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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Recycled Goods #51: January 2008

Recycled Goods #51, January 2008, has been posted at Static Multimedia. As I announced earlier, I'm putting this column on the shelf in order to catch up with other things I've been wanting to work on. 2007 was a pretty rough year for me, and I've been struggling to keep up with all the incoming music, let alone the stuff that didn't seek me out that I should have been looking for. I've recently worked up some numbers on the year. One thing I found out is that while the total number of albums I dealt with in 2007 remained about the same, inching up from 1075 to 1099, the amount of old music destined for Recycled Goods dropped from 331 to 222. This does not represent a drop in the industry, although promotion cutbacks have had a small role. It's mostly that I haven't been as aggressive as in the past at searching out things I wanted to write about. (The album count each month managed to hold up, mostly because I've been getting more world music, and have backfilled with a lot of world-flavored jazz.)

I thought it would be nice to break this off at 50 columns, but in trying to clean up I found I had so much I figured I might as well split it in two. So this is the end of the end, mostly leftovers, plus a few recent arrivals I felt like squeezing in. I've always tried to cover everything I got (which may have been one reason I stopped looking so hard), and in the end didn't leave much on the shelves: a pile of recent gospel on Verity, some old Jethro Tull live albums, the daunting Albert Ayler box I still plan to get to some day, a lot of DVDs I never committed to in the first place. (I hear the Jazz Icons series are especially noteworthy. I thought about including them in an "In Series" feature, but just didn't get to it. Maybe later.)

In past January columns I've switched over to a year-end wrap-up. That didn't work out this year, so I figured the least I could do would be to post my year-end list. That's in the Additional Consumer News, although it's already slightly obsolete. Records I've added since sending this in:

  • Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson: Big Picture (Cryptogramophone)
  • Slow Poke: At Home (1998, Palmetto)
  • Brother Reade: Rap Music (Record Collection)

Melford was known at the time but inadvertently omitted. One more error is that the total record count is 2157, not 2207. The whole set of columns are archived on my website. The artist and compilation indexes count entries, so adding them up should be right.

I'm already having some remorse over giving this up, especially as I look through the year-end lists and see things I wish I could get. At some point I hope to get another column going, and I fancy that I'll have time for some freelance work. In the meantime I'll do occasional reports here on the blog, or maybe slip some extras into Jazz Prospecting.


Here's the publicists letter:

Recycled Goods #51, January 2008, is up at Static Multimedia:

  link

This is the last one, at least for now. As I've explained, I'm
trying to open up some space in my schedule, to catch up on some
long delayed projects, including putting my 2157 Recycled Goods
reviews into some sort of reference database which can be filled
in more systematically. I also hope to develop some more sustaining
outlets for my music writing. As it is, I've been chasing my tail
all year, bouncing back and forth between Jazz Consumer Guide and
Recycled Goods while getting little else done.

I've tried to clean up here. My apologies if you've sent anything
that I didn't get to. (The biggest deficit that I know of was a
stack of gospel compilations I just couldn't get up for.) I am
continuing to write about music, and would appreciate you keeping
me in mind when you release especially interesting things. I hope
to have a new music website up and running before too long. In
the meantime I can always fall back on my own website and blog,
where I publish extensive Jazz Prospecting notes each week, and
other music items when I have them. (I did, for instance, write
up over 100 short reviews of year-end list records in four long
posts in December-January.)

58 records. Index by label:

  Anzic: Choro Ensemble
  Cacao Musica: Vidal Colmenares
  Colorado Music: Alex Alvear
  Concord (Heads Up): Ella Fitzgerald, Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  Cyberset: Aphrodesia
  Delmark: Jimmy Blythe
  Diaphonica: Kitka
  ECM: Keith Jarrett
  Ekapa: Sathima Bea Benjamin
  EMI (Blue Note): Lou Donaldson, Paul Chambers, Walter Davis, Grant Green,
    Ike Quebec
  EMI (Manhattan, Capitol): Van Morrison (2), Ricky Nelson
  ESP-Disk: Movement Soul
  Fat Cat: Vashti Bunyan
  Fuel 2000: Introduction to Texas Blues
  HighNote: Funky Pieces of Silver
  Otrabanda: Bokoor Beats
  Putumayo World Music: Latin Reggae, New Orleans Brass, Tango Around the
    World
  Rounder: Alison Krauss
  Ruf: Luther Allison
  Shanachie: Spirits in the Material World
  Smalls: Gil Coggins
  Sony/BMG (Legacy): Elvis Presley, Foo Fighters, Sarah McLachlan
  Stern's: Authenticite
  Sunnyside: Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Memphis Slim (2), Eddy Mitchell
  12th Street: Andy Bey
  Universal: Police, Elvis Costello (3), Nils Lofgren, Thurston Moore,
    Van Morrison, Sonic Youth (2), Southside Johnny
  Water: Judee Sill
  WEA (Nonesuch): Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Youssou N'Dour
  WEA (Rhino): Carly Simon
  Yemaya: Cachao
  Zoho: Pablo Ziegler-Quique Sinesi

This makes 51 monthly columns, covering a total of 2157 columns.
It's been a lot of work, but it's also been fun.

By the way, a new Jazz Consumer Guide is also just out:

  link

Thanks again for your support.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Music: Current count 14112 [14076] rated (+36), 774 [759] unrated (+15). Spent the week streaming stuff from Rhapsody. Not sure whether the pickings are getting thinner. I'm mostly listening to stuff that other people like, which isn't necessarily the best way to find good things. Started to freeze the y2007 list, then thought better of it. Now I figure I'll do so at the end of the month, which gives me a couple more days to keep doing what I've been doing while still leaving time to finally get some jazz prospecting done for next week. (None this week.) Recycled Goods is finished. Should be up soon (if not already).

No notes in this section this week. I had left a bunch of stubs in my scratch file, with grades but no notes, figuring I'd get back to them for a January wrap-up Recycled Goods that never happened. Seems like a good time to flush them out here:

  • The Apples in Stereo: New Magnetic Wonder (2007, Yep Roc): A-
  • Gogol Bordello: Super Taranta! (2007, Side One Dummy): A
  • M.I.A.: Kala (2007, Interscope): A-
  • Nine Inch Nails: Year Zero (2007, Interscope): A-
  • Public Enemy: How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul??? (2007, Slamjamz): A-
  • 7L & Esoteric: A New Dope (2006, Babygrande): A-


No Jazz Prospecting

Once again, no Jazz Prospecting this week. I've been streaming 2007 records, thinking the year-end wrap-up I may or may not write -- odds are lengthening against it. Recycled Goods is done, finished, kaput. Last one should be posted shortly, complete with a year-end list that is already obsolete. I'm still not tired of the streaming, so I've made a deal with myself: keep doing it through Jan. 31, then freeze the year-end list and move on to the new jazz, including a pile that doesn't fit on my usual incoming shelves and is increasingly resembling the leaning tower of Pisa (or Abu Dhabi, as the case may be).

Jazz CG #15 has been slotted for 2/13 or 2/20 in the Village Voice. I'll know more when I know more, probably when it happens. I'll have a report (or two) on the downloads later this week. I also have a lot of book stuff to get to, and that will start coming out, possibly in large spurts.


Unpacking:

  • John Beasley: Letter to Herbie (Resonance): advance, Mar. 24
  • Joe Beck & John Abercrombie: Coincidence (Whaling City Sound)
  • Rob Brown Ensemble: Crown Trunk Root Funk (AUM Fidelity): Mar. 11
  • Butcher/Muller/van der Schyff: Way Out Northwest (Drip Audio): Feb.
  • The Roy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite (AUM Fidelity)
  • Peter Erskine/Tim Hagans & the Norrbotten Big Band: Worth the Wait (Fuzzy Music)
  • Kali Z Fasteau/Kidd Jordan: Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival: Finland (Flying Note)
  • Elli Fordyce with Jim Malloy: Something Still Cool (EF Music)
  • Gene Harris: Live in London (1996, Resonance): advance, Mar. 24
  • T.D. Jakes: Praise & Worship (1978-98, Legacy/Verity)
  • Doug Munro: Big Boss Bossa Nova 2.0 (Chase Music Group): Apr. 2
  • David "Fathead" Newman: Diamondhead (High Note)
  • Kat Parra: Azucar de Amor (Patois)
  • Alan Pasqua, Dave Carpenter & Peter Erskine Trio: Standards (Fuzzy Music)
  • James Silberstein: Expresslane (CAP)
  • Swamp Cabbage: Squeal (Zoho Roots)
  • Larry Willis: The Offering (High Note)
  • Vickie Winans: Praise & Worship (2003-06, Verity/Legacy)
  • Libby York: Here With You (Libby York Music)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Weekend Roundup

Rob Harvilla: Jay-Z vs. Jay-Z. On the decline of rap in 2007:

Because here's the crux of why everyone soured on hip-hop in 2007: The last song on the highest-ranking Pazz & Jop rap album ends with a track describing how the two biggest MCs in the world bickered over who had the idea to collaborate with Coldplay first. This is not acceptable. In fact, most of the conflicts Jay and Kanye describe these days are plainly ludicrous. The latter has a track complaining about "Drunk and Hot Girls." The former has 99 new problems, and you don't want to hear about any of them. #47: His girlfriend is so famous and well-traveled his suggested vacation spots can't possibly impress her. #81: He only has time to drive maybe half the cars he owns. "Everything I seen made me everything I am," Jay says, but he's got the same problem as Kanye: Hasn't he seen everything by now? What's left to talk about?

Chalmers Johnson: How to Sink America. More like: how far has America sunk? Johnson reviews how much the American military juggernaut costs, and how paltry the returns are for all that expenditure. Johnson is clear enough, but there are even simpler ways of looking at this. If, say, the US had no Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, no Defense Department, no CIA, no NSA, just a modest Coast Guard, would any other country take advantage of our weakness and attack or invade the continental US, Alaska or Hawaii? For a lot of mostly obvious reasons, the answer is clearly no. So all that "defense" expenditure doesn't buy us any defense. Rather, it buys us foreign presence, the ability to project power abroad, to interfere with and possibly dominate other countries. So what's our return on those costs? The simplest short-term measure would be to look at our current accounts surplus, to see if we're taking in more money from abroad than we are spending projecting all that power out there. The problem isn't that the surplus doesn't cover the costs. The problem is that the surplus is actually a deficit, and not just a marginal deficit, but far and away the largest deficit that any country runs. That's hardly the only problem, but it's enough for a sanity test. As Johnson points out, sometimes it's argued that the US can afford a little extravagance, but that fails simple sanity tests as well. If we really could afford such waste, you wouldn't find us neglecting things we really do need, like infrastructure, education, health, welfare, the environment. You'd also find us managing our debt, protecting the value of our money. QED.

Paul Krugman: Stimulus Gone Bad. On what's wrong with the Washington stimulus deal. Krugman doesn't mention this, but proof enough would be to point to Bush crowing about how this is the kind of bipartisanship nobody thought could happen in Washington these days. The real problem with bipartisan anything these days is that the Republicans are one of the parties. By constraining the deal to tax rebates, Bush maintains his record of opposing any kind of relief except from taxes, while preventing the government from doing anything for the poor (or the increasingly poor majority) while assuming ever more debilitating levels of debt. Meanwhile, the Democrats remain suckers for any kind of government spending. Personally, I'm not sure that a stimulus is even a good idea. It seems to me that the economy has been stimulated to death over the last 6-7 years in order to cover up much deeper structural problems. In particular, the most conspicuous feature of the last 6-7 years is that consumer spending has artifically propped up at levels don't reflect real wealth, mostly by the extension of debt. The present recession is partly the exhaustion of that overspending and partly the collapse of illusory wealth based on holding that overextended debt. Both are signs that the game is coming to a close. Putting a bit more spending money into the economy isn't going to change a thing. The only thing that's going to bolster consumer confidence is when people other than the superrich start seeing their real stake in the economy improving.

One thing I haven't seen much comment on is the significance of stock market levels as an indicator of economic health. Maybe it is if the only thing you're interested in is profits, but that's about all it tracks, and the focus is very short term at that. However, the NYSE numbers are published every day and deemed important enough to get notice on the nightly news, so they're unusually prominent in people's minds. With markets falling all over the world, the Fed panicked and dropped its interest rate 3/4 of a point, a preemptive attack if ever there was one. It's rare to see anyone in Washington hustle that fast.

Tony Karon: Hamas Blows a Hole in Bush's Plans. On the great Gaza prison break. There's a lot more on this on Helena Cobban's Just World News.

