May 2009 Notebook


Sunday, May 31, 2009


Most likely someone is already busy collecting the ridiculous things Republicans are saying about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The volume of venting is approaching book length, and seems likely to run into multiple volumes by the time this is finally voted on. I just ran across this post by Kieran Healy from early on which does a nice job of summing it all up:

I've only seen the headlines, but I expect all the clowns put on their clown suits this morning and are presently climbing out of their clown car at the studio. I'm thinking liberal, activist, Puerto Rico isn't even a state and the Bronx isn't either, law-into-her-own-hands, affirmative action, closeted lesbian, the guy in front of me at Dunkin D's said she wasn't too bright. On that last point, it's well known amongst alums that whereas the Princeton Sam Alito graduated from in 1972 was a bastion of civilized learning, the Princeton Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from four or five years later was a hippie "learning cooperative" where minorities got a coupon book of "A" grades upon admission to use up as needed, were all given the Pyne Prize automatically, and the concept of truth was rigorously suppressed by the leftist faculty.

Sure, Healy didn't anticipate charges that Sotomayor is racist, let alone the David Duke comparison (from Rush Limbaugh -- Eric Kleefeld asks then, "so why isn't he supporting her?"), or Gordon Liddy worrying about her "menstruating at key Supreme Court conferences." But then clowns will be clowns, even if they can't come up with anything amusing. I'm rather taken aback by the vehemence, but the right has been obsessed with the courts ever since Brown vs BOE, and their absolutist, "take no prisoners," "defeat is not an option" creed drives them to wail against any jurist who's not a card carrying conservative. It's a strategy that has worked often enough that there are now four certifiably extremist right-wing ideologues on the court, a near-majority that would allow the very sort of judicial activism that has been part of the right's slander tool kit.

For a dose of reality, see Cass Sunstein's The Myth of a Balanced Court. Sunstein's assessment of the left-right balance of the Court just goes to show how successful the right's persistent ranting has been, not least of all in how Democrats like Clinton sought nominees who would blend in. The same thing seems to have happened with Sotomayor: anticipating the hue and cry of the right, Obama looked first for a candidate who would be able to weather the storm. In this regard, comparing Sotomayor's precise career track to Alito must have been irresistible.

Not the best way to pick a supreme court justice, but we often have to settle for what we can get, and hope that in the future even a dubious-looking nominee (like Hugo Black or Earl Warren or Harry Blackmun or David Souter) will grow into the role. Meanwhile, Limbaugh is making me feel better about Sotomayor. In fact, he's been a veritable fountain of optimism since Obama took office. Without his pointing it out, I wouldn't have realized that we're living under socialism already. I used to think that would take a revolution, but it turns out it only takes a turn toward sanity.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Your Money or Your Life

Atul Gawande: The Cost Conundrum. Medicare spend more money per patient in McAllen/Hidalgo County, Texas than anywhere else in the US -- about twice as much as in El Paso, which is otherwise a nearly identical metropolitan area (size, income, minority population, etc.). Gawande went there to figure out why. Start out with the comparison to El Paso:

Compared with patients in El Paso and nationwide, patients in McAllen got more of pretty much everything -- more diagnostic testing, more hospital treatment, more surgery, more home care.

The Medicare payment data provided the most detail. Between 2001 and 2005, critically ill Medicare patients received almost fifty per cent more specialist visits in McAllen than in El Paso, and were two-thirds more likely to see ten or more specialists in a six-month period. In 2005 and 2006, patients in McAllen received twenty per cent more abdominal ultrasounds, thirty per cent more bone-density studies, sixty per cent more stress tests with echocardiography, two hundred per cent more nerve-conduction studies to diagnose carpal-tunnel syndrome, and five hundred and fifty per cent more urine-flow studies to diagnose prostate troubles. They received one-fifth to two-thirds more gallbladder operations, knee replacements, breast biopsies, and bladder scopes. They also received two to three times as many pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, cardiac-bypass operations, carotid endarterectomies, and coronary-artery stents. And Medicare paid for five times as many home-nurse visits. The primary cause of McAllen's extreme costs was, very simply, the across-the-board overuse of medicine.

One thing to consider here is that this didn't result in better health results. Indeed, the only correlation anyone has ever found between health expenses and results is that more is worse.

That's because nothing in medicine is without risks. Complications can arise from hospital stays, medications, procedures, and tests, and when these things are of marginal value the harm can be greater than the benefits. In recent years, we doctors have markedly increased the number of operations we do, for instance. In 2006, doctors performed at least sixty million surgical procedures, one for every five Americans. No other country does anything like as many operations on its citizens. Are we better off for it? No one knows for sure, but it seems highly unlikely. After all, some hundred thousand people die each year from complications of surgery -- far more than die in car crashes.

To make matters worse, Fisher found that patients in high-cost areas were actually less likely to receive low-cost preventive services, such as flu and pneumonia vaccines, faced longer waits at doctor and emergency-room visits, and were less likely to have a primary-care physician. They got more of the stuff that cost more, but not more of what they needed.

In an odd way, this news is reassuring. Universal coverage won't be feasible unless we can control costs. Policymakers have worried that doing so would require rationing, which the public would never go along with. So the idea that there's plenty of fat in the system is proving deeply attractive. "Nearly thirty per cent of Medicare's costs could be saved without negatively affecting health outcomes if spending in high- and medium-cost areas could be reduced to the level in low-cost areas," Peter Orszag, the President's budget director, has stated.

Gawande talked to some doctors and hospital administrators about why McAllen is so expensive and learned almost nothing. Most in fact were surprised to find out.

One morning, I met with a hospital administrator who had extensive experience managing for-profit hospitals along the border. He offered a different possible explanation: the culture of money.

"In El Paso, if you took a random doctor and looked at his tax returns eighty-five per cent of his income would come from the usual practice of medicine," he said. But in McAllen, the administrator thought, that percentage would be a lot less.

He knew of doctors who owned strip malls, orange groves, apartment complexes -- or imaging centers, surgery centers, or another part of the hospital they directed patients to. They had "entrepreneurial spirit," he said. They were innovative and aggressive in finding ways to increase revenues from patient care. "There's no lack of work ethic," he said. But he had often seen financial considerations drive the decisions doctors made for patients -- the tests they ordered, the doctors and hospitals they recommended -- and it bothered him. Several doctors who were unhappy about the direction medicine had taken in McAllen told me the same thing. "It's a machine, my friend," one surgeon explained.

This partly explains why doctors seem to move in lockstep pushing costs up in some areas but not others. Part of it is peer pressure. Part is seeing what other doctors are getting away with. If everyone else is doing it, you start to feel dumb not getting in on the scam. But until someone sets the model, other factors hold doctor's ambitions in check -- quality care, for instance. Mayo Clinic is one of the highest quality, lowest cost health centers in the country.

The core tenet of the Mayo Clinic is "The needs of the patient come first" -- not the convenience of the doctors, not their revenues. The doctors and nurses, and even the janitors, sat in meetings almost weekly, working on ideas to make the service and the care better, not to get more money out of patients. I asked Cortese how the Mayo Clinic made this possible.

"It's not easy," he said. But decades ago Mayo recognized that the first thing it needed to do was eliminate the financial barriers. It pooled all the money the doctors and the hospital system received and began paying everyone a salary, so that the doctors' goal in patient care couldn't be increasing their income. Mayo promoted leaders who focussed first on what was best for patients, and then on how to make this financially possible.

No one there actually intends to do fewer expensive scans and procedures than is done elsewhere in the country. The aim is to raise quality and to help doctors and other staff members work as a team. But, almost by happenstance, the result has been lower costs.

Mayo replicated its success in establishing campuses in Florida ("one of our most expensive states for health care") and in Arizona.

The Mayo Clinic is not an aberration. One of the lowest-cost markets in the country is Grand Junction, Colorado, a community of a hundred and twenty thousand that nonetheless has achieved some of Medicare's highest quality-of-care scores. Michael Pramenko is a family physician and a local medical leader there. Unlike doctors at the Mayo Clinic, he told me, those in Grand Junction get piecework fees from insurers. But years ago the doctors agreed among themselves to a system that paid them a similar fee whether they saw Medicare, Medicaid, or private-insurance patients, so that there would be little incentive to cherry-pick patients. They also agreed, at the behest of the main health plan in town, an H.M.O., to meet regularly on small peer-review committees to go over their patient charts together. They focussed on rooting out problems like poor prevention practices, unnecessary back operations, and unusual hospital-complication rates. Problems went down. Quality went up. Then, in 2004, the doctors' group and the local H.M.O. jointly created a regional information network -- a community-wide electronic-record system that shared office notes, test results, and hospital data for patients across the area. Again, problems went down. Quality went up. And costs ended up lower than just about anywhere else in the United States.

Grand Junction's medical community was not following anyone else's recipe. But, like Mayo, it created what Elliott Fisher, of Dartmouth, calls an accountable-care organization. The leading doctors and the hospital system adopted measures to blunt harmful financial incentives, and they took collective responsibility for improving the sum total of patient care.

This approach has been adopted in other places, too: the Geisinger Health System, in Danville, Pennsylvania; the Marshfield Clinic, in Marshfield, Wisconsin; Intermountain Healthcare, in Salt Lake City; Kaiser Permanente, in Northern California. All of them function on similar principles. All are not-for-profit institutions. And all have produced enviably higher quality and lower costs than the average American town enjoys.

In a list that long, the fact that all of these examples are non-profits is surely not coincidence. Growth in health care costs as a fraction of GDP and growth in maximum profit seeking companies as a fraction of the health care industry must correlate closely.

Gawande argues that as far as costs are concerned, it makes no difference who pays for health care costs -- private insurance companies or government (single payer). I think that is wrong, in that private insurance companies have their own profit-seeking logic: while sometimes that works to reduce costs -- negotiating discounts, imposing limits, sacrificing coverage -- the long-term trend has been for insurance companies to get their share of the explosion in costs. Gawande skips through several of the arguments, including one he attributes to economists about having "consumers pay with their own dollars, mak[ing] sure that they have some 'skin in the game'" -- note that most of those "economists" turn out to be Republicans. He runs this by one McAllen doctor, a Dr. Dyke:

The third class of health-cost proposals, I explained, would push people to use medical savings accounts and hold high-deductible insurance policies: "They'd have more of their own money on the line, and that'd drive them to bargain with you and other surgeons, right?"

He gave me a quizzical look. We tried to imagine the scenario. A cardiologist tells an elderly woman that she needs bypass surgery and has Dr. Dyke see her. They discuss the blockages in her heart, the operation, the risks. And now they're supposed to haggle over the price as if he were selling a rug in a souk? "I'll do three vessels for thirty thousand, but if you take four I'll throw in an extra night in the I.C.U." -- that sort of thing? Dyke shook his head. "Who comes up with this stuff?" he asked. "Any plan that relies on the sheep to negotiate with the wolves is doomed to failure."

Dyke had previously joined Gawande in arguing that increasing the government role, by expanding Medicare/Medicaid, wouldn't make any difference, but he was pretty curt when Gawande suggested doing the opposite and increasing the role of private insurance companies: "What good would that do?"

Gawande concludes by pointing out that all of the incentives in the current system influence health care providers to become more rapacious, like the norm in McAllen. If left unchecked, the result will be pretty much like we've already seen over the last 20-30 years, as the cost of health care in the US has grown from about 10% of GDP to over 16%, while the US has dropped notch after notch in worldwide health results. The sales pitch today isn't much different from the highwaymen of yore: your money or your life.

Pinning this on the "culture of money" is a good start, but we need first to recognize that the health care industry didn't create the culture of money. It's a big part of American history, basically an idealization of the rags-to-riches myth that became so useful politically during the Reagan-to-Bush era when American politicians took flight from reality. Health care is especially sensitive to this extortion because health is one of the few things Americans still value more than money. But that very point, which allows the industry to rip us off every which way, shows why complaining about costs cannot win the argument for change. The problem with the US health care industry isn't how scandalously expensive it is; the real indictment is the shoddy results and gross unfairness of the system. That's why the Mayo example is so powerful: by seeking a better quality system they incidentally came up with one that is less costly. Gawande doesn't mention it, but the V.A. provides another example, where the drive toward better quality results is paying off in reduced costs. Free software is another case where an initial goal of better software pays off in much reduced costs.

All of this would be easier if we were able to undermine the social instinct toward personal greed. This is a self-conflict that most occupations have -- only businessmen are expected to always choose maximizing profit over whatever value their goods or services may have. Professionals, like doctors, are usually limited by their professional standards. In times when there was relatively less inequality -- e.g., from the New Deal into the 1970s, when top marginal tax rates were confiscatory (our way as a society of saying "enough is enough") -- it was much easier to hold professionals to standards and ethics. In a laissez-faire world not even the rich are ever rich enough, so traditionally responsible professionals are sorely tempted to corruption. That's what we're really seeing in McAllen, which is why part of the solution is to change our political and social view of wealth: we needn't go so far as to treat wealth as proof of vileness, but we do need to reduce its valuation below the threshold of corruption. A more equitable society is less prone to conniving, deceit, dishonesty; it is one where people act more responsibly because responsibility is more esteemed. It is one where "your money or your life" is treated as the reprehensible notion it is.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Dissolution of Zionism

Adam Horowitz: Israel wants to keep the settlements, PA says they can stay as Palestinian citizens. After some Israeli teeth-gnashing over the settlements, Horowitz quotes Ahmed Qureia saying: "residents of Ma'aleh Adumim or Ariel who would rather stay in their homes could live under Palestinian rule and law, just like the Israeli Arabs who live among you." In other words, the Palestinians would have no problem with Israeli settlers continuing to live in their present homes after Israel ceded the West Bank to an independent Palestinian state, provided the settlers accepted the rule of Palestinian law. In other words, the removal of Israeli settlers is not a prerequisite or obstacle to a two state solution along the Green Line border, as envisioned by the UN in 1967 and by the recent Arab League proposal.

Horowitz comments:

This idea, while controversial among Palestinians, is an interesting way of turning Israeli intransigence on its head. If Israelis are not willing to leave the settlements then they are welcome to stay in Palestine, but only if they are willing to live in equality with Palestinians, and not from a position of dominance. So far there have not been any signs that Israel would be willing to do this.

Actually, we've been through this same debate before: in Gaza, Abbas made the same offer, but Sharon insisted not just on forcibly removing all Israeli settlers but on physically destroying their buildings to prevent them from becoming occupied by Palestinians. It's an idea that is worth pursuing further, because it gets at the heart of Zionism, its destructiveness and dysfunctionality. I wrote the following as a comment:

I believe that Qureia is on to something, but he needs to articulate it better, both for his own people and for the world. There are two good reasons to welcome Israeli settlers with Palestinian citizenship: one is practical in that the settlements aren't going to vanish quickly or painlessly; the other is that doing so seeks the higher moral ground. Israeli intransigence is based on the belief that Jews can only be safe if wrapped up in a state that they totally dominate. The more places Jews are welcome, the more that rule is disproved, and the weaker the case is for a Zionist state. If done credibly, it would argue that in a two-state scenario at least one state would be founded on the principle that the state represents and respects all of its citizens. That would be a powerful implicit critique of Israel, and hopefully a model for improvement.

However, the key to all of this is credibility. Qureia's position isn't new. It was at least a minority position going back before the fouding of Israel. I'm not saying that anyone who held the position was insincere, but it's always been a tough sell -- to the Zionists, naturally, and also to rejectionists and nationalists among the Palestinians. And even if you do agree to offer citizenship, the current settlers aren't exactly your first choice for new citizens. They tend to be right-wing, exceptionally nationalist and racist, and they come wrapped up in segregated enclaves, and pretty well armed. A better idea would be to open up immigration to Jews who want to come and who are willing to integrate, and build your credibility around that seed. Meanwhile the settlements could be handled like Hong Kong or the Panama Canal Zone, where a deal was struck with a fairly long term (20-30 years) to allow everyone to adjust. (I sort of recall Abbas pushing something like that, maybe as a leaseback.)

Normally I wouldn't argue that any group should get special consideration, but lately Israeli phobias have been running amuck, with disastrous consequences for Palestinians, and considerable ill will all around -- consider how Israeli government figures keep talking about the need for preemptive war against Iran, or the recent reports from Sudan where Israeli airstrikes have killed over 100 people (some allegedly smuggling supplies into blockaded Gaza). Now we find the Knesset entertaining laws to prohibit all reference to what Palestinians call the Nakba, to criminalize any criticism of Israel as a Jewish state, and to require Palestinian citizens of Israel to take loyalty oaths. In a later post, Horowitz quotes MK Zevulun Orlev: "Many intellectuals in the academia who talk about a country belonging to all its citizens belong in prison." Israel's right-wing ruling claque are sure leaving a lot of moral high ground open. Hopefully, the Palestinians will claim it. I can imagine a whole nonviolent campaign based on embracing the Jewish legacy and distinguishing it from what Zionists have been doing for decades now, but especially lately. This may sound condescending, and it may lead to a bit of self-righteousness, but the world isn't that sophisticated. It's a simple approach, like conversion. You don't wait for the sinner to repent and be forgiven; you forgive, then shame the sinner for not repenting.

Adam Horowitz: Is this getting stabbed in the back or the front? Looks like Obama's (or is it Clinton's) Iran consigliere Dennis Ross has a new book out, including a chapter called "Linkage: The Mother of All Myths." Linkage is the notion that solving the Israel/Palestine conflict will help solve other problems the US has in the Middle East. In other words, Ross is arguing that America's slavish support for Israel's occupation in all its brutality and persistent efforts to intimidate neighboring countries -- its 2006 war against Lebanon, its occasional bombing runs in Syria and Sudan, its constant ranting about Iran -- have absolutely no effect on American interests in the Middle East. In other words, America has no business second-guessing Israel's frantic, fanatic little rogue terror state. Who could think otherwise? Well, Obama, for one. Maybe Ross should check up on who's signing his paychecks. I suppose he could argue that this one was in press while he was still flacking for Israel, but it looks bad right now. If he backpedals, it shows he's a whore; if he sticks to his guns, it proves he's a mole. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett had an op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday called Have we already lost Iran?, which puts a lot of blame on Obama's failure to make any headway with Iran squarely on the shoulders of his envoy . . . Dennis Ross.

The following is an earlier draft of this post, written before I wrote the comment above. After writing the comment, I wrote a new introduction above, eliminating most of the redundancy. Still, this scrap is worth saving:

There's a very straightforward peace proposal on the table, endorsed by the Arab League and by nearly all Palestinians: Israel withdraws its military back to the 1967 Green Line, ceding a truly independent Palestinian state in the presently Occupied Territories, and all Arab states, including Palestine, recognize and establish normal relations with Israel. Beyond peace, this deal makes two major concessions to Israel: one is that it gives up the right of return of the Palestinian refugees who fled the 1948 war and have since then been packed into refugee camps; the other is that it ensures that Israel will remain a Jewish-majority state well into the future.

If Israelis had any desire for peacefully ending their war with virtually everyone, including several million people under their occupation, they would jump at this deal. But they don't, so they busy themselves thinking up excuses why the deal on the table isn't to their liking. One such excuse is the several hundred thousand Israeli "settlers" who have been planted in colonial fortresses throughout the West Bank. The fact that those settlements are illegal under international law hasn't stopped Israel any more than the fact that the right of refugees to return to their former homes in Israel has been affirmed by the United Nations. The fact that matters is that they exist: the only way you can make them go away is to rout even more people from their homes -- a process that Israelis played up for maximum anguish when the government finally did remove the settlers from Sinai and from Gaza. No doubt removing the settlers from their posts would be anguishing, but there is a fairly simple solution, which this post at least hints at. Repeatedly, Palestinian authorities have stated that the settlers would be welcome to stay and live as citizens under the new Palestinian state. In that case, no one has to move. We just need a change of sovereignty, and the understanding of both Israeli settlers and the Palestinian majority to respect full and equal rights for both Jewish and Arabic citizens.

Given that Israel itself doesn't show anything like that respect, one can easily have doubts that a Palestine modeled as Israel's mirror image would do any better. Indeed, the prolonged economic subjugation of Palestinians makes such respect less likely, as it adds a class dimension to the religious and ethnic ones. Still, the offer itself is a firm first step. And we should encourage more such steps. One might, for instance, start to emphasize that Jews have always been welcome in all Arab societies, and that the post-1948 migration of Jews from Arab lands to Israel has been regrettable and perferably should be reversed. One might even go so far as to establish laws welcoming Jewish immigration throughout the region. You can argue against this on the grounds that no group of people should be given special treatment, but it's a little late to lecture Jews on that point. Israel's perpetual war stance is rooted in a deep seated paranoia that believes that the world is so implacably hostile to Jews that only vigilant defense can provide any security at all. To bring Israel to the peace table one must first bury this fear. To do that one must be peaceable, welcoming, gracious, generous. That's going to be tough to do, but it's good to talk up the principles, even if a big part of the sales pitch is to give the Palestinians a self-image as more fair and just than Israel has ever been.

The other thing that seems likely to be necessary is time. I sort of recall Abbas offering Israel some sort of leaseback on the settlements. Let's say that the most extensive ones are put on a 25-30 year lease -- rather like the British deal to return Hong Kong to China, or the US deal to give up the Panama Canal Zone. A whole generation of Israelis would grow up aware of the deadline, but no one would have any reason to panic. Property values in the settlements would decline slowly, and ownership would shift from the most militantly right-wing to the more moderate -- maybe even non-Jewish Israeli citizens, providing a degree of integration. Meanwhile, the Palestinian state could get its act together, including a vital Jewish minority. Smaller settlements could be put on a faster track, and the admittedly illegal outposts could be turned over immediately, so the new Palestinian state could start to establish a track record.

This general approach answers some longstanding problems. There is, for instance, no good reason why Jews should not have been able to move to Palestine, to the West Bank, or for that matter to the East Bank. Under Zionism, they just did it all wrong, seeking to displace and dominate all who already lived there. This rescues the core right from the greater wrong. It also avoids much of the polarization that always comes with partition. There are at lest some Israelis who favor a two-state scenario because they see it as an opportunity to finish the ethnic cleansing of non-Jews begun in 1948. No matter how benign one thinks of a two-state deal, it is bound to hurt people on both sides. What I imagine is more like two one-state solutions -- the geographic boundary ensures that one side will be majority Jewish and the other will be majority Islamic, but each state should represent and respect everyone who lives under it. The Palestinian offer of citizenship to Jewish settlers is a step toward at least one side living up to democratic and egalitarian principles.

