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Friday, June 29, 2007

Israel Envy

Juan Cole quotes GW Bush as saying:

In Israel, terrirosts have taken innocent human life for years in suicide attacks. The difference is that Israel is a functioning democracy and it's not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities. And that's a good indicator of success that we're looking for in Iraq.

Israel envy is one of the most bizarre characteristics of the Bush regime. The idea that Israel is any sort of success is itself hard to imagine -- its main claim is to be the last colonial outpost of Europe to maintain a rigid apartheid system, leaving it with an endless struggle to suppress the natives, the enmity of nearly all of its neighbors, and disapproval by most of the world. To call that success takes a high pain threshold and inordinate fondness for the exercise of force -- traits that Israelis seem to have, and that Americans like Bush envy.

Even so, it's damn near inconceivable how to map Israel's "success" to Iraq. For starters, who in Iraq is there to constitute the Zionist master class? The Shiites aren't rich enough; the Sunnis have a bad attitude; the Kurds just want to be left alone. That leaves the US occupiers, and there just aren't that many of them, no matter how heavily armed. To some extent the US has managed to find Iraqis to do its bidding, but that has rarely been more than grudgingly, with various trade-offs as various factions seek to profit by angling off the US occupation. The story about how Iraqis never get to where they can "stand up" is really evidence that they have interests that are different from what the Americans expect. Indeed, it's unlikely that you can find any Iraqi politician whose interests are fully aligned with the US, let alone a whole class of them capable of controlling the country like Israeli security services do in occupied Palestine -- not that that's exactly a gold standard.

This isn't the first time Bush has looked for inspiration in past disasters. A couple of weeks ago he was touting America's 62+ year occupation of South Korea as as a model. Sure, a third of the country is stuck in a time warp under the world's most brutal dictatorship, one that can't feed its own people but can threaten the region with nuclear bombs, but even that looks pretty stable compared to Iraq. A while back, Bush even wandered into the dreaded Vietnam analogy, thinking that some events in Iraq had resembled the Tet Offensive, and thinking that was some sort of US victory. (After all, the only reason the US lost Vietnam was the yellow-bellied peace movement! Ah, the perils of drinking your own propaganda.)

I've been arguing for a while now that Israel today is a glimpse of the sort of country the US is turning into: racist, militarist, paranoid, and vicious. Following the same path will be difficult here, mostly because the US is relatively open and inclusive, both in fact and in principle. Israel, on the other hand, styles itself as The Jewish State, so there's never any doubt there about whether one is part of the ruling us or the enemy them. Still, the US has come remarkably close to a functional definition of us-versus-them thanks to the Republican Party's voter profiling -- a distinction the rightwing radio demagogues have no trouble drawing. One thing the self-appointed us has in common is blind support for Israel. As Bush shows, it's only a tiny step from there to envy.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Buck Doesn't Stop

From Seymour Hersh's June 25, 2007 article in the New Yorker, titled "The General's Report":

An aggressive congressional inquiry into Abu Ghraib could have provoked unwanted questions about what the Pentagon was doing, in Iraq and elsewhere, and under what authority. By law, the President must make a formal finding authorizing a C.I.A. covert operation, and inform the senior leadership of the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees. However, the Bush Administration unilaterally determined after 9/11 that intelligence operations conducted by the military -- including the Pentagon's covert task forces -- for the purposes of "preparing the battlefield" could be authorized by the President, as Commander-in-Chief, without telling Congress.

There was coördination between the C.I.A. and the task forces, but also tension. The C.I.A. officers, who were under pressure to produce better intelligence in the field, wanted explicit legal authority before aggressively interrogating high-value targets. A finding would give operatives some legal protection for questionable actions, but the White House was reluctant to put what it wanted in writing.

A recently retired high-level C.I.A. official, who served during this period and was involved in the drafting of findings, eescribed to me the bitter disagreements between the White House and the agency over the issue. "The problem is what constituted approval," the retird C.I.A. official said. "My people fought about this all the time. Why should we put our people in the firing line somewhere down the road? If you want me to kill Joe Smith, just tell me to kill Joe Smith. If I was the Vice-President or the President, I'd say, 'This guy Smith is a bad guy and it's in the interest of the United States for this guy to be killed.' They don't say that. Instead, George" -- George Tenet, the director of the C.I.A. until mid-2004 -- "goes to the White House and is told, 'You guys are professionals. You know how important it is. We know you'll get the intelligence.' George would come back and say to us, 'Do what you gotta do.'"

Bill Harlow, a spokesman for Tenet, depicted as "absurd" the notion that the C.I.A. director told his agents to operate outside official guidelinies. He added, in an e-mailed statement, "The intelligence community insists that its officers not exceed the very explicit authorities granted." In his recently published memoir, however, Tenet acknowledged that there had been a struggle "to get clear guidance" in terms of how far to go during high-value-detainee interrogations.

The Pentagon consultant said in an interview late last year that "the C.I.A. never got the exact language it wanted." The findings, when promulgated by the White House, were "very calibrated" to minimize political risk, an dlimited to a few countries; later, they were expanded, turning several nations in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia into free-fire zones with regard to high-value targets.

What all this adds up to is that from the very beginning the Bush administration was preoccupied with establishing its legal defense against charges in the International Criminal Court. Or so it would seem. Actually, the likelihood that any of them would ever wind up in a war crimes docket has never been high, mostly because it's unlikely the US would ever lose so badly in war as to expose its leaders, no matter how guilty they were. But even short of arraignment, the stench of guilt might be a political embarrassment, and there deniability would be useful. Al Gore, in his book The Assault on Reason (p. 108) puts it this way:

Usually, he was pretty tricky in his exact wording. Indeed, President Bush's consistent and careful artifice is itself evidence that he knew full well he was telling an artful and important lie, visibly circumnavigating the truth, over and over again, as if he had practiced how to avoid encountering it.

So one theory on the table is that the Bush administration's avoidance of the truth goes beyond being a matter of convenience to some sort of pathological phobia. About the only thing they've actually researched has been in polling to refine their propaganda points, but that's merely instrumental. Their goals appear to be wholly faith based, although even there one suspects that closer inspection will reveal baser motives. Brecht once said that what keeps mankind alive is bestial acts; for Bush bestiality appears to be rooted in the bottom line.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Destination: Out's 90s Lists

While I'm thinking about jazz, let me point out that Destination Out's Best Jazz of the 1990s poll data has been posted. My first instinct when scanning these lists was to jot down a list of things I don't know/haven't heard. There were something like 20 lists, but a glance at the "most mentioned albums" summary should have tipped me off as to how little intersection there is: only 12 albums got three or more mentions, 27 more getting two. When I hit bottom I had a list of 102 albums -- 68 in my database (meaning I've seen and noted favorable reference before) and 34 not. The list includes 9 John Zorn albums, 8 by Anthony Braxton, 4 by Cecil Taylor, 3 each by Barry Guy and Butch Morris.

Didn't count how many records I am familiar with. Uh, let's see: looks like total is 298 votes, minus 68 multiples, so 230; minus my 102 misses, means I'm familiar with 118, 51%. Don't know what to make of that data: reminds me of some well-regarded albums I never bumped into, but there are quite a few other albums on the lists that I've graded B or less, so most likely I've missed more. Also that it's impossible to keep track of Braxton and Zorn, in particular. (I have 7 Braxton and 6 Zorn albums from the 1990s, amounting to less than 25% in both cases.)

My initial ballot and backup data is still here. They just ran my minimal unexplained top ten list with a link to the rest. The editor's round-up is worth reading -- more rigorously avant than my own rather catholic tastes, but everything they list has merit. Horace Tapscott's The Dark Tree missed my own list because it was recorded in 1989 -- I actually have the original separate volumes, rather than the combined 2-CD reissue. Similar borderline issues are common in the lists. Sonny Sharrock's Ask the Ages is an album I don't remember very well -- at the time I preferred Highlife and the earlier solo Guitar. Maybe I should dig it out.

Meanwhile, I think the most striking thing about the poll is its near-complete lack of consensus. Some of this is methodological: too many records, too few vote slots, which adds up to an incentive for idiosyncrasy. But it's also likely that most critics haven't heard more than my 51%, especially if (like me) they weren't working at the time. But it may also be the case that differences in jazz albums are so marginal that consensus building is impossible. I don't know where I'd begin in trying to predict a consensus list -- a task which is still relatively easy with year-end rock critics lists, but harder with jazz.


Records mentioned in poll that I do not have/have not heard (102; * indicates not in database):

  • Geri Allen: Maroons (1992, Blue Note)
  • Fred Anderson/Peter Kowald/Hamid Drake: Live at the Velvet Lounge (1999, Okka Disk)
  • Derek Bailey: Guitar Solos, Volume 2 (1991, Incus)
  • Derek Bailey/Susie Ibarra: Daedal (1999, Incus)
  • Gregg Bendian: Interzone (1996, Eremite)
  • Bergman/Brotzmann/Braxton: Eight by Three (1997, Mixtery) *
  • Tim Berne: Nice View (1993, JMT)
  • Tim Berne: Unwound (1996, Screwgun) *
  • Dave Binney: Free to Dream (1998, Mythology) *
  • Michael Blake: Kingdom of Champa (1997, Intuition)
  • Paul Bley: Not Two, Not One (1999, ECM) *
  • Borbetomagus: Buncha Hair That Long (1992, Agaric) *
  • Lester Bowie: Funky T, Cool T (1991, DIW)
  • Anthony Braxton: Quintet (Basel) 1977 (2000, Hat Hut) *
  • Anthony Braxton: Victoriaville (Quartet) 1992 (1992, Victo) *
  • Anthony Braxton: Wesleyan (12 Altosolos) (1992, Hat Art)
  • Anthony Braxton: Trio (London) 1993 (1993, Leo)
  • Anthony Braxton: Santa Cruz 1993 (1993, Hat Art, 2CD)
  • Anthony Braxton: Knitting Factory (Piano/Quartet) 1994, Vols. 1 and 2 (1994, Leo) *
  • Anthony Braxton: Compositions No. 10 and No. 16 (+101) (1998, Hatology)
  • Anthony Braxton: Four Compositions (Quartet) 1998 (1998, Braxton House) *
  • Michael Brecker: Tales From the Hudson (1996, Impulse) *
  • Michael Brecker: Time Is of the Essence (1998, Verve)
  • Paul Brody: Turtle Paradise (1995, 99 Records) *
  • Bob Brookmeyer: New Works: Celebration (1999, Challenge)
  • Peter Brötzmann: The Chicago Octet/Tentet (1997, Okka Disk, 3CD)
  • John Butcher: 13 Friendly Numbers (1992, Acta)
  • Uri Caine: Urlicht/Primal Light (1997, Winter & Winter)
  • James Carney: Offset Rhapsody (1997, Jacaranda)
  • Ornette Coleman: Naked Lunch (Soundtrack) (1991, Milan) *
  • Steve Coleman: Def Trance Beat (1994, Novus) *
  • Steve Coleman: The Sonic Language of Myth (1999, RCA)
  • Marilyn Crispell: Overlapping Hands (1990, FMP)
  • Marilyn Crispell/Stefano Maltese: Red (1999, Black Saint)
  • Andrew Cyrille/Mark Dresser/Marty Ehrlich: C/D/E (2000, Jazz Magnet)
  • Deep Rumba: This Night Becomes a Rumba (1998, American Clave) *
  • Whit Dickey: Transonic (1998, AUM Fidelity)
  • Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Open Up (Whatcha Gonna Do With the Rest of Your Life) (1991, Columbia) *
  • Bill Dixon: Papyrus, Vol. I (1998, Soul Note)
  • Bill Dixon: Papyrus, Vol. II (1998, Soul Note)
  • DJ Krush/Toshinori Kondo: Ki Oku (1999, Instinct) *
  • DJ Logic: Project Logic (1999, Which) *
  • Either/Orchestra: The Half-Life of Desire (1989, Accurate)
  • Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black: Kulak, 29 & 30 (1998, Hatology)
  • Douglas Ewart: Angles of Entrance (2001, Aarawak)
  • Simon Fell: Composition No. 30/Compilation III (1998, Bruce's Fingers)
  • The Flying Luttenbachers: Destroy All Music (1998, Skin Graft)
  • Frisque Concordance: Spellings (1993, Random Acoustics)
  • The Fully Celebrated Orchestra: Live at the Latch String Inn (1996, Cud) *
  • Ground Zero: Plays Standards (1997, Nani) *
  • Barry Guy: Theoria (1991, Intakt)
  • Barry Guy/LJCO: Portraits (1993, Intakt, 2CD)
  • Barry Guy: Double Trouble Two (1995, Intakt) *
  • Kip Hanrahan: Tenderness (1990, American Clave)
  • Gerry Hemingway: Perfect World (1996, Random Acoustics)
  • Joseph Holbrooke: '98 (1998, Incus) *
  • Guy Klucevsek: Flying Vegetables of the Apocalypse (1991, Experimental Intermedia)
  • Art Lande/Mark Miller: World Without Cars (1999, Synergy) *
  • Leroy Jenkins: Solo (1998, Lovely Music)
  • Last Exit: Headfirst Into the Flames (1990, Muworks) *
  • Nguyen Lê: 3 Trios (ACT)
  • George Lewis: Voyager (1993, Avant)
  • Pat Martino: Nightwings (1996, Muse)
  • Jim McNeely/WDR Big Band: East Coast Blow Out (1995, Lipstick) *
  • Butch Morris: Dust to Dust (1990, New World)
  • Butch Morris: Berlin Skyscraper (1995, FMP)
  • Butch Morris: Testament (1995, New World, 10CD)
  • Sal Mosca: Recital in Valhalla (1991, Zinnia)
  • Paul Motian/Bill Frisell/Joe Lovano: At the Village Vanguard (1995, JMT) *
  • David Murray: Sunrise, Sunset (1990, Red Baron) *
  • Naftules Dream: Smash Clap (1998, Tzadik) *
  • Naked City: Grand Guignol (1992, Avant)
  • Naked City: Radio (1993, Avant)
  • Naked City: Black Box (1997, Tzadik) *
  • Ted Nash: Sidewalk Meeting (2000, Arabesque)
  • Painkiller: Rituals: Live in Japan (1993, Toys Factory)
  • Phantom City: Shiva Recoil (1997, Virgin) *
  • Ponga (1999, Loosegroove) *
  • Bobby Previte: Slay the Suitors (1994, Avant) *
  • Marc Ribot: Don't Blame Me (1995, DIW)
  • Adam Rudolph: Moving Pictures (1992, Flying Fish)
  • Maria Schneider: Evanescence (1992, Enja)
  • Matthew Shipp: Prism (1993, Brinkman) *
  • Matthew Shipp: By the Law of Music (1996, Hat Art)
  • Simmons/Evans/Norton: Universal Prayer/Survival Skills (1999, Parallactic)
  • Jimi Sumen: Paintbrush, Rock Penstemon (1993, CMP) *
  • John Surman: Proverbs and Songs (1997, ECM) *
  • Cecil Taylor: In Florescence (1989, A&M)
  • Cecil Taylor: Celebrated Blazons (1990, FMP)
  • Cecil Taylor: Double Holy House (1990, FMP)
  • Cecil Taylor: Almeda/The Light of Corona (1996, FMP) *
  • Mark Turner: In This World (1998, Warner Bros.)
  • Steve Turre: Rhythm Within (1995, Verve)
  • James Blood Ulmer: Music Speaks Louder Than Words (1996, DIW)
  • Jabbo Ware: Heritage Is (1994, Soul Note)
  • Yosuke Yamashita: Canvas in Quiet (1997, Verve)
  • John Zorn: Kristallnacht (1992, Tzadik)
  • John Zorn: Masada: Alef (1994, DIW)
  • John Zorn: Masada: Vav (1995, DIW)
  • John Zorn: Bar Kokhba (1996, Tzadik, 2CD)
  • John Zorn: The Circle Maker (1998, Tzadik, 2CD)
  • John Zorn: The Bribe (1998, Tzadik)

Jazz Consumer Guide #13: Muscling Up and Rocking Out

My 13th Jazz Consumer Guide column appears in the Village Voice this week. Title, thanks to Rob Harvilla, is "Muscling Up and Rocking Out" -- suggested by the relative preponderance of guitarists this time out, although like most CG titles it just comes from picking attractive words and phrases out of the mix.

Space, as usual, is a problem. The following records made it to my final draft then got cut in the layout -- presumably they'll appear next time:

  • Pablo Aslan: Buenos Aires Tango Standards (Zoho) A-
  • Kahil El'Zabar's Infinity Orchestra: Transmigration (Delmark) A-
  • Sonic Liberation Front: Change Over Time (High Two) A-
  • Frank Carlberg: State of the Union (Fresh Sound New Talent) HM
  • Phil Bodner: Once More With Feeling (Arbors) HM
  • Jason Lindner: Ab Aeterno (Fresh Sound New Talent) HM
  • Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Hot 'N' Heavy (Delmark) HM
  • Dave Liebman: Back on the Corner (Tone Center) HM
  • Mark Murphy: Love Is What Stays (Verve) Dud

They also cut a line out of the David Torn review, which is ok except that it removes the point where Berne is identified as Tim. Of course, you know that -- maybe even that Torn has produced most of Berne's albums over the past decade. Still, they should at least have given his full name.

I haven't seen the printed copy, so don't know whether they used the second pick hit cover scan, or even whether they ever got it. Both pick hits are older records, but new discoveries for me. I've read reports that Muthspiel is relatively popular in Europe -- frequent comparisons to Pat Metheny and John Scofield, neither of which I hear -- but he's certainly little known in the US. I've long admired his early work, especially 1992's Black and Blue. Even so, the new work is a revelation, with Friendly Travelers nearly as good as the pick. (Had I not made Bright Side the pick hit, I would have written up Friendly Travelers alongside it, and Solo as a low HM.) Nilsson is younger, more obscure, although being based in NYC makes him more visible here. I noticed him on Fay Victor's Cartwheels Through the Cosmos -- an A- record I didn't get written up in time -- and wanted to hear more, and was especially struck by Blood. I could have made any of a number of records second pick hit -- Fujii, Lacy, Lovano, or for that matter Powerhouse Sound, which I deliberately held back but is thus far my record of the year -- but I liked the idea of having two guitarists, especially since I'm not normally much of a jazz guitar fan.

I suppose it's also worth noting that the Honorable Mentions are topped with three A- records I didn't have a lot to write about, and the Duds are three not-awful B by artists who typically do better. Truly awful records remain rare and mostly uninteresting -- the Mark Murphy record is an exception, on the "optional cut" list only because it's so bad I might want to feature it next time (although I'd rather not have to play it again). This time I tried to offer short comments on the Duds, rather than just list them.

The final cut winds up with 34 albums, 1528 words. Jazz prospecting covered 218 records this cycle, plus 84 were considered from previous cycles. Carry over for next time is 16 albums, 705 words, so close to half done. Last column appeared March 20, so once again this one is very close to three months -- given the lack of scheduling I'm always surprised how regularly these have appeared, with (I think) only one straying more than two weeks from the three month mark. I'll make another pitch for accelerating the schedule. I'm thinking about changing the format to something closer to what I do with Recycled Goods: that would let me write more about things I have more to say about, and less about things that are simply better. It would also make it easier for me to write more frequently, but there's little or no evidence that the Voice wants that. Still, we've done three columns since Robert Christgau left the Voice, so for this column at least, plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose.


Publicist's letter:

My Village Voice Jazz Consumer Guide column is out today:

  link

This is the 13th such column. It covers 34 albums rather tersely
in 1528 words. It actually represents the tip of a rather large
iceberg: in the course of putting this together, I wrote notes
on 218 albums and posted them on my blog (in weekly chunks, on
Mondays). The cumulative prospecting log is at:

  http://tomhull.com/ocston/arch/jcg/jcg-13p.php

As usual, I wrote more stuff than fit on the page, so I have a
dozen albums ready for next time. These columns have appeared
quite regularly every three months. I'd like to see them come
out more often, given how much material I have to cover -- well,
wouldn't mind the money either, but I try not to think about how
cost-ineffective this is. That I can do it at all is thanks to
the support of publicists, labels, and musicians, who cheerfully
contribute to my clutter problem. Thanks, and keep me in mind,
especially since I'm becoming worse and worse at tracking down
everything I need to hear.


Notes on albums printed in Jazz CG #13 (purge of bk-print):

  1. John Abercrombie: The Third Quartet (2006 [2007], ECM): I'm not sure whether the problem here is Mark Feldman -- a violinist so classical in nature the only time I've ever found him interesting was in Masada with John Zorn and Dave Douglas breathing fire up his ass -- or whether it's Abercrombie himself. The guitarist has never been as intentionally delicate or precious as Ralph Towner, but he still sort of typifies ECM's ascetic aesthetic applied to the instrument, and here he manages to dial it down a couple of notches. Feldman is equally studious and discrete. Marc Johnson and Joey Baron do what they can with what they've got to work with, and they have some good stretches. Normally I would let this pass, but having two guitarists as Pick Hits suggests that by contrast this should be flagged as a Dud. B
  2. Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker: Get Ready (2007, Mack Avenue): Basic rhythm guys, keying off two Motown covers from Robinson and Gaye, as old-fashioned today as soul jazz was in the '60s. But they keep the quiet storm loose and limber, giving Cyrus Chestnut and Rodney Jones their best outing in years. Steve Wilson plays warm and fuzzy alto sax. B+(**)
  3. BassDrumBone: The Line Up (2005 [2006], Clean Feed): This is Mark Helias on bass, Gerry Hemingway on drum, and Ray Anderson on bone. Their first album together was *Wooferlo* (Soul Note) in 1987, which I didn't think much of at the time. But one in 1997 called *Hence the Reason* (Enja) was terrific. I was wondering if this is a once-per-decade thing, but evidently there are more, buried on obscure labels: *Oahpse* (Auricle), *March of Dimes* (Data), *You Be* (Minor Music), *Cooked to Perfection* (Auricle). There's also a record by the trio called *Right Down Your Alley* (1984, Soul Note) - *Oahpse* looks like the oldest, dating from 1979. Helias also plays with Anderson in the Slickaphonics, and produced most of Anderson's Gramavision albums. The oldest entry in Hemingway's discography, a 1979 record called *Kwambe*, also features Anderson and Helias. So no surprise that this trio is so tightly integrated and evenly balanced, but they don't seem to be able to break out of their integration and jump to some higher energy level. Good to hear Anderson, who hasn't released much under his own name since his string with Enja ran out around 1999. Whatever the problem is there, it's not in the bone. B+(***)
  4. Michael Brecker: Pilgrimage (2006 [2007], Heads Up): I never could fault him on technique, but fast runs have been bebop calisthentics since Charlie Parker, a standard and by now ordinary stock in trade. I never cared for his musical interests, and often found him cold and dispassionate to a worrisome extent. This record was cut during a brief respite in his struggle with MDS. It benefits from simplicity of conception and an outpouring of friends -- he has to juggle two pianists since he could hardly turn down either Herbie Hancock or Brad Mehldau. So I'm tempted to say: impending death focuses the mind, thaws the heart, brings out the best in friends. In fact, that's what I wrote for the column. I'd also say that it's his best album ever, but I've never given him better than a B before, and sarcasm doesn't seem appropriate here. It's certainly one to remember him by. Also note that Pat Metheny stands out among the friends. B+(**)
  5. Uri Caine Ensemble: Plays Mozart (2006 [2007], Winter & Winter): Or plays with Mozart, like cat with rat. Much of the fun here comes from the induced chaos of DJ Olive's turntables, Nguyên Lê's electric guitar, the tension of Ralph Alessi's trumpet against Chris Speed's clarinet, the mischief of Jim Black's drums. Still, improbably, the bit that won me over was an oasis of solo piano in the middle, which much as I hate to admit it, could have been faithful to the original. B+(***)
  6. Carneyball Johnson (2006, Akron Cracker): Even when they were young, Akron new wavers Tin Huey realized they'd have to get the parts to rule the world. Failing that, Chris Butler tried his hand as a feminist impersonator in the Waitresses, while Ralph Carney eeked out a career playing sax for Tom Waits and others. They he met the useful names of guitarist Kimo Ball and drummer Scott Johnson, not to mention the useless name of bassist Allen Whitman, and formed Rubber City's answer to the New York's Lounge Lizards. The likeness is clear when they take toons like Cream's "White Room" or Desmond Dekker's "Intensified" and bend them into aural origami. The difference is that they bounce more, and tango less. A-
  7. Club D'Elf: Now I Understand (1998-2006 [2006], Accurate): Never did manage to figure out who's who and what's what, other than that bassist Mike Rivard is at the center of this amorphuous group and that damn near anyone is likely to show up as a guest. The machine beats recall Nils Petter Molvaer circa Khmer, but conventional drums also appear, probably Erik Kerr. While Rivard's bass grooves are critical, they tend to be thickened up with keyboards -- mostly John Medeski -- and turntables -- someone d/b/a Mister Rourke. Plenty of guitars, too. There's also a strain of mostly middle eastern exotica, which oudist Brahim Fribgane has something to do with. Several songs have vocals -- Jennifer Jackson's "A Toy for a Boy" is a marginal novelty, but the kiddie sample reggae romp "Just Kiddin'" is on my first ever year-end song list. There are also skits and raps, and if MF Doom isn't in the house, his doppelganger ist. If none of this sounds much like jazz, that's just too bad. It doesn't sound like world-techno-fusion either, because they fuck with it like jazzbos junk up pop songs. Besides, Mat Maneri's on the guest list. A-
  8. Anat Cohen & the Anzic Orchestra: Noir (2006 [2007], Anzic): The strings don't take as much of a toll here as on Poetica, mostly because they're outgunned in numbers and in volume. Cohen plays tenor, alto and soprano sax, as well as clarinet, and she gets help on the saxes from Ted Nash, Billy Drewes, and Scott Robinson. Plus there's a phalanx of brass, led by brother Avishai -- not to be confused with the bassist (a tip I much appreciated, and figured I should pass along). Then there are the Brazilians, with Guilherme Monteiro on guitar and more in the rhythm section. Cohen works that connection several times, including a medley of "Samba de Orfeu" and "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." The latter is so strong, so crisp, so bright I wish they had taken a shot at a whole post-Katrina album. But Cohen and arranger Oded Lev-Ari had other game in mind. B+(***)
  9. Les DeMerle: Cookin' at the Corner, Vol. 1 (2005 [2006], Origin): Going with the spine on this one; the front cover spells out "Volume One," adds "Live at the Jazz Corner," and lists the artist as "The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band featuring Bonnie Eisele." The setup is piano-bass-drums plus singer, but the leader is the drummer, and he sings some too. In fact, DeMerle and Eisele pair up like Louis Prima and Keely Smith, even if they play it straight most of the time. (But not all the time: DeMerle sings one about a sailor who comes home after three years to find his wife has a new baby named Bennie. Where'd he come from, the sailor wonders? "Bennie's From Heaven.") Eisele doesn't enter until the fifth song, then belts out Ellington, Jobim, "Lullaby of Birdland." DeMerle's quite a drummer, and pianist Mike Levine bounces in an all-upbeat program until he gets a lovely ballad at the end. Nothing groundbreaking, but it's good to be reminded that jazz was once a form of entertainment. This is a lot of fun. B+(***)
  10. Anat Fort: A Long Story (2004 [2007], ECM): This is not all slow, but inches along with deliberate thoughtfulness, Fort's piano framed by Ed Schuller's bass and Paul Motian's drum haiku. At trio level, this would be add one more worthy name to the long list of pianists, starting with Bill Evans, that Motian has coaxed along. But the real treat here is Perry Robinson, who plays clarinet and ocarina on most of the album. He plays softer than usual, but adds a jagged edge to the soft piano cushion. B+(***)
  11. Joel Frahm: We Used to Dance (2006 [2007], Anzic): A tenor sax lover's album, plain and simple, with three-fourths of the late Stan Getz's quartet (Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, Victor Lewis) -- not that Frahm sounds much like Getz, or plays his songbook. This is the sort of record I tend to be sweet on, but could just as well be underrated here. B+(***)
  12. Bob French: Marsalis Music Honors Bob French (2006 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): B+(***)
  13. Satoko Fujii Four: When We Were There (2005 [2006], Libra): Faced with all those big band albums, I chickened out and threw the plum grade to Fujii's Junk Box trio, figuring it's the common denominator to an oeuvre that is remarkable in its totality even if the pieces never seem to quite add up. Still, I worried that Junk Box wasn't quite up to snuff either. But no such worries here. This time it's a quartet with Jim Black in place of John Hollenbeck -- both drummers who can keep a beat as well as free it up -- and Mark Dresser added on bass. The combination is as powerful as Zephyros on the straightaways but a lot nimbler on the curves. There's a lot going on here, and I don't have it anywhere near sorted, but no quibbling on the grade this time -- unless it eventually goes higher. A-
  14. 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+(***)
  15. Gato Libre: Nomad (2006, No Man's Land): The ten pieces here have titles like "In Barcelona, in June" and "In Krakow, in November." All of the places are in Europe, and they represent a continent's worth of folk themes elevated to chamber jazz. That they were recorded in one day in a Tokyo studio matters little -- this could be an Enrico Rava album, but it isn't. The trumpeter, leader, composer is Natsuki Tamura. He's always been a straighter shooter than his better half, pianist Satoko Fujii. Here she does him a favor and sticks to accordion, filling in that prototypical European folk sound without ever showing him up. The other key ingredient here is Kazuhiko Tsumura's guitar, especially on the Spanish-flavored tunes, which he has down pat. But Tamura is the real treat here. He's been working his colors into Fujii's more chaotic canvases all along, but here he paints his own masterpiece. A-
  16. Jerry Granelli/V16: The Sonic Temple: Monday and Tuesday (2006 [2007], Songlines, 2CD): The band is a quartet, so I guess the band name allocates four cylinders per member, not that that makes much sense. Switching metaphors, the liner notes describes the band as "like a chemical reaction." As anyone who's fiddled with chemistry sets can tell you, that doesn't do them justice. Two guitarists: David Tronzo is credited with electric slide guitar, Christian Kögel with plain old electric guitar. Brother J. Anthony plays electric bass, while the leader drums and attacks steel sculpture. Two discs, one each for two nights, each live with no edits, each with the same eight songs in same order but the versions differ significantly. First night is more experimental, with the drummer figuring more. Second night tends to slide back into blues mode. B+(***)
  17. Gordon Grdina's Box Cutter, Unlearn (2006, Spool/Line): Vancouver guitarist, mostly sets up the rhythm that propels François Houle's clarinets through a worldbeat maze. The latter is largely informed by Grdina's interest in Arabic classical music -- he also plays oud, but not on this album -- but the framework seems broader. Houle has done interesting work with Africans before, but sometimes sounds like bebop. "Soul Suite" is an exception here, starting slow and building strong. B+(***)
  18. Vijay Iyer + Mike Ladd: Still Life With Commentator (2006 [2007], Savoy Jazz): Maybe Pamela Z's "bel canto" vocals were the turnoff. I missed this first round, but easily skipped past the joke this time, and straight into Iyer's programming and sequencing. Still don't get much out of Ladd's words, even when I read the trot from the Japanese, but then I wonder whether the point isn't just to sound profound, even if meaningless -- that is the way of our cosmopolitanism, where commentators help render us as still lifes, tuned in to a world we thankfully don't have to engage. A-
  19. Vijay Iyer & Rudresh Mahanthappa: Raw Materials (2005 [2006], Savoy Jazz). Put this on as soon as I got it, and I've played it three times since, so this isn't really a first impression. But it really is just an impression: I've been playing the record in odd moments when I couldn't really focus. It took me a while before I realized that these pieces are just duets. Iyer is so adept at marshalling time and filling space that I never suspected anything to be missing. But my strongest impression of the record is that it annoys me. I'm inclined to blame Mahanthappa's tone -- a sour, metallic taste, all edge. I can think of other alto saxists with a similar bite -- most notably, Jackie McLean -- so perhaps there's something more bugging me here. Iyer's work here remains impressive -- he's a major figure, and judging from his other work Mahanthappa is at least a useful one. This leaves me with a conundrum: impressions thus far have made it clear to me that I'm never going to like this enough to rate it even as an Honorable Mention; on the other hand, it's possible that if I played it another 3-5 times I might develop the grudging admiration that would push it into low B+ range, or I might get so annoyed to list it as a Dud. Right now I'm not looking forward to either. B
  20. Steve Lacy Quintet: Esteem (1975 [2006], Atavistic): Following Lacy's death, his widow Irene Aebi started sorting through over 300 private recordings for a series called "The Leap: Steve Lacy Cassette Archives." This is Volume 1, and it's easy to see why it leapt to the head of the list. It is raw and deliciously noisy, old sounding, yet so far out it's more shocking now than when it came out. Steve Potts' alto sax provides a second horn. Kent Carter's bass is plug ugly, and Kenneth Tyler is credited with percussion because he's hitting things beyond his drum kit. But the revelation is Aebi herself. I can't stand her singing -- if you go through my database you may notice that Lacy's records get docked about a notch for each song she sings on -- but she sticks to cello and violin here, and you can hear why he fell in love with her. The notes say "The Uh Uh Uh" was Lacy's tribute to Jimi Hendrix. I'll have to listen again to see what that means. A-
  21. Dave Liebman, Anthony Jackson, Mike Stern, Tony Marino, Marko Marcinko, Vic Juris: Back on the Corner (2006 [2007], Tone Center): How this stacks up against the oft-maligned On the Corner remains to be seen, but with no trumpet weighing in the saxophonist works all that much harder, which is good for him, and with no keyboards, the rhythm people focus on their mission. I have this slotted as HM, but will list it only under Liebman's name. He makes it work, and after half a dozen or more disappointments during the span of Jazz CG, it's good to be able to give him some credit. B+(***)
  22. Joe Lovano & Hank Jones: Kids: Duets Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (2006 [2007], Blue Note): Two recent quartet albums with Lovano and Jones were, respectively, more and less disappointing. But really, these two don't need bass and drums to swing or bop or diddle around. The duets are simply delightful from beginning to end. A-
  23. The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project: Simpático (2005 [2006], ArtistShare): Palmieri grew up in the Bronx melting pot, of Puerto Rican descent. I don't know him well enough to place him, or indeed whether that's possible: salsa draws so promiscuously from Afro-Cuban that it may make no difference. Lynch is a terrific trumpeter who plays a lot of everything; his Latin interests started as a teenager in salsa bands in Milwaukee, then took a leap forward when he hooked up on a Palmieri tour in 1987 -- juggling travel to also keep his commitments to Toshiko Akiyoshi. This pulls it all together, with a steady stream of bubbling percussion, tasty alto sax from Donald Harrison and Phil Woods, and plenty of trumpet. Won a Grammy; for once I can't complain. A-
  24. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Codebook (2006, Pi): Whereas Mother Tongue looked to natural languages for tricks of transformation, this one moves on to ciphers and encodings, as when the group members sign their names in Morse code. Either way, the alto saxophonist's true Rosetta Stone is John Coltrane, and what lifts him above dozens of others is his association with pianist Vijay Iyer, who starkly frames his music, and who picks up the place when he lays out. Still, if that was all it took, you'd expect more from Raw Materials, a duo album from earlier this year that never quite stuck together. A-
  25. Russell Malone: Live at Jazz Standard: Volume One (2005 [2006], MaxJazz): I've noticed myself complaining about Wes Montgomery a lot lately, and indeed I don't see much value in his school, or even in much of his own work. Still, when he was on, he did amaze, as on Smokin' at the Half Note -- which I first heard embedded in Impressions: The Verve Jazz Sides along with a lot of Jimmy Smith. Malone is so squarely in Montgomery's wake that until now he's always struck me as redundant or worse. Score this one as redundant at best, in part because he pulls more than sweetness out of the blues. Also because pianist Martin Bejerano had me thinking of Wynton Kelly for a while. In a different venue, this could be called Smolderin' at the Half Note. B+(***)
  26. Wynton Marsalis: From the Plantation to the Penitentiary (2006 [2007], Blue Note): My wife expressed interest in this album, telling me that she had read a rave review in Counterpunch. I chased down Ron Jacobs' review anyway, but couldn't get past the third line: "It's just enough bop and bebop so it doesn't put one to sleep like a Kenny G solo, but it's not a Coltrane avalanche of sound like those from Coltrane's thundering Ascension, either." Now, there's no information there: Marsalis has recorded 40-50 albums since 1981, and he has never once risked comparison to Kenny G or Ascension. He started off reminding Art Blakey what narrowly construed hard bop sounds like. If he's picked up any tricks since then, they've been old ones, like extending his trumpet mastery from Woody Shaw back to Freddie Keppard, and fumbling to imitate composers like Ellington. I had figured this album for his move into Mingus agitprop, but that doesn't pan out on several levels. He's more song-oriented, but has less in the way of message, and his hired singer handles his hokey lines with cool detachment. On the other hand, the music shows he's working in soundtrack mode: each piece is accompanied by a formal description -- modern habanera; alternating 2-beat country groove, soca, cumbia, swing; walking ballad; etc. -- and he's more inspired as a musicologist than as a polemicist. Indeed, if you could skip past the words this might be one of his more enjoyable albums. But if he meant for you to just enjoy the music, he would have left the words out, right? For one, I find the plantation-to-penitentiary arc narrow, condescending, and disturbing. It's not that there's no truth to it, but it's such a cliché I don't see what you can do with it. I suppose his use of stereotypes is meant to convey some irony, but in an album that's more scold than rant it's hard to be sure. "I ain't your bitch and I ain't your ho" comes off as awkward from him as if Don Imus said it. And speaking of awkward, the closing rap makes Buckshot Lefonque sound real. (But I doubt that when he goes to dis "Camus readers" he's really thinking of George W.) I thought about pitching this for a standalone piece in the Voice, but Francis Davis beat me to it. I don't feel mean enough to single this out as a dud. If he had a smarter, hipper lyricist able to work on a human rather than mythic scale, he might be onto something. But he persists in surrounding himself with ideological flatterers like Stanley Crouch, so this is what he gets. B
  27. Wolfgang Muthspiel: 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-
  28. Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Blood (2004, Kopasetic): Quartet, two Nilssons, one Carlson, one Carlsson. The leader plays fast, dazzling electric guitar, over a pumping fusion rhythm. The Carlson, Mattias, plays tenor sax and "electrified alto sax" but mostly lurks in the background, a contrasting color. They could pass for rock on attitude, or jazz on shops. Several Scandinavian have tried their hands at postpunk fusion -- while most have the attitude, this one has a guitarist up to the challenge. A-
  29. Bob Reynolds: Can't Wait for Perfect (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): I have a few nits to pick: I wish he'd lose the soprano sax (one cut), and don't care much for his synth programming (two cuts). What makes them minor blemishes on this debut album is that his tone and poise on tenor sax is so superb you wonder why he'd try to dilute it. Youth, I guess. He projects to earn his place in the Budd Johnson-Ben Webster line, which among other things means he very likely has a great ballad album in his future. We remember those guys from when they were old and slow, but once they were young, and Webster wasn't called "the brute" only because he started out in boxing. Reynolds' band is rooted in funk not swing, and that seems fair to me. One he shouldn't lose is drummer Eric Harland. A-
  30. Vittor Santos: Renewed Impressions (2005 [2006], Adventure Music): It's rare to hear Brazilian music with a lead horn of any sort, much less a trombone, but Santos's rapid-fire puffs give some much needed heft to the sly rhythms and flighty melodies. A-
  31. Sound in Action Trio: Gate (2003 [2006], Atavistic): Two drummers: Robert Barry, from Sun Ra Arkestra, and Tim Daisy, from Triage and numerous Ken Vandermark projects, including the flagship 5. One horn, Vandermark, constantly on the spot. Half originals, all dedicated to drummers; half modern jazz pieces, with Dolphy offering a clarinet feature, and Coltrane setting up some extraordinary tenor sax. A-
  32. David Torn: Prezens (2005 [2007], ECM): Rip Torn's cousin played guitar on some fusion albums in the '80s, working with such usual suspects as Bill Bruford and Tony Levin, before moving on to soundtrack work and the group Splattercell, but mostly he's done production work. He's produced most of Tim Berne's albums since 1997. Here he employs Hard Cell -- Berne's trio with keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey -- for a dark, demonic comeback. Berne's alto sax adds bite to Torn's power chords, Taborn juices up the electronics, and the always superb Rainey muscles up. A-
  33. Turtle Island String Quartet: A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane (2006 [2007], Telarc): There are those who regard the Coltrane Quartet's A Love Supreme as the crowning achievement of the jazz canon, and they have a case. But this group manages to drain every ounce of interest from the score, even Jimmy Garrison's bass, and not just because the Turtle Islanders wield nothing heavier than a cello. With the last two movements reduced to 2:44 and 2:47, the acknowledgment here is their lack of ideas. The album itself is flushed out to 64:17 by the inclusion of other pieces, some by Coltrane ("Naima," "Moment's Notice"), some associated with him ("My Favorite Things" is the one sure shot here), and some written in his honor. But no "Giant Steps," let alone "Ascension." Maybe that ROVA record wasn't so bad. C+
  34. 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-


Notes on albums flushed during/following Jazz CG #13 (purge of bk-flush):

