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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Recycled Goods #55: July 2008

See link to here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rhapsody Streamnotes

While stumbling around my website the other day, I discovered that the music index page had various problems, starting with its notion that I was still working on my 2006 lists. I spent a bit of time cleaning that up, including adding some relatively new things, like the metacritic pages. The page I send to publicists is still pretty old and increasingly shoddy. Haven't done much to it yet, probably because I'm a little confused myself about what I want to do in terms of music reviewing. But it occurred to me that perhaps there is enough critical mass to the Rhapsody Streamnotes (new term, just thought of it) to warrant their own section. So I hacked together a little something based on the old F5 framework -- actually, the newest of the old music writing folders -- and scrounged through the blog, the notebook, and a few other nooks and crannies, and voilà. I rounded up notes on 215 albums, mostly from my year-end round-up posts.

The notes should be taken with several grains of salt: they are summary judgments based on one or two plays, never (to my recollection) more; they are often done when I'm working on something else; they play on the computer speakers, which aren't bad but aren't as good as I normally use, and aren't connected to follow me around the house; I don't have access to the packaging, which cuts into my information flow as well as doesn't look or feel right. Also, Rhapsody itself isn't all that satisfactory: some cuts are missing (especially on hip-hop records); sometimes it skips over a cut (which I'm unlikely to notice unless I'm actually looking at the screen -- like, almost never); sometimes the stream chokes leaving an annoying break in the sound; sometimes I have trouble finding a record, or find multiple versions and am not certain which is best. Also, a lot of records aren't available, but that's not a caveat -- just a gripe I wanted to get in.

The streamnotes are organized into chunks, mostly corresponding to previous blog posts (often with introductions, since I had them). In general, I collect them until they reach some critical mass, then dump them out. I tend to do this in fits and starts, often just because I want a break from the jazz grind. I did another dozen or so (not out yet) last week while I was working on the update of Robert Christgau's website -- seemed like a good time to check out his CG picks.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14645 [14605] rated (+40), 777 [789] unrated (-12). Huge rated count, goosed up by spending a couple of days on Rhapsody while I updated the Christgau website. That was one of many things I did while failing to tackle the necessary closing of the Jazz CG cycle. Next week I need to finally buckle down.

  • Can't You Hear Me Callin': Bluegrass: 80 Years of American Music (1925-2002 [2004], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): First disc ends with bluegrass founder Bill Monroe, a set of old-time country classics; next two discs run heavy with Monroe, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Stanley Brothers, Jimmy Martin, Jim & Jesse, Osborne Brothers -- a label comp in absolute control of its subject; only the last disc wanders with the Byrds and the Dixie Chicks among the odd choices. Never got a finished copy, so this advance set has been languishing on my shelves for years. A-
  • The Rough Guide to Congo Gold (1957-93 [2008], World Music Network): Panning gold from the Congo is easier than any of history's famed rushes: Henry Bowane, Grand Kalle, Dr. Nico, Franco, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Sam Mangwana, Papa Noel -- you can duplicate that formula over dozens of discs and never tire of it. A


Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 13)

Johnny Griffin died this weekend, at age 80. He was a second-tier tenor saxophonist who burst onto the scene in 1956 and rarely took a break thereafter. By "second-tier" I mean he obviously wasn't Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, or Joe Henderson; more like Sonny Stitt, Lockjaw Davis, Benny Golson, Clifford Jordan, Hank Mobley. I never paid him a lot of attention, but early on in my second jazz phase Robert Christgau pointed to Griffin as the first saxophonist he had really heard. The record was Thelonious Monk's Misterioso, and Christgau has alluded to this experience on several occasions. I'm pretty sure Christgau regards Griffin as second-tier also, or maybe even third. While Monk remains his first jazz love, he transferred his Griffin experience to Charlie Parker, who invented much of Griffin's vocabulary and played it notoriously fast -- a feat Griffin was almost uniquely able to match on tenor.

My own first saxophone experience came later with Ornette Coleman, which only reflected poorly on Parker, whom I've never much liked even after I begrudgingly came to respect. For a long time, I had a very negative opinion on bebop, which gradually broke down from the edges -- the drummers, the pianists, Milt Jackson, then finally I surrendered to Dizzy Gillespie. Griffin was initially too bebop for me, but ultimately he was too irrepressible to dislike. His two albums with Monk -- the other is Thelonious in Action, cut the same time as Misterioso and at least as good -- mark the first point where someone snatches Monk's music the auteur's control and runs off with it, the first hint that Monk's songbook was going to inspire much more jazz than the composer could ever record. Everyone was surprised that it was Griffin (as opposed to Monk's previous saxophonists, Messrs. Rollins and Coltrane) would be the one, but Griffin was bold to the point of recklessness, and he had the chops to back it up. Must have shocked Monk too; he went right out and hired the more studious and deferential Charlie Rouse.

Griffin's discography is extensive and scattered, and I only know a modest slice of it. But some records I do recommend (all A-) are:

  • The Congregation (1957, Blue Note)
  • Johnny Griffin Sextet (1958, Riverside)
  • Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis/Johnny Griffin: The Tenor Scene (1961, Prestige)

The latter was the best of a furious series of jousts, starting with Tough Tenors. A lot of solid B+ work followed, including minor comebacks like The Cat (1990, Antilles) and The Rev and I (filed under Phil Woods, 1998, Blue Note), not that he ever went away -- he managed a half-dozen albums each in the dry decades of the 1970s and 1980s.


Don't have anything to add on Jazz CG, except that I know it's overdue, and will try to get it done this week. Failed last week. It's been a tough summer, and not over yet.


Paul Bley: About Time (2007 [2008], Justin Time): Solo piano. I'm not sure whether Bley or Keith Jarrett holds the record for the most solo piano albums. Probably depends on how you count Jarrett's marathons. Bley's records are more modest. This one starts with a thoughtful meander, the 33:28 title track. Then adds a quite charming 10:25 "Encore." B+(*)

David Liebman/Roberto Tarenzi/Paolo Benedettini/Tony Arco: Negative Space (2005 [2008], Verve): Liebman refers to his group as "this wonderful trio" and they don't let him down. But he's the star, and they're playing his book -- the record rises and falls on that. Despite Liebman's eminence, it seems that he's never moved out from the shadows of his heroes: Miles Davis and John Coltrane. More Coltrane here, especially his rowdy take on the familiar "Afro Blue." B+(**)

Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (2007 [2008], Half Note): Trombonist; b. 1959 Lawton, OK; graduated from North Texas; based in New York. I'm way behind the learning curve on him, tending to regard him as a latin specialist -- he's best known for having done this same "Latin Side" treatment to John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and has a second Coltrane volume called Que Viva Coltrane -- but most of his 17 albums (starting from 1987) look to be mainstream, mostly on Criss Cross. Seven-piece band, with Brian Lynch trumpet, Ronnie Cuber baritone sax, Luis Perdomo piano, Ruben Rodriguez bass, Robby Ameen drums, Pedro Martinez congas. Eddie Palmieri drops in for the last three cuts -- a shot of adrenalin, not that Perdomo needs any help. This goes a lot deeper than just dressing up Shorter's tunes with congas, but still feels a bit like an exercise. B+(**)

The Paul Carlon Octet: Roots Propaganda (2008, Deep Tone): Carlon plays tenor/soprano sax and flute, mostly in Latin frameworks that dig deep into African (e.g., Yoruba) roots. I first noticed him in tresero Benjamin Lapidus's group Sonido Isleño. He also looms large in Grupo Los Santos, whose Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea probably ranks as my favorite Latin jazz record of the last year. Second Octet album, after 2006's Other Tongues. Group has five horns, including double trombones, plus piano-bass-drums. Guests include Christelle Durandy (vocals, 3 cuts) and Max Pollak (does what he calls "rumbatap" on 1 cut). Interesting stuff, but oddly hit-and-miss. B+(**)

Emilio Solla y Afines: Conversas (Al Lado del Agua) (2007 [2008], Fresh Sound World Jazz): Solla is a pianist from Argentina, now based in New York. Fourth album; second with Afines. Solla also plays in Pablo Aslan's Avantango. A previous album is called Suite Piazzollana, further evidence of tango heritage. Group here features Gorka Benitez on tenor sax and flutes, Carlos Morera on bandoneon, David Gonzalez on double bass, David Xirgu on drums. The tango influence is hushed here, with the wide mix of pieces leaning towards the lush -- Benitez often sounds gorgeous. Some guests complicate things, including a crooning vocal by Xavier Casellas. B+(*)

Jesse Stacken: That That (2006 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, b. 1978, based in New York. First album, a piano trio with Eivind Opsvik (bass) and Jeff Davis (drums) -- two names familiar from elsewhere, especially with Kris Davis. I need to hold this one back: didn't seem very interesting the first time through, but figured I didn't hear it clearly enough, and the second play started to click together. Moderately paced, dense, with more than a little dramatic tension. May be on to something. [B+(**)]

Jordi Rossy Trio: Wicca (2007 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, first attracted attention in Brad Mehldau's trio. First album under his own name, and for a change this time he plays piano, in a trio with Albert Sanz on organ and RJ Miller on drums. The piano-organ combination is unusual and comes off even odder here given that Sanz is the more skilled pianist. He doesn't settle into the bass register to support the piano; more like he sets up the basic texture of the music which Rossy merely decorates. Still, it has a bright, sunny allure. Title cut adds trumpet and tenor sax, a big plus. B+(*)

Guus Janssen: Out of Frame (2008, Geestgronden): Dutch pianist, avant-garde, b. 1951, AMG credits him with 7 albums and 14 more credits since 1986, but his website shows almost twice that many. I like his trio album Zwik a lot. This one is solo, which makes it tougher, especially over the long haul. The piano here is loud and percussive, and some pieces -- notably one called "Toe-Tapping Tune" -- have the hands split so far apart they could be duets. B+(**)

Spoon 3: Seductive Sabotage (2007 [2008], Evil Rabbit): Dutch group, with pianist Albert Van Veenendaal and bassist Meinrad Kneer, who've recorded more as a duo, and vocalist Jodi Gilbert -- also credited with "little instruments, live sampling." I gather that Gilbert originally hails from California, but works out of Amsterdam, shrouded in the anonymity of groups (The Voice Is the Matter, Rasp/Hasp). She wrote most of the lyrics here, and makes sounds beyond them. The short pieces have an operatic art-song feel, demanding more focus than I can really muster. The bass and (more or less prepared) piano take focus as well, the results often fascinating. B+(**)

John McLaughlin: Floating Point (2008, Abstract Logix): New label. Back cover says: "File under: Jazz/Rock." McLaughlin has been returning to his fusion roots lately, playing a lot of guitar synth as well as old-fashioned electric. Core band here adds keybs, bass guitar, drums. Most cuts add a little extra, usually something picked up from his studies in India: Shankar Magadevan's voice, U Rajesh's electric mandolin, Naveen Kumar's bamboo flute, Debashish Bhattacharya's Hindustani slide guitar, Sivamani's konokol, Niladri Kumar's sitar. Most make for minor exotica, but they're just along for the ride. Good news is that McLaughlin hasn't moved this fast in years. What's questionable is why we should care. B+(**)

David Berger Octet: I Had the Craziest Dream: The Music of Harry Warren (2008, Such Sweet Thunder): Arranger/conductor, took his label name from the Duke Ellington album. This is the fourth of his albums I've heard, and by far my favorite, not just because he roped Harry Allen and Joe Temperley into the Octet, although that certainly has something to do with it. Warren's music holds up pretty well sans vocals. B+(**)

Alvin Queen: Jammin' Uptown (1985 [2008], Just a Memory): Hard bop drummer, b. 1950 New York, credits list suggests he's spent a lot of time in Europe, with Kenny Drew a regular. Cut several albums in the 1980s; not much since then, although I liked a 2006 album, I Ain't Looking at You, quite a lot. This old one is bright and bubbling, but I don't much care for it. Terence Blanchard (trumpet) and Manny Boyd (tenor/alto/soprano sax) are often over the top -- I don't often mind flat-out jamming, and Blanchard in particular can play, but I don't get the point either. John Hicks (piano) and Robin Eubanks (trombone) do nice work when the pace breaks and they get shots to solo. Drummer is fine at any speed. B

John Patton: Soul Connection (1983 [2008], Just a Memory): Organ player, 1935-2002, sometimes credited as Big John Patton. Had a good run at Blue Note in the 1960s, with Let 'Em Roll (1965) a standout. Recorded rarely thereafter. This, cut in Switzerland, is his only album between 1969 and 1993. The group includes Grant Reed (tenor sax), Grachan Moncur III (trombone), Melvin Sparks (guitar), and Alvin Queen (drums). Sounds like boogaloo with brains, with Sparks consistently in the groove, and Moncur interesting even when out of it. B+(**)

Fulminate Trio (2007 [2008], Generate): Drummer Michael Evans, bassist Ken Filiano, guitarist Anders Nilsson. Evans and Nilsson write, so I figure them for the pecking order. Filiano is a first-call bassist, with an uncanny knack for showing up on records that are better than you'd expect. Evans lists a lot of stuff I've never heard of on his discography, going back to 1981, nothing under his own name. Nilsson is a guitarist I like a lot. He seems to be struggling to stay within the framework here, rather than busting out. The tension works more often than not, but I wouldn't mind something more. B+(**)

Adrian Iaies Trio + Michael Zisman: Vals de la 81st & Columbus (2008, Sunnyside): Iaies is an Argentine pianist; b. 1960, Buenos Aires; has 7 CDs since 1998, including a couple with a group called Tango Reflections Trio. Haven't heard any before, but it seems to be a safe bet that virtually all of them have a strong tango interest. Trio includes Pablo Aslan, who has a strong tango catalog of his own, on bass, and Pepi Taveira on drums. Zisman plays bandoneón; b. 1981, Buenos Aires, still based there, not the same as the San Francisco-based mandolinist of the same name. Two cuts add Juan Cruz de Urquiza on trumpet. Don't think I can suss this out right now. I'm a sucker for tango, and in that this delivers, plus something more, to be determined. [B+(***)]

Houston Person/Ron Carter: Just Between Friends (2005 [2008], High Note): So easy, but the sort of set you -- or at least I -- can't help falling in love with. My present quibble is that I suspect Person of holding back so as not to overwhelm the bass -- Carter even gets a fair amount of solo room. Songs they scarcely had to look up: "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Blueberry Hill," "Darn That Dream," "Lover Man," "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," "Always," like that. [A-]

Jerry Bergonzi: Tenor Talk (2008, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, from Boston, b. 1950, 25 albums since 1982, mainstream player with a minor in Coltrane, teaches at New England Conservatory, about as dependable as any saxophonist around. Third album on Savant. Judging from the titles -- Tenor of the Times, Tenorist, now Tenor Talk -- all they ask him to do is blow. Still, the series keeps getting better. His "European band" -- Renato Chicco on piano, Dave Santoro on bass, Andrea Michelutti on drums -- crackles, and Gonz lives up to his nickname. Possibly his best ever. A-

