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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Browse Alert: VP

Matthew Yglesias: Killing the Brand. This strikes me as the most astute piece I've seen on the McCain-Palin ticket. It also has a theory about why McCain manages to keep so close to Obama, despite the fact that there is no remotely plausible reason why virtually anyone in the US of A should prefer McCain. It's that Obama is running a methodical turtle race, while McCain is playing the hare, jumping on every opportunity to edge a bit ahead, even at the expense of his credibility come November.

Most fundamentally, I think this pick violates the contemporary understanding of the role of the Vice Presidency. With the exception of the four Bush-Quayle years, ever since 1977 we've had a POTUS-VPOTUS team that features a charismatic outsider at the top of the ticket (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II) backed by a seasoned Washington hand (Mondale, Bush I, Gore, Cheney) with "charismatic outsiderishness" generally being an asset, but an asset whose value is enhanced by showing some humility and good sense by bringing a veteran on board.

Seems less like a crazy pick to me than a cute one. That's not just a comment on her looks, but on the superficial level McCain and most Republicans campaign on. After all, they don't really have to understand issues -- when the time comes their masters will tell them what to think. Meanwhile, they gladhand the press and spout their daily talking points. It's only Democrats that have to have experience, smarts, people skills, and common sense, because once they get elected they're on their own.

Palin's political record seems to indicate she's a person who'll do what she's told, and be personable along the way. She's earned her cred with the far right -- like the bit about giving birth to a mutant to show off her opposition to abortion. Given her state's history, I doubt that hardly anyone in the nation would go as far out on a limb to trash the environment in order to extract mineral resources. If McCain has his way, the only economic issue that will register this fall is the need to slice gas prices by drilling and polluting everywhere. Palin will not only support him in that; she's practically Exhibit A.

On the other hand, even if cute makes a nice first impression, it can wear thin over the long haul -- like between now and November. If Obama can get people to realize that the election is about something serious -- not a proposition I have a lot of faith in, but if things get worse voters may start moving that direction on their own -- McCain's superficiality will fall hard.

Andrew Leonard: Sarah Palin: Drill, drill, drill -- all the way. Some background on Palin and the oil industry.


Over at FiveThirtyEight, Obama's popular vote margin has shrunk again, down to 0.2%, although something weird is going on with their "SuperTracker" thingy, with the Trend Line jumping up 6 points and the Projection dropping.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Browse Alert: Democrats

Dennis Perrin: O, Bomb It On the Mountain. One more little thing on the author of Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War. He mentioned this in the Greenwald interview, but more in passing:

I've repeatedly said that I want Obama to be elected so that liberals can show their true colors, and we can dispense with their supposed "antiwar" personas. That still holds. A McCain presidency will only delay what needs to opened and dealt with, to the degree that it can be dealt with. But watching Obama last night gave me another thought, that of driving American reactionaries even crazier, which will happen should the president be of color and have that last name. Obama in the White House will seriously fuck with their fat heads. Good. I can definitely live with that.

I don't buy this argument. I, too, worry about Obama's postures toward Iran and (especially) Pakistan, and I don't trust him to get out of Iraq, let alone Afghanistan, as gracefully as he should. And let's not get started in Israel/Palestine. And then there's the crises we don't know about yet, the ones that have been smoldering over the last 8, 16, 60 years that haven't engulfed us in flames yet: how's he going to react to those, given his political sense, the foibles of his hundreds of advisors, and the state aparatus he'll inherit from Bush's deliberate politicization of everything. All these things considered, it's certainly possible that Obama's administration will be bellicose and reckless enough to fill out another chapter in the second edition of Perrin's book. I hope that's not the case, and I can think of some good reasons why it may not be the case, but right now you got to grant the possibility.

On the other hand, where Perrin's argument falls flat is in his naïve idea that Obama's belligerence will be so aggressive and so dysfunctional that it will finally drive Americans to an antiwar stance so firm that it rejects the Democratic as well as Republican parties. Short of nuclear war I don't see that reaction. No matter how belligerent Obama becomes, the Republicans will demand more, because that's their brand identity; and the Democrats will split, with the hawks shaming the doves into knuckling under otherwise it will be their fault if the Republicans get back in. We already had a dry run for this with Clinton. Nor did the argument that by outdoing their wettest dreams Clinton would fuck with Republicans heads amount to much: by then the Republicans were so divorced from reality and wrapped up in their own rhetoric that they scarcely noticed when Clinton did their bidding. Indeed, hardly anyone noticed, except for the Naderite fringe.

The reason for supporting Obama and the Democrats in 2008 is the old sad one: they represent the lesser evil, and confused as they were they are still far less culpable for the last eight years than the Republicans. Actually, I'm a bit less pessimistic than that. I see a few things in Obama's political approach that I like, plus I see an intellectually flexible realism that gives me some hope that Obama will try to respond to new problems in ways that actually address them, rather than kick them into an ideologically cocked hat. Where I am pessimistic is that I think many of our problems, if not exacerbated at least neglected for 8 (or 16, or 28) years may be approaching catastrophic shifts, that will prove too much for anyone acclimated to our political culture.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Browse Alert: Democrats

Dennis Perrin: Demver -- Day Three. Looking at Glen Greenwald's blog last night, I noticed that he did a "radio" interview with Dennis Perrin, author of a short book called Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War. I can't recommend the interview, which mostly consisted of Greenwald trying to browbeat Perrin into admitting that Obama isn't as bad as McCain, and for that matter Gore wouldn't have been as bad as Bush, and Perrin trying his best to resist. If the art of the interviewer is to make the guest look good, Greenwald has a lot to learn, but Perrin could have made some useful points but didn't. Two probable differences between Bush and Gore are that Gore would have factored more reconstruction into war cost estimates and Gore would have been more realistic about what the US could afford. Bush handwaved the whole postwar expense in order to rig the balance sheet, not that he ever had a clue how to rebuild a country anyway -- indeed, where he got caught was in his administration's failure to handle Hurricane Katrina. Whether those factors would have made much difference in Afghanistan is something one can argue many ways about: Gore would certainly have launched that war; the initial war itself would likely have been the same, given institutional constraints; Gore probably would have made a more concerted rebuilding effort, but many of the reasons "nation building" failed were deeply structured; it's impossible to say whether Gore would have done a better job of handling the critical diplomatic relationships with Pakistan, Iran, India, and Russia. Gore might have done better in Afghanistan if he had been able to defuse the major festering sores in the middle east -- Israel and Iraq -- but his whole past history was aligned with keeping those sores festering. Again, the only good reason for thinking Gore might have done better is how badly Bush actually did. Remember, though, that before Bush invaded Iraq, the sanctions and bombing programs under Clinton-Gore had undermined Iraqi living standards possibly with a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. Doing nothing in that context may have been better than doing what Bush did, but not much. But to do anything else would have required a mindset adjustment and political will that Gore (for instance) had never shown any proclivity towards. (Only by losing did he manage to free himself up to the point where now such a change seems plausible.)

On the other hand, Perrin's convention reporting takes some amusing digs at the Democrats, not least the donkey pics. The times mean that we're all Democrats now, but some sense of critical distance is still necessary. Greenwald kept pressing Perrin to admit that we would have been better off had Gore won over Bush in 2000. The obvious response is that we would have been better off still had Ralph Nader won. I watched the Bush-Gore foreign policy debate in 2000, and the only military intervention they disagreed on was Haiti -- which, by the way, Bush wound up invading to overthrow the president that Clinton had re-installed after a right-wing coup resulted in tens of thousands of refugees heading towards the US. Most of those policies Bush and Gore agreed on were dangerous and despicable and, significantly, were opposed by Nader. In foreign policy, at least, Nader was the only candidate in 2000 who offered an alternative to America's increasingly hapless imperial stance. If Gore really was a "lesser evil" than Bush, he should have made an effort to win back the Nader voters, either by showing some concern and respect for Nader's positions, or by showing that Bush was far worse than anyone imagined. He did neither, preferring to build his majority on the right, against the left. He lost his gamble, then went meekly into retirement, quickly forgetting anything he had said about fighting for his voters.

I don't mean to rub this in, but I don't see much value in backing down either. Clearly we underestimated the Bush threat. Clearly, so did the Democrats. The difference is that most Nader voters recognized what Bush was doing in real time, whereas the Democrats kept playing along, making things worse. Even now they aren't all that sure what happened to them, why, what their role in it was, let alone what to do about it. How pathetic is that? Pathetic enough that they keep blaming the people who were right all along for their half-hearted losses in 2000 and 2004.

Glen Greenwald: What's missing from the Democratic convention? Once again, the Democrats have failed to use their opportunity to educate the electorate to fully take the Republicans to task for "the sheer radicalism and extremism of the last eight years." Greenwald has a list, which starts with the trampling of the very fundamentals of American law and civil liberties that woke him from political apathy and drove him to write his little broadside, How Would a Patriot Act? One could add a long book to that list. Instead, Greenwald provides quotes from Republican speakers back in 2004, showing how pros use their convention to hack to shreds a candidate like John Kerry. The point is especially well taken given how parallel Kerry's and McCain's weaknesses are. As Greenwald points out, the Republicans are unlikely to miss their opportunity to do the same to Obama.


Looks like Gallup is showing about a 6-point bounce for Obama from the convention. Thus far that's netted a 0.7% gain over at FiveThirtyEight, nudging Nevada into Obama's column, while Ohio and Virginia are still narrowly leaning McCain (1.1% and 0.6% respectively).

I hear Al Gore gave a good speech tonight. I remember pundits going on and on about how obsessed Gore is with becoming president -- how if he lost he'd lose all purpose in life. This, of course, was from the same people who told us that Bush was so secure in himself that he'd just shrug off defeat -- the same people who told us that Bush would be a fun guy to have a [non-alcoholic] beer with.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

McCain's Challenge

I've seen a number of reports that Iraqi PM Maliki is insisting that all foreign troops, which these days are virtually all American troops, leave Iraq by 2011. I saw another report that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, evidently still in a bad mood after the latest US air action that left 90 civilians (read: mostly women and children) dead, wants to get in on that deal. Given the growing pressure from the socalled legitimate governments of the nations Bush invaded and occupied, John McCain may be hard pressed to fulfill his campaign promise of keeping those wars going another hundred years. At least he has Georgia, Russia, and WWIII to fall back on.

Given Bush's record even before 9/11, few people remember that in the 2000 Republican primaries it was McCain who was the neocon darling, while Bush was calling for a "more modest" foreign policy with fewer or none of those "nation building" adventures Clinton kept getting into. Of course, now we can go back and parse Bush's pre-election statements more carefully, where we find occasional hints of later policy. We can track how McCain's neocon legions infiltrated the Bush administration, settling into strategic cells waiting for opportunities to offer heavy stick solutions to any and all problems that may arise -- or would inevitably arise: if war and the threat of force is your only tool for solving conflicts, no effort need be made to defuse conflicts short of war.

Some people remember how in 1964 Johnson had painted Goldwater as a dangerous crackpot warmonger -- a view that wasn't falsified but at least took on an ironic hue as Johnson spent his presidency ever more deeply mired in Vietnam. I suppose Democrats have some reluctance to do the same to McCain, but the latter's track record is even worse than Goldwater's.


Andrew Sullivan: America Against the World. I don't normally read Sullivan, but TPM quoted this, referring back to a WSJ op-ed by Lieberman and Graham. This resonated a bit more because another conservative, "Crunchy Con" Rod Dreher, had an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle this morning expressing horror at McCain's "We are all Georgians" bluster. (See below.) Sullivan: "In my view, the fear card has only one truly compelling target this election: McCain."

Rod Dreher: Sorry, We Are Not All Georgians. Quotes McCain, then scratches his head:

We are? Spare me. You couldn't find one American in a thousand who could locate Georgia on a map, but the Republican hothead who would be president is ready to bind America's sacred honor to the place. And more than our sacred honor, our military might, too.

McCain, a tempestuous Russophobe to the marrow, demanded that the United States accelerate efforts to bring Georgia into NATO, thus extending a trip wire for war with Russia to Moscow's southern border. Because, you know, having conquered Iraq and Afghanistan while barely breaking a sweat, we're rested and ready to let an adventurous Caucasus nation led by a nut drag us into World War III.

Then he takes a swing at Obama:

One would have hoped Barack Obama would meet Russia's aggression with a more balanced, realistic response. Instead, Obama worked his way into McCain's shadow, joining the call for Georgia's NATO membership to go forward. Thus did Obama prove himself to be about as useful as the congressional Democrats who, having come to power in 2006 promising to bring the unpopular Iraq war to a close, went on to give President Bush all the money he asked for to fight it.

What is it with the Democrats? Are they so afraid of being baited by the Republicans as cowards that they sign on to any foolish policy proposed by GOP jingoes?

Well, of course they are. Personally, I think Obama and Biden could have drawn a line against McCain over Georgia which would have gone far toward painting McCain as the war psycho he is, but they ducked the issue instead. Dreher goes on to quote Bacevich about no differences hetween the party standard bearers, which is comforting for the few war-weary conservatives out there. I took a look through Dreher's blog, and didn't find anything of value there. In fact, I had to dig further to convince myself that there aren't two Rod Drehers.

Glenn Greenwald: Warnings to Russia from Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. Another reaction to the Lieberman-Graham war council op-ed, with more background. One thing worth noting is that the people who keep getting identified as McCain's foreign policy team are way outside even the Republican mainstream. Speaking of which:

ThinkProgress: John McCain's War Cabinet. This probably isn't a complete listing, but it's quite a rogues gallery. Wonder where Michael Ledeen is.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rhapsody Notes

Post filed here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14751 [14731] rated (+20), 746 [758] unrated (-12). Not a happy music week. I've been distracted by appliance shopping, and by reading, and I did a fair amount of blogging, but didn't much feel like writing about, or even listening to, music. When I did listen, I mostly picked easy ones, piling up more than the usual Recycled Goods, plus some Rhapsody things. Probably have enough of those to post now. Didn't get my incoming unpacked, not that there was much of it.

  • The Rough Guide to West African Gold (1950s-1970s [2006], World Music Network): Compiling West Africa is trickier than compiling Congo because it's so much more diverse, and the rhythms are so much more improbable; from Ghana's genteel E.T. Mensah to Senegal's afro-salsa Orchestra Baobab, with jumps to lush Nigeria and Guinea and arid Mali, another random sample of unlimited bounty. A- [Rhapsody]


Jazz Prospecting (CG #18, Part 3)

Hit the wall on jazz prospecting this week. Thought I would start with the older music, which still mostly gets shunted off to the abbreviated Recycled Goods, and that went OK. But I didn't get into the new stuff, and by the time the week was over didn't much feel like listening to anything. Wound up pulling some new non-jazz from Rhapsody, which will be good for another post. Enough here for a post, especially since I found some junk I had misfiled last week. In the malaise, didn't get the lists updated with new mail. Didn't get much, but some of it looks promising.


Tito Puente & His Orchestra: Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival (1977 [2008], MJF): A typical set by the great timbalero and his venerable orchestra, featuring signature tunes like "Oye Como Va" and "El Rey del Timbal," rhumbas and mambos, a dash of riskier Afro-Cuban jazz, and a cha cha take on Stevie Wonder. B+(*)

Cal Tjader: The Best of Cal Tjader: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-1980 (1958-80 [2008], MJF): A short set from 1958 with Buddy DeFranco bebop over the vibraphonist's Latin stew, and four choice 1972-80 shots, starting with Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry teaching him how to play "Manteca." I remember going through my database once and deciding that Tjader was the most accomplished jazz musician on the list that I hadn't heard yet, so I'm far from an expert, but these cuts strike me as a well chosen primer. B+(**)

Jimmy Witherspoon: Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival (1959-72 [2008], MJF): The last of the Kansas City blues shouters, in a surly mood that could pass for spirit if you cut him some slack; his Jimmy Rushing tribute is heartfelt but not up to snuff; his praise for guitarist Robben Ford is earned but not such a big deal; the bonus track from 1959 towers above the later performance, not just because Messrs. Hines, Herman, Hawkins, Webster, and Eldridge are in the band, but they sure help. B

Shirley Horn: Live at the 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival (1994 [2008], MJF): Very cost-effective: a singer with such voice and poise a piano trio suits her best, plus she plays a pretty mean piano; just turned 60, at the peak of her fame coming off a series of well-regarded albums on Verve, she nails her whole range here -- "The Look of Love," "A Song for You," "I've Got the World on a String," "Hard Hearted Hannah." B+(***)

Dave Brubeck: 50 Years of Dave Brubeck: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-2007 (1958-2007 [2008], MJF): Starts with Paul Desmond for three 1958-66 quartet cuts and closes with three 2002-07 quartets with Bobby Militello on alto sax -- a sense of continuity and balance unlikely in any 50-year span. Gerry Mulligan figures in between, and only one cut lacks a horn, but the unique pacing of the pianist comes through again and again. A-

Art Blakey and the Giants of Jazz: Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival (1972 [2008], MJF): Not a happy period in the drummer's career, but he plays with great physicality here, leading a ragtag crew of superstars in what could pass as a Jazz at the Philharmonic blowout; Roy Eldridge, Clark Terry, Sonny Stitt, and Kai Winding are natural jousters who offers great excitement but no surprises; the mystery is left to the troubled pianist in one of his last performances, but Thelonious Monk comps engagingly and takes a nice feature on "'Round Midnight." B+(***)

The Soprano Summit in 1975 and More (1975-79 [2008], Arbors, 2CD): Clarinetist Kenny Davern and saxophonist Bob Wilber, two impeccably backward-looking players, ran into each other in Colorado in 1972, finding common ground as a soprano sax duo dedicated to Sidney Bechet. Their summits continued through the 1970s, with occasional reunions into 2001, sometimes with pianist Dick Hyman and other kindred souls -- guitarist Marty Grosz is prominent here, but Bucky Pizzarelli also played. Dan Morgenstern picked these sessions from the archives, including one from April 1975 focusing on Jelly Roll Morton, and two non-Summit sets: a Davern trio with pianist Dick Wellstood from 1979, and a 1976 Wilber group with Ruby Braff. The album never strays from the soprano range, but lively rhythm sections make up for the lack of contrasting horns. Superb trad jazz. A-

Gene Harris Quartet: Live in London (1996 [2008], Resonance): A popular pianist in the Oscar Peterson mode with an occasional nod to Erroll Garner, not as well known in large part because he spent most of his career recording first as the Three Sounds, then in bassist Ray Brown's trio. Jim Mullen's sinuous guitar enlarges this from trio to quartet. Standards like "Blue Monk" and "In a Mellow Tone" stretch out past ten minutes because they're enjoying themselves. B+(***)

Lionel Hampton Orchestra: Mustermesse Basel 1953 Part 2 (1953 [2008], TCB): Another Swiss radio shot, with the vibraphonist's big band -- names include Art Farmer, Clifford Brown, Jimmy Cleveland, Gigi Gryce, and Quincy Jones -- doing their usual "Hey-Ba-Ba-Re-Bop": "Setting the Pace," "Flying Home," "Drinking Wine," always "On the Sunny Side of the Street." B+(*)

Dianne Reeves: When You Know (2008, Blue Note): Love songs -- "Lovin' You," "I'm in Love Again," "Once I Loved," including some treacly pop tunes and one piece of Jon Hendricks vocalese. "Over the Weekend" is probably the melodramatic worst. Two cuts flow the violins, but most are just guitar, keyb, bass, drums. George Duke produced. The exception to all the above is the finale, called "Today Will Be a Good Day" -- the only cut Reeves wrote, citing her monther for inspiration; it marches to a different beat, with Russell Malone's guitar rockish, a choice cut. B-

Rebecca Martin: The Growing Season (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Singer-songwriter, classified as a jazz singer based on her labels, but the thin voice, light guitar, straightforward songs, and primitive arrangements all better fit the folk genre. Band here has impeccable jazz credentials -- Kurt Rosenwinkel, Larry Grenadier, Brian Blade -- but don't really do much. B

Andy Pratt: Masters of War (2008, It's About Music): Singer-songwriter, plays piano, cut his first record in 1969; had something of a breakthrough on his third album, Resolution, in 1976: Stephen Holden gave the record an incredible hype review in Rolling Stone. I got suckered into buying a copy; hated the overweening popcraft and sententious, witless songs. 32 years and maybe 15 albums later, he's still quoting Holden's review. I haven't heard any of the others, but I have to admit I recall the voice -- pretty distinctive. The arrangements are simpler here, with rhythm and voice differentiating three covers -- including a slowed down, shaded Beatles song ("And I Love Her") and a hepped up, choppy Dylan (the title cut). His originals don't stick, but they fit the flow. B+(*)

Cynthia Felton: Afro Blue: The Music of Oscar Brown Jr. (2008, Felton Entertainment): Young singer, certified with: bachelor of music from Berklee, master of arts in jazz performance from New York University, doctorate in jazz studies from University of Southern California. Based in Los Angeles. First album. Long list of musicians includes Ernie Watts, Jeff Clayton, Wallace Roney, Cyrus Chestnut, Donald Brown, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Terri Lyne Carrington; also uses vibes, harp, and violin. Bookends 12 Oscar Brown Jr. songs with two short takes of "Motherless Child." I don't think the album works. It has something to do with the chemistry between singer, song, and band, but I haven't isolated just what it is. Brown was a unique case: he followed up on the basic vocalese idea but mostly aimed at writing novelty songs, which were inevitably hit-and-miss and often even when they worked didn't fit together, novelties being what they are. Perhaps the songs can't support this much seriousness. B-

Mathias Eick: The Door (2007 [2008], ECM): Norwegian trumpet player, b. 1979, also plays guitar and vibraphone here, in a quartet with Jon Balke (piano, Fender Rhodes), Audun Erlien (electric bass, guitar), Audun Kleive (drums, percussion), plus Stian Carstensen (pedal steel guitar) on 3 of 8 cuts. First album, although he's had a lot of side credits since 2001, notably on Jacob Young's two albums. Slow, somber ambient jazz, sometimes sumptuously gorgeous, but mostly just plods along, which is fine with me. Balke makes a particularly good showing. B+(**)

Wolfert Brederode: Currents (2006 [2008], ECM): Dutch pianist, b. 1974. AMG lists one previous album. This one adds clarinets (Claudio Puntin) to piano trio. Starts with an easy-flowing rhythmic piece, a mode he returns to now and then. In between are tone poem things, where the clarinet leads. Seems simple, and probably is, but as it sinks it it's very attractive. B+(***)

Five Play: What the World Needs Now (2007 [2008], Arbors): Drummer Sherrie Maricle's small band, a quintet, contrasts with her big band, DIVA Jazz Orchestra. Both groups are all-female, more/less swing oriented. (DIVA's latest album was a Tommy Newsom tribute.) The Burt Bacharach title cut is a bit yucky but helplessly catchy. Other songs include "Slipped Disc" (Benny Goodman), "Jo-House Blues" (Toshiko Akiyoshi), "I Am Woman" (Helen Reddy). Musicians are: Jami Dauber (trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet), Janelle Reichman (tenor sax, clarinet), Tomoko Ohno (piano), Noriko Ueda (bass). The piano shines in solo spaces, the rhythm section swings, and the horns take some chances. B+(*)

Rosa Passos: Romance (2008, Telarc): Brazilian singer, has recorded more than a dozen albums since 1994, though she may be older than that -- I've heard tell of a 1979 debut album. Grew up in Salvador, Bahia. Gary Giddins, who wrote the liner notes, places her in the bossa nova tradition. Sounds a bit slower and more thoughtful to me -- no matter how slow she goes she still gets traction. Brazilian band, nobody I know, but the sax and piano stand out among the solos, and drummer Celso de Almeida plays with the subtle shiftiness you hope for in Brazilian jazz. B+(***)

Dominique Di Piazza Trio: Princess Sita (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): French bassist, primarily electric, b. 1959 in Lyon. First album, but appeared on a Gil Evans album in 1987, in John McLaughlin's trio since 1991, with Bireli Lagrene, and a few others. Trio includes Nelson Veras on guitar, Manhu Roche on drums. Di Piazza wrote 8 of 12 pieces; Roche one; the others include "Nuages." Sounds to me like the guitarist has the upper hand, with the bass woven craftily into the background, but I'm having trouble unpacking it. Veras has one album on his own. He's an attractive player. B+(*)

Bennett Paster & Gregory Ryan: Grupo Yanqui Rides Again (2006 [2008], Miles High): Paster plays piano; Ryan bass. They met in 1993 as faculty members of the Stanford Jazz Workshop, found a common interest in Latin jazz, and put out their first Grupo Yanqui album in 2001. Current group is a NYC-based sextet, with trumpet (Alex Norris), sax (Chris Cheek), drums (Keith Hall), and percussion (Gilad). This makes all the basic moves, but little of special interest emerges. B

Warren Hill: La Dolce Vita (2008, Koch): Pop jazz saxophonist, plays alto mostly, also soprano. Has ten or so albums since 1991. Plays alto with some authority. Hill also programs drum lines, plays some keyboards, and sings two cuts. The vocals are a waste, and the grooves are standard issue, bright and bouncy. B-

Emily Bezar: Exchange (2008, DemiVox): Singer, keyboardist, from San Francisco or Berkeley, has 5 albums since 1993, maybe more. AMG has her as Alt Pop/Rock, likening her to Kate Bush -- the vocal resemblance is obvious, although I find Bezar a little more idiosyncratic at times, more arch at others, and overall much less interesting. C


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


Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:

I erroneously identified Eri Yamamoto's Cobalt Blue as on AUM Fidelity. It was released on Thirsty Ear.

I got a couple of letters from musicians with B records -- explaining, cajoling, teasing, hoping I'll give their records another spin. Fat chance. While there are many combinations of good and bad that can sort out to B, one thing the grade notes is that I don't feel any need or reason to listen to the album again. Lack of time factors in -- especially the sense that putting more time into the record isn't going to return enough to write about. That, of course, is a guess. In JCG history, I can think of one record that I originally graded [B] that turned out A-, but there I was tentative for good reason. I can also recall one record Christgau originally graded B then returned to at year-end and re-reviewed as A-. (I had that particular record in my year-end top ten.) That that sort of thing can happen shows our fallibility, but it doesn't happen often. Most of my tentative grades wind up on target, and few shift more than one notch. On the other hand, I recognize that many records improve with familiarity. If I could really focus on records that I quickly dismiss I'd no doubt learn to like some quite a bit. But that's not how I work. What I do is more like triage, where we quickly and somewhat arbitrarily sort out who can survive and who can't. Stakes are lower. Anyone with a B record will probably get a chance to make a better one, and that's the one I'll take time to hear.

A few weeks back, I wrote a rant about Dynamod's Flash websites, which are pretty popular with musicians. They used to have a HTML mode, and still do if you follow the URL with /html/. What changed recently was that their no_flash.php redirect page didn't give you the option to view the site. I just rechecked and they've fixed that problem, offering you a link to see the HTML version. As much as I hate Flash, I don't grade records based on the artist websites. I try to put my irritations aside and say something about the music, at least in the grade.


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


Unpacking: Didn't get this done this week.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Browse Alert: Obama/McCain

Andrew Leonard: Obama: The big-spending fiscal conservative. Basically an intro to David Leonhardt's New York Times Magazine essay on Obama's economic programs. I bring it up again because I wanted to add a couple more comments. One is that a lot of people have become confused over markets and capitalism, especially since the Communist collapse c. 1990. Markets enable the exchange of goods and services among large numbers of uncoordinated participants with price adjustments resolving differences between supply and demand. Markets work better in theory than in practice, mostly because in theory you can assume things like perfect information and rational behavior that do not exist in the real world. The failure of Soviet command economies, along with the conservative critique of distorted and inefficient effects in our own regulated markets, has led many people to market approaches to problems that had traditionally been subjected to bureaucratic regulation -- good examples of this are the cap-and-trade schemes for managing pollution externalities and auctions for divvying up commons resources like broadcast bandwidth. These schemes wind up being attractive both to the left and to the right, at least to segments of both that are not in thrall to moral absolutes.

One reason these schemes are attractive to (at least some of us on) the left is that markets are largely separable from capitalism. If you look at pro-capitalist propaganda over the last few decades, you'll see that much of what they're saying is really just pro-market, and nowadays that's relatively uncontroversial. Capitalism itself is fundamentally about the private ownership of capital, and if you look at that carefully you'll see that capitalists more often than not are at odds with free markets: capitalists seek to limit competition, to fix prices, to obscure and bias information, to maximize rents due to ownership. You'll also notice that many capitalists have invested heavily in lobbying, using their political influence to subsidize and distort markets. Given all this, it's possible for leftists to see markets as a means to undermine the worst aspects of capitalism. One more attractive thing about markets is that they limit the overshoot problems associated with seizing political power.

For various reasons, including his University of Chicago environs, Obama is hipper on markets than any other politician I can think of. He may be too much of a believer -- Robert Kuttner and others have done important work in showing cases where markets are dysfunctional, most obviously in health care -- but he is coming closer to promising economic solutions than anyone else I can think of. This also means he's way out in front of the masses in his thinking, which is going to make it difficult to explain and sell. Just to pick one example, much of the campaign to date has revolved around gas prices. McCain has a nice, simple story: cut consumer taxes, drill more wells, build more refineries, cut back on environmental regulations, get government out of the way and let the industry and the market bring prices back to normal. Problem is, none of these things will work, for reasons it would take a couple thousands of words to explain, but so far McCain's narrative is winning, partly because it sounds plausible, and partly because it's what people want to hear. Politically, Obama has to fit his more complex, more sophisticated, more nuanced narrative into a McCain-sized sound bite. Whether he can do so or not will be the real test of his skills as a politician, but he's operating under a major handicap: clearly, he knows better.

The only real political hope I have in this debate is that, while most Americans won't be able to grasp Obama's understanding of what needs to be done, they will at least shy away from McCain's canned cluelessness. They do, after all, have Bush's example of eight years of simplistic, flattering, market-tested bullshit assertions, and all the trouble they have caused.

Jacob Weisberg: If Obama Loses. Subhead: "Racism is the only reason McCain might beat him." That's probably true, although I for one am still worried about stupidity -- a more general, but not unrelated, ailment. At FiveThirtyEight, the popular vote poll projection currently favors Obama by a mere 0.1%, a fairly steady erosion from a peak lead of about 3% in mid-June. The peak occurred shortly after Obama clinched the nomination, so he picked up a bit of the shine that winners enjoy. Since then he's been subjected to a steady drip of innuendo, especially as the right wing noise machine has coalesced around a candidate they weren't all that fond of in the first place. You can argue that Obama is either under or over expectations -- that a black Democrat is doing as well as Obama is doing wasn't necessarily something you'd predict a year or two ago. One thing that's certain is that this will get nastier. I'm reminded of the two Jesse Helms-Harvey Gantt races, which both went to the white guy by narrow margins even though Helms by then was widely regarded as an embarrassment. On the other hand, Helms didn't carry North Carolina by much -- about the same edge McCain has in the polls now.

Glenn Greenwald: The right and men who live off their second wives' inherited wealth. John McCain and John Kerry have so much in common. They were both born into established and well-connected but not-especially-wealthy families. They both enlisted into the Vietnam War, both distinguishing themselves well enough to parlay their experiences into political careers. They both went on to marry very rich second wives. They both have checkered careers of principled demagoguery combined with flip-flops on nearly every issue they were once noted for. Both managed to be nominated by their parties for president. Hopefully, McCain will join Kerry in the loser's column. Kerry was excoriated for all of these traits during his 2004 run. McCain is due the same treatment. The media has lagged way behind on McCain -- I saw one survey recently showing that McCain had received favorable treatment in 47% of newspaper articles, compared to 28% favorable treatment of Obama -- but Greenwald has dug up a set of things that right-wing pundits said about Kerry's numerous houses and outrageous wealth, on the theory that one could and should offer McCain the same treatment. Greenwald's latest book is called Great American Hypocrites, so this seems to be right up his alley.

In fairness, we should note one difference between McCain and Kerry. While Kerry has often been eager to sign up for a war, he's also been known to change his mind once his war turns into a giant fiasco. On the other hand, McCain has never seen a war he didn't lust for, and he's never changed his mind about a war no matter how badly it turned out. Kerry has at least has shown some capacity to learn from his mistakes. As his flip-flops suggest, McCain is also adaptable, but he's got a blind love for war.

Andrew J Bacevich: The next president will disappoint you. That's more than likely, of course, especially in the foreign policy realm, which has been dominated by an enduring (to use a popular DOD euphemism for permanent) bipartisan clique that seem more dedicated to each other than any actual interests most Americans share.

To judge by the cadre of advisors they've recruited, neither candidate holds much affinity for outside-the-box thinkers. Obama's "national security working group," for example, consists chiefly of Democratic war horses, including former secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher and former national security advisor Anthony Lake -- a group that is not young, not charismatic and not known for innovative thinking.

McCain's national security team features a strong neoconservative presence, including pundits such as Max Boot and Robert Kagan, along with hawkish Washington insiders such as Randy Scheunemann and James Woolsey. All figured prominently among advocates of invading Iraq; none has yet to repent. Agents of change? Not likely, unless having a go at Iran qualifies as creative thinking.

But even among Bacevich's names, there are real partisan differences. The Obama (actually Clinton) list reads "same old, same old." The McCain list, on the other hand, are not just people who followed Bush into Iraq; they're people who tried hard to lead Bush into even more wars, people who grow even scarier advising the trigger-happy McCain. Bacevich is right that the Washington establishment limits what a president can do, and he's right that structural problems like "a looming crisis of debt and dependency" undermine American power. Under these circumstances, we could do far worse than see a return to the "same old, same old" Clinton regime.

Heather Havrilesky: I Like to Watch. Part of the column concerns HBO's Generation Kill:

But the most informative and unnerving aspect of Generation Kill may be its portrayal of the ways that civilians in Iraq have been thoroughly, heavily, repeatedly screwed by our invasion. The Marines can't help those who took up arms and joined the insurrection or keep them from being assassinated by Iraqi troops, despite pamphlets that promised the U.S. would protect them. They can't help the farmers who were robbed and stripped naked (some assassinated) by Iraqi soldiers. They can't help the crowds of civilians fleeing Baghdad as the bombs are falling, and they don't help the people in neighborhoods in Baghdad who need protection from bandits robbing them at night. It's no wonder this miniseries isn't a massive hit for HBO; watching it pounds home just how impossible Iraq was from the start, and just how difficult it's going to be for us to extract ourselves from that country without leaving its people high and dry in the middle of a raging civil war.

There are many such examples. Colbert makes a big point about using non-lethal force (smoke grenades as warning shots) at a roadblock, but a few moments later a soldier panics and kills an approaching driver. Colbert's reaction is to comfort and defend the soldier. Nor is that the first time. Nearly every attempt at scrupulous restraint is screwed up by someone up or down the line, and nobody is held accountable for anything. The effect is that the de facto Rules of Engagement is made by the lowest denominator. The mentality is inevitably colonial: the worst of us is always held above the best of them.

What this proves is what I've been saying all along: Americans, or for that matter anyone else, can't go to war without producing atrocities. That much is guaranteed by the training, the camaraderie, the weapons, the pecking order, the promotion system. To enter into a war without expecting the worse is purest negligence. It is one of the things most Americans understand least about themselves.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Browse Alert

Sean Wilentz: How Bush Destroyed the Republican Party. I wish I could buy this, but with McCain virtually tied in the polls, the Republicans don't look anywhere near dead enough for me. One no doubt small but voluble segment of Bush's defectors are those who claim he lost faith with true conservatism. A larger segment think he had the right idea but just executed badly. Neither shows any evidence of learning, and both are willing to give it another go with McCain, even if they trust him less now than they did Bush in 2000. But as McCain's steady rise in the polls shows, Republicans are still able to sway voters with some of the most hypocritical nonsense imaginable.

Historian that he is, Wilentz pulls out various examples of past debacles, including the collapse of the Federalists after 1800 and the demise of the Whigs in 1854 -- obscure examples today, but right in Wilentz's prime period. In those cases the parties actually died, but for the Democrats in 1896 and 1980 and for the Republicans in 1932 the parties merely struggled on in a lesser role, preserved in their geographical redoubts. That at most is what may still happen in 2008. The Republicans will still hang on to their hard core, because the hard core hasn't learned any better.

Wilentz isn't much of a political theorist, but he does touch on some important history:

Shortly after the attacks of September 11th, Rove informed a meeting of the Republican National Committee that he fully intended to make the War on Terror a partisan issue, charging that the Democrats could not be trusted to keep the nation safe. The White House's thorough politicization of a war crisis -- without parallel in modern American history -- would continue over the weeks and months to come, from Republican campaign ads to sudden announcements of elevated terrorist alerts by Homeland Scurity, seemingly whenever the president's poll ratings began to dip. In the midterm elections of 2002, barely a year after September 11th, public anxieties helped the Republicans win back the Senate and expand their majority in the House by eight years.

This worked even more improbably in 2004, mostly through the trick of keeping the war going, and continuously taunting the Democrats with their lukewarm support/opposition.

Despite his disastrous mismanagement in Iraq and his attacks on civil liberties at home, Bush finally managed to win the popular vote [in 2004]. Although his margin in the final tally was the slightest ever for a successful presidential re-election, he immediately announced that he had gained the political capital he needed to pursue his radical agenda. In only a matter of months, however, the bottom began to fall out.

Nothing fails like failure. The deepening quagmire in Iraq, coupled with reports that the administration had relied upon false as well as questionable evidence to justify the original invasion, soured the public's mood -- and led a few commentators, including some high-profile conservatives, to dissent from the conventional wisdom. According to George Will, the Bush presidency's crusade in Iraq had produced "a torrent of acrimony about the dubious inception and incompetent conduct of a war that ecame perhaps the worst foreign-policy debacle in the nation's history."

Bush's failures were well in evidence by 2004, but his supporters rallied to the cause anyway, a case of willful self-delusion the likes of which we hadn't seen since Nixon's 1972 rout. Republican interests held firm in 2004 because facing what Bush had done honestly would have cost them everything. The same interests are rallying around McCain for the same reasons -- money, political careers, ideological quirks.

