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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Downbeat Poll 2007

I'm a little late getting around to my annual second guessing of Downbeat's critics poll. Actually, not much later than last year, when I posted on Aug. 28. That one was a clipped rush job, so I'll continue the same format: list the category and winner in bold, with RS standing for "Rising Star." If I disagree, I'll try first to pull an alternate choice from the runner-up lists, but I may also reach for a left-field pick. We'll see; here goes.

Hall of Fame: Andrew Hill. With only two per year -- one from the critics here and one from the fans later on -- they're always playing catch-up. They plum forgot about Jackie McLean until they read his obit, and this year #1 and #2 both came the same way. Hill's a good choice, as are about half of those listed, and most likely a couple dozen more. I'd give Hill a slight edge over Sam Rivers, whose career closely parallels Hill's but hardly has a chance. The top two living players (#3 Lee Konitz, #4 Hank Jones) go back further than Hill. I have no brief for #2 Michael Brecker. It'd take some sorting to figure out who off the list should get some serious consideration. On the other hand, Maynard Ferguson and Frank Zappa are in (the latter by the critics, no less), so maybe it's not worth the trouble.

Jazz Album: Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar. I had it #1, too.

Historical Album: Miles Davis, The Legendary Prestige Sessions. I'd go with #4, Fats Waller, If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It! The ones I didn't get are on Mosaic, except for #12 Evan Parker, The Topography of the Lungs.

Jazz Artist: Ornette Coleman. Hard to argue with, as long as he bothers to record. RS: Vijay Iyer. Reasonable choice, whatever the concept means. Ken Vandermark was off the list. He's older than anyone on the RS list (except Tomasz Stanko, 65); younger than anyone on the Ornette list (except Brad Mehldau, 37; in both cases throwing out 1964 matches, meaning Matt Wilson and Dave Douglas).

Jazz Group: Dave Holland Quintet. Note that Vandermark 5 didn't make the list, nor did World Saxophone Quartet. RS: Jason Moran's Bandwagon / Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts (tie). I have a cognitive problem here which inclines me to throw out every group named for its leader, which leaves #9 Bad Plus and #10 Electric Masada on the big list; #3 SFJAZZ Collective, #4 Claudia Quintet, #5 Bad Plus, #10 Atomic, and #11 Sex Mob for RS. That doesn't help much, but Claudia Quintet continued its run, while Bad Plus has stumbled a bit. Some other real groups in the running: Burnt Sugar, Happy Apple, Sonic Liberation Front, Zu.

Big Band: Maria Schneider Orchestra. Haven't played the new album; same for the new #13 Gerald Wilson Orchestra, which last time topped Schneider by a big margin. Virtually all of those listed are part-time concerns, hard to track, but if I had to pick one, it'd be #10 Steve Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra. Wonder what the Vienna Art Ensemble is up to. RS: John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble. Interesting group. MTO came in #6 here; only one album to date, so they still fit.

Trumpet: Dave Douglas. He's clearly the class of the field, but #11 Jon Faddis had the best record, and #4 Enrico Rava had the most good ones; with Clark Terry dropping out, #6 Tomasz Stanko has probably moved up to #2 behind Douglas and ahead of Rava for lifetime achievement, and #8 Brian Lynch is moving up. RS: Jeremy Pelt. Used to think he has chops, but hasn't done much lately. The obvious choices are #6 Steven Bernstein and #10 Brian Lynch, with the latter moving up the big list. Some off-the-list trumpeters I like are: Ralph Alessi, Roy Campbell, Dennis González, Nils Petter Molvaer, Randy Sandke, Jack Walrath. Most are in their 50s. A young player with a good record is Matt Lavelle.

Trombone: Steve Turre. I'd pick #2 Roswell Rudd or #8 Ray Anderson, although Turre isn't a bad choice. Rudd's had a particuarly strong couple of years, while Anderson hasn't recorded much. RS: Gianluca Petrella. Good example of the Blue Note effect; unlike some others (Stefon Harris, Robert Glasper), everything I've heard by Petrella has been impressive. Still, I'm partial to #7 Jeb Bishop. Off the list, there's Steve Swell and Nils Wogram.

Soprano Saxophone: Wayne Shorter. With Steve Lacy gone, almost everyone on the list plays some other reed instrument, often much better. I don't see any obvious choices except #5 Evan Parker, and don't know him well enough to be sure -- he plays a lot of soprano, and is utterly distinctive on it, but I often find I prefer his tenor. Off list my pick would be Jan Garbarek, another tenor split. Shorter and #8 Chris Potter have good credits here, although they're more important on tenor. Others would do us a favor losing the instrument, including #2 Branford Marsalis and #3 David Liebman. RS: Steve Wilson. He's also at #11 on the big list -- I figure him for alto, but he's always fine on soprano, and plays it more often than Potter (#4 RS), maybe even Shorter. Don't see anyone else, except maybe #7 Michael Blake. Very few specialists: Joe Giardullo and Chris Kelsey are two, both inspired by Lacy. I imagine we'll see more.

Alto Saxophone: Ornette Coleman. It's his year; otherwise I'd be tempted to argue that it's time we start honoring #9 Anthony Braxton, not begrudging #3 Lee Konitz. RS: David Binney. Don't know him well enough to say -- he shows up in a lot of supporting roles, but I've missed his own albums -- but he's definitely happening. #2 Miguel Zenón is very good, a former RS winner (now #8 on the main list), still quite young. Off the list I'd probably pick Dave Rempis, but he's playing more tenor lately, even in the Vandermark 5. Some others: Tim Berne, François Carrier, Peter Epstein, Michael Hashim, Steve Lehman (#12), Rudresh Mahanthappa (#3).

Tenor Saxophone: Sonny Rollins. Of course, but more dependable and productive lately are #11 David Murray and #12 Ken Vandermark. Good work lately from #2 Joe Lovano, #5 Chris Potter, #6 Charles Lloyd, #7 Joshua Redman, #8 Fred Anderson. Very competitive division, and by far my favorite instrument. Off-list and easily beyond RS status include: Charles Gayle, Scott Hamilton, Billy Harper, Houston Person, Sam Rivers, Bennie Wallace, David S Ware. RS: Chris Potter. He's up to #5 on the big list now, losing ground here, but still just 36, a remarkable achievement I sometimes begrudge him for. Only other on both lists is #12 Ken Vandermark, same as above. #6 Donny McCaslin is most likely to follow in Potter's footsteps; I'm not a fan, but he has tremendous chops and is mainstream enough to get the exposure -- in fact, he's replaced Potter more than once. Aside from them, my pick from the list here would be #4 Tony Malaby, who shows up in a lot of side spots and is always invaluable. But off the list, I'd pick Harry Allen or Tommy Smith. I'll also mention: Ellery Eskelin, Rich Halley, Rick Margitza, David Sanchez, Assif Tsahar, Tim Warfield. That list could be longer.

Baritone Saxophone: Gary Smulyan. Finally edged out #2 James Carter, who doesn't record much, and doesn't play much baritone when he does. I have no real sense of Smulyan or #5 Ronnie Cuber, other than that they're the mainstream specialists of the last few decades. My standard pick is #3 Hamiet Bluiett; don't see any reason to change, although I'm playing #6 Joe Temperley at the moment, and enjoying him a lot. RS: Claire Daly. Know who she is, but don't know her work. #2 Scott Robinson or #3 Alex Harding would be reasonable choices; #6 Mats Gustafsson would be more adventurous, albeit dangerous. Of the list I like Massimo Pupillo (aka Zu). Among timeshares, Ken Vandermark has been playing a lot of really impressive baritone lately, and Howard Johnson has been playing as much baritone as tuba.

Clarinet: Don Byron. Last album was so-so, and incidentally for the first time ever Byron played sax quite a bit on it, probably more than clarinet. I prefer specialists in these polls, and there aren't many here beyond Byron (#3 Eddie Daniels, #5 Buddy DeFranco, #12 Ben Goldberg). But unlike soprano sax, most of the multireedists here do their most interesting work on clarinet, which clearly seems to be an instrument on the rise. I'm tempted to go with #7 Michael Moore or #8 Louis Sclavis. RS: Anat Cohen. Seems like her moment, although #2 Chris Speed (#10 on the big list) comes close. Both started on and still play a lot of tenor sax, so that might be an opening for #3 Ben Goldberg.

Flute: James Moody. You can stick a fork in this category, maybe even kick it back to Miscellaneous Instrument -- there are more good cellists, bass clarinetists, tubists, and harmonicats than there are distinctive flute players. I haven't heard anything from #3 James Newton in a long time. Aside from Dave Valentin and Hubert Laws, the only other specialist here is (#9) RS: Nicole Mitchell. She probably deserves the latter. For the main list, I'd pick Robert Dick (age 57, off the big list but #7 RS), although I haven't heard anything from him in ages either.

Acoustic Piano: Keith Jarrett. Big category. I don't have a problem with Jarrett, who statistically in some quantity-quality equation is hard to top. The closest is probably #10 Cecil Taylor, now that #4 Andrew Hill is gone. #3 Hank Jones, #5 Kenny Barron, and #12 Randy Weston are venerable; #7 Herbie Hancock and #8 McCoy Tyner have seen better days. A couple of younger players with big labels snuck in: #2 Brad Mehldau, #6 Bill Charlap, #9 Jason Moran, with #11 Myra Melford a surprise. I liked Mehldau early on, but have missed a bunch of recent records, which is doubly irritating. One could mention many more off the list, including Muhal Richard Abrams, Ran Blake, Paul Bley, Dave Burrell, George Cables, Marilyn Crispell, Giorgio Gaslini, Abdullah Ibrahim, Guus Janssen, Joachim Kühn, Steve Kuhn, Misha Mengelberg, Enrico Pieranunzi, Bobo Stenson, Alex von Schlippenbach, Irène Schweizer, Martial Solal, Cedar Walton, Jessica Williams. RS: Robert Glasper. I liked his second one better than the first, but he's nowhere near my list. That Glasper managed to beat out #5 Vijay Iyer suggests that voters are trying to move Iyer to the big list, which is still straddled by #2 Jason Moran and #4 Bill Charlap. A couple of others obviously fell in the gaps, appearing on neither list: Uri Caine, Matthew Shipp. Aside from those, the best one left here is #7 Ethan Iverson. There are a few more I like, but it's easy to come up with players off the list who are much more impressive: David Berkman, Bill Carrothers, George Colligan, Satoko Fujii, David Hazeltine, DD Jackson, Russ Lossing, Renee Rosnes, Bernardo Sassetti, Sergi Sirvent. Probably a lot more, too.

Organ: Joey DeFrancesco. Seems like an instrument that's running out of gas. Best choice from the list is probably #4 John Medeski, although I'm not sure how much organ he plays as compared to other electronic keybs. RS: Sam Yahel. Not a lot of good choices here. #2 Gary Versace, maybe, or #6 Barbara Dennerlein, but it's been a while since I've heard anything from her. One guy off the list who's fun is Robert Walter.

Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer: Joe Zawinul. Last man standing now that #3 Herbie Hancock and #4 Chick Corea have faded. Much fresher are #2 Uri Caine and #7 Matthew Shipp -- both are primarily acoustic players, but Caine is such a natural he gets my nod. RS: Craig Taborn. Seems right, especially given that he's really found a home specializing in electronics, unlike Uri Caine at #2. Off the list but worth noting is Kieran Hebden, whose keyboard is attached to a laptop.

Guitar: Bill Frisell. I've rather lost interest in Frisell, partly chagrin at not getting his records, partly disappointment when I do. He presides over this category much like Dave Douglas over at trumpet, gaining stature even when his concepts don't pan out. Not as monumental as Douglas, of course, which is why #2 Jim Hall, #4 John Scofield, #6 Nels Cline, and #7 John Abercrombie still seem competitive -- Scofield looks to be fading, Cline rising. #9 James Blood Ulmer and #10 John McLaughlin seem to have slid off to the side. I don't have a strong pick from the list -- Ulmer, I guess, for old times' sake -- but off list my pick is Wolfgang Muthspiel. Also worth mentioning: Howard Alden, Joe Morris, Michael Musillami, Marc Ribot (#12), Ulf Wakenius. RS: Lionel Loueke. Don't know him, except as a sidebar name. Rest of the list shows a lot of uncertainty and churn, with Cline (#5), Russell Malone (#7), and Ribot (#11) also on the big list, and veteran Dave Stryker just hanging on at #12. Otherwise, the young players I'm most impressed with missed the list: Rez Abbasi, Raoul Björkenheim, Marc Ducret, Larry Koonse, Anders Nilsson, Kevin O'Neil, Jeff Parker, Samo Salamon, Ricardo Silveira, Frank Vignola, Jacob Young. Sometime in the last five years guitar passed trumpet and alto sax to become a major jazz instrument -- only piano and tenor sax (and bass and drums, still necessities) have more contenders. I've never been much of a guitar fan, but I've been overwhelmed.

Bass (Acoustic & Electric): Dave Holland. I mean no disrespect, but I got to stick with my guy, #5 William Parker. Playing his new album just points out how far he's moved beyond being the world's greatest bassist, much like Holland did, or even more emphatically Mingus. #4 Charlie Haden is in the same league lifetime, probably #4. Division is so competitive pure bassists tend to go overlooked, but #11 Peter Washington is worth singling out. I don't think he has a single record under his own name, but he's anchored at least a hundred real good ones. RS: Ben Allison. Can't disagree, but should be on the big list by now. Same could be said for #3 Avishai Cohen. Both made their mark as composers. Still, the real RS is off list: Adam Lane.

Drums: Roy Haynes. With Max Roach's passing, the last link to the bebop era; had a surprising emergence as a bandleader a few years back, and is coasting on that. Much more active, and at least as impressive, are #2 Jack DeJohnette and #3 Paul Motian. My pick is still #7 Hamid Drake. The next two on their list could also be mine: #8 Lewis Nash and #9 Han Bennink. RS: Matt Wilson. Already #5 on the big list, but Brian Blade is on an even faster track (#5 RS, #3 overall; Drake is also on both lists). I like Wilson, Blade, and several others here. I'm not a fan of #2 Dafnis Prieto's albums, but he has amazing chops and is probably the real RS here. From the list I'd pick #11 Jim Black over #8 Scott Amendola. Off the list, I'll mention: Jerry Granelli, Gerry Hemingway, John Hollenbeck, Ravish Momin, Paal Nilssen-Love, Kevin Norton, Tom Rainey, Thomas Strønen. I'm particularly surprised that Hollenbeck didn't rank, given his win for RS Big Band and #4 RS Jazz Group. He'd be my first RS pick, but everyone I've mentioned comes close.

Percussionist: Poncho Sanchez. I have no sense of him, even less than I have of the late champ Ray Barretto (hanging on at #8). Interesting that Hamid Drake has risen to #2 on his frame drums; I like him a lot, but I'm not sure how they fit here, and in any case feel like recognizing Kahil El'Zabar, who's on a hot album streak. RS: Susie Ibarra. I think of her as a drummer, and haven't heard anything recent, since she shacked up with Roberto Rodriguez, who deserves mention somewhere. In fact, he'd be my off-list pick.

Vibes: Bobby Hutcherson. He finally released an album, which didn't fare well. I'll go with #4 Joe Locke. RS: Stefon Harris. Overrated, another Blue Note effect. I'll go with #5 Matt Moran, but I also like #8 Jason Adasiewicz, and of course #9 Khan Jamal, who's over 60 now and really deserves to be on the big list.

Violin: Regina Carter. Helped herself with a good album; hope she does something better than Paganini with all that MacArthur money. Still, my easy pick is #3 Billy Bang. I also like #9 Johnny Frigo and #10 Charles Burnham, and revere the late #5 Leroy Jenkins. #8 Mat Maneri plays viola more often these days, and continues to do interesting but somewhat erratic work. I'm also a big fan of #4: RS: Jenny Scheinman. Violin has become a hot jazz instrument lately. I'm surprised this list looks as staid as it does (five players on both lists: Maneri, Mark Feldman, Didier Lockwood, Mark O'Connor, and Scheinman -- the latter understandably). Some missing names: Jason Kao Hwang, Sam Bardfeld, John Ettinger, Rob Thomas. Hwang is out of order because he's my pick. In fact, he's been around long enough I'd put him #2 on the big list.

Miscellaneous Instrument: Toots Thielemans (harmonica). Hard to compare all these apples and oranges, but I'd say #11 Grégoire Maret has eclipsed Thielemans, who's owned this category for donkey years. I've never understood Steve Turre's conch shells, but the list is otherwise noteworthy: #3 Richard Galliano (accordion), #5 Erik Friedlander (cello), #6 Dino Saluzzi (bandoneon), #7 Howard Johnson (tuba), #8 Scott Robinson (bass saxophone), #9 David Murray (bass clarinet), #10 Rabih Abou-Khalil (oud). RS: Dino Saluzzi (bandoneon). At 72 I figure Saluzzi has risen, even if he's just being recognized. The rest of the list is mixed up, with many repeats (#2 Maret, #3 Friedlander, #4 Robinson, #6 Galliano). I don't have an easy method to come up with a missing list, but cello is an emerging instrument -- I'm not sure I'd pick Fred Lonberg-Holm over Friedlander, but he's close -- and accordion has been showing up a lot, especially in the hands of pianists like Zeena Parkins and Satoko Fujii.