Jazz Consumer Guide: Print Notes

The following are the notes on the albums covered in this week's Jazz Consumer Guide column:

  • Ernestine Anderson: A Song for You (2008 [2009], High Note): Singer, b. 1928 in Houston, broke in with Johnny Otis then Lionel Hampton, finally recording her first album in 1956. The albums ended in 1960, but like many others she got another shot at Concord in 1976, which more than doubled her discography. Like Concord's Carl Jefferson, Barney Fields has a penchant for picking up discarded artists and treating them well. Anderson certainly can't complain about the group here: the band is named on the front cover, and Houston Person's name in in larger type. Anderson isn't all that distinctive a singer -- the only idiosyncrasy here is how she works a bit of Leon Russell's accent into his title song, and that's not much of a plus -- but she's a well practiced pro, credible on "Make Someone Happy" and "This Can't Be Love" and "Day by Day" and even "Candy." Still, it's Person you want to hear more of here. B+(**)
  • Angles: Every Woman Is a Tree (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Swedish supersextet, led by Martin Küchen, alto saxophonist from Cosmologic, with Magnus Broo, trumpeter from Atomic, and other notables on trombone and vibes. The three horn action can be thrilling or just shrill, with trombonist Mats Äleklint piling on the dirt. The rhythm takes a while to hit high gear -- third cut, "My World of Mines" does the trick. Mattias Stĺhl's vibes flesh out the sound of breaking glass. B+(***)
  • The Bad Plus: For All I Care (2008 [2009], Heads Up): Front cover adds: "Joined by Wendy Lewis." Lewis is a singer, based in Minneapolis, don't know much more. Her presence pushed the piano trio to doing more cover songs, which leads to some not very interesting generational issues. They date their classics from the 1970s with Pink Floyd and Yes, and mix them in with the 1990s as represented by Nirvana, Wilco, and Flaming Lips. Aside from Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" they are songs I'd happily never hear again, given a sharp jolt by the band then waxed into torpor by the singer. Between the touchstones are some short quasi-classical instrumentals Igor from Stravinsky, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Milton Babbitt -- the latter repeated in an alternate version. B-
  • Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Rea (2003 [2006], Ronin Rhythm): Back to the laboratory, with the bass/drums/percussion group. The five "Modul" pieces are new, with numbers in the 18-26 range. Again: simple, seductive rhythmic features, fleshed out with bass groove, with a hint that the piano is more improvisatory. Nothing flashy or startling, but this 5th volume of Ritual Groove Music settles comfortably into a new plateau. At this plateau, it's hard to make value judgments on Bärtsch's albums: it's all moderately wonderful, and moderation seems to be as much a defining trait as anything else. This gets a slight edge because it is so near perfect -- among other things it starts out modestly and sneaks up on you until the final piece pulls it all together. I'd hestitate to conclude that this slight perfection makes it a better record than the later ECMs (Stoa and Holon) that I rated lower -- and may ultimately have to bump up now that I'm getting over seeing Bärtsch's limits as limits. A
  • Bryan Beninghove: Organ Trio (2007 [2008], CDBaby): No hint he made any effort to think up a label name, but it's in the catalog at CDBaby. Tenor saxophonist (credit just: Saxophone), originally from suburban Baltimore, studied at William Paterson University (Wayne, NJ), now based in Jersey City. First record, didn't put much thought into the title either: just exactly what it claims, a trio with Kyle Koehler on Hammond B-3, Don Williams on drums. Wrote 4 of 9 songs; no obvious pattern to the covers. Everyone pumps hard, plays heavy. Reminds me of Willis Jackson. Evidently Beninghove has other projects, but he's pretty convincing in this one. B+(***)
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Tenorist (2006 [2007], Savant): A mainstream tenor sax album for folks who love sax the way God, er, Coleman Hawkins, intended it: broad, deep, full of spunk, but dependably on the beat, and close enough to the melody you can track it while enjoying the differences. A quartet, with John Abercrombie's guitar fitting in better than the usual piano, and standing out on the rare occasions he feels like it. B+(***)
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Tenor Talk (2008, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, from Boston, b. 1950, 25 albums since 1982, mainstream player with a minor in Coltrane, teaches at New England Conservatory, about as dependable as any saxophonist around. Third album on Savant. Judging from the titles -- Tenor of the Times, Tenorist, now Tenor Talk -- all they ask him to do is blow. Still, the series keeps getting better. His "European band" -- Renato Chicco on piano, Dave Santoro on bass, Andrea Michelutti on drums -- crackles, and Gonz lives up to his nickname. Possibly his best ever. A-
  • Ryan Blotnick: Music Needs You (2007 [2008], Songlines): Guitarist, b. 1983 in Maine, studied in Copenhagen, and recorded this album in Barcelona, although his home base these days looks to be Brooklyn. First album. Website lists a number of interesting musicians he's played with, but doesn't provide any further discography, and AMG lists no side credits. Quintet, with Pete Robbins (alto sax), Albert Sanz (piano), Perry Wortman (bass), and Joe Smith (drums). I've run across Sanz and Smith before on Fresh Sound, while Robbins had a good album a couple of years back on Playscape. Split the difference between those labels and you should get cool-toned postbop with a quietly subversive avant edge, which is about what Blotnick delivers here. I might even go further and say that this is what cool jazz would sound like if anyone was still making any. Mostly slow, but sneaks up on you. Robbins doesn't stand out until six cuts in, one called "Liberty." Could be I'm calling this prematurely, but it's awful subtle. B+(***)
  • Brazilian Trio: Forests (2008, Zoho): Helio Alves on piano, Nilson Matta on bass, Duduka Da Fonseca on drums: names that needn't hide behind a flag, not least becuase their energetic piano jazz doesn't betray a single Brazilian cliché. Note that two-thirds were tapped for Claudio Roditi's recent quartet, which is more clearly rooted in Brazil, but gives less space to Alves -- a world class jazz pianist hardly anyone recognizes. B+(***)
  • Buffalo: Collision (Duck) (2008, Screwgun): Another of alto saxophonist Tim Berne's groups: two thirds of the Bad Plus -- pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer Dave King -- with the bassist replaced by cellist Hank Roberts, a change that trades in any real capacity for swing or groove for an arty sheen on top of the free jazz drama. Iverson plays in dense blocks, and Berne works his way around the wreckage, in one spot piling up into a brutish piece of avant-ugly, but mostly working through intelligently and inventively. B+(***)
  • Kenny Davern/Ken Peplowski: Dialogues (2005 [2007], Arbors): Davern died in Dec. 2006, almost a year and a half after these sessions. He recorded a number of Soprano Summit albums with Bob Wilber, originally dedicated to Sidney Bechet, but he generally preferred clarinet over soprano sax. Ken Peplowski joins Davern on clarinet on most of these pieces, occasionally switching off to tenor sax. The double-your-pleasure theme also involves pairing Howard Alden and James Chirillo on guitar and banjo. Spotty but marvelous when it all works. Ends with a nice reworking of the Kid Ory classic as "Muskrat Samba." B+(***)
  • Kris Davis: Rye Eclipse (2007 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Canadian pianist, based in New York since 2002, has three albums now with this superb quartet, each showing advance. Group includes Jeff Davis (drums; from Colorado, presumably not related), Eivind Opsvik (bass), and Tony Malaby (tenor sax). The early albums immediately appealed for Malaby's distinctive edge. The pianist is developing a similarly rugged approach -- not just offsetting block chords, but in a piece like "Wayne Oskar" she leads off with intriguing abstractions then backs off as Malaby slips in to finish off her thoughts. A-
  • Bill Dixon: 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur (2007 [2008], AUM Fidelity): Thought I had this one nailed. Was so convinced it belonged in the Honorable Mentions I had a stub for it. So I play it again, and, duh? Actually, the sainted avant-garde trumpeter has always been a dicey proposition: while he can play with fire he's often been just as happy boring you stiff. He doesn't do that here, unless you turn the volume down to where nothing much happens -- even then there's one cacophony that hardly needs help from the amplifier. Still, the slow, menacing stuff is heavy and dull, and the bright spots are few and far between. The ensemble work is unruly, or maybe just disorganized. The soloists don't stand out. They are, after all, just searching for a sound, or just searching. And pray tell how Darfur is meant to inspire them: you don't know whether to cry, vent anger, or just slump into a stupor. B [originally B+(***)]
  • Scott DuBois: Banshees (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Guitarist, b. 1978, based in New York. Recorded two previous albums with Dave Liebman on Soul Note. This group consists of Kresten Osgood on drums, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Gebhard Ullman on tenor/soprano sax and bass clarinet. One thing I've noticed lately is that some saxophonists seem to get much sharper with a guitar guiding them along. I've heard half-dozen or so albums by Ullman, respect his ambitions as a free player, but until now I've never really seen him hold it all together before. The Luis Lopes is another like this, but DuBois is much more out front -- his solos tend to be short but they strongly reinforce the pieces. Played this half-dozen times and it keeps gaining on me. A-
  • Bill Easley: Business Man's Bounce (2007, 18th & Vine): Saxophonist, mostly plays tenor here, but claims a clarinet solo, and may work some flute in as well. Born in Olean NY (1946?), moved to NYC in 1964, but went to college at Memphis State, and got his first record credits with Rufus Thomas and Isaac Hayes. Credits include a lot of Jimmy McGriff, soul singers, Jazz at Lincoln Center. He's got a robust, gutbucket R&B tone, and can bop a little. Starts with "Straighten Up and Fly Right," which he describes as "Hip Hop for senior citizens and their parents." Frank Wess joins on "Mentor"; Warren Vaché on "Memphis Blues," where Easley dusts off his clarinet. B+(***)
  • Bill Frisell: History, Mystery (2002-07 [2008], Nonesuch, 2CD): The string quartet at the heart of Frisell's latest revisioning of classical Americana is made up of name jazz musicians, forming the sea that Frisell's guitar swims through, occasionally rising up in wonder. They go to Mali for a blues, to Sam Cooke for inspiration, and check tunes by Monk and Konitz, but those are merely outposts, as Frisell's writing subsumes all before it. Greg Tardy's sax and Ron Miles' cornet are rare enough to be treats. A-
  • Kenny Garrett: Sketches of MD (2008, Mack Avenue): "MD" would be Miles Davis. Garrett played with Davis at the end of his run, 1987-92, so there's a connection, one that favors persistent funk rhythms over ye olde school hard bop. However, the album subtitle reveals more: "Live at the Iridium featuring Pharoah Sanders." The live gig is an excuse for stretching it out and keeping it loose, with five vamp pieces ranging from 9:21 to 14:34. But the real thing going on here is Pharoah Sanders: at age 68, why on earth doesn't he record more? One the lions of the 1960s avant-garde, his stringy sound instantly recognizable from his first record to the present -- a direct link to Coltrane, but always distinct, a vibe both brighter and earthier. First cut is something called "The Ring," a minimal but irresistible rhythm vamp which Sanders turns into distilled essence of "A Love Supreme." I'm less clear on Garrett's role in all of this. Coltrane's always been his north star, so I guess Sanders is a natural interest. But after his Beyond the Wall dud, this is a complete, delightful surprise. A-
  • Tobias Gebb & Trio West: An Upper West Side Story (2008, Yummy House): Joel Frahm's tenor sax commands your attention on the four tracks he guests on, sharing two with an equally imposing vocalist, Champian Fulton. The guest shots punctuate a drummer-led piano trio, which fills in the remaining spaces with wit and class. B+(***)
  • Jim Hall & Bill Frisell: Hemispheres (2007-08 [2009], ArtistShare, 2CD): One disc of guitar duets, the second recorded a year later with Scott Colley on bass and Joey Baron on drums. Hall's always been a subtle artist, and he takes the lead here with his intricate explorations. B+(***)
  • Jon Hassell: Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (2008 [2009], ECM): But did it really happen if no one was conscious enough to notice? Violin, guitar, bass, keyb, "live sampling" (Jan Bang, Dino J.A. Deane), some cuts have drums credits (not that I recall any), with a light schmear of trumpet, all toned down and slowed down, even past Hassell's usual standards of fourth world ambience. 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+(***)
  • 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+(**)
  • Grace Kelly/Lee Konitz: GraceFulLee (2008, Pazz Productions): Two alto saxophonists, one 15 years old, the other 80. Konitz plays on 7 cuts, 6 with a really superb band -- Russell Malone on guitar, Rufus Reid on bass, Matt Wilson - drums -- and one a duo with Kelly. Kelly, née Chung, plays on all 10, including duos with Malone, Reid, and Wilson. The duos give you a chance to sort out the saxes. Kelly plays carefully -- the duos are all on the slow side, even those billed as free improvs -- but she does have a lovely tone and plots her way through difficult pieces smartly. The 6 band pieces are cool and comfortable, the group enjoying themselves, everyone playing delightfullee. B+(***)
  • Lee Konitz and Minsarah: Deep Lee (2007 [2008], Enja): Past 80, Konitz continues to play difficult music with delicate beauty. Florian Weber's piano trio, operating under the name of a past album, stands up well enough on their own. The combination doesn't combust in great bursts of energy, so much as they fall back in mutual admiration. B+(**)
  • Steve Lehman Quartet: Manifold (2007, Clean Feed): First, apologies to Nasheet Waits, who has no problems with Lehman's difficult music, and whose assertive free drumming makes the opener, "Interface D." Lehman plays alto and sopranino sax, the latter on an exercise titled "For Evan Parker" which I can't swear isn't a parody, although I doubt it. Jonathan Finlayson's trumpet adds a freewheeling second horn, and John Hebert is expert as usual on bass. Recorded live in Brazil, this is more off the cuff than Lehman's Pi albums. B+(***)
  • Charles Lloyd Quartet: Rabo De Nube (2007 [2008], ECM): The young rhythm section -- Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on double bass, Eric Harland on drums -- were born a good decade into Lloyd's career, and are if anything more mainstream, but no slouches when it comes to running a groove. The live date in Basel is relatively conventional for Lloyd as well: Coltrane tenor sax, a boppish alto flute feature, a little exotica on the tarogato. All originals, except for the title cut from Silvio Rodriguez, a nice chill down piece. [B+(**)]
    PS: Gave this another listen after it won the Jazz Times poll, finishing third to Sonny Rollins in the Village Voice poll. Quartet with Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, Eric Harland on drums. Initially struck me as a return to Lloyd's now-classic Coltrane-focused mainstream -- certainly nothing to deprecate, but less interesting than recent albums like his worldly Sangam or the down-home interplay with Billy Higgins on Which Way Is East. The fact is that Lloyd's been on a roll at least since 1999's Voice in the Night. I think the polls are catching up, plus reflecting interest in Moran, who is superb as always. B+(***)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Kinsmen (2008, Pi): Runner-up in the Village Voice jazz poll, placing 15th in the more mainstream Jazz Times poll, in both cases running well ahead of better-known bandmate/pianist Vijay Iyer (Tragicomic, 2nd on my ballot). Like Iyer, he is second generation Indian-American. He's always struck me as closely following in Coltrane's giant steps, with a slight shmear of second-hand Indian music grafted on, but here he makes large strides forward, on both counts. I found his much simpler trio, Apti (with Pakistani guitarist Rez Abassi, also here) more immediately appealing, but this is deeper, richer, rougher, and more intriguing. He starts with a trio of South Indians -- A. Kanyakumari on violin, Poovalur Sriji on mridangam, and most importantly Kadri Gopalnath on alto sax. The latter adds a second track to Mahanthappa's alto sax, altering both the sound and dynamics -- the rough and ready "Snake!" is a good example. [Lost my final copy -- another reason why I've been slow on this -- so I'm falling back to the advance copy.] A-
  • 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-
  • Mauger: The Beautiful Enabler (2006 [2008], Clean Feed): I have no idea where the group name comes from. The group is an alto sax trio, led by Rudresh Mahanthappa, with Mark Dresser on bass and Gerry Hemingway on drums. The latter have played much together, not least in Anthony Braxton's 1980s quartet. All three write. And while the young saxophonist shows poise in navigating this tricky material, it's worth concentrating on the mastery in the rhythm section. B+(***)
  • Donny McCaslin Trio: Recommended Tools (2008, Greenleaf Music): A tenor saxophonist who, it was immediately obvious, has all the tools. Still, I always managed to resist him, mostly because his fancy postbop harmonies rubbed me the wrong way. I figured he'd eventually turn out an album that simply blew away all my objections, and he still may. But for now he just ducked under them, making a stripped down trio album -- Hans Glawischnig on bass, Jonathan Blake on drums -- with a whole lot of sax appeal. It's like he's gotten over following in Chris Potter's footsteps and instead aimed for Sonny Rollins. A-
  • 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-
  • Mostly Other People Do the Killing: This Is Our Moosic (2008, Hot Cup): Ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, the wisecracking terrorists of Moosic, PA, move on from playing rings around bebop to playing rings around Ornette Coleman, often in the process sounding like a deranged New Orleans brass band. Sometimes even breaking into melody. A-
  • Bob Mover: It Amazes Me . . . (2006 [2008], Zoho): Saxophonist, lists alto ahead of tenor, also sings, b. 1952, broke in playing with Charles Mingus in 1973 and Chet Baker 1973-75. Cut a few albums 1977-88, including two 1981 albums AMG likes on Xanadu. (As far as I know the Xanadu catalog is out of print, but there were some wonderful things on it -- Charles McPherson's Beautiful! is one of my all-time most played records.) AMG lists one more in 1997, then this one; CDBaby describes this as his first in over 20 years. It's quiet storm: slow, smokey ballads, the rich, burnished lustre of sax. Kenny Barron plays some of his best accompanist piano since Stan Getz died. Mover sings on 6 of 10 songs. Voice reminded me first of Sinatra, but without the chops. Technically, he's not even as skilled as Baker, but doesn't have Baker's bathos, which is what folks seem to love. Still, I find Mover's vocals touching. B+(***)
  • The Art and Soul of Houston Person (1996-2008 [2008], High Note, 3CD): Front cover runs on: "Songs of the Great Composers: Porter, Kern, Ellington, Rodgers and Others" and "Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder." Person has followed Joe Fields from his 1966 Prestige debut through Muse Records in 1976 and on to High Note in 1996. He's hardly worked for anyone else, amassing 50-plus records over 42 years and counting, plus doing double duty as a producer and accompanist on Fields' other projects. He is a steady, unexciting worker, with old tastes, gentle swing, a deeply felt touch for ballads, and the quintessential tenor sax sound. The only problem with his records is that he's so consistent in his range that he has problems differentiating himself. But he doesn't need to here: just one great song after another, summing him up in a songbook as definitive as Ella Fitzgerald's. No weak spots, no flow problems. I loaded up all three CDs and haven't been tempted to change them for 48 hours. I'm reminded of Geoff Dyer arguing that while people can argue about Parker or Coltrane, nobody who likes jazz at all can dislike Ben Webster. Person's been steathily stalking Webster for 40 years now. Still doesn't have the vibrato, but he's damn close in every other aspect. A
  • Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Proliferation (2007 [2008], 482 Music): Drummer, b. 1974 in Germany, raised in Evanston, IL, based in Chicago. Founded something called Emerging Improvisers Organization. Active in various groups, the best known being Exploding Star Orchestra. Four albums since 2006, including two this year. This one is a quartet, with two saxes (Greg Ward on alto sax and clarinet, Tim Haldeman on tenor sax), bass (Jason Roebke), and drums. Intended to invoke Chicago's jazz scene from 1954-60 -- John Jenkins and Sun Ra are tapped for two songs each among 9 non-original songs; Reed wrote 3 -- it sounds like freebop to me: racing horn movements, sometimes play gets a little rough, but mostly the horns stay within convention while the rhythm wanders. Impressive stuff. A-
  • Mike Reed's Loose Assembly: The Speed of Change (2008, 482 Music): Drummer Mike Reed's other record, along with People, Places & Things' Proliferation. Loose Assembly is indeed loose: a quintet, down to one horn (Greg Ward on alto sax), with cello (Tomeka Reid), vibes (Jason Adasiewicz), bass (Josh Abrams), and drums. Nicole Mitchell guests on two cuts, but doesn't make much of a splash. Indeed, the album has a light, trippy air, modern postbop pieces. B+(***)
  • Júlio Resende: Da Alma (2007, Clean Feed): I guess you can call this Portuguese soul jazz, dreamy flights of fancy tethered to Resende's piano. Not that it all trends toward evanescence. Some cuts are tied down to rhythmic piano figures, and they're very much awake. B+(***)
  • Duke Robillard: A Swingin' Session With Duke Robillard (2008, Stony Plain): Blues guitarist-singer, founder of Roomful of Blues, sustainer of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, has a couple dozen albums on his own. I've never figured him for anything more than a good natured journeyman, and ultimately I doubt this record breaks the mold. On the other hand, it hits my predisposed pleasure points so consistently I don't care how short the artistic stretch is. The bluesiest song ("Them That Got") is swung and sung with a wide grin and a light touch, while the more upbeat songs from "Deed I Do" to "Just Because" to "They Raided the Joint" dance on jazz springs with horns that give the whole room a richly burnished lustre. Will probably get slotted at a high HM to leave more space for the serious jazz -- this is just fun. 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.
    PS: Searching for a pick hit, I played this one a few more times, and settled here. The record had already made my top ten for 2008. I didn't want to put the Nik Bärtsch oldies review into the slot, and didn't particularly want a higher graded album in the body than in the pick hit slot -- all of which argued for a battlefield promotion. The fact is I tend to wind up with about half as many A albums as Robert Christgau does -- the result, I think, of not spending enough time with real good records after I decide they're good enough. This is Sandke's best, a maturing synthesis of his trad and modernist impulses. A [originally A-]
  • Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet: Tabligi (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+(**)
  • Martial Solal Trio: Longitude (2007 [2008], CAM Jazz): I thought of Solal when I was writing about Paul Bley's 50+ year career -- both have records dating from 1953, although Solal is actually 5 years older. Bley probably has more records, but Solal has a much broader range of groups, everything from solos to big bands. The problem is that I know so little by Solal, and nothing that I have heard has knocked me out the way 3 or 4 Bley records have. The lack of study is partly because Solal is French and partly because he plays piano, an instrument I haven't pursued anywhere near as aggressively as I have the saxophones. But this new piano trio is as bright and complex and challenging as any I've heard lately. Don't have much more to say about it. He is an enigma for me, a SFFR. At age 80 I doubt that this is his peak, but I also doubt that anyone could guess his age in a blindfold test. B+(***)
  • The Soprano Summit: In 1975 and More (1975-79 [2008], Arbors, 2CD): Clarinetist Kenny Davern and saxophonst Bob Wilber, two impeccably backward-looking players, ran into each other in Colorado in 1972, finding common ground as a soprano sax duo dedicated to Sidney Bechet. Their summits continued through the 1970s, with occasional reunions into 2001, sometimes with pianist Dick Hyman and other kindred souls -- guitarist Marty Grosz is prominent here, but Bucky Pizzarelli also played. Dan Morgenstern picked these sessions from the archives, including one from April 1975 focusing on Jelly Roll Morton, and two non-Summit sets: a Davern trio with pianist Dick Wellstood from 1979, and a 1976 Wilber group with Ruby Braff. The album never strays from the soprano range, but lively rhythm sections make up for the lack of contrasting horns. Superb trad jazz. A-
  • The Gust Spenos Quartet: Swing Theory (2007 [2008], Swing Theory): The Indianapolis neurologist has work up some math formulae I don't fathom, but his band, augmented with guest stars like Wycliffe Gordon, Eric Schneider, and vocalist Everett Greene 2 songs; Gordon takes 1) understand him perfectly. Note the cover, although it's more likely that the faces in the classroom taught the teacher -- even the one that looks like Einstein. 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+(***)
  • Torben Waldorff: Afterburn (2008, ArtistShare): Played this an extra time just to try to focus on the leader's guitar, which remains indistinct and underwhelming, although it does fit in with the flow, and it does all flow. The standout, of course, is tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who dominates without pushing himself anywhere near his usual extremes. B+(***)
  • David S. Ware: Shakti (2008 [2009], AUM Fidelity): Ware's old Quartet, with Matthew Shipp and William Parker, ran from 1990 to 2006, spanning four drummers, each as distintly interesting as the seasons. Overlooking the drummer changes, they were the longest-running major group in jazz history. The new quartet does without Shipp, or for that matter piano; keeps Parker; brings in a new drummer, old-timer Warren Smith. The other new player, guitarist Joe Morris, isn't the threat Shipp was to steal the show -- at least not Ware's show -- but he fills in interestingly. Still, Ware is such a singular tenor saxophonist that such differences on the sidelines pale in comparison. A-
  • Harry Whitaker: One Who Sees All Things (1981-82 [2008], Smalls): Pianist, b. 1942, worked with Roy Ayers and Roberta Flack in the 1970s. Lightly recorded, with a 1976 avant-fusion thing called Black Renaissance: Body, Mind and Spirit, a 2001 pinao trio, a 2007 recap. This may be taken to fill in a hole, but it raises more questions than it answers. Seven tracks, five lineups with some common denominators. Starts off with a somewhat annoying vocalist doing ethereal scat to a hymn or anthem -- something taking itself way too seriously. Next few pieces alternate saxophonists Gary Bartz and Rene McLean, with Terumaso Hino on trumpet, and the last two bring a larger group together, including Steve Grossman and John Stubblefield -- and another, less annoying, voice. Bartz at the time seemed singularly determined to resurrect bebop as true radicalism, and Whitaker certainly approved of that idea. Some remarkable music when it all clicks together. B+(***)
  • Corey Wilkes: Drop It (2007 [2008], Delmark): First record, should get some rookie of the year votes over at the Voice poll -- partly because he's been popping up on other projects for several years, not least being Lester Bowie's slot in the Art Ensemble of Chicago. This is more mainstream, with a couple of shots of funk -- aside from a bit of Langston Hughes to start off with, the only vocal here is Dee Alexander doing "Funkier Than a Mosquita's Tweeter." I was tempted at first to contrast his debut with Wynton Marsalis's, but Wilkes is ten years older, so of course he has more chops. More like Jon Faddis, in fact. B+(***)
  • Cassandra Wilson: Loverly (2007 [2008], Blue Note): She fits roughly into the line of deep-voiced jazz divas extending from Sarah Vaughan to Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln, although she's neither as deep nor as jazzy as any of those. Her initial notices with New Air and M-Base never really panned out as distinctive or interesting. Until now, much of her reputation has been due to her attempts to update the songbook, incorporating newer material where most jazz singers stray little from cabaret. But the most striking songs here are decidedly old: a smooth flowing "Caravan" and a no-longer-quite-trad "St. James Infirmary." Behind them are more conventional standards, a "Lover Come Back to Me" or a "The Very Thought of You," as well as other old songs that still fit, like "Dust My Broom." The band, with Marvin Sewell, Jason Moran, Lonnie Plaxico, and Herlin Riley on most cuts, doesn't stand out, but stays with the flow. I think it's the best album she's ever done. A-

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

House Log

For some reason I'm still procrastinating on putting the drawers and slideout units on the slides. Maybe tomorrow, since I'm damn near out of other things to do. Wound up repainting the flap doors last night. I think what happened was that I didn't get the roller wet enough for the first two doors, so they wound up with alternating columns of more or less paint. The third door and the end panel, which I painted later, came out OK, although I could have done a better job wiping them down with the tack cloth. Hit the flap doors with the sander, then gave them a good coat with a small brush. They looked good enough this morning, so I put the handles on. Masked off the ends of the cabinet unit, and painted the adjacent wall (right side) and door archway frame (left side). Painted the latter all around, the side facing the dining room and the opening, but not the other side. I used a latex enamel I had bought some time ago to match the original color, so it's a good deal creamier than the white around the windows and on the cabinets. I think Laura would have preferred the ice white, but I didn't want to let the color scheme leak out into the entry foyer, where I'd have to start painting a lot more stuff. Did a bunch of touch up painting, trying to even out the wall/ceiling line. Better than it was, but there's still an argument for cutting some crown molding. Touched up a couple of spots on the ceiling where we had slopped paint. Also tried an experiment: the bookcases go to about four inches shy of the ceiling, and they are tied to the wall with metal angle brackets on top. I was surprised at how conspicuous the brackets were when you entered the room, so I wondered whether I could camouflage them by slapping a little light blue wall paint all over. Seems to have worked pretty well.