  1. Antonio Adolfo e Carol Saboya: Ao Vivo/Live (2005 [2007], Points South): Father/daughter, from Brazil, the former plays piano, the latter sings. Adolfo has a formidable reputation in his own right as a composer and arranger. He opens the set with a delightful piece before Saboya enters on the second song. She's a very agreeable singer, but the initial brightness starts to dim a bit toward the end. The song credits include most of the usual suspects, starting with Jobim, and only including one by Adolfo. Not sure whether this counts as jazz in Brazil or just MPB. I suspect it fits the same niche as cabaret does here. B+(**)
  2. 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+(**)
  3. Nacho Arimany World-Flamenco Septet: Silence-Light (2006, Fresh Sound World Jazz): Most cuts have vocals, mostly from Antonio Campos, whose high-pressured melodrama fits the flamenco mold, without quite winning me over like Dieguito El Cigala did. Stretches without vocals are easier to handle and more interesting. Arimany sets the pace with his percussion, trying to bridge jazz and flamenco. Pianist Pablo Suárez and guitarist Lionel Loueke have some good moments, and saxophonist Javier Vercher tops them all. Harder to gauge Concha Jareño's contribution -- credits read "flamenco dance footsteps, clapping." Hard to gauge the flamenco, but minus vocals this makes for interesting jazz. B+(*)
  4. Pablo Aslan: Avantango (2003 [2004], Zoho): The first of two albums by an Argentinian bassist, now resident in New York. It more than lives up to the title. You may read about merging jazz with tango, or jazzing up tango, but the real goal here is to push tango to unimagined extremes. Still, in the end the bandoneon, violin, and above all three vocals by Roxana Fontan mark this as uncompromisingly rooted in the classics, even if the horns and piano beg to differ. B+(**)
  5. Ab Baars Quartet: Kinda Dukish (2005 [2006], Wig): Ten Ellington pieces, played more than loose -- in most cases only snatches of the familiar themes emerge unscathed. Baars plays clarinet more than tenor sax, so the heft added by trombonist Joost Buis is essential. B+(**)
  6. The Heckler by Juan Pablo Balcazar Quartet: Heckler City (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent). Very similar to the Arthur Kell disc -- a tenor sax-guitar-bass-drums group led by the bassist, but a little sweeter all around, especially in the guitar (Alejandro Mingot). The saxophonist is Miguel Villar "Pintxo" -- the quoted part presumably a nickname, like "Lockjaw" (maybe an influence; for all the Basque I know it could even be a translation) B+(***)
  7. Gilad Barkan: Live Sessions (2004-06 [2007], New Step, 2CD): Boston-based pianist, born in England, raised in Israel. Second album, preceded by Modulation, same trio as the first disc here. Second disc here changes bassists and adds Amir Milstein on flute. The trio strikes me as sharp, intricate postbop, something that deserves to be taken seriously but doesn't quite inspire me to do so. Far easier to dismiss the flute, even though it is pleasantly boppish. B
  8. Beatle Jazz: All You Need (2006 [2007], Lightyear): Fifth album, with David Kikoski (piano, synthesizer) and Brian Melvin (drums, tabla) the mainstays. The Beatles' songs are so indelibly ingrained in my mind that I instinctively reject all variations -- I suppose if I really racked my brain I might be able to come up with a tolerable mix tape of exceptions, but I'm not optimistic. Bass duties are split between Larry Grenadier and Richard Bona; the latter sings one, a risky move that best comes off rather odd. Toots Thielemans (3 cuts) and Joe Lovano (2 cuts) also guest. The core group is smart enough I can't pan them severely. The two Lovano cuts ("The continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and "Look at Me") are choice. B
  9. Joe Beck/Santi Debriano/Thierry Arpino: Trio 7 (2007, Whaling City Sound): Guitarist. Been around at least since the '70s, when he worked with Esther Phillips. AMG says he had a "big hit with David Sanborn in 1975" -- there's an album from then called Beck & Sanborn, but I missed it. Actually, I missed all of 20+ records Beck's recorded since 1969 -- even the Phillips records, but the name rings a bell. This is pleasant, soft-toned, with a little Brazilian seasoning but no nylon. I find myself focusing on the bassist, who's worth the attention. Note that Debriano's name is misspelled on the cover. B+(*)
  10. Roni Ben-Hur: Keepin' It Open (2005 [2007], Motéma Music): Guitarist, born in Israel, moved to New York in 1985, has five records since 1995. He's done impressive work, but this one is pretty tame, especially when trumpeter Jeremy Pelt takes the lead. Ronnie Mathews does a nice job on piano, while Santi Debriano and Lewis Nash do whatever's needed. The last two cuts move nicely on Latin rhythms, which give Ben-Hur something to work with. B+(*)
  11. Sean Bergin's Song Mob: Fat Fish (2005-06 [2007], Data): Plays sax, clarinet, etc. Based in Amsterdam; born 1948 in Durban, South Africa. He's named his band MOB before, an acronym for My Own Band. SONG MOB, as he capitalizes it, is his own band with extra vocalists: Mola Sylla, Phil Minton, and Maggie Nicols. The latter two are familiar names in English free improv. Sylla moved to Amsterdam from Senegal, bringing a griot flavor -- most evident in the first song, which he wrote. Bergin's band includes some well known names, hardly just his own band: Wolter Wierbos, Eric Boeren, Ernst Glerum, Han Bennink, Alex Maguire -- didn't recognize him last week, but do now. The music manages to be odd and comfortably playful at the same time -- seems to be a Dutch specialty. I have more trouble with the vocals, not that they lack for interest. B+(*)
  12. Alan Bergman: Lyrically, Alan Bergman (2007, Verve): Songwriter, lyricist actually -- music credited to Michel Legrand, Lew Spence, Dave Grusin, Neil Diamond, Johnny Mandel, Marvin Hamlisch -- taking a crack at singing his own songs. No recording dates, but presumably it's recent, which puts him in his 80s (born 1925). Voice holds up fine. Songs are stage and film fare, famous enough to put him into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and get him a spot on the board of the Barbra Streisand Foundation. One problem is that Verve sent him to Berlin along with Mark Murphy, but he lucked out better with the Berlin Big Band and Radio Orchestra instead of Murphy's Orchester, plus he got Jeff Hamilton to help him along. (Well, except for "The Way We Were," which probably deserved it anyway.) B-
  13. Will Bernard: Party Hats (2007, Palmetto): San Francisco guitarist, gets a smart, light, funky groove going around organ (Wil Blades and/or Michael Bluestein), decorated with various horns -- Peter Apfelbaum is present on most tracks, but Dave Ellis rips off the big tenor sax solo on "Rattle Trap." B+(*)
  14. Michael Blanco: In the Morning (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist, born and raised in San Diego, studied at North Texas (evidently a strong jazz program), moved on to New York. He puts his compositions forth on a broad pallette with five or six pieces, and he's managed to draw on first rate players all around: Rich Perry on tenor sax, Alan Ferber trombone Aaron Goldberg piano, Bill Campbell drums, plus two cuts with Rob Wilkerson alto sax. Perry sounds terrific, and of course I love Ferber's solo. But my favorite moment turns out to be the bass lead on the closer. Educated postbop, impressively executed. B+(**)
  15. Stan Bock Ensemble: Your Check's in the Mail (2006 [2007], OA2): Trombonist, based in Oregon, but studied at Fort Hays State here in Kansas back in the early '70s -- I have some cousins who went there a bit before. Has a couple of albums with his semi-large (8 piece) Ensemble, as well as some group efforts at Latin jazz and Klezmer. This is bright, burly, fairly boppish, with a group tribute to James Brown. B+(*)
  16. The Brooklyn Repertory Ensemble: Pragmatic Optimism (2006, 360 Degree): The label, with its bullseye logo around the number 360 and "from rag time to no time" slogan, reminds me of Beaver Harris, who had a group called 360 Degree Music Experience. Don't know that there's any link here, although the director here, Wade Barnes, is another drummer. Nothing avant here. Just a big band that goes for heavy brass -- James Zollar is the only trumpet, but he's complemented by French horn, mellophone, euphonium, bass trombone, and tuba. The horns tend to undulate with no one breaking loose or doing anything especially distinctive. The rhythm -- Bill Ware III on vibes as well as drummer Barnes -- have more going on. Don't much care for vocalist Tulivu-Donna Cumberbatch, who seems to have missed Rafters Raising 101 in Sunday School. B-
  17. Bobby Broom: Song and Dance (2005 [2007], Origin): Guitar-bass-drums trio, with Broom the guitarist. Got off on the wrong foot (with me, at least) by starting with a Beatles song. Actually, it's very tasteful, not bad at all: "Little Rascals Theme" isn't too cute, and "Wichita Lineman" isn't too cloying. B
  18. Jaki Byard: Sunshine of My Soul (1978 [2007], High Note): Solo piano, recorded live at Keystone Korner in San Francisco. Nothing strikes me as new or particularly interesting here, but I'm not much of a fan of solo anything. That said, Byard has a strong presence, and he expertly works his way around a broad songbook -- including a Mingus medley, "Spinning Wheel," "Besame Mucho," a bit of boogie woogie. Don't know how this compares to his other solo albums, like the early Blues for Smoke (1960) or the later At Maybeck (1991), both well regarded. B+(*)
  19. Havana Carbo: Through a Window . . . Like a Dream (2006 [2007], MODL Music): Born in Havana, don't know when; raised in US, don't know when; refers to NY high school years but also a marriage to "a Cuban Economics major she met while a student at pre-Castro's Villanova University in Havana." Started singing in 1984, recording an album, Street Cries, on Soul Note in 1987. So I figure she's probably in her 60s. Her voice weathered, she goes with slow pieces that don't sound like much at first, but grow on you, like the subtle attraction of gravity. B+(*)
  20. The Catz in the Hatz featuring Steve Johnson: Resilience (2006, Rhombus): Featuring singer Steve Johnson, a/k/a Rusty. He touts the same idols list as Jonathan Poretz, with the minor substitution of "Nat" for "Bobby." Can't say he sounds like any of them, Nat least of all. He sounds hollow, which I find growing on me a bit, but not impressively. The guys in the hatz are OK, with Mike Wiens getting off a couple of nice guitar solos. C+
  21. Amy Cervini Quartet: Famous Blue (2007, Orange Grove Jazz): Singer, in front of a piano trio. No bio on her website, although drummer Ernesto Cervini grew up in Toronto and works in New York, with degrees from both. Album cover is very attractive: pastel blue-green sky over sea, washed out, the lettering fuzzy. The music is like that too, which isn't a plus. Ordinary songs, voice, arrangements. I go up and down on "Don't Fence Me In" -- that there's a down at all isn't a good sign. B-
  22. Ray Charles/The Count Basie Orchestra: Ray Sings, Basie Swings (2006, Concord/Hear Music): First, let's clear this gripe away: Concord has dropped or fumbled me off their mailing list. I don't know whether that's accidental or deliberate. Don't know whether citing Chick Corea and Taylor Eigsti as duds has a thing to do with it, or they just don't care that Scott Hamilton has two A- albums and an Honorable Mention to his credit. Maybe it's both malevolence and incompetence, as suggested by one of the company's exes who described Concord as "the Bush Administration of the record industry." So, despite asking for this several times, and having been promised it at least once, I'm listening to it courtesy of the Wichita Public Library. As for the record, the first thing to point out is that it is a case of fraud: Charles never recorded with Count Basie; Charles's vocals were lifted from an undated live tape, most likely from the late '70s; the arrangements were newly recorded by the Basie ghost band, now directed by Bill Hughes, 22 years after the Count passed away, and for that matter two years after the singer died. The second thing is that it sounds pretty near-great, passably realizing its "what if" concept. Two reasons for this: first, Charles himself sounds great, even if pieces like "The Long and Winding Road" and "Look What They've Done to My Song" aren't up snuff; second, the Basie-trademarked arrangements were fit to the vocals with a smartness that never would have occurred to them live. It also helps that originating as a live concert Charles recycles some dependable warhorses. Docked a couple of stars for fraud. I could have gone deeper, but don't want you to think I prefer Genius Loves Company. B+(*)
  23. Anat Cohen: Poetica (2006 [2007], Anzic): This is a showcase for Cohen's clarinet work, taking a mix of Israeli and Brazilian songs and pieces by Jacques Brel and John Coltrane. Half are just quartet, with Jason Lindner on piano, Omer Avital on bass, Daniel Freedman on drums. The other half add a string quartet, which is a bit like sprinkling sugar on something that's already too sweet. It's not without appeal, and at best it gives you a rush. B+(*)
  24. Ornette Coleman: To Whom Who Keeps a Record (1959-60 [2007], Water): Odds and sods, released Japan-only in 1975 but not in the US until boxed for Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings. Starts with an outtake from Change of the Century with Don Cherry on pocke trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass, Billy Higgins on drums; filled out with leftovers from This Is Our Music with Ed Blackwell replacing Higgins. At this point this sounds so typical of the classic Coleman quartet that it's hard to wax ecstatic and impossible to fault. Art of the Improvisers and Twins picked over the same sessions first; it's hard to figure why these cuts were passed over, unless it's the relative prominence of Cherry. A-
  25. Scott Colley: Architect of the Silent Moment (2005 [2007], CAM Jazz): Colley's bass lines bounce around in and out of time, giving this a rather inconsistent and unsettling foundation, making it hard to follow even if it sometimes seems worth the effort. The core band is a quartet with Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Craig Taborn on keyboards, and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Alessi makes a big impression, as he often does. Four guests also pitch in: Dave Binney, Jason Moran, Gregoire Maret, and Adam Rogers. The only one I particularly noticed was Binney, on soprano. B+(*)
  26. Graham Collier: Hoarded Dreams (1983 [2007], Cuneiform): A bassist and well-regarded composer who started out in the late '60s, a protean period when Britain's modern jazz musicians could still span avant-garde and fusion, where there was little distance between music abstractly composed and explosively improvised. This particular piece was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for performance at the Bracknell Jazz Festival. Collier conducts a large group: 5 reeds, 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 guitars, piano, bass, drums, including many recognizable names, both local (John Surman, Kenny Wheeler) and from far afield (Ted Curson, Tomasz Stanko, Juhanni Aaltonen). Framed for solos, some quite rivetting, but mostly loud and a bit ugly for my taste. B+(*)
  27. Contemporary America: Another Center (2007, Adventure Music): A meeting of musicians from seven South American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela. I don't quite know what to think about it: sounds more European than what I think of as Latin, a music for us more centered in the Caribbean, and therefore more Afro. Most pieces have vocals, and they can gum up the works, but not always. In any case, it pays to focus on the details, where the individual musicians register their diversity, and their virtuosity. B+(*)
  28. Coyote Poets of the Universe: Unmistakable Evidence! (2004-05 [2006], Square Shaped): Denver group, although I only see one poet, with all words attributed to Andy O'Leary (or Andy O'Blivion, as he appears on their website). Gary Hoover (aka Gary 7) helps out with the music, with both playing guitar and a few other instruments. Others help out too. The music is fractured guitar jazz, interesting in its own right, but usually gives way to the spoken words. The latter have their moments as well, but nothing here impresses me nearly as much as Jerry Granelli's Sandhills Reunion did a couple of years ago. B+(*)
  29. The Crimson Jazz Trio: The King Crimson Songbook Volume One (2005, Voiceprint): Drummer Ian Wallace put this group together after a tour with Frippless Crimson spinoff group 21st Century Schizoid Band. Nothing in Wallace's background suggests that he would come up with such a straightforward jazz group -- his resume includes Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, David Lindley, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon, Keith Emerson, Crosby Stills and Nash, and so forth. Fretless bassist Tim Landers is another studio/tour pro with mostly rock acts on his list, although he can cite Gil Evans, Billy Cobham, Don Grolnick, and the Breckers. That leaves pianist Jody Nardone as the only certifiable jazz guy, but working out of Nashville he's got some mud on his flaps too. King Crimson was, and more or less still is, an English prog rock group led by non-singer guitarist Robert Fripp. Although it had some jazz threads, that doesn't appear to matter much here. What matters here is that the songs have enough structure to give Nardone something to nibble on, and he rearranges them enough to make it hard for someone as superificially acquainted with them as me to connect the dots. Where Crimson does approach the surface is in the undertow of Landers' bass. Otherwise, this is just a conventional piano trio that gets a lot of mileage out of songs that haven't entered the jazz canon. B+(***)
  30. Cyminology: Bemun (2007, Challenge): German group, led by vocalist Cymin Samawatie, who describes herself as "the daughter of Iranian emigrants." Group also includes Benedikt Jahnel on piano, Ralf Schwarz on double bass, Ketan Bhatti on drums, with guest guitar from Frank Möbus on two cuts. Songs are based on Persian poetry, and the drums tend to fit that. I disliked the high, arch vocals at first: reminded me of European vocal traditions, but it may be that the same attitude is cultivated by all classical traditions. The instrumental sections are more ingratiating: the piano and bass are well situated in the jazz world, and the drums -- not specified, but it sounds like hands are intimately involved -- add a world beat aspect. B
  31. Meredith d'Ambrosio: Wishing on the Moon (2004 [2006], Sunnyside): Seems like a fine example of what a jazz singer should be -- her voice fine tuned and personable, an innate musicality to everything she does, presence, nuance, the skill and control to play, the discipline not to get off on pointless tangents. All that puts her ahead of about 85% of the field without breaking a sweat. She has a dozen-plus albums, but this is the only one I've heard. I'd be surprised if it wasn't typical. B+(**)
  32. Mike Dillon's Go-Go Jungle: Battery Milk (2006 [2007], Hyena): Plays vibes and percussion in a bunch of more/less related bands, including Critters Buggin, Garage A Trois, the Malachy Papers, Billy Goat, Hairy Apes BMX, and the Dead Kenny Gs, as well as side credits with MC 900 Ft Jesus, Brave Combo, Pigface, Karl Denson, Les Claypool, and Sex Mob. There must be some kind of genre label for this sort of thing, but experimental rock doesn't convey how pop it is, and fusion leaves one wondering what sources it's trying to put together. A couple of raps, an Aaron Neville soul ballad, various groove pieces, cultural critique ("Stupid Americans"), and one for Bush ("Bad Man"). B+(**)
  33. Darby Dizard: Down for You (2004 [2007], One Soul): Annoying website, cruel and unusual punishment even by the norms of Flash websites. Not much in the way of facts, but aperçus like this: "I remember scat singing to myself around age 15. I have no idea why." Well, neither do I. Seven screens later, she concludes: "Every sound that you hear is there because it has been carefully considered by not one or two, but four engineers sitting in a room going over every song with a fine tooth comb. The website designers and CD designers in France have outdone themselves. I can never thank the team at One Soul enough for all that they have done to make this CD the success that I hope it will be." Which reminds me that the album is pretty annoying too -- as much for the little tchochtkes the quartet of engineers dropped in as for the obviousness of the '50s songbook and the singer's penchant for overdramatization. On the other hand, her voice has some traction, and she handles "In Walked Bud" well enough. B-
  34. Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra: Negra Tigra (2005 [2006], ILK): Herb Robertson adds to a lineup that is already heavy on brass and pushes them uncomfortably close to the brink. Crowding ten musicians onto two microphones also adds to the raw edge of the sound. The pieces demonstate that the this time the jungle is in Vietnam, although they don't integrate eastern sounds nearly as well as Billy Bang has done. But the five "Negra Tigra" fragments that frame the pieces take "Tiger Rag" into the scrappy jungle of the avant-garde, and that's what they do best. B+(**)
  35. Paquito D'Rivera Quintet: Funk Tango (2007, Paquito): To some extent I try to string these records together, at least when I see something that follows reasonably close, but when I picked this out I wasn't expecting to deal with another "Giant Steps." This is actually an odd mix of things. "Funk Tango" is a song title, but so is "Final Waltz" and "Contradanza" and "Como un Bolero," any of which would work just as well -- for that matter, so would "What About That!" Diego Urcola, playing trumpet and valve trombone, is very much as prominent as D'Rivera on alto sax and clarinet. Various pianists, including Ed Simon, with Hector del Curto on bandoneon for those tango moments. I don't put much stock in their grasp of funk, but their pan-Latin mishmash sounds fine. Can't say much for "Giant Steps" -- in this context, a dull closer. B+(*)
  36. Ismael Dueñas: Mirage (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): This is the second piano trio I've heard from Dueñas -- liked the first one, like this one a bit more. Still, this is a tough one for me to write about -- that Guillermo Klein's liner notes are in Spanish is more an omen than an excuse. What I like is that this has some crunch to it, that it turns in unexpected ways then nails the deal down with a strong chord. B+(***)
  37. Duo Baars-Henneman: Stof (2006, Wig): All the usual caveats about avant-garde duos apply here: this takes a lot of patience, including a willingness to let not much happen for way too long. But I've come to enjoy Ig Henneman's viola scratches and Ab Baars splotches of clarinet, tenor sax, and Japanese flutes as discreet sounds and quaint dances. B+(*)
  38. Elin: Lazy Afternoon (2004-05 [2006], Blue Toucan): Full name: Kathleen Clelia Elin Melgarejo. Raised in Sweden, parents were Peruvian and Irish. After high school in Nörkopping, moved to Miami to study music. Somehow wound up cast as a Brazilian singer, with an appropriate rhythm section launching "Fascinating Rhythm." However, a check of the credits reveals an impressive list of jazz players: Harry Allen, Anat Cohen, Claudio Roditi, Alan Ferber, Tom Varner, Hendrik Meurkens, Erik Friedlander. Still, not much comes from all this promise on paper. They can play Brazilian, but don't stick with it, so the record winds up sounding eclectic, and most of the guest stars are wasted -- Anat Cohen is the one who makes the most of her time. Both band and singer do a notable job with "Lush Life." B
  39. Enders Room: Hotel Alba (2006, Tuition): Of the three releases on this label, this one at least bears some resemblance to jazz, mostly because Johannes Enders' first choice in instruments is saxophone, followed by flute and clarinet. However, he also plays various keyboards and does a little programming, in what is basically an update of Krautrock, Eno, and jazztronica -- not unlike some of the records Tucker Martine has produced. Two pieces with vocals are droll but don't register strongly. I read a quote asserting that Enders is "Germany's answer to Joshua Redman" but I don't hear anything to back that up. At least here, the sax seems secondary to the synths, which at best remind me of Eno's pre-ambient structuralism. B+(**)
  40. John Ettinger: August Rain (2003, Ettinger Music): San Francisco-based violinist, arrived in 1992 from Arizona. This is his first album, after kicking around in various obscure bands and projects, ranging from Clockbrains ("psychedelic punk band") to LBJ (with Lukas Ligeti) and work with Scott Amendola, who returns the favor here. The tone and tempo are set by Art Hirahara's Fender Rhodes, which with Amendola's programmed beats and Ettinger's loops sustains a bubbly groove most of the way through, providing plenty of structure for the violin to swing and saw against. The effect is reminiscent of soul jazz, but lighter in tone -- more fancy, less grease. B+(**)
  41. Family Pet (2007, Foreign Frequency): This is a slab of 12-inch vinyl, with no info other than label name and something about 45rpm. Also have a 7-inch 45rpm which credits A.M. Haines with keyboard and vocal, Will Berdan II with percussion. Website describes group as "Maine's free form rock duo." Put the side with one cut on, and it sounds like free form noise, which doesn't do much for me one way or another. Then the turntable, an old B&O, lifted the stylus and stopped spinning. The 33/45 switch works, but otherwise the arm is stuck and the platter doesn't spin. So that's as far as I got. No telling when/if I'll ever get back to it, so I will mark it with two grades: one for what it sounded like when it was playing, and another for what it sounds like now. Got email from Berdan suggesting it might be a dud, so presumably he'll be satisfied either way. B/E
  42. Pierre Favre Ensemble: Fleuve (2005 [2007], ECM): Swiss drummer, around since the late '50s, started in Dixieland -- has gigs with Lil Hardin Armstrong and Albert Nicholas on his resume -- then moved to free jazz and dabbles in world beats. Seven piece group, with guitar, soprano sax/bass clarinet, harp, tuba, bass guitar, double bass, and percussion/drums. I could do without the harp, but Philipp Schaufelberger's guitar impressed me, and focusing on the drummer helps. B+(*)
  43. John Fedchock New York Big Band: Up & Running (2006 [2007], Reservoir): Trombonist, well schooled in big band practice and theory by Woody Herman and Gerry Mulligan, debuting his own New York Big Band to much acclaim in 1992. This is the first I've heard of five albums -- four big band, a smaller group for Hit the Bricks (2000). One thing about the concentration of jazz musicians in New York is that an ambitious arranger can recruit a name band there -- e.g., anchoring the sax section, Rich Perry, Rick Margitza, Gary Smulyan. This has moments when the band sounds great, but it has many more when I don't care, and some of them are the same. May just be a funk I'm going through, but I always figured the proof of a great big band is that it snaps you out of any such thing. This doesn't, although I do dig the trombone solos. B
  44. Ibrahim Ferrer: Mi Sueño (1998-2005 [2007], World Circuit/Nonesuch): The Buena Vista Social Club crooner was evidently working on this when he died in 2005, leaving demos with his strong and eloquent voice, only needing some filling out. The pieces are boleros with elegant, uncomplicated arrangements -- they fit his voice and don't wear anyone out. One track was recorded in by Ry Cooder in 1998. The others are undated. B+(**)
  45. Scott Fields Ensemble: Beckett (2005 [2007], Clean Feed): Chicago guitarist, born 1957 (AMG says 1952) way out on the avant-garde, has recorded a lot since 1995, of which I've heard little. Eschews labels, but when pressed has described his work as post-free jazz, neo-revisionist improvisation, transparent music, exploratory music. Website includes a photo of him bowing guitar. This record includes a cellist, so not all the bowed sounds are guitar, but most likely some are. Aside from the dreamy arco sections, most of this is built from jerky little splotches, with cello and tenor sax following suit, while John Hollenbeck accents. B+(**)
  46. Sammy Figueroa & His Latin Jazz Explosion: The Magician (2007, Savant): Bronx-born percussionist. Main instrument appears to be congas. The album doesn't specify; his website mentions ZenDrum (a MIDI sampler) and "unusual steel pans." His side discography is pretty thick from the mid-'70s starting with the Brecker Bros., but this is only his second album with his name up front. All pieces are by sextets, but the sax-trumpet-piano-bass-drums players vary, the most consistent being Alex Norris on trumpet. This mostly sounds fine, but rather generic. B
  47. Mitchel Forman: Perspectives (2005-06 [2006], Marsis Jazz): Pianist, does a lot of work with electronic keybs and synth drums, had early credits with Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz, but most of his meal ticket has come from fusion and pop jazz. Song selection includes two originals and a likely range of personal favorites. I like the cheesy electric take on Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance" that kicks this off, but two Beatles songs remind me of how they've been abused as instrumentals. B+(*)
  48. The Four Bags: Live at Barbès (2006, NCM East): Quartet, natch. Interesting instrumentation, with trombone, accordion, electric guitar, and reeds (soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), and a Schoenberg cover to add to the oddness. Still, nothing to really push the album along, so it drags and eventually wears you down. B
  49. Billy Fox: The Uncle Wiggly Suite (2004 [2007], Clean Feed): Percussionist-composer, draws on world music from Cuba to Pakistan plus a lot more, deploying 13 musicians without ever coalescing into a big band. Lots of interesting details. Don't know what the big picture is. B+(*)
  50. Mimi Fox: Perpetually Hip (2005 [2006], Favored Nations, 2CD): One disc with a small group, the other solo. $15.98 list, so you can figure the solo disc as some sort of bonus, maybe for educational purposes. The group, with Xavier Davis on piano, Harvie S on bass, and Billy Hart on drums, and a little extra percusion on two tracks, moves right along. While the solo doesn't have the same zip, it is thoughtful and well crafted. If I wasn't already up to my ears in guitarists, I'd be tempted to give her extra attention. As it is, a solid mainstream album. B+(**)
  51. Funky Organ: B3 Jazz Grooves (1997-2006 [2007], High Note): The packaging and the concept reminds me of those compilations Joel Dorn threw out to expedite the recycling of the Muse catalog on his later, now defunct 32 Jazz label. They represented recycling at its crassest -- arbitrary compilations sold purely as mood music, but they sold well enough (and were profitable enough) that Savoy Jazz has kept many (most?) of the titles in print. The connection is all the more obvious given that Dorn bought Muse from Joe Fields, who went on to start the catalogues plundered here. At least there's no attempt to pump up the historical significance: these records aren't meant for people who hope to learn something, even on a subject as trivial as late-'90s soul jazz. The Hammond was funkier in the late '50s and '60s when soul jazz developed out of r&b, and it's been increasingly rote ever since -- a staple crop of minor interest. Even within its limits High Note doesn't exactly have a command of the market: past-prime Charles Earland and Reuben Wilson, minor newcomers Bill Heid and Mike LeDonne, two generations of DeFrancescos. B
  52. Towner Galaher: Panorama (2005 [2007], Towner Galaher Music): Drummer, looks like he's been around, or at least in New York, for a while but this is his first album. Leads a quintet, reminiscent of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, with two extras on percussion. His pieces run the usual gamut, with the upbeat "Midtown Shuffle" leading off and slower stuff to close, and three non-originals in the middle. The most obvious one is "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," given a respectful reading that sounds fabulous. The horns are Mark Shim on tenor sax and Maurice Brown on trumpet, both superb. Onaje Allen Gumbs' piano and Charles Fambrough's bass fill in expertly. Drummer isn't as hard as Blakey, and this isn't really a throwback, just fine old-fashioned postmodernism. Official release date is a ways off, but it seems to be available at CDBaby. B+(**)
  53. Hal Galper/Jeff Johnson/John Bishop: Furious Rubato (2006 [2007], Origin): Another good mainstream piano trio, a bit more aggressive than McNeely, a bit less lyrical. B+(**)
  54. George Gee and the Jump, Jivin' Wailers Swing Orchestra: If Dreams Come True (2007, GJazz): One cut recorded in 1999; the rest Jan. 3-4, 2007. Gee bills himself as "the only Chinese-American Swing big band leader." Pictures on his website show him doing just that: standing out front, an emcee cheering the band. Walt Szymanski is listed as musical director, credited with most of the arrangements; also plays trumpet and sings, but John Dokes and Carla Cook also appear as vocalists. Gee's a big Basie fan, but also pulls material from Goodman, Henderson, and others. Good band, including Michael Hashim, a longtime favorite. Good music. Gee has half-a-dozen albums in his catalog. They all look to be much the same, even the one titled Buddha Boogie. B+(*)
  55. Bebel Gilberto: Momento (2007, Ziriguiboom/Six Degrees): Bossa nova royalty, daughter of João but not Astrud -- mother is another singer, Miúcha, sister of Chico Buarque. Where her first album looked forward with electrobeats, this one feels old fashioned, especially on the delicately fractured "Night and Day." B+(*)
  56. Robert Glasper: In My Element (2006 [2007], Blue Note): I haven't become a fan yet, but there are things here that I like, especially the free stretch in "Silly Rabbit," but also when he keeps the flow basic. If I gave this enough time, I might even go higher, but I doubt that it would be cost-effective. Some day he might take one of his ideas to the point where it becomes worthwhile to sort him out. Meanwhile, it would be churlish to pick on him just because he has a major label contract when so many others are consigned to obscure labels. For one thing the guys with the major label contracts are more likely cut out. B+(*)
  57. Juliette Greco: Le Temps d'une Chanson (2006 [2007], Sunnyside): French actress, doesn't sing so much as talk her way through songs with genuine dramatic flair. Born 1927, associated with Jean-Paul Sartre, Boris Vian, Miles Davis. Backed here by orchestra and guests -- Michael Brecker and Joe Lovano the best known, accordionist Gil Goldstein the most effective. Non-French songs I know, like "Volare," seem hokey, but fare like "Les mains d'or" make an impression. Like Salvador, a legend first heard at the tail end of a long career, so hard to judge. B
  58. Jimmy Hall & the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Collective: Build Your Own Fire (2007, Zoho): Hall sung and played harmonica for Wet Willie, a second- or third-tier Southern rock group back in the '70s, well back of a pack that included the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Like most of his brethren, Hall's a blues fan deep down, a point made explicit on Wet Willie's first album cover. Hall had a couple of 1980-82 albums, not much since. This one is a tribute to Muscle Shoals guitarist-composer Eddie Hinton, whose own checkered blues career died in 1995. Not much to it, but when such second- or third-tier characters get together to honor one of their own, their minor virtues somehow gain in stature. B+(*)
  59. Scotty Hard's Radical Reconstructive Surgery (2004 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Hard is credited with drum machines and samplers, but he's working on top of Mauricio Takara's drums and DJ Olive's turntables, so it's hard to say how much is his. The two sets of keyboards are easier to unravel, and far more central to the record, even though both John Medeski and Matthew Shipp are credited variously with organ, wurlitzer, and piano -- Medeski also on mellotron and clavinet. Typical Blue Series jam. I'd be more impressed had it come earlier in the series. B+(**)
  60. Taylor Haskins: Metaview (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Postbop quintet, with Adam Rogers on guitar instead of the usual piano player. Haskins plays trumpet; Andrew Rathbun is the saxophonist. Haskins composed it all. His resume includes a lot of commercial work, which ties into his knack for melodies, and a lot of big band work, which shows up in his arrangements. Starts off with a bit of keyboard for the self-evident "Biorhythm." Closes real strong with an upbeat choice cut called "Itty Bitty Ditty." B+(**)
  61. Bobby Hebb: That's All I Wanna Know (2005 [2007], Tuition): Born into a vaudeville family, making his stage debut at age 3 in 1941. Passed through Nashville, working for Owen Bradley and Roy Acuff, becoming one of the few blacks to work the Grand Ole Opry. Wrote "Sunny," one of the big hits of 1966, and had a couple of other minor hits, but only two albums in 1966-70 before this reprisal, which doesn't so much try to put him back on the map as stake out where he's been. His life might make for a TV movie, but he's a lightweight singer and these are old stories: the one that works best is his duet on "Sunny" -- still his calling card. B
  62. Anke Helfrich Trio: Better Times Ahead (2005 [2006], Double Moon): Pianist, German I think, although her website bio only starts in 1989 with studies in the Netherlands. This appears to be her second Trio recording, both with featured guests -- Mark Turner on 2000's You'll See, Roy Hargrove here. Hargrove plays on three of nine cuts, including one of two Monk covers. The byword here is lively: everything comes up bright, shiny, vibrant. Even Hargrove, who sounds like he's having a lot more fun than he has on his own records lately. B+(**)
  63. 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+(**)
  64. Matthew Herbert: Score (1997-2006 [2007], !K7): AMG files him, dba Herbert, under Electronica, with eight styles listed, few in evidence in this collection of soundtrack pieces. His website promises: "Crucially, in most cases, you can also dance to it. Matthew Herbert's records are true weapons of mass seduction." Website also mentions political content: "witty culinary metaphors to attack not just giant food companies but also the death penalty, body fascism and war in Iraq." Based on this, I can't vouch for any of that. What is clear is that he brings a wide range of tools to the soundtrack business, ranging from string-driven chamber music to a big band "Singing in the Rain" as well as the usual ambient filler. Which leaves us with the usual problems: pieces that don't fit together, stripped of the visual clues that they were built for. B
  65. The Fred Hersch Trio: Night and the Music (2007, Palmetto): Bread and butter: one Porter, two Berlins, two Monks, some originals to fill the gaps, including one from bassist Drew Gress. He's done this sort of thing so long and so consistently that I've lost my ability to tell the difference from one record to another. Or perhaps it's just my will? B
  66. Holly Hofmann/Mike Wofford: Live at Athenaeum Jazz, Voume 2 (2006 [2007], Capri): Flute/piano duos. Wofford is a fine pianist and an adept accompanist, but Hofmann rarely overcomes the limits of her instrument. Compared to this their previous album, Minor Miracle, was aptly named. B-
  67. Hugh Hopper: Hopper Tunity Box (1977 [2007], Cuneiform): Long before I had any particular interest, much less expertise, in jazz, I developed a peculiar fondness for Anglo prog-rock -- the sort of thing British art school grads did, as opposed to the much more common dropouts. At one point I had all seven Soft Machine albums, enjoying the first two for Kevin Ayers' loopy songs, and Third for Robert Wyatt's loopier "Moon in June," but not getting much out of the later work. But the recently released live album Grides makes a pretty good case for them as a jazz group, as does Elton Dean's subsequent career. Hugh Hopper was the bassist. This was his first solo after the group folded, using several shuffles of musicians. Mostly soft-edged fusion things, although the two saxophonists have some edge when they get the chance: Elton Dean on 3 cuts, and especially Gary Windo on 4. B+(*)
  68. Owen Howard: Time Cycles (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer-led postbop quintet, with two saxophonists up front, Gary Versace on piano, John Hebert on bass. The saxophonists are John O'Gallagher on alto, Andrew Rathbun on tenor, both playing a bit of soprano. They tend to play tight together, which usually isn't a good sign, but the drummer shakes things up enough to keep the other from clumping. B+(**)
  69. Bobby Hutcherson: For Sentimental Reasons (2006 [2007], Kind of Blue): I think this is Hutcherson's first album since Skyline in 1999, although he's been prominent on the SF Jazz albums. This one is very straightforward: a vibes-piano quartet, all standards, some jazz but mostly pop. Vibes and piano work well together: the tones are similar, the dynamics varied enough to provide some interesting contrast. The pianist is Renee Rosnes, and she makes the stronger impression. But the sentiment is riding on Hutcherson for a comeback. B+(**)
  70. Chie Imaizumi: Unfailing Kindness (2006, Capri): Japanese composer/arranger, following in Maria Schneider's footsteps, with help from trumpeter Greg Gisbert, who serves both. Straightforward arrangements, packed with power, a basic primer in what big bands are good for. Last track features a vocal with gospel punch -- not my thing, but not bad either. B+(**)
  71. Robert Irving III: New Momentum (2004-06 [2007], Sonic Portals): AMG lists Irving's styles as: R&B, Crossover Jazz, Fusion, Funk. That might be true of Irving's first album from 1990, but these are conventional piano trios, with a Bill Evans song, a pair from the Miles Davis songbook, and a bunch of originals that go no further afield. Irving spent most of the '80s with Davis -- not a prime period, but it must have been an interesting gig -- and some time in the '90s with David Murray. More recently he's worked with Kahil El'Zabar, who contributes liner notes here, and Wallace Roney. So chalk this up as serious. I just don't find a pianist trying to split the distance between Hancock and Tyner all that interesting. But I do like the artwork. B
  72. Bob James: Angels of Shanghai (2004-05 [2007], Koch): I've heard very little of James' smooth jazz, and missed his famously avant ESP-Disk debut completely. The Angels here are a group playing traditional Chinese instruments. They set the mood, but don't dominate, especially when James plugs his synth in. His piano work is more interesting. One vocal piece, of no particular relevance, but radio marketing demands one. Almost works. B
  73. Hank Jones/Frank Wess: Hank and Frank (2003 [2006], Lineage): From the label website: "Each Lineage recording is an organic collaboration of living legends and the strongest and most exciting young performers, created in order to perpetuate the timeless straight-ahead jazz aesthetic." The young performers list starts with guitarist Ilya Lushtak -- Russian born, grew up in San Francisco, moved to New York in 1996, 30 years old when his website bio was written -- who runs the label and arranges these collaborations. Jones and Wess, of course, are near the top of anyone's living legends list, and anything that lets them keep on recording is fine by me. Nothing new here, except that Lushtak continues to please as a sideman. Wess plays flute on a couple of tunes, but few people sound better on tenor sax, so that's what stands out. B+(**)
  74. Jazz After Midnight (1998-2006 [2007], High Note): Well, no, this is recycling at its crassest. I suppose it's inevitable that "after midnight" translates to ballads, but that doesn't explain the choice of flute (James Spaulding) and organ (Mike LeDonne, Joey DeFrancesco). Indeed, the organ pieces will never be taken for funky. Aside from those low points, there are worthwhile cuts -- especially the opener by Houston Person and the closer by Fathead Newman. Note that both came from better albums, even though neither made my A-list. B-
  75. Norah Jones: Not Too Late (2007, Blue Note): I've had friends play me their tapes, and more often than not I've panned them, pointing out that regardless of craft most lack the sort of distinguishing that would make them stand out in a field where craft and skill are mere minimums required. I'd probably say the same about Jones, and evidently in her case be wrong, but I still can't say why. Perhaps it's because she's turned ordinariness into a public virtue, and maybe we crave some sense of a comforting center given the sensory overkill that everyone else exercises to get our attention. That she can do it -- that she's the one we chose for this role -- depends on our understanding that she's not really ordinary: her voice, her piano, the elegant melodies, the unobvious words, the sensible arrangements, all serve to establish her worthiness through their subtlety. That's my theory, anyway. I still prefer my comforts less enigmatic, so I can't quite attest to whatever it is that others hear in her. <-- Songs: 1. "Wish I Could" 2. "Sinkin' Soon" 3. "The Sun Doesn't Like You" 4. "Until the End" 5. "Not My Friend" 6. "Thinking About You" 7. "Broken" 8. "My Dear Country" 9. "Wake Me Up" 10. "Be My Somebody" 11. "Little Room" 12. "Rosie's Lullaby" 13. "Not Too Late" --> B+(*)
  76. Niño Josele: Paz (2006, Calle 54): Flamenco guitarist, turned on to jazz when Bronx trumpeter Jerry González recruited Josele for a flamenco-themed album. This one meditates on Bill Evans, whose music, starting with "Peace Piece," comes off even more delicately on solo guitar, occasionally complemented by matching bits of trumpet (González, Tom Harrell), sax (Joe Lovano), or voice (Freddy Cole, Estrella Morente). B+(**)
  77. KCP 5: Many Ways (2005 [2007], Challenge): KCP stands for Karnataka College of Percussion. Based in Bangalore, they are a trio: two percussionists on mridangam, kanjira, morsing, ghatam, udu; and vocalist R.A. Ramamani. The latter is the dominant presence, her voice stretching and swaying in the classical Indian manner, but more often than not hurried along by the rhythm. 5 stands for two western musicians: pianist Mike Herting, who comps with or without the rhythm, and 82-year-old Charlie Mariano, whose unmistakable alto sax is positively angelic. B+(**)
  78. Steve Khan: Borrowed Time (2005-07 [2007], Tone Center): Guitarist, has recorded steadily since 1977. Evidently his early work qualifies as fusion, but the only two records I've heard -- Let's Call This (1991, Polydor) and Got My Mental (1996, Evidence) -- are eloquent pieces of postbop guitar craft. This starts promising, with Monk and Coleman done simply, albeit with extra Latin percussion. But as the record winds on, the Latin percussion, in one case augmented by tabla and tambura, takes over and the guitar melts into the smooth groove. B
  79. Ben Bowen King: Sidewalk Saints: Roots Gospel Guitar (2007, Talking Taco Music): An antidote to the dumbing down of gospel: instrumentals, featuring venerable songs in old style, plucked out on what King calls a resonator/slide guitar -- built for volume in the streets, sounds like it's mostly built from steel. King cites Blind Willie Johnson and Dock Boggs as influences, credits "Amazing Grace" to Fred McDowell and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" to Pops Staples. Covita Moroney helps out on percussion and the occasional moan. B+(***)
  80. Dmitri Kolesnik: Five Corners (2006 [2007], Challenge): Bassist, based in New York but probably from Russia, as is his collaborator pianist Andrei Kondakov. Kolesnik wrote 8 of 10 songs; Kondakov the other two. The other musicians are well known: Eric Alexander, Jim Rotondi, Alex Sipiagin (on two cuts), and Lenny White. Strikes me as a smart, well crafted but very mainstream outing; well done, but not much that catches my interest. Could gain ground if I had the time to give it. B
  81. Sofia Koutsovitis: Ojalá (2005 [2006], CD Baby): Argentine singer, moved to Boston in 2001 for education, and on to New York in 2005 to work. She wrote about half of the material here, including one co-credited to Jorge Luis Borges. The covers cover the map, with stops in Cuba, Brazil, and Peru, and are shapelier than the originals -- "You Don't Know What Love Is," nearly the only one in English, is particularly nice. The Group works for her, and "Silence 2" is fractured, multiphased Latin jazz at its best. The slow ones are a bit more awkward, but overall a very attractive record. B+(***)
  82. David Krakauer: Bubbemeises: Lies My Grandma Told Me (2006, Label Bleu): Socalled's samples provide a useful postmodern framing for the leader's clarinet, which otherwise just tends to whirl away in a dust cloud of mad klezmer. Even better is the rap that speaks truth to Bubbe. In full charge, this is an exciting group, but I've played the record many times without convincing myself it belongs on the A-list. So it must not. B+(***)
  83. The Leaders: Spirits Alike (2006 [2007], Challenge): The group name appeared on four albums from 1986-89, counting one as The Leaders Trio. The latter was just the rhythm section: pianist Kirk Lightsey, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Don Moye. The whole group added Lester Bowie on trumpet, Arthur Blythe on alto sax, and Chico Freeman on tenor or soprano or clarinet or flute, whatever. Bowie and Moye came out of the Art Ensemble of Chicago; Freeman and Blythe were building up substantial catalogues, including a few records together; Lightsey and McBee were guys you'd recognize if you ever read album credits. So they were a credible group, and Mudfoot (1986, Blackhawk) was a fine album, with a particularly delightful spin on Sam Cooke's "Cupid." Twenty years later, only two Leaders remain -- McBee and Freeman -- and the Replacements are more firmly perched in the mainstream: Bobby Watson (for Blythe), Eddie Henderson (for Bowie), Billy Hart (for Moye), and Fred Harris (for Lightsey). Harris lacks credentials as a leader, but acquits himself well enough. But that's about all anyone does here. Sure, this is elegant, intricate postbop, crafted by genuine talents. I suppose if I hadn't expected more I'd be less disappointed. B
  84. Tom Lellis: Avenue of the Americas (2004-05 [2006], Beamtide). Jazz singer, male; AMG reports that his influences include Mark Murphy and Jon Hendricks. Likes to write lyrics to Pat Metheny and Keith Jarrett songs. Plays a little piano and guitar, but gets help here from Gary Fisher, Dave Kikoski, Kenny Werner, and Toninho Horta. I've never cared for Hendricks' hipsterism or Murphy's slick affectations, but Lellis doesn't register high on either's horseshit scale. Doesn't register on much of any scale, probably because he has more obvious problems. Like which is worse: the Beatles suite or the bossa nova import? C
  85. John Lindberg/Karl Berger: Duets 1 (2004 [2007], Between the Lines): Bassist Lindberg first met Berger in 1975 when the latter was director and the former student at Creative Music Studio in Woodstock NY. Berger was 40 then, originally from Germany, strongly influenced by Ornette Coleman. He plays piano and vibes, the latter more often, and more distinctively, with both contrasting well with Lindberg's bass. B+(**)
  86. Michael Marcus/Ted Daniel: Duology (2006 [2007], Boxholder): One thing I look for in avant jazz is accessibility: the chance that a record might cross over and find some kind of receptive audience beyond those firmly committed to the genre. Actually, that's true of my approach to all genres; it's just that so many people have a strong gag reflex with avant jazz. This fails the test, perhaps inevitably. Free jazz duos on evenly weighted instruments -- Marcus on clarinet, Daniel on "brass" (trumpet, flugelhorn, Moroccan bugle, cornet) -- rarely flows and often clashes. That said, this comes off better than most such records. Marcus has paired off against other horns often, and few (if any) get more mileage out of it -- cf. his work with Sonny Simmons, albeit with the aid of a drummer. Daniel has a slim discography going back to 1973 -- credits with Dewey Redman, Andrew Cyrille, Henry Threadgill, Archie Shepp, Billy Bang. One piece is dedicated to Frank Lowe. A lot of history and art goes into something like this. Too bad it's so tough to grasp. B
  87. Thomas Marriott: Both Sides of the Fence (2006 [2007], Origin): Seattle-based trumpeter. Has a brother, David, who plays trombone in a joint group, the Marriott Brothers Quintet or Marriott Jazz Quintet, but is absent here. Background includes work with Maynard Ferguson, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Rosemary Clooney. Mainstream chops, exceptionally fine tone. The sort of album I have no special interest in, but so well done I hate to slough it off. Two cuts with Joe Locke on vibes are a plus. B
  88. Branford Marsalis: Braggtown (2006, Marsalis Music/Rounder): Since Coltrane and Shorter, damn few tenor saxophonists have managed to restrain themselves from adding soprano sax to their toolkit. Given his influences, ambitions, and essential conservatism, Marsalis was certain to follow that temptation. To his credit, he's learned to wax eloquent, but I still prefer the big horn by a wide margin, not least in his hands. On tenor he can get gruff, and when the band, a standard issue piano quartet just like Coltrane and Shorter, gets rough in turn, he sounds terrific. But that's just one part of his blend, which to his benefit is a bit stronger than usual here. B+(**)
  89. Delfeayo Marsalis: Minions Dominion (2002 [2006], Troubadour Jass): A long time between records, and this one has been in the can for a while -- so long that drummer Elvin Jones passed away in the meantime. I guess the family's allotment of ego got sucked up by the older brothers. Meanwhile, this is as good natured a mainstream hard bop album as I've heard in a long time. Branford and Donald Harrison alternate on their respective saxes. Mulgrew Miller plays piano. Terrific drummer. And I always enjoy a lead trombone. B+(**)
  90. Hector Martignon: Refugee (2007, Zoho): Pianist based in New York. Don't know where he's a refugee from. Website notes that he attended Freiburger Musikhochschule in Germany and lived in Brazil for a year. Website claims he's played on hundreds of albums, but AMG only lists 20, including an early '90s stint with Ray Barretto. No recording dates here, but website describes an album scheduled for Fall 2003 that sounds much like this one. This is his third. Mostly originals (6 of 8), with various groups that all reduce to piano, guitar, bass, drums, and percussion. Epicycles of dense rhythm, sometimes stretching to the point of chaos, but with powerful forward momentum. In other words, sounds Afro-Cuban to me. B+(*)
  91. Nicolas Masson: Yellow (A Little Orange) (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Two-horn quartet, Masson playing tenor sax and bass clarinet, Russ Johnson trumpet, with Eivind Opsvik on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. More postbop than avant; both horns have good broken field runs and the jousts generate some heat, but the harmonizing bogs down a bit. B+(*)
  92. MB3: Jazz Hits Volume 1 (2006, Mel Bay): MB presumably stands for Mel Bay, as in Records, a Missouri label with nothing but guitarists (classical as well as jazz). The "3" are guitarists Jimmy Bruno, Vic Juris, and Corey Christiansen -- three generations that hardly skip a beat. The "jazz hits" lean most heavily on Miles Davis, with Horace Silver, John Coltrane, Benny Golson, and Herbie Hancock also contributing. Jay Anderson plays bass; Danny Gottlieb drums. Easy going, relatively surefire material. Mel Bay's website has a news item about this topping some jazz airplay chart. You might not notice, but wouldn't mind. B+(*)
  93. Jim McNeely/Kelly Sill/Joel Spencer: Boneyard (2007, Origin): Mainstream piano trio. McNeely is an impressive, engaging pianist, ably supported by Sill and Spencer. Still can't find much to say about it. B+(**)
  94. 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+(**)
  95. Mike Melvoin Trio: You Know (2006, City Light): Website says he's been playing piano since he was three, so that gives him 66 years of practice. Mainstream -- so mainstream I was surprised to count five originals wedged in among the obvious standards. I was further surprised to find myself enjoying such straightforward music. And I was further surprised when I went back to the database and found I had given his last album a B+. I notice now that the black and white cover on the self-released album has a thin gold border, just like his black and white website, so it would appear that he has an aesthetic beyond DIY. It's too subtle to sink in, but too elegant to ignore. B+(**)
  96. Metta Quintet: Subway Songs (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): From "Morning Rush" to "Evening Rush," most pieces start with a bit of subway noise then flower into delicate, exquisitely detailed postbop. Only five pieces, with Mark Gross's alto sax offset by Marcus Strickland on tenor, soprano and bass clarinet; Helen Sung's tart piano, Joshua Ginsberg's bass, and H. Benjamin Schuman's drums. Schuman founded an educational outfit, JazzReach, which this group is tied with. Makes some sense that they all teach, given how close to the state of the art their music feels. I usually like it a little rougher, but this is so slick my druthers can't get much traction. B+(**)
  97. Hendrik Meurkens: New York Samba Jazz Quintet (2005 [2007], Zoho): Born in Hamburg, Germany in 1957; moved to the US in 1977, first to Berklee in Boston, then on to New York. He plays Brazilian music with the single-minded devotion of a native. His instruments are vibes and harmonica. Over time the ratio has shifted in favor of harmonica, at least two-to-one here. I've never cared much for his work in the past, but this is a sharp group -- "New York" is an intenstifying adjective, putting a charge into samba that is often lacking -- and his leads stand out on both instruments. His harmonica is especially revelatory. The instrument's range, tone, and sweep is such that it's curious how few jazz musicians have taken it up -- Toots Thielemans has pretty much had the field to himself, but he's hardly been an obscurity, winning "miscellaneous instrument" polls with absurd ease. Records like this should open some ears. B+(**)
  98. Mi3: We Will Make a Home for You (2002-03 [2005], Clean Feed). Three musicians from the Boston end of the Vandermark connection, holding court without the reedist. Not a piano trio either, as Pandelis Karayorgis plays Fender Rhodes this time, assuming a range from chintzy electric piano to something more guitar-like. With Karayorgis going electric, bassist Nate McBride sticks to acoustic, mixed up loud enough to assume a major role. Curt Newton drums. The program is mostly Monk, and these guys wear "Ugly Beauty" on their sleeves. Avant-fusion, hooray. B+(***)
  99. Stephan Micus: On the Wing (2003-06 [2007], ECM): Advance copy. German composer, multi-instrumentalist. AMG classifes him as New Age -- not a good term, but I don't know what would be. Has 17 or so albums, going back to the mid-'70s, his first one featuring: voice, guitar, shô, Thai flute, sitar, rabab, Bavarian zither, shakuhachi. This one has most of those, notably less voice, and quite a few more, played solo but pieced together into a 10 part suite. Sounds vaguely South/East Asian, but nowhere in specific. No doubt interesting musicologically, but pretty static to my ears -- after all, I tend to agree with Ellington on these matters. B
  100. The Microscopic Septet: Seven Men in Neckties: History of the Micros Volume One (1982-90 [2006], Cuneiform, 2CD): Long before Sex Mob, this was the sound of New York's avant-garde yearning to be popular. The Micros matched a sax quartet led by Philip Johnston on alto and soprano with a rhythm section led by pianist Joel Forrester. Both leaders were clever, writing a little and appropriating a lot. Johnston trod on after the Micros' demise with groups like Big Trouble, the Transparent Quartet, and Fast 'N' Bulbous, while making ends meet by hacking film scores. The Penguin Guide sums him up aptly: "the perfect Tzadik artist: intellectual, playful, perverse and generically undefinable." That could also describe Tzadik honcho John Zorn, but Francis Davis adds that Johnston's is "a kinder, gentler postmodernism." Unfortunately, the abundant good humor lacks a killer punch line. B+(*)
  101. The Microscopic Septet: Surrealistic Swing: History of the Micros Volume Two (1981-90 [2006], Cuneiform, 2CD): Comparisons to the Lounge Lizards were inevitable, but Philip Johnston points out: "When the Lounge Lizards wore suits and ties they looked cool and hip and aloof; when the Micros wore suits and ties, we looked like a bunch of unemployed vacuum cleaner salesmen." Volume One's Seven Men in Neckties title reflects the dissheveled eclecticism of their first two albums. Volume Two's title, referring to the music rather than the musicians, suggests that they found themselves, and indeed they finally hit their stride in 1986's Off Beat Glory. Postmodernism can mean distance from the past, as with the Lounge Lizards, or it can take a playfully perverse turn by diving back into a past shorn of its historical bindings and context. Still, their limits are literal: you can conjure up a pretty good idea of what surrealistic swing might sound like even before you play this fine example. B+(**)
  102. Charles Mingus: In Paris: The Complete America Session (1970 [2007], Sunnyside, 2CD): One day, a batch of old songs, a group that doesn't rank among his great ones -- Eddie Preston on trumpet, Charles McPherson on alto sax, Bobby Jones on tenor sax, Jaki Byard on piano, Dannie Richmond (of course) on drums -- yielded two quickie LPs on the French label named America, minor blips in the Mingus discography. The master takes that went into the LPs fit on the first disc. The alternate takes, including many false starts, fill out the previously unreleased second disc. None of this is earth shaking, ear opening, or even moderately important. Still, if you didn't know better, the first disc could pass for a typical Mingus tour de force, and the scraps hold together better than they have any right to. B+(**)
  103. Paul Motian/Bill Frisell/Joe Lovano: Time and Time Again (2006 [2007], ECM): One Rodgers/Hammerstein, one Monk, one by Lovano, the rest by Motian. Lovano and Frisell play soft and disjointed, kind of like Motian drums. There's a certain integrity to that, but it's hard to get excited about. Frisell sounds especially uninspired. B
  104. 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+(**)
  105. 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-
  106. Jeff Newell's New-Trad Octet: Brownstone (2007, BluJazz): Newell's interest is in gospel, as shown by the two final pieces: an interesting take on "Amazing Grace" and a rousing original with vocals called "Fill the Temple." Hard to say what is new here other than his membership in the so-called New Baptist Church, but his trad is rooted in pre-jazz -- three Sousa pieces lead off, then a suite of "March," "Bolero," "Waltz," "Zydeco," and "Reprise" called "Hymn Pan Alley." Still, they sound fresh, not musty. B+(**)
  107. New York Electric Piano: Blues in Full Moon (2007, Buffalo Puppy): Piano trio, with Pat Daugherty leading on a Fender Rhodes electric. The soft edge to the piano is distinctive, not as cheesy as you might expect -- especially when interacting with Tim Givens' bass. So New York it was recorded in the Catskills. B
  108. Judy Niemack: Blue Nights (2007, BluJazz): Playing this after Lauren Hooker provides an interesting contrast between experience and ambition. Niemack's a real pro. She cut her first album in 1978, her second in 1988, then one every few years after that: this is her ninth. In many ways it's just another, but she finds an easy, comfortable groove even working in a vein cluttered with vocalese. She also commands a more formidable band: guitarist Jean-François Prins is the only one I'm unfamiliar with, and he does a lovely job, as does Jim McNeely and Gary Bartz, in particular. If in the end I prefer Hooker, it's more because I like what she's trying to do. Maybe someday she'll do it as well as Niemack. B+(**)
  109. Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Janus (2005, Kopasetic): Saxophonist Mattias Carlson shows some real progress here, taking the lead on occasion and holding it. Nilsson's guitar is still impressive, but the more varied music works against his strong suite, especially when it slows down. B+(***)
  110. Sean Noonan Brewed by Noon: Stories to Tell (2006 [2007], Songlines): Drummer-led group with a lot of electricity -- three guitars, bass, and Mat Maneri's amped viola -- and some African percussion. Could be an awesome fusion group, but they break the pace with four vocal songs. Abdoulaye Diabaté's griot grates on me, and Susan McKeown's duet doesn't go anywhere, but Dawn Padmore's jazz ballad is a nice change of pace. B+(*)
  111. One More: The Summary: Music of Thad Jones, Vol. 2 (2005 [2007], IPO): Another one, with the same all-star band as the first round: brother Hank on piano; Jimmy Owens on Thad's trumpet; John Mosca on trombone; Benny Golson, James Moody, Frank Wess, and Eddie Daniels on sax, flute and/or clarinet; Richard Davis on bass; Kenny Washington on drums. These aren't session scraps. They were recorded in a second session three months after the first, but as is often the case with volume twos, the concept has lost a bit of its edge, and the songbook may have slipped a bit. Thad was a bebopper who nonetheless thought that big bands were the natural forum for the music, so this nine-piece group is about right. After I played this, I noticed that the street date isn't until Feb. 13, 2007, so I guess I jumped the gun on this one. B+(**)
  112. Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos: Invites Chris Cheek (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Group aka OJM. Also on cover: Music by Carlos Azevedo and Pedro Guedes. Credits also cite Azevedo and Guedes for musical direction, piano, Fender Rhodes. The Orquestra is full scale: four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds (six counting Cheek), bass, drums. Strikes me as quite ordinary as big band productions go: lots of layer and polish on the brass, forgettable solos, not much going on in the rhythm. Cheek may be the star, but he doesn't stand out. C+
  113. Judith Owen: Happy This Way (2006 [2007], Couragette): English singer-songwriter, seventh album, according to AMG, where she's classified as Jazz (Singer/Songwriter, Contemporary Jazz). They also quote Jamie Cullum describing her as "a female Randy Newman -- not sure whether that's sexist or just plain wrong. If Newman wrote a song called "We're Only Human" it would make you wonder more than this one does. No doubt she's a skilled singer, but the music is constructed mostly out of string swatches, sounding like wallpaper. Not impressed with her songwriting either, but there's little here to make me give it any thought. In a jazz singer that may not be a fatal flaw, but it doesn't make for much of a Randy Newman. C+
  114. João Paulo: Memórias de Quem (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Solo piano. First time I tried to look him up I wound up with the Portuguese wikipedia page for Pope John Paul. AMG credits him with eight albums since 1998. Don't know any more than that. Picked this out at a bad time, but I don't have the time to spend on stuff I consider marginal. The piano itself doesn't sound all that great, but I like his rhythmic ideas and find his riffing interesting. If I gave it more time, it might rise a notch or so. Or not. B
  115. Oscar Peterson and Friends: JATP Lausanne 1953 (1953 [2007], TCB): Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts were like all-star games: random sets of headliners turned loose on things like "C-Jam Blues" -- the 19:23 opener here, where everyone gets their turn to spin, slam, and dunk. It's ironic that Peterson wound up on top of this belatedly released radio tape. At 27, he was Granz's handyman, little known, but a fast, hard swinging pianist who raised the play of everyone else on the floor. The frontliners here were Flip Phillips, Lester Young, Willie Smith, and Charlie Shavers -- with the latter's blistering trumpet setting the pace. The last two cuts drop down to a trio, with Peterson, Smith, and Gene Krupa: both give Peterson some solo space, and remind us why Smith was widely regarded as one of the three great alto saxophonists of the swing era, along with Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter. B+(***)
  116. Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Live in Japan (2004 [2007], CAM Jazz, 2CD): I've cooled on this since my first flush of enthusiasm -- maybe the informality of the live setting, maybe just the length. Pieranunzi is a fine pianist, especially on the slow stuff like was featured on Ballads, recorded about the same time with the same trio. Johnson and Baron are superb -- no surprise there. B+(**)
  117. Bucky & John Pizzarelli: Generations (2006 [2007], Arbors): The better known son is a crooner stuck between his Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra tributes, but he started off as a pretty sharp guitarist, a chip off the old Bucky, as it were. The father never ventured far from swing, a graceful rhythm guitarist but not a great soloist. Father and son previously waxed duos in the early '80s, collected as The Complete Guitar Duos (The Stash Sessions), as well as a 1998 album Contrasts (Arbors) -- both well-regarded, but I haven't heard either. This this one is tasteful, modestly intricate and intimate. B+(**)
  118. Mikkel Ploug Group (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Danish guitarist, aka Mikkel Ploug Petersen, born 1978. Wrote all the pieces here. Postbop, nice movement. Seems like a decent enough guitarist, but he's overshadowed in this quartet by tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. Not sure whether this is near the top of Turner's game, but anyone with a serious interest in him should like this. Ploug's website sucks. When I accessed it with the browser he insists on, I got a bit further, but with further aggravation. B+(**)
  119. Roger Powell: Fossil Poets (2006, Inner Knot): Powell's "retro-future" suggests that there must have been such a thing as pre-postmodernism, only we were fortunate enough not to recognize it as such at the time. Powell's resume isn't promising: even if we discount Bat Out of Hell as a fluke, he played the synths that drove Todd Rundgren's Utopia over the deep end. The only jazz credit I find on his CV is a Charlie Rouse album. This one is marginal genrewise, synth-driven instrumentals with a steady beat, eschewing both funk and spaciness -- too square for jazz, too soft for fusion, too old-fashioned for experimental rock, too much fun for new age. Comes to a nice soft landing with what sounds like a real piano. I've refiled this under Pop Jazz, but the smoothies won't like it either. B+(**)
  120. Les Primitifs du Futur: World Musette (1999 [2006], Sunnyside): Knowing that R. Crumb is involved in this project -- the cover art, of course, but he also plays mandolin and banjo -- makes it all the easier to imagine this as what happens when the Cheap Suit Serenaders go to seed in Paris. Guitarist Dominique Cravic is the leader and principal songwriter. Daniel Huck sings scat, and a cast of dozens play instruments my French isn't good enough to translate. Starts out sounding old-timey, but before long the accordions overwhelm the ukuleles and the musette takes over -- still old-timey, but European, even when they fake a Chinese waltz. A-
  121. Juan Carlos Quintero: Las Cumbias . . . Las Guitarras (1997-2006 [2006], Inner Knot): Colombian guitarist, from Medellin, although he's been in the US since studying at Berklee and New England Conservatory in the early '80s. Selected from a decade's work, the pieces offer a remarkably uniform flow -- all instrumental, most with bass, accordion, and drums/percussion, a couple with piano. Just a slightly folkie groove that never lets up. B+(**)
  122. Ed Reed: Sings Love Stories (2006 [2007], Blue Shorts): Jazz singer. Grew up in Watts. Claims to have been in high school talent shows with Esther Phillips and Bobby Nunn, which pretty well dates him. Also claims to have sung in San Quentin with Art Pepper in the band, and on his rare occasions out of jail to have done "open mikes" with Wardell Gray, Hampton Hawes, and Dexter Gordon. This appears to be his first album, and he's looking pretty good, and not just because everyone I've listed thus far is long gone dead. He gets props on the cover from Tootie Heath and Sheila Jordan. They're not far off base, but whereas Jordan can take the approach of singers like Jon Hendricks and Jimmy Scott and add something ineffable, Reed just has the basic moves. His songbook isn't very interesting, and he merely does it justice. I might be more impressed if I had a higher opinion of his peers. B
  123. Matt Renzi: The Cave (2003 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent). Simple trio, the leader playing tenor sax and clarinet near equally. A student of George Garzone, Renzi tries to work four years living in scattered spots on three continents into his mix, and the result is thoughtful, almost contemplative, very centered. B+(***)
  124. Florian Ross Trio: Big Fish & Small Pond (2006, Intuition): In a period when I haven't been able to do much critical listening, I've played this piano trio a lot and found it always pleasurable although rarely demanding. But I do need to move on. B+(**)
  125. Nino Rota: Fellini & Rota (1996-2003 [2007], CAM Jazz): From 1952 until his death in 1979 Rota composed music for Federico Fellini's movies. This is presumably the original music, as collected in a 1996 compilation, with a more recent coda by pianist Enrico Pieranunzi. As with so many soundtracks, the logic remains on screen, and the selections -- some quite marvelous -- don't flow so much has hop all over the map. I've somehow missed most of Fellini's famous films, but recognize the circus atmosphere of several of these pieces. Rota was less innovative than Ennio Morricone in using electronics, but otherwise worked from a similar pallette. B+(*)
  126. Roundtrip: Two Way Street (2005, Jazzaway). Sax trio, from Norway, led by Klaus Ellerhusen Holm on alto and baritone, with Ole Morten Vågan on bass and Ole Thomas Kolberg on drums. Fiercely energetic avant group with a rockish flair -- not sure whether Vandermark influenced this scene or he merely found a second home among like-minded players. In any case, add Kolberg to the list of Scandinavian drummers who can really pound the skins. Fredrik Ljungkvist (of Atomic) wrote the liner notes. I like this mode a lot. This is a good, but not extraordinary, example. B+(***)
  127. Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Solo (2005 [2006], Blue Note): Inevitable, although you expect something more upbeat, with a more pronounced Afro-Cuban rhythm to it. This is pensive, detailed; just sort of eases its way along. B+(*)
  128. Roswell Rudd/Mark Dresser: Airwalkers (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Bass-trombone duo. Seems to me this is more Dresser's show: he does this sort of intimate abstraction quite often, it's always difficult to follow but sometimes interesting when you do. Always great to hear Rudd, and a rare treat to hear him this rough but still in control. But not a record that will convert anyone. B+(**)
  129. Rutherford/Vandermark/Müller/van der Schyff: Hoxha (2004 [2005], Spool/Line). Van der Schyff recorded this international summit in Oregon, then passed the tape on to his Canadian label. The idea of pairing Vandermark with England's avant trombone legend is enticing, but it doesn't quite come off. Rutherford is spotty and chaotic, never on long enough to pull his thing together. Vandermark plays as much clarinet as tenor sax, perhaps looking for an Evan Parker vibe, but willing to settle for Brötzmann, Gustafsson, or whomever. The bassist is mostly lost in the mix, so the drummer is the only one who really impresses. But the chaos does come together now and then, especially in "Dagahra" (with Vandermark on tenor sax). B+(**)
  130. Jerome Sabbagh: Pogo (2006 [2007], Sunnyside): Good young mainstream saxophonist, born in Paris, educated in Boston, lives in New York. Writes all his own material. Plays tenor and soprano, and is adept enough at the latter that it doesn't mess up his game -- unlike most of the post-Coltrane, post-Shorter generation who take the combination as de rigeur. This is a quartet with Ben Monder on guitar, Joe Martin on bass, Ted Poor on drums. Quiet spots are beguiling; louder stretches flow smoothly. A little more polished than North, cut by the same group on Fresh Sound New Talent a couple of years back. B+(**)
  131. Henry Salvador: Révérence (2007, Circular Moves): Born 1917 in French Guiana, still alive and active, no recording dates, but presumably this is recent: French chanson so natural, so lithe, so effortlessly swinging you have to wonder what's up. For one thing Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil make appearances, and there are jazz cats mixed in with the frogs. Salvador's discography goes back at least to the '40s. I've never heard him before, so have no idea where this stands in his oeuvre. A-
  132. Scenes [John Stowell/Jeff Johnson/John Bishop]: Along the Way (2006, Origin): The trio member names are also listed on the front cover: John Stowell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop. Guitar, bass, drums, respectively. Johnson and Bishop are mainstays of Seattle's jazz scene, but file this one under Stowell. His thoughtful, intricate guitar doesn't fit cleanly into any of the usual categories. More than anything else, this sounds like one of those piano trio albums where everything sits right, but I'm left with very little to say. B+(**)
  133. Irène Schweizer: First Choice: Piano Solo KKL Luzern (2005 [2006], Intakt): Solo piano -- not something I care all that much for, but this is thoughtful, cautiously elaborate, at times bracing. After Portrait I hoped to be blown away, but I'm hard pressed to think of any solo piano albums that move me that way -- even Art Tatum or Cecil Taylor. Solo piano isn't as limited as one hand clapping, but it's missing something, even when it's as thoughtful, vigorous, and inventive as this. B+(**)
  134. Secret Oyster: Sea Son (1974 [2006], The Laser's Edge): Danish instrumental group, not sure whether they intended to play fusion or progressive rock, but they're so upbeat they they missed the boat on krautrock -- probably too busy partying. B+(*)
  135. Jan Shapiro: Back to Basics (2006 [2007], CD Baby): So, I go to her website, and it starts a Flash sequence of photos sliding into view, starting with a scared-looking child and ending with a curly brunette morphing into a dyed blonde who's clearly been through a lot. Then I click enter and get a lecture on how I not only have to upgrade to Flash Player 8, I have to disable the pop-up window blocker in my browser. So fuck that. What else do we know? Born 1959. Educated in St. Louis and at SIU in nearby Edwardsville. Teaches voice at Berklee. Looks like this is her third album. Straightforward arrangements of standards, with a piano-guitar-bass-drums band that does its job. Good singer, even on the slow ones once she gets your attention. If I were doing choice cuts, "Sister Sadie" would be one. B+(*)
  136. Mark Sherman: Family First (2006 [2007], MHP/City Hall): Vibraphonist, Bronx-born, studied tympani at Juilliard but may have learned more from Elvin Jones. Six albums to date. First I heard was previous one, which I liked. Impossible not to like this one either. He has the natural swing mainstreamers aspire to, and gets ample support from pianist Allen Farnham and, especially, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli. B+(*)
  137. Shoup/Burns/Radding/Campbell: The Levitation Shuffle (2003 [2007], Clean Feed): B+(*)
  138. David Sills: Down the Line (2005 [2006], Origin). Nice mainstream album, with Sills playing tenor sax, Gary Foster alto sax, Larry Koonse guitar, Alan Broadbent piano, Putter Smith bass, Tim Pleasant drums. Pleasant indeed. Foster and Broadbent recorded one of the better Concord Duos albums, so you expect them to be a well matched team. Sills' website lists eight albums since 1997, including two by the Acoustic Jazz Quartet. B+(**)
  139. Judi Silvano: Women's Work: Live at Sweet Rhythm NYC (2006 [2007], JSL): Jazz singer, married or somehow involved with Joe Lovano -- his website makes more of the relationship than hers, but neither is all that forthcoming. She sings with an all-female trio here -- Janice Friedman on piano, Jennifer Vincent on bass, Allison Miller on drums -- tackling 11 songs written by 9 women. (Silvano and Mary Lou Williams are the repeaters; Friedman adds one from the band.) Silvano's phrasing and timing are impeccable, enough to carry these songs without complaint or much surprise. Especially good to hear Carla Bley's "Can't Get My Motor to Start." B+(*)
  140. Zoot Sims: Zoot Suite (1973 [2007], High Note): Grew up in a vaudeville family, picked up the tenor sax, and made a name for himself with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, emerging as one of the latter's legendary "four brothers" sax section. On his own, his discography splits into two chunks: he recorded a lot in the late '50s, with 1956 a bellweather year (cf. Zoot!), but he faded in the '60s, with nothing between 1966-72. Norman Granz brought him back in 1975 for Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers, where his distinct tone and innate sense of swing reinvigorated the whole songbook, and kicked off a marvelous run until he succumbed to cancer a decade later. This poorly recorded archival tape leads into the latter period, one of the few great second acts in jazz history. The quartet with pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Mousey Alexander is in gear. The songbook looks back to Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Sims' main influence, Lester Young. Sims even unveils his soprano sax "Rocking in Rhythm." Not exactly history being made; more like one of those faint tremors the significance of which emerges later. B+(**)
  141. Soft Machine: Grides (1970-71 [2006], Cuneiform, CD+DVD): Back in the '70s I had most of Soft Machine's studio albums, but I don't recall them very well. First one (or maybe two) was led by Kevin Ayers, so they were mostly short, amusing songs, things like "Joy of a Toy" and "Plus Belle Qu'une Poubelle." Third was a double-LP with Ayers gone and the four remaining musicians each doing one side-long song, but the only side I ever played much was Robert Wyatt's spacey, loopy "The Moon in June." The remaining albums, Fourth through Seven, have become a blur -- all I recall is noodling synth pop instrumentals, sublimation into the machine. Somewhere along that series drummer-vocalist Wyatt fell out a window and was paralyzed from the waist down. He bounced back with a cover of "I'm a Believer" and followed it up with a couple of brilliant albums -- Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard is one of my all-time favorites; also notable are his vocals on Michael Mantler's The Hapless Child and Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports (actually an undercover Carla Bley album) -- and many more idiosyncratic ones. Saxophonist Elton Dean went on to establish a reputation in avant-garde jazz before he died last year -- have only heard a couple of his records, so he remains a project. Don't know what happened to Hugh Hopper or Mike Ratledge -- presumably the main guys behind the blur. The band broke up in 1976. Recently, quite a few of their live tapes have appeared, but this Amsterdam concert is the only one I've heard. It was recorded in 1970, which locates it between Third and Fourth. It remains predictably rockish, especially in Wyatt's drumming, but also in the keyboards and bass. Still, Ratledge manages to vary the keyboards enough to keep interest as well as momentum, and thereby provides a dandy springboard for Dean to break loose, which he does, raising the temperature throughout the show. Package also includes a DVD, which I haven't seen yet, or maybe ever. Priced extra for it too, which is a shame. Wodner what else I've missed. A-
  142. Soft Machine Legacy: Live at the New Morning (2005 [2006], Inakustik, 2CD): Half of the '70s lineup, with Hugh Hopper on bass and Elton Dean on alto sax or saxello, but the reunion group sounds much tougher with guitarist John Etheridge replacing Mike Ratledge's keybs. Too bad that Dean died shortly afterwards. His avant-riffing over steady grooves is a fine solution to the fusion puzzle. B+(***)
  143. Mark Soskin: One Hopeful Day (2006 [2007], Kind of Blue): Pianist. Not a lot under his own name, but since 1976 has worked for Billy Cobham, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Mann, Bobby Watson, Pete and Sheila Escovedo, others. Credits Cedar Walton as an influence, which sounds about right. Wrote 4 of 9 pieces here, but not the best stuff -- "On the Street Where You Live" is a sweeping, swirling opener. One of those records I lost interest in midway and punted, then kept hearing too many good things to simply dismiss. The band is superb -- from back to front: Bill Stewart, John Patitucci, Chris Potter. Anyone who thinks Potter's the great saxophonist of his generation will find more ammunition here. John Abercrombie joins for two pieces, which are merely typical. Pianist is fine, and takes the last one solo. B+(*)
  144. Mike Stern: Who Let the Cats Out? (2006, Heads Up): Pretty ugly cats, if you ask me. Stern's guitar is only half ugly, which is the least he can do for what's basically a fusion album: lots of electric bass, some gratuitous sax from Bob Franceschini, two dishes of Roy Hargrove trumpet, two more of Gregoire Maret harmonica, the usual keybs. Only thing that bothers me much is Richard Bona's vocals: don't see any point, even as scat, which is sort of the fallback position once you realize you've nothing to say. Not sure this is worth a Dud slot, but he did get his mug on the cover of Downbeat. B-
  145. 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+(**)
  146. Jane Stuart: Beginning to See the Light (2006 [2007], Jane Stuart Music): Ellington, not Reed. She's a singer with a nice, moderate voice; first record, but she has a bunch of stage credits, including a turn as Joan Baez in Richard Farina's "Long Time Comin' A Long Time Gone." I like her quite a bit mid-tempo and faster, much less so on the ballads. The band supports her fine, but doesn't demand much attention on their own. B
  147. 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+(**)
  148. Yosvany Terry Cabrera: Metamorphosis (2004 [2005], Ewe): Afro-Cuban saxophonist, usually goes under name Yosvany Terry. Record doesn't specify which when where -- alto seems to be his main horn, but I've also seen him play tenor and soprano, and he probably uses all three here. Avishai Cohen plays trumpet for a contrasting horn, Mike Moreno plays some nifty guitar, and the usual suspects -- Luis Perdomo, Hans Glawishnig, Dafnis Prieto, Pedro Martinez -- keep the complex riddims bumping and grinding. B+(**)
  149. Scott Tinkler: Backwards (2007, Extreme): Hails from Australia, plays trumpet, professionally since 1983, with half a dozen records, of which I've heard none. The obligatory list of folks he's played with ranges from Branford Marsalis to Han Bennink. This album is no doubt atypical, if for no other reason than he plays solo. I can't think of more than 3 or 4 trumpets players who've done that. It's clearly a tough job physically, and the results are necessarily sparse. Still, he holds my attention as well as anyone. B+(*)
  150. Gian Tornatore: Blackout (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): A young saxophonist I like a lot -- his previous album, Sink or Swim, was a low A- mostly on the basis of his bold, forthright postbop logic. This one falls off a bit, mostly because his sax is less dominant, and the rest of the band, including guitar and Fender Rhodes, doesn't take up the slack. But when he takes charge, he's superb. B+(**)
  151. Trio East: Best Bets (2005 [2006], Origin): Trumpet-bass-drums trio, not a lot of those out there, with those that do exist tending toward avant-obscurity. Clay Jenkins plays the trumpet, making him the presumed leader, so going with the group name advances him toward his own kind of obscurity. What he gets for it is an exceptionally well-balanced group effort. They did an equally good album called Stop-Start (Sons of Sound) last year, which languished on the cusp of the HM list until this one arrived to take its place. B+(**)
  152. James Blood Ulmer: Bad Blood in the City: The Piety Street Sessions (2006 [2007], Hyena): The city, natch, is New Orleans, home of Piety Street Studios, the latest stop on Ulmer's and Vernon Reid's tour of America's blues studios. Originals like "Katrina" and "Survivors of the Hurricane" lead off, and near the end there's "Backwater Blues" from the wake of the 1927 flood. In between this wanders and wobbles a bit, with a rap-prefiguring Willie Dixon tune called "Dead Presidents" thrown in "for comic relief" -- quote from hype sheet; the booklet itself has virtually nothing to say. Ulmer's jazz background may be the key to keeping his blues records loosey-goosey, but it's getting hard to tell them apart. Charles Burnham's electric fiddle is a plus here. B+(***)
  153. The Unseen Guest: Out There (2005, Tuition): German label, owned by Schott. Don't know why I'm getting this. Two singer-songwriters, Declan Murray and Amith Narayan, with additional musicians mostly with Indian names, mostly playing Indian instruments. Management based in Singapore. I shouldn't spend the time, but this isn't bad. The music is mostly guitar and mandolin on top of the Indian percussion, with violin and harmonica for variety on one cut each. Lyrics in English, and I can't complain about them either. B+(**)
  154. Allan Vaché: With Benny in Mind (2006 [2007], Arbors): They don't list roles here like they did on Bucky Pizzarelli's tribute to Freddie Green, but the casting is obvious: John Sheridan as Teddy Wilson, Vincent Corrao as Charlie Christian, and Christian Tamburr as Lionel Hampton. Phil Flanigan plays bass, Ed Metz Jr. drums, Vaché clarinet. The songs are as expected, as are the performances, which is the only possible critique. Goodman's sextet could surprise you now and then, even today. Tamburr strikes me as someone worth keeping an eye on. B+(*)
  155. Larry Vuckovich Trio: Street Scene (2005 [2006], Tetrachord): Pianist, born Yugoslavia 1936, moved to US in 1951, settled in San Francisco, studied under Vince Guaraldi, worked for Cal Tjader, spent a good deal of time as the house pianist at the Keystone Korner, worked in New York for much of the '90s, is now back in California. I know all those things because the guy wouldn't try to bullshit anyone. His motto is "straight ahead," and that's how he plays it. This sounds like a piano trio ought to sound like: the slow ones articulate, the fast ones swing, a hint of blues when called for. He does cheat a bit by bringing in Hector Lugo's congas for extra percussion on four numbers, but they slip by without incident. Doesn't do any of the Balkan folk stuff he's most famous for. B+(***)
  156. Waverly Seven: Yo! Bobby (2006 [2007], Anzic, 2CD): Bobby is Darin, the record a salute to his songbook, which once you get past his early Atlantic hits could just as well be Frank Sinatra's songbook. The group is Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Anat Cohen and Joel Frahm on reeds, Manuel Valera and Jason Lindner on keyboards, Barak Mori on bass, Daniel Freedman on drums, with Scott Robinson and Vic Juris appearing as guests. Frahm and Valera get extra credit for producing. Not sure who did the arrangements, but they're pretty straightforward -- indeed, for all the talent here the remarkable thing is how little they have to add. Not even an explanation why Darin matters, which would be useful 'cause sometimes I forget. B
  157. 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+(**)
  158. Kenny Werner: Lawn Chair Society (2007, Blue Note): I should have written this up first time I played the release. At least that way my confusion could seem resolvable through further experience. As it is, I've played this 6-8 times -- often at times I didn't expect to be able to concentrate on anything but I thought I'd give it a chance to connect. Bottom line is: it hasn't, but I can't tell you why. Chris Potter has moments at peak form. Trumpet player is no slouch either: Dave Douglas. Brian Blade and Scott Colley navigate the undertow, never more authoritatively than when they break free. Werner's a good pianist, and I don't mind when he dabbles in electronics except when it gets slow and gloomy. I don't know Werner's other work, but that may not matter given how strong the horns are. Come to think of it, Douglas and Potter have often confused me in the past. I have no doubt that they are brilliant musicians, and there are stretches here as elsewhere to underscore the point, but this isn't the first time they've managed to throw me. B+(*)
  159. Jessica Williams: Billy's Theme: A Tribute to Dr. Billy Taylor (2006, Origin): Two caveats here. One is that I'm not familiar enough with Taylor to figure out how these pieces -- all Williams originals, so most certainly not even in Taylor's songbook -- link up. The other is that I'm rarely smitten by solo piano, and when it does happen it's usually someone with enough left hand to keep a whole rhythm section running. This is not one of those moments -- the record is patient and introspective, but I'm drawn into it anyway. Nor is this the first time she's overcome my prejudices. B+(***)
  160. 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+(**)
  161. Ethan Winogrand: Tangled Tango (2005 [2007], Clean Feed): Drummer, originally from New York, now based in Spain where his wife's family comes from, has one previous album. This is a quintet, more or less, with Gorka Benitez on tenor/soprano sax or flute and Steven Bernstein on trumpet for the horns, Ross Bonadonna on guitar, Carlos Barretto on bass (with help from Eric Mingus on two cuts). Straightforward stuff, lovely tone on the horns, not much tango, tangled or otherwise, to justify the title. B+(**)
  162. Wishful Thinking (2005 [2007], Clean Feed): I tend to associate trumpet-sax-piano-bass-drums lineups with hard bop, but that doesn't work here: this is closer to free than postbop. I look for leaders lurking behind group names, but four of five musicians here -- the drummer excepted -- write about evenly, and none is bucking for a masters degree in harmonic theory. Sometimes I pick one by reputation, but I don't recognize any of these guys: Johannes Krieger (trumpet), Alípio C[arvalho] Neto (tenor sax), Alex Maguire (piano), Ricardo Freitas (electric bass), Rui Gonçalves (drums). Let's see: Neto and Maguire are producers; Luis Delgado mastered the disc; Neto and Delgado mixed it; and Neto wrote the liner note, so I guess he wins on points. Neto comes from Brazil, Maguire from the UK, Krieger from Germany, the others from Portugal. Lively, complex, interesting, too varied to really get a good grip on. [PS: Further research shows that Neto and Gonçalves were in IMI Kollektief; Maguire has played with Michael Moore, Elton Dean, Sean Bergin, and Pip Pyle -- I've only heard one of those albums, Moore's White Widow, an A-; nothing more on the others. It takes a while for names to sink in with me. Also there are bits of conventional postbop harmonizing, although the label's assertion of "good hard bop with a funky electric bass and a wild piano going from the stride tradition to God knows where" is pretty misleading.] B+(*)
  163. Sam Yahel Trio: Truth and Beauty (2005 [2007], Origin): Plays Hammond B3. Recorded three albums 1998-99; this is his fourth. In the meantime, he hooked up with Joshua Redman in the Elastic band. Redman returns the favor here, and Brian Blade fills out the trio. That looks promising on paper, but the record comes off soft and unfocused. Redman, unlike his new record, reverts to his slippery post-Prez style. Yahel cuts back on the soul jazz grind in favor of postbop niceties. Of minor interest to Redman fans. B+(*)
  164. Joe Zawinul: Brown Street (2005 [2007], Heads Up, 2CD): Sticker says: "Zawinul revisits Weather Report classics for the first time." His former band never impressed me much, although there was never any doubt as to the individuals' talents, keyboardist included. But Zawinul's rhythm section goes Weather Report's one better, adding African beats to Latin. And the WDR Big Band adds horn depth, punching up the arrangements. B+(*)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mike Davis: Planet of Slums