Robert J Samuelson: Capitalism's Enemies Within. Starts promising: "Amid the mayhem on world financial markets, it is becoming clear that capitalism's most dangerous enemies are capitalists." He then concentrates on one small aspect of that insight: the extraordinary compensation acquired by the people who built the subprime mortgage crisis. They're certainly high on the list of suspects, but all sorts of capitalists are getting into similar trouble. A simple explanation is that capitalists are so competitive they don't know when to let up, especially now that they've managed to knock down most of the checks and balances that previously limited their excesses. They have accrued so much power that no one else can stop them, at least short of their own complete collapse. On the other hand, their greed has become so mindless that they're the last people likely to lift a finger. It's hard to see how that combination can play out to any sort of soft landing.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Better World Under Bush

Here's a letter that appeared in the Wichita Eagle today, writted by someone named L.D. Alford and published under the title "A better world under Bush":

For some reason, our media politicos would like us to believe the foreign world is more dangerous, less controlled, less democratized, less civilized and more anti-American. Let's just take a quick look at the world before President Bush and again now.

In the pre-Bush world, Afghanistan was the enemy of the free world, the home of the Taliban, a self-proclaimed terrorist country that killed women who wanted an education and that was run by dictators in accordance with Muslim Sharia laws. Today, Afghanistan is our ally, a nation of self-rule that is among the world's community. There are terrorists in it, as there are in many nations -- ours included -- but they don't run the nation and they are hunted like animals.

Iraq was a nation under the thumb of a Muslim dictator, where Amnesty International told us 30,000 people were killed by the government monthly and more than 2 million while Saddam Hussein was in power. Today, Iraq is our ally, a nation of self-rule that is moving toward freedom.

Libya was the enemy of the world and an exporter of terror. Today, Libya is not exactly our ally, and it is still a dictatorship, but it is moving into the realm of nations.

Before Bush, Pakistan was not our direct ally and was not on friendly terms with us. Today, Pakistan is our ally and actively working to eradicate terrorists.

Before Bush, Lebanon was under the thumb of the Syrian dictatorship, our enemy. Today, Lebanon is an ally and moving out of Syrian control.

Pre-Bush, the Palestinians were an enemy under the rule of a dictator. Today, the Palestinians are a split camp: One half is our ally and allied in fighting terrorists; the other half is a dictatorship under the terrorist group Hamas.

We have not lost any allies or reduced our influence in the world. Who doubts that as long as we continue along this path, many other nations in the Middle East and the rest of the world will fall to freedom and democratization?

I quote this to give you some measure of how much ignorance and stupidity Bush's recalcitrant followers will carry forward from the end of his administration. Afghanistan and Iraq are neither self-ruled democracies nor allies -- their nominal governments are little more than local faces on a dysfunctional US occupation.

Libya had been begging to get off Washington's terrorism list for over a decade before Bush, hard up for a PR coup, cut a deal. Pakistan had been a steadfast ally as far back as the Baghdad Pact in the mid-1950s, when it joined the British-installed Hashemite king of Iraq and the CIA-installed Shah of Iran in a US-UK pact against the Soviet Union. Syria has never wanted to be an enemy of the US, and wasn't in the 1970s when the US invited it into Lebanon nor in 1990 when Syria joined the US coalition against Iraq. Syria's only problem with the US is that the US supports Israel's occupation of a chunk of Syrian territory. The whole thing on the Palestinian is confused to a ridiculous extent, as is inevitable when you try to analyze what's going on there without considering what Israel might have to do with it, or what the US has to do with Israel. These simple-minded notions of enemies and allies are immune from comprehending anything that's going on over there.

It's clear that as the Bush administration loses its grip on power, such mythmaking is going to be a major industry. We'll wind up hearing about how Bush's successors stabbed the military in the back, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and so forth. It should be obvious that the Bush administration has utterly discredited itself. It takes a shitload of ignorance and stupidity not to see that, but many Americans are up to the challenge.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Wrong Stuff

George Packer has a piece in the Jan. 28 New Yorker on "The Choice" (Clinton-Obama). At first glance, what's missing is mention of the war that Obama opposed and Clinton and Packer did so much to enable. Then I noticed the following paragraph:

In the Senate, Clinton seems to have taken the hard lessons of the White House years to heart, and become a far better politician. The majority of her legislative achievements, for the most part under Republican control of Congress, have been modest, and geared toward constituent service. Richard Holbrooke pointed out that Fort Drum, outside Watertown, New York, stayed open and was even expanded during a period of base closures, and said, "To her, it's one of her most important achievements. She's incredibly proud of it." A senior Democrat on the Senate staff, who declined to be named, pointed out that Clinton's focus on New York was necessary to win over her colleagues: "She demonstrated that she was a workhorse, not a show horse." Clinton has surprised Republicans by coöperating with erstwhile enemies of her husband's Administration, such as Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who was a House impeachment manager in 1998, and Trent Lott, of Mississippi, who in 2000 expressed a hope that lightning might strike Clinton before her first day in the Senate. And she has surprised the military by becoming an expert on defense policy, as New York's first member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

This points out one of the big problem with Hillary Clinton: her embrace of the military. Whether she's done this in order to counter the public sense that she's weak on war -- which was a plausible theory why Bill Clinton was so solicitous of military "solutions" to diplomatic problems during his presidency -- or reflects some other character disorder, I don't get the sense that she's ever learned any better. There's a big and critical difference between thinking that Bush and Rumsfeld made mistakes in how they handled Iraq and realizing that nothng the US armed forces could have done would have accomplished anything resembling the goals of the war. Until she realizes that war is the failure of policy rather than an option, and that the military (at least one deployed all around the world) makes war more likely rather than less, that indeed the US armed forces are nothing more than an engine of failure, she'll never get a grip on what needs to be done on foreign policy.

If you want proof of how little she's learned, note that Richard Holbrooke is one of her top advisers (as he was with John Kerry). Holbrooke was one of the main architects of the liberal interventionism (or what he calls "muscular liberalism") that drove so many of Bill Clinton's misadventures. Morally and intellectually he is no better than Richard Perle, who has much the same ardent desire to kill people to make the world a better place. And Holbrooke's hardly the only such one in the Clinton camp. The Mighty and the Almighty Madeleine Albright is another. But what may prove just as damaging is the simple idea that what the past Clinton administration did was a successful application of American power. Bush's disastrous wars were in most respects unwise escalations of conflicts that Clinton had failed to resolve when he had the chance.

There are, of course, other problems with Hillary Clinton's candidacy. A major one is the desire to break out of the rut of Bushes and Clintons, with their aristocratic and nepotistic overtones. But whoever follows Bush will have to start undoing the effects of numerous bad policies that the US has adopted not just since 2001 but a good deal longer. It's not clear to me that Obama or Edwards are up to the task, but at least they don't have the intimate connection to past wrongs that Hillary Clinton has.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pazz and Jop

The Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll is out now. I made a set of predictions last week before the Idolator poll came out. The Voice poll has more critics (577 vs. 451). I speculated then that the Voice would have more mainstream print critics, and would trend slightly toward more mainstream rock albums, less techno, probably more hip-hop. Also that those trends would make my predictions look a bit better. That's pretty much what happened.

LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver still won, but this time it was a close three-way race, and it only won on points (1662 to 1611 for both Radiohead and MIA). Radiohead actually got the most ballots (148 to 144 for MIA and 141 for LCD Soundsystem). I don't recall that sort of split ever occurring before, or for that matter any contest that close. I did a lot of research, pouring over various year-end lists, trying to figure out what would happen. It looks now like my predictions underrated LCD Soundsystem (4 on my list, 1 on both polls), Amy Winehouse (7 on my list, 5 Idolator, 4 Voice), and Against Me (38 on my list, 21 on both polls). I overrated White Stripes (6 on my list, 16 Idolator, 14 Voice), Jay-Z (14 on my list, 23 Idolator, 18 Voice), Les Savy Fav (19 on my list, 44 Idolator, 161 Voice).

I had Bruce Springsteen at 12. He came in 25 Idolator, but rebounded to 9 Voice, so maybe that wasn't so bad. The Voice generally favored age over Idolator: Robert Plant/Alison Krauss improved from 19 to 8 (my guess was 20); Wilco from 20 to 12 (I had them at 16); Bettye Lavette from 45 to 30 (28). Some alt-rock bands also improved, e.g. the Shins from 46 to 19 (21), Band of Horses from 49 to 24 (25). Conversely, electronica slipped a bit: Battles to 11 from 17 (15), Burial to 15 from 27 (41), Justice to 31 from 36 (30), the Field from 24 to 37 (not on my prediction list). Many of the records that did better than predicted on Idolator slipped: Of Montreal to 22 from 10 (22), Jens Lekman to 23 from 17 (not on my list), Okkervil River to 31 from 22 (31), Andrew Bird to 43 from 28 (not on my list).

Of the 10 records I had in the top 50 that missed Idolator's top 50, 7 improved (Common from 113 to 42, Kings of Leon from 102 to 55), 3 dropped (2 marginally; Menomena from 56 to 109). Of the 10 that not on my top 50 list that made Idolator's top 50, all slipped in the Voice poll (Britney Spears from 33 to 62, Amerie from 48 to 118).

I found and reported at least a dozen errors in the initial Voice totals. Youssou N'Dour's Rokku Mi Rokka was listed three separate times, totalling 12 votes, 122 points, enough to raise it from 171 to 79. Similar errors cost Davendra Banhart, Andy Palacio, Kevin Drew, Loudon Wainwright III, Holy Fuck, Gram Parsons, the Ponys, and a few more.

PS: The Voice website has been updated fixing a bunch of these errors. Youssou N'Dour is now at 80. I've edited the text above to reflect some of the new numbers, but haven't rechecked everything.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Slump

In the Jan. 21, 2008, New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones offers this note on the record industry:

Nielsen SoundScan recently released its sales and performance data for 2007. Album sales declined fifteen per cent, compared with 2006. The record business has seen slumps before: revenues fell substantially in the early eighties. What's most striking is the fact that the shrinking industry is now almost completely Balkanized. The top ten artists played on radio were seven country acts, two hard-rock bands, and a pop star named Justin Timberlake. The top ten streamed videos were largely for songs by young women who sing R&B. Eight of the top ten ringtones were hip-hop. Two of the year's best-selling records offer vivid illustration of how the market has fragmented further while remaining alive. The Eagles' Long Road Out of Eden, released on their own independent label and available only at Wal-Mart, sold 2.6 million copies. The biggest-selling album of the year was Josh Groban's Noël, which sold 3.7 million copies despite being released in October. SoundScan does not track the popularity of stocking stuffers, but Groban's album was likely the champ.

One little factoid that I read some years back is that Christmas albums outsell jazz albums. I don't have the data to back this up, but if you throw out pop jazz and vocals, it seems possible that last year there were no more than 2000 jazz albums released and on average they sold fewer than 2000 copies each. Multiply that out and you get less than 4 million, about what one Christmas title sold. Actually, I doubt that as many as 500 new jazz titles sell 2000 copies in their first year. When I surveyed several labels a couple years ago, several larger independents like Palmetto and Sunnyside indicated that 20000 copies was about their top limit. The Balkanization Frere-Jones talks about makes it all the harder for a real jazz record to break out of this ghetto.

The more generally striking thing is that 3.7 million copies seems historically very low for the year's best-selling album. Past years have been led by giants topping 10 million, sometimes several. Groban's way more than 15% off the pace there. While that may be part of the Balkanization trend, there's also a lot of volatility at the top, and it may just be a bad break. The majors seem to be especially dependent on a handful of giant albums each year. If they're suddenly hard to find or make and break, their whole business model falls apart. When that sort of thing happens businessfolk tend to go crazy, which may have something to do with such bizarre behavior as suing ordinary customers for downloading and copying music. It's a lot of fun working in a business that's growing like gangbusters and making money hand over foot. You get to where you think that's normal, and expect it to happen forever, so it's all the more shocking when any sort of restructuring or retrenchment occurs. It looks like something like that is happening in recorded music lately. Beyond that, I haven't done the research, and don't have a lot of opinion. I just try to listen to as much as I can, and note what I find most appealing and/or interesting. But I've started thinking about a new column superseding Recycled Goods, and it would likely start to take a look at the business end -- not least because rather big and disturbing things are happening in business these days. There may be a lot more retrenchment in the near future.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Music: Current count 14076 [14036] rated (+40), 759 [748] unrated (+11). An unprecedented split, with a huge rated rise and a substantial unrated rise as well. The explanation is that I spent most of the week listening to downloads of well-regarded 2007 releases, making snap judgments on records that hadn't been in the queue before I clicked on them. Recycled Goods is done. Jazz CG is done. Neither are out, and I don't know when they will be. It's cold here in Cowtown. I'm not feeling good, and don't have much more to say.