Under DeLay's leadership, Congress became a virtual political extension of the White House. Until 2006, there was barely a peep of criticism from either Republican caucus as the Bush administration passed regressive tax cuts, invaded Iraq, mismanaged the occupation and vastly augmented executive authority on shaky legal grounds. DeLay also happily pursued numerous financial as well as political adventures. Chief among them was the K Street Project, designed to enforce absolute deference from Washington lobbying firms to the Republican regime by compelling them to hire party activists in exchange for favorable legislation and loosened regulatory oversight for major corporate clients. By systematically replacing the bipartisan lobbying ranks with GOP hardliners, DeLay attempted to make Republicans the only party with whom corporate America would be allowed to do business -- a partisan power grab of breathtaking audacity.

While DeLay is out of Congress now, it isn't clear that his (and Rove's, and many others') projects to bias non-governmental groups -- lobbyists, corporations, media, etc. -- to perpetuate Republican power have failed. As the Democrats gain power, the lobbies will become more bipartisan, but they may also grow mostalgic for the culture of corruption the Republicans thrived in.


David Leonhardt: How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on Economy. Before getting into Obama's curious sense of economics, a little preliminary background worth quoting:

The fact that the economy grows -- that it produces more goods and services one year than it did in the previous one -- no longer ensures that most families will benefit from its growth. For the first time on record, an economic expansion seems to have ended without family income having risen substantially. Most families are still making less, after accounting for inflation, than they were in 2000. For these workers, roughly the bottom 60 percent of the income ladder, economic growth has become a theoretical concept rather than the wellspring of better medical care, a new car, a nicer house -- a better life than their parents had.

This runs against the fundamental American religion: the notion that things are getting better, especially from each generation to to the next. This has happened because Republicans have made no effort to check against growing inequality -- indeed, deliberately or not, they've promoted growth inequality. Obama intends to nudge against inequality by raising income taxes on incomes over $250K while reducing income taxes on everyone else. That hardly qualifies as redistributionist, but it starts to make the point.

Leonhardt quotes Obama: "Reagan's central insight -- that the liberal welfare state had grown complacent and overly bureaucratic, with Democratic policy makers more obsessed with slicing the economic pie than with growing that pie -- contained a good deal of truth." I agree with that, but don't give Reagan any credit for it because he didn't do anything with the insight. For Obama, it seems to be a way of rebaselining Democratic politics, which isn't exactly how Leonhardt puts it:

Today's Democratic consensus has moved the party to the left, and on issues like inequality and climate change, Obama appears willing to be even more aggressive than many fellow Democrats. From this standpoint, he's a true liberal. Yet he also says he believes that there are significant parts of Reaganism worth preserving. So his policies often involve setting up a government program to address a market failure but then trying to harness the power of the market within that program. This, at times, makes him look like a conservative Democrat.

There is some gimmickry in Obama's market propositions, but they offer a way around the bureaucratic inefficiencies derided by Reagan, and also around the corruption and dysfunction Reagan favored.

When Reagan was elected, in 1980, tax rates on top incomes were so high that even liberal economists now say the economy was suffering. There simply wasn't enough of an incentive for rich people to start new companies or expand existing ones, because so much of their profits would have gone to the federal government. Someone making the equivalent of $5 million in 1980 -- in inflation-adjusted terms -- would have paid a combined federal tax rate of almost 60 percent, according to research by Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, two academic economists.

I can't speak for "even liberal economists" but this argument is patent bullshit. If true, nobody would have started a business in the US between 1935 and 1980 -- obviously, many businesses were started in that period. Where tax policy may have had an effect, it was because capital gains were taxed much less than income, so it made more sense to build long-term value in business. With Reagan there was less long-term incentive, which resulted in much profiteering as companies were plundered through LBO and similar deals. While such deals made some people extremely rich, they added virtually nothing to the productive economy.

I don't advocate restoring New Deal marginal income tax rates, but I also don't find them much of a disincentive for the rich to get richer. What I would do is make unearned income tax (capital gains, interest, dividends, profits, gifts, inheritance) steeply progressive over an individual's lifetime: it would be easier to get that first million, but extra millions would be taxed more and more heavily, with an especially stiff inheritance tax at the end -- it is, after all, the one tax that never incentivizes anyone. (E.g., people don't become more death-prone when estate taxes drop, or less when they rise.)

There is a good deal more in this piece. One thing that is clear is that Obama has a more nuanced understanding of economics than almost any politician I can think of. I doubt that will help him much during the campaign, since nuance (or for that matter logic) isn't something that people seem to want in their leaders. Whether it helps him as president isn't totally clear either. The two presidents who, at least relative to their time, seemed to understand economics best were probably Hoover and Carter, neither of whom was judged much of a success. On the other hand, Obama is much closer to the right answers here -- and not just much closer than McCain, who's only clue is that rich people seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.


A lot of people are saying nice things about Joe Biden today. He seems to be pretty well regarded by just about everyone who finds themselves to the left of McCain and to the right of Noam Chomsky. For example, David Brooks, who's unlikely to wind up supporting Obama, endorsed Biden. Chuck Hagel said nice things about him. So did Hillary Clinton. But also most of the leftish bloggers I read had a good word for him. I don't have anything to add in that vein. I found his handling of the Georgia war to be irresponsible and provocative, by any standards other than those set by John McCain. The best I can say for his advocacy for partitioning Iraq is that it was unhelpful. I don't exactly know where he stands on Israel/Palestine, but one guess should suffice. Still, I don't think he's on the ticket to consult on policy. Hopefully he's there to chew up McCain's ass. How well he succeeds will make a lot of difference.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Browse Alert: Limits of Power

Alex Kingsburg interviews Andrew Bacevich: How America Is Squandering Its Wealth and Power. Andrew Bacevich is getting a lot of press for his new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Excpetionalism, and it looks like it's turned into a surprise bestseller. When I looked last night, it was #6 on Amazon's bestseller list, but it was also out of stock, with more copies promised for delivery Sept. 6. One thing that I think is driving these sales is that with his conservative credibity intact, he's willing and able to slam both McCain and Obama for continuing the mindset that got us into this mess. Most of the interviews I've seen or read he's pretty even-handed about this, which is unfair in the sense that McCain's way off the scale, but it does say something that hardly anyone -- with a major league soapbox, anyway -- is willing to say, which is that Afghanistan has gone as bad as Iraq and isn't any more amenable to fixing with our imperial war machine. I'm not sure how far he goes with this -- his attachment to the military gets him arguing that we don't have enough soldiers to deal with such problems, not that no number of soldiers would make a difference because the way US soldiers train and operate is itself dysfunctional. But it's good to remind Obama that the bad-Iraq/good-Afghanistan war isn't a clean or valid analysis. (Given that Kerry, in particular, argued the same thing in 2004 doesn't give it much of a track record, either.)

Sample quote:

Now we're seven years into a war that our country supposedly supports and yet we are running out of soldiers. Why is that? The nation refuses to correct our domestic dysfunction on energy, consumption, entitlements, and endless credit. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said something like, "We need to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or we can change the way they live." That reflects a very familiar strand of thought in American foreign policy back to the Native Americans, which says that "they" will always have to change to accommodate our way of living.

Note that his laundry list of dysfunctions doesn't include the US military itself. One problem with blaming all this stuff on domestic consumption is that it implicitly assumes that there is a rational economic case for imperial domination: that fighting is necessary to sustain out standard of living. Bacevich argues something else: that our standard of living's not worth the fight, and he's not wrong in that regard. Someone like Joseph Stiglitz should take a look at the overall balance sheet for our military empire abroad. I think there's very little that would show up on the top line.

Simon Jenkins: In Europe, as in Asia, Nato leaves a trail of catastrophe. Glad someone said this:

Nato is useless. It has failed to bring stability to Afghanistan, as it failed to bring it to Serbia. It just breaks crockery. Nato has proved a rotten fighting force, which in Kabul is on the brink of being sidelined by exasperated Americans. Nor is it any better at diplomacy: witness its hamfisted handling of east Europe.

Helena Cobban: NATO's Supply Lines in Afghanistan. Pop quiz: how does NATO deliver basic supplies like gasoline to the troops in Afghanistan? They can airlift them, but most things are a lot cheaper by ground transport, if you have a safe route. For Afghanistan, that means: 1) Pakistan; 2) Iran; 3) Russia and Uzbekistan. Given that (1) is problematical and (2) is out of the question, this doesn't seem like a good time to burn your bridges on (3) over a tin-pot dictator in the Caucasus. Pakistan isn't just a matter of iffy politics in the post-Musharraf era. All the Pakistan routes run through Taliban strongholds:

Peter Marton of the [My] State Failure Blog gave some important background as to why NATO felt the need to reach out to Russia for the supply line agreement back in March. Basically, the Taliban had just torched a convoy of 100 ISAF-bound fuel tankers as they waited at the border-crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Between 40 and 50 of the tankers were reported destroyed and several people killed.

In another post, Cobban points out:

NATO succeeded precisely because it succeeded at deterring. It didn't succeed at fighting, because thanks to the success of the deterrence it never had to fight.

Of course, deterrence works best against foes who didn't intend to attack you in the first place, which turns out to be a better explanation of NATO's success.

A third post (actually, the first in sequence) goes deeper into why NATO has no practical reason to exist any more.

Helena Cobban: The Outlook on a Triple-Superpower World. And this is Cobban's summary of the no-longer-unipolar world. This all ties back to Bacevich's book, which while presumably focused on the decline of US power is fortunately less specific. One thing we've found more and more over the past few decades is that power in itself doesn't get you very far.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Browse Alert: Anthrax

Tom Engelhardt: Six Questions About the Anthrax Attacks. The revelation that Bruce Ivins, conveniently suicided, was the lone anthrax terrorist ties up another loose end before the clock runs out on the Bush administration. Or does it? One thing is that it reminds us of a set of events that had a powerful effect at the time, but have been largely forgotten since. I clearly remember some talking head on TV shortly after 9/11 but before the first anthrax attacks arguing that it was not a question of if but only of when the first bioterror attacks would occur. In the 7 years since then, the only such attacks occurred a few days later, almost on cue. Moreover, we now know that they weren't done by the people who did 9/11; rather, they originated from within the US military.

Today, it's hard even to recall just how terrifying those anthrax attacks were. According to a LexisNexis search, between Oct. 4 and Dec. 4, 2001, 389 stories appeared in the New York Times with "anthrax" in the headline. In that same period, 238 such stories appeared in the Washington Post. That's the news equivalent of an unending, high-pitched scream of horror -- and from those attacks would emerge an American world of hysteria involving orange alerts and duct tape, smallpox vaccinations, and finally a war, lest any of this stuff, or anything faintly like it, fall into the hands of terrorists.

And yet, by the end of 2001, it had become clear that, despite the accompanying letters, the anthrax in those envelopes was from a domestically produced strain. It was neither from the backlands of Afghanistan nor from Baghdad, but -- almost certainly -- from our own military bio-weapons labs. At that point, the anthrax killings essentially vanished . . . . Poof! . . . while 9/11 only gained traction as the singular event of our times.

The six questions:

  1. Why wasn't the Bush administration's War on Terror modus operandi applied to the anthrax case? I.e., why didn't "the gloves come off"; why weren't the suspects rounded up, tortured, etc.

  2. Why wasn't the U.S. military sent in? Terrorism is an act of war, isn't it?

  3. Once the anthrax threat was identified as coming from U.S. military labs, why did the administration, the FBI, and the media assume that only a single individual was responsible?

  4. What of those military labs? Why does their history continue to play little or no part in the story of the anthrax attacks? After all, the anthrax attacks would not have been possible except for all those taxpayer dollars investing in making weapons-grade anthrax.

  5. Were the anthrax attacks the less important ones of 2001? They killed fewer people than 9/11 and didn't have the visual impact, but they were far more repeatable and scalable, and they could have easily been directed at anyone anywhere in the country.

  6. Who is winning the Global War on Terror? Well, for one thing, US bio-defense laboratories -- the source of the anthrax attacks -- have swelled from a few hundred people to some 14,000.

I have another question here: why did the attacks stop? One reason would be that they had done their job, in which case their purpose would have been limited by their effects. The lone madman theory doesn't fit very well with the discipline to halt an operation that had been successful but would have gained risk for diminishing returns.

I don't think much of any 9/11 conspiracy theories, but this anthrax matter sure smells.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Browse Alert

Paul Krugman: The Great Illusion. A gloomy take on the Georgia war, arguing that we take the threat of nationalism and war too lightly, as did cosmopolitan Europeans up to the eve of World War I -- a period like our own where globalization was more prominent and productive than during the following decades of depression and nationalist protectionism. Krugman writes: "And today's high degree of global economic interdependence, which can be sustained only if all major governments act sensibly, is more fragile than we imagine." As much as one would like to, one can't argue that the Bush administration has been acting very sensibly, at least in the lead-up to the war and the kneejerk propagandizing that has followed. In this regard, the most dangerous trend has been to treat oil supplies as imperial spoils, which in turn sets a bad example for Russia and China, much as Britain's and France's colonial possessions set a bad example for Germany and Japan.

Billmon: Anatomy of A(nother) Fiasco. Not on the Georgia war itself so much as the political maneuvering in the US that set Georgia up for the fall. In particular, shows how a succession of undebated, unreasoned, clandestinely approved Congressional bills set out to expand NATO all the way to Russia's border. And the list of names on those bills not only includes the usual McCain-Lieberman suspects but names like Biden and Obama.

Personally, I see it more as a case of the bureaucratic imperative run amok: The national security state is doing exactly what it was designed to do, but without any of the external checks and counterbalances that existed during the Cold War -- the war it was originally created to fight. The domestic political system, meanwhile, has atrophied to the point where it's simply an afterthought -- a legislative rubber stamp needed to keep the dollars flowing. With no effective opposition, the machine can run on autopilot, until it finally topples off a cliff (as in Iraq) or slams into an object (like the Russian Army) that refuses to get out of the way.

I see now that Biden has returned from his myth-finding trip to Georgia with the recommendation that we salve their wounds with a cool billion dollars in aid. Don't have the details, but Georgia had spent almost a billion on US and Israeli military gear that the Russians have just turned into smoldering junkheaps. I don't mind sending aid, but it's hard to imagine any investment in the world that would be more counterproductive than rearming Georgia. I'd also make any aid contingent on Georgia recognizing and setting up normal diplomatic relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, so it is clear where Georgia's borders are and that the grudges and ambitions are behind them. Unfortunately, the bipartisan line in the US is wedged in the Cold War.

Anatol Lieven: The West Shares the Blame for Georgia. As I was just saying.

Tony Karon: Russia Has Stopped Retreating: That's the Message for America. Sums up:

The Russian campaign was designed to signal an end to what Moscow sees as the humiliation of the post-Soviet period and the onset of a new strategic balance, which makes some of the threats brandished by Bush and Rice sound almost comical. Russia's action had jeopardised its relationship with the US, Mr Bush warned, and Ms Rice added that they would have "profound implications" for the relationship. Well, yes, that was exactly what Moscow was trying to do -- break the mould of a relationship that Russia no longer sees good reason to continue because it has required Moscow to accept being treated as a second-rate power that can be ridden over roughshod.

Andrew Bacevich: The Lessons of Endless War. A second piece excerpted from Bacevich's new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. I've ordered a copy of the book, so we'll see. I watched Bacevich interviewed by Bill Moyers the other night, and there were a couple of things I didn't like. One is that Bacevich still sees a lot more value and need for the military than I do -- he's a military man, and still thinks of himself as a conservative, where I despised the military way before I started thinking of myself as a pacifist. The other issue is more technical: he makes a big point of criticizing America's materialistic way of life, arguing that we have to effect a change of lifestyle before the big political problems can be dealt with. That may be true, but he also argued that we weren't always like that, that before the Vietnam era the American economy wasn't built on domestic consumption. The latter point is untrue: the US economy from 1900 on, but especially in the 1950s and 1960s, was spectacularly driven by domestic consumption: single-family houses, cars, appliances. The difference was that before 1970 Americans were buying American products, including gasoline. After 1970 all that changes, except for the consumption habits.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14731 [14703] rated (+28), 758 [769] unrated (-11).

  • Jean Grae: Jeanius (2008, Blacksmith): Not sure how much of this I got -- what, e.g., the details are on the abortion lament, which I would just as soon she hadn't brought up in the first place. So I'm reacting more to the overall vibe. She's smart and tight, although this is a bit overwound. Also plagued with guests, who start to get on my nerves. B+(**)
  • K'Naan: The Dusty Foot Philosopher (2003-05 [2008], IM Culture): Rapper, from Somalia via Canada; b. 1978, got out of Mogadishu in 1991 as the country was falling apart -- explains his childhood ended in gunfire at age 10. Most pieces hook first with the music, some of which is identifiably African, most not. Could be the record of the year. A
  • Bill Medley: Damn Near Righteous (2007, Westlake): The surviving Righteous Brother gets big projection support, lines up a set of unlikely covers -- "Lonely Avenue," "In My Room," "Just Like a Woman," "Rock My Baby" -- and lets them boil over. Still has a voice, but it's rougher, and alone. B-
  • Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970's Funky Lagos (1964-80 [2001], AfroStrut, 3CD): Not exactly too much, but it is a lot to digest: two music CDs are built around stars Fela Anikulapo Kuti and King Sunny Adé but they also pack in less than extraordinary funk tracks, the sort of thing you might find on US obscurities comps -- the sort of thing you wouldn't have given a second thought to back in the day but now that those days are gone brings them back, albeit with a twist. Third CD is make or break: the soundtrack to Nigeria 70: The Documentary, mostly snatches of interviews -- Ginger Baker figures prominently -- with short history lessons, snatches of music, and a poem. Obviously, they should have included the DVD, but having complained about most of the DVDs I've seen included, I can't see penalizing them for that. A-
  • Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump: Original Heavyweight Afrobeat Highlife & Afro-Funk (1970s [2008], Strut): Back in the 1970s Nigeria seemed like the cradle of Afropop, with highlife bands maturing into complex juju and all sorts of hybridized beats, ranging from mundanely funky to hypnotically transcendental, but the largest country in Africa since fell into obscurity; how rich the 1970s were is attested by how easy it seems to be to assemble a seductive compilation from obscurities -- they don't even sound like lost gems, just everyday relics of a golden age. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Putumayo Presents: Acoustic France (1994-2007 [2008], Putumayo World Music): Singer-songwriters working in the low-key folkie idiom, strumming guitars, spieling chansons; the best known is first lady Carla Bruni, who makes little impression and is immediately eclipsed by Keren Meloul, who does business as Rose. B
  • Putumayo Presents: Quebec (1993-2007 [2008], Putumayo World Music): More mild French-language folk-pop, mostly from the ranks of unknown newcomers this label regularly taps, with one token cut from La Bottine Souriante, a 1990s group that got some notice, and stands way ahead of this pack. B

Jazz Prospecting (CG #18, Part 2)

Something of a letdown this week, but not as big a drop as my usual post-column break. Probably listened to as much non-jazz as jazz, but certainly not a big edge. Record of the week (possibly year) is K'Naan: The Dusty Foot Philosopher -- Canadian hip-hop artist, originally from Somalia; been through more than I can imagine, coming out much better than I'd expect. Maybe there is hope for the world after all.


The Stephen Anderson Trio: Forget Not (2008, Summit): No recording date. AMG thinks this was released in 2004, but booklet refers to later events, and cover is copyright 2008. A lot of google noise on Anderson's name, but as best I can figure he studied at UNT, got a Ph.D., and teaches at UNC-Charlotte. Plays piano. This is his first album, although he plays on a couple of albums under bassist Lynn Seaton and one with drummer Joel Fountain. Wrote 7 of 8 songs here, the exception "For Sentimental Reasons." Jeff Eckels plays bass, Fountain drums. Solid stuff, thoughtful, logical, forceful -- he's not shy about power chords. Extensive liner notes, with lots of references to clasical composers. B+(**)

Chip Shelton & Peacetime: Imbued With Memories (2007 [2008], Summit): No birth date given, but if he was in high school and college (Howard, studying dentistry) in the 1960s, he must be close to 60 now. Recording career starts in the 1980s. Mostly plays flute, along with piccolo and a little sax. Band relies on guitar (Lou Volpe, sweet and tasty), keyboards, and extra percussion, with a persistent groove. In other words, this is smooth jazz, maybe with a little higher aims and less cash in prospect. Jann Parker guests on the obligatory radio vocal cut. C+

Jim Shearer & Charlie Wood: The Memphis Hang (2008, Summit): Shearer is based in New Mexico, where he teaches his instrument: tuba. I've seen references to a "tuba jazz" deal with Jim Self, but AMG doesn't credit him with any records other than this one. He cites Sam Pilafian ahead of Howard Johnson and Bob Stewart on his MySpace influences list, so figure he likes old timey jazz. Also dabbles in some classical, playing with the Roswell Symphony Orchestra. Wood is a Memphis guy, filed under blues by AMG. He plays organ and sings; has a group he calls New Memphis Underground. Strikes me as a possible Memphis answer to Dr. John. Harmonica player Billy Gibson gets a "special guest" credit on the front cover. Some surprises in the song set here, starting with a vocalized version of Monk's "Well, You Needn't"; a couple of Andy Razaf lyrics; Joni Mitchell's words to "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"; some other oddities. Need to play it again. [B+(**)]

The David Leonhardt Trio: Explorations (2008, Big Bang): Pianist, from Louisville, spent time in New York, based now in Easton, PA. Claims 35 years experience; has 12 self-released records out since 1991, including Jazz for Kids and an Xmas album. This is a trio with Matthew Parrish on bass, Alvester Garnett on drums. Half originals, half covers: four rock songs from the late '60s (or maybe 1970), one each from Jerome Kern and Horace Silver. The rockers, especially "Sunshine of Your Love," come off like crufty old metal, loud and clunky. The originals don't offer a lot more. B

Eri Yamamoto Trio: Redwoods (2008, AUM Fidelity): Pianist, from Osaka, Japan, arrived in New York in 1995; cut three trio albums on Jane Street (presumably her own label) 2001-04, then fell in with bassist William Parker, recording his excellent album of piano trio music Luc's Lantern and joining his Raining on the Moon group for Corn Meal Dance. Meanwhile, she now has three more albums on AUM Fidelity, a 2006 trio called Cobalt Blue, and two records this year -- this new trio and a set of duets called Duologue. The trio here repeats from Cobalt Blue: bassist David Ambrosio and drummer Ikuo Takeuichi (also on her three Jane Street albums). All original pieces. It all seems very measured and sensible, nothing that really sweeps you away, but each cut with its own bit of interest. Choice cut: "Dear Friends." B+(**) [Sept. 9]

George Colligan: Runaway (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Pianist, mainstream to postbop, although he's developed a sideline on Fender Rhodes that qualifies as semi-fusion. Is still under 40, but has nearly 20 albums since 1996: prodigious, very talented, has dazzling speed and dynamics ("Ghostland" is a good example here), a lot of range. Don't think he's every made a weak record, but this one wanders more than I'd like: four cuts on Fender Rhodes and/or synths, five cuts with guitarist Tom Guarna, two with Kerry Politzer vocals, one with Politzer taking over piano while Colligan plays trumpet. (He previously played drums on Politzer's piano trio album.) B+(*)

Aaron Parks: Invisible Cinema (2008, Blue Note): Pianist, from Seattle, reportedly 24, first album, although he has a number of side credits since 2003: Terence Blanchard, Christian Scott, Kendrick Scott, Ferenc Nemeth, Tim Collins, Nick Vayenas, Mike Moreno, 3 or 4 more I don't recognize. Obviously, some folks think he's a comer. After two plays I don't think much one way or the other. Most of the cuts are quartet with Moreno on guitar, Matt Penman on bass, and Eric Harland on drums, with the guitar wrapping it all together, the piano largely reduced to a rhythm role. (Some guitar-piano combos work the other way around, which is more usual on pianists' albums.) [B+(*)]

Jeff Barone: Open Up (2008, Jazzed Media): Guitarist, b. 1970 Syracuse, NY; studied at Ithaca College and Manhattan School of Music; based in NYC; second album. Most of the cuts here are in a group with Ron Oswanski on organ and Rudy Petschauer on drums, so much so that the record often falls into a slick groove bordering on smooth. There are horns, too, which ultimately prove superfluous, although Joe Magnarelli opens on trumpet like it's his own album. I like the exceptions better, including a solo piece called "Quiet Now." Ends with an alternate take of "Falling in Love With Love" which holds up better than the main take, possibly because it's set off from the flow, or maybe because it comes off less cluttered. B

Todd Herbert: The Tree of Life (2007 [2008], Metropolitan): Tenor saxophonist, Flash-only website and not much else, so I'm short on background. Mainstream player -- label website says he "takes John Coltrane as a point of departure" but he sounds more like Dexter Gordon to me. Leads a quartet with Anthony Wonsey (piano), Dwayne Burno (bass), Jason Brown (drums) -- Wonsey gets a lot of space and makes good use of it. First album was pretty good, and this one is better. B+(**)

Willie Nelson/Wynton Marsalis: Two Men With the Blues (2007 [2008], Blue Note): Recorded live under from two dates organized by Marsalis's Jazz at Lincoln Center empire. Neither man has any real claim to the blues, but it was only an organizing idea in the first place; in any case, the album reverted to Nelson's songbook, with two originals ("Night Life" and "Rainy Day Blues"), two Hoagy Carmichael standards Nelson has done before ("Stardust" and "Georgia on My Mind"), "Bright Lights Big City," "Caldonia," "Basin Street Blues," "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It," "Ain't Nobody's Business," and a Merle Travis joke called "That's All" -- not sure how many of those Nelson has recorded before, but the answer could be all ten. Marsalis provided the band, framing Nelson's silky voice with polished brass. A quickie, the sort of trivia that Nelson routinely tosses off as proof of his genius. B+(***)

Curlew: 1st Album/Live at CBGB (1980-81 [2008], DMG/ARC, 2CD): NYC group, founded in 1979 by saxophonist George Cartwright, with Tom Cora (cello, indingiti), Nicky Skopelitis (guitar), Bill Laswell (Fender bass), and Bill Bacon (drums), who gives way to Denardo Coleman for the CBGB disc. Cartwright plays alto, tenor, and soprano (listed in that order). The group has gone on to record 6-8 more albums, mostly on Cuneiform. AMG styles them as: experimental rock, experimental, avant-prog, avant-garde, modern creative, jazz-rock, avant-garde jazz. I don't hear anything particularly rock-ish, but haven't heard their later albums. The more obvious reference is Ornette, who had started working with electric guitar a bit earlier, but when my wife walked in on this, she speculated that it was Anthony Braxton -- her general-purpose definition for ugly sax, but not inappropriate here. Will look into this further. [B+(***)]

Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble: Proverbs for Sam (2001 [2008], Boxholder): Another live recording from the Vision Festival, belatedly recycled for the rest of us. Sam is alto saxophonist Sam Furnace, present here, but deceased in 2003. The Proverbs are from the Yoruba of Nigeria. Cole was born 1937 in Pittsburgh, where he got BA and MA degrees; got his Ph.D. at Wesleyan, writing his dissertation on John Coltrane, and taught from 1974 until retiring in the 1990s at Dartmouth. He's written books on Coltrane and Miles Davis. His first album under his own name appeared in 2000; AMG lists 3 prior side credits: Jayne Cortez, Blaise Siwula, and Ken Colyer. Cole plays exotic wind instruments, mostly squeaky double reeds from Asia -- Chinese sona, Indian shenai and nagaswarm, Ghanaian flute, didgeridoo. He has a half-dozen albums, either duos or Untempered Ensemble. The latter, as well as many of the duos, include William Parker, who most likely developed his own taste in exotics from Cole. Also present here: Furnace (alto sax, flute), Joseph Daley (baritone horn, tuba, trombone), Cooper-Moore (diddly bow, rim drums, flute), Warren Smith (percussion), Atticus Cole (more percussion). A-

Mauger: The Beautiful Enabler (2006 [2008], Clean Feed): I have no idea where the group name comes from. The group is an alto sax trio, led by Rudresh Mahanthappa, with Mark Dresser on bass and Gerry Hemingway on drums. The latter have played much together, not least in Anthony Braxton's 1980s quartet. All three write. And while the young saxophonist shows poise in navigating this tricky material, it's worth concentrating on the mastery in the rhythm section. B+(***)

Mark Dresser/Ed Harkins/Steven Schick: House of Mirrors (2006 [2008], Clean Feed): Bassist Dresser is by far the best known of the three, but Harkins, who plays various trumpets and mellophone, is co-author of the eight pieces. Harkins has a previous album on Vinny Golia's 9 Winds label, although may far understate his experience. Schick plays "multiple percussion." Trumpet always appears somewhat muddled here, never bright or brassy. One result is that the record has little sonic presence. Knowing Dresser, that's probably not the only one. B

California Guitar Trio: Echoes (2007 [2008], Inner Knot): Three guitarists, none from California except in their minds: Hideyo Moriya (Tokyo, Japan), Paul Richards (Salt Lake City, UT), Bert Lams (Brussels, Belgium). Started playing together in 1991 and have a dozen albums now. This is the first I've heard. All covers, with Pink Floyd providing the title cut, and someone named Ludwig Van Beethoven raided twice. Most of the songs sound tolerably New Agey, with little variation from "Bohemian Rhapsody" to "Tubular Bells." Two come with vocals, a mistake. C+


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:

  • Wolfert Brederode: Currents (ECM)
  • Anat Cohen: Notes From the Village (Anzic): advance, Sept.
  • Mathias Eick: The Door (ECM)
  • Satoko Fujii Ma-Do: Heat Wave (Not Two)
  • Lafayette Gilchrist: Soul Progressin' (Hyena)
  • Marshall Gilkes: Lost Words (Alternate Side)
  • Scott Hamilton & Friends: Across the Tracks (Concord)
  • Nicole Henry: The Very Thought of You (Banister)
  • Ava Logan: So Many Stars (Diva Vet Music): Sept. 1
  • Bill Moring & Way Out East: Spaces in Time (Owl Studios): Oct. 7
  • Milton Nascimento and Jobim Trio: Novas Bossas (Blue Note)
  • Adam Niewood & His Rabble Rousers: Epic Journey Volumes I & II (Innova, 2CD)
  • The Phil Norman Tentet: "Totally" Live at Catalina Jazz Club (MAMA, 2CD)
  • Aaron Parks: Invisible Cinema (Blue Note)
  • Putumayo Presents: Acoustic Arabia (Putumayo World Music): advance, Sept. 2
  • Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog: Party Intellectuals (Pi)
  • David Sánchez: Cultural Survival (Concord Picante)
  • South Florida Jazz Orchestra (MAMA)
  • The Stryker/Slagle Band: The Scene (Zoho)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Stuck in Europe

I noticed that in the Recent Reading list over left Geert Mak's In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century is about to slip off. That's a shame for two reasons. One is that I haven't finished the book yet. I got up to page 732, a little more than 100 shy of the end, before I had to put it down to deal with some books that I had picked up on 14-day loan from the library. I'm still in that pile, dealing with them as briskly as I can, and I've just picked up Ahmed Rashid's Descent Into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, which seems likely to be one of the more important books of the year. Also have some things that I bought that I'm itching to get into, like James K Galbraith: The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too, and Thomas Frank: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. (Also on order are: Arno J Mayer: Ploughshares Into Swords: From Zionism to Israel, and Andrew J Bacevich: The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. So I have plenty on my plate.

The other reason it's a shame is that I've simply gotten more pure pleasure out of Mak's book than any other book I've read this year. It's a travel book across Europe during the fin de siècle year of 1999 to a series of spots selected for what they reveal of the serial history of Europe from 1900 on. Part of the book consists of interviews with witnesses and actors, as interesting as Studs Terkel. Part is a survey of what survived and what did not. Most is relevant history. It's not purely sequential, especially in the thickly eventful interwar years. And it doesn't get to everywhere -- I would have expected a bit on the pre-1914 Balkan Wars. (Post-Tito Yugoslavia might still be in the last 100 pages.) But it's a magnificent book, revelatory, a real delight. I can hardly wait to get back to it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Browse Alert

Paul Krugman: Know-Nothing Politics. Been meaning to mention this one, since it's high time someone said this:

And the debate on energy policy has helped me find the words for something I've been thinking about for a while. Republicans, once hailed as the "party of ideas," have become the party of stupid.

Now, I don't mean that G.O.P. politicians are, on average, any dumber than their Democratic counterparts. And I certainly don't mean to question the often frightening smarts of Republican political operatives.

What I mean, instead, is that know-nothingism -- the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there's something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise -- has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party's de facto slogan has become: "Real men don't think things through."

Examples follow, but barely scratch the surface. Another quote:

Let's also not forget that for years President Bush was the center of a cult of personality that lionized him as a real-world Forrest Gump, a simple man who prevails through his gut instincts and moral superiority. "Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man," declared Peggy Noonan, writing in The Wall Street Journal in 2004. "He's not an intellectual. Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world."

Well, he's put that notion pretty definitively to rest. There's more to the Republicans than just dumb; they're also aggravated and belligerent, beneficiaries of what one pundit called "voting to kill." Neither of these traits stand them at all well to cope with much less solve the sort of problems we face -- not least of which are the problems their cults of ignorance and action have put into play.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Browse Alert: Georgia Again

CNN: Georgia signs cease-fire with Russia. Picked this link up from TPM, which headlined it: "Rice Slams Russia, Announces Cease-Fire." Rice flew first to Paris, picked up the cease-fire papers Sarkozy had negotiated with Georgia and Russia, and delivered them to Georgia's president Saakashvili, who had no alternative but to sign them. Evidently not even Rice had the stomach to wait out the birth pangs of a new Caucusus. The consolation prize for their little war was to let Saakashvili and Rice sing a chorus denouncing Russia's vile act in attacking plucky little Georgia. Saakashvili also got in a dig at NATO for turning down Georgian membership in NATO, spoiling his chance to start WWIII. He also said, "Never, ever will Georgia reconcile with the occupation of even one square kilometer of its sovereign territory," to which Rice added, "We support Georgia's sovereignty; we support its independence; we support its territorial integrity; we support its democracy and its democratically elected government." The article includes similar quotes from Bush, including this gem: "bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century." (He should know.)

It should be clear by now that this whole line of posturing is based on a huge and monstrous lie. This war was started by Saakashvili with a nighttime artillery attack on civilian neighborhoods in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali. It is not clear whether this was intended to panic Ossetes into fleeing the country, but can be viewed as an attempt at ethnic cleansing -- Georgia's ability to hold South Ossetia would certainly be helped by having fewer Ossetes living there. Russia responded to Georgia's aggression, quickly driving Georgia's troops out of South Ossetia. Russia also sent troops into Abkhazia, which Georgia still claims, and entered into Georgian territory to attack positions Georgia had used for launching the war, including occupying the nearby town of Gori. As far as I've been able to tell, Russia has not attacked the Georgian capital of Tbilisi or the US-built pipeline that runs across Georgia.

By continuing to characterize this war as Russia's initiative, Bush and Rice are making it harder for both sides to back down and reduce the tension level. In fact, Bush is still adding to the tension, not just by his rhetoric but by announcing agreement with Poland to stage his ridiculous anti-missile system there. That deal had been held up in face of Russia's vehement objections, so one is tempted to argue that provoking Russia has played into Bush's hands, even if it wasn't much help for Georgia.

Michael Dobbs: 'We Are All Georgians'? Not So Fast. The Washington Post finds someone who actually knows something about this subject. He points out the Ossetians' longstanding fear of Georgian rule, and how Russia is their only support for autonomy. However, he also notes: "Playing one ethnic group off against another in the Caucasus has been standard Russian policy ever since czarist times." And he notes that Putin's high regard for South Ossetian autonomy is at odds with his brutal suppression of Chechen autonomy. He also takes a rare critical look at the US:

The Bush administration has been sending mixed messages to its Georgian friends. U.S. officials insist that they did not give the green light to Saakashvili for his attack on South Ossetia. At the same time, however, the United States has championed NATO membership for Georgia, sent military advisers to bolster the Georgian army and demanded the restoration of Georgian territorial integrity. American support might well have emboldened Saakashvili as he was considering how to respond to the "provocations" from South Ossetia. [ . . . ]

In the meantime, American leaders have paid little attention to Russian diplomatic concerns, both inside the former borders of the Soviet Union and farther abroad. The Bush administration unilaterally abrogated the 1972 anti-missile defense treaty and ignored Putin when he objected to Kosovo independence on the grounds that it would set a dangerous precedent. It is difficult to explain why Kosovo should have the right to unilaterally declare its independence from Serbia, while the same right should be denied to places such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

He then points out that the US is virtually powerless in this matter, "overextended militarily, diplomatically and economically [ . . . ] the American policeman has been loudly lecturing the rest of the world while waving an inreasingly unimpressive baton." Actually, I don't think any amount of military power works here: South Ossetia and Abkhazia have revolted every time Georgia came after them, and no further aggression is going to change that. The only way Georgia wins is through genocide, and that's no victory. On the other hand, give them real independence, and see how long they stay in love with Russia. If forever, so be it. If not, Russia would then have no more claim than Georgia does now. What the US lacks here isn't military, diplomatic, or economic power. It's common sense, decency, and respect for others.

Moon of Alabama: War Sells. Bernhard notes that his hit count has more than doubled since the Georgia war started. He wonders, "Is there a human desire to read about inhuman self?" There's certainly nothing like a war to get your attention, especially one as senseless and stupid as this one -- I don't think I've read or written as much in such concentration since the last time Israel invaded Lebanon. Still, Bernhard has earned his hits. The piece includes links to 11 posts he wrote over the last week, and that skips the one attacking Juan Cole's Salon piece. (Pace Cole, before acting militarily, Russia did appeal to the UN, where evidently the US and UK refused to condemn Georgia or demand a cease fire.) His pieces have been refreshingly sharp and informative -- more pro-Russian than I would venture, but there's plenty of counterweight elsewhere (and sometimes, as with Cole's piece, appears to be gratuitous and wrong, something dropped in to provide a false sense of balance).

Mark Almond: Caucasus Conflict. An Oxford historian who evidently has spent a good deal of time in Georgia. He was asked by several UK publications for comments on the conflict, and noted that his views "usually differed from the 'experts' who had not been there." He publishes three such pieces in this post, providing three slightly different takes depending on how you post the question. For instance, on how this fits into the Cold War framework:

The clash between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, which escalated dramatically yesterday, in truth has more in common with the Falklands war of 1982 than it does with a cold war crisis. When the Argentine junta was basking in public approval for its bloodless recovery of Las Malvinas, Henry Kissinger anticipated Britain's widely unexpected military response with the comment: "No great power retreats for ever." Maybe today Russia has stopped the long retreat to Moscow which started under Gorbachev.