Mike Davis's Planet of Slums is a fairly compact survey of the growth of urban conglomerations in the Third World. While most of the growth occurs in slums, generally around the periphery of cities, we also see extensive class stratification, much as we see in First World countries. The book is sort of a comparative study organized by thematic slices, each illustrated by jumping around from city to city to city -- the implication is that the dynamics have been globalized into rough equivalence, so the differences between Asia, Africa, and Latin America are negligible. This approach makes for rather dull reading, especially in the early going.


Although there is a lot of useful data in the book, I only marked a few quotes.

Population growth is primarily urban, rapidly approaching an urban majority (p. 1-2):

The earth has urbanized even faster than originally predicted by the Club of Rome in its notoriously Malthusian 1972 report Limits of Growth. In 1950 there were 86 cities int he world with a population of more than one million; today there are 400, and by 2015 there will be at least 550. Cities, indeed, have absorbed nearly two-thirds of the global population explosion since 1950, and are currently growing by a million babies and migrants each week. The world's urban labour force has more than doubled since 1980, and the present urban population -- 3.2 billion -- is larger thant he total population of the world when John F. Kennedy was inaugurated. The global countryside, meanwhile, has reached its maximum population and will begin to shrink after 2020. As a result, cities will account for virtually all future world population growth, which is expected to peak at about 10 billion in 2050.

During the colonial period urbanization was often suppressed for reasons of control (p. 51):

A principal barrier, of course, was European colonialism which, in its most extreme form in the British colonial cities of eastern and southern Africa, denied native populations the rights of urban land ownership and permanent residence. The British, always the ideologues of divide and rule, feared that city life would "detribalize" Africans and foster anticolonial solidarities. Urban migration was controlled by pass laws, while vagrancy ordinances penalized informal labor. Until 1954, for instance, Africans were considered only temporary sojourners in racially zoned Nairobi and were unable to own leasehold property. Likewise Africans in Dar-es-Salaam, according to researcher Karin Nuru, "were only tolerated as a temporary labour force and had to return to the countryside." In Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) Africans had to wait until the eve of independence to acquir ethe legal right to own urban homes, while in Lusaka -- designed as "a highly ordered city segmented by race, class and gender" -- African residents were considered to be "more or less temporary urbanites whose only purpose in town was service to the administration's personnel."

(pp. 97-98):

In India independence did little to alter the exclusionary geography of the Raj. Kalpana Sharma, in her book about Asia's largest slum, Rediscovering Dharavi, emphasizes that "the inequalities that defined Bombaby as a colonial port town have continued. . . . Investment is always available to beautify the already well-endowed parts of the city. But there is no money to provide even basic services to the poorer areas." For urban India as a whole, Nandini Gooptu has shown how the "socialist" Congress Party middle classes -- who during the 1930s and 1940s extolled the garib janata (the poor common people) in the abstract -- ended up after independence as enthuasiastic custodians of the colonial design of urban exclusion and social separation. Gooptu writes, "Implicitly or explicitly, the poor were denied a place in civic life and urban culture, and were seen as an impediment to progress and betterment of society."

Slums can get redeveloped when their land is desired by the elites (p. 101):

Urban Africa, of course, has been the scene of repeated forced exoduses to clear the way for highways and luxury compounds. One of the most notorious and heartbreaking -- rivaling Apartheid's demolitions of Sofiatown and Crossroads -- was the destruction of Maroko in Lagos in 1990. A former fishing village at the wampy end of Lekki Peninsula, Maroko was colonized by poor people displaced in the late 1950s "so that Victoria Island and Ikoyi could be drained and developed for Europeans and wealthy Africans." Although improverished, Maroko became famous for its populist joie de vivre, dark humor and spectacular music. By the early 1980s, the once marginal Lekki Peninsula itself was considered a prime site for the extension of high-income residences. The 1990 bulldozing of Maroko left 300,000 homeless.

Stratification produces rich suburbs as well (p. 115):

These "off worlds" -- to use the terminology of Blade Runner -- are often imagineered as replica Southern Californias. Thus, "Beverly Hills" does not exist only in the 90210 zip code; it is also, with Utopia and Dreamland, a suburb of Cairo, an affluent private city "whose inhabitants can keep their distance from the sight and severity of poverty and the violence and political Islam which is seemingly permeating the localities." Likewise, "Orange County" is a gated estate of sprawling million-dollar California-style homes, designed by a Newport Beach architect and with Martha Stewart decor, on the northern outskirts of Beijing. (As the suburb's developer explained to an American reporter: "People in the United States may think of Orange County as a place, but in China, people feel Orange County is a brand name, something like Giorgio Armani.") Long Beach -- which the New York Times designated as "the epicenter of faux L.A. in China" -- is also north of Beijing, astride a new six-lane super-highway. Palm Springs, meanwhile, is a heavily guarded enclave in Hong Kong where affluent residents can "play tennis and stroll through the theme park, where Disney comic strip characters are surrounded by mock Greek columns and neo-classical pavilions." Urban theorist Laura Ruggeri contrasts the expansive imported California lifestles of residents in their large semi-detached homes with the living conditions of thei rFilipino maids, who sleep in chicken-coop-like sheds on the rooftops.

More (pp. 116-117):

This "architecture of fear," as Tunde Agbola describes fortified lifestyles in Lagos, is commonplace in the Third World and some parts of the First, but it reaches a global extreme in large urban societies with the greatest socio-economic inequalities: South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, and the United States. In Johannesburg, even before the election of Nelson Mandela, big downtown businesses and affluent whit eresidents fled the urban core for northern suburbs (Sandton, Randburg, Rosebank, and so on) which were transformed into high-security analogues of American "edge cities." Within these sprawling suburban laagers with their ubiquitous gates, housing clusters, and barricaded public streets, anthropologist Andre Czegledy finds that security has become a culture of the absurd.

And more (p. 120)

Fortified, fantasy-themed enclaves and edge cities, disembedded from their own social landscapes but integrated into globalization's cyber-California floating in the digital ether -- this brings us full circle to Philip K. Dick. In this "gilded captivity," Jeremy Seabrook adds, the Third World urban bourgeoisie "cease to be citizens of their own country and become nomads belonging to, and owing allegiance to, a superterrestrial topography of money; they become patriots of wealth, nationalists of an elusive and golden nowhere."

The IMF Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) attack government spending on social services (pp. 192-193):

Kinshasa, like the rest of Congo-Zaire, has been wrecked by a perfect storm of kleptocracy, Cold War geopolitics, structural adjustment, and chronic civil war. The Mobutu dictatorship, which for 32 years systematically plundered the Congo, was the Frankenstein monster created and sustained by Washington, the IMF, and the World Bank, with the Quai d'Orsay in a supporting role. The World Bank -- nudged when needed by the State Department -- encouraged Mobutu to use the collateral of his nation's mineral industries to borrow vast sums from foreign banks, knowing full well that most of the loans werer going straight to private Swiss bank accounts. Then the IMF, starting with the first SAP in 1977, stepped in to make sure that ordinary Congolese paid off the debt with interest. The early conditionalities (enforced by an IMF team at Banque du Zaire and French personnel at the Ministry of Finance) decimated the civil service: a quarter-million public employees -- the largest formal occupational group in the economy -- were laid off without benefits. Those who remained punctually turned to embezzlement and graft ("Article 15") on an epic scale, with Mobutu's public endorsement.

A decade later, with the Congo's once-impressive infrastructure rusted or looted, the IMF imposed a new SAP. Tshikala Biaya describes how the 1987 agreement "sought to give 'legal power' to the informal sector and make it a new milch cow which would replace the welfare state that the IMF and the World Bank had just destroyed." The Club of Paris rolled over Mobutu's debt in exchange for further retrenchment in the publi csector, more market openness, privatization of state companies, removal of exchange controls, and increased export of diamonds. Foreign imports flooded Zaire, home industries closed down, and another 100,000 jobs were lost in Kinshasa. Hyperinflation promptly destroyed the monetary system and any semblance of economic rationality.

On politics (p. 202)

The demonizing rhetorics of the various international "wars" on terrorism, drugs, and crime are so much semantic apartheid: they construct epistemological walls around gecekondus, favelas, and chawls that disable any honest debate about the daily violence of economic exclusion. And, as in Victorian times, the categorical criminalization of the urban poor is a self-fulfilling prophecy, guaranteeing to shape a future of endless war in the streets. As the Third World middle classes increasingly bunker themselves in their suburban themeparks and electrified "security villages," they lose moral and cultural insight into the urban badlands they have left behind.


While the chapters on slum ecology are particularly harrowing, I couldn't help but think that many of these Third World slums are, at least superficially, much like First World slums of the 19th century -- the sort of thing Charles Dickens wrote about. As such, I wonder to what extent they are simply transitional effects of primitive capitalist development that are likely to be ameliorated in the future as living standards improve and workers gain broader access to political power. Over the last 50 years we've seen that happen in some cities -- Singapore is the prime example -- but not in others. The outcome depends on many factors, most basically the resource base to support so many people -- a level which, one may note, has never been tried before.

Needless to say, failure to integrate and stabilize the world's growing urban population will lead to struggle and fortification, basically a war between rich and poor, which will take a tragic toll on both. We appear to be headed in just that direction. Any downturn in essential resources -- oil is the most obvious one -- will only exacerbate the problem. It's possible to view the rise of the right in the US since 1980 as a response to the economic downturn of the 1970s -- the rich, not satisfied with their share of growth, started to turn against the rest. That has yet to blow back severely, although it has resulted in the US having the world's highest incarceration rate. Also, the US situation has been mitigated by transfers from the rest of the world, including access to foreign oil as US supplies lagged, trade deficits, loans, and sale of assets. But the situation in the Third World is far more volatile, borders that baffle crises are becoming less effective, and there's nothing outside the earth's boundaries that we can fall back on when we've used up everything here. So slums that in the past may have been a troubling transitional phenomenon may in the future be something altogether different.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Recycled Goods #44: June 2007

Recycled Goods #44, June 2007, has been belatedly posted at Static Multimedia. I actually turned this in pretty close to the normal June 1 date, but Static had some weird access problems at the time, resulting in the delay. I was trying to close out Jazz Consumer Guide at the same time I wrote this, so tried to cut some corners, but it wound up only slightly shorter than usual.

