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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Braxtonmania

Tom Hull: The Unprecedented Freedom of Anthony Braxton. This is my piece on Mosaic's 8-CD The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton. The piece wasn't planned to go with Francis Davis's Village Voice Jazz Poll, but it timed out right. I proposed writing it back around July when I first heard about the box, but didn't get my hands on a copy until November. At the time I was trying to wrap up a Jazz Consumer Guide column. Then the editor told me he couldn't run JCG until January, but could run Braxton in December if I got it done in time. I switched gears and wobbled a bit, getting it in about the same time Braxton swept the reissue category in the poll.

Braxton's poll finish raises an interesting point: how can a musician be so widely recognized as major yet at the same time be so widely ignored? Since I started picking over Downbeat's critics polls 5-6 years ago, I've regularly complained about the complete absence of Braxton on the Hall of Fame rankings. We are, after all, talking about a guy with over 150 records in 40 years, another 100 or so collaborations or credits, plus a distinguished career as composer and educator. He hasn't vanished or even faded from sight, but working regularly with obscure microlabels he's been a hard person to keep track of.

He's actually had what looks like a bumper crop of new releases this past year: his 9-CD 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 (Firehouse 12), the 4-CD Quartet (GTM) 2006 (Important), Trio (Victoriaville) 2007 (Victo), 12+1tet (Victoriaville) 2007 (Victo), the 4-CD Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007 with Joe Morris (Clean Feed), Creative Orchestra (Guelph) 2007 (Spool), Quartet (Moscow) 2008 (Leo), the 2-CD Toronto (Duets) 2007 with Kyle Brenders (Barnyard), and his Beyond Quantum trio with Milford Graves and William Parker (Tzadik); oh, also the 9-CD Piano Music (1968-2000), played by Geneviève Foccroulle (Leo). On the other hand, only Barnyard sent me any of those records. I've only reviewed three Braxton records in 18 Jazz CGs, and two of those (including a pick hit) only because I bought them. I don't know whether other critics get better service, but I doubt that many do.

On the other hand, Mosaic boxes aren't all that easy to get your hands on either. I only got a copy after calling the office with a Village Voice review commitment. While Mosaic isn't anywhere near as chintzy as, oh, Leo, or Tzadik (who at least answer their mail), or Firehouse 12 (a den of Braxton students who seem to regard me as unworthy of reviewing their records), I'd be surprised if more than half of the 33 critics who voted for Braxton got freebies. Critics of a certain age recall Braxton's Aristas as iconic -- I'm one, and I would have paid cash had it come to that.

It will be interesting to see how Braxton fares next year in Downbeat's critics poll: a reissue victory is probable, a top-5 alto sax is unlikely but possible (Braxton finished #11 in 2008), and an appearance somewhere on the Hall of Fame list is overdue. Sometimes critics need a kick in the pants to remind themselves of the obvious. (E.g., Jackie McLean went from not even on the ballot to a win the year after he died.) The only reason I can think of for not voting for Braxton is that Lee Konitz (tied with Hank Jones for #2) deserves to go first. But that recognition, in itself, would help pave Braxton's way.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No Jazz Prospecting

No Jazz Prospecting this week. I'm still shifting cycles, so I figure it would be prudent to wait until the paperwork stabilizes. I did manage to split the column draft into two pieces: one 1750 words for now, the other 1000 words for next time. Some of the former will wind up in the latter, of course, but that gets the column ready to schedule and edit. I do have some Jazz Prospecting ready to go when the time comes, but I spent most of the last week catching up with stray world music albums. One result is that December's Recycled Goods will be the largest since I semi-stopped writing the column.


Sonny Rollins Rules the Third Annual Voice Jazz Critics Poll. Francis Davis rounded up 79 critics for his third Voice poll, including yours truly. Over the course of the poll, he sent out three or four warnings over his distinction between new and reissued albums -- one chewing me out for trying to slip Soprano Summit into the reissue category. As you can glean from his article, the object of his concern was his own top pick, the Sonny Rollins Road Shows Vol. 1. For the record, I didn't not vote for it due to confusion as to its status. I didn't vote or it because I had 20 records in the queue ahead of it (including Soprano Summit).

One thing I always check for are records that I didn't get a chance to listen to. The list this year:

  1. Mary Halvorson: Dragon's Head (Firehouse 12) 44 (8)
  2. Mario Pavone Trio: Arc (Playscape) 37 (5)
  3. Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard (Planet Arts) 36 (7)
  4. Miguel Zenon: Awake (Marsalis Music) 33 (5)
  5. Louis Moholo-Moholo & Marilyn Crispell: Sibanye (We Are One) (Intakt) 29 (4)
  6. Kurt Rosenwinkel: The Remedy (ArtistShare) 26 (4)
  7. Roberta Gambarini & Hank Jones: You Are There (EmArcy) 24 (4)
  8. Ted Nash: The Mancini Project (Palmetto) 22 (3)

Some of those can be chalked up to one particular publicist. Three of those musicians have chalked up A-list records in Jazz CG history, and Ted Nash would have been a fourth but I bypassed him after Francis Davis wrote a longer piece. Missing Mario Pavone is especially disappointing. I always seem to have more trouble getting Jazz reissues:

  1. Miles Davis: Kind of Blue: 50th Anniversary Collectors Edition (Columbia/Legacy) 26 (10)
  2. Art Tatum: Piano Starts Here: Live at the Shrine/The Zenph Re-Performance (Sony Classical) 20 (10)
  3. Lester Young: Classic Columbia, Okeh and Vocalion with Count Basie (1936-1940) (Mosaic) 20 (10)
  4. Blue Notes: The Ogun Collection (Ogun) 11 (4)
  5. Grachan Moncur III: Evolution (Blue Note) 8 (5)

Best vocal:

  1. Roberta Gambarini & Hank Jones: You Are There (EmArcy) 3

Best debut:

  1. Ideal Bread: The Ideal Bread (KMB Jazz) 5

Best Latin: Heard the top four.

Last year I made a chart of all of the individual votes. Don't know when I'll find time to do that now, but I do plan on looking at the individual ballots more closely.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 15059 [15033] rated (+26), 757 [763] unrated (-6). Jazz CG (18) is nominally done, the only tasks remaining the need to cut it down to size and get it edited. That's taking longer than expected, so I'm still very much in transition. Spent most of the week listening to old things stuck on the shelf, trying especially to catch up with world music albums, funnelling them into Recycled Goods.

  • Buena Vista Social Club: At Carnegie Hall (1998 [2008], Nonesuch, 2CD): The other shoe finally drops: a soundtrack to the grand concert that consummated the first new album of old Cuban pros that any significant number of yanks managed to hear. The album spawned a film which sold the album, setting up further albums by Rubén González, Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo, Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez, but at the time the guy who got most of the attention was Ry Cooder, an earnest musicologist who was out of his depth. Doubters of the studio album think this is an improvement: more focus on the Cubans, less on Cooder, the chemistry of the crowd, the feeling that this was an event. All that is true, but the improvement is marginal, and the downside is that it's more than a little redundant. Still, the political thaw that made this possible is due around again. US policy has been held in thrall by Cuba's deposed owner class -- only a few generations removed from the hemisphere's last slaveholders. On the other hand, Cuba's legendary musicians are the hemisphere's most intimately connected to Africa, the most recent imports to the least assimilated part of the Americas. Opening the door to Cuban music is a revolution in its own right, and this engaging supergroup was the first over the barricades. B+(***)
  • Oana Catalina Chitu: Bucharest Tango (2008, Asphalt Tango): Bucharest, styled as "the sleazy Paris of the East," embraced tango both for its low class and its high drama. Played by Gypsy folk musicians, it defined an era that faded under the Ceaucescu chill, especially after the 1963 death of "the Romanian Piaf," Maria Tanase. Chitu delves into the world of lost tango songs, perhaps a bit too starchily because you can't play with a memory until you've brought it back. B+(**)

  • Funkadesi: Yo Baba (2008, Funkadesi): Chicago world music group, a melting pot from India, Africa, and the Caribbean, though that hardly exhausts all their twists and turns; a song on disaster capitalism in "No Leans" reads like Naomi Klein; the most appealing cuts are the reggae, including Bob Marley's "Stir It Up," which they do. B+(**)
  • La Cherga: Fake No More (2008, Asphalt Tango): Based in Austria, a group of former Yugoslavs -- Bosnia and Macedonia, as far as I can tell -- who fantasize a connection to Scratch Perry and bill themselves as a live sound system. The Jamaican rhythms are less prominent than the old Balkan ones, both kicked up with modern electrobeats, but at least they don't spare the horns. Irina Karamarkovic is the featured vocalist -- reminds me a bit of Portishead's Beth Horton, the Weltschmerz giving way to joy. Straw polls put Portishead's Third high in the record-of-the-year race, but head on I can't imagine anyone not prefering this record. Why be so depressive when you can enjoy "radical unity party music" like this? A
  • Putumayo Presents: Acoustic Arabia (1997-2008 [2008], Putumayo World Music): Perhaps the best flowing record this boutique label has released in several years; useful too, with only two artists I recognize -- Maurice El Médioni and Souad Massi -- and others I won't remember but will welcome next time they come around; acoustic as in guitar or oud, easy strumming, gentle beats, subtle flavors like cumin and zataar. A- [advance]
  • Putumayo Presents: Café Cubano (1998-2006 [2008], Putumayo World Music): By word association, café music is folkie music, here at least, why not in Cuba, or Miami, or wherever these unknown Buena Vista Social Club wannabes reside? Shuffles nicely, croons sensitively, includes a mojito recipe with a bit more kick than the music. B
  • Putumayo Presents: A Jazz & Blues Christmas (1950s-2006 [2008], Putumayo World Music): More tolerable than anything I heard in the stores this season, easy enough to do but pivoting on a 1985 Ray Charles "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" really does nobody any credit; two other pre-1996 songs show up the latecomers, just more evidence that the genre is spent, not that it was ever worthwhile. B-
  • REM: Accelerate (2008, Warner Brothers): I've never been much of a fan: they write catchy melodies, sometimes craft words that hold up, but the singer has one of the more annoying voices in all of rock, they get samey after a few albums. This one has nothing especially memorable, but also nothing annoying -- for once the singer (should recall the name, Michael Stipe I guess) doesn't bug me, and the usual virtues are largely intact. Guitar is above average, but not quite up to Monster. Had this for most of the year -- always sounds compelling at first, but can't say much as the end. Guess that means: B+(***)
  • Jamshied Sharifi: One (2007, Ceres): From Kansas, Iranian father, American mother, picked up classical Persian music and much more on the rebound, mostly working on soundtracks where his exotica stretches out into thin coloration; guest vocalists include Paula Cole, Abdoulaye Diabaté, Hassan Hakmoun, Youngchen Lhamo, and Vishal Vaid, some more operatic than I'd like, most riding on taut rhythm tracks. B+(*)
  • Swamp Cabbage: Squeal (2008, Zoho Roots): Blues group, from North Florida, led by Walter Parks (vocal, guitar), carrying a lot of baggage for Jesus, who works in mysterious ways, most effectively through the preacher's wife's double-D-cups. B
  • Titan! It's All Pop! (1978-81 [2008], Numero Group, 2CD): Kansas City label, released 42 tracks in its short history -- 7 singles, 2 LPs, one a compilation, the other live. Reminds me of Greg Shaw, who loved the sound of 1960s LA pop so much he fell for anything later that even vaguely sounded like it; this hits those notes, but I can recall better examples, and always figured there should be more to life. Docked a notch because they only sent me a 16-cut sampler, and I figure the other 26 cuts are lamer. Would have been docked more, but the publicist promised to send full copies to reviewers unscrupulous enough to review records based on promo samplers. If they do deliver, I'll revise this (probably not up). B- [just a sampler, not even an advance]
  • Daby Touré: Stereo Spirit (2007, Real World): Singer-songwriter, grew up in Mauritania and Paris in a griot family that traces its roots back through Senegal to Mali, most notably including his father's group Touré Kunda; he overdubs a one-man band, crafting comfortable pop songs as sparse and softly exotic as his Saharan roots. B+(*)
  • Tuxedomoon: Vapour Trails (2007, Crammed Discs): Two guys from San Francisco, formed a group in late 1970s along the new wave lines of Cabaret Voltaire, Pet Shop Boys, etc., but never made an album recommended strongly enough for me to check out. Got this 30th anniversary reunion, probably the result of trying to get some African music out of the Belgian label, then let it set until now. Not bad, some satisfying stretches, some words that didn't prick up my ears. First song is in Spanish (or something like that), which might have motivated me to write it up for Recycled Goods, but the other songs didn't. B

No Jazz Prospecting


Unpacking:

  • Steve Adams Trio: Surface Tension (Clean Feed)
  • Marco Benevento: Me Not Me (Royal Potato Family): advance, Feb. 3
  • Buffalo: Collision (Duck) (Screwgun)
  • Ravi Coltrane: Blending Times (Savoy Jazz): Jan. 13
  • The Flatlands Collective: Maatjes (Clean Feed)
  • Lisa Hearns: I Got It Bad & That Ain't Good (no label)
  • Bill Henderson: Beautiful Memory: Bill Henderson Live at the Vic (Ahuh): Jan. 20
  • Darren Johnston/Fred Frith/Larry Ochs/Devin Hoff/Ches Smith: Reasons for Moving (Not Two)
  • Darren Johnston: The Edge of the Forest (Clean Feed)
  • Maybe Monday: Unsquare (Intakt)
  • Larry Ochs/Sax & Drumming Core: Up From Under: Out Trios Volume Five (Atavistic)
  • Larry Ochs/ROVA Special Sextet/Orkestrova: The Mirror World (Metalanguage, 2CD)
  • Larry Ochs/Miya Masaoka/Peggy Lee: Spiller Alley (RogueArt)
  • The October Trio/Brad Turner: Looks Like It's Going to Snow (Songlines): Feb. 10
  • John O'Gallagher Trio: Dirty Hands (Clean Feed)
  • ROVA: The Juke Box Suite (Not Two)
  • Brad Shepik: Human Activity Suite (Songlines): Feb. 10
  • Greg Skaff: East Harlem Skyline (Zoho): Feb. 10

Purchases:

  • Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recodings (1951, Time Life, 3CD)

Bara(c)k's War

Paul Woodward: Silence has become complicity. Worth noting that the Wichita Eagle today has a picture of Obama on the front cover, speaking last year in Sderot, Israel, in his show of solidarity with Israeli victims of Qassam rocket fire. His quote has become a prime piece of Israeli spin on their air siege and prospective invasion of Gaza. Obama, meanwhile, has remained near-silent. As Woodward puts it, "Barak's war has become Barack's war -- unless he breaks his silence."

I have my own theory, which is that this is Bush's December Surprise. People used to worry about October Surprises, news events that threaten to tilt elections. December Surprises are poison pills for future administrations. A classic case is 16 years ago, when the previous Bush left a stink bomb for Clinton by invading Somalia. Israel, having been burned in the 1956 Suez Crisis, never makes a move like this without first securing US diplomatic cover. This was rarely more obvious than during the 2006 Lebanon misadventure, but it's likely the case here, too. In fact, this could very well be another Elliott Abrams brainstorm. Abrams is likely to go down in history as a shadowy figure like Rasputin, directly involved in so much mischief that even when he misses one it just adds to his aura.

Obama made himself vulnerable to just this sort of complicity by all the stupid things he said in shoring up his pro-Israeli political credentials. The timing for this is perfect: now he has to either stand by or run from his words, and he's not yet in a position where he can work behind the scenes. Indeed, the behind-the-scenes point man for the "one president at a time" is: Elliott Abrams.

Woodward has more details on how the truce unraveled, including a chart on frequency of Qassam rocket attacks. I'd quote more, but don't have any time right now. Read the piece.


PS: No jazz prospecting this week. I'll probably do a post on that later today (if I can find time).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hamas and Zion

Helena Cobban: What does Hamas want? Some useful background and insights, including the observation that Israel was the one primarily responsible for undermining the cease fire with Hamas, but also that Hamas doesn't feel that by allowing the cease fire to lapse they are putting their political goals at risk ("at a cynical, Realpolitik level, these casualty levels are not, actually, all that bad for Hamas and its attainment of its political goals").

So what, at the end of the day, do the Hamas leaders want? They want, firstly, what all other other people in the world want: the ability to nurture and build their national community in their own national homeland free of the threat of violence, encirclement, and siege from any outside powers. They want their land and resources to be free of the threat of being expropriated by any outside power. They want free access to their holy places and the ability to exercise control over them. They want satisfactory redress or restitution for the injustices of the past.

These aims are not so different from what most Israelis want for themselves, too. Are the national goals of Israelis completely incompatible with those of the pro-Hamas Palestinians? I don't think so. In an environment in which the equal humanity and the basic needs of all people are respected, people of good will could certainly see a way in which the claims of Hamas's Palestinian supporters and those of Israelis could all be met to a degree sufficient to allow the continued peaceful coexistence between the two peoples within the land that to which both are deeply attached.

The only solution to the conflict is the simplest one: that based on equal rights for all people in all places. This involves recognizing that many past wrongs cannot be righted, but also recognition that past wrongs have occurred, and that some effort within the framework of equal rights should be made to acknowledge and redress them. But mostly it involves doing now what can be done now to secure equal rights for all. Israel's current wave of attacks on Gaza are based on nothing more than the denial, by force, of equal rights. However, the only thing that is new about the attacks is the tactical use of firepower. Israel has all along worked systematically to deny Palestinians equal rights, a policy that goes back past the 1967 occupation and past the 1948 Nakba all the way back to the founding principles of Zionism and the sponsorship of Zionism by the British Empire. Israelis have it stuck in their heads that they are entitled to superior rights and that that is both their history and their identity. That is what makes equal rights, and therefore peace, so inconceivable to them, even though it is (or should be) totally obvious to everyone else.


One blog heroically working overtime to cover this crisis is Mondoweiss. Philip Weiss has thoughtfully moved from Zionist to Post-Zionist to Anti-Zionist. He is worth reading both for his ability to face up to the facts and to figure out himself.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Israel's D-Day

Update to last night's "Promised Land" post. Today Israel launched numerous air strikes against Gaza, killing at least 155, wounding at least 200 more. BBC described this as "the most intense Israeli attacks on Gaza for decades." Sounds to me like Ehud Barak's opening salvo in the February elections, with Tzipi Livni concurring, of course -- she's already on record as promising to crush Hamas if she wins the elections.

The Bush administration responded by blaming Hamas for rocket attacks against Israel, and demanded a ceasefire -- not sure if they acknowledged Israel had even broken it. Obama has thus far had absolutely nothing to say about this. His reticence (or aloofness or indifference, whatever) during the vacuum between election and taking office is an open invitation for the hawks to take their best shots, making their conflicts all the more difficult to resolve -- India and Pakistan, moving their armies up to their mutual borders, being another case in point.


Matthew Yglesias: Attack on Gaza. I find it interesting that a guy with relatively conventional liberal foreign policy biases converges on my take here. The post in toto:

The Israeli government, seemingly dissatisfied with the results of their earlier effort to just make life as miserable as possible for residents of the Gaza strip went and killed a couple of hundred people in retaliatory airstrikes. The strikes were in response to Hamas' habit of launching indiscriminant rocket fire from Gaza land, though how exactly these strikes are supposed to stop the rockets is mysterious to me. Less mysterious is the idea that the Kadima-Labour coalition wants to "look tough" and beat off the political challenge from Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud.

That, in turn, is a reminder that I just don't think the parties to the conflict are capable of reaching a settlement without strong external pressure. The internal political logic of both sides defaulting to hawkish extremes is just too strong. On the Israeli side, "strong external pressure" could, in principle, come from the United States were we to have an administration that recognized the necessity of playing such a role.

I wouldn't call the air strikes "retaliatory" or characterize the Qassam rockets fired from Gaza as "indiscriminant" -- true in the sense that they don't have precise guidance systems, but as a military tactic they are mostly harmless irritants, a crude way of reminding Israelis that their security is tenuous as long as Gaza is penned up in Israel's cage. (Of course, at a human level those rockets can and do kill and maim, and their lack of precision makes their use even more irresponsible -- socalled "surgical strike" weapons are so imprecise and error-prone they are hardly any better, nor do their better heeled wielders make them any more responsible. Only recently, a Qassam rocket fell in Gaza, killing two Palestinians. That might have been a good reason for Hamas to clamp down on the rocket attacks, but Israel has managed to bury that news.)

The criticism of Obama here is implicit, or should I say nascent? Obama hasn't done anything yet, but he is so compromised by his campaign posturing that he will find it hard to act when he has the power, especially in a situation as thoroughly poisoned as can be. It's very difficult to imagine anyone in Obama's camp with the courage to stand up to Israel's hawks. Clinton? Biden? Dennis Ross? Even Obama has kissed their feet. To stand up now he'd be treated as a liar, a traitor, a conniver, shallow, unprincipled, a coward. But there's no other way out, and few things would be more in the interests of the American people than to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Waffling like Bush, or his predecessors, has never done the trick. At some level Obama must understand that.

The thing is, the current state of the conflict is based on several blatantly ridiculous propositions. The first is that Israel is entitled to run a caste system which elevates one set of people ("the chosen people") and denigrates everyone else, including some who are nominally Israeli citizens. No other nation operates that way -- the last comparable nations, like South Africa's apartheid and the United States' segregation, now regard those practices as shameful aspects of their history. The second is that Israel, and not the Palestinian people, has the right to approve Palestinian leaders, and to jail or kill anyone Israel disapproves of. The legal basis for Israel is the UN resolution to partition mandate Palestine into two states. No other nation has so thoroughly undermined the sovereignty of any neighboring state. The third is that Israel has the right to preëmptorily attack any neighboring state it regards as a security threat, including so-called punitive attacks based on any flimsy excuse at hand. Israel's refusal to resolve the refugee crisis from the 1948 war, and Israel's refusal to negotiate peace treaties with its neighbors following the 1948 war, set up this state of perpetual hostility between Israel and its neighbors -- the excuse for Israel's frequent preëmptory/punitive attacks. This has continued even though the actual threat level to Israel has significantly declined over the years, as states like Egypt and Jordan and political groups like the PLO have recognized Israel on terms that did little to resolve the core issues. The fourth, in many ways the sum and result of the first three, is Israel's abiding faith in collective punishment as its primary means of coping with and controlling its opponents. Israel rarely stops at targeting opposition leaders; Israel prefers to lash out indiscriminately -- their infrastructural bombing of Lebanon, their quarantining of Gaza, the use of sonic booms to terrorize whole populations. It is a policy that Israel learned from the British, who used it to subdue native populations throughout their brief-lived empire. Collective punishment reminds us that Israel is the last refuge of the racist, imperialist mindset that Europe imposed on much of the rest of the world over the last 3-4 centuries, up until it started unraveling in the dust of WWII.

The thing is, while America persists as Israel's great imperial sponsor on the world stage, very few Americans actually believe in any of those things. America is a melting pot for all nations, not a special preserve for just one. America has fitfully sought to integrate its natives, its indentured servants, its "poor and huddled masses" into a single nominally equal citizenship -- the process has often been ugly, and economic equality, even if just of opportunity, is still far away, but few doubt the ideal. As for collective punishment, the Bill of Rights could hardly be a more comprehensive prohibition -- the Bill was, after all, the direct response to British colonial occupation of America.

The neocons have a special fondness for Israel's aggressive security policies, both aspiring to a world thoroughly cowed by unassailable military, political, and economic superpower. But selling those policies to the American people has always required stealth and deceit, and the track record of such elective wars as Iraq is so poor as to leave the neocons discredited. By and large, Americans have yet to face up to the sobering question of we should want to be a superpower in the first place. Aside from the graft of the arms industry, few Americans receive any benefits whatsoever. Even the military itself keeps running into politically hopeless traps whenever it is deployed, making it a useless organization. Israel itself proves how futile sheer power strategies are: Israel has totally dominated Palestine for generations, but never managed to secure the Palestinians acquiescence or acknowledgment in their subordination.

Instead, they get pathetic gestures, like the rockets that since September 2005 have killed 9 Israelis, compared to the 1,400 Palestinians Israel's "retaliatory strikes" have killed in the same period. There's a Todd Snider song that explains this dynamic: about a schoolyard bully who meets his match in someone willing to get beat up every day until the bully loses all his supporters and gives up. Snider calls his song "Is This Thing Working?" Clearly, it isn't.

So none of these four propositions could survive the slightest scrutiny by ordinary Americans. That is why Israel's advocates and apologists work so hard to make sure no such discussion ever appears in mainstream media and politics.

Helena Cobban: Olmert/Livni launch assault on Gaza: Where will it end? More information, including the citation for the 9/1400 ratio. Final note:

Note, too, that one other casualty of this assault is very likely to be Abu Mazen's role in the Palestinian movement.

The Israelis probably consider that a bonus. If, indeed, they were to destroy Hamas, they wouldn't want to actually have to deal with Abu Mazen. All they ever saw in him was a club against Hamas; if he had real legitimacy, they'd be just as happy to arm Hamas against him.

Safa Joudeh: "The amount of death and destruction is inconceivable". On the scene reporting. Usual, expected gore; the focus on dead children, but even "Hamas militants" are sons, brothers, fathers, deep personal losses to everyone concerned. Nothing that cannot be compared to Israelis killed by suicide bombers, except that in this case the bombs were delivered by American F-16s, mostly paid for by US taxpayers -- decisions arrived at in meetings of people far removed from the bloodshed, people who could just as easily have opened up peaceful channels to resolve their differences. The terrorist has the lame excuse of no other viable option; the architects of these attacks don't even have that.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Promised Land

Tony Karon: The Two-State Solution Now a Three-Way Stalemate. Remember that Palestinian state Bush promised by the end of his term? Nobody else does either. His abiding faith in the "power of force to clarify things" has, and not for the first time, only made a bad situation worse, and the legacy he leaves is shamelessly shameful. With the Hamas truce expired, Abbas's presidential term due to end Jan. 9, and Israel's own more-demagogic-than-thou elections looming, Bush couldn't do anything even if he had a clue -- which unless you regard him as the Antichrist you'll have to admit that he doesn't. Hard to remember now that Clinton and Barak were so inept and unjust on Israel/Palestine that some people had hopes for Bush/Sharon. As for Obama and his Likudnik Secretary of State (designate), the best we can do is hope for the utterly unexpected.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays This Year

Christmas came and went with little ado this year. The family focus that my mother always insisted on faded with her death in 2000 and collapsed with my brother moving to the Portland area. Last year we tried to force it, leading to chaos and some hurt feelings. This year we just let it slide. His family grouped in Portland. We stayed here. Sara Driscoll, a longtime friend from Boston, came in on Christmas day. For the evening, we pulled the food processor and a frying pan out of the basement, diced a couple of onions, shredded five potatoes, mixed in six eggs, some salt and black pepper, and fried up a batch of lattkes. My sister came over, but not her son, so we had dinner for four. Served lattkes with sour cream, salt-cured salmon, salmon roe, and some store-bought applesauce -- I had made fresh last year, but could really do without it. Besides, the kitchen is wrecked, almost everything is stored away, it was enough just to do that much.

We scarcely exchanged any presents this year. I figured that as a quiet testament to the growing depression, although lack of energy and the difficulty of coping with all the unfinished projects had much to do with it. Obviously, we are conflicted about this: the new kitchen is a big expenditure, something we sometimes joke about as our own stimulus plan, but it doesn't come ready-wrapped; most of the real cost is labor, and most of that is yet to be done. Having a Hannukah meal for Christmas is more ironic than anything else. Neither holiday has any religious significance for us, and their linkage in any case is nothing more than coincidence of calendar. Reading about Hannukah over the holidays, I was again struck by the bloody single-mindedness of a holiday celebrating mere military triumphalism as divine act -- a consciousness that has returned to Israel, an effect of the will to shed blood for power to dominate others. That, of course, is wholly alien to the Judaism that developed in exile, which has long offered us an outsider's perspective, a witness and rebuke to the cruelties of power and dominance spread across the globe by the crusading (and often just opportunistic) West.

Of course, Hannukah's military legacy has nothing to do with the holiday's popularity. Most people just see it as a complement to Christmas, embodied in the generic "happy holidays" greeting which reduces holy war to sociable mingling. For us, it mostly serves as a reminder to gather together and fry up a huge batch of lattkes, slather them with sour cream, decorate them with bits of salmon. Strip all the symbolism away and you're still left with something.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pazz and Jop Ballot

For what little it's worth, I sent a ballot to the Village Voice Pazz 'n' Jop poll tonight. In the main event, the albums are:

  1. K'Naan: The Dusty Foot Philosopher (IM Culture) 16
  2. William Parker: Double Sunrise Over Neptune (AUM Fidelity) 10
  3. The Roots: Rising Down (Def Jam) 10
  4. Vijay Iyer: Tragicomic (Sunnyside) 10
  5. Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: We Are MTO (Mowo!) 10
  6. Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It (Columbia) 10
  7. Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Holon (ECM) 10
  8. Hayes Carll: Trouble in Mind (Lost Highway) 8
  9. Orchestra Baobab: Made in Dakar (Nonesuch) 8
  10. The Mountain Goats: Heretic Pride (4AD) 8

Breakdown is 4 jazz, 6 not; of the latter, 2 hip-hop (1 American, 1 African), 1 country, 2 r&b (1 American, 1 African), and 1 singer-songwriter posing as a group. No white rock bands, although Drive-By Truckers didn't miss by much.

Also voted for four songs, but I don't keep track of songs in any systematic way, so they're hardly worth listing -- well, Hayes Carll's "She Left Me for Jesus" is definitely worth the listen.

The overwhelming majority of what I listen to these days is jazz, which despite my genuine affection for it has become more of a job than anything else. I get a significant percentage of all of the new jazz released (something like 25-35%, skewed a bit toward the more prominent releases, although I still miss a lot of avant-fringe I wish I could hear), so my jazz list is healthy-sized and more than a little authoritative (not that many people share my tastes). I get very little non-jazz (country and hip-hop have totally dried up; I still get some world music, but not nearly as much as I used to). In an ideal world I'd play as much (or more) non-jazz as jazz -- I had a glimpse of that world back when I had a Rhapsody account (not that Rhapsody opens every door). Indeed, Rhapsody accounted for 17 of 33 records on my non-jazz A-list (actually, several more were heard first on Rhapsody, then obtained later -- Raphael Saadiq improved his standing significantly that way; makes me wonder about some others.)

Since my jazz and non-jazz lists work on totally different scales, it might be best to separate them out. The non-jazz, including vault music, breaks out this way:

  1. K'Naan: The Dusty Foot Philosopher (IM Culture)
  2. The Roots: Rising Down (Def Jam)
  3. Hayes Carll: Trouble in Mind (Lost Highway)
  4. Orchestra Baobab: Made in Dakar (Nonesuch)
  5. The Mountain Goats: Heretic Pride (4AD) **

  6. Drive-By Truckers: Brighter Than Creation's Dark (New West) **
  7. Old 97's: Blame It on Gravity (New West) **
  8. Les Amazones de Guinée: Wamato (Sterns Africa) **
  9. James McMurtry: Just Us Kids (Lightning Rod) **
  10. Jesus H Christ & the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse: Happier Than You (Jesus Christ Rocks)
  11. Tokyo Police Club: Elephant Shell (Saddle Creek) **
  12. Al Green: Lay It Down (Blue Note)
  13. Conor Oberst (Merge) **
  14. Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006 (Columbia, 2CD)
  15. The B-52s: Funplex (Astralwerks) **
  16. The Hold Steady: Stay Positive (Vagrant) **
  17. Liz McComb: The Spirit of New Orleans (GVE/Sunnyside)
  18. Gabi Lunca: Sounds From a Bygone Age, Vol. 5 (1956-78, Asphalt Tango)
  19. Todd Snider: Peace Queer (Aimless, EP)
  20. No Age: Nouns (Sub Pop) **
  21. The Kills: Midnight Boom (Domino) **
  22. Kate Nash: Made of Bricks (Geffen)
  23. Jeffrey Lewis: 12 Crass Songs (Rough Trade) **
  24. Loudon Wainwright III: Recovery (Yep Roc) **
  25. Robert Forster: The Evangelist (Yep Roc) **
  26. Cephas & Wiggins: Richmond Blues (Smithsonian/Folkways)
  27. Duke Robillard: A Swingin' Session With Duke Robillard (Stony Plain)
  28. Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby (Stiff)
  29. Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD)
  30. Toumast: Ishumar (Real World) **
  31. Dominique Cravic & Les Primitifs du Futur: Tribal Musette (Sunnyside)
  32. Alan Jackson: Good Time (Arista) **
  33. Jenny Lewis: Acid Tongue (Warner Brothers) **

I reported the jazz list in a recent post, but I keep fiddling with it, so here's where it currently stands, with Summer Suite crashing the top ten since I filed my Voice Jazz Critics ballot (again, including vault music):

  1. William Parker: Double Sunrise Over Neptune (AUM Fidelity)
  2. Vijay Iyer: Tragicomic (Sunnyside)
  3. Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: We Are MTO (Mowo!)
  4. Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Holon (ECM)

  5. Rob Brown Ensemble: Crown Trunk Root Funk (AUM Fidelity)
  6. Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Summer Suite (Libra)
  7. Scott Fields Freetet: Bitter Love Songs (Clean Feed)
  8. Mostly Other People Do the Killing: This Is Our Moosic (Hot Cup)
  9. Kris Davis: Rye Eclipse (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  10. Vandermark 5: Beat Reader (Atavistic)
  11. Randy Sandke: Unconventional Wisdom (Arbors)
  12. Adam Lane/Lou Grassi/Mark Whitecage: Drunk Butterfly (Clean Feed)
  13. François Carrier: The Digital Box (Ayler, 7CD)
  14. Jorge Lima Barreto: Zul Zelub (Clean Feed)
  15. The Roy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite (AUM Fidelity)
  16. Kenny Garrett: Sketches of MD (Mack Avenue)
  17. Fieldwork: Door (Pi)
  18. The Soprano Summit: In 1975 and More (1975-79, Arbors, 2CD)
  19. Mike Ellis: Bahia Band (Alpha Pocket)
  20. Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Proliferation (482 Music)
  21. Bill Frisell: History, Mystery (Nonesuch, 2CD)
  22. Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William Parker: Beyond Quantum (Tzadik) **
  23. Sonny Rollins: Road Shows Vol. 1 (Doxy/Emarcy)
  24. Ben Allison & Man Size Safe: Little Things Run the World (Palmetto)
  25. Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix (Blue Note)
  26. William Parker Quartet: Petit Oiseau (AUM Fidelity)
  27. Cassandra Wilson: Loverly (Blue Note)
  28. Donny McCaslin Trio: Recommended Tools (Greenleaf Music)
  29. Ulf Wakenius: Love Is Real (ACT)
  30. David Murray/Mal Waldron: Silence (Justin Time)
  31. The Gust Spenos Quartet: Swing Theory (Swing Theory)
  32. Dick Hyman/Chris Hopkins: Teddy Wilson in 4 Hands (Victoria -07)
  33. Satoko Fujii Trio: Trace a River (Libra)
  34. Jerry Bergonzi: Tenor Talk (Savant)
  35. Dave Douglas & Keystone: Moonshine (Greenleaf Music)
  36. Scott DuBois: Banshees (Sunnyside)
  37. The Microscopic Septet: Lobster Leaps In (Cuneiform)
  38. Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble: Proverbs for Sam (Boxholder)
  39. Steven Bernstein: Diaspora Suite (Tzadik)
  40. Oleg Kireyev/Feng Shui Jazz Project: Mandala (Jazzheads)
  41. Mary Lou Williams: A Grand Night for Swinging (1976, High Note)
  42. François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Jean-Jacques Avenel: Within (Leo)
  43. Raoul Björkenheim/William Parker/Hamid Drake: DMG @ the Stone: Volume 2 (DMG/ARC)
  44. Anat Cohen: Notes From the Village (Anzic) *
  45. Maceo Parker: Roots & Grooves (Heads Up, 2CD)
  46. Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. III: The Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981 (1981, Widow's Taste, 2CD)
  47. Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition: Apti (Innova)
  48. Steve Reid Ensemble: Daxaar (Domino)
  49. Paul Shapiro's Ribs and Brisket Revue: Essen (Tzadik)
  50. Horace Silver: Live at Newport '58 (1958, Blue Note)

Like all year-end lists, mine leaves one basic question unanswered: what records were considered, and what were not? The former, at least, is addressed in my full Year 2008 file. As for the things I didn't listen to, my 2008 Year End List Mentions file provides a rough picture, with the blue/green lines things I have checked out, the black things I haven't. The latter with 10+ mentions (presumably the prime critic-tested contenders) are: TV on the Radio: Dear Science; Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago; MGMT: Oracular Spectacular; Nick Cave: Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!; Girl Talk: Feed the Animals; Hercules and Love Affair: Hercules and Love Affair; Sigur Rós: Með Suð I Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust; Deerhunter: Microcastle; Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid; M83: Saturdays=Youth; Cut Copy: In Ghost Colours; She & Him: Volume One; Shearwater: Rook; Beach House: Devotion; David Byrne/Brian Eno: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today; Flying Lotus: Los Angeles; Fucked Up: The Chemistry of Common Life; Kings of Leon: Only by the Night; Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles; Frightened Rabbit: The Midnight Organ Flight; Metallica: Death Magnetic; Of Montreal: Skeletal Lamping; Lucinda Williams: Little Honey. Some of those (Girl Talk, Hercules, Byrne/Eno) I do hope to listen to soon. TV on the Radio swept last year with a record I didn't get much out of. It seems likely to sweep again this year -- competition seems limited to Fleet Foxes, Portishead, Vampire Weekend, and Santogold, all of which I have heard and find quite unexciting.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 15033 [15017] rated (+16), 763 [764] unrated (-1). Low rate count because I spent most of last week writing Jazz Consumer Guide, as opposed to merely listening for it. Also worked on kitchen, which is coming along, although not nearly fast enough to give me much confidence of being done by end of January.


Jazz Prospecting (CG #18, Part 15)

Stick a fork into it: this Jazz Consumer Guide is done. The Detroit trip and a lot of housework have taken a severe toll on my time, causing much of the delay. The prospecting load has also been pretty heavy: 286 records this cycle, down from 291 last time, but before that the average had been near 250. The draft file at present shows 2711 words, 35 graded albums, 24 honorable mentions. That will need to be cut down to about 1500 words by the time the column comes out in print, so the delays will mount for covering a lot of good records -- not enough duds to hold back, so their approbation will be more timely. Should get it all wrapped up and delivered to the Voice later this week. As usual, didn't get everything written up I wanted to. In particular, François Carrier has two A- records (Within and The Digital Box), as does Satoko Fujii (Trace a River and Summer Suite). Rudresh Mahanthappa has one (Apti) and a good shot at a second (Kinsmen, possibly the better but definitely the harder record). Bill Frisell could also have a double if I go back to his earlier (recent to me) East West as well as the more recent History, Mystery. Other A- records I didn't get written up include: Jorge Lima Barreto, Zul Selub; Scott DuBois, Banshees; Donny McCaslin, Recommended Tools; The Microscopic Septet, Lobster Leaps In; William Parker, Petit Oiseau; Mike Reed, Proliferation; Ulf Wakenius, Love Is Real. And then there's the overflow, which will be substantial. Check out the past Jazz Prospecting (link at bottom of this post), for more on those.

I expect to lay low for the next couple of weeks. Lots of housework to do, lots of other stuff to catch up on. Overflow this time is greater than ever, so at least one more Jazz CG is a no-brainer. It remains a frustrating, immensely time-consuming project. I need to write other stuff, but it isn't clear that writing about music, or not, makes much difference. Last year I suspended Recycled Goods, which did me very nearly no good. On the other hand, 2008 has been one of those exceptionally hard years. Wonder what 2009 will bring.


Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii: Chun (2008, Libra): Trumpet/piano duos. Husband and wife, they've done this before -- at least three times, with In Krakow in November my pick of the two I've heard -- as well as appearing on dozens of albums with various bassists, drummers, and others up to big band weight. Stef Gijssels wrote an ecstatic review of this in his Free Jazz blog, ending with "I'm sorry to be so excited." I'm hearing pretty much the same things, but find the contrast between two dramatic soloists somewhat disjointed -- maybe just too abrupt. As usual, Fujii is much the more aggressive player, a reversal from the usual form where pianists slip into accompanist roles. But Tamura does more than just decorate her thrashing. He's a lyrical player, yin to her yang (or is it the other way around?). B+(***)

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Summer Suite (2007 [2008], Libra): A model of composing and arranging for a group of staunch individualists, a big band that stands on par with Count Basie's late-1930s juggernaut: Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby on tenor sax; Oscar Noriega and Briggan Krauss on alto; Andy Laster on barritone; Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein, and Dave Ballou on trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring, Joey Sellers, and Joe Fielder on trombone; Stomu Takeishi on bass, Aaron Alexander on drums. Fujii plays piano but is relatively inconspicuous. Strong solo spots, the tenor saxophonists of course, but also one or more of the trombonists stand out. Spans the whole gamut of the genre: loud, quiet, sweet, sour; pretty good beat, too. The first top-ten record of 2008 I got to after filling out my ballot. Didn't take any longer last year either. A-

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Nagoya: Sanrei (2008, Bamako): To push the Basie comparisons further, this is one of four territory bands led by Fujii, with Tokyo and Kobe back in Japan, and New York over here. A while back she released sets simultaneously from all four, and the Nagoya group was hands down the winner. They remain an impressive group here, loud and brassy, with no piano -- Fujii is just listed as conductor. The pieces are more distributed, with two by Natsuki Tamura, and two by guitarist Yasuhiro Usui, who seems likely to be Nagoya's secret ingredient. Starts off fusiony, blasts through a lot of sci-fi space. Exhilariating much of the time, but various minor bits I find annoying -- vocal blurts, occasional squawkfests, a bit wearing. B+(**)

Arturo O'Farrill & Claudia Acuña: In These Shoes (2008, Zoho): This pairs two well connected, highly touted, and as far as I've discerned until now vastly overrated artists. Still, the opening title track caught me by surprise, with a brassy vocal where Acuña has usually been coy, and a lot of drive from the band: choice cut. She rarely reverts to form here, not that we really need her takes on "Moodance" and "Willow Weep for Me." O'Farrill put together a pretty good band here, with Michael Mossman on trumpet, Yosvany Terry on alto/tenor sax, and some terrific Afro-Cuban percussion -- Dafnis Prieto and Pedrito Martinez. Sometimes they get ahead of the song, and sometimes I find myself not caring, but they certainly aren't faking it, or watering it down, or dressing it up for Lincoln Center. B+(*)

Ahmad Jamal: It's Magic (2007 [2008], Dreyfus): A relatively major pianist who's largely escaped my attention -- I've only heard three previous albums, two from the 1950s. Nearly missed this one too, but when the publicist sent me mail bragging about his Grammy nomination, I figured I might as well ask. Piano trio plus extra percussion from Manolo Badrena. When the latter kicks in it's pretty irresistible. Not fully convinced by the slow/solo stuff, at least yet. Could move up. [B+(***)]

Satoko Fujii Ma-Do: Heat Wave (2008, Not Two): A possible problem with recording so often is that so full of your typical moves seems somewhat ordinary. Fujii is dramatic as usual; Natsuki Tamura is a little on the rough side, so he almost matches her for once. Quartet includes Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass, Akira Horikoshi on drums. Unlike previous all-Japanese quartets, they show no special fondness for rock rhythms, so this is kept roughly free. Don't have a lot of details to go on, not least because the gray-on-black print is illegible. Much of this would be very impressive in a blindfold context, but I can point to other albums equal or better. B+(**)

Kate McGarry: If Less Is More . . . Nothing Is Everything (2007 [2008], Palmetto): Vocalist. First album in 1992; four more since 2001, three on Palmetto since 2005. Irving Berlin song is ordinary, but she's not content with standards, so moves on to Bob Dylan, Steve Stills, Joni Mitchell, Ric Ocasek. Could have picked better on all counts, but she's too limited to work within those limits. Of course, she also does Jobim, and Djavan for good measure. And writes two originals. All of this would be merely mediocre but she brings in fellow Moss-heads Jo Lawry and Pete Eldridge, who work their usual voodoo. Got a Grammy nod for this. C [advance]


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

Curlew: 1st Album/Live at CBGB 1980 (1980-81 [2008], DMG/ARC, 2CD): George Cartwright's avant-fusion group in early creative ekstasis, to borrow a word guitarist Nicky Skopelitis later used to name his own group, pairing a debut album plus bonus tracks with a live shot with Denardo Coleman commandeering the drumkit. The rock element bounces off New York No Wave in a way that radicalizes the jazz element, so Cartwright's sax wails more tunefully than Lydia Lunch, and funk rhythms are free for the taking. A-

Eri Yamamoto: Duologue (2008, AUM Fidelity): Young pianist, wrote all the pieces, mostly around rhythm vamps which, while not all that distinctive, provide common ground for four pairs of spare, understated duos. She keeps good company: drummers Federico Ughi and Hamid Drake, bassist William Parker, and alto/tenor saxophonist Daniel Carter. The latter is a revelation here, playing tight in what amounts to a ballad mode. B+(**)

Maurice Horsthuis: Elastic Jargon (2007 [2008], Data): Roughly speaking, a double string quartet plus bass and guitar -- more precisely, plus an extra cello as well. Horsthuis plays viola. He dwells somewhere on the border between jazz and classical, working on occasion with the ICP Orchestra as well as running the Amsterdam String Quartet. This sounds more like classical to me, except that it is almost all interesting, with some brilliant stretches, and nothing that triggers my wretch instinct. B+(***)

Steve Turre: Rainbow People (2007 [2008], High Note): The poll-winning trombonist of the last decade-plus, strikes me as something of a chameleon, with no particular style of his own but a remarkable knack for blending in wherever he goes. Taps Mulgrew Miller to play a little McCoy Tyner, Kenny Garrett for some Charlie Parker, Pedro Martinez for a slick Latin closer. Gets superb help from Peter Washington and Ignacio Berroa, of course. Pretty good trombone, too. B+(**)

The James Moody and Hank Jones Quartet: Our Delight (2006 [2008], IPO): Bebop upstarts, schooled in swing, of course, with Coleman Hawkins bridging the way on "Body and Soul" and "Woody 'N You" -- both included here in a program that leans heavily on Dizzy Gillespie and Tadd Dameron, and focuses more on Moody -- one by him, "Moody's Groove" about him. Jones, of course, is the perfect good sport. Moody's tenor sax is delightful; I would have preferred less flute. B+(**)

William Parker Quartet: Petit Oiseau (2007 [2008], AUM Fidelity): A great group, at least as far back as O'Neal's Porch, with two spectacularly sparring horns in Lewis Barnes' trumpet and Rob Brown's alto sax, plus Parker and Hamid Drake on drums. But this took a long while to register, no doubt benefitting from more than a dozen spins -- something I almost never get the chance to do, but this wound up stuck in my boombox in Detroit for the better part of a week. The problem, if you can call it that, is that it is pretty mainstream where avant-garde is the norm. The horns appear tracked for once, depriving us of the joy of free flight. On the other hand, Parker has cycled around from free to make grooveful music. Call it his Horace Silver phase -- that's the level he's working at. A-

Misha Alperin: Her First Dance (2006 [2008], ECM): Was a very slow one, with piano, cello, and French horn or flugelhorn for a little coloring. Extremely understated, but generates an almost hypnotic allure, without suspecting as much. B+(**) [advance]

Evan Parker/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Boustrophedon (2008, ECM): Large group, with Roscoe Mitchell leading the American contingent, notably including Craig Taborn and Corey Wilkes. On the European side come a batch of strings, notably Philip Wachsmann on violin, adding up to a thick stew, similar to the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble even without the electronics. Parker plays soprano sax -- utterly distinctive, of course. The background noise is engaging; the lurching movements even more so. B+(***) [advance]

Bobby Previte & the New Bump: Set the Alarm for Monday (2007 [2008], Palmetto): Previte's been leaning fusion the last few years, and that comes through in the slick riddims here where his drums and Bill Ware's vibes leapfrog over each other. That works well enough, but Ellery Eskelin's tenor sax is so singular it cuts through any accumulated grease, and guest Steven Bernstein doubles the threat on trumpet. B+(***)

Aaron Parks: Invisible Cinema (2008, Blue Note): Debut album, on a major label no less, sure to be overrated given Blue Note's track record in breaking major guitarists -- Robert Glasper is proof of how that works. This is more inside, mostly the piano chasing Mike Moreno's guitar, although one cut drops back to trio, two more to solo. I might be less skeptical if the latter were more interesting. But the interplay with Moreno is tight and thoroughly engaging. B+(**)

Kieran Hebden/Steve Reid: NYC (2008, Domino): More laptop-centric, more of a lead instrument in any case, the previous albums credited to Reid first, perhaps in deference to the elder collaborator, maybe because at first this seemed like a sidebar to Hebden's Four Tet brand. They now have five records together, which is most of Hebden's output over the last 3 years. Doesn't swing a bit, which may be its shortcoming for jazz ears. Seems to me like one of the things to come, although not the most impressive of examples. B+(**)


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


Unpacking:

  • Ruby Braff: For the Last Time (2002, Arbors, 2CD)
  • Ray Bryant: In the Back Room (Evening Star)
  • Brian Charette: Missing Floor (Dim Mak): advance
  • Fay Claassen: Red, Hot & Blue: The Music of Cole Porter (Challenge)
  • Clayton Bros.: Brother to Brother (ArtistShare)
  • Jim Hall & Bill Frisell: Hemispheres (ArtistShare, 2CD): Jan. 6
  • Ken Hatfield and Friends: Play the Music of Bill McCormick: To Be Continued . . . (mPub)
  • The Ron Hockett Quintet: Finally Ron (Arbors)
  • Mike Holober & the Gotham Jazz Orchestra: Quake (Sunnyside): Jan. 27
  • Kal: Radio Romanista (Asphalt Tango)
  • Brian McCree: Changes in the Wind (Accurate): Jan. 13
  • Hendrik Meurkens: Samba to Go! (Zoho): Jan. 13
  • Mark Rapp: Token Tales (Paved Earth): advance, "early 2009"
  • Joshua Redman: Compass (Nonesuch): advance, Jan. 13
  • Viktoria Tolstoy: My Russian Soul (ACT)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Master of Disaster

James Glanz: Official History Spotlights Iraq Rebuilding Blunders. Subtitle: "Poor Planning, Waste and Deception Led to $100 Billion Failure, Report Says." This isn't really news: just the NY Times' way of compensating for failing to carry the news back when it was news. A couple of excerpts:

Despite years of studying the program, Mr. Bowen writes that he still has not found a good answer to the question of why the program was even pursued as soaring violence made it untenable. "Others will have to provide that answer," Mr. Bowen writes.

Could it be that the real reason for having a reconstruction was to build up the illusion of progress for domestic political purposes? Since no one in their right mind would try to build anything while being shot at, the flow of money argued for a level of security that didn't exist. And since the money wasn't usable for its purpose, it was bound to spring leaks all along the way.

The history records how Mr. Garner presented Mr. Rumsfeld with several rebuilding plans, including one that would include projects across Iraq.

"What do you think that'll cost?" Mr. Rumsfeld asked of the more expansive plan.

"I think it's going to cost billions of dollars," Mr. Garner said.

"My friend," Mr. Rumsfeld replied, "if you think we're going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken."

In a way he never anticipated, Mr. Rumsfeld turned out to be correct: before that year was out, the United States had appropriated more than $20 billion for the reconstruction, which would indeed involve projects across the entire country.

But in another way Rumsfeld was right. The US didn't build a thing with that money; it was merely political payola.

The secondary effects of the invasion and its aftermath were among the most important factors that radically changed the outlook. Tables in the history show that measures of things like the national production of electricity and oil, public access to potable water, mobile and landline telephone service and the presence of Iraqi security forces all plummeted by at least 70 percent, and in some cases all the way to zero, in the weeks after the invasion.

Finally:

At the end of his narrative, Mr. Bowen chooses a line from Great Expectations by Dickens as the epitaph of the American-led attempt to rebuild Iraq: "We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us."

Actually, as Iraq went to hell in a handbasket, all that mattered to Bush was the 2004 election, for which he needed to present a good enough bluff that he was still in command and had a plan. A large injection of reconstruction money sounded plausible, and if it all went to graft, it's not like the NY Times would notice until four years later.


By the way, the NY Times, once again right on top of things, has another article, "13 Years After Peace Accord, Fears Grow of New Ethnic Conflict in Divided Bosnia." That would be the Dayton Accords, the deal ending the Bosnian War that acclaimed Richard Holbrooke as a superstar. The deal was good enough as a cease fire, but the idea that it solved, much less fixed, anything was myopic. The Clinton administration paid little further attention, and the Bush none whatsoever -- except for occasionally kicking sand in Vladimir Putin's face. One 2000 Bush campaign promise that he fulfilled religiously was that he would never engage in nation building. The full impact of that has barely sunk in: he not only wouldn't lift a finger to build nations, it turns out that in case after case, he's done nothing but destroy nations. Bosnia may be less spectacular than Haiti, Somalia, Lebanon, Palestine (and for that matter Israel), Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly Pakistan, but that's only because he hasn't given it his limited span of attention. (Come to think of it, let's add the United States to that list.)

Chalking what Bush has done up to "blunders" sells him far short. He is nothing less than the Master of Disaster.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Interesting Times

Paul Krugman: A Whiff of Inflationary Grapeshot. Sketchy, but this shows two things: an interesting idea for softening the landing in the current deflationary crunch, and an indication of how far thinking has shifted since the anti-inflationists took over our thinking about political economy. The math is straightforward. If inflation were perfectly distributed, it would reduce real interest rates, and keep reducing them well below 0%. We largely depend on interest rates to regulate the economy -- lower ones to stimulate it, higher ones to throttle it in order to guard against inflation -- but that stops working when asset value drops saps demand. We've been repeatedly warned about the dangers of deflationary spirals, and now we're in one. Planned inflation should be a cheap fix against the psychology of deflation, simply by moving the gauge markers to make everything look more/less positive. But that means accepting inflation, and correlatives like increased government debt, as right and proper after decades of having it drummed into our heads that such things are downright evil.

The real problem with inflation is that it's never perfectly distributed -- i.e., it's not just a matter of resetting gauges. The real problem is that it is destabilizing, creating relative winners and losers. Bankers are the classic case: inflation for them means reduced real returns on loans, as borrowers can pay back their loans with cheaper money. On the other hand, if you start by acknowledging that a lot of bad debt is going to have to be discounted, inflation provides a relatively equitable way to do that. The last few decades have seen a massive slosh of money flooding into the financial sector -- much more than was justified by anything in the real economy, hence there was major inflation of financial assets, as the real problem of increasing income inequality was compounded by a lot of hot air. Now that the hot air has cooled and vanished, money is sloshing the other direction, seeking some sort of equilibrium. This means that the assets of the rich, especially financial assets, need to deflate. A program of deliberate inflation would be a nice way to soften the blow.

Still, we need to understand that the underlying problem is one of principles. Trying to solve economic problems by shoving money at the rich not only doesn't trickle down usefully -- a lot of that money just disappears because it's never converted into useful work. The real economy is simply the value of real work. People can be put to work by capitalists investing in the means of production, or people can be put to work by government creating or demanding jobs. The former is arguably more efficient when demand exceeds supply because it doesn't depend on political will. But we live in a world where supply far exceeds demand -- the result of technology-based productivity increases, compounded by political arrangements which depress the price of labor -- so the private sector has little desire to invest in more jobs. The only way to turn this around is political: to skim more money off the top and to push more money to the bottom. I could imagine that happening in either an inflationary or deflationary context. The former might be psychologically more agreeable, but to work the change has gotta come. The big surprise here is how quickly and radically thinking is changing on these issues. A couple of months ago Krugman was fiercely arguing for a stimulus package of $700 billion. Latest numbers from Obama's camp are in the $850 billion range. Interesting times.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 15017 [14998] rated (+19), 764 [781] unrated (-11). Passed a big round number this week: 15000. Didn't get much of the incoming catalogued, but didn't get much anyway.

  • Sally Timms: Cowboy Sally's Twilight Laments . . . for Lost Buckaroos (1999, Bloodshot): The Mekons sweetheart, plumbing the cowboy side of c&w, a little too sweetly. B+(*)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #18, Part 14)

Sent my Anthony Braxton piece to the Voice today, so that is more/less done. A couple of weeks ago that jumped ahead of Jazz CG on the priority stack. Word count on Jazz CG column right now is 1795 -- more than the Voice has ever actually printed. I don't have all of my priorities written up, and haven't decided on one of the pick hits, but it's getting close. So close I'll predict that this coming week will be the last Jazz Prospecting week of the cycle. That's stretching a little bit because I expect a lot of house work this week -- in fact, my partner is banging in the kitchen right now, and I'd rather be there than here.

A minor milestone this week: my ratings database count topped 15,000 this week. That represents about 35 years of more or less obsessively searching out everything I could stand listening to. It originally started out as a shorthand to keep track of things, something I've increasingly appreciated as my memory slips away. Now it's a useful piece of personal data -- the sort of thing a totalitarian state could mine if they wanted to really figure out how to push my buttons. It's a shame that that's the sort of thing that comes to mind.


Gilfema: Gilfema + 2 (2008, ObliqSound): Benin native Lionel Loueke sets the tone and style here, mostly because he sings as well as plays guitar, which far outweighs Ferenc Nemeth's drums and Massimo Biolcati's bass, even though the latter write equal shares of the music. Loueke straddles jazz and Afropop without really seeming to belong to either, but he does have a distinctive sweet-and-slick guitar sound and some real talent. The "+2" help, too: Anat Cohen on clarinet, and John Ellis on bass clarinet -- best thing here is when they pick up a groove and run with it. B+(**)

Ablaye Cissoko/Volker Goetze: Sira (2007 [2008], ObliqSound): Cissoko, a Senegalese griot, plays delicate kora and sings serenely. Goetze plays trumpet, caressing the melodies, giving them a warm, burnished glow. Graceful and earnest, a bit underwhelming. B+(*)

Bebo Valdes & Javier Colina: Live at the Village Vanguard (2005 [2008], Calle 54/Norte): Piano-bass duets, with the 86-year-old Cuban legend working his way through a set of Cuban classics plus "Yesterdays" and "Waltz for Debby." B+(***)

Charmaine Clamor: My Harana: A Filipino Serenade (2008, FreeHam): Vocalist, from the Philippines. Previous album, Flippin' Out, mixed some native folk with usual standards for a nice mix of groove and swing. She seems to be going native here, which is admirable in principle but unfortunately lacking in groove or swing, or anything recognizable as a beat or pulse. B-

Willi Johanns: Scattin' (1987-2002 [2008], TCB): Singer, from Germany I take it, age 74 at some point in the liner notes; second album, following one in 1960 called A Salute to Birdland. Two sessions: an old one recorded in Italy in 1987 with Dusko Goykovich's Bebop City band -- five cuts at the end of the album; a more recent one with the RTS Big Band Radio Belgrade, a group that also featuring Goykovich on trumpet. "Satin Doll" and "Exactly Like You" show up in both sets. Title cut was written by Johanns and features a lot of scat. I find scat merely agreeable when done by someone exceptionally good at it, like Ella Fitzgerald; to be likable it needs to be done by someone with natural comic flair, like Louis Armstrong, Leo Watson, and Slim Gaillard -- the only names that come to mind. Johanns is a cut below both, but he's a very likable standards singer, and the bands -- especially the Belgrade big band -- swing hard and are sharp as tacks. B+(**)

Quadro Nuevo: Ciné Passion (2000 [2008], Justin Time): German group, an "acoustic quartet" with Mulo Francel (reeds), Robert Wolf (guitar), Heinz-Ludger Jeromin (accordion), and D.D. Lowka (bass). (Jeromin later replaced by Andreas Hinterseher.) I ran across them first on their later Tango Bitter Sweet, which seems like the niche they were built for. This reissue rambles through various movie themes -- "La Strada," "Un Homme et une Femme," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Jean de Florette," "Spartacus"; Astor Piazzolla, Ennio Morricone, James Newton Howard. Some guests, including a string quartet. B

Ben Stapp Trio: Ecstasis (2007 [2008], Uqbar): Plays tuba, wrote everything on this first album (credited, as is the tuba, to Benjamin Stapp); 26 years old, presumably born 1982; from California, based in New York. The tuba, like a bass, is a little hard to follow here -- volume is limited, its role more to set up a steady flow the others play off of. And the others steal the show: Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano sax) adds another feather to his cap as a frontline sideman, and Satoshi Takeishi provides the complementary offbeat percussion. B+(***)

Eric Vloeimans: Gatecrash (2007 [2008], Challenge): Trumpet player, b. 1963, the Netherlands, studied with Donald Byrd, has a dozen or so albums since 1992. With electric keyboardist Jeroen van Vliet setting the framework for this quartet, he's set up for some kind of fusion, but tends more toward postbop pastels, partly because plugging in doesn't guarantee enough of a groove. B+(*)

François Carrier: The Digital Box (1999-2006 [2008], Ayler, 7CD): Download only, as I understand it, although the label very generously provided clumsy me with a set of CDRs, packaged with their usual exceptional care. (Ayler has been going more and more to download-only product, which I always thought a shame, not least because their original artwork and packaging is so nice. I understand they're still producing the artwork, which can be downloaded with the music, so you can print your own packaging -- not that you're going to be able to print it on slick card stock.) Sometimes I complain about multi-disc sets being too much extra work, but one way to handle that is to just let them flow into a single impression -- and that's a pleasure here. Carrier plays alto sax, increasingly soprano sax as well. A free player, I go back and forth on how original or distinctive he is, but he has a spirit and clarity of vision that becomes increasingly compelling the longer he plays. First disc here is a 1999 trio with Dewey Redman joining on on one cut. The rest of the material runs from 2004-06: two discs of duets with drummer Michel Lambert (a constant presence on all 7 discs); two trio discs with bassist Pierre Côté; two quartet discs with guitarist Sonny Greenwich and bassist Michel Donato. The bassless duets run a little slower, working through short, relatively patchy pieces, more like practice, or work even. The others offer long takes, the trios more improv, the quartet a long thematic piece called "Soulful South." It adds up to more than the sum of the parts. A-

Exploding Customer: At Your Service (2005-06 [2007], Ayler): Swedish group, two horns up front -- Martin Küchen on alto and tenor sax, Tomas Hallonsten on trumpet -- bass and drums in the rear -- Benjamin Quigley and Kjell Nordeson. Küchen is the effective leader, writing 6 of 7 pieces, his sax more prominent than the trumpet. Like a lot of Scandinavian groups, they play adventurous free bop with rock energy. The odd piece out, starting off with a Carla Bley arrangement of "Els Segadors," adds an infectious Latin twist, closed out by a riff ("Sin Nombre") from Hallonsten. Their previous album, Live at Tempere Jazz Happening, should have been an HM; so should this. B+(***)

Stephen Gauci's Stockholm Conference: Live at Glenn Miller Café (2007 [2008], Ayler, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1966, based in Brooklyn, plays free, has a few records out, has yet to establish himself as a distinctive leader but usually gives a solid team performance. Two quartet sets here, both with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Fredrik Rundqvist on drums; the first adds Mats Äleklint's trombone, the second Magnus Broo's trumpet. The trombone actually has a little more hop to it. B+(**)

Rashied Ali/Charles Gayle/William Parker: By Any Means: Live at Crescendo (2007 [2008], Ayler, 2CD): By Any Means is probably meant to be the group name, but the principals are listed on the front cover, top to bottom as above (that would be alphabetically), and their names go further toward explaining what this is or why anyone should care. This is the same trio that recorded, under Gayle's name, Touchin' on Trane back in 1991 -- one of those Penguin Guide crown albums. So it's a little disconcerting that this gets off so awkwardly at first -- even more so that Parker is the odd man out. Ali gets 3 of the first 4 pieces; Gayle the other one and the next 3; Parker recovers on his own 3-song second disc stretch, ending with a group improv. The sound isn't all that sharp. The moves are unexceptional for these guys -- Gayle at full speed is quite a treat, but he's been there and done that many times before. B+(*)

Rob Mosher's Storytime: The Tortoise (2007-08 [2008], Old Mill): Soprano saxophonist, from Canada, based in New York, also plays oboe and English horn here, writing for a 10-piece group with four reed players -- more clarinet and flute than saxophone -- three brass including French horn, guitar, bass and drums. Reportedly Mosher is self-taught, so it may not be fair to attribute this to the jazz-classical merger in the academies. But this is as pop-classical as Prokofiev, with all the hokum laid out so intricately you sometimes forget how the game works. It's an old saw that jazz is America's classical music, but that came out of an age when we all thought that America was different, so naturally our classical music would be something else. Now jazz is the world's classical music, and it's returning to its common denominator. B-

Charlie Hunter: Baboon Strength (2008, Spire Artist Media): Trio, with Hunter on his familiar 7-string guitar, Erik Deutsch on organ and Casio Tone, and Tony Mason on drums. Fairly pleasant grooves, and not much more. B

Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet: Tablighi (2005 [2008], Cuneiform): Trumpet player, goes back to the 1970s when he was one of the AACM cats searching for an avant-garde path out of the end-of-history that playing far out and radically free led to -- a fellow traveler to Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Much of this effort maintains the studied diffidence that always made him hard to grasp, except when he opts to channel Miles Davis. Quartet includes Vijay Iyer on keyboards, John Lindberg on bass, Shannon Jackson on drums. B+(**)

The Microscopic Septet: Lobster Leaps In (2007 [2008], Cuneiform): Seven-piece group: four weights of saxophone, piano, bass, and drums, led by soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston and pianist Joel Forrester. Group recorded enough material 1981-90 to fill up 4 CDs of History of the Micros, then disbanded until this reunion, Johnston leading scattered projects like his Captain Beefheart tribute band, Fast 'N' Bulbous. The old Micros were hard enough to pigeonhole, fitting about as well in postbop as Raymond Scott in show music. The new one is more prebop, albeit surrealistically, as befits the title track's take on Lester Young swing. Only personnel change is at tenor sax, where Mike Hashim replaces Paul Shapiro. Hashim is primarily an alto saxophonist, having some marvelous records on his resume. A-


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


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

Unpacking:

  • Ahmad Jamal: It's Magic (Dreyfus)
  • Saltman Knowles: Return of the Composer (Pacific Coast Jazz): Feb. 10

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jazz Ballot

Once again year end list time comes too soon. Ballots for the Village Voice Jazz Poll that Francis Davis runs were due last week. The best I could do under the circumstances:

  1. William Parker: Double Sunrise Over Neptune (AUM Fidelity)
  2. Vijay Iyer: Tragicomic (Sunnyside)
  3. Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Holon (ECM)
  4. Rob Brown Ensemble: Crown Trunk Root Funk (AUM Fidelity)
  5. Scott Fields Freetet: Bitter Love Songs (Clean Feed)
  6. Mostly Other People Do the Killing: This Is Our Moosic (Hot Cup)
  7. Kris Davis: Rye Eclipse (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  8. Vandermark 5: Beat Reader (Atavistic)
  9. Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: We Are MTO (Mowo!)
  10. Randy Sandke: Unconventional Wisdom (Arbors)

That leaves unrecognized the following A- records:

  1. Adam Lane/Lou Grassi/Mark Whitecage: Drunk Butterfly (Clean Feed)
  2. François Carrier: Great Love: The Digital Box (Ayler, 7CD)
  3. Jorge Lima Barreto: Zul Zelub (Clean Feed)
  4. The Roy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite (AUM Fidelity)
  5. Kenny Garrett: Sketches of MD (Mack Avenue)
  6. Fieldwork: Door (Pi)
  7. Mike Ellis: Bahia Band (Alpha Pocket)
  8. Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Proliferation (482 Music)
  9. Bill Frisell: History, Mystery (Nonesuch, 2CD)
  10. The Soprano Summit: In 1975 and More (1975-79, Arbors, 2CD)
  11. Sonny Rollins: Road Shows Vol. 1 (Doxy/Emarcy)
  12. Ben Allison & Man Size Safe: Little Things Run the World (Palmetto)
  13. Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix (Blue Note)
  14. William Parker Quartet: Petit Oiseau (AUM Fidelity)
  15. Cassandra Wilson: Loverly (Blue Note)
  16. Donny McCaslin Trio: Recommended Tools (Greenleaf Music)
  17. Ulf Wakenius: Love Is Real (ACT)
  18. Steve Reid Ensemble: Daxaar (Domino)
  19. David Murray/Mal Waldron: Silence (Justin Time)
  20. Oleg Kireyev/Feng Shui Jazz Project: Mandala (Jazzheads)
  21. The Gust Spenos Quartet: Swing Theory (Swing Theory)
  22. Dick Hyman/Chris Hopkins: Teddy Wilson in 4 Hands (Victoria -07)
  23. Satoko Fujii Trio: Trace a River (Libra)
  24. Jerry Bergonzi: Tenor Talk (Savant)
  25. Dave Douglas & Keystone: Moonshine (Greenleaf Music)
  26. Scott DuBois: Banshees (Sunnyside)
  27. Maceo Parker: Roots & Grooves (Heads Up, 2CD)
  28. The Microscopic Septet: Lobster Leaps In (Cuneiform)
  29. Steven Bernstein: Diaspora Suite (Tzadik)
  30. Mary Lou Williams: A Grand Night for Swinging (1976, High Note)
  31. Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble: Proverbs for Sam (Boxholder)
  32. Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William Parker: Beyond Quantum (Tzadik)
  33. François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Jean-Jacques Avenel: Within (Leo)
  34. Raoul Björkenheim/William Parker/Hamid Drake: DMG @ the Stone: Volume 2 (DMG/ARC)
  35. Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. III: The Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981 (1981, Widow's Taste, 2CD)
  36. Duke Robillard: A Swingin' Session With Duke Robillard (Stony Plain)
  37. Paul Shapiro's Ribs and Brisket Revue: Essen (Tzadik)
  38. Dominique Cravic & Les Primitifs du Futur: Tribal Musette (Sunnyside)
  39. Horace Silver: Live at Newport '58 (1958, Blue Note)

As usual, Davis asked for three reissues, one vocal, one Latin jazz, one debut. I hardly had anything to go on there, other than the obvious Anthony Braxton box. In the reissues section I wound up throwing a bone to Curlew: 1st Album/Live at CBGB, even though I haven't finalized the grade. I'm not in a good position to identify debuts -- with so many artists releasing their own work these days, it's often the case that even unknown performers have several releases in their files.

Of course, much more is in the pipeline. Two records in the above list weren't there yet when I submitted my ballot. I expect more will show up by the real end of year.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The New Middle East

Patrick Cockburn: Total Defeat for U.S. in Iraq. Initially, the Bush administration hoped to sign a Status of Forces Agreement that would bind the next administration to its Iraq fiasco indefinitely. The fine print, however, shows that it is Bush (and not Obama) who agreed to give up everything. So whereas the right would have liked to pin their loss on the Democrats, they are left with a tougher argument: that this deal constitutes their victory. The whole question turns on the lack of any real goals behind the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq. At every step along the way, they used whatever slippery rhetoric they thought might dodge the real question, most of which was so obviously false that we never did figure out what they thought they were doing. Say what you want about oil, empire, anti-Islamism, new democracies, Israeli security guarantees, capitalism red in tooth and claw, in the end none of those theories fit the facts any better than Michael Ledeen's prescription that every now and then we need to pick out some shitty little country and kick the crap out of it, just to show to the world how much pain you could bite off by defying us. So in the end we didn't get any oil, bases, business bonanzas, friends, allies, let alone democratic self-determination, but we sure put the hurt on Iraq. That'll teach 'em -- if nothing else that we're the biggest jerks on the planet.

On November 27 the Iraqi parliament voted by a large majority in favor of a security agreement with the US under which the 150,000 American troops in Iraq will withdraw from cities, towns and villages by June 30, 2009 and from all of Iraq by December 31, 2011. The Iraqi government will take over military responsibility for the Green Zone in Baghdad, the heart of American power in Iraq, in a few weeks time. Private security companies will lose their legal immunity. US military operations and the arrest of Iraqis will only be carried out with Iraqi consent. There will be no US military bases left behind when the last US troops leave in three years time and the US military is banned in the interim from carrying out attacks on other countries from Iraq.

More on the relative security improvements, the continual decline of essential services like clean water, uncertain political fates, and the continuing lack of anything resembling a functioning economy. Not mentioned here, but reports say that the UK will remove all of their remaining troops from Iraq by June.

Tony Karon/Aaron J Klein: Israeli Settler Youth on Rampage in Hebron. Been there, done that. It was, after all, the settler youth in Hebron that kicked off what Arno Mayer calls the First Intifada, the Palestinian uprising of 1929 that resulted in the Yishuv withdrawing its settlements from Hebron -- which lasted until 1967, when settlers rushed back to Hebron to establish the civilian occupation of the West Bank, forcing the military occupation to dig in ever deeper. The settlers eventually proved decisive in scuttling the Oslo Agreements, most notably in 1994 when Baruch Goldstein killed 29 and wounded 150 in a suicide terror attack on muslims at prayer in the Ibrahimi Mosque. The recent "rampage" is just the latest flare up of an ongoing pattern of Israeli settlers in Hebron harrassing and assaulting Palestinians with virtual inpunity, nearly every outrage protected by the IDF, something the PA has been powerless to do anything about. What made the news this time isn't the attacks on Palestinians, which have long been routine, but the political posturing over the question of whether Israel should exercise any limits over settlers at all. Every time a settlement is dismantled you see much the same hysterics, taunting the government for setting up "the trauma of Jew killing Jew." As the operations in Sinai and Gaza showed, Israel can dismantle any settlements the government decides on. As this rampage shows, Israel should have shut down the Hebron settlements long ago -- indeed, they should never have been built in 1967. But then they're only the most extreme instance of the settler mentality, which from the founding of the Yishuv assumed that Jews would rule over the land, and anyone else should submit passively or, better yet, leave. As long as the settlers can't learn to live with everyone else, they're the ones who should leave.

Mel Frykberg: Fears of fascism as Israeli extremists prepare to take elections. The events in Hebron are merely window dressing for upcoming Israeli elections, which will determine the kind of government America's favorite ally in the Middle East will have for most of Obama's term as president. Ariel Sharon's ruling Kadima party, under indicted Ehud Olmert, is about as discredited as a party can get: first by taking its unilateralist approach to partitioning off a set of Palestinian ghettos, leading to the electoral triumph of Hamas, then having the US push it into an about face backing discredited PA president Abbas without giving him anything more useful than guns; meanwhile, Olmert led Israel into a spectacularly inept war in Lebanon that left him with an approval rating of 0%, even before he was indicted and forced from office. Now Benjamin Netanyahu's harder-line-than-Sharon Likud is leading in the polls, challenged mostly by forces even further to his right within Likud, and überhawk Ehud Barak has captured the Labor party, ensuring there will be no peace initiatives from the so-called left. This fanatic lurch to the right is coming at a very awkward time for the US, as Obama seeks to reel in the militarism of the Bush years, while at the same time Obama and Clinton have been at pains to slavishly grant Israel carte blanche to set their own Middle East policy -- and by implication, ours as well. How they can reconcile this with Obama's stated desire to "reboot" US image among muslims is mind-boggling, but certainly it would be easier if Israelis don't embarrass themselves and elect people even more intractable and unreasonable than they already have.

The solution to Israel's conflict is pretty simple if you can get over the conceit that God's chosen people are entitled to lord it over anyone who inconveniently stands in their way -- a conceit that became increasingly ridiculous with the fall of apartheid in South Africa, the end of Jim Crow in the United States, the demise of the British empire, the defeat of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire, and the Enlightenment idea that all men are created equal. The solution is that everyone in Israel, under Israeli occupation, or in exile due to Israel's wars, should be guaranteed the right to live where they want, enjoying full and equal rights with all who live there. This can be implemented under one state or two or more. One state is simpler and cleaner, but would require that the Zionists give up their dream of a pure Jewish state. The two state scheme seems more practical, mostly because it allows Israel to continue its discriminatory political and economic policies, only on a smaller piece of turf -- one with far fewer non-Jews under occupation. The other problems you hear so much about with two states are less facts on the ground than myths muddying the air. Borders matter little provided everyone on both sides enjoys full citizenship, although by far the simplest outcome would be to use the pre-1967 armistice borders, since they have been accepted by virtually all Palestinian and Arab groups. The settlers can stay or go. If they stay, they simply become Palestinian citizens -- not that I expect many to stay, as doing so would violate the cardinal Zionist doctrine, which is that all Jews should move to Israel. This is why, thus far, it's always been Israeli policy to dismantle its settlements whenever Israeli military forces withdraw from an area. So-called security issues can be resolved by both sides respecting each other's sovereignty and setting up fair legal channels to peaceably arbitrate disputes. Water and such are hardly fighting matters -- a little respect and sense of fairness would go a long ways there. None of this is difficult, but Israeli politicians and their security complex have talked themselves into a blind canyon. Unable to admit that they did and do wrong, they hysterically wail against everyone else, each daring the other to more extreme flights of paranoid mania -- anything to avoid giving up their special place and joining the community of nations.

Juan Cole: Taliban Hit NATO Warehouses, Destroy 150 Trucks. Meanwhile, US supply lines to Afghanistan got hit even before they reached the country. With the recent attack on Mumbai, and Pakistan's moves against Lashkar-e Tayiba, Pakistan is becoming more fragile and explosive day-by-day. Moreover, the US toehold is becoming less tenable for all concerned. For more on this, see Tom Coghlan in The Times:

The West is indirectly funding the insurgency in Afghanistan thanks to a system of payoffs to Taleban commanders who charge protection money to allow convoys of military supplies to reach Nato bases in the south of the country.

Looks like another total defeat in the works. Tariq Ali's term for the US/NATO mission in Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Disaster.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

1,000 Albums for a Long and Happy Life

This started off as a reaction to Tom Moon's book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: A Listener's Life List. It's part of a series of books with similarly annoying titles, which compete with another series where the relevant title is Robert Dinney, ed, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. The Moon book was brought to my attention by Robert Christgau, who is writing something on it for his first new Rock&Roll& column since leaving the Village Voice -- link here.

I have a database with about 15,000 rated albums, so it was pretty easy to scrape off a list of all of the albums rated A- or above, then start picking and choosing from them. That got me down to 4,882 -- it's not so much that I'm an easy grader as that I've systematically sought out good records for most of the last 35 years. My first pass came out slightly over 1,000, so I need to go back and prune a bit. No doubt I also missed a few things I shouldn't along the way -- seems possible that I loosened up a bit midway through, having cautiously skipped over flat-A records like Rubber Soul and Revolver early on. I need to revisit some choices between compilations and original albums. And I may have to let some personal favorites go to work in items of greater historical import.

I haven't shied away from multiple-disc sets, which is the most obvious way to get extra mileage out of a fixed list. That 16-CD Art Pepper box may seem like the most extreme example, but I've gone for long stretches playing something or other from it every night. It's pretty essential in my book, but for what it's worth, Winter Moon is the crème de la crème, perhaps the most sheerly beautiful piece of jazz ever recorded. For things like that I'll need to add some notes, which will give me a chance to sneak some more things into the margins.

One thing worth noting is that 1,000 albums -- unlike, say, 1,000 vacation spots -- is something quite a few people can do without a lot of stress. It basically works out to 25 records per year for 40 years. I think if you have pretty varied tastes a reasonable collection is more like 2,000 titles -- something that can easily be done without getting into arcana or merely good product. My own tastes exclude classical music, which is the reason why, for example, last time I checked John Rockwell has twice as many records as Robert Christgau. Moon lists a lot of classical records, but I still have no interest in going there. You may feel the same about jazz or country or hip-hop, but they are all integral parts of my experience.

One curious thing about the following list is the bracketed genre notes, like [jazz-20s]. These correspond to the source files I keep the ratings data in, and provide some rough sense of genre breakdown -- for context, you can look at the files here. For whatever it's worth, the current breakdown is: rock: 407 (incl r&b, but excl rap and techno -- 50s: 53, 60s: 120, 70s: 135, 80s: 69, 90s: 24, 00s: 6); jazz: 283 (20s: 60, 40s: 102, 60s: 72, 80s: 40, 00s: 5, latin: 4); world 70 (african: 43; latin: 10, mideast: 5, europe: 5, zouk: 2, brazil: 2, klezmer: 1, cajun: 1, asian: 1); country: 62 (incl oldtime: 10, bluegrass: 6); blues: 47; rap: 42; reggae: 31 (incl caribbean [calypso]: 3); folk: 28 (incl celtic: 1); vocal: 27 (20s: 22, 50s: 4, 80s: 1); techno: 10; avant-garde: 3; gospel: 3; soundtracks: 2; classical: 1 (Kurt Weill). There are a couple of other data files that didn't show up here (most obviously new age).


The current working list is here. Don't know when or how often I'll get back to it, but if it settles out into anything more or less official, I'll add another post.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Truth and/or Reconciliation

Andrew Leonard: Paul Krugman's depression economics. Email interview with Krugman, based on the publication of Krugman's new/old book, The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 -- a revised edition of Krugman's 1999 book, The Return of Depression Economics. The last question/answer is worth a few more words (Leonard's question in italics; Krugman's answer in roman):

And how soon do you think it will be before Republican ideologues start blaming Obama for making it worse? Grover Norquist is already making the claim that the bear market is a result of the 2006 election -- he says investors started dumping stocks because they were afraid of the inevitable tax hikes coming down the road. How do you fight that?

To some extent you can't fight it -- people will believe what they want to believe. If they can make FDR the cause of the Great Depression, they can do anything. But one thing progressives can do is make sure that the story of the Bush administration is told, in all respects. There's going to be huge pressure from the usual suspects to let bygones be bygones, to forget about everything from torture to reckless disregard of financial warnings. But I want truth and reconciliation across the board, and progressives have to make it clear that it was an ideology, not an act of God, that made this crisis possible.

I'd just say we need truth across the board. Reconciliation by itself doesn't get us anywhere. The "truth and reconciliation" meme exists because truth is so much more important than retribution that we'd be willing to forego the latter in order to get more truth.

Truth here is as Krugman says, that the present crisis -- actually a whole panoply of unfolding crises -- is the necessary result of allowing conservative ideologues to operate the levers of political power. One of our main tasks in the next few years will be to spell out just how that happened, and why it turned out this way. It goes without saying that the people responsible for these crises for the most part don't understand the relationship between what they believe and what they made happen. That's partly because ideologies, like viruses, come with protective layers of self-denial. Also because ideologies mask material interests that persist even when specific beliefs become untenable -- deep instincts tend to remain fixed even when their rationalized rhetoric shifts with the times. It seems most likely that most conservatives will never come around.

Earlier in the interview Krugman gives a case where reconciliation seems more promising. Discussing Clinton-era economists like Lawrence Summers, Leonard asks, and Krugman replies:

Why should we believe they won't make the same mistakes all over again?

Well, they're smart and relatively open-minded, so they're the kind of people who can learn from their mistakes.

We'll see, but for now they're not likely to be tested very hard. You'd think that conservatism à la Bush has been utterly discredited by now, but McCain still garnered 46% of the vote, the Republican "noise machine" is still largely intact, and the superrich still have the money to back their interests. Obama isn't pushing any agendas that are far ahead of what's practical -- not just doable but within the bounds of political reason. That's OK for now, given how large a hole Bush has dug, and how much he's left Obama to undo. But over the next few years we need to move political reason to the left. That's one big reason why this is no time to let up on the right.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14998 [14975] rated (+23), 781 [787] unrated (-6). Thought I might crack 15000, but didn't. Thought I might get my Anthony Braxton piece done, but didn't. Thought I might get Jazz Consumer Guide wrapped up, but didn't.


Jazz Prospecting (CG #18, Part 13)

Some progress on Jazz Consumer Guide, but not much. Some progress beyond the preliminary note below on my review of the Anthony Braxton box, but not enough. Year end ballot for Francis Davis's Village Voice poll is due this week, and I still feel I'm nowhere near up to date. Other year end lists are starting to appear; whereas a few months ago I thought I was ahead of the game, now I'm behind and feeling swamped. (The 2008 meta-list, with none of the actual lists, but some idea how they'll eventually be composed, is here; my working 2008 list is here. As ** notes, a lot of that list came from Rhapsody streams, which have shut down and don't seem likely to resume any time soon, making it, e.g., highly unlikely that I'll hear TV on the Radio before ballot time.)

I'm also way behind on Robert Christgau's website, and on Carol Cooper's website, and on lots of other projects. In fact, I'm late posting this. Dreading tomorrow, but after that some of these things shouldn't be too hard to get done.


The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton (1974-80 [2008], Mosaic, 8CD): I'll write more about this soon, but on first pass this half lives up to my memories and expectations, which include the notion that it's historic enough that we should grin and bear the other half. I got to this set rather late, so the story has been rehearsed many times recently. As jazz was in near free-fall in the 1970s -- icons from both the first and second generation of jazz stars were dying off or dropping out (Armstrong, Ellington, Hawkins, Powell, Coltrane, Monk), important labels were failing, the audience was going pop happy with Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan -- Braxton emerged as the enfant terrible of the Chicago avant-garde. Against the tide, ex-Colombia Records honcho Clive Davis made several moves to jazz up his new Arista label: importing the Freedom label from France, repackaging the Savoy catalog, and signing Braxton, who was given free hand to release nine albums. Eventually, Arista's jazz interests waned, the borrowed catalogues wandering off elsewhere, the Braxtons banished from print. Since then, Braxton has released a couple hundred albums, none on anything remotely resembling a major label. Few people, even among jazz fans and critics, have heard more than a few of them -- I can only claim 28 of them -- and he takes so many risks it's hard to not run into a few sour tasting ones along the way. Still, for the handful of folks who were discovering jazz just about the moment Braxton took center stage, he was nothing short of a revelation. (I've long wondered whether my generally blasé reaction to Charlie Parker was the result of getting to Parker after I had adopted Braxton and Ornette Coleman.) So I've been looking forward to this box since it was announced -- my only disappointment is that Sony/Legacy didn't do the deed themselves. (Back when Sony merged with BMG, which had previously snarfed down Arista, I urged my publicity contacts there to reissue Braxton -- but the corporation evidently had higher priorities, like Barry Manilow.) The first three albums here are the most user-friendly: New York, Fall 1974 and Five Pieces 1975 managed to be heady and fun at the same time, a formula scaled up to hurricane force on Creative Orchestra Music 1976, most obviously with his irresistable take on John Phillips Sousa. Braxton never again made music so tempting to a wider audience. With one exception, the rest of the albums went small, which left the abstract music full of rough edges: Duets 1976 with Muhal Richard Abrams; For Trio, with Henry Threadgill and Douglas Ewart swapping reed instruments and percussion; The Montreux/Berlin Concerts, with a George Lewis duet and scattered small groups; Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979, a more civil solo sax album updating his notorious For Alto (1969); and For Two Pianos, with Frederic Rzewski and Ursula Oppens playing a long Braxton score. For the exception, Braxton went huge -- hell, he redefined huge: For Four Orchestras squared off four 39-piece orchestras on "Opus 82" -- at the time all of Braxton's compositions had diagrammatic titles although now they're easier to keep track of with numbers -- sprawling over three LPs, now filling up the last two CDs here. The latter is, relatively speaking, a throwaway, but it's pretty listenable after all these years. A-

Gene Bertoncini & Roni Ben-Hur: Smile (2008, Jazz Foundation/Motéma): Guitar duets. Bertoncini is older (70), swing-oriented, has a light touch that works well in intimate settings. Ben-Hur is much younger but possibly as well known, with 6 albums since 1997. Starts with "Killing Me Softly, seems like a faux pas to me. Otherwise, the sort of intricate interplay you'd expect. B

Sean Conly: Re:Action (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Bassist, from Gunnison, CO -- a few hundred miles up river from here; we used to go trout fishing there, marveling that the cold, narrow stream there turns into the big muddy that meanders across the plains here. Based in New York. First album. Writes most of his own material, although it's hard to get a sense of it, most being free sax jousts between Michael Attias and Tony Malaby -- good choices for that sort of thing. B+(*)

Peter Van Huffel/Sophie Tassignon: Hufflignon (2008, Clean Feed): Van Huffel plays alto/soprano sax, comes from Canada, is based in New York and/or Berlin. I've heard a previous album on FSNT which showed him to be an interesting postbop player. Tassignon is a vocalist, from Belgium. She wrote six pieces to Van Huffel's three, with one cover from someone named Vivaldi. Even without the latter, her voice is archly operatic, the effect partly moderated by slow speeds and free structures. B-

Angelica Sanchez: Life Between (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Pianist, also fond of electronic keyboards, from Phoenix, AZ; based in New York; one previous album, plus some trio work with her husband, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby. Wrote all of the pieces here. Only a few stretches showcase her piano, interesting enough, but she's attracted a very high powered quintet, with Malaby, Marc Ducret on guitar, Drew Gress on bass, and Tom Rainey on drums. B+(**)

Tony Malaby Cello Trio: Warblepeck (2008, Songlines): Saxophonists are natural leaders, even when they don't write much, just due to the dominant nature of their instrument. Malaby is one of the few -- Eric Dolphy is the only other one who comes to mind -- who has built a sterling reputation mostly on other people's albums, so when he does release one it's something of an event. The cello here is Fred Lonberg-Holm, lately resident in the Vandermark 5. The third wheel is percussionist John Hollenbeck. This doesn't mesh as well as I'd like, the cello often more trouble than it's worth. Also hard to zone in on Lonberg-Holm's electronics, although they may be confused with Hollenbeck's panoply of percusion instruments (credits include "small kitchen appliances"). Malaby is first rate, as usual. B+(*)

Daniel Levin Trio: Fuhuffah (2008, Clean Feed): Cellist. Had trouble finding any biographical: his web page is Flashed, his MySpace has an empty "about" section, Google shows a lot of other Dan[iel] Levins, but AAJ came through. B. 1974, Burlington, VT; attended Walnut Hill School for the Arts, Mannes College of Music, New England Conservatory. Based in New Haven, CT. Has three previous albums, one on Riti, two on Hat. This is a trio with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums. The cello is clear and sharp here, free, centered, a bit limited in range, although the contrast with Flaten's bass is helpful. B+(**)

Bujo Kevin Jones & Tenth World: Live! (2004 [2008], Motéma): Jones plays congas, djembe, percussion. Has one previous album, called Tenth World. Group includes Brian Horton (tenor sax), Kevin Louis (trumpet), Kelvin Sholar (piano), Joshua David (electric bass), and Jaimeo Brown (drums). Happy groove record with some Latin threads and occasionally unruly horns. Ends with "Watermelon Man," which is almost too easy. B+(**)

Joe Morris/Barre Phillips: Elm City Duets (2006 [2008], Clean Feed): Guitar-bass duets, or at least that's how Morris's credit leads. Morris has been playing about as much bass over the last 3-4 years as he has guitar, and Phillips has recorded bass duets before -- he was the other half of Dave Holland's Music for Two Basses -- so that's what I sort of expected. It's kind of hard to say what this sounds like: very abstract, little flow let alone groove, stretches of near silence and not much you'd call noise. If I had to, I'd try it again with more volume, but even if that worked -- which with these two must be the case -- few people would find this sort of thing interesting. B-

Townhouse Orchestra: Belle Ville (2007 [2008], Clean Feed, 2CD): Old fashioned free jazz quartet, just two group improvs, one 44:47, the other 45:10, which is to say they don't run on beyond endurance, and once you've played one, there's still another variation available. Evan Parker has been doing this sort of thing for a long time. He sticks to tenor sax here, less distinctive than his soprano, but less shrill and wearying as well. Pianist Sten Sandel makes a good foil, and the Norwegian rhythm team of Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) -- names familiar from Ken Vandermark projects like School Days -- push things along. B+(***)

Rebecca Cline and Hilary Noble: Enclave Diaspora (2007-08 [2008], Enclave Jazz): Noble got top billing last time, a 2005 album called Enclave (on Zoho) that I liked a lot. This extends the formula. Cline's a pianist who studied with Joanne Brackeen and picked up both her latin flair and avant edge. Noble's a saxophonist who can wax eloquent or turn up the heat. Quartet, keeping the rhythm bubbling, includes Francisco Huergo on electric bass; Steve Langone on drums, chocalho, and pandeira. A little more varied than last time, less conceptually acute, less of a surprise. B+(**)

Adam Niewood & His Rabble Rousers: Epic Journey, Volumes I & II (2008, Innova, 2CD): I picked this up several times over the last few months; realized it was a double, and didn't feel up to wading through it. Saxophonist, credited here with tenor, C-melody, soprano, alto, and baritone, in that order, followed by clarinet and bass clarinet. Had a 2004 album called Introducing Adam Niewood, released on the normally pop-oriented Native Language label, so not having heard it I filed him under Pop Jazz. My bad. Seven of nine pieces on the second disc are credited as Free Group Improvisations; he wrote everything else. Group includes piano (Kristjan Randalu), guitar (Jesse Lewis), bass (Matt Brewer or Chris Higgins), drums (Greg Ritchie and/or Rohin Khemani, who adds some exotic percussion). Has a strong, clear tone on tenor; a distinctly wiry sound on soprano; not sure about the rest. Plays with some edge and a lot of polish. Likes a good beat, but doesn't feel bound to it. Should get another play, sooner or later. [B+(***)]

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition: Apti (2008, Innova): Born in Trieste, Italy; raised in Boulder, CO, the alto saxophonist is a bit removed to represent India in this alliance, but he sounds more native than ever, not least because a world class tabla player has got his back. That the latter's name is Dan Weiss adds yet another twist to world peacekeeping these days. The Pakistani is guitarist Rez Abassi, who fits the classical Indian grooves so tightly you suspect the Indo-Pak split was one of those arbitrary British inventions. A-

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Kinsmen (2008, Pi): Advance copy, stuck on the shelf waiting for the real thing to come around, which thus far hasn't happened. There is a tendency for Americans a generation removed from their parents' homelands to go back and find roots. That seemed rather superficial on Mahanthappa's earlier records, but the Carnatic (South Indian) synthesis here strikes me as solidly earned. They key may be the other alto saxophonist, Kadri Gopalnath, who gave enough thought to the subject to cut a record called Saxophone Indian Style. A. Kanyakumari's violin and Poovalur Sriji's mridangam (South Indian log drum) add authenticity, while Rez Abassi's guitar is close enough. Need to listen more. [B+(***)] [advance]

Javon Jackson: Once Upon a Melody (2008, Palmetto): Once a hard bop contender, lately a lamely confused funkateer, this splits the difference amiably enough that it's hard to get upset. "My One and Only Love" is downright lovely. "The In Crowd" isn't nearly out enough. The originals aren't as catchy as the covers, for better or worse. B [advance]

Will Bernard: Blue Plate Special (2008, Palmetto): Guitarist. Seemed to have an interesting take on postbop postfusion, but since he signed with Palmetto he's settled into a light funk groove which is buoyed mostly by working with competent artisans like John Medeski and Stanton Moore. Closes with a sweet "How Great Thou Art." B [advance]

The Stephane Wrembel Trio: Gypsy Rumble (2005 [2008], Amoeba Music): Not familiar with this label, so don't know whether the slim slip cover is just a promo or their idea of finished product. Copyright is 2005, so don't even know if it is new. Full artist credit adds: with special guest David Grisman. The trio has Wrembel on lead guitar, Eric Rodgers on rhythm guitar, and Jared Engel on bass. Grisman plays mandolin. Has a rough hewn string band feel, a fairly consistent but limited sound. Ends on an up notes with two cuts with Brandi Shearer singing and a more/less different band, including Ralph Carney horns. B [advance]


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

Adam Lane/Lou Grassi/Mark Whitecage: Drunk Butterfly (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): The bassist gets top billing because of his knack at setting up grooves that turn free-oriented saxophonists on rather than off. He did that with Vinny Golia in Zero Degree Music; here he gets the most accessible work ever out of Whitecage. In her liner notes, Slim calls this "avant swinging bebop." That's about right. A-


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


Unpacking:

  • Chuck Bernstein: Delta Berimbau Blues (CMB)
  • Blah Blah 666: It's Only Life! (Barnyard)
  • Anthony Braxton/Kyle Brenders: Toronto (Duets) 2007 (Barnyard, 2CD)
  • Peter Brötzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love: Sweet Sweat (Smalltown Superjazz)
  • Deena: Somewhere in Blue (Verbena)
  • Dave Frank: Turning It Loose! (Jazzheads)
  • Martin & Haynes: Freedman (Barnyard)
  • Joe McPhee/Paal Nilssen-Love: Tomorrow Came Today (Smalltown Superjazz)
  • Original Silence: The Second Original Silence (Smalltown Superjazz): advance
  • Evan Parker/Paal Nilssen-Love: The Brewery Tap (Smalltown Superjazz)
  • Ben Stapp Trio: Ecstasis (Uqbar)
  • The Thing: Now and Forever (2001-07, Smalltown Superjazz, 4CD)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Nothing

Roy Wenzl: The day Alex was killed. Lead article in the Wichita Eagle today. Story starts out:

The facts about the life and death of Alex Funcheon are these: As a Wichita teen he was a screw-up and a jerk. He got drunk, got high, got arrested for possession, dropped out, bedded girls and bragged about it, cursed at his parents, bullied his little sister to tears, and ticked off friends so much that a roommate, one of his closest friends, told Alex one day to find some other place to live.

He told his Christian parents that he doubted the existence of God.

His father, Bob Funcheon, in despair, urged his son to join the U.S. Army. Alex enlisted.

On April 29, 2007, Sgt. Alex Funcheon, age 21, was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

One problem child; problem solved. I find it appalling that anyone would even think of handing their child off to the military, even one who turned into the asshole Alex Funcheon evidently was. Of course, the article suggests that in the Army Funcheon got his act together and became a model soldier, whatever that means. The idea that discipline straightens out unruly boys is old and about as much myth as anything else. Some respond to discipline, and some respond in spite of it -- at 21 most people still have some growing up to do. Some are broken by discipline and/or the experience of war -- the sorry state of so many veterans in America has less to do with our lack of support or respect than our incomprehension of what they went through.

That, in large part, is because joining the army isn't something normal people do in America anymore. We haven't had a "citizen army" in any sense since the mid-1970s, and never really had one, although the full WWII mobilization under the relatively egalitarian Roosevelt administration came close. But that kind of war, and that kind of participation, has never been repeated. The draft ended in the 1970s by mutual desire. Very few Americans were willing to be swept up for any old operation crackpot politicos might talk themselves into. And the military didn't want randomly selected short-term amateurs more committed to their future civilian lives. The military wanted people it could mold into long-term professional killers. Of course, without the draft, the military wound up mostly taking rough, hard cases off the streets, kids beat down so far even the military looked like up. The result is that now we have an army of assholes, the junction of mission and talent. And the result of that is that everywhere that army deploys, it fails miserably.

In Alex Funcheon's case, this failure was improbably acknowledged. The story continues:

Six weeks after Alex died, the president of the United States came to Wichita to dedicate a new youth center and to crack jokes at a political fundraiser. The moment he heard Bush was coming, Bob said, "I knew I wanted to do something big. For Alex."

The Funcheons asked for a meeting.

On Air Force One in Wichita, on June 15 last year, they confronted an exhausted-looking President Bush with a message.

A lot of sons and daughters died, they told the president.

They asked whether their son died for nothing.

The story ends there. You scarcely have to guess the answer. He died for Bush's lies, and for the military's conceits, and for the foolishness of a political class that still thinks WWII was something noble. He died for having ignorant and inept parents, and for not being bright enough himself. He paid the ultimate price for being an asshole -- even if he wasn't as much of one as Bush himself. Bush at least had advisers smart enough to steer him out of harm's way, and into a position where his most destructive impulses could really make a mark -- like making the Alex Funcheons of this world into his patsies.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Made in Detroit

Andrew Leonard: How national healthcare could have saved Detroit. The point is an obvius one to anyone who's given it any thought, but it's worth pointing it out in case you haven't. One way that the US government can make US manufactures more competitive is to move more of the social overheard cost that unionized capital-intensive industries assumed back in the days when unions were the norm and their markets seemed secure: health care is the prime example; pensions another. Also, note that it wasn't the UAW that pushed GM to dig its future grave. The UAW would have preferred government-backed social insurance, but the business titans opted for private solutions. The same demented ideology persists today where Republican hacks keep arguing that the private sector can't be beat when it comes to solving insurance problems. Why anyone would think that is hard to fathom. It no doubt helps that the same hacks don't show much evidence of actually caring whether it works or not (and would go way out of their way to wreck any public system that might do a better job).

Actually, a single-payer public health insurance system is important not just for employees who have good (but increasingly pricey) health insurance; it's also important for those who don't. Moreover, it would help to equalize the workplace, to put generous and stingy companies on a more even playing field. It also helps cut a lot of the meanness out of the system simply by taking benefits off the table of corporate cost targets.

By the way, I haven't been looking at Salon much lately, because they're using some code that sucks up all the spare CPU cycles on my machine, bringing it to a crawl. This is probably a bug in Mozilla, but it's super annoying, and probably up to no good.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Mumbai

Steven Coll: Decoding Mumbai. This seems about right. Pakistan's longstanding grudge against India over Kashmir -- over lots of things, really, including the fact that India is an intrinsically stronger and richer country that Pakistan could have been part of in 1948 except for the machinations of the Muslim League and the selfish perversity of the British -- is the context from which these and a long line of terror attacks originate. On the other hand, India's hands aren't exactly clean in this. They have about as much right to Kashmir as the UK does to Northern Ireland, and they've handled it about as ineptly. Moreover, they've never seen any reason to settle their differences with Pakistan. Not only do they figure that when push comes to shove, it's Pakistan that will wind up in the dirt. They seem to take some pleasure in that thought, maybe because it seems to validate the choices India made that Pakistan didn't -- like building an educational system, and keeping their military forces under democratic control. On the other hand, you can't say that the whole nation of Pakistan is equally guilty. One of the peculiar features of Pakistan is that as the top levels of leadership have been forced to bow to international pressure over Pakistan-based terrorists, the chain of command has been obscured so thoroughly that nobody you can shake down seems to have anything to do with it.

The interesting, and promising, thing here is that India doesn't seem to be itching for a casus belli -- unlike certain trigger-happy countries we can name, including the right-wing party ruling India back in 2002. This seems like a rare lapse of sanity, but there isn't much else anyone can realistically do about it. The best outcome would be for Zardari to effect a purge of any more/less rogue elements in the military-security complex -- something the PPP has had plenty of reason to want ever since Zia ul Haq overthrew Zardari's father-in-law. But to do that, Pakistan needs to feel less insecure, most of all from India. Which means India should put its own house in order. Established powers on both side have something to lose there, but most of the people have a lot to gain. The power imbalance between India and Pakistan is roughly similar to that between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War years, where keeping parity against the discretionary spending of the much richer party turns out to be bankrupting. India could afford to develop and still spend enough to cajole Pakistan; for Pakistan the same choice, tragically, was either/or, and that's dug them into the hole they're in today. It behooves everyone to help them out.

Tony Karon: Mumbai Massacre May Sink Bush-Obama Strategy. Some cold water splashed on my theories. Political pressures are likely to push India toward a more aggressive posture, especially if Pakistan proves unwilling or unable to cough up the terrorist groups. The US has already been through that with Pakistan, and that's hardly been a heart-warming experience.

One thing to add here is that the general purpose of terrorist tactics is to produce a reaction, especially a stupid one. The evident rationale for the Mumbai attacks is to drive a wedge between India and Pakistan: the more likely you think the two countries are to settle their differences, the more urgent the attack became. With India and Pakistan at each other's throats, the local Kashmir conflict becomes big business. It also moves Pakistani forces away from the Afghan-oriented tribal areas, which is the war the US wants Pakistan to be fighting -- not this nonsense with India, a country we see more and more as a key business partner.

Needless to say, what really hurt the US wasn't the 9/11 attacks but the stupid, senseless reaction that sent us off into endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. One can argue over whether Al Qaeda benefited from that, but clearly we hurt ourselves big time. Politicians like to posture about how we can never bow to terrorism, but that's just what they did.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Recycled Goods #59: November 2008

Text posted here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Music Week

Music: Current count 14975 [14960] rated (+15), 787 [795] unrated (-8). House siding job still not complete, although the only significant thing left is the gutters -- delayed because we're putting some leaf screens in, and the supplier was out of stock last week. Should be done soon. Got my recessed lights in, although it took a call to the electrician to finish that off. That gets us into the big electrical project: new panel, plus an effort to modernize all the old knob and tube wiring. The big kitchen project is also starting up in earnest. I have a two month window until my helper/guru/partner goes in for surgery, so that should finally focus the mind. The work there should mostly be inside but we will prefer to set the saws up on the porch, and weather out there is starting to get nasty. We had small periods of sleet and snow three of four days over the holiday weekend; nothing serious, with daytime temps still well into the 40-50F range, but ominous. It does get worse. As for music, the less said the better.

  • Hamiett Bluiett: Blueblack (2001, Justin Time): Looks powerful on paper, with James Carter and Patience Higgins providing extra saxophones, and Kahil El'Zabar tending to the beats. Feels rough and patchy -- the brief appearance of "My Girl" a minor thrill. B+


Jazz Prospecting (CG #18, Part 12)

This feels like the week when the wheels fell off the Jazz Consumer Guide juggernaut. With the perspective of time it may not be that bad. I made a partial effort to shift into closure mode, playing some already rated but not-yet-reviewed records, plus some things that were known to be candidates. But I didn't get very far. Still have people working on the house, which distracts me, and for that matter I haven't been feeling up to snuff. One result was that I wound up playing the few records I got to more times than usual. The Patricia Barber and Randy Sandke records certainly benefitted from that, as did items like the Harris Eisenstadt. Then midweek I got a scheduling curve: the Voice editor told me that he can't run Jazz CG until January, but could run a short piece on Anthony Braxton sooner if I got it in sooner. My thought had been to finish Jazz CG first, just because it was close. Now I find myself putting it on the shelf, to dive into eight CDs of pretty difficult music. Not sure at this point whether I'll get either of them done, at least in timely fashion. Also don't know whether I'll be asked to do my annual sidebar to Francis Davis's year-end piece -- depends on space and money, I'm told, but the poll deadline is December 11, and the piece deadline can't be more than a few days after that. I'm still feeling very unsorted about my year end list, so that's more pressure to the mix.


Jason Miles: 2 Grover With Love (2008, Koch): Keyboard guy, producer skills. Miles has been making the rounds with tributes to anyone he thinks he can cash in on, so it's not a big surprise that he would zero in on Grover Washington, Jr. Washington actually had a very sweet way with his saxophones, a skill that is shared by none of the guests brought in to dress this pig up (Andy Snitzer, Jay Beckenstein, Najee, Kim Waters). Miles himself is agreeably funky. Maysa sings "Mr. Magic," a low point. B-

Danny Green: With You in Mind (2008 [2009], Alante): Pianist, from San Diego, studied at UCSD. First album. Has an interest in Brazil, including studies with Jovino Santos Neto. Hype sheet says "File under Jazz, Latin Jazz, Brazilian," but this doesn't sound particularly Latin or Brazilian to me -- perhaps a little more consistently grooveful than most postbop. Green plays some Rhodes and melodica as well as piano. Much of this is trio, but there's extra percussion by Allan Phillips and soprano sax by Tripp Sprague. B+(*) [Jan. 6]

Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band: Act Your Age (2008, Immergent, CD+DVD): Big band, fifth album since 2001. Goodwin was born in 1955; plays piano, saxophone (tenor and alto here). He came up through Louie Bellson's big band. He wrote about half of the material here; arranged the rest. Band numbers eighteen, plus some guests, including a sample from Art Tatum. Fast and slick, packs a punch without looming heavy. Don't know about the DVD: don't even know if I can access the "5.1 surround sound versions of all 12 tracks with detailed on-screen liner notes." [B+(**)]

Hot Club de Norvège: Django Music (2007 [2008], Hot Club): Norwegian quartet, patterned on Django Reinhardt's Hot Club de Paris, with Jon Larsen on and Per Frydenlund on guitar, Finn Hauge on violin and harmonica, Svein Aarbostad on bass. Group formed in 1979 with Larsen and Aarbostad; Hauge joined in 1985. Don't know how many records -- a dozen or more -- or what they sound like. This is fairly genteel, rather sweet string music, with three trad pieces, four from Reinhardt, a couple of originals, "Coquette," and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." Hauge sings "I Can't Give You (Anything but Love)" to open. B+(*)

Jon Larsen: The Jimmy Carl Black Story (2007 [2008], Zonic Entertainment/Hot Club, 2CD): Subtitled A Surrealistic Space Odyssey. Norwegian guitarist, key member of the Django-oriented Hot Club de Norvège, but more eclectic, with some fusion projects and who knows what else. Also paints, following Salvador Dali. This spins off from an album last year, Strange News From Mars, which had a couple of bits featuring Jimmy Carl Black -- best known as drummer in the Mothers of Invention before Frank Zappa split them up. Black does spoken word, reading Larsen's "libretto" over some minimal but loosey goosey guitar/marimba rhythms. Black starts out reminding us that he's "the Indian in the band"; later he reads a "semi-alphatetic list of canine races in cryptic German" -- you know, Amerikanisch Wienerschnifferhund, Bayerischer Gebirgsschweisshund, Mark Spitz, Grosspudel; finally he returns to Mars, meeting up with a real Martian ("And it's a big one!"), who looks "quite like Zorg in my Gary Larsson calendar" and, uh, has her way with him. Fun music, funny stuff. Second disc is just Black talking about his life: growing up in Texas with his racist stepfather; working odd jobs between stretches with odder bands -- driving a line truck in Wichita, painting houses in Austin; hanging with Janis Joplin and Ringo Starr; trying to hide drugs from Zappa; marrying a fan and settling down in Germany. Black died Nov. 1, shortly after this came out. B+(***)

Deborah Latz: Lifeline (2008, June Moon): Vocalist, has one previous release. Sings standards, a couple (not just "La Vie en Rose") in French, grabbing "Arr." credits on most of them. Backed by a good piano trio (Daniela Schächter on piano, Bob Bowen on bass, Elisabeth Keledjian on drums), blessed with "special guest" Joel Frahm's tenor sax here and there. B+(**)

Boz Scaggs: Speak Low (2008, Decca): Another pop singer running low on juice cracks open the old standards book. Nice, smart versions of things like "Speak Low" and "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," but I could do without "Dindi." Still, the main thing is that while there's nothing wrong with Scaggs' singing, there's not much special about it either -- unlike, say, Rod Stewart. Instrumentation, strings even, are always tasteful. B

Sheila Jordan: Winter Sunshine (2008, Justin Time): Another live album -- 2005's Celebration was a 75th birthday party, and a pick hit in these parts -- but she must figure that at 79 she should get a jump on her 80th. More power to her, I say. She got a late start: born 1928, putting her just two years younger than June Christy, one year older than Chris Connor, both all but done before Jordan put her second album out in 1977 (after her now legendary debut in 1962). Some redundancies: yet another "Dat Dere," a song she's long dedicated to her now-52-year-old daughter, and the usual closing "The Crossing" and "Sheila's Blues" -- old war stories about chasing Bird. The piano trio this time accentuates the bebop, which is less interesting than her bass-only sessions. Still the fan, including a "Lady Be Good" where she wishes she could scat like Ella, oblivious to the fact that a generation or two of jazz singers have grown up hoping to scat like Sheila Jordan. B+(**)

Harris Eisenstadt: Guewel (2008, Clean Feed): Wound up playing this four times straight -- a combination of distractions and indecisiveness that effectively constitutes a productivity breakdown. Had I not done so I would have missed much of what is here, since this record is not only not what it claims to be -- a celebration of Senegalese pop music, based on songs from Orchestra Baobab, Super Diamono, Star Number One, and others -- it also doesn't fit any other recognizable niche. The closest I can think of is amateur brass band music, played not for laughs but at least in good humor. Eisenstadt was born 1975 in Toronto; is now based in Brooklyn; plays drums; records on avant-garde labels, with several interesting albums to his credit, including a previous afropop excursion, Jalolu. As a drummer, you'd expect him to try to make more of African rhythms, but they play no real role here. He backs up four hornsmen: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Mark Taylor (french horn), and Josh Sinton (baritone sax). They poke and jab, fill and counter, nothing much that stands out as a solo. More like they're dallying around until the murky context emerges, which in time it sort of does. B+(**)

Ridd Quartet: Fiction Avalanche (2005 [2008], Clean Feed): Jon Irabagon (sax, presumably alto); Kris Davis (piano); Reuben Radding (double bass); Jeff Davis (drums). The Canadian pianist has a couple of quartet records with Tony Malaby on tenor sax, so it's tempting to think of this group as a variant -- drummer Davis is in both; Radding, a bassist well traveled in avant circles, subs for Eivind Opsvik -- and Irabagon is an interesting alternative to Malaby. On the other hand, the pieces are all jointly credited. [B+(**)]

Fredrik Nordström Quintet: Live in Coimbra (2005 [2008], Clean Feed): Swedish tenor saxophonist, b. 1974. (Wikipedia lists a different Fredrik Nordström, b. 1967, a record producer.) Eight albums under his name, plus a couple more as Surd and Dog Out. Plays free, but doesn't make a big impression. Quintet features Mats Aleklint on trombone and Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone, both notable here. B+(*)

Memorize the Sky: In Former Times (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Subtitle: Live at Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon. Group includes Matt Bauder (tenor sax, clarinet), Zach Wallace (bass), Aaron Siegel (drums). Another group name that came out of a former album title. Group met in Ann Arbor. Bauder, at least, is now based in New York, but seems to have passed through Chicago, and took a detour to work with Anthony Braxton. Despite the lack of credits, this sounds like electronic music: clicks, drones, ambient abstractions. B+(*)

Tetterapadequ: And the Missing R (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Quartet, two Italians up front (Daniele Martini on tenor sax, Giovanni Di Domenico on piano), two Portuguese back (Gonçalo Almeida on bass, João Lobo on drums). Group name is a word puzzle, with an 'R' removed to the title. Mostly free, but rather subdued, with stretches that only barely register -- when they do it is often the piano -- and others that start to cohere into something promising. Went sub-audible for long enough to make me think it was done, then gradually klunked back, ending with some skronk and a laugh. B+(*)


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

Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix (2007 [2008], Blue Note): She takes Porter as a fellow modernist aesthete and drags him into a world where modernity's future has dimmed: the songs are slower, sadder, hazier -- flippant irony giving way to ambiguity. But the guitar-driven music is, if anything, even more art deco elegant. Chris Potter's tenor sax breaks grab you every time, then fade into the smoke. A-

Randy Sandke: Unconventional Wisdom (2008, Arbors): Stuck in my record player for two full days, partly because I've been hard-pressed to write up something -- more due to distractions than the music -- and partly because it keeps growing on me. Sandke's respect for his elders shows up in his naming his son Bix, but he also writes originals that are interesting in their own right -- part of postbop is that is subsumes all that went before it, but few composers can weave their own material into the predominant Berlins, Porters, and Carmichaels as well. He also works in a Bill Evans piece, and a Jobim, without making the latter seem tokenist or obligatory. Plays some of his finest trumpet, too. Guitarist Howard Alden is supportive, never making a bid to steal the show, as sometimes he does. Bassist Nicki Parrott sings four songs. She's not a strong or smooth singer, but I find her absolutely charming. A-

Bobo Stenson Trio: Cantando (2007 [2008], ECM): Relatively quiet piano trio, also relatively free, a combination that seems to appeal to ECM honcho Manfred Eicher. Anders Jormin is a little more than the average bassist in this context. B+(***)

Scott Hamilton & Friends: Across the Tracks (2008, Concord): Sampled this one earlier on Rhapsody. Hamilton has long been a personal favorite: the original swing-oriented "young fogey" from the 1970s, now pushing senior citizen status, with a marvelously light but tasty tone to his tenor sax. This is an organ group, with Gene Ludwig on B-3, Duke Robillard on guitar, and Chuck Riggs on drums. Fairly routine stuff, but it gets better when they slow down to little more than Hamilton's sax. B+(**)


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


Unpacking:

  • Arild Andersen: Live at Belleville (ECM)
  • Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Where or When (Owl Studios): Jan. 27
  • Arve Henriksen: Cartography (ECM): advance, Jan. 15
  • Julia Hülsmann Trio: The End of a Summer (ECM)
  • Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Yesterdays (ECM): advance, Jan. 27
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition: Apti (Innova)
  • Judith Owen: Mopping Up Karma (Courgette): Jan. 27
  • Andrea Parkins/Jessica Constable: Cities and Eyes (Henceforth): Jan. 15
  • Enrico Rava: New York Days (ECM): advance, Jan. 27
  • Greg Reitan: Some Other Time (Sunnyside)

Purchases:

  • Kanye West: 808s and Heartbreak (Roc-A-Fella)


Nov 2008 Jan 2009