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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Traumatic Events

Here's another article on the events I referred to yesterday.

I haven't decided what to do about March Recycled Goods yet. It will either be a week or so late or I'll skip the month. I was able to finish the editing on Jazz Consumer Guide, so it will appear as scheduled on or around March 7.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Music: Current count 12917 [12901] rated (+16), 841 [831] unrated (+10). All jazz this week. Done with Jazz Consumer Guide, so life moves on -- in theory, at least.


No Jazz Prospecting

I'm not going to post any jazz prospecting this week. I do have stuff to report, and I have some news, but due to some traumatic events I don't feel up to pulling this together today. The news is that Jazz Consumer Guide (#12) is done, handed in to the Voice, and scheduled for print in the March 7 edition. Editing and layout issues remain, but they're mostly out of my hands at this point. I was having a pretty good week until then. Choice of the word "fine" was intended to brush off a reporter. More later. Just wanted to get through this part of my Monday routine as painlessly as possible.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Life After Bush

Gary Kamiya has a piece called "Is There Life After Bush?" in Salon. The piece itself isn't very interesting. He basically says that hating Bush doesn't amount to much of a life, or for that matter to much of a solution once Bush's term expires. What I found more interesting was one of the letters, from "nerdnam" titled "Is Bush an exception or the norm?":

That's the question. If Bush is an exception, then we can expect the next president to be better, because the default assumption is that the next president will probably be closer to the norm.

But if he's the norm, then the next president might be worse or no better than Bush. And there's good reason to believe that Bush is the norm.

Bush is not a striver. He is nothing if not lazy. He would rather ride his bike than work. He does not like to think or question or trouble his mind in any way.

Whether it's tax breaks for the rich, the ruinous prescription drug program, the invasion of Iraq, or his poorly thought out Social Security 'reform,' Bush appears to take whatever crap shows up on his desk and runs with it. He doesn't question it, improve it, or worry bout it. Bush applies no imagination or interest to anything he does. He's the decider, but he doesn't lead. He doesn't strive to be good or bad. He simply floats lazily down the stream and takes the default position. He follows the norm and is not exceptional.

If I had to describe the defining characteristic of the Bush presidency in one word, I would say "thoughtlessness." And the same word sums up the country as well. We fell into the Iraq war thoughtlessly. Bush led us there thoughtlessly. Neither the media nor the political system offered any thoughtful resistance. And now we are spending year after year after year in this mess without a clue as to how to get out of it or do better. Thoughtlessness is absolutely our typical characteristic, and Bush exemplifies that characterstic very well.

The next president is going to have to strive to be very exceptional if he or she wants to correct the mistakes of George Bush. Unfortunately, Americans don't like or trust thoughtfulness or striving. We would rather not think at all if we can help it. We just don't like exceptional people. Thus the temptation for the next president will be to be like Bush -- to be the norm.

The problem here is that laziness and thoughtlessness don't vector necessarily to any given set of policies, let alone to the policies that Bush has implemented. Laziness and thoughtlessness follow the direction of least resistance, so what is it that made Bush's policies so attractive to someone like Bush? Clearly whatever it was does not suddenly disappear when Bush's term ends. He only appears to matter now because virtually every checklist of solutions to problems starts with "get rid of Bush." But really that's just a shorthand for the more difficult task of neutralizing his administration, political machine, and the broader culture and economy that supports him -- that makes it possible for someone so lazy and thoughtless to do so much harm.

What happens post-Bush depends first of all on how thoroughly discredited both he and his administration are. When Nixon fell, he didn't take much more than his staff and his plumbers with him. The Republican Party as a whole was somewhat tarnished, but dodged real culpability for Nixon's high crimes and misdemeanors. Second, it depends on America's ability to restore a sense of normalcy. The Reagan Restoration was a feat of forgetting, made possible by the relative absence of crisis in the '80s, following a long stretch of turmoil -- Vietnam, civil rights upheavals, stagflation, oil price shocks, Watergate.

It will be far harder for the Republican Party to meaningfully distance themselves from Bush's legacy since they were so much a part of it. Bush's crimes and disasters have resulted from doing exactly what Republicans have long said they wanted to do. Equally important, the future looks increasingly gloomy -- global warming, oil depletion, various economic effects of globalization, and the old standby, terrorism. It is quite possible that in a few decades we will come to see opportunity costs as worst thing that has come out of the Bush years: eight years wasted (or worse) that could have been put to use preparing us for the shocks to come.

But even as these factors work against the Republicans, we can be sure that they won't go down without a nasty fight. When Vietnam was over, the antiwar majority resumed their normal lives while the hawks plotted revenge. Iraq is the result, proving once again that they are wrong, but it should also serve as a warning against leaving them free to construct new myths about how the left sold America out. That's why it's important to understand, and to get as many people as possible to understand, that their failures were necessary consequences of their bad ideas.

I don't expect this to turn out well. The Republicans are, if anything, even more fit by temperament and organization to fight on as the opposition. The Democratic Party elites have yet to fully grasp either the methods or the madness of the Republicans. Much of the rhetorical turf that any politician has to navigate -- rigors to a large extent enforced by the media -- still favors the right, especially on so-called security issues. And when Democrats do gain power, they will face unprecedented and largely unrecognized damage as well as future crises; moreover, acknowledging problems that had remained hidden, and attempting to fix them, will very likely in the short term make things appear to be getting worse, something the Democrats will undoubtedly be blamed for.

On the other hand, Bush has managed to concentrate and secure so much power for such malign purposes that until he leaves office all we can really do is to wait, to suffer, and to hope to survive. Part of what he's done is to pick up and extend a long-term trend toward greater executive power that dates back to Roosevelt. Part of it is ideology, especially that fascists have always been big advocates of executive power. Part is opportunism, the enthusiasm with which they seize any ground they can get away with. Part is personality, as in Bush's self-definition as the Decider, and his disturbing fondness for displays of violence. Only the latter is specific to Bush, but it's more idiosyncrasy than anything else, hardly enough to mark him Führer rather than figurehead.

I'm no partisan of the great man theory of history, which is what giving Bush credit or blame for what he and his administration have done since 2001 amounts to. Clearly he isn't worthy. Ominously, that means that those who could and should have stopped him aren't either.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Crimes and Comics

I thought I'd show you an editorial cartoon that appeared this week in the The Sunflower, the student paper at Wichita State University. The artist is Ram Hull, my sister's son. He's been heavily invested in comics for a third or more of his 22 years, going so far as to publish his own comic books. He has a graphic novel and other projects in the works -- reportedly a website too, which I haven't seen.

I can't recall ever discussing Israel with him, so I'm not sure where he got this factoid or how he put the connections together, but as I understand it they are true. It seems like criminal investigations and charges have become very common in Israel these days. (Haven't heard anything about Sharon's scandals since he settled into his coma.) I've been reading Thomas Edsall's book, Building Red America, which makes a point about how white males downplay risk -- a trait that lines up nicely with right-wing politics. He also admits that another group of people have similar attitudes toward risk but are less successful at it: criminals. He goes off on another tangent there, but if you stop and draw Venn diagrams of white males, political right-wingers, and criminals, you'll find a significant amount of intersection. Jerusalem and Washington seem to be the center of that intersection, for basically the same reasons: they are run by people who brazenly pursue their self-interests and who feel that they are privileged above the law. I suppose you can give both countries a small bit of credit for investigating and prosecuting at least some of those crimes, but their frequency is a disturbing sign of how our nations are decaying into rackets.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Music: Current count 12901 [12871] rated (+30), 831 [846] unrated (-15). All jazz all the time this week. Probably next week too.


Jazz Prospecting (CG #12, Part 13)

A heavy week of jazz listening, under so much time pressure that I'm forcing the final judgments, figuring that if they don't convince me straight out they can't be that good. Have a publication date and deadline worked out with the Voice. Column will appear around March 14. That leaves just next week plus a day or two to finish -- figure next week is it. Still haven't decided on pick hits and duds. I do have two A records on the list, but both are quasi-reissues from old faves, which makes me slightly dubious about picking them. Duds I would rather not deal with, but the editors do like the occasional taste of blood. I do wish Wynton Marsalis wasn't the obvious choice, since his limits are by now so well known that it's unremarkable when he falls into them, and the record is only somewhat substandard -- not outright awful. Then there's Madeleine Peyroux, who's likable enough except when you compare her to any of a dozen other singers, and we have plenty of them in the running this round. Or there's Warren Vaché and the Scottish Ensemble, the latest in a long string of suicide-by-strings albums.


Incognito: Beer + Things + Flowers (2006, Narada Jazz): Niche marketing, but what can you do with a rather old-fashioned straight soul group these days? In their natural classification they'd be second rate, but smooth jazz is so lame they come off as consummate pros. Still, they should be advised to disguise their limits a bit. The two best sounding things here are "Tin Man" (which should belong to the Isley Brothers) and "That's the Way of the World" (which does belong to Earth Wind & Fire). C+

Lafayette Harris Jr.: In the Middle of the Night (2003-04 [2007], Airmen): Likable, albeit lightweight, smooth jazz outing from a pianist who started out on Muse and could have stuck in out in soul jazz territory. Which means that for all the soft, slinky, synthy slickness, there are occasional moments of class: a workmanlike "Work Song," guest spots from Donald Harrison and Terrell Stafford, flashes of Ben Butler guitar, and a closer ("A Little Feel Thing") that slips over the Afro-Cuban line. The guest vocalists don't fare so well. B [May 1]

Tin Hat: The Sad Machinery of Spring (2007, Hannibal): Original Tin Hat Trio members: Rob Burger (piano, accordion), Carla Kihlstedt (violin), Mark Orton (guitar). Burger left in 2004, replaced by Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Zeena Parkins (harp), and finally Ara Anderson (trumpet, piano). Sticker says to "file under Tin Hat Trio," and there's continuity enough, even though I have no clue what they're up to. The common phrase is "chamber music" -- and indeed they seem to be closer to Kronos Quartet than any jazz combos, although they don't have, or much care for, the conventions of a string quartet. The instruments seem to selected for oddness, even before the players started dragging celeste, dobro, auto-harp, bowed vibes, and bul-bul tarang into the mix. I'm puzzled, but not unintrigued. [B+(*)]

Janice Friedman Trio: Swingin' for the Ride (2006, Janika Music): Pianist-singer, hasn't recorded a lot, but judging from her website keeps busy and upbeat, including a teaching job at Rutgers. I appreciate the info, including birth date and her characterization of growing up in "lily white" Livingston NJ, as well as the schedule that puts her in my old stomping grounds out in Bernardsville for a couple of nights this month. Record has five originals vs. seven standards. Trio has a guest percussionist, which comes in handy on the Brazilian fare. Aside from a "Summertime" she rides too hard, it's hard to fault anything here. B+(*)

Dave Liebman/Anthony Jackson/Mike Stern/Tony Marino/Marko Marcinko/Vic Juris: Back on the Corner (2006 [2007], Tone Center): The reference is to Miles Davis' 1972 album On the Corner, which was where Liebman joined the circus. It is one of the few Davis albums I don't own. The album is hated by many jazz critics, and not just the Crouches of this world -- Penguin Guide gives it a meager 2.5 stars, but AMG goes whole hog at 5, while Christgau settles for a B+. I should check it out one of these days, especially given how much fun this one is. But it's also possible that Liebman cleaned it all up. He kept only one song ("Black Satin"; the other Davis tune, "Ife," comes from elsewhere); got rid of the keyboards (except for the little he plays), tabla, and excess horns, not even recruiting a trumpet; doubled up on the bass and guitar. All of that works in his favor, even making his wooden flute tolerable. Could wind up reducing the attribution here just to Liebman, who is clearly the main guy. [B+(***)]

Uri Caine Ensemble: Plays Mozart (2006 [2007], Winter & Winter): I grew up hating Mozart, although I couldn't help but enjoy the raffishness shown in the movie Amadeus, some of which shows through here in the bubbly, plasticky themes. On the other hand, the eight-piece Ensemble is capable of muscling them up or beating them to a pulp, even if the two horns -- Chris Speed on clarinet, Ralph Alessi on trumpet -- stick to the light side. Don't know where I'll land on this, but it isn't immediately appalling, which puts it ahead of his Schumann, nor is it confusing like his Mahler. (Missed the Bach, and lord knows what else.) [B+(*)]

Steve Turre: Keep Searchin' (2006, High Note): I've never been much impressed by Stefon Harris, but the light bounce his vibes add here is a nice touch, something that neither challenges nor interferes with the trombone. A different contrast comes from Akua Dixon's baritone violin on three tracks. I've never managed to tune into his shells, so can't speak to that, but he is a great trombonist. [B+(**)]

Bob Mintzer Quartet: In the Moment (2004 [2007], Art of Life): Yellowjackets tenor saxophonist in a straight acoustic piano-bass-drums quartet. Plays bass clarinet too. Away from the big bands, pop groups, and fusioneers, he's a solid, respectable mainstreamer. B+(*)

Tammen Harth Rosen Dahlgren: Expedition (2001 [2006], ESP-Disk): Bassist Chris Dahlgren and drummer Jay Rosen are familiar NYC names in the avant underground, guys a couple of adventurous visitors would seek out for a gig downtown. Hans Tammen plays what he calls endangered guitar -- sounds pretty robust to me, even if not necessarily in the best of moods. Alfred Harth (middle or nickname: 23) plays tenor sax and bass clarinet. Basically an old-fashioned noisefest, but it pulls together rather impressively toward the end, and in any case is fun if you can stand this sort of thing. Don't know Tammen's work, but he has a few albums and may be worth following up on. B+(**)

New Ghost: Live Upstairs at Nick's (1998 [2006], ESP-Disk): After some digging, I filed this one-shot group under Philadelphia saxophonist Elliott Levin. His resume ranges from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes to Cecil Taylor. This particular group, as you could probably figure out, is dedicated to Albert Ayler. Both Levin and guitarist Rick Iannacone are credited with vocals, which gravitate toward Beefheart, but mostly they haunt and squawk, sometimes to hair-raising effect. B+(*)

Yma Sumac: Recital (1961 [2006], ESP-Disk): The Incan diva, famed for her crystalline voice, was an exotic novelty in the '50s, but here takes her folklore on the road, recording this in Bucharest with an orchestra that frequently mistakes her for an opera star. Not knowing her earlier work I'm not sure how this fits in, or what it might be good for. B-

Chie Imaizumi: Unfailing Kindness (2006, Capri): Young (age 27) Japanese composer/arranger, plays piano but not on her first album here. Came to US in 2001 to attend Berklee. Hooked up with trumpeter Greg Gisbert from Maria Schneider's orchestra, who in turn put a big band together and recorded this in Colorado. The band has a rich brassiness that lets up only when Mike Abbott's guitar takes over. The arrangements are robust, straightforward, none too fancy, and the final piece with a Jeremy Ragsdale vocal shows a firm sense of songcraft. [B+(**)]

Elliott Sharp's Terraplane: Secret Life (2005, Intuition): Not sure why this showed up at this late date. New York guitarist, with many records since 1977: AMG lists 50 under his own name, 175 under credits. Still, this is only the second I have filed under his name, although I've surely heard more of his work with others. AMG lists him under "Avant-Garde Music" -- most likely they mean eclectic + obscure. His website divides his recordings into: the beginning; orchestral; strings; carbon; guitar; blues; electro-acoustic; soundtracks; duos; groups; producer; guest. Terraplane would mean blues: it was the title of a 1994 album with David Hofstra and Joseph Trump and group name for at least four more albums. The group here is a quintet with Hofstra on bass, Lance Carter on drums, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, and Alex Harding on baritone sax. Eric Mingus sings or shouts four songs, and Tracie Morris walks one more. Oh yeah, Hubert Sumlin guests on two cuts. I'm finding the instrumentals powerful and bent in interesting ways, but the vocals (Mingus, anyway) much less so. B+(*)

Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio: Bright Side (2005 [2006], Material): I wonder what Pat Metheny's fans would think of Muthspiel. Probably find him too dry. Penguin Guide speculates that he's "too individual, I suspect, for the majors." I'm not sure what "individual" means, but it doesn't mean idiosyncratic. He gets a clean sound from his electric guitar, little echo or distortion, no effects, nothing prepared, but he also has no interest in the horn-like single note lines that have been so prominent in jazz guitar from Wes Montgomery to Joe Morris. He plays guitar more like a piano, teasing harmony and rhythm out of it as well as melody. That may be even clearer on Solo, where he has to dig deeper into his kit, but the payoff is on this trio with bass-drums from brothers Matthias and Andreas Pichler. They push him hard, but he's always in control, never breaking a sweat. Best guitar jazz I've heard since, oh, Black and Blue, from 1992, same guy. Possible pick hit. A-

Wolfgang Muthspiel: Solo (2004, Material): Like most solo albums, this slows down with no one pushing him, even dragging a bit in spots. Limited in tone too, although attractive. Still, he's so sharp connoisseurs will appreciate this for the study points. [PS: Photo inside sleeve shows him sitting in the middle of an array of gadgets, so my "no effects" idea may be off. Also plays some bass here -- presumably electric. May very well do some overdubbing as well.] B+(**)

5 for Freddie: Bucky Pizzarelli's Tribute to Freddie Green (2006 [2007], Arbors): Check out this "cast of characters": Pizzarelli as Green, John Bunch as Count Basie, Warren Vaché as Sweets Edison, Jay Leonhart as Walter Page, Mickey Roker as Jo Jones. Green was famous for never taking a solo, which doesn't open up a lot of space for Pizzarelli to show off, but Basie's rhythm section redefined swing, and these understudies are competent revivalists. Still, the guy who lifts this above the normal run of tributes is Vaché, whose cornet is a spare, tart reminder of Sweets' trumpet and a whole lot more. A-

Maria Anadon: A Jazzy Way (2006 [2007], Arbors): A singer from Portugal, working in unaccented English on a set of standards -- "I'm Old Fashioned," "Black Coffee," and "Old Devil Moon" -- and vocalese lyrics from Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy, and Jon Hendricks. (Actually, Hendricks provided the lyrics to "One Note Samba," the only Brazilian piece here, and well within the odds for any American jazz singer.) The band is billed as Five Play's Women of the World -- a subset of Sherrie Maricle's Diva big band with Anat Cohen on clarinet and tenor sax, Tomoko Ohno on piano, Noriko Ueda on bass, and Maricle on drums. Ignoring the surface internationalism, I can't think of a more emphatically American jazz vocal album. More than anyone else, Anadon reminds me of Rosemary Clooney -- same brassiness in her voice, but a bit more precision. Better band, too. [A-]

The Free Zen Society (2003 [2007], Thirsty Ear): This started as a session with Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and harpist Zeena Parkins. Musically it's dominated by Shipp's piano, and is typical of his slower improv work, forceful chords wrapped in bass-harp-electronics gossamer. The latter, indeed the whole project, is largely the work of Thirsty Ear head honcho Peter Gordon, who took the shelved tape and doctored it into present form. I find it rather new agey, although it clearly has more muscle under the soft skin. B

Nils Petter Molvaer: ER (2005 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Molvaer matches Miles Davis's fusion breakthrough in two respects: he's a master at getting the rhythm tight, and his trumpet adds a bare minimum of human voice without detracting from the machines. His programmed beats grow more complex and varied each time out, opening up new paths ranging from chill out to a striking Sidsel Endresen vocal. This was originally released by Universal as Europe-only, like its predecessor the still hard-to-find NP3. When Thirsty Ear noticed the market gap and the affinity between Molvaer's jazztronica and their homegrown Blue Series, they licensed this and the Live: Streamer from Molvaer's own Sula label, then mixed some of those, a little NP3, and some remix bait into An American Compilation. So three cuts here are redundant. Consumers will have to judge the redundancies and bait, but this is where the others were heading. A

Nils Petter Molvaer: Live: Streamer (2002 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Originally released on Molvaer's own Sula label, I gave the original an Honorable Mention without giving it much thought, figuring it to be a second helping of the studio albums that preceded it. Same record, I think, in a shinier box, but the more I listen to it, the more I'm struck by his growth and development. A-

Tyrone Birkett featuring Paula Ralph-Birkett: In the Fullness of Time (2006 [2007], Convergence): This takes off like a rocket but soon comes crashing back to earth with an overload of holy spirit. He's a PK with a rafters-raising alto saxophone, fronting a bunch of anonymous keyb-guitar-bass-drums players. She sings every other song, and she can air them out too. Both are talented, but their material is pretty dreadful. It seems that someone with more stomach for the stuff than I have could do a study on the dumbing down of Christian music, which presumably correlates with the dumbing down of Christians. I can still handle the gospel, and for that matter the Christians, I grew up with, but whenever I tune in to the words here, they scare me. C+ [Apr 1]

Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura: In Krakow, in November (2005 [2006], Not Two): Trumpet-piano duet, recorded Nov. 8, 2005, at Radio Krakow, released on a Polish label that has been doing some interesting stuff, but has yet to answer my inquiries. I figured, given the vast number of options for exploring their music, this would be marginal at best, but this one keeps gaining on me. It is in Tamura's more moderate vein, with little flash or daring -- solidly built, powerful music. B+(***)

Sergi Sirvent & Xavi Maureta: Lines Over Rhythm (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano-drums duets, starting with a run of six Charlie Parker tunes, then originals along similar lines, although these guys don't steal melody lines the way Parker did. Not familiar with Maureta, but his deconstruction of "My Little Suede Shoes" is irresistible. Sirvent continues to impress. B+(***)

Tyft: Meg Nem Sa (2005 [2006], Skirl): This got lost in my filing system because the box is a non-standard form factor, similar to DVDs. Tyft is Hilmar Jensson (guitar), Andrew D'Angelo (alto sax, bass clarinet), Jim Black (drums, electronics), although the dominant player appears to be Jensson, and this was recorded on his home turf in Iceland. Jensson also plays in Black's AlasNoAxis group. D'Angelo I know less about, although he goes back to 1991 in a group called Human Feel, and has played in Orange Then Blue and Either/Orchestra, and has a trio called Morthana -- band mates are Anders Hana and Morten J. Olsen. Not sure what to make of the record: Jensson's guitar spend most of its time in the lower registers, where it could just as well be electric bass; D'Angelo is even noisier. Not a bad mix of groove and dissonance. [B+(**)]

Samo Salamon NYC Quintet: Government Cheese (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Slovenia guitarist, has a slightly earlier record, Two Hours (Fresh Sound New Talent), still stuck in my list of deserving honorable mentions waiting for words to come to me. That one was a quartet, with Tony Malaby, Mark Helias, and Tom Rainey. This one is a quintet, with Dave Binney, Josh Roseman, Helias, and Gerald Cleaver. I prefer the former -- at least Malaby over Binney, but I like the trombone here, and while I'm less familiar with Binney, he can excite. Another reason may be that the guitar gets a bit less space here. He's quite a player. [B+(**)]

Jason Lindner: Ab Aeterno (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound World Jazz): New York pianist, first appeared in 1998 on the Jazz Underground: Live at Smalls anthology. I don't have much of a handle on his piano here, which when he drops down to a solo on a Bud Powell piece doesn't do much. On the other hand, the trio turns his relative orthodoxy into a calm, clear center. Omer Avital plays oud as well as bass. Even more interesting is Venezuelan percussionist Luis Quintero. [B+(***)]

Mario Adnet: Jobim Jazz (2006 [2007], Adventure Music): A Brazilian guitarist, most notable for his large and intricate arrangements, e.g. of Moacir Santos's works. On the 80th anniversary of Jobim's birth, here he takes on Brazil's most famous composer. A bit ornate for my taste, but I find this growing on me as little details come to attention, not to mention the seductive melodies. B+(*)


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

Tia Fuller: Healing Space (2006 [2007], Mack Avenue): It seems likely that sooner or later she'll be lured to the smooth side -- indeed, two tracks with guest vocalists point that way, and her resumé-topping tour with Beyoncé gives her a taste of the star life -- but for how she has too much chops and spunk not to enjoy herself. Good tone and plenty of grit on alto sax. Also plays soprano and flute, but why bother? Very mainstream, with two pieces inspired by Katrina. Sean Jones plays trumpet on four, a good match. Ron Blake plays tenor on one, no big deal. B+(*)

Ximo Tebar & Fourlights: Eclipse (2005 [2006], Omix/Sunnyside): Fast, slick bebop guitar, coming out of the Wes Montgomery school, with a tribute to Pat Martino tossed in. The fleet lightness is accented by Dave Samuels on vibes and marimba, a nice touch, which at best sweeps you away. Less effective are Tebar's scat vocals. B+(*)

John Hollenbeck & Jazz Bigband Graz: Joys & Desires (2004 [2006], Intuition): After my preliminary note, Hollenbeck wrote in to correct me that Theo Bleckman's "effects" on the first piece were acoustic, not electronic, and that the band played there as well. Indeed, they frame the poem in striking tones, complementing Bleckman's reading while staying out of its way. Five minutes into the second piece, there's still nothing here that couldn't have been done more economically with synths, but gradually the sonic wealth of the big band takes shape, and the record is off and running. Bleckmann returns much later with the rapturous title chant (the piece is "The Garden of Love"), the high point of an album that is always sharp and often seductive. B+(***)

Steve Kuhn Trio: Live at Birdland (2006 [2007], Blue Note): Still don't have anything useful to say about this, but it's real good, thoroughly enjoyable if you like piano trios at all. Long at 75 minutes, but not tiring. A little bit of everything from Fats Waller to a Debussy-Strayhorn medley to Charlie Parker to Steve Kuhn. Experience at work -- times three, actually, given that his trio-mates are Ron Carter and Al Foster. B+(***)

Frank Wright: Unity (1974 [2006], ESP-Disk): If it weren't for ESP-Disk's "the artist alone decides what you hear" motto Wright might have passed in total obscurity. Who else would have approved the music he released on two ESP records from 1965-67? He was as rough a tenor saxophonist as the avant-garde produced in the '60s, closer in spirit to the future Charles Gayle than to his contemporary Albert Ayler. Since then an occasional live tape pops up, like Raphe Malik's Last Set (1984 [2004], Boxholder), and now this barnburner from the Moers Festival. The drummer dances and stings like his namesake, Muhammad Ali. Bobby Few's piano and Alan Silva's bass are cranked into overdrive, and Wright really brings the noise. Impulse used to call shit like this by guys like Shepp and Sanders "energy music," but even they would have reached for the plug before this finishes. A-

Myra Melford/Be Bread: The Image of Your Body (2003 [2006], Cryptogramophone): She's added harmonium to her piano, via studies in India and Pakistan that have left a mark on her music. Her quintet leans toward fusion on their own -- at least that's the case with trumpeter Cuong Vu and bassist Stomu Takeishi; guitarist Brandon Ross has some hip-hop on his resume, while drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee was last seen working in Fieldwork -- but the mix here is hard to decipher. I've played this a lot and never quite connected with it. B+(**)

Mort Weiss: The B3 and Me (2003 [2006], SMS Jazz): Clarinet-guitar-organ-drums. The organ player is Joey DeFrancesco, unnamed but broadly hinted at. Supposedly Concord held this one up over their contracts to DeFrancesco -- usually a desire to squash the competition, although they could just be pissed that he puts out more here than on his own records. Weiss is a clarinetist who got back in the game after he turned 65. He's having a ball. B+(**)

Fay Claassen: Sings Two Portraits of Chet Baker (2005 [2006], Jazz 'N Pulz, 2CD): First disc is a look back at the music of the Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Quartet, with Claassen's scat vocals adding little to a set where Jan Menu's baritone sax dominates Jan Wessels' trumpet. Second disc has Claassen singing the songs that Baker sung -- "My Funny Valentine," "Let's Get Lost," "Blame It on My Youth," etc., with a samba and a piece of bebop vocalese the odd songs out. I'm tempted to say she sings them better, but Baker's fragility has only rarely touched me, so that may not be fair. Given how she approaches the songs, it may not even be appropriate. B+(*)

Regina Carter: I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey (2006, Verve): She describes this project as "a life saver for me. After my mother made her transition last year, it was the darkest period of my life." The songs Carter opts for here point back to the '40s, affections presumably handed down to her through her mother. The Grieg piece leading off comes from a John Kirby arrangement. Afterwards, the pieces range from "St. Louis Blues" to "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" to "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön" to "I'll Be Seeing You," with one original called "How Ruth Felt." Five songs have vocals -- three by Carla Cook, two by Dee Dee Bridgewater, the latter choice cuts. Paquito D'Rivera plays clarinet on five; Gil Goodstein accordion on three of those plus two others. The swing era songs bring out the Grappelli in Carter's violin -- a big improvement after that awful Paganini album. No doubt her mother would have loved this. Come to think of it, mine would have, too. B+(***)

Steve Herberman Trio: Action:Reaction (2006, Reach Music): DC-based guitarist, plays 7-string, ably supported by Drew Gress on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. Attractive tone, lean lines, very tasteful, hard to fault, easy to enjoy. B+(**)

Muhal Richard Abrams/George Lewis/Roscoe Mitchell: Streaming (2005 [2006], Pi): This starts to pay dividends in the end, but it takes time getting there, with much of the early going shuffling seemingly random sounds about. The latter most likely come from Lewis's laptop, but he plays a fair amount of trombone as well. Wish I had the patience to sort this out, but everyone involved has made records in the past that make sense sooner, so maybe it's just not meant to be. B+(*)


Patrick Cockburn: The Occupation

Patrick Cockburn's The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (2006, Verso) is a short (229 pages) and succinct survey of the war from someone who was always outside the US sphere of influence. Cockburn had co-written a previous book on Iraq in the early '90s which made him none too fondly regarded by the Baathists. He entered Iraqi Kurdistan before the war started, and followed Kurdish and "coalition" troops into Kirkuk and Baghdad. He had various contacts with Iraqi exiles, allowing him to follow the run-up to the war as well as touch base later on.

A note on the dangers of journalism in Iraq (pp. 7-8):

The Green Zone in which all the American civilian officials lived was a macabre place, as cut off from the rest of Baghdad as if it had been built on a separate planet. Ghazi al-Yawer, briefly president of Iraq in 2004-5 and not a man notable for expressing critical views of the US and its allies, once remarked that the Green Zone bore 'the same relationship to the rest of Iraq as a safari park does to the real jungle'.

Paradoxically Iraq became so dangerous that journalists, however courageous, could not rebut claims that most of Iraq was safe without being kidnapped or killed themselves. Even with armed guards it was difficult to move. In the spring of 2006 I was in Mosul in northern Iraq, the largest Sunni Arab city, with a 3,000-strong Kurdish brigade of the Iraqi army. Even so it was considered too dangerous for them to go on patrol in daylight (night-time was safer because a rigorously enforced curfew started at 8 p.m., after which the soldiers shot at any person or vehicle moving on the streets). To cover the referendum on the constitution in October 2005 I got a special correspondent's pass from the Interior Ministry permitting me to drive around during the day-time curfew. 'I wouldn't use it if I were you,' warned the friendly official who handed it to me. 'Obviously if one of our policemen or soldiers suspects that you are a suicide bomber he'll open fire immediately, long before you can show him your little pass.'

