December 2006 Notebook
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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Music: Current count 12719 [12695] rated (+24), 851 [868] unrated (-17). Should be done with the year-end wrap-up by now, but I'm not. Moving slow, uncertainly, indecisively. To some extent I'm perplexed that the consensus picks are bands I've never cared much for (Red Hot Chili Peppers) or have been warned against (TV on the Radio). But I also haven't made my mind up on Clipse -- widely regarded as the rap album of the year -- and Ludacris. Last year I made a serious late effort to bag a few things I wanted to hear, but I haven't budged a bit this month -- still no Love Is All, to pick one example.

  • Crunk Hits (2002-04 [2005], TVT): The crude beats here are topped only by the cruder groans, creating a cartoon crassness that doesn't offend so much as celebrate its niche far outside polite society -- definitive statement: "if you don't give a damn, we don't give a fuck"; but when it comes to real crunk, the girlz rool -- not so much Ciara's "Goodies" as Jacki-O's "Nookie" and Khia's authoritative "Lick It." A-
  • Crunk Hits Vol. 2 (2004-05 [2006], TVT): Less crunk, more hits -- not necessarily on the charts, which would be too respectable anyway, but the hooks pack some punch, and after a dozen tracks that shake your booty, along comes one called "Gasolina" that really rips the roof off the sucker; I've never heard a first-rate album by any of these artistes, but mixed up in small doses they can be potent. A-
  • Lady Sovereign: Public Warning (2006, Def Jam): Lyrically it's interesting how much this is a throwback to the self-referential boast raps of the '80s, as if she has to somehow recapitulate the history of hip-hop. Beatwise, of course, it is situated somewhere in this century's Brit garage. Three or four songs are impressive enough to count as a development from the EP, but they're in the minority this time. The rest is good enough to have kept me undecided for too long. B+(***)
  • Ted Lewis & His Band: Is Everybody Happy? (1925-38 [1999], ASV/Living Era): Sang, danced, acted in films and on stage, is credited with 9 top-ten hits among the 25 songs here, but is mostly forgotten today. His bands typically included George Brunies and Muggsy Spanier, and there are other notables who appear here: Frank Teschemacher, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Sophie Tucker, Fats Waller. Lewis wasn't extraordinary at anything he did: the clarinet you notice late on is Goodman, and Waller's three vocals steal the show. Lewis, whose birth name was Theodore Leopold Friedman, took his vocal cues from Jolson and toned them down quite a bit. His "On the Sunny Side of the Street" (a #2 hit in 1930) is so wan you really feel for him, and his big hit in 1932, "In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town," is as down as the Great Depression it signifies. B+(***)
  • Ismaël Lo: Jammu Africa (1997, Triloka): Trying to figure out his latest album, and noticed this one on the unrated shelves. It's similar, but less consistent: the upbeat grooveful, the slow stuff slick. B+
  • Tom Waits: Orphans (2006, Anti-, 3CD): Half spare parts from soundtracks, tributes, etc., half new songs that don't care if they're only half-baked, sorted into three bins that loosely define Waits -- a guy who started out fascinated by the picaresque and perverse, then found in Beefheart and Brecht a workable aesthetic that he only made rougher and cruder. Sprawling, spaldash sets -- the Clash's Sandinista, Laurie Anderson's United States Live, and the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs are three good examples -- defy familiarity through sheer numbers and diversity, compensating for their rough edges with endless discovery. I doubt that any of these discs would stand high on its own, but together they refine and reveal each other. A-


Jazz Prospecting (CG #12, Part 7)

Not sure what happened this past week, other than that I've hurt my back in a way never encountered before, and I'm trying to close this week, and for that matter year, out under a lot of pain. So forgive me if I write little more just now. I did manage to send in a Pazz & Jop poll, but haven't made much progress on notes. Recycled Goods has missed its deadline already. More on all that later. Most of the new jazz coming in has 2007 street dates, so I figure they can wait.


Circus (2006, ICP): All pieces are improvs attributed to all five members, who could just as well be listed as the artists of record, had the packaging steered that way. The four instrumentalists are ICP veterans: Ab Baars (tenor sax, clarinet, flute), Tristan Honsinger (cello), Misha Mengelberg (piano), Han Bennink (drums). The fifth is vocalist Alessandra Patrucco. I suppose the attraction of voice in this sort of framework is flexibility and dramatic detail, but I've never found it all that attractive -- Patrucco, dramatizing in a manner I associate unfondly with opera, less than most. Honsinger and Mengelberg also add to the vocal content. The instruments are more interesting. [B]

David Kweksilber + Guus Janssen (2003-06 [2006], Geestgronden): Clarinet and piano duets, recorded over -- or more likely picked from -- a series of sessions, mostly live, but one at Janssen's home. Like all such encounters, especially among the avant-leaning, this seems small -- thin sound, moderately paced, tentative, exploratory. Unlike most, the miniaturism maintains its interest. And it does pick up a bit of groove at the end with a barely recognizable "Honeysuckle Rose" -- a treat. B+(***)

Gato Libre: Nomad (2006, No Man's Land): The ten pieces here have titles like "In Barcelona, in June" and "In Krakow, in November." All of the places are in Europe, and they represent a continent's worth of folk themes elevated to chamber jazz. That they were recorded in one day in a Tokyo studio matters little -- this could be an Enrico Rava album, but it isn't. The trumpeter, leader, composer is Natsuki Tamura. He's always been a straighter shooter than his better half, pianist Satoko Fujii. Here she does him a favor and sticks to accordion, filling in that prototypical European folk sound without ever showing him up. The other key ingredient here is Kazuhiko Tsumura's guitar, especially on the Spanish-flavored tunes, which he has down pat. But Tamura is the real treat here. He's been working his colors into Fujii's more chaotic canvases all along, but here he paints his own masterpiece. A-

Francisco Mela: Melao (2005 [2006], AYVA): Cuban drummer, moved to Boston around when he turned 30, wound up teaching at Berklee. This is his first album, recorded in New York, released in Barcelona, and the main problem I find with it is an embarrassment of riches. For instance, he has to pick and choose between three willing saxophonists: Anat Cohen, George Garzone, and Joe Lovano. Ditto with two lesser known but excellent guitarists: Lionel Loueke and Nir Felder. And he has to find space for keyb man Leo Genovese. He composed all but the Ornette Coleman piece. All this makes it hard to focus on the drums, which don't strike me as particularly Cuban. The Voice Jazz Critics poll picked this as the debut record of the year. Thus far I have mixed reactions, but it is the sort of thing that can make a big impression, especially when Garzone or Lovano get cranked up. [B+(**)]

Natsuki Tamura Quartet: Exit (2003 [2004], Libra): I've had this for a couple of years, but misplaced it. Noticed it was in my unrated list, and looked around furiously for it, finding it only after giving up. The packaging is like an LP jacket, but CD-size, with a nice little soft paper inner sleeve for the disc. The music has an industrial fusion feel to it, with Satoko Fujii playing synth, Takayuki Kato guitar, and Ryojiro Furusawa drums. Some of the noises resemble vocals, but could be coming from anywhere, and don't resolve into much. In fact, only the drums are particularly recognizable as themselves. B

The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project: Simpático (2005 [2006], ArtistShare): This is latin jazz of a high order, but I have no real grip on just how high or even what order. Palmieri is a project I've made little progress on, although I've found two albums that I like quite a bit -- Palmas (1994, Nonesuch) and Ritmo Caliente (2004, Concord) -- and don't doubt that they are more. Seems like the piano is reduced here, the conga is grooving steadily, and the trumpet gets more play, but then this is really Lynch's album. He's a terrific player anywhere he wants to play. Phil Woods guests on four cuts, with at least one notable solo. Yosvany Terry showed up, but his spots got cut, leaving him with just an asterisk. Lila Downs sings two cuts, and they're not bad either. [B+(***)]

Benevento/Russo Duo: Play Pause Stop (2006, Butter Problems/Reincarnate Music): Just have an advance and a hype sheet, but this has been sitting around a while -- albeit not as long as the advance to their previous album. I dislike advances, especially when they don't grow up to be real records -- although if they're not very good that's just as well. As far as I've been able to figure out, the names are Marco Benevento and Joe Russo. Don't know what they do, but it sounds like keyboards and drums. They keep a beat, add some texture, but it all seems skeletal, undeveloped, not all that danceable, let alone jazzworthy. I don't dislike it, but they don't offer much, and when they try to muscle up toward the end, they just get messy. B-

The Benevento Russo Duo: Best Reason to Buy the Sun (2005, Ropeadope): This is the older advance. It strikes me more favorably, mostly because it builds up stronger, and there's more piano to it. Same basic rock instrumental groove. Not experimental enough to be experimental rock; not danceable enough for dance music; not improvised enough for jazz, sedate enough for new age, or hypnotic enough for surf. B

Sofia Koutsovitis: Ojalá (2005 [2006], CD Baby): Argentine singer, moved to Boston in 2001 for education, and on to New York in 2005 to work. She wrote about half of the material here, including one co-credited to Jorge Luis Borges. The covers cover the map, with stops in Cuba, Brazil, and Peru, and are shapelier than the originals -- "You Don't Know What Love Is," nearly the only one in English, is particularly nice. The Group works for her, and "Silence 2" is fractured, multiphased Latin jazz at its best. The slow ones are a bit more awkward, but overall a very attractive record. B+(***)

Martirio & Chano Domínguez: Acoplados (2004 [2006], Sunnyside): Martirio sings Spanish copla, a traditional pop song laced with flamenco and dolled up here for dramatic effect. Domínguez supports her with a tight little piano trio, but the RTVE big band and orchestra bathe the proceedings in strings and horns. It's hard to know what's traditional and what's progressive here, which limits are prodded and which are dutifully adhered to. B

Greg Davis/Steven Hess: Decisions (2003 [2005], Longbox): Davis does laptop improvs. Hess adds drums/percussion. Mostly minor electronica, noises rather than beats, although thump is an important part of the mix. I like it more so than most similar things I've heard, but I have doubts about its universal appeal. B+(*)

Jerry Leake: The Turning: Percussion Expansions (2005 [2006], Rhombus Publishing): The label looks to be unrelated to Rhombus Records, a jazz label I run into occasionally. It is run by Leake, and called Publishing because Leake's books outnumber his records by a margin of 16 to 3. Leake teaches at New England Conservatory and Tufts. His books are mostly about percussion, and his expertise centers on West Africa and North India, although his appetite for percussion instruments seems endless: he lists 42 of them in his credits, with vibraphone, balafon, metallophones, and tabla most prominent. The pieces are a mix of traditional themes (mostly African or Indian), elaborations, and jazz pieces (Bill Evans is favored). Several songs employ voice, which plays out as another form of talking drum. There's a bit of extra guitar on one track, bass on two, but the 22 tracks are mostly solo. The result is a bit scattered, like an encyclopedia -- a set of exercises and experiments, all interesting, some quite enchanting. Educational fun. B+(***)

Brian Groder: Torque (2006, Latham): An attractive, vigorous brass-reeds-bass-drums quartet, with the leader on trumpet and flugelhorn, Sam Rivers on flute and saxophones. Groder gets more play and makes more of an impression, with Rivers tending to slip into the background. B+(**)


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

Branford Marsalis: Braggtown (2006, Marsalis Music/Rounder): Since Coltrane and Shorter, damn few tenor saxophonists have managed to restrain themselves from adding soprano sax to their toolkit. Given his influences, ambitions, and essential conservatism, Marsalis was certain to follow that temptation. To his credit, he's learned to wax eloquent, but I still prefer the big horn by a wide margin, not least in his hands. On tenor he can get gruff, and when the band, a standard issue piano quartet just like Coltrane and Shorter, gets rough in turn, he sounds terrific. But that's just one part of his blend, which to his benefit is a bit stronger than usual here. B+(**)

Joe Lovano Ensemble: Streams of Expression (2005 [2006], Blue Note): Gunther Schuller is only credited with the three-piece-long "Birth of the Cool Suite," but the big band assembled there carries on for two chunks of Lovano's own "Streams of Expression" and a Tim Hagans piece "Buckeyes." As such, this resembles the widely admired (albeit not by me) Schuller-arranged Rush Hour. Lovano cut his teeth in big bands, and he's comfortable here. But I get squirmish, admiring one section for its slick intensity, getting annoyed by others, and eventually not caring which is which. B+(*)

Vittor Santos: Renewed Impressions (2005 [2006], Adventure Music): It's rare to hear Brazilian music with a lead horn of any sort, much less a trombone, but Santos's rapid-fire puffs give some much needed heft to the sly rhythms and flighty melodies. A-

Monsters

Helena Cobban makes the key point about Saddam Hussein:

The worst acts Saddam committed were to gratuitously launch those two invasions of his neighbors -- Iran in 1980, and Kuwait a decade later. For those wars not only led directly to death and destruction on the front-lines; beyond that, each of them also created a broader climate of fear and intense mistrust within which the Iraqi "security" forces committed horrendous atrocities against the country's own people . . . Against Kurds and some Shiites in the 1980s. And then in 1991, horrendously, once again against large numbers of people from both those groups.

But honestly, without Iraq being in a climate of war at those times, I am sure that Saddam and the toadies from his mukhabarat would not have felt such a strong impetus to commit those atrocities. The root monstrosity was the monstrosity of starting those wars.

One lesson of history is that once war starts everyone does things that they would never do otherwise. The difference under war between monsters and bureaucrats turns out to be relatively minor. It's not even the case that the difference is that the monsters relish war, as the bureaucrats are equally capable of rationalizing it. Given what war brings, maybe the standard for determing who is and is not a monster should simply be who is willing and able to go to war. Saddam passes that test, but only so long as he ruled Iraq. Bush also passes that test, but again only while he had the power to act on his monstrous impulses. Separating such monsters from power turns them back into annoying but relatively harmless ordinary assholes.

It bears repeating that what empowers these monsters is our naive belief that war has some redeeming value. This may have had ancient roots, as Barbara Ehrenreich argues in Blood Rites, but the instinct has long become dysfunctional. Karen Armstrong argues that the Axial age religions were founded in response to "an unprecedented crescendo of violence." [interview in Salon: "In every single case, the catalyst for religious change had been a revulsion against violence.] Mark Kurlansky's Non-Violence outlines the long history of the rejection of war, going back to the Axial age religions, but the rationalization of war continues unabated to our day.

At present, the vogue for war is so great that many of us are tempted to reject the characterization of monsters -- even someone like Saddam Hussein -- on the well-founded suspicion that the any agreement would just empower our own monstrous tendencies. So it is crucial that we understand that war is the real monstrosity, enveloping all who participate in it. And that the solution isn't to slay monsters -- it's to starve them, by denying them the arms, the hate, the propaganda, the notion that they can succeed through force.


Further down, Cobban quotes Riverbend on US intentions in Iraq:

My only conclusion is that the Americans want to withdraw from Iraq, but would like to leave behind a full-fledged civil war because it wouldn't look good if they withdraw and things actually begin to improve, would it?

Actually, I doubt that the Americans can conceive of Iraq getting better without them. That's one of the staple delusions that the Bush gang exploits in hanging on there. But it's worthwhile to try to look at things from other people's perspectives. It certainly looks like the only intention the Americans had in Iraq was to destroy, to beat the country back into a primitive, desperate squalor which will take them decades, if ever, to recover from. In any case, such an endstate costs the US very little, especially given that Bush sees terrorism as a political asset.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Killing an Arab

The execution of Saddam Hussein brings closure to a America's confused and rather pathetic handling of Iraq's warlord since they captured him in late 2003. It is perhaps the only closure Bush and Maliki are capable of on the weekend when US soldier deaths in Iraq are expected to pass the 3000 mark. (The count was 2996 when Saddam was hung.) But it's not just an opportune piece of PR timing. It's one more example of how trapped Bush and his crowd are in their conflation of justice and revenge. Executing political figures like Saddam Hussein provide scant satisfaction for either impulse. Their crimes far exceed any price they can pay with personal life, and their deaths offer little to the healing process. Indeed, because revenge is so inadequate, the main thing it does is set the precedent for further revenge.

The US had two relatively good options with Saddam Hussein. They could have taken the low road and killed him right away, perhaps by stuffing him back in that spider hole with a grenade. Or they could have taken the high road and packed him off to the Hague to spend the rest of his miserable life in court facing evidence of his crimes. The former would have settled matters fast enough that no one would have given it a second thought. The latter would have set a higher standard for justice than the US occupation could provide on its own, let alone through the fiction of an independent-but-subservient Iraqi government. But the latter was something Bush could not afford, lest he find himself invited to the Hague as well. The former may just have been bad luck -- the residue of bad planning and hapless performance -- but that, too, follows Bush around.

Instead, the US tried to split the difference: to convene a court no one could possibly mistake as fair and to prosecute Saddam Hussein for some of his lesser crimes, reinforcing the suspicion that the US was party to, or at least no less guilty of, the major crimes. The worst crime of all was starting the war with Iran, which dragged on eight years, costing both sides more than a million lives. But prosecuting Saddam for attacking Iran would show Iran as the victim and raise questions as to what extent the US and its regional allies supported him in starting and prolonging the war. And for that matter, it would raise the question of whether Bush is responsible for the same sort of crime in invading Iraq.

After Iran, there are numerous other things Saddam could have been prosecuted for. As it turns out, what he was prosecuted for was a relatively narrow incident against the ruling Dawa party, making the trial look more than anything else like an instance of revenge politics. This might not matter if Iraq were stable and the Iraqi government recognized as legitimate and equitable, but that is far from the case. As it is, the trial and execution only adds to the sum of sectarian revenge that is tearing Iraq apart. The real challenge with Saddam would have been to try to use him to start to heal the chasm.

I can't say that would be possible, but it's certainly beyond the grasp of someone like Bush, who believes that force clarifies all situations. As governor of Texas, Bush never had a second thought about an execution, and he wound up signing off on more death warrants than Saddam was prosecuted for. (Albeit, not more deaths than Saddam was responsible for. Bush only moved into that league when he became Commander in Chief.) Of course, we don't yet know just how this came about, but there is little doubt that Bush craved a death sentence, and that the show trial was staged for just that purpose. As usual, the trappings of legitimacy were intended to impress only the Americans -- Iraqis have seen things like this before. And so it gives Bush a talking point: that he brought Saddam Hussein "to justice" -- i.e., that he salvaged at least something from his war goals.

It makes for a very shallow victory. That he has consigned Saddam Hussein to history is probably for the best, especially given that he had no better use for him. A smart move at this point would be for Iraq to abolish the death penalty, but that won't happen -- and not just because it would be uncomfortable for Bush. Following WWII, an American general warned politicians seeking to keep Germany crippled that they can have revenge or peace, but not both. Iraq, like Bush, seems hellbent on revenge, and this execution is just one more example. At this rate, peace will be a long time coming.

The one irony in the timing of his execution is that the other big story this week is Gerald Ford, who is being remembered for his "courageous" contribution to "healing the nation" by pardoning Richard Nixon. I put the quotes are there because, as I've written already, there are problems with that interpretation, but it gives us a reference myth for evaluating this execution. (I'll resist the temptation to argue that Nixon was a war criminal comparable or worse than Saddam -- I'd say worse, but settle for the same.) I'm not a fan of capital punishment, but I wouldn't have minded seeing Nixon swing. In fact, one of the reasons I turned against capital punishment was my disappointment that Nixon never got his just desserts. But it also helped get me past my desire for revenge, and that moved me, if not our country, onto a much more peaceable path.

I don't doubt that Saddam Hussein deserved to die, or far worse if you could figure out what that might be. But it's a matter of mere faith to say that the world's better off with him dead -- it's going to be real hard to prove that it's much better. Once he was removed from power and locked behind bars, he ceased to be a danger to anyone -- much as Nixon ceased to be a public menace once he resigned in disgrace. People die in circumstances that are beyond anyone's control, but executions are always optional: Bush and his Iraqi cronies chose to kill Saddam Hussein. In doing so, they've taken a guy who was powerless and turned him into a martyr. We'll see whether that comes back to haunt them, but in the meantime it just feeds the revenge cycle. Iraq needs peace, not revenge. So does America.


One thing that killing Saddam Hussein accomplishes is to keep quite whatever relationship he had with the CIA and the US over the years. Juan Cole has a useful review of what is known about this.

As a special bonus, here's the way Boots Riley explains it in "Head (Of State)," from the Coup's Pick a Bigger Weapon:

In a land not very far away from here
George W. Bush was drinking beer
His daddy was head of the C.I.A.
Now listen up close to what I say
The C.I.A. worked for Standard Oil
And other companies to whom they're loyal
In a whole nother land
By the name of Iran
The people got wise and took a stand
Told the oil companies that ain't shit funny
This is our oil
Our land
Our money
C.I.A. go tmad and sent false info
To Iraq to help start the iran/iraq wo
Pronounced war if I have to be proper
The C.I.A. are the cops that's why I hate the coppers
Saddam Hussein was their man out there
They told him to rule by keeping people scared
Sayin' any opposition to him, he must crush it
He gassed the kurds
They gave him the budget
Said you gotta kick ass to protect our cash
Step out of line and feel our wrath
You know the time without lookin' at the little hand
Time came for them to cut out the middle man
Children maimed with no legs and shit
Cuz of bombs over- you know the Outkast hit
And they really want you to hate him dead
When just the other day they made him head
War aint about one land against the next
It's po people dyin' so the rich cash checks

The refrain goes: "Bush and Hussein together in bed/Giving H-E-A-D: head/Y'all muthafuckas heard what we said/Billions made and millions dead."

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Jazz Label Checkup

I'm looking at the Jazz Times "Year in Review" list of "Top 50 CDs" and one thing that strikes me is how concentrated the set of labels are. There's no information on how they selected the list. But it does seem peculiar that 42% (21 of 50) come from just four labels: Blue Note (8), ECM (6), Nonesuch (4), Cryptogramophone (3). Six more labels landed two records each -- Concord, Palmetto, Pi, Sunnyside, Telarc/Heads Up, Verve -- bringing us to 66% for the top ten labels. Four more records were by major artists now on their own labels: Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Dave Holland, Dave Douglas. That leaves 13 records for the hundreds of other labels releasing jazz these days.

The second thing to note is that only one of all those labels is based in Europe, and that's ECM, distributed in the US by Universal. For that matter, only two artists (4%) come from Europe (Tomasz Stanko and Nik Bartsch, both on ECM). For that matter, I only recognize one Canadian (Jane Bunnett), no one from south of the US border (Eddie Palmieri's a New Yorker and Brian Lynch is from Milwaukee), let alone anyone from Africa or Asia (Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa are a generation removed from India). Only two albums can be classified as Latin jazz (Lynch/Palmieri and Bunnett). The list isn't exactly anti-avant -- for instance, the pianists include Muhal Richard Abrams, Dave Burrell, Myra Melford, Matthew Shipp, and Vijay Iyer, even if I'm uncertain about Andrew Hill, Randy Weston, and Jason Moran these days. But it does seem to be rather narrowly sourced and insular.

For a comparison, I took the list of 52 A- or better new (well, some vault items) jazz (well, some related world) albums I published a few days ago, and found 38 separate labels. Of those, the most places any label scored was three (Atavistic, ECM, Fresh Sound); eight more labels scored twice (Arbors, Clean Feed, Cuneiform, Justin Time, Libra, Pi, Smalls, Sunnyside). Only 3 of those 11 labels placed 2+ times with Jazz Times: ECM, Pi, Sunnyside. I had 11 European labels, plus one from Japan (Libra) and one from Canada (Stony Plain). I figure that even in my case Europe is underrepresented because I get nothing from so many important labels -- some that pop into mind are Criss Cross, Steeplechase, Leo, Emanem, Hep, FMP, Hat, Dreyfus, Label Bleu, and all the Italian labels.


Jazz Times Top 50 CDs for 2006, indexed by label:

 8 Blue Note: Andrew Hill, Stefon Harris, Patricia Barber, Jason Moran,
     Don Byron, Cassandra Wilson, Joe Lovano, Jane Bunnett
 6 ECM: Paul Motian, Keith Jarrett, Trio Beyond, Tomasz Stanko,
     Charles Lloyd, Nik Bartsch
 4 Nonesuch: Kenny Garrett, Brad Mehldau, Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny
 3 Cryptogramophone: Nels Cline, Bennie Maupin, Myra Melford
 2 Concord: Karrin Allyson, Ben Riley
 2 Palmetto: Ted Nash, Dr Lonnie Smith
 2 Pi: Art Ensemble of Chicago, Muhal Richard Abrams
 2 Sunnyside: Chris Potter, Bob Belden
 2 Telarc/Heads Up: Geri Allen, Yellowjackets
 2 Verve: Diana Krall, Roy Hargrove
 1 ArtistShare: Brian Lynch
 1 Groovin' High: Roberta Gambarini
 1 Half Note: Odean Pope
 1 High Two: Dave Burrell
 1 Hyena: Rahsaan Roland Kirk
 1 MaxJazz: Nancy King
 1 Omnitone: Lee Konitz
 1 Planet Arts: Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
 1 Random Chance: Randy Weston
 1 Savoy: Vijay Iyer
 1 Thirsty Ear: Matthew Shipp
 1 Trippin N Rhythm: Chris Standring
 1 Wingood: Gordon Goodwin

 1 Dare2: Dave Holland
 1 Doxy: Sonny Rollins
 1 Greenleaf Music: Dave Douglas
 1 Sound Grammar: Ornette Coleman

For comparison, here's my list A-list, sorted by index:

 3 Atavistic: Steve Lacy, Vandermark 5, Sound in Action Trio
*3 ECM: Nik Bartsch, Charles Lloyd, Manu Katche
*3 Fresh Sound: Bob Reynolds, Ramon Diaz, Bill Carrothers
 2 Arbors: Harry Allen, Maurice Hines
*2 Clean Feed: Adam Lane, Joe Morris
 2 Cuneiform: Soft Machine, Harry Miller
 2 Justin Time: World Saxophone Quartet, Rabih Abou-Khalil
 2 Libra: Satoko Fujii, Junk Box
 2 Pi: Odyssey the Band, Rudresh Mahanthappa
 2 Smalls: Omer Avital, Frank Hewitt
 2 Sunnyside: Steven Bernstein, Les Primitifs du Future
 1 Accurate: Club D'Elf
*1 ACT: Ulf Wakenius
 1 Akron Cracker: Carneyball Johnson
 1 AUM Fidelity: Kidd Jordan
 1 Blue Note: Ignacio Berroa
 1 CIMP: Adam Lane
 1 Concord: Scott Hamilton
 1 Cryptogramophone: Erik Friedlander
 1 Delmark: Fred Anderson
 1 Domino: Kieran Hebden/Steve Reid
 1 Doxy: Sonny Rollins
*1 Intakt: Zentralquartett
 1 Koch: Jon Faddis
*1 Leo: Francois Carrier
*1 No Man's Land: Gato Libre
 1 Nonesuch: Toumani Diabate
 1 Palmetto: Ben Allison
*1 Piranha: Maurice El Medioni/Roberto Rodriguez
 1 Playscape: Mario Pavone
*1 Rune Grammofon: Thomas Stronen
 1 Savoy: Moncef Genoud
 1 Sound Grammar: Ornette Coleman
 1 Stony Plain: Jeff Healey
 1 Thirsty Ear: David S. Ware
*1 Tumi Music: Saborit
 1 Verve: Diana Krall
*1 Winter & Winter: Paul Motian


Fordism's Last Hurrah

The natural tendency when someone dies is to try to say something nice about the person. How hard this can sometimes be is a constant theme in Kudzu, the comic strip featuring the Rev. Will B. Dunn. But really, folks, why are we being so nice to Gerald Ford? The Wichita Eagle had a gushing editorial on Ford today, flanked by a Crowson cartoon showing a map of America with a big bandaid representing Ford crossing the heartland. Walter Shapiro's Salon piece sums up the sentiment: "The man who ended our Nixon nightmare." It's hard to imagine a clearer case of the fallacy of succession: the idea that what came after caused what went before to go away. Ford followed Nixon as President in an inside deal that, to the relief of everyone, first cleared Spiro Agnew out of the way. But Ford's only contribution to healing the damage that Nixon wrought was pardoning Nixon from future prosecution, and that too was part of the deal. The pardon stopped the digging, eventually allowing Nixon to be rehabilitated -- at least to the point where Bill Clinton, who of all people should have known better, wound up eulogizing Nixon at his funeral.

Actually, the people who "ended our Nixon nightmare" were the ones who exposed it: journalists like Woodward and Bernstein, politicians like Sam Ervin, prosecutors like Archibald Cox, a few insiders with a conscience like John Dean. It was only by exposing Nixon's crimes that we could in any way deal with them. Ford's only role in this was to clean up the mess -- primarily by putting a stop to the exposure. Watergate, after all, was not the worst thing Nixon did. The worst was Vietnam -- another mess that Ford conveniently mopped up, so we could recover without learning any painful lessons.

The net effect of the Ford cover-ups was that we never learned not to abuse the political power of the presidency and we never learned that US military power is not necessarily able to force other nations to bend to our will. Those lessons came back to hit us hard in the Bush administrations, especially the second. Is it some sort of coincidence that Ford's chiefs-of-staff Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney have been recurrent actors in those nightmares? I suppose it could be, but one thing Rumsfeld and Cheney must have witnessed firsthand is how power protects its own, and as such how much license they have to abuse it -- as long as they can keep it under wraps. This raises the question of whether, had Nixon really paid for his crimes, the Bushes would have been so cavalier about committing their own?

The answer is probably yes, because even if the lesser cover-up of Nixon's political machinations had been foiled, no one dared to question the the real problem: the militarization of the presidency, which resulted from America's addiction to hot and cold wars in the aftermath of WWII. Nixon was anomalous only in that he personalized war to such an extreme that he ordered crimes like Watergate. But every president from Truman on has on their own authority, with no real public debate or oversight, directed hostile acts against other nations, and in doing so they've built up as self-contained and as belligerent as the Ottoman sultans or the Mongol khans. To do that, they had to operate in secret -- the rationale and the consequence of the imperial presidency. For a long time this was justified by the ideology of anti-communism, but since the Soviet Union fell it has been self-sustaining, directed at evils that for the most part are mere reflections of itself. That, even more than Nixon, was what Ford covered up.

There's no need to blame Ford severely for this. He was, at most, a bit player, a man of no great curiosity or conviction who had some skills at getting along, presenting a straight face, and asking few questions. (It's worth noting that Ford had already proven this much on the Warren Commission.) Whether he was what the cold warriors needed at the time is hard to say. Mostly they needed time to bury Vietnam, and he was at least good for some of that. But he didn't heal anything, and in the long run he did his little bit to make things worse. One revelation that has come out since his death is that he was opposed to Bush's Iraq War. But, typically, he never went public with that when it might have made a difference. When you read about his "profile in courage" award, please gag.


These thoughts are echoed and expanded on in various letters responding to Shapiro.

Slackie Onassis wrote:

Ford didn't do the country a service by pardoning Nixon. If anything, that free pass from judgment let the GOP continue full steam on their anti-democratic course that made the G.W. Bush presidency inevitable -- Bush has out-Reaganed Reagan and out-Nixoned Nixon. The imperial Presidency's more alive than ever, and thanks to the bar-lowering of Monicagate by the GOP themselves, no President will likely ever be impeached again.

Btdenver wrote:

Ford restored civility in the short-term at the price of making administrations unaccountable, fostering the severe incivility of today. He merely tightened the lid of the pressure cooker that it may blow up later. His "decency" gave cover to the great indecency of the GOP, which we now see in full bloom.

If Nixon and his men had been brought to justice, would it have made it more difficult to lie this country into another war a generation later? To utterly disregard the law? Ford interposed himself between Nixon's men and justice and truth. We are all paying for that still.

Rrk1 wrote:

The pardon healed nothing. It left much wrong doing unexposed and unexamined, and signaled the political establishment that accountability, no matter what they did, was off the table. Moreover, the ever self-promoting Nixon spent the rest of his life resurrecting his image, and transforming himself into an elder statesman. Columnists, like Saphire [sic] in the Times, wrote endless screeds and apologias for decades about Nixon. For the Republicans the rehabilitation of Nixon was a crusade, a political holy grail pursued relentlessly, more-or-less successfully, and made infinitely easier by his pardon.

Expatjourno wrote:

The nightmare for the country was not the exposure of Nixon's crimes, it was the crimes themselves. Exposure of the many ways Nixon attempted to subvert the Constitution and the rule of law was only a nightmare for Republicans, conservatives and people who wanted to subvert the constitution and the rule of law. For Democrats, for liberals, for people who believed in the Constitution and the rule of law, for people who always saw who Nixon really was, it was vindication.

Far from being a selfless act of statesmanship, Ford's pardon of Nixon before all of the facts came to light in a court of law ensured that Nixon's crimes were not in the headlines during the 1976 campaign, which they surely would have been had the pardon not been issued. So, far from being a "clear-the-air" pardon, it was a move-along-there's-nothing-to-see-here pardon. Indeed, it was the ultimate cover-up of Nixon's crimes.

Breadbaker wrote:

Right now, the presidency is held by a man who reads the Constitution as including two phrases in big bold letters, one that says that the executive power is vested in a President of the United States, and another that says that that President is commander-in-chief. Everything else, in his constitutional view, is in footnote-size type and need not be bothered with.

What is the source of this? His principal advisers are two men who cut their teeth running the government in the Ford Administration, Ford's two chiefs-of-staff, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. These men came from the school that thought not that Nixon had gone too far, but that he hadn't gone far enough.

Ford's presidency is remembered as relatively benign in terms of foreign policy, but Miriam Adams points out:

Even less commentary about Ford's mission to Indonesia as the honored guest of dictator Suharto's State dinner. The presence of Ford and Kissinger that night and their "carte blanche" for weapons transfers there came only hours before the war against the Peoples of East Timor was initiated in which more than 200,000 civilians were slaughtered. Famous photos are still archived online showing Ford toasting his host/dictator wearing flower garlands the night before that genocide began.

One assertion in the letters is that Ford was in office a whole month before he pardoned Nixon, and only decided to do so at that point -- i.e., it was not part of the deal, as I suggest above, but a decision that he made independently. I don't have evidence that I'm right, but I find the logic of the deal so compelling that the burden of evidence should be on the other side. Maybe it wasn't formalized as a deal, but the basic need for limiting the damage, especially to the presidential institution, pushed Ford in the direction of some sort of cover-up. The pardon was a novel approach, and not necessarily a legally sound one. The time delay helped Ford establish a facade of independence, and let the bury-the-hatchet propaganda take root.


Ford was almost a definition of mediocrity, but his death comes at the same time as the death of a truly great American, James Brown. It surely is a coincidence that Ronald Reagan died at about the same time as Ray Charles -- one of the few American musicians of the 20th century even remotely on Brown's level. I got dragged into a desert island disc discussion a few years back and someone suggested a pick for me. I don't recall who now, just that my reaction was I'd rather have James Brown. If I had to pick two articles of unswerving faith, they'd be "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing" and "funk is its own reward": James Brown, more than anyone else, embodied both. The "hardest working man in show business" set standards none of us can match. He not only kept it on the one, he was the one.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Village Voice Jazz Poll

Francis Davis converted his year-end column into a jazz critics poll this year. He invited 40 more/less New York-focused critics, and got 30 ballots. The big winner was Ornette Coleman's Sound Grammar, followed by Andrew Hill's Time Lines and Sonny Rollins' Sonny, Please. The results get scattered after that, with seven ballots putting Nels Cline's Andrew Hill-themed New Monastery into 4th place, and five votes sufficing to place Paul Motian's Garden of Eden at 6th. The results are here, and you can navigate to the rest of the pieces from there.

One of those pieces is my own annotated ballot. This was submitted a couple of weeks ago, under mild protest that the year was still young, and I'm still trying to catch up. Normally I keep my year-end list open another year, adding things as I get the chance. You can see how this works by scanning the nearly-frozen 2005 list, where the late adds appear in green. The A-list there comes to 133 records, of which 20 were added late. This year's list, with less than a week to go before I start breaking out the green font, has 97 records, a drop I haven't analyzed yet. Looking through the pending list, I see maybe a dozen that might wind up A-, which would bring the two years reasonably close into line -- assuming I hit my deadline, a stretch. The total number of new records is up this year (741, including pending, vs. 646); the number of reissues of various sorts is down a smidgen (318, from 336), with the A-lists down quite a bit (68 vs. 115).

From all these records, a top ten seems arbitrarily short. Davis added a few more "honorable mentions" to his list. I'll go a bit further here and give you my up-to-the-minute 2006 A-list, minus the non-jazz records (which start with Todd Snider and Public Enemy):

  1. Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
  2. Jon Faddis: Teranga (Koch)
  3. World Saxophone Quartet: Political Blues (Justin Time)
  4. Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: New Magical Kingdom (Clean Feed)
  5. Mario Pavone Sextet: Deez to Blues (Playscape)
  6. The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Hey, Look Me Over (Arbors)
  7. Odyssey the Band: Back in Time (Pi)
  8. Adam Lane Trio: Zero Degree Music (CIMP)
  9. Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: MTO Volume 1 (Sunnyside)
  10. Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Stoa (ECM)
  11. Satoko Fujii Four: When We Were There (Libra)
  12. Steve Lacy Quintet: Esteem (1975, Atavistic)
  13. Joe Morris Quartet: Beautiful Existence (Clean Feed)
  14. The Vandermark 5: A Discontinuous Line (Atavistic)
  15. Toumani Diabaté's Symmetric Orchestra: Boulevard de l'Indépendence (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
  16. Ben Allison: Cowboy Justice (Palmetto)
  17. Zentralquartett: 11 Songs -- Aus Teutschen Landen (Intakt)
  18. Gato Libre: Nomad (No Man's Land)
  19. Sonny Rollins: Sonny, Please (Doxy)
  20. Fred Anderson: Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark)
  21. Diana Krall: From This Moment On (Verve)
  22. François Carrier: Happening (Leo, 2CD)
  23. Bob Reynolds: Can't Wait for Perfect (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  24. Ramón Díaz: Diàleg (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  25. Maurice El Médioni Meets Roberto Rodriguez: Descarga Oriental: The New York Sessions (Piranha)
  26. Sound in Action Trio: Gate (Atavistic)
  27. Ignacio Berroa: Codes (Blue Note)
  28. Scott Hamilton: Nocturnes & Serenades (Concord)
  29. Ulf Wakenius: Notes From the Heart (ACT)
  30. Soft Machine: Grides (1971, Cuneiform)
  31. Charles Lloyd: Sangam (ECM)
  32. Erik Friedlander: Prowl (Cryptogramophone)
  33. Rabih Abou-Khalil/Joachim Kühn: Journey to the Centre of an Egg (Enja/Justin Time)
  34. Manu Katché: Neighbourhood (ECM)
  35. Jeff Healey & the Jazz Wizards: It's Tight Like That (Stony Plain)
  36. Harry Miller's Isipingo: Which Way Now (1975, Cuneiform)
  37. Omer Avital: The Ancient Art of Giving (Smalls)
  38. Saborit: Que Linda Es Mi Cuba (Tumi Music)
  39. Club D'Elf: Now I Understand (Accurate)
  40. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Codebook (Pi)
  41. Les Primitifs du Futur: World Musette (1999, Sunnyside)
  42. Frank Hewitt: Fresh From the Cooler (1996, Smalls)
  43. Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake/William Parker: Palm of Soul (AUM Fidelity)
  44. Maurice Hines: To Nat "King" Cole With Love (Arbors)
  45. Paul Motian: On Broadway Vol. 4 (Winter & Winter)
  46. Moncef Genoud: Aqua (Savoy Jazz)
  47. Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 1 (Domino)
  48. Bill Carrothers: Shine Ball (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  49. Carneyball Johnson (Akron Cracker)
  50. The David S. Ware Quartet: BalladWare (Thirsty Ear)
  51. Junk Box: Fragment (Libra)
  52. Thomas Strønen: Pohlitz (Rune Grammofon)

The reissues category is harder to judge, in part because of how redundancy, utility, and historical value enter into the equation. When I did the ballot, I actually skipped over my top rated item to take Fats Waller, then skipped over some more obvious choices in favor of Irène Schweizer and Andrew Hill. The following list comes from the year-end list, merging compilations and reissues together. (First releases of vault music are generally included with the new releases, although I didn't always do it that way.)