The '60s theme came out of thinking about Sly and the Family Stone, but an unusual concentration of other artists fit in: James Brown, Leonard Cohen, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape. Other concentrations include old and/or exotic jazz prospecting redundancies and a fair amount of world music. One thing I didn't get to was the John Lee Hooker 4-CD box, which is actually a good deal better than the late period reissues reviewed here -- the fourth disc repeats much of The Best of Friends, but actually improves on it.

The album count is up to 1874. Should top 2000 in September. Next month is likely to have a lot of jazz reissues -- at least that's what I have written up thus far. Quite a bit of world music on the shelves, but not much else. I haven't been chasing much down lately, so more than ever what you see is just what I get.


Here's the publicists letter:

Recycled Goods #44, June 2007, is finally up at Static Multimedia:

  link

43 records. Index by label:

  Barbes: Slavic Soul Party
  Calle 54: Nino Josele
  CIA: Desert Roses, Oojami, Turbo Tabla
  Cumbancha: Andy Palacio
  Cuneiform: Graham Collier, Hugh Hopper
  Drifter's Church: Chris Knight
  High Note: Jaki Byard, Zoot Sims
  Laser's Edge: Secret Oyster
  Points South: Antonio Adolfo/Carol Saboya
  Putumayo: Women of the World Acoustic
  Shout! Factory: John Lee Hooker (3)
  Sony/BMG: Tony Braxton, Celebrate! (2), Leonard Cohen (3),
    Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Sly and the Family Stone (8)
  Thirsty Ear: Nils Petter Molvaer (2)
  UMG: James Brown, Funkadelic, Mary J Blige
  Water: Colin Blunstone
  WEA (Nonesuch): Ibrahim Ferrer

This is the 44rd monthly column. Thus far I've covered a total of 1874
albums in Recycled Goods.

Thanks again for your support.


Music: Current count 13295 [13271] rated (+24), 828 [824] unrated (+4). Mostly worked on house, not listening to any new jazz or much recycled material. Instead, I pulled out old unrateds figuring I could quick rate some, making some progress there without having to write much. All things considered, the rated count held up pretty well. Got a lot of mail, so the unrated count actually rose.

  • Hellooo Baby! The Best of the Big Bopper (1954-59 [1989], Rhino): One great hit on his own ("Chantilly Lace") plus one he wrote that George Jones does better ("White Lightnin'") and a bunch of misses, some of which are amusing enough. The old man, at 29, on the plane that killed Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. B+
  • The Box Tops: The Ultimate Box Tops (1967-69 [1987], Warner Special Products): Alex Chilton's old group, good for one big hit ("The Letter") and a few minor pop hooks. He got better, but not more successful. B+
  • Willem Breuker Kollektief: Heibel (1990 [1991], Bvhaast): A group I've never gotten into, probably because they indulge their fancy for classical music much too often for my taste. Still, the first half is rather bracing avant-garde with the sort of dadaist humor that seems to be a Dutch specialty. The second half is a "mini opera" called "Der Kritiker (The Critic)" with Greetje Bijma's screeching soprano spouting the words. For once, the histrionics make for amusing dramatics, music even. B+
  • Ron Carter: Etudes (1982 [1994], Discovery): Originally released on Elektra/Musician, re-released, and now out of print. Quartet session, with Art Farmer on trumpet, Tony Williams on drums, and the lesser Bill Evans on tenor sax. The latter threw me at first -- I had forgotten about him, and still don't ever recall him sounding as substantial as he does here. (The Evans I remember died in 1980; this one was working for Miles Davis at the time, creating a link of sorts even though Carter and Williams had moved on.) Farmer is superb -- some of his best records came out later in the '80s -- and the bassist is a delight. A-
  • Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards: Singin' in the Rain (1924-42 [1999], ASV Living Era): The ukelele is remembered as a novelty instrument, but Ike's vocals are too conventional to be funny. He had several hits, starting with "Fascinatin' Rhythm" in 1924 and peaking with #1s "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "Singin' in the Rain" in 1928-29. Most of these songs are well worn standards by now, performed ably with relatively minimal accompaniment. B+
  • Peter Erskine/Alan Pasqua: Live at Rocco (1999 [2000], Fuzzy Music, 2CD): Actually, a piano trio, with bassist David Carpenter getting a plug on the front cover but not on the spine. Seems to me that Pasqua is key here. I suppose Erskine is better known based on his time with Weather Report, but that won't help anyone out here. Good drummer. Good pianist. Long, but consistently appealing. B+
  • Esquire All-American Jazz Concert: Metropolitan Opera House, January 18, 1944 (1944 [1995], Jazz Archives, 2CD): All-star games usually confirm what you already know, and this one is no exception. Given the recording ban, Esquire turned to critics to make the picks, and arranged for a concert to fête the winners. The only surprise is Barney Bigard over Benny Goodman, but the fine print tells us that Bigard was the 2nd place sub for an unavailable Goodman, who nonetheless phoned in one cut to make the marquis. Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday were two non-winners -- behind Art Tatum and Mildred Bailey -- who appeared anyway, and Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo managed to tie on Miscellaneous Instrument. Only one sax -- Coleman Hawkins over Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, and Lester Young -- but two trumpets: Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge, who else? B+
  • Absolutely the Best of John Fred and His Playboy Band (1964-69 [2001], Fuel 2000): Louisiana group, led by John Fred Gourrier, with an ear for the Brit Invasion, yielding one hit -- "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)" -- and plenty of solid filler, sometimes reminiscent of the Animals. B+
  • Carlos Garnett: Fire (1974-77 [1997], 32 Jazz): Saxophonist, played with Miles Davis which likely pointed him toward funk fusion. Cut five albums for Muse in 1974-77. This is a sampler, with one cut from each and an extra from Journey to Enlightenment, generally regarded as the best of the batch. At points this reminds me of Gato Barbieri's early Impulse records, where the percussion is just the landscape the sax soars freely over. In fact, one cut here is called "Señor Trane," which could have been Barbieri's nickname. I could have gone up or down on this, and further study might well move it up, but I backed down on the rating due to the total lack of information -- who played, when recorded, where released. Joel Dorn doesn't believe in that sort of thing -- he's a one-man Dark Ages. And this is no longer in print, so doesn't even have that saving grace. Someone (other than Dorn) should look into restoring these recordings. B+(***)
  • Dizzy Gillespie Quintet: Copenhagen Concert (1959 [1992], Steeplechase): No surprises here: alto saxophonist Leo Wright, pianist Junior Mance, bassist Art Davis, and drummer Teddy Stewart are proficient, but barely hold a candle to the trumpeter. You've heard the songbook before. You'll enjoy hearing it again. B+
  • Tom Harrell: The Art of Rhythm (1997 [1998], RCA): This starts rather unpromisingly with a Brazilian rhythm, a bit of what sounds like flute (turns out to be clarinet) over guitar, but it gradually develops into something much more substantial. Latin rhythms predominate although they're almost a sideshow; a huge cast of players move in and out; almost every piece develops, and while Harrell crowns most with flugelhorn (8-2 over trumpet), many guest spots are memorable. A-
  • Tom Harrell/Kenny Werner/Andre Ceccarelli/Paul Imm: Sail Away (1991, Musidisc): Harrell did another album with the same title for Contemporary back in 1989. This is a live one cut in Paris with a straightforward quartet, with Harrell on flugelhorn and Werner's piano extensively featured. Nothing much wrong with it, but doesn't register all that strongly. B
  • Tom Harrell: Upswing (1993, Chesky): Sextet, with three horns -- Joe Lovano and Phil Woods as well as Harrell -- plus rhythm. Harrell can be spectacular as a soloist, but he likes to lurk behind multiple horns, and may do it better than anyone -- not that it doesn't help having saxophonists of such stature, but Lovano and Woods show themselves off as good teammates more than as great individualists. B+
  • Tom Harrell: Time's Mirror (1999, RCA): Another big band thing, which really seems to be Harrell's forte, although the players are less distinctive here than on The Art of Rhythm. Bob Belden produced. B+
  • Sheila Jordan/Cameron Brown: I've Grown Accustomed to the Bass (1997 [2000], High Note): A live set, just singer and bassist, just a few of her standard pieces including an extended Charlie Parker-inspired medley. Not as good as her later birthday party, Celebration, but damn close. A-
  • Red Nichols & Miff Mole (1925-27 [1998], Retrieval): Originally recorded by The [Six] Hottentots, The Arkansas Travellers, and most famously The Original Memphis Five, all recorded by white jazz legends in New York; Nichols was a cornet player from Utah, known later for his Five Pennies; these early cuts with Mole on trombone and others including Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet hit such a consistent mild-mannered groove they constitute an oasis of cool in the hot jazz desert. A-
  • Panama! Latin, Calypso and Funk of the Isthmus 1965-75 ([2006], Soundway): A label that specializes in discovering old African pop branches out into the diaspora, picking out comparable obscurities, albeit less consistent -- perhaps because Panama is a rather indistinct crossroads; the mambo and calypso sound authentic enough, at least to one raised on neither, and the trumpet on the lead cut is searing, but the funk loses its perch north of Miami. B+(***)
  • Doug Raney Quartet: Raney '96 (1996, Steeplechase): Guitar, with Ben Besiakov on piano, Lennart Ginman on bass, Herlin Riley on drums. Not familiar with Besiakov, but he matches up well with Raney's eloquent postbop guitar. B+
  • String Trio of New York: Faze Phour: A Twenty Year Retrospective (1997 [1998], Black Saint): Bassist John Lindberg and guitarist James Emery go back to the founding, but the violinists have come and gone: Billy Bang, Charles Burnham, Regina Carter, here Diane Lincoln, later Rob Thomas. Here Lincoln gets to learn the songbook -- two each by Lindberg and Emery; one by both; one each from Monk, Mingus, and Ellington; and one from Lincoln herself. A-


No Jazz Prospecting

I took a break from jazz prospecting last week. I tried to work on projects around the house, culminating in an event Sunday where I tried to solicit help by promising food. That, indeed the whole week, can be described as semi-successful. We had too much food and not enough work on Sunday, but did get through some of the most pressing projects. The intercom and cameras are working, the structured wiring box is full of wires, the doors are trimmed, some odds and ends have been taken care of. The main thing I didn't get done is a much needed reorganization of my workspace and work materials, which is a hellacious mess. Also the new Windows computer still won't load, and there's a monster in the attic. Next week should be more of the same, but less pressure.

Of course, I did listen to music nearly every waking moment of the week. I just didn't write much about it, and where I did I went after easier game: some recycled goods, old unrated jazz that I picked up several years ago when used stores were going out of business, and some big compilations like Allen Lowe's That Devilin' Tune -- the first of four 9-CD boxes, anyway -- and the Chano Pozo box, El Tambor de Cuba. Also Network's excellent Golden Afrique boxes, now up to three volumes. I did find a few exceptional records in the old shelves:

  • Ron Carter: Etudes (1982 [1994], Discovery)
  • Tom Harrell: The Art of Rhythm (1997 [1998], RCA)
  • Sheila Jordan/Cameron Brown: I've Grown Accustomed to the Bass (1997 [2000], High Note)
  • Red Nichols & Miff Mole (1925-27 [1998], Retrieval)
  • String Trio of New York: Faze Phour (1997 [1998], Black Saint)

Also B+ stuff by Willem Breuker, Peter Erskine/Alan Pasqua, Carlos Garnett, Dizzy Gillespie, Tom Harrell (two, plus a B), and Doug Raney. Carter and Harrell have new records I haven't gotten to yet. Next week will be more of the same: more housework, more backlog -- in particular, I want to work through a pile of classic Cuban records recommended in Ned Sublette's Cuba and Its Music. But I expect I'll be able to get to the new jazz shelves later in the week. For one thing, I need to: the unplayed shelf is jammed.

Some news: Jazz Consumer Guide will be in the Village Voice this week, nominally Wednesday. I've gone over the edits, but don't know how it fits so I'm not sure how much of what I handed in will get cut. I'll write more on that when it appears, and then will finish the rest of the bookkeeping rollover to officially start on #14. Recycled Goods is also belatedly up at Static Multimedia. I'll do a separate post on that.


Unpacking:

  • The Best of Air Supply: Ones That You Love (1976-86, Arista/Legacy)
  • Stefano Battaglia: Re: Pasolini (ECM)
  • Paul Bley: Solo in Mondsee (ECM): advance, Aug. 21
  • Boca Do Rio (Vagabundo)
  • Kenny Burrell: Birthday Bash: Live at Yoshi's (Blue Note)
  • Daniel Carter & Matt Lavelle: Live at Tower Records (Tubman Atnimara)
  • Frankie Cicala: Frankie Plays! (3B's)
  • Introducing Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet (1968, Blue Note)
  • Culture: Two Sevens Clash (30th Anniversary Edition) (1977, Shanachie)
  • Kelly Eisenhour: Seek and Find (BluJazz)
  • Eye Contact: War Rug (KMB Jazz)
  • Pierre Favre Ensemble: Fleuve (ECM)
  • Frank Foster: Manhattan Fever (1968-69, Blue Note)
  • Frode Haltli: Passing Images (ECM): advance, July 24
  • Joel Harrison: Harbor (High Note)
  • Andrew Hill: Change (1966, Blue Note)
  • Fred Katz: Folk Songs for Far Out Folk (1958, Reboot Stereophonic)
  • Love Finds Its Own Way: The Best of Gladys Knight and the Pips (1961-83, Buddah/Legacy)
  • Nils Landgren & Joe Sample: Creole Love Call (ACT)
  • Sinikka Langeland: Starflowers (ECM): advance, Aug. 21
  • Matt Lavelle: Cuica in the Third House (KMB Jazz)
  • Matt Lavelle: Trumpet Rising Bass-Clarinet Moon (Matt Lavelle)
  • Matt Lavelle and Daniel Carter (downtownmusic.net)
  • Nguyên Lê Duos: Homescape (ACT)
  • John McLaughlin/Jaco Pastorius/Tony Williams: Trio of Doom (1979, Columbia/Legacy)
  • The Essential John McLaughlin (1963-2006, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Stephan Micus: On the Wing (ECM)
  • Roscoe Mitchell/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2, and 3 (ECM)
  • Frank Morgan: A Night in the Life (High Note)
  • The Essential Jaco Pastorius (1976-81, Epic/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Jimmy Ponder: Somebody's Child (High Note)
  • Putumayo Presents: Latin Jazz (Putumayo World Music)
  • Louis Sclavis: L'Imparfait des Langues (ECM)
  • Jimmy Smith: Straight Life (1961, Blue Note)
  • Spark Trio: Short Stories in Sound (Utech)
  • John Surman: The Space in Between (ECM): advance, Aug. 21
  • Holla: The Best of Trin-I-Tee 5:7 (1998-2002, Gospo Centric/Legacy)
  • Gianluigi Trovesi: Vaghissimo Ritratto (ECM)
  • Stanley Turrentine: A Bluish Bag (1967, Blue Note)
  • Christian Wallumrod Ensemble: The Zoo Is Far (ECM): advance, July 24
  • Robin Williamson: The Iron Stone (ECM)

Purchases:

  • The Apples in Stereo: New Magnetic Wonder (Yep Roc)
  • Miranda Lambert: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Sony/BMG Nashville)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Credible Partners

Rami Khouri on Hamas and Hizbullah:

Hamas and Hizbullah are among the most effective and legitimate political movements in the Arab world: They have forced unilateral Israeli retreats that no Arab army could induce; won elections democratically without resorting to the gerrymandering or ballot box stuffing that most American-supported Arab regimes live by; provided efficient service delivery and local governance to their constituents; and sustained resistance to Israeli occupation that appeals to the desire of ordinary Arabs to restore dignity to their battered lives and to their shattered, hollow political systems.

We should criticize such Islamists for some of their policies and ambiguities. But it is a big mistake to confront and fight them mainly because they challenge Israel, are friendly to Iran and Syria, and represent vanguards of regional Islamism; for these three attributes precisely define much of their indigenous efficacy and legitimacy. Those who wish to fight Hamas and Hizbullah would do better to help address the indigenous grievances in Lebanon and Palestine that gave birth to these groups and continue to underpin their popularity.

My own take is that you have to recognize and deal with Hamas and Hizabullah precisely because they are popular and strong. It does little good to try to deal with groups that can't deliver a solid agreement. It also does little good to insist on terms that aren't acceptable. That's pretty much what Israel did with Arafat in the Oslo Accords: by agreeing to an unacceptable deal, Arafat showed how weak he really was; then, as the terms hardened, he had to back-peddle to save his leadership. That ultimately left him unable either to deal or to deliver, so he did nothing and took the blame for everything.

But neither Israel nor the US, at least under Bush, wants any sort of deal. They want to show that force works. They're having a hard time making their case, but as long as it's the only tool in their kit, it's the only one they have to fall back on. Back when the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report was due, it was totally clear that nothing Bush had done had worked, and that the only sane thing to do was to shift course. So what did Bush do? He announced the Surge, arguing that we had to give force one more chance. Pretty much everyone predicted then it would fail, and six months later the only thing the Surge has achieved is a significant increase in the number of dead American soldiers. Now Bush is still biding for time -- September is the latest magic date, but even now they're hedging their bets. And come September, what will the new plan be? Another plea to give force one more chance.

Israel is in a similar boat. No matter how many walls they build, how many checkpoints they throw up, etc., the only thing that will provide security to Israel is if Palestinians choose not to attack or strike back. To do that they need a deal; to do that they need a credible partner, who can accept a reasonable deal -- minimally, one that allows Palestinians to live normal lives with full rights and justice -- and make it stick. Hamas may or may not be a partner, but Abbas certainly isn't -- the US and Israel just destroyed what little was left of his credibility.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Greg Grandin: Empire's Workshop

Greg Grandin's book, Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (2006, Metropolitan; recently reprinted in paperback) provides a rather cursory overview of US domination over Latin America. The emphasis here is on "New Imperialism" -- how the US kicked Vietnam Syndrome to flex muscles as the world's sole superpower. Grandin argues that the path passed through Central America, where Reagan's "new morning in America" is linked to 300,000 deaths and a legacy of subterfuge of American and international law, orchestrated by many of the same people who under Bush moved on to the Middle East.


Grandin starts off with a chapter called "How Latin America Saved the United States From Itself"; a section called "The Porcupine Problem" suggests some reservations against outright empire (p. 24):

But if expansion enjoyed broad support, the idea of direct colonialism did not. A nativist racism, unlike the imperialist variant expressed by Joseph Strong, led many in the United States to refuse the responsibilities of presiding over large populations of nonwhite peoples. William Jennings Bryan's declaration that the the "Filipinos cannot be citizens without endangering our civilization" reflected this sentiment, but it also signaled a wish to protect America's working class from the competition of cheap labor. Republicans like Beveridge and Taft promoted first a mighty navy and then a commanding air force as a way of protecting American shores and projecting American power but fought against the expansion of the army, which, they felt, would inevitably lead to overseas wars and increasinging involvement in the messy waters of international poitics. Sequential invasions and military occupations did indeed prove costly -- particularly in the Philippines, where a bloody insurgency killed 4,000 American soldiers and 200,000 Filipinos -- turning the public and many political leaders, including eventually Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, against formal empire. When an aide suggested to Roosevelt that he annex the Dominican Republic to quell political disorder and head off the threat of a German invasion to collect debt, the president replied that he was no more inclined to do so "than a gorged boa constrictor would be to swallow a porcupine wrong-end-to."

The Cold War added an ideological dimension to the gunboat-reinforced Monroe Doctrine and Open Door Policy (pp. 41-42):

One reason for this turnaround was, of course, the Cold War. Washington found that it greatly preferred anti-Communist dictatorships to the possibility that democratic openness might allow the Soviets to gain a foothold on the continent. Because of a "growing awareness of Soviet Russia's aggressive policy," wrote the State Department's Division of the American Republics, the United States now "swung back toward a policy of general cooperation [with dictators] that gives only secondary importance to the degree of democracy manifested by [Latin America's] respective governments." Another reason was to protect investment, as democracy led to a wave of strikes calling for more humane standards of living, better wages, health care, social security, and land and labor reform. Threatened by escalating labor unrest, U.S. corporations demanded protection from Washington and stepped up their patronage of local conservative movements. For their part, Latin America's landed class, Catholic Church, and military took advantage of the United States's new Cold War policy to launch a continental counterrevolution, overturning newly democratic governments and forcing those constitutional regimes that survived to the right. By 1952, when Fulgencio Batista took power in a military coup in Cuba, nearly every democracy that had come into being in the postwar period was upended.

Moreover, by the early 1950s, Washington found that it was increasingly difficult merely to support dictators from the sidelines. The frustration of postwar democracy combined with increased political repression to radicalize a generation of young nationalists, who began to identify the United States not as a model but as an obstacle to reform. In the face of such growing opposition to its hemispheric authority, the United States began to take the lead in efforts to "arrest the development of irresponsibility and extreme nationalism," as Thomas Mann, Eisenhower's assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, wrote in 1952. The first "arrest," as it were, carried out directly by the United States came two years later [overthrowing Arbenz in Guatemala].

On Nixon vs. Chile (pp. 59-60):

The overthrow of Allende [in September 1973] was a quintessential expression of détente, which sought to eliminate any and all threats to the bipolar world then being designed by the United States and the USSR. Allende's Popular Unity government rejected both Soviet-style suppression of civil liberties and American economic dominance, believing it could steer Chile down a peaceful road to socialism while maintaining political freedoms. Chile's challenge, therefore, was not that it would be turned into another Castro-style dictatorship but that it wouldn't. "I don't think anybody ever fully grasped that Henry [Kissinger] saw Allende as being a far more serious threat than Castro," remarked one NSC staffer. "If Latin America ever became unraveled, it would never happen with a Castro. Allende was a living example of democratic social reform in Latin America. All kinds of cataclysmic events rolled around, but Chile scared him." Another aide recalled that his boss feared that the effects of Allende's election would spill over into Western Europe, particularly into Italy, where the Communist Party had broken with Moscow and was trying to chart a middle path similar to Allende's. "The fear," according to Seymour Hersh in his biography of Kissinger, "was not only that Allende would be voted into office, but that -- after his six-year term -- the political process would work and he would be voted out of office in the next election. Kissinger saw the notion that Communists could participate in the electoral process and accept the results peacefully as the wrong message to send Italian voters."

The bulk of the book is on Reagan's Central America policies (p. 71):

Once in office, Reagan came down hard on Central America, in effect letting his administration's most committed militarists set and execute policy. In El Salvador, over the course of a decade, they provided more than a million dollars a day to fund a lethal counterinsurgency campaign. In Nicaragua, they patronized the Contras, a brutal insurgency led by discredited remnants of the deposed dictator's national guard designed to roll back the Sandinista revolution. In Guatemala, they pressed to reestablish military aid to an army that was in the middle of committing genocide, defending the country's born-again president even as he was presiding over the worst slaughter in twentieth-century Latin America. All told, U.S. allies in Central America during Reagan's two terms killed over 300,000 people, tortured hundreds of thousands, and drove millions into exile.

On El Salvador (p. 104):

Yet despite all the talk of modernization, the Reagan White House was ideologically disinclined to promote the kind of state-managed development that could create employment or to break up Salvador's extreme concentration of political and economic power. By 1983, the United States had all but abandoned its celebrated land reform -- by that point planters and their military allies had already executed hundreds of individuals who tried to take advantage of its provisions, rendering the reform dead in all but name. Far from promoting industrialization and a more equitable distribution of the nation's wealth, the Reagan administration insisted that Duarte orient the economy toward free trade while at the same time cutting back on social spending, which only served to estrange the Christian Democrats further from their working-class supporters. By 1986, the Salvadoran government was spending less on schools and health care than it had a decade earlier.

This turned into a neocon workshop (pp. 118-119):

It was in the exercise of Central American policy that conservative militants turned statesmen learned how to maneuver around their more cautious colleagues in the State Department and most consistently disregarded the opinion of multilateral institutions. When the International Court of Justice ordered the United States to pay Nicaragua billions of dollars in reparations for mining its harbor and conducting an illegal war of aggression, Washington balked and withdrew from the court's jurisdiction -- a "watershed moment," according to legal scholar Eric Posner, in the United States's relationship with the international community, one that Bush's ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has cited as evidence for why the United States should not support the new International Criminal Court. It was in Central America that unconventional warriors learned to bypass congressional oversight by creating a semiprivate, international network to carry out a clandestine foreign policy and to undermine post-Vietnam efforts to limit the use of military power for other than clearly defined, limited objectives. And it was there that the New Right, now in power, began to instill a culture of loyalty to the cause and incuriosity about the world: "To raise a question was to be a negative thinker," complained CIA agent Nestor Sanchez of the administration's fixation on Central America.

On the politics of the new imperialism (pp. 121-122):

For many of the policy and opinion makers who seized on 9/11 to promote their vision of an imperial America, placing the nation on a permanent war footing was as much a form of domestic collective therapy as it was an international crusade to reshape the world. "Nothing less than an unambiguous victory will save us from yet another disappointment in ourselves and another despairing disillusion with our leaders." The attacks provided a chance for Americans who "crave 'a new birth' of the confidence we used to have in ourselves and in 'America the Beautiful.'" Such desires to overcome the factionalism and disenchantment that had plagued America since the 1960s were not confined to the political right, as many liberals likewise hungered for a renewed sense of national purpose. The New Republic's Peter Beinart, for instance, called on Democrats to join the struggle against Islamic fascism and to rediscover their "fighting faith" in political liberalism. For their part, essayists Max Boot and Charles Krauthammer have expressed optimism that the brutality of the protracted global war on terrorism would finally form a callus over the national psyche, dulling the undue sensitivity to pain that spread in the wake of Vietnam.

More on politics, the roots of the later cynical manipulations practiced by the second Bush administration (pp. 130-131):

The point of all this activity was not to create majority support for Reagan's Central American policy. White House director of communications Patrick Buchanan admitted as much at a 1986 Low-Intensity Warfare Conference when he said that the consensus that existed between 1941 and 1966 was gone and was not coming back: "There are many Americans out there . . . that will tell you that the great enemy of America is our support for right-wing dictatorships. . . . We do not have agreement among ourselves. We are not going to have agreement. We haven't had it for 20 years. And it seems to me that there is no sense waiting for that agreement before acting." The goal, rather, was to prevent an oppositional consensus from forming.

To that end, Public Diplomacy, much like rational-choice counterinsurgency, helped shift the debate in favor of the White House not by winning over domestic hearts and minds but by making it too costly for mainstream journalists and politicians to challenge policy.

By flooding the media with questionalble facts and allegations, the Office of Public Diplomacy forced Reagan's opponents to dissipate their energies disproving allegations rather than making their own positive case for nonintervention. Confronted by government spokespeople and sympathetic experts ready to rebut unfavorable coverage, no matter how slight the criticism or how marginal the source, reporters came to dread the amount of fact checking it took to cover Central America. "I work for a network very concerned with cost and image," complained Karen Burnes of ABC News in 1987. "It takes months and months," she said, to do a critical story on Reagan's Central American policy. Spending that much prep time on a story that would take up only five minutes of airtime, she said, was "not a way to be successful."

By offering alternative interpretations, no matter how far-fetched, to discredit charges of atrocities committed by U.S. allies, Public Diplomacy muddied the waters and made it difficult, if not impossible, for human rights organizations to establish the facts of a case.

This same media dominance eventually paid off in wearing down the Iran-Contra investigation, allowing Reagan-Bush officials to escape punishment.

More on the media (pp. 134-135):

It was on the front line of the Central American conflicts that the Pentagon learned how to finesse the news at home by controlling reporters at the source. Defense strategists had analyzed the relationship between the press and the military after Vietnam and concluded that the problem in Southeast Asia was that journalists had become too independent in developing their own channels of information. In response, the Pentagon and the CIA granted privileged access to certain reporters in Central America, laying the groundwork for protocols that would be developed further in Grenada, Panama, and Iraq. John Waghelstein recounts that when he first arrived in El Salvador in the early 1980s he found that "many of the stories were written from within guerrilla-controlled areas and some of the eye-witness accounts had a pro-guerrilla bias." He took "serious steps" to change this, conducting a "series of one-on-one backgrounders with a few of the more respected journalists" and holding an "informal weekly press session." "Good Salvadoran commanders were highlighted" and "problems were discussed candidly." He also authorized network camera crews to film the Salvadoran army in action. Such controlled access gave U.S. military advisers a way to establish cordial, respectful relations with the in-country press corps, allowing them not only to present their side of the war but to accustom select mainstream reporters to that access and make them loath to write anything that might jeopardize it.

It also created a bonding experience in which privilege was transformed into sympathy for the institution granting the access. Fred Barnes, now of the Weekly Standard but then of the New Republic, was even allowed to don a uniform and play "Contra for a Day." The only critical note in his chronicle of life among the anti-Communist insurgents was that the "coffee wasn't hot enough" and he had to sleep on a "plywood slab."

Iran-Contra ends with a whimper, allowing its malefactors to return (p. 136):

The fallout from the [Iran-Contra] scandal itself had largely been contained, as the Senate refused to investigate the assumptions driving the policy and instead focused on procedural violations. The special prosecutor's inquiry dragged on for years with little result, stonewalled by the Department of Justice -- with John Bolton taking the lead in playing defense -- and increasingly ignored by a press unwilling to bring down another president. Not only were those convicted or indicted pardoned, but many of the key players in the affairs -- Abrams, Negroponte, Weinberger, and Reich -- went on to take jobs in George W. Bush's administration. The anti-imperial moment was over.

In opposition to "liberation theology" the neocons offered their own fundamentalism (pp. 147-149):

As did their mainstream coreligionists, fundamentalists formulated their free-market moralism as a quarrel with liberation theology -- which they described as a "theology of mass murder" and the "the single most critical problem that Christianity has faced in all its 2000-year history." They of course dismissed [Michael] Novak's liberalism but like him saw capitalism as an ethical system, one that corresponded to God's gift of free will. Man lives in a "fundamentally scarce world," Christian economist John Coper argued, not an abundant one only in need of more equitable distribution, as the liberation theologians would have it. The profit motive, rather than being an amoral economic mechanism, is part of a divine plan to discipline fallen man and makes him produce. Where Christian humanists contended that people were fundamentally good and that "evil" was a condition of class exploitation, Christian capitalists such as Amway's Richard DeVos, head of the Christian Freedom Foundation, insisted that evil is found in the heart of man. Where liberation theology held that humans could fully realize their potential here on earth, fundamentalist economists argued that attempts to distribute wealth and regulate production were based on an incorrect understanding of society -- an understanding that incited disobedience to proper authority and, by focusing on economic inequality, geneated guilt, envy, and conflict. God's Kingdom, they insisted, would be established not by war between the classes but by a struggle between the wicked and the just.

Like Novak, evangelicals sought to rebut liberation theology's critique of the global political economy. Third-world poverty, according to evangelical economist Ronald Nash, has a "cultural, moral, and even religious dimension" tha t reveals itself in a "lack of respect for any private property," "lack of initiative," and "high-leisure preference." Some took this argument to its logical conclusion. Gary North, another influential Christian economist, insisted that the "Third World's problems are religious: moral perversity, a long history of demonism, and outright paganism." "The citizens of the Third World," he wrote, "ought to feel guilt, to fall on their knees and repent from their Godless, rebellious, socialistic ways. They should feel guilty because they are guilty, both individually and corporately."

Evangelical Christianity's elaboration of a theological justification for free-market capitalism, along with its view of an immoral third world, resonated with other ideological currents within the New Right, laying the groundwork for today's embrace of empire as America's national purpose. In a universe of free will where good work is rewarded and bad works are punished, the fact of American prosperity was a self-evident confirmation of God's blessing of U.S. power in the world. Third-world misery, in contract, was proof of "God's curse."

More theology (pp. 154-155):

This transformation of conservative activists into world revolutionaries entailed adopting an ethics of absolutism, sacrificing any qualms they may have had about means at the altar of ends. The violence of counterinsurgent war stoked the fires of evangelical Manichaeanism, leading Falwell, Robertson, and others to ally with the worst murderers and torturers in Central and Latin America. "For the Christian," wrote Russ Walton, a fundamentalist activist, "there can be no neutrality in this battle: 'He that is not with Me is against Me' (Matthew 12:30)." Robertson befriended Roberto D'Aubuisson -- who was behind the murder of, among untold others, Archbishop Oscar Romero -- celebrating both men on his Christian Broadcasting Network. And more than a dozen New Christian Right organizations, including the Moral Majority and Pro-Life Action Committee, presented D'Aubuisson with a plaque in 1984, honoring his "continuing efforts for freedom."

On to Iraq (pp. 159-160):

Immediately after his arrival (and before handing the reins to old Contra hand John Negroponte), L. Paul Bremer, America's proconsul during what was hoped would be the consolidation stage of the occupation, imposed a package of economic reforms that institutionalized corporate power. He eliminated or lowered tariffs to no more than 5 percent, reduced the top personal income and corporate tax rate to a flat 15 percent, curtailed the right of labor to organize and strike, removed restrictions on foreign corporate ownership, allowed foreign businesses unlimited repatriation of profits, laid off public-sector employees, and privatized state industries. The U.S. occupation has imposed on Iraq a massive state intervention on behalf of multinationals, insured by U.S. taxpayers an dsubsidized by the U.S. defense budget. Not for nothing is the U.S. First Cavalry Division in Iraq carrying out "Operation Adam Smith," aimed at teaching Iraqis -- despite their centuries-long fame as entrepreneurs, traders, and merchants -- business practices that conform to the new global corporate order. Bremer's "Iraqi Order 81" even prohibited Iraqi farmers from saving heirloom seeds from one year to the next, obliging them to buy them anew each season from corporations like Monsanto and Dow Chemical -- so much for the 2002 National Security Strategy's promise that free trade would "unleash the productive potential of individuals in all nations."

It was a "stunning example" of free-market nation building, wrote the Wall Street Journal, one that made "Iraq's economy one of the most open to trade and capital flows in the world, and put it among the lowest taxed in the world, rich or poor." Whatever the motivations of either the occupation or the insurgency, the dismantling of state industries, abolition of food subsidies, and throwing open of Iraq to imports and foreign capital stoked the fires of resentment, conscripting thousands of unemployed men into the ranks of the armed opposition.

On the rise of the new right (pp. 178-179):

The death of New Deal liberalism came in 1973, when the United States was hit by the twin blows of sharply rising oil prices and a seventeen-month recession, described by political scientists Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers as "the longest and deepest economic downturn the United States had experienced since the great Depression." The contraction led to a sharpened sense of class consciousness and unity of action among corporate leaders -- many of whom had previously supported the New Deal coalition but now rapidly increased their funding of conservative political action committees, advocacy advertising, ad hoc lobbying groups, and right-wing policy and legal think tanks dedicated to the dismantling of economic regulations and social entitlements. The number of pro-business political action committees jumped from 248 in 1974 to 1,100 in 1978. The Olin, Smith Richardson, and Scaife funds, representing chemical, pharmaceutical, and petrochemical interests, paid scholars and journalists to produce, as corporate activist William E. Simon, Nixon's undersecretary of the Treasury, put it, "books, books, and more books" to rejoin the "relationship between political and economic liberty."

Again (p. 180):

With détente offering no relief from the crunch generated by increased global competition and a third world hostile to U.S. capitalist investment, the Forbes 500 knights of the Business Roundtable made their peace with the renascent right and set out to retake the third world. Putting aside their qualms about a potential inflationary risk, non-defense industry CEOs joined in the call for a renewed arms buildup. Executive officers from corporations that used to be squarely in the Democratic camp began to work closely with right-wing think tanks and policy institutes such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, which promoted both a dramatic expansion of America's military might abroad and the shredding of the New Deal at home.

The right's promotion of inequality (p. 182):

Reagan's policies halted and then began the reversal of what some economists had identified as a dangerous trend -- namely, the democratization of wealth brought about by union power, a progressive corporate and personal tax code, education spending, low unemployment, and social welfare programs. Over the course of the previous three decades, the amount of income claimed by the nation's top 1 percentile dropped from 16 to 8 percent. Reagan's tax cuts and increased defense spending reversed this process, creating permanent budget shortfalls and slowing bleeding New Deal and Great Society programs. When unsustainable deficits compelled Reagan to raise revenues, he did so by largely shifting the burden to payroll taxes, which only helped to further weaken support for government programs -- understandably so since real wages had begun to decline for many working-class families. Tight money led to rising unemployment and to the gutting of organized labor's bargaining power. Automatic cost-of-living salary increases, job security, and guaranteed pensions were thereby consigned to the ash heap of history. Corporations began the scuttling of America's industrial base, moving production to the Southwest and overseas.

The link between Reagan and Bush (pp. 230-231):

It was in Central America that the public relations people who advised the Reagan administration first made an important rhetorical shift when they polled the public and found that the word terrorism, intangible as it is, generated more negative connotations than did Communism to describe America's enemy. After 9/11, terrorism gave way to the even more gossamer evil, a word that, whatever role it plays in the specific cosmology of the president and his New Christian Right base, resonates broadly with America's sense of itself as a purpose-driven nation. Bush's ability to stay incuriously on message, like Reagan's communicative skills, is undoubtedly high on the list of PR "exploitable assets." The combination of big-money power, Madison Avenue expertise, and grassroots energy with which to intimidate political opponents into supporting a hard line in Central America is replicated in any number of campaigns, including the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth broadsides against John Kerry, which were as much about imperial policy as they were about a domestic presidential election.

The military's success at establishing cordial and respectful relations with journalists covering Central America, while at the same time cultivating their loyalties through promises of privileged access, paved the way for the tight control the Pentagon exercised over the media in Iraq. Likewise, the appointment of Negroponte, associated as he is with Reagan's Contra war, as director of national intelligence is a reminder that many of the post-9/11 intelligence "reforms" were first proposed in the 1980s to monitor the Latin American solidarity movement. Oliver North's plant o place dissenting Americans in detention centers in the event of a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua, along with the FBI investigation and harassment of CISPES activists, is today ratified by the Patriot Act and other successful efforts to restrict constitutional guarantees and human rights in the name of national security, such as the practice of "extraordinary rendition." Rendition allows suspects in the war on terror to be swept off the street in whatever country they find themselves and whisked, without record of their capture, to a third country, where they can be held and interrogated indefinitely in secret prisons -- a globalization of the system of disappearances that reigned in Latin America during the Cold War.

In fact, all of George W. Bush's abuses of power -- the manipulation of intelligence and the media, the building of an interagency war party that operated autonomously from Washington's foreign policy establishment, the illegal wiretaps, and the surveillance of antiwar activists -- have their most immediate antecedents in Reagan's Central American policy, which in retrospect has to be understood as the first battle in the New Right's crusade to roll back restrictions placed on the imperial presidency in the wake of Vietnam, Watergate, COINTELPRO, and other scandals of the 1970s.

More on religion (p. 232):

In particular, Reagan's wars in Central America created an affinity between neoconservatives and Christian evangelicals: both came to share a crisis-ridden view of the world and a sense that America was in decline. But they also shared a belief that decline could be reversed through a restoration of moral clarity and authority and a recognition that evil existed in the world. Along with militarists and conservative intellectuals, the religious right has long nurtured a suspicion of America's ruling elites and the multilateral institutions that trespass on national sovereignty. Yet their experience in the 1980s has drawn them nearer to the strange optimism of the neocons regarding the capacity of American power to mend the world. For some the lodestar may be Winston Churchill, for others Jesus Christ, but today a broad consensus prevails among the most passionate constituents of the conservative movement as to the righteousness of American power and its place in the unfolding of history. Thus, when Pat Robertson suggested in the summer of 2005 that Washington preemptively assassinate Hugo Chávez before U.S. relations with Venezuela worsened, he was merely taking to a logical conclusion the principles elaborated in Bush's 2002 National Security Strategy.

Gerard Colby's Thy Will Be Done goes into the relationship between US evangelism and empire in Latin America much further back and in much greater depth. Colby focuses on Nelson Rockefeller -- his family's business, philanthropic, evangelical interests, and his own political career, which initially focused on Latin America -- but also covers evangelicals and their usefulness to the CIA in great depth.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Martin Van Creveld: The Changing Face of War

I don't pay much attention to military history, but Israeli historian Martin Van Creveld's The Changing Face of War: Lessons of Combat From the Marne to Iraq promised to cover a lot of territory in a brief space: two world wars, innumerable anti-colonial wars, the so-called "cold war" and its hot flashes, and the so-called "war on terrorism" -- fascism renascent disguised as liberal democracy. I haven't read anything else by Van Creveld, although Billmon tempted me by placing a previous book on his "recent reading" list, and it didn't hurt when he described Bush's invasion of Iraq as the biggest military blunder since Augustine invaded Germany. I don't care for his admiration for Assad at Hana here -- a rare example of successful counterinsurgency, which he attributes to sheer brutality, as if it might behoove Israel or the US to toughen up. This fondness for war is endemic among military historians, distinctly limiting their value. But looking over the long arc of a turbulent century, the underlying story comes clear enough: war after war gave us object lessons on the futility of war. It's a shame we've had to learn those lessons the hard way, and even worse that so many have yet to figure them out.


The Introduction starts thus (pp. ix-x):

As of the opening years of the twenty-first century, the mightiest, richest, best-equipped, best-trained armed forces that have ever existed are in full decline and are, indeed, looking into an abyss. Examples of their failure abound. Almost forgotten are the days when the Israelis had fought against, and triumphed over, all the armed forces of all the Arab countries combined. Instead, having spent seventeen years vainly trying to put down the Palestinianuprising,t he Israelis are even now giving up and retreating from Gaza and parts of the West Bank -- to be followed, no doubt, by most of the rest. Other armed forces find themselves in a similar plight. Having spent ten years fighting in Chechnya, thoroughly demolished the capital of Grozny, and killed, injured, and "dehoused" tens if not hundreds of thousands of their opponents, the Russians are still unable to pacify that country of two and a half million. In Thailand, in Indonesia, in the Philippines, in a dozen other countries, regular armed forces are engaged in so-called counterinsurgency operations. In terms of sheer military power, all are far stronger than their enemies. None, however, seems to be making any considerable headway, and most will probably end up in defeat.

Particularly disturbing is the case of the Americans in Iraq. Whether the American decision to attack Saddam Hussein was justified will not be considered here. Suffice it to say that the United States, as the world's sole superpower, has the most powerful forces by far, with technology at its disposal that hardly any other country can match. The chosen enemy was a small third-world country with a gross domestic product so much smaller than its own that comparisons were meaningless. Twelve years earlier, that country had already lost two-thirds of its armed forces. The remainder, it soon turned out, consisted of ill-trained, unwilling levies driving a few rusting hulks. Instead of getting their aircraft into the skies, they buried them in the sand; instead of fighting, they threw down their weapons and went home. Yet no sooner had "major combat operations" -- to quote President Bush's victory speech -- ended than it became clear that the US forces, which had taken only three weeks to occupy a country of 240,000 square miles and capture its capital, were unable to deal with a few thousand terrorists. In early 2005, having lost ten times as may troops to those terrorists as they did during the war itself, they were still floundering. So weak had their position become that their opponents hardly bothered to shoot at them any longer. Instead, preparing for the day after the inevitable American withdrawal, the terrorists were focusing on their own countrymen.

On buyer's remorse from the Great War (pp. 83-84):

If in 1914 most people welcomed the war, nowhere was the change in public opinion after 1918 more evident than in Britain. There, the replacement of the Liberals by Labor in 1919-20 was accompanied by the emergence of a powerful anti-militarist, anti-imperialist sentiment. And once the initial euphoria of victory had passed, the middle classes, too, turned their faces against anything vaguely resembling militarism. Writing from personal experience, authors such as Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves described the war as an exercise in futility filled with endless suffering, vain slaughter, and generals so obtuse that they sent hundreds of thousands to die in muddy swamps they had never even set their eyes on. From interviewing shell-shocked soldiers, Rebecca West presented the war as a mad episode that generated more madness. By 1933, Oxford students, hardly the kind of people from whom one would expect revolutionaries to emerge, were solemnly promising one another not to fight for king and country. The idea of appeasement was well on its way. Should it be any wonder then that when Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich waving a piece of paper and promising peace in our time, he was given a hero' welcome?

In the United States, the decision to enter the war soon came to be regarded as a huge mistake, brought about by the nefarious machinations of industrialists and bankers. Worse still, and even though Germany and Austria-Hungary had been defeated, the war had failed to bring about the kind of better world President Woodrow Wilson promised. Feeling that their idealism had been betrayed, most Americans wanted nothing more to do with Europe. The Neutrality Laws of 1936-39, which prohibited the sale of weapons to belligerents, capped the process. Far from being the handiwork of a few politicians, isolationism was so popular that when the time came to reverse course, doing so proved anything but easy.

This antiwar reaction shows how unsatisfying victory proved to the US and UK. Defeat, on the other hand, primed Germany for a revenge match, while militarism in Italy and Japan emerged from the 1914-17 war relatively unscathed (pp. 85-86):

Perhaps the most interesting cases were those of Italy, Germany, and Japan. Italy emerged from World War I as one of the victors. Although it did not succeed in realizing its territorial ambitions in Anatolia, it was the only belligerent to gain territory in Europe that had never previously belonged to it -- a fact that might have turned it into a "satisfied" nation. This, however, did not happen, and the Italians soon decided that they had been betrayed by their allies -- all fuel for the fascist regime that seized power in 1922.