Steve Turre: Rainbow People (2007 [2008], High Note): Poll-winning trombonist, also plays conch shells (and sometimes wins polls for that as well), on his 13th album. I've heard most of them, and like most of what I've heard, but I've never managed to characterize his sound -- how many ways can you spell eclectic? -- and I still don't have a clue what the shells sound like. With Sean Jones (trumpet), Kenny Garrett (alto sax, 4 tracks; note Charlie Parker cover), Mulgrew Miller (piano; note McCoy Tyner cover), Peter Washington (bass), Ignacio Berroa (drums), Pedro Martinez (percussion, 1 track, note Latin move). Starts with the strong title track, and pulls off various surprises after that. Liked it more the first play. [B+(***)]

Al Foster Quartet: Love, Peace and Jazz! (2007 [2008], Jazz Eyes): Live set, recorded at the Village Vanguard. At the end Foster introduces everyone, thanks the crowd for supporting jazz, then explains that peace, love, and jazz are all one needs to live. One thing I've noticed in writing this blog is that there's an exceptional bond between jazz and peace. I keep pushing peace issues in the most political posts here, but that hardly seems out of keeping with jazz: Foster's sort of spontaneous outburst is merely par for the course. Foster is one of the younger drummers from the hard bop era. Born 1944, he broke in with Blue Mitchell around 1965, and has worked steady ever since -- AMG's credits list goes to three pages, with Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon, Cedar Walton, Art Pepper, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Hank Jones (in what was called the Great Jazz Trio), just a few of the names that jump out at me. Not much under his own name, but he wrote 3 of 6 songs here -- the covers comes from Mitchell, Davis, and Wayne Shorter. He's playing with young guys here, well tuned to his wavelength: Eli Degibri on various saxophones, Kevin Hays on piano, Douglass Weiss on bass. Degibri had a Fresh Sound New Talent record in 2006 that wasn't ready for prime time, but he's looser and more confident here. Happens a lot with Foster. B+(**)

Glenn White: Sacred Machines (2007 [2008], OA2): Dynamod Web Portals website -- first one I've seen that doesn't let us Flash-o-phobes view an HTML version. I realize that musicians like Flash because it makes it relatively easy to inundate browsers with music, but as far as I'm concerned it's still evil, a source of numerous bugs and glitches, and flat out annoying. But more than anything else, it represents a specific wrongheadedness towards the web. The generic coding in HTML put all the focus on content -- in an ideal world HTML writers will produce worthwhile content because that's all HTML is good for. Flash, on the other hand, is all about experience, which is to say, about the designer trying to control us browsers. So White's website is useless. From other sources, we know a little bit about him: b. 1973, originally from Phoenix; played around Denver, Boston, Kentucky, Alaska; now lives in New York. Put out a self-produced album in 1999; producer on this one is Dave Binney. Plays tenor sax, with a strong, foursquare tone, some authority on the solos. Writes, 6 of 7 on this sextet with Jamie Baum's flutes, Roberta Piket's keyboards, Patrick Hay's guitar, Gary Wang bass, Jeff Hirshfield drums. Postbop; fancy where I'd rather hear him blow. Has a future. Hope he fixes that website. B

Geof Bradfield: Urban Nomad (2007 [2008], Origin): Cf. Glenn White for his problematic taste in websites. Saxophonist. Lists tenor first, but record starts with soprano. Second album. From Houston, now based in Chicago. Name and sound somewhat familiar from Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls -- I still like an album they did in 2003 called Breeding Resistance, one of my first Jazz CG picks. Quartet here, with Ron Perrillo on piano, Clark Sommers on bass, George Fludas on drums. Wrote 6 of 9 songs, with covers from Harry Warren, Thad Jones, and Dizzy Gillespie ("Con Alma"). I like him quite a bit when he opens up on tenor. B+(*)

Bill Frisell: History, Mystery (2002-07 [2008], Nonesuch, 2CD): A major jazz guitarist with a checkered history, comparable to Dave Douglas not least in how his muse can stray in directions I'm ill prepared to follow, or that he occasionally pulls off a miracle anyway. The bulk of this sprawling set is built around a string section -- Jenny Scheinman violin, Eyvind Kang viola, Hank Robets cello, Tony Scherr bass -- suggesting chamber jazz, something polite and formal, with touches of the postbop classical modernism he sometimes flirts with, much as he fiddles with recreating American folklore. It's a relief when Greg Tardy (tenor sax, clarinet) cuts loose, but it's hardly ever tedious with just the strings. There's much too much going on here to digest in a single sitting -- for some reason Nonesuch never sends me Frisell's records, although they're generous with the rest of their catalog -- so take this grade with a grain of salt. A- [Rhapsody]

Walter "Wolfman" Washington: Doin' the Funky Thing (2008, Zoho Roots): Blues singer, b. 1943 in New Orleans, broke in as a guitarist for Johnny Adams. Ninth record since he graduated to leader status with Wolf Tracks in 1986, breaking a drought since 2000. The title funk grack is the best thing here, split in two pieces to bookend the record. Makes me think he's out to revive his career by tearing a page from Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Might as well: he doesn't have the voice or timing to follow Howlin' Wolf. B

Jamie Davis: Vibe Over Perfection (2005 [2008], Unity Music): Singer, hooked onto the Basie ghost band, and does a terrific Joe Williams impersonation. Second album that I've heard: I slightly prefer the previous It's a Good Thing, probably because the songs are first choice, but this is very close. He's one of the few jazz singers still working in the KC blues shouter mold, and possibly the best. Shelly Berg helms the massive orchestra this time. Mrs. Joe Williams contributes a blurb. B+(**)

Wayman Tisdale: Rebound (2008, Rendezvous): Former NBA forward, mostly a second-tier star, averaged 15.3 points, 6.1 rebounds per game over 12 years (1985-97). Started his second career as a pop jazz bassist in 1995, past prime but before he retired from basketball, with an album called Power Forward. This is his 8th -- 1st I've heard. Bass groove is funky enough, but that only goes so far, so Tisdale piles on the guests -- the usuals like Dave Koz and singers like Marvin Sapp. The exception is a Barry White piece, with the deep croak vocal credited to Toby Keith. I wouldn't call it a choice cut, but it's a good one to tease your friends with. B

Nick Colionne: No Limits (2008, Koch): Smooth jazz guitarist, sixth album since 1994. Sings a little. Not that good at it, but the occasional vocal seems to give some purpose to the ubiquitous and most undifferentiated guitar-bass-keyboard groove. B-

Raoul Björkenheim/William Parker/Hamid Drake: DMG @ the Stone: Volume 2 (2006 [2008], DMG/ARC): DMG is Downtown Music Gallery, a small record shop on the Bowery that looms large for anyone in the US (and possibly elsewhere) interested in free jazz. Their weekly newsletter is more than a little verbose, but essential for anyone trying to track what's new and interesting (especially since the demise of Jazzmatazz, a fallen project that someone really should pick up and get going again). DMG's owners have some sort of relationship with John Zorn and the Stone. At one point in 2006 they "currated" a series of concerts, and for their trouble have been allowed to release at least two of them. Vol. 1 we'll get to in due course, but the personnel here beat it to my CD player. Björkenheim is a Finnish-American guitarist, b. 1956 in Los Angeles, based in New York, but has done most of his recording in Helsinki -- with UMO Jazz Orchestra, and in his own groups, Krakatau and Scorch. I've heard very little by him, but I've really liked what I've heard -- an album with Lukas Ligeti called Shadowglow made an early Jazz CG. Parker and Drake need no introduction. They're all over the record, dynamic engines of enormous variety and vitality, the only surprise being a stretch where Parker switches to shawm (an ancient double reed precursor of the oboe) and instead of just farting around plays with Rahsaan-like intensity. Otherwise, the guitarist tries to keep out front, with intense hornlike leads. Not his most interesting mode, but strong enough to stay in the game. A-

The Stone Quartet: DMG @ the Stone: Volume 1 (2006 [2008], DMG/ARC): Group name comes from the venue, although none of the principals are especially associated with it, nor for that matter with each other. Rather, this looks like a supercollider experiment dreamed up by DMG honcho Bruce Lee Galanter: let's smash some quarks together and see if any muons emerge. Top quark is Roy Campbell Jr. (trumpet, flute); bottom Joelle Leandre (bass); charm Marilyn Crispell (piano); strange Mat Maneri (viola). Even in such close proximity, they tend to keep to themselves. B+(**)


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


For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.


Unpacking:

  • Jeff Barone: Open Up (Jazzed Media)
  • Carla Bley Big Band: Appearing Nightly (Watt): advance, Sept. 9
  • Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble: Proverbs for Sam (Boxholder)
  • Karen Emerson: From the Depths (Daring Kittens)
  • Kenny Garrett: Sketches of MD (Mack Avenue): advance, Sept. 23
  • Ron Kalina and Jim Self: The Odd Couple (Basset Hound)
  • Bobo Stenson Trio: Cantando (ECM): advance, Sept. 9
  • Vassilis Tsabropoulos/Anja Lechner: Melos (ECM): advance, Sept. 9
  • The Wee Trio: Capitol Diner Vol. 1 (Bionic): Sept. 8
  • Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico: Songs of an Other (ECM): advance, Sept. 9

Purchases:

  • Jean Grae: Jeanius (Blacksmith)
  • K'Naan: The Dusty Foot Philosopher (Im Culture)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Browse Alert: Afghanistan

Aunohita Mojumdar: Taliban winning the war of words. Even before 9/11/2001 the Taliban's reputation in the world wasn't much better than cannibals. So the notion that now they've become more credible than the Karzai government and its NATO backers and Blackwater helpers is mind-bending. Flunking Redevelopment 101 should have been expected; blowing Counterinsurgency 201 may have been in the cards as well. But the one thing the US brought to the party that was truly world class was the PR machine. If the US can't win there, things are really in sad shape. Just how the US adventure in Afghanistan managed to go so badly is something that will be much studied in the future.

The power of the militants' propaganda is evident from a new report published by the Brussels-based independent International Crisis Group (ICG) this week. The report, "Taliban Propaganda: Winning the War of Words", argues that the Taliban are "successfully tapping into the strains of Afghan nationalism and exploiting policy failures by the Kabul government and its international backers". The result, it says, "is weakening public support for nation-building, even though few actively support the Taliban".

There is a lot more stuff on Afghanistan, most of it damning, little hopeful in any sense. This just struck me as a tipping point, given that the one thing the Taliban has never been known for is their mastery of the arcane arts of PR. But then this may not be Mullah Omar's Taliban any more. They engage in tactics that the old Taliban never touched, and they've clearly learned a few tricks from the resistance in Iraq. For a long time lots of people liked to blame Pakistan for the resurgent Taliban -- a posture Bush couldn't really indulge in because even he realized that there were limits to how much the US could piss on Musharaf.

I've been thumbing through Michael Kinsley's Please Don't Remain Calm, and I came across a piece of his dated Feb. 28, 2002 (about a year before the Iraq war started) where he plainly stated, "We avoided a quagmire in Afghanistan." Clearly, he was wrong about that. Interestingly, he was still wrong even though the US didn't make a lot of the mistakes Bush made in Iraq -- e.g., he went in with substantial local support, he lined up quite a bit of international support, he didn't try to mold Afghanistan into a wet dream state of the GOP think tanks, he didn't have to fend off suspicions that he was only in it for the oil (indeed, he wasn't in it for much of anything) -- and still they screwed it up coming and going. I remember thinking when this started that Afghanistan was going to be the death of a third world empire. That prediction still seems to be pretty much on track.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Book Alert

I've been collecting these book notes as I go along, and they've been piling up faster than expected. Last time I published them, I speculated that I'd have more come September. I think what I'll do from here on out is to post them whenever I get up to 40. In that case, I should have done this a week or two ago. Again, the previous ones from various posts have been collected here.


Paul Alexander: Machiavelli's Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Karl Rove (2008, Rodale Books): One advantage this book has over all other Rove books -- for some reason I haven't been collecting them in these notes -- is that it gives us a taste of fall. Still has a good ways to go -- preferably to jail.

Rick Bass: Why I Came West: A Memoir (2008, Houghton Mifflin): I read one of his first books, a novel called Oil Notes that read more like a memoir. He has a long list of short books since then. Always meant to read more.

Walter Benjamin: The Arcades Project (paperback, 2002, Belknap Press): A Marxist literary critic of great depth and sweep, this somehow assembles his unfinished, perhaps unfinishable, great project. Back when I was devoted to critical theory I was aware of this, but not as something that actually exists -- an analogy might be the Beach Boys' Smile. Haven't read Benjamin or any other Frankfurt School eminence in 30 years, but regard him as an old, dear friend.

Graydon Carter: What We've Lost: How the Bush Administration Has Curtailed Our Freedoms, Mortgaged Our Economy, Ravaged Our Environment, and Damaged Our Standing in the World (2004, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Vanity Fair editor. Seems like a fair and balanced summary.

Rodney Clapp: Johnny Cash and the Great American Contradiction: Christianity and the Battle for the Soul of a Nation (paperback, 2008, Westminster): Short book from a writer who specializes in religion -- an interesting past title is: A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society.

Tyler Cowen: Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist (paperback, 2008, Plume): I looked Cowen up after seeing Paul Krugman dis him. Easy to see why. His previous books include In Praise of Commercial Culture and Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World's Cultures. Even the subtitle of this reductio ad absurdum economicum gives me the shivers: I don't want my dentist motivated; I want him to act like a conscientious professional, not a cash register.

Andres Duany/Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk/Jeff Speck: Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream (2000; paperback, 2001, North Point Press): The authors are urban designers, evidently Jane Jacobs fans, upset at what they see in most American suburbs. Just running across a bunch of books on suburbia: James Howard Kunstler: The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape, and Home From Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century; Dolores Hayden: Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000, and A Field Guide to Sprawl; Robert Bruegmann: Sprawl: A Compact History; Joel S Hirschhorn: Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money; Robert Burchell et al.: Sprawl Costs: Economic Impacts of Unchecked Development; Anthony Flint: This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America; Robert Fishman: Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia; Kenneth T Jackson: Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States; Becky Nicolaides/Andrew Wiese, eds: The Sururb Reader; Joel Garreau: Edge City: Life on the New Frontier; Jane Holtz Kay: Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back; Alex Marshall: How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken. And that doesn't begin to scratch the literature of suburban anomie.

Barbara Ehrenreich: This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation (2008, Metropolitan Books): Looks like a short collection of columns from the last few years. Brilliant, I'm sure; I can't think of a deeper or more fearless thinker on the left. Only big mistake she ever made was wasting The Worst Years of Our Lives on the 1980s, not realizing that even worse could still be in the cards.

Tom Engelhardt, ed: The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (paperback, 2008, Verso): 320 pages scraped from one of the best-written, best-edited web sources, consistently ahead of the learning curve on the numerous interlocking threads of the great war of our times (GWOT?).

Marc Gerstein/Michael Ellsberg: Flirting With Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental (2008, Union Square Press): Examples include Chernobyl and Katrina, Vioxx, the Iraq War, Arthur Andersen/Enron, the 1994 Mexican peso crisis, a half dozen more. Gerstein's a management consultant. Ellsberg's an editor who helped his father publish the Pentagon Papers -- the father adds an introduction nominating Vietnam for the list. I'm on record as saying that how we handle disasters will be the most important political issue of the next few decades -- anticipating and preventing disasters looks like too tall an order, but understanding them when they happen is essential. This looks like a good place to start.