Jazz Consumer Guide (19)

Tom Hull: Jazz Consumer Guide: My long-awaited 19th Jazz Consumer Guide column has been posted by The Village Voice. Presumably hard copy is available on the streets of New York City. Haven't seen the latter, and don't know whether the two match. I had asked that the Voice go ahead and post any cuts that they had to make to fit the page, figuring that I have too much stuff left over for next time anyway, and in most cases the cuts are records that have already been out pretty long. Could just be that the first shot is sucked up from the print files and any adds will have to be worked in manually after the fact. More on that later.

Another draft fragment:

Presumably it's still more important than the web version, partly because the jazz world is still so tightly concentrated in New York, partly because it costs money to topple all those trees, and money gives the print version credibility that's hard or impossible to find in the aether. I mention this because I asked the Voice editor to handle this one a bit differently. Every column I write much more than can fit on the printed page, so we wind up with lots left over. Good news is that gives me a leg up on the next column, but as it turns out I already have more stuff saved away for the next column than can fit in it, so I don't need any leftovers this time. In fact, I asked the Voice to go ahead and post the whole draft, knowing that the print version would be shorter. However, the posted version (right now, anyway) is short a bunch of entries -- I can only presume that it matches the print version.

Publicist's letter:

The Village Voice has published my 19th Jazz Consumer Guide column this
week. Title was supposed to be "Grand Arcs, Gratifying Climaxes," but
the web page elevates the subtitle: "Chasing Sonny Rollins, Ornette
Coleman, or Something Else Entirely." Link is here:

Note that there is also a second web page. The records covered this
time are as follows (* indicates a record that was cut for space in
the print edition; my understanding is that these will be restored
in the web version, although this hasn't happened yet):

Pick Hits:

  Houston Person: The Art and Soul of Houston Person [High Note]
  Randy Sandke: Unconventional Wisdom [Arbors]


  Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Rea [Ronin Rhythm]
  Jerry Bergonzi: Tenor Talk [Savant]
  Kris Davis: Rye Eclipse [Fresh Sound New Talent]
  Bill Frisell: History, Mystery [Nonesuch]
  Kenny Garrett: Sketches of MD [Mack Avenue]
  Rudresh Mahanthappa: Kinsmen [Pi]
  Donny McCaslin Trio: Recommended Tools [Greenleaf Music]
  Mostly Other People Do the Killing: This Is Our Moosic [Hot Cup]
  The Soprano Summit: In 1975 and More [Arbors]
* The Gust Spenos Quartet: Swing Theory [Swing Theory]
  David S. Ware: Shakti [AUM Fidelity]
  Cassandra Wilson: Loverly [Blue Note]

Honorable Mentions:

  The Microscopic Septet: Lobster Leaps In [Cuneiform]
  Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Proliferation [482 Music]
  Scott DuBois: Banshees [Sunnyside]
  Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition: Apti [Innova]
* Duke Robillard: A Swingin' Session With Duke Robillard [Stony Plain]
  Maurice Horsthuis: Elastic Jargon [Data]
* Angles: Every Woman Is a Tree [Clean Feed]
  Bob Mover: It Amazes Me ... [Zoho]
  Martial Solal Trio: Longitude [CAM Jazz]
  Mauger: The Beautiful Enabler [Clean Feed]
  Charles Lloyd Quartet: Rabo de Nube [ECM]
  Buffalo: Collision (Duck) [Screwgun]
* Mike Reed's Loose Assembly: The Speed of Change [482 Music]
  Corey Wilkes: Drop It [Delmark]
* Ryan Blotnick: Music Needs You [Songlines]
  Torben Waldorff: Afterburn [ArtistShare]
  Bill Easley: Business Man's Bounce [18th & Vine]
* Brazilian Trio: Forests [Zoho]
* Bobo Stenson Trio: Cantando [ECM]
  Steve Lehman Quartet: Manifold [Clean Feed]
* Júlio Resende: Da Alma [Clean Feed]
* Jerry Bergonzi: Tenorist [Savant]
* Harry Whitaker: One Who Sees All Things [Smalls]
* Bryan Beninghove: Organ Trio [CDBaby]
* Tobias Gebb & Trio West: An Upper West Side Story [Yummy House]
  Jim Hall & Bill Frisell: Hemispheres [ArtistShare]
* Grace Kelly/Lee Konitz: GraceFulLee [Pazz Productions]
* Kenny Davern/Ken Peplowski: Dialogues [Arbors]
  Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet: Tabligi [Cuneiform]
  Sheila Jordan: Winter Sunshine [Justin Time]
  Ernestine Anderson: A Song for You' [High Note]
* Lee Konitz and Minsarah: Deep Lee [Enja]


  Bill Dixon: 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur [AUM Fidelity]
  The Bad Plus: For All I Care [Heads Up]
  Jon Hassell: Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street [ECM]

The print edition limits the column to one page, and it's difficult
to get it scheduled more frequently than every three months, so I
tend to have many more records I want to write about than I have
space for. Nearly all of the records above date from 2008 -- Ware
is the only 2009 release among the A-list -- and some date back
further. I despair of ever catching up, but I had so much material
left over for my next column that I figured it would be best to at
least post a chunk of these on the website rather than waiting for
the day paper space becomes available. The decision on what goes
where wasn't exactly arbitrary, but it was close.

The Jazz Prospecting list for this cycle covered 230 records:


Jazz Prospecting is published each Monday. It provides an up-to-date
record of what I'm listening to and what I think of it, which at
least partly makes up for the delays inherent in the Voice column.
I urge you to look at it regularly, especially as it's impossible
for me to keep everyone fully up to date.

The previous Jazz Consumer Guide came out on February 10, 2009, so
this is a bit more than 3 months, which has been the never fomalized
but normal gap between columns. I fell behind a bit last fall with
some family problems and a lot of distracting house work. Gradually
returning to normal now.

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


Monday, May 25, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15387 [15362] rated (+25), 763 [770] unrated (-7). Another week, usual slog, usual disruptions.

  • Eric Bibb & Needed Time: Good Stuff (1997 [1998], Opus 3/EarthBeat): Mild-mannered blues singer, sort of fits into the Taj Mahal mold. Heard him once on a compilation and thought he was terrific, but I suspect his stuff gets samey over time. This is the first of a dozen-plus albums, so it sounds fresh enough. B+(*)
  • Jocelyn Brown: Essential Dancefloor Artists, Volume 6 (1979-84 [1995], Deep Beats): Disco singer, would've been a soul singer if she came up earlier, but first emerged in 1978, fronting a series of groups that surrounded her with mechanistic beats: Musique, Cerrone, Inner Life. Looks like this combines three cuts from 1979 and six from 1984 -- a much narrower selection than EMI released as Moments of My Life: Jocelyn Brown Anthology, but this is probably about as good, maybe better given that she's very consistent at least in these spots. Ends with a rap alt-version to her hit, featuring Frederick "M.C. Count" Linton: very old school. B+(*)
  • The Dismemberment Plan: Emergency and I (1999, DeSoto): Rather arty punk/hardcore band, which means they're not all that punk or hardcore even while that's their basic stance. Christgau sez this sounds like jazz, which I don't really get, but they do shift speeds and volumes. Singer isn't much of a singer, but guitarist can crash the boards. B+(**)
  • The Very Best of Macy Gray (1997-2003 [2004], Epic): Some loose ends for obsessives, plus three albums distilled into one for folks sitting on the fence -- voice distinctive if not conventionally great or very good, writing distinctive if not deep or brilliant, beats unexceptional but well made to order. A-
  • Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts I-IV (2008, Halo Twenty Six, 2CD): All instrumentals, most simple beat pieces with some industrial gruff. I've been playing it a lot while engaged in my own industrial work, and it makes pretty steady background noise, something that doesn't require any real thought, even though it can't be as simple as it seems. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #20, Part 5)

The Village Voice should finally run my 19th Jazz Consumer Guide this week: should be on the streets of New York come Wednesday, and most likely on their website then too. Seeing as how far behind I am, especially on honorable mentions, I asked the editor to put all the honorable mentions that don't fit in the paper up on the website anyway. That will save me trying to work them in next time. Even with no carry over next time is pretty solidly booked by now.

Meanwhile, jazz prospecting:

Ton Trio: The Way (2008 [2009], Singlespeed Music): Sax-bass-drums trio, more/less based in Oakland, CA. Led by Aram Shelton on alto sax and bass clarinet, with Kurt Kotheimer on bass and Sam Ospovat on drums. Shelton moved to Oakland in 2005 from Chicago, about the time he released the only album under his own name, Arrive (482 Music). Has a couple dozen credits since 2001, some with Chicagoans I recognize, most with groups under my radar, some of which he seems to run. Plays free; has some ideas, interesting but not compelling yet. Bass clarinet has more appeal, probably because it's more unusual, hence distinctive. B+(**)

John Scofield: Piety Street (2009, Emarcy): AMG describes him as one of the "big three" jazz guitarists, along with Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny. He has released 30-plus albums since 1977, but still strikes me as an underachiever -- his best records simple jams like Groove Elation (1994) although his change of pace Quiet (1996) made a good case that he can play. The new record is reminiscent of his 2005 Ray Charles tribute -- I missed a couple records in between, so this seems like even more of a slumming slump. The Charles record relied on guests, especially vocalists, and got by on the songs and sentiment, but just barely. Here he goes into gospel, picking immaculate songs -- Dorsey, Cleveland, Bartlett, Hank Williams, Dorothy Love Coates, trad. -- backing them with a blues-oriented band, and using two singers: Jon Cleary, a nonentity from England, and John Boutté, not much better from New Orleans. In the end, the paleness they bring to Afro-American gospel is a saving grace -- no one's going to compete with Coates, or even Williams, so why try? Not much from the guitarist, although his work on "The Angel of Death" suggests he could contribute if he wanted to. B

John Stetch: TV Trio (2007 [2009], Brux): Pianist, b. 1968, has a dozen albums since 1992, this the first I've heard, although I gather from the titles -- Carpathian Blues, Kolomeyka Fantasy, Ukranianism -- that he has some sort of Eastern European interest. This is a trio with Doug Weiss and Rodney Green, running through a dozen TV theme songs, dropping down to solo for "All My Children." Can't say as I recognized a single one of them. Not sure if that's a plus or a minus. B-

Ximo Tebar & Ivam Jazz Ensemble: Steps (2007 [2009], Omix/Sunnyside): Spanish guitarist, b. 1963, seventh album since 1995 (according to AMG, which may be short). I figure him for a Wes Montgomery acolyte, which is reinforced by an original called "Four on Six for Wes." This zips along at Montgomery speeds, but is cluttered by double-dosed keyboards from Orrin Evans and Santi Navalón. Bass alternates between Alex Blake on acoustic and Boris Kozlov on electric. Adds some horns for the opening "Pink Panther," which is kinda cute. B

The Rocco John Group: Devotion (2008 [2009], Coalition of Creative Artists): Pianoless quartet, based in New York, led by Rocco John Iacovone (alto sax, soprano sax), with Michael Irwin spinning off on trumpet. Freebop with some kick to it. Group's previous album, Don't Wait Too Long, made my HM list, although it languished in my files a long time. This is another one at pretty much the same level -- deserves some recognition, but probably won't get it. [Found my HM line on his website, and it still applies: "Iacovone plays alto sax, cut his teeth in '70s lofts, cooled his heels in Alaska, returns as gray-haired demon."] B+(**)

Arvo Pärt: In Principio (2007-08 [2009], ECM New Series): This release marks the 25th anniversary of ECM's more or less classical sublabel, ECM New Series, launched in 1984 with Pärt's Tabula Rasa. Seemed like an event worth noting, and Pärt is a name that I noticed around then but never managed to get to. Back in the 1970s I took an interest in what I prefer to call postclassical music -- seems premature to be call it classical, ahistorical as contemporary composition, too pointed as avant-garde. I grew up despising Euroclassical music -- everything from Bach to Mahler, and a good deal before and after -- but took a deep interest in Theodor Adorno, who in turn was very much devoted to the 12-tone music Schönberg and Webern. I found I could handle it -- even got to where I liked Pierrot Lunaire -- and I checked out some of the newer stuff, especially with electronics (Babbitt, Berio, Crumb, Wuorinen, Stockhausen, Cage, Cardew, Glass, Reich). I lost track in the 1980s, especially after Tom Johnson left The Voice, and never managed to pick it up again -- one reason, perhaps, being that the avant fringes of jazz are usually more interesting. Pärt doesn't seem to be much of a modernist at all. Born 1935 in Estonia, left the Soviet Union for Vienna in 1980, then moved on to Berlin. This is a scattered set of pieces originating 1999-2006, recorded back in Estonia by Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra. The choral pieces are based on scriptures. The ensemble work is dominated by the violins. Feels quasi-medieval to me, not a distinction I'm in any way expert on. Certainly not my thing, but tolerable, even in spots haunting. B+(*)

Alfred Schnittke: Symphony No. 9 / Alexander Raskatov: Nunc Dimittis (2008 [2009], ECM New Series): Schnittke was a Russian composer, 1934-1998. This was the last of his nine symphonies, the manuscript reconstructed by Raskatov, given an initial recording by the Dresdner Philharmonie, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. It sounds like . . . a symphony. (What can I say? Masses of violins. Lots of ups and downs, with quiet spots that may mean something in a perfect acoustic environment. Raskatov is a younger Russian composer, b. 1953. don't know much more. His piece fills out the last 16:10 of the record. It's built around texts by Joseph Brodsky and Starets Siluan, with mezzo-soprano Elena Vassilieva and the Hilliard Ensemble joining the orchestra. The vocals do even less for me -- they seem very mixed down, but that could just mean I should turn it up. Quite a bit of documentation with this set -- evidently the label sees it as a big deal. Feels wasted on me. B-

Dave Siebels With Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band (2008 [2009], PBGL): Siebels' home page is titled "Dave's Film Music, Inc." Claims: composer, arranger, keyboardist, producer; arranged and produced 25 albums, scored 35 films, scored 9 TV series, conducted 65 musical variety TV shows; musical director/arranger for 2 musical variety TV specials. Liner notes give special thanks to Pat Boone "for making this album possible" -- indeed, Siebels' chief claim to fame was his concept and production of Boone's In a Metal Mood. All that sounds like work. He may be moonlighting here, but this sounds like fun. The Phat Band is hot and greasy. Siebels composed 7 of 10 songs -- Neil Hefti's "Girl Talk," Stevie Wonder's "I Wish," and Lalo Schifrin's "The Cat" are the covers -- and plays Hammond B3. He rests the band on "Girl Talk" -- just organ, guitar, and drums -- and on two others with Roy Wiegand's trumpet added, providing a break from the blare, but that isn't always a help. B+(**)

Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra: Secrets of the Sun (1962 [2009], Atavistic Unheard Music Series): A six-track album originally released on Ra's Saturn Records in 1965 and skipped over in previous reissue passes, plus a previously unreleased 17:35 originally promised to be the B-side of a never-released album (catalog number 547). Recorded shortly after Ra and his Arkestra landed in New York, feels rough and scattered, with shifting lineups (the young Eddie Gale is a surprise), even the regulars rotating instruments (John Gilmore variously plays tenor sax, bass clarinet, and percussion, his credits also including space drums and space bird sounds, while Marshall Allen plays more flute than alto sax), while Ra's piano jumps hither and yon. B+(**)

Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra: Strange Strings (1966-67 [2009], Atavistic Unheard Music Series): You can't help but do a double take when the man from Saturn finds anything strange. The string instruments played by nearly everyone in the band -- rotating with their more/less normal instruments, although Marshall Allen's first credit is oboe, and the rhythm section mostly consists of log drums and tympani -- are unidentified but seem to include odd lutes and zithers from around the world. Seem, because they're pretty much unidentifiable: undulating waves of metallic bowed and plucked sounds crashing against the shore. The pieces move from "Worlds Approaching" to "Strings Strange" to "Strange Strange": the first is remarkable, especially for the drums, while the later pieces unravel a bit. One of Ra's many self-issued low-run LPs, augmented with a bonus track called "Door Squeak" -- an improv based on Ra repeatedly opening and closing a squeaky door. B+(***)

Marcus Roberts Trio: New Orleans Meets Harlem, Vol. 1 (2007 [2009], J-Master Music): Pianist; b. 1963 Jacksonville, FL; blind since youth; studied and teaches at Florida State. Joined Wynton Marsalis's group in 1985. Has 15 albums since 1988, mostly tributes to other pianists plus several Gershwin sets. This one, with Roland Guerin on bass and Jason Marsalis on drums, pulls 11 songs from Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, and Thelonious Monk, then tacks on an original called "Searching for the Blues" (actually, another stride tune, until he slows it down). That about sums up his range, and as long as he sticks to what he knows he does nicely. When he wanders, as on the first half of "Honeysuckle Rose" (misattributed to Jelly Roll Morton on the hype sheet), he gets lost fast. First record on his own label. Got a lot of florid press in advance of this, but when it came to put up or shut up all I got was a crappy CDR. B+(*) [advance]

J.D. Allen Trio: Shine! (2008 [209], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist. Wikipedia lists him as J.D. Allen III, b. 1972, Detroit. Fourth album since 1996, plus a dozen-plus side credits, usually making a big impression. Trio includes Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Played this last night while on my way to bed, then twice this morning while reading. Not sure whether it's just a real solid freebop outing or he's breaking loose as a major voice. Latter seems likely to happen sooner or later. [B+(***)]

Sean Noonan's Brewed by Noon: Boxing Dreams (2007-08 [2008], Songlines): Drummer, from Brockton, MA, graduated from Berklee. Formed Brewed by Noon in 2004, leading to a 2007 record, Stories to Tell -- also a "live" record on Innova I haven't heard. Similar lineup, with Aram Bajakian and Marc Ribot (electric guitar), Mat Maneri (viola), Thierno Camara (electric bass), Thiokho Diagne (percussion), Susan McKeown and Abdoulaye Diabaté (vocals) on both. This one adds Jamaldeen Tacuma on electric bass, dropping some extra guitar, percussion, and vocals. Package teases: "A Potent Brew: Tribal Rhythms by an Irish Griot." The Afro-Celtic fusion is palpable, but the vocals don't mesh very well -- Diabaté runs roughshod over the album, but isn't anywhere near the next Salif Keita. Still, Ribot and Maneri make a powerful team, and the mixed-bag percussion is interesting. B+(*)

Susie Meissner: I'll Remember April (2008 [2009], Lydian Jazz): Standards singer, based in Philadelphia, started out in a dinner theatre in the mid-1970s. First album. The usual Berlin ("How Deep Is the Ocean"), Porter ("You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To"), Rodgers/Hart ("There's a Small Hotel"). Two Jobims, both in English. Band swings a little, and she can reach those troublesome high notes. Still, the only reason to bother is "special guest" Brian Lynch, who bursts forth with fireworks we he gets the shot. B- [June 1]

Chris Morrissey: The Morning World (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Bassist, b. 1980, from Minneapolis/St. Paul area, now based in Brooklyn. First album. Side credits since 2004 with Mason Jennings, Andrew Bird, Haley Bonar, and Ben Kweller -- those I recognize are rockers (more/less), and AMG misfiled this as Pop/Rock. With Michael Lewis (all kinds of saxes) and David King (drums) this is virtually a Happy Apple record. Piano is split between Peter Schimke (5 cuts) and Bryan Nichols (3). Chris Thomson adds another sax to one cut. Record doesn't specify electric or acoustic bass, but Morrissey's MySpace page shows him pretty juiced up. He wrote all of the pieces here, mostly propulsive bass lines which King emphatically pushes along. That may not sound like much, but Lewis does a terrific job of exploring the jazz angles tangential to the grooves, and he can wax eloquent even when he doesn't have much to go on. Record doesn't specify which sax he plays when, but they tend toward higher registers -- alto, probably a lot of soprano too. Working behind his group name and on the side like this he's way underrecognized. A-

Magos Herrera: Distancia (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Vocalist, from Mexico City, based in New York since 2007. Sixth or seventh album since 1998, although AMG and Sunnyside both count this as her fourth. Group includes Aaron Goldberg on piano, Lionel Loueke on guitar. Produced by Tim Ries. Hype says "her repertoire is filled with romance, intimacy and enchantment," but that's lost to my woeful ear for Spanish, but two songs in English don't catch my ear either; her "Mexican and Cuban sones and boleros, and sultry, languid samba-bossa nova beats" should cut the language barrier, but I'm not so sure about them either. Brazil is a big part of her mix, with her reworking a Nascimento song and closing with "Dindi." B

E.J. Strickland Quintet: In This Day (2008 [2009], Strick Muzik): Twin brother of saxophonist Marcus Strickland, plays drums, has been an asset since 1999 in his brother's groups as well as with Eric Person, Vincent Davis, Xavier Davis, David Weiss, Ravi Coltrane, Russell Malone, Tom Guarna, and George Colligan. First album, produced by Coltrane, with Jaleel Shaw and Marcus Strickland on saxes, Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, and the occasional guest here and there -- Tia Fuller flute, David Gilmore guitars, Pedro Martinez congas, Brandee Younger harp, Cheray O'Neal spoken word, and Yosvany Terry as if they needed another tenor sax. At a moderate pace the saxes melt into that slick postbop harmony I never cared for, but when they break loose even the ace Latin rhythm section is hard pressed to keep up. None of the guest touches strike me as good ideas, except maybe the congas. B+(*)

Bob Albanese Trio with Ira Sullivan: One Way/Detour (2008 [2009], Zoho): Piano trio plus spare wheel -- Sullivan plays tenor sax on three cuts, soprano sax on one, alto flute on one, and percussion on one more, leaving the trio to their own devices on 4 of 10. Albanese is a pianist, based in New York since 1980 -- don't know how old he is, or where he came from. First album; not many side credits -- first AMG lists is 1991. Mainstream bebopper -- one review I've seen likens him to Red Garland, and I'm not going to try to improve on that. Wrote 7 of 10 pieces, with one from Monk, one from Hampton, and one called "Yesterday's Gardenias" by guys I don't recognize. Sullivan goes back further: in the liner notes, Ira Gitler talks about hearing Sullivan blow trumpet in 1949. AMG has a picture of a fairly young Sullivan with trumpet, but his main axe has long been tenor sax. Cut a couple records in the 1950s, a Bird Lives! in 1962, a fairly productive stretch from 1975-82, not much since. He helps out here, especially on tenor sax. B+(**)

