Stone's Record Guide, but they never offered me a review in the magazine. I bugged Joe Levy at one point about doing a jazz box there, which may or may not have led to David Fricke writing one. I've tried pitching a diary-type column, loosely based on the one British jazz curmudgeon Philip Larkin wrote. On the other hand, I wound up writing for the Voice because Christgau saw some of my samizdat and chased me down. And Recycled Goods was the result of Michael Tatum wooing me. The work I did for Michaelangelo Matos and Christian Hoard also came about after they approached me. So I don't exactly feel I'm in the driving seat on all this.

One thing that the current up-in-the-air status has meant is that I've been reluctant to chase down a lot of recent things. The prospect of a Voice review has certainly been a major draw for publicists, so I don't have a good feel for where I might stand if that prop goes away -- indeed, whether I might still be standing. Obviously, I can continue Jazz Prospecting Notes as long as I get the material. That provides some exposure, and is useful for anyone dedicated enough to wade through the blog. I can always self-publish Jazz CG, but that sort of makes it a self-indulgence, unless I try to make a serious run with Terminal Zone. I can try to work up some sort of jazz record guide -- the current database rated count for jazz is 5427 records, which is way short of The Penguin Guide but otherwise pretty substantial. Don't know. Meanwhile, keep on doing.


Herbie Hancock: Jazz to Funk (1966-69 [2006], Aim, 2CD): The booklet describes these as "some of Herbie Hancock's rarest and most interesting recordings from the 1960s," but doesn't give much more than hints about who did what when and where. As near as I can tell, the first disc reproduces a 1969 album originally released as Kawaida under drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath's name. The dominant personality on the album is Don Cherry, who springs Jimmy Heath into a free frenzy on soprano and tenor sax -- a dimension I've never heard before. Tootie is also working way outside his normal bounds, with Ed Blackwell and James Mtume adding to the percussion. Hancock and Buster Williams hold their own in this group. Billy Bonner plays flute, and there are chants and the like, giving this a period feel, not far removed from what Pharoah Sanders was doing at the time. The other disc appears to be outtakes from the 1966 sessions for the Blow Up soundtrack. This is more conventional fare, with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson standing out in a group reportedly including Freddie Hubbard, Joe Newman, Phil Woods, Jim Hall, Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette. But, as is often the case with soundtrack music, pieces vary: one called "Far Out" sounds like electric bass, vibes, congas, and flute, none of which are documented. Nice minor groove piece, as is the flute-dominated closer "Hot and Heavy." B+(**)

Stanley Turrentine: Flipped Out on Love (1971-72 [2006], Aim): Again, only bare hints in the doc. The first eleven cuts come from Flipped, an album originally released in 1971 on Canyon, and reissued on CD in 1995 on Drive Archive. That would place it between his tenures at Blue Note and CTI. The idea seems to be to go pop, with covers like "Brown Eyed Woman" and "Let It Be" and a couple of Stevie Wonder tunes. With his creamy tone, He sounds light and happy on those. The album closes with three songs from a 1972 Gloria Lynne album, also on Canyon, presumably with Turrentine in the mix somewhere, but he's obscured by the big production, the backing singers, and the general blight of ordinariness. B

Charles Mingus: Thrice Upon a Theme (1954-57 [2006], Aim, 2CD): More profiteering in obscurities, but this time the discs aren't so obscure they pose any problems tracking down. In fact, they're already on my shelves. The 1954 session originally appeared on two 10-inch Bethlehem releases, which are combined -- different song order from here -- in Rhino's 1999 The Jazz Experiments of Charlie Mingus. They're a fascinating set of orchestral sketches, seeds that Mingus developed over the following decade. The second disc is a Hampton Hawes piano trio originally on Roulette originally released as Mingus Three, reissued in 1997. For packaging, and for that matter for documentation, I prefer the separate discs. Two arguments for this one are that the aforementioned reissues are out of print, and list price here isn't exorbitant at $16.98. Still, I feel like docking it a notch for discographical confusion. B

Mingus Big Band: Live in Tokyo (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): Nothing new here: a thirteen-piece band trying to hold its own on a repertoire made famous by groups half that size, and struggling in the process -- I swear, the half-sized groups had twice the muscle, no doubt because Mingus himself wouldn't accept anything less. I'm sure it's fun to play this music, but mostly we just get are shadows and reverberations of past glory. Maybe that's the point of ghost bands, but it's been 24 years since Mingus Dynasty rose and 13 since the Big Band debuted -- hasn't the novelty worn off? Midway through I started thinking this might be my next dud, but then I remembered I've already so honored a Mingus big band, and this is nowhere near as lame as the Marsalis record. But it pulls its punches, and not just on stage, as when they dropped off the second half of the title to "Free Cell Block F, 'Tiz Nazi USA." I mean, do you really think that Mingus himself would be less inclined to apply that title to America today than he was in 1975? [B-]

Charles Mingus: At UCLA 1965 (1965 [2006], Sunnyside, 2 CD): Alternate title, which didn't fit on the spine: Music Written for Monterey 1965 Not Heard . . . Played Live in Its Entirety at UCLA. The music went unheard at Monterey when Mingus got squeezed down to a 30-minute set. This was recorded a week later at a jazz workshop, and retains the flavor of his early experimental workshops, as he lectures, hectors, moves people around, and talks to the audience. As with the workshops, it doesn't feel quite sorted out, and the penchant for long, intricate orchestration isn't my favorite Mingus facet. The recordings have been remastered from limited edition vinyl, which leaves some question about the sound -- I have trouble following the patter, but the music is in pretty good shape. Still working on it. [B+(**)]

Chico Hamilton: Juniflip (2003-05 [2006], Joyous Shout): The legendary cool jazz drummer turns 85 this September, and he's got four new albums to celebrate with. That's quite a lot to deal with, especially from a guy I've never paid much attention to -- only have two of his albums in my database, both unrated Soul Notes from the early '90s, although I must have a big pile of records he's played drums on over the last 50+ years. (Well, small pile, anyway. Looks like most of his session work goes back past Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker to Lester Young and Billie Holiday.) All four albums have the same core group: Cary Denigris on guitar, Paul Ramsey on Fender bass, Evan Schwam and Andrew Haddo on flute and reeds, and Jeremy Carlstedt on percussion. Some have an extra flute/reeds player -- Karolina Strassmayer here, Geoffrey Countryman on two others. Most have guests: trombones here, plus vocals by Bill Henderson (two cuts) and Arthur Lee (one). But that's all set up. The record does little for me, although there are things I like fine. The drummer has a nice swivel, a little too fleeting to be called swing. The guitar and drums amplify that, but also color it, and I don't much care for their tones. The reeds provide more bulk, but as color they are strictly pastel, and none are able to take command. So picture them as grasses or flowers shuffling to and fro, swivelling from the drums. That's fair enough as to represent Hamilton, but I'm looking forward to four 70-minute albums of the same. The vocals at least break things up a bit, and they're the best things here. Not sure I've ever said that about Henderson before, so not sure that's much of a compliment. B-

Chico Hamilton: Believe (2005 [2006], Joyous Shout): This seems to be a little more forthright than Juniflip, both in the guitar and the saxophone. Nothing strikes me as bad, annoying, or even boring, although at 72:47 it is plenty long. Fontella Bass guests, singing three pieces. She never gets much traction, even on her bread and butter gospel, and not just because Chico chills out. B