Peter Gosselin: High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families (2008, Basic Books): Los Angeles Times reporter tells stories about how the "great risk shift" (Jacob Hacker's term, the title of a good book) has affected dozens of ordinary families. Everyone rates the reporting here as superb, but evidently it doesn't go much into causes -- more interesting to me, since I have no trouble envisioning the problem.

Michael Heller: The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives (2008, Basic Books): Well, one way there's too much ownership is in the way we parcel out legal monopolies known as patents. That's one of Heller's examples, but it looks like he'd like to see more use of eminent domain -- e.g., he complains about the inability to build 25 new runways that would eliminate most air travel delays. You always have conflicts between private ownership and public utilities, and lately we've leaned so far toward the private side that the public has suffered.

Maggie Jackson: Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age (2008, Prometheus): There's a growing perception that people are getting dumber, and there are a lot of theories as to why -- some of which can be taken as proof that people are getting dumber. I imagine that a case can be made for distraction (as PW puts it: "our near-religious allegiance to a constant state of motion and addiction to multitasking"). Jackson previously wrote: What's Happening to Home? Balancing Work, Life, and Refuge in the Information Age.

Antonia Juhasz: The Bu$h Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time (paperback, 2007, Harper Perennial): Hadn't mentioned this before because it looked like a fairly standard anti-globalization rant -- maybe I was just reacting to the dollar sign, because it shouldn't be hard to make the case, and there are examples that could use some press: Iraq you probably know about, but what about Haiti? She has a new book coming out, another easy mark, even timelier: The Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful Industry -- and What We Must Do to Stop It.

Baruch Kimmerling: The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military (2001; paperback, 2005, University of California Press): Argues that Israeli identity has broken down into seven major cultures, which fits in with Richard Ben Cramer's argument that post-2000 Israeli hawkishness has been fueled by the disunity of the Israeli polity -- the repression of the Palestinians is the only thing all those Israeli factions can agree on. Like Tom Segev's Elvis in Jerusalem, written at a point when the events of the last 8 years didn't seem inevitable.

Baruch Kimmerling: Clash of Identities: Explorations in Israeli and Palestinian Societies (2008, Columbia University Press): Looks like a collection assembled over 20 years, updating arguments from Kimmerling's earlier The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military.

Mark LeVine: Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam (paperback, 2008, Three Rivers Press): Historian, rock guitarist, political activist, sometimes gets his careers confused, although few Middle East scholars are more insightful, or interesting.

Michael Lind: The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution (1995; paperback, 1996, Free Press): I only know Lind from his 2004 book, Made in Texas: George W Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics -- as sharp as any book published on Bush around that time. I gather he started as a rabid anti-communist conservative, then started to distance himself from conservatism in the 1990s. This book seems to be transitional, his embrace of liberal nationalism itself a conservative impulse.

Michael Lind: Up From Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong for America (1996; paperback, 1997, Free Press): Offhand, this one looks prescient. The target is big enough, but at the time it hadn't really sunk in how extreme the Gingrich upheaval was, let alone where it might go once someone like Bush got into the White House. Ariana Huffington's Right Is Wrong had it easy.

Michael Lind: Vietnam: The Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America's Most Disastrous Military Conflict (1999; paperback, 2002, Free Press): Lind argues that it was necessary for the US to intervene in Vietnam -- something about global communist conspiracy -- but that the tactics chosen were all wrong, leading to the disaster. I believe that the Cold War itself was wrong, and Vietnam was just a particularly egregious case of why. Lind may have moved up from his conservatism; he still needs to grow out of liberal interventionism.

Michael Lind: The American Way of Strategy: US Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life (2006, Oxford University Press): Bad as Lind was on the Cold War, he was one of the first to identify the perils the neoconservatives posed in its aftermath. Argues that US policy abroad shouldn't undermine the American way of life at home. Seems obvious, but I can show you 60 years of presidents who didn't get it. (Doubt that Lind agrees on the whole list, but GW Bush is certainly one he has in mind.)

Tom Mast: Over a Barrel: A Simple Guide to the Oil Shortage (2005, Hayden): Short (128 page) primer, probably too basic at this point, unless you're not up on the subject.

Jane Mayer: The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (2008, Doubleday): Another book on the chic torture clique in and near the White House. I recoil a bit at the contrast to "American ideals" given the shoddy record self-appointed Real Americans have established. This has gotten some press -- Mayer writes for New Yorker, and this promises to be one of the more definitive books on the subject. She previously wrote Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas.

Nan Mooney: (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Middle Class (2008, Beacon Press): Probably the most normal thing in the world, at least if you're American, is to think that each generation makes progress moving up the proverbial Dream ladder. Still, I know a lot of people who are old enough to take retirement seriously but are still dependent on their parents for support -- especially true with middle class professionals, who did well for themselves before many conspired to kick the ladders out that might have allowed other people to advance.

Paul Muolo/Mathew Padilla: Chain of Blame: How Wall Street Caused the Mortgage and Credit Crisis (2008, Wiley): Two journalists track down the chain of responsibility for the subprime mortgage meltdown. Looks like the leader in the race to cash in, already joined by: Edward M Gramlich: Subprime Mortgages: America's Latest Boom and Bust; Robert J Shiller: The Subprime Solution: How Today's Global Financial Crisis Happened, and What to Do About It; Mark Zandi: Financial Shock: A 360° Look at the Subprime Mortgage Implosion, and How to Avoid the Next Financial Crisis; Richard Bitner: Confessions of a Subprime Lender: An Insider's Tale of Greed, Fraud, and Ignorance. I don't think Dean Baker has a book out yet, but he's been on top of the crisis from before anyone else knew it was happening.

Kenneth Pollack: A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East (2008, Random House): As an Iraq War hawk, Pollack did much to get us into the mess he now feels so eminently qualified to get us out of. Favors a humbler, more humane, more realistic, and more cohesive set of policies. Evidently he gets paid for such profound insights.

Jules Pretty: The Earth Only Endures: On Reconnecting With Nature and Our Place in It (2007, Earthscan): Author is an expert in sustainable agriculture, which he has written several books on. Collection of essays, ranges wider.

Dani Rodrik: One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth (2007, Princeton University Press): Argues that there is no one single formula for development success, but all recipes that have worked are rooted in economics fundamentals, which themselves imply no single development path. Puts him in a good position to pick on everyone else's pet theory. Previously wrote: Has Globalization Gone Too Far?; The New Global Economy and Developing Countries: Making Openness Work; In Search of Prosperity: Analytic Narratives on Economic Growth.

Fernando Romero/LAR: Hyperborder: The Contemporary US-Mexico Border and Its Future (paperback, 2007, Princeton Architectural Press): Robert D Kaplan described the US-Mexico border as the starkest dividing line on the planet. This provides pictures, diagrams, details covering all aspects of cross-border interaction. Author is an architect, based in Mexico City.

Jacqueline Rose: The Question of Zion (paperback, 2007, Princeton University Press): Another in the growing list of histories and critiques of the Zionist idea. Rose has several other recent books, including The Last Resistance (on Israel) and Sexuality in the Field of Vision, both published by Verso.

Robert Scheer: Playing President: My Close Ecounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Reagan, and Clinton -- and How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W Bush (paperback, 2006, Akashic Books): Scheer starts his new The Pornography of Power off with a story about Nixon that concedes that even the Madman Theorist had a clue about toning down a confrontation. The thesis here seems to be that the second Bush is flat out off the scales, and that thesis seems well-founded.

Raja Shehadeh: Palestinian Walks: Forays Into a Vanishing Landscape (paperback, 2008, Scribner): Ostensibly a travel book, a series of hikes through the occupied landscape of the Jordan's west bank. Shehadeh's memoir, Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine, is one of the few books on the subject that can really turn heads. Also wrote When the Birds Stopped Singing: Life in Ramallah Under Siege.

Rob Simpson: What We Could Have Done With the Money: 50 Ways to Spend the Trillion Dollars We've Spent on Iraq (paperback, 2008, Hyperion): Short book throws some alternatives out, ranging from the silly ("pave every highway in America with gold leaf") to serious. The underlying principle is what economists call opportunity costs: when we spend money on one thing, we forego other possible uses for that money, some of which would have turned out to be much better.

Lewis Sorley: A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam (1999; paperback, 2007, Harvest Books): Tries to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Vietnam, touting the modest successes of Gen. Creighton Abrams and how they were undermined by the loss of political will in Washington. This is the fount of the argument that the antiwar movement (not the warmakers themselves) lost us the war -- although it should be noted that that argument was already an article of faith on the right, no matter what happened in Vietnam.

Cass R Sunstein: Radicals in Robes: Why Extreme Right-Wing Courts Are Wrong for America (2005, Basic Books): Prolific writer, both on law and economics; strikes me as a centrist, but smart enough to tear through nonsense on the right, which makes this potentially useful. More recently wrote Worst-Case Scenarios, Republic.com 2.0, and co-wrote Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

Cass R Sunstein: The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution -- And Why We Need It More Than Ever (2004; paperback, 2006, Basic Books): I've been thinking lately about how quickly the US dropped two of Roosevelt's "four freedoms" and what the implications of that shuffle have been. Parts of Roosevelt's thinking did slip into the early construction of the postwar institutions, particularly the UN. A move to back them up instead of curtailing them to fight communism and restore imperialism would have profoundly changed postwar history.

John R Talbott: Obamanomics: How Bottom-Up Economic Prosperity Will Replace Trickle-Down Economics (paperback, 2008, Seven Stories Press): Former investment banker, writing for a lefty publisher, not sure how that all adds up, but Obama's take on business issues and choice of economics advisers is somewhat idiosyncratic. Talbott has a couple of previous books, like The Coming Crisis in the Housing Market: 10 Things You Can Do Now to Protect Your Most Valuable Investment, and Sell Now! The End of the Housing Bubble. Those books came out in 2003 and 2006 respectively, so you have to give him some credit there.

Jeffrey Toobin: The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (2007, Doubleday): New Yorker writer, probably a good narrative portrait of the court and all its warts, including Roberts and Alito.

Philip C Winslow: Victory for Us Is to See You Suffer: In the West Bank with the Palestinians and the Israelis (2007, Beacon Press): Most reviews see this as an intensely personal account. Seems to me that he's found an essential, deeply troubling, truth.

David S Wyman: The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 (paperback, 2007, New Press): Looks at what the Roosevelt administration actually knew about Hitler's "final solution" and what little the US did about it. Several other books on this general topic: Robert Beir: Roosevelt and the Holocaust; Arthur D Morse: While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy; Robert N Rosen: Saving the Jews: Franklin D Roosevelt and the Holocaust; Henry L Feingold: Bearing Witness: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust; also, William D Rubinstein: The Myth of Rescue: Why the Democracies Could Not Have Saved More Jews From the Nazis.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Browse Alert: Obama Abroad

Matthew Yglesias: Maliki's Walk Forward. Many Iraqi politicians, including Prime Minister Maliki, have been saying in vague terms how they want US military forces to quit Iraq. Polls indicate that most Iraqis are even more adamant on the point. Maliki crossed a line last week when he more/less endorsed Obama's 16-month pullout proposal, much to the chagrin of McCain (with his 100 year plan) and the Bush administration. Yglesias walks through this whole incident, including the denial that wasn't. Quote:

Conservatives like Bush and McCain used to acknowledge that if Iraq's leaders want us to leave, we have to leave. More recently, McCain's been singing a new tune, claiming to know what Maliki really wants irrespective of what he says, and suggesting that the only thing that really matters is what Gen. David Petraeus says.

This does a nice job of highlighting one of the most important unreported stories of the Iraq War: how the Bush administration has managed to prolong the war by dissuading Iraqi politicians from calling for a pullout. This has been done in lots of ways, like the scheme to arm Sunni tribal leaders, whom the Americans are able to keep in check. All this changes with Obama, who has no reason or desire to continue the subterfuge.


Meanwhile, back in the deep red plains states, this is Wichita Eagle editorial cartoonist Richard Crowson's take on the Maliki timetable affair:


I've continued to watch FiveThirtyEight almost obsessively, an activity not far removed from watching paint dry. Over the last couple of weeks, I've seen Obama's 3-point popular vote lead decline to 1.5 points, a slip that cost him slim edges in Indiana and Virginia. Presumably the big world tour will give him a bit of a boost, and indeed the margin inched up today to 1.8 points. In the electoral count, Obama is consistently running four states better than Kerry: Iowa, Ohio, Colorado, and New Mexico. This seems much closer than it should be, but there's a long time to go, and there's a good chance lots of people are enjoying the relative quiet between the primaries and the conventions. A lot of money is riding on the election, which will become painfully obvious soon enough.

My interest in grimey details of electoral politics predates my late-1960s-vintage embrace of the new left. I've colored in county-by-county vote results going back to the Civil War (much as Kevin Phillips did), so I have a lot of framework I can hook these new numbers onto, and enjoy using it. Obama is locked in right now as the officially designated lesser evil, but from a practical standpoint he also provides a measure of where the country is: if he can't win a majority, it's very unlikely that someone much better can. So tracking how he's doing has some relevance to tracking where we're at.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Loops of Oops

Two short pieces on the news page of the Wichita Eagle this morning are noteworthy follow-ups to my recent Afghanistan post. They show once again how the US cannot fight "terrorism" without screwing up worse. First, from Afghanistan:

Nine Afghan police killed by mistake

KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S.-led troops and Afghan forces killed nine Afghan poice Sunday, calling in airstrikes and fighting on the ground for four hours after each side mistook the other for militants, Afghan officials said.

In a separate incident, NATO said it accidentally killed at least four Afghan civilians Saturday night. A NATO soldier also was killed in the east.

Then, from Iraq:

U.S. forces kill son, nephew of Iraqi governor

BAGHDAD -- American Special Operations forces shot to death the son and nephew of the governor of Salahuddin province on Sunday during a raid in the northern city of Bayji.

The governor, Hamed al-Qaisi, threatened to resign in protest and said he would suspend cooperation with U.S. officials.

Iraqi and U.S. officials offered sharply different accounts of the attack, though the deputy provincial governor said U.S. officials had already apologized.

The governor's son and nephew appeared not to have been the targets of the raid. Instead, the U.S. military command in Baghdad said the house had been raided to capture a "suspected al-Qaida in Iraq operative."

Not sure whether to put any special weight in the fact that these stories managed to get reported at all. Most such stories don't get reported, and even when they do they come slathered with spin. Nobody questions the appropriateness of calling airstrikes against "militants" or "suspected al-Qaida in Iraq operatives," but such airstrikes almost invariably add to the collateral damage, undermining US political credibility (if such a thing even exists).


Big story on the page was "Most food aid not reaching Haitians": only 2 percent of 16,000 tons of aid food reaching Haiti's harbors have been distributed to the people who need it. Article doesn't explain why.