On the Dec. 2002 London conference of Iraqi exiles (p. 32):

[I]t turned out that the US was going to see if it could rule Iraq on old-fashioned imperial lines and without sharing power with anybody in Iraq. It was always hoping to find a pro-American constituency of liberal, secular, middle-class, nationalist people -- preferably English-speaking. At the London conference it was already becoming plain that the US was uncomfortable with the likelihood that the main beneficiaries of the overthrow of Baathist rule would be Shia religious parties with close links to Iran like SCIRI and Dawa, though Dawa took the more nationalist line and looked to the Iraqi religious leaders for guidance. Over the next three years American officials tried many alternatives to these parties, but the Iraqis most acceptable to Washington usually turned out to have little support in, or knowledge of, their own country. The US found that the divisions among the Iraqi opposition stemmed not solely from the egotism and greed of its leaders but truly reflected the real religious and ethnic fragmentation of Iraq. Some Iraqis had a shrewd idea of what the US was getting itself into, but they were careful not to discourage American officials by emphasizing the risks of their Iraqi venture. Had less arrogant and better-informed people been in charge in Washington in 2003 they might possibly have paused at the edge of the quagmire before jumping in. As the London conference came to an end -- it agreed to reconvene in Kurdistan on January 15 -- an Iraqi friend attending it said: 'I have only one fear. It is that the Americans will realize at the last moment that attacking Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein is not in their own best interests.'

In early 2003 (pp. 35-36):

I spent the first six weeks of the year in Washington and was struck by how little the intense private doubts about Iraq and the war on terror, expressed by even the most establishment figures at dinner parties, ever made it into the papers and almost never on to television. Washington has always been notoriously inward-looking. But the cumulative picture created by the mass of misinformation and disinformation about Iraq and al-Qaeda and the terrorist threat in general had produced a picture of the outside world that was close to fantasy. [ . . . ]

The personality of George W. Bush explained much of the lack of knowledge of, or interest in, what was really happening in Iraq. Iraqi leaders who got as far as the Oval Office said they found him more intelligent than they expected but 'very, very strange'.

As Bremer took over (p. 68-69):

The assurances about Iraqis ruling Iraq were soon forgotten. Everything was to be controlled by US advisers with a few British assistants. Iraqis were to play a secondary role. The reason for the American change of tack was that the war had been so easy. The US thought it had no need for friends or allies. There was also a strategic reason for keeping all power in its own hands. The US had hesitated to advance on Baghdad and overthrow Saddam Hussein in 1991 because it feared he would be succeeded by a Shia regime, probably highly Islamic in direction and close to Iran. Twelve years later Washington faced the same dilemma. Some 60 per cent of Iraqis were Shia. Their demand was for elections which they were bound to win. The US reaction was to announce that a poll could not be organized for several years. Washington felt it had the strength in Iraq to move pieces around on the Iraqi political chessboard as it wished. Democracy was on the agenda but only if it produced a government supportive of Washington. Asked at the end of April 2003 about the visibly growing influence of the Shia clergy, a senior member of the US administration said: 'We don't want Persian fundamentalism to gain any foothold. We want to find more moderate clerics and move them into positions of influence.' He assumed that members of the Shia hierarchy, far and away the most influential leaders in their community, could be promoted and demoted at the whim of the US.

More (pp. 72-73):

There was something dysfunctional about the occupation from the beginning. It could not carry out important projects even when its own most crucial interests were involved. A friend of mine called Ali, long in exile but a specialist in broadcasting, was hired to help create a pro-American satellite television station. This was very important for the CPA, which complained continually that the al-Jezeera satellite channel was biased against it. Ali rapidly found that his task was made more difficult because the well-connected American company which had won the contract to establish the television station had never done so before. Experienced Iraqis who had previously worked in television in Baghdad could not be hired because they had been in the top ranks of the Baath party. 'The only person I was allowed to hire from the old Iraqi television was the man who looked after the parking lot,' lamented Ali. Desperately though the CPA needed the channel it was months before it got off the ground. (Though Bremer may also have been lucky; one Iraqi friend said, 'If more Iraqis had been able to hear his broadcasts about dissolving the army and purging the Baath party there would have been a revolution.')

(pp. 101-102):

For a few weeks American soldiers could be seen eating in Iraqi restaurants. It did not las long. Soldiers discovered they could not relax even for a moment. Across the road from my hotel was Baghdad University. One day a soldier joined a queue there to buy a soft drink. An Iraqi man came up to him and said 'Hello mister', drew a pistol from his pocket and fired. There were shouts of 'Allahu Akbar' (God is Great) from the crowd of students as the badly injured soldier was driven away from the university campus. He died later in hospital. These were still pinprick attacks but whenever I talked to Iraqis standing near the scene of an incident they always said they approved of what had happened. I had spent enough time covering guerrilla wars in Northern Ireland, Lebanon and Chechnya to sense that, with this level of public approval and the vacuum of authority throughout Iraq, the anti-American armed resistance would find it easy to grow rapidly.

(p. 108):

All the ingredients leading to an insurrection against the US occupation were present in those first crucial months of the invasion. I had witnessed the palpable hatred of the US army in Baghdad and Sunni areas of central Iraq. Even so the guerrilla war developed at surprising speed. After the British captured Baghdad in 1917 it was still three years before the Shia tribes of the mid-Euphrates rose in rebellion. Iraq is a mosaic of communities with different interests, but during the first disastrous year of the occupation the US showed a genius for offending everybody simultaneously. Even the Kurds, America's one reliable ally in the country, were outraged to discover that the Pentagon was hoping to bring in 10,000 Turkish troops to police western Iraq.

The successful US invasion was turning into a political catastrophe so swiftly because the occupation lacked legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis and the world. Investigative teams failed to find the Weapons of Mass Destruction which had been America's and Britain's justification for going to war. The only way Washington could have overthrown Saddam Hussein and avoided a backlash against occupation would have been to hand over ultimate control of the country to the UN as quickly as possible. But this was never feasible because the purpose of the war, int he eyes of the American right, both nationalist and neoconservative, was to show that the US was the sole superpower, and did not need the UN or any other allies.

Who were the suicide bombers? (p. 119):

The suicide bombers were usually non-Iraqis, with the majority coming from Saudi Arabia and others from Jordan, Syria or Egypt. They were motivated by Islamic fundamentalism and hatred of the occupation. It was the invasion of Iraq which radicalized them. An investigation into 300 young Saudis, caught and interrogated by Saudi intelligence on their way to Iraq to fight or blow themselves up, showed that very few had any contact with al-Qaeda or any radical organization prior to 2003. Some thirty-six Saudis who did blow themselves up did so for the same reasons, according to the same study commissioned by the Saudi government and carried out by a US-trained Saudi researcher, Nawaf Obaid, who was given permission to speak to Saudi intelligence officers. A separate Israeli study of 154 foreign fighters in Iraq, carried out by the Global Research in International Affairs Centre in Israel, also concluded that almost all had been radicalized by Iraq alone.

On the later civil war (pp. 208-209):

Sectarian hatred was escalating rapidly. Until a few months before the bomb in Samarra, Iraqi friends used to say to me that Iraq was not like Lebanon. Now they were silent or asked what the Lebanese civil war had been like. Districts where Sunni and Shia had lived together peacefully for decades, if not centuries, were being torn apart in a few days. In the al-Amel neighbourhood in west Baghdad, mixed but with a Shia majority, Sunni householders found envelopes pushed under their doors with a Kalashnikov bullet inside and a letter telling them to leave immediately or be killed. It added that they must take all their goods which they could carry and only return later to sell their houses. The reaction to the letter, which could have been the work of one person, was immediate. The Sunni in al-Amel started barricading their streets. Several Shia families, believed to belong to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, were murdered the same day as the threatening letters were received. 'The local Sunni suspected those Shia of being behind the letters,' said my informant. 'Probably they called in the local resistance and asked them to kill the SCIRI people.'

In conclusion (pp. 221-222):

Much of this book has been about the peculiarities of Iraq and the mistakes made by Americans when occupying it. But not all the reasons which led Washington to invade were unique to the US. For the two years before 9/11 I lived in Moscow. I had seen how Vladimir Putin had risen from obscurity in 1999 in the weeks after four apartment buildings were mysteriously bombed in Moscow killing 300 people. Putin had presented himself as Russia's no-nonsense defender against terrorism. He used this threat to launch his own small victorious war against Chechnya and manipulated a minor threat tot he state to win and hold the presidency. He speedily demolished the free press. George W. Bush followed almost exactly in Putin's footsteps two years later in the wake of the September 11 destruction of the World Trade Center. Civil liberties were curtailed. The same authoritarian rhetoric was employed. War was declared on terrorism. The American and Russian governments, the two former protagonists in the Cold War, latched on to the same limited 'terrorist' threat to justify and expand their authority. Putin and Bush, though neither were ever in the army, started to walk with the same military swagger.

By 2006 part of the US establishment was searching for a scapegoat for failure in Iraq. The American generals had a point in saying that Rumsfeld should have been fired for incompetence but the same charge could be levelled at the whole of the Bush administration, starting with the president. the fact that nobody was fired underlined that the White House's priorities were ultimately to do with domestic politics and not strengthening America's position in the Middle East. This position is far weaker now than it was three years ago. The 'terrorists' with whom George W. Bush is meant to be at war have a base in Iraq that they yearned for but never secured in Afghanistan. Firing Rumsfeld or any other senior official would have been an open admission of how badly the war was going with possibly damaging electoral consequences. This was the pattern throughout the occupation. A series of misleading milestones -- the fictitious turnover of sovereignty in 2004, the elections of 2005 -- were put in place to give an illusory impression of progress. All the while the Iraqi state and society came ever closer to dissolution.

Actually, there's one more paragraph, about how the war exposed the limits of American power.

One more general comment about the Iraq war books so far. Most focus in the rise of the resistance, which peaked in the May 2004 Sunni and Shia revolts. Since then resistance has been continuous, and sectarian violence has only increased. The nominal change in sovereignty which took place with Bremer's departure in mid-2004 marked the end of daily CPA news briefings -- in effect, this was the acknowledgment that the era of "good news" was over in Iraq. In the post-Bremer era, the US has become more adept at riding out this catastrophe, even though the net effect is only to deepen it. This story has been severely underreported. In many ways, it's like Vietnam, where we focused on the faux optimism leading up to the Tet offensive and the end of Johnson's presidency, then ignored Nixon's protracted, cynical, brutal retreat, which by the end represented most of the damage to Vietnam and the region. From May 2004 on, the US has assumed a deadly game of defeat avoidance: first by backing off in Najaf and Fallujah, then by propping up an Iraqi face in place of the disgraced Bremer, then by standing up an Iraqi army that has primarily been a vehicle of civil war. That civil war has provided camouflage for reports on the resistance, and has contained the resistance by preventing any sort of unity between Sunnis and Shiites from forming. It has kept the Shia parties uncomfortably in the US camp, as they find themselves in need of US arms to protect their people. It's a dangerous and nasty game that the US is playing there, and it needs to be exposed. No doubt it will before long. But for now, the current spate of books, at least move us past the propaganda that led us into this despicable war.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Thomas Ricks: Fiasco

I mentioned Thomas Ricks in yesterday's post, so I figure this is as good a time as any to present my book report. I should followit up with another, on Patrick Cockburn's The Occupation.

Anthony Shadid wrote about an experiment where his colleague Ricks went embedded on foot patrols in Baghdad while he trailed behind. Afterwards, they compared notes and came back with two totally different sets of reactions to the American occupation. Ricks is by avocation and most likely by nature a mouthpiece for the US military, but in the end he wrote a book that condemns the occupation in even broader terms. It is, unlike Shadid's Night Draws Near, written from the inside, with fondness for Clausewitzian strategy and counterinsurgency theory that offers little comfort to the confused and blundering occupiers. As such, it's most useful for the detail of what went wrong and where, rather than why.

Ricks provides useful background going back to the ending of the 1991 Gulf War, covering the political debates over containment, and the various war plans, especially under Gen. Anthony Zinni when he was Centcom commander, leading up to the compromise plan hammered out between Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy Franks (p. 39):

It was that month [June 2002] that [Maj. Gen. Victor] Renuart, sitting in the hot seat of operations director at Central Command, began to believe that the war plan he was working on for Iraq was going to be executed. But his discussions were extremely "close hold," he recalled, really involving just Rumsfeld and Franks, with Bush and Cheney briefed on occasion. "Franks was told to keep a very tight control on decisionmaking, with it [just a matter of] Rumsfeld to Franks, and a lot of decisions pushed up to franks" that usually would have been handled by lower ranking officials, but who in this case were not included in the planning. One unfortunate side effect of this narrowing seems to have been to limit consideration both of dissenting views and of longer term issues -- two problems that Franks had experienced in his handling of the war in Afghanistan, which insiders said had been extremely messy.

The early planning wasn't much more than dreaming (p. 75):

Neither he [CFLCC director for operations Maj. Gen. James Thurman] nor his commander, Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, was happy with the war plans Franks was bringing back from his meetings with Rumsfeld. The initial plan put on the table had in their view been ridiculous. It called for a tiny force, consisting of one enhanced brigade from the 3rd Infantry Division and a Marine Expeditionary Unit -- all in all, fewer than ten thousand combat troops. It was little more than an update of the notions that had been kicked around during the nineties by Iraqi exiles, and that Zinni had nixed as a potential Bay of Goats.

More (pp. 75-76):

McKiernan had another, smaller but nagging issue: He couldn't get Franks to issue clear orders that stated explicitly what he wanted done, how he wanted to do it, and why. Rather, Franks passed along PowerPoint briefing slides that he had shown to Rumsfeld. "It's quite frustrating the way this works, but the way we do things nowadays is combatant commanders brief their products in PowerPoint up in Washington to OSD and Secretary of Defense. . . . In lieu of an order, or a frag [fragmentary] order, or plan, you get a set of PowerPoint slides. . . . [T]hat is frustrating, because nobody wants to plan against PowerPoint slides."

That reliance on slides rather than formal written orders seemed to some military professionals to capture the essence of Rumsfeld's amateurish approach to war planning. "Here may be the clearest manifestation of OSD's contempt for the accumulated wisdom of the military profession and of the assumption among forward thinkers that technology -- above all information technology -- has rendered obsolete the conventions traditionally governing the preparation and conduct of war," commented retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, a former commander of an armored cavalry regiment. "To imagine that PowerPoint slides can substitute for such means is really the height of recklessness." It was like telling an automobile mechanic to use a manufacturer's glossy sales brochure to figure out how to repair an engine.

Retired Centcom command Anthony Zinni testified in congressional hearings in February 2003 (p. 87):

Zinni decided that day that the neoconservatives int he administration really were consciously rolling the dice. "I think -- and this is just my opinion -- that the neocons didn't really give a shit what happened in Iraq and the aftermath," he said much later. "I don't think they thought it would be this bad. But they said: Look, if it works out, let's say we get Chalabi in, he's our boy, great. We don't and maybe there's some half-ass government in there, maybe some strongman emerges, it fractures, and there's basically a loose federation and there's really a Kurdish state. Who cares? There's some bloodshed, and it's messy. Who cares? I mean, we've taken out Saddam. We've asserted our strength in the Middle East. We're changing the dynamic. We're now off the peace process as the centerpiece and we're not putting any pressure on Israel."