During the first eighteen years of his rule, Mussolini threatened to wage war against virtually the entir eworld, sometimes citing reasons, sometimes simply because he believed, or professed to believe, that fighting was a nice way to spend one's time. However, as World War II was to show, the slogan "Credere, ubbidire, combattere" found an echo only among a very small number of adventurous youths. Neither the aristocracy, which remained loyal to the kind, nor the settled bourgeoisie, whom Mussolini called "slipper wearers," nor the broad masses were persuaded by his propaganda.

Germany entered the postwar world by undergoing a revolution of sorts, doing away with the kaiser but leaving power, for the most part, in the hands of the center and the moderate right. Once conditions had settled down, and influenced by best-selling writers such as Erich Maria Remarque and Ludwig Renn, much of German society seemed to retreat from war in the same way Britain had. Yet Germany differed from Britain in that, even during the heyday of the Weimar Republic, it had a number of right-wing, powerful, and politically very active veteran organiations with a membership in the millions. They did not content themselves with celebrating the past, assuring each other of the horrors of war, and promoting their members' interests. Instead they called for a war of revenge -- Germans often spoke of "the Day" -- to reverse its consequences, including both disarmament and territorial loss.

In Germany, Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front was a huge best seller, but it was also an exception; far more numerous were writers, the most famous fo whom was Ernst Juenger, who relished war and glorified it. Nowhere else was willingness to engage in paramilitary activities and nostalgia for the so-called Schutzengrabenkameradschaft (comradeship of the trenches) as strong. Hitler himself built on these feelings, dressing in the uniform coat of a simple soldier with only one decoration and thus separating himself from his entourage of generals with their glittering arrays of epaulets, ribbons, and medals. Making full use of the German tendency toward discipline, the Nazi attempt to remilitarize society made use of every available medium to send the message, including painting, sculpture, and film.

Japan had been ruled by a military caste for centuries, and its social values, trickling down from the top, had prepared it for war. Though the Meiji Restoration of 1868 terminated Samurai rule, the new Japanese system of goernment was in many ways modeled on the German one and created a situation where only the emperor (or, since he did not meddle in day-to-day affairs, those who claimed to act in his name) commanded the army and the navy. This arrangement, as well as the series of military successes the country enjoyed from 1895 on, enabled the armed forces to play a decisive role in social and political life (though still not sufficiently so for some extremists who, in 1932 and 1936, attempted to mount mini coups). Japanese leaders tended to be self-effacing -- then as now, it was the collective that counted, not the individual. They were also less given to military display than their German counterparts. Still, in 1941, the year when the American political scientist Quincy Wright published his massive Study of War, he ranked Japan as the second most "aggressive" nation of all.

On R&D (p. 96):

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the idea that systematic research and development could result in a never-ending stream of new inventions had become firmly established, and indeed perhaps never before in history had the belief in "science" been stronger and more widespread. Book after book extolled the great inventors as well as the benefits they had bestowed on humanity; some public opinion surveys even pointed to Thomas Edison as the most important person of all. Militarily speaking, the principal innovations took place in the field of mechanized warfare, air warfare, and naval warfare, where the development of the aircraft carrier and amphibious landing vessels during the interwar years was especially dramatic. These elements were tied together by a vast array of communications and other electronic devices that, in retrospect, may have been the most important of all.

On the development of guerrilla war as resistance against colonial powers, like France in Morocco and Britain in Iraq after 1918 (p. 116):

Of the two, Iraq ultimately proved easier to deal with. Summoned by civilian advisers who knew the area well, British armored cars roamed Mesopotamia shooting up any opposition they came across, a feat made possible by the fact that light, handheld anti-tank weapons in the form of bazookas and RPGs had not yet made their appearance. British military aircraft assisted, dropping bombs and machine-gunning villages suspected of harboring insurgents. As contemporaries realized full well, the main effect of their operations was on the rebels' morale, and in fact the number of casualties was very low. What the oft-repeated air patrols really did was not so much inflict death and destruction as disrupt daily life sufficiently to convince the village elders that opposition had to cease. The outcome enabled advocates of air-power to convine themselves, and their political masters, that they had found a new, cheap, and easy way ofpolicing a country. It would not be the last time such a conclusion was reached.

By contast, the Riff uprising in Morocco proved a much tougher nut to crack. France's original occupation of the country dated to 1906 when the other Great Powers gave Paris permission to go ahead. In the event, occupying and holding the main towns proved to be one thing; doing the same in the remote, mountainous, practically roadless interior, quite a different matter.

What we today would call counterinsurgency operations began almost immediately and went on practically without interruption until the end of the First World War. Although such operations achieved little -- and indeed, from 1920 on much of the country was in a state of open revolt -- it was also true that the rebels' greatest victories were won not against the French but in the Spanish-occupied part of the country. At Annual in May 1921 the Riff tribesmen, emerging into the open, actually succeeded in trapping nineteen thousand Spanish troops -- out of a total of sixty-three thousand -- killing many of them, their commander included. This Spanish Adowa was followed by another rebel victory at Sheshuan, which effectively put an end to Spanish rule there.

WWII between Japan and the US (p. 165):

This, too, was a war without mercy. At Kwajalein in January and February 1944, the Americans used 41,000 men and lost 400 killed. For the Japanese, the respective figures were 8,000 and 7,870 -- probably a record for a force that size. Japanese atrocities in China, first meant to intimidate the population, then to combat incipient guerrilla warfare, and finally to perfect methods for waging biological warfare, have become deservedly infamous. Waged as it was against the background of racism that had taken decades, if not centuries, to form, the war against the Western powers was also marked by intense hatred. Allied prisoners who had surrendered to the Japanese were considered by their captors to have forfeited their honor and were often deliberately humiliated, maltreated, starved, and worked to death.

The Allies in their turn often refused to take Japanese prisoners at all. Sometimes they used flamethrowers to exterminate the garrisons of occupied islands almost one by one, as if they were rats; there were also instances when body parts, such as fingers and ears, were severed and taken as souvenirs, and enemy dead subjected to sexual abuse. Cut off from the world, unable to receive reinforcements, and ordered to fight to the end, the Japanese troops' fear of what might await them reinforced their determination and sometimes led to actions of mass suicide. And so on in a vicious cycle of violencce and cruelty that, if anything, became worse as the war went on.

On nuclear weapons (p. 179):

We cannot go into all the fantasies, often bearing strong sexual overtones (as when people talked of "penetration aids"), that for decades on end masqueraded as serious doctrine and sought to make the use of nuclear weapons possible. Suffice it to say that, as of the time of this writing in 2006, Brodie's analysis remains as relevant as if it had been written yesterday. A reliable defense against nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles does not appear more feasible than it was in October 1945 when President Turman told Congress that "every weapon will eventually bring some counter defense." Instead, the attempt to develop it is one more reason why teh United States is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Though the Bush administration has developed a National Security Strategy that advocates pre-emptive attacks, and though it wants to develop so-called "mini-nukes" in order to launch a strike, in reality Brodie's warning that such weapons have created an entirely new situation remains in force. There is, of course, no absolute guarantee that the United States, or some other country, will never resort to nuclear weapons, and indeed this fact itself is a cardinal factor in mtaintaining deterrence and securing peace. Either don't use your sword or be prepared to die on it: such has been the central logic of the last sixty years.

On North Korea (p. 185):

North Korea, as one of the msot backward, most isolated countries on earth, is also located in a rather dangerous part of the world, the so-called Iron Triangle where it is surrounded on all sides by countries much more powerful than it. All either have nuclear weapons or can produce them at short notice -- to say nothing of the presence, in South Korea, of powerful American forces complete with their tactical nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles. Under such conditions, Pyongyang's apparent decision to go nuclear makes perfect sense. Its objective seems to be to guarantee the survival of a pariah regime that has practically no assets of any other kind.

Similar logic applies to Iran, concluding "possession [of nuclear weapons] may increase the mullahs' self-confidence and lead to aggression, but it may also increase self-confidence and lead to restraint. Given the historical record since 1945, the second is more likely than the first." On the other hand, the US (pp. 185-186):

As the country that was the first to introduce nuclear weapons (and the only one, so far, to use it on an enemy), the United States has every incentive to prevent other countries from entering the nuclear club. As a result, each time that club expanded Washington immediately started painting apocalyptic pictures of the consequences that would follow. To a lesser but still considerable extent, this policy even applied to its closest allies, Britain and France, causing the latter to remove its armed forces from under the NATO command. In regard to nuclear issues, as to so many others, Americans see their country as uniquely chosen and uniquely moral. Yet it could certainly be argued that, long before the Bush administration produced its aforementioned National Security Doctrine, the United States had behaved less responsibly than any other country on earth. If it did not actually use nuclear weapons after Nagasaki, it has certainly threatened to do so many times and against more than one opponent. Not by accident, the term brinkmanship itself is an American invention.

Flowing from a discussion of blaming the media for counterinsurgency failures, such as the US in Vietnam (pp. 225-226):

Nor is it true, as a great many writers have claimed, that the problems in question are limited to "democratic" societies. At the time the USSR invaded Afghanistan, it was no more "democratic" than Vietnamw as when it invaded Cambodia. Indonesia, too, in its struggle against East Timor, and Russia in its attempt to subdue Chechnya, were not exactly model democracies. In fact, "democracy," like "media," has become an excuse for failure.

Granted, totalitarian societies can do a lot of bad things to their own citizens, silencing them, arresting them, and killing them. However, as the Italian experience under Mussolini suggests, making them fight and die willingly is not one of them. Even in totalitarian countries, bad news will spread whether the rulers permit it or not. One cannot lie to all the people all the time. The fact that information must be passed along secretly can even exaggerate its impact as people invent stories or magnify those they may have heard. The more secretive the regime and the more it muzzles the media, the less its credibility.

Thus, by and large, decision makers and others who blame the media for their defeats are talking nonsense. Indeed, as long as things go well, those decision makers like nothing better than to bask in the glory that only the media can provide.

Such being the case, it is no wonder the record of failure did not stop with Vietnam; what changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal's expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Eritrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. In 2005, Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip -- proof, if proof is needed, that even one of the world's most advanced, most sophisticated armed forces operating against an extremely weak opponent could fail. In favor of the armies of some countries, such as the Philippines and Thailand, it should be said that they only failed in the sense that they did not succeed in completely eliminating the insurgents. Many others, though, had to let go of entir eprovines they had long considered integral parts of their own territories, whereas others came close to disintegration.

Van Creveld ends by asserting that the threat of terrorism is worse than the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation. What he doesn't say is that his assertion reflects that we have not yet learned to change our behavior to minimize the risks of terrorism, whereas we have successfully limited the threat of nuclear weapons by discipling ourselves against acting in ways that would provoke their use. Nuclear-armed nations simply don't go at each other like they did before the advent of nuclear weapons. But powers like the US and many others still cling to the notion that they can defeat "terrorists" by superior force, thereby pushing the "terrorists" toward ever more ingenious ways of resistance. But the actual record of counterinsurgencies that Van Creveld maps out offers little evidence that such strategies can work -- the Truman quote above appears to apply to counterinsurgent weapons as well as nuclear ones. So is there a behavior change that can draw potential terrorists away from violence and into the normal political process? That's something to work on.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Atheists Without Attitude

A couple of weeks ago I ran across a sudden spate of articles on new books on atheism -- one in the Wichita Eagle's Saturday "Faith and Values" section, another by Anthony Gottlieb in the May 21 New Yorker. The books in question include ones by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. I haven't read any of them, and doubt that I will, although when Harris first came out with The End of Faith I thumbed through it with much anticipation, only to be disappointed. The turnoff was the extent to which the book appeared to be a mere anti-Islam rant. I reckon Hitchens is the same: he even shilled for a war to vent his hate. Not that I'm in any sense a fan of Islam. But I don't see it as, in principle at least, any worse than any other religion, and I especially don't like the company of those who put it down with force or threats.

Although I've gone through stages of being a very protestant Christian and a pretty militant atheist, I've settled down to a fairly simple view: that religion is a highly personal matter, that functions as a measure of the extent one is willing to accept myth in place of what one does not or even cannot know. That is to say, there are two limits on religion: the more you know, the less opportunity religion has to fill in the blanks; but also, the more you're willing to live with uncertainty, the less need you have for filling in the blanks. Within religion, there are further limits that have to do with the credibility of myths, or to put it differently, with one's credulity. Science limits religion both by dispelling ignorance and by debunking myth. But other factors can limit religion: in my own case, the first that affected me was ethics; later on there was humility. As a teenager I often said "I don't know" to avoid talking to my father; as an adult I came to recognize its truth.

I think of my little scheme as deriving from Immanuel Kant and his followers, but that may be because I mostly skipped over David Hume. Gottlieb describes Hume as "a cheerful Scottish historian and philosopher, whose way of undermining religion was as arresting for its strategy as it was for its detail." He goes on:

In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, which was published posthumously, and reports imaginary discussions among three men, Hume prized apart the supposed analogy between the natural world and a designed artifact. Even if the analogy were apt, he poointed out, the most one could infer from it would be a superior craftsman, not an omnipotent and perfect deity. And, he agued, if it is necessary to ask who made the world it must also be necessary to ask who, or what, made that maker. In other words, God is merely the answer that you get if you do not ask enough questions. From the accounts of his friends, his letters, and some posthumous essays, it is clear that Hume had no trace of religion, did not believe in an afterlife, and was particularly disdainful of Christianity. He had a horror of zealotry. Yet his many writings on religion have a genial and even superficially pious tone. He wanted to convine his religious readers, and recognized that only gentle and reassuring persuasion would work. In a telling passage in the Dialogues, Hume has one of his characters remark that a person who openly proclaimed atheism, being builtin of "indiscretion and imprudence," would not be very formidable.

Hume sprinkled his gunpowder through the pages of the Dialogues and left the book primed so that its argumetns would, with luck, ignite in his readers' own minds. And he always offered a way out. In The Natural History of Religion, he undermined the idea that there are moral reasons to be religious, but made it sound as if it were still all right ot believe in proofs of God's existence. In an essay about miracles, he undermined the idea that it is ever rational to accept an apparent revelation from God, but made it sound as if it were still alright to have faith. And in the Dialogues he undermined proofs of God's existence, but made it sound as if it were all right to believe on the basis of revelation. As the Cambridge philosopher Edward Craig has put it, Hume never tried to topple all the supporting pillars of religion at once.

Way back when I was a tormented teenager, I was shocked and disgusted at the immorality of so many religious notables, especially regarding their support of what the US was doing in Vietnam. My instinct was that any doctrine that could be used to defend that was dangerously flawed. Indeed, one could look back through history and ascribe all sorts of atrocities to zealous Christianity. Only later did I notice that many who shared my ethical views derived them from religious sources as well documented as those of the warmongers. Returning to Wichita in 1999 may have crystalized this insight given that most of the antiwar movement here is firmly faith-based. That does nothing to restore my faith, but it does go to show that morality is orthogonal to religion. I can't find the quote now, but one piece I read recently cites someone, maybe Reinhold Niebuhr, as saying that religion is good for good people and bad for bad people. I'd prefer to express that negatively: religion is not bad for good people and not good for bad people.

I'd also say that religion is superfluous, unnecessary, and often confusing. But it occurs to me that it may still be useful shorthand. It is a substantial undertaking to master the reason and science that discredits most religious myths. Perhaps there should be something easier that still provides comparable guidance?


Commercializing Occupation

Naomi Klein has a piece in the July 2 issue of the Nation that talks about business in Israel:

At a glance, things aren't going well in Israel. So why, in the midst of such volatility, is the Israeli economy booming like it's 1999, with a roaring sotck marke tand growth rates nearing China's? [ . . . ]

In the 1990s, Israel was in the vanguard of the information revolution. After the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, Israel had its worst year since 1953. Then came 9/11, and new profit vistas opened up for any company that claimed it could spot terrorists in crowds, seal borders from attack and extract confiessionsz from closed-mouthed prisoners. Within three years, large parts of Israel's tech economy had been radically repurposed. Put in Friedmanesque terms: Israel went from inventing the networking tools of the "flat world" to selling fences to an apartheid planet.

The key to Israel's supergrowth is not mysterious. Many of the country's young entrepreneurs are using Israel's status as a fortressed state, and its occupation of Gaza and the WEst Bank, as a kind of twenty-four-hour-a-day showroom -- a living example of how toenjoy relative safety amid constant war. Now Israel is exporting that model to the world. [ . . . ]

Israel now sends $1.2 billion in "defense" products to the United States -- up dramatically from $270 million in 1999. In 2006 Israel exported $3.4 billion in defense products -- well over a billion more than it received in US military aid. That makes Israel the fourth-largest arms dealer in the world, overtaking Britain.

Much of this growth has been in the so-called "homeland security" sector: high-tech walls, unmanned drones, biometric IDs, video surveillance, air passenger profiling systems, the training of border guards and interrogators. Before 9/11 "homeland security" barely existed as an industry. By the end of this year, Israeli exports in the sector will reach $1.2 billion -- an increase of 20 percent. Israel has turned endless war into a brand asset, pitching its uprooting and occupation of the Palestinian people as a half-century head start in the "global war on terror." [ . . . ]

Since Israel began its policy of sealing off the occupied territories, human rights activists have often compared Gaza and the West Bank to open-air prisons. But in researching the explosion of Israel's homeland security sector, a topic I explore in greaer detail in a forthcoming book (The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism), it strikes me that they are something else too: laboratories where the terrifying tools of our security states are being field-tested. Palestinians are no longer just targets -- they are guinea pigs.

This argues that Israel has a powerful economic disincentive for doing anything that might reduce or resolve its conflict with the Palestinians and its other designated enemies, as if political and psychological factors weren't intractable enough. Normally, such a conflict should be bad for business, but it looks like Israel has turned the tables. Key no doubt is to keep Israeli and American "wars on terror" in sync -- easy enough as long as the neocons, who follow Israel's worst instincts without showing the slightest hint of competency, are in power. I've long worried about the US becoming Israel writ large. With Israel all the more unlikely to change course, the US is all the more in peril.

One also worries about Israel's non-US exports. To the extent that Israeli technology facilitates the crushing dominance of haves over have-nots, it will tempt elites everywhere to fend challenges off with force rather than reason, leading to much damage on both sides. It seems to me that we are on the cusp of a momentous point from which we either recognize the need for forging a more evenly shared cooperative community or watch perpetual conflict between increasingly desperate rich and poor as we slide toward Hobbesian hell. In that event, Israel is well positioned to arm the rich, largely because that's what they've been doing for 60 years now. This development just locks them in even deeper.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Music: Current count 13271 [13248] rated (+23), 824 [829] unrated (-5). Expected a lot of distractions last week, a prognostication that proved correct. Don't know anything more about June's Recycled Goods or Jazz Consumer Guide columns. Mostly played jazz reissues and a few non-jazz reissues, figuring they'd be easy, which for the most part they were. Don't have any real plans for next week other than more of the same. But we did make some progress on the house, so may have turned the tide there.

  • Booker Ervin: The Space Book (1964 [1996], Prestige/OJC): A repeat performance from the same quartet as The Freedom Book -- Jaki Byard, Richard Davis, Alan Dawson. A-


Jazz Prospecting (CG #14, Part 2)

Didn't actually do any jazz prospecting this past week, at least as far as new jazz is concerned. Waiting for Jazz CG to drop, and don't really know any more about it. Waiting for Recycled Goods to appear, which also hasn't happened. Had a lot of housework and other distractions, so I just looked for low-lying fruit to play without the pressure or difficulty new music causes. That meant reissues, and that mostly turned out to be jazz, so I have something to show for the week after all.

I've had some discussions lately about breadth vs. depth coverage, so I might as well state up front what I've been saying a lot in private lately. I don't have the time, or maybe even the mental focus, to give every record I hear a fair shot or to resolve every last doubt I might have about it. The fair shot question is less of an issue with reissues, where everyone below is well known -- well, maybe not Donald Byrd, Maynard Ferguson, and Flora Purim, who are more like well enough known. But I'm not totally certain that the Monk and Mingus reissues are rock solid A records, or that Bud Freeman and Charles Lloyd aren't. I may just be erring on the side of conventional opinion there, but all four are damn close to the line. Andrew Hill, too -- possibly a victim of time, since I didn't want to grade Compulsion higher than others like Point of Departure and Pax without rechecking, and didn't take the time. If it's not better, it's sure way up there.


Art Taylor: A.T.'s Delight (1960 [2007], Blue Note): Hard bop drummer, did a lot of session work and occasionally got an album out under his own name, often with titles like Taylor's Wailers or Taylor's Tenors. The two horns here weren't well known: trumpeter Dave Burns had been around since the '40s, mostly working with Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody without making much of a name for himself, but the young tenor saxophonist turned out to be Stanley Turrentine. Both are fine here; Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers are dependable as usual; a shmear of Patato doesn't hurt, either. B+(**)

Dexter Gordon: Clubhouse (1965 [2007], Blue Note): The end of Gordon's Blue Note period, this sat on the shelves until 1979. Quintet session, with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Barry Harris on piano, Billy Higgins on drums, and Bob Cranshaw on bass -- replaced by Ben Tucker for his own piece, "Devilette." Hubbard makes a splash early on, and takes a striking solo on the ballad "I'm a Fool to Want You." Gordon is even better on the slow stuff, reminding you that he's one of the instrument's great stylists. The more upbeat pieces are merely typical. B+(***)

Thad Jones: Detroit-New York Junction (1956 [2007], Blue Note): Eventually the middle Jones brother became well known for his compositions, his arranging, and his band co-leadership with Mel Lewis, while his '50s small group records remained out of print. This sextet, mostly Detroit musicians moved to New York, offers a little bit of everything: bebop trumpet, three original compositions and two Rodgers-Hart standards, clever arrangements. B+(***)

Jackie McLean: New and Old Gospel (1967 [2007], Blue Note): Charlie Parker's teenage go-fer developed as a great alto saxophonist only after he digested Ornette Coleman's sense of ordered chaos. Here he pays tribute on two gospel-themed Coleman pieces, adding a complementary suite. Coleman, in turn, defers to McLean's superior saxmanship by switching to sloppy trumpet, reaffirming that genius has nothing to do with chops. A-

Donald Byrd: The Cat Walk (1961 [2007], Blue Note): Versatile, prolific trumpet player, leading a group with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams and pianist Duke Pearson that would just as soon boogie as bebop; Byrd goes both ways, indecisively, to mixed effect. B

Andrew Hill: Compulsion (1965 [2007], Blue Note): Despite the horn firepower -- Sun Ra's John Gilmore smoldering on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Freddie Hubbard firing away on trumpet -- Hill's piano has rarely loomed larger or more critically. He stamps out dense chords and skitters off with abstract fills, his rhythmic eccentricity prodding Cecil McBee and/or Richard Davis on bass, Joe Chambers on drums, with an extra layer of Afro-exotica from Nadi Qamar and Renaud Simmons. A-

Roy Haynes/Phineas Newborn/Paul Chambers: We Three (1958 [2007], Prestige/New Jazz): Bop piano trio with a nice, evenly balanced feel, with drummer Haynes and bassist Chambers holding their own despite the fact that Newborn was one of the slickest, most voluble young pianists working then; presumably Haynes got top billing as the oldest; fifty years of steady work eventually made him the most famous. B+(**)

Tadd Dameron With John Coltrane: Mating Call (1956 [2007], Prestige): In retrospect, as the only horn working with a set of Dameron's songs, Coltrane makes an especially strong show of his early, Dexter Gordon-influenced style, exhibiting a rough hewn muscularity that gets the best of Dameron's usually refined taste. B+(**)

Thelonious Monk Trio (1952-54 [2007], Prestige): Monk recorded four 10-inch LPs for Prestige, released in 1953-54, reissued as 12-inch LPs in 1956-57, and eventually spun into all sorts of confusing packages, culminating in the 3-CD Complete Prestige Recordings. One source of confusion is the naming, where Monk, Thelonious Monk, and Thelonious Monk Trio have all been used to describe the same music -- I'm going with the spine and back-cover title here, as opposed to the front cover, with its small "thelonious," large "MONK," and clear "PRESTIGE LP 7027." Like the cover art, this faithfully reproduces a 1957 12-inch LP that combined a 1953 10-inch LP and two (of four) cuts from a 1954 10-incher. It's hard to see why they didn't restore the missing cuts given that the album only runs 34:27, a limit of '50s technology that is at least sonically transcended here: the effect is to consolidate most (but not all) of Monk's trios in a handy package, separate from the quintets featuring a young and brilliant saxophonist, now available as Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins. Classic Monk tunes here like "Bye-Ya," "Monk's Dream," "Blue Monk" -- but the covers may be even more impressive: a solo "Just a Gigolo," Art Blakey's percolating rhythm on "Sweet and Lovely," Monk's own radical take on "These Foolish Things." A

Roland Kirk With Jack McDuff: Kirk's Work (1961 [2007], Prestige): Soul jazz, a sax-organ quartet, albeit with a few surprises, like the cover picture of Kirk blowing into three saxophones; Kirk's flute work is also novel, emphasizing the instrument's hollow depth. B+(***)

Booker Ervin: The Freedom Book (1963 [2007], Prestige): Short-lived Texas tenor, seems like most of his titles were plays on "Book" -- this followed The Song Book and The Blues Book; this doesn't qualify as free jazz, but it does open up and range beyond hard bop, with Jaki Byard's piano challenging the sax. A-

Charlie Mingus: Tijuana Moods (1957 [2007], RCA Victor/Legacy): With Pithecanthropus Erectus in 1956 Mingus started to make his move as a composer and arranger, drawing together his experiences with Kid Ory, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and his own experimental workshops into a synthesis that spanned the length and breadth of jazz history with his unique daring and grandeur. A trip across the Mexican border inspired these sessions, producing four Spanish-tinged originals and an arrangement of "Flamingo" that Ellington could be proud of, but the tapes languished until 1962, a mess of false starts and derailments. When Mingus finally patched them into an album, he was pleased enough to proclaim it his best ever. That would be an exaggeration, but he anticipated world-swing moves that Ellington took another decade to match. Reissues in 1986 and 2002 swept up more and more -- the former, dubbed New Tijuana Moods, filled out a CD-length disc with alternate takes, and the latter tacked on a second disc. This time they swing back the other way, sticking with Mingus's edits for a non-redundant 36:00, but adding on a 10:57 bonus track with Lonnie Elder rapping over a Mingus vibe. A

The Essential Maynard Ferguson (1954-96 [2007], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Trumpeter, from Quebec, made his rep in Stan Kenton's band for his piercing high notes, enjoyed a long run as a popular bandleader; the '50s sides tend to dissolve into white light, the '60s and '70s add schmaltz and fad -- "Maria" and "MacArthur Park" are the worst, at least until he discovers disco; "Caravan" and "Manteca," from his endgame on Concord, aren't bad. B-

The Essential Benny Goodman (1934-46 [2007], Columbia/Bluebird/Legacy, 2CD): The Sony-BMG merger unites most of Goodman's discography, especially from his peak popularity period; this carves the bounty up into evenly balanced slices: live performances, and studio recordings featuring arrangers, singers, and small groups; they provide a useful introduction to the King of Swing in his prime, but if anything slight his still remarkable clarinet. A-

Just Like a Woman: Nina Simone Sings Classic Songs of the '60s (1967-78 [2007], RCA/Legacy): Strong voice, can be a powerful stylist, has no problem convincing you that she's entitled to interpret anything she wants, which makes her inconsistencies and flat out muffs all the more annoying. Four Dylan songs here, two -- "I Shall Be Released," "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" -- worth keeping. B

Bud Freeman: Chicago/Austin High School Jazz in Hi-Fi (1957 [2006], Mosaic): Small world, that so many of Chicago's trad jazz greats came out of the same high school, but the lineup here is actually broader, with Jack Teagarden among the ringers. Freeman was an easy swinging tenor saxophonist, emerging in the late '20s as a prototype for the lighter, looser Lester Young sound, and lasting into the '80s. The three sessions collected here didn't have to look too far back to find the camaraderie, the freshness, and the excitement the Austin High Gang grew up with. An early entry in a promising series of "limited edition" -- 5000 copies, big deal -- single-disc reissues: a record I've known about but couldn't find for a long time now. A-

Charles Lloyd: Of Course, Of Course (1964-65 [2006], Mosaic): On his second album, Lloyd opens with flute over Gabor Szabo's sweet guitar, with Ron Carter and Tony Williams shuffling along. Lloyd's main instrument was tenor sax, and he soon garnered a following by taking Coltrane to the masses, but this album was more varied and idiosyncratic: his sax reminds me of Warne Marsh, but the flute suggests the more flamboyantly eccentric Roland Kirk, tuned more tightly to the melody, without the special effects. The reissue adds three later tracks, trying out an appealing tropic groove. A-The Jimmy Heath Orchestra: Really Big! (Keepnews Collection) (1960 [2007], Riverside): When Blue Note launched their RVG Editions they at least promised a sonic face lift by handing the reissues back to original sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder. The series was successful enough that Van Gelder cut a deal with Concord too. It's less obvious what the Keepnews Collection offers. Orrin Keepnews was producer and co-owner of a series of important labels: Riverside and Milestone in Concord's portfolio, Landmark in limbo. He's credited as producer here, but the 24-bit sound has been remastered by Joe Tarantino -- Keepnews' main contribution is to revisit his liner notes. Still, list price is the same as the previous Original Jazz Classics series, and occasional bonus tracks -- one here, an alternate take of "Nails" -- don't hurt. The choice of records within the Riveside and Milestone catalogs thus far seem completely arbitrary. Still, this one is an overlooked gem: a ten-piece band with Clark Terry, two Adderleys, three Heaths, and plenty of low-pitched horns to flesh out the acrobatics. A-

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Caravan (Keepnews Collection) (1962 [2007], Riverside): One of Bu's greatest bands -- Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, Reggie Workman -- but a rather sloppy and indifferent set, perhaps thrown off by the ill-fitting title track. Still, Hubbard, who recorded his own Caravan on Impulse, makes a game showing. B

Chet Baker: Chet (Keepnews Collection) (1958-59 [2007], Riverside): The original back cover touts "the lyrical trumpet of CHET BAKER," but the more descriptive term is "slow"; in Baker's day, that also passed for romantic -- even if you're unsure whether the cover girl draped over Baker's shoulder is in love or merely asleep. B+(*)

Flora Purim: Butterfly Dreams (Keepnews Collection) (1973 [2007], Milestone): Sort of a Stanley Clarke groove, George Duke funk album, with mild spicing mostly from fusion percussionist Airto Moreira; the singer aspires more to Ella Fitzgerald than to her Brazilian heritage, resulting in something fast and light but neither here nor there. B

Bill Evans: Everybody Digs Bill Evans (Keepnews Collection) (1958 [2007], Riverside): Second album, with plugs on cover from Miles Davis, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal, and Cannonball Adderley, names that carried even more weight then than they do now. I dig the upbeat stuff and respect but never quite warmed to the quiet meandering, extended on the bonus cut. B+(***)


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


Unpacking:

  • Chet Baker: Chet (Keepnews Collection) (1958-59, Riverside)
  • Art Blakey: Caravan (Keepnews Collection) (1962, Riverside)
  • Marc Broussard: S.O.S.: Save Our Soul (Vanguard)
  • Jacques Coursil: Clameurs (Sunnyside)
  • Ron di Salvio: Essence of Green: A Tribute to Kind of Blue (Origin)
  • Bill Evans: Everybody Digs Bill Evans (Keepnews Collection) (1958, Riverside)
  • Jimmy Heath: Really Big! (Keepnews Collection) (1960, Riverside)
  • Bruce Hornsby: Camp Meeting (Legacy): advance, August 7.
  • Jewels and Binoculars: Ships With Tattooed Sails (Upshot)
  • Steve Kuhn: Pastorale (Sunnyside)
  • Rafi Malkiel: My Island (Raftone)
  • Barney McClure Trio: Spot (OA2)
  • Alexa Weber Morales: Vagabundeo/Wanderings (Patois)
  • Nanette Natal: I Must Be Dreaming (Benyo Music)
  • Vince Norman/Joe McCarthy Big Band: Words Cannot Express (Origin)
  • Flora Purim: Butterfly Dreams (Keepnews Collection) (1973, Milestone)
  • Mark Solborg 4: 1+1+1+1 (ILK): advance, June 4.
  • Pietro Tonolo/Gil Goldstein/Steve Swallow/Paul Motian: Your Songs: The Music of Elton John (ObliqSound): advance, July 17
  • The Very Best of Praise & Worship Volume 2 (1996-2006, Verity/Legacy)
  • Sam Yahel Trio: Truth and Beauty (Origin)
  • Paul Zauners Blue Brass: Soil (BluJazz)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bush in Wichita

President Bush came to Wichita yesterday. The ostensible reason was to appear at the dedication of a new Boys and Girls Club building built by a group run by Russ Meyer, former CEO of Cessna Aircraft. The club is one of those community favor things to help soft-peddle the effects of a larger urban renewal project, meant to cut a cordon sanitaire on 21st St. through the old Wichita ghetto. 21st is the main east-west street through Wichita's north side, extending east past Andover and west past Maize. Closer in, it connects Wichita State University to I-135, a stretch that can now be traversed without recognizing that you're in an overwhelmingly black neighborhood. Further developments are planned heading west, offering the same courtesy to predominantly Mexican neighborhoods, with enclaves of Vietnamese. When complete, 21st will be Wichita's "multicultural" business corridor.

What Bush gets out of this is a photo-op with bunches of black children and a chance to rub shoulders with his base. The latter took place at a $500/plate fundraiser for Sen. Pat Roberts, where Wichita's haves got a chance to give thanks to their staunchest advocate in Washington. Given Roberts' critical role in squashing any Senate investigation of Bush's Iraq War intelligence, Bush had reason to give thanks as well. The local media covered the visit as a big deal, even to the point of recognizing local antiwar protestors. The Wichita Eagle caught the spirit: the front cover featured a color picture of Bush surrounded by smiling black kids, while inside they gave half a page to pictures of well heeled white folks lining up for the trolley to the Roberts fundraiser.


Warren Theatres, the big local chain, closed their Premier Palace theatres this week. For the last five years that's been the main place in Wichita to see what they call Art Films -- movies with low budgets and passable intelligence. Half of the movies I've seen in the last five years were viewed there. Supposedly, they'll show some similar movies in their large Warren East complex in the future, but the promise of "one or two" theatres is a big drop from the eight they've just closed. Warren runs all but one of the movie complexes in town, so they pretty much have a stranglehold on the art here. You can chalk this up to the dumbing down of America even if you don't know what's happening to the Premier Palace buildings, but I might as well tell you: they've been sold to a small Baptist church, which currently has 175 members but expects to grow with their new space and more suburban location. When Bill Warren first announced his plans to sell Premier Palace, he cited "higher use" as the reason: he was making money there, but figured the land was worth more than he could make showing movies, so he could sell it profitably and move his business elsewhere. At the time I figured that meant converting the space to a car lot or a mini-mall with some high-end chain restaurants. But this church deal is bizarre, even in its economics. We live in strange, unfathomable times.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Eyeless in Gaza

Basic reading on the violence between Fatah and Hamas in Israel's Occupied Territories:

The bottom line is that the sudden decision of Fatah and Hamas to start shooting each other in Gaza and the West Bank a direct consequence of US manipulations, as in the US is supplying Fatah with guns and money to use against Hamas. In this, "US" to a large extent seems to be Elliott Abrams, the Iran-Contra felon who is Bush's Deputy National Security Advisor for the Middle East, although there are others -- Paul Woodward reports David Welch exclaiming how much he loves the violence in Gaza. Abrams seems to be able to operate with remarkable independence, both in leading Israel and the US to policies far more extreme than either country would follow by consensus. He is a prime example of Gary Wills' concept of governing from the fringes. He is the sort of guy who can nudge Israel into invading Lebanon by promising complete US support, then get that support by arguing that if the US failed to back Israel we would look weak and indecisive on terrorism. He gets away with this because there is no critical debate on Israel in US political circles -- as such there is nothing to moderate the most extreme positions imaginable.

The position of neocon Israel boosters like Abrams is that Israel should never negotiate with Palestinians, let alone grant any rights or recognition. As long as Fatah held legitimate claim to represent the Palestinians, they worked to undermine Fatah, scorningits leader, Mahmoud Abbas. After years of ineffectiveness, tainted by corruption, Fatah lost popular support to Hamas. This should have legitimized Hamas as representative of the Palestinians, but what it really did was to pose a challenge to Abrams and his ilk: to reduce Hamas to the same level of ineffectiveness as Abbas. First they opted to punish the people for voting wrong by cutting off the finances needed by the pauperized Palestinian Authority just to stave off starvation. But when the Saudis brokered a power-sharing agreement between Hamas and Fatah, they panicked, organizing a coup led by their notoriously corrupt retainer, Mohammed Dahlan. That operation appears to have fallen apart, at least in Gaza.

These events have led some to conclude that the US has failed, but as long as Abrams is able to spin Hamas as rogue terrorists as opposed to ordinary Palestinians, his basic goal of preventing the emergence of "a Palestinian partner for peace" hangs on to fight another day. Folks like Abrams don't want peace; they want to keep their enemies under their boot, and delight in making them squirm. So it's unlikely that any provocation of violence will undermine them -- even when it goes badly that just adds to the fear level, which is their adrenaline. I also doubt that they'll spill any tears over Abbas or Dahlan, who they always regarded as enemies even when they were useful on the payroll.

The real question is why did Abbas go along with this. Surely, he can't expect to regain his reputation with Palestinians by showing himself to be a US-Israeli tool. Nor can he expect to gain anything tangible, except maybe a comfortable exile. And he's shown that whatever moral credentials he might claim as a proponent of non-violence don't apply to his own people. He is a complete and utter embarrassment. Other questions include the rubber stamp role of Jordan and Egypt in funnelling arms to Fatah. Their leaders certainly knew better, but couldn't resist the US, even on a hair-brained scheme hatched by crazies.

The worst thing in all of this is that none of it had to happen. If the US and/or Israel had any desire for peace, they would have welcomed the Hamas election as giving the Palestinians a credible representative who could make and keep a deal. The basic two-state deal isn't rocket science. Even with 40 years of deliberate Israeli sabotage, it's all quite straightforward. The US incurs incalculable costs by defending the occupation. Israel pays an even steeper price for the occupation, plus foregoes the opportunities of normalcy in the region. All for what? But we live in such a mental and moral state that someone like Abrams can set the policy and no one has the guts to challenge him.

The real question about Abrams is: what is this man doing out of jail?


Postscript [2007-06-16]: A couple of minor corrections. Abrams' first name is Elliott, with two t's. The Iran-Contra special investigator prepared multiple felony indictments against Abrams, but in the end he made a deal, pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts for withholding information from Congress. He was fined $50, put on probation for two years, did some community service time, and was pardoned by the first President Bush, putting an end to investigating, among other things, just exactly what Bush's own role was in Iran-Contra. (He had repeatedly asserted that he was "not in the loop" despite his past experience as Director of the very-much-in-the-loop CIA.) As Greg Grandin argues in Empire's Workshop, the Reagan administration's blatantly illegal acts in Central America set the model for the second Bush's actions in the Middle East. In fact, many of the principals are the same, including John Negroponte as well as Abrams. America's failure to fully prosecute those responsible for Iran-Contra and the many massacres in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Reagan-Bush years has come back to bite us.

Abrams has had a variety of titles under the second Bush. His current one is Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy, a title that sounds like a neocon wet dream. Since 2001 he has mostly been involved in Israeli issues, but evidently he had been involved in the abortive anti-Chavez coup in Venezuela. His new title gives him even broader sweep. Historians should be very interested in mapping out all the plots he's involved with. So, for that matter, should prosecutors at the International Criminal Court.

However, Abrams at least is a known quantity. When Bush appoints the likes of Abrams to anything you know what you're getting. The real shame in recent events isn't Abrams, the US, and Israel organizing and arming Fatah's goon squads to attempt with violence what they can't accomplish with diplomacy. The real shame is how other parties who should know better have stood by and allowed this to happen without challenge. This includes the UN, the European Union, and many Arab countries including Saudi Arabia. Supposedly this happens because nobody much likes Hamas. Indeed, I don't care for Hamas either, but the difference is that I'm able to recognize that Hamas is the only group acting in this conflict with any coherent principles. These events show us not only how desperate and degraded US political conscience has become; more importantly, they show us how lame so many others have become in their inability or unwillingness to stand up to the US. At least Neville Chamberlain capitulated in public, establishing himself as an exampe. Who, for instance, at the EU signed off on defunding the Palestinian Authority to turn the US and Israel loose on Hamas?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Baruch Kimmerling: Politicide

Baruch Kimmerling's death silences one of Israel's most perceptive, persistent, and principled critics. With Joel S. Migdal, he wrote the pioneering The Palestinian People: A History. In January 2003, he published an insightful and prophetic book on Ariel Sharon, his political ascendency, and that that portends: Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War Against the Palestinians (2003, Verso; later in paperback). I read this book when it came out, before I developed my habit of flagging paragraphs, so the following quotes are ones I noticed in thumbing back through. Actually, much of the book could be quoted here.


The book's main thesis (pp. 3-4):

Israel under Ariel Sharon became an agent of destruction, not only for its surrounding environment, but for itself as well, because its domestic and foreign policy is largely oriented toward one major goal: the politicide of the Palestinian people. By politicide I mean a process that has, as its ultimate goal, the dissolution of the Palestinian people's existence as a legitimate social, political, and economic entity. This process may also but not necessarily include their partial or complete ethnic cleansing from the territory known as the Land of Israel. This policy will inevitably rot the internal fabric of Israeli society and undermine the moral foundation of the Jewish state in the Middle East. From this perspective, the result will be a double politicide -- that of the Palestinian entity and, in the long run, that of the Jewish entity as well. Therefore, the current Israeli Government poses a considerable danger to the stability and the very survival of all the peoples of the entire region.

I'd add that it also adds to the rot of American political society, both as a cause and as a model for American policy.

Kimmerling continues (p. 4)

Politicide is a process that covers a wide range of social, political, and military activities whose goal is to destroy the political and national existence of a whole community of people and thus deny its the possibility of self-determination. Murders, localized massacres, the elimination of leadership and elite groups, the physical destruction of public institutions and infrastructure, land colonization, starvation, social and political isolation, re-education, and partial ethnic cleansing are the major tools used to achieve this goal.

The politicide of the Palestinian people did not begin with Ariel Sharon's election. Rather, it is a consequence of the 1967 War and, partially, of the very nature and roots of the Zionist movement, and has been supported and reinforced by a series of regional and global events and processes.

Sharon, however, advances the peril (p. 7)

The most crucial element in Israel's recent drift toward fascism is the defintion of "the other" (in this case the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and even the Arab citizens of Israel, collectively) as a danger to the very existence of Israel as a nation and every Israeli individually. This definition prepares Israeli, Jewish, and world public opinion for drastic measures against the Palestinians. What before Sharon was considered unthinkable, or at least politically incorrect, has now become an explicit and respectable issue in mainstream Israeli political discourse -- ethnic cleansing as a legitimate solution to the "demographic problem" of there being an Arab majority or approximate majority on the land.

This direction has continued to develop since Kimmerling wrote, especially as formerly far right fringe figures, like Avigdor Lieberman, have moved into what is ostensibly a "centrist" government. Kimmerling allows that threats of ethnic cleansing may be "just a psychological warfare tactic" but we should be cautioned that rhetoric tends to be self-convincing, and therefore self-fulfilling.

On the consequences of the 1967 war (pp. 15-16)

Quite apart from the economic interest in the territories, a new complication arose after the 1967 War -- the desir eof Israeli society as whole, both left and right, to annex the historic heartland of the Jewish people in the West Bank without annexing its Arab residents. A formal annexation would mean that Israel would no longer have a Jewish majority. Demographic changes would destroy the Jewish character of the state even if the Palestinians were not granted citizenship. Political and demographic considerations collided with economic considerations and both contradicted the Kantian moral imperative as well as the Jewish Sage Hillel's demand not to do the "other" what you don't wish the other to do you. This triple contradiction created a built-in crisis, leaving the Israeli state and society unable to make the important political decisions that are necessary to resolve the conflict. As time passed, the crisis became more explicit and the contradictory interests became aligned with political parties and were absorbed into personal and group identities and even into various religious streams ("hawks vs. doves," "right vs. left," or "Zionists vs. post-Zionists").

Kimmerling denies the intent to write a biography of Sharon, but the bulk of the book traces Israeli history through Sharon's involvement. One example is the Sharon's orchestration of the invasion of Lebanon, and his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres (pp. 94-96):

Accepted wisdom regards the massacre as a spontaneous reaction (revenge, so to speak) to the assassination of Bashir Gemayel two days earlier, but this is a simplistic attempt to explain and even excuse this horrifying event. The massacre, when seen in its proper political context, is even more dreadful. Following the departure of the PLO and the Syrians from West Beirut and its Muslim neighborhoods, a question arose as to who was to take over these areas and how, since it was assumed that a lot of "terrorist" weapons and ammunition remained there. The Israelis preferred Christian troops like the almost nonexistent Lebanese Army. [ . . . ] The second best choice was the Phalangists, and throughout the invasion, Israel made efforts to merge these two Christian "armies" (and other Christian militias) without success. In any case, both Christian military organizations wanted to see Beirut and all of Lebanon cleared of "terrorists," namely Palestinians, but they demanded that Israel do the job. In fact, the Christian Lebanese openly blamed Israel for all their troubles with the Palestinians, seeing the Zionists as responsible for the uprooting of the Palestinians in 1948 and their subsequent flight to Lebanon.

When Sharon urged the Phalangists to enter West Beirut, contrary to his testimony before the Kahan Commission, he was well aware of the atrocious past and present tendencies of the militia, having been warned several times by his intelligence and other officers and even by his colleagues in the Cabinet. One must also keep in mind that in inter-communal wars and conflicts, massacres and other atrocities committed against non-combatant populations are not just consequences of hatred and emotional outbursts, but also the results of calculated actions designed to force a population to flee to other lands and to ethnically cleanse an area without the difficult logistical problems of a forced evacuation.. The Maronite community never hid their desire to expel the Palestinians from the country. Their only problem was where the Palestinians should go: neither Syria nor Jordan (nor of course, Israel) would welcome them. In addition, even their removal from the Beirut region to a more peripheral area would be only a partial victory for the Maronites. There was also some conflict of interest between the Israelis and the Maronites. Schiff and Ya'ari report that, in the first phases of the invasion, one of Begin's and Sharon's goals was to push the Palestinian inhabitants of southern Lebanon -- not only the combatants -- to the north, and for this reason, as many houses as possible were destroyed by Israel's artillery and air force and measures were taken to prevent their being rebuilt. But this policy was not pursued for long because it was blatantly opposed to the interests of Israel's supposed ally.