Music Week

Music: Current count 14605 [14590] rated (+15), 789 [766] unrated (+23). Three-day week: nothing started until we got back from Detroit very late Thursday. Been powering through the jazz ranks ever since. Got caught up in registering the incoming mail, which in itself is something of an accomplishment.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 12)

Should have finished a Jazz Consumer Guide by this point in the cycle, but the last two weeks were wiped out by the funeral trip to Detroit. Got back late Thursday, and resumed jazz prospecting on Friday, starting with unpacking my travel cases. Most of the records below I've played several times during the trip -- some of the Nik Bärtsch records I repeated many times, not least because they kept my mood in tone. Still have a lot of unprospected records at this point, including some fairly major prospects, but sometime in the next week I expect to switch mode and try to close out this Jazz CG. Fact is, I already have words enough to fill my page. I also have several good ideas for pick hits. Given the current format, I'm not going to lose any sleep if I don't have enough duds. Could be time to give last year's Maria Schneider one more spin and see if it still fails to impress.


Nik Bärtsch's Mobile: Ritual Groove Music (2000-01 [2006], Ronin Rhythm): After A-listing Bärtsch's two ECM albums, I asked for some history and got a big package of self-released CDs. I then put them off, needing to concentrate on new releases clamoring for my attention. But I wound up playing more Bärtsch than anything else the last two weeks, so figured I should start with them as I try to get Jazz Prospecting going again. Mobile is the precursor to Ronin, but basically the same group, with the leader's piano augmenting the drums and percussion, and Don Li's bass clarinet/alto sax available for backdrop. All pieces are titled "Modul" and numbered, with two offered in a second take. Most are based on small, repeated rhythmic figures -- most attractive when there is some velocity and/or volume, although sometimes he used quiet to set up a ringing bell or the blast of marimba that startlingly launches one piece. B+(***)

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Randori (2001 [2006], Ronin Rhythm): Despite the name change from Mobile to Ronin, still a quartet, trading the bass clarinet/sax and marimba in for bass and shakers. That narrows it down a bit, and the pieces -- especially the three part "Modul 8,9" -- stretch out in repetitiveness. Nothing much wrong with that, least of all when something comes along to rock the boat. B+(**)

Nik Bärtsch: Piano Solo (2002 [2006], Ronin Rhythm): Subtitled Ritual Groove Music 3. I usually regard solo piano as underdressed, and didn't expect much from a pianist whose calling card is rhythm, but the album is a revelation. First thing is that the "no overdubs, no loops, all sounds are purely acoustic" motto on the first two Ritual Groove Music albums is gone here. Bärtsch dubs percussion onto his piano, and a lot of it sounds bass-like, wherever that may be coming from. Most pieces are repeated from the first two albums. They hang together and maybe even grow a bit with the simpler arrangements. The new one is called "Modul TM" -- based on Lennie Tristano's "Turkish Mambo." A-

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Live (2002 [2006], Ronin Rhythm): Volume 4 of Ritual Groove Music, with the same Ronin quartet lineup as Vol. 2 (Randori): Bärtsch on piano, Fender Rhodes, and DX-7; Björn Meyer on bass; Kaspar Rast on drums; Andi Pupato on percussion. No overdubs, no loops, of course. Six "Modul" pieces, the shortest clocking in at 9:17, the longest at 15:50. The live context liberates them to expand on the minimal frameworks, and the experience pays off. The quartet meshes but not mechanically so much as chemically. A-

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Rea (2003 [2006], Ronin Rhythm): Back to the laboratory, with the bass/drums/percussion group. The five "Modul" pieces are new, with numbers in the 18-26 range. Again: simple, seductive rhythmic features, fleshed out with bass groove, with a hint that the piano is more improvisatory. Nothing flashy or startling, but this 5th volume of Ritual Groove Music settles comfortably into a new plateau. At this plateau, it's hard to make value judgments on Bärtsch's albums: it's all moderately wonderful, and moderation seems to be as much a defining trait as anything else. This gets a slight edge because it is so near perfect -- among other things it starts out modestly and sneaks up on you until the final piece pulls it all together. I'd hestitate to conclude that this slight perfection makes it a better record than the later ECMs (Stoa and Holon) that I rated lower -- and may ultimately have to bump up now that I'm getting over seeing Bärtsch's limits as limits. A

Nik Bärtsch's Mobile: Aer (2003 [2006], Ronin Rhythm): This makes Ritual Groove Music 6, a return to the group lineup from the first album, with Mats Eser on marimba/percussion and Sha (aka Stefan Haslebacher) replacing Don Li on bass clarinet/alto sax. The lineup adds some zip and color, but otherwise the same sort of beatwise pieces, ending a shade down where Rea ended a step up. A-

Sha's Banryu: Chessboxing Volume One (2007 [2008], Ronin Rhythm): Namewise, Sha sounds like Switzerland's answer to Skerik. Both play reeds in fusion-like settings, but that's about as far as the comparison goes. Skerik plays tenor sax and likes to honk; Sha plays alto and a lot of bass clarinet, and tends to fill in background vamps -- more so on Nik Bärtsch's records, of course, but even here. Born 1983; given name Stefan Haslebacher; has played with Bärtsch since 2004, first in Mobile then in Ronin. Banryu is, like Ronin, another Japanese reference, described as: "the dragon ready for jumping, lets everything come up and roll by, while not loosing its tension and posture at any moment and ready to strike anytime." Sha's songs all have three-digit zero-filled titles, like "012" and "031." The title suggests he intends to work inside the box, but that the box isn't going to be overly simple or ultimately all that constraining. Pianist Mik Keusen enforces strong similiarity to Bärtsch's records -- if anything, the piano is more prominent here. Bassist Thomas Tavano and drummer Julian Sartorius are role players, but the fifth group member, vocalist Isa Wiss, is a change. She comes out singing on the opening "012," but later on tends to merge her scat into the groove. The latter rarely works, but is mostly seamless here. B+(***)

Frank Catalano: Bang! (2008, Savoy Jazz): Tenor saxophonist, from Chicago, born circa 1980; cut a couple of previous albums for Delmark, at least one as a teenager. Has a patent on a sampling keyboard gadget that attaches to a saxophone. Has a loud, boisterous sound, reminiscent of the 1950s honkers. Upbeat songs wear funk on their sleeves, with titles like "Bang!," "Soul Burner," "Shakin'," "Damn Right," "Funky Dunky," "Night Moves." B+(**)

Michael Jefry Stevens Quartet: For the Children (1995 [2008], Cadence Jazz): Pianist. Born 1951 in New York; moved to Florida at age 8, back to New York at 20, to Memphis some time after 1995. Discography gets going around 1990 with groups led by Mark Whitecage and Dave Douglas (The Mosaic Sextet). Not sure how many -- his steadiest gig has been the Fonda/Stevens Group, which gets filed under bassist Joe Fonda. This is part of "The Cadence Historical Series": previously unreleased tapes of some historical significance. The quartet is fronted by saxophonist David Schnitter, with Dominic Duval (bass) and Jay Rosen (drums). The pieces are a mix of avant and familiar, including blues and a waltz. Stevens slips in and out without leaving a firm impression. Sound is less than perfect. B+(**)

Wally Rose: Whippin' the Keys (1968-71 [2008], Delmark): Pianist, born 1913 in Oakland, CA, died 1997; played in Lu Watters Yerba Buena Jazz Band during the 1940s, later with alumni bands led by Bob Scobey and Turk Murphy. During the 1950s Rose developed (reverted?) into a ragtime specialist, with a 1958 Good Time Jazz record of Rag Time Classics the centerpiece in his discography. This reissues two later albums, Rose on Piano from 1968 and Whippin' the Keys from 1971. More than half of the songs have "rag" in the title. The others are nearly as old-timey -- "St. Louis Tickle," "The Kangaroo Hop," "Elite Syncopations," "Pickles & Peppers." B+(*)

Willie "The Lion" Smith & Don Ewell: Stride Piano Duets: Live in Toronto, 1966 (1966 [2008], Delmark): Ewell was a stride pianist, 1916-1983, born Baltimore, lived much of his adult life in Florida. Recorded several well-regarded records, especially for Good Time Jazz in the late 1950s, but more often accompanied other leaders: Bunk Johnson in the 1940s, Jack Teagarden 1956-62. He's a valuable, underrated player -- a precursor to Ralph Sutton and Dick Hyman. Smith, of course, was one of the originators of the stride piano style. He was born in 1893 or 1897 (accounts differ), and died in 1973. Full name is worth repeating: William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith -- Bertholoff was his father's name, Smith his stepfather's. I've always assumed that "The Lion" became part of his canonical name to distinguish him from the brilliant (but these days mostly forgotten) alto saxophonist Willie Smith. I can't figure out who plays what, and don't much care -- any weakness you might be tempted to attribute to the elder is readily compensated for by his understudy. Smith tries singing twice; he can't, but he's such a charming rogue you won't mind. B+(**)

Cy Touff & Sandy Mosse: Tickle Toe (1981 [2008], Delmark): Tough (1927-2003) played bass trumpet. He grew up in the Chicago neighborhood that produced Lee Konitz and Lou Levy, which may have given him a "west coast" jazz connection even though he lived his whole life in Chicago. Mosse (1929-1983) played tenor sax, taking Lester Young as his model. He was born in Detroit; moved to Chicago in 1955, and on to Amsterdam in the 1970s. An easy-going swing/bop session, something for the curious to remember them by. B+(**)

Yoon Sun Choi/Jacob Sacks: Imagination: The Music of Joe Raposo (2008, Yeah-Yeah): Singer, originally from Toronto, now based in New York. Second duo album with pianist Sacks. Raposo was a songwriter, did a lot of TV work, a lot of offbeat stuff -- Spike Jones was an influence -- died in 1989 at age 51. The notes cite his "unique blend of depth and playfulness," but the music doesn't bear that out. The piano accompaniment is short and arch, the vocals arch and arty. B-

The Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Traveling Through Now (2007 [2008], Charles Lester Music): Avant-garde group, likes to bring the noise, and does so a little too often and too loud for my taste. Fielder is a drummer who goes back to the early Chicago AACM. Futterman is a pianist who takes Cecil Taylor seriously. Levin is a saxophonist who can play along in this crowd: mostly tenor here, but his bass clarinet may be more interesting because it dampens the tendency to squawk. I've heard three albums by this trio. That I've rated them with declining grades may have more to do with my patience than the music. At best, an exciting, vibrant group that can knock you out of your expectations. B+(*)

Ben Wolfe: No Strangers Here (2007 [2008], MaxJazz): Bassist, born in Baltimore MD, raised in Portland OR; worked with Harry Connick Jr. from 1989, Wynton Marsalis from 1994, Diana Krall from 1998 -- side credits favor singers about 2-to-1. Composes and arranges, with five albums under his own name since 1997. Says this is the one he always wanted to do, which you can believe because there's so much kitchen sink in here. He has Greg Hutchinson on drums, but still brings in Tain Watts for a cut; he has Marcus Strickland on tenor/soprano sax, but still taps Branford Marsalis twice. Terrell Stafford drops in for a couple of tracks on trumpet. At least he has the good sense to stick with pianist Luis Perdomo. Also has a string quartet which seeps out of the mix when the horns don't scare them off. Chalk it up to postbop excess. But as Mingus showed so often, nothing is really excessive so long as you can key on the bassist. B+(**)


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


For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.


Unpacking:

  • Kenny Barron: The Traveler (Sunnyside)
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Tenor Talk (Savant)
  • Raoul Björkenheim/William Parker/Hamid Drake: DMG @ the Stone: Volume 2 (DMG/ARC)
  • Blink: The Epidemic of Ideas (Thirsty Ear): advance, Aug. 26
  • Wolfert Brederode: Currents (ECM): advance, Aug. 19
  • California Guitar Trio: Echoes (Inner Knot)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Jean-Jacques Avenel: Within (Leo)
  • Curlew: 1st Album/Live at CBGB (1980-81, DMG/ARC, 2CD)
  • Jamie Davis: Vibe Over Perfection (Unity Music)
  • Dominique Di Piazza Trio: Princess Sita (Sunnyside)
  • Mathias Eick: The Door (ECM): advance, Aug. 19
  • Cynthia Felton: Afro Blue: The Music of Oscar Brown Jr. (Felton Entertainment)
  • Lionel Hampton Orchestra: Mustermesse Basel 1953 Part 2 (1953, TCB)
  • Joel Harrison: The Wheel (2008, Innova)
  • JSL Records 20th Anniversary Sampler (1988-2006, JSL): advance, probably promo only
  • Darrell Katz/Jacc Composers Alliance Orchestra: The Same Thing (Cadence Jazz)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Kinsmen (Pi): advance, Sept. 23
  • Marc McDonald: It Doesn't End Here (No End in Sight)
  • Mike & the Ravens: Noisy Boys! The Saxony Sessions (Zoho Roots): Aug. 12
  • Bob Mintzer Big Band: Swing Out (MCG Jazz)
  • Houston Person/Ron Carter: Just Between Friends (High Note)
  • Portinho Trio: Vinho do Porto (MCG Jazz)
  • Noah Preminger Group: Dry Bridge Road (Nowt)
  • Mike Reed's Loose Assembly: The Speed of Change (482 Music)
  • Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Proliferation (482 Music)
  • Peter Schärli Trio Feat. Ithamara Koorax: Obrigado Dom Um Romão (TCB)
  • Judi Silvano: Cleome: Live Takes (JSL)
  • The Stone Quartet: DMG @ the Stone: Volume 1 (DMG/ARC)
  • Rokia Traoré: Tchamantché (Nonesuch): advance
  • Steve Turre: Rainbow People (High Note)
  • Ulf Wakenius: Love Is Real (ACT)
  • Wayne Wallace: The Nature of the Beat (Patois)
  • Eri Yamamoto Trio: Redwoods (AUM Fidelity): Sept. 9

Purchases:

  • Buck 65: Situation (Strange Famous)
  • Tabu Ley Rochereau: The Voice of Lightness: Congo Classics 1961-1977 (Stern's Africa, 2CD)
  • The Rough Guide to Congo Gold (1957-93, World Music Network)
  • Steinski: What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective (Illegal Art, 2CD)
  • Wussy: Left for Dead (Shake It)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Browse Alert: Afghanistan

Rory Stewart: How to Save Afghanistan. Stewart wrote a pretty good book, The Places In Between, about walking across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul in 2002. He later spent a year in the British government in Iraq, wrote a book about that, and returned to Kabul to found a NGO. He provides a succinct list of what the US/NATO/etc. have done right and what's gone wrong, and seems to be personally committed to keep doing his part. But he starts off criticizing both McCain and Obama for their campaign planks to put more troops and money into Afghanistan. He argues for fewer troops and less money, albeit some of each, much more intelligently used. Don't know whether he's right, but he's certainly less wrong than McCain and Obama (let alone Bush, who's escalated bombings to new record levels). Final line is one I do agree with: "We do not have a moral obligation to do what we cannot do." From the beginning, there were two big reasons to reject America's Afghanistan war: one is that we would, by the very nature of who we are and how we think and act, do far more damage than we could ever possibly repair; the other is that in doing so we would make ourselves even worse. We've seen both happen, but we keep falling for the argument that we have to hang in there until we succeed. To some extent Stewart's still making that argument, but at least he's hedging it in the right direction.