Postwar planning under Jay Garner (pp. 102-103):

Of all those speaking those two days, one person in particular caught Garner's attention. Scrambling to catch up with the best thinking, Garner was looking for someone who had assembled the facts and who knew all the players in the U.S. government, the Iraqi exile community, and international organizations, and had considered the second- and third-order consequences of possible actions. While everyone else was fumbling for the facts, this man had a dozen binders, tabbed and indexed, on every aspect of Iraqi society, from how electricity was generated to how the port of Basra operated, recalled another participant.

"They had better stuff in those binders than the 'eyes only' stuff I eventually got from the CIA," said a military expert who attended.

"There was this one guy who knew everything, everybody, and he kept on talking," Garner recalled. At lunch, Garner took, him aside. Who are you? the old general asked. Tom Warrick, the man answered.

"How come you know all this?" Garner asked.

I've been working on it for a year," Warrick said. He said he was at the State Department, where he headed a project called the Future of Iraq, a sprawling effort that relied heavily on the expertise of Iraqi exiles.

"Come to work for me on Monday," Garner said. Warrick did.

[ . . . ]

A few days later Garner briefed Rumsfeld on the state of his planning. The briefing slide on the Iraqi army stated that it would be "necessary to keep Iraqi army intact for a specified period of time. Serves as ready resource pool for labor-intensive civil works projects." As the meeting was breaking up and aides were leaving, Rumsfeld took Garner aside and said he had an issue he needed to discuss privately. He walked over to his desk and took out some notes, which he reviewed for a moment, Garner recalled. He then looked up and said, according to Garner, "You've got two people working for you -- Warrick and [Meghan] O'Sullivan -- that you need to get rid of."

"I can't, they are smart, really good, knowledgeable," Garner protested.

Rumsfeld said it was out of his hands. "This comes from such a level that I can't do anything about it," he said, according to Garner. That could mean only one thing: The purge had been ordered by someone at the White House, and not just from some underling on the staff of the National Security Council. Garner felt his group, just getting off the ground, was being hamstrung. Worried and upset, he went to see Stephen Hadley, the low-key deputy to Condoleeza Rice at the NSC. Again he was faced with a senior official telling him it was out of his hands. "I can't do anything about it," Hadley told Garner.

Garner then had one of his staffers call around national security circles in the government to find out what was going on. "He was told the word had come from Cheney," he recalled.

The next section tells how Garner got into a shouting match with Douglas Feith, telling him to "shut up or fire me." Garner was fired shortly after that, replaced with Paul Bremer. In the end they had no real postwar plan (p. 110):

The reason for this omission, said Army Col. Gregory Gardner, who served on the Joint Staff and then was assigned to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the U.S. occupation headquarters, as his last post before retiring, was that it was seen as unnecessary. "Politically, we'd made a decision that we'd turn it over to the Iraqis in June" of 2003, recalled Gardner. "So why have a Phase IV plan?"

Eclipse II, as the Army's plan for Phase IV operations was code-named, was founded on three basic assumptions, all of which ultimately would prove false. These were, according to an internal Army War College summary:

  • That there would be large numbers of Iraqi security forces willing and able to support the occupation. Or, as the War College's Strategic Studies Institute put it in PowerPointese, "Availability of significant numbers of Iraqi military and police who switched sides."
  • That the international community would pick up the slack from the U.S. military -- that is, "significant support from other nations, international organization, and nongovernmental organizations." It isn't clear what this assumption was based on, given the widespread and building opposition to the U.S.-led invasion.
  • That an Iraqi government would quickly spring into being, permitting a "quick handoff to Iraqi interim administration with UN mandate."

It's worth noting that the those three assumptions were rendered false not by "events" but by deliberate US decisions and acts. As Ricks puts it (p. 116, referring to the initial "decapitation" salvo directed at Dora Farms): "Fittingly, a war justified by false premises began on false information." What passed for a plan was as false as its inputs (p. 116)

COBRA II, the ground component of the classified U.S. war plan, began by flatly stating the intention of the nation in going to war: "The purpose of this operation is to force the collapse of the Iraqi regime and deny it the use of WMD to threaten its neighbors and U.S. interests in regions." The plan that follows that statement of intent is designed to achieve that relatively narrow goal. "The endstate for this operation is regime change," COBRA II states a few paragraphs later.

But the United States wasn't invading Iraq just to knock off a regime. "If the intent of operations in Iraq in 2003 was merely 'regime destruction,' which it was not, then the short, decisive warfighting operation of March and April 2003 might in itself have constituted success," Maj. Gen. Jonathan Bailey noted shortly after retiring from the British army in 2005. "In all other respects it might have been counterproductive."

(pp. 122-123):

McKiernan, in his own official debriefing later that June [2003], sounded almost wistful. "I think everybody's going to come to the conclusion that we came to early on": He needed more troops than he had. "While we might not have needed them to remove the top part of the regime, and to get into Baghdad, we needed [them] for everything after that." Dropping the 1st Cavalry Division hadn't been his idea, he noted elsewhere in the interview. "It would have been nice to have another heavy division," he said. "Well, it would have been more than nice -- it would have been very, very effective to have another heavy division fresh going into the fight."

On Bush's "mission accomplished" celebration milestone (May 1, 2003) (pp. 145-146):

In both image and word that day, what Bush did was tear down the goalposts at halftime in the game. But even as he spoke it was becoming clear on the ground that contrary to official expectation the stockpiles of WMD weren't going to be found. The poor intelligence on WMD would continue to haunt troops in the field -- and, arguably, helped arm and protect the insurgency that would emerge in the following months. In bunkers across Iraq there were tens of thousands of tons of conventional weaponry -- mortar shells, RPGs, rifle ammunition, explosives, and so on. One estimate, cited by Christopher Hileman, a U.S. intelligence analyst for Mideast matters, was "more than a million metric tons." Yet U.S. commanders rolling into Iraq refrained from detonating those bunkers for fear that they also contained stockpiles of poison gas or other weaponry that might be blown into the air and kill U.S. soldiers or Iraqi civilians. The COBRA II invasion plan unambiguously stated, "The Iraqi Ministry of Defense will use WMD early but not often. The probability for their use of WMD increases exponentially as Saddam Hussein senses the imminent collapse of his regime.

On Bremer and the CPA (p. 179):

Confusion about the U.S. chain of command in Iraq began on the ground in Iraq and extended all the way back to Washington, D.C. The first question was the ambiguous nature of the CPA itself. Was it a federal agency, part of the U.S. government, most likely the Defense Department? On the one hand, Bremer reported to Rumsfeld, and was himself paid by the U.S. Army, according to a subsequent study by the Congressional Research Service. Yet the CPA's Web sites ended in .com, not the .gov used by the U.S. government. And when a Turkish mobile telephone company protested the award of a CPA contract, the report noted, the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency flatly stated, "The CPA is not a federal agency."

The congressional report concluded, "No explicit, unambiguous and authoritative statement has been provided that declares how CPA was established, under what authority, and by whom, and that clarifies the seeming inconsistencies among alternative explanations for how CPA was created."

On top of that, the relationship between the civilian and military wings of the occupation -- the CPA and Sanchez's headquarters -- was murky. Officially, Bremer and Sanchez had the same ultimate boss: Sanchez reported to Abizaid, who reported to Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, while Bremer reported directly to Rumsfeld. Bremer refused to talk to Feith and often wouldn't respond to Wolfowitz. "He ignored my suggestions," Wolfowitz said later. "He ignored Rumsfeld's instructions." But Rumsfeld was seven thousand miles away and frequently busy with overseeing other aspects of the U.S. military establishment. "The postcombat phase was pretty fuzzy on who was in control, what the command relationships would be," said a general who was involved in some of that planning at the Pentagon. "It was not well thought out." At any rate, Bremer left subordinates with the impression that he really believed he reported to the president.

The army gets comfortable in mid-2003 (p. 200):

During this crucial period, the U.S. military seemed more concerned about its own well-being than about Iraqis, said Lt. Col. Holshek, who during the summer of 2003 was based at Tallil air base in southern Iraq. "We had all this hardware, all these riches at hand, yet we didn't do anything to help," he said of that time. An extraordinary part of the U.S. military effort was devoted to providing for itself, with a huge push to build showers, mess halls, and coffee bars, and to install amenities such as satellite television and Internet cafés. "At Tallil there were eleven thousand people, hundreds of millions of dollars being spent, and not a goddamn thing being done for the people downtown. So we looked like an occupation power. And we were -- we behaved like one. The message we were sending was, we didn't care much about the Iraqis, because we didn't do what we needed to do on things like electricity. And we also looked incompetent."

On the CPA's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) (p. 203):

The U.S. civilian occupation organization was a house built on sand and inhabited by the wrong sort of people, according to many who worked there. "No clear strategy, very little detailed planning, poor communications, high personnel turnover, lots of young and inexperienced political appointees, no well-established business processes," concluded retired Army Col. Ralph Hallenbeck, who worked at the CPA as a civilian contractor dealing with the Iraqi communications infrastructure. Personnel was an expecially nettlesome issue. Hallenbeck said that in addition to being young and inexperienced, most of the young CPA people he met during his work as a contractor were ideologically minded Republicans whose only professional experience was working on election campaigns back in the United States. It was, as Zinni later commented, "a pickup team." Scott Erwin, a former intern for Vice President Cheney who worked on the budget for security forces, reported that his favorite job before that was "my time as an ice cream truck driver."

Brig. Gen. Karpinski, later of Abu Ghraib fame, was having problems with CPA (p. 204):

[Karpinski] was regaling her superior with with a list of all the problems she was having one day when, she recalled, "He threw his pen down on the desk, and he said, 'We're running a prison system for an entire country by the seat of our pants. What's CPA doing?'"

She responded: "There's two experts there, and they're leaving in about thirty days."

The view from inside the zone was that of a small and beleaguered band, understaffed and underresources. "We all worked seventeen hours a day, seven days a week, for a year," recalled Sherri Kraham, who was deputy director of the CPA budget office. To some it felt like trying to build and furnish a house while parts of it were on fire -- and all the time getting advice and orders from officials thousands of miles away in Washington and London.

Still in 2003 (p. 248):

Within a few days, another sad milestone had been passed: More U.S. troops had died in combat since May 1, when President Bush had declared major combat operations finished, than during the spring invasion. In an odd echo of his "Bring 'em on" comment in July, Bush -- who was meeting with Bremer in the Oval Office -- interpreted the insurgency's escalation as a sign of progress. "The more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers will react," Bush said, Bremer at his side. "The more progress we make on the ground, the more free the Iraqis become, the more electricity is available, the more jobs are available, the more kids that are going to school, the more desperate these killers become, because they can't stand the thought of a free society." (This prompted an officer to send off a reporter heading to Iraq with the warning, "Be careful, or you might become another sign of progress.")

Ricks repeatedly takes Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno to task for his brutal handling of his area north of Baghdad. I didn't pick any of this out, but will quote Odierno's defense, given that he was recently promoted him to operational control of Bush's "new way forward" (pp. 289-290):

Maj. Gen. Odierno, who by 2005 had been promoted to be the military assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at first agreed to be interviewed for this book, but later cancelled the interview. Then, when a copy of this section of the book was sent to him, along with an invitation for comment, he wrote back, "That is clearly not even close to a complete picture of what happened nor my intent throughout nor with an understanding of the overall strategy of the division. . . . This is unfair to the soldiers and leaders of the division."

In a subsequent interview, Odierno mounted a strenuous defense of his division's performance. He said the preceding description of the 4th Infantry Division makes it appear that "all we did was kill people wantonly and abuse prisoners. In my opinion, that's totally false." Odierno said that he had made detainee operations a major focus of his command after it became clear in the summer of 2003 that the division would have to hold prisoners. He had held a "summit" with his commanders on detainee operations late that summer, and during the division's year in Iraq issued seventeen separate orders relating to detainees. "That's what bothers me about this" discussion of the 4th ID. "I spent so much time on this. It was important to me that we did this right." He also said that no one had ever asked him for comment for the various Army reports that singled out the 4th ID for the abuse of Iraqi captives.

He said that while his division "came in very hard across the AO [area of operations]" in the fall of 2003, he thought those raids were targeted precisely and helped develop the intelligence that had led to the capture of Saddam Hussein. Most notable was the fact that after his division spent a year in the northern part of the Sunni Triangle that area remained largely quiet, even as Mosul and Anbar province exploded. And, he added, despite being attacked more than any other divisions, fewer soldiers in his were lost.

Odierno's self-defense shouldn't be dismissed lightly, especially in the collection of intelligence, which clearly worked in the apprehension of Saddam. Yet there is little evidence that his division's unusually aggressive stance was particularly successful. Samarra especially continued to be a trouble spot for the U.S. effort, and the insurgency remained robust and active in much fo the rest of the area where the 4th ID operated.

I think the telling comment here is the note that while Odierno's tactics resulted in fewer lost US soldiers despite more attacks. Ricks also notes that Odierno's successor, Maj. Gen. John Batiste, had far fewer abuse complaints, even though the insurgency grew over time.

The stress of Iraq was rough on families of soldiers back home, leading the Army to set up "a robust network of family supports, ranging from day care to counseling to legal help to instruction in Army life, household finance, and coping with stress" (p. 306):

Despite such aids, most of the basics of war remained unchanged. Therer was still a chilling fear when the phone rang in the middle of the night. Mothers saw the stress in their children. At Ringgold Elementary School, the school closest to the front gates of Fort Campbell, Amanda Hicks, a teacher whose husband was a pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, said she and her colleagues had found their students notably fragile while their parents -- mainly fathers -- were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. "I have got the teariest class this year," said Debbie Sanders, a kindergarten teacher. "They just cry all the time."

Ricks reports on Marine Maj. Gen. James Mattis, who took over Fallujah with ambitious plans to improve on the counterproductive efforts of his army predecessor. However, the killing and hanging of four US contractors set off a battle where Mattis was overruled by the politicians in Washington (p. 322):

But the televised atrocity in Fallujah provoked a powerful response down the chain of command, starting from Washington, where the images of Muslim mobs burning Americans evoked memories of October 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia. The civilian leadership of the U.S. government didn't want to wait for a careful, quiet counterattack. Robert Blackwill, who had been brought into the NSC staff to advise on Iraq policy, began pushing for a swift and tough retaliatory raid, according to officials who worked with him. That would knock the Marines off the course they'd planned, and top military commanders in Iraq, including Lt. Gen. Sanchez, advised against it, said several people involved in the exchanges. Bremer was somewhere in the middle, said a former Bush administration official. "Bremer asked for time to try to deal with the situation," he said. But the word came back from the White House: If there was no political movement,t he president wanted action within a few days.

A general sums up (p. 362):

In the spring of 2004, [Maj. Gen. Charles] Swannack recounted in a later interview, "three things went wrong in Iraq." First, he said, was the Abu Ghraib scandal, "a tactical miscue by seven or eight people that had strategic consequences." Hard on its heels was the Marine Corps's siege of Fallujah, a move he argued broadly alienated the Sunni population. Third, the confrontation with Moqtada al-Sadr similarly estaranged much of the Shiite population. The United States had indeed dug itself a deep hole, and it wasn't clear that it knew how to climb out of it.

When Army mine expert Paul Arcangeli returned to Iraq late in 2004, having been away since the previous summer, "it bore no resemblance to the country I was in" a year earlier, he said. In the summer of 2003 he had freedom to leave the Green Zone as he pleased. "The difference between now and then is incredible," he said at the end of 2004. "They're driving 60 miles an hour through the Green Zone, combat style. It feels like they are no longer masters of their domain. They really do not rule the country."