  1. Night in Tunisia: The Very Best of Dizzy Gillespie (1946-49, Bluebird/Legacy)
  2. Fats Waller: If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It (1926-43, Bluebird/Legacy, 3CD)
  3. Sonny Rollins: Milestone Profiles (1972-2001, Milestone)
  4. God Bless the Child: The Very Best of Billie Holiday (1935-42, Columbia/Legacy)
  5. Irène Schweizer: Portrait (1984-2004, Intakt)
  6. Bob Wills: Legends of Country Music (1932-73, Columbia/Legacy, 4CD)
  7. Pérez Prado: The Hits (1949-59, RCA/Legacy)
  8. One O'Clock Jump: The Very Best of Count Basie (1936-42, Columbia/Legacy)
  9. The Miles Davis Quintet: The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions (1955-58, Prestige, 4CD)
  10. Andrew Hill: Pax (1965, Blue Note)
  11. Archie Shepp: The Impulse Story (1964-72, Impulse)
  12. Serge Chaloff: Boston Blow-Up! (1955, Capitol Jazz)
  13. Joe Henderson: Milestone Profiles (1967-75, Milestone)
  14. John Coltrane: The Impulse Story (1961-67, Impulse)
  15. Pärson Sound (1966-68, Anthology, 2CD)
  16. Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou: Éthiopiques 21: Ethiopia Song (1963-96, Buda Musique)
  17. Sonny Rollins: The Impulse Story (1965-66, Impulse)
  18. Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane: The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings (1957, Riverside, 2CD)
  19. Andrew Hill: Smoke Stack (1963, Blue Note)
  20. Nils Petter Molvaer: An American Compilation (Thirsty Ear)
  21. Pharoah Sanders: The Impulse Story (1966-73, Impulse)
  22. The House That Trane Built: The Best of Impulse Records (1961-76, Impulse)

Some of these items are borderline jazz, but that's the way the world works. In particular, I included Toumani Diabaté because the record got votes in the Voice poll. Same for Pérez Prado, which I might have included anyway -- even thought about voting for it myself. Bob Wills is another case. There's actually quite a bit of stuff that doesn't get filed as jazz that can be listened to as jazz -- especially world and electronica, but western swing works for me.

I've gone through the published ballots and collected 45 new titles and 27 reissues that I don't have/haven't heard. I need to track some of those down. The winning jazz vocal record, by Nancy Kelly, is one. The winning debut record, by Francisco Mela, would have been but I got tipped off, hustled up a copy, and am playing it now. (Seems unlikely to dislodge my vote for Bob Reynolds.)


Publicist's letter:

The Village Voice has published my year-end jazz list:

  http://villagevoice.com/music/0652,davis,75410,22.html

My list is an add-on to Francis Davis's year-end column, which this
year has been expanded into a NYC-oriented jazz critics poll:

  http://villagevoice.com/music/0652,davis,75409,22.html

A bit frustrated that I could only vote for 10 (well, 15, including
oldies, vocal and debut) albums, I dumped my whole year-end jazz
list into a blog entry:

  http://www.tomhull.com/blog/archives/447-Village-Voice-Jazz-Poll.html

New records indexed by label:
  Accurate: Club D'Elf
  ACT: Ulf Wakenius
  Akron Cracker: Carneyball Johnson
  Arbors: Harry Allen-Joe Cohn (#6), Maurice Hines
  Atavistic: Steve Lacy, Vandermark 5, Sound in Action Trio
  AUM Fidelity: Kidd Jordan
  Blue Note: Ignacio Berroa
  CIMP: Adam Lane (#8)
  Clean Feed: Adam Lane (#4), Joe Morris
  Concord: Scott Hamilton
  Cryptogramophone: Erik Friedlander
  Cuneiform: Soft Machine, Harry Miller
  Delmark: Fred Anderson
  Domino: Kieran Hebden/Steve Reid
  Doxy: Sonny Rollins
  ECM: Nik Bartsch (#10), Charles Lloyd, Manu Katche
  Fresh Sound: Bob Reynolds, Ramon Diaz, Bill Carrothers
  Justin Time: World Saxophone Quartet (#3), Rabih Abou-Khalil
  Koch: Jon Faddis (#2)
  Intakt: Zentralquartett
  Leo: Francois Carrier
  Libra: Satoko Fujii, Junk Box
  No Man's Land: Gato Libre
  Nonesuch: Toumani Diabate
  Palmetto: Ben Allison
  Pi: Odyssey the Band, Rudresh Mahanthappa
  Piranha: Maurice El Medioni/Roberto Rodriguez
  Playscape: Mario Pavone (#5)
  Rune Gramophone: Thomas Stronen
  Savoy Jazz: Moncef Genoud
  Smalls: Omer Avital, Frank Hewitt
  Sound Grammar: Ornette Coleman (#1)
  Stony Plain: Jeff Healey
  Sunnyside: Steven Bernstein (#9), Les Primitifs du Futur
  Thirsty Ear: David S. Ware
  Tumi Music: Saborit
  Verve: Diana Krall
  Winter & Winter: Paul Motian

Reissues indexed by label:
  Anthology: Parson Sound
  Blue Note (Capitol Jazz): Andrew Hill (2), Serge Chaloff
  Buda Musique: Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou
  Concord (Milestone, Prestige, Riverside): Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis,
    Joe Henderson, Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane
  Intakt: Irene Schweizer
  Legacy (Sony/BMG): Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday,
    Bob Wills, Perez Prado, Count Basie
  Thirsty Ear: Nils Petter Molvaer
  Verve (Impulse): Archie Shepp, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins,
    Pharoah Sanders, The House That Trane Built

I've worked my way through almost 500 jazz records to come up with
these lists, four Jazz Consumer Guides, and weekly Jazz Prospecting
notes. Nonetheless, there were 72 records (45 new, 27 old) that
received votes in the poll that I haven't heard -- something to
follow up on, no doubt.


Jazz records that got votes in Francis Davis' Village Voice Jazz Poll that I never got (new records, including vocal [*] and debut [#] slots; 45 total):

  • Atomic: The Bikini Tapes (Jazzland) [Szwed]
  • Jonathan Batiste: Live in New York: At the Rubin Museum of Art (jonathanbatiste.com) [Fricke#]
  • Lincoln Binney: Foreign Affair (XQ/AM) [Johnson]
  • Bob Brookmeyer & the New Art Orchestra: Spirit Music (ArtistShare) [Hajdu, Morgenstern]
  • Uri Caine: Rimmon (Tzadik) [Macnie]
  • Jack DeJohnette & Bill Frisell: The Elephant Sleeps but Still Remembers (Kindred Rhythm) [Hajdu]
  • Bob De Vos: Shifting Sands (Savant) [Stewart]
  • Electric Masada: At the Mountains of Madness (Tzadik) [Fricke]
  • Peter Evans: More Is More (Psi) [Dollar]
  • Bill Frisell/Ron Carter/Paul Motian (Nonesuch) [Donohue, Kaplan, Ouellette]
  • Roberta Gambarini: Easy to Love (Grovin' High/Kindred Rhythm) [Morgenstern*, Musto*, Stewart*]
  • Kenny Garrett: Beyond the Wall (Nonesuch) [Milkowski, Musto, Richardson]
  • David Gilmore: Unified Presence (RKM) [Musto]
  • Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Prairies (Lucky Kitchen) [Dollar]
  • Curtis Hasselbring: The New Mellow Edwards (Skirl) [Davis#, Henkin]
  • Roy Haynes: Whereas (Dreyfus Jazz) [Morgenstern]
  • Leroy Jenkins & Driftwood: The Art of Improvisation (Mutable Music) [Mandel]
  • Hank Jones/Christian McBride/Jimmy Cobb: West of 5th (Chesky) [Kaplan, Musto]
  • Nancy King: Live at the Jazz Standard With Fred Hersch (MaxJazz) [Adler*, Donohue, Hajdu*, Williams*]
  • Lee Konitz: New Nonet (Omnitone) [Adler, Blumenfeld, Milkowski]
  • Bobby Matos: Acknowledgement (Lifeforcejazz) [Szwed]
  • Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau (Nonesuch) [Moon]
  • Neil Miner: The Evening Sounds (Smalls) [Stewart]
  • Marisa Monte: Universo ao Meu Redor (Blue Note) [Blumenfeld*]
  • Mark Murphy: Once to Every Heart (Verve) [Johnson]
  • Zim Ngqawana: Vadzimu (Sheer) [Jenkins]
  • Orchestre National de Jazz: Close to Heaven (Le Chant du Monde) [Jenkins]
  • Evan Parker: Time Lapse (Tzadik) [Henkin, Richardson]
  • Luis Perdomo: Awareness (RKM) [Macnie]
  • Ted Reichman: My Ears Are Bent (Skirl) [Dollar]
  • Ben Riley's Monk Legacy Septet: Memories of T (Concord) [Donohue, Musto, Ouellette, Williams]
  • Ned Rothenberg/Tony Buch/Stomu Takeishi/David Tronzo: The Fell Clutch (Animul) [Henkin]
  • Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Solo (Blue Note) [Blumenfeld]
  • Catherine Russell: Cat (World Village) [Friedwald]
  • Frank Sinatra: Vegas (Reprise) [Hajdu]
  • Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Up From the Skies -- Music of Jim McNeely (Planet Arts) [Hajdu]
  • Alexander von Schlippenbach: Twelve Tone Tales Vol. 1 & 2 (Intakt) [Henkin]
  • SF Jazz Collective: Live 2005: 2nd Annual Concert Tour (SF Jazz) [Jenkins]
  • Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra: Port Chicago (Noir) [Morgenstern]
  • Grant Stewart: Estate (Video Arts) [Stewart]
  • Syntopia Quartet: Mars (Nemu) [Shoemaker#]
  • Aki Takase Piano Quartet: Tarantella (Psi) [Shoemaker]
  • Joe Temperley: A Portrait (Hep) [Morgenstern]
  • Benny Wallace: Disorder at the Border (Enja) [Friedwald]
  • Randy Weston: Zep Tepi (Random Chance) [Jenkins]

Reissues (27 total):

  • Air: 80 Degrees Below 82 (CD-R) [Johnson]
  • Jon Appleton & Don Cherry: Human Music (Water) [Szwed]
  • Ornette Coleman: Love Revolution -- Complete 1968 Italian Tour (Gambit) [Hajdu]
  • John Coltrane: Fearless Leader (Prestige) [Fricke, Hajdu]
  • Ted Daniel: Sextet (Ujamaa Music) [Henkin]
  • Eric Dolphy Quintet: Outward Bound (Prestige) [Richardson]
  • Duke Ellington: The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion and Okeh Small Group Sessions (Mosaic) [Hajdu]
  • Gil Evans: The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions (Blue Note) [Adler]
  • Sonny Fortune: Trilogy (Sonny Fortune) [Jenkins]
  • Red Garland Trio: At the Prelude (Prestige) [Mandel, Stewart]
  • Dizzy Gillespie: The Complete Verve/Phillips Small Group Sessions (Mosaic) [Kaplan, Morgenstern]
  • Rufus Harley: Courage: The Atlantic Recordings (Rhino Handmade) [Freeman, Fricke]
  • Andrew Hill: Solo (Mosaic Select) [Fricke, Kaplan, Morgenstern]
  • I Like Be I Like Bop: Odds & Svends of Early Bebop Violin & Contemporary Violin Curiosities (AB Fable) [Szwed]
  • Steve Lacy & Brion Gysin: Songs (HatHut) [Macnie]
  • Charles Lloyd: Of Course, of Course (Mosaic) [Seymour]
  • Jackie McLean: Demon's Dance (Blue Note) [Shoemaker]
  • Bheki Mseleku: The Best Of (Sheer) [Jenkins]
  • Kansas City Frank Melrose: Bluesiana (Delmark) [Mandel]
  • Oliver Nelson: The Argo, Verve, and Impulse Big Band Studio Sessions (Mosaic) [Friedwald, Seymour]
  • King Oliver: Off the Record: The Complete 1923 Jazz Band Recordings (Archeophone) [Blumenfeld]
  • Evan Parker: The Topography of the Lungs (Psi) [Macnie, Shoemaker]
  • Jimmy Raney: With Bob Brookmeyer (Verve) [Davis]
  • Roswell Rudd: Blown Bone (Emanem) [Szwed]
  • Eddie South: The Cheloni Broadcast Transcriptions (Jazz Oracle) [Morgenstern]
  • Lucky Thompson: Meets Oscar Pettiford (Fresh Sound) [Williams]
  • Stan Tracey: (The Return of) Captain Adventure (Steam-TentoTen) [Donohue, Shoemaker]

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I made my annual stab at a Christmas dinner today. Menu:

  • Chicken cacciatore
  • Sweet potato frites
  • Fried zucchini
  • Green beans with parmesan
  • Mark Bittman's "shrimps my way"
  • Sliced tomatoes with mozzarella
  • Amish door date pudding

Figured since I was deep frying, I'd double up. Once again, it proved to be the bottleneck in serving the meal, with the last batch of zucchini appearing after most of the plates were cleared. Other than that, everything was near perfect. Mike took some pictures. Maybe they'll show up on porkalicious some day.


Redeemed by History?

An excerpt from an opinion column in the Wichita Eagle today, written by Mark Updegrove, author of a book, Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House:

And yet Truman may offer President Bush hope. As Truman said, "The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know." Just a few years after leaving the White House, after retreating to his hometown of Independence, Mo., Truman's stock began to rise.

The magnitude of his times was appreciated. Truman's strength of character was acknowledged, too. . . .

If the growing appreciation Truman enjoyed is any indication, Bush has at least one thing going for him: the indisputable historical significance of the post-Sept. 11 period, offering him the greatest leadership test of his generation.

Afghanistan had been "the graveyard of empirse" before U.S.-led coalition forces crossed over the border and drove out the Taliban. But it is Bush's decision to invade and occupy Iraq on which his historical legacy hinges, particularly because he did so without direct provocation.

Bush has shown the unwavering resolve for which great leaders are often celebrated -- if they are ultimately proved to be right.

If that is the case, history may celebrate Bush, and, as distant as the hope seems now, he may be awarded a place in the presidential pantheon along with Harry S. Truman. If not, history will surely condemn him for his lack of judgment.

It's hard to believe that Updegrove is so dense that he thinks the jury's still out on Bush. But he does do us a favor in pointing out that Bush's immediate post-9/11 "leadership" is the myth that most needs to be demolished. This was the period when Bob Woodward lionized Bush at War. Even in the 2004 presidential debates, Kerry complimented Bush for his post-9/11 act. The fct is that Bush failed utterly in that critical period. He failed to recognize that 9/11 was a consequence of years of manipulative policies in the Middle East, including a peculiar daliance with Islamists, prized in Washington for their anti-Communism. He failed to understand that a massive military response would lose the political ground, eventually ejecting the US from the region. And he didn't realize that his own interests and predilections -- his corrupt use of government to pay off his political obligations, his confusion of privilege with freedom, and his adolescent relish of violence -- would undermine his every effort.

None of the results of those efforts are very controversial now: the Taliban is back in Afghanistan -- pace Updegrove, they never actually left -- as well as stronger in Pakistan; Iraq is a seething cesspool of violence; occupied Palestine and Lebanon have been levelled by Israel with unquestioning Bush support; efforts to isolate and bully Syria and Iran have only stiffened their resolve to defy the US; the US military has been broken, while running up a bill that has massively expanded the national debt; US ability to project power is diminished, and whatever moral authority the US once had has been lost. Even to the extent that these things are trends as opposed to completed facts, the trends are locked into Bush's famed "resolve" -- his delusional conviction in his own righteousness.

I'm not a big fan of Truman. In particular, I consider his pivotal decisions to engage in what we came to call the Cold War with the Soviet Union to have been a long-term mistake. It should also be noted that Truman, like Bush, went with the popular flow down the easy slope to war, where real leadership would have resisted the temptation -- although to be fair, Truman was far more reluctant to bite off more than he could chew than Bush, and never seemed to have actually relished picking a fight, like Bush clearly does. Truman had another personal trait that worked in his favor: he established his reputation as an opponent of wartime profiteering, and he is widely recognized as one of the least corrupt politicians the US has had. Bush is at the far opposite end of that spectrum.

But Truman's rehabilitation is also based on two more factors that Bush doesn't have working in his favor. The first is that Truman was president at a time when American power was ascendant worldwide, and not just because the rest of the world had gone through the horrific destruction of WWII. This made is possible for the US to do things like the Marshall Plan, which actually had a lot more -- especially positive -- effect than military actions in Germany and Korea. On the other hand, US power has been declining for several decades now, leaving Bush in a much weaker position, with fewer options, than Truman had. It's also worth noting that self-conceptions lag actual power, so Truman was more modest than he needed to be, and Bush more arrogant. One measure of the extent of decline is that Truman was able to defeat the governments of Germany and Japan and to hold the Soviet Union and China at bay, while Bush can't even handle a couple of guerrilla revolts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The other secret behind Truman's reputation triumph was how the Republicans, exercising selective memory, adopted him as an avatar of their own postwar legacy. This was mostly limited to Cold War militarism, which in Truman's day was primarily opposed by conservative isolationists like Taft. But Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers built on Truman's foundation, but tougher and more aggressive -- the latter traits conveniently masked by citing Truman as their originator. There's no chance that Bush will be similarly adopted by his nominal opponents.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Music: Current count 12695 [12671] rated (+24), 868 [860] unrated (+8). Mostly an off-week, with most of the ratings coming from deep backlog, rather than things I have more immediate reason to work on. Accordingly, the immediate tasks are backing up.

  • Carl Allen & Manhattan Projects: The Dark Side of Dewey (1992 [1996], Evidence): I always assumed that Dewey was Redman, but the music didn't fit, nor the lineup. I looked more closely when I recognized "All Blues" and found out that Miles' middle name was Dewey. So this is basically a Davis tribute with Nicholas Payton enjoying himself in the hot seat, Vincent Herring playing Shorter, Mulgrew Miller doing his best Hancock, Dwayne Burno on bass, the leader on drums. B+(*)
  • Eubie Blake: Memories of You (1915-73 [1990], Biograph): Mostly taken from piano rolls Blake recorded 1917-21, plus two 1915 piano rolls by others and two 1973 recordings. This is actually both brighter and slicker than Brun Campell's recordings. Rather impressive, even. B+(***)
  • Ruby Braff: Very Sinatra (1982, Red Barron): With no vocals, no one is challenging Sinatra on his own turf. Rather, Braff picks songs Sinatra picked, and not just because Sinatra picked them. He relishes the swing, and if anything takes them back a closer to trad jazz. Played this twice before I looked at the personnel sheet, admiring the consistent play without especially noticing anything other than the pretty good organ. Turns out the band is: Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Michael Moore (the mainstream bassist, not one of the many others), and Mel Lewis, with Vic Dickenson and Sam Margolis slipping in on three cuts. A-
  • Brun Campbell: Joplin's Disciple ([2001], Delmark): Born 1884, died 1953. As a teenager in 1898 Campbell heard his first ragtime and set out for Sedalia MO to take lessons from Scott Joplin. He claims to have been Joplin's only white student, and the booklet notes that he was the only Joplin student to record. No dates on these recordings, but evidently date from the 1940s. Remarkable historical document. Don't know ragtime well enough to comment on the finer points, but Campbell is such a rough gem there may be none. B+
  • The Teddy Charles Tentet (1956 [1988], Atlantic): Charles played vibes, which are prominent but not critical. The group is large, and tightly arranged, impressive in its details, although I've never been all that taken by it. Aside from Charles, the composer-arrangers are all hall of famers: Gil Evans, Jimmy Giuffre, George Russell, Mal Waldron, and on the bonus tracks, Bob Brookmeyer. B+(**)
  • The Robert Cray Band: Live From Across the Pond (2006, Nozzle/Vanguard, 2CD): A terrific blues guitarist, a so-so singer, and a songwriter I all too frequently find myself wanting to strangle. After twenty-some years, he's entitled to throw out a live double career retrospective. But that doesn't make me like the songs any better. Well, not much better, anyway. B-
  • Lonnie Donegan: Putting on the Styles (1955-66 [1992], Sequel, 3CD): The Skiffle King, as the first disc describes him. Donegan was an important figure in the prehistory of English rock -- his skiffle analogous to the pre-Beatles folk movement here, except more fun. We know him mostly for a novelty hit: "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight)" near the end of the second disc. Still, this set goes too far. The third disc turns him loose on standards like "Miss Otis Regrets" and pop hits like "I Wanna Go Home" that are almost devoid of interest. B
  • Eek-A-Mouse: U-Neek (1991, Island/Peace Posse): His voice was a novelty at first, but here he works within it, and it's workable. Beats for the most part are up. "No Problem" is a great song. B+
  • Roy Eldridge in Paris (1950 [1995], RCA/Disques Vogue): Two sessions from 1950, with all the spare parts. Eldridge sings on several cuts, working with someone named Anita Love on two of them. Delightful stuff, always enjoy his vocals, but the trumpet is what's awesome. B+
  • Feathermerchants: Last Man on Earth (2006, Innocent 12th Street): Alt-rock group with a female lead singer, Shannon Kennedy, and the usual laconic guitars. Group has several records, dating back to 1999. Pleasant sound, no clear take on how deep they might be. B
  • Dusko Goykovich Big Band: Balkan Connection (1995 [1996], Enja): The big band isn't quite as sharp as it should be, but it has a good measure of elegance and suppleness. Also, the Balkan connection isn't as revealing or inspiring as you'd hope for, but that may be beside the point. The great tradition the songs are actually rooted in is bebop. B+(*)
  • Coleman Hawkins: In Europe 1934/39 (1934-39 [1989], Jazz Up, 3CD): Hawkins spent five years in Europe, mostly playing with local bands, sometimes with American travelers like Benny Carter. Before he left he was the most important tenor saxophonist in big band jazz. By the time he returned he was even further advanced as a soloist. This is the basic documentation, including sidesteps and multiple takes, as well as the "Crazy Rhythm" sessions with Carter and Django Reinhardt, which you no doubt already own. I must have ten copies, but I never tire of hearing them. A-
  • John Holloway: Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sonatas and Partitas (2004 [2006], ECM): The only music teacher I ever had -- an old geezer named Pankratz -- always named Bach as his all-time favorite. I aced his tests and the notebook, did my best to never actually listen to any classical music, and always felt self-conscious about my singing -- at least since Lannie Goldsten (or was her name Marva Goldberg? I think she used both) started kicking me every time I made a peep ("just lip sync!"). So this does and doesn't bring back traumatic childhood memories -- not the music because, as I said, I never actually listened to it, although the sound of violin was enough to send me scurrying. That's the only sound there is here, and I find it oddly soothing on a very gray, rainy December day, although I also find it rather indifferent -- the violinists I do like have a little swing in their kit. But I'll grade this one leniently: Laura thought it was wonderful. B+(*)
  • Maria Kalaniemi: Bellow Poetry (2006, Alula): Finnish accordionist, classically trained but plays folk melodies, intimately detailed, warm and comfy, with occasional vocals -- which leaves them lacking sufficient energy to jump over the cultural barrier, or sufficient deviousness to tunnel under. B
  • Erich Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops Orchestra: Christmastime Is Here (2006, Telarc): Included here only because the featured singers, at least when they can shut up the Children's Choir and the Indiana University Singing Hoosiers, have jazz credentials -- Ann Hampton Callaway, Tony DeSare, Tierney Sutton, John Pizzarelli. Reminds me of a junior high recital, only at a higher standard of competency. Hard to say how much of a plus that really is. But it is clear that the jazz singers only made the program through the label's contacts, and that they were wasted. C+
  • Jamie Lidell: Multiply (2005, Warp): AMG slots him under electronica, and that's where his label generally resides. That's also where I found his record at Record Time, and they generally know what they're doing. But he sounds to me like a straight soul singer, which I suppose is some sort of accomplishment for a white DJ/producer from England. Having trouble relating to this, but it has some appeal and potential. B+(**)
  • Wadada Leo Smith: The Year of the Elephant (2002, Pi): Quartet, with Anthony Davis on piano and synth, Malachi Favors on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums. Smith sounds terrific, especially out of the gate, and Davis has some good moments, but this drags a bit in the middle. B+(**)
  • Tom Wurth (2006, Aspirion): Country singer, on his first album, has all the basic skills, but tries so hard, the overkill gets the best of him. He does a credible "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," but passes it off as a bonus track, because he already has 14 songs -- not originals, mind you, just non-standards. He doesn't seem to have written any of them, which is probably why he's able to slip a great song like "Bread on the Table" in with a good like like "Good Ground" and a bunch of stuff that go through the motions -- sometimes, as in "Bad Case of Missing You," at breakneck speed with fancy piano. B


Jazz Prospecting (CG #12, Part 6)

Time to post the week's jazz prospecting, and what I find here is downright embarrassing: two Christmas albums. My first thought was to declare "no jazz prospecting" this week, but I figured it would look even dumber to run them after Christmas. (Of course, today's too late for shoppers, but they're not recommended all that highly.) So "Part 6" is pretty sparse, even after I plundered the notebook for three more not-really-jazz notes.

I hadn't expected to do much jazz this week, as the impending deadline is the 2006-roundup edition of Recycled Goods, and most of what I have to catch up with there is non-jazz. But I wound up spending a lot of time rummaging through the new 8th Edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. I'll write more about this in the next few weeks. Thus far I've started building up the differences chart: I figure I'm about 26% done, and don't know when I'll get around to finishing it. It's hard on the eyes, and 3-4 days of hacking at it cuts drastically into whatever else I'm trying to do. But you can take a look at what I have so far here. The Crown and Core lists should be complete.

The Village Voice should have its big year-end jazz poll out this week. More on that when it happens.


Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz for the Holidays (1992-98 [2006], Telarc): Selected from the label's Christmases past, avoiding any hint of merriment, joy, or, heaven forbid, excitement. Nonetheless, this order is mostly filled by thoughtful solo piano (Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, George Shearing) and guitar (Jim Hall, Al Di Meola -- the latter is unexpectedly lovely on "Ave Maria"), all of whom have something to add to the melody. Better still is Jeanie Bryson cooing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" over Kenny Barron's piano. Still doesn't break my tinsel ceiling, but comes close. B

Erich Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops Orchestra: Christmastime Is Here (2006, Telarc): Included here only because the featured singers, at least when they can shut up the Children's Choir and the Indiana University Singing Hoosiers, have jazz credentials -- Ann Hampton Callaway, Tony DeSare, Tierney Sutton, John Pizzarelli. Reminds me of a junior high recital, only at a higher standard of competency. Hard to say how much of a plus that really is. But it is clear that the jazz singers only made the program through the label's contacts, and that they were wasted. C+

The Robert Cray Band: Live From Across the Pond (2006, Nozzle/Vanguard, 2CD): A terrific blues guitarist, a so-so singer, and a songwriter I all too frequently find myself wanting to strangle. After twenty-some years, he's entitled to throw out a live double career retrospective. But that doesn't make me like the songs any better. Well, not much better, anyway. B-

Maria Kalaniemi: Bellow Poetry (2006, Alula): Finnish accordionist, classically trained but plays folk melodies, intimately detailed, warm and comfy, with occasional vocals -- which leaves them lacking sufficient energy to jump over the cultural barrier, or sufficient deviousness to tunnel under. B

John Holloway: Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sonatas and Partitas (2004 [2006], ECM): The only music teacher I ever had -- an old geezer named Pankratz -- always named Bach as his all-time favorite. I aced his tests and the notebook, did my best to never actually listen to any classical music, and always felt self-conscious about my singing -- at least since Lannie Goldsten (or was her name Marva Goldberg? I think she used both) started kicking me every time I made a peep ("just lip sync!"). So this does and doesn't bring back traumatic childhood memories -- not the music because, as I said, I never actually listened to it, although the sound of violin was enough to send me scurrying. That's the only sound there is here, and I find it oddly soothing on a very gray, rainy December day, although I also find it rather indifferent -- the violinists I do like have a little swing in their kit. But I'll grade this one leniently: Laura thinks it's wonderful. B+(*)


No final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around this week.

Hindsight and Foresight

Billmon spent some time recently going back over his blog postings on Iraq. His conclusion:

If nothing else, though, the Whiskey Bar archives prove to my satisfaction that it was possible, even for a nonspecialist (which is all I'll ever be in the fields of foreign policy or military affairs) to see at least an outline of the disaster as it started to unfold. What was lacking in the corporate media was not the opportunity, but rather the insight, the courage and the independence to say what needed to be said -- at a time when the both the powers that be and the paying audience were unwilling to listen.

I can post a similar audit trail. In fact, I did back in March 2005, listing links to material originally posted in my notebook or previous blog:

Since 2005, see the War/Terror thread, which repeats these themes ad nauseum. I'm struck by this quote from May 2004, although it's probably just typical:

As for Iraq, it has turned into a major security vulnerability for the U.S., primarily because it shows the world that the U.S. is deceitful and manipulative and callous and contemptuous of the rest of the world. The only way that the U.S. can mitigate the damage (which includes coups, wars, and sanctions) that it has done to Iraq is to get out and stay out.

I don't know about the mainstream media's courage or independence, but the insight they all seem to lack is the ability to see the US as "deceitful and manipulative and callous and contemptuous of the rest of the world." Those of us who could recognize those traits had little trouble figuring out where the war was going or why. Those who didn't were easy suckers. It's important to understand that long before Iraq was attacked, the first preëmptive attack was against the "blame America first" crowd on the "looney left" -- and that clearing out the critics most sensitive to what would go wrong was the essential first step toward such a disastrous war.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Road Map to Nowhere

After two straight posts on Israel, this should be a good time to dump out my marked quotes from Tanya Reinhart's The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003 (Verso). This follows on from her earlier Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. Reinhart is Professor Emeritus, Linguistics and Comparative Literature at Tel Aviv University. She is neither a journalist nor a historian, but is remarkably adept at pulling together a coherent picture of recent events from the current reporting.

Much of her story is familiar, albeit poorly reported here in the US. I didn't pull a lot out, but did find a few quotes that should be noted. The first is on the military and the politicians in Israel (pp. 6-7):

The military is the most stable -- and most dangerous -- political factor in Israel. As an Israeli analyst stated in 2001, "in the last six years, since October 1995, there were five prime ministers and six defense ministers, but only two chiefs of staff." Israeli military and political systems have always been closely intertwined, with generals moving from the army straight to the government, but the army's political status was further solidified during Sharon's premiership. It is often apparent that the real decisions are made by the military rather than the political echelon. Military seniors brief the press (they capture at least half of the news space in the Israeli media), and brief and shape the views of foreign diplomats; they go abroad on diplomatic missions, outline political plans for the government, and express their political views on any subject and occasion.

In contrast to this military stability, the Israeli political system is in a gradual process of disintegration. In a World Bank report of April 2005, Israel was found to be one of the most corrupt and least efficient in the Western world, second only to Italy in the government corruption index, and lowest in the index of political stability. Together with his sons, Sharon personally was associated with severe bribery charges that have never reached the courts. The new party that Sharon founded, Kadima, which now heads the government, is a hierarchical agglomeration of individuals with no party institutions or local branches. Its guidelines, published on 22 November 2005, enable its leader to bypass all standard democratic processes and appoint the list of the party's candidates to the parliament without voting or approval of any party body.

The Labor party has not been able to offer an alternative. In the last two Israeli elections, Labor elected dovish prime ministerial candidates: Amram Mitzna in 2003 and Amir Peretz in 2006. Both were initially received with enormous enthusiasm, but were immediately silenced by their party and campaign advisors and by self-imposed censorship, aiming to situate themselves "at the center of the political map." Soon, their programs became indistinguishable from those of Sharon. Peretz even declared that on "foreign and security" matters he will do exactly as Sharon, or later Olmert, do, differing from them only on social matters. Thus, these candidates helped convince Israeli voters that Sharon's way is the right way. In recent years, there has been no substantial left-wing opposition to the rule of Sharon and the generals, since after the elections, Labor would always join the government, providing the dovish image that the generals need for the international show.

The US-backed Road Map insisted that Palestinians first put a halt to their violence before Israel would be required to make any concessions. The Israelis could thereby forestall the Road Map by fueling violence (pp. 20-21):

Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority and the various Palestinian organizations fulfilled their side of the bargain, declaring complete ceasefire for three months, during which they would halt all attacks in Israel and the occupied territories, as stipulated in Phase I of the Road Map. The first announcement that the Palestinian organizations had reached a ceasefire agreement came on 25 June 2003. Hamas spokesmen observed "it was noteworthy that they had accepted the three-month lull without receiving any guarantees from Israel that it would cease its military activities against them in exchange for the ceasefire."

The Israeli immediate reaction was instantaneous and decisive. Within minutes of the Palestinian announcement, "Israeli helicopters fired missiles at two cars new the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, killing two people, including a woman. The Israel Defense Forces said the helicopters fired the missiles at a Hamas cell that was about to fire mortar shells at an Israeli settlement." In Jerusalem, "Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided . . . that Israel will ignore any agreements on a hudna, or ceasefire, reached by the Palestinian organizations, and will instead insist that the Palestinian Authority disarm militias in any area in which it assumes security responsibility . . . The Foreign Ministry . . . instructed foreign legations to prepare for a Palestinian propaganda assault that will blame Israel for violating the 'ceasefire' while ignoring the PA's [Palestinian Authority's] responsibility for continued terrorist activity by 'local' cells."

The Israelis use of assassinations (p. 29):

Some months later, on 22 March 2004, the Israeli army decided that Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's time had come. At 5:20 a.m., Israeli helicopter gunships fired rockets at the car of the wheelchair-bound Yassin as he was leaving a mosque in Gaza city after morning prayer. What was inconceivable even a year earlier had become reality.

Israel also deflected peace overtures from Syria (pp. 37-38):

In fall 2003, Syrian President Bashar Assad sent numerous signals of his willingness to renew peace negotiations with Israel. About two weeks after the Sharon-Abrams meeting, Assad made a public overture to resume the negotiations in an interview with the New York Times, in which he called for renewed talks and spoke of the "normalization" of Syrian-Israeli relations.

Sharon rejected this move outright. Israel's reaction to Assad's New York Times statement came swiftly the following day, when Foreign Mininster Sylvan Shalom issued a statement using precisely the same language that Israel used in response to Palestinian offers of a ceasefire: "Positive remarks about peace are always encouraging, but words are not enough. We want to see action. Syria must put an end to terror activities that begin on its territory, and curtail arms shipments from Iran to Hezbollah. Should Syria do this, and if it is prepared to engage in talks with Israel without preconditions, there's no doubt the government of Israel will seriously consider this option."

Israel's only overture during this period was Sharon's plan to unilaterally dismantle the Gaza settlements, a plan that Sharon cooked up with Abrams as an alternative to the Road Map (p. 59):

The intensity of the military operations inside Gaza increased substantially following Sharon's announcement of the disengagement plan in February 2004. In February and March there were several Israeli raids on Palestinian communities in the Strip (reported on 12 February, 8 March and 17-21 March). Israel then carried out two full-scale military offensives. "Operation Rainbow," in May 2004, concentrated on the vicinity fo Rafah, and left dozens of houses demolished. "Operation Days of Penitence" in October 2004 was similar -- in both scale and horrors -- to April 2002's "Operation Defensive Shield" in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. The Israeli army estimated the number of Palestinians killed at 130; about 500 others were wounded. According to UNRWA, 91 houses were fully destroyed, and 101 others damaged.

Reinhart analyzes Sharon's motives, which went beyond derailing any peace efforts to denying Palestinians the legitimacy of electing their own leadership (p. 106):

I would contend that the real motive behind Sharon's campaign against Hamas's participation in the election was that he was in fact trying to stall the whole electoral process. In Sharon's eyes, his biggest "achievement" was that from 2002 onwards he had succeededin completely destroying the Palestinian social and political infrastructure that had gradually developed over the years since the 1993 Oslo Accords. Though Palestinian society was far from democratic during these years, there was at least a functioning system of local governance, with many thriving semi-independent institutions. All this was erased in the massive military "Operation Defensive Sheild" in April 2002, which completed the process of re-establishing direct military rule in the West Bank. Now, a new process of democratization and elections was threatening to undo this major "achievement."

Reinhart argues that Sharon never really intended to disengage from Gaza, but that the US held him to the commitment, in part by sanctions against Israeli military purchases. This ended once the disengagement took place (p. 130):

With the US military sactions in the background, Sharon and the army had no choice but to obey. The army called off the operation [a planned military operation in Gaza], and three weeks later, the Gaza pullout took place promptly and smoothly. The drama of sanctions and pressure was kept fully behind the screens. In public, throughout the whole period, the Bush administration praised Sharon for his leadership and courage in implementing the disengagement plan. They trapped him in his words, and then gave him the sole credit for the pullout -- but it was US pressure that really achieved it. When the US really does exert pressure, no Israeli leader is able to defy its injunctions.

On the elections where Hamas defeated Fatah (pp. 148-150):

Much attention has been paid already in the Western media to the corruption of the PA and its lack of democracy, as a major cause of the vote shift. But the crucial aspect, that received little attention, is its failure in the Palestinian struggle against the occupation. As BADIL states this, "the Palestinian Authority has become both a prisoner and indispensable partner in endless diplomacy whose purpose is to cover up the fact that nothing is done to bring about a just and lasting peace, and it has failed to take action against those from its own ranks, who publicly undermine the national consensus and struggle for freedom from occupation." [ . . . ]

While the political branches of the Fatah-led PA may have been just passive int he Palestinian struggle for freedom, some of its security forces have been active collaborators with the Israeli occupation, most notably the Preventive Security apparatus, headed by Mohammed Dahlan in the Gaza Strip and Jibril Rajoub in the West Bank. These forces, trained by the CIA, have worked during all years of the Oslo Agreements in tight collaboration with the Israeli security forces, including collaborations in assassinations of Hamas militants. [ . . . ]

In voting for Hamas, Palestinians were opting for a party which had no history of collaboration with the occupiesr, and which they believed would not be coerced into such collaboration in the future. But from the perspective of the Israeli army Hamas's victory entails the complete loss of the network of control it has constructed in the territories sine 1993. When it accepted the US demand to allow Hamas's participation in the Palestinian election, Israel -- like the US -- assumed that although Hamas would be in some measure legitimized, this would only entail a small change in the PA, which would essentially remain controlled by the same apparatuses as before. However, if Palestinians are permitted to implement their own democratic decisions, their security services will come under the jurisdiction of the new government,a nd can no longer be manipulated by Israel; the days of Israel's appointment or training of Palestinian leaders will be over.

In opposing the Hamas victory, Israel ratched up the propaganda war against Syria and Iran, dovetailing with US concerns over its failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reinhart's book was finished before Israel's attack on Lebanon, but the groundwork is clearly evident here (p. 153):

In its concerted campaign to prevent international recognition of the new Hamas administration, and to impose tough sanctions on the Palestinians, Israel has been exploiting the Islamophobic atmosphere that resurfaced in the US at the beginning of 2006. Israeli security officials flooded the West with reports on the dangers of HAmas's future ties with Iran and Syria, painting a disturbing picture of a global fundamentalist Islamic threat. The conditions were ripe for such propaganda. On 3 February, the Pentagon released its 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), where it lays out its vision for what it describes as a "long war." It states that "this war requirse the U.S. military to adopt unconventional and indirct approaches. Currently, Iraq and Afghanistan are crucial battlegrounds, but the struggle extends far beyond their borders. With its allies and partners, the United States must be prepared to wage this war in many locations simultaneously and for some years to come."

The book ends with a chapter on the joint Israeli-Palestinian non-violent protest movement against the Wall. I didn't mark any quotes there, but it's noteworthy that the movement was opposed not only by Israel but by Fatah as well. As I said, the book was finished before the events that led to Israel's invasions of Gaza and Lebanon. No doubt another book is in the works.

Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost convinced me that Israel's political and military establishment has become so hooked on conflict and war that they are now primarily devoted to its perpetuation. The events covered in Reinhart's two books provide much further evidence of this -- not so much on the why, mostly how it plays out. It is worth noting that the US-backed Road Map indeed went no where -- that the plan for peace was a charade, and the plan for democracy turned out to be hollow.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Lifeblood of Zionism

I want to expand a bit on last night's post. The upshot is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the result of bad choices repeatedly made over the better part of a century, based on a faulty political theory: nationalism, seen as embodying a distinct group of people and manifested through a state and its armed forces. Nationalism developed like a cancer from the French Revolution through its apotheosis in Nazi Germany, and lingers on today at the root of most of the world's festering conflict sores. Its power comes from the appeal of defining us against them -- it's self-flattering and other-deprecating, and as such is quickly reinforced by encounters with other nationalisms. As such, it is so easily exploitable by demagogues that it quickly became the preferred stance of the right.

Nationalism developed in 19th century Europe for various reasons which we need not go into here. The net effect from 1800 to 1950 was to radically separate Europe into homogeneous nations with a mere handful of exceptions -- Switzerland, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Russia, plus a few subnational minorities like the Basques and the Lapps. Europe's Jews, being a group that fit into no nation, suffered terribly as a result. Jews responded to the nationalist madness in four ways: some hunkered down in increasingly orthodox religion, isolating themselves, trying to ride out the storm; some moved to more open, pluralistic lands, such as the US, usually reforming their religion to become more secular; some joined anti-nationalist movements, such as the Bund, Socialism, or Communism; and some staked their own claim to nationalism, becoming Zionists. At the end of WWI the latter were a small minority, but three events worked in their favor: the British adopted Zionism as a means of establishing colonial control over Palestine; the US shut off the main outlet for Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe; and the rise to power of the Nazis, other Fascists, and the Soviets put pressure on Jews to flee -- for lack of any alternative, into the Zionists' arms.

The Ottoman-era Zionist movement was relatively benign -- the Ottomans ran a multinational state which had long been able to provide a haven for Jews fleeing from European purges. But from 1920 on the Zionists acted as a nation under the sponsorship and protection of the British Empire. The Zionist Yishuv (settlement) vied with native Palestinians, unwanted and unwelcomed in the Jewish nation, for the same land and resources. As such, the Zionist struggle was primarily demographic. Zionist success depended on promoting Jewish immigration and on marginalizing Palestinian political and economic power. In turn, Palestinian self-defense focused on limiting Jewish immigration -- tragically, given what happened to European Jews at this time. That proved to be a propaganda coup for the Zionists, conveniently skipping over how the Zionists worked to prevent Jews from moving anywhere but Palestine. The Zionist focus, after all, was on demography: Jews emigrating to American did them no good.

The Palestinian leadership missed the significance of all this, not least because their response to the Zionists was to adopt their own form of nationalism. In this they lost, badly. A better approach would have been to open up Palestine and the rest of the Arab world as a haven for European Jews, forging a bond with them in opposition to Europe's imperialists and colonialists. That couldn't happen for lots of reasons: the Arab nations were weak, mostly under European thumbs; the Zionists were opposed; the Americans were indifferent and disengaged, and deeply mired in their own racist delusions. But the main reason was that nationalism seemed to work as the one idea that unified non-Europeans into unities that could effectively resist European imperialism. The most immediate example was Turkey, and there were others -- until they overreached, the most spectacular was Japan. Later on Vietnamese nationalism successfully resisted the United States. But in the end nationalism is a formula for war, not peace. And the Zionists, unlike the European colonialists, came to stay, so for them every war was a challenge to their existence. The only way to deal with such a foe is to level the ground, to find common ground, and nationalism fails there, because all it has to offer is division.

More and more we see evidence that Palestinians are coming to see this, although it remains a struggle to see beyond decades of abuse under Israeli force. I think this is why Israel's extreme nationalists have come to look so desperate in their efforts to prolong the conflict. Israel never worried about Iran in the '80s when Khomeini actually made an effort to export his revolution, so why now? Surely it's not that the Israelis don't understand Nuclear Deterrence 101. Why do they worry about Hezbollah, which like a beehive can be avoided by not sticking your bare hand into it? Why do they worry about those Qassam firecracker attacks that amount to little more than the Gazan version of a Bronx cheer? Why do they work so hard to push Palestinian buttons? It's like they can't bear the thought of life without war. But without war, without their supremacist identity, without the persecution they forged their movement under, what becomes of Zionism? It fades away, like a bad memory. And just as well, it takes Palestinian nationalism to the grave with it.

As Laura Tillem taught me, Hitler hated the Jews because they were internationalists, rejecting the idiocy of nationalism. He failed to kill all the Jews, but to the extent that Jews took the lesson of the Holocaust as reason to embrace Zionism, he has further succeeded in destroying what he most hated about the Jews. So in essence what needs to happen is for the Israelis to rediscover their pre-Fascist cosmopolitanism, and who better to point this out than the Palestinians? Someone, after all, has to stop the cycle of violence -- a cycle that Bush has escalated both by supporting the Israeli hawks and by emulating them, bonding with them by putting us all in the same treacherous and ultimately pointless project.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Karon on Holocaust Denial

I've been reading through an interesting post by Tony Karon called "What Arab Holocaust-Deniers Should Learn from Mandela." The main point is certainly right: that Holocaust denial by erstwhile supporters does the Palestinian cause no good. The second point -- that Mandela drew constructive lessons from the Boer War that enabled him and the ANC to relate positively to the Afrikaners in resolving their conflict -- is food for thought, but the history is far messier. I've long noticed that at least in some respects Palestinian political movements have come to mirror aspects of Zionism -- most obviously in counterposing the Nakba to the Holocaust, an analogy that has never been very satisfying. The exile from Roman times is more like it, but a far stronger argument can be made from contemporary declarations of human rights, which have clearly been denied to huge numbers of Palestinians.

A minor, almost academic, question is to what extent does Holocaust denial actually factor into Palestinian, Arab, Islamic, or pro-Palestinian thinking. Iran's Ahmadinejad has been quoted (possibly misquoted) on the subject, and is sponsoring some sort of conference, which occasioned this post. My impression is that Holocaust denial is very rare among Palestinians, since it has never been something that they were held responsible for. Rather, it forms the basis for a basic disconnect: if Israel's raison d'ëtre is the Holocaust, why take it out of the Palestinians' hides? That's seductive rhetoric, but it misses the point. The problem was that at the time of Israel's founding there had been an extraordinary crime committed against European Jewry, and the Zionists were able to successfully argue that the just response to that crime was the creation of a Jewish state, which for various historical and ideological reasons meant Israel.

That the solution was at the Palestinians' expense was typical of the times, a consequence of colonialist norms which Europe and America had yet to shake off. The Zionists succeeded in large part because no one else came up with an alternative solution -- and here no one else does include the Palestinians, the Arabs, the broader Muslim world. I understand that Rashid Khalidi's new book The Iron Cage delves deeper into the limits and weaknesses of Palestinian political leadership from the 1920s to the present day, so he may be a good source on the details. But the weak link in the Zionist argument was the assertion that only a Jewish state could protect Jews from further state-sponsored violence. One could, and should, have responded that a better solution would be for Jews to secure their human rights under international law recognized by all nations. If only Arab nations, including Palestine, had taken the initiative to do this -- to open their doors to immigration, especially in the '30s when the Nazis seized power and initiated their racist laws -- they would have undercut the Zionist argument and come out far ahead. That they didn't do this is unsurprising given the more general history -- the Arab nations were mostly under European thumbs at the time. But the fact of Palestinian resistance to Jewish immigration during the Nazi rise to power, the Holocaust, and its aftermath -- which for several critical years much of Europe was still a dangerous place for Jews -- is the foundation of the idea that Palestinians are intractably anti-Jewish. And that is the trump card that Zionists have played repeatedly over the last sixty years.

After all that's happened to the Palestinians, it may seem patently unfair to insist that they must first contribute to a fair and just solution to the WWII-vintage Jewish problem, but I believe that to be the case. Zionism strikes me as a bad deal for Jews, whom it consigns to live in a garrison state forever at war with the rest of the world -- the Palestinians suffer most for being the closest targets. But only if you go back and examine the history closely and honestly can you recognize the pointlessly self-perpetuating pain that Zionism has caused, on both sides of its weapons, on both sides of its iron walls. And ultimately that pain is the common ground shared by both Israeli and Palestinian. Which is, I think, where Karon's argument ultimately leads.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

F5: Work Like a Farmer, OD Like a Rock Star

I got a note from F5 publisher Josh Oxley yesterday, saying that "the production of F5 Magazine will be postponed until further notice." Translating from the Hirohito-ese, that means it's dead, but a little further context might be helpful. Up to about six months ago, F5 was run by a company called Hubris Communications and edited by a guy named Mike Marlett, who -- as best I recall -- actually started the paper before getting involved with Hubris. I don't know any of the details of the break-up, but Oxley bought the paper, and Marlett went on to start a new paper, something called Wichita City Paper. Oxley is otherwise involved in billboard advertising. He took F5 and toned it down politically and culturally -- among other things, dropping the "work like a farmer, party like a rock star" slogan. As editor Michelle Ross explained to me, they wanted to make it a family paper. Presumably this would be good for advertising.

On the other hand, Marlett took almost all of his writers with him, and seems to have raised a lot more money, so when Wichita City Paper came out a couple of months ago it looked to be a much more substantial operation. I had actually been thinking that I might like to write for F5 for several years, but never got around to broaching the subject until, rather accidentally, after the break occurred. I knew a couple of their writers -- even knew the owner of Hubris, although that wasn't necessarily a plus. (He is, after all, the guy who gave his company that awful name.) But I was thinking more about writing opinion pieces -- Marlett's turf, and actually he's not bad at it -- than music. But only when I saw that F5 had no one writing record reviews did I finally make my move. Looks like I bet on the wrong horse.

I wound up writing 21 F5 Record Report columns. Not sure if last week's edition actually came out. Certainly the column I wrote for this week won't appear in print, but you can find it here, with all the rest of the columns available through the navigation menu and the arrow glyphs. I covered 148 records. Much of the material was cribbed from other work, but even there I did quite a bit of editing, and I think the reviews came off rather polished.

Not sure where we go from here. I'll touch base with City Paper, and see if they have any interest. I've wondered about possibly syndicating these columns -- if nothing else, they could easily be broken up to provide filler. I could also take this as a sign to buckle down and get Terminal Zone back up and running.

Lineup for the final column:

  • Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar) A [jazz]
  • David Krakauer & SoCalled With Klezmer Madness: Bubbemeises: Lies My Gramma Told Me (Label Bleu) B+ [world]
  • KRS-One: Life (Antagonist) A- [rap]
  • Odyssey the Band: Back in Time (Pi) A- [jazz]
  • Roy Orbison: In Dreams (1963, Monument/Legacy) B+ [rock]
  • Bill Sheffield: Journal on a Shelf (American Roots) A- [blues]
  • Ali Farka Toure: Savane (World Circuit/Nonesuch) B+ [world]

I feel bad about the records I've asked for but didn't get around to covering here. You always feel that there's a future, even when there isn't one. Maybe I'm not such a pessimist after all. Or maybe the world is just worse than even we can imagine.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Jackin' Pop Poll

I got a rather late invite to Idolator's Jackin' Pop poll. The deadline is too short for my taste -- today, 3PM EST -- so I went with what I have, without an awful lot of confidence in it. Still have a fair amount of unresolved 2006 non-jazz, not to mention all that stuff I don't even know about yet. The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll doesn't demand their ballots until the end of the month/year, so I reserve the right to change my mind by then -- presumably for the better. In fact, I'll probably keep changing my mind well into 2007, especially as I find out about those things I don't know about.

The top ten new albums at this point:

  1. Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
  2. Todd Snider: The Devil You Know (New Door)
  3. Public Enemy: Rebirth of a Nation (Guerrilla Funk)
  4. The Coup: Pick a Bigger Weapon (Epitaph)
  5. Jon Faddis: Teranga (Koch)
  6. Ghostface Killah: Fishscale (Def Jam)
  7. The Klezmatics: Wonder Wheel: Lyrics by Woody Guthrie (JMG)
  8. World Saxophone Quartet: Political Blues (Justin Time)
  9. Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse (Jesus Christ Rocks)
  10. Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: New Magical Kingdom (Clean Feed)

I went with the descending points option (15-11, 9-5), which seemed good enough for a first approximation.

Top ten singles/album tracks, to this point: none, right now, anyway. I don't think much of singles or individual tracks, and have skipped the category more often than not in the Pazz & Jop poll. I did start a list this year, but don't have enough time to sort it out today.

Top five reissues, to this point:

  1. Fats Waller: If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It (1926-43, Bluebird/Legacy, 3CD)
  2. Irène Schweizer: Portrait (1984-2004, Intakt)
  3. Wilson Pickett: The Definitive Collection (1961-71, Atlantic/Rhino, 2CD)
  4. Night in Tunisia: The Very Best of Dizzy Gillespie (1946-49, Bluebird/Legacy)
  5. Big Youth: Screaming Target (1973, Trojan/Sanctuary)

These aren't exactly in rank order -- Chuck Berry's The Definitive Collection tops them all -- but were selected for their interest and importance.

Top five artists of 2006:

  1. Ornette Coleman
  2. Todd Snider
  3. Ken Vandermark
  4. The Klezmatics
  5. Adam Lane

I don't know exactly what they're getting at here, so I tend to stick close to the records. Vandermark didn't make my top ten, but he's got several records docked just off the list, and even the ones that don't quite measure up show inspired risk-taking. Lane also has a pair of very good trio albums with Vinny Golia just off the list. He's the least-known of the five -- I don't even know his work very well myself, but I'm impressed with everything I've heard, and have no doubt that he's going to be recognized as a major mover and shaker over the next decade. The Klezmatics also have a good second albums this year, plus Frank London's been busy on his own. Haven't gotten to More Fish yet, which might have argued for Ghostface.

The ballot also asks for comments. I don't have anything to add at this point. I'll do a Pazz & Jop ballot in a couple of weeks, and we'll see what I've learned by then. Don't know whether I'll have comments then, either, but I'll write up some sort of year-end summary for the website sometime in January. More than the ballots, my year-end focus will be on a special 2006 wrap-up edition to be published as the January column.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Music: Current count 12671 [12654] rated (+17), 860 [857] unrated (+3). What can I say? Had a bad week last week, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Don't have everything filed that came in -- not that a lot of stuff came in. Have done a rather sloppy job of collecting notes here on stuff I've written for F5 or Recycled Goods. Did get started on sorting out the 8th edition Penguin Guide diffs, which is potentially a huge time sink, but has a certain brainless appeal to it. This coming week should be better. Maybe it'll start when I get the website update done.

  • Julio Iglesias: 1100 Bel Air Place (1984 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): Left to his own devices, he can be a magnificent singer, with "Two Lovers" an prime example, and even the tripey "Moonlight Lady" gaining stature; on the other hand, he was such a star at this point that he was attracting duettists -- can't complain about Stan Getz, but between Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, and the Beach Boys, something goes terribly wrong. B-

  • Julio Iglesias: Tango (1996 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): A serious album, based on the old stuff, tangos with not much tang, ballads with a lot of romantic gush, or so it seems; his voice is towering, operatic, but he's managed to take a foreign legacy and make it even more foreign. C+


Jazz Prospecting (CG #12, Part 5)

Last week was pretty much a personal wipeout, although I suppose I can take credit for surviving it without fumbling anything too bad. The long-awaited 11th Jazz Consumer Guide was published with no major glitches. I got all my files updated, so now I'm ready to go after #12. I sent a year-end ballot in to Francis Davis for the Voice's jazz poll. I wrote some annotation to the ballot to be published as a sidebar to the poll results. I got an F5 column done. I made latkes, chopped liver, and salt-cured salmon for Hanukkah. I managed to blog something every day, and got a bit of jazz prospecting done, although I made damn little progress on my year-end research. I also finally cracked open the new 8th edition of the Penguin Guide and started to chart differences.

No final grades on records I held back this week. It's early in the cycle and best to keep an eye on what's new. Starting to get 2007 advances. This will probably remain slow over the next two weeks as holidays interfere with my schedule, guests come and go, and year-end Recycled Goods looms large.


Jazz Yule Love II (2006, Mack Avenue): If Christmas music really outsells jazz, as I've seen reports claiming, I guess this is one way to help pay the bills. Seems useless to me, but I've heard far worse down at the local mall. The roster includes familiar names from the label's recent releases, plus two I hadn't noticed: Oscar Brown Jr. and Bud Shank. No dates provided. Brown died in 2005, with his last album in 1998. Shank is 80 now, still active, with a good live record last year joined by Phil Woods. Here he makes the best case I've heard in years for letting it snow. B-

Bruno Hubert Trio/B3 Kings: A Cellar Live Christmas (2005 [2006], Cellar Live): Hubert plays piano. The B3 Kings have Cory Weeds on alto sax, Bill Coon on guitar, Chris Gestrin on the famous organ, and Denzal Sinclaire on drums. My impression is that the two groups alternate rather than play together, excepting that Sinclaire sings one song with each. There's some good news here. One is that they're serious enough about jazz that sometimes they deconstruct these songs until you forget what they're playing. Another is Coon's guitar, although the others, notably Hubert, strike me favorably. Still useless. B-

The Frankenstein Concort: Classical-A-Go-Go (2006, Sfz): Subtitled "invigorating musical novelties for woodwinds, piano, and percussion." Featuring Erik Lindgren, the piano player, who is best known from one of the first landmark experimental rock groups, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Don't really know what to make of this one, which seems neither classical not go-go, but rather something that works within a closed system of humor I'm not really privy to. Includes pieces from usual suspects Erik Satie and Raymond Scott, a gloss on Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," and originals, including one close to "Tomorrow Never Comes." Not without interesting bits, but too clever by some factor beyond my powers of calculation. B

Jacques Loussier Trio: Bach: The Brandenburgs (2006, Telarc): I have him rather stuffily filed under classical, since that's what a quick glance at discography, at least since 1987's Reflections on Bach, reads like. Bach represents about half the list, but I also note Handel, Mozart, Chopin, Satie, and Ravel. But there's nothing stuffy about this record. I don't know the classical readings, so it's hard for me to tell where the texts end and the jazz begins, but surely the walking bass wasn't in the original. B+(*)

Expolorations: Classic Picante Regrooved, Vol. 1 (2006, Concord Picante): Better than the usual back catalog remix project, probably because most of the originals are so awash in beats they hardly need remixing. Surprising because Picante had turned into something of a retirement home for salseros, so maybe we should hand it to the A-list remixers, who evidently know how to juice up the clave. B+(**)

Mort Weiss: The B3 and M3 (2003 [2006], SMS Jazz): Not sure what SMS stands for, but the website motto is "Straight Ahead," and that's clear enough. (OK, Sheet Music Shoppe, a music store Weiss owns.) Weiss played a little sax in his youth, giving it up when he turned 30, and picking up the clarinet again when he turned 65. He plays bright, bouncy swing, working here with an organ-guitar-drums trio on two Charlie Parker warhorses and a set of old standards. The booklet details a series of legal hassles with Concord over how the organ player's name and image can be used to promote the record, but only when you hear the record do you realize why Concord was so pissed: it's not as if their boy ever turned anything in to them this downright infectious. [B+(***)]

David Smith Quintet: Circumstance (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Young Canadian trumpet player, currently NYC-based, in a quintet with saxophonist Seamus Blake, guitarist Nate Radley, bass, and drums. Wrote all the material except for Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes." Straightforward: the rhythm section has a little swing to it, the two-horn stuff meshes nicely, I like his tone and lyricism, and the guitarist gets in a couple of nice solos. [B+(***)]

Hat: Hi Ha (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): One thing I'm sure of is that sooner or later Sergi Sirvent will wind up producing an A-list album. This piano quartet with Jordi Matas on guitar may be the one. Right now my main reservation is his vocal on the closer, "Everyday Is a New Beginning." He's not much of a singer, although he tries to make up for it in passion. Reminds me a bit of Annette Peacock, but not as skillful. But his command of the piano continues to advance, and I have no complaints about the Fender Rhodes he credits first either. His compositions offer interesting ideas, and he's moved to the point where it's hard to pigeonhole him. He has his own sound, he's prolific, and he's on a role. It's just a matter of time before he gets some recognition. [A-]

Oscar Peñas Group: The Return of Astronautus (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Don't know much about Peñas, and never heard of anyone in his group except perhaps -- rings a bell, anyway -- keyboardist José A. Medina. Barcelona group, Peñas plays guitar. Evidently Javier Vercher played sax in an earlier edition of the group, but the current saxophonist goes by the name Guim G. Balasch. The other band members are D-Beat Gonzalez on bass and Mariano Steimberg on drums. Peñas has a thick, metallic tone, which melts into the fender rhodes and electric bass. Postbop, more or less. The ballads are lovely. The faster pieces don't make much of an impression. B

Michael Blanco: In the Morning (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist, born and raised in San Diego, studied at North Texas (evidently a strong jazz program), moved on to New York. He puts his compositions forth on a broad pallette with five or six pieces, and he's managed to draw on first rate players all around: Rich Perry on tenor sax, Alan Ferber trombone Aaron Goldberg piano, Bill Campbell drums, plus two cuts with Rob Wilkerson alto sax. Perry sounds terrific, and of course I love Ferber's solo. But my favorite moment turns out to be the bass lead on the closer. Educated postbop, impressively executed. B+(**)

Bruce Arkin Quartet: Wake Up! (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Arkin plays tenor and soprano sax. Don't know anything more about him. Record was recorded in Barcelona with Albert Bover on piano, Chris Higgins bass, Jorge Rossy drums. Mostly indifferent postbop, but he does pick up some steam on a "bittersweet love song" called "All I Wanted Was You (Bitch)," so maybe he just needs to be slapped around a bit. A meditation on Tookie Williams, executed in California recently, is also worthwhile. B

Queen Mab Trio: Thin Air (2005 [2006], Wig): Two Canadians, clarinettist Lori Freedman and pianist Marilyn Lerner, started recording as Queen Mab a decade or so ago. I haven't heard anything they've done before, either together or in side projects, which include classical and klezmer as well as free jazz improv. This is their second trio album with cellist Ig Henneman, who is right in the thick of things. It's difficult going, and I'm not sure just what I think of it, but on second play the discordant piano gets my attention. [B+(*)]

Duo Baars-Henneman: Stof (2006, Wig): Like most avant improv duos, this is slow, thin, and demanding. Ab Baars plays tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi, noh-kan -- the last two are Japanese bamboo flutes. Ig Henneman plays viola. It's tough for me to concentrate closely enough, but there are enough spots of interest to keep it in play. [B]

Peter Brötzmann Group: Alarm (1981 [2006], Atavistic): Don't know whether I'm just getting used to Brötzmann or whether this actually stands out. This is a 40-minute radio shot from a group with three saxophones, trumpet, two trombones, piano, bass and drums. The brass is there mostly to roar and blare on the siren-like alarm motif -- something about reactions to a nuclear emergency. It's simplistic, but at least it's something you can hang onto while the saxophones -- Frank Wright and Willem Breuker join Brötzmann -- get all exercised. After the two-part title piece, we get 3:38 of a Frank Wright piece, complete with vocal -- uncredited but presumably Wright, since a) it's in English and b) he did that sort of thing. But the real star in the early going is pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, who bounds over everything the horns throw at him. The South African rhythm section of Harry Miller and Louis Moholo also impress. Beware that the concert got caught short by a bomb threat. [B+(***)]

Peter Brötzmann/Albert Mangelsdorff/Günter Sommer: Pica Pica (1982 [2006], Atavistic): A meeting of two major figures of the German avant-garde -- almost two generations, as trombonist Mangelsdorff was 13 years older than saxophonist Brötzmann. Sommer plays drums and "horns," whatever that is, and is basically a substitute for Han Bennink -- an inferior one, if you accept the authority of the Penguin Guide (first edition, back when the LP was available). I find the encounter generally gratifying all around. B+(*)

Christoph Gallio/Urs Voerkel/Peter K Frey: Tiegel (1981 [2006], Atavistic): Soprano sax, piano, bass, respectively, although there are bits of drums (Voerkel) and trombone (Frey). Recorded in Zurich. Seems to be a previously unreleased work tape, with thirteen compositions each called "Improvisation" followed by a number. Gallio went on to form a group named Day & Taxi, where he has a substantial body of work I'm unfamiliar with. AMG only lists one album for Voerkel, but a web search reveals a half dozen or so. Voerkel and Frey reportedly lived in a house with Irène Schweizer and other luminaries -- Mal Waldron was another on the list. The music is delicate, articulate, sharply drawn, with each member contributing memorable moments. B+(**)

Odom's Six Brutal Truths

General William Odom has a piece where he asserts Six brutal truths about Iraq. He has basically been right about the war from before the start, and he is basically right here, but not exactly.

Truth No. 1: No "deal" of any kind can be made among the warring parties in Iraq that will bring stability and order, even temporarily.

This should be qualified: as long as the US has troops in Iraq and/or is arming any segment of Iraq. There are two reasons for this. One is that US interests, which whether we specify them or not is ultimately why we are in Iraq, are inimical to some, many, most, or maybe even all Iraqis; therefore US support for any party in Iraq will be resisted by other parties, and will taint the supported party. The second is that the promise of US backing will embolden any favored party, thereby making it less likely to settle on equitable terms.

Whether a deal is still impossible in the absence of US or other foreign interference remains to be seen. But if all or most parties in Iraq are effectively stalemated, a deal is the only way out to attain what are most likely common goals, such as encouraging trade and economic development.

Truth No. 2: There was no way to have "done it right" in Iraq so that U.S. war aims could have been achieved.

True, especially given the war aims that Bush evidently had, even though they were rarely if ever articulated. US aims in Iraq started from a severe trust and credibility deficit -- the Crusades, British colonialism, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, US support for Israel, the checkered history of US and allied involvement in the Iraq-Iran War, the Gulf War, the sanctions regime, the tendency of US foreign policy to support business interests in the region, etc. The US had other problems as well: the US military had the wrong skill set for what was ultimately a political mission, the Bush administration was hopelessly ideologically inept and corrupt, and the entire war was built on a stack of falsehoods and self-delusions.

Truth No. 3: The theory that "we broke it and therefore we own it," with all the moral baggage it implies, is simply untrue because it is not within U.S. power to "fix it."

True. If you do insist on responsibility, there are ways that the US can make amends; e.g., through financing international efforts that Iraqis can direct as they see fit. But the US has little, if any, experience providing aid without self-interested strings.

Truth No. 4: The demand that the administration engage Iran and Syria directly, asking them to help stabilize Iraq, is patently naïve or cynically irresponsible until American forces begin withdrawing -- and rapidly -- so that there is no ambiguity about their complete and total departure.

This is somewhat backward. Neither Syria nor Iran can stabilize Iraq, any more than the US can. What they can do is destabilize Iraq, as can other regional powers, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. To some small extent each of these countries has already done so, but far less so than the US and its allies have. However, if/when the US exits Iraq, it becomes important that other nations stay out, lest they prolong the internal struggles. That is precisely what should be negotiated, although it's not the limit of what should be negotiated. The nations in and involved with the region have long lists of issues that should be reconciled, specifically because satisfaction on those issues would reduce the temptation to gain some benefit from Iraq.

Truth No. 5: The United States cannot prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Probably true, especially if "prevent" is limited to punitive measures, ranging from sanctions to tactical bombing. More extreme measures, like a ground invasion or nuclear holocaust, would come with heavy costs, especially to what's left of America's moral credibility. On the other hand, the US could work toward removing Iran's motivations to produce nuclear weapons: by giving up our own hostile anti-Iranian stance, by working to settle the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, by launching a new effort to extend the NPT to include non-signatories (Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea) and work toward mutual disarmament.

Truth No. 6: It is simply not possible to prevent more tragic Iraqi deaths in Iraq.

That is, it is not possible for the US to prevent more deaths. This is partly because the US mission of killing "bad guys" directly causes such deaths. Also because US forces use extensive firepower for their own force protection. Also because the US concern with force protection keeps them away from most inter-Iraqi violence. Also because, frankly, they don't much give a damn.

We've been told repeatedly for over a year now that if the US leaves Iraq will descend into civil war. During this entire period Iraq has in fact steadily slipped deeper and deeper into sectarian violence. The US has not prevented this, nor is there any evidence that the US has slowed it down. It is quite possible that the US has, inadvertently or even deliberately, actually promoted the civil war its apologists see just over the horizon. My own view is that the US finds civil war preferable to having Sunnis and Shiites unite against the Americans -- as they were coming close to doing in May 2004. On the other hand, the time that the US has bought in playing each group off against the other has only led to more chaos, more instability, more revenge. Having descended this far, this won't end overnight when the US leaves, but the US clearly has nothing to offer to stop it. Certainly, US soldiers are not going to put their bodies in the way. So the only thing they can do to lessen the conflict is to get out. And, as we've been saying for a long time now, the sooner the better.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Surge

The agitation for a "surge" of an additional 40,000 US troops in Iraq strikes me as a rhetorical ploy, designed to set up a scapegoat argument for Bush's failure in Iraq. After all, the only way to prove that it isn't the answer is to try it and watch it fail. You can't really argue with these people, because they insist on a system of logic that is disconnected from what we've actually seen happen in Iraq. The US has bumped up troop levels several times in Iraq, with no positive effect. The US has also concentrated troops in Baghdad, which is at least a local equivalent of increasing the troop level, and it has only made the situation worse. Juan Cole explains:

Another 40,000 are just going to anger locals. And, apparently, they would be sicced on the Shiite Mahdi Army in hopes of permanently crippling the Sadr Movement headed (in part) by Muqtada al-Sadr. And maybe they'd be used in a new offensive against the Sunni Arab guerrillas.

Let me explain why it won't work. It won't work because Iraqis are now politically and socially mobilized. This means that they have the social preconditions for effective political and paramilitary action (they are largely urban, literate, connected by media, etc.) And they are politically savvy and well-connected. They are well armed, gaining in military experience, and well financed through petroleum and antiquities smuggling and through cash infusions from supporters abroad. The Mahdi Army fighters can be defeated by the US military, as happened twice in 2004. But they cannot be made to disappear, as they were not in 2004. That is because they are an organic movement springing from the Shiite poor, and are the paramilitary arm of a large social movement with a national network and ideology.

The US has basically fought for time in Iraq by playing the various groups off against each other. The latest example was Bush's meeting with SCIRI's Hakim to try to form a wedge against Sadr, or maybe even Maliki. But the net effect of all these machinations is not only civil war. It's driving the least connected, most desperate Iraqis into the most radical groups. Sunni Iraq is totally lost. The only thing holding Shia Iraq in check is an ambivalence over whether the US is more useful to fight against the Sunnis or more of a liability. But it seems only a matter of time before the Shiites flip and turn on the US, as they almost did in spring 2004.

So why does anyone believe this "surge" nonsense? It's a way of blaming our failure on our weakness -- on not being able to muster enough troops and enough resolve to get the job done. McCain appears to be gambling his entire presidential campaign on that argument. It's an argument that is logical only if you're trapped inside an illusion that: a) force compells people to behave according to your will, and b) that the US possesses sufficient effective force to make this happen in Iraq. Those ideas remain seductive politically even as they appear increasingly deranged in the real world. But Americans seems to have multiple layers of delusion here. You can argue that the Baker-Hamilton group recognizes the limits of the McCain argument, even if they're willing to indulge him a bit, but they're still trapped within their own misconceptions. We still have yet to honestly ask ourselves just what do we really want to accomplish in Iraq? And why? What business do we have going over there, wrecking the place, killing so many people? What benefit do we actually get from running this absurd form of imperialism?

Friday, December 15, 2006

F5 Record Report (#20: December 14, 2006)

Time to announce another of my weekly F5 Record Reports, but it's not yet posted on F5's website. The usual link should eventually work. Meanwhile, see my archive copy. The lineup:

  • The Baldwin Brothers: Return of the Golden Rhodes (TVT) B [electronica]
  • Buddy Guy: Can't Quit the Blues (1957-2005, Silvertone/Legacy, 3CD+DVD) A- [blues]
  • Scott Hamilton: Nocturnes & Serenades (Concord) A- [jazz]
  • Chris Knight: Enough Rope (Drifter's Church) A- [country]
  • Diana Krall: From This Moment On (Verve) A- [jazz]
  • Jay McShann: Hootie Blues (Stony Plain) B+ [jazz]
  • RockDownBaby: Love & Sex & Rock & Roll (Life Force) B+ [rock]

The Jay McShann is an obit of sorts. Hamilton and Krall were picked up while checking contenders for my year-end ballot. Krall made it as best vocal jazz album. Hamilton's is just another good one. So aside from Guy, this one is all new stuff. Turned another column in today. This week has been a real rough one, so next week's one will feature previously rated, although not necessarily, reviewed material. Still haven't gotten in year-end gear, although I did turn in a year-end top ten jazz piece to the Voice, based on what I know now. Did get an invite to the Jackin' Pop poll, but the ballot there is due Monday, which strikes me as too soon -- especially given my state of preparation. Pazz & Jop is open till the end of the year, which seems only fair if you're going to do a year-end poll.


Letter to publicists:

This week's F5 Record Report presumably has a record of interest to
you. F5 is a weekly entertainment tabloid distributed free here in
Wichita KS. I cover 6-8 records per week, sometimes recycling from
other columns. The following URL will get you the latest column,
and the "next article" links will cycle you back in time.

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

For more info, see:

  http://tomhull.com/ocston/music.php
  http://tomhull.com/ocston/arch/f5/

The index by label:

  Concord: Scott Hamilton
  Drifter's Church: Chris Knight
  Life Force: RockDownBaby
  Sony/BMG (Legacy): Buddy Guy
  Stony Plain: Jay McShann
  TVT: The Baldwin Brothers
  Universal (Verve): Diana Krall

Thanks for your interest and support.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Quotations From Uncle James

Here's a letter published in the Wichita Eagle today under the title "No rules in war":

We lost the Vietnam War because our military was given strict orders: Do not kill civilians. Well, the Viet Cong took advantage of this rule.

I am sure that same rule is true in Iraq. The terrorists take advantage of it. We would still be fighting World War II under those rules.

Civilians get killed in war, especially when they get in the way or support the enemy. This rule is what allows the evil ones to come to power and make war. Consider the Cold War: The Soviet people knew that civilians would not be spared. So the war never happened.

I only quote this because the guy who wrote this nonsense is my uncle, James A. Hull. He was a career NCO in the Air Force -- i.e., an aircraft mechanic. He did various tours abroad, including one in Vietnam. He never got off his airbase there, and the airbase only took mortar fire once during his year. So he has a somewhat different experience of Vietnam than other people I've known -- some of whom died there.

The argument that the US lost in Vietnam because we shied away from killing civilians is grossly wrong on two accounts. One is that we did in fact kill large numbers of civilians. Some of this was deliberate and at short range, as in My Lai. Most was done at a distance by the aircraft my uncle worked to keep flying. We could have killed more, and I suppose you could argue that if only we had killed them all we would have won, but won what? The second is that the alleged reason for the war was to protect the citizens of South Vietnam. The logical implication of that is that every time we killed a civilian, we failed in our goal to protect those civilians. Unless you want to argue for some sort of better-dead-than-red euthanasia, that produces a conundrum: what does it mean if we can't win the war except by killing civilians, when killing civilians means losing the war? The simple answer is that the war wasn't the right solution for the problem.

Iraq is no different, at least in this regard. We cannot at all honestly claim to be protecting Iraqis when we kill so many of them. Of course, the most likely explanation is that claims of interest in helping those civilians were completely bogus: that we were only interested in killing or defeating real or imagined enemies, and that whatever happened to anyone else along the way was of little concern to us. When you read books like Cobra II or Fiasco which interview a lot of military figures, a few of them talk about counterinsurgency strategies, but all of them share a simple goal: to kill those they think of as the bad guys. No one stops to think about why we can't get along with those bad guys. Once you define a situation as a war against bad guys, you elicit this kneejerk kill-kill-kill reaction, especially from guys like Uncle James, who spent most of his life enabling slaughter without ever seeing blood spilled.

The last paragraph at first makes no sense, but here's what it means: the Soviets never engaged the US in war, not just because they recognized that to do so would result in senseless slaughter of their civilians, but because we never forced them into so tight a corner where they had no choice but to fight. The Vietnamese and the Iraqis, however, did choose to fight the US, but not because they have no more respect for their civilians. They fought because we invaded their countries and tried to run them for purposes they found offensive and intolerable. In other words, we forced them into a corner where they had to fight or surrender, so they fought. Some of them, anyhow; as it turns out, at great cost to many more. But the real, unasked question here is why did we do that? That's one I don't know the answer to, but part of it is probably that the Americans who started these wars have as casual a view of war as Uncle James has.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Jazz Consumer Guide #11

The Village Voice has published my Jazz Consumer Guide this week. Hard copy should be at the usual places. The web page is here. This is the 11th edition. The 10th appeared on August 29, so this is a couple of weeks late compared to its usual three month average. This is the first column to have appeared since the Voice fired my editor there, Robert Christgau. Also the first Consumer Guide they've run since Christgau departed. Don't know what the future holds, but thus far the Voice has managed to keep their jazz coverage, at least, up to previous standards. The other piece of this, of course, is Francis Davis's monthly columns, which next time out will expand to include a poll of 40-some NYC-oriented jazz critics.

As usual, I wrote more than would fit on the page. The cuts will be held back for next time. Close readers can figure them out, but I'll save you the trouble, as they deserved to make it:

  • Ignacio Berroa: Codes (Blue Note) A-
  • Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 1 (Domino) A-
  • Frank Hewitt: Fresh From the Cooler (Smalls) A-
  • Andrew Hill: Pax (1965, Blue Note) A-
  • Maurice Hines: To Nat "King" Cole With Love (Arbors) A-

Further cuts from the Honorable Mention list:

  • Billy Stein Trio: Hybrids (Barking Hoop)
  • Sathima Bea Benjamin: Song Spirit (1963-2002, Ekapa)
  • Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet: Way Out East (Songlines)
  • Frank Morgan: Reflections (High Note)
  • Dennis González Boston Project: No Photograph Available (Clean Feed)
  • Sonny Simmons: I'll See You When You Get There (Jazzaway)

There's no simple explanation why some things get held back and others go through. Once a record has been cut, I tend to bump its priority up next time, so eventually it gets through. I try to get older things out first, and try to hold related things together. But I also don't have complete control: Hill was a last-minute cut, picked by the editor over Rollins, possibly only because it was longer. Some of these records I've written about elsewhere -- especially in my F5 column.

The same cut process would continue if we bumped the schedule up to every other month, which I've long argued for, but at least then more records would get through, and there'd be fewer delays.

Some statistics: This column included 32 albums. which is about average (31 last time). During this cycle, I wrote prospecting notes on 255 albums. I also had 74 records on my carryover list, so those 32 albums were selected from 329. Those are, well, stiff odds. The real odds of an incoming record showing up sooner or later are somewhat better than that, but probably not double. (Last year I got 450 jazz albums and reviewed 120. Haven't figured out whether the incoming is up this year, but it looks like it is.)

I've done a substantial purge of these albums as I start the next round, cutting the carryover list to 83. The total number of records under consideration right now are: 12 in the backlog print list, 84 in the done (rated) list, 91 in the pending list (30 of which have gone through initial prospecting).

Again, one thing that all these numbers clearly argue for is that more frequent publication would be a good thing. The only shortage I'm finding is in the duds category, which may just mean that I'm not being mean enough. I will note that the first reader comment added to the post objected to listing Geri Allen's latest as a dud. I also got some polite flack from the publicist over that. The question as to why is fair. The answer is in the prospecting notes. Allen's The Life of a Song (Telarc) got an A-. She's enough of a talent that folks should be warned when she releases a bare B- record. (Savage and Walden have no such track record, but at least they ask to be taken seriously.) The no-comment duds format is something Christgau decided on. I've just been following it. It could be changed. It's not like I can't think of words to describe records I don't like.