Male Vocalist: Kurt Elling. Haven't heard his new record, but can't stand anything I have heard. Still, he's probably better than #2 Mark Murphy, whose latest is the worst jazz album of the young century or not-so-young decade, and I wouldn't bet against him pitted against #3 Andy Bey or #4 Tony Bennett either. The vote-getters only include three guys I like at all (#5 Kevin Mahogany, #6 Bob Dorough, #11 Mose Allison). RS: Jamie Cullum. The draught continues, although #9 Theo Bleckmann is an interesting character. One guy I like who missed the list is Tony DeSare. Curiously, Harry Connick Jr made neither list; John Pizzarelli was #3 RS, but didn't make the big list. Part of the problem is that jazz vocals are about 80% female; that's also part of the solution.

Female Vocalist: Dianne Reeves. I like her and #4 Diana Krall but my longtime pick is #5 Sheila Jordan. I'm not a fan, but still I'm surprised that Abbey Lincoln didn't make the list. RS: Roberta Gambarini. I missed her record, so have no idea. #2 Tierney Sutton's latest is terrific, but nothing she did before it came close. The only other one on the list I like much is René Marie. Off the list are some others I'll mention: Meredith D'Ambrosio, Lisa Sokolov, Mary Stallings, Fay Victor. I'd give Victor the nod.

Composer: Maria Schneider. Tough category for me to judge, but #9 Carla Bley strikes my fancy. RS: Vijay Iyer. Same here, but #2 John Hollenbeck, #3 Ben Allison, and #10 Ken Vandermark are notable. The real test will be when other folks start playing the compositions. Schneider's an easy mark because she works on a large canvas and doesn't play. Bley plays, but not like her first husband, and she's always depended on others to put her work across.

Arranger: Maria Schneider. Same deal, with #2 Carla Bley gaining ground for her work with Charlie Haden. #10 Steven Bernstein made several splashes recently, not just for the big band MTO, but for Sex Mob and Baby Loves Jazz. RS: John Hollenbeck. Bernstein came in #2 and would be my pick, but I like Hollenbeck a lot -- just don't think of him as an arranger, which may mean I didn't pay enough attention to the latest Large Ensemble record.

Producer: Michael Cuscuna. Talk about not paying attention: for what? Hope there's more than that crappy Charles Tolliver big band record. I don't have any real opinion, especially from the list. Off the list, I like Jordi Pujols. RS: Branford Marsalis. I like what Marsalis has done with his label, even though his own records have been so-so; he's "a positive force for jazz," to use a phrase he once used on his brother. Don't know much else, but #10 Houston Person isn't exactly a newbie. Glad to see #11 Luke Kaven getting some recognition.

Record Label: Blue Note. Note that Verve didn't even make the list -- the ratio between the two majors has never been starker, at least since they got pulled out of the dustbins several decades ago. I'll also use this opportunity to note that #5 Mosaic, #6 Nonesuch, #8 Concord, #10 Enja, and #12 Criss Cross don't service me, so poo on them. In many ways this is the part of the critics poll that gets personal for critics, and Blue Note's world class dominance here -- and throughout the poll -- owes a good deal to UPS. That's also has something to do with why ECM's number two. I can't, and don't want to, fault either (although I'm picking up cost-cutting vibes from ECM; tsk, tsk). But most of the action takes place on small labels. Scanning my recent high-ranked lists, these include: Arbors (#11), Atavistic, AUM Fidelity, CIMP, Clean Feed, Cuneiform, Fresh Sound, Justin Time, Smalls, Sunnyside (#9).

Blues Artist/Group: B.B. King. I would have picked #2 James Blood Ulmer, not knowing that King or #3 Buddy Guy have been up to lately. Comparable figure off the list: Etta James. RS: Derek Trucks Band. From the list, I like #11 Sue Foley, but haven't heard her latest.

Blues Album: Otis Taylor, Definition of a Circle. Blues is in our blood, but it's not something I'm able to follow at all closely. I haven't heard any of the 12 listed albums. The top blues (more or mostly less) records from my 2006 list are: World Saxophone Quartet, Political Blues; Maria Muldaur, Heart of Mine; Jeff Healey, It's Tight Like That; Bill Sheffield, Journal on a Shelf; Guitar Gabriel, Toot Blues. The only real blues record there is Guitar Gabriel, recorded in 1991. Don't have any 2007 records to add to the list.

Beyond Artist/Group: Toumani Diabaté. From the list, #3 Tom Waits or #11 Bob Dylan. Off the list, Public Enemy, Todd Snider, the Klezmatics. They don't do an RS, but how about Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse?

Beyond Album: Toumani Diabaté's Symmetric Orchestra, Boulevard De L'Independance. At least I've heard 7 of 11 records on this list. Best: Bob Dylan, Modern Times. Runner-up: Tom Waits, Orphans. About half of my year-end A-lists counts as beyond in this forum. See my 2006 and 2007 lists for details.

I ran through this pretty fast, scanning through my database for instrumentalists and my year-end lists where appropriate, but I certainly didn't find everyone I should have. Didn't expect to write so much, but that happens when you work fast and rough. In any case, this gives a sense, far from a complete picture, of what I know at the moment. I've been a pretty compulsive listmaker for a long time. (As a teenager I used to construct book lists based on bestseller lists tweaked to reflect a buying public more to my taste. Later I spent a lot of time on Baseball Hall of Fame games, juggling eras and different skillsets, winding up with long lists of carefully considered rankings. Currently, my album database rates more than 13519 albums, 6145 jazz or closely related.) So it was easy to dig a lot of stuff up quick, but hardly foolproof.


I have last year's winners in last year's post, so it's easy to plot the changes here (excluding albums and Hall of Fame; last year's winners followed by this year's in parens):

  • Jazz Artist: Sonny Rollins (Ornette Coleman)
  • Jazz Group: Wayne Shorter Quarter (Dave Holland Quintet); RS: SF Jazz Collective (Jason Moran's Bandwagon, Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts)
  • Big Band RS: Either/Orchestra (John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble)
  • Alto Saxophone: Phil Woods (Ornette Coleman); RS: Miguel Zenón (Dave Binney)
  • Soprano Saxophone RS: Ravi Coltrane (Steve Wilson)
  • Baritone Saxophone: James Carter (Gary Smulyan)
  • Clarinet RS: Chris Speed (Anat Cohen)
  • Guitar RS: Kurt Rosenwinkel (Lionel Loueke)
  • Piano RS: Vijay Iyer (Robert Glasper)
  • Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer RS: Uri Caine (Craig Taborn)
  • Drums: Jack DeJohnette (Roy Haynes)
  • Percussion: Ray Barretto (Poncho Sanchez); RS: Hamid Drake (Susie Ibarra)
  • Female Vocalist: Cassandra Wilson (Dianne Reeves); RS: Luciana Souza (Roberta Gambarini)
  • Miscellaneous Instrument RS: Grégoire Maret (Dino Saluzzi)
  • Arranger RS: Steven Bernstein (John Hollenbeck)
  • Beyond Artist/Group: Elvis Costello (Toumani Diabaté)

I also have 2005 notes/comments, but won't bother with them. Previous poll comments are here for 2006 and 2005.


After finishing the above, I went to Downbeat's website and voted in their Readers Poll (deadline Aug. 31). The Readers Poll doesn't make distinctions between Established Talent and Rising Stars, so this forced me to make up my mind. I tried to vote from the suggested list, but wrote a few in, indicated: *. Albums are mostly calendar 2006.

  • Hall of Fame: Lee Konitz
  • Jazz Artist: Ken Vandermark*
  • Jazz Album: Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar
  • Historical Album: Fats Waller, If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It!
  • Jazz Group: Vandermark 5*
  • Big Band: Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra
  • Trumpet: Steven Bernstein*
  • Trombone: Roswell Rudd
  • Soprano Saxophone: Jan Garbarek*
  • Alto Saxophone: Anthony Braxton
  • Tenor Saxophone: David Murray
  • Baritone Saxophone: Hamiet Bluiett
  • Clarinet: Michael Moore
  • Flute: Nicole Mitchell
  • Acoustic Piano: Marilyn Crispell
  • Organ: John Medeski
  • Electronic Keyboard/Synthesizer: Uri Caine
  • Guitar: Wolfgang Muthspiel
  • Bass (Acoustic & Electric): William Parker
  • Drums: Hamid Drake
  • Percussion: Roberto Rodriguez*
  • Vibes: Joe Locke
  • Miscellaneous Instrument: Rabih Abou-Khalil (oud)
  • Male Vocalist: Theo Bleckmann*
  • Female Vocalist: Sheila Jordan
  • Composer: Carla Bley
  • Record Label: Atavistic*
  • Blues Artist/Group: Maria Muldaur*
  • Blues Album: Maria Muldaur, Heart of Mine

Monday, August 27, 2007

Music Week

Music: Current count 13519 [13508] rated (+11), 815 [788] unrated (+27). Got back from Michigan on Thursday evening, then had company, cooking on Saturday, so I wound up with about two days of listening. Recycled Goods for September is due soon, so I tried to do double duty by listening to jazz records that go both ways. Will probably push to finish Recycled Goods before crunching down on Jazz CG. I've nearly bagged my limit, but would feel better with some surplus in the bank for October.

  • Manu Chao: La Radiolina (2007, Nacional/Because): After two great albums and a loud live quickie, six years out of the studio, and now a third great album. Probably too early to write about it; in any case, since writing == shelving around here, that's one more reason not to rush it. Born in Paris, lives in Barcelona, sings in French, Spanish, and English -- this looks to be mostly Spanish (lyrics provided, but no trots) so most of the words have slipped past me. Not that I can't parse "Politik Kills," but I haven't placed the Bush reference in the first song yet. "Rainin in Paradise" touches on Zaire/Congo, Liberia, Palestine, and Iraq: "In Bagdad/its no democracy/that' just because/its a US country/in Fallouja/too much calamity/this world go crazy" -- but then he ends "its no fatality." So he's still holding out Esperanza. And the quirky semi-Africanized semi-Latin, future-of-the-world music delivers. Gives me hope, about the only thing I've heard lately that does. A
  • Bud Freeman and the Keith Ingham Trio: Superbud (1974-92 [1994], Jazzology): A little sleight of hand here, cutting 11 cuts from 1974 -- pretty late in Freeman's career -- as advertised with 6 much later tracks of Ingham on solo piano. Ingham is a British stride specialist, so he keeps his own rhythm rolling. Freeman's soft tone is seductive. B+(*)
  • Earl Hines/Pete Johnson/James P. Johnson: Reminiscing at Blue Note: Blue Note's Early Classic Piano Sessions (1939-43 [1994], Blue Note): Two 1939 Hines solos; 6 1939 Pete Johnson trios; 8 1943 James P Johnson solos. This is typical of Blue Note's earliest interests, but not all that spectacular or interesting. B
  • Alan Jackson: 16 Greatest Hits (1989-2002 [2007], Arista Nashville/Legacy): A neo-traditionalist formalist, although he's been so consistent at it that he may just believe that country music really ought to sound country, and while he's picked his share of low-lying fruit, like "Summertime Blues" and "Mercury Blues," he wrote the wrote the ones about that "Little Man" stuck "Here in the Real World." A-


Jazz Prospecting (CG #14, Part 11)

I was stranded away from music for most of last week, so don't have much to report here. Moreover, when I got back, I realized I needed to work on September's Recycled Goods column before I could crunch down on finishing the now-due Jazz Consumer Guide, so the immediate compromise was to concentrate on old jazz, usable here and there. Even so, I didn't get to the Rudd/Lacy on Cuneiform, or the rediscovered Don Cherry on ESP-Disk, let alone the long-promised, finally delivered Fearless Leader box. But I did play enough of the new Manu Chao album, La Radiolina, to lift it to the top of my 2007-to-date list. Recycled Goods still needs a few more days, but I'm psychologically at least I'm closing in on the Jazz CG draft. I did at least manage to eliminate the much hyped Mingus Cornell 1964 from the dud competition.


Etta Jones/Houston Person: Don't Misunderstand: Live in New York (1980 [2007], High Note): Jones only appears on three tracks -- "Exactly Like You," "Ain't Misbehavin'," "I Saw Stars" -- revealing nothing beyond her usual competency, so no point seeking this out on her account. Organist Sonny Phillips is perfunctory at best, and the longer he holds the spotlight the duller the record gets. So that leaves Person -- his tenor sax all honey, so sweet he turns "Blue Monk" out as a natural standard, even managing to elevate Phillips' blues jams. B+(*)

Wallace Roney: Jazz (2007, High Note): I should be better prepared for this, but will need more time to think about it, or at least to average it out. Strikes me as Roney's archetypal album, at least since he discovered turntables and keybs as a way of jacking up the funk quotient, all the time making his family -- brother Antoine Roney on various saxes and bass clarinet, wife Geri Allen on piano and various keyboards -- pull their weight. Where it all comes together, as on the opening "Vater Time" and the closing "Un Poco Loco," it's a lot of fun, not least because the trumpet soars high in the mix. [B+(**)]

Steamin' With the Miles Davis Quintet (1956 [2007], Prestige): The fourth LP carved from the two sessions that marked Davis's move from indie Prestige to major Columbia, a kiss-off of quickly recorded standards that in retrospect were recognized as his first great Quintet, with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones emerging; an odd mix of songs, each standing out on its own. A-

Art Farmer: Farmer's Market (1956 [2007], Prestige): Bright, joyful hard bop from a rhythm section that includes Kenny Drew and Elvin Jones, but Farmer on trumpet and Hank Mobley on tenor sax don't mesh all that well, nor does either threaten to run off with the record. B

John Coltrane: Stardust (1958 [2007], Prestige): Two sessions toward the end of Coltrane's tenure with Prestige, each yielding two stretched out nice-and-easy standards, with Wilbur Harden on the first set, and 20-year-old Freddie Hubbard on the second; the sense of accomplishment is earned, but nothing here suggests the giant steps to come. B+(*)

Red Garland: Soul Junction (1957 [2007], Prestige): The pianist manages to sound bluesy and soulful on his own, taking "I've Got It Bad" slow enough to make the point. The horns work best when they stay in character, as on the long title piece, with both Donald Byrd and John Coltrane contributing blues-tinged solos. When they get out front, as on "Woody'n You" and "Birks' Works," the pace quickens and the piano struggles a bit to keep up. B+(**)

Andy and the Bey Sisters: 'Round Midnight (1965 [2007], Prestige): Sisters Salome and Geraldine complement brother Andy Bey, producing a tricky mix of harmonies that works sometimes -- the light "Squeeze Me" and the heavy "God Bless the Child" are two for different reasons -- but can also drag and stall, especially 'round the title tune. Andy Bey staged a comeback in the late '90s, leading to this and the 1964 Now Hear bundled together as Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters ([2000], Prestige), priced steeply ($18.98 list; this one lists at $11.98). B


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

Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964 (1964 [2007], Blue Note, 2CD): A cause celebre, a newly discovered tape with what on paper at least looks like one of Mingus's most promising groups: Dannie Richmond on drums, of course; Jaki Byard on piano; Johnny Coles on trumpet; Clifford Jordan on tenor sax; and elevated to near-headliner status, Dolphy on alto sax, flute, and bass clarinet. Dolphy's last year is worth examining under a microscope -- his masterpiece, Out to Lunch, was recorded a month earlier, and he died three months later, barely 36. Mingus was a year beyond one of his own masterpieces, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Ever since the promo arrived, I've been reading rapturous reviews: "his greatest small ensemble"; "most adventurous sextet"; "at the apex of its brief yet astonishing collaboration"; "a relaxed maestro at the height of his imaginative powers"; "it truly needs to be heard to be believed"; "the most talked-about jazz album of the year." Or as Gary Giddins summed up in his liner notes, "It doesn't get much better than this." Actually, it does. The most direct comparison is the same band's Town Hall Concert, recorded 17 days later: much shorter, but it captures the two essential new pieces in fuller flower, with more imposing sound. Then there's the Paris concert two weeks hence, given an official release as Revenge! by Sue Mingus in 1996, fuming over the bootleggers who made the European tour the most intensively documented Mingus group ever. Still, for sheer exuberance and panache, nothing by this sextet rivals Mingus at Antibes (1960) or Mingus at Carnegie Hall (1974). So don't believe the hype. On the other hand, this is about as good as, and somewhat more amusing than, the rival boots, and will at least spare you Sue's wrath. It starts with Byard doing his Art Tatum impression, and ends throwing out "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and "Jitterbug Waltz"; the serious stuff in the middle includes a long "Fables of Faubus" serving as an introduction to the similarly inspired "Meditations"; and best of all, the first side ends with a rousing "Take the 'A' Train," with a monster bass clarinet solo -- Dolphy established the instrument for jazz, and here you can hear why. B+(**)


Unpacking:

  • Luigi Bonafede/Pietro Tonolo: Peace (ObliqSound)
  • Jimmy Bruno: Maplewood Avenue (Affiliated Artists)
  • JJ Cale: Rewind: Unreleased Recordings (Time Life): advance, Oct. 2
  • Manu Chao: La Radiolina (Nacional/Because)
  • Eddie Daniels: Homecoming: Live at the Iridium (IPO, 2CD)
  • Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford: Spark! (Palmetto): advance, Sept. 4
  • Wendy Fopeano: Raining on the Roses (Outside Shore)
  • Jamie Fox: When I Get Home (Rare Cat)
  • Charles Gatschet: Step Lightly (Barnstorm)
  • Jimmy Hall & the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Collective: Build Your Own Fire (Zoho)
  • Tardo Hammer: Look Stop & Listen: The Music of Tadd Dameron (Sharp Nine)
  • Julie Hardy: The Wish (World Culture Music)
  • David Hazeltine: The Inspiration Suite (Sharp Nine)
  • Marsha Heydt: One Night (Blue Toucan)
  • Habib Koité & Bamada: Afriki (Cumbancha)
  • Alex Kontorovich: Deep Minor (Chamsa)
  • The Soul & Jazz of Timo Lassy (ObliqSound)
  • Dave Mullen and Butta: Mahoney's Way (Roberts Music Group)
  • John Phillips: Jack of Diamonds (1972-73, Varèse Sarabande): advance
  • The Pretty Things: Balboa Island (Zoho Roots)
  • Putumayo Presents: Israel (Putumayo World Music)
  • Josh Roseman: New Constellations: Live in Vienna (Accurate)
  • Jacky Terrasson: Mirror (Blue Note)
  • Ticklah: Ticklah vs. Axelrod (Easy Star)
  • True West: Hollywood Holiday Revisited (1983-84, Atavistic)
  • Westchester Jazz Orchestra: All In (WJO): Sept. 29

