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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Recycled Goods #53: May 2008

Picked up text from here.

Friday, May 30, 2008

What Happened

One reason I haven't posted much recently is that I've been working on a long book list post, having spent much of my Detroit time trawling through bookstores. After Scott McClellan's book came out, I wrote up a little paragraph on it, but I might as well share it now:

Scott McClellan: What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What's Wrong With Washington (2008, Public Affairs): Former Bush mouthpiece opens up a little wider than anyone expected. I've seen this described as "scathing" -- find that hard to believe, but it's hit a nerve, as shown by this 1-star Amazon reader review: "McClellan and Rumsfeld are the primary reasons why Bush's approval rating is as low as it is. They were awful communicators." So Bush's only problem is that he's misunderstood, undone by his own inept PR flacks. Strange thing is they were so highly regarded for so long.

The brouhaha this book has produced is amusing. With hardly an exception, the Republican establishment has circled wagons and counterattacked from their safest high ground: McClellan is a coward for not resigning earlier if this is what he felt, and in any case is not a team player for not waiting until the Bush administration is safely buried in the history books, Oh, and he's also a miserable money-grubbing miscreant. Bob Dole reportedly puts it this way:

There are miserable creatures like you in every administration who don't have the guts to speak up or quit if there are disagreements with the boss or colleagues. No, your type soaks up the benefits of power, revels in the limelight for years, then quits, and spurred on by greed, cashes in with a scathing critique . . .

No doubt you will "clean up" as the liberal anti-Bush press will promote your belated concerns with wild enthusiasm. When the money starts rolling in you should donate it to a worthy cause, something like, "Biting The Hand That Fed Me." [ . . . ] You're a hot ticket now but don't you, deep down, feel like a total ingrate?

Of all the stuff written about McClellan, by far the most interesting has been this item by Osha Gray Davidson, addressing the question of how much McClellan sold out for, and how much direction he got from his New York editor. The answer to both is at most not much and more likely very little. Davidson argues that PublicAffairs is notorious for their stingy advances -- McClellan's was "a five-figure advance" (i.e., between $10-100k; Karl Rove got $1.5 million from Simon & Schuster) -- and Davidson has written for the same editor McClellan had (Lisa Kaufman):

I'm not sure that McClellan knows this (he and I have never met or spoken), but PublicAffairs was at first skeptical when McClellan and his agent made their pitch. Doubtful enough that, says Kaufman, founder/publisher Peter Osnos called around first, asking White House reporters what they thought of McClellan. "They told Peter that Scott was a straight shooter," says Kaufman. "That if he says he's going to tell the truth, he will tell the truth."

Obviously, I can't vouch for McClellan's veracity. I have, however, had a chance to read his book. And having also known and worked with Kaufman for several years, I can say this: What Happened was not, as Rove et al. have charged, written by his "New York editor." Stylistically, that is just not her voice on the page. Neither is Kaufman some ideologue with an agenda to push. She demands that her authors write intelligently, clearly and honestly, regardless of their political views. The notion of Kaufman as "brainwasher" is absurd.

I'm still not all that interested in the book, mostly because the bounds of what McClellan knew then and knows now are so limited: much of what he has to say reduces down to "I misinformed the public because I was misinformed myself." That may mean a lot to him, but it's not like it wasn't clear to the rest of us even then, let alone now. Maybe the book has some useful details, and maybe some juicy quotes, but that's about as far as he can go. He did, after all, not just support but facilitate the war. Sure, he should have screamed bloody murder at the time, but it's hard to conceive of anyone who could (a) get the job as Bush's liar-in-chief in the first place, and (b) reject it publicly in real time. Ari Fleischer and Tony Snow are two examples of (a) who still haven't come close to wising up as much as McClellan.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Browse Alert: Jazz

Jazz Dialogue: Gary Giddins in Conversation with Loren Schoenberg. Lots of stuff here, including this bit on Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong:

So anyway Crosby and Armstrong hit it off immediately. Their relationship was not known, but I found letters between them that were unbelievable. It didn't surprise me that Crosby kept calling Armstrong a genius, but it surprised me that Armstrong kept calling Crosby a genius. They really had a terrific relationship. They smoked pot together and they drank and when Bing finished in his whites-only club, the Café Montmartre, he would go out to the Cotton Club in Culver City to see Louis. They would hang out. Joey Bushkin told me that when they were on tour in '75, a couple of years before Bing died, they were in the dressing room one night and Johnny Mercer had just died. They had all been close with Johnny Mercer and they started talking about the great musicians and Bing said, "Do you realize that Louis Armstrong was the greatest singer that ever lived and ever will live forever and ever?"

And Joey said, "Yeah, I love Pops, but what do you mean?" He said, "It's so simple. When he sings a happy song you laugh. When he sings a sad song you cry. What the hell else is there in popular music?"

He also said that Louis Armstrong is "the beginning and the end of music in America." Then he did something quite wonderful in 1936. He had been arguing for years with his film studio, Paramount, to let him produce a film. When he finally got the right to do that, he chose Pennies from Heaven, and made a deal with Columbia to finance and distribute it. He insisted that Armstrong not only be in the film, but get star billing. He's only in the movie for six or seven minutes, but he's billed on the same card with Bing.


I stumbled onto the Giddins interview while I was looking at the Jazz Journalists Association's 2008 Jazz Awards finalist nominees. I'm not a member -- I was invited to join a couple years ago, but rather arbitrarily decided the $75 fee wouldn't have been cost-effective, preserving my amateur status -- but got a notice from the publicist. But I rarely miss an opportunity to test myself against a ballot, so here's how I would have voted, with the following provisos: see the link above for context; choices limited to their nominees (with no alternate suggestions); choices limited based on 2007-08 recordings (which among others eliminates Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins):

  • Lifetime Achievement in Jazz: Oscar Peterson, Lee Konitz (all are worthwhile, and at this rate they'll never come close to getting everyone they should)
  • Musician of the Year: Terence Blanchard (Rollins and Coleman excluded)
  • Up & Coming Musician of the Year: Tyshawn Sorey (read the nominees and go figure)
  • Record of the Year: A Tale of God's Will, Terence Blanchard (actually, #146 on my 2007 list, beating out Abbey Lincoln at #188; the list includes non-jazz)
  • Reissue of the Year: Compulsion, Andrew Hill
  • Reissue box set: Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles, Billie Holiday (regrettably didn't get any of the Mosaics)
  • Record Label of the Year: Clean Feed
  • Composer of the Year: Carla Bley (not sure but sentimental choice)
  • Arranger of the Year: Uri Caine (ditto)
  • Male Singer of the Year: Giacomo Gates
  • Female Singer of the Year: Roberta Gambarini
  • Latin Jazz Album of the Year: My Island, Rafi Malkiel
  • Small Ensemble Group of the Year (< 9 pieces): Mostly Other People Do the Killing
  • Large Ensemble of the Year: Gerald Wilson Orchestra
  • Trumpeter of the Year: Dave Douglas
  • Trombonist of the Year: Roswell Rudd
  • Player of the Year of Instruments Rare in Jazz: Erik Friedlander, cello
  • Alto Player of the Year: Steve Lehman
  • Tenor Player of the Year: Joe Lovano
  • Soprano Saxophonist of the Year: Wayne Shorter (consolation prize for that Herbie Hancock album I didn't like)
  • Baritone Saxophonist of the Year: Joe Temperley
  • Clarinetist of the Year: Perry Robinson
  • Flutist of the Year: Nicole Mitchell (notwithstanding her dud record)
  • Pianist of the Year: Myra Melford
  • Organ-keyboards of the Year: Gary Versace
  • Guitarist of the Year: Pat Metheny (I never get Bill Frisell records)
  • Bassist of the Year: William Parker
  • Electric Bassist of the Year: Stomu Takeishi
  • Strings Player of the Year: Billy Bang, violin
  • Mallets Player of the Year: Joe Locke
  • Percussionist of the Year: Hamid Drake
  • Drummer of the Year: Paal Nilssen-Love
  • Jazz Journalism Lifetime Achievement Award: Stanley Crouch (who lately is horrible more often than not, but has done better in the past, plus I'm embarrassingly unfamiliar with the others, just a couple of names I vaguely recognize)
  • Excellence in Jazz Broadcasting: no choice
  • Excellence in Newspaper, Magazine or Online Feature or Review Writing: Larry Blumenfeld
  • Best Periodical Covering Jazz: Signal2Noise
  • Best Website Concentrating on Jazz: All About Jazz
  • Best book About Jazz: no choice (haven't read any)
  • Excellence in Photography: no choice
  • Jazz Events Producer of the Year: Patricia Nicholson-Parker, Vision Festival (didn't attend any, but this one produced the most good records by a big margin)

Note also that while some of these are strong choices, others are very marginal ones.

On his blog, JJA president Howard Mandel has a post on jazz polls/awards in general that I haven't been able to make much sense out of. I certainly don't see any point in using such occasions just to suck up to the rich. Rather, they do two (or maybe three) things: they test what James Surowiecki called the wisdom of crowds, providing a sanity check for the voters; they give some relative unknowns a chance for recognition; and (maybe) they present the best face of jazz to a few outsiders willing to take a chance on it. But there are problems with each of these points as well. In particular, the crowds thesis tends to fall down not so much on varying tastes -- that's probably its strength -- but on inequal information.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Music: Current count 14439 [14414] rated (+25), 752 [761] unrated (-9). Still don't have all of the incoming mail from during my trip catalogued, so the unrated count is way below what it should be -- actually, looks like it should crack 800 again. Still haven't unpacked my traveling cases, either. The return to normalcy is turning into a slog. Diddled with Recycled Goods a bit, and started working on Jazz Prospecting. Have a few things to show, but not a lot.

  • Disco Not Disco: Post Punk, Electro & Leftfield Dance Classics 1974-1986 (1974-86 [2008], !K7/Strut): More like mechanistic new wave, with the obscurities outnumbering the classics -- James White's "Contort Yourself," Delta 5's "Mind Your Own Business," Material's "Don't Lose Control" -- and even those remain awkwardly gawky, well shy of the grand gestures of danceable new wave bands like New Order and Cabaret Voltaire. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Lou Donaldson: Here 'Tis (1961 [2008], Blue Note): A turning point as the alto saxophonist moves from Bird bebopper to soul jazzer, helped along by organ funkmeister Baby Face Willette and even more so by Grant Green's tasty guitar licks; not quite recognizing the challenge, Donaldson goes with the groove. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra: The Original Tuxedo Junction (1938-45 [1989], RCA Bluebird): Trumpeter from Alabama, led a big band with a big hit ("Tuxedo Junction") in 1939. This covers his stretch in the spotlight. A couple of vocals; a lot of swing. A-
  • Mission of Burma: Signals, Calls and Marches (Definitive Edition) (1980-81 [2008], Matador): Boston's answer to the first wave of Anglo postpunk art bands like Wire and the Buzzcocks, but not as good, not least because they were a miserable lot -- "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" was their catchiest rant; first EP, expanded to 8 songs on Rykodisc's 1997 reissue, here up to 10, plus a DVD I didn't bother with. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Mission of Burma: The Horrible Truth About Burma (Definitive Edition) (1983 [2008], Matador): Live album of new material plus Stooges and Pere Ubu covers, rushed out when the band broke up and the cupboard was bare; the sound is more mechanical, almost industrial; leader Roger Miller damaged his hearing, and if you crank this up you can too. B [Rhapsody]
  • Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues (1970-76 [2007], Soundway): Scattered singles, guitar-driven highlife and/or afrobeat with the occasional funk lick; the only names I recognize are Celestine Ukwu and Sir Victor Uwaifo, second-tier stars that hardly stand out in a crowd where good vibes are consistent enough to flow and varied enough to prick your ears. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Sufjan Stevens: The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album (2005 [2006], Asthmatic Kitty): Just what it claims, the surplus so idiosyncratic and fruitful it must have seemed a shame to let the first cut stand; still, I'd rather he move on: with 2 states down out of 50, he has a long ways to go, and I'd love to hear Kansas before I die. B+(***)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 5)

Back in Wichita after 3+ weeks on the road. Got my mail opened, but still don't have it all catalogued. For that matter, don't have my traveling cases unpacked, although I've started, and most of the following prospecting comes from stuff I took with me. Didn't directly get back into jazz prospecting. With so much stuff in flux, I started by streaming some oldies and a couple of new records, checking out some world music. That's how this report starts, but by midweek I started unpacking the cases and listening to stuff along the way. This is as far as I've gotten -- which is to say I've fallen far behind.

I should at least get organized this coming week. All of the bookkeeping to wrap up the Jazz CG #16 is done, so work on the next one can get a fresh restart. A lot of stuff has been leftover, so the next one is mostly done. The big need will be to identify a couple of pick hits. Some promising stuff in the incoming pile.


Charlie Haden: The Best of Quartet West (1986-96 [2007], Verve): A steady-flowing sampler from five albums, catching the legendary bassist at his most sentimental, with Lawrence Marable's light touch on the drums, Alan Broadbent's luxurious piano, and Ernie Watts' crooning tenor sax -- elegantly simple, even when Broadbent's string arrangements or an out-of-place vocal sample complicate things. I would start with the nostalgic Haunted Heart, although some people find the appearance of Billie Holiday in this company unsettling. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Orchestra Baobab: Made in Dakar (2007 [2008], World Circuit/Nonesuch): Formed in 1970, one of Senegal's major bands, stylistically they span Youssou N'Dour's mbalax revolution, preserving more Congolese guitar and Cuban feedback and less of the tricky rhythms. Newly recorded, but the songs date back to their 1970s heyday and even further. Less instantly compelling than their 1982 classic Pirates Choice or their 2002 comeback Specialist in All Styles, but equally hard to nitpick. A-

Toumani Diabaté: The Mandé Variations (2008, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Mali's most famous and best traveled kora player, working solo, remarkably plumbing his string instrument for melody -- sometimes two lines -- harmonics and rhythm. It may well be a tour de force, or at least a complement to Bach's variations on harpsichord, but the limited options impart a certain sameyness you have to meet more than half way to keep up with. B+(**)

Rigmor Gustafsson: Alone With You (2007 [2008], ACT): Swedish vocalist, b. 1966, sings in English, has half a dozen albums, first one I've heard. Starts off with a soaring pop ballad, "In My World" -- pretty awful. She wrote all the songs, sometimes getting help with lyrics. Better when it gets jazzier, better still when the band takes the lead, but that's not a good sign in a vocalist's album, even if you're Betty Carter -- and this band isn't that good. B-

Howard Britz: Here I Stand (2007 [2008], Tee Zee): Bassist, born in England in 1961, moved to US in 1991, passing through Boston (Berklee, New England Conservatory) and Philadelphia before settling in Brooklyn in 1998. Bop quintet with David Smith on trumpet/flugelhorn and Casey Benjamin on alto sax. Sometimes sounds standard, sometimes postbop, sometimes they even swing a little, or work in a little Latin boogaloo. Don't think much of the horns, but the pianist blows me away. George Colligan. Not the first time that's happened. B [advance]

Grand Pianoramax: The Biggest Piano in Town (2008, ObliqSound): Keyboards/drums duo, with Swiss pianist Leo Tardin in the lead role, Deantoni Parks on drums (replaced by Adam Deitch on one cut). A fairly minimal concept, dressed up with guest rappers and vocalists, most notably Mike Ladd on "Showdown" -- the bookend that both opens and closes the disc. B [advance]

Peloton: Selected Recordings (2007, Parallel): The peloton is a large cluster of bicyclists in a race -- as Wikipedia puts it, "the peloton travels as an integrated unit, like birds flying in formation." Album cover has an axle with spokes pointing out, presumably from a bicycle. I'd never heard of the word, but I ran across a number of music groups using the name, everything from San Francisco shoegazers to Finnish cartoon jazz. This particular group describes itself as Scandinavian but claims "peloton" means "fearless" in Finnish. Trumpet (Karl Strømme), sax (Hallvard Godal), guitar (Petter Vågan), keyboards (Steinar Nickelsen), drums (Erik Nylander). They live up to their teamwork concept: lead shifts are frequent and brief, the pace ranging from slow and moody uphill to fast and dangerous downhill. Godal is also in Fattigfolket, a group I remember liking. B+(**)

Will Bernard/Andrew Emer/Benny Lackner/Mark Ferber: Night for Day (2007 [2008], Bju'ecords): Cover and spine just list last names, as if that's all the hint one needs. Drummer Ferber and guitarist Bernard are in my mental index, but not bassist Emer or pianist Lackner. All but Ferber write songs, as does someone named Strayhorn. File it under Bernard, whose primacy isn't just alphabetical. Although Lackner wrote more pieces, Bernard's guitar lines run away with them. B+(*)

Alexis Cuadrado: Puzzles (2007 [2008], Buj'ecords): Bassist, from Barcelona (Spain), based in Brooklyn where he was a founder of Brooklyn Jazz Underground. Two previous albums on Fresh Sound New Talent. Wrote all pieces, using a quartet of sax (Loren Stillman), guitar (Brad Shepik), bass, and drums (Mark Ferber), with trombone (Alan Ferber) on three cuts, organ (Pete Rende) on one. Underground is less an attitude in jazz these days than a state of existence. Cuadrado plays moderate postbop, close to where the mainstream would flow if it did, but he's a sensible composer, and his bass helps lift the band. Shepik has several especially fertile stretches here. B+(**)

Anne Mette Iversen: Best of the West + Many Places (2006-07 [2008], Buj'ecords, 2CD): Bassist, from Denmark, now based in Brooklyn, that's all I know. Quartet includes John Ellis (tenor and soprano sax), Danny Grissett (piano), and Otis Brown III (drums). On the first disc (Best of the West) they are joined by the string quartet 4 Corners; on second disc (Many Places) they appear on their own. Strings aren't my thing, but they provide a dreamy backdrop to the sax -- I'm reminded of Winter Moon, Art Pepper's lush masterpiece; while Ellis isn't as transcendent, he's rarely played this inventively -- and hold their shape on their own. Ellis opens up even more on the stringless disc. [B+(***)]

Jean Martin/Evan Shaw: Piano Music (2007, Barnyard): Following front cover; spine says Martin & Shaw but website says Evan Shaw and Jean Martin. Barnyard Records is a Toronto label -- sent me four records, three featuring drummer Martin (seems likely the label's his show). Shaw's an alto saxophonist, grew up in New Brunswick, based in Toronto. These are duets, free jazz, presumably improvs, with no piano audible anywhere. I like this sort of thing quite a bit, but it hasn't yet risen much above par. One cut adds a rap, or something spoken like that. B+(**)

Jean Martin/Colin Fisher: Little Man on the Boat (2007, Barnyard): More free, idiosyncratic duets, this time more of a mish mash as both rum the gamut of instruments: Martin's credits are drums, keyboards, trumpet, loops, bass; Fisher's tenor sax, guitars, bass, banjo, voice. Fisher is another Toronto denizen, with three albums as I Have Eaten the City and two as Sing That Yell That Spell. Scattered moments are interesting, but it isn't clear what holds them together. B+(*)

Lori Freedman & Scott Thomson: Plumb (2007 [2008], Barnyard): More avant duets. Freedman plays clarinets, opening with the bass clarinet. Thomson plays trombone. The two horns offer a limited palette of sound, and the lack of rhythm instruments leaves them jarringly naked. Freedman is somewhat familiar from her work with Queen Mab. Don't know/can't find much on Thomson, but I figure him for a Roswell Rudd fan -- where Freedman came out of the box aiming for Braxtonian ugly, Thomson's first solo was laced with understated wit. Both are worth remembering, although you have to be pretty hard core to stick with this -- someone who reacts ecstatically to such solo classics as Anthony Braxton's For Alto and Paul Rutherford's The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie. In that case, this may double your fun, but I can't guarantee it. B+(*)

Barnyard Drama: I'm a Navvy (2005 [2006], Barnyard): Toronto group, second album, not counting five volumes of Christmas Singalong. Core group pairs drummer Jean Martin with vocalist Christine Duncan, adding guest guitarists Justin Haynes and Bernard Falaise this time. Blindfolded, I'd call this experimental rock: most beats are steady, often rifflike simple, although Martin's electronics can amble. Duncan's vocals range from art-abstract to Lydia Lunch softened by Portishead, but rarely cohere into songs. The guitars are a plus. Can't find the booklet, one more reason to hold this back. [B+(**)]

Wayne Horvitz and Sweeter Than the Day: A Walk in the Dark (2007 [2008], [no label]): Pianist, b. 1955 in New York, now based in Seattle. Has a substantial discography since 1981. Sweeter Than the Day was a 2002 quartet album that has retained its shape as a group in a couple of later albums, with Timothy Young's guitars complementing Horvitz's piano, Keith Lowe on bass, and Eric Eagle on drums. Nice record, Horvitz likes a steady beat, and the guitar adds something. B+(**)

Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet: One Dance Alone (2007 [2008], Songlines): Interesting take on the chamber jazz concept, using an unusual mix of instruments: cornet (Ron Miles), bassoon (Sara Schoenbeck), cello (Peggy Lee), piano (Horvitz). Horvitz has been known to bury his piano in his compositions, or even to dispense with it completely, and he doesn't appear to lead here. More like walk along with the flow, such as it is -- with no drums or bass this doesn't move much. Nonetheless, the group's previous record, Way Out East surprised me with an Honorable Mention; this one doesn't make so strong a mark, but its modest, somber assurance is notable. B+(*)

Poolplayers: Way Below the Surface (2006 [2008], Songlines): Cooly conceived, barely stated, minimal without any of the repetition that makes minimalism. I filed this under Norwegian trumpet player Arve Henriksen because he's made a habit of such records -- he may be the least splashy trumpet player in jazz history. The other group members are Benoît Delbecq (piano, bass station), Lars Juul (drums, electronics), and Steve Argüelles (Usine, delays, Sherman filter -- don't know what any of those things are, but he's usually credited with drums/percussion). Don't know what to make of it all -- sort of a mood thing that charms within its limits. B+(*)

Laszlo Gardony: Dig Deep (2008, Sunnyside): Hungarian pianist, based in US since 1983, teaches at Berklee, has 8 or so albums. Piano trio, with John Lockwood on bass, Yoron Israel on drums. Loud, clear, mostly sharply rhythmic pieces, pretty much what a standard mainstream piano trio should be. B+(**)


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


Unpacking: Will postpone this section one more week, given that I still haven't caught up with what came in during the trip.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jazz Consumer Guide (16) Surplus

Each cycle I make an effort to cut back the list of records I've kept in my active file, realizing that there's no way I'm ever going to find space to work them all into the column. Most are just noted in the surplus file, referring back to my Jazz Prospecting notes. A few I feel like noting again in a blog post, a sort of consolation prize, often guilt at cutting down a record that I wish I had been able to give more time/space to. This cycle that list is shorter than usual, mostly because I've cut less than usual, and figure I won't have the time anytime soon to do more or polish up my comments. So see below.