As the statistics above suggest, there is a lot of paperwork involved in keeping track of all these records. Since I work in a file system that periodically gets uploaded to the website, it's all pretty transparent if you're nosy enough to dig up the files. At the end of each cycle, I leave behind two files. One, linked to above, is the prospecting file. The other is the surplus file. The latter contains two alphabetized lists of albums I've dropped from active consideration sometime during the cycle -- one a list of records I've reviewed in Recycled Goods; the other a list of records I've done jazz prospecting notes on and have nothing further to add. The other section of the file covers records that I'm dropping, but where I have something further to say: maybe an explanation of why it got dropped, maybe a short review, maybe just an extra comment. The main reason I drop a record is that I realize that the numbers game will never let it slip in. There are lots of reasons for this, including the dumbest one of all: that I just never came up with anything to say about the record. I usually skip past records that Francis Davis reviews, especially where I agree with him. I usually skip things I've reviewed in Recycled Goods. I tend to drop records that have been on my shelves a while, especially when artists release later records.

Anyhow, the following are my parting shots for this round. Many of these would have made good Honorable Mentions. A few might have made passable duds.


Arild Andersen Group: Electra (2002-03 [2005], ECM): Awfully arty, with its Greek mythology, choral voices, and clichéd synth effects like wind and thunder, but interesting as a groove record, with Andersen's Masqualero bandmate Nils Petter Molvaer helping out on the programming. Arve Henriksen's trumpet sounds hollow, but contrasts with the dense, often hypnotic undertow. An interesting record I couldn't quite get behind. B+(**)

Michael Blake: Blake Tartare (2002 [2005], Stunt): The better of two good albums -- the other one is Right Before Your Very Ears (Clean Feed) -- by the Lounge Lizards saxophonist. I've been sitting on both with very little to say about either -- my notes say "good stuff" but that hardly makes for a review. B+(***)

Theo Bleckmann/Fumio Yasuda: Las Vegas Rhapsody: The Night They Invented Champagne (2005 [2006], Winter & Winter): I always start by resisting Bleckmann's voice -- so sweet you feel faint -- but sometimes, frequently here, he wins me over. The show biz tunes and extravagant orchestrations sweep you away, but when I drift back down to earth, I recall that only foreigners can mistake Las Vegas for America, and can do so because they're being overly generous. Francis Davis wrote about this. B+(***)

Neal Caine: Backstabber's Ball (2005, Smalls): A bassist's album, with two saxes tucked behind the leader more often than not, and drums to finish. A good record that I simply lost track of. B+(***)

François Carrier: Travelling Lights (2003 [2004], Justin Time): Got this as background to the newer Happening, so that's where it remains. Carrier is an alto saxophonist from Quebec who plays a lively and exceptionally coherent freebop. Here he works in a quartet with his long-time drummer Michel Lambert and two eminences grises -- pianist Paul Bley and bassist Gary Peacock. Both make significant contributions, while Carrier and Lambert have never failed to impress me. B+(***)

George Colligan Trio: Past-Present-Future (2003 [2005], Criss Cross): A traditional piano trio -- mostly standards, mostly upbeat, quite a bit of fun, not least because of its sheer physicality -- but a record that got lost in the traffic jam, including his more immediately accessible work with electronic keyboards. His Mad Science record, Realization (Sirocco Jazz) was an Honorable Mention. This could, and probably should, have been as well. B+(***)

The Fonda/Stevens Group: Forever Real (2005, 482 Music): Joe Fonda plays bass; Michael Jefry Stevens piano. They're the ones in charge, but Herb Robertson's trumpet, free associating over mostly tethered rhythms, is what gets you paying attention. One of those minor pleasures that unaccountably got lost on my shelves. B+(***)

Billy Hart: Quartet (2005 [2006], High Note): The veteran drummer is versatile enough to play with his young stars -- Mark Turner on tenor sax, Ethan Iverson on piano, Ben Street on bass -- and writes enough to be more than an honorary leader. The young stars, in turn, advance their postbop art, albeit rather anonymously. Francis Davis, covering this in the Voice, was suitably impressed. I never could make up my mind whether this is an excellent formal exercise or just a very competent sideline. Either way I'm impressed, but not all moved. B+(***)

Steve Heckman Quartet: Live at Yoshi's (2001 [2005], World City): Another record that's sat too long in my queue without eliciting a review. Saxophonist, unabashed Coltrane admirer, in a quartet with a good pianist named Matt Clark. Nothing exceptional about the record, other than that it's very good. B+(***)

Jason Kao Hwang: Edge (2005 [2006], Asian Improv): A violinist I like a lot, especially when he draws on his Chinese heritage to distinguish his tone and rhythm. This is less oriental than Graphic Evidence (Asian Improv), and less avant than the Gift's live record, both of which I've rated Honorable Mentions -- but not a lot less. B+(**)

Keith Jarrett: The Carnegie Hall Concert (2005 [2006], ECM, 2CD): Given that this fails only in the context of his own catalogue, and annoys primarily in receiving applause deserved not by the performance here but by his longer history, I figure it would be overkill to complain more than I have and knock this as a dud. But my editors like to see more duds, so I've been holding this one in reserve. B

Liquid Soul: One-Two Punch (2006, Telarc): It seems to be structurally impossible for an acid jazz band to make my cut for Honorable Mentions, even though anyone who goes out of their way to hire Hugh Ragin is certainly doing something honorable. This is terror saxophonist Mars Williams slumming with keyb-whiz Van Christie, and is probably their best album thus far, in case you're interested. B+(**)

Michy Mano: The Cool Side of the Pillow (2003 [2006], Enja/Justin Time): Passed over mostly because the jazz content is minimal -- I reviewed it as "world" in Recycled Goods -- but it's a jazz label, Bugge Wesseltoft provides beats and keybs, and Bendikt Hofseth plays tenor sax. Mano is a Moroccan DJ based in Norway, rapping and chanting to an appealing gnawa-techno fusion. B+(***)

Paal Nilssen-Love: Townorchestrahouse (2005, Clean Feed): Three long improv pieces. The drummer gets top billing, and that's not undeserved -- he's spectacular. But normatively you'd file this under Evan Parker, who remains a puzzle and a project for me. B+(***)

Bobo Stenson/Anders Jormin/Paul Motian: Goodbye (2004 [2005], ECM): One of those good piano trios I like but never have enough to say about. All concerned tend to be retiring and ever so discreet, so you have to snuggle up to the speakers more than usual to discern its charms. ECM also sent me Stenson's 2000 2-CD Serenity, which is superb. Stenson's name also appears first on my favorite Jan Garbarek album, Witchi-Tai-To. B+(**)

Thomas Strønen: Parish (2005 [2006], ECM): A good record firmly implanted in ECM's nordic aesthetic -- the drummer's quartet includes Bobo Stenson, Fredrik Ljungkvist, and Mats Eilertsen. Elsewhere Strønen pushes boundaries, but here he just shows how well-rounded he is. I dusted this off with a side-comment to the Pohlitz review. B+(**)

Stephen Stubbs: Teatro Lirico (2004 [2006], ECM): Classical music, sonatas and dances from 17th century Italy and Slovakia. Not my thing, but my wife loves it, and I have to admit that it's remarkably lovely. B+(***)

Jabbo Ware/The Me We & Them Orchestra + Strings & Horns: Vignettes in the Spirit of Ellington (2001 [2005], Y'all of New York): One of the better big band records of recent years, but long lost in my filing system, and finally my memory. My notes argue that the Ellingtonia has a bop edge, but may be more closely allied with Vienna Art Orchestra and Either/Orchestra, but ultimately falls short of being sufficiently memorable. B+(***)

Marcin Wasilesski/Slawomir Kurkiewicz/Michal Miskiewicz: Trio (2005, ECM): Tomasz Stanko's quartet minus trumpet. They do little to compensate for his absence, but they are a disciplined group and make do. I was surprised to see this show up on Billboard charts when I was working on the smooth jazz piece, but anyone attracted to piano trios should be happy with this purchase. B+(**)

Cassandra Wilson: Thunderbird (2006, Blue Note): Toyed around with making this a featured dud, but in the end couldn't develop much enthusiasm for smashing it. She follows a line of deep, dusky voices that I find much overrated -- Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, although I find the first two, in particular, much more plausible than Wilson. Produced by T Bone Burnett, this one doesn't have much to do with any of the handful or so mostly discrete strains of vocal jazz. All of which make it a pretty uninspiring object for a review. B

Nils Wogram & Simon Nabatov: The Move (2002 [2005], Between the Lines): Trombone-piano duets, some loose and free, some snap to the beat and pick up speed. Most such duos -- especially trombone, but more generally anything with just two instruments excepting drums -- are avant improvs that sound thin, demand close attention, and only occasionally reward it. This is one of the better ones, but it's been on my shelf too long. B+(***)


The following are the notes for Jazz Consumer Guide 11 print albums:

  • Anders Aarum Trio: First Communion (2005 [2006], Jazzaway): I'm convinced that this Norwegian is a terrific pianist, but I can't find the words to say why. Fans of ECM piano should check him out -- he even vocalizes a bit like Keith Jarrett, and that's not the only thing they have in common. At least worth an honorable mention, if not quite a tour de force. Good title: "Let's Put Fun Back in Fundamentalism." Maybe I can use that. B+(***)
  • Geri Allen: Timeless Portraits and Dreams (2006, Telarc, 2CD): Here she moves beyond her initial interest in Mary Lou Williams to something like the court historian of Afro-American musical culture. She pays tribute to Charlie Parker, Billy Holiday, and Louis Armstrong's better half, but the center of gravity falls on gospel, with Carmen Lundy, George Shirley, and the Atlanta Jazz Chorus providing most of the dead weight. This isn't all old or backwards, but seeking respectability traces just one thread in a struggle for freedom and equality that contributed much else to both. She has great skill and learning, considerable pride in her accomplishments. In some ways it's a mark of her success that I find this so thoroughly uninteresting. The thick frosting of sanctimoniousness doesn't help either. B-
  • 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 inspird 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-
  • Mike Boone: Yeah, I Said It . . . (2005 [2006], Dreambox Media): An aural scrapbook, with a touching remembrance of mom and the golden rule; a discourse on swing and the electric bass; stories of Barry Kiener, Ben Vereen, and most importantly Buddy Rich. The music itself is widely scattered, the narration holding it together, like the thread of a life. B+(**)
  • Boxhead Ensemble: Nocturnes (2006, Atavistic): Don't know much about this group, other than that the central figure is guitarist Michael Krassner. The other figure above the "with" is cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Below the "with," as best I can make out given the badly registered pink type on the tan background, is someone on prepared piano and someone else on percussion -- both limited contributions, but plusses nonetheless. Sonic wallpaper -- tasteful, fractally intriguing, barely on the substantial side of ambient. B+(**)
  • François Carrier: Happening (2005 [2006], Leo, 2CD): A French Canadian alto saxist, Carrier first impressed me with a live trio album, Play, which did just that: tight, edgy, robust, exhilarating, but the sort of thing that other people could do if that was all they wanted. That same trio is the core of this album five years later -- Pierre Coté on bass and Michel Lambert on drums -- and they've grown even more telepathic, but Carrier has moved onto a broader sonic canvas by adding two more musicians. Uwe Neumann is a specialist in Indian music, playing sitar, sanza, and Indian talking drum. He is the backbone of these improvisations, the exotic center around which everyone else revolves. Mat Maneri plays viola, which vies with Carrier's saxes -- he plays soprano as well as alto -- as a second lead instrument. The liner notes talk about microtonalities in Indian music -- I don't quite get how that plays out, but recall that Maneri's father has long been noted for his microtonal work. What I am sure of is that the five long improvised happenings here never flag or lose interest. A-
  • François Carrier/Dewey Redman/Michel Donato/Ron Séguin/Michel Lambert: Open Spaces (1999 [2006], Spool/Line): Several years old, presumably pulled off the shelf as a memorial on Redman's death. Otherwise, this is Carrier's trio, working out free improvs on two nights with different bassists -- Donato on the first 20:57 cut, Séguin on the other two (12:54 and 19:27). I don't have the ears to sort out the two saxes, but I like how they pull together, and the overall energy level. Good date for the drummer, too.. B+(***)
  • Avishai Cohen: Continuo (2005 [2006], RazDaz/Sunnyside): Bassist-led piano trio, with Amos Hoffman's oud added on half of the cuts to heighten the Middle Eastern influences. No political statement, but my considerable distance the continuum between Israeli and Lebanese music is more pronounced than its disjunction. The cover depicts a man, back turned to the camera, walking up a barren hill -- reminds me of sunburnt badlands in Wyoming at the end of summer, but could be Israel, or Lebanon, or points east like Syria or Jordan. Without idiots running around with guns it's hard to tell, and pleasing not to care. I do have some reservations about Cohen's fondness for classical music, which show up most prominently on "Arava." But the two electric bass pieces at the end more than make up for it. B+(***)
  • Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar (2005 [2006], Sound Grammar): Nothing for ten years, then he repeats a scam he pulled twenty years ago with Opening the Caravan of Dreams: launching a new label with a live album named for the label, or vice versa. Seems cheap, but when sounding like no one else has been your shtick for fifty years, absence makes his returns sound even fresher, and live heightens the suspense of his inventions. Actually, he's changed little over the years, still pouring out the same sour, shrill, piercing notes. What's new here is his use of two bassists, which keeps the contrast between Greg Cohen plucking and Tony Falanga bowing in the same register. It also doubles the chaos, which is what Ornette thrives on. A
  • Kris Davis: The Slightest Shift (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Canadian pianist, migrated from Vancouver to Toronto to New York. I liked her first record, Lifespan, enough to list it as an Honorable Mention. This one pares the group down from six to four, losing two extra horns while keeping the critical one, Tony Malaby's tenor sax. Malaby is remarkably adept at sliding into groups and complementing but not upstaging the leader. Davis wrote all the pieces, working dense piano breaks into the mix. A good example of the left bank of the postbop mainstream. B+(***)
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Nagoya: Maru (2006, Bakamo): Probably the pick of the four Fujii big bands, even though she only conducts, leaving the orchestra without her explosive piano. But the arrangements gain along the way. The mountains of brass move nimbly, the soloists squawk amiably, and guitarist Yasuhiro Usul gets some well-used space. Much good humor, almost corny in spots. In many ways this is more remarkable than the Junk Box record, which I picked over it -- not least because it was easier to grasp and I settled on it first. If Basie's big band was atomic, this one's thermonuclear. B+(***)
  • The Gift: Live at Sangha: Nov 6, 2004 (2004 [2005], Bmadish). One long piece, no title, just a night of invention at a club in Takoma Park, MD. The group is Roy Campbell (trumpet, flute), William Hooker (drums), and Jason Hwang (violin). Hooker's drumming is central and vital. Campbell is his usual buoyant self on trumpet, and a pleasant surprise on flute -- a bit tentative, perhaps, but his head's in the right place. Hwang is a violinist I've wanted to hear more from, but he seems to fill in more like a bassist here than to take charge like Billy Bang or Leroy Jenkins would do. An interesting night's work. B+(***)
  • Terra Hazelton: Anybody's Baby (2004, Healey O Phonic): Jeff Healey's sometime singer, she has more growl than purr in her voice, which probably suits her more for rockabilly like "Long As I'm Movin'" than the trad jazz her band, with guest spots from Marty Grosz, plays so well. No complaints about the band, but the most touching thing here is the closer, a country-ish thing she sings over nothing but her own strummed guitar. B+(***)
  • Jeff Healey & the Jazz Wizards: It's Tight Like That (2005 [2006], Stony Plain): Now that I've heard Healey's first trad jazz album -- haven't heard his earlier albums, which evidently were blues or blues-rock -- I'm impressed at how much tighter his band has become. In particular, Christopher Plock has a much larger role on clarinet and various saxes, Jesse Barksdale has taken over most of the guitar, and violinist Drew Jurecka is a major addition. Of course, guest Chris Barber looms huge here. He gives Healey a trumpet's best friend: a trombone -- remember that Armstrong never left home without one. He sings three songs, and he keeps everyone sharp -- he's played this kind of music fifty-some years. Recorded live, a terrific show. A-
  • Junk Box: Fragment (2004 [2006], Libra): Satoko Fujii's four new big band albums, like Ken Vandermark's recent pair of two-disc Territory Band sets, are overwhelming: in such big universes, anything can happen, everything does, and fatigue sets in long before one can sort out so many marginal treats. At least with this trio you can keep the players straight. She pounds out thick piano chords, while sidekick Natsuki Tamura's surly trumpet adds tension and growl, and drummer John Hollenbeck referees. This is basic Fujii -- everything else is elaboration. A-
  • Adam Lane Trio: Music Degree Zero (2005 [2006], CIMP): The other half of the two-day sessions that previously yielded Zero Degree Music (CIMP), one of my favorite records this year. Both have bassist Lane writing and arranging for drummer Vijay Anderson and soprano/tenor saxophonist Vinny Golia. This doesn't quite measure up. The first one picked the pieces with the most powerful pulse, in turn propelling Golia to some of the most inspired work of his long career. The leftovers are more complex, more varied, more typical. B+(***)
  • 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-
  • Charles Lloyd: Sangam (2004 [2006], ECM). Which Way Is East was two discs of home recordings of Lloyd and Billy Higgins farting around with world music beats, reeds and flutes. After Higgins died, Lloyd rounded up some pros for a trio with the same aim: tabla master Zakir Hussain and trap drummer Eric Harland. With nothing but rhythm to work against, Lloyd breaks free, and the Coltrane-isms he's earned the right to call his own come home to roost. A-
  • Christian McBride: Live at Tonic (2005 [2006], Ropeadope, 3CD). Three-plus hours of live action is a lot to sit through, but at $18.98 list this is something of a bargain. The breakout yields three cleanly distinct discs. All feature the same funk-fusion quartet, with McBride playing more electric than acoustic bass, Geoffrey Keezer more electric keyboard than piano, Ron Blake honking and Terreon Gully drumming. The first disc is just the quartet, with cuts selected from two sets -- reportedly the best, but really just a baseline. Second disc brings in guests Charlie Hunter, Jason Moran and Jenny Scheinman, stretching out for long and insinuating jams. Third disc has a different set of guests -- DJ Logic (turntables), Scratch (beat box), Eric Krasno (Soulive guitarist), Rahsaan Peterson (trumpet) -- on even longer jams with hip-hop flavor. Excessive, indulgent, lots of chatter and applause. B+(***)
  • Pete McCann: Most Folks (2005 [2006], Omnitone): A guitarist who has a knack of showing up on good albums but not showing off, McCann delivers a lesson on what he can do ("straight-ahead jazz, post-bop, Latin, and creative improvised music") and how he can do it ("gentle nylon acoustic guitar sounds to sinewy and intricate jazz guitar runs to roots-of-grunge Jimi Hendrix-inspired hooting"). Even so, he often yields the spotlight to his band, especially saxophonist John O'Gallagher and pianist Mike Holober -- also sidemen skilled at making their leaders look good. The only nick is that the eclecticism leaves you without a thematic thread or a good sense of where he wants to go -- although that assumption may merely be our problem. B+(***)
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: An American Compilation (2001-06, Thirsty Ear): There are precedents for trumpet over beats: Miles Davis's funk fusion, Jon Hassell's fourth world exotica. More recently: Russell Gunn, Erik Truffaz, and to some extent Dave Douglas, Nicholas Payton, Wallace Roney. I'm not sure when Norwegian trumpeter Molvaer tapped into this vein: certainly by 1996 when he started work on Khmer (ECM), but earlier idea probably appear with his Masqualero group, which dates back the the mid-'80s. Khmer was dominated by synth beats, a relentless chug-a-lug like a toy engine that pulled everything forward. The follow-up, Solid Ether (ECM) was more varied, with a more expansive soundscape. The earlier title suggested an interest in Hassell, but nothing musically connected the work to Southeast Asia, and Molvaer's subsequent work feels more Nordic than ever. After the ECM records, Molvaer's discography gets messy, especially for Americans. A new studio album (np3) and some remixes (Recoloured, Remakes) came out on Universal subsidiaries somewhere in Europe. A live album (Live: Steamer) and another studio album (er) came out on Molvaer's Sula label. The latter two albums will get a US release later this year on Thirsty Ear's Blue Series -- already long on smart jazztronica thanks to Matthew Shipp's avant-DJ convergence. But first, at a matter of introduction, we get this primer. I wish I knew better where these pieces came from -- looks like about half come from np3, although different mixes are always a possibility. It's less immediately striking than the previous studio albums -- more atmospheric, less machine-like -- so it takes a while for the picture to flesh out. Perhaps most striking of all is a closing ballad sung by Sidsel Endresen, "Only These Things Count." A-
  • Paul Motian: On Broadway Vol. 4 (2005 [2006], Winter & Winter): A-
  • Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Ballads (2004 [2006], CAM Jazz): I suppose one could carp, something to the effect of why on earth would anyone need another straight piano trio rendition of "These Foolish Things" -- let alone "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" -- but obviousness isn't a crime, or even a sin when it's done this tastefully. B+(***)
  • Sonny Rollins: Sonny, Please (2005-06 [2006], Doxy): Having played out his contract at Milestone, Rollins is a free agent now, which for jazz legends these days means he's rolling out his own label. He's been selling this on his website for a while, so presumably that's where to go. Press release says it's been licensed to JVC in Japan and Universal in US and Europe, and they'll roll out their "traditional CD release" on Jan. 23, 2007, but will have a digital release on Nov. 21. The album holds no real surprises: the six piece band is more help than he needs but not good enough to compete, although there's nothing wrong with spots of Bobby Broom guitar or swashes of Clifton Anderson trombone; on the other hand, Rollins sounds fabulous, which is all you really need to know. A-
  • The Matt Savage Trio: Quantum Leap (2006, Savage): The leader is a 14-year-old pianist and this is his seventh album, mostly trios with John Funkhouser on bass and Steve Silverstein on drums -- the latter two reportedly "adults." He's got fans and hyperbole -- Dave Brubeck called him "another Mozart" -- and has a deal with Palmetto to distribute this self-released album. He's credited with writing 11 of 15 songs. I sort of like one called "Curacao," and don't mind the rest -- but he doesn't have much of a sound, and the pieces mostly feel like exercises. The covers, on the other hand, are real songs. His "All the Things You Are" is quite nice, but he has trouble with "Monk's Dream," then tries to force his way out and leaves it rather bruised. He's competent enough you can see why people are impressed, but it's impossible to extrapolate what he does at 14 into a career, and even if it was possible you'd still have to compare what he's doing now vs. what everyone else is doing now. C+
  • Shot x Shot (2005 [2006], High Two): Philadelphia quartet, two saxes, bass and drums. Two of the guys, alto saxist Dan Scofield and bassist Matt Engle, also work with Sonic Liberation Front, but nothing Cuban here. I suspect that the effective leader is drummer Dan Capecchi, who wrote the first two pieces and sets the tone throughout. Mostly mid-tempo, with intertwined saxes and a lot of internal tension. B+(***)
  • Marcus Strickland: Quartets: Twi-Life (2005-06 [2006], Strick Muzik, 2CD): Minor bookkeeping change here: I've decided to treat "Quartets" at part of the title, not part of the artist designation. Makes more sense that way, even though the typography suggests otherwise. Two discs, two distinct quartets. Both have Marcus on tenor and soprano sax and his twin E.J. on drums. One has piano and acoustic bass, the other guitar and electric bass. The latter has two advantages: one is that guitarist Lage Lund makes much more of a contribution than pianist Robert Glasper; the other is that the electric bass seems to free up the sax, although Marcus is voluble and pungent on both discs. He's one of the brightest mainstream tenor men I've heard in years, and his brother is equally terrific. Grade tracks the weaker disc, which is in the ground rules, but the stronger one isn't all that far ahead. B+(***)
  • Thomas Strønen: Pohlitz (2006, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian drummer goes solo, jazz cred evidently secured by improvising it all live. The credits suffice as an outline: "beatable items, live electronic treatments, music." Not sure whether the latter is meant as a discreet input or the sum of the parts. Sounds a bit like Harry Partch to me, with chime-type objects but no strings. But he shows his jazz cred by swinging some. Been on the fence over this one for a good while -- it's rather slight, but in the end it's too fascinating to skip over. A-
  • The Vandermark 5: A Discontinuous Line (2005 [2006], Atavistic): The initial effect of Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello replacing Jeb Bishop's trombone is to move the group from tight horn arrangements back into rough and ready free jazz. The other change is that the saxes have moved down a notch -- Dave Rempis to tenor and Ken Vandermark to baritone -- filling the bottom Bishop vacated while kicking up the dirt. The result is a slimmed down, fired up Territory Band, a wild west bar band for bruised brains. A-
  • Ulf Wakenius: Notes From the Heart (2005 [2006], ACT). This rather quiet, unassuming album has developed into one of my favorites. I reached for it first in a very stressful moment and found it blessedly calming. Since then it's been a staple for similar moments, and increasingly I've been noticing its melodic charms. The music originated with Keith Jarrett -- more attractive figures to base improvisations on than fully worked arrangements. I'm not sure that Wakenius does much with them, but the simple charms of his acoustic guitar suffice. Lars Danielsson and Morten Lund complete the trio, with Danielsson playing a bit of piano as well as bass and cello. A-
  • The Chris Walden Big Band: No Bounds (2005 [2006], Origin): I can't help but admire someone who these days can still conceive of big band jazz on such a grossly ludicrous scale. How big are we talking? Well, he's got four French horns to work with. Five cellos. Admittedly, only one harp. I also have to say that singer Tierney Sutton is a plus on her feature -- as long as she sings, everything else just sort of blurs into the ghost of Billy May. In general, the orchestration isn't bad, but it's something to worry about when your best themes come from Walt Disney. Not even Sun Ra could make that work. C+
  • Aaron Weinstein: A Handful of Stars (2005, Arbors). Most of the teenage prodigies who've turned to jazz recently have come out of the euroclassical straightjacket, flashing technique but little sense of jazz. This 19-year-old fiddler looks the part, but in taking Joe Venuti as his muse he's slipped into a surlier crowd. The booklet says he picked the musicians here, and he did right. Joe Ascione's keeps this lively with his light swing touch on drums, plus a little djembe for a change. Even more important is Bucky Pizzarelli in the critical Eddie Lang role -- he hasn't sounded so focused in years, which lets Weinstein off the hook. Cameos by Houston Person and John Pizzarelli don't hurt, even when the latter apes Chet Baker on the only vocal, the sublime "Let's Get Lost." The kid plays fine, too. If, when he grows up, he turns into the new Johnny Frigo, we all should be happy. B+(***)

The following are the notes on the surplus albums from this cycle:

