Friday, February 29, 2008
Three items from the Wichita Eagle this week.
Feb. 28: "Israelis retaliate with attack on Hamas in Gaza":
Israeli aircraft blasted Hamas government offices and metal shops
late Wednesday, killing a baby and wounding more than 30 people in a
retaliatory strike after a militant rocket killed an Israeli college
The bloodshed fed worries about a new outbreak of heavy fighting
between the Israeli army and militants in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the deadly rocket attack on the
college in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, which came a few hours
after two Israeli airstrikes killed seven people in Gaza, including
two senior commanders in the Hamas rocket operation.
Israel has used Palestinian rocket attacks to justify collective
punishment of Gaza, targeted assassinations, and random retaliation,
so they must be pleased that Hamas has so indulged them. As the cycle
makes clear, neither preëmptive attacks nor retaliation prevent the
rockets. The only thing that has worked has been a cease fire, which
Hamas had in place until they wearied of unanswered Israeli attacks.
What's notable about this piece is that it at least offers a bit of
context, showing the rocket attack as a response to an Israeli attack.
The arithmetic is still a bit of a problem: the number of Palestinians
killed by Israel in this 24-hour period was 30.
Also in Feb. 27 issue, a piece by Kevin G. Hall (McClatchy
Newspapers) called "Highest cost of war yet to come", about the
new book, The Three Trillion Dollar War, by Joseph Stiglitz
and Linda Bilmes. Note the White House response:
The White House doesn't care for the estimates by Stiglitz, a
former chief economist of the World Bank who's now a professor at
"People like Joe Stiglitz lack the courage to consider the cost of
doing nothing and the cost of failure. One can't even begin to put a
price tag on the cost to this nation of the attacks of 9/11," said
White House spokesman Tony Fratto, conceding that the costs of the war
on terrorism are high while questioning the premise of Stiglitz's
"It is also an investment in the future safety and security of
Americans and our vital national interests. $3 trillion? What price
does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the homeland that have already
been prevented? Or doesn't his slide rule work that way?"
Courage? That seems all the more kneejerk because it has no
conceivable relevance, unless Fratto means his dogged conviction
to ignore the consequences of the war regardless of cost. I have
no idea how to calculate the "cost of failure," but if such were
possible Stiglitz should add it to his $3 trillion baseline,
because failure is one of the few things that seems assured.
The "cost of doing nothing" is more hypothetical because we
didn't do nothing. What would have happened had we not responded
to 9/11 with Bush's Crusade is open to debate, but whatever it
is would have to be gauged against the $3 trillion baseline --
Stiglitz's scenarios go up to $7 trillion, and he probably hasn't
factored in the full 100 years McCain is hoping for.
The Feb. 27 Wichita Eagle had an article by Jonathan S. Landay
(McClatchy Newspapers) called "Pakistan to try talks, not fighting":
The secular party that won last week's elections in Pakistan's
North West Frontier Province plans to open peace talks with
al-Qaida-allied Islamic insurgents, a drastic departure from the
military crackdowns that the national army has pursued with
U.S. backing for the last five years.
The Awami National Party says army offensives in the tribal region
abutting the provine have killed, maimed and displaced untold numbers
of civilians, driven recruits into the arms of the radicals and helped
fuel a surge in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks across
"The war against terror has failed. So there should be no war,"
said Haji Mohammad Adeel, one of the party's most senior leaders. "The
only solution is peace. We will do it with negotiations, not with
bombs, not with guns, not with airstrikes."
A dangerous idea, sure to be anathema to Al-Qaeda and the US alike.
They are, after all, so much alike.
William F. Buckley, Jr., died, age 82. His father made a fortune
in Mexican oil, so he was born rich, a beneficiary of US imperialism.
He spent his whole long life defending his class and race, extolling
his religion, and promoting the militarism and imperialism that made
his pampered life possible. Or at least until recently, when the Iraq
war got to be a bit much, even for him.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Music: Current count 14215  rated (+4), 743  unrated (-4).
Came down with something flu-like Monday night, which wiped out the
entire week. Past the worst of it now, hopefully. Still don't feel
like doing much.
No Jazz Prospecting
Nothing to report this week. I came down with something flu-like
Monday night. Had a couple of very bad days, followed by a bunch of
merely bad days. Felt improved enough over the weekend I thought I
might get back to my routine today, but can't say as I feel up to
it at the moment. Even hacking out this little notice seems over my
head. Maybe best to leave it at that.
Unpacking: Got some things out of their envelopes, but didn't get
them listed. See next week.
Monday, February 18, 2008
A Taste of Interfaith Dialogue
We went to what was billed as "A Taste of Interfaith Dialogue"
last night, at Covenant Presbyterian Church in the suburban sprawl
out west. Up front was a panel of 11 of 12 people who went to Israel
in December. The group was "interfaith": three Jews (the rabbis of
the Reformed and Conservative synagogues, and the executive director
of the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation, evidently also a rabbi and an
Israeli citizen); two Muslims (a cop and an engineer who works for
the city, the former a Sunni from Kuwait, the latter a Shi'a from
Iran); Presbyterian and Methodist ministers, plus assorted Christian
laiety. The trip was at least partly occasioned by the question of
whether the Presbyterian church should divest from business involved
in Israel's occupation of Palestinian Territories. The three rabbis
who went on this trip spend much of their time here politicking for
Israel. They raised funds for the trip. Given their prior experience
in Israel, they should have been effective guides and minders.
The session started with two passes around the table, where each
talked about their favorite moments during the trip. Most of the
Christians talked about their awe at the holy sites, retracing the
steps of Jesus. The rabbis, somewhat condescendingly, talked about
being touched by the depth of the Christians' experiences, asserting
their common religious experience -- one went so far as to describe
Christianity as Judaism's "daughter religion." The muslims talked
about the fellowship of the group, how they recognized that we are
all one people. This polite, feel good facade fractured as soon as
the first question was raised. It was: in your travels, were you
able to experience anything that let you empathize with the state
Palestinians find themselves in? The Arab-American policeman, who
teaches Arabic and advises police departments throughout the state
on Arab issues, who as he put it is "in the security business,"
spoke first, and that's all it took for the conflict to take over
I didn't take notes, but I think only one subsequent question
was not on the conflict. The rabbis did their best to hold their
ground -- the Conservative one (originally from South Africa) was
combative, the others conciliatory, one lamely arguing that there
are only shades of gray in the conflict, the other (in a rare
moment of self-examination) admitting his inability to hear the
same human complexity from Palestinians that he easily discerned
in Israelis. The discussion remained at a friendly level, with
much agreement to disagree. What struck me wasn't the details,
let alone the arguments, but the simple fact that the legendary
Israeli hasbara, practiced in this case by skilled pros on a
well-meaning but relatively naive group of mere Americans, had
failed to work its magic.
In the end, the interfaith lesson is simple: getting us to
agree that we are all the same under God is easy; reconciling
that agreement with the Occupation is not.
Music: Current count 14211  rated (+27), 747  unrated (-5).
Spent the whole week pounding down jazz prospecting until I got sick of
it. Took a break streaming some new 2008 stuff from Rhapsody. Started
putting together a set of 2008 files for year end. Don't know how
consistently I'll be able to maintain them, but it's something to
hang what I'm working on. For now, I'll dump the Rhapsody reviews
here, as well as saving them up for periodic web posting -- no idea
how frequently I'll get to them.
- Drive-By Truckers: Brighter Than Creation's Dark
(2007 , New West): Nineteen songs here, what would have been
a double-LP in the old days, and like such hard to get your head
around it all. Especially given that the tunes are merely as good
as they have to be to support the words, and that I've never been
much good at focusing on the words. But most I notice, with "Bob"
and "Lisa's Birthday" and "Crystal Meth" and several others sinking
in. I hear Jason Isbell is gone, and girl singer Shonna Tucker pops
up on a couple of occasions, a curve I didn't expect and didn't
swing at. On the other hand, Christgau praised this, taking the
occasion to pan A Blessing and a Curse once more -- a record
I liked just fine. This is as good, maybe better.
- Hot Chip: Made in the Dark (2008, Astralwerks):
English group, electronic beats, not so fast or fancy as to move
them into the techno category, especially given that they set
cogent pop songs to them. Multiple voices, none prepossessing.
Several previous albums, including remixes. One line I recall:
"I'm only going to heaven if it feels like hell/I'm only going
to heaven if it tastes like caramel."
- The Magnetic Fields: Distortion (2008, Nonesuch):
Never much of a fan of 69 Love Songs, I find Stephin Merritt's
wit insufficiently funny, his songcraft too arch, his voice -- well,
it's too arch, too. His new move here is lo-fi distortion, which has
its moments -- the "California Girls" he hates so much is one. But
it also muddies even the lyrics, where "Zombie Boy" sounds so much
like "Tommie" I take it personally. Too much drinking. Not enough
Jazz Prospecting (CG #16, Part 4)
Transition week, with a lot of paperwork done to move on from
one column cycle to the next. Jazz Consumer Guide (15) came out in
the Village Voice last week. Most of those records have been kicking
around for the better part of a year, but lots of good things, worth
being reminded of. (Except for the duds, of course.) We've decided
to start printing grades with the duds, so for the record:
- Satoko Fujii Quartet: Bacchus (Onoff) C+
- Herbie Hancock: River: The Joni Letters (Verve) B-
- Miroslav Vitous: Universal Syncopations II (ECM) B-
Hancock won a Grammy between when I submitted the draft and its final
appearance. I've been wondering whether I was too harsh. To some extent,
my complaint boils down to arguing that a different record -- specifically
one with no vocals -- would have been much better. Or maybe a vocal album
could have been salvaged had the singers been more distinctive, but only
Leonard Cohen managed to break the mold (and he could hardly help it).
I stand by my grade, but predict that samplers will be listening to the
Wayne Shorter solos.
The Fujii Quartet is the same group as put out Zephyros, one
of her best albums (When We Were There is another), so the drop
was especially noteworthy. Vitous slipped by no reconvening the group
behind his original Universal Syncopations. The substitutes fall
short on every count, and his sampling doesn't make up for it.
It looks like I'll be able to by with no "Dud of the Month" going
forward. Also looks like April will be open for the next Jazz Consumer
Guide column. Whether the quicker pace can be sustained isn't clear,
but for now I'm almost ready, and Francis Davis is on leave.
Another intense week of jazz prospecting. Items with bracketed
grades have been shelved for another round. There are more than
usual; at this point in the cycle I feel more like working fast
through the incoming queues. It actually looks like I've gotten
through more than half of my backlog. One, maybe two more weeks
like this, and I'll start trying to nail the column down.
Maceo Parker: Roots & Grooves (2007 ,
Heads Up, 2CD): An alto saxophonist, Parker has played on dozens
of great albums, but he's never put his name on one before. He
joined James Brown in 1964, then moved on to George Clinton in
1975 and back to Brown in 1984. Both leaders spun off instrumental
albums, first as the J.B.'s, then as the Horny Horns. Since 1989
Parker has recorded a dozen albums, mostly underachieving the
modest goals announced in their titles: Roots Revisited,
Mo' Roots, Life on Planet Groove, Funk Overload,
etc. This looked like another, until I popped it in and it blasted
off into "Hallelujah I Love Her So." First disc is titled "Tribute
to Ray Charles," and works through "Busted," "Hit the Road Jack,"
a few more, climaxing with "What'd I Say." Parker sings a few --
he's more Cleanhead Vinson than Ray Charles, but that works for
me. Parker doesn't have the direct connection that Fathead Newman
has, but he started out when Charles was laying the foundation his
whole career was built on. Second disc is called "Back to Funk":
five originals and "Pass the Peas" from J.B.'s days. It's less
obvious and every bit as exciting. The secret in both cases is
the band. Directed by Michael Abene, the WDR Big Band Köln will
play anything with anyone -- their purpose, after all, is to
crank out radio shots with visiting dignitaries -- and they've
never amounted to much, but they have a ball here. Maybe it's
too easy: Charles ran a big band himself, and scaling Parker's
grooves up to J.B.-size is as obvious as it is fun. Parker
gloats in the dêjà vu. With Charles and Brown gone, he's just
the guy to honor them. [Note: Don't know when this was recorded.
Album appears to have been released in Europe in 2007, and
reissued in US by Heads Up, which has been picking up quite
a bit of WDR Big Band material.]
Horace Silver: Live at Newport '58 (1958 ,
Blue Note): I'm glad that Blue Note keeps digging old concert
tapes up: the 1956 Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane set was a real
find; the 1964 Charles Mingus/Eric Dolphy didn't really deliver
the historical import or musical interest attributed to it --
quite a bit of later material from the same group has been out
for a long time -- but was good to have nonetheless. This one
is slighter than the others in terms of historical interest,
but delightful in its own minor ways. Silver's group included
Louis Smith on trumpet, a little recorded interlude between
Donald Byrd and Blue Mitchell. The rest are: Junior Cook on
tenor sax, Gene Taylor on bass, Louis Hayes on drums, and Silver,
of course, on piano. Only four cuts, with the marvelous "Señor
Blues" the shortest at 8:42 (not much longer than the earlier
studio version) and "Tippin'" topping out at 13:10 (more than
double the studio version). The extra space is put to good use
by the horns and piano, but this doesn't add much for anyone
familiar with Silver. The earlier Six Pieces of Silver,
with Byrd and Hank Mobley, has 3 of 4 songs; the later Doin'
the Thing is an even better sample of Silver live. I can't
recommend this over either, but it doesn't miss by much, and
it would be churlish to scare anyone away from this "Señor
Blues," some marvelous piano, and the chance to hear Smith.
Buddy DeFranco: Charlie Cat 2 (2006 , Arbors):
Born 1923, DeFranco came up in the swing bands of Gene Krupa and
Charlie Barnet, but adapted to bebop, one of the few young reed
players to stick with the instrument. He started recording around
1952, his output waxing and waning with business cycles, but he
pretty much always sounds the same: the bright tone and fleet
dynamics you remember from the swing masters, occasionally showing
off his bebop moves. He hasn't recorded a lot lately, but sounds
fine here -- well supported with Howard Alden and often Joe Cohn
on guitar, Derek Smith on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, Ed Metz Jr.
on drums, and Lou Soloff adding some contrast on trumpet.
Howard Alden and Ken Peplowski's Pow-Wow (2006
, Arbors): I still think of Alden as a young guy, but he's
pushing 50 now. He came up well after bop became postbop, so he
never had to pay much heed to it, developing a swing style on
guitar that never really existed before -- real swing guitarists
(unless you count Charlie Christian, which most don't, or Django
Reinhardt and Eddie Lang, other stories completely) played rhythm.
(Oh yeah, George Van Eps was an influence, a pretty obscure one.)
He has a couple dozen albums since 1985. Peplowski plays clarinet
and tenor sax, where swing traditions are much clearer. He's a
year younger, also has a couple dozen albums. Don't know how many
times they've played together before -- at least 11 times, but
working in the same circles with each over 100 credits there are
doubtless more. This isn't even their first duo: they did one in
Concord's Duo Series in 1992 (which my records say I have ungraded
but I can't find). I'm not much of a duo fan, but works out pretty
well. Peplowski has a knack for tracing out clear melodies even
solo. Alden can pick him up with some rhythm, fill out his lines,
or add something on his own. The album wanders around quite a bit,
mixing Bill Evans with Ellington, Bud Powell with Cole Porter,
hopping off to "Panama."
Al Basile: Tinge (2007 , Sweetspot):
Born 1948 in Haverhill, MA. Learned trumpet as a teenager, but
majored in physics at Brown, and seems to have had a spotty
musical resume until he started recording in 1998. Played
trumpet in Roomful of Blues 1973-75. Started singing in clubs
in Providence in 1977. Has six albums now. Don't know about
the others, but this one, with Duke Robillard producing and
playing guitar, is straight blues with a dash of Jelly Roll
Morton providing the title. Basile's liner notes include
references to Louis Armstrong and Cootie Williams. Smart,
ZMF Trio: Circle the Path (2005 , Drip
Audio): ZMF stands for Jesse Zubot (violin), Jean Martin (drums),
Joe Fonda (bass). Label describes them as international: Zubot is
from Vancouver, Martin from Toronto, Fonda is well known on the
avant-garde in New York. Zubot is also involved in the rockish
Fond of Tigers group, and he runs the label, which has branched
out beyond his own work -- a few more items are on my shelf,
including a new John Butcher album, and he seems to have something
by Leroy Jenkins in the pipeline. Other than that, don't know
much about him. This is avant, by turns aggressive and moody.
Martin wrote one piece, Fonda three, Zubot four. The only outside
credit is to Anthony Braxton. Didn't catch enough of it first
time through, but will play more.
John Butcher/Torsten Muller/Dylan van der Schyff: Way Out
Northwest (2007 , Drip Audio): Recorded in Vancouver
by local drummer van der Schyff. Butcher is an English avant-garde
saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano here. Has a PhD in theoretical
physics (thesis: "Spin effects in the production and weak decay
of heavy Quarks"). He has a long list of records, and is well known
to anyone who reads The Penguin Guide more assiduously than
The Bible, although few others are likely to have even heard
of them. I've only heard three albums myself, nothing I much cared
for, but hardly a representative sample. Müller (umlaut omitted
here) is a bassist, b. 1957 in Hamburg, Germany, but since 2001
based in Vancouver. Müller has no albums of his own, but pops up
all over the place, a notable common denominator here being his
relationship with the late trombonist Paul Rutherford, to whom
this record is dedicated. This is pretty rough free music, very
democratic, or maybe I mean anarchic. One thing I rate avant
records on is their crossover potential, and this clearly fails
on that account. On the other hand, sometimes I like something
perversely difficult I chuck my normal standards. This gorgeous
ugly mess may be one of them.
The Inhabitants: The Furniture Moves Underneath
(2007, Drip Audio): Vancouver group: JP Carter (trumpet), Dave
Sikula (guitar), Pete Schmitt (bass), Skye Brooks (drums), with
use of effects by the first three. Carter and Brooks are also
in Fond of Tigers. Quasi-rockish instrumentals, starting off
loud and brash, mellowing out later. The latter pieces with
their ripened textures are more pleasing, and marginally more
Steven Bernstein: Diaspora Suite (2007 ,
Tzadik): Trumpet player, refers to Oakland as his hometown in
liner notes here, although he's better known in New York. Credits
include Lounge Lizards, Sex Mob, Robert Altman's Kansas City
band, Baby Loves Jazz band, Millennial Territory Orchestra.
This is his fourth Diaspora title in Tzadik's Radical Jewish
Culture series. They refer back to sephardic folk songs, sometimes
reframed in terms of where the diaspora found themselves, as with
Diaspora Hollywood. This one jelled conceptually when the
Kansas City band reunited after Robert Altman's death --
something about setting the scene then letting the improvisations
fly. Large group: hype sheet refers to it as a nonet, but I count
ten musicians -- possibly explained by a hint in the liner notes
that Will Bernard added his "guitar sweeteners" after the fact.
The group swallowed the Nels Cline Singers whole, with extra
guitar and percussion, Ben Goldberg's clarinets, Peter Apfelbaum's
tenor sax (or flute, or qarqabas, evidently metal castanets from
Morocco), Jeff Cressman's trombone. I thought it sounded fabulous
first time through, but haven't caught the mood since. Will keep
it in play.
The Jack & Jim Show Presents: Hearing Is Believing
(2005 , Boxholder): First, I have to admit that I had never
heard of Jimmy Carl Black. Turns out that he was best known for being
in my least favorite band of the twentieth century, the Mothers of
Invention, usually filed under the bandleader's name, Frank Zappa,
but his website discography totals 77 albums without getting past
2002. Black played drums, and introduced himself as "the Indian of
the group." Later he had a band called Geronimo Black. Anyhow, he's
the Jim. Jack must be guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, who I have heard
of and rarely heard -- his website discography claims 180 records,
so I haven't heard much. Together since 1995 as the Jack & Jim
Show they have 8 previous albums. Might as well list them to get
a whiff: Locked in a Dutch Coffeeshop, Pachuco Cadaver,
Uncle Jimmy's Master Plan, The Early Years, The
Perfect C&W Duo's Tribute to Jesse Helms, The Taste of
the Leftovers, 2001: A Spaced Odyssey, Reflections
and Experiences of Jimi Hendrix. They do a mix of deconstructed
parodies (including three Beatles songs; one each from Marvin Gaye,
Tim Hardin, and Dizzy Gillespie) and perverse protest songs ("Cheney's
Hunting Ducks" is a choice cut, "Girl From Al-Qaeda" is abducted and
held hostage from Jobim and Getz). Chadbourne plays some extreme
skronk guitar, and Oxford avant-gardist Pat Thomas slums with some
amusing keyboards. Title parses as: you won't believe this until
you hear it.
Bobby Few: Lights and Shadows (2004 ,
Boxholder): Pianist, born in Cleveland in 1935, followed Albert
Ayler to New York in 1962 and headed further east in 1969 to
France, where he teamed up with Steve Lacy. Still in Paris,
with a sizable discography. This one's solo, original improvs
except for a Lacy piece. My usual caveats about solo piano
apply, including my difficulty finding words, but this strikes
me as well above average, the work of someone who's spent a
lot of time digesting Lacy's oeuvre, itself built on the work
of pianists Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols.
Jason Kao Hwang/Edge: Stories Before Within
(2007 , Innova): Hwang was born in the US (Waukegan, IL),
of Chinese extraction. He made a strong effort to master Chinese
classical music, but now works mostly in avant jazz. He plays
violin, often with a Chinese inflection. He has several records
I've been very impressed by -- e.g., Ravish Momin's Climbing
the Banyan Tree. Group here: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Ken
Filiano (bass), Andrew Drury (drums). Bynum was a student of
Anthony Braxton, and still plays with Braxton -- I've tried to
get hold of some of his material, thus far to no avail. Filiano,
as I've mentioned many times by now, always seems to show up on
good records. Got distracted in the middle of writing this and
lost my thread, but I wanted to give it more time anyway.
The David Finck Quartet: Future Day (2007 ,
Soundbrush): Bassist, from Philadelphia I think, studied in
Rochester, settled in New York. First album as leader, but he's
done quite a bit of studio work: his website lists 122 albums
going back to 1980; AMG comes up with more. He's worked with a
lot of singers, mostly pop -- he flags 5 gold and 4 platinum
albums, including Rod Stewart's Great American Songbook
series -- but also Rosemary Clooney, Harry Connick Jr., Mark
Murphy, Peter Cincotti, and one album with Sheila Jordan. Some
other credits include Steve Kuhn, Paquito D'Rivera, Claudio
Roditti, and André Previn, who praises him lavishly. He wrote
two pieces here, with four more from the band, and six covers.
Starts off with a nice bass groove, and much of the album is
deliriously upbeat. Locke's strong suit is the way he interacts
with pianists, effectively turning the two of them into one
supersplashy instrument. Jeremy Pelt (trumpet) and Bob Sheppard
(tenor sax) appear here and there as special guests. I didn't
keep score -- you don't really notice them until you realize
that things have slowed down a bit, which probably isn't a
The Joe Locke Quartet: Sticks and Strings (2007
, Jazz Eyes): No piano for once, actually a nice change of
pace. The strings are Jonathan Kreisberg's electric and acoustic
guitars and Jay Anderson's bass. The sticks would be drummer
Joe La Barbera and the vibraphonist. The mix is unusual, with
Kreisberg providing texture and Locke accents. (AMG compares
this to Gary Burton/Pat Metheny, which if memory serves isn't
right at all.)
Jerry Leake: Vibrance: Jazz Vibes & World Percussion
(2005-06 , Rhombus Publishing): Leake teaches percussion with
an insatiable desire to span the world, writes books about it, and
produces CDs that could function as textbooks. Although vibraphone
is front and center here, his credits include a couple dozen other
percussion objects from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The only
other players are Jonathan Dimond on electric bass and Lisa Leake
with a couple of rather odd vocals -- two Jobim songs in the first
semester ("Theme 1: jazz/latin & world percussion") and "My
Funny Valentine" in the second ("Theme 2: standard jazz"). The
extras tend to distract. Lots of everything here, but short on
focus. Leake has an interesting approach to vibes.
Marc Copland: The New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 2: Voices
(2006 , Pirouet): Pianist, originally from Philadelphia, based in
New York, closing in on 60 now. Always well regarded. I've only heard a
couple of his records, and don't have Vol. 1 to compare this one
to. What I've heard before struck me as good, and this as better. One
could say that by association at least he's moved into the front ranks
of contemporary pianists: he's working here with Gary Peacock (as he
has many times in the past) and Paul Motian (who has a Hall of Fame
career making pianists look good, starting with Bill Evans; Copland's
usual drummers have been Billy Hart and Bill Stewart). One of those
quietly unassuming piano records that sneaks up on you, never hitting
a false note, full of subtle nuances, the only thing we've come to
expect from masters like Peacock and Motian.
James Silberstein: Expresslane (2008, CAP): Guitarist.
Not much bio info, just that he's been "a working pro on the New York
scene for the past 25 years." Second album. AMG doesn't list any more
credits. He has a nice loping rhythm and clean tone, but doesn't run
off much, mostly because he has a lot of help here. Most important is
bassist Harvie S (né Swartz), who wrote some, arranged more, and keeps
the rhythm running, often with tricks he picked up mastering Latin
jazz. Horns come and go: Eric Alexander's tenor sax, Jim Rotondi's
trumpet and flugelhorn, Steve Davis' trombone, Anne Drummond's flute.
Kate McGarry scats on one of the two flute tunes, which barely survives
on the strength of S's bassline. Website points out that this hit #13
on the radio charts in its first week. This kind of mix up is typical
of a radio focus -- something for everyone -- but doesn't help over
the course of an album. [PS: Got ahead of myself here: last piece is
a 2:04 solo, a good example of his guitar.]
Kelly Brand Nextet: The Door (2008, Origin):
Pianist, based in Chicago. Fourth album. Composed and arranged
all except for a Wayne Shorter piece. Several songs have lyrics,
which are sung by Mari Anne Jayme. Postbop group, with trumpet,
tenor sax/flute, cello, bass, and drums. Smart, even tempered,
carefully poised. Hype sheet quotes someone calling this
"noteworth craftsmanship and flowing serene energy"; another:
"elaborate, listener-friendly pieces that score points for
both poise and intellect." Neither quote stretches far.
Hendrik Meurkens: Sambatropolis (2007 , Zoho):
Parents were Dutch, but he was born in Hamburg, Germany. Studied at
Berklee, became fascinated with Brazilian music in early 1980s, and
has played little else since. Started on vibraphone, but that's
become his second instrument now (5 of 11 tracks), behind harmonica.
Has 17 albums since 1990, the new title a neat bookend to his first,
either Sambahia (according to AMG) or Sambaimportado
(his website). They seem to be averaging out. While he brings a new
instrument to Brazilian music, he winds up just folding it into the
signature light beat and lazy melodies.
Marcos Ariel: 4 Friends (2007, Tenure): Brazilian
pianist, from Rio de Janeiro. Recorded his first record, Bambu,
in 1981. Divides his time between Rio and Los Angeles. First I've
heard of him, and I don't have a good feel for his discography.
May be inclined toward progressive or fusion -- he classifies
himself on MySpace as "Nu-Jazz / Down-tempo / Lounge." This is
a Brazil-rooted jazz quartet -- piano (Ariel), guitar (Ricardo
Silveira), bass (João Baptista), drums (Jurim Moreira) -- with a
twist when Ariel moves to synth and starts pumping in fake horn
sections. The synth parts are a bit off, partly undeveloped, but
mostly because his piano is so crisply rhythmic. Also because it
complement Silveira, who is as superb as ever.
Machan: Motion of Love (2007, Nu Groove): Singer,
plays guitar, writes her own songs. As far as I can tell -- numerous
expletives about Flash, MySpace, etc. deleted -- she comes from
Japanese parents, grew up in the US, and, well, hell if I know.
Says somewhere she was inspired by Joni Mitchell and James Taylor;
she's appeared with Pink Floyd and George Benson, and toured with
Sting (presumably as a backup singer). Second album. Some jazz
players on board here, such as John Scofield, Randy Brecker, John
Medeski, Nanny Assis. Sounds like a pop record to me, but with a
cool breezy groove.
Raya Yarbrough (2006 , Telarc):
Singer-songwriter, from Los Angeles. First album, eponymous, like
a star the whole world has just been waiting for, a simple revelation
of her just being herself. Most jazz singers are interpreters, partly
because they've been driven out of rock and pop by songwriters who
have found their adequate voices workable. But latey we've seen a
few singer-songwriters slotted as jazz, a bit of niche marketing
that rarely seems appropriate (but sure paid off for Norah Jones).
Yarbrough is part of that incursion, but she's also got a terrific
voice, and her jazz moves are better than Amy Winehouse's. Starts
off with a blues, "Lord Knows I Would," that had me thinking she
could crack the A-list, although I was still a bit worried about
all the special guests, many armed with string instruments. By
the time the record ended, I was thinking she could be as flat
out annoying as Meatloaf. Clearly an uncommon talent. Don't know
what the hell to do with her yet.
Diane Hoffman: My Little French Dancer (2006 ,
Savsomusic): Singer. Born and raised in Cambridge, MA; passed through
California on way to New York. Looks like she has one previous album,
although it's not mentioned on her website. (MySpace page shows the
first, Someone in Love.) This at least is a straightforward
jazz vocal album. She has the voice, the nuances, the sense of humor,
the repertoire. Well, almost the repertoire -- songs are a little
weak, but at least not beat to death.
Greg Ruggiero: Balance (2006 , Fresh Sound
New Talent): Guitarist: credits here read: electric/acoustic/classical
guitars & vocalisms. Not sure what the latter are. Born 1977,
Albuquerque. Based in Brooklyn since 2004. First album. Quintet,
with Rob Wilkerson (alto sax), Frank LoCrasto (piano, keyboards),
Matt Brewer (bass), Tommy Crane (drums/percussion). They form a
small circle, playing in each other's bands -- Wilkerson had a
nice album on FSNT a couple years ago. This one has a sort of
pastoral-industrial feel -- factory rhythms slowed down, rocking
gently back and forth, spread out with soft, lulling tones;
pleasantly engaging background music, nonetheless interesting
when you notice it.
Jostein Gulbrandsen: Twelve (2006 , Fresh
Sound New Talent): Norwegian guitarist, based in New York since
2001, Manhattan School of Music guy. First album, quartet, with
Jon Irabagon (tenor sax, clarinet), Eivind Opsvik (bass), Jeff
Davis (drums). First thing I noticed was how much I liked the
sax, the way it stretched time out into fractured, disjoint
slabs. Turns out I've run across Irabagon before but forgot
the name: he's in Moppa Elliott's Mostly Other People Do the
Killing, my current leading contender for a pick hit slot. A
couple of songs later the guitar came into better focus, but
he's hard to pigeonhole -- of the usual list of influences on
his MySpace page I only hear Jim Hall and Wolfgang Muthspiel,
and not much of either. More strong sax follows. A very bent
cover of "Message in a Bottle." A bass solo -- Opsvik is a
name I do recall, shows up on a lot of good records. Slow
guitar solo to close. Either a strong HM or better.
Peter Van Huffel Quintet: Silvester Battlefield
(2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Saxophonist, plays alto
and soprano here, from Canada, now in Brooklyn. Quintet has a
previous 2005 EP. Van Huffel has a 2003 album, Mind Over
Matter, and a couple of group records, but this is the
first I've heard. Quintet adds guitar (Scott DuBois), piano
(Jesse Stacken), bass (Michael Bates), drums (Jeff Davis). This
is postbop pushed a bit toward the edge, fairly adventurous
stuff bit by bit, but it also sounds ordinarily adventurous --
bit by bit, stuff I'm used to hearing.
The Roy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite (2007
, AUM Fidelity): The only time I tempted to visit New York
for live jazz is when the Vision Festival is on. For several years
I was seeing very selective compilations from the concert series.
Lately we're starting to see more full concerts, such as this one,
subtitled Live at Vision Festival XII. Campbell plays
trumpet and its relatives, and picks up something called an
arguhl (a two-tube "clarinet") to flavor his Egyptian themes --
beyond the title suite, he plays "Pharoah's Revenge" and "Sunset
on the Nile." Born 1952 in Los Angeles, moved east in the late
1970s, joining Jemeel Moondoc's Muntu Ensemble, hooking up with
various William Parker projects, including Other Dimensions in
Music. This is Campbell's 7th album since 1991 under his own
name, but there are more albums with him in a leading role,
and lots more joining in. Group here includes Bryan Carrott on
vibes, Hilliard Greene on bass, Zen Matsuura on drums, and
Billy Bang on violin. Bang makes the difference, his natural
swing propelling the album as unstoppably as the Nile, but
the vibraharp accents kick it off in surprising directions.
Rob Brown Ensemble: Crown Trunk Root Funk (2007
, AUM Fidelity): Born 1962 in Virginia, based in New York,
plays alto sax, mostly in William Parker projects like the Little
Huey Orchestra, In Order to Survive, and the extraordinary Quartet
behind O'Neal's Porch and Sound Unity, expanded to
Raining on the Moon and expanded again. He's been building
up a catalog under his own name, now up to 19 titles, mostly duos
or trios on very small labels. He plays fast and fierce, thrilling
when it all comes together. This group was assembled for a Vision
Festival show, then reconvened in the studio, where they play 7
Brown originals. Craig Taborn (piano, electronics), William Parker
(bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- terrific rhythm section, they
keep Brown flying all through the session, or soaring gracefully
on the rare spots when they slow down a bit.
A- [Mar. 11]
Cindy Blackman: Music for the New Millennium
(2008, Sacred Sound, 2CD): Drummer, born 1959 in Ohio, raised in
Connecticut, studied at Berklee and with Alan Dawson. Has a pile
of records as a leader: 4 on Muse, 3 on High Note. Don't know
when this was recorded (AMG lists whole thing as 2004, which
looks to be wrong). Quartet, with JD Allen on tenor sax, Carlton
Holmes on keyboards, George Mitchell on bass. AMG classifies
Blackman as hard bop, which seems fair: this is solid mainstream
fare with nothing aiming towards postbop. Blackman's drumming is
heightened in the mix, but not heavy handed. It's her record,
and shows her off well. I'm even more impressed with Allen. He's
got a distinct tone, commanding presence, can move around and
flash some muscle. From Detroit, about 33, has two albums I
haven't heard -- the one called Pharoah's Children most
likely has nothing to do with Sanders.
The Klobas/Kesecker Ensemble: No Gravity (2007 ,
KKEnsemble): Bay Area group. Klobas plays bass, has a classical
background as well as some jazz credits, teaches at Cal State
Hayward. Kesecker plays vibes and marimba. He's played with
Zakir Hussain in the past, and Hussain returns the favor here,
gaining a front cover "guest artist" notice. Hussain's tabla
doesn't stand out all that much, but contributes to the fertile
rhythms. The non-guest who does stand out is saxophonist Gene
Burkert. He's credited with woodwinds here, given no further
specifics. His tenor sax powers through the first piece, the
perfect foil for the rhythmic accents. His other horns are
less impressive, but the record picks up whenever the tenor
returns. Having trouble (some merely technical) getting more
info on these guys. Fun record. Amusing cover shot -- grins
Keith Marks: Foreign Funk (2006 , Markei):
Reported to be "a 35 year veteran of the entertainment business,"
but this looks like the first album under his name. AMG has some
very scattered credits: Beaver Harris, Jerry Goodman, Tommy Shaw,
Wishbone Ash, Styx. Harris is pretty obscure these days, but he
was a drummer with a pan-African orientation working on the avant
fringes, leading a group called The 360 Degree Music Experience.
Someone could make something out of that. As for the others, I
guess money's green. Marks plays flute. He gets a nice airy sound
out of it, and it's not really the problem, although it is kind
of limited. The problem is the songs, which pace the title cut,
are neither foreign (world would be more politically correct, and
for once smarter to boot) nor funky: low points include "Mission
Impossible," "Eleanor Rigby," and that old Seals & Croft
barfer, "Summer Breeze."
B- [Apr. 1]
Melody Breyer-Grell: Fascinating' Rhythms: Singing
Gershwin (2008, Rhombus): Singer, born in New York,
raised on Long Island. Don't know when, or how long she spent
"honing in on her skills" -- her web bio doesn't offer much
for a timeline, but she emerged in 2004 with an album called
The Right Time (Blujazz), and this is her second.
Gershwin songs, hard to go wrong there. Strong voice, able
to spin some nuance that I don't always like. First half
she seems game to challenge the standards head on, and she
gets plenty of help from her band, especially saxophonist
Don Braden. Toward the end she feels the need to try to do
something a bit different. She talks her way through much
of "They All Laughed," then sandwiches "Embraceable You"
and "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Score some points for
interest and form. Try not to think too much about Ella.
B+(*) [Mar. 4]
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Avatar (2007 , Blue Note):
Cuban pianist, has a long string of records since 1990, and should
by now be considered one of the world's major jazz pianists. Rather
straight jazz quintet, with Yosvany Terry (various saxophones),
Mike Rodriguez (trumpet), Matt Brewer (bass), and Marcus Gilmore
(drums). Most of the kinks come from the pianist himself, whose
deftness at shifting rhythms, at breaking the flow with abrupt
stops and starts, is unique. Terry continues to impress. Not as
immediately appealing as his last group album, Paseo, but
part of that is added complexity. Still working on it.
Frank Kimbrough: Air (2003-07 , Palmetto):
Pianist, part of the Jazz Composers Collective circle in New York.
Has 8-10 records since 1988, plus a fair amount of session work --
his role in Maria Schneider's orchestra may be a draw. I've heard
a couple, and haven't heard much in them. This solo set started
promising, but didn't sustain my interest. But that's usually the
case with solo piano, so I'm not sure what this proves.
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further
listening the first time around.
- Ben Allison & Man Size Safe: Little Things Run the World (Palmetto)
- Sam Barsh: I Forgot What You Taught Me (RazDaz/Sunnyside)
- Walt Blanton: Monuments (Origin)
- Paul Bley Trio: Closer (1965, ESP-Disk)
- Hadley Caliman: Gratitude (Origin)
- Lisle Ellis: Sucker Punch Requiem: An Homage to Jean-Michael Basquiat (Henceforth)
- Amos Hoffman: Evolution (RazDaz/Sunnyside)
- Bob James Trio: Explosions (1964, ESP-Disk)
- Lindha Kallerdahl: Gold (ESP-Disk)
- Adam Kolker: Flag Day (Sunnyside): Mar. 25
- Steve Lacy: The Forest and the Zoo (1966, ESP-Disk)
- Eric McPherson: Continuum (Smalls)
- New York Art Quartet (1964, ESP-Disk)
- Mitch Paliga: Fall Night (Origin)
- Sacha Perry: The Third Time Around (Smalls)
- The Puppini Sisters: The Rise & Fall of Ruby Woo (Verve)
- Vince Seneri: The Prince's Groove (Prince V): Mar. 1
- Tom Tallitsch: Medicine Man (OA2)
- Spirits in the Material World: A Reggae Tribute to the Police (Shanachie)
- Nick Vayenas: Synesthesia (World Culture Music): Feb. 26
- Bobby Watson: From the Heart (Palmetto): advance, no idea
- Whit Williams: Featuring Slide Hampton and Jimmy Heath (MAMA)
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Jazz Consumer Guide (#15): Surplus
At the end of each Jazz Consumer Guide cycle I have a lot of
paperwork to do. Most of this is only of interest to me. I do
things like moving my notes from the print and flush files for
the previous cycle to the notebook, where it's easier for me
to find them. The thing that takes the most work is making a
pass through my "done" file -- the notes repository for all of
the records that I've rated, haven't written up reviews for,
but think I still might want to. Usually what happens is that
the done file grows up to around 120 records. I only have space
to review about 30 per column, so that's four columns worth,
not even counting the new records will that will come in during
the meantime. I figure that of those 120 I will at most wind
up using 40, so it does no harm to cut the file back to 60-80.
It just forces me to cope with reality.
The problem is, those records didn't get cut when I first
rated them for a reason: usually that they're pretty good and
deserve at least the Honorable Mention treatment. There are a
few exceptions that I hold back for possible Dud treatment,
but they are a tiny fraction. There are lots of reasons why
good records don't make it to the column. I used to figure
that if Francis Davis covered a record in the Village Voice
I needn't merely concur, but I wound up losing track of what
Davis does, so that's less of an excuse. I also tended to
scratch off records that I reviewed in Recycled Goods, but
I won't have that excuse any longer. I do prefer covering new
jazz in Jazz CG, but I'm starting to work more old records in,
and that will probably continue. So more and more, my reasons
aren't all that good or clean cut. At the high end, they come
down to age, lack of inspiration, and faulty memory. I also
try to whittle from the bottom end, leaving only things that
have some special interest. Even they tend to get cut as they
get old. It's not so much that I think the timeliness is so
important to the reader as I figure it shows some marginal
loss of interest on my part.
When I do the surplus cut, I find that in most cases what
I've already written in Jazz Prospecting suffices. But in a
few cases I feel like adding a few more words, maybe even a
bit of explanation. These extra notes follow:
Ralph Alessi & This Against That: Look (2005
, Between the Lines): I hate pulling the plug on this, but
it's one high HM I did go back and play again and again, but never
managed to get anything written about it. Alessi has repeatedly
distinguished himself as a sideman, and that has some relevance
here. His leads are as tight and tasteful as his support work,
only here they're supposed to stand out front. Complex, difficult
postbop -- I can't begin to enumerate the interesting ideas. Only
a couple of minor flat spots kept it from the A-list, and in any
case it deserves a listen. I'm only kicking it off because I'm not
up to it, and I'm getting tired of the pressure.
Richie Barshay: Homework (2004-05 , AYVA):
Picked this up on the rebound along with Francisco Mela (q.v.).
Both guys are drummers who can do a lot of different things,
and stuff their debut albums so full of it they wind up feeling
like recitals or clinics. I like this one a shade more, but
never found much to say about it. He's a talent to keep an
Tony DeSare: Last First Kiss (2006 , Telarc):
Slick, handsome, he's my favorite Sinatra wannabe. Young enough he
may figure Prince and Carole King were part of Tin Pan Alley. Two
good albums down. I'll catch him one of these days.
Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd Quartet: Early and Late
(1962-2002 , Cuneiform, 2CD): Previously unreleased work
from the 1962 quartet that recorded School Days, an album
that much later provided Ken Vandermark with a group name, and
from the 1999-2002 reunion that recorded Monk's Dream.
Both were major figures in the intervening decades, although
Rudd had a rougher time, for a while making ends meet playing
nostalgia bands in the Catskills. This only loses out to the
space crunch: Francis Davis covered it in the Voice, I wrote
it up in Recycled Goods, and it's been sitting a while.
Francisco Mela: Melao (2005 , AYVA):
I only found out about this Boston-based Cuban drummer after his
album won the Village Voice Jazz Poll's debut category. One reason
it won was that for a debut album it had a lot of star power: Joe
Lovano, George Garzone, Anat Cohen, Lionel Loueke. Getting to it so
late I never spent enough time sorting it out -- "an embarrassment
of riches," I called it. Haven't touched it in a long time since.
Golda Solomon: Word Riffs (2006, JazzJaunts):
Spoken word poet with jazz accompaniment. I tracked this down
looking for background after I heard her on saxophonist Saco
Yasuma's Another Rain, and it's more of what intrigued
me in the first place.
Abram Wilson: Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta
(2007, Dune): Dune is an English label trying to break a peculiarly
English form of Contemporary Jazz -- one based on hip-hop, reggae, maybe
some African pop, something far hipper than any American label of similar
ambitions would risk. I applaud the idea, but the realization has been
more miss than hit thus far. A couple of years back saxophonist Soweto
Kinch released a pretty good but deeply flawed album, while trumpeter
Abram Wilson dropped a really bad one. Last year they traded places,
with Kinch going deeper into hip-hop and getting lost, while Wilson
rediscovered his footing in New Orleans. I wrote up Kinch as a dud.
Figured I'd soften the blow with this as an HM, but didn't get it done.
Sorry about that.
Yerba Buena Stompers: Dawn Club Favorites (2001,
Stomp Off): The first of five Stomp Off albums I got as background
on this fine trad jazz group. Their model is Lou Watters' Yerba
Buena Jazz Band, formed in 1939 at the beginning of the first great
trad jazz revival, and largely responsible for it. Watters' played
in San Francisco's Dawn Club, and this is what he played: same
lineup, same arrangements, better sound (of course). In my review
of the new The Yama-Yama Man, I singled out this and the
following New Orleans Favorites as the best of the back
catalog. Makes sense that if you're doing repertoire, you'd start
from the top.
Yerba Buena Stompers: Duff Campbell's Revenge
(2005, Diamondstack): Beyond from the five studio releases on
Stomp Off, John Gill sent me two live sets on Diamondstack. They
are scruffier sounding, a bit looser, not as articulate, but
this one in particular is pretty good anyway, a nice little
digest of their first four studio albums, with some stories
thrown in about someone named Duff Campbell, a notable patron
of San Francisco's trad jazz scene.
The full surplus file is
The following are the notes for the records reviewed in Jazz
Consumer Guide (#15):
- Terence Blanchard: A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for
Katrina) (2007, Blue Note):
The title strikes me as a
philosophical muddle, although I suppose if you think it was a
willful act of a purposeful God, His hurricane may merit some
form of tribute. The title emerges chanted at the start of the
first cut, "Ghost of Congo Square," and returns near the end
of the piece, but doesn't break out beyond that. Congo Square
was the site of the old New Orleans slave market, which back
in its heyday was also felt by some to be part of God's will.
Despite the words, the piece is striking, with Kendrick Scott's
percussion conjuring up an African vibe, and Blanchard's trumpet
clear and eloquent. Most of the deluge of post-Katrina albums
pick their themes obviously -- titles here include "Levees,"
"The Water," "Wading Through," "In Time of Need," "Ghost of
1927," "Funeral Dirge," and "Dear Mom" -- then map out their
music in predictable clichés. Blanchard doesn't escape this,
but his horn stands out on record like his silhouetted images
on the front and back covers. My main caveat is the orchestra
that appears on several pieces, which paints a pretty backdrop
while adding nothing of substance.
- The Blueprint Project: People I Like (2006 ,
Creative Nation Music):
Core group is a trio of college chums:
saxophonist Jared Sims, guitarist Eric Hofbauer, pianist Tyson
Rogers. All three write, do interesting work. Could use a drummer,
and maybe a bassist. Last time out they filled those roles with
Matt Wilson and Cecil McBee, and got a nice postbop album with
a bit of edge. This time they went for Han Bennink, and he's
already turned them into a bunch of dadaist anarchists. Can't
say it's an improvement, but it's an interesting turn, with the
percussion fracturing the soundscapes.
- Chris Byars: Photos in Black, White and Gray (2006
Saxophonist, born and lives in New York. Plays alto,
tenor, and soprano here; has played flute and clarinet elsewhere. Has
worked at Smalls since 1994, recording in his own Octet and in the
group Across 7 Street, and behind various others, mostly label mates.
This one is a quartet, with Sacha Perry on piano, Ari Roland on bass,
Andy Watson on drums. Byars writes: "I believe this recording conveys
part of the secret of how jazz itself never grows old. In the same
way I like to pick up the repertoire of 1950's giants Gigi Gryce and
Lucky Thompson, here we have some key material of the 1994-2003 Smalls
decade . . . and several years the wiser." The Smalls circle strikes
me as an attempt to innovate within a formalized tradition -- postbop
is the inevitably sloppy framework, of which this is a small subset.
I've never been able to say much about that approach; rather, I just
roll with the punches, recognizing stuff that sounds both proper and
fresh, sorting it out from stuff that sounds less so. But mapping
this to Gryce's alto and Thompson's tenor makes sense to me. Had I
heard Byars' pieces on those guys albums I would be pleased but not
surprised. Byars' soprano would fit into that tradition too if only
there was an equivalent model -- I can't think of one. Perry and
Roland get some good solo space as well.