Barnett Rubin: Afghan Government Charges on Killing Afghans -- U.S. 47, Terrorists 41. Rubin's another western Afghanistan expert who wants to help but is generally appalled by everything that's happening there. That makes him a particularly good source for information on Afghanistan. This is just one example of his posts at Juan Cole's "Informed Comment: Global Affairs" blog, worth following mostly for Rubin's posts. But it is a good example to follow up on Stewart's assertion that the US is doing more harm than good. And not just by a 47-41 margin: the 41 killed in the terrorist bombing were 41 the US strategy failed to stop.


Meanwhile, Air Force Times reports that the US dropped a record number of bombs on Afghanistan for the first six months of 2008. Also, Obama started his world tour in Afghanistan, where he argued for an additional 7,000 troops, while looking grimacingly at the Pakistani border. One might hope that he'll develop a sense of reality once he actually has to face it, but running for office in the US isn't conducive to that. On the other hand, once he has to face reality one reality he'll have to face is the established biases of the military-security state he'll inherit, and they're still pretty much the same as the ones who pushed/followed Bush into disaster after disaster. Obama may be different, but so was Jimmy Carter in 1976 and John Kennedy in 1960, and they still got swept along with the tide, sometimes catastrophically.

Right now, Obama doesn't seem to be any closer to calling a halt to the War on Terrorism than Carter was to ending the Cold War in 1976 (or to falling the logic of his human rights stance toward a clean break with the Shah of Iran). This despite the fact that the War on Terrorism is a bogus charade, a pretense at doing the impossible, showing the world we're boss when we only have the vaguest clue how our own country is working.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Moral Hazard

I saw a segment on the PBS news hour that tried to blame the troubles with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on moral hazard. This is, of course, nonsense. Moreover, it's a pretty good rule of thumb to recognize that any time anyone argues anything on the need to avoid moral hazard they're up to no good and trying to pull a fast one on you. Most commonly this boils down to the argument that the government shouldn't insure anyone against any risks because doing so lets people be less vigilant against those risks. You can only say that if you believe that all risks are volitional, or if you're rich enough to self-insure and don't give a hoot about anyone who isn't.

Moral hazard is a hypothetical state that serves as a practical limit in the writing of insurance. It occurs when the insured value exceeds actual value by so much that the beneficiary is tempted to cash in by destroying the asset. For instance, if you have a house insured for $800,000, but the house is termite food and water damaged and home to a family of skunks, it might occur to you that you'd be better off if the house mysteriously burned down so you could collect the insurance. In other words, the deal is set up in such a way that it gives you an incentive to drop your moral sense.

That sort of thing makes sense in theory, which is why it often makes an effective argument, but in practice it's pretty easy to avoid such situations. For starters, almost everything that you can buy insurance for errs on the side of leaving you underinsured: the insurance reduces your pain, but it doesn't eliminate it, let alone reward it. Secondly, most of what you can deliberately do to trigger a claim is illegal, including the wide range of deceptions known as fraud. (The example above is at least fraudulent, even if the house burns down due to negligence and not arson.) Insurance companies can also limit their exposure by inspecting and regulating their risks, either directly or through other agencies (e.g., airline insurers can assume that the FAA is inspecting and regulating airliners).

The point here is that moral hazard isn't something that undermines the whole insurance industry. It is an easily managed technical issue. Moral hazard can only appear as a plausible explanation in cases where insurer discipline has broken down. The Savings and Loan crisis in the late 1980s is commonly given as an example, but that was really a case where deregulation and lack of oversight and exposure enabled bankers to assume more risk than was prudent -- especially given that their willingness to trade paper profits for risk was so prone to fraud. Still, it's hard to credit that deposit insurance made bankers any more likely to make risky loans. Bankers are always more concerned with their assets and profits, which is what they gambled with and lost on, than with their deposits.

Even after the PBS report I can't tell you what moral hazard might have had to do with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The story there is that Congress, back when privatization was coming into vogue, took a couple of perfectly functional government agencies and turned them into Government Sponsored Enterprises. In a nutshell, that meant that investors and management could scam them for profits while liabilities would still fall back onto the government. As government agencies all they had to do was to provide the public with services as efficiently as possible. As private companies, their management's mission changed: now it was to extract profits for their investors (who in turn lavishly rewarded management). The result was the predictable hollowing out of business that has been occurring in virtually every sector of the US economy since the 1970s when we started shifting our focus from goods and services to finance. (Kevin Phillips has a lot to say about this.) Basically, they got away with it as long as real estate appreciated, and got caught up short when the real estate bubble burst. (Same event sequence as the S&L's.)

Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac won't be a disaster because the government is there to pick up the pieces and keep mortgage finance running. But the one thing this shows is that the privatization vogue didn't amount to anything useful. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could have functioned at least as well, with a lot less scandal, as government agencies. One interesting thing that's coming out of the current financial meltdown is how much space is opening up between the conservative ideologues of pundit-world and that the conservative bankers who are running the system. You don't hear the latter talking about moral hazard and how the markets will correct themselves if only you allow them to fail when the time comes. Rather, they are straining to hold the system together and save us from even worse collapse, and mostly making prudent and reasonable moves along the way. I'm not prepared to go so far as to argue that the Bush administration has switched over to the side of sanity, but there is at least some of that going on now, and it makes the far-right punditocracy look even dumber than ever. (Cf. John Bolton on Iran for an unrelated case in point.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Browse Alert: Down and Out

Paul Krugman: L-ish Economic Prospects. Argues that the last two recessions -- officially, starting in 1990 and in 2001 -- are different from previous recessions. The older ones were often instigated by the Fed as a way of controlling inflation, so they were able to recover relatively quickly once the Fed returned to normal interest rates. On a graph the earlier recessions would look like a V. The 1990 and 2001 recessions were different, in that they were caused by the collapse of asset bubbles -- the former real estate, the latter stock market. When the bubbles burst, the economy shrunk. But when the shrinkage stopped, there was no rebound: growth remained sluggish for several years, so most people didn't sense any real recovery from the recession. These plot out more like an L -- a sharp fall then a flat recovery. The recession we are either in or rapidly approaching is like that, with real estate and other financial bubbles deflating while oil prices make it all the worse. Krugman points out that this makes it more likely that Obama will win in November, but also likely that he won't be able to pull much in the way of quick fixes. I'm even more pessimistic: I think the magnitude of the problem has been much understated, and I also think that the right things to do will in many cases look wrong in the politically critical short term. On the other hand, Obama didn't get to run on a "change" platform because it's a clever marketing take; he's running on change because it's needed.

David Warsh: Getting On With It. Starts with a line that could benefit from more elaboration than the mere mention of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: "It is becoming clear that the US is indeed facing its most serious economic crisis since 1932." Then this turns into a book review, principally of Peter Gosselin's High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families, even though Warsh's interest is as much in the decline of newspapers -- Gosselin works for the Los Angeles Times. The book sounds like a reporter's version of academic Jacob Hacker's The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream.

There is relatively little in his book about the forces that have brought about the new volatility, increasing global competition and trade. He recognizes that for a quarter of a century, growth-oriented policies of deregulation, restructuring and openness have legitimately gained ground because most people have preferred being richer to being more fair. He is concerned mainly with rendering a clear accounting of the costs. It is as if he were to say of the war in Iraq, I know it was undertaken because they thought it would make everyone better off; but here is how many dead there may have been, and how they died, soldiers and civilians alike. High Wire is a remarkable act of witness.

Gosselin documents, persuasively, that life's "beta" has increased in these United States during the latest binge of globalization, an argument first advanced nearly fifteen years ago by Peter Gottschalk, of Boston College, and Robert Moffitt, of the Johns Hopkins University. The frequency has nearly doubled in which reversals of fortune turn catastrophic for everyday folk -- a lost job, a divorce, a traumatic injury, a serious illness, the death of a spouse -- thanks mainly to the erosion of the insurance principle. After more than a quarter century of globalization, there is plenty of damage to report, and it is impossible not to be moved by Gosselin's careful and mellifluous reporting. His purpose is to persuade us "to reset the balance point between what's acceptable as good for the individual and what must be recognized as good for the many."

The term "beta" seems rather spurious here: fairly clear what he means, but not why he calls it that. The less insurance people have against catastrophes and mishaps, the more important it becomes for one to save money -- in effect, to self-insure. Hence, the more important it becomes to make more and more money -- the need can be infinite because one never knows all of life's future risks. All this money-making and saving can be politically justified as a personal virtue, but spread across the entire population it becomes impossible -- as should be obvious from what's happened in the US over the last 20-30 years.

We all know that inequality has increased over the last 30-40 years, but we systematically underestimate how much because we tend to just look at tangibles like income or wealth and don't adequately factor in the costs of increased risk. Moreover, this oversight has been essential to the rise of the conservatives, who not only refuse to acknowledge it but go further -- e.g., through their gospel of personal responsibility -- in trying to make think that the inevitable victims of these risks bear some fault in their misfortune.

In a world of infinite growth people might conceivably make enough progress to, if not catch up in terms of equality, at least become sufficiently well-to-do to have little to complain about. However, we're becoming increasingly aware that we live in no such world: essential resources like oil are fixed and becoming increasingly exhausted and expensive; the carrying capacity of the earth is also limited; and in many regards our lifestyles would be richer and saner if we developed a limited set of widely attainable needs instead of dog-eat-dog struggle of capitalism. Given these limits, we're actually better off increasing social insurance: it's more efficient economically and more fair politically.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back in Cowtown

Made it back to Wichita late today: 995.8 miles house to house from Oak Park, Michigan. First time I measured the drive it came out very close to 1000, so I figure anything shorter is a testament to efficient driving. Left about 2:30 PM yesterday and got as far as Terre Haute, IN: almost 400 miles. Corn is more mature than two weeks ago, with golden tassels providing contrast to the green stalks. Not sure when it ripens, but I saw none of the gold on the way out. Good weather. Moderate traffic. (Saw a used car lot in Terre Haute that was almost all SUVs and monster pickups. Still a lot of trucks on the road.) A couple of construction delays. Saw a hideous backup the other direction, where a jacknifed semi on I-70 in Indiana stopped about 20 miles of late-night traffic -- at least two-thirds trucks.

This has been a difficult, tiring trip. I did no jazz prospecting while I was away, and no Jazz CG writing. Also nothing on the book, and not much on the blog. I went to one record store. Got there ten minutes before closing, and came away empty-handed. Spent very little time in bookstores. Read a couple of books -- far less than I took with. None of which is surprising under the circumstances, but past trips allowed me more latitude. Should start to get back to normal now, but it may take a while.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On the Road Again

Clearing out of Detroit today, headed back on the road again. Drove downtown this morning to clear up a legal snafu -- advice: never do business with National City Bank. (It took us the intervention of an expensive lawyer to close out an account there.) A lot of corn between here and Wichita.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Browse Report: War and Obama

Tom Engelhardt: Collateral Ceremonial Damage. A report on five or six weddings Bush was involved in, all but one ending badly as US air power rained death on unfortunate parties.

We Americans have only had one experience of death delivered from the air since World War II -- the attacks of September 11, 2001. As no one is likely to forget, they shocked us to our core. And you know how those deaths were covered, right down to the special pages filled with bios of civilians who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the repeated invocations of the barbarism of al-Qaeda's killers (and barbarism it truly was).

These wedding parties, however, get no such treatment. Initially, they are automatically assumed to be malevolent -- until the reports begin to filter in from the hospitals, the ruined villages, and the graveyards, and, by then, it's usually too late for much press attention. When that does happen, their deaths are chalked up to an "errant bomb," or that celebratory gunfire, or no explanation is even offered.

Juan Cole: Obama on Iraq and Afghanistan: A Friendly Critique. On Obama's recent posturing, Cole offers a "quibble" -- that keeping a small force in Iraq to fight Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia wouldn't be effective, let alone prudent -- and a bigger complaint. The latter concerns Obama's proposal to build up US forces in Afghanistan: an extra 10,000 troops over current levels that only seem to be making matters worse. The most obvious problem is that the US (or NATO, if you prefer) is no longer fighting the war they started: instead of chasing Al-Qaeda, which has largely vanished, they're fighting an indigenous group of people (whose links to the vanquished Taliban are uncertain at best) just to show who's the real power, and mostly failing at that. Cole sees this as even more unwinnable than Iraq, and asks:

When was the last time that an al-Qaeda operative was captured in Afghanistan by US forces? Is that really what US troops are doing there, looking for al-Qaeda? Wouldn't we hear more about it if they were having successes in that regard? I mean, what is reported in the press is that they are fighting with "Taliban". But I'm not so sure these Pushtun rural guerrillas are even properly speaking Taliban (which means 'seminary student.') The original Taliban had mostly been displaced as refugees into Pakistan. These 'neo-Taliban' don't seem mostly to have that background. A lot of them seem to be just disgruntled Pushtun villagers in places like Uruzgan.

Many Democrats still entertain the vogueish idea that Afghanistan is the good war and Iraq the bad war -- that if we hadn't gone into Iraq we could have focused and won in Afghanistan, which because of the centrality of 9/11 and Al-Qaeda was the struggle that mattered. Obama's playing into that sentiment. The problem is that regardless of how foolish the Iraq misadventure was, the Afghanistan war was the original US blunder: the US couldn't attack Afghanistan, at least with its cherished military power, without assuming imperialist robes, and imperial subjugation is just something that isn't possible any more, least of all in Afghanistan.

Helena Cobban: Obama's Plan for Iraq: Strengths and Weaknesses. Another analysis of Obama's op-ed -- similar conclusions, more details.

TalkingPointsMemo cites a post-op-ed speech by Obama where he leads: "I Strongly Stand By My Plan to End This War."

Mark Benjamin: McCain, Obama find common ground on Afghanistan. After noting a New York Times headline "Obama and McCain Duel Over Iraq," Benjamin lines up quotes from both showing very little space between the two on Afghanistan. As Iraqis take Iraq off US hands -- the difference between the two candidates there is that Obama should welcome the reprieve -- Afghanistan becomes the more important war. At one inspirational moment Obama promised to change the way we think about war -- note that Helena Cobban has lately dropped the Obama quote she featured on her blog -- but he keeps falling back on the old nostrums himself.

Meanwhile, note that the Green Party nominated Cynthia McKinney to run against Obama, McCain, and fellow Georgian Bob Barr. The left will probably cut Obama a lot of slack this time around, but there are essential issues (and not just Israel) where McKinney would be a much better choice. (Hell, even Barr beats Obama on civil liberty issues, starting with FISA.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14590 [14590] rated (+0), 766 [766] unrated (-0). Spent week in Detroit, starting with Kalman Tillem's funeral. Rated no music. Bought no music. (Mail still being held in Wichita.) Hardly managed to listen to music, and wasn't able to take notes. Week has been a total wipeout, at least as far as that is concerned.


No Jazz Prospecting

Still in Detroit, working on cleaning things up following the funeral of my father-in-law, Kalman Tillem. Have scarcely managed to listen to any music, much less write about it. Doubt that I will until we get back to Wichita, hopefully by the end of this week.

In the meantime, I thought this would be a good time to dump out my ongoing file of short review notes based on listening to Rhapsody streams. This has lately become the main way I keep track of new non-jazz. They are based on one or two plays, with no consideration of the packaging, and little background research, so take them with more than the usual grain of salt.