Chico Hamilton: 6th Avenue Romp (2006, Joyous Shout): Just have advances of the last two releases in Hamilton's quadfecta, so I don't have session info. Hype sheet says this is, "an elegy to '60s era L.A. which moves from Motown covers to a song entitled 'Elevation' that sounds like Coltrane sitting in with WAR (guitarist Shuggie Otis, son of the great Johnny Otis, guests here)." Actually, the credits put Otis on a different cut, but they're probably wrong. But any case I'd worry more about Evan Schwam as Coltrane than anyone as WAR. While "Ain't No Sunshine" is the theme here -- at least it gets a reprise -- "Take the 'A' Train" isn't exactly a '60s L.A. theme song. It turns out that "Elevation" ain't bad, but the sax influence appears to be Wayne Shorter rather than Coltrane, and it's a soprano. "'A' Train" is done with the vocal -- presumably Brenna Bavis, the cut credits are screwed up here too -- and it ain't bad either. But the only thing here that moves beyond "not bad" is a guest shot on trumpet -- Jon Faddis. B

Chico Hamilton: Heritage (2006, Joyous Shout): I've played each of these albums twice, which means I've put about ten hours into the series. A third pass might lead me to appreciate the subtleties of Hamilton's art more, although I don't doubt that I get the basic idea: he's always been a slippery fellow, and his post-cool just scales his approach up through the band. He brings a long history of references into the mix, but in the end they're so uniformly integrated that everything reduces to consistency. A third pass might just as well drive me to a pique of downgrading. But neither is all that likely -- there's very little to dislike even if there's also very little to get excited about. This last volume is meant as an homage to Gerald Wilson, who wrote three of the pieces. That means more texturing, which is not something this doctor would prescribe. Two vocals by Marya Lawrence are the high points. A third by Hamilton is a throwaway. B-

George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band: Tiger by the Tail (2005 [2006], TCB): Swiss pianist and big band arranger, Gruntz is in his 70s now, and his Concert Jazz Band dates back to the '70s. I've missed his records up to this one, so I have no idea how this fits in, but a glance through the Penguin Guide indicates that the size and personnel are highly volatile. He travels a lot and records with musicians he finds along the way -- this was recorded in NYC, hence a conspicuous number of Americans, several bringing their own music. And clearly he prefers unleashing the musicians to see what they come up with to trying to tame them in pursuit of some artistic vision of his own. This blows up pretty quickly, with six trumpets leading the charge, but settles down for some more intricate stuff before the program ends. If someone like Pierre Dřrge is trying to project a postmodern Ellington orchestra, Gruntz's analog would be to Woody Herman -- not so far out, but raucous, rowdy, a platform for soloists and rough-hewn teamwork. B+(**)

HR-Bigband: Once in a Lifetime (2003 [2006], TCB): HR, usually lowercased, stands for Hessische Rundfunk; i.e., Hessian Radio. Based in Frankfurt, the group dates back to 1946, with Jörg Achim Keller the director since 2000. Which makes it an example of the sort of cultural institution that Europe does a much better job of supporting than the US does -- just not a very inspiring one. It does offer the usual big band virtues. And this record has slots for two guests: organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Jeff Hamilton. The former is conspicuous and often entertaining, providing a useful contrast to the brass. I'd give you an analogue to Dřrge-Ellington and Gruntz-Herman if I could think of one. B-

Oscar Peterson/Ella Fitzgerald: JATP Lausanne 1953 (Swiss Radio Days, Vol. 15) (1953 [2006], TCB): The pianist gets top billing for endurance. He backs Ella on the first eight numbers, then leads his trio with Ray Brown and Barney Kessel for the last five. On one track, closing Ella's set, Lester Young leaps in and Charlie Shavers piles on. Nothing here you haven't heard elsewhere, except maybe Ella's short scat intro to "Lester Leaps In." Still, Ella's "Lady Be Good" and OP's "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" are stellar. B+(**)

Dave Glasser: Above the Clouds (2006, Arbors): Mainstream alto saxophonist, has a bit of Paul Desmond's tone sandwiched between slightly more vintage concepts of swing and bebop. Plays here with a piano-bass-drums quartet, on a program that's half original, half standards -- the former are minor exercises, while the latter offer instant gratification. B+(*)

The World's Greatest Jazz Band: At Manchester's Free Trade Hall, England, 1971 (1971 [2006], Arbors, 2CD): The group name is functional in several respects. For one thing it cautions you that "great" and especially "greatest" are limits as well as superlatives. There is, after all, a limit to how much greatness any of us can really stand, beyond which the great become targets for revolution. On the other hand, if you're Yank Lawson or Bob Haggart -- two journeymen from the swing era, playing trumpet and bass, respectively -- you can see that the prospect of assembling a band with legends like Bud Freeman and Vic Dickenson and such relatively young masters of the trad jazz craft as Bob Wilber and Ralph Sutton might justify such hyperbole. Lawson and Haggart kept the name going for a ten-year stretch (1968-78), shifting lineups around along the way. This group includes Billy Butterfield, who gets most of the trumpet features, Ed Hubble on trombone, and Gus Johnson Jr. on drums. In the past, concerts like would have been edited down to sharpen the impact, but at this late date they go for history, keeping all the intros and applause, calling out features for the stars. Sutton's stand out. B+(*)

Ralph Sutton: At St. George Church, Brandon Hill, Bristol, England (1992 [2006], Arbors, 2CD): Solo piano. I turned the volume up to better follow Alyn Shipton's introduction -- the two discs correspond to two BBC broadcasts -- and that helps. He recorded a lot of solo piano over five decades, and I can't begin to comparison shop, but this seems relatively informal, an old master more at play than at work -- rearranging and transposing, stringing medleys together, breaking for the odd story. B+(**)

Alan Broadbent: Every Time I Think of You (2005 [2006], Artistry): Actually, they don't give a recording date -- 2005 is a previous copyright date, which presumably gets us a bit closer to the correct answer. Piano trio with Brian Bromberg on "wood bass" -- seems to be an early 1700s Matteo Guersam double bass or reasonable facsimile thereof -- and Kendall Kay on drums, backed by the otherwise unidentified Tokyo Strings. Not the sort of thing I often like: the strings fit the lushly romantic mode, similar to what Broadbent did for Quartet West, but it was easier to think that the cheesiness was ironical there. Broadbent's piano tends toward lushness as well, but compared to the strings it is a disciplinary force. By the end it wears on me, but early on it had me wondering whether lushness is such a bad thing after all. B+(**)

Luis Bacalov: Il Postino (1994-2000 [2006], CAM Jazz): This is mostly the original motion picture soundtrack, composed and conducted by Bacalov, plus a later version of the title track done up by the Giovanni Tommaso-Enrico Rava Quartet. The soundtrack won the Oscar for best original score in 1996, as well as numerous other awards. It's a lovely piece of work, with clarinet and bandoneon straddling the boundaries between folk and jazz. One vocal piece, sung by Alma Rosa. Rava's trumpet at the end is subdued but sweet. B+(**)