After the massacre, the Israeli Government tried to diminish its significance and gravity and to downplay its own responsibility, hoping that domestic and international indignation would soon be abated. The insensitivity and ethnocentric nature of its approach were demonstrated by Begin's famous pronouncement, "Gentiles kill gentiles and then accuse the Jews."

The second part of the book, "The Road to Sharonism" opens with an outline of four key events in Sharon's return to power (p. 105):

These events are the first Intifada, the Oslo Accords, the abortive negotiations between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat at Camp David under the auspices of Bill Clinton, and the earlier stages of the current al-Aqsa Intifada. The major aim of the second part of this volume is to provide insights into the underlying reasons for two dramatic and contradictory shifts in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship -- namely, the first major attempt at reconciliation and its collapse into a bloody inter-communal war that has greatly distorted and critically demaged both societies, albeit in different ways, and whose end is not yet in sight.

On Barak's election and government (pp. 126-127)

On May 17, 1999, Ehud Barak was elected Prime Minister on the Labor Party ticket under a slogan promising the "continuation of the Rabin legacy." His election raised hopes for the restoration of trust between Israel and both the Palestinians in particular and the Arab World in general. Yet, at least during the beginnning of his term, Barak seemed to be working under the traumatic cloud of Rabin's assassination. He tried to renew the diplomatic process through a coalition government composed of a "stable Jewish majority," that is, without the support of Israeli Arab voters, 95 percent of whom had cast their votes for him and to whom he owed a great deal of his success in Israel's first direct election for the premiership. Instead, from the beginning, the government cooperated with religious parties and those with rightwing tendencies (such as the National Religious Party, Shas, and the Russian Immigrant Party), and brought about the withdrawal from the coalition of the one Zionist party most dedicated to the reconciliation process, Meretz, simply to avoid even a resemblance to Rabin's coalition.

In retrospect, many, including Yossi Beilin for instance, suspected Barak of calculating his steps so that he could make his proposals look like huge compromises on Israel's part while knowing that they would be completely unacceptable to the Palestinians. Thus he could seemingly unmask the true face of the Palestinians and declare "Israel has no real partner in peace." It seems more likely that Barak genuinely believed that Israel was strong enough to coerce the Palestinians into accepting an agreement based on his own conditions. That is why he spent his first year in office attempting to reach an agreement with Syria in order to isolate the Palestinians. In Barak's own words, "achieving peace with Syria would greatly limit the Palestinians' ability to widen the conflict."

This seems too generous to Barak, who was notably opposed to the Oslo Accords in the first place, and who while in the IDF had a close relationship with Sharon. Kimmerling credits Hafez Assad with turning down a treaty with Barak, but my understanding is that it was Barak who balked at the last minute. The year Barak spent negotiating with "Syria first" saw a major expansion of Israel's West Bank settlements, further undermining his commitments to finalize the Oslo process. After he failed at Camp David, Barak went out of his way to make it easier for Sharon to end the entire Oslo process by withdrawing all of his supposedly generous offers. After Sharon defeated Barak, Barak tried to secure a position in Sharon's government as Minister of Defense.

While Sharon spurned Barak, he did cut the Labor Party into his first government (pp.150-152):

Perhaps the wisest political move was made promptly after his first election tothe premiership, when he offered the Labor Party an opportunity to join a so-called National Unity Government, despite the fact that he did not need them to establish a coalition and could have formed a stable and purely rightwing government. In fact, this was a well-calculated move directed primarily at Shimon Peres and Benjamin Ben Eliezer. Ben Eliezer (nicknamed "Fuad") -- who immigrated asa child from Iraq to Israel in 1950 -- was the first on-Ashkenazi chairman of the Labor Party and a symbol of the party's efforts to accommodate itself to changing social realities. Ben Eliezer spent most of his adult life (about thirty years) in the military, and was for a certain time under Sharon's command. He was known as a docile admirer of his superiors (even during the Lebanese War), was considered a hawk, and filled some peripheral posts in Barak's Cabinet. Sharon's invitation to serve as Minister of Defense was an offer he could not refuse, as he hoped to strengthen his weak political profile. Peres wa another story. An aging politician, he is, despite his international respectability, considered an eternal loser in Israel (last time he lost the party's chairmanship to Ben Eliezer) and a wishy-washy, cynical politician. Peres can adapt his attitude to any political circumstance, becoming alternately hawkish or dovish, a supporter of a Palestinian state or an opponent of it. Predictably, Ben Eliezer and Peres accepted Sharon's offer and explained their decision to join his cabinet by the need to restrain Sharon, to counterbalance the extreme right, and to ensure the continuation of the Oslo process. [ . . . ]

Sharon's gains from Labor's participation in his first government were obvious: he managed to crush internal political opposition by forming the largest government in Israel's history and to gain an unprecedented domestic legitimacy. The man who many consider a war criminal by any standard, and who had been Israel's most notorious politician for twenty years, had become the country's most popular and highly regarded premier.

Labor has remained powerless ever since, unable either to influence Sharon or to oppose him. After Sharon passed from the political scene, Labor once again joined a government led by Sharon's successor Olmert, and once again found itself badly tarnished by its participation in Olmert's policies, especially the 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

Kimmerling's politicide concept is shrewd but not fully developed. What should be explained is that it rests on the notion that only politics matters anymore. Sharon's agenda -- and of course many more Israelis were involved in this, as well as a few critical Americans, not least Elliott Abrams -- has been to reduce the reduce Palestinian political effectiveness to near zero. If Palestinians cannot function in the political sphere, the only recourse they have left is violence, excusing Israel from responsibility.

Of course, that depends on Israelis (and Americans) being able to deny that Palestinians should be entitled to the same political rights we take for granted. That this has even seemed possible is a remarkable feat of arrogance and brutality -- traits Sharon's entire career have been dedicated to.

Monday, June 11, 2007

War in Indian Country

It's getting hard to think of things that could go wrong for the US in Iraq that haven't already gone wrong. New York Times hack John Burns is reporting that the US is arming Sunni Arab groups in Iraq, mostly ex-Baathists, on the promise that they'll use those weapons against Al Qaeda. No doubt they will, but also no doubt they'll use those same weapons against US troops, Iraqi troops, Shiite militias, each other, and anyone else who happens in the way. Burns was on PBS tonight talking about how this sort of strategy has been tried in the past and doesn't have a very good track record. He mentioned Vietnam, for instance, but didn't mention the one case where it did work: arming Indians on the old west frontier. The strategy is actually older than the US: Samuel Champlain did it when the French first arrived, and he may not even have been the first. The European settlers then, like the Americans today, were comfortable in the superiority of their arms, so they had few worries about the blowback their arms dealing might cause. Rather, they saw the big advantage of playing each side off against the other. The result was genocide with deniability, which is pretty much where Iraq is heading. Indeed, the new deals with Sunnis are dividends from previous US deals arming Shiite death squads.

There are also reports that the US is using Sudanese mercenaries in Iraq. This again points back to the early Indian wars in America, where European powers would form alliances with various tribes to fight their proxy wars. It's not surprising that the US would think of things like this. The US military, after all, continues to be trained in old west forts like Fort Leavenworth, and Indian wars play a large part in US military history. Moreover, such analogies become ever more fashionable when small wars and counterinsurgency come into vogue. US success in suppressing the Philippine revolt and in the long-term occupation of Caribbean banana republics is usually credited to Indian war experience (cf. Max Boot). Injun Country is still the generic term for unsecured territory. That it implies a racial and cultural divide that can only be resolved by US subjugation of the enemy all but defines the conflict.

Nobody much talks about America's Indian experience in relation to recent foreign policy, but the subject should be investigated further. Just as America's Jim Crow laws were the inspiration for South Africa's apartheid, America's Indian reservation system was the model for South Africa's Bantustans -- a model that Israel has subsequently refined for its own Occupied Territories. One bond Americans and Israelis feel for each other is their shared faith in the success of their colonization efforts. (Israel is much at a disadvantage in terms of demography and space, but still has proven resourceful enough that they've managed to get Fatah and Hamas killing each other. They, too, understand the value of provoking internecine warfare among their enemies.) I've read passing references that Hitler likened Nazi Germany's settlement of the East, with the extermination of the Jews and enslavement of the Slavs, to America's westward manifest destiny.

Still, these Indian analogies offer the US scant hope. What made US subjugation of the Indians possible was: 1) overwhelming demographic dominance; 2) ample land to deal with the reduced tribes; and 3) a willingness to admit the surviving Indians into an open and prosperous society. Israel has none of those things. South Africa was a little better off in terms of land, but worse off demographically. The Nazis bit off much more than they could chew and never even managed to establish control. The US in Iraq doesn't even compute along these lines: all the model means for Iraq is senseless, quixotic death and destruction, until the US grows exhausted and weary and crawls home ignominiously.

Even now, the US doesn't have the will or the credibility to keep Iran and Turkey from shelling, and in Turkey's case invading, Kurdish positions, let alone the ability to keep the Kurdish PKK from attacking Iran and Turkey. You'd think that if the US had anything constructive to offer Iraq it would be to deter foreign interference, but clearly the US has no such ability. Indeed, it's hard to see any way the US is keeping Iraq from collapsing. Recent reports put the number of displaced Iraqis at close to 5 million, or 20% of the prewar population. The Soviets were hard pressed to mismanage Afghanistan so badly.

It's often said that those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it; here it looks like the Americans are hoping that works based on utterly misapplying their historical analogies. Last week Tony Snow looked into his crystal ball and discovered Korea as a hopeful model for Iraq. Exactly what makes Korea a success story isn't all that obvious. The war started 57 years ago, degrading quickly into a stalemate, with a ceasefire that has held for 54 years, despite the near-complete isolation and immiseration of the North, still controlled by a regime that periodically feels the need to threaten mass mayhem just to get the occasional handout of rice or oil. Even if Snow was just trying to point to hanging tough for 57 years and counting as an accomplishment, that's a pretty lame definition of success. Otherwise, the similarity is impossible to find. But it might make sense if you view North Korea as an Indian reservation -- not exactly subjugated, but pretty tightly contained. Now if we can only get those Iraqis packed away safely into a few reservations.


Music: Current count 13248 [13220] rated (+28), 829 [843] unrated (-14). Spent this week rather leisurely listening to new jazz. Recycled Goods for June is done but in limbo at Static Multimedia. Jazz CG is done for Village Voice, but not final edit.


Jazz Surplus (CG #13)

Once I've graded a jazz record, I put my jazz prospecting notes into one of three files: bk-print if I've actually written a JCG review; bk-flush if I've decided I'm not going to deal with the record any further; or bk-done if I think I might possibly be able to use the record in a future JCG. By the end of each JCG cycle, I realize that bk-done has grown to an unmanageable extent, so I go back through the file and hack it back down. By the time this cycle finished, I was up to 132 bk-done records. I knocked those down to 66, getting rid of almost all of the borderline B+(**) records, some higher rated records that had gotten old, and some duds I've gotten bored with. In most cases I'm satisfied with the Jazz Prospecting notes, but in a few cases I felt like writing a bit more. These reviews wind up in the Surplus file, along with long lists of everything moved to bk-flush. The notes for the latter wind up in the notebook, a relatively convenient place for me to search. The surplus reviews follow.


The Heckler by Juan Pablo Balcazar Quartet: Heckler City (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent): Some confusion on the group name or title or whatever, almost like this was meant as some sort of film noir soundtrack. Group leader is bassist Balcazar, working with tenor sax, guitar, drums -- all little recognized outside of Spain. One of those records I like quite a bit but can't quite describe and never seem to be able to get back to. Must be postbop. B+(***)

The Crimson Jazz Trio: The King Crimson Songbook Volume One (2005, Voiceprint): Standard issue piano trio, led by drummer Ian Wallace, who played in a Frippless spinoff group called 21st Century Schizoid Band, with Joey Nardone on piano, Tim Landers on fretless bass guitar. I'm surprised both that the songbook holds up so well and that they make so much of it. B+(***)

Hank Jones/Frank Wess: Hank and Frank (2003 [2006], Lineage): Would have been a logical tie-in to consider this for HM at the same time as the Jones-Lovano record, but the two records don't come close enough, and not just because Wess isn't a match for Lovano. Third wheel here is guitarist Ilya Lushtak, who runs an interesting label meant to score gigs with his heroes. He's actually better working on the Ray Appleton-Melvin Rhyne album. B+(**)

Tom Lellis: Avenue of the Americas (2004-05 [2006], Beamtide): Male jazz singer, combines the worst effects of heroes Mark Murphy and Jon Hendricks, but gets a pass on disarming modesty. Got some help from people I respect, and pretty much wasted it all. This should have been flagged as a Dud, but I chose not to waste my ammo on such a nonentity. C

John Lindberg/Karl Berger: Duets 1 (2004 [2007], Between the Lines): The sort of modest, minor, but charming record that gets killed by the numbers game here. One of the world's great bassist-composers, intimately bound to a pretty interesting guy on piano and vibes. About what you'd expect within those limits. B+(**)

Branford Marsalis: Braggtown (2006, Marsalis Music/Rounder): I recall him quoted as emphatically insisting that "Wynton's good for the music." I'm not so sure I agree, but I don't doubt that Branford is good for the music. His label does good work; even if his Marsalis Music Honors series makes players like Alvin Batiste and Michael Carvin out to be more mainstream than they really are (were in Batiste's case), they provide a real service. And Branford's a damn fine tenor sax player, not that he always plays up to snuff. He's weak on ballads; I'd like to hear him without a pianist (and not just without Joey Calderazzo); and I wish he'd lose the soprano. This is his average record, with the usual mix of good spots and not-so-good spots, for all the usual reasons. Actually, maybe a bit better than average. B+(**)

Delfeayo Marsalis: Minions Dominion (2002 [2006], Troubadour Jazz): Most enjoyable Marsalis album in recent memory. The family trombonist doesn't have the ego or ambitions of his older brothers, he makes a nice setting for the guests, and he keeps pretty good company: Branford and Donald Harrison split the sax chores, Mulgrew Miller plays piano, and Elvin Jones took on the drum kit -- a special treat. Good trombone, too. B+(**)

Myra Melford/Be Bread: The Image of Your Body (2003 [2006], Cryptogramophone): Jessica Williams attacked this savagely on a recent blindfold test, which motivates me to scratch both of their recent records from the list. Both are marginal HM candidates, somewhat more annoying than their grades indicate -- a backhanded testament to their talents. Pace Williams, Melford is an extraordinary pianist, but that's not fully in evidence here, with her harmonium experiments and a rather mixed bag of world-fusion helpers. B+(**)

Mike Melvoin Trio: You Know (2006, City Light): A very nice little piano trio -- the sort of thing that folks who like that sort of thing should like quite a bit, but even they may have trouble getting excited. B+(**)

Wolfgang Muthspiel/Brian Blade: Friendly Travelers (2006 [2007], Material): A casualty of convenience: in picking Bright Side as my Muthspiel pick hit, I cited this in a passing line, thereby knocking it off the priority list. The interplay with Blade is at least as enticing as anything on the trio album. The main reason I went with the trio was that I thought the bass resonance made it more accessible, and a slightly better picture of Muthspiel's unique guitar artistry. But I came damn close to going the other way, and if I had the space I'd do both. A-

Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Janus (2005, Kopasetic): A second album that got swept up in the pick hit review, but otherwise is worth citing on its own. More varied than Blood but less representative of what makes Nilsson unique. Saxophonist Mattias Carlson has some good moments. If anyone can turn heavy metal into jazz it's Nilsson, although the result isn't always as satisfying as you might hope. B+(***)

Les Primitifs du Future: World Musette (1999 [2006], Sunnyside): Not really a jazz album, although I kept it in the file based on the label, and the fact that its old-timey Eurofolk has so much slop and verve to it. R. Crumb is involved, in more than just cover art. A-

Matt Renzi: The Cave (2003 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent): Plays tenor sax and clarinet, in a straightforward trio setting. Studied with George Garzone, then set out to travel the world. Learned from both. B+(***)

Irène Schweizer: First Choice: Piano Solo KKL Luzern (2005 [2006], Intakt): After Portrait I expressed a desire to hear her everything, then balked on the first new thing that came out -- tough, acerbic solo piano, natch. Then got struck from the label's mailing list, missing her later album with Hamid Drake, a couple of Alex von Schlippenbach 12-tone exercises, and who knows what else? Can't we be friends? B+(**)

David Sills: Down the Line (2005 [2006], Origin): Big toned tenor saxman, mainstream group with some recognizable names (Gary Foster, Larry Koonse, Alan Broadbent), and a drummer appropriately named Tim Pleasant. I like records like this so easily I may wind up being overly hard on them. B+(**)

Soft Machine: Grides (1970-71 [2006], Cuneiform): Space crunch here, compounded by the fact that I haven't fully done my homework. This makes a good case for the band's prog fusion as jazz, suggesting that studio albums I heard back in the day hadn't really been heard. Deprioritized after I wrote about this in RG, but interesting enough I've kept it on the list much too long. Still haven't watched the DVD. A-

Mike Stern: Who Let the Cats Out? (2006, Heads Up): Probably should have been a Dud, but so far managed to dodge that bullet three times, even though he got his mug on the cover of Downbeat. Ugly fusion, wasted guests, lousy vocals. B-

Jessica Williams: Billy's Theme: A Tribute to Dr. Billy Taylor (2006, Origin): Solo piano, something she's done a lot of, and manages to sustain a high level of interest despite the lack of color variation. The trick, of course, is rhythm -- few pianists can compete with her. In particular, Taylor can't, which makes me wonder how that angle fits in. B+(***)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #14, Part 1)

Don't have the final edit done on Jazz Consumer Guide yet, but I've handed my draft in. As I understand it, the column will run in a couple of weeks -- "late June" is all I've been told. Normally I'd take a week or two off between columns, but as it turns out, I spent most of last week playing jazz, so next round's prospecting starts early this time.


Jerry Bergonzi: Tenorist (2006 [2007], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, from Boston. Couple dozen albums since 1982. Broad, breathy tone, mainstream rhythmic sense, can go fast but prefers moderate paces and pitches a fetching ballad. He fits a type that I'm particularly fond of, but I haven't followed his own work all that closely. Quartet this time, with John Abercrombie's guitar providing the chords. Album gets stronger as it progresses, and Abercrombie fits in particularly well. [B+(***)]

The Rodriguez Brothers: Conversations (2006 [2007], Savant): The brothers are Michael on piano, Robert on trumpet and flugelhorn. A third Rodriguez, Ricardo, plays bass on four cuts, but doesn't get any mention in the booklet. Father Roberto Rodriguez, born in Cuba, produced. Album dedicated to late grandfather Roberto Rodriguez Nieto. David Sanchez guests on two tracks. I'm tempted to describe this as hard bop, but the beat isn't hard enough -- on the other hand, it isn't notably Latin, although there is a whiff. In any case, both piano and trumpet/flugelhorn stay within conventional forms, even if often fast and fluid bop. B

Joey Calderazzo: Amanecer (2006 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Mostly solo piano, with Romero Lobambo's guitar creeping into the background on three songs, Claudia Acuña vocals on two of those plus one more. The solo material is appealing, no doubt because I detect traces of stride in the originals, but also because "Waltz for Debby" is so surefire. Acuña's contribution is arch and dreary, while Lubambo is so supple you barely notice him. B

Monk's Music Trio: Monk on Mondays (2005 [2007], CMB): Si Perkoff on piano, Sam Bevan on bass, Chuck Bernstein on drums, the latter always listed first -- he's also producer, executive producer, etc. Songs by Thelonious Monk. Group has been together since 1999, playing two or three Mondays per month at Simple Pleasures Cafe in San Francisco. This is their fifth album -- the third one I've heard. Mondays sounds like their usual grind. B

Kendrick Scott Oracle: The Source (2005-06 [2007], World Culture): Young (b. 1980) drummer, attended Berklee, works in postbop veins, appears on Terrence Blanchard's latest. First album, ambitious, complex, rather impressive set of musicians -- e.g., saxophonists are Seamus Blake, Walter Smith III, and Myron Walden; Robert Glasper plays some piano; Lionel Loueke some of the guitar -- yet I find it dissolving into texture and failing to hold my interest, except, say, when Blake takes a solo. B

Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra: Meeting of the Waters (2005-06 [2007], OA2): Not all female -- lead trumpet Dennis Haldane, drummer Jeremy Jones, musisic director/arranger Daniel Barry are the main exceptions, with some Mikes and Chads on the credits list but not listed on the website roster. Second album. Seems unexceptional for a big band, although not without its attractive moments. Sound quality is a bit iffy. B

Darrell Grant: Truth and Reconciliation (2005 [2007], Origin, 2CD): Title from a Nelson Mandela quote: "Truth is the road to reconciliation." Grant is a pianist, also employing Fender Rhodes. Born Philadelphia, grew up in Denver, studied in Rochester and Miami, worked in New York, finally moved to Portland in 1997, where he teaches. Six albums since 1993, starting with two on mainstream Criss Cross; couple dozen side credits, including Greg Osby, Craig Harris, Tom Harrell, and Don Braden; early on worked with Betty Carter and Tony Williams, but evidently not on record. I don't get a strong sense of Grant's piano here. Rather, we have a long series of sly pieces, some songs with lyrics, Grant vocals, and more/less political themes. Bill Frisell and Adam Rogers play guitar, which tends to add silky shades to piano; Joe Locke adds some vibes, to similar effect. Steve Wilson's saxophones provide the only horns. They're unspecified, but soprano and alto would be his norm. John Patitucci plays bass; Brian Blade drums -- so it's possible that the leader is the least widely known player here (certainly he is to me). Two pieces provide settings for speech excerpts from Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, working quite nicely. B+(*)

Saltman Knowles Quintet: It's About the Melody (2007, Blue Canoe): Mark Saltman, bassist; William Knowles, pianist. They met in 1994 at University of Massachusetts. This is their fourth album, the first three released as Soul Service. Group includes Mark Prince on drums, Charles Langford on sax, Lori Williams on vocals. For all intents and purpose this is a vocal jazz album, with Williams up front on every song, shaping the melodies, slipping around them, the sort of thing jazz singers do -- some spots remind me a bit of Sheila Jordan, but not so immediately arresting. Langford has a good accompanying sound. B

Golda Solomon: First Set (2002, JazzJaunts): Solomon describes herself as a "one-of-a-kind 'Medicine Woman of Jazz'"; alternatively, "poet, and Professor Mom." Writes words. Speaks them over jazz -- or actually, with her violin-tuba-drums trio, this sounds a bit like old-timey pre-bluegrass. Has a book Flatbush Cowboy good for an excerpt here. Other bits on meeting Dolphy and "The Etiquette of No." Good diction -- reminds me of Tom Verlaine's pronunciation of that word. Short, EP length: 20:30. B+(**)

Golda Solomon: Word Riffs (2006, JazzJaunts): Full length, or close enough (39:18). I suppose we can chalk this up to Second System Complex. The music has moved from the goofball accompaniment Bernard Purdie threw together to more creditable avant-garde, with Saco Yasuma on alto sax, Eri Yamamoto on piano, Christopher Dean Sullivan on bass, and most importantly Michael T.A. Thompson on drums. The words were consciously written with jazz in mind, with three pieces with "Blues" in the title, two more with "Bop," one called "1960s Jazz Hag," one name dropping Ellington. On average I'd say it's a wash: more exciting music, less intriguing words, same rivetting performance. Something of a learning process, but all things considered she's pretty unique. B+(**)

The Birdhouse Project: Free Bird (2006 [2007], Dreambox Media): As one of the few who likes Charlie Parker's tunes better than his playing, I should be relatively favorable toward this project. However, I can't much see the point. The group is a trio: Randy Sutin on vibes, Tyrone Brown on bass, Jim Miller on drums. The vibes should be the lead instrument, but actually Brown's bass sets the pace -- an unfamiliar one for Parker. Brown also manages to hold my attention, which doesn't say much for Sutin. Does have some novelty value, and certainly isn't dislikable. Just not much there. B-

Mark Knox: Places (2006, Dreambox Media): Knox is credited throughout with keys, and on various tracks with percussion programming, samples, and vocals. His keys and beats are light and frothy. The places straddle the map, with an extended sequence in Japan followed by a Vietnamese folk song. Most of it is attractive enough. The only standout is John Swana, whose trumpet burns brilliantly on four cuts. B

Michael Fein: Four Flights Up (2005 [2006], Dreambox Media): Tenor saxophonist, from and/or in Philadelphia, first album, in a six piece group with alto sax, trumpet, vibes, bass, drums, but no piano or guitar. Mostly originals, but the two covers are the most interesting things here: an elegant "Bye Bye Blackbird" and a solo "Days of Wine and Roses" that shows off Fein's attractive tone. The three-horn front line doesn't do much of interest, but vibraphonist Behn Gillece has some nice moments. B

Dick de Graaf Quartet: Moving Target (2006 [2007], Soundroots): Dutch saxphonist, tenor plus a bit of soprano, in a piano-bass-drums quartet. De Graaf has been recording under his own name since 1986, and lately is listed as leader in two groups: Trio Nuevo, whose Jazz Meets Tango is in my que, and Istanbul Connection, which isn't. Website brags about his "hip big tone" and gives a lot of play to him being selected to replace the late Bob Berg, and that pigeonholes him pretty well. Straight Hawkins-style on tenor, works around the melodies, loves how the sax sounds, group swings. B+(**)

Trio Nuevo: Jazz Meets Tango (2006 [2007], Soundroots): Tenor saxophonist Dick de Graaf meets tango more than half way. The trio includes Michael Gustorff on violin, Hans Sparla on accordion. The violin-accordion is pretty thick, with the sax not much evident except for harmony. Vocalist Sandra Coelers joins for four songs. I don't really know what they're shooting for here. I suppose what attracts me in tango is the rhythm, at least when the dancers are light enough to flow with it. But the spectrum also extends to the heavy, the operatic even, and that's where this seems to go. If someone told me that this was an attempt to conjure up an old-style tango, something free of modernist impulses, I'd likely believe them. But this group makes no such claims. So I mostly find it lumbering, especially the vocal pieces. B

Nordic Connect: Flurry (2005 [2007], ArtistShare): Postbop quintet, led by trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, with her saxophonist sister Christine Jensen equally prominent. Impressive initially, but I lost track along the way, eventually wondering why this is still playing, and when will it ever end. The others are Maggi Olin on piano, Jon Wikan on drums, Mattias Welin on bass. Any or all could be Scandinavian, but they met up in Boston and recorded this in Montreal. It was, however, funded by the Swedish Art Grant Committee, The Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs, and Concerts Sweden, as well as some Canadian organizations, so I guess those are the real Nordic connections. [B+(**)]

Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. 1: The Complete Abashiri Concert (1981 [2007], Widow's Taste, 2CD): The alto sax great had as many comeback as he had stretches in prison, with 1956, 1960, and 1975 watershed years. The last comeback proved to be his greatest, with a steady torrent of recordings until his death in 1982 -- The Complete Galaxy Recordings, at 16 CDs, never wears out or runs down. No one was more successful at digesting Parker and Coltrane and still coming up with his own unique -- an accomplishment equal in craft and eloquence to what Benny Carter did with a previous generation of saxophonists. But while Pepper's early work could be seen as West Coast cool jazz, his post-1975 period was marked by raw emotion, a trait that became ever more pronounced. This is especially clear in the live material that occasionally appears. I'm not sure that widow Laurie Pepper's releases haven't appeared before: this one lines up with Live in Far North Japan (TDK), but offers more music. The only surprise here is how raw and frenzied the early cuts are. His "Besame Mucho" is much rougher than the one on Art Pepper With Duke Jordan in Copenhagen 1981 from earlier in the year, but remains one of life's great pleasures. Another highlight is "Body and Soul": Pepper's verdict -- "That was one of the nicest things that I think I've played in my life" isn't hyperbole. A-

Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. II: The Last Concert (1982 [2007], Widow's Taste): Recorded at the Kool Jazz Festival in Washington DC on May 30, less than three weeks before Pepper died on June 15, this was a typical Pepper set: a fast one, a tricky one, something with a Latin bounce, a gorgeous standard, a feature for his clarinet, some talk along the way. He sounds fine all the way through, especially on the clarinet piece, a swinging "When You're Smiling" that he dedicated to Zoot Sims. The latter includes a flashy, almost over-the-top piano solo from Roger Kellaway, filling in for Pepper's usual pianist, George Cables. A marvelous closing act. A-


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

Don Aliquo: Jazz Folk (2006, Young Warrior): Tenor saxophonist, plays rock solid hard bop, based in Tennessee, but helped out by New Yorkers Clay Jenkins and Rufus Reid here. B

Dino Saluzzi: Juan Condori (2005 [2006], ECM): Argentine bandoneon player, working with three younger Saluzzis and a percussionist named U.T. Gandhi. Never got the final copy of this advance, unlike the later duets with Anja Lechner -- a puzzle and an annoyance. Saluzzi recorded an exceptional album in 2001 called Responsorium, which does a lovely job of summing up his brand of jazz-tango. Since then the records I've heard have seemed like broken fragments of the same picture. The larger group here, led by Felix Saluzzi's reeds, suggests a similar richness of vision, but I also hear stretches where it slows down and descends to the merely pretty, or maybe even the merely dull. B+(*)

Dino Saluzzi/Anja Lechner: Ojos Negros (2006 [2007], ECM): Bandoneon-cello duets. Drags in spots -- where you'd expect the tango rhythms to quicken the blood, the cello dampens it. Not that there is a lot of rhythm. But every time this starts to get me down, something interesting, intriguing, or just plain lovely happens. B

Lafayette Gilchrist: Three (2007, Hyena): Acoustic piano trio, a fairly conservative form, but played with such regular rhythm you'd think they're after a groove record. To show they can do it? That's a rather odd form of artistic ambition. B

Dept. of Good and Evil Feat. Rachel Z (2007, Savoy Jazz): Z is Nicolazzo to her mother, a charming name if you ask me. Good pianist. So-so singer. Group is a trio with guests, including some fine Eric Naslund trumpet. Impressive talent. Less sure about the identity issues. B+(*)

Third World Love: Sketch of Tel Aviv (2005 [2006], Smalls): There is something going on here that I don't get, and don't expect to get in the near future. Website claims the band "organically blends African, Middle Eastern, rock and jazz . . . a poetic journey of rhythms, songs, dance and joyful celebration." There's some of that, but it's hard to sort out, which may be the point. The group is a quartet, with two fairly well known players (bassist Omer Avital and trumpeter Avishai Cohen) and two lesser knowns (pianist Yonatan Avishai and drummer Daniel Freedman). Two songs with vocals -- one a trad Jewish-Yemenite piece sung by Avishai, the other sung by guest Eviatar Banai -- strike me as out of step, but the way Cohen is playing, anything that takes away from the trumpet seems like a bad idea. With their desire to more asses as well as minds, chances are there's a great album in their future. B+(**)

Avishai Cohen: As Is . . . Live at the Blue Note (2006 [2007], Razdaz/Half Note): The bassist, not the trumpeter, leading a quintet with Diego Urcola on trumpet and Jimmy Greene on various saxophones through a selection of his consistently impressive songbook, closing with a funked up Middle Eastern take on "Caravan." It all works pretty much as it should, with the bright, light informality of a live recording. Comes with a DVD, still unseen. A fine introduction, calling card, resume. B+(***)

Brian Bromberg: Downright Upright (2006 [2007], Artistry): After a career of hacking out pop-funk, Bromberg's new pleasure in the upright acoustic bass is heartening. This starts off with a suggestion that it might be possible to work a funk groove into something of jazz interest, but settles into routine as it goes along. Not sure whether to blame this on Bromberg's circle of friends: Rick Braun, Kirk Whallum, and Boney James play with more vigor and range than they'd ever risk on their own albums. A more likely clue to the slide is that the first three pieces were written by Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and Les McCann, whereas the rest were written by Bromberg. B

Donny McCaslin: In Pursuit (2007, Sunnyside): Dedicated to his mentor, Michael Brecker, offering a ready explanation why I can't get into him even though he's beyond any doubt a tremendous saxophone player, but I doubt that it's so simple. For one thing, he's much better than Brecker. In fact, I can't think of anyone who plays with more assurance at breakneck speed. He writes ambitious, difficult pieces. He plays with first class musicians. He's stepped into Chris Potter's shoes more than once and bumped the energy level up. So I really don't know what the reason is. Maybe he's just too much. Or maybe when he does let up I feel he's letting us down. B+(**)

Wayne Escoffery: Veneration (2006 [2007], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, takes one track on soprano without faltering, plays fast postbop, holds an attractive tone when he slows down; basically, has all the tools. Dresses sharp too. Only wrote one song, which holds up. Ends with superb pieces by Ellington and McLean. First rate band, with Joe Locke on vibes a special treat, especially when they race. Hans Glawishnig on bass, Lewis Nash on drums. B+(***)

Saco Yasuma: Another Rain (2006 [2007], Leaf Note): First album by an interesting alto saxophonist, with a strong quintet that takes risks and plays heady avant -- the standout is Roy Campbell on trumpet, but everyone contributes. One song goes slow with the leader playing a bamboo sax on a Japanese folk theme. Another unleashes Golda solomon for a torrent of words. Drummer Michael T.A. Thompson is showing up on a lot of good records lately. B+(***)


Unpacking:

  • Muiza Adnet: Sings Moacir Santos (Adventure Music)
  • The Clash: The Singles (1977-85, Epic/Legacy)
  • The Claudia Quintet: For (Cuneiform)
  • Tom Harrell: Light On (High Note)
  • The Inspiring New Sounds of Rio de Janeiro (Verge): advance, July 10
  • Tomas Janzon: Coast to Coast to Coast (Changes)
  • Sean Jones: Kaleidoscope (Mack Avenue): advance, August 14
  • Barb Jungr: Bare Again (ZC)
  • Nigel Kennedy: Blue Note Sessions (Blue Note)
  • Gloria Lynne: From My Heart to Yours (High Note)
  • Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen (Legacy Edition) (1985, Legacy, 2CD)
  • Duke Robillard's World Full of Blues (Stony Plain, 2CD)
  • Bobby Sanabria: Big Band Urban Folktales (Jazzheads)
  • John Sheridan and His Dream Band: Swing Is Still the King (Arbors)
  • Carol Sloane: Dearest Duke (Arbors)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Antitrust Fix

The New York Times has an article today by Stephen Labaton on Microsoft's antitrust angel in the Bush administration Justice Department:

Nearly a decade after the government began its landmark effort to break up Microsoft, the Bush administration has sharply changed course by repeatedly defending the company both in the United States and abroad against accusations of anticompetitive conduct, including the recent rejection of a complaint by Google. [ . . . ]

In the most striking recent example of the policy shift, the top antitrust official at the Justice Department last month urged state prosecutors to reject a confidential antitrust complaint filed by Google that is tied to a consent decret that monitors Microsoft's behavior. [ . . . ]

The official, Thomas O. Barnett, an assistant attorney general, had until 2004 been a top antitrust partner at the law firm that has represented Microsoft in several antitrust disputes. At the firm, Justice Department officials said, he never worked on Microsoft matters. Still, for more than a year after arriving at the department, he removed himself from the case because of conflict of interest issues. Ethics lawyers ultimately cleared his involvement.

The details of Google's aren't particularly interesting. Like Netscape's complaint, they are remarkable mainly in that any outside company was able to temporarily establish any sort of commercial enterprise by hooking into Microsoft's operating systems monopoly. Microsoft is uniquely able to manipulate its interfaces, product packaging, and OEM contracts to exploit network effects, both to promote its own ancillary businesses and to undermine potential competitors.

Before Bush took office, Microsoft had been convicted of breaking antitrust law, but the remedy was under appeal. Microsoft evidently had little trouble finding the new regime's bag men: Ashcroft soon settled the case on terms very favorable to Microsoft. I don't know that the Bush administration has prosecuted any antitrust cases in the last six years. Hiring people like Barnett, whose background is defending companies, like Microsoft, against antitrust cases, is one sure way to get nothing done.

One thing this underscores is that the Bush administration isn't really all that much about promoting capitalism and free markets per se; their preference is to make the rich richer, even where that means protecting monopolies that ultimately rip everyone else off -- even the hallowed rich. Where an earlier generation of progressives realized that constricting competition hurt the economy as a whole, not least to keeping new entrepreneurs out of the market, the current view is to honor each other's scams -- all the better to safeguard one's own. In large part, this is the difference between a growing, bustling, innovative economy, such as the US had during the socalled progressive era, and the stagnant oligarchy we are becoming.

Even before Bush, antitrust enforcement was extremely spotty -- something much more likely to happen when competing powers, like Netscape and Microsoft, collide, than as a result of anyone looking out for the public interest. This is one of many cases where just rolling back to pre-Bush standards won't go nearly far enough. We should not just enforce existing antitrust laws; we need to start positively promoting competition -- taxing companies progressively according to their size, restricting consolidation, putting limits on intellectual property, subsidizing open research, making more investment funds available to new entrepreneurs, and eliminating the advantages companies seek in political favoritism.

Microsoft's antitrust case offers many lessons here. Their repetitive breaking of antitrust law is only one part of a much bigger problem, which relates to why we a private company to control such basic infrastructure as operating systems without fully disclosing the source code. On the other hand, it would be easy enough to fix the Microsoft problem by just switching to open source software alternatives. That this hasn't happened suggests more evidence of the collapse of clear thinking that appears to be increasingly endemic in America -- another way we are already experiencing the coming dark ages.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Recycled Goods #44: June 2007 (Take 1)

For the record, I turned my June 2007 Recycled Goods column in on June 3, pretty much on time. I'm not sure what's going on, but Static Multimedia is having some problems -- when I try to access the website, I mostly get weird proxy server error messages. The publisher tells me he's working on this, but it's been gummed up for at least a week now, so I thought I'd put this notice up. As it turns out, you can read the column now in the usual archive spot. I'll post again when the thing officially appears.

Friday, June 08, 2007

George Packer: The Assassins Gate

I finally did break down and read George Packer's book on Iraq, The Assassins Gate (2005, Farrar Straus and Giroux). Packer was one of the more prominent liberal hawks helping to feed Bush's propaganda machine, although he was ultimately disappointed in the war. The book covers both why he wanted it and why it failed him -- the latter at least gives the book some value.


Early section on the neocons (p. 20):

Against this timidity [Robert] Kagan launched a powerful analytical attack. The end of the Cold War, he argued, was precisely the moment not to withdraw but to extend. America shouldn't mourn the loss of a balance of power but instead use its unrivaled power all around the world to pursue its interests and its values -- which almost always go together. No corner of the earth is too distant or obscure to be allowed to fester dangerously or be deprived of the benevolent effects of American hegemony, namely democracy and a stable peace. Seeking to revive the spirit of Reagan, Kagan reached farther back to Theodore Roosevelt and "the idea that the American people should take a hand in shaping mankind's destiny, that playing such a role accords honor, and that the right to such honor must be earned." For Kagan, the extension of democracy around the world was as much about America's national destiny as it was about doing good things for unhappy people in foreign countries. The values might be universal, but only one country could secure them.

Confusion over Iraq (p. 24):

Why did Iraq become the leading cause of the hawks? It had received no special attention int he Defense Planning Guidance; it was barely mentioned in the writings of Kagan and Kristol. A year after the letter to Clinton, in 1999, Kosovo replaced Iraq as the overriding concern of PNAC. Still, by 1998 Saddam was beginning to slip out of the constraints imposed on him after the Gulf War and get away with it. Economic sanctions were breaking down, and some European countries, especially Iraq's leading trading partners, France and Russia, were making noises about lifting them altogether. UN weapons inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq for security reasons after Saddam refused to continue cooperating with them; then he denied them reentry. Saddam was increasingly, in foreign-policy jargon, "out of his box" -- apparently free to pursue the unconventional weapons that had been his long-standing desire.

Note that Packer repeats the whole myth about Saddam ejecting the weapons inspectors as well as his WMD desires. It is true that the US/UK were losing worldwide opinion in their campaign to starve Iraq into submission. The human costs of the sanctions policy had been widely reported, while its political ineffectiveness was self-evident.

On the seductiveness of killing for peace and love, an attraction that could only be felt by people with no concept of what war does (pp. 34-35):

For lifelong doves, the first sip of this drink called humanitarian intervention carried a special thrill. All the drama, the inense heat of argument, was generated in the decision whether or not to go to war. In this moment one's moral credentials were on the line. It was a kind of existential choice, a statement of values, all the more potent for being politically unorthodox and sometimes even brave. None of this made the decisions any less serious or sincere, but the more mundane questions of what would happen later tended to dissolve in a mist of high purpose. And because liberal hawks responded to humanitarian crises, they were less likely to think strategically about the shape of the world in ten or twenty years; the long-range answers they offered, such as international criminal courts, UN resolutions, and regional intervention forces, seemed like noble wishes rather than practical answers. Over and over, they had to fall back on the solution with which they felt least comfortable -- American power.

Thinking about the unthinkable (pp. 35-36):

The small, inconclusive wars of the nineties raised but failed to answer the essential questions of the post-Cold War world: What do human rights have to do with national security? What should the United States do about threats that the world insists on ignoring? Is it necessary for war to have the sanction of an international body? What are the limits of sovereignty? Can democracy be brought by force? Whose responsibility does a defeated country become after a war? Most of all: What role should America's preeminent power play in shaping the answers? These questions hung in the air unanswered by the time the century turned. Soon the new administration in Washington would bring them all into focus, over Iraq.

Long section on Paul Berman's idiot rantings, focused on his reading of Sayyid Qutb (pp. 47-48):

Qutb's ideas confirmed the theory that Berman had begun to develop, which was this: The young Arab men who had steered those four airplanes to apocalyptic death were not products of an alien world. they weren't driven by Muslim tradition, or Third World poverty, or the clash of civilizations, or Western imperialism. They were modern, and the ideology that held them and millions of others across the Islamic world in its ecstatic grip had been produced by the modern world -- in fact, by the West. It was the same nihilistic fantasy of revolutionary power and mass slaughter that, in the last century, drove Germans and Italians and Spaniards and Russians (and millions of others across the world) to similar acts of apocalyptic death. This ideology had a name: totalitarianism. Its great explainers were Orwell, Camus, Koestler, Arendt, Solzhenitsyn. In Europe its feverish mood had long since broken by 1989, but in the Islamic world, where modernity failed successive generations, the sickness had been spreading.

The method of Berman's madness (pp. 48-49):

Berman set about his project with a fierce and solitary intensity. There must have been weeks on end when he never emerged from his apartment. He called it "war duty" -- after all, New York had become a front line. Berman believed strenuously that it was the job of intellectuals to explain and mend the rent that hda just been made in the fabric of our world. For him, the answer lay in literature and philosophy as much as politics, let alone policy. One night, upon leaving his post long enough to share a late meal at the bistro, he announced, "I've found a master text!" It was Camus' The Rebel, subtitled An Essay on Man in Revolt. Nihilistic terror was nothing new; the hijackers went back to the French Revolution.

The mind left to its own devices can be a terribly confusing thing (p. 87):

My most heated and confounding arguments over the war occurred when there was no one else around. I would run down the many compelling reasons why a war would be unwise, only to find at the end that Saddam was still in power, tormenting his people and defying the world. The administration's war was not my war -- it was rushed, dishonest, unforgivably partisan, and destructive of alliances -- but objecting to the authors and their methods didn't seem reason enough to stand in the way. One doesn't get one's choice of wars. To give my position a label, I belonged to the tiny, insignificant camp of ambivalently prowar liberals, who supported a war by about the same margin that the voting public had supported Al Gore. This position descended from the interventions of the last decade in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo. The Iraq War was about something other than human rights and democracy, but it could bring similar benefits. I wanted Iraqis to be let out of prison; I wanted to see a homicidal dictator removed from power before he committed mass murder again; I wanted to see if an open society stood a chance of taking root in the heart of the Arab world.

One can pick almost any sentence in this paragraph and start unravelling the illogic. The Iraq war was a war of choice -- it would never have happened had Bush et al. not made it happen -- so it is disingenuous for Packer to claim he had no choice. He at least had the choice to point out the reasons why he feared it could go wrong, but instead he helped Bush to sell it. His analysis of Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo is weak. It's not clear that the US actually did the right thing in those cases, or that it worked, or even what the goals were. (Haiti was reversed by Bush; he may be opposed to nation building, but he clearly has no qualms about nation destruction.) But it is clear that you cannot draw analogies from those cases to Iraq, for reasons that would be obvious to anyone who gave a minute's thought as to why someone like Bush might want to invade Iraq. It also takes no measure of what happens when/if an invaded nation resists the blessings of American intervention. The short answers there is that what started off as a parade becomes a real war, with the immediate effect being that US soldiers change from liberators to destroyers. In no time at all, Iraqis find themselves in a new prison -- or for many, literally in the same old prison.

In this context, that anyone who supported the war should claim to have had any good wishes for the people of Iraq is intellectual dishonesty of the worst sort. I remember that RAWA, an Afghan women's group profoundly opposed to the Taliban, opposed the US invasion of Afghanistan. They understood that it is not enough to defeat the Taliban -- it matters how they are defeated, and by whom. Packer had no such good sense, as he eventually came to recognize.

On the prevention of postconflict planning (p. 114):

The experience of peacekeeping specialists in Haiti, the Blakans, and East Timor was an actual liability in the eyes of the Iraq planners. "The senior leadership at the Pentagon was very worried about the realities of the postconflict phase being known," a Defense official said, "because if you are Feith or if you are Wolfowitz, your primary concern is to achieve the war." This official and his colleagues, whose careers had been devoted to preparing for such contingencies, spent the months leading up to the war in a state of steadily deepening demoralization. But none of them was willing to speak up loud enough inside or outside the five-sided building to get Rumsfeld's attention. The one who did [General Erik K. Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff] showed the others the price they would pay.

