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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14861 [14850] rated (+11), 753 [757] unrated (-4). Very little Jazz Prospecting or anything else. Unrated hasn't swelled because I'm nowhere near up on my mail. Did get three CD cabinets built this week, which should be good for approximately 3000 CDs -- net gain is somewhat less as an old case was scrapped with parts reused for one of the new ones. Should be in Detroit by this time next week, so I don't expect anything much to change for a while.

  • DJ Yoda: Fabriclive.39 (2008, Fabric): Mix tape, lots of familiar bits here -- Run-DMC, "It's Tricky"; Salt N Pepa, "Push It" -- ending with a piece by Lord Kitchener. B+(**)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #18, Part 7)

Two weeks and change into my big break from music writing, so Jazz Prospecting is sparse this week, just barely topping my minimum catch to bother posting any at all. I did manage to get some significant new shelving built this past week, including three CD cases that should hold close to 3000 CDs. Hopefully, the prospect of not feeling buried will perk up my spirits.

Bracketed grades are tentative, which is more common these days because I'm less able to focus. Bracketed dates are future release dates, and may include notes about advances. In one case I streamed a record from Rhapsody that I didn't receive and can only vouch for in the most limited of ways. Such records should be tentative, but since I don't have the prospect of inspecting them further, I consider those grades final -- if I do get another shot at it, I'll reopen the case. Didn't get my mail catalogued this week. I'll catch up with it later.


The Suicide Kings (2008, Blue Plate Music): Country rock group, formed in 2006, although the key players -- vocalist Bruce Connole, keyboardist Brad Buxer -- have kicked around for a couple of decades. Remind me of someone I can't quite pin down. Some grim moments, which may or may not include the signature song. Some indications that they're sharper politically than their niche demands. B+(*)

Bobo Stenson Trio: Cantando (2007 [2008], ECM): Piano trio, with Anders Jormin on bass, Jon Fält on drums. Stenson has been around quite a while: b. 1944, co-led an early-1970s group with Jan Garbarek that produced Witchi-Tai-To, one of my favorite records. Has been recording regularly for ECM since 1998, with a few more titles going back to 1971. A good fit for Manfred Eicher's piano taste. Plays songs by Silvio Rodriguez, Alban Berg, Astor Piazzolla, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, a couple others, one group piece, two more by Jormin, who gets some space and comes off surprisingly poignant. [B+(***)]

Vassilis Tsabropoulos/Anja Lechner/U.T. Gandhi: Melos (2007 [2008], ECM): Piano, cello, percussion. The cello is the sonic center here. Mostly slow, very pretty. Not much percussion. [B+(**)]

Portinho Trio: Vinho do Porto (2008, MCG Jazz): Brazilian drummer, based in New York, leads a trio with pianist Klaus Mueller and bassist Itaiguara Brandão (or Lincoln Goines on 3 tracks). Brazilian tunes, "Satin Doll," "Footprints," a piece from Paquito D'Rivera. Lively, subtle, with a big boost from "special guest" trombonist Jay Ashby. B+(*)

Pete Rodríguez: El Alquimista/The Alchemist (2008, Conde Music): Trumpeter, b. 1969, from Puerto Rico, based in NJ, has a couple of previous records. He's ably supported here by Ricardo Rodríguez on bass, Henry Cole on drums, and Roberto Quintero, and frequently upstaged by splashy performances from pianist Luis Perdomo and tenor saxophonist David Sánchez. Impressive as the latter two are, I find their whiplash approach to Latin jazz often disorienting. Trumpet sounds fine. B+(*)

Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William Parker: Beyond Quantum (2008, Tzadik): Five pieces, named "First Meeting," "Second Meeting," etc. The "Fourth Meeting" is the most immediately compelling -- probably just the straightest and most accessible. Braxton plays "saxophones": alto is his preferred tool, and he's one of the most dexterous and expansive alto saxophonists ever, especially when he doesn't have to navigate his own contorted compositions. He plays sopranino toward the end; probably others, but he gets such a wide range of sound out of alto I could be wrong. Graves is a little-recorded percussion legend, adding some vocalizing and other strange effects here and there. Parker is a massively-recorded bass legend. Much food for thought all around. A- [Rhapsody]

Mike Clark: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 1 (2006 [2009], Talking House): New label, introducing three volumes in a same-titled series, the other two by drummer Donald Bailey and saxophonist Billy Harper -- all veteran players, not a lot under their names, although Harper is exceptional in several regards. Clark's discography starts with Herbie Hancock's Headhunters fusion group in 1974, although this is a pretty straightforward hard bop set, distinguished by bright, forceful performances from the band: Jed Levy (tenor sax), Donald Harrison (alto sax), Christian Scott (trumpet), Christian McBride (bass), Patrice Rushen (piano). Nice drumwork, too. B+(*) [Jan. 20]

Billy Harper: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2 (2006 [2009], Talking House): Gospel-tinged tenor saxophonist, cut an album back in 1975 that inspired the great Italian label Black Saint. Hasn't recorded much lately -- mostly I've noticed him popping up in various big bands. Has a thickly muscled tone, a lot of depth and resonance and, well, soul -- few saxophonists are as easy to pick out in a blindfold test. First two tracks feature Amiri Baraka spoken word pieces. Only non-original is "Amazing Grace." Haven't managed to listen straight through yet, and there's plenty of time before the delayed official release date. But it sure is great to hear Harper again, especially when he really opens up. [B+(***)] [Feb. 17]


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


Unpacking: Didn't get this done this week.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gambling Man

Jo Becker and Don Van Natta Jr: For McCain and Team, a Host of Ties to Gambling. Long article on McCain's ties to gaming interests and their lobbyists, with more on McCain's meanderings in mendacity. Maybe it's just my upbringing (or my late mother's upbringing), but I read these opening paragraphs with utter disgust:

Senator John McCain was on a roll. In a room reserved for high-stakes gamblers at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, he tossed $100 chips around a hot craps table. When the marathon session ended around 2:30 a.m., the Arizona senator and his entourage emerged with thousands of dollars in winnings.

A lifelong gambler, Mr. McCain takes risks, both on and off the craps table. He was throwing dice that night not long after his failed 2000 presidential bid, in which he was skewered by the Republican Party's evangelical base, opponents of gambling. Mr. McCain was betting at a casino he oversaw as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and he was doing so with the lobbyist who represents that casino, according to three associates of Mr. McCain.

The visit had been arranged by the lobbyist, Scott Reed, who works for the Mashantucket Pequot, a tribe that has contributed heavily to Mr. McCain's campaigns and built Foxwoods into the world's second-largest casino. Joining them was Rick Davis, Mr. McCain's current campaign manager. Their night of good fortune epitomized not just Mr. McCain's affection for gambling, but also the close relationship he has built with the gambling industry and its lobbyists during his 25-year career in Congress.

I still remember when gambling was near the top of the list of debilitating sins: to describe a person as a gambler was as damning or worse than being a drunk or a junkie. This has changed over the last few decades, mostly because the self-appointed guardians of public virtue have converted to fetish of money and the thrill of winning. The Republicans have led the way here. They've always had a fine appreciation of money, and from Nixon on they've come to believe that winning is the only thing that matters. As they've become ever more unhinged from reality, they come to see no real difference between running a successful business and a lucrative gambling scam. After all, the difference can't be due to labor actually producing something of value. As they've learned in their MBA coursework, the only thing that matters is money, and one way of making money is as good as any other.

McCain isn't alone in this, or even very rare, but he is typical. One reason gamblers were held in such contempt back in my mother's day is that gambling was invariably linked with deception, including self-deception. McCain has had even more trouble with recognizing or respecting truth than any politician in recent memory -- which is to say, the Clinton-Bush era. Most people focus on the risk-taking aspects of McCain's gambling habits, which are indeed scary given how much power has been usurped by the presidency. But worse still is the pathological link between gambling and dishonesty, not to mention the self-absorption nearly every gambler indulges in. This cluster of attitudes is what makes McCain so scary -- not that his idiot conservative jingoism and his warmongering aren't bad enough.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Surge Report

Robert Dreyfuss: Reading Bob Woodward. I still haven't been tempted to read any of Woodward's four Bush books, but whatever they lack in critical consciousness they evidently make up for in dish. Dreyfus writes:

Still, much of it is astonishing. And I don't just mean the juicy tidbits that Woodward gives us -- that the United States spied on Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, that a supersecret, high-tech assassination program killed large numbers of militants beginning in May, 2006, and so on. I'm talking about the dangerously sycophantic advisers surrounding Bush, the ones who stroked the ego of a know-nothing president as The Decider doubled-down on his failed war in Iraq. And I'm talking about the machinations of a rogue general named Jack Keane and his rump staff of strategists at the American Enterprise Institute who worked with Steve Hadley, the national security adviser, to promote the January, 2007, escalation called "the surge." [ . . . ]

What Woodward unfolds, page after horrifying page, is the story of how Hadley, Keane, John McCain, and the gang from AEI rode roughshod over the widespread establishment opposition to the surge. Keane, in particular, emerges as the principal advocate and facilitator of the surge strategy and as a sneaky, back-channel operator working at the behest of Dick Cheney's office and General Petraeus. [ . . . ]

During 2006, Woodward makes clear, the overwhelming consensus, both among the public and in Washington was to end the war, to start the drawdown of U.S. forces. That was the belief of General George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, General John Abizaid, the CentCom commander, and nearly all of the uniformed military. It was the view of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, the State Department, and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. In 487 pages, Woodward details how all of them were steamrolled. Consider this: had they not been rolled over, today, two years later, the war would largely be over.

The picture of Bush that emerges is not a flattering one. He is portrayed as a man convinced of his utter righteousness. "Not one doubt," says Bush. And: "We're killin' 'em. We're killin' 'em all." Yet at the same time, Bush is blissfully detached, relying on Hadley for everything. His decision to order the surge, taken in November-December, 2006, was a tough one, Bush told Woodward. "Now, this is a period of time where I've got, I don't how many, holiday receptions."

Note the prominent role of McCain in promoting the surge. He, of course, would be first in line to claim credit there. Dreyfus is right that the main purpose of the surge was to stretch the war out at least through the end of Bush's term. That's its real success: the quality that allows Bush to wrap himself in commander-in-chief garb, thereby preserving the slim following he gets from those who continue to rally around the bloody flag.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rhapsody Notes

Post filed here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14850 [14842] rated (+8), 757 [744] unrated (-13). Spent whole week working on house, mostly playing old blues and country records, picking up a few rateds from Rhapsody. Not enough jazz prospecting to post. Next week will be more of the same. Didn't get much feedback on Jazz Consumer Guide.

No Jazz Prospecting (CG #18)

Spent almost all of the week working on the house, trying to keep things from collapsing, an ounce of prevention that Alan Greenspan would have been well advised to consider 5 or 10 years ago. Didn't bag the minimum jazz prospecting count I set last week when I set out on this new tangent. Didn't even come close. In fact, mostly played old blues records, which happened to be handy and seemed to be helpful. One small accomplishment was building another CD case, which I figure is good for nearly 1200 CDs. By the time I'm through, we should have much more storage, although the long term resolution is to learn to live within the new parameters.

Next three weeks should be little different from this last one, at least as regards Jazz Prospecting, but maybe there'll be some dribs and drabs to show.


Unpacking:

  • Buena Vista Social Club: At Carnegie Hall (Nonesuch, 2CD): advance
  • Leonardo E.M. Cioglia: Contos (Quizamba Music)
  • Jay Clayton: The Peace of Wild Things: Singing and Saving the Poets (Sunnyside): Oct. 21
  • Tim Collins: Fade (Ropeadope)
  • Peter Delano: For Dewey (Sunnyside): Oct. 21
  • Yoshie Fruchter: Pitom (Tzadik)
  • Then and Now: The Definitive Herbie Hancock (Verve)
  • The Matthews Herbert Big Band: There's Me and There's You (!K7)
  • Charlie Hunter: Baboon Strength (Spire Artist Media)
  • Randy Klein: Piano Improvisations: The Flowing (Jazzheads)
  • Francisco Mela: Live at the Blue Note (Half Note)
  • Tim Ries: Stones World: The Rolling Stones Project II (Sunnyside): Oct. 21
  • Fred Taylor Trio: Circling (CCR-FT)
  • Titan! It's All Pop! (Numero Group): advance
  • McCoy Tyner: Guitars (McCoy Tyner Music/Half Note)
  • Jonathan Voltzok: More to Come (Kol Yo)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Two Depressions

A quick postscript to yesterday's post, which was about how McCain can't shake the party propaganda about how any/all government regulation hurts the economic efficiency and freedom of the private sector. Actually, this is Milton Friedman's propaganda, but it served Reagan well, at least rhetorically, so it's become GOP gospel, even if it isn't honored in fact any more than Jesus's chastisement of the rich and opposition to war.

If the current financial crisis prooves anything, it's that when times get tough, virtually everyone in America looks to government for help: not just the poor and downtrodden, but the rich as well. In fact, the rich have the sort of contacts that let them cut to the head of the line. This point is pretty obvious because it reeks of hypocrisy.

The less obvious point we should take from this crisis is that, much as John Edwards noted their are two Americas, there are now two depressions. The one in the news -- the one the Bush administration is so frantically acting on -- is the depression of the rich. In 1929 it was a depression of the rich that plunged the rest of the country into deep poverty, so vague memory suggests that government action now will save us all a lot of pain down the road. That may be true, but there's been a depression of the poor in this country for several years now, and it's not just one of those two-quarter blips in the business cycle that get the bean counters hepped up. The depression of the poor is something the GOP has had little trouble ignoring, not least because they're responsible for much of it. The Democrats have also tended to ignore it, focusing on the money that feeds practical politics, pointing to the myriad ways Bush has wrecked the country for decades to come, and appealing to the increasingly fragile middle class as the only visible, respectable representatives of the numerically overwhelming non-rich.

The Democrats embrace of government as a system to deliver help to all segments of the private sector and to provide responsible stewardship of the economy and our (recently disastrous) path in foreign affairs is in tune with what virtually all Americans actually believe and expect. Less clear, of course, is whether they can actually do that, especially given the corrupting influence of special interests, but at least they grasp the principle. McCain and his ideologically pure advisers don't have a clue, which is why their reactions are so kneejerk and their proposals are little short of insane.


Oh, yes, the concluding point I wanted to make but didn't: I think the rich and poor depressions are related. The old Keynesian view of this is that depressions are caused by a shortage of demand, which can be remedied by putting people to work -- even on make-work projects, like World War II -- and thereby putting disposable cash into their hands. What we've actually seen is the converse of this: workers have been put on a long-term diet, gradually being starved, which sooner or later has to suck the demand side out of the economy. This process has been stretched out: by extracting more work for less pay, the value of the work has kept the system going, and the missing cash has been partly compensated by easier access to debt, at least until recently. The debt, in turn, has escalated to the point where it has become a giant house of cards: with relatively little labor to back it up, the financial powerhouses of the rich and ultrarich have been running on fumes, absorbed in a self-inflationary bubble that has less and less to do with the real economy. I seriously doubt that you can patch up the financial system without rebuilding the basic foundation of the economy, which whether you like it or not still depends on old-fashioned labor.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Browse Alert: McCain

Josh Marshall: Innovative products. Quotes John McCain as saying:

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.

This is wrong on a nearly unfathomable number of levels. It assumes innovation is per se a good thing, which is obviously not true, and in the case of the financial industry of late is almost never true. Their great mission in life has been to suck as much value out of the world as possible, as is demonstrated by the mere fact that they've grown faster and more profitably than the economy as a whole, despite the fact that almost everything they used to do can be done vastly more efficiently with modern information systems. One thing that is true is that health insurance innovations will have the same purpose -- indeed, it strikes me as wrong to suggest that the health insurance companies have lagged behind their financial sector brethren in figuring out how to maximize their take while screwing customers. Moreover, the consequences of this predation are if anything more severe, as should be obvious if you contemplate the question they're so adept at posing: your money or your life?

McCain's comment shows how deeply he himself has been suckered into the party line, and how little capacity for independent or critical thought he actually has.

Paul Woodward: Regulation vs. deregulation. This contrasts a big chunk of an Obama speech to the simplistic idiocy being spouted by McCain. It reminds me of a scene watching some TV "journalist" hammer Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, demanding details on how Obama would react to the current crisis. After several references to a six-point proposal Obama had made, Goolsbee started reciting them in quite some detail, and the interviewer cut him off midway through number two. The lesson is clearly that the GOP talking point will prevail even when its falsity is glaring.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Book Alert

Another batch of notes on new/recent books of possible interest. I've been collecting these, and spitting them out in batches of 40. Last one was Aug. 7. The whole batch are here.


Tariq Ali: Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope (revised/expanded, paperback, 2008, Verso): Originally published in 2006, focusing on Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia, with Ecuador added for this edition. I've been reluctant to pick this up -- I have a lot of respect for Ali as a critic of American empire, but distrust advocacy of politicians even when they build their careers on the rejection of that same power. Still, the independence movements in Latin America make for a remarkable story.

Tariq Ali: The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2008, Scribner): This, on the other hand, is the book I've been waiting for: Ali's home country, with the Musharraf regime caught between ham-handed American power, popular rebellion of more than one flavor, and its own peculiar interests. Was scheduled for early 2008, but Benazir Bhutto's assassination sent Ali back to the word processor. The situation is still volatile, impossible to keep on top of. This should certainly help one catch up. [On my to-be-read shelf.]

Robert D Auerbach: Deception and Abuse at the Fed: Henry B Gonzalez Battles Alan Greenspan's Bank (2008, University of Texas Press): Gonzalez is a D-TX congressman who chaired the House Financial Services Committee, one of the few politicians who ever tried to exert any oversight on the Fed.