Edward Simon: Unicity (2006, CAM Jazz): Piano trio with John Pattitucci and Brian Blade. Simon was born in Venezuela, came to the US to study, was tutored by Harold Danko, hooked up with Kevin Eubanks and Greg Osby, had something to do with M-Base, has half a dozen albums, including a couple on Criss Cross. I've bumped into him as a sideman, especially with Bobby Watson, but I can't say I'm familiar with him. My bottom line on piano trios is that I know what I like even if I can't tell you why. This one is especially hard for me to pin down, but I like it enough to keep it in the queue. [B+(*)]

Dave Holland Quintet: Critical Mass (2005 [2006], Dare2/Sunnyside): I've played this four or five times, always thinking that for such an obviously important record I shouldn't comment until I'm able to say something deeper than "it has some good moments, but it's awful goddamn long." Will keep it open, not so much because I have hopes that it will eventually cohere, much less attain critical mass; more like I might finally figure out what's wrong with it and nab Chris Potter with that Dud he's been dodging ever since he got unexpectedly strong. Not that I expect it's going to be his fault -- he has as many good moments as anyone. More likely the auteur, which is what makes it difficult. [B+(*)]

Fred Fried: The Wisdom of the Notes (2006, Ballet Tree): The name always throws me. Presumably it's pronounced "free-d" but as a rock critic I can think of several artists who adopted past tense verbs as surnames, like Michelle Shocked. His bio doesn't mention anything about having been a short-order cook, but it does emphasize his debt to George Van Eps. Following Van Eps, Fried plays a nylon 7-string guitar. Last time I heard him accompanied with strings I'd rather do without, but this trio, with Michael Moore on bass and Tony Tedesco on drums, serves him especially well. [B+(***)]

Mike Frost Project: Comin' Straight At Ya' (2006, Blujazz): A Chicago group, led by the two Frost brothers -- Mike on tenor/soprano sax and Steve on trumpet/flugelhorn. With organ and guitar, they lean toward soul jazz, but the brothers keep returning to classic bebop. The two percussionists don't resolve this one way or another, and the fact that one is ex-Vandermark Five drummer Tim Mulvenna means nothing. A likable record, but not much to it. B

Anton Schwartz: Radiant Blue (2005 [2006], Anton Jazz): AMG describes Schwartz as "influenced by Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane and Joe Henderson as well as Dexter Gordon." That's nicer than saying he was influenced by Bob Mintzer, but that's about what it adds up to. He's breaks no new ground, but is so centered in the tradition the old ground he covers reminds you of everyone. He has trouble establishing his own sound, although I suspect the recording has something to do with that. The group includes guitar and piano, bass and drums. Guitarist Peter Bernstein is a definite plus. Pianist Taylor Eigsti doesn't make much difference one way or the other. Not inconceivable this could gain a notch if I gave it a chance. B

Branford Marsalis: Braggtown (2006, Marsalis Music/Rounder): A note in the booklet: "This album is dedicated to the memory of Jackie McLean, John Hicks, Hilton Ruiz, Rosalie Edwards, Stan Chin, Joyce Alexander Wein, Shirley Horn, John Stubblefield, Don Alias, Ray Barretto, Roy Brooks, Keter Betts, Lucky Thompson, Percy Heath, Arnie Lawrence, Jimmy Smith and Benny Bailey." A couple of names there don't ring a bell for me, and others could have been added, but it's been a brutal year. Good, therefore, that Branford seems to be back in his game. This is his working quartet -- pianist Joey Calderazzo gets some flashy solo spots, while Eric Revis and Jeff Watts hold things together. The credits don't specify which "saxophones" Branford uses, but he tends to charge hard on tenor and wax eloquent on soprano -- not clear if there's an alto or any other sax in his kit. Just played this while multitasking, so I don't have any idea whether the booklet references to Chopin-like nocturnes and Messiaen-like piano solos are just bullshit, I'm pleased enough to keep it in play. [B+(**)]

John Hollenbeck & Jazz Bigband Graz: Joys & Desires (2004 [2006], Intuition): There's too much going on here for me to wrap my brain around. The big band can function as one instrument or many, but rarely as a set of individuals, even the ones noted for their solos. Part of the complication is Theo Bleckmann, credited with electronic effects as well as vocals. The first piece is his show: he recites a Wallace Stevens poem with little more than his effects for background. He appears several times after, notably in the first and third parts of the title set. The latter starts out in slow church mode, but eventually shifts into something far more joyous. The middle piece is an ecstatic dance, thoroughly delightful. But that's only some of what's going on here. I may never get it all, but this is one of the more remarkable discs I've heard recently. [B+(***)]

The Diplomats: We Are Not Obstinate Islands (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Money's tight everywhere -- certainly in the jazz business, but all the more so in the jazz writing business, especially given that all I'm guaranteed for the next Jazz CG is a kill fee. When I'm deluding myself that writing this column is something other than economic suicide, I often comfort myself by thinking that at least I'm building up an amazing reference collection -- in my no doubt even more impoverished retirement I'll have plenty to listen to. To paraphrase Fat Freddie, music will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no music. But what used to be my favorite European label has come up with two ways of saving money that make my life more difficult, not to mention what I just mentioned. One is that they're shipping out cardboard sleeve promo copies instead of something resembling the actual product. The other is that they ship the promo lit in PDF files via email -- well, don't get me started on the evils of PDF. So to review one of these records I have to dig back through my email and save off the attachment and bring up xpdf, at which point I discover that they're probably cutting some more costs on their liner note writing. I hope that at least they'll put some of that money back into the music, but it's hard to tell from this one. The Diplomats is a meaningless name. The band consists of Rob Brown on alto sax, Steve Swell on trombone, and Harris Eisenstadt on drums. The music is free improv from a gig in Rochester -- not much, although I'm always glad to hear from these guys, especially Brown. One thing I've always liked about Pedro Costa is his willingness to pick up a tape that makes no business sense and put it out just because he likes it. At least that much hasn't changed. B

Whit Dickey: Sacred Ground (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Best known as one of the series of drummers in the David S. Ware Quartet, Dickey has emerged as an interesting free jazz leader. But regardless of what he writes, or how he centers his drums, the fireworks come from the horns, with Rob Brown's alto sax fleet and rough, and Roy Campbell's trumpet his perfect foil. The fourth member of the quartet is Joe Morris, playing double bass instead of his usual guitar -- although there's at least one spot where he sure fooled me. B+(***)

Ken Filiano/Steve Adams: The Other Side of This (2002 [2006], Clean Feed): Filiano is a bassist I run across with some frequency, and his presence on an album is always a good sign. Adams I didn't recognize, although after throwing out some false leads, I find that I should have known better. He plays all sorts of woodwinds, with sopranino sax an evident favorite. Past credits include Composers in Red Sneakers, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet, Rova Saxophone Quarter, various Vinny Golia projects, and at least three previous albums with Filiano. These are just duets: 2-3 cuts each on sopranino sax, alto sax, tenor sax, flute, and bass flute. They are interesting in their detailed interplay, but not the sort of thing that might known anyone's socks off -- the sort of thing I like when I manage to pay sufficient attention, but I'd rather recommend records you don't have to pay attention to in order to like. B+(*)