The Joel LaRue Smith Trio: September's Child (2007 [2009], Joel LaRue Smith): Piano trio, with Fernando Huergo on bass, Renato Malavasi on drums. Don't know much about pianist Smith, except that he studied at Manhattan School of Music under Jaki Byard and Barry Harris, and teaches at Tufts, directing their Jazz Orchestra. Debut record. Wrote 7 of 11 pieces, with a strong Afro-Cuban accent, and does an impressive job of carrying it off. Some of the quirkiness of Afro-Cuban jazz is inevitably lost in reducing it to straight piano trio, but he nails it pretty well. B+(***)

Bill Anschell/Brent Jensen: We Couldn't Agree More (2008 [2009], Origin): Duets, Anschell playing piano, Jensen soprano sax. Anschell is a Seattle pianist with a half dozen or so albums since 1997. Jensen teaches in Idaho; started out on alto, but has played more soprano recently, exclusively on his last couple of albums. The latest, a quartet with Anschell called One More Mile, made my A-list. This is less flush, of course, but the strong points are still here. Ends with a remarkably schematic take on "Sunny Side of the Street." B+(***)

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

Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band: Act Your Age (2008, Immergent, CD+DVD): Big band, eighteen-strong plus some guests, fast, slick, packs a wallop, seems like a fun group. Goodwin plays piano, tenor sax, and soprano sax. Came up with Louie Bellson, continuing in that vein. Never got to the DVD. B+(**)

Ridd Quartet: Fiction Avalanche (2005 [2008], Clean Feed): The all-Davis half of the Kris Davis Quartet -- that means drummer Jeff Davis -- with a couple of New Yorkers who, in theory at least, push the Davises a bit further out towards left field: alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, best known for Mostly Other People Do the Killing, and bassist Reuben Radding. A bit rougher and less settled: maybe because no one is calling the shots, or it's a relatively old tape that Radding remastered and the others are moving on. B+(**)

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Ab Baars/Ig Henneman/Misha Mengelberg: Sliptong (Wig)
  • As If 3: Klinkelaar (Casco)
  • Rogério Bicudo/Sean Bergin: Mixing It (Pingo)
  • Michiel Braam's Wurli Trio: Non-Functionals! (BBB)
  • Dave Brubeck: Time Out [Legacy Edition] (1959-64, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD+DVD)
  • Kenny Burrell: Prime Kenny Burrell: Live at the Downtown Room (1976, High Note)
  • Miles Davis: Sketches of Spain [Legacy Edition] (1959-60, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Jerry Granelli V16: Vancouver '08 (Songlines, CD+DVD): June 9
  • Freddie Hubbard: Without a Song: Live in Europe 1969 (1969, Blue Note)
  • Nico Huijbregts: Free Floating Forms (Vindu)
  • I Compani: Circusism (Icdisc)
  • Andy Milne/Benoît Delbecq: Where Is Pannonica? (Songlines): June 9
  • Charles Mingus: Ah Um [Legacy Edition] (1959, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Joe Morris: Wildlife (AUM Fidelity)
  • David "Fathead" Newman: The Blessing (High Note)
  • Tito Puente: Dance Mania (Legacy Edition) (1959, RCA/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Jim Rotondi: Blues for Brother Ray (Posi-Tone): advance
  • Jimmy Rushing: The Scene: Live in New York (1965, High Note)
  • Oumou Sangare: Seya (Nonesuch): advance, June 9
  • Baptiste Trotignon: Share (Sunnyside)
  • Greg Wall's Later Prophets: Ha'Orot (Tzadik): advance
  • Sam Yahel: Hometown (Posi-Tone): advance

Sunday, May 24, 2009

How to Deal With the Crisis

The June 11, 2009 issue of The New York Review of Books has a roundtable on "The Crisis and How to Deal with It": Jeff Madrick moderating, with Bill Bradley, Niall Ferguson, Paul Krugman, Nouriel Roubini, George Soros, and Robin Wells. Several good points here, including a particularly lucid explanation by Krugman on the "global savings glut" at the heart of the collapse. The argument there is that with net worth falling, those who can afford to want to save more and spend less to build back their asset levels. However, they lack investment opportunities, because there is already a lot of excess productive capacity and no real demand for more:

That saving ought to be translated into investment, but the investment demand is not there. Housing is flat on its back because it was overbuilt; housing bubbles collapsed not only in the United States, but across much of Europe. Many businesses cannot get down the financial system. But even those that do have access to capital don't want to invest because consumer demand is not there. Between the housing bust and the sudden decision of consumers to save, after all, we have a world with lots of excess capacity.

He doesn't go any further in unpacking why this is the case, but I believe that it is based on the growing efficiency of the rich in politically exploiting their advantages vs. everyone else; i.e., it's the consequence of growing inequality. Moreover, this trend goes back well before it turned into crisis, with much of the transfer shunted into asset bubbles. Indeed, it's tempting to say that the whole rich-get-richer process has been illusory, at least to the extent that it's been based in leveraging credit to inflate the asset prices that we now see collapsing. On the other hand, the complementary poor-get-poorer process is all too real. This process has been masked by technological gains, by credit growth compensating for wage stagnation, and by a largely unaccounted for risk shift. However, as the system collapses, debts become unserviceable and risks increasingly become real, reducing demand and dragging the real economy down.

The other important quote here is from Robin Wells:

There were net exporters, such as China, Japan, and Germany, and the net importerse of capital, the largest, of course, being the United States. This import of capital allowed us to consistently live beyond our means, first by running fiscal deficits, not raiaing enough tax revenue to finance the government, and then also through, ultimately, the leverage that we used in housing, and in commercial real estate, and in leverage buyouts. And this continued; it grew because there was no point anywhere along the line at which anyone would say "halt."

The persistent imbalances led us to pretend that we could keep borrowing without having sufficient tax revenue to pay for the government. And if your house prices are rising, if the stock market is going up -- which of course is going to happen if you have cheap money -- it puffs up the value of the assets, and disguises a lot of other structural problems such as rising inequality and corruption.

With this inflow of capital from abroad, the financial secctor in the United States also became larger and larer relative to the rest of the economy, with GDP tilted disproportionately toward the financial sector.

How do we start to get out of this? In many ways we're almost adverse to bringing up the situation in which we find ourselves with the net exporting countries. I thought it was quite interesting a few weeks ago when many Chinese officials were saying that it was proper, and it was good economically, that the US continue to run persistent trade imbalances with China, that the Chinese yuan did not need to be appreciated, that we should continue doing the things we always have, and that the US should make sure that the value of Chinese assets were not diminished by any change in the value of the dollar. It should have been clear that this was not a sustainable relationship, but no one was willing to say that.

China-vs-America is just one example, but it provides a very good example of the problem. China uses its trade advantage to grow its real economy, while the US uses the capital returns to grow its imaginary economy -- basically, to inflate the assets of the rich, whose inordinate political clout sustains it. This cycle depresses working wages in the US, which one way or another come back to the rich in the US, if not as lower costs than as capital flows. So one immediate effect is greater inequality in the US, but the longer term effect is less productivity in the US (and more in China), so there is ultimately less real wealth here (and more there).

Turning this around is going to take a massive political shift in the US, much more so than the Bush-to-Obama shift.

Update: Turns out the piece referred to above is online here. Also see Brad DeLong's analysis here. I didn't pay a lot of attention to what Niall Ferguson said -- because I pretty much never pay attention to what Ferguson says. (And why does Amazon keep sticking his books in my recommended list?) But one thing I did notice that bugged me was his comment that in aiming to stave off a repeat of the 1930s we might wind up with a repeat of the 1970s. Aside from Dick Nixon, what's so bad about that? The inflation created a mixed bag of losers and winners, whereas the depression hurt virtually everyone -- as did, for that matter, the Volcker recession of 1979-82, widely credited for breaking the back of inflation, mostly by cutting the labor movement off at the kneecaps. Add all that up and, sure, the 1970s were a raw deal, but to get there you have to assume that inflation inevitably gave us Reagan. That's pretty much like saying Germany's 1920s inflation gave them Hitler -- sure, there's a connection there, but it's not a necessary one. More like a lot of capitalist and militarist grumbling and the bad luck to get their wishes fulfilled.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

House Log

Had a couple of pretty solid days working -- note no blog posts. Put some more paint on the south wall unit: inside of the door flaps and screen mold trim looks pretty good, but end face looks very streaky, and the part where I filled in flush against the wall is a bit messy. I think I need to really attack the end with a sander and get it smooth, then try again, maybe with a roller. Still need to do the outside of the door flaps and should probably handle them the same way. May have to do some more filling on the edges -- it looked OK before the paint, but some of that may have been wishful thinking. Didn't touch it today, hoping it will harden a bit.

Big thing today was to cut up a pile of wood: a sheet of plywood, plus both halves of a split sheet of 1/4-inch plywood, plus some smaller scraps wherever possible. Wound up with sides, backs, and bottoms for eight drawers to fit under pantry countertop -- I'll do the fronts later once I get the drawers mounted. Yesterday (or maybe the day before) I got all the slides mounted for the unit, and boxed it in. Space is 50 inches wide. Divided it down to two stacks of drawers that will be 22.5 inches wide by 21.5 inches deep. Got some very nice over-extension slides, but I'm planning on going cheap on the drawers, with butt joins, the 1/4-inch bottom under the sides and full-width back. Not sure how to put the fronts on -- maybe pocket screws. Maybe a double front, especially if I can find something thin that works. Also cut up most of the slide units. Got dark before I finished, but I have enough that I can start to match up the slides. That's the part I'm most worried about: it seems intrinsically hard to keep these things square and parallel. I have all of the slides mounted to the cabinets now, and they look pretty good, but actually getting sliding drawers working with them will be . . . well, we'll see.

Biggest news of the last few days is that we moved the dining room table back into the dining room. Took up the large tarp; shook it up and folded it up and stashed it away. The oak floor underneath was splattered with paint. I spent a couple of hours washing it, scraping, rubbing with an abrasive sponge. Looks like it will come up eventually, but will take a lot of work. The surface itself isn't in bad shape. Moved all the paint cans to one area underneath a window, covered by a card table. Moved two office chairs back into the dining room. Covered the dining room table with a small canvas tarp -- our tablecloth for now. It's possible at least to eat breakfast there, for the first time in five or six months. Also provides a good view of the progress.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ancien Regime

A sudden cluster of posts look back on the ancien regime. It's not that anyone misses it, but we still haven't quite come to face with its full horror.

Frank Rich: Obama Can't Turn the Page on Bush: Sooner or later, we have to take full account of the Bush regime's eight-year ransacking of the federal government and the many disastrous obsessions of their frenzied true believers. If Obama and the Democrats don't take the lead, at least some journalists and historians will step into the breach. The Democrats may wish to avoid the appearance of a partisan grudge, but their failure leaves them increasingly tarnished with the same brush -- Obama's flip-flops on the torture photos and military tribunals are cases in point. Rich points to several recent pieces, and calls for a tribunal. It isn't enough that Republicans get voted out of office. We need to understand how thoroughly wrongheaded their whole administration was.

Robert Draper: And He Shall Be Judged. One of the articles cited by Rich above, about Donald Rumsfeld's mismanagement of the Pentagon and trench warfare in the executive branch. Some of this, like the Bible-inscribed cover sheet exec summaries prepared for the Bible-imbibing decider, are new and if not exactly devastating at least embarrassing. Goes into some depth on Rumsfeld's bureaucratic war tactics -- about the only war he actually showed much promise at. And, of course, there are plenty of rhetorical flourishes and prevarication. He was quite a piece of work.

David Rose: Heads in the Sand. Principle revelation here is that the Sunni Awakening movement -- the real reason people think the Surge worked -- had a deal on the table as early as 2004, but the neocons killed it because they preferred a dominant, sectarian Shiite power base. At one point, Wolfowitz dismisses a proposal by ranting, "they are Nazis."

Col. Lawrence B Wilkerson: The Truth about Richard Bruce Cheney. Colin Powell's State Department chief of staff reflects on Cheney's heyday as lord of the dark side. One thing he points out is that Cheney's torture fetish was abandoned after the embarrassment of the Abu Ghraib disclosures. One thing that strikes me is that the eagerness of someone like Cheney to continue to be identified with torture assumes that there is a political gain in the deal -- i.e., that the Republican base likes the idea of torturing bad guys, regardless of whether there's any information gain or loss from it. Same thing happened with some of the massive eavesdropping programs: when found out, the Bush administration acted like they were proud of the fact. They certainly wouldn't have done that without good polling data, so this not only reflects poorly on their own ethics but on that of a sizable segment of America.

Marcy Wheeler: The 13 people who made torture possible. List piece, but often it helps to keep a scorecard. The list, in order: Dick Cheney, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, James Mitchell, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, William "Jim" Haynes, Donald Rumsfeld, John Rizzo, Steven Bradbury, and George W Bush.

I've started reading Jane Mayer's The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, just out in paperback. I've generally avoided the broad set of legal issues ranging from arbitrary detentions to torture, figuring that concern over the abuse of "American ideals" required a degree of historical naďveté that I lost long ago. On the other hand, the set of issues isn't going away any time soon, so I Mayer's book might be a good way to catch up. It also gets me back into thinking about the Bush regime -- still the focal point of that book I need to get back to writing. You know: the one about how conservative brain rot has been leading us to a new dark age. And that is what is most striking about the first pages of Mayer's book: how puerile and downright inept Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, Ashcroft, and all of them were in the wake of 9/11/2001. (In fact, I almost dropped Ashcroft -- as certifiable a nut case as any of them -- from the list as relatively mature, although it may just be that as the only lawyer on that list he was the only one with a clue what the constitution said or meant.) To a surprising degree, Bush's inner circle was not just philosophically shackled, they suffered from deep psychological delusions. Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine captures a lot of this, from when Bush decides a "show of force" is what Israel/Palestine needs to Cheney's title concept, which basically insisted that we treat every conceivable threat as a fait accompli. In past administrations, psychology helps explain little quirks (well, in Nixon's case, big quirks), but I've never seen so much come down to psychology. Even Reagan, who spent eight years sleepwalking through his dreamworld -- at least he had pleasant dreams, unlike Cheney.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15362 [15334] rated (+28), 770 [781] unrated (-11). Still working on house. Listening to stuff along the way, with a fair amount of Jazz Prospecting and a few other things. Actually wished I had more other things, since they require less concentration than the jazz does. Recycled Goods is up in the air right now. Haven't done a thing on it (but I hear Tatum is working on some stuff). Don't think we'll have anything to show for May.

  • Love Is All: A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night (2008, What's Your Rupture?): Swedish band Christgau likes: short punk-based songs, smart female lead singer. Didn't sink in much for me until I sat down just as "Wishing Well" started up -- looks like that's the single. Then I noticed the sax, then a song started up with the line "I can grasp infinity" which is pretty much straight out of X-Ray Spex. Title comes from that same song; its title is "Big Bands, Black Holes, Meteorites." They slow it down a couple of times, but so did X-Ray Spex. A-
  • Randy Newman: Harps and Angels (2008, Nonesuch): Streamed this from Rhapsody last year. Gave it a middle-B+, figuring that it had a couple of clever songs -- the obvious one was "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" -- and the usual easy way Newman has with crafting melodies. Turns out it has more than a few good songs: the near-death experience of the title cut belongs on his career best-of, as does "Potholes," his meditation on memories we would be happier forgetting. The music is also somewhat weirder, with mock-operatic effects in "A Piece of the Pie" and "Easy Street," which form a tryptych with "A Few Words." A

    Taylor Swift: Fearless (2008, Big Machine): Only eighteen, still old enough she can reflect meaningfully on being fifteen. Still, not old enough to make neotrad work -- not that she tries, but it's what I figure country should sound like, as opposed to the big pop moves she busts loose. Half, maybe more, of the songs, relationships all, impress me. Still, I've played it a lot and something's missing. B+(***)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #20, Part 4)

No word yet on when the Village Voice will run the Jazz Consumer Guide I sent in about a month ago. Probably won't know until the week before it runs, which must not be this week. Meanwhile, I have a big pile of things to work through, even after taking a healthy bite out below. Still working on my kitchen, which makes it hard to focus -- I've tended to avoid avant jazz for that reason, so it's a big chunk of what I need to get to. Kitchen stuff should start to wind down soon. I expect to pick up the tarps and move the dining room table back to the dining room this week. It's taken much longer and cost much more than I expected, but it's coming together.

One thing I'll throw out: if anyone has any good ideas about a possible publisher for Recycled Goods, please let me know. Thanks.

Charles Evans: The King of All Instruments (2007-08 [2009], Hot Cup): Baritone saxophonist, b. 1978 somewhere in PA, a childhood friend of bassist Moppa Elliott. Studied with Dave Liebman. Moved to New York. Elliott introduced him to trumpeter Peter Evans, leading to a joint album called No Relation. The latter Evans brought influences like Anthony Braxton into play, but this solo album is no analog to Braxton's For Alto. For one thing, Charles is still enamored with Gerry Mulligan (name-checked in one song title here). For another, this is overlayed, which lets him build up a bit of sax choir sound. In the liner notes, Evans says: "It was created during a period of musical isolation, introspection, and poor health." Makes sense. B+(**)

Jermaine Landsberger: Gettin' Blazed (2009, Resonance): Organ player, from Germany, of Sinti heritage, claims to have "made many albums as a jazz pianist under his own name" -- AMG counts four since 2000. Group includes Gary Meek (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute), Andreas Öberg (guitar, with Pat Martino added on three cuts), James Genus (bass), Harvey Mason (drums), and a second keyboard player, Kuno Schmid. Covers one Django Reinhardt song, but also picks on Richard Galliano, Stevie Wonder, Horace Silver, and some Brazilians. Played it twice while trying to write something and didn't notice it much one way or the other. B

Claudia Acuńa: Es Este Momento (2007 [2009], Marsalis Music): Singer, from Chile, b. 1971, moved to New York in 1995. Fourth album, or fifth counting the one with Arturo O'Farrill's name out front. Liner notes argue that this record, with its flow between Spanish and English (often in the same song), "stands as the truest reflection of both her and her band to date." That may be true, but it doesn't amount to much. Her voice is as thin as a frill, and when the band picks up the pace she has trouble keeping up. If her Spanish harbors any depth, it's not disclosed in English -- probably helps that this is her most heavily Spanish-tilted album. The band can't be blamed: Jason Lindner, Omer Avital, Clarence Penn, and a guitarist named Juancho Herrera. Label mogul Branford Marsalis drops in for a soprano sax solo, a high point. B-

Omar Sosa: Across the Divide: A Tale of Rhythm & Ancestry (2008 [2009], Half Note): Cuban pianist; moved to Ecuador in 1993, then San Francisco, then Barcelona in 1999. Has a dozen or more records since then, but this is the first I've heard, and it's thrown me for a loop. Nothing especially Afro-Cuban to it, even though Roman Diaz dubbed bata drums, congas, and cajon after the fact. Tim Eriksen, with a rather unnotable voice, sings four tracks, with gospel themes and slave roots: "Promised Land," "Gabriel's Trumpet," "Sugar Baby Blues," "Night of the Four Songs." The slow, atmospheric closer, "Ancestors," adds some more talk, not very clear. The other stuff muddles through more than ambles on. Exotic instruments come and go -- kalimba, chigovia, caxixis, chinese flute -- and who knows what's coming out of Sosa's samplers. The cool moodiness strikes me as more appropriate than anything in Wynton Marsalis's slave epics, but still leaves me uncertain and uneasy. B+(*)

Hugh Masekela: Phola (2009, 4Q/Times Square): South African, b. 1939, plays flugelhorn these days and sings somewhat awkwardly; joined the Jazz Epistles with the future Abdullah Ibrahim in 1959, and left the country soon after the Sharpeville Massacre. Recorded more or less steadily since the mid-1960s, working his way through jazz, fusion, funk, disco, and pop, more often than not working a bit of his homeland in. A good summary is his 2007 live album, Live at Market Theatre, marking his return to South Africa. This follows up nicely, his flugelhorn riding an easy groove with complex beats; a couple of songs, like "Sonnyboy," strike me as overly ripe, but the emotion is palpable. B+(**)

Jennifer Lee: Quiet Joy (2008 [2009], SBE): Singer, from San Francisco; MySpace page says she's 43, if that's her -- I'm suspicious of any musician with only 5 friends. Google came up with a lot of Jennifer Lees, most unlikely. This one has two albums, with guitarist Peter Sprague and bassist Bob Magnusson among her band. Three originals, a mix of standards and Brazilian tunes. Surprisingly, the Brazilians are the best things here -- "O Pato" caught my attention, mostly because it doesn't melt in the sun like so many sambas. A bit of Gershwin merged into "Amor Certinho" also works like a charm, especially leading into "Pennies From Heaven." B

The Kevin Hays Trio: You've Got a Friend (2007 [2009], Jazz Eyes): Piano trio, with Doug Weiss on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. Pianist Hays comes from Connecticut, b. 1968, has 10 albums since 1994 when he broke through on Blue Note -- several earlier ones back to 1991 then appeared on Steeplechase in Denmark. Starts with three pop/rock tunes -- Carole King's title track, "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Fool on the Hill" -- offering little but avoiding my tendency to gag on Simon's tune. Then moves back to the jazz repertoire, with Monk and Parker bracketing "Sweet and Lovely" and Bob Dorough's "Nothing Like You" -- more substance in all of those. One of those pianists I respect a lot but never get excited about. Stewart does a lot of this sort of thing, and show you why he's so in demand. B+(*)

Arve Henriksen: Cartography (2006-08 [2009], ECM): Trumpeter, from Norway, b. 1968. AMG classifies him as Avant-Garde, presumably factoring in his classical training, fascination with Japanese shakuhachi, use of electronics, and utter lack of swing. Fourth album since 2001, the first three on Rune Grammofon. The music is mostly built on samples -- quiet, peaceful, ethereal -- mostly by Jan Bang, with tiny bits of guitar (Eivind Aarset on 2 cuts), bass (Lars Danielsson on 1 cut), synth (Erik Honoré on 4 cuts), and drums (Audun Kleive on 1 cut, percussion on 2 more), and David Sylvain spoken words (2 cuts). So subtle it could slip by unheard, which would be a shame. B+(***)

Cyminology: As Ney (2008 [2009], ECM): Piano trio -- Benedikt Jahnel, Ralf Schwarz, Ketan Bhatti -- backing vocalist Cymin Samawatie, b. 1976 in Braunschweig, Germany, of Iranian parents. Fourth album. Songs based on Iranian models, including the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz, in Farsi with English trots in the oversized booklet. I find her voice hymnal, which isn't usually a good thing, although it helps when the piano gets out in front. B

Rainbow Jimmies: The Music of John Hollenbeck (2007-08 [2009], GPE): Might as well file this under Hollenbeck, even though he subcontracts several cuts to various artists. The first seven pieces are collectively titled "Gray Cottage Study": they were written for violinist Todd Reynolds, with Hollenbeck on drums and/or Matt Moran on vibes occasionally helping out. Fairly static chamber music, not a lot of beat to them, unlike the others: two Claudia Quintet cuts, a 12:51 piece by the Youngstown Percussion Collective and Saxophone Quartet ("oh yeah") and another 12:02 by Ethos Percussion Group. Hollenbeck's beatwise pieces are irresistible -- he is first and foremost a drummer -- but his impressionistic chamber music hangs in there too. What could be a scattered collection keeps catching your ear. B+(***)

Steve Haines Quintet with Jimmy Cobb: Stickadiboom (2007 [2009], Zoho): Bassist, teaches in North Carolina (Director of the Miles Davis Program in Jazz Studies at UNC Greensboro). Quintet is a solid hard bop unit, with drummer Thomas Taylor making way for Cobb, who must feel right at home. Trumpeter Rob Smith makes more of an impression than tenor saxophonist David Lown or pianist Chip Crawford, but all are sharp enough, and a couple of bass solos by the leader are spot on. B+(**)