Jazz Prospecting may (or may not) run a day late this week. I have enough to publish, but I haven't caught up like I had hoped. Not much can be done about that in a day, but Monday is a holiday, we have a guest who needs attention, and there are other pressing matters to attend to. Will try to get it out by the end of Monday; if not, Tuesday.


Joan Hickey: Between the Lines (2006, Origin): Chicago pianist, makes her living teaching, recording rarely. The plus and minus is that as an academic she has a firm grasp of the state of the postbop art but hasn't done anything all that unique with it. There are a lot of academics who now and then feather their résumés with a respectable recording. This one is a notch or two above that. B+(**)

Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Setting Standards: New York Sessions (1983 [2008], ECM, 3CD): The first three "Standards Trio" albums, repackaged as a box, a nice little souvenir with all the talent and concept the marquis promises, but not quite all the chemistry they developed over the next 25 years. Would have made sense as an HM alongside the superior Montreux album, but didn't make the space squeeze. B+(**)

Slavic Soul Party!: Technochek Collision (2007, Barbès): Gypsy brass from downtown jazzbos led by Matt Moran, who composes everything not credited to Toussaint or Trad., but not all that jazzy. Wrote this up in Recycled Goods, but figured it was good enough and close enough I could slip it into Jazz CG as a very high HM. But every time the space crunch hits, I find that it's expendable. Still worth mentioning here. A-

Friday, May 23, 2008

Browse Alert: Terror

Tom Engelhardt: Welcome to the Age of Homeland Insecurity. Starts with something about Tai Chi, then makes a point I've tried to argue for 5-6 years now:

Now, jump to September 11, 2001 and its aftermath -- and you know the Tai Chi version of history from there. Think of it as a grim cosmic joke -- that the 9/11 attacks, as apocalyptic as they looked, were anything but. The true disasters followed and the wounds were largely self-inflicted, as the most militarily powerful nation on the planet used its own force to disable itself.

Terrorism is an act of the desperate as much as the dastardly. The terrorist act itself settles nothing. What really matters is the reaction. Rarely the reaction is to cave in -- like Britain did in surrendering to the Stern Gang, or Reagan backing out of Lebanon after realizing that his provocations had backfired -- but in those cases the underlying power dynamics were already tilted against the targets. Slightly more often terrorism cracks open an existing fissure, but only if it provokes a harsh and unconscionable reaction -- the Boston Tea Party kicked off the American Revolution but only because the British cranked up the repression, outraging hitherto unconcerned colonists. Again, this works only where the latent political power favors the terrorists.

Al Qaeda had no such power base -- not at all in the US, and not really anywhere else, even in Afghanistan where the ruling Taliban was torn between their traditional courtesy of respect for guests and their dislike of Osama Bin Laden's mischief. But Al Qaeda hit the bullseye on 9/11, not only in terms of record numbers of people killed but more importantly in how they pushed George W Bush's button. Since then the US has done all the heavy lifting in its own bankrupt self-destruction. The rest of the piece documents that decline, with the emphasis on bankruptcy.

Al Qaeda is never going to triumph in even their small part of the world, no matter how poorly the US fares. They simply don't have the political appeal to mainstream Muslims, let alone anyone else, and the weaker the US becomes the more their one legitimate calling card fades away. Now the big problem is that Bush and his supporters have painted themselves into a corner by arguing that any US retreat will be seen as a victory for terrorism. The real answer is that both sides have lost, and sheer stubbornness keeps them losing more. Someone needs to come up with a politically palatable explanation for that -- my own is that no one wins at war, so it's always better to reduce conflict.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Strong Men With Simple Solutions

Thumbing through the mail pile. The May 26, 2008 issue of The Nation has a piece by Benjamin Lytal on Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun. I don't have time/interest to read through it, but I was struck by the big print teaser:

Hamsun liked Mussolini before he liked Hitler; he liked a strong man and a simple solution.

He wasn't alone on that, and he still isn't. It's almost instinctive that in times of stress people line up behind whichever would-be leader seems the strongest, most determined, most self-assured. Mussolini and Hitler exploited that instinct. So did Winston Churchill. So did George W. Bush. You can add more names to that list, mostly disasters. (I could write a book on why Churchill is no exception; even his prosecution of WWII should be viewed skeptically.)

Perhaps this instinct was useful back when humans were organized in small tribes, their threats limited to neighboring tribes and occasional wild animals. The instinct is certainly dysfunctional now, and not just because fearless leaders like Bush are little more than fakes. Threats nowadays have become as complex as our lives, requiring a very different set of skills. Sooner or later we'll adjust our instincts, but later seems more likely, and too late is a distinct possibility -- even with such clear examples as Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill, and Bush to learn from.

Jazz CG (16) Cleanup

These are the notes from the "print" file for records that appeared in Jazz CG (16):

  1. Eric Alexander: Temple of Olympic Zeus (2007, High Note): A mainstream tenor saxophonist with a strong, clear tone, plenty of chops, the whole kit. I've liked most of what I've heard from him before, but this runs straight into one of my pet peeves. There must be a technical explanation for this: what happens is that when two horns -- tenor sax and trumpet or, more often here, flugelhorn -- lock onto each other they create these harmonics that sound really polluted to me. This happens a lot in postbop contexts -- seems to be something taught in jazz school nowadays -- but this yokes the horns to old-fashioned bebop, which used to know better. Still, that only explains the four of eight cuts Jim Rotondi joins in on. Alexander sounds much cleaner on his own, but he's still stuck in the same damn rollercoaster ride. A dud. C+ [later: B-]
  2. Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Holon (2007 [2008], 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. A-
  3. Jimmy Blythe: Messin' Around Blues (1920s [2007], Delmark): Born 1901 in Kentucky, moved to Chicago in 1916, died 1931, played piano, best known for his classic jazz sessions with clarinetist Johnny Dodds. These solo recordings are taken from piano rolls -- they're described as "enhanced," but the only detail given is that the tempos have generally been slowed down -- elegant and robustly rhythmic rather than hot frenzy. Don't have dates, but mid-1920s are probable. B+(***)
  4. Anthony Braxton: Solo Willisau (2003 [2007], Intakt): For Alto redux, 35 years to the wiser, no longer shocking, but still a contrarian puzzle. For one thing, I don't understand why he still insists on fishing sounds out of the horn that neither God nor Adolph Sax ever imagined. Most folks play alto for its smooth control at whiplash speeds, and Braxton has shown that he's second to none in that regard -- compare his Charlie Parker record to the relatively lead-footed originals. But at times he huffs and puffs here like he's playing bagpipes (which he has done, and I swear they're even uglier than For Alto). So I don't get it, but I'm way past minding. He's one of the geniuses of our age. B+(**)
  5. Ila Cantor: Mother Nebula (2006 [2007], Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitar-sax-bass-drums, same lineup as Jostein Gulbrandsen's record on the same label, but different players, and that makes all the difference. Cantor's guitar is rockish, funky, and the bass-drums (Tom Warburton, Joe Smith) follow suit. Tenor saxophonist Frederik Carlquist, on the other hand, lacks Jon Irabagon's avant edge nor does he try to honk his way through. Rather, he plays the straight man in the group: soft-toned, articulate, logical. I like him quite a lot. Never did track down Cantor's group, the Lascivious Biddies. B+(***)
  6. Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions (1972-75 [2007], Columbia/Legacy, 6CD): The eighth, and reportedly last, of Legacy's deluxe metal-spine multi-CD box sets, which have attempted to reframe the Davis catalog in its broader studio context. While some of the earlier boxes did little more than repackag well known material, the later sets undid Teo Macero's edits, returning to the original session tracks. That hasn't always been a plus: the Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson session boxes largely vindicated the edits. But here it is a plus. On the Corner was rudely dismissed by virtually all jazz critics at the time, even those who bought into the earlier fusion albums. Indeed, by Ornette Coleman's rule-of-thumb it wasn't a jazz album at all -- Coleman argued that in rock the band plays with the drummer, while in jazz the drummer plays with the band. But rewrite that rule to make funk bassist Michael Henderson the focal point, with the drums (including congas and tabla) just the first layer of elaboration. Davis by the early 1970s was a pop star as well as a jazz legend, which led him to conceive of his evolution in terms of James Brown and Sly Stone, but unlike his fusion followers, he had no intention of watering anything down. He spent this period working with British avant-gardist Paul Buckmaster, listening to Karlheinz Stockhausen, neither offering any pop potential. What Davis learned here was to be comfortable with repetition, a very unjazzlike attitude. He let the bass line stretch out endlessly, opening up space that he could pierce at will with his trumpet. Over three years, he took various groups into the studio 16 times, releasing the edited down On the Corner and two more bundles of scraps, Big Fun and Get Up With It. The edited albums never quite let the music breathe, which turns out to be key. Until now the period was best represented by live albums, and Dark Magus is still the one to turn to first -- no doubt because audience rekindled the jazz legend's love of improvisation. But this history fleshes out the story. Those waiting for Davis to stumble will have to look further. A-
  7. Kurt Elling: Nightmoves (2007, Concord): Live in Chicago led the Penguin Guide to exult: "what an electrifying performer Elling is!" They went on to dub Man in the Air "the jazz vocal album of the last decade." He seems to be the consensus male jazz vocalist pick. I don't think he has a lot of competition, but I've never heard anything from him that caught my ear. He does some vocalese, awkwardly forcing his voice through word mazes, with little vocal reach. The small groups here are too intimate to give him much cover. Fussy, arty, deadly dull, except for Randy Bachman's "Undun," which has a genuine pop hook and swings a little. I don't know his records well enough to know how this compares, but something is amiss. C+
  8. Alvin Fielder Trio: A Measure of Vision (2005-06 [2007], Clean Feed): Fielder's a 70-year-old drummer, originally from Mississippi with stops in New Olreans and Chicago on his way to nowhere in particular. His discography is pretty much limited to work with Joel Futterman, Kidd Jordan, and/or Dennis González, veteran avant-gardists who have worked in obscurity far afield from the usual power centers. Here he referees for González and pianist Mike Parker, the former affecting a smoky, dingy tone, the latter sharp and percussive. Three cuts are joined by González sons, with Stefan's vibes an abstract treat. B+(***)
  9. Jostein Gulbrandsen: Twelve (2006 [2007], Fresh Sound New Talent): I doubt that I would have noticed the leader's guitar had I not first fallen for Jon Irabagon's tenor saxophone. Irabagon plays in Moppa Elliot's "terrorist bebop band" Mostly Other People Do the Killing, where he has plenty of competition on trumpet. Here he has the field to himself, playing high octane avant-skewed runs that I find utterly captivating. Also a bit of clarinet, much lower keyed. The guitarist adds some licks to the high-speed stuff, but emerges more when the sax quiets down. A-
  10. Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux (2001 [2007], ECM, 2CD): The dozens of albums Jarrett's "standards trio" have released since 1983 blur together, but here two Fats Waller pieces jump out, lightening the load and brightening the day. Jarrett is every bit as adept with "Four" and "Straight, No Chaser" and the inevitable ballad, and DeJohnette shows you why Jarrett has stuck in his trio rut all these years: who else would you rather play with? A-
  11. George Lewis: Sequel (For Lester Bowie) (2004 [2006], Intakt): The most common instrument here is "laptop," followed by "electronics," with an assist from DJ Mutamassik's turntables. It's hard to listen to this sort of thing without thinking back to George Russell's electronic sonatas, in part because the random drift they share leaves one's mind plenty of time to wander. Lewis is a trombonist and I'd love to hear him play some -- it's the best part of this album, although the percussive later parts of the 33:46 title piece are marvelous. This doesn't strike me as any closer to Bowie than Homage to Charles Parker was to Bird -- in particular, it lacks the trumpeter's exuberance and folly. On the other hand, if you can give it the attention it doesn't demand, like Russell at his most abstract this offers some remarkable collages of sound. B+(***)
  12. Rafi Malkiel: My Island (2006 [2007], Raftone): Latin jazz, with all the bells and maracas and a few old fashioned vocals, the songs broken down by style and country, ranging from Brazil to New Orleans, with Cuba predominant. The leader is an Israeli trombonist, and occasionally a klezmer vibe slips in. His island is Manhattan. A-
  13. Mi3: Free Advice (2004 [2007], Clean Feed): Boston group, consisting of pianist Pandelis Karayorgis and two-thirds of Ken Vandermark's Boston trio, bassist Nate McBride and drummer Curt Newton. Karayorgis' website lists 18 records going back to 1989, and I'm way behind the learning curve on them. MI3 was formed to play in Boston's Abbey Lounge, a bar usually featuring rock bands. On their previous album (We Will Make a Home for You) Karayorgis played Fender Rhodes and featured pieces by Monk and Dolphy, while McBride recycled his Spaceways Inc. funk grooves. This is more conventionally an avant-garde piano trio, with acoustic piano and bass, more originals, but also pieces from Sun Ra and Ellington -- the latter filtered through Steve Lacy. The result is one of the more satisfying piano trios I've heard lately, a mix of strong rhythms and surprising offsets. A
  14. Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble: Black Unstoppable (2007, Delmark): Young flutist, based in Chicago, has mostly avant-garde connections, but has all the marks of stardom, at least at the sort of level Regina Carter enjoys. Won Downbeat's Rising Star category three straight years -- admittedly not a lot of competition, but it hasn't been close either -- and likely to bump James Moody from the top spot in a year or two. Not just involved in AACM, she's co-president. I've noticed her on various projects, including a live trio that made my HM list, but missed her main vehicle, the boisterous Black Earth Ensemble, which has three previous albums. She wrote and arranged everything on the new one. I find it maddening, with stretches of marvelous music -- e.g., Jeff Parker's guitar, a funk vamp topped by David Boykin's honking -- and bits I can't stand, starting with the gospel vocals. Played it twice, and haven't tried to diagram the ups and downs, which I suppose I should if I decide to make this my featured dud. Flute's not an instrument I much care for, but it's not the problem here. No jazz flutist has done more since Robert Dick came on the scene. (Also available on DVD, which I have but haven't watched.) B-
  15. Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Shamokin!!! (2006 [2007], Hot Cup): Quartet led by bassist Moppa Elliott, originally from Scranton PA, now in New York. Elliott wrote all of the pieces except "A Night in Tunisia," the closer they hack up into extended solos -- blurb calls it a "twenty-one minute jazz orgy [including] references to the majority of recorded sound of the last century." Most of the noise comes from the two horns: Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto sax. This strikes me as "free bop" -- more tethered to the jazz tradition than similarly configured avant groups, but unruly, eager to break loose, clash, get down and dirty. Might have cracked my Top Ten list had I gotten to it earlier. A
  16. Nanette Natal: I Must Be Dreaming (2005-07 [2007], 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." B+(***)
  17. William Parker/Raining on the Moon: Corn Meal Dance (2007, AUM Fidelity): Another group named for a previous album, which was in turn built on his O'Neal's Porch quartet -- Rob Brown on alto sax, Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Hamid Drake on drums -- plus vocalist Leena Conquest for a couple of songs. This one adds pianist Eri Yamamoto and feeds Conquest a full plate of lyrics. The piano holds the group together, giving it a unifying swing that Parker didn't want with the quartet, but which buoys up the singer, while trimming back the horns. Still, if this was an instrumental album, it would be faultless, a tour de force that could sail right down the mainstream admired by everyone. The caveats concern the singer, who strikes me as too gospelly, and the lyrics, which tend toward the didactic. Still, those concerns may pass. If Parker wants to assert that "God made the land," at least he's not conned by owner "Mister Johnson." And while the prayer that opens the second song seems too crude -- "I am your brother please don't cut my throat" -- the title "Tutsi Orphans" reminds us that such is too often the case. A-
  18. Nicki Parrott and Rossano Sportiello: People Will Say We're in Love (2006 [2007], Arbors): I'm tempted to make this a Pick Hit just for the cover, with the gawky, awkward, besmitten pianist hovering behind the lithe, discreetly charming bassist/singer. He is actually an elegant accompanist, with light touch and considerable speed to build upon the bass melodies. He even joins in on singing one -- terrible voice, of course. She has a delightful voice -- not something you'd put on a pedestal -- but she's also content to just play bass more often than not. Standards mostly. Charming record. B+(**)
  19. Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. 1: The Complete Abashiri Concert (1981 [2007], Widow's Taste, 2CD): The alto sax great had as many comeback as he had stretches in prison, with 1956, 1960, and 1975 watershed years. The last comeback proved to be his greatest, with a steady torrent of recordings until his death in 1982 -- The Complete Galaxy Recordings, at 16 CDs, never wears out or runs down. No one was more successful at digesting Parker and Coltrane and still coming up with his own unique -- an accomplishment equal in craft and eloquence to what Benny Carter did with a previous generation of saxophonists. But while Pepper's early work could be seen as West Coast cool jazz, his post-1975 period was marked by raw emotion, a trait that became ever more pronounced. This is especially clear in the live material that occasionally appears. I'm not sure that widow Laurie Pepper's releases haven't appeared before: this one lines up with Live in Far North Japan (TDK), but offers more music. The only surprise here is how raw and frenzied the early cuts are. His "Besame Mucho" is much rougher than the one on Art Pepper With Duke Jordan in Copenhagen 1981 from earlier in the year, but remains one of life's great pleasures. Another highlight is "Body and Soul": Pepper's verdict -- "That was one of the nicest things that I think I've played in my life" isn't hyperbole. A-
  20. Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. II: The Last Concert (1982 [2007], Widow's Taste): Recorded at the Kool Jazz Festival in Washington DC on May 30, less than three weeks before Pepper died on June 15, this was a typical Pepper set: a fast one, a tricky one, something with a Latin bounce, a gorgeous standard, a feature for his clarinet, some talk along the way. He sounds fine all the way through, especially on the clarinet piece, a swinging "When You're Smiling" that he dedicated to Zoot Sims. The latter includes a flashy, almost over-the-top piano solo from Roger Kellaway, filling in for Pepper's usual pianist, George Cables. A marvelous closing act. A-
  21. Alvin Queen: I Ain't Looking at You (2006 [2007], Enja/Justin Time): Drummer, from Queens, has a couple of albums on his own, as well as side credits, going back to the '70s, including: Charles Tolliver, Lockjaw Davis, Horace Parlan, John Patton, George Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Drew, Bennie Wallace, Dusko Goykovich, Warren Vaché. Going back to the '60s, as a teenager he played in a Wild Bill Davis Trio, spent six months with Don Pullen backing Ruth Brown, joined Horace Silver's band, then by the time he was 21 moved on to George Benson. I list all this not just to establish Queen's bona fides but because he manages to pull them all together here. Mike LeDonne's organ identifies this as soul jazz, underscored by opening with a Shirley Scott piece, reflected later in a LeDonne original called "Shirley's Song." The B3 usually covers for piano and bass, so most organ records are trios, with drums and either guitar or a horn. This does both, with Peter Bernstein on guitar, Jesse Davis on alto sax, and for good measure Terrell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn. Soul jazz may seem like old news -- only two originals here, both by LeDonne, both pointed straight into the past -- but it's rarely been done with so much flair. A-
  22. Enrico Rava: The Words and the Days (2005 [2007], ECM): Chamber jazz, in a quintet where the leader's eloquent trumpet is amplified by Gianluca Petrella's trombone. I wonder sometimes if Rava hasn't grown too subtle -- he's recorded a lot recently, fine albums with little to recommend one album over any other, but this is better than par, just a bit hard to nail down. B+(***)
  23. Enrico Rava/Stefano Bollani: The Third Man (2006 [2008], 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. B
  24. Wallace Roney: Jazz (2007, High Note): If jazz were a popular music, this would be a hit record. The brothers, including the invaluable Antoine on saxes and bass clarinet, offer the same mix of bold moves and accessibility that the Adderleys offered back when real jazz still had the public's ear, Geri Allen's piano insinuates a subtle edge (alternatively, Robert Irving III's Fender Rhodes fattens the funk), while turntablists DJ Axum and Val Jeanty contribute something fashionably novel. On the other hand, with jazz so thoroughly consigned to margins, one wonders why work so hard to make it easy, especially when they can't heat "Stand" up much past tepid. B+(**)
  25. Louis Sclavis: L'Imparfait des Langues (2005 [2007], ECM): I can't find a thread that ties this record together. Working with a familiar drummer and three upstarts -- Marc Baron on alto sax, Paul Brousseau on keyboards, Maxime Delpierre on guitar -- it's as if the veteran clarinetist's just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. It pretty much all does: electronic drones, free sax riffing, rocksteady beats, airy meditations, noisy fusion -- the sounds of tradition passing down, and blowing back. A-
  26. Horace Silver: Live at Newport '58 (1958 [2008], 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. A-
  27. Joan Stiles: Hurly-Burly (2005 [2007], Oo-Bla-Dee): She sings two songs credibly enough, but her main interest is piano jazz, which she organizes as a pyramid: Mary Lou Williams is her special interest; Ellington and Monk her guiding lights; Fats Waller, Ray Charles, and Jimmy Rowles are tapped for further examples. She writes things like "The Brilliant Corners of Thelonious' Jumpin' Jeep" to stitch it all together, but what moves this beyond concept is the dream band she commands in units from duo to sextet: Jeremy Pelt, Steve Wilson, Joel Frahm, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash. A-
  28. Joe Temperley/Harry Allen: Cocktails for Two (2006 [2007], Sackville): Baritone saxophonist Temperley earns top billing on this sunny set of standards, recorded at Sunnie Sutton's in Denver with a notable band -- John Bunch on piano, Greg Cohen on bass, Jake Hanna on drums. Temperely sets the leisurely pace, and his husky tone leads. Allen's tenor sax fills in and sweetens the mix. He's always been one who shows respect for his elders. B+(***)
  29. McCoy Tyner: Quartet (2006 [2007], McCoy Tyner Music/Half Note): The Coltrane Quartet pianist's first investment in his own label is both low budget and surefire: a live album with a new quartet that rivals the old one but fits a little more comfortably around his own substantial songbook. Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano rises to the occasion, but Tyner can still muscle in to make a point. A-