  • Psalm One: The Death of Frequent Flyer (2006, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Wasn't obvious to me that this rapper is female, and she still sounds teenage male to me, working in a fast monotone that doesn't make it easy to follow too many words. Like what I can catch, as well as the scrubby alt beats. Her name is Christalle Bowen. B+(***) [advance]
  • Putumayo Presents: Latin Reggae (1995-2007 [2008], Putumayo World Music): Mostly mestizo bands from Spain, with outriders from Argentina and DJ Ticklah from Brooklyn, playing reggae light with little in the way of Afro-Latin conventions, rhythmic or otherwise -- Latin seems mostly limited to Spanish language here; conspicuous omission: reggaeton. B
  • Soulja Boy Tell Em: Souljaboytellem.com (2007, ColliPark Music/Interscope): B. 1990, as DeAndre Ramone Way, has a little bit of Nelly in his game, but the beats are much harder, the hooks more clipped. Not sure what to make of him. B+(**)
  • Spirits in the Material World: A Reggae Tribute to the Police ([2008], Shanachie): It should be easy for veterans like Toots Hibbert, Gregory Isaacs, Junior Reid, and Scratch Perry to add some soul and/or dub to the Police's already reggae-based pop songs, but they make little difference; Joan Osborne fares better with "Every Breath You Take." B


Jazz Prospecting (CG #16, Part 1)

Don't have any further news on when Jazz CG will run. It's not unusual that the Village Voice editors become inaccessible in the weeks before the Pazz & Jop poll is published, so the silence isn't surprising. I'm guessing mid-February. The final Recycled Goods is also stuck in a pipeline somewhere, out of my hands but not yet posted. I'll guess late this week on it. I started working on year-end notes, then tore them up, so at this point I don't know that any will be forthcoming. The one thing I have persisted in doing this past week has been to keep streaming 2007 albums. That was good for an exceptionally high rated count of 40, while still losing ground to the real world queue. It also meant very little jazz prospecting -- in fact, less than I did the previous week when I begged off. I thought about doing the same again, but didn't want to get in too deep of a rut. So here's the first batch of the new cycle.


Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Setting Standards: New York Sessions (1983 [2008], ECM, 3CD): Born 1945, Jarrett started recording in 1966, minor bits with Art Blakey and Miles Davis, a major role in Charles Lloyd's quartet at their popular peak. His own records start in 1967 with Life Between the Exit Signs, and picked up the pace in the 1970s when he juggled two distinctive quarters, one US-based with Dewey Redman on Impulse, the other Europe-based with Jan Garbarek on ECM, while recording bunches of solo piano records, most famously The Köln Concert, which at five million copies is probably the best-selling jazz album ever. He had rarely played in piano trios, but put one together for a set of standards in January 1983 -- actually, he revived the trio that recorded Gary Peacock's Tales of Another in 1977, with Jack DeJohnette on drums. He dubbed them the Standards Trio, but more than two decades and two dozen later they're just The Trio. The sessions produced two volumes of Standards and a set of original improvs released as Changes -- now all conveniently boxed for their 25th anniversary. The songbook is neither obvious nor numerous -- 11 songs, averaging 8 minutes, with "God Bless the Child" spread out to 15:32, mostly because they found so much to work out. A turning point in an illustrious career, but more beginning than peak. B+(**)

Alfredo Naranjo: Y El Guajeo (2006 [2007], Cacao Musica): One of five releases from this Venezuelan label, featuring fancy packages which fold out to reveal a lengthy spiral-bound booklet in English and Spanish and a poorly glued sleeve to hold the disc. Naranjo plays vibraphone, xylophone, and piano. He leads a large group supplemented by guests like Jimmy Bosch on trombone. Latin jazz, sound pretty average to me, with those tricky shifts and stops that throw us gringos pretty badly. Big beat, but the vocals get tedious. B-

Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana: Telegrafía Sin Hilo (2005 [2007], Cacao Musica): Cuban, b. 1948, plays timbale, best known for his work in Los Van Van, probably ranks as one of the major percussionists in Cuban music from 1970. This was recorded in Caracas. It looks like the majority of musicians were Cuban, including numerous percussionists on bata drums, bongo, congas, and many others. Most cuts have vocals -- various singers, no complaints on my part. Fine example of contemporary Cuban pop with some jazz cred. B+(**)

Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez: Italuba II (2006 [2007], Cacao Musica): Cuban drummer, b. 1963, came to the US c. 1993, where he's established himself as a superb Latin jazz drummer. AMG talks about Hernandez's early interest in rock, and how that's inflected his drumming. That isn't clear here. What we have instead is a solid Afro-Cuban jazz quartet, with trumpet and piano. Tricky rhythms, shifts, halts, all sorts of unpredictable happenings. No vocals, just jazz. B+(**)

Vidal Colmenares: . . . Otro Llano (2006 [2007], Cacao Musica): English trot in the booklet starts: "During the late 80's, analists and experts in marketing processes developed a gradual list, by category or importance order, called the scale of audience intensity." I've seen worse mechanical translations, but few so inadvertently and perversely coherent. It's hard to piece together much real information from the booklet, let alone from secondary sources. Wikipedia describes Colmenares' home town, Barinas, Venezuela, thus: "Barina's is a bit grubby, similar to a rubbish tip. Hot chicks, but they all have the child running behind them." Oh well. Colmenares was born there in 1952, has a gray moustache and a nice smile. Presumably he sings and plays cuatro (a four-string guitar common in Venezuela) -- credits don't say what he does, but the lead vocals are consistent, a slightly pinched sound reminiscent of Speedy Gonzales caricature, but more pliable. The llanos are the highlands straddling Venezuela and Colombia. The booklet includes pictures of cows and Colmenares on horseback, suggesting this is the real c&w of the llanos. Sounds about right. B+(***)

Santos Viejos: Pop Aut (2006 [2007], Cacao Musica): Rock en español from Venezuela, what they call pop autóctono. In the long run, I figure rock en español will be as great and as awful as rock in english, but not speaking the language it's hard to get the fine points. This comes off as middlebrow, vaguely folkish, not distinctive nor outrageous enough to crack the ice, but it does get more comfortably listenable over time. B

Norman Howard & Joe Phillips: Burn Baby Burn (1968 [2007], ESP-Disk): A trumpet player from Cleveland, Howard's discography was hitherto limited to appearing on two Albert Ayler albums. He recorded two sessions for ESP-Disk in 1968 which weren't released at the time. It isn't clear from the booklet whether this is only the first or includes parts of the second (referred to as "Signals"). (It also isn't clear whether the subject of the first line -- "I was born August 25th of 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio" -- is Howard or writer Michael D. Anderson. Philips plays alto sax -- don't know much more about him. The other musicians are just names: Walter Cliff on bass, Corney Millsap on drums. Before I dug into the booklet, the record struck me as austere free jazz, somewhat old-fashioned, although there are noisy stretches later on. Makes more sense as part of Ayler's undertow, opened up by the lack of a clear leader. An interesting piece of history. B+(**)

Jimmy Blythe: Messin' Around Blues: Enhanced Pianola Rolls (1920s [2007], Delmark): Born 1901 in Kentucky, moved to Chicago in 1916, died 1931, played piano, best known for his classic jazz sessions with clarinetist Johnny Dodds. These solo recordings are taken from piano rolls -- they're described as "enhanced," but the only detail given is that the tempos have generally been slowed down -- elegant and robustly rhythmic rather than hot frenzy. Don't have dates, but mid-1920s are probable. B+(***)

Deepak Ram: Steps (2008, Golden Horn): Born in South Africa; plays bansuri, a long Indian flute, which he studied under Pandip Hariprasad Chaurasia, a name I recognize despite my general ignorance of Indian classical music. Ram has half a dozen albums since 1999, presumably more conventionally Indian and/or inflected by his South African experience -- e.g., he shows up on The Rough Guide to South African Jazz. This, however, is a straight jazz album, a quartet with Ram's deeper, less tinny flute set off against Vic Juris's guitar, with Tony Marino on bass, Jamey Haddad on drums/percussion. Two originals don't stand out against Davis and Coltrane covers, "Summertime" and "My Funny Valentine." Not without charm, but if anything, too straight. B


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


Unpacking:

  • Be Kind Rewind (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Lakeshore): advance, Jan. 22
  • Steven Bernstein: Diaspora Suite (Tzadik)
  • Cindy Blackman: Music for the New Millennium (Sacred Sound)
  • Richard Boulger: Blues Twilight (City Hall): Mar. 1
  • Kelly Brand: The Door (Origin)
  • Cachao: Descargas: The Havana Sessions (1957-61, Yemaya, 2CD)
  • Something for You: Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill Evans (Blue Note)
  • Taeko Fukao: One Love (Flat Nine): Mar. 25
  • Melody Gardot: Worrisome Heart (Verve): advance, Feb. 26
  • Frank Hewitt: Out of the Clear Black Sky (2000, Smalls)
  • Jerry Leake: Vibrance: Jazz Vibes & World Percussion (Rhombus Publishing)
  • Frank Macchia: Landscapes (Cacophony)
  • Thomas Marriott: Crazy: The Music of Willie Nelson (Origin)
  • Wynton Marsalis: Standards & Ballads (1987-99, Columbia/Legacy)
  • Russ Nolan & the Kenny Werner Trio: With You in Mind (Rhinoceruss)
  • Matt Savage: Hot Ticket: Live in Boston (Savage): advance, Jan. 22
  • Diane Schuur: Some Other Time (Concord)
  • Spirits in the Material World: A Reggae Tribute to the Police (Shanachie): advance, Feb. 19
  • Tom Tallitsch: Medicine Man (OA2)
  • Paul West/Mark Brown: Words & Music (OA2)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weekend Roundup

Got to the end of the week and found I hadn't flagged a single web article. The main reason is that I haven't been looking much. I might write this off to having had a miserable week. Indeed, I've spent very little time at the computer, which is likely to make Jazz Prospecting another casualty, and when I have surfed I've mostly been chasing down loose ends on year-end poll 2007 records. But I also haven't liked much of what I did find, not least because so much of what I've seen just rehashes what we already know. On the other hand, the constant reiteration of nonsense is getting really tiresome. A good part of the blame here can be laid on the presidential primaries, which appear to be dedicated to lowering everyone's grasp on reality. But all sorts of stories have become numbing. For instance, I was only vaguely aware that Bush went on a Middle East tour -- no one I read regularly paid any attention to him, and Bush popped up in the Wichita Eagle only when he announced an arms sale to Saudi Arabia. The numbing insists that violence is down in Iraq even on days when 80-90 are killed. The numbing passes over anything Israel does in Gaza. There are stories that should have some traction, but they seem to disappear without comment. The week started with the New York Times doing a feature on Iraq War veterans who killed again after returning to America. You'd at least figure someone would point out how that disproves the old saw about fighting over there so we don't have to here, but I didn't find a link either to the article or to any subsequent discussion. The Times had a piece today on the fire sale of US corporate assets to foreign businesses -- especially sovereign funds that had been holding shrinking dollars. There's a lot more that can be done with that story, but thus far I'm not seeing it.

One of the big unexamined stories of the whole Bush era is what has happened to the dollar. Economists like to say that a lower dollar helps exports (and therefore jobs), but that assumes that you're building exportable products, which isn't really the case in the US. One way to show this is that the declining dollar hasn't had any effect on the current accounts balance: we still import much more than we export. You'd think that the decline of the dollar would be of utmost concern to the supposed beneficiaries of the Bush regime, the rich, since they're the ones with the most dollars to lose, but you never hear about that. On the other hand, they at least get to sell their assets to foreigners with real money, at what appears to be a tidy profit -- so are they really coming out ahead? And even if they are, what does that mean for the rest of us? There's a lot there to chew on.

Another real question beneath all the surface nonsense is what are the real costs of Bush's War on Terror? A couple of years ago Joseph Stiglitz worked up some relatively obvious indirect costs like veterans disabilities and debt service and came up with a $1-2 trillion figure. Revisiting his figures today will show that we're closer to the upper bound of his assumptions than the lower, but you have to wonder whether he factored enough stuff in. On the low end, take those murders the Times has been documenting. On the high end, look at the effect of the debt and the export of wealth on the value of the dollar and everything that entails. One thing we've started to notice during the Bush years is that the US is starting to take on traits of a third world country: oligarchy, corruption, cronyism, foreign ownership, militarism, an encroaching police state, illiteracy, rampant crime, population growth. One can find stories on all these things (e.g., murder increased by 65% in Wichita last year), but not on how they all fit together.


I started the following fragment as an intro to my year-end Pazz & Jop comments, then discarded it. Not sure whether I figured it too personal, too bleak, or too much of a dead end. It was titled "My Favorite Year":

I'm pretty sure my favorite year was 1978. The Yankees came from 13 games back in August to beat the Red Sox on a Bucky Dent home run. The comeback started the week Rebecca and I took the only vacation we ever managed together, a swing through all the corners of upstate New York. We were the night shift at Wizard Graphics, and lived in a fabulous apartment high over the East River. I still wrote rock crit a bit, but was moving on, reading about science for the first time since 9th grade, getting close to buying my first computer. I bought punk rock on English imports, and a bit of avant-garde jazz. The Vietnam War was over, and Reaganism hadn't started to drag us into the dark ages.