Kelley Polar: I Need You to Hold on While the Sky Is Falling (2008, Environ): Original name, Mike Kelley, suggests this should be sorted under K. Worked with Morgan Geist, whose Metro Area has made some very attractive disco revival records. Plays viola, of no particular importance here. Songs, mostly, the best with sweeping themes like "We Live in an Expanding Universe" and "Sea of Sine Waves," some barely emerging from the ambient. B+(*)

Gnarls Barkley: The Odd Couple (2008, Atlantic): Not sure that Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse are really good for each other. There's a fractal brittleness to DM's beats that shines like ice on their own but is likely to get smothered with gravy when CL chimes in. Similarly, CL seems a little undernourished here -- man needs some greens, some fatback too. He does pull off a couple of memorable songs, especially "Who's Gonna Save My Soul." Don't hear anything like "Crazy" here, but I didn't hear it last time either. B+(**)

Mike Doughty: Golden Delicious (2008, ATO): Former front man in Soul Coughing, an alt-rock group with a couple of good records in the 1990s. This is slimmed down to solo act size, although he picks up backup singers and spare musicians when he feels like it. Songs well crafted, varied, etc. None sounds like a hit. B+(*)

James McMurtry: Just Us Kids (2008, Lightning Rod): Songs like "Ruins of the Realm" and "Cheney's Toy" pull no punches, least of all in the hard edged music. The spare but emphatic music also drives home the detailed everyday portraits -- the man was born to literature as well as country, and learned to rock when he finally had too much rage to vent any other way. A-

Robyn (2007 [2008], Konichiwa/Cherry Tree/Interscope): Swedish answer to . . . well, more like Britney than Madonna, but I'm not sure if even that holds up. Beats seem hollow, a little straight-laced. Songs have some sass to them, but that's all she's got, and she may just be confused by the language. B

The B-52s: Funplex (2008, Astralwerks): Way past their prime -- 1983's Whammy! was the last time they really pulled a first rate record together, not that they've been trying very hard. The new label must have nudged them back into their old sound, for they go fishing for "Rock Lobster" three or five or seven times and come up with everything from sea urchins to the narwahl. As one who remembers seeing them at Max's before their first album dropped, that would score nostalgia points if it didn't dredge up so much fun. A-

Robert Forster: The Evangelist (2008, Yep Roc): With Grant McLennan dead, the surviving author of the Go-Betweens. I never made a point of sorting out who did what, partly because I was so much less conscious of Forster -- McLennan's solo albums seemed to capture the whole sound, while I missed Forster's four completely. This is his fifth, spiked by a couple of joint songs that would have been solid on a group album. Meanwhile, he has the detailed sense of wordplay that made the group delight, and enough of the songsmithing to keep it going. A-

Santogold (2008, Downtown): Not sure whether Santogold is an alias for singer Santi White or something more like a group, with Joseph Hill (of ska-punk band Stiffed) the main collaborator. Eponymous debut album, following the angular single "Creator" -- reprised here. Good beat, a bit on the foursquare side. B+(**)

No Age: Nouns (2008, Sub Pop): A Los Angeles lo-fi drum/guitar duo, more new wave than punk -- although the latter is better remembered -- with a little Jesus and Mary Chain fuzz but a lot more intricate structure. Last year's UK-released debut sounded promising in two plays. Two plays of this one sound like an advance, although this is the sort of thing that could take many plays to really flesh out. A-

Tokyo Police Club: Elephant Shell (2008, Saddle Creek): Montreal group, had a well-regarded EP a couple of years ago, which I didn't bother with because EPs don't strike me as substantial enough for the paperwork -- the contrary point is that brevity is a virtue we encounter less and less these days. In any case, their debut has a straightforward alt-rock beat, a singer who's just appealing enough to keep you with him, and songs that are just enigmatic enough to keep one thinking they might pan out. A-

Al Green: Lay It Down (2008, Blue Note): I remember two occasions when I first heard a new record playing while loitering in EJ Korvettes (Herald Square, NYC), recognized that the record wasn't up to the artist's usual standards, knew I'd rarely if ever play it again, but couldn't go home without it. One was Van Morrison's A Period of Transition; the other was an Al Green album, probably Have a Good Time, maybe Full of Fire. Only God broke me of the habit of buying Al Green records, and even that didn't come easy: I have 4-5 of his 1980-94 gospel records, like some, might even like more. The first of Green's Blue Note albums was a return to his secular form, even if it wasn't much better than Full of Fire, and ultimately due to languish on the shelf -- I get around to Green so rarely these days that I go straight to the 1972-73 classics, or 1977's Belle Album, or the faultness Greatest Hits. The new one reminds me of Korvettes because the sensation is the same: he still operates on his own unique level, an amazing singer, backed here with a very studious band, but compared to his oeuvre this isn't especially distinguished. Kind of like this year's Van Morrison album, which I have slotted a bit further down my list of near misses. I don't shop as impulsively as I did in 1977, but I still wouldn't mind having both albums on my shelf. I imagine that's because the sense of wonder is still evident even when it's faint. B+(***)

Emmylou Harris: All I Intended to Be (2005-08 [2008], Nonesuch): Midway through she does one of Billy Joe Shaver's almost too good to be true songs, "Old Five and Dimers Like Me." This reminds me that she's got good taste, but errs cautiously on the obvious side. She does it as a duet -- not sure who with -- but that just reminds me she's the world's finest backup singer. She also tackles Merle Haggard's "Kern River" and Rodney Crowley's "Beyond the Great Divide" to similar effect, except the songs are a bit less obvious and suit her better -- the latter is a choice cut. She sneaks some originals in, collaborating with the McGarrigles on a couple -- that's where she really shows her good taste. B+(***)

John Hiatt: Same Old Man (2008, New West): I never wrote about Hiatt; no doubt I was meant to. (John Piccarella did but fate dealt him Hiatt's worst album to date -- possibly worst ever.) Shortly after I started writing for the Voice, Christgau sent me Hiatt's first two LPs, figuring Midwestern weirdos are meant for each other. A couple of years later I had a uniquely serendipitous experience: I caught Hiatt performing solo at a bar on the north side of Indianapolis -- just happened to be passing through and stopped to see an old college chum who had moved back home and was hip enough to be able to add it all up. The first two albums had great off-the-wall songs like "I Killed an Ant With My Guitar" and "Motorboat to Heaven"; two later albums rocked more consistently (Slug Line and Riding With the King) without losing much of his surrealism. Then I lost track of him, catching few of his evidently successful A&M albums, none until now of his 3-4 on New West. His voice has gotten odder -- he's always had this bass-type voice pinched into a soprano, which was always weird enough, so maybe he's just gotten more comfortable singing in it. Songs jump out less, but they always took a little time to sink in (when they did, that is) -- one line about being a young man just interested in food registered. Title track is memorable. B+(**)

Old 97's: Blame It on Gravity (2008, New West): Blame what? The songs are hard to fault, and they lift off so effortlessly you wonder how they managed to suspend gravity. A-


Unpacking: Nothing this week.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Veal Piccata

Tried making veal piccata tonight. Didn't have a recipe in an available cookbook, so looked it up on the web. Came up with this one from Emeril Lagasse:

  • 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 4 veal scallops, about 3/4 pound, pounded to 1/8-inch thick
  • 1.5 tbs. vegetable oil
  • 5 tbs. butter
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 1/2 c. chicken stock
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 lemon, juiced, or more to taste (about 2 tbs.)
  • 2 tbs. capers, drained
  • 1 tbs. chopped parsley, optional, plus sprinkle for garnish
  1. Combine flour, 1.5 tsp. salt, pepper; dredge veal in flour mixture, shaking off excess
  2. Heat oil in large skilled over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking; add 1.5 tbs. butter; quickly sautee veal, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to side plate.
  3. Deglaze pan with wine and bring to boil. When wine has reduced by half, add chicken stock, chopped garlic, lemon juice, capers; cook for 5 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Whisk in remaining 1/2 tsp. salt, remaining 3.5 tbs. butter, chopped parsley. When butter is melted, return veal scallops to pan, heat through, thickening sauce, about 1 minute. Garnish and serve.

I screwed this up several ways, starting with using a non-stick pan (wasn't cooking at home). Used olive oil instead of vegetable oil (gave it a little stronger taste, no problem). Overbrowned the veal, especially on first side. Combined wine (cheap cooking wine) with chicken stock (would have been better following directions, not to mention using better wine). Forgot the garlic (my bad). Put in extra capers, a large Spanish brand I've never used before; also marinated artichoke hearts (had it that way before). Sauce came out too salty. (Would have been better reducing the salt to zero, especially if that means more capers.) Probably put too much lemon juice in too (juiced 1.5 large lemons) -- sure passed the enough lemon test. Garnished with lemon slices, added to pan. Still pretty tasty, but could have been better. Too bad it's so hard to get veal in Wichita.

Served with tri-color gemelli pasta and sauteed zucchini. Cut two zucchini into planks. I then dumped the excess veal flour over it (used less than half on veal; sort of half way between breaded fried zucchini and simple sauteed). Sauteed in olive oil, adding more when it was clear that it needed it. Once cooked through, I sprinkled top with parmesan cheese, cooked another minute, and was done. Pretty good for a complete ad hoc.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Browse Alert: War Presidents

Fareed Zakaria: True or False: We Need a Wartime President. There are two key things to this argument. The first is:

It is by now overwhelmingly clear that Al Qaeda and its philosophy are not the worldwide leviathan that they were once portrayed to be. Both have been losing support over the last seven years. The terrorist organization's ability to plan large-scale operations has crumbled, their funding streams are smaller and more closely tracked. Of course, small groups of people can still cause great havoc, but is this movement an "existential threat" to the United States or the Western world? No, because it is fundamentally weak. Al Qaeda and its ilk comprise a few thousand jihadists, with no country as a base, almost no territory and limited funds. Most crucially, they lack an ideology that has mass appeal. They are fighting not just America but the vast majority of the Muslim world. In fact, they are fighting modernity itself.

You can argue that WWII was a genuine existential threat, although you'd probably be wrong even there. You can argue that Korea and/or Vietnam were genuine threats, if not directly to us, at least to the world's hopes to share our way of life; even there, you'd certainly be wrong. But once you realize that Al Qaeda represents at most a very tiny sliver of Islam, you should understand that all attacking them does is flattery.

The other key thing is what does having a "war president" do to us? Nothing good. One lesson we should have learned from self-perpetuating Cold War was that it undermines the left and bolsters the right, leading to a militarization of society and industry, a vast degree of economic waste and corruption, and other debilitating policies. Zakaria could develop that further, but at least he ends:

In fact, America is an extremely powerful country, with a unique and extraordinary set of strengths. The only way that position can truly be eroded is by its own actions and overreactions -- by unwise and imprudent leadership. A good way to start correcting the errors of the past would be to recognize that we are not at war.

And therefore we have no use for a war president.

Tom Engelhardt: Why Cheney Won't Take Down Iran. As the last days of the Bush-Cheney junta wind down, Iran remains their last best chance to launch one more really catastrophic war. The nominal excuse for such a war remains Iran's potential to develop nuclear bombs -- an argument both more realistic than the one proferred for invading Iraq but still poorly grounded in reality or realpolitik, and widely recognized as such (admittedly, less in the decisive world of political discourse, still easily swayed by demagoguery, especially propagated by Israel, than in the overstretched and oft-fooled military-security establishment, where such acts are most certain to blow back). Still, Engelhardt's argument is based on more elementary grounds: the pocketbook effect of an oil crisis that any attack on Iran would trigger. Simply stated, the higher the price of oil, the less the world can afford to fuck with the supply chain -- especially given that we're not just talking about taking Iran's oil off the market. Iran could conceivably take the whole Persian Gulf down with it.

The list of things Iran could do in response to an American and/or Israeli attack has been kicked around for several years now. Some, such as a flare-up against Israel by their buddies in Hamas and (especially) Hezbollah don't seem likely to get much respect. Indirect threats in Iraq and direct threats in the Straits of Hormuz are another story. But one thing that's never mentioned is: what if Iran, before striking back, takes its case to the UN, demanding censure and sanctions against the aggressors? Technically, the US can block such a move, but only by making a mockery of the whole UN.

Michael Massing: Embedded in Iraq. A field report as the New York Review's media correspondent goes undercover to see what little can be seen in post-surge Iraq. He sees some "progress," aggressively sold by the Pentagon's PR staff. He also sees the frustration and ineptness in his guardians. The resulting cascade of negatives suggests we've fallen into a black hole of non-reporting from Iraq. Things are getting better but we can't see the results because better is still too bad to permit any form of monitoring.

Gareth Porter: Pull-out Demand Signals Final Bush Defeat in Iraq. The current UN sanction for the US occupation of Iraq expires at the end of 2008. Bush has tried to legitimize further occupation past that date by negotiating a SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) with the al-Maliki Iraqi government by that time, which would have the extra effect of saddling the next administration with commitments to keep up the fight. However, al-Maliki appears to have other ideas, leading toward sending US troops packing. This should have happened several years ago, and might have except for the deviousness the US exercised in playing each group off against the other. While Porter may be right that this spells Bush's ultimate defeat, the key thing for Bush has always been that it didn't happen on his watch.

For some time now it's looked like the al-Maliki government might be able to control and stabilize the country without the support of US troops -- US arms, of course, will still be welcome, although Iran is readily available as a fallback. This would be a change from the pattern set in Vietnam and Afghanistan, where rump governments held on for a few years before falling. But it still seems that it would require more power-sharing than al-Maliki has been willing to commit to, or the US has been willing to permit. The latter, at least, is likely to change in January 2009. Obama doesn't need to want to withdraw so much as he needs to just go along with the flow, unlike Bush, who fought tooth and nail to protract the war in every way.

Fred Kaplan: Obama Gets Help From Iraq's Prime Minister. This is another way of looking at the Iran and Iraq stories. That both countries are even stories is mostly due to the dilligent work of the Bush administration stirring up conflicts where there is little reason for them. Obama's desire to extricate us from those conflicts, as opposed to Bush's (or McCain's) eagerness to crank them up, may be all the tilt it takes to make change. Especially when indications from the other side look favorable.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

McCain's Heroism

My militarist uncle, James A Hull, has a letter in the Wichita Eagle today:

It is a well-known fact that John McCain was shot down and became a prisoner of war in Vietnam. I agree with his critics that getting shot down and becoming a POW does not qualify him to be president. But it should not disqualify him, either.

The real reason that critics of McCain consider him to be unqualified to be president is that he has not denounced the Iraq war or apologized for his part in it.

That's actually about as true and well-reasoned as Uncle James has ever gotten. Gen. Wesley Clark's original complaint about McCain had more to do with McCain's failure to move up in rank to a command position than anything deprecatory about McCain's service, dedication, sacrifice, etc. It was meant to imply that real Generals, like Clark, are far more qualified than mere pilots, like McCain. The subtext is the notion that senior military management prepares one better than most other career paths for becoming president. There's not a lot of historical evidence supporting that position -- more importantly, there are no examples from the permanent military that was formed after WWII and freed from the draft after Vietnam.