- The Claudia Quintet: For (2006 , Cuneiform):
Booklet tells us nothing -- just four graphics, cutouts with large
degradé pixels. Pattern shifting is also the music idea, but there
at least it's grown far more sophisticated. When I first tuned in,
on the group's second album (I Claudia), everything seemed
to revolve around drummer John Hollenbeck's post-minimalist rhythms.
Two albums later the music has broadened to the extent that there's
no clear-cut center: Chris Speed's reeds, Matt Moran's vibes, Ted
Reichman's accordion, even Drew Gress's bass, cloud up the picture,
obscuring simple reactions or explanations. The hype sheet says "file
under: jazz/post-jazz" as if anyone has a clue what "post-jazz" might
be. The delta between this and what we conventionally think of as
jazz is that this doesn't feel improvised, because it isn't built
on individualism -- even when Moran talks, or Speed squawks. Rather,
it has an organic vitality to it that envelops you, like something
new age or ambient might aspire to but doesn't have the brains to
make interesting enough. Yet I'm never really certain with this
group: the last two albums took me ages to settle on, and this one
raises the same conflicting responses. But it consistently scores
points, and builds over time -- almost as if it makes marginality
an aesthetic pursuit. Album title reflects each song having some
sort of dedication, mostly to people I've never heard of -- the
exception is Mary Cheney, who's offered an ode to pity.
- The Neil Cowley Trio: Displaced (2005 ,
Scrounging for ideas on this record has led me up
a lot of blind alleys, such as one reviewer comparing it to the
Clash and concluding, "Actually, it's probably best to avoid the
j-word." Their myspace page describes the group as "jazz, acoustic,
shoegaze," so I had to be reminded once again what shoegaze is/was.
Again, I see no relevance, although even that's better than the
tirelessly repeated story about Cowley playing Shostakovich at age
10. Waiting until he turns 34 to release his first record suggests
he's survived prodigyhood. Or is it just first jazz record? AMG
lists a couple pages of credits, mostly producer credits on various
artists techno compilations (titles like: Bossa Barva! Vol. 2,
Distance to Goa Vol. 7, Café del Mar: Chill House Mix,
Cafe Buddha: The Cream of Chilled Cuisine). Or is that the
same Neil Cowley? (If it were me, I'd be more likely to brag about
the techno than the Shostakovich.) Actually, they're a rock-ribbed
acoustic piano trio, full of fat chords, pogoing beats, assured
elaboration, calculated tension and release, showing they know their
English folk music -- from Pink Floyd to Coldplay, anyway -- and
hope to please as much as to dazzle. Ends with a whiff of electronics
remixing a fast one, possibly their next stage. Won a BBC jazz album
of the year prize, with acclamations of future stardom. Maybe in the
UK, or even Europe; over here I doubt they'll be as big as Jason
Moran, but I'm reminded a little bit of when Keith Jarrett broke
through to rock audiences in the '70s.
- Amir ElSaffar: Two Rivers (2007, Pi):
near Chicago, Iraqi father, American mother, studied trumpet at
DePaul, worked in classical and jazz contexts. Journeyed to Iraq
in 2002, learning to sing maqam and play santoor (a hammered
dulcimer), leaving before Bush brought it on. Maqam are habitual
note patterns in Arabic music, based on uneven microtonal scales,
hard to notate and therefore handed down from person to person.
ElSaffar's santoor and vocals presumably fit the model. He says
he's adapted his trumpet style as well -- at first it sounded
typical hard bop, but by the end I was no longer so sure. The
band spreads out between east and west: Carlo DeRosa (bass) and
Nasheet Waits (drums) provide jazz rhythm, while Zafer Tawail
(violin, oud, dumbek) and Tareq Abboushi (buzuq, frame drum)
improvise in Arabic modes. The sixth member is Indian-American
alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who has a head start on
Asian-Coltrane fusion. The piece was intended as a suite, based
on the Tigris and Euphrates, from their sources to the Shatt
al-Arab. But the rivers are just as aptly Iraqi and American,
only played out in mutual respect, as jazz not war.
- Floratone (2007, Blue Note):
I filed this under Bill
Frisell, mostly because he has a file, unlike the other three principals.
Actually, that's unfair to Tucker Martine, whose albums are scattered
under aliases like Mylab, whose album, with Frisell the key musician,
I liked enough to feature in an early Jazz CG. Martine has a long list
of production credits, most based in Seattle, few related to jazz. I
didn't recognize the other two principals; my bad. Lee Townsend, like
Martine credited with production, has a long list of jazz production
credits going back to 1981, with Frisell at the top of the list; other
names include Joey Baron, Jerry Granelli, Dave Holland, Charlie Hunter,
Marc Johnson, John Scofield. The fourth member, credited with drums and
loops, is Matt Chamberlain. He has one album under his own name but more
than 200 credits, almost all rock, especially female singer-songwriters
(e.g., Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Melissa Etheridge, Macy Gray, Lisa Loeb,
Natalie Merchant, Stevie Nicks, Liz Phair, Shakira). Closer to jazz he's
worked with Dave Koz and Critters Buggin -- an "experimental rock" group
with a good sense of groove and a honking saxman named Skerik. Martine
and Townsend are both credited with "production" -- I think the actual
chronology was that Chamberlain and Frisell recorded some jams, then
handed them over to Martine and Townsend to sort out. Somewhere along
the way guests got dubbed in: Viktor Krauss on bass, Eyvind Kang on
viola, Ron Miles on cornet. The pieces all start out on grooves with
guitar dressing -- there's nothing much to lift them up, so everything
depends on the beats, and they rarely falter. Townsend calls this
"futuristic roots music" -- he may be thinking of Frisell's take on
Americana mirrored into the future, hoping it takes root. In any case,
it sounds easier than it is. There are a lot of people trying to do
something like this, but few actually making it work, and these vets
have separately worked with most of them -- here they almost bring
- The Best of Von Freeman on Premonition (1996-2006 ,
You could call Freeman a
late bloomer, but one could also argue that he's always been around
but never caught a break until in his 70s. Born 1922, he played with
Horace Henderson before the war, the Navy during, and the Pershing
Ballroom house band when he got out. He joined Sun Ra in 1948 and
hung with the AACM later, but he was also chums with Gene Ammons and
Johnny Griffin, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk liked him enough to produce
his debut album (1972, age 50). He had one of the most idiosyncratic,
instantly recognizable tenor sax sounds ever -- he attributes some
of that to being a poor boy playing cheap saxophones, and there's a
legend that he built his first sax at age 7 out of a Victrola horn.
But he's mellowed since he hit 80, developing a richer, cleaner sound
that still falls far short of lush. He cut a couple of 1970s records
for AACM-connected Nessa, and two more in 1992 for Steeplechase in
Denmark, but didn't get much attention until Half Note released his
75th Birthday Celebration. Then Premonition picked up his
1996 Live at the Dakota and started recording him regularly.
The material anthologizes well -- it's all quartets with piano or
guitar excepting a solo and a duo with Jason Moran -- and includes
a couple of previously unissued bait tracks. The DVD just shows him
speaking, first in an interview and then to a street crowd at the
dedication of Von Freeman Way. He's a natural comic, mature like
his music, which sums up a short century of saxophone wisdom --
he reminds me of Sonny Rollins, even if at best he's more like
Newk's scrawny little brother.
- Satoko Fujii Quartet: Bacchus (2006 , Onoff):
There are (at least) two Satoko Fujii [-Natsuki Tamura] Quartets,
one with Mark Dresser and Jim Black, and this one with electric
bassist Takeharu Hayakawa and drummer Tatsuya Yoshida. This one
did a record called Zephyros in 2004 which I liked enough
to put on my top ten list -- a marvelous mix of fusion grooves
and avant bash. However, this one strikes me as an idea gone bad.
The music is rockish at the fragment level, but without much to
hold it together -- the groove plodding and cartoonish when it
exists at all. But there is plenty of volume, especially with
Tamura splattering his trumpet uncharacteristically. Not sure if
she's famous enough to spend a dud slot on, but this is a very
unpleasant, disappointing record.
- Charlie Haden/Antonio Forcione: Heartplay
(2006 , Naim):
Not much here, just simple but elegantly picked
guitar and bass, with Haden in his hypersentimental mode. So
modest, not to mention quiet, you could easily miss it, which
would be a shame.
- Herbie Hancock: River: The Joni Letters (2007, Verve):
Joni Mitchell songs, plus "Solitude" and "Nefertiti" --
I'm not enough of a Mitchell scholar to explain why, but they are
two of four songs done as instrumentals. The rest have vocals, a
smattering of guests who get one shot each. Norah Jones leads off
with "Court and Spark," affecting Joni tics and sounding like a
pale imitation. Same for Corinna Bailey Rae, Luciana Souza, even
Tina Turner. Mitchell sings an obscure one, allowing herself the
amusement of hiding among the poseurs. Only Leonard Cohen avoids
that game. One result of all these shaded stylings is to remind
us that Mitchell's voice and songs were necessarily one. Tribute
albums succeed or fail depending on whether they offer convincing
reasons for the bother. The vocals fail that test here, and take
down with them some very nice instrumental work. Hancock himself
does a lovely if risk-free job tucking the melodies in. Better
still is Wayne Shorter, especially his little bits on soprano.
- 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.
- Adam Lane/Ken Vandermark/Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love:
4 Corners (2006 , Clean Feed):
songs, which tend to be wild and wooly, mixed in with four Lane
songs, which are probably the ones with the sharp patterns and
good beats. I'll need to recheck that, but the first cut is a
Vandermark squawl, with Broo's trumpet adding a fair share, but
it comes together after that. The drummer, of course, can go
any which way, and he's busy here.
- Matt Lavelle Trio: Spiritual Power (2006 , Silkheart):
Plays trumpet, flugelhorn, bass clarinet -- 1, 3, and 3
cuts respectively here. Born 1970, turned on by Louis Armstrong,
studied with a Sir Hildred Humphries, who had direct links to Roy
Eldridge, Billie Holiday, and Count Basie. Evolved through what
he calls "the 'Smalls' thing" before joining William Parker's
Little Huey Orchestra. Has a previous album on CIMP and a group
called Eye Contact with one record. This one's a trio with bassist
Hilliard Greene and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson, both contributing
big time. Avant like it's meant to be: sharp, shocking, bursting
with creative ideas. The liner notes cite Roy Campbell as a model,
but Lavelle adds a level of difficulty and sonic surprise with his
emphasis on flugelhorn and bass clarinet. Took me a while to even
recognize the latter.
- Allen Lowe: Jews in Hell: Radical Jewish Acculturation
(2004-06 , Spaceout, 2CD):
I've played this half a dozen times,
and read the book, and I'm still not clear what Hell is -- maybe it's
somewhere in Maine, where Lowe lives? Or maybe the in suburbs of Long
Island, where Jews ate pork and embraced postmodernism, putting Lowe
on a path where his radical Jewish impulses were acculturated (or is
it pickled?) in Americana? (Compare to city boy John Zorn, who kept
his Radical Jewish Culture free of American trash, probably because
urban life reinforced community while suburban life stripped it bare.)
Or maybe the whole thing is much more metaphorical than a pragmatist
like myself can imagine. One reason it's hard to tell is that Lowe
doesn't seem to be completely honest here. One of the alternate titles
he offers is, "Dance of the Creative Economy: How I Learned to Stop
Worrying About the Space Gallery and Love the Music Business." The
Space Gallery is a music joint in Maine that Lowe can't get a job at,
and there's little evidence here that he's stopped fretting, not to
mention bristling, at that. As for his love of the music business,
he certainly hasn't adjusted to its first principles -- money and
glamour. On the other hand, he does have friends on the fringes of
the business. He touts their names on the cover -- Marc Ribot, Erin
McKeown, Matthew Shipp, Randy Sandke, Lewis Porter -- and he keeps
their features in the mix no matter how tenuous their connection to
his themes may be. First few times through I was irritated by his
unwillingness to edit, condense, throw anything away. Lowe plays
assured, fluid alto sax, but features it rarely here, but spends
most of the record playing grungy guitar, overdubbing keybs, and
singing stuff he has no voice for. (There is some dazzling guitar
here, but credit that to Ribot.) In the end I stopped worrying:
"Lonesome and Dead" should be ugly, and "Suburban Jews," "Where's
Lou Reed?" and "Jews in Hell" are hard to ruin. First disc holds
closer to concept ("Tsuris in Mind," "The Old Stetl (Where I Was
Bonr)," "Oi Death"). Second is more scattered and scrapbooky.
- Hugh Masekela: Live at the Market Theatre (2006 ,
Times Square/4Q, 2CD):
A 30th anniversary bash -- for the
Johannesburg venue, that is; the South African trumpeter-vocalist goes
back further, having started his globetrotting at least a decade
earlier. This is a triumph, an informal career summary that tracks the
struggle against apartheid and baser oppressions. Its two discs allow
him to stretch out and work the crowd, even to preach a little,
knowing there's more than celebrating left to do, but pleased to be
there that night.
- Frank Morgan: A Night in the Life (2003 , High Note):
Front cover subtitle says: "Live at the Jazz Standard
Vol. 3"; there's a previous City Nights: Live at the Jazz
Standard from the same dates with the same group, but I'm
not aware of a Vol. 2. Six songs: three from Bird, one from
Miles, "On Green Dolphin Street" (might as well chalk that up
to Miles as well), and "It's Only a Paper Moon." But whereas
Parker was sharp, shrill, and explosive, Morgan has mellowed
to where he's sweet and soulful. If anything, he reminds me of
his Sing Sing bandmate, Art Pepper. In that regard, it does
help that the pianist is George Cables.
- Chris Potter Underground: Follow the Red Line: Live at the
Village Vanguard (2007, Sunnyside):
Adam Rogers' guitar
snaking over Craig Taborn's blippy Fender Rhodes and Nate Smith's
drums makes for a fresh update on the old organ trio -- especially
when the pace slows, Taborn looks to be as far ahead of the field
as Jimmy Smith was in 1958. Potter can play soul jazz, but he's
most impressive when he kicks out the jams, raising r&b honking
to a higher plane, or maybe bringing Pharoah Sanders down to the
- Chris Potter 10: Song for Anyone (2006 , Sunnyside):
Ten musicians, with flute-clarinet-bassoon in the winds
section and violin-viola-cello-bass for strings, guitar too, and
percussion. With that sort of instrumentation, this is full of
orchestral stretches that I find deadly, even when I recognize
that they're not so bad. Moreover, the saxophonist often rises
to the occasion, or exceeds it, and he has a much more full-bodied
sound than the one I found annoying on his early work. So I don't
feel the anger to make this a Dud, although I'll keep it active
in the "done" file a while in case I find myself hard up.
- Quadro Nuevo: Tango Bitter Sweet (2006 ,
Drummerless German quartet -- reeds, accordion,
guitar, bass do the trick -- arguing that all the songs here
originated in Europe, reclaiming tango from Argentina, Sidney
Bechet from New Orleans, and Aram Khatchaturian from the vast
steppes of Russia. They make a fine case, a little too pat for
jazz, a little too danceable for chamber music.
- Josh Roseman: New Constellations: Live in Vienna
(2005 , Accurate):
Funk bent severely enough to qualify as
avant-garde, mostly generated from the Jamaican crucible of Don
Drummond and "Satta Massaganna."
- John Sheridan and His Dream Band: Swing Is Still the King
(2006 , Arbors):
A Benny Goodman tribute, more
or less, with Ron Hockett on clarinet -- sometimes also Dan Block
and Scott Robinson, although they most play saxes -- and Rebecca
Kilgore singing a majority of the songs. But it doesn't feel like
a Goodman tribute -- the swing is looser, cooler, more delectable.
Sheridan is credited with arrangements as well as piano, and its
the arrangements that push this past the usual retro limits.
- Sonic Openings Under Pressure: Muhheankuntuk
(2006 , Clean Feed):
Don't get as much free jazz as I'd
like, but I manage to hear enough to have gotten used to it.
Still, my standard for recommendation is that it has something
non-devotees can grab onto, which leaves me with a widening
gap of stuff I like well enough but can't see breaking out of
its narrow niche. Most of this falls in that range, but two
cuts in the middle stand out: "The Hardships" starts with a
fast, regular beat, then erupts in a torrent of even faster
words -- thank David Pleasant for both beats and words, while
leader Patrick Brennan's alto sax settles into a skronk groove.
That's the hook cut, pop materials done with avant flair. It
then sets up "Prosified" with Brennan taking over, writhing
snakey improv lines against the beat.
- Marcus Strickland Twi-Life Group: Open Reel Deck
(2007, Strick Muzik):
I think he's a tremendously exciting young
saxophonist, and his quartet, with electric guitar and bass and
equally talented brother E.J. on drums, is state of the art. But
there are points here where this drags, and not just the guests --
actually, Malachi Rivers' spoken word act focuses the mind, even
if it distracts from the music.
- That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History Volume 1 (1895-1927
, WHRA, 9CD):
Whereas Martin Williams, in his
canonical The Smithsonian Collection of Classical Jazz
disposes of where jazz came from by juxtaposing two versions of
"Maple Leaf Rag," one by composer Scott Joplin and the other by
Jelly Roll Morton, compiler Allen Lowe digs deep into many roots
besides ragtime -- minstrels, songsters, march bands, James Reese
Europe's orchestra. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (1917) doesn't
appear until the 3rd disc. Ethel Waters and Mamie Smith (1921)
make the 4th, and Jelly Roll Morton (1923) the 5th, but the series
doesn't start to sound predominantly jazzy until the 6th or 7th
disc. While he sprinkles in early bits of Fletcher Henderson, Duke
Ellington, and Bennie Moten, he holds Louis Armstrong back until
the last cut -- maybe top play down the notion that Armstrong
invented jazz, or just because he couldn't find anything to
follow "Hotter Than Hot" with.
- That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History Volume 2 (1927-1934
, WHRA, 9CD):
Bix Beiderbecke leads off with 3 of
the first 9 tracks, contrasting with 2 cuts by obscure trumpeter
Louis Dumaine. The book takes on the always annoying question of
race in jazz, plugging numerous whites -- including an argument
that Beiderbecke was the first cool jazz proponent -- without
ceding any arguments to Richard Sudhalter's Lost Chords.
The records wend their way through numerous intimations of swing
to come, punctuated by occasional blues and country tunes that
are hardly less jazzy.
- That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 3
(1934-45 , WHRA, 9CD):
Swing is here, announced by Jimmie
Lunceford, Red Norvo, Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Benny
Goodman, and Ray Noble on the first disc. Second disc tees off
with Bob Wills, a westerner who swings too, and moves on to
Count Basie. The most consistently satisfying of the boxes,
at least until 1940 (disc 7) when Lowe starts looking for
premonitions of bebop -- Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie
show up on disc 8, but disc 9 (1944-45) is a broad smorgasbord
of retro dixieland (Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson), elegant Ellington,
singers like Billie Holiday and Nat Cole, saxophonists like
Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas.
- That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 4
(1945-51 , WHRA, 9CD):
Bebop takes over, but of course it
isn't that clean a cut. Disc 4, for instance, starts with Bing
Crosby and Al Jolson singing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" -- the
fourth take, following Collins and Harlan (1911), Louis Armstrong
(1937), and Bunk Johnson (1945). Then, after Sidney Bechet, comes
Chano Pozo's "Ritmo Afro Cubano." That disc wanders especially
wide: Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald, Lenny Tristano, Mutt Carey,
Astor Piazzolla, Hank Penny, Nelly Lutcher, Buddy Rich, Benny
Goodman, Charlie Parker. But before long bebop has driven most
of the other contenders from the depopulated clubs -- exceptions
are the occasional throwback like Kid Thomas, and an especially
ugly bit of projectile vomit from Stan Kenton. I suppose there's
a lesson there: I would have picked something listenable, but
if you have to acknowledge Kenton, why whitewash him?
- Assif Tsahar/Cooper-Moore/Chad Taylor: Digital Primitives
(2006 , Hopscotch):
No piano from Cooper-Moore this time, just
diddley bow, mouth bow, something called a bango. He also sings one
called "Ol' Saint Peter," with a cowboy pulse, brushes or an electronic
facsimile, and a gentle sax refrain that bridges gospel and cocktail.
He seems to be the center of everything, setting the place, stirring
things up. Tsahar rarely gets his dander up -- the finale sounds like
his old tenor sax, but elsewhere runs through r&b riffs, colors
in on bass clarinet, and even pulls out the didgeridoo. At least two
cuts get slow and exotic, with Taylor's beats sounding like balafon --
the credits just say drums and percussion.
- Fay Victor Ensemble: Cartwheels Through the Cosmos
(2006 , ArtistShare):
I guess we can add Victor to the Betty
Carter family of jazz singers, if we could find anyone else to fill
out a family. The voices are similar, although Victor's a shade or
two lighter. The musical rigor is comparable, especially when Victor
slides a verse onto a free rhythm without chaos ensuing. Most of all,
they both run adventurous, cutting edge bands. My discovery here is
guitarist Anders Nilsson, who always has something to say. The others
are bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson, who rank
as household names, at least in this household.
- Miroslav Vitous: Universal Syncopations II (2004-05
All this shares with its precedessor is title, bassist,
and painstaking assembly. But what made Universal Syncopations
remarkable was the individuality of its superstars' performances --
Jan Garbarek, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette. They're
replaced by a committee here, maybe several, but this could just as
well have been assembled from Vitous's legendary library of digital
samples -- indeed, the sole voice credit, one Vesna Vasko-Caceres,
only hints at how he uses voice to whitewash a heavenly aura over
what sounds like a throwback to the Czech's Communist (err, classical)
education. The funk horns and multiple drummers only exist on paper.
Their syncopations are anything but universal.
- David S. Ware Quartet: Renunciation (2006 ,
Allegedly "the last ever U.S. performance by David
S. Ware's revered Quartet" -- not sure whether that's a statement
about Ware, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and the drummer du jour
(in this case Guillermo E. Brown) or about the U.S. The Quartet
goes back to 1990, when Parker was established as Cecil Taylor's
bassist and the others were practically unknown. For a while it
was tempting to compare them to the Coltrane Quartet, but by now
they've lasted three times as long. Recorded live, this adds one
more slice to Live in the World, its immediate spontaneity
compensating for the fact that they break no major ground. Ware
is mesmerizing, Parker magnificent, and Shipp one of the few
pianists who can hold his own in this company.
- The Phil Woods Quintet: American Songbook II (2007,
Kind of Blue):
No surprises here. Woods may have started as a pure
Parker bebopper, but over time he embraced the whole mainstream of
American jazz. I don't see much live jazz, but did see him once,
playing good student with Benny Carter. In the senior role here,
his own good students include Brian Lynch and Bill Charlap, who
hardly need his guidance but are too respectful to hint otherwise.
The whole thing strikes me as too respectful, too self-satisfied,
too easy -- I'm reminded that when I saw Carter and Woods, it was
the much younger Woods who spent the whole set on his stool -- but
it still sounds glorious more often than not.
- Yerba Buena Stompers: The Yama-Yama Man (2007, Stomp Off):
A couple of personnel changes in what has been a pretty stable
lineup: Orange Kellin replaces Evan Christopher on clarinet (before
Christopher, Larry Wright played clarinet); Clint Baker moves over
from drums to tuba, replacing Ray Cadd, and Hal Smith joins on drums.
Until now they've evidently kept close to the arrangements worked out
by Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band, which includes a few originals
by Watters and Turk Murphy as well as old songs they brought back in
the 1940s Dixieland revival. Here they start to move on, picking old
songs Watters missed and treating them accordingly. The title song,
for instance, dates back to 1908, although Murphy had done it in 1957.
Several songs come straight from King Oliver, which matches the
orchestration to a tee. Others come from the Red Hot Peppers, which
is about as modern as they get. Locking onto their fixed reference
points, they freeze history, foregoing the sense of progress that
even then was all the rage. That should make them dry, but their
chosen moment is hard to resist: it was a point when the excitement
of jazz jumped out of the horns and off the stage. Playing through
the whole set of five studio albums shows two things that are rare
in any such sequence: remarkable consistency and no sense of progress
or evolution whatsoever. Both may be attributed to lack of individuality,
which may have something to do with the fact that leader John Gill plays
the most unprepossesing of instruments: the banjo. These are unjazzlike
traits, but the music is primevally jazzy.
- Paul Zauners Blue Brass: Soil (2006 , PAO/BluJazz):
Austrian trombonist, runs a label with exceptional
good taste, proves to be a worldwise connoisseur, mixing two
African pieces with American standards and two originals,
polishing them all up to a fine lustre.
And the following are the notes for records flushed in the Jazz
Consumer Guide (15) cycle:
- Tony Adamo: Straight Up Deal (2007, Urban Zone):
Smooth jazz vocalist, or so he claims. I find he's got some grit
to his voice, and his studio musicians are agreeably funky -- a
couple of spots with Eddie Henderson and Ernie Watts even show
some jazz cred. Could use better songs.
- Muhal Richard Abrams: Vision Toward Essence
(1998 , 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.
- Ralph Alessi & This Against That: Look (2005
, Between the Lines):
One of those group names that comes
from the previous album title, although the only musician both
times, aside from the leader, is bassist Drew Gress. The quartet
this time is filled out with Andy Milne on piano and Mark Ferber
on drums, plus Ravi Coltrane appears on four cuts. Coltrane isn't
much help -- he provides shadings on slow pieces that at best are
atmospheric, but are filler compared to the fast ones. Let loose,
the rhythm section is terrific, and setting Alessi's tart trumpet
- Dave Allen: Real and Imagined (2007, Fresh Sound New Talent):
Guitarist, born in Philadelphia, attended Manhattan
School of Music in 1988, presumably still based in New York. AMG
lists 29 Dave or David (or more famously, in bold type, Daevid)
Allens, none of which appear to be him. But he does have a 2005
album, so this is probably his second. It's a quartet with Seamus
Blake on tenor sax, Drew Gress on bass, and Mark Ferber on drums.
Wrote all the pieces. Has a metallic tone and adept rhythmic sense
that fills in well behind and beside the sax. First rate rhythm
- Rodrigo Amado/Kent Kessler/Paal Nilssen-Love: Teatro
(2004 , European Echoes):
Portuguese saxophonist from the
Lisbon Improvisation Players teams up with two of Ken Vandermark's
mates. The rifling up-and-down tenor and baritone sax is about par
for the avant-garde -- leans a bit to the melodic side, actually --
and I find that casually attractive. The support is first rate,
especially the drummer.
- "Killer" Ray Appleton/Melvin Rhyne: Latin Dreams
(2004 , Lineage):
Russian guitarist Ilya Lushtak honors his
heroes by recording with them. On the Hank Jones/Frank Wess album,
he mostly took a back seat, but on this organ trio plus congas --
Latin, get it? -- he fills a more critical role. May be too early
to dub him the new Grant Green, but how about the new Billy Butler?
- Arjun: Pieces (2007, Pheromone):
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.
- Gregg August Sextet: One Peace (2006 , Iacuessa):
Bassist, originally from Schenectady NY, went to SUNY Albany,
then Juilliard. Worked in Barcelona. Traveled to Cuba. Second
album. Previous one (Late August) had more of a Latin
twist; this is more straightahead postbop, mostly sextets with
three horns, Luis Perdomo on piano, and EJ Strickland on drums.
Myron Walden's beboppy alto sax sets the dominant tone, with
tenor and trumpet for shading, a harmonic scheme much favored
by postbop arrangers, one I find rather unappealing.
- Omer Avital: Arrival (2006 , Fresh Sound World Jazz):
Israeli bassist, working in New York since mid-1990s,
with a handful of albums -- The Ancient Art of Giving
(2006, Smalls) is a personal favorite. This, however, is not.
It's a very advanced, sophisticated postbop sexet, with Avishai
Cohen (trumpet), Joel Frahm (saxes), Avi Lebovich (trombone),
Jason Lindner (keyboards), and Jonathan Blake (drums). There is
a lot of art to the layering of the horns, producing dizzying
swirls of sound. It's not clear why this came out in a World
Jazz series: Avital plays oud on a couple of cuts, but that
doesn't fix them in any kind of world -- meaning foreign to
the west -- music. Nor does the fact that the rhythm is pretty
regular count for much beyond its galloping rush. So maybe
he's just gotten too old to pass for New Talent?
- Albert Ayler Quartet: The Hilversum Session
(1964 , ESP-Disk): This is the sort of session that would
make an ideal complement to some sort of "Deluxe Edition" reissue
of Ayler's 1964 landmark Spiritual Unity. The former album's
trio, with Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums, reappear,
reprising "Ghosts" and "Spirits" and adding other Ayler pieces.
But this does more than reiterate: the fourth member is Don Cherry,
whose cornet shadows Ayler's lines and lifts the band's spiritual
- Jay Azzolina: Local Dialect (2007, Garagista):
Guitarist, b. 1952, studied at Berklee, got an MFA at Conservatory
of Music at Purchase NY. Played with Spyro Gyra, John Patitucci
(present here), Tim Ries (also here) Rolling Stones Project, plus
various popstars and mainstream jazzers. Third album, with Ries'
sax and flute, Scott Wendholt's trumpet, Mike Davis' trombone,
Larry Goldings' organ, Patitucci's bass, Greg Hutchinson's drums,
a few others scattered abouts. Regarded as a fusion guitarist.
I'm not so sure, but he does force the rhythm in uninteresting
directions, and nothing else appeals enough to sort out.
- Baker Hunt Sandstrom Williams: Extraordinary Popular
Delusions (2005 , Okka Disk):
Album cover just gives
last names. The details are: Jim Baker (piano), Steve Hunt (drums,
percussion), Brian Sandstrom (bass, electric guitar), Mars Williams
(various saxes). Order is alphabetical, with all pieces jointly
credited. Needless to say, Williams makes the most noise, and he
makes an awful lot of it. I find that noise oddly exhilarating --
maybe I'm relieved to hear Williams back in form after all these
years trying to make a living out of acid jazz? Baker emerges in
the quieter spots. Over the last decade or so, he's sort of been
the Chicago avant-garde's go-to pianist, but they don't go to
pianists very often. Some interesting odds and ends, too.
- Patricia Barber: The Premonition Years 1994-2002
(1994-2002 , Premonition, 3CD):
Jazz singer, pianist, and
composer, her career forms something of an underground parallel
to Diana Krall's -- her voice dusky and shrouded where Krall's
is bright and articulate, her piano more substantial but still
secondary, a successful niche player whereas Krall crossed over.
This takes five albums and reshuffles them by category: pop songs,
standards, and originals. All are slow and somber, but at least
the rock-era pop songs start with some bounce as well as catchy
melodies -- "Use Me," "You Don't Know Me," "Black Magic Woman,"
"The Fool on the Hill" are given especially learned readings.
The older vintage standards are less surprising. The originals
are less obvious, but thoughtful and sometimes haunting. I see
little value in sorting them this way: her albums are mixes of
all three -- trending toward more originals over time -- and
often work just because these mulitple facets fit. A fine example
is Modern Cool (1998).
- Carlos Barretto Trio: Radio Song (2002 , Clean Feed):
Bassist-led trio with guitar and drums. Most pieces
cook over a high flame, and guitarist Mario Delgado can dance
to the music. Three cuts add Louis Sclavis, who makes such an
impact that it seems like more.
- Richie Barshay: Homework (2004-05 , AYVA):
A very versatile young (b. 1983) drummer, with interests in Cuba
and India as well as mainstream jazz with options of swinging
free. Title suggests he's still in his student phase. Indeed,
this first album has the feel of a recital or clinic, a chance
to show off all the things he can do. Impressive. Now what?
- Count Basie: Basie at Birdland (1961 , Roulette Jazz):
This is about where Basie's "Second Testament"
(as they put it here) band starts to slip, but they can still
kick the old songbook into high orbit, the section work is
atomic, a key tenor sax solo (Budd Johnson?) is much further
out than expected, and Jon Hendricks mumbles his Clark Terry
impression on "Whirly Bird"; nearly double the original LP,
this is one band that looks best heavy.
- Marco Benevento: Live at Tonic (2006 ,
Pianist, although he's likely to play any kind
of electronic keyboard. B. 1977, New Jersey. Has a couple of
albums with drummer Joe Russo as Benevento/Russo Duo, which
tend to get filed as experimental/instrumental rock. Involved
in Bobby Previte's Coalition of the Willing and Garage A Trois,
which elicit similar confusion and collectively define a niche
of beatwise future fusion. This was put together from five
November nights -- no date given, but presumably 2006: solo
(sometimes plus Scott Metzger); duo (Mike Gordon); trio (Reed
Mathis, Matt Chamberlain); quartet (Steven Bernstein, Dave
Dreiwitz, Claude Coleman); and "drum night" (Previte, Russo,
Mike Dillon). De trop, of course, although at $19.98 list not
a ripoff. Some good things, with the second disc starting
strong and ending with a striking take on "Elmer's Tune."
- Sathima Bea Benjamin: A Morning in Paris (1963 ,
A lucky break for the South African jazz singer,
paramour of the future Abdullah Ibrahim, to be in Paris next to
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, playing piano on two cuts
each; she is a patient standards singer, drawing out fine shades
of meaning, taking the two Ellington cuts especially slow.
- Andy Bey: Ain't Necessarily So (1997 ,
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.
- Michael Bisio Quartet: Circle This (2006 ,
Seattle bassist with a two saxophone quarter, featuring
Avram Fefer (tenor and soprano) and Stephen Gauci (just tenor),
and CIMP regular Jay Rosen on drums. Title on spine and cover
includes CIMP 360, the label name and number, figuring
that ties in nicely with the first song title. I've gone back
and forth on the title, opting here for the simple version. Bisio
moved to Seattle in 1976, and has recorded since 1980, with a dozen
(maybe more) records either under his own name or matched with
others -- the latter include duets with Eyvind Kang, Joe Giardullo,
and Joe McPhee. Website spends a lot of time extolling his skills
as a bassist, which between CIMP's acoustics and my system are hard
to verify. The main thing I hear is two horns engaged, sometimes
pulling together gently but more often roughhousing.
- Michael Blake Sextet: Amor de Cosmos (2005 ,
Saxophonist, born Montreal 1964, moved to Vancouver, then
to New York, where he played in the Lounge Lizards. Here he's on a
Canadian label with an all-Canadian band, playing tenor and soprano,
in a sextet that includes Brad Turner (trumpet), Sal Ferreras (marimba),
Chris Gestrin (piano), André Lachance (bass), and Dylan van der Schyff
(drums). Played this twice. Like many parts, but can't get a grip on
the whole, and wonder whether it's worth trying to figure out.
- Ruby Braff and the Flying Pizzarellis: C'est Magnifique!
(2002 , Arbors):
Recorded June 2002. Braff took ill in August
and died the following February, so this turns out to have been his
final recording. Beats me why it took so long to get released, other
than that Braff had so much in the pipeline the label was just pacing
themselves. Title comes from a Cole Porter song, included here. The
record isn't quite magnifique, and in some respects feels unfinished,
but it's hard not to cut them some slack. Braff's cornet doesn't swing
as hard as in days of yore, but it's clear and poignant. The guitars
chug along amiably, with Bucky's rhythm a particularly nice foil for
the cornet. John Pizzarelli gets credit for his trio, with Ray Kennedy
on piano and brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass. John has a couple of
nice guitar leads and sings two songs -- not necessary but nothing
wrong with them. Ambles a bit at the end.
- Ari Brown: Live at the Green Mill (2007, Delmark):
Chicago saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano, sometimes at the
same time, also a little flute. B. 1944, came up through AACM in
the 1970s, playing with Muhal Richard Abrams and Lester Bowie,
more recently in Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio. Third album as a
leader, a sextet (mostly) with Pharez Whitted on trumpet, Kirk
Brown on piano, Yosef Ben Israel on bass, Avreeayl Ra on drums,
Dr. Cuz percussion. Back cover quote: "Not impossibly virtuosic
or unnecessarily complex." Also on DVD with an extra cut. Played
it, but can't say I actually watched it all.
- Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: Bogalusa Boogie Man
(1975 , Sunnyside): Texas bluesman goes native in Louisiana,
creating a mess of swamp pop that is campy gumbo at best and slimy
okra at worst, with "Dixie Chicken" a repast of both; five bonus
cuts show off some respectable blues guitar, out of place here.
- The John Brown Quintet featuring Ray Codrington: Merry Christmas,
Baby (2006-07 , House of Swing):
plays bass, teaches at Duke, also has an Art Blakey tribute album
out (more on that later). Codrington plays trumpet in the quintet,
and gets to sing here. He's hardly special, but brings good cheer
to songs that are nothing but -- God gets dutifully thanked in
the liner notes, but the only song here that might upset devoted
secularists is "Happy Birthday, Jesus," which reminds me more
of Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday" to JFK. Frosty, Santa
Claus, and Rudolph all swing like mad, and it snows all over the
winter wonderland. Not even I dare rain on their parade.
- The John Brown Quintet: Terms of Art (2007, House of Swing):
Bassist, leading a standard hard bop quintet, with Ray
Codrington on trumpet, Brian Miller on saxophones, Gabe Evens
on piano, Adonis Rose on drums. Most of these songs I recognize
from Blakey's group -- none written by Blakey, only some by
group members like Wayne Shorter and Bobby Timmons. I don't
really see the point in doing such straight recreations of
material that effectively consolidated bebop into mainstream.
The result is less notable than Brown's Xmas record, but I
wouldn't feel right to grade it lower.
- Jimmy Bruno: Maplewood Avenue (2007, Affiliated Artists):
Guitarist, from Philadelphia, b. 1953, fits in the line
of mild-mannered, swing-happy guitarists from the '50s; started
recording in 1991 for Concord, when they were trying to corner
the market for mainstream jazz guitar. This is a trio with Tony
Miceli on vibes and Jeff Pedras on bass, both named on the front
cover. If Bruno doesn't leave much of an impression, that's
because Miceli is so entertaining.
- David Buchbinder: Odessa/Havana (2006-07 , Tzadik):
Canadian trumpeter, previous groups include the Flying
Bulgar Klezmer Band and Shurum Burum Jazz Circus. (AMG also cites
an "Arabic fusion ensemble" called Medina, but it doesn't show up
in his credits or in his website bio.) Here he trades compositions
with Cuban pianist Hilario Durán, who lives in Canada and has
worked with Arturo Sandoval. The band is a mix of klezmer and
Cuban specialists, including Quinsin Nachoff on reeds and flute,
Aleksandr Gajic on violin, Dafnis Prieto on drums, and Roberto
Occhipinti on bass. Actually, more klezmer than Cuban, largely
because the horns and violin drown out the piano and percussion
has trouble keeping up. (Contrast this with Roberto Rodriguez,
who starts with Cuban rhythms and adds klezmer on top, a more
effective strategy.) One slow spot works nicely. Some of the
orchestration is overblown. Nachoff has some strong sax parts.
- Dave Burrell: Momentum (2005 , High Two):
Mass times velocity, right? So when this slows down after the
first piece (portentously called "Downfall") it gets heavier.
That doesn't favor the pianist, who could hold his own in any
boogie woogie bar, so much as the bassist. That would be Michael
Formanek, and he's the guy to focus on.
- Michael Camacho: Just for You (2003-04 ,
Vocalist. Has a distinctive voice, soft and silky,
which occasionally impresses but I don't find all that appealing.
First album, Don't know anything more about him. Album appears
to have been originally released in 2006 on CAP, then reissued
on New Found Records -- cover is changed, but songs look to be
the same. Five originals, plus standards including some basic
rock ballads ("Norwegian Wood," "Spanish Harlem").
- François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Kathmandu (2006 ,
Alto sax/drums improvisations, recorded live in Nepal.
After the first piece, someone (presumably Carrier) announces that
the piece was called "Kathmandu Improvisation." He then introduces
the next piece, also called "Kathmandu Improvisation." He invites
people to dance to their improvs, observing that others have done
so. The released album does have song titles: "White Summit,"
"Dancing Light," "Joyfulness and Playfulness," "Prayer for Peace,"
etc. Sometimes pure improv works, sometimes not so much. One part
reminds me how ugly the lower range of the alto sax can be.
- Paul Chambers: Bass on Top (1957 , Blue Note):
One of the top bassists of the era -- AMG's credits run
to seven pages, all the more amazing given that he was just 33
when he died, although I figure 1/2 to 2/3 of those are dupes
for compilations. Although he did a handful of albums as a leader,
this is exceptional in its focus on the bass -- or at least it
starts that way, as guitarist Kenny Burrell later moves to the
- Cyrus Chestnut: Cyrus Plays Elvis (2007, Koch):
Presley, of course. Well, why not? It's not like he's been doing
much of interest lately -- 1993's Revelation was the last
time he showed anything to get excited about. It's certainly a
lot more promising than another trip to church -- although he
couldn't resist ending with "How Great Thou Art" (and it comes
off nicely). Ballads like "Love Me Tender" always sound good,
and the upbeat ones remind you that Chestnut could boogie when
he wants to. But I have to wonder, why break the piano trio
continuity by adding Mark Gross sax on two cuts? That sort of
thing happens a lot when angling for a radio cut, which isn't
impossible here, but I find it disruptive.
- Chicago Underground Trio: Chronicle (2006 ,
Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor have been doing business as
Chicago Underground whatever since 1998, sometimes with third or
even fourth members -- bassist Jason Ajemian is the new ingredient
this time. They've also been thickening up their cornet-percussion
duo with electronics, which have reached a new plateau of density
and ugliness this time. Often fascinating, sometimes wearing; I
always love the cornet, and am increasingly impressed by Taylor's
vibes. Not sure what Ajemian is responsible for, but his credits
include electronics, so he may be the secret to the density. Also
available on a DVD, which I have but haven't watched.
- Choro Ensemble: Nosso Tempo (2007, Anzic):
Cohen, on clarinet, fronts a Brazilian group, with Gustavo Dantas'
6-string guitar, Carlos Almeida's 7-string guitar, Pedro Ramos'
cavaquinho and tenor guitar, Zé Mauricio's percussion (pandeiro,
zabumba, surdo). Aside from the clarinet, the choro is felt and
authentic. The clarinet isn't authentic, to choro at least; the
exultant uplift Cohen brings to the proceedings sounds much like
the stock-in-trade worldview of klezmer.
- Cique (2007, Capri):
Cover explains: "cique (sik) --
(n) post retro trans genre hippy trippy spank a lank; (adj) really
totally happening; (adj) not at all well." Latter sounds like "sick."
Denver group, with Jeff Jenkins on keyboards (rhodes, organ, synths),
Bijoux Barbosa on bass (electric & acoustic), Matt Houston on
drums. Steve Holloway guests on bodhran (a celtic frame drum) on
one track. John Abercrombie plays guitar on four tracks, rating a
"with special guest" honorific. Abercrombie's easy-going fusion is
probably the main interest here, but Jenkins contributes some tasty
funk as well.
- Stanley Clarke: The Toys of Men (2007, Heads Up):
Bassist, mostly electric although he plays a good deal of acoustic
here, as well as variants like piccolo bass and tenor bass. From
Philadelphia. Made a big splash in the early 1970s (his own early
20s) with Return to Forever and on his own, but his crossover never
carried much critical weight -- one result being that this is the
first of his 30-some records I've heard. (Of course, I have heard
other records he's played on -- AMG's list runs to four pages.)
This one is an odd mix of things. The six-part title suite would
be overblown arena jazz if such a thing existed. But there are
also solo bass pieces (acoustic, no less), funk drums duos, keyb
and guitar trios, a vocal piece with Esperanza Spalding writing
and singing. Most of it is quite listenable, but I don't quite
see how it adds up.
- Gil Coggins: Better Late Than Never (2001-02 ,
Pianist, born 1924 in New York, died 2004. Played with Miles
Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, and Ray Draper
back in the 1950s. Cut an album called Gil's Mood in 1990;
otherwise this is it, hence the title. Sounds like a piano trio --
two drummers are credited, probably two sessions. Nice work, but hard
for me to place this.
- Ryan Cohan: One Sky (2007, Motéma):
b. 1971, two previous albums, has worked with Orbert Davis and Ramsey
Lewis, evidently as an arranger. He does have a passion for arranging,
keeping three horns busy. Indeed, he's much more likely to fall down
when he cuts back to the piano setting up a theme than when he's
running full bore. The saxophone is often impressive -- don't know
whether it's Bob Sheppard or Geof Bradfield or both -- and Tito
Carillo has good moments on trumpet. Indeed, much of this album is
impressive, but I also find it annoying, pretentious, overblown,
and I have no desire to try to sort it out -- it's like jazz has
finally come up with its analogue to the Rachmaninoff era. If this
gets hyped enough I may have to come back and decide whether to list
is as a dud. It could be, but I probably won't.
- Freddy Cole: Music Maestro Please (2006 ,
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.
- Richard Cole: Shade (2000-07 , Origin):
Saxophonist, tenor first, soprano an afterthought, based in
Seattle. Third album. Name reminds one of alto saxophonist
d Richie Cole, but they have little in common. This album was
put together with tracks from three sessions: one from 2000,
three from 2005, four more from 2007. Randy Brecker gets a
"featuring" credit for the first two. The oldest track, "A
Shade of Joe," is by far the most impressive -- dedicated to
Henderson, Cole rises to the challenge. Becker has good spots
on the 2005 tracks. The 2007 tracks feature the Bill Anschell,
Jeff Johnson, John Bishop rhythm section, but Cole seems
diminished, and the overall effort is rather scattered.
- Tim Collins: Valcour (2005 , Arabesque):
Plays vibes; also (not here but not unrelated) piano and drums.
AMG lists four albums, starting in 2003, but his website describes
this as his first album as a leader. Group includes alto sax (Matt
Blostein), trumpet (Ingrid Jensen), piano (Aaron Parks), bass and
drums. That's a lot of options, letting them navigate some tricky
postbop. Sounds fine, but none of it sticks with me.
- The Cool Season: An Origin Records Holiday Collection,
Vol. 2 (2007, Origin):
I really wish publicists would
just stop sending me Xmas music. I'm not interested in it. I
can't resell it (or anything else; oh, for the days when this
town still had record stores). I don't have space to shelve
it, even on the dregs shelf in the basement. I can't remember
ever liking it, even when Xmas still excited me. And my views
got more jaundiced when I read that Xmas music outsells jazz,
even though at least there are at least 10 times as many jazz
records released each year. I suppose the flip side of that
equation is that jazz labels, having to pay the bills to put
out the underappreciated music they exist for, should get in
on a bit of the Xmas action. That's all this really is. No
artists put their names on the covers here, but the whole
thing is done by the same quartet, featuring Origin's usual
rhythm section -- Bill Anschell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop --
with Thomas Marriott on trumpet/flugelhorn. It's utterly
inconsequential, and pretty close to inoffensive. If for
some reason, like you own a retail business, you feel obliged
to play the stuff, this is an investment that will spare a
lot of people a lot of grief.
- Chick Corea and Bela Fleck: The Enchantment (2007, Concord):
Duets, about half from each artist's catalog.
The banjo often merges into the piano, producing something like
a harpsichord sound, and giving the whole affair a baroque cast --
not as rigid rhythmically, of course.
- Jacques Coursil: Clameurs (2006 , Sunnyside):
Trumpet player, born in Paris, his parents from Martinique; appeared
on several avant records in 1960s (Burton Greene, Sunny Murray, Frank
Wright) plus a couple under his own name. Then basically dropped out
of jazz, pursuing a career teaching French literature and linguistics,
winding up in Martinique. In 2005 Tzadik released a new album titled
Minimal Brass. Haven't heard it, but this follow-up is pretty
minimal, with percussion and spare trumpet juxtaposed with spoken
texts, including a piece by Frantz Fanon and poems by Edouard
Glissant. I can't vouch for the texts, but mix appealing in its
- Eddie Daniels: Homecoming: Live at the Iridium
(2006 , IPO, 2CD):
Plays clarinet and tenor sax, much
better known for the clarinet although I rather prefer the sax
here -- slows down the bebop runs and feels more centered in a
band that includes vibes (Joe Locke) and piano (Tom Ranier).