Purchases:

  • Harry Allen: How Long Has This Been Going On? (1989, Progressive)
  • Clifford Brown: The Complete Blue Note and Pacific Jazz Recordings (1953-54, Pacific Jazz, 4CD)
  • Clinic: Visitations (2007, Domino)
  • The Paul Desmond Quartet: Live (1975, Verve)
  • Vic Dickenson & Joe Thomas & Their All-Star Jazz Groups (1958, Koch)
  • The Fall: It's the New Thing! The Step Forward Years (1978-80, Castle)
  • George Lewis: Trios & Bands (1945, American Music)
  • Modest Mouse: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007, Epic)
  • OutKast: Idlewild (2006, LaFace/Zomba)
  • Randy Sandke: The Music of Bob Haggart (2002, Arbors)
  • Archie Shepp & Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen: Looking at Bird (1980, Steeplechase)
  • Art Tatum: The Complete Capitol Recordings Volume One (1949-52, Capitol Jazz)
  • Art Tatum: The Complete Capitol Recordings Volume Two (1949-52, Capitol Jazz)
  • Joe Temperley & Harry Allen: Cocktails for Two (2006, Sackville)
  • Frankie Valli & the 4 Seasons: The Definitive Pop Collection (1962-68, Rhino, 2CD)
  • Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson & Otis Spann: Bosses of the Blues, Volume II (1969, Bluebird)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ol' Lonely Gets the Pink Slip

The New York Times has an article today by Louis Uchitelle titled "Is There (Middle Class) Life After Maytag?" It's about what's happened to Newton, Iowa (pop. 16,000) now that its major employer, Maytag, has shut down. The article focuses on ex-workers trying to scratch out a living on reduced wages, when they can find work at all. The article doesn't dig much deeper than that, but they do point out an estimate that Maytag's presence in Newton had the effect of raising wages all across the county by about $3/hour, a multiplier that will be felt by residents not directly affected by the shutdown. One can easily imagine more multipliers: real estate values, the tax base, government services, all locked in a downward spiral.

In some ways this is a typical story -- factories all across the country are shutting down, dumping their workers into what's left of the trickle down economy -- but Maytag is one of the most redoubtable brand names in American industry, and a rock-solid presence in Iowa since its founding in 1893. As far as I can tell, it was a profitable company until it was taken over by a syndicate of private investors, including a good chunk of Chinese money, and dumped into the laps of Whirlpool, who now gets to sell their crap as Maytag until the brand name decomposes into dirt. Another way we all lose in this is that competition in the appliance industry has just been reduced -- that benefits Whirlpool in the short run, and China in the long run. (The Times also has a big article on pollution in China, but one sidelight is the extent to which China's phenomenal economic growth has been built on manufacturing. They want the work, and given the balance of trade they enjoy with the US, they can even afford to buy it.)

As far as I know, the Bush Administration has done nothing to limit anticompetitive corporate consolidation -- that's what antitrust laws were for, inadequate as they were even before Bush came along -- or capital flows. The effect is to steamroll any isolated pocket of high value, even though American industry depends on product quality to justify higher prices. Not only can China manufacture products more cheaply, the rules work to relentlessly degrade Americans' ability to compete on any grounds. Moreover, the stifling of competition means that the profits of lower costs and reduced quality don't get passed on to customers -- they go into further rounds of capital consolidation. Bush even manages to avoid taxing those profits lest the government be tempted to put them to public use: no US politician since the days of slavery has worked so hard to reduce American labor to third world levels.

The Times article asks whether this will be the end of the middle class in the US. We should be more precise. What's happened to Maytag is just one example of a broad-based drive which will drive a wedge between the working class and the middle class. In the 1945-70 period, unionized workers in high value-add manufacturing industries could afford to buy houses, cars, send their kids to college, spend some extra on entertainment and leisure activities. That continues to be true for those workers lucky enough to have survived, but when you start shutting down the Maytags you can tell how thin those ranks have become. There's a fine line between getting ahead and falling behind, but depending on which side you're on, there's a world of difference in how you feel about the system. As long as workers were getting ahead, living middle class lifestyles, they had no great interest in class consciousness. But the more they find no way to get ahead, the more beef they'll have with the way things work. That may become an important unintended consequence of the squeeze on the cost of labor.

We've been seeing real wages decline for 35 years now, yet there hasn't been much of a political backlash against it. There are a bunch of things that have helped soften the blow or at least cloud the issues: assets like homes and savings have appreciated; there have been significant technological advances; there are cases where productivity increases have lowered costs (although other increases, like health care, have more than made up for them); and there's a lot more credit and debt. But mostly older workers have been picked off one by one -- the median is just a statistic until you lose your job or get slammed by a catastrophic medical bill. Young workers can seem to be making progress until they only belatedly discover they're never quite getting where they expected to be -- of course, they're told that shortcomings are their own fault, not the system's, and too many buy that. In part, that's because there still are middle class jobs available -- in management, sales, professions that promote people as much on their fealty to the system as for the quality and quantity of their work.

For most of our history, America has had a representative, relatively permeable middle class, and that has been key to political stability -- to the sense that we're all in this together. That's increasingly at risk now. Free inheritance keeps the rich ahead, while more expensive education and growing debt burdens keep everyone else from joining them. And those without those expensive education credentials have it all that much harder when all the good manufacturing jobs have moved to China. This is likely to get ugly, especially if/when some of those crutches fail. For example, the whole "subprime" mortgage fiasco is one such fissure; that subprime loans were written in the first place was an indication how desperate lenders were to put their money to work. The whole practice of loaning money to folks unable to pay it back is a way to postpone a crisis that's only likely to become worse in the long run.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Weekly Links

Did manage to make some notes on pieces I noticed on the web during the Michigan trip.


How Rove directed federal assets for GOP gains: John Solomon, Alec MacGillis and Sarah Cohen, Washington Post: This is a ripe topic for examination; for example:

Many administrations have sought to maximize their control of the machinery of government for political gain, dispatching Cabinet secretaries bearing government largess to battleground states in the days before elections. The Clinton White House routinely rewarded big donors with stays in the Lincoln Bedroom and private coffees with senior federal officials, and held some political briefings for top Cabinet officials during the 1996 election.

But Rove, who announced last week that he is resigning from the White House at the end of August, pursued the goal far more systematically than his predecessors, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Washington Post, enlisting political appointees at every level of government in a permanent campaign that was an integral part of his strategy to establish Republican electoral dominance.

WarInContext: Reengaging with the world: Paul Woodward comment on a John Edwards article. The comment is worth quoting at length:

The lie embedded in the conception of the "war on terrorism" was that it embodied the expression of American strength. On the contrary, what it did was capitalize on American fear by fostering the illusion that we could find safety through the might of the Bush administration. Anything that expanded that might would supposedly make us safer, while anything that diminished it would place us in jeopardy.

The goal of terrorism is and always will be to maximize the political scope and impact of isolated events. "Success" derives not from the act of violence itself but from the response that this triggers.

When Mariane Pearl was asked how the murder of her husband, Daniel Pearl, had changed her life's purpose, her response was simple and resolute:

I think the point is that it hasn't changed. That is my main achievement. Things like that happen to you, and the people that hurt you expect it to change your purpose. Part of my "revenge" was that my purpose wouldn't change--not how I live, the work that I do or my approach to the world.

Historically, this is what "standing up to terrorism" has always meant and it is the reason politicians would insist, "we will not give in to terrorism." But this is precisely what the Bush administration did -- al Qaeda hoped to provoke a massive reaction; it was given exactly what it wanted.

Suppose the administration's response had been low-key, bureaucratic, diplomatic, and political: air traffic halted for 24 hours; a comprehensive review and rapid improvement of airport and airline security procedures; likewise an overhaul of intelligence operations; a diplomatic initiative to lead an internationally coordinated response to terrorist threats; a regional political initiative drawing in support from Iran and Pakistan to apply pressure on the Taliban to shut down al Qaeda -- not a shot fired. What rational person can dispute that had the administration adopted such a strategy the Middle East and the rest of the world would now be in much better shape and America would now be much less vulnerable to another major terrorist attack?

But that didn't happen. Instead, President Bush declared a "war" and rather than performing an act of bold leadership, he capitulated to al Qaeda. A small organization that would never have the capacity to wage war was handed the greatest possible reward: it was elevated to the status of being an awesome global entity and absurdly treated as though it paralleled Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union. Al Qaeda's limited organizational reach was transcended by its being provided with unlimited ideological reach.

Helena Cobban: Film Review: No End in Sight: Read this after we went to see the film. Cobban is right that the film is larded with sympathetic, conscientious Americans who imply that a better outcome was possible; limited in the questions that it asks (e.g., the focus on limited troop levels); negligent in omitting significant issues like Abu Ghraib, but perhaps most importantly in not delving deeply enough into why the whole thing was messed up so thoroughly. On the other hand, one reason for this is that they try to tell the story on top of interviews of people who signed up for the war. They probably figure that such people carry more weight in the middle of the political spectrum, but that baggage had a lot to do with enabling the war in the first place. (George Packer is an especially well-worn example.) On the other hand, they do cover a lot of the story, and the footage is often quite striking. A couple of points where they jump around make sense given the limited time, all the more so because the full story has grown way beyond what can be done in feature-length time.

TomDispatch: Michael Klare, Tough Oil on Tap: Klare is beginning to understand the rudiments of the peak oil theory. The simple view of the theory is that production increases to a peak point beyond which production decreases, and the peak corresponds to the point when 50% of the total accessible oil has been extracted. That plot looks symmetrical like a bell curve, but in two critical ways the ascending and descending curves are experienced very differently. The first is actually a more or less linear function: the cost of oil increases over time, primarily because the most easily accessible oil is pumped first, then is replaced with progressively more costly oil, until the cost reaches the point where extraction is no longer economically justifiable. This is what Klare calls "tough oil" -- we've entered into a period where for one reason or another it's becoming more difficult to bring new oil supplies to market, and the forseeable future looks increasingly bleak. The most important point that Klare makes is what he calls the "missing trillions" -- the capital investment that will be necessary to produce more oil in the future, but which is unlikely to materialize because increasing cost of oil translates into decreasing returns on investment.

The other key difference is the relationship of supply and demand. On the curve upslope supply and demand expand in lockstep, maintaining relatively constant prices. After the peak, supply contracts, so must demand, and this is accomplished primarily through price increases -- i.e., oil prices rise until demand for more oil gives up. The problem here is that the two dimensions of growth (population and per capita wealth) have historically correlated closely with the growth of energy production. But if economic growth mirrors energy growth, what happens when available energy declines? The obvious answer is that the economy will contract, reducing wealth and stressing population. This answer can be temporarily avoided by making up for the shortfall by making more efficient use of available oil and by substituting other energy sources where practical. (Most of those who argue against the peak oil theory do so not on the basis of geology but by virtue of their faith that science will tap into new forms of energy that will make up for oil shortfalls.)

The problems don't stop with reduced standards of living. We are heavily invested in growth as the standard answer to complaints over inequality. In a growing economy, it's possible for everyone to gain even without any movement toward equality, and it's possible that those gains will satisfy enough people to avoid political turmoil. That's more or less what happened during capitalism's upswing. But that same self-interested ideology in a shrinking economy pits all against all, a scenario that can decay swiftly into chaos. Experts debate over when oil will peak, not whether. Given that the resource is finite and will be readily consumed, the real question is how do we change to fit the new circumstances. We've already seen enough to know that the transition will be difficult and dangerous -- even Klare can see that now.

Village Voice: Francis Davis on Roswell Rudd: I've been a huge fan of trombonist Rudd since I tuned into jazz in the late-'70s, picking up his long-out-of-print JCOA album Numatik Swing Band and the even more marvelous Flexible Flyer with Sheila Jordan and retro pianist Hod O'Brien. (The third Rudd album I grabbed at the time was a piece of unlistenable avant extremism.) Thereafter I grabbed whatever I could, including the "comeback" albums Davis covers here. I've found them to be a mixed bag of odd contexts for marvelous trombone, but Davis -- another long-term fan -- manages to straighten them out.

New York Times op-ed: The War as We See It: Written by seven US soldiers in Iraq (well, six; one's been shot and evacuated), this is a pretty straightforward accounting of the occupation's numerous failures. The core problem as the inability to provide any measure of security, let alone economic development. This follows largely from the confused and contradictory tactics the US has followed in trying to keep on top of a political situation we've never understood or appreciated.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.

Conclusion:

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, "We need security, not free food."

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are -- an army of occupation -- and force our withdrawal.

Tony Karon: Asking the wrong questions on Iran:

The fact that [Peter] Beinart and company were wrong on the facts was only part of the problem. More importantly, it was their ideas about the use of force and its consequences that proved so disastrously flawed. And most of the decision-makers in the mainstream media did not bother to challenge the basic proposition that if Saddam had certain categories of weapons, then an invasion was necessary and beneficial.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Back From Michigan

Back in Wichita, after spending the better part of a week in or near Detroit. We went to visit Laura's father, 91, living alone in the small Oak Park house Laura grew up in, and doing pretty well, all things considered. We flew this time. I'd rather drive, but it's an even thousand miles from Wichita to his door, two days and a lot of corn each way. I find the drive relaxing, but it wears on Laura, and pushing it undercuts the pleasure.

Another advantage to the car is that we can pack liberally -- I usually take some reference books, a tool box, and a cooler, which in the past let me pack home some Karoun yogurt. But flying called for minimal packing, and limited what we could carry home. When we got there, I did some work on the house, limited by my lack of tools. I also did less shopping than I would have, making notes on books rather than buying, not even bothering with the food stores. I had looked forward to the used CD shops, but only managed to get to three -- Record Time in Ferndale and Roseville, Street Corner up in Bloomfield -- winding up with a mere 18 CDs and a sore back for my efforts. Only got to two of the four bookstores I normally drop in on, and found very little I didn't already know about.

Plane trip out was uneventful, with a stop in Chicago. Trip back was delayed out of Detroit, then delayed further in Chicago, where we were queued on the runway when a squall line forced the airport to shut down. We caught a break in the weather after an hour or so, and took off before another line stormed through. Read the next day that 250 flights were cancelled in Chicago that day, so we were fortunate not to get stuck. Everything was secure when we got back.

Didn't take my notebook computer -- discovered just before packing it that the screen is burnt out, rendering it useless for travel -- but we did have a computer available there. Was able to check mail, and made some notes on web browsing, but otherwise couldn't get into my writing. Also couldn't listen to music: didn't bring any, and had no way to play anything I picked up. I've often said that music is what keeps me sane, so it's not surprising that by the end of the trip I was more than a little ragged.

We did, however, eat well: a middle eastern joint called Flaming Kabob had saganaki, a salad with spinach and chicken shwarma, and lamb kabobs; Beau Jack's had parmesan-crusted walleye; Bastone's, a Belgian restaurant in Royal Oak, had good mussels; a Polish restaurant in Hamtramck, Polish Village Cafe, had good potato pancakes, kielbasa, chicken livers, and pork chops; and of course we had lunch at the Bread Basket, a Jewish deli we've frequented nearly every trip.

Weather was surprisingly cool, but we caught a lot of rain, with reports of flooding, especially in Dearborn. I tend to black out on news when I travel, but I gather there was quite a bit of flooding in Texas/Oklahoma as well as Michigan/Ohio during the week, not to mention a big-ass hurricane down in the Caribbean. Got rain when we got back here. It's unusual to see green grass this late in the summer here. Don't seem to get much travel in these days. Was hoping for a nice car trip, at least this fall, but this one turned out to be pretty uncomfortable. But was good to see Kal, and help out as much as we could.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Music: Current count 13508 [13491] rated (+17), 788 [794] unrated (-6). Short week, more or less ending on Friday. Busy week too, with household chores taking most of my attention. Will be in Detroit next week, without much in the way of music, so I expect next week will be even shorter.

  • Aterciopelados: Gozo Poderoso (2001, BMG Latino): With their group name translating to "the velvety ones" it shouldn't be surprising that their rock en espanol is closer to Vegas schlock in espanol. B
  • Hugh Moffatt & Katy Moffatt: Dance Me Outside (1992, Philo): Country-ish folk singers, brother and sister, which may explain why the chemistry isn't all that hot. Each has a list of albums without the other. The only one I've heard, Katy's The Greatest Show on Earth, is pretty good. This covers a couple of Gram Parsons covers for the genre typology they are looking for, but also for stiffer competition than they're up to. B


Jazz Prospecting (CG #14, Part 10)

Short week with many distractions. I had to close this out on Friday as I was packing up for travel, but even earlier I lost track of what I was listening to. Had air conditioner problems which took a lot of my time. At the end I discovered that my Sony laptop had a dead screen -- for some time now I figured it was just the screensaver. I've kept the master copy of my website on that laptop for a long time now, accessing it at home using X from other computers, keeping it ready to hit the road. But now that I need it, it's not available. So this week promises to be even less productive than expected. Will be back in Wichita late in the week, starting up another short week. That's when the Jazz CG crunch will finally start. Enough time has passed, and I've accumulated plenty of records to write about.