IMI Kollektief: Snug as a Gun (2005 [2006], Clean Feed): If Afro-Brazilian music is typified by its rhythms, what happens when you try to transform it into free jazz? Is it still in any meaningful sense Afro-Brazilian? That question comes more from the PDF file than from the music, which has a streak of good humor but nothing much that nails it down. Brazilian saxophonist Alípio Carvalho Neto is the is the leading voice here, but the group is international -- French, Belgian, Portuguese -- with trumpet and vibes complementing the sax. B

Dennis González Boston Project: No Photograph Available (2003 [2006], Clean Feed): Recorded live in Boston on a sidetrip with a quickly assembled group of locals: Either/Or Orchestra saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase, bassists Nate McBride and Joe Morris, and a teenaged Morris student named Croix Galipault on drums. The basses are central, slipping into scratchy duets when the horns back off, or more often setting up a pulse which the horns mimic and amplify. González had largely slipped off the radar playing with his Dallas band Yells at Eels, but this started an outreach that led to a remarkable series of albums: NY Midnight Suite, Nile River Suite, and especially Idle Wild. Compared to them, this is rough and a bit tentative. B+(**)

Myra Melford/Be Bread: The Image of Your Body (2003 [2006], Cryptogramophone): Looks like another slipcase promo, with the press doc buried in MS Word files -- ugh! even worse than PDF! -- on a website, but this is an advance and I'm likely to see the real thing before I finalize. Melford is one of the major pianists of her generation, dazzling when she goes outside, delightful on the soft inside fills. She likes to name her groups, even though this quintet has three-fifths in common with last album's quintet, the Tent. This starts off with her on harmonium, a hand-pumped organ she's studied in India and Pakistan, although she returns to piano for most of the album. Interesting group mix: trumpeter Cuong Vu and bassist Stomu Takeishi lean toward fusion on their own; guitarist Brandon Ross has some hip-hop on his resume as well as work for Butch Morris and Henry Threadgill; drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee was last seen working with Vijay Iyer and Steve Lehman in Fieldwork. Lot of intriguing stuff here to sort out. [B+(***)]

Nels Cline: New Monstery: A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill (2006, Cryptogramophone): Another advance, due out Sept. 26. Technical problems prevent me from quoting the bit in the liner notes where Cline describes his idea of augmenting his trio -- the so-called Nels Cline Singers -- with Ben Goldberg's clarinets and Andrea Parkins' accordion to play a batch of some modern master's music, and how it took him three or four seconds to settle on Andrew Hill. He wound up adding Bobby Bradford's cornet as well, which provides a bright contrast to what is otherwise a rather murky set of instruments. No verdict as yet, but it has moments of promise. [B+(*)]


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

Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: New Musical Kingdom (2001-04 [2006], Clean Feed): I've only heard two of Lane's albums, and he only has a half-dozen or so, so it may be premature to anoint him as the new Mingus, but that there's even a contender for such a unique role is quite a surprise. That he plays an imposing bass, he composes pieces that are rooted in the tradition but fly off in the most improbable of directions, and he runs a six piece band at its advertised full throttle. A-

Ben Allison: Cowboy Justice (2005 [2006], Palmetto): When he got ticked off, Mingus used to slap political slogans onto his pieces, figuring that -- this was the pre-Braxton era -- the titles had to be words and if he had to use words he might as well say something, like "Remember Rockefeller at Attica" or "Free Cell Block F, 'Tis Nazi U.S.A." Reading Allison's notes -- photocopied, because Palmetto pioneered the slipcase promos I've ragged on Clean Feed over -- I'm reminded of Mingus, and of course of Charlie Haden -- perhaps a more immediate model for Allison, both as bassist and as composer. But I'm also impressed by Allison's analysis. A sample: "The title of the tune 'Tricky Dick' was inspired by the misdeeds, lies and manipulations of Dick Cheney. Tricky Dick was originally a nickname given to Richard Nixon, who was brought down by a crime that was comparatively benign by today's standards. Now there's a new dick in town. It's amazing to me how so many shadowy figures from the past have reemerged and risen so far in contemporary American politics." The music comes from somewhere else, including his choice of instrumentation -- trumpet, guitar, bass, drums -- which he justifies by saying, "I wanted to rock." "Tricky Dick" moves swiftly on Steve Cardenas's guitar roll, then Ron Horton kicks in with high notes on trumpet. "Talking Heads" intensifies the pace and the punch, something like a mariachi. "Emergency" works a variation on W.C. Handy -- "nothing to do with love lost, but instead is an expression of the anger and frustration I feel as a result of the way the Bush administration responded to the terrorist attacks of 9/11" -- with trumpet seething. Midway, the opener reprises with "Tricky Rides Again" -- so infectious it stands out on an album where everything stands up. The bassist is never conspicuous here, but Cardenas and especially Horton have never had so many good lines to play. If I had to pull the CG together right now, this and Lane would be my pick hits, and the column title would be something like "Bass Instincts." A-


In writing the Clean Feed comment, I got to wondering about which labels I have featured the most over the ten Jazz CGs to date. I went through the list, awarding 3 points for each pick hit, 2 for each A-list paragraph review, and 1 for each honorable mention. I also counted duds, but didn't give the feature extra credit. I consolidated some labels, but maybe not as many as I could. The tallies are as follows (raw counts in parens; duds, if any, after semicolon):

 18 ECM (0,4,10)
 16 Clean Feed (2,4,2)
 14 Atavistic (1,4,3;1)
 14 Justin Time (Enja) (3,2,1;1)
 14 Sunnyside (CAM Jazz) (0,5,4;1)
 13 Fresh Sound (0,4,5)
 12 Arbors (0,4,4)
 11 Blue Note (Capitol, Mosaic) (1,2,4;3)
 10 Okka Disk (2,1,2)
 10 Thirsty Ear (1,3,1;1)
 9 AUM Fidelity (High Two) (2,1,1)
 8 Cryptogramophone (0,3,2)
 8 High Note (ACT) (1,2,1;1)
 8 Intakt (1,2,1)
 7 Leo (1,2,0)
 6 Cuneiform (0,2,2;1)
 6 Pi (1,1,1)
 6 Telarc (Heads Up, MCG Jazz) (0,2,2;6)
 6 Tzadik (0,3,0)
 5 Boxholder (0,1,3)
 5 Concord (Stretch) (0,1,3;4)
 5 Hyena (0,1,3;1)
 5 IPO (0,2,1)
 5 Playscape (0,2,1)
 5 Sharp Nine (0,1,3)
 5 Songlines (0,2,1;1)
 5 Thrill Jockey (0,2,1)

I saw a press release that Concord was acquiring Telarc, which would give them a combined score of 11 (0,3,5) plus a substantial lead in the duds category with 10. Palmetto has 6 duds, with a positive score of 3 (0,1,1). The only other sources of multiple duds are Blue Note and Columbia (including Legacy) at 3 each, Verve (including GRP) and Rounder (i.e., Marsalis Music) at 2. Columbia has a positive of 4, Verve and Rounder 2 each. I don't think the dud counts are all that significant -- I don't pick all that many, and the reasons are pretty idiosyncratic. It strikes me that the positives are skewed as well, in part because I tend to avoid duplicating what Francis Davis writes about. Otherwise, Verve and Palmetto would have cracked the list, while Blue Note, ECM, High Note, and Pi -- maybe a few others -- would have scored higher. Another factor hurt Leo and Tzadik: no mailing list, which is worse than my complaints about Clean Feed.