And these are the notes from the "flush" file:

  1. Steve Allee Trio: Colors (2006 [2007], Owl Studios): Piano trio, with Bill Moring on bass, Tim Horner on drums. Allee hails from Indianapolis. Played with Buddy Rich when he [Allee] was 19. Fifth album since 1995. Sharp, solid mainstream record, not much more to say about it. B+(**)
  2. Karrin Allyson: Imagina: Songs of Brasil (2007 [2008], Concord Jazz): Singer, from Great Bend, pretty close to the dead center of Kansas, although we think of it as out west. Ten or so albums since 1992, starting with cabaret material and moving around a bit, including a couple of previous forays into Brazil. Plays some piano too, but Gil Goldstein is also credited here (also on accordion), and I don't have the breakdown. Most songs start off in Portuguese, then slip into English. I don't find either all that convincing, although it settles into a bit of a groove. B-
  3. The Jimmy Amadie Trio: The Philadelphia Story: The Gospel as We Know It (2006-07 [2007], TP): A veteran pianist, Philadelphia's favorite, or so I hear. Not actually a trio record: special guests Benny Golson, Randy Brecker, and/or Lew Tabackin play on virtually every track. Amadie is a throwback to the '50s, with his trio swinging hard throughout, the horns delightful. Nothing here not to like. B+(**)
  4. Patrick Arena: Arenamusic (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." C+
  5. 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. B+(**)
  6. Derek Bailey: Standards (2002 [2007], Tzadik): Don't have a recording date, but reports are that this set was recorded two months before the widely acclaimed 2002 album Ballads. Bailey was an avant-garde guitarist -- perhaps I should say the avant-garde guitarist, at least on the British scene. The has a vast catalog, of which I've heard next to nothing (4 albums), and have no particular insight to. Not sure whether he's mannered or just obscure, or whether I'm just confused. This is acoustic guitar, solo. The seven songs are credited to Bailey. They may or may not code references to real standards -- "Please Send Me Sweet Chariot" seems like a promising title. No idea what it means. But there is something semi-hypnotic about his approximately random attack. It must means something that I wouldn't mind hearing it some more. B+(*)
  7. Cyro Baptista: Banquet of the Spirits (2008, Tzadik): Brazilian percussionist, in US since 1980, with several previous albums on Tzadik and a lot of side credits. Starts out in disjointed Brazilian psychedelic mode, with Baptista singing over his disjointed beats, a style I've rarely if ever managed to follow. Later on several pieces pick up a Middle Eastern vibe, thanks to Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, playing oud, bass, and gimbri, and they're easier to handle. Probably some good ideas here, but too much weirdness for me to handle on short order. B-
  8. Chris Barber: Can't Stop Now (European Tour 2007) (2007, MVD Audio): The cover is misleading in several respects: only one cut was recorded in 2007 (although it's given two dates and locations); all but two of the rest were recorded in the UK in February and November 2006, which isn't exactly what you'd expect from a European Tour; the two loose ends date from 1988 or 1986 (one is listed both ways); Andy Fairweather Low is pictured as "special guest," but he's only appears on three songs (more/less those named on the cover, with "Worried Man Blues" advertised as "It Takes a Worried Man," and a medley with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" reduced to "Lay My Burden Down." Barber sings two others, including "Can't Stop Now," which I originally took as Low making a joke of his foundered rock and roll career. Still, this confusion has remarkably little effect on the music. Low's "Worried Man Blues" triangulates perfectly with Barber's skiffle sideline, picking up where Lonnie Donegan left off. And Barber's trad jazz is timeless: he's done it for 53 years, so slipping a couple decades is hardly noticeable. B+(**)
  9. 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. B+(**)
  10. Sam Barsh: I Forgot What You Taught Me (2008, RazDaz/Sunnyside): Plays electric keyboards more than piano. Based in New York since 2001. Plays in bassist Avishai Cohen's groups. This first album is a quartet with vibes (Tim Collins), bass and drums. Mostly groove pieces, the keyboards plasticky but not quite cheesy. Plays some melodica too, which fits. B+(*)
  11. Al Basile: The Tinge (2007 [2008], 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, sensible record. B+(**)
  12. Marco Benevento: Invisible Baby (2007 [2008], Hyena): Piano, electronics, keyboards, in trio with bass (Reed Mathis) and drums (Matt Chamberlain and/or Andrew Barr). I suppose you could call this instrumental music "nu rock" (in reference to "nu soul" but I don't mean it so badly) -- there's another term that escapes me. I find the swelling riffs particularly annoying, but don't mind when he takes time out to play with his toys, and find one heavy groove cut choice: "The Real Morning Party." B
  13. Paul Bollenback: Invocation (2007, Elefant Dreams): Clear, ringing tone on guitar, nicely defined, graceful, usually makes sense. Turning it into an album is an open proposition. A guest like Randy Brecker helps. On the other hand, I find Chris McNulty's scat distracting, not to mention annoying. B
  14. Frederic Borey Group: Maria (2005 [2007], 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. B+(*)
  15. Richard Boulger: Blues Twilight (2005-06 [2008], 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. B
  16. 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. B+(**)
  17. Melody Breyer-Grell: Fascinatin' 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+(*)
  18. Dee Dee Bridgewater: Red Earth (2006 [2007], Emarcy): Didn't get this from Verve, which like other units of Universal has suffered the cutbacks in employees and interns with diminished service. Enough other jazz critics did get it to tie up Abbey Lincoln's much adored albums in the Voice jazz poll. I'm way short on details here, but the subtitle is "A Malian Journey," and Malian musicians are prominent -- including a number of co-writing credits and vocals. This works to remarkable effect on "Bad Spirits," where a Malian singer sings in some Malian language with Bridgewater picking up the refrain in English. But other collaborations don't mesh so well, making me wonder whether this works either as jazz or Malian pop. Bridgewater is on more secure ground with the covers: the opening "Afro Blue," the closing "Compared to What," and declaiming Nina Simone's "Four Women" asserting the slave connection which mostly missed Mali. Hard to predict whether I'd go up or down with more exposure. Among Mali tourists, she's more imposing than Ry Cooder and more ambitious than Hank Jones or Roswell Rudd, but not as clever as Damon Albarn, who got the best album out of the deal. B+(*)
  19. Bob Brozman: Post-Industrial Blues (2007 [2008], Ruf): Guitar collector, particularly fond of National Resonator guitars, with half a dozen models featured here, as well as lap steel, 7-string banjo, dobro, a resophonic ukulele, and a closet full of exotic instruments (sanshin, chaturangui, gandharvi, etc.) that mostly turn out to be disguised guitars. Studied ethnomusicology at Washington University in St. Louis, probably about the same time I was there. Has a dozen-plus albums, half or more blues-themed (like this one), the other half more worldly, ethnomusicologically speaking. The blues are straightforward, although the guitar is a little bent. Two more/less non-originals, the Doors' "People Are Strange" and Nat Cole's "Frim Fram Sauce," renamed "Shafafa." B+(**)
  20. Bill Bruford/Michiel Borstlap: In Two Minds (2006-07 [2008], Summerfold): Borstlap plays piano and electronic keyboards; Bruford drums, of course, with a credit for "log drum" which comes as a nice touch. At one point they get an Asian effect that I can't quite place. Mostly intimate conversation. They've done this duo before on Every Step a Dance, Every Word a Song -- another good record. B+(*)
  21. Katie Bull: The Story, So Far (2006 [2007], Corn Hill 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. B
  22. Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet: The Middle Picture (2005-06 [2007], Firehouse 12): Plays cornet. Student of Anthony Braxton; seems to have a continuing relationship. First and last cuts are trio with guitar (Mary Halvorson) and drums (Tomas Fujiwara). The rest add a second guitar (Evan O'Reilly), Jessica Pavone (viola, electric bass), and Matt Bauder (tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet). Very fractured, discontinuous music. The two covers ("In a Silent Way" and "Bluebird of Delhi") are useful for gauging the deconstruction -- the latter, from Ellington's The Far East Suite, is especially striking. The originals are difficult abstractions, intriguing but hard to get a handle on. The sort of thing I'd save for some extra plays if that were practical. B+(**)
  23. Hadley Caliman: Gratitude (2007 [2008], Origin): Tenor saxophonist, started in Los Angeles in the 1950s -- website says he's 77, booklet says 76, AMG says born 1932. Had an eponymous record in 1971, a couple more over the years, but this is the first one in a good while. Recorded in Seattle. Quintet: Thomas Marriott (trumpet), Joe Locke (vibes), Phil Sparks (bass), Joe La Barbera (drums). The vibes are a nice touch, lightening and sharpening a fairly conventional west coast bop group. B+(**)
  24. John Chin: Blackout Conception (2005 [2007], Fresh Sound New Talent): Three trio cuts let postbop pianist Chin stretch out and show you what he's got up his sleeve. The other four cuts add tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, who predictably steals the show. Good showcase, but slightly uneven as an album. B+(**)
  25. Charmaine Clamor: Flippin' Out (2007, FreeHam): Filipino singer, recasts "My Funny Valentine" as "My Funny Brown Pinay" and enlists the Pakaragulan Kulintang Ensemble for her 5-part "Filipino Suite," which doesn't push the exotica all that hard. Her torch ballad "Be My Love" drags a bit, but she shows a sweet tooth with some R&B grit on "Sugar in My Bowl" and "Candy." B+(*)
  26. 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. B+(**)
  27. Vidal Colmenares: . . . Otro Llano (2006 [2007], Cacao Musica): English trot in the booklet starts: "During the late 80's, analists and experts in marketing processes developed a gradual list, by category or importance order, called the scale of audience intensity." I've seen worse mechanical translations, but few so inadvertently and perversely coherent. It's hard to piece together much real information from the booklet, let alone from secondary sources. Wikipedia describes Colmenares' home town, Barinas, Venezuela, thus: "Barina's is a bit grubby, similar to a rubbish tip. Hot chicks, but they all have the child running behind them." Oh well. Colmenares was born there in 1952, has a gray moustache and a nice smile. Presumably he sings and plays cuatro (a four-string guitar common in Venezuela) -- credits don't say what he does, but the lead vocals are consistent, a slightly pinched sound reminiscent of Speedy Gonzales caricature, but more pliable. The llanos are the highlands straddling Venezuela and Colombia. The booklet includes pictures of cows and Colmenares on horseback, suggesting this is the real c&w of the llanos. Sounds about right. B+(***)
  28. Marc Copland: New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 1: Modinha (2006, Pirouet): Got this for background after listening to Vol. 2. Gary Peacock plays bass on both, but the drummers change: Bill Stewart here, Paul Motian there. One thing I always remember about Stewart is how he completely slam dunk aced a blindfold test a few years back (in Jazz Times, I think). That almost never happens: not only did he recognize everyone, he provided a lot of detail on why. Clearly, he knows his trade and its lore. Compared to Motian, however, he's very straightforward, which makes him hardly a factor in these fine piano trio recordings. Three covers here provide some melodic highlights -- especially lovely is the closer, "Taking a Chance on Love." B+(**)
  29. Dave Corp: The Sweet Life (2007, Sluggo Music): Band name: the musicians are Dave Archer (keyboards), Mr. Grin (bass), Matt Hankle (drums). Archer wrote the songs and produced, so figure him as leader. Fusion record, on the loud side. Not sure what the favored keyboard is, but it's played like an organ, just short on funk and soul, long on arena theatrics. B-
  30. Buddy DeFranco: Charlie Cat 2 (2006 [2007], Arbors): This reminds me of what Louis Armstrong used to call "the good ole good uns," even though DeFranco remains for all intents and purposes a bebopper -- "Anthropology" closes this out in a rush. But his chosen instrument is clarinet, which tends to refer back to the swing era, especially when he's lined up with the usual Arbors crew, including Howard Alden and/or Joe Cohn on guitar, Derek Smith on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, and Ed Metz Jr. on drums. B+(**)
  31. Delirium Blues Project: Serve or Suffer (2007 [2008], Half Note): I suppose "What Is Hip" is intended to be delirious. It is the least blue of these nine songs, with Lil Green's "In the Dark" the most archetypal, "Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirits Down" the most ordinary, and pieces by Tracy Nelson, Joni Mitchell, and Mose Allison not much one way or another. Kenny Werner is the leader, arranging the songs and playing keyboards. Never thought of him as a blues guy -- Copenhagen Calypso is one of his more memorable titles. Roseanna Vitro sings. I liked her Ray Charles record quite a lot, but these songs rarely fit. The band has some all-stars, and they deliver a couple of scorching solos -- Ray Anderson on trombone and James Carter on tenor sax are standouts, and Randy Brecker has some moments on trumpet. Recorded live at the Blue Note. B
  32. Bill Dixon With Exploding Star Orchestra (2007 [2008], Thrill Jockey): Dixon is a logical fit for Rob Mazurek's supernova big band -- an esteemed avant-gardist, a rarely heard trumpet, normally the sharpest instrument in the band (although Mazurek's cornet provides some competition). He composed two long pieces; Mazurek dedicates the third to him. Still, Dixon tends to get lost in the mix. Similar to last year's mixed bag, but a bit more climactic. B+(**)
  33. Greg Duncan Quintet: Unveiled (2006 [2007], OA2): Trumpet player, based in Chicago. Attended Washington State, then University of North Texas, and did a tour with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Quintet pairs him with Dan Nicholson on tenor and alto sax, in front of Marcin Fahmy (piano), Jeff Green (bass), and Jon Deitemeyer (drums). Hard bop lineup, but he's moved into postbop, with bright, aggressive displays from the horns, tricky harmonic manoeuvres, shifty time, lush piano. Mostly originals, keying off pieces by Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, ending with "My Foolish Heart." Pretty impressive first album. B+(**)
  34. Duke Ellington Legacy: Thank You Uncle Edward (2007 [2008], Renma): Nine-member group, eight instruments plus vocalist Nancy Reed, at least for this record -- website shows two other lineups, the common denominators being leader-saxophonist Virginia Mayhew, trumpeter Mark McGowan, pianist Norman Simmons, drummer Paul Wells, and namesake guitarist Edward Ellington II, Mercer's son, Duke's grandson. Two guests here are Joe Temperley on bass clarinet/baritone sax and Wycliffe Gordon on trombone. (If you're counting, that leaves bassist Tom DiCarlo.) Ellington songs (one from Mercer, the rest from Duke) aside from the well disguised "Toe Tickler" by Mayhew. Five vocals, mostly unexpected -- e.g., Jon Hendricks vocalese on "Cottontail." The arrangements are big and bold, and the band swings hard. Didn't much notice the guitar. B+(**)
  35. John Ellis & Double Wide: Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (2007 [2008], Hyena): Saxophonist, mostly tenor (also soprano and bass clarinet here), originally from rural North Carolina, now in New York, with an identity-forming stop in New Orleans along the way. Fifth album: one in 1996; another on FSNT in 2002; three now on Hyena, where he's been going for a soul-funk vibe, which he mixes up a little more than usual this time. This is a quartet, with Gary Versace on organ and accordion, Matt Perrine on sousaphone (a marching band tuba filling in for bass), and Jason Marsalis on drums. He's got a distinctive tone on tenor sax, which the deep brass only adds to. B+(**)
  36. Lisle Ellis: Sucker Punch Requiem: An Homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat (2005 [2008], Henceforth): Ellis is a bassist, also interested in electronics. Originally from Canada. Three previous albums, plus three more as part of What We Live, plus scattered credits, mostly avant-garde. I can't tell you what if anything this has to do with Basquiat, a painter and drug casualty evidently quite fond of jazz, except that Ellis pulled "sucker punch" out of a bit of Basquiat graffiti. Group here strikes me as an odd bunch. Pamela Z's electronically filtered vocals add an air of high church to the requiem, and I suppose Holly Hofmann's flute could signify angels. Mike Wofford is a first-rate pianist who works a lot with Hofmann. Susie Ibarra is an interesting percussionist formerly associated with David S. Ware and Assif Tsahar. They work hard to hold this together, but George Lewis is pretty inscrutable on trombone. On the other hand, the one thing you really do notice here is the sax, unmistakably the work of Oliver Lake. B+(*)
  37. Peter Erskine/Tim Hagans & the Norrbotten Big Band: Worth the Wait (2006 [2007], Fuzzy Music): The Norrbotten Big Band is based in Sweden, ready on call to back up guest stars for impromptu radio concerts. (Don't know how common this sort of group is, but the only other one I run into as often is WDR Big Band Köln.) I have no idea how many records they've appeared on. In a little digging I dug up recent titles with artists I've never heard of -- Jonas Kulhammar (Snake City North, on Moserobie) and Lennart Åberg (Up North, on Caprice) -- as well as a Randy Brecker thing I scored as a dud and a previous meeting with Hagans that actually got filed under the band's name. My impression is that they're a sharp outfit, ready and willing to follow anyone down any hole. Erskine is best known as a fusion drummer (Weather Report) and Hagans as a hard bop trumpeter, but they both started out in Stan Kenton's big band, with Erskine moving on to Maynard Ferguson and Hagans moving to Europe to work with Thad Jones and Ernie Wilkins and returning frequently to the format, especially with Bob Belden. Four Erskine originals, two each arranged by Hagans and Bill Dobbins, plus three pieces by Hagans. Clean, crisp work; a lot of horn power but not overdone, with more than the usual space for drum solos. B+(*)
  38. 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. B+(***)
  39. Exploding Star Orchestra: We Are All From Somewhere Else (2006 [2007], Thrill Jockey): Rob Mazurek's Chicago-based big band for all intents and purposes is the new Sun Ra Arkestra. They make for an unworldly space jazz, but where Ra could tap into his roots and swing, the group here relates more to prog rock and whatever experimental rock came on down the road -- e.g., the label's main act is Tortoise. Magnificent in parts, scattered elsewhere. B+(*)
  40. Kali Z Fasteau/Kidd Jordan: Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival: Finland (2007 [2008], Flying Note): Credit can/should also include drummer Newman Taylor Baker, whose name is on the front cover in smaller print on the cover but not on the spine. Jordan is a veteran from New Orleans who plays raw avant tenor sax, a throwback to the 1960s when ugliness was creed. Fasteau plays all sorts of things, taking nine songs on nine different instruments: mizmar, piano, nai flute, cello, synthesizer, voice, violin, drums, soprano sax. She offers a wide range of contrasts to Jordan's constant. Gets loud, weird, sometimes mesmerizing. Audience has fun. B+(*)
  41. Bobby Few: Lights and Shadows (2004 [2007], 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. B+(*)
  42. Irving Fields Meets Roberto Rodriguez: Oy Vey!!! . . . Olé!!! (2006, Tzadik): An earlier meeting, this time Fields' piano fits nicely into Rodriguez's rhythmic framework, with the instrumentation filled out by Gilad Harel on clarinet, Uri Sharlin on accordion and organ, and Meg Okura on violin -- also some vocal early on, but thankfully that didn't stick. The principals alternate songs, including Fields oldies like "Miami Beach Rhumba," "Managua Nicaragua," and "Song of Manila." Not sure how good it all is, but the shtick is pretty irresistible. B+(***)
  43. Irving Fields Trio: My Yiddishe Mama's Favorites (2007, Tzadik): A pianist, b. 1915, still playing at 92. In his heyday he was what we'd now call a "lounge pianist," best known for his 1959 novelty record, Bagels and Bongos, which was a remarkably successful recasting of Jewish songs like "Hava Nagila" with Cuban percussion. He returned to the bongos thing many times, recording not only More Bagels and Bongos but also Pizzas and Bongos, Bikinis and Bongos, and Champagne and Bongos. It seems inevitable that he would be rediscovered by Cuban percussionist Roberto Rodriguez, who elevated Jewish-Cuban fusion to a whole new level, and that they would record as part of John Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture series. This is a much tamer, more respectful album: the songs are older, the piano dominates, the percussion is subdued and sometimes incidental. But they do reprise "Hava Nagila," and that picks up the pace. Greg Cohen plays bass. B+(**)
  44. Fleurine: San Francisco (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Singer, originally from Netherlands, now based in New York. Three previous albums, including a duo with pianist Brad Mehldau, who appears on three cuts here. Toured Cuba with Roy Hargrove in 1996. Brazilian music here, Chico Buarque conspicuous among the composers, the lyrics (some of which she added) split between Portuguese and English. Nice, light, authentic feel from the percussion (Gilad) and guitar (Freddie Bryant and Chico Pinheiro). Chris Potter adds to one song each on alto flute, bass clarinet, and tenor sax. No idea where the title comes from: hopefully not a nod to the Bay Area's abysmal Brazilian scene, which is way beneath her. B+(*)
  45. The David Finck Quartet: Future Day (2007 [2008], 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 good sign. B
  46. 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. B+(*)
  47. Elli Fordyce with Jim Malloy: Something Still Cool (1999-2006 [2007]): 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. B+(*)
  48. Free Fall: The Point in a Line (2006 [2007], Smalltown Superjazz): Third album by Ken Vandermark's trio, featuring the same clarinet-piano-bass lineup as appeared on Jimmy Giuffre's namesake album. Håvard Wiik plays Paul Bley, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten plays Steve Swallow, and Vandermark handles the clarinets. Beyond the lineup, I've never seen much affinity to Giuffre's trio, but I've also never turned into a big fan of the Free Fall album. Still, this is an interesting album on whatever terms apply: Wiik is more pro-active on piano, and Vandermark's aggressiveness is muted by the clarinet's limited volume. B+(**)
  49. 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. B+(*)
  50. Taeko Fukao: One Love (2006-07 [2008], Flat Nine): Singer, born and raised in Japan, moved to New York in 1998. Sings standards, in English with no accent or affects we might remotely consider oriental. Piano-bass-drums band. Strikes me as utterly conventional -- not a complaint, but not much of a recommendation either. B
  51. Roberto Gambarini & Hank Jones: You Are There (2005 [2008], Emarcy): Italian singer, from Torino. Don't know how old she is, but she seems to have recorded in Italy since 1986 or so. First US release was Easy to Love in 2006, which got a lot of notice, although I missed it. This looks to be import only, at least for now -- it seems like a lot of jazz artists on major labels in Europe and Japan never get picked up here. But it's probably just a matter of time in this case, not only because she's crossed her first hurdle but because her duet partner is something of a name in these parts. Just voice and piano. She sings in remarkable English, marvelous voice, clear and precise, a good ear for detail. The songs are all standards -- "Stardust" and "Lush Life" the most common, the latter as nicely turned out as any I can recall. Also a luscious version of "Just Squeeze Me." Other songs haven't connected yet, partly lack of familiarity. Of course, it's tempting to pick this up just for the pianist, and anyone so inclined won't be disappointed. B+(***)
  52. Jacob Garchik: Romance (2007 [2008], Yestereve): Trombonist, originally from San Francisco, in New York since 1994. Second album. Side credits include Lee Konitz's New Nonet, John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble, Frank London's Klezmer Brass All Stars, and Slavic Soul Party. I recall liking Abstracts, his first album, but didn't manage to write more than a note on it -- "free jazz, sharply played." This isn't, even though it's the same trio (Jacob Sacks on piano, Dan Weiss on drums). Slow, arty, even more abstract. Judith Berkson adds her voice to two cuts. More dead weight. B-
  53. Charles Gatschet: Step Lightly (2006 [2007], Barnstorm): Guitarist, from Kansas City, second album. Album cover features mountain waterfalls, stones polished by moving water. Instrumentation is on the lush side, with Ali Ryerson's flute and/or Greg Gisberg's trumpet/flugelhorn prominent over piano, bass, drums, and guitar. Covers are mostly bop-vintage, but Gatschet's originals introduce world beats. B+(**)