Wolfowitz, on the warpath in Afghanistan (pp. 116-117):

Once, in mid-2002, Wolfowitz visited Kabul just after a disastrous incident in which an American AC-130 gunship had bombed four Afghan villages, killing forty civilians, including members of a wedding party. The fragile new government of Hamid Karzai was enraged, and the U.S. embassy had sent its Pashtun-speaking political officer to drink tea with the survivors, attend a funeral, and apologize. No one doubted that innocent lives had been lost; the only uncertainty was whether celebratory gunfire or perhaps even anti-aircraft fire from guerrillas in the area had provoked the attack. But when Wolfowitz met with embassy officials, he began to grill the political officer: "Why do you assume there was a wedding party? How do you know?" Maybe, Wolfowitz said, the Taliban had disguised themselves as revelers -- that was his hunch about the incident. "We shouldn't be so passive in apologizing. We should be more confident." The officials listened in silence, appalled. Later, one of them told me, "It was almost like he was creating this alternate reality." With Wolfowitz, self-righteousness had a dangerous habit of overwhelming inconvenient facts.

Postwar planning for Iraq (p. 123):

The danger of looting was discussed, but the planning officers sent over from Centcom had been instructed not to respond to such "postconflict" issues, in part because the invasion force lacked enough troops to address them. Plans for running the Iraqi ministries were rudimentary -- ORHA had almost no information at all. The chief of the civil administration team had changed twice: David Kay, who would later lead the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, replaced the first leader for two days and then quit without telling Garner why. He was replaced, at Douglas Feith's insistence, by Feith's former law partner, Michael Mobbs, who had written the Defense Department's legal policy that exempted prisoners at Guantánamo from the Geneva Conventions and declared certain American citizens to be enemy combatants without constitutional rights. Mobbs, a political appointee, made the decision to award Halliburton, Cheney's old company, a secret, seven-billion-dollar, no-bid contract to restore Iraqi oil fields after clearing it with Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby. Until Kay quit, oil was supposed to be Mobbs's only responsibility in ORHA.

Here's the Pentagon's postwar plan, not that there's any evidence they tried to follow it (p. 133):

The night [Rumsfeld's spokesman Larry] Di Rita flew into Kuwait in early April, he was briefed by ORHA's senior officials, and when the deputy leader of the reconstruction pillar, Chris Milligan of USAID, spoke about the need to show early benefits to the Iraqi people, Di Rita slammed his fist down on the table. "We don't owe the people of Iraq anything," he said. "We're giving them their freedom. That's enough." A few days later, by which time ORHA officials realized that Di Rita had the full confidence of Rumsfeld, the secretary's spokesman stood up at a meeting of about fifty people in the Hilton conference room. The State Department messed up Bosnia and Kosovo, he told his audience (which included many foreign service officers), and the Pentagon wasn't going to let that happen in Iraq. "We're going to stand up an interim Iraqi government, hand power over to them, and get out of there in three to four months," Di Rita announced. "All but twenty-five thousand soldiers will be out by the beginning of September."

I guess you could call this Management by Surrealism (p. 145):

On May 12 [2003], Bremer arrived in Baghdad wearing a dark suit. He was referred to as "Ambassador Bremer." Three weeks later, Jay Garner, whose fishing buddies had begun to grumble that they'd been set up by the neoconservatives back in Washington, quietly went home. He was taken by Rumsfeld to the White House for a farewell conversation with the president. Garner had written up a two-page memo for Bush and Rumsfeld, dated May 27, that portrayed Iraq as a country well on the road to stability and just a few weeks away from full reconstruction. This good news made it all the easier for Bush to thank Garner graciously for the work he had done. Garner, in turn, assured the president that he had chosen a wonderful successor in Bremer. "I didn't choose him," Bush said. "Rumsfeld chose him." This was news to Garner, whom Rumsfeld had once called his man in Iraq.

The conversation lasted forty-five minutes, with Cheney and Rice sitting in for the second half, and yet the president did not take the chance to ask Garner what it was really like in Iraq, to find out what problems lay ahead in the weeks and months to come. When Garner had come back from northern Iraq in 1991, after Operation Provide Comfort, he had answered questions for four or five days. This time, no one -- neither Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, nor Rice -- seemed to give a damn what he had to say.

"You want to do Iran for the next one?" the president joshed as the meeting came to an end.

Packer goes to Baghdad to report on the good news. He talks to a Dr. Baher Butti, a hospital chief psychiatrist, who introduces him to Ibrahim (p. 151):

Ibrahim's father, standing next to the bed, said that his son's deterioration had begun as a teenager during the first Gulf War, when he was left alone at home during allied bombing. In 1996, Ibrahim tried to run against Saddam for president; he made it halfway to the palace before his father caught up with him and saved his life by dragging him home. Ibrahim's condition had worn out the whole family. Four days before the start of the recent war, his delusions had flared up again and he'd been hospitalized until the fall of Baghdad. Ibrahim believed in one world government, led by the Americans. They had demonstrated their fairness by protecting the Jews, he said, seeming happier the more he talked. they had earned the right to be the world's policeman and rule with justice. This was a minority view in Iraq; I never heard it outside the Ibn Rushd Teaching Psychiatric Hospital.

Packer encounters the ghosts of decades of war and sanctions (p. 156):

One of the first things that struck me in Iraq was the look of the faces. I noticed it as soon as I crossed the border driving in from Jordan and saw a group of men hanging around the first filling station: Compared with the Jordanians on the other side, who after all were brother Arabs and probably members of the same border tribe, the Iraqis looked poor and beaten down. Their cheeks, covered with gray stubble, were leathery and hollow, their eyes downcast and at the same time quick and watchful in the way of people used to anticipating dangers and seizing furtive chances. They reminded me of the faces in postwar Italian neorealist movies, with the roles played by ordinary men and women wandering through the rubble of bombed cities in search of work. Even the frayed, long-outmoded jackets the Iraqi men wore and the eternal cigarette butts dangling from their lips looked the same. As a rule, Iraqi men always turned out to be at least a decade younger than my first guess, and this became a sort of bleak joke.

On the occupation (p. 183):

There were a number of British officials in the palace, a few from other countries in the coalition, the Iraqi-Americans organized by the Pentagon just before the war, a security detail of Nepalese Gurkhas, and for a while a unit of Italian carabinieri around the main gate, looking far more chic than their counterparts from other countries in tight black T-shirts, sunglasses, and leather gloves. But no visitor to the palace could have any doubt about which country was in charge of Iraq. The composition was overwhelmingly American: half civilian, half military, with men and women from the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, and other agencies, wearing casual office clothes -- khaki pants and blue shirts, it always seemed -- mixed with young soldiers in desert camouflage, emptied M-16s slung over their shoulders. There were bomb shelters hard by workout rooms. The intimate mingling of bureaucracy and war made for a strange sight. One CPA official described the palace as being full of "people who were typical pasty-faced bureaucrats, oveweight middle-aged people, midlevel paper pushers, but all wearing body armor, helmets. It's like a play: There's this weird alter-world that you're in, where if they go out on a routine visit they've got to don body armor and face the prospect of being wiped off the face of the earth."

On the Debaathification Order (p. 193):

For [Drew] Erdmann, who had to fire seventeen hundred Baathist univesity professors and staff, the German analogy was apt. He bristled at any notion that academic freedom might be at issue. "In June 1945 you're not going to have a discussion about the legitimacy of the Nazi ideology and the legitimacy of the Nazi Party and you're sitting in Germany," he said. "It's not academic! Hello? It's only a few months ago, the people are still living next door, they're still working next door, they're still on campus, they're still around, they're still threatening."

This suggests that the Debaathification Order was a side-effect of the prewar propaganda that likened Saddam so much to Hitler -- another gross failure to understand the differences that matter. I could easily list a dozen significant differences -- relationship of leader to party, ideological distinctiveness, degree of national unity, extent of military defeat, surprise of military defeat, etc. It's also worth noting that despite some rhetoric, there wasn't all that much Denazification done in Germany: most Nazis quietly buried their pasts and restarted their lives. The US didn't allow Baathists to reflect, reform, restart. They were all kicked out to make room for their historical opponents. In doing so, the US escalated from regime change to revolution, thereby ensuring further war. I believe that Debaathification was the single biggest mistake the US made -- at least after invading. Packer doesn't understand that; nor, for that matter, does Ali Allawi. Again, the point is not just that it was a mistake, but that the mistake was a consequence of Bush's self-deception.

On the occupation of Anbar (pp. 222-223):

Ramadi and Falluja are the major cities of Anbar province, a vast western desert region of conservative Sunni Arabs, home to large numbers of Iraqi military and intelligence officers. Anbar was the last province to fall to coalition forces, and it did so without a shot being fired. By the time American soldiers arrived, local leaders had taken control of the towns and prevented looting. Anbar is where the insurgency began, and tribal sheikhs later told me that it had all been unnecessary. The province was ready to cooperate with the coalition. If only the Americans had remained outside the cities, then crowds wouldn't have gathered to protest, and soldiers wouldn't have fired on the crowds, as they did in Falluja on April 28 and 30, killing eighteen civilians, and Iraqis wouldn't have retaliated with grenades and automatic weapons, and the second war wouldn't have begun.

There is a bit of truth to this account. The American units that took control of Ramadi and Falluja -- the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment and the Eighty-second Airborne Division, respectively -- were ill suited to urban operations, didn't want to be there, and overreacted when they were provoked. "I was not impressed with the 4d ACR's operations in Ramadi," [John] Prior wrote, "they did not seem to have any idea what was going on, there was no sense of urgency, no one knew what the situation was anywhere in sector, none of the senior leadership could provide any guidance or answers." Having arrived in Iraq too late for the war, amid sand and heat and unfriendly locals, the regiment seemed unable or unwilling to adjust to Phase IV: "They did not appear to be ready for nor understand the urban/peace operations mission they had been assigned. Their attitude in terms of Rules of Engagement suggested to me that they had not made the change from combat operations to stability operations." Nor did it help that the house of a tribal leader in Ramadi, who had been cooperating with the CIA for years, was hit by an American air strike that killed him and seventeen members of his family. The Eighty-second in Falluja, clueless about Arab culture and lacking any civilian expertise (the CPA didn't come to Anbar until August), refused to compensate the families of the dead from the late April killings. By the time the Marines took control of Falluja in early 2004 and belatedly offered blood money, half the families refused it.

One point that few have pointed out is that the US military promotes officers for their combat experiences and not for their peacekeeping skills. A big chunk of the invasion forces missed out on the Major Operations because they had been scheduled to invade through Turkey and wound up stuck in the Mediterranean. Those were the soldiers who took over in the north and west, and they basically made up for lost opportunity by restarting the war.

More occupation (p. 236):

The American presence in Iraq must be one of the most isolated occupations in history. There was no real way for soldiers and Iraqis to mix outside the context of their jobs. Baghdad was a long way from Saigon; there were no bars where soldiers could unwind and get into trouble. Relationships with Iraqi women were prohibited by the military and nearly impossible anyway, given the social restrictions. Everyone knew that intimacy was dangerous, and it somehow wasn't surprising when an Iraqi woman who was working at an American base went into the barracks of a soldier with whom she was presumably having an affair and ended up dead from a gunshot to her head. Prior, who worked as closely with Iraqis as any soldier in the country, entered someone's home as a guest on only one occasion during his fifteen months in Iraq, when he dropped by the house of his translator and close friend Numan al-Nima. The sight of two military vehicles parked outside and surrounded by half a dozen soldiers drew the attention of the translator's neighbors. He asked Prior not to repeat the visit.

More occupation (p. 238):

Iraqis liked to complain that the Americans didn't know how to be occupiers. The British troops int he south, many of them veterans of Northern Ireland, seemed far more comfortable with the inherent ambiguities of police work and civil affairs. Americans were both too soft and too hard. Niceness and nastiness seemed to be conjoined sides of their personality: Love me or I'll kill you. They had allowed the looting, Iraqis said, and they were allowing criminals and extremists to have the run of the country. At the same time, they turned friends into enemies with impulsive, violent reactions. The New York Times told the story of a fifty-one-year-old merchant with heart trouble who was kicked, beaten, and urinated on by the soldiers arresting him; then he was sent to a military hospital, where he was treated just as well as the wounded American in the next bed. He told the nurse, "I'm really confused. At the base,t hey beat me and tortured me. Here they treat me like a human being."

Actually, the British are overrated as occupiers. I think all that happened with them is that they realized that they were in a hopeless situation and made a serious effort not to make it worse, which for the most part kept them out of trouble. But they never actually ran anything. The Americans thought they were in control, and when they weren't insisted on acting like they were in control, on the theory that might work. This idea that you can do anything you want if only you set your mind to it is one of the great American myths. It is a big part of what went wrong.

March 2004 (p. 274):

As the month wore on, Iraq became noticeably more dangerous for someone like me. On March 9, a young CPA official who had been working with women's groups, a colleague of hers, and an Iraqi translator were chased down and shot to death on the road between Karbala and Hilla by five men wearing Iraqi police uniforms. An hour earlier, I had been driving back to Baghdad on another road a few miles away. On March 15, four Baptist missionaries were killed by automatic weapons fire in Mosul. The next day, two foreign water engineers were gunned down in a roadside shooting near Hilla. Their corpses became part of the nightly work at Dr. Shaker's morgue. Perhaps as a warning, he gave me the clinical details of the Dutchman's case: A Kalashnikov bullet fired at a distance greater than six feet shattered the right ankle; a second entered the back of the right thigh, tore off the scrotum, and exited through the left thigh; a third penetrated the right kidney with shrapnel; a fourth entered the left side of the neck and exited with part of the lower jaw, causing death.

As his dreams fall apart, Packer starts blaming others (p. 326):

Over time, it became clear that the ultimate responsibility lay in Washington, at the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and finally the White House. The memos on torture and the Geneva Conventions written by the president's counsel Alberto Gonzalez and others made abuses inevitable. One administration official who had served in Vietnam said, "There's no doubt in my mind as a soldier that part of the responsibility for Abu Ghraib and for Afghanistan belongs with the secretary of defense and the president of the United States. There's an old aphorism: Keep it simple, stupid. KISS is the acronym. You always have personalities in uniform -- I had them in Vietnam -- who will take advantage of any ambiguity, any lack of clarification in the rules of engagement, and kill people, or whatever his particular psyche is liable to do. You don't have rules for your good people. You have rules for that five or six percent of your combat unit that are going to be weird. You need those people, because sometimes they're your best killers. But you need the rules. And when you make any kind of changes in them, any relaxation or even hint of it, you're opening Pandora's box. And i fault Gonzalez, the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, the chain of command, Myers, Abizaid, Sanchez, the whole bunch of them."

All of these men kept their jobs. One was even promoted. The failure to hold anyone in authority responsible ensured that immoral and, from a practical point of view, worthless methods of interrogation would continue. Even after the world saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib, prisoners would go on being tortured in American custody.

The events of April and May 2004 showed that no one was making decisions based on a clear, realistic strategy. No one was really in charge of Iraq. Bremer acted without consulting Washington, Washington kept stepping in to overrule Bremer, the Pentagon was still battling State and NSC, the White House had its eye on the political calendar, Bremer and Sanchez were barely speaking, Sanchez left his division commanders to pursue wildly different tactics. When something went wrong, it was somebody else's fault -- a psychopathic sergeant, or the press corps, or the Iraqis. And the Iraqis turned out to have their own ideas about their country's fate. Looking back, a senior CPA official said, "What they needed was somebody in charge in Washington and somebody in charge in Baghdad, and they needed to be twins, in the sense that they were really on the same wavelength. Rumsfeld was kind of washing his hands, it seemed. Jerry over time began dealing more and more with Rice and Powell. Unfortunately, by then you had a full-blown insurgency."

A morale check on the soldiers (p. 328):

I went to see [John] Prior there in the middle of June. Highway 8, the strip down from Baghdad, was closed to civilian traffic, and one section of the road, a bridge over a canal, had recently been blown up. The soldiers who escorted me down to the base made no secret of their feelings about the prolonged stay in Iraq. "I sympathized with the Iraqis when we first got here," said a young sergeant who had spent every day of the occupation in Iraq. "But now I'm cold, I feel no remorse. When you see some of your friends get killed, it changes you." I asked if he still distinguished between good and bad Iraqis. "How can you tell them apart? The same guy that waves at you can shoot you with an RPG."

At the base I heard the same thing from almost every soldier I talked to. The bitterness extended beyond Iraqis to their own chain of command. Rumsfeld, who had sent them out here without enough men and armor and then extended their deployment several times, came in for particular hatred, and even the president wasn't popular; a number of soldiers said that they intended to vote for John Kerry, who at least had served in Vietnam. Everyone was still doing his or her job, but the heart had gone out of it and a stale air of cynicism hung over the place as the soldiers waited for their orders to ship out.

Of course, the Pentagon can always find soldiers to get in front of cameras and proclaim their faith in the mission and their hope that Americans back home won't let them down, will give them the chance to succeed. Some such soldiers may believe that, but others are simply hostages of the warmakers.

More blame shifting (p. 384):

Fred Barnes, an editor of the strenuously prowar Weekly Standard, parachuted into the Green Zone and discovered that the only thing wrong with Operation Iraqi Freedom was Iraqis. "The need an attitude adjustment," Barnes wrote. "Americans I talked to in 10 days here agree Iraqis are difficult to deal with. They're sullen and suspicious and conspiracy-minded." This wasn't the prewar judgment of hawks like Barnes, but something had to explain all the bumps in the road, which would lead to a successful democracy in Iraq only after "an outbreak of gratitude for the greatest act of benevolence one country has ever done for another."

And blame avoidance (p. 385):

With their eyes turned to such lofty matters, few prowar ideologues allowed the bad news from Iraq to break their stride. Either they refused to credit it, blaming the media and the defeatists for hiding the truth, or they continued to take such a long view of history that a hundred Iraqis or a dozen Americans blown up in a suicide bombing hardly factored. But this was just as true on the antiwar side of the ledger. Experience taught me that the individual stories of Iraqis struggling against danger and the odds to create a better life for themselves and their country were impatiently flicked aside as soon as I tried to tell them. The retort was swift and sure: "This war is illegal, it's immoral. Nothing good can come of a lie." In spite of the enormous stakes and the terrible alternatives, most antiwar pundits and politicians showed no interest in success. When Iraqis risked their lives to vote, Arianna Huffington dismissed the elections as a "Kodak moment." It was Bush's war, and if it failed, it would be Bush's failure.

America in the early twenty-first century seemed politically too partisan, divided, and small to manage something as vast and difficult as Iraq. Condoleezza Rice and other leading officials were fond of comparing Iraq with postwar Germany. But there was a great gulf between the tremendous thought and effort of the best minds that had gone into defeating fascism and rebuilding Germany and Japan, and the peevish, self-serving attention paid to Iraq. One produced the Army's four-hundred-page manual on the occupation of Germany; the other produced talking points.

Just because Packer can put himself on both sides of the political divide doesn't make him right. It could very well make him doubly wrong. That "nothing good can come from a lie" seems trite; that the war is illegal a technicality; but that it is immoral shouldn't be dismissed so glibly. Packer thinks he can trade off killing a bunch of people here to save some supposedly greater quantity or quality of people elsewhere, but it's impossible to calculate like that with certainty, and it's unclear that one would be right to do so even if one could. Starting any war runs the risk of letting it run out of control, as Iraq has done. Starting any war runs the risk of reducing oneself to the very evils one imagines struggling against, as scandals like Abu Ghraib plainly demonstrate. In fact, most antiwar people would object to my phrase "runs the risk" here because the likelihood is so near certain that there's no value, and much danger, in conceding any chance that it might not. That also explains the antiwar movement's lack of enthusiasm for any notion of "success" coming out of this war. We have a cognitive problem with the success concept -- we cannot conceive of what success in war might mean.

Basic Bush (p. 385):

What made this political culture particularly unfortunate for Iraqis was that the Bush administration, instead of forging the war into a truly national cause, conducted it from the beginning like the South Carolina primary.

Packer goes on to lament Bush's failure to convert the national unity felt in response to 9/11 into national purpose (pp. 386-387):

It was much remarked at the time that President Bush did nothing to tap this palpable desire among ordinary people to join a larger effort. Americans were told to go shopping and watch out for suspicious activity. It was Pearl Harbor, and it was a bad day on the stock exchange; nothing would ever be the same, and everything was just the same. Joseph Biden wondered, "How urgent can this be if I tell you this is a great crisis and, at the time we're marching to war, I give the single largest tax cut in the history of the United States of America?" The tax cuts didn't just leave the country fiscally unsound during wartime; their inequity was bad for morale. But the president's failure to call for shared, equal sacrifice wasn't accidental. It followed directly from the governing spirit of the modern conservative movement that his presidency brought to full power. After years of a sustained assault on the idea of collective action, there was no ideological foundation left on which Bush could have stood up and asked what Americans could do for their country. We weren't urged to study Arabic, to join the foreign service or international aid groups, to develop alternative sources of energy, to form a national civil reserve for emergencies -- or even to pay off the cost of the war in our own time. Its burdens would be borne by the next generations of Americans, and by a few hundred thousand volunteer soldiers in this one.

Perhaps it was a shrewd political read on Bush's part -- a recognition that Americans, for all their passion after September 11, would inevitably slouch back to their sofas. It seemed fair to ask, though, how a body politic as out of shape as ours was likely to make it over the long, hard slog of wartime; how convincingly we could export democratic values when our own version showed so many signs of atrophy; how much solidarity we could expect to muster for Afghans and Iraqis when we were asked to feel so little for one another.

More likely, it was just Bush's habit to view all matters as nothing more than grist for his political racket. The hepped up fever of war was mostly an opportunity to grab stuff -- tax cuts, missile defense systems, ubiquitous spying, and most importantly war, which would allow him to campaign for re-election as Commander in Chief, constantly basking in the patriotic gore of uniforms and weapons.

Packer flexes his imagination (p. 388):

The president was pursuing two courses are once: to reshape American foreign policy, and to consolidate his party's hold on power. Perhaps it was old-fashioned to point out that these courses might eventually collide, at some risk to national interests. It wasn't impossible yet, in the fall of 2002, to imagine a policy that harnessed both parties and America's democratic allies in defeating tyranny in Iraq. Such a policy would have required the administration to operate with more flexibility and openness than it wanted to. The evidence on unconventional weapons would have had to be laid out without exaggeration or deception. Once the UN inspectors were back in Iraq, they would have had to be allowed to carry out their work rather than be undermined by a campaign of vilification. Testimony to Congress would have had to be candid, not slippery. Administration officials who offered dissenting views or pessimistic forecasts would have had to be heard rather than silenced or fired. Experts in nation building would have had to be welcomed, not shut out, even if they had things to say that the White House didn't want to hear. American citizens would have had to be treated like grown-ups, and not, as Bush's chief of staff Andrew Card once suggested, ten-year-olds.

This is bullshit on several levels. For starters, it asks the Bush administration to be something it absolutely wasn't -- the long list starts with honest, but especially founders on representing interests that would bear up under open scrutiny by the American people. Bush's people knew full well that if all the facts and fears were plainly visible the American people would never countenance going to war in Iraq -- and that the least of their possible reasons for doing so would be to liberate or save Iraqis. Bush had, after all, gotten to his perch of power by exploiting the worst instincts of the American people. He, far more than Packer, knew what buttons to push, and how to push them.

In the end, even Packer realizes this (p. 390):

Character is fate. What prevented any of this from happening was, above all, the character of the president. Bush's war, like his administration, like his political campaigns, was run with his own absence of curiosity and self-criticism, his projection of absolute confidence, the fierce loyalty he bestowed and demanded. He always conveyed the impression that Iraq and the war on terror were personal tests. Every time a suicide bomber detonated himself, he was trying to shake George W. Bush's will. If Bush remained steadfast, how could America fail? He liked to call himself a wartime president, and he kept a bust of his hero Winston Churchill in the Oval Office. But Churchill led a government of national unity and offered his countrymen nothing but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. Bush relentlessly pursued the partisan Republican agenda while fighting the war, and what he offered was optimistic forecasts, permanent tax cuts, and his own stirring resolve.

More on responsibilty (pp. 391-392):

I asked Richard Perle whether the top Bush officials ever suffered doubts about Iraq. "We all have doubts all the time," Perle said. "We don't express them, certainly not in a public debate. That would be fatal." Expressing doubts in public would give opponents exactly what they were waiting for. In public, Perle himself essentially said, "I told you so." To a French documentary filmmaker he said, "Most people thought there would be tens of thousands of people killed, and it would be a long and very bloody war. I thought it would be over in three weeks, with very few people killed. Now, who was right?" That was early on. As the war became longer and bloodier, Perle was still right, but in a different way. If only five thousand INC members had gone in with the Americans as he had wanted, if only Ahmad Chalabi had been installed at the head of an interim government at the start, all these problems could have been avoided. Michael Rubin, one of Perle's young protégés, left the Office of Special Plans and then the CPA to start a second career as a writer, and his single subject was the stupidity of officials in the White House, the State Department, and the CIA in botching postwar Iraq by not listening to Michael Rubin and his neoconservatrive allies in the Pentagon -- the agency that ran the occupation. Every key postwar decision was made by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, or Rumsfeld's appointee Bremer. None of them publicly uttered a single doubt, a syllable of self-scrutiny.

Leslie Gelb worked in the Pentagon during the last months of the Johnson presidency, and he directed the writing of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam War that had been commissioned by Robert McNamara before leaving office. I expressed skepticism to Gelb that Donald Rumsfeld had commissioned anyone at the Pentagon to write a secret history of the Iraq War. "You can bet your bippy," Gelb said with a laugh. "Only liberals look back and say they were wrong." Neoconservatives, by contrast, "say they were stabbed in the back. It's not accidental that President Bush during the campaign couldn't answer the question he ever made a mistake. I've never seen those folks say they were wrong. Vietnam was a liberals' war. This is not. They're not dumb -- they're very smart. And they're reckless." Comparing Bush to his own boss, Gelb went on, "Johnson was a tragic figure. He was driven by the imperative not to lose the war. He knew he couldn't win. Bush is Johnson squared, because he thinks he can win. Bush is the one true believer. We're talking about a guy essentially cut off from all information except the official line."

What makes the book worthwhile is Packer's willingness to show where he went wrong. In the end, he comes close to understanding, but still insists that he could have been right (p. 448):

I came to believe that those in positions of highest responsibility for Iraq showed a carelessness about human life that amounted to criminal negligence. Swaddled in abstract ideas, convinced of their own righteousness, incapable of self-criticism, indifferent to accountability, they turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one. When things went wrong, they found other people to blame. The Iraq War was always winnable; it still is. For this very reason, the recklessness of its authors is all the harder to forgive.

Don't believe that next-to-last line for a minute. If you can't end the war, you can't win it. To end it, you have to satisfy everyone that it is not worth fighting further. That means, in essence, that you have no winner, at least in the sense that conservatives calculate winning: the dominance of us over them. Liberals might try a different calculus, where winning is defined as everyone coming out the same -- even if that means severely battered and bruised. But why then would a liberal ever trust a war to a conservative? That, in essence, is Packer's great folly.


For more on Packer, see the book page, where this will eventually reside.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Numbers

US soldier deaths in Iraq have officially crossed the 3500 mark. Seems like it was only late December when it crossed 3000. The rate is clearly up, aiming for 4000 by year-end -- maybe even by make-or-break September. One thing we can attribute this to is an increased willingness among the generals to spill the blood of grunt soldiers. That in turn is the result of the politicians promoting more gung-ho generals, like Petreaus and Odierno. The politicians, after all, have always been willing to spill blood. They probably wouldn't even mind seeing a few generals on the lists of heroes.


Stephen Kinzer: Overthrow

Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq (2006; paperback, 2007, Times Books) provides a compact survey of twelve instances where Americans, working through the US government, overthrew other governments to promote American ideology and interests. The instances are: Hawaii (1893), Cuba (also Puerto Rico and the Philippines, 1898), Nicaragua (1909), Honduras (1910), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), South Vietnam (1963), Chile (1973), Grenada (1984), Panama (1989), Afghanistan (2001), and Iraq (2003). Most are well known cases, with Kinzer having previously written the book on Iran: All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Other cases could have been included: he discards in one line US-supported coups in the Congo, Brazil, and Indonesia, and doesn't even mention dozens of murkier cases.

The Hawaii story is relatively unknown. The coup there was started by American businessmen on the island, backed by the US consul and marines who happened to be onhand. This evidently happened with the approval of US president Benjamin Harrison, but his successor, Grover Cleveland, successfully blocked annexation. The US finally annexed Hawaii in 1898 as a sideshow to the Spanish-American War. In the long run, Hawaii resembles the case of Texas, which was even more of a freelance operation.

The Spanish-American War was the US's first big plunge into overseas expansion. It actually followed from the "open door" policies which had led the US into conflicts in Japan and China -- more or less directly triggering the Meiji Restoration which set the Japanese Empire loose on a binge of expansion that only ended in 1945. In addition to direct territorial acquisitions of Puerto Rico and the Philippines, the 1898 war kicked off a cycle of US interventions in and around the Caribbean that only ended with FDR's "good neighbor" policy in the 1930s. Kinzer focuses on Nicaragua and Honduras as they were the most directly focused on regime change, but also mentions Panama, which the US split off from Colombia in order to gain the Canal Zone. During this period the US also sent troops into Mexico, Venezuela, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere.

The nature of US interventions changed following WWII with the establishment of an ideological enemy (communism) and the creation of a covert action organization, the CIA. One important case Kinzer doesn't write about is South Korea, where the US established a brutal puppet dictatorship that did much to provoke the Korean War. Also uncovered was US support for the Diem regime in South Vietnam, although Kinzer does mention Diem's cancelling the negotiated elections, and covers the US coup that overthrew Diem, allowing the US to draw the Vietnam War out another twelve years, leading to the deaths of fifty thousand US soldiers and a million or more Vietnamese.

The cases from Grenada in 1983 on were run by the US military, although the CIA was initially in charge of Afghanistan, so they represent a third stage of American imperialism. The first was explicitly business-directed and managed through gunboat operations. The second was more ideological, implemented largely by the CIA, although the ideology was often subject to explicit businesses, like United Fruit in Guatemala, IT&T in Chile, and the oil cartels in Iran. The third is more blatantly a naked projection of US military power for power's sake.


Quotes:

(p. 3):

In Hawaii and the countries that rose against Spain in 1898, American presidents tested and developed their new interventionist policy. There, however, they were reacting to circumstances created by others. The first time a president acted on his own to depose a foreign leader was in 1909, when William Howard Taft ordered the overthrow of Nicaraguan president José Santos Zelaya. Taft claimed he was acting to protect American security and promote democratic principles. His true aim was to defend the right of American companies to operate as they wished in Nicaragua. In a larger sense, he was asserting the right of the United States to impose its preferred form of stability on foreign countries.

This set a pattern. Throughout the twentieth century and into the beginning of the twenty-first, the United States repeatedly used its military power, and that of its clandestine services, to overthrow governments that refused to protect American interests. Each time, it cloaked its intervention in the rhetoric of national security and liberation. In most cases, however, it acted mainly for economic reasons -- specifically to establish, promote, and defend the right of Americans to do business around the world without interference.

(p. 42):

Cuban patriots had for years promised that after independence, they would stabilize their country by promoting social justice. Americans wanted something quite different. "The people ask me what we mean by stable government in Cuba," the new military governor, General Leonard Wood, wrote in a report to Washington soon after he assumed office in 1900. "I tell him that when money can be borrowed at a reasonable rate of interest and when capital is willing to invest in the island, a condition of stability will have been reached." In a note to President McKinley, he was even more succinct: "When people ask me what I mean by stable government, I tell them, 'Money at six percent.'"

(pp. 83-84):

Americans have a profoundly compassionate side. Many not only appreciate the freedom and prosperity with which they have been blessed but fervently wish to share their good fortune with others. Time and again, they have proved willing to support foreign interventions that are presented as missions to rescue less fortunate people.

When President McKinley said he was going to war in Cuba to stop "oppression at our very doors," Americans cheered. They did so again a decade later, when the Taft administration declared that it was deposing the government of Nicaragua in order to impose "republican institutions" and promote "real patriotism." Sine then, every time the United States has set out to overthrow a foreign government, its leaders have insisted that they are acting not to expand American power but to help people who are suffering.

This paternalism was often mixed with racism. Many Americans considered Latin Americans and Pacific islanders to be "colored" natives in need of guidance from whites. In a nation whose black population was systematically repressed, and where racial prejudice was widespread, this view helped many people accept the need for the United States to dominate foreign countries.

Speeches justifying American expansionism on the grounds of the white race's presumed superiority were staples of political discourse in the 1890s. Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana described expansion as part of a natural process, "the disappearance of debased civilizations and decaying races before the higher civilization of the nobler and more virile types of man." Representative Charles Cochrane of Mississippi spoke of "the onward march of the indomitable race that founded this Republic" and predicted "the conquest of the world by the Aryan races." When he finished this speech, the House burst into applause.

(pp. 104-105):

Expansion presented the United States with a dilemma that has confronted many colonial powers. If it allowed democracy to flower in the countries it controlled, those nations would begin acting in accordance with their own interests rather than the interest of the United States, and American influence over them would diminish. Establishing that influence, though, was the reason the United States had intervened in those countries in the first place. Americans had to choose between permitting them to become democracies or maintaining power over them. It was an easy choice.

If the United States had been more far-sighted, it might have found a way to embrace and influence reformers in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Honduras. That could have produced a fairer social order in those countries, with two results. First, it would have improved the lives of many who have instead lived and died in poverty. Second, it would have eased festering social conflicts that periodically exploded into violence and dragged the United States into new rounds of intervention.

Nationalists reflexively rebel against governments they perceive as lackeys of foreign power. In the twentieth century, many of these rebels were men and women inspired by American history, American principles, and the rhetoric of American democracy. They were critical of the United States, however, and wished to reduce or eliminate the power it wielded over their countries. Their defiance made them anathema to American leaders, who crushed them time after time.

The course the United States followed brought enormous power and wealth but slowly poisoned the political climate in the affected countries. Over a period of decades, many of their citizens concluded that democratic opposition movements had no chance of success because the United States opposed them so firmly. That led them to begin embracing more radical alternatives. If the elections of 1952 in Cuba had not been canceled, and if candidates like the young Fidel Castro had been allowed to finish their campaigns for public office and use democratic institutions to modernize Cuba, a Communist regime might never had emerged there. If the United States had not resolutely supported dictators in Nicaragua, it would not have been confronted with the leftist Sandinista movement of the 1980s.

(p. 106):

American leaders clamored for this [open door] policy because, they said, the country desperately needed a way to resolve its "glut" of overproduction. This glut, however, was largely illusory. While wealthy Americans were lamenting it, huge numbers of ordinary people were living in conditions of severe deprivation. The surplus production from farms and factories could have been used to lift millions out of poverty, but this would have required a form of wealth redistribution that was repugnant to powerful Americans. Instead, they looked abroad.

After WWII, US operations in foreign countries took the form of covert action under the newly formed CIA. The first major exercise of this was in Iran. John Foster Dulles, in response to assurances that Iran's prime minister Mossadegh was no communist (p. 124):

None of this made the slightest impact on Dulles. His deepest instinct, rather than any cool assessment of facts, told him that overthrowing Mossadegh was a good idea. Never did he consult with anyone who believed differently.

(p. 161):

Paul Kattenburg, who had become chairman of the administration's Vietnam Interdepartmental Working Group, returned from a trip to Saigon in late August with a very gloomy view. He concluded that the Vietnamese had become steadily more nationalistic and would never accept a foreign-backed regime in Saigon. At a National Security Council meeting on August 31, he suggested that the time had come "for us to make the decision to get out honorably." His comrades promptly slapped him down.

"We will not pull out until the war is won," Rusk told him, curtly and to general approval.

Kattenburg had spoken the unspeakable, and was rewarded for his heresy with a diplomatic post in Guyana. A few weeks later, though, no less a figure than Attorney General Robert Kennedy wondered aloud at a White House meeting whether an eventual Communist victory in Vietnam "could be resisted with any government." If not, he suggested, perhaps it was "time to get out of Vietnam completely."

Others at the meeting considered this idea so weird as to be almost beyond response. Robert Kennedy might have been able to press his argument if he had thought it through more carefully and prepared a serious case, but he had not. After he spoke, one person at the meeting later recalled, his suggestion "hovered for a moment then died away, a hopelessly alien thought in a field of unexamined assumptions and entrenched convictions."

(p. 199):

[John Foster] Dulles was tragically mistaken in his view that the Kremlin lay behind the emergence of nationalism int eh developing world. He could at least, however, claim consistency in his uncompromising opposition to every nationalist, leftist, or Marxist regime on earth. Nixon and Kissinger could not. While they were working obsessively to force Salvador Allende from power -- and while they supported anti-Communist dictators from Paraguay to Bangladesh -- they were building realistic, cooperative relationships with the Soviet Union and China. The sophisticated pragmatism that guided them in their policy of détente did not extend to countries that were far less threatening to the United States. When they faced challenges from weak, vulnerable nations like Chile, they reacted with blind emotion rather than cool assessment of long-term interest that guided their approach to Moscow and Beijing.

(p. 206):

The coup in Guatemala had another effect that, like many consequences of "regime change" operations, did not become clear until years later. During the Arbenz years, scores of curious Latin American leftists gravitated to Guatemala. One of them was a young Argentine doctor named Che Guevara. After the coup, Guevara flew to Mexico. There he met the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro. They discussed the events in Guatemala at great length, and from them drew a lesson that has reverberated throughout all of subsequent Latin American history.

Operation Success taught Cuban revolutionaries -- and those from many other countries -- that the United States would not accept democratic nationalism in Latin America. It gave them a decisive push toward radicalism. They resolved that once in power, they would not work with existing institutions, as Arbenz had done. Instead they would abolish the army, close Congress, decapitate the landholding class, and expel foreign-owned corporations.

(pp. 206-207):

In 1996, under the auspices of the United Nations, Guatemalan military commanders and guerrilla leaders signed a peace treaty. That did little to resolve the huge inequalities of life in Guatemala, where two percent of the people still own half the arable land, but it did end a long, horrific wave of government repression. It also led to the establishment of a Commission on Historical Clarification that was assigned to study the violence and its causes. The commission's report put the number of dead at over 200,000, and said soldiers had killed 93 percent of them.

(p. 250):

[George H.W.] Bush, however, came into office with the handicap of being considered weak and indecisive, and had to deal with what commentators called "the wimp factor." In May, after Noriega imposed his own president against the will of Panamanian voters, Bush announced that he was sending 1,800 troops to American bases in Panama, a step that was intended as a message to Noriega. When a reporter asked the president what he would like the Panamanians to do, Bush replied that they should "just do everything they can to get Mr. Noriega out of there."

(pp. 305-306):

In the hours after American troops invaded Panama and deposed General Manuel Noriega, Panama City degenerated into violent anarchy. This eminently predictable result of the invasion seemed to take the Americans completely by surprise. It took them several days to realize that by destroying the force that guaranteed public order, they had assumed an obligation to replace it themselves until a new local force could be constituted. By then it was too late.

The main boulevards in Panama City are lined with lavishly stocked department stores, exclusive boutiques, and specialty outlets that sell everything from televisions and stereo equipment to diamond jewelry and Jaguars. Shoppers from around Latin America and the Caribbean fly there to spend money, competing with rabiblancos to scoop up the most expensive prizes. The day after the Americans invaded, poor Panamanians had their chance.

By mid-morning on December 21, 1989, the shopping district's main streets were clogged with people pushing factory-fresh stoves, refrigerators, and washing machines. Some appeared with carts and filled them to overflowing with frozen meat, cases of alcohol, furniture, and whatever else they could find. It took them less than thirty-six hours to strip Panama City's famous shopping centers of almost all their goods. The same thing happened in Colón, one of the hemisphere's most active free ports, where swarms of looters smashed freight containers and carried away everything they found. By one estimate, more than $2 billion of merchandise was stolen during these hours. Even a small show of force would have stopped this larcenous frenzy, but American soldiers never appeared.

(p. 315):

Ther is no stronger or more persistent strain in the American character than the belief that the United States is a nation uniquely endowed with virtue. Americans consider themselves to be, in Herman Melville's words, "a peculiar, chosen people, the Israel of our times." In a nation too new to define itself by real or imagined historical triumphs, and too diverse to be bound together by a shared religion or ethnicity, this belief became the essence of national identity, the conviction that bound Americans to each other and defined their approach to the world. They are hardly the first people to believe themselves favored by Providence, but they are the only ones in modern history who are convinced that by bringing their political and economic system to others, they are doing God's work.

This view is driven by a profound conviction that the American form of government, based on capitalism and individual political choice, is, as President Bush asserted, "right and true for every person in every society." It rests on the belief that Western-style democracy is the natural state of all nations and that all will embrace it once the United States removes artificial barriers imposed by regimes based on other principles. By implication, it denies that culture and tradition shape the human psyche, that national consciousness changes only slowly, and that even great powers cannot impose their beliefs on others by force.

(p. 316):

"If the self-evident truths of our founding are true for us," Bush declared soon after the Iraq invasion, "they are true for all."

Generations of Americans have eagerly embraced this belief, largely because it reinforces their self-image as uniquely decent people who want only to share their good fortune with others. More sophisticated defenders of the regime change idea make a better argument. They recognize that the United States considers principally its own interests when deciding whether to overthrow foreign governments, but insist that this is fine because what is good for the United States is also good for everyone else. In their view, American power is intrinsically benign because the political and economic system it seeks to impose on other countries will make them richer, freer, and happier -- and, as a consequence, create a more peaceful world.

(p. 320):

Modern history makes eminently clear that when the United States engages with oppressive and threatening regimes, using combinations of incentives, threats, punishments, and rewards, those regimes slowly become less dangerous. The most obvious examples are China and the former Soviet Union, but the same approach has been highly effective in countries from South Korea to South Africa. Nations the United States confronts only with threats and pressures, and isolates from the international system, like Iran, Cuba, and North Korea, never emerge from their cocoons of repression and anti-Americanism.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bush Priorities

Phillip Brownlee of the Wichita Eagle sent out a request for letters: "We're asking citizens to offer their opinions about what Bush's top priorities should be during his remaining time in office. We'll print as many responses as we can on The Eagle's Opinion pages on Sunday." Not that he asked me -- Laura did and forwarded it to me. I wrote back 110 words, not counting the second paragraph:

Bush's belief that he could solve Middle East problems through a show of force has repeatedly backfired. He desperately needs some way to salvage America's reputation. The easiest way would be to press Israel to give up sovereignty for Gaza, allowing an independent state there. This only solves part of the problem, in that it postpones dealing with the thornier problems of the West Bank and Jerusalem. But it's a practical and innovative way to break out of the current impasse. Also, it's consistent with Bush's own statements promising a Palestinian state.

Of course, it's not consistent with Bush's own acts -- he's a pathological liar, but it gives him an out. And it could only be done over Elliott Abrams' dead body, but that's a plus.

Laura didn't like this -- first paragraph, anyway. Something about "give up sovereignty" not being clear as long as the US is out to destroy Hamas, but also wariness over any sort of partial solution that doesn't include Jerusalem. Of course, what I meant was that Israel should renounce all of their claims on Gaza -- air space, the coast line, the border with Egypt, their military incursions, shellings, bombings, sonic booms, etc. The UN would nominally take over and organize elections. All nations would recognize the results of those elections, even if Hamas wins, as the democratic expression of the people. The resulting state would have all of the prerogatives of other independent states, but would have no claim to represent Palestinians outside of its own territory. Space precluded including more details that would be necessary, such as the repatriation of prisoners -- otherwise Israel would be setting up future conflicts, much as they have done with Lebanon. Some sort of system for monitoring and arbitrating border conflicts would need to be set up between Israel and Gaza.

It's possible that Palestinian political leadership would reject this whole thing, playing an all-or-nothing game, but I doubt that. The fact that Gaza houses so many refugees from Israel proper is certainly a problem, because those people do still have legitimate claims to return to Israel, which would not in any way be satisfied by merely granting Gaza freedom. Similarly, this leaves the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights undecided, and it should be clear that nothing done in Gaza is meant to prejudice solutions elsewhere. A more general solution would be better, but the Gaza piece strikes me as separable, manageable, and not totally impossible under Bush.

In the end, Laura wrote her own letter:

Bush should apologize for invading Iraq and proceed to get our troops out and thus out of the way of a solution to the mess he has made. The billions we spend each week supporting our military there could be used as reparations to fix the infrastructure instead. He should take regime change in Iran off the table, thus making it possible to convince them not to build nuclear weapons. In addition, he should halt military aid to Israel until it agrees to the Saudi peace plan which calls for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders in exchange for normalized relations with the Arab world

Sure, that would be better still. The Saudi plan is clear, clean, and simple, tying together all of the loose ends. US support for such a plan would go a long ways toward securing Israeli agreement. Still, I would expect a lot more resistance than carving off Gaza, meaning it would take much more external pressure, and that would be hard to muster given how much Bush's base has invested in the conflict. Even less likely is that Bush would admit error and/or failure in Iraq, or that he would give up his fantasy of overturning Iran.

Still, deep down, key people in the Bush administration must realize that they have failed utterly in their efforts to transform the Middle East: that one result of this is that America has shown not strength but weakness, that another is that we have garnered no good will for our efforts. The situation in Iraq is so dire that at least some form of retreat appears inevitable. As the US retreats, it is reasonable to expect at least some jihadis to seek American targets out elsewhere -- the downside of making Iraq the "central front of the War on Terror." In that scenario, doing something about the Israel/Palestine conflict is one of the few cards left to play. That's why what I proposed makes sense.

On the other hand, sense in politics is something else. Bush won't do anything because he thinks it's right for the country. His only concern is his own political profile. So as long as war with the Middle East maintains favor with his supporters, he has no reason not to feed it. In that Israel proves uniquely useful.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The N-State Solution

I wandered into the a debate on the one-vs.-two state solutions to the Israel/Palestine conflict today, and couldn't get a word in edgewise. The answer is actually pretty simple when you think about it. Admittedly, few people do. They'd rather see conflict in oppositional terms, with two sides parrying as each gropes toward some sort of advantage. And in that game, they're given to slinging the turds of history at one another. Needless to say, there's plenty to go around.