On the question of how this could blow up into WWIII, he picks a different historical analogy: Sarajevo, 1914. Little countries can't do much damage, unless big countries let themselves get tangled up in their fights, which properly speaking they shouldn't. He quotes Kissinger again: "Great powers don't commit suicide for their allies." Still, the neocon's blind faith in good-vs-evil is something to worry about.

Worse still, western backing for "equip and train" programmes in Russia's backyard don't contribute to peace and stability if bombastic local leaders such as Saakashvili see them as a guarantee of support even in a crisis provoked by his own actions. He seems to have thought that the valuable oil pipeline passing through his territory, together with the Nato advisers intermingled with his troops, would prevent Russia reacting militarily to an incursion into South Ossetia. That calculation has proved disastrously wrong.

He also has some things to say about Georgia's vaunted democracy, which elected Saakashvili with a suspicious 97% of the vote:

Last November the opposition took a thrashing for demonstrating in the street. Dissidents get locked up in crowded jails rife with torture and tuberculosis. Political opponents are packed in the same cramped cells as hardened criminals -- a Soviet way of punishing dissent.

Almond has written about Georgia before. The following is from a November 2007 post, in a section called "The Ceausescu of the Caucasus?":

Rather like Ceausescu towards the fin-de-regime, Saakashvili's nationalist rhetoric has intensified. The Romanian dictator suddenly demanded Russia return Moldova to its rightful owners in 1989, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have become ever more frequent subjects of provocative statements and sudden visits by helicopter to the border zones.

Saakashvili has made increasingly bizarre statements. At the end of August, he assured the media that the Mother of God had personally intervened in Georgian affairs more than once! For instance, the Virgin had acted to thwart a grenade attack on the equally devout George W. Bush when he was in Tbilisi 2005, and again She had prevented a stray missile from exploding earlier in August.

He also has another post, Caucasian Bloody Circle, where he reprints a piece he wrote in 2004, titled "US Blinded by Love for Saakashvili." It's worth reading, especially for the US's long track record of promoting nationalist discord in Georgia -- and for how completely Democrats as well as Republicans have contributed to it. It's like a death wish -- which right now strikes me as a fair description of McCain's politicking on this issue.


Postscript: Didn't want to get started on yet another Georgia post (there have been 5 in the last week), but couldn't resist passing this one along, on the Charles Krauthammer column I mentioned a while back.

Matthew Yglesias: Krauthammer: Russia Must Leave Georgia by 2014 . . . Or Else!. Just read it. And note that he didn't even use the Charlie Wilson's War bit.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Browse Alert: Georgia, Again

The Georgia war keeps producing interesting posts. For starters, it gives the US right an excuse to nostalgically rehearse the Cold War and all those old arguments about how expansionism and the desire for world domination is encoded in Russian genes. (Actually, Zbigniew Brzezinski got into that act as well. He had developed into a reasonable critic of Bush's Middle East fiascos, he still reacts viscerally to Russia.) Evidently, such rhetoric still plays well in the echo chambers of the mainstream media, but it isn't as convincing as they think. Moreover, a gaping chasm has opened up between what that rhetoric implies and what any American with a lick of sense -- which remarkably includes Bush, Rice, and Gates -- is willing to do. But most entertaining of all is a wingnut who may (or may not) have helped to start the war, and who certainly thinks it's good news for his campaign: John McCain. Until this week, McCain's intimate ties and obsessive interest in a small country on the Asian side of the Caucusus Mountains was just plain weird, but now it reveals much about his worldview.

Matthew Yglesias: What Was McCain's Advice to Saakashvili?:

Mark Kleiman wonders: "If McCain has really been talking to Saakashvili 'daily,'" what advice has McCain been giving him? Did he reinforce the urgent advice of the State Department and the White House that Saakashvili avoid allowing himself to be provoked into giving the Russians a pretext for invasion, or was McCain encouraging the imprudence that handed Putin the victory we and the Georgians are now trying to recover from?"

McCain should answer this question directly, but his record strongly suggests the possibility that he was encouraging imprudence. And why shouldn't he? Most pundits seem to think that foreign crises provoked by bad conservative policies are politically beneficial to conservative politicians and, certainly, the McCain campaign sees things that way and is trying to milk the crisis for all it's worth politically. Under the circumstances, doing what he can to promote international instability seems canny.

Media Blindly Accept the Notion That Russia-Georgia Conflict Is Good for John McCain. As Mark Halperin puts it, it "allows him to talk tough on foreign policy." Evidently that's always a winner with the "voting to kill" crowd.

Matthew Yglesias: Overhyping Georgia. Fair summary, pointing out how out of whack the rhetoric in the US has become. The worst case assumption, that Putin is reverting to Tsarist Russia's empire building, is especially unlikely:

Vladimir Putin, unlike the leader of the United States, is apparently shrewd enough to recognize that military occupations of foreign territories have high costs and scarce benefits.

More than a few people, including Putin himself, have pointed out that US rhetoric about the evils of invading other countries is hypocritical. They invariably fail to point out is how much of themselves US Cold Warriors project onto others. No other nation can even contemplate exercising hegemony. The two go hand in hand. What we fear in others is what we in fact are the ones doing, but cannot see because we're so effective at lying about it.

Juan Cole: Putin's War Enablers: Bush and Cheney. This is a shotgun blast of moral equivalences, but is oddly short of specifics. The most important insight is in pointing out how much Russia suffered during the 1990s when communism was replaced, to the bemusement of the west, by racketteering on a massive scale. Those hard times were tolerated by many as the price of liberation from communism, but they were also resented, which left Russia and many other ex-communist lands ripe for nationalist backlash -- the worst example to date being Serbia, which Russians seem to feel an emotional affinity to. Cole is an expert on Iraq, but not on Russia or its environs. Someone more knowledgeable could put a lot more detail into play here: Bush and Cheney enabled this war not just by setting a bad example; they've done many specific things to push Russia into opposition and to provoke Russia to action, and this is what they've got to show for it.

Robert D Kaplan: The Advantage of the First Move. I haven't read Kaplan's two recent books extolling the "imperial grunts" of the US armed forces, but it seems likely that there is something in them on US military support for Georgia since 9/11. Georgia is one of those places Kaplan wanders through in his travel books, and it's just the sort of far=flung imperial outpost that most excites Kaplan. So I dug around and came up with this new piece, where we find a glum Kaplan as much as conceding defeat (unappologetically, of course):

But in the aftermath of Iraq -- a war I supported -- military force is discredited to an extent rare in American history. President George W. Bush and his successor now have no other choice but to play a weak hand well.

Even now, he's too optimistic: they're much more likely to play that weak hand badly.

Moon of Alabama: Pressing Russia? How?. Reviews a column Charles Krauthammer wrote up on "How to Stop Putin." It's the usual package of boycotts and rudeness, including the too subtle suggestion that Bush send Putin a copy of Charlie Wilson's War, to remind the Russians that if they try to occupy Georgia we can "make them bleed." First problem is that there is no actual evidence that Putin wants to occupy Georgia -- the goal there is to defend the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which currently includes busting up Georgia's military so badly they'll shy away from launching another attack. Second, Putin might get a bit too literal and consider arming the resistance against the current occupier of Afghanistan.

One problem I do see is that the more Russia is attacked (verbally) over Georgia, the more they're inclined to villify Saakashvili as a genocidal war criminal, which would ultimately put them into the same prison of rhetoric that the elder Bush got into in likening Saddam Hussein to Hitler. The latter remained a festering sore until another Bush traded it in for something much worse. I don't doubt that you can make a war criminal case against Saakashvili, but Russia would be best off to let the Georgian people and their vaunted democracy take care of him.

Helena Cobban: Sarkozy's Ceasefire Text, Georgia's Future. The latest of a series of good posts on Georgia, including a bit more on the Krauthammer piece. I'll just add that the "humiliating" treaty that Finland signed with the Soviet Union in 1947 worked out very well for Finland. At the time Finland was one of the poorest countries in Europe; now they are one of the richest. They converted a position of being on Russia's border into a credible position of neutrality, which allowed them to avoid the costs of being on either end of the Cold War. Significantly, with Finland posing no threat, the Soviet Union made no further efforts to encroach on its affairs, including trade policy. Such an outcome for Georgia (minus Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which should no longer be considered part of Georgia) would strike me as a good deal.


One more note: There's been a lot of talk about how oil fits into this equation, especially the pipeline through Georgia from Azerbaijan to Turkey, which was built as a way to bypass Russia (and for that matter Iran and Iraq) in shipping Caspian Sea oil to the west. As far as I know, the Russians haven't shown any interest in that pipeline, nor do I expect them to. This strikes me as another case of Americans projecting our own hopes/fears onto others.

I've also seen people blame the whole war on the oil bottleneck, which has certainly done much for Russia's current accounts. Such arguments are neither here nor there. Although it is true that it will be awkward to actually punish the world's largest oil producer, especially given how sensitive our free markets are to changes in oil production levels, or to Russia possibly jiggering their $500 billion in foreign currency reserves (like selling off US treasury debt).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Browse Alert: Georgia Again

Helene Cooper/Thom Shanker: After Mixed US Messages, a War Erupted in Georgia. George Bush in particular, and the Republican Right in general, are in power largely because of their skills at rhetoric and manipulating public symbols, regardless of their practical consequences and import. This works basically because the media focuses on what people say, not on what they do, and they enforce a debilitating, semi-religious orthodoxy, castigating anyone who says anything out of line. Problem is: what sounds right often isn't right. There are plenty of examples of this. A classic one is how Ronald Reagan ran in 1980 by attacking Carter for signing away the Panama Canal, which the US has famously "stole fair and square." He ran on it. He won. He did nothing at all about it once he won. Even when his VP and successor, George Bush I, invaded and regime changed Panama, he didn't give a second thought to recovering the Canal. Everyone in Washington understood that the Panama Canal issue was nothing but bullshit rhetoric.

Unfortunately, some foreigners don't understand that US politicians don't really mean three-fourths of the crap they say. Take Georgia's demagogic nationalist president Mikheil Saakashvili, for instance. He ran for office on a campaign of taking back Abkhazia and South Ossetia, by force even. He made his pitch to Bush, and Bush loved it: just his kind of rhetoric, plus some troops for Iraq, plus arms business for US and Israel. Only problem was that Saakashvili thought he should do what he kept talking about doing. How foolish was that?

The notable thing about this article is that it highlights the fact that even Condoleezza Rice knew the difference between bullshit rhetoric for public consumption and common sense in the real world -- but, of course, she wouldn't let the latter get in the way of the former. Just a month ago Rice went to Tbilisi to play up the Georgia-US friendship in public, but reportedly also to cool Saakashvili's heels in private:

During a private dinner on July 9, Ms. Rice's aides say, she warned President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia not to get into a military conflict with Russia that Georgia could not win. "She told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had to put a non-use of force pledge on the table," according to a senior administration official who accompanied Ms. Rice to the Georgian capital.

But publicly, Ms. Rice struck a different tone, one of defiant support for Georgia in the face of Russian pressure. "I'm going to visit a friend and I don't expect much comment about the United States going to visit a friend," she told reporters just before arriving in Tbilisi, even as Russian jets were conducting intimidating maneuvers over South Ossetia.

I picked up this link from WarInContext, where the next article linked to was titled "U.S. puts brakes on Israeli plan for attack on Iran nuclear facilities." Hopefully, Israelis will be smarter about keeping rhetoric and reality separate. Still, the only way to be at all sure is to start saying things that we know, especially things that we've learned the hard way, instead of just going on spouting bullshit that makes us feel good assuming nobody it's not intended for will take it seriously anyway.

But then if Bush, McCain, et al., did that they'd have nothing to run on.


I see from TPM that McCain claims he talks to Saakashvili daily, that McCain aide/lobbyist Randy Scheunemann has signed a new deal to represent Georgia as a foreign agent in the US, and that McCain's Senater buddies Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman are off on a junket to Georgia. McCain's crawling pretty far out on this particular limb, maybe to the point of conducting his own unelected foreign policy. That is, of course, something Republicans have less compunction about doing than Democrats -- cf. Reagan's negotiations with Iran to dissuade them from releasing US hostages prior to the 1980 election, or Nixon's use of Henry Kissinger and others to keep LBJ from cutting any peace deal with Vietnam before the 1968 votes were cast. Still, this is pretty brazen, undermining his own party's sitting president, and not even on the eve of an election.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Browse Alert: Georgia

Anatol Lieven: Analysis: Roots of the Conflict between Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia. Good background piece. Lieven first made a name for himself covering the Russian-Chechen war, so this is his turf. Others have noted that Georgia briefly broke free of the Russia in 1918-21 as testimony to their longstanding desire for independence, but this is the first piece I've seen to note that when Georgia did so, South Ossetia tried to break free of Georgia.

Mikhail Gorbachev: A Path to Peace in the Caucasus. This, too, is pretty clear on roots:

The roots of this tragedy lie in the decision of Georgia's separatist leaders in 1991 to abolish South Ossetian autonomy. This turned out to be a time bomb for Georgia's territorial integrity. Each time successive Georgian leaders tried to impose their will by force -- both in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia, where the issues of autonomy are similar -- it only made the situation worse. New wounds aggravated old injuries.

Also, on the current crisis:

Over the past few days, some Western nations have taken positions, particularly in the U.N. Security Council, that have been far from balanced. As a result, the Security Council was not able to act effectively from the very start of this conflict. By declaring the Caucasus, a region that is thousands of miles from the American continent, a sphere of its "national interest," the United States made a serious blunder.

Fred Kaplan: Lonely Night in Georgia. Meanwhile, the hysterical reactions of US pundits and politicians should be called into question.

A few counterquestions for those who rise to compare every nasty leader to Hitler and every act of aggression to the onset of World War III: Do you really believe that Russia's move against Georgia is not an assertion of control over "the near abroad" (as the Russians call their border regions), but rather the first step of a campaign to restore the Warsaw Pact in Eastern Europe and, from there, bring back the Cold War's Continental standoff? [ . . . ]

The same question can be asked of the Bush administration. Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly called Saakashvili on Sunday to assure him that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered." We should all be interested to know what answer he is preparing or whether he was just dangling the Georgians on another few inches of string. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the Security Council, "This is completely unacceptable and crosses a line." Talk like that demands action. What's the plan, and how does he hope to get the Security Council -- on which Russia has veto power -- to approve it?

There's a giant disconnect here on the right: between their rhetoric, conditioned as it is on the fantasy that whatever the world's one and only superduperpower says goes, and America's manifest inability to enforce the right's dumbest and most grandiose ideas.

Josh Marshall: Dangerous and Unstable. For once, Marshall is ahead of the learning curve on an issue, perhaps because he's been following McCain close and long ago flagged Randy Scheunemann as a public danger:

The people that are pulling McCain's strings are the people who want to push us into a new Cold War with the Russians -- and ironically and a bit improbably with the Chinese too. [ . . . ]

McCain is going out of his way to cast this as a replay of 1938 and 1939. Is it really in our interest to get into a renewed Cold War with Russia right now? Do we have the military resources for a proxy/advisor war in the Caucasus at the moment? [ . . . ] The key is that McCain, both in terms of policy and temperament, wants to court that result.

It's sort of funny when he's just an unhinged senator. But think for a moment where we'd be if this man were president right now, as he may well be in six months. This man takes the counsel of the people who got us into the Iraq War. On foreign policy, he is in league with the people who were so extreme they've now largely been kicked out of the Bush administration. People like John Bolton and others like him. [ . . . ]

This man is simply too dangerous and unstable to be president. People need to wake up and get a look of the preview he's giving us of a McCain presidency.

Moon of Alabama: War Nerdism. Some more techical stuff on the war, the sequence of events, etc., very critical of Georgia: "Saakashvili should answer it when he gets his deserved process at The Hague."


It looks like this is winding down to some sort of agreement on a cease fire -- I've seen reports, but they're not very clear yet.

While all this was happening, I was reading through Robert Scheer's The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America, which was written well before these events, and ran across the following little tidbit (pp. 153-154):

Before 9/11, when Bush met with Putin in that famous summit embrace on June 16, 2001, the U.S. president was asked if Putin was "a man that Americans can trust." He replied, "I will answer the question. I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We have a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. And I appreciated so very much the frank dialogue."

That frank dialogue involved agreement, as Bush said, on establishing "a new realtionship beyond that of the old Cold War mentality" and disagreement on missile defense and the restrictions imposed on it by the 1972 ABM treaty. The overall mood was as upbeat as it gets, and the stated assumption of both leaders was that their common commitment to a unified front against terrorism and other world problems would lead to an ever-closer connection. The opposite happened over the next five years.

The Russians opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and attempted to block confrontation with Iran. Gone was the rosy expectation of a common front in combating the terrorism that had afflicted both nations, often from the same source. What drove Bush and Putin far apart was, more than anything else, the nuclear issue, as Bush's rosy projections of ending the Cold War nuclear standoff gave way to increased U.S. spending on nuclear weapons as well as missile defense.

One way to look at these events is that Putin is responding much as Bush, given his insights into the man, should have expected.


Illusions of Victory

Andrew J Bacevich: Illusions of Victory. This is an excerpt from Bacevich's new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008, Metropolitan Books). At least at a high level, Bacevich calls into question just what the US military can do. The following seems a pretty fair synopsis of the last seven years:

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Bush conceived of a bold, offensive strategy, vowing to "take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge." The military offered the principal means for undertaking this offensive, and U.S. forces soon found themselves engaged on several fronts.

Two of those fronts -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- commanded priority attention. In each case, the assigned task was to deliver a knockout blow, leading to a quick, decisive, economical, politically meaningful victory. In each case, despite impressive displays of valor, fortitude, durability, and technological sophistication, America's military came up short. The problem lay not with the level of exertion but with the results achieved.

In Afghanistan, U.S. forces failed to eliminate the leadership of Al Qaeda. Although they toppled the Taliban regime that had ruled most of that country, they failed to eliminate the Taliban movement, which soon began to claw its way back. Intended as a brief campaign, the Afghan War became a protracted one. Nearly seven years after it began, there is no end in sight. If anything, America's adversaries are gaining strength. The outcome remains much in doubt.

In Iraq, events followed a similar pattern, with the appearance of easy success belied by subsequent developments. The U.S. invasion began on March 19, 2003. Six weeks later, against the backdrop of a White House-produced banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished," President Bush declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." This claim proved illusory.

Writing shortly after the fall of Baghdad, the influential neoconservatives David Frum and Richard Perle declared Operation Iraqi Freedom "a vivid and compelling demonstration of America's ability to win swift and total victory." General Tommy Franks, commanding the force that invaded Iraq, modestly characterized the results of his handiwork as "unequalled in its excellence by anything in the annals of war." In retrospect, such judgments -- and they were legion -- can only be considered risible. A war thought to have ended on April 9, 2003, in Baghdad's al-Firdos Square was only just beginning. Fighting dragged on for years, exacting a cruel toll. Iraq became a reprise of Vietnam, although in some respects at least on a blessedly smaller scale.

How did the US get into this mess? Bacevich identifies three illusions. The first was the idea that "The Pentagon had devised a new American Way of War, investing its forces with capabilities unlike any the world had ever seen." You know: technology, speed, precision, like that. The second was that "American civilian and military leaders subscribed to a common set of principles for employing their now-dominant forces" -- the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, which was meant to prevent politicians from flying off half-cocked and landing us into future Vietnams, in large part by the politically loaded need to call up reserves in order to implement any significant military action. The third illusion was that "the military and American society had successfully patched up the differences that produced something akin to divorce during the divisive Vietnam years." This was accomplished by switching to an All-Volunteer Force, although the end result of that was to make future military operations optional and incidental to all but the few Americans who volunteered to be in harm's way.

When it came to the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, civilian willingness to conform to its provisions proved to be highly contingent. Confronting Powell in 1993, Madeleine Albright famously demanded to know, "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about, if we can't use it?" Mesmerized by the prospects of putting American soldiers to work to alleviate the world's ills, Albright soon enough got her way. An odd alliance that combined left-leaning do-gooders with jingoistic politicians and pundits succeeded in chipping away at constraints on the use of force. "Humanitarian intervention" became all the rage. Whatever restraining influence the generals exercised during the 1990s did not survive that decade. Lessons of Vietnam that had once seemed indelible were forgotten.

For Bush, 9/11 was an opportunity to make a clean break with all past inhibitions against using military force. In a neat trick, all past U.S. policies were vindicated by the terrorist attack, as opposed to being called into question:

With the president denying any connection between the events of September 11th and past U.S. policies, his declaration of a global war nipped in the bud whatever inclination the public might have entertained to reconsider those policies. In essence, Bush counted on war both to concentrate greater power in his own hands and to divert attention from the political, economic, and cultural bind in which the United States found itself as a result of its own past behavior.

Conclusion:

Between what President Bush called upon America's soldiers to do and what they were capable of doing loomed a huge gap that defines the military crisis besetting the United States today. For a nation accustomed to seeing military power as its trump card, the implications of that gap are monumental.

It is refreshing to look at the failures of the Bush administration as failures of the US military itself. That's a view that no electable Democrat can disclose since "the troops" have been turned into an unquestionable icon. The antiwar side may be most guilty of this. By "support our troops" the prowar side always meant "support our mission"; instead of just pointing out that the hawks are hiding behind the uniforms, and going on to the real front of contention, the mission, too many antiwar spokesfolk have tried to co-opt the slogan, arguing that the best way to support the troops would be to get out of stupid, senseless wars. True enough, but those wars -- the only kind there are -- are the troops' bread and butter.

Bacevich may try to tone down his critique by praising the valor, courage, discipline, etc., of the soldiers, but the key point is that they're not fit for their assigned mission. Again, you can see all aspects of this misfit in HBO's Generation Kill, even without factoring in that what's being shown is pretty much a best case scenario: the early days of the war when there were still clear enemies, a relatively disciplined elite group of Marines, etc. I don't yet know how far Bacevich will go with his critique, but I do know that there is plenty of terrain for someone to light up.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14703 [14671] rated (+32), 769 [772] unrated (-3). Pretty productive week, mostly continuing on jazz consumer guide work, rolling over all the paperwork, actually getting a leg up on next one.

  • Kate Nash: Made of Bricks (2008, Geffen): English pop tart, similar to Lily Allen, doesn't hook as readily but most of these songs eventually kick in. Casual profanity helps. A-
  • Martial Solal Dodecaband: Plays Ellington (1997 [2000], Dreyfus): Something off the shelf, which really doesn't help me out much in trying to get a sense of the great French pianist. First of all because he doesn't play all that much piano here: he anchors a 12-piece band that gets most of the space. Nor is his reading of Ellington very straightforward. B+(*)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #18, Part 1)

My 17th Jazz Consumer Guide column is in the Village Voice's hands right now. I've finished my usual load of paperwork shuffling as I prepare to start a new column cycle. This is the first week of jazz prospecting for next column. The week started off with an effort to cut through the second-pass records leftover from last time, but by the end of the week I also listened to a few things I hadn't got to last time. I also kept writing, so I've expanded my initial seeds for the next column from roughly 600 to 900 words. Good start.

I expect the Voice will publish the just-finished column sometime mid-September. Will know more later, but probably not soon.


Motel: Lost and Found (2007, MGM): All music by DC bassist Matt Grason, excepting a Herbie Hancock piece. Don't know much about him, but he's put together a jazz-hip-hop mash-up that stands on both legs. The Feat. rappers do business as: Priest Da Nomad, Cool Cee Brown, Sub Z, Kokayi, John Moon, Yu, and Hueman Prophets. Local DC talent, came out of Tony Blackman's Freestyle Union. The band are NYC jazzbos -- the two names I recognize are guitarist Jostein Gulbrandson and saxophonist Jon Irabagon, both stand up and out here, more than filling the breaks between the raps. Rhythmically, by hip-hop standards this seems lax -- even Nicholas Payton and Wallace Roney have employed turntablists and samplers. Sure, not very well, the point being that there's some precedent for exploring that angle. B+(**)

Bryan Beninghove: Organ Trio (2007 [2008], CDBaby): No hint he made any effort to think up a label name, but it's in the catalog at CDBaby. Tenor saxophonist (credit just: Saxophone), originally from suburban Baltimore, studied at William Paterson University (Wayne, NJ), now based in Jersey City. First record, didn't put much thought into the title either: just exactly what it claims, a trio with Kyle Koehler on Hammond B-3, Don Williams on drums. Wrote 4 of 9 songs; no obvious pattern to the covers. Everyone pumps hard, plays heavy. Reminds me of Willis Jackson. Evidently Beninghove has other projects, but he's pretty convincing in this one. B+(***)

Oleg Kireyev/Feng Shui Jazz Project: Mandala (2004 [2008], Jazzheads): Kireyev is a Russian saxophonist (tenor, soprano), from Bashkiria, which I take to be in the southern Urals ("near the European/Asian border"). Is interested in Bashkiri folk music, other Asian musics and culture (including the Feng Shui worked into the group name), and jazz, of course, which he played in Poland in the 1990s. Nowadays you're most likely to find him in Moscow. He has 8 albums since 1989, on Russian and Polish labels until this one got picked up. Group includes Russians on guitar, bass, and drums, plus Senegalese conga player Ndiaga Sambe ("joined the band in 2001"). He also plays a bit of keyboards and does a bit of throat singing. One song starts with the figure from "Message in a Bottle" and works it progressively into an Asian idiom, playing at Coltrane as his most oriental. Has a beat, especially when the guitar runs things. [A-]

Noah Preminger Group: Dry Bridge Road (2007 [2008], Nowt): Tenor saxophonist, based in Brooklyn, first album, fronting a postbop sextet with well established musicians: Russ Johnson (trumpet), Frank Kimbrough (piano), Ben Monder (guitar), John Hebert (bass), Ted Poor (drums). Not something I find all that interesting, but well done, superb group, closes strong with the drum-driven "Rhythm for Robert." B+(**)

Kenny Barron: The Traveler (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): First time through I was getting ready to slam this when a track with guitarist Lionel Loueke caught my ear -- reminded me that my favorite Barron record paired him with another guitarist, Mino Cinelu, Swamp Sally (1995, Verve). Loueke appears on three cuts here: one a duo with the pianist, two augmenting the trio, one of those with vocalist Gretchen Parlato. Another pass highlights some other points, but they remain scattered. Ann Hampton Callaway's vocal is nuanced, but Grady Tate's isn't. Parlato isn't a plus. Loueke fairs better with the trio than in the duo, which I score heavily for Barron. Soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson's three pieces improve on rehearing. I can't say whether I'd like Barron's trio better without the distractions, but here they come as a relief. And Barron closes with a fine solo on Eubie Blake's "Memories of You." B+(**)

Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Proliferation (2007 [2008], 482 Music): Drummer, b. 1974 in Germany, raised in Evanston, IL, based in Chicago. Founded something called Emerging Improvisers Organization. Active in various groups, the best known being Exploding Star Orchestra. Four albums since 2006, including two this year. This one is a quartet, with two saxes (Greg Ward on alto sax and clarinet, Tim Haldeman on tenor sax), bass (Jason Roebke), and drums. Intended to invoke Chicago's jazz scene from 1954-60 -- John Jenkins and Sun Ra are tapped for two songs each among 9 non-original songs; Reed wrote 3 -- it sounds like freebop to me: racing horn movements, sometimes play gets a little rough, but mostly the horns stay within convention while the rhythm wanders. Impressive stuff. A-

Mike Reed's Loose Assembly: The Speed of Change (2007 [2008], 482 Music): Drummer Mike Reed's other record, along with People, Places & Things' Proliferation. Loose Assembly is indeed loose: a quintet, down to one horn (Greg Ward on alto sax), with cello (Tomeka Reid), vibes (Jason Adasiewicz), bass (Josh Abrams), and drums. Nicole Mitchell guests on two cuts, but doesn't make much of a splash. Indeed, the album has a light, trippy air, modern postbop pieces. B+(***)


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

ZMF Trio: Circle the Path (2005 [2007], Drip Audio): Stands for Jesse Zubot (violin), Jean Martin (drums), Joe Fonda (bass). Avant-garde, kind of a Revolutionary Ensemble for liberal Vancouver. B+(***)

Jacob Young: Sideways (2006 [2008], ECM): Continues to be an interesting guitarist although he's showing signs of being willing to settle down into ECM's file cabinet about midway between John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner. Group includes two horns -- Mathias Eick on trumpet, Vidar Johansen on tenor sax/bass clarinet -- but they work slow and mostly fill in. Previous album, Evening Falls, seemed more promising. B+(*)

Carlos "Zingaro"/Dominique Regef/Wilbert DeJoode String Trio: Spectrum (2004 [2008], Clean Feed): Regef's hurdy gurdy splits the spectrum between violin and bass, or something like that -- I'm not really sure how to follow it. In any case, the strings squeek, squirm, and squelch: this is not chamber music in any polite sense. It is difficult music, a challenge, but it is listenable, a chore perhaps, but not monotonous or gratuitously violent. Zingaro has a large discography. The few bits I've heard make him a subject for future research. B+(**)

Avery Sharpe: Legends & Mentors: The Music of McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef (2007 [2008], JKNM): Journeyman bassist with a few records under his own name, Sharpe has direct connections to each of his legends/mentors, including a credit on a very good joust between Shepp and Lateef. He writes a song for each, then covers two more, a nice balance. Joe Ford handles the horn duties, and Onaje Allan Gumbs does a passable Tyner. John Blake's violin is an interesting twist, and I like the occasional bass solo. Not quite a tour de force, but a very clever way to put an album together. B+(**)

Marcin Wasilewski Trio: January (2007 [2008], ECM): A piano trio, they originally appeared as veteran trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's "young Polish quartet," but here go by their own own names, with bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz joining pianist Wasilewski on the cover. They conjure up a near perfect quietstorm of ECM piano, every little detail locked snugly into place. You almost don't notice how artful it all is, because it almost slips by unnoticed. B+(***)

Brian Harnetty: American Winter (2007, Atavistic): Bits of radio news and advertisements, story, song, a little fiddle, from decades including WWII -- the ceremony launching the draft lottery is a centerpiece, matched with a snip of Arthur Godfrey singing "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" -- provide the human center for Harnetty's electronic soundtrack. Neither the music nor the samples are all that remarkable, but they merge into something deeply haunting. Seems like a highly repeatable formula, and Harnetty's discography lists 17 items since 2003, but this is the only one I've heard; for now that makes it unique. A-

David Murray/Mal Waldron: Silence (2001 [2008], Justin Time): Cut in Brussels a year before Waldron's death, this may now be seen as a remembrance of an all-time piano great, but Murray fills the room so prodigiously that you have to work to hear how skillfully Waldron ties it all together. He first gained fame as Billie Holiday's accompanist, and even decades later, with dozens of his own often brilliant albums, that was what he was best known for. He wrote three songs here, to one by Murray -- the three covers also favor Waldron. But Murray bowls over everyone, especially one on one, so this winds up being another referendum on him. A-

Dafnis Prieto: Taking the Soul for a Walk (2007 [2008], Dafnison): Unquestionably the hot young drummer from Cuba. Everyone but me seems to love him, and I don't doubt his chops or his ambition, but I don't much enjoy listening to him. He plays the herky-jerk Afro-Cuban switchback game almost too effortlessly, burying it in ornate orchestration, especially slick with the three front-line horns here (Peter Apfelbaum, Avishai Cohen, and Yosvany Terry). B

Walt Blanton: Monuments (2006 [2008], Origin): Trumpet player; front cover also names Tony Branco (piano) and John Nasshan (drums). All are based in Las Vegas, and play free jazz -- not real far out, but open enough to keep you off guard. B+(*)

Spring Heel Jack: Songs & Themes (2007 [2008], Thirsty Ear): More themes than songs, pastiches of mood with some jazz flourishes -- Roy Campbell trumpet, John Tchicai sax -- on top of a wide range of samples and textures. Took me a while to warm up to it. Never got a final copy. B+(*) [advance]

Armen Donelian Trio: Oasis (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Nice piano trio. Donalian's basic trick is to repeat a rhythm figure and play off against it -- "Sunrise, Sunset" is a good example, but not the only one here. Doesn't move far or hard from that model, which is one reason this never takes off. B+(**)

Martial Solal Trio: Longitude (2007 [2008], CAM Jazz): I thought of Solal when I was writing about Paul Bley's 50+ year career -- both have records dating from 1953, although Solal is actually 5 years older. Bley probably has more records, but Solal has a much broader range of groups, everything from solos to big bands. The problem is that I know so little by Solal, and nothing that I have heard has knocked me out the way 3 or 4 Bley records have. The lack of study is partly because Solal is French and partly because he plays piano, an instrument I haven't pursued anywhere near as aggressively as I have the saxophones. But this new piano trio is as bright and complex and challenging as any I've heard lately. Don't have much more to say about it. He is an enigma for me, a SFFR. At age 80 I doubt that this is his peak, but I also doubt that anyone could guess his age in a blindfold test. B+(***)

Ketil Bjørnstad/Terje Rypdal: Life in Leipzig (2005 [2008], ECM): Duo, recorded live during the Leipziger Jazztage, which has some effect in pumping up the volume of the sound somewhat harshly. Rypdal's guitar sometimes sounds a little violinish. Bjørnstad's piano cuts through that, adds some rhythm, but never quite takes charge. B+(*)

Torben Waldorff: Afterburn (2008, ArtistShare): Played this an extra time just to try to focus on the leader's guitar, which remains indistinct and underwhelming, although it does fit in with the flow, and it does all flow. The standout, of course, is tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who dominates without pushing himself anywhere near his usual extremes. B+(***)

Lionel Loueke: Karibu (2007 [2008], Blue Note): Young guitarist from Benin, via Côte d'Ivoire, Paris, and Boston, developed a high profile as a sideman, and a very scattered major label debut. The occasional vocals aren't a plus. The African grooves are hard to pin down -- the attractive "Nonvignon" could be pennywhistle. Two pieces with Herbie Hancock are surprisingly abstract, especially "Light Dark," where Wayne Shorter joins in. Shorter also plays on "Naima." B+(*)

Andy Middleton: The European Quartet Live (2005 [2007], Q-rious Music): Three members of this European Quartet are, and this must mean something, Americans based in Europe, including the leader working out of Vienna. Lists Wayne Shorter at the head of a list of Influences who are mostly just great musicians, but of six or so tenor saxophonists Shorter's the best fit. Shows patience and poise on slow ones, poise and fierce resolve on the fast ones. Good pianist in Tino Derado, the only born European here. Very solid performance. B+(***)

Grace Kelly/Lee Konitz: GraceFulLee (2008, Pazz Productions): Two alto saxophonists, one 15 years old, the other 80. Konitz plays on 7 cuts, 6 with a really superb band -- Russell Malone on guitar, Rufus Reid on bass, Matt Wilson - drums -- and one a duo with Kelly. Kelly, née Chung, plays on all 10, including duos with Malone, Reid, and Wilson. The duos give you a chance to sort out the saxes. Kelly plays carefully -- the duos are all on the slow side, even those billed as free improvs -- but she does have a lovely tone and plots her way through difficult pieces smartly. The 6 band pieces are cool and comfortable, the group enjoying themselves, everyone playing delightfullee. B+(***)

Anne Mette Iversen: Best of the West + Many Places (2006-07 [2008], Bju'ecords, 2CD): Bassist-composer, expansive set of postbop chamber jazz, rounded out with a string quartet on the first disc. Not bad as such things go. Second disc is just quartet, which gives saxophonist John Ellis more elbow room. B+(**)

Kassaba: Dark Eye (2007, CDBaby): Cleveland group, sax-piano-bass-percussion, with two pianists and no full time percussionist -- just a collection of "25 exotic percussion instruments" that everyone, especially the odd pianist out, takes part in. They claim inspiration from jazz, classical, and world; classical shows up mostly in the piano, world in the percussion, perhaps a bit too obviously, but it comes together in the dark, complex, highly flavored groove pieces. B+(**)

Alon Yavnai: Travel Notes (2008, ObliqSound): Piano trio. One of those records that seems very neat and well ordered, not flashy, not in any big hurry, just calm and proper. I find it very pleasing, but otherwise don't have much to say about it. ECM would like this guy. The one cut that's stands out a bit is the one where bassist Omer Avital switches to oud. B+(***) [advance]

Eric Alexander Quartet: Prime Time: In Concert (2007 [2008], High Note, CD+DVD): After a stretch of three or four lousy records -- including his Temple of Olympic Zeus dud, and his part in David Hazeltine's The Inspiration Suite, a record that's only barely escaped my duds list -- this is a return to form. He's a powerful mainstream sax player, and he charges straight ahead through everything here. Hazeltine, John Webber, and Joe Farnsworth provide their usual solid support. The whole thing, and then some, is also on the DVD, if you're into that sort of thing. B+(**)

Houston Person/Ron Carter: Just Between Friends (2005 [2008], High Note): Too easy. You'd think that at least they would jack up the bass volume and let Carter expand a bit on such obvious standards, but he mostly just strums along -- could be any old bassist. And it's not like Person is driving him off the stage: every song is taken in a poke, with the sax volume toned down too. Still, from "How Deep Is the Ocean" to "Always" he's irresistible. B+(***)


Unpacking:

  • Art Blakey and the Giants of Jazz: Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Festival)
  • Dave Brubeck: 50 Years of Dave Brubeck: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-2007 (Monterey Jazz Festival)
  • George Colligan: Runaway (Sunnyside)
  • Brian Cullman: All Fires the Fire (Sunnyside)
  • Five Play: What the World Needs Now (Arbors)
  • Carlos Franzetti: Film Noir (Sunnyside)
  • Bill Frisell: East/West (Nonesuch, 2CD)
  • Bill Frisell/Ron Carter/Paul Motian (Nonesuch)
  • Bill Frisell: History, Mystery (Nonesuch, 2CD)
  • The Joe Gilman Trio: View So Tender: Wonder Revisited Volume Two (Capri)
  • Al Green: Lay It Down (Blue Note)
  • Doug Hamilton: Jazz Band (OA2)
  • Dan Heck: Compositionality (Origin)
  • Shirley Horn: Live at the 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Festival)
  • Steeve Laffont/Gino Roman/Yorgui Loeffler/Chriss Campion: Latchès (Sunnyside)
  • Donny McCaslin Trio: Recommended Tools (Greenleaf Music)
  • Brad Mehldau Trio: House on the Hill (Nonesuch)
  • Brad Mehldau Trio: Live (Nonesuch, 2CD)
  • Vince Mendoza: Blauklang (ACT): Sept. 9
  • Metheny Mehldau Quartet (Nonesuch)
  • Bob Mover: It Amazes Me . . . (Zoho): Sept. 9
  • Willie Nelson/Wynton Marsalis: Two Men With the Blues (Blue Note)
  • Danilo Perez: Across the Crystal Sea (Emarcy)
  • Dave Pietro: The Chakra Suite (Challenge)
  • Plastilina Mosh: All U Need Is Mosh (Nacional): advance, Aug. 5
  • Tito Puente & His Orchestra: Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Festival)
  • Dianne Reeves: When You Know (Blue Note)
  • Ximena Sariñana: Mediocre (Warner Music Latina)
  • The Soprano Summit: In 1975 and More (1975-79, Arbors, 2CD)
  • Teenage Jesus & the Jerks: Beirut Slump (1978-79, Atavistic)
  • Cal Tjader: The Best of Cal Tjader: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-1980 (1958-80, Monterey Jazz Festival)
  • Jimmy Witherspoon: Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival (1972, Monterey Jazz Festival)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Georgia on My Mind

Ben Smith: 'Invasion of Georgia' a '3 A.M. Moment'. The reference is back to Clinton's anti-Obama ad, but the guy with the itchy trigger finger is John McCain.