Preventing Future Thinking About 9/11

The New York Times Op-Ed page has an especially inane piece on "10 Ways to Avoid the Next 9/11," where they asked ten "experts" -- like White House homeland security advisor Frances Fragos Townsend, 9/11 commission majordomos Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, former NYPD deputy commissioner for counterterrorism Michael Sheehan, and novelist William Gibson -- who at least missed the point. A couple of Harvard law professors argue "How War Can Bring Peace," while the former head of security at Tel Aviv airport argues for "Less Political Correctness." After all, who knows more about preventing terrorism than Israel?

The only piece that made any sense at all was by Jessica Stern, who actually interviewed terrorists for her book, Terror in the Name of God. On the other hand, the Times probably invited her because she used to work on the National Security Council staff. Guess they screwed up. Stern wrote:

Since 9/11, terrorism has increased significantly around the globe, but the United States has been spared. Eurasia rather than America has been the main source and victim. Why?

Increased awareness and surveillance have made a strike as sophisticated as the 9/11 attacks far more difficult to achieve, especially without local support. Unlike their counterparts in Britain, for example, few of America's Muslims at least for now subscribe to the notion that Western governments or their proxies are deliberately hurting and humiliating Muslims and that the way to restore dignity is to join a jihad. Moreover, terrorist strategists like Ayman al-Zawahri have warned that while smaller strikes serve as training opportunities for their fighters, major strikes can backfire; attacking the wrong people at the wrong time would reduce the popularity of their movement.

The jihadists understand that they are fighting a war of ideas. According to "The Management of Savagery," a Qaeda manual, the success of the movement will ultimately depend on the jihadists' ability to damage America's prestige throughout the globe, sow discord between America and its allies and expose the hollowness of American values. The manual prescribes a strategy of forcing America "to abandon its war against Islam by proxy" by provoking it into direct military confrontation with a Muslim country. When the United States attacked Iraq, it inadvertently "expanded the jihadi current" just as Osama bin Laden's strategists had hoped.

Every foreign-policy decision entails tradeoffs in regard to terrorism, especially with respect to the spread of the jihadist idea. Attacking the wrong people at the wrong time can backfire, just as Al Qaeda's strategists say. Let's not make that mistake again.

In other words, what Bush did to avoid further domestic attacks was to play into Al Qaeda's hands. The idea that we shoud fight them there so we won't have to fight them here is exactly wrong: because we're there we tempt them to take the fight to us, which was the point of 9/11. However, had we not responded in kind, their attack would have exposed them as fanatic, further marginalizing what was already a very marginal movement. Instead, by taking them seriously we gave them the credibility they craved -- which they could never have obtained on their own.

The absence of further attacks attests that Al Qaeda is still a very marginal movement in the Muslim world. But with the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, saber rattling against Syria and Iran, and carte blanche for Israel in Lebanon and Occupied Palestine, we've shown reckless disregard for the rights and welfare of Muslims across a broad swath of the world. We've been able to do this with relative impunity because there's little the cavemen on the borders of Pakistan can do to us -- except try to inspire Muslims close to us to take their side. That has happened to some extent in England and Spain when they were conspicuously allied with the US. That it hasn't happened in the US is most likely because we still have a relatively open society -- a freedom that Muslim immigrants and residents weigh favorably against our foolish foreign policies.

One question is how fragile that balance is, especially given that it only takes a small cell of people to produce a great deal of terror. Racist profiling is likely to spur just such a break. Same with more wars and their inevitable atrocities. But the real question -- the one underlying the whole discussion -- never gets raised: why should we have to fear terrorism at all? I won't bore you with the long list of things that people in other countries find offensive in US foreign policy, but I will ask what is the tangible benefit we receive from this foreign policy that other wealthy nations with nothing to fear, like Switzerland and Sweden, forgo by adopting non-threatening foreign policies?

That question has to be asked, because if terrorism really does become a constant everyday threat we will be doomed: the openness that we currently enjoy, and that actually protects us, will succumb to fear and paralysis, with no prospect of anticipating every possible attack. This is the great irony of the War on Terror: the more we fight the more enemies we have to defend against. In the long run, such a fight can never be won. The amazing thing is that Bush and company see this as politically advantageous. It's hard to tell whether that's short-sighted, cynical, or plain stupid, especially since the probable answer is all of the above. On the other hand, the fact that anyone -- and don't forget that we're specifically talking about the New York Times here -- can't see this fundamental problem is what lets the short-sighted, cynical morons carry on.

Friday, September 08, 2006

F5 Record Report (#6: September 7, 2006)

Another F5 Record Report has been posted on the web. Roster this week:

  • Be Your Own Pet (Ecstatic Peace) A- [rock]
  • The Best of Studio One (1967-80, Heartbeat) A- [reggae]
  • The Claudia Quintet: Semi-Formal (Cuneiform) A- [jazz]
  • Ghostface Killah: Fishscale (Def Jam) A [rap]
  • Michy Mano: The Cool Side of the Pillow (Enja/Justin Time) B+ [world]
  • Bob Marley & the Wailers: One Love: At Studio One (1964-66, Heartbeat, 2CD) B+ [reggae]
  • Gatemouth Moore: Cryin' and Singin' the Blues (1945-46, Savoy Jazz) A- [r&b]
  • Mario Pavone Sextet: Deez to Blues (Playscape) A- [jazz]

Handed in another one today. Still haven't gotten around to trying to scrounge up new non-jazz records -- Ghostface Killah and Be Your Own Pet were purchases originally Consumer Guided by Robert Christgau, which I don't have much to add to. Meant to do the new Todd Snider and Bob Dylan albums soon, but got caught short once again and wound up delving into the drafts folder. Not that I think repetition is such a bad thing.

I can report that I've made some progress on the integrated website redesign project. At least, now the F5 archive section has the redesign. More sections to come, as I find time. As if I can find time.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cox Correction

I added the following postscript to my Aug. 26 post on Rev. Gary Cox's death and a Brent Castillo op-ed. But that's ancient by now, at least measured in blog years, so I figured I should also post it up top.

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.


As I said before, I didn't know Cox, although I knew who he was, and know people who held him in the highest esteem. But Cox did enter into my fantasy world at one point. After our unspeakably vile member of Congress dispatched a mediocre challenger in the 2004 elections, I tried to think of who, or at least what kind of person, might be able to mount a serious, principled challenge. I figured that one way to counter the bible-thumping pro-life, even-more-pro-war right would be to counter with a real minister -- one who actually grasped the basic concept of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Cox was the obvious choice -- in addition to his obvious virtues, I figured name confusion between him and Rev. Terry Fox, the godfather of the local Christian Right, might shift a few votes. I never got a chance to promote this idea -- one minister I did broach it with had no interest, and I see too much sense in that reaction to push it hard. Jim Hightower's quip remains the rule of thumb: if God meant us to vote, She would have given us candidates.

Good thing I'm an atheist, else I'd be real nervous about the cosmic order.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What Katrina Wrought

The following appeared in the Wichita Eagle back on Aug. 29, one year after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. It's titled "New Orleans Today" -- really just a list of numbers:

A year after the deadly and costly hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, many things are very different in the New Orleans area.