The bottom line is that all Jews and all Arabs, both within whatever borders apply to Israel and/or Palestine and without, deserve and need to enjoy full and equitable rights under secure and just law with ample protections for anyone who finds themselves in a minority. It is easy enough to imagine that happening in one state, two, or many, so in that sense the one-or-two state question is irrelevant: either would work, provided one can achieve equal rights and minority protections.

On the other hand, without equal rights and minority protections, neither works. For proof of that, you need look no further than the current situation. You can at present view Israel and the Occupied Territories as either one or two states: one in the sense that the whole area is controlled by one government, or two in the sense that two distinct sets of law and order are enforced. Neither works. In fact, they function so poorly -- especially for the Palestinians who make up approximately half of the total population -- that no amount of fiddling with borders and the like can make any difference. The only meaningful step would be for Israel to grant full legal rights to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, either by granting them full citizenship (one state) or independence (two states). As a first approximation, either works.

Needless to say, the choice of solution isn't something that the Palestinians have any real say about. They're in the classic "beggars can't be choosers" position, but most are desperate enough that either choice would be acceptable. Where they do have a say is in rejecting non-solutions, such as everything Israel has actually proposed thus far. Indeed, in this day it's hard to argue that they shouldn't reject schemes that deny them basic human rights.

It's also the case that the so-called World Community doesn't have much say in the choice, even if they wanted to, which judging from their track record remains to be seen. Israel's intransigence has been enabled by the weakness of the Palestinians and the indiffeence of the World Community. Until one or both change, Israel has little if any motivation to solve anything. (One might point out the moral rot that sustaining the Occupation causes within Israel, but thus far voters seem to be willing to live with that.) I won't speculate on what might move the World Community to make an effort, but if they did they'd only be able to apply small amount of pressure -- e.g., through bribes for good behavior, and sanctions for bad. Any thought of forcing Israel's hand is certainly off the table. So it matters little for outsiders to argue. Both choices are viable. The real struggle is impressing on Israel the need to make one.

As it turns out, if Israel had to choose, they would certainly opt for a two-state solution. The reason is because that plan would involve the least challenge to their founding ideology. They define themselves not by their borders but by their ruling ethnicity -- their idea of the Jewish State welcomes Jews beyond their borders and excludes or marginalizes non-Jews within their borders. Theirs is an ideal that by definition non-Jews cannot achieve equal rights within -- even though in practice the so-called Palestinian Citizens of Israel have long been integrated enough that they are not in open revolt or defiance of the state. Israel is in fact moving toward a dysfunctional, vastly inequitable perversion of a two-state system, with its massive wall forcibly segregating the West Bank. Although international law properly recognizes the pre-1967 "Green Line" as an appropriate two-state border, one could in theory start with the wall line and simply demand equal rights and autonomy on each side. Again, the key point is equal rights. Another way to look at this is that you can come up with any number of separate, autonomous territories, but within each territory there needs to be a proper Single State solution. (One advantage of the Green Line border is that Israel has already implemented an acceptable form of Single State within its pre-1967 borders, so would not have to change its own internal political system to conform to the requirements. It is often easiest to go with solutions that require minimal change, especially where there is so little leverage.)

Of course, nothing in either solution is going to be as easily done as said. Israel has spent 40 years making this as difficult as possible -- not only through their systematic development of "facts on the ground" but more importantly through a propaganda mindfuck that amounts to mass psychosis, applied in various ways to Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans, most especially. They have preserved their dominance by keeping the conflict brewing, especially by goading Palestinians into striking back. And having created such a legacy of oppression, it has become ridiculously easy to create events they can blame for their actions. All this resonates powerfully in the US, given the blowback our worldwide policies have generated. It's no accident that Israel and the US have marched in lockstep into a perpetual War on Terror.

As I said, there is damn little the Palestinians can do about this, beyond insisting on their own human dignity, even when that reduces to self-sacrifice. (Before martyrs started taking others with them, they were simple witnesses to brutal injustice, and all the more effective as such.) But one thing the Palestinian political leadership could do would be to start wherever possible to live the lives they aspire to. This means that where they do gain political power, they reform their government into the sort of One State, with security and equal rights for all, they aspire to -- and where they don't have power, they can at least start to put these ideas down on paper. This means, for instance, that they should welcome and protect and cherish any Jews who wish to live lawfully among them. It would mean recognizing the Hebrew language, forgiving illegal settlements and welcoming the settlers. It may even go so far as to offering a Law of Return to Jews as well as Palestinians, in competition with Israel. Admittedly, there's no chance of a demographic reversal in Gaza or the West Bank, but doing so attacks the most fundamental concept behind Zionism: that Jews have no alternative but to migrate to Zion. Moreover, it is the kind of attack that cannot be revenged with bombs and tanks. It hits Israelis right where they live: in their myths.

The second thing Palestinians should attempt to do is to settle whatever can be settled within whatever practical opportunities emerge. That may, for instance, involve pushing for autonomy in relatively uncontested areas, like Gaza, first, welcoming such opportunities when they occur, and making the best of them. One big thing that could be done would be to start to resettle the refugees -- providing compensation to find acceptable new homes with full political rights, thereby reducing the pressure for a return to Israel. This sort of thing starts to engage the World Community in constructive investments toward solving the conflict short of having to overcome Israel's intractable belligerence. Such steps build trust and commitment toward further, more difficult steps.

Still, we shouldn't wait for the Palestinians to unambiguously get their act together on a solution. The conflict is their problem, but it is also ours. More than any other conflict in the world today, Israel has managed to undermine the authority of international law and discredit its potential for resolving conflicts in the future. The Palestinian refugee crisis dates back 60 years, setting the pattern that later conflicts have only added to. The spread of war in the region is directly tied to our inability to solve this one. Our lack of evident interest in doing so is in and of itself a stern rebuke on our sense of morality. Israel has become the most intensely militarist society in the world today, followed by its ally the United States. Widely viewed threats like proliferation of nuclear weapons to nations like Iran are a direct response to US and Israeli militarism. Moreover, our failure to address this conflict shows disinterest and contempt for the very formulations of human rights that we put forth in the wake of WWII to break the cycle of imperial wars that had destroyed Europe and much of Asia. These are not problems that are just going to wither away and be forgotten. We need good will and cooperation to face them, and for that we must regain our claim to fairness and justice. That makes Israel's bullying of the Palestinians a concern for all of us.


Postscript: In case I wasn't clear enough, the reason most Israelis favor two states over one state is to preserve the Jewish demographic majority and hence the Jewish state identity of Israel. The 700,000 refugees from 1948 reduced the Palestinian population within Israel's borders to such an extent that Israel could offer the rest citizenship -- a nice propaganda point -- while maintaining a strong Jewish majority. That changed with 1967, to the extent that even when Israel formally annexed Jerusalem they didn't offer its residents citizenship. The unity of the 1947-67 Jewish state was based on its denial of responsibility for the refugees. After 1967, unity depended on the forced subjugation of a large population of undesired, and increasingly hostile, residents. Zionist ideology adjusted accordingly. Much as slavery in the Americas was elevated into the principles of racism, Israel's occupation sharpened the differences between Jewish masters and subordinate Arabs. Zionism was based on the notion that Jews are fundamentally different from others. As Zionists gained power, they abused it, increasing their insecurities, repeating the cycle. Israel was formed out of two overwhelming prejudices: one was the common experience of European settlers in the third world, invariably seeing the natives as uncivilized and inferior; the other was their own experience of persecution in Europe, letting them view themselves as perpetual victims, therefore intrinsically innocent. That combination turned the all-powerful Jewish State into their crutch and bludgeon. To give that up, as they would in allowing the state to represent all the people who live under it, would discard their identity, and that's an impossible thing to hope for, especially under stress of the conflict.

In general, partition is a horrible solution -- one the English tried disastrously in Ireland and India as well. The truth is that the Palestinians were right, at least in principle, to reject it in 1937 and again in 1947. A single, multi-ethnic Palestine, open both to Jews and Arabs, would have been a much better solution -- but wasn't pursued by the Zionist settlement, nor insisted on by the World Community, nor was it ultimately enforced by the Arabs, who mostly weren't clear on the concept anyway. The best one can say about partition today is that it's not quite so horrible, in large part because most of the pain of separation has already been absorbed. The basic two-state solution is built on partition: it requires Israel to dismantle its settlements, so Jews and Arabs ultimately have to live apart. One-state advocates correctly see this as abominable -- Meron Benevisti is one who has argued this eloquently -- but really the partition has for almost everyone sunk in so deep that it has turned into reality. It's basic us vs. them worldview is fundamentally racist -- recognizing that gives Americans at least some clue of what we're up against. The same sentiment is no doubt deeply entrenched in the Palestinian side, but is more maleable there, in part because it has been shown to be dysfunctional, but mostly because the opportunity to create an open, tolerant society not only works toward the best interests of the Palestinians, it offers them redemption.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Music: Current count 13220 [13197] rated (+23), 843 [853] unrated (-10). Recycled Goods for June is edited and ready to be posted. Worked most of the week on Jazz Consumer Guide, which is due this coming Wednesday, but basically done. Nothing to show here this week. It will be nice to spend the next couple of weeks away from music writing deadlines.


Jazz Prospecting (CG #13, Part 12)

This is officially the last week of Jazz Prospecting for the 13th Jazz Consumer Guide column. The deadline is this coming Wednesday. All that's left to meet that deadline is a little bit of clean up. I've already done an initial partition of the file, holding back 6 records (323 words), leaving 42 records (1873 words) in the draft file. Some of those will get cut back by the time it's edited and layed out. Last time I wound up with 33 records (1553 words), so that's about where this one will land.

The timing is pretty close to three months since the previous column turned in. It seems like every time I hope to speed things up a bit, but they wind up back on the quarterly schedule. Again, there is more music that deserves to be noted than space for it. The obvious solution would be to accelerate the schedule. As it turns out, the amount of time it takes to finish a column -- to write something presentable out of my prospecting notes -- is far less than the time it takes to sort everything out. I don't know whether the Voice would have any such interest. As usual, space is tight, and jazz is not the editor's foremost interest. Also don't know whether there are any other options. Indeed, at this point I'm feeling ambivalent about the whole project. It is an awful lot of work, and it takes a lot of time and energy away from other things I could, and arguably should, be doing.

On the other hand, I think this looks like a good column -- a few predictable records, at least given my past record, but also a few surprises, even to me. Still, there is much I wasn't able to get to, including A-rated records by Chris Byars, Matt Lavelle, Powerhouse Sound, Fay Victor, and David Ware. In some cases I didn't have the time; in others words failed me. Also written but held back are: Maria Anadon, Fred Anderson, Joshua Redman, and Logan Richardson. Check the Jazz Prospecting for them, and look forward to next time. The prospecting file contains notes on 218 records evaluated this cycle, as well as a list of 84 carried over from the previous cycle. The done file has swelled to 132 records, so the next step will be to cut that down to a more practicable size. Did manage to cut the replay shelves down by more than half, but there is a lot of unplayed new stuff in the queue.


Waverly Seven: Yo! Bobby (2006 [2007], Anzic, 2CD): Bobby is Darin, the record a salute to his songbook, which once you get past his early Atlantic hits could just as well be Frank Sinatra's songbook. The group is Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Anat Cohen and Joel Frahm on reeds, Manuel Valera and Jason Lindner on keyboards, Barak Mori on bass, Daniel Freedman on drums, with Scott Robinson and Vic Juris appearing as guests. Frahm and Valera get extra credit for producing. Not sure who did the arrangements, but they're pretty straightforward -- indeed, for all the talent here the remarkable thing is how little they have to add. Not even an explanation why Darin matters, which would be useful 'cause sometimes I forget. B

Maria Guida: Soul Eyes (2007, Larknote): Singer. Studied with Jay Clayton, who is credited with arrangements here, and Sheila Jordan, who praises Guida on the cover. Don't know how old she is, but she drops hints like "I've known bassist Dean Johnson for 20 years" and "the turning point of her professional life occurred when she saw pianist Bill Evans play live." First album, pop and jazz standards, with some vocalese bridging them. Scott Yanow describes her as "a very appealing singer with a warm voice and the ability to express the hidden beauty found in superior lyrics." Actually, she's much better than that: able to hold your attention on a dull ballad, deftly navigate the treacherous "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," and surefooted when she speeds up "Let's Get Lost" and "Four" -- two choice cuts here. B+(**)

Judi Silvano: Women's Work: Live at Sweet Rhythm NYC (2006 [2007], JSL): Jazz singer, married or somehow involved with Joe Lovano -- his website makes more of the relationship than hers, but neither is all that forthcoming. She sings with an all-female trio here -- Janice Friedman on piano, Jennifer Vincent on bass, Allison Miller on drums -- tackling 11 songs written by 9 women. (Silvano and Mary Lou Williams are the repeaters; Friedman adds one from the band.) Silvano's phrasing and timing are impeccable, enough to carry these songs without complaint or much surprise. Especially good to hear Carla Bley's "Can't Get My Motor to Start." B+(*)

Harry Connick, Jr.: Oh, My Nola (2006 [2007], Columbia): Careful study of the booklet leads me to use initial caps on "Nola" rather than treat it as an acronym, even though New Orleans LA is the admitted reference. Of course, it could be argued differently, given that the booklet doesn't capitalize anything. I must admit that I'm getting tired of New Orleans tributes, but if this isn't the best record I've heard from Connick, the other one just edges it out. The theme gives him great material to work with, and he doesn't just sit on it. The Allen Toussaint songs come close enough to risk comparison, but pieces by Chris Kenner and Dave Bartholomew are uncovered gems, his "Jambalaya" breaks into joyous swing, and his nods to Armstrong and Prima leave plenty of elbow room. Three originals hang in there, as do three songs by trad. B+(***)

Sam Yahel Trio: Truth and Beauty (2005 [2007], Origin): Plays Hammond B3. Recorded three albums 1998-99; this is his fourth. In the meantime, he hooked up with Joshua Redman in the Elastic band. Redman returns the favor here, and Brian Blade fills out the trio. That looks promising on paper, but the record comes off soft and unfocused. Redman, unlike his new record, reverts to his slippery post-Prez style. Yahel cuts back on the soul jazz grind in favor of postbop niceties. Of minor interest to Redman fans. B+(*)


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

Harry Connick, Jr.: Chanson du Vieux Carré (2003 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Connick did the arrangements, but handed the two vocals off to Rodney Jones and Lucien Barbarin. The songs are mostly trad New Orleans fare, with a couple of Connick originals added to Armstrong, Bechet, Barbarin, Pollack, and a close from Henry Roeland Byrd, Dr. Professor Longhair to you. But the arrangements are postmodern: you don't feel the polyphony, nor the swing that arrived later and took over. Instead, they're projected into some other realm, where they find new life. B+(**)

Maria Anadon: A Jazzy Way (2006 [2007], Arbors): Anadon turns her back to her native Portugal and takes a bite of "Old Devil Moon" and a dozen more show tunes and vocalese skits. Her Women of the World band, with Japanese Tomoko Ohno on piano and Israeli Anat Cohen on clarinet and tenor sax, are no less at home. More proof that sometimes immigrants, discovering wonders we have come to take for granted, make the best Americans. A-

Phil Bodner: The Clarinet Virtuosity of Phil Bodner: Once More With Feeling (1960s-70s [2007], Arbors): Born 1917 and evidently still alive, with scads of studio albums but precious little under his own name, this offers a bit of well-deserved recognition -- something Arbors is frequently inclined to do. The small groups swing, and the clarinet stays up front, unifying six sessions with quite a few different pianists, guitarist, bassists and drummers. Great songs, much fun, often quite lovely. B+(***)

Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Blood (2004, Kopasetic): Quartet, two Nilssons, one Carlson, one Carlsson. The leader plays fast, dazzling electric guitar, over a pumping fusion rhythm. The Carlson, Mattias, plays tenor sax and "electrified alto sax" but mostly lurks in the background, a contrasting color. They could pass for rock on attitude, or jazz on shops. Several Scandinavian have tried their hands at postpunk fusion -- while most have the attitude, this one has a guitarist up to the challenge. A-

Anders Nilsson's Aorta: Janus (2005, Kopasetic): Saxophonist Mattias Carlson shows some real progress here, taking the lead on occasion and holding it. Nilsson's guitar is still impressive, but the more varied music works against his strong suite, especially when it slows down. B+(***)

Fay Victor Ensemble: Cartwheels Through the Cosmos (2006 [2007], ArtistShare): I guess we can add Victor to the Betty Carter family of jazz singers, if we could find anyone else to fill out a family. The voices are similar, although Victor's a shade or two lighter. The musical rigor is comparable, especially when Victor slides a verse onto a free rhythm without chaos ensuing. Most of all, they both run adventurous, cutting edge bands. My discovery here is guitarist Anders Nilsson, who always has something to say. The others are bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson, who rank as household names, at least in this household. A-

Joel Frahm: We Used to Dance (2006 [2007], Anzic): A tenor sax lover's album, plain and simple, with three-fourths of the late Stan Getz's quartet (Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, Victor Lewis) -- not that Frahm sounds much like Getz, or plays his songbook. This is the sort of record I tend to be sweet on, but could just as well be underrated here. B+(***)

Roswell Rudd/Mark Dresser: Airwalkers (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Bass-trombone duo. Seems to me this is more Dresser's show: he does this sort of intimate abstraction quite often, it's always difficult to follow but sometimes interesting when you do. Always great to hear Rudd, and a rare treat to hear him this rough but still in control. But not a record that will convert anyone. B+(**)

The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project: Simpático (2005 [2006], ArtistShare): Palmieri grew up in the Bronx melting pot, of Puerto Rican descent. I don't know him well enough to place him, or indeed whether that's possible: salsa draws so promiscuously from Afro-Cuban that it may make no difference. Lynch is a terrific trumpeter who plays a lot of everything; his Latin interests started as a teenager in salsa bands in Milwaukee, then took a leap forward when he hooked up on a Palmieri tour in 1987 -- juggling travel to also keep his commitments to Toshiko Akiyoshi. This pulls it all together, with a steady stream of bubbling percussion, tasty alto sax from Donald Harrison and Phil Woods, and plenty of trumpet. Won a Grammy; for once I can't complain. A-

Vijay Iyer + Mike Ladd: Still Life With Commentator (2006 [2007], Savoy Jazz): Maybe Pamela Z's "bel canto" vocals were the turnoff. I missed this first round, but easily skipped past the joke this time, and straight into Iyer's programming and sequencing. Still don't get much out of Ladd's words, even when I read the trot from the Japanese, but then I wonder whether the point isn't just to sound profound, even if meaningless -- that is the way of our cosmopolitanism, where commentators help render us as still lifes, tuned in to a world we thankfully don't have to engage. A-

Nicole Mitchell/Harrison Bankhead/Hamid Drake: Indigo Trio: Live in Montreal (Paperback Series Vol. 3) (2005 [2007], Greenleaf Music): Bankhead and Drake have another trio record out this year, with Fred Anderson. The rough tumbling rhythm is the same. The only difference is sassy young flute in place of wizened but still grizzly tenor sax. Mitchell also adds the chant to "Stand Strong" -- she does. B+(***)

Joshua Redman: Back East (2006 [2007], Nonesuch): Before East takes over with two originals and Coltrane's "India" -- the latter a last session with father Dewey -- Redman has some fun with the West, including a rollicking "I'm a Old Cowhand." He earns his right to play soprano sax on three cuts, and his tenor is more robust than any time since he landed that Lester Young role in Altman's Kansas City. A-

Michael Brecker: Pilgrimage (2006 [2007], Heads Up): I never could fault him on technique, but fast runs have been bebop calisthentics since Charlie Parker, a standard and by now ordinary stock in trade. I never cared for his musical interests, and often found him cold and dispassionate to a worrisome extent. This record was cut during a brief respite in his struggle with MDS. It benefits from simplicity of conception and an outpouring of friends -- he has to juggle two pianists since he could hardly turn down either Herbie Hancock or Brad Mehldau. So I'm tempted to say: impending death focuses the mind, thaws the heart, brings out the best in friends. In fact, that's what I wrote for the column. I'd also say that it's his best album ever, but I've never given him better than a B before, and sarcasm doesn't seem appropriate here. It's certainly one to remember him by. Also note that Pat Metheny stands out among the friends. B+(**)

David Torn: Prezens (2005 [2007], ECM): Rip Torn's cousin played guitar on some fusion albums in the '80s, working with such usual suspects as Bill Bruford and Tony Levin, before moving on to soundtrack work and the group Splattercell, but mostly he's done production work. He's produced most of Tim Berne's albums since 1997. Here he employs Hard Cell -- Berne's trio with keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey -- for a dark, demonic comeback. Berne's alto sax adds bite to Torn's power chords, Taborn juices up the electronics, and the always superb Rainey muscles up. A-

John Abercrombie: The Third Quartet (2006 [2007], ECM): I'm not sure whether the problem here is Mark Feldman -- a violinist so classical in nature the only time I've ever found him interesting was in Masada with John Zorn and Dave Douglas breathing fire up his ass -- or whether it's Abercrombie himself. The guitarist has never been as intentionally delicate or precious as Ralph Towner, but he still sort of typifies ECM's ascetic aesthetic applied to the instrument, and here he manages to dial it down a couple of notches. Feldman is equally studious and discrete. Marc Johnson and Joey Baron do what they can with what they've got to work with, and they have some good stretches. Normally I would let this pass, but having two guitarists as Pick Hits suggests that by contrast this should be flagged as a Dud. B

Robin Eubanks + EB3: Live Vol. 1 (2006 [2007], RKM): The basic architecture is trombone-keyboards-drums, but all three players are credited with keyboard bass, and Eubanks provides extra loops and beats. The electronics set the whole thing in motion -- a more technologically advanced take on the old organ trio formula. In that context, a trombone lead just adds to the novelty, and fun. Comes with a DVD, thus far unseen. B+(**)

Will Bernard: Party Hats (2007, Palmetto): San Francisco guitarist, gets a smart, light, funky groove going around organ (Wil Blades and/or Michael Bluestein), decorated with various horns -- Peter Apfelbaum is present on most tracks, but Dave Ellis rips off the big tenor sax solo on "Rattle Trap." B+(*)

Gordon Grdina's Box Cutter: Unlearn (2006, Spool/Line): Vancouver guitarist, mostly sets up the rhythm that propels François Houle's clarinets through a worldbeat maze. The latter is largely informed by Grdina's interest in Arabic classical music -- he also plays oud, but not on this album -- but the framework seems broader. Houle has done interesting work with Africans before, but sometimes sounds like bebop. "Soul Suite" is an exception here, starting slow and building strong. B+(***)

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: Tongues (2006 [2007], Domino): Further exchanges, although drummer Reid's contribution seems diminished. Hebden's ability to synthesize remarkable music on his laptop or whatever is as impressive as ever, especially on the first two tracks. Whether this should qualify as improv or not is impossible to say, but the only thing keeping from passing the Turing Test is the lack of real improvised competition. B+(***)

Tyft: Meg Nem Sa (2005 [2006], Skirl): Guitar-sax-drums trio: Hilmar Jensson, Andrew D'Angelo, Jim Black, respectively. Black minors in electronics, especially in his AlasNoAxis group, which Jensson also plays in. D'Angelo gets a fairly typical avant squawk. Unlikely anyone would like this who isn't already well atuned to the noisier end of the avant-garde, but the guitar-drums rump can produce some interesting fractured funk grooves, and they close on a mood piece when that's the last thing you expect. B+(**)

Carlos Barretto Trio: Radio Song (2002 [2007], Clean Feed): Bassist-led trio with guitar and drums. Most pieces cook over a high flame, and guitarist Mario Delgado can dance to the music. Three cuts add Louis Sclavis, who makes such an impact that it seems like more. B+(**)

Richie Barshay: Homework (2004-05 [2007], AVYA): A very versatile young (b. 1983) drummer, with interests in Cuba and India as well as mainstream jazz with options of swinging free. Title suggests he's still in his student phase. Indeed, this first album has the feel of a recital or clinic, a chance to show off all the things he can do. Impressive. Now what? B+(***)


Unpacking:

  • The Blueprint Project: People I Like (Creative Nation Music)
  • Charmaine Clamor: Flippin' Out (FreeHam)
  • Club D'Elf: Perhapsody: Live 10.12.06 (Kufala, 2CD)
  • Eldar: Re-Imagination (Sony BMG Masterworks)
  • Floratone (Blue Note): advance, Aug. 14.
  • Guy Klucevsek/Alan Bern: Notefalls (Winter & Winter)
  • Mushroom With Eddie Gale: Joint Happening (Hyena)
  • Misha Piatigorsky: Aya (Misha Music)
  • Pink Martini: Hey Eugene! (Heinz)
  • Solar Fire Trio: Rise Up (Foreign Frequency)
  • The Chip Stephens Trio: Holding On to What Counts (Capri)
  • Jacky Terrasson: Mirror (Blue Note): advance, Aug. 28.
  • Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter & James Cotton: Breakin' It Up, Breakin' It Down (1977, Epic/Legacy)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

War in Somalia?

I noticed a piece in the New York Times today about the US bombing a village in Somalia: cruise missiles fired against alleged militants. The report said that this is the third such incident. It did not say anything about Congress and/or the UN Security Council authorizing war on Somalia. Googling for information on this returns very little: a couple of press reports, mostly from Australia. No reports of anyone in Congress raising a question. Somalia fits the basic profile for targets of US bombing: a small, poor country, helpless to defend themselves let alone deter a foreign strike. It also fits the Bush pattern of reopening wars in countries the US has tangled with in the past. Something similar is happening in Lebanon, but thus far the US is only working through proxies.


Self-Infatuation

From WarInContext:

America as a religion will always be plagued by self-infatuation. Alternatively, if we were to see ourself as merely another nation we might be better disposed to recognize our own flaws and see ourself as one among many rather than the One above all. [ . . . ]

America as an actuality must first own before it can disown the ugliness that it hopes to transcend. The greatest challenge for any people that over-invests in hope is not in striving for a better future but in facing a stark reality. [ . . . ]

Before we utter our repudiations, first we must engage in a steady reckoning: take full account of what we are and see what we have done.

That seems about right, and does a good job of reminding us how difficult it is to reorient a nation with as much inertia as the US has built up. The fact is that even things that we more/less agree now to have been unfortunate, like slavery and our treatment of the Native Americans, haven't been repudiated so much as quietly buried in the basement of history. One wonders whether we would have been so supportive of South Africa up to the end of the apartheid regime, or of Israel's colonialism, continuing today, had we truly come to grips with our own past.

This was part of a comment on a piece by Scott Ritter, described here as "a devout, evangelical, and well-meaning congregant in the American religion." In between the quotes above there is a sideline on consumerism: "The insularity and indifference through which the American people provide their own government with such latitude, is a product of the consumerism that Ritter (and I) detest. Collective interdependence has been cast off in exchange for personal comfort and independence -- a societal transition that would be extremely difficult to reverse. Having taken care of our own needs so well, we have little compulsion to be concerned about the needs of others. Our material comfort sustains our political torpor."

This argument strikes me as off-base -- not wrong so much as incidental to whatever the real reasons are. One can equally argue that a sense of material plenty is what frees people to take up the concerns of others not so fortunate -- student progressivism in the '60s is a good historical example, and Maslow's psychology provides some theory to back that up. On the other hand, what matters here is less the absolute level of material comfort, which has if anything improved since the '60s, than our satisfaction and security with it, which has clearly diminished. What feeds the right isn't torpor so much as it is what Barbara Ehrenreich described as "the fear of falling."

There was a time when "consumerism" was a word used to describe consumer advocates, like Ralph Nader, whose primary concern was that consumers get more value for their purchases. That still strikes me as a worthy cause, especially if you recognize that the real goal is satisfaction and not merely more-better-cheaper. The big, possibly unsolvable problem facing the world today is how do we manage the trade-offs between satisfying consumers and limiting production and pollution within the limits of the earth's resources. The answer lies in some combination of more efficient products and services, more restrained desires, more fair distribution, and the avoidance of destruction (e.g., war).

Compared to this, coming to grips with America's imperial fevers should be simple, not least because they are so plainly dysfunctional. There is little doubt that over time we will retreat from most or all such commitments, if for no better reason than that we cannot afford them. But what we learn depends much on how thoroughly we look at ourselves -- something politicians of both parties and elites all over the map have vested interests in avoiding. Patriotism is little more than self-flattery, which is why it is so readily exploited by scoundrels. Only uncompromising self-awareness can save us from such manipulations. Despite all the horrible things that have happened to us since Bush took office, we are still a long ways from recognizing ourselves.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Chalmers Johnson: Nemesis

Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2007, Metropolitan) is the third book in what Chalmers Johnson decided was a trilogy on the contradictions -- the curse, really -- of the American empire. The following are quotes I marked. The last one attempts to sum up the three books. I haven't read Blowback yet, which is largely preoccupied with the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) with Japan, which largely exempts American soldiers stationed in Japan from the reach of Japanese law -- a point Johnson has returned to in both of the following books. The Sorrows of Empire introduced his "empire of bases" concept. I thought the book was one of the most compelling cases against American empire I've read.

No comments below; just quotes -- mostly a time crunch, which maybe I'll redress later, although for now I'm trying to hack through a rather large backlog of books. It's worth noting that the sections here on space militarization are particularly strong.


(pp. 21-22):

"Some years ago," [Hannah Arendt] wrote, "reporting the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem, I spoke of the 'banality of evil' and meant with this no theory or doctrine but something quite factual, the phenomenon of evil deeds, committed on a gigantic scale, which could not be traced to any particularity of wickedness, pathology, or ideological conviction in the doer, whose only personal distinction was perhaps an extraordinary shallowness. However monstrous the deeds were, the doer was neither monstrous nor demonic, and the only specific characteristic one could deect in his past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think."

Arendt was trying to locate Eichmann's conscience. She called him a "desk murderer," an equally apt term for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld -- for anyone, in fact, who orders remote-control killing of the modern sort -- the bombardment of a country that lacks any form of air defense, the firing of cruise missiles from a warship at sea into countries unable to respond, such as Iraq, Sudan, or Afghanistan, or, say, the unleashing of a Hellfire missile froma Predator unmanned aerial vehicle controlled by "pilots" thousands of miles from the prospective target.

How to ordinary people become desk murderers? First, they must lose the ability tothink because, according to Arendt, "thinking conditionsmen against evil doing." Jerome Kohn adds, "With some degree of confidence it may be said that the ability to think, which Eichmann lacked, is the precondition of judging, and that the refusal as well as the inability to judge, to imagine before your eyes the others whom your judgment represents and to whom it responds, invite evil to enter and infect the world." To lack a personal conscience means "never to start the soundless solitary dialogue we call thinking."/p>

If an individual's thinking is short-circuited and does not rise to the level of making judgments, he or she is able to understand acts, including evil acts, only in terms of following orders, doing one's duty, being loyal to one's "homeland," maintaining solidarity with one's fellow soldiers, or surrendering one's will to that of the group.

(pp. 71-72):

The expatriate Scot and Harvard historian Niall Ferguson typically argues that the British Empir was motivated by "a sincere belief that spreading 'commerce, Christianity, and civilizaiton' was as much in the interests of Britain's colonial subjects as in the interests of the imperial metropole itself." He insists that "no organization [other than the British Empire] has done more to impose Western norms of law, order and governance around the world" and that "America is heir to the empire in both senses: offspring of the colonial era, successor today. Perhaps the most burning contemporary question of American politics is: Should the United States seek to shed or to shoulder the imperial load it has inherited?" The Los Angeles Times's right-wing columnist Max Boot thinks that "Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out fo the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets."

According to journalist Erik Tarloff, writing in the British newspaper Financial Times, "Claims that the British Raj redounded to the economic benefit of India as well as the mother country [are], I should think, irrefutable. Given that for two centuries -- between 1757 and 1947 -- there wa sno increase at all in India's per capita income, that in the second half of Victoria's reign between thirty and fifty million Indians perished in famines and plagues brought on by the British misrule, and that from 1872 to 1921, the life expectancy of ordinary Indians fell by a staggering 20 percent, the idea that India benefited from British imperialism is at least open to question.

(p. 75):

Actual, on-the-ground imperialists, as distinct from their political supporters and cheerleads back home, know that they are hated; that is one of the reasons they traditionally detested imperial liberals, socialists, do-gooders, and other social critics remote from the killing fields, who criticized their methods or advocated the "reform" of some particular imperial project or other. Whether the imperial power is itself a democracy or a dictatorship makes a differernce in the lives of the conquered, but only because that tends to determine how far the dominant country is willing to go in carrying out "administrative massacres," to use Arendt's potent term, when perpetuating its rule in the face of resistance. A split between those who support imperialism and those who enforce it is characteristic of all imperialist republics. Both groups, however, normally share extensive rationales for their inherent superiority over "subject races" and the reasons why they should dominate and impose their "civilization" on others.

(p. 94):

Meanwhile, CIA covert operations were mobilized in support of various criminal, dictatorial, or militarist organizations around the world so long as they wee (or pretended to be) anticommunist. CIA operatives also planted false information in foreign newspapers and covertly fed large amounts of money to members of the Christian Democratic Party in Italy and the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, to King Hussein of Jordan, and to clients in Greece, West Germany, Egypt, Sudan, Suriname, Mauritius, the Philippines, Iran, Ecuador, and Chile. Clandestine agents devoted themselves to such tasks as depressing the global prices of agricultural products in order to damage uncooperative Third World countries, attempting to assassinate foreign leaders, and sponsoring guerrilla wars or insurgencies in places as diverse as the Ukraine, Poland, Albania, Hungary, Indonesia, China, Tibet, Oman, Malaysia, Iraq, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, North Korea, Bolivia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Haiti, Guatemala, Cuba, Greece, Turkey, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua, to name only a few of those on the public record.

(p. 110):

The Carter administration deliberately provoked the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which occurred on Christmas Eve 1979. In his 1996 memoir, former CIA director Robert Gates acknowledges that the American intelligence services began to aid the anti-Soviet mujahideen guerrillas not after the Russian invasion but six months before it. On July 3, 1979, President Carter signed a finding authorizing secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime then ruling in Kabul. His purpose -- and that of his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski -- was to provoke a full-scale Soviet military intervention. Carter wanted to tie down the USSR and so prevent its leaders from exploiting the 1979 anti-American revolution in Iran. In addition, as Brzezinski put it, "We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War."

(pp. 120-121):

Secret police and state terrorist agencies normally try to disguise what they are doing by hiding behind bland euphemisms for their most odious operations. As long ago as the eighteenth century, Voltaire observed, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." On sanitizing language, the Stanford University psychologist Albert Bandura writes, "By camouflaging pernicious activities in innocent or sanitizing parlance, the activities lose much of their repugnancy. Bombing missions are described as 'servicing the target,' in the likeness of a public utility. The attacks become 'clean, surgical strikes,' arousing imagery of curative activities. The civilians whom the bomb kills are linguistically converted to 'collateral damage.' . . . In the vocabulary of the lawbreakers in Nixon's administration, criminal conspiracy became a 'game plan,' and the conspirators were 'team players,' like the best of sportsmen.

Typifying this deliberate whitewashing, the Nazi Party's SS had its "transportations," meaning the shipping of trainloads of prisoners to death camps; the British had their "civilizing mission" in Kenya, meaning the rounding up of members of the indigenous population and sodomizing, castrating,a nd killing thousands of them; the Japanes had their "comfort women," meaning girls and women they kidnapped in occupied countries and forced at gunpoint to work as frontline prostitutes; and the CIA has its "renditions." This is an unusual locution. In most dictionaries, a "rendition" is a performance or an interpretation of a piece of music or a role in a play, as in: "That was a nice rendition of Duke Ellington's 'Jubilee Stomp.'" But the CIA uses it as a transitive verb -- to render (as in "render undo Caesar the things that are Caesar's"), to hand over, to surrender.

(pp. 122-123):

On the basis of the enw agreement with Egypt, between 1995 and 1998 the CIA carried out a series of renditions aimed particularly at Islamic freedom fighters working int he Balkans, many of them originally from Egypt. Virtually all the people the CIA kidnapped in these operations were killed after being delivered into Egyptian hands. Predictably enough, these kidnappings generated blowback, although ordinary Americans did not perceive it as such because the actions that provoked the retaliation were, of course, kept toally secret. On August 5, 1998, the International Islamic Front for Jihad, in a letter to an Arab-langauge newspaper in London, promised a reprisal for recent U.S. renditions from Albania. Two days later, al-Qaeda blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania with a loss of 224 lives. The U.S. renditions continued with the CIA and FBI carrying out some two dozen of them in 1999 and 2000. These, in turn, helped provoke the attacks on the navy destroyer USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden on October 12, 2000. Former CIA director George Tenet testified before the 9/11 Commission that there were more than seventy renditions leading up to 9/11.

(p. 136):

The reality was and is that presidents like having a private army and do not like to be contradicted by officials not fully under their control Thus the clandestine service long ago began to surpass the intelligence side of the agency in terms of promotions, finances, and prestige. In May 2006, Bush merely put strategic analysis to sleep once and for all and turned over truth-telling toa brand-new bureaucracy of personal loyalists and the vested interests of the Pentagon.

(p. 143):

In August 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld unveiled his "1-4-2-1 defense strategy" to replace the Clinton era's plan for havinga military capable of fighting two wars -- in the Middle East and Northeast Asia -- simultaneously. Now, war planners were to prepare to defend the United STates while building and assembling forces capable of "deterring aggression and coercion" in four "critical regions": Europe, Northeast Asia (South Korea an dJapan), East Asia (the Taiwan Strait), and the Middle East, be able to defeat aggression in two of these regions simultaneously, and "win decisively" (in the sense of "regime change" and occupation) in one of those conflicts "at a time and place of our choosing." As the military analyst William M. Arkin commented, "[With] American military forces . . . already stretched to the limit, the new strategy goes far beyond preparing for reactive contingencies and reads more like a plan for picking fights in new parts of the world."

(p. 200):

What the Bush strategists and the Pentagon do not seem to understand is that China has real grievances against Japan and that American policy is exacerbating them. During World War II, the Japanese killed apprixmately twenty-three million Chinese throughout East Asia -- higher casualties than the staggering ones suffeed by Russia at the hands of the Nazis -- and yet Japan refuses to atone for or even acknowledge its historical war crimes. Quite the opposite, it continues to rewrite history, portraying itself as the liberator of Asia and a victim of European and American imperialsim. In what for the Chinese is a painful act of symbolism, Junichiro Koizumi made his first official visit to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo after becoming JApanese prime minister in 2001, a practice he has repeated every year sine. Koizumi likes to say that he is merely honoring Japan's war dead, but Yasukuni is anything but a military cemetery or a war memorial. It was established in 1869 by Emperor Meiji as a Shinto shrine (though with its torii archways made of steel rather than the traditional red-painted wood) to commemorate the lives lost in domestic military campaigns aimed at returning direct imperial rule to Japan. During World War II, Japanese militarists took over the shrine and used it to promote patriotic and nationalistic sentiments. Today Yasukuni is said to be dedicated to the spirits of approximately 2.4 million Japanese who have died in the country's wars, both civil and foreign, since 1853.

(p. 210):

By manipulating a Republican Congress and creating a missile defense lobby in both houses, they achieved all their goals, although actual missile defense remained as distant as ever. General Eugene Habiger, head of the U.S. Strategic Command in the mid-1990s, said, "A system is being deployed that doesn't have any credible capability." Philip Coyle, former assistant secretary of defense for test and evaluation in the Clinton administration, concluded that the United States had squandered over $100 billion dollars of taxpayers' money on a "high-tech scarecrow."

(p. 215):

The head of the Air Force Space Command, General Lance Lord, has led the charge. "Space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny," he told an air force conference in September 2004. "Space superiority is our day-to-day mission. Space supremacy is our vision for the future." "Simply put," he said to Congress, "it's th American way of fighting." We must have "freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack" in space.

(p. 216):

Simiarly today, there can be no rationale for a space war because one unintended but unavoidable consequence would be to destroy our own preeminent position in space. A major but little-noticed reason for this is because a conflict in space using antisatellite weapons of any kind would vastly increase the amount of orbiting garbage, which would threaten our whole network of military and commercial spacecraft. That, in turn, would threaten the whole American -- even planetary -- way of life. Yet space debris is a subject that the air force's "counterspace doctrine" never so much as mentions.

(pp. 219-220):

Thirty years ago, during the period of Japan's high-speed economic growth, I was in Tokyo talking with an official from that country's trade ministry. Japan was then, as today, totally dependent on imported petroleum from the Middle East. I pointed out that Japan's supertankers were highly vulnerable. What, I asked, would Japan do if a hostile power sank one of its tankers in the narrow straits around Singapore? His answer was straightforward: call Lloyd's Insurance Company. It would be much cheaper to construct a new tanker than to defend the sea-lanes from Japan to the Persian Gulf by building a navy. There is a lesson in this for the United States. We cannot afford our air force's plans to protect our space assets militarily, and the air force does not know how to do so in any case.

(pp. 228-229):

The Topol-M was Russia's original answer to President Reagan's Star Wars fantasies. It was designed during the late 1980s, but Russia did not produce it immediately because of the collapse of the USSR and because it discovered that Star Wars itself could be rather easily defeated by decoys and large numbers of conventional ICBMs. However, on June 13, 2004, the very day that George W. Bush succeeded in killing off the Anti-ballastic Missile Treaty of 1972, Aleksei Arbatov, one of Russia's leading experts on military affairs, advocated in parliament that Russia respond by speeding development of the Topol-M. A year and a half later, on December 24, 2005, Colonel General Nikolai Solovtsov, chief of the Strategic Missile Forces, attended a ceremony at the Tatishchevo missile base int he Volga River's Saratov region. He wsa commissioning a new set of Topol-Ms, which he declared to be "capable of penetrating any missile defense system." The Topol-M was first put into service in December 1998 but was deployed only in silos. An off-road mobile version entered combat service in 2006. It is a truly formidable weapon. [ . . . ] There is no known defense against such a weapon. Diplomacy and deterrence ar eth eonly means to ensure that it will never be used, and the Bush administration has repeatedly rejected diplomacy as a useful tol of American foreign policy. The conclusion is unavoidable: Washington has given us at best the illusion ofprotection against a nuclear attack without reducing the odds of such an attack.

(p. 230):

The raw monetary figures have been literally astronomic. From Reagan's 1983 "Star Wars" speech to 2006, depending on which expert you listen to, the Unitd States has spent between $92.5 billion and $130 billion on the basic problem of shooting down an ICBM in flight -- and that's without even once having succeeded in doing so. One comprehensive analysis of the ultimate cost of the entire ballastic missile defense system by its distinctly theoretical date of completion in 2015 -- and excluding its most expensive and problematic component, a space-based laser -- is $1.2 trillion.

(pp. 270-271):

On February 6, 2006, the Bush administration submitted to Congress a $439 billion defense appropriation budget for fiscal 2007. At the same time, the deficit in the United States' current account -- the imbalance in the trading of godos and services as well as the shortfall in all other cross-border payments from interest income and rents to dividends and profits on direct investments -- underwent its fastest-ever quarterly deterioration. In the fourth quarter of 2005, the deficit hit a staggering $225 billion, up from $185.4 billion in the previou squarter. For all of 2005, the current account deficit was $805 billion, 6.4 percent of national income. In 2005, the U.S. trade deficit, the largest component of the current account deficit, soared to an all-time high of $725.8 billion, the fourth consecutive year that America's trade debts set records. The trade deficit with China alone rose to $201.6 billion, the highest imbalance ever recorded with any country. Meanwhile, since mid-2000, the country has lost nearly three million manufacturing jobs.

To try to cope with these imbalances, on March 16, 2006, Congress raised the national debt limit from $8.2 trillion to $8.96 trillion. This was the fourth time since George W. Bush took office that it had to be raised. THe national debt is the total amount owed by the government and should not be confused with the federal budget deficit, the annual amount by which federal spending exceeds revenue. Had Congress not raised the debt limit, the U.S. overnment would not have been able to borrow more money and would have had to default on its massive debuts.

(pp. 278-279):

In Blowback, I set out to explain why we are hated around the world.The concept "blowback" does not just mean retaliation for things our government has done to and in foreign countries. It refers to retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. This means that when the retaliation comes -- as it did so spectacularly on September 11, 2001 -- the American public is unable to put the events in context. So they tend to support acts intended to lash out against the perpetrators, thereby most commonly preparing the ground for yet another cycle of blowback. In the first book in this trilogy, I tried to provide some of the historical background for understanding the dilemmas we as a nation confront today, although I focused more on Asia -- the area of my academic training -- than on the Middle East.

The Sorrows of Empire was written during the American preparations for and launching of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. I began to study our continuous military buildup since World War II and the 737 military bases we currently maintain in other people's countries. This empire of bases is the concrete manifestation of our ghlobal hegemony, and many of the blowback-inducing wars we have conducted had as their true purpose the sustaining and expanding of this network. We do not think of these overseas deployments as a form of empire; in fact, most Americans do not give them any thought at all until something truly shocking, such as the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, brings them to our attention. But the people living next door to these bases and dealing with the swaggering soldiers who brawl and sometimes rape their women certainly think of them as imperial enclaves, just as the peoples of ancient Iberia or nineteenth-century India knew that they were victims of foreign colonization.

In Nemesis, I have tried to present historical, political, economic, and philosophical evidence of where our current behavior is likely to lead. Specifically, I believe that to maintain our empir eabroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and in the end produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent. The founders of our nation understood this well and tried to create a form of government -- a republic -- that would prevent this from occurring. But the combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, military Keynesianism, and ruinous military expenses have destroyed our republican structure in favor of an imperial presidency. We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation is started down that path, the dynamic sthat apply to all empirse come into play -- isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed toimperialism, and bankruptcy. Nemesis stalks our life as a free nation.


May 2007 Jul 2007