  • Rez Abbasi: Bazaar (2005 [2006], Zoho): Guitarist, born in Karachi, grew up in California, lives in New York, drawing on each, as well as more extensive Indian studies, for his work. I liked his earlier Snake Charmer quite a lot, but find this one hard to sort out. The core is an organ trio, with Gary Versace at the Hammond, but two songs add saxophones, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Marc Mommaas; three feature Kiran Ahluwalia's "Indian vocals"; extra Indian effects, hand drums, tabla, something he calls a sitar-guitar. The organ is grooveful. The horns amplify the groove rather than play against it. The vocals don't do much for me. And I wish the guitar was clearer. Seems like too many ideas, but at least that beats the opposite. B+(*)
  • Susanne Abbuehl: Compass (2003-04 [2006], ECM): Second album by a Swiss-Dutch vocalist, singing slow pieces with minimal accompaniment: mostly piano, with some clarinet for color and occasional bits of percussion. She adds words to two pieces by Chick Corea and Sun Ra. Two more pieces are her arrangements of Lucio Berio "Folk Songs." More pieces add her music to words from James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, and Feng Meng-Lung. And one piece is original start to finish. Quite nice even if only consumed for atmospherics, although there's probably a good deal more to it for those with the patience to ferret it out. 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+(**)
  • Arild Andersen Group: Electra (2002-03 [2005], ECM). Two nicks against this one. One is the extensive use of voices, even if they're mostly used for texture. The other is that the electronics often get used for cliché effects -- wind, thunder, like that, or at least that's what they suggest. That's not to say that they never work out, but they're where the weak spots reside. Aside from these effects, the music, built around programmed drums, percussion, guitar and bass, with Arve Henriksen's hollow-sounding trumpet for window dressing, is dense and powerful, inscrutably dramatized, often hypnotic. Andersen's Masqualero bandmate Nils Petter Molvaer helped out on the programming. B+(**)
  • Art Ensemble of Chicago: Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City: Live at Iridium (2004 [2006], Pi, 2CD): Continuing on after the deaths of Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors. The replacements are trumpeter Corey Wilkes and bassist Jaribu Shahid. They won't be a ghost band as long as Roscoe Mitchell is ticking. He seems more than ever the dominant player here -- the newcomers may have the chops to move in here, but they aren't shaking things up. I never had a very good feel for this group, but this strikes me as about par. B+(*)
  • Available Jelly: Bilbao Song (2004 [2005], Ramboy): This is Michael Moore's label and mostly his compositions, even if he doesn't take full responsibility for the group. Ernst Glerum and Michael Vatcher, bass and drums, are frequent collaborators, but the group is defined more by the horns: two brass, two reeds, in all sorts of fruitful combinations. B+(**)
  • Albert Ayler: The Impulse Story (1965-69 [2006], Impulse): The patron saint of the avant-garde, a fearsome saxophonist invoking the holy ghost. Earlier work on ESP, like Spiritual Unity, is essential. This is for the curious a useful sampler into his last scattered years, including his discoveries of bagpipes and the healing force of the universe. B+(**)
  • Baby Loves Jazz (2006, Verve): This looks like the first installment of a series that has Baby Loves Disco and Baby Loves Hip Hop on its tail, and Baby Loves Reggae somewhere in the pipeline, as well as a book deal with Penguin. I have no idea what the intended audience might think of this -- looks to me like Sex Mob trying to corrupt the youth of tomorrow, and I wish them the best of luck. In addition to Steven Bernstein's crew, we have John Medeski's keyboards, Lonnie Plaxico helping out on bass, and vocals by Sharon Jones and Babi Floyd. The vocals are prominent -- maybe loud is the more apt term. The songs are mostly standards, widely recognized by the age of 10 if not necessarily 3 -- "Old MacDonald" isn't all that jazzable, but "Banana Boat Song" is a treat. Includes a "Lullabye" to chill down after the workout. 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 Tommasso-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+(**)
  • Lucian Ban & Alex Harding: Tuba Project (2005 [2006], CIMP): Never figured out what the purpose of the project was, other than to replace the bass in a piano-two sax quintet and get a chance to employ Bob Stewart. The two saxes are Harding on baritone and J.D. Allen on tenor, so the group keeps to the lower registers. Ban composed all but one of the pieces and plays them with roughly structured block chords. Most tuba moves are meant to be retro, but it's hard to tell here. B+(*)
  • Bang on a Can/Don Byron: A Ballad for Many (2004-06 [2006], Cantaloupe): Effectively, this is Bang on a Can plays Byron, with the clarinettist supervising but only making only a brief cameo. There is still some clarinet, by Evan Ziporyn, but piano and strings are more dominant, and they give the compositions a chunky, clunky feel. "Eugene" was written for a silent Ernie Kovacs piece. "The Red-Tailed Angels" was a soundtrack for a documentary on the Tuskegee Airmen. Both lose their utilitarianism in this chamber music setting. On the other hand, the band sharpens up the angles, giving this an edge that would be obtrustive for a soundtrack. Still, it sounds euroclassical to me, a sort of third stream backwash, where conservatory-trained jazz musicians return to the roost. B
  • Patricia Barber: Mythologies (2006, Blue Note): Most of the song titles I recognize from Greek mythology, not that I know or care much about that. "Whiteworld" has been to fit the series, and remains most striking. Other than "The Hours" at the end, which the chorus runs away with, the music is striking, and the vocals distinctive. Don't know what it means. B+(**)
  • Gato Barbieri: The Impulse Story (1973-75 [2006], Impulse): Argentine tenor saxophonist, emerged in the '60s on ESP and Flying Dutchman, which has some classic examples of his whirling dervish style. This excerpts four albums of Coltrane-ish powerhouse sax over roiling Latin beats. Alt-choice: Latino America (1973-74 [1997], 2CD), his first two chapters. B+(***)
  • Sam Bardfeld: Periodic Trespasses (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Subtitled "The Saul Cycle," with Bardfield's narration slipped into a "Peter and the Wolf" flow. I can't say as I get, let alone care about, the story. The music seems to pursue flow for its own sake, with bass and drums pushing violin and vibes along. So it helps when Ron Horton's trumpet occasionally disrupts the flow, as on "Harry's Mambo" -- a choice cut. B
  • 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
  • Michael Bates' Outside Sources: A Fine Balance (2004 [2006], Between the Lines): Second album by this group -- the first was called Outside Sources and attributed to Michael Bates. But not really the same group -- this one expands from three to four, adding a trumpet to make your basic pianoless avant quartet. Up front are Kevin Turcotte on trumpet and Quinsin Nachoff on reeds. The leader plays bass and composes all the pieces, while Mark Timmermans drums. Lately quite a few groups have been structured like this: the format offers the two horns lots of options, but it also lets the bass run the pulse, which sets everything else up. Perhaps as many as a half dozen of my favorite albums over the last couple of years were set up this way. The difference between them and this one was that they usually featured great musicians, especially in the rhythm section -- William Parker and Hamid Drake, Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway. I don't mean to knock Bates, who is a capable guy doing very interesting work here, but his group hasn't pushed itself to the forefront yet. B+(**)
  • Andy Biskin: Trio Tragico (2005 [2006], Strudelmedia): Biskin's clarinet is paired with Dave Ballou's trumpet, more often in unison than not, which keeps the focus on the tricky compositions. The third member is bassist Drew Gress, who adds depth without having much effect on the general drift. This lack of democracy can get tedious over the long haul, and this does run long. But it's interesting when it's working. B+(*)
  • Jim Black/AlasNoAxis: Dogs of Great Indifference (2005 [2006], Winter & Winter): The pieces here have regular rhythms with more or less fuzz, built up from bass and guitar, around the edges, closer to experimental rock or electronica than to postbop. The louder pieces are industrial grade, but most are quieter. Chris Speed plays tenor sax, providing melodic variation, or just as likely smoothing out the texture. Interesting sonically, especially the lighter pieces, but nothing quite jumps out. B+(**)
  • Michael Blake: Blake Tartare (2002 [2005], Stunt). Starts and ends soft, with guitar groove and searching sax in between, including pieces by Mingus and Sun Ra that punch up the drama in the middle. Nothing spectacular, but a very satisfying arc. B+(***)
  • Michael Blake Trio: Right Before Your Very Ears (2004 [2005], Clean Feed). The ex-Lounge Lizard saxophonist has worked with Ben Allison's Medicine Wheel lately, so here Allison returns the favor, with Jeff Ballard on drums. Starts with a screech, which is soon repeated, but most of the record is well reasoned, tightly wound free jazz, good stuff. B+(**)
  • Theo Bleckmann/Fumio Yasuda: Las Vegas Rhapsody: The Night They Invented Champagne (2005 [2006], Winter & Winter): As Americans we're much too close to Las Vegas to appreciate how strangely, definitively American the place can seem to foreigners. Fumio Yasuda orchestrates these songs not as show business so much as transcendental fantasy, inflating fluff like "Teacher's Pet" and "The Gal in Calico," but also playing "My Favorite Things" as light heartedly as "Chim Chim Cheree." Bleckmann sings, so sweet you feel faint. Bernd Ruf and the Kammerorchester Basel play their parts. B+(***)
  • Willie Bobo: Lost & 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
  • Brazilian Girls: Talk to La Bomb (2006, Verve Forecast): Not sure what this is. When singer Sabina Sciubba breaks into German she reminds me of Kid Creole, but that's on the superficial side -- I'm also reminded of a bull session in my college German Department, when one grad student asked what good a German degree might be, and another replied that he could become a German factory worker. On the other hand, they do get an enjoyably angular beat out of their continent-hip-hopping, and I've always been a sucker for Deutschsprechen, even if my own skills are hopelessly stunted. 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
  • Jim Brickman: Escape (2006, SLG): Pianist, usually filed under New Age for the usual reasons: no swing, no stride, no rock chords, no atonality, no smoke stains or dirt under the fingernails, yet for such static music no intimations of classicism either. Still, I find it hard to fault his piano. He describes his music as "about relaxation, reflection and tranquility," and the tonic is functional, even when he dabs on the string synths. On the other hand, the featured vocals veer into Barry Manilow territory, reminding me that he has no kitsch either. 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+(**)
  • Scott Burns: Passages (2005 [2006], Origin): Young tenor saxophonist, originally from Ohio, now in Chicago. Mainstream, but he can pull some emotion under pressure, and I like his sound. Quartet, with Ron Perrillo helping out on piano. Was tempted to blow this off, but "Eddies in the Stream" made that hard to do. B+(*)
  • Don Byron: Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker (2006, Blue Note): No doubt this is better played than the original. Details like David Gilmore's guitar, George Colligan's organ, and Rodney Holmes' drums are cleanly, sharply articulated. They crank up the funk quotient, at points suggesting James Brown. Byron own role is less clear: he plays tenor sax here -- the exceptions are one cut on clarinet and one on bass clarinet -- without much grit or grime. The vocals are another matter. Neither Dean Bowman nor Chris Thomas King offer much of interest, although they do an adequate job of going through the motions. It's interesting Byron still cares about the motions -- I'd say this is populism more than pop. B+(*)
  • Neal Caine: Backstabber's Ball (2005, Smalls). First, this is the bass player's album -- you can tell because any time you cock an ear you hear the bass clearly running the show. The show consists of two tenor saxes -- one occasionally switching to alto clarinet -- and drums. The sax players aren't out to cut each other. They play quietly, light breezes on top of the bass and drums. B+(***)
  • Ann Hampton Callaway: Blues in the Night (2006, Telarc): In front of Sherrie Maricle's Diva Jazz Orchestra, which happens four times here, she reminds me a bit of Sinatra -- not the voice, of course, but the brassy big band singer, at least until she tries to scat. In front of her usually impresive trio -- Ted Rosenthal on piano, Christian McBride on bass, Lewis Nash on drums -- the limits of her voice become more of a liability. The song selection makes me wonder, too. B-
  • Santi Careta Group: Obertura (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, Spanish (or Catallan) I would assume, although the first website I found anything about him on appears to speak Basque (Euskaraz) as a first language. I've also heard his duo with Sergi Sirvent, but haven't heard the organ trio he plays in, something called Asstrio. The Group here is a guitar-bass-drums trio plus moody tenor sax on four cuts and a singer on one more. The trio is itself rather slight, but Careta's guitar has a nice ring. But the add-ons don't add much, and are somewhat in the way, although I'm not quite sure of what. B
  • François Carrier: Travelling Lights (2003 [2004], Justin Time). The artist sent this along for background along with his new Happening. The quartet includes pianist Paul Bley, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Michel Lambert. Carrier, on alto and soprano sax, is a good deal younger than that group. In these improv pieces, named for continents and geographical concepts like "Sea" and "Island," he plays cautiously, often deferring to Bley and Peacock, who are in exceptional form. I liked Carrier's earlier album Play quite a bit, although it was little more than a thoroughly modern sax trio on the road. This shows more depth -- could rate higher with some more careful listening, but for these purposes it's just background. B+(***)
  • Come On-a My House: The Very Best of Rosemary Clooney (1951-60 [2006], Bluebird/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+(***)
  • Tom Cohen: The Guitar Trio Project (1999-2001 [2006], Dreambox Media): Cohen's a drummer. He's lined up six guitarist and six bassists for trios -- not exactly six trio combinations, but close. One odd thing is that I can't tell much difference between the guitarists, even though I know most of them from elsewhere. Songs are standards, starting with "Caravan" and "Cherokee" -- gets this off to an overly familiar start. Not bad, but I'm having trouble figuring out the point. B
  • Freddy Cole: Because of You: Freddy Cole Sings Tony Bennett (2006, High Note): Nat's little brother, 14 years younger, but seems like another generation 40 years after Nat's death. His voice bears a family resemblance, but is far from a carbon copy. Since it's hard to describe him without reference to Nat, he inevitably gets the short end of the stick. Comparing him to Bennett may or may not help: Tony has a lushness to his voice that Freddy can't match, but Freddy can handle the phrasing well enough. The songs avoid the most obvious ones -- I'm not at all expert on Bennett, so that's all that my lack of recognition reveals. The band, of course, is much better than Bennett's usual backing, with Peter and Kenny Washington on bass and drums and Houston Person on tenor sax. B+(*)
  • George Colligan Trio: Past-Present-Future (2003 [2005], Criss Cross). This piano trio has a lot of kick to it. Mostly standards, mostly upbeat, quite a bit of fun. Wish I had a better handle on explaining it. I'm still more certain that I know a good piano trio when I hear one than that I know how to explain why it is so, except by resorting to crude physical metaphors. But then this is very physical. That fits in with the factoid that when Colligan appeared on pianist Kerry Politzer's record he wound up playing drums. B+(***)
  • Alice Coltrane: The Impulse Story (1968-2000 [2006], Impulse): Née Alice MacLeod, plays piano and harp, married the tenor sax great in 1965, recorded seven albums 1968-73 after her husband's death, then a comeback with son Ravi Coltrane after a long hiatus, developed a major interest in Eastern spirituality that themed her music. Two trio pieces with Rashied Ali -- one on harp, the other on piano -- are most striking here, with her larger groups spacier, and a slab of Stravinsky a little heavy-handed. Don't know her albums, other than the comeback, but this seems like a useful sampler, with subjects for further research. B+(*)
  • John Coltrane: The Impulse Story (1961-67 [2006], Impulse): So influential we might as well call the last forty years the post-Coltrane era, but far less so before he moved to Impulse -- his earlier Atlantics are respected, as are his sessions with Miles and Monk, but a lot of his early work is so-so. This has to cover a lot of ground, some pretty far out, most worth exploring as much greater length. Alt-choices: The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions (1961, 2CD); The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (1961, 4CD); Ballads (1962); Live at Birdland (1963); Crescent (1964); A Love Supreme (1964); Plays (1965); the complete quartet studio recordings are also in the giant The Classic Quartet (1961-68, 8CD). A-
  • Mary Foster Conklin: Blues for Breakfast (2004-05 [2006], Rhombus): Her voice takes a bit to get used to, but gains on you over time. That's not unusual for jazz singers -- if they had ordinary voices, they'd be doing something else. How much she might gain is something I'm unlikely to find out. This strikes me as marginal, especially given that the slow stuff she favors can be turgid, but her "Let's Get Away From It All" is a choice cut. Dedicated to Matt Dennis, who co-wrote the songs. B
  • Joyce Cooling: Revolving Door (2006, Narada Jazz): My editor thinks I'm some kind of expert on smooth jazz just because I've been a good enough sport to listen to what I've been sent. But I get less and less of it, especially when guys like Anthony Braxton score Pick Hits. Also when I review records like this one. Cooling's a so-so guitarist who can handle a mid-tempo blues or maintain a shallow groove. Her voice isn't bad but it's even less capable of redeeming a bad song than her guitar. Typical here is "Cool of the Night," which even with vocal oodles isn't a cheesy enough cliché for disco. Still, this is a big improvement over her last one. B-
  • Elvis Costello Live With the Metropole Orkest: My Flame Burns Blue (2002-04 [2006], Deutsche Grammophon, 2CD): My copy is a large square booklet with two discs on little foam buttons, but it looks like the more pedestrian jewel box version contains all the same music, including the bonus CD "Il Sogno Suite." The live album is bracing, with the Metropoles moving boldly out front both on string and brass fronts, and Costello crooning in the tradition to which he was born. Also helps that he's kept old songbook standbys like "Clubland" and "Watching the Detectives." The bonus suite is classical music in the vein I learned to hate as a child, with no vocals, no song structure, but a smattering of tympani. I have no idea how it compares with its models, nor do I care, but I found it unannoying enough that I didn't feel compelled to cut it short when I played it a second time. That's at least one definition of a B record. B
  • Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint: The River in Reverse (2005 [2006], Verve Forecast): Mostly Toussaint songs, mostly Costello singing -- all things considered, a reasonable division of labor. Starts real strong with "On Your Way Down," which sets us up for a level of message that may or may not be delivered, but certainly doesn't kick in clearly. B
  • Crimetime Orchestra: Life Is a Beautiful Monster (2004 [2005], Jazzaway): Veteran bassist Bjørnar Andresen gets a "featuring" credit here -- he passed away three weeks after this session, but to say he was featured is a misnomer. The group is large -- ten pieces, including three saxes, two brass, guitar, keyboards, both electric and acoustic bass, and drums. The title cut -- in seven parts, most of the album -- is straightforward in its aim to create beauty out of monstrous sound, and in that it mostly succeeds. The group is mostly -- maybe all -- Norwegian, with tenor saxophonist Vidar Johansen first listed and perhaps most important. B+(**)
  • Stephan Crump: Rosetta (2005 [2006], Papillon Sounds): Another low key guitar album -- even more so because the leader plays bass, and nobody plays drums. The guitar is acoustic by Liberty Ellman and/or electric by Jamie Fox. B+(*)
  • 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-
  • Miles Davis: Cool & Collected (1956-84 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): It's possible to spin Miles' legend to include a remarkable string of developments in post-WWII jazz, starting with bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, fusion, and several variations along the way. That those innovations mostly came from others in the end detracts little from what Miles did accomplish: the title word "collected" hints at his unique skill at pulling whatever was happening together and sharpening it under his leadership. Only avant-jazz seems to have escaped his interest -- probably didn't see much scratch in that. Cool wasn't a defining attribute, but assembling a superb compilation of his slow stuff from 1956-65 is a no-brainer, as three-fourths of this one proves. But pushing the Gil Evans angle to 1984 turns the ice to slush, and the remix is even more plastic. B+(*)
  • Deep Blue Organ Trio: Goin' to Town: Live at the Green Mill (2005 [2006], Delmark): Organ-guitar-drums trios were far from mbitious even back in their '60s heyday, so groups like this don't promise much today. Small pleasures, maybe. This one definitely has more than its predecessor, Deep Blue Bruise (2004). Mostly from guitarist Bobby Broom, who holds the lead more often than not. 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
  • 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+(**)
  • Jon De Lucia Group: Face No Face (2005 [2006], Jonji Music): Leader plays alto and soprano sax. Group includes guitar, piano, bass and drums, as well as one guest spot on kato and shamisen. Pieces are longish, except for the Japanese one. Rhythm is loose and ragged, sax postbop, arrangement postmodern. Fresh Sound releases a lot of stuff like this, and I'm familiar with several of the players here from releases there. Not bad, but not much that distinguishes it either. B+(*)
  • Andrey Dergatchev: The Return (2006, ECM): Music for a film by Andrey Zvyagintsev. Don't know when this was recorded, but the film is from 2003 or before. Usual soundtrack ambience, haunting tones, very minimal, with splotches of dialog, words, whatever. One called "Titles-run" is more upbeat, very attractive. B
  • Denis DiBlasio: View From Pikes (2006, Dreambox Media): Leader plays baritone sax. Never heard of him before, but a little digging tells me he played with Maynard Ferguson in the '80s, teaches at Rowan College, and has a handful of his own albums starting in 1998. He has a trio here with piano and bass, takes most of the pieces at a leisurely pace, and lets the instruments enjoy their natural sounds. Plays a little flute too, which is more upbeat. Recorded at Maggie's Farm, with Matt Balitsaris getting an engineer credit. Not much to it, but it's a lovely album. 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
  • 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 becuase 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+(*)
  • 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
  • Vicente Espí Quartet: Tras Coltrane (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Any time a group covers A Love Supreme -- three-fourths of it, anyway -- they're begging for comparison with the original, which is to say they're boxing way out of their weight class. The four earlier tracks are more interesting, in large part because they have more leeway on them. But any way you look at it, the group here is pure tribute. The leader plays drums. Jesús Santandreu gets the starring role. Albert Bover plays McCoy Tyner. Paco Charlín gets the great Jimmy Garrison lines. They had fun, and if it sounds a bit old, it's just because Trane was actually a lot heavier than his postbop followers. They got that right. B+(*)
  • Geoff Farina/Luther Gray/Nate McBride: Out Trios Volume Four (2004 [2006], Atavistic): Electric guitar, drums, acoustic bass, respectively. Not as far out as I figured, but I haven't heard any of Atavistic's Out series. A tight, chunky, rhythmic section is particularly appealing, while the slower, sparser sections are merely suggestive. 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+(*)
  • Fattigfolket: Le Chien et la Fille (2005 [2006], ILK): Four musicians from Norway and Sweden. Recorded in France. Released in Denmark. Trumpet, sax, bass and drums -- gives them two leads, some harmonic options, no chords to tie them down. Mostly mid-tempo or slower, graceful, elegant, but parts kick in above the ECM line. B+(**)
  • Pierre Favre/Yang Jing: Two in One (2005 [2006], Intakt): Primarily the work of Yang Jing, who plays pipa, a four-stringed lute-like instrument. She mastered it as a soloist in the Chinese National Orchestra. Takes a while, but it grows on you. Favre is a Swiss drummer, works mostly in avant-garde circles but his interests are pretty broad. His effect here is much less obvious, but at the very least he deserves credit for making this happen, and probably a good deal more. 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
  • Ken Filiano/Steve Adams: The Other Side of This (2005 [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+(*)
  • The Fonda/Stevens Group: Forever Real (2005, 482 Music). Joe Fonda (bass) and Michael Jefry Stevens (piano) command the group because they wrote the pieces, but Herb Robertson's trumpet is the reason to pay attention here. Robertson gives the group a focal voice, even if much of what he does is just free association over the mostly tethered riddims. Even when Stevens solos he tends to work variations on his comping. Guest Napoleon Maddox contributes a rap to the final track, another way to focus interest. B+(***)
  • Fred Fried: The Wisdom of Notes (2006, Ballet Tree): He plays a nylon 7-string guitar, folowing the model of George Van Eps. Just bass and drums serves him well, delivering an elegant low key guitar album. 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
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Kobe: Kobe Yee!! (2006, Crab Apple): Comparably loud to the Nagoya outfit, especially with Fujii playing piano here, and similar in other respects, but not as consistently interesting or as humorous. I wonder whether the horn blares in the second cut cry out "Batman!" in Japan like they do here -- at least for reviews of a certain age. B+(*)
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Live!! (2006, Libra): I hate to admit this -- it runs counter to my sense of how the world should work, and especially to how I want to do my job -- but the DVD saved the bacon here. It helps to be able to map sounds to the fifteen faces squeezed onto a small-looking stage. The sheer amount of paper on the stands in front of all the musicians and their concentration in following it all speaks volumes about how all this noise is assembled. It also let me note some uncredited flute-like instruments Kunihiro Izumi used for a solo, and seeing often helps clarify bass and drums. But one shouldn't get carried away: the music itself is often on a cusp between interesting and annoying. While focus helps tilt it over the top, I can't get all that excited about music that makes me work so hard. But I did find the DVD take of "Bennie's Waltz" exhilarating, and most of the time I had my head turned the other way. 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+(*)
  • Herb Geller/Rein de Graaff: Delightful Duets 2 (2002 [2005], Blue Jack Jazz). One of the senior statesmen of west coast cool squares off with a fine Dutch pianist. Delightful? Of course. Fairly predictable fare, too: "Lady Be Good," "Melancholy Baby," "Ornithology," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Perdido," "Embraceable You," "Cheryl," "Cherokee." Nothing wrong with that, not to mention nothing earthshaking. B+(**)
  • 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
  • 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+(*)
  • Marcus Goldhaber: The Moment After (2006, Fallen Apple): In effect, a cabaret singer, although it's noteworthy that he learned as a child with his mother playing piano and pitching him songs. He has a light, thin voice that works best on equally light fare -- "Walking My Baby Back Home," "Old Cape Cod." Also helps that mom was a Fats Waller fan. B+(*)
  • 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+(*)
  • Gordon Grdina/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian: Think Like the Waves (2006, Songlines): Motian and Peacock need no further introduction here. Grdina is a young guitarist from Vancouver -- also plays oud in a group called Sangha. Also seems to be involved in other groups: Loose Acoustic, Box Cutter, Maqam. There's a low key, somewhat rough, somewhat abstract feel here -- Peacock is a mentor to Grdina, so they play particularly close, while Motian is all misdirection, as usual. 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 Dørge 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+(**)
  • 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. In fact, nothing here is bad, making this the most consistent album of the series, but what finally lifts it a notch is a guest shot by trumpeter 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-
  • 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+(**)
  • Stefon Harris: African Tarantella (2005 [2006], Blue Note): I've never been much impressed with the highly touted vibraphonist, but these "dances with Duke" at least show conceptual daring. And when Steve Turre uncorks his trombone for some much needed brass, the opening movements from "The New Orleans Suite" come to life. But Turre provides the only whiff of brass here, leaving the suites mired in soft colors -- flute, clarinet, piano, strings, nothing that might compete with the leader's mallets. As long as the composer is named Ellington, this is an interesting twist. But when the composer's name is Harris, the fluff has a harder time standing on its own. B+(*)
  • Billy Hart: Quartet (2005 [2006], High Note): The veteran drummer wrote four of nine songs, versus two for the pianist and one for the saxophonist, so his leadership isn't exactly honorary. But the group's sound flows from Ethan Iverson's piano and Mark Turner's tenor sax, and fits squarely in their generation of postbop. B+(***)
  • Louis Hayes and the Cannonball Legacy Band: Maximum Firepower (2006, Savant): Bright, brassy hard bop, pretty much like the model. Vincent Herring is a fair approximation of Cannonball, and if anything Jeremy Pelt kicks Nat up a notch. Hayes has been there and done that -- he played with the Adderleys in their 1959-65 heyday. He's entitled, but the difference now is that the popular moves back then still had an audience. This may sound the same, but it misses that connection. B+(**)
  • Steve Heckman Quartet: Live at Yoshi's (2001 [2005], World City). An unabashed Coltrane admirer, Heckman is a well-rounded and polished saxophonist. He plays tenor and soprano here, and shows considerable poise on both instruments -- while sitting squarely in the Coltrane tradition, he sounds distinctive and fresh. And he's got a good piano player in Matt Clark. Four of eight songs are originals, and they don't drop off. He's taken his time before recording (b. 1950, no records before 2001), and developed as a very solid player. B+(***)
  • 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+(*)
  • Joe Henderson: Milestone Profiles (1967-75 [2006], Milestone): One of the all-time great tenor sax soloists, Henderson is famed for his early Blue Notes and his big comeback on Verve in the '90s, but he wasn't marking time in between. His Milestone records may have been inconsistent -- haven't checked the 8-CD box, but surely it's de trop -- but he's in top form on this wide-ranging selection. 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
  • Wayne Horvitz: Whispers, Hymns and a Murmur: Music for a String Quartet (2006, Tzadik): Limited info from a CDR -- cf. previous gripes about Tzadik for whys and wherefores. Horvitz has a sideline in classical chamber music, which is what this is, more or less. Not much I can do about it. I learned from an early age to hate the sound of violins, viola and cello. While I can think of exceptions -- Bob Wills, Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith, Billy Bang, John Cale, Charlie Burnham -- it's usually because they play alone rather than in consort. This isn't an exception -- the sound grates on me, but the stately music isn't without its charms. Your mileage is likely to vary. B-
  • Hot Club of Detroit (2006, Mack Avenue): Founded by lead guitarist Evan Perri, this is more explicitly Django-inspired than the other "Hot Club" bands I can think of -- six of thirteen songs were penned by Reinhardt. In addition to Perri, the group has two rhythm guitarists, bass, clarinet and accordion. The guitars sound is intriciate, meticulously precise, but the clarinet and accordion soften the background and add a European, or perhaps specifically Gypsy, folk flavor. But no Grappelli. Wouldn't be a bad idea to invite Aaron Weinstein in for a session. B+(*)
  • The House That Trane Built: The Best of Impulse Records (1961-76 [2006], Impulse): I don't know how to rate something like this, where the choices are so broad and arbitrary one might as well be listening to the radio; nine songs, all also on the 4-CD box, five also on the artist comps, two more on my Other Impulses list (Oliver Nelson, Earl Hines), which leaves nice work by Art Blakey and John Handy -- the latter funktoon is actually a clever finale. Don't have the box, or the book, but just reading the credits suggests that it's somewhat more mainstream than the artist comps. Also looks to be chronological, which won't help the flow of the music even if it does benefit the book. A-
  • 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 Dørge-Ellington and Gruntz-Herman if I could think of one. B-
  • Jason Kao Hwang: Edge (2005 [2006], Asian Improv): Hwang has been around a while -- his CV doesn't give a birth date, but dates back to 1975 at NYU, so I figure he's closing in on 50 -- but he's only emerged as a major jazz violinist in the last few years. Although he was born in the US, he seems to have spent much of his career exploring Chinese classical music. Most of his jazz work incorporates typical Chinese tones and rhythms, but I wonder whether a blindfold test would peg the Chinese influence here. Good quartet here with Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Ken Filiano on bass, and Andrew Drury on drums. His previous Asian Improv record, Graphic Evidence, was more distinctly Asian, while his record with William Hooker and Roy Campbell as the Gift pushed much harder into avant terrain. This is somewhere in between. 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+(**)
  • 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
  • Instinctual Eye: Born in Brooklyn (2005 [2006], Barking Hoop): Free improv from a multilateral trio consisting of Kevin Norton (drums, vibes), Frode Gjerstad (clarinet, alto sax), and Nick Stephens (bass). The two long pieces take some strange curves, breaking up into noise then suddenly cohering into something quite unexpected -- intense details, less clear as to the overall trajectory. The longer first piece has Norton mostly on vibes, a finely tuned percussion kit that contrasts strongly with the clarinet. B+(**)
  • D.D. Jackson: Serenity Song (2006, Justin Time): A good piano trio owing something to Jackson's mentor, the late great Don Pullen. But it doesn't stop there: most cuts add strings and/or soprano sax -- a stereotypical way to set up the serenity theme. I don't much care for the sound of either, which turns this into a bag of mixed blessings. No complaints about the trombone on the Mingus-theme piece. B+(*)
  • Javon Jackson: Now (2006, Palmetto): I slammed him with the featured dud spot last time, and here he bounces back with the exact same God damn album. Mediocre soul vocalist Lisa Fischer repeats. So does Dr. Lonnie and funk bassist Kenny Davis. The new guitarist and drummer make no appreciable difference. Lame funk. Lazy soul. Clearly, that's all he intends to do with his talent. C
  • Paul Jackson: Funk on a Stick (2005, Backdoor): Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock bassist. Funk is its own reward, and pretty much the limits of this album's ambitions. Calls in a few chits, even getting Hancock to guest on one track, and Ernie Watts on another. Sings some, not great, but okay. Tony Adamo isn't much better. Someone named Jorge Guerrero raps on two cuts. Miscellaneous credits include Char, Shakara, and Big Boy -- allusions to folks you may have heard of purely coincidental, I'm sure. B+(*)
  • Keith Jarrett: The Impulse Story (1973-76 [2006], Impulse): The most productive years of Jarrett's career, with eight albums by his American quartet -- Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian -- on Impulse, plus his European quartet and marathon solos on ECM; this sampler should provide a useful distillation given that most of the Impulses are only available on two boxes adding up to nine CDs, but a better one would focus more squarely on the tenor saxophonist, who sounds great when he gets the chance. 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
  • 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+(**)
  • Jazzmob: Infernal Machine (2005 [2006], Jazzaway): The nominal similarity between Jon Klette's Norwegian band and Sex Mob seems to be based on a shared desire to advance jazz popularity by simply juicing it up -- especially as opposed to waterng it down. In flow and dynamics, this sextet sounds like a swing band, but the tone is avant, and fusion is skipped over completely. They do this with two saxes and trumpet, which play together less for harmony than for comradeship -- pretty much the same reason people drink together. Anders Aarum spends most of the record on Rhodes, which qualifies as the avant-sounding successor to the B3. I don't quite buy it all, but it makes for a good time anyway. B+(*)
  • Ingrid Jensen: At Sea (2005 [2006], ArtistShare). Elegant, intricate postbop, smartly constructed, beautifully played, with Geoffrey Keezer's worldy keyboards, a touch of exotic beats on cajon and djembe, some notable guest guitar from Lage Lund, and the leader's sterling trumpet. B+(**)
  • The Roger Kellaway Trio: Heroes (2005 [2006], IPO): No drums, just Bruce Forman on guitar and Don Lutz on bass. If that's not enough to remind you of Oscar Peterson, note that the fifth song is "Night Train." A look at the notes cinches it: they start with an interview where Peterson pays tribute to Kellaway. Nice touch. Well earned, too. B+(**)
  • Jay Lawrence Trio: Thermal Strut (2006, OA2): Drummer-led piano trio. Don't know why Lawrence gets top billing. Pianist Tamir Hendelman co-produces, writes one of three originals, and arranges most of the covers. Actually, the name I'm familiar with is bassist Lynn Seaton, though I'd have to look him up to tell you why. Nothing much wrong with this, but it's hard to see much reason why we should care about what's merely one more good mainstream piano trio. 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+(*)
  • Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man (2004-05 [2006], Verve Forecast): Peddled as a soundtrack to Lian Lunson's film, actually just a Hal Wilner-produced tribute album, recorded live at festivals in Brighton and Sydney. Wilner's Monk, Mingus and Kurt Weill albums offered fresh perspectives by crossing lines -- mostly by turning rockers loose outside their genre. Here he has less to work with: Cohen's grip on his songs is more secure, and the performers are narrowly cast, with McGarrigles and Wainwrights out in force, and the range no wider than Antony to Nick Cave. Messages: the future is murder, and by its omission I guess we have to conclude that democracy is no longer coming to the USA. Steven Bernstein leads the band. Cohen appears on one song to close, sounding more worn than ever. B+(*)
  • Dave Liebman & Bobby Avey: Vienna Dialogues (2005 [2006], Zoho): On principle I hate this music, although this makes me wonder whether I'd be so militant had Mr. Pankratz -- my intermediate school music teacher, the only one I ever had -- presented 19th century art song with such simple and inoffensive instrumentation. Avey plays piano, Liebman soprano sax. Calm, stately, or as Liebman puts it, "like clockwork." B
  • Dave Liebman/Steve Swallow/Adam Nussbaum: We Three: Three for All (2005 [2006], Challenge): I think they intended We Three for a group name, but I'm annoyed enough with the extra bookkeeping of dealing with ad hoc groups that I'll stick with the artists-first listing. The news here is that Liebman has finally turned in a good album after three or four duds in the time I've been doing Jazz CG. It helps that he's playing more tenor, but his soprano has something this time, and -- well, I didn't notice the flutes, so they must not be too bad. The bigger help is probably that he's got a rhythm section that keeps him on his game. Not exactly a breakthrough. Just very solid all around. B+(**)
  • Liquid Soul: One-Two Punch (2006, Telarc): Mars Williams learned his craft under legendary Chicago avant-gardist Hal Russell. After Russell died, Williams recruited Ken Vandermark to fill Russell's shoes in the NRG Ensemble. Vandermark reciprocated by inviting Williams into the first edition of the Vandermark Five. When acid jazz came around, Williams split off to form Liquid Soul with synth programmer Van Christie, and they've been plugging away at it for a decade now, with generally indifferent results. This one at least packs a punch, and even builds to a noise crescendo at the end, showing that Williams hasn't forgotten what NRG was all about. Formally, this is still pop jazz, spliced together from undocumented sessions with a long list of minor collaborators -- the only one with any real jazz cred is Hugh Ragin. 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. B+(*)
  • Michy Mano: The Cool Side of the Pillow (2003 [2006], Enja/Justin Time): Mano is a Moroccan DJ, working in Norway since "his early twenties" -- however long that is. Sings, plays sentir, works up a mix of gnawa roots with electrobeats and scattered exotics from the Oslo melting pot -- Madagascar, India, not sure where else, but the guitarist is named Niklai Bielenberg Ivanovich and the beatmaster is named Paolo Vinaccia. The producer is Norwegian jazz pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, also providing keyboards and programming. One piece is a rap -- sounds like French but the intro is probably Arabic. Others may be folk songs, with chant vocals as much in the background as fore. Jazz content is minor, but Bendikt Hofseth's tenor sax carresses the vocals. B+(***)
  • Tania Maria: Intimidade (2004 [2006], Blue Note): A Brazilian jazz singer-pianist with roots in the bossa nova of the '60s, I'm struck first by the depth of her voice -- don't know how much is age as she approaches sixty -- then by the lithe ease of the percussion. Hard to tell at this point what distinguishes her, as this fits the expectations so nicely. B+(**)
  • Marguerite Mariama: Wild Women Never Get the Blues . . . Well, Not Anymore! (2006, PowerLight Media): Don't have a recording date, but pianist Jimmy Sigler offers a dedication here dated 2004, then evidently died later that year. He plays on all but two cuts -- no piano on one, a different group on "Goin' to Chicago." Mariama signs her liner notes Ph.D. -- the hype sheet describes her as "a triple threat (music, dance, theatre)." She surveys Afro-American song expertly from Ida Cox to Stevie Wonder, has a voice that commands attention, and runs a tight band. Jury's still out on how wild she is, or whether that really shields her from the blues. B+(*)
  • Billy Martin: Starlings (2006, Tzadik): He's the Medeski-Wood drummer, but this is something else -- not even as close as the many percussion-centric albums he's released on his Amulet label. "Starlings" and "Metamorphosis" began life as mbira pieces in 1991, but are resurrected here in Anthony Coleman's orchestral arrangements. They've assumed a euroclassical shape, especially in the horns, and I find them rather annoying. Two more pieces are played by Sirius String Quartet -- the second one, a somber piece called "Strangulation," is more interesting. Two pieces with a group called Whirligig Percussionists are more like what I'd expect, drawing on Martin's strengths rather than his ambitions. Some of the sounds remind me of Harry Partch. The final piece is a short solo of Martin on mbira, the primitive core of the album. That adds up to a score by conductor of 4-0 for Martin, 0-3 for Coleman. B
  • Donny McCaslin: Soar (2005 [2006], Sunnyside). He's very fast, and very slick, on tenor sax. His pieces here lean Latin, with the very able Antonio Sanchez and Pernell Saturnino pushing the beats. And he's got a lot of able help, including Ben Monder, Orrin Evans and Scott Colley. But this strikes me as de trop, especially when layers voices as harmonic icing on top of the most complex confections. One thing I can't complain about is the flute: the short closer, "Merjorana Tonosieña," is the nicest thing here, perhaps because it's so basic. B+(**)
  • McGill Manring Stevens: What We Do (2001-04 [2006], Free Electric Sound, 2CD): What I think of, referring back to Cream, as a Power Trio -- electric guitar, electric bass, drums -- but no vocals, minimal blues, a lot of jazz movement. The latter is more clear on the studio disc, a collection of jazz standards that they don't really murder, despite their liner notes: "Quick! Somebody call the JAZZ POLICE! Where's STANLEY CROUCH when you need him?" The second disc is a live set from 2001, mostly originals -- a bit more power there, a bit cruder. I like what they do soundwise, but find it a bit unadventurous at such length. B+(*)
  • John McLaughlin: Industrial Zen (2006, Verve): For the most part, a pretty straightforward fusion album -- what he's best known for, but not what he's mostly done in the last couple of decades. He can still impress when he cranks it up, but it's mostly the guitar and drums -- the spot sax doesn't help much. Oddly enough, what does help is his Indian interests: Zakir Hussain's tabla, Shankar Mahadevan's two vocals. B+(*)
  • Scott McLemore: Found Music (2000 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, originally from Virginia, now makes his home in Iceland, which I suppose could be described as equally inconvenient to everywhere. He wrote all of the pieces here, providing a near-perfect left-of-mainstream postbop textbook. The band is equal to the task, with Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Ben Monder on guitar, and Ben Street on bass. Sounds a little scrawny for something so near-perfect, but maybe I'm just a bit jaded these days. B+(**)
  • Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood: Out Louder (2006, Indirecto): MMW did a credible job of updating '60s soul jazz organ combos to the techno era, but after a decade-plus they wandered off into spinoffs and solo projects, letting their main ride coast. Scofield's done his share of coasting as well, adding bright splashes of guitar to other folks' albums while his own grow empty and listless. So this seems like an ideal pairing, a useful jolt for all concerned. And to some extent it is, but I wonder about their Beatles cover, "Julia" -- is it an off note, or a necessary change of pace that just comes too late? B+(*)
  • Misja Fitzgerald Michel: Encounter (2005 [2006], No Format/Sunnyside): The first cut throws you off the game plan, for while guitarist Michel romps along to an Ornette tune, the tenor saxophonist is the one who grabs your attention. He's Ravi Coltrane, every bit as impressive as on his own albums. But after taking charge, he vanishes until the ninth cut -- a Michel original that sets up closers penned by Wayne Shorter and an elder Coltrane. The rest is guitar-bass-drum trio, moving smartly with a sound much denser than the norm for postbop jazz guitar. But then why would Michel bother playing 12-string if all he wanted to do was pick out hornlike single-note lines? 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
  • Charles Mingus: The Impulse Story (1963 [2006], Impulse): A case of doing what you can with what you got, which ain't much; Mingus cut three albums for Impulse in 1963: one was difficult and challenging but brilliant, another was typically first rate, and one solo piano -- not bad if you're curious. This gives you a bit of each, making it useless. Alt-choices: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963); Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (1963). B-
  • Charles Mingus: At UCLA 1965 (1965 [2006], Sunnyside, 2CD): Mingus wrote some new music for the Monterey festival, but got stiffed, and wound up performing it a week later at UCLA. "Played live in its entirety," as the cover says, this feels like a workshop, with Mingus moving musicians in and out, lecturing, and hectoring. Not all of the music is new -- he covers his own "Don't Be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid Too," and rips loose on "Muskrat Ramble." The group has three trumpets, french horn and tuba, versus just Charles McPherson on alto sax, so it's brassy, but also a bit ornate. Historically valuable, of course. B+(*)
  • Mingus Big Band: Live in Tokyo (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): My usual complaint is that the big band sounds puny compared to Mingus' own much smaller groups, but this starts off in such good spirits that maybe I should give that line a rest. The music must be great fun to play, and that much comes through here. The ending of "Ecclusiastics" calls forth the great man's spirit as emphatically as the band has done in quite a while. Still, I wonder what he would have thought of them chopping off that last half of the title to "Free Cell Block F" -- never has it been more valid to point out, "'Tis Nazi USA." B+(*)
  • Marc Mommaas with Nikolaj Hess: Balance (2005 [2006], Sunnyside). Music this sparse depends on balance, which is evident here. Two tenor sax solos, the rest with Hess piano added. The tone is even handed, the dynamics measured -- the sax challenging but unaggressive, the piano helpful but less interesting. B+(**)
  • Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane: The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings (1957 [2006], Riverside, 2CD): The recently discovered 1957 Monk with Coltrane At Carnegie Hall (Blue Note) swept nearly all jazz critics lists of 2005's best records. Previously known recordings of the two together were limited to a cruddy Live at the Five Spot tape (released by Blue Note) and parts of three studio albums on Riverside. This reshuffles the Riversides to cash in on the interest, weeding out cuts without Coltrane, adding false starts and a beside-the-point Gigi Gryce blues with Coltrane, sprucing up the documentation. Whether this is a good idea may depend on your level of interest. The June 25-26 septet sessions appear on Monk's Music, an indispensible item in Monk's catalog -- more impressive as was than split up over two discs here, larded with less essential music. Most of the extra previously appeared well after the fact as Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane, while the trio version of "Monk's Mood" previously ended the otherwise solo Monk Himself. I'm ambivalent myself, but it's hard to dock the music. A-
  • Michael Moore Quintet: Osiris (2005 [2006], Ramboy): Not a repeat of Moore's 1988 quintet, the only other time he's used that lineup. This one's a Dutch group, with Eric Vloeimans on trumpet and Marc van Roon on piano, but closer to chamber music -- soft and silky -- than classic hard bop. It has some moments, and may pan out if you put the time into its postbop intricacies. B+(*)
  • Jason Moran: Artist in Residence (2006, Blue Note): He's brilliant, but his record is pretty scattered, opting for a hip-hop sample on one track, an aria on the next. I'm tempted to say I wish he'd slim this down to focus on his piano, but two of the experiments make me want to hear more: the percusion duet with Joan Jonas, and a rough piece of free jazz with Abdou Mboup's djembe and Ralph Alessi's trumpet joining the trio. B+(**)
  • Rob Mullins: Standards & More (2005 [2006], Planet Mullins): I reckon every jazz musician wants to take a swing at "Giant Steps." Put that together with "In a Sentimental Mood," "Moanin'," "When I Fall in Love," and something by a guy named Beethoven, and you get a standards album. Write yourself a samba, a blues, and something called "Bb Major Etude" and you got your more. Record it all in a club in Fullerton CA. Put it out on your own label -- it's got no commercial promise anyway, at least compared to your day job, hacking smooth jazz. I don't know much about that day job: I haven't heard any of his eleven other albums, but I don't recognize anyone on his credits list who doesn't walk on the pop side -- well, Spike Robinson, but their album together was called Odd Couple. Still, this is a fun album: Mullins impresses on piano, but the guy I like even better is his tenor sax man, Jimmy Roberts. As best I can figure out, he grew up in Virginia; cites Maceo Walker, Stanley Turrentine, Junior Walker, and Grover Washington Jr.; has worked with Etta James, Rod Stewart, various smooth jazzers; has an album called Bless My Soul that I'd like to hear someday -- most likely he'll turn out to be just a very good soul jazz man, which is an honorable trade in my book. B+(**)
  • Charlie Musselwhite: Delta Hardware (2006, RealWorld): Not as old as he looks, let alone sounds, not that that's the problem -- age reinforces the blues, both by the accumulation of suffering and by its survival. But his claim to fame used to be his harp, and he needs to air it out more. He's too ordinary a singer to get by on that alone. B
  • Ted Nash & Still Evolved: In the Loop (2006, Palmetto): Another album name reiterated as group name: Still Evolved is Nash's postbop quintet, with Marcus Printup on trumpet opposite Nash's tenor sax, and a rhythm section that frequently works together: Frank Kimbrough on piano, Ben Allison on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. In many ways, this is the ideal postbop group. Certainly there's much to admire here, but I find the fancy harmony and slippery rhythm indecisive, when they're probably just too subtle. B+(**)
  • Paal Nilssen-Love: Townorchestrahouse (2005, Clean Feed). Three long group improvs, run together in the title. There's no real reason the Norwegian drummer should get top billing here, other than that he's quite a drummer, fast building a reputation that might lead one to seek out an album under his name. Otherwise, this would have been released under Evan Parker's name: he has the lead instrument, sets the pace, and is the guy you focus on. B+(***)
  • Sebastian Noelle Quartet: Across the River (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Two quartets, actually. Bassist Ben Street and drummer Ari Hoenig are constants, but the tenor sax spot is split evenly between Javier Vercher and Donny McCaslin. Noelle's guitar shapes the compositions, but either way your ear gravitates toward the sax. While Vercher tends to play within the guitar lines, McCaslin can easily jump the rails. B+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • One for All: The Lineup (2006, Sharp Nine): This group has been recording since 1997, with five albums on Criss Cross and now three on Sharp Nine. Haven't checked all of the rosters, but five of six players here were on the 1997 album -- only change is John Webber on bass in lieu of Peter Washington. The group is an all-star throwback to a common '60s hard bop lineup, with sax (Eric Alexander), trumpet (Jim Rotondi), trombone (Steve Davis), piano (David Hazeltine), bass (John Webber) and drums (Joe Farnsworth). The arrangement allows for plenty of solo moments, and it's rare to focus on one and not notice what fine musicians these guys are. But it doesn't add up to much: conservative, in the decent, unadventurous sense; skillful, of course. B
  • Michael O'Neill: Ontophony (2005 [2006], Songlines): A remarkable record, but the key question remains: how much bagpipe music can you stand? The booklet has a photo that explains better than I can what the concept is here: it shows three highland pipes players in kilts on a rock on the right side, and three Japanese taiko drummers on the field on the left side, each with one arm raised high above the head. That pipes and percussion go together is a thesis we can grant. On the other hand, my tolerance level does not look forward to a replay. Your mileage may vary. B
  • Charlie Parker: The Genius of Charlie Parker (1944-49 [2005], Savoy Jazz, 2CD): I have a confession or two. I've always been turned off by the extreme adulation accorded Parker. He was an exceptionally charismatic person, in his early death as much as his fast life, and he had a huge, almost immediate impact on the music. But encountering him late, after I had absorbed Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton, it took me a long time to hear how anything in Parker matched up with the hype. For one thing, Parker's regarded as jazz's quintessential modernist, but already by the late-'70s, when I first heard him, he sounded old -- his innovations so commonplace they'd become mainstream clichés. He never made it to the LP era: his records were short 78s -- head, flashy solo, reprise -- but too arty for the jukebox. He was the pied piper who led jazz away from its swing-era popularity, making up in intensity what he lost in numbers. His cult was such that every scraps of live recording, regardless of how crappy the sound, has been added to the canon -- more clutter for us to sort through. But after having listened to all the Parker regarded as great, the case comes down to the Savoy and Dial singles and the Royal Roost live shots collected here -- not that there isn't more: the title is actually recycled from an old 14-cut Savoy LP, but only three songs are duplicated here. Some of the fast ones, like his solo on Dizzy Gillespie's "Shaw 'Nuff" or his "Bird Gets the Worm" are remarkable lines of improvisation. At a more moderate pace, his tone and poise shines through on pieces like "Yardbird Suite." No doubt Bird deserves at least some of his reputation. A
  • 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
  • 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+(**)
  • Madeleine Peyroux: Half the Perfect World (2006, Rounder): As I recall, this debuted at #1 on the jazz charts, and no doubt broke onto the pop charts as well, where she's been before. This tones down the Billie Holiday vibe that I found distracting on her previous albums, but also because it moves away from the jazz tradition of Careless Love and into what's called chanson because it's mostly French, in spirit if not necessarily in tongue -- a Serge Gainsbourg song appears, but also two by Leonard Cohen, one each by Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits. She's a featherweight singer, and the arrangements are correspondingly light. This is marginal, but pleasantly appealing, ending with a winning "Smile." B+(*)
  • The John Popper Project Featuring DJ Logic (2006, Relix): I've gone back and forth on how to file this, finally opting for the literal, although the grammar would make more sense if Popper were the object of DJ Logic's project. Doesn't really belong under jazz, but sometimes I have trouble telling until I listen -- Logic does hang out in our neighborhood quite often. Popper is a blues-rock guy -- sings, plays harmonica in a band called Blues Traveler. He's out front here, and OK until Logic gooses him, at which point this this starts to get interesting and turn into fun. Choice cut: NOLA tribute "Louisiana Sky," which has someone named Greenweedz as a guest vocalist. 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
  • Re-Bop: The Savoy Remixes (1945-59 [2006], Savoy Jazz): Seems like every major jazz catalog company has set up deals with DJs to reprocess their wares -- I guess Fantasy (err, Concord) is the holdout, but they packaged all the old soul jazz they could find as The Roots of Acid Jazz, so I wouldn't bet against they following this trend. Whether this works or not depends more on the DJs than on the venerable master sources, and any time you mix a dozen of each you're likely to get hits and misses. (Which contrasts to matching Jazzanova with the Mizell Brothers, pretty much guaranteed to miss all the time.) The simplest approach here is to take a sample -- a bit of Dizzy Gillespie trumpet or Milt Jackson vibes -- and rep it until you can dance to it. Slightly more complicated is gussying up Sarah Vaughan's "Lover Man" or rewiring Charlie Parker's "Koko." Still, what's preserved from the jazz is incidental: my favorite here is Boots Riley's cartoonish remix of "Shaw 'Nuff," even though it leaves out one of Parker's all-time great solos. B+(**)
  • Re-Bop: The Savoy Originals (1945-59 [2006], Savoy Jazz): Existing only for neophytes to map the remixes back, these songs were selected for their parts, which makes them an exceptionally arbitrary label sampler -- how else do you explain two cuts from a Curtis Fuller album, or three cuts with mallets? Still, the selections can surprise, as when Herbie Mann turns out to be Phil Woods, or when Dizzy Gillespie gives way to Stuff Smith. B
  • Jason Rigby: Translucent Space (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): A relatively large group here, with Rigby playing tenor, soprano and alto saxes, bass clarinet and wood flute. Still, it rarely feels cluttered -- don't have a track-by-track breakdown, but it may be that the two clarinets, flute, trumpet, and for that matter cello, are sparsely used. Mike Holober's Fender electric piano does get a good deal of use, and is a plus here. B+(**)
  • Sonny Rollins: The Impulse Story (1965-66 [2006], Impulse): Another slim slice from an all-time great, three albums in the gap between his sporadic '60s work at RCA and his long tenure with Milestone, but useful -- two good albums not real high on the pecking order, and 25 minutes of East Broadway Run Down, his most avant album ever; alt-choices: On Impulse (1965), and the Oliver Nelson-arranged Alfie (1966), where a relatively large band lets Newk call all the shots. A-
  • Sonny Rollins: Milestone Profiles (1972-2001 [2006], Milestone): The first half of Newk's career was turbulent, with several gaps when he broke off and regrouped, including six years from when he left Impulse to his signing with Milestone. He spent the second half touring, where he was notoriously hot and cold -- breathtaking one night, unsettled the next. His albums, roughly one per year, were quickly tossed off, inconsistent with flashes of brilliance. Gary Giddins tried to point these out in a review of a mix tape he imagined. Milestone wanted to release a set to honor Rollins' 25th anniversary with the label, so they compiled Giddins' list as Silver City -- as magnificent as Saxophone Colossus or Way Out West or any of his other classics. Which should make this single -- the second disc in the package is a worthless label sampler -- redundant, but Rollins never rests on his past: three of nine songs appeared in the decade after Silver City, and they fit in seamlessly. No surprise really. Rollins is easy to anthologize: his sound is unique but consistent across decades, he totally dominates everyone he plays with, and his refuses to fall back on himself, so he never becomes clichéd. A
  • Michele Rosewoman & Quintessence: The In Side Out (2004 [2006], Advance Dance Disques): "Recorded September 26/27/28" -- but, like, what year? Can't be this year, since that would be today. Probably last year, but that guess will be harder to establish over time. The music is hard to pin down, ranging from slippery free bop to funk and Afro-Cuban grooves. The core group has two saxes: Mark Shim on tenor and Miguel Zenón on alto or soprano. Bassist Brad Jones plays electric as well as acoustic. For that matter, Rosewoman plays electric keyboards (mostly Fender Rhodes) more than acoustic. Guitarist Dave Fiuczynski joins on half of the cuts, occasionally out in front. Vocal on the last song, presumably by Rosewoman. Normally, I would say this is too much, too scattered, but she's been around long enough to have grown out of the kitchen sink syndrome. More likely it's coming from alternate universe I just have trouble grokking. 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+(**)
  • Pharoah Sanders: The Impulse Story (1966-73 [2006], Impulse): Coltrane's first important disciple, reflected in sound and style, but more importantly in direction, which deflected from out only to orbit the earth, taking particular interest in Africa and Asia. Four cuts may not seem like much of a selection, but "The Creator Has a Master Plan," all 32:45, the ugly along with the transcendent, is in better company here than on Karma. A-
  • 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+(*)
  • Savoy on Central Avenue (1941-52 [2003], Savoy Jazz, 2CD): Though based on Newark, Savoy seemed to have a pipeline into Los Angeles. Just how this worked isn't clear from the scanty doc. This mingles locals like Johnny Otis and Harold Land and visitors like Charlie Parker, while running the gamut of '40s r&b and jazz -- often the same thing. 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
  • Jimmy Scott: Milestone Profiles (2000-01 [2006], Milestone): The little guy still sounds weird to me -- why is it that male jazz singers, soul men and blues shouters excepted, always sound so mannered? -- but the four albums he cut in this 75-year-old comeback burst are gorgeously appointed -- the musicians include Fathead Newman, Hank Crawford, Eric Alexander, Grégoire Maret, Cyrus Chestnut, and Wynton Marsalis (one cut only). B+(*)
  • Sex Mob: Sexotica (2005 [2006], Thirsty Ear): The final copy at last has some useful information in the booklet: who plays, what, when. Why's still an open question. About all I've figured out about Martin Denny's music is that when bongos don't suffice for exotica, he brings in the bird whistles. They're here too, but less conspicuously. The group was as expected, but the whole thing appears to have been further processed by Goodandevil, thickening up the electronic undertow. This has grown on me a bit, but still seems like a marginal idea, too inside a joke -- if that's what it is -- for someone not in on it. B+(*)
  • Elliott Sharp: Plays the Music of Thelonious Monk (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Solo guitar. Don't know whether that's normal for him -- he's put out several dozen albums, but this is my first. But the cover art raises questions, with four lines, punctuation significant: "Sharp?/Monk?/Shark!/Monk!" Actually, it's pretty straightforward, with the familiar melodies at their familiar paces, the guitar not far removed from solo piano, or more like solo prepared piano. He makes it look difficult, which it no doubt is. B+(*)
  • Archie Shepp: The Impulse Story (1964-72 [2006], Impulse): Aside from Coltrane, Shepp was the most important figure to emerge on Impulse. More orthodox than Pharoah Sanders, possessing an authoritative tone, he worked the inside of the avant-garde, and cultivated a black power consciousness leading to attempts to bridge gospel, soul and free jazz; the best disc in this series, because it pulls his disparate pieces together as a whole in a way that the albums don't. Alt-coices: Four for Trane (1964); Fire Music (1965), Attica Blues (1972). A-
  • Edward Simon: Unicity (2006, CAM Jazz): This is a hard piano trio for me to pin down, but in the end it's either too subtle for me to appreciate or too lackluster for me to care. Simon plays with expertise and finesse, but little surprise. John Patitucci and Brian Blade provide competent support, but don't manage any heavy lifting. B
  • Jimmy Smith: Milestone Profiles (1981-93 [2006], Milestone): His Blue Notes, starting in 1956, made the Hammond B3 the fulcrum of soul jazz, as well as setting the standard against which Larry Young and others would develop. But he settled into a groove which sustained him at Verve, later at Milestone, and on to the day he died. Nothing new here, most songs are live remakes of earlier hits, some even with Stanley Turrentine and Kenny Burrell. B+(*)
  • Walter Smith III: Casually Introducing (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): A young second-generation tenor saxophonist looks back to Sam Rivers' Fuschia Swing Song for artwork but he's more postmodern than that -- plays soprano too, like damn near everyone since Coltrane and Shorter, while his pianists double on Fender Rhodes; shuttles musicians in and out; recycles classics that seemed like a good idea, while writing and borrowing originals that reach out to Africa. In short, this dwells more on his breadth than his depth, which he hasn't reached yet. But there's something to be said for breadth. B+(*)
  • So Percussion: Amid the Noise (2002-06 [2006], Cataloupe): Group name has a macron accent over 'o' in "So" -- don't know what that's meant to signify. Maybe it's an omen that I need to move from ISO-8859-1 to Unicode. It wouldn't be the first time I found myself stuck on the losing side of a technology divide. The group consists of three guys who play percussion and synths. An earlier record tackled Steve Reich's Drumming, which gives you some context, but the minimalism here is much less dense, and the percussion is less dependably rhythmic. Didn't sound like much at first, but it's grown on me a bit. B+(*)
  • Martin Speake: Change of Heart (2002 [2006], ECM): English alto saxist. Don't know his other work, but this quartet with Bob Stenson on piano, Mick Hutton on bass, and Paul Motian on drums plays out thoughtfully. Stenson is probably the focal point. This is a good example of his work, and of Motian as well. The sax runs laconic and/or wistful -- nice, but alto seems a shade too bright for this music. B+(**)
  • Tomasz Stanko: Chameleon (2006, TC Music): Recorded in Athens, no date given, in a trio heavily biased toward synthesizers: Janusz Skowron plays keyboards, while Apostolis Anthimos switches between drums, guitar, and their electronic equivalents. That works only a small fraction of the time, and some of the keyboards are so cheesy they'd take Chick Corea aback. The trumpeter does his best, triumphing here and there. B-
  • Bobo Stenson/Anders Jormin/Paul Motian: Goodbye (2004 [2005], ECM). A slight fall-off here, which it's tempting to blame on the legendary but inconspicuous drummer -- Motian has made a career out of working with difficult pianists, going way back to Bill Evans. I suspect, however, that the songbook just doesn't have much lift to it, leaving more empty space, which idles Stenson and lets Jormin and Motian fill up in their own idiosyncratic ways. Still, this rewards close listening; you just have to snuggle up to the speakers more than usual. Given how many slow, meditative piano albums Manfred Eicher's produced in the last few years, maybe he should loosen up a bit and find someone who can play a little boogie woogie. B+(**)
  • Jamie Stewardson: Jhaptal (2003 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): I'm less impressed by the leader-guitarist than by the company he keeps: especially Tony Malaby, who again somehow manages to keep his tenor sax toned down but still quietly carries the day, but also Alexei Tsiganov on vibes, John Hebert on bass, and George Schuller on drums. But it's hard to evaluate postbop composers -- Stewardson wrote all of the pieces here, evidently passing his best lines to his band. B+(**)
  • Stompin' at the Savoy: The Original Indie-Label (1944-61 [2004], Savoy Jazz, 4CD): After losing his radio license, Herman Lubinsky sold radio parts and records in Newark. He launched his record label in 1942, but between the war and the recording ban didn't release regularly until 1944. A notorious skinflint, or perhaps just a cheat, he managed to keep his label in business until his death in 1974. His early records were mostly jazz, and later on he gravitated toward gospel, but this box focuses on r&b singles. Early on he had hits with novelties like Dusty Fletcher's "Open the Door Richard" and dance grooves like Hal Singer's "Cornbread" and Paul Williams' "The Hucklebuck," but they trail off over time, and only two songs on the fourth disc here cracked the r&b charts -- Big Maybelle's "Candy" is the best known, and Nappy Brown his most consistent performer. Which means that as the period's r&b labels go, little here can be described as essential. Nonetheless, it is remarkably consistent. B+(**)
  • Thomas Strønen: Parish (2005 [2006], ECM): Norwegian drummer, the founder of Food, generally classified as a post-rock band, often dabbles in electronics. But this one is a straight acoustic jazz quartet firmly planted into ECM's old age Nordic aesthetic -- some irregularities in the percussion pop up here and there, but mostly the drummer goes with the mild flow set by Bobo Stenson's piano, Fredrik Ljungkvist's clarinet or tenor sax, and Mats Eilertsen's bass. Well done, especially for Stenson, and another facet to a musician worth watching. B+(**)
  • Dave Stryker: Big City (2004 [2005], Mel Bay): Guitarist, active since the late-'80s; always sounds good, never quite convincing me that guitar is the future of postbop. This is a quartet with fleet-fingered Dave Kikoski on piano, Ed Howard on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums. Got it as background to the new one, up next. B+(*)
  • Dave Stryker: The Chaser (2005 [2006], Mel Bay): This one's an organ trio, with Jared Gold and Tony Reedus. Gold does a good job of keeping things pumped up, and Stryker slides right along. I thought I might have more to say about his guitar, but that's clearer on Big City, or his numerous albums with saxophonist Steve Slagle. But he spent much of his early career playing with organists, starting with Jack McDuff, so this is a return to form . . . or norm. B
  • Stephen Stubbs: Teatro Lirico (2004 [2006], ECM): Actually classical music -- sonatas and dances from 17th century Italy and Slovakia -- but as long as ECM sends these I'll take a shot at prospecting them. Stubbs plays baroque guitar and chitarrone in a quartet with violin, viola and harp, or at least period variations on those instruments. I'm finding this quite lovely, although the calm veneer and lack of beat -- or should I say, the stately pulse? -- eventually dull my interest a bit. 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+(**)
  • Lew Tabackin Trio: Tanuki's Night Out (2001 [2006], Dr-Fujii.com). Better known for his featured role in wife Toshiko Akiyoshi's big band, Tabackin runs a tight trio on the side. This is a live set from Japan -- been out there a while, but has only recently become available here. He plays flute on three pieces -- a majority if you discount the two encore covers -- and runs through a smart set of postbop moves, getting a substantial sound. His tenor sax, of course, has more muscle tone, especially on the well studied encores -- "Body and Soul" and "Rhythm-A-Ning." B+(**)
  • The Taylor/Fidyk Big Band: Live at Blues Alley (2005 [2006], OA2): Taylor is Mark, who composed some of this, and arranged all but one song of the rest. Fidyk is Steve, the drummer and bandleader. Taylor learned his craft from Stan Kenton, and there's some of that here. The band is big and dramatic, but can manage a light touch when called for. B+(*)
  • John Tchicai/Charlie Kohlhase/Garrison Fewell: Good Night Songs (2003 [2006], Boxholder, 2CD): Two reed players -- Tchicai plays tenor sax and bas clarinet, Kohlhase plays tenor, alto and baritone sax -- and a guitarist. The effect, maybe even the concept, is like a toned-down, spaced-out variation on the Sonny Simmons-Michael Marcus trios -- the horns more polite, which doesn't mean less interesting, the rhythm folded in rather than popping out. B+(**)
  • Territory Band-5: New Horse for the White House (2005 [2006], Okka Disk, 3 CD): The third disc is a live concert at Donaueschingen of the first two discs' music. Given a little more budget, the logical thing would have been to provide it as a DVD, which might be as useful as the Fujii Tokyo one. I imagine the group more spread out and less tightly scripted, but with 12 musicians there tends to be a lot going on. Somehow I missed out on Territory Band-4, but the series as a whole has struck me out more often than not. This one strikes me as relatively solid, and offers some hope that the electronics will eventually pan out. Plenty of hot spots, just hard to follow, and there's a lot of it. B+(*)
  • Tone Collector (2004 [2005], Jazzaway): The group here is Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Jeff Davis on drums. The record was recorded live in Stockholm at the Glenn Miller Café. I filed it under Malaby, but further research suggests Opsvik may be, if not the leader, at least the guiding light. Malaby doesn't even mention the record on his website. Opsvik lists a dozen or more groups and projects, describing Tone Collector as "Mostly free improvising trio, debut cd released on jazzaway records in 2005." That holds out the prospect for more, but this just seems to have been one of those night when the group met, improvised something, had it recorded, and let it out. Malaby is rougher and more forthright than elsewhere -- a frequent sideman, he tends to fit in rather than stand out. But Opsvik is equally conspicuous -- his bass has real presence here, often setting not just the pace but the tone as well. Davis does what most drummers do in these free-for-alls, which is to maintain a parallel commentary. 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
  • McCoy Tyner: The Impulse Story (1962-64 [2006], Impulse): The pianist was 21 when he joined Coltrane, shortly before Coltrane signed with Impulse. His first records under his own name were the piano trios that figure large here, but this is also fleshed out with cuts from other folks' records -- Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey. Not all that well balanced, but it has some moments, including quite a bit of piano. B+(*)
  • McCoy Tyner: Milestone Profiles (1972-80 [2006], Milestone): This was his third label period, following stints on Impulse and Blue Note, the '70s consolidated his reputation both as a star pianist and as a composer with broad interests. What's most striking here is how hard the piano sounds -- one solo and two trio pieces are crashingly loud, while the horns on the rest are hard pressed to keep up, even when they go into late-Coltrane overload. It's like he's trying not to do fusion but to beat it to death. B+(*)
  • Jeremy Udden: Torchsongs (2003-05 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Plays soprano and alto sax, leading off with soprano here. Credits include work with Either/Orchestra and Jazz Composer's Alliance Orchestra. Studies include Steve Lacy, whose "Blinks" is the only non-original here; Bob Brookmeyer, who guests on two tracks, including a duet; and the inevitable, ubiquitous George Garzone. I often fret when I see a long list of credits -- ten names here -- but this breaks down to two sessions, with most cuts at quartet or less, but three cuts with six or seven show a good deal of skill at knitting the sound together than a minimum of clutter. Among the sidemen, guitarist Ben Monder stands out. B+(**)
  • Adam Unsworth: Excerpt This! (2006, Adam Unsworth): Young French horn player, hangs with the Philadelphia Orchestra and has some sort of association with Temple University. This is his first album, reportedly assembled from ten years of compositions. His dilligence is clear enough, but his decision to mix solo and sextet settings breaks the flow and feels like two distinct things. Not so much the problem as the limit to both parts is the horn, a rather awkward if not exactly ugly thing. The solo pieces can get tedious even when you don't doubt his skill or dexterity. But the sextet is much livelier. Les Thimmig plays bass clarinet and flutes -- contrasting horns with well-matched limits. With neither horn player overpowering, the field is rather open for someone else to stand out, and both Diane Monroe on violin and Tony Micelli on vibes make the best of their opportunities. 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-
  • Fats Waller: If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It (1926-43 [2006], Bluebird/Legacy, 3CD): Thomas Waller was a dazzling stride pianist, an enduring songwriter, and one of the funniest singers and showmen ever. Anthologists have been tussling over these attributes ever since Fats, a round man with a narrow mustache and an irrepressibly sweeping grin, died, just short of his 40th birthday. With Solomonic wisdom, producer Orrin Keepnews has given us one disc of each. Of course, one can nitpick further -- no "Black and Blue," which might have spoiled the jovial mood, and the "Strictly Instrumental" disc moves too quickly into the band pieces, including a couple of emphatically vocal jive-alongs. But if God had meant you to choose, she would have restored the entire catalog, which since RCA deleted their six box, 15-CD almost complete works have been in embarrassing disarray -- not even the bottom-feeding reissue labels in Europe have been able to put him back together again. Meanwhile, this one's a good-enough chance to get acquainted, and entertained. A
  • Vision Volume 3 (2003 [2005], Arts for Art, CD+DVD): Excerpts from the 2003 Vision Festival, which William Parker and Patricia Nicholson organize each year. I've had this on the shelf a long time, figuring that this was one case where I wanted to take a look at the DVD before signing off on the CD, but never finding the time or inclination to do so. Finally took a look at it today. It's poorly shot and badly edited, with lots of double exposure shots. The sound is sometimes out of sync, and there is a formatting problem that keeps it from returning to the menu after playing a section. On the other hand, the dance pieces by Nicholson and Maria Mitchell (accompanied by Kali Z. Fasteau) lose out otherwise, and seeing helps explain Joseph Jarman's two-horn act. Otherwise, a mixed bag: the experiments at best suggest directions to follow further, and the variety ends them as quickly as it moves past ones that are less interesting. B+(**)
  • Cedar Walton: One Flight Down (2006, High Note): One thing that throws me off here is starting with two quartet tracks with Vincent Herring on tenor sax, then dropping down to a trio for the remainder. Liner note scribe Thomas Conrad tries to work his way around this: "It is rare for an album to lose a hot tenor saxophonist and become a piano trio date and immediately escalate in intensity." Can't say as I noticed that shift -- maybe it's not as intense as advertised -- but contrary to my prejudices the trio strikes me as sharper. Still, this feels like two ideas for albums shotgunned together. B+(**)
  • Jabbo Ware/The Me We & Them Orchestra + Strings & Horns: Vignettes in the Spirit of Ellington (2001 [2005], Y'all of New York). Huge band, twenty-three pieces not counting Ware, who composed and conducts. The strings are limited to two each -- violins, violas, cellos, basses -- but they are secondary to the horns. The pieces show real muscle and sharp edges, slightly reminiscent of Ellington circa 1950 when he was hard-pressed to reassert himself in the face of bebop progressivism, but also this flows out of later Ellington-inspired groups like Vienna Art and Either/Orchestra. B+(***)
  • Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz, Michal Miskiewicz: Trio (2005, ECM). Slow, thoughtful, very nice, pretty without being cloying. This is Tomasz Stanko's group without the leader. They do very little to compensate for his absence -- a tone which appears all the more sharp in contrast to their background. But they're a disciplined group, and they make do. B+(**)
  • Florian Weber/Jeff Denson/Ziv Ravitz: Minsarah (2006, Enja/Justin Time): A piano trio, a bit more conventional than E.S.T., but similar in touch, feel, dynamics. Minsarah is probably meant as a group name -- i.e., it will probably recur on subsequent records. Bassist Denson and drummer Ravitz write, only slightly outnumbered by the pianist's compositions. B+(**)
  • Mort Weiss Meets Sam Most (2006, SMS Jazz): Title could be extended: "Recorded live at Steamers Jazz Club & Cafe"; perhaps also "With Ron Eschete', Roy McCurdy and Luther Hughes." Most is a name associated with bebop flute, although his earliest credits suggest earlier sources -- Don Redman, Tommy Dorsey, Boyd Raeburn -- and even later on he worked with older guys -- Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo, Louie Bellson. That suggests he's ancient, but 75 is more like it. He recorded several mid-'50s albums with Debut and Bethlehem, then a few more in the late-'70s with Xanadu. Most also plays a little tenor sax here, which is a plus, and sings one, which isn't. Weiss plays clarinet. A bit younger, he started with trad jazz, but fell for Charlie Parker and Buddy DeFranco, then dropped out of music in the '60s, only picking it up again when he reached the usual retirement age. This is minor, but charming, with Escheté's guitar the secret ingredient. B+(*)
  • Kenny Wheeler: It Takes Two! (2005 [2006], CAM Jazz): Not a duo. Actually a quartet with two guitars -- John Abercrombie and John Parricelli. The fourth is bassist Anders Jormin, all of which suggests a low key album. The guitarist work out most of the pleasing textures, to which Wheeler's flugelhorn adds highlights. Can't say much about it, but I'm struck by how consistent Abercrombie has become. B+(**)
  • Wesla Whitfield: Livin' on Love (2005-06 [2006], High Note): Standards singer, has recorded extensively since 1987. This was recorded in two sessions, one with an octet, the other with a quartet, both arranged and led by longtime collaborator Mike Greensill, both featuring Gary Foster on various saxes and flutes. The difference between the two groups is a set of four French horns. I think she's a good singer, and I like Foster, at least on tenor sax, but I don't see much value here -- although the only real annoyance is the hoked up version of "Alfie" with all the French horns. B
  • Cassandra Wilson: Thunderbird (2006, Blue Note): Don't know what to make of her. My first encounter was when she was part of New Air and, as best I recall, married to Henry Threadgill -- something you don't read about much any more. (Wikipedia mentions it using past tense under Threadgill, but not under Wilson.) Before that she worked with Steve Coleman and M-Base. She's recorded albums under her own name for JMT from 1985 and Blue Note from 1993. I've heard three before this one -- a small sample I have no real feelings about. She has one of those deep, dusky voices that form a line from Sarah Vaughan through Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln, although I can't say that she's ever done much with it. (I'm not a big fan of the other three either, but with Vaughan and Carter at least I have a pretty good idea why others are big fans; Lincoln is as big a mystery to me as Wilson.) This album, produced by T Bone Burnett, fits poorly within any known jazz tradition. Half originals written with studio hands, mostly Keefus Ciancia; half the sort of songs Burnett tends to find. The only one I like much is a slow "Red River Valley" done with nothing more than Colin Linden's guitar. Don't dislike any of it, but don't get it either. B
  • Nancy Wilson: Turned to Blue (2005-06 [2006], MCG Jazz): The first thing to say is that she is in fine voice. That isn't new, but it's rarely been sufficient. The second thing is that the arrangements, except for the closer with Dr. Billy Taylor and a gaggle of strings, are pretty clean and unobtrusive -- even the All Star Big Band, which swings three cuts. Each of the cuts have featured soloists, mostly making their only appearance. By far the best combination is James Moody and the big band on "Taking a Chance on Love," but Tom Scott has a good turn as well. The title cut was stitched together from a Dr. Maya Angelou poem -- the honorific makes a nice bookend with Dr. Billy -- but it's of below average interest. Toyed with the idea of leaving this open, but realistically it's never gonna lift those strings very high, nor that poetry, and if Tom Scott's a plus the average ain't all that high. But she does sound good, and checking my database -- not all that deep on her -- this is her best record yet. 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+
  • Nils Wogram & Simon Nabatov: The Move (2002 [2005], Between the Lines). Duets between trombone (Wogram) and piano (Nabatov), some loose and free, some snap to a beat and pick up speed. Both are players I've never heard before, but they come with strong reputations, and they flesh these pieces out in interesting and unexpected ways. I've heard a lot of stripped down avant duos, but few as consistently intriguing as this. 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+(*)
  • Eri Yamamoto: Cobalt Blue (2006, Thirsty Ear): This picks up nicely from her piano trio performance on William Parker's Luc's Lantern -- except, of course, bassist David Ambrosio doesn't make nearly as much of an impression as Parker. But most of this is upbeat, where she shows a strong left hand, and her touch is fine on the chillout closer. Covers of Porter, Gershwin, and a Japanese folk song, plus a batch of originals. B+(**)
  • Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Quintet: ONJQ Live in Lisbon (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): One thing I don't know much about is Japanese noise bands -- the few I've heard have been such an automatic turnoff that I've had no interest in making marginal distinctions. Another is Kaoru Abe, a legendary Japanese alto saxophonist who died young in 1978, but I imagine that Tsugami Kenta here has some if not all of Abe's records. Yoshihide plays electric guitar, which can be a powerful noisemaker in its own right. Two more Japanese names play bass and drums, suggesting that ONJQ is normally a quartet. But the saxes are dominant here, with the margin coming from guest Mats Gustafsson. He's a slowly acquired taste, but at least I have some practice there, and his baritone is hard to mistake. Starts with a "Song for Che" that's hard to recognize. Ends with "Eureka," a Jim O'Rourke song also on their previous OJNQ Live (2002, DIW). The latter almost starts to make sense, suggesting that further study may help. But I'd rather cut them some slack on the grade and cut my losses. 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+(*)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Goldberg: Kingdom Coming