Phoebe Ayers/Charles Matthews/Ben Yates: How Wikipedia Works: And How You Can Be a Part of It (paperback, 2008, No Starch Press): Big (600 page) book on Wikipedia. We've been needing some kind of book to provide an intro to the mechanics and conventions of contributing. I've put a couple of little things in, but have generally been inhibited. I bought John Broughton: Wikipedia: The Missing Manual, but haven't read much yet. (Also Mark S Choate: Professional Wikis, which is more about how to set up your own MediaWiki-based site, which may be the hardcore way to do it.)

Andrew J Bacevich, ed: The Long War: A New History of US National Security Policy Since World War II (2007, Columbia University Press): Academics only: 608 pages, list price $77.50. Twelve essays, only a couple of people I've heard of, none other than Bacevich I particularly respect.

Andrew J Bacevich: The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008, Metropolitan Books): Surprise bestseller. Looks short, and may idolize Jimmy Carter more than is really decent, but not a bad idea as a corrective. I think the key to the sales burst has been the way Bacevich has avoided any partisan association with the Democrats, who he correctly recognizes are a little too trigger happy. (Come election time we'll have to balance that off against McCain, who's easily the most trigger-happy presidential candidate since James Polk, maybe ever.) [On my to-be-read shelf.]

Dave Barry: Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far) (2007, Putnam): Very funny guy, at least once upon a time. Whether that time includes the present, let alone the recent past, remains to be seen. But his biggest problem is likely the material: much of it is too weird to caricature, and too tragic to reduce to doo doo jokes. Jon Stewart seems to be a better fit for the times. Barry was fine back in the Reagan era when you weren't really sure you had to take it all seriously.

Matthew Connelly: Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (2008, Belknap Press): History of the "underside" of the population control movement, especially the tendency to frame such programs in racial terms. Before the US right discovered the political utility of the "right to life" issue, it tended to be the right who promoted population control and the left who resisted them. I'm not sure where this book lands.

Drew Curtis: It's Not News, It's Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News (2007, Gotham): Easy enough to make that critique, but the main function of the book seems to be to collect as much fark as possible, and its attraction is how readily it digests all this crap that you may not otherwise bother to pay any attention to.

Julian Darley: High Noon for Natural Gas: The New Energy Crisis (paperback, 2004, Chelsea Green): It seems likely that peak oil will be followed by problems in the supply of natural gas, although the picture of how that will play out is less clear. This is one of the few books that specifically addresses natural gas.

Ross Douthat/Reihan Salam: Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (2008, Doubleday): A little cognitive dissonance here. It's not really opposition to "the Democrats' cultural liberalism" that motivates the Republican Party. It's greed. So while they get a kick out of splitting the working class over cultural issues, the principle they're really serious about is picking workers' pockets. Arguing that Republicans should promote workers' economic interests goes so hard against the grain as to be laughable. Of course, if workers want to believe it, they'd be happy to hum a few bars. Just don't expect it to pay off. (In fairness, Kevin Phillips started down this line two decades ago. He never got it to work.)

Robert Engelman: More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want (2008, Island Press): More people, or more for each person? A book on population growth, and how women have throughout history have sought to manage their fertility to optimize their children's future. [Found this in library but didn't finish it.]

Alvin S Felzenberg: The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game (2008, Basic Books): An exercise in such parlor games as "who's the worst president ever?" Breaks them down categorically rather than by just picking them off in order, which makes it more work to use, although possibly more useful to read.

Jonathan Fenby: Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present (2008, Ecco): Big, general history of China since 1850, which doesn't seem like a particularly interesting starting date -- sometime after the humiliation of the Opium Wars, if memory serves. It does sort of fill a need, but with all the new books on China coming out -- the Olympics may have something to do with it, but it's ovedue anyway -- I expect it will take a while to sort out which books are really worthwhile. Just as an indication, there's also Rana Mitter: Modern China: A Very Short Introduction (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press), which covers the same ground in 144 pages.

Robert Fisk: The Age of the Warrior: Selected Essays (2008, Nation Books): Mostly short columns, 546 pages of them. Not sure how far they go back, but the first section includes one called "Be very afraid: Bush Productions is preparing to go into action." Fisk has covered what he called The Great War for Civilisation at least as far back as the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which he chronicled in Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon. The earlier book is absolutely essential. The later I bought but still haven't found time for. This covers the same ground in small bites, and carries forward -- toward the end is "Who killed Benazir?"

Thomas L Friedman: Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America (2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux): More garbled clichés from the New York Times' village idiot. Looks like they copped the cover art from Hieronymous Bosch, another faux pas. A skyline shot of Sao Paulo would be much more effective.

Andrew Gelman: Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do (2008, Princeton University Press): Examines why Democrats win in most relatively wealthy states while Republicans win in most relatively poor states, despite the fact that rich people overwhelmingly vote Republican, and poor people primarily vote Democrat.

Aaron Glantz: Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations (paperback, 2008, Haymarket Books): Reports from US soldiers who took part in Iraq and Afghanistan, from hearings held by Iraq Veterans Against the War. Glantz previously wrote How America Lost Iraq, the first of several books on that theme.

Brian Hicks/Chris Nelder: Profit From the Peak: The End of Oil and the Greatest Investment Event of the Century (2008, Wiley): I don't normally go for books that bill themselves as investment guides, even if the occasion is a catastrophe, but is nearly encyclopedic on the peak oil issue, and looks to be pretty level headed. Haven't looked at it close enough to figure out what that investment angle might be. Some of the books in this genre are: Aric McBay: Peak Oil Survival: Preparation for Life After Gridcrash; Mick Winter: Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Collapse; Stephen Leeb: The Coming Economic Collapse: How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrell; Stephen Leeb: The Oil Factor: Protect Yourself and Profit From the Coming Energy Crisis; George Orwel: Black Gold: The New Frontier in Oil for Investors; more generally: Daniel A Arnold: The Great Bust Ahead: The Greatest Depression in American and UK History is Just Several Short Years Away/This is Your Concise Reference Guide to Understanding Why and How Best to Survive It; Peter D Schiff: Crash Proof: How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse; James Turk/John Rubino: The Collapse of the Dollar and How to Profit from It: Make a Fortune by Investing in Gold and Other Hard Assets; Addison Wiggin: The Demise of the Dollar . . . : And Why It's Even Better for Your Investments; Michael J Panzner: Financial Armageddon: Protecting Your Future From Four Impending Catastrophes; Howard J Ruff: How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years in the 21st Century. [Got and read this from library.]

Nathan Hodge/Sharon Weinberger: A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry (2008, Bloomsbury): Another history-via-travel book, which includes stops in Pakistan, Iran, India, China, North Korea, Israel, Russia, France, UK, as well as numerous spots in the US. Weinberger previously wrote: Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underground.

Kaylene Johnson: Sarah: How a Small Town Girl Turned Alaska's Political Establishment on Its Ear (paperback, 2008, Epicenter Press): Well, that was quick, even for a scant 159 pages, and no doubt obsolete by the time you read this.

Ishmael Jones: The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture (2008, Encounter Books): Evidently written by a long-time spook who never got his higher-ups to understand anything he was telling them, much less stuff they never found out about.

Sonali Kolhatkar/James Ingalls: Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence (paperback, 2006, Seven Stories Press): Co-directors of Afghan Women's Mission, a US-based NGO working with RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan). They look to be ahead of the learning curve, but Amazon reviews are very polarized.

Daniel J Levitin: The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (2008, Dutton): Follow-up to the author's This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, which I bought but haven't read. Six song classes: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, love.

Elvin T Lim: The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W Bush (2008, Oxford University Press): Lots of things have declined, not least intellectual integrity. Rhetoric, however, still seems to be very much with us -- it's just grown emptier and more clichéd.

Mark London/Brian Kelly: The Last Forest: The Amazon in the Age of Globalization (2007, Random House): Dispatches from the world's largest tropical forest, fast disappearing as it's chewed up to support the local and world economy.

Larry McMurtry: Books: A Memoir (2008, Simon & Schuster): Memoirs of a small-town Texas bookseller, who writes novels and movies on the side.

Karl E Meyer/Shareen Blair Brysac: Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East (2008, WW Norton): Authors of Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia, a 1999 book I bought back when it was still an intellectual curiosity and never got around to reading. Another sweeping history of (mostly English) imperial adventures in the Middle East.

Mark Crispin Miller, ed: Loser Take All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008 (paperback, 2008, Ig): I haven't paid much attention to the various stolen election arguments, which Miller has contributed much to, but this at least is short and convenient and covers a bunch of ground.

Michael Moore: Mike's Election Guide 2008 (paperback, 2008, Grand Central Publishing): A straightforward book, but still feels weird. Moore is a mainstream celebrity, but still is regarded as fringe political, so you never quite know whether his endorsements of relatively mild-mannered Democrats helps or hurts.

Retort: Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (paperback, 2005, Verso): San Francisco-based group, attempts to explain post-9/11 history through the Situationist concept of spectacle. As I recall, the theory's original attraction was its ability to expand upon the ordinary. I'm not sure how that applies here.

Eric Roston: The Carbon Age: How Life's Core Element Has Become Civilization's Greatest Threat (2008, Walker): A biography of an element, from the origins of life to the threat of global warming.

Michael Schwartz: War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (paperback, 2008, Haymarket Books): Schwartz has written a number of posts at TomDispatch, some of the most insightful analysis on Iraq around. In particular, he was one of the first to point out the economic impact of Bremer's early reforms, which on top of the initial bombing and looting had disastrous effects on the Iraqi economy.

Nancy Soderberg/Brian Katulis: The Prosperity Agenda: What the World Wants From America -- and What We Need in Return (2008, Wiley): Soderberg held NSC and UN Ambassador posts in the Clinton administration. Wrote a previous book, The Superpower Myth: The Use and Misuse of American Might, with foreword by Clinton. Seems like an insider trying to think her way out of the box. Obviously, being a superpower wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Now can we negotiate?

Gary Stewart: Rumba on the River: A History of Popular Music of the Two Congos (paperback, 2004, Verso): Saw this cited in the liner notes to Tabu Ley Rochereau's The Voice of Lightness. Not a lot of good books on African music, but this looks like it might be very useful.

Allegra Stratton: Muhajababes (paperback, 2008, Melville House): 25-year-old reporter tramps all across the Middle East, talking to young women, collecting the stories she finds into a book. Easy as that.

Charles Tripp: A History of Iraq (3rd edition, paperback, 2007, Cambridge University Press): Could have been the standard history when it came out in 2000. A lot has happened since then, resulting in a second edition in 2002, and now this third pass. Tripp also wrote Islam and the Moral Economy: The Challenge of Capitalism (2006).

Phil Valentine: The Conservative's Handbook: Defining the Right Position on Issues From A to Z (2008, Cumberland House): Some kind of right-wing radio pundit. The A-to-Z approach to the issues gives it a comprehensive air, and it's serious enough and cogent enough -- most likely a combination of half truths and slick posturing -- to tempt one to argue with it instead of dismissing it out of hand. Bible-like binding strikes me as inconvenient and pretentious.

Michael Waldman: A Return to Common Sense: Seven Bold Ways to Revitalize Democracy (2008, Sourcebooks): FYI: End voter registration as we know it; Fix electronic voting; Increase voter turnout; Campaign finance reform; End partisan gerrymandering; End the electoral college; Curb the imperial presidency and fix Congress. Author used to write speeches for Clinton, where I'm sure he was every bit as bold.

Bob W White: Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire (paperback, 2008, Duke University Press): Mobutu loved to see his people sing and dance. Kept them from paying too much attention while he stole the country blind.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jazz Consumer Guide

Jazz Consumer Guide is out in the Village Voice this week. Title is "Festival Visions": I came up with that when I noticed a relatively large number of records associated with William Parker's Vision Festival. Actually, had I thought of it sooner, I could have rounded up a couple more. AUM Fidelity has an inside track on these records. They probably have the best placement percentage of any label over Jazz CG history. Some other labels, like ECM, have had more records listed, but they release many more. In addition to the avant-garde, a couple of trad jazz records made the cut.

I haven't seen the print edition, but one thing new this time is that I decided to run several honorable mentions on the web page that I offered up as cuts for the print edition: Tom Teasley, Vince Seneri, Ernest Dawkins, and Rocco John Iacovone. These were toward the bottom of the list, and had been cut at least once previously. Running them this way at least gets them out. Otherwise, I was afraid that I would never get them out. One result was that the cuts were concentrated in the main section:

  • Steven Bernstein: Diaspora Suite (Tzadik)
  • Mike Ellis: Bahia Band (Alpha Pocket)
  • Scott Fields Freetet: Bitter Love Songs (Clean Feed)
  • Vandermark 5: Beat Reader (Atavistic)

These are all A- records, and should run next time. For the record, the top six on my honorable mention list are also A- rated. I didn't feel like getting into a lot of detail on them, and I figured they'd be better served now than stuck in the waiting queue. Good records; a wide range of styles and interests. Don't have enough space often enough, so I try to make do. A lot more in the pipeline. In fact, I have very nearly enough written for the next column.


Publicist's letter:


The Village Voice has published my 17th Jazz Consumer Guide column this
week: Festival Visions:

  link

Note that there is also a second web page.

Pick Hits:

  William Parker: Double Sunrise Over Neptune (AUM Fidelity)
  Rob Brown Ensemble: Crown Trunk Root Funk (AUM Fidelity)

  Bloodcount: Seconds (Screwgun)
  The Roy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite (AUM Fidelity)
  Ted Des Plantes' Washboard Wizards: Thumpin' and Bumpin' (Stomp Off)
  Brent Jensen: One More Mile (Origin)
  Alex Kontorovich: Deep Minor (Chamsa)
  Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson: Big Picture (Cryptogramophone)
  Nublu Orchestra: Conducted by Butch Morris (Nublu)
  Slow Poke: At Home (Palmetto)
  Mike Walbridge's Chicago Footwarmers: Crazy Rhythm (Delmark)

Honorable Mentions:

  The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Music From Guys and Dolls (Arbors)
  Grupo Los Santos: Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea (Deep Tone)
  Dick Hyman/Chris Hopkins: Teddy Wilson in 4 Hands (Victoria)
  Mary Lou Williams: A Grand Night for Swinging (High Note)
  Paul Shapiro's Ribs and Brisket Revue: Essen (Tzadik)
  Ari Roland: And So I Lived in Old New York . . . (Smalls)
  Marilyn Mazur/Jan Garbarek: Elixir (ECM)
  Steve Lehman Quintet: On Meaning (Pi)
  Giacomo Gates: Luminosity (Doubledave Music)
  Sal Mosca Quartet: You Go to My Head (Blue Jack Jazz)
  Adam Kolker: Flag Day (Sunnyside)
  Stacey Kent: Breakfast on the Morning Tram (Blue Note)
  James Carter: Present Tense (Emarcy)
  The Jack & Jim Show Presents: Hearing Is Believing (Boxholder)
  Harry Allen: Hits by Brits (Challenge)
  Jason Kao Hwang/Edge: Stories Before Within (Innova)
  Tom Teasley: Painting Time (T&T Music)
  Brad Leali Jazz Orchestra: Maria Juanez (TCB)
  The Joe Locke Quartet: Sticks and Strings (Jazz Eyes)
  Vince Seneri: The Prince's Groove (Prince V)
  Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Messenger: Live at the
    Original Velvet Lounge (Delmark)
  Rob Brown Trio: Sounds (Clean Feed)
  Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford: Spark! (Palmetto)
  The Rocco John Group: Don't Wait Too Long (COCA Productions)

Duds:

  Maria Schneider Orchestra: Sky Blue (ArtistShare)
  Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble: Black Unstoppable (Delmark)
  Christian Scott: Anthem (Concord)

Note that some HMs are on the website but not in print edition; should
be Teasley, Seneri, Dawkins, Rocco John, but I haven't seen the print
edition.

The Jazz Prospecting list for this cycle covered 291 records:

  link

This is more than usual, the result of a four month gap since my
last column on May 13. Summer for us has been disrupted several
times, especially by the death of my father-in-law, Kalman Tillem,
who at 92 remembered Louis Armstrong not as trad but as jazz. The
next column should be out sooner, but I am and will be distracted
by other work over the next month, so it's hard to predict.

I appreciate your support in making this column possible. Despite
not appearing more frequently, we do manage to cover a lot of new
jazz, and never fail to find unique items of exceptional interest.

Thanks.


Jazz CG (17) Notes: Print

The following records actually appeared in Jazz CG (17):

  1. Harry Allen: Hits by Brits (2006 [2007], Challenge): The songbook doesn't cramp a single disc -- "Cherokee," "These Foolish Things," "You're Blasé," "A Nightingale in Berkeley Square," "The Very Thought of You" are the five most obvious of ten -- and Allen is in his usual form in high gear and in low. But the second horn, John Allred's trombone, does slow him down a bit, and the contrast is a mixed blessing. Sidekick guitarist Joe Cohn is also on hand, as are bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Chuck Riggs. B+(***)
  2. The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Music From Guys and Dolls (2007, Arbors): I'd like this better, at least would have gotten to like this quicker, if I liked Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls in the first place, but the few times I've heard it I've found much to resist. I'm still not much impressed with Eddie Erickson's half of the vocals, but I'm fine with Rebecca Kilgore, and she gets the sharper lines and the catchier melodies. Still, no vocal compares to how sublime Allen sounds, and guitarist Cohn seems to be getting better each time out, carrying the soft spots that hold the narrative together. A-
  3. Bloodcount: Seconds (1997 [2007], Screwgun, 2CD+DVD): This is Tim Berne's mid/late-1990s group, a quartet with Jim Black (drums), Michael Formanek (bass), Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), and Berne (alto sax, baritone sax). With Marc Ducret on guitar, the group recorded three CDs of Paris Concerts in 1994, which is the subject of Süsanna Schonberg's Eyenoises . . . The Paris Movie, packed in here on the DVD. The film doesn't offer much visually: black and white, tight close ups, cut between practice and concert not that it's always easy to tell, with some ambling about town here and there. Musically, it seems to pull a single piece together through multiple iterations. Watching Black, you get the sense of the rhythm working its way through his whole body. Ducret can be a potent force but he mostly holds back, and he isn't missed much on the live sets documented on the CDs. The reason is the interlocking reeds. Most two-horn free quartets use trumpet and sax not just for contrast but to set each loose on its own trajectory. Pairing two reeds -- most often alto/tenor sax, with tenor/baritone sax and clarinet/alto sax the other options -- poses a tougher challenge. Here the similar tones slip in and out of phase, never falling far apart. The result is free rhythmically, lose melodically, but tight harmonically. Although the two discs only repeat one song, the form is so dominant that effectively they are multiple views of the same thing. That may seem like too much, but I find the redundancies to be fascinating. [FYI, Berne's been down this road before, releasing a 3-CD live set from 1996, Unwound, which I haven't heard but should be much more of the same sort -- according to Penguin Guide, "raw, immediate and proudly unproduced."] A-
  4. Rob Brown Trio: Sounds (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Actually, not sure of the date: notes say it was recorded on November 23, but don't bother with the year. The title piece debuted at the 2005 Vision Festival, so 2005 is also possible. Brown's an alto saxophonist I've mostly encountered on William Parker albums. He has everything you'd want in that role, but has had trouble establishing himself on his own. It's hard to find fault with this: he breaks the usual sax-bass-drums trio format with Daniel Levin's cello and Satoshi Takeishi's taiko drums and percussion; he varies the free jazz mix with a ballad and a Tibetan folk song. It's almost a tour de force, but not quite, lacking something you can't prescribe until it hits you. B+(**)
  5. Rob Brown Ensemble: Crown Trunk Root Funk (2007 [2008], AUM Fidelity): Born 1962 in Virginia, based in New York, plays alto sax, mostly in William Parker projects like the Little Huey Orchestra, In Order to Survive, and the extraordinary Quartet behind O'Neal's Porch and Sound Unity, expanded to Raining on the Moon and expanded again. He's been building up a catalog under his own name, now up to 19 titles, mostly duos or trios on very small labels. He plays fast and fierce, thrilling when it all comes together. This group was assembled for a Vision Festival show, then reconvened in the studio, where they play 7 Brown originals. Craig Taborn (piano, electronics), William Parker (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- terrific rhythm section, they keep Brown flying all through the session, or soaring gracefully on the rare spots when they slow down a bit. A-
  6. The Roy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite (2007 [2008], AUM Fidelity): The only time I tempted to visit New York for live jazz is when the Vision Festival is on. For several years I was seeing very selective compilations from the concert series. Lately we're starting to see more full concerts, such as this one, subtitled Live at Vision Festival XII. Campbell plays trumpet and its relatives, and picks up something called an arguhl (a two-tube "clarinet") to flavor his Egyptian themes -- beyond the title suite, he plays "Pharoah's Revenge" and "Sunset on the Nile." Born 1952 in Los Angeles, moved east in the late 1970s, joining Jemeel Moondoc's Muntu Ensemble, hooking up with various William Parker projects, including Other Dimensions in Music. This is Campbell's 7th album since 1991 under his own name, but there are more albums with him in a leading role, and lots more joining in. Group here includes Bryan Carrott on vibes, Hilliard Greene on bass, Zen Matsuura on drums, and Billy Bang on violin. Bang makes the difference, his natural swing propelling the album as unstoppably as the Nile, but the vibraharp accents kick it off in surprising directions. A-
  7. 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+(***)
  8. Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge (2005 [2006], Delmark): This is Chicago's answer to a traditional New Orleans tailgate party, with Maurice Brown's trumpet to shine up Dawk's sax, and Steve Berry's trombone to get it dirty again. No one is credited with vocals, but that doesn't stop the shouts, hollers, whelps and raps, let alone the patter. B+(***)
  9. Ted Des Plantes' Washboard Wizards: Thumpin' and Bumpin' (2006 [2007], Stomp Off): Des Plantes is a pianist who plays stride and knows his Jelly Roll Morton. He has five albums on Stomp Off, a few more on Jazzology, going back at least to 1991. I can find very little info on the web, but turned up a photo with Dave Greer's Classic Jazz Stompers ("a territory band from Dayton, Ohio") showing a guy with a mustache and a deficit of mostly gray hair. Also found quotes from a couple of reviews he wrote for The Mississippi Rag (as in ragtime). I've heard one previous Washboard Wizards album, Ohio River Blues (1994, Stomp Off). This is a little more modern than the Yerba Buena Stompers albums, at least in two respects: the song focus is Harlem 1924-37, so it swings more, and Des Plantes wrote two new songs to slip in with the old ones. But the band lineup is similar, with banjo and tuba, and four players in common: Leon Oakley (trumpet there, cornet here), Hal Smith (drums, also washboard here), Clint Baker (tuba there, trombone here), and John Gill (banjo). The main difference is replacing the second trumpet with an alto sax -- again, a post-Oliver New York move. Five (of 17) vocal tracks: four by Des Plantes, one by Gill. Des Plantes is the more engaging vocalist, and the dollop of sax and dash of swing give this a slight edge. A-
  10. Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford: Spark! (2007, Palmetto): Deceptively calm sax-piano duets from two musicians used to playing on the edge, but not so calm they slip into the background. Not sure what the idea behind the title was, but by removing all the tinder their spark never gets engulfed in fire. B+(**)
  11. Giacomo Gates: Luminosity (2007 [2008], Doubledave Music, CD+DVD): Finally, a male jazz singer in "the Eddie Jefferson/Jon Hendricks tradition" I actually enjoy. He talks his way offhandedly into introductions, then slips effortlessly into song. Pulls a couple of gems out like "Hungry Man," and wrote one himself ("Full of Myself" -- of course, he couldn't be). Would even be better if he didn't keep working his way into those vocalese jams, but at least he keeps his cool. Can't say that for any of his obvious competition. B+(***)
  12. Grupo Los Santos: Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea (2007, Deep Tone): A New York quartet not obviously connected to Cuban, let alone Brazilian, music, either by name or instrument: Paul Carlon on tenor sax, Pete Smith on guitar, David Ambrosio on bass, William "Beaver" Bausch on drums. I've been playing this opposite Cachao for, well, a ridiculous number of times, and it's lacking the extra percussion, the choruses, and Chocolate Armenteros' trumpet from the classic stuff, but it holds up awfully well. I've been impressed by Carlon before, but Smith is a revelation, and not just on the two Brazilian pieces (a choro and a samba). Bausch writes about half of the pieces, and may have more up his sleeve than is obvious. There is a bit of extra percussion on two tracks, which credit Max Pollak with "Rumba Tap" -- I think that's tap dancing to a rumba beat. Sounds like it, anyway. A-
  13. Jason Kao Hwang/Edge: Stories Before Within (2007 [2008], Innova): Dense shades of Chinese jazz fiddle, tarted up by Taylor Ho Bynum's cornet. Plus bass and drums, of course. B+(***)
  14. Dick Hyman/Chris Hopkins: Teddy Wilson in 4 Hands (2006 [2007], Victoria): Hyman's been around forever, but while most jazz musicians try to establish their own sound, he's a scholar and a chameleon, the guy you'd go to if you wanted to sound just like any stride pianist you can name. The notes here say that he's soon coming out with "an encyclopedic CD-ROM" called Dick Hyman's 100 Years of Jazz Piano. He's the obvious choice to do it all. Also mentions that he has three duo-piano albums with Ray Kennedy, Bernd Lhotzky, and Chris Hopkins. The only one I've heard is the one Hopkins sent me. Hopkins was born in 1972 in Princeton, NJ, but grew up and lives in Germany (Bochum, near Düsseldorf; American father, German mother). Another swing kid, he cites a stellar list of influences from James P. Johnson to Johnny Guarnieri (Waller, Smith, Basie, Stacy, Hines, Wilson, "many others"; Ellington must be among the latter, but I don't hear much that reminds me of Tatum). Five cuts are solos, twelve duets. Normally I react to solo piano as too sparse, and to duo piano as too much of too sparse, but these pieces are utterly charming. The secret, of course, is Wilson. I wonder how many younger jazz fans even recognize the name compared to other names on the influences list. Part of the problem is that a big chunk of Wilson's discography is now routinely reissued under his singer's name, Billie Holiday, but his trios and solos have lapsed into obscurity as well. This record brings Wilson's abundant charms back into focus. A-
  15. The Jack & Jim Show Presents: Hearing Is Believing (2005 [2007], Boxholder): First, I have to admit that I had never heard of Jimmy Carl Black. Turns out that he was best known for being in my least favorite band of the twentieth century, the Mothers of Invention, usually filed under the bandleader's name, Frank Zappa, but his website discography totals 77 albums without getting past 2002. Black played drums, and introduced himself as "the Indian of the group." Later he had a band called Geronimo Black. Anyhow, he's the Jim. Jack must be guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, who I have heard of and rarely heard -- his website discography claims 180 records, so I haven't heard much. Together since 1995 as the Jack & Jim Show they have 8 previous albums. Might as well list them to get a whiff: Locked in a Dutch Coffeeshop, Pachuco Cadaver, Uncle Jimmy's Master Plan, The Early Years, The Perfect C&W Duo's Tribute to Jesse Helms, The Taste of the Leftovers, 2001: A Spaced Odyssey, Reflections and Experiences of Jimi Hendrix. They do a mix of deconstructed parodies (including three Beatles songs; one each from Marvin Gaye, Tim Hardin, and Dizzy Gillespie) and perverse protest songs ("Cheney's Hunting Ducks" is a choice cut, "Girl From Al-Qaeda" is abducted and held hostage from Jobim and Getz). Chadbourne plays some extreme skronk guitar, and Oxford avant-gardist Pat Thomas slums with some amusing keyboards. Title parses as: you won't believe this until you hear it. B+(***)
  16. Brent Jensen: One More Mile (2006 [2007], Origin): Thanks to Origin Records, Seattle has one of the better documented regional jazz scenes. Their house rhythm section -- Bill Anschell on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass, John Bishop on drums -- is flexible and dependable, but that's usually as far as it goes. Jensen isn't even Seattle. He teaches woodwinds in Idaho, and doesn't write much, but he has a distinctive tone and rigorous logic on soprano sax. Studied under Lee Konitz, which probably has something to do with it. A-
  17. Stacey Kent: Breakfast on the Morning Tram (2007, Blue Note): An art singer, or perhaps a pop singer in an alternate universe, which may be the England and France that adopted this New Jersey native. Doesn't write, but four songs are originals, written by husband-saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, an often impressive combination. The title track is a richly detailed recipe for putting heartbreak aside. She has an interesting knack for repertoire, taking "Hard Hearted Hannah" and "What a Wonderful World" slow enough to reveal details you missed before. Three songs in French: a samba and two by Serge Gainsbourg. B+(***)
  18. Adam Kolker: Flag Day (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Very pleasing, easily listenable sax quartet, where three notable sidemen each have something distinctive to add: John Abercrombie on guitar, John Hebert on bass, Paul Motian on drums. Mellow sax, subtle surprises. B+(***)
  19. Alex Kontorovich: Deep Minor (2006 [2007], Chamsa): Some more biographical notes: born 1980, in Russia, don't know where, or when he came to US -- no later than 1999, although he was a research fellow in Israel 2000-02. Got his Ph.D. in math at Columbia 2007, and now teaches at Brown in Rhode Island. Research interests include analytic number theory, stochastic processes, and game theory -- studied the latter at Princeton with John Nash, better known as A Beautiful Mind. Plays clarinet and alto sax, mostly in klezmer groups, some with ska angles -- The Klez Dispensers, KlezSka, Frank London's Klezmer Brass Alltars, Aaron Alexander's Midrash Mish Mosh, King Django's Roots and Culture Band. Also reports playing with the Klezmatics and Boban Markovic. This is a jazz quartet with a lot of klezmer input, but he also offers "Waltz for Piazzolla," "New Orleans Funeral March," and "Transit Strike Blues," and rolls up a bit of infectious fusion called "AfroJewban Suite." Brandon Seabrook sets most of these pieces up with guitar, banjo, and tapes. A-
  20. Brad Leali Jazz Orchestra: Maria Juanez (2004 [2007], TCB): An alto saxophonist, Leali came up through Count Basie's ghost orchestra, and does them one better in this crisp, vibrant, and above all loud outing. Not as Latin as the title cut suggests, nor as consistently clever as a marvelous "Pink Panther" promises, but able to push the old blues formula into ever higher energy orbits. Atomic, indeed. B+(***)
  21. Steve Lehman Quintet: On Meaning (2007, Pi): First artist website I've bumped into since I got rid of Flash that has zero non-Flash info. Life without Flash has been swell: no browser hangs or crashes since I removed the plug-in. What brought this on was that AMG was serving Flash-based ads that wrecked my browser. But even benign ads can achieve high levels of annoyance when implemented in Flash. Glad to be rid of it. Lehman's not unfamiliar. Plays alto sax, which he studied under Jackie McLean and Anthony Braxton. This is his 5th or 6th album. First I heard was Artificial Light, a quintet I didn't care for, and probably missed a lot in. Next was Demian as Posthuman, a mix of smaller groups including duos which were simple enough to give his abstractions recognizable shape. This one is a quintet again, with Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Chris Dingman on vibes, Drew Gress on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Hype sheet says: "Each of On Meaning's eight compositions addresses the challenge of creating fresh environments for modern vision of compositional form, harmony, rhythm, and orchestration" and describes Lehman's sax as "combining a highly advanced harmonic language, microtonal playing, extended techniques, and a deeply rooted rhythmic sense." I don't know what most of that means, but I do hear it in the music, especially the rhythmic sense, which gives his complex abstractions a jingle-jangle quality. Sorey continues to impress, too. B+(***)
  22. The Joe Locke Quartet: Sticks and Strings (2007, Jazz Eyes): Even handed: Locke's vibes and Joe La Barbera's drums count as sticks; Jay Anderson's bass and Jonathan Kreisberg's guitar provide the strings. Kreisberg is very appealing here, both on acoustic and electric, and the contrast to the vibes works nicely. B+(***)
  23. 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. A-
  24. Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson [Trio M]: Big Picture (2006 [2007], Cryptogramophone): Taking a clue from first names, they call themselves Trio M, but are established enough to keep their names on the spine. I figure the complex cerebral stuff is pianist Melford's and credit the bouncy bits to drummer Wilson. There's no doubt that the weird arco bass is Dresser's. He has a huge reputation, but rarely makes albums you can kick back and enjoy. This is the exception. A-
  25. 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+(***)
  26. Nublu Orchestra: Conducted by Butch Morris (2006 [2007], Nublu): Morris's registered trademark (Conduction®) still sounds like mumbo jumbo on paper, but he does have an uncanny knack for keeping large groups creative and clutter-free -- nowhere more so than with this Avenue C house band, with beats and vocals from underworld refugees (Love Trio, Forro in the Dark, Brazilian Girls) and horns from downtown jazzbos. A-

  27. William Parker: Double Sunrise Over Neptune (2007 [2008], AUM Fidelity): Recorded live at Vision Festival XII, three long pieces built around repeated bass riffs that the conductor farmed out to Shayna Dulberger, and a short bridge. With sixteen musicians, favoring strings (two violins, viola, cello, bass, guitar or banjo, oud, the leader's doson'ngoni) which elaborate the themes over horns (trumpet, three saxes, whatever "double reeds" Bill Cole plays), with vocalist Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay trading off against the latter. Oh, also two drummers, Gerald Cleaver and Hamid Drake. Whereas Parker's large groups in the past, like his Little Huey Orchestra, tended to go unhinged, this all flows together marvelously. Even a bit of wildness near the end of the second piece, which seems inevitable once you unleash saxophonists Rob Brown and Sabir Mateen, holds tight. The singer runs close to the edge of the high-pitched squeak that east (or southeast) Asian opera is prone to, but never slips over. A remarkable piece of work. A
  28. The Rocco John Group: Don't Wait Too Long (2007, COCA Productions): Cut his teeth in the '70s lofts with Sam Rivers, an influence on alto saxophonist Rocco John Iacovone, then waited plenty long, including a stretch in Alaska, before returning to find young trumpeter Michael Irwin and find that the two horn, bass and drums quartet is the optimal free jazz vehicle. B+(**)
  29. Ari Roland: And So I Lived in Old New York . . . (2007, Smalls): A matching bookend to Chris Byars' Photos in Black, White and Gray, as it should be, given that the quartets are the same (except for the drummers, Andy Watson instead of Phil Stewart) and the two writers have long worked in the same milieu. More bass solos here. A-
  30. Maria Schneider Orchestra: Sky Blue (2007, ArtistShare): I reckon my continuing indifference to Schneider's highly refined art is subliminal. She doesn't set off the gag reflex that I have long had to highly orchestrated classical music, but that's what I suspect is lurking, somewhere near the chronic level of an allergen. Clearly, jazz fans who also like euroclassical simply adore her -- it's not common for a self-released, no-retail-distribution record like her Concert in the Garden to win a Grammy. Still, for every time a nicely orchestrated motif catches my fancy, three or four fall off my ears leaving nothing. The band is full of well-regarded musicians -- over the last couple of years membership has been a plum on everyone's resume. The packaging has been padded out with pictures and notes in two booklets -- a feast if you're interested. I think it's good that she can record like this. Figuring my disinterest to have mostly been my problem, I was reluctant to saddle Concert as a dud, until it won that Grammy and I didn't have any response to my editor as to why it wasn't a dud. This one is no different, at least insofar as I care to tell. B
  31. 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-
  32. Vince Seneri: The Prince's Groove (2007 [2008], Prince V): Seneri not only plays the Hammond B3 Organ, he sells them through a company called Hammond Organ World. He puts on a good demo, too, with first rate guest stars -- Dave Valentin takes the fast latin pieces on flute, Randy Brecker splatters his trumpet on the funky ones. The only time the groove lets up is the obligatory sax ballad, which Houston Person aces. B+(***)
  33. Paul Shapiro: Essen (2007-08 [2008], Tzadik): Group's full name: Paul Shapiro's Ribs and Brisket Revue. Shapiro plays sax and clarinet and sings, although probably less than Cilla Owens and Babi Floyd, who take on all ten songs. Lots of Yiddish, titles like "Tzouris" and "Oy Veys Mir" and the new title piece (with guests Steven Bernstein, Frank London, and Doug Wieselman). Sophie Tucker revivalism. And two Slim Gaillard songs, just to show you how far over the top they're willing to go. A-
  34. Slow Poke: At Home (1998 [2007], Palmetto): Recorded by Lounge Lizards/Sex Mob bassist Tony Scherr at home in Brooklyn, laid back blues for sophisticates with no reason to be blue. Slide guitarist Dave Tronzo stretches out melodies by Duke Ellington and Neil Young, and saxophonist Michael Blake sails effortlessly along. A-
  35. Tom Teasley: Painting Time (2007, T&T Music): One thing that has changed in jazz, and probably in all other art forms, is that way back when way back when musicians sought to develop distinctive trademark sounds, whereas many now are happy to sound a little bit like lots of people. This has something to do with postmodernism, in particular the idea that we've run out of new ideas so the best we can do now is to recycle old ones. But some of it's just education: musicians grow up knowing much more about the music that came before them so they inevitably find themselves working within those traditions. Economics may even select for such education -- it's certainly the case that many jazz musicians stress their teaching and it's evidently a big part of their incomes. Teasley is a drummer/educator who doesn't sound like anyone in particular but does a good job of synthesizing beats from everywhere, producing sinuous, enticing rhythms, which he then dresses up with various horns, including a healthy dose of trombone. I suppose if I attended his class he'd point out the bits from Africa, India, Brazil, the Middle East, and so forth, not to mention the "searing bop-informed flute solo" that somehow slipped by me. Still, it seems to me that something this catchy should be pop jazz, but isn't because it's deemed excessively knowledgeable. B+(***)
  36. Mike Walbridge's Chicago Footwarmers: Crazy Rhythm (1966-2007 [2007], Delmark): Born 1937 in Los Angeles, Walbridge moved from trumpet to sousaphone in his high school band, moved to Chicago after a stint in the military, joined the Original Salty Dogs, and founded the Chicago Footwarmers Hot Dance Orchestra in 1958, playing tuba. That trad jazz never changes is proven by the near-seamless pairing of a 1966-67 9-track LP with 8 new tracks from 40 years later. What holds it together is fellow Salty Dog Kim Cusack, who plays clarinet and alto sax on both sessions. He goes back even further, recording most frequently with James Dapogny, Ernie Carson, and Bob Schulz, although he also has a nice 1967-2007 pair of credits with Jim Kweskin and Maria Muldaur. While the 1967 sessions have extra piano, the most distinctly satisfying thing about this record is its elemental foursquare structure -- clarinet over tuba, banjo with drums -- as basic as trad jazz gets. A-
  37. Mary Lou Williams: A Grand Night for Swinging (1976 [2008], High Note): Got her start playing church organ on her mama's lap. Turned pro at age 6, and hit the road at 12. Cut her first records at 17 in 1927, really making her mark in the 1930s as pianist-arranger for Andy Kirk's Kansas City big band, going on to write extended works like The Zodiac Suite. Picked up bebop almost as naturally as she took to swing, and after a long hiatus reappeared in the 1970s as the hippest old lady in the business. This is just a live set caught in Buffalo, her trio mostly playing covers, a nice showoff spot for drummer Roy Haynes, the title cut reprised. It's all dazzlingly alive, spirit-lifting -- maybe all that praying paid off. Ends with a bit of interview, you won't mind hearing more than once. A-

Monday, September 15, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14842 [14827] rated (+15), 744 [731] unrated (+13). For music purposes, the week ended midway, when the carpet people came and screwed up our back room. Then Jerry Stewart showed up to start working on house. The first half was productive enough, but the second a total wipeout. The next few weeks will be more like the last half of this one, so don't expect much.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #18, Part 6)

Jazz Consumer Guide (#17) will run this week, meaning Wednesday. I've done quite a bit of work on the next one, but I'm pretty much stalled right now. Did manage a bit of prospecting early in the week, but nothing last 3-4 days. In fact, I've just been playing things for pleasure, and to show off to my house guest. Right now that means Lefty Frizzell. Don't expect I'll be writing much in the next 6-8 weeks. I started a short thing on the anniversary of 9/11, but didn't manage to wrap it up. Didn't even manage to publish the book notes I have backlogged. But I did frame together a new CD cabinet that I figure will hold another 800 CDs, so I'm making progress on other (non-writing) fronts. That's important, too.


Lee Konitz and Minsarah: Deep Lee (2007 [2008], Enja): Konitz needs no introduction. He is past 80 now, still active, still playing difficult music beautifully. Minsarah is Florian Weber's piano trio, one of those groups named after their first album. Jeff Denson plays bass, Ziv Ravitz drums. Mostly Weber pieces, except for the title cut. Was too busy to do anything more than enjoy the record. Will return to it. [B+(***)]

Christian Howes: Heartfelt (2008, Resonance): Violinist, b. 1972, Columbus, OH; now based in New York. Fourth album since 1997. Small print notes: featuring Roger Kellaway. Stick describes this as "beautiful, romantic jazz," and that does seem to be what he's aiming for. When he adds viola things can get icky, as on the first two cuts. Elsewhere he shows a Grappelli influence, and pianist Kellaway earns his keep. Bennie Goodman's "Opus Half" is relatively choice. B

Toninho Horta: To Jobim With Love (2008, Resonance): Banner across the bottom identifies this as belonging to an "Heirloom Series." No recording date, but it's pitched as a 50th anniversary celebration of bossa nova -- seems likely to be new. Horta plays guitar and sings -- make that, plays guitar much better than he sings. He takes nine songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, adds three of his own, plus a stray by Paulo Horta and Donato Donatti, and gives them what must pass among the nouveaux riches as the luxury treatment. The results are very mixed: wonderful, awful, permutations thereof. The band is ridiculously large, with some prominent yanks -- Dave Kikoski (piano), Bob Mintzer (tenor sax), Gary Peacock (acoustic bass), John Clark (French horn), Charles Pillow (oboe) -- mixed in with comparable Brazilians like Paulo Braga and Manolo Badrena and bunches of folks I've never heard of, many surnamed Horta -- the five flutes give you an idea. Then there's the 22-piece string section, a surefire recipe for seasickness. And the backing vocals, another dozen. Gal Costa even drops in for three cuts. Still, it can be very nice when they keep it simple, especially when the tune is as irresistible as "Desafinado." B-

John Beasley: Letter to Herbie (2008, Resonance): Pianist, b. 1960 in Louisiana. Toured with Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard in the 1980s, cut a couple of crossover albums on Windham Hill, scratched out a living doing ad jingles and filmworks. Plays Fender Rhodes and synth as well as piano. Mostly Hancock songs, with two originals and one by Wayne Shorter. Christian McBride, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and Roy Hargrove get their name on the front cover as "featuring" while Steve Tavaglione, Michael O'Neill, and Louis Conte don't. Emphasizes Hancock's hard bop side over his fusion moves, which is probably for the best. B+(*)

Andreas Öberg: My Favorite Guitars (2008, Resonance, CD+DVD): Swedish guitarist, b. 1978, based in Los Angeles; fourth album since 2004. Plays electric, acoustic, 6-string nylon. Two originals; ten covers, songs by other guitarists like Django Reinhardt, Toninho Horta, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, George Benson, Pat Metheny. One of those records that I put on, got distracted, didn't dislike what little I noticed, but didn't notice anything to make it seem worth another play. Didn't watch the DVD. B

Mike Garson: Conversations With My Family (2006 [2008], Resonance, CD+DVD): No recording date for the CD, but the DVD was shot May 7, 2006. Presumably there's some relationship, but once again I didn't bother with the DVD. Garson rings a bell. At the time I first heard it, I thought his piano solo in David Bowie's "Aladdin Sane" was one of the most magnificent things I had ever heard. Other than that I hadn't noticed him much. Turns out that before Bowie he started out with Annette Peacock. He has a dozen or so albums, starting with 1979's Avant Garson. This has a lot of quasi-classical flourishes, especially when accented by Christian Howes' violin -- three cuts, but I could have sworn there were more strings. Claudio Roditti plays trumpet and/or flugelhorn on two cuts; Lori Bell flute on one; Andreas Öberg adds guitar on two. The titles are connected with short interludes, another classical-ish touch. And the piano is rich and florid -- not something I tend to like, but here I rather do. B+(*)

William Parker Quartet: Petit Oiseau (2007 [2008], AUM Fidelity): Too late to make it into JCG (#17), where Parker and the alto saxophonist here, Rob Brown, both have pick hits. Just as well, as this hasn't clicked for me yet -- unlike two previous albums with the same lineup (O'Neal's Porch and Sound Unity), or for that matter Raining on the Moon (which added vocalist Lorena Conquest) and Corn Meal Dance (with Conquest and pianist Eri Yamamoto). On the other hand, I haven't been convinced to give up, either. It feels less avant, more composed through. The two horns -- Brown's alto sax and Lewis Barnes' trumpet -- rarely fly off on their separate paths. The liner notes suggest that for once Parker is working within the tradition, composing tributes to players like Tommy Flanagan (or Tommy Turrentine, or Tommy Potter), mapping the Little Bird from one of his tone poems back to Charlie Parker. [B+(***)]

Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. II (2006 [2008], Winter & Winter): Don't remember Vol. 1 all that well, but it came out at about the same grade. Motian is less of a time keeper than a time disrupter, and he never lets this group settle down into a groove or open up into a jam. In this trio Chris Potter gets abstract and choppy, not really his style, but he handles it well enough. The third leg of the trio is bassist Larry Grenadier. The plus two is pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and either Greg Osby (alto sax) or Mat Manieri (viola). B+(**)

Vince Mendoza: Blauklang (2007 [2008], ACT): Mostly a composer-arranger, no playing credit here. Fifth album since 1990, first since 1999. The bulk of the album is the six movement "Blue Sounds," which closes the disc after five pieces -- two originals, one traditional, one each from Miles Davis and Gil Evans. The record bears the WDR/The Cologne Broadcasts logo, drawing on the Westdeutschen Rundfunks Köln big band, with a few ringers thrown in: Nguyên Lê on guitar, Markus Stockhausen on trumpet, Lars Danielsson on bass, Peter Erskine on drums. So, basically, a big band, plus strings (String Quarter Red URG 4). Has some nice moments, but runs too close to classical for my taste. B-

Peter Schärli Trio Feat. Ithamara Koorax: Obrigado Dom Um Romão (2006 [2008], TCB): Schärli plays trumpet; was born 1955; has at least 8 albums since 1986, including at least one focusing on Brazilian music. Trio includes Markus Stalder on guitar and Thomas Dürst on double bass. Koorax is a Brazilian vocalist, b. 1965 in Rio de Janeiro, the daughter of Polish Jews who fled Europe during WWII. Dom Um Romão was a famous Brazilian percussionist, 1924-2005. One cut here incorporates a berimbau solo Romão recorded in the 1990s. I suppose the lack of drums in this tribute could signify his absence. Mostly slow Brazilian tunes, two standards ("Love for Sale," "I Fall in Love Too Easily"), a Schärli original, done with a lot of haunting, smokey atmosphere. B+(**)

Bill Moring & Way Out East: Spaces in Time (2007 [2008], Owl Studios): Bassist-led "collective group" -- second album, not counting the one Moring did with a Way Out West group. Post-hard bop, with Jack Walrath on trumpet, Tim Armacost on sax, Steve Allee on keyboard, Steve Johns on drums, all but Allee contributing a song or two -- Ornette Coleman is the only cover. Especially good to hear Walrath, who hasn't recorded much lately. B+(*) [Oct. 7]

Mike & the Ravens: Noisy Boys! The Saxony Sessions (2006-07 [2008], Zoho Roots): Rock band, led by vocalist Mike Brassard. Group originally formed in 1962, but this, with same original members, is their first album. Rocks OK, with a large blues component. Sounds more advanced than 1962. More like 1968. In fact, sounds an awful lot like Steppenwolf. B

Harry Shearer: Songs of the Bushmen (2008, Courgette): Eleven songs, one dedicated to Bush administration teamwork ("935 Lies"), the other ten to individuals, starting with Colin Powell's "Smooth Moves" and ending with Donald Rumsfeld's "Stuff Happens" -- both song-and-dance numbers, more than a little jazzy. Some of the adaptations are obvious -- "Wolf on the Run" for Paul Wolfowitz, "Who Is Yoo?" for John Yoo, with Karl Rove's "Turd Blossom Special" and "The Head of Alberto Gonzalez" the most effective. "Karen" (as in Hughes) is a duet with a Bush-sounding character asking the publicist whether they like us yet. The one that cuts deepest is Condoleezza Rice's "Gym Buds," with Judith Owen singing and someone named Beethoven contributing the melody. [B+(***)]

Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band: Appearing Nightly (2006 [2008], Watt): Aside from daughter Karen Mantler on organ, a pretty standard big band configuration: four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds, piano, bass, drums. Half or more are well known names, mostly with lengthy associations with Bley: Lew Soloff, Gary Valente, Wolfgang Pushnig, Andy Sheppard, Julian Argüelles, Steve Swallow, Billy Drummond. The layering is impeccable, and she make especially good use of the trombones. B+(***)

The Stryker/Slagle Band: The Scene (2008, Zoho): Fourth album under this name, although guitarist Dave Stryker and alto saxophonist Steve Slagle appeared on each other's albums long before their merger. Jay Anderson plays bass, Lewis Nash drums. Joe Lovano joins in on four cuts, but he's mostly wasted on slow and overly slick stuff. And then there's Slagle's characteristic flute cut. On the other hand, the band's usual upbeat postbop is pretty tasty. B+(*)

Nik Payton and Bob Wilber: Swinging the Changes (2007 [2008], Arbors): Payton plays tenor sax and clarinet. B. 1972, Birmingham, England; studied at Leeds College of Music, and perhaps more importantly under Wilber, who indulged his Sidney Bechet fetish. Payton was a founder of the Charleston Chasers, and has toured with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra and what's left of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. One previous album, called In the Spirit of Swing. Lives in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, which may have something to do with why there's a Jobim song here, but few albums lack one; in any case, this is pretty straight swing, the only unusual point the preponderance of originals -- 4 by Payton, 7 by Wilber. Group is Payton's "regular London quartet" -- Richard Buskiewicz (piano), Dave Green (bass), Steve Brown (drums). Wish I could say more, but every time I hear something exceptional here I convince myself that it's Wilber. B+(*)

Ron Kalina and Jim Self: The Odd Couple (2006-07 [2008], Basset Hound): Kalina plays chromatic harmonica. Doesn't seem to have much of a discography or history, but he looks rather gray. Self plays tuba. He's been around a long time, with credits going back to 1976 and seven or more albums since 1992. The group is rounded out capably by Larry Koonse (guitar), Tom Warrington (bass), and Joe La Barbera (drums). They play a couple of originals, some standards, two Charlie Parker tunes, the Neal Hefti-composed title TV theme. They make an odd buzz, and swing a little. B+(*)

Darrell Katz/Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra: The Same Thing (2006 [2008], Cadence Jazz): Katz is a composer/arranger -- no performance credits here. He's directed the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra since 1985, through six albums plus three under his own name. He seems to be based in Boston. Don't know much more. JCAO is a large, ungainly group, leaning avant-garde. Three of Katz's five pieces here are built around texts by Paula Tatarunis, with more/less political overtones. They are sung/recited by Rebecca Shrimpton, in one of those annoying operatic soprano voices, although the words are consistently interesting, and the music does something for them. The sixth piece is the Willie Dixon blues, "The Same Thing," sung by Mike Finnigan. It's one of those standard pop pieces that take on new life when avant-gardists keep the 4/4 and twist everything else. Not a record I'd feel like playing often, but there's a lot in it. B+(**)


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


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


Unpacking:

  • Roy Assaf & Eddy Khaimovich Quartet: Andarta (Origin)
  • Donald Bailey: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 3 (Talking House): Nov. 4
  • Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix (Blue Note)
  • Carla Bley Big Band: Appearing Nightly (Watt)
  • Brinsk: A Hamster Speaks (Nowt)
  • By Any Means: Live at Crescendo (Ayler, 2CD)
  • François Carrier: Great Love: The Digital Box (Ayler, 7CD)
  • Corey Christiansen: Roll With It (Origin)
  • Ablaye Cissoko/Volker Goetze: Sira (Obliqsound): advance
  • Charmaine Clamor: My Harana: A Filipino Serenade (FreeHam)
  • Mike Clark: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 1 (Talking House): Nov. 4
  • Exploding Customer: At Your Service (Ayler)
  • Stephen Gauci's Stockholm Conference: Live at Glenn Miller Café (Ayler, 2CD)
  • Marco Granados: Music of Venezuela (Soundbrush): Nov. 18
  • Then and Now: The Definitive Herbie Hancock (Verve): advance, Sept. 23
  • Billy Harper: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2 (Talking House): Nov. 4
  • Dave Holland Sextet: Pass It On (Dare2/Emarcy): Sept. 23
  • Roger Kellaway: Live at the Jazz Standard (IPO, 2CD): Nov. 14
  • The Klez Dispensers: Say You'll Understand (TKD)
  • Jo Lawry: I Want to Be Happy (Fleurieu Music)
  • Steve Million: Remembering the Way Home (Origin)
  • Arturo O'Farrill & Claudia Acuña: In These Shoes (Zoho)
  • Lucía Pulido: Waning Moon/Luna Menguante (Adventure Music)
  • Pete Rodríguez: El Alquimista/The Alchemist (Conde Music)
  • Frank Senior: Listening in the Dark (Smalls)
  • Idit Shner: Tuesday's Blues (OA2)
  • Todd Snider: Peace Queer (Aimless): Oct. 14
  • John Stein: Encounter Point (Whaling City Sound)
  • Bobo Stenson Trio: Cantando (ECM)
  • Vassilis Tsabropoulos/Anja Lechner/U.T. Gandhi: Melos (ECM)
  • Harry Whitaker: One Who Sees All Things (Smalls)
  • Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico: Songs of an Other (ECM)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Seven Years and a Day

Note: Started writing this on 9/12, then got distracted. Since then the US financial system has continued to implode, while the media chortles that the silver lining of depression is lower gas prices, and the worst major party presidential candidate since James Buchanan (at least) continues to hold even or better in the polls.


In looking that his year's crop of 9/11 observations, it strikes me that people make more of it than is deserved, and still miss some very basic points.

  1. Nations that respect the rights of all of their people, and respect the independence of all other nations, are never targets of terrorist violence. As 9/11 showed, the US was no such nation.

  2. The only appropriate response to an act of terrorism is to examine the history that provided the pretext, and to make amends to render that pretext obsolete. The US did not do this, and nearly all Americans to this day have no clear idea why Americans were attacked. Even those Americans who recognize that the US projects imperial power and significant hegemony far beyond our borders often fail to see any connection to Americans being targeted by terrorists.

  3. The actual US response, which was to attack and overthrow the government of Afghanistan, was possible only because the US possessed military capability far beyond any reasonable defensive needs. No other nation could have lashed out like the US did because no other nation had the wherewithal. (Given how Afghanistan worked out, the US may not have had the capability either, but the Bush administration, and most Americans, thought it did.)

  4. The US reaction validated the terrorists' rationale. Had the US responded within the procedures of international law, admitting redress for just grievances, we would have shown the terrorists to be mere criminals. Instead, we admitted their case and added to its rationale.

  5. The US reaction was predicated on two unexamined assumptions: 1) that the US has a right to police the world, without any sort of checks and balances; and 2) that when US authority was challenged the only possible response was to reassert that authority even more emphatically, which given the US military fetish meant more violently. Given that violence is the most readily understood form of injustice, we've only added to the store of rationales that terrorists use to target us.

  6. As America's knee-jerk violence increased it has exposed the limits of American power, especially how incompetent the US is when it comes to dominating and controlling people beyond US borders, language, and culture. These failures exposed first the hollowness of the superpower conceit and ultimately the viability of the whole imperial venture.

  7. The ideology that underlies the US response to 9/11 is so pervasive that any administration would likely have struck out the same way, but the Bush administration, with its deep conservative faith in power and private wealth, its corruption and cronyism, its inability to conceive of government ever contributing to any sort of public interest, has been especially disastrous. The full extent of Bush's failure will take many years to reckon, and will be hard for most people to fathom. We are buried in debt, because we have lived the last few decades on the illusion that the rich are responsible for wealth, rather than merely the recipients of political favoritism. We are increasingly buried in ignorance -- a stance that becomes all the more precarious in a technological society on the cutting edge of resource and complexity limits. We have, for instance, seen such unthinkable things as more and more people sinking below the poverty line, and life expectancy shrinking.

The latter paragraph could go on and on, but let's go back to the initial point and underline it: the initial US reaction to 9/11 was very peculiar, an irrational burst of violence that was predicated on self-delusion. No other nation in the world would have reacted in that way, yet to us it still seems as normal as apple pie -- even after every step advancing the reaction has proven to be an abject failure. Until we can get our minds around this simple truth we will continue to blindly hurt ourselves and everyone else around us, until we expire from our own failures. It's happening, and it cannot be stopped until we face up to what we have done. Unfortunately, our whole political system militates against that sort of self-examination.

It is certainly true that some politicians are less blind and less stupid and less deceitful and less arrogant than others, but how can they be so and still sell optimism, which remains the coin of the realm even as we slide into hell.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Browse Alert: Politics and Race

Matthew Yglesias: Good Stuff:

But I'll repeat what I've said before: The ultimate test of what matters isn't one-off articles but campaign narratives. During the 2000 campaign, the press developed a narrative about Al Gore being dishonest based almost entirely on things he didn't even say. During the 2004 campaign, there was a narrative about John Kerry being a flip-flopper. In 2008, a robust narrative exists about Barack Obama being too aloof.

There were also narratives about George Bush being a regular guy, and McCain being maverick moderate. The fact is that McCain's campaign lies more than Gore ever did, and that McCain's flip-flopped more than Kerry ever did. Aloof may not be the right word, but McCain could hardly be more disconnected from the problems of the middle class, let alone the poor. He's blinded both by ideology and by the company he keeps -- indeed, by his own ten house, private plane lifestyle.

But the press narratives keep slanting one way. It's enough to make you wonder who owns the media, but you only need to ask that question to surmise the answer.

Billmon: The Future Belongs to We. This runs through the demographic shifts that are pushing the white Republican backlash ever further out on the plank. I don't think it's anywhere near this simple, but the demographic shift has already had an effect on how both parties contend for votes. Bush and Rove made some (neither sincere nor effective) efforts to woo hispanic and even black voters. McCain's making fewer gestures in that direction, most likely because he wants as much racial backlash from Obama as possible. But even there he needs to be careful, because the white race margin is already thin, and more and more whites are willing to vote for a black or hispanic. Wichita, which is still 65-70% non-hispanic white, elected an hispanic mayor a few years back, then voted him out in favor of a black. On the other hand, those were both conservative candidates backed by business interests. Real progressives, even white ones, have a much tougher time.

Andrew Hacker: Obama: The Price of Being Black. One problem with the demographic shift Billmon wrote about how do you turn raw population numbers into actual votes. Hacker reviews the various ways blacks are still denied their right to vote.

Andrew Sullivan: McCain's Integrity. Actually, lack thereof:

The one thing I always thought I knew about him is that he is a decent and honest person. When he knows, as every sane person must, that Obama did not in any conceivable sense mean that Sarah Palin is a pig, what did he do? Did he come out and say so and end this charade? Or did he acquiesce in and thereby enable the mindless Rovianism that is now the core feature of his campaign?

Probably more convincing coming from a conservative who believes he has a soul. Less so from me, because I've seen through him longer. For me the last straw broke in South Carolina in 2000 when McCain declined to defend the stars and stripes, let alone the Party of Lincoln. Sullivan's endorsement:

McCain has demonstrated in the last two months that he does not have the character to be president of the United States. And that is why it is more important than ever to ensure that Barack Obama is the next president. The alternative is now unthinkable. And McCain -- no one else -- has proved it.


FiveThirtyEight is now showing McCain with a 0.8% popular vote lead, although the electoral vote still gives Obama a very slim edge (1.8). They surmise that this is the full extent of the Republican convention bounce. Looking at the state polls, almost all of McCain's gain has come in red states -- topped by Alaska, where the Palin pick has delivered a 31% margin in what had previously been considered a competitive (although red-leaning) state. Sullivan argues that the bump was in the "Christianist" base, which seems likely. The last week has been exceptionally stupid even by usual Stupid Season standards. Even things that should be hard news have turned to political mush. For instance, Bush's announcement of a trivial drawdown in troop strength in Iraq, albeit not until after his term ends. I keep seeing endless repetition of the "surge has worked beyond our wildest dreams" mantra by people with no idea what "working" means. (I believe the quote was from Obama, of all people, but don't quote me on that.) Meanwhile, the situation in Pakistan keeps getting further and further out of hand, which is all the more worrisome given that both candidates are hawks on it. It's tempting to say that Obama is losing because he's drifting away from the right positions on critical issues of war and peace. But to the extent that he is losing, it's for far worse reasons: because more/less half of the American people, and considerably larger slice of the media and business powers, are still willing to snuggle up in Karl Rove's pocket. What it says about us as a nation is nothing less than shameful.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The Family

Robert Christgau on America's Secret Fundamentalists. Book review of Jeff Sharlet's The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. The subject is a group of politically engaged Christians who predate and are more influential than the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Christgau writes:

Sharlet establishes that since the end of World War II, The Family, aka The Fellowship, has exerted its influence in an impressive and frightening array of mostly dire events. Its first coup was the wholesale exoneration of minor Nazis and major Nazi collaborators after the war. The addition of under God to the Pledge of Allegiance and In God We Trust to U.S. currency were its initiatives. Its first major government operative was Sen. Frank Carlson, R-Kan., who persuaded Dwight Eisenhower to run as a Republican, purged progressive bureaucrats from his chair at the obscure Civil Service Employees Committee and lobbied for such heads of state as Haiti's "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Other dictators abetted by The Family included Ngo Dinh Diem of Vietnam, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Park Chung Hee of South Korea, Artur da Costa e Silva of Brazil, Gen. Suharto of Indonesia, Mohamed Siad Barre of Somalia and Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova of El Salvador, which got its first infusion of special aid at the behest of Jimmy Carter, who has called Family leader Doug Coe a "very important person" in his life. Hillary Clinton has also been a Family "friend," and not just via its major public manifestation, the relatively anodyne annual National Prayer Breakfast. The Family was instrumental in the creation of Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship, and of the Community Bible Study project through which George W. Bush found Jesus in 1985.

Who are the people in this Family?

Yet you won't meet the usual cast of hucksters and theocrats -- James Dobson, Tony Perkins, John Hagee, Rick Warren, Tim LaHaye, whoever. A few politicians pass through, notably Sam Brownback, but for the most part you've never heard of these rather colorless people, every one of whom Sharlet engages on a human level. This failure to flatter stereotype couldn't have helped Sharlet get reviewed and typifies his insight into American Christianity, which subdivides endlessly. The most important such grouping, argues Gallup-pollster-turned-Rice-University-sociologist D. Michael Lindsay in Faith in the Halls of Power (a well-researched -- and widely reviewed -- 2007 overview of American evangelicals whose "sympathetic perspective" Sharlet notes with some asperity), pits populists against cosmopolitans. The populists have become familiar figures in secular humanist folklore. The Family -- which is neither an official organization nor a coherent conspiracy -- enlists only cosmopolitans.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14827 [14785] rated (+42), 731 [750] unrated (-19). Got the big rated count by listening to a lot of stuff on Rhapsody. The difference between rated and unrated is about how much I got from Rhapsody. The unrated count doesn't reflect the week's meager haul, which I don't have catalogued yet.

  • Black Bonzo: Sound of the Apocalypse (2007, The Laser's Edge): More prog rock than heavy metal, although the lead singer (Magnus Lindgren) has the lungs for the latter. Another record on the shelf for a long time. C-
  • The Black Keys: Magic Potion (2006, Nonesuch): Rock band, singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach, drummer Patrick Carney. Fourth album; a fifth one is out now. Previous two albums came out on blues label Fat Possum. Nonesuch tends toward idiosyncratic singer-songwriters, world, jazz, and Kronos Quartet, so this very ordinary-sounding band is an oddity there. AMG lists them as Punk Blues/Garage Punk, but most of what I hear is classic rock. B
  • The Black Keys: Attack and Release (2008, Nonesuch): Big news here is that the album was produced by Danger Mouse, which screw up the blues-rock riffs, but doesn't add much. B-
  • Broken Land: Audio Postcard (2006, Broken Land): Don't remember how I got this, but it's a couple of years old. Guitarist Tom Hagen sings and writes most; drummer Nick Smith writes a little; someone named Captain Tom plays most of the bass. Alt-rock, loose, light, unmetallic sound, not countryish, but vaguely Americana. B+(**)
  • Miles Davis Quintet: Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival (1963 [2007], MJF): Early into the second great Davis Quintet, with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams on board, along with George Coleman on tenor sax; compared to the live albums from 1964, this seems tentative and thin, reworking old repertoire, with a few hints of the future. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Dizzy Gillespie: Live at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival (1965 [2007], MJF); Small group with James Moody (flute, tenor sax), Kenny Barron (piano), and Big Black (congas), running through a mixed bag of bebop, with the calypso "Poor Joe" thrown in for Gillespie's vocal; sound is a little thin, and it's all very slapdash, not least the comedy. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Ray Mason Band: Don't Mess With Our Routine (2006, Hi-N-Dry): Countryish rock band. Songs have a clean look and feel, straightforward, with a bit of wit. B+(**)
  • Thelonious Monk: Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival (1964 [2007], MJF): Four terrific quartet tracks, with tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse in splendid form, and the pianist especially delightful on "Bright Mississippi" -- a Monkified "Sweet Georgia Brown"; five extra horns show up for the Buddy Collette-sketched encores, with hot boppish trumpet and more funky piano. A- [Rhapsody]


Jazz Prospecting (CG #18, Part 5)

Another weird week for me. I fumbled for a couple of days getting nowhere, then started pulling long-sitting probable junk from the shelves (some, but by no means all, below), then spent a few days playing Rhapsody, and finally settled into some serious jazz. The Rhapsody stuff will show up in a later post -- I've never been a fan, but the Conor Oberst album is pretty good, and Jeffrey Lewis's 12 Crass Songs is a weird, left-wing find. No more info on when Jazz CG (#17) runs, although it shouldn't be too long now.

One thing I'll note here is that I'm going to be cutting back on writing, especially about music, over the next 6-8 weeks. I'm not discontinuing anything, but everything will be sparser and slower. I have another trip to Detroit lined up, and I have a bunch of construction projects, both here and there, on my plate. This is the best time to get them done, and I'm finally taking that plunge. All year long -- in fact for several years now -- I've been tethered to the computer, listening to as much stuff as I could handle, writing as much as I can, letting pretty much everything else slip into entropy's clutches.

I will be listening to stuff, and I'll write notes when I can. They'll probably be more slapdash then usual, with more records put back for later listening. If I have 6+ I'll put up a Jazz Prospecting post. I have a little over 1000 words written for Jazz CG (#18), and that will get a boost when the cuts for (#17) come in. So it shouldn't be hard to finish this off in a timely fashion. September Recycled Goods is already thick enough to run. No reason to stop sending me new stuff. This period will pass, then (most likely) we'll be back to normal.

The non-music parts of the blog/website will continue in a similar mode. I have some book stuff more/less ready to go. The cutback means I'll put less work into finishing them off, but the posts will continue. Don't know about the politics. I'm somewhat inclined to pull my head down and let whatever happens in the next two months -- Matt Taibbi's memorable term for the 2004 election was "The Stupid Season," and that seems likely to be the case once again. But I doubt that I won't be tempted to write something, no matter how distracted I am. We'll see.


Renaud Garcia-Fons Trio: Arcoluz (2005 [2008], Enja/Justin Time, CD+DVD): French bassist, b. 1962, uses an unusual 5-string double bass, has a technique of tapping strings with the bow. The fifth string gives him something like cello range. Trio includes Kiko Ruiz on "flamenco guitar" and Negrito Transante on drums/percussion. Music draws on flamenco, and reminded me more than a bit of tango. Garcia-Fons has six albums on Enja, at least two picked up by Justin Time. DVD adds visuals to the same concert. I played it but didn't watch much. B+(**)

Randy Sandke: Unconventional Wisdom (2008, Arbors): Trumpeter, mostly plays old-fashioned mainstream, or what you might call swing-bop, but sometimes will surprise you. This quartet, with Howard Alden (guitar), Nicki Parrott (bass), and John Riley (drums), should steer to the retro side, but doesn't. I'm not really sure what they're doing, other than framing a lot of gorgeous trumpet balladry. Parrott also sings four songs. She has a plain, slightly hesitant voice, which I think works very well. [B+(**)]

The Pineapple Thief: Tightly Unwound (2008, K Scope): English ("Somerset-based") rock group, led by guitarist Bruce Soord, has half a dozen albums since 1999. Sounds a little like Jesus and Mary Chain minus the fuzz -- didn't catch any lyrics, so I can't speak to the gloom. Better than average for what they do, but no real business being here. B+(*)

Tuner: Totem (2005 [2008], Unsung): Another rock record slipped into the stack. Quasi-industrial, chompy hard beats, fuzz guitar, more instrumental than not, with long stairstepped segues and some chant-like but ignorable vocals. "Dexter Ward," with its long instrumental outro, is a good example. B+(**)

Tuner: Pole (2005-06 [2007], Unsung): Not background; just an earlier record I shelved and didn't bother with. Group is duo with Markus Reuter on guitars (mostly) and Pat Mastelotto on drums (mostly), with nine guests listed. Like the quasi-industrial instrumentals; don't like the cult doom-and-gloom vocals -- the talkie ones aren't so bad, but the whispery ones are just creepy. B

Judith Owen: Mopping Up Karma (2008, Couragette): British (or should I say Welsh?) singer-songwriter, with eight (or more) records since 1996. I don't hear her as a jazz singer, and don't find her very interesting as a rock or cabaret singer. At least this has fewer annoying vocal tics than the previous album I've heard (Happy This Way), and the strings and such are fairly inocuous. B-

Anne Phillips: Ballet Time (2008, Conawago): Singer, definitely jazz, all the way down to writing vocalese lyrics -- her take on Dexter Gordon's "Fried Bananas" goes so far as to explain how she wound up writing a lyric to "Fried Bananas." Reportedly got her start "as a member of the Ray Charles Singers on the Perry Como Show." Cut an album in 1959 called "Born to Be Blue," then followed it up with a second album in 2001. This looks to be her third, not counting her choir arrangements for the Anne Phillips Singers. This one calls in a lot of chits, arranging 15 songs as duos with 15 musicians -- mostly pianists (notably Dave Brubeck, Marian McPartland, Roger Kellaway), two guitarists (John Hart, Paul Meyers), two saxes (Scott Robinson on baritone, Bob Kindred on tenor), and Joe Locke on vibes. Two pianists sing duets: Bob Dorough and Matt Perri. Five songs have music or lyric (not both) by Phillips. The others lean on her guests, or the Gershwins. The minimal pairings and juxtapositions make for a very mixed bag -- tricks and oddities that never get a chance to jell into something genuinely idiosyncratic. B

Kopacoustic: Music From the KopaFestival 2006, Volume 1 (2006 [2007], Kopasetic): The first of two samplers from a Swedish jazz festival, held Sept. 21-22, 2006, in Malmö, sorted not strictly by acoustic vs. electric so much as by guitar volume -- all six groups have guitarists, a sure sign of the times. First up here is Krister Jonsson Trio (Jonsson, guitar; Nils Davidsen, electric bass, Peter Danemo, drums) + Svante Henryson (cello): 4 cuts, 29:08. Then Footloose (Mats Holtne, guitar; Mattias Hjorth, bass, Peter Nilsson, drums) + Lotte Anker (alto sax) & Andreas Andersson (soprano/baritone sax): 1 cut, 18:05. Finally, Cennet Jönsson Quartet (Jönsson, soprano/tenor sax; Krister Jonsson; Mattias Hjorth; Peter Nilsson) + David Liebman (soprano sax, flute). Loose, attractive free jazz, guitar-driven, with cello or light sax to soothe things out. B+(**)

Kopalectric: Music From the KopaFestival 2006, Volume 2 (2006 [2007], Kopasetic): More guitar-driven free jazz, cranked up a notch for Lim + Marc Ducret (3 cuts, 31:01) and Elektra Hyde (1 cut, 10:36), and a couple more for Anders Nilsson's Aorta (1 cut, 20:59, called "Riding the Maelström"). B+(**)

Dave Pietro: The Chakra Suite (2007 [2008], Challenge): Saxophonist, alto is probably his main instrument, although he lists it third here, ahead of C-melody but after soprano and F-mezzo. Born in Massachusetts, studied at UNT, played 1994-2003 in Toshiko Akiyoshi's big band, and many of his other credits are in big bands -- Mike Holober, Pete McGuinness, Jim Widner, Gotham Wind Symphony. Sixth album since 1996, including some Brazilian experiments and a Stevie Wonder tribute. This one is based on Indian themes, but also includes Brazilian elements. Todd Isler taps both sources for percussion. Rez Abbasi plays sitar as well as guitar. Gary Versace plays accordion and piano. The light sax floats and dances over intriguing rhythms and subtle mood pieces. B+(***)

Michael Bates: Clockwise (2008, Greenleaf Music): Bassist, composer, grew up in Canada, played in hardcore and punk bands before settling into jazz. Has three albums, some attributed to Michael Bates' Outside Sources, although Bates is the only one on all three albums. (Actually, my copy, with no mention of Outside Sources, has a different cover from the one shown on the band's website and Myspace page. The label's website shows my cover.) Pianoless quartet this time, with Russ Johnson on trumpet, Quinsin Nachoff on sax or clarinet, and Jeff Davis on drums. It's worth the trouble trying to focus on bass/drums, which provide the foundation for all the free-flying sparks. B+(***) [Sept. 8]

Rabih Abou-Khalil: Em Português (2007 [2008], Enja): It looks like the German label Enja finally has a US distributor (Allegro), so we may start seeing their records in a more timely and complete fashion. (For the last several years they've had a deal where Justin Time selectively reissued their records.) Enja has been home to Lebanese oud player Abou-Khalil since 1988, with at least 10 records. They've all had very distinctive packaging: cardboard foldout cases with metallic ink. This one, with its purple background and jeweled fishes, is a beauty. Abou-Khalil started with his native Arabic music, which flows readily into jazz due to their joint emphasis on improvisation, but over the years he's moved fluidly through the realms of European folk musics -- Morton's Foot (2004) is an especially good example. Here he goes whole hog into Portugal, setting out an album totally dominated by Ricardo Ribeiro's vocals. I would have preferred more instrumental space, maybe a horn beyond Michel Godard's occasional tuba. The best thing here is the way the oud weaves through the whole tapestry. B+(**)

Ralph Lalama Quartet: Energy Fields (2008, Mighty Quinn): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, b. 1951, cut five albums for Criss Cross 1990-99. This is his first album in the new millennium, a quartet, with John Hart's guitar a significant complement for the sax. Mostly covers (1 original), standards and bop tunes from Parker, Shorter, and Shaw. I'm not familiar with his early work. This is beautifully done, but seems like something he could fall back on any day he wanted. B+(**) [Oct. 1]


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: Didn't get this done this week.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Downbeat Critics Poll: 2008

See file.


Browse Alert: NY Times

Sarah Vowell: Party Guy. One of the maddening things about presidential campaigns is the near certain knowledge that you'll never fully anticipate what you'll get once a candidate is elected. Moreover, the risks of those bets keep increasing, as the executive branch concentrates more and more power, especially the power to bull into insane, hapless wars. As Vowell points out, this is nothing new.

Former Senator Fred Thompson, in his folksy and entertaining speech at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night, described his party's presidential nominee as such a rule-breaking scamp that for a minute there I thought he was nominating Tom Sawyer for president instead of John McCain. When Mr. Thompson described Senator McCain's progression from Naval Academy cut-up to war hero, all I could think about was a ne'er-do-well West Point cadet bound for military distinction, Ulysses S. Grant.

In the 1868 presidential election, when the American people voted for Grant, the greatest war hero of the 19th century, they had no inkling they had just chosen one of our worst presidents, a largely clueless chief executive who allowed corruption to flourish in his administration and who offered pretty much zero leadership during the depression known as the Panic of 1873.

Another example:

Senator McCain has been both lauded and derided as a "gambler" for choosing the obscure governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate. That's nothing compared to the sucker bet the American people are forced to make every four years. For instance, who knew that Herbert Hoover, who had been such a heroic do-gooder for the Belgians during their food crisis of 1914, would turn out to be a president blatantly blasé about Americans who were starving during the Great Depression?

Then there was George W. Bush, the guy who wanted America to assume a more modest foreign policy:

One of my biggest fears about the current president back in January 2001 was that he would fail to make good on his campaign promise to eliminate the National Park Service's $4.9 billion deferred maintenance backlog. Seven years later, the nicest way I can describe how things turned out is that the park service backlog -- now around $8 billion, by the way -- is no longer one of my top 50 anxieties about the state of the union.

With Bush we might have been able to read the tea leaves a bit more carefully, especially if the media, or for that matter Bush's opponent, had bothered to ask some tough questions. There's plenty of reason to suspect the worst from McCain, but he still gets a pass from way too many people.

Despite his consistent party-line voting record, some independents and Democrats still think of Senator McCain as the most palatable, independent-minded Republican. But this is the sort of empty compliment a friend of mine once compared to being called "the coolest Osmond."

Senator McCain's name will not appear on ballots under the category "Maverick." A vote for him is a vote for the Republican Party, which is to say the people who were standing there on the floor in Minnesota all week long chanting, "Drill, baby, drill," or rattling maracas to cheer on Mitt Romney as he bragged, "Just like you, there's never been a day when I was not proud to be an American." Really? Not even on Abu Ghraib thumbs-up photo day? Or Superdome bedlam day(s)?

A persistent theme in Republican attacks against Obama is that you [the voter] don't know what he'll do once he gets into power. All you can tell now is that he says now, but most likely he's just saying that to get you to vote for him, so he can get into power and do whatever it is he really wants to do, whatever that is -- surely something awful bad. Like many effective smears, this is based on a half-truth, which is that nobody ever knows how the future is going to play out. On the other hand, the Republicans have bound themselves together so tightly that their range, for any semi-loyal party guy, looks to be limited to continuing the slow decay as we deny all the problems that are accumulating to driving full-speed into one disaster after another. At least with Obama we have a guy who says he can see potholes and seems to be smart enough and attentive enough to occasionally hit the brakes and/or swerve out of the way (or, as the derogatory term puts it, "change course").

There are few things in life I hate more than betting, but this one seems pretty clear cut.


The last page of the New York Times Week in Review section was filled by a full-page ad for Thomas L. Friedman's new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America. Looking forward to the Matt Taibbi review. (For last time, see here.) For a whiff, see Friedman's op-ed today ("Georgia on My Mind"). Last two paragraphs:

Alas, though, the Republicans just had a convention where abortion got vastly more attention than innovation, calls to buttress Tbilisi, Georgia, swamped any for Atlanta, Georgia, and "drill, baby, drill" was chanted instead of "innovate, baby, innovate."

If we were serious about weakening Putin and Putinism, we would be investing $1 billion in Georgia Tech to invent alternatives to oil -- the high price of which is the only reason the Kremlin is strong enough today to bully its neighbors and its own people.

There are almost ten serious errors in those two sentences -- a really remarkable density of denseness. About the only thing he did get right is that the Republicans are morons, but how tough a call is that? The idea that innovation is the answer to all our problems is cornucopian gospel, something the Republicans are quite happy with, even if they'd preface it by claiming that the way to innovate is to stop taxing businesses and profits, as opposed to, like, public investment in education and science. And we're not serious about stopping Putin/Putinism -- we need the enemies to keep us focused on guns (not butter). The oil business has been good to Russia, but Russia's a global power because they're a big country with lots of smart people -- at least if you consider figuring out how to blow up half the earth a sign of brains. They've been called "Upper Volta with missiles," but that doesn't mean that if you'd just (somehow) take away the missiles they'd just be Upper Volta. Moreover, even if you wanted to take away their oil business, you can't, for the simple reason that they got the oil and you don't. Nor is a paltry $1 billion investment anywhere going to invent "an alternative to oil" -- let alone Georgia Tech, who'd probably plow it into football anyway. And so on. Nobody else manages to turn gibberish into cliché more efficiently than Friedman.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Elmer Gantry to the Rescue

I've reprinted several Wichita Eagle editorial cartoons by Richard Clawson. He's usually pretty mild-mannered, but occasionally he does get worked up and draws something interesting. But the following one took me aback. Palin, of course, doesn't have a reform message, let alone a reform record. Even if she did, by signing on as John McCain's running mate she's subordinated whatever she might want to whatever McCain wants -- which is hard to speculate on because McCain himself has given up any hint of unorthodoxy in his quest to become George W. Bush's successor. The next time you'll hear McCain espousing anything remotely resembling reform will be the next time he gets caught red handed, like he did in the Great Savings & Loan Swindle.

Then there's the hockey stick grafted onto a baseball metaphor. I'm not sure how to read that, and I doubt that Crowson knows either. Hockey isn't a sport we Kansas know much about, but I was under the impression that slapping the puck out of the rink wasn't as positive an accomplishment as slugging the ball out of the park. In any case, the elephant's exclamation rings false, and the donkey's confusion has less to do with irony than flabbergasted disbelief. That point is well taken. Palin's big convention speech consisted of nothing more than dutifully reading the text of one of Bush's old writers, following the choreography of Bush's pet Machiavellian, Karl Rove -- like Phil Gramm and so many others, part of McCain's maverick posse.

I think the cartoon appeared in Friday's paper -- not sure, because the rain had reduced it to pulp by the time I got up. I noticed the cartoon when I was trying to track down a letter to the editor, written by Richard D. McKenzie, titled "Elmer Gantry II?":

Barack Obama came into our midst via Chicago, where he no doubt picked up a few good tips on business and contacts useful for later in life.

Armed with dubious credentials, a glib tongue and the ever-present hand mike, he infiltrated one of our most respected political parties. Sadly, its leadership succumbed to his spiel, which is composed of many slogans, problems without solutions and "much blow but very little go."

This brings to mind the widely read book that Sinclair Lewis wrote about the classic flimflam man Elmer Gantry, who mesmerized his gullible followers in order to feed his ravenous ego.

By contrast to Obama, Elmer Gantry was a mere beginner.

I've read a lot of weird attacks on Obama, but this one is so far off the charts I'd suspect satire if it didn't seem even more implausible than idiocy. It's downright weird on more levels than I can calculate. I doubt that this "widely read" novel has been read by as many of 0.02% of the letter's limited readership, so for starters the writer is placing himself in a peculiar elite -- presumably with Obama, who is presumed to have taken the character as a model. (Why is another whole level of weirdness.) I've never read the book, nor for that matter anything else by Sinclair Lewis. Wikipedia has a more coherent synopsis:

The novel tells the story of a young, narcissistic, womanizing college athlete who, upon realizing the power, prestige, and easy money that being an evangelical preacher can bring, pursues his "religious" ambitions with relish, contributing to the downfall, even death, of key people around him as the years pass. Gantry continues to womanize, is often exposed as a fraud, and frequently faces a complete downfall, yet he is never fully discredited and always manages to emerge triumphant and reaching ever greater heights of social standing.

That sounds a little bit like a lot of people, but Obama isn't a name that jumps out for me. It's almost like McKenzie is running through his encyclopedia looking for any kind of slime or slander he can liken Obama to. The fact that this one is a book by an old time left-leaning novelist satirizing rich and pious phonies, a book long hated by the religious right, doesn't even produce any cognitive dissonance. One wonders why Obama's critics so often fall back on metaphors, allusions, and misrepresentations. It's like they can't even bear to contemplate actual issues.

I've been saying all along that the Republican campaign is going to get ugly, but it's starting to look it's just coming unhinged. It's like the Republicans feel like they have this God-given right to win and rule, and they just go crazy when they lose -- it's just something they can't fathom. You got a good look at that reaction when Clinton won in 1992. Clinton more than met them half way, yet they couldn't just graciously claim that even with Clinton in the White House they'd still be getting more than half the loaf. Instead, they went on an eight-year infantile rant. Now, after the sore losers spent their eight-year return to power wrecking everything they touched, they're bound to lose again, and this time not to the sweetheart of the Republican Lite set; no, this time, to, uh, Obama. They seem, thus far at least, to realize that going all Jesse Helms isn't going to do the trick, so they're groping. Elmer Gantry, anyone?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Browse Alert: Party People

Paul Krugman: The Resentment Strategy. The first few paragraphs give you a sense of how far the convention Republicans have gone to stir up resentment against the Democratic ticket. There is, after all, little more than they can run on, but it's also been in their blood, as far back as Richard Nixon, who brought the Republicans back to power with his "silent majority" coalition of big business, racists, militarists, and old-fashioned individualists. The more they rule, the more they screw up; hence, the more dependent they are on stoking the rage that brought them together in the first place.

By selecting Barack Obama as their nominee, the Democrats may have given Republicans an opening: the very qualities that inspire many fervent Obama supporters -- the candidate's high-flown eloquence, his coolness factor -- have also laid him open to a Nixonian backlash. Unlike many observers, I wasn't surprised at the effectiveness of the McCain "celebrity" ad. It didn't make much sense intellectually, but it skillfully exploited the resentment some voters feel toward Mr. Obama's star quality.

But the Republicans would be doing this to anyone. They can't, after all, run on their own record.

Matthew Yglesias: A Partisan in Maverick's Clothing. McCain still has two months to run away from the Republican Party, but judging from the convention, he's stuck there, and couldn't get far even if he wanted to. Yglesias points out many cases where McCain has surrendered his independent judgment to the will of the party. He could have gone further in exploring the extent to which the GOP has become a hideous thought control machine.

Billmon: Really Proud. While Krugman is still worrying about that the resentment campaign may work against Obama, Billmon -- who on average is a hell of a lot more critical of the Democrats -- takes some pride in what has happened this year:

But there are loyalties that go deeper than policies, deeper than ideas, deeper, even, than folly and cowardice. When I turn on the TV and see the crowd at a Democratic National Convention -- black and white and every shade in between, Anglo and Hispanic, gay and straight, old and young, Jew and gentile, I know somewhere deep down in my gut that those are my people, the Americans that I want to be my fellow Americans.

That's a variant on what I've been feeling. I hate the very idea of identity politics, but despite voluminous policy differences that's what this election is coming down to: in part because that's the way the Republicans want to fight it, but also because a lot of Democrats this year don't feel like ducking that fight -- especially after seeing the Republican convention.

Billmon: The Great White Hope. A backgrounder on McCain, posted back on July 31 -- long time ago, but as history it's still valid. Back in the 1980s, after he parlayed his POW record into a Senate seat:

If John McCain had a problem with the way lobbying (i.e. legalized prostitution) was being done in Washington, you definitely won't find it in the record of the Keating investigation. McCain's fit of Puritan self-righteousness (or political calculation, depending on your view) came after the fact, once he'd already been caught. And yet, from that single Senate speech sprang the shoot that eventually grew into the sturdy tree of John McCain's media image.

You have to admit it was a neat trick: Happily accepting the naughty goodies while they were being handed out, but then winning brownie points for admitting he took them -- after the world had already found out he took them. But that's precisely what McCain did. He's never looked back since.

The lesson he learned, I think, is that pseudo-candor (truthiness) usually trumps the genuine article (McCain was way ahead of his time on this) And so he hasn't hesitated to flip and flop shamelessly if (and these are the key points) it is in his interest and he thinks he can get away with it.

On to 2000, when he ran for president:

As the outsider, one of a number of outsiders, running against the GOP establishment favorite, McCain desperately needed -- and knew he needed -- independents and Democrats to turn out for him in the primaries where they were allowed to do so. But his record and his positions on most issues defined him as a fairly conventional GOP conservative -- what's more, one whose primary passion, national security hawkishness, was way out of fashion. So, McCain and his political advisors used his personal biography (not least his post-Keating Five contrition) to fashion a new political persona that would appeal to independents and/or moderates: McCain 2.0. To demonstrate his bona fides, he even took a totally gratuitous (if entirely accurate) public shot at the religious right, defining them as "the agents of intolerance."

It worked well initially -- well enough to put the fear into Karl Rove and George W. Bush, not to mention the entire GOP establishment. But conservative, hardcore Republican South Carolina turned into the make-or-break primary state, and McCain's supposed appeal to veterans turned out to be much less tangible than the Bush machine's tight connections to the fundamentalist Taliban. So suddenly John McCain, the supposed straight talker, was ducking and weaving around the perennially important issue of whether the Confederate flag should continue to wave over the cradle of the Civil War.

He lost anyway, of course -- but here again, as during the Keating Five scandal, McCain managed to make political vice look like virtue, at least in the media's eyes. In late April, he gave a speech announcing he'd been wrong not to denounce the Stars and Bars. "I chose to compromise my principles," he confessed, and "broke my promise to always tell the truth" in order to win in South Carolina.

With Bush the nominee, McCain waited on the sidelines.

Like Achilles, McCain largely withdrew to his tent for the 2000 general election campaign -- sulking after his defeat, it was said; although, in hindsight, hedging his bets might be a more accurate description. But after the Florida debacle, with the Cheney Administration off to a rocky start and Shrub looking like a possible one-term failed nominal president, McCain re-emerged to re-define himself legislatively as a "maverick" Republican -- opposing tax cuts, slamming the tobacco lobby, embracing campaign finance reform, etc.

But then 9/11 reshuffled the political cards once again. With Bush transformed into the GOP's Maximum Leader, McCain reinvented himself AGAIN as a loyal foot soldier in the war on terrorism -- but managed to keep just enough daylight between himself and the Cheney Administration (on the conduct of the war in Iraq, the use of torture, etc.) to give himself an out if thing went South.

In 2004 McCain flirted with Kerry, but wound up embracing Bush. He got back into the forefront of the neocon war in Iraq, surging even before Bush did. And he started mending his fences with GOP baseheads like Jerry Falwell. Through the primaries he was more unapologetically aligned with Bush than any other candidate, even though it meant backtracking on everything from taxes to Armageddon. And now, with the nomination sewed up, all those GOP aparatchiks who supposedly hated him in his "maverick" days are lined up right behind him: the ultimate party hack.


The poll projections at FiveThirtyEight have Obama up by 3.1% today, his biggest lead that I can remember, with Ohio and Virginia in the blue column, and Nevada teetering. Doesn't seem like McCain got any convention bounce, but it may take a while to work through the algorithms.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Browse Alert: Republicans

Billmon: In Your Heart, You Know They're White. No surprise that the common denominator at the Republican convention is that everywhere you look you see nothing but white faces. In 2004 Bush managed to engineer a little camouflage, but not McCain in 2008. Not sure whether he forgot, didn't care, or couldn't hack it. He might even see it as his leg up, but Billmon argues that all-white crowds are looking increasingly anomalous in America. Tune in after, say, the Olympics, the Democratic Convention, the Hurricane Gustav evacuations, and the Republian convention looks even stranger, not to mention more out of touch.

Paul Woodward commenting on a similar article in the Washington Post: "How can a party that doesn't resemble the country, credibly put the 'country first'?" Actually, the Republicans have a pretty limited definition of country, one pretty much summed up by Todd Snider's song "Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight White American Males" -- plus a few soccer moms, or hockey moms as the case may be. Their pitch is based on two basic propositions: those are the only real Americans, and it's up to the Republicans to protect those real Americans and their country from all the other miscreants living and working hereabouts. Everyone who doesn't fit their model is an object of fear and loathing, and Republican campaigns are based on provoking as much of that as possible.

Otherwise, the Republicans would have to run on their real platform, which is helping the rich get richer and keeping everyone else far excluded from any trace of political power. You can start to see their problem when you start counting up how many people benefit from Republican rule vs. how many are hurt by it. If both camps acted rationally, the Republicans would be hard pressed to get 5% of the vote. They do better than that because they're able to con more people, and this is an iterative process: they pick up a few people and tout them as exemplars of Republicanism and use them as bait for more. One problem with this is that the party keeps getting dumber and dumberer as it's swelled with people who don't know or appreciate their own or the public's interests.

But it's an argument that's losing out on several fronts, including demographically. Matt Yglesias reacted to attacks on Democrats in general and Obama in particular as being elitists, in contrast to the regular folk Republicans claim to be:

The only way to be a "regular person" is to (a) have white skin, (b) not descend from Spanish-speaking people, (c) not go to college, (d) not be poor, and (e) avoid living in a big city. Nevermind that a large majority of the American public falls into one of the Five Forbidden Categories of Irregularity.

The whole elitism complaint is the low point so far of this campaign. It seems to be nothing more than a catch-all way to strike out at Obama for being smarter and more eloquent than McCain. Brains and eloquence used to be qualities that we sought out in presidents, like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. The Republican alternative to brains and eloquence is ignorance and mendacity, and that's about all they have left to sell. It's sad that anyone takes them seriously, except as a threat to civilization.

Matt Yglesias: The Culture Warriors. A little bit more on this, well worth reading. Although I said above that most Republicans aren't being rational about their interests, there is a broader niche that think they are, mostly because they are doing pretty well and haven't factored all the externalities in -- pollution, the risk shift, terrorism, gang crime, government corruption and incompetence, etc. One thing worth pondering is that while rich people in every state vote Republican and poor people in every state vote Democratic, the Democrats wind up winning virtually all of the relatively rich states (Utah is the exception), with the Republicans winning the relatively poor states.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Browse Alert: Palin

Stories are like diamond cutting. The interesting ones are those that break into many facets each with its own distinctive view of the story. The Georgia war was interesting less for what happened to the poor people in the way than for how much tired cold war ideology it revealed. The Joe Biden nomination wasn't interesting at all: it was the ultimate safe choice, proven by the fact that nobody (aside from Counterpunch) had anything to say about it. In retrospect, it shows how cautious and methodical Obama is, but only compared to McCain-Palin will anyone notice. Anyone McCain could have picked would have reflected on McCain. Lieberman would have been good for publicity, but he's been pretty well aired out by now. I was hoping for Phil Gramm, but he's pure coal compared to Palin: nothing but a source of heat and pollution, sure to cover McCain in soot. Palin's much more than that.


Brent D Wistrom: Brownback pulled as one to nominate Palin. One of the most perverse things about the anti-abortion crowd is how much they adore teenage pregnancies. For these people, the news that Sarah Palin's 17-year-old unwed daughter is pregnant is a sign from God. KS Sen. Sam Brownback is one of them. He was originally asked to give Palin's nomination speech, but evidently McCain's handlers started having second thoughts, as if they recognize that most Americans might not be so joyful over the Palin family's blessings.

Brownback said recent disclosures about Palin will only make her stronger.

He said he thinks conservative Kansans will be supportive of Palin, whose 17-year-old daughter is pregnant and not married.

"Here's a situation you don't like, you wish didn't happen, but you don't kill the child as a response," he said. "You say 'OK, we'll have the child, we're going to surround the child with love, they're going to try to make it go as a family.' And that's what we do."

Brownback said, in fact, that Palin's social conservatism has excited the base of the party for the first time in years. "After her announcement, I talked to people who were giddy about her," he said. "Because there's always been some distance between McCain and the conservative base of the party."

Speaking of giddy, on the opinion page Cal Thomas has a love letter to Palin, annointing her as a "Steel Magnolia." This is actually a far cry from the usual run of Republican pundits, who lined up dutifully behind Palin because those were the marching orders.

So at least one part of the Palin pick is working beautifully, perhaps too much so. The fundamentalist base is rallying behind her, which is a double-sided sword. They got their candidate, and -- unlike the Fred Barneses of the world -- they're going to be hurt if McCain drops her. On the other hand, their fanatic support only adds to McCain's already substantial nutjob factor. When this finally sinks in, a lot of centrist voters are going to be very nervous.

Alex Koppelman: Quote of the day. Actually, the quote, which pertains to the point above, is from Byron York over at National Review:

Perhaps I'm focusing on an irrelevant issue, but the presence, or non-presence, of [Levi Johnston, the father of Bristol Palin's unborn child] on the stage tonight strikes me as important. It's one thing for delegates to be understanding and compassionate about the fix these two teenagers have gotten themselves into. It's another to actually celebrate it. And, given what we've learned in the last few days, if Johnston is up on stage with his girlfriend and the Palin family, and Republicans are wildly cheering, it will certainly look like they are celebrating this situation.

I don't usually engage in these scenarios, but I'll do it here. If the Obamas had a 17 year-old daughter who was unmarried and pregnant by a tough-talking black kid, my guess is if that they all appeared onstage at a Democratic convention and the delegates were cheering wildly, a number of conservatives might be discussing the issue of dysfunctional black families.

Actually, if Palin was a Democrat and got nominated, virtually everything in her story would spin around 180 degrees.

Marc Ambinder: What McCain Didn't Know About Sarah Palin. Subtitle: "And why he probably would have picked her anyway." Goes through in pretty substantial detail what McCain's people actually did find out about Palin, and how they planned to use that -- e.g., to turn the "lack of experience" issue around to emphasize her executive experience as mayor and governor, something Obama and Biden (and McCain) lack. The argument that McCain would have picked Palin anyway depends more on the mostly imaginary outisder-reformist narrative. That strikes me as the weakest and most phony of her assets. She offers a sense of human (as in fallible) commonness that McCain sorely lacks (and that he sure wouldn't have picked up with Romney). On the other hand, I'm not sure if that's what America wants in a [vice] president.

Patrick J Buchanan: Johnny's got a new girl. One thing we differ on here at home is Buchanan: whether he's an incisive critic at least on a few points, or whether he's inevitably just a partisan hack. Here's his take on Palin:

The Palin nomination could backfire, but it is hard to see how. She has passed her first test, her introduction to the nation, with wit and grace. And the Obama-Biden ticket, having already alienated millions of women with the disrespecting of Hillary, is unlikely to start attacking another woman whose sole offense is that she had just been given the chance to break the glass ceiling at the national level.

Her nomination, which will bring the Republican right home, also frees up McCain to appeal to moderates and liberals, which has long been his stock in trade.

With his selection of Sarah Palin, John McCain has not only shaken up this election, he may have helped shape the future of the United States -- and much for the better.

I'd say this lines him up pretty securely with the partisan hacks.

Josh Marshall: Risk of Stating the Obvious. Lists two "key facts" in the presidential race:

First, the Democratic base is bigger than the Republican base. The number of self-identifying Democrats is substantially larger that the number of Republican-identifiers.

Second, contrary to what we might have imagined earlier in the year, Republicans have already been substantially more united behind McCain than Democrats have been behind Obama. I would not have predicted that. But the polls have been extremely consistent on this point.

In other words, the GOP 'base' was already substantially united behind McCain, subjective measures of intensity notwithstanding. The people who will win the election for McCain are disaffected Democrats and independents. In the context of 2008, a juicing-the-base strategy is a recipe for a respectable defeat, not victory.

I imagine there was a point where McCain fantasized that picking Palin would have extended his reach: that he might have picked up a big chunk of those Clinton PUMAs. In any case, he did succeed in stealing the news cycle back from the Democrats. But the way Palin is playing out may have just the opposite effect: rallying the born-againers is more likely to unite the Democrats than to split them. McCain may have figured he needed to gamble to win, or he may just like gambling. Lots of Americans like gambling. They think it's about winning, but mostly they just lose.

The question all this raises is whether they like leaders who gamble. After two terms of George Bush doubling and redoubling his failed, hedged bets, I hope not.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Browse Alert: Palin

Off the Rails: Sarah Palin's Very Bad Day. That's the lead-in title. The link headline is "The Palin Meltdown in Slo-Mo." I mostly wanted to use the picture, which unlike most quickie photoshop kluges does a nice job of capturing this story. Palin reminds me of randomocracy: the half-baked idea that we can eliminate the biases in the election system by simply picking someone at random. Compared to a political process that promotes safe picks like Joe Biden (or steathily sinister ones like Dick Cheney), Palin is almost a random American, at least within Republican white middle class female constraints -- what proves this is the ordinariness of her baggage. Even the corruption issues are normal reactions to the company she keeps: as Molly Ivins used to say, "lie down with dogs, get up with fleas."

Billmon: Ready, shoot, aim On the art and science of vetting vice presidential nominees. One point, which others have also made, bears repeating:

I'm glad to see Obama come out and warn his troops away from the really personal stuff. It's already clear that Palin offers an embarrassment of riches for the Obama campaign, and a wealth of embarrassments for McCain's. There's no need to get greedy -- or cruel and vindicative, which is the one thing that could cause this whole freeding frenzy to circle back and start munching on the Democrats. McCain's people wanted to toss the pregnancy story into Hurricane Gustav? Good. Let it be buried in the muck.

Except for one obvious point: When Sarah Palin praises her 17-year-old daughter for "choosing" to give birth to a baby conceived out of wedlock (and assures us that she is doing it of her own free will) it should never be forgotten that she (and her party) would, if they could, deny that same right of choice to every other American woman, without exception.

Michael Kinsley: No Experience Necessary. And what does the Palin pick tell us about McCain?

That's why the important point about Palin's lack of experience isn't about Palin. It's about McCain. And the question is not how his choice of Palin might complicate his ability to use the "experience" issue, or whether he will have to drop experience as an issue. It's not even about the proper role of experience as an issue. In fact, it's not about experience at all. It's about honesty. The question should be whether McCain -- and all the other Republicans who have been going on for months about Obama's dangerous lack of foreign-policy experience -- ever meant a word of it.

Matthew Yglesias: Alaska Independence. Not a good post, but I felt like adding a comment, not least because something obvious to me didn't occur to first 25 commenters:

The knock on Alaska's congressional representation shows a short memory. Sen. Ernest Gruening voted against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. The only other senator to do so was Wayne Morse of Oregon. Sen. Mike Gravel read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. Of course, both were Democrats, and Alaska's congressional delegation has been solid Republican for decades now.

Gruening is long dead now, but Gravel ran for president this year. He was probably the most solidly antiwar candidate in the race, but didn't get any respect. Funny thing is that Palin seems to be about as far off in the Republican fringe as Gravel is relative to the Democrats. Had she run for president she wouldn't have fared any better. Yet here she is, a heartbeat and the small matter of an election away.

In the late 1960s I followed Congress real closely, and Gruening was something of a hero to me. He was well into his 80s at the time, having long been pre-statehood Alaska's most eminent statesman. Gravel was his protégé and successor.

One of the amusing things about the Palin nomination is that on matters like Iraq she seems to be closer to Ron Paul than she is to McCain -- although, as we'll see, she can go any way the party wind blows.


The folks at FiveThirtyEight have dropped their convention bounce compensation metric, which had narrowed Obama's edge to 0.2%, but kept various anti-trend hedge factors, so they're only showing Obama with a 2.4% margin right now. (The average of six nationwide polls today puts Obama ahead by 6.7%, with CNN +2% and everyone else +6-9%.) That was good enough to barely nudge Virginia and Ohio into Obama's column, but Nevada slipped out. It remains to be seen how much more bump Obama can get out of the Republican convention. It all depends on how many people are still gullible enough to believe anything from a gang who'd say anything to hang on to the pursestrings.


Recycled Goods (56): August 2008

Still limping along with Recycled Goods here: 18 records this month, with some more written but held back as insurance for September. I'm augmenting what I normally get -- jazz and a small amount of world music -- with Rhapsody downloads, which netted Bowie and the three new Soundway Nigeria compilations this time. (And sent me back to the shelves for my long-unrated copy of Nigeria 70.) These are only noted in the subtlest way possible, but are, as usual, a bit shakier than the other reviews. Soundway usually has pretty good booklets, but I can't speak for these.

The Recycled Goods archive is here. Total review count is 2279.


See file for text.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14785 [14751] rated (+34), 750 [746] unrated (+4). Pretty hefty rating count. Not sure how I came up with it, other than taking occasional breaks to sample new music from Rhapsody, which pays off quickly. Some Recycled Goods, some Jazz Prospecting. Found a couple of grades I hadn't noted, so those were really cheap.

  • Bill Frisell: Gone, Just Like a Train (1997 [1998], Nonesuch): A trio like the East West records I've been enjoying, but louder, less memorable. B+
  • Nigeria Disco Funk Special: The Sound of Underground Lagos Dancefloor 1974-79 (1974-79 [2008], Soundway): Long funk instrumentals by long-forgotten obscurities -- T-Fire, Bongos Ikwue, Dr. Adolf Ahanotu, the Sahara All Stars of Jos, you get the idea -- some with superficial lyrics. Nothing special, but they do keep it coming, the sine qua non of disco funk. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria (1970s [2008], Soundway): When the local riddims take charge, as on Original Wings' "Igba Alusi," you wonder why they ever settled for stodgy old rock grooves -- I mean, were they that impressed with Ginger Baker? More groups I recognize, but mostly from similar comps; an admirable piece of history, and it has its moments. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Putumayo Presents: African Party (1992-2008 [2008], Putumayo World Music): Another mild-mannered afropop compilation, drawing on recent records from artists who haven't made names for themselves (at least over here) instead of surefire classic tracks that remain equally unknown; starts in Guinea, moseys east and south to wind up weighted toward South Africa; Louis Mhlanga's "Rhumba All the Way" ties all these thread together. B+(*)

Also added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Cluster & Eno (1977, Skyclad) B+
  • Eno/Moebius/Roedelius: After the Heat (1978, Skyclad) B+


Jazz Prospecting (CG #18, Part 4)

Still in that limbo period working on new Jazz CG while the previous one still hasn't been published. Sometime mid-September is the expectation. Meanwhile, cruising through the incoming, with occasional breaks for old stuff and new. Those are easier than jazz, partly because I feel less pressure to write about them, partly because they're just easier. The breaks did help to fatten up the August Recycled Goods, which I'll post after I write the intro. I've also been working on my by-now-annual critique of the Downbeat Critics Poll, which I got to rather late this year. I'll post that later this week.


Bill Frisell/Ron Carter/Paul Motian (2005 [2006], Nonesuch): I was coming to think that Frisell was avoiding me when I finally found the right contact and got not just his new album but some back catalog. I'm never quite sure what I think of Carter. Bass is an instrument you miss when it's not there, but rarely listen to when it is. Carter's rep was established by association with Miles Davis, but has been reinforced only erratically since then. I've run across records where is sounds wonderful, and others where it could have been anybody. He's in between here. Motian is less distinctive than usual, but I have no doubts as to his import here. His skill at shifting a piano trio into slightly eccentric orbits is unmatched, so you can figure he's a big part of the reason the leader's guitar never slips into cliché. Ten songs: two Frisell originals, one from Motian, one Carter co-write with Davis, two Monks, four Americana standards -- one from Broadway, the others country. Haven't sorted them all, but the last four are marvelous -- even the overdone, overly obvious "You Are My Sunshine." [B+(***)]

Bill Frisell: East West (2003-04 [2005], Nonesuch, 2CD): Two live trio sets: one from the Village Vanguard (New York) in December, 2003 with Tony Scherr (bass) and Kenny Wollesen (drums); the other from Yoshi's (Oakland, CA) in May, 2004, with Wollesen again and Viktor Krauss (bass). West mixes three Frisell originals looped around strong rhythmic figures with three sly covers -- "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Shenandoah," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" -- for about as fine a demonstration of Frisell's schtick as I've heard. East is more diverse, a bit more obscure, and a little shakier, but again the familiar tunes rendered as minimalist abstractions win out. A-

New Guitar Summit: Shivers (2008, Stony Plain): Three guitarists, none of whom strike me as new or novel or whatever the implication is: Gerry Beaudoin, Jay Geils, Duke Robillard. Actually, a fourth dinosaur shows up for two cuts: Randy Bachman, sings too. They work around bass and drums. Sweet sound. Not much action. B

Brad Mehldau Trio: House on Hill (2002-05 [2006], Nonesuch): Another background record. I had caught, liked, but poorly remember, several early Mehldau albums, but none since 2001, so I'm catching up. This is the same trio he worked with since 1993 or so: Larry Grenadier on bass, Jorge Rossy on drums. At a high level, he strikes me as similar and comparable to Jarrett -- a bit less labored, or maybe he just makes it look easier, no doubt a remarkable pianist. All originals. Mehldau's liner notes run on at great length on how his art relates to Brahms and Bach, maybe Monk too -- it's way over my head. B+(***)

Metheny Mehldau Quartet (2005 [2007], Nonesuch): Mehldau's trio, with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard having replaced Jorge Rossy on drums, plus Metheny, who leans on his lyrical side. Support is admirable, of course. I could see other folks liking this a lot, but I just don't have much to say about it. B+(**)

Bob Mover: It Amazes Me . . . (2006 [2008], Zoho): Saxophonist, lists alto ahead of tenor, also sings, b. 1952, broke in playing with Charles Mingus in 1973 and Chet Baker 1973-75. Cut a few albums 1977-88, including two 1981 albums AMG likes on Xanadu. (As far as I know the Xanadu catalog is out of print, but there were some wonderful things on it -- Charles McPherson's Beautiful! is one of my all-time most played records.) AMG lists one more in 1997, then this one; CDBaby describes this as his first in over 20 years. It's quiet storm: slow, smokey ballads, the rich, burnished lustre of sax. Kenny Barron plays some of his best accompanist piano since Stan Getz died. Mover sings on 6 of 10 songs. Voice reminded me first of Sinatra, but without the chops. Technically, he's not even as skilled as Baker, but doesn't have Baker's bathos, which is what folks seem to love. Still, I find Mover's vocals touching. B+(***) [Sept. 9]

François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Jean-Jacques Avenel: Within (2007 [2008], Leo): Avenel is a French bassist, best (or almost exclusively) known for his work with Steve Lacy from 1975 on. He has one record under his own name, a world jazz piece called Waraba, which I recommend highly. Reportedly, he also plays sanza here (according to the booklet) or kalimba (according to the label's website). Carrier plays alto and soprano sax, mostly the former. He's released a number of records since 1998, mostly trios, virtually all with drummer Michel Lambert. Three pieces here, the middle one called "Core" runs 40:18. Takes a while to kick in, and requires more attention than I normally muster, but I've always loved Carrier's sound, and find the intricate free improv fascinating. [Note: Available on CD, but also as a download for $6.49, a bump up from Leo's usual $5.49 price, probably reflecting the declining value of the dollar. The downloads are available in OGG format, which sounds like a good idea to me, but it wasn't easy to get them -- actually, I just tried some of their 30-second samples -- to play on a MS Windows machine. Wound up downloading and installing zipf and firefox. One reason I thought of the download option is that Carrier has a new 7-CD set available as download-only on Ayler Records -- a label I regard highly, but haven't listened to since they switched to download-only releases, figuring it's all too much hassle. But I'm starting to be tempted.] A-

Donny McCaslin Trio: Recommended Tools (2008, Greenleaf Music): A tenor saxophonist who, it was immediately obvious, has all the tools. Still, I always managed to resist him, mostly because his fancy postbop harmonies rubbed me the wrong way. I figured he'd eventually turn out an album that simply blew away all my objections, and he still may. But for now he just ducked under them, making a stripped down trio album -- Hans Glawischnig on bass, Jonathan Blake on drums -- with a whole lot of sax appeal. It's like he's gotten over following in Chris Potter's footsteps and instead aimed for Sonny Rollins. A-

Joe Lovano: Symphonica (2005 [2008], Blue Note): You can probably figure this out by the title. If not, note that while the WDR Big Band is a crack jazz outfit which works cheap and occasionally pays dividends, the Rundfunk Orchester is a classical outfit distinguished primarily by its massed strings. The saxophonist is often magnificent, the effect heightened by the swirling sea of indistinct sounds all around him. The latter at least don't induce nausea, small comfort for symphonyphobes. B+(**) [Sept. 2]

Hans-Joachim Roedelius/Tim Story: Inlandish (2008, Gronland): Two synth players. Roedelius was part of the kraut rock group Cluster (sometimes just a duo with Dieter Moebius) from 1970 on, also making a couple of 1977-78 ambient records with Brian Eno. Story came along in 1981. He has a dozen or so records, mostly filed under New Age (one was released on Windham Hill), although there's not a lot of difference between the two. Non-swing ambient pieces, the first one in particular ("As It Were") is especially enchanting; the weaker tracks merely more inscrutable. B+(**) [advance]

Bill Cantrall: Axiom (2007 [2008], Up Swing): Trombonist, originally from New Jersey, educated in Chicago, based in New York. First album. Composed 8 of 10 pieces. Group is a septet: four horns (Ryan Kisor on trumpet, Sherman Irby on alto sax, Stacy Dillard on tenor sax), piano (Rick Germanson, bass and drums. Qualifies as postbop, tightly arranged, well played, avoids common harmonic unpleasantries by leading with trombone. B+(*)

Jorge Lima Barreto: Zul Zelub (2005 [2008], Clean Feed): Portuguese pianist, b. 1949. I've seen a note that credits him with several books and 16 records, mostly working through groups: AnarBand (1972), Conceptual Music Association (Associaçao Música Conceptual, with Carlos Zingaro, 1973), Telectu (with Vitor Rua, since 1982). Also listed in a "classical composers database" -- good chance some of his work is classified as postclassical avant whatever. AMG knows about three records (including one Telectu), plust side credits with Raimundo Fagner, Derek Bailey, Carlos Bechegas. This is solo piano plus sound effects. The 45:12 "Zul" is accompanied by "radio SW" -- a source of common tuner sweep noise. For the 30:10 "Zelub" he uses "4 cd players." The latter are lower key and offer less contrast in a slightly slower, but still remarkable, piece. The former is quite wonderful. The piano as a brittle sound, something I associate with prepared pianos, but there's nothing in the notes about that, and the effect is less pronounced. A-

Paulo Curado: The Bird, the Breeze and Mr. Filiano (2006 [2008], Clean Feed): Portuguese alto saxophonist, also plays a bit of flute (not bad, but a bit of a letdown). Don't have much biographical info: discography starts 1999, with several appearances in groups like Lisbon Improvisation Players, but most likely he goes back further. Bruno Pedroso plays drums. The bassist, as you can guess, is Ken Filiano, who does his usual superb job, around which the free improvs spin and dance. B+(**)

Angles: Every Woman Is a Tree (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Sextet, file under Swedish alto saxophonist Martin Küchen, who wrote all the pieces, produced the album, wrote the liner notes, etc. Group includes two more horns: Magnus Broo on trumpet, Mats Äleklint on trombone. Also vibes (Mattias Ståhl), bass (Johan Berthling), drums (Kjell Nordeson). Six pieces, titles reflect war (or antiwar) themes. Takes a while to brew, but the mulitple hornplay really takes charge in the third cut, "My world of mines," and the group rarely flags thereafter. [B+(***)]

Adam Lane/Lou Grassi/Mark Whitecage: Drunk Butterfly (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Bass, drums, alto sax/clarinet respectively. All three contribute pieces (Lane 4, Whitecage 3, Grassi 2), with the sax inevitably rising toward the top. Basically freebop, one foot in the tradition, the other lunging forward. (In her liner notes, Slim calls it "Avant Swinging Bebop," which is close enough.) [B+(***)]

Conference Call: Poetry in Motion (2005-06 [2008], Clean Feed): Quartet, consisting of Gebhard Ullman (soprano sax, tenor sax, bass clarinet), Michael Jefry Stevens (piano), Joe Fonda (bass), George Schuller (drums). Ullman and Stevens go back ten years, and Stevens and Fonda go back further, with a co-led group where Fonda gets top billing. All write. All play free, with some harsh notes, but mostly inside their framework. Ullman, whom I've often doubted, is especially solid here. B+(**)

Trio Viriditas: Live at Vision Festival VI (2001 [2008], Clean Feed): Alfred Harth (aka A23H) on reeds, pocket trumpet voice; Wilber Morris on bass; Kevin Norton on drums. Harth is a new one to me. (Not really: I found one co-credit in my database, but it didn't register in my memory.) AMG lists him under Opera with virtually no info. Other sources show a discography going back to 1969, including 7 albums as Duo Goebbels/Harth (that would be keyboard player Heiner Goebbels); collaborations with John Zorn, Peter Brötzmann, Lindsay Cooper, Otomo Yoshihide; various groups, sample names: Just Music, Duck and Cover, Vladimir Estragon, Gestalt et Jive, Imperial Hoot, Sogennantes Linksradikales Blasorchester (So-Called Left-Radical Brass Band). He's usually identified as a multi-media artist. Morris and Norton are, or should be, well known, at least in avant-jazz circles. This starts up awkwardly, but settles into free jazz's alternative equivalent of a groove. Not credited, but I could swear this ends with a long quote from "On the Street Where You Live." B+(**)

Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix (2008, Blue Note): Advance copy, had it a long time, played it a couple of times in the car, and was itching to get along with it. First impression was that Barber's down-and-out voice and demeanor was a poor match for the supremely buoyant Porter. She literally tackles ten Porter tunes, blocking them, wrassling them to the ground, rubbing dirt in the wounds. They're slower and smokier than ever before. Neal Alger's guitar is the dominant instrument, working the same vein, but five songs have tenor sax solos which break the mold -- there's nothing depressive about the way Chris Potter plays here. Three originals thus far seem more for flow than competition. Looking forward to a final copy. [B+(***)] [advance, Sept. 16]

Marc McDonald: It Doesn't End Here (2007 [2008], No End in Sight): Alto saxophonist, b. 1961, London, UK; has "led groups for over 25 years in the New York/New Jersey area and such cities as Honolulu, London and Athens." First album, although he has a side credit from 1986, and a few more from 1998 on. Wrote 8 of 11 pieces, covering "Night and Day," "This Heart of Mine," and "Blue Skies." Piano-bass-drums quartet, with guitarist Steve Cardenas guesting on 5 cuts. Very mainstream. I wondered at first why he would bother, but it's clearly for the sheer beauty of the music. B+(**)

Judith Berkson: Lu-Lu (2006 [2008], Peacock): Singer, based in Brooklyn, no more bio available. First record, solo, plays piano/Wurlitzer. Four originals, five covers, 38:11 total, which is really quite enough. Slow and arty, with little of special interest, although the closing "Some Enchanted Evening" did something -- more haunted than enchanting, but something. C+

Brian Cullman: All Fires the Fire (2008, Sunnyside): Singer-songwriter, from New York, first album. AMG classifies him as World, mostly based on liner notes he (presumably the same person) wrote for albums by the likes of Ghazal, the Sabri Brothers, Hassan Hakmoun, and Vernon Reid (who returns a blurb quote). Hype sheet quotes someone likening him to Leonard Cohen, which isn't way off base if you subtract about 95 years off Cohen's voice. Cullman has a sweet, wry voice, with an effortless meander to the songs, and something of a philosophical bent. "No God but God" gives me the creeps. B+(*)

Justin Time Records 25th Anniversary Collection (1986-2007 [2008], Justin Time, 2CD): Canadian jazz label, with some folk, blues, and world overtones. Got into the business in 1983 with pianist Oliver Jones; has a long list of jazz singers, including the discovery of Diana Krall, and steady work by Jeri Brown and Susie Arioli; scored their biggest coup in landing David Murray in 1996, who led them to Billy Bang, D.D. Jackson, and Hugh Ragin. Sidelines not documented here include their Just A Memory archival series and reissues from Enja's catalog. All this adds up to an eclectic sampler, with high points from great albums and filler from weaker ones, unnecessary except to draw attention to a label that's long been worth following. B

Cryptogramophone Assemblage 1998-2008 (1998-2007 [2008], Cryptogramophone, 2CD+DVD): Another jazz label sampler, founded by Jeff Gauthier to record a series of tributes to the late Eric von Essen's music, moving on to document work by Alex and Nels Cline, Mark Dresser, Bennie Maupin, Erik Friedlander, Myra Melford, various others. A more useful reference than the Justin Time sampler -- it covers a narrower band of music more comprehensively, with better documentation -- but still a mere sampler. B


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

Al Green: Lay It Down (2008, Blue Note): That he always sounds so great turns out to be a handicap: it's such a given that no matter how good his new records sound they'll never measure up to the old great ones that it's easy to set them aside. Streamed this first from Rhapsody, liked it, but hedged my bets. Since I got a copy, I've played it maybe ten times. The songs hold up, notably without any contribution from Jesus; the guests don't intrude, and the singer is magnificent. Not Call Me or I'm Still in Love With You or The Belle Album, of course, but I've enjoyed this as much as anything recent, and have yet to feel any need to go back. A-


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


Unpacking:

  • Rabih Abou-Khalil: Em Português (Enja)
  • Michael Bates: Clockwise (Greenleaf Music): Sept. 8
  • Will Bernard: Blue Plate Special (Palmetto): advance, Sept. 30
  • Randy Brecker: Randy in Brasil (MAMA)
  • Bill Cantrall: Axiom (Up Swing)
  • Oana Catalina Chitu: Bucharest Tango (Asphalt Tango)
  • Lajos Dudas: Jazz on Stage (Jazz Stick)
  • Funkadesi: Yo Baba (Funkadesi)
  • Toninho Horta: To Jobim With Love (Resonance)
  • Christian Howes: Heartfelt (Resonance)
  • Aaron Irwin Group: Blood and Thunder (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Javon Jackson: Once Upon a Melody (Palmetto): advance, Sept. 16
  • Lee Konitz and Minsarah: Deep Lee (Enja)
  • La Cherga: Fake No More (Asphalt Tango)
  • Ralph Lalama Quartet: Energy Fields (Mighty Quinn): Oct. 1
  • Joe Locke: Force of Four (Origin)
  • Lionel Loueke/Ferenc Nemeth/Massimo Biolcati: Gilfema + 2 (ObliqSound): advance, Oct. 28
  • The James Moody and Hank Jones Quartet: Our Delight (IPO): Nov. 18
  • Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two: Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. II (Winter & Winter)
  • William Parker Quartet: Petit Oiseau (AUM Fidelity)
  • Nik Payton and Bob Wilber: Swinging the Changes (Arbors)
  • Bruno Råberg: Lifelines (Orbis Music, 2CD): Sept. 16
  • Randy Sandke: Unconventional Wisdom (Arbors)
  • Harry Shearer: Songs of the Bushmen (Courgette)
  • Bebo Valdes & Javier Colina: Live at the Village Vanguard (Calle 54/Norte)
  • Glenn White: Sacred Machines (OA2): advance
  • Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby (Stiff)


Aug 2008 Oct 2008