While Obama offered a response largely in line with statements issued by democratically elected world leaders, including President Bush, first calling on both sides to negotiate, John McCain took a remarkably -- and uniquely -- more aggressive stance, siding clearly with Georgia's pro-Western leaders and placing the blame for the conflict entirely on Russia.

McCain's ready to take the call because this is one world conflict he's really boned up on, putting him more out on a limb than 99.999% of the American people. His secret: top foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann is (or at least was, until very recently) a paid agent of the Georgia government. There are a lot of dangerous aspects to McCain's foreign policy posture, but the most recklessly insane is his eagerness to regenerate the "cold war" he built his career and identity in by pushing Russia into a defensive corner: by expanding NATO, by ringing Russia with antimissile systems, by kicking Russia out of the UN in favor of a "league of democratic states"; but in a world where little things count, the easiest way to provoke Russia into doing something stupid is through Georgia. Of course, this is not really McCain's doing: he's just chief cheerleader, as usual. The groundwork has been laid by Bush: in pushing military aid under the "war on terrorism" brand; in fomenting the "Rose Revolution" which brought "pro-American" nationalist Mikhail Saakashvili to power; and in backing Saakashvili's own initial invasion of South Ossetia.

Of course, the real thing to do when this sort of thing happens at 3 AM is to do what most people would do: roll over, go back to sleep, face the problem fresh in the morning, get the facts, and give it some careful thought.

Eric Kleefeld: McCain Camp: Obama "Bizarrely in Sync with Moscow". This is McCain trying to make hay with the crisis, using his typical your-either-with-us-or-with-the-enemy logic. What's merely presumed here is even more chilling than the bizarre rhetoric: that Russia is our sworn enemy, and that therefore Georgia, because they've appealed to us for support in a conflict that matters not a whit to anyone in America, is therefore our vital ally.

Tony Karon: Has Georgia Overreached in Ossetia?. Probably the best single piece to read on the conflict. The key things to understand are that South Ossetia has effectively been independent of Georgia since breaking away in the early 1990s; that the conflict was initiated by Georgia attempting to seize back territory that was part of the pre-independence Georgian SSR; and that Georgia has been fervently lobbying the US and NATO for support, or in some cases vice versa. Also that when push comes to shove, Russia will very probably prevail, no matter how bad they look in doing so. What he doesn't point out is that for Cold War revivalists like McCain, the most valuable thing to come out of this is that Russia and Putin look bad; martyring the Georgians and/or the Ossetians is just collateral damage.

James Traub: Taunting the Bear. If you want to read more (a lot more), including much on the similar conflict with Abkhazia -- like South Ossetia, Abkhazia is another non-Georgian part of the former Georgian SSR that broke off in the early 1990s, achieving autonomy, which it has maintained with Russian support. (Presumably, if Georgia regains South Ossetia, they will move into Abkhazia next -- another offense against Russia.) While the history helps (but could be better), the most interesting bits in the article are the reactions:

In a recent essay, the archrealist Henry Kissinger argued that Putin-era policy had been driven not by dreams of restored glory, but by "a quest for a reliable strategic partner, with America being the preferred choice." Some Russia experts on the left, like Stephen Cohen of Princeton, have taken a similar view. But Russia's bellicose behavior, and now the hostilities along its border, make it increasingly difficult to act on such a premise without seeming naïve.

The "archrealist" reference is amusing, like the archdruid he'd like to present himself as. Kissinger has always been a great powers romantic, which is why he's tempted to puff up Russia into a type that can play strategy with the US. I'd have to say that Putin's strategic goals are much more limited, otherwise why would he take risks with such small potatoes as South Ossetia? What's happened is that: on the one hand, Cold War revivalists in the Bush regime have sought to marginalize Russia, even to the point of interfering in local politics in places like Georgia and the Ukraine; on the other hand, Putin recognizes that Yeltsin's decade of subservience to the US was nothing less than an economic and political disaster for Russia. Moreover, since Bush and Putin came to power, the US has entered an embarrassing international decline, while Russia has hugely benefitted, especially from the oil market. This makes Europe and China much more attractive to Russia as partners, and it also gives the diehard US superpower cult all that more reason to try to isolate Russia. A good way to do that is to provoke a backlash of Russian bellicosity, because that fits the cognitive model established during the Cold War; and, Lord knows, nobody would think that the US is the one being bellicose.

Continuing:

People of all political persuasion now seem to get it about Russia. In The Return of History and The End of Dreams, Robert Kagan, the neoconservative foreign policy expert who is advising John McCain, writes of Mr. Putin and his coterie: "Their grand ambition is to undo the post-cold war settlement and to re-establish Russia as a dominant power in Eurasia." Michael McFaul, a Russia expert at Stanford who is advising Barack Obama, also views Russia as a premodern, sphere-of-influence power. He attributes Russia's hostility to further NATO expansion less to geostrategic calculations than to what he says is Mr. Putin's cold war mentality. The essential Russian calculus, he says, is, "Anything we can do to weaken the U.S. is good for Russia."

That's the whole political spectrum? That's like saying the whole alphabet from A to F. The McFaul quote (whoever the hell he is) shows nothing more than the essential essence of paranoia: the belief that everything someone else does is really about us. There's also a big chunk of projection there: whatever Russia can do to weaken us is vanishingly trivial compared to what a president like Bush can do (and has done).


I don't mean to defend Putin here, but we do need to understand the context he's working in, and that his actions are not unprovoked and not completely irrational. (This isn't the first time this has happened. Everyone knows that Russia invaded Afghanistan, but hardly anyone realizes that they did so only after the US started arming insurgents against the pro-Soviet Afghan government, let alone that one reason why Carter did that was to provoke the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan, thus serving them with "their own Vietnam." While the costs seem carefree at the time, we've never stopped paying for that bit of hubris, as now Afghanistan has turned back into our second (or third) Vietnam.)

One thing you can say about Putin is that he certainly doesn't believe that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Putin built his career on squashing breakaway Chechnya. The Chechens had achieved de facto autonomy in the mid-1990s, much like South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Second Chechen War, informally "Putin's War," was launched under very dubious circumstances -- in response to "Chechen terrorist attacks," widely believed to have been set by Putin's own agents -- and resulted in the end of Chechen independence, but not before Chechens really did launch a horrifying series of terror attacks.

The Russian Empire grew from a small area around Moscow in the 1400s to stretch from Poland in eastern Europe to the Pacific coast, from the Arctic Ocean to the Caucusus Mountains and the borders of Iran and China in the south. Russia did this by conquering hundreds of ethnic groups, which the Soviet Union organized into 15 SSRs and numerous "autonomous" regions under them, especially in the Russian Federation (RFSSR). The borders were never perfect, and were further perturbed by political whims, and by Stalin's wholesale relocations of unruly populations (e.g., the Chechens were moved to Siberia for several decades, one of many reasons they wanted to break free). In 1991, the Soviet Union split along SSR lines, partly because some SSRs were pulling away (the Baltic states, Armenia), and partly because it suited Boris Yeltsin's political ambitions. That left many smaller political units with the idea of breaking free too. In particular, the potential unraveling of Russia could have been extreme. The result has been a series of wars of independence and preservation: much as the Russians hated to lose Chechnya, the Georgians hate having lost Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

I have no particular opinion on these conflicts, except that they should be settled by some means other than war, and that it is inappropriate for outsiders (including the US) to take sides. I don't see a fundamental problem with splitting countries into ethnic enclaves, especially when it's done agreeably as was the case of Czechoslovakia. On the other hand, the forces behind such splits are generally nationalist, presenting a number of problems: they tend to be right-wing, with all that implies; in particular, they tend to be authoritarian, chauvinist, and repressively anti-minority. Living in the US, I'm used to the idea of a country where many different kinds of people can live in relatively cosmopolitan harmony. I also appreciate that a large country with freedom of movement has a lot of economic advantages over small countries, so one thing I'll note is that breakaway countries often take a big step backwards in terms of living standards. (Turkish Cyprus and Serbian Bosnia are two obvious basket cases; South Ossetia is probably another.) For a while it looked like Quebec might secede from Canada, but they compromised on cultural points to keep the economy intact. If Georgia were to develop the European standard of living they aspire to, you'd think they'd be able to woo Abkhazia and South Ossetia back. But marching your army in to force reunion doesn't accomplish a thing, and it does no credit to Georgia's reputation as a modern, liberal democracy. Anyone who encourages Georgia to take that path is nuts, or has come other agenda. Like McCain. Few other issues show so clearly how dangerous and deranged he really is.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Democrats & National Security

Samantha Power: The Democrats & National Security. Meant to write something on this a while ago, but it's been a long slog just to read it. It's nominally a book review of J Peter Scoblic: US vs. Them: How a Half Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America's Security (which I've read and posted notes on -- the book page is here), and Matthew Yglesias: Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats, which I haven't read, although it's piqued my attention. I have been looking at Yglesias's now-discontinued Atlantic blog lately: I've been impressed by the analysis, but perhaps even more so by his ability to put up 8-12 posts per day -- he's so prolific that most people could spend their entire browsing lives just following him around.

Let's start with a couple of Power quotes reviewing Yglesias's book:

Yglesias is persuasive in showing how mainstream Democrats, in the run-up to the war in Iraq, caricatured the antiwar left as a way of flaunting their national security bona fides. The intraparty squabble inhibited the creation of a pluralistic coalition united against the administration's unilateralism and militarism.

Such a "pluralistic coalition" would have had to unite Democrats who were opposed to war as America's default means of dealing with international predicaments and Democrats who had no problem with that concept but merely thought that invading Iraq was insane. In other words, two groups delineated by one spending more time and energy attacking the other than their nominal prowar opponents, in large part because the two groups were separated by more fundamental distance than the latter group had from the warmongers.

Actually, the Democrats split up into four camps: the antiwar people; those who opposed the Iraq war on pragmatic grounds but were at pains to oppose the antiwar people; those who couldn't resist the idea of a popular war (who voted for the Iraq war in 2002 and now mostly oppose it); and Joe Lieberman. The middle groups, including those like Power who love a good humanitarian war, are intrinsically muddled, trying to defend an idealistic vision of war, and therefore of American military might, that is impossible to implement. The net result is that the antiwar people those Democrats ceaselessly attack are the ones who in the end are always proven right.

Yglesias also gives an important account of the different positions that led to Democratic acquiescence in the war in Iraq -- an acquiescence that neutered or delayed many Democrats' criticisms of the President. For some Democrats the Iraq war was the natural culmination of the thinking that earlier gave rise to President Clinton's intervention in Kosovo. [ . . . ]

We don't know how events in 2003 would have progressed without the Kosovo war, but it is hard to imagine that President Bush -- a man who repudiated five treaties in his first year in office and has consistently ridiculed the UN -- would have been deterred in any way by the absence of past precedent.

Moreover, while some prominent "liberal hawks" favored the Iraq war, plenty of those who had supported NATO action in Kosovo for humanitarian reasons opposed the war in Iraq on those or other grounds. Yglesias wrongly implies that support for one war inevitably entailed support for the other; he also unfortunately lends credence to the surprisingly prevalent fiction that Bush invaded Iraq for humanitarian purposes.

People forget that the US was already at war with Iraq before Bush decided to launch his invasion. Clinton and Bush had repeatedly bombed Iraq, in what basically amounted to a less intense version of the Kosovo operation: the aim in Iraq was more to intimidate Saddam than to force any specific action, although had Saddam invaded Kurdistan the Kosovo model could easily have been employed to persuade him to withdraw. Some people opposed invading Iraq precisely because they thought this "containment" war was working perfectly well. To call either operation "humanitarian" was pretty strange, possible only by the distance air forces enjoy from their killing.

Kosovo didn't make much of an antiwar splash -- Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn wrote books about it, but that was about it -- because it never engaged the American people is any practical way. Maybe it should have, but with no political leaders in either party questioning it, there wasn't anything practical to rally around.

Yglesias is most convincing when he discusses the other two factors behind the rush to war -- an international security hawkishness among Democrats, who accepted Kenneth Pollack's argument that Iraq was indeed a "gathering storm"; and domestic political opportunism rooted in the belief that Washington careers would be ruined by the failure to support a war that proved successful (the so-called "Sam Nunn effect," after the Georgia senator whose presidential hopes were widely seen to have been dashed by his opposition to the first Gulf War).

I think of the latter more as the Clinton-Gore effect, since their support of the 1990-91 Gulf War put them in good position to taunt the first Bush for failing to finish off Saddam. Their belligerence resulted in the "containment" operations that kept the Iraq war on a low simmer, ready for the next chef to crank up the fire. Without Clinton and Gore, their political success in 1992 and their preservation of the Iraq issue, Bush would have had a much harder time selling his invasion.

Power quotes Yglesias:

Conservative Republicans have not merely made some mistakes on Iraq, and some other mistakes on Iran, and some other mistakes on North Korea, plus some mistakes on Syria, while mishandling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, by coincidence, damaging our relationships with formerly close allies. Rather, they are making one big mistake in seeking to transform the United States' role in the world . . . to that of an imperial superpower that seeks to use its national strength to dominate the world and needlessly heighten conflicts.

How many Democrats have you ever heard talking about that one big mistake? Something close to a majority of the Democratic Party rank and file would agree with that critique, but it is all but impossible to find a Democrat in Washington to say as much. Bridging that gap strikes me as the real challenge of the antiwar movement right now, because if we can make militarism and war a partisan issue, we can raise the real issue, and in the process separate the enablers from the warmongers.

Unfortunately, if Samantha Power has anything to say about it (and presumably her purge from the campaign will be temporary), Obama won't be the one to "end the mindset that got us into war in the first place" -- as he memorably put it. The last third of the piece is her political platform, with lots of hugs and kisses for the military:

Since Vietnam there has never been a more auspicious time for the Democratic Party to establish close relations with the US military. Building on Obama's October 2002 speech explaining his opposition to the war in Iraq, Democrats can continue to argue that Obama and his party will never do what the Republicans have done: send US service members to fight unnecessary wars. He will not stretch the US military and military families to their breaking points by extending tours of duty beyond what is tolerable. He will not order young cadets and reservists to carry out cruel and inhuman acts against foreign detainees and then abandon them when it becomes politically inconvenient, allowing them to be court-martialed while those who authorized the practices take up high-paying jobs at corporate law firms or prestigious teaching posts at top-flight law schools.

There are lots of problems with this, starting with the fact that the military needs stress to survive and grow, and that means they need war. Officers need war to advance through the ranks. The Marines in Generation Kill need war for their self-identity. The military-industrial complex needs the cash flow, not just for weapons but also to keep the political machine well oiled. You can't take the pain out of the military without questioning why is exists in the first place, and that's the one thing no one with a stake in the racket can risk, because quite frankly there is no good reason for the US Dept. of Defense and its various arms (except maybe the Coast Guard, and some reserves for disaster duty) to exist.

She goes on and on. When she says, "Democrats must play up the sharp differences that exist between the two parties on national security," she's trying to sharpen differences that hardly exist. Coddling the troops doesn't make war less painful, nor does it make war less likely. If anything, the promise of painless war -- what Clinton's nearsightedness thought he had seen in Kosovo -- reduces the inhibitions of future leaders against starting such engagements.

While it's easy to pick on Democrats, I think the antiwar movement is at least partly at fault here as well -- at least those who have tried to justify opposing the war as a means of helping (showing support for) the troops. I don't have a big problem with veterans benefits and such -- other than that I think many non-veterans are at least as worthy of our support -- but we cut the ground out from under ourselves by offering comfort and support for the mechanics of war. Back in the 1960s there was a slogan that went, "suppose they gave a war and nobody came." The fact that people still come out for war, that they sign up and march off, may be a small part of the problem, but it is a real one. I still believe now as I did then: that everyone who does so has acted wrongly, and that it's not too much to expect otherwise.

Friday, August 08, 2008

US vs. Them

See book page.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Book Alert

Looks like it's time for another new book list, even though I posted the last batch of 40 roughly two weeks ago, on July 23. Next one is likely to come shortly, given how much I have left over. The previous posts have been collected here.


John Anderson: Follow the Money: How George W Bush and the Texas Republicans Hog-Tied America (2007, Scribner): Michael Lind's Made in Texas: George W Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics is probably the most convincing Bush book I've read thus far, and this seems to be along those lines. Bush and his Texas political cronies managed to take over the Republican national machine, suddenly pushing the country far right. The more behind the money behind the better.

Jurgen Brauer/Hubert van Tuyll: Castles, Battles, and Bombs: How Economics Explains Military History (2008, University of Chicago Press): Strikes me as a cheap argument, but the juxtaposition of economic and military logic, all those rational actors in pursuit of madness, is likely to offer some peculiar edification. But note that the economics of war has been drenched in even more red ink than blood for a long time now.

Gary Brecher: War Nerd (paperback, 2008, Soft Skull Press): Reportedly a data entry clerk in Fresno, CA, writing a column for the Moscow-based The Exile, Matt Taibbi's home for much of the 1990s. Scattered columns. Loves everything about the history of war. Doesn't think the US is very good at it.

Jerome R Corsi: Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality (2008, Threshold Editions): Author of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry cashes in on another election. Came out same day as David Freddoso's The Case Against Barack Obama: The Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate, with the same discounts and promo push. At this point Corsi is leading in sales, #7 on Amazon vs. #15 for Freddoso. Both books show extreme 5-star/1-star splits.

Meghnad Desai: Marx's Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism (2002; paperback, 2004, Verso): Returns to Marx after the collapse of the Soviet Union to find a thinker who saw capitalism as a necessary stage to socialism, not something one can simply oppose but must move through and beyond -- actually, a position broadly understood before Lenin tried to fudge an exception. As far as I understand it, I think Desai is right. However, it's not clear to me what the value might be of trying to salvage Marx from the Marxists. More recently wrote: Rethinking Islam: The Ideology of the New Terror.

Michael Dobbs: One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War (2008, Knopf): Looks like a major history on the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. I just read Tony Judt's short book review on the subject, and found it gripping. Not that I'm up for 448 pages on the subject.

Richard Ellis: Tuna: A Love Story (2008, Knopf): More prosaically, the story of tuna: oversized, overfished, sooner or later due to be destroyed, either directly or through farming. Ellis previously wrote: The Empty Ocean, which seems to be the basic book on overfishing, although also cf. Charles Clover: The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat (new in paperback from University of California Press), and Paul Molyneaux: Swimming in Circles: Aquaculture and the End of Wild Oceans.

Rick Fantasia/Kim Voss: Hard Work: Remaking the American Labor Movement (paperback, 2004, University of California Press): On the labor movement and its prospects, more basically on the political economics of work, the factors pushing wages down, not least the virtual disappearance of workers from the American social imagination.

Thomas Frank: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule (2008, Metropolitan): I snapped this up and will get to it sooner or later. It's very much up the line of what I've been thinking about, and doubtless has a lot of useful details -- especially on the corruption that has become so rampant under the Republicans. Also picked up James Galbraith's The Predator State, which strikes me as more likely to teach me something I don't already know.

David Freddoso: The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate (2008, Regnery): The right's first big hatchet job on Obama, rushed into print after the expiry date on dozens of Hillary Clinton books lapsed. Bound for the bestseller lists: Borders introduced it with a 40% discount; Amazon with 45%. Same treatment for Swift Boater Jerome R Corsi: Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality (2008, Threshold Editions).

Jeffrey A Frieden: Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century (2006; paperback, 2007, WW Norton): Global history of capitalism in the 20th century, with its obvious fall in the 1930s and a fairly long stretch of expansion after WWII. Seems like it might be a useful overview.

James K Galbraith: The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too (2008, Free Press): I'm not sure what it means, but the first assertion in the title may help to clear the air. What I suspect is: once they seize power (as they have done), conservatives see the state as a tool for advancing their (and to a lesser extent their sponsors') interests, regardless of whatever propaganda they spewed out on the way to the top. Of course, there are other ways of looking at what they've done, such as the promotion of crony capitalism monopolies, another way their practice runs counter to free markets. Galbraith is a sharp economist; this could be a very important book. (It's already on my shelf.)

Rob Gifford: China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power (paperback, 2008, Random House): Travel book, cuts through a cross section of China from Shanghai to Kazakhstan on China's Mother Road, Route 312.

Steven M Gillon: The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry that Defined a Generation (2008, Oxford University Press): Not sure what generation Gillon has in mind; mine was more disgusted than defined. As for the "pact": evidently Clinton and Gingrich were on the verge of making some bipartisan (or counterpartisan) deal on Social Security and Medicare in 1997, which got derailed by more pressing matters (Monica Lewinsky). Sounds like a few blow jobs and a splattered dress were all that saved us.

Mike Gravel/Joe Lauria: A Political Odyssey: The Rise of American Militarism and a Man's Fight to Stop It (paperback, 2008, Seven Stories Press): I usually don't bother listing books by politicians, but this one's exceptional, and not just because he isn't much of a politician. Note ghostwriter gets same size type on front cover. Note forward by Daniel Ellsberg.

Chelsea Handler: Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea (2008, Simon Spotlight Entertainment): Noticed this earlier, but figured it was too far off-topic to mention here, until it somehow showed up in my Amazon Recommendations list. Read a few pages in the store, which were funnier than "Sex and the City" but not as funny as Cynthia Heimel. Haven't heard from Heimel in a while, so maybe this fills a void. Handler previously wrote My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands. Heimel, on the other hand, wrote: Sex Tips for Girls (reissued as Advanced Sex Tips for Girls: This Time It's Personal); When Your Phone Doesn't Ring, It'll Be Me; If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet; and the more poignant Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye!

David Harvey: A Short History of Neoliberalism (paperback, 2007, Oxford University Press): Goes back three decades or so, roughly since 1970, the economic doctrines pushed especially by the US through the IMF, the World Bank, and various trade regimes. Harvey has a lot of books, including Limits to Capital and Spaces of Global Capitalism: A Theory of Uneven Geographical Development.

Carl Hiaasen: The Downhill Lie: A Hacker's Return to a Ruinous Sport (2008, Knopf): My first thought was that this would be another test for George Plimpton's ball-size theory of sports books. I've never read any of the golf books Plimpton so admires, and I doubt that I'll try this one. Grew up thinking that golf was the sport of another class, and I've never overcome that mental framework. A Kenneth Rexroth poem about sneaking into the country club at night and shitting in the golf holes didn't help.

David Lida: First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, the Capital of the 21st Century (2008, Riverhead): Described as a "literary portrait," a panorama of Mexico City. Subtitle reminds me of Walter Benjamin, who wrote of Paris as the capital of the 19th century.

Craig Miner: Kansas: The History of the Sunflower State, 1854-2000 (paperback, 2005, University Press of Kansas): Wichita State history professor, taught there in my day and still around, has a pile of books on Kansas history, this the most general one. Should probably pick it up for reference some time. But I do recall that we had to spend Fifth Grade doing state history. Fifth grade sucked.

David Model: State of Darkness: US Complicity in Genocides Since 1945 (paperback, 2008, AuthorHouse): Author counts and documents eight genocides since 1945 that the US has been involved in, or perhaps largely responsible for. Less "a problem from hell" (as Samantha Power put it) than a policy for hell. Model has been down this road before; e.g., his previous book, Lying for Empire: How to Commit War Crimes With a Straight Face.

Richard A Muller: Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines (2008, WW Norton): Probably even more useful for citizens wanting to sanity check those future presidents. I think it's obvious that some basic understanding of science is essential for getting any sort of grasp on contemporary issues.

Dennis Perrin: Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War (paperback, 2008, Verso): Short (160 pages) book on trigger-happy Democrats, perhaps unfairly starting with Andrew Jackson and no doubt mentioning Henry Jackson with Iraq and Afghanistan of most recent interest. Don't know if this gets into Israel -- that would take a much larger book.

Jonas Pontusson: Inequality and Prosperity: Social Europe Vs. Liberal America (paperback, 2005, Cornell University Press): The basic contrast could use more press. Don't know anything about the author, but he's obviously thinking like a European as regards Liberal. Wait till he gets the full measure of Conservative America.

Neil Postman/Steve Powers: How to Watch TV News: Revised Edition (paperback, 2008, Penguin): Postman was one of the most important education and culture critics of our time -- a book he co-wrote with Charles Weingartnet back around 1970, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, had a profound impact on me way back when. He died in 2003, having co-written this book with Powers 10 or so years earlier. Powers has some 45 years of broadcast news experience. He plugs in many recent examples, but I doubt that the critique has changed much.

TR Reid: The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy (2004; paperback, 2005, Penguin): Fairly extensive comparisons of US and Europe, favoring the latter. Tony Judt reviewed this in Reappraisals and it seems to have limits but useful info. (Also reviewed, along the same lines, Jeremy Rifkin: The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream; I've long found Rifkin to be extremely unreliable.)

Erik Reinert: How Rich Countries Got Rich . . . and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor (2007, Public Affairs): The history is pretty clear: rich countries today developed behind protectionist trade barriers, which they lowered only once they were positioned to compete in global free trade (and then grudgingly). Developing countries, at least some of them, have been able to accelerate this process through industrial policies. Countries that haven't done this have remained poor (although in many cases local elites have done well -- the OPEC countries are a case in point).

Gregory Rodriguez: Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America (2007, Pantheon): Looks like a substantial history not just of Mexican immigration into the US but of Mexico itself.

Robert J Samuelson: The Good Life and Its Discontents: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement (paperback, 1997, Vintage): Recommended by David Warsh as "the wisest treatment" of the economic, political, and social evolution of the US in the half-century after WWII. Samuelson has a new book scheduled for 11/2008: The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Transformation of America's Economy, Politics, and Society.

Bruce J Schulman/Julian E Zelizer, eds.: Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s (paperback, 2008, Harvard University Press): Collection of history essays, edited by a couple of historians. Don't recognize any authors, but titles include "Inventing Family Values," "The White Ethnic Strategy," and "The Conservative Struggle and the Energy Crisis."

Peter Schweizer: Makers and Takers: Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honesty More, Are Less Materialistic and Envious, Whine Less . . . and Even Hug Their Children More Than Liberals (2008, Doubleday): Wow. Makes me wonder whether conservatives are conservative because they're perfect, or conservatives are perfect because they're conservative. Sounds like a lot of self-flattery combined with a dose of how to lie with statistics. Still, why is it that most of the conservatives that we actually know about don't exactly fit this profile. Try fitting George Bush into that line. Or Rush Limbaugh (take fewer drugs? whine less?).

Natan Sharansky: Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy (2008, Public Affairs): Reports are that GW Bush's mind got blown by Sharansky's previous book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny & Terror -- that set him off on the tangent that led Billmon to dub him "Democracy Boy." But I have to wonder whether even Bush can stomach this one: Sharansky's "democracy" was pure sophistry, but "identity" is his real bread and butter, as it is and has been for fascists and nationalists throughout the ages.

Rob Sheffield: Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time (paperback, 2007, Three Rivers Press): I went through a stage in the mid-'70s when I read nothing but rock crit, then a few years later got to where I could read virtually none of it. Sometimes I think I should at least try to keep up, and Sheffield is one of the guys I recognize as worth following. But I don't.

Guy Sorman: Empire of Lies: The Truth About China in the Twenty-First Century (2008, Encounter Books): Very negative account of everyday life in China -- you can guess the laundry list, but probably not all the details -- where Sorman lived 2005-06. May also argue that reporting about China is full of lies too. I'm sure there's something to it, but I always discount books with Truth in the title.

Deborah Stone: The Samaritan's Dilemma: Should Government Help Your Neighbor? (2008, Nation Books): The most impressive arguments conservatives have come up with in recent years are based on the cluster of ideas that self-interest produces best results, that people must enjoy full responsibility for their actions, and that therefore government help is harmful to individuals. This can all be true under certain best case scenarios, but for most people it winds up working very poorly. Stone tackles those ideas in what may be one of the more important books of the year.

Ron Suskind: The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism (2008, Harper): The author's third book on the Bush years, each with a fair amount of original reporting and a few headline-making surprises. Whereas the first two books were largely based on identifiable insiders -- Paul O'Neill and George Tenet -- this one looks to be more scattered, with various CIA threads and something about Benazir Bhutto.

Douglas Valentine: The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America's War on Drugs (paperback, 2006, Verso): Not sure that the promised secrets will be all that interesting. The Drug War should be seen as a political issue, turning first on how one sees the role of government in regulating everyday life. The War has consistently failed because not even majority support is sufficient to control a relatively private and personal activity. Yet the War continues because its warriors have managed to keep the issue out of our political discourse.

David Foster Wallace: McCain's Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope (paperback, 2008, Back Bay Books): This is Wallace's reporting on McCain's 2000 campaign, reprinted from Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays, with a new foreword by Jacob Weisberg, who evidently also covered McCain in 2000 and wrangled another interview in 2007. Pure opportunism, and a piece of false advertising, as whatever promise McCain seemed to have is ancient history now. Would have made more sense to reprint it as a second volume to Wallace's other 2000 work: Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.

Sheldon S Wolin: Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (2008, Princeton University Press): Asks the question: "has America unwittingly morphed into a new and strange kind of political hybrid, one where economic and state powers are conjoined and virtually unbridled?" Seems like a pretty deep question. I remember Wolin from way back as one of the sharper thinkers to emerge from the new left.

Ming Zeng/Peter J Williamson: Dragons at Your Door: How Chinese Cost Innovation Is Disrupting Global Competition (2007, Harvard Business School Press): The obvious reason to move your manufacturing to China is cost, but it's still remarkable that China has such a substantial advantage on so many products. This digs into why that is, starting with cheap labor, of course, but there seems to be more to it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Reappraisals

Tony Judt: Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century (2008, Penguin Books)

Another collection of essays written between 1994 and 2006, mostly book reviews, on scattered subjects, mostly 20th century history, mostly European, by the author of the monumental Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. Judt was born in London in 1948. He is Jewish; at one point he explains that his family was involved in the Bund, so he grew up Leftist, Marxist, and Anti-Communist. That may also have given him some distance from Zionism, although he mentions that he went to Israel to help out just before the 1968 war, and that he spent some time on a kibbutz. Two essays are more or less critical of Israel, the later essay much more so. He clearly has a great fondness for Anti-Communist intellectuals, with very sympathetic essays here Arthur Koestler and Whittaker Chambers. Several more essays contrast European and American takes on history, especially regarding the sense of social bonds and security nets. Extensive quotes follow.


Given the length of the quotes, just go the permanent book page.


Please Don't Remain Calm

Michael Kinsley: Please Don't Remain Calm: Provocations and Commentaries (2008, WW Norton)

I occasionally ran across Kinsley on television back during his buckraking days, where he supposedly represented the left end of the political spectrum. He seemed like a MOR Liberal, which meant he typically conceded about 75% of the argument, then got his ass kicked. I never much followed his writings. He was the first editor of Slate, which I never read unless I had a direct link to something reportedly interesting, then he moved on to the Los Angeles Times, ditto there. But I did briefly glance at his previous essay book, Big Babies: Vintage Whines (1995), and found that I thought he had a point -- an interesting take, even.

This is his second essay collection, picking up from where the previous one left off. I figured given the times he'd have plenty to whine about. The serial nature of opinion column books is sort of a memory aid, given as it is to exaggerating the importance of fleeting sensations and exposing short-lived misconceptions. On the other hand, such books are rarely worth hardcover price. But I found this one in the library, and figured this to be my chance. Started out by jotting down all of the section headings (in bold, including subheads), and started flipping the pages, reading bits here and there, copying down what seemed most relevant. Got quite a bit: some good stuff (turns of phrase, a fairly keen sense of Bush's political and moral contradictions), some gaffes (actually, more like errors in judgment). Pretty good writer; pretty fair thinker. More with us than against us, but often tempted to argue the other side, not so much to be ornery as to convince himself that he's fair.


Given the length of the quotes, just go the permanent book page.

Got email from Borders with the usual coupons and shit. Part of their advertising was to spotlight two new anti-Obama books. Under that were two links that caught my attention: "Books from the Left" and "Books from the Right." I clicked on them, figuring I should record their thinking for whatever that tells us. Here is:

Books from the Right (a conservative perspective):

  • Ben Stein: How to Ruin the United States of America
  • John McCain: Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life
  • John McCain: Hard Call: The Art of Great Decisions
  • Phil Valentine: The Conservative's Handbook: Defining the Right Position on Issues from A to Z
  • Ron Paul: The Revolution: A Manifesto
  • HCI: Republican's Soul: What It Means to Be Part of the GOP
  • Ralph Peters: Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World
  • Mel Martinez: A Sense of Belonging: From Castro's Cuba to the U.S. Senate, One Man's Pursuit of the American Dream
  • Glenn Beck: An Inconvenient Book: Real Solutions tothe World's Biggest Problems
  • George F Will: One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singluar Nation
  • Jonah Goldberg: Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning
  • Newt Gingrich: Real Change: From the World That Fails to the World That Works
  • John Perkins: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
  • Ann Coulter: If Democrats Had Any Brains They'd Be Republicans: Ann Coulter at Her Best, Funniest, and Most Outrageous
  • Dinesh D'Souza: What's So Great About Christianity
  • Patrick J Buchanan: Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed Are Tearing America Apart
  • Arlen Specter: Never Give In: Battling Cancer, and Politicians, in the Senate
  • Bill O'Reilly: Culture Warrior
  • John McCain: Worth the Fighting for: The Education of an American Maverick, and the Heroes Who Inspired Him
  • Bernard Goldberg: Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right: How One Side Lost Its Mind and the Other Lost Its Nerve

Books from the Left (a liberal perspective):

  • Barack Obama: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
  • David Sirota: The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington
  • Thomas Frank: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule
  • Robert C Byrd: Letter to a New President: Commonsense Lessons for Our Next Leader
  • Ronald Suskind: The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism
  • John R Talbott: Obamanomics: How Bottom-up Economic Prosperity Will Replace Trickle-down Economics
  • Jim Webb: A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America
  • Stephen Mansfield: The Faith of Barack Obama
  • Bill Moyers: Moyers on Democracy
  • HCI: Democrat's Soul: A Tried-and-True View of Everything Blue
  • Scott McClellan: What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception
  • Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
  • Vincent Bugliosi: The Prosecution of George W Bush for Murder
  • Richard A Clarke: Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters
  • Robert Wexler: Fire-Breathing Liberal: How I Learned to Survive (and Thrive) in the Contact Sport of Congress
  • Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
  • Matt Taibbi: The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire
  • David Mendell: Obama: From Promise to Power
  • George Lakoff: The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-century Politics With an 18th-century Brain
  • Al Gore: The Assault on Reason
  • Kevin Phillips: Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and Global Crisis of American Capitalism
  • David Cay Johnston: Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill)

Neither list is all that sharp. If you throw out the politicians (never a bad idea), where left-right is relative, their flacks and hacks, and the industry quickies (like the HCI books), a couple of instances of confusion (Perkins, Suskind, McClellan, Clarke, Phillips), and one actual instance of journalism (Scahill) you wind up with:

  • Right: Ralph Peters, Glenn Beck, George Will, Jonah Goldberg, Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, Pat Buchanan, Bill O'Reilly, Bernard Goldberg.
  • Left: David Sirota, Thomas Frank, Bill Moyers, Naomi Klein, Vincent Bugliosi, Matt Taibbi, George Lakoff, David Cay Johnston.

The Right books strike me as rants and hymnals, plus one piece of very bogus historizing (Jonah Goldberg), where Buchanan is a bit out of step from the mob. The Left is more diverse, with a couple of serious attempts at analysis (Klein, Frank), reporting (Johnston, Taibbi), a specific critique (Bugliosi), a piece of political theory (Lakoff), and whatever the Moyers book is -- a hymnal, perhaps, but it probably has a lot of journalistic meat as well.

One could construct other lists, and that would probably be a good idea.


Kansas GOP Embarrassments

We had a pretty quiet primary in Kansas yesterday. A couple of things are worth reporting. In particular, Johnson County Republicans spared themselves the embarrassment of nominating Phill Kline for District Attorney. Kline had used his one term as Kansas Attorney General obsessively to harass abortion services throughout the state. He was so monomaniacal about this that Johnson County's Republican District Attorney Paul Morrison switiched parties to run against Kline, winning 58%-41% in 2006. Kline, in one of the great chutzpah moves on Republican political history, revenged himself by moving into Johnson County, wrangling an appointment to fill the remainder of Morrison's term, fired virtually all of Morrison's staff, and spent the last two years conducting his holy war from Morrison's old office.

Because Morrison was elected District Attorney as a Republican, his successor was nominated by a caucus of the county GOP -- fewer than 500 Republicans in a suburban Kansas City county with more than 500,000 people, who gave Kline a margin of 35 votes. Kline lost his bid for a legitimate nomination by a 60%-40% margin.