What follows are quotes from Michelle Goldberg's book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (WW Norton).

On megachurches (pp. 58-59):

All over America, megachurches -- generally defined as churches with more than two thousand members -- are multiplying. There were about 10 such churches in 1970. Today there are upward of 880. Such churches still represent only 1 percent of American congregations, but they're growing as older churches atrophy. John N. Vaughn, founder of the research and consultancy firm Church Growth Today, has estimated that a new megachurch opens its doors every two days.

These churches are usually located on the sprawling edges of cities, in the new exurban developments that almost totally lack for public space -- squares, parks, promenades, or even, in some places, sidewalks. With their endless procession of warehouselike chain stores and garish profusion of primary-colored logos, the exurbs are the purest of ecosystems for consumer capitalism. Yet the brutal, impersonal utilitarianism of the strip mall and office park architecture -- its perversely ascetic refusal to make a single concession to aesthetics -- recalls the Stalinist monstrosities imposed on Communist countries. The banality is aggressive and disorienting. Driving though many of these places in states from Pennsylvania to Colorado, I've experienced more than a few moments of vertiginous panic wherer I literally could not remember where I was.

Because most exurbs are so new, none of the residents grew up in them; everyone is from somewhere else and there are few places for them to meet. In such locales, megachurches fill the spiritual and social void, providing atomized residents instant community. Besides worship services, they offer dinners and parties, family counseling and summer camp, even sports leagues, gyms, and weight-loss programs. There's a McDonald's inside the Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston, and a Starbucks in the Covenant Celebration Church in Tacoma, Washington. The congregations are often organized into small groups of people who monitor one another's spiritual progress, developing intimate relationships in the process. [ . . . ]

Walk into a megachurch during the height of a Sunday service and you'll see staid suburbanites bouncing and swaying as strobe lights strafe the air and bombastic anthems crescendo; for a secular urbanite, the closest comparison is the dizzy ecstasy of a rock concert or the dawn communion of an all-night dance club. The preacher usually tells everyone to greet their neighbors, and worshippers of every race and age turn toward one another an dexchange blessings with radiant smiles. Nowhere else in America is so indiscriminately welcoming.

On a visit to a megachurch (p. 69):

Overall, the feeling in Alltel was more saccharine than sulphurous, but the cozy unity inside depended on the enemy without. Christian nationalism, like most militant ideologies, can exist only in opposition to something. Its sense of righteousness depends on feeling besieged, no matter how much power it amasses. Conservatives control almost the entire federal government, along with an enormous Christian counterculture, but go to any right-wing gathering, and you'll hear speaker after speaker talk about being under attack, about yearning to "take the country back," about the necessity of fighting ever harder.

Needing to see their foe as equal to their hatred, they exaggerate its strength. So gay people become a threat to the most important thing conservatives have -- their families. In standing up to that threat, they see themselves as heroes. Their loathing is transformed into virtue.

On the Jewish question (p. 72):

Like racism, overt anti-Semitism has become unacceptable in most evangelical circles, supplanted by philo-Semitism and passionate Zionism. Partly, this is due to the right's identification with Israel's fight against Islamic terrorism, but more important is the enormous influence of premillenial dispensationalism, a major strain within American evangelical Christianity. Dispensationalists -- a category that includes most prominent evangelical leaders -- believe that the return of Jews to Israel and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount is a precondition for the rapture, the apocalypse, and the return of Christ.

That doesn't mean that anti-Jewish sentiment has disappeared from the Christian right. The dispensationalist scenario, after all, includes apocalyptic warfare in Israel and the violent death of most of the world's Jews. (In the Left Behind series, only those Jews who atone for the "specific national sin" of "[r]ejecting the messiahship of Jesus" are saved.) Fundamentalist Christians will say that they're simply proclaiming the frightful truth, but much of their literature dwells on the details of Jewish torment with disquieting relish.

In addition, the language that the right uses to describe its enemies echoes all the tropes of classic anti-Semitism. The day after the 2004 election, the right-wing magazine Human Events posted a pseudosatirical piece on its Web site called "Declaration of Expulsion: A Modest Proposal."

Goldberg then compares a quote from that piece to one by Hans Oberlindober, a Nazi writing in 1937.

On revealed science (p. 96):

"I make no apology for the fact that I start with the revealed word of God as the basis of my thinking," Ham told the audience. "That's my starting point, my axiom. . . . But if you go to the public schools, where they deny God has anything to do with reality, then it's man who determines truth." Talking about science without reference to God is inherently anti-Christian, he said. "You're either for Christ or against him."

Everyone, said Ham, views reality through a pair of metaphorical glasses. "You've either got on God's word glasses, or man's word," he said. There's no way to take the glasses off, to achieve objectivity. The question becomes which lens you're going to trust. "The Bible gives us an account of history to enable us to have the right presuppositions to know the right way of thinking in every area," he said. "Ain't it exciting being a Christian? We have the history to explain the universe!"

About Lynne Cheney's 1996 book, Telling the Truth (pp. 102-103):

Cheney's book abounds in examples of the havoc postmodern ideas have wrought in American life. At the outset, she wrote of how the "author of a textbook for future teachers urges skepticism for the idea that the people now known as American Indians came to this hemisphere across the Bering land bridge. Indian myths do not tell this story, she writes. Moreover, she observes, the scientific account has nothing 'except logic' to recommend it."

It would be hard to make up a better analogy to the intelligenct design movement. Like the guilt-ridden lefties they revile, conservatives are demanding official skepticism for an idea accepted among the vast majority of scientists because it conflicts with religious myth, and attacking those who would uphold traditional standards as anti-Christian bigots. This pattern doesn't just apply to evolution -- it marks the Christian nationalists' entire relationship to reality. The right has a host of pet pseudoscientific theories that buttress its biblical worldview. They include reparative therapy to "cure" homosexuality; a mythical link between abortion and breast cancer; "post-abortion syndrome," a psychiatric disorder that exists almost exclusively in pro-life lore; and the efficacy of abstinence-only education, an entire cottage industry of scientific distortion.

On the power of truth, e.g. in Iraq (p. 105):

But neither Shirley nor Michael Johnson had any doubt that evolution isn't true. I asked why they thought mainstream scientists were misrepresenting the research. "Once truth leaks out, its powerful," Johnson said. "So you've got to cloud, you've got to make sure there's a lot of layers of lies and cover-ups in order to keep confusion reigning and misrepresentation occurring."

Why would scientists want to be so duplicitous? Johnson answered with an analogy. "You see this principle worked out at times, like with the Iraq war." Adopting a whiny, mock-outraged voice, he said, "'There's all these people dying every day! My gosh, we've got to get out of there!'"

His voice returning to normal, he said that, in fact, "there's been the least amount of casualties in the history of warfare. This is world-war terrorism, they're shipping people in from all over the place, insurgents they're called, to go against the coalition of armies -- and there's another thing, some of the politicians will try to convince people we're going this war alone, that this is unilateral war. No. We have about thirty-three, thirty-four countries that have joined us. . . . Why do people play with figures like that?

It's because they have something to protect," he concluded. "They don't like the idea that America is setting up democracy and becoming more powerful in the world."

You can't argue with that kind of logic.

Quotes abstinence educator Pam Stenzel (pp. 135-136):

At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she'd had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education's success rate -- a question she regarded as risible. "What he's asking," she said, "is does it work. You know what? Doesn't matter. Cause guess what. My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public schools' job should not be to keep teens from having sex."

Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, "Our job should be to tell kids the truth!"

"People of God," she cried, "can I beg you, to commit yourself to truth, not what works! To truth! I don't care if it works, because at the end of the day I'm not answering to you, I'm answerng to God!"

Later in the same talk, she explained further why what "works" isn't what's important -- and gave some insight into what she means by "truth." "Let me tell you something, people of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here," she said. "AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy. I will not teach my child that they can sin safely."

Quotes David Hager, appointed by Bush to the FDA's Reproductive Health Advisory Committee, where he worked to keep the "morning after" pill perscription only (p. 152):

"I argued from a scientific perspective, and God took that information, and he used it through this minority report to influence the decision," Hager said. "Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good."

But Hager almost certainly wasn't arguing from a scientific perspective. He was using scientific language to rationalize an evangelical Christian position. He was doing exactly what Ned Ryun teaches his charges at Generation Joshua: taking "a firm, solid biblical worldview" and translating it into "terms that the other side accepts."

People like Ryun have a perfect right to use this rhetorical strategy, disturbing as it may be to those who don't share their agenda. Yet when the United States government works this way, it turns all nonevangelical Americans into "the other side." The nonreligious are no longer even part of the debate, because the arguments and rationales presented in public are a sham. Only believers are privy to the real reasons that the administration does what it does. The Department of Health and Human Services operates like a giant crisis pregnancy center, deceiving in the name of some higher good.

On science under Bush (p. 153):

The Bush administration's elevation of the Medical Institute for Social Health into a new scientific establishment has echoes in Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism. She wrote of how totalitarian movements created "paraprofessional" associations of teachers, doctors, lawyers, and the like, which mimicked ordinary professional groups in order to erode their legitimacy and eventually replace them. [ . . . ]

The American status quo -- a system that worked, imperfectly but consistently, according to certain rational rules and respect for certain empirical realities -- is decomposing. The individual lies or small curtailments of freedom that we've seen so far are not as troubling as the larger phenomenon of a government run according to ideological fictions. If the Christian nationalists have their way, after all, it won't just be the Department of Health and Human Services that works this way. The movement's leaders have much bigger prizes in mind.

On to the courts (pp. 155-157):

Having won control of two branches of the federal government, Christian nationalists view the courts as the last intolerable obstacle to their palingenetic dream. Believing America to be a Christian nation, they see any ruling that contradicts their theology as de facto unconstitutional, and its enforcement tyrannical. They're convinced that they must destroy the judiciary's power to liberate themselves. A series of outrages -- the Lawrence v. Texas decision, Terri Schiavo's death, the filibuster of Bush's judicial nominees -- has stoked their sense of crisis.

The entire Christian nationalist agenda ultimately hinges on conquering the courts. A remade judiciary could let state governments criminalize abortion and gay sex. It could sanction the reinstitution of school prayer and the teaching of creationism and permit the ever greater Christianization of the country's social services. It could intervene on the right's behalf in situations like the Schiavo case. It could intrude into the most intimate corners of Americans' private lives.

To take just one example, if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it would undermine the ruling Roe was based on, Griswold v. Connecticut. That 1965 decision, which struck down bans on birth control for married women (extended to unmarried women in 1972's Eisenstadt v. Baird), was the first to infer a right to privacy from the constitution. If the court ruled that no constitutional right to privacy exists, states would again have the latitude to make contraception illegal. [ . . . ]

Some Christian nationalists seem to hope that the end of Griswold would open the door to the criminalization of all kinds of biblically incorrect sex. In 2003, Rick Santorum told the Associated Press, [ . . . ]

Note what Santorum was objecting to. Not just abortion, or polygamy, or even adultery, but the right to consensual sex within your home. If people do not have that right, then the potential for Christian nationalist intrusion into people's personal lives would be limitless.

On training the leaders of tomorrow (p. 173):

Farris teaches constitutional law at Patrick Henry and, via the Internet, to thousands of homeschooled teenagers. "My purpose, when I teach kids constitutional law, is to make them mad," he said. "I want them to see what the truth is, and I want them to see what the Supreme Court and the Congress have done to them."

Once Farris's students learn about judicial tyranny, he said, they want to know what they can do about it. "And I say, 'You in the first row need to be appointed to the Supreme Court, and you in the second row need to be in the Senate to confirm him, and you in the third row need to be the president of the Unitd States to nominate him.' That's frankly why I started Patrick Henry College, because I'm sick and tired of having to lobby people that I helped get elected. I want to train them from scratch to believe in the principles of freedom, how can we expect anything other than slavery?"

A couple of comments on all this. First, we're not talking about your grandparents' -- well, my grandparents', anyway -- fundamentalism. That was a recidivist movement, an attempt to get back to basics, which unfortunately gained its authority by insisting on the literal truth of the Bible. For the most part, that movement sought to withdraw from secular society, not to reform or revolutionize it. This builds on the old fundamentalism, but what's new is the social, economic and political aspirations of nationalism. The message isn't let's be better Christians. It's we are a Christian nation, we deserve the trappings of nationhood, and one of those is political power. It's not clear how deeply this level of consciousness has spread, but it's clearly there in the leaders Goldberg quotes. It's also not clear how many current followers of those leaders will break ranks when they see what that power does. It's worth mentioning that the most prominently political Christian right minister here in Wichita recently got thrown out of his church precisely because of his political activism.

Another thing is that the unification of right-wing movements in different churches -- protestants, catholics, and even on some issues jews and muslims -- is a very fragile thing. What these groups have in common is little more than shared prejudices and paranoias, plus a sense of political ambition. However, given power, their differences should come quickly to the fore, breaking them up again. Separation of church and state is not just a secular doctrine; it's self-defense for every minority faith, which in the US is necessarily all of them. So it seems to me that the political movement Goldberg describes is bound to fail, and mostly of its own successes. This is what always happens when a political culture becomes so weak and confused that it allows manifestly bad ideas to be implemented. The Bush presidency is rife with examples -- their failures, in fact, are merely cases where we managed to avoid further disasters.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Music: Current count 12654 [12627] rated (+27), 857 [867] unrated (-10). Not everything filed, but still not getting much, and running a bit slow on year-end research.