There was no good military solution, he said. "I don't want to say we've lost, but everything we do helps us lose. More patrols -- bad. Less patrols -- bad. How do we get out of it? I don't know."

Breaking out Swannack's three points makes them appear discrete, but they are all functions of the Americans' frenzied efforts to control the situation by force, triggered by their loss of control. The tortures at Abu Ghraib happened because the US wasn't getting the intelligence needed to quell the resistance, so they made it worse. The siege of Fallujah happened because the US had already alienated too many Sunnis, so they made it worse. The crackdown on al-Sadr happened because the US had already alienated too many Shiites, so they made it worse. All of this happened because the US tried to force alien control over a country where enough people resisted to bring out the Americans' own flaws. To argue that a few things, admittedly big things, went wrong misses the key point: that it was not meant to happen. The only way the US could succeed was to have let go and gotten out before the whole thing blew up. That didn't happen, and that couldn't happen, given the nature of the Americans who started the war, and the nature of the military that fought it -- two separate problems, arguably, but each fatal.

On corporate mercenaries (p. 371):

One of the aspects of the Iraq war that historians are likely to remember is the heavy reliance on these corporate mercenaries, or private security contractors, as they were called. In 2003-4 alone, some $750 million was spent on them, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office; by early 2006, the total expenditure had amounted to over $1 billion. When the U.S. troop level was about 150,000, and the allied troop contributions totaled 25,000, there were about 60,000 additional civilian contractors supporting the effort. Of those, perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 were shooters -- that is, people hird as bodyguards or for other security roles, rather than as truck drivers, cooks, and other support personnel. Most of those hird to perform security functions were Iraqi, but many -- at least 6,000, and perhaps many more -- were Americans, South Africans, Fijians, and other nationalities. To put this in perspective, private security firms were fielding about as many combat forces as the total non-U.S. contingent in the coalition.

The armed contractors, or "trigger pullers," comprised the rough equivalent of at least one Army division, but they had a higher casualty rate than the military units. During 2003 and 2004 private contractors suffered at least 275 deaths and 900 wounded, which was, the Brookings Institution's Peter Singer observed, "more than any single U.S. Army division and more than the rest of the coalition combined." Others said that the number of casualties might be far higher, because thenumbers made public included only U.S. citizens that by law had to be disclosed to the U.S. Labor Department. So, for example, the loss of a Nepali guard bombed at a checkpoint or of an Indian truck driver in an ambush of a convoy might not show up in that data.

On NY Times reporter Judi Miller (p. 382):

On the heels of her reckless prewar coverage of Iraqi WMD, Miller had traveled to Iraq and cut a wide swath. Embedding with an Army unit searching for weapons of mass destruction, she filed a series of articles in the spring of 2003 that suggested that large amounts of stockpiles were about to be uncovered. Like the Bush administration, Miller seemed to believe what she was saying about WMD. It was almost as if she were operating in a parallel universe. On April 21, she reported that members of a search team had been told by an Iraqi scientist that "Iraq [had] destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began." Two days later, the lead on her story was that American forces "have occupied a vast warehouse complex in Baghdad filled with chemicals where Iraqi scientists are suspected of having tested unconventional agents on dogs within the past year." On May 4, she reported that experts had "found sources of radioactive material." Later that week they concluded that they had found "a mobile biological weapons laboratory." Then, she reported, they found another radiation source.

When Mission Exploitation Team Alpha, the unit to which she was attached, was reassigned, she even sent a note to the Army protesting the move. "I intend to write about this decision in the NY Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made," she wrote in an e-mail.

More than a half-dozen military officers said that Miller had played an extremely unusual role as an embedded reporter, effectively operating as a middleman between Chalabi's organization and the Army unit, MET Alpha. Through the Chalabi connection, she also got MET Alpha involved in interrogating deposed Iraqi officials, a U.S. military officer said. Zaab Sethna, an IN adviser, would later dispute that account, but U.S. military officers said that Miller had played an unusually obtrusive role for a journalist. "This woman came in with a plan," one officer said. "She ended up almost hijacking the mission."

A Bush briefing in 2004 (pp. 408-409):

A few days later, on December 17, 2004, according to a former senior administration official, President Bush received an extensive briefing on the situation from Army Col. Derek Harvey, a senior U.S. military intelligence expert on Iraq. Unlike most U.S. military intelligence officials involved in the region, Harvey understood Arabic, and also had a Ph.D. in Islamic studies. He had a far less rosy view than what the president had been hearing. CIA and NSC officials who already had received the longer, four-hour version of his briefing sat in. The insurgency was tougher than the American officials understood, Harvey told the president, according to three people present at the meeting. "It's robust, it's well led, it's diverse. Absent some sort of reconciliation it's going to go on, and that risks a civil war. They have the means to fight this for a long time, and they have a different sense of time than we do, and are willing to fight. They have better intelligence than we do." The insurgents had managed to mount about twenty-six thousand attacks against U.S. forces and Iraqis during 2004, and the trends weren't good.

The president wanted to know where Harvey was coming from. Who was he? And why should his minority view, so contrary to the official optimism, be believed? Harvey explained that he had spent a good amount of time in Iraq, that he had conversed repeatedly with insurgents, and had developed the belief that the U.S. intelligence effort there was deeply flawed.

The other officials present weren't entirely at ease with Col. Harvey and his perspective. "There was always a view that Harvey was a little over the top," especially in his certainty that he was right and everyone else was wrong, said a former senior administration official.

Okay, what about the Syrian role? the president asked.

One of the CIA officials spoke up to say that his agency didn't see clear financing coming from Syria. The CIA long had thought that Harvey and other military intelligence officials were overemphasizing the role of Syria and foreign fighters in Iraq.

No, Harvey bluntly responded with striking specificity, in fact, we do. "We see four different tracks of financing from Damascus. All go to Ramadi, to the tune of $1.2 million a month. And it is based, in a very Arab way, on relationships and shared experiences. And all the sigint [signals intercept intelligence] isn't going to tell you that." But don't focus on the foreign fighters, Harvey told the president, breaking a bit with the orthodox view in military intelligence. We've zeroed in on them too much because our intelligence apparatus can intercept their communications. But they aren't at the core of the Iraqi insurgency, which is "the old Sunni oligarchy using religious nationalism as a motivating force. That's it in a nutshell."

In the wake of the briefing, a study group led by retired Army Gen. Gary Luck was sent to Iraq to review operations there. Among its conclusions, reported back to the president in February 2005, was that the security situation was worse than was being depicted, the insurgency was gathering steam, the training of Iraqi security forces was slower than officials had said, and the U.S. intelligence operation continued to be deeply flawed. In his peculiar way, Bush would take many months before his public comments began to reflect this more sober assessment. Even then, in a series of speeches on Iraq late in 2005 and early in 2006, he would refer to setbacks only in vague terms.

The book has a bit more on 2005, but nothing much new. What's billed back then as "the battle of Baghdad" was little more than a tune-up for the 2006 and 2007 editions. Ricks' sources are almost exclusively limited to the military, the administration, and retired veterans of the same. So it's like he's travelling through the wasteland with night vision goggles, seeing what he does see in denatured color through a narrow field of vision, yet everything still looks horrifying and hopeless.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Head Talk

A quote from Andrew Cockburn on the Pentagon's efforts to spin the Iraq war (interview in Harpers):

The underlying approach used by the Pentagon was "information dominance" -- you produce so much news that you satiate the media's requirement for information. You supply it all. They'd bring in retired military officers for briefings at the Pentagon and give them information that had not yet been released. These guys would speed away to Fox and sound incredibly knowledgeable. They were allowed to be a little bit critical, but if they became critical of whole enterprise they'd be cut off. Some of the retired generals were making good money on consulting deals with the networks and they were obviously reluctant to risk that. A person on staff at the Pentagon's public affairs office told me that he was looking at a bank of TVs in the office at the start of the war and he saw that every single talking head was one of "our guys."

That's pretty much how it played out, with the media organizations playing right along. The latter lacked their own resources to get at the truth. By controlling their access to credible information, the Pentagon controlled them. It also kept most of the retired brass in line. The Pentagon no doubt realized that retired generals like Odom and Zinni could be especially effective critics.

The role of the major media organizations in this scam needs to be explored further. I'm struck, for instance, by the major shifts in what they were willing to criticize we've seen in reporters like Thomas Ricks and Rajiv Chandrasekaran in comparing their immediate reporting to their books. Again, the Bush administration's threat at limiting access has probably been the decisive factor.

Cockburn has a book coming out on Rumsfeld. Roger Morris also has two posts on TomDispatch on Rumsfeld. Midge Decter's book on Rumsfeld has been remaindered. Amazon has copies on sale for $0.01.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Democracy Blind-Sided

A pair of recent events underscore how far removed Bush politics is from most everyday conceptions of what democracy means in America, and how vulnerable the latter are to the machinations of the former. One is the derailing of the Senate's anti-surge resolution. Clearly, the popular support for the resolution exists all across the country, and absent White House arm twisting that would be reflected in the Senate. But the Senators feel stuck having to navigate between a non-binding resolution on the one hand and the taboo against not "supporting the troops" on the other. Moreover, Senate Republicans are particularly susceptible to whatever pressure is being applied, as they scatter incoherently on procedural votes. None of which has the slightest effect either in Iraq or in the polls here. The real question at stake is whether the Senate can muster the guts to stand up for the people who elected them and against an administration that has come to claim dictatorial powers. But even Bush knows that claims hold only when they are unchallenged. They've managed to get away with it thus far, but not without looking underhanded and pathetic.

Another event is the defense decision not to put either Libby or Cheney on the stand in Libby's trial. That at least saves them from risking further perjury charges, but it denies us the opportunity to hear them testify under oath in response to a competent prosecutor. No one in this administration has had as much difficulty with truth as Cheney, which may well be why they decided to cut their losses. That probably sinks Libby. We'll see what his payoff is.

What these events remind us is that all that matters for this administration is what they can get away with. The idea that a democratic government should respond to the will of the people is clearly laughable to them -- they take their fraudulent success at the polls as, quite literally, a license to kill. The effect of this is that the government has become utterly untrustworthy. Nor is this the work of a few bad apples, starting with Bush, Cheney, and Rove. Here in Kansas, the State Board of Education voted today to change its science curriculum for the fourth time in eight years. What happens is that people don't pay attention to who's running and a bunch of creationist crackpots sneak in. When the voters figure this out, they vote them out and patch up the damage. But next election the stealth creationists sneak back in. They, too, get voted out. Clearly, most Kansans simply don't want to have to worry about a bunch of extremists, but the latter keep conspiring to take over and wreak havoc.

Another example is Phill Kline, who lost his reelection bid as Attorney General to Johnson County Attorney Paul Morrison, a Republican who switched parties to run against Kline. That left Morrison's office open. Under an obscure law, Morrison's replacement was chosen by a caucus of the Republican party, since that was what Morrison was initially elected as. So fewer than 500 Republicans got together and voted Phill Kline to be Morrison's replacement. Now, Johnson County has a population of about 500,000, and Kline a couple of weeks earlier got 35% of the vote there. He won the caucus by 35 votes, then cleaned house by firing seven Morrison assistants.

Democracy, like sportsmanship, requires respect for the losing side, and a measure of modesty and generosity from the winners. The Republicans have stopped playing by those rules -- like Vince Lombardi, they assert that winning is the only thing that matters. And from Nixon to Bush, they seize every option they have to unlevel the playing field. That's been their game all along. The only thing different now is the air of desperation, caused less by our growing recognition of how they cheat than by how disastrous their victories turn out. Once again, Bush's only victory in the Iraq campaign has been on Capitol Hill. But even there his luck's not likely to last.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Holy War

I don't know much about Napoleon's wars, but I found the following quote to be interesting. It is from Adam Gopnik's New Yorker (Feb. 12, 2007) review of a book by David A. Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It (Houghton Mifflin):

The most intense parts of Bell's book are devoted to the Peninsular War -- the battles in Iberia between 1808 and 1813, where Napoleon's and Wellington's troops first fought each other, even as the locals rose up against French hegemons. In fact, the Peninsula was the original intractable insurgency, which, in turn, shaped the modern model of counter-insurgency, and Bell doesn't hesitate to draw parallels between our time and then: "Spain saw the development of a guerrilla war every bit as destructive as -- and eerily similar to -- the insurgency now under way in early-twenty-first-century Iraq," he writes. Napoleon's armies had taken Iberia at a time when it was not unlike the Middle East now: a culturally impoverished backwater, once grand but fallen on hard times, with a brutal, decadent ruling class and a fanatic clerical class, sandwiching a handful of liberals who at first welcomed the invading armies and went to work for them. In the beginning, Napoleon's revolutionary army promised Spain reform and even democratic enlightenment. But, in short order, the insurgency grew, until the occupation of Iberia by the French became untenable; we see the nature of the insurgency, and its human consequences for victor and vanquished, in Goya's series of etchings "The Disasters of War."

Given the horrific nature of the old regime, and the common interest that the people, including the peasants, might have had with the more or less benign new regime, or at least with the promise of modernization, why did they resist so fiercely? Bell argues that the insurgency was fuelled by the extraordinarily tenacious hold of religious culture. It seems to have been not so much religious faith as the whole, enclosing framework of Catholicism, which, whatever its faults, gave order and meaning to the great mass of Spaniards, and which they were not about to surrender. "O happy gothic, barbarian and fanatical Spaniards!" one Spaniard exclaimed. "Happy with our monks and with our Inquisition, which, according to the ideas of the French Enlightenment, has kept us a century behind other nations. Oh, if we could only go back two centuries more!" It was as if, to take the terrible dialectic one step further, the dream of total peace that had produced the fact of total war threw the bleeding and bewildered masses back on the only fixed piont left: an absolutist religiosity, made more fanatic by persecution. During the siege of Saragossa, which began in 1808, a miraculous apparition of a palm tree with a crown raised the morale of the entire population. At a time of complete disruption, the Church represented cultural continuity.

Ignore the nonsense about dreams of total peace engendering total war. The salient point here is how foreign occupation drove people ever deeper into the embrace of their religion. That's what the US is doing in Iraq, what Israel does in Occupied Palestine, what the US did via our proxy the Shah in Iran. That's even part of our own folklore in the line about there being no atheists in foxholes. It may also be why those seeking religious revival are so welcoming of war.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Music: Current count 12871 [12851] rated (+20), 846 [845] unrated (+1). Worked like a dog cutting through the jazz consumer guide backlog last week.

  • The Rough Guide to Merengue (1992-2005 [2006], World Music Network): A second helping, more modern sounding if not necessarily newer, following the Dominican Republic's signature dance music into the diaspora, with Puerto Ricans spiking salsa, Colombians mixing cumbia; as usual, good ears and sloppy documentation, but at least the new layout makes it readable. A-
  • The Rough Guide to Merengue & Bachata (1994-2001 [2001], World Music Network): A sharp-eared, poorly documented tour of Dominican dance music, missing all the big names but exceptionally well programmed, with the tight, plucky guitar of countryish bachata taking charge. A-


Jazz Prospecting (CG #12, Part 12)

Working to a still informal deadline here, but approaching closure. The big push this past week was to work through a big chunk of the unplayed shelf. At the moment, looks like I've cut that down by half, although the mail keeps coming in. There still looks to be about 25 unplayed records, but the emphasis this coming week will be on the replay shelves and shoring up just what makes this particular column. What I didn't get to this time I'll get to next time. But now's the time to bring this already late column in.