In the other Republican primary race of note, former US Rep. Jim Ryun lost his bid to run against Nancy Boyda, the Democrat who had defeated him in 2006. Before he was first elected to the House in 1996, Ryun was best known as a legendary Wichita track star, the first high school runner to break the 4-minute mile. Since then, he's become known more as a religious nut case -- his son has a featured role in Michelle Goldberg's report on the Christian right, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. Ryun lost to the more moderate and more respectable State Treasurer Lynn Jenkins.

So the Republican Party managed to dodge a couple of big time embarrassments. But there are plenty more left on the ballot, including presumably safe Sen. Pat Roberts, sitting on $4 million in payola, and Rep. "Tanker Todd" Tiahrt, with at least $2 million. Both are poster boys for Washington's sleazy corruption, and Tiahrt is another religious nut job, although not quite as unhinged as Ryun. It would be a public service to get rid of both, if only the Democrats are up to fighting the system their complaisance has made possible.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Jazz Consumer Guide Surplus (CG #17)

Each Jazz CG cycle I go through a paperwork cycle, where I move what I wrote but didn't use and what I didn't write but might use and what I hadn't gotten around to yet to the next cycle's set of files. At that time, I realize that a lot of what I didn't use this time I won't be able to use next time -- or any time in the future -- so I try to cut them and clean up. As Jazz CG #17 closed, I had 122 records in by rated-but-unreviewed file, about a year's worth. I vowed to cut that in half, and managed to hack it down to 65. Most of these records are worthy of a Honorable Mention, but so are most of what I didn't cut. So, to compensate or to explain, I wrote up some quick comments on some of the cuts. The comments follow. The entire up-to-date surplus file is here. The latter file also includes long lists of records that also got flushed without additional comment. I assume that in these cases the explanations in the Jazz Prospecting file (here) suffice, although in most reissue/vault cases there are also Recycled Goods reviews.


The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Stompin' the Blues (2007 [2008], Arbors): Good enough it should have made the list of Harry Allen HMs, but it didn't, mostly because I found it a bit of a letdown -- just not enough to make the Duds list. Scott Hamilton guests but doesn't add much -- he never has played well with Allen even though they are by far the twin peaks of the swing revival niche. Trombonist John Allred adds a lot. Cohn remains a likable foil. B+(**)

JD Allen Trio: I Am I Am (2008, Sunnyside): Played this rated record again figuring I'd jot down a honorable mention line and that would be that. Came out with very little to say other than it's a very solid tenor sax trio outing with little extra to distinguish it, and that I may have overrated it a tad. Neither is a good sign during a pruning exercise. B+(***)

Louis Armstrong All Stars: Live in Zurich, Switzerland 18.10.1949 (1949 [2007], TCB): Previously unreleased live concert recording, with real All Stars -- Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole, Velma Middleton. You've heard most of it elsewhere -- like on The Complete Town Hall Concert (1947) or the first half of the 4-CD The California Concerts (1951-55), the latter one of the best investments you can ever make -- although the Hines spotlights stand out. Cutting this means throwing away a HM line: "A good will tour for Hines, Bigard, Teagarden, et al., jumpin' those good ol' good 'uns." Easy come, easy go. B+(***)

Paul Bley: Solo in Mondsee (2001 [2007], ECM): One of more than a dozen solo piano albums in his vast discography. Not even the most recent one, as the 2007-recorded About Time has since been released on Justin Time. I think this one is better; at any rate it is more thematic, which sometimes counts for something. I think he probably ranks as one of the five greatest living pianists, but he doesn't generally get that recognition. (He came in 12th in Downbeat 2008 Critics Poll, so he gets a little.) But I always have trouble with solo piano. B+(**)

The Paul Carlon Octet: Roots Propaganda (2008, Deep Tone): I got a lot of flack a while back when I touted an album by Hilary Noble and Rebecca Cline (Enclave) with a joke about yanks making breakthroughs in Latin music. Carlon is another example -- in fact, I come up with a lot of them (the best this round being Mike Ellis). Self-consciousness on this point may be why I slipped Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea by Carlon's Grupos Los Santos in as an HM instead of giving it the full A-list treatment, but I would also point out that I was short for words and short for space and an HM in hand this column might be better than hoping for better next time. This record is a notch below, a marginal HM that lost its hook. Carlon's not a flashy saxophonist, but he has good sense and he's always in the game. B+(**)

Joe Cohn: Restless (2006 [2007], Arbors): A nice effort by Al Cohn's guitarist son to step out into the spotlight away from his regular band senior partner Harry Allen, but alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky didn't provide enough juice on his cuts, so back comes . . . Harry Allen, for half a great album plus some pretty nice filler. Again, I could have/should have worked this in. B+(***)

Lars Danielsson & Leszek Mozdzer: Pasodoble (2006-07 [2007], ACT): Bass-piano duet, seems like a pretty self-limiting formula, but Danielsson's sound looms huge, and Mozdzer is bright and flashy, with the usual Polish attention to Chopin. B+(***)

Dave Douglas Quintet: Live at the Jazz Standard (2006 [2007], Greenleaf/Koch, 2CD): OK, I'm just being pissy here, but this is a problem in information management and I give up. Douglas originally decided editing was for wusses and released his full 12-hour stand as download only, like he was Miles Davis or something. (He is, but let's not go there, for now anyway.) I was offered a chance to listen in, but didn't take it up, figuring I don't have time to tether myself to the computer for that long, and that I wouldn't make much sense of it anyway. Then I found this 2-CD edit in the local library. Asked the publicist for a copy, which he denied existed. Wrote up a note on it, which said things like: "His pieces explode, scintillate, dumbfound." Gave it an approximate rating, which is probably right but could be low. Don't have a copy. When/if I do I'll reconsider. Logically, it is at least an HM, and would cluster nicely with Moonshine, held back for next JCG. B+(***)

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Live in Zurich, Switzerland 2.5.1950 (1950 [2007], TCB): Another live shot that came out along with the Armstrong (see above). Not quite as surefire, but actually has more historical interest: this wasn't one of Ellington's golden ages, so there's not a lot of live material from this period, and the lineup is pretty jumbled, although Don Byas is a treat in the tenor chair, and Johnny Hodges made the trip. B+(***)

The Engines (2006 [2007], Okka Disk): Seems like such a great group on paper, with three-fifths of the best edition of the Vandermark 5 plus Boston bassist Nate McBride (also in MI3 and the funkier Vandermark projects like Spaceways Inc. and Power Play). But it didn't quite jell, with Dave Rempis prone to a lot of nasty squawking, and Jeb Bishop's dirty swathes of trombone short on grease. My notes singled out Tim Daisy for praise. Should revisit it some day now that my expectations have been reset, but I haven't found time, much less inclination. There's actually quite a bit of stuff that Rempis and/or Daisy have done that I haven't heard and would like to check out: their two Triage albums are very impressive (the second was a pick hit). B+(**)

Erik Friedlander: Block Ice & Propane (2005 [2007], Skipstone): Solo cello, something of a tour de force if you're open to that sort of thing. I got it late, lost it for a while, never got all that comfortable with it, may have cut him too much slack, by now don't even remember clearly. Friedlander is one of maybe a dozen players putting cello on the jazz map, and he's probably the most successful of the bunch. He's made the JCG A-list before. Maybe I didn't cut him enough slack. B+(***)

Dennis González NY Quartet: At Tonic: Dance of the Soothsayer's Tongue (2003-04 [2007], Clean Feed): A prequel or sequel -- don't remember which right now -- to NY Midnight Suite, which is a shade better, but still not as satisfying as Nile River Suite from the same time or Idle Wild shortly later, which makes these otherwise fine sets -- only half actually recorded at Tonic -- something of a mop up operation. B+(**)

Jason Kao Hwang/Sang Won Park: Local Lingo (2006 [2007], Euonymus): Another opportunity for a mini-cluster, with Hwang's Stories Before Within on the HM list, but this is more marginal, or at least a lot more difficult. I have no idea how closely Park's zithers and voice follow Korean folk and/or classical norms -- for all I know this may sound as avant there as here. Hwang's violin negotiates this terrain with the skill and aplomb he always shows. B+(**)

Omer Klein: Introducing Omer Klein (2007 [2008], Smalls): Talented young Israeli pianist in a trio plus percussion, mostly upbeat, thoughtful with some nice texture. Album is a bit of a misnomer: my introduction was an earlier Duet with bassist Haggai Cohen Milo, on Fresh Sound New Talent, charming in its simplicity and nearly as good. I've been keeping it in play as well, but not having moved on it feel like clearing both out. We'll hear more from him. B+(***)

Joachim Kühn/Majid Bekkas/Ramon Lopez: Kalimba (2006 [2007], ACT): Content-wise, this belongs to Bekkas, whose voice, guembri, oud, and kalimba center everything. Kühn gives the Moroccan folk/pop/whatever some jazz cred, mostly with his piano, but he also plays more than respectable Ornette-ish alto sax. Lopez drums, and that helps too. B+(***)

Steve Kuhn Trio: Live at Birdland (2006 [2007], Blue Note): With Ron Carter and Al Foster, thoroughly enjoyable piano trio. Runs a little long, but never wears out its welcome. Still, it's been sitting too long, and the picture is further clouded by another Kuhn trio, Pastorale, nearly as good. Kuhn is one of those second-tier pianists who always seems good but never gets a lot of attention. Goes to show. B+(***)

Lisbon Improvisation Players: Spiritualized (2006, Clean Feed): Rodrigo Amado-led sax trio, plus guest trumpeter Dennis González -- probably responsible for the spirit theme -- and a spare cello on two of six cuts. Amado is a worthwhile saxophonist who has tempted me on a number of occasions but still hasn't lucked out. González has appeared a number of times. Terrific player; lifts the spirits of everyone he meets. B+(***)

Mat Marucci-Doug Webb Trio: Change-Up (2006 [2007], CIMP): A drummer and a saxophonist with widely scattered session credits get a shot to play free in Cadence's for-audiophiles-only studio, and make the most of it. I've managed to hustle Cadence into sending a couple of CIMP batches (they released 5 CDs four times a year), but keep missing their rare gems. This was the best of the batch, and slipped through the cracks. The missing trio name, by the way, is bassist Ken Filiano -- practically the gold star stamp of quality on left-of-center jazz records. B+(***)

Ravish Momin's Trio Tarana: Miren (A Longing) (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Indian percussionist, I liked his previous Climbing the Banyan Tree a lot, his follow up less so. Difference is the trio, where the violin slot went from Jason Kao Hwang to Sam Bardfeld and the bass-oud slot from Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz to Brandon Terzic, each trading a unique view of the world for more conventional jazz chops. Admirers of the former record will like this one and hope for more. I still hope for a reunion. B+(***)

Stanton Moore Trio: Emphasis on Parenthesis (2007 [2008], Telarc): Should have added this to the dud list, but it would have cost me an honorable mention. Moore is one of the better fusion drummers around, and his trio mates are solid frontliners: guitarist Will Bernard and organ pumper Robert Walter. The organ trio is overdone today as retro, but even worse as postmodern: just melts down to a sticky mess. Walter's Cure All (Palmetto) and Bernard's Night for Day (Bju'ecords) wound up low B+, so they got no ink either. B-

Dave Mullen and Butta: Mahoney's Way (2006 [2007], Roberts Music Group): Interesting ambitions; he comes off looking like an American Courtney Pine, which is to say he wants to be massively successful as well as creatively brilliant, but the way things work over here is that that's an either/or proposition at best -- even in England the combo is only achieved by people like Pine who aren't really either no matter what they dream. But for now he has a synthesis that sort of works, especially when he covers Stevie Wonder and gets help from Nile Rodgers. B+(**)

Bernardo Sassetti: Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (2005-06 [2007], Clean Feed): An honorable disappointment after his pick hit Ascent. Sassetti is a Portugese pianist who tends to work in soundtrack motifs anyway, and that's where he goes with this, adding all sorts of guests for marginal effects -- the percussion can be especially intriguing. B+(**)

Matthew Shipp: Piano Vortex (2007, Thirsty Ear): After several very successful jazz + electronics records, you sense that Shipp felt the need to reestablish his credentials as a serious avant-garde jazz pianist, first with his solo album One, then with this trio. No complaints, other than that I got this so late that it had already been written up by Francis Davis and Gary Giddins and every other jazz critic of note, many putting it on their year-end lists. I don't have much to add to that. A-

Speak in Tones: Subaro (2003-04 [2005], Alpha Pocket, 2CD): Got three Mike Ellis records, a natural cluster with Bahia Band the choice, the other two marginal HMs, but managed to drop their names in the main review. This is actually the big project, a collaboration with percussionist Daniel Moreno, recorded in New York with a 16-piece group including Brazilians and Malians as well as local internationalists like Jerry Gonzalez and Adam Rudolph. Long groove pieces; some edge to the horns. B+(**)

Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen (2003 [2006], Omnitone): A fairly amazing album that I never really understood and never got back to, although it's been lingering on my list for over two years. Willis plays tenor sax and ten other wind instruments in a 7-piece group with a lot of options, including some impressive guitar from Pete McCann and percussion from John Hollenbeck. Liner notes play off Satie, quantum mechanics, and psychedelia, so there's plenty to be confused about. B+(***)

Saco Yasuma: Another Rain (2006 [2007], Leaf Note): First album, a Japanese alto saxophonist in New York, she has a cutting tone that sounded especially liberating when I put it on after a long series of now-forgotten dreck. Now I'm not sure how good she really is, but she rounded up a superior group with Roy Campbell stealing her spotlight and Michael TA Thompson on drums, and gave Golda Solomon a spoken word guest shot that sent me in search of Solomon's records (not as good as here). B+(***)


Jazz Consumer Guide #17: Flush Notes

I suppose this would be as good a time as any to clean out the bk-flush file. I usually do this after the Jazz CG is published, at which time I also clean out the bk-print file. The latter has to wait because I never know for sure what gets cut/held back until it happens. But the flush file is purely an internal cycle-specific system. And for once I'm on top of the cycle shift.

These entries should correspond to the lists in the surplus file.