Of course, I didn't know that at the time. A couple years later Phil Eder came over and raved about a Peter O'Toole movie called My Favorite Year, and that was what got me thinking about it. (Don't know what happened to Eder, but he was one of the great characters of the time. He sold office supplies, but claimed to have grown up in a mob family, and had plenty of stories. He loved jazz; I'll never forget his face when I played Sheila Jordan for him. He tried to teach me how to cook Chinese, but I didn't master it until later, after restarting from scratch.) Anyhow, I bring this up because 2007 was the opposite: let's just call it my least favorite year, although I've probably blotted some competitors out of my mind. Glad it's over.

I'm still shook personally from some things that happened last year. I'm also disappointed at how little I accomplished compared to what I had hoped. Will try again in 2008.

Moving it here leaves me without an intro, much less a piece.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Poll Projection

Based on my tracking of numerous year-end lists, here's my WAG -- (stands for "wild ass guess," shortened from the SWAGs we used to estimate software projects) -- for the big year-end critics polls. I'm thinking more of the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Poll, but also Idolator's anti-Voice poll (more on that below):

  1. MIA: Kala (Interscope)
  2. Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD)
  3. Arcade Fire: Neon Bible (Merge)
  4. LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver (DFA/Capitol)
  5. Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
  6. The White Stripes: Icky Thump (Warner Bros)
  7. Amy Winehouse: Back to Black (Universal)
  8. Kanye West: Graduation (Roc-A-Fella)
  9. The National: Boxer (Beggars Banquet)
  10. Panda Bear: Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)

The top two could go either way. Same for the next two. Actually, my raw data puts Radiohead ahead of MIA and LCD Soundsystem above Arcade Fire, in both cases by tiny margins. Spoon is pretty clearly next. The next five slots are actually a toss-up. The raw data favors Panda Bear, then the National, both of which strike me as marginal (not to mention not that good, not that I'm a fan of the others).

Beyond that, the list is likely to look something like this:

  1. Feist: The Reminder (Cherry Tree)
  2. Bruce Springsteen: Magic (Columbia)
  3. Miranda Lambert: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Sony/BMG Nashville)
  4. Jay-Z: American Gangster (Roc-A-Fella)
  5. Battles: Mirrored (Warp)
  6. Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)
  7. Rilo Kiley: Under the Blacklight (Warner Bros)
  8. PJ Harvey: White Chalk (Island)
  9. Les Savy Fav: Let's Stay Friends (Frenchkiss)
  10. Robert Plant/Alison Krauss: Raising Sand (Rounder)
  11. The Shins: Wincing the Night Away (Sub Pop)
  12. Of Montreal: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl)
  13. Iron & Wine: The Shepherd's Dog (Sub Pop)
  14. Lily Allen: Alright, Still (Capitol)
  15. Band of Horses: Cease to Begin (Sub Pop)
  16. Wu-Tang Clan: 8 Diagrams (Loud/Universal)
  17. Modest Mouse: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (Epic)
  18. Bettye LaVette: Scene of the Crime (Anti-)
  19. Grinderman (Anti-)
  20. Justice: Cross (Downtown/Vice/Ed Banger)
  21. Okkervil River: Stage Names (Jagjaguwar)
  22. Bright Eyes: Cassadaga (Saddle Creek)
  23. Animal Collective: Strawberry Jam (Domino)
  24. Lil Wayne: Da Drought 3 (Young Money Entertainment)
  25. Menomena: Friend and Foe (Barsuk)
  26. Ghostface Killah: The Big Doe Rehab (Def Jam)
  27. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone)
  28. Against Me!: New Wave (Sire)
  29. Kings of Leon: Because of the Times (RCA)
  30. Tinariwen: Aman Iman: Water Is Life (World Village)
  31. Burial: Untrue (Hyperdub)
  32. Deerhoof: Friend Opportunity (ATP/Tomlab)
  33. The Good, the Bad and the Queen (Honest Jons/Virgin)
  34. Gogol Bordello: Super Taranta! (Side One Dummy)
  35. Mavis Staples: We'll Never Turn Back (Anti-)
  36. Beirut: The Flying Club Cup (4AD)
  37. Arctic Monkeys: Favourite Worst Nightmare (Domino)
  38. Lucinda Williams: West (Lost Highway)
  39. Apples in Stereo: New Magnetic Wonder (Yep Roc)
  40. Common: Finding Forever (Geffen)

My raw data also nominates records by: Ryan Adams, Andrew Bird, Björk, Blonde Redhead, Caribou, The Field, Jens Lekman, Liars, Queens of the New Stone Age, Joshua Redman, Rihanna, St. Vincent, Robert Wyatt. The raw data didn't nominate Wu-Tang Clan or Ghostface Killah, but they came out late, and as good records by well-known artists are likely to do better than my data suggests. I've tended to upgrade rap and to downgrade electronica -- Burial and Justice do better in the raw data than on my projections, but I doubt most voters have heard them. My data includes a lot of jazz lists, so that's one skew that won't show up in the polls.

I've heard most of these records (exceptions: Battles, Grinderman, Lil Wayne, Menomena, Kings of Leon, Deerhoof, Beirut). I'm not offering any opinion on the listed records: some I like, some I don't. There may be slight tweaks according to my taste, but they're pretty minor. My own ballot included one of the top 10, one more in the next 40 -- although Mavis Staples would have cracked my top 10 had I heard it in time. Only 4 of the top 10 made my A-list, 15 of the top 50 -- I doubt that's any different from past years (may be up, since I doubt that I've ever heard 43 of 50 pollwinners before).


OK, the Idolator Pop 07 poll (451 critics) is out now. I had 4 of the top 5, 9 of the top 10, 40 of the top 50. The top spot went to LCD Soundsystem, which I had at 4. My top 3 shifted down one slot. Amy Winehouse bumped Spoon from 5 to 6. My only top 10 projection that slipped was White Stripes, which finished at 16. It was replaced by Of Montreal, which I had at 10. Some others that did significantly better than my projections: Battles (11/15), Lily Allen (13/24), Burial (15/41), Animal Collective (18/33, Against Me! (21/38), Okkervil River (22/31), Tinariwen (30/40). Some of my picks that slipped but still wound up in the top 50: Jay-Z (23/14), Bruce Springsteen (25/12), Iron & Wine (34/23), Les Savy Fav (44/19), Bettye Lavette (45/28), Rilo Kiley (46/17), The Shins (46/21), Band of Horses (49/25), Modest Mouse (50/27).

The following 10 records made the Idolator top 50 but weren't on my list:

  1. Jens Lekman: Night Falls Over Kortedala
  2. The Field: From Here We Go Sublime
  3. Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha
  4. UGK: Underground Kingz
  5. Deerhunter: Cryptograms
  6. Britney Spears: Blackout
  7. Tegan & Sara: The Con
  8. Low: Drums and Guns
  9. The New Pornographers: Challengers
  10. Amerie: Because I Love It

Three of those (Lekman, Field, Bird) were in my leftover list, with 10-12 mentions. UGK, Deerhunter, Spears, and New Pornographers has 7-10 mentions, making them outside shots. Tegan & Sara, Low, and Amerie had 3-4, putting them way out of my mind. I've only heard 2 of the 10 (Lekman, Spears; didn't like Lekman, and, well, you know about Spears). The ten I projected instead finished as follows (my projected finish in brackets):

  1. Lucinda Williams: West [48]
  2. Menomena: Friend and Foe [35]
  3. Bright Eyes: Cassadaga [32]
  4. Ghostface Killah: The Big Doe Rehab [36]
  5. Wu-Tang Clan: 8 Diagrams [26]
  6. Arctic Monkeys: Favourite Worst Nightmare [47]
  7. Apples in Stereo: New Magnetic Wonder [49]
  8. Deerhoof: Friend Opportunity [42]
  9. Kings of Leon: Because of the Times [39]
  10. Common: Finding Forever [50]

It took 15 votes to get into the top 50. At 113, Common got 8, which isn't all that far off. Most of these mismatches can be blamed on my decision to skew the raw data toward hip-hop and away from electronica. I expect the Voice poll will be closer to my expectations. For one thing, the Idolator poll is run by electronica specialist Michaelangelo Matos. The Voice poll will have a lot of overlap, but should be larger, with more print journalists, a bit older and more mainstream. The big split last year between the two polls was over Bob Dylan. I expected Bruce Springsteen to do better in the Voice poll, and now it looks like White Stripes will too.

As I expected, MIA and Radiohead were neck to neck, 141 to 137. But LCD Soundsystem more than doubled Arcade Fire, 169 to 77. That's a huge shift from my raw data. It will probably close up a bit in the Voice poll, but it's too big to imagine it being reversed. Lily Allen picked up votes from 2006, when her album got a lot of advance publicity. I expected that to improve her standing, but didn't have a good idea of how to gauge the effect.


By the way, I've put together a page with the Village Voice Jazz Poll results. I list each of the albums, then by album the critics who voted for it. I haven't tabled this up into a database yet where one could make some interesting queries, like what would the totals be if you threw out everyone who voted for 3 of the top 5 albums. One thing you can see is that the top album I voted for camd in at 24, which is pretty far back, but not the farthest out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Year-End Mop-Up (Part 2)

This is the second batch of short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, mostly meant to check out records that have some backing in year-end lists -- I'm keeping something of a scorecard as I go along. I'm thinking I'll do one more of these by the end of the month. At least, I'm not tired of the exercise yet, and I'm not in a huge rush to dig into the jazz prospecting. So we'll see how far this goes. It does at least give me a way to sample stuff that I wouldn't normally get to hear. But it doesn't give me everything I'd like -- I'd say about one out of every five records I've looked for aren't available (and it turns out that many of the hip-hop albums are missing tracks). Other problems include lack of documentation and the impracticality of getting back to a record that is interesting but not easily judged. With jazz prospecting, I often jot down an estimate and put the record back for further play later. Here I'm not doing that, although there are records here that I do want to return to in the future.


Mary J Blige: Growing Pains (2007, Geffen): Two guest shots come early, one with Ludacris, the other with Usher, both pretty good but far short of transcendent, and in the long run they seem like commercial expedients, more hint that she's less auteur than businesswoman. That's one reason I have trouble with her albums. Another is that she's got a voice that seems normative for a post-whatever soul niche that lost most of its appeal a decade or more before she came around and took it over. But once she's done her business, a series of relatively simple songs comes along building thoughtfully on her title theme -- maybe she's got a touch of auteur after all? I like this as much as anything I've ever heard from her, confirming her SFFR status, but on such short notice I'm still hedging my bets. B+(***)

Jill Scott: The Real Thing: Words and Sounds, Vol. 3 (2007, Hidden Beach): A softer, thinner, lighter voice than Blige, with music to match, but a near match nonetheless. Another SFFR. B+(***)

Rihanna: Good Girl Gone Bad (2007, Def Jam): Robyn Rihanna Fenty, b. 1988, Barbados; claims African, Irish, and Indian (Guyanese mother, so presumably from India) descent. Third album, with hits in each -- "Umbrella" is the one here, goosed by a Jay-Z feature. Doesn't sound like a teen star, other than that she depends on pro help, with Timbaland living large here. Looks hot enough to be a Blender favorite regardless of talent (cf. Paris Hilton). I like the dance pop well enough, but there are weak spots -- "Hate That I Love You" is pretty awful, and there are better songs about "Rehab" floating around. Wonder if I got this lyric right: "I think Christ sucks sometimes/but when you're in the spotlight everything feels good." B

Iron & Wine: The Shepherd's Dog (2007, Sub Pop): Alias for singer-songwriter Samuel Beam. Has several well regarded albums, evidently starting from a folkie lo-fi base. This is low key and easy going, but fairly developed, elegant even, musically. Can even be catchy, but I didn't catch much in the way of lyrics, which eventually determine whether you like or hate such artists. B+(**)

Busdriver: Road Kill Overcoat (2007, Epitaph): Most sources elide the title into one word. I can't verify that, and suspect it's a matter of interpretation anyway. Underground rap, rapid fire wordiness over fanciful beats. Possible political content, although it's hard to say how deep. One line I noted is "in the face of neocon Nazis/I'm no Noam Chomsky." B+(**)

The Fiery Furnaces: Widow City (2007, Thrill Jockey): Brother-sister duo from Oak Park, IL, Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, the latter doing most of the singing. They have an annoying habit of shifting rhythms, melodies, and trains of thought within songs. There are occasional moments where all this chaotic ADD threatens to pay off -- "My Egyptian Grammar" and "The Old Hag Is Sleeping" sound promising, but they are songs 6-7. C+