Bruce Eisenbeil Sextet: Inner Constellation: Volume One (2004 [2007], Nemu): Guitarist, born 1968 Chicago, grew up in New Jersey, moved to NYC in 1996. Has four or more albums. Has three previous albums on CIMP, a couple more as co-leader (including one with Perry Robinson I'd like to hear). Website also lists a big band record with David Murray "to be released in 2112." Plays free with a heavy metallic ring -- plays Fender Stratocaster on the 47:28 title cut, Ibanez acoustic and Gibson L5 on three short trio pieces that close out the record. The sextet, with violin (Jean Cook), trumpet (Nate Wooley), alto sax (Aaron Ali Shaikh), bass (Tom Abbs) and drums (Nasheet Waits) is a heavy slog I admire more than like, and may be shortchanging. The short pieces are intriguing. Francis Davis wrote the liner notes, and is a fan. [B+(*)]

Bill McHenry: Roses (2006 [2007], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, born 1972, originally from Maine, moved to Barcelona in 1996, returning to New York. Has 6-8 albums as leader -- the range depends on how you count albums with pianists Ethan Iverson and Ben Waltzer listed first -- mostly on Fresh Sound. Sort of fits in the Chris Potter-Donny McCaslin line, but rougher than either, which comes in handy in this quartet -- I'm surprised to hear guitarist Ben Monder come out so aggressively, but Reid Anderson on bass and Paul Motian make for a curiously unstable rhythm section. [B+(**)]

Chris Potter Underground: Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard (2007, Sunnyside): Easily the top regarded tenor saxophonist of his generation -- Sonny Rollins and Joe Lovano still get more votes in polls, but that's it. I resisted for a long time, but his Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard won me over with its quartet simplicity and high energy. The lineup was typical sax-piano-bass-drums, with peers Kevin Hays, Scott Colley, and Bill Stewart. In 2005 Potter recorded Underground with a funkier quartet: Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes, Wayne Krantz on guitar, Nate Smith on drums, with no bass. The new Village Vanguard record takes that group with Adam Rogers instead of Krantz into the spotlight and turns up the heat. The highlight is called "Pop Tune #1" as if jump, jive and wail were just an exercise, but all save one of the cuts are like that, at least once they warm up. The slow change of pace is nice too, and he left the soprano in the hotel. This may just go to show that his postbop stuff critics and fans adore is too fancy for me. [B+(***)]

Chris Potter 10: Song for Anyone (2006 [2007], Sunnyside): Ten musicians, with flute-clarinet-bassoon in the winds section and violin-viola-cello-bass for strings, guitar too, and percussion. With that sort of instrumentation, this is full of orchestral stretches that I find deadly, even when I recognize that they're not so bad. Moreover, the saxophonist often rises to the occasion, or exceeds it, and he has a much more full-bodied sound than the one I found annoying on his early work. So I don't feel the anger to make this a Dud, although I'll keep it active in the "done" file a while in case I find myself hard up. B

Michel Portal: Birdwatcher (2006 [2007], Sunnyside): French, born 1935, has an extensive discography, mostly plays bass clarinet here, with one song each on clarinet, alto sax, and soprano sax. He has experimented with world rhythms in the past, and they reappear here mostly in Airto Moreira's percussion (7 of 11 tracks). Other musicians shuffle in and out, with tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby making predictably large waves. I'm somewhat at a loss here: some of this sounds terrific, but there's so much going on I can't get a handle on it. Will hold it back. [B+(**)]

Happy Apple: Happy Apple Back on Top (2007, Sunnyside): Bad Plus drummer Dave King's other trio, billed as "jazz punk," with Erik Fratzke on Fender bass and Michael Lewis on various saxophones and occasional keyboards, with their seventh album since 1997. I've only heard the last album, The Peace Between Our Companies, which made my A-list. This one is more or less as good -- having a lot of trouble making up my mind. Lewis reminds me a lot of Tony Malaby on tenor and, oh, Michael Blake on soprano -- pretty good models, but not quite distinct. Coming from Minnesota, I'm tempted to call them the Hüsker Dü of free jazz, especially when they go hard or Fratzke gets into one of his rock grooves. But they're more flexible than that, with the slow stuff retaining interest as well. [A-]

Daniel Bernard Roumain: Etudes 4 violin & Electronix (2007, Thirsty Ear): Been holding off on this advance expecting a final copy to appear and clear some things up, but release date was June 26. I've gotten nothing but advances from this label in quite a while, and the advances and PR packages are severely lacking in information. I do know that DJ Spooky, Peter Gordon, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Philip Glass, and a couple of others appear here because they get "feat." plugs next to titles. Could be duets. One with no "feat." is relatively interesting, with at least three instruments, repeating patterns on piano, a synth (or maybe a horn), and the leader's violin wailing background. Roumain, a Haitian-American violinist, has classical education, long dreadlocks, and hip-hop interests. Not sure if this is considered a jazz release or not -- no indication that it's part of Matthew Shipp's Blue Series, although Roumain has appeared there in the past -- but it is notably lacking both in jazz musicians and in any sort of swing. (I almost said "rhythm," but Glass and DJ Scientific do contribute something there, just nothing jazz-friendly.) Also, the violin tends to appear in sheets, without much bite or spunk. B

Misha Piatigorsky: Aya (2007, Misha Music): I haven't started penalizing musicians for offensive websites yet, but entering this one felt like being assaulted. Probably would have been even worse if I had speakers hooked up -- I don't have speakers on my computer to avoid occasions like this. End of rant. Pianist, born Moscow, moved to US in 1981, studied under Kenny Barron at Manhattan School of Music, lives in NYC, has seven albums since 1996, does some producing and soundtrack work. This one pretty much pulls it all together. He's fast and can swing. Some cuts add horns -- Omar Kabir on trumpet and trombone, Boris Kurganov on alto sax -- and they lift the temperature. But most songs have words, and he uses four very different vocalists: Barbara Mendes (Brazilian bombshell), Judy Bady (soul diva), Ayelet Piatigorsky (classical chorale), and Rahj (spoken jive). It's all mixed up, which is no doubt the point. B+(**)

Ed Johnson & Novo Tempo: The Other Road (2007, Cumulus): Back cover exclaims: Brazilian Jazz. Website explains: Original Brazilian Inspired Jazz. I would have insisted on a hyphen: Brazilian-Inspired. Johnson plays guitar (mostly nylon-string) and sings; based in or near San Francisco or San Jose (Palo Alto?); has five albums, two with this band, but previous albums were evidently similar. The band (horns and percussion, anyway) aren't bad, but the leader's guitar is nothing special, and the vocals are somewhere between inept and awful -- the constant bubbling of the background voices is especially annoying. C- [Oct. 1]

Billy Martin/John Medeski: Mago (2006 [2007], Amulet): I.e., Medeski, Martin & Wood minus bassist Chris Wood, released on drummer Martin's boutique label instead of major Blue Note. All three principals have had their side projects -- Martin has quite a pile of drum solos and duets, break beats, and DJ mixes; organist Medeski shows up on Thirsty Ears and at Club D'Elf and dabbles in gospel; Wood has the Wood Brothers, which I can't describe off the top of my head, proving how forgettable the album was -- but this seems dangerously close to their meal ticket, with the inevitable groove loss offset by greater freedom and more individual play. The analogy that occurs to me is David Byrne-Brian Eno, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which felt like a rough draft for a Talking Heads album but stood on its own because it drew out the limited idiosyncrasies of the key players. This is the same idea, but not really on the same level. B+(**)

Jason Kao Hwang/Sang Won Park: Local Lingo (2006 [2007], Euonymus): Hwang is a Chinese-American violinist, who has managed to distinguish himself both in Chinese classical music and avant-jazz. Park is a Korean, born 1950 in Seoul, moved to New York in 1980. He plays ajeng (a 6-string bowed zither) and kayagum (a 12-string plucked ziter), which are capable of a rough, sour -- I'm tempted to say ugly -- sound, contrasting with the more conventional violin. Park has worked with Laurie Anderson, Henry Kaiser, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and has a solo album. Like most duo albums, this initially strikes me as limited to the sum of its parts. I have no framework for evaluating Park's mastery. Hwang is one of the most interesting violinists around, but Park controls the tempo and sound. [B+(*)]

Assif Tsahar/Cooper-Moore/Chad Taylor: Digital Primitives (2006 [2007], Hopscotch): No piano from Cooper-Moore this time, just diddley bow, mouth bow, something called a bango. He also sings one called "Ol' Saint Peter," with a cowboy pulse, brushes or an electronic facsimile, and a gentle sax refrain that bridges gospel and cocktail. He seems to be the center of everything, setting the place, stirring things up. Tsahar rarely gets his dander up -- the finale sounds like his old tenor sax, but elsewhere runs through r&b riffs, colors in on bass clarinet, and even pulls out the didgeridoo. At least two cuts get slow and exotic, with Taylor's beats sounding like balafon -- the credits just say drums and percussion. A-

Sonny Fortune: You and the Night and the Music (2006 [2007], 18th & Vine): Sounds great right out of the blocks, but so mainstream I start to wonder whether that's all there is to it, then he switches from alto sax to flute and I wonder why even bother. Then I got distracted and lost track, so I'll get back to it later. Quartet, with George Cables a definite plus on piano. [B+(*)]

The Jon Hemmersam/Dom Minasi Quartet (2006 [2007], CDM): Two guitarist above the line; the other two are bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Kresten Osgood. Hemmersam comes from Denmark, plays Spanish guitar and electric; he has a previous album called Abakvarian, another record with Michael Jefry Stevens and Karen Valeur as the Jazzic Trio, and some other credits I don't quite understand (e.g., "Fusion Energy is a musicschool band leaded by Jon"). Minasi is from Queens, had a brief fling on Blue Note in the 1970s, reappeared with an album in 1999, and has been recording himself steadily ever since. I tend to think of him as a Joe Pass-type who somehow fell into an avant-garde crowd. He plays 12-string here, adding to a density that is all but definitive when they pick up the pace. The Spanish stuff is more ornate and less satisfying. Filiano is a plus, as usual. B+(*)

Erik Friedlander: Block Ice & Propane (2005 [2007], Skipstone): Solo cello compositions and improvisations, inspired by trips across the vast American landscape. Pizzicato sounds open and airy, like guitar; arco gets more volume and intensity, while avoiding the squelch of violin and the deep barrenness of bass. Or maybe he's just an exceptional cellist and composer/improviser, because this is both more cohesive and more consistently intriguing than most solo albums; a neat trick. B+(***)


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

Enrico Rava: The Words and the Days (2005 [2007], ECM): Chamber jazz, in a quintet where the leader's eloquent trumpet is amplified by Ginaluca Petrella's trombone. I wonder sometimes if Rava hasn't grown too subtle -- he's recorded a lot recently, fine albums with little to recommend one album over any other, but this is better than par, just a bit hard to nail down. B+(***)

Nordic Connect: Flurry (2005 [2007], ArtistShare): Led by Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and her lesser-known alto saxophonist sister Christine Jensen, with two-thirds of the rhythm section from Sweden -- pianist Maggi Olin and bassist Mattias Wellin; drummer Jon Wikan was born in Alaska, grew up in Washington, lives in New York. Shiny, luxurious postbop. I go back and forth on it, savoring it when I pay close attention but finding it slips into the background with the slightest distraction. Alas, distraction seems to be the order of the day. B+(**)

Jerry Bergonzi: Tenorist (2006 [2007], Savant): A mainstream tenor sax album for folks who love sax the way God, er, Coleman Hawkins, intended it: broad, deep, full of spunk, but dependably on the beat, and close enough to the melody you can track it while enjoying the differences. A quartet, with John Abercrombie's guitar fitting in better than the usual piano, and standing out on the rare occasions he feels like it. B+(***)

Robert MacGregor: Refraction of Light (2006 [2007], Black Tri): Young tenor saxophonist with a distinctive sound and plenty of chops, leading a young postbop group with a pretty good pianist named Miro Sprague. B+(*)


Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:

Amanda Carr wrote in to fill me in on the ghost bands. The Artie Shaw Orchestra has been led for years by Dick Johnson, using Shaw's charts. "The band tours around the country frequently with its last 10 week tour ending 4 months ago." The Harry James Band has been led by original first trumpet player Fred Radke "for years now," also based on James' original charts. The Glenn Miller Band has been touring for years, using Julia Rich as regular vocalist, with Carr occasionally filling in. I knew that James and Miller ghost bands had existed at one time, but not that they (let alone Shaw) were still operational. The Ellington Orchestra lasted a while after his death, but not long. Carr also mentions the Basi Band, which has been visible lately with such sleights of hand as Ray Sings, Basie Swings. Carr writes: "the Basie Band just played at the Newport 'JVC' Festival last week and I don't think anyone was disgusted and got up and left because it wasn't with all original players or that they might be 'dreaming' and not actually seeing the Basie Band from the 40's." Of course, they're not seeing the Basie Band from the '70s either, when it was still pretty healthy. In fact, it survived its leader's death better than most due to the strengths of leaders like Frank Foster. I have nothing in principle against doing repertory -- if I pick on the Mingus Big Band it's because I wish they were better -- but there's something fraudulent about institutionalizing them under the original brand names. Same thing happens elsewhere, especially in rock, where pale copies of '50s and '60s groups still tour county fairs. That's probably where I got my distaste. Carr may be perfect for those antique framings, but her own album is a good deal fresher.

Danny Weis, Sweet Spot, was released on Marshmellow Records (not Nordost).


Unpacking:

  • Dennis Brown: The Best of the Joe Gibbs Years (1972-83, Shanachie)
  • Ani DiFranco: Canon (1993-2007, Righteous Babe, 2CD)
  • Miles Davis: Evolution of the Groove (1959-72, Columbia/Legacy)
  • Sonny Fortune: You and the Night and the Music (18th & Vine)
  • The Essential Jars of Clay (1995-2006, Essential/Legacy, 2CD): advance, Sept. 4, package only had 2nd disc
  • William Parker/Raining on the Moon: Corn Meal Dance (AUM Fidelity)
  • Tineke Postma: A Journey That Matters (Foreign Media Jazz)
  • The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru (Barbès): advance, Sept. 25
  • Sly & the Family Stone: Greatest Hits (1967-70, Epic/Legacy)
  • Sones de México: Esta Tierra Es Tuya (Sones de México)
  • Ezra Weiss: Get Happy (Roark)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Weekly Links

Dumping this list out a day (or a few hours) early, as I'll be on the road next week. I expect next week's postings will be few, but I won't be totally out of touch.


Barnett Rubin: New York Times on Failure in Afghanistan: I read most of New Pravda's front page Afghanistan debacle piece (David Rohde and David Sanger, "The 'Good War' Went Bad") this morning, and got virtually nothing from it. Rubin points out why:

As news reporters, the authors decline to make the obvious observation: more attention and resources from this administration meant a more comprehensive and disastrous failure in Iraq than in Afghanistan.

The single greatest problem Americans, especially those of a liberal disposition, have is their inability to see that the US is incapable of helping, at least as long as US armed forces are involved. (Of course, this is worse with Bush in charge, but it is not limited to Bush.) Rubin explains further:

The article neglects one important aspect of the Afghan effort -- the involvement of the United Nations, which the reporters do not even mention. Yet one of the major reasons for the limited successes in Afghanistan was precisely that, because of the low priority the administration assigned to it, it agreed to a recommendation from the State Department to empower the UN to take the lead in helping Afghans assemble a political transition.

Also:

Complaints about NATO troop contributors ignore the political reality that allies are reluctant to sacrifice their soldier's lives to a conflict greatly exacerbated by Washington's own mistakes. This same dynamic is being played out again as the administration pushes for a disastrous policy of accelerated poppy eradication, and allies whose troops may die in the resulting resistance push back.

I've also seen reports of NATO commanders complaining about US collateral damage -- basically wishing the Americans would go away. The NY Times also had an article today on how slowly the leading Democratic presidential candidates plan on getting out of Iraq. That most of them want to send more troops to Afghanistan and get more aggressive against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and sometimes even Pakistan, suggests they still don't have a clue.

Salon: Gary Kamiya: Bush's tangled arms deal: Kamiya argues that the Bush administration is limited to two approaches to the Middle East -- "It either tries to blow them up or bribe them" -- and sees the big Egypt-Israeli-Saudi-Gulf States arms deal as an instance of the latter. I think he's wrong. The arms deal strikes me as extortion: Bush wants to sell arms, and the buyers figure that accepting them will help humor the lunatics -- maybe even let them gracefully decline the next time America decides to defend them. Israel may be the exception in this crowd, but the Military-Industrial Complex knows that any arms sales to Arabs will automatically be matched with sales to Israel -- an easy way to double your business. On the other hand, none of these countries actually need the weapons, let alone are likely to use them for anything worthwhile.

I'm reminded that about the only official state dinner Bush threw in his first year in office was for a delegation from Poland who had agreed to buy fighter-bombers. Sometimes the graft is so transparent you have to work hard to avoid seeing it. It would be monumentally cynical to say that the whole Bush misadventure in Iraq, with all the saber rattling against Syria and Iran and the collateral damage in Lebanon, was just a pretense to sell more guns. But it's equally hard to come up with brighter, more sensible reasons. And certainly, if you're an arms salesman, you got to appreciate how Bush has set up the tables here. He's even catering the klatches. All those bribes (er, contributions) have really paid off. Moreover, if anyone does use those arms -- Israel is the only one on the list who seems the least bit trigger-happy -- that just sets up the next round.