  1. The Cannonball Adderley Sextet: In New York (Keepnews Collection) (1962 [2008], Riverside): Starts with the leader explaining that they've made a bunch of live records in San Francisco, but hadn't done one in New York before because they didn't think the audience was hip enough. However, now it turns out that the matinee audience passed muster, so they figure they'll give it a try. The sextet swings effortlessly, but their slickness leaves a greasy aftertaste, and tenor sax man Yusef Lateef's forays into exotica, including bits on oboe and flute, seem out of place. B
  2. Nat Adderley: Work Song (1960 [2008], Riverside/Keepnews Collection): Cannonball's little brother plays a lean, unpolished cornet, backed by a group that straddles Bobby Timmons' funk-groove piano and Wes Montgomery's slickened blues guitar. The irresistibly catchy title cut makes this a minor hard bop classic. A-
  3. Jason Ajemian: The Art of Dying (2007 [2008], Delmark): Chicago Underground bassist, leads a trio Smokeless Heat with Tim Haldeman on tenor sax and Noritaka Tanaka on drums. For the studio sessions here the trio is expanded to a sextet, giving the composer more options and the musicians less. They try interesting things, but it sounds rather pro forma. At least until the last cut, a 23:54 radio shot with just the trio, no clutter, everyone sharp as tacks. B+(*)
  4. 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+(*)
  5. Jorge Albuquerque/Marcos Amorim/Rafael Barata: Revolving Landscapes (2005 [2008], Adventure Music): Bass, guitar, drums, respectively, from Brazil, recorded in Rio de Janeiro. Soft mood music, tightly strung. Writing credits are divided between Albuquerque and Amorim. I've run across Amorim before, and he's always impressed. This seems more subdued, with the more prominent bass slowing down and flattening out the guitar. Not that that's a complaint. B+(**)
  6. 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+(**)
  7. The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Stompin' the Blues (2007 [2008], Arbors): Allen is one of my favorite tenor saxophonists, and his collaboration with guitarist Cohn (Al Cohn's son) continues to be fruitful. The medley of "It Might as Well Be Spring" and "Spring Is Here" is especially delightful. Still, this record doesn't quite deliver on its promise. One problem is that "special guest" Scott Hamilton, who pretty much invented the "young fogey" genre, never seems to mesh well with Allen: the two distinctive tones don't fit together nicely, and when they trade lines Allen may be too deferential. Hamilton only appears on three cuts here, but seems to influence more. Or maybe it's a weakness in Allen's originals (4 of 10, more than usual), including the title cut, which doesn't stomp nearly hard enough. On the other hand, the other "special guest" is a solid contributor throughout: trombonist John Allred. B+(**)
  8. JD Allen Trio: I Am I Am (2008, Sunnyside): Proof that my eyes are shot to shit, although I could try blaming the typography, which at worst is illegible and even at large sizes sows confusion. But it doesn't reflect well on my brain either. Since I got this I had it filed under unknown Jo Allen. Finally it dawned on me that we're talking J.D. Allen. I should have realized that immediately, or no later than when I played the record. Allen's a tenor saxophonist, from Detroit, b. 1972 (AMG sez 1974), broke in with Betty Carter, won some prizes for his 1996 debut, and has stood out everywhere he's played since then. This is basic sax trio, riding on the leader's tone and dynamics, which are classic. Hype sheet starts by comparing him with Joe Henderson. That's a good start, although I wouldn't go on to call him "the Tenor of our Time." But it was stupid on my part to have forgotten about him. B+(***)
  9. Susie Arioli Band: Live at Le Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (2006 [2008], Justin Time, CD+DVD): Canadian singer, originally from Toronto, now based in Montreal; interprets standards mostly from the swing era, although she's also shown a special fondness for country tunesmith Roger Miller -- two of his songs here. Band credit adds "featuring Jordan Officer" -- Officer plays guitar, wrote a couple of instrumentals, has been a fixture in Arioli's band since 1998, but the band also features a second guitarist, Michael Jerome Browne, as well as bass (Shane MacKenzie). Drummer Rémi LeClerc is listed here as a special guess, but Arioli plays a snare with brushes, and that mostly suffices. DVD repeats the live CD tracks in slightly different order, adding 5 songs (or 6 counting "Nuages" in the extras). Hype sheet says she's sold 200k copies over 4 previous albums. Crowd is packed, mood is romantic, music mellow and tasteful. B+(**)
  10. Louis Armstrong All Stars: Live in Zurich, Switzerland 18.10.1949 (1949 [2007], TCB): Previously unreleased, presumably a live concert recording, pretty much the usual set, jumpin' those good ol' good 'uns. All Stars indeed: Jack Teagarden (trombone, vocals), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Earl Hines (piano), Arvell Shaw (bass), Cozy Cole (drums), Velma Middleton (vocals). Two vocals each by Teagarden and Middleton. Hines get a long intro to "Honeysuckle Rose" and holds court for "Fine and Dandy." Bigard gets a feature on "High Society." Pops MC's, sings a few, and plays his usual spectacular trumpet. Nothing new if you've heard The Complete Town Hall Concert (1947) or the All Stars' half of The California Concerts -- 4 CDs from 1951-55 that are never less than magnificent. B+(***)
  11. The Joe Ascione Quartet: Movin' Up (2007 [2008], Arbors): Drummer, b. 1961, third album as leader (first was a tribute to Buddy Rich), plus 60 or more side credits, including membership in Frank Vignola projects Travelin' Light and the Frank and Joe Show (he's Joe). Quartet includes Frank Tate on bass, John Cocuzzi on piano and vibes, and Allan Vaché on clarinet, an interesting and somewhat whimsical lineup, especially when the vibes are in play. Mostly tunes from Gershwin and Porter, with some oddities thrown in -- "The Aba Daba Honeymoon," "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah's Got Rhythm." "Norwegian Wood" usually makes me gag, but he almost gets away with it. B+(*)
  12. Albert Ayler/Don Cherry/John Tchicai/Roswell Rudd/Gary Peacock/Sunny Murray: New York Eye and Ear Control (1964 [2008], ESP-Disk): Ayler's record, but all names are on the cover (Murray's misspelled) and all are notable: the four horns churning tumultuously, with Ayler's tenor sax reaching for the sacred, and Rudd's trombone plumbing the profane. B+(*)
  13. Jamie Baum Septet: Solace (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Flautist, originally from Connecticut, studied at New England Conservatory and Manhattan School of Music, now based in New York. Fourth album since 1992. Composed everything, with her flute often taking a back seat to the group. Didn't expect much, but two performances struck me before I had any idea who was in the band: the opening trumpet (Ralph Alessi) and piano throughout (George Colligan -- also plays some razzling Fender Rhodes). Alto/baritone saxophonist Douglas Yates also plays notably. Four-part "Ives Suite" sit in the middle, with an RFK speech sample kicking off the "Questions Unanswered" movement. Too many classical moves for my taste, but so many surprising turns I may be selling it short. B+(*)
  14. 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+(*)
  15. Joe Beck & John Abercrombie: Coincidence (2007 [2008], Mixed Media): Guitar duets. Mostly standards, plus one original from Beck, two from Abercrombie. Abercrombie is by far the better known, with a long string of albums on ECM. Beck has a pretty scattered career, with fusion, funk, and soul jazz as well as more mainstream records. Both are contemporaries (Abercrombie born 1944, Beck 1945). This seems evenly balanced, conversational even. B+(**)
  16. Bob Belden: Miles . . . From India (2007 [2008], Times Square/4Q, 2CD): Got the final packaging, which is a nice double fold-out thing with a 16-page booklet tucked away. No artist name on spine, but front cover says "Produced by Bob Belden" below the title and "A Celebration of the Music of Miles Davis" above. Concept is to round up a bunch of Davis veterans, mostly from the 1970s (although Jimmy Cobb and Ron Carter go back further), mix in a bunch of Indian musicians (American alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is a plausible ringer; Badal Roy and U. Srinivas are among the better known natives). Of course, they needed a trumpet also, hence Wallace Roney. Although the band is touring, the record itself was pieced together in multiple sessions with various combinations. One notable exception is John McLaughlin, who only appears on one cut, the title track, the only one not from Davis. A mix of good and bad but mostly obvious ideas -- I could have done without the chants which hold it too close to India. Miles always preferred to move on. B+(**)
  17. 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+(**)
  18. 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+(**)
  19. Bernard Emer Lackner Ferber: Night for Day (2007 [2008], Bju'ecords): Cover and spine just list last names, as if that's all the hint one needs. Drummer Ferber and guitarist Bernard are in my mental index, but not bassist Emer or pianist Lackner. All but Ferber write songs, as does someone named Strayhorn. File it under Bernard, whose primacy isn't just alphabetical. Although Lackner wrote more pieces, Bernard's guitar lines run away with them. B+(*)
  20. Gene Bertoncini: Concerti (2005 [2008], Ambient): Veteran guitarist, one of the better players from a generation where swing was the highest compliment -- Bucky Pizzarelli is comparable, a little better known. However, he bit off too much of the wrong stuff this time. One problem is that the sound drowns in strings, with his guitar and David Finck's bass wrapped around a traditional string quartet. The other problem is the song selection: a medley of Chopin and Jobim, another of Rodrigo and Chick Corea, a couple of Cole Porter chestnuts, and the always dreadful "Eleanor Rigby." C+
  21. Cindy Blackman: Music for the New Millennium (2008, Sacred Sound, 2CD): Drummer, born 1959 in Ohio, raised in Connecticut, studied at Berklee and with Alan Dawson. Has a pile of records as a leader: 4 on Muse, 3 on High Note. Don't know when this was recorded (AMG lists whole thing as 2004, which looks to be wrong). Quartet, with JD Allen on tenor sax, Carlton Holmes on keyboards, George Mitchell on bass. AMG classifies Blackman as hard bop, which seems fair: this is solid mainstream fare with nothing aiming towards postbop. Blackman's drumming is heightened in the mix, but not heavy handed. It's her record, and shows her off well. I'm even more impressed with Allen. He's got a distinct tone, commanding presence, can move around and flash some muscle. From Detroit, about 33, has two albums I haven't heard -- the one called Pharoah's Children most likely has nothing to do with Sanders. B+(**)
  22. Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band: Season of Changes (2008, Verve): Drummer, from Shreveport, LA, has two previous Brian Blade Fellowship albums on Blue Note (1998-2000), which is how this advance was listed. Blade has a long and prominent side credit list since 1994 -- Brad Mehldau, Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Mark Turner, Ryan Kisor, David Berkman, Wayne Shorter, Norah Jones, Joni Mitchell, Wolfgang Muthspiel (a duo I like a lot, Friendly Travelers). This has a slick postbop sound, mostly running on Jon Cowherd's keyboards -- Cowherd wrote 3 of 9 songs and co-produced -- thickly coated with Kurt Rosenwinkel guitar. Saxophonists Myron Walden and Chris Thomas show up intermittently, adding some more conventional jazz moves, even a little bite. B+(**)
  23. Jon Balke: Book of Velocities (2006 [2008], ECM): Solo piano, four chapter, nineteen pieces counting the epilogue, velocities ranging from slow to slow, sparse sketches you have to reach for. I don't dislike it, especially as background, but don't quite know what to do with it either. B
  24. Barnyard Drama: I'm a Navvy (2005 [2006], Barnyard): Toronto group, experimental rock, at best sounds like Captain Beefheart with, oh, Lydia Lunch singing -- singer's name is Christine Duncan. Jean Martin, who has some more jazz-oriented releases, is the drummer, plus there are two guitarists. A cut called "Sigh, Me Good" is built around a monster bass riff (no bass credit, so who knows?) with a lot of scattered electronic noise that almost cancels the effect. B+(*)
  25. Carla Bley: The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (2007, Watt): The Lost Chords was a 2004 group/album name, the group led by pianist-composer Bley and including Andy Sheppard (soprano and tenor sax), Steve Swallow (bass), and Billy Drummond (drums). Fresu is a well-regarded trumpet/flugelhorn player from Sardinia. He has a couple dozen albums since 1985, almost all on hard-to-find Italian labels -- a half-dozen filtered down to my shopping list, but I've never managed to pick up any. He fits in very nicely here, topping out Bley's melodies, including an extended meditation on bananas, and burnishing Sheppard's sax lines to a bright brassy sheen. B+(**)
  26. Paul Bley Trio: Closer (1965 [2008], ESP-Disk): Not sure exactly where this fits in the marital chronology, but this is built on first wife Carla Bley's compositions (7 of 10), and ends with second wife Annette Peacock's "Cartoon," with one of the pianist's ("Figfoot") and one by Ornette Coleman ("Crossroads"). Adding to the incestuousness is bassist Steve Swallow, who if memory serves wound up as Carla Bley's third husband. As far as I know, percussionist Barry Altschul has no further involvement. One of the high points in Bley's distinguished discography: deft, light, almost jaunty, largely attributable to the songs but all three players pull it off. He returned to Carla Bley's songs several times in the future, and recorded whole Annette Peacock albums as well, but none match this first menage à trois. A-
  27. Paul Bley: Solo in Mondsee (2001 [2007], ECM): Released for Bley's 75th birthday. Touted as his first solo piano on ECM since 1972's Open, to Love. He's recorded numerous solo albums elsewhere -- Penguin Guide mentions 12, most recently Nothing to Declare (2003 [2004], Justin Time), recorded after but out before this one. This one is slower, of course; per Dr. Eicher's Rx, no doubt. I also like it a shade better, although with solo piano I'm not much of a judge. Ten Roman-numeraled variations, on what I'm not sure, but consistently interesting, never dull. Bley has had quite a career, starting in 1953 with the marvelous Introducing Paul Bley, a trio backed by guys named Blakey and Mingus. A couple of years later he hired an unknown alto saxophonist, Ornette Coleman. He also married a pianist, Carla Borg; after she took his name and went her own way, he married vocalist Annette Peacock. He moved into free jazz in the 1960s, most notably with Jimmy Guiffre's trio. He has a vast discography, which I've only occasionally sampled and barely grasp, but often find intriguing. B+(**)
  28. 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+(*)
  29. Jane Ira Bloom: Mental Weather (2007 [2008], Outline): Soprano sax specialist, plays pretty in front of a quartet that sometimes seems to be in revolt -- especially when the tempo picks up and bassist Mark Helias takes charge. Those are the most interesting moments here, but they are broken up by slow spots, where the weather turns balmy -- pleasant enough. B+(**)
  30. Boston Horns: Shibuya Gumbo (2008, Boston Horns): I only count two horns -- tenor/baritone saxophonist Henley Douglas Jr. and trumpeter Garret Savluk -- occasionally reinforced by guest trombone: hardly a Tower of Power, although the rhythm section -- Jeff Buckridge (guitar), Ben Zecker (keyboards), Craig Weiman (bass), Peter MacLean (drums) -- are up to snuff. The other guest of note is local Boston bluesman Barrence Whitfield on four tracks, like "Givin' Up Food for Funk" and "A Real Mother for Ya." The funk starts thick but wears thin; the vocal help but not enough. B
  31. 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+(*)
  32. Georg Breinschmid & Friends: Wien Bleibt Krk (2008, Zappel Music): Austrian bassist, b. 1973, based in Vienna. AMG lists him twice, once under classical, again under folk. Don't know about that, but his jazz project list includes: Pago Libre (not a founder, but on a recent record), Christian Muthspiel Trio, a trio with Beni Schmid (violin) and Stian Carstensen (accordion, both present here), a duo with Thomas Gansch (trumpet, also here), a duo with Agnes Heginger (vocals, also here), and a Charles Mingus homage sextet. Project here uses several of those groups plus a few extra guests. Five songs have vocals, including a funny one mostly in English. The instrumental pieces are mostly done with bass and two violins (3 cuts) or bass-violin-accordion (4 cuts); the only horn is Gansch's trumpet (2 cuts); no drums. Some waltz and tango pieces. Very Germanic, albeit with a fanciful sense of humor. B+(**)
  33. Bridge Quartet: Day (2007 [2008], Origin): First album by group: Alan Jones (drums), Tom Wakeling (bass), Darrell Grant (piano), Phil Dwyer (tenor sax). Jones (from Portland, OR), seems to be the leader, but the group is built to showcase Dwyer (from British Columbia) -- "Bridge" is a Sonny Rollins reference, and Dwyer's likely to be happy with all the Rollins comparisons he can gather. Grant is by far the better known player; he has a relatively small role here, expertly done. Mainstream, but brash, loud, wide open, a mother lode of tenor sax. B+(**)
  34. Howard Britz: Here I Stand (2007 [2008], Tee Zee): Bassist, born in England in 1961, moved to US in 1991, passing through Boston (Berklee, New England Conservatory) and Philadelphia before settling in Brooklyn in 1998. Bop quintet with David Smith on trumpet/flugelhorn and Casey Benjamin on alto sax. Sometimes sounds standard, sometimes postbop, sometimes they even swing a little, or work in a little Latin boogaloo. Don't think much of the horns, but the pianist blows me away. George Colligan. Not the first time that's happened. B
  35. Bobby Broom: The Way I Play (2007 [2008], Origin): Chicago guitarist, b. 1961, sixth album since 1995 (the first of two on Criss Cross), plus more records with Deep Blue Organ Trio. Trio, with Dennis Carroll on bass, Kobie Watkins on drums. Front cover photo is tightly cropped around guitar, and that sums up the album. Plays within Wes Montgomery's framework, but more tightly wound. Set is a mix of standards and bop tunes, most of the former well known from the latter, but none played to type. He meant this as a showcase, and that's what he got. B+(*)
  36. The Amazing World of Arthur Brown: The Voice of Love (2007 [2008], Zoho Roots): One of the few causes celêbres I flat out missed in the 1960s -- AMG's "similar artists" list includes Jimi Hendrix, HP Lovecraft, Syd Barrett, and Carl Palmer; I had sort of been under the impression he was the English Dr. John, but maybe I'm confusing him with Jethro Dull. Anyway, he's hardly Amazing any more -- sort of a blues rocker with a little folkie twang in the guitar. One hoedown song had enough mustard on it I thought I might not be able to dismiss him out of hand. But then the next song came on. B
  37. Brownout: Homenaje (2005-07 [2008], Freestyle): Austin, TX group, with Adrian Quesada and Beto Martinez (guitars), Greg Gonzalez (bass), Gilbert Elorreaga (trumpet), Josh Levy (baritone sax), Len Gauna (trombone), Johnny Lopez III (drums), Matthew "Sweet Lou" Holmes (congas), some guest timbales and shekere. Horns and percussion signify Latin, but the beat is straightforward, more funk than anything else. Quesada has moved on to form Grupo Fantasma and work with Ocote Soul Sounds. B
  38. George Cables: Morning Song (1980 [2008], High Note): Archive tape, recorded at Keystone Korner in San Francisco, only the year specified, but probably two separate dates. Four songs are done by a quartet, with Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Cables (piano), John Heard (bass), and Sherman Ferguson (drums). The other six cuts are solo piano. The latter are densely figured, intense. I've only heard a couple of Cables' albums, don't have much of a feel for him as a leader or soloist, don't have an opinion how well they stack up. I'm much more familiar with him as an accompanist, especially with Art Pepper, which was his main gig at the time. Pepper's albums with Cables are among his greatest. Henderson has rather limited range on trumpet, but opens up delightfully with Cables' ebullient swing. B+(*)
  39. Cannon Re-Loaded: An All-Star Celebration of Cannonball Adderley (2006 [2008], Concord): An assembled studio band, doing ten songs more/less associated with Adderley. Group leader and alto saxophonist is Tom Scott, the all-star of L.A. studio hacks. He doesn't break any new ground, but he's got a gorgeous sound, swings hard, and carries the album. Playing Nate is an underutilized Terence Blanchard. The keyboards are doubled up with Larry Goldings on organ and George Duke on everything else. Marcus Miller plays bass, spelled by Dave Carpenter on two cuts. Steve Gadd is the drummer. I could do without Nancy Wilson singing two songs, but have to admit that "The Masquerade Is Over" ain't half bad. The Adderleys were respectable hard boppers who somehow were remarkably popular, an equation that doesn't seem to be repeatable any more, even though it's hard to imagine how anyone could dislike them. This is an honest, somewhat obvious attempt to bring them back and make them sound contemporary. Works about as well as it can -- but 50 years ago we were different, mostly younger (as I recall). B+(**)
  40. Caribbean Jazz Project: Afro Bop Alliance (2008, Heads Up): Cover adds: featuring Dave Samuels. Plays vibes and marimba; also wrote 5 of 9 songs, all of the originals. Group has horns at full big band strength, with -- how unusual these days -- none of the sax players doubling on flute. The Latin rhythm is omnipresent but indistinctive, a layered foundation, perhaps to set up the vibes that often vanish in the mix. B-
  41. 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+(**)
  42. 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+(**)
  43. Don Cherry: Live at Café Montmartre 1966: Volume Two (1966 [2008], ESP-Disk): Sloppy seconds in Copenhagen, with Gato Barbieri's tenor sax sparring with the leader's trumpet over the fractured field of Karl Berger vibes, playing such complex Cherry compositions as "Complete Communion" loose and short-handed. Doc is better this time, confirming that this set was recorded Mar. 31, 1966, and that Volume One came from Mar. 17, 1966 -- dates that line up with previous LP releases on Magnetic. Berger's vibes here are so scattered they're comic. Bo Stief plays bass, Aldo Romano drums. B
  44. 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-
  45. Evan Christopher: Delta Bound (2006 [2007], Arbors): A young student of the New Orleans clarinet tradition, starting with Lorenzo Tio Jr. and leading through Tony Parenti but with no explicit reference to George Lewis. Whereas most New Orleans jazz uses clarinet for contrast against the brass, this quartet, with Dick Hyman textbook perfect as usual, singles it out. For better or worse, without the competition Christopher never gets the chance to go wild. B+(**)
  46. Antonio Ciacca Quintet: Rush Life (2008, Motéma): Italian pianist; b. 1969, Wuppertal, Germany; graduated G.B. Martini Conservatory of Contemporary Music in Bologna; moved to Detroit, and is currently based in New York. Fifth record since 1996. Hard bop quintet lineup, with Joe Magnarelli on trumpet and Stacy Dillard on tenor sax, both players who can command a solo. The pianist is less distinctive, but steers the group capably. B+(*)
  47. Gerald Cleaver: Gerald Cleaver's Detroit (2006 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, from Detroit, based in Brooklyn (where this, despite its title, was recorded). Second album, plus 50-60 side credits. I mostly associate him with the avant-garde, since I've often run into him on records by Matthew Shipp, Roscoe Mitchell, Charles Gayle, Joe Morris, Mat Maneri, and Rob Brown. But he also shows up on more conventional postbop fare, including records by his group here: Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), JD Allen (tenor sax), Andrew Bishop (soprano/tenor sax, bass clarinet), Ben Waltzer (piano), Chris Lightcap (bass). (Actually, I don't see Pelt in his credits list.) Some flashy hornwork here, strong moments, although it's a little de trop for my taste. (Too bad he couldn't get his mentor, Detroit's patron saint Marcus Belgrave, instead of Pelt.) B+(*)
  48. Dawn Clement: Break (2007 [2008], Origin): Pianist, from Seattle, sings some, somewhat awkwardly, but can be effective. Has a previous album, Hush, and appears on albums with Julian Priester and Jane Ira Bloom. Trio with Dean Johnson on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. I'm unconvinced one way or another about the piano, which strikes me as serious but studiously mainstream. Johnson and Wilson offer dependable support. B+(*)
  49. CNY Jazz Orchestra: Then, Now & Again (2007 [2008], CNY): Big band, organized by the Central New York Jazz Arts Foundation, based in Syracuse, NY, under the musical direction of Bret Zvacek. I've never heard of any of the musicians here, or for that matter of Zvacek, who wrote 2 of 10 pieces and arranged several others. They all seem very capable, with respectable solos and solid ensemble work. More modernist than swing, although they can. My package says "CD/DVD Collector's Edition," but only has CD (not that I'm complaining). B+(*)
  50. Joe Cohn: Restless (2006 [2007], Arbors): Al Cohn's son, basically a rhythm guitarist, which means he tends to disappear behind the horns regardless of how much swing he contributes. Co-led a group that put out a terrific album last year, but most of the credit went to his partner Harry Allen, who does that sort of thing all the time. Here Cohn is alone on the cover, mostly working with a mild-mannered alto saxophonist named Dmitry Baevsky. Their cuts are uniformly nice. But on five cuts, Allen appears as a guest, and he really slices the bacon. So in the end this is half a Harry Allen album -- an inconvincing step forward for Cohn, but one with much to enjoy. B+(***)
  51. Ornette Coleman: Town Hall, 1962 (1962 [2008], ESP-Disk): Three cuts with the trio -- David Izenzon on bass, Charles Moffett on percussion -- that in 1965 cut At the Golden Circle, Stockholm, both volumes highly recommended. This is less essential but unmistakable, more for folks who can never get enough. Sandwiched in the middle is a 9:17 string quartet, Coleman's first recorded glimpse of his harmolodic chamber music. It is something else again, classical music in form, but not in smell. B+(***)
  52. 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-
  53. 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
  54. Sheila Cooper: Tales of Love and Longing (2006 [2007], Panorama): Singer/alto saxophonist, originally from Canada, now based in New York, working in a cozy little duo with Austrian pianist Fritz Pauer. Third album. My "pre-release copy" only identifies Panorama as the label, but it looks like this has been picked up and reissued (or will be -- don't have date) by Candid. Songs, including one original, tend to be slow and torchy, her voice capable and assured but not all that remarkable. I do, however, love the sound of her saxophone in these tight settings. B+(*)
  55. 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+(**)
  56. Dominique Cravic & Les Primitifs du Futur: Tribal Musette (2007-08 [2008], Sunnyside): It's tempting to view this French cabaret group through the prism of their famous cover illustrator and sometime mandoline player, R. Crumb. Like the Cheap Suit Serenaders, guitarist Cravic's band is firmly planted in the past, its embrace of primtivism rooted in the romantic view of anthropology, with a little sci-fi for the future. For me it works not for its longing for other times so much as how disarmingly and charmingly French it all sounds: the accordions, marimba, clarinets, "musicale saw," "finger snapping," rhythm guitar, voices ranging from cigarette-stained poetasting to sweet chorales. Where we tend to think of world music as anything-but-ours, in France the view seems to be everything-including-ours. A-
  57. Marilyn Crispell: Vignettes (2007 [2008], ECM): Solo piano, rather far removed from her early avant-garde exploits -- clearly, she's on her best behavior. Also seems more self-organized than her other well-behaved ECM albums. I'm tempted to recommend it as a puzzle, but not having any idea what the answer is I could be way off base. B+(**)
  58. Alexis Cuadrado: Puzzles (2007 [2008], Bju'ecords): Bassist, from Barcelona (Spain), based in Brooklyn where he was a founder of Brooklyn Jazz Underground. Two previous albums on Fresh Sound New Talent. Wrote all pieces, using a quartet of sax (Loren Stillman), guitar (Brad Shepik), bass, and drums (Mark Ferber), with trombone (Alan Ferber) on three cuts, organ (Pete Rende) on one. Underground is less an attitude in jazz these days than a state of existence. Cuadrado plays moderate postbop, close to where the mainstream would flow if it did, but he's a sensible composer, and his bass helps lift the band. Shepik has several especially fertile stretches here. B+(**)
  59. Lars Danielsson & Leszek Mozdzer: Pasodoble (2006-07 [2007], ACT): Bass-piano duet. Swedish bassist, born 1958, has more than a dozen albums as a leader, many more as a sideman. How many is hard to tell because there's a Danish bassist named Lars Danielsson whose website claims to have appeared on more than 100 albums -- appears to be more of a funk/rock player, but he's worked with Nils Landgren and took over a teaching position in Copenhagen from NHØP. Mozdzer is a Polish pianist with the usual Chopin in his closet. The two sound terrific together, in large part because Danielsson's sound is so resonant, underscored all the more by the brightness of the piano. B+(***)
  60. Dapp Theory: Layers of Chance (2008, Contrology/ObliqSound): Quintet, led by pianist Andy Milne, with Loren Stillman (alto sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet), Christopher Tordini (electric and acoustic bass), Sean Rickman (drums, percussion), and John Moon (vocals, aka percussive poetry). Second album. A couple of guests, including a Becca Stevens vocal that doesn't help. Moon's poesy is another matter, giving the rhythm section something firm to get under. Stillman is quite impressive in this context, both leading on alto sax and coloring in with his other instruments. B+(**)
  61. The Roger Davidson Trio: Bom Dia (2007 [2008], Soundbrush): Pianist, cashed in his classical training to specialize in Latin music, or more specifically here in Brazilian. Trio is augmented by guest percussionist Marivado dos Santos. Bright and bouncy. B+(**)
  62. Hamilton de Holanda & André Mehmari: Continuous Friendship (2007 [2008], Adventure Music): Brazilians; de Holanda, b. 1976, plays mandolin; Mehmari, b. 1977, plays piano. Both have several previous albums -- de Holanda's more easily accessible on the US-based Adventure Music label. I'll take their word about the friendship, but it sounds to me like there is a lot of tension in these encounters, but maybe they're just intense (not the same thing as discordant). Impresive, but also wearing, and a little thin, as duos often are. B+(**)
  63. Tom Dempsey & Tim Ferguson: What's Going On? (2007 [2008], City Tone): Dempsey plays guitar; Ferguson bass. Just duets: slow-to-moderate, intimate, quite lovely. Couple of originals, scattered covers, including Marvin Gaye title song, "Stardust," Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan," Charlie Haden's "First Song (For Ruth)," two pieces from different Jones brothers. B+(**)
  64. Alessandro D'Episcopo Trio: Meraviglioso (2005 [2007], Altrisuoni): Fine piano trio, leaning hard on four Monk pieces, which set the rhythmic frame for a few originals, a trad. Neapolitan song, and the title track from Domenico Modugno. B+(**)
  65. Michael Dessen Trio: Between Shadow and Space (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Nice new packaging for this batch of Clean Feed releases: a thin cardboard fold-out sleeve with a clear plastic liner for the disc. Dessen plays trombone and computer. Studied at Eastman School of Music, University of Massachusetts, UC San Diego; teaches at UC, Irvine. Has several academic papers, including two on Yusef Lateef. Second album, not counting four with group Cosmologic. Trio includes Christopher Tordini on bass, Tyshawn Sorey on percussion. Free trombone over a dense and intriguing brew of bass, percussion, and whatever. B+(**)
  66. DJ Logic/Jason Miles: Global Noize (2008, Shanachie): Keyboardist Miles is a smooth jazz studio hack who has lately taken to attaching himself to respectable bodies of work -- Ivan Lins, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye -- to little or no gain, but his networking on Soul Summit: Live at the Berks Jazz Fest! paid off with a pleasurable set of retro soul, and this collaboration with turntablist DJ Logic, aka Jason Kibler, folds a wide range of guests into a mix of exotica that is subtly shifting rather than garish. Advance listed Miles first; final copy moves Logic up front. Billy Martin and Cyro Baptista help with the beats, which are hard to pin down to any locale smallerthan global. Karl Denson, MeShell Ndegeocello, Herb Alpert, Vernon Reid, John Popper, Bernie Worrell, Christian Scott, get props on the front cover, as well as "and others" -- Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist James Genus, and tabla whiz Suphala are other names I recognize, but the vocalists are beneath my radar. B+(*)
  67. Bryan Doherty Band: Rigamarole (2007 [2008], Origin): Bassist (electric, I think), based in Chicago, can't find any bio info, but he lists Jaco Pastorius first on his MySpace influences list. First album, sextet, with guitar (John McLean), Fender Rhodes (Marcin Fahmy), drums (Michael Raynor), percussion (Javier Saume), and tenor sax (Louis Stockwell). Basically a fusion joint, with clean lines and some grit in the sax. B+(*)
  68. Droppin' Science: Greatest Samples From the Blue Note Lab (1966-74 [2008], Blue Note): With Alfred Lion and Francis Wolf departing, the legendary label foundered, adrift in quasi-commercial soul jazz with languid beats that I suppose have been sampled from time to time -- no details here, just another attempt to turn sows' ears into silk purses. C+
  69. Dave Douglas Quintet: Live at the Jazz Standard (2006 [2007], Greenleaf/Koch, 2CD): Working off a copy from the Wichita Public Library, which is too bad because I'll have to give it back in way before I can sort it out. The music comes from December 2006, and is part of a massive 12-hour set being sold download only. The group consists of Douglas on cornet, Donny McCaslin on tenor sax, Uri Caine on Fender Rhodes, James Genus on contrabass, and Clarence Penn on drums. In other words, it is to our era roughly what the Miles Davis Quintet was in 1965 when they recorded their 7-CD Plugged Nickel set. I don't doubt that it's good to have it all available, and as much as I dislike download-only product, I must admit it makes a lot of sense in this case. The 2-CD release is an afterthought, meant for those of us who don't have the patience to wade through the whole thing. For me it still may be too much. Douglas is way too fancy for my taste, combining amazing chops with ideas that sail way over my head. Caine is in the same league, although I find him easier to follow, and write off what I don't get to his euroclassical passions. McCaslin certainly has chops to match, but he doesn't give me the same sense of bedazzlement. In any case, this is Douglas in full command. His pieces explode, scintillate, dumbfound. I doubt that I'll ever figure them out, and certainly don't have time now. I'll resume this if/when I get another chance to listen. B+(***)
  70. Taylor 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
  71. Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Live in Zurich, Switzerland 2.5.1950 (1950 [2007], TCB): Another newly released live shot, picking up Ellington's Orchestra at what is generally considered to be a relatively low point. Relatively is the key word there. The trumpet section strikes me as nearly no-name (at one point Ellington introduces "one of the world's great trumpet players": Ernie Royal; Ray Nance -- misspelled Roy -- isn't the only one I've heard of, but is the only one I'd think of for an all-time Ellington list), and Lawrence Brown is the only standard on trombone (where's Juan Tizol?). On the other hand, kudos for filling the vacant tenor sax chair with Don Byas, whose feature here is a high point. And Johnny Hodges, whose split from Ellington during this period is often seen as critical, made the trip, along with Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope, and dependable Harry Carney. Mixed bag of songs, with more covers than expected -- "How High the Moon" (featuring Byas), "St. Louis Blues" (sung by Nance), "S'wonderful," and a retooling of "Frankie & Johnnie" (credited to Ellington). Kay Davis takes the wordless vocal to "Creole Love Call." Set closes with "The Jeep Is Jumpin'," with Hodges resplendent. Sound is so-so; kind of hard to get it right with this group. Not a lot of live Ellington from this period, so it has some historical interest, and sometimes transcends even that. B+(***)
  72. Mike Ellis: Chicago Spontaneous Combustion Suite (2000 [2008], Alpha Pocket): Ellis plays saxophones, listing sopranino, soprano, and baritone in that order. Don't know much about him: his website bio starts (or actually, working backwards ends) in 1977 with him studying at Berklee with Billy Pierce. Further studies with Ernie Wilkins, Clifford Jordan, and Steve Lacy. Work with Alan Silva. A group called M.E.T.A. Later got involved with Brazilian music. This is a single 19-part suite, with a quintet, two trumpets (Jeff Beer, Ryan Shultz), bass, drums, constructed is a lean, spare avant vein -- nothing much happens, but the meandering holds your interest anyway. B+(**)
  73. 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+(*)
  74. Empty Cage Quartet: Stratostrophic (2008, Clean Feed): California-based free jazz quartet, led by Jason Mears (alto sax, clarinet) and Kris Tiner (trumpet, flugelhorn) -- composition count slightly favors Mears -- backed by Ivan Johnson (double bass) and Paul Kikuchi (drums, percussion, electronics). Tiner claims half a dozen albums as leader, but most are in groups like this one, or at least have other name on the marquee. He also has a longer list of side credits, including Industrial Jazz Band. Mears has a namespace clash with an English metal guitarist and an Australian brass band conductor. As near as I can tell, this Jason Mears was born in Alaska, studied at Boston University and California Institute for the Arts, has side credits with Vinny Golia and Harris Eisenstadt. Also looks like same group has recorded as MTKJ. The horns have scattered moments here but don't leave a coherent impression. I suspect they're being tied down by the compositions, especially when the pieces go slow. B+(*)
  75. The Engines (2006 [2007], Okka Disk): Jeb Bishop (trombone), Dave Rempis (alto/tenor/baritone sax), Nate McBride (bass), Tim Daisy (drums); i.e., the Vandermark 5 minus Vandermark with a switch at bass -- lately, McBride has been appearing on more Vandermark albums than Kent Kessler anyway. Sounded real promising: I haven't heard most of the recent work by Rempis and Daisy, but their two Triage albums were super, and Bishop's departure from the V5 signalled an interest in developing his own work. Results are, well, mixed, with pieces from all four showing their distinct talents but not jelling into anything coherent. Daisy continues to impress -- I particularly like the spots where the band lays back and lets him work out. Rempis tends to squawk, for better and sometimes for worse. Bishop paints dark, dirty swathes of sound. I'd be more impressed if I had lower expectations. B+(**)
  76. Wayne Escoffery and Veneration: Hopes and Dreams (2007 [2008], Savant): Title cut, with Joe Locke's marimba trailing a huge, sweeping tenor sax lead by Escoffery, is choice, the sort of thing that doesn't compare too shabily to Sonny Rollins. Second song backs off a lot, a slot postbop tone thing with Tom Harrell added. The infrequent barnburners are far more appealing, although Locke has interesting takes either way. B+(*)
  77. Bill Evans Trio: Portrait in Jazz (Keepnews Collection) (1959 [2008], Riverside): The first flash of one of the most famous piano trios in jazz, matching Evans with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. I always find Evans difficult -- well, except for Sunday at the Village Vanguard -- so I may be going with the consensus too readily, but LaFaro's bass lines sing, and Motian putters inventively. A-
  78. The Alon Farber Hagiga Sextet: Optimistic View (2006 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Israeli band, led by soprano saxophonist Farber; hagiga means celebration. Has a previous FSNT album by the Hagiga Quintet: nice record, as is this one. Loose rhythm with middle eastern (and possibly Latin) touches, a second horn in Hagai Amir's alto sax; piano and guitar aiding the flow. B+(**)
  79. Fight the Big Bull: Dying Will Be Easy (2006 [2008], Clean Feed): Richmond, VA big band (well, nonet), led by guitarist Matt White, who writes the songs but tends to get drowned out by the six horns, especially the dual trombones. Rough and tumble, not quite free, but loud and noisy. On a lark, I checked out a couple of YouTube videos, which are badly shot and even more roughly played, although the recognizable line to "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is amusing. Album with Ken Vandermark is reportedly in the works. B+(*)
  80. Chris Flory: For You (2007 [2008], Arbors): Guitarist, b. 1953, played with Benny Goodman 1978-83, with Scott Hamilton from 1978 to at least 1989. Has half-dozen albums since 1993, one of many players who started on Concord and wound up on Arbors. Quintet with Dan Block (tenor sax), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Mike LeDonne (organ), and Chuck Riggs (drums). Like many swing-oriented guitarists, he tends to drop into rhythm when someone else is playing, which is kind of a waste behind the predictable LeDonne. The album fares best when Flory gets a clean lead. The horns aren't very pushy either, but are usually a plus. B+(**)
  81. 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+(**)
  82. Lori Freedman & Scott Thomson: Plumb (2007 [2008], Barnyard): More avant duets. Freedman plays clarinets, opening with the bass clarinet. Thomson plays trombone. The two horns offer a limited palette of sound, and the lack of rhythm instruments leaves them jarringly naked. Freedman is somewhat familiar from her work with Queen Mab. Don't know/can't find much on Thomson, but I figure him for a Roswell Rudd fan -- where Freedman came out of the box aiming for Braxtonian ugly, Thomson's first solo was laced with understated wit. Both are worth remembering, although you have to be pretty hard core to stick with this -- someone who reacts ecstatically to such solo classics as Anthony Braxton's For Alto and Paul Rutherford's The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie. In that case, this may double your fun, but I can't guarantee it. B+(*)
  83. Paolo Fresu/Richard Galliano/Jan Lundgren: Mare Nostrum (2007 [2008], ACT): Trumpet, accordion, bass. Fresu finally got some attention when Carla Bley's group tracked him down. Otherwise, he's mostly been buried on small Italian labels. He provides intricate decorations on top of Galliano's eurofolk accordion, which determines how far and how fast this record goes. B+(**)
  84. Erik Friedlander: Block Ice & Propane (2005 [2007], Skipstone): Solo cello compositions and improvisations, inspired by trips across the vast American landscape. Pizzicato sounds open and airy, like guitar; arco gets more volume and intensity, while avoiding the squelch of violin and the deep barrenness of bass. Or maybe he's just an exceptional cellist and composer/improviser, because this is both more cohesive and more consistently intriguing than most solo albums; a neat trick. B+(***)
  85. 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-
  86. 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+(*)
  87. Ricardo Gallo Cuarteto: Urdimbres y Maranas (2007 [2008], Ladistrito): Colombia pianist, b. 1978 in Bogotá, attended University of North Texas from 1999, later moving to Stony Brook. Second album. The quartet is a piano trio plus extra percussion -- a Colombian group, recording in Bogotá. Combines some chamberish semiclassical stretches -- I'm reminded of Michel Camilo -- with trickier Afro-Cuban rhythmic feats, where the rest of the group makes their strongest impression. B+(*)
  88. Derrick Gardner and the Jazz Prophets: A Ride to the Other Side . . . of Infinity (2007 [2008], Owl Studios): Plays trumpet and flugelhorn, b. 1965 in Chicago. Spent 1991-96 in the Basie ghost band, but basically he's a hard bopper -- AMG's similar artists list is {Blanchard, Marsalis} and "influenced by" runs from Fats Navarro to Nat Adderley, missing no one, with Kenny Dorham at the top of the list -- I'd be tempted to lead with Blue Mitchell. His Jazz Prophets sextet includes brother Vincent Gardner on trombone, Rob Dixon on tenor sax, Anthony Wonsey on piano, Rodney Whitaker on bass, Donald Edwards and Kevin Kaiser on drums and percussion -- a hot group with a rich, classic sound. Second album. I'm impressed, but don't see where this goes beyond where it's already been. B+(**)
  89. Laszlo Gardony: Dig Deep (2008, Sunnyside): Hungarian pianist, based in US since 1983, teaches at Berklee, has 8 or so albums. Piano trio, with John Lockwood on bass, Yoron Israel on drums. Loud, clear, mostly sharply rhythmic pieces, pretty much what a standard mainstream piano trio should be. B+(**)
  90. Amos Garrett: Get Way Back: A Tribute to Percy Mayfield (2008, Stony Plain): Blues guitarist-singer, born 1941 in US but moved to Canada at age 4, currently based in Alberta. Has a dozen or so albums since 1980, many side credits where he's valued for subtle, elegant guitar solos. Voice is deep and starchy white, not an obvious fit for a batch of Percy Mayfield songs. But the horn charts help, the guitar sly and subtle, and gradually the songs carry the singer along. B+(*)
  91. 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+(*) [Later: B+(***)]
  92. The Jeff Gauthier Goatette: House of Return (2008, Cryptogramophone): Violinist, b. 1954, based in Los Angeles, had a couple of records on 9 Winds before he founded Cryptogramophone in 2000. This is his third record since. Quintet, with Nels Cline on guitar, David Witham on piano, Joel Hamilton on bass, Alex Cline on drums. Sort of avant-fusion, basically prog rock tweaked into funny shapes -- similar to the Todd Sickafoose record (trading the horns for violin), or various records by the Cline brothers. B+(*)
  93. Dennis González NY Quartet: At Tonic: Dance of the Soothsayer's Tongue (2003-04 [2007], Clean Feed): Actually, only 34 minutes were recorded at Tonic in 2003; the rest comes from a later studio session, added when the label thought 34 minutes was too short to release. This is the same group that recorded NY Midnight Suite in 2003: González on trumpet, Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax, Mark Helias on bass, and Michael T.A. Thompson on what he calls soundrhythium percussionist. Each have typically strong spots. B+(**)
  94. Alex Graham: Brand New (2007 [2008], Origin): Alto saxophonist, based in Michigan (Music Director at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in the summer, Royal Oak in winter). Sixth album since 1995, a sextet with Jim Rotondi (trumpet), Steve Davis (trombone), David Hazeltine (piano), Rodney Whitaker (bass), Carl Allen (drums), all well known names. Songs include standards, originals, pop tunes from the Stylistics and Isleys. The pieces vary in interest quite a bit. The postbop harmony is something of a turnoff. B
  95. Enrico Granafei: In Search of the Third Dimension (2008, Miles High): One man band, plays hands-free chromatic harmonica, acoustic guitar, and sings a little -- album cover makes a big point: "this was recorded with absolutely no overdubbing." I suppose that's meant to be impressive as performance, but it's not much of a virtue in the world of recorded music. The harmonica is his strong suit, but it is rather limited as a lead instrument, the hands-free technique possibly limiting speed and range. His guitar is accompaniment, good for adding a bit of rhythm, but not much more. His voice is even more limited. B
  96. Grand Pianoramax: The Biggest Piano in Town (2008, ObliqSound): Keyboards/drums duo, with Swiss pianist Leo Tardin in the lead role, Deantoni Parks on drums (replaced by Adam Deitch on one cut). A fairly minimal concept, dressed up with guest rappers and vocalists, most notably Mike Ladd on "Showdown" -- the bookend that both opens and closes the disc. B
  97. Tony Grey: Chasing Shadows (2008, Abstract Logix): English bassist, also plays keyboards, b. 1975 Newcastle, graduated from Berklee in 2001, something of a protégé of John McLaughlin, plays with Hiromi's Sonicbloom. Fusion album, long groove pieces variously decorated -- Dan Brantigan trumpet, Elliot Mason bass trumpet/trombone, Bob Reynolds soprano/tenor sax, Gregoire Maret harmonica, Lionel Loueke guitar -- none setting a dominant tone, although Maret is the most distinctive. Hiromi plays pianon on one cut, but most of the keyboard work goes to Oli Rockberger. B+(*)
  98. Grupa Janke Randalu: Live (2007 [2008], Jazz 'n' Arts): Polish percussionist Bodek Janke plus Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, based these days in New York and/or Germany, in a duo that runs on rhythm, in a set ending with enthuasiastic applause. B+(*)
  99. Rigmor Gustafsson: Alone With You (2007 [2008], ACT): Swedish vocalist, b. 1966, sings in English, has half a dozen albums, first one I've heard. Starts off with a soaring pop ballad, "In My World" -- pretty awful. She wrote all the songs, sometimes getting help with lyrics. Better when it gets jazzier, better still when the band takes the lead, but that's not a good sign in a vocalist's album, even if you're Betty Carter -- and this band isn't that good. B-
  100. Charlie Haden: The Best of Quartet West (1986-96 [2007], Verve): A steady-flowing sampler from five albums, catching the legendary bassist at his most sentimental, with Lawrence Marable's light touch on the drums, Alan Broadbent's luxurious piano, and Ernie Watts' crooning tenor sax -- elegantly simple, even when complicated by Broadbent's string arrangements or an out-of-place vocal sample. I would start with the nostalgic Haunted Heart, although some people find the appearance of Billie Holiday in this company unsettling. B+(*)
  101. Larry Ham: Just Me, Just You (2007 [2008], Arbors): Subtitle: Arbors Piano Series, Volume 17. Pianist, b. 1954, played with Lionel Hampton (1986-87) and Illinois Jacquet (1990-95); more recently appeared on several Scott Robinson records. Second album, after debuting in 2007. This one's solo. Mostlys tandards, a couple of originals, a calypso, one from Bud Powell. No complaints -- just doesn't quite break the ice. B
  102. Scott Hamilton & Friends: Across the Tracks (2008, Concord): Sorting out the last duds this cycle, I thought I should check Concord's recent roster to see what they weren't sending me. Aside from Telarc/Heads Up, which have been pretty steady, I did get Taylor Eigsti, but I haven't seen any trace of: Mindi Abair, Gerald Albright, David Benoit, James Hunter, Incognito, Sergio Mendes, Scott Hamilton, or David Sánchez. I don't much care about the front of that list, but Hamilton and Sánchez are two saxophonists I'm definitely interested in. Sánchez did one of the best Latin jazz records I've ever heard (Obsesion, back in 1998), and Hamilton has been a perennial favorite: the first and in many ways the best of the swing-oriented "young fogey" players to come up around 1980. His last two records made the Jazz CG A-list (Back in New York and Nocturnes & Serenades). This isn't as strong: a very relaxed set with Gene Ludwig on organ and Duke Robillard on electric guitar. B+(**)
  103. 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+(**)
  104. Joel Harrison: The Wheel (2008, Innova): This is the third record in the last couple of days by a guitarist working with a string quartet -- an idea that I basically dread, but the first two (Bill Frisell, Ulf Wakenius) came off quite successfully, not least because they cheated convention. Harrison, however, flies straight into the teeth of the framework, writing "a five movement suite for double quartet and guitar" -- one quartet is the standard set of strings, the other a piano-less postbop lineup with Ralph Alessi (trumpet/flugelhorn), Dave Binney (alto sax), Lindsay Horner (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums). The latter quartet actually sounds promising, but I didn't notice any horns first play; rather, there was an overgrown jungle of aggressive, menacing strings. At least this avoids the usual jazz-with-strings clichés: the modernism is brusque enough I'm reminded of the Stan Getz album Focus, but this is more unruly, and I've never had any doubts about the horn on Focus. This is the sort of album that leaves me with unresolved questions that don't promise to be worth the trouble to sort out. B+(*)
  105. Coleman Hawkins: The Hawk Flies High (1957 [2008], Riverside/Keepnews Collection): Makes it look easy, too, lifted by warm brass from Idrees Suleiman and J.J. Johnson, soaring over a rhythm section that layers Hank Jones bebop on Jo Jones swing, swooping and diving and snatching the listener's attention with surprisingly effortless grace; only complaint is sometimes Hawk makes it look too easy. A-
  106. 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+(**)
  107. Wayne Horvitz and Sweeter Than the Day: A Walk in the Dark (2007 [2008], [no label]): Pianist, b. 1955 in New York, now based in Seattle. Has a substantial discography since 1981. Sweeter Than the Day was a 2002 quartet album that has retained its shape as a group in a couple of later albums, with Timothy Young's guitars complementing Horvitz's piano, Keith Lowe on bass, and Eric Eagle on drums. Nice record, Horvitz likes a steady beat, and the guitar adds something. B+(**)
  108. Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet: One Dance Alone (2007 [2008], Songlines): Interesting take on the chamber jazz concept, using an unusual mix of instruments: cornet (Ron Miles), bassoon (Sara Schoenbeck), cello (Peggy Lee), piano (Horvitz). Horvitz has been known to bury his piano in his compositions, or even to dispense with it completely, and he doesn't appear to lead here. More like walk along with the flow, such as it is -- with no drums or bass this doesn't move much. Nonetheless, the group's previous record, Way Out East surprised me with an Honorable Mention; this one doesn't make so strong a mark, but its modest, somber assurance is notable. B+(*)
  109. Freddie Hubbard & the New Jazz Composers Octet: On the Real Side (2007 [2008], 4Q/Times Square): Hubbard's early 1960s, both as a leader and especially as a sideman, made up one of the great individual stretches in jazz history -- hard bop, postbop, avant-garde, he could and did do it all. But after about 1965 he started to thin out, with a couple of superb fusion albums in 1970 (Red Clay, Straight Life), even less after 1980, a rare comeback in 1991 (Bolivia), then he literally blew his lip out in 1992 and that was that. This is his first album since then, produced and carefully shepherded by David Weiss. Not clear how much Hubbard plays. He's credited with flugelhorn, with Weiss on trumpet and a lot of firepower in the group -- three saxes plus guest Craig Handy on three cuts, Steve Davis on trombone, guest Russell Malone on one cut, piano, bass, and drums. Compositions are all by Hubbard. Haven't checked to see if any are new, but they all have arranger credits -- mostly Weiss, Davis on one, bassist Dwayne Burno on two. Weiss is a crack arranger, and if you're into that sort of thing, these pieces are crisp and snappy. I find that it leaves me wondering about the leader. B
  110. Charlie Hunter Trio: Mistico (2007, Fantasy): Around the eighth cut, "Special Shirt," it finally dawned on me what this is: jazz bubblegum. Maybe I'm oversimplifying. Title cut came next and it's more phantasmagorical, almost a Pink Floyd instrumental. The 7 or 8 out of 10 cuts are just slinky fusion guitar over cheesy keybs and drums -- pop jazz, but before the dark ages set in. B+(**)
  111. Jason Kao Hwang/Sang Won Park: Local Lingo (2006 [2007], Euonymus): Park's zithers -- the 6-string bowed ajeng and the 12-string plucked kayagum -- and voice make up the core here. I can't decide, or even hazard a guess, whether he's playing folk or classical or some sort of avant-garde that would seem as strange in Korea as it does here. Hwang is easier: he knows his way around classical Chinese music, but he's also a remarkable jazz violinist who dances gracefully around the more static core. B+(**)
  112. Industrial Jazz Group: Leef (2008, Evander Music): Cheap cardstock wallet packaging, back cover printed white on yellow (glad I was able to lift the credits and track list elsewhere), full liner notes promised on website but not available yet. Started this while driving around Detroit, but popped it out after a few "what is this shit?" minutes. I've played and enjoyed a couple of Andrew Durkin's group's records in the past, but wasn't prepared for this sharp swerve into Zappa-land. (Actually, I flashed on Brecht/Weill cabaret first, which may have been the initial idea -- but Zappa does get a name check.) I've avoided it ever since, only putting it on when there was nothing else left to unpack from the travel case. Played it twice. First, if you bracket the vocal stuff, the musical performance is stellar. Industrial Jazz has always been a catchphrase in search of a concept -- e.g., the analogy to Industrial Rock never fit -- but Durkin has finally managed to squeeze all individuality out of the big band without sacrificing idiosyncrasy. Hard to imagine anything but a machine managing that, or exhibiting such spurious complexity just because it's possible to gear it that way. Clearest case is "Bongo Non Troppo," working off a relatively simple Latin riff, but there's more in "Howl" and "Fuck the Muck" (at least until the voices appear). The vocal stuff is more scattered -- skit and shtick, a bit of "Fuck the Muck" choir, and two legit songs (both optimistically reprised in radio edits at the end): "The Job Song" (on the Brechtian end) and "Big Ass Truck" (more Zappaesque). In Christgau's CG scheme a couple of these named pieces would be Choice Cuts. I don't do that because I'm still stuck in the old-fashioned rut of trying to swallow records whole. B+(*)
  113. Jon Irabagon's Outright! (2007 [2008], Innova): Alto saxophonist, has done some good work lately, appearing on a pick hit (Mostly Other People Do the Killing) and another featured disc (Jostein Gulbrandsen) from the latest Jazz Consumer Guide. This one goes for overkill, starting with cover pics of masses of arm-waving fans -- I could see him moving the people but drawing them is another matter. A lot of talent here: three-fourths of Kris Davis' quartet -- Davis on piano/organ, Eivind Opsvik on acoustic bass, Jeff Davis on drums -- plus Russ Johnson on trumpet and Irabagon. Two cuts expand the group up toward big band mass. I don't much care for the horn duet at the beginning, but there are interesting bits throughout, including a MOPDTK-style assault on "Groovin' High." B+(*)
  114. Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery: Bags Meets Wes! (Keepnews Collection) (1961 [2008], Riverside): With Wynton Kelly, Sam Jones, and Philly Joe Jones. Jackson swings as always, but Montgomery and Kelly rarely break out of the background, subtle moves that set up the vibes but never upstage them. B+(**)
  115. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Lil' Tae Rides Again (2007 [2008], Hyena): Tulsa group, mainstays are keyb player Brian Haas and bassist Reed Mathis, with newcomer Josh Raymer taking over the drums slot. Not sure what producer Tae Meyulks actually did, but there are various electronics undercurrents, and that seems to be his bag. Minor groove pieces, various ambiences, nothing dislikable or compelling. B+(*)
  116. Bob James Trio: Explosions (1965 [2008], ESP-Disk): Some years ago when I was just starting to get systematic about jazz history, one of the most useful guides I found was The Gramophone Jazz Good CD Guide (I'm referring back to the 1995 edition). Most of its choices are unimpeachable. A few of the surprises, like Willis Jackson's Bar Wars, are wonderful. One of the few idiosyncratic choices I never bothered tracking down was this record. James moved into pop jazz shortly after this early effort, making scads of records under his own name and as part of Four Play. I've heard very few of them -- at best them give the impression of a more or less talented guy slumming. This sounds more like the work of the session's bassist, Barre Phillips, who acquits himself particularly well with some austere arco bass, among other things. The drummer is Robert Pozar, and two tracks have mixed tape sounds which Gordon Mumma and Robert Ashley (copy says "Bob Ashley") contributed to. Not all that explosive, but curiously abstract, oddly interesting. Not a masterpiece; just one of those odd cult items good for a conversation piece. B+(***)
  117. 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+(**)
  118. Jessica Jones Quartet: Word (2005 [2008], New Artists): Family act -- husband Tony Jones plays tenor sax, as does his better half, who also plays piano and writes most of the songs. With bass and drums, they can be moderately edgy. But most of the record is turned over to daughter Candace Jones, who alternates between dry torch songs and reciting poetry from Arisa White and Abe Maneri. The album has an appealing home-crafted feel, but makes you wonder how far they could stretch if they tried. B+(**)