  54. Chris Gestrin: After the City Has Gone: Quiet (2007, Songlines, 2CD): Canadian pianist, from near Vancouver, graduated from Berklee. Has a mixed bag of side credits (Randy Bachman, Loudon Wainwright III, K-OS, DOA, Nickelback, Swollen Members, Bruno Hubert's B3 Kings), 4 or 5 albums on his own. This is a set of 28 solo, duo, and trio pieces, mostly with other Vancouver musicians I recognize -- Jon Bentley (saxes), JP Carter (trumpet), Ron Samworth (guitar), Gordon Grdina (guitar, dobro), Peggy Lee (cello), Dylan van der Schyff (drums). They are mostly slow, quiet, and abstract -- chance encounters of sound without much thought to melody. Several instruments are prepared and/or processed. Didn't sound like much at first, and it seems like a lot to slog through it all, but I find it growing on me. Should probably keep it pending, but it's been on the shelf a long time already, and I'm doubting I'll find the time it needs. B+(*)
  55. Hans Glawischnig: Panorama (2006 [2008], 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. B+(**)
  56. Drew Gress: The Irrational Numbers (2006 [2008], 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+(*)
  57. Frode Haltli: Passing Images (2004 [2007], ECM): Accordion, an instrument with folk referents, although this comes closer to chamber music, with trumpet and voice for highlights -- not that there are many -- and viola for extra density. B
  58. Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: On and Off (2007, Skirl): Halvorson plays guitar: grew up in Boston, studied at Wesleyan with Anthony Braxton, works out of Brooklyn. Plays in Braxton's Quintet, Taylor Ho Bynum's Trio and Sextet, her own trio. Pavone plays viola. Also has a relationship with Braxton and Bynum, and has appeared on a couple of Assif Tsahar's records. Also that Vampire Weekend record that's been getting a lot of hype lately. She has a couple of string thing records on her own label. Name reminds me of the great bassist Mario Pavone, but I haven't seen any references. AMG classifies both as Avant-Garde Music, not as Jazz. Fairly abstract chamber music -- not as broken up as on the Bynum album, but no swing or bop. Not an instrumentation I find appealing, plus I usually demur (or worse) from vocals, which both indulge in, but in the end I found this oddly charming. B+(*)
  59. Matt Haviland: Beyond Good and Evil (2002 [2006], Connotation): Trombone player, born 1961 in Iowa, graduated Berklee in 1983, then moved to New York. Looks like much of his experience is in big bands, with Illinois Jacquet, Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra, and Slide Hampton's World of Trombones names that stand out from the list -- for me, anyway; you may be more impressed with Maria Schneider. First album. I'm tempted to call his near-all-star band a hard bop group: Vincent Herring on alto and tenor sax, Benny Green on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, Gene Jackson on drums, plus Scott Wendholt on trumpet for two tracks. Haviland wrote 7 pieces, all but "But Beautiful," Cedar Walton's "Bolivia," and a 1:07 bass intro. Straight stuff, but proficient, heady even. B+(**)
  60. Helena: Fraise Vanille (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Stage name for Helena Noguerra, b. 1969 in Belgium, her parents Portuguese immigrants, her older sister the estimable pop star Lio. Based in Paris. Started as a model. Branched out into acting, music, and has written at least one novel. Bunch of records. This one is a tribute to songwriter Serge Rezvani. With its acoustic guitar it strikes me as folkie, with a lithe eurobeat. B+(*)
  61. Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez: Italuba II (2006 [2007], Cacao Musica): Cuban drummer, b. 1963, came to the US c. 1993, where he's established himself as a superb Latin jazz drummer. AMG talks about Hernandez's early interest in rock, and how that's inflected his drumming. That isn't clear here. What we have instead is a solid Afro-Cuban jazz quartet, with trumpet and piano. Tricky rhythms, shifts, halts, all sorts of unpredictable happenings. No vocals, just jazz. B+(**)
  62. Joan Hickey: Between the Lines (2006, Origin): As I understand it, postbop is the expansion of bop to include elements of free jazz, or looking at it from another viewpoint, it is the normalization of the avant-garde. Anyone who studies jazz these days is exposed to it. Hickey is a Chicago pianist with only one previous album, but she's taught since 1994, and this quintet record with folks I've never heard of on trumpet, sax, bass, and drums is exemplary postbop. Mostly standards, including a pair from the '60s I didn't figure to like at all ("Black Magic Woman," "Bridge Over Troubled Water"). Drops down to a trio for a Bud Powell piece at the end, and nails it too. B+(**)
  63. Hiromi's Sonicboom: Time Control (2006 [2007], Telarc): Seven of nine songs have "time" in the title. One more mentions "clock" and "jet lag"; the other is "Deep Into the Night." Brings Brubeck to mind, but those thoughts are quickly dispelled. In the past, Hiromi Uehara has stradled the line between pop jazz and real jazz -- she likes electric keyboards and grooves but still does some interesting things with them. That hasn't set well with most of the reviewers I've read, but I've enjoyed the last two albums, listing one as a Honorable Mention, just letting the other slip past. But this record is an irredeemable mess. She's added guitarist Dave Fiuczynski to her trio, and he travels too much ground too fast, alternately getting too fancy or too slick, or on the change-of-pace slow pieces plain lost. Only toward the end does the pianist come out a bit. Too little, too late. B-
  64. Amos Hoffman: Evolution (2007 [2008], RazDaz/Sunnyside): Israeli guitarist, mostly plays oud now. Spent some time in New York, but is now based in Tel Aviv. Third album. Strong middle eastern flavor, with alto flute (Ilan Salem), bass (Avishai Cohen), and percussion (Ilan Katchka). Cohen contributes an unnecessary vocal, also plays some piano, but the string interplay predominates. B+(**)
  65. Diane Hoffman: My Little French Dancer (2006 [2008], 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. B+(*)
  66. Norman Howard & Joe Phillips: Burn Baby Burn (1968 [2007], ESP-Disk): A trumpet player from Cleveland, Howard's discography was hitherto limited to appearing on two Albert Ayler albums. He recorded two sessions for ESP-Disk in 1968 which weren't released at the time. It isn't clear from the booklet whether this is only the first or includes parts of the second (referred to as "Signals"). (It also isn't clear whether the subject of the first line -- "I was born August 25th of 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio" -- is Howard or writer Michael D. Anderson. Philips plays alto sax -- don't know much more about him. The other musicians are just names: Walter Cliff on bass, Corney Millsap on drums. Before I dug into the booklet, the record struck me as austere free jazz, somewhat old-fashioned, although there are noisy stretches later on. Makes more sense as part of Ayler's undertow, opened up by the lack of a clear leader. An interesting piece of history. B+(**)
  67. Diane Hubka: Goes to the Movies (2005-06 [2007], 18th & Vine): Clear, clean, articulate voice, as good as the songs, which as you know with movie music isn't always that good. But with 13 songs from 42 years (1937-79) they don't sink too far -- the mixed flow is the main distraction. The small group helps, especially Carl Saunders on trumpet/flugelhorn and Larry Koonse on guitar. B+(*)
  68. 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 interesting. B
  69. 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. B+(*)
  70. Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Setting Standards: New York Sessions (1983 [2008], ECM, 3CD): Born 1945, Jarrett started recording in 1966, minor bits with Art Blakey and Miles Davis, a major role in Charles Lloyd's quartet at their popular peak. His own records start in 1967 with Life Between the Exit Signs, and picked up the pace in the 1970s when he juggled two distinctive quarters, one US-based with Dewey Redman on Impulse, the other Europe-based with Jan Garbarek on ECM, while recording bunches of solo piano records, most famously The Köln Concert, which at five million copies is probably the best-selling jazz album ever. He had rarely played in piano trios, but put one together for a set of standards in January 1983 -- actually, he revived the trio that recorded Gary Peacock's Tales of Another in 1977, with Jack DeJohnette on drums. He dubbed them the Standards Trio, but more than two decades and two dozen later they're just The Trio. The sessions produced two volumes of Standards and a set of original improvs released as Changes -- now all conveniently boxed for their 25th anniversary. The songbook is neither obvious nor numerous -- 11 songs, averaging 8 minutes, with "God Bless the Child" spread out to 15:32, mostly because they found so much to work out. A turning point in an illustrious career, but more beginning than peak. B+(**)
  71. Plamen Karadonev: Crossing Lines (2007 [2008], Mu): Pianist (also plays keyboards and accordion), from Bulgaria, where he studied at the Academy of Music and played for the National Radio Big Band. Got a scholarship to Berklee in Boston, where he's currently based. First album: in fact, a good example of what we might call First Album Syndrome, where a new artist tries to show off as many friends, connections, styles, and skills as possible. Originals, covers (Cole Porter, John Coltrane, Ivan Lins), a take on Schuman, expansive piano pieces, two guest shots for trombonist Hal Crook and two more for saxophonist George Garzone, three cuts with vocals by Elena Koleva. The individual pieces are impressive enough -- even the rather limited vocals come through. Garzone, of course, is always a treat, but the piano more than holds up, and the accordion solo on the Lins piece is lovely. B+(*)
  72. Frank Kimbrough: Air (2003-07 [2008], 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. B
  73. Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet (2007 [2008], Summit): Kooshian is a pianist, originall from California, since 1987 in New York. Plays in Ed Palermo's big band. Second album under his own name. Standard Orbit Quartet includes Jeff Lederer on saxophones/clarinets, Tom Hubbard on bass, Warren Doze on drums. The standards include a few rock songs (Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog," the Police's "Message in a Bottle," Peter Babriel's "Don't Give Up") and a bunch of TV and movie themes ("Top Cat," "Captain Kangaroo," "The Simpsons," "Batman," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Bullitt," "Spider Man," etc.). Plenty of opportunities for laughs, but they play it pretty straight and come up with an exceptionally listenable mainstream jazz album. B+(*)
  74. Mário Laginha Trio: Espaço (2007, Clean Feed): Not living anywhere near a decent record store, I've never been able to figure out whether the new format Clean Feed promos are the same packaging as their released albums or something especially cheap just for the writers (like their old promos obviously were). The new ones at least give me a package that I can file on a shelf and identify by reading the spine. I've never seen that sort of package in the stores, but it matches the album covers I see, and it comes close enough to my requirements that I've stopped flagging them as advances. I mention that here because this came in much better packaging: three-fold cardboard, a plastic tray glued down in the middle, and a separate booklet that slips into a slot. Clean Feed mostly releases American avant-gardists, but every now and then they come up with some local (Portuguese) talent that they like, even if far removed from the edge. Laginha plays piano, and this is a standard piano trio. Website is in Portuguese, so I'm not really sure what he's saying there about Deep Purple and Jethro Dull -- probably that he liked them before he discovered Powell, Evans, and Jarrett. B. 1960 in Lisbon. Has a discography going back to 1983, mostly accompanying singer Maria João -- the later records often list both names -- but also including a duet album with pianist Bernardo Sassetti. This may be his first trio album. It has a quietly understated eloquence, deft but not too flashy. B+(**)
  75. Piers Lawrence Quartet: Stolen Moments (2007 [2008], 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+(**)
  76. Jerry Leake: Vibrance: Jazz Vibes & World Percussion (2005-06 (2008), 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. B
  77. João Lencastre's Communion: One! (2006 [2007], Fresh Sound New Talent): Recorded at the Hot Club de Portugal, with a couple of well-known Americans -- trumpeter Phil Grenadier and pianist Bill Carothers -- in the drummer's band. Covers from Ornette Coleman, Freddie Hubbard, George Gershwin, and Bjork, sandwiching group improvs. Postbop, a little slow and fussy for my taste, but full of interesting little details. B+(**)
  78. Jamie Leonhart: The Truth About Suffering (2007 [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. B
  79. David Liebman/Roberto Tarenzi/Paolo Benedettini/Tony Arco: Dream of Nite (2005 [2007], EmArcy): Never got a final copy of this. I gather from the cover scan Liebman is David, not Dave, like my copy of the credits says. Also looks like it was originally released on EmArcy in Italy, then picked up by Verve here, and came out last November. Recorded in Italy, live (I think), with a local group, none of whom I recognize. Pianist Tarenzi wrote two tunes; if drummer Arco is the same as A. Arcodia, he wrote one also. Last two pieces are Liebman's, and they do one from M. Davis. Benedettini plays double bass. The band is pretty sharp, especially Tarenzi, and they keep Liebman on his postbop toes. For once, I can't even complain about the soprano. B+(*)
  80. Little Annie & Paul Wallfisch: When Good Things Happen to Bad Pianos (2007 [2008], Durtro Jnana): The former leader of Annie and the Asexuals, a/k/a Annie Anxiety or sometimes even Annie Bandez. Rough, rockish voice, more attitude than art, but that suffices, especially on songs that pay dividends in kitsch -- "Song for You," "Private Dancer," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," but also "Yesterday When I Was Young" and "It Was a Very Good Year" and "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)." Wallfisch plays piano. Doesn't live up to the destruction of the cover photos. Probably just as well. B+(**)
  81. Charles Lloyd Quartet: Rabo De Nube (2007 [2008], ECM): The young rhythm section -- Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on double bass, Eric Harland on drums -- were born a good decade into Lloyd's career, and are if anything more mainstream, but no slouches when it comes to running a groove. The live date in Basel is relatively conventional for Lloyd as well: Coltrane tenor sax, a boppish alto flute feature, a little exotica on the tarogato. All originals, except for the title cut from Silvio Rodriguez, a nice chill down piece. B+(**)
  82. Rob Lockart: Parallel Lives (2006 [2007], 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. B
  83. 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. B-
  84. Frank Macchia: Landscapes (2007 [2008], Cacophony): Saxophonist, from San Francisco, went to Berklee in 1976, returning in 1981, currently residing in Burbank, where he's done orchestration on 30-40 films (first three on list: Superman Returns, 300, The Bee Movie). Created a series of "horror stories with music" called Little Evil Things. Has a pile of records since he started releasing them himself. This is his second to feature the Prague Orchestra. Several old chestnuts, many by Trad., sentimental and/or corny, wrap around his six-part original "Landscapes Suite -- for Saxophone & Orchestra." Nice tone on the sax. Can't say anything nice about the Prague Orchestra. C+
  85. Raymond MacDonald/Günter Baby Sommer: Delphinius & Lyra (2005 [2007], Clean Feed): Duo, free saxophone (mostly alto, some soprano) over drums. MacDonald is little known but worth following if you're into this sort of thing. Sommer is a veteran avant-gardist, his discography including previous duos with Cecil Taylor and Irène Schweizer -- a good partner for this sort of thing. B+(**)
  86. 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. B+(*)
  87. Sean Malone: Cortlandt (1996 [2007], The Laser's Edge): Malone plays fretless bass and stick (aka Chapman Stick, a fretboard with 8-12 strings combining bass and guitar ranges with a few other tricks), and contributes programming to most cuts. He's appeared in the groups Cynic and Gordian Knot. Minor fusion pieces, most with extra guitar and drums; originals plus a few others, like one by Bach and another from Coltrane. B+(*)
  88. Manhattan New Music Project: Performs Paul Nash: Jazz Cycles (2004 [2007], MNNP): Two Paul Nash entries in Wikipedia, neither right in this case. This Paul Nash is a composer, educator, jazz guitarist, born 1948, died 2005. He founded the 10-piece Paul Nash Ensemble in 1977. After some time in Bay Area, he returned to New York in 1990 and founded the Manhattan New Music Projec, which survives him. Seven piece postbop group with some names: trumpet (Shane Endsley), saxes (Bruce Williamson and Tim Ries), piano (Jim Ridl), guitar (Vic Juris), bass (Jay Anderson), drums (Grisha Alexiev). Suite-type material. The horns are pretty sharp, and the rhythm section moves gracefully. B+(**)
  89. Chuck Manning: Notes From the Real (2005-06 [2008], TCB): Tenor saxophonist, born 1958, based in Los Angeles, first album under his own name, but has a 1991 record listed under Ecklinger/Manning Quintet, at least three with Los Angeles Jazz Quartet, and various side credits, especially with James Carney, Elliott Caine, Bil Cunliffe, and Darek Oleskiewicz. I'm sure I've heard him along the way. He has a huge sound, sort of a throwback to guys who would just bowl you over, like Illinois Jacquet. Quartet here: Jim Szilagyi on piano, Isla Eckinger (of his early quintet) on bass, Tim Pleasant on drums. Straightforward, perhaps to a fault, but I wouldn't complain much. B+(*)
  90. Keith Marks: Foreign Funk (2006 [2008], 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-
  91. Thomas Marriott: Crazy: The Music of Willie Nelson (2006 [2008], 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. B+(*)
  92. Virginia Mayhew Septet: A Simple Thank You (2007 [2008], Renma): Saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano here. b. 1959 San Francisco, based in New York since 1987. Sixth album. Might as well think of the Septet as a small big band: the hornplay, with two brass and two reeds, is constant and complex; the rhythm of guitar, bass and drums is inconspicuous but capable of pushing the horns hard. Best thing here is the closer, "Sandan Shuffle," for just that reason. Didn't much care for the intricate postbop until then, but going back I find more hot spots, including a rousing "Rhtyhm-A-Ning." B+(**)
  93. Fergus McCormick: I Don't Need You Now (2007 [2008], Fergus McCormick Music): I used to get a couple of country albums per month, mostly alt/obscure stuff, good for a couple of A-list albums per year, including some things hardly anyone else noticed. Sometimes I think that if Christgau had asked me to do a Country Consumer Guide instead of a Jazz Consumer Guide, I'd have been just as happy, and in the long run it'd have been a lot less work. As it is, the jazz has been crowding out everything else, and now I'm down to, well, this may be the only country-ish album I've gotten this year. It doesn't belong here, but I don't have anywhere else to put it either. Singer-songwriter, based in New York; Wikipedia describes him as British-American, but he grew up in Flemington NJ, played in Princeton, went to college at Reed in Portland OR, toured from Colorado to Maine, the north of England to east Africa and Rio de Janeiro. Third album. No evidence that he spent any time trying to come up with a label name. Guitar-centered, easy strum, although there's piano, bass, drums, strings even. Soft tone to his voice, some topical songs including one for New Orleans, and smart personal stuff. B+(**)
  94. Marian McPartland: Twilight World (2007 [2008], Concord Jazz): A piano trio, with Gary Mazzaroppi on bass and Glenn Davis on drums -- not names I recognize, and not all that important here. A hard record for me to judge, not just because I rarely have much to say about piano trios, but also because this is so straight mainstream it's hard to discern anything that signifies this is jazz -- except her erudition and fine sense of musicality. B+(**)
  95. Jose 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. B+(**)
  96. Brad Mehldau Trio: Live (2006 [2008], Nonesuch, 2CD): I thought I might use the last week of the cycle to stream some records I never got -- the paranoid idea being that I might pounce on one or two for my Duds list. But to stream them, I have first to think of them, and this was the first that popped into my mind. I haven't gotten any of Mehldau's releases since Jazz CG started, although the publicist has been more/less supportive in general. (Bill Frisell's records have also been hard to come by, but they send me the Black Keys, so what can I say?) In some ways it's just as well. With few exceptions, Mehldau works trio or solo, and I often have trouble there. Mehldau is probably the biggest star to come out of the Fresh Sound New Talent series, and he made a tremendous splash when Introducing Brad Mehldau came out on Warner Bros. I concurred, but the following five Art of the Trio volumes left me increasingly speechless -- I think Vol. 5 is still unplayed (at least unrated) somewhere on a shelf here, and that's the last I have. I don't doubt that he is one of the major jazz pianists of the age, but he's so unidiosyncratic he's hard to characterize, and so consistent he's hard to sort. Larry Grenadier has been his bassist since 1995. Jeff Ballard plays drums, replacing Jorge Rossy sometime between 2002 and 2005. They take 12 songs deep here, the shortest the opener at 8:44, longest "Black Hole Sun" at 23:30, most in the 10-15 minute range. I got the most mileage out of "The Very Thought of You," no doubt because it was the most familiar song. Too long to digest, so pleasant and thoughtful and moderate it folds readily into the background. No doubt the sound is better on disc. Grades on streamed records are necessarily swags, but will hold for now. At some point I have some catching up to do with Mehldau. B+(***)
  97. Giacomo Merega/David Tronzo/Noah Kaplan: The Light and Other Things (2006 [2008], Creative Nation Music): Merega plays electric bass, came from Genoa in Italy to Boston and on to Brooklyn. Tronzo is a guitarist, originally from Rochester. He's almost invariably described as a legend. I've heard very little by him, and have come to no firm conclusions. Kaplan also came to Brooklyn via Boston, with California his starting point. He plays tenor and soprano sax. Both Merega and Tronzo are credited prepared as well as unadulterated instruments. They produce grungy, abstract string sounds. Kaplan can either riff over them or try to blend in. It's the sort of thing we used to think might be really interesting if we had really good drugs. I don't, but I'm moderately amused nonetheless. B+(*)
  98. Pat Metheny: Day Trip (2005 [2008], Nonesuch): The bad news is that Metheny's got not just his own face but his whole trio on the April 2008 cover of Downbeat. Early on in Jazz CG history I noticed that there was a strong correlation between my duds list and Downbeat's cover. Incidentally, it's usually been the case that I had nailed the records before the Downbeat covers appeared, although with Jazz CG's notorious lag time it may have looked otherwise. I've never been a Metheny fan -- never been much of a guitar fan, although I can point to exceptions -- and he certainly qualifies as big enough to fail. On the other hand, when I put this on this morning I figured it for an Honorable Mention, not a Dud. Four plays later it's Neither. I like the simple framework Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez provide, and the small figure guitar lines, but I can't get excited about either. B+(**)
  99. Hendrik Meurkens: Sambatropolis (2007 [2008], 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. B
  100. Marcus Miller: Marcus (2008, Concord Jazz): Two cuts in (called "Blast" and "Funk Joint") I wondered whether his minimalist bass fuzz would sustain interest at album length. Three cuts I got a negative answer, in the form of vocalist Corrine Bailey. I could have gone longer, but he didn't. Fourth cut fuzzed up Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." Fifth cut guest slots Keb' Mo': 'nuff said. More fuzz, especially on pieces he was inspired to call "Pluck" and "Strum." More guests. "When I Fall in Love" is semi-amusing; "What Is Hip?" isn't. Closes with a second take of "Lost Without U" with Lalah Hathaway singing, an improbable and mostly fuzzless choice cut. B
  101. Yoko Miwa Trio: Canopy of Stars (2004 [2007], 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. B+(*)
  102. 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. B+(*)
  103. Alfredo Naranjo: Y El Guajeo (2006 [2007], Cacao Musica): One of five releases from this Venezuelan label, featuring fancy packages which fold out to reveal a lengthy spiral-bound booklet in English and Spanish and a poorly glued sleeve to hold the disc. Naranjo plays vibraphone, xylophone, and piano. He leads a large group supplemented by guests like Jimmy Bosch on trombone. Latin jazz, sound pretty average to me, with those tricky shifts and stops that throw us gringos pretty badly. Big beat, but the vocals get tedious. B-
  104. Josh Nelson: Let It Go (2007, Native Language): Pianist, works in some electric keyboards, but mostly stays acoustic when the Seamus Blake plays tenor sax, getting a little sharper contrast that way. The first-rate band also includes Anthony Wilson on guitar, Derek Oleskiewicz on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. Serious talent, impressive work, leans toward the side of postbop I find more artful than interesting. B+(*)
  105. David "Fathead" Newman: Diamondhead (2007 [2008], 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. B-
  106. Russ Nolan & the Kenny Werner Trio: With You in Mind (2007 [2008], Rhinoceruss Music): Saxophonist, originally from Chicago suburbs, in New York since 2002, another alumnus of the University of North Texas. (Wikipedia reports that UNT, north of Dallas in Denton, has the largest music school in the country, and was the first university to offer a Jazz Studies degree, back in 1947. Hype sheet refers to North Texas State University, which is what UNT was called before 1989. Don't have any timeline for Nolan before 2002, but he could have gone there before 1989.) Second album; the first, Two Colors, with pianist Sam Barsh, who moves over to producer here. Werner provides a pretty sophisticated postbop operating platform, setting up Nolan for some fancy runs. After four plays, I'm more impressed than enamored; hard pressed to find fault, anxious to move on. B+(**)