WarInContext: Democrats say leaving Iraq may take years: This points to a New York Times article by Jeff Zeleny and Marc Santora demonstrating the utter lack of policy perspective and imagination (and intuition and intelligence) of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, but that's old news. I cite this for the comment by Paul Woodward on what said candidates should be proposing:

The starting point would be the recognition that every government and the vast majority of the people in the region have an interest in stability. The division of the region into stabilizing and destabilizing forces has been hugely overstated and ignores the possibility that -- if presented with the right formula -- all states, including Iran and Syria, might be willing to be parties to a treaty that would guarantee the security of every signatory state. The terms of such an agreement would need to be determined by all those involved -- without American interference -- but the United States could act as facilitator and guarantor by offering the promise of a non-aggression treaty to every member state. If a security arrangement of this nature came into place, the U.S. could then provide a subsequent reinforcing role by making the protection of the security pact a commitment that took precedence above commitments to individual states. While the U.S. could not and should not attempt to engineer such an initiative, the fact that it can so easily prevent something like this working means that its support is indispensable. (For more detailed considerations of a regional security initiative see these articles by Ali Allawi and Patrick Seale.)

Instead of asking what is good for Israel and the United States, the next president needs to ask what is good for the Middle East. Instead of perpetuating the politics of fear, the next president needs to demonstrate and inspire political courage. Instead of promoting a regional security initiative to counter Iran, the next president needs to envisage supporting a Middle East security initiative that includes Iran.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Alex von Tunzelmann: Indian Summer

Alex von Tunzelmann's book on the partition of India and Pakistan, Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire (2007, Henry Holt), looks to be an interesting read, both for its coverage of a critical moment in world history and for whatever light it spreads on the decay and demise of British and European (or Euroamerican) imperialism. I hope to get to it before too long. Meanwhile, Pankaj Mishra's review in The New Yorker has some interesting things to say.

Von Tunzelmann goes on a bit too much about the Mountbattens' open marriage and their connections to various British royals, toffs, and fops, but her account, unlike those of some of her fellow British historians, isn't filtered by nostalgia. She summarizes bluntly the economic record of the British overlords, who, though never as rapacious and destructive as the Belgians in the Congo, damaged agriculture and retarded industrial growth in India through a blind faith in the "invisible hand" that supposedly regulated markets. [ . . . ] she reminds readers that, in 1877, the year that Queen Victoria officially became Empress of India, a famine in the south killed five million people even as the Queen's viceroy remained adamant that famine relief was a misguided policy. [ . . . ]

Though blessed with many able administrators, the British found India just too large and diverse to handle. Many of their decisions stoked Hindu-Muslim tensions, imposing sharp new religious-political identities on Indians. As the recent experience of Iraq proves, elections in a country where the rights and responsibilities of secular and democratic citizenship are largely unknown do little more than crudely assert the majority's right to rule. The British-supervised elections in 1937 and 1946, which the Hindu-dominated Congress won easily, only hardened Muslim identity,and made partition inevitable. [ . . . ] The British policy of defining communities based on religious identity radically altered Indian self-perceptions, as von Tunzelmann points out: "Many Indians stopped accepting the diversity of their own thoughts and began to ask themselves in which of the boxes they belonged."

Ineptitude and negligence directed British policies in India more than any cynical desire to divide and rule, but the British were not above exploiting rivalries. As late as 1940, Winston Churchill hoped that Hindu-Muslim antagonism would remain "a bulwark of British rule in India." [ . . . ] In the nineteen-twenties and thirties, Churchill had been loudest among the reactionaries who were determined not to lose India, "the jewel int eh crown," and, as Prime Minister during the Second World War, he tried every tactic to thwart Indian independence. "I hate Indians," he declared. "They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." [ . . . ] According to his own Secretary of State for India, Leopold Amery, Churchill knew "as much of the Indian problem as George III did of the American colonies." [ . . . ]

Von Tunzelmann judges that Churchill, hoping to forestall independence by opportunistically supporting Muslim separatism, instead became "instrumental in creating the world's first modern Islamic state." [ . . . ]

What Leopold Amery denounced as Churchill's "Hitler-like attitude" to India manifested itself most starkly during a famine, caused by a combination of war and mismanagement, that claimed between one and two million lives in Bengal in 1943. Urgently beseeched by Amery and the Indian viceroy to release food stocks for India, Churchill responded with a telegram asking why Gandhi hadn't died yet. [ . . . ]

As von Tunzelmann writes, "By 1946 the subcontinent was a mess, with British civil and military officers desperate to leave, and a growing hostility to their presence among Indians." In an authoritative recent two-volume account of the end of the British Empire in Asia -- Forgotten Armies and Forgotten Wars -- the Cambridge University historians Tim Harper and Christopher Bayly describe how quickly the Japanese had humiliated the British in Malaya and Burma, threatening their hold over India. With their mystique of power gone, Asia's British masters depended on what Bayly and Harper term the "temporary sufferance of Asians." Although Churchill had rejected the Congress Party's offer of military support in exchange for independence, Bayley and Harper write that, ultimately, "it was Indian soldiers, civilian laborers and businessmen who made possible the victory of 1945. Their price was the rapid independence of India."

The British could not now rely on brute force without imperilling their own sense of legitimacy. Besides, however much they "preferred the illusion of imperial might to the admission of imperial failure," as von Tunzelmann puts it, the country, deep in wartime debt, simply couldn't afford to hold on to its increasingly unstable empire. Imperial disengagement appeared not just inevitable but urgent.

But Churchill's divisive policies had already produced a disastrous effect on the Indian political scene. Congress Party leaders had refused to share power with Jinnah, confident that they did not need Muslim support in order to win a majority vote in elections. These attitudes stoked Muslim fears that the secular nationalism of Gandhi and Nehru was a cover for Hindu dominance. While the Congress leaders were in prison, Jinnah, with Churchill's encouragement, steadily consolidated Muslim opinion behind him. By 1946, this secularist politician had managed to present himself as the best defender of Muslim interests in a Hindu-dominated India. Religion was never so deeply and enduringly politicized in India as it was in the last years of imperial rule. [ . . . ]

Meeting Mountbatten a few months after partition, Churchill assailed him for helping Britain's "enemies," "Hindustan," against "Britain's friends," the Muslims. Little did Churchill know wht his expedient boosting of political Islam would eventually unleash a global jihad engulfing even distant New York and London. The rival nationalisms and politicized religions the British Empir ebrought into being nwo clash in an enlarged geopolitical arena; and the human costs of imperial overreaching seem unlikely to attain a final tally for many more decades.

The relevance of these quotes to what Britain did in Palestine, and to what first Britain and now the US has and is still doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, should be obvious.

As for Churchill, it's possible that one can see his hand in every war in a century of war, from the British assault on the Sudan, which he witnessed, and the Boer War, where he first made his political mark, up to the present War on Terror. Churchill has at least this much in common with Bush: he never recognized making a fundamental error, and realize that there was anything in the world beyond his competency. Paul Woodward made a note recently where he suggested that Bush reflect on the following quote from the Tao Te Ching:

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn't meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

Of course, it's not just Churchill, nor just Bush. The British, to the extent one can generalize, still cling to the notion that their empire was good for all concerned, and they reiterate this by trying to help the Americans follow in their footsteps. That those footsteps lead to ruin is something they all will deny as long as possible. Only by recognizing Churchill as one of the true monsters of the 20th century will we start to become "centered in the Tao."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mediterranean Mixed Munchies

I cooked dinner on Sunday. My niece, Rachel Hull, was in town, so we got together what we could find of the family. I had been browsing cookbooks a few days before, and a Moroccan chicken and olives tagine caught my eye, so it was on my mind when the dinner opportunity came up. I thought I'd serve it with couscous and a salad. I wound up with a bit more: a carrot salad, an eggplant salad, a quickie shrimp dish. Wasn't too hard, and came out exceptionally well. (Of course, it did help that I already had harissa and preserved lemons in the frig.) I was pleased enough that I finally spent some time retooling my recipe section (see here), adding the new recipes. The new setup should be easier to maintain and to add to, better for indexing (e.g., by ingredient). Still have some work to do there, plus a lot of old stuff to migrate forward, but it felt good to do some programming.

We also took some pictures. I'm not much on website pictures, but I figured that would fit the style of my nephew Mike's blog, so I asked Rachel to take the pictures and my recipes and put them all together in a post. The boiling pot picture is actually just the sauce for the chicken as I was trying to reduce it. The salade niçoise leftovers got piled on top of good bread for pan bagnat.


Recycled Goods #46: August 2007

Recycled Goods #46, August 2007, has been posted at Static Multimedia. This one reviews 44 records, including one upgraded from an old column (King Sunny Ade, The Best of the Classic Years) suggested by a new supplement, three from Network's Golden Afrique series, and a widely scattered selection beyond those. I've been sort of thrashing lately, trying to keep up with what comes in as opposed to trying to arrange what comes in to fit what the column needs. As such, there has been a growing tide of marginal world music, including lots of spinoffs from my jazz prospecting. The only major still supplying me with mainstream reissues is Sony/BMG -- Universal and EMI have sort of slipped out of touch, except for their jazz divisions, while WEA has only occasionally been approachable. Also, I'm far less likely to find something in the used CD bins now that there are virtually no used CD stores within driving distance here. I'm also not much inclined to order stuff on speculation given how much free stuff comes my way. But I do feel bad, for instance, that I haven't heard the African records in Robert Christgau's July Consumer Guide. I wrote for a couple of them, unsuccessfully; shopped for others, also unsucessfully. I don't know what to do about this. I still wound up with 15 A- or better albums this month, which should satisfy most budgets, so maybe it's not all that bad.

Current census: 1963 records reviewed. Backlog already written for September: 37. So September will break the 2000 level. And that doesn't count the Tumbao Classics I've held back for October, since I bought a second batch I haven't gotten to yet.


Here's the publicists letter:

Recycled Goods #46, August 2007, is finally up at Static Multimedia:

  link

44 records. Index by label:

  Adventure Music: Muiza Adnet, Contemporary America
  AUM Fidelity (CaseQuarter): The Spiritualaires of Hurtsboro Alabama
  Clean Feed: Anthony Braxton/Joe Fonda
  Fuel 2000: John Fred and His Playboy Band
  Hightone: Buddy & Julie Miller
  JDub: Balkan Beat Box, Socalled
  Justin Time: Jeri Brown
  MI5: Erol Josue
  Mosaic: Charles Lloyd
  Mr. Bongo: Jose Conde y Ola Fresca
  Nettwerk: Erin McKeown
  Network: Golden Afrique (3)
  Shanachie: King Sunny Ade (2), Culture
  Shout! Factory: John Lee Hooker
  Sony/BMG (Legacy): Anjani, Jeff Buckley (2), The Clash, Dirty Dancing,
    Jose Feliciano, Maynard Ferguson, Benny Goodman, Nina Simone
  Soundbrush: Frank London
  Stony Plain: Duke Robillard
  Sunnyside: The Wild Magnolias
  Suphala: Suphala
  TCB: Oscar Peterson
  Thirsty Ear: Free Zen Society
  Vanguard: Marc Broussard
  WEA (Nonesuch): World Circuit Presents
  Widow's Taste: Art Pepper (2)
  World Village: Somi
  ZC: Barb Jungr
  Zoho: Pablo Aslan (2)

This is the 46th monthly column. Thus far I've covered a total of 1963
albums in Recycled Goods.

Thanks again for your support.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Turd Blossoms

Karl Rove resigned from the White House payroll yesterday, or next month, or something like that. He says he won't take a job with a 2008 presidential candidate, although he will offer quiet advice in some undisclosed cases. He says he'll write a book. It would certainly be nice to know what he actually did since 2001 as a Public Servant, but it remains to be seen how much he will actually disclose, or for that matter whether anything he does write has any relationship to the truth. He has served in the inner sanctums of the most secretive and mendacious presidency in American history, and he may well have been the most reclusive and deceitful person there.

Of course, he may have been more illusion than reality. Rove's stock-in-trade is the illusion that he is all-knowing, powerful, able to pull strings, manipulate perceptions -- the mastermind of a nefarious plot to build a permanent Republican stranglehold in an America that unquestionably dominates the entire world. Rove's been successful enough that he's managed to get people who can't stand him to write books about him with titles like Bush's Brain and Boy Genius. But there's far less evidence that Rove's actually accomplished much. After 6.5 years of Rove and Bush in the White House, the US is increasingly crippled on the world stage, and the Permanent Republican Majority has gone the way of the 1000 Year Reich.

Rove's greater claim to fame is for Bush's two election wins, but he managed to cut both of them awfully close, if indeed he had much to do with either. The 2000 campaign was lavishly oiled, with a nationwide propaganda organization that had eight years practice beating on Clinton. Rove had done the same with Ann Richards in Texas, so he was compatible with the approach, but hardly its architect. Bush himself was pretty tight-lipped for the campaign, staying above the fray while his goons dismembered Gore. The 2004 campaign was won by Bush sticking to his guns while Kerry reserved his best shots for a wild goose hunt. Both smelled like Rove wins, mostly because they smelled like Rove. He's little more than a Jesse Helms-type, the sort of guy who joined the Republicans to bond with his fellow assholes.

On the other hand, someone in the White House came up with the bright idea of Bush spending the 2004 "mandate" on killing Social Security. If that was Rove, it was one of the few times where he misjudged the stupidity of American voters. Actually, all Bush-Rove programs have had the same fatal flaw: reality. But Social Security was different, because no one could even conceive of a practical way to make it seem to work while they were wrecking it, and that was obvious enough that even voters could figure it out. So why couldn't Rove, or even Bush, work that out before it was too late? I'll throw out three reasons: 1) politics has been narrowed down to the art of manipulating symbols, where the only limit on subjectivity is credibility (or the gullibility of the masses); 2) successful politicians are selected by their ability to espouse positions convincingly, which favors politicians with simple, coherent beliefs; 3) the primary purveyors of such belief systems are think tanks. The problem is that the right-wing think tanks are so ingrown that they often convince themselves of utter nonsense, which even shrewd political operators are likely to pick up because they have to believe in something.

It should be obvious by now that neither Bush nor Rove ever had an original thought, much less intimations of genius. They were in turn the beneficiaries of the right-wing ideological machinery (the think tanks and the propaganda outlets), and they were able to take them over by committing themselves so wholeheartedly. Thus they are victims of their own enthusiasm, which helps explain why they look so dumbfounded every time they take a crackpot idea and crash it smack into reality. Rove and Bush were lucky to be the right guys in the right place and time to take advantage of such fortune. Bush, in particular, had the pedigree and pipeline to the Reagan-era architects of the Republican right, as well as enough of a good ol' boy act to make folks doubt he was really up to no good. Rove's job was to keep the eye on the ball -- to make sure Bush did the dirty and didn't get confused by his own song and dance. And, of course, Rove also took credit for being the genius Bush obviously wasn't.

My guess at this point is that nothing much will change, except that Rove will get to make a lot more money. That's not just, but it's the way the system works, and even Rove is smart enough to know that -- in fact, that's just the sort of thing he does know.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Greasing the Skids

The Wichita Eagle ran an AP piece by Stephen Ohlemacher today on "U.S. slipping in life expectancy rankings." This is hardly news -- as the piece notes, "For decades, the United States has been slipping in international rankings of life expectancy, as other countries improve health care, nutrition and lifestyles." But the US has now dropped from 11th two decades ago to 42nd now, trailing Europe and Japan, of course, but also countries like Jordan. Quote:

"Something's wrong here when one of the richest countries in the world, the one that spends the most on health care, is not able to keep up with other countries," said Dr. Christopher Murray, head of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

He doesn't explain what, but the simple answer is that what we're seeing is the legendary efficiencies of the private sector at work. The problem is that life expectancy, or any other normal measurement of health, is not the object of all that efficiency. The real goal is the diversion of GDP to health care spending, and the private sector has been so successful at that that Americans pay twice as much for health care as any other nation in the world. It's also likely that the industry's incentives favor inadequate treatment, since that leaves more headroom for the blind hope that spending a little more might actually achieve some gain. If we had a good health care system, the problem isn't that we'd want to use it more; it's that we'd want to reduce the unnecessary costs, not least of which is the industry's profit margin. So keeping everyone nervous keeps the money flowing, and, well, if the US health care industry does anything well, it's scaring the dickens out of people.


Music Week

Music: Current count 13491 [13463] rated (+28), 794 [798] unrated (-4). The August Recycled Goods is done and handed in, but still hasn't been posted. Don't know what's going on there. It is, however, catalogued in my web files, so you can read it here first. Hoped to make a major turn on Jazz CG this past week, but that didn't happen. Instead, I played a bunch of new stuff, but didn't do any second round listening, and didn't write much. Lots of distractions, especially on the housework front -- the worst was an air conditioner meltdown, which is temporarily under control, but will involve some shopping and spending this week. We go to Detroit on Saturday, so this will be a short week. Don't know what to predict.