  119. Matt Jorgensen + 451: Another Morning (2007 [2008], Origin): Seattle drummer, b. 1972. Fifth album since 2001, fairly even mix of originals, band contributions (saxophonist Mark Taylor, keyboardist Ryan Burns; nothing from bassist Phil Sparks), and covers (Joe Henderson, Lennon/McCartney, Neil Young). Burns plays Fender Rhodes, organ, and Moog -- various slices of fusion and soul jazz. Taylor mostly plays alto, with a sweet, skinny sound that I'm ambivalent about. Album sort of lies back, waiting for you to come to it. Can't say as I've given it a fair shot. B
  120. The Spencer Katzman Threeo: 5 Is the New 3 (2006 [2008], 6V6): Guitarist, based in New York, first album, a trio with Keith Witty on bass and Dave Sharma on drums and tabla. Studied with Bill Frisell, Dave Fiuczynski, others. Covers include Brendan Benson and Neutral Milk Hotel. Nice sound, well thought out, enjoyable; not sure how far to go beyond that. B+(**)
  121. 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+(*)
  122. Guillermo Klein/Los Guachos: Filtros (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1970 in Argentina, attended Berklee 1990-94, moved on to New York. Los Gauchos is his big band, a mix of Latin players and other New York talents, including some players with substantial discographies of their own: Miguel Zenon, Chris Cheek, Bill McHenry, Ben Monder. Over a half-dozen albums, he's developed into an expansive and inventive arranger -- I'm tempted to compare him to Maria Schneider, but not being a big fan of either that may be too tongue-in-cheek. Still, the Monkish "Vaca" here is pretty irresistible, a good track to check out. Wish he wouldn't sing. B+(**)
  123. Omer Klein/Haggai Cohen Milo: Duet (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Bass often sounds transparent on records -- part of the background, a source of extra resonance, but unequal to any of the lead instruments. Milo's bass here sometimes seems to be a mere extension of the piano, like an extra pedal that gives the deep strings more freedom of movement. But the sonic depth of the bass makes the piano sound richer and fuller, and the presence of another keeps the pianist moving. I can't say that Klein is a more adroit pianist than Bollani, say, but he holds my ears closer, and doesn't disappoint. B+(**)
  124. Omer Klein: Introducing Omer Klein (2007 [2008], Smalls): Let me start with one more pitch for Klein's earlier Duet with bassist Haggai Cohen Milo, on Fresh Sound New Talent a couple years back. That's where I got introduced, and was impressed with his subtle melodicism. Still, this is an advance, and not just because added drums and percussion push a much more upbeat rhythm -- actually, bassist Omer Avital may have as much as anyone to do with that. B+(***)
  125. Kirk Knuffke Quartet: Bigwig (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, originally from Denver, now in New York. First album, with Brian Drye doubling the brass on trombone, Reuben Radding on bass, Jeff Davis on drums. Fairly free. I like the brass dynamics. B+(*)
  126. Lee Konitz-Ohad Talmor Big Band: Portology (2006 [2007], Omnitone): Cover shows three dozen or so doors of various sizes, shapes, and designs -- portals, each of which presumably leads to a distinct space. Don't know what, if anything, that has to do with the music. Aside from the featured alto saxophonist, the group is Portugal's Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos. The compositions are credited to Konitz and Talmor; the arrangements to Talmor. Intriguing music, but there are spots that sound a bit off. B+(**)
  127. Joachim Kühn/Majid Bekkas/Ramon Lopez: Kalimba (2006 [2007], ACT): Musically you can attribute this to Bekkas, a Moroccan whose voice, guembri, oud, and kalimba provide the core of an intriguing world music album. Kühn adds the note of jazz improv that kicks it up a level. While he mostly plays piano, his Ornette-ish alto sax is more than respectable. B+(***)
  128. Steve Kuhn Trio: Live at Birdland (2006 [2007], Blue Note): Still don't have anything useful to say about this, but it's real good, thoroughly enjoyable if you like piano trios at all. Long at 75 minutes, but not tiring. A little bit of everything from Fats Waller to a Debussy-Strayhorn medley to Charlie Parker to Steve Kuhn. Experience at work -- times three, actually, given that his trio-mates are Ron Carter and Al Foster. B+(***)
  129. Steve Kuhn: Pastorale (2002 [2007], Sunnyside): Another piano trio. Playing this after Chip Stephens reminds me of the difference between college sports and the pros. Stephens is very good at playing other people. Kuhn is, well, Kuhn. He broke through with Kenny Dorham, John Coltrane (before McCoy Tyner replaced him), Stan Getz, and Art Farmer. He recorded as himself in 1963, and has worked steadily ever since. I haven't followed him closely -- I'm not much of a piano person, and don't care for some of his digressions, like the Latin-tinged Quiéreme Mucho. Even this is a bit too inside for my interest span, but he sounds terrific -- as he does on the more recently recorded Live at Birdland, an HM if I ever find the words for it. Major league bass and drums too: Eddie Gomez and Billy Drummond. B+(***)
  130. Steve Lacy: The Forest and the Zoo (1966 [2008], ESP-Disk): Two 20-minute pieces, "Forest" and "Zoo," cut live in Buenos Aires with South Africans Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo on bass and drums. The soprano sax great is in classic squeaky form, but the real jolt to the memory here is trumpeter Enrico Rava -- genteel and laconic of late, he snatches these pieces like a pit bull and never lets go. A-
  131. Benjamin Lapidus: Herencia Judía (2007 [2008], Tresero): Born 1972 in Hershey, PA; moved to New York in 1980s, got into Latin music, playing Cuban tres and Puerto Rican cuatro, eventually forming an interesting Latin band, Sonido Isleño. This record explores traditional sephardic music as it spread surrepetitiously through the Spanish Caribbean. This has a folkie feel that seems more proper and more dated than klezmer, while the Latin accents are similarly muted. B+(**)
  132. 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
  133. 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+(**)
  134. Lisbon Improvisation Players: Spiritualized (2006, Clean Feed): Saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, on alto and baritone this time, is the leader, mainstay, or hub of this variable group. Dallas trumpeter Dennis González is the guest, adding a low-key lyricism to Amado's tendencies to get rough. Cellist Ulrich Mitzlaff joins in on the last two cuts. It all appears to be group improv, and it's a bit hit and miss, with some low volume sections that are hard to resolve, and some blaring where they get stuck on one idea. But most of the time it works, and it's interesting to see how González fits in. B+(***)
  135. Frank Lowe: Black Beings (1973 [2008], ESP-Disk): The short middle piece is solo tenor sax, thoughtful and intriguing. The two long pieces sandwiched around the solo are screamers, with Joseph Jarman on second noisemaker, wailing and shrieking spastically around Lowe's meatier riffs. I've found myself upgrading several of these reissues, not least because I've gotten better at handling the sheer noisiness of the 1960s-1970s avant-garde (the Brötzmann and Ayler reissues are two cases in point, up from B/B-). I'm a big fan of Lowe's, so I expected the same here, and indeed I find my reaction is more nuanced. Still, I don't see any reason to nudge my grade this time. There's some interesting stuff here, but I find Jarman downright oppressive. The two long tracks had been edited to fit on LP sides, and restored to original length here. The violinist, originally credited as The Wizard, is identified as Raymond Lee Cheng. Lowe started playing with Billy Bang a year later, so it's reasonable to wonder if they're the same, but they don't sound anywhere close. The bassist is young William Parker, who went on to corner the market for this type of thing, playing with Charles Gayle and David S. Ware. He's hard to follow, but seems to do the job. I've never heard of drummer Rashid Sinan, but he has some good spots. B-
  136. Gene Ludwig Trio with the Bill Warfield Big Band: Duff's Blues (2008, 18th & Vine): Ludwig plays organ. He was born 1937, started on piano, met Jimmy Smith in 1957, switched to organ. The other Trio members are Bob DeVos (guitar) and Rudy Petschauer (drums). Warfield plays trumpet. No credits for the rest of the Big Band, but there must be a mess of them: they play big and loud, with the requisite swing, tending to drown out their guests. B+(*)
  137. Gabi Lunca: Sounds From a Bygone Age, Vol. 5 (1956-78 [2008], Asphalt Tango): Even now, nobody would go so far as to claim that Ceausescu's Romania harbored a golden age of pop music, but the German label Asphalt Tango has compiled five volumes without a slip, music no one else seems to have had a clue about. (Buda Musique's Éthiopiques series has done something comparable, but is more hit and miss.) Gypsy lautari music, with accordion and violin and cimbalom, mostly consumed at weddings, only rarely recorded. Lunca was the more refined of two major female singers -- the earthier Romica Puceanu got her props back on Vol. 2. A-
  138. Carmen Lundy: Come Home (2007 [2008], Afrasia): Vocalist, b. 1954, 10th album. Writes most of her songs. (Liner notes attribute several collaborations to "C Lundy" -- presumably her, but could be her well-known bassist brother Curtis Lundy, who plays here.) Has a distinctive voice, on the deep side, with a precise, studied manner reminiscent of Carmen McRae -- her take on "Nature Boy" is a good example. Strong piano help from Anthony Wonsey and Geri Allen. B+(*)
  139. The Malchicks: To Kill a Mockingbird (2007 [2008], Zoho Roots): English blues-rock group, duo actually, with vocalist Scarlett Wrench and George Perez on guitars, banjo, bass, with some extra studio help -- drums, anyway, plus Phil May (Pretty Things) and Arthur Brown add some backup vocals. Songs are as stout as "Boom Boom," "House of the Rising Sun," "I Got My Mojo Working," "Baby, Please Don't Go." The female voice provides a slight twist on a genre firmly rooted in Eric Bourdon's testes. Finishes with a Leonard Cohen song, proving that history ambled on past the 1960s. B+(**)
  140. 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+(*)
  141. Ellis Marsalis Quartet: An Open Letter to Thelonious (2007 [2008], ELM): In the early days Monk was notoriously difficult to play -- I'm tempted to argue that on his first records even he had trouble playing himself. Now everyone can play him just fine. QED. B
  142. Wynton Marsalis: Standards & Ballads (1983-98 [2008], Columbia/Legacy): Not just standards, given one original from Citi Movement. Not all ballads either, though mostly sluggish; only 8 of 14 tracks come from his generally excellent Standard Time series, so not really a sampler thereof -- in fact, nothing from Vol. 6: Mr. Jelly Lord. One vocal track is incongruous here, but organic to the Tune In Tomorrow soundtrack, the rest of which is better than anything here, possibly excepting the lovely "Flamingo." B
  143. Jean Martin/Colin Fisher: Little Man on the Boat (2007, Barnyard): More free, idiosyncratic duets, this time more of a mish mash as both rum the gamut of instruments: Martin's credits are drums, keyboards, trumpet, loops, bass; Fisher's tenor sax, guitars, bass, banjo, voice. Fisher is another Toronto denizen, with three albums as I Have Eaten the City and two as Sing That Yell That Spell. Scattered moments are interesting, but it isn't clear what holds them together. B+(*)
  144. Jean Martin/Evan Shaw: Piano Music (2007, Barnyard): Following front cover; spine says Martin & Shaw but website says Evan Shaw and Jean Martin. Barnyard Records is a Toronto label -- sent me four records, three featuring drummer Martin (seems likely the label's his show). Shaw's an alto saxophonist, grew up in New Brunswick, based in Toronto. These are duets, free jazz, presumably improvs, with no piano audible anywhere. I like this sort of thing quite a bit, but it hasn't yet risen much above par. One cut adds a rap, or something spoken like that. B+(**)
  145. Mat Marucci-Doug Webb Trio: Change-Up (2006 [2007], CIMP): Third member of the trio strikes me as better known than the two leaders: bassist Ken Filiano, who gets a "featuring" on the front cover. Drummer Marucci wrote the pieces, excepting "Body and Soul" and one group collaboration. Webb plays soprano sax, tenor sax, and stritch, so he has the dominant voice, making this a basic sax trio. Marucci is the senior member, b. 1945 in Rome NY, with 11 albums going back to 1979, and side credits with Jimmy Smith and John Tchicai, and a more performing credits, mostly mainstream. Webb is younger, b. 1960, has three co-leader albums with Marucci and a forthcoming quartet album under his own name, but it looks like he's done a lot of session work -- his website claims 150 albums but only lists 75; most are unknown to me, none avant-garde, some big bands (Doc Severinsen), some retro (Chris Barber), more pop jazz (Brian Bromberg, Stanley Clarke), quite a few not jazz at all (Rod Stewart, Carly Simon, Holly Near). Webb lists most sax weights (sopranino to baritone) on his instruments list, as well as dozens of flute and reed instruments, whistles and ocarinas. In his notes, Webb writes, "Living in Los Angeles, I don't often get a chance to play as artistically as I would like, so I would like to thank Mat and Bob Rusch for giving me the opportunity." B+(***)
  146. The Bennie Maupin Quartet: Early Reflections (2007 [2008], Cryptogramophone): Maupin plays bass clarinet, tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute. Born 1940, made his mark with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew and in Herbie Hancock's 1970s fusion bands. Has a relatively short list of records under his own name, starting with 1974's ECM entry, The Jewel in the Lotus -- touted by many, but I'm not a big fan. He cut this one in Poland, presumably last year, with a local group I don't recognize. It's all over the place, with fractal spots intriguing in their minimalism, sometimes stretching out and soaring away, other times awash in schmaltz. Pianist Michal Tokaj is worth singling out. But two cuts with vocalist Hania Chowaniec-Rybka spoil it for me, but much else is of interest. B
  147. Louis Mazetier: Tributes, Portraits and Other Stories (2007 [2008], Arbors): Vol. 18 in Arbors Piano Series, a set of solo piano showcases for mostly obscure, mostly old-fashioned pianists. Mazetier was born 1960 in Paris. He's played in the French trad jazz group Paris Washboard, and recorded a couple of albums under his own name for Stomp Off. Stride pianist, starts off with a sparkling take on James P. Johnson's "You've Got to Be Modernistic." Contributes 10 originals out of 22 songs. B+(**)
  148. Liz McComb: The Spirit of New Orleans (2001 [2008], GVE/Sunnyside): Gospel singer, grew up in Cleveland, spent much of her early career in Europe, returning to the US in 2001. Her New Olreans album picks up some horns and fancy rhythm, not deploying them consistently. Helps when it's there, but doesn't matter much when it isn't: she powers her way through every song -- four she wrote, the rest as trad as "Old Man River" and "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and "Happy Working for the Lord." Christian music's gotten so lame and dumb lately I've been avoiding it. I'd like to say this is the old time religion, but it's just the old time gospel music -- plus occasional horns and fancy rhythm. A-
  149. Tom McDermott and Connie Jones: Creole Nocturne (2007 [2008], Arbors): McDermott's an old timey pianist, b. 1957 in St. Louis, moved to New Orleans in 1984 and made himself at home. Scattered discography includes a 1981 New Rags on Stomp Off; 1995 Tom McDermott and His Jazz Hellions on Jazzology; a a flurry of releases c. 2003 on STR Digital including a foray into Brazilian called Choro do Norte and one on Latin New Orleans called Danza, with Evan Christopher. Jones is an older cornet player. Don't know much about him, but there's a photo here of him on stage with Jack Teagarden and Don Ewell in 1964, and he shows up later with McDermott's Jazz Hellions and the Crescent City Jazz Band. Jones sings two songs with a gravelly voice -- a McDermott original called "I Don't Want Nuthin' for Christmas" is charmingly modest. Title cut is Creolized Chopin. Closer is "King Porter Stomp." Sparse, as duets tend to be -- bass and drums would fill out the sound and move things along. B+(*)
  150. Kate McGarry: The Target (2007, Palmetto): Singer, scats a little. Has three albums on Palmetto now, one or two before that. The only other one I've heard had folkie airs, but she seems to be aiming for dusky moodiness here. At least this feels like she's trying to stretch, but it rarely feels right. The band is built around Gary Versace's organ -- too peppy and eager to swing for the music -- and Keith Ganz's guitars. Exception that proves the rule: "Do Something"; best supporting actor: Donny McCaslin's sax solo on "The Lamp Is Low." B-
  151. Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath: Eclipse at Dawn (1971 [2008], Cuneiform): As Ronnie Scott observes in his band intro, South Africa is a good place to be from. McGregor's exiles with their township jive melodies are joined by an equal number of English avant-gardists, the sounds repressed by apartheid amplified into the cacophonous noise of freedom. A live set from Berlin, not the clearest or the most exhilarating of performances -- the 1973 Travelling Somewhere was justly Cuneiform's first choice in bringing this remakable band back to our attention. B+(*)
  152. The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra: First Flight (2006 [2007], Summit): Trombonist, born 1963, based in New York since 1986, most of his credits are with big bands, starting with DMP Big Band's Glenn Miller Project, with Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden and Mike Holober's Thought Trains among the highlights. Hype sheet also connects him to the Lionel Hampton Band, the Woody Herman Orchestra, and the Jimmy Heath Big Band. John Fedchock wrote his liner notes, and he's got a half dozen or so New York musicians I recognize in the band, including pianist Holober. Pretty slick as these big bands go. McGuinness also sings on two cuts, including a run of scat. B+(**)
  153. 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-
  154. 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+(**)
  155. John McNeil/Bill McHenry: Rediscovery (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): McNeil is a veteran trumpet player; McHenry a relatively young tenor saxophonist. Both mainline boppers, McNeil particularly keyed to west coast cool. The rediscoveries are mostly bop era pieces, 1940s-1950s, including George Wallington, Wilbur Harden, Russ Freeman, and Gerry Mulligan. Each contributes an original, McNeil to open, McHenry to close. B+(**)
  156. Doug Miller: Regeneration (2005-06 [2008], Origin): Bassist, originally from Bloomington, IN; studied under John Clayton, a connection to Ray Brown; moved to Indianapolis, then to New York, then to Seattle in 1987. First album under his own name, although he co-founded a big band called Big Neighborhood which has a couple of records, and has 25-30 side-credits since 1990. Miller wrote all of these pieces, which seems to be the point here. I find it hard to judge new mainstream jazz compositions -- they're so tightly bound within convention they hardly ever sound new. The odd thing here is how they vary the lead instrument -- sometimes trumpet or flugelhorn, tenor or soprano sax, or even flute, all wielded by the same Jay Thomas. Dave Peterson also does double duty on guitar and keyboard, with Phil Parisot's drums limited to four cuts. I suppose that's one way to make the bass the focal center, but it's still not clear enough for me. Still, some interesting stuff here. B
  157. Blue Mitchell: Blue Soul (Keepnews Collection) (1959 [2008], Riverside): Trumpet player, made ends meet in R&B groups from Earl Bostic to Ray Charles, played hard bop with a soulful polish, both on his own records and with Horace Silver; a classy sextet with Curtis Fuller on trombone, Jimmy Heath on tenor sax, and Wynton Kelly on piano, they can cook, but shine even more on the slow ones. A-
  158. Ravish Momin's Trio Tarana: Miren (A Longing) (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): There's a disquieting moment here where violinist Sam Bardfeld breaks into some sort of Scottish march, reminding me that not all world musics are equally worthy of fusion. Changing oud players from Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz to Brandon Terzic may not have had much effect, although they did lose the bass option in the deal. But Bardfeld isn't nearly as interesting, at least in this context, as Jason Kao Hwang, who brought a rich but little known Chinese classical expertise into the mix. Still, the basic idea remains, which is Momin's Indian percussion in a non-Western string context, and much of this is as mesmerizing as its predecessor. B+(***)
  159. Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (Keepnews Collection (1956 [2008], Riverside): The title cut was so unconventional none of 25 studio takes nailed it, so the record was famously pieced together after the fact; you can still sense the fear and awe the band, including young Sonny Rollins, felt in facing Monk's tunes -- a solo piano cover of "I Surrender Dear" comes as blessed relief, but turns out every bit as brilliant. A
  160. Wes Montgomery: Incredible Jazz Guitar (1960 [2008], Riverside/Keepnews Collection): Not really -- despite his overwhelming influence on two-thirds of the jazz guitarists who followed in his wake, at best he was a subtle craftsman with natural swing on basic blues; nowhere is that more clear than on this elegant quartet with Tommy Flanagan's piano as delectable as the guitar. A-
  161. 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+(*)
  162. Stanton Moore Trio: Emphasis on Parenthesis (2007 [2008], Telarc): Fusion drummer, has done some good stuff, notably Garage A Trois, Outre Mer (2005, with Skerik and Charlie Hunter). Trio mates Will Bernard (guitar) and Robert Walter (organ, keyboards) have also put out consistently solid work, but this time they all sort of melt down together, with ordinary grooves and little sonic range or variety. B-
  163. Gary Morgan & PanAmericana!: Felicidade (Happiness) (2007 [2008], CAP): Twenty-piece big band, plays Brazilian music, with pieces by Jobim, Pascoal, Jovino Santos Neto, and others, including five by Morgan. Morgan was born in Chile, moved to Canada very young, played saxophone, later switched to bass. Studied at Berklee in 1980, but he seems already to have immersed himself in Brazilian music. Moved on to New York, where PanAmericana is based, although he also leads another orchestra based in Toronto. He's not in the personnel list here. For that matter, few (if any) of the musicians here are Brazilian. I don't have much feel for bands like this: when they're cruising they make for pleasant but uninteresting background music, when they slow down they get clumsy. Second album for the group. B-
  164. Moss (2008, Sunnyside): Eponymous group album, the group consisting of five vocalists: Theo Bleckmann, Peter Eldridge, Lauren Kinhan, Kate McGarry, and Luciana Souza. Ben Wittman produced, plays drums and some keyboards. Other musicians include Keith Ganz and Ben Monder on guitar, Tim Lefebvre on bass, and Eldridge on piano. Kinhan is best known from New York Voices. The rest have solo catalogs that have never appealed to me, with the exception of Bleckmann, whose sweet, angelic timbre has on occasion been put to interesting ends (cf. Las Vegas Rhapsody: The Night They Invented Champagne). As long as Bleckmann reigns here the layering is oddly intriguing, and at least the Neil Young and Joni Mitchell songs hold up to the treatment (the Mitchell less so). C+
  165. Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (2006 [2007], Winter & Winter): The Trio has Chris Potter on tenor sax and Larry Grenadier on bass. The "+ Two" are Greg Osby on alto sax and Masabumi Kikuchi on piano. Smells like a quintet to me, but there is probably some arcane logic in the division -- e.g., Motian, who made his reputation backing pianists, for a long time avoided pianists in his own groups, but this isn't the first time Kikuchi has appeared as an add on. Motian is a slippery drummer, and he often throws the saxes off their stride. They deserve credit for keeping their composure and making something of the tricky terrain. B+(**)
  166. Dave Mullen and Butta: Mahoney's Way (2006 [2007], Roberts Music Group): I'm not sure that Mullen won't wind up smothered in smooth jazz jam -- his credits include keys and sequencing, drum programming, vocals, flute and trumpet, as well as his lead tenor sax and kiss-of-death soprano, which position him well for the slick side. Still, he opens with a slice of R&B honk called "Flip It," then introduces his title cut with a rap. When he reaches for a soul cover, he picks Stevie Wonder's "As," then turns it over to Nile Rodgers for a hardcore funk beat, and roasts the True Worship Ministries Singers with his tenor sax, lest they get too Godly on him. His originals have overreaching messages (e.g., his "Prayer for Our Times") and one called "Lost Souls" breaks into a chorus chant of "a love supreme." His other cover is a nice sax ballad of "Bewitched" -- a soft landing at the end. The synthesis strikes me as over his head, but for now at least his head's in the game. B+(**)
  167. Doug Munro: Big Boss Bossa Nova 2.0 (2007 [2008], Chase Music Group): Guitarist, based in New York, claims 10 albums since 1987 (AMG knows about 7 of them). I looked at this and filed it under pop jazz, which is unfair. At least I didn't misfile it under Brazilian -- he'll never be confused with Charlie Byrd, let alone Luis Bonfa or Baden Powell or Ricardo Silveira. Trios with bass and drums, very straightforward. Four originals, six covers -- mostly bop-era (Monk, Rollins, Shorter, Hubbard, Corea). Has some Spanish licks; fairly dense, clean sound, good beat. B+(*)
  168. Jovino Santos Neto: Alma do Nordeste (Soul of the Northeast) (2008, Adventure Music): Pianist, also plays melodica (2 cuts) and flute (1 cut). Born 1954, Rio de Janeiro, studied in Montreal, lives in US now. I picked this out of order after seeing him write about the Felipe Salles record, which he wasn't otherwise involved with. Compared to Salles, this seems to be the real Brazilian Nordeste, with its tumbling profusion of rhythm, guitar, accordion, and flutes. Neto ties it together with piano. I prefer Salles' record because the sax pulls it back into a recognizable jazz context. Three cuts with tenor sax here, three more with soprano, are barely recognizable. B+(**)
  169. New York Art Quartet (1964 [2008], ESP-Disk): One-shot avant-garde group, at least until they reunited for a 35th Reunion record, but an important item in trombonist Roswell Rudd's discography -- he dominates the rough interplay with alto saxist John Tchicai, while percussionist Milford Graves is at least as sparkling; the sole artiness is the cut that frames a poem, but it too is a signpost of the times, "Black Dada Nihilismus," by Amiri Baraka. A-
  170. Bill O'Connell: Triple Play (2007 [2008], Savant): Pianist, b. 1953, from New York, teaches at Rutgers, specializes in Latin jazz, having broke in with Mongo Santamaria, although he probably comes out of a more conventional bop background. This is a trio with Dave Valentin on flute and Richie Flores on congas, both adding something distinctive to the idiosyncratic piano in the center. B+(*)
  171. Ocote Soul Sounds and Adrian Quesada: The Alchemist Manifesto (2008, ESL Music): I gather that Ocote Soul Sounds is an alias for Martín Perna, also involved in Antibalas and, more peripherally, TV on the Radio. Perna mostly plays flutes, although his credits include baritone sax, guitar, bass, keyboard, percussion, vocals. Quesada comes from Grupo Fantasma, which I have another CD from somewhere in the queue. He plays guitar, bass, keyboards, drums percussion, etc. Various guests: horns on the opener, "The Great Elixir"; bata drums, bongos, keyboards, coros. More techno than jazz, more rockish than Latin, too marginal to spend more time with. B+(*)
  172. Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra: Song for Chico (2006 [2008], Zoho): Chico, of course, is Chico O'Farrill, the pianist-leader's late father, an important big band arranger from the 1950s until his death in 2001. The son has never made much of an impression on me, and it doesn't help that family franchises are justly held in such low esteem these days. However, starting with "Caravan" (an easy mark) this goes through the paces and does everything it needs to do: the horns blare, the rhythm percolates; nothing new, but it's loud, fast, full of marvels. B+(**)
  173. Orchestra Baobab: Made in Dakar (2007 [2008], World Circuit/Nonesuch): Formed in 1970, one of Senegal's major bands, stylistically they span Youssou N'Dour's mbalax revolution, preserving more Congolese guitar and Cuban feedback and less of the tricky rhythms. Newly recorded, but the songs date back to their 1970s heyday and even further. Less instantly compelling than their 1982 classic Pirates Choice or their 2002 comeback Specialist in All Styles, but equally hard to nitpick. A-
  174. 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-
  175. 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+(**)
  176. 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+(**)
  177. Nicholas Payton: Into the Blue (2007 [2008], Nonesuch): Choice cut: "The Charleston Hop (The Blue Steps)" -- short, funky trumpet jabs over a fractured hand drum beat, with nothing else to muck things up. Rest of the album has plenty of muck, mostly in Kevin Hays' keyb and the synths Payton has been dabbling with. He plays languidly for much of the album. Also tries singing one song, in a voice that I can only describe as a Chet Baker parody. B
  178. Peloton: Selected Recordings (2007, Parallel) The peloton is a large cluster of bicyclists in a race -- as Wikipedia puts it, "the peloton travels as an integrated unit, like birds flying in formation." Album cover has an axle with spokes pointing out, presumably from a bicycle. I'd never heard of the word, but I ran across a number of music groups using the name, everything from San Francisco shoegazers to Finnish cartoon jazz. This particular group describes itself as Scandinavian but claims "peloton" means "fearless" in Finnish. Trumpet (Karl Strømme), sax (Hallvard Godal), guitar (Petter Vågan), keyboards (Steinar Nickelsen), drums (Erik Nylander). They live up to their teamwork concept: lead shifts are frequent and brief, the pace ranging from slow and moody uphill to fast and dangerous downhill. Godal is also in Fattigfolket, a group I remember liking. B+(**)
  179. Perez: It's Happenin' (2007 [2008], Zoho): Name seems to be Diana Perez, although the first name is hard to come by. Born New York, moved to Los Angeles at 17, spent 10 years in Europe, wound up in New York. Third album. Despite her heritage (Cuban-Irish mother, Puerto Rican father) there's nothing Latin here, not even the obligatory Jobim or the optional "Perdido." Voice is plain, unaccented, with a depth and lustre that emerges after the fact. Songbook is a mix of standards ("Blame It on My Youth," "In the Wee Small Hours," "Detour Ahead") and vocalese (Annie Ross on "Farmers Market," Giacomo Gates on "Milestones"). Band is about as straight as they come: Jed Levy (tenor sax, flute), Ron Horton (trumpet), Steve Davis (trombone), David Hazeltine (piano), Nat Reeves (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums). They're strong enough to lift this out of the ordinary. B+(**)
  180. Enrico Pieranunzi: As Never Before (2004 [2008], CAM Jazz): Featuring Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, stealing the focus away from the all-star piano trio with Marc Johnson on bass and Joey Baron on drums. The pianist is more into lush fills than in setting the pace. Wheeler's trumpet is elegiac, but a bit dull. The rhythm section never gets a chance to break into a run. If I sound disappointed, it's because I expect a lot from players who have done so much in the past. B+(**)
  181. Poolplayers: Way Below the Surface (2006 [2008], Songlines): Cooly conceived, barely stated, minimal without any of the repetition that makes minimalism. I filed this under Norwegian trumpet player Arve Henriksen because he's made a habit of such records -- he may be the least splashy trumpet player in jazz history. The other group members are Benoît Delbecq (piano, bass station), Lars Juul (drums, electronics), and Steve Argüelles (Usine, delays, Sherman filter -- don't know what any of those things are, but he's usually credited with drums/percussion). Don't know what to make of it all -- sort of a mood thing that charms within its limits. B+(*)
  182. Public Record: Public Record (2006-08 [2008], High Two): Group from Philadelphia, lists six members, including two guitarists (Gareth Duffield, Greg Pavlovcak), two drummers (Ted Johnson, Matthew Lyons), bass (Brent Bohan), and alto sax (Hilary Baker). Can't really classify them: the beat is rockish and they like dance tempos, but they're not that danceable nor do they push many pop buttons. Their Myspace page has a mosaic of influences which shows they're astute record collectors -- some covers that jump out at me: Aztec Camera, Lee Morgan, Talking Heads, Velvet Underground, Big Youth, Bohannon, James Brown, Au Pairs, Can, Clash, EPMD, Impressions, Bob Marley, Go-Betweens, Stereolab, Faces, Al Green, Slits, Fairport Convention, Fela, Public Enemy, Alton Ellis, Joy division, Otis Redding, Getachew Mekurya. My eyes aren't good enough to be sure of some others, and a couple don't ring any bells at all. List is notably short on jazz for a sax-led instrumental group. Also too electic to synthesize into a coherent artistic focus. B
  183. 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
  184. 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
  185. Ed Reed: The Song Is You (2008, Blue Shorts): Age 78, second album, had a life that included four stretches in San Quentin and Folsom, the sort of places you could pick up a band in with someone like Art Pepper on alto sax. The band here is the Peck Allmond Sextet, with the leader playing trumpet, tenor sax, flute, cornet, and clarinet. The songs throw back to the 1950s -- could be the Sinatra songbook, but somewhat more biased toward Ellington. Reed fits the Sinatra model well enough -- mellower than the brash young Sinatra, smoother and more elegant than the older one. B+(**)
  186. Pete Robbins: Do the Hate Laugh Shimmy (2007 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto saxophonist. Website describes what he does as "brooklyn prog-modern (post)jazz." B. 1978, moved to New York 2002. MySpace page lists Tim Berne and Lee Konitz at top of list of influences. Two previous albums, the one I'm familiar with on Playscape (Waits & Measures) comes closer to bearing that out. This one doesn't. The keyboards and guitar are soft and moody, and the horns (including Jesse Neuman on trumpet and Sam Sadigursky on tenor sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet) rarely rise above that. Must be that "prog-modern (post)jazz" thing he's looking for. B
  187. Claudio Roditi: Impressions (2006 [2008], Sunnyside): Trumpet player, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, b. 1946, moved to US in 1970 to study at Berklee, on to New York in 1976. I tend to think of him as a dependable sideman, but he has about 20 albums under his own name, starting from 1984. Leans toward hard bop -- one of his best regarded albums is a Lee Morgan tribute. Cut this in Rio with a local band I don't recognize: Idriss Boudrioua on alto and soprano sax, Dario Galante on piano, Sergio Barroso on bass, Pascoal Mereilles on drums. The rhythm sways to the local beat, but the program is straight out of jazz mainstream, including four Coltrane tunes. B+(*)
  188. Sonny Rollins: Freedom Suite (1958 [2008], Riverside/Keepnews Collection): A trio with Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach -- the latter credited with trumpet on a back cover typo. The 19:37 title cut seems a little subdued, tentative as if freedom is still uncertain. Same could be said for the side of standards, expanded with redundant bonus cuts, but they're just tapping into his sentimental side, and it's easy to feel sentimental about him. B+(***)
  189. 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+(*)
  190. 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+(*)
  191. Thom Rotella 4tet: Out of the Blues (2007 [2008], Four Bar Music): Guitarist, b. 1951 in Niagara Falls, NY; went to Ithaca College, then Berklee 1970-72, and on to Los Angeles. Has 10-12 albums -- his early (1987-96) ones on DMP seem to count as smooth jazz. This is respectably postbop, with Montgomery-influenced lines, piano (Llew Matthews or Rich Eames), bass (Luther Hughes), drums (Roy McCurdy). Nice. B+(*)
  192. Alison Ruble: This Is a Bird (2008, Origin): Singer, based in Chicago, first album. Voice seems to trail the band and the songs; nothing wrong with it, but she doesn't grab you, nor leave you with a strange aftertaste. Band has some strong points: Jim Gailloreto takes interesting solos on soprano sax, and John McLean is a pretty supportive guitarist. Songs by Bacharach/David and James Taylor rub me both ways; ones by Rodgers/Hammerstein do neither. B
  193. Roswell Rudd Quartet: Keep Your Heart Right (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): New album of (mostly) old songs, the few the great trombonist managed to write lyrics for. They're set up for Sunny Kim, the first singer he's used since he rediscovered Sheila Jordan for two 1973-74 albums, Numatik Swing Band (shamefully out of print, as is the rest of the JCOA catalog), and Flexible Flyer (also out of print, as is most of the rest of the Freedom catalog; all the more shameful given that it is one of my all-time favorite albums). Unfair for anyone to have to walk in Jordan's shoes, but I'm not sure I'd think much of Kim in any case. To her credit, she fares best on two songs Jordan sung on Flexible Flyer, ably negotiating the same tricky phrasing; elsewhere she ranges from competent to not. Piano and bass do little, and I still wonder what Rudd has against drums (or drummers). The trombone is glorious. B+(*)
  194. Sãlongo (2007, DBCD): Group name "is an expression from Zaire meaning: We come together to create something beautiful out of love." Diacritical mark over 'a' varies by typographer -- a macron on cover, a tilde in website text. Group is from New York, a septet (plus guest keyboardist Uli Geissendoerfer) described as Afro-Cuban/Brasilian. The rhythm section fits that description; the saxes are hard boppers Teodross Avery (tenor) and Bruce Williams (alto, flute), with leader Eddie Allen on trumpet. Allen has a little bit of everything in his discography: Mongo Santamaria, conservatives like Houston Person and Cyrus Chestnut, AACM types like Muhal Richard Abrams and Lester Bowie, odds and ends like Bobby Previte and Rabih Abou-Khalil. Haven't heard any of the four records under Allen's name, which look to be mainstream (Anthony Wonsey is on a couple). This sets out a very likable Latin groove, with slick but not overly brassy horn work, and nice piano breaks from Hector Martignon. B+(**)
  195. David Sánchez: Cultural Survival (2007 [2008], Concord Picante): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1968 in Puerto Rico, eighth album since 1994, first not on major label Columbia. I don't really consider him a Latin jazz specialist, although his 1998 roots album Obsesion was all Latin and nothing short of glorious. He belongs to the Coltrane branch of the jazz mainstream, not far removed from Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman, and Ravi Coltrane, and at least on their level. The 20:31 closer, "La Leyenda del Cañaveral," stands out as one of the major works of this group. The smaller pieces will need more study. B+(***)
  196. Sten Sandell/Mattias Ståhl: Grann Musik (Neighbour Music) (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Sandell plays piano, sometimes prepared. He tends to be abstract, sometimes turning out long, dramatic lines that strike me as grandstanding. Ståhl plays vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel -- instruments that produce tones that fit neatly within the crevices of the piano. They almost fit as one, which is an accomplishemt but not necessarily a plus. B
  197. Bernardo Sassetti: Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (2005-06 [2007], Clean Feed): Portugese pianist, often brilliant, but tends to work in soundtrack motifs, which take over here when he employs vast arrays of musicians: Quarteto Saxolinia (saxophone quartet), Cromelque Quinteto (clarinet, flulte, oboe, bassoon, french horn), a battery of percussionists (directed by Miguel Bernat), and various "guests" (flute, alto/soprano sax, tuba, double bass, drums). At least he stays clear of strings. Intriguing music, tasteful, but it often merges into the background. B+(**)
  198. Saxophone Summit: Seraphic Light: Dedicated to Michael Brecker (2007 [2008], Telarc): The last such summit was so dominated by Michael Brecker that I filed it under his name, although the reason could just as well have been that I hated the record, had never cared for Brecker's records, and therefore figured they belonged together. The other pillars were Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman: the former an unimpeachable giant of the era, the latter a fine tenor saxophonist who spends most of his time these days annoying people with his soprano sax. But Brecker's gone now, so I filed this one under Liebman, figuring he'd be the squeak wheel. In any case, the dedication to Brecker here is pro forma. His shoes were easily filled by Ravi Coltrane, especially given that the songbook focuses on his old man. Booklet has no credits beyond the horns, but a group photo hints that the piano is Phil Markowitz, bass Cecil McBee, and drums Billy Hart. Randy Brecker adds his trumpet to the finale. Not much to say about this exercise. It never gets embarrassing like its predecessor, even when the flutes arrive (Coltrane is a saving grace here, with one soprano cut, the rest on tenor). While mostly competent, there are occasional strong moments, including a strong finish on three John Coltrane space elegies, which even Liebman takes on tenor. B
  199. Elliott Sharp: Octal Book One (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Guitarist, lots of obscure albums. AMG considers him avant-garde rather than jazz, evidence that he fits nowhere. This is solo, played on something called a "Koll 8-string electroacoustic guitarbass": has a stinging acoustic sound with occasional effects. Interesting sounds, short bursts, odd twists. Not much more. B+(*)
  200. Elliott Sharp/Scott Fields: Scharfefelder (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): From Fields' notes: "This is what happens when you kid around." Two avant guitarists, both with long discographies, including some together. Chemistry can do amazing things. It can also leave you with nothing but an incoherent mess. More of the latter here. B-
  201. 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+(*)
  202. Matthew Shipp: Piano Vortex (2007, Thirsty Ear): I got this very late, well after the year-end lists were compiled. Not sure why. I get everything else from Thirsty Ear, and asked for and was promised this several times before it finally came through. I've written about Shipp at great length here and here, and two records back he scored a Pick Hit with his jazztronica triumph, Harmony and Abyss. This one turned out to be tough to get into. It's an old fashioned piano trio, with Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. It seemed to just amble quietly then finally detonate about six cuts in. Finally I kicked the volume up a notch, and with Gary Giddins' Jazz Times column as a guide, started paying attention. The ambling quiet title cut does indeed draw you into a vortex. The second and fourth pieces are choppy rhythm things a bit more deliberate than the sixth one ("Quivering With Speed") I've been noticing all along. The odd numbered pieces feature lines that go places you don expect. Morris, who started out as a guitarist, is turning into a sharp bassist, especially with the bow. Giddins writes about others writing about how this is more accessible than other Shipp records. I don't think so. But at least it pays back the attention it demands. A-
  203. Matt Shulman: So It Goes (2006 [2007], Jaggo): Website advises "please turn off any pop-up blocker software/- to enter this website/- for a better viewing experience." Figured I might as well make a U-turn then and there: what I look for in a website is information, not experience. I get too much experience without having to go look for it. Shulman was born in Vermont; studied at Oberlin; moved to New York. He plays trumpet, and has a patent on what he calls the Shulman System, a sort of sling for holding the trumpet in the proper position. He also sings and gets a credit for effects, often tracking them all together. His group is a trio with bass and drums. I don't really know what to make of him. The helpful hype sheet suggests "Miles Davis meets Radiohead," "a Chet Baker for the new millennium," or simply "a new voice from jazz's emerging generation." I doubt that any of those are true, although I'm not expert enough to fully dismiss Radiohead. He does "My Funny Valentine" to beg those comparisons, but it works just as well to defy them. The best I can say is that he's trying to do something new, which might explain why it's so hard to pigeonhole. On the other hand, it's also possible that what he's doing simply isn't clear yet, or is too marginal to care much about. Either way, in the short term I expect reactions to be inordinately pro or con. Given enough time I could go either way myself, but for now I find his trumpet and even more so his voice too limited to carry his ideas, and his ideas too prog -- albeit more avant and less arty than the usual rock usage -- to stand on their own. B
  204. Todd Sickafoose: Tiny Resistors (2007 [2008], Cryptogramophone): Bassist, probably more electric than acoustic but plays both; originally from San Francisco, now based in New York. Third album. Has a substantial number of side credits since 1998, including Jenny Scheinman, Tin Hat, Ani DiFranco. I figure this as a fusion album, one of those big, sweeping prog things, loud, powerful, always listenable, sometimes interesting. Alan Ferber's trombone stands out among the horns. DiFranco plays some electric ukelele. B+(*)
  205. 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+(**)
  206. 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+(*)
  207. Esperalda Spalding: Esperanza (2008, Heads Up): Born 1984, grew up in Portland OR, schooled at Berklee, based in New York, plays double bass and sings. Second album, moving up to a bigger label and out toward pop, her vocals more prominent. She's getting attention with this move -- AllAboutJazz points out her "talent, youth, training and outrageously good looks" -- but from where I sit it's more like she's running away. There is some solid jazz here: the band is built around pianist Leo Genovese and drummer Otis Brown, with occasional guets adding things -- Donald Harrison's two alto sax spots make a big impression, Ambrose Akinmusire's trumpet only slightly less so. Her Brazilian twist on "Body and Soul" is a choice cut, but her scat is neither here nor there, and her voice isn't all that notable -- this could be edited down to a pretty bland nu-jazz album. She does help herself out on bass. B+(*)
  208. Speak in Tones: Subaro (2003-04 [2005], Alpha Pocket, 2CD): Nominally a collaboration between saxophonist Mike Ellis and percussionist Daniel Moreno, this employs 16 musicians and stretches out to 155 minutes. I take it there's an Afro-Brazil focus, but the sessions were recorded in New York with a group that included Malians Lansine Kouyate and Cheick Tidiane Seck, some notable jazz names (Antoine Roney, Jerry Gonzalez, Graham Haynes, Jean-Paul Bourelly, Adam Rudolph), and scattered others. The long groove pieces are seductive, and it helps that the horns have some sharp edges. B+(**)
  209. 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
  210. Stebmo (2008, Mount Analog): Stebmo is Steve Moore, b. 1976, Seattle pianist/trombonist. The name more/less follows the pattern of bluesman Kevin Moore, aka Keb' Mo'. Album is produced by Tucker Martine, and many of Martine's regular clients make a showing: Matt Chamberlain (drums, loops), Todd Sickafoose (bass), Eyvind Kang (viola), Doug Wieselman (clarinets, guitar, banjo), Martine himself (percussion). Martine's circle, sometimes together as Mount Analog, offer an appealing take on fusion, and this is no exception. B+(*)
  211. Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore: A Calculus of Loss (2006 [2008], Clean Feed): Stein is 31, plays bass clarinet, studied at Michigan-Ann Arbor, is based in Chicago, has appeared on Keefe Jackson's Project Project and Bridge 61 (a Ken Vandermark group). Trio here, with Kevin Davis on cello, Mike Pride on percussion. Free jazz. The instruments tend to soften the edges, so you're left with more form than fury. Band named for Stein's grandfather, a New York locksmith known as Izzy. B+(*)
  212. The Stein Brothers Quintet: Quixotic (2007 [2008], Jazzed Media): Two saxophonists, Asher Stein on alto, Alex Stein on tenor, with Mferghu on piano, Doug Largent on bass, and Joe Blaxx on drums, and a couple of guests adding trumpet/trombone on 3-4 cuts. Based in New Jersey. Both Steins studied at University of North Carolina. First album. Cite Barry Harris as an influence. Conventionally boppish, sounding most like those cool jazz groups trying to harmonize a pair of saxes. Not something I find very interesting, but well done. B+(*)
  213. 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+(**)
  214. Bill Stewart: Incandescence (2006 [2008], Pirouet): One of the top mainstream drummers of his generation. Also claims credit for all of the compositions here, which is lays out in an unusual trio: with Kevin Hays on piano, Larry Goldings on organ and accordion. Soul jazz groups generally let the organ double as piano and bass, so you can think of Goldings holding down the bass role when Hays is in the lead, but you won't recognize him. Only on his lead cuts, like the opening "Knock on My Door," does he sound like his exuberant old self. Hays is sharp as a razor, of course. But in the end I tried to just focus on the drummer. Can't say as I got much that way, but it didn't lower my estimation of him either. B
  215. Sun Ra: The Night of the Purple Moon (1964-70 [2007], Atavistic): Obscure even by Sun Ra standards, a quartet session from 1970, given a catalog number for a 1972 ABC-Impulse! release but appeared only on Ra's Saturn label, now augmented by Wurlitzer and Celeste solos from 1964. Ra plays various electric keyboards, including one Ra calls a roksichord (RMI's Rocksichord). Two horns -- Danny Davis on alto sax, alto clarinet, and flute; John Gilmore on tenor sax -- but both players spend most of their time rotating on percussion, offsetting the goofball keyboards. The fourth is Stafford James on electric bass. The horns go straight for the jugular -- wish there was more of them, to put some meat on the minimalism. But the keyb vibe is pretty unique. B+(***)
  216. Rave Tesar Trio: You Decide (2006 [2008], Tesar Music): Piano trio, with Kermit Driscoll on bass, Bill Tesar on drums. Pianist is based in New Jersey. First album, although he has side credits and production work going back to 1988, mostly prog rock -- Tirez Tirez, Annie Haslam. First impression was how bright and chirpy the piano sounds, especially when he picks up some speed and swings a little. B+(**)
  217. The Michael Thomas Quintet: It Is What It Is (2006, JazHead Entertainment): Trumpeter, b. Las Vegas, attended Grambling (inspired by the marching band, caught the jazz bug there), spent some time in upstate New York, moving to DC in 1993. Third album from group. Quintet is conventional trumpet, tenor sax (Zach Graddy), piano (Darius Scott), bass (Kent Miller), drums (Frank Williams IV), with Buck Hill guesting for a second saxophone. Hard bop with a gooey soul jazz center -- includes two takes of "Candy" in case that wasn't abundantly clear. Trumpet has a nice, soulful sound. Neither saxophonist does much. B
  218. 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
  219. 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+(**)
  220. 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+(**)
  221. Stanley Turrentine: Return of the Prodigal Son (1967 [2008], Blue Note): A Duke Pearson-produced tentet session brought back to its original shape after 7 of 10 tracks were cast off on various releases; in theory a big band for a big man, in practice he gets a little overwhelmed until the alternate take of "Dr. Feelgood," but the band never loses interest. B+(*)
  222. McCoy Tyner: Fly With the Wind (1976 [2008], Milestone/Keepnews Collection): A symphony of sorts, tempestuous but wildly scattered including some of those dull atmospheric spots, performed by a massive string orchestra plus harp, wind instruments limited to oboe and flutes, a rhythm section with Ron Carter and Billy Cobham frantically struggling to keep up with the pianist. B
  223. Giulia Valle Group: Danza Imprevista (2006 [2007], Fresh Sound New Talent): Recorded Nov. 14-15, but doesn't say the year, so I'm guessing 2006. She has another Flash website, totally useless. From Tomajazz (as best I can hack the Italian) I gather she was born 1972 in Sanremo, Italy. Studied in Barcelona and seems to be based there. Plays bass. Wrote and arranged everything here except for a piece by Hermeto Pascoal and a theme from Hindemith she transfigured. Group is definitely Barcelona, with two saxes (Martí Serra and Miguel "Pintxo" Villar), Sergi Sirvent on piano, and David Xirgu on drums. Postbop, arty, but also swings some. I didn't care for the same two sax lineup on her previous Colorista, but this is more winning. B+(**)
  224. Larry Vuckovich Trio: High Wall (2007 [2008], Tetrachord Music): Pianist, b. 1936 in Yugoslavia, came to San Francisco in 1951, studied with Vince Guaraldi, settled into the local jazz scene. Reminds me of the second generation of bebop pianists, with long, expansive lines, bright, bouncy undertow. Several bass/drums combinations, some with extra percussion. B+(**)
  225. Wayne Wallace: The Nature of the Beat (2008, Patois): Trombonist, b. 1952 San Francisco, studied at San Francisco state, privately with Julian Priester and Bobby Hutcherson, later at La Escuela Nacional in Havana. Plays Latin jazz -- the song labels also read: Latin funk, Cuban funk, Timba funk, Orisha jazz, cha cha, and bolero -- fronting a large band with lots of brass and percussion, and a herd of guest vocalists. The latter move the album into pop territory, which isn't a plus when they tackle a song like "Serpentine Fire." No such complaints about the trombone solos -- wish there were more. B
  226. Robert Walter: Cure All (2007 [2008], Palmetto): Don't have recording date, but website has a 2007-10-03 news item saying: "Robert has just completed recording his next record it is scheduled to come out early next year." I figure that is this. Walter plays soul jazz/funk licks, mostly on Hammond B-3. He cut a record a couple years back called Super Heavy Organ which pretty much lived up to its title. For this trio, the organ isn't so heavy, and he switches to piano on occasion -- its percussive sound sharpens up those funk licks. Seventh album, first with a name label. B+(*)
  227. 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
  228. Bobby Watson: From the Heart (2007 [2008], Palmetto): Alto saxophonist, from Kansas, b. 1953, has a long list of notable recordings, including several postbop classics for the Red label in Italy in the mid-1980s, followed by a scattering of albums for majors Blue Note and Columbia. I tend to think of him as underrated, but by now he's pretty well known -- reminds me of a baseball player named Bob Watson who put together a long, very consistent career where he was the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th best first baseman in the league but hardly ever got invited to the all-star game. Sextet album, something he likes to do, with trumpet, piano, vibes, bass, and drums. The way trumpeter Leron Thomas shadows Watson turns me off -- the two tones mesh into one excessively brassy sound. Piano-vibes has a similar effect, but the sound isn't so annoying, and Warren Wolf (vibes) puts on a pretty good show. Upbeat, expansive stuff -- hard to hate, although that was my first instinct. B
  229. Aaron Weinstein & John Pizzarelli: Blue Too (2007 [2008], Arbors): Don't have a birth date for Weinstein, but when his first album (A Handful of Stars) came out he was still in his teens. A violinist, cites Joe Venuti at the head of his list of influences. For his debut, Weinstein tapped Bucky Pizzarelli for his Eddie Lang. Here he settles for the son, who turns out to be a pretty good match, and a steady next step after his star-studded debut showed so much taste and erudition. B+(**)
  230. 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
  231. Shea Breaux Wells: A Blind Date (2007 [2008], Ultimate): Singer, from Sonoma County, CA, second album, mixes standards with vocalese, plus one original. I often pull series of stylistically related records off the shelf, but coming after Perez this one is pretty uncanny. What was I saying about Jobim being obligatory? Here's "Corcovado" again. Almost as eery is the closer: Ellington-Tizol's "Caravan" here, Ellington-Tizol's "Perdido" there. The Miles Davis cut here is "All Blues" here vs. "Milestones" there. For vocalese, Wells picks Jon Hendricks lyrics to "Night in Tunisia" and "I Remember Clifford." Wells is making somewhat more obvious choices, especially when you factor "Blue Skies" in. Her band is equally stellar: the rhythm section hails from the generation Perez's mainstreamers grew up emulating: George Cables, Billy Hart, Cecil McBee. The horns are a cut more aggressive: David Weiss on trumpet and (especially) Craig Handy on sax/flute. Neither singer offers her age, but I figure Wells is younger and feistier, with more up front in her voice, but less aftertaste. Pretty close to a wash. B+(**)
  232. Kenny Wheeler: Other People (2005 [2008], CAM Jazz): Plays trumpet/flugelhorn, from Canada, a significant figure in the English avant-garde from c. 1970 although never known for his fire, recorded an impressive series of mild-mannered composer-centric albums for ECM, has been quite prolific on CAM Jazz over the last 4-5 years. This, like most of his albums, pairs him with pianist John Taylor, a collaborator and kindred spirit from way back. The other musicians here are the four members of the Hugo Wolf String Quartet, none named Hugo Wolf. So this is another horn-with-strings thing, a genre that has rarely failed to disgust -- Warren Vaché's Don't Look Back was the latest one I've flagged down. This one is, well, not so bad. The strings hew closely to Wheeler's compositional concept, which often turns them into a fairly neutral backdrop. Taylor is splendid at stitching it all together, while Wheeler is often eloquent and/or poignant, if not very dynamic. B+(*)
  233. 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
  234. Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen (2003 [2006], Omnitone): I reckon the liner note juxtaposition of Satie with quantum mechanics with '60s psychedelia is just meant as testimony to the intellectual precociousness of the music, at once neatly layered and feverishly complex. The seven piece group includes electric guitar, bass, and keyboards, and a second bassist who switch hits. The keyboardist also switches off, this time to accordion. Trumpeter Chuck MacKinnon's credits include EFX. Willis plays eleven wind instruments ranging from piccolo to bass clarinet with the usual duduks and suonas and the unusual oboe tucked in among the saxophones. More wondrous than wonderful, I find, but then, like Einstein, I shy away from complexity unless it's unavoidable. B+(***)
  235. Norma Winstone: Distances (2007 [2008], ECM): English vocalist, b. 1941, cut a well-regarded record in 1971 (Edge of Time), but more often worked with others: Michael Garrick; Mike Westbrook; John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler in the group Azimuth. AMG counts nine records under her name. This one, like her 2002 Chamber Music (Universal) puts her in front of Glauco Venier (piano) and Klaus Gesing (soprano sax, bass clarinet). Hard to characterize her as a singer: she has a calm, stately voice, seemingly unaffected by the vogue of jazz singers emulating horn players. Gesing is consistently a plus here, especially when he lifts up one of the many slow pieces. Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye" is a choice cut, but maybe that's just because it's easiest to relate to. B+(**)
  236. Saco Yasuma: Another Rain (2006 [2007], Leaf Note): First album by an interesting alto saxophonist, with a strong quintet that takes risks and plays heady avant -- the standout is Roy Campbell on trumpet, but everyone contributes. One song goes slow with the leader playing a bamboo sax on a Japanese folk theme. Another unleashes Golda Solomon for a torrent of words. Drummer Michael T.A. Thompson is showing up on a lot of good records lately. B+(***)
  237. Yellowjackets: Lifesycle (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-
  238. James Zitro: Zitro (1967 [2008], ESP-Disk): Percussionist, worked with Sonny Simmons, got a free shot on the label that bragged "the artist alone decide" and turned out an energetic but unexceptional free jazz blast, a sextet with Alan Praskin and Bert Wilson on noisy saxes and Warren Gale riffing high on trumpet. B