Frank Wess Nonet: Once Is Not Enough (2008 [2009], Labeth Music): Born 1922, one of jazz's most senior citizens, still going pretty strong. He might not be as well known as he is had he not played more and better flute than any other saxophonist of his generation (which basically means James Moody), or any subsequent generation (except Yusef Lateef, maybe). The flute has made him a consistent poll winner, although I'd take his tenor sax any day -- and submit "Lush Life" here as proof. Still, his real claim to fame was as one of Count Basie's New Testament arrangers, something he reminded us of in 1989 when Concord gave him a new lease and he responded with Dear Mr. Basie -- also credited to Sweets Edison, who provided the Old Testament fire and brimstone. He's still recycling here, but the Nonet is a nice fit for a crack arranger, and being a legend he gets folks like Terrell Stafford, Steve Turre, Ted Nash, and Scott Robinson lining up to play with him. He even has to slide Peter Washington aside to give Rufus Reid a couple of cuts on bass. Plays more sax than flute this time, too. B+(**)

Rob Thorsen: Lasting Impression (2008 [2009], Pacific Coast Jazz): As I scan through Thorsen's web bio, I'm growing impatient, flashing on Jack Webb, wanting to say: "just the facts, ma'am." Bassist, based in San Diego, spent some time in San Francisco. Old enough he's a little short on top. Website lists four albums, including one attributed to Cross Border Trio, but not including this one. No dates on those. Album rotates musicians in and out, splitting piano between Geoffrey Keezer and Josh Nelson, with Gilbert Castellanos on trumpet/flugelhorn and/or Ben Wendel on tenor sax/bassoon on most cuts. Mostly bebop tunes -- two from Parker, one from McLean, "Giant Steps" from Coltrane -- plus "Smile," "The Man I Love," and four originals that fit in nicely. Bass is noticeable and makes a fine impression -- check his solo on "Cigarones." Castellanos also stands out. B+(**)

Blink.: The Epidemic of Ideas (2008, Thirsty Ear): Chicago group, evidently they prefer lower case with a period at the end, but the typographer (not to mention the database architect) in me rebels. No one I'm familiar with: Jeff Greene (bass, sample, harmonium), Quin Kirchner (drums, percussion, glockenspiel), Dave Miller (guitar, effects), Greg Ward (alto sax). Don't know if there's any sort of pecking order there, although Greene is front and center in the group photo over at MySpace. Got an advance on this last summer and it fell through the cracks. Greene seems happy enough with rock grooves, while Ward plays a fairly aggressive freebop. Haven't paid enough attention to the drummer, who should be decisive. Maybe I can get a real copy. [B+(***)] [advance]

Rob Mazurek Quintet: Sound Is (2009, Delmark): Cornet player, based in Chicago, the mainstay behind Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet and Exploding Star Orchestra. Quintet picks up drummer and bass guitarist with more rock credits than anything else -- Matthew Lux on bass guitar, John Herndon on drums -- along with two common names in the Chicago underground: Josh Abrams on acoustic bass and Jason Adasiewicz on vibes. There is a lot of stuff to like here, but too much that I find annoying -- mostly having to do with lots of ringing bells. Even the bits that I like -- cornet, stretches of oddly accented free rhythm -- I can't make much of a case for. Played it four times in a row today, and want to move on, and don't particularly care to come back to it. B

Todd Bishop's Pop Art 4: Plays the Music of Serge Gainsbourg: 69 Année Érotique (2008 [2009], Origin): Not a bad idea, but done so roughly you figure that's part of their concept. Bishop is a drummer from Portland; does some visual art; has a gig on a Columbia River cruise ship; sells some merchandise; has been on a couple of group albums as Flatland and Lower Monumental. Group includes Richard Cole on woodwinds (i.e., not the much better known Richie Cole, although I'm pretty sure I've run across this one before), Steve Moore on keyboards, and Geoff Harper on bass, plus occasional guests. Casey Scott sings "Initials B.B." and "Je T'Aime . . . Moi Non Plus" -- crudely, of course. B

Madeleine Peyroux: Bare Bones (2009, Rounder): Nice French name, but she was born 1974 in Athens GA, grew up in New York and Southern California, but moved to Paris with her mother after her parents divorced, and was discovered there. She was slotted as a jazz singer because she sounds like Billie Holiday -- not that anyone really does, but she was one of the few who begged comparison. (Holiday wasn't necessarily a jazz singer either, but she hung with jazz musicians, sung on their records, employed them on hers, and was so great that no one quibbled about her style.) Peyroux's earlier records paraded various songbook items which heightened the comparison, but she has her name on every song here -- mostly co-credits with bassist-producer Larry Klein. Several are striking -- "Love and Treachery," "Our Lady of Pigalle" -- but none are what you would call jazzy. The band is mostly guitar and keyboards -- several credits on Estey, a brand name that could be a piano but is probably an old pump organ -- with a bit of violin by Carla Kihlstedt. Peyroux herself plays acoustic guitar. B+(**)

Duke Heitger and Bernd Lhotzky: Doin' the Voom Voom (2008 [2009], Arbors): Heitger is a trumpet player from Toledo, based in New Orleans; plays trad jazz. Has a fairly lengthy credits list since 1993, including Jacques Gauthé, Silver Leaf Jazz Band, Squirrel Nut Zippers, various John Gill groups (Dixieland Serenaders, Yerba Buena Stompers); also a couple of albums under his own name, like Duke Heitger's Steamboat Stompers and Duke Heitger's Big Four. Lhotzky is a German pianist who is especially fond of James P. Johnson. He showed up on one of those Arbors Piano Series records a few years back: Piano Portrait. Still, not much stomping going on here, just polite, often charming, duets on classic themes. B+(*)

Béla Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart: Tales From the Acoustic Planet Vol. 3: Africa Sessions (2009, Rounder): Although the banjo reportedly came from Africa, it doesn't seem inevitable that Fleck would trek back to the mother continent to situate his banjo in such ancestral music. But a tape of Mali's Oumou Sangare got him started on a project that wound up recording 40 pieces of music and recording some 250 hours of film. This CD has 18 songs. Not sure of the dates and locations, but it looks like he cut chunks in Mali, Gambia, Uganda, and Tanzania -- those four nations account for almost everyone involved here, the principal exceptions being D'Gary (from Malagasy) and Vusi Mahlasela (South Africa). (One piece called "D'Gary Jam" also credits musicians from Senegal and Cameroon, but it was actually cut in Nashville.) The African music is more folk than pop or jazz -- it almost has the feel of field recordings -- with the banjo running steadily through it. This will ultimately succeed or fail based on the African music, which at first has the feel of novelty about it. But Africans made a mensch out of Paul Simon, even. They certainly put a new spin on Fleck. [B+(***)]

Gabriel Espinosa: From Yucatan to Rio (2009, Zoho): Mexican bassist, starts with his arrangement of Jobim, adds a bunch of originals straddling his title, including two from vocalist Alison Wedding. It's OK as long as the sinuous grooves hold out, with Brazilian pianist Helio Alves setting the pace, and Brazilians Romero Lubambo (guitar) and Claudio Roditi (trumpet/flugelhorn) adding their skills. The drummers alternate between Brazilian Adriano Santos and Mexican Antonio Sanchez. It's less than OK when the singers chime in -- not just Wedding but also Darmon Meader and Kim Nazarian. Anat Cohen gets a lot of billing for one clarinet solo that I didn't notice. B-

Irene Atman: New York Rendezvous (2009, no label): Vocalist, from Toronto. Evidently sung a little when she was young -- "twenty years ago, while working on a forgettable cruise ship, I met a piano player . . . Frank Kimbrough" -- then did something else for a couple of decades before coming back with a record, and now her second. A New York group set up by Kimbrough, with Jay Anderson on bass, Matt Wilson on drums, and Joel Frahm on sax -- not that I noticed. Voice has some character, band is solid, but nothing special in the songs. Shows her range with one in Spanish, "Somos Novios" -- better choice than an obligatory Jobim. B [June 1]

Sarah Brooks and Graceful Soul: Under the Bones of the Great Blue Whale (2006 [2009], Whaling City Sound): Recorded live at The New Bedford Whaling Museum. Hard to read any of the tiny-blue-type-on-black-background: couldn't find the credits at first, or the venue, or the date, all of which eventually revealed themselves under an illuminated magnifying glass. Still haven't tackled Neal Weiss's liner notes. Brooks has one previous album, What My Heart Is For, unless she has a side-business recording things like Give Yourself Permission to Relax (CDBaby) -- seems unlikely for someone whose first impression is that she's a Janis Joplin wannabe. Of course, that comes through more loud and clear on songs that fit ("Bring It On Home to Me," "Chain of Fools," "At Last") than on songs that don't (e.g., "Look of Love"). Two guitar band, with an alto sax. Ends with an "instrumental version" of "Amazing Grace," which seems to add a second sax -- by far the best thing on the record. B

East West Quintet: Vast (2007 [2009], Native Language Music): Brooklyn group -- even on their website they say "don't be fooled by the name." Members: Dylan Heaney (saxes), Simon Kafka (guitars), Mike Cassedy (keys), Ben Campbell (bass), Jordan Perlson (drums). Kafka and Cassedy have most of the writing credits -- four each, compared to one each for Campbell and Heaney. Reportedly originated as a Cannonball Adderley-style hard bop group, but evolved to be more rockish. Works best when the saxophonist breaks free of the rhythmic thrash; worst when the thrash turns to sludge. C+ [June 23]

Steve Lehman Octet: Travail, Transformation, and Flow (2008 [2009], Pi): Alto saxophonist, don't see a birthdate anywhere, but he studied under Anthony Braxton and Jackie McLean, has six or more albums under his own name since 2001, plus two with Vijay Iyer as Fieldwork. His recent press has been playing up his Downbeat Rising Star votes (finished #5 last year), which seems more or less right -- although you could argue that Downbeat's critics aren't his natural constituency, given that they left McLean off their Hall of Fame ballot until after he died, and that they still haven't considered Braxton. (On the other hand, Lehman records for more critic-friendly labels than Braxton, at least in the last 20 years.) As with Braxton, Lehman's technique is slowed by his compositions, which are difficult little pieces that play against your expectations. I've found that they work best in small groups, as on his Demian as Posthuman. Scaling them up to octet strength is tricky, but he does a good job of keeping the five horns (Mark Shim on tenor sax, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Tim Albright on trombone, and Jose Davila on Tuba) distinct, and Chris Dingman's vibes fly against the grain -- not that there is much of a grain with Drew Gress on bass and, especially, Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Don't have it sussed out adequately. Nor do I recognize the last piece, the only one Lehman didn't write -- evidently comes from somewhere in the Wu-Tang empire. [B+(***)]

Mike Clinco: Neon (2008 [2009], Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, b. 1954, lives in Sherman Oaks, CA. Toured with Henry Mancini 1980; did some (maybe a lot) of film work from 1981 on. First album. Wrote everything on it except for "Charade" by Mancini and Johnny Mercer. Lined up a good band, with a couple of CA names I recognize -- Darek Oleskiewicz on bass; Bob Sheppard on tenor sax, alto sax, and alto flute. The others -- ex-Mother Walt Fowler on flugelhorn, electric bassist Jimmy Johnson, and drummer/percussionist Jimmy Branly -- have been around. Nice little postbop album. Probably had it in him for decades. B+(*)

Rick Germanson Trio: Off the Cuff (2009, Owl Studios): First album I recall seeing thus far this year with an honest 2009 recording date: January 6-7. I probably have some more in the queue, and more are sure to follow soon, since it no longer takes much to turn this product out. Pianist, b. 1972, Milwaukee, based in New York, has two previous 2003-05 Fresh Sound New Talent albums plus a couple dozen side credits since 1999 -- Brian Lynch, Jeremy Pelt, Wayne Escoffery, George Gee, Ian Hendrickson-Smith, Brad Leali, Louis Hayes & the Cannonball Legacy Band. Hayes is the drummer here, along with bassist Gerald Cannon. Originals slightly outnumber covers -- "Up Jumped Spring," "This Time the Dream's on Me," "Wives and Lovers," "Autumn in New York." B+(*)

Shelly Berg: The Nearness of You (2008 [2009], Arbors): Pianist, b. 1955, from Cleveland, studied in Houston, taught in Texas and, since 1991, at USC. Father played trumpet -- Jay Berg, doesn't ring a bell. Sixth album since 1995, including an Oscar Peterson tribute. This is solo, Volume 19 in Arbors Piano Series. A couple of medleys from "My Fair Lady" and "Guys and Dolls"; standards like the title cut and "Where or When" and "My One and Only Love," with "Con Alma" for a taste of bebop. I don't get much out of this sort of thing. Dr. Judith Schlesinger, in the liner notes, describes it as "inherently relaxing," but I don't even get that. It takes a lot to sustain interest in solo piano -- a Ran Blake or Paul Bley or Dave Burrell, maybe, or better still, a Cecil Taylor or Earl Hines or Art Tatum. B-

Thomas Marriott: Flexicon (2008 [2009], Origin): Seattle-based trumpeter. Fourth album since 2005, plus a couple dozen side credits, almost all on Origin. Core group is a quartet with Bill Anschell on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass, and Matt Jorgensen on drums. Five cuts add Mark Taylor on sax; two cuts feature Joe Locke on vibes. The first, with all six, is a Freddie Hubbard barn burner, turned out messy. Locke's other piece is John Barry's "You Only Live Twice," turned out nicely. Otherwise, a mix of originals and covers, wobbling uncertainly between hard bop and postbop. B-

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

Diana Krall: Quiet Nights (2009, Verve): Claus Ogerman's strings are soft and cushy, but they do the job, whether adding to the grandeur of a "Where or When" or setting up a little holiday to Brazil to check out "The Boy From Ipanema" and imagine that "So Nice" is something one could ever hope for. The concept is artistically marginal, commercially obvious, and a little bit demeaning. I especially hate the dysfunctional evening gown and all the make up that's meant to glamorize the plainest face in show business. But she sings every song superbly, especially the two so-called bonus tracks, and plays a little piano. She's always been willing to do what it takes to be a star, because deep down she is one. A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • J.D. Allen Trio: Shine! (Sunnyside)
  • John Allred/Jeff Barnhart/Danny Coots: The ABC's of Jazz (Arbors)
  • The Blasting Concept (Smalltown Superjazz): June 1
  • Jane Bunnett: Embracing Voices (Sunnyside): June 16
  • Mike Clinco: Neon (Whaling City Sound)
  • Oran Etkin: Kelenia (Motema)
  • Avram Fefer Trio: Ritual (Clean Feed)
  • Andrea Fultz: The German Projekt: German Songs From the Twenties & Thirties (no label)
  • Dennis González/Joăo Paulo Duo: Scape Grace (Clean Feed)
  • Lew Green and Joe Muranyi: Together (Arbors)
  • Herculaneum: Herculaneum III (Clean Feed)
  • Jon Irabagon: I Don't Hear Nothing' but the Blues (Loyal Label)
  • Lucky 7s: Pluto Junkyard (Clean Feed)
  • Offonoff: Slap and Tickle (Smalltown Superjazz): June 1
  • Andrew Rathbun: Where We Are Now (Steeplechase)
  • The Thing: Bag It! (Smalltown Superjazz): advance, June 15
  • Transit: Quadrologues (Clean Feed)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

House Log

Let's see: last House Log post on May 8. Just got the trash hauled away, and cut a couple of extra shelves for the medicine cabinet. Finally got the second coat of paint on those yesterday. Still need to drill a couple of holes in the cabinet sides so I can spread the original two shelves out to four. Was getting ready to order some hinges and slides. Did that and got them in. Used the small cabinet door hinges to attach the bathroom vanity doors. Still haven't used the slides yet, except for three sets I've attached to wood blocks that I still need to line up and secure. Doesn't sound like blinding progress, and it isn't, but I do a little work every day, and over time it adds up. Cut the last missing pieces of baseboard last night, and slopped a little blue paint on them. Put a coat of paint on the front drop flaps for the south wall unit last night. I managed to get them attached with hinges and stays a couple of days ago. Some minor problems with them: some of the hinges throw the flaps out a bit too far, so the flaps don't fit flush (I figure I'll put some screen mold on the vertices to pull them out past the doors); and the magnetic latches aren't strong enough to hold the doors (need to buy more latches of some sort).

The wood I cut last week to frame in the pantry drawers and the spice rack slide-outs still hasn't been attached firmly in place, but my reasons for not doing so have vanished. Should get those things done in the next day or two. Put some joint compound around the south wall cabinets, filling gaps on both sides. Need to sand that down and paint it, but basically looks good. Got the dining room light switch stuffed into the cabinet end, eliminating the last of the dangling AC wires. (Still have the intercom to hook up.) Have the screen mold and a bit of edge mold for the top cut, primed, and painted, ready to tack up. Would like to get that done tonight. If weather is good tomorrow, would be great to cut the drawers and slide-outs out. Don't have a detailed design yet, but have a rough concept.

One thing I did get done was the transition from the dining room (oak floor) to the kitchen. There was an old piece to deal with the rise, but replacing the old vinyl with porcelain tile added another 3/8-inch to the rise. Took the old piece (several strips of oak glued together, with a bevel on the outside end and kind of a round off on the inside: trimmed off the rounded part and trimmed down the sides; tacked a couple of pieces of screen mold down next to the tile to raise the transition piece about 1/4-inch; screwed the transition piece down, three 2.5-inch x 10 on both front and back (countersinking; drill bit smoked on every hole, and one bit snapped off); finally took a piece of carpet transition metal (pewter), trimmed the length down, and nailed it into place (first drilling the nail holes, more smoke). The metal overlaps the tile by about 1/4-inch, and has a wedge drop that handles the remaining roughly 1/8-inch, so there are basically two rise wedges. Very solid and snug; can run a shoe smoothly in either direction. Not a lot to it, but it was one of those things with no readymade or obvious solution, so it's that much better to be done with it.

Small War Thinking

Robert Haddick: This Week at War, No. 16: Two parts to this post, subtitled "What the four-stars are reading -- a weekly column from Small Wars Journal": the first on McChrystal replacing McKiernan in Afghanistan; the second on the antiwar movement. On the former:

With Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen revealing almost nothing at their press conference about why they made this change, we are forced to accept Gates's explanation at face value. Gates admitted "nothing went wrong," during McKiernan's eleven-month tenure in Afghanistan but that he wanted "a fresh approach, a fresh look."

This has usually been reported as "McKiernan did nothing wrong," which is sort of credible in the by-the-book world of the military bureaucracy. But if you scratch deeper, virtually every time the military's playbook meets the real world things go wrong. In fact, Afghanistan offers seven years of examples of things going wrong, horribly, practically day by day. The idea that "nothing went wrong" under McKiernan's watch in Afghanistan is absurd: not only did lot of little things go wrong, the whole strategic picture went from bad to worse. Maybe McChrystal won't respond to these problems any better than McKiernan did, but you can hardly argue that whatever it was that McKiernan was doing was working.

Haddick continues:

It seems very likely that McKiernan was the victim, and McChrystal and Rodriguez the beneficiaries, of "home-office syndrome." For the past year, McChrystal and Rodriguez have worked at the Pentagon, very close to Gates and Mullen. During this time, Gates has seen Rodriguez, his senior military assistant, several times a day, and McChrystal, director of the Joint Staff, at least several times each week.

McKiernan, by contrast, was out of the office, far away in Afghanistan, unable to schmooze as efficiently as McChrystal and Rodriguez. No doubt there's some truth to that. But more important was hat any armchair quarterbacking McChrystal had to offer in the meeting rooms of the Pentagon wouldn't be tested by reality in Afghanistan. It's always easier to suggest better ways of dealing with problems when you don't actually have to go to all of the trouble and mess of implementing them: simplifications are inevitable, troublesome details are easily swept aside, and unknowns are undiscovered. Given how bad Afghanistan has gone, and given the growing split between the counterinsurgency buffs and the old-line, there must have been a lot of second guessing in the Pentagon. The change of command is a way of saying "put up or shut up."

We can take this argument even further. When the wars started in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US military was built for major operations. McKiernan epitomized this in his mad rush to Baghdad, but that was the last such operation of the Long War -- unless you count the levelling of several Iraqi towns, like Fallujah. Since then the US has primarily been doing counterinsurgency, and ambitious officers, like Petraeus and McChrystal, have seen that as their ticket to the top and made that their specialty. I could argue that this is a good thing because it shows up how obsolete and useless the bloated military bureaucracy really is. On the other hand, the doomsday crap deterring the Russians was never likely to actually be used, whereas counterinsurgency is something that, if it doesn't fail totally, is tempting to be deployed in dozens of backwaters all over the world from now until the end of time: it could, in other words, be the ticket the military needs to remain fundable for decades.

The trick there is "if it doesn't fail totally": after all, the reason counterinsurgency became passé post-Vietnam was that it did fail totally. In fact, it's never much worked, because it always concludes that you have to get the politics right, and foreign occupiers pretty much by definition can't do that. We've seen that repeatedly everywhere, and Afghanistan shows up in the casebooks not only as a US failure, but also as a Russian and a British failure. So if there's good news to the McKiernan sacking, it's that we're moving slowly, fitfully, toward the truth. The bad news is that it gives the war a new lease on life, and it's likely to get nastier before anything else.

Haddick makes two more points: 1) that McKiernan's experience managing the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq and NATO both in Europe and Afghanistan gives him a lot of diplomatic expertise that McChrystal lacks. He forgets here about Holbrooke, who is a real diplomat and who isn't mired in the military's worldview (even if he is inordinately fond of violence). It's never been clear to me that any of the military's potentates were worth a damn diplomatically -- even ones like Wesley Clark who thought they were. And 2) "Gates and Mullen may have picked McChrystal because man-hunting is exactly what they want. Perhaps success will soon be defined not by vague notions of nation-building but by the acquisition of a few "high value" scalps. With McChrystal in charge, this definition of victory may be easier to achieve." Of course, McChrystal could have been given that mission under McKiernan, but that would have left McKiernan with a broader portfolio. Putting McChrystal in charge narrows the military mission to something more achievable, and leaves Holbrooke to sort out the political mess. Ideally, McChrystal buries Bin Laden and Zawahiri and closes the book on Al Qaeda, while Holbrooke negotiates some sort of federalized power-sharing with a sanitized "moderate Taliban" and we can all go home and sleep soundly. If that happens Obama will be very lucky. But at least he's starting to put some bounds on the problem.

Haddick's other part is called "Can an antiwar movement stop the Long War?" He quotes Gen. James Mattis -- Marine Corps, widely touted as an intellectual because he has a big library (but so does Douglas Feith, the only person Tommy Franks was ever right about) -- on how future wars won't have clearly defined beginnings and ends. (I think he means terminations here, but reading "ends" as goals is more revealing.) Then he quotes Michele Flournoy, who holds Feith's old job, on five challenges and five trends that promise to keep the shooting and bombing going indefinitely. Finally, he quotes Tom Hayden on why all this madness should stop, and wonders whether he can organize an effective antiwar movement (using Vietnam as a comparison):

With conscription, a large army, and a high casualty rate, the Vietnam War was a very personal matter to America's youth. Those circumstances don't exist today. So Hayden may find it difficult to fill in "the great deficit in popular understanding."

But watch this space. On April 24, I took note of criticism of President Obama's policy for Afghanistan and wondered whether in time the Afghan war might no longer be the "good war." The antiwar movement seems trivial today. But it also appeared that way to many in May 1965.

There are three things I want to say about this:

  1. Afghanistan never was and never will be a "good war" in any sense of the phrase. What made WWII a "good war" -- and note that Studs Terkel put the phrase in quotes on the cover of his book -- was the euphoric rise of the economy from the Great Depression to world mastery, and the satisfaction of inflicting unconditional defeat on enemies who ever since have remained out gold standard definition of evil. Afghanistan isn't even conceivable in such terms: we're beating the poorest country on earth to a pulp, and still they're shooting back because they don't like foreigners tearing up their country. The initial support for the war was sheer bloodlust directed not at the Afghans but at Bin Laden, and that's cooled down over the years. Obama embraced the war as a backhanded way of criticizing Bush for Iraq without exposing his flank as a peacenik.

  2. The "great deficit in popular understanding" seems likely to continue even if Obama extricates the US from the war. There is little reason to think that any substantial number of American people are ever going to understand what's going on and why it is bad. Part of this is that we're ever more disconnected from the war, from government policy, from politics, from pretty much everything. Part is that the elites are themselves pretty well isolated from democratic check and balances.