  107. NYNDK: Nordic Disruption (2007 [2008], 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 helps. B+(*)
  108. Mark O'Leary: On the Shore (2007, Clean Feed): Avant guitarist, has a lot of work out lately, and I'm way behind the learning curve. This one was evidently influenced by Arvo Part, mostly atmospheric trending towards ethereal, sometimes with a couple of trumpets, mostly shading, occasionally to pick up the pace and thicken the mix -- indeed, it all comes together in a choice cut called "Point Mix." He remains a future project. B+(*)
  109. Out to Lunch: Excuse Me While I Do the Boogaloo (2007 [2008], 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. B
  110. The Paislies (2005 [2007], 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. B-
  111. Mitch Paliga: Fall Night (2006 [2008], Origin): Originally from Montana, based in or near Chicago since 1990, teaches at North Central College in Naperville, IL. Plays soprano sax, leading a quintet with an interesting postbop mix: Jo Ann Daugherty (Fender Rhodes, accordion), John McLean (guitar), Patrick Williams (acoustic bass), Ryan Bennett (drums). Bright and lively, doesn't get caught up in overly fancy harmonics. B+(**)
  112. 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." B
  113. Alan Pasqua, Dave Carpenter & Peter Erskine Trio: Standards (2007, Fuzzy Music): Back cover says: "It's high time this trio recorded an album of standards." Not sure how far back the trio goes -- I have a 2-CD set, Live at Rocco, from 1999 filed under Erskine's name, a pretty good showing as far as my attention span could ascertain. Where most standards albums rise and fall according to the contours of their sources, the interplay is so subtle and minimal here the songs just dissolve into the aether, occasionally emerging as recognizable wisps. B+(**)
  114. Jeremy Pelt & Wired: Shock Value: Live at Smoke (2007, MaxJazz): Trumpet player, got some notice a few years back as the hot new kid on the block. Doesn't seem so hot here: don't know whether he's using a mute, riding the flugelhorn, or stuck in his effects -- probably a bit of all three. Opens with a long blues jam called "Blues," led by guitarist Al Street. Frank LoCrasto plays Fender Rhodes and B3, a smorgasbord of soul jazz clichés. Bass is probably electric too, hence the group name. Becca Stevens sings one song, which started off unpromising anyway. Only the closer, "Scorpio," starts to show off his trumpet to advantage. Too little, too late. B-
  115. Sacha Perry: The Third Time Around (2007 [2008], Smalls): Pianist, from Brooklyn, b. 1970, third album as a leader, plus side credits with other "Smalls scene" artists, especially Chris Byars and Ari Roland. Standard bop piano trio, with Roland on bass, Phil Stewart on drums. Nicely done, but doesn't leave me with a lot to say. B+(**)
  116. The Puppini Sisters: The Rise & Fall of Ruby Woo (2008, Verve): Vocal group, modelled on the Andrews Sisters, led by Marcella, last name Puppini. Her "sisters" are likely ringers, one named Kate Mullins, the other Stephanie O'Brien. Their previous album, Betcha Bottom Dollar, hewed more closely to the concept. Here they try to move on, you know, advance artistically. Puppini writes three songs, Mullins one. "Jilted" would be more than adequate filler if their covers held up better, but they range from "Old Cape Cod" to "Walk Like an Egyptian," stumbling badly on "Spooky" and "Could It Be Magic" -- not for Barry Manilow, not here either. B
  117. Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana: Telegrafía Sin Hilo (2005 [2007], Cacao Musica): Cuban, b. 1948, plays timbale, best known for his work in Los Van Van, probably ranks as one of the major percussionists in Cuban music from 1970. This was recorded in Caracas. It looks like the majority of musicians were Cuban, including numerous percussionists on bata drums, bongo, congas, and many others. Most cuts have vocals -- various singers, no complaints on my part. Fine example of contemporary Cuban pop with some jazz cred. B+(**)
  118. Deepak Ram: Steps (2008, Golden Horn): Born in South Africa; plays bansuri, a long Indian flute, which he studied under Pandip Hariprasad Chaurasia, a name I recognize despite my general ignorance of Indian classical music. Ram has half a dozen albums since 1999, presumably more conventionally Indian and/or inflected by his South African experience -- e.g., he shows up on The Rough Guide to South African Jazz. This, however, is a straight jazz album, a quartet with Ram's deeper, less tinny flute set off against Vic Juris's guitar, with Tony Marino on bass, Jamey Haddad on drums/percussion. Two originals don't stand out against Davis and Coltrane covers, "Summertime" and "My Funny Valentine." Not without charm, but if anything, too straight. B
  119. Matana Roberts Quartet: The Chicago Project (2007 [2008], Central Control): Alto saxophonist, Chicago native, AACM member (young, I think), lives in New York. Got a strong pick up band when she returned to Chicago for this session, including Fred Anderson on tenor sax and Jeff Parker on guitar, and got production help from Vijay Iyer. Doesn't come together much, although there are interesting patches, especially the guitar. B
  120. Scott Robinson: Plays the Compositions of Thad Jones: Forever Lasting (1992-2005 [2008], Arbors): Not the best of concepts. Robinson's specialty is in antique reed instruments, like C-Melody sax, bass saxophone, and contrabass sarrusophone, to which he adds various flutes and clarinet and a couple of brass instruments -- echo cornet, french horn, flugelhorn. He trends toward trad jazz and swing, whereas Thad Jones was postbop before bop even ran its course. Brother Hank Jones plays piano on one cut, but Richard Wyands handles most of the others, and Mike Le Donne chimes in on Hammond B-3 on five -- indeed, the album's dominant sound motif is bass sax over organ. Listed as "Great American Composers Series, Vol. 3." Vol.1 was Louis Armstrong (Jazz Ambassador), a better fit. Don't recall seeing a Vol. 2. B
  121. Greg Ruggiero: Balance (2006 [2007], 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. B+(**)
  122. Sabertooth: Dr. Midnight: Live at the Green Mill (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. B-
  123. Jesús Santandreu: Out of the Cage (2005 [2007], Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor saxophonist, from Valencia in Spain. First album, a quartet with Abe Rábade (piano), Paco Charlín (bass), and Vicente Espí (drums). I've run across Santandreu a couple of times before: on Espí's Tras Coltrane, where he plays a lot of you-know-who, and on Zé Eduardo's Bad Guys, teamed with Jack Walrath's trumpet. Liner notes in Spanish: in addition to Coltrane, he cites Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman, Jerry Bergonzi, and Steve Grosman [sic] -- big toned, straight ahead players with some hop on the fastball. Santandreu plays like them, and in a pinch will do. Rádabe plays a similarly fat but less nuanced piano. Good drummer. B+(*)
  124. Santos Viejos: Pop Aut (2006 [2007], Cacao Musica): Rock en español from Venezuela, what they call pop autóctono. In the long run, I figure rock en español will be as great and as awful as rock in english, but not speaking the language it's hard to get the fine points. This comes off as middlebrow, vaguely folkish, not distinctive nor outrageous enough to crack the ice, but it does get more comfortably listenable over time. B
  125. 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+(**)
  126. Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Soné Ka-La (2007, Emarcy): Tenor saxophonist, from Guadeloupe, b. 1962; father French-Jewish; grew up partly in Switzerland as well as Guadeloupe. I've run across him several times before, and he's often impressed me with strong tenor sax lines, but he's fairly mild here, even playing a bit of soprano, flute, and guitar. The album mostly rides along on the gwoka drums, and various vocalists drop in for a world pop fusion thing. B+(**)
  127. Ken Serio: Live . . . in the Moment (2006 [2008], Tripping Tree Music, 2CD): Drummer, evidently fusion-oriented. Fifth self-released album going back to 1996. Don't know any bio -- can't find the hype sheet, Flash website, AMG only lists this album, but CD Baby is better informed. Leads a group with two guitarists (Vic Juris, Pete McCann) and electric bass (Mark Egan). Not a lot here, mostly elemental riff pieces with minor improv, but it's quite listenable. Don't know who does what, but McCann has previously struck me as a rising talent. B+(*)
  128. The Marty Sheller Ensemble: Why Deny (2007 [2008], PVR): Born 1940, Newark, NJ, Sheller broke in on trumpet, landed a summer gig in the Catskills, and followed Hugo Dickens back to Harlem and into Latin jazz, soon hooking up with Mongo Santamaria. He spent the next 40+ years mostly in the background, working as an arranger for Santamaria, Willie Colón, Tito Puente, Larry Harlow, Ruben Blades. First album under his own name. Sheller doesn't play, but he put together a set of hot, brassy arrangements, and a hot, brassy band big enough to play them. Dedicated the album to Santamaria, who generally had a lighter touch. B+(*)
  129. 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.] B+(*)
  130. Alex Sipiagin: Out of the Circle (2008, Sunnyside): Trumpeter, b. 1967 Yaroslavl, Russia; won a competition in Rostov in 1990, then moved to New York in 1991. Eighth album, first I've heard (6 others are on Criss Cross, an important Dutch mainstream label that has never answered my inquiries). Fancy postbop, with a large cast of slick players -- Donny McCaslin (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Adam Rogers (guitars), Henry Hey (keyboards), Gil Goldstein (accordion), Scott Colley (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums), Daniel Sadownick (percussion) -- a sort of creamy tone I've never cared for, a lot of rhythmic flex. Two songs have vocals by wife Monday Michiru, the first over a perky Latin groove, the other a torchy ballad. She's a good singer. He's taken a tack that I'm not very inclined to follow and made it work well enough I can't much complain. B+(*)
  131. Slavic Soul Party! Technochek Collision (2007, Barbès): I had this on the world shelf until I read the fine print, discovering that this Gypsy brass band is firmly rooted in the five boroughs of New York, and that the names I recognize are downtown jazzers, starting with leader Matt Moran. He's better known in these parts as the vibraphonist with John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet, but here he sticks to drums and composes everything not credited to Trad. or Toussaint. A-
  132. Tyshawn Sorey: What/Not (2007, Firehouse 12, 2CD): As far as I've been able to tell, one of the best young drummers to appear recently. Plays a little piano too, but so does Corey Smythe -- not sure what the breakdown is, but probably favors the specialist. In any case, this is a composer's record: the drums play minor, but sometimes startling, roles, with either piano or Ben Gerstein's trombone taking the leads. The long (42:50) "Permutations for Solo Piano" dominates the first disc. I figure it for sub-minimalism, mostly slow two-note patterns with a lot of resonance. Once you get acclimated, it doesn't much matter how long it goes on -- could be hours, but 42:50 is long enough to make the point. I can go either way on the piece. The trombone leads are more immediately appealing, especially the latter third of the 22:52 "Sacred and Profane." Most of the pieces are abstracts, sound dabbling with a limited palette. Many of them make sense only if you're playing close attention -- which among other things means noticing bassist Thomas Morgan. The record got a lot of positive notice when it came out, including a number two spot on Francis Davis's year-end list. When I asked for a copy, I was pointedly turned down, and I'm still rather pissed about that. Admittedly, it's the sort of record that I rarely find much more than interesting. After two plays I could go up or down on it, making credible arguments either way. But the second play revealed more, and there's so many diversely interesting stretches that it could conceivably cohere into a tour de force. A-
  133. Soul Summit: Live at the Berks Jazz Fest! (2007 [2008], Shanachie): I filed this under producer-keyboardist Jason Miles, then backed off a bit and listed it as Soul Summit -- the only name on the spine, although the cover is more verbose (lines separated by slash): "Jason Miles Presents/Soul Summit/Bob Babbitt, Karl Denson, Richard Elliot, Steve Ferrone,/Mike Mattison, Maysa, Jason Miles, Susan Tedeschi, Reggie Young/Live at the/Berks Jazz Fest!" The name list leaves out a couple of trumpets (Barry Danielian, Tony Kadlek), guitarist Sherrod Barnes, saxophonist David Mann, backup vocalist Emily Bindinger. The idea is to knock off a set of old-fashioned soul, starting with a bang with "Shotgun" and ending on the one with a James Brown medley -- both with smoking tenor sax solos by Elliot. (Never had any reason to take him seriously before. Looks like he worked for Motown and Tower of Power before sliding into smooth jazz.) Denson, on the other hand, takes 3 of 4 solos on flute, but remains palpably funky. Most cuts have vocals -- Maysa can easily outsing Tedeschi, but the latter lays credible claim to "Son of a Preacherman." B+(**)
  134. Andrew Sterman: The Path to Peace (2007 [2008], Orange Mountain Music): Plays tenor sax and bass flute here, other reed instruments in a career that goes back to include a couple of late-1970s Philip Glass works: Music in Twelve Parts and Einstein on the Beach. Like the latter, this record was composed for a stage presentation, in this case choreographed and directed by Sridhar Shanmugam. The eight pieces layer the clear, elegant sax neatly on top of piano, violin, guitar, bass, and percussion. Late on ("Satyagraha") there is an emotionally dense section, but the rule of the day is easy flowing grace -- that it avoids monotony and excessive sweetness is notable given the general drift. The instrumentals are broken up with three short "Chant" section, but they don't amount to much. B+(*)
  135. Loren Stillman: Blind Date (2006 [2007], 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. B
  136. John Surman: The Space in Between (2006 [2007], ECM): Basically a sax with strings record, the strings coming from a classical string quartet d/b/a Trans4mation plus Chris Lawrence on double bass. Surman plays baritone sax, soprano sax, and bass clarinet, so the sound shifts away from the norm. But he also lets the strings go on their own at length, making for a cerebral chamber music, but the tone gets monotonous -- never had much taste for such things. The baritone works because it provides the most contrast. B+(*)
  137. The Thing With Ken Vandermark: Immediate Sound (2007, Smalltown Superjazz): The Thing is a Norwegian group, led by (mostly baritone) saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums -- all names that will be familiar to anyone following Vandermark around. Vandermark started playing with Gustafsson back when the latter was in the Aaly Quartet, and they've collided a dozen or more times since then. Gustafsson is an inveterately noisy player. for the most part, I find him a difficult taste, but I've liked it when the Thing takes on pieces of grunge rock, where there is some structure to wrap the noise around. This isn't that. It's a four-part improv thing, which comes together neatly with rotating baritone lines near the end, but makes a bloody mess along the way. B+(*)
  138. 3 Cohens: Braid (2006 [2007], 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. B+(*)
  139. Tom Tallitsch: Medicine Man (2007 [2008], OA2): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Cleveland, now based near Philadelphia, or maybe Princeton -- teaches at Mercer County Community College, which should be in Trenton. Second album, a quintet, with vibes (Tony Micelli), guitar (Victor Baker), bass and drums. Baker composed 3 of 8 songs; Tallitsch the rest. The band generates a lot of forward momentum, which serves the saxophonist well. Mainstream sax, straightforward, solid. B+(*)
  140. Third World Love: New Blues (2007 [2008], Anzic): Fourth album by this group, consisting of three Israelis based in New York, plus native drummer Daniel Freedman. I've been filing the records under trumpeter Avishai Cohen (Anat's brother, not the same-named bassist). The others are pianist Yonatan Avishai and bassist Omer Avital. All four players write, and the closer is by someone named Ellington -- Avital, who has a substantial body of work on his own, has the most, but Avishai's one piece is particularly nice. Slight Middle East flavor -- nothing too specific, nor generically world. Subtle enough it gained on the second play, and might benefit from more exposure. B+(***)
  141. Francesco Tristano: Not for Piano (2005 [2008], Sunnyside): Well, of course it's piano, just a little loud, with sharp chords and rolling percussion. Some cuts even have two pianos (Rami Khalifé on the other). Tristano was born 1981 in Luxemburg, classically trained at Juilliard, and is now based in Barcelona. Website gives his name as Francesco Tristano Schlimé. This looks to be his first jazz record, after a handful of classical things, mostly J.S. Bach and Luciano Berio. Not much in the way of improv, but makes a strong impression. B+(**)
  142. 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. B+(*)
  143. Ken Vandermark: Ideas (2005 [2007], Not Two): One of a number of albums -- a couple dozen is a wild guess -- that are little more than impromptu improvs Vandermark cut on the road with whoever managed to hook up the recording equipment and a small label interested in the product. Here the road is in Poland, and the band are the Oles brothers, Marcin Oles on bass, Bartlomiej Brat Oles on drums. Typical, I would say. Mostly tenor sax, some clarinet, some baritone -- the latter strikes me once again as exceptional. B+(**)
  144. Ken Vandermark & Paal Nilssen-Love: Seven (2005 [2006], Smalltown Supersound): Rhapsody lists this as a single, but at 43:55 it comes to more than LP length: one long pieces (26:36), one medium (14:03), one short (3:19). Duets, the third set between Vandermark and his favorite Norwegian drummer. The long one starts ugly and takes a while to sort itself out, before turning into the usual cornucopia of sonic assaults. That, in itself, is not something I'm inclined to complain about. But a better place to start, not least because it was thought out from the start, is Dual Pleasure. B+(*)
  145. Peter Van Huffel Quintet: Silvester Battlefield (2006 [2007], 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. B+(*)
  146. Nick Vayenas: Synesthesia (2007 [2008], World Culture Music): Usually the first thing I do when I put a record on is write down the song list and the personnel list, noting instruments broken down by track. The requisite information is available here, on the inside of the cardboard gatefold cover, but it's formatted using abbreviations of names and instruments that require several mappings, all printed in microscopic all caps type with little contrast and registration blur (semi-white on semi-brown). My eyes just aren't up to it. Vayenas was born in Boston, studied at Berklee, plays trombone. First album, or second counting one co-led by saxophonist Patrick Cornelius (on board here). Other musicians here, as far as I can tell, are: Aaron Parks, Matt Brewer, Janek Gwizdala, and vocalist Gretchen Parlato, none of which clearly accounts for the synth fusion bubbling beneath the horns. I like the trombone, of course, and Cornelius shows some flashy sax, but the synthy stuff doesn't quite come off, and Parlato's vocal wash is de trop. B
  147. Cuong Vu: Vu-Tet (2007 [2008], ArtistShare): Trumpet player, fond of electronics, born 1969 in Vietnam, emigrated to Seattle 6 years later, moved to New York in 1994. Fifth album since 1999. Also has a significant credits list, including key roles over several albums each with Chris Speed's Yeah No, Myra Melford's The Tent and Be Bread, and Pat Metheny Group. (Other creditss: Orange Then Blue, Bobby Previte, Andy Laster, Jamie Saft, Dave Douglas, Gerry Hemingway, Assif Tsahar, Satoko Fujii, Matthias Lupri, Mark O'Leary/Tom Rainey.) Quartet here, with Speed on unspecified reeds, Stomu Takeishi on bass guitar, and Ted Poor on drums. These are interesting musicians, but here at least together they tend to congeal into sludge. The bass lines don't go much beyond heavy metal, the electronics aren't clear, and I don't have a clue what Speed is doing. At least the trumpet has some contrast. B
  148. Westchester Jazz Orchestra: All In (2007, WJO): Close enough to New York that music director Mike Holober -- who did a good big band record under his own name called Thought Trains a few years back -- can draw on plenty of top-notch musicians, bringing this up to above-average in all the usual respects. But I'd advise against tackling any Beatles song (much less "Here Comes the Sun") given badly they've been chewed up and spit out as muzak. This one is better than I expected, but still not good enough. B+(*)
  149. Lauren White: At Last (2006 [2007], Groove Note): Singer, from Dallas-Fort Worth area, reported to be 20 years old. Three songs look like originals, credited to "(L White, W White)"; rest are covers, mostly Gershwin-Porter era standards, but also Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou," Leon Russell's "Superstar," and Lee Ann Womack's "Why They Call It Falling." Some good musicians, including tenor saxophonist Ricky Woodward on 4 cuts, guitarist Anthony Wilson on 4, and pianist Bill Cunliffe on 3. All that suggests good taste, albeit nothing distinctive or idiosyncratic. Not much of a jazz singer, though. B-
  150. Whit Williams: Featuring Slide Hampton and Jimmy Heath (2004 [2008], MAMA): Pretty descriptive title, as best I can parse it. Williams came from North Carolina, settled into Baltimore after the Korean War, and has run an unsung local big band since 1981. This is their first album. Hampton and Heath are guest stars, and they brought big chunks of their books with them, joining three Williams originals, "Una Mas" (Kenny Dorham), and "Little Rootie Tootie" (Thelonious Monk). Crisp solos, solid section work, plenty of swing, pretty much what you'd expect in a big band these days. B+(*)
  151. The Willie Williams Trio: Comet Ride (2007, Miles High): Sax-bass-drums trio, nothing fancy, just hard, fast bop, swinging especially hard on the closing "Caravan." B+(**)
  152. Larry Willis: The Offering (2007 [2008], 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. B
  153. Gerald Wilson Orchestra: Monterey Moods (2007, Mack Avenue): A big band with a lot of star power -- nearly everyone on board is a name I've heard of, the five trumpets starting with Jon Faddis and ending with Terrell Stafford, the rhythm section Renee Rosnes, Peter Washington, and Lewis Nash. The material is more hit and miss, but "Latin Swing" really takes your breath away, and "Blues" follows strongly, with son Anthony Wilson finding a solo role for the guitar. Wilson père didn't spend a lot of time on titles: three swing, two waltz, one goes "Allegro," one is just "Bass Solo." B+(**)
  154. 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 on it. B
  155. 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. B+(*)
  156. Michael Winograd: Bessarabian Hop (2007 [2008], Midwood Sounds): Klezmer clarinetist, based in Brooklyn, works with the Klezmatics, Frank London, numerous others. Strikes me as more klezmer than jazz, or maybe I mean that it repeats familiar motifs without mixing them up in surprising ways. Lovely clarinet, spritely group play, pretty solid within its niche. B+(**)
  157. Raya Yarbrough (2006 [2008], Telarc): The leadoff blues "Lord Knows I Would" is a choice cut, and her "Mood Indigo" shows she could be a standards threat. But her singer-songwriter fare is overorchestrated, pretentiously so -- I'm reminded of such long-forgotten pop-rock icons as Andy Pratt. As rockers figured out, such affectations do little to make us care about the songs, which at bottom is what songwriting is about. As such, it's hard to find reason to care about these. She's talented, but it's not clear what for. B-
  158. Jon Zeeman: Zeeland (2008, Membrane): Plays guitar, keyboards. Based in New York. Touring credits include Susan Tedeschi, Janis Ian, the Allman Brothers. Second album. Straight funk-fusion, sometimes with organ. Refiled this under Pop Jazz, at which point the guitar emerged as better than average. B-
  159. John Zorn: The Dreamers (2007 [2008], Tzadik): Not much evidence of Zorn's alto sax here. In some ways this more closely resembles his Film Works, although having heard only one or two of what are now 19 volumes hardly makes me any kind of expert. A dozen groove pieces, most led by Marc Ribot's guitar, with keyboards (Jamie Saft), vibes (Kenny Wollesen), bass (Trevor Dunn), drums (Joey Baron), and percussion (Cyro Baptista). Several build into substantial pieces of music, while most ingratiate and beguile. An earlier album, The Gift, is reputed to be similar. B+(***)
  160. John Zorn: Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse (2008, Tzadik): Might as well check out some of the latest film music while I'm at it. Zorn is prodigious, especially since he started his own label. The label doesn't provide any promos to reviewers, a big disappointment when I started Jazz CG. I've picked up his records when I had the chance, but have only heard a dozen or so out of more than 100 -- some wonderful, at least one awful. This one was written for a film by Russian animator Dmitri Geller. The pieces are played by Rob Burger on piano, Erik Friedlander on cello, and Greg Cohen on bass. Minor charms, the kind of thing that slips into a film without you noticing too much, but stands up to playing on its own. Leans a bit toward Russian, by which I mean Jewish, chamber music. B+(**)