Originally from New York but lives in Santa Fe, hence the title.
- Charles Davis: Land of Dreams (2006 , Smalls):
Saxophonist, plays tenor a lot here, soprano a little, but best known
for his baritone. Born 1933, Goodman MI. Early on (1954-61) played
with Sun Ra, Dinah Washington, Kenny Dorham, Steve Lacy, Cecil Taylor,
and a fairly steady stream thereafter -- often in large groups, like
Muhal Richard Abrams' Hearinga Suite, where his role isn't all
that clear. Has very little under his own name -- a 1979 album is
called Dedicated to Tadd, and he plays a Dameron piece here.
Reminds me of Clifford Jordan with his leonine tone and foursquare
phrasing. Quartet includes Tardo Hammer (piano), Lee Hudson (bass),
Jimmy Wormworth (drums), but the sax is constantly front and center.
Even his soprano sounds heavy, which may be why he built his career
- Miles Davis: Evolution of the Groove (1959-72 ,
Feels like an aborted project, adding
up to no more than 14:40 including an unreleased, unnecessary
"Freddie Freeloader" outtake, and four short remixes -- one
featuring Nas, one featuring Carlos Santana, two more with no
one much at all.
- Walter Davis Jr.: Davis Cup (1959 , Blue Note):
A minor hard bop pianist, worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Donald Byrd,
Jackie McLean, Art Blakey, Archie Shepp, Bobby Watson, a few others.
This quintet was his only album on Blue Note, or for that matter
under his own name until 1977. He wrote all the pieces, but he
doesn't get much piano space. The album is dominated by Byrd, with
McLean present but usually laying back.
- Deep Blue Organ Trio: Folk Music (2007, Origin):
Chicago group, with Chris Foreman on organ, Bobby Broom on guitar,
Greg Rockingham on drums. Third album; first two on Delmark. No
idea where the title comes from. Nothing here suggests anything
I can recognize as folk music: most of the pieces come out of
hard bop, with songs from the Beatles and Ohio Players slightly
more recent. Foreman doesn't strike me as a particularly imposing
organ player. He tends to pad out the groove rather than drive
it, letting Broom's guitar set the pace and direction.
- Tony DeSare: Last First Kiss (2006 , Telarc):
It may not be fair to treat him as another Sinatra wannabe. He plays
piano some, although he gives way to Tedd Firth on five cuts here,
and he writes a bit, including the title cut. He's especially adept
at going soft, as on an "How Deep Is the Ocean?" reduced to the
barest simmer, or his own delicate "Lover's Lullaby." He takes two
rock pieces -- Prince's "Kiss" and Carole King's "I Feel the Earth
Move"; I thought about saying contemporary but on average they're
older than he is -- and pares them down to his niche, but he's
more comfortable with the old stuff. Bucky Pizzarelli plays guitar.
Five cuts have horns, including an underused but invaluable Harry
Allen. Two albums down, he's my favorite of the wannabes -- except
for Diana Krall, who already is.
- The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band: Cookin' at the Corner, Vol. 2
(2005 , Origin):
Drummer, sings swing tunes and jump
blues in a voice that brings Louis Prima to mind, especially when
he turns the microphone over to his straighter half, wife Bonnie
Eisele. But the analogy held up better on Vol. 1, where he
uncorked a funny story called "Bennie's From Heaven"; nothing here
- The Karl Denson Trio: Lunar Orbit (2007, Bobby Ace):
From San Diego, plays sax and flute, more funk than jazz. Got his
break in 1989 with Lenny Kravitz. Other credits include Fred Wesley,
Blackalicious, the Allman Brothers, Steve Winwood, John Scofield,
and a couple of organ grinders I like: Robert Walter and Ron Levy.
The trio here is an organ-drums thing, but it's not really a trio:
he uses three different organ players and three different drummers
(counting Steve Haney on congas). This leads off with a flute piece,
awful really, and he returns to flute several more times -- "That
Other Thing" is a tolerable example, but it still seems like a
pretty silly funk instrument. The sax, of course, works better --
cf. "Dingo Dog Sled," probably the most retro piece here, easily
- Bob DeVos: Playing for Keeps (2007, Savant):
Guitarist-led organ trio, with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander
an added attraction on four of ten songs. Don't have much bio
on DeVos: four records since 1999, three on Savant, but he looks
older, and has credits Richard "Groove" Holmes albums in 1977,
then very little until he pops up with Charles Earland in 1997.
Dan Kostelnik plays a relatively reserved and supportive organ
here, letting DeVos run his long, grooveful leads. I haven't
had much nice to say about Alexander lately, but he's back in
full tone here, powering through the leadoff cut, and mixing
it up with DeVos in the later cuts.
- 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.
- Lou Donaldson: Gravy Train (1961 , Blue Note):
An alto saxophonist, Donaldson got a reputation early in the 1950s
as a Charlie Parker imitator, but it's hard to hear the influence,
especially by the early 1960s when his easy-flowing blues style fit
snugly into the soul jazz milieu. The temptation to put him down as
derivative may be because he never showed any big ambitions. He was
content to knock off dozens of clean toned, easy grooving albums,
popular enough that Blue Note kept him employed from 1952 to 1974.
This one makes the most of his limits. Two originals are small
ideas worked out comfortably. The covers carry stronger melodies,
which he renders with little elaboration but uncommon elegance.
Herman Foster's piano is crisper than the usual organs, while
Alec Dorsey's congas lighten and loosen the beat.
- Double Duo: Crossword Puzzle (2005 , Libra):
Two piano-trumpet duos, one from Japan (Satoko Fujii, Natsuki Tamura),
the other from the Netherlands (Misha Mengelberg, Angelo Verploegen).
Not much different than a single duo would have been, given that
both duos leave ample room for the other.
- Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters: Hope Radio
(2007, Stony Plain): Winner of an honorary "shut up and play
yer guitar" award. Filed under blues, although they could pass
as a soul jazz organ group -- trio plus two extra bassists, one
also playing a bit of piano. Earl's blues guitar is clean and
fluid. Still, at its best it reminds me of the guitar breaks
in blues-infatuated rock records -- like Big Brother and the
Holding Company with no Janis Joplin.
- Wayne Escoffery: Veneration (2006 , Savant):
Tenor saxophonist, takes one track on soprano without faltering,
plays fast postbop, holds an attractive tone when he slows down;
basically, has all the tools. Dresses sharp too. Only wrote one
song, which holds up. Ends with superb pieces by Ellington and
McLean. First rate band, with Joe Locke on vibes a special treat,
especially when they race. Hans Glawishnig on bass, Lewis Nash
- Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra: Invitation (2007,
Pacific Coast Jazz):
Listed in the credits as Dr. Bruce Eskovitz.
Got his Ph.D. at University of Southern California. Don't know how
old he is, but he's got some grey in the beard and a discography
that goes back to 1992, or maybe to 1983. Plays saxophone, mostly
tenor, some soprano, some alto flute. AMG describes his early
records as "crossover," but he turned around and did a Rollins
tribute (One for Newk) in 1993. This is a 10-piece big
band -- not huge in terms of numbers, but they play loud -- one
of several things I like about them. Another is a choice cut
called "Latin Fever" which Eskovitz wrote as a classroom salsa
intro but kept in the book because it's "always a crowd pleaser."
Reminds me of Gillespie's big band. Finally, I like it when the
saxophonist takes center stage and cuts loose. Not a lot of
finesse here. Maybe the academy isn't so stuffy after all.
- John Ettinger: Kissinger in Space (2006, Ettinger Music):
A much more ambitious run of music than on his debut --
more varied, which among other things means some slower pieces. I
still don't have a sense of him as a violin stylist, although he
hits every mark he sets. But I'm much impressed with his networking:
he tapped Arizona schoolmate Tony Malaby for a second voice, and
his SF connections brought in Nels Cline Singers Devin Hoff on
bass and Scott Amendola on drums.
- Alan Ferber Nonet: The Compass (2006 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent):
Trombonist, twin brother of drummer Mark
Ferber; not to be confused with saxophonist Alon Farber or trombonist
Joe Fielder let alone drummer Alvin Fielder, though sometimes it
takes some effort. Third album, second nonet, a configuration I
almost always abhor. Played it to clear it off my shelf, then had
to play it again to verify what I was hearing. It does have a fair
amount of that complex postbop harmony I care so little for, but
the delicate parts of something like "North Rampart" are luscious,
even when the horns weigh in. And the charging trombone sells the
- Joe Fiedler Trio: The Crab (2007, Clean Feed):
Trombonist. Based in New York. Third album as leader, plus a
substantial sideman list, divided between salsa bands, big
bands, and work with avant-gardists (Anthony Braxton, Satoko
Fujii, and Chris Jonas show up repeatedly). A previous trio was
called Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff, also on
Clean Feed, which did a good job of framing trombone as a lead
instrument. This trio, with bassist John Hebert and drummer
Michael Sarin, builds on that, although it also shows the basic
limits of volume and dynamics.
- Scott Fields Ensemble: Dénoument (1997 ,
Actually, a double trio: two sets of guitar, bass
and drums. On the left channel: Jeff Parker, Jason Roebke, Michael
Zerang. On the right: Fields, Hans Sturm, Hamid Drake. Most or all
Chicago musicians. Fields has a dozen or more records since 1990,
maybe earlier, including a duo with Parker on Delmark. This was
originally self-released on Geode Records in 1999. Fields explains:
"For most of the compositions, the trios are working in different
but interlocking pitch sets and compound time signatures. These
structures result in pip-popping little kicks and
difficult-to-pin-down harmonies." Strikes me as dabbling: a bit
here, a bit there, no particular urge to pull it all together.
- Ella Fitzgerald: Love Letters From Ella (1973-83
I don't really know what's going on
here. I just have an advance copy and a PR sheet that's more
concerned with hyping Starbucks than any of the music here. Plus
I figured I'd put it off until some Verve reissues showed up,
but they never did. Now I'm just cleaning up. What we have here
are ten previously unreleased vocal tracks from Fitzgerald's
1973-83 Pablo period. They are strong performances of familiar
material. Eight are presented as featuring special guests: Count
Basie, the London Symphony Orchestra, Joe Pass, André Previn,
and/or Scott Hamilton. Some have been merged in the editing --
LSO and Hamilton for sure, Pass and Basie are dead although the
latter retains a ghostly form, especially at Concord. I'm only
partly inclined to reject such adulteration out of hand -- for
instance, I don't have a big problem with remixes and mash-ups,
but there the shoe is on the other foot. But I do like to know
what I'm dealing with, and there's a whiff of dishonesty here
that may or may not be dispelled in the final product -- the
reviews I've read add some info suggesting it is, but not enough
to be sure. In any case, "Our Love Is Here to Stay" with André
Previn is a choice cut -- holds up even though my mind keeps
interjecting snatches from her duet with Louis Armstrong.
- Wendy Fopeano: Raining on the Roses (2006 ,
Vocalist, originally from Kansas City, now based
in Denver. Second album. Likes vocalese, writing her own lyrics
to David Murray and Kenny Barron pieces, as well as using some of
Jon Hendricks' lyrics. Likes to scat. Does two Jobim songs, several
standards, one co-credit with pianist-husband Marc Sabatella. Gives
one song slot up to fellow KC vocalist Carol Comer. Recorded live
with a pretty upbeat group.
- Gary Foster/Putter Smith: Perfect Circularity
(2006 , AJI):
AJI stands for American Jazz Institute. Foster
is credited with woodwinds. Two booklet photos show him playing
alto sax, a third a flute. Lee Konitz wrote a note also mentioning
tenor sax. Foster was close to 70 when this was recorded. He came
out of Kansas a little too late for the west coast cool boom of
the 1950s, but he does have a connection to Warne Marsh and Konitz.
He cut three albums in the 1960s, little more under his own name,
but he has a substantial number of credits, including an acclaimed
record in Concord's Duo Series that Alan Broadbent got top
billing for. Smith is a bassist, five years younger. His credit
list is much shorter, conspicuously including a half-dozen albums
with Broadbent. This is a duo, with the usual limits but nicely
done, with both players holding interest in their solos as well
as their interplay.
- Jamie Fox: When I Get Home (2006, Rare Cat):
Guitarist, from California. First album. Doesn't look to be all
that young. Brief bio on website suggests a checkered career:
"played lead guitar and served as Musical Director for the Joan
Baez World Tour (1989-1991), . . . was lead guitarist
for Blood, Sweat, & Tears (1998-2000), touring the USA and
Canada." Not being much of a guitar buff, I could go up or down
on his attractive mainstream guitar, but he put together a pretty
good band -- four (out of five) names I recognize, the best known
being pianist Kenny Werner, the most impressive saxophonist Dan
Willis. His work here reminds me that I still owe Willis an
honorable mention for Velvet Gentlemen.
- Joe Friedman: Cup O' Joe (2006, NAS Music):
Guitarist, from St. Louis, now in New York. First album. Wrote
two of ten pieces, claiming arrangements on a couple more, so not
a big composer. Other pieces include two from Monk, one each from
Horace Silver and George Benson. He's a good but unremarkable
mainstream guitarist. What lifts the album above par is a band
that includes George Colligan on piano and Peter Washington on
- Champian Fulton with David Berger & the Sultans of Swing:
Champian (2007, Such Sweet Thunder):
plays piano on two tracks, would probably play more but not
much point in front of a big band. Born 1985, grew up in
Norman OK, then Le Mars IA, then back to Norman. Father plays
trumpet, became director of Clark Terry Institute for Jazz
Studies -- Terry was a household guest early on, a world-class
education in itself. She graduated from SUNY Purchase, moved
to New York, sings with Berger's big band. The Berger band
always seemed better in theory than in practice, and are
still little more than perfunctory here, but Fulton fits
in nicely and brightens them up -- good examples are "He
Ain't Got Rhythm" and "Just One of Those Things."
- Funky Pieces of Silver: The Horace Silver Songbook (The
Composer Collection Volume 1) (1997-2005 , High Note):
An unnecessary label sampler, but it's hard to go wrong with Silver
songs. Six of nine feature the Hammond B-3, including four by Charles
Earland, three from the same album. The only surprise is that I like
Joey DeFrancesco's trumpet more than his organ. Everything is tight,
and funk is its own reward.
- Richard Galliano Quartet: If You Love Me (2006
, CAM Jazz):
Gary Burton's vibes provide fast light accents
to Galliano's accordion, which carries the emotional weight of
pieces that are neither fast nor light. Both players have a
connection to Astor Piazzolla, who wrote the majority of these
pieces. When Burton played with Piazzolla back in the 1970s, he
was more fan than help. Here he fits better, not least because
Galliano is in a mood to woo, not race.
- Brad Goode: Nature Boy (2006 , Delmark):
Trumpet player, from Chicago, now based in Colorado. Sixth album
since 1988, when his debut was titled Shock of the New.
Haven't heard that one, but I doubt that it was very shocking.
Very mainstream, bright tone on the trumpet, standard quartet
with Jeff Jenkins on piano. Has a nice stretch of covers early
on, including "I Remember You," "Sealed With a Kiss," "Tres
Palabras (Without You)." Originals more conventionally postbop.
- Grant Green: The Latin Bit (1961 , Blue Note):
The latin percussion is professional enough -- Johnny Acea on piano,
Willie Bobo on drums, Carlos "Patato" Valdes on congas, Garvin
Masseaux on chekere -- but they can't inspire Green to break out
of his usual groove. Two later cuts with Ike Quebec on tenor sax
and Sonny Clark on piano work better, with the chekere gone and
the congas reduced to atmosphere.
- Onaje Allan Gumbs: Sack Full of Dreams (2007,
18th & Vine):
Pianist, b. 1949 in New York, 6th album since 1990,
with a long list of sideman credits going back to Betty Carter's boot
camp in 1972 and Woody Shaw's Moontrane in 1974. He's always
struck me as an able supporting player, but I've never gotten a sense
of his own style, and this strikes me as all over the map. One vocal
track, featuring Obba Babatunde, disrupts the flow, despite noble
- Tardo Hammer: Look Stop & Listen: The Music of Tadd
Dameron (2007, Sharp Nine):
Pianist, from New York, on
his fourth album, mostly trios -- this one with John Webber and
Joe Farnsworth. Deeply rooted in bebop, all the more evident on
this program of Tadd Dameron tunes. He does a respectable job,
here as elsewhere, but I find this of rather limited interest.
- Julie Hardy: The Wish (2006 , World Culture Music):
Vocalist, from New Hampshire, now in Brooklyn after studying
in Boston. Second album, after A Moment's Notice (2005, Fresh
Sound New Talent). Wrote half or a bit more, including three pieces
subtitled parts of "The Wish Suite." Also does a Beatles song, some
standards, and added lyrics to a Wayne Shorter piece. Band includes
some minor names -- guitarist Ben Monder is probably the best known.
I didn't care much for the voice or the arrangements, thought "All
or Nothing at All" was especially clunky; but I was working on other
stuff at the time, wasn't paying enough attention to get technical,
and gave her the benefit of my doubts on the grade, seeing little
prospect in pursuing this further.
- The Harlem Experiment (2007, Ropeadope):
although I can't tell you how, to two previous Ropeadope releases:
The Philadelphia Experiment and The Detroit Experiment.
The promo cover speaks of "a quilt of sounds that speak to the real
Harlem," but I suspect that has less to do with the actual Harlem
of today than the mythic Harlem of yore -- a scene still haunted
by Langston Hughes and Malcolm X, where "Reefer Man" is still funny,
"A Rose in Spanish Harlem" is a lonely jíbaro serenade, and the
Jewish past still lingers in Don Byron's clarinet lead "Bei Mir
Bist Du Schoen," with token entries for funk and a plea for rhyme
as serious lit. In other words, an album of distinct pieces composed
into an artificial mural. Vocals by Queen Esther, Taj Mahal, James
Hunter, Olu Dara. Steve Bernstein smears his trumpet over Malcolm
X. DJ Arkive is credited with cuts and bruises.
- David Hazeltine: The Inspiration Suite (2007, Sharp Nine):
One of the very best mainstream pianists working
today, consistently engaging in his trio -- cf. The Classic
Trio (1996, Sharp Nine) -- and a dependable support player.
This whole group looks sharp, with Eric Alexander on tenor sax,
Joe Locke on vibes, John Webber on bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums,
and Daniel Sadownick on percussion (three tracks). But the first
time I played it I was little more than annoyed; second time it
just flopped lamely, marking time before it expired. I suppose
I could give it a third spin to see whether to add it to the
dud list, especially if I can figure out why. I'm not real sure
why this doesn't work -- Alexander sounds thin, way off his
usual game; Locke solos well but otherwise is disconnected;
the 26-minute title thing straddling the middle is impossible
to distinguish from the before and aft; the leader rarely gets
space to stretch out -- but it probably doesn't matter much.
- The Skip Heller Trio: Mean Things Happening in This Land
One of those advance copies that got lost in my pile,
in this case for a year or more. No big deal. Heller is a guitarist,
born in Philadelphia, based in Los Angeles. Has a dozen-plus albums
since 1992, drawing on blues, swing, pop, and if AMG is to be believed,
Bakersfield country. The mean things include at least two obvious
references to New Orleans: "Katrina, Mon Amour" and "Heckuvajob."
Maybe three, given that another title is "President Nero?" There's
also a song for Ani DiFranco, "The Kind of Beauty that Moves," and
he follows that up with the Dead Milkmen's "Punk Rock Girl." I wish
the music lived up to these titles, but it's mostly mild-mannered
organ funk. Last song has a vocal, but no credit for who sang it.
It's called "Aragon Mill," about the closing thereof, and is the
best thing here, probably because words are sharper than guitar.
- Marsha Heydt: One Night (2007, Blue Toucan):
Plays sax, flute, clarinet. Grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country,
tracing her family back to the eighteenth century. Moved to Los
Angeles in 1991, then to New York in 1992. First album. Wrote
four songs, including one done both as an instrumental and with
a nuanced Carla Cook vocal. That's the only vocal. The rest, with
the marginal exception of a Monk piece, is rather schmoozy easy
listening music, often with quasi-Latin rhythms, three with a
string trio, six more with Erik Friedlander's cello. Booklet
doesn't specify what Heydt plays where, but her website gives
the breakdown as: alto sax 6, soprano sax 3, flute 4. Heydt's
alto sax sounds rather wobbly, although her "Georgia on My Mind"
has some charm. In fact, quite a bit of this is likable, but
it's hard to see much point to it.
- His Name Is Alive: Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion
Brown (2004-07, High Two):
I imagine that most
readers know who Marion Brown is, but that may not be a slam
dunk. He's an alto saxophonist, born 1935, made a few notable
avant-garde albums starting with ESP-Disk in 1965 up through
a couple of remarkable Mal Waldron duos in the 1980s, but
he's recorded little since, evidently having multiple health
problems. Very few of his records are in print, so if you
weren't aware of him when he was active, there's not much
likelihood of being reminded of him now. His Name Is Alive
is more/less a front for guitarist Warren Defever. In the
early 1990s he recorded quasi-rock albums with singer Karin
Oliver. Robert Christgau recommended a couple of his/their
albums. I bought one, made no sense of it, and never paid
any further attention to him/them. Now, a few dozen mostly
self-released albums later, comes this Marion Brown tribute.
Three cuts were recorded live in 2004, the others undated
studio cuts. The musicians mostly come from the Ann Arbor
group NOMO, with Michael Herbst on alto sax, Elliot Bergman
on tenor sax, Justin Walter on trumpet, Olman Piedra on
congas and cajon. None of these players make much of an
impression, except occasionally the guitar. Long stretches
are rather fallow, occasionally dirgelike. [PS: Looks like
Why Not? is available at the ESP-Disk website, as
good a place to start as any.]
- Billie Holiday: Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles
(1935-42 , Columbia/Legacy, 4CD):
Her early Brunswick singles
were credited to Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra, but only the most
arcane European labels still credit them to Wilson. One proof that
Holiday is the most bankable name in pre-WWII jazz is that the major
label custodian of Wilson's Brunswick and Holiday's Vocalion singles,
currently d/b/a Sony/BMG, has kept them consistently and extensively
in print throughout the CD era, even while they've let works by Louis
Armstrong and Duke Ellington, not to the Wilson cuts that didn't
feature Holiday. The first CDs were The Quintessential Billie
Holiday, released as nine separate volumes. In 2001, Sony came
up with 35 unreleased alternates and packaged it all together in
a 10-CD box, Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia
1933-1944, which they broke down to six CDs of master takes and
four of alternates. All along, they've spun off smaller samplers,
which are almost impossible to screw up -- unless they drag in a
1958 Columbia horror show, Lady in Satin, where her voice
is shot and drenched in dreadful strings, about the only possible
complaint is that they cut her short. If the big box seems de trop
and the still-in-print Quintessentials seem too arbitrary,
this 80-song box is perfect. The subtitle is misleading in that it
contains nowhere near all the master takes and singles, but the
selection is canonical, faultless. It smoothes over the arcs of
her story -- her emergence from being in the band to stardom, the
wear and tear of a troubled life. On this evidence, she took charge
of a band of superstars from day one and was a model of consistency
at least as far as the box goes -- her voice limited in range, her
technique straightforward and uncluttered, her phrasing definitive.
- John Hollenbeck & Jazz Bigband Graz: Joys &
Desires (2004 , Intuition):
After my preliminary
note, Hollenbeck wrote in to correct me that Theo Bleckman's
"effects" on the first piece were acoustic, not electronic,
and that the band played there as well. Indeed, they frame
the poem in striking tones, complementing Bleckman's reading
while staying out of its way. Five minutes into the second
piece, there's still nothing here that couldn't have been
done more economically with synths, but gradually the sonic
wealth of the big band takes shape, and the record is off and
running. Bleckmann returns much later with the rapturous title
chant (the piece is "The Garden of Love"), the high point of
an album that is always sharp and often seductive.
- Charlie Hunter and Bobby Previte as Groundtruther +
Special Guest John Medeski: Altitude (2006 ,
Thirsty Ear, 2CD):
Hunter plays 7-string guitar. Previte is
a drummer who dabbles in electronics. They both have notable
solo careers -- Previte's a decade longer, from 1987 -- and
now have three Groundtruther albums together, each named for
geographical dimensions (Longitude, Latitude),
each with an extra guest (or two). This one adds keyb player
Medeski, of Martin & Wood fame. First disc is labeled
"Below Sea Level," which lets Medeski exploit the whole gamut
of bubbly burbling organ effects, a tedious onomatopoeia that
ultimately fails to evolve gills and expires in the deep. The
second disc is "Above Sea Level," which lets Hunter air out
his guitar for some pleasant flightiness, eventually coaxing
Medeski to switch to piano, which for once surprises.
- Todd Isler: Soul Drums (2006-07 , Takadimi Tunes):
Drummer, percussionist, seems to have special interests
in Indian and African percussion, evidently based in New York. This
is second or third album. Claims to have appeared on hundreds of
albums. AMG counts 16. Has a book called You Can Ta Ka Di Mi
This. Songs include various saxophonists, pianists, bassists.
Sandwiched between are short percussion-only pieces. Covers two
songs: Stevie Wonder's "Bird of Beauty" and Joe Zawinul's "Badia" --
the latter the closer, breaking the pattern with a guitar duo. The
song pieces are very nice. The interludes break up the sweetness.
- Jentsch Group Large: Brooklyn Suite (2005 ,
Fleur de Son):
Led by Chris Jentsch, guitarist, based in Brooklyn.
Has a couple of previous albums I haven't heard, including one
called Miami Suite -- got his Doctor of Musical Arts degree
from University of Miami. Group numbers 17, including conductor
JC Sanford, five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, guitar, bass,
drums -- familiar names include John O'Gallagher, Dan Willis, Russ
Johnson, Jacob Garchik, Alan Ferber. Big, swimming sound, but I'm
not all that well disposed to the swaggering moves and the fancy
orchestration. Ends with two non-Suite pieces which develop the
guitar and individual horns better.
- Ellen Johnson: These Days (2005 , 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.
- Sean Jones: Roots (2006, Mack Avenue):
was released in Sept. 2006. Again, all I have is the advance. On
the back it says: "Sean Jones and Roots take you from the
church, to the dance hall, and through the night clubs of New
Orleans." Actually, they start with "Children's Hymn" and end
with "John 3:16" and "I Need Thee," stopping at "Come Sunday"
and "Lift Every Voice" and similar fare along the way -- maybe
Brad Leali's "Puddin' Time" counts as a change of pace? (Sounds
like it.) Jones is a bright, energetic trumpet player, but he
rarely picks the music to show that off. The saxophonist has
some good moments; evidently that's Tia Fuller.
- Sean Jones: Kaleidoscope (2007, Mack Avenue):
Trumpet player, b. 1978 in Warren OH. Fourth album, quite a few
side dates, mostly with labelmates but he can also point to some
notable big band work (Brad Leali, Gerald Wilson). Never got a
final copy of this; for that matter, got an advance but no final
of his previous Roots, which I never got to (but may be
around here somewhere). This one is meant to showcase vocalists.
Don't know who sings what, but the vocalists are: Kim Burrell,
Gretchen Parlato, Carolyn Perteete, Sachal Vasandani, JD Walter.
Most have a gospel vibe, and none strike me as the least bit
interesting. But the trumpet does shine behind them, and tenor
saxophonist Walter Smith III breaks loose some tough runs.
Maybe I should find the old promo?
- Thad Jones: The Magnificent Thad Jones (1956 ,
The title strikes me as a play on Jones'
debut album on Debut, The Fabulous Thad Jones -- among
other things it implies continued growth. The slowest great
trumpet player of his generation, Jones never dazzled you with
his chops, but he had an uncanny knack for finding right places
for his notes, and at his moderate pace you get to savor the
full beauty of the instrument. Ends with a graceful non-LP
duet with guitarist Kenny Burrell.
- Manu Katché: Playground (2007, ECM):
but understated album, the big difference from his previous
Neighbourhood is the presence of cleverly textured but
unstriking horns (Mathias Eick, Trygve Seim) in place of ones
that that force your attention (Tomasz Stanko, Jan Garbarek).
Katché, a drummer who composes but doesn't make a lot of noise
here, did manage to hang on to two thirds of Stanko's young
Polish trio, with Marcin Wasilewski's piano the charm here.
- Bernie Kenerson: Just You & Me (2007, Bernup):
Subtitled "The Art of the EWI" -- promised as the first of a number
of volumes exploring the Akai EWI 4000s electronic wind instrument;
i.e., a synthesizer you control by blowing into. EWI's show up on
some smooth jazz records, but not often otherwise. (Sanity check:
fgrep through my notebook produces: Michael Brecker, Felipe LaMoglia
[w/Ignacio Berroa], Bob Mintzer, Jørgen Munkeby [Shining], Steve
Tavaglione [Jing Chi], Andre Ward. That strikes me as short on the
smooth side, but my note-taking isn't always up to snuff there.)
Problem is that Kenerson doesn't push the instrument very far. He
describes himself as "a child of funk and fusion," cites Brecker
as his favorite musician, and picks Mintzer's Yellowjackets as his
favorite band. Backed with keybs, bass and percussion, Kenerson
mostly sticks with harmless funk and a bit of space atmosphere
here. The EWI ranges from flute to sanitized alto sax tones --
it's not the problem, but not the solution either.
- Carla Kihlstedt/Satoko Fujii: Minamo (2002-05 ,
Violin-piano duo. Kihlstedt is best known for her work
in Tin Hat, although she's shown up in a number of contexts, including
ROVA's latest assault on Ascension. The first three tracks,
totalling 20 minutes, were recorded as an opening act for a ROVA
concert in San Francisco. The final 28:40 tracks was recorded at
Wels in Austria. The latter set meshes better, probably because
the violinist is more aggressive. The pianist can brawl with the
best of them, but she tends to hold back when not provoked. Which
is OK too, in the limited way of duos.
- Meinrad Kneer/Albert van Veenendaal: The Munderkingen Sessions:
Part 1 (2004 , Evil Rabbit):
Predictable Point of Impact, a trio with percussionist Yonga
Sun that made my last Jazz CG column. The drums keep things moving,
or at least provide a welcome distraction. Cutting back to just
bass and piano inevitably slows things down, and this is no
exception. Kneer is the bassist. Van Veenendaal plays more or
less prepared piano, which offers some surprises, but more often
than not the pair get bogged down in minute abstractions. I find
this somewhat fascinating, but don't expect many others will.
- The Very Best of Diana Krall (1995-2006 , Verve):
The most successful jazz vocalist of her generation, her
precise, practiced control of nuance is evident in every note,
sometimes so conspicuously that she stretches slow songs out to
imponderable lengths. Still, she has no hit parade, no canon --
the selection here seems arbitrary, favoring her least graceful
albums making the songs seem unnecessarily difficult. I imagine
that other selections are equally viable -- had I started from
scratch to make up my own mix tape, I doubt I would have picked
as many as two of these songs.
- Jonathan Kreisberg: The South of Everywhere (2007,
Guitarist, from New York, has several albums since 1996.
This is a quintet with alto sax (Will Vinson), piano (Gary Versace),
bass (Matt Penman), and drums (Mark Ferber). Some cuts drop down
to a trio. The sort of record I find appealing while it's playing
but can't remember much of afterwards. There are dozens and dozens
of good jazz guitarists these days, and he's certainly one of them.
- Steve Kuhn/Steve Swallow: Two by Two (1995 ,
Piano/electric bass, two longtime masters, trading
songbooks as well as lines. Played it with pleasure three times and
have no idea of how to write about it: intimate, understated,
seductive, but too respectful to shake much of anything loose.
- Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd Quartet: Early and Late
(1962-2002 , Cuneiform, 2CD):
One thing that distinguished
both Lacy and Rudd is that they vaulted directly from trad jazz
to the avant-garde, pausing only to snatch up the songbooks of
Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. Instrumentation had something
to do with this: before Lacy, the only known soprano sax master
was Sidney Bechet, while, pace J.J. Johnson, the trombone had
long been a New Orleans staple for dirtying up the lead trumpet --
Louis Armstrong never went anywhere without a Kid Ory or Trummy
Young or Jack Teagarden. The first Lacy-Rudd quartet only cut one
album, School Days (1963), but it was landmark enough that
Ken Vandermark named his trombone-powered pianoless quartet after
it. The four early cuts here are unreleased demos -- three takes
on Monk and one on Cecil Taylor -- and they are major finds, keys
to how to turn a song inside out and make something new of it. The
group broke up with Lacy moving to France and Rudd teaming up with
Archie Shepp and others before fading into obscurity. Finally, they
regrouped for tours in 1999 and 2002, with a new album, Monk's
Dream. The balance here are live shots from the tours -- long
pieces, mostly Lacy's improv frameworks, plus Monk and Nichols and
a sprightly pseudo-African riff from Rudd. They don't blow you away
so much as they resonate with the authoritative voices of two major
careers bound together at their ends.
- Sinikka Langeland: Starflowers (2006 , ECM):
Norwegian father, Finnish mother, sings the Norwegian
words of lumberjack-poet Hans Børli -- like Langeland, hailing
from the Finnskogen, the "Finnish Woods" of northeast Norway --
while playing santele, a Finnish table harp. She has several
previous albums, probably more authentically folkish. For ECM,
Manfred Eicher hooks her up with his favorite Nordic jazzers,
most notably Trygve Seim on sax and Arve Henriksen on trumpet --
his third appearance in this batch, finally making a memorable
appearance. Most of this is slow, cold, a little arch, but now
and then they crank up the tension, and interest.
- Jon Larsen: Strange News From Mars (2007,
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.
- The Soul & Jazz of Timo Lassy (2007, Ricky Tick):
Finnish saxophonist, tenor and baritone,
plus a little show-off flute. Looks like his first album, a
sextet with trumpet and trombone shagging his flies; piano,
bass and drums for rhythm. Website suggests: "He is the perfect
melting of diverse characteristics triggering a likeness to
Willis Jackson and Pharoah Sanders in one's mind." I can't
say that he sounds like either, although the juxtaposition is
bizarre enough that it helps locate where he'd like to be.
He's not there -- simply doesn't have the sound or authority.
But his band is happy playing soul jazz, and trombonist Mikko
Mustonen, who also works with UMO Jazz Orchestra, earns a
- Alison Faith Levy & Mushroom: Yesterday, I Saw You
Kissing Tiny Flowers (2002-05 , 4Zero):
See what I
mean about Mushroom: this seems like a throwback to San Francisco
in the late '60s for no better reason than that Levy does a fairly
decent Grace Slick impression -- except in presence, since she
never really takes control of the album. That gives it a certain
anonymous quality. But while the evoke Jefferson Airplane, they
do so with more flexibility and wit. And their polymorphuousness
continues unabated and unapologetic. Inspirational title: "Kraut
- Amy London: When I Look in Your Eyes (2005 ,
Can't glean much from her bio: born somewhere in Ohio, got
a BA from Syracuse, been in New York since 1982 (at least), took
time from her career for children -- presumably she's recovered
from that. Discography shows nine albums: this one, a duo with
guitarist Roni Ben-Hur (who plays here), the rest without her
name on the cover -- Broadway cast recording City of Angels,
movie soundtrack Radioland Murders, something based on
Rainer Maria Rilke, Tom Browne's Funkin' for Jamaica, more
Ben-Hur. She has a Broadway voice: precise control, projects well,
able to exploit a nuance to tell a story. She's also managed to
assemble an admirable band, including the late John Hicks on
piano, Rufus Reid on bass, Richie Vitale on trumpet, and Chris
Byars on sax, as well as Ben-Hur and others -- they don't stand
out so much as they fit in. Choice cut: "The Best Is Yet to Come."
Evidently she's taught voice for quite a while; she does a whole
textbook on that one.
- Los Angeles Guitar Quartet: LAGQ Brazil (2007, Telarc):
Four guitarists: original members John Dearman, William Kanengiser, and
Scott Tennant, plus Matthew Greif, who joined in 2006 replacing Andrew
York. Group began at USC in 1980 under Pepe Romero, although York didn't
join until 1990 and I can't find any discography that goes back further
than 1993 (Dances From Renaissance to Nutcracker, although an
album called Recital evidently precedes it). An album called
Labyrinth featured "Zeppelin to Sousa, Basie to Copland." One
called Air & Ground included Afro-Cuban, Macedonian, Native
American, Brazilian, and Celtic pieces. So they're used to exotic
repetoire, but they aren't specialists. Brazilian music is friendly,
perhaps inevitable, guitar ground. This is pleasant and unchallenging.
Guests pop in on a couple of songs: Kevin Ricard percussion, Katisse
Buckingham flute and soprano sax, Luciana Souza vocals (two songs;
she's never been a plus on anything I've heard, and ranks as a minor
- Los Angeles Jazz Ensemble: Expectation (2007,
Kind of Blue, CD+DVD):
A set of pop and jazz standards, given
attractive, respectful, easy going treatments. The leader here
is Darek Oleskiewicz, who's expanded his Los Angeles Jazz
Quartet for the occasion: Bob Sheppard (sax), Alan Pasqua
(organ), Larry Koonse (guitar), Peter Erskine (drums), and
Janis Siegel (vocals on 4 of 12 pieces). DVD captures a bit
more than 30 minutes of studio time, with everyone working
in separate rooms.
- 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.
- Harry Manx/Kevin Breit: In Good We Trust (2007, Stony Plain):
Two guitarists, with occasional variants --
banjo, mandolin, mandola, bazouki, slide mandocello, lap slide
guitar, national steel guitar, etc. Manx reportedly "fuses south
Asian music with the blues" -- I can't really attest to either,
nor can I see much reason to file this as folk or country or
jazz but at least it's better than new age. Manx also sings,
starting with Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire," taken at a
past that doesn't risk combustion.
- Roger Mas 5tet: Mason (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent):
Spanish (or, more precisely, Catallan) pianist,
although his favored instrument here is Fender Rhodes. Quintet
includes tenor/soprano saxophonist Jon Robles, guitarist Jaume
Llombart, no trumpet, but the group is augmented with "special
guest" Enrique Oliver on tenor sax. Two covers, one from John
Coltrane, the other from Antonio Carlos Jobim. The record has
a slick postbop feel, the saxophones omnipresent, the guitarist
taking more solos than the leader.
- Bennie Maupin: The Jewel and the Lotus (1974 , ECM):
Plays "reeds" which sounds like a sneaky way to slip the flute
in, although soprano sax and bass clarinet are also featured in his
toolkit; best known for headhunting fusion with Herbie Hancock, who
returns the favor here, but this is an early exercise in ECM pastorale,
what New Age would be if brains or guts were required.
- Barney McClure Trio: Spot (2006 , OA2):
Hammond B3 organ-guitar-drums trios are normally as routine as
electric guitar blues, a conservatized form that persists in
vague remembrance of some primal significance -- the distilled
essence of funk, actually. This is not just a cut above run of
the mill -- it's light, loose, and lively. Sweet guitarist Mike
Denny has a lot to do with that, earning his "featuring" credit.
- Bill McHenry: Roses (2006 , Sunnyside):
Tenor sax quartet with guitar, bass, drums. I'm tempted to
say that Ben Monder and maybe Reid Anderson want to rock, but
Paul Motian won't give them a steady rhythm. McHenry stradles
this tension, often inventively, but he's not as slick or as
self-assured as a Chris Potter or Donny McCaslin, which if
anything helps to open up the interplay.
- John McLean: Better Angels (2004 , Origin):
Guitarist, based in Chicago, with Berklee and University of Miami
in his background, a 25-year career, three records under his own
name, a couple dozen more working with others. Like many people
who record infrequently, this record has a kitchen sink quality.
Pop songs with vocals, original pieces with little song structure,
covers that are interesting in their own right but which scarcely
fit or flow, a septet that obscures the leader more often than
not. That lets McLean's guitar appear multi-faceted, but also
leaves you wondering why not develop it one way or another --
like the electric squawk on "Airmail Special," or completely
different, the quiet, organ-backed "I'm Confessin' (That I Love
You)." Grazyna Auguscik's two song vocals -- Janis Ian's "Ready
for the War" and you-know-who's "Blackbird" -- are OK, but her
vocal texturing elsewhere is unappealing, unnecessary whitewash.
- Francisco Mela: Melao (2005 , AYVA):
album by a Boston-based Cuban drummer is almost an embarrassment
of riches. He taps Joe Lovano, George Garzone, and Anat Cohen for
various tenor sax duties, with Cohen also playing clarinet; Lionel
Loueke and Nir Felder for guitar; Leo Genovese for piano and electric
keyboards; Peter Slavov for bass. The drumming is fascinating in its
own right, but takes different tangents depending on where the stars
go. The reed players excel, especially Garzone. It's easy to see why
this got many votes for best debut of last year. My own choices were
more narrowly focused.
- Memphis Slim: Boogie Woogie (1971 ,
I'm no aficionado of boogie woogie records, and I've
never been much impressed by the former Peter Chatman, but this
late arrival covers all the ground worth covering, and makes up
in grace what it sacrifices in speed. No vocals (that I recall).
Just lots of piano, accompanied by drummer Michel Denis, who I
scarcely noticed but must have made a difference.
- Memphis Slim & Roosevelt Sykes: Double-Barreled Boogie
(1970 , Sunnyside):
Two old blues pianists,
shooting the shit between singing and playing old blues songs,
some with stories. Neither are noteworthy singers, but both can
boogie, and the history is good for something.
- Roscoe Mitchell/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble:
Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2, and 3 (2004 , ECM):
Too scattered to hold your, or at least my, attention for any
appreciable span, I nonetheless find these rambling abstractions
more often than not delightful. The ensemble is a meeting of the
continents, with James Carter's old Detroit rhythm section (Craig
Taborn, Jaribu Shahid, Tani Tabbal) and Lester Bowie supersub Corey
Wilkes following the venerable AACM saxophonist over for the Munich
recording, and Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton, and Philipp
Wachsmann among the Europeans on the other end.
- Jane Monheit: Surrender (2007, Concord):
bother asking for this, so I can't complain that they only sent
me an advance with no credits or hype sheet. Three songs credit
guests: two in Portuguese cite Ivan Lins and Toots Thielemans;
the third, "So Many Stars," was done with Sergio Mendes. She's
30 this month, with six albums going back to 2000. This one
debuted at #1 on Billboard's Jazz Chart, not that that gives
her any jazz cred. She has a striking soprano voice, capable
of precisely detailed innuendo. The music, on the other hand,
is swathed if not drowned in strings; given how stiff the
Yankee stuff is, the tinkly Brazilian percussion is almost
daring. Best song is the Jobim without the guests, "Só Tinha
De Ser Com Você." Runner up is "Moon River," which is buried
in goop and doesn't mind.
- Térez Montcalm: Voodoo (2005 , Marquis):
She has a voice that's one half whisper, kind of like her fellow
Canadian Leonard Cohen back when he was young, although she's
more adept at singing with it. Wrote three songs, but they're
much less striking than her covers: especially "Love," "Sweet
Dreams," "I Want to Be Around," "Voodoo Child," but others make
you wonder about her judgment -- she may be young enough to have
learned "How Sweet It Is" from James Taylor but that doesn't
make it right. Plays guitar, which gives this all a rockish
cast, but puts her ahead of the game for interpretive jazz
- Lee Morgan: Indeed! (1956 , Blue Note):
The 18-year-old trumpet whiz's first studio experience, cut one
day before the Hank Mobley session that Savoy rushed into print
as Introducing Lee Morgan, this is as interesting for
the presence of rarely-recorded Clarence Sharpe on alto sax
and the way Horace Silver's piano jumps out at you; Morgan
still had a ways to go, but the excitement around him was
- Lee Morgan: Volume 2: Sextet (1956 , Blue Note):
Less than a month after Indeed!, Morgan is sounding
even more confident in a larger, more daunting group featuring
Hank Mobley on tenor sax and little known Kenny Rodgers on alto
sax, with Horace Silver again providing his inexorable bounce.
- Lee Morgan: Volume 3 (1957 , Blue Note):
Still 18, at the helm of a subtler, more sophisticated sextet,
and even more clearly the star, despite the estimable talent
around him -- saxophonists Benny Golson and Gigi Gryce, pianist
Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Charlie Persip.
Golson wrote the whole program, spreading out the complexity,
while Kelly holds it all together.
- Lee Morgan: Candy (1957 , Blue Note):
Still in his teens, but at last out front alone, leading a
quartet with the redoubtable Sonny Clark on piano, running
through a mix of standards, including a couple he reclaims
from the pop/r&b charts -- "Candy" and "Personality";
he's bursting with energy and ideas, still finding himself,
but completely in control.
- Mörglbl: Grötesk (1999-2006 , The Laser's Edge):
French fusion group, a trio consisting of Christophe Godin
(guitar), Ivan Rougny (bass), Jean Pierre Frelezeau (drums). Third
album, including one released in 1997 as Ze Mörglbl Trio. No idea
what the name and/or title mean, but it reminds me of a French
rock group from the 1970s named Magma that invented their own
language to sing in. All three are credited with vocals, but
they've managed to keep them discreet enough I didn't notice.
One song from 1999; the rest from two sessions in 2006. Fairly
innocuous fusion, dependable beat, one slow one has a sweet
tone and feel. There's probably a whole minor genre/cult for
what they do, especially in Europe, where instrumental rock was
a common response to the English language problem (damned if
you do, especially if you wind up sounding like Abba; damned
if you don't). Filed them under Pop Jazz, where they kick ass.
- Mr. Groove: Little Things (2007, DiamonDisc):
Contemporary jazz group: their words, I've never been sure what
they mean by that, and find the practical distinctions between
Billboard's Jazz and Contemporary Jazz charts to be impossible
to discern, probably just a branding issue. Formed sometime in
the 1990s by brothers Tim Smith (electric bass) and Roddy Smith
(guitars), currently at six with two keybs (Mark Stallings and
Steve Willets), sax (Tim Gordon), and drums (Donnie Marshall).
Also numerous guests, including original drummer Tony Creasman
on the majority of tracks. Four vocal tracks: one by Willets,
the other three by guests (Tim Cashion, Daryl Johnson, Ron
Kimball). Record ends with two "radio edits" of vocal pieces.
Band has also worked with Bonnie Bramlett and the late Boots
Randolph. They groove agreeably, and have fun with "Papa Was
a Rolling Stone," but the guests and programming suggests that
even under their own name the can't help being a backup band.
- Sunny Murray (1966 , ESP-Disk):
with adding interview segments to CDs is that no matter how interesting
the interview may be to hear once, its long-term value diminishes
faster than the music. Even if you figure out how to program the
buttons, the interviews wind up being annoying make-work. On the
other hand, do you suppose the folks at ESP-Disk figured you'd only
want to play the music once, too? This is Murray's eponymous first
album, cut with a loud quintet with Alan Silva on bass and relative
unknowns -- Jacques Coursil's trumpet is the only real point of
interest, when he's able to break loose from the two alto saxes
(Jack Graham and Byard Lancaster). Murray mostly sticks to his
martial beats, rapid machine gun bursts where he's neither playing
with the band nor they with him. It's not without interest, but
you have to scratch and dig for it. The interviews are much easier:
23 minutes up front of name-checking "Early History"; some short
bits in the middle, one a "Recap Session" by someone else; and a
closing segment on magic and musicians getting screwed by record
companies. Seems like I've heard that one before. One point of
interest is that Murray describes his own music as avant-garde --
a phrase that most musicians seems to be at pains to avoid.
- Mushroom With Eddie Gale: Joint Happening (2007, Hyena):
It's probably misleading to start with Gale, given that any
lead trumpet in a fusion context is going to evoke Miles Davis. The
rhythm is different, less funk, more spaciness. My impression is
that Mushroom doesn't have a single aesthetic; rather, they draw
from multiple sources, definitely including Anglo prog-rock à la
Gong. AMG also suggests kraut rock, but that's harder to detect;
in honor of Gale most likely they did bone up on Miles Davis. It's
hard to say whether the spaciness is a good idea. Other '70s fusion
bands did go in that direction, usually far less successfully than
- Steve Nelson: Sound Effect (2007, High Note):
The sort of album that sounds like you expect jazz to sound
like, almost stereotypically so -- the fuzzy flutter of bebop,
stretched out into healthy doses of group interplay and improv.