  • The Baldwin Brothers: Return of the Golden Rhodes (2006, TVT): Four non-brothers, none named Baldwin, all credited with programming. Their junktronica beats can move you, but they depend on guests for vocals, and the guests are too scattered to add up to anything coherent: a disco dolly, a rapper, a soul diva, a lost cowboy from somewhere out on the range. B
  • T Bone Burnett: The True False Identity (2006, DMZ/Columbia): Better known these days as the producer moviemakers go to when they want something rootsy -- O Brother, Where Art Thou? is his calling card -- than as the singer-songwriter whose last own album came out in 1992, his reappearnce here may be because he found his career-spanning Twenty Twenty a little thin, or just because his stiff moralism got shocked, mostly by his fellow believers. "Blinded by the Darkness" is his brief on separation of church and state, and gains power when he brings the noise. Sample words: "If sin were dealth with by the laws of man/Everybody would be in jail for life/In solitary confinement/With no one to go his bail/Or would have gotten death/Maybe I should save my breath/But this lunacy is bound to fail." And: "In seven days God created evolution/When shall I expect retribution/From the counter revolution." Also like the line: "Cowboy with no cattle, warrior with no war/They don't make imposters like John Wayne anymore." A-
  • Chicago: XXX (2006, Rhino): As full of shit as Boston, but taller, fatter, even more sprawling. So passé even their new albums come out on the reissue division. C-
  • Nelly Furtado: Loose (2006, Geffen): Canadian singer-songwriter, favors dance beats, with Latin and other worldly flavors. A couple of promising pieces here, but nothing that demands further scrutiny. B
  • Grant Green: Live at Club Mozambique (1971 [2006], Blue Note): The guitarist's funk groove had become so ordinary in last years at Blue Note that much of what he recorded got stuck on the shelves, like this live date with Ronnie Foster on organ, Idris Muhammad on drums, and two saxophonists -- Houston Person is the better known, but Clarence Thomas played rougher, which is what shakes this album alive. B+(*)
  • Marcus Miller: Silver Rain (2005, Koch): Pleasing funk, for the most part, with the leader's bass the most agreeable part. The vocal bait for radio stations so inclined is distracting as usual, adding nothing. B
  • OutKast: Idlewild (2006, LaFace/Zomba): I'm always slow on the uptake with them, and most likely it doesn't help that I didn't get to the theatre on time. The soundtrack tie-in kept their heads away from radio hooks, and the retro-nouveau shtick left us not knowing what to expect, but from the moment some woman shoots her man (or is it some other woman?) up to the movie denouement at the end, this is pretty amazing. A-
  • Rock Down Baby: Love & Sex & Rock & Roll (2006, Life Force): That voice is Deena Shoshkes, returning anonymously after a too long absence, but still instantly recognizable -- at least to anyone who thought The Cucumbers was the great album of 1987. Short, with seven songs totalling 21:47, testing ideas perhaps, but more like rumaging through the attic, trying on '80s-vintage shoes and hats -- shades of Talking Heads, Devo, Kraftwerk, and best of all, the Cucumbers. B+(**)
  • 12"/80s (1980-89 [2004], Family, 3CD): Extensive but hardly encyclopedic sampler of 12-inch mixes by progressive, more/less dance-oriented new wave artists. Label is a subsidiary of UMG, and their licensing doesn't range far -- didn't track them all down, but it looks like everything came from majors, with Virgin (EMI) the main outside source. A lot of relatively ordinary cuts. B


Jazz Prospecting (CG #12, Part 4)

Jazz Consumer Guide is coming out in this week's Village Voice. Should be on the streets of NYC on Wednesday. May appear on the website earlier, or not. Despite the lack of interaction, I'm pleased with the way this finished up. As usual, a lot of stuff got cut, so will be held back for a future column. We still need to talk about when that might be. Given that I occasionally slip an A- record into the honorable mentions, whereas Christgau puts one or two B+ records each column in his top section, and that the cutoff for the honorable mentions list is about a third of the way down the B+(**) list, I think there's a case that the frequency should be bumped up to six times a year. It would also be good to schedule these out in advance. A firm deadline would help me focus, and also cut down on the lag time between when I send a column in and when the Voice finds space for it. It would also help me pursue more of the interesting things I haven't bothered with given the uncertainties of the last few months. As it turns out, for all my agonizing, this column is only two weeks over its historical three month period. We need to talk about this in the near future, but things seem favorable at the moment. One good sign is that Francis Davis continues to write his monthly column for the Voice, and his next column will grow to two pages, including a year-end poll of 40 NYC-oriented jazz writers.

By the end of next week I should have finished my maintenance turnover from JCG #11 to JCG #12. That will include a post on my periodic cull from the active consideration list. Also a lot of shuffling in the backup files, most of which have no interest to you, although they're useful for me, and they can be tracked down because I have no reason to hide them. I should note that every now and then I receive mail from musicians correcting my errors or challenging my interpretations in my Jazz Prospecting "reviews." I appreciate that, and will usually make a note in the more permanent prospecting file (although not in the blog, which despite being more public I view as more transitory). But what follows, here and each week, only rarely achieves the level of a review. These really are just notes -- first impressions, scattered bits of research, side-comments about things that annoy me or pique my curiosity, and embarrassingly crude stabs at summary (e.g., "none all that compelling" -- an example scanned from the following). Christgau prides himself on never writing about a record until he knows what he thinks of it. I do that all the time, here even more so than elsewhere.


Jonathan Poretz: A Lot of Livin' to Do (2006 [2007], Pacific Coast Jazz): Actually, not sure of the recording date, but clearly it can't be the same year as the official release date. Poretz is an unabashed admirer of the cardinal male vocal lineage. Down in the "Special Thanks" he says, "Thanks to Frank, Tony, Mel and Bobby for showing me the way." If you have to ask for surnames, this record isn't for you. In my case, "Bobby" gave me pause -- I always thought of Darin as a rocker until I started listening to him lately. Anyhow, we're not talking McFerrin. Of the four, the closest match is Bennett. Actually, I like Poretz better, but I can't claim he adds anything new. Probably wouldn't want to, even if he could. B+(**)

Daryl Sherman: Guess Who's in Town (2006, Arbors): Plays piano, sings standards, has ten albums now. Her voice is similar to Mildred Bailey -- perhaps a bit lighter, but she can surprise you with nuance. The rhythm section, including Jon Wheatley's guitar but no drums, swings nicely, which helps most on the fast ones. Harry Allen and Vince Giordano add sax on three cuts each -- one in common, so five total. B+(*)

Norm Kubrin: I Thought About You (2006, Arbors): About what you'd expect from the backgrounder: "Since 1993 Kubrin has resided in Palm Beach and has been the resident artist at the Leopard Room in the Chesterfield Hotel, the music director of the Colony Hotel, and the resident pianist-singer at Donald Trump's Mar-A-Lago Club. For the last few years he has been the resident artist at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Palm Beach and performs regularly on the Florida concert scene." In other words, Shmoozy piano balladry, in a trio with bass and guitar, singing ye Great American Songbook. Good as far as that goes. I was particularly touched by "Where Do You Start," the breakup song closing the set. B

The Catz in the Hatz: Resilience (2006, Rhombus): Featuring singer Steve Johnson, a/k/a Rusty. He touts the same idols list as Jonathan Poretz, with the minor substitution of "Nat" for "Bobby." Can't say he sounds like any of them, Nat least of all. He sounds hollow, which I find growing on me a bit, but not impressively. The guys in the hatz are OK, with Mike Wiens getting off a couple of nice guitar solos. C+

All Ones: Bloom (2006, Number): I suppose you could call this an organ trio, but the sound is less consistent -- Matt Cunitz employs a wide range of electronic keyboards -- and there's no real trace of soul jazz formula. Partly this is because the trio lacks a real lead instrument -- the keyboards comp and doodle, the others are electric bass and drums. Partly it's all improv. But it's also the case that the musicians work more frequently on the rock side, so this draws from lines going back to Kraut rock. All of which make it interesting, but none all that compelling. B+(*)

Seth Noonan Brewed by Noon: Stories to Tell (2006 [2007], Songlines): Noonan is a Boston drummer. Brewed by Noon is one of three groups he juggles, along with the Hub ("spit-in-yer-face attitude of punk, and the muzo-sophistication of jazz") and Chips (duet with Aram Bajakian). Brewed by Noon dabbles in world music, with vocals from Ireland and Africa, although the three guitars (Bajakian, Jon Madof, Marc Ribot) seem to be more to the point. Interesting record, although the four vocal tracks don't do much for me yet. [B+(**)]

Don Aliquo: Jazz Folk (2006, Young Warrior): I found info about two Don Aliquos on the web. This one teaches in Tennessee, has four records, and plays classic hard bop with a light touch and well-developed tone. The other is based in Pennsylvania, where this one originally hails from, and looks old enough to be this one's father. The group here is the usual quintet, with Clay Jenkins on trumpet and Rufus Reid on bass making the trip down from New York, plus two fellow academics on piano and drums. Got distracted midway through when my copy started to skip. Got it repaired, but will have to spin it again to decide how exceptional this very mainstream record really is. [B+(**)]

Gian Tornatore: Blackout (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): A young saxophonist I like a lot -- his previous album, Sink or Swim, was a low A- mostly on the basis of his bold, forthright postbop logic. This one falls off a bit, mostly because his sax is less dominant, and the rest of the band, including guitar and Fender Rhodes, doesn't take up the slack. But when he takes charge, he's superb. B+(**)

Hironobu Saito: The Sea (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Japanese guitarist, won a scholarship to Berklee, seems to be based in Kyoto now, but he does get around. Second album, more ambitious than The Remaining 2%. Most of it oscillates in big waves of groove, with Walter Smith's sax keeping him company, and Eric Harland accentuating the beat. In this mode he reminds me of John Scofield or maybe Pat Metheny -- guitar's never been my strong suit, and anyway the reaction he evokes is that I've always distrusted those guys. Aside from Harland's drums, I find that part of the album devoid of interest. Some bits fare better. The title track is a simple thing with ocean sounds fading into a recitation by Gretchen Parlato that's both atmospheric and sultry. B-

Ellery Eskelin: Quiet Music (2006, Prime Source, 2CD): A rather avant tenor saxophonist, originally from Kansas as I recall, but raised in Baltimore. When he wrote about sending me this record, I wrote something back about having heard little of his music -- the main exception is Figure of Speech (1991, Soul Note), which I admire greatly -- and he generously sent along a stack of his Hatology releases that had long been on my shopping list. I started thinking I should work forward, then finally decided that would take too long, and gave this a spin. This, like most of the records, features Andrea Parkins on piano (or organ or accordion) and Jim Black on drums. The fourth member here is Jessica Constable, contributing her voice. I'm not sure what I think of that, and indeed the experience varies from the scatlike improv early on to the more formally classical stuff on the second disc. I'm much more pleased with the sax, and suspect that in the end I'll favor his trios. But I'm not getting an Aebi reaction here -- my rule of thumb was that every piece the lady sung cost Lacy one grade. But it often is awkward both using and working around voice, and this shows some strain for it. Also, the music isn't notably quiet, or not. [B+(*)]

Satoko Fujii Four: When We Were There (2005 [2006], Libra): Faced with all those big band albums, I chickened out and threw the plum grade to Fujii's Junk Box trio, figuring it's the common denominator to an oeuvre that is remarkable in its totality even if the pieces never seem to quite add up. Still, I worried that Junk Box wasn't quite up to snuff either. But no such worries here. This time it's a quartet with Jim Black in place of John Hollenbeck -- both drummers who can keep a beat as well as free it up -- and Mark Dresser added on bass. The combination is as powerful as Zephyros on the straightaways but a lot nimbler on the curves. There's a lot going on here, and I don't have it anywhere near sorted, but no quibbling on the grade this time -- unless it eventually goes higher. A-

Rodrigo Amado/Kent Kessler/Paal Nilssen-Love: Teatro (2004 [2006], European Echoes): Portuguese saxophonist from the Lisbon Improvisation Players teams up with two of Ken Vandermark's mates. The rifling up-and-down tenor and baritone sax is about par for the avant-garde -- leans a bit to the melodic side, actually -- and I find that casually attractive. The support is first rate, especially the drummer. B+(**)

Scott Hamilton: Nocturnes & Serenades (2005 [2006], Concord): A set of slow standards, with "Autumn Nocturne" and "Serenade in Blue" tying into the title, "You Go to My Head" and "Chelsea Bridge" more instantly recognizable, and "Man With a Horn" his definitive statement. In other words, pretty much his typical record. The English quartet doesn't have the snap of Back in New York, but sometimes sax is best when you take it nice and easy. A-

BassDrumBone: The Line Up (2005 [2006], Clean Feed): This is Mark Helias on bass, Gerry Hemingway on drum, and Ray Anderson on bone. Their first album together was Wooferlo (Soul Note) in 1987, which I didn't think much of at the time. But one in 1997 called Hence the Reason (Enja) was terrific. I was wondering if this is a once-per-decade thing, but evidently there are more, buried on obscure labels: Oahpse (Auricle), March of Dimes (Data), You Be (Minor Music), Cooked to Perfection (Auricle). There's also a record by the trio called Right Down Your Alley (1984, Soul Note) -- Oahpse looks like the oldest, dating from 1979. Helias also plays with Anderson in the Slickaphonics, and produced most of Anderson's Gramavision albums. The oldest entry in Hemingway's discography, a 1979 record called Kwambe, also features Anderson and Helias. So no surprise that this trio is so tightly integrated and evenly balanced, but they don't seem to be able to break out of their integration and jump to some higher energy level. Good to hear Anderson, who hasn't released much under his own name since his string with Enja ran out around 1999. Whatever the problem is there, it's not in the bone. B+(***)

Roswell Rudd/Mark Dresser: Airwalkers (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Trombone/bass duos, as limited sonically as you'd expect. Two great players, capable of sustaining a high level of interest if the listener is up for it. Rudd has rarely exposed himself this intimately. Dresser, on the other hand, does it all the time. [B+(*)]

John Butcher/Paal Nilssen-Love: Concentric (2001 [2006], Clean Feed): Another improv duo, this one sax (tenor or soprano) and drums. Butcher is highly touted in the Penguin Guide, but I have little experience with him, and no firm picture. The drummer I know much better, and not just from his work with Ken Vandermark in groups like School Days, FME, Free Fall, and the Territory Band. This is intense, rough going, hard to grab hold of. Butcher starts to make more sense only toward the end, first with a splotch of soprano. Nilssen-Love seems to get his best shots in early. Not inconceivable that the pleasures might make up for the pain, but it's bound to be tough. B

Taylor Haskins: Metaview (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Trumpeter, on his second album, with another 16 credits since 1996, mostly with Andrew Rathbun, Guillermo Klein, and Peter Herborn. Much of this is in large groups, including the Dave Holland Big Band. Claims to have composed themes for 50+ TV commercials, which is neither here nor there. This record is a quintet with Rathbun on tenor and soprano sax and Adam Rogers on guitar instead of the usual piano. That moves it into a harmonically rich vein of postbop, which I've never much cared for, but then I've rarely heard it done this well. Probably because it's not just harmonics -- he has a definite knack for weaving melodic lines together. Either that, or he's damn lucky. [B+(***)]

Jordi Berni Trio + Santi De La Rubia: Afinke (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Berni's a young pianist based in Barcelona. His trio plays above average but unexceptional postbop, securely in the middle of the mainstream. De La Rubia plays tenor sax in the same vein, although he doesn't have an especially distinctive sound. The record develops nicely, expertly even. Too good to complain about, but I'm not sure what else to do with it. B+(*)

Luis Rodríguez: U-Turn (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Young tenor saxophonist (owns a soprano too) from Puerto Rico. Got a scholarship to Berklee 1998; moved back to Puerto Rico in 2003. First album, mostly a quartet with bass, drums, and Luis Perdomo on piano, but Miguel Zenón joins in on two tracks, and really heats things up on "On the Road." Music does not have a pronounced Latin influence, although the possibility that Perdomo, in particular, is slipping in something over my head is very real; rather, it's postbop of a high order, easy to enjoy, hard to fault. B+(**)


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

Diana Krall: From This Moment On (2006, Verve): The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra doesn't split the difference between Billy May and Nelson Riddle so much as they aggregate the virtues of each. That wouldn't mean a thing without a commanding singer, but Krall fills that bill. She sings the title song, "It Could Happen to You," "Come Dance With Me," even the often hoary "Willow Weep for Me" as authoritatively as they've ever been sung, and each come with long, illustrious histories. And while the Orchestra is capable of overkill, it's remarkable how seamlessly she slips in four songs without them. A-

Lisbon Improvisation Players: Spiritualized (2006, Clean Feed): Saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, on alto and baritone this time, is the leader, mainstay, or hub of this variable group. Dallas trumpeter Dennis González is the guest, adding a low-key lyricism to Amado's tendencies to get rough. Cellist Ulrich Mitzlaff joins in on the last two cuts. It all appears to be group improv, and it's a bit hit and miss, with some low volume sections that are hard to resolve, and some blaring where they get stuck on one idea. But most of the time it works, and it's interesting to see how González fits in. B+(***)

The David S. Ware Quartet: BalladWare (1999 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Not exactly a standards album, given that four of seven songs come from Ware's own songbook. The others are "Yesterdays," "Autumn Leaves," and "Tenderly" -- they qualify, and the other pieces fit nicely around them. This reminds Francis Davis of Coltrane's Ballads, but it isn't nearly as conventional, nor as pretty. For one thing, Matthew Shipp does some tricky work on the chassis -- not raw, but nothing expected either. And while Ware holds back from getting rough, he does work the pieces around quite a bit. A-

David Krakauer: Bubbemeises: Lies My Gramma Told Me (2006, Label Bleu): Socalled's samples provide a useful postmodern framing for the leader's clarinet, which otherwise just tends to whirl away in a dust cloud of mad klezmer. Even better is the rap that speaks truth to Bubbe. In full charge, this is an exciting group, but I've played the record many times without convincing myself it belongs on the A-list. So it must not. B+(***)


Porkalicious

After having failed miserably at working on a blog for his film company, my nephew Mike Hull started a food blog based on his Thanksgiving dinner. He started this off with a bit of family history, which has already gotten buried under last week's posts. His theory is to do one post per dish, with recipe, notes, and pictures. He's asked me to contribute, so I dropped a line on what's been cooking here in Cowtown.

I use my website as a portable filing system, and one thing I've had for a long time has been a cache of recipes that I've made and wanted to remember -- some from the family, but most cribbed from cookbooks. I'm pretty erratic about filling them out -- even more so lately, since I've been thinking I should restructure how they're put together. I used to put more notices on meals in my Notebook, a less pretentious concept than a blog, but I've fallen away from doing that recently as well. And I haven't been putting much of anything on food here, either. Don't want to start a third major thread alongside the the music and politics -- always figured on separating them, and indeed have two more unused websites for that purpose, but never got around to it. But every now and then I'll throw something on food into Porkalicious, and see how that works out.


Porkalicious Entry: Back Home on the Range

Back in Wichita, I fixed a little dinner on Thanksgiving day myself for those of us not intrepid enough to trek to New Jersey. No turkey. Never do turkey. But I had a side of salmon in the freezer, and figured teriyaki would be easy. Followed a mostly Japanese theme, winding up with:

  • miso soup
  • pan-fried gyoza
  • salmon teriyaki
  • tiny roast potatoes
  • french-cut green beans with peanut sauce
  • grilled japanese eggplant with spicy peanut sauce
  • agedashi (fried bean curd)
  • pineapple upside down cake

May have been something else, but I don't recall. I know I made sushi rice, but didn't get around to serving it. I did serve it the next day, with masago and broiled unagi, when we reconvened for leftovers.

This was one of a series of rather substantial meals we've prepared over the last two months. This started with my annual birthday dinner, followed with a fundraiser for the local peace center, a dinner when the Superartists came to town, the above-mentioned Thanksgiving bash, and a contribution to the peace center's annual meeting. Don't have the full menus, let alone recipes and photos, but roughly speaking it breaks down like this:

Birthday dinner: Chinese theme, with peking duck, mandarin pancakes, pseudo-sharkfin soup, chicken wings, sweet and sour country ribs, broccoli with black beans, and an inferior store-bought coconut cake (I can make a much better one). May have made some rice and/or an eggplant dish. Served a dozen people. Had a leftovers dinner too, which is where the broccoli finally appeared.

Peace Center fundraiser: Turkish theme, served about 25 people in two shifts. Lamb yogurt kebabs, shrimp with feta cheese, shepherd's salad, eggplant salad, muhamara (a dip with red peppers, walnuts, pomegranate molasses), yogurt with cucumbers and mint, bulgur pilaf, pide bread, baklava.

Superartists dinner: Middle eastern theme, with a lot of grilled meats (chicken wings, rock cornish hens, swordfish, ground lamb kebabs), eggplant topped with yogurt, onion/olive/orange salad. Made orzo for the starch, with sun-dried tomatoes. Don't remember what else: probably yogurt/cucumber, maybe fatoush. Had leftover baklava.

Thanksgiving: Japanese, as above.

Peace Center annual meeting: Indian theme, made double recipes of chicken cashew curry and a pilaf with a lot of peas, plus a batch of cucumber raita.

Had a lot of help putting these together -- in fact, I almost never grill unless I can get a guest to do the work. Don't do this all that often, but this particular string worked out really well. Just goes to show what you can do if you can follow cookbooks, shop for unusual ingredients, and hang in there.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Wobbly Way Out

Two interesting things about the Baker-Hamilton report. One is that the major news media's reaction is to stress the summary findings about how grave the situation in Iraq has become. This isn't news per se, but it moves the point of plausible denial several steps back toward reality. It's getting hard to find anyone prowar who doesn't at least acknowledge that Bush is in a heap of trouble over there. In this regard, the report reflects at least as much as it moves a shift in the political consensus.

But the other point is that Baker-Hamilton have moved beyond the consensus in at least one major recommendation: that solving the Israel/Palestine problem is central and absolutely critical for the US to salvage any constructive role in the Middle East. They do seem to recognize, even if they're not clear enough about it, that the US has much more to lose in the region than the already lost cause in Iraq. They may also recognize that blindly catering to Israel's militarist fringe is bound to leave them as isolated in the region as Israel is. But they're still too damn coy about what this thrust means. For instance, they envision that they can talk Syria into convincing Hamas to negotiate with Israel. That may make the deal look more palatable, but it's Israel that needs convincing, and it's Israel that's resisting -- because the deal that works is one they don't want.

The Wichita Eagle (McClatchy) piece today starts with its title, "President lukewarm on Iraq recommendations," then goes on to say:

In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected the group's suggestion that peace in Iraq requires a Palestinian state. [ . . . ] Israel rejected the group's suggestion of a "renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to broker peace between Israel and the Arabs. The report argues that U.S. goals in the region won't be met until Washington deals with that conflict.

"The attempt to create a linkage between the Iraqi issue and the Mideast issue -- we have a different view," Olmert said Thursday. "To the best of my knowledge, President Bush, throughout the recent years, also had a different view on this."

Olmert also rejected opening peace talks with Syria, as the group recommends.

If, as Baker believes, the key is "flipping" Syria, you have to explore what's in it for Syria. Returning the Golan Heights, seized in the 1967 war, is minimal. The root of that war was the nakba -- the Palestinian exodus due to Israel's founding war in 1948. Only by solving that problem -- and the parameters of solution are well known, established by UN resolutions in 1967 and acknowledged by the Arab League in 2002 -- does a Syrian realignment become possible. The history with Iran is more complex, but again a just peace in Palestine would remove one of the major obstacles to cooperation and peaceful coexistence with Iran.

By not being clear enough -- and knowing these guys they might not even be clear in their own minds, although it's unlikely they're so dumb they think Iran can turn Sadr and Hezbollah on and off like a faucet -- they allow the idiots to continue sowing confusion. The article continues:

On Capitol Hill, Baker and Hamilton -- who acknowledged that Iran likely wouldn't pick up an offer of talks from Washington -- ran into stiff resistance to that proposal.

"Others have described this commission as composed of 'realists,'" Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., told the two. "I'm skeptical that it's realistic to think that Iran wants to help the United States succeed in Iraq. They are, after all, supporting Hezbollah, which gathers people in the square in Beirut to shout, 'Death to America.' They are giving sophisticated (explosives) to the militias, which are killing Americans every day" in Iraq.

As is so often the case, the question of objectives remains unraised and unresolved, while questions of means remain poorly understood, often wrongly.


Over at TomDispatch Michael Schwartz has a useful piece in response to the ISG Report, called "The Myth of More," where he takes on the question of whether more troops (American and/or Iraqi), more money, more whatever might make the critical difference. More, after all, is one of those words that at first blush always sounds like a reasonable answer. Still, when you look at what American troops have actually done in Iraq, ask yourself: would anything be better if there were more targets, more defensive overreaction, more collateral damage? Schwartz writes:

Solving this paradox requires understanding the fundamental horror of Bush administration policy in Iraq: American troops are not quelling violence; they are creating it. Instead of entering a violent city and restoring order, they enter a relatively peaceful city and create violence. The accurate portrait of this situation -- as described, for instance, by Nir Rosen in his book In the Belly of the Green Bird, is that the most hostile anti-American cities like Tal Afar and Ramadi have generally been reasonably peaceful when U.S. troops are not there. They are ruled by local leaders in league with local guerilla fighters. The insurgents -- most often organized into armed militias -- provide policing functions, as well as enforcing the (usually fundamentalist) religious laws that are currently dominant in both Sunni and Shia areas of Iraq.

These cities do not accept the sovereignty of the Iraqi government or of the American occupation, and therefore when the Americans seek to impose an outside government and root out the insurgency's military leaders, the cities explode. On hitting the streets, American troops usually seek to arrest or kill local militia leaders, while the insurgents begin to set IEDs or mount sniper attacks to prevent the U.S. from controlling the town. Because the insurgents are usually supported by many in the community and U.S. tactics are generally destructive, American military "successes" produce new insurgents, recruited to avenge the deaths of friends and relatives. When U.S. forces withdraw, the city or town returns to something like its previous status quo (with insurgents once again playing the role of local police) -- but, of course, it's also more battered, economically worse off, angrier, more on edge.

I've seen this sort of analysis before. The fact that Iraqi cities are stable and orderly except when US-directed forces interfere is the main thing that makes me think that simply withdrawing US forces will result in a reduction in violence and a stabilization of local power. That, in turn, would set the stage for negotiations aimed at rejoining a national political structure. Outside interests could destabilize this situation by encouraging inside groups to attack others -- as indeed the US does now. Those interests in turn could be blunted by international agreement. I don't know whether Baker understands this, but the value of his regional summit isn't to get others to pitch in and help the US in Iraq. It's to reduce conflicts between outside states so they see less value in interfering in Iraq. But for that to happen, the nations have to actually agree to reduce those conflicts, and that really starts with Israel/Palestine.

Friday, December 08, 2006

F5 Record Report (#19: December 7, 2006)

This week's F5 Record Report is up today, on time, at the usual link. The lineup:

  • Ignacio Berroa: Codes (Blue Note) A- [jazz]
  • Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet: Way Out East (Songlines) B+ [jazz]
  • Kekele: Kinavana (Stern's Africa) A- [world]
  • The Klezmatics: Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah (JMG) B+ [world]
  • Buck Owens: 21 #1 Hits: The Ultimate Collection (1963-88, Rhino) A- [country]
  • Thirsty Ear Blue Series Sampler (Thirsty Ear) B+ [jazz]
  • Big Joe Williams: The Sonet Blues Story (1972, Verve) A- [blues]

Got jammed again, and wound up scrounging. Don't have next week's done yet, so that promises to be another one. Even though I have some ambitions of pulling a fairly authoritative year-end list together, that doesn't seem very promising. Still have important things I haven't found time to play yet. Still having trouble getting things of interest. And still don't know much about what I've missed. But time is proving to be the main obstacle.


Letter to publicists:

This week's F5 Record Report presumably has a record of interest to
you. F5 is a weekly entertainment tabloid distributed free here in
Wichita KS. I cover 6-8 records per week, sometimes recycling from
other columns. The following URL will get you the latest column,
and the "next article" links will cycle you back in time.

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

For more info, see:

  http://tomhull.com/ocston/music.php
  http://tomhull.com/ocston/arch/f5/

The index by label:

  EMI (Blue Note): Ignacio Berroa
  JMG: The Klezmatics
  Songlines: Wayne Horvitz
  Stern's Africa: Kekele
  Thirsty Ear: Blue Series Sampler
  Universal (Verve): Big Joe Williams
  WEA (Rhino): Buck Owens

Thanks for your interest and support.


Christgau's Consumer Guide

Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide, on hiatus since he was fired by the Village Voice, has returned at MSN. It will be appearing every other month, with 10-12 featured records, a featured dud, and the usual long list of honorable mentions, choice cuts, and more duds. The page has a link to a "User's Guide" with more information.

At this stage I'm not sure what the navigation to the page is supposed to be: I don't see links from higher up the URL tree. Thanks to Tom Lane for being the first to tip me off.

I still haven't gotten into working on an upgrade for Christgau's website, but I have some ideas, including a news feed. For instance, Christgau was on NPR on Wednesday, talking about Crunk Hits 2. We'll also start posting more of Carola Dibbell's wonderful writing, especially her fiction.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Grammy Day

With no effort on my part whatsoever, I always know when the Grammy nominations are announced. That's when my mailbox starts filling up with announcements from proud publicists. First one in this morning was ECM's Tina Pelikan, with a bevy of classical artists plus Trio Beyond (Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, Larry Goldings) in jazz. I'm working on building a year-end list with highly touted and/or hyped records, so I actually spent a fair amount of time pouring over the nominee list. What I found was no surprise: that it lines up rather poorly with my interests. I put a list together of nominees in each category that I've heard or have (my grades in parens, ? undecided, a couple more non-final). The categories tell you something about how they think of the world. My list probably does no more than to show off my ignorance.

  • Album of the Year: Dixie Chicks [B]
  • Pop Instrumental: none
  • Pop Vocal: Elvis Costello/Allen Toussaint [B]
  • Electronic/Dance: Madonna [A-]
  • Traditional Pop Vocal: none
  • Rock: John Mayer [B+(**)], Neil Young [B+(***)]
  • Alternative Music: Arctic Monkeys [A-], Yeah Yeah Yeahs [B+(***)]
  • R&B: Prince [A-]
  • Contemporary R&B: none
  • Rap: The Roots [A-]
  • Country: Dixie Chicks [B], Willie Nelson [A-]
  • Bluegrass: none
  • New Age: none
  • Contemporary Jazz: Béla Fleck [B+(*)], Christian Scott [B+(*)], Sex Mob [B+(*)], Mike Stern [B-]
  • Jazz Vocal: Diana Krall [A-], Nancy Wilson [B]
  • Jazz Instrumental: Ornette Coleman [A], Chick Corea [B], Jack DeJohnette [B+(*)], Sonny Rollins [A-]
  • Large Jazz Ensemble: Randy Brecker [C], Joe Lovano [B+(***)], Mingus Big Band [B+(*)]
  • Latin Jazz: Ignacio Berroa [A-], Edsel Gomez [B+(**)], Dafnis Prieto [B+(*)], Diego Urcola [B+(*)]
  • Rock or Rap Gospel: none
  • Pop/Contemporary Gospel: none
  • Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel: none
  • Traditional Gospel: none
  • Contemporary R&B Gospel: none
  • Latin Pop: none
  • Latin Rock, Alternative or Urban: none
  • Tropical Latin: none
  • Mexican/Mexican-American: none
  • Tejano: none
  • Norteño: none
  • Banda: none
  • Traditional Blues: Duke Robillard [B+(*)]
  • Contemporary Blues: Robert Cray [?], Dr. John [B], Susan Tedeschi [B-]
  • Traditional Folk: Bruce Springsteen [A-]
  • Contemporary Folk/Americana: Rosanne Cash [A-], Bob Dylan [A-]
  • Native American Music: none
  • Hawaiian: none
  • Reggae: none
  • Traditional World Music: Soweto Gospel Choir [B+(*)]
  • Contemporary World Music: The Klezmatics [A], Ladysmith Black Mambazo [B+(*)], Ali Farka Toure [?]
  • Polka: none
  • Musical for Children: none
  • Spoken Word for Children: none
  • Spoken Word: none
  • Comedy: none
  • Musical Show: none
  • Compilation Soundtrack: Brokeback Mountain [B]
  • Score Soundtrack: none
  • Historical Album: Good for What Ails You [A]
  • Classical: none
  • Classical Crossover: none

This actually isn't as bad as I expected, but then my expectations were pretty low. This is the 49th Grammy year, and they've spent their whole lifespan behind the learning curve. Christgau summed them back in 2001 in a piece titled Forever Old. The best folks on the nominee list this year are old too: Bob Dylan, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Willie Nelson, Neil Young. And behind them are some who are getting there: Bruce Springsteen, Joe Lovano, Madonna. It's the ones who aren't old, who aren't icons, that are dubious ones. The exception may be the Arctic Monkeys, but even they prove that the rule is business. The Oscars are business too, but their ability to command more interest it probably because it just takes more capital to shoot movies. And that moves the art toward the business -- even low-budget indies that get some Oscar interest do so through major distributors. That constricts the number of movies one might conceivably see each year to a few hundred -- excluding ones you won't get a chance to see, like Smokers. (Shameless plug there.) But there are tens of thousands of records each year, so the compromises of the sort of business filtering that the Grammies impose are all the more glaring.


Also showing up in my mail today was a notice that Jay McShann died. When he was younger he claimed to be older, but until today he was satisfied to be 90. He did a record with Ralph Sutton a couple of decades ago called The Last of the Whorehouse Piano Players, and he survived Sutton, so I guess he really was the last. He was certainly the last of the major bandleaders from the golden age of jazz in Kansas City. For a long time McShann was best known for hiring a junkie who played lightning-fast alto sax and who died more than 50 years before. But when I go back and listen to McShann's Blues From Kansas City, I mostly hear underrated blues shouter Walter Brown. And a damn fine boogie pianist. McShann's latest record was Hootie Blues, cut in 2001 but released on Stony Plain earlier this year. It's very typical, which means it's one to remember him by.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Kurlansky on Nonviolence

I have a bunch of books that I've read and collected quotes from, mostly waiting for me to get around to annotating them. Let's start with Mark Kurlansky's Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea (2006, Modern Library). The book is a very useful, powerful even, meditation on nonviolence (and violence) throughout history.

The first point is that nonviolence isn't a particularly modern idea (pp. 25-26):

One of history's greatest lessons is that once the state embraces a religion, the nature of that religion changes radically. It loses its nonviolent component and becomes a force for war rather than peace. The state must make war, because without war it would have to drop its power politics and renege on its mission to seek advantage over other nations, enhancing itself at the expense of others. And so a religion that is in the service of a state is a religion that not only accepts war but prays for victory. From Constantine to the Crusaders to the contemporary American Christian right, people who call themselves Christians have betrayed the teachings of Jesus while using His name in the pursuit of political power. But this is not an exclusively Christian phenomenon. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism -- all the great religions have been betrayed in the hands of people seeking political power and have been defiled and disgraced in the hands of nation-states.

After discussing Martin's refusal to fight in 336 (p. 27):

But others refused service, too, including Martin's friend Victricius. The Church addressed this Christian urge toward conscientious objection later in the century, declaring that a Christian who had shed blood was not eligible for communion for three years. Thus did the Church acknowledge an objection to warfare, but not an insurmountable one. Then in the fifth century an Algerian bishop, Augustine of Hippo, wrote the enduring apologia for murder on the battlefield, the concept of "just war." Augustine, considered one of the fathers of the Catholic Church, declared that the validity of war was a question of inner motive. If a pious man believed in a just cause and truly loved his enemies, it was permissible to go to war and to kill the enemies he loved because he was doing it in a high-minded way.

Kurlansky discusses Islam's founding and first taste of power (p. 34-35):

Like Jesus, [Mohammed] had no intention of founding a new religion but wanted to bring the spiritual values of monotheism to Arabs. . . . Mohammed's approach shunned abstract debate and encouraged pragmatic solutions. He always emphasized negotiating solutions, and by tradition there is tremendous emphasis on negotiation in Muslim history. Mohammed's attempt at a perfect society in Mecca enforced a complete ban on violence, which made Mecca prosper as a center of trade. During the hajj, the required pilgrimage to Mecca, the faithful Muslim was not allowed to carry weapons, even for hunting, nor to commit any violence, including words spoken in anger.

Islam, an unusually open faith whose early adherents came from many backgrounds, including Judaism, began to change after 622, when Mohammed and his followers moved from Mecca to Yathrib, a town 250 miles to the north, which was renamed al-Medinah -- the city. . . . But the establishment of Medina had an effect on Islam not unlike that of Constantine and Rome on Christianity. It was not that Mohammed was interested in conquest and empire like Constantine, but Medina had become, in effect, a state -- territory that had to be defended when it was attacked by men from Mecca who vowed to destroy it, and in 625 they almost succeeded. The defense of Medina, in several major battles, began Islamic military history and included the first Muslim-Jewish conflict, in which Mohammed massacred an armed Jewish group that rose against him. By the seventh century it was already an old pattern: the religious doctrine of peace meets the power politics of state, the rules are bent for the "just war," and once the first few doses are administered the state becomes an addict that will tell any lie to get its narcotic. War is simply the means. The real narcotic is power. As Hungarian writer György Konrád said of the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, "Men can invent few libidinous fantasies more enjoyable than those of world domination." The African-American poet Langston Hughes called the leading nations "the nymphomaniacs of power."

This leads us to the Crusades, and Pope Urban II (p. 38-39):

Urban's speech became for the West what the tenth-century Hamdanid sermons became for the East, a textbook model for rallying the troops. It contains all of the traditional lies by which people are convinced to die and kill.

The enemy is evil -- in this case despicable. We, on the other hand, said Urban, have God on our side. It was an Augustinian just war. Those who did not support the war should be and would be singled out as immoral for failing to support the cause -- just as in every war those who refused to fight have been vilified by the warmakers. Even questioning a war must be attacked as a sign of suspicious weakness. In June 2005, White House adviser Karl Rove accused the Democrats, because they were questioning the war in Iraq, of wanting to "offer therapy and understanding to our attackers." The fact that no Iraqis had attacked the United States was irrelevant. The point in 2005, as in 1095, was that a failure to hate the enemy, once an enemy had been declared. was unacceptable.

On the Crusades (p. 43):

The Crusades were about power, not religion. And the Muslims understood this. Initially, they began looking for ties and seeking negotiations with the four new Mediterranean kingdoms the Christians had established in the Middle East. But slowly they built their own war propaganda machine. Just as the Christians established a term for their enemy -- the Saracens -- the Muslims began calling all the Christian intruders al-Frani, the Franks. Clerics began teaching that defeat at the hands of the Franks was God's punishment for their failure to carry out their religious duties. And one of those duties was jihad. By reviving the culture of jihad the Saracens were able to build a counter-Crusade and drive out the Franks. It has happened throughout history: peoples who go to war tend to become mirror images of their enemy -- another lesson.

More on how the Crusades resonate over history (p. 44):

Most warmakers try to claim that theirs is a holy war, a just war, that God is on their side, because their cause is just. In the United States the often-repeated inanity, "God bless America," though technically a request, is generally used as a declaration, God blesses America. And war is seldom far behind such assertions -- a holy war at that.

It is not surprising that the counter-Crusade and its war cries continue to echo in the Muslim world. Islamic militants from Palestinian Hamas to Libya's Muammar Qaddafi use Crusade and counter-Crusade imagery in speeches to rally the faithful. What is more surprising is that in the West, where the Crusades represent a humanitarian atrocity, an unconscionable act of aggression, a military failure, and one of the worst mistakes in the history of international relations, they also remain a model. Images of the Middle Ages and the Crusades in the movies, video games, and toys by corporations such as Disney steep children at an early age in the culture of warfare and killing. Urban's rallying cry has been copied over and over again. Contemporary right-wing American evangelists such as Billy Graham call their campaigns "crusades." In 2001, when U.S. president George W. Bush announced his "war on terror," his words echoed the messages of Pope Urban II. He even used the word crusade. Though George W. Bush may not even have known who Urban II was, Urban's famous speech had become the standard way to sell a war.

And then came colonialism (p. 65):

In the vast history of European colonialism, there are few incidents of nonviolent resistance by indigenous people, leaving unanswered the question of whether this would have worked. What is answerable is that nothing they did try worked. The indigenous people of five continents were facing an intractable enemy from a sixth continent that was convinced that they had the right to steal the land on other continents and destroy the inhabitants as peoples and cultures, and, in fact, that this was the proper thing to do. The Europeans had not only the public and the clergy, but the intelligentsia, the thinkers and philosophers, backing up their program of genocide.

Every war starts with a preemptive attack on the desire for peace (p. 76):

Another enduring lesson of history is that it is always easier to promote war than peace, easier to end the peace than end the war, because peace is fragile and war is durable. Once the first shots are fired, those who oppose the war are simply branded as traitors. All debate ends once the first shots are fired, so firing shots is always an effective way to end the debate. The silence may not last for long, as the War of 1812, World War I, Vietnam, and Iraq, all unpopular wars, demonstrate, but there is always a moment of enforced silence when debate and criticism are banished and this moment gives the war boosters at least a temporary advantage.

Again (p. 122):

In the United States the antiwar movement flourished until 1917, when the Americans entered the war. Suddenly laws were passed equating the expression of antiwar sentiments with espionage. Those who denounced the war could be sentenced to as much as twenty-five years in perison, yet 142 were sentenced for life and 17 were sentenced to death, though the executions were never carried out. Many thousands were so badly beaten and abused in prison in attempts to force them to change their stance, that at the end of the war only 4,000, about a third of the men who had said they would not serve, remained hard-and-fast conscientious objectors. The government allowed gangs to beat and even tar and feather war resisters and force them to kiss the flag. The American press, like that in Britain, belittled war resisters. Former president Theodore Roosevelt, speaking at the Harvard Club, called them "sexless creatures." Antiwar movies and books were banned, while people flocked to prowar propaganda designed to instill hatred of Germans.