The reason people mistake Clark's comment is that McCain has done little but trade on his fame and misfortune ever since he got back from Hanoi. He built his whole political career on being a Vietnam POW. The fact that he was almost unique in doing so may show that he had something more going for him -- a rich wife bankrolling him, a father who did match Clark's rank, genuine skill at bamboozling the media. Over 20-some years in the House and Senate he has accumulated the level of policy experience that others with similar credentials regard as qualifying. However, during those 20-some years, he's made numerous bad policy decisions, of which his rabid and unrepentant advocacy of invading and occupying Iraq for the next century or two ranks especially high.

Uncle James may have meant his last paragraph as a point of pride -- as evidence of McCain's real heroism -- but it cuts the other way just as cleanly and decisively.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

More Books

Good week to flush out some of the accumulated book notes, including:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The United States of Arugula

Still have half a dozen or so book pages more/less ready to run, and they make easy filler while I'm otherwise preoccupied. Attended Kalman Tillem's funeral today. The service itself is usually the most tedious and least interesting of events, but this one struck a nice balance. Rabbi David Nelson was clearly most interested in Kalman's early studies with reconstruction Judaism founder Mordecai Kaplan, but he was also respectful that Kalman took the teaching in a more secular and more leftist direction, maintaining a strong Jewish cultural identity without its religious trappings.

We had some people over to the house afterwards. I put a quick lunch together. Last night I mixed up a couple of salads. One was mast va khiar, the Iranian variation on cucumber-yogurt: the extra are scallions, fresh mint, and golden raisins. (Usually I also include black walnuts, which I failed to find.) For yogurt, I picked up a pre-drained Greek brand, Fage. Very thick and rich, a little sour, which was easily fixed with extra raisins. The other was a Russian potato salad with smoked salmon, red onion, kalamata olives, capers, dill, and a vinaigrette mixed with a little dijon mustard. Then this morning I ran out and picked up some bagels, cream cheese, lox, and chips. I drew a blank on desert, but that's what other people brought, so it all worked out.

Given this, makes sense to start with a food book.



Congressional Record

The following was read into the Congressional Record by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), on Tuesday, February 28, 1984, on the occasion of Kalman Tillem's retirement:

Mr. President, the Jewish Vocational Service and Community Workshop of Michigan, will honor Kalman Tillem at a retirement dinner on March 7, 1984. Mr. Tillem has served these organizations for 30 years and been involved in a variety of activities of vital importance to the Jewish community. He has been the scholarship coordinator for the Jewish Educational Loan Service -- a program that made it possible for hundreds of young men and women to complete their undergraduate and professional education.

The Jewish Educational Loan Service is a coordinating agency for about 50 communal funds working in conjunction with Jewish Vocational Service, Hebrew Free Loan Association, and Jewish Welfare Federation. The program has grown into one of the largest of its kind in the country. Among the communal groups working within the Jewish Educational Loan Service are the National Council of Jewish Women -- Greater Detroit section, Maimonides Medical Society Women's Auxiliary, Ruth Franklin Einstein Educational Fund of Temple Beth El, and the Probus Club. This program has been particularly helpful to families in recent years when tuition costs have increased and the economy has been depressed.

Kalman Tillem has devoted himself to assisting others. Under his guidance the work adjustment program and placement of disadvantaged has grown consistently. This program serves many residents including the psychologically disabled who have had difficulty in finding employment. More recently he has been working with the newly arrived Russian immigrants and has been successful in finding employment for many of these newcomers.

Prior to coming to the JVS, Mr. Tillem was a research analyst for the U.S. Marine Corps where he conducted research projects for more effective utilization of military personnel and developed testing programs.

Mr. Tillem has been an active volunteer. Among his many efforts, he served on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Oak Park, Mich., Board of Education.

I congratulate Kalman Tillem for his dedication to his community and public services, and wish him continued fulfillment in this retirement.

We have a framed copy of this, and used it for biographical details in preparing the funeral, although it also misses much. I gather that this was obtained by someone at JVS with some political connections, and was regarded as amusing by those aware of Kalman's left politics from back in the McCarthy era.

We haven't received any condolences from Senator Levin, although I imagine that with appropriate prodding we might.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14590 [14560] rated (+30), 766 [791] unrated (-25). Week came to a sudden end when Kalman Tillem died. Listened to quite a bit of jazz before that. Nothing else.


Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 11)

This week came to a sudden end when Kalman Tillem died Saturday. I was listening to the last of the Evil Rabbits when I got the call, and couldn't concentrate on it. Ironically, I had just finished the Paul Shapiro CD, which he would have gotten a kick out of.

Should be able to finish this column/cycle soon, but things are pretty disrupted right now.


Tim Hagans: Alone Together (2007 [2008], Pirouet): Trumpet player. Most sources describe him as hard bop, but he's had a rather checkered career, ranging from jazztronica to big bands to that giveaway Freddie Hubbard tribute album. This quartet is about as straightahead as he's ever come, and all the better for it. Much credit goes to the rhythm section, aka the Marc Copland Trio, with Drew Gress on bass and Jochen Rückert on drums. They're superb on their own, and Hagans ices the cake. Starts with four Copland songs; ends with three standards. B+(***)

Marc Copland: Another Place (2007 [2008], Pirouet): Where Tim Hagans' Alone Together was arguably more centered on Copland, the record with the pianist's name up front is at least as much the work of front-line replacement guitarist John Abercrombie. Hagans wrote no songs to Copland's four; here Abercrombie pens three to Copland's two. Drew Gress repeats at bass. Billy Hart replaces Jochen Rückert at drums. Where Hagans' trumpet seemed to ice the cake, Abercrombie's guitar is much more sinuously intertwined. Copland has been turning out well-regarded records at least since 1990, but I missed him until I started working Jazz CG, and still haven't heard any of his early work. But since 2004 I've heard five and they're all rock solid -- including a previous one with Abercrombie called Brand New. B+(***)

Satoko Fujii Trio: Trace a River (2006-07 [2008], Libra): This is easier for me to relate to than mainstream piano trios, like the recent Marc Copland records. The crashes are good for an adrenaline rush, and the quiet runs just bid time until all hell breaks out again. Drummer Jim Black takes these twists and turns with exceptional relish. Bassist Mark Dresser is often inscrutable and impenetrable, but his breaks can hold your attention, and he can push a beat as hard as anyone. Fujii can make earthshaking noise and still play fine figures in the cracks. Not sure it all holds together, but it's a thrill when it does. A-

Junk Box: Sunny Then Cloudy (2006 [2008], Libra): Another Satoko Fujii trio, with the leader on piano, husband Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, and John Hollenbeck doing percussion. A previous album called Fragment, released in 2006, made my A-list. This one has its amazing moments, but it also has plenty of rough stretches. One highlight is Tamura's eloquent lead on "Soldier's Depression," rising then fading against Hollenbeck's fractured martial drums. On the other hand, the next song starts off with a trumpet tantrum; after blowing itself out, Fujii has a promising bit of dramatic piano, but then that fades into what I can only guess is Tamura doing something obscene. Hollenbeck seems up for anything, and there's a lot of that. B+(**)

Gato Libre: Kuro (2007 [2008], Libra): Trumpet player Natsuki Tamura write the songs here, so figure this as his group, with wife Satoko Fujii forswearing her explosive piano for accordion. The others are Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass. Group has a couple of past albums, including the Europe-tour-themed Nomad which made my A-list. Tamura tends to be more conventional than Fujii. In particular, he likes simple, straightforward melodies, and doesn't mind pulling them from folk sources. The European themes work nice with the accordion, but here he seems unfocused, slipping in Japanese bits, then not developing them. Some rough spots, some sweet spots. B+(*)

Steve Allee Trio: Dragonfly (2008, Owl Studios): Pianist, from Indianapolis, six albums since 1995. AMG lists him as crossover jazz. I've only heard this and the previous trio album Colors (2007), and he strikes me as a mainstream bebopper, and a pretty good one at that. His "Dedication Suite" strings together pieces dedicated to Bill Evans, Thad Jones, and Oscar Peterson. Saxophonist Rich Perry joins the Trio on three cuts. The first two the sax rises magisterially out of the piano base. The last is a piece of slick funk called "Hip Factor" where the sax is just extra grease. B+(**)

Michael Moore Trio: Holocene (2004-05 [2008], Ramboy): Album doesn't list Moore's instrument(s), but figure clarinet and maybe a bit of alto sax. The trio includes Guy Klusevcek on "accordeon" and Eric Friedlander on "'cello" -- don't know what the point is, but the open single quote on the latter, instead of apostrophe, is a plain old fashioned typo, probably the work of Microsoft Word's auto-substitute programming for quotes. The instrumentation is soft and plodding. There is no rhythm section driving anything -- maybe a different accordionist, like Richard Galliano, or a different cellist, like Fred Lonborg-Holm or Moore's old Clusone chum Ernst Reijseger, might have picked up the slack. As chamber music it's not without its interesting points. The choice cut is "Trouble House," which does move a bit, and reminds me of Moore's Jewels and Binoculars work. B+(*)

Corey Wilkes: Drop It (2007 [2008], Delmark): Hot young trumpet player in Chicago, b. 1979, moved into Lester Bowie's Art Ensemble of Chicago slot (big shoes to fill there); also Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Exploding Star Ensemble, and various other Roscoe Mitchell projects. First album. Wants to show his range; also his hip-hop generation cred, so this is long on funk, most blatantly when Dee Alexander comes in to sing "Funkier Than a Mosquita's Tweeter" -- song lives up to its billing. Arty touch at the beginning with Miyanda Wilson reciting Langston Hughes spoken words about some trumpet player, with Wilkes swaying softly in the background. Stong sax: not sure if it's Chelsea Baratz or Kevin Nabors (who split tenor duties) and/or Jabari Liu (on alto) -- not familiar with any of those. Fun record; need to see how high it goes. [B+(***)]

Ab Baars Trio & Ken Vandermark: Goofy June Bug (2007 [2008], Wig): Vandermark needs no introduction, at least here. Baars is Dutch, b. 1955, plays tenor sax, clarinet, and here tosses down some shakuhachi. Baars has been around, playing with most of the wild cards of the Dutch avant-garde -- Misha Mengelberg (in and out of ICP Orchestra), Guus Janssen, Cor Fuhler, Terrie Ex, as well as others when he gets the chance: Michael Moore, Roswell Rudd, Sonic Youth. I don't find any previous encounters with Vandermark, although Vandermark dedicated a song to him back on Burn the Incline (2000). The trio adds bass and drums, Wilbert de Joode and Martin van Duynhoven, if you're keeping score. This waxes and wanes, interesting both in tenor sax brawl and clarinet wooing modes. [B+(**)]

Phil Markowitz: Catalysis (2006 [2008], Sunnyside): Pianist. Several sources cite his 37 year career, but don't give a birthdate. Only his 4th album since 1980. Side credits go back to 1973, notably: Chet Baker, Red Rodney, Phil Woods, Al di Meola, Bob Mintzer, David Liebman, Joe Locke, both Saxophone Summit albums. Piano trio with Jay Anderson and Adam Nussbaum, solid players. I like it well enough, but like a lot of good mainstream piano it doesn't push the buttons that make me want to write about it. B+(*) [July 15]

Ambrose Akinmusire: Prelude (2008, Fresh Sound New Talent): Trumpet player. Not clear whether he was born in Nigeria or Oakland, CA -- Wikipedia supports both claims -- but he grew up in California, attended Manhattan School of Music, got his masters from USC, and is now based in Los Angeles. First album, with Walter Smith III on tenor sax, Aaron Parks on piano, Chris Dingman on vibes, bass, drums, some guests. Some vocal bits muddy the surface, but the trumpet is bright and crisp, and the rest is fashionably postbop. B+(*)

Grace Kelly/Lee Konitz: GraceFulLee (2008, Pazz Productions): Kelly was born 1992, Wellesley MA, Korean parents, original name Grace Chung. She cut her first record at age 13; at 16, she now has four. I can't recall ever being impressed by a prodigy, and it's going to take me a while to swallow this. For one thing, 7 of 10 songs pair her up with arguably the greatest alto saxophonist since Johnny Hodges (most days I'd say Art Pepper, and sometimes I'm tempted by Anthony Braxton, or for sheer guts Ornette Coleman or Jackie McLean, but never consensus favorite Charlie Parker). She's not in their league, or anywhere close, but her three leads slip by graciously enough. Five cuts use a full band, and they are stellar: Russell Malone on guitar, Rufus Reid on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. [B+(**)]

Cassandra Wilson: Loverly (2007 [2008], Blue Note): She fits roughly into the line of deep-voiced jazz divas extending from Sarah Vaughan to Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln, although she's neither as deep nor as jazzy as any of those. Her initial notices with New Air and M-Base never really panned out as distinctive or interesting. Until now, much of her reputation has been due to her attempts to update the songbook, incorporating newer material where most jazz singers stray little from cabaret. But the most striking songs here are decidedly old: a smooth flowing "Caravan" and a no-longer-quite-trad "St. James Infirmary." Behind them are more conventional standards, a "Lover Come Back to Me" or a "The Very Thought of You," as well as other old songs that still fit, like "Boom Boom." The band, with Marvin Sewell, Jason Moran, Lonnie Plaxico, and Herlin Riley on most cuts, doesn't stand out, but stays with the flow. I think it's the best album she's ever done. A-

Long Ago and Far Away: Kelly Harland Sings Jerome Kern (2006-07 [2008], Origin): Singer, presumably based in Seattle, MySpace page says she's 57, which would mean b. 1950 or 1951. Second album according to AMG; third according to her website, although there's also a hint of a long-lost record on Epic with Charlie Daniels. This one could not be more straightforward. The Kern songbook is redoubtable. Support from Bill Mays on piano and Chuck Deardorf is all she needs. Her voice and delivery are unaffected and charming. B+(**)

Joanna Pascale: Through My Eyes (2008, Stiletto): Standards singer, from Philadelphia, listed as 24, second album. The songs are all carefully dated from 1934-56 -- supposedly she has 400 songs from 1920-60 in her repertoire. Nothing notably innovative about this or her approach, but she handles them well, the band supports her, and saxophonist Tim Warfield is a treat. B+(**)

Mark Sherman Quartet: Live @ the Bird's Eye (2008, Miles High, 2CD): Vibraphonist, b. 1957, eight record since 1997. I've heard a couple, and they're pretty good, but my immediate reaction on seeing a 2-CD live set is that's way too much. Turns out it's just more of the same thing, which is a fast, loose, effortlessly swinging, endlessly listenable group -- Allen Farnham on piano, Dean Johnson on bass, Tim Horner on drums. B+(*)

Tim Collins: Fade (2004-07 [2008], Ropeadope): Vibraphonist, based in New York. AMG lists 4 previous records, only one of which shows up on webpage discography. This one lists Charlie Hunter (electric bass) and Simon Lott (drums) on cover as featuring, but also credits alto saxophonist Matt Blostein and a full range of string players (two violins, viola, cello, acoustic bass). Album has some snap to it, but there doesn't seem to be much to distinguish the fast riffing from the fusion padding. B