Five covers, including a Jobim. Three originals from the leader,
a well-established vibraphonist who doesn't write or lead much.
The vibes are fleshed out by voluble pianist Mulgrew Miller,
and the bass-drums combo is the always superb Peter Washington
and Lewis Nash.
- Alípio C Neto Quartet: The Perfume Comes Before the Flower
(2006 , Clean Feed):
Tenor saxophonist, from Pernambuco in northeast
Brazil, studied in Portugal. Not sure where he's based now, but this was
recorded in Brooklyn. Pianoless, Herb Robertson's trumpet is the other
slash and burn horn, Ken Filiano plays bass, and Michael T.A. Thompson
does his soundrhythium percussionist thing. Three (of five) numbers also
pick up Ben Stapp on tuba, which adds a bubbly bounce to the otherwise
- The New Percussion Group of Amsterdam: Go Between
(1986 , Summerfold):
A/k/a Nieuwe Slagwerkgroep Amsterdam,
founded in 1980 by Jan Pustjens and Niels Le Large. The roster
varies somewhat among the four pieces, including: Johan Faber,
Toon Oomen, Peter Prommel, Herman Rieken, Steef Van Oosterhout,
and Ruud Wiener. English prog/fusion drummer Bill Bruford and
Japanese marimba player Keiko Abe also appear on the cover and
on one piece each. The album originally appeared on EG Records
in 1987, and is now reissued on Bruford's label. It reminds me
a bit of the percussion ensembles Max Roach and Art Blakey tried
to put together c. 1960, but it's much more worldwise, especially
cognizant of Japanese percussion. The emphasis on marimba and
related instruments is also appealing.
- New York Voices: A Day Like This (2007, MCG Jazz):
Vocal group, obviously. They formed in 1987 with original
members Darmon Meader, Peter Eldridge, and Kim Nazarian still
together, and Lauren Kinhan since 1992. Meader also plays tenor
sax, and Eldridge piano. This is their tenth album, including
featured appearances with the Basie Orchestra, Paquito D'Rivera,
and something involving chants. It is the first I've heard, and
hopefully the last. Dynamically they borrow from vocalese, but
they lay it on much thicker, with nothing that suggests humor.
- Normal Love: 2007 (2007, High Two):
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.
- Vince Norman/Joe McCarthy Big Band: Words Cannot Express
(2005-06 , OA2):
These guys, recording in Springfield VA, I
don't recognize at all. The big band plays on seven cuts, including
a 3-part suite. The other three cuts are done by a sextet, with
Norman moving from piano to reeds and Harry Appleman taking over
at piano. McCarthy plays drums on both. He's based in DC, teaching
at Georgetown. Has two more records listed under Afro Bop Alliance.
Norman wrote everything here except the Tadd Dameron opener. His
father played sax with Claude Thornhill, Charlie Barnett, and Bob
Wills in the late 1940s/early 1950s. He was schooled in Oklahoma,
currently works on the "arranging staff for the U.S. Army Field
Band," "as well as playing drums at church each week." This has
all the basic virtues of modern big band recordings -- the warm
bath of overtones, the feeling of completeness, that everything
is taken care of, nice and secure. Doesn't have much beyond that,
to make it stand out in a niche that has been overdone, that
requires a lot of skill but doesn't offer much inspiration.
- Arturo O'Farrill: Wonderful Discovery (2007, MEII):
The spine actually credits this to Eugene Marlow, who is listed as
producer, composer (with a couple of exceptions, like "Summertime"),
arranger, but isn't listed as a performer. He also seems to be the
controlling interest in the label, which has released three other
albums of his music. Front cover expands to: "Virtuoso Pianist
Arturo O'Farrill & Friends Play the Music of Eugene Marlow."
The Friends, including four percussionists, give Marlow's music
the Latin treatment, which is pretty exhilarating early on, most
of all when Luis Bonilla's trombone bowls its way to the fore, but
runs down toward the end, especially once the flutes take over. As
for the virtuoso, I find his networking more impressive than his
piano. But this is a big improvement over the two previous albums
- Alan Pasqua: The Antisocial Club (2007, Cryptogramophpne):
Pianist, b. 1954 in New Jersey, studied with Jaki Byard and George
Russell (one song here is titled "George Russell"). Has nine albums
since 1993, which seem to be rather scattered stylistically, with one
foot in postbop and the other in fusion -- played in Tony Williams'
Lifetime early on and has had a long relationship with Weather Report
drummer Peter Erskine. This one is squarely in the fusion camp, tied
most closely to early-1970s Miles Davis. Pasqua mostly plays electronic
keyboards. The lineup closely follows the Davis groups, with Ambrose
Akinmusire on trumpet, Jeff Ellwood on sax, Nels Cline on guitar,
Jimmy Haslip on bass, Scott Amendola on drums, and Alex Acuña on
percussion. A lot of déjà voodoo.
- Ben Paterson Trio: Breathing Space (2007, OA2):
Chicago pianist. Website bio provides no useful info, unless you're
impressed that he recently played two months in a Taipei jazz club.
Presumably his first album. Trio includes Jake Vinsel on bass, Jon
Deitemyer on drums, both also unknown to me. Straight mainstream
player. Wrote two of nine pieces, the others mostly bop era, none
too obvious. Good touch, good taste, pleasing, respectable.
- Sacha Perry: Not Brand X (2006 , Smalls):
Pianist. Don't have any bio, but he's obviously based in New York,
regularly featured on Smalls albums. This is his second trio album
with Ari Roland on bass and Phil Stewart on drums. Underground bop,
or postbop, or something like that: thoughtful, well organized,
pleasant, not all that memorable.
- Houston Person: Thinking of You (2007, High Note):
Lovely, as usual. He gets a little more help this time than usual,
with James Chirillo's guitar on ten of eleven tracks and Eddie
Allen's trumpet on four. He certainly doesn't need the extra horn,
although it does little damage.
- Leslie Pintchik: Quartets (2007, Ambient):
based in New York, bios don't provide any early dirt until she put
aside her English lit studies to form a piano trio in 1992 -- bassist
Scott Hardy is still with her. This is her second album, following
a good piano trio from 2004 called Glad to Be Here. This one
has Mark Dodge on drums, with the trio augmented by Satoshi Takeishi
on percussion (five tracks) or Steve Wilson on alto/soprano sax (four
tracks). Takeishi had been the drummer on the first album. He fits in
tightly here. In fact, I find myself preferring his tracks to Wilson's,
at least on soprano, even though he does his usual fine job.
- The Pizzarelli Boys: Sunday at Pete's (2007, Challenge):
The senior figure here is listed as John "Bucky"
Pizzarelli. Somehow I never noticed before that père et fils
were Sr. and Jr. The father was always just Bucky, which seems
like a natural nickname for a natural rhythm guitarist. John,
on the other hand, could be a matinee idol. I never heard the
well-regarded guitar duos they did in the early 1980s, before
John started his singing career, but lately they've returned
to the format -- cf. Generations (Arbors). The marquee
is different here to accommodate a third Pizzarelli, bassist
Martin, plus drummer Tony Tedesco, but the sound and feel are
the same: old songs, tight leads accented by rhythm chords
and a bit more.
- Michel Portal: Birdwatcher (2006 , Sunnyside):
Parts of this record sound terrific but it doesn't quite add up
or hang together. Portal mostly plays bass clarinet, with one song
each on clarinet and alto sax. He mostly adds subtle coloring and
comping, but every now and then his stunt double, Tony Malaby,
takes over and sets the house on fire. The rhythm section works in
shifts, with Happy Apple bass guitarist Eric Fratzke trading with
acoustic François Moutin while other cuts team Jef Lee Johnson and
Sonny Thompson on electric guitar and bass. Portal has a longstanding
fascination with African rhythms, which are sometimes approximated
by Airto Moreira.
- Bud Powell: Live at the Blue Note Café, Paris 1961
(1961 , ESP-Disk):
Powell's standard Paris trio with Pierre
Michelot on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums, plus a visiting Zoot
Sims on tenor sax on some of the cuts. Mostly Powell's standard
bebop fare, with a couple of cuts each from Gillespie and Monk,
but "There Will Never Be Another You" and "Lover Man" are done
especially well. I've never really understood the tendency to
dismiss Powell's later work. He may have been inconsistent in
person, but the few dates that do crop up on record are often
superb, even when they break little new ground.
- Putumayo Presents: New Orleans Brass (1989-2006
, Putumayo World Music):
Jazz may have originated in the
Crescent City, but by 1930 virtually every great jazz musician
who grew up there had moved on to Chicago, New York, California --
hell, Sidney Bechet went all the way to Paris; 70 years later you
can hear the same songs the town couldn't support back when it
had musicians who could play them and make them sound fresh.
- Quartet San Francisco: Whirled Chamber Music (2007,
Classical string quartet format, with
two violins, viola, cello, no bass. Group formed in 2001.
Now has three albums. This one is long on Raymond Scott,
but not quite a tribute (7 of 18 pieces), with no other
source used more than once -- not even group member Jeremy
Cohen, who penned the sole original. They do manage more of
a jazz than a classical sound, and the good humor in the
Scott pieces helps, but the choice cut is "The Mooche."
- Dewey Redman Quartet: The Struggle Continues (1982 ,
With Ed Blackwell on drums, Joshua's esteemed
father can work Ornette Coleman territory at will; with Charles
Eubanks on piano, he can take a break, and occasionally wax
lyrical on his tenor sax; with Mark Helias on bass neither
impulse strays far from the edge.
- Kim Richmond Ensemble: Live at Café Metropol (2006-07
Alto/soprano saxophonist, based in Los Angeles, with
eight albums since 1988, three in a group co-led by Clay Jenkins, plus
several dozen side appearances, especially with Bob Florence's big
band. This group is a sextet, with three horns (John Daversa trumpet,
Joey Sellers trombone), piano, bass, and drums. The horns mesh very
cleanly, and Daversa is consistently impressive with his leads. One
thing this shows is that it's possible to do sophisticated postbop
without falling into the traps that seem to snag especially those
just out of college. So in many ways this is masterful -- although
not quite enough to shatter my resistance.
- Ike Quebec: Bossa Nova Soul Samba (1962 , Blue Note):
Or something sorta like that, although Soul is the
only part of that title Quebec's all that conversant with. The
rhythm team leans Hispanic rather than Brazilian, and may have
meant the lazy riddims as satire, but the tenor saxophonist
took them as an excuse for a shmoozy ballads album, which is
- Claire Ritter: Waltzing the Splendor (2006 ,
Pianist, long-based in Boston, but currently teaching in
Charlotte NC. Has 8 or 9 records, only four listed at AMG. Website
describes what she does as "American/New Music" -- studiously
avoiding the J-word. With its waltz moves and string suites, this
sounds more classical than jazz. I'm inclined to dislike it, but
don't. The early going, including the suite inspired by Georgia
O'Keefe, is quite charming, with Jon Metzger's vibraphone a nice
plus. Some solo piano later on strikes me as roughly sketched.
- Herb Robertson NY Downtown Allstars: Real Aberration
(2006 , Clean Feed, 2CD):
Trumpeter, from New Jersey, attended
Berklee, settled into New York's downtown avant-garde scene in the
early 1980s, where he's a steady performer who's never garnered much
attention. The other stars are Tim Berne (alto sax), Sylvie Courvoisier
(piano), Mark Dresser (double bass), Tom Rainey (drums). I don't know
much about the pianist -- AMG files her work under Avant-Garde, not
Jazz, not that those distinctions are all that trustworthy -- but she
seems the odd one out. Also odd is Dresser, who starts each discs/piece
with bass solo, but I rarely have any idea what he's up to. The music
has no casual utility, just more or less interesting effects -- the
trumpet, for one.
- David Rogers Sextet: The World Is Not Your Home
AMG lists 12 Dave or David Rogers, plus 3 more
Rodgers. There are probably some duplicates in there, but there's
still too much noise to find much out. This one is from Missouri;
lived in Ghana, where he picked up an interest in talking drums;
lives now in New York; plays tenor sax. It's hard to get a good
take on this. Starting out awkwardly, he seems to be having a
tough time getting the sax and the African percussion to mesh.
Later on, especially on "Mobius Trip," the sax comes alive, but
the Africana has vanished -- replaced by capable support work
from pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver.
- Louise Rogers: Come Ready and See Me (2007 , 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.
- Frank Rosolino/Carl Fontana: Trombone Heaven
(1978 , Uptown):
Two of the better bebop trombonists to
follow in JJ Johnson's wake. Both came up in big band, notably
playing with Stan Kenton at different points. The group here
includes Elmer Gill on piano, Torban Oxbol on bass, and George
Ursan on drums. It was recorded live in Vancouver a few months
before Rosolino's tragic death -- he shot his two young sons,
killing one, blinding the other, then killed himself. Fontana
recorded less frequently as a leader, but has if anything the
stronger reputation. The two trombone leads are delightful on
a mixed bag of swing and bop standards.
- Doug Beavers Rovira Jazz Orchestra: Jazz, Baby!
(2006 , Origin):
Children's songs, sung by Matt Catingub
and Linda Harmon, punched up with big band arrangements. Can't
say whether your kids will get off on it, but at least you won't
be bored shitless playing this for them. You may even figure
it's good for all concerned.
- Antonio Sanchez: Migration (2007, CAM Jazz):
Drummer, from Mexico City, studied at National Conservatory of
Music there, then got a scholarship to Berklee, graduated Magna
Cum Laude, did some more study at New England Conservatory, and
landed a spot in Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra
(post-Gillespie, directed by Paquito D'Rivera). First album as
leader, but his credits list is impressive, and he calls in a
few chits to help out here: David Sanchez (no relation), Chris
Potter, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Scott Colley -- he even got
Metheny and Corea to debut new songs here. The problem is that
the band is so great it's hard to tell what the drummer brings
other than mainstream postbop competency -- he has quite a bit
of Latin jazz in his discography, but doesn't so much as hint
at it here. Rather, we get an all-star game, with Potter and
David Sanchez in full flower, Metheny and Corea making choice
- Poncho Sanchez: Raise Your Hand (2007, Concord Picante):
Conga player, from Laredo TX, seems to have inherited
Ray Barretto's lock on the percussionist category in Downbeat's
Critics Poll. Long list of albums, but this is only the second
I've heard. I can't see much point to it. The first and last
cuts are Memphis soul with Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, and
Eddie Floyd singing. Two in the middle feature Maceo Parker:
"Maceo's House" and "Shotgun." The congas do little for any of
those covers. Two more guest vocals go to Andy Montañez and
José "Perico" Hernández. They don't stick with me either, but
at least they don't have memories to compete with.
- Linda Sharrock/Eric Watson: Listen to the Night
(1994 , Owl/Sunnyside):
Singer, married to guitarist Sonny
Sharrock, who featured her on his 1969 album Black Woman --
as I recall, she appeared as something of a banshee, a limited
role on a good album with some tremendous avant power riffing.
They did two more albums together -- haven't heard either --
then divorced in 1978. She moved to Austria, popping up on the
occasional Wolfgang Pushnig album; also appeared with the Korean
group Samul Nori. On the other hand, this is a quite conventional
jazz vocal album, with Watson's attentive piano the only backing,
and Sharrock's rich, dusky voice fit securely in a line that
extends from Sarah Vaughan to Cassandra Wilson. Three originals
are hit and miss, but the lead-off "Lover Man" is especially
striking, a choice cut.
- The Adam Shulman Quartet: On Second Thought (2007,
Pianist, based in San Francisco, studied in
Santa Cruz, cites second generation beboppers (Barry Harris,
Tommy Flanagan, Bill Evans) and their followers (Fred Hersch)
as influences. First album. Wrote all the sounds. Quartet
features a soft-touch tenor saxophonist named Dayna Stephens.
Also John Wiitala on bass and Jon Arkin on drums. Very nice,
but nothing more.
- Marlon Simon and the Nagual Spirits: In Case You Missed It
(2006 , Jazzheads):
originally from Venezuela, moving to US in 1987, studying in
Philadelphia, then New York. Brother of pianist Edward Simon and
trumpeter Michael Simon, both present here. No idea what the band
name signifies, but the music has a deep Afro-Cuban vibe, with
bata drums on several cuts, Roberto Quintero's congas on more.
Three cuts add a string quartet, more for color than anything
else. The horns are lively, with Alex Norris playing trumpet,
Peter Brainin sax, mostly tenor.
- Frank Sinatra: A Voice in Time (1939-1952) (,
Columbia/RCA Victor/Legacy, 4CD):
as great a singer as Billie Holiday, and for many of the same
reasons: the precise control and authority of his phrasing.
Both were born in 1915, but he got off to a slow start -- so
much so that he seems like a generation behind, missing the
swing era peak, hanging on with straggling bands that were
passé before he turned forty. Holiday attracted great jazz
musicians who often backed her with hushed reverence -- I'm
reminded of a perfect little curlicue of clarinet in "Pennies
From Heaven," delivered by Benny Goodman, who could just as
well have been showboating in front of the most popular band
in America. Sinatra had to make do with Tommy Dorsey early,
and went on to even more anonymous bands with Capitol in the
1950s, but in between he was treated even worse at Columbia --
Axel Stordahl? Mark Warnow? Harry Sosnick? At least I've heard
of Percy Faith. Compared to this company, one cut with Harry
James blows through like a tornado. The Sony-BMG merger has
managed to unite the first two segments of Sinatra's career,
but it hasn't improved them. Even careful selection only goes
so far: the 5-CD box with Dorsey is reduced to one here, and
the 12-CD Columbia box is cut down to three. Still, this is
spotty. There are points where Sinatra overcomes the orchestra,
and there are odd numbers out like the one with James. But you
have to work to get down to the Voice. That was never a problem
- Gino Sitson: Bamisphere (2007, 18th & Vine):
Vocalist, from Cameroun, based in New York, but still sings mostly
in his native Medumba. Third album. Claims four octaves, "the only
vocalist who is incorporating African polyphonic techniques into
the improvisational jazz vocalese tradition." Hard for me to tell.
He does work quite a bit in falsetto registers, with a lower range
that sounds more spoken. He does his own backing vocals, and has
credits for "vocal instruments" and "miscellaneous vocal effects."
Opening track reminded me of mbube, but styles vary a lot after
that. He does have a reputable jazz group backing him: Helio Alves
on piano, Ron Carter or Essiet Essiet on bass, Jeff Watts on drums.
They don't get to do much, and while I don't doubt his virtuosity,
I don't get it either. Kind of like Cameroun's answer to Bobby
- Daniel Smith: The Swingin' Bassoon (2004 , Zah Zah):
Plays bassoon, obviously. Born 1939, has a reputation
in classical music, including a 6-CD set of 37 Vivaldi bassoon
concertos. Over the years he's tried a lot of unconventional
things with bassoon -- English folk songs, Scott Joplin rags,
a Jazz Suite for Bassoon -- and now bebop, with this
record the follow-up to last year's Bebop Bassoon (also
Zah Zah). Listening to things like "Scrapple From the Apple"
and "St. Thomas" makes it pretty clear why jazz musicians
favor saxophones over bassoon: it just doesn't have the speed,
clarity, nuance, and power that we're used to. The band's a
quartet, and Martin Bejerano's piano sounds like the real
- Jim Snidero: Tippin' (2007, Savant):
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.
- Solar Fire Trio: Rise Up (2006 , Foreign Frequency):
English group, based in Liverpool, with two saxophones --
Ray Dickat on tenor, Dave Jackson on alto -- plus Steve Belger on
drums. Website describes their "mission to combine the no-holds-barred
improvisational ethos of free jazz with the exuberance and rebellious
spirit of rock music." Dickaty has played in Spiritualized, and all
three have more rock bands in their resumes thay jazz -- Jackson is
the most likely to list an Eddie Prevost or Paul Rutherford or Lol
Coxhill among his references. The saxophonist play unreconstructed
'60s avant-noise, mostly on top of rock beats. It's fairly limited,
and not pleasant. I'm not sure whether I've gotten immune to it, or
there's something interesting buried in the mix, but it's probably
not cost-effective to try to find out.
- Golda Solomon: Word Riffs (2006, JazzJaunts):
Full length, or close enough (39:18). I suppose we can chalk this
up to Second System Complex. The music has moved from the goofball
accompaniment Bernard Purdie threw together to more creditable
avant-garde, with Saco Yasuma on alto sax, Eri Yamamoto on piano,
Christopher Dean Sullivan on bass, and most importantly Michael
T.A. Thompson on drums. The words were consciously written with
jazz in mind, with three pieces with "Blues" in the title, two
more with "Bop," one called "1960s Jazz Hag," one name dropping
Ellington. On average I'd say it's a wash: more exciting music,
less intriguing words, same rivetting performance. Something of
a learning process, but all things considered she's pretty unique.
- John Stein: Green Street (1996-98 ,
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.
- Curtis Stigers: Real Emotional (2007, Concord):
Singer, originally from Idaho, moved to New York before he started
recording in 1991. Don't know his early work -- only heard one
unremarkable album from 2005. Didn't ask for this one either, but
it's good they sent it. Don't know whether he has much of a style,
but this makes a case for him in the Mose Allison school, at least
on Allison's "Your Mind Is on Vacation" -- tunes by other singers
who, by jazz standards at least, trend in that direction, follow
their models more closely (Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Stephin Merritt,
Bob Dylan). Larry Goldings co-produced, plays lots of keybs --
organ and piano are most prominent -- as well as accordion and
vibes. Four songs are just Stigers and Goldings, and the latter
proves to be a tasteful accompanist. The band pieces are similarly
loose, with John Sneider's trumpet a nice touch.
- The Stryker/Slagle Band: Latest Outlook (2006 ,
Steve Slagle strikes me as the model of what a
good postbop alto saxophonist should sound like, which among
more postive traits admits that he lacks the individuality of
Braxton, Coleman, Konitz, or McLean. He sounds terrific here,
even though he doesn't do anything unexpected. Dave Stryker
is a similarly virtuous, not to say virtuosic, guitarist.
Separately or together they recorded a long string of first
rate records for Steeplechase, of which the best are together,
and this is another. Joe Lovano, who like Slagle came up in
Woody Herman's band, drops in for two cuts. His harmony adds
a bit, and his solo a bit more.
- Billy Taylor & Gerry Mulligan: Live at MCG
(1993 , MCG Jazz):
Like J.J. Johnson on trombone, or later
Jack Bruce on electric bass, Mulligan took an instrument out of
the back of the band and moved it up by playing in its upper
range with the virtuosity expected of the front men. Mulligan's
instrument was baritone sax. This has the charm and intimacy of
a Stan Getz quartet, but not quite the sweet sound. Taylor gets
top bill because he's on his home court, carries his end, and
makes his guest feel welcome.
- John Taylor: Angel of the Presence (2004 ,
Piano trio, with Palle Danielsson and Martin France.
I associate Taylor with Kenny Wheeler -- they both have played
extensively with the British avant-garde, but tend toward more
moderate engagements on their own, or together. This one struck
me as exemplary on first listen, but shaded back a bit into the
ordinary at spots.
- Jacky Terrasson: Mirror (2006 , Blue Note):
German pianist, b. 1966, won the Thelonious Monk Piano prize in
1993, has nine albums on Blue Note or EMI, maybe a couple more,
which should put him somewhere in the forefront of jazz pianists
of his generation. I can't second that opinion. I've heard very
little, and never been impressed enough to seek him out over
dozens of other similar postbop players. This one is solo --
aficionados love the intimacy and/or freedom of the format, but
I usually find solos underdressed, not to mention underdeveloped.
This is no exception.
- Dave Tofani Quartet: Nights at the Inn (2007, SoloWinds):
Saxophonist, from Williamsport PA, moved to New York
to attend Juilliard, and stuck around. Evidently does a lot of
studio work -- website claims over 600 albums, including over
100 soundtracks; Donald Fagen's The Night Fly stands out
among the website's "small sampling"; this is reportedly his
fourth release on SoloWinds, although I can only identify three.
Mainstream tenor sax quartet, with standards from Ellington,
Kern/Hammerstein, Porter, Thad Jones, "I Hear a Rhapsody," and
originals to match. Nice tone and range. A real pro.
- Tyft: Meg Nem Sa (2005 , Skirl):
Guitar-sax-drums trio: Hilmar Jensson, Andrew D'Angelo, Jim Black,
respectively. Black minors in electronics, especially in his
AlasNoAxis group, which Jensson also plays in. D'Angelo gets a
fairly typical avant squawk. Unlikely anyone would like this who
isn't already well atuned to the noisier end of the avant-garde,
but the guitar-drums rump can produce some interesting fractured
funk grooves, and they close on a mood piece when that's the last
thing you expect.
- Gebhard Ullman: New Basement Research (2005-06
, Soul Note):
German, b. 1957, plays tenor sax and bass
clarinet here, soprano sax and various flutes elsewhere. Claims
40 albums as leader/co-leader going back to 1985. This is the
fifth I've heard, all in the last 2-3 years. The title refers
back to a 1995 two-horn album he did with Ellery Eskelin. This
time he's escalated to three horns, with Julian Argüelles on
soprano and baritone sax and Steve Swell on trombone. The sound
is loud, discordant, boisterous. I found it to be fun, but Laura
made a point of how much she hated it, and I have to admit that
it's unlikely to travel well, or to convince anyone lacking
commitment to old-fashioned free jazz.
- Upper Left Trio: Three (2007, Origin):
album. Three players: Clay Giberson on piano, Jeff Leonard on
bass, Charlie Doggett on drums. All three contribute songs, with
Giberson enjoying a slight plurality. Group based in Portland,
I think. Giberson has three previous albums under his own name,
all on Origin. An early review, posted on their website, tries
to triangulate them: "Bad Plus wannabe"; "midpoint between the
Oscar Peterson Trio and Medeski, Martin, and Wood"; Giberson
"crosses Horace Tapscott with Tommy Flanagan." I don't hear any
of that, but I'm hard pressed to peg them.
- Albert van Veenendaal/Fabrizio Puglisi: Duets for Prepared,
Unprepared and Toy Pianos (2004 , Evil Rabbit):
Veenendaal is a Dutch avant-garde pianist, likes to work with
prepared piano, has an interesting body of work over the last
decade, including one album (Predictable Point of Impact,
on Evil Rabbit) that I especially like. Puglisi is an Italian
pianist I've never run into before. He was born 1969, describes
himself as "self-taught" but workshops with Franco D'Andrea and
Enrico Rava, a course with George Russell and Mike Gibbs, and a
study of Cecil Taylor. His Dutch connections include work with
Ernst Reijseger and Han Bennink. I'm hard pressed to think of
any piano duet albums I've liked, but this one is interesting,
with its odd prepared sounds, rhythmic machinations, and the
contrasting timbre of Puglisi's toy.
- Christian Wallumrød Ensemble: The Zoo Is Far
(2006 , ECM):
Norwegian pianist, b. 1971, has four albums
now, all on ECM. This is a sextet, but it seems much more minimal,
with percussion, baroque harp, cello, violin (viola, Hardanger
fiddle), and Arve Henriksen's vanishing trumpet. Some of the
piano fragments remind me of Another Green World, with
acoustic instruments somewhat complicating the sound and the
melodies. The string bits are scarcely more complex, but don't
have the same elegance. Textures mostly, probably related to
Norse folk and baroque and such. Small pleasures, or maybe just
- Eberhard Weber: Stages of a Long Journey (2005 ,
German bassist, been with ECM since The Colors
of Chloe in 1973. Most of his albums are fairly minimal, but
this is a live recording built around the SWR Stuttgart Radio
Symphony Orchestra -- the group pictured on the cover is massive,
with Gary Burton (vibes), Jan Garbarek (soprano and tenor sax),
Rainer Brüninghaus (piano), Marilyn Mazur (percussion), and Weber
added to the Orchestra. The Orchestra itself takes a background
role, sloshing back and forth like an uneasy sea, while the group
vies for your attention. The saving grace, unsurprisingly, is
- Mark Weinstein: Con Alma (2007, Jazzheads):
Flute player, got into Latin jazz in Larry Harlow's orchestra in
the late 1960s -- Harlow wrote the liner notes here. Other credits
include Herbie Mann, Cal Tjader, Eddie Palmieri, Maynard Ferguson,
Alegre All Stars. Also has some Jewish and/or Balkan music in his
resume. This is a quintet with piano, bass, drums, and congas,
with the flute and congas providing the Latin gloss on what's
mostly a set of bop standards -- Coltrane, Shorter, Hutcherson,
Monk, Gillespie's title piece. I was more impressed by Weinstein's
previous Algo Más, which showed some Cuban roots. This, in
comparison, seems superficial.
- Ezra Weiss: Get Happy (2006 , Roark):
under 30, grew up in Phoenix, studied in Oberlin and Portland, wound
up in New York. Has a couple of albums. Tends toward complex postbop
arrangements, which here include a range of horns and three singers.
Even with the familiar Arlen-Koehler title cut, nothing here strikes
me as all that happy. Or all that interesting, but tenor saxophonist
Kelly Roberge makes the most of his spots.
- Harry Whitaker: Thoughts (Past and Present)
Pianist, born 1942 Pensacola FL, played in early '70s with
Roy Ayers, Eugene McDaniels, Bobbi Humphrey, Roberta Flack, Alphonse
Mouzon; has scattered credits since then -- Randy Crawford, Carmen
Lundy, John Stubblefield. This seems to be the second album under
his name, after The Sound of Harry Whitaker (2002, Blue Moon),
with the possible exception of a 1976 recording Black Renaissance:
Body, Mind & Spirit, issued (or reissued?) in 2002 by Luv N'
Haight and given 5 stars by AMG. (Haven't heard it.) This is a piano
trio with Omer Avital on bass, Dan Aran on drums. The songs are listed
with dates from 1970-93, but these appear to be new recordings. Seems
like a strong mainstream piano trio date; certainly doesn't live up
to the hype, but nice enough.
- Howard Wiley: The Angola Project (2006 ,
Young tenor saxophonist. Second album, a rather ambitious
one that takes its prison setting and old-time gospel graces and
tries to turn them into something magnificent. I'm impressed, but
can't say as I like it -- especially the vocals, which raise the
rafters when they're not trying to paint the pearly gates. Many
cuts also have a pair of violins, another obvious angelic effect.
David Murray guests on one song, an overly complicated original
called "Angola." While Murray's the superior saxophonist, Wiley
holds his own.
- Baby Face Willette: Face to Face (1961 ,
Organ man, church schooled, natch, cut two albums in
1961 with guitarist Grant Green and drummer Ben Dixon, then for
all intents and purposes disappeared; this one adds Fred Jackson
on tenor sax, whose skill set is summed up in the title of his
one album, Hootin' 'N Tootin'; still, it's hard not to
enjoy their gutbucket soul jazz.
- Abram Wilson: Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta
Trumpeter-vocalist, from Arkansas via New Orleans but
based in London now. Like his labelmate Soweto Kinch, Wilson has a
concept album, but it's based on a mythic bluesman, which at least
gives him a viable musical context to work with. The group is large,
with two saxes, trombone, tuba, guitar, harmonica, piano, bass, and
drums to go with the leader's trumpet. They can soar when given the
chance. The booklet ends on a Katrina note -- not the concept here,
but the fit isn't bad.
- 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.
- Yerba Buena Stompers: Dawn Club Favorites (2001, Stomp Off):
This is the first of five albums John Gill's
group has done on Stomp Off, and it starts off on square one,
reviving and revitalizing Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band
with the same spirit Watters took on King Oliver's Original
Creole Jazz Band. San Francisco's Dawn Club was home base to
Watters from the band's formation in 1939 until the leader
got drafted in 1942. The lineup features two trumpets (Leon
Oakley and Duke Heitger), trombone (Tom Bartlett), clarinet
(Larry Wright), piano (Pete Clute), banjo (Gill), tuba (Ray
Cadd), and drums (Clint Baker). The album is dedicated to
Clute, a ragtime specialist, mainstay of Turk Murphy's bands,
and a direct connection to Watters, who died at 67 a month
after this was recorded. The most striking thing about the
album is the tremendous uplift of the soaring trumpets and
clarinet, pulling away from a rhythm that sometimes still
slips into step with ancestral marches and rags. One vocal,
by Bartlett, on "St. James Infirmary."
- Yerba Buena Stompers: New Orleans Favorites (2002,
Starts with "Tiger Rag" and "Tin Roof Blues;" ends with
"Panama" and "Dipper Mouth Blues," with plenty more you'll recognize
along the way -- "Doctor Jazz," "Ory's Creole Trombone," "Muskrat
Ramble," not to mention "When the Saints Go Marching In." But you
might not exactly recognize them because they're tuned back to the
pre-swing era, and with their lack of solo power one can even say
pre-Armstrong. The lineup again: two trumpets, trombone, clarinet,
piano, banjo, tuba, drums. Echoes of Lu Watters; reverberations of
King Oliver. They do "play that thing."
- Yerba Buena Stompers: Barbary Coast Favorites (2001
, Stomp Off):
Second album, with Marty Eggers taking
over the piano bench for the late Pete Clute, which means a small
step away from ragtime and into the early 20th century. I expect
that the whole series match up pretty evenly, so the distinctions
will be marginal. The liner notes don't explain where this title
came from, but Barbary Coast is a neighborhood in San Francisco,
and could very well be another Lu Watters watering hole. The
artwork is almost the same as Dawn Club Favorites. The
songs are similar but with a few exceptions ("St. Louis Blues,"
"Jelly Roll Blues") a shade more obscure. Two vocals this time:
one each by Tom Bartlett and John Gill, with the latter's "Waiting
for the Robert E. Lee" a choice cut. Otherwise, it doesn't pick
me up the way the first one did, although it goes through the
same motions with comparable aplomb.
- Yerba Buena Stompers: San Diego Favorites 2002-2003
(2002-03 , Diamondstack):
Live tidbits from the San Diego
Dixieland Jazz Festival. The songs all show up elsewhere in their
catalog, and the studio versions usually have more polish and
often a bit more bounce. Also short on vocals. This only pales
- Yerba Buena Stompers: San Francisco Bay Blues (2005,
Wasn't looking, so I got this one out of order. Real New
Orleans jazz, as rediscovered in San Francisco in the 1940s -- yep,
another Lu Watters tribute. One thing to note is that John Gill is
singing better (3 songs) than on the early records, especially on
"Take Me to the Land of Jazz." Trombonist Tom Bartlett still takes
one tune, "Trouble in Mind," and also shows improvement. This is
a very consistent band.
- Yerba Buena Stompers: Duff Campbell's Revenge (2005,
A little background here: Stomp Off is
a modern day trad jazz label run out of a post office box in
Pennsylvania by Bob Erdos. I like a little trad jazz, and the
dozen or so Stomp Off albums I'd picked up over the years --
not the easiest things to find -- generally impressed me. So
when I started Jazz CG, I figured it would be good to mix in
some trad jazz but I never managed to make contact. Closest
I came was a dealer near St. Louis who runs a website in their
name but doesn't do any press publicity. On occasion, when I
found out about a new release, I'd try to track the artist
down. Most proved as elusive as the label, but when I wrote
to the Yerba Buena Stompers, Michael Custer offered to send
me everything. I keep a huge shopping list including pretty
much everything recommended by the Penguin Guide, and it had
all of the Stompers' Stomp Off records, so I welcomed him.
So now I have a bunch of them. I'll work through them in the
next few weeks. The main risk, I suspect, is that they'll all
wind up sounding much the same. If so, it may be hard to pick,
but also hard to go wrong. This is a live record tossed off
on the side of their main line of albums on Stomp Off. It
caught the band at a 90th birthday bash for Charles Campbell,
an art gallery owner who was a longtime patron of the trad
jazz scene in San Francisco. The title comes from a piece
that Turk Murphy wrote in Campbell's honor. The Yerba Buena
Stompers are an 8-piece band led by John Gill, who plays
banjo and sings on occasion. Gill is a New Yorker, b. 1951,
started out in dixieland bands, moved to San Francisco to
play with Murphy, then on to New Orleans, back to SF, and
finally back to Brooklyn. The band name invokes Lu Watters'
Yerba Buena Jazz Band, formed in 1939 as one of the first
bands to consciously attempt to revive traditional jazz up
to King Oliver's Original Creole Jazz Band -- tight ensemble
work, a deep brassy sound with tuba instead of bass. Watters
was early enough that he was able to work with folks like
Bunk Johnson who pre-dated Louis Armstrong. Murphy played in
Watters' band and carried on the flame, passing it on to Gill.
(Who, by the way, should not be confused with another John
Gill, an English pianist who also plays old timey jazz. AMG
is careful to make the distinction, then totally messes up
their discographies.) The live record is probably as good a
place to start as any: the intros provide some context, and
the selection tends to repeat their signature tunes where
they're more likely to seek out obscurities for the studio
albums. A lot of classics, broken in like old leather --
"Gut Bucket Blues," "Tiger Rag," "Milenburg Joys," "Maple
Leaf Rag," "Hesitating Blues." Their one concession to the
postwar period is "Blue Moon of Kentucky," which they frame
as a tribute to Elvis Presley, probably less of a reach for
Gill's gruff voice than Bill Monroe would have been. Grades
are more provisional than usual, subject to change as I
sort through the pile. But if I don't start tacking them
down I won't feel like I'm getting anything done.
- Pablo Ziegler-Quique Sinesi: Buenos Aires Report
(2006 , Zoho):
Artist credit includes, in smaller type, "with
Walter Castro." Castro plays bandoneon. Haven't found much on him;
he's the youngest of the trio, but due to his instrument is a large
part of the group's sound. Ziegler and Sinesi hail from Buenos Aires.
Ziegler was born in 1944, plays piano, and was part of Astor Piazzolla's
group from 1978-89. He composed all but two of the pieces here. Sinesi
was born in 1960, plays guitar, composed one song. The last is by
Piazzolla, and it seems significant that it is a much livelier, more
fully realized piece. By comparison, the others feel like sketches --
maybe studies is the better word.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Five years ago George W. Bush made a horrible mistake: he ordered
the US military to invade and occupy Iraq. It's never been all that
clear why he did it. The military doctrine of preventive attacks
against potential WMD threats wasn't a reason: it was invented just
for Iraq, and was stretched thin by the lack of evidence that any
such threat existed. Bush no doubt expected the invasion to go as
swimmingly as he thought Afghanistan had gone. And there's no doubt
that he anticipated a big political upside to another big victory.
He had grown to relish his Commander-in-Chief role, and figured his
record as War President would be his ticket to a second term. Evidence
that the war was a mistake came pretty fast, as Iraq descended into
chaos, revolt, and ultimately civil war, while US forces proved
powerless to reconstruct basic infrastructure, provide essential
security, or reconcile local political factions. Not that Bush tried
all that hard: he's been preoccupied for five years now denying that
what he did was a mistake.
Some of the costs of Bush's mistake are calculable: over 3000 US
soldiers have been killed, and many more maimed; an uncounted number
of Iraqis have died violently, probably more than a half million;
close to five million Iraqis have been driven from their homes, with
1.7 million fleeing the country, the others moving from mixed to
segregated neighborhoods to escape death squads; the US has spent
something like $500 billion to occupy Iraq, with the long-term costs
likely to be 2-4 times as much; nonetheless, most of Iraq remains
unreconstructed, with basic services like sewers and electricity
still far worse than before the war. Other costs are much harder
to calculate, or even imagine. The war spending and its deficit
financing have contributed to an economic downturn that can also
be blamed on numerous other Bush policies -- much like Bush tried
to cover up his Iraq mistake, his cronies tried to prop up a weak
post-9/11 economy with a flood of subprime lending, floating the
now collapsing housing bubble. The one success Bush could point
to was that by taking so much Iraqi oil off the market he's boosted
oil prices (and oil company profits) to historical highs, although
that hasn't exactly been an unalloyed blessing for Americans.
Even harder to figure is how much damage to our political and
moral culture so much dissembling and posturing, deceit and conceit
have caused. By never admitting his mistake, Bush encourages his
diehard followers to fight on to the end. From the day we invaded
we should have known that it would only be a matter of time before
we packed up and left. No army in modern times has invaded another
country and held on to control it, and there's no reason to think
either the US or Iraq should be the exception. Looking back at the
Bremer year one may conclude that Bush's people screwed it up even
worse than expected, but it's just as arguable that what they did
was exactly what they were about: the cronyism, the corruption,
the conviction that their crackpot right-wing economic theories
produced (rather than stole) wealth, their naive fantasies that
the natives would cower under their displays of shock and awe.
That the US is still in Iraq, with more troops than ever, shows
how much of the country's resources Bush is willing to save face.
He understands that to admit to a mistake discredits everything he
stands for. So he hangs on, setting the table for lashing out at
whoever does finally find the realism to withdraw with charges of
backstabbing perfidy, hoping his followers can ride that line to
redeem him and found a third Bush reich. To the American people,
this would be the ultimate instance of adding insult to injury.
Some Iraq links follow.
Patrick Cockburn: Is the US really bringing stability to Baghdad?
Depends on what you're willing to call stability. The civil war in
2006 created a new equilibrium with whole neighorhoods "ethnically
cleansed" and millions of displaced people. To a large extent, violence
is down now because people have resigned themselves to the effects of
the violence last year.
The present state of Iraq is highly unstable, but nobody quite
wants to go to war again. It reminds me of lulls in the Lebanese civil
war during the 1970s and 1980s, when everybody in Beirut rightly
predicted that nothing was solved and the fighting would start
Michael Schwartz: The Iraqi Brain Drain.
The total number of displaced people in Iraq is close to 5 million,
almost 20% of the total population. This piece reviews the history
and present conditions. Last line: "As long as the United States keeps
trying to pacify Iraq, it will create wave after wave of misery."
Helena Cobban: Military Occupations, Sewage, and Governance.
After five years of US occupation, Baghdad's sewer system still
hasn't been repaired to the state it was in before the invasion.
Cobban contrasts that with 40 years of Israeli occupation of Gaza.
The health situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate as Israel
continues its collective punishment for the insult of last year's
From other reports, it looks like Israel is getting closer to
provoking a new round of terrorist attacks. The first Hamas-linked
suicide bombing since well before the elections took place recently --
one of the few things, dysfunctional as it is, Palestinians can still
do in response to the conditions Israel has imposed, as well as the
targeted killings and more/less random shellings. Hezbollah has in
turn threatened to play Israel's assassination game. It is not sure
that Israel was responsible for the car bomb in Damascus that killed
a Hezbollah leader -- Walid Jumblatt has been talking about doing
just that sort of thing -- but if so it wouldn't be the first time
Israel killed a Hezbollah leader. I don't see how either Hezbollah
or Hamas stand to gain anything by getting back in the terror racket.
It works for Israel because terrorist attacks grab world attention,
giving Israel a free pass not only for its own violence but to avoid
reckoning with all the hardship they've caused.
I shouldn't have to add this, but the war-politics axis is not
a zero-sum game of morality. Atrocities on one side in no way justify
injustices on the other. There's no way to balance suicide bombing
or Qassam rocket attacks and the collective punishment that Israel
inflicts on Gaza: they are both off the scale of acceptable behavior.
But there is one significant asymmetry: if Hamas halts its violence
and mistreatment of Israelis, as they have on occasion done, nothing
changes; but if Israel were to halt its violence and mistreatment of
Palestinians, the whole conflict would change. It's really up to
Israel to take the steps necessary to end the carnage. Until they
are willing to do that, it hardly matters what Palestinians do.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Jonathan Schwarz: Bill Kristol's Obscure Masterpiece.
This starts as a review of Kristol's extraordinary record for screwing up
every analysis and prediction he's ever made, then gets more interesting
as Schwarz pulls excerpts from a debate between Kristol and Daniel Ellsberg
that occurred a few days after Bush invaded Iraq. It includes a synopsis
of US-Saddam relationships up to the war, starting with the CIA-backed
coups that brought Saddam to power. It includes Ellsberg's prediction
that we would wind up betraying the Kurds yet again, then points out
how the US looked the other way when Turkey bombed Kurdistan. You don't
need this to conclude that Kristol is a fool, but the historical review
is worth rehashing. Five years later we still hear people pleading
that nobody knew it would all go so wrong. The fact is that some
people knew perfectly well. And some others were plain idiots.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
A batch on electoral politics. (I hate it when that happens.)
Matt Taibbi: The Chicken Doves.
I like his stuff, and his print-edition sidebar on Giuliani is as
vicious as the G-Man deserves, but this piece on Reid, Pelosi, et
al. is a bit pissy. It's not really true that the Democrats got
a mandate in 2006 to end the war. Maybe they would have had they
asked for one, but Chuck Shumer and Rahm Emmanuel campaigned for
seats and if anything leaned against doves. I mean, if 2006 was
so antiwar, how the hell did Joe Lieberman win? The result is
that they don't have the votes to shut down war funding, nor do
they want to act like Newt Gingrich and try to shut down all
funding. I can't fault them for that, but I do agree that they've
come up short, especially in terms of launching investigations
into the most criminal, most corrupt administration in American
history. Instead, they're investigating Roger Clemens? Even if
he's an asshole Republican (which I don't know and frankly don't
care one way or the other) there are a lot of folks who should
be in line ahead of him. One helluva lot.
PS: One thing I was wondering about is whatever happened
to the US Attorney purge scandal, but the House did vote today to
hold Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers in contempt for their refusal
to testify. That's something, although I doubt if we see them in
jail any time soon.
Barbara Ehrenreich: Unstoppable Obama.
As long as I can remember, change has been a cliché in politics, and
rarely as enticing as it's assumed to be. Change, like Rumsfeld's
"stuff," happens. The real political problem is usually figuring
out how to ride it out. But Bush has trashed our world so thoroughly
that almost any kind of change looks preferable. For the wonk set,
Obama may be lacking in specifics, but on a superficial level it's
hard to believe how lucky we are to have him: "As conservative
commentator Andrew Sullivan has written, Obama's election could
mean the re-branding of America. An anti-war black president with
an Arab-sounding name: See, we're not so bad after all, world!"
Another sample (emphasis original):
[W]e've achieved the moral status of a pariah nation. The seas are
rising. The dollar is sinking. A growing proportion of Americans have
no access to health care; an estimated 18,000 die every year for lack
of health insurance. Now, as the economy staggers into recession, the
financial analysts are wondering only whether the rest of the world is
sufficiently "de-coupled" from the US economy to survive our
demise. [ . . . ] All of us, of whatever race,
want a fresh start. That's what "change" means right now: Get us
out of here!
Paul Krugman: Hate Springs Eternal.
Krugman's been sniping at Obama all year, usually over details of
proposed policy that Obama has kept nebulous. That's usually been
fair play because it lets Krugman keep pushing critical details.
Here he trips up, charging that the Obama campaign is "dangerously
close to becoming a cult of personality." I can't speak for Obama's
supporters -- I'm more of a bemused bystander -- but I can think
of plenty of reasons to be wary of Hillary Clinton. (I've listed
them in previous posts.) In particular, I'm skeptical that she "is
more serious about achieving universal health care" -- admittedly,
she has something to prove on that score, but that may just be
because she muffed it so badly last time around. Even so, the
title seems way over the top. Hate is, after all, a Republican
virtue. Rather, what I would feel if Clinton wins out over Obama
is exactly what I heard Clinton say back when her health care
plan was being chewed up by attack dogs. When asked if she would
be angry if the plan was rejected, she said "no, I'd be sad for
America." I would have respected her more at the time if she had
said, "hell, yes, I'd be angry!" -- would have made me feel she
had a stake in the fight. So if Obama's supporters get angry now,
I have to respect the fact that they give a damn. But if Clinton
does prevail, then fine, we'll settle for being sad, vote against
McCain, and get on her case to do the right thing. If Obama wins,
we'll still have to do the latter. But I figure, especially in
our current poisoned political atmosphere, that Obama has an
advantage in not being too specific, in pushing for intangibles
like hope and character, instead of a bunch of half-assed plans
like John Kerry trotted out on every question. The real problems
are worse than the American people can handle right now, and it
is those real problems -- not our preferred preconceptions --
that will determine what actually happens in the near future. So
there's an advantage in not getting too wedded to what might be
easy to sell right now. I score that one for Obama.