My belated announcement letter:

Just wanted to let y'all know that the Village Voice has published my 16th
Jazz Consumer Guide column, titled "Funk Fusion, Bebop Terrorism in New
Jazz Records" -- not my title, but I'm pleased not to have had to think
of another one -- in the May 13, 2008 issue. The URL:

  link

That's last week's issue, not this week's. Sorry I didn't manage to get
this notice out earlier, but I've been on the road the last three weeks,
so wasn't able to access my mailing list. The travel also put a crimp
in my Jazz Prospecting, and I'm only now getting around to the usual
round of bookkeeping work. I haven't sorted out the surplus yet, but
should have a post on that by the end of the week. I prospected 240
records for this cycle. The Jazz Prospecting file for this cycle is:

  link

The final tally bagged 27 records. After several delays at the Voice,
this column wound up appearing almost exactly four months after the
previous one. I have been lobbying for shorter cycles, and in fact I
am only about 100 words short from the next one. For a while, the
space squeeze was so tight that the Voice editor suggested running
the column online only, but that threat appears to have abated.

One change this time is that I've cut the "Dud of the Month" in favor
of running more one-line Duds, with grades to help distinguish the
merely mediocre from the truly wretched. (Turns out a couple of Duds
were scratched during layout, so the list didn't grow beyond usual
size.)

I haven't seen the paper yet, so I'm not sure why the layout keeps
shrinking. I try to write tighter to squeeze more stuff in, but it's
hard to do justice to all the records I hear. Jazz Prospecting helps
make up for the shortfall and delays. I urge you to check it out
each Monday. Thanks.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Browse Alert: Politics

Dee Davis: Why don't those hillbillies like Obama? Another meditation and/or sermon on West Virginia. The argument that Democrats can't win the presidency without winning the marginal rural states doesn't convince me, although it should be noted that the New Deal coalition was largely built on Roosevelt's initiatives including rural electrification. It is true that Democrats have taken their eye off of rural America -- partly because it keeps shrinking, and partly because in trying to hang on while the Republicans were winning they had to chase the money. It's good to see rural poverty back in the headlines, not because it's critical but because it's one piece in the bigger puzzle. And in the end it's likely to help Obama, because the first step toward dealing effectively with any problem is recognition. Also because the Republicans don't have any answers: all they ever do is poke a problem with a stick and hope the anger and spite lashes out at the other side. Whether Obama will come up with anything that convinces rural white not-so-well-off voters remains to be seen, but at least he won't be surprised by the problem.

I spent a few days with relatives in northern Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma on my way back from Detroit. The Republicans are pretty quiet these days, and the Democrats are pretty noisy. The latter all voted for Clinton, and some may not follow Obama -- I heard the usual canards about flags and Islam -- but most will. It seems to me that a stronger argument could convince more. One case example: a second cousin, his wife active in local Republican politics. They bought a big, expensive new house, planning a lot of renovation on it, before they got stuck unable to sell their old house. They both have good middle class jobs, but they're way overextended on the houses. He's developed a severe back problem; good thing he has a secure government job that's been able to maintain his insurance and work around his disability, even though most Republicans frown on such jobs. She's been laid off twice in the last year, but thus far has managed to find new jobs. To make ends meet they've had to borrow from parents, including my antiwar first cousin who grew up in the Depression and remembers why her family became Democrats. (This part of Arkansas was traditionally Republican, going back to when my great-great-grandfather arrived carpetbagging from Ohio, where he was a Captain in the Union Army.) The Republican Party appeals to hard working middle class folks who think bad things only happen to other [weak, shiftless] people and can't/won't happen to upstanding folk like themselves. This family still has their heads above water, but just barely.

Not a scientific study. Several military families, but they're more quiet than they were a couple of years ago. No blacks, but no rabid racists either. No Baptists, for whatever that's worth. Northern and especially northwestern Arkansas strikes me as much more prosperous than it was when I was growing up, and it's not surprising that the Clintons get a lot of credit for that. Can't say the same about Oklahoma, which may be the most politically retrograde state in the country.

Eyal Press: Is the Party Over? The Republican Party, that is. The piece moves around a bit, mostly ducking and weaving around various theories of various Republican pundits about why people don't buy their wares any more. The simpler explanation is that the vaunted Republican "ideas" just don't work. End quote:

As historian Rick Perlstein puts it, "Conservatives have always been able to say, 'just wait until we get control of the government -- then you'll see the wonderful things we can do.' Well, the dog finally caught the car it was chasing, and most of the country thinks the result has been nothing but ruin."

How the elections turn out will depend less on how skillfully the Republicans manage to spin bullshit than on how many Americans get to the point where they won't believe anything the Party is selling.

Barbara Ehrenreich: Hillary's Gift to Women. Quote:

Surely no one will ever dare argue that women lack the temperament for political combat. But by running a racially tinged campaign, lying about her foreign policy experience and repeatedly seeming to favor McCain over her Democratic opponent, Clinton didn't just break through the "glass floor," she set a new low for floors in general, and would, if she could have gotten within arm's reach, have rubbed the broken glass into Obama's face. [ . . . ]

Hillary Clinton smashed the myth of innate female moral superiority in the worst possible way--by demonstrating female moral inferiority.

Looks like Clinton has beat Obama by about 240,000 votes in Kentucky, 65% to 30%. Notably, exit polls are showing that only 33% of Clinton's supporters would be willing to vote for Obama against McCain. I expect that by November those numbers will move a bit, but I wonder how much of that is directly attributable to the polarizing campaign. To be fair, her Arkansas supporters I talked to focused approvingly on her stature as a fighter, and none dignified race with any role in their decision. (They also knew very little about Obama, and much of what they thought they knew was wrong.) On the other hand, one of the basic impressions I have of her came from a radio interview back when her health plan was tanking in 1993-94, where she revealed herself as anything but a fighter: when asked for her reaction if she lost the battle, all she could muster was that she'd feel sad for America. Remember that we're talking about the most important political issue in a generation, the signature issue of Clinton's mandate, an issue she maneuvered to take personal charge of, and that's all the emotion she can bring to bear: sad?

Clinton's worked real hard on acting tough since then, and a lot of folks buy the act. I don't buy it, not because I doubt that she can follow through resolutely but because I find her mostly in tune with kneejerk reactions. That may play well to the crowds, but it's rarely the smart way to handle real problems.

Charles Blow: Skirting Appalachia. More data, but actually I want to quote from Paul Woodward's comment:

Having lived on the Blue Ridge for the last six years, I've learned a bit about how the mountaineers think.

Two days after Obama's big loss in West Virginia and a day after his big win with the Edwards endorsement, I got the chance to take the political pulse locally when I went to renew my driver's license.

One of the privileges of rural life is the pleasure of being able to go to a DMV office, find no line, and get helped by a government official who's more interested in talking politics than getting stuck in a bureaucratic rut. This mountaineer was exactly the kind of voter that Obama should have his eye on: a loyal Edwards supporter who wants a president who looks out for the working folk and will help restore the respect that America has lost around the world. She wasn't sure if Obama would be on the side of the workers. She'd never heard that he was a community organizer. She didn't know he'd passed up the opportunity for a lucrative career on Wall Street. She simply didn't know enough about the candidate.

Listen to the pundits and you'd conclude that the single most important thing to know about Appalachia is that it's mostly white, but I'd say the key issue here is respect. Skirting Appalachia is no better than saying, you people don't matter.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Music: Current count 14414 [14414] rated (+0), 761 [749] unrated (+12). Haven't been rating records while on the road. Did buy a few used CDs, and put them into database, so unrated count got a bump. Next week will be a much bigger bump.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 4)

This week's meager selection follows the same rules as last week's: first pass notes based on listening to music only, no packaging, rather minimal research, all grades tentative. Didn't get very far, as the experiment was suspended when I hit the road from Detroit. Just got back to Wichita late Monday. In between, I took a long detour through northern Arkansas, northeast Oklahoma, and southeast Kansas, visiting relatives, none of whom provided me with internet connections. Didn't drag the music inside either, and tended to listen to old Louis Jordan and Johnny Cash comps while driving.

Got home only to find a mountain of mail, roughly four feet in diameter, over a foot high. Haven't opened anything yet, but will start working on it tomorrow, so next week should see a belated return to normalcy here. (Maybe not instantly: I still need to figure out how to integrate the new laptop into the setup; in the meantime, working on the laptop is relatively unproductive.)

As noted before, Jazz CG #16 came out last week. I didn't send out the usual notice because I didn't have the address list handy, but will do so soon. Also haven't done the usual intercycle cull and some of the related bookkeeping. Something else to try to get done this week. One bit of good news is that the threat to make Jazz CG online only has lifted. Don't fully understand the crisis, but it looks to be temporary, and editor Rob Harvilla appears to be strongly committed to the column.


Spring Heel Jack: Songs and Themes (2008, Thirsty Ear): John Coxon and Ashley Wales built up their brand name as DJs mixing techno, but parts of their hearts and/or brains were more attached to free jazz, resulting in a series of inconsistent, sporadically fetching records. The big names here are saxophonist John Tchicai and trumpeter Roy Campbell, with other oddities packed in like Orphy Robinson's vibes, J. Spaceman's guitar, and the leaders' samples. Doesn't add up, but now and then threatens to. [B] [advance]

Misha Alperin: Her First Dance (2006 [2008], ECM): Ukrainian pianist, currently based in Norway. Has a couple of well regarded ECM albums from 1995-97, but little since. Everything in ECM's current batch (well, except for the Evan Parker) can be viewed as some sort of chamber music, but this one most of all. Unorthodox trio, with Arkady Shilkloper on French horn and flugelhorn and Anja Lechner on cello -- a combination that doesn't produce much momentum. [B+(*)] [advance]

Sal Mosca Quartet: You Go to My Head (2001-06 [2008], Blue Jack Jazz): Pianist, studied under Lennie Tristano, recorded in Lee Konitz's group in 1949, recorded spottily over the years, often with Konitz, Warne Marsh, or here with Jimmy Halperin -- a saxophonist who sounds like one of the family. Mosca died in 2007 at age 80, so this is a memento as well as a very late showcase, covering standards like "How High the Moon" and the title track, standards like "Scrapple From the Apple" and "Groovin' High," and an appropriate non-standard: "Sub Conscious-Lee." [B+(***)]

Dafnis Prieto: Taking the Soul for a Walk (2008, Dafnison): Cuban drummer, made a big splash when he showed up in New York in 1999. I no longer have any doubts about his talent, but still haven't gotten the hang of his music -- mostly Afro-Cuban with those weird sharp rhythmic shifts, way too complex for my taste. But he manages his horns well here -- saxophonists Peter Apfelbaum and Yosvany Terry blend nicely on the relatively straight "Until the Last Minute," and Avishai Cohen's trumpet impresses. I may get the hang of it eventually. [B+(*)]


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

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Browse Alert: West Virginia

Jonathan Tilove: Obama's Is an Appalachia Problem, Not a Whites Problem. Actually, Tilove blames/credits it to the Scots-Irish, whom James Webb lionized in his pre-Senate book, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. But as a person who puts more stock in history and culture than genes, I'd say Appalachia's isolated economy and culture -- which significantly in America includes long isolation from black people -- have more to do with it. The bottom line is that it was Clinton, rather than Obama, who captured the Lynndie [Abu Ghraib] England vote. Big fucking deal.

West Virginia was part of the pre-Civil War anti-slavery south. I remember long ago reading about a prominent southern anti-slavery polemicist, Hinton Helper, whose critique of slavery was fundamentally racist: the institution of slavery brought black people to America, so opposing slavery was a way to attack black people. Counting Helper as an abolitionist is a lot like taking Charles Lindbergh as a WWII pacifist. Appalachia isn't as principled as Helper, and as such it isn't as racist -- although they didn't give Sen. Robert Byrd any sweat back when he was in the KKK.


Didn't expect to make a post today. I'm in a motel in Terre Haute, IN, but they have wireless internet and my new Dell Inpsiron laptop with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed picked up their network painlessly. First time I ever had a computer working on wireless, so I'm thrilled. But don't have time to natter on -- was thinking about my possibly Scots-Irish paternal descent (which we never discussed, and certainly didn't bestow me or my father with any fighting genes) and my Ozark (virtual Appalachia) maternal descent. Maybe later. As it happens, I'm driving to the Arkansas Ozarks today. Gotta get going.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jazz Consumer Guide (#16)

My 16th Jazz Consumer Guide column is up on the Village Voice website now -- presumably also on the streets of New York City. I evidently misread the message about no cuts, as it got hacked up quite a bit, although mostly within my guidelines. (Exception: only one of three Harry Allen albums made it through. Also note that Nannette Natal's name was misspelled Natali.)

Still away from home, getting ready to leave Detroit and head back towards Kansas. Planning a few stops with relatives along the way, so I don't know when I'll get back. I'm likely to be offline the next few days. Don't have time to write much now, or do my usual cyclical cleanup. Also unable to send out my usual email notice to the many jazz publicists who help me out. Hope they read about it here.


Browse Alert: West Virginia

Josh Marshall: Upcountry. Subtitle this one "What's the Matter With West Virginia?" Marshall argues that Clinton has consistently beat Obama by 2-to-1 margins throughout Appalachia, from New York through Mississippi (not that the Appalachian mountains actually reach Mississippi). This provides a caveat against more simplistic explanations that whites, rural voters, and older voters favor Clinton (although all combine in Appalachia). West Virginia is an interesting case for the Democrats precisely because it used to be such a stronghold. It isn't now, and not just because Bush learned to say "clean coal" with a straight face. Don't have time to figure out why, but a big part of it is that Democrats have mostly come to realize that rural poverty isn't very fertile ground either for votes (there's less of it all the time, mostly because of population shifts -- certainly not because folks are escaping poverty) or for contributions (which should be obvious enough). We'll see proof of that soon enough, as Clinton's people try to hype her win there, and most likely will get little or no value out of it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Browse Alert: Oil Wars

Andrew Leonard: The Peak Oil Culture Wars. Starts out from Paul Krugman's NY Times column on oil prices, specifically Krugman's note on how the conservatives are the ones atypically blaming speculators for the high prices. Then he goes on to make a point that is, I think, the linchpin to why modern American conservatism fails:

Partisan conservatives pooh-pooh peak oil (and human-caused climate change) because they think that to concede that these challenges are real and must be confronted is to acknowledge that greed is not always good, and that free market capitalism must be restrained, or at least tinkered with substantially. Peak oil and climate change are fronts in the culture wars, and to some conservatives, watching the price of oil rise as the Arctic ice melts, it might feel like being in Germany at the close of World War II, with the Russians advancing on one front while U.S.-led forces come from the other. The propositions that cheap oil is running out and the world is getting hotter -- as a result of our own activities -- threaten a whole way of life. The very idea that dirty Gaia-worshipping hippies might be right is absolute anathema.