Thus far this cycle I've done prospecting notes on 201 albums. That seems like a lot, but it's actually down from 255 last cycle and 244 the previous one. There's not enough on the shelf to even this up, nor enough time left, so this appears to be the first downturn ever (at least that I can check easily). Maybe I haven't been aggressive enough at chasing down new stuff. A year ago I had a pretty effective system for at least tracking what was coming out, but I haven't been able to maintain that. Maybe I'm just getting tired. Uncertainty viz. the Voice has been a damper on my enthusiasm. Will be glad when this one's done.


Jim McNeely/Kelly Sill/Joel Spencer: Boneyard (2007, Origin): Mainstream piano trio. Played it twice so far. Don't have much to say, but it strikes me as superbly crafted. Trio met in early '70s. Claim to have played together regularly for 35 years. I can't find any prior recordings with all three, but Spencer and Sill have work together. McNeely is a highly regarded pianist I'm barely familiar with: I've only heard his 1992 Maybeck solo, but it's worth noting that of the 8 Maybeck solos I've heard, his is the only one I've rated as high as A-. SFFR, clearly. [B+(***)]

Geoff Stradling: Les Is Mo' (2006 [2007], Origin): First album by a pianist whose CV starts off with increasingly long lists of film, tv, and commercial work (Pampers, Swatch, Purina -- just a few that strike my fancy), then trails off into a couple of dozen album appearances (Alphonse Mouzon, Jane's Addiction). Nothing there prepares you for this album, an easy swinging concoction with Rick Keller's saxes adding warmth and a bit of edge, nicely seasoned with a bit of Latin percussion. Delightful, really. B+(**)

Wolfgang Muthspiel/Brian Blade: Friendly Travelers (2006 [2007], Material): AMG's entire biography on guitarist reads something like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "Interesting electric guitarist, rivaling John Scofield. Placed in the fusion, contemporary, neo-bop genres. Not an overbearing player." That's lame even as a first approximation, and not just because Scofield can't hold a candle to him. Soft, metallic tone, which he can amp up; not much into funk grooves or long bebop lines, but he plays tight, thoughtful melodies, especially on these intricate duet improvs. I've heard most of his early recordings on Amadeo -- as far as I'm concerned, Black and Blue was the guitar album of the '90s -- but this is the first I've heard of a half dozen or more recent discs on Material and Quinton. Best thing I've heard from Blade. A-

Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Blood (2004, Kopasetic): I was impressed by Nilsson's guitar on the Fay Victor album, so thought some due dilligence was called for. He has two previous albums with his avant-rock (or is it post-punk fusion?) quartet Aorta. Electric bass and drums power and thrash, and saxophonist Mattias Carlson squawks, but the guitar leads. Nilsson plays rock guitar with jazz chops: I get the feeling this is mostly improv, spontaneous inventions based on core concepts. There are a bunch of Scandinavian groups working along these lines -- Atomic, Jazz Mob, the Thing -- but this may be the best. [A-]

Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Janus (2005, Kopasetic): Second albums, at least among rock groups, tend to be stronger musically but have weaker material than first albums. This was especially true among punk rockers, who either grew or shrunk into self-caricature. This is jazz, but these guys started out in rock, and they track that model well. The first album was all thrash and fury -- bring the noize with great guitar that can't be characterized as guitar solos because the band doesn't leave Nilsson enough room. This one is much more varied -- the quintessential growth sign -- which gives everyone a chance to show their skills. For instance, saxophonist Mattias Carlsson discloses a ballad style not previously evident. Only problem is that when you slow the guitar-dominated mix down too much it starts to sound like heavy metal. Not sure how that will weigh out in the end. A lot of interesting music here. [B+(***)]

Nick Moran Trio: The Messenger (2006, CAP): Guitarist-led organ trio, with clean lines, gentle swing, and Ed Withrington's light touch on the organ. First album, quite likable. Credits George Benson as an influence. B+(*)

Brian Bromberg: Downright Upright (2006 [2007], Artistry): How do you score this one? Bromberg's a pop-funk electric bassist with aspirations of going straight -- a double meaning for the "upright" acoustic bass he plays here. (Four cuts also have him on "piccolo bass," which looks to be an electric bass guitar.) Helping him out are a bunch of old smoothies, who also get to play "upright" straight-ahead jazz for once in their careers: Rick Braun, Kirk Whallum, Boney James, Gary Meek, Jeff Lorber, George Duke, Lee Ritenour, Gannin Arnold, Vinnie Colaiuta. Not a big surprise that guys like Lorber and Whallum have the chops, but Braun is a totally unexpected pleasure. Also helps that the bass is mixed up phat. But in the end it may be classier than usual, but it's still a pop-funk record. I'm tempted to indulge, but will hold back for now. [B+(**)]

Andy Narell: Tatoom (2007, Heads Up): Subtitled Music for Steel Orchestra, the steel drums are Narell's expansive kit, photographed in the booklet. The "orchestra" adds drums, percussion (congas, timbales), and guests on three cuts: two with guitarist Mike Stern, one with tenor saxophonist David Sanchez. The latter cut is worthwhile. The rest leaves me slightly queasy, even though it sounds like one of the most straightforward jazz albums he's made. Not sure just why, nor all that interested in figuring it out. B

Alain Pérez: El El Aire (2005 [2007], AYVA): Cuban bassist, lives in Madrid, has worked with Chucho Valdés, Paco de Lucia, Jerry Gonzalez. Busts some interesting rhythmic moves, shuffles his musicians around for variety, and reaches a bit too high on occasion, especially when he tries to sing. In a better world I'd give this more than two plays and try to sort out what I do and don't like about it -- there's no shortage of both. It's even possible that he'll come back with something that encourages me to do so. But until then: B

Will Bernard: Party Hats ([2007], Palmetto): San Francisco guitarist. Has a couple of albums under his belt, plus work with Peter Apfelbaum (who appears here), Robert Walter, Stanton Moore, not sure who else -- his website mentions a project with a Sonoma county reggae group called Groundation. The sheet says this was recorded over three years, but doesn't say which ones. Bernard's website just says this is previously recorded stuff, helpfully adding a list of who played what where if not when. Actually, even though the rosters jump around, the record itself is pretty seamless, held together by a groove that does bear comparison to Scofield, where the horns aren't necessary but welcome anyway. It occurs to me that I have enough stuff this time to write a sidebar piece and call it "So Much Guitar": this would make the cut. [B+(***)] [Feb 20]

Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts: The Scenic Route (2006 [2007], Palmetto): Another undocumented slipcase promo, good enough to make the extra work annoying, not quite great enough to make it rewarding. Kicks off with some terrific trumpet (Terell Stafford?), slips in some tastefully ungreasy organ (Gary Versace?), ends with a medley of "Our Prayer" (Albert Ayler?) and "Give Peace a Chance" (Lennon/McCartney!) -- the latter sung by the so-called Swayettes. B+(**)

Gordon Grdina's Box Cutter: Unlearn (2006, Spool/Line): Oh dear, another good guitar album! Grdina is based on Vancouver. Plays oud and an interest in Arabic classical music, but here it's just guitar, in a quartet with François Houle on clarinets. Houle is terrific. Grdina mostly pushes things along, momentum the secret of the success. [B+(***)]

Anat Cohen & the Anzic Orchestra: Noir (2006 [2007], Anzic): She must be very charming. She neither wrote nor arranged any of this -- the arranger/conductor is Oded Lev-Ari, like Cohen a veteran of Israeli military bands -- but she put a fascinating big band together, and she's clearly its star. Ted Nash and Scott Robinson are obvious picks; brothers Avishai and Yuval Cohen expected ones; Deborah Weisz, Ali Jackson, a cello trio anchored by Erik Friedlander, and a phalanx of Brazilian percussionists including Duduka Da Fonseca and Zé Mauricio are among the surprises. Big bands are favored toys of the new generation of overeducated jazz composer/arrangers, and Cohen works that circuit assiduously. But few others have so much fun with their toys. [A-]

Anat Cohen: Poetica (2006 [2007], Anzic): A clarinet recital, mostly in a quartet with Jason Lindner on piano, Omer Avital on bass, and Daniel Freedman on drums. Four tracks add a string quartet, which I don't regard as much of a plus, although mostly they pretty things up without making too much of a mess. A mix of Israeli songs, Brazilian, Jacques Brel, John Coltrane. She's very appealing. [B+(**)]

Omer Avital Group: Room to Grow (1997 [2007], Smalls): Israeli bassist, evidently a fixture at Smalls in the late '90s. A 1996 tape released last year as Asking No Permission was subtitled The Smalls Years: Volume One. That suggests more volumes to come, and this, recorded live a year later, certainly fits the bill, but there's no indication on the cover or booklet here. Same basic lineup, with bass, drums, and four saxes, but a couple of personnel changes: Mark Turner and Ali Jackson have left, replaced by Grant Stewart and Joe Strasser. None of the remaining saxophonists are a match for Turner, which is just as well: their scrawny tones and free dynamics keep anyone from dominating, leaving even the bass some space. B+(***)

Ned Goold: March of the Malcontents (2005 [2007], Smalls): Tenor saxophonist, has a rather muted sound that seems to belong in dark, smoky clubs, where his modest, MOR postbop sounds like you figure jazz should sound these days. This is a quartet with pianist Sacha Perry, who fits in unobtrusively. B+(*)

Grant Stewart: In the Still of the Night (2006 [2007], Sharp Nine): Tenor saxophonist; big, broad sound, straight down main street, with a handful of albums since 1992, including a group with Eric Alexander called Reeds and Deeds that's released titles like Cookin' and Wailin'. Standards, with "Autumn in New York" and "Lush Life" most memorable. First-rate quartet, with Tardo Hammer, Peter Washington, and Joe Farnsworth. Marc Edelman gets his usual brilliant sound. B+(*) [Feb 20]

Omer Klein/Haggai Cohen Milo: Duet (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Klein is a young (b. 1982) Israeli pianist, moved to US in 2005, divides time between Boston (New England Conservatory) and New York. Can't find much on bassist Cohen Milo, except that he's Israeli and also tied to NEC. I doubt that he's any older. A thoughtful album, ending on a quiet note. [B+(**)]

Frank Carlberg: State of the Union (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Finnish pianist, moved to Boston in 1984, played with Either/Orchestra and Bob Brookmeyer, released a couple of albums, and now seems to be based in Brooklyn. This album, like some or all of his previous ones, features vocals wrapped around poems or found words. One "nostalgic" piece is based on Clinton's grand jury exegesis of "The Word Is"; another mangles the Bill of Rights into "State of the Union": "and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reeamined in any/freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to/cruel and unusual punishment." George Garzone recites the latter, but the rest of the pieces are sung by Christine Correa, in a sort of offhand diva voice that I usually find annoying, but here is more awkward. But there's nothing rough or difficult about the the instrumental sections. Carlberg is a fluid pianist, and Chris Cheek swings hard. The real state of the union? "What do we do/who do we bomb?" [B+(**)]

Gorka Benítez: Bilbao (2003 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish tenor saxophonist, born in Bilbao, based in Barcelona. I've been impressed by him every time out so far, and this has some strong moments, especially the soaring "Y dale!," but it does stumble along early on. Quartet, with Dani Pérez on guitar, mostly keeping pace to shimmering harmonic effect. B+(*)

Florian Ross Trio: Big Fish & Small Pond (2005 [2006], Intuition): German pianist, studied in Köln, London, and New York with the likes of John Taylor, Django Bates, Don Friedman, and Jim McNeely. Has half a dozen records, of which this is the first I've heard. Good taste, touch. I still have a lot of trouble writing about piano trios, but I know one I like when I hear it. [B+(***)]

Owen Howard: Time Cycles (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, don't know much of anything about him. Group includes two saxes, mostly threaded close together, sometimes both on soprano, with Gary Versace's piano and John Hebert's bass. I normally hate this kind of tight harmonizing, but these guys -- John O'Gallagher and Andrew Rathbun -- make it interesting. Or maybe Howard is the one who makes it work by shaking up the rhythm. [B+(***)]

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: Tongues (2006 [2007], Domino): Looks like The Exchange Session wasn't a one- (or two-) shot. Same concept here: Hebden improvises from laptop samples and guitar, giving him an unexpected range of sounds, while Reid drums. Shorter pieces offer more variety, and the sonic range is certainly interesting, but I can't quite zero in on what they're up to, unless it's just experimenting, which is cool. [B+(**)] [Mar 19]

Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Live at the Blue Monk (2006, Charles Lester Music): Little to distinguish this one from their previous, Resolving Doors, an honorable mention a while back. Futterman is a pianist of the Cecil Taylor school while Levin follows up on the new thing saxophonists of the '60s, and Alvin Fielder recalls Rashied Ali. In other words, these guys are old school avant-gardists, unafraid of a little noise, the challenge of winging it, or occasionally fucking up. Futterman plays a little soprano sax as well, which complements where his piano clashes. Levin's most interesting parts are when he switches to bass clarinet. B+(**)

Joe Zawinul: Brown Street (2005 [2007], Heads Up, 2CD): Looks like this was originally released last fall. The cover shows two street signs intersecting: "Brown Street" and "Black Market." It also offers more artist names: Alex Acuña, Nathaniel Townsley, Victor Bailey, WDR Big Band. The spine, thankfully, reduces the title and credit to something more manageable. The Big Band offers plenty of punch, but the key here is Zawinul's rhythm section, a group he calls the Zawinul Syndicate. They pitch in with Latin and African beats that juice up even tired Weather Report horses. The only false move is when they take one easy. [B+(***)] [Feb 27]

Pete Levin: Deacon Blues (2007, Motéma Music): Veteran keyboard player, mostly synths in the past, but organ here. Worked with Gil Evans from 1973, Jimmy Giuffre from 1983, plus a long list of pop, jazz, and in-between session work. With guitar (Joe Beck or Mike DeMicco), bass (his brother, Tony Levin), drums/percussion (Danny Gottlieb, Ken Lovelett, Carlos Valdez, in various combos). Steers clear of soul jazz clichés -- maybe having a bassist on board keeps him out of the grits range. Steely Dan title cut and Beach Boys' "Sail on Sailor" are tastefully underplayed. B+(*)

Richie Barshay: Homework (2004-05 [2007], AYVA): Drummer/percussionist, works with Herbie Hancock, who guests on three cuts here. Born 1983 in Rhode Island, grew up in Connecticut, but gravitated to Cuban music, and counts Andy Gonzalez as a mentor. Went on to NEC. Studied Indian percussion with Jerry Leake, which is reflected by a piece with sitar here. Later on we get a klezmer piece with voice and accordion. Feels a bit clinical to me, like he's trying to show off all he can do. On the other hand, it's all impressive -- not least, saxophonist Daniel Blake. Didn't recognize him. That won't happen again. [B+(***)]

Vijay Iyer + Mike Ladd: Still Life With Commentator (2006 [2007], Savoy Jazz): I liked their previous album, In What Language? (2003, Pi) quite a lot, but thus far I'm more perplexed here than anything. Iyer put the music together and Ladd the words for a theatrical production "conceived & directed" by Ibrahim Quraishi, something about the fragmentation of mediated reality in the postmodern world. Iyer's keyboards and programming are fleshed out with Liberty Ellman guitar and Okkyung Lee cello. Several folks take a whack at the words, with Pamela Z's arch soprano a personal turnoff. Will give it another shot, but maybe not soon. [B]