Arianna Huffington: End of a Romance: Why the Media and Independent
Voters Need to Break Up with John McCain.
One to pass along to anyone you know who still believes that McCain
deserves any respect whatsoever. (Note that the piece was posted too
soon to include McCain's vote in favor of the president's right to
torture enemies.) Beyond the words, includes a picture of McCain
hugging Bush, while the latter looks like Jesus (or a bible thumping
country pastor) welcoming the sinner home. Personally, I think
Huffington's too easy on him, but she has a rather checkered past
as well. When McCain ran against Bush in 2000 it was McCain who
was the neocon superhawk, and he had Paul Wolfowitz in his tent
to prove it. McCain lost in 2000 when he didn't have the guts to
stand up to the Confederate flag, then tried to make amends after
the South Carolina primary. We can go on and on. It's hard to see
why he gets any respect at all.
Steve Benen: Meet Mr. Vague Generalities.
One more on McCain. Quotes Jonathan Chait: "On economics, he's
repeatedly admitted that he knows very little. And on social issues,
he doesn't even know what his own positions are." Comments are
worth scanning, even though they mostly want to talk about Obama.
Jazz CG Notices
By the way, I send out a mail announcement when a Jazz Consumer
Guide runs, or very infrequently something else of similar interest.
But not often: e.g., I don't send out Jazz Prospecting announcements.
The mailings are a courtesy to publicists who send me records. I
just sent one out today. If you didn't get an announcement, and
would like to get them, please drop me a line (look for Contact
on the sidebar). The mailing list is currently hand-hacked and very
klugey, so I'm not looking for a lot of recipients. In particular,
if you follow the blog closely you'll get all the announcements you
need here. But if you want push notices, let me know.
Sooner or later I want to replace this with a real mail list
manager, which you can sign up for and manage directly. Until then,
I just wanted to point out what I'm doing and give people notice
on how to make up for my own clumsiness.
Of course, if you're on the list and want off, let me know.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Jazz Consumer Guide (#15): Old Forms, Fresh Outlooks
My Jazz Consumer Guide column appeared in the Village Voice
week. This is the 15th such column, going back to July 2004, covering
a total of 459 records. Historically, they've been running every three
months. The previous one came out on October 23, so this time it's
been a little over three months. I have a lot of stuff left over,
and should make it a point not to take so long next time. Certainly,
there's no shortage of worthwhile jazz records, and no need to take
so long to get to them. Many of the records this time have been out
close to a year, and have been languishing in my files for much of
that time. I really should push to speed up the columns. If we can
get them up to a 2-month schedule instead of what we've been doing,
the time delays would significantly lessen. As it is, I already
have a full column's worth of A-list records piled up (not that I
have them all written up yet). The following are A-list leftovers
(not secrets if you've been reading my Jazz Prospecting blog):
- The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Music From Guys and Dolls (Arbors)
- Bloodcount: Seconds (Screwgun)
- Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions (1972-75, Columbia/Legacy)
- Ted Des Plantes' Washboard Wizards: Thumpin' and Bumpin' (Stomp Off)
- Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux (ECM)
- Brent Jensen: One More Mile (Origin)
- Alex Kontorovich: Deep Minor (Chamsa)
- Rafi Malkiel: My Island (Raftone)
- Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson: Big Picture (Cryptogramophone)
- MI3: Free Advice (Clean Feed)
- Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Shamokin!!! (Hot Cup)
- William Parker/Raining on the Moon: Corn Meal Dance (AUM Fidelity)
- Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. 1: The Complete Abashiri Concert (1981, Widow's Taste)
- Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. II: The Last Concert (1982, Widow's Taste)
- Alvin Queen: I Ain't Looking at You (Enja/Justin Time)
- Louis Sclavis: L'Imparfait des Langues (ECM)
- Joan Stiles: Hurly-Burly (Oo-Bla-Dee)
- McCoy Tyner: Quartet (McCoy Tyner Music/Half Note)
That's actually more than I can fit into a column, plus I'm already
finding more A-list items in this cycle (a couple of these are scoops,
as they are part of next week's Jazz Prospecting):
- Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Holon (ECM)
- Mike Ellis: Bahia Band (Alpha Pocket)
- Grupo Los Santos: Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea (Deep Tone)
- Maceo Parker: Roots & Grooves (Heads Up)
- Ari Roland: And So I Lived in Old New York . . . (Smalls)
- Steve Reid Ensemble: Daxaar (Domino)
- Matthew Shipp: Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear)
- Horace Silver: Live at Newport '58 (1958, Blue Note)
- Mike Walbridge's Chicago Footwarmers: Crazy Rhythm (Delmark)
In the cycle for this week's column, I wrote up Jazz Prospecting
notes for 259 albums (down from 269 the previous cycle). These notes
are collected here.
I don't have the surplus file done yet, but will soon go through
my leftovers and cut them back to more reasonable dimensions. Then
I'll put up a post and note some of the cuts. The big problem, as
always, is space and time -- not enough of either. But there's also
a small problem, which is that I always seem to be hurting for pick
hits and, especially, duds. Pick hits are probably just a matter of
time: I don't spend enough time with good records to get to really
love them -- I don't think I've played a record daily for a month
since the Pet Shop Boys' Very. The only reason I wound up
playing the Chris Byars more than any other last year (by a pretty
big margin, in fact) was that I had so much trouble knocking out
my short review. That it held up to all those plays is certainly
a point in its favor, but in the end I couldn't quite nudge it
over the line to a full A. That's really the standard I look for
in pick hits, and I haven't been finding it. On the other hand,
I've set some pretty strict standards for the grade, which are
easy enough to check out by looking at my database
Jazz A/A+ List. One thing
that went into them is the notion of standing the test of time,
which is hard for a new record to assuredly do.
The problem with duds is much knottier. The first problem is
that I don't find that I get many bad or even mediocre jazz
albums. In 2006 I wound up giving B- or lower grades to 41 out
of 502 records, 8.1%. In 2007 I got a bit meaner, picking on
44 out of 511 records, 8.6%. Even if you throw in the grade B
records (85 in 2006, 96 in 2007) you only get 25.0% and 27.8%.
Due to some psychological quirks, I'm probably better than
most people at seeing other people's points of view, and as
such in finding merit in things I'm not especially attracted
to -- as such I hand out a lot of low but polite B+(*) grades
which someone more harshly judgmental might downgrade. It may
also be the case that some bad records have been avoiding me.
But I'm also convinced that there's not a lot of bad jazz
albums out there, probably because there's not enough money
to be made on them -- aside from pop jazz, which does do a
pretty good job of avoiding me.
But even within this small sliver of records that I think
are really not much good, most are by unknowns and are hardly
worth writing about. I toyed with dudding Ed Johnson's album
just because it's so bad, but wound up not caring. But the
effect of weeding out records by people hardly anyone has
ever heard of is that the dud slot becomes a big game hunt.
I wind up looking for off albums by artists who most folks
regard as major figures. I find a few, but there aren't many.
Here's the featured dud list to date:
- James Carter: Gardenias for Lady Day (Columbia) B-
- Michael Brecker/Joe Lovano/Dave Liebman: Saxophone Summit: Gathering of Spirits (Telarc) C+
- Chick Corea Elektrik Band: To the Stars (Stretch) C
- Branford Marsalis Quartet: Eternal (Marsalis Music/Rounder) B-
- Chris Botti: When I Fall in Love (Columbia) B-
- Javon Jackson: Have You Heard (Palmetto) C+
- Herbie Hancock: Possibilities (Hear Music) C
- Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: Don't Be Afraid . . . The Music of Charles Mingus (Palmetto) B-
- Taylor Eigsti: Lucky to Be Me (Concord) B-
- Kenny G: The Essential Kenny G (1986-2004, Arista/Legacy) C
- The Matt Savage Trio: Quantum Leap (Savage) C+
- Warren Vaché and the Scottish Ensemble: Don't Look Back (Arbors) B-
- Turtle Island String Quartet: A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane (Telarc) C+
- Soweto Kinch: A Life in the Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block (Dune) B-
- Chris Potter 10: Song for Anyone (Sunnyside) B
That list pretty much does what I aimed for, and looking back the
grades and comments still seem on the mark. Carter, Lovano, Vaché,
and Potter have also scored JCG A-list records. Liebman, Corea, both
Marsalis brothers (the LCJO dud was for Wynton), Jackson, and Hancock
all have A-list records further back in my database. Brecker doesn't,
but he got an HM for Pilgrimage, and almost everyone but me
regards him as a titan, some as a god. G and Botti are bestselling
pop jazz icons. Eigsti, Savage, and Kinch were small fries with a lot
of hype, and they each represented something bigger than themselves:
Eigsti the Concord marketing machine, which was trying to fashion
jazz star breakthroughs like the mainstream pop world does; Savage
the notion of genius in the form of child prodigies; Kinch some form
of hip-hop fusion. The Turtle Islanders cover a multitude of sins:
overdogs with their Grammys, pop panderers, plus they took on some
of the sacred texts of jazz repertoire and made a godawful mess of
Actually, the success of this list is one of the things that make
it so daunting. Would it be de trop to pick on Hancock (The River)
or Corea (his Bela Fleck collaboration) again? Mark Murphy's record
was truly horrible, but it's not like I've ever liked his work. Maria
Schneider has become big enough game, but is that in itself reason
enough to go after her? I don't much like any of her albums, but I
don't much dislike them either: for me they're just kind of bland and
uninteresting, a reaction at odds with what pretty much everyone else
seems to be having. Until I have something worth saying, I don't feel
up to taking her on -- maybe I'm even a bit gunshy around her. (Francis
Davis told me he was "shocked" when I put Concert in the Garden
on an extra duds list.)
One thing for sure is that three of the last four Duds were unhappy
picks. Vaché and Potter both play well against backgrounds I dislike,
Potter especially so. Kinch is a guy I hope will get it together and
do well. Looking forward, there's not much I want to get into. Aside
from Schneider, Eric Alexander and David Hazeltine have a pair of
records that are well off their usual standards, but when I played
Alexander I came up empty. I thought about Nicole Mitchell's Black
Earth Ensemble: an overwrought B by a talented and charismatic young
musician on a weak instrument. She's likely to emerge as a Regina
Carter-level star sometime soon, but it's premature to hold that
against her. The Kurt Elling record is probably down to my standards,
but no worse than anything else he's done -- may even be his best.
Sean Jones? Matt Shulman? I've already moved Fathead Newman's
latest to the "flush" file, figuring as bad as it is, it's still
better than the last one I dudded.
While writing this, I came up with an idea for restructuring the
column, and kicked if off to the Voice. Get rid of the big review
"dud of the month" and expand what I write in the "duds" list,
including grades so the difference between a B and a D is clear.
We'll see what they think of the idea. When Robert Christgau first
came out with this format circa 1990 he called his idea for the
revamped Consumer Guide "The A List" -- the whole point was to
spend full time finding good records, which he felt he wasn't
getting to because he was having to spend so much time listening
to crap. The "Dud of the Month" was added later, at Eric Weisbard's
insistence. Weisbard figured that critics should get nasty at least
some of the time, if for no other reason than to show they don't
fall for everything. Of course, Christgau never had the problems
I'm laying out here. I assure you that if I was covering hard rock,
singer-songwriters, rap, and Nashville I wouldn't either.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Last few months I've been collecting links to interesting pieces,
adding comments, and posting them once-weekly. Some lose their
timeliness. Sometimes I lose track. The Tom Lantos bit below is
a good example of something that should come out sooner, and in
general I don't see much value in collecting longer posts without
common threads. So we'll try this change. I'll probably queue up
and post at the end of the day. (That at least was the theory
last night, but I didn't quite get this done then.) And I'm not
likely to have things every day (although I do feel a tinge of
gratification when I manage to fill in a monthly calendar). But
here's a start.
Steve Clemons: Tom Lantos' Israel-Palestine Shift.
Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) died today, age 80. For decades, at
least on matters relating to Israel, he has been one of the most
intransigently hawkish members there, pretty much AIPAC's man on
the House floor. Clemons argues here that lately Lantos has moderated
his positions -- e.g., arguing for diplomatic efforts to reduce
tensions with Iran. I can't tell you whether there's any truth
to that, let alone whether it might have made any difference. But
one thing that strikes me as a repeated theme in Israeli history
is how many key Israeli figures seemed to be moving toward some
sort of peace position as they faded from the scene and died off.
David Ben Gurion, who created the conflict by driving 700,000
Palestinians into exile and establishing the policies preventing
their return, had by 1967 opposed any further expansion of Israel,
and would certainly have traded the territories captured then for
political recognition by the Arab states -- the current official
position of the Arab League. Moshe Dayan, who led the expansion
in 1967, was key to returning the Sinai to Egypt in 1979, and
would have gone further if he had the power (by then Menachem
Begin was Prime Minister; by then even Begin had moderated from
his 1948 position when he was responsible for the worst massacres
of Palestinians). Yitzhak Rabin, who had key roles in 1948 and
1967, was working towards extending his possibly cynical Oslo
Accords when he was assassinated. I'm not certain that one can
add Ariel Sharon to this list, although he had withdrawn from
Gaza before his stroke, and it's unlikely that he would have
stupidly invaded Lebanon in 2007 like his successor (or like
he himself did in 1982). I suppose this could be taken as
evidence that there is a God and that God wants Armageddon.
Personally, I'm not so pessimistic about the universe. But
it does make me pessimistic about human nature. One thing all
of these oldtime warriors believed was that time was on the
side of Israel, that all they had to do to win was wait. They
were wrong. They waited, they died, they got bupkes, or worse:
their lot was inherited by people who would fair even worse.
On the other hand, while Israel may keep drifting to the
right, it's unlikely that Americans (Democrats anyway) will
keep drifting with them. One reason Lantos was so effective
was that no one wants to fight with a Holocaust survivor.
The Republican right has its own reasons for supporting the
Israeli right, and those reasons are increasingly inimical
to values more and more Democrats (more and more Americans)
are holding. It's still de rigeur for Democrats to support
Israel, but it will make a world of difference whether you
support Israel for peace and justice or you support Israel
for nationalist domination and war. As such, the idea that
Lantos was becoming more moderate may further realignment
of the Democrats, whereas the moderation of the Israelis
I referred to were literally dead ends.
David Grossman: The blind giant of the Middle East.
Actually, I found Grossman's diatribe against Ehud Olmert over the
Lebanon war that killed Grossman's son too turgid to get into -- I
don't doubt that Israel has lost its way, but I also don't think it
was on the right road in the first place. Rather, I want to point
out one of the "choice" letters, by Chad Bagley. The other, by Gadi
Ben-Yehuda, isn't bad either, but appeals to idealism where Bagley
cites good old fashioned pragmatism (I was tempted to say American,
but I don't see much of it hereabouts any more):
This is a thoughtful article but I think that it tries to hold on
to the myth of the State of Israel as an ideal gone wrong. Perhaps
it's time to entertain the heretical idea that perhaps -- just perhaps
-- creating a Jewish state in a land that had been occupied by Muslims
for millennia wasn't such a judicious idea to begin with. The fact is
that the State of Israel was not an organic creation. Anyone really
wanting to look at the situation honestly has to concede that Israel
was created by the US and Britain as a solution to a refugee
problem; refugees that for economic and anti-Semitic reasons neither
the US nor Britain wanted to assimilate at the time. Did anyone at
the time really think that establishing a theocratic state that
worshiped Yahweh that was surrounded by other theocratic states that
worship Allah -- both of which firmly believe that the land was deeded
to them in perpetuity by their respective gods -- were really going to
As other letters in this thread have said, it's time to take a
pragmatic approach and stop supporting a genocidal state that imposes
apartheid on its minority. The US needs to put its foot down and
give Israel their marching orders (of course that also means getting
rid of the pretension that Israel is a sovereign state. Face it, any
country whose citizenry receive six times more federal aid per capita
than the residents of any American state need to give up the silly
notion that they can make their own policy).
Unfortunately, the US foreign policy is heavily influenced by a
theocratic leaning cabal that believes in the same kind of scriptural
hooey that fuels this hogwash between the Jews and the Muslims (The
supreme irony is that the Christofascists who have made this truly
bizarre alliance with Israel are doing so because they see the
destruction of Israel as a fulfillment of prophesy. After all, how can
Israel be destroyed if it isn't on the map? The Zionist boosters think
this is a hoot but hey, why look a gift horse in the mouth).
Unless all sides can take a rational approach without basing their
foreign policy on old political tracts (i.e. scripture) there will be
no solution except the solution that has reigned supreme for the past
50 years: bloodshed and ethnic hatred.
Two or three points I'd like to add to this. The first is that
Israelis are themselves divided over what to do, so the problem
is less getting the US to tell Israel what to do than to get the
US to line up in ways that support Israelis who are willing to
live peaceably and equitably with non-Jews in the region. The US
is not sending the right message by structuring so much aid for
military purposes, just to take the most obvious example. The US
has a bigger problem in understanding that the occupation or any
institution of unequal treatment will never solve and will only
cause conflict. This should be easy enough to understand: all
people can agree to equal treatment; only a part of the people
will ever agree to unequal treatment. One need only ask oneself
Another point is that the root cause of Israel and all of the
strife that has come out of it was the unwillingness of world
powers and the world in general to settle displaced Jews in their
own lands. In order for Israelis to accept equality Jews must be
treated equitably elsewhere. Zionism depends on antisemitism.
Take antisemitism away and Zionism has no rationale to exist.
It should be quite practical to monitor both that non-Jews in
Israel and its subject territories are treated equitably and
that Jews outside Israel are also treated equitably, with the
powers of the world united to reinforce such behavior. To make
that happen the US would have to commit to equal treatment
(which is, after all, a fundamental principle of American law)
and to build cooperative world organizations to work through
(forsaking our own selfish interests for common goals -- aye,
there's the rub: the American national religion, after all, is
the resolute belief that our pursuit of our individual and
national self-interests is ultimately best for everyone).
Monday, February 11, 2008
Music: Current count 14184  rated (+33), 752  unrated (-20).
Another week with nothing new here. Spent the whole thing listening to
new jazz, piling up Jazz Prospecting. Jazz CG is edited and should be
out this week. Last Recycled Goods is out, done except I still haven't
sent the PR letter out. Hard to say goodbye.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #16, Part 3)
Spent the whole week listening to new jazz. Started with singers,
partly by accident, then by chain of reasoning, or maybe because
they go fast. Didn't get much in the mail, so for once the queue
shrunk, clearing a couple of annoying piles off my desk. It would
still take another three, maybe four, such weeks to catch up, but
finally making some progress. I have 60% of the next column written,
plus enough identified A-list and honorable mention material to
fill up the rest. Also have a couple of possible pick hits, but
those aren't locked in. Don't know what to do about the dud slot,
which is getting to be a huge pet peeve. I should hold off writing
more on that until the pending column comes out, but as usual the
hint is on Downbeat's cover. I like the magazine, but I
think the only duds they've missed so far have been my bottom
feeders (Kenny G and Chris Botti) and a couple of longshot
pianists (Taylor Eigsti and Matt Savage). I also don't recall
picking any after the cover appeared, so chalk it up to karma
Jazz CG #15 should be out in the Village Voice mid-week. Don't
know what the final cuts are, but I cut down the amount I sent in,
so it shouldn't be too bad. I still need to trim back the done
list (currently 118 deep; probably should be more like 60) and
polish off the surplus file. I figure I could start closing out
Jazz CG #16 after as little as two more weeks. Historically, I've
run a column every three months and slipped a bit lately (13 to
14 was 3 days short of 4 months; 14 to 15 will also be 3 days
short of 4 months). Slips getting slotted into the Voice are the
main reason -- one that's unlikely to change, so the only way to
speed up would be for me to shorten my cycle. The number of good
records to write about would support a two month cycle. I don't
know whether the Voice would, but I haven't pushed it hard enough
yet to force an answer.
One anomaly below is that I spend a lot of time bitching about
Flash websites. I suspect that musicians like Flash because it's
good for pushing music out -- same reason they like MySpace, which
provides them with a Flash widget for music. That's also one of
the reasons I hate Flash: I'm always playing something else when
I look up a website, and don't want it to start interfering with
my sound. There are lots of other things I hate about Flash, but
the reason I got rid of it is that it enables viruses that damage
my browser and lose me a lot of work. Since the web was invented,
there has been a struggle going on between page designers and
users over control of the screen. Flash does offer occasionally
useful things, but it tips the balance of power way to the side
of the design fascists. A lot of my complaints could be lessened
by Flash if they just made their widgets more user friendly: let
us turn sound off as a default, let us stop an animation, let us
kill and cover up a whole widget, give us some more effective
control against untoward behavior. Flash doesn't let us do such
reasonable things; the only recourse we have is to disable it.
The main reason I go to an artist website is to get some info.
That can be done better in HTML than in Flash. It's fine
with me if you have straight HTML pages with Flash widgets for
only the things Flash is good for. It's also OK to have parallel
Flash and HTML paths like Dynamod provides. But this idea that
everything has to be Flash hurts me, and ultimately hurts you.
It's not browsable, not searchable, and downright irritating.
Maybe now that I've said this here, I won't have to repeat it
over and over again in the notes, as I did here.
Kat Parra: Azucar de Amor (2008, Patois): Singer,
from California, currently somewhere in the Bay Area. Does a mixed
bag of Latin music, sambas and mambos, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Peruvian,
charangas and danzóns, salsa, with a special interest in Sephardic
whatever -- she sings in Ladino, as well as Spanish, Portuguese,
French, and (not on her list, but I guess this is a given) English.
Second album. It's easier to nitpick the English and/or the slow
ones -- she does "Misty" as a bolero but it still sounds like a
pretty ordinary "Misty" to me. Her "mystic Sephardic ballad" is
appropriately dreamy, something called "Esta Montanya D'Enfrente."
Libby York: Here With You (2007 , Libby York
Music): Singer, from Chicago but spent the 1980s in New York, studying
with Abbey Lincoln and Judy Niemack. Started singing professionally
at 35, and now had 3 albums in her mid-40s. Sings standards ("You
Go to My Head," "But Beautiful," "Azure Te," "Flamingo"). Mid-range
voice with precise intonation, able to wrap old chestnuts in fine
leather or lace. Guitarist Howard Alden gets credit for arrangements,
but yields to Russell Malone on three cuts. Renee Rosnes gets credit
as Production Assistant ("the world's most overqualified"), but no
piano, a clever omission which leaves plenty of room for Warren
Vaché's delectable cornet -- much better than his duet on "Walkin'
My Baby Back Home," which is sort of winning nonetheless.
Wendy Luck: See You in Rio (2006, Wendy Luck Music):
Singer, also plays flute. Third album. AMG classifies her as new age,
which indicates the flute came first. Sort of a wispy blonde voice,
attractive enough, unmannered and carefree on lightweight Brazilian
fare. One long quasi-classical flute feature, "Bachianas Brasilieras
No. 5" by Heitor Villa-Lobos, is neither here nore there.
Something for You: Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill
Evans (2007 , Blue Note): For starters, I still
find Evans impenetrable, which isn't to say I'm immune to his
charms, although he really has to be doing something special to
overcome my resistance. Pianist Elias manages to evoke the same
conflicted responses, so she must be doing something right. In
general, she's a better pianist than singer. (Except when she's
doing Jobim. Maybe Astrud Gilberto skewed the field so far that
even Elias seems vibrant by comparison, or maybe she's just so
much more at home there.) But the paleness in her voice suits
the half-plus songs with vocals here, although only "Detour
Ahead" really catches my ear. Bassist-husband Marc Johnson
played with Evans, and managed to borrow Scott LaFaro's bass
for a couple of songs, so he's beyond reproach. Joey Baron is
exceptionally quiet, never reminiscent of Paul Motian. No idea
whether Evans fans will like this or not. I find it charming,
but can't claim I understand why.
Katie Bull: The Story, So Far (2006 , Corn Hole
Indie): An adventurous jazz singer, citing Jay Clayton and Sheila Jordan
as influences, working with mostly avant musicians like Michael Jefry
Stevens and Joe Fonda. Fourth album, a very ambitious song suite, with
a DVD (unviewed) documenting her performance art. You can use her cover
of "Twisted" for calibration: it is looser and quirkier than Annie Ross
(or Joni Mitchell, even), and those traits pop up every now and then in
her originals. Problem is I don't find myself caring, even when she
taunts Bush for not finding any WMD.
Jamie Leonhart: The Truth About Suffering (2008,
Sunnyside): Singer-songwriter, sharing some/most credits with
pianist-husband Michael Leonhart. Born in New York, granddaughter
of a cantor. Debut album, not counting a self-released EP that
AMG lists first. Doesn't sound all that jazzy, but at least one
jazz vocal niche is pure marketing accident: a few club dates,
a jazz label, who knows? Sounds better when I listen closely,
and I can't say that I gave it a fair hearing. Not something
I'm much interested in.
Patrick Arena: Night and Day (2008, Arenamusic):
Singer, based in Western PA, maybe from there too, as his CV
indicates he studied drama at Duquesne 1970-72, from which I
also deduce he's over 50. Spent some time in NYC. Teaches voice.
His strikes me as soft-toned, unmannered, with limited range,
although he can modulate the volume. A couple of originals and
some peculiar covers, like "I'm Always Drunk in San Francisco."
Elli Fordyce with Jim Malloy: Something Still Cool
(1999-2006 , EF Music): Fordyce is a singer based in NY,
b. 1937, with her first album. (I saw one website that had her
born in 1974 with 6 albums, but nothing else I see gives that
any credence. Scott Yanow's liner notes ask: "How can the singer
possibly be 70 when her voice can pass for 40?") She likes the
cool jazz of the 1950s, explaining that she hired trumpeter James
Magnarelli for his fondness for Chet Baker. Malloy is another
singer; has an album of mostly 1950s bop standards called Jazz
Vocalist. He appears in duets on 5 songs, and they make a
nice pair. Two cuts with just David Epstein on piano. The rest,
including all the duets, have Harry Whitaker's piano trio, some
with Magnarelli and/or percussionist Samuel Torres added. Good
liner notes; solid craftsmanship.
Diane Schuur: Some Other Time (2008, Concord):
Singer. Has about 20 albums since 1985, but this is the first
I've heard. Arguably she's the most famous jazz singer I'd
never heard before -- she's had a couple of Grammys and 12
albums on Billboard's Top Ten Jazz Albums lists, but popularity
tends to be suspect in this niche and Penguin Guide
doesn't acknowledge her at all. Standards, well worn ones at
that, like "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "Blue Skies," "Taking
a Chance on Love," "My Favorite Things." One cut is rather
strangely pulled from a 1964 archive, at which point she would
have been 11, and that segues into an apparently new "Danny
Boy." Small group with piano (Schuur on two cuts, Randy Porter
elsewhere), guitar (Dean Balmer), bass and drums. She's an
articulate singer with a finely honed neutral voice, assured.
Given surefire songs and sensible, swinging even, arrangements,
she makes a strong impression.
B+(**) [Feb. 26]
Keefe Jackson's Project Project: Just Like This
(2007, Delmark): Jackson plays tenor sax and bass clarinet. He
moved to Chicago from Fayetteville, AR in 2001. Has an earlier
record I haven't heard by a small group called Keefe Jackson's
Fast Citizens. Project Project is a large improv-oriented band:
5 brass, 5 reeds, bass and drums. Loose, rowdy, occasionally
rapturous solos, nothing that stands out much from any number
of similar configurations.
Mike Walbridge's Chicago Footwarmers: Crazy Rhythm
(1966-2007 , Delmark): Born 1937 in Los Angeles, Walbridge
moved from trumpet to sousaphone in his high school band, moved
to Chicago after a stint in the military, joined the Original Salty
Dogs, and founded the Chicago Footwarmers Hot Dance Orchestra in
1958, playing tuba. That trad jazz never changes is proven by the
near-seamless pairing of a 1966-67 9-track LP with 8 new tracks
from 40 years later. What holds it together is fellow Salty Dog
Kim Cusack, who plays clarinet and alto sax on both sessions. He
goes back even further, recording most frequently with James
Dapogny, Ernie Carson, and Bob Schulz, although he also has a
nice 1967-2007 pair of credits with Jim Kweskin and Maria Muldaur.
While the 1967 sessions have extra piano, the most distinctly
satisfying thing about this record is its elemental foursquare
structure -- clarinet over tuba, banjo with drums -- as basic
as trad jazz gets.
Sabertooth: Dr. Midnight (2007, Delmark): A
quartet consisting of two saxophonists, Cameron Pfiffner and
Pat Mallinger, with Pete Benson on organ and Ted Sirota on drums.
Group formed in 1990 and has long held an after hours gig at
Chicago's Green Mill Lounge. A previous self-released Live
at the Green Mill album came out in 2001. The new one
suggests they haven't gone anywhere. The two saxophonists can
cut it, but Pfiffner likes to relax with his piccolo, Matlinger
prefers a Native American flute, neither strong suits. Mostly
originals by the saxophonists, but the best thing here is by
"traditional," mostly because Sirota gets to shake a Latin
beat. Strikes me as spotty, a problem with gigs: live you
recall the good spots, on record you dread the rest.
Out to Lunch: Excuse Me While I Do the Boogaloo
(2007, Accurate): Gratuitous AMG slam du jour: they label this
group/record country. The hype sheet references Medeski Martin
& Wood, Groove Collective, Club D'Elf, and others, summing
up: "James Brown soul to dub influenced reggae, from jazz to
house." I guess "acid jazz" doesn't buy you much these days.
Actually, I find them a little soft and wobbly for any of those
comparisons. The leader is Brooklyn saxophonist David Levy, who
hails from Canada and passed through New England Conservatory.
Levy's credit list here starts with bass clarinet and clarinet,
which has something to do with the soft touch. Josiah Woodson
plays trumpet and flute; Petr Cancura tenor/soprano sax and
clarinet; Eric Lane keybs; two bassist alternate, and there
are drums and electronics. Debut album, although AMG lists one
from 2003 that probably doesn't belong here.
Free Form Funky Freqs: Urban Mythology: Volume One
(2007, Thirsty Ear): Guitar improv from Vernon Reid, with Jamaldeen
Tacuma reverbing the funk bass and G. Calvin Weston on drums, with
extra beeps, bonks and warps plugged in by Reid, but -- they swear --
no guitar, bass, or drum overdubs. Accept it for what little it is
and you'll have a nice time. Don't hold your breath for Vol. 2.
Steve Reid Ensemble: Daxaar (2007, Domino):
Album cover claims "(recorded in africa)" in small bold print
against an outline of the continent. The title is evidently
an archaic spelling of Dakar, the capital of Senegal, where
Reid picked up trumpet (Roger Ongolo), guitar (Jimi Mbaye),
bass (Dembel Diop), kora (Isa Kouyate, also spelled Koyate,
while kora is also spelled korah), and percussion (Khadim
Badji), studio pros with Youssou N'Dour and Super Diamono
and others on their resumes. Kouyate also provides a vocal
on the first song, called "Welcome," which is the only thing
here that is unmistakably Senegalese. The rest are seductive
little groove pieces. While the Africans go with the flow and
flesh them out admirably, the real interest is in the keyboards
(Boris Netsvetaev) and electronics (Kieran Hebden, who also
does business as Four Tet), light and fleeting details in a
thick jungle tableau. Reid's a drummer with a Zelig-like list
of credits -- Martha Reeves' "Dancing in the Streets," John
Coltrane, James Brown, Ornette Coleman, Fela Kuti, Sun Ra,
Miles Davis -- despite spending most of his life in obscurity
as an exile, now snug in Switzerland. He got some notice in
2006 for The Exchange Session, two volumes of laptop-drums
improvs with Hebden, and that paid for his ticket to Africa.
Not the first time he's been back, but this time he brought
something extra to the party.
Drew Gress: The Irrational Numbers (2006 ,
Premonition): Flash-only website. For a while after I killed off
Flash life was good, but I've run into a few of these things
lately, and this one pushed me over the edge into complaining.
Don't really need to do much research on Gress anyway. He's one
of the top bassists in New York, showing up on 6-10 records per
year since the early 1990s, including Fred Hersch, Dave Douglas,
Tim Berne, John Hollenbeck (Claudia Quintet), Uri Caine, George
Colligan, Marc Copland, Tony Malaby, Ellery Eskelin, Steve
Lehman, Ralph Alessi, many more -- AMG lists about 130 albums.
This is the fourth under his own name: his compositions, with
an all-star quintet: Berne (alto sax), Alessi (trumpet), Craig
Taborn (piano), Tom Rainey (drums). Not sure why I don't like
it more: the free form passages are exciting, but most of it
consists of intricate postbop layerings, possibly interesting
on paper, but hard to follow or get into.
B+(*) [Feb. 19]
Ben Allison & Man Size Safe: Little Things Run the
World (2007 , Palmetto): Another Flash-only website.
An advance copy with little information; e.g., credits like "Michael
Blake (sax on selected tracks)"; no recording date (AMG gives Aug.
17-18, 2007); no song list (AMG doesn't have one either, but I
picked up one from Palmetto website; no catalog number (AMG has
one but it looks wrong). Presumably Allison wrote all the pieces,
since that's something he does. Also, like Gress, he's one of the
major bassists of his generation -- not as much session work, but
a stronger record as a composer. "Man Size Safe" is a song title
as well as the first indication of a group name. Group includes
Ron Horton on trumpet, Steve Cardenas on guitar, Michael Sarin
on drums, and Blake more or less. Allison was part of a group
that called itself the Jazz Composers Collective (along with
Horton and Blake, Frank Kimbrough and Ted Nash). They all do
sort of left-of-center postbop, but Allison seems to get more
kick out of his melodies. This is interesting, thoughtful stuff,
but I'll hold off until I know more.
3 Cohens: Braid (2006 , Anzic): Another
Flash website, but this one at least has an HTML version (a tip
of the hat to Dynamod Web Portals; I don't recommend non-free
software or anything involving Flash, but at least they produce
usable websites). The 3 Cohens are siblings Yuval (soprano sax),
Anat (tenor sax, one cut on clarinet), and Avishai (trumpet),
playing in front of Aaron Goldberg (piano), Omer Avital (bass),
and Eric Harland (drums). All three provide originals (3 for
Yuval, 2 Anat, 4 Avishai), plus there is a cover of "It Could
Happen to You." The horns tend to wrap around each other, with
the higher soprano sax/trumpet pair dominant -- the reference
to braiding has some merit. The rhythm section is relatively
anonymous, although the few occasions where they get an exotic
rhythm to work with help a lot.
Fabio Morgera: Need for Peace (2007, Smalls):
Trumpeter, b. 1963 in Naples Italy, moved to Los Angeles in
1985 and on to New York in 1990. Has 7 or more albums under his
own name, plus a parallel track since 1990 working with acid
jazz group Groove Collective. The key fact here is that half
of the 16 songs have vocals, but they are sung by four different
singers (Morgera taking one song), none all that distinctive or
attractive. The other half are instrumentals, although they are
not staged much differently, with smokey cocktail bar piano and
Morgera's deftly phrased, eloquent trumpet. I'd like to hear a
more instrumental album, or a better singer.
Richard Boulger: Blues Twilight (2005-06 ,
City Hall): Trumpet player, originally from Massachusetts, then
Connecticut. Studied with Jackie McLean and Freddie Hubbard, who
penned the liner notes here. Released first album in 1999. Joined
Gregg Allman and Friends in 2001. This is his second album, cut
over two sessions, the first blessed by John Hicks on piano, the
second helped out by Anthony Wonsey. Hard bop, pretty vigorous.
One thing I don't like is having the sax (David Snitter or Kris
Jensen) shadow the trumpet, and there's a lot of that here. On
his own, Boulger cuts a fine figure.
Thomas Marriott: Crazy: The Music of Willie Nelson
(2006 , Origin): From Seattle, plays trumpet and flugelhorn,
has 3 albums since 2005 (not counting his Xmas album, The Cool
Season). Quintet with Mark Taylor on sax, Ryan Burns on Moog
or Fender Rhodes, Geoff Harper on bass, Matt Jorgensen on drums.
The process is similar to what Jewels & Binoculars has done
with Bob Dylan, but the extra horn and keyboards generate a lot
of excess filigree, complicating the melodies and camouflaging
the improvisation. "Crazy" itself, of course, is indelible enough
to hold up, and there are other sweet spots.
Frederic Borey Group: Maria (2005 , Fresh
Sound New Talent): French saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano.
Looks like his first album. Quartet includes guitar, bass, and
drums. Don't know much about him. After some searching, I found
a French website, implemented wholly in Flash, and for that
matter possibly the most annoying Flash I've ever seen. Example:
a bio page is cut up into four pieces which are perpetually
animated, sliding around the window. I could probably glean
some useful info even in French if only I could get it to hold
still. Flash itself doesn't provide any controls for slowing
or stopping animation, for turning off the sound, or anything
else that would be useful -- killing the process and replacing
it with a black window is at the top of my wish list. (Sorry
to run on like this, but someone has to say it somewhere.) As
for the record, it's soft-toned postbop, especially with the
soprano, which tends to be cloyingly pretty. Borey's tenor is
more substantial, and it's a pleasure to follow his logic. Much
of the backdrop is due to guitarist Piere Perchaud, who does a
particularly nice job of setting the sax up.
The Paislies (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent):
New York group, six members: Samir Zarif (soprano and tenor sax),
Jesse Lewis (guitar), Eliot Cardinaux (nord electro 2 and organ),
Miro Sprague (piano), Perry Wortman (bass), Paul Wiltgen (drums).
Of these, only Sprague rings a faint bell -- has a couple of
albums, but I haven't heard them. Sprague's website describes
the Paislies as a cooperative group. Don't see any song credits
to indicate otherwise. I'm fond of collectivism in politics and
business, but one thing I'm attracted to in jazz is a strong
sense of individuality. That's often a problem with larger
groups, especially without a strong leader, and I don't hear
anyone standing out here. Postbop, soft tones, not a lot of
beat, the dual keyboards a bit unusual. Young guys as far as
I can tell. Zarif comes from Houston via New Orleans. Lewis is
from Boston via New Orleans. Cardinaux has a MySpace page with
nothing on it. Sprague has trio and quintet albums, but not
much of a biography. Wortman grew up in Tulsa and gigged in
OKC. Wiltgen comes from Luxembourg, has his own group, is into
Baha'i. Some (or maybe all) of them intersected at Manhattan
School of Music. Most have MySpace pages, which I mostly ignore
because they're mostly useless, but musicians like them because
they can forcefeed you music -- annoying when you're trying to
listen to something else. Group has a Flash page: flashier than
average, but also not much help. Some of these guys may turn
out to be good, but it's pretty early to tell.
Ila Cantor: Mother Nebula (2006 , Fresh
Sound New Talent): Guitarist. Website says she was raised in
New York, but also says she moved there after high school. I
figured her for Spanish, but website says she moved to Barcelona
later, "to experience a new culture, language, and life." Two
sources say she's the daughter of an author and filmmaker, but
don't give a name. She has several groups/projects, both in
Barcelona and in New York, including a cabaret group called
The Lascivious Biddies. This is a New York group, a quartet
with Frederik (or Frederick, on the front cover) Carlquist on
tenor sax, Tom Warburton on bass, Joe Smith on drums. First
cut starts with an agreeable funk groove, and Carlquist's sax
stands up and comes out honking. That sets up the vibe for
the rest of the album, even while it strays further afield.
I'm most impressed with Carlquist, but can't find much -- a
Fredrik Carlquist has two albums on Dragon, and I've also
seen a Frederic Carlquist.
Giulia Valle Group: Danze Imprevista (2006 ,
Fresh Sound New Talent): Recorded Nov. 14-15, but doesn't say the
year, so I'm guessing 2006. She has another Flash website, totally
useless. From Tomajazz (as best I can hack the Italian) I gather
she was born 1972 in Sanremo, Italy. Studied in Barcelona and seems
to be based there. Plays bass. Wrote and arranged everything here
except for a piece by Hermeto Pascoal and a theme from Hindemith
she transfigured. Group is definitely Barcelona, with two saxes
(Martí Serra and Miguel "Pintxo" Villar), Sergi Sirvent on piano,
and David Xirgu on drums. Postbop, arty, but also swings some.
I didn't care for the same two sax lineup on her previous
Colorista, but this is more winning.
José Alberto Medina/JAM Trio: In My Mind (2007,
Fresh Sound New Talent): Medina is a pianist, originally from
the Canary Islands, now in Barcelona. JAM is presumably just
his initials. A previous album, First Portrait, with
the same credit used different players at bass and drums. This
time they are Paco Weht and Mariano Steimberg. Don't know either
of them, but Steimberg has a MySpace page, says he's based in
Barcelona, influenced by Miles Davis and Squarepusher, credits
include programming as well as drums. One song here has a vocal
by Oscar Aresi. Medina has a light touch and lovely tone, and
this works nicely within the piano trio format.
Hans Glawischnig: Panorama (2006 , Sunnyside):
Born 1970 in Graz, Austria; his father Dieter Glawischnig, a pianist
and NDR Big Band director; his mother a US native. Plays bass. Moved
to Boston to study at Berklee, then to New York for Manhattan School
of Music. Second album as leader, following an easily overlooked Fresh
Sound New Talent album from 2001, but he's played on more than two
dozen albums since 1997, often under Latino leaders (Ray Barretto,
Miguel Zenon, Luis Perdomo, Dafnis Prieto). This one will be noticed:
he's got a name people have been noticing, and a label that will get
him more visibility. It has the air of an overelaborate debut: it
deploys nine musicians in groups of 3-5, calling in chits and adding
to the star power (only 2 of 3 drummers aren't household names, at
least chez moi). The small groups work well enough each on its own,
but fit uncomfortably together, partly because shifts like alternating
alto saxophonists Miguel Zenon and David Binney wind up sounding so
much the same. Another example is piano: Chick Corea leads two trios
cuts, while Luis Perdomo fills in the groups, a distinction that could
be chalked up to different roles rather than different pianists (who
all in all aren't all that different). The one cut with Rich Perry's
tenor sax does stand in contrast to the six cuts with alto, but comes
as an isolated surprise. The unifying thread is the bassist-composer,
which is no doubt the plan. Advanced, interesting postbop, informed
by Latin jazz but not really part of it. Bass presence but not much
solo space. For various good and not so good reasons this is likely
to show up in a lot of year-end lists.
Yoko Miwa Trio: Canopy of Stars (2004 , P.J.L):
Pianist, from Japan, based in Boston since 1996, has a couple of
previous albums. Her website quotes what I wrote about her 2004
album Fadeless Flower: "Young mainstream piano trio aim
for clean sound, delicate balance, inconspicuous beauty." Trio
this time includes Massimo Biolcati on bass, Scott Goulding on
drums (repeating from last time). Not much more to add other than
that she mixes it up a bit more, including a tango and a waltz.
Matthew Shipp: Piano Vortex (2007, Thirsty Ear):
I got this very late, well after the year-end lists were compiled.
Not sure why. I get everything else from Thirsty Ear, and asked
for and was promised this several times before it finally came
through. I've written about Shipp at great length
here, and two
records back he scored a Pick Hit with his jazztronica triumph,
Harmony and Abyss. This one turned out to be tough to get
into. It's an old fashioned piano trio, with Joe Morris on bass
and Whit Dickey on drums. It seemed to just amble quietly then
finally detonate about six cuts in. Finally I kicked the volume
up a notch, and with Gary Giddins' Jazz Times column as
a guide, started paying attention. The ambling quiet title cut
does indeed draw you into a vortex. The second and fourth pieces
are choppy rhythm things a bit more deliberate than the sixth
one ("Quivering With Speed") I've been noticing all along. The
odd numbered pieces feature lines that go places you don expect.
Morris, who started out as a guitarist, is turning into a sharp
bassist, especially with the bow. Giddins writes about others
writing about how this is more accessible than other Shipp
records. I don't think so. But at least it pays back the
attention it demands.
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Holon (2007 , ECM):
Don't have record date, so I'm guessing. ECM usually has those
things, although the booklets have been getting more minimalist.
Swiss pianist, b. 1971, into zen, funk, martial arts, green tea,
most of which are combined here, although possibly misapplied.
A ronin is an outcast samurai warrior, a loner. The five-piece
band, however, has two albums now, and play tighter than ever.
Electric bass, drums, and percussion chug out regular rhythms,
similar to Nils Petter Molvaer, maybe more mechanistic, with
minor shifts to keep from wearing down. Bärtsch played Fender
Rhodes on the earlier Stoa, but goes with acoustic piano
here, adding a layer that again shifts subtly. Someone who goes
by the name Sha plays bass and contrabass clarinets and alto
saxophone, but he blends in and is pretty inconspicuous. Six
pieces are titled "Modul" followed by a number. They start
simple and build a bit. It's not postbop and not avant-garde
and it doesn't fuse anything obvious, but it's got more going
for it than dance electronica or experimental rock.
Enrico Rava/Stefano Bollani: The Third Man
(2006 , ECM): It's hard to make duos work, harder still
when the instruments meet like oil and water, although even
for trumpet and piano I can think of an exception -- Warren
Vaché and Bill Charlap's 2gether (2000, Nagel-Heyer),
but in that case both artists go more than half way to meet
the other. They are great listeners. Rava and Bollani are
pretty good talkers. Despite their mutual admiration, their
oratory sails right past each other, giving us interleaved
halves of two solo albums.
Little Annie & Paul Wallfisch: When Good Things
Happen to Bad Pianos (2007 , Dutro Jnana): Singer
with piano accompaniment, and sometimes a little more. Wallfisch
is the pianist, credited with "Steinway upright in a flooded
basement, synthesizers, guitars, bass and percussion." Cover
has photos of some pretty wrecked pianos. Wallfisch has a
tattered list of rock credits: Love and Rockets, Congo Norvell,
Firewater, Botanica, Gene Loves Jezebel, Sylvain Sylvain, Silos,
Thomas Truax, as well as a previous Little Annie album called
Songs From a Coalmine Canary. Little Annie is Annie
Bandez, aka Annie Anxiety, or some combination thereof (e.g.,
Little Annie Anxiety Bandez). She started out in front of a
group called Annie and the Asexuals. Don't know how old she
is, but she has a long list of solo recordings going back to
1981. Cracked, strained voice, sometimes passing for character,
sometimes falling into comedy, often depending on the song:
"It Was a Very Good Year," "Song for You," "Private Dancer,"
"One for My Baby," "Yesterday When I Was Young," "I Still
Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," etc. One original. I'm
amused, just not sure how far I'm willing to fall.
Omer Klein: Introducing Omer Klein (2007 ,
Smalls): Pianist, from Netanya, Israel, studied at New England
Conservatory in Boston, moved to New York in 2006. Despite the
title here, he has a previous album called Duet with
bassist Haggai Cohen Milo on Fresh Sound New Talent -- a nice,
quiet, intimate introduction to his style. This is a trio with
Omer Avital on bass (and one track oud) and Ziv Ravitz on drums,
plus extra percussion by Itamar Doari. One result is that this
is much more upbeat. Klein even breaks out in a vocal at one
point, not a highlight. Should give it some more time.
Daniel Barry: Walk All Ways (2007, OA2): B. 1955
Erie, PA; studied at University of California Santa Barbara; now
based in Seattle. Plays cornet. Also credited here with melodica
and misc. percussion. First album under his own name, but has
several more in a big band called the Jazz Police, including
The Music of Daniel Barry. He also has a prominent role
in the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra, another big band. This
record is also on the largish side, ranging from the delightful
conga-powered "Mighty Urubamba" that leads off through some
things that slide through classical territory leaning heavily
on violin, cello, accordion, and James DeJoie's clarinets,
flute, and bari sax. The cornet is always bright and welcome,
the arrangements clever and classy.