Pam Purvis: I Had a Ball (2007 [2008], Progressive Winds): Singer, grew up in Louisiana and Texas, started singing in New Jersey in 1974, married saxophonist Bob Ackerman. Fifth album under her name, plus three more/less under Ackerman, including one on Cadence Jazz. She has a broadly satisfying voice with a little twang -- on a piece like "On and On" she reminds me a bit of early Maria Muldaur. This varies a lot by song, with her pass at "Ode to Billie Joe" downright annoying, except for a nice sax solo by Ackerman. B

Paradigm: Melodies for Uncertain Robots (2008, Ropeadope): Band, formed in 2004 by jazz students at University of Louisville: Brian Healey (keyboards), Jonathan Epley (guitar), Myron Koch (sax), Will Roberts (bass), Evan Pouchak (drums). Website says "creates anthems for the subconscious . . . providing a soundtrack to the movie that is life." Not sure that it is healthy to think of life as a movie, especially to write music on that basis. B-

Robin McKelle: Modern Antique (2007 [2008], Cheap Lullaby): Singer, second (or maybe third) album, remind me of a moderately annoying pop (or maybe soul) singer I can't quite place, but I find it impossible to hate competent versions of fare like "Comes Love," "Day by Day," "Cheek to Cheek," "Lullaby of Birdland," and "Make Someone Happy." B-

Katie King: Harry's Fight (2007 [2008], OA2): Singer, from Eugene OR, moved to Seattle in 1990, fifth album since 1993. Not the UK-born jazz/standards singer who's worked the US east coast (Florida to the Catskills), or any of an astonishing number of other Katie Kings scattered about. Title cut is full of jazz references, with a rousing Chris Flory sax solo. That's the first of three originals. She also tackles three Beatles songs, plus one by Paul Simon -- things I never recommend going near, but she handles them meticulously, and Flory helps out. Also pieces from Nine Simone and Abbey Lincoln, plus some more standard standards. B+(*)

The Stance Brothers: Kind Soul (2008, Ricky Tick): They call this a "garage jazz" group. Based in Helsinki, Finland. Group members: Isiah Stance (vibes, keyboards), Dwayne Stance (bass, guitar), Byron Breaks (drums, percussion). I don't believe those names either. Everything but a George Duke song was written by a Teddy Rok, also listed a producer (aka Teppo Mäkynen, which sounds more like it). Certainly listenable, the vibes giving it an extra shot of jangliness, but not clear why anyone should bother. B

Yellowjackets: Lifecycle (2008, Heads Up): Popular jazz group, been around since 1981, basically a quartet with Bob Mintzer (reeds), Russell Ferrante (keyboards), Jimmy Haslip (bass guitar), and Marcus Baylor (drums) -- augmented here with guitarist Mike Stern, "featuring" on the cover, "special guest" in the booklet. Mintzer knows his bebop, so he can turn on a good jazz impression whenever he feels the need. Ferrante and Haslip know their funk, so Mintzer usually doesn't have to -- not that any of them are above cruising through the motions. Stern is a fusion guitarist who can point to Miles Davis on his résumé. I'm not sure what he's doing here. The only time I retain consciousness is when Mintzer plays, and I'm not talking about when he's whistling on his EWI. B-

Pete Levin: Certified Organic (2008, P Lev): Keyboard player, b. 1942, brother of bass guitarist Tony Levin, who has a substantial career mostly in prog rock (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel). Pete got started playing synths for Gil Evans circa 1973. He's played some organ at least since 1990, lately specializing. Mostly organ-guitar-drums trio, with various playmates, some extra percussion, and a bit of Erik Lawrence sax -- best thing here, by a big margin. The guitar is pretty mixed, and the organ doesn't stand out much. B

Sylvia Bennett: Songs From the Heart (2007 [2008], Out of Sight Music): Singer. Biography is nebulous and evasive: born in Italy, raised in Philadelphia. MySpace page, with just 4 friends, claims she is based in Key Biscayne and has topped 60. Doesn't look it. Has a couple of credits from the late 1980s with Lionel Hampton, and a previous album from who-knows-when with Boots Randolph. This one features "The Three Tenors": Randolph, Ed Calle, Kirk Whallum. No recording date(s), but Randolph died in 2007. Well worn standards: "Embraceable You," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "My Funny Valentine," "Since I Fell for You," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Ain't Misbehavin'" -- that's juts the first half. I wouldn't brag about those tenors, but they can all play in this league, and Whallum is especially imposing (not the first time he's surprised me on someone else's record). The singer is up to the songs, too. Reminds me of someone else who's assumed her surname (presumably unrelated), but he hasn't turned in an album this consistent in decades. B+(**)

Nicolas Bearde: Live at Yoshi's: A Salute to Lou (2007 [2008], Right Groove): Singer, fourth album since 1997. Started in church in Nashville. Did a year in college, a stint in the Air Force, would up in San Francisco. Acted a bit. Got involved in Bobby McFerrin's "Voicestra" in 1986. The Lou in the title is Lou Rawls. I don't know Rawls well enough to be able to tell you how "The Girl From Ipanema" or "God Bless the Child" fit in, or even the mess of Gamble-Huff songs. It does seem like jazz singers should be able to work more with soul standards, and this is a solid step in that direction. B+(*)

Tayor Eigsti: Let It Come to You (2008, Concord): Pianist, b. 1984, touted as a child prodigy, cut his first album at 16, was picked up by Concord for his third, and now this is number four. Last record impressed me enough (in a manner of speaking) that I flagged it as a Dud. This one is better, with two good cuts: "Timeline" rips out of the box and ends with some smashing tenor sax, but that's just Joshua Redman; "Caravan" is even faster, with piano and percussion chasing Julian Lage's guitar. Eigsti can play, and the fast stuff gives him a chance to show off. His slow stuff is ordinary, but "Portrait in Black and White" works nice after the "Caravan" romp. Where he falls down is when he tries to write -- the four cuts packed away at the end, including a "Fallback Plan Suite." B

The Steve Elmer Trio: Fire Down Below (2008, Steve Elmer): Pianist, b. 1941, not a professional for most of his adult life, but put a trio together in 2006 and recorded an album called I Used to Be Anonymous. This is his second, with Hide Tanaka on bass, Shingo Okudaira on drums. I found a note explaining that Elmer's Wikipedia page had been deleted for lack of notability. That I tried looking him up strikes me as notability enough. Mainstream bopper, has a fierce attack and tries to keep it fun. B+(*)

Mark Weinstein: Straight No Chaser (2008, Jazzheads): Flautist, has a dozen or so albums, mostly Latin and Brazilian. This is more mainstream postbop, a quartet with Dave Stryker's guitar prominently featured; Ed Howard plays bass, Victor Lewis drums. I'm not much of a flute fan, don't really see the point. B

CRAM: For a Dog (2008, Broken): Dutch band, name follows first-name initials for musicians: Corrie van Binsbergen (guitar), Rutger van Otterloo (soprano/baritone/tenor sax), Arend Niks (drums), Mick Paauwe (babybass). Carlo de Wijs plays organ on three tracks; Hein Offermans plays double bass on two of them. I filed this under van Binsbergen for writing 7 of 13 tracks (Niks 4, Paauwe 2, plus 1 track by Chris Abelen -- trombonist, who van Binsbergen has played with). Some strong guitar runs, with rough sax accents; not really fusion or avant, but some combination. B+(**)

Tone Dialing: Rigop Me (2006 [2008], Evil Rabbit): Dutch group. Leader is probably Jorrit Dijkstra, saxophonist by trade, plays lyricon, analog synthesizer, and loop machine here. The others are Paul Pallesen (guitar, analog electronics) and Steve Heather (drums, percussion, sampler). The lyricon is an analog wind synthesizer, which Dijkstra feeds into the Cjewan analog synth. Early on this sounds like dronish electronic music with scattered percussion. The fourth cut, "yoxia me," picks up a beat and is quite attractive. B+(**)

Esmée Althuis/Albert Van Veenendaal: The Mystery of Guests (2006-07 [2008], Evil Rabbit): Don't know anything about Althuis, who plays alto sax, c-melody sax, and "blackophone" (total Google search count: 2). Always a bad sign when Google's "I Feel Lucky" website for a musician is tomhull.com. Van Veenendaal is a Dutch pianist I've taken an interest in -- his trio album Predictable Point of Impact is one of the few genuinely exciting piano trio albums to have appeared in the last few years. This is nominally a duo, leaning toward the saxophonist, who while not especially distinctive hangs doggedly in whatever game he finds himself in. As the title suggests, there are guests: Han Bennink (drums) on 3 cuts, Wilbert de Joode (double bass) on 4, Joost Buis (trombone, lap steel guitar) on 3, and Corrie van Binsbergen (guitar) on 2. B+(**)

Paul Shapiro: Essen (2007-08 [2008], Tzadik): Group's full name: Paul Shapiro's Ribs and Brisket Revue. Shapiro plays sax and clarinet and sings, although probably less than Cilla Owens and Babi Floyd, who take on all ten songs. Lots of Yiddish, titles like "Tzouris" and "Oy Veys Mir" and the new title piece (with guests Steven Bernstein, Frank London, and Doug Wieselman). Sophie Tucker revivalism. And two Slim Gaillard songs, just to show you how far over the top they're willing to go. A-


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


For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here [not up to date].


Unpacking:

  • Geof Bradfield: Urban Nomad (Origin)
  • The Paul Carlon Octet: Roots Propaganda (Deep Tone)
  • Nick Colionne: No Limits (Koch)
  • David Liebman/Roberto Tarenzi/Paolo Benedettini/Tony Arco: Negative Space (Verve)
  • Gene Ludwig Trio with the Bill Warfield Big Band: Duff's Blues (18th & Vine)
  • Glenn White: Sacred Machines (OA2)

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Kalman Tillem

My father-in-law, Kalman Tillem died today. He was 92. I should write more, and someday I will. Even when expected such things always come as a shock. I feel fortunate to have known him. The picture at the right was one I took in May when I was in Detroit, and just ineptly hacked down for the moment.

I imagine the blog will be in sorry shape for the next couple of weeks. As it is, I'm packing now to start the drive tonight.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Browse Alert

Chris Hedges: Real Journalists Don't Make $5 Million a Year. Glad to see something about the late Tim Russert that makes a lick of sense. I didn't particularly dislike Russert, but I can't see that his passing is going to have any effect on the quality of broadcast journalism (forgive all the oxymorons in that sentence).

James Wolcott: Bridge over Troubled Blather. On an op-ed by former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey advising Obama to win favor with voters by agreeing with McCain on many issues; e.g., "Sen. McCain, I appreciate your leadership on campaign finance reform, and my opting out of public financing isn't meant to abandon the system. There is a lot more that needs to be done to clean up the influence of money in politics. I will need your help to accomplish that objective." Actually, he'll only need McCain's help if he loses, which is what this advice is bound to do. One thing to remember is that Kerrey has flat out flunked two basic tests for any Democrat: by propagandizing for privatizing Social Security, he has shown: (1) he doesn't appreciate an issue where the Democratic Party brand has unassailable strength vs. the Republicans; and (2) he doesn't understand how Social Security works, and therefore why it's impossible to replace it with a private savings program that doesn't devastate retirement security for everyone now in the system.

Speaking of bad advice, I don't have the link but here's George Packer in the July 7 & 14, 2008 New Yorker:

Obama, whatever the idealistic yearnings of his admirers, has turned out to be a cold-eyed, shrewd politician. The same pragmatism that prompted him last month to forgo public financing of his campaign will surely lead him, if he becomes President, to recalibrate his stance on Iraq. He doubtless realizes that his original plan, if implemented now, could revive the badly wounded Al Qaeda in Iraq, reënergize the Sunni insurgency, embolden Moqtada al-Sadr to recoup his militia's recent losses to the Iraqi Army, and return the central government to a state of collapse. The question is whether Obama will publicly change course before November. So far, he has offered nothing more concrete than this: "We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in."

One thing this shows is that people who were fooled into supporting the Iraq war in the first place can be fooled again and again, no matter how many times they think they've recognized their errors. Packer is merely assuming that it's the US troops that have held Al-Qaeda and Al-Sadr in check, that only they can continue to do so, and that doing so is worth all the cost of keeping them there. Big assumptions for a bill that is running into trillions of dollars plus all sorts of other costs. Obama, at least, doesn't have Packer's checkered history of fuzzy thinking. If he wavers from his commitment to remove US forces from Iraq within 16 months in favor of Packer's favored "conditional engagement" he'll lose control of his policy and sight of where he wants and needs to go. The surge propaganda is a lot of wishful thinking insulated by a general dearth of facts. The dip in violence is little more than a lull, allowing marginal gains to be showcased without really changing much of anything. The US presence and manipulation is still the root cause of the violence, and Iraq will never stabilize until US forces leave.

One thing that's likely to happen is that Obama will weasel around the Iraq issue between now and November and possibly further until he figures out just how to effect withdrawal. This is partly to avoid having to swim upstream against the surge propaganda, partly to not let McCain pin the defeatist label on him. For an example, see this note by Steve Benen. This stuff may make his supporters nervous (as does the FISA flip-flop), but there is no reason to think he won't, once he gets the chance, take the most expeditious exit strategy out of Iraq, if for no other reason than that it's totally fracking insane that the US is there in the first place.


Jesse Helms is dead. He's the only politician I've ever seen spend an entire victory speech taunting his opponents and gloating over their humiliation. It would be totally disrespectful to him to say anything at all kind on this occasion, not that it's possible to actually recall anything. He was a complete, utter piece of shit, and inordinately proud of the fact.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Dinner

Put as little effort as possible into cooking dinner for three tonight: made chicken and biscuits, served with stir-fried lima beans and boiled corn. The chicken and biscuits is our standard comfort food: cut a chicken into big pieces (or in this case I bought four leg quarters, which fit the pot well enough), cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer one hour; take the chicken out, let cool, then extract the meat and discard the rest; place the chicken meat in a 9x13 pyrex pan; reduce the broth and thicken with a little flour; salt and pepper; pour the broth to just cover the chicken; make the biscuits (I use the recipe from the Bisquick box), rolling them out to about 9x13, cut into squares, and place on top of the chicken/broth; bake at 450F for 15 minutes, until slightly browned. The lima beans is the Irene Kuo recipe. The frozen corn is just brought to a boil, drained, buttered; I sprinkled some sumac and alleppo pepper, but consider that optional -- didn't have much effect one way or another. Aside from boiling the chicken, which was effortless,  .the whole thing took less than 30 minutes.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Books

Continuing with the books this week. Looking through the last couple of weeks, I've noticed that these book things take a lot of scrolling to get through. The blog software has a limit on how long an article lead can be, and I topped that on Richard Rhodes' Arsenals of Folly. The way around that is to split the piece in half, putting the extra into the "extended body" -- don't know if there's a limit there, too. But it occurs to me that from here on out it might be best to just put the top section into the blog entry and drop the quotes section into the extended body. Means you'll have to do an extra click to get there, but it'll be easier to get around when you're just scanning.

The books pieces are all kept in the Books section, although they're not guaranteed to be up to date when I make the initial post. I generally update the whole website once a week, usually on Monday, so that's when we all get back in sync.


Books reports posted for this week:


Jun 2008 Aug 2008