  • Golden Afrique Vol. 1 (1971-83 [2005], Network, 2CD): The focus here is West Africa, specifically for former French colonies of Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and Ivory Coast, with recording centers in Abidjan and Dakar where traditional griots met waves of pan-African pop from the Americas as well as Central and Southern Africa. The Cuban backwash was felt strongest in Dakar, where it was converted to Afro-salsa then mutated into mbalax and launched Youssou N'Dour onto the world stage. By contrast, the barren Sahel of Mali offers the simpler, harsher voices of classic griots like Salif Keita. A
  • Golden Afrique Vol. 2 (1956-82 [2005], Network, 2CD): On to Central Africa, the Congo, Kinshasa, where Cuban rumba evolved into guitar-powered soukous, assuredly fast and sweet no matter how rotten the political situation. The selections are less obscure -- prime movers and shakers like Franco, Grand Kalle Joseph Kabasele, Sam Mangwana, and Tabu Ley Rochereau aren't exactly household names but have been extensively compiled. But after the sure-shot openers, this surveys the broader context, turning up enticing tracks. A
  • Golden Afrique Vol. 3 (1939-88 [2006], Network, 2CD): The move south into Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa inevitably breaks the flow, with the obligatory mbube sticking out from the equally obligatory jive, jit, and jazz. But also because no part of the continent has been more comprehensively anthologized, with Earthworks' multiple volumes of Zimbabwe Frontline and Indestructible Beat of Soweto the first choices. This one tries to avoid redundancy by drilling deeper, striking leaner veins, but again finding hidden gems. A-
  • Tom T. Hall: In Search of a Song (1971 [2006], Hip-O Select): Finally back in print, eleven short songs with no frills, but priced higher than Hux's twofer import, and no easier to find. Don't actually have this, but still have the original LP, and just played the Hux edition. A
  • Tom T. Hall: The Rhymer and Other Five and Dimers (1973, Mercury): Also evaluated from the Hux twofer. A-
  • Tom T. Hall: In Search of a Song & The Rhymer and Other Five and Dimers (1971-73 [2005], Hux): Two albums from his prime period, songs quickly sketched from chance encounters with farmers and waitresses in stops from Kentucky to Spokane, most with stock-in-trade country music, some irresistible (e.g., the two lead songs: "The Day Clayton Delaney Died" and "Ravishing Ruby"). The former album turned out to be Hall's masterpiece, with six songs returning on his best best-of. The latter only placed two, but in this case obscurity is an invitation to discovery. For instance, two songs that may have been dismissed as trivially political have only gained resonance: "Too Many Do-Goods" and "The Man Who Hated Freckles" -- on race, of course, but the rhyme-induced reference to "Martin Luther Queen" was prescient. One non-original, as Billy Joe Shaver channels Hall's Americana into myth for a title song. Two duets, with Hall showing Patti Page around Nashville. A
  • Chico Hamilton: Three Faces of Chico/Gongs East! (1958-59 [2005], Collectables): Two albums, notable primarily for Eric Dolphy's flute, bass clarinet, and sax; Three Faces is a three-sided mix of solo drum pieces, old-fashioned crooning, and quintet pieces; Gongs would be straighter but for Dolphy and Nathan Gershman's cello; this fits into the rage for new directions, without really finding one. B (respectively: B-, B)
  • Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen: Those Who Were (1996, Verve): An older album on the shelf. Kind of a mixed bag, with a Lisa Nilsson vocal, two Johnny Griffin tenor sax guest shots, spinning around the bassist's trio. The bass leads are quite interesting, especially on the opening "Our Love Is Here to Stay," which he takes much more gently than on the recent live album. B+
  • Putumayo Presents: Americana (2000-05 [2007], Putumayo World Music): A pseudo-genre based on the idea that America is white and rural and steeped in traditions devoid of pain, except perhaps for the disappointment of not landing a gig in Nashville or Branson; still, they're unfailingly nice and tuneful, which is something. B
  • The Rough Guide to Americana (1984-2001 [2001], World Music Network): Compared to Putumayo's Americana, this came out first, offers more songs (20 vs. 12), includes a few semi-names (Dave Alvin, Waco Brothers, Handsome Family, Neko Case), digs deeper into rural roots and gets a lot dirtier -- nothing unusual there, except that none of the obscurities connect, least of all as likeable. B-
  • The Rough Guide to Arabesque (1993-2002 [2002], World Music Network): That nothing other than Aisha Kandisha's Jarring Effects is more than two years old suggests that as a genre this Arab-flavored techno was still half-baked, with no stars yet, no tradition, not much vision. B
  • Yerba Buena: President Alien (2003, Razor & Tie): Latin group, formed in the Bronx, leader is Venezuelan, seven faces in the booklet spreadsheet, don't know much else more. First album, one or two more since then. Some jazz names appear in a list called "endorsements": Ron Blake, Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez, Dafnis Prieto. They're connected. B+(***)
  • Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006, Matador): Having given up on rock -- not the same thing as no longer enjoying it -- around 1990, I've never listened to any of Yo La Tengo's albums more than 5-6 times, even though I A-listed a couple (I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One [1997], Summer Sun [2003]). A couple of early (1989-90) ones are still listed as unrated, although I'm not sure I still have them. Others I just missed -- Painful [1993] is one, rated A- by Christgau; I gave Electr-O-Pura [1995] a B+, while Christgau gave it an A. I didn't get this one either, but found a copy at the library and gave it three spins, which is good enough for a SWAG. The first and last songs are indeed great -- "The Story of Yo La Tengo" could be the story of Sonic Youth. In between was harder to follow, but none of the cuts turned me off, with enough hard groove pieces to keep up the average. If I did have my own copy, I'd probably put it on the shelf with the others and never play it again. But if I did I'd like it fine. A-


Jazz Prospecting (CG #14, Part 9)

Finished August's Recycled Goods column early last week, but it still hasn't been posted -- don't know what's up there. Had various other distractions, including an air conditioner meltdown just as it finally got seriously hot here. So instead of Plan A, which was to crunch down on closing out the Jazz CG column, early for once, I fell back to Plan B, which was to scrounge through the unplayeds, mostly picking things from the bottom of the deck, knowing I was too busy to focus, and often playing things two or three times in a row to avoid holding them back for another round. One result was that I didn't get to the replay shelves at all. I'd like to think that I could shift back to Plan A this week, but it's going to be a short one -- travelling on Saturday for most of a week, during which I expect to get nothing done -- and the distractions aren't likely to abate. So I don't know where that leaves us.


Kate McGarry: The Target (2007, Palmetto): Singer, scats a little. Has three albums on Palmetto now, one or two before that. The only other one I've heard had folkie airs, but she seems to be aiming for dusky moodiness here. At least this feels like she's trying to stretch, but it rarely feels right. The band is built around Gary Versace's organ -- too peppy and eager to swing for the music -- and Keith Ganz's guitars. Exception that proves the rule: "Do Something"; best supporting actor: Donny McCaslin's sax solo on "The Lamp Is Low." B-

Tad Britton: Black Hills (2006 [2007], Origin): Drummer, from Sturgis SD, now based in Seattle, leading a trio with bassist Jeff Johnson and pianist Marc Seales. One original each by Britton and Johnson. Interesting cover pairing: "Fire & Rain" and "Ring of Fire"; opening sequence is Bill Evans followed by George Duke -- "Time Remembered" is done nicely. B

Amanda Carr: Soon (2007, OMS): Singer, from Boston, second album; standards, like the Gershwins' title tune, "Flamingo," "Squeeze Me," "Good Bait," obligatory sambas (from Jorge Ben as well as the usual Jobim). Website says she currently stars in "A Tribute to Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman"; also says she "frequently is the featured vocalist with The Artie Shaw Orchestra, Harry James Band and has appeared with the Glenn Miller Band, too." Don't know how old she is, but Miller died in 1945, Shaw quit cold in 1954; James held on at least into the 1960s and died in 1983. The oldest date I find on her website is 1998, so it's tempting to say that she only sang with those bands in her dreams. But they do follow her dreams, and had she sang with those bands she would have done fine. I also like Arnie Krakowsky's sax appeal. B+(**)

Lisa Hilton: The New York Sessions (2007, Ruby Slippers): Pianist, from Southern California, relationship to Paris unknown, but better looking, for sure. Has 10 self-released albums since 1997, most with b/w photos on the cover and titles like My Favorite Things, one with a cocktail glass on the piano. Just a blue vignette this time, with the title and a list of the musicians: Christian McBride / Lewis Nash / Jeremy Pelt / Steve Wilson. That's a lot of talent, but the horns are severely underused, and the rhythm section is likely to fool a blindfold test. Hilton wrote a little more than half of the pieces, adding covers of Monk, Ray Charles, Johnny Mandell, and Joni Mitchell ("Both Sides Now," reprised at the end). Pleasant. B-

Bobby Sanabria: Big Band Urban Folktales (2007, Jazzheads): Drummer-percussionist, Puerto Rican parents, from the Bronx, graduated from Berklee in 1979, IAJE's expert on Afro-Cuba jazz, a guy who (counter the standard joke) can teach and do. Big band, throws a lot of everything at you -- more than I can handle, especially when they break out the kazoos for Frank Zappa's "The Grand Wazoo." But more manageable fare like "Bésame Mucho" works for me, as does Chareneè Wade's guest vocal on "Since I Fell for You" and a lucumi-inspired piece called "El Aché de Sanabria en Moderación" where everything seems to work even when none of it suggests moderation. B+(**)

Danny Weis: Sweet Spot (2007, Nordost): Guitarist, from Southern California; father played "country jazz" guitar, was friends with Barney Kessel, but Weis turned to heavy metal early in his career, founding Iron Butterfly, then Rhinoceros. AMG lists scattered side-credits over the years: David Ackles, the Everly Brothers (Stories We Could Tell), Lou Reed (Sally Can't Dance), Iain Matthews, Burton Cummings, Bette Midler (Rose). Pushing 60, this is the first record under Weis' own name -- easy grooving pop-jazz, something I'm rather fond of even though it's hard to make any claims for it. B [Sept. 1]

Matt Shulman: So It Goes (2006 [2007], Jaggo): Website advises "please turn off any pop-up blocker software/- to enter this website/- for a better viewing experience." Figured I might as well make a U-turn then and there: what I look for in a website is information, not experience. I get too much experience without having to go look for it. Shulman was born in Vermont; studied at Oberlin; moved to New York. He plays trumpet, and has a patent on what he calls the Shulman System, a sort of sling for holding the trumpet in the proper position. He also sings and gets a credit for effects, often tracking them all together. His group is a trio with bass and drums. I don't really know what to make of him. The helpful hype sheet suggests "Miles Davis meets Radiohead," "a Chet Baker for the new millennium," or simply "a new voice from jazz's emerging generation." I doubt that any of those are true, although I'm not expert enough to fully dismiss Radiohead. He does "My Funny Valentine" to beg those comparisons, but it works just as well to defy them. The best I can say is that he's trying to do something new, which might explain why it's so hard to pigeonhole. On the other hand, it's also possible that what he's doing simply isn't clear yet, or is too marginal to care much about. Either way, in the short term I expect reactions to be inordinately pro or con. Given enough time I could go either way myself, but for now I find his trumpet and even more so his voice too limited to carry his ideas, and his ideas too prog -- albeit more avant and less arty than the usual rock usage -- to stand on their own. B

Eldar: Re-Imagination (2006 [2007], Masterworks Jazz): Eldar Djangirov, from Bishkek in Kyrghyzstan (his parents are ethnic Russians, father a mechanical engineer, mother a music teacher), emerged a couple of years ago as one of a bunch of teenaged piano prodigies. Born 1987, still a teenager on this his third album, he has the usual classical education and the usual tendencies to show off. On the other hand, anyone who can speed up Oscar Peterson is entitled to flaunt it a bit, and he is beginning to develop a distinctive style on electric keybs, especially when aided by DJ Logic. B+(*)

Bruce Hornsby/Christian McBride/Jack DeJohnette: Camp Meeting (2007, Legacy): Hornsby is a Berklee-educated pianist who emerged in the late '80s as a platinum-selling rock star, creating a mix of Americana, schmaltz, and Elton John. I never bothered listening to him until 2006, when Legacy sent me his 4-CD box set, which I played through twice and accorded a polite B. My only other encounter with him was one of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz sessions in 2005 that Concord's new owners put out when they were trolling for names they've heard of -- Steely Dan and Elvis Costello were the others. It turns out that Hornsby's long been a jazz nerd. Now that his career has coasted to where he's got nothing better to do, he's indulging himself. I don't know whether to encourage him or not. On the one hand, this is a pretty useless piano trio album -- a mix of bop standards that he doesn't add much to and originals that don't take much away. On the other, it's pretty consistently enjoyable. Hornsby himself is more than proficient, and the Bud Powell pieces especially shine. And the bassist and even more so the drummer are superb, as you'd expect. Even the marketing folks figured that out: the advance only has Hornsby's name on it, but the final copy lists all three. Makes sense to me: in this niche, McBride and DeJohnette sell Hornsby much more than the other way around. B+(*)

Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (2006 [2007], Winter & Winter): The trio consists of Motian, Larry Grenadier on bass, and Chris Potter on tenor sax; the "plus two" are Masabumi Kikuchi on piano and Greg Osby on alto sax. Played this twice, think it's marginal, and want to move on, but will give it another chance later. Motian is habitually slippery, and that's rubbed off on his usually more straightforward bandmates, especially Potter. [B+(*)]

Jimmy Ponder: Somebody's Child (2003-06 [2007], High Note): Guitarist, has a couple of dozen albums going back to 1946, plus a vast number of side appearances, mostly for High Note and its predecessor Muse. These are various quartets with piano, bass, and drums, recorded over several years; the exception is a duet with Douglas Malone playing violão, a Brazilian nylon-string guitar. Nice, tuneful album; consistently interesting leads, not much more to say about it. B+(**)

Frank Morgan: A Night in the Life (2003 [2007], High Note): Front cover subtitle says: "Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 3"; there's a previous City Nights: Live at the Jazz Standard from the same dates with the same group, but I'm not aware of a Vol. 2. Six songs: three from Bird, one from Miles, "On Green Dolphin Street" (might as well chalk that up to Miles as well), and "It's Only a Paper Moon." But whereas Parker was sharp, shrill, and explosive, Morgan has mellowed to where he's sweet and soulful. If anything, he reminds me of his Sing Sing bandmate, Art Pepper. In that regard, it does help that the pianist is George Cables. B+(***)

Joel Harrison: Harbor (2006-07 [2007], High Note): Most jazz musicians these days describe themselves as x-composer, where "x" is their main instrument. I usually leave the composer tag off here because it seems like such a cliché, but I'll mention it here because Harrison is more composer than guitarist. That's not a hard call. His bread and butter appears to be soundtracks, which may be why this album runs toward long set pieces -- groove things and mood things with a slightly metallic taste. But also he employs guitarist Nguyên Lê on 6 of 8 cuts. I don't know either well enough to sort them out, but if I tried it'd probably be on the basis that Lê has a Jimi Hendrix tribute on his resume where Harrison's tribute is to George Harrison. I've heard both and don't care much for either. I'm not all that interested in this one either, but I'm impressed by its dense complexity and get a charge out of Dave Binney's alto sax, even though it's mostly layering. B+(*)

Frankie Cicala: Frankie Plays! (2006, 3B's): Guitarist, says he was in the Marines in the '70s when George Benson inspired him. Did a couple of albums in the '90s as Frankie and the Burn. This is the first under his own name. Pop groove thing, has much of Benson's tone, doesn't sing (a plus), wrote most of the songs. B-

Robin Williamson: The Iron Stone (2005 [2007], ECM): English folk singer, first made his mark with a group called Incredible String Band, now in his 60s. This is something of a departure for ECM, but the band has solid jazz credentials: Mat Maneri on viola, Barre Phillips on bass, Ale Möller on accordion, flutes, etc. I'm not much of a fan, and might not have given this much of a chance, but a song called "Political Lies" caught my ear, and the accompaniment is hard to deny. On the other hand, many pieces do little more than crawl at a spoken word pace, and the deep lonesomeness can be alienating. B+(*)

Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen/Ulf Wakenius/Jonas Johansen: The Unforgettable NHØP Trio Live (1999-2005 [2007], ACT): Two sets, the first five cuts recorded in Denmark in 1999, the other six in Germany in 2005, a little more than a month before the great Danish bassist died at age 58. From the early '60s on he was the first choice bassist for Americans visiting Copenhagen, or for Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, and Kenny Drew, relocating there. AMG has five credits pages for him; I haven't tried to weed out the dupes, but that must credit him with more than 300 albums. The first page alone ranges from Count Basie to Anthony Braxton, although most are securely within the bop mainstream. He recorded more than two dozen albums under his own name -- Trio 2, with Philip Catherine, and Friends Forever, his Kenny Drew tribute with Renee Rosnes, are two I especially like, although there are many others I haven't run into yet. This one's a nice souvenir of the bassist's most basic group, with guitarist Wakenius feeling especially frisky, doing standards and folk songs and fast groove pieces, with typical aplomb. This did, however, send me back to Those Who Were, a 1996 d record languishing on my unrated shelves, where I found the closer here, "Our Love Is Here to Stay," opening: much slower, very poignant. Of course, he could play it any way he wanted. B+(**)

Lars Danielsson & Leszek Mozdzer: Pasodoble (2006-07 [2007], ACT): Bass-piano duet. Swedish bassist, born 1958, has more than a dozen albums as a leader, many more as a sideman. How many is hard to tell because there's a Danish bassist named Lars Danielsson whose website claims to have appeared on more than 100 albums -- appears to be more of a funk/rock player, but he's worked with Nils Landgren and took over a teaching position in Copenhagen from NHØP. Mozdzer is a Polish pianist with the usual Chopin in his closet. The two sound terrific together, in large part because Danielsson's sound is so resonant, underscored all the more by the brightness of the piano. B+(***)

Chris Kelsey Quartet: The Crookedest Straight Line Vol. 1 (2006 [2007], CIMP): Soprano saxophonist, born in Maine, based in New York. This looks to be his eighth album since 1997, starting with one called The Ingenious Young Gentlemen of the Lower East Side, mostly for avant-audiophile label CIMP. Pianoless quartet, with John Carlson on trumpet/flugelhorn, François Grillot on bass, Jay Rosen on drums. Haven't been able to focus on the leader, partly because the trumpet seems more prominent, partly due to other distractions. I do like some spots where they kick up the volume. [B+(**)]


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


Unpacking:

  • Tony Adamo: Straight Up Deal (Urban Zone)
  • Marco Benevento: Live at Tonic (Ropeadope, 3CD)
  • Double Duo: Crossword Puzzle (Libra)
  • Floratone (Blue Note)
  • Eric Friedlander: Block Ice & Propane (Skipstone)
  • Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: My Foolish Heart (ECM, 2CD): advance, Oct. 16
  • Manu Katché: Playground (ECM): advance, Sept. 25
  • Fabio Morgera: Need for Peace (Smalls): advance
  • Zaid Nasser: Escape From New York (Smalls): advance
  • David Rogers Sextet: The World Is Not Your Home (Jumble)
  • 17 Hippies: Heimlich (Hipster)
  • Marlon Simon and the Nagual Spirits: In Case You Missed It (Jazzheads)
  • Tom Teasley: Painting Time (T&T Music)
  • The War: A Ken Burns Film (The Soundtrack) (Legacy): advance, Sept. 11; watermarked personal copy plus two extra discs labelled "Press Materials" and "Film Clips"
  • Lauren White: At Last (Groove Note)
  • Gerald Wilson Orchestra: Monterey Moods (Mack Avenue)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Rent Seekers

James Surowiecki's column in the Aug. 13, 2007 New Yorker has something useful to say about the politics of privatization, in part because it's about a case that has already developed into full-scale scandal: student loans:

For decades, student-loan companies have had one of the cushiest businesses in America. [ . . . ] The federal government, for instance, guarantees the so-called Stafford loans that college students get: if a student defaults, the government will pay off almost the entire loan. On top of that, the government hands out billions of dollars in subsidies to lenders every year. In effect, lenders get a guaranteed return with very little risk.