Rob Lockart: Parallel Lives (2006 , Origin):
Tenor saxophonist, based in Los Angeles. Looks like his first
album, although he has a couple dozen side credits going back
to 1989 -- mostly with folks I don't know, but Bob Sheppard
returns the favor for a one cut sax duet here, and Larry Koonse
drops in for another cut. Otherwise this is a quartet, with
Bill Cunliffe on piano, Jeff DiAngelo on bass, Joe La Barbera
on drums. They have a big, boisterous hard bop sound. It's fun
for a while, but ultimately not all that interesting.
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further
listening the first time around.
Stacey Kent: Breakfast on the Morning Tram (2007,
Blue Note): An art singer, or perhaps a pop singer in an alternate
universe, which may be the England and France that adopted this
New Jersey native. Doesn't write, but four songs are originals,
written by husband-saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and novelist Kazuo
Ishiguro, an often impressive combination. The title track is a
richly detailed recipe for putting heartbreak aside. She has an
interesting knack for repertoire, taking "Hard Hearted Hannah"
and "What a Wonderful World" slow enough to reveal details you
missed before. Three songs in French: a samba and two by Serge
Barbara Rosene and Her New Yorkers: It Was Only a Sun
Shower (2007, Stomp Off): A specialist in pre-WWII pop
songs, with tributes to Ruth Etting and Annette Hanshaw in her
catalog, Rosene rescues "Tip Toe Through the Tulips" from Tiny
Tim, and adds 22 more songs only specialists are likely to
recognize. The musicians, including Jon-Erik Kellso on cornet
and trumpet and Mike Hashim on soprano and alto sax dote on
this stuff, and Rosene can brighten any sad day.
Nanette Natal: I Must Be Dreaming (2005-07 ,
Benyo Music): A jazz singer-songwriter who's remained obscure for
decades reinvents herself as the new Odetta, as straightforward
as any basic blues singer: "tv news makes my blood boil/the mission
was to grab the oil"; "the jails are filled to capacity/in the land
of the brave and the free"; "a city dies before our eyes/the bursted
levees, the broken lies." The line about dreaming is her stab at
irony: it's no dream when "living's hard when it doesn't come easy."
- Louis Armstrong All Stars: Live in Zurich, Switzerland 18.10.1949 (1949, TCB)
- Louie Bellson & Clark Terry: Louie & Clark Expedition 2 (Percussion Power)
- Massimo Biolcati: Persona (Obliqsound): advance, Mar. 4
- Chris Byars: Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition of Himalayan Art (Smalls)
- Cannon Re-Loaded: An All-Star Celebration of Cannonball Adderley (Concord Jazz)
- Toumani Diabaté: The Mandé Variations (Nonesuch): advance, Feb. 26
- Droppin' Science: Greatest Samples From the Blue Note Lab (Blue Note)
- Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Live in Zurich, Switzerland 2.5.1950 (1950, TCB)
- Giacomo Gates: Luminosity (Doubledave Music, CD+DVD): Feb. 19
- Diane Hoffman: My Little French Dancer (Savsomusic)
- Stanley Jordan: State of Nature (Mack Avenue): advance, Apr. 22
- Chuck Manning: Notes From the Real (TCB)
- Marian McPartland: Twilight World (Concord Jazz): advance, Mar. 11
- The Marty Sheller Ensemble: Why Deny (PVR): Feb. 19
- Jon Zeeman: Zeeland (Membrane)
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Fred Kaplan: Downsizing our dominance.
Another piece on the shrinking of American hegemony abroad. Kaplan
sees this as the inevitable result of losing a common threat with
the collapse of the Soviet Union. I suspect that most former allies
never took the military parrying all that seriously, but sought to
curry favor with the US to tap into economic power and technological
prowess. That position has been eroding for some time now, even if
it's only become obvious since Bush took office. Even now nations
suck up to us much more than seems warranted, probably because it's
cheap to be deferential and our egos demand it. The real fall is
still to come. As Kaplan notes, presidential candidates prefer to
skirt the issue: the American people would rather hear about dawn
than decline and fall. That actually leaves an opportunity open, if
anyone is smart enough to take advantage of it. All we'd have to do
is ditch the sole-superpower horseshit and take a lead in pushing
for multilateral, shared solutions to real problems: to pursue peace
and justice through the UN, to seriously tackle global warming and
other environmental issues, to restructure free trade along lines
that benefit poorer countries most. Didn't Gandhi say something to
the effect that he has to follow wherever the people go because he's
their leader? The US can't lead selfishly because the world won't
follow. An alternative would be to just get out of the way, but that
might be even more unpalatably ego-deflating.
William Astore: In the Military We Trust.
A former Air Force Lt. Colonel, Astore gives two reasons why the
military is still regarded by most Americans as an honorable and
trustworthy organization. One is that demographically it is much
more like America as a whole than most other organizations -- he
picks on Ivy League colleges in particular -- so many Americans
find it easy to see themselves in the military. The other is that
the notion of public service is engrained and catered to in the
military, especially for males who find it a particularly helpful
way to define their masculinity:
In response, what we're seeing is a romantic yearning among young
men for the very hardness, the brutality even, epitomized by military
service and warfare.
Astore further argues that antiwar people need to understand these
points before they can possibly, well, do what? That part isn't clear.
It seems to me that the military is trusted mostly because people are
very ignorant about its real skills and liabilities in today's world.
That actually has very little to do with the character or discipline
of those in the military, even if the romance of atavistic war is
what draws them in. Still, the problem isn't how to "engage" the
military to make them less harmful and more useful. The whole
function needs to be rethought from the policy end down. Maybe
that involves building different organizations that tap into the
qualities Astore recognizes. But it starts with recognizing what
is dysfunctional about the military we have, and that's bound to
hurt some egos both in and near to the armed forces.
Robert Kuttner: The Recovery Plan America Needs.
Argues that the stimulus package Congress is working on falls way too
short of what is needed:
Worse, this downturn comes on top of three decades of stagnant or
declining real living standards for about two thirds of Americans, and
increasing insecurity of employment, health insurance, and retirement,
as well as rising costs of housing, education, and energy.
[ . . . ] We need to reclaim the managed
form of capitalism that produced an economy of shared prosperity
during the long postwar boom. That will require progressive taxation,
re-regulation, and public outlay on a much larger scale.
Kuttner's solution to the "Housing Mess" makes a lot of sense.
So does more public sector spending on things like infrastructure,
although by looking at all government spending as stimulus he fails
to note how dysfunctional US war spending really is. As for reversing
long-term trends toward inequality, his heart's in the right place,
but I wonder whether letting the recession do its damage might not
be more effective. Much of that inequality is in the form of bubbled
up real estate prices, stock prices, dollars even, and one effect
of the recession will be to bring that inflation back toward reality.
The poor may suffer more, but the rich have a lot more to lose (which
is why they've only started panicking now as stock prices started to
Senator John McCain's tenure as the de facto GOP presidential
nominee ran into a little stormy weather in Kansas on Saturday.
Huckabee won 60 percent of the vote, to McCain's 24, with Ron
Paul third at 11. McCain had the support of both Kansas senators,
and had ex-Senator Bob Dole lobbying for him in the national
press. One thing the news reports didn't dwell on is the raw
numbers: the Republican caucuses drew about half as many voters
as the Democratic caucuses did. Weather? The Republicans met on
a Saturday morning of a 60-degree day. The Democrats met in the
middle of a blizzard. I suppose McCain can take some solace in
the thought that it wasn't just him: nobody much gave a shit
about any of the Republican candidates. They just cared a lot
less about him than the others. But it's also true that the GOP
regulars in Kansas have grown so dependent on the Christian right
for their grass roots support they don't know how to get their
old crowd out. Part of the problem is that the right have been
calling any and all Republicans with anything resembling moderate
views RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). It's gotten so annoying
a lot of them aren't even that any more.
McCain also lost in Louisiana to Huckabee. And he was losing
Washington until the GOP honchos rounded up enough McCain votes
to squeeze into a temporary lead, then decided to stop counting
and go home. Last known margin there was 26% to 24%, which itself
smells pretty funny. Talk about buyer remorse.
Meanwhile, Obama's won five of five states since Super Tuesday.
Won a Grammy too. Maybe it is his year.
John Burgess wrote in to make the following comment on my notes
on Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower:
I'd like to note, though, that Wright makes a serious error in
painting the origins of Al-Qaeda. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (and
offshoots) and the Saudi Salafists are certainly at the core. What's
missing, though, is the South Asian Deobandi influence. The Taleban,
declared themselves a Deobandi organization, so that's a rather
important factor to be missing.
I'm sure you can Google or Wiki the Deobandi movement, which
started in Raj India in the 19th C. It combined a highly politicized
form of Islam with terrorism. It is the inspiration for the
intra-Islamic bombings of mosques in India and Pakistan today. It is
also the thread of Islamist thought that is playing a corrupting role
in the UK and much of Europe today.
It is my belief that only through the combination of the three
elements, Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, and Deobandi, did the witch's
brew of the unthinkable violence of Al-Qaeda come to fruition.
I recommended Gilles Kepel's book Jihad: The Trail of Political
Islam for its broader and deeper coverage of Islamism, including
the Deobandis. Especially since 1980 Saudia Arabia has spent a lot
of money on promoting their Wahhabi brand of fundamentalism abroad,
and they've found a receptive audience among the Deobandis, who share
their belief in the righteousness and completeness of the earliest
followers of Muhammad. On the other hand, there are differences --
e.g., the Deobandis follow Hanafi sharia where the Wahhabis follow
Hanbali -- and I'm far from competent to sort them out. But it does
seem fair to say that both movements are salafist -- a term that
embodies much of the same generalizations as fundamentalist does
for Christians who nonetheless continue to disagree on sectarian
details -- and that both have small subsets that are jihadist. The
Deobandis may count for as many as 40% of Pakistani Sunnis. They
have an extensive network of madrassas, which are significant given
the generally poor state of education in Pakistan. The Taliban is
based on and allegedly adheres to Deobandism, although it's also
quite possible that some of their more repressive tenets come from
Pashtun tribal traditions, and it's likely that whatever their
source they've degenerated further due to the brutality of more
than 25-years of foreign-engineered war. Holy war has been invoked
by adherents of so many varied doctrines that it seems likely to
me that its real motivation lies elsewhere.
I'm not sure how this works out. Clearly, Pakistan has been a
fertile ground for anti-US jihad, rivaling the Arabs and much more
so than any other Islamic countries, and Deobandism may have much
to do with that. But also the Afghan mujahideen, especially the
Taliban, were actually doing the sorts of things that Al-Qaeda
aspired to, setting a practical example in their use of violence
both within and against foreign enemies. So it's not surprising
that they proved simbiotic. But I'm less sure about who influenced
whom and how. This is what Kepel has to say (pp. 222-226):
Apart from a clear doctrinal affiliation, the jihadist-salafists
had affinities with another movement that appeard at the same time, in
the same region and Islamic context -- the Taliban. They had in common
an attachment to the literal aspect of the holy texts and the use of
jihad to attain their objectives. But the Taliban, who belonged to the
Hanafi Deobandi school, did not have the same doctrinal training as
the Arab salafists; moreover, they came exclusively from the
traditional madrassas, unlike the salafists. Their jihad was primarily
directed against their own society, on which they sought to impose a
rigorous moral code: they had no taste for the state or for
international politics. The cross-fertilization between the two
movements, their simultaneous emergence, the hospitality offered by
the Taliban within Afghanistan to the principal jihadists, the fact
that some of the latter spoke in their name -- all these factors
begged the question of whether the one had some kind of ascendancy
over the other.
Both, then, were among the unexpected progeny of the Afghan jihad
and the rsult of its hybridization with the Deobandi tradition, for
which jihad had never been a priority since its birth in 1867. The
Deobandi school had been created to permit the Muslims of India, who
had yielded their power to the British in 1857 and immediately found
themselves a minority within a population of Hindus, to survive as a
community under difficult circumstances. The Deobandi ulemas had
issued fatwa after fatwa whereby their disciples were enabled to
follow the prescriptionf of the sharia meticulously, within a state
that would not apply them. They developed the guidelines for a
modus vivendi within a non-Muslim society, in which neither
jihad nor emigration to a Muslim nation was possible. At the creation
of Pakistan, the Deobandi ulemas who were already resident in the
territory of the new state or who chose to come there from India had
created a political party, the Association of Ulemas of Islam (JUI),
intended to protect their sacred way of life within the then highly
secularized Muslim Pakistan and to negotiate for funds to support
their madrassas. Within the field of Islam proper, this allowed them
to defend their specific identity against the Jamaat-e-Islami founded
by Mawdudi -- whose modernism and tendency to confuse religion and
politics they roundly condemned -- and against their rivals, the
Barelwi ulemas, who had created the Association of Ulemas of Pakistan
(JUP). By the sheer weight of the pressure group they formed, which
included tens of thousands of pupils and graduates of their madrassas,
they were now able to intervene directly in political life and to
contest everything that apepared to compromise their view of the
Islamic world order.
Their first victims were the Ahmadis, a sect whose disciples they
denounced as apostates; several members occupied key government
posts. Later, under Zia's 1977-1988 presidency, the dictator's
determination to impose Sunni Hanafi Islam as the national norm, the
levying of alms (zakat) directly on bank accounts, and the
subsequent revolt of the 15-20 percent of Pakistanis who happened to
be Shiites in July 1980 gave a new vocation to Deobandi militantism --
the struggle against Shiism. This conflict was encouraged by the
rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. [ . . . ]
Unlike the Jamaat-e-Islami founded by Mawdudi, which in general
remained an elitist party of devout middle-class people with no
grassroots support, the Deobandis embraced impoverished young people
with no hope of climbing the social ladder, for whom violence was the
main form of expression within a society that was profoundly
non-egalitarian and obstructionist. The madrassas sheltered their
pupils -- their Taliban -- from all these tensions for as long as
their education lasted; they were also able to rationalize their
charges' potential for violence by transforming it into a jihad
against anyone designated kafir by the master -- whether he was a
Shiite neighbor, an "impious" Indian soldier, or anyone else -- even a
Sunni Muslim who was held to be a "miscreant." The Taliban became
extremely devoted to their ulemas, after many years of education by
them under conditions of intense intimacy. They had little or no
contact with the outside world; much of their time was spent mumbling
texts that they were taught to revere and apply even though they did
not understand their meaning, and this experience left them with an
esprit de corps that extinguished even the smallest expression of free
thought or individual will. In the doctrinaire madrassas, it was a
simple matter to turn pupils conditioned in this way into full-blown
After the Gulf War, the radicalized Deobandi movement profited from
two coincidences that allowed it to increase its influence and, when
added to the violence in the Punjab and Kashmir, opened the way to the
final victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Saudi Wahhabism had been
badly damaged by the decision of the Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami and the
Afghan Hezb-e-Islami to support Iraq, despite the fact that both had
been heavily funded by the kingdom for a full decade. The Deobandi
party (the JUI) had also demonstrated against the presence of impious
soldiers in Arabia but had shown much less enmity to the Riyadh
monarchy. Furthermore, the Deobandi ulemas were the sworn enemies of
the pirs, or guides, of the Barelwi brotherhoods, who belonged
to the other religious party, the JUP. The patron saint of these
brotherhoods was buried close to Baghdad, and they were traditional
recipients of aid from Iraq. During the war, their leader attended
meetings of support for Iraq, at which he declared his "love" for
Saddam; he also set up recruiting centers for volunteers to serve the
Iraqi cause, which, according to him, enrolled upwards of 110,000
Riyadh, which had to maintain some kind of contact with religious
developments in Pakistan, chose the lesser of two evils and switched
its support from the now-mistrusted Jamaat-e-Islami to the JUI. In the
JUI's favor were these facts: that it was not linked to the
international networks of the Muslim Brothers; that it hated Shiites,
Iraq, and the brotherhoods; that its strict religious orthodoxy had
many affinities with Wahhabite practice. Likewise, in Afghanistan,
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb, which had declared for Iraq, was steadily
losing ground to Ahmed Shah Massoud and was unpopular in Riyadh. The
way was now open for Saudi backing of the Afghan pupils of the
Deobandi madrassas, the Taliban.
The Taliban also proved to be attractive to Pakistani politicians
including Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who alternated power in
the early 1990s. As the Taliban gained ground in Afghanistan, their
imposition of harsh sharia was largely consistent and compatible
with Saudia Arabia's own practice, certainly no cause for alarm.
The Taliban only crossed a Saudi line with the harboring of Saudi
dissidents like Osama bin Laden. There's much more in the book on
the rise of the Taliban, but little on their relationship with
Al-Qaeda. Kepel's book was originally published in France in 2000
and translated in the US in 2002. It is likely that there has been
considerable hybridization between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban since
the US drove them into their mountain retreats in 2001-02, and that
at least the old core of Al-Qaeda has become ever more dependent on
Deobandi good will within Pakistan's Frontier Territories. I doubt
that anyone really knows what's going on there, let alone what it
may wind up meaning. One thing for sure is that the Deobandis form
an awfully large pool for recruiting by jihadists.
Burgess has a blog called
Crossroads Arabia which
provides a lot of detail on Saudi Arabia ranging from geopolitics
to everyday life.
Saturday, February 09, 2008
The Looming Tower
Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
(2006; paperback, 2007, Vintage Books)
Until now, I hadn't bothered reading any books specifically on
Al-Qaeda. Wright argues (p. 375) that while the conflict between
the US and Arab Islamists was long brewing, only Osama bin Laden
had the peculiar skills and vision to make the 9/11 attacks happen.
That may be so, but I was more interested in the bigger, more
general movements, and al-Qaeda always struck me as a bit player
in Islamist politics, its obsession with self-aggrandizement a
mistake to indulge. The key book on Islamism is Gilles Kepel's
Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam.
But Wright's book is very readable, and covers the basic story
in a very useful way. The Islamism he reports on is just one of
several threads, concentrating on Ayman al-Zawahiri's experience
in Egypt and Osama bin Laden's development from Saudi Arabia to
Sudan to Afghanistan to 9/11. He also covers the counterterrorism
efforts of the FBI and, to a lesser extent, the CIA, with a bit
role to czar Richard Clarke. He cites Kepel in the acknowledgments,
and his narrative is consistent with Kepel, although given a
First chapter, "The Martyr," is on Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian
Islamist ideologue who reacted radically to his 1948-50 experiences in
the US (pp. 11-12):
America, however, stood apart from the colonialist adventures that
had characterized Europe's relations with the Arab world. At the end
of the Second World War, America straddled the political chasm between
the colonizers and the colonized. Indeed, it was tempting to imagine
America as the anticolonial paragon: a subjugated nation that had
broken free and triumphantly outstripped its former masters. The
country's power seemed to lie in its values, not in European notiosn
of cultural superiority or privileged races and classes. And because
America advertised itself as an immigrant nation, it had a permeable
relationship with the rest of the world. Arabs, like most other
peoples, had established their own colonies inside America, and the
ropes of kinship drew them closer to the ideals that the country
claimed to stand for.
Qutb had a prudish reaction to sex in America, and the usual
complaints about materialism, but what galled him more than anything
was America's racial attitudes and policies -- which as a dark-skinned
Egyptian he sometimes ran afoul of (pp. 27-28):
[Qutb] also brought home a new and abiding anger about race. "The
white man in Europe or America is our number-one enemy," he
declared. "The white man crushes us underfoot while we teach our
children about his civilization, his universal principles and noble
objectives. . . . We are endowing our children with amazement an
drespect for the master who tramples our honor and enslaves us. Let us
instead plant the seeds of hatred, disgust, and revenge in the souls
of these children. Let us teach these children from the time their
nails are soft that the white man is the enemy of humanity, and that
they should destroy him at the first opportunity."
Second chapter is on Ayman al-Zawahiri, the well-to-do Egyptian
physician who led the Muslim Brotherhood splinter Al-Jihad and
eventually became second-in-command of Al-Qaeda (pp. 61-62):
One line of thinking proposes that America's tragedy on September
11 was born in the prisons of Egypt. Human-rights advocates in Cairo
argue that torture created an appetite for revenge, first in Sayyid
Qutb and later in his acolytes, including Ayman al-Zawahiri. The main
target of the prisoners' wrath was the secular Egyptian government,
but a powerful current of anger was also directed toward the West,
which they saw as an enabling force behind the repressive regime. They
held the West responsible for corrupting and humiliating Islamic
society. Indeed, the theme of humiliation, which is the essence of
torture, is important to understanding the radical Islamists'
rage. Egypt's prisons became a factory for producing militants whose
need for retribution -- they called it justice -- was
Montassir al-Zayyat, an Islamist attorney who was imprisoned with
Zawahiri and later became his lawyer and biographer, maintains that
the traumatic experiences suffered by Zawahiri in prison transformed
him from being a relatively moderate force in al-Jihad into a violent
and implacable extremist. Zayyat and other witnesses point to what
happened to his relationship with Essam al-Qamari, who had been his
close friend and a man he keenly admired. Immediately after Zawahiri's
arrest, officers in the Interior Ministry began grilling him about
Major Qamari, who continued to slip their nets. [ . . . ]
Zawahiri himself doesn't admit to this in his memoir, except
obliquely, where he writes about the "humiliation" of
imprisonment. "The toughest thing about captivity is forcing the
mujahid, under the force of torture, to confess about his
colleagues, to destroy his movement with his own hands, and offer his
and his colleagues' secrets to the enemy."
Next two chapters are on Osama bin Laden. The story then moves to
geopolitics, with Saudi Arabia's intelligence head Prince Turki
al-Faisal (pp. 114-115):
Turki's colleagues in the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence
(ISI) briefed him on the Afghan resistance, then took him to the
refugee camps outside Peshawar. Turki was appalled by the scale of the
suffering. He went back to the Kingdom vowing to dedicate more money
to the mujahideen, although he believed that these ragged soldiers
could never defeat the Red Army. "Afghanistan was gone," he
decided. He only hoped to delay the inevitable Soviet invasion of
Similar thinking was going on in Washington, especially by Zbigniew
Brzezinski, who was the U.S. national security advisor for the Carter
administration. Brzezinski, however, saw the invasion as an
opportunity. He wrote to Carter immediately, saying "Now we can give
the USSR its own Vietnam war." Looking for an ally in this endeavor,
the Americans naturally turned to the Saudis -- that is, to Turki, the
American-educated prince who held the Afghan account.
Turki became the key man in the covert alliance of the United
States and the Saudis to funnel money and arms to the resistance
through the Pakistani ISI. It was vital to keep this program secret in
order to prevent the Soviets from having the excuse they sought to
invade Pakistan. Until the end of the war, the Saudis would match the
Americans dollar for dollar, starting with only seventy-five thousand
dollars but growing into billions.
That made Afghanistan a joint Saudi-Pakistani-American operation,
which allowed the use of tactics that the Americans might have had
second thoughts over, such as the recruitment of Arab jihadists
The lure of an illustrious and meaningful death was especially
powerful in cases where the pleasures and rewards of life were crushed
by government oppression and economic deprivation. From Iraq to
Morocco, Arab governments had stifled freedom and signally failed to
create wealth at the very time when democracy and personal income were
sharply climbing in virtually all other parts of the globe. Saudi
Arabia, the richest of the lot, was such a notoriously unproductive
country that the extraordinary abundance of petroleum had failed to
generate any other significant source of income; indeed, if one
subtracted the oil revenue of the Gulf countries, 260 million Arabs
exported less than the 5 million Finns. Radicalism usually prospers in
the gap between rising expectations and declining opportunities. This
is especially true where the population is young, idle, and bored;
where the art is improverished; where entertainment -- movies,
theater, music -- is policed or absent altogether; and where young men
are set apart from the consoling and socializing presence of
women. Adult illiteracy remained the norm in many Arab
countries. Unemployment was among the highest in the developing
world. Anger, resentment, and humiliation spurred young Arabs to
search for dramatic remedies.
As the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan, a Palestinian Islamist
named Sheikh Abdullah Azzam enters the picture (pp. 149-150):
First, however, was Palestine. Azzam helped create Hamas, the
Palestinian resistance group, which he saw as the natural extension of
the jihad in Afghanistan. Based on the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas was
meant to provide an Islamic counterweight to Yasser Arafat's secular
Palestine Liberation Organization. Azzam sought to train brigades of
Hamas fighters in Afghanistan, who would then return to carry on the
battle against Israel.
Azzam's plans for Palestine, however, ran counter to Zawahiri's
intention of stirring revolution within Islamic countries, especially
in Egypt. Azzam fiercely opposed a war of Muslim against Muslim. As
the war against the Soviets wound down, this dispute over the future
of jihad was defined by these two strong-willed men. The prize they
fought over was a rich and impressionable young Saudi who had his own
The formation of al-Qaeda gave the Arab Afghans something else to
fightover. Every enterprise tha tarose in the sparsely populated
cultural landscape was contested, and any head that rose above the
crowd was a target. The ongoing jihad in Afghanistan became an
afterthought in the war of words an dideas that was being fought in
the mosques. Even the venerable Services Bureau, which bin Laden and
Azzam had established to assist the Arabs in their desire to join the
jihad, was slandered as a CIA front and Azzam as an American
At the root of these quarrels was the usual culprit --
money. Peshawar was the funnel through which cash poured into the
jihad and the vast relief effort to help the refugees. The main pool
of funds -- the hundreds of millions of dollars from the United States
and Saudi Arabia doled out by the Pakistani Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI) each year to the Afghan warlords -- was drying up
as the Soviets prepared to leave. Scarcity only fed the frenzy over
what remained: the international aid agencies, private charities, and
bin Laden's pockets.
The end of the occupation coincided with a sudden and surprising
influx of Arab mujahideen, including hundreds of Saudis who were eager
to chase the retreating Soviet bear. According to Pakistan government
statistics, more than six thousand Arabs came to take part in the
jihad from 1987 to 1993, twice the number who came for the war against
the Soviet occupation. These young men were different from the small
cadre of believers who had been lured to Afghanistan by Abdullah
Azzam. They were "men with large amounts of money and boiling
emotions," an al-Qaeda diarist noted. Pampered kids from the Persian
Gulf came on excursions, staying in air-conditioned cargo containers;
they were supplied with RPGs and Kalashnikovs, which they could fire
into the air, and then they could return home, boasting of their
adventure. Many of them were newly religious high school or university
students with no history and no one to vouch for them. Chaos and
barbarism, which always threatened to overwhelm the movement, sharply
increased as bin Laden took the helm. Bank robberies and murders
became even more commonplace, justified by absurd religious claims. A
group of takfiris even held up a truck from an Islamic aid agency,
absolving their action by saying that the Saudis were infidels.
A reference back to the 1979 attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca,
which is described at some length pp. 101-108; the bin Laden family
did the construction work to refurbish the mosque, and helped to
suppress the revolt (p. 167):
The attack on the Grand Mosque ten years before, however, had
awakened the royal family to the lively prospect of revolution. The
lesson the family drew from that gory standoff was that it could
protect itself against religious extremists only by empowering
them. Consequently, the muttawa, government-subsidized
religious vigilantes, became an overpowering presence in the Kingdom,
roaming through the shopping malls and restaurants, chasing men into
the mosques at prayer time and ensuring that women were properly
cloaked -- even a strand of hair poking out from under a hijab could
rate a flogging with the swagger sticks these men carried. In their
quest to stamp our sinfulness and heresy, they even broke into private
homes and businesses; and they waged war on the proliferating
satellite dishes, often shooting at them with government-issued
weapons from government-issued Chevrolet Suburbans. Officially known
as representatives of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and
the Prevention of Vice, the muttawa would become the models for
the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In 1992 al-Qaeda exploded a bomb in Aden, Yemen, targeting American
troops on their way to Somalia; it missed the Americans, but killed
two -- a Yemeni hotel worker and an Australian tourist -- raising the
question of killing innocent civilians (pp. 198-199):
One Thursday evening, Abu Hajer addressed the ethics of killing
innocent people. He spoke to the men about Ibn Tamiyyah, a
thirteenth-century scholar who is one of the primary references for
Wahhabi philosophy. In his day, Ibm Tamiyyah confronted the problem of
the Mongols, who savaged Baghdad but then converted to Islam. Was it
proper to take revenge against fellow Muslims? Ibm Tamiyyah argued
that just because the Mongols had made the profession of faith, they
were still not true believers, and therefore they could be
killed. Moreover, as Abu Hajer explained to the thirty or forty
al-Qaeda members who were sitting on the carpet in bin Laden's salon,
propping their elbows on the bolsters and sipping mango juice, Ibn
Tamiyyah had issued a historic fatwa: Anyone who aided the Mongols,
who bought goods from them or sold to them or was merely standing near
them, might be killed as well. If he is a good Muslim, he will go to
Paradise; if he is bad, he will go to hell, and good riddance. Thus
the dead tourist and the hotel worker would find their proper
A new vision of al-Qaeda was born. Abu Hajer's two fatwas, the
first authorizing the attacks on American troops and the second, the
murder of innocents, turned al-Qaeda into a global terrorist
organization. Al-Qaeda would concentrate not on fighting armies but on
killing civilians. The former conception of al-Qaeda as a mobile army
of mujahideen that would defend Muslim lands wherever they were
threatened was now cast aside in favor of a policy of permanent
subversion of the West. The Soviet Union was dead and communism no
longer menaced the margins of the Islamic world. America was the only
power capable of blocking the restoration of the ancient Islamic
caliphate, and it would have to be confronted and defeated.
This is, of course, not an analysis, just a propaganda line, not
unlike what the Bush administration told us the Iraqis would do once
they witnessed our "shock and awe" attack; since bin Laden came up
with this line, it has most successfully been repeated by Americans
warning against any hint of retreat, no matter how stupidly or
fruitlessly the US had engaged further conflicts (pp. 213-214):
Given the diversity of the trainees and their causes, bin Laden's
main task was to direct them toward a common enemy. He had developed a
fixed idea about America, which he explained to each new class of
al-Qaeda recruits. America appeared to mighty, he told them, but it
was actually weak and cowardly. Look at Vietnam, look at
Lebanon. Whenever soldiers start coming home in body bags, Americans
panic and retreat. Such a country needs only to be confronted with two
or three sharp blows, then it will flee in panic, as it always
has. For all its wealth and resources, America lacks conviction. It
cannot stand against warriors of faith who do not fear death. The
warships in the Gulf will retreat to the oceans, the bombers will
disappear from the Arabian bases, the troops in the Horn of Africa
will race back to their homeland.
Bin Laden claimed that he sent 250 men to Somalia to fight against
U.S. troops. According to Sudanese intelligence, the actual number of
al-Qaeda fighters was only a handful. The al-Qaeda guerrillas provided
training and tried to fit intot he anarchic clan war that was raging
within the tableau of starvation that the hostilities had
caused. Little the al-Qaeda men did impressed their hosts; for
instance, the Arabs built a car bomb to attack the UN, but the bomb
failed. "The Somalis treated us in a bad way," one of the Arabs
complained. "We trried to convince them that we were messengers for
people behind us, but they were not convinced. Due to the bad
leadership situation there, we decided to withdraw."
One night in Mogadishu a couple of al-Qaeda fighters saw two
U.S. helicopters get shot down. The return fire struck the house next
to where the men were hunkered down. Terrified that the Americans
would capture them, they left Somalia the next day. The downing of
those two American helicopters in October 1993, however, became the
turning point in the war. Enraged Somali tribesmen triumphantly
dragged the bodies of the dead crewmen throughthe streets of
Mogadishu, a sight that prompted President Clinton to quickly withdraw
all American soldiers from the country. Bin Laden's analysis of the
American character had been proven correct.
Even though his own men had run away, bin Laden attributed to
al-Qaeda the downing of the helicopters in Somalia and the desecration
of the bodies of U.S. servicemen. His influence was magnified because
of insurgent successes -- as in Afghanistan and Somalia -- that he
really had little to do with. He simply appropriated such victories as
At the time, the US didn't even know that al-Qaeda existed, but
later the War on Terror hawks later echoed bin Laden's claims to
try to characterize the US withdrawal from Somalia as the sort of
retreat that only encourages further attacks, agreeing with bin
Laden's critique of the American character, at least as far as
Bill Clinton was concerned. What the helicopter downing actually
proved was that US forces were lost and clueless in Somalia, that
their presence was not only failing to achieve its peacekeeping
mission, that it was in fact making matters worse.
I didn't mark any quotes from the section on the years when
bin Laden was in Sudan, but it's worth noting that bin Laden
invested a lot of money in Sudan and lost virtually all of it
when Hassan al-Turabi sent him packing to Afghanistan. Bin
Laden may still have been able to raise money in Afghanistan,
but he no longer had much in the way of his own resources.
Also note that the Taliban were not yet in power when bin
Laden arrived, although they were gaining significant ground.
The Taliban at the time were largely beholden to Saudi Arabia,
which insisted that bin Laden be kept under control. It was
only later that Mullah Omar became bin Laden's protector, at
considerable expense first in Saudi support.
In Afghanistan, with the Taliban (pp. 261-262):
"Women you should not step outside your residence," the new
[Taliban] government ordered. Women wee a particular target, as might
be expected from men who had so little experience of their
company. "If women are going outside with fashionable, ornamental,
tight and charming clothes to show themselves," the decree continued,
"they will be cursed by the Islamic Sharia and should never expect to
go to heaven." Work and schooling for women were halted at once, which
destroyed the health-care system, the civil service, and effectively
eliminated elementary education. Forty percent of the doctors, half of
the government workers, and seven out of ten teachers were
women. Under the Taliban, many of them would become beggars.
The Taliban also turned their attention to ordinary pleasure. They
forbade kite flying and dog racing. Trained pigeons were
slaughtered. According to the Taliban penal code, "unclean things"
were banned, an all-purpose category that included: "pork, pig, pig
oil, anything made from human hair, satellite dishes, cinematography,
any equipment that produces the joy of music, pool tables, chess,
masks, alcohol, tapes, computers, VCRs, televisions, anything that
propagates sex and is full of music, wine, lobster, nail polish,
firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogs, pictures, Christmas cards.
The fashion dictators demanded that a man's beard be longer than
the grip of his hand. Violators went to jail until they were
sufficiently bushy. A man with "Beatle-ly" hair would have his head
shaved. Should a woman leave her home without her veil, "her home will
be marked and her husband punished," the Taliban penal code
decreed. The animals in the zoo -- those that had not been stolen in
previous administrations -- were slain or left to starve. One zealous,
perhaps mad, Taliban jumped into a bear's cage and cut off his nose,
reputedly because the animal's "beard" was not long enough. Another
fighter, intoxicated by events and his own power, leaped into the
lion's den and cried out, "I am the lion now!" The lion killed
him. Another Taliban soldier threw a grenade intot he den, blinding
the animal. These two, the noseless bear and the blind lion, together
with two wolves, were the only animals that survived the Taliban
In 1997, at the time Peter Arnett interviewed bin Laden for CNN
It is possible that, until now, bin Laden had not killed an
American or anyone else except on the field of battle. The actions in
Aden, Somalia, Riyadh, and Dharan may have been inspired by his words,
but it has never been demonstrated that he commanded the terrorists
who carried them out. Although Ramzi Yousef had trained in an al-Qaeda
camp, bin Laden was not connected to the 1993 World Trade Center
bombing. Bin Laden told the London-based Palestinian editor Abdel Bari
Awan that al-Qaeda was responsible for the ambush of American forces
in Mogadishu in 1993, the National Guard Training Center bombing in
Riyadh in 1995, and the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, but there is no
evidence to substantiate these claims. He was certainly surrounded by
men, like Zawahiri, who had plenty of blood on their hands, and he
supported their actions in Egypt. He was, as the CIA characterized him
at the time, a terrorist financier, albeit a financier without much
money. Declaring war on America, however, proved to be a dazzling
advertisement for himself and his cause -- and irresistible for a man
whose fortunes had been badly trampled upon. Of course, his Taliban
hosts forbade such publicity, but once bin Laden had gotten hold of
the world's attention, he would allow nothing to pull it out of his
In November 1997, 58 tourists and 4 Egyptians were killed at Luxor,
with the attackers committing suicide after the operation
The following day, the Islamic Group claimed credit for the
attack. Rifai Taha said that the attackers were supposed to take
hostages in order to free the imprisoned Islamist leaders, but the
systematic slaughter put the lie to that claim. The death of the
killers showed the influence of Zawahiri; until this point, the
Islamic Group had never engaged in suicide operations. The Swiss
federal police later determined that bin Laden had financed the
Egypt was in shock. Revolted and ashamed, the population decisively
turned against the Islamists, who suddenly began issuing retractions
and pointing fingers in the usual directions. From prison, the blind
sheikh blamed the Israelis, saying that Mossad had carried out the
massacre. Zawahiri blamed the Egyptian police, who he said had done
the actual killing, but he also held the victims responsible for
coming to the country. "The people of Egypt consider the presence of
these foreign tourists to be aggression against Muslims and Egypt," he
said. "The young men are saying that this is our country and not a
place for frolicking and enjoyment, especially for you."
Luxor proved to be the turning point in the counterterrorist
campaign in Egypt. Whatever the strategists in Afghanistan had thought
would come of their one great blow, the consequences had landed on
them, not on their adversaries. Their support evaporated, and without
the consent of the population, there was nowhere for them to hide. In
the five years before Luxor, Islamist terror groups in Egypt had
killed more than 1,200 people, many of them foreigners. AfterLuxor,
the attacks by the Islamists simply stopped.
In 1998, Saudi Prince Turki thought he had a deal to get Mullah
Omar to turn over bin Laden (p. 304):
After the meeting, Saudi Arabia reportedly sent four hundred
four-wheel-drive pickup trucks and other financial aid to the Taliban
as a down payment for bin Laden. Six weeks later, the money and the
truck allowed the Taliban to retake Mazar-e-Sharif, a bastion of a
Persian-speaking, Shiite minority, the Hazaras. Among the Taliban
fighters were several hundred Arabs sent by bin Laden. Well-placed
bribes left a force of only 1,500 Hazara soldiers guarding the city,
and they were quickly killed. Once inside the defenseless city, the
Taliban continued raping and killing for two days, indiscriminately
shooting anything that moved, then slitting throats and shooting dead
men in the testicles. The bodies of the dead were left to wild dogs
for six days before survivors were allowed by bury them. Those
citizens who fled the city on foot were bombed by the Taliban air
force. Hundreds of others were loaded into shipping containers and
baked alive in teh desert sun. The UN estimated the total number of
victims in the slaughter to be between five and six thousand
people. They included ten Iranian diplomats and a journalist, whom the
Taliban rounded up and shot in the basement of the Iranian
consulate. Four hundred women were taken to be concubines.
At almost the same time, Al-Qaeda bombed the US embassies in Kenya
and Tanzania; Bill Clinton struck back (or more accurately, struck out)
by launching cruise missile attacks against Sudan and Afghanistan
The CIA suspected that bin Laden was developing chemical weapons in
Sudan. The information had come from jamal al-Fadl, bin Laden's former
assistant who was now a U.S. government witness. But Fadl hd left
Sudan two years before, about the same time that bin Laden had been
expelled from the country. Unconvinced by the sincerity of the
Sudanese government's repeated overtures to the United States to get
itself removed from the State Department blacklist, the agency hired a
spy from an Arab country to secure a soil sample from an area close to
al-Shifa, a pharmaceutical plant suspected of being a secret
chemical-weapons facility and thought to be owned in part by bin
Laden. The sample, taken in 1998, purportedly showed traces of EMPTA,
a chemical that was essential in making the extremely potent nerve gas
VX; indeed, it had few other uses. On August 20, on the basis of this
information, President Clinton authorized the firing of thirteen
Tomahawk cruise missiles into Khartoum as the first part of the
American retaliation for the embassy bombings. The plant was
It developed that the plant actually made only pharmaceuticals and
veterinary medicines, not chemical weapons. No other traces of EMPTA
were ever found in or around the site. The chemical might have been a
product of the breakdown of a commercially available pesticide widely
used in Africa, which it closely resembles. Moreover, bin Laden had
nothing to do with the plant. The result of this hasty strike was that
the impoverished country of Sudan lost one of its most important
manufacturers, which employed three hundred people and produced more
than half of the country's medicines, and a night watchman was
Sudan let the two accomplices in the East Africa bombings escape,
and they've never been seen again. O'Neill and his team lost an
invaluable opportunity to capture al-Qaeda insiders.
In the big-chested parlance of U.S. military planners, the failed
strikes were dubbed Operation Infinite Reach. Designed to be a
surgical and proportional response to the terrorist acts -- two
bombings, two decisive replies -- the missile attacks exposed the
inadequacy of American intelligence and the futility of military
power, which rained down nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars'
worth of armament on two of the poorest countries in the world.
According to General Hamid Gul, the former head of the ISI, more
than half of the missiles fell in Pakistani territory, killing two
Pakistani citizens. Although Abdul Rahman Khadr buried only five men
in the al-Qaeda camp, not counting th eone who died in his arms, there
were many false claims. Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security
advisor, said that "twenty or thirty al-Qaeda operatives were killed."
The Taliban later complained that twenty-two Afghans had also been
killed and more than fifty gravely wounded. Bin Laden's bodyguard
observed the damage, however, and agreed with Abdul Rahman's
assessment. "Each house was hit by a missile but they did not destroy
the camp completely," he reported. "They hit the kitchen of the camp,
the mosque, and some bathrooms. Six men were killed: a Saudi, an
Egyptian, an Uzbek, and three Yemenis."
The attacks did have other profound consequences, however. Several
of the Tomahawk missiles failed to detonate. According to Russian
intelligence sources, bin Laden sold the unexploded missiles to China
for more than $10 million. Pakistan may have used some of the ones
found on its territory to design its own version of a cruise
The main legacy of Operation Infinite Reach, however, was that it
established bin Laden as a symbolic figure of resistance, not just in
the Muslim world but wherever America, with the clamor of its
narcissistic culture and the majestic presence of its military forces,
had made itself unwelcome. When bin Laden's exhilarated voice came
crackling across a radio transmission -- "By the grace of God, I am
alive!" -- the forces of anti-Americanism had found their
champion. Those Muslims who had objected to the slaughter of innocents
in the embassies in East Africa were cowed by the popular support for
this man whose defiance of America now seemed blessed by divine
favor. Even in Kenya and Tanzania, the two countries that had suffered
the most from al-Qaeda's attacks, children would be spotted wearing
bin Laden T-shirts.
A little historical prelude to Mohammed Atta in Hamburg (p. 346):
During World War II, Hamburg was a great shipbuilding center; the
Bismarck had been built here, as well as the German U-boat
fleet. Naturally it became a prime target of Allied bombing. In July
1943, Operation Gomorrah -- the destruction of Hamburg -- was the
heaviest aerial bombardment in history until that time. But the attack
went far beyond the destruction of the factories and the port. The
firestorm created by the day and night attacks killed forty-five
thousand people in a deliberate campaign to terrorize the
population. Most of the workers in the shipyards occupied row houses
in Harburg, across the Elbe River, and the Allied bombing was
particularly heavy there. Atta lived in an apartment at 54
Marienstrasse, a reconstructed building on a street that had been
almost entirely destroyed by terror bombings.
On the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbor (pp. 374-375):
The strike on the Cole had been a great victory for bin
Laden. Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan filled with new recruits and
contributors from the Gulf states arrived carrying Samsonite suitcases
filled with petrodollars, as in the glory days of the Afghan jihad. At
last there was money to spread around. . . .
But there was no American response. The country was in the middle
of a presidential election, and Clinton was trying to burnish his
legacy by securing a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. The
Cole bombing had occurred just as the talks were falling
apart. Clinton maintains that, despite the awkward political timing,
his administration came close to launching another missile attack
against bin Laden that October, but at the last minute the CIA
recommended calling it off because his presence at the site was not
Bin Laden was angry and disappointed. He hoped to lure America into
the same trap the Soviets had fallen into: Afghanistan. His strategy
was to continually attack until the U.S. forces invaded; then the
mujahideen would swarm upon them and bleed them until the entire
American empire fell from its wounds. It had happened to Great Britain
and to the Soviet Union. He was certain it would happen to
America. The declaration of war, the strike on the American embassies,
and now the bombing of the Cole had been inadequate, however,
to provoke a massive retaliation. He would have to create an
A lot of the book deals with FBI counterterrorism agent John
O'Neill (p. 383):
O'Neill understood that the crime model was just one way to deal
with terrorism, and that it had limits, especially when the adversary
was a sophisticated foreign network composed of skilled and motivated
ideologues who were willing to die. But when Dick Clarke had said to
him during the millennium arrests, "We're going to kill bin Laden,"
O'Neill didn't want to hear about it. Although al-Qaeda posed a far
greater challenge to law enforcement than the Mafia, or any criminal
enterprise, had, the alternatives -- military strikes, CIA
assassination attempts -- had accomplished nothing except to
aggrandize bin Laden in the eyes of his admirers. The twenty-five
convictions, on the other hand, were genuine and legitimate
achievements that demonstrated the credibility and integrity of the
American system of justice. But the jealous rivalry among government
agencies, and the lack of urgency at FBI headquarters, hobbled the
I-49 squad in New York, who had been rendered blind to the danger
that, as it turned out, was already in the country.
The convictions referred to cover the first World Trade Center
bombing and other attacks, including the capture of Mohammed
al-'Owhali following the Kenya bombing. The story of how the FBI
interrogated him is one of the more interesting ones in the book. At
the time, al-'Owhali told the FBI: "We need to hit you outside the
country in a couple of places so you won't see what is going on
inside. The big attack is coming. There's nothing you can do to stop
FBI agent Ali Soufan's interrogation of Abu Jandal following 9/11
is another interesting case. Soufan was in Yemen at the time working
on the Cole case, and Abu Jandal was coincidentally in jail
there "for suspicion" (pp. 410-413):
Soufan realized that the prisoner was well trained in
counterinterrogation techniques, sine he easily agreed to things that
Soufan already knew -- that he had fought in Bosnia, Somalia, and
Afghanistan, for instance -- and denied everything else. The responses
were designed to make the interrogators question their
assumptions. Abu Jandal portrayed himself as a good Muslim who had
flirted with jihad but had become disillusioned. He didn't think of
himself as a killer but as a revolutionary who was trying to rid the
world of evil, which he believed mainly came from the United States of
America, a country he knew practically nothing about.
As the nights passed, Abu Jandal warmed to the sport of the
interrogation. He was in his early thirties, older than most
jihadis. He had grown up in Jeddah, bin Laden's hometown, and he was
well read in religion. He enjoyed drinking tea and lecturing the
Americans on the radical Islamist view of history; his sociability was
his weak spot. Soufan flattered him and engaged him in theological
debate. Within Abu Jandal's diatribes, Soufan picked up several useful
details -- that he had grown tired of fighting, that he was troubled
by the fact that bin Laden had sworn bayat to Mullah Omar, that
he worried about his two children, one of whom had a bone
disease. . . . Soufan also brought him a history of America in
Abu Jandal was confounded by Soufan and what he represented: a
Muslim who could argue religion with him, who was in the FBI, who
loved America. He quickly consumed the history that Soufan gave him
and was shocked to learn of the American Revolution and the passionate
struggle against tyranny that was woven into the American
heritage. His worldview depended on the assumption that the United
States was the wellspring of evil in the world. . . .
On the fifth night, Soufan slammed a news magazine on the table
betwen them. There were photographs of the airplanes crashing into the
towers and the Pentagon, graphic shots of people trapped in the towers
and jumpers fallign a hundred stories. "Bin Laden did this," Soufan
Abu Jandal had heard about the attacks, but he didn't know many
details. He studied the pictures in amazement. he said it looked like
a "Hollywood production," but the scale of the atrocity visibly shook
him. At that time the casualties were thought to be in the tens of
thousands. . . .
Coincidentally, there was a local Yemini paper sitting on a shelf
under the coffee table. Soufan showed it to Abu Jandal. The headline
read, "Two Hundred Yemeni Souls Perish in New York Attack."