Los Campesinos!: Sticking Fingers Into Sockets (2007, Arts & Crafts, EP): Welsh group, rocks hard, a bit too fancy for punk, male and female voices, no Latinos I can detect. Six songs, totals 18:38, including the 6:14 "You! Me! Dancing!" Full length album, Hold on Now, Youngster due out February. B+(**)

Mekons: Natural (2007, Quarterstick): First album since 2004's Punk Rock -- scattered across at least two continents their recording rate has slowed but hasn't slowed to the point of serious hiatus. First song ("Dark Dark Dark") seems way too dark, less for its theme than its dirgelike pace, which covers up the looseness of the remaining material, which gains traction after the initial despair wears off. Still, they seem neither inspired nor outraged. They know what they're up against, and pace themselves accordingly. B+(**)

The Oohlas: Best Stop Pop (2006, Stolen Transmission): Los Angeles group, mostly nonstop groove, layered guitar, and Olivia Stone singing, but one called "From Me to You" stands out, possibly in contrast, more likely because the guitar groove kicks up a notch. B+(**)

Peter Bjorn and John: Writer's Block (2006 [2007], Almost Gold): Swedish group: Peter Moren (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Bjorn Yttling (vocals, bass, keyboards), John Eriksson (drums, vocals). Third album, originally released on Wichita in 2006, reissued with bonus tracks (remixes) in 2007. Leads off with strongly strummed guitar, which seems to be a trademark. Catchy middlebrow pop-rock, didn't catch much in the way of lyrics, even though they were in English (more or less). B+(*)

Prince: Planet Earth (2007, NPG/Columbia): This suffers from self-comparison, which is inevitable in a major artist so prolific for so long. "Guitar" is a good hot one, and "Future Baby Mama" is a good soft one, but neither threaten his best-ofs. Better the second time through, and probably gets better still. B+(**)

Dee Dee Bridgewater: Red Earth (2006 [2007], Emarcy): Didn't get this from Verve, which like other units of Universal has suffered the cutbacks in employees and interns with diminished service. Enough other jazz critics did get it to tie up Abbey Lincoln's much adored albums in the Voice jazz poll. I'm way short on details here, but the subtitle is "A Malian Journey," and Malian musicians are prominent -- including a number of co-writing credits and vocals. This works to remarkable effect on "Bad Spirits," where a Malian singer sings in some Malian language with Bridgewater picking up the refrain in English. But other collaborations don't mesh so well, making me wonder whether this works either as jazz or Malian pop. Bridgewater is on more secure ground with the covers: the opening "Afro Blue," the closing "Compared to What," and declaiming Nina Simone's "Four Women" asserting the slave connection which mostly missed Mali. Hard to predict whether I'd go up or down with more exposure. Among Mali tourists, she's more imposing than Ry Cooder and more ambitious than Hank Jones or Roswell Rudd, but not as clever as Damon Albarn, who got the best album out of the deal. B+(*)

Ponytail: Kamehameha (2007, Creative Capitalism): Hard guitar riffs, too crunchy fast for heavy metal but made of some lighter alloy, to which one Molly Siegel adds annoying shrieks. Christgau describes this as "kiddie-pop hardcore no wave assault/playground game/initiation ritual." I don't doubt that it's meant as a joke, and give it some credit for that, but not a lot. B

Mary Gauthier: Between Daylight and Dark (2007, Lost Highway): An alt-country singer-songwriter who made a big impression with Mercy Now turns to measured storytelling instead of intense first person experience. It's hard to tell from one play how deeply these stories will sink in, but I'm reminded of several cases where I wound up treasuring similar milder follow-ups as much as their more obvious predecessors -- Marshall Chapman's Inside Job after Dirty Linen one good example. B+(***)

Linda Thompson: Versatile Heart (2007, Rounder): Another one that could inch up with more listening -- what strikes me at first as plain may well just be subtle. I'm also not clear how big a role son Teddy Thompson plays: he's likely the key to the musical improvement, if not necessarily to the lyrics. Not as searing or as sore as she was with her soon-to-be-ex-husband, but wiser, better paced. I get the feeling she could do this more often than she has in the past. B+(**)

Northern State: Can I Keep This Pen? (2007, Ipecac): Christgau downgraded this after giving their first two albums (and a teaser EP I've never seen) full A grades. I liked those albums less, and now find myself enjoying this one more. They basically do old school rap with college girl voices and left-liberal (i.e., not new or old leftist) politics, with all three swapping rhymes. The deviation here is that they sing more, which works for me. It gives them a cheesy pop vibe that I rarely hear anymore -- check out "Good Distance," or "Better Already." Of course, smart, clever, and up yours help, especially on top of cheesy pop. A-

The Pipettes: We Are the Pipettes (2006 [2007], Interscope): English girl group, modelled on early '60s prototypes, replete with wall of sound production. It only works on occasion, maybe because postmodernism innoculates one against going back to a period that depended on such innocence, or maybe because it's just harder to do than it looks. B

Jens Lekman: Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007, Secretly Canadian): Swedish singer-songwriter, working in English, has a self-pity streak like Morrissey and a flair for excessively ornate arrangements like Sufjan Stevens, although less extreme than either. I initially found him appalling, but bits of melody proved irresistible, leaving me merely uncomfortable. "Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo" is a relatively straight one, catchy enough they picked it as the single. B

Michael Hurley: Ancestral Swamp (2007, Gnomonsong): Simple, patient, humble folkish songs, mostly just sung over guitar, a couple adding a bit of fiddle. Not as funny as he used to be, but then he never was Peter Stampfel nor Jeffrey Fredericks, authors of the funnier songs on Have Moicy! (the most hilarious were actually penned by Antonia). B+(**)

The Good, the Bad, & the Queen (2007, Honest Jons/Virgin): Supergroup project, assembling Damon Albarn (Blur), Simon Tong (Verve), Paul Simonon (Clash), and Tony Allen (Fela Anikulapo Kuti's drummer), produced by Danger Mouse. Presumably Albarn is singing, although I found the vocals on the first cuts awful tedious, especially against the blippy music effects that seem typical of Danger Mouse. The title cut could almost be a different group, with serviceable vocals and guitar rave. B

Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (2007, Nonesuch): Knowing that jazz whiz Nels Cline was added to the band, I can't help but notice the guitar, which while not jazzy is powerfully sharp even if the songs and singer-songwriter are still on the lame side of alt-country. At least that's my first impression. But they're tuneful, and while I didn't follow the words any more than usual, nothing stuck out like a sore thumb. B+(***)

Lupe Fiasco: The Cool (2007, Atlantic): Chicago Muslim, doesn't like Cool any more than he liked Liquor last time, but knows enough about it to take it for a ride. This takes a while to get in gear -- the thing about his town being the best town falls short of convincing residents of any other town, even those who live in towns they admit suck, but "Hip Hop Saved My Life" makes up for it, and he hits more often than misses from there out. After two plays I'm not as solid with this as I ought to be, but for once feel like gambling by rounding up. A-

Jay-Z: American Gangster (2007, Roc-A-Fella): I'm tempted to dock this conspicuous commercial tie-in simply on anti-gangsta principle, but the most obvious connections are far and away the strongest cuts, especially musically. A bigger problem is the "ignorant shit" (a title) he subcontracts out to his lessers -- he may stand behind his brand name, but he's not above stretching it a bit. Another problem is that Rhapsody's download is three songs short, so that's another reason to hedge. B+(*)

Colombiafrica -- The Mythic Orchestra: Voodoo Love Inna Champeta-Land (2007, Riverboat): Not sure how this breaks down. Champeta is Colombian, reportedly from Cartagena. Most of the percussion sounds Latin (and plausibly Colombian, although I can't be sure, and I see one credit to Camerounian drummer Guy Bilong). The guitars trend African, mostly Congolese -- Diblo Dibala is the best known, followed by Sekou Diabaté (from Guinea, if memory serves). The voices are mostly Colombian, except for Nyboma (who I figure for Congo, but can't be sure). The album was produced by Paris-based Congolese guitarist Bopol Mansiamina, but I don't know where it was recorded. The label's hype talks about afrobeat and mbaqanga and all sorts of other things, which appear to be reflected radiation. Nor do I know if this is just a one-shot, which is what it looks to be. In any case, it keeps its various pieces balanced and hopping along, the sort of rhythm-first album that bridges all language barriers. A-

Okkervil River: The Stage Names (2007, Jagjaguwar): Austin TX group, by reputation a folk-rooted group with particular debts to the Carter Family and the Stanley Brothers. Don't know about their earlier albums (AMG lists 4), but this one sounds like typical midwestern singer-songwriter fare, with the one compelling riff swiped from the Beach Boys. B

The Sadies: New Seasons (2007, Yep Roc): Country band from Canada. Did a pretty good album with Jon Langford once. Without him, they still do pretty good background, but don't have a strong lead. B+(**)

The Pierces: Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge (2007, Lizard King): Two sisters from Birmingham, AL, on their third album. Songs about evenly divide between awkward ones that feel forced and others that flow well enough they could be hits. More of the latter would put this over, but even the awkward ones get by on intelligence and wit. Reminds me a bit of Voices of the Beehive, but not as loud or irresistible. An interesting album, one that could charm its way into becoming a favorite. B+(***)

Britney Spears: Blackout (2007, Jive): Nothing here Madonna hasn't done better and a lot smarter, but she's got enough libido and practice as a poseur that her limited pipes and brains aren't huge liabilities. Obviously, she had help, and it makes a difference. Despite my fondness for this kind of dance music, she never made much of an impression before, but I never disliked her either. This isn't great, but it's very solid. B+(***)

Tabu Ley Rochereau: The Voice of Lightness: Congo Classics 1961-1977 (1961-77 [2007], Stern's Africa, 2CD): Early material, starting when the all-time soukous great was 21. The earliest cuts do favor lightness, but this picks up a powerful groove as it progresses. This has been on my shopping list for a while, and sooner or later I'll pick it up. Hope the booklet is useful. But even on music alone it's possible that this could pick up a notch (or two). A-

Band of Horses: Cease to Begin (2007, Sub Pop): Indie rock band, from Seattle, second album. Songs are mostly catchy, guitars have some punch and wail, singer isn't bad, can do a little country twang, but doesn't depend on it. B+(*)

Nellie McKay: Obligatory Villagers (2007, Hungry Mouse): Third album, second on her own label after a well publicized spat with Columbia. Not sure whether to consider her a jazz singer. She's more like a Bette Midler who insists on writing her own songs, and is smart enough to get away with it (mostly). Her model seems to come from show music, which often suffers from overdramatization, not to mention excessive fanciness -- unless, of course, it really works, in which case all is forgiven. I don't think this works often enough, although two plays is certainly not enough to be sure. B+(**)

St. Vincent: Marry Me (2007, Beggars Banquet): Alias for Annie Clark, a singer-songwriter, high voice, eclectic pop arrangements, clever and whimsical, maybe with a literary bent. Reminds me of Kate Bush. B+(*)

Konono No. 1: Live at Couleur Café (2007, Crammed Discs): From Congo, a group with junkyard instruments and thumb pianos, all groove all the time. Two previous albums capture the same sound, making them more/less interchangeable, but this set, recorded in Belgium, is at least their equal, maybe better -- at least more consistent. A-

Wu-Tang Clan: 8 Diagrams (2007, SRC/Universal/Motown): Another hip-hop album missing a track, but this time I doubt that it can make much of a difference. Only one cut I don't much care for ("Stick Me for My Riches" featuring Gerald Alston), a couple of platinum samples, a lot of deft beats, plenty of rough and/or smart talk. A-

Wax Tailor: Hope & Sorrow (2007, Decon): A DJ from France, JC la Saoût, stakes out his political position early regarding cultural reuse, then proceeds to make his case artistically. Spoken bits can be educational or just underscore a line or bridge a passage; raps go a bit further, and there are a couple of soul vocals, including one by Sharon Jones. The beats are loose, almost bow-legged, giving the whole thing an air of goofiness. The best culture, indeed. A-

The Chalets: Check In (2005 [2007], Setanta): Irish pop-rock group, both male and female singers, big hooks, catchy, harder than most such groups. Christgau docked them for being "a little too cute," but not a lot. I find them a bit too much, but for two or three songs they sound really great, which means they got it in them. If they were better they'd be the B-52s. (On "Love Punch" they are: "I know you love me but you're fucking crazy.") B+(***)

Apparat: Maps (2006 [2007], Shitkatapult Strike): German, a/k/a Sascha Ring, although I don't know if that's a real name or another level of alias. Done work with Ellen Allien, a name I've been curious about but never got to. The electronica is full-fleshed, elegant, songlike, with half or more vocals -- don't know who sings, but I've seen comparisons to Thom Yorke. B+(***)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Music: Current count 14036 [14009] rated (+27), 748 [737] unrated (+11). Caught up with a couple of weeks of incoming, so the growth in unrateds is a bit excessive, but the days of 800+ look to be history. The uptick is mostly in advance 2008 product, while I'm still struggling with the end of 2007. Starting to transition on Jazz CG -- wrote my first new HM today, but still don't have everything carried forward, nor have I looked at what needs to be purged. Recycled Goods is likely to be done today or tomorrow -- need to write the intro and stop adding to it, but I have little left even in the running. Still working on Rhapsody downloads. Will post a batch soon. Still haven't frozen the Y2007 list. Thinking 1/15 might be a good point, or maybe 1/31?