Wynton Marsalis: From the Plantation to the Penitentiary (2007, Blue Note): At this late date, a jazz musician not interested in the future is bound to be trapped by the past. Marsalis built his career by working backwards from Woody Shaw to Miles Davis to Louis Armstrong, eventually rediscovering his home town and making his happiest records. But the intense early praise he garnered went to his head, seducing him with the idea that he's not just a masterful trumpet player -- of course, he should be a great composer too. But again, his only view was backwards. Blood on the Fields was his most ambitious effort at following Ellington. Here he moves on to Mingus, crafting a set of songs built from trad moves with newly surreal colorings and political lyrics. He's good enough musically that some of this works, but the words, especially the orthodox but unconventional politics -- conservative by class, liberal by creed, radical by race -- are hard to avoid. So are the vocalists: young Jennifer Sanon is a weak spot, as is the rapper at the end. [B] [Mar 6]

The Tierney Sutton Band: On the Other Hand (2006 [2007], Telarc): Six of eleven songs (or eight of thirteen, given two reprises) have "happy" in the title. Dyslexically there's also "Glad to Be Unhappy," but even the happy songs aren't what you'd call bubbling. The others are "You Are My Sunshine," "Great Day!," "Haunted Heart," and "Smile." Two are apocalyptic: "Great Day!" and "Get Happy," the latter done both up and down, as is the secular "Happy Days Are Here Again." Jack Sheldon guests on two tracks, including a duet vocal and some unseemly patter added to "I Want to Be Happy." As Sutton explains in the liner notes, "Our search for happiness is an odd business." For example, it makes for the first good album I've heard from her. Last one was called I'm With the Band. This one credits the band because this time they're with her. [A-]

Pablo Aslan: Avantango (2003 [2004], Zoho): I asked for this as background to Aslan's intriguing new Buenos Aires Tango Standards (Zoho). The new album features a standard jazz quintet lineup -- tenor/baritone sax, trumpet, piano, bass (the leader's instrument), drums -- on a set of standards that are new to me. This one, mostly originals plus four by "Piazzolla," is more conventional, in lineup at least: bass, violin, bandoneon, trumpet tenor sax, piano, plus three vocals, with violin/bandoneon in the lead. I can only guess what's avant about it, starting with a high level of energy. [B+(***)]

Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, and Milt Jackson: What's Up? The Very Tall Band (1998 [2007], Telarc): Leftovers from the three day stand that produced The Very Tall Band Live at the Blue Note (Telarc). Nothing all that special at the time, but it's great to hear Bags again. One of the first things I ever read about Jackson described him as "always swinging"; Peterson and Brown aren't the sort who'd moderate that tendency. B+(**) [Feb 27]


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

Lou Grassi's PoBand: Infinite POtential (2005 [2006], CIMP): Perry Robinson's clarinet loses out in the three-horn attack here, pummelled to a pulp by Herb Robertson's trumpet and David Taylor's bass trombone. Would like to have heard more from him after the Anat Fort album, but this is, after all, the drummer's album. His play is central, setting the standard for the roughness all around him. Not that Taylor, Robertson, and bassist Adam Lane don't have their moments, but this doesn't strike me as wise use of such resources. B+(*)

Joan Hickey: Between the Lines (2006, Origin): As I understand it, postbop is the expansion of bop to include elements of free jazz, or looking at it from another viewpoint, it is the normalization of the avant-garde. Anyone who studies jazz these days is exposed to it. Hickey is a Chicago pianist with only one previous album, but she's taught since 1994, and this quintet record with folks I've never heard of on trumpet, sax, bass, and drums is exemplary postbop. Mostly standards, including a pair from the '60s I didn't figure to like at all ("Black Magic Woman," "Bridge Over Troubled Water"). Drops down to a trio for a Bud Powell piece at the end, and nails it too. B+(**)

Charly Antolini: Knock Out 2000 (1999, Inak): A big band drummer from Switzerland, whose early career bumped into Benny Goodman in 1959, turns in a pure drummer's album, every cut built around a beat up front, even when bass and percussion intend a fusion groove; the cover pics are all muscle, but like Buddy Rich, when Antolini wants to turn up the heat, he reaches for his brushes. B+(**)

Dave Burrell: Momentum (2005 [2006], High Two): Mass times velocity, right? So when this slows down after the first piece (portentously called "Downfall") it gets heavier. That doesn't favor the pianist, who could hold his own in any boogie woogie bar, so much as the bassist. That would be Michael Formanek, and he's the guy to focus on. B+(***)

Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen (2003 [2006], Omnitone): I reckon the liner note juxtaposition of Satie with quantum mechanics with '60s psychedelia is just meant as testimony to the intellectual precociousness of the music, at once neatly layered and feverishly complex. The seven piece group includes electric guitar, bass, and keyboards, and a second bassist who switch hits. The keyboardist also switches off, this time to accordion. Trumpeter Chuck MacKinnon's credits include EFX. Willis plays eleven wind instruments ranging from piccolo to bass clarinet with the usual duduks and suonas and the unusual oboe tucked in among the saxophones. More wondrous than wonderful, I find, but then, like Einstein, I shy away from complexity unless it's unavoidable. B+(***)

David Taylor-Steve Swell Quintet: Not Just . . . (2005 [2006], CIMP): Looks interesting on paper. The leaders play trombone, with Taylor on the bass version. The rest of the quintet is a string trio, with Billy Bang, Thomas Ulrich, and Ken Filiano from top to bottom. The problem may just be the sound, which they expect you to play louder than is my norm, on more expensive stereo gear, and with rapt attention. Failing that, there are dull spots where nothing much seems to be happening. In any case, Bang never really catches fire, although the trombone interplay is worthwhile. B


Noninterventionism

In the Feb. 15, 2007 New York Review of Books, William Pfaff wrote a piece called "Manifest Destiny: A New Direction for America." Not tied to any particular books under review, the piece basically tries to think through an alternative foreign policy for the US going back to the early Cold War period. A very remarkable feature of post-WWII foreign policy was how completely pre-WWII isolationism was wiped off the map of respectable opinion. One thing that contributed to the rout was that isolationism was itself a straw man term. The US had never been isolated from the world, at least businesswise. The real concern going back to the founding fathers was a fear of military entanglements, which were seen as corrosive of our freedoms, among many other unsavory things. Pfaff unveils a better term:

The noninterventionist alternative to the policies followed in the United States since the 1950s is to minimize interference in other societies and accept the existence of an international system of plural and legitimate powers and interests. One would think the idea that nations are responsible for themselves, and that American military interference in their affairs is morelikely to turn small problems into big ones than to solve them, would appeal to an American public that believes in individual responsibility and the autonomy of markets, considers itself hostile to political ideology (largely unaware of its own), and professes to be governed by constitutional order, pragmatism, and compromise. [ . . . ]

Had a noninterventionist policy been followed in the 1960s, there would have been no American war in Indochina. The struggle there would have been recognized as nationalist in motivation, unsusceptible to solution by foreigners, and inherently limited in its international consequences, whatever they might be -- as has proved to be the case. The Unitd States would never have been defeated, its army demoralized, or its students radicalized. There would have been no American invasion of Cambodia, which precipitated the Khmer Rouge genocide. The tribal peoples of Laos would probably have been spared their ordeal.

The United States would not have suffeed its catastrophic implication in what was essentially a domestic crisis in Iran in 1979, which still poisons Near and Middle Eastern affairs, since there would never have been the huge and provocative American investment in the Shah's regime as American "gendarme" in the region, compromising the Shah and contributing to the fundamentalist backlash against his secularizing modernization.

Without entering further into what rapidly would become an otiose discussion of the "mights" or "might nots" of the last half-century, one can certainly argue that a noninterventionist United States would not be at war in Iraq today. While obviously concerned about the free flow of Middle Eastern oil, Washington would have assumed that the oil-using states bought their oil on the market and that oil producers had to sell, having nothing else they can do with their oil, and that politically motivated interference in the market by the oil producers would in the mid- and long term fail, as happened after the OPEC oil price rise of 1973.

The costs of America's 60-year experiment in interventionism are impossible to calculate, but certainly vast. No one has fought more wars in more places, especially if you start to tote up the black operations, coups, and proxy wars. The economic benefits, especially if you think in terms of American jobs as opposed to capitalists' direct foreign investment, have been meager if indeed there is any net gain to speak of. Becoming the world's last imperialist power has spoiled most of all of the good will the US enjoyed up through WWII. Looking back it's easy enough to see the logic that steered the US in this direction. What's hard to find is any definition of national interest where we've benefitted from this course.

Watching Clint Eastwood's Iwo Jima movies recently, I'm reminded of how Americans deluded themselves about the war. In essence, we buried the pain and suffering of the most horrendous war in human history in a glorious myth that we Americans had saved the world from self-induced cataclysm. The war itself was seen as the result of our past isolationism -- not that we caused it, but that it could have been prevented if only we had asserted our leadership earlier. Moreover, as the trauma subsided, the war grew to be seen as a positive experience: it rebuilt our depression-wracked economy and gave us new collective purpose as a nation. The combination proved irresistible, especially given that we had built an engine for war that only needed new monsters to feed on. The Communists fit the bill adequately, but as we've seen since their collapse, almost any two-bit crackpot would do.

On the other hand, the expense of empire is finally getting to be a bit much -- as, indeed, England, France, and others found out before us. Its advocates are living on past delusions, and are all the more dangerous for that.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Kleinerpolitik, or Politics Lost

Last summer I checked Joe Klein's Politics Lost out from the library. I didn't get very far in the book. It seemed to me that it might have some useful background info on the emergence of the class of political operators that includes folks like Joe Klein, but I can't say that I found it all that interesting. Plus I got a lot of flack for even bringing it home: "asshole" was one of the kinder, more printable epithets Laura used on Klein. But I see now that Matt Taibbi thinks Klein is worth singling out. He wrote a whole column on Klein, concluding:

I think they're all full of shit -- Klein, McCain, Kerry, all of them. But especially Klein. He is the living, breathing incarnation of American "conventional wisdom" -- and what American "conventional wisdom" is is a spineless, slavish, power-worshipping watcher of polls who has no problem whatsoever denying today what he said yesterday, and is mostly interested in making sure he still has invitations to the right Beltway parties.

The war, you might have noticed, has not budged very many of these people from their places. Many of them now claim to be against the war. But they're the same people they were three or four years ago, and they're still quite openly sneering at the people who really were right all along. They seem to hate us even more, now that we've so obviously been proven right.

Which tells us: if they're going to end this Iraq thing, they're going to try to do it without admitting either that they were wrong or we were right.

Another quote, contrasting Klein's suck-up snivelling with the antiwar "us" he so disdains:

For most of us, if we thought there was any chance this thing could work, we'd have been for it, or at least not so violently against it. Instead, our opposition to the war was based on our absolute conviction that it would end in disaster -- which it incidentally has. But according to Klein, if we see a guy step off the top of the Empire State Building, we're supposed to root for him to nail the dismount. The whole issue is irrelevant and absurd.

Klein's latest column was called "What It Means to Support the Troops." It's a piece of studied equivocation, where Lieberman's hawkishness is described as "honorable, if mistaken." The whole idea behind "supporting the troops" is to confuse amd confound, by assuming rather than examining the mission and its prospects. The only place those tactics can exist is in the fantasy world of political rhetoric. That Klein and company can get work just goes to show you how divorced from reality politics is.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Coming Crises

Tony Judt wrote a piece in The New York Review of Books called "Is the UN Doomed?" It covers a screed by Eric Shawn called The UN Exposed: How the United Nations Sabotages America's Security and Fails the World, a more positive book by Paul Kennedy, and a cautionary one by James Traub on Kofi Annan. Pretty much everyone has reasons to be disappointed by the UN, while few acknowledge that it does do some good work when given a chance. That's neither here nor there, but the following bit of gloom got my attention:

All in all, then, it seems unlikely that even the humiliating defeat of the Iraq war will change many Americans' minds about the virtues of international cooperation. Something else, however, just may. For there is one common twenty-first-century international experience that American citizens and politicians cannot avoid sharing with the rest of the globe, however little they know of the outside world and however barnacled and prejudiced their views about it. Within the lifetime of many readers of this essay, the world is going to slip ever faster into an environmental catastrophe.

It is no coincidence that the two countries most responsible for this prospect -- China and the United States of America -- are also the two Security Council members least amenable to collective action in general; nor is it surprising that the man they have chosen to suceed Kofi Annan as UN secretary-general is Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, not someone hitherto known for pressing inconvenient agendas or speaking out of turn. His initial pronouncements, notably his equivocation over the propriety of Saddam Hussein's execution, have not been reassuring. But in the coming decades we are going to face "natural" disasters, droughts, famines, floods, resource wars, population movements, economic crises, and regional pandemics on a wholly unfamiliar scale.

Individual states will have neither the means nor -- thanks to globalization -- the practical authority to limit the damage or make good the losses. Substate actors such as the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders will at best be able to apply band-aids. "Acting with others" -- the emerging post-Bush mantra -- will be utterly insufficient: mere coalitions of the willing (or the subservient) will be powerless. We shall be forced to acknowledge the authority and guidance of those who know what has to be done. In short, we shall have to act through others: in collaboration, in cooperation, and with little reference to separate national interests or boundaries, which will in any case lose much of their meaning. Thanks to the United Nations and its various agencies, such as WHO, Paul Kennedy writes, we have already "established international early-warning, assessment, response, and coordination mechanisms for when states fray or collapse." We shall have to learn to apply these to circumstances in which it is not states but whole societies that face collapse or failure, and where even Americans will not have the reassuring option of fighting "them" over "there" in order not to have to fight them "here."

One thing I want to draw your attention to is the quotes Judt puts around "natural" qualifying disasters. One euphemism we have for such events is "acts of God" -- things we ascribe to nature or unseen forces not because we didn't cause them but because we refuse to take responsibility for them. That refusal is above all a political bias. Indeed, the better we understand the science, the more it becomes a matter of political choice, as opposed to mere ignorance.

The problems Judt mentions, and there are more where they came from, are not just unintended consequences of foolish choices, like global warming. Most of them have to do with testing the limits of earth's tolerance for human saturation -- what's known as the planet's "carrying capacity." We've dodged more than a few potential crises along the way, which has swayed too many of us to deny any such threats. The result is that necessary skills -- not just science but the art of cooperation and willingness to make prudent sacrifices -- are being beat to death by the closed minds of the political right.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Resolutions

I haven't posted with much regularity lately, although at least I didn't take my blog off the net like Billmon. That was a downer, but I see that Moon of Alabama will soon be presenting an archive of Billmon's posts. I started reading him when Katrina hit, and he's been my first stop almost ever since. A bit bloodthirsty for my taste, but he comes from a place on the left I recognize, which helps make him much sharper than anyone who might fancy themself something of a liberal. . . .

Like Molly Ivins. Her saving grace, aside from good humor and dependable scruples, was that as a Texas liberal she was self-consciously some sort of deviant. For a while I fancied trying to do something like her column from a Kansas vantage point, but I never had the fondness for politics or the general good will to make it work. I've read four or five or her books, but didn't get any traction from the last one I picked up, a compilation called Who Let the Dogs In? She reminds me of an acquaintance who back in 2001 or maybe even 2002 bravely offered that we had survived one George Bush, so we can survive another. Ivins didn't, and she's not alone. In retrospect, her Shrub was far too kind. Hell, even Bushwhacked went down too easy. For quite a while now, Bush has raised questions in my mind like: when did it finally dawn on average Germans that the Nazis had gone off the deep end? I don't know the answer to that, but I'm afraid it something like 1947.