  3. As much as I'd like to see an antiwar movement grow, I think it will be the elites who decide to end this and other wars, and the reason they will do so is because they finally realize that such wars destabilize their own power. Moreover, when they do, you'll find a massive shift in popular opinion against war, because it will be led from the top, but also because it's what most people wanted deep down in the first place. The antiwar movement can prefigure this a bit, but can't make it happen. It's worth doing because it's what one can do, but it won't be decisive, even if it gets much bigger. Haddick seems to think that the antiwar movement stopped the war in Vietnam, which is a nice thought, but it wasn't true. The war ended when the US pulled out, which happened -- much later than it should have -- because US elites realized that it was never going to work.

One more thing the antiwar movement can do is to establish a credible record of dissent from the bad things the government does, and to put some principles on the table for avoiding such acts in the future, and maybe even doing some good. The antiwar movement has been right about every war this country has been involved in since WWII. It's about time we start getting some respect and credit for that.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Martin Van Creveld: Do Like Jimmy Carter. Written by a prominent Israeli military strategist and historian -- no dove, but realistic enough. A long list of American presidents dutifully delivered arms, money, and advice to Israel -- as Moshe Dayan said: we take the arms, we take the money, and we ignore the advice -- Carter was the only one to actually solve any of Israel's problems. He did so by standing up to Menachem Begin, who quite frankly was a tough dude to stand up to. But he also got Egypt to accept a deal that offered no guarantees of solving the Palestinian's major complaints -- one that divided the previously united Arab world against Israel, one that led directly to the assassination of Anwar Sadat, one with vague wording about Palestinian "autonomy" that Begin never had any intention of giving meaningful implementation to. For his trouble, Carter is widely reviled by Israel boosters like Alan Dershowitz, who singles Carter out in his The Case Against Israel's Enemies. Van Creveld tries to set up a set of analogies -- between Carter and Obama, Begin and Netanyahu, the likelihood that the Knesset opposition (then Labor, now Kadima) would back a US-sponsored peace deal, even if the right coalition in power were to split on it. He notably doesn't flatter Netanyahu in the deal:

Begin was an honest demagogue who passionately believed in Israel's right to retain the territories. Netanyahu is a petty rascal who believes in very little except, perhaps, his own advancement. Unlike Begin, a man of exceptional integrity, he can be bought.

Maybe, but the price is likely to be high. He has, after all, learned that the one path to power that works in Israel is to keep turning right. And he's managed to go so far down that path it's hard to imagine him returning to reality. So Obama has a tough job ahead of him, assuming even that he's up to it. Carter had a rough time of it, and still doesn't get the respect he deserves, least of all in Israel.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Prison Labor

Lead front page article in The Wichita Eagle today is titled "Prison cuts hurt El Dorado." Joe Rodriguez writes:

The closing of the minimum-security unit at th El Dorado Correctional Facility will mean the loss of thousands of hours of inmate labor in the community, officials say.

Officials from El Dorado State Park, the cty of El Dorado and Butler County say they are uncertain how they will make up for the lost labor, which they depend on for jobs such as park maintenance, construction, and landfill maintenance.

Just an idea, but they might consider hiring people in the free labor market. But even in the midst of a depression where unemployment is surging, the costs are troubling:

It may be felt most at El Dorado State Park, where about 16 to 20 inmates work each day, according to park manager Doug Lauxman.

At the park, inmates do jobs such as mowing, weeding, welding and repairing equipment. They are paid $1.05 a day.

Prisons have long been a source of cheap labor in America -- a fact that is little recognized, especially of late since the world's largest gulag has become a voracious sink for government funds. In the post-Reconstruction deep south prison labor was exploited so shamelessly you had to figure it was social revenge for the Union's ending the "peculiar institution" of slavery. At their worst, those prisons had morality rates rivalling Soviet and Nazi slave labor camps. The El Dorado deal sounds relatively benign, but the idea that you can strip people of their rights and force them to work for virtually nothing isn't much different.

The bottom-right corner of the front page also has a McClatchy article: "$96.7 billion war funding bill easily clears House." A big chunk of the article has to do with $50 million allocated to close a much larger and more notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay. Evidently several states have passed laws or resolutions against transferring those "dangerous" prisoners -- not convicted, not even formally charged -- to their states. Still, I'd bet that if if those so-called terrorists were willing to do yardwork and a little welding for $1.05 per day, they'd be welcome at El Dorado State Park.

Conspicuously missing from the article, and most likely from the House deliberations, was any mention of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Page 3 of The Wichita Eagle leads off with an Associated Press article titled "Pope, Israeli PM discuss Iran." The eleven paragraph article barely alluded to the Pope's criticism of Israel's occupation:

The two men [Pope Benedict XVI and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu] met a day after the pope made a powerful call for Palestinian statehood, a concept that Netanyahu has refused to endorse. They held 15 minutes of face-to-face talks, which the Vatican said "centered on how the peace process can be advanced."

But in televised remarks following the talks, Netanyahu did not mention the Palestinian issue, focusing instead on Iran. [ . . . ]

He [Netanyahu] said Benedict said "he condemns all such things, anti-Semitism, hate," adding: "I think we found in him an attentive ear."

The pope not only called for a renewed peace process and a Palestinian state; he visited a Palestinian refugee camp to make his point. As Paul Woodward points out:

But then comes the image that should overshadow all others: the Pope in a fully operational open-air prison camp. No need to get lost in a debate about whose memories he is giving sufficient attention to -- the visible reality of incarceration is inescapable. The Pope's vaguely Reaganesque moment when he said that walls "can be taken down" not only evoked the fall of the Berlin Wall, but intentionally or not, called attention to the differences between the two barriers. East Berliners were deprived of all sorts of liberties, yet even they enjoyed far greater freedom than Palestinians. The emancipation of those oppressed by authoritarian communist rule was a popular cause among freedom-loving Americans. The emancipation of Palestinians from Israeli oppression . . . oh, that's something we're not even interested in thinking about.

I don't put much stock in the pope as an effective advocate for peace or human rights, but he's eminent enough that even Netanyahu is compelled to put on a show and dance to ignore him.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Obama's War

Fred Kaplan: It's Obama's War Now: There is little thus far to distinguish Obama's handling of the war in Iraq from what he inherited, but he's moved rather aggressively to remake the Afghanistan (or more pointedly 'Af-Pak') war in his image: appointing Richard Holbrooke to line up the ducks in Kabul and Islamabad, ordering a substantial troop surge, pressing Pakistan into action during his summit, and now sacking "old army" Gen. David McKiernan -- the guy who led the "Mission Accomplished" phase in Iraq and wrangled another assignment before anyone could point out otherwise -- in favor of special ops Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has a trail of "harsh interrogations" under his command that would surely warm Dick Cheney's cold, cold heart.

Anatol Lieven: Mistrust of the West is stronger in Pakistan than fear of the Taleban. Although Pakistan's offensive against the Taliban lines up neatly with the Obama-Zardari-Karzai summit, Lieven shows that Pakistan's military leaders, as always, have their own take on what to do and what not. Indeed, the timing probably suits them, because it makes it look like they're going to war at Washington's beckon. As such, the inevitable collateral damage can conveniently be added to Washington's bill. This seems about right:

Barely two months after a peace deal with the Taleban to create a Sharia system in the Swat district, the army is back on the offensive. The Taleban overstepped an unwritten mark when they tried to extend their control into the district of Buner, barely 60 miles northwest of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. The army chief, General Asfaq Kayani, stated clearly that a challenge to the existence of the Pakistani state would not be tolerated.

What will be tolerated is Taleban strength in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. As I discovered during a visit to the region last September, the level of support for them there is such that crushing them completely would take a huge campaign of repression.

Tony Karon: The Writing on the Wall for Obama's 'Af-Pak' Vietnam. Similar take, going further to press the point that: "Pakistan's turmoil is unlikely to end before the U.S. winds down its campaign next door." This is, of course, because the U.S. is the alien force in the region, qualitatively different even from Pakistan's scheming and meddling in Afghanistan.

If, for the sake of argument, we concede that Obama will do a much more effective job of managing the forces that he can manage -- replacing McKiernan with McChrystal is one such step, and lining up Zardari and Karzai for a joint show of solidarity is another -- there is still a lot that is totally out of his control: especially the fact that Americans will keep killing ordinary Afghans and Pakistanis, but also that all those the US thinks of as part of the solution have their own more/less askew agendas which more/less undermine the whole project. It's also that Afghans and Pakistanis have all along been justified in their cynicism about US intentions in the region. Even if Obama isn't as mendacious as Bush was you can be assured that of the real reasons he's pursuing this war -- and I for one sure can't tell you what they are -- any concern for the Afghan or Pakistani people is way down the list. That's what, in the end, will get him; on the other hand, if it were otherwise, he wouldn't be pursuing this war in the first place.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15334 [15304] rated (+30), 781 [790] unrated (-9). Been a long time since I had a 30-rated week. I guess that's one sign of returning to normalcy. I still do a little work on the house every day, but we're back into heavy jazz prospecting, plus listening to occasional other things.

  • Abe Vigoda: Skeleton (2008, PPM): Los Angeles rock band. Christgau liked them, comparing this to No Age, then dropping a list of avant-garde names to illustrate their minimalist prettiness. Huh? Hated it the first time I played it in the car; hated it again when I played it while painting; played it a third time to help spec out why I hate it, but hated it less. Sort of prog, in the sloppy arty sense that carries a lot of critical weight in joints like Pitchfork and PopMatters. B-
  • Calle 13: Residente o Visitante (2007, Norte): Puerto Rican rap duo, starts with a weird piece of opera, ends with something else weird, rides sharp beats and Spanish raps in between. Given the booklet typography I couldn't read the lyrics even if they were in English. Music is a little samey, but that's par for hip-hop, and doesn't matter if you can grok the words. Obviously a group to return to in the future, which could lead to elevating this interesting record. B+(***)
  • Clipse Presents Re-Up Gang: The Saga Continues (2008, Re-Up Gang): Filed this under Clipse; even if you figure Re-Up Gang -- Clipse's Pusha and Malice, plus extras Live and Sandman -- could be counted as something else, the "presents" reminds you of the hierarchy. Don't know how this relates to their mixtapes, which have gotten some attention in recent years. For that matter this has next to no info about who does what when. Not deep, either, but moves along at a nice clip, looking sharp, making moves. A-
  • Glasvegas (2008 [2009], Columbia): Big alt-rock group from Scotland -- presumably name is based on Glasgow crossing over to Las Vegas, a straightforward and non-trivial ambition. All the songs have big swells of sound. Haven't tried reading along with the lyrics sheet, which is the only way I'll be able to focus on such details -- they could be brilliant, or not. But they roll as well as rock, and make it look as easy as guitar bands should. US release has two extra songs. UK release showed up on a bunch of year-end lists last year. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #20, Part 3)

A relatively good week for Jazz Prospecting on all counts. Rated album count hit 30 for the week, which is about as productive as I ever get. Not all of those were jazz -- Glasvegas and Clipse Presents Re-Up Gang: The Saga Continues were easy picks in other genres. Five A- records below, with Shipp and maybe Fully Celebrated due for more possible pick hit listening. A couple of records held back for further play. The others more or less summarily resolved. Some of those I must admit I'm not really so firm on, but decided wasn't likely to be worth pursuing further. That sort of thing is necessary in order to get through as much as I do. The other thing that is necessary is that some of the notes just end abruptly with no real conclusion other than the grade. That's because I need to move on and I can't think of anything useful to say at the moment. Were I writing a CG review I'd have to tighten that up and round it off, but here that's less important, and often impossible.

Nothing new on the (to me) old Jazz CG column. Presumably it's scheduled and the Voice folks will notice it when the time comes. Too early to work on finishing the next Jazz CG column, so I'm mostly just running through the incoming box as fast as possible. Still working on kitchen, but it's winding down a bit. Need to build eight drawers and four slide-out pantry stack things this week, put some doors on some cabinets, and finish up some wiring. Ordered a bunch of slides and hinges, which will probably take a week to get here. Good chance we can return the dining table to its rightful place this week. Fair chance it will all be done in two weeks. Looks amazing. Wish my dad were around to see it. (But then he would have wrapped it up three months ago.)

Lisa Sokolov: A Quiet Thing (2008 [2009], Laughing Horse): Singer, musical therapist, lay cantor, acompanies herself on piano when working alone. Moved to New York in 1977 -- doesn't mention anything before that. Fourth album since 1993. An audacious, astonishing interpreter: she tears "Ol' Man River" apart line by line to magnify its emotional impact -- her "fear of dying" has never been more palpable; nor has "Lush Life" ever come across as fully felt, the comfort but also the ennui. The group cuts smooth her out, and Todd Reynolds' violin is a plus. But she's most effective solo, and the intensity can be wearing. (Look for "Ol' Man River" on YouTube.) A-

Roy Nathanson: Subway Moon (2009, Yellow Bird/Enja): A follow up to Nathanson's vocal-dominated 2006 Sotto Voce -- the front cover and booklet have "sottovoce" in small print to the left of Nathanson's name and to the left and above the title, so there is some temptation to work that in somehow. Nathanson plays alto and soprano sax, and has a vocals credit along with several others here. He came out of the Jazz Passengers with Curtis Fowlkes (also here, on trombone). Most of the vocals are spoken word, poems over slippery jazz grooves, presumably Nathanson himself, but the album starts off with a cover of Gamble and Huff's "Love Train" with Tim Kiah taking the lead. Nathanson's albums often pick a pop song and play it close enough to cash in on its hooks but loose enough to make you think they could do anything with it. Haven't sussed out all of the poetry yet -- some is in the booklet, but not all. But the music between the lines is full of delights, not least Sam Bardfeld's violin, Bill Ware's vibes, and Marcus Rojas's tuba. A-

Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra: Live at Jazz Standard (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Not much of an orchestra: just the pianist, percussionist Richie Barshay, and an alternating choice of vocalist Jo Lawry or trumpeter Ralph Alessi. I'd take Alessi any day, and his first shot, on the appropriately named "Stuttering," had me thinking I'd picked up my third straight A-list record. Lawry will take more time to get used to, but she has a serviceable voice and offers some energetic scat. Barshay has really wound Hersch up. Always an elegant stylist, I've never heard him play with such vigor. [B+(***)]

Seamus Blake Quartet: Live in Italy (2007 [2009], Jazz Eyes, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, born 1969 in England, raised in Canada (Vancouver), studied in Boston (Berklee), lives in New York. Ninth album since 1993, fairly large number of side credits, where he always sounds good. Quartet includes David Kikoski, a first-rate pianist. The live cuts range from 8:10 to 17:07, cherry picked from at least three shows: open, wide-ranging, vigorous. B+(**)

Venissa Santi: Bienvenida (2006 [2009], Sunnyside): Singer, b. 1978, Cuban-American, family left Cuba in 1961; raised in Ithaca NY, based in Philadelphia; first album. She takes her Cuban heritage seriously, with three expats in her band, and more second-generation Cuban-Americans. Most impressive when the rhythms are most authentic, but she's also more than credible on standards like "Embraceable You," and wrote one called "Wish You Well" that if anything reminds me of Leon Russell's "Song for You." B+(**)

Aaron J Johnson: Songs of Our Fathers (2007 [2009], Bubble-Sun): Plays trombone and shells here, bass trombone and tuba elsewhere. B. 1958, from Washington DC, studied at Carnegie Mellon, degree in electronic engineering and economics; lives in Irvington NJ, works in/around New York City, mostly working in big bands. First record, all originals (despite the title), a mainstream quintet with Salim Washington on tenor sax (also flute and oboe), Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano, Robert Sabin on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums. Old fashioned -- I've seen this referred to as hard bop, but Lewis is too subtle to fall for that. Washington is underrated, Gumbs is overly fancy but spices this up, and the trombonist holds it together. B+(**)

Eryan Katsenelenbogen: 88 Fingers (2006-07 [2009], Eyran): Israeli pianist, b. 1965, teaches at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston; has a bunch of records since 1989 -- AMG lists 6, Wikipedia (swallowing his press bio whole) has 15. Solo piano, a lot of familiar tunes -- Weill, Berlin, Gillespie, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" -- as well as a couple of improvs based on classical themes (Chopin, Mussorgsky). Nicely done. B

Jeremy Udden: Plainville (2008 [2009], Fresh Sound New Talent): Saxophonist, plays alto and soprano, from Plainville MA (the source of this title), based in Brooklyn. Second album. Starts out in a sly groove, using Brandon Seabrook's banjo and guitar and Pete Rende's pedal steel to hint at country music. Rende also plays pump organ and Fender Rhodes, a layering that Udden's sax builds on -- at least until he breaks loose on "Big Lick," which is set up by RJ Miller's razor-sharp drums. B+(***)

Clay Giberson: Spaceton's Approach (2007-08 [2008], Origin): Pianist, based in Portland OR, teaches at Clackamas Community College, has a couple of good records out as Upper Left Trio. This is another piano trio, with David Ambrosio on bass and Matt Garrity on drums. Two covers ("It Might as Well Be Spring," "Solar"), five originals. Mainstream postbop, nicely done, probably better than most such records, but so firmly embedded in its flow you tend not to notice the well-crafted details. B+(*)

Rakalam Bob Moses: Father's Day B'hash (2006 [2009], Sunnyside): Percussionist. Broke in while still a teenager with Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1964-65), and eventually figured he needed a cool moniker as well. Has a dozen or so albums since 1975. Has long taught at New England Conservatory of Music, where he recruited most of this mostly unknown band. Some small rhythmic bits are interesting, but most of the band came armed with horns, which they tend to play loud and at the same time, which isn't to say in unison. "Pollack Springs" splashes sound as chaotically as Pollack poured paint. I find it can get to be very annoying, although a little control -- as on "A Pure and Simple Being" -- can make all the difference. B-

Corey Wilkes & Abstrakt Pulse: Cries From Tha Ghetto (2008 [2009], Pi): Hot young trumpet player from Chicago, leading a quintet -- or sextet if you count tap dancer Jumaane Taylor -- with Kevin Nabors on tenor sax, Scott Hesse on guitar, Junius Paul on bass, and Isaiah Spencer on drums. Wilkes is developing into a very strong performer -- paying some interest back on those Freddie Hubbard comparisons. A lot going on here, much of it impressive on the surface, but it's not adding up for me. Neither hint from the group name nor from the title sheds much light here. He could just as well claim an Organic Pulse, and the Cries certainly aren't of anguish, although maybe there's some anger there, or maybe he just hasn't found himself, at least not like he's found his horn. B+(*)

Fire Room: Broken Music (2005 [2009], Atavistic): Trio, another Ken Vandermark project, with Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, and Lasse Marhaug doing something with electronics. The electronics include low-pitched buzzes and warbles, and can get loud and ugly, although Vandermark -- playing tenor and baritone saxes here -- is more than his match. Don't have a settled sense of this yet, other than that the drummer is very much in the game. [B+(*)]

Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Thin Air (2008 [2009], Thirsty Ear): First time I heard the vocals here I flashed on the thought that this might be a jazz analogue to anti-folk -- much more learned, of course, but something meant to upset the cart. Second time through I heard echoes of Syd Barrett. But by then Halvorson's guitar and Pavone's violin had started to come into their own and the occasional words seem to matter less. Halvorson's developed a critical cult in the last couple of years. B. 1980 in Boston, studied enough at Wesleyan to get associated with Braxton, moved on to Brooklyn. I haven't heard her Dragon's Head record, which finished strong in 2008 year-end polls, and only caught a previous duo with Pavone, On and Off on Rhapsody, with one play not making much sense of it. Pavone is from New York, a few years older, attended University of Hartford, and was drawn into Braxton's orbit at Wesleyan, and of course returned to New York. (She is evidently not related to the great bassist Mario Pavone, who also has a Braxton connection.) This will take some time to sort out, if indeed I ever do. Note that Halvorson and Pavone are on the current cover of Signal to Noise, whose eds. are no doubt pleased with the contrast that Diana Krall is on the cover of Downbeat. [B+(***)]

The Matthew Shipp Trio: Harmonic Disorder (2008 [2009], Thirsty Ear): I assume this was recorded in '08. Booklet doesn't say, which is par for this label -- I thought about complimenting them for including the record date in the Halvorson/Pavone, as it seemed a breakthrough. This is actually an earlier release. It got lost in the mail and had to be resent, or so the story goes -- actually, same thing happened with Shipp's previous record, Piano Vortex, which I got to so late I wound up skipping, despite the fact that it is a very good record. In any case, this one may be better. Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums both stand out, but Shipp does it all, from the simple pacing of "Mel Chi 2" to the rollicking combustion of "Zo Number 2." I often bemoan my difficulties grasping piano trios, but this one just jumps up and grabs you. Not done with it, but figure this grade as a baseline. A-

Marianne Faithfull: Easy Come Easy Go (2008 [2009], Decca): Not a jazz singer of any recognition, but interpreting a bunch of songs -- only "Solitude" counts as a standard, with "Ooh Baby Baby" (Smokey Robinson) comparably famous and not much more than "Sing Me Back Home" (Merle Haggard) easy to place (title song was part of Bessie Smith's repertoire) -- with Hal Willner producing more than qualifies. Willner's worked effectively with Faithfull before, producing her 1987 record Strange Weather -- a candidate for the last record she's done this good, although it's possible you'll have to go back to 1979's Broken English, not that I'd totally discount 1997's Twentieth Century Blues -- and perhaps more importantly turned her loose on Kurt Weill on the Willner's wondrous Lost in the Stars (1985). Willner brings several things, starting with networking. The only guest vocalist I find actively annoying is Antony (on "Ooh Baby Baby"), but Nick Cave, Sean Lennon, Chan Marshall, and Rufus Wainwright aren't even on my B-list -- Teddy Thompson and Keith Richard might be. But the revolving band is superb: horns include Steven Bernstein, Marty Ehrlich, Ken Peplowski, Lenny Pickett, and Doug Wieselman; Marc Ribot and Barry Reynolds on guitar; Rob Burger, Gil Goldstein, and Steve Weisberg on various keyboards; Greg Cohen on bass and Jim White on drums; and a string quartet on five cuts, never too conspicuous. Leads off with Dolly Parton's "Down From Dover" which Faithfull's accent moves from Tennessee and her gravitas lifts from pity to tragedy. Nothing else is transformed so powerfully, but it's all worth pondering. Can't think of many real jazz singers who can do that. A-

Refuge Trio (2008 [2009], Winter & Winter): This would be Theo Bleckmann (vocals, live electronic processing), Gary Versace (piano, accordion, keyboards), and John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion, crotales, vibraphone, glockenspiel). Group name seems to be tied into the 1:09 intro version of Joni Mitchell's "Refuge of the Roads" -- otherwise it's not at all clear what it means. Hollenbeck is always doing interesting things, and Versace is a pretty dependable double threat. Bleckmann, on the other hand, is a difficult case. I find his voice has little appeal, although he clearly is a fountain of clever ideas -- it's hard to think of any male vocalist who's pushed so many boundaries over the last five years. I wish I liked him more. B+(*)

Theo Bleckmann/Kneebody: Twelve Songs by Charles Ives (2008 [2009], Winter & Winter): On paper this looks dicier than The Refuge Trio, but it comes off better. Ives' songs suck up enough Americana to contain their artiness, and his fondness for juxtaposing things provides a bit of edge. Kneebody has some names I barely recognize (Ben Wendel on tenor sax, Adam Benjamin on piano, Shane Endsley on trumpet) and others I don't (Kaveh Rastegar on bass, Nate Wood on drums). Bleckmann's voice fits the songs nicely, only rarely slipping into his angelic upper register. B+(**)

The Fully Celebrated: Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones (2008 [2009], AUM Fidelity): Boston group, a trio with Jim Hobbs on alto sax, Timo Shanko on bass, and Django Carranza on drums. Not familiar with the latter two, but Hobbs had a couple of albums in 1993 (Babadita and Peace & Pig Grease) then largely disappeared. I noticed him when he appeared on Joe Morris's Beautiful Existence and flat-out stole the show. There is a 2002 album by a slightly larger group (add Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet) billed as The Fully Celebrated Orchestra: Marriage of Heaven and Earth. Same lineup also appears on a 2005 album, Lapis Exilis, as Jim Hobbs & the Fully Celebrated Orchestra. Don't know what the mythology signifies, but it strikes me as a ruse. Most of the cuts here start with basic funk or blues grooves and lay on deceptively simple sax melodies, just shy of honking, but thoughtfully close to the edge. The odd tune out is "Conotocarius," where they run free and thrash -- it can get a bit tedious. A- [May 26]