  • Luther Allison: Underground (1958 [2007], Ruf): Blues is usually an old man's game, but this Arkansas-bred guitar slinger would have made a respectable Chicago bluesman had these first recordings, cut when he was 18, came out at the time. (That is, assuming the booklet is right. The press release dates the tracks back to 1967/68, which would put them about the time he cut his first released album.) As happened, he cut his first record a decade later, struggled for small labels, made a comeback on Alligator, then died at 58. Eight cuts, rather short. B+(**)

    Alex Alvear: Equatorial (2006 [2007], Colorado Music): A political exile from Ecuador with 20 years in the US, Alvear looks back to the indigenous flutes of the Andes, recalled through cosmopolitan filters shaded by Cuba and Brazil, by funk and jazz; as a groove record this has an understated resilience, its occasional vocals quaint and heartfelt. B+(***)

  • Foo Fighters: The Colour and the Shape (1997 [2007], Roswell/RCA/Legacy): Dave Grohl's post-Nirvana vehicle lacks, well, charisma, but has solid hard rock fundamentals, starting with a real good drummer, and can push a good line dramatically, or ride out a decent groove; six bonus cuts, including a title track not on the original album. B+(**)
  • Fripp & Eno: Beyond Even (1992-2006 [2007], DGM, 2CD): Scattered unreleased works from a collaboration that produced two pre- or proto-ambient records in 1973-75 and another pair 30 years later. Minor electronica, mostly tight little beats with filips of guitar, some more ambient, one noisy track per disc. Could have used some documentation. B+(*)
  • The Noisettes: What's the Time Mr Wolf? (2007, Universal Motown): This English group violates enough of my usual rules of thumb that I'm surprised the album isn't any worse than it is. They play a form of art rock that reminds me of 1980s groups like the Tubes and Deaf School and, I suppose, ultimately traces back to Frank Zappa. But they do bring some noise, and their changes sometimes work. Last cut slows down, working even better. B
  • Radiohead: In Rainbows (2007 [2008], TBD): By my bookkeeping rules this is a 2008 release, although it's already been widely exposed from a now defunct download site, and reckoned by many critics to be the best album of 2007. It looks to me like the Voice Pazz & Jop Poll will be a toss up between this and MIA's Kala. I've never cared much for this band -- belatedly recognizing OK Computer as not bad, but never warming up to the others I've heard, Kid A and Amnesiac -- so didn't bother with the download when it was available. When I started to catch up with the poll research, I couldn't find it at Rhapsody. I decided not to worry about it, but I found the official release on sale at Best Buy for $7.99, and figured, well, why not? First played it on a car trip, and found it underwhelming, but it came to life on my stereo back home. Given my mood lately, I've played it a lot more than anything sampled on Rhapsody, and extra plays help. The jaunty groove pieces are hard to resist, while the slow stuff has an ethereal beauty to it. Have yet to connect to anything lyrically, and don't expect to. But as rockish background music it's hard to beat. A-


No Jazz Prospecting

No jazz prospecting to report this week. Jazz CG #15 is in the Village Voice's court. Don't know when they'll run it. I imagine that they are overwhelmed at present trying to pull the Pazz & Jop poll together. I'm not sure when that's coming out either. I regret missing their deadline for comments, but there's been not nearly enough time for that. I'd still like to do a year-end comment piece, if only to weigh in on how much 2007 sucked. As it is, I haven't frozen my 2007 list yet, which is one of my world's signs that the year has ended. Maybe tomorrow: I'm just putting the finishing touches on my last Recycled Goods column, and I'm thinking I'll tack a year-end list onto it.

Jazz prospecting should be back next week. By then I will have worked through my transitional paperwork. Recycled Goods will be done. Hopefully I'll start to get over 2007. And I can start to delve into the pile of new 2008 advances that I haven't touched yet. Meanwhile, I'll post another collection of snap judgments based on 2007 downloads from Rhapsody. And maybe some year-end notes and resolutions.


Unpacking:

  • Patrick Arena: Arenamusic (Arenamusic)
  • Al Basile: The Tinge (Sweetspot)
  • Jimmy Blythe: Messin' Around Blues (Delmark)
  • Howard Britz: Here I Stand (Tee Zee): advance, Mar. 1
  • Bill Bruford/Michael Borstlap: In Two Minds (Summerfold)
  • Marc Copland: New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 2: Voices (Pirouet)
  • Dave Corp: The Sweet Life (Sluggo Music)
  • Fleurine: San Francisco (Sunnyside): Feb. 12
  • Jason Kao Hwang/Edge: Stories Before Within (Innova): Feb. 5
  • Keefe Jackson's Project Project: Just Like This (Delmark)
  • Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Setting Standards: New York Sessions (1983, ECM, 3CD)
  • Omer Klein: Introducing Omer Klein (Smalls): Feb. 12
  • The Klobas/Kesecker Ensemble: No Gravity (KKEnsemble)
  • Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet (Summit)
  • Little Annie & Paul Wallfisch: When Good Things Happen to Bad Pianos (Durtro Jnana): Feb. 5
  • Lionel Loueke: Karibu (Blue Note): advance, Mar. 25
  • Keith Marks: Foreign Funk (Markei): Apr. 1
  • Fergus McCormick: I Don't Need You Now (Fergus McCormick Music): Feb. 26
  • NYNDK: Nordic Disruption (Jazzheads)
  • Maceo Parker: Roots & Grooves (Heads Up): Feb. 12
  • Putumayo Presents: Latin Reggae (Putumayo World Music)
  • Deepak Ram: Steps (Golden Horn)
  • Steve Reid Ensemble: Daxaar (Domino)
  • Sabertooth: Dr. Midnight: Live at the Green Mill (Delmark)
  • Felipe Salles: South American Suite (Curare)
  • Matthew Shipp: Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear)
  • Francesco Tristano: Not for Piano (Sunnyside)
  • Cuong Vu: Vu-Tet (ArtistShare)
  • Mike Walbridge's Chicago Footwarmers: Crazy Rhythm (Delmark)

Purchases:

  • Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD)
  • Soulja Boy: Tellem.Com (ColliPark Music/Interscope)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Weekend Roundup

Chalmers Johnson: Imperialist Propaganda. Another anti-imperialist screed about Charlie Wilson's War. Of course, Johnson is right (as is Tom Engelhardt, in his intro). Steve Coll's Ghost Wars is a better source on the conflict, which neither started nor ended with Charlie Wilson. (Interesting that Wilson retired to a lucrative job as a lobbyist for Pakistan: "mostly tradition," as he explained in the movie.) Johnson quotes a previous review that he wrote of the book:

The Central Intelligence Agency has an almost unblemished record of screwing up every 'secret' armed intervention it ever undertook. From the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 through the rape of Guatemala in 1954, the Bay of Pigs, the failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba and Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, the 'secret war' in Laos, aid to the Greek Colonels who seized power in 1967, the 1973 killing of President Allende in Chile, and Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra war against Nicaragua, there is not a single instance in which the Agency's activities did not prove acutely embarrassing to the United States and devastating to the people being 'liberated.' The CIA continues to get away with this bungling primarily because its budget and operations have always been secret and Congress is normally too indifferent to its Constitutional functions to rein in a rogue bureaucracy. Therefore the tale of a purported CIA success story should be of some interest.

According to the author of Charlie Wilson's War, the exception to CIA incompetence was the arming between 1979 and 1988 of thousands of Afghan mujahideen ("freedom fighters"). The Agency flooded Afghanistan with an incredible array of extremely dangerous weapons and 'unapologetically mov[ed] to equip and train cadres of high tech holy warriors in the art of waging a war of urban terror against a modern superpower [in this case, the USSR].'

The author of this glowing account, [the late] George Crile, was a veteran producer for the CBS television news show '60 Minutes' and an exuberant Tom Clancy-type enthusiast for the Afghan caper. He argues that the U.S.'s clandestine involvement in Afghanistan was 'the largest and most successful CIA operation in history,' 'the one morally unambiguous crusade of our time,' and that 'there was nothing so romantic and exciting as this war against the Evil Empire.' Crile's sole measure of success is killed Soviet soldiers (about 15,000), which undermined Soviet morale and contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the period 1989 to 1991. That's the successful part.

However, he never once mentions that the 'tens of thousands of fanatical Muslim fundamentalists' the CIA armed are the same people who in 1996 killed nineteen American airmen at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000, and on September 11, 2001, flew hijacked airliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It makes sense that Johnson would focus on the blowback, but this foolish war hurt us far worse than it hurt Afghanistan, which after more than 25 years of constant war is worse off than ever. The war also adversely affected every other country it touched, and it takes a pretty cold hearted bastard to exclude the former Soviet Union from that list.

Matt Taibbi: Merchants of Trivia. The target here is not the presidential candidates, although they provide plenty of illustrations, so much as the media that covers, and trivializes, them. For example:

This relentless fragging from the media led to the current state of affairs in Iowa, in which all of the candidates are enjoined in a seemingly endless piss-fight over the most mind-numbing minutiae imaginable. Clinton and Obama spent days haggling bitterly over, of all things, tea. When Obama insisted that his foreign experience went beyond who "I had tea with," the Hillary camp actually went through the trouble of releasing a statement from Madeleine Albright insisting that Hillary, in fact, drank many different beverages in her travels.

It's unlikely that politicians would be such shitheads without the media egging them on, although the media certainly favors some natural shitheads, GW Bush being an obvious example. Taibbi's book, Spanking the Donkey, is already the best book on this presidential campaign -- it was written about 2004, and the candidates have changed this time, but its main subject, the media, is very much the same.

Ari Berman: The Democratic Foreign Policy Wars. Useful review of which foreign policy mandarins are plugged into which Democratic candidate ears. None are likely to push the sort of serious rethinking US foreign policy needs, but the one that makes me most nervous is Richard Holbrooke and his "muscular liberalism" -- humanitarian-masked imperialism is more like it: "In the 1990s Holbrooke warned of 'Vietnamalia syndrome,' the aversion to using military power because of failures in Vietnam and Somalia, and says we cannot retreat now, either." He's reason enough to oppose Clinton, although he's hardly the only one (e.g., there's also "the mighty and the almighty" Albright).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Snow Jobs

I watched Bill Maher tonight, mostly to catch Matt Taibbi -- just read his Rolling Stone piece, and was writing a bit on it when I found out he was appearing. He's sharper as a writer than as a pundit, but his big problem tonight was Tony Snow, who jumped all over him with well rehearsed talking points. One of those points was the Surge, which is only a success relative to past failures -- Snow claimed the violence in December was the lowest since December 2004, which was the month after Fallujah was levelled by the Marines, more like a brief retrenching. One thing people have already managed to forget about the Surge is that there was no evidence of it working back in September, the initial test date. It was only after failing the report that the scheme of paying Sunni tribal leaders to suppress Al-Qaeda came into play. Equally important was US forces backing off, an option that was always available, and that obviously didn't require the 30,000 extra troops. Also important was Moqtada al-Sadr's cease fire, and some form of rapprochement with Iran. I'm reminded of The Battle of Algiers, which a minute before the end of the film looks like the French had won.

Maher's response to this snow job was lame -- something about Bush only realizing that he needed more troops after fucking it up for four years. I really doubt that any conceivable number of troops ever could have done the job. The big problem was always the expectation that Bush's team had that they could mold Iraq into a compliant client state, after the US had double crossed, starved and raped the country for a whole generation. That was never really in the cards: Iraq was too broken, and America was too corupt and incompetent, or to put a more philosophical point on it, too dedicated to our own gratification. The only thing that might have worked was to earnestly serve the Iraqis, but why would such a self-interested, self-important nation do anything like that? Especially one led by a claque convinced of their ability to manage perceptions, allowing them to sweep inconvenient reality out of sight. (The Surge hype shows they still have the knack. Who, after all, asks whether a relatively safer Baghdad is safe enough for reporters to cover without armed convoys, like they could in 2003? How does that safety translate into real reconstruction gains?)