Anyhow, the reason I haven't been posting -- well, one of them anyway -- is that I've been thinking about reprioritizing. I thought I'd start January off with a list of resolutions, but a week into February I still don't have them. I failed utterly in my main resolution last year, which was to write the book. A year ago I swore that if I couldn't get it done I'd give it up. Still, I can't think of anything more important or worth my efforts, so the first resolution is to give it another year, and the second is to cut back on everything else as needed to make it happen.

For now, the cuts will be moderate, but I need to get more serious about them as we go along. My main time sink is writing about music. Thus far I've cut that back to Jazz CG and Recycled Goods. I need to focus on jazz for the next 2-3 weeks, then that will let up for a bit. I'm far enough ahead on Recycled that it shouldn't be much of an imposition for the next two months. The other big music project is to relaunch Terminal Zone, and that I may have to give up. (Indeed, I may already have done so, and just don't realize it yet.)

The other big time sink is website work, and there I have some things that are fairly urgent, like getting news working on Robert Christgau's website, and getting some of Carola Dibbell's fiction up. The Village Voice just published their Pazz & Jop Poll. We've been planning on publishing Christgau's Dean's List after the Voice comes out, but that's just moved from future to now and I'm not prepared for it. But that, again, needs to happen in the next 2-3 weeks, and the combination means I won't have anything to show for my book resolution until March at the earliest. Ugh!

What's likely to happen with the blog in the meantime is this: continue jazz prospecting on Mondays, and whatever publication notices I can muster; do more reference notes, like the book quote posts, since those books are mostly book research for me; and start posting small snippets of book writing when I get something done. That means for the most part I won't bother with tracking current events, unless something truly disruptive come along. And I'll try not to get obsessed about posting daily, like I did for a few months last year.

More on this later. But that's enough resolutions for now.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Recycled Goods #40: February 2007

Recycled Goods #40, February 2007, has been posted at Static Multimedia. Having spent January's column on 2006 wrap-up, this one starts to wrap up the leftovers, including a few new world music releases that missed the A-list. Figuring 50 records to be enough, I wound up holding quite a bit of stuff back -- current count toward next month is 47, which puts me in good shape for once.


Here's the publicists letter:

Recycled Goods #40, February 2007, is up at Static Multimedia:

  link

50 records. Index by label:

  Adventure Music: Mario Adnet, Hamilton de Holanda, Philippe Baden Powell,
    Daniel Santiago, Winds of Brazil
  AIM: Eric Burdon, Savoy Brown, Frankie Lee Sims
  Alula: Maria Kalaniemi
  Atavistic: Vandermark 5
  Clean Feed: Free Range Rat
  Concord: Riverside Profiles (5)
  EMI (Blue Note): Grant Green, Johnny Griffin, Freddie Hubbard, Jackie
    McLean
  EMI (Capitol): US Vs. John Lennon, Beatles
  Label Bleu: David Krakauer
  Luaka Bop: Tom Ze
  Milan: Africa Remix
  Piranha: Stella Chiweshe
  Proper: Ernest Tubb
  Putumayo World Music: Blues Around the World, One World Many Cultures
  Smithsonian Folkways: Mighty Sparrow
  Sony/BMG (Legacy): Beautiful Ballads (5), Alice in Chains, Jeff Beck (2),
    Electric Light Orchestra (3), Julio Iglesias (2)
  Thirsty Ear: Blue Series Sampler
  Universal (UME): Bill Anderson, Ernest Tubb
  WEA (Nonesuch): Ali Farka Toure
  WEA (Rhino): Tommy Boy Story, Stereolab
  Wrasse: Ismael Lo

This is the 40th monthly column. Thus far I've covered a total of 1733
albums in Recycled Goods.

Thanks again for your support.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Music: Current count 12851 [12828] rated (+23), 845 [845] unrated (+0). Finished February's Recycled Goods, plus a rather large stash of 47 more for next month (and then some). Switched gears to Jazz CG at the end of the week. That will be the emphasis for the next couple of weeks.

  • Basement Jaxx: Crazy Itch Radio (2006, XL): "Intro" is pretentious pseudo-classical blare, a faux pas they move on to render in increasingly tacky shades of plastic. By the time they get to "Take Me Back to Your House" I'm starting to get the hang of it. Matos included this on his year-end list. I don't have the time to get that close to it. At least now -- maybe someday I'll get my own copy, maybe even spend a day working through a pretty consistently series of discs. B+(***)
  • Edition Pierre Verger: Africa: From Dakar to Johannesburg ([2006], Playa Sound): Verger travelled the world from 1932-46, taking photographs and notes, eventually settling in Brazil and establishing a Foundation to manage his collections; no dates on this traditional folk music -- kora from Mali, drums from Burundi, chorals from South Africa, miscellany from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Congo -- but the 1990s seem probable, and why isn't exactly clear. B
  • Eddie Fisher: Greatest Hits (1950-55 [2001], RCA): Pretty boy singer, had some hits from 1950-56 -- "Tell Me Why" still sounds pretty good -- but was, and certainly is, better known for his famous wives: Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, Connie Stevens, and for that matter his daughter Carrie Fisher. Short at 14 cuts, ending unaccountably with "Heart" a year before he started his fade. Among the missing is one I wouldn't mind hearing again: "Dungaree Doll." Mostly show tunes and novelties. Dreadful orchestras. Rock and roll was invented to drive guys like him into retirement, or at least Las Vegas. B-
  • Fred Hersch: Songs Without Words (2000 [2001], Nonesuch, 3CD): Three discs: one composed by Hersch, one set of jazz tunes (Monk, Ellington, [Russ] Freeman, Gillespie, Shorter, Wheeler, Golson, Mingus), one set of Cole Porter. Most, but not all, are played solo, but others join in on a half-dozen or so, most notably Ralph Alessi's trumpet or flugelhorn. A major statement at a time when he was just getting noticed. B+
  • Al Hirt: Greatest Hits (1962-64 [2001], RCA): Short (32:33), 14-cut cheapie, from actually a very narrow slice of the New Orleans trad jazz trumpeter. But its slice is the one Hirt's best known for: he scored three chart hits in 1964, and they're all here: "Java" (#4), "Cotton Candy" (#15), "Sugar Lips" (#30). Those three were produced by Chet Atkins, who junks them up with tacky vocal arrangements, cut through only by the clarity of Hirt's trumpet. Most of the filler was arranged by Marty Paich. B+
  • Al Hirt: At the Mardi Gras (1962 [2000], BMG Classics): Steve Sholes produced this "on location" concept album: trad jazz or damn close, from "Basin Street Blues" to "Perdido" with asides for "Frankie and Johnny" and "Old Man River." Not much of a stretch. B
  • The Mighty Sparrow: Party Classics (1989, Gutu): Recorded in two batches in New York, released in two volues by M&M Records in Trinidad. Each batch starts with a medley. The songs are mostly well known -- "Jean and Dinah," "Congo Man," "Ten to One Is Murder" (reprised in a disco mix) -- but the band is more soca than calypso. No dates, but unlikely to be very old when the LPs appeared. Not the place to begin, or even end, although those without reference points may enjoy it. Second half is better than the first. B-
  • The Mighty Sparrow: Hot Like Fire (1992, Ice): Hot like soca, actually. But it does close with "Crown Heights Justice" -- with its repeated chants of "justice" and "live in peace" a great political anthem. B+
  • The Tommy Boy Story Vol. 1: Tommy Boy Twelve-Inch: It's Workin! (1981-93 [2006], Rhino, 2CD): Further proof that a twelve-inch focus locks you into the underground: 22 cuts, more than 2.5 hours, and only the pathbreaking Afrika Bambaataa tracks are instantly familiar. Tom Silverman's label started with Arthur Baker dance tracks that picked up hip-hop like the fad it might have been, and that remained the model here even after Warners gave them the cash to run with the big dogs -- Queen Latifah appears here, but not De La Soul, Digital Underground, Coolio, House of Pain, Naughty by Nature, and so on. But what makes the non-Bambaataa cuts unfamiliar may have less to do with obscurity than genericness. They move you, but mostly by going through the motions. B+(**)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #12, Part 11)

Spent most of the week on Recycled Goods, finishing the February column and stashing quite a bit back for March or even later. So I only have a few days worth of notes to report below, but be assured that Jazz CG is stirring again after January's deep chill. The next one will run in March sometime, which gives me 2-3 weeks to pull it together. Shouldn't be a problem, although at this point I don't have a clear idea what to do about Pick Hits and the fan favorite Dud of the Month. Also a lot of stuff on the shelf that I haven't heard yet. I like to catch up there first, but for this crunch time I'll need to concentrate on what I need right away. Once again, nothing off the replay shelf. I expect that next week will be about half new/half replays, and the following week or two mostly replays. Got plenty of work cut out for me.


David 'Fathead' Newman: Life (2006 [2007], High Note): Dedicated to the late John Hicks, who write the title song. Fathead's feeling light-headed here, his tenor sax so mellowed out as to render Doug Ramsey's Texas Tenor-themed liner notes nonsensical; his alto is even creamier, while his flute, sugared up with Steve Nelson vibes and Peter Bernstein guitar, floats aimlessly into space. Which is where his "What a Beautiful World" belongs -- I'd rather hear Kenny G's, with or without the Armstrong sample. Closes with a nice "Naima." C+

Larry Willis: Blue Fable (2006 [2007], High Note): Four cuts feature alto sax and trombone. The others are just piano trio. All are sharp, thoughtful, engaged. None are spectacular. In short, this is an even match for his previous album (The Big Push, also High Note), and for that matter, almost everything else he's done. B+(**)

Russell Gunn: Plays Miles (2006 [2007], High Note): Like Davis: born in East St. Louis, plays trumpet, into electronics. So this was probably inevitable. Calls his group the Elektrik Butterfly Band. Orrin Evans plays keyboards -- bass, drums and percussion, but no guitar or sax. First impression is that it's less developed and less interesting than Yo Miles!, not to mention the inspiration -- could be because it's conceived as a reduction. [B+(*)]

Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo (2005 [2007], ECM): Young pianist, from Milan, has classical training, pop studio work, a stretch working with Enrico Rava, a stack of albums starting with one from 1997 called Mambo Italiano. This is as advertised: solo, moderately paced, mostly quiet, but remarkably balanced and filling. Touches on Prokofiev, Scott Joplin, Lerner & Loewe, Brian Wilson. Doesn't seem like much, but I'm finding it seductive. [B+(***)]

Steve Swallow with Robert Creeley: So There (2001-05 [2006], ECM): Only got the advance here -- same for a bunch of ECM releases, which have been languishing on my pile in the hopes that the real thing might come along, but the release date here is Nov. 7, 2006, so I guess I have to make do. I went through a poetry phase in the late '60s before getting to a point after which I found the stuff unreadable. Creeley was a name I recall from then, but not a particular interest. He has been a favorite of jazz musicians: Steve Lacy tried adapting his poems to song, and Swallow did the same on a much earlier album. But here he just speaks, which works much better, providing the skeleton and cadence for Swallow's music. The latter is mostly the work of pianist Steve Kuhn and the Cikada String Quartet. Kuhn's work is very attractive here: light and uplifting without turning to fluff. The strings are more of a down, tearful even, but they don't spoil the experience. Interesting combination of effects. (Francis Davis wrote about this in the Voice.) B+(***)

Enrico Rava: The Words and the Days (2005 [2007], ECM): This continues a string of first-rate albums, on CAM Jazz as well as ECM, with the trumpeter wry and laconic, like he's finally settled on his life's work. What's unsettled here is the trombonist, young Gianluca Petrella, who shares the line in front of piano, bass and drums. Petrella's Blue Note exposure won him Downbeat's TDWR poll, a rare breakthrough for any European. While I take that with the proverbial grain of salt, Petrella adds something here. [B+(***)] [Feb 6]

Anat Fort: A Long Story (2004 [2007], ECM): Israeli pianist, classical training, middle eastern exposures, lives in New York since 1996, one previous album, has composed various pieces for string orchestras. I suppose nearly every pianist who's come of age in the last forty years has dreamed of playing with Paul Motian -- many of the best have, and you can add Fort to that list. Her duos and trios with bassist Ed Schuller are elegant, attractive affairs. But most of the album adds a fourth player. Any horn is likely to dominate a piano trio, but Perry Robinson's clarinet does it not by force of volume but by sly innuendo. Long underrated, this is a fine showcase for him. [A-] [Mar 6]

Dino Saluzzi Group: Juan Condori (2005 [2006], ECM): Argentine bandoneon, born 1935, in a quintet with three younger Saluzzis and a percussionist named U.T. Gandhi. Felix Saluzzi plays tenor sax, soprano sax, and clarinet, although he doesn't stand out -- the string sound of guitar and bass is much more prominent. Folkish, not particularly close to tango. [B+(***)]

Kayhan Kalhor/Erdal Erzincan: The Wind (2004 [2006], ECM): Kalhor plays kamancheh, a four-string spiked fiddle or bowed lute from Iran: a violin sound, although pitched a bit lower. Erzincan plays baglama, a long-necked oud from Turkey. Unlisted on the cover is a third musician, Ulas Ozdemir, on divan (bass) bagalama. One long improv based on Iranian and Turkish traditional music, indexed for twelve parts. Fascinating, but a bit thin at this considerable length. B+(*)

François Couturier: Nostalgia: Song for Tarkovsky (2005 [2006], ECM): Released in October. I only got an advance with a photocopy of the booklet, which is good enough for current purposes, although it took me a while to recognize as much. Dedicated to filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, which doesn't mean much to me, although the booklet has some striking stills. Don't know how the music relates to the films, but the credits are to group members -- cellist Anja Lechner has two, soprano saxophonist Jean-Marc Larché one, Couturier the rest. Also in the group is Jean-Louis Matinier on accordion. The instrumentation can lean folk or classical, with moods shifting between light and dark. B+(*)

Frank Foster: Well Water (1977 [2007], Piadrum): Big band. Huge. Monstrous. Foster calls this 20-member aggregate the Loud Minority Band: five trumpets, four trombones, seven reeds, most of the latter with flutes in their kits. This previously unreleased tape is a good deal more unruly than Foster's Basie work, but I don't find the overkill invigorating or interesting. On the other hand, the "bonus track" breaks down to a Mickey Tucker piano trio that rocks and rolls, then further dissolves into a drum solo, which is pure Elvin Jones. B

John Hicks: Sweet Love of Mine (2006, High Note): Table scraps, including snatches of Ray Mantilla percussion, Elise Wood flutes, Javon Jackson sax, and three pieces of solo piano, as if no one had the slightest idea what they were doing or what the future might hold. As it was, Hicks died a month later, so take this cockeyed mess as a memorial, note that his improbable helpers looked up to him -- and like he's done throughout his career, he makes them better -- and enjoy the piano, poignant alone, playful together. B+(**)

Dave Valentin: Come Fly With Me (2006, High Note): Plays flute, with 20 or so albums, mostly on pop-oriented GRP from 1980-93. Since then, one on RMM, one on Concord, two on High Note. This is the first I've heard. It's mostly Latin, with Robby Ameen on drums, Milton Cardona and Richie Flores on percussion -- Latin jazz has always been a niche for flute players. I don't have much feel for this sort of thing, but my impression is that Latin jazz helps the flute more than the other way around. Choice cut here is "Tu Pañuelo," where the rhythm gets so chopped up flow is impossible, and the flute is mostly out of the picture, or panting hoarsely on the sidelines. B-


Once again, no final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around. Next week, I promise.


Jan 2007 Mar 2007