Moving on to WWII (pp. 135-136):

There was something odd about the war propaganda machine. Since hatred of the enemy is a cornerstone of selling a war, in World War I the British and American presses, in collusion with their governments, made up the most outlandish lies about German atrocities. The Kaiser was portrayed as monstrous, "a lunatic." German soldiers were said to rape nuns and mutilate children. H.G. Wells, who invented the phrase "the war that will end war," also invested the myth of "Frankenstein Germany," the monster state. A story broken by the Times of London, that Germany had a factory that turned corpses into munitions, was widely believed, though completely fabricated.

But in World War II, when Germany really was led by a lunatic, when Germans did mutilate and murder children, when they had death factories that actually did make soap out of human beings, little fo this was included in the war propaganda. The governments of the Allied nations had not abandoned propaganda. And yet the Holocaust, the systematic murder of six million Jews, was a subject rarely touched upon in the media. Contrary to popular postwar claims, the Holocaust was not stopped by the war. In fact, it was started by it. Before the war, Jews had been stripped of their rights and property and in some cases thrown into labor camps along with Communists and political dissidents. Various schemes emerged, including one in 1940, shortly after the war had begun, to deport Jews to Madagascar, a plan that failed because it would have had to be negotiated with France and Britain and this could not be done in wartime. Only in the isolation and brutality of wartime, in 1941, after the invasion of the Soviet Union in late June, when Germans had millions of additional Eastern European Jews under their control, did Germany dare to turn concentration camps into death camps. And only in January 1942, at a secret conference in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, did the Germans plan Die Endlösung, the "final solution," killing them all. In the postwar world it became the Holocaust. But in reality the Allies went to war over geopolitical concerns. If they had wanted to save the Jews, the best chance would have been not going to war. But as with the slaves in the American South, there were too few interested in the plight of Europe's Jews.

[ . . . ] For the Allies, stopping the Holocaust was militarily irrelevant, and from a purely strategic point of view this was probably true. But more to the point, neither Roosevelt, Churchill, nor most of all Stalin wanted to make the war about saving the Jews, because, as with freeing the slaves, going to war to save the Jews would not have been popular. The many anti-semites in the Unitd States, Britain, and France would have been, or at least it was supposed that they would have been, resentful of being asked to fight for Jews. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels repeatedly claimed that the Allies were attacking Germany because they were controlled by Jews. Churchill and Roosevelt understood the potency of this claim and did not want to give it credence. Roosevelt had been criticized sharply after the 1936 election, when he slightly opened up Jewish immigration so that of the 300,000 Jewish refugees taken in by the world, who were a mere fraction of those trying to escape, two-thirds were received by the United States. This led to accusations that Roosevelt was "too close to the Jews," or that he was being manipulated by them.

The end of the Cold War (p. 170):

James Madison said, "All governments rest on opinion," and this is no less true of dictatorships than democracies. The problem with dictatorships is that the leadership is more corrupted by power than that of the democratic tyrant who can be voted out. So while the Soviet Union worked hard at maintaining public opinion, if it felt challenged, it usually responded brutally, even though this was unpopular. By the end of the 1980s such a large part of the population had turned against it that the Soviet Union could no longer function. On October 7, 1989, East German Communist Party leader Erich Honecker ordered security forces to open fire on demonstrators in Leipzig. Egon Krenz, the man in charge of security, flew to Leipzig to prevent the shooting. Krenz feared that if their security forces opened fire it would mean the end of the regime. Ten days later, after Honecker was forced to resign, the regime did resort to violence. Within a month they were gone and the Berlin Wall was being chipped away by souvenir hunters.

The twenty-five lessons (pp. 183-184):

  1. There is no proactive word for nonviolence.
  2. Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them.
  3. Practitioners of nonviolence are seen as enemies of the state.
  4. Once a state takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent teachings.
  5. A rebel can be defanged and co-opted by making him a saint after he is dead.
  6. Somewhere behind every war there are always a few founding lies.
  7. A propaganda machine promoting hatred always has a war waiting in the wings.
  8. People who go to war start to resemble their enemy.
  9. A conflict between a violent and a nonviolent force is a moral argument. If the violent side can provoke the nonviolent side into violence, the violent side has won.
  10. The problem lies not in the nature of man but in the nature of power.
  11. The longer a war lasts, the less popular it becomes.
  12. The state imagines it is impotent without a military because it cannot conceive of power without force.
  13. It is often not the largest but the best organized and most articulate group that prevails.
  14. All debate momentarily ends with an "enforced silence" once the first shots are fired.
  15. A shooting war is not necessary to overthrow an established power but is used to consolidate the revolution itself.
  16. Violence does not resolve. It always leads to more violence.
  17. Warfare produces peace activists. A group of veterans is a likely place to find peace activists.
  18. People motivated by fear do not act well.
  19. While it is perfectly feasible to convince a people faced with brutal repression to rise up in a suicidal attack on their oppressor, it is almost impossible to convince them to meet deadly violence with nonviolent resistance.
  20. Wars do not have to be sold to the general public if they can be carried out by an all-volunteer professional military.
  21. Once you start the business of killing, you just get "deeper and deeper," without limits.
  22. Violence always comes with a supposedly rational explanation -- which is only dismised as irrational if the violence fails.
  23. Violence is a virus that infects and takes over.
  24. The miracle is that despite all of society's promotion of warfare, most soldiers find warfare to be a wrenching departure from their own moral values.
  25. The hard work of beginning a movement to end war has already been done.

A thin but important book. One of the strongest memories I have of the immediate post-9/11 era was of the vicious slander directed against pacifists. I remember thinking then that even if you thought war justified at that point, you should still show some respect to the pacifists, because sooner or later you'd need them. We need them (or should I say us?) now more than ever.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Panic

Tony Karon has a couple of posts (here and here) on how the course Bush et al. have adopted is to panic. The following argues against something I've recently argued, namely that a US exit from Iraq will create a stabilizing power vacuum.

Start pulling the troops out, the reasoning goes, and the Iraqis will be spooked into getting their act together and stopping their internecine war.

It's a false premise, because it takes at face value to claims by Iraqi politicians that they really, really want to all just get along. Plainly, Maliki isn''t just struggling with the logistics and authority issues that preclude him from doing what the U.S. wants him to do -- it's a political choice. He's part of a Shiite alliance whose goal is to consolidate Shiite power in Baghdad. That's the goal for which it was elected, which makes one wonder whether Stephen Hadley was born yesterday when he writes ominously of the suspicion that building Shiite power may be what Maliki is really up to. (It's like these fools in the Bush Administration didn't realise that they lost the Iraqi election, and forgot to check what the winners actually stand for . . . )

If the U.S. begins withdrawing, the Shiite government will move to launch an all-out assault on the Sunni insurgency and its social base, which is the Sunni community. That's what Maliki means when he tells Bush to take off the shackles and let him deal with the problem (by giving him command of the Iraqi security forces, which remain entirely under U.S. command). And that's what the Saudis are warning about when they threaten to back the insurgency, which presumably they're already doing. (See below). The idea that the Shiite-led government is going to start implementing the U.S. program for national reconciliation because the U.S. is moving to leave is an epic exercise in wishful thinking.

Of course, what this really proves is that the US has been renting Shiite political support, paying for it by arming Shiite militias -- specifically those who wear Iraqi uniforms. The Shiites have played along, biding their time until they're strong enough to defeat or at least defend against the Sunnis. When they're ready to stand on their own -- two days before he got sacked Rumsfeld was still caught up in his juvenile bicycle metaphors -- they'll kick the US out and start the civil war in earnest. The US, meanwhile, is still trying to hold on, on the one hand by tilting back toward "moderate" Sunnis, on the other trying to split the Shiites by sicking Hakim on Sadr. This sort of divide-and-devour strategy has bought Bush time, but only at the cost of incurring ever greater risk. One wonders, for instance, what Talabani was doing in Tehran last week: representing friendly Iraq, or working out a side deal for Kurdish autonomy when Iran replaces Bush as the guarantor of Shiite security? If the latter, which looks like the better odds to me, that suggests that not even the Kurds see much of a future in US protection.

There's a certain Chicken Little aspect to all this. For years now Bush and his apologists have been warning about all the horrible things that would happen were the US to withdraw from Iraq. Now it looks like withdrawal is coming, whether we like it or not. And it looks like it's going to be as deceitful, convoluted, incoherent, and chaotic as everything else Bush has done in Iraq. So why shouldn't everyone in the region panic? After all, the panic starts here.

To my mind, this just further proves the need to neutralize and demilitarize Iraq and the region, to step back from our ideas of our national interests there and start to work for the good of all the people there -- especially those most affected by our mistakes. But to do that requires a degree of clear thinking and leadership that Washington, either in the White House or in the nominal opposition, seems capable of. Not sure it would work anyway. Sometimes you reap what you sow. Sometimes you're just fucked.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Music: Current count 12627 [12602] rated (+25), 867 [890] unrated (-23). November ended smoothly, with Jazz CG edited (due Dec. 13), Recycled Goods posted, F5 humming along. One odd thing about this week is that the incoming mail has almost totally dried up -- I have a couple of records I haven't added to the queue yet, but I bought them. Don't know whether this is seasonal, a matter of not prospecting and begging enough, or something peculiar with the post office. We did get a lot of snow last week, and that may have slowed the latter down. Looks to be clear and slightly above freezing this week. I need to start going for new records for year-end.

  • Oleta Adams: Christmas Time With Oleta (2006, Koch): Soul singer I'm not otherwise familiar with. Plays piano as well as sings. Looks radiant in white on white background. Interesting voice. Treacly arrangements. Usual mix of songs. Don't know why anyone would buy this. Don't know why they send it to me. B-
  • The Clash: The Singles (1977-85 [2006], Epic/Legacy, 19CD): The last time I bought 7-inch singles with any regularity was during the breakout years of English punk. The Sex Pistols and X-Ray Spex were two groups that revealed themselves two songs at a time before they collected three or more great singles in debut albums. The Clash, on the other hand, was an album group from the git go. Their first album, The Clash (UK edition, please), burned white hot from start to finish, its songs barely distinguishable until they became firmly implanted in your mind. Three more albums broke like tsunamis, followed by the relative whimper -- actually an attempt at consolidation -- of Combat Rock, the break-up, and the partial regrouping on Cut the Crap. The only time the singles broke loose from the albums was circa Give 'Em Enough Rope -- in the UK regarded as a sop if not complete sell-out to the US market. The UK singles then included "Clash City Rockers" and ""White Man in Hammersmith Palais" -- later rolled up in the belated US release of The Clash. Nor were the singles all that popular: the best UK showing was #11 for "London Calling," with US singles faring poorer until "Rock the Casbah" hit #8. So it's not obvious to box them all up like this. The CDs run as short as 3:38, although some pick up extra mixes tracking variant releases -- "The Magnificent Seven" runs through various dub versions totalling 33:13. In the end -- well, especially toward the end -- it's the oddities that prove most interesting here. B+(***)
  • Matt Duke: Winter Child (2006, MAD Dragon): Singer-songwriter, come off on the sensitive side, rather delicate even. B+(*)
  • The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America (2006, Vagrant): Hard not to take songs so detailed as personal, but if true Craig Finn's for girls who get high and aren't all that straight about their Christianity. One goes: "it started recreational/it ended medical/it came on hot and soft and then/it tightened up its tentacles." Finn knows that boys and girls in America have tough times, but he feels "jesus in the clumsiness of young and awkward lovers." And when his band, which includes extra strings, horns, and lap steel, gets cranking, they can blow Springsteen off the road. A-
  • Brenda Lee: The Definitive Collection (1957-79 [2006], MCA Nashville/Chronicles): This tracks her early '60s pop hits faithfully -- sometimes too much so -- then follows her back to Nashville for a few middling '70s country charts, but offers only a whiff of the diminutive Georgian's early dynamite -- no "Bigelow 6-200," no "Jambalaya," but they offer "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" as a bonus at the end. B+(***)
  • The Best of Brenda Lee (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection) (1959-63 [1999], MCA): Programmed this as a subset of The Definitive Collection. At 12 songs it comes to 34 minutes vs. 75 minutes for the only slightly more expensive 28-song set. But here all you get are top-ten singles. A-
  • Madonna: I'm Going to Tell You a Secret (2004 [2006], Warner Brothers, CD+DVD): Live album, with cavernous sound and applause, neither of which help but they don't hurt much either. Seems like a trifle at first, with the predictable classics rising to the top, and a new take on John Lennon's "Imagine" that is neither condescending nor flippant -- it fits right in. But then I took a look at the DVD and was blown away. Like Truth or Dare, it follows the whole tour from inception to endpoint, but then it moves on with a segment on Madonna's kaballah devotion and visit to Israel and Rachel's Tomb in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Playing the audio again after watching the video I'm struck by opening reading from the book of Revelation in "The Beast Within," especially about how the slayers shall be struck down. At one point in the movie she says that politics can't help, that only spirituality can save mankind. I don't believe in that, but after visiting the church of Madonna, I feel a bit like the skeptic from the back pew in "Something Got a Hold of Me." A-
  • Johnny Mathis: Gold: A 50th Anniversary Celebration (1956-2006 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): Front-loaded, of course, with 13 cuts from the '50s, the other 5 no older than 1986, by which point he had reverted the ambiguous respectability that let him rise to fame; the classic cuts are on every other comp back to 1958's Johnny's Greatest Hits, to which this adds nothing more momentous than Chris Botti. B-
  • Johnny Mathis: Gold: A 50th Anniversary Christmas Celebration (1958-2006 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): The usual suspects, solemnly orchestrated and sung with magisterial grace; he did as much as anyone since Bing Crosby to build the Christmas music market, mostly through his 1958 album; this adds a large dose of his 1986 comeback album, and a nod to the Mannheim Steamroller era. C+
  • New Order: Singles (1981-2005 [2006], Rhino, 2CD): First disc largely replicates the original, near-perfect 2-LP edition of Substance 1987 -- two remixes revert to originals, three songs are added, two from the extended 2-CD edition; second disc carries on to 1993, then jumps to "Crystal" in 2001, the first of six late singles that are if anything even more committed to their dance groove than the early 12-inchers that made them the great new wave band of the '80s. A
  • Putumayo Kids Presents: New Orleans Playground (1956-2003 [2006], Putumayo World Music): The kiddie stuff is bright and bouncy, with only Kermit Ruffins condescending, but the equally bright and bouncy pop hits are more durable -- "Ya Ya," "I Like It Like That," "Whole Lotta Lovin," "Ain't Got No Home" go back as far as 50 years, and still open ears. B+(*)
  • Putumayo Presents: New Orleans Christmas (1995-2006 [2006], Putumayo World Music): Makes me wonder when the Big Easy's last "White Christmas" actually was -- probably back in the ice age -- but I don't doubt that "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" comes around once a year; only Ellis Marsalis bothers with a non-secular tune, only to break it with a bebop solo; no bah humbug here. B


Jazz Prospecting (CG #12, Part 3)

Finally, some real progress on getting Jazz Consumer Guide published: it's been edited, and is scheduled for the Village Voice's Dec. 13 issue. It's gone through one fairly severe round of cuts, and may be cut further during the layout. The way things are going, I'm unlikely to know myself until it comes out. Further discussions on the future are still pending. Spent much of last week on Recycled Goods and other things, occasionally slipping in a jazz record I thought I could move quickly on. With the future so uncertain, I haven't gone very far out of my way to solicit new records. December will mostly be a month of trying to get a handle on 2006. Unfortunately, the main tool for doing this is looking at other folks' year-end lists. Some are starting to take shape, but most come out too late to be useful now.

By the way, I've picked up a copy of the Eighth Edition to Richard Cook and Brian Morton's The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. In the past, I've hacked together large charts listing all of the albums added, removed, and regraded from edition to edition. Most likely I'll do the same this time. But this time will be different in that this is the first new edition where chances are I've already heard many, maybe even most, of the additions. So I'll be interested in seeing how our views stack up.


Steve Oliver: Snowfall (2006, Koch): First snow of the season here in Cowtown, so I figured that must be what I've been saving this for. Oliver plays guitar and synths, and he makes tolerable background music out of trifles like "Carol of the Bells" and his own "Crystals in the Snow." Unfortunately, he also sings, or in one case is credited with "vocal sounds." It's not that he's awful (although he is), but these songs don't deserve the sort of attention that voice commands. C

David Berger and the Sultans of Swing: The Harlem Nutcracker (1996 [1999], Such Sweet Thunder): Don't know why this decade-old item popped up in my mailbox. Certainly not because I've shown much enthusiasm about Berger's later records. On the other hand, I find little to complain about here. I'm not overly familiar either with the Ellington-Strayhorn score or the Tchaikovsky model, so I find this concise and lively version useful. Enjoyable, too. B+(*)

Charly Antolini: Knock Out 2000 (1999, Inak): Swiss-born drummer, based on Munich, mostly worked in big bands, going back far enough to have recorded with Benny Goodman (Basel, 1959). Cut a 1979 record called Knock Out, which this one presumably refers back to. This one is simplicity itself: a drum solo to start, then little add-ins from Wolfgang Schmid on electric bass and Nippy Noyo on percussion, although there are bits that sound synthesized, and maybe a little guitar. Like Buddy Rich, when Antolini wants to turn up the heat, he reaches for his brushes. [B+(***)]

Thirsty Ear Blue Series Sampler (2002-06, Thirsty Ear): The website lists this as The Blue Series Sampler: The 30th Year, but I find no evidence of that title here. The 30th anniversary shtick is a stretch. They did some publicity in the late '70s, but didn't release any records until 1990, and mostly picked up others' productions until they hired Matthew Shipp and launched the Blue Series in 2000. Even then, they had no idea they were going to found a whole school of avant-jazztronica, let alone open their tent wide enough to make a home for DJ Spooky, Charlie Hunter, Nils Petter Molvaer, Carl Hancock Rux, Mike Ladd, and numerous others. This is the third, and least satisfying, of their samplers -- all that tent-opening has led to some sprawl. Still, at $2.98 list, it is a bargain, not just to explore but because it actually flows. B+(**)

Gypsy Schaefer: Portamental (2005 [2006], PeaceTime): Second album by a Boston quartet -- Andy Voelker on saxophones, Joel Yennior trombone, Jef Charland bass, Chris Punis drums -- with a Dixieland-associated name but variously characterized as modern jazz, post-bop, and/or "mildly avant-garde." I can more or less hear all that, but I can't figure out why I should be impressed. Or maybe I'm just suspicious when the avant-garde goes mild? B

Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen (2003 [2006], Omnitone): Seven musicians, including Willis on all manner of reed-like things; Chuck MacKinnon on the trumpet family; mostly electric guitar, bass, and piano. Back cover claims: "Cross-inspird by the music of Erik Satie and the precision-randomness paradox of quantum physics -- and infused with creative improvised music, jazz and psychadelic [sic] '70s and '80s rock -- Velvet Gentlemen is an earful experience." Something like that. I'm not sure if I'm overwhelmed by the complexity of it all, or he's actually managed to achieve some form of heisenmusic. (Ref. to Heisenberg, analogous to a CS jargon word, heisenbug: "a bug that disappears or changes its behavior when one attempts to probe or isolate it.") [B+(**)]

J.A. Granelli and Mr. Lucky: Homing (2005 [2006], Love Slave): AMG lists him as J. Anthony Granelli. Son of drummer Jerry Granelli. Plays electric and acoustic bass. Calls his group Mr. Lucky. This is their third album, but the personnel has turned over, with Brad Shepik on guitar (replacing David Tronzo), Nate Shaw on organ (Jamie Saft), Mike Sarin on drums (Kenny Wolleson or Diego Voglino), and Gerald Menke joining on steel guitar. So this bears some resemblance to organ-based soul jazz, but it's subtler and slinkier than that, with Shepik most frequently taking the lead, and the steel guitar adding lustre. B+(**)

Ximo Tebar & Fourlights: Eclipse (2005 [2006], Omix/Sunnyside): Guitarist from Spain, currently based in New York. AMG lists four albums since Sunnyside picked up his Omix label, but his records go back to 1988. He plays fast, slick bebop, coming out of the Wes Montgomery school, with a sweet tone. Dedicates one song to Pat Martino, another guitarist with that same general orientation. Dave Samuels complements nicely on vibes and marimba. At its best, the record sweeps you away. However, there are spots where it takes awkward, unexpected turns. Will play it again. [B+(**)]

Scenes: Along the Way (2006, Origin): The trio member names are also listed on the front cover: John Stowell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop. Guitar, bass, drums, respectively. Johnson and Bishop are mainstays of Seattle's jazz scene, but file this one under Stowell. His thoughtful, intricate guitar doesn't fit cleanly into any of the usual categories. More than anything else, this sounds like one of those piano trio albums where everything sits right, but I'm left with very little to say. B+(**)

Les DeMerle: Cookin' at the Corner, Vol. 1 (2005 [2006], Origin): Going with the spine on this one; the front cover spells out "Volume One," adds "Live at the Jazz Corner," and lists the artist as "The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band featuring Bonnie Eisele." The setup is piano-bass-drums plus singer, but the leader is the drummer, and he sings some too. In fact, DeMerle and Eisele pair up like Louis Prima and Keely Smith, even if they play it straight most of the time. (But not all the time: DeMerle sings one about a sailor who comes home after three years to find his wife has a new baby named Bennie. Where'd he come from, the sailor wonders? "Bennie's From Heaven.") Eisele doesn't enter until the fifth song, then belts out Ellington, Jobim, "Lullaby of Birdland." DeMerle's quite a drummer, and pianist Mike Levine bounces in an all-upbeat program until he gets a lovely ballad at the end. Nothing groundbreaking, but it's good to be reminded that jazz was once a form of entertainment. This is a lot of fun. B+(***)

The Paul Carlon Octet: Other Tongues (2005-06 [2006], Deep Tone): Carlon's a New York-based saxophonist -- also plays flute and mbira here -- with a substantial interest in Latin jazz. His group is largish, with a couple of uncounted guests -- Ileana Santamaria sings on three songs, Max Pollak's "rumbatap" (presumably tap dancing to rumba rhythms) surfaces on two. Some fancy stuff, consistently listenable, sometimes interesting. B+(*)


No final grades/notes on records put back for further listening this week.

Recycled Goods #38: December 2006

Recycled Goods, #38, December 2006, has been posted at Static Multimedia. A bunch of box sets this time, mostly from Sony/BMG, but I went for a pair of WEA two-disc entries for the Pick Hits. Aside from the Byrds, which I find problematical, and Bruce Hornsby, who I simply haven't followed, the boxes came out a shade better than I expected -- the Weather Report was something of a revelation, and the Waylon Jennings managed to make him surprisingly likeable, but they remain marginal-but-expensive propositions. Especially the Clash, but I must admit I've had their obscure singles running through my head, like the ones from Sandinista, ever since I wrote that review up. But for the record, I picked off the Fats Waller and Bob Wills box sets previously, and those are the ones that I recommend for gift-giving or self-treating.

In Series this time covers the initial batch of Anthology Recordings download-only releases. As I explained, I don't care for the concept, but they're dedicated obscurantists, and I guess that's one cost effective way to make truly obscure music available. I hope that the better ones make their way back to plastic soon. They have more out since I got my package. Nothing I recognize, which doesn't mean it's no good, but I doubt if I'll spend time pursuing it further.

For those counting, Recycled Goods has covered 1624 albums to date. This is the first calendar year I've managed to file every month -- the actual monthly string goes back to April 2005. Also the first calendar year when Static has been able to post every month.

January's column will be a 2006 year-end wrap-up. This gives me a month to actually make an effort to listen to new music. The old stuff will return in February, although I'll pick up all the A-list world music in January.


Here's the publicists letter:

Recycled Goods #38, December 2006, is up at Static Multimedia:

  link

50 records, including all the box sets left on my shelf and an
"in series" section on Anthology Recordings' initial batch of
download-only releases. Index by label:

  American Clave: Conjure, Kip Hanrahan
  Anthology: African Head Charge, China Shop, Moondog, My Solid Ground,
    Parson Sound, Sainte Anthony's Fyre, Suicide Commandos
  Arbors: Ralph Sutton, World's Greatest Jazz Band
  Asphalt Tango: Romica Puceanu, Dona Dumitru Siminica
  Concord (Fantasy): Sonny Stitt
  Crammed Discs: Konono No. 1, Congotronics 2
  Domino: Sebadoh
  JMG: Klezmatics
  Music Maker: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Guitar Gabriel
  Sony/BMG: Byrds, Johnny Cash, Clash, Buddy Guy, Bruce Hornsby,
    Waylon Jennings, Johnny Mathis (2), Roy Orbison (3), Lou Reed,
    Weather Report
  Putumayo World Music: New Orleans Playground, New Orleans Christmas,
    Idan Raichel
  Sanctuary: Savoy Brown
  Shanachie: Candi Staton
  Soundbrush: Raul Jaurena
  Sub Rosa: Henri Pousseur
  Sunnyside (CAM Jazz): Luis Bacalov
  Universal (UME): Steve Earle, Brenda Lee (2), Kathy Mattea, Delbert McClinton
  Verge (Spool): Francois Carrier
  WEA (Rhino): Larry Levan, New Order, Buck Owens

This is the 38th monthly column. Thus far I've covered a total of 1622
albums in Recycled Goods.

Thanks again for your support.


Carter's Salvage Job

I remember seeing Jimmy Carter on TV a few years ago -- I think this was on Charlie Rose, but I'm not sure -- where he was asked why he worked so hard on the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. He answered that it was because of the Cold War -- that making peace for Egypt would stifle Soviet ambitions in the region. He didn't seem to have the slightest interest then in the rights of Palestinians, or in supporting international law as a means of resolving the broader conflict.

Now he has a new book, titled Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, which finally does take up the core issues of the conflict, and as such attempts to solve it, rather than just slicing off a piece in the interest of US geopolitical ambitions. Given his past indifference, I have to wonder whether this, too, isn't mostly a calculated move in the direction of salvaging US power, prestige, and credibility, in the wake of Bush's utter disaster in Iraq. Of course, it doesn't have to be one or the other. It's no doubt true that he's been aware of the issue for a long time. I also don't doubt that his values are honest and sincere. But it is striking how propitious the timing is. The one-two punch of Bush's brutal war in Iraq and his cheerleading for the most viciously repressive Israeli regime in history has cost the US virtually ever shred of good will we once enjoyed in that part of the world. The US position has sunk so low that the only way we can start to make amends would be to broker a real solution for the Palestinians. They are, after all, the only people in the region who still hold out hope for working with the US -- if only because they recognize that only the US will be able to put effective pressure on Israel. Carter stepping up gives Bush some political cover, if only he'll change course and act on it.

It seems likely that Baker's Iraq Study Group will move slightly in this direction as well. It's been reported that they'll push for an international summit on Iraq. Clearly, the only thing that keeps the US and Syria from working constructively together is Israel. Given US weakness in Iraq, this is clearly an opportune time for Syria to press the US on return of the Golan Heights. Israel also looms large in US problems with Iran. A peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians goes a long way toward defusing the nuclear issues with Iran. A peace deal also makes it easier to bring more international support into Iraq, allowing the US to disengage more gracefully. If you see the Middle East as a cauldron boiling over in some spots and threatening to explode in others, you should be aware that the fire beneath largely comes from Israel. On the other hand, a relatively painless solution like the Saudi plan, already endorsed by all Arab nations, is ready to be had.

It wouldn't be hard to adopt the Saudi plan as the deliverance of what Israel has been fighting for all these years. The only thing David Ben-Gurion craved more than land was recognition -- that Israel should exist, and that the world should acknowledge and recognize its right to exist. The Saudi plan fulfills his dreams to such an extent that it's downright churlish that his heirs should go to such lengths to grab a few extra parcels of dirt and rock. The plan does leave some loose ends for further negotiation, but it at least gets the big issues out of the way and sets the basis for cooperation. Beyond that, most issues come down to money, and if money's all it takes, that shouldn't be a problem.

It seems to me that there's a real opportunity for someone, probably a Democrat, to make political hay here: proclaim yourself Israel's real champion, embrace the Saudi plan, and promise as much money as it takes to make it all work. The point, which thus far the Democrats have totally missed the boat on, is that there is a powerful myth -- a story line with just enough basis in fact to be plausible -- that Israel's goal all along has been to live at peace, respected by its subjects and neighbors. Relevant facts include that polls have consistently shows a majority of Israelis in favor of dismantling settlements and recognizing independent states for Israelis and Palestinians. Someone needs to make that happen.


Gary Kamiya says something similar in Salon:

The key is the newly empowered Democrats. But to overturn Bush's neoconservative Middle East policy, the Democrats would have to think strategically, put America's long-term interests first, and break with Bush on the one area where they robotically agree with him: Israel.

There is no precedent for the Democrats' doing this. But then, there is no precedent for our current dire situation -- which is why there is a ray of hope. The unilateral, force-based Bush approach is dead, killed in the bloody streets of Iraq and the cluster-bomb-strewn fields of Lebanon. Having enraged and radicalized Arab populations across the region, and with Iraq melting down into a failed-state breeding ground of jihadis, neither the U.S. nor Israel can win by using the blunt instrument of force anymore. If the Democrats recognize this, and pressure Bush to broker a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- or if they can restrain themselves from attacking him if he miraculously tries to do it himself -- something could yet be salvaged from the worst foreign policy debacle in U.S. history.

Actually, I think that if Bush moves on Israel/Palestine it will be to salvage his standing with the conservative Arab regimes and their mutual friends in the oil business, as opposed to anything the Democrats might do. The oil-rich Arabs work hard to keep the US economy afloat, and what have they gotten for it? Increasingly, they've gotten tarred by their association. As the situation goes from bad to worse, at some point they'll have to cut their losses and put some distance between themselves and the Americans, and the American oil companies are on the chopping block there.

On the other hand, if the Democrats can find a way to reconcile their pro-Israel instincts with support for peace, justice, and international law, they'll start to be able to put together a coherent alternative to Bush's War on Terror. Israel has long been the blind spot in their field of vision. Until they see that peace with respect and rights for all is the only answer -- the right answer for Israel, for the Middle East, and for the US -- they'll never understand what went so wrong in Iraq, or with Bush's policies all over the world. That Jimmy Carter has figured this much out is typically shrewd.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Age of Solutions

My "Ends and Means" entry on Thursday got sidetracked a bit when I wandered into Mark Danner's article. I had intended to talk about Iraq solutions, but wound up mostly delving into the blindness that let Bush lead his administration into a situation that now looks to be even worse than the feared quagmire. That blindness was deliberate, based on a predisposition to act first and think later, a policy to a large extent pursued because even before the war it was clear that anyone who thought about it would balk at acting.

But now, as Danner puts it, we've entered the "age of solutions" -- i.e., a time when even committed hawks are desperately groping for a change of course. But the blindness that accompanied us there still persists, showing up in again and again in proposed solutions. For instance, someone in the Defense Department came up with a proposal based on too much Powerpoint, succinctly describing the possible options as: Go Big, Go Long, or Go Home. Is this the best thinking the US military can come up with on a half-trillion dollar budget? These are not really options, in the sense of different things you can try to do. They're more like phases, and these three fit a pattern I've seen played out hundreds of times in pro football games. First you try to Go Big and establish an overpowering ground game. Then when that fails and you've started to lose, you Go Long hoping that the big play will pull the game out. And when that fails, you Go Home. There's a succinct word to describe this process: it's called losing.

Presumably they meant something else, but really, the US did Go Big at the start -- maybe not Colin Powell BIG but big enough to route the Iraqi Army in about three weeks, wielded with more Shock and Awe than you can shake a stick at. Most people who argue that the US should have Gone Bigger back in 2003 doubt that it would work now, and nobody has a convincing case for a feasible increase in troops now that would do the job. (And that's not just because they don't have a clue what the job is.) And we've been Going Long ever since 2003. We've gone longer now than the US did in either World War, or in Korea, and pretty soon we'll pass the Civil War. That leaves Vietnam, and Going Long wasn't exactly a proven concept there. By almost any metric you can imagine, the US occupation of Iraq is making no tangible progress. Moreover, time itself works against the US -- it just adds to the damage, the resentment, the brutalization, the desire for revenge. Realistically, fighting for time is worse than losing, because it makes the eventual loss all the worse.

Reportedly, the Iraq Study Group will recommend some combination of a partial drawdown of US forces and international summits. That's another plan that came out of the Vietnam history books. Unless it is tied together with a concrete understanding of what is possible and not, it's no better than fighting for time. There are a few things we have to understand first about war in general and this one in particular before we can find a way out. The first is that war can be sustained indefinitely by an awfully small group if they are so motivated, so the war only ends when all of the effective belligerents choose to end it. The second is that at least in this particular war that decision is not going to be attained by force of arms. We need to understand that there are two things that sustain a war: one is the belief that you can prevail; the other is the belief that you cannot afford to lose. The US started this war thinking the former, then sustained it fearing the latter. The resistance regarded US occupation as so unacceptable that they started a revolt against overwhelming odds. I doubt that they actually think they can prevail now, but they clearly can sustain their fight and thereby deny the US any sense of victory, let alone spoils. The war has in turn unloosed other groups -- mostly ethnic militias that complicate the struggle.

Knowing these things, the general shape of a solution should be pretty clear. The most basic fact is that the US cannot hope to stay in Iraq or have any special influence over postwar Iraq. As long as the US stays, there will be resistance, and that will create conditions of chaos throughout the nation, endangering everyone and adding to the already stupendous destruction. This is a hard pill for Americans to swallow -- not least because some factions of the resistance are allied with Al-Qaeda. But it is not an option. It is something that has to happen, and the sooner the better. The US has to begin extricating itself from the nation, and needs to end all direct involvement with all groups within Iraq, including its arming of Iraqi militias.

The US also needs to join in an international agreement with all other neighboring nations and any other world powers to get an agreement that none of those nations will directly back any faction within Iraq. Without outside interference, Iraq will break down into a number of local power centers -- some Sunni, some Shia, some Kurdish. Civil war will continue in contested areas -- Baghdad and Kirkuk are possibilities, but most of the country is already under stable local control -- but will not extend nationwide unless some group is convinced that they can win. And that is most likely to happen if that group has an external sponsor. Every nation has an interest in stabilizing Iraq. The key to doing that is to eliminate special interests. Iraq should belong wholly and exclusively to its people. That, and only that, is a defensible argument.

The US may affect this international agreement by making US exit conditional on it. It's hard to see any reason why other nations would not find this in their interest. (Israel may be the exception here, for reasons we needn't go into.) On the other hand, we should not totally seal off and abandon Iraq. Civil war will end when the various local factions see no adequate reason to continue it, but more is involved there than eliminating the prospect of domination and the fear of loss. Iraq eventually needs to reconcile and reconstruct. For that to happen, there should be an even-handed international system for supporting those processes. This should include a substantial reconstruction kitty, funded by the US and others. It can withhold funds from local governments if security is inadequate, if the governments are corrupt, or if they violate widely held standards of human rights -- in each case we seek to provide incentives for good behavior, but we also seek to balance this off against human needs. And in no case is any individual nation to be given any sort of preferences.

I suspect that if this general scheme were followed through Iraq would initially develop a loose federalism with some sort of national compromise on oil revenues. Iraq's security from other nations, and other nations' security from Iraq, would be guaranteed by international agreement. Local governments could improve their standing by modernizing and serving their people better. The economic recovery of Iraq would help stabilize the region. In a sense, this is the Wolfowitz dream, but it should be clear that it cannot come about under the umbrella of US power. The first step is for the US to decide to leave. Only with that is any sort of solution possible.


Postscript: Maybe I should further qualify my Wolfowitz comment. I believe that it's easier to move a polity to the left than to move it to the right, at least by argument. (Most moves to the right are done by force, although force directed against an imagined common foe works almost as well. This is why rightist regimes tend to be martial, although it's worth noting that left revolutionary regimes often follow the same tactics, with the same goal of solidifying their authority -- a rather rightist thing to do.) That's because movement toward greater equality expands the number of people with a stake in the system. So if you can set up a situation where people have to negotiate common government, agreement will favor a more equitable solution. You get to that stage by removing power bases. The US has the greatest power base in Iraq. Leaving will create a power vacuum, and that won't be filled up if there is no foreign influx to compensate.

Disarming groups within Iraq might have a further impact, but that isn't really possible. In any case, selective disarmament would destabilize further. If anything, you're better off trying to leave a balance of arms, as long as that's not seen as giving any faction an offensive advantage. So the idea is to leave the various groups with just enough arms to defend themselves but not enough to go on the offense against other groups. In such a power vacuum, the groups have more reason to negotiate than to fight. And negotiations will tend to produce more equitable agreements, because more people can get behind the idea of equality, and as such of democracy. This tendency toward equality is the sensible core of Wolfowitzism.

Where he goes tragically wrong is in thinking that US power provides a suitable umbrella for the negotiation that underpins democracy. There are any number of reasons why this doesn't work, ranging from the fact that US power is broadly seen as supporting US interests abroad to Bush's own peculiar sense of what democracy and freedom mean. A good deal of the problem the US has had in Iraq has come from our inability to distinguish between American and Iraqi interests, and especially to choose the latter over the former. I'd say that's an inevitable consequence of wielding power. But the situation in Iraq has changed so dramatically that the only way for the US to recover any good will is to renounce its power. That isn't likely to happen, but the situation is such that we can articulate that as a plausible strategy. That's a rather unique development.

Realistically, even if the US and the international community were to do what I argue for -- renouncing side deals and only dealing with Iraq through even-handed international organizations at the Iraqi's request -- development of real democracy in Iraq will be problematic. What I expect to happen is that Iraq will fracture into local groups dominated by Muslim clergy, because the mosques are the only durable organizations -- aside from the Kurdish political machines. That's not my ideal solution, but real democracies are always compromises between groups that have some power. We've destroyed or fatally tainted every institution in Iraq except the mosque, so that's where they have to start from.

Friday, December 01, 2006

F5 Record Report (#18: November 30, 2006)

Once again, this week's F5 Record Report is late getting posted. The usual link will probably work sooner or later. Meanwhile, you can find my draft here. The lineup is a mixed bag of old and new, including a nod to the late Anita O'Day:

  • Thomas Chapin Trio: Ride (1995, Playscape) B+ [jazz]
  • Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 1 (Domino) A- [jazz]
  • Konono No. 1: Congotronics (Crammed Discs) A- [world]
  • Anita O'Day: Indestructible! (Kayo Stereophonic) B+ [jazz]
  • Chris Smither: Leave the Light On (Signature Sounds) B+ [folk]
  • Stoll Vaughan: Love Like a Mule (Shadow Dog) B+ [rock]
  • Hank Williams III: Straight to Hell (Bruc, 2CD) A- [country]
  • The Best of Delroy Wilson: Original Eighteen Deluxe Edition (1964-70, Heartbeat) A- [reggae]

It's been a busy week, finally wrapping up the Jazz Consumer Guide for the Village Voice, as well as December's Recycled Goods for Static Multimedia. More announcements on them forthcoming. And, of course, another F5 Record Report is in the queue. December should wind up being my one month of the year to try to catch up with new non-jazz released during the year. Finally played the Hold Steady CD today, after letting it sit on my shelves for a month or more.

One unrelated news item is that Christgau's Consumer Guide has been delayed at MSN, most likely for a week.

Letter to publicists:

This week's F5 Record Report presumably has a record of interest to
you. F5 is a weekly entertainment tabloid distributed free here in
Wichita KS. I cover 6-8 records per week, sometimes recycling from
other columns. The following URL will get you the latest column,
and the "next article" links will cycle you back in time.

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

For more info, see:

  http://tomhull.com/ocston/music.php

The index by label:

  Bruc: Hank Williams III
  Crammed Discs: Konono No. 1
  Domino: Kieran Hebden/Steve Reid
  Heartbeat: Delroy Wilson
  Kayo Stereophonic: Anita O'Day
  Playscape: Thomas Chapin
  Shadow Dog: Stoll Vaughan
  Signature Sounds: Chris Smither

Thanks for your interest and support.


Nov 2006 Jan 2007