But the issue Snow jumped on faster than any other was Maher's question to Taibbi about why the class-oriented Edward campaign doesn't seem to have much traction despite the economic downturn that most working people (Maher's term was "middle class") have experienced. Taibbi started to answer that the media just aren't interested in anything that resembles a real issue, when Snow jumped in with an argument that populism doesn't fly because workers are "too smart": they realize that any effort against corporations will rebound and cost them jobs. It's a nonsense argument, but was stated so emphatically everyone was taken aback. Still, it is a good example. The one thing corporate power, and more generally conservative power, depends on above all else is that people affected by it will fail to recognize that their problems can be addressed by democratic politics. Edwards is no Mother Jones, but Snow's sponsors haven't merely become so greedy that he threatens them. Their whole political order depends on people not realizing that any other way is possible. It's remarkable how brazen their con job is. Also remarkable that they seem to be getting away with it.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Music: Current count 14009 [13989] rated (+20), 737 [744] unrated (-7). Jazz Consumer Guide is within a day of completion, with the featured dud the main thing pending. Had a rough, weird week, making very little progress until Sunday, when it all started coming together. Dis some more Rhapsody reviewing while I was procrasting. Didn't get any year end comments written. The Voice's deadline for that has come and gone, but I may take a shot at it later, just for reference. Still haven't frozen the Y2007 list -- Y2006 was frozen on Jan. 12 last year, so I'm not any later than last time. January Recycled Goods is also pending completion of Jazz CG, not that I plan on doing much on it.

  • Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard/Ray Price: Last of the Breed (2007, Lost Highway, 2CD): Two discs, more expensive than one, but not much longer. No revelations, although there's more Jesus than I would have expected. Old songs, ever dependable. Lefty Frizzell's still remind you of the originals, but the others stand well enough on their own. A-


Jazz Prospecting (CG #15, Part 13)

This is the last jazz prospecting of a cycle that has gone on way too long. The column is done except for the long procrastinated annointment of the featured dud. I actually have more candidates than usual this time, but little stomach for working on them. Some finished high on the Village Voice's Jazz Poll: Maria Schneider, Sky Blue (the winner); Herbie Hancock, The River: The Joni Letters (#6); Paul Motian, Time and Time Again (#15); Chris Potter, Song for Anyone (#35). Others include folks I've previously recommended, like Eric Alexander, Satoko Fujii, David Hazeltine, Nicole Mitchell, and Miroslav Vitous. Or I could look for something I don't care about at all. I dug up an awful Brazilian album by Ed Johnson, played a few cuts, then took it off -- why bother? Hancock would be easiest to explain, but I don't feel right singling him out twice in a row. Schneider is too daunting to deal with at the last minute. I have no clue why so many critics like her albums so much, while my own reaction is invariably numb -- not much to write about there.

I'm not real happy with my pick hits either, but they'll do. Chris Byars was the top-rated still-unreviewed album from the year-end list, so that one should be obvious. It was a tough one to write about, and I must have played it ten times hoping for inspiration, but I never quite felt compelled to kick the grade up to A. My A grades have been stingy this year: only 3 jazz albums, and only 4 non-jazz. (Christgau has at least 11. I'm actually only down 1 from 2006, but down 22 through A-.)

The album that would have complemented it best is Mostly Other People Do the Killing's Shamokin!!!, which plays off the same bebop tradition in a very different way. But I got to it too late to plan on getting it in -- for that matter it likely would have made my year-end list had I played it a week sooner. Besides, I have much more to say about Allen Lowe's That Devilin' Tune, which I reviewed as a unit, rounding the grade up (for once) -- the A almost insists that it head the list.

While I've had trouble all year with pick hits, the main section and honorable mentions have always had way too many contenders. Jazz CG 14 ran with 11 main section reviews (not counting the 3 obligatory) and 14 honorable mentions. Right now, I have 22 and 21, respectively, so my next task will be to cut both nearly in half. You'd think that would make the next one easier to write, and maybe even make it come out sooner. Hope that's the case.

So I still have a bit of tuning before I hand this in. Next time I'll start prospecting for next round.


Cynthia Sayer: Attractions (2006 [2008], Plunk): Plays banjo, sings; originally from Massachusetts, now in New York. Resume spotlights 10 years with Woody Allen's New Orleans Jazz Band, and soundtrack work on Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo and with Marvin Hamlisch on Sophie's Choice, but I'm more curious about "The New Spike Jones Show." Several albums, starting with The Jazz Banjo of Cynthia Sayer, which I don't have a date on. That one had "featuring" credits for Dick Wellstood and Milt Hinton. This one features Bucky Pizzarelli, but aside from a duet he hardly stands out beyond a superb trad-oriented band, with Scott Robinson (saxes, clarinet), Randy Sandke (trumpet), Jim Fryer (trombone), Sara Caswell (violin), Greg Cohen (bass), and Joe Ascione (percussion). Half vocals, starting with Sidney Bechet's reefer song "Viper Mad" and Hank Williams' "Half as Much," and winding on through "Romance Without Finance" and "You Are My Sunshine" and "Aba Daba Honeymoon." Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody" is reduced to a banjo feature, which is fine with me. B+(***) [Mar. 1]

Arjun: Pieces (2007, Pheromone): Guitar-bass-drums trio, with namesake Eddie Arjun Peters playing the guitar, composing, arranging, and producing. Website features a news item announcing that Pieces "is number 14 on the Jamband Top 40!" I don't recognize most of the competitors, but those I do seem to be an arbitrary mix of rock (Wilco, Patti Smith, Son Volt) and semipop jazz (Chick Corea/Bela Fleck, Will Bernard, Bad Plus). This is rockish guitar bop, or boppish guitar rock -- at times reminds me of Cream, but then doesn't deliver much on the hint. B

Jon Larsen: Strange News From Mars (2007, Zonic Entertainment): Norwegian painter-guitarist, traces his inspirations back to Salvador Dali and Django Reinhardt and is able to confuse them. The Reinhardt connection is presumably developed fully in his Hot Club de Norvège group, which has 17 albums going back to 1981. Add another half-dozen under his own name, which look to be scattered all over the map, with a string quartet on one end and this piece of sci-fi fusion on the other. Jimmy Carl Black narrates short bits like "Unwanted Sexual Attention in Space." The music is spacey, racey keybs, marimba, guitar, and trombone -- amusing stuff. B+(*)

Normal Love: 2007 (2007, High Two): Inscrutable record, not much helped by the lack of information -- I'm not even sure I'm parsing the title correctly. Group consists of violin (Carlos Santiago Jr.), two guitars (Alex Nagle and Amnon D. Freidlin), bass (Evan Lipson), and drums (Eli Litwin). No vocals. Rough sound, sort of a postpunk fusion that might turn interesting but never quite coheres. B

Dion: Son of Skip James (2007, Verve Forecast): Nephew of Muddy Waters, cousin of Chuck Berry, both of whom figure larger here than James, but it's worth noting that the latter's comeback came after Dion's Belmonts faded into doo-wop history. At the time, Dion was refashioning himself as a folk singer, and he was remarkably good at it -- cf. Bronx Blues: The Columbia Recordings (1962-1965). He makes a pretty fair bluesman too. B+(*)

Ellen Johnson: These Days (2005 [2006], Vocal Visions): Singer. Grew up in Chicago, teaches in San Diego. Has three albums starting with Too Good to Title in 1993, plus a couple of instructional things. This particular album puts her in line behind Sheila Jordan, who repays the compliment with two guest vocals: a duet on Jordan's "The Crossing" and background on Johnson's tribute to Jordan, "Little Messenger." Elsewhere, Johnson acknowledges such Jordan signatures as duetting with bassist Darek Oleskiewicz (Oles here) and adding words to Mingus' "Nostalgia in Times Square" reminiscent of Jordan's birdwatching. B+(**)

Andy Bey: Ain't Necessarily So (1997 [2007], 12th Street): Recorded live at Birdland in 1997, with Bey singing and playing piano and the Washingtons for rhythm (Vito Leszak subs for drummer Kenny Washington on two cuts). Bey's a subtle, graceful singer, able to turn even "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" into seduction. The live format lets the band stretch out agreeably. B+(**)

Louise Rogers: Come Ready and See Me (2007 [2008], Rilo): Singer, originally from New Hampshire, in New York since 1997. Three previous albums include two jazz-for-kids things and a duo with husband/bassist Rick Strong. This is a good sample of her range: scoring a Nikki Giovanni poem, adding lyrics to pieces by Mike Mainieri and Jerry Bergonzi, arranging a trad folk song, reworking an original from 1991, sailing through a couple of standard standards. She scales the high notes, scats, swings, gets a song and some nice sax from Gottfried Stoger. The ballads drag a bit, but "The Song Is You" is a choice cut. B+(*) [Feb. 1]

Júlio Resende: Da Alma (2007, Clean Feed): Portuguese pianist, don't know much about him other than that he studied in France. Leads a quartet here with either Alexandra Grimal or Zé Pedro Coehlo on tenor sax, João Custódio on bass, and either João Lobo or João Rijo on drums. I'm not familiar with any of these names, and have very little to go on, other than the music, which is attractive postbop with a free edge. Label website claims: "The future of jazz in Portugal will come from here." I'm not convinced they're wrong. [B+(**)]

Tony Malaby: Tamarindo (2007, Clean Feed): A trio, with Malaby playing tenor and soprano sax, William Parker on bass, Nasheet Waits on drums. Malaby owns all the song credits, but it has a loose improv feel. Parker gets quite a bit of space, and his arco work is spectacular. But the album doesn't quite click for me: maybe too much soprano, or maybe there's a mismatch between Parker and Waits -- the latter is best known for his work with Jason Moran and Fred Hersch. Malaby is remarkably adaptable at playing with both types, but not quite forceful enough to lead them. B+(**)

MI3: Free Advice (2004 [2007], Clean Feed): Boston group, consisting of pianist Pandelis Karayorgis and two-thirds of Ken Vandermark's Boston trio, bassist Nate McBride and drummer Curt Newton. Karayorgis' website lists 18 records going back to 1989, and I'm way behind the learning curve on them. MI3 was formed to play in Boston's Abbey Lounge, a bar usually featuring rock bands. On their previous album (We Will Make a Home for You) Karayorgis played Fender Rhodes and featured pieces by Monk and Dolphy, while McBride recycled his Spaceways Inc. funk grooves. This is more conventionally an avant-garde piano trio, with acoustic piano and bass, more originals, but also pieces from Sun Ra and Ellington -- the latter filtered through Steve Lacy. The result is one of the more satisfying piano trios I've heard lately, a mix of strong rhythms and surprising offsets. A-

Stephen Gauci's Basso Profundo: Nididhyasana (2007, Clean Feed): Gauci is a tenor saxophonist, b. 1966, based in Brooklyn, has appeared on 10+ records since 2001, mostly with bassist Mike Bisio. The group here is a quartet with two basses presumably the source of the name: Bisio and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (of various Ken Vandermark bands). The fourth member is trumpeter Nate Wooley, which gives the group a two horn front line. No drummer, but there is some percussion, presumably from tapping on the bass. The horns split free, but they're less interested in fireworks than in coloring. [A-]

Steve Lehman Quartet: Manifold (2007, Clean Feed): First, apologies to Nasheet Waits, who has no problems with Lehman's difficult music, and whose assertive free drumming makes the opener, "Interface D." Lehman plays alto and sopranino sax, the latter on an exercise titled "For Evan Parker" which I can't swear isn't a parody, although I doubt it. Jonathan Finlayson's trumpet adds a freewheeling second horn, and John Hebert is expert as usual on bass. Recorded live in Brazil, this is more off the cuff than Lehman's Pi albums. B+(***)

Chris Barber: Can't Stop Now (European Tour 2007) (1986-2007 [2007], MVD Audio): The cover is misleading in several respects: only one cut was recorded in 2007 (although it's given two dates and locations); all but two of the rest were recorded in the UK in February and November 2006, which isn't exactly what you'd expect from a European Tour; the two loose ends date from 1988 or 1986 (one is listed both ways); Andy Fairweather Low is pictured as "special guest," but he's only appears on three songs (more/less those named on the cover, with "Worried Man Blues" advertised as "It Takes a Worried Man," and a medley with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" reduced to "Lay My Burden Down." Barber sings two others, including "Can't Stop Now," which I originally took as Low making a joke of his foundered rock and roll career. Still, this confusion has remarkably little effect on the music. Low's "Worried Man Blues" triangulates perfectly with Barber's skiffle sideline, picking up where Lonnie Donegan left off. And Barber's trad jazz is timeless: he's done it for 53 years, so slipping a couple decades is hardly noticeable. B+(**)

Jim Snidero: Tippin' (2007, Savant): Alto sax player, has a bunch of records since 1987, hard bop or postbop, of varying levels of ambition. He takes it easy with this organ quartet, letting Mike LeDonne and guitarist Paul Bollenbeck do the heavy lifting, topping it off with his exquisite riffs. Evidently there's a market for this sort of thing, and this is much better than par for the course. B+(**)

John Stein: Green Street (1996-98 [2007], Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, originally from Kansas City, MO; now based in Boston, teaching at Berklee. Has a half-dozen albums starting in 1995. This was his second, released in 1999 on A Records (or Challenge; sources differ, but if I recall correctly Challenge is the parent label). It's a fairly conventional organ-guitar-drums trio with guest tenor sax on 5 of 12 cuts. Stein's guitar and Ken Clark's organ hit the right notes, but the real soul jazz comes from Fathead Newman's tenor sax. Wish there was more of it. B+(**)


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

Happy Apple: Happy Apple Back on Top (2007, Sunnyside): Bad Plus drummer Dave King's other power trio, with Erik Fratzke's bass plugged in and Michael Lewis leading on one sax or another. Given their Minneapolis address, it's tempting to call them the Husker Du of free jazz, assuming you can make all the necessary translations. It is jazz, after all, and while they like rock grooves more than most, they never leave it at that. A-

Rafi Malkiel: My Island (2007, Raftone): Latin jazz, with all the bells and maracas and a few old fashioned vocals, the songs broken down by style and country, ranging from Brazil to New Orleans, with Cuba predominant. The leader is an Israeli trombonist, and occasionally a klezmer vibe slips in. His island is Manhattan. A-

Freddy Cole: Music Maestro Please (2006 [2007], High Note): A pretty good soft crooner album with Bill Charlap's trio for backup, a high class move that doesn't translate into anything fancy. He has a lock on the family sound, but has moved on to a new level of maturity. B+(**)

Robert Wyatt: Comicopera (2007, Domino): I used to think I was one of his biggest fans, but I'm not able to come up with the enthusiasm of more than a few bigger fans who've posted this on their year-end lists. (In fact, The Wire has given their top spot to his last two albums.) The album does have its moments, including "Hasta Siempre Comandante," his best Che Guevara song since "Song for Che" on Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard. I like the duet on "Just as You Are," the sax and vibes, his less-than-virtuosic trumpet/cornet, and a few other things. But I also find it awkward and ungainly, difficult and inaccessible -- things that the real fans are able to overlook. I must not be one anymore, which saddens me. B+(**)

Trio M [Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson]: Big Picture (2006 [2007], Cryptogramophone): Taking a clue from first names, they call themselves Trio M, but are established enough to keep their names on the spine. I figure the complex cerebral stuff is pianist Melford's and credit the bouncy bits to drummer Wilson. There's no doubt that the weird arco bass is Dresser's. He has a huge reputation, but rarely makes albums you can kick back and enjoy. This is the exception. A-

Evan Christopher: Delta Bound (2006 [2007], Arbors): A young student of the New Orleans clarinet tradition, starting with Lorenzo Tio Jr. and leading through Tony Parenti but with no explicit reference to George Lewis. Whereas most New Orleans jazz uses clarinet for contrast against the brass, this quartet, with Dick Hyman textbook perfect as usual, singles it out. For better or worse, without the competition Christopher never gets the chance to go wild. B+(**)

Muhal Richard Abrams: Vision Toward Essence (1998 [2007], Pi): An hour or so of solo piano, recorded live at Guelph in Canada, and a decade later acclaimed a masterpiece and finally released. I wax and wane on it: there are masterful bits, but an hour of nothing but piano can grow tedious, and there are also parts that seem designed to produce that effect. Abrams is an important figure, one I've long admired, but I have no way to gauge this. I guess I worry that it's over my head, or beyond my attention span, or (worse still) not quite as good as it ought to be. Could be any of those things. B+(**)


Unpacking (incomplete):

  • Charles Lloyd Quartet: Rabo De Nube (ECM): advance, Mar. 11

Purchases:

  • Steve Earle: Washington Square Serenade (New West)
  • Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard/Ray Price: Last of the Breed (Lost Highway, 2CD)
  • John Prine & Mac Wiseman: Standard Songs for Average People (Oh Boy)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Weekend Roundup

It's been one of those weeks where I had to focus on my own work and still managed to get disrupted. So not much collected here. In particular, nothing about the Iowa caucuses, which seem to indicate that Democrats at least are not only in a mood to take "change" as something more literal than a hoary cliché, they recognize that Clinton is a big part of what they want to change away from. I can't say that I'm much of a fan of what Obama says and does, but if change is your mantra, he's going to be tough to compete with.


Tariq Ali: My heart bleeds for Pakistan. On the succession, where Benazir Bhutto's so-called Pakistan People's Party was handed down to the dauphin (Bhutto's 19-year-old son), with crooked husband Asif Zardari acting as regent. One would think that a populist movement would have more options than a single (ethically dubious) aristocratic family.

Tariq Ali: Daughter of the West. A pre-assassination background piece on Benazir Bhutto. Ali has a book on Pakistan promised for early 2008. Events may be overwhelming the book, but such background is essential.

Dahr Jamail: Iraq Progresses to Some of Its Worst. Subtitle: "Despite all the claims of improvements, 2007 has been the worst year yet in Iraq. Jamail does covers most of the good news; e.g.:

By the end of 2007, attacks against occupation forces decreased substantially, but still number more than 2,000 monthly. Iraqi infrastructure, like supply of potable water and electricity are improving, but remain below pre-invasion levels. Similarly with jobs and oil exports. Unemployment, according to the Iraqi government, ranges between 60-70 percent.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Zula Mae Reed

Went to the funeral of Zula Mae Reed yesterday, in Dodge City, KS. She died on December 30 at age 85, after an extended illness. She was my father's first cousin. He probably had more cousins, but she was the only one we were close to. They were both born near Spearville, KS in 1922-23. Their parents were brothers, Robert and James Hull, and they grew up in Hodgeman County northwest of Spearville, on a piece of high prairie their grandfather Abraham Hull homesteaded in the 1870s. (In between there was an Abraham Lincoln Hull.) My father's family moved to Wichita in the 1940s, then his parents moved to a farm northwest of McPherson, KS (near where my grandmother came from), and that's where I first recall them living. For most of the first 15-20 years of my life, we managed to see Zula Mae, her husband Melvin, and two kids Sonia and Rick, 5-10 times a year. I remember they had a dairy farm for a while, then moved into Dodge City, where Zula Mae taught elementary school. Riding with Melvin to the dairy was an eye opening event. Trudging through the fields behind my dad hunting pheasant turned me off the sport forever.

I grew up in a family that held grade school teachers in the highest esteem. I don't know how doctors or professors might have compared, since we didn't know any -- one cousin became a lawyer, but moved far away and was remembered mostly for his basketball skills. It wasn't clear to me where this reverence came from. My parents grew up on farms and had little schooling, but it turns out that my father's parents had both taught, and teaching was a Hull sideline for several generations, alongside milling wheat and raising sheep. Anyhow, we had two teachers in the family: Zula Mae Reed and Freda Brown, the widow of mother's brother Allen. I was a precociously smart kid, and they quickly became my favorite relatives.

Not that I paid much heed to relatives or anyone else back then. I retreated into my room and books as a teenager, rejecting pretty much all around me, then moved far east as soon as I got a chance. Over the last 10-20 years I've gradually reacquainted myself with many of the relatives I shunned 40 years ago, and it's been a fascinating, gratifying venture. I've even toyed with the idea of writing a book on them, like Ian Frazier did in Family, but still know far too little.

Since we moved to Wichita in 1999, I've managed to get to Dodge City a few times. I talked to Zula Mae after Melvin died, and after my dad died. After my mother died, we drove to Arizona to see her last sister. I remembered a time when Zula Mae came to Wichita and talked us into going out for Chinese food, which at the time I had only eaten once or twice. So I made Dodge the first stop on our drive. I wanted to cook Chinese for her, and recreated for her what was actually the meal I had fixed for my mother on her last birthday: Szechuan chicken, dry-fried string beans, strange flavor eggplant, fried rice. The last time I saw her we made a tour of the area, stopping at their old farmhouse north of Dodge City -- abandoned and now decrepit, only skeletally akin to the farm I remembered; the old "Hull Ranch," with rubble from a house that was already decrepit with Uncle Otho lived there in the 1960s, huddled down in a rattlesnake-infested gulley that would have served the Dalton Brothers well; the Spearville cemetery with numerous Hull family markers. Went to that cemetery again yesterday.

I gather she had a very rough 2007, in and out of the hospital with pulmonary problems, the cigarettes she still smoked a couple of years ago eventually doing her in. I heard from her a year ago, and nearly every day thought I should write or call -- skills I never much had, atrophied further with email -- but I've had a pretty lousy 2007 myself, haven't traveled, and have lost touch with many others, all of us only getting older. The drive itself was easier than I remembered it, and we've done it hundreds of times in the past. We skirted through Greensburg for the first time since it was destroyed by a tornado last spring, and the wreckage -- especially the bare tree stumps -- is still vivid.

Got to spend some time with Zula Mae's children, who I hadn't seen in 40 years. They remembered us better than I expected, and they knew more about our shared roots than I do -- probably the result of sticking closer to the homestead. They also have long life stories, including grown children of their own. It would be a shame not to make something of this reconnection. Otherwise we're just left with a void as the old ones pass.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Idiotology

There were two opinion pieces in the Wichita Eagle yesterday. I don't know which was dumber, or more disgusting. The obvious frontrunner was Cal Thomas's Bhutto was a true patriot, where he waxes longingly on Benazir Bhutto's dark eyes and flawless skin, and gets all teary she knew and accepted the risks of returning to Pakistan because, he quotes her, "I love my country and my people." He then goes on to taunt another woman who falls short in the eyes and skin department: "[Bhutto's] example of [b]ravery is also a challenge to another woman, Hillary Clinton, whose true convictions are yet to be discovered." (I'm assuming here that "ravery" is a typo.)

Thomas is a craven Jesus freak, and this sort of demagoguery is his staple, although it's rare that he gets such a hard on over it. The column I found more annoying is the one by the normally sane ex-Eagle editor Davis Merritt, Norman gathering could be fresh start. This is about a gathering in Oklahoma to "focus on the real question that Americans care about: Why can't the world's richest and purest democracy solve its problems?" That's not a bad question, but the participants, for all their "high-grade political and governmental credentials and experience," are distinguished by their present or near-future unemployment: Democrats Sam Nunn, David Boren, Charles Robb; and Republicans Chuck Hagel, John Danforth, Christine Whitman. Merritt calls them moderates, but they smell more like road kill. What did them in was indeed the "uncompromising ideologies" Merritt bemoans, but he really should have stuck to the singular, because there's only one dog in that fight. The extreme right and the GOP have become one and the same, and it does no good to try to reform or moderate them from within the party or to compromise with them. We know from bitter experience that doing so is mere appeasement, which only encourages the right to get more aggressive. Given what the right has done, Boren's fellows have about as much credibility and relevance as Neville Chamberlain after the shooting started.

Michael Tomasky's latest New York Review of Books piece, They'd Rather Be Right, is a pretty level-headed survey of the state of the GOP right now, showing how their presidential candidates are imprisoned by the ideological conceits of their base -- nearly all of which have proved dysfunctional, disastrous, or worse. The result is that the candidates' rhetoric more often than not exceeds even the track record Bush has established. Merritt likes the idea of Michael Bloomberg running a third party candidacy, but the Republicans have abandoned so much middle ground that Clinton and Obama are already right of center -- only Edwards talks about anything remotely like class, even though the split there is more extreme than any time since the 1930s. The only thing that keeps Clinton from being recognized as the middle ground Merritt craves is the hateful abuse the right has heaped on her and her befuddled husband. She's certainly not ideological in any sense of the word: she sucks up to the rich, tries to accommodate anyone of influence, and straddles issues to muddle them into insignificance. I don't see how that can work, but given a choice between her and any Republican -- other than Ron Paul, who is ideological and does have a clear solution to one big problem -- she's automatic. At this point the right has to be stopped no matter what with.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Voice Jazz Poll

The results of Francis Davis's second annual Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll are posted here, with Davis's analysis and list. I wrote a sidebar piece with my top ten and a bit more. Also a non-list of interesting things by Phil Freeman, and a RIP list. Don't see the individual ballots yet.

If I find some time I'll write more about this, and maybe the Jazz Times year-end list. (Due to an office snafu, my Cadence subscription has lapsed, so I'd appreciate it if anyone can forward or can point me to their year-end poll.) For now I'll just point out that I have 7 of the top 50 (Maria Schneider, Herbie Hancock, Paul Motian, Charles Tolliver, Chris Potter [Song for Anyone], Mark Murphy, John Abercrombie) at B or lower -- Murphy a lot lower. Also that I haven't heard 6 (Miles Davis, Bill Holman, Matthew Shipp, Anthony Braxton, Tyshawn Sorey, Sonore -- some folks I'm exceptionally fond of in that list), and for that matter I missed 6 of 10 reissues, but only Sorey among the ranked niche albums. (Actually, I didn't get Bridgewater either, but for better or worse was able to stream the album from Rhapsody: a good vocal jazz album, but not great Malian pop.)


Dec 2007 Feb 2008