  • New Orleans' work force has dropped to 444,200 from 633,800 before the storm.
  • 135,000 homes and apartments were damaged or destroyed by Katrina. Only 38,600 building permits have been issued since the storm.
  • Six of nine New Orleans hospitals remain closed.
  • Only 54 of 128 public schools are opening this fall.
  • 60 percent of homes in New Orleans are hooked up to electricity.
  • 17 percent of the city's buses and streetcars are working.
  • 23 percent of day care centers are open.
  • 33 percent of restaurants and grocery and convenience stores are open.

There are lots of interesting things you can unpack from those statistics, although there is certainly more to the story. For one thing, the federal government has spent quite a bit of money in the area. That money has stimulated the economy, which would otherwise be even worse off. But that money has mostly been spent on major infrastructure projects, like rebuilding the levees. That's not so unreasonable, but it's clear that the short-term construction boom isn't reinvigorating the city. That's one reason for the discrepancy between getting back to 2/3 of the pre-storm workforce but only 1/3 of the various service metrics.

But the other reason is that the disaster disproportionately drove from the city its numerous poor. The services shortfalls are just one reason the poor will be slow to return. But a deeper reason is that the poor depend on castoffs and hand-me-downs, and that's what the floods destroyed first and foremost. People of little means get by on whatever marginal environments they can find. We're blind to such niches, and when we do notice we seem them in negative terms -- as slums, as blight. So we can't conceive of rebuilding the city as it was, even though it's politically fashionable to assert that the city will rebound.

The rhetoric comes from our steadfast belief in progress. There are many instances where progress has stalled, and indeed where we've lost ground, but the slippage has usually been gradual. What happened to New Orleans was sudden: half a major city was wiped out in a day. Even if no similar storm returns -- not a prognostic to bet on -- New Orleans will never come back, least of all like it was. A big part of this is that we remain very confused about what happened and why, but we're also quite confused about what New Orleans was and how it got that way. Much of this confusion, both before and after the fact, comes from our faith in the free enterprise system. The idea that the invisible hand works to our mutual benefit is comforting myth; what is certain is that the invisible hand does things we don't see let alone comprehend -- like growing and decaying cities.


I went to the Wichita Public Library tonight, for the first time in 3-4 weeks. I saw thirty or so books that looked like they might be worth reading. I won't be able to read more than a couple of those -- I'm stacked up to a ridiculous degree already -- but I'm impressed with how hard so many people are working to try to clear up many of the problems we face. I remember searching through bookstores after 9/11 for anything that might help me to understand that had just happened and finding virtually nothing. Now there are dozens of books covering virtually every aspect of that and the misbegotten War on Terror that followed. On the other hand, all that effort has had little impact either on those in power, on their apologists, on their so-called opposition, or on anything having to do with popular opinion. I'm reminded once again that in my own experience with companies on the brink of failure, no amount of reason could alter their course.

Among those books, half-a-dozen were on Katrina, and another was on a 1969 hurricane that took the same course with much the same devastating effect. That book is Category 5: The Story of Camille, Lessons Unlearned From America's Most Violent Hurricane. The gist seems to be that political authorities were unprepared for Camille and botched every aspect of responding to it, much as they did with Katrina. As interesting as that one looked, I figured another book looked more immediately useful. This is by Ivor van Heerden and Mike Bryan, called The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina -- The Inside Story From One Louisiana Scientist. From the back cover:

It was a natural disaster -- but magnified enormously by government's crushing incompetence in both preparation and response. The storm leveled the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but man-made problems destroyed New Orleans. The catastrophic flooding there should never have happened. Properly designed and constructed levees would have protected the city. Instead, they collapsed. Never in American history was a natural disaster so fatally coupled with the systemic failure of our government to protect and serve the people. The result is the national tragedy known forevermore as simply Katrina.

Not sure I'll get to it either, but I like the technical emphasis. Still, beyond that is a whole range of political and economic issues, which I don't expect this book to handle. But understanding starts with the technical details, and this book looks to be useful for that.

Looking again at the Eagle article quoted above, I find it curious that the front page major title is "To dream amid decay" and that the main picture has these words spread across the top: "A year after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleanians hope their city isn't squandering its chances for rebirth." Both messages signify confusion.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Double or Nothing?

The total number of US military deaths since Bush launched the Global War on Terror has passed the number killed in the 9/11 attacks. So at the very least, Bush's little game of double or nothing has failed. It's hard to know whether the first half of those deaths could have been prevented had the US adopted fair-minded policies toward the Middle East: had we worked toward peace between Israel and its opponents instead of reinforcing the worst tendencies of Israeli militarism; had we avoided the games of supporting and/or undermining local governments; had we not stationed our military forces all over the region, in many cases replacing old colonial powers; had we used our diplomatic and economic influence to urge other powers to take similarly neutral positions. Had we done all those things we certainly would be far less hated in the region, and that would have made it much harder for Al Qaeda to recruit suicide commandos, and it would have been much harder for Al Qaeda to find local support and comfort for their acts.

But rather than wake up and take stock of what we had done that made such attacks plausible, Bush chose to gamble on victory and doubled the bet. Even this past week he keeps jabbering on about the necessity of total victory, as if he can double or nothing until he finally wins and gets out of the hole. As if this is a game where one can do any such thing. It isn't. It's just a game where both sides lose until both are exhausted. The deaths are just the most conspicuous measure of how much we've lost. Those who keep thinking that we still have any prospect of coming out ahead have lost something critical: their minds.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Music: Current count 12305 [12268] rated (+37), 907 [931] unrated (-24). Don't have everything catalogued right now, but I'm close. Sorted through a lot of Recycled candidates. Was less effective with new jazz, then mostly wiped out over Labor Day weekend. Still, anything +30 is quite a week.

  • Be Your Own Pet (Ecstatic Peace): Nashville teens with a rock solid backbeat and enough noise to fuzz up the requisite attitude. They probably won't last now that a founder has quit to look for a nice college, but this won't be the last you hear from at least some of them. Note "Parental Advisory Explicit Content" logo. Presumably that's to warn your parents to stay away. A-
  • A Flock of Seagulls: We Are the '80s (1981-86 [2006], Jive/Legacy): MTV started broadcasting in 1981, ushering in the era of the rock video. TV had promoted rock as far back as Ed Sullivan's showcasing the Elvis Presley's upper half, but MTV's videos were shot and cut more like advertisements -- fast cuts and subliminal titillation. Why anyone watched them is a question you should ask someone who did -- I hated them from the start, not so much for what they were as for how they impacted the music. This worked two ways, both bad: they made it more expensive to promote new music, and they selected for looks rather than for music. It's easy to see why the industry loved MTV: it gave them a new channel at a time radio was shifting toward talk, and it gave majors an edge over independents. The idea here was to take groups best known for their videos and package both video and audio on DualDiscs, but after delays they backed down to CD only -- which makes the selection effect on the music that much clearer. This group was founded by a couple of hairdressers, but their unassuming new wave bubblegum holds up pretty well without their hair styles -- probably better. B+(***)
  • Merle Haggard: Live From Austin TX (1985 [2006], New West): Austin became the alt-scene for country music when Willie Nelson packed up and left Nashville, but there's nothing like the blessing of television to bring a factoid to national consciousness. That happened around 1976 with PBS airing Austin City Limits, or 1978 when Merle Haggard first appeared. New West has started tapping into the archives for a series of DVDs, which needn't concern us here, except that some have been released audio only. At 45:57, this is shorter than I'd like. It also tilts a bit toward the Bob Wills songbook -- visiting Texas has that effect on Hag. But he's in fine voice, and the band swings plenty. A-
  • Willie Nelson: Live From Austin TX (1990 [2006], New West): Typical show with his family, a band that itches to slip in a little country jazz; includes a scrunched up medley where he tries to kill off "Funny," "Crazy," and "Night Life," plus too many Kris Kristofferson songs, and Shelby Lynne singing backup. B+(*)
  • The Essential Jim Reeves (1953-68 [2006], RCA Nashville/Legacy, 2CD): The sort of country singer folks referred to as Gentleman -- in other words, the antithesis of honky tonk; he became a star under Chet Atkins' guidance, the calm, reassuring voice of countrypolitan Nashville, but crashed his plane before turning 40 -- proving that you don't have to live fast and love hard to die young and leave a beautiful memory. B+(*)
  • Texas Tornados: Live From Austin TX (1990 [2006], New West): The Tex-Mex supergroup, with Doug Sahm and Augie Myers from Sir Douglas Quintet, conjunto accordionist Flaco Jiminez, and the one and only Freddy Fender; appearing just after their first album, which they fill out to nineteen songs with their oldies; I could do with less of Sahm's cheerleading, but you can hear why he was so psyched. B+(**)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #11, Part 5)