Of course, it's more than anathema. The central principle of modern American conservatism is that we all benefit when the rich get richer. This could be by trickle down, or it could simply be due to the superior moral model the rich provide -- and in any case the real trick to the equation is figuring out just who doesn't get included in that We. But in order for that logic to work at all, you have to assume that growth approaches infinity -- after all, the rich may have to get an awful lot richer before enough trickles down so that their servants become rich as well. Resource limits have the nasty effect of a positive sum game into zero sum or worse. In zero sum, one can win only at someone else's expense: hence rich and poor must inevitably struggle. And when they struggle, the outcome can easily sum up to less than zero. (This is a good part of the reason no one wins at war.)

Of the two great issues, oil depletion worries me much more than global warming. The latter is likely to take its toll indiscriminately, not least because climate is not something that can be owned. Oil, on the other hand, is something valuable that can be fought over. One big problem with conservatives is that they like to fight; moreover, they have no scruples about using force to deprive others of a resource (except, of course, when they themselves get mugged by a commoner). But oil also provides a clearer opportunity to reject conservatism and its two handmaidens: inequity and war. Or to put it equivalently: if we choose to reject inequity and war, we will necessarily reject conservatism.

If I had to bet, I'd bet against it, because I've only rarely seen lessons learned anyway but the hard way. Still, in a resource-starved, environmentally-stressed world, the options are hoarding and war on the one side, sharing on the other. Politically, that boils down to conservatism and democratic reform.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Music: Current count 14414 [14414] rated (+0), 749 [749] unrated (-0). Still in Detroit. I've bought a few things that I haven't filed, and I've listened to a few things that I haven't rated. And of course there is mail waiting for me back in Wichita.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 3)

Still on the road, just stable and connected enough I can file this brief note. Should be back home by the end of the week, unless more bad things happen between now and then. Village Voice is again due to publish Jazz CG this week. Haven't heard otherwise, but also haven't heard any layout details. I've been pondering its future, given that the Voice's music editor wants to make it online only. That's probably still worth doing, although a compromise occurs to me: publish a short precis in the paper (400-800 words, whatever fits easily in their format) which then refers to the website for the full column. I haven't proposed that yet, but most likely will. Thanks to those readers who wrote in with their comments. I've been hard pressed to respond individually given the logistics here.

Haven't really been doing jazz prospecting either, but late in the week I negotiated a compromise with myself and decided to start doing some exceptionally brief notes with provisional grades just to have something to show and tell. Didn't get much done. Didn't even get out of the ECM's at the front of the case. Will try to continue in this mode as I travel this week, and promise to get to work when I get back.


Evan Parker/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Boustrophedon (2008, ECM): Large group, like those of Parker's other ECM efforts, in what sounds a bit like a revival of Globe Unity Orchestra, or maybe Barry Guy's LJCO -- Guy is present here, part of the European side of the Transatlantic Art Ensemble. The Americans are led by Roscoe Mitchell, whose large group efforts are also relevant here. Long and scattered, often ornery, the sax noise limited to alto and soprano, with clarinet and flute, trumpet (Corey Wilkes), strings (violin, viola, cello, two basses). Craig Taborn has interesting moments in piano. Not coherent enough for a tour de force, but several interesting diversions. [B+(***)]

Jacob Young: Sideways (2006 [2008], ECM): Norwegian guitarist -- American father explains the unusual name. Previous album, Evening Falls, was an elegant HM. This one follows suit, probably the same quintet, with Mathias Eick on trumpet and Vidar Johansen on tenor sax/bass clarinet. Seems a little more subdued. [B+(*)]

Ketil Bjørnstad/Terje Rypdal: Life in Leipzig (2005 [2008], ECM): Norwegian pianist, b. 1952, not sure how many records, but at least a dozen since 1990, some recordings since 1973; also has written 20-some books, mostly novels. Guitarist Rypdal is better known, a major figure at ECM since 1970; trends toward fusion, although he can also wax lyrical, and has produced a good deal of aural wallpaper. Duets, reprising several pieces from The Sea, a 1994 album by a quartet of the same name, a superset. Rypdal's riffs dominate the sound here in one of his more robust performances. The piano mostly adds rhythm, a fair trade. [B+(**)]

Jon Balke: Book of Velocities (2006 [2008], ECM): Norwegian pianist, has 6 previous albums on ECM and Emarcy with groups Oslo 13, Magnetic North Orchestra, and Batagraf. This one is solo piano, 19 pieces organized into 3 Chapters and an Epilogue. Played this several times and haven't connected with it yet. Some parts are unusual sonically, and the spacing and ordering can be interesting given enough attention. [B]

Marilyn Mazur/Jan Garbarek: Elixir (2005 [2008], ECM): Finished cover shows Mazur's name above title in white, with Garbarek's below white title in black -- a little more pecking order than my credit suggests. I'm not familiar with Mazur's previous work. I was under the impression that she's a vocalist, but there are no vocals here, and sources agree that she is primarily a percussionist, with other credits including vocalist, pianist, and dancer. She plays a wide range of percussion instruments -- the list starts with marimba and ends with various metal utensils. Her pieces are varied miniatures, some solo, most accompanied by Garbarek's tenor sax, soprano sax, or flute -- spare, elegant, often flat out gorgeous. The one record I've played in the last two weeks Laura complimented then asked me who it was. Not the first time that's happened with Garbarek. In fact, it's happened so often I had to laugh before telling her. [A-]

Marilyn Crispell: Vignettes (2007 [2008], ECM): One of the major jazz pianists of our times, working mostly on the avant-garde, including a long run with Anthony Braxton's Quartet and numerous independent albums on obscure labels until ECM urged her to slow down and develop a quieter, more meditative side. I found her last ECM album, The Storyteller, nothing short of enchanting. This one is harder to gauge, for the obvious reason that it's solo, and as such requires too much attention span. No swing or boogie, and little noise; deliberately fragmentary, with long, chamberish lines, artfully plotted. [B+(**)]

Marcin Wasilewski Trio: January (2007 [2008], ECM): Piano trio. Group drew first notice as three-fourths of Tomasz Stanko's "young Polish quartet." Beyond three albums with Stanko, and a couple with Manu Katché, this is the trio's second album on their own. Top line of the album also names bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz. First song is followed by a stretch of five covers: Gary Peacock, Ennio Morricone, Prince, Stanko, Carla Bley. The covers sustain the melodicism, but what really carries the album is its measured logic and attention to detail. [B+(***)]

Eri Yamamoto: Duologue (2008, AUM Fidelity): Pianist, from Japan, in NY since 1995, notably working with superbassist William Parker. Has a previous fine piano trio on AUM Fidelity, and evidently has a batch of three more 2007 albums on Jane Street that I haven't heard (haven't heard of the label either). Don't have info on this, but I gather these are duets, matching her piano with drums (Federico Ughi or Hamid Drake), bass (Parker), or sax (Daniel Carter). Each of the pieces are interesting, and they don't seem to scatter excessively, as this format is wont to do. Drake and Parker are especially worth focusing on. [B+(***)] [June 24]


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


PS: Did finally hear back from the Voice. Looks like Jazz CG is a go this week. Even better, I hear they somehow managed to squeeze it all in.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Browse Alert: News Update

WarInContext: News & Views Roundup: May 11. Today's news seems milder than yesterday's: Hizbollah is backing out of their West Beirut seizures cutting the government some slack; something of a truce in Sadr City; an evolving relationship between US Jews and Israel. Someone's still taunting the liberal interventionists to save Burma the hard way. Frank Rich sees a clear road to victory for Obama, and Bill McKibben offers civilization one more chance.

The sudden shifts of the Siniora and Maliki governments, one day lurching aggression against militias that are more independent than oppositional (to said governments, but more clearly anathema to the US), the next day backing into wary truces, just goes to show how spasmodically the US is pulling their strings. (Helena Cobban reports that the US response to the intra-Iraqi ceasefire was to bomb Sadr City.) The Bush regime may be the last holdout on earth in their steadfast belief that force settles things. (Even Israel, which happily indulges, doesn't seem to harbor any faith about the results -- as much as anything else they do it to keep the ball moving.)

Peter S. Goodman: The Dollar: Shrinkable but (So Far) Unsinkable. More of the usual about the shrinking dollar and its increasing detachment from the norms of financial integrity.

Come what may -- a financial crisis here, a military misadventure there -- Americans could count on money sloshing up thick on their shores. Virtually limitless demand for American government bonds has supported the dollar's value, and kept domestic interest rates down. Americans have been emboldened to spend in blissful disregard of their debts, secure that foreigners would always supply finance. And that devil-may-care spending has in turn fueled economic growth around the world.

Which is one of several reasons the world continues to indulge us. Another is that the US government (especially but not exclusively the Bush regime) serves generously as a flagship for the capitalist class worldwide, a class which retains substantial influence in many states, enough so they prefer not to embarrass their benefactor. Still, the rationalization can get out of hand:

But many economists say that chatter about the demise of the dollar is overblown. The United States, despite its problems, has been a remarkably solid place to put money, making it singularly able to attract savings, they point out. The dollar is likely to continue to shed value, and the American economy will grow far slower than India's and China's, they acknowledge. Yet the dollar, they argue, remains one of the few entities that seem to have fundamental staying power in an age of risk and obsolescence. The size of the United States military alone reinforces confidence that America will endure to honor its debts.

How do you make sense of the last line? The military is the largest single drain on the US economy. It has some Keynesian value in pumping money through the system, creating jobs and cash flow, but it doesn't actually produce anything of note, and it's largely financed on credit, which immediately weakens the dollar. One thing it does generate is a lot of risk -- unexpected costs, liabilities, and ill will. No other nation at present wastes so much resource. Few throughout history have come close, and decay and/or destruction have followed those that have. Why this should vouchsafe US credit is hard to imagine.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Browse Alert: Middle East Blow Up

WarInContext: News & Views Roundup: May 10. This whole cluster of article links makes me exceptionally nervous. One thing the Bush administration has worked hard at has been to draw its nominal opponents into open armed conflict. Hamas, for instance, had established a longstanding unilateral truce with Israel, entering the legitimate political process in the Palestinian territories, but over a year of forced isolation and armed attacks, both by Israel and by the US-backed PLO, eventually succeeded in forcing Hamas's hand -- although Hamas's consequent seizure of Gaza may not have been exactly what Bush (or more specifically, Elliott Abrams) intended. The same thing has happened with Hizbollah in Lebanon, again backfiring with the seizure of West Beirut. In Iraq the US continues to prod the Sadr militia toward open rebellion, as happened in Basra and Kut, and may well happen in Baghdad (Sadr City). Hizbollah and the Sadrists carry the extra burden of association with Iran, so it is worrisome as ever that this is happening at the same time as rumors are floating that the US will attack "training camps" in Iran. The bit about Negroponte tightening the US grip in Pakistan shows the same aggressiveness and presumption. The piece on "The loathsome smearing of Israel's critics" is just icing on the cake. (The only piece I'm inclined to dismiss out of hand is the one about invading Burma.)

The Rami Khouri piece is especially notable. You should recall that Egypt had a recent round of food riots, exposing the frail legitimacy of a regime that we often take for granted. Maybe the petro-emirates of the Persian Gulf are making out like bandits given record petroleum prices, but much of the Middle East is very fragile, and US belligerence only stresses them worse.

Not included in this list is a piece I read in the New York Times which suggested that Olmert should invade Gaza to unite the Israelis and distract from his pending indictments. One thing this all goes to show is that even in its waning, lame duck months, the Bush regime is very dangerous.

Tony Karon: Israel is 60, Zionism is Dead, What Now?. Long piece, essential reading. Karon argues that the Zionist rationale behind Israel has collapsed with the waning of anti-semitism worldwide, the choice of two-thirds of the world's Jews not to live in Israel, including some 750,000 Israelis who have (re)joined the diaspora.

Israel may be an intractable historical fact, but the Zionist ideology that spurred its creation and shaped its identity and sense of national purpose has collapsed -- not under pressure from without, but having rotted from within. It is Jews, not Jihadists, that have consigned Zionism to the dustbin of history.

Make sure you read the long quote from Rami Khouri at the end.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Browse Alert: Clinton

I think this quote comes from Time, but I found it quoted at Talking Points Memo, referring to Mark Penn's inability to grasp the basic rules of Democratic Party primaries:

And yet the strategy remained the same, with the [Clinton] campaign making its bet on big-state victories. Even now, it can seem as if they don't get it. Both Bill and Hillary have noted plaintively that if Democrats had the same winner-take-all rules as Republicans, she'd be the nominee.

Guess she should have run as a Republican.


By the way, Matt Taibbi's latest piece on Clinton is pretty generous to her, although the Victor Juhasz illustration makes its point savagely. For whatever it's worth, I've been bashing elites and celebrating low-brow culture since I was in my mid-teens. But I find it disturbing when competency and common sense pragmatism get bundled up as elite traits -- not least because real elites these days have so little of either.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

No post(s) today. I'm way beyond exhausted. Spent much of the day in Oak Park working on garage door install, and much of the rest at the hospital. Looks bad.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Browse Alert: Clinton

Andrew Leonard: Hillary Clinton throws economists off the bus. There's something perversely satisfying when any politician deigns to attack the economics profession, even when said politician is dead wrong. After all, it's not as if economists never screw up. But this does follow an already disturbing trend: even when Clinton manages to come up with a relatively sound policy on an issue, she backs it up with bad instincts and misunderstandings, leaving us with no confidence that she'll follow through or avoid numerous pitfalls. Leonard walks through the "gas tax holiday" issue carefully and tenaciously. Bottom line is that gas prices and especially gas taxes are already too low, even if they have been pumped up through speculation; that speculation is a distinct problem from the oil market and should be addressed on its own terms, in the more general case; and that even with reasonable fixes bigger problems are in store.

Perhaps you won't win a primary battle in Indiana by telling voters that "during my presidency, you can expect to pay more for gasoline than you do now, because that is the only way we can truly break free from our addiction to oil," just as you weren't going to win a primary battle in Ohio by lecturing voters on the benefits of free trade. But by blaming "elite opinion" for not being on the side of ordinary Americans, Clinton is dismissing everyone who says the current status quo can't be sustained, that sacrifices will have to be made, and that the era of cheap oil is over.

One thing that should be added here is that even Obama's commitment to "truth" comes up short here.

Josh Marshall: Clinton to put gravity under scrutiny. Report here is that Clinton intends to break up OPEC, using some combination of antitrust laws and the WTO. While I'd be as happy to see her turn into a new Ida Tarbell as I would to see her lead a revival of Jeanette Rankin's pacifism, her talk still reeks of opportunism. Marshall writes:

Hillary is certainly not the first candidate to bash the oil producing states or oil companies around election time. And the polls seem to show it's working for her. But I'm concerned about the widening gap between reality and her campaign trail statements. First with the pledge to obliterate Iran if they attack Israel, then the rebellion against economists and now this.

Andrew Leonard: Now, Paul Krugman throws economists off the bus. Thought I'd follow up Leonard's post yesterday with Paul Krugman's reaction, but there wasn't one yesterday, and Leonard sums up today's response nicely. Krugman doesn't support the gas tax holiday scam, but he also refuses to budge an inch toward Obama because of Clinton's gaffe. Krugman seems to favor Clinton over Obama because he'd rather see a Democrat push hard on populist themes than soft peddle them, even if the Democrat has no credibility and a busload of interests that promise to derail any possible change. For one thing, a clear rhetorical stance would make it easier to push legislation through in the wake of a Democratic landslide, as happened in the first 100 days of FDR and LBJ. On the other hand, I think the next administration is going to have its hands full well past 100 days, and will be judged more on how they react to new crises than what their opening play is.

Alex Koppelman: Quote of the Day. Speaking of Clinton, she's just picked up this ringing endorsement from Bill Kristol:

She's running a right-wing campaign. She's running the classic Republican race against her opponent, running on toughness and use-of-force issues, the campaign that the elder George Bush ran against Michael Dukakis, that the younger George Bush waged in 2000 and then again against John Kerry, and that Ronald Reagan -- "The Bear in the Forest" -- ran against Jimmy Carter and Walter F. Mondale. And she's doing it with much the same symbols. [ . . . ] She is hated on all the right fronts. The snots and the snark-mongers now all despise her, along with the trendies, the glitzies; the food, drama, and lifestyle critics, the beautiful people (and those who would join them), the Style sections of all the big papers; the slick magazines; the above-it-all pundits, who have looked down for years on the Republicans and on the poor fools who elect them, and now sneer even harder at her.

So add Kristol to her growing list of admirers on the far right, starting with Richard Mellon Scaife and Bill O'Reilly. The basic problem with this demonology is that Kristol remains a moron. He also wrote:

It is a truism that liberals think people are formed by exterior forces around them and are helpless before them, while conservatives think individuals make their own destiny. Liberals love victims and want them to stay helpless, so they can help them, with government programs; while conservatives love those who refuse to be victims, and get up off the canvas and fight.

Just look at Kristol, who came from nowhere to make himself the leading intellect of the neocon right? Well, not exactly nowhere -- his father got there first, paved the way, and handed it to him on a silver platter. I don't know about liberals, but leftists recognize that external forces molded them -- it's almost a commonplace that books by leftists start with a personal introduction on how one came to view the world. Conservatives take the opposite tack, assuming they represent God given truth even when all they ever try to do is to represent the inherited interests of their class.

But their fawning recognition of Clinton does seem to be heartfelt. They recognize that her willingness to say and do anything to grasp hold of power is a worldview, not to mention conceit, that they share.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Music: Current count 14414 [14414] rated (+0), 749 [749] unrated (-0). Spent whole week in Detroit, with another week on tap. Didn't rate any music. (Been playing things from a travel bag, but not taking notes.) Didn't get any mail. Did finally buy a couple of records at one of the few good used record stores still in existence (Street Corner Music, in Beverly Hills, MI), but didn't get them catalogued.

No Jazz Prospecting

Spent the whole week in the Detroit metro area, away from the comforts of home. Able to function somewhat with a new notebook computer, but it's been hard to focus, especially on music -- brought three travel cases of CDs with me, but don't have the reference notes, and have just been playing them for impressions, not writing as I go. So no jazz prospecting this week. Probably none next week either, as this week looks like more of the same.

No Jazz Consumer Guide either. Just heard from music editor Rob Harvilla that the space crunch is getting even worse, so he's postponed my full page piece until next week, May 14 issue. This is pretty much out of my hands: when I promised the postponed piece would run this week I was just repeating what I had been told at the time. I doubt that it's Harvilla's fault either -- maybe you could say that he's the one making priority choices between bad options, but by its very nature Jazz CG is both big (making it awkward to fit) and untimely (few of the records are very recent releases and none have much in the way of buzz).

Harvilla raised another question which I would like to throw out for comment, particularly from publicists who have some feel for the importance of Jazz CG remaining in the Voice. Harvilla suggested running Jazz CG online-only, offering to pay me the same as I've been getting for the print column. The print paper has virtually no visibility outside of NYC, so I imagine that most people only see the online version. (I often never see the print version myself.) One advantage of going strictly online might be that it could come out more frequently, with a shorter lead time, and possibly longer (e.g., more Honorable Mentions). On the other hand, I wonder how long they'd pay me print rates. So I'm not sure what to say. Don't get much feedback from these posts, but I would appreciate comments on this. Thanks.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The News That's Fit to Print Sooner or Later

Didn't manage to see the New York Times today. No big loss for me, but I'm reminded that I've been packing parts of the April 20 issue, figuring I'd quote some and comment on others. The big article two weeks ago was "Behind Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand: Courting Ex-Officers Tied to Military Contractors." I didn't actually read the piece. I realized five years ago that the networks' parade of generals were team players, retired from active service but grateful recipients of lavish pensions and lucrative second careers in the Defense racket, and that their "inside sources" were mere propaganda ministries. Moreover, I was hardly alone in noticing this. Still, when Laura started reading me quotes, I asked her to mark a few for a blog post. Here goes.

At the Pentagon, members of Ms. Clarke's staff marveled at the way the analysts seamlessly incorporated material from talking points and briefings as if it was their own.

"You could see that they were messaging," Mr. Krueger said. "You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over." Some days, he added, "We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You'd look at them and say, 'This is working.'"

[ . . . ]

One trip participant, General Nash of ABC, said some briefings were so clearly "artificial" that he joked to another group member that they were on "the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq," a reference to Mr. Romney's infamous claim that American officials had "brainwashed" him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965, while he was governor of Michigan.

[ . . . ]

Back in Washington, Pentagon officials kept a nervous eye on how the trip translated on the airwaves. Uncomfortable facts had bubbled up during the trip. One briefer, for example, mentioned that the Army was resorting to packing inadequately armored Humvees with sandbags and Kevlar blankets. Descriptions of the Iraqi security forces were withering. "They can't shoot, but then again, they don't," one officer told them, according to one participant's notes.

"I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south," General Vallely, one of the Fox analysts on the trip, recalled in an interview with The Times.

The Pentagon, though, need not have worried.