Abu Jandal read the headline and drew a breath. "God help us," he
Soufan asked what kind of Muslim would do such a thing. Abu Jandal
insisted that the Israelis must have committed the attacks on New York
and Washington, not bin Laden. "The Sheikh is not that crazy," he
Soufan took out a book of mug shots containing photos of known
al-Qaeda members an dvarious pictures of the hijackers. He asked Abu
Jandal to identify them. The Yemeni flipped through them quickly and
closed the book.
Soufan opened the book again and told him to take his time. "Some
of them I have in custody," hej said, hoping that Abu Jandal wouldn't
realize that the hijackers were all dead.
Abu Jandal paused a fraction of a second on the picture of Marwan
al-Shehhi before he started to turn the page. "You're not done with
this one," Soufan observed. "Ramadan, 1999. He's sick. You're his emir
and you take care of him."
Abu Jandal looked at Soufan in surprise.
"When I ask you a question, I already know the answer," said
Soufan. "If you're smart, you'll tell me the truth."
Abu Jandal conceded that he knew Shehhi and gave his Qaeda name,
Abdullah al-Sharqi. He did the same with Mohammed Atta, Khaled
al-Mihdhar, and four others. But he still insisted that bin Laden
would never commit such an action. It was the Israelis, he
"I know for sure that the people who did this were Qaeda guys,"
said Soufan. He took seven photos out of the book and laid them on the
"How do you know?" asked Abu Jandal. "Who told you?"
"You did," said Soufan. "These are the hijackers. You just
Abu Jandal blanched. He covered his face with his hands. "Give me a
moment," he pleaded.
Soufan walked out of the room. When he came back he asked Abu
Jandal what he thought now.
"I think the Sheikh went crazy," he said. And then he told Soufan
everything he knew.
Note that there was no waterboarding here, no CIA horseshit.
The interrogation is calm, methodical; Soufan recognizes that
Abu Jandal views himself as a moral person, and works that to
his advantage. The CIA comes off very badly in this book, and
indeed if you look at Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine,
and most likely a dozen other books I haven't gotten to, the
judgment could be even worse.
On the other hand, the methodical record that the FBI and
DOJ had built up during the 1990s went to hell after 9/11,
with Ashcroft going ape shit and managing to convict virtually
no one of any importance.
An epilog (p. 415):
In so many respects, the Trade Center dead formed a kind of
universal parliament, representing sixty-two countries and nearly
every ethnic group and religion in the world. There was an ex-hippie
stockbroker, the gay Catholic chaplain of the New York City Fire
Department, a Japanese hockey player, an Ecuadoran sou chef, a Barbie
Doll collector, a vegetarian calligrapher, a Palestinian
accountant. . . . The manifold ways in which they attached to life
testified to the Quranic injunction that the taking of a single life
destroys a universe. Al-Qaeda had aimed its attacks at America, but it
struck all of humanity.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Smells Like Dead Elephants
I have accumulated a pretty large pile of books I've marked
quotes from, and I'm finally starting to work through them. Some
are on Iraq and the broader military-imperial landscape. One is
on peak oil. I even have a music book. Some items are derived
from book reviews rather than the books themselves: in many
cases they capture key ideas on the cheap. Especially when I
fall behind, I tend to just blow out the quotes. Sometimes I'll
add some context and/or a comment. More often the quotes stand
on their own.
Given the surfeit of electoral politics this week, I thought
I'd start with Matt Taibbi's "Dispatches From a Rotting Empire."
It's mostly old news, but thumbing through it I'm staggered by
the sheer quantity of misdeeds we've suffered under the Bush
administration. In an era when attention span is an endangered
species, when we try to reduce everything to fleeting sound
bites, it's hard to keep an active memory file of more than a
tiny fraction of all the things Bush et al. have done. So here's
a brief refresher course, limited as it is to 2005-06. Taibbi
has written another book's worth of material since then for
Rolling Stone, which will probably be recycled for a
presidential campaign book next year, a sequel to his book
on the 2004 campaign,
Monkey: Dispatches From the Dumb Season. If you have
anything more than a passing cursory interest in campaigning
and its media overgrowth, you'll get more dêjà vu out of
Taibbi's book than you'll get new news from 98% of today's
newscore. Hope he runs Wimblehack again. That section of
the book alone is worth the price, just to have a scorecard
for who's feeding you what.
Matt Taibbi: Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches From a
Rotting Empire (paperback, 2007, Grove Press)
This is a collection of previously published pieces, mostly
from Rolling Stone, which in true rock crit style lets
Taibbi wind up before throwing a punch. The pieces and dates
are listed below, most with sample quotes.
The book came out too early to include his series on 2008's
Republican presidential candidates.
Introduction (pp. xii-xiii):
But in the end I understood that there was a good reason that I
never tapped into what the hidden truth of the Bush years was, and the
reason for that is that there never was anything to tap into. The
tragedy of the Bush era is that there was never any depth under its
absurd surface -- and when the ridiculous exterior washed away, in
scandal and indictment and disaster and failure and ignominy, we were
left with nothing but emptiness, disorganization, and chaos. If I
indulged in any conscious use of metaphor anywhere in these reports it
was in the section about hurricane Katrina, where the whole country
saw how tenuous our grip on civilization really is, and where those of
us who happened to get a close-up look at New Orleans after the flood
saw what America in these years looked like behind what turned out to
be a very thin curtain.
The Bush administration burst onto the scene like a carnival, full
of grand plans and crazy schemes, wars and Patriot Acts, suspensions
of laws and habeas corpus and international standards -- but in the
late years, the years covered in this book, all those plans blew up,
and we were left to stare at the wreckage, and stare at each other,
and wonder what the fuck happened.
Jacko on Trial: Inside the greatest show on Earth [April 7,
2005]. OK, I skipped over this chapter.
Four Amendments and a Funeral: A month inside the house of
horrors that is Congress [August 25, 2005] (pp. 41-42):
Congress isn't the steady assembly line of consensus policy ideas
it's sold as but a kind of permanent emergency in which a majority of
members work day and night to burgle the national treasure and burn
the Constitution. A largely castrated minority tries, Alamo-style, to
slow them down -- but in the end spends most of its time beating
calculated retreats and making loose plans to fight another day.
Taken all together, the whole thing is an ingenious system for
inhibiting progress and the popular will. The deck is stacked just
enough to make sure that nothing ever changes. But enough is left to
chance to make sure that hope never completely dies out. Who knows,
maybe it evolved that way for a reason.
Bush vs. the Mother: On the president's doorstep -- a dead soldier,
an aggrieved housewife, and the start of something big [September 8,
2005] (pp. 50-51):
In the sixties, the antiwar movement was part of a cultural
revolution. If you opposed Vietnam, you were also rejecting the whole
rigid worldview that said life meant going to war, fighting the
Commies, then coming back to work for the man, buying two cars, and
dying with plenty of insurance. That life blueprint was the inflexible
expectation of the time, and so ending the war of that era required a
Iraq isn't like that. Iraq is an insane blunder committed by a
bunch of criminal incompetents who have managed so far to avoid the
lash and the rack only because the machinery for avoiding reality is
so advanced in this country. We don't watch the fighting, we don't see
the bodies come home, and we don't hear anyone screaming when a house
in Baghdad burns down or a child steps on a mine.
The only movement we're going to need to end this fiasco is a more
regular exposure to consequence. It needs to feel its own pain. Cindy
Sheehan didn't bring us folk songs but she did put pain on the front
pages. And along a lonely Texas road late at night, I saw it
Apocalypse There: A journey into the nightmare of New Orleans
[October 6, 2005] (p. 81):
America is a country that has been skating for ages on its
unparallel ability to look marvelous on the outside. We've long had
things arranged in such a way that our public exterior is always
shimmering and clean -- our airports, our food courts, our anchormen,
our chain restaurants, our fleets of bombers, and our warehouses full
of nick-free products in polymer-coated packaging. For most of the
uglier things that are under the surface -- the bitterness, the
rancor, the greed, the selfishness, the loneliness, the isolation we
feel from each other, our inability to communicate and empathize --
we've found ways to keep these things out of sight. They can be heard,
maybe, and read all over the Internet and elsewhere, but not seen --
and in any case they have always been subordinate to our legend of
supreme competence and efficiency. We may be many things, we
Americans, but we always get the job done.
But what happens when we stop getting the job done? What are we
left with then?
September 11, the first great paradigm-shifting event of our new
century, was a disaster that the American psyche was prepared for. As
horrible as it was, it spoke directly to our most deliciously
satisfying persecution fantasies: it was Independence Day,
Deep Impact, War of the Worlds. Stinky Klingons attack
Manhattan; America straps it on and kicks ass. We knew the playbook
for that one.
No one was ready for Katrina, though. He was ridiculed for saying
it, but George Bush was absolutely right -- painfully if
unintentionally honest -- when he said that "i don't think anyone
anticipated" this disaster. New Orleans falls into the sea; whose ass
do we kick now? When that isn't an option, we're left just staring at
one another. And that's what really hurts.
Ms. America: Abu Ghraib irreparably damaged America's reputation,
but Lynndie England's trial proved the nation will try to sweep
anything under the rug [October 20, 2005] (p. 88):
The real question buried in the Abu Ghraib mess, of course, was one
that was never going to be answered in an army courtroom. No
court-martial was ever going to be a referendum on the wisdom of
fighting a war on the cheap, with post-invasion plans made up on the
fly, placing the welfare of an entire population -- a deeply religious
population -- in the hands of stupid, horny young Americans.
And no one anywhere was interested in wondering what kind of people
we've become -- completely devoid of morals and empathy but armed with
digital cameras, ready to give that thumbs-up and "say the
Darwinian Warfare: In a Pennsylvania courtroom, America can't
get the monkey off its back [November 3, 2005]
The End of the Party: In the house, Bush is a liability, the
Hammer's been indicted, and the once-united GOP juggernaut stumbles
toward an ugly divorce [Demcember 15, 2005] (pp. 101-102):
But the Republicans would return to form late that same night with
the passage of their controversial budget-reconciliation passage.
The victory had all the trappings of a DeLay win in a major
vote. One, it was conducted in the middle of the night, so that the
smarmy process could be viewed by the minimum number of people and/or
reporters. Two, it was a narrow win: 217-215. The one- or two-vote
victory has been a hallmark of the DeLay method: compromise as little
as possible on your pork and your social cuts, fuck 'em if they don't
like it, and win by one vote.
Third, the bill was an Orwellian monstrosity in the classically
DeLay-ian mold. The shepherd of such hilariously named bills as the
Clear Skies Act (for a bill partially repeating Clean Air) and the
Healthy Forests Act (easing restrictions on commercial logging) this
time had come up with the Deficit Reduction Act of 2006, a bill that
added $20 billion to the deficit. Even in this desperate time for the
party, and with the budget already heavily burdened by spending on the
Iraq war and Katrina, the DeLay leadership team is still clinging to a
plan to implement $70 billion in new tax breaks, with more than half
being extended to citizens with incomes over $1 million. To pay for
that $70 billion in new shortfalls, DeLay and Co. came up with this
Deficit Reduction Act, which cut funding from programs for the very
poorest citizens -- mainly from Medicaid, food stamps, and student
The party has been riding a terrific formula for political success
in the past five years: don't compromise, crush your enemies,
ruthlessly enforce discipline, and then keep the soldiers happy by
handing out campaign money and George Bush largess at election
time. While everyone was winning, the internal contradictions were
kept well hidden. Even the hard-line deficit hawks and Goldwaterites
didn't seem to mind racking up $3 trillion in new debt over five
years, just as long as George could produce a W for them by making a
few appearances before the polls opened.
Now Bush is stumbling around Washington with spears sticking out of
him, and his soldiers are running for the hills looking for a fresh
horse to ride. The old days of everyone in the party getting laid and
paid are over. The fatal hidden paradox of Bush's political success
has finally come back to bite him, exposing this damning riddle. How
do you give away the entire national treasure and also keep the fiscal
conservatives in your party happy? It should always have been
impossible; now it really is.
The Magical Victory Tour: While Iraq burns, the president keeps
playing the same old song [December 29, 2005] (p. x):
There are no T-shirts for this concert tour, but if there were the
venue list on the back would make for one of the weirder souvenirs in
rock 'n' roll history. U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland,
November 30, no advance publicity, closed audience: check. Here at the
Omni, December 7, again no advance warning, handpicked audience, ten
reporters max (no one else knew about it), with even the cashiers in
the hotel's coffee shop unaware of the president's presence:
check. Dates three and four, venues and dates unknown for security
reasons: check and check.
This is how President bush takes his message to the people these
days; in furtive sneak-attack addresses to closed audiences of elite
friendlies at weird early-morning hours. If you want to catch Bush's
act in person during this tour, you have to stalk him for days and
keep both ears open for last-minute changes of plan; I actually missed
the Annapolis speech when I made the mistake of briefly taking my eye
off him the day before.
God bless George Bush. The Middle East is in flames and how does he
answer the call? He rolls up to the side entrance of a four-star
Washington hotel, slips unobserved into a select gathering of the
richest fatheads in his dad's Rolodex, spends a few tortured minutes
exposing his half-assed policies like a campus flasher, and then ducks
back into his rabbit hole while he waits for his next speech to be
written by paid liars.
If that isn't leadership, what is?
Up until now this president's solution to everything has been to
stare into the cameras, lie, and keep on lying until such time as the
political problem disappears. And now, unable to comprehend that while
political crises may wilt in the face of such tactics real crises do
not, he and his team are responding to this first serious
feet-to-the-fire Iraq emergency in the same way they always have --
with a fusillade of silly, easily disprovable bullshit. Bush and his
mouthpieces continue to try to do so not only selectively but
constantly, compulsively, like mental patients who can't stop jacking
off in public. They don't know the difference between a real problem
and a political problem, because to them there is no difference. What
could possibly be worse than bad poll numbers?
The Harder They Fall: Republicans are scrambling to clean their
House -- but the dirt won't wash off [February 9, 2006] (pp. 120-121):
Barring a sudden and unforeseen flowering of affirmative values in
the depraved whorehouse that is our nation's capital, money is still
going to remain a hell of an effective substitute for political
principle in this town, meaning all manner of frauds -- from Gingrich
on down -- will be moving in not to do anything different but to take
over the old dealer's territory. The Democrats, whose innocence in the
crimes of the past five years to date corresponds exactly to their
lack of opportunities for corruption, may now get a chance at the
helm. But it won't take much exposure to cheap stunts like a beaming
Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi signing a "Declaration of Honest
Leadership" before people begin to remember how much the other guys
can suck, too.
Generation Enron: In George Bush's America, the only crime is being
poor [February 23, 2006] (pp. 127-128):
"Failure," he said, "is not a crime."
He paused. It was a big deal, psychologically, for high-rolling
lifetime winners like Lay and Skilling to admit to being failures. But
that was all they were willing to admit, and they certainly wouldn't
admit to doing anything wrong. Moreover, Ramsey sabotaged his own line
about failure with a "joke" that was clearly designed to show he
didn't really mean what he'd just said.
"Failure is not a crime," he repeated. "If it was, we'd have to
turn all of Oklahoma back into a penal colony -- heh, heh."
The courtroom didn't laugh with him, not a peep from anywhere in
the room. This is how Ken Lay asks for forgiveness -- by calling all
of Oklahoma a bunch of losers?
How to Be a Lobbyist Without Trying: A personal journey into
Washington's culture of greed [April 6, 2006]
Meet Mr. Republican: The secret history of the most corrupt man in
Washington [April 6, 2006] (pp. 135-136):
To most Americans, Jack Abramoff is the bloodsucking bogeyman with
a wad of bills in his teeth who came through the window in the middle
of the night and stole their voice in government. But he was much more
than that. Abramoff was as much a symbol of his generation's
Republican Party as Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater were of
He was an amazingly ubiquitous figure, a sort of Zelig of the
political right -- you could find him somewhere, in the foreground or
the background, in almost every Republican political scandal of the
past twenty-five years. He carried water for the racist government of
Pretoria during the apartheid days and whispered in the ear of those
Republican who infamously voted against antiapartheid resolutions. He
organized rallies in support of the Grenada invasion, showed up in
Ollie North's offices during Iran-Contra, palled around with Mobutu
Sese Seko, Jonas Savimbi, and the Afghan mujahedin.
All along, Abramoff was buying journalists, creating tax-exempt
organizations to fund campaign activities, and using charities to fund
foreign conflicts. He spent the past twenty years doing business with
everyone from James Dobson to the Gambino family, from Ralph Reed to
Grover Norquist to Karl Rove to White House procurements chief David
Safavian. He is even lurking int he background of the 2004 Ohio voting
irregularities scandal, having worked with the Diebold voting-machine
company to defeat requirements for a paper trail in elections.
He is a living museum of corruption, and in a way it is altogether
too bad that he is about to disappear from public scrutiny. In a
hilariously tardy attempt to attend to his moral self-image, he lately
has been repackaging himself as a fallen prophet, a humbled super-Jew
who was guilty only of going too far to serve God. He was the "softest
touch in town," he has said, a sucker for causes who "incorrectly
didn't follow the mitzvah of giving away at most twenty percent." They
he shows up a few weeks before sentencing with his cock wedged in the
mouth of an adoring Vanity Fair reporter, claiming with a
straight face that his problems came from trying to "save the
One of the ugliest developments in American culture sine Abramoff's
obscure Cold Warrior days in the eighties has been the raging but
highly temporary success of various "smart guys" who upon closer
examination aren't all that smart. There was BALCO steroid scum Victor
Conte ("The smartest son of a bitch I ever met in my life," said one
Olympian client), Enron's "smartest guys in the room" Jeff Skilling
and Ken Lay, and, finally, "ingenious dealmaker" Jack
Abramoff. Somewhere along the line, in the years since the Cold War,
Americans as a whole became such craven, bum-licking, self-absorbed
fat cats that they were willing to listen to these fifth-rate prophets
who pretended that the idea that rules could be broken was some kind
of earth-shattering revelation -- as though they had fucking invented
fraud and cheating. To a man, however, they all turned out to be dumb,
incompetent fuckups, destined to bring us all down with them -- not
even good at being criminals.
How to Steal a Coastline: The Gulf is still in ruins -- but Bush
has opened the door for the casinos and carpetbaggers, and now there's
a cutthroat race to the high ground [April 20, 2006] (pp. 152-153):
The wreckage on the ground is, pointedly, the only thing about New
Orleans that hasn't changed since the storm. Without actually fixing
much, everyone seems to have done a lot of moving on. On a national
level, the city's official return to normalcy has been preposterously
celebrated with the triumphant return of the NBA's Hornets. Even Mike
Brown, the disgraced ex-FEMA chief, is enjoying an improbable Leslie
Nielsen-esque career recycling, recnetly making a revoltingly
self-flagellating appearance on The Cobert Report. Only in
America can you destroy a major city and within six months be using
your own incompetence to launch a second career in self-parody.
Thank You, Tom DeLay: You were the Hammer -- the most brutal and
feared of all Republican leaders -- but only your rank incompetence
saved us from your revolution [May 4, 2006] (pp. 164-165):
Tom DeLay was never handsome, never eloquent, never profound, never
engaging, and certainly never funny. Chicks did not dig DeLay. There
is no secondary career as an adored, turtlenecked, coed-oggling
poli-sci professor awaiting him. No bar back home full of tough guys
is waiting to serve him up a congratulatory cold one, nobody at NASA
will name the next comet after him, and he will not be a candidate for
the next commissioner of the NFL. The only people left to honor his
name will be a bunch of dingbat Christian dispensationalists with big
ears and sky-blue suits eager to reward him for his undeniable role in
speeding humanity toward the Apocalypse.
No, without his hands on the levers of power, DeLay is a total
zero, a loser, two-hundred-odd pounds of the world's purest pussy
repellent, and with his resignation many out there will be tempted to
revel in that fact without considering the larger picture.
And the larger picture is this: Tom DeLay was the Stalin of the
Republican revolution. The difference is we caught him in time.
The right-wing revolution started out as all revolutions start out:
as a piece of upper-class political theater that used the unwashed
masses as a stage prop, a pair of crossed pistols on the wal. It was
always absurd, this idea of a savage campaign against "elites" being
led by a poofy wordsmith like Rush Limbaugh, a Harvard fatty like
Grover Norquist, a dickless academic like Newt Gingrich, and a
diaper-dumping oligarch like George W. Bush. They were just another
band of mischievous aristocrats who played at being the voice of the
common man -- these new wingers sold themselves as the champions of
the fucked-over little guy, in this case the terminally frustrated
boobus Americanus, who for decades had been made to sit idly by while
ethnics stole his job, evil liberals mocked his religion and his
simple way of life, and media "elitists" shut out his views and sent
porn and married queers into his living room via the television
What made Tom DeLay different is that Tom DeLay was a little
guy. He had more in common with Bill Clinton (whom not surprisingly he
despised, probably precisely for this reason) than with Gingrich or
Norquist or Bush. He came from the dirt of the South, with a drunken
reprobate for a father and nothing but white trash in his family
tree. Unlike Clinton, however, DeLay was not blessed with personal
gifts -- looks, brains, charm. Instead of Oxford and Yale, DeLay
dropped out of Baylor after being inveigled in a childish
campus-vandalism scandal. His pre-politics career as a rat and bug
killer was marked by a continual failure that has to be considered
shocking in a state so teeming with vermin. An exterminator failing in
southeast Texas is like a pimp failing in Bangkok during tourist
The famously vengeful DeLay was on the way to remaking his party in
the same way [as Stalin], disdaining charismatic talkers like Gingrich
and Bob Livingston and replacing their type in the apparatus of
Washington -- not only in Congress but in the lobbies and the think
tanks, who were often forced to comply with his litmus-test hiring
preferences -- with his faceless, dependable, snake-mean Christian
What was terrifying about DeLay was that he was the barking voice
of that afternoon talk-radio caller given full reign in Washington. He
was that same angry lout, not invoked and used by by clever academics
and con men, but actually in charge: a narrow, selfish, envious,
mean-spirited prick who had the whole capital on its knees. What kind
of man was he? He went into national politics in the first place only
because the federal government had banned a potentially carcinogenic
pesticide called Mirex that DeLay had used to kill ants. That was his
idea of injustice.
Fort Apache, Iraq: Travel the bloody roads with GIs , meet the
carpetbaggers, go inside Abu Ghraib, and witness the catastrophic
nature of the American conquest [July 13, 2006] (p. 203):
We came into this war expecting to be treated like the GIs who went
into France a half century ago -- worshipped, instantly excused for
the occasional excess or foible, and handed the keys to both the
castle wine cellar and the nurses' dormitory. Instead we were treated
like unclean monsters by the people we liberated, and around the world
our every move was viciously scrutinized not only by those same
Europeans we rescued ages ago but by our own press.
Bush's Favorite Democrat: In Connecticut's Democratic primary, Joe
Lieberman claims he's facing a leftist "jihad," but there are two
words the senator can't duck: "Iraq" and "war" [August 10, 2006]
No one has played the role of that "winner" more enthusiastically,
or more often, than Joe Lieberman. He is everything a Washington
insider loves in a politician. He is pompous, pious, and
available. Routinely one of the very top recipients of campaign
donations from the insurance, pharmaceutical, and finance sectors, and
a man whose wife, Hadassah, is a pharmaceutical-industry lobbyist for
Hill and Knowlton, Lieberman has quietly become one of the greatest
allies corporate America has in Washington.
The Worst Congress Ever: How our national legislature has become a
stable of thieves and perverts -- in five easy steps [November 2,
2006] (p. 219):
There is very little that sums up the record of the U.S. Congress
in the Bush years better than a half-mad boy-addict put in charge of a
federal commission on child exploitation. After all, if a
hairy-necked, raincoat-clad freak like Representative Mark Foley can
get himself named cochairman of the House Caucus on Missing and
Exploited Children, one can only wonder: What the hell else is going
on in the corridors of Capitol Hill these days?
These past six years were more than just the most shameful,
corrupt, and incompetent period in the history of the American
legislative branch. These were the years when the U.;S. parliament
became a historical punch line, a political obscenity on par with the
court of Nero or Caligula -- a stable of thieves and perverts who
committed crimes rolling out of bed in the morning and did their very
best to turn the mighty American empire into a debt-laden, despotic
backwater, a Burkina Faso with cable.
In fact, the Republican-controlled Congress has created a new
standard for the use of oversight powers. That standard seems to be
that when a Democratic president is in power, there are no matters too
stupid or meaningless to be investigated fully -- but when George Bush
is president, no evidence of corruption or incompetence is shocking
enough to warrant congressional attention. One gets the sense that
Bush would have to drink the blood of Christian babies to inspire
hearings in Congress -- and only then if he did it during a nationally
televised State of the Union address and the babies were from
Pennsylvania, where Senate Judiciary chairman Arlen Specter was
running ten points behind in an election year.
The numbers bear this out. From the McCarthy era in the 1950s
through the Republican takeover of Congress in 1995, no Democratic
committee chairman issued a subpoena without either minority consent
or a committee vote. In the Clinton years, Republicans chucked that
long-standing arrangement and issued more than one thousand subpoenas
to investigate alleged administration and Democratic misconduct,
reviewing more than two million pages of government documents.
Guess how many subpoenas have been issued to the White House since
George Bush took office? Zero -- that's right, zero, the same as the
number of open rules debated this year, two fewer than the number of
appropriations bills passed on time.
Anyone who wants to get a feel for the kinds of beasts that have
been roaming the grounds of the congressional zoo in the past six
years need only look at the deranged, handwritten letter that
convicted bribe taker and GOP ex-congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham
recently sent from prison to Marcus Stern, the reporter who helped
bust him. In it, Cunningham -- who was convicted last year of taking
$2.4 million in cash, rugs, furniture, and jewelry from a defense
contractor called MZM -- bitches out Stern in the broken,
half-literate penmanship of a six-year-old put in time-out.
"Each time you print it hurts my family And now I have lost them
Along with Everything I have worked for during my 64 years of life,"
Cunningham wrote. "I am human not an Animal to keep whiping [sic]. I
made some decissions [sic] Ill. be sorry for the rest of my life."
The amazing thing about Cunningham's letter is not his utter lack
of remorse, or his insistence on blaming defense contractor Mitchell
Wade for ratting him out ("90% of what has happed [sic] is Wade," he
writes), but his frantic, almost epic battles with the English
language. It is clear that the same Congress that put a drooling child
chaser like Mark Foley in charge of a House caucus on child
exploitation also named Cunningham, a man who can barely write his own
name in the ground with a stick, to a similarly appropriate
position. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the former chairman of the
House Subcommittee on Human Intelligence Analysis and
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Death of a Salesman
Mitt Romney dropping out of the Republian presidential campaign
brings to a close one of the most shameful acts in American politics
at least within my memory. He did it in typical style, as an act of
self-sacrifice to forego dividing the GOP and letting the terrorists
(i.e., Obama and/or Clinton) win. More likely his business sense
finally kicked in, seeing the increasingly self-funded campaign as
a dubious investment. I'm reminded of some pundit who when Giuliani
dropped out said he didn't have enough respect for conservatives to
lie to them. That, of course, was really a backhand at Romney, who
disavowed every plank in his Massachusetts political platform to
win the hearts of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. Whether he was
lying now or lying then matters little. You can't be that brazenly
self-contradictory and expect anyone to ever trust you again.
When I said I expected McCain to offer Huckabee the VP slot, that
too was a slap at Romney. Huckabee would provide McCain with a bridge
back to the Christian Fascist party base, which he needs to give lip
service to if he hopes to, say, do as well as another war-crazed
Arizona senator did in 1964. Huckabee is nuts, but at least he's
consistent and principled nuts, a trait he shares with McCain even
if their conservatism is rooted and expressed differently. Romney,
on the other hand, represents nothing but the Republicans's abiding
faith in the big lie. In the end, it's no surprise that his last
and most adamant supporters were the party's attack dogs, who know
better than most that what counts isn't what you believe but what
you say and how rabidly you say it.
I've long thought that the Republican money people were pushing
Romney and/or Giuliani as sort of a Hail Mary pass to try to hold
on to the White House by moving as far to the left from Bush as
possible, but that's turned out not to be possible. The primaries
have shown us that Bush's legacy and the Republican base cannot
be separated. As they've come to realize that, they've reconciled
to McCain as their last best hope. McCain has still managed to
gather support from Republican moderates and independents, who
continue to mistake him for a rational person despite overwhelming
evidence to the contrary. (Recall, for instance, that most neocons
like Wolfowitz preferred McCain over Bush in 2000.) I expect that
come November the Democrats should be able to convince even the
most naive voters how dangerous McCain is. (Patrick Buchanan has
recently offered a pretty quotable soundbite, saying that McCain
"will make Cheney look like Gandhi." And who can forget the scene
of McCain singing "bomb Iran" to the tune of "Barbara Ann"?) He'd
even manage to make Hillary Clinton look antiwar -- hopefully
she'll have the good sense to play along.
Meanwhile, McCain has to keep tacking to the right to try to
hold down the rank and file party revolt. They don't like him
because he has a nuanced position on immigration, because he
has shown occasional deviations from the Bush administration
line (including occasional qualms about their criminality,
although he's never been caught saying as much). The upshot
is that in order to prove himself to the Republican base, he
has to discredit himself in front of everone else. That's what
wiped out Romney, and now it's McCain's turn.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
We did go to the Democratic Party caucus here in Wichita KS
yesterday. I was ambivalent to start, and by the time we spent
an hour in sleet turning to snow waiting to get into the building
I was pretty damn unhappy too. I had to change my registration
from Independent to Democrat to get in, and I was unhappy about
that too. Granted, I haven't had any Republicans to vote for
since I turned 21 (well, except for anyone who ever ran against
Vern Miller), but I never identified with the Democrats. Maybe
it was blood: my father's father and his father both had Lincoln
in their names; my mother's grandfather fought for the Union
from Ohio, moved to Arkansas, and served as a Republican in a
Reconstruction government. Or it may have been from thinking
about how many kids, friends and neighbors and relatives, LBJ
killed. When I studied political history, I naturally tended
to think fondly of progressive Republicans while despising
reactionary Democrats. Of course, since Wayne Morse left the
GOP in 1956 and Strom Thurmond joined in 1964 it's been hard
to see any good in the one even if the other is often little
I was ambivalent about Obama as well, and when I saw caucus
signs for Kucinich and Richardson I had fleeting thoughts of
bolting for candidates with stronger stands against the war,
but their chairs and tables were empty. Besides, I was caught
up in the cattle car rush of humanity, trying to get out of
the packed quarters faster than they had managed to get in.
The whole process was hopelessly inadequate, with four times
as many people showing up as they had expected, and little
indication that they had been prepared for even the expected
turnout. To change my party affiliation I had to fill out a
blank sheet of paper because they had no forms or records.
They then ushered most of us into a lobby, Clinton supporters
to one side, Obamas to the other, then quickly marked x's on
our hands and chicken scratches on a tablet to count our votes.
The Obama side outnumbered the Clintons 2-to-1, maybe more,
but the Clintons had more printed signs and made more noise.
Don't know what that signified. Then we were dumped outside
in the snow, and went home to watch the results. Kansas gave
Obama 73.3% of the vote, so our sample wasn't atypical. One
person figured out how to vote for Richardson. Kucinich got
35 votes, Edwards 53.
I found some results for Wichita. The caucuses were organized by
State Senate district. Ours (district 25, downtown, north and west)
had 863 votes, 64.7% for Obama. District 29 (near northeast, mostly
black) had 1587 votes, 86.5% Obama. District 30 (further east) was
1758 total, 77.9% Obama. District 27 (southwest), 823 total, 62.9%
Obama. District 26 (southeast, Derby), 586 total, 56.3% Obama.
District 28 (south-southwest, Haysville), 502 total, 52.8% Obama.
Clinton won two districts statewide: Parsons 51.8% (471); Paola 50.8%
(500). (District 18, Topeka, held two caucuses because it stradles
congressional districts. The part in CD 1 gave Clinton 52.2% of 23
votes; the part in CD 2 gave Obama 70.4% of 901 votes.) Obama's
best showing was district 4, Kansas City, 93.5% of 2202 votes.
District 2 in Lawrence gave Obama 80.3% (1402); District 19 in
Topeka 80% (900).
By the time I went to bed last night it looked like Clinton's
sizable (10-17 point) wins in the big states (New York, New Jersey,
Massachusetts, and California) put her into a slight but probably
insurmountable lead. The remaining big states (Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Texas) are more similar to the ones Clinton won than to the ones
Obama won. And so, I found myself predicting a Clinton-Obama ticket,
running against a similar McCain-Huckabee compromise. There are
a set of factors which have historically led to such compromises,
such as Kennedy-Johnson, Reagan-Bush, and Kerry-Edwards, and those
factors are present in spades this year.
Today it looks like I may have been premature. Obama got very
nearly the same popular vote as Clinton -- less than 1% separated
them -- and may have come up with more delegates (although Clinton
still has a super-delegate margin). Also, it looks like Obama has
more money going forward, and it's not inconceivable that could
make a difference. So I'm wondering now whether Hillary would be
mensch enough to take the second slot. Not that she would be my
pick, but it would reduce her negatives quite a bit; e.g., it
would show some humility few see in her, and it would push her
lame duck husband further into the background. (An Obama-Edwards
ticket is another possibility, which would work for much the same
Basically, there are three reasons for opposing Hillary Clinton.
The first is that the dynastic thing has to be buried once and for
all, and there's no way to extricate her from it. I won't belabor
the point here, but I'm pretty hardcore against nepotism, in favor
of confiscatory estate taxes, and downright contemptuous of every
facet of aristocracy. She's probably more competent than George
Wallace's wife was to be governor of Alabama, but she's still not
a marginal case.
The second is the war. No Democrat is ever going to be able to
serve their constituency, which is most of the people in the US,
unless they can break the war-empire cycle that the US has sunk
into. She's got a bad track record, and not just on Iraq. She's
developed into a reflexive hawk. Even if it's just to counter
the idiot notion that she's not strong enough, either because
she's a woman or because she's a Clinton or both, and Republicans
and the media know damn good and well how to push her buttons.
So even if she knows better about Iraq by now (and that's not
all that clear), she doesn't know enough better to stay safe.
The third is that her every instinct is to support business
rather than provide a counterweight against corporate excesses.
Obama might very well do the same things -- anyone who can raise
enough money to run for president has already sold a lot of soul,
and he's certainly competitive even if it looks like he may be
smarter about it. And realistically, until voters wise up and
start voting against the money, nobody's going to be much good
in this regard. (I'm not looking for an economics retard like
Ralph Nader to stand up to corporations. I'm just looking for
someone who can see all sides of a problem, not just the ones
the lobbyists point out.)
Obama beats Clinton on 2.5 of these points, so he's an easy
choice. (He may be too friendly with his donors, but at least
he's never sat on WalMart's board of directors.) He also seems
more capable of looking at problems from several different
sides, which gives him an intangible edge over politicians
who are bred and selected for their kneejerk reactions --
Bush is probably the all-time champ for decisiveness without
the slightest shred of understanding, but Bill Clinton wasn't
On the other hand, Hillary might not be the tragic success
Bill Clinton was. He had more empathy for everyday Americans
than Hillary will ever be able to fake, but she at least doesn't
expect everyone to like her (or if she did, she sure knows
better by now). His greatest weakness was to compromise not
only his principles (which never was a strong suit) but his
better judgment to suck up to the powerful, and his reward
was getting bitch-slapped by the Republicans for eight full
years. He wound up with none of his initial program enacted
and his party so lame George Bush was able to steal an election.
That lesson can't be lost on Hillary. She knows she'll have to
fight back. Good chance she's even brushed up on her Truman
and Lincoln. But also the Republicans won't be in the position
to rape her that they were with Bill. They've shot their wad
and totally disgraced themselves. They'll try to get it up,
but most people will see right through them. To carry the
analogy one step further, the Republican Noise Machine will
be unmasked as the emperor's new dildo. Hillary should have
fun with that.
How it turns out will depend on the big primaries to come.
Clinton won big states in the East with a strong base of white
working class ethnics (like Ohio and Pennsylvania), and California
with a lot of Latinos (like Texas). It's not that Obama has to
show that a black man can win those votes, but the numbers mean
that he must. If he can, he wins. If he can't, he should get a
shot at the VP slot because he has proved he can add votes to
the ticket, and he should take it because winning will put an
end to the question of whether he can win. Hopefully, he'll
drive a hard bargain, and become a Cheney-weight VP, not
another John Nance Garner. That kind of deal would be good
for Clinton as well, not least by changing the chemistry of
Whoever wins will have to do a much better job than Clinton
or Carter did, because there will be rough times ahead.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Year-End Mop-Up (Part 4)
This is the last of four sets of short notes/reviews I made while
checking out highly regarded 2007 releases using Rhapsody. These are
snap judgments, based on one or two plays. Some records, of course,
would benefit from extra exposure, although some might wear worse.
I wound up checking out all of the Pazz & Jop top finishers I
could find -- see below for a list of exceptions -- down to Queens
of the Stone Age (72: Era Vulgaris) and Bat for Lashes (80:
Fur and Gold), beyond which little looked apetizing let alone
important. I also checked out almost all of Christgau's honorable
mentions (Rufus Wainwright was an exception I remember), plus a
few odds and ends that struck my fancy. Aside from the Fats Domino
tribute, I didn't get into the various artists compilations, and
I didn't do much jazz -- either could have impacted my regular
writings, and I didn't feel up to thinking about that. Before
this exercise I had always been reluctant to review downloads.
I still have mixed feelings about it, but I think it's been useful
to get the broad overview this exercise has offered. Certainly
saves me the temptation to hunt down stuff I wind up not caring
much for, as well as the ensuing storage problems.
Shantel: Disko Partizani (2007, Crammed Disc):
German electronica producer, full name Stefan Hantel, draws on
Eastern Europe and North Africa, Gypsies, Jews, and Arabs,
without pushing any particular line to excess. What sounds at
first like restraint morphs into eclecticism.
LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver (2006 ,
DFA/Capitol): I handicapped this at #4, but it won the Village
Voice's critics poll in a close three-way race and easily won
among Idolator's somewhat more techno-friendly critics. I may
have underestimated this because of a quirk in my methodology.
A few months ago I found a copy at the library. Checked it out,
gave it a couple of spins, thought it was pretty good, jotted
down a high B+(***), and forgot about it. With a grade in hand,
it wasn't a priority to stream, but after the Voice poll came
out I figured it was time. A couple of plays later I can hear
why it's winning without getting excited about it. It has four
or five cuts that are bouncy enough to lift the rather drab
vocals, and the off-speed bit about New York that seems off
at first starts to get comfy. It is, in short, the sort of
record that if you lived with regularly you'd get to like,
maybe a lot. If that doesn't excite me, maybe I'm just too
promiscuous to settle down.
Holy Fuck: LP (2007, Young Turks): Canadian
duo, specializes in live improv electronica, on their second
album. Mostly keybs and drums, all instrumental, big pumping
riffs, something of a kraut rock influence. This jumped out
of the speakers from the start, something called "Super Inuit,"
and the subsequent variations just added to the impact. Pace
LCD Soundsystem, this only took one play.
Yeasayer: All Hour Cymbals (2007, We Are Free):
Brooklyn group. Christgau described this as "tribal neo-psychedelia
as spirit food for the grim times ahead." The multiple voices push
the tribal concept, and the hodgepodge of references could pass as
psychedelia. I'm a little short on details, but one song is called
"No Need to Worry." That sounds like something to worry over.
No Age: Weirdo Rippers (2007, Fat Cat): LA-based
lo-fi drum/guitar duo, putting a lot of fuzz into a mix more/less
reminiscent of Jesus and Mary Chain, perhaps a bit grungier. Don't
have much to say about them, but I like the sound and the dingy
album cover, which leaves a lot to the imagination.
The Twilight Sad: Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters
(2007, Fat Cat): Indie rock group lays the Scottish on thick, the
accent of course, but also storms of background noise resembling
bagpipes and martial drums. It's almost shtick, but they play it
straight and keep the excesses in check. In the end all they have
to do is lay out a bit of shimmering guitar riff for something to
play off against.
Daft Punk: Alive 2007 (2007, Virgin): French techno
outfit, been around since the mid-1990s, has never impressed me much
before, but they're a brand name group in a relatively anonymous
genre. Playing live cuts against the genre grain. Evidently they're
big enough to get the full arena sound treatment -- cavernous echoes,
mass audience noise. It suits their rudimentary kraut rock especially
Dälek: Abandoned Language (2007, Ipecac): New Jersey
underground rap group, including an MC of same name, which leads to
various degrees of confusion. Music is built from dreary industrial
drones, with deadpan raps that sometimes signify.
Dan Deacon: Spiderman of the Rings (2007, Carpark):
Electronica impresario, loves those funny cartoonish sounds that
are stock-in-trade clichés with synthesizers. E.g., first piece is
called "Woody Woodpecker," a rehash of the cartoon theme song with
all sorts of extra blips. Various pieces are more/less funny. Ends
with an abortive attempt to tell a joke.
Matthew Dear: Asa Breed (2007, Ghostly): Ann Arbor
techno producer, comes up with fairly minimal beats, which at least
here are formed into seductive little songs with more/less awkward
The-Dream: Love/Hate (2007, Def Jam): R&B
singer-songwriter, born Terius Youngdell Nash. Wrote Rihanna's
hit "Umbrella," which won Idolator's singles poll, and had some
sort of hit called "Shawty Is a Ten," which reappears here as
"Shawty Is Da Sh*!" -- something about the vernacular there I
don't understand, and it's not helped by the falsetto or the
repeated references to "Shawty" as in "Nikki," who he's bedding
in lieu of, or in spite of, Shawty, whoever she/that is. Also
not sure what I think about the Nelly-like "heys" punctuating
several songs. Thing is, he's pretty effective on a straighter
song like "Fast Car" where he's not bogged down in the bogus
horseshtick. Several discographical nuissances: not sure what
the hyphen means; e.g., do we sort under 'T' or 'D'? Title on
cover looks like Love Me All Summer, Hate Me All Winter,
but most authorities list it as Love/Hate. Seems like
a nice kid with a lot of talent who's trying hard to be
Low: Drums and Guns (2007, Sub Pop): Three-piece
band from Duluth MN, with husband/wife vocalists Alan Sparhawk
(guitar) and Mimi Parker (drums) and bassist John Nichols. They
call what they do "slowcore": the music is slow, dank, industrial,
not an inappropriate representation of their frozen rust belt
town. (I spent a couple of days there a few years ago -- in July,
thankfully -- and it's a fascinating place.) They've recorded
steadily since 1994, and have a steady following. They always
seemed like an interesting concept, but the few times I have
sampled their music have left me dazed and dull. This isn't an
exception, although a song about the Beatles and Stones is at
least clear. They have a career, and will probably last as long
as the Fall.
Black Lips: Good Bad Not Evil (2007, Vice):
Atlanta-based rock band. AMG lists them as Garage Punk and
Garage Rock Revival. Half a dozen albums since 2003. Based
on a pretty scandalous live rep, I expected more frenzy in
a punk band -- maybe that was an early phase they've grown
out of. Nothing terribly fast or hard, but there are traces
of 1960s garage bands like Sir Douglas, the organ thinned
with guitar, a certain wryness in the twanged accents. Not
much here, but I like the basic sound.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Baby 81 (2007,
RCA): Another garage band, from San Francisco, named for Marlon
Brando's motorcycle gang in The Wild One. This is their
fourth album, first I've heard. Most sources place their roots
in 1990s Brit bands, especially Jesus and Mary Chain. That sound
isn't obvious at first, but is increasingly pervasive. AMG's
review complains that "BRMC has no personality to fall back on."
That may be true, but in a conventional rock band with good skills
and pop sense that isn't such a liability. I'm not sure I'd notice
anyway. (PS: One problem here is getting the label straight. AMG
lists: Sony, RCA, Island, Universal/Island, which covers two
incompatible megacorps. I've also seen Red Int., Red Ink, and
RCA/Red Ink. Rhapsody says RCA, which is my fallback position,
but without having an actual record it's impossible to know.)
Brother Reade: Rap Music (2007, Record Collection):
White rap duo from Los Angeles, or maybe Winston-Salem NC, where
James Joliff (Jimmy "Jael" Jamz or Major Jamz) and Erin Garcia
(Bobby Evans) got their start in a punk band. Beats are soft,
loosey, with a lot of undertow. Rhymes are smart enough but not
exactly intellectual, and above or beyond partying -- just enough
to make "Like Duh" sting.
Aesop Rock: None Shall Pass (2007, Definitive
Jux): Ian Bavitz piles his beats up like an endless series of
car wrecks -- he loves crashing electronic drones, and keeps
them coming in ways that defy physics. He keeps the words coming
too, but I'm having more trouble than ever catching any as they
flash by. In that this sounds typical, just not as much fun as
it used to be.
Air: Pocket Symphony (2007, Astralwerks):
French electronica group (Nicolas Godin, Jean-Benoit Dunckel),
on the ambient side. The instrumental music here is measured,
stately, elegant and comfortable, a little short of beat, but
quite lovely. The vocals come far too frequently, and they
mostly dull or blur the effect without destroying it.
Joni Mitchell: Shine (2007, Hear Music):
Returning from retirement to smell the coffee, she starts with
an instrumental laced with Bob Sheppard sax, then unveils a
series of ecology-friendly save-the-world songs, including a
reprise of "Big Yellow Taxi" (the "paved paradise and put up
a parking lot" song). I've always reacted out of sync to her,
tuning into her early self-centered folkie act only through
it reverberated through other people I knew, finding her jazz
jones alternately aggravating and enchanting, yet enjoying
much of her widely disparaged, other-centered late work. This
is a mixed bag, but I like its pieced-together musicality and
don't mind the apocalyptic. They have, after all, done worse
things than build parking lots.
Yoko Ono: Yes, I'm a Witch (2007, Astralwerks):
She's recorded off and on for a third of a century, trading on
her celebrity, connections, and interesting if not always good
taste, but she has nothing distinct in style or sound, which
makes her suspect as a musical artist. Her eclecticism is all
the more exposed on an album of collaborations with artists
who often rip her to shreds. Old songs, too, at least the few
Deborah Harry: Necessary Evil (2007, Eleven
Seven): Several times this threatens to break loose but never
sustains the interest song to song -- even the last three
songs, which Christgau raved over, don't flow. They do at
least break out of the mild pop rut of the groupthink on the
first 14 songs -- AMG credits those to three or more writers
each, whereas Chris Stein appears with two of the last three.
Joe Henry: Civilians (2007, Anti-): Got some
press early on for being married to Madonna Ciccone's sister,
but with 10 albums in 21 years plus a lately blossoming roster
of production credits, he has a pretty substantial resume by
now. Born in North Carolina, raised in Michigan, he fits the
midwest singer-songwriter niche (cf. John Hiatt, John Mellencamp),
not countryish but at least direct and uncomplicated.
Deerhunter: Cryptograms (2007, Kranky): Atlanta
band, self-described as ambient punk, which seems a good enough
label for their guitar-dominant pattern abstractions -- I'm
reminded of the Feelies and Cabaret Voltaire, but on record at
least they seem more constrained, less given to pop fancy. That
seems at odds with their reputation, which takes punk more as
a license to offend. This leans more toward ambience, but has
enough edge to maintain an interest level.
Deerhoof: Friend Opportunity (2007, Kill Rock
Stars): Just for the record, I didn't actually listen to all of
this. Sometimes Rhapsody skips over tracks, and I caught this
happening at least three times here. I've seen it happen before,
and sometimes went back, but here at least I've heard enough.
San Francisco group, with a female vocalist, Satomi Matsuzaki,
whose presence no doubt tempts them to Japanese tunings. Her
voice, too. But they'd likely to be into ornate eclecicism in
any case. I find the affectations annoying; before long that
reaction also spreads to the sweeping pop riffs and sporadic
guitar noise. Ninth album since 1997.