This convoluted process is good at making student-loan companies rich -- Sallie Mae, the biggest issuer of student loans, earned $1.3 billion last year, with a return on equity that dwarfs most other companies'. But it's not very good at getting government money to students cheaply and efficiently. President Bush's 2007 budget shows, for instance, that it's four times as expensive for the government to subsidize and guarantee private loans as for it to issue those loans itself. In other words, the current system is not just corrupt. It's also inefficient. So why are we stuck with it?

In part, it's ideology, and the dominance of what you might call the privatization mystique -- the idea tha tanything the government can do, the private sector can do better. Often, this makes sense: the free market is more likely to come up with efficient ways of creating and distributing products and services than the government is. But the student-loan market isn't a free market in any meaningful sense of the term, because the government effectively determines prices, insures against losses, and subsidizes volume. In this environment, most of the competition among private companies is really just squabbling over how to split the spoils. Economists call this behavior -- when a company seeks to manipulate economic conditions rather than actually create value -- "rent-seeking." It's common in areas where the fetish for privatization has taken hold, such as the outsourcing of homeland security to private contractors and the boom in private Medicare insurance. (The private insurers are less efficient than Medicare and receive billions in subsidies from the government.) Outsourcing tasks to private companies is spposed to let government reap the benefits of the free market. But sometimes it just ends up uniting the worst of government and the worst of the private sector into one expensive mess.

Actually, I think that's a good deal more often than sometimes. In anything it chooses to do, government has four advantages over the private sector: 1) it can borrow money at lower cost because there's no risk that it will default; 2) it can insure itself less expensively against other risks; 3) it can offset income, granting itself subsidies from general tax income, in some cases completely avoiding direct charges (and therefore marketing and collection costs); 4) it can motivate workers by appealing to their sense of public duty. Given these advantages, you have to wonder how the private sector can ever compete. The main answer is politics, on both sides of the fence. Politics works to reduce the efficiency of government, to increase its costs, to de-motivate its workers. Politics lets the private sector reduce its labor costs and run its labor force more tightly. And politics puffs up ideologies that obscure what more often than not is a direct transfer of subsidies from government to the private sector. If you get rid of the political handicapping of government, in industries where there are well-defined consensus demands, government will easily out-produce the private sector, and we'll (almost) all be better off for that.

The private sector still has a role in providing goods and services where there is insufficient political will to make sure that they are provided most efficiently. But where there is a public demand -- student loans is one such case; health care is another -- the real question is how do we make public financing and orientation work. Paying rents to private interests doesn't work, no matter how lucrative it is to politically connected beneficiaries.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Weekly Links

WarInContext: The future of democracy depends on abandoning the war metaphor: Paul Woodward note, mostly about how "war on terror" undermines democracy, but he starts with the following on the current practice of socalled democratic politics in the US:

If presidential candidates can't come up with some intelligent foreign policy positions, it's time that they followed State Department advice: shut up -- at least for a while.

In just three days we've heard candidates proposing sending troops into Pakistan, using nuclear weapons against al Qaeda, and threatening to bomb Mecca and Medina.

Campaign rhetoric is doing what ought to be impossible: make the Bush administration sound responsible. It is also sending a chilling message to the rest of the world: if you're hoping that George Bush is going to be replaced by a president with a more enlightened view of the world and a more sophisticated approach to politics, don't count on it.

The Mecca-Medina position was held by Tom Tancredo, who can probably be ignored. The other two planks belong to Obama and Clinton, who have to be presumed the front-runners at present. They probably wouldn't go through with such crimes, but it's unsettling that they'd even consider such things positively.

Salon: Juan Cole: A surge of phony spin on Iraq: I've seen several claims that the Surge is working, at least on its primary intended target, which is the US political class. Cole reviews the facts they are working against. Nothing all that new here -- indeed, the Maliki government has crumbled further since the post. I'm surprised to see Odierno touting a minor dip in US casualties as progress, given that one of the reasons he's been promoted is his willingness to suffer casualties. Post-Vietnam, up to the Iraq war, the US Army brass had been very protective of their soldiers, but Rumsfeld's promotion of gung-ho yes-men has raised the risk. The politicians, after all, have always been willing to spill blood to further important goals, like assuaging their egos.

Salon: Sidney Blumenthal: Will the real Colin Powell stand up? (also here): Having no hopes for Powell whatsoever, I figure the best we can do is to have him shut up and take his dirty secrets to an unmarked grave, but Blumenthal offers a useful list of what Powell should be held accountable for. The occasion is that Richard Armitage and two other Powell State Dept. officials have talked in a new documentary on Iraq called No End in Sight, which kind of leaves Powell holding the bag. The assumption is widespread that he knew better. I have my doubts. It seems to me that he bought into the neocon fantasy as much as anyone. Where he differed was in tactics, because he had actually experienced military failure, and would rather pass on a chance to win than risk losing again. But having lost the tactical arguments, he was still committed enough to the concept that let the others go ahead and prove themselves. (PS: I see another news report that Powell has contributed to McCain's campaign. QED. On the other hand, he could hurt Bush, since someone has to take the blame for those brilliant neocon visions going down in flames.)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Neocon Brains

The Wichita Eagle had a rare front page story on Bush's Crusade today: specifically on the latest round of war threats against Iran. Evidently Cheney is on the record arguing for immediate airstrikes, while Bush is just fuming and fumbling incoherently. Nothing real new on either count, so why the press now? My pet theory is that gas prices started to dip -- they're down around $2.70/gallon here now -- so some oil company execs called up their VP buddy and he put out the word to the speculators to bid up the price. That's a pretty cynical way of looking at things, but it's less cynical than arguing that they want to blow up the region to cover up how bad their September report card is looking. The latter is kind of like committing arson to cover up a murder, although the scale is some thousands of times greater.

Paul Woodward has a comment on this:

Meanwhile, the White House's more immediate preoccupation seems to be whether it's going to continue treating Maliki as a friend or turn him into a foe.

If and when Maliki has this promised/threatened heart-to-heart with the president, he might consider asking Bush how Iraqis should interpret the following two contrasting images.

To Iran's west we see an American-led reconstruction process in Iraq that after four years has yielded meager results. Oil production remains below pre-war levels, electricity supply in Baghdad is under a third of what it was, unemployment is around 50%, and 70% of Iraqis lack adequate water supplies. Until quite recently, the U.S. was characterizing "terrorism" -- not Iran -- as the primary obstacle to Iraq's progress.

To the east of Iran, Herat (Afghanistan's western-most city) is now being hailed as a demonstration of "the positive influence of Iran" -- those being the words of Mohammed Rafiq Shahir, president of Herat's Council of Professionals. Since 2001, "Herat has attracted $350 million in private investment for industry -- more than any other Afghan city, including Kabul, which is some 10 times larger. In total, 250 medium- and large-scale factories have been built." The driving force behind this economic boom has been Iran. It has built a highway to the nearby border and it has hooked Herat into the Iranian power grid.

No wonder that -- unlike Bush -- Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, views his Persian neighbors positively. At the same time, Nuri al-Maliki might well look forward to the day that Iraq is able to purchase cheap electricity from nuclear-powered Iranian power stations.

One indication of how poorly the Neocon Crusade is faring is that they can't even keep such contradictions under control. On the other hand, I've read that the US helps a Pakistan-based Al-Qaeda offshoot called Jundallah commit terrorism in Iran. But then the US had no problems supporting the Iranian-backed SCIRI against Saddam Hussein, at least since 1991, before which the US backed Saddam against Iran, while trying to sell Iran weapons to help finance the Contras in Nicaragua. At the very least this shows that the Neocon brain, pace Kant, has no concept of causality. But at least they know how to jack up gas prices.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Christgau Website

One of the things I do is to manage a few websites. One of the biggest and by far the most popular is robertchristgau.com. I've been rather neglectful of this over the past few months, but I did manage to do an update tonight. I'd like to be able to update the news file that splashes across the home page whenever there's something to announce, and to update the files at least once a month. But actually, this is the first update since May 22, and only the second since late February. More significantly, this is the first update of the Consumer Guide database since Christgau started writing for MSN Music. The CG database is now finally up to date, with 13538 albums.

Various technical glitches have slowed me down here, mostly the result of a growing mismatch between the system I develop on and the server the website runs on. For instance, I use mysql 5.0.27 and the server is back around 4.0.22, so I had to figure out how to get compatible data. Most of the newer tools want to use the UTF-8 character set, whereas when I started everything was happy with ISO-8859-1. The PHP versions are also out of whack, so I've had to figure out various hacks to work around incompatibilities. The upshot of this is that the site is undergoing some churn that I'm not always conscious of. Every time I do an update I send out a short mail message to a small list of people who've signed up to receive those notices, but this time I thought I'd also make the pitch here: please take a look around and let me know if you see anything messed up. I also welcome suggestions, although I don't have a great track record of doing them. I also appreciate help, especially in adding pieces we've missed and straightening out errors and dangling questions. Most of the new old stuff that has appeared in the last year or so is due to help from Tim Dabareiner.

It should also be noted that we're finally getting some of Carola Dibbell's writings up on the website.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Coffeyville Redux

Speaking of catastrophes, Kansas scored another one yesterday: an ammonia leak in Coffeyville sent 51 people to the hospital. This makes two for Coffeyville, where a flood was compounded by an oil refinery leak. I guess this sort of thing has become commonplace enough these days that the story was buried in the second section of the Wichita Eagle. Meanwhile, the national news was focusing on a coal mine collapse in Utah. Reports are that the coal mine had been written up for safety violations hundreds of times in recent years. This, of course, is shocking: who knew the Bush administration still wrote up inspection reports?

In one sense, these are just consequences of our increasing dependency on dangerous technology. Some years back there were predictions that we wouldn't be able to provide enough food for the expected population increase. We dodged that bullet (thus far, anyway) by extensive use of fertilizer, i.e., ammonia, with its risks of poisoning like what happened in Coffeyville. Coal, with its mining disasters, helps make up for the depletion of oil. These tradeoffs wouldn't be so bad if we recognized as we depend more on dangerous technology, we need to increase our efforts at managing those risks. Sometimes that happens, but often it doesn't. Most often, we don't really know: unless a disaster happens we assume it's being managed.

The long-range trend is toward more complex technology, more intense production, greater population density, all of which inevitably increase risk and make us more dependent on having responsible technicians and managers. Market factors might help in cases where we fully understood and appreciated the risks, but that often isn't the case. Government can do what markets cannot do, but not if the political system is corrupted to work for the corporate powers. The only hope is that when disasters happen folks will put the blame on the politicians who didn't anticipate the problems. The Bush administration is especially vulnerable to disaster, and not only the ones they create -- in so many ways they encapsulate the whole dilemma.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Music: Current count 13463 [13447] rated (+16), 798 [784] unrated (+14). Slow, sloppy rating week. Not really sure what happened, but one big part of the problem was how slow I was at closing out Recycled Goods. Only got that done today, and I'm not all that happy with how that wound up. Can't complain about last week's mail. Got a lot, some of which is even likely to be good.

  • Girl Talk: Night Ripper (2006, Illegal Art): You can make a neat "Where's Waldo" game out of tracking down the 164 artists -- at least those are the ones thanked in the booklet -- ripped into these 16 songs; the model comes from hip-hop, and the paste techniques have been done before, but Greg Gillis puts the obvious and the obscure together as well as anyone, proving once again that no matter what biz lawyers think, culture accumulates by being referred to and reused. A-
  • John McLaughlin: This Is Jazz 17 (1971-82 [1996], Columbia/Legacy): Sticking with the label's catalog, this starts with Mahavishnu Orchestra and wanders from there, ending with a tasty bit of acoustic, but shuffled enough that fusion is still the theme; the missing early period is more powerful, and the missing later period is more scattered, but this offers a sense of both. B+(**)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #14, Part 8)

With August's Recycled Goods column stuck in my craw, this turned out to be a pretty poor week for jazz prospecting. Also turned out to be the heaviest mail week in several months, which argues against my summer doldrums theory. Anyhow, Recycled Goods is all done but the edit, and September's column is in pretty good shape. I should get a long-procrastinated update to Robert Christgau's website up in a day or, worst case, two. Should be a good time to crunch down on the Jazz CG column.


The Essential Jaco Pastorius (1975-81 [2007], Epic/Legacy, 2CD): This seems suspiciously thin, ending in 1981 six years before the bassist's young death. It draws seven cuts from his eponymous 1975 album on Epic, and ends with four cuts from 1980-81 albums on Warner Brothers. In between we get 10 Weather Report cuts, 3 with Joni Mitchell; one each with Pat Metheny, Michel Colombier, and Herbie Hancock; with no trace of the numerous live albums that document his later years. I've never managed to figure out what all the fuss was about, and this ill focused, sporadically interesting survey helps little. Rhino has an apparently more definitive compilation called Punk Jazz: The Jaco Pastorius Anthology. Haven't heard it either. B-

The Essential John McLaughlin (1963-2006 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): By the time the second cut finished my mind was entertaining comparisons between McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix. They were both born in 1942. By 1970, when Hendrix checked out, McLaughlin had reached a pinnacle in jazz guitar, both denser and fancier than anyone else around, Hendrix included. The first disc here, with one oldie from 1963 and an intense flurry of activity from 1969-72, makes the case, although numerous other selections would have done just as well. The rest of McLaughlin's career wandered idiosyncratically, embracing Indian music, going acoustic, hooking up with symphony orchestras, and occasionally returning to heavy metal fusion. The second disc neither shapes nor makes sense of 35 years. Rather, it just lays out samples and challenges your ears to pick out the guitar. Turns out that works better than expected, too. A-

John McLaughlin/Jaco Pastorius/Tony Williams: Trio of Doom (1979 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): A faint record of a lost opportunity, a dream trio assembled for a rare State Department-sponsored show in Havana, nicknamed "the bay of gigs"; the trio's slice of the released Havana Jam had to be recut in a New York studio, but McLaughlin has finally salvaged the original tapes; no revelations: the guitar comes through strong, the bass remains an enigma. B+(*)

Putumayo Presents: Latin Jazz (1973-2006 [2007], Putumayo World Music): Big subject, but fair enough: aside from one ringer from Iceland, this plots a triangle spanning Havana, San Juan, and the Bronx, name-checking the obvious -- Machito, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Poncho Sanchez, Eddie Palmieri -- plus a couple of pleasing surprises in Chocolate Armenteros and Hilton Ruiz. Not classic, but not skimmed from the latest hype either. Choice cuts by Ruiz and Palmieri/Brian Lynch. B+(**)

Quadro Nuevo: Tango Bitter Sweet (2006 [2007], Justin Time): Drummerless German quartet -- reeds, accordion, guitar, bass do the trick -- arguing that all the songs here originated in Europe, reclaiming tango from Argentina, Sidney Bechet from New Orleans, and Aram Khatchaturian from the vast steppes of Russia. They make a fine case, a little too pat for jazz, a little too danceable for chamber music. B+(***)

Ricardo Silveira: Outro Rio (Another River) (2005-06 [2007], Adventure Music): Brazilian guitarist, mostly acoustic, mostly working in small groups with bass and drums -- two cuts add piano, one clarinet, one tenor sax, one cello, several percussion, one voice, not that the extras really add much of anything. Delicate; nice, easy flow; very pleasant as background; as artful but not as tuneful as his Nascimento album. B+(**)