As expected, I spent most of this past week working on Recycled Goods, so the early entries here are old music. Did listen to some new stuff toward the end of the week, mostly indecisively. Still need to talk to the Voice regarding future Jazz Consumer Guide columns and/or what else they may be interested in. Given that the column functions in the shadow of Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide, I'm not exactly in the driver seat here. Christgau is entertaining other offers for his column, which may not survive: what he does takes a tremendous amount of work, and he expects to be paid accordingly. I don't have any such expectations, but that hardly puts me in a better position. I suppose if anyone does have an idea or interest they should get in touch with me. Meanwhile, I'll keep doing what I'm doing. Christgau tells me he's still working on a CG without a publisher as well.


The Miles Davis Quintet: The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions (1955-58 [2006], Prestige, 4CD): The back story is well known. Davis signed with Columbia and organized a quintet to record 'Round About Midnight. The rhythm section was Red Garland, Joe Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. After Davis' first saxophonist, someone named Sonny Rollins, refused to tour, Philly Joe brought in one of his homeboys, someone named John Coltrane. But Davis had a problem: he still owed Prestige a bunch of albums. They cut one quick in late 1955, then wrapped up with two long days, one on May 11, the other on Oct. 26, 1956. Prestige carved those sessions up by mood to get four albums: Cookin', Relaxin', Workin' and Steamin', but held them back to cash in on Columbia's publicity. The quintet only cut the one album for Columbia, so Prestige's quickies came to represent what was eventually recognized as Davis' First Great Quintet. The five albums fill three discs here, with 36-minutes worth of previously unreleased bait on the fourth, including three cuts with Bill Evans replacing Garland. The remarkable thing about the music is how natural it all sounds. The scion of East St. Louis has given us a near-perfect synthesis of West Coast cool and East Coast hard bop, as if it was the easiest thing in the world to do. A-

God Bless the Child: The Very Best of Billie Holiday (1935-42 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): Minor nitpick: the booklet has a page with a short bio and some cross-references: influenced by, influenced, musical associations. The latter list is: Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Roy Eldridge, Oscar Peterson, Barney Kessel, Benny Goodman, Count Basie. The latter is well known trivia: Basie gave Holiday a job, but never bothered to record her -- something he may have regretted the rest of his life, if you can imagine Basie ever regretting anything. Basie doesn't appear here, nor do Peterson and Kessel, who didn't meet up with Holiday until the '50s. The others are fair choices, but the main thing is the one who's missing: Teddy Wilson, who appears on 8 of 14 cuts here, many originally released under Wilson's own name. This collection splits roughly in half between Wilson's all-star groups, where Holiday was just one of the greats, and Holiday's own much more anonymous orchestras. The former are a lot more fun -- that guy who sounds so much like Benny Goodman is, after all, Benny Goodman, and that game goes on and on: Ben Webster, Lester Young, Johnny Hodges, Bunny Berigan, Buck Clayton, Artie Shaw, a whole lot of Roy Eldridge, and an all-time great on the piano. But Holiday own half holds up just as well: her orchestras closed ranks behind her, and no one ever sang songs like "Body and Soul" and "Solitude" like her. Of course, you don't need this: it's pulled from nine CDs anyone who cares about not just jazz but any kind of American music should already own -- unless you sprung for the 10-CD box instead. A

One O'Clock Jump: The Very Best of Count Basie (1936-42 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): Basie's Columbias have never gotten much respect -- after all, his 1937-39 Decca recordings represent the full fury of the territory band storming through New York; but Lester Young, for one, peaked here with "Lester Leaps In" and "Taxi War Dance," and padding with the early Jones-Smith Inc. spinoffs and later live shots doesn't hurt; a useful primer for anyone who doubts the 4-CD box. A

Night in Tunisia: The Very Best of Dizzy Gillespie (1946-49 [2006], Bluebird/Legacy): Three small group cuts with Milt Jackson and Al Haig lay out the principles of bebop, with the rest of the disc devoted to Dizzy's big band, including six key cuts with Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo. A narrow slice of a brilliant career, not the "very best" so much as the truly momentous. A

Come On-a My House: The Very Best of Rosemary Clooney (1951-60 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): In the late '70s she made a comeback as a standards singer, which moved her into the jazz shelves, but back in the '50s she started recording pop junk for Mitch Miller -- inspired sometimes, but the ballads and novelties, duets with Bing Crosby, big band bashes with Billy May and Nelson Riddle, not to mention Pérez Prado go every which way but together; she was a trooper, and this is a valuable reference. B+(***)

Send in the Clowns: The Very Best of Sarah Vaughan (1949-87 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): One of the most incredible voices ever, but her records are extremely spotty, with adoring arrangers putting her on pedestals of statuesque music. Unlike past Sony comps, this limits her 1949-53 period, which I've always found overbearing, to two cuts. For the rest, it jumps to 1973 for five from Live in Japan, then finishes with massive orchestras that do her no favors. She's always been a difficult project for me. I've listened to about ten records, and found things I'm impressed with -- even some jazz settings I like. You'd think someone would issue a comp that would consolidate her pluses, but I've yet to see one that does. They all hew to a different siren. B-

Sneakin' Up Behind You: The Very Best of the Brecker Brothers (1975-81 [2006], Arista/Legacy): I remember being nothing less than shocked when I was reading a history of jazz in the '80s a few years back and found out that Michael Brecker was considered the most influential tenor saxophonist of the decade. I barely knew who he was: a lot of session work, a fusion band with his trumpeter-brother Randy, and a small number of albums that never sounded interesting enough to check out. Of course, I've heard a good deal more since then. I'm less shocked now, but I can't say as I'm much more impressed. Michael Brecker has some impressive chops, and he cuts loose with some scarifying runs here, but I still wonder to what purpose. Like so many fusion bands, this one has problems with the beat, even when Marcus Miller lays out a gold-plated funk groove. Only on the closing live cut does the band hold interest without the horns. But with the horns you can sort of hear what folks hoped for from fusion. B