"You can't believe the progress," General Vallely told Alan Colmes of Fox News upon his return. He predicted the insurgency would be "down to a few numbers" within months.

"We could not be more excited, more pleased," Mr. Cowan told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. There was barely a word about armor shortages or corrupt Iraqi security forces.

[ . . . ]

Inside the Pentagon and at the White House, the trip was viewed as a masterpiece in the management of perceptions, not least because it gave fuel to complaints that "mainstream" journalists were ignoring the good news in Iraq.

[ . . . ]

They also understood the financial relationship between the networks and their analysts. Many analysts were being paid by the "hit," the number of times they appeared on TV. The more an analyst could boast of fresh inside information from high-level Pentagon "sources," the more hits he could expect. The more hits, the greater his potential influence in the military marketplace, where several analysts prominently advertised their network roles.

"They have taken lobbying and the search for contracts to a far higher level," Mr. Krueger said. "This has been highly honed."

Mr. Di Rita, though, said it never occurred to him that analysts might use their access to curry favor. Nor, he said, did the Pentagon try to exploit this dynamic. "That's not something that ever crossed my mind," he said. In any event, he argued, the analysts and the networks were the ones responsible for any ethical complications. "We assume they know where the lines are," he said.

[ . . . ]

Like several other analysts, Mr. Eads said he had at times held his tongue on television for fear that "some four-star could call up and say, 'Kill that contract.'" For example, he believed Pentagon officials misled the analysts about the progress of Iraq's security forces. "I know a snow job when I see one," he said. He did not share this on TV.

[ . . . ]

Mr. Bevelacqua, then a Fox analyst, was among those invited to a briefing in early 2003 about Iraq's purported stockpiles of illicit weapons. He recalled asking the briefer whether the United States had "smoking gun" proof.

"We don't have any hard evidence," Mr. Bevelacqua recalled the briefer replying. He said he and other analysts were alarmed by this concession. "We are looking at ourselves saying, 'What are we doing?'"

[ . . . ]

Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being "manipulated" to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.

[ . . . ]

Some e-email messages between the Pentagon and the analysts reveal an implicit trade of privileged access for favorable coverage. Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired Army general and analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.

"Recall the stuff I did after my last visit," he wrote. "I will do the same this time."

[ . . . ]

In interviews, several analysts reacted with dismay when told they were described as reliable "surrogates" in Pentagon documents.

[ . . . ]

On Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines died in Iraq. That day, Mr. Cowan, who said he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the "twisted version of reality" being pushed on analysts in briefings, called the Pentagon to give "a heads-up" that some of his comments on Fox "may not all be friendly." Pentagon records show, Mr. Rumsfeld's senior aides quickly arranged a private briefing for him, yet when he told Bill O'Reilly that the United States was "not on a good glide path right now" in Iraq, the repercussions were swift.

Mr. Cowan said he was "precipitously fired from the analysts group" for this appearance. The Pentagon, he wrote in an e-mail message, "simply didn't like the fact that I wasn't carrying their water." The next day James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, presided over another conference call with analysts. He urged them, a transcript shows, not to let the marines' deaths further erode support for the war.

"The strategic target remains our population," General Conway said. "We can lose people day in and day out, but they're never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen."

[ . . . ]

On Friday, April 14, with what came to be called the "Generals' Revolt" dominating headlines, Mr. Rumsfeld instructed aides to summon military analysts to a meeting with him early the next week, records show. [ . . . ]

On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for the war.

"I'm an old intel guy," said one analyst. (The transcript omits speakers' names.) "And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they think, 'Oh my God, they're trying to brainwash.'"

"What are you, some kind of a nut?" Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. "You don't believe in the Constitution?"

There was little discussion about the actual criticism pouring forth from Mr. Rumsfeld's former generals. Analysts argued that opposition to the war was rooted in perceptions fed by the news media, not reality. The administration's overall war strategy, they counseled, was "brilliant" and "very successful."

"Frankly," one participant said, "from a military point of view, the penalty, 2,400 brave Americans whom we lost, 3,000 in an hour and 15 minutes, is relative."

An analyst said at another point: "This is a wider war. And whether we have democracy in Iraq or not, it doesn't mean a tinker's damn if we end up with the result we want, which is a regime over there that's not a threat to us."

[ . . . ]

Much of the session was devoted to ways that Mr. Rumsfeld could reverse the "political tide." One analyst urged Mr. Rumsfeld to "just crush these people," and assured him that "most of the gentlemen at the table" would enthusiastically support him if he did.

"You are the leader," the analyst told Mr. Rumsfeld. "You are our guy."

At another point, an analyst made a suggestion: "In one of your speeches you ought to say, 'Everybody stop for a minute and imagine an Iraq ruled by Zarqawi,' And then you just go down the list and say, 'All right, we've got oil money, sovereignty, access to the geographic center of gravity of the Middle East, blah, blah, blah.' If you can just paint a mental picture for Joe America to say, 'Oh my God, I can't imagine a world like that."

[ . . . ]

The meeting ended and Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing pleased and relaxed, took the entire group into a small study and showed off treasured keepsakes from his life, several analysts recalled. [ . . . ]

Days later, Mr. Rumsfeld wrote a memorandum distilling their collective guidance into bullet points. Two were underlined.

"Focus on the Global War on Terror -- not simply Iraq. The wider war -- the long war."

"Link Iraq to Iran. Iran is the concern. If we fail in Iraq or Afghanistan, it will help Iran."

But if Mr. Rumsfeld found the session instructive, at least one participant, General Nash, the ABC analyst, was repulsed.

"I walked away from that session having total disrespect for my fellow commentators, with perhaps one or two exceptions," he said.

[ . . . ]

Some networks publish biographies on their Web sites that describe their analysts' military backgrounds and, in some cases, give at least limited information about their business ties. But many analysts also said the networks asked few questions about their outside business interests, the nature of their work or the potential for that work to create conflicts of interest. "None of that ever happened," said Mr. Allard, an NBC analyst until 2006.

"The worst conflict of interest was no interest."

Plenty of things to note here, but I was especially struck by the scapegoating of Iran -- a card the military, Bush, and everyone in between have replayed whenever the need for a scapegoat arose, which is to say repeatedly.


Same issue has a Jad Mouawad piece on oil called "The Big Thirst." A couple of quotes here show big problems that could be recognized with only a tiny bit of intelligence.

"This is the market signaling there is a problem," said Jan Stuart, global oil economist at UBS, "that there is a growing difficulty to meet demand with new supplies."

Today's tensions are only likely to get worse in coming years. Consider a few numbers: The planet's population is expected to grow by 50 percent to nine billion by sometime in the middle of the century. The number of cars and trucks is projected to double in 30 years -- to more than two billion -- as developing nations rapidly modernize. And twice as many passenger jetliners, more than 36,000, will in all likelihood be crisscrossing the skies in 20 years.

All of that will require a lot more oil -- enough that global oil consumption will jump by some 35 percent by the year 2030, according to the International Energy Agency, a leading global energy forecaster for the United Statews and other developed nations. For producers it will mean somehow finding and pumping an additional 11 billion barrels of oil every year.

And that's only 22 years away, a heartbeat for the petroleum industry, where the pace of finding and tapping new supplies is measured in decades. [ . . . ]

The problem is that no one can say for sure where all this oil is going to come from.

Let alone draw the obvious inference, which is that if the oil isn't forthcoming, the demand for it -- all those extra people, cars, and development -- is also thrown into question.

But the quote that first tripped my alarm was further down:

A small band of skeptics view today's record prices as evidence that oil supplies have peaked -- that half the globe's oil supply has already been used up. But most experts believe that there are still enough oil reserves, both discovered and undiscovered, to last at least through the middle of the century.

The problem is that in many corners of the world, geopolitics, more than geology, has removed much of those reserves from the reach of independent oil companies.

"There are plenty of resources in the globe," Rex Tillerson, the chairman of Exxon, recently told an investor conference. The difficulty, he said, was "just continuing to have access to all of the opportunities."

Over the past century, the world burned through a trillion barrels of oil. Another 1.2 trillion barrels of known conventional oil reserves wait to be tapped, according to BP, one of the world's biggest oil companies. It sounds like a lot. But given the current rate of growth in demand, a trillion of those barrels will be used up in less than 30 years.

First thing here is that even the concessions -- from BP at least, if not necessarily from diehard Exxon -- sound like rousing confirmation of the Peak Oil model. One trillion down, 1.2 trillion to go, that's pretty close to half pumped, especially given that it gets progressively harder -- more expensive, most critically in terms of energy -- to get at the last barrels in every oil field. Nor does it really matter if the time frame for getting down to this last 10% of unpumped oil is 30, 40, or 60 years. Within the natural lifetimes of people already born our world is going to change substantially.

In fairness, Mouawad adds the following escape clause:

What then? Many analysts estimate another trillion barrels of yet-to-be-found oil remains, but in remote places like the Arctic Ocean where it will be expensive to extract, or in countries that might restrict access.

Note that the analysts have dropped from "most" to "many," and the costs are hopping. There have been some deep sea finds recently, but they are paltry compared to the discoveries that were common in the 1960s-1970s, and they are expensive and risky. The political cases are hardly any cheaper, especially if Bush's efforts to open up Iraq to western oil exploration are any indication.

What about the United States? The country has shown little willingness to address its energy needs in a rational way. James Schlesinger, the nation' first energy secretary in the 1970s, once said the United States was capable of only two approaches to its energy policy: "complacency or crsis."

The United States is the only major industrialized nation to see its oil consumption surge since the oil shocks of the 1970s and 1980s. This can partly be explained by the fact that the United States has some of the lowest gasoline prices in the world, the least fuel-efficient cars on the roads, the lowest energy taxes, and the longest daily commutes of any industrialized nation. The result: about a quarter of the world's oil goes to the United States every day, and of that, more than half goes to its cars and trucks. [ . . . ]

"The country has been living beyond its means," said Vaclav Smil, a prominent energy expert at the University of Manitoba. "The situation is dire. We need to do relative sacrifices. But people don't realize how dire the situation is."

Of course they don't. Americans survived the scares of 1973 and 1979 and came out thinking they're immune. They bought into Reagan's "morning in America" flattery, and now they think it can never be otherwise. This is a nation built on cheap land and cheap oil, so happy go lucky even WWII was just a party. We're so conceited we still refer to ourselves as the world's sole superpower -- a hyperpower even. How can such a run of dumb luck ever run out?


Then, same issue, there's an op-ed by Clinton economist Martin Neil Baily (currently at Brookings) called "Don't Blame the War for the Economy." Several people have said this recently, including Dean Baker, who argues that the numbers from the subprime mortgage crisis simply swamp out the nominal Iraq war expenses. That's true as far as it goes, but only if you assume there are no hidden connections. One of those connections is George W. Bush, whose 2004 election depended on putting up some plausible indication of economic growth to counter his fiasco in Iraq -- itself intimately connected to Bush's quest for power, and failed by the same ideological blinders and reckless disregard that drove the housing bubble through the subprime jungle.

Baily, on the other hand, doesn't even understand that the critical economic problem now is financial, not the relatively simple (albeit intractable) problem of oil prices. He writes:

I am no fan of the war in Iraq, but it simply has not been a major contributor to the financial crisis and the impending recession. The high price of oil is largely the result of strong demand, notably from China and India, pressing against a limited supply. The global oil supply is growing more slowly than it could because of politics and policies in many places -- Russia, Mexico, Nigeria and Venezuela as well as the Middle East. [ . . . ] Absent the war, Iraqi oil production under Saddam Hussein might have been somewhat higher, but not by enough to affect the American economy. Iraqi oil production has been very volatile and has experienced a downward trend since the late 1970s, despite its vast potential.

Get that? High oil prices are the result of politics, but not of American politics, even though the strapped suppliers have complex and mostly unsavory experience with US policies, and the voracious consumers are precisely the developing nations with the poorest record of following the dictates of the Washington Consensus on how developing nations should be governed -- nations which also benefit from US offshoring, and which in turn prop up US deficits. Before you let war off the hook for the economy, take a good look at how America's penchant for war and empire affects everything.

Here's another example of Baily's confusion:

Is government borrowing to blame? Chronic budget deficits are harmful because they increase interest rates, crowd out domestic investment, and increase the trade deficit. So, in principle, budget deficits should actually have curbed the housing boom, not fueled it.

In practice, budget deficits did not result in high interest rates because of the huge flows of foreign capital into the American economy. The lack of discipline in the federal budget in recent years is deplorable and we will pay for that,especially as we face the costs of an aging population. The failure to pay for the war is part of this policy mistake, but only a part and not a big cause of today's problems.

Economics is a science? Sounds like we're being scammed by the world, willingly so. Mostly because it makes Bush look less worse than he's actually been -- a delusion we'll pay dearly for.


One good op-ed for a change, Alexandra Fuller on "Recovering From Wyoming's Energy Bender":

For example, oil and gas companies are exempt from provisions of the Clean Water Act that require construction activities to reduce polluted runoff as well as from provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act that regulate underground injection of chemicals. The industry is also generously permitted to drill on critical wildlife winter range (close to 90 percent of all their requests to drill on winter range have been granted). Oil rigs are drilling for natural gas on the banks of the New Fork River (the headwaters of the Colorado) and in the foothills of the Wyoming Range. Well sites in many parts of the southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are so closely spaced that, with roads, gas pipelines and compressor stations, the development is continuous.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Two Gilded Ages

Not clear whether Steve Fraser's TomDispatch essay The Great Silence is an excerpt from his new Wall Street book or an advance from a future book on "The Two Gilded Ages." But it's worth quoting at some length. The two gilded ages theme also has a prominent place in Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal. The most obvious connection is the similar degree of economic inequity, especially in contrast to the middle class-oriented period coming out of the New Deal.


Here's a set of quotes, highlights from the essay:

Reagan's America was gilded by design. In 1981, when the New Rich and the New Right paraded in their sumptuous threads in Washington to celebrate at the new president's inaugural ball, it was called a "bacchanalia of the haves." Diana Vreeland, style guru (as well as Nancy Reagan confidante), was stylishly blunt: "Everything is power and money and how to use them both . . . We mustn't be afraid of snobbism and luxury."

That's when the division of wealth and income began polarizing so that, by every measure, the country has now exceeded the extremes of inequality achieved during the first Gilded Age; nor are our elites any more embarrassed by their Mammon-worship than were members of the "leisure class" excoriated a century ago by that take-no-prisoners social critic of American capitalism Thorstein Veblen.

Back then, it was about masquerading as European nobility at lavish balls in elegant hotels like New York's Waldorf-Astoria, locked down to forestall any unpleasantness from the street (where ordinary folk were in a surly mood trying to survive the savage depression of the 1890s). Today's "leisure class" is holed up in gated communities or houseoleums as gargantuan as the imported castles of their Gilded Age forerunners, ready to fly off -- should the natives grow restless -- to private islands aboard their private jets.

The Free Market as Melodrama

As in those days, there is today no end to ideological justifications for an inequality so pervasive that no one can really ignore it entirely. In 1890, reformer Jacob Riis published his book How the Other Half Lives. Some were moved by his vivid descriptions of destitution. In the late nineteenth century, however, the preferred way of dismissing that discomfiting reality was to put the blame on a culture of dependency supposedly prevalent among "the lower orders," particularly, of course, among those of certain complexions and ethnic origins; and the logical way to cure that dependency, so the claim went, was to eliminate publicly funded "outdoor relief."

How reminiscent of the "welfare to work" policies cooked up by the Clinton administration, an exchange of one form of dependency -- welfare -- for another -- low-wage labor. Poverty, once turned into the cultural and moral problem of the impoverished, exculpated Gilded Age economics in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries (and proved profitable besides).

Missing Utopias and Dystopias

What's left of mainstream populism exists on life-support in some attic of the Democratic Party. Even the language of our second Gilded Age is hollowed out. In a society saturated in Christian sanctimony, would anyone today describe "mankind crucified on a cross of gold" as William Jennings Bryan once did, or let loose against "Mammon worship," condemn aristocratic "parasites," or excommunicate "vampire speculators" and the "devilfish" of Wall Street? If nineteenth century evangelical preachers once pronounced anathema on capitalist greed, twenty-first century televangelists deify it. Tempers have cooled, leaving God, like many Americans, with only part-time employment.

The Great Silence

Perhaps the answer is simple and basic: The first Gilded Age rested on industrialization; the second on de-industrialization. In our time, a new system of dis-accumulation looted American industry, liquidating its assets to reward speculation in "fictitious capital." After all, the rate of investment in new plant, technology, and research and development all declined during the 1980s. For a quarter-century, the fastest growing part of the economy has been the finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sector.

De-industrialization has set off an avalanche whose impact is still being felt in the economy, in the country's political culture, and in everyday life. It laid the industrial working class and the labor movement low, killing it twice over. This, more than anything else, may account for the great silence of the second Gilded Age, when measured, at least, against the raucous noise of the first. Labor was mortally wounded by direct assault, beginning with President Reagan's decision in 1981 to fire all the striking air traffic controllers. His draconian act licensed American business to launch its own all-out attack on the right to organize, which continues to this day.

[ . . . ]

Dis-accumulating capitalism also undermined the political gravitas of poverty. In the first Gilded Age, poverty was a function of exploitation; in the second, of exclusion or marginalization. When we think about poverty, what comes to mind is welfare and race. The first gilded age visualized instead coal miners, child labor, tenement workshops, and the shantytowns that clustered around the steel mills of Aliquippa and Homestead.

Poverty arising out of exploitation ignited widespread moral revulsion and a robust political assault on the power of the exploiters. The perpetrators of the poverty of exclusion of our own time have been trickier to identify. In his 1962 book The Other America, Michael Harrington noted the invisibility of poverty. That was half a century ago and misery still lives in the shadows. Helped along by an ingrained racism, poverty in the second Gilded Age was politically neutered . . . or worse.

The Myth of Democratic Capitalism

Our corporate elite are much more adept than their Gilded Age predecessors were at playing the democracy game. The old "leisure class" was distinctly averse to politics. If they needed a tariff or tax break, they called up their kept Senator. When mortally challenged by the Populists and William Jennings Bryan in 1896, they did get involved; but, by and large, they didn't muck about in mass party politics which they saw as too full of uncontrollable ethnic machines, angry farmers, and the like. They relied instead on the Federal judiciary, business-friendly Presidents, constitutional lawyers, and public and private militias to protect their interests.

Beginning in the 1970s, our age's business elite became acutely politically-minded and impressively well-organized, penetrating deeply all the pores of party and electoral democracy. They've gone so far as to craft strategic alliances with elements of what their nineteenth century predecessors -- who might have blanched at the prospect -- would have termed the hoi polloi. Calls to dismantle the federal bureaucracy now carry a certain populist panache, while huffing and puffing about family values has -- so far -- proven a cheap date for a gilded elite that otherwise generally couldn't care less.

[ . . . ]

"Shareholder democracy" and the "ownership society" are admittedly more public relations slogans than anything tangible. Nonetheless, you can't ignore the fact that, during the second Gilded Age, half of all American families became investors in the stock market. Dentists and engineers, mid-level bureaucrats and college professors, storekeepers and medical technicians -- people, that is, from the broad spectrum of middle class life who once would have viewed the New York Stock Exchange with a mixture of awe, trepidation, and genuine distaste, and warily kept their distance -- now jumped head first into the marketplace carrying with them all their febrile hopes for social elevation.

As Wall Street suddenly seemed more welcoming, fears about strangulating monopolies died. Dwindling middle-class resistance to big business accounts for the withering away of the old anti-trust movement, a telling development in the evolution of our age's particular form of "big-box" capitalism. Once, that movement had not only expressed the frustrated ambitions of smaller businessmen, but of all those who felt victimized by monopoly power. It embodied not just the idea of breaking up the trusts, but of competing with or replacing them with public enterprises.

Long before the Reagan counter-revolution defanged the whole regulatory apparatus, however, the "anti-trust" movement was over and done with. Its absence from the political landscape during the second Gilded Age marks the demise of an older middle-class world of local producers, merchants, and their customers who were once bound together by the ties of commerce and the folk truths of small town Protestantism.

The End of the Age of Acquiescence?

However, the wheel turns. The capitalism of the Second Gilded Age now faces a systemic crisis and, under the pressure of impending disaster, may be headed back to the future. Old-fashioned poverty is making a comeback. Arguably, the global economy, including its American branch, is increasingly a sweatshop economy. There is no denying that brute fact in Thailand, China, Vietnam, Central America, Bangladesh, and dozens of other countries and regions that serve as platforms for primitive accumulation. Hundreds of millions of peasants have become proletarians virtually overnight.

Here at home, something analogous has been happening, but with an ironic difference and bearing within it a new historic opportunity. One might call it the unhorsing of the middle class.

[ . . . ]

Anger and resentment, however, do not by themselves comprise a visionary alternative. Nor is the Democratic Party, however restive, a likely vehicle of social democratic aspirations. Much more will have to happen outside the precincts of electoral politics by way of mass movement building to translate these smoke signals of resistance into something more muscular and enduring. Moreover, nasty competition over diminishing economic opportunities can just as easily inflame simmering racial and ethnic antagonisms.

Nonetheless, the current break-down of the financial system is portentous. It threatens a general economic implosion more serious than anyone has witnessed for many decades. Depression, if that is what it turns out to be, together with the agonies of a misbegotten and lost war no one believes in any longer, could undermine whatever is left of the threadbare credibility of our Gilded Age elite.

Legitimacy is a precious possession; once lost it's not easily retrieved. Today, the myth of the "ownership society" confronts the reality of the "foreclosure society." The great silence of the second Gilded Age may give way to the great noise of the first.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Conservative Ascendency

See book summary.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Conservatives Without Conscience

See book summary.


Apr 2008 Jun 2008