Hamilton de Holanda: Íntimo (2006 [2007], Adventure Music): Solo 10-string mandolin, by a Brazilian mixing originals with Jobim and other standards; he doesn't stretch out or break new groups, just delivers on the honorably modest title. B+(*)

Alessandro D'Episcopo Trio: Meraviglioso (2005 [2007], Altrisuoni): Italian pianist, born Naples 1959, moved to Milano in 1979, then on to Zurich in 1989, where he's currently based -- teaching, playing with his trio and other bands, etc. Starts with a regular, upbeat original called "Latin Pendulum," followed by the first of four Monk pieces. [B+(**)]

Lewis Porter-Furio Di Castri-Fabrizio Sferra Trio: Italian Encounter (2006 [2007], Altrisuoni): The leader of this piano trio appears on his website as Dr. Lewis Porter, and is identified in his bios as "PhD, Brandeis, 1983." He seems to have more books than records, including studies on Lester Young and John Coltrane. He edits a series of books on jazz published by the University of Michigan Press, and has written a substantial "Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians" that I am delighted to find on line. The record is elegant, measured, thoughtful, but other than that I don't have a lot to say about it. B+(*)

John Vance: Dreamsville (2007, Erawan): Singer, based in Los Angeles, second album, also has acting credits. Has a soft, dreamy voice which is effective and quite appealing on straight standards like "Darn That Dream" and "My Foolish Heart." Has trouble reaching for a note or improvising against the grain. Good, low-key support from the band, including guitarist Larry Koonse on three tracks. He's getting to be a clue of hidden quality, kind of like Harry Dean Stanton in low-budget movies. B+(*)


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

Adam Lane/Ken Vandermark/Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love: 4 Corners (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Three Vandermark songs, which tend to be wild and wooly, mixed in with four Lane songs, which are probably the ones with the sharp patterns and good beats. I'll need to recheck that, but the first cut is a Vandermark squawl, with Broo's trumpet adding a fair share, but it comes together after that. The drummer, of course, can go any which way, and he's busy here. A-

Sten Sandell Trio + John Butcher: Strokes (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Sandell's avant-leaning piano trio plus Butcher's sax -- the latter is also credited with "amplification/feedback" as if he isn't normally this loud. Very rough, with little gemstones of piano embedded in the matrix. B+(**)

Bernardo Sassetti: Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (2005-06 [2007], Clean Feed): Portugese pianist, often brilliant, but tends to work in soundtrack motifs, which take over here when he employs vast arrays of musicians: Quarteto Saxolinia (saxophone quartet), Cromelque Quinteto (clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, french horn), a battery of percussionists (directed by Miguel Bernat), and various "guests" (flute, alto/soprano sax, tuba, double bass, drums). At least he stays clear of strings. Intriguing music, tasteful, but it often merges into the background. B+(**)


Unpacking:

  • Kiran Ahluwalia: Wanderlust (Times Square)
  • Omer Avital: Arrival (Fresh Sound World Jazz)
  • Andy and the Bey Sisters: 'Round Midnight (1965, Prestige)
  • Cyrus Chestnut: Cyrus Plays Elvis (Koch): advance, Oct. 9
  • John Coltrane: Stardust (1958, Prestige)
  • Lars Danielsson & Leszek Mozdzer: Pasodoble (ACT)
  • Steamin' With the Miles Davis Quintet (1956, Prestige)
  • Art Farmer: Farmer's Market (1956, Prestige)
  • Richard Galliano Quartet: If You Love Me (CAM Jazz)
  • Red Garland: Soul Junction (1957, Prestige)
  • Onaje Allan Gumbs: Sack Full of Dreams (18th & Vine)
  • The Jon Hemmersam/Don Minasi Quartet (CDM)
  • Bruce Hornsby/Christian McBride/Jack DeJohnette: Camp Meeting (Legacy)
  • Jason Kao Hwang/Sang Won Park: Local Lingo (Euonymus)
  • Alan Jackson: 16 Biggest Hits (1989-99, Arista Nashville/Legacy)
  • Etta Jones/Houston Person: Don't Misunderstand: Live in New York (1980, High Note)
  • The Jason Lindner Big Band: Live at the Jazz Gallery (Anzic, 2CD)
  • Bill McHenry: Roses (Sunnyside)
  • Oliver Mtukudzi: Tsoka Itsimba (Heads Up)
  • Oregon: 1000 Kilometers (CAM Jazz)
  • The Unforgettable NHØP Trio Live (ACT)
  • Chris Potter 10: Song for Anyone (Sunnyside)
  • Chris Potter Underground: Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard (Sunnyside)
  • Putumayo Presents: World Hits (Putumayo World Music): advance, Aug. 28
  • Wallace Roney: Jazz (High Note)
  • Antonio Sanchez: Migration (CAM Jazz)
  • Joe Satriani: Surfing With the Alien (1986, Epic/Legacy, CD+DVD)
  • Frank Sinatra: A Voice in Time (1939-1952) (Columbia/RCA Victor/Legacy, 4CD): advance, Sept. 25
  • Gino Sitson: Bamisphere (18th & Vine)
  • Hope Waits (Radarproof)

Purchases:

  • Gogol Bordello: Super Taranta! (Side One Dummy)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Hacker Project

I've replaced the two stolen computers with new ones built from scratch. Both are slightly above mid-range machines, with nice Antec boxes, dual core processors (one AMD Athlon X2, one Intel Core2Duo), 2GB RAM, 320GB disks, PCIx16 video cards (both nVidia, one 7600 GT, the other an 8600 GS), etc. One is running Fedora Linux, the other Microsoft Vista Ultimate Edition. The AMD/Linux machine came together nicely, feels rock solid. I still do a lot of my work on an ancient 333MHz Pentium, but I'm gradually shifting over to the new box. The Intel/Vista machine has been a lot of trouble, with several hardware failures and software I never managed to get to load -- wound up having to take the machine to a dealer/builder here twice, first for hardware diagnosis and again to install Vista. Finally did get it working, but I've hardly used it thus far. Just hooked up some speakers and a thermal printer, but haven't turned it on yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Anyhow, those machines aren't the topic here, although they do offer mixed lessons on building vs. buying -- the former's a good idea when it works and a bad idea when it doesn't, and from my sample the main difference is Linux vs. Microsoft. It remains to be seen whether my new Intel/Vista box will turn out to be better than what I could have bought in one of the box stores, but it certainly wound up costing more, and taking a lot more time to get working. And it's a machine I'm hardly ever going to actually use, so it certainly wasn't cost-effective for me to build. Such projects often seem smarter on the drawing board than in retrospect. What I want to write about here is another computer project, done (I suppose) because I managed to get through the last two without too many scars.

I have a lot of old computers, mostly collecting dust in the basement: the oldest is an Ithaca Intersystems S-100 bus, Z-80 cpu, with 64K RAM and two 8-inch floppy disks, bought circa 1980 -- actually, my second computer. A relatively recent one is a Gateway from around 1999 that still runs Red Hat Linux decently, although it had a tendency to crash since I upgraded the RAM and video card a few years ago. I was using it as a print server and a development machine for websites, and figured it would still be good for those things if only I solved the memory flakiness. So my big idea was to rebuilt it with a new motherboard/CPU/RAM. I set a budget of $200, and sent off an order to Newegg:

  • Intel Celeron 430 CPU (Conroe core, 1.8GHz, Socket 775), in retail box with fan: $57.99
  • Gigabyte GA-945GCM-S2 945GC Socket 775 micro-ATX Motherboard, with 1 PATA, 4 SATA, PS/2, LPT, ethernet, sound, Intel G945 video: $54.99
  • Kingston 2x1GB DDR2 667 RAM: $82.99
  • Seagate Barracuda 160GB SATA Hard Disk: $52.99

That actually overshot the budget a bit. My original thinking was that I'd use 1GB in the upgrade, and 1GB to replace a bad module in the Vista box, but after Kingston agreed to replace the bad module, I figured to splurge on the upgrade. The SATA disk wasn't necessary, but the Gateway had three PATA devices whereas the new motherboard only had one bus for two devices, and the old hard disk was 13.6GB, hardly worth salvaging. I've added lots of upgrade equipment over the years, but never a new motherboard before. So there turns out to have been things I hadn't thought of: the old 200W power supply only had the original ATX 20-pin power connector, whereas the new motherboard expected a 24-pin connector plus the extra 4-pin 12V spike, so I had to get a new power supply; and the Gateway case didn't have the usual standard removable back plate -- just holes for the PS/2, COM, and LPT connectors -- so I would have had to cut a large rectangular slot out of the steel backplate to fit the new connectors. So I went to a local computer store, looked around, and spent another $60 for an Apex 800 mid-tower case with a 350W power supply mounted in the bottom front. Compared to the Antecs it's cheaply built and noisy -- even without the missing (optional) case fans, just the CPU and power supply fans -- but it solved the problem without digging too deep a hole.

So when I assembled the whole thing, the only part of the old Gateway I reused was the CD-ROM drive. Tried to power the machine up and got nothing, but soon found a power supply switch hidden under the front grill, and that did the trick. Put Ubuntu Linux in the CD-ROM drive, which chugged for a while, reporting disk errors. So I pulled the Gateway drive out and replaced it with a Lite-On DVD-ROM drive from the new Intel/Vista machine. That booted Ubuntu fine, then I did the install painlessly. Booted the machine from the hard drive. It found the internet and loaded upgrades to 138 packages. I then scrounged around for a few things that Ubuntu doesn't normally think to install, like emacs, apache, php, and mysql. Set up the printer. Machine works fine. In the end I took the DVD-ROM out, although I'll probably add one at some future point.

So my project to rebuild the Gateway failed. Instead, I built a perfectly workable low-end Linux computer for $330, not counting the borrowed DVD-ROM and the monitor, keyboard and mouse, which I share through an IOGear KVM switch. Had I planned on building a low-end computer from scratch in the first place, I would have shopped more carefully for the case and power supply. There are a number of comparable alternatives in the $50-60 range, with some dropping down to $30. I'd also pick up a $30 DVD burner. (I've bought a Sony OEM drive for that.) The only other weak spot in the system is the onboard video, which limits screen resolution to 1024x768. Newegg lists more than 50 PCIx16 video cards ranging from $33-50 that would solve that problem. The power supply I got only has one SATA connector and no PCIx16, so if you need more that's something to look out for; on the other hand, it's easy enough to find adapters. The rest of what I picked out is very solid. With a $50 video card, it would probably benchmark out about the same as a $1000 computer three years ago. That may be inadequate for running Windows these days, but works fine for Linux.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Weekly Links

This has been a week where it's been very hard to find time to do much of anything, but it's been especially poor for reading on the web. But I won't have much music to report on Monday either.


Welcome to Pottersville: Who Really Took Over During that Colonoscopy: Frank Rich's NY Times column on the General Petraeus cult among the war's last-ditch apologists. Petraeus's record isn't any better than any other general's, but he's survived and prospered by providing the public face for the "can do" ethic that is the last refuge of those who can't recognize utter failure when it's become totally obvious. Petraeus is acclaimed as the army's great counterinsurgency expert, not just a leader but a student of history, a real intellectual. When you speak of military intellectuals -- James Matthis and Douglas Feith are a couple more I recall -- I'm reminded of a book title by Robert Sherrill, Military Justice Is to Justice as Military Music Is to Music. Same for military intellectuals -- profound rationalizers who have missed the basic truth that war is an intrinsically failing human effort. What the ascendency of Petraeus, Odierno, et al., actually shows is how promotion has been skewed toward yes men.

TomDispatch: Chip Ward, How Efficiency Maximizes Catastrophe: The title is better than Ward's piece, which talks about dying bees and turkeys and argues that resilience is essential for restoring ecosystems following catastrophic disruption. I'd rather see more on what happens before catastrophe; specifically, on how efforts to improve efficiency make fracture points -- the more au courant term seems to be tipping points, thanks to Malcolm Gladwell -- sharper and more fragile. As an engineer, I'm naturally partial to efficiency, so I'm disinclined to see that as the problem per se; rather, I tend to see false efficiencies resulting from poor understanding and limited appreciation of complex problems. Still, it seems likely to me that there are some areas where efficiency is too much of a good thing, where we'd be better off to back off and let redundancies develop.

TomDispatch: Michael Schwartz, Benchmarking Iraq for Disaster: Seems about right as a summary goes -- Schwartz has been exceptionally reliable and insightful as an analyst ever since the war was launched. Tom Engelhardt has an intro on a New York Time op-ed by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, who still manage to be pro-war even if they have a few doubts and regrets about Bush. Pollack, in particular, was an important warmonger in the run-up precisely because he provided Bush with the sort of bipartisan cover that kept him from being recognized as flat-out nuts.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Muscles on the Brain

Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon in the Wichita Eagle today is about right:

But part of what's right about it is how it captures the public's misconception that the bulging war budget is healthy muscle. The military budget is more like a tumor, and the evidence shows it's gone to the brain, not the biceps. Once you get past debt service and obligations like social security, the federal budget consists of what's called discretionary spending -- things we choose, as part of our more/less democratic political process, to spend money on. That we choose to spend so much on war, which buys us little more than fear and loathing around the world, while neglecting the essential infrastructure that our economy and standard of living depends on, shows how completely we've lost touch with reality.

This self-delusion is ideological, and has sunk in so deep that we can't see or think straight anymore. We tend to think that all good things come from private enterprise, and that everything the government touches, excepting the sacrosanct military, is rotten. There is some truth to this: American has been good at rewarding and motivating private initiative, and competitive markets do the basic job of weeding out the incompetent. Government, on the other hand, is easily corrupted; bureaucracies are far more dedicated to self-perpetuation than to public service; politicians are given to flights of fantasy with little oversight or accountability. Still, the great engine of the American economy has been public finance of more/less free infrastructure, starting with large and small land grants to railroads and farmers in the 19th century, going on to water and sanitation systems, roads, dams and levees, and the internet. Some have been giveaways to private interests -- mostly under public regulation, like the railroads, the electric power grid, the telephone system, radio and television bandwidth; some were directly managed by the government, freeing the public from the pinch-points of fee collection (mostly). If American history proves any one thing, it's that nothing stimulates the economy like a free lunch.

As for the military, the one thing they're not is the exception to the rule of government incompetence. If anything, they're the proof -- all the more so because they've been able to avoid critical review for so long. Their exemption is purely ideological: in WWII and its aftermath, military spending offered Republican opponents of the New Deal a way of enjoying Keynesian spending without admitting it. For a while, military spending actually seemed to stimulate the economy, but aside from stimulus spending this turns out to have been almost exclusively because the military pioneered technologies that developed into large non-military industries -- radar and jets grew the airlines, rockets led to satellite communications, computers permeated everywhere, the internet. Defense also provided ideological cover for key infrastructural developments like the highway system. But those values have thinned out over the years -- since "Star Wars" took over DARPA it's hard to think of anything useful the military R&D complex has turned out. Meanwhile, the downside costs keep piling up, especially when the politicians blunder their way into war.

The Bush administration has been running persistent deficits to pay for its wars and political kickbacks while old infrastructure degrades -- the modern equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns. A big part of the right-wing rationale for running deficits is to make it prohibitive to spend money in the future, but government does more than spend frivolously on the poor. If Americans ever start to take these infrastructure failures seriously, you'd think they'd get rid of politicians committed to such stupidity. The scary thing isn't that we're not ahead of the curve on maintaining our world; it's that we've indulged such ignorance for so long.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Road Rage

Another crack in the US infrastructure appeared yesterday, dropping an eight-lane bridge and fifty-some vehicles into the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. The exact cause is undetermined, but the bridge was known to be old and in disrepair -- in fact, it was being resurfaced at the time, which must have reduced the number of cars on the bridge and the speed with which they flew off, and therefore the number of casualties. The story took over the news today, raising consciousness of a problem we've discussed here many times before. This also brought out the usual debates over money, including at least some recognition of the $500 billion-plus we've allocated so far to the neverending war in Iraq. Senators Dodd and Hagel fortuitously introduced a bill to provide a financing system for infrastructure work the same day the bridge collapsed. Although they spent a lot of time talking about raising private funds, as far as I've been able to tell their bank scheme is just another writer of government bonds, somewhat (but of course imperfectly) isolated from earmark corruption.

Of course, even if all the still missing turn out to have died, the death toll in Minneapolis will be less than the same day in Iraq -- as indeed it's been for every day in the last four years. Wednesday's toll included: suicide bomber killed 50 in Baghdad's Mansour district; suicide bomber killed 20 in Baghdad's Karrada district; two parked car bombs killed 3 each in Baghdad; bombs in Madaen (south of Baghdad) killed 4; 18 kidnapped at checkpoint in Balad (north of Baghdad); 25 bodies found in Baghdad; etc. There was even a comparable bridge incident on April 12 when a bomb killed 12 and injured 50+ at Sarafiya Bridge in Baghdad, sending cars plunging into the Tigris.

That the Minneapolis story pushed Iraq off the front pages reaffirms the usual suspicions about how immediate here is and how remote there is. But it may also signal recognition that for all the hoo-ha about the threat of terrorism, we find the threat of collapsing bridges more immediately credible. Also note the other big news story du jour: the recall of millions of toys found to have been manufactured with lead paint -- an unbudgeted side-effect of outsourcing their manufacture to China. One thing that all of these stories have in common is that they show how bad we've become at forecasting real costs. The $500 billion flushed away in Iraq will be more than matched by future costs, even if we left immediately. Minneapolis traffic will be bottlenecked for years, with incalculable costs. And I suppose if they can't get all those toys back, the next generation will grow up even dumber than this one. That's a scary prospect.


Jul 2007 Sep 2007