Von Freeman: Good Forever (2006, Premonition): At 84, he's been good a long time, but he's never sounded this relaxed before. The quartet with Richard Wyands on piano, John Webber on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums is impeccably mainstream, with a rich ensemble sound. Freeman still has that scrawny, constricted, wheezy tone that makes him instantly recognizable, although it only becomes conspicuous when he reaches for a note that isn't there. Otherwise, he reminds you that the loveliest thing in the world is to hear a tenor saxophonist stretch out on a ballad. [B+(***)]

Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Lontano (2005 [2006], ECM): Too early to tell whether a record so understated and so subtle will develop into something wondrous or fade into oblivion, but I expect to stick with it. The Wasilewski-Kurkiewicz-Miskiewicz rhythm section deserve to be household names even though the odds against that are as long as their names. [B+(***)]

Jason Moran: Artist in Residence (2006, Blue Note): It must be hard thinking up new things to do each time out. Five cuts here build around Moran's trio -- bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits -- plus guitarist Marvin Sewell. One of those adds Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Adou Mboup on African percussion for an ensemble I'd like to hear more of. The other start with Moran solo, in one case an intense dialog with percussionist Joan Jonas -- another idea that could be explored further. Less successful are the voice pieces: two cuts with samples of Adrian Piper have some hip-hop airs, while the soprano of the suspiciously named Alicia Hall Moran moves into aria territory. The only thing that holds it together is the piano, and Moran's about as good as that gets these days. [B+(**)]

Don Byron: Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker (2006, Blue Note): This is self-explanatory, especially once you know that most of the cuts have vocals -- four each by Chris Thomas King and Dean Bowman. Also note that Byron's main credit is tenor sax, with only one cut each on clarinet and bass clarinet. He's played a bit of tenor lately, and has some baritone credits, but for years he steadfastly promoted the clarinet and did more than anyone to bring the instrument back into prominence. He also has a soft spot for jump blues and jive, much as he has for klezmer. But still I don't get why he's doing this. And while it's a bump up in sophistication from the originals -- much cleaner sound too -- I'm not sure that's the right idea. [B]

Stefon Harris: African Tarantella (2006, Blue Note): This seems at first like it may make it on concept: the subtitle is "Dances With Duke" and the pieces come from Ellington suites. The first three come from The New Orleans Suite, and a bit of Steve Turre trombone near the top sounds promising. But it turns out to be the only instrument in the group with any bite to it -- the others are flute, clarinet, piano, viola, cello, bass, drums, and the leader's mallets, and the combination bogs down when the music slows up. [B]

Papa John DeFrancesco: Desert Heat (2006, Savant): Joey's father. Although he started earlier, his recorded career has followed in his son's footsteps. Joey helps out here, producing and playing otherwise undefined keyboards. Bass and drums fill out the group, so the organ dominates, the whole thing depending on how much you like the grinder's groove. I like it fine on "Cold Duck Time" and I'm surprised I can't complain about "House of the Rising Sun." But I also don't see much point, especially given that the groove doesn't always hang tough. B

Mike LeDonne: On Fire (2006, Savant): Live at Smoke, NYC. LeDonne plays Hammond B3, with a good group for this sort of thing: Eric Alexander on tenor sax, Peter Bernstein on guitar, Joe Farnsworth on drums. Seems like a throwaway concept-wise, but they all have fun, and Alexander is in especially potent form. B+(*)

Louis Hayes and the Cannonball Legacy Band: Maximum Firepower (2006, Savant): After breaking in with Yusef Lateef and Horace Silver, Hayes played drums in Cannonball Adderley's Quintet from 1959-65. That covers their heyday, giving him as much right as anyone to go back to the well. Still, this wouldn't work without horn players who matched up well with the Adderley brothers. Vincent Herring fits in nicely on alto sax, both in terms of speed and tone on the rare occasions when this slows down a bit. Jeremy Pelt, if anything, kicks brother Nat's trumpet role up a notch -- you can tell why he's winning all those polls. Piano set is split between Rick Germanson and Anthony Wonsey. Bass is Richie Goods. I started pretty skeptical, but this is gaining on me. [B+(***)]


No final grades/notes on records put back for further listening this week. Early on in the cycle it's more important to survey the incoming.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Recycled Goods #35: September 2006

Recycled Goods #35, September 2006, has been posted at Static Multimedia. There's an "In Series" section on Stax Profiles, a rather iffy set of the Memphis label's artist comps, as well as a new Rhino set of Wilson Pickett, a Stax Studios visitor whose work is retained by WEA. That's the only one of Rhino's The Definitive Collection series I bought -- they don't send me stuff, and I don't buy much, so the coverage there is spotty. I didn't go into alternate choices on Otis Redding there, but you should know that at least three album reissues are straight A or better: The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, Otis Blue, and The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul: Complete and Unbelievable. Others like Love Man and The Dock of the Bay are a notch lower. He was so great that compilations rarely improved on or usefully consolidated the albums, but the long out of print 3-CD The Otis Redding Story is still the best.

I did go into some alternates to The Genius of Charlie Parker, mostly because I still regard Rhino's Yardbird Suite as the better general purpose intro, but also to better frame the selection. Genius reduces the two big Savoy/Dial boxes down to reasonable size. There are a couple of things I would have done differently -- e.g., I much prefer "Red Cross" to "Tiny's Tempo" from the same session -- but overall it's a fair selection. Whether it deserves a full A grade is something I'm not fully sure of -- I gave it the benefit of the doubt for its historical value, and cut it some slack for the Royal Roost shots on the theory that it's good to be able to judge for yourself. But I may also have finally been cowed by the Bird cult. I've never been a fan, and I've gotten plenty of crap for that over the years. But I've also decided that two of my main complaints about Parker aren't really his fault: the big one is over his role in steering jazz away from popular music; the smaller one is his role in the heroin epidemic that affected half or more of the major jazz musicians of his period. I can't go into the details on either, but both issues loom larger in myth than in fact, and it's ultimately the myth of Charlie Parker that bothered me more than the fact.

This makes 35 Recycled Goods columns, bringing the total number of albums reviewed to 1475.

Friday, September 01, 2006

F5 Record Report (#5: August 31, 2006)

Another F5 Record Report has been posted on the web. Roster this week:

  • Willie Egan: Wow Wow/Rockin' the Blues: The Complete Vita/Mambo Sessions (1955-56, Empire Musicwerks) A- [r&b]
  • Hallelujah Chicken Run Band: Take One (1974-79, Alula) A- [world]
  • Thomas Mapfumo: Spirits to Bite Our Ears: The Singles Collection (1977-1986, DBK) A- [world]
  • The Perceptionists: Black Dialogue (Definitive Jux) A [rap]
  • Bruce Robison: Eleven Stories (Sustain) B+ [country]
  • Bob Rockwell Quartet: Bob's Ben: A Salute to Ben Webster (Stunt) A- [jazz]

I'm mostly recycling old reviews, including the Perceptionists from last year, but fiddling with the words. The Bob Rockwell review got quite a bit of rewriting, mostly because it occurred to me that local readers might not know who Ben Webster is. But when recycling the biggest problem is digging up some contrasting duds -- which I avoid in real life -- or even near=misses.


Aug 2006 Oct 2006