Monday, August 04, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14671 [14645] rated (+26), 772 [777] unrated (-5). Another all jazz week. Jazz Consumer Guide #17 is virtually done, officially closed out. Need to wrap up a bit of paperwork, then I can see if I can get back to a normal life.


Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 14)

Round 17 of prospecting for Jazz Consumer Guide is now officially closed. The column itself still needs a bit of polish, but will go to the editor in a couple of days, and will be published, well, God knows when -- probably sometime in September. Historically, columns have come out pretty regularly on three month intervals. This time I took four months for prospecting, starting April 7 and ending August 4, 2008. Main reason for the delay was the death of Kalman Tillem, my father-in-law. I took two trips to Detroit during this period, totalling about five weeks. I had actually expected to get this column done in short order, given how much I had leftover from last time. Sorry about that. Can't really predict about next time. My carryover is a little less than usual, but I actually have quite a few records already identified, easily enough to fill up the next column if I just buckle down and write them up.

The total number of records prospected this round is 291, up from 240 last round and 259 the round before. Unrated records in the queue total 156. I don't have that number handy for previous rounds, but I think it's growing slowly. In other words, I'm starting to fall behind. I've always taken the position that I'll listen to everything I get, but there are a few records in the queue I haven't gotten to in over a year -- especially advance promos that looked marginal to start with. I'm certainly feeling swamped. But I'm also feeling relieved. And since I spent a good part of the week playing things I had already rated A-, I'm feeling better about the state of the art.

One thing I want to do in the next week is take a very hard look at the done file, 122 records strong at present, and move at least half of that into the surplus, writing up notes on a lot of records that deserve Honorable Mentions but due to space (and sometimes my loss for words) won't make it. The big fact of my life right now is that I'm living in way too much clutter. I really need to take control of that.


Louis Mazetier: Tributes, Portraits and Other Stories (2007 [2008], Arbors): Vol. 18 in Arbors Piano Series, a set of solo piano showcases for mostly obscure, mostly old-fashioned pianists. Mazetier was born 1960 in Paris. He's played in the French trad jazz group Paris Washboard, and recorded a couple of albums under his own name for Stomp Off. Stride pianist, starts off with a sparkling take on James P. Johnson's "You've Got to Be Modernistic." Contributes 10 originals out of 22 songs. B+(**)

Ulf Wakenius: Love Is Real: A Tribute to Esbjörn Svensson (2007 [2008], ACT): Swedish guitarist, b. 1958, has a dozen or so albums since 1992, mostly mild-mannered, likable affairs. Has played with Oscar Peterson from 1997 to the pianist's death. Last album our was shaped as a tribute to Keith Jarrett -- its simple elegance turned into one of the most pleasing albums I've heard in many years. This one looks like it suffers from Second System Complex -- when at first you succeed, try something grander and riskier -- but it comes together marvelously. The string quartet (name: radio.string.quartet.vienna) provides a groundswell of rich textures, discreet use of guest horns (trumpeters Til Brönner and Paolo Fresu on one cut each, trombonist Nils Landgren on another) shifts the focus around, and someone named Eric Wakenius -- I'd guess the leader's son -- grafts on an electric guitar solo from another generation. The fancy stuff works because the core quartet -- Lars Jansson (piano), Lars Danielsson (bass, cello, effects), and Morten Lund (drums, cajon, percussion) -- is so solid, and because Svensson's songs have some snap, crackle and pop to them. A-

Joel Harrison: The Wheel (2008, Innova): This is the third record in the last couple of days by a guitarist working with a string quartet -- an idea that I basically dread, but the first two (Bill Frisell, Ulf Wakenius) came off quite successfully, not least because they cheated convention. Harrison, however, flies straight into the teeth of the framework, writing "a five movement suite for double quartet and guitar" -- one quartet is the standard set of strings, the other a piano-less postbop lineup with Ralph Alessi (trumpet/flugelhorn), Dave Binney (alto sax), Lindsay Horner (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums). The latter quartet actually sounds promising, but I didn't notice any horns first play; rather, there was an overgrown jungle of aggressive, menacing strings. At least this avoids the usual jazz-with-strings clichés: the modernism is brusque enough I'm reminded of the Stan Getz album Focus, but this is more unruly, and I've never had any doubts about the horn on Focus. This is the sort of album that leaves me with unresolved questions that don't promise to be worth the trouble to sort out. B+(*)

Gene Ludwig Trio with the Bill Warfield Big Band: Duff's Blues (2008, 18th & Vine): Ludwig plays organ. He was born 1937, started on piano, met Jimmy Smith in 1957, switched to organ. The other Trio members are Bob DeVos (guitar) and Rudy Petschauer (drums). Warfield plays trumpet. No credits for the rest of the Big Band, but there must be a mess of them: they play big and loud, with the requisite swing, tending to drown out their guests. B+(*) [Aug. 12]

Wayne Wallace: The Nature of the Beat (2008, Patois): Trombonist, b. 1952 San Francisco, studied at San Francisco state, privately with Julian Priester and Bobby Hutcherson, later at La Escuela Nacional in Havana. Plays Latin jazz -- the song labels also read: Latin funk, Cuban funk, Timba funk, Orisha jazz, cha cha, and bolero -- fronting a large band with lots of brass and percussion, and a herd of guest vocalists. The latter move the album into pop territory, which isn't a plus when they tackle a song like "Serpentine Fire." No such complaints about the trombone solos -- wish there were more. B

Brazilian Trio: Forests (2007 [2008], Zoho): Strange to name your group that. Brazil is a large country, and its place in the international music business is ever larger -- by most accounts, the second largest music market after the US. There must be dozens of Brazilian trios of note. Moreover, it's becoming increasingly clear that there is no typical Brazilian music: there are numerous indigenous styles, plus fusions with just about every manner of music from around the world, so what should we take the label to mean? (Other than that most Americans don't know diddley about Brazilian music?) On another level, the principals here have names which are recognizable -- at least I recognize them, which doesn't quite qualify them as household names -- so they have no need to lurk behind this cover. Indeed, the label shows a hint of recognizing this in that they list the names (albeit in small and poorly contrasting type) on the front cover: Duduka Da Fonseca (drums/percussion), Helio Alves (piano), Nilson Matta (bass). All write pieces (as well as Messrs. Lins, Pascoal, and Nascimento). Didn't expect much when I dropped this in, but Alves is as fluent in Bud Powell as in samba, and Matta feeds him an especially strong rhythm track in "Paraty." Will play it again. [B+(***)]

Hamilton de Holanda & André Mehmari: Continuous Friendship (2007 [2008], Adventure Music): Brazilians; de Holanda, b. 1976, plays mandolin; Mehmari, b. 1977, plays piano. Both have several previous albums -- de Holanda's more easily accessible on the US-based Adventure Music label. I'll take their word about the friendship, but it sounds to me like there is a lot of tension in these encounters, but maybe they're just intense (not the same thing as discordant). Impresive, but also wearing, and a little thin, as duos often are. B+(**)

CNY Jazz Orchestra: Then, Now & Again (2007 [2008], CNY): Big band, organized by the Central New York Jazz Arts Foundation, based in Syracuse, NY, under the musical direction of Bret Zvacek. I've never heard of any of the musicians here, or for that matter of Zvacek, who wrote 2 of 10 pieces and arranged several others. They all seem very capable, with respectable solos and solid ensemble work. More modernist than swing, although they can. My package says "CD/DVD Collector's Edition," but only has CD (not that I'm complaining). B+(*)

The Wee Trio: Capitol Diner Vol. 1 (2007 [2008], Bionic): Nice name concept for a Brooklyn-based vibes (James Westfall), bass (Dan Loomis), drums (Jared Schonig) trio. Westfall was born 1981 in Houston, and has an album under his own name. He and Loomis write three songs each here; the other four come from Kurt Cobain, Isham Jones, Sufjan Stevens, and Thelonious Monk. Small sound, but I particularly like the sparseness and the way the drummer shifts against time. B+(***) [Sept. 8]

Georg Breinschmid & Friends: Wien Bleibt Krk (2008, Zappel Music): Austrian bassist, b. 1973, based in Vienna. AMG lists him twice, once under classical, again under folk. Don't know about that, but his jazz project list includes: Pago Libre (not a founder, but on a recent record), Christian Muthspiel Trio, a trio with Beni Schmid (violin) and Stian Carstensen (accordion, both present here), a duo with Thomas Gansch (trumpet, also here), a duo with Agnes Heginger (vocals, also here), and a Charles Mingus homage sextet. Project here uses several of those groups plus a few extra guests. Five songs have vocals, including a funny one mostly in English. The instrumental pieces are mostly done with bass and two violins (3 cuts) or bass-violin-accordion (4 cuts); the only horn is Gansch's trumpet (2 cuts); no drums. Some waltz and tango pieces. Very Germanic, albeit with a fanciful sense of humor. B+(**)

Scott Hamilton & Friends: Across the Tracks (2008, Concord): Sorting out the last duds this cycle, I thought I should check Concord's recent roster to see what they weren't sending me. Aside from Telarc/Heads Up, which have been pretty steady, I did get Taylor Eigsti, but I haven't seen any trace of: Mindi Abair, Gerald Albright, David Benoit, James Hunter, Incognito, Sergio Mendes, Scott Hamilton, or David Sánchez. I don't much care about the front of that list, but Hamilton and Sánchez are two saxophonists I'm definitely interested in. Sánchez did one of the best Latin jazz records I've ever heard (Obsesion, back in 1998), and Hamilton has been a perennial favorite: the first and in many ways the best of the swing-oriented "young fogey" players to come up around 1980. His last two records made the Jazz CG A-list (Back in New York and Nocturnes & Serenades). This isn't as strong: a very relaxed set with Gene Ludwig on organ and Duke Robillard on electric guitar. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

David Sánchez: Cultural Survival (2007 [2008], Concord Picante): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1968 in Puerto Rico, eighth album since 1994, first not on major label Columbia. I don't really consider him a Latin jazz specialist, although his 1998 roots album Obsesion was all Latin and nothing short of glorious. He belongs to the Coltrane branch of the jazz mainstream, not far removed from Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman, and Ravi Coltrane, and at least on their level. The 20:31 closer, "La Leyenda del Cañaveral," stands out as one of the major works of this group. The smaller pieces will need more study. B+(***) [Rhapsody]


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

Marilyn Mazur/Jan Garbarek: Elixir (2005 [2008], ECM): Many short pieces framed by unusual percussion -- Mazur's kit reads: marimba, bowed vibraphone and waterphone, hang, bells, gongs, cymbals, magic drum, log drum, sheep bells, Indian cowbells, udu drum, various drums and metal-utensils. Most are interesting, and the metallic bits are especially striking. Garbarek is a sensitive duettist, skillfully working his tenor and soprano sax, and flute, around Mazur's contours, and at his best is as hypnotic as a snake charmer. B+(***)

Jane Ira Bloom: Mental Weather (2007 [2008], Outline): Soprano sax specialist, plays pretty in front of a quartet that sometimes seems to be in revolt -- especially when the tempo picks up and bassist Mark Helias takes charge. Those are the most interesting moments here, but they are broken up by slow spots, where the weather turns balmy -- pleasant enough. B+(**)

Marilyn Crispell: Vignettes (2007 [2008], ECM): Solo piano, rather far removed from her early avant-garde exploits -- clearly, she's on her best behavior. Also seems more self-organized than her other well-behaved ECM albums. I'm tempted to recommend it as a puzzle, but not having any idea what the answer is I could be way off base. B+(**)

Jon Balke: Book of Velocities (2006 [2008], ECM): Solo piano, four chapter, nineteen pieces counting the epilogue, velocities ranging from slow to slow, sparse sketches you have to reach for. I don't dislike it, especially as background, but don't quite know what to do with it either. B

John Butcher/Torsten Muller/Dylan van der Schyff: Way Out Northwest (2007 [2008], Drip Audio): Vancouver label, two local musicians, a guest saxophonist from the UK who is a big name in very small circles. First pass I was blown away by this ugly free-for-all, but in returning to it I find myself less charmed. Butcher gets a lot of unorthodox sounds out of his saxes -- tenor and soprano -- but the clicks and pops could just as well come from bass or drums. B+(**)

Barnyard Drama: I'm a Navvy (2005 [2006], Barnyard): Toronto group, experimental rock, at best sounds like Captain Beefheart with, oh, Lydia Lunch singing -- singer's name is Christine Duncan. Jean Martin, who has some more jazz-oriented releases, is the drummer, plus there are two guitarists. A cut called "Sigh, Me Good" is built around a monster bass riff (no bass credit, so who knows?) with a lot of scattered electronic noise that almost cancels the effect. B+(*)

James Carter: Present Tense (2007 [2008], Emarcy): This record has been fairly well received, as well it should be. Carter is a remarkable talent, and any time you bother to pay him some attention is likely to be rewarded. Still, I can't tell you how many times I've played this record and not bothered to listen. With its Django Reinhardt and Gigi Gryce covers, quietstorm and hot club originals, it sounds like a pastiche of his past work. It does reassure me that his baritone rep isn't unfounded, but I still suspect he's playing a lot of the low stuff on tenor. He adds some flute here, which isn't bad but has opportunity costs. Pianist DD Jackson offers notable support, but doesn't get enough time either. Rodney Jones has some moments on guitar. I'm less impressed with trumpeter Dwight Adams, who riffs energetically but adds little. B+(***)

Ab Baars Trio & Ken Vandermark: Goofy June Bug (2007 [2008], Wig): Without going back to count, I'd guess there are at least a dozen records out where Vandermark just drops in to jam with some other more/less established group -- the Aaly Trio, the Gold Sparkle Band, and Zu are a few cases that pop to mind, with Aaly (that is, Mats Gustafsson) good for 3 or 4 records. Most of those groups are already well endowed in saxophones, but Vandermark nearly always manages to add something, often muscle. Still, the offhandedness of these encounters is self-limiting: they mostly sound like Vandermark jam sessions, which while full of creative sparks aren't exactly in short supply. This one is more varied than par, with clarinets as well as tenor sax (and a bit of shakuhachi from Baars), but also seems more scattered: Baars is more of an eclectic than an avant-gardist, and this shows up in his preponderance of pieces. Interesting guy, but I don't think he's managed to pull off a really convincing album yet. B+(**)

Jason Ajemian: The Art of Dying (2007 [2008], Delmark): Chicago Underground bassist, leads a trio Smokeless Heat with Tim Haldeman on tenor sax and Noritaka Tanaka on drums. For the studio sessions here the trio is expanded to a sextet, giving the composer more options and the musicians less. They try interesting things, but it sounds rather pro forma. At least until the last cut, a 23:54 radio shot with just the trio, no clutter, everyone sharp as tacks. B+(*)

Fieldwork: Door (2007 [2008], Pi): Easy last time to treat this as Vijay Iyer's group, but alto saxophonist Steve Lehman has moved even more front and center, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey wound up writing the majority of the pieces. In many respects, Iyer functions more like a bassist, steadying the rhythm and filling out the sound, taking few solos. The last cut, Lehman's "Rai," remains the prize for its dynamism, but other tracks are nearly as exciting, and the slow stuff doesn't lose interest or its sense of danger. I held Iyer's excellent Tragicomic back from JCG(17), so (18) looks like his day. A-

Sal Mosca Quartet: You Go to My Head (2001-06 [2008], Blue Jack Jazz): Private recording sessions from the late pianist's studio, the sort of thing that becomes precious only after we know the supply is limited. Mosca was a Lennie Tristano disciple, and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Halperin is an adroit stand-in for Warne Marsh or Lee Konitz (each author of a song here). But the Gershwin pieces and "How High the Moon" are standard fare for any jazzman with a little stride in his swing, and the Parker and Gillespie pieces are almost as time worn. Still, a lovely piece of work. B+(***)

Nicholas Payton: Into the Blue (2007 [2008], Nonesuch): Choice cut: "The Charleston Hop (The Blue Steps)" -- short, funky trumpet jabs over a fractured hand drum beat, with nothing else to muck things up. Rest of the album has plenty of muck, mostly in Kevin Hays' keyb and the synths Payton has been dabbling with. He plays languidly for much of the album. Also tries singing one song, in a voice that I can only describe as a Chet Baker parody. B

Christian Scott: Anthem (2007, Concord): This does lighten up a bit in an agreeable piece called "Like That," but the first half-plus is buried in heavy sludge -- an obvious metaphor for flooded New Orleans, the young trumpeter's home town. B-

Roswell Rudd Quartet: Keep Your Heart Right (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): New album of (mostly) old songs, the few the great trombonist managed to write lyrics for. They're set up for Sunny Kim, the first singer he's used since he rediscovered Sheila Jordan for two 1973-74 albums, Numatik Swing Band (shamefully out of print, as is the rest of the JCOA catalog), and Flexible Flyer (also out of print, as is most of the rest of the Freedom catalog; all the more shameful given that it is one of my all-time favorite albums). Unfair for anyone to have to walk in Jordan's shoes, but I'm not sure I'd think much of Kim in any case. To her credit, she fares best on two songs Jordan sung on Flexible Flyer, ably negotiating the same tricky phrasing; elsewhere she ranges from competent to not. Piano and bass do little, and I still wonder what Rudd has against drums (or drummers). The trombone is glorious. B+(*)


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


Unpacking:

  • Angles: Every Woman Is a Tree (Clean Feed)
  • Jorge Lima Barreto: Zul Zelub (Clean Feed)
  • John Beasley: Letter to Herbie (Resonance)
  • Judith Berkson: Lu-Lu (Peacock)
  • Emily Bezar: Exchange (DemiVox)
  • Bik Bent Braam: Extremen (BBB)
  • Conference Call: Poetry in Motion (Clean Feed)
  • Paulo Curado: The Bird, the Breeze and Mr. Filiano (Clean Feed)
  • Mark Dresser/Ed Harkins/Steven Schick: House of Mirrors (Clean Feed)
  • Mike Garson: Conversations With My Family (Resonance, CD+DVD)
  • Gene Harris Quartet: Live in London (1996, Resonance)
  • Justin Time Records 25th Anniversary Collection (Justin Time, 2CD)
  • Adam Lane/Lou Grassi/Mark Whitecage: Drunk Butterfly (Clean Feed)
  • Mauger: The Beautiful Enabler (Clean Feed)
  • Nobel Voices for Disarmament: 1901-2001 (Smithsonian Folkways)
  • Andreas Öberg: My Favorite Guitars (Resonance, CD+DVD)
  • The Pineapple Thief: Tightly Unwound (K Scope)
  • Putumayo Presents: Acoustic France (Putumayo World Music)
  • Trio Viriditas: Live at Vision Festival VI (Clean Feed)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Browse Alert: Anthrax

Glenn Greenwald: Journalists, their lying sources, and the anthrax investigation. The evident suicide of government scientist Bruce Ivins has brought the post-9/11 anthrax scare back into the news. I haven't sorted through it, but this looks like a good place to start. This is often forgotten now, but at the time the antrax attacks were very important in driving Americans to a post-9/11 war footing. I remember watching some pundit on TV opine that there's no question but that sooner or later terrorists will attack the US with biological weapons; the only question is when. That question was answered within days of being asked. The coincidence has never been lost on me. It's like the attacks were custom ordered for the moment, and the effect was to build a siege mentality where 9/11 itself was rapidly fading into history as an isolated event. The attacks in turn led to an orgy of panic: especially when people started to think about the sorts of things that would have to be done to protect large buildings and the mail system from future attacks. But then the attacks stopped, just before we toted up the bill and decided that we couldn't afford anthrax protection. If you're a terrorist, is that the moment you'd halt the assault? I'm not an especially paranoid sort, but that always struck me as very suspicious.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Browse Alert: McCain

Billmon: The Great White Hope. First piece I've seen since my favorite blogger shut up his Whiskey Bar. Good summary of McCain's every-shifting political positions. Starts off like this:

The media's moment of disillusionment with John McCain appears to be at hand. Even Joe Klein has finally noticed that McCain's profile is beginning to resemble the endomorphic shadow of his backstage advisor, Karl Rove, not one of the faces on Mt. Rushmore.

It's all very predictable -- about as predictable as the media's abrupt discovery in the summer of 2005, as New Orleans sank beneath the waves, that the president of the United States was, gasp!, an incompetent boob.

But anyone who's studied McCain's career with any intellectual detachment at all (as opposed to the hagiographic tendencies of his media cheerleading claque) could have told you: The truth about John McCain is that he'll do just about anything and say just about anything to win. He always has. He's just been more clever (and cynical) than most in how he goes about it.

And concludes:

Now, finally, all that hard work and twisting and turning have paid off, and McCain IS the GOP establishment candidate. In April, as Clinton and Obama were tearing into each other (or rather, as she was tearing into him) the McCain campaign clearly saw an advantage in positioning their guy above the fray, as the "kinder, gentler" candidate -- the better to pick off supporters of the loser in the Democratic primary race. Thus McCain's promise to run a "respectful campaign." (He didn't explain that what he meant was respect for HIM.)

But McCain and his new team of Rovian handlers now realize they won't have a prayer in November unless they can motivate the conservative base and (to use Lee Atwater's charming phrase) "strip the bark" off Obama. And they have to do it NOW, so McCain can pivot back to a softer, more upbeat message in September.

So that's exactly what McCain is doing -- instantly, unapologetically, without shame or embarrassment. His enormous cynicism about the political process and his contempt for the voters -- not to mention his vast sense of self-entitlement -- have led McCain to take exactly the same low road as the Bush family and its various henchmen (Atwater, Rove): Whatever works; whatever it takes.

And so it's finally dawning, even on some members of his media "base" (ever the hapless clowns in our political theater of the absurd) that McCain isn't quite the straight-talking, straight-shooting military man of honor they thought he was. The White Knight has morphed into the Great White Hope -- the GOP machine's last, desperate chance to avoid the mortal humiliation of being defeated not just by a Democrat, not just by a liberal, but by a liberal Democratic black man.

Some of the suckers are even starting to suspect McCain's been lying about them, too. Despite the cozy chats on the Straight Talk Express, the Arizona barbeque weekends, the cheerfully misogynist jokes and the teary-eyed moments when John tells one of his patented POW stories -- despite, even, the donuts with sprinkles -- he isn't actually their friend at all. In fact it's pretty obvious he despises them almost as much as he despises a system that forces him to pander both to them and to the voters.

This is followed by hundreds of comments, more about Billmon than about McCain, but here's an exception:

Cheney, like Kissinger before him, is at least goal-driven. He has a (skewed, twisted, and sociopathic) vision of how he thinks the world should be.

Bush and McCain, on the other hand, are ego-less creatures of privilege, narcissistic personality disorders. Lacking an ego (in the Freudian sense), they accumulate power solely to maintain their deeply-held illusions of self-image.

They do manifest somewhat differently. Bush has never, ever, EVER admitted he was wrong about ANYTHING. McCain, on the other hand, apologizes every time he gets caught -- but the apology is utterly insincere. It's not even halfhearted . . . it's an insult, and the fact that others believe it only reinforces his faith in his own natural superiority.

Worse, a narcissistic personality can be quite charismatic, their great confidence in themselves rubbing off on those around them. But when you see through them, it's all over. That's what happened to Bush (now the most unpopular president in history), and that's what will continue to happen to McCain. He's lost virtually all of the self-styled "independents" attracted to the "maverick" projection, and he cannot win them back.

And because McCain can no longer hide from the world's increasing disdain for him, he's going to become more and more bitter and violently angry -- anger with himself mirrored back to anger with the world. Which will make things worse and worse. Bush managed to avoid this just by becoming withdrawn rather than angry, but McCain is wired differently.

This is a little excessive, but not far off. McCain's eagerness to admit his limits and mistakes gives him a lot more room to maneuver than Bush, although Bush has hardly been as steadfast as he'd like you to think.

DrSteveB: McCain -- War Hero or Just Incompetent Pilot? This is a little excessive, too, but when so much is made of McCain's military record, this gives you some pause. Graduated 5th from the bottom of his class? As I recall, that suits him better than Ulysses S. Grant (not to mention George A. Custer), but still. News to me is that he crashed three airplanes in non-combat situations even before he got to Vietnam and got shot down. Also goes into his POW record, which has been scrubbed down to pristine myth -- nowhere have I seen him admit the obvious fact that the Vietnamese saved his life.

It seems pretty clear that McCain got his military career the same way Bush got into Yale: family pull. Like Bush, he was basically a fuck up -- young, clever, cynical. Wasn't as lucky, stuck all that time in Hanoi, but it gave him the sort of conversion experience that Bush faked with Billy Graham, and that was widely seen as making up for his wayward beginnings. The comparisons continue in how badly the media fell for both -- especially their charming informality, hinting at the rogueishness they've salvaged from theid discredited past lives. The main difference seems to be that McCain has to work harder to come out on top: he's remarkably good at flattering the press, where gets away with being aloof and arrogant. For a long time, anyhow: both men are fundamentally frauds, and once you see that, it's hard to see them as anything else ever again.


Paul Krugman: Can This Planet Be Saved? Noticed this a few moments after posting above, and it's directly relevant: it's about McCain's flip-flop on offshore drilling, which he's recently made a focal piece of his campaign. (This seems to be a standard GOP-approved theme; here in Wichita Rep. Todd Tiahrt has made offshore drilling his first big campaign issue.)

A McCain campaign ad says that gas prices are high right now because "some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America." [ . . . ] Back when he was cultivating a maverick image, Mr. McCain portrayed himself as more environmentally aware than the rest of his party. He even co-sponsored a bill calling for a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions (although his remarks on several recent occasions suggest that he doesn't understand his own proposal). But the lure of a bit of political gain, it turns out, was all it took to transform him back into a standard drill-and-burn Republican.


Jul 2008 Sep 2008