Grinderman (2007, Anti-): It would be hard to
call Nick Cave a project given how steadfastly I've ignored him.
He's been cranking out records since the late 1970s, but this
is the first I've heard all the way through. I credit my lack
of interest to Christgau, who occasionally entertains arguments
whether Richie Havens, Nick Cave, or the Smashing Pumpkins are
the worst live act of all time. (Laura witnessed the Havens
concert and swears there can be no contest.) Actually, I have
heard bits and pieces over the years, and he's usually struck
me as a competent rocker, a little derivative and pompous, but
listenable. This isn't bad, but it's charms are limited. E.g.,
he takes an overly obvious Bob Dylan melody and perverts it into
"No Pussy Blues." Good guitar on the closer, "Love Bomb"; still,
if you recall Flipper's "Sex Bomb," you might argue he merely
The Ponys: Turn the Lights Out (2007, Matador):
A pretty good indie rock band from Chicago, their third album.
Seems like more of a guitar album than the first two, heavier
anyway. In doing so, they've sunk into their own competency,
going through the motions offering little of interest.
Patty Griffin: Children Running Through (2007,
ATO): Singer-songwriter, originally from Maine. I have her filed
under folk, perhaps just my tendency to confuse her with Patty
Larkin, who fits the role better. Hearing this had me thinking
her marketing niche is adult contemporary, even before noticing
the strings on the anthems. Still, her best best is the roots
toolkit. She can be deadly dull without it.
Josh Ritter: The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
(2007, RCA Victor): Singer-songwriter from Idaho. Can do some fairly
minimal roots pieces, but also has a sense of how to hook a pop tune,
and can reel off a credible ballad. I'm impressed, especially by
"Right Moves," which should qualify as one of the most irresistible
pop singles of the year if I was keeping track.
Paul McCartney: Memory Almost Full (2007, Hear
Music): Sometimes you can hear the knack he once had, but more
often his vacillation between the grand gesture and the trivial
sentiment is just annoying. By all indication, he worked harder
this time. The result is that this lacks the lightness, not to
mention the silliness, that has become his trademark.
Ian Hunter: Shrunken Heads (2007, Yep Roc):
A surprisingly robust album from the former Mott the Hoople
frontman, qualifying as something of a comeback even though
his 30+ year solo career never really submerged even if he
was often out of mind. More than ever, this parallels Mott,
but comes off weaker, the soul, the glamour, the boisterous
boyishness all faded. Closes with a ballad called "Read 'Em
'N' Weep" -- fits nicely, almost transcendent.
Kings of Leon: Because of the Times (2007,
RCA): Tennessee group, a cousin and three brothers sired by
someone named Leon. Third album. They strike me as lightweight
but unpretentious, and I rather like them.
Thurston Moore: Trees Outside the Academy
(2007, Ecstatic Peace): AMG lists recording date as "1971-2007,"
suggesting that some of this is old scrapbook material. (Moore
would have been 13 in 1971.) A slightly lighter, more laconic
Sonic Youth, minus Kim Gordon's vocals, which often make the
Blonde Redhead: 23 (2007, 4AD): Alt-rock band,
formed by a couple of Italians who grew up in Montreal and met
a couple of Japanese in New York. This happened back in the
early 1990s. Their early music is invariably compared to Sonic
Youth, and Kazu Makino voice is typically described as high
and eerie. If that's all true, this qualifies as a relatively
mature, moderate, and engaging work.
The Avett Brothers: Emotionalism (2007, Ramseur):
Country brother act from North Carolina, touted for their "high
spirits," "flat-out kickass songs," "Appalachian-style string-band
music with punk-rock abandon." Reminds me of the Statler Brothers,
but even that's unfair. You always knew that the Statlers got
pussy, even if they resorted to praying for it. These smarmy
creeps you have to worry about. But at least they don't pray.
How they get by without Jesus is a mystery to me.
Akron/Family: Love Is Simple (2007, Young God):
Brooklyn group, quartet (more or less), fourth album. Everyone
sings, mostly in unison for a folkie singalong aspect. Reported
to have invented their own religion, which is probably more
useful than Magma inventing their own language. Sounds like
they might not be bad but probably aren't worth the trouble.
Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (,
Vanguard, 2CD): Thirty-song tribute, almost as many artists.
Don't have dates. Most cuts are probably recent, but John
Lennon's "Ain't That a Shame" probably dates from 1975. One
thing Allen Toussaint shows is that if you really want to
nail a classic song it pays to have a near-match voice, not
to mention a near-match piano. But if those are the standards,
we can (and should) stick to the originals, peerless as they
are. On the other hand, a small percentage of these covers
stand alongside them (Randy Newman's "Blue Monday," Willie
Nelson's "I Hear You Knockin'"), and some even add something
(Toots' "Let the Four Winds Blow").
Sa-Ra: The Hollywood Recordings (2007, Babygrande):
Also known as Sa-Ra Creative Partners, consisting of three R&B
technicians with a long list of production credits (Ice-T, Heavy D,
Jay-Z, P Diddy, Common, Coolio, just to pick some names from AMG's
list). The principals are named: Taz Arnold, Shafiq Husayn, and
Om'Mas Keith. I suppose part of the charm of such a group is that
there's little of the usual compulsion to establish an identity --
the brand itself is intently anonymous. Mix of vocals and raps,
lots of blippy little beats, skanky little grooves, in-jokes that
could be funnier. Nothing yet suggests they're geniuses.
Alicia Keys: As I Am (2007, J): Third studio album,
settling into her mature level: good singer, thoughtful songs, nice
production, some spots for her above-average piano.
Chrisette Michele: I Am (2007, Def Jam): Another
young R&B singer, good voice, good manners, has a convincingly
self-defining song called "Good Girl." I liked it, and liked "Be
OK" even better -- a survivor song that doesn't overstate the case.
Then she jacks off "Mr. Radio" and tosses off gospel ululations on
the senseless "Golden" before recovering a bit. Elsewhere she talks
about studying Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and
Natalie Cole. I suppose it's all part of her business plan. Goes by
first and middle name; last name is Payne. Not sure how to sort a
name like that.
James Luther Dickinson: Killers From Space (2007,
Memphis International): Also known as Jim Dickinson -- that's how
Wikipedia lists him, while AMG has separate entries under both
names. Got his start as a session man (played the piano on the
Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses"; Aretha Franklin's Spirit in the
Dark, Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind) and producer (Ry
Cooder's Into the Purple Valley, the Flamin' Groovies'
Teenage Head, Big Star's Third, the Replacements'
Pleased to Meet Me, more recently Amy LaVere's Anchors
& Anvils). Cut his own album in 1972, another in 1979,
a few more since the late 1990s. Only wrote one of the songs;
don't recall hearing any of the others, a mixed bag that he
brings a lot of history and feel to.
Taylor Swift (2006 , Big Machine): Teenage
country singer, born 1989. Doesn't sound like jailbait, especially
on songs like "Picture to Burn" and "Should've Said No" where she
shows some evidence of experience. Leads off with one called "Tim
McGraw"; as someone who never thinks of Tim McGraw (Tug,
maybe, but very rarely), I figured she was selling herself short,
but I didn't know she was 16 at the time. Got her a gig opening
for McGraw and his good looking, no talent wife. Originally out
in late 2006, then redone in a "Deluxe Edition" with bonus cuts
and a DVD. Rhapsody only has the "Deluxe Edition," less the DVD.
Carrie Underwood: Carnival Ride (2007, Arista
Nashville): I've never watched American Idol, and have
been militant enough about it that I resented a Jon Caramanica
piece that taunted its readers with a "you know you watch it."
I suppose that it's true that some significant artists
have emerged in talent contests, although off the top of my
head I can't think of any since Ella Fitzgerald, which has been
a while. Even so, the spectacle of American Idol runs
against almost every corollary of artistic distinction in rock,
pop, or almost any specialization thereof. Listening to this
Idol winner, it occurs to me that the main trait the
show selects for is volume. My God, she's loud. Also pretty
vapid, but that happens when Nashville can't find some irony
to wrap around its clichés.
Trisha Yearwood: Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love
(2007, Big Machine): She has a dozen or so albums going back to 1991,
when she started with a neotrad sound and a sense for songs that lately
has atrophied. That she frontloads the crap here may mean that she's
getting bad business advice.
Pam Tillis: Rhinestoned (2007, Stellar Cat): Like
Yearwood, she's recorded steadily since 1991, although she's 7 years
older, and steadier. Doesn't have an overpowering voice, but uses it
well. Songs are sensible and smart.
Zu & Nobukazu Takemura: Identification With the Enemy:
A Key to the Underworld (2007, Atavistic): First album since
I started doing this exercise that hasn't shown up on a single known
year-end list. Zu is an Italian avant-jazz group I like a lot: Luca
Mai on alto/baritone sax, Massimo Pupillo on bass, Jacopo Battaglia
on drums. They've done a number of collaborations, including albums
on Atavistic with Spaceways Inc. (Ken Vandermark) and Mats Gustaffson.
Takemura is an electronica producer, based in Kyoto, with a long list
of records, many on Chicago-based Thrill Jockey. However, this doesn't
do much, the stasis coming mostly from the electronic drones that are
presumably Takemura's contribution.
Some things I looked for but couldn't get:
- Amerie: Because I Love It (Columbia)
- Battles: Mirrored (Warp)
- Gui Boratto: Chromophobia (Kompakt)
- The Field: From Here We Go Sublime (Kompakt)
- Freeway: Free at Last (Roc-A-Fella)
- Lil Wayne: Da Drought 3 (mixtape)
- Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III: The Leak (mixtape)
- Menomena: Friend or Foe (Barsuk)
- James Murphy/Pat Mahoney: Fabriclive 36 (Fabric)
- Róisín Murphy: Overpowered (EMI)
- Meshell Ndegéocello: The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams (Emarcy)
- OM: Pilgrimage (Southern Lord)
- Pantha du Prince: This Bliss (Dial)
- PreNup: Hell to Pay (Rampage)
- Swamp Dogg: Resurrection (SDEG)
- UGK: Underground Kingz (Jive)
- Wussy: Left for Dead (Shake It)
- Tom Ze: Danc-Eh-Sa (Irara)
It's possible that some of these existed but I couldn't find them.
There were several records that took several tries to find. I'm not
sure what the status of the mixtapes are. Battles is the biggest
surprise, finishing very high in the polls, but electronica seems
to be especially spotty. I would like to have had more specialized
year-end lists. I still haven't seen Cadence's poll results, which
would break out of the semi-major label glut on the major jazz
polls. I found a couple of country lists, but not much world, no
folk or blues, not nearly enough hip-hop. Electronica appeared in
more polls, but was relatively hard to find.
Monday, February 04, 2008
Music: Current count 14151  rated (+39), 772  unrated (-2).
Spent first half week streaming 2007 records from Rhapsody, which accounts
for most of the bulk. Wound up adding about 100 records from the exercise.
Started jazz prospecting on Friday. Since both of those notes sets are
collected elsewhere, nothing to report here.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #16, Part 2)
Jazz Consumer Guide is scheduled for Feb. 13. Don't have edit,
and don't know about layout cuts yet. I spent the early part of
last week streaming 2007 records from Rhapsody, with diminishing
returns. I only turned to Jazz Prospecting on Friday, so this
week is short, but I did at least get started. More next week.
I've occasionally been working on year-end comments, one part of which
is a statistical review of my year-end list. One thing I was especially
struck by -- actually, surprised by -- is how consistent my jazz grading
has been. The raw numbers are:
|2006|| 3|| 45|| 66||137||125|| 85|| 26|| 5|| 6|| 4||502|
|2007|| 3|| 46|| 69||136||117|| 96|| 31|| 10|| 1|| 2||511|
The only difference one can point to there is a slight drift from
low-B+ to B (down 8, up 11, about 10%) with smaller shifts from B to
B- and B- to C+. (The C- grade, by the way, includes a Mark Murphy
record that actually got a D.) I suppose one could conclude that I'm
becoming a slightly harsher grader. I have noticed myself becoming
more critical of competent records that don't much interest me, and
that's close to the point where the slip has occurred. Of course,
it's possible that the sample has changed. I don't conclude anything
from the drop from 10 to 3 C-or-worse records. (I checked the list
to see if there was a sudden drop in pop jazz, but I don't see one.
In both cases most of the dreck are vocals.)
Cachao: Descargas: The Havana Sessions (1957-61
, Yemaya, 2CD): The best known, or at least the best nicknamed,
of a family of legendary Cuban bassists, Israel Lopez wrote hundreds
or thousands of songs, ranging from an early role in the invention
of the mambo to two volumes of Grammy-winning Master Sessions
in 1993. But he's most famous for his descargas, or jam sessions.
Grupo Los Santos: Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea (2007,
Deep Tone): A New York quartet not obviously connected to Cuban,
let alone Brazilian, music, either by name or instrument: Paul
Carlon on tenor sax, Pete Smith on guitar, David Ambrosio on bass,
William "Beaver" Bausch on drums. I've been playing this opposite
Cachao for, well, a ridiculous number of times, and it's lacking
the extra percussion, the choruses, and Chocolate Armenteros'
trumpet from the classic stuff, but it holds up awfully well.
I've been impressed by Carlon before, but Smith is a revelation,
and not just on the two Brazilian pieces (a choro and a samba).
Bausch writes about half of the pieces, and may have more up
his sleeve than is obvious. There is a bit of extra percussion
on two tracks, which credit Max Pollak with "Rumba Tap" -- I
think that's tap dancing to a rumba beat. Sounds like it,
Tomas Ulrich/Elliott Sharp/Carlos Zingaro/Ken Filiano:
T.E.C.K. String Quartet (2007, Clean Feed): Group
name comes from first initials. Ulrich, a cellist, comes first
because he wrote all the pieces. Not your usual string quartet:
Zingaro is the only violin; no viola; Filiano plays bass, and
Sharp plays some kind of guitar ("well, two: one with steel
strings, and the othera heavy, shining steel guitar"). String
sounds do predominate, as much plucked as bowed. Interesting
sonically, but abstract, impenetrable.
Bill Easley: Business Man's Bounce (2007,
18th & Vine): Saxophonist, mostly plays tenor here, but
claims a clarinet solo, and may work some flute in as well.
Born in Olean NY (1946?), moved to NYC in 1964, but went to
college at Memphis State, and got his first record credits
with Rufus Thomas and Isaac Hayes. Credits include a lot of
Jimmy McGriff, soul singers, Jazz at Lincoln Center. He's got
a robust, gutbucket R&B tone, and can bop a little. Starts
with "Straighten Up and Fly Right," which he describes as "Hip
Hop for senior citizens and their parents." Frank Wess joins
on "Mentor"; Warren Vaché on "Memphis Blues," where Easley
dusts off his clarinet.
David "Fathead" Newman: Diamondhead (2007, High Note):
Pretty good band here, with Peter Washington on bass, Yoron Israel
on drums, Cedar Walton on piano, and Curtis Fuller smearing some noise
on trombone. Fathead, however, sounds thin and wasted, and spends much
too much time on flute.
Larry Willis: The Offering (2007 , High Note):
Piano trio on 5 of 8 tracks, nice postbop stuff, much as you'd expect
with Eddie Gomez and Bily Drummond in tow. The other 3 tracks add
mainstream tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. He's a fair match for
Willis, and does pretty much what you'd expect, fast or slow, up or
down. On the other hand, so much as expected gets ordinary fast.
NYNDK: Nordic Disruption (2007 , Jazzheads):
Group name stands for: NY (New York: trombonist Chris Washburne),
N (Norway: saxophonist Ole Mathisen and bassist Per Mathisen), DK
(Denmark: pianist Soren Moller). Also on this record "special guest"
drummer Scott Neumann. Second group album, the first with guests
Tony Moreno on drums and Ray Vega on trumpet. Postbop, a little
harder and more aggressive with the horns than usual -- trombone
Piers Lawrence Quartet: Stolen Moments (2007 ,
JazzNet Media): Guitarist, born New York, raised San Francisco,
studied in Switzerland, now back in New York. First album. Quartet
is filled out with Chuk Fowler on piano, Jim Hankins on bass, Sir
Earl Grice on drums, all unknowns to me. Three originals, plus
covers from Sonny Rollins, Oliver Nelson, Charlie Parker, Sammy
Fain/Paul Francis, Jaco Pastorius. Lawrence has a nice sound on
elegant lines that work well with the piano. Very pleasant album.
B+(**) [Mar. 1]
The Willie Williams Trio: Comet Ride (2007, Miles
High): Common name: Wikipedia has six entries, none of which work.
This Willie Williams was born in Philadelphia in 1958, plays tenor
and soprano sax, has four albums under his own name (first in 1988,
last before this in 1993). Studied with Marshall Taylor, did a turn
with Arthur Taylor's Wailers, worked in Odean Pope's sax choir and
Clifford Jordan's big band. Wrote all the pieces here except for
"Caravan" and the Eddie Harris-Jimmy Heath collage he arranged as
"Freedom Suite." Basically a hard bop player with more grit than
Loren Stillman: Blind Date (2006 , Pirouet):
Alto saxophonist, b. 1980 in England, studied with Dave Liebman
and Lee Konitz. Has 8 records since 1998, mostly since 2003.
Quartet with Gary Versace on piano, Drew Gress on bass, Joey
Baron on drums. Stillman has a scrawny, delicate sound, and
most of this plays like chamber music. I suspect there's more
to it, but don't feel much motivation to dig it out.
Tony Wilson 6Tet: Pearls Before Swine (2007,
Drip Audio): Another common name. AMG lists 15, including a
few Anthonys. The best known is probably the English record
producer and Factory Records founder. My favorite is the Hot
Chocolate bassist, especially for his 1976 solo album I
Like Your Style. Among jazz guitarists, Gerald Wilson's
son Anthony is much better known. This Tony Wilson comes from
Vancouver and also plays guitar. The 6Tet adds trumpet, sax,
violin, bass, and drums, with some electronics mixed in, for
a full-bodied sound that maps closest to fusion, sometimes
fevered approaching avant, sometimes not. I go up and down
Tony Wilson/Peggy Lee/Jon Bentley: Escondido Dreams
(2007, Drip Audio): This is both more interesting and less satisfying
than the 6Tet album. Where the 6Tet tends to go over the top hoping
to sweep you away, this is pretty minimal, which puts it more clearly
in avant territory. Bentley plays tenor, soprano, and C melody sax,
but tends to follow rather than lead, adding color to the abstract
frameworks. Lee's cello is more central, setting the pace and tone
for the others. Wilson plays kalimba and charango as well as guitar,
and they emerge more fully than in the 6Tet.
Fond of Tigers: Release the Saviours (2007, Drip
Audio): Seven-piece instrumental group from Vancouver, classified
by AMG as rock but really more of a fusion band, with an insistent
pulse and a bit of avant edge. Credits listed alphabetically, from
bassist Shanto Bhattacharya down to violinist Jesse Zubot. No
song credits. Zubot gets an extra credit as producer, but his
violin isn't all that prominent. Nor, for that matter, is the
only horn, JP Carter's trumpet.
Mike Ellis: Chicago Spontaneous Combustion Suite
(2000 , Alpha Pocket): Ellis plays saxophones, listing
sopranino, soprano, and baritone in that order. Don't know much
about him: his website bio starts (or actually, working backwards
ends) in 1977 with him studying at Berklee with Billy Pierce.
Further studies with Ernie Wilkins, Clifford Jordan, and Steve
Lacy. Work with Alan Silva. A group called M.E.T.A. Later got
involved with Brazilian music. This is a single 19-part suite,
with a quintet, two trumpets (Jeff Beer, Ryan Shultz), bass,
drums, constructed is a lean, spare avant vein -- nothing much
happens, but the meandering holds your interest anyway.
Speak in Tones: Subaro (2003-04 , Alpha Pocket,
2CD): Nominally a collaboration between saxophonist Mike Ellis and
percussionist Daniel Moreno, this employs 16 musicians and stretches
out to 155 minutes. I take it there's an Afro-Brazil focus, but the
sessions were recorded in New York with a group that included Malians
Lansine Kouyate and Cheick Tidiane Seck, some notable jazz names
(Antoine Roney, Jerry Gonzalez, Graham Haynes, Jean-Paul Bourelly,
Adam Rudolph), and scattered others. The long groove pieces are
seductive, and it helps that the horns have some sharp edges.
Mike Ellis: Bahia Band (2005 , Alpha Pocket):
Recorded in Salvador, Brazil, with a mostly Brazilian band, picking
up a Professor of African Percussion at the Music Academy of Bahia
named Dou Dou Coumba Rose, a Jamaican vocalist from Guyana named
Ricky Husbands, a guitarist named Munir Hossn who claims Barcelona,
Paris, and Senegal among his homes but was born in Brazil. Mostly
guitar (Mou Brasil as well as Hossn) and percussion, setting up a
complex, rumbling riddim, which the horns -- Gileno Santana on
trumpet, Marcio Tobias on alto sax, Ellis on soprano -- ride along
with, although Ellis in particular remains sharp enough to cut the
grease. More elemental than Speak in Tones, and better for it.
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further
listening the first time around.
The Nels Cline Singers: Draw Breath (2007,
Cryptogramophone): Looking at the year-end lists, it's clear
that Cline has started getting some attention from outside the
jazz world, no doubt due to his employment by Wilco. Their
latest album has a guitar dimension they've never had before,
but ultimately it takes a back seat to the singer and the
songs. Here, in this non-vocal group, guitar is king. I go
back and forth on the album. The long "Mixed Message" is as
impressive a piece of power trio fusion as I've heard in a
long time, at least when it's cranking. But the atmospheric
stuff doesn't do much for me one way or another.
Ari Roland: And So I Lived in Old New York . . .
(2007, Smalls): A matching bookend to Chris Byars' Photos in
Black, White and Gray, as it should be, given that the quartets
are the same (except for the drummers, Andy Watson instead of Phil
Stewart) and the two writers have long worked in the same milieu.
More bass solos here.
Stephen Gauci's Basso Continuo: Nididhyasana
(2007, Clean Feed): Two basses provide the drive and drone, the
phat sonic middle, while two horns -- Gauci's tenor sax, Nat
Wooley's trumpet -- work harder at blending in than at standing
out. No drums, although now and then you do hear some percussion,
probably tapping on the heavy, hollow bass bellies.
- Howard Alden and Ken Peplowski's Pow Wow (Arbors)
- Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Holon (ECM)
- Bob Belden: Miles From India (Times Square/4Q, 2CD)
- Brian Blade Fellowship: Seasons of Change (Verve): advance, Apr. 1
- Ron Blake: Shayari (Mack Avenue)
- Jane Ira Bloom: Mental Weather (Outline)
- Buddy DeFranco: Charlie Cat 2 (Arbors) %
- Bill Dixon With Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey)
- Helena: Fraise Vanille (Sunnyside): Feb. 26
- Diane Hubka: Goes to the Movies (18th & Vine)
- Benjamin Lapidus: Herencia Judía (Tresero)
- Charles Lloyd Quartet: Rabo De Nube (ECM): advance, Mar. 11
- Nublu Orchestra Conducted by Butch Morris (Nublu)
- Enrico Rava/Stefano Bollani: The Third Man (ECM)
- Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Avatar (Blue Note)
- Horace Silver: Live at Newport '58 (1958, Blue Note)
- Andrew Sterman: The Path to Peace (Orange Mountain Music)
- Alex Sipiagin: Out of the Circle (Sunnyside): Feb. 26
- 3 Tenors of Soul: All the Way From Philadelphia (Shanachie)
- Michael Winograd: Bessarabian Hop (Midwood Sounds): Feb. 17
- Raya Yarbrough (Telarc)
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Anthony Deutsch: Disgraced and vilified, Suharto dies aged 86.
Indonesia's dictator from 1965 to 1998, when his corruption was
exposed in the wake of the East Asian currency crisis. He was one
of the most murderous rulers of the 20th century, most intensively
in the late-1960s when he led an anti-left purge killing at least
500,000, probably a million. He led invasions of Papua New Guinea
and East Timor, the latter turning particularly bloody. Throughout
his rule he was reliably supported by the US, with the CIA providing
him with hit lists of alleged communists in the 1960s. Two American
diplomats noted for their work with Indonesia are Paul Wolfowitz
and Richard Holbrooke.
Michael Klare: Barreling into Recession.
One small point caught my eye here:
In the Los Angeles metropolitan area, for example, the median sale
price of existing homes rose from $290,000 in 2002 to $446,400 in
2004; similar increases were posted in other major cities and in their
older, more desirable suburbs.
This is one of those my-God-what-were-they-thinking? moments.
From 2001 through 2004 the US economy was in a prolonged slump,
if not a flat-out recession. The number of jobs created was way
below population growth, and for much of the time was negative.
Real wages lost ground to inflation, and may even have been
negative. Working people were besieged from all corners. The
nation as a whole was sinking ever deeper in debt. The dollar
was collapsing. (Most of those things are still true today.) So
there was absolutely no rational basis for consumer confidence
that would raise real estate prices, let alone pump them up by
50%. So why did this happen? And why didn't anyone stand up and
say this is crazy?
It's pretty clear now that what caused this was the glut of
credit that opened up to fight the recession. That credit had
to go somewhere, and much of it went into real estate, which
looked like a reasonably safe way to sweep it under the carpet.
Part of the idea is that real estate always appreciates, which
makes it a safe investment. But also business didn't need more
plant, especially after productivity gains and shrinking wages
in the 1990s. And credit for consumer spending was already damn
near maxed out. Still, all we got from force-fed real estate
credit was the illusion of appreciation, because in the end it
wasn't tied to real growth. It boosted the economy very little,
but it did effectively benefit those who could sell high and
those who picked up fees in the process. That, of course, was
a very Republican thing to do.
But it happened not because the Republicans wanted it, but
because Bush needed it. Otherwise, he was presiding over an
economy that was tanking, partly from his wars, partly from
his policies, including tax cuts, that shifted huge amounts of
wealth from working people to the very rich. You'd think that
watchdogs would have been alert to these distortions, but for
all practical purposes they were in on the scam. One piece of
proof that it worked is that Bush managed to win in 2004 --
even with the worst economic record since Herbert Hoover, the
phony appreciation of real estate assets gave enough people
enough comfort to disregard his lousy economic numbers. Only
now is it sinking in how fraudulent the whole scam was.
The other eye-opening tidbit in Klare's piece is:
In 1998, the United States paid approximately $45 billion for its
imported oil; in 2007, that bill is likely to have reached $400
billion or more. That constitutes the single largest contribution to
America's balance-of-payments deficit and a substantial transfer of
wealth from the U.S. economy to those of oil-producing nations.
As Klare notes, this isn't just the US consuming more oil while
producing less. It mostly reflects increases in the price of oil,
which are largely attributable to Bush invading Iraq and pursuing
sanctions against Iran, taking a critical share of oil off the
world market. (China gets blamed too: the nerve of some countries
taking the dollars accumulated from our vast trade deficits to go
out and bid up the price of oil.) I think Klare is wrong when he
argues that rising oil prices led to the downturn that popped the
real estate bubble. No doubt oil prices add to consumer pain, but
they're marginal compared to sinking real estate values, a problem
(like so many others) caused mostly by the short-term deceits of
the Bush administration and its business allies/clients.
Parag Khanna: Waving Goodbye to Hegemony.
The New York Times Magazine ran this excerpt from Khanna's book,
The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order.
I would personally be more inclined to emphasize the breakdown of
great power prerogatives rather than their mere reordering, but
Khanna's map can be read my way as well. A couple of quotes:
It may comfort American conservatives to point out that Europe
still lacks a common army; the only problem is that it doesn't
really need one. Europeans use intelligence and the police to
apprehend radical Islamists, social policy to try to integrate restive
Muslim populations and economic strength to incorporate the former
Soviet Union and gradually subdue Russia. Each year European
investment in Turkey grows as well, binding it closer to the E.U. even
if it never becomes a member. And each year a new pipeline route opens
transporting oil and gas from Libya, Algeria or Azerbaijan to
Europe. What other superpower grows by an average of one country per
year, with others waiting in line and begging to join?
America's military power turns out to be worse than worthless.
Not only does it represent huge economic costs, it has the effect
of isolating us.
Europe's influence grows at America's expense. While America
fumbles at nation-building, Europe spends its money and political
capital on locking peripheral countries into its orbit. Many poor
regions of the world have realized that they want the European dream,
not the American dream. Africa wants a real African Union like the
E.U.; we offer no equivalent. Activists in the Middle East want
parliamentary democracy like Europe's, not American-style presidential
strongman rule. Many of the foreign students we shunned after 9/11 are
now in London and Berlin: twice as many Chinese study in Europe as in
the U.S. We didn't educate them, so we have no claims on their brains
or loyalties as we have in decades past.
Of course, rising oil prices only add to US weakness:
No doubt the thaw with Libya, brokered by America and Britain after
Muammar el-Qaddafi declared he would abandon his country's nuclear
pursuits in 2003, was partly motivated by growing demand for energy
from a close Mediterranean neighbor. But Qaddafi is not selling
out. He and his advisers have astutely parceled out production sharing
agreements to a balanced assortment of American, European, Chinese and
other Asian oil giants. Mindful of the history of Western oil
companies' exploitation of Arabia, he -- like Chávez in Venezuela and
Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan -- has also cleverly ratcheted up the
pressure on foreigners to share more revenue with the regime by
tweaking contracts, rounding numbers liberally and threatening
expropriation. What I find in virtually every Arab country is not such
nationalism, however, but rather a new Arabism aimed at spreading oil
wealth within the Arab world rather than depositing it in the United
States as in past oil booms.
Article ends with a set of recommendations that don't make a lot
of sense to me; "Taken together, all these moves could renew American
competitiveness in the geopolitical marketplace -- and maybe even
prove our exceptionalism."
What is clear is that any American attempts to dominate the other
major powers, or for that matter Khanna's "Second World" powers,
will be resisted, and almost always successfully, especially in the
long run. The obvious conclusion there is that the only workable
approach would be to seek common objectives, as opposed to the
special advantages that the US is accustomed to pursuing. It seems
likely to me that this will be difficult or maybe impossible as
long as the US political system is seen as an arena for furthering
special interest groups, above all multinational corporations and
the defense industries. Changing that will require some serious
rethinking, something we don't seem to be very good at.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
Year-End Mop-Up (Part 3)
This is the third batch of short notes/reviews based on streaming
records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two
plays, unfair to records that repay close attention, possibly too
generous to ones that don't. I spent pretty much all of January
pouring over year-end lists and picking out things that were well
regarded and/or seemed interesting. I shut down the exercise as of
Jan. 31, based on the calendar, diminishing returns, and the need
to get back to real records, which in my case means jazz. By the
time I posted my first two sets I figured I'd do one more. The
first two netted 64 records. I now have 70 more. Seems like I
should split them in two, so I'll post half now and the other
half next week, possibly with some conclusions.
Porter Wagoner: Wagonmaster (2007, Anti-): Never
really a great country singer, but for many years his TV show was
the quintessential representation of everything I grew up loving
and hating about country music. This last shot before he died is
in many ways typical of his albums -- the songs are a little weird
and out of place, his singing is weathered but not too battered.
That they hold together so well is another irony. He rarely did
that at album length, so I figure whoever produced helped out.
John Anderson: Easy Money (2007, Warner Bros.):
His rich, leathery voice hasn't lost a thing. He's got a few
better than average songs as well, but "A Woman Knows" doesn't
fit his voice, and "Funky Country" is pretty empty as anthems
go. Still, he is a pretty funky country singer. And it don't
hurt to have Willie Nelson pitch in on the closer.
Merle Haggard: The Bluegrass Sessions (2007,
McCoury): The label is presumably associated with Del McCoury,
but I don't see any credits to McCoury or his band. The name
guests are Marty Stuart and Alison Krauss. Most of Haggard's
songs are old standbys, including three with "Momma"/"Mama"
in the title and a typical political lament "What Happened."
Nothing here he couldn't do in his sleep.
Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours: Trailercana
(2007, DPR): AMG classifies this as comedy, but I'll file it under country,
which is close enough. He's not an intrinsically funny singer, so the words
have to work extra hard. Sometimes they do ("I Was Just Flipped Off by a
Silver Haird Old Lady With a 'Honk If You Love Jesus' Sticker on the Bumper
of Her Car"), sometimes his observations amount to something ("Joan of
Arkansas"), and once he gets an anthem worth savoring ("Living in Aluminum").
Levon Helm: Dirt Farmer (2007, Vanguard): Haven't heard
any of his scattered solo albums, but the voice remains recognizable,
despite the years and throat cancer. Four of the first five songs are
by Traditional, the other by Steve Earle. "False Hearted Lover Blues"
is surefire; "Poor Old Dirt Farmer" is more of a stretch. No originals,
but not a cover album either. More like a way of staking out that he's
Jason Isbell: Sirens of the Ditch (2007, New West):
Solo debut from a former member of the Drive-By Truckers. Never
bothered to figure out who's who there, but I vaguely recall at
least one other solo spinoff [Patterson Hood], while the band
carries on and I've seen some reports of a pretty good album out
soon [Brighter Than Creation's Dark]. Countryish, but the
music stretches out more, to let the writing unfold gradually.
Ryan Adams: Easy Tiger (2007, Lost Highway):
Prolific singer-songwriter, with something like 9 albums since
2000. Has the tools to do convincing alt-country, but has a
tendency toward pointless rock bombast -- "Halloweenhead" is
an extreme example. A couple of songs work nicely, but even
so you wish he was smarter or funnier or had a better eye or
Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha (2007, Fat Possum):
Came in 28th in the Idolator poll, 3rd highest of those I didn't
anticipate. I hadn't noticed him until a 2005 record made a run on
the polls, didn't hear that one, didn't recall the special pleading
in Christgau's dismissive review of it, and misunderestimated him.
The first few cuts are enchanting. Bird is a singer-songwriter with
an arty flair for arranging, a trend I don't particularly care for,
except when it really works. Bird comes close. This drags a bit when
he gets orchestral -- his first instrument is violin, so he may get
some comfort there -- but it is consistently listenable. He's smart
enough he never pushes an idea too far.
Beirut: The Flying Club Cup (2007, Ba Da Bing!):
Vehicle for a young singer-songwriter named Zach Condon, who plies
a bit of gypsy accordion for rolling, lilting melodies that sound
vaguely European without getting too specific. I understand his
previous album had more brass. This one is pleasantly nondescript.
Björk: Volta (2007, Atlantic): I suppose she's an
SFFR, a project I'm not at all anxious to get into. Before this,
I've heard two albums: Homogenic (1997) and Vespertine
(2001), which got B and C- respectively. I don't remember either,
but it's safe to say they left me confused as much as anything
else. I'm confused here too, but at least I can credit two songs
I want to hear again. They both have hard, angular beats and
repeat their titles extensively: "Earth Intruders" and, better
still, "Declare Independence." Not sure what to do with the rest
of it, but I've heard worse.
Caribou: Andorra (2007, Merge): An alias for
Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Snaith, previously known as
Manitoba until Handsome Dick took offense. AMG classifies as
electronica with shoegaze influences, but also refers to it
as dream pop, which sounds about right. The idea here is that
high-pitched sounds are intrinsically pretty. That may be,
but they wear thin after a while.
Dizzee Rascal: Maths + English (2007, XL):
Foreign language rap is all the more dependent on the beats,
which here are hard and grimey, without a lot of texture. Not
really a foreign language here, just a tough accent to follow --
first song that I figure I get is called "Suk My Dick," and I
take it to be funny as well as outrageous. There's more like
that, mostly a shade subtler. You get used to it after a while.
Bloc Party: A Weekend in the City (2007, Vice/Atlantic):
English rock group. I liked their 2005 album Silent Alarm, which
had a more electronic feel plus a bit of politics, both missing in this
more conventional follow-up. Still sounds agreeably crisp, and I can't
swear there isn't more substance to it.
3 Tenors of Soul: All the Way From Philadelphia (2007,
Shanachie): The lead singers aren't household names. In fact, I barely
recognize the groups they led: Russell Thompkins Jr. (Stylistics), Ted
Mills (Blue Magic), William Hart (Delfonics). Not sure of their claim
as tenors either -- their real specialty is falsetto. I'm not sure
they appear on every track either: Rhapsody credits Bilal, Average
White Band, and Hall & Oates, while AMG lists them as guest spots.
In any case, this is a remarkable slice of classic Philly soul. Biggest
caveat I have is that "Fantasy" merely recalls the EW&F original.
Von Südenfed: Tromatic Reflexxions (2007, Domino):
This sounded familiar, but it took me a while to get past Public
Image Ltd., which AMG cites as an influence, and zero in on the
Fall. Shouldn't have taken so long, given that the vocalist is
the Fall's own Mark E. Smith, working with a couple of Mouse on
Mars guys: Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner. Have heard of but don't
know the latter group. Quasi-industrial electronica, with a punk
background but a more measured pulse. Some lyrics in German --
for me that just helps frame the joke. Trails off a bit toward
the end, which may just require further study. One thing that is
worth noting is that this has fared better in the polls than the
Fall's own new and quite good record. That's probably because
the label hustles more to get their records out to reviewers.
That's always a subtext in year end polls.
Marnie Stern: In Advance of the Broken Arm (2006
, Kill Rock Stars): I half like this annoying singer-guitarist
and/or her eponymous group. Thrash noise, loud, garish, cartoonish.
Reportedly she was inspired by Sleater-Kinney, which explains
everything and nothing.
Kevin Drew: Spirit If . . . (2005-07 , Arts
& Crafts): Solo spinoff from the group Broken Social Scene, which
is enough of a draw that the cover touts "Broken Social Scene Presents:"
above Drew's name. Soft-voiced singer-songwriter, although some pieces
are band-framed -- I only vaguely recall BSS, thinking they're some
kind of punk/political. Can't follow the words here -- probably my
fault, something I'm never much good at -- but it's likely he has
something to say. "Frightening Lives" is a choice cut.
1990s: Cookies (2007, Rough Trade): Pop-punk trio
from Glasgow, related to a hadn't heard of called Yummy Fur. They
sound much like the Strokes and their various progenitors, with a
mischievous streak. First three cuts blow me away, and most that
follows is solidly enjoyable. Could finish higher with a few more
Brakes: The Beatific Visions (2007, Rough Trade):
This sometimes gets attributed to "brakesbrakesbrakes" -- one of
those cover tics that causes all sorts of confusion. Presumably
this is the same group that recorded the countryish Give Blood
in 2005, which I liked but haven't played since I filed it. This
one doesn't sound countryish. More of a singer-songwriter album
with something to say and an easy way of putting it over. Several
lines caught my ear, like the one about the politics of fear.
The Cribs: Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever
(2007, Warner Brothers): Yorkshire Brit group, three brothers,
guitar hooks, some smarts. I'm most impressed by the odd song
out, a political talkie over steady riffs called "Be Safe."
Otherwise, they are formidably rockish. Includes songs named
"Men's Needs" and "Women's Needs," but no "Whatever" -- must
be the rest.
Electrelane: No Shouts No Calls (2006 ,
Too Pure): British band, from Brighton, mostly (or all) female.
Has an agreeably light, relaxed, jangly keyb/guitar sound that
sails past you without demanding much in the way of attention.
Peter Evans: The Peter Evans Quartet (2007,
Firehouse 12): I haven't really reconciled myself to using
Rhapsody to make up for the jazz records I don't get, but
crusing through the year-end data I noticed this, typed it
into the search box, and found the record. Evans came to my
attention in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, a leading
candidate for Jazz CG pick hit slot. The quartet includes
Kevin Shea on drums (also in MOPDTK), Brandon Seabrook on
guitar (also in Alex Kontorovich's quartet, with another A-
record), and Tom Blancarte on bass. A lot of quick flutter in
the trumpet here, as if Evans is trying to simulate a fuzzy
logic approximation or dislocation of standard changes.
DJ Spooky: Creation Rebel (2007, Trojan/Sanctuary):
Here Paul Miller gets his shot at remixing Trojan's reggae catalog,
and has a lot of fun with it. Some items are noteworthy in their
own right, like Mutabaruka's "Dis Poem"; some definitely pick up
on the extra swoosh Spooky delivers. One cut didn't show up on
Rhapsody: someone named Bob Marley.
Nublu Orchestra Conducted by Butch Morris (2006
, Nublu): Don't know enough about group/record, but as far
as I can make out, Nublu is a club on Avenue C in New York and
a label which has at least this one record out. The group includes
"band-members from Brazilian Girls, Wax Poetic, Kudu, Forro in the
Dark, I Led Three Lives, and Love Trio and regular Nublu guests
Graham Haynes and Eddie Henderson"; evidently, they get together
and Butch Morris points his baton and conducts their improvisations.
I haven't spent the time to digest the Morris oeuvre -- above all
the 10-CD Testament: A Conduction Collection -- but any
doubts I had about his skill at taking large groups of musicians
and getting them to play in tightly measured cycles were put to
rest with Billy Bang's Vietnam recordings. This only furthers his
case. Small bits of vocals add to the multicultural cross-genre
milieu, but most of this consists of long groove pieces with a
bit of avant noise. If I were jazz prospecting I'd bracket the
grade until I let this settle in more, but I don't have much in
the way of caveats. I'll try to look into this further.
Liars (2007, Mute): Rock band, hard and dense
but not all that metalic. I've seen them listed as dance-punk
or art-punk, neither making much sense, except perhaps for their
elemental sense of melody. First album was called They Threw
Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. Fourth album
suggests they've run out of titles, and maybe ideas as well.
New Pornographers: Challengers (2007, Matador):
Semi-supergroup, not that the independent members have ever done
all that much on their own. Together they have four albums now.
I never got any of them, and have long since ceased to care. This
one strikes me as lighter but more belabored. People who care
might find it appealing.
Tegan and Sara: The Con (2007, Vapor): Twin
sisters from Canada, on their fourth album. They may have been
folkier early on because folk music requires so little capital,
but by now they're accomplished popsmiths, writing catchy tunes
with mature smarts.
Bonde do Rolê: With Lasers (2007, Domino): A
Brazilian baile funk group, cleaned up for American audiences
by DJ Diplo. This takes a while to get all the gears meshing --
if the lead off "Dança do Zumbi" translates as dance of the
zombies the awkwardness may be cartoonishly deliberate, but
around midway "Marina Gasolina" combusta and then we're into
"Caminhao de Gas," which probably doesn't translate as cooking
with gas, not that it matters.
Amy Winehouse: Frank (2003 , Universal):
First album, came out in UK when she was 20, but she sounds much
older with her odd jazz stylings -- scat on the opener, a few
extended vamps, a bit of classic vocalese ("Moody's Mood for
Love"). But the jazz is more like an affectation, not something
she feels like sustaining. Inconsistent song selection plagued
her breakthrough Back to Black as well, but there it
seemed more like the classic singles/filler problem. Here it's
a way of life.
Wiley: Playtime Is Over (2007, Big Dada): English
grime rapper, not as splashy beatwise as Dizzee Rascal, but similar,
if anything faster with the words. Besides, aren't grime beats
supposed to be sort of minimalist?
Talib Kweli: Eardrum (2007, Blacksmith/Warner
Brothers): He combines underground consciousness and/or smarts
with mainstream connections, and he's steady enough that he's
able to bridge guest stars from Kanye West to UGK to KRS-One
while keeping on top of his album, maintaining a consistency
that may be his real weakness. Some good stuff here. I like a
refrain that goes: "it's bad here on earth but if we don't get
to heaven it's hell." One called "More or Less" advocates more
peace and less war, also "more Beyoncé, less Britney."
Mac Lethal: 11:11 (2007, Rhymesayers Entertainment):
White rapper, from Kansas City, KS. I'm not sure why Christgau
thinks that, as oppposed to KC MO, makes a difference, other than
that KC KS is blacker (somewhat) and poorer (a lot), but I'll grant
that it makes a difference he's not from Overland Park, let alone
Leawood or Olathe. I was sucked in when he decided to keep his KS
accent, and when he said he wouldn't go to church until the Chiefs
win the Super Bowl. (I didn't even go then, but he wasn't born yet.)
His beats and rhymes remind me a bit of Buck 65 -- less intellectual,
coarser, more KS. Has a touching song about growing old. Sounds like
he's gonna stick around.
Sage Francis: Human the Death Dance (2007, Epitaph):
Another white rapper, from Miami, one of Non-Prophets, which had a
pretty good record out in 2003. Has a couple of previous albums.
Smart, witty, gives a damn, given to poetics, but also inclined to
get theoretical. Beats deft but unlikely to move you.
Lifesavas: Gutterfly (2007, Quannum Projects):
Portland underground rap duo, known individually as Vursatyl and
Jumbo the Garbageman -- although looks like three guys on the
cover. Good first album, Spirit in Stone (2003). This
one is a soundtrack to an unfinished blaxploitation movie. A
bit narrow beatwise and complicated plotwise.
Devin the Dude: Waitin' to Inhale (2007, Rap-A-Lot):
Houston rapper, originally from Florida, takes it slow and doesn't
miss a lick. Sample line: "seems like everything on her body is melted
together." I suppose the coughs on "Nothin' to Roll With" are meant
to be responsible, but it's basically a blues.
T-Pain: Epiphany (2007, Jive): Tallahassee rapper,
second album, has a couple of singles peaks ("Church") but runs thin,
or long, or both -- "Reggae Night" is especially sloppy. Before
hip-hop he'd be a soul singer, just not an especially good one.
Chuck D & the Slamjamz Artist Revue: Tribb to JB
(2007, Slamjamz): Christgau attributed this to The Peeps of Soulfunk,
which looks plausible enough, at least from the front cover. Might
as well file it under Chuck D, although James Brown is sampled enough
to claim a credit as well as the cover. Awesome much of the time, but
no match for the original, nor for what D can do on his own. Chuck D
does toss some well-aimed grenades, such as: "that's the Bush for
you/always chasing the dollar."
Friday, February 01, 2008
From the Wichita Eagle today:
Sen. Sam Brownback said Thursday that his endorsement of John
McCain for president had nothing to do with getting new donors to help
pay off debt from his failed presidential
campaign. [ . . . ]
The Los Angeles Times reported this week that some of McCain's
biggest donors gave Brownback nearly $40,000 after Brownback decided
to support the Arizona senator on Nov. 7.
Brownback told reporters on a conference call that his campaign did
solicit money from McCain supporters, but claims that was never a quid
pro quo for his endorsement.
It's just that there aren't a lot of potential donors for a candidate
who's already withdrawn from the race. On the one hand, I'm struck by
how little Brownback sold out for. On the other hand, it's not like his
endorsement was really worth much.
In the long run, Brownback's endorsement was probably worth less
than Pat Robertson's, or Joe Lieberman's. Someone should take a look
at who's bankrolling McCain, and where else their money is going.
Arnold Schwarzenegger just signed up for some of that.
Still, some right-wingers haven't gotten their checks yet. Ann
Coulter recently said that if McCain is nominated she's campaign
for Hillary Clinton. Coulter's a poison pill anyway, but such a
backhanded endorsement provides a curious perspective on Clinton's
lesser-evil appeal. (Coulter's supporting Romney, so you might
want to factor that in.)
Tom DeLay's opposition to McCain is more straightforward, and
in his own way more principled. McCain's campaign slogan can be
reduced to simple terms: more war, but less graft. DeLay is the
Pied Piper of Republican graft, so of course he'd be opposed to
McCain. DeLay, like Bush (or at least Cheney and Rove), understand
that war and graft are symbiotic, that each furthers the other in
a self-perpetuating frenzy. McCain's recent political gains seem
to spring from the vain hope many Republicans have that their wars
would fare better if only they were managed by a more scrupulous
commander in chief.
On the other hand, the serendipitous bailout of ex-candidate
Brownback reminds us that McCain's hands aren't so squeaky clean.
He's gotten away with the perception that he's different because
the press hasn't held him to account yet. But that's likely to
change, especially if he gets the nomination and we finally have
to come to grips with the question of whether we really want a
worse warmonger than Bush to get his finger on the trigger.