Charlie Kohlhase's Explorer's Club: Adventures (2007 [2009], Boxholder): Boston-based saxophonist (alto, tenor, baritone, listed in that order, although his website shows him playing baritone), leads a group with a couple more horns (Matt Langley on tenor and soprano sax, Jeff Galindo on trombone), guitar (Eric Hofbauer), bass (Jef Charland), and drums (Miki Matsuki and Chris Punis). Kohlhase once released an album with the title Play Free or Die, and that seems to be his motto. Such freedom produces a certain amount of wreckage, especially given the weight of the horns. B+(*)

Steven Bernstein/Marcus Rojas/Kresten Osgood: Tattoos and Mushrooms (2008 [2009], ILK): Osgood is a Danish drummer, b. 1976, doesn't have much under his own name, partly because he hasn't bothered to push his name up front in multi-artist credits. He's showed up on several good records recently -- Scott DuBois' Banshees, Michael Blake's Control This. He probably should be considered the leader here: the original material has one group credit, one shared with Bernstein, three more just Osgood, including a terrific closer called "The Beat Up Blues"; moreover, he's on his home turf here. Rojas plays tuba, starting off burying a Charles Brackeen piece deep under, and he provides a dependable bottom to Bernstein's trumpet and slide trumpet. Also covered are pieces by Monk and Mingus, and a deep, slow, lovely run through Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." B+(***)

Ramana Vieira: Lágrimas de Rainha / Tears of a Queen (2008 [2009], Pacific Coast Jazz): Portuguese-American fado vocalist, born in San Leandro, CA, now based in or near San Francisco. Grew up listening to classics like Amália Rodrigues -- strikes me as more deeply traditional than recent Portguese fadistas like Mariza, but part of that is my instinctive reaction to opera. That turned me off from this at first, but she hangs in there, and the group for once sounds utterly authentic. (San Francisco seems to have become a melting pot of truly mediocre world music, hence the "for once.") Wrote five songs, the last two in English: her anthemic "This Is My Fado" and one called "United in Love" that could be retooled for Nashville. B+(*)

Adam Shulman: Patterns of Change (2008 [2009], Kabocha): Pianist, from San Francisco, presumably not the same Adam Shulman seen acting in The Dukes of Hazzard and dating Anne Hathaway, although from pictures on the web they don't look that different -- the pianist, I guess, looks a little glummer. Second album, expanding from quartet to quintet with the addition of Mike Olmos on trumpet/flugelhorn, alongside Dayna Stephens on tenor sax. Mainstream postbop, swings a little, horns have some kick to them. I keep hearing bits of "Dat Dere" in "4th Street Strut." One called "Chopinesque" isn't particularly. B+(*)

Gian Tornatore: Fall (2007 [2009], Sound Spiral): Tenor saxophonist, plays a little soprano but not as well. Has a couple of good albums on Fresh Sound New Talent, the first struck me especially favorably (Sink or Swim). This, a quintet with both guitar and piano, less so, although I still like his tone and command. B+(*)

Margie Notte: Just You, Just Me & Friends: Live at Cecil's (2008 [2009], Gnote): Singer, from Orange, NJ, no published age -- one hint is that her mother had five brothers who served in WWII. Studied with Carla Wood and Roseanna Vitro. First album. Standards, mostly associated with the 1950s: "Too Close for Comfort," "Cry Me a River," "You Go to My Head," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "I Thought About You." Cecil's owner Cecil Brooks III is the house drummer. Jason Teborek handles the piano, and Tom Di Carlo bass. Don Braden plays warm tenor sax and a little flute. I like her voice and poise, and the songs are hard to miss with. She nails them all. B+(**)

Coyote Poets of the Universe: Callin' You Home (2008 [2009], Square Shaped): Denver group, fourth album since 2004 (second I've heard). AMG files them under Pop/Rock, which is evidently their default genre. They call it FolkaDelic. Multiple vocalists, mostly female judging from the credits, with Melissa Ingalls the most prominently mentioned, but starts off with a male spoken word poems about coyotes -- may be bassist Andy O'Blivion, who may in turn once have been Andy O'Leary. Music trends countryish with fiddle and banjo, but also includes a congalero. Sort of an inward-bound Pink Martini. Choice cut: "I Don't Know Birds"; followed by "Canonization," which is pretty good too, and covers their range. B+(***)

Julian Lage: Sounding Point (2009, Emarcy/Decca): Guitarist. First record. Twelve paragraphs of "bio" on his webpage disclose hardly anything: he's "Bay Area-based" and/or "Boston-based" (sure, I know about Boston Bay); he is (or was) 21; he's played on albums with Gary Burton, Marian McPartland, Nnenna Freelon, and Taylor Eigsti. Two solo cuts. Other small combinations weave in and out: two duos with Eigsti; three trios with Béla Fleck on banjo and Chris Thile on mandolin; five cuts with Ben Norseth on sax, one a duo, the others with Tupac Mantilla percussion, two also with Aristedes Rivas on cello. They flow nicely because the distinctive guitar is rarely out of the spotlight, and everyone else (well, except Eigsti) makes him sound better. B+(**)

Tim Davies Big Band: Dialmentia (2007 [2009], Origin): Credits list 8 reeds, 7 trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 guitars, 2 keyboards, 2 basses, drums, percussion, and 5 extra guest soloists. Davies is the drummer. He's Australian, based in Los Angeles, aims to add hip-hop and death metal to the usual big band fare. One cut features an MC named Aloe Blacc ("Hanging by a Thread"). Another ("Pythagatha") breaks some interesting jazztronic ground with an electric piano solo (Alan Steinberger, who also has an organ solo later on). The massed horns are less surprising, but they're there for sheer punching power. B+(**)

Jentsch Group Large: Cycles Suite (2008 [2009], Fleur de Son): Composed and produced by guitarist Chris Jentsch, leading a conventionally sized big band: 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 4 rhythm (guitar, piano, bass, drums). Darcy James Argue conducts, and Mike Kaupa gets a "featuring" credit with solos in 4 of 6 movements (trumpet section; photographs show him with a flugelhorn). This flows very smoothly, the large group tightly disciplined to groove, the solos elevating the themes as opposed to breaking out of them. B+(*)

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

Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:

Joel Harrison: Urban Myths (2009, High Note): Chris Di Giorolamo informs me that he works for Harrison, not High Note, so this doesn't represent a change in High Note's service. My service from High Note has been shakey lately, so I just flew off the handle. Arguably, the promo was a favor, but the fact is that promo copies do me little good: I don't have advance deadlines, so I tend to file them away, then they almost invariably get lost. I still have advances listed in my active file from 3-4 years ago -- presumably they're still around here somewhere, but they're not doing anyone any good. Of course, I'd rather hear a promo than nothing at all, but they don't put me in a good mood, and they don't feel quite honest: even if the music is the same, they're not really the same product I'm supposed to be reviewing.

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Bill Anschell/Brent Jensen: We Couldn't Agree More (Origin)
  • Shelly Berg: The Nearness of You (Arbors)
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Simply Put (Savant)
  • Terri Lyne Carrington: More to Say . . . (Koch)
  • Tim Davies Big Band: Dialmentia (Origin)
  • Maria de Barros: Morabeza (Sheer Group): advance
  • Kyle Eastwood: Metropolitan (Mack Avenue): advance, June 2
  • Gabriel Espinosa: From Yucatan to Rio (Zoho): July 14
  • Fred Forney: Chasing Horizons (OA2)
  • Jürgen Friedrich: Pollock (Pirouet)
  • Rick Germanson Trio: Off the Cuff (Owl Studios): June 9
  • The Peter Hand Big Band: The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to Harold Arlen (Savant)
  • Duke Heitger and Bernd Lhotzky: Doin' the Voom Voom (Arbors)
  • Pablo Held: Forest of Oblivion (Pirouet)
  • Magos Herrera: Distancia (Sunnyside)
  • Frank Potenza Trio: Old, New, Borrowed, & Blue (Capri)
  • Henning Sieverts Symmetry: Blackbird (Pirouet)
  • 3 Play +: American Waltz (Ziggle Zaggle Music): May 26
  • Nicolas Thys: Virgo (Pirouet)
  • Kobie Watkins: Involved (Origin)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More Books

Another quick round of books, about a month after the last batch of 40. They seem to be accumulating pretty fast, partly because researching them provides the same sort of mental comfort that I've always gotten from browsing bookstores.

Sina Aksin: Turkey: From Empire to Revolutionary Republic: The Emergence of the Turkish Nation From 1789 to Present (paperback, 2007, NYU Press): General history of an important nation that we tend to know little and understand less about.

Ali A Allawi: The Crisis of Islamic Civilization (2009, Yale University Press). Author was a minor functionary in the post-Bremer Iraqi government, a role he described usefully in The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace. This looks at the larger picture, going back to the impact of European colonialism on Muslim nations and the complex and often inadequate response.

Tamim Ansary: Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes (2009, Public Affairs): Previously wrote West of Kabul, East of New York: An Afghan-American Story. Looks like a fairly straightforward history of Islam, occasionally glancing out at the other world, which becomes more problematic when the other world encroaches.

Reza Aslan: How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror (2009, Random House): Author previously wrote No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, one of the best general books on the history of Islam. Not sure how that plays out here where Jihadism is one aspect both of Islam and politics, and the US anti-terror warriors have trouble understanding either.

John C Bogle: Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life (2008, Wiley): Big shot financial tycoon, made a fortune pursuing more; now that it's collapsing, maybe the time to take a philsophical turn and contemplate how much is enough. Seems like a good idea even for folks who don't have enough (as opposed to those who merely think they don't). Bogle has previously written books like The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns.

Gary Braasch: Earth under Fire: How Global Warming Is Changing the World (2007; updated edition, paperback, 2009, University of California Press): Photojournalist, previously wrote Photographing the Patterns of Nature.

Robert F Bruner/Sean D Carr: The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market's Perfect Storm (2008; paperback, 2009, Wiley): One of those depressions from back in the good old days when the federal government was powerless as well as uninterested in doing anything about it. Fortunately, the bankers could appeal to a higher authority: J Pierpont Morgan.

Bryan Burrough: The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes (2009, Penguin): Big history of Texas oil men starting with Spindletop in 1901, continuing through their ultra-right-wing dynastic politics. Author recently wrote Public Enemies: The True Story of America's Greatest Crime Wave, which seems relevant, but is even better known as co-author of Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, one of the big business scandals of the 1980s.

William D Cohan: House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street (2009, Doubleday): Focuses on ten days around the collapse of Bear Stearns, the beginning of the 2008 financial meltdown. Book has been described as novelistic, which I don't find very reassuring. Bigger issues like why and what it all means get lost in immediate details, but not nearly enough bankers flung themselves out of windows to make those details do.

Robert D Crews/Amin Tarzi, eds: The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan (2008; paperback, 2009, Harvard University Press): Eight essays on various aspects of the Taliban, totalling 448 pp.

Kirstin Downey: The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR'S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience (2009, Nan A Talese): Perkins was identified as one of the five key New Dealers in Adam Cohen's Nothing to Fear, and possibly the one furthest to the left. Focusing on her is a good place to start re-examining the New Deal.

James Fallows: Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China (paperback, 2008, Vintage): A collection of pieces, mostly published in The Atlantic, on various aspects of life and business in China. Seems to be a fairly wide-ranging journalist, with a suggestive book called Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, a book on Iraq and a previous book loosely related here: Looking at the Sun: The Rise of the New East Asian Economic and Political System.

Richard Fortey: Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum (2008, Knopf): A longtime denizen of the Natural History Museum; likely to be an interesting book.

Eduardo Galeano: Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent (1972; 25th anniversary edition, paperback, 1997, Monthly Review Press): Suddenly shot up to bestseller status after Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez gave Obama a copy. This is a classic account of how the US and its corporations have plundered Latin America. Amazon's reviews are divided, with 59 5-star, 49 1-star, 19 2/3/4-star. Typical 1-star review: "Now, I simply won't read it on principle. I'm tired of the blame game on America." How easy it is for some people to dismiss history by calling blame a game.

Michelle Goldberg: The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World (2009, Penguin Press): Author previously wrote Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. In other words, Goldberg is following up her fearful investigation of right-wing Christianity by delving into what those same Christians are most fearful of: sex. That's a welcome change from the moderate tendency to backpeddle whenever confronted, a tendency that has as much as conceded this issue, forgetting how critical it really is.

Mark Green/Michele Jolin, eds: Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President (paperback, 2009, Basic Books): The standard, inevitable collection of slightly leftish wonk briefs, a hefty 704 pages, published a mere two months after Obama's election. I have a similar book on the shelf in front of me, also edited by Green, called Changing America: Blueprints for the New Administration. It was published in 1992. I doubt that much as changed, despite Bill Clinton's stated enthusiasm for both volumes.

Dave Hickey: The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty (1993; revised and expanded, 2009, University of Chicago Press): I think of him as a rock critic, the author of Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy, but his interests are broader. Something of a manifesto.

William J Holstein: Why GM Matters: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon (2009, Walker): A timely subject, given that the US government is likely to wind up owning about 50% of the formerly huge automaker, and few people (if anyone) have a clue to do about it. Looks like this has more to do with the size and economic relationships that GM has than the details of car making.

Jamie Jensen: Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways (paperback, 2006, Avalon Travel Publishing): Looks like an attractive road book, the main problem being that it is organized around no more than 11 cross-country treks, whereas I'd think that shorter stretches of 2-lane roads would be more select. For example, Readers Digest has two competing books, but they're larger format, hardcover: The Most Scenic Drives in America: 120 Spectacular Road Trips and Off the Beaten Path. In the smaller format, National Geographic has: Guide to Scenic Highways & Byways: The 275 Best Drives in the US.

Tim Judah: Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press): Brief history, not much liked by Serbophiles. That in itself may not be such a problem, but there should be more angles on the matter. For one thing, it looked an awful lot like a make-work project to promote NATO, a dubious proposition on the face of it. Judah also wrote Kosovo: War and Revenge. Another book on Kosovo is: Iain King/Whit Mason: Peace at Any Price: How the World Failed Kosovo.

Seth Kantner: Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska (2008, Milkweed Editions): Born in an igloo, grew up on the tundra, wrote a previous book, Ordinary Wolves. Lots of photographs.

John Kelly: The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time (paperback, 2006, Harper Perennial): Specifically focuses on the plagues that swept Europe in the 1340s, killing a third or more of the total population. A number of books available on this.

Richard C Koo: The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics: Lessons from Japan's Great Recession (2009, Wiley): Back in the 1980s wags were writing books about how Japan was taking over the world. That ended with the recession in Japan that started in 1992 and ended when? -- says 2007 here, but isn't that about when the worldwide depression started to overwhelm local recessions? Krugman's been pushing the line that the US is likely to wind up recovering as meagerly as Japan did. Cause of Japan's recession? As I recall, it was the real estate bubble.

Neil MacFarquhar: The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East (2009, Public Affairs): Around the Middle East, talking to plain folks, humoring the self-important powers, looking for change, thankful for whatever he finds.

John Micklethwait/Adrian Wooldridge: God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World (2009, Penguin Press): Authors write for The Economist, where they celebrate the capitalist world with just enough British distance to be palatable. Best known for The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, one of those books about how the right has become the "party of ideas" in America. (The book is currently available at a remainder discount at Amazon.) Other tomes include: The Witch Doctors: What Management Gurus Are Saying, Why It Matters, and How to Make Sense of It (1997); A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization (2001); and i>The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea. They're about the only writers around gullible enough to see the spread of fanatical religion as progress.

Lawrence Mishel/Jared Bernstein/Heidi Shierholz: The State of Working America, 2008-2009 (paperback, 2009, Cornell University Press): From the Economic Policy Institute, 440 pages of sobering data, revised (most likely downward) from their previous The State of Working America, 2006-2007.

Mark Monmonier: Coast Lines: How Mapmakers Frame the World and Chart Environmental Change (2008, University of Chicago Press): Geography book, explores facets of mapping coast lines, from history to present concerns such as environmental factors. Author previously wrote: From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name and Inflame; Spying with Maps: Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Privacy; Bushmanders and Bullwinkles: How Politicians Manipulate Electronic Maps and Census Data to Win Elections; Air Apparent: How Meteorologists Learned to Map, Predict, and Dramatize Weather; Cartographies of Danger: Mapping Hazards in America; Mapping It Out: Expository Cartography for the Humanities and Social Sciences; and the ever popular How to Lie With Maps.

Nandan Nilekani: Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation (2009, Penguin Press): A portrait of India as a capitalist paradise, written by the head of a company called Infosys, with a foreword by Thomas Friedman.

Darrin Nordahl: My Kind of Transit: Rethinking Public Transportation in America (2009, Center for American Places): Proposes "that the experience of public transit and the quality of the ride are pivotal to the success of public transit." As opposed, say, to the desperate lack of any alternative.

Jay Parini: Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America (2008, Doubleday): List-based book, running from The Federalist Papers to On the Road, with Dale Carnegie and Benjamin Spock among the eminently sensible choices. Appendix offers a longer list.

Richard A Posner: A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of '08 and the Descent into Depression (2009, Harvard University Press): The federal judge who knows and writes about everything weighs in on the economy. Reviewers are struck that someone deeply embued in Chicago School economics winds up promoting regulation as the necessary answer. Liberal economists already know that, so the main prospect here is the matter of discovery.

Jedediah Purdy: A Tolerable Anarchy: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom (2009, Knopf): Iconoclastic social/political thinker, made a splash in 1999 when he published For Common Things, a book which blamed all of our social and political problems on irony -- this was pre-Bush, and arguably was the only problem Bush actually solved (assuming, of course, you regarded it as a problem). After 9/11, traveled to Egypt and wrote Being America, as if he were. He's moved on now, got a job teaching law, learned how to construct a title that isn't ridiculous at first glance.

Darius Rejali: Torture and Democracy (2007, Princeton University Press): Long (880 pp), aims to be definitive. Recommended by people who want to prove torture is ineffective and corrupting -- a position I'll take on instinct.

Charles Seife: Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking (2008, Viking): A history of various schemes to generate usable energy from hydrogen fusion: always seemed like a great idea, never came close to working.

Cass R Sunstein: A Constitution of Many Minds: Why the Founding Document Doesn't Mean What It Meant Before (2009, Princeton University Press): A counterargument against the doctrine of originalism that right-wing supreme court justices like Scalia push as cover for their ideological work. Sunstein argues that not only is the constitution subject to interpretation, it is always necessary to interpret it in light of changing situations. I'm reminded of an old Islamic matter, where in the middle ages it was argued that the "gates of ijtihad" had closed, after which is was no longer possible to reinterpret the sacred texts of Islam. It's now clear that that point marked the beginning of the decline of Islam as a progressive force in the world. Originalism will likely do the same for the US.

Stephen Tanner: Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban (2002; revised, paperback, 2009, Da Capo): 2500 years of war, although the period from when Russia invaded and the US infiltrated in 1979 to the present is conspicuous.

Gavin Weightman: Industrial Revolutionaries: The Making of the Modern World 1776-1914 (2009, Grove Press): Big subject for 432 pages. Author has a number of books on English history (London's Thames: The River That Shaped a Nation) and business technology (Signor Marconi's Magic Box: The Most Remarkable Invention of the 19th Century & the Inventor Whose Genius Sparked a Revolution).

Andrew Wheatcroft: The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe (2009, Basic Books): In 1683 the Ottoman Empire approached its maximum limits with its failed siege of Vienna. Author previously wrote The Ottomans: Dissolving Images, The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire, and Infidels: A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam, so this seems to the summation of most of what he knows.

Evan Wright: Hella Nation: Looking for Happy Meals in Kandahar, Rocking the Side Pipe, Wingnut's War Against the GAP, and Other Adventures with the Totally Lost Tribes of America (2009, Putnam): Rolling Stone correspondent, author of the remarkable Generation Kill on the Marines fucking up Iraq. More stuff, evidently scattered pieces about comparably deranged Americans, most not as well armed as his Marine killers, but all out, in one way or another, to get some.

Tom Zoellner: Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World (2009, Viking): History through the prism of a coveted mineral. Author previously wrote a similar book on diamonds: The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire.

Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:

Ha-Joon Chang: Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (2007; paperback, 2008, Bloomsbury Press): A Korean economist, student of Joseph Stiglitz, take a very critical look at the neoliberal theories of economic growth, and how they've virtually never worked in either the third world or the developed world. [book page]

Steve Coll: The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin): Coll's Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 is the basic book on the CIA's first misadventure in Afghanistan -- its no doubt more farcical sequel is yet to be written. While this count as useful background for Osama Bin Laden, the thing I'm more curious about is the other paths taken by the numerous siblings.

Barbara Ehrenreich: This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation (2008; paperback, 2009, Holt): Another collection of short column pieces, zipping by at a considerable clip, each with something to say. [book page]

Robert Kuttner: The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity (2007; paperback, 2008, Vintage): One of the better accounts lately on how America's political and economic systems have been undermining the working people who built this country. [book page]

Jane Mayer: The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (2008; paperback, 2009, Anchor): Seems likely to be the standard book on the torture cult festering in and under the Bush White House. I've given this subject short shrift in the past, but more and more it seems to be an essential part of their psyches. Torture has always been more about power than intelligence. Cheney et al. don't just crave power in theory. They want to feel it in their loins.

Kevin Phillips: Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin): A fairly quick I-told-you-so following up his more expansive American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Of course, now even more predictions are history. [book page]

The New Yorker (May 11, 2009) has a Briefly Noted review of Reza Aslan's book, How to Win a Cosmic War, cited above:

Aslan's thoughtful analysis of America's waron terror argues that the nation's jihadist enemies believe the conflict is taking place on a spiritual, "cosmic" plane and thus cannot be lost. Onlyby denying the terrorists their good-versus-evil religious narrative can teh Unitd States keep the war grounded and winnable. Certainly this is good advice, although, given President Obama's abandonment of his predecessor's Manichaean foreign policy, it may have been overtaken by recent events. Far more interesting is Aslan's agreement with Bush on the question of democracy. He distinguishes Islamist nationalist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah from global jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda, and contends that recognizing the former as legitimate participants in the democratic process will undermine support for unyielding war. It's an appealing, if unproved, claim.

Most likely an interesting book. Given Aslan's previous book on the history and worldly state of Islam (No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam) I would hope that Aslan sorts out the theological underpinnings and limits of Al Qaeda, making the appropriate contrasts with other strains of Islamist politics. I also think it's too early to count on Obama undoing Bush's Global War on Terror shtick: he is still stuck in two wars (one of which he's actively expanding), he still is stuck with popular fealty to Israel and against Iran, he hasn't rocked any boats since becoming CinC of the world's largest imperial gendarmerie. Moreover, one shouldn't go around giving Bush credit for democracy -- something he showed no real grasp of, having picked up what little he knew from Natan Sharansky and Karl Rove. The real case for democracy is simpler and more universal: you don't want to exclude anyone from a peaceable political system, least of all groups who would resort to disruptive violence. Most Islamists would be quite happy with a democratic stake. Moreover, the fear that they might win and turn undemocratic is tied to things that could be changed: one would be to allow secular parties, especially on the left, to develop; another would be for the parties in power to do an effective job of policing their own corruption, which is usually the Islamists' strongest issue. The US has inadvertently become the biggest promoter of Islamism in the Arab world, primarily by working so hard to cripple the left.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Holbrooke Delivers

I haven't seen Richard Holbrooke's name in the press much lately, but it was his job to set up the high-level meetings between Obama, Karzai and Zardari that have coincided with a major Pakistani advance into Taliban-controlled tribal areas. Obama gave Holbrooke his mission at the same time he sent George Mitchell off to try to bring peace to the Israel/Palestine conflict. At the time it seemed ominous that Holbrooke's mission made no mention of peace. For some reason, Obama has long had the hots for escalating the war on the Afghan-Pakistani border. Holbrooke was his advance man, and he's delivered. We've already seen reports of shelling of villages, creating a wave of a million or so refugees.

I'm generally opposed to any war, and I'm not dead set opposed to the Taliban, but this may not be such a bad thing. It depends on two things: how quickly Pakistan's military can establish control, and what kind of administration they establish. Pakistan's offensive should be seen in context, where the alternatives -- the Taliban's own military expansionism, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and America's entanglement and disastrous bombing campaigns -- are as bad and far less likely to reach any sort of conclusion. It's quite possible that the Taliban will melt away when faced with force, much as they did in 2001 in Afghanistan, figuring they can always come back in more opportune times. (To the extent that the Taliban work for Pakistan's ISI, they may even be helped into hiding, as they were in 2001, making the rout all the easier.) But if they stick and fight, this will turn nasty fast and the area -- as we've seen in Afghanistan -- may never recover. So what really matters is what happens next.

For better or worse, that's when you'll start hearing Holbrooke's name. His big claim to fame was negotiating the Dayton Accords that ended the Serbian-Bosnian-Croatian war. People forget that while the shooting stopped, little else got better. He's unlikely to have any better grasp of the Pashtun tribal lands. Moreover, the incentives he could deliver to Zardari and the Pakistani military, and to Karzai, are not necessarily things that will help anyone in the bombed out territories. (Karzai's reputation for corruption if anything pales compared to "Mr. Ten Percent," and the military/ISI are mostly into guns, which is the last thing the locals need.) The only thing an optimist has to hang onto here is Obama himself, who is far more likely to realize these things than Clinton -- let alone Bush, for whom corruption was a desirable end, grease for crony capitalism. Still, micromanaging Afghanistan and Pakistan is likely to prove more unwieldly and tiring than the difficulties with his not inconsiderable domestic agenda. This still seems to me like a losing bet, and I'd hate to see it portrayed as anything but a very long shot.

Update: Fred Kaplan: The AfPak Puzzle: Subtitle: "The good news: Obama understands what's wrong in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The bad news: He can't fix it." Similar to what I was saying yesterday and today, except I'm not sure how much anyone really understands, nor would I leave you thinking that the US shortfall can be made up with more allies -- even India and Iran, both could help, but only to a point.

Friday, May 08, 2009

House Log

Yesterday, May 7, goes down as a major milestone in the kitchen project. I picked a name out of the Yellow Pages under Trash Hauling, something called Family Hauling and Maintenance, and called up for a quote on hauling off the destruction pile in the backyard. Cost a bit more than I was hoping for, but for $80 they took some yard waste and the old gutter screens as well. The whole pile is gone now. Matt came over and mowed early in the day, so the yard looks pretty normal for the first time in six months. I figure from this point on any more construction detritus can go into the regular trash.

Also got my second Linux box running again: Gigabyte motherboard blew up a few months ago; I never had time to work on it; took it to a repair shop I like, and they returned it to me with a CPU fan error; took me another week-plus to haul it back and get them to fix it. Upgraded to a newer Ubuntu release. Pretty painless, but I don't understand why I can't get the full Samsung monitor resolution of 1920x1080. (Use a KVM switch; the Windows machine that shares the monitor can't figure it out either, and it has a much heftier video card.)

Rained hard last night, but was bright and sunny by the time I got up. Figured it would be a good day to finally cut some wood. Had a lot of aggravation getting set up, but finally cut out the frameworks to the slideouts behind the spice cabinet and the drawer stack under the pantry counter. Also cut a couple of shelves to slip into the medicine cabinet. Did a little bit of subassembly and paint prep tonight. Need to order drawer slides, which will take some time, but is probably better than any of the local hardware stores. I ordered some hinges from Jim's Builders Hardware over a month ago and they never came in. Checked again today and now they're saying they won't have them until July. Cancelled that order. Looks like Rockler has them in stock.

Still need to cut out the drawers and slide-outs, but I want to see just how they're going to fit in place first. Managed to cut everything I needed today out of scraps, even a piece 53x24. Of all the stuff I have to do, it seems like cutting wood is the one real essence of construction. Unfortunately, as soon as the sawdust started to scatter my allergies flared up real bad. Don't seem to be able to do much of anything these days without a lot of trouble.

Down and Out in Afghanistan

With all of the hysteria in Washington over the Taliban's advances in Pakistan -- Tom Engelhardt provides a summary here -- it's good to have Patrick Cockburn out there rounding up facts: at least when he waxes hysterical he has something that makes sense to back it up. The bottom line is that the US and NATO have squandered all of their good will in the region, and for a variety of reasons they are institutionally incapable of putting what they've broken back together again. With the military randomly killing innocents and the NGOs living high on the hog in Kabul, each more dedicted to their own comforts than to any sort of mission in Afghanistan, it's hard to see any path out.

Patrick Cockburn: Afghans to Obama: Get Out, Take Karzai With You. Not sure that the title accurately describes this, but clearly there is something rotten in the state of Afghanistan. Cockburn points out that just driving a few miles outside from Kabul is deadly dangerous. He compares Afghanistan now and in 2001 just after the Taliban fled. He does point out that there have been winners in the deal: the Tajiks in the Panjshir Valley seems to have gotten some aid, although nowhere near as much as their warlords. However, pretty much everyone agrees that the Hazara, treated so badly by the Taliban, have received little or no aid, and are likely worse off now. Cockburn puts most of the blame on the extraordinary level of corruption at all levels in the Afghan government. It's less clear just how Karzai is responsible for the corruption: he certainly lives well, and his brother is reputed to have a big slice of the drug trade, but there seems to be much more to it than that. Corruption isn't concentrated at the top (as it was in Indonesia). It seems to be replicated fractally throughout the entire quasi-official government apparatus. One big effect is that western aid gets soaked up before it can produce any benefits to anyone not on the take. Another is that the entire government and its backers (the US, NATO, etc.) are discredited in the eyes of virtually all Afghans. From the beginning the one thing that the Taliban had going was popular faith in the group's integrity -- precisely what the US and Karzai lack.

It's worth noting that the spread of corruption is pretty much what Bush regarded as successful policy. His whole framework was, first, that public money should be spent to provid patronage to support his political machine, and second, that in any case no aid money should actually wind up doing any ordinary people any good. In that regard, he was spectacularly successful both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Moreover, what Bush did makes it awfully hard for Obama to restore any integrity to the process. Everyone from top to bottom now has corruption as a conditioned response: see money, stuff some of it in your pocket. Increasing aid just makes it worse. Cutting back doesn't do any good either. About the only thing that can be done would be to walk away and admit failure. When/if the Afghans themselves break this cycle, you can try aid again: moderately, sensibly, with controls. The sad thing is that once you realize that corruption is the essential problem, the most plausible solution would be to let the Taliban win.

Patrick Cockburn: Kabul's new elite live high on West's largesse: More on this, including a picture of a fancy Kabul shopping center that looks a bit out of line for a nation ranked 174th (out of 178) in terms of wealth. A lot of the discrepancy between money promised and aid delivered goes into these luxuries. Moreover, they drive up the cost of living of ordinary Afghans, even those who cannot come near access to them. We've been reading about skyrocketing rents in Kabul for years now. Of course, that might be lses of a problem if the people pretending to help Afghanistan could safely leave the city, but they can't. Cooped up and helpless, at least they have some creature comforts.

Patrick Cockburn: '120 die' as US bombs village: Oh, yeah, that's the other big problem the US faces in Afghanistan (and for that matter in Pakistan): they can't help but kill people. Moreover, they keep killing the wrong people. Karzai is quick to condemn these killings, but doing so only underscores how ineffectual he is.

Stephen M Walt: Confidence game: Obama meeting in Washington with Karzai and Zardari, emphasizing how interconnected their fates are, and projecting a degree of confidence rarely seen in Washington since McNamara glimpsed that light at the end of the tunnel.

If President Obama keeps acting like the head cheerleader for this war, he'll find himself trapped by his own rhetoric and unable to cut our losses if it starts to go south. Of course, if you're the leader of a weak and corrupt government that is dependent on continued American largesse, that may be just what you're hoping for.

Starts? I thought Walt's claim to fame was his realism.

I'll add one more thought on Obama's round of talks with Karzai and Zardari. The outcome seems to be that Pakistan has agreed to launch a serious military campaign to suppress the Taliban, at least in the FATA areas they've recently controlled. Most likely Zardari agreed to this to get the US to call off a military coup -- something that's been much speculated about recently. Good thing too, because a coup might very easily have backfired -- it wasn't that long ago when massive popular demonstrations sent the last military dictator packing, and a coup ordered from Washington to get Pakistanis to kill more Pakistanis would be even less popular. No doubt Pakistan's military can crush the Taliban if they want, at least temporarily. That would certainly weaken the Taliban in Afghanistan, but Karzai and the Americans have worse enemies than the Taliban: themselves. Overcoming that problem will be tougher than getting Zardari to blink.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Market Rationality

Matthew Yglesias: The Market Can Stay Irrational Longer Than You Can Stay Solvent: Starts with a quote from a review of Richard A Posner's The Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of '08 and the Descent Into Depression, a book which has thus far proven noteworthy primarily for its admission that Chicago School dogma has been outpaced by recent economic events. The interesting thing here is that Posner still argues that the whole mess came about through no lapse of rationality: everyone, it seems, was acting rationally in pursuit of their interests. One could take this further and argue that not only does rational self interest cause problems, it also prohibits solutions: specifically any solution that doesn't allow enough private profit to entice private investment. Yglesias has been reading Keynes, and finding gems like the long one he quotes. Some fairly dense economic logic pays off surprisingly:

Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.

After all, the conventional path is the one you never have to explain or excuse: who could fault one for failing conventionally? Well, unconventional people, but who listens to them? In fact, in any arena that is subject to pundit purview, the unconventional will be relentlessly disparaged and denigrated. This leads to such nonsense as Iraq war supporters, even when acknowledging their own mistakes, denying credit to the Iraq war opponents who were right in the first place.

Moreover, if I read this quote correctly, I think the conclusion is that capitalism will never result in the general good, because it will always pursue short-term advantages over long-term goals. We tend to think otherwise because we tend to link progress with capitalism. Sure, there has been some correlation up to a point, but I have to wonder if we aren't past that point now. A big part of the difference between earlier capitalism and today's is that we've become much more efficient at converting products to profit, and products have been ever more subsumed under the profit motive. (In fact, with financialization the products are nothing more than ruses for pursuing pure profit.) One no longer starts a company to build some useful widget; these days one starts a company to make a profit on investment, and the widget is at best a means to that end. However, before long that logic -- as products are hollowed out to provide the most profit for the least utility -- starts to make everything worthless. With the coming of the supply-side cult, we've been living in a world that pursues production at the expense of consumption. That world has overshot, with too much productive capacity and not enough people who can afford to pay for it. The overshoot is bringing the pendulum back -- after all, the real economy requires consumption and production to match -- and that will change how we think about the economy. We might, for instance, consider applying the reason that so enhanced production to the art of consumption. Consumption, after all, is based on some sense of need. If we start asking how can we fill that need without limiting ourselves to how producers can make money off of it, we open up a lot of new possibilities. Sooner or later I'll pursue this topic at greater length: breaking down the tollgates that frustrate free software, free information, and free entertainment is just the start.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Down the Drain of Criticism

Went to bed feeling uneasy last night, and woke up feeling worse. The cause was an email mentioning that I had been dropped from automatic service by a relatively important jazz label because they noticed that I was no longer writing for The Village Voice. That in fact was untrue: the Voice continues to publish Jazz Consumer Guides as I write them. The pace has slowed a little bit: three in 2008 (2/12, 5/13, 9/16) instead of the usual four, with most of the gap the result of my construction work in Detroit last fall and back home ever since. The nearly 5-month gap from 9/16/2008 to 2/10/2009 was the longest ever, but it's not like I fell off the ends of the earth: I've kept Jazz Prospecting going, with notices even if I skip a week now and then. The next Jazz CG will come out in late May; even if it gets delayed in the usual schedule squeeze we're looking at no more than 4 months. The one after that shouldn't take more than 3 months to get to print -- it's basically done now, so will depend more on the Voice's space and pacing than on anything I do.

The specific damage here is easy enough to fix. Not knowing I had been cut off (let alone why), a while back I requested and received some albums I had missed. They actually loom large in the next two Jazz CGs. Still, the episode reminds me how precarious this venture is. I can't do the sort of wide-ranging sort that I do without lots of help from labels and publicists. I don't have a purchasing budget, or any sort of grant support, and I'm barely paid for the writing. It hurts whenever I lose any of that support: by limiting my access to things that might be worthwhile, it undermines what I'm trying to do with the column; but also, I tend to be overly sensitive to slights, no doubt because the whole project is so precarious.

I flop back and forth on thinking that my problem is me. I'm not as sharp a critic as I'd like, or as skillful a writer, and I'm not nearly as knowledgeable as I'd be if I managed to devote myself more fully to criticism. I'm generally pleased with the finished Jazz Consumer Guide columns, but most Jazz Prospecting notes are hacked out so quickly and roughly they can't be of much value. (E.g., when I wind up describing a skillful but not especially interesting piano trio as "nicely done.") Still, criticism is subject to such systematic problems that it's hard to see where the quality of criticism even comes into play. The core problem is that one can never know the value of information (or entertainment) in advance. That value can only be established by consuming the product, at which point it has lost its cash value. (One could imagine a tipping scheme, but you barely have to articulate it to see its unattractiveness.) We make up for that core problem through a various feints and teases, all designed to wrap the product in mystique without revealing too much about it. Critics fit into this uneasily -- our interests poorly defined and often compromised, with not even our raison d'ętre broadly conceded, either by producers or consumers. Nor does it help that there are two sets of each: product and media.

Like everything else, producers are far better organized than consumers. Whether I satisfy my readers -- make them feel better informed, help them make better decisions -- ultimately matters little to the publisher who offers me space and pays me to write because the media product combines so many different things that none stand out -- at least enough to rock the bureaucracy (under normal conditions). As such, critics have tenuous relationships with their publishers, testy ones with the industry, and little in the way of support to fall back on from their readers. Few make a career of this, which means that knowledge fragments if anything faster than it accumulates. Even the few critics who have managed to persist, like Robert Christgau, have never found it easy. That I know Christgau as well as I do does little to help my self-confidence in this regard.

As long as criticism is stuck in its current economic ruts nothing much is going to change. Key line from the email above: "the days of more than 40-50 people in the US automatically getting their releases are over." That shows you how tiny the stakes are in trying to review jazz: not just how few critics get to hear records -- something to keep in mind next time you see a year-end critics poll -- but how few readers then can deliver the message to. Moreover, this is a self-reinforcing cycle: publications cut back on review space, labels cut back on review copies, consumers buy uninformed or not at all -- the vicious circles end in collapse. I haven't bailed out yet, but days like this make me think about it.

I can think of ways out of this, but they start sounding utopian real fast. That might be worth going into some day, as a mental exercise if nothing else. But for now I'm feeling helpless.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

House Log

Finally put the much needed second paint coat on the south wall cabinets -- an ordeal, given their size, depth, and difficulty reaching virtually every cell. Second coat on the basement door was relatively easy. There's about a 2-inch gap between the right end of the cabinets and the wall, but the two edges are anything but parallel. I figured I would have to cut a new board to fill it up, but decided I could use a piece of scrap I already have on hand. I'll have to wedge it in, then caulk to make up for the curves, then cover up the caulk with a bit of trim, and do something about the missing 3/4-inch. Put some primer and paint on it to get it ready.

Painted the outside edge of the pantry cabinet yesterday, but it looked awful today, so I attacked it with a sander. Will try painting it again tomorrow. Looks like something else that will need some trim. Spent some time last night looking at options for setting up stops for the shelves in the door -- something to keep stuff from flying off the shelves when they open. Looks like 1/4-inch rod in aluminum or stainless steel would work nicely: 2-foot lengths would be close to right, maybe a bit longer than ideal. I wonder how easily I can bow them to slip into holes, assuming they will spring back straight. Would be nice to find one to experiment with.

Distractions and Uproar

Seymour M Hersh: Syria Calling: Mostly on the so-called Syrian track of the much lamented Peace Process. No doubt Bashir Assad would be delighted to get on America's good side, not to mention recover the slice of relatively prime real estate known as the Golan Heights. What Israel has to gain from this isn't any way near so clear. There is vague talk about flipping Syria to undermine Iranian influence in the area, particularly through Hizbullah, but the effect would be trivial, and neither Syria nor Hizbullah (nor for that matter Iran) is any manner of threat to Israel. Syria, in particular, has shown itself to be helpless whenever Israel feels like bombing it: kind of like a doe standing by helpless while a cougar devours her fawn. And the Golan Heights are settled. Given the stink Israel's now-dominant far right made over giving up settlements in Sinai and Gaza, you'd expect all hell to break loose over the Golan Heights: the one piece of occupied territory Israel did manage to ethnically cleanse. Along with Greater Jerusalem, Israel formally annexed the Golan Heights, which seems likely to mean something when and if the issue ever gets to the negotiating table. Still, all the usual suspects from Netanyahu to Dennis Ross talk up the prospects for the Syrian track. Most likely they just don't want to talk about anything else. They can safely talk about/to Syria because it's at best a side show, and it's not like they have to go through with a deal: remember how Barak pulled the plug on the deal he had previously wanted back in 1999.

On the other hand, there is one piece of low-lying peace process fruit that would make a positive step: Lebanon. Israel hands over Shebaa Farms and releases their Lebanese prisoners; Hizbullah and Israel agree to a cease fire, with Hizbullah agreeing to disarm in something like 5-10 years, with the UN providing oversight. (I don't see any rush as long as they're not shooting. In any case, the units and materiel could be integrated into the Lebanese military, which even then wouldn't be a threat to anyone.) The two countries would exchange ambassadors and promote trade. I'd also like to see a plank where Lebanon (and possibly other countries) offers citizenship to Palestinian refugees (especially those born in Lebanon), with some amount of internationally financed compensation to grease the skids. Lebanon has refused Palestinians citizenship, mostly for fear of unbalancing the preexisting confessional hierarchy, and Palestinians haven't pushed the issue because they'd rather keep their claims against Israel active. But such a deal would start to release some pressure from the Palestinian refugees, who in any presently imagined deal have no chance of returning to Israel. This, again, could be set up as a long-term individual option -- 20 years, say, or 10 years after an Israel-Palestine two-state deal, whichever takes longer -- so it wouldn't result in an immediate flood of new Lebanese voters. And if Egypt, Syria, Jordan, the Persian Gulf states, etc., or for that matter Europe and/or the US, were willing to take some of the Palestinian refugees (with their compensation) that would cut back on the impact on Lebanon. In any case, it would be good for all Lebanese to get out from under Israel's bombsights. And it would directly end the Hizbullah threat, thereby eliminating one of Israel's persistent security problems.

Shebaa Farms is unpopulated; Israel's prisoners are little more than hostage-pawns; both sides benefit from avoiding another war like the sorry, embarrassing 2006 episode; and some progress on the Palestinian refugee front would be good for everyone. Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon would no doubt be reduced once Lebanon is free from Israeli military threat. Seems to me like a no brainer, but the parties involved will probably figure out some way to scuttle it.

MondoWeiss is busy covering the AIPAC convention this week, where the 24/7 theme is Iran. Shimon Peres tried his hand at stand-up: "Historically Iran sought to enrich mankind. Today, alas, they want to enrich uranium." He topped that by asserting that "Iran is not threatened by anybody." Really? Israel has a history of bombing suspected nuclear research sites in Iraq and Syria, and Israeli politicians have been wailing non-stop about Iran for years now, including explicit bombing threats and well-publicized practice exercises, while polls shows Israeli public opinion overwhelmingly favoring an attack. What holds Israel back is presumably the US, which has soldiers on Iran's borders with Iraq and Afghanistan, and has had hostilility toward Iran ever since 1979, when a broad-based revolution deposed the US-installed Shah. Back in the 1980s the US sent arms to Iraq to further its war against Iran, and the US directly shot down an Iranian airliner and destroyed an Iranian oil platform. Even short of direct military attacks, the US continues to conduct economic warfare against Iran. And while Saddam Hussein is gone, the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms and kingdoms that bankrolled Iraq's invasion of Iran are still intact and more or less hostile. I'd say Iran has some reason to be concerned about its safety and integrity -- probably more than Israel does, despite their carefully cultivated paranoia.

Helena Cobban: NYT interviews Meshaal. References a New York Times interview with Damascus-based Hamas spokesman Khaled Meshaal: better to get the Hamas position from him than from the usual pro-Israeli spinmeisters. Essentially offers support for the 1967-border two-state scenario supported by the UN in 1967 and currently by the Arab League. I would have preferred an indefinitely renewable "hudna" but the 10 years he offered would very likely lead to more unless Israel made it seem necessary to change tactics. I would also have preferred that his renunciation of the 1987 Hamas Charter be taken more formally, including an acknowledgment that the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" crap was never true in the first place. But Meshaal's view is a reasonable place to start from. He shows the kind of depth and integrity that makes him someone to deal with -- assuming that's what Israel wants, which you can't prove by Netanyahu.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15304 [15282] rated (+22), 790 [780] unrated (+10). Finished off April's Recycled Goods this week, providing a bit of a break from Jazz Prospecting. Still working on kitchen. Still got more work to do.

  • Lily Allen: It's Not Me, It's You (2009, Capitol): Synth pop with an attitude, ambition, a willingness to accommodate and not feel guilty about it, enough sass not just to overcome her compromises but to make fun of them. A
  • Amadou & Mariam: Welcome to Mali (2009, Because Music/Nonesuch): The "blind couple from Mali," via Paris, of course, with the "et" of past albums replaced by a generic ampersand. They've crossed over worldwide, the guitar and keyboard hooks as gratifying here as anywhere -- Damon Albarn is the name guest here, representing Blur more than his Mali Music project. They even work some English in along with the French and whatever. Still, they maintain a healthy respect for where they came from: not just for sentiment, but because it differentiates them. Also gives them good beats. And delivers the message: that Mali aspires to be more of a piece with Paris and New York (or is it Los Angeles?), without ceasing to be Mali. A-
  • Don Cherry/Nana Vasconcelos/Collin Walcott: Codona (1978, ECM): I'm more inclined after all these years to file this group under Cherry, whose passion for world music brought the disparate talents of Brazilian percussionist Vasconcelos and sitar-tabla specialist Walcott together. He also has a lead instrument edge as long as he plays his trumpet, but everyone here is into exotic instruments, with Cherry playing various flutes and who knows what else. B+(**)
  • Don Cherry/Nana Vasconcelos/Collin Walcott: Codona 2 (1980, ECM): Second meeting offers more of the same sounds, with a bit less cohesion -- each artist's piece(s) go off on their own way, instead of trying to find a common ground. Cherry's "Malinye" manages at once to be the most conventional and the most suggestive. He is the critical center here, whereas the others are technicians. B+(*)
  • Don Cherry/Nana Vasconcelos/Collin Walcott: Codona 3 (1982, ECM): The series ends with a whimper, with most of the pieces minor grooves and some nearly static. Walcott died in 1984. He was the first first-syllable, the "Co" in "Co-Don-Na," and set the group's basic sound with his tabla and sitar. As usual, the more Cherry plays the better. But he doesn't play much here -- at least not much trumpet. B
  • K'naan: Troubadour (2008 [2009], A&M/Octone): Rapper from Somalia, talks less about growing up in a tough hood this time, more on ordinary emigré topics like learning English as a teenager (in Canada), which he's done well enough to rap in, sometimes with an authority rivaling Eminem; still, Africa works in, sometimes in thought, sometimes in samples. A-
  • Steve Kuhn: Motility (1977, ECM): A quartet with piano trio plus Steve Slagle playing tenor and soprano sax plus a little bit of flute (actually, one of the album's high points). Slagle is a sprightly player who can bop and swing, but he has his work cut out dodging Kuhn's piano -- helps to focus on it. B+(**)
  • Steve Kuhn/Sheila Jordan: Playground (1979, ECM): Jordan had a 1962 album on Blue Note, then nothing until the mid-1970s when she started working with Roswell Rudd -- her second album as a leader, Sheila, came out on Steeplechase in 1977, and she didn't really establish herself as a major singer until the 1980s, maybe even later with 1990's Lost and Found. She's singing Kuhn's oblique songs here -- evidently he wrote them while breaking up with Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund, which put him in an unusually prosaic mood. In some ways, she could just as well be an instrumentalist, but she is much more than that. Mixed down so it's hard to hear her, she still works magic. B+(***)
  • Steve Kuhn: Ecstasy (1974, ECM): Solo piano, which resolves the problem of hearing him clearly enough -- no distractions, no props. B+(*)
  • Living Things: Habeas Corpus (2009, Jive/Zomba): A hard rock group with some politics and some hooks, although they don't combine them as often as they did on their breakthrough, Black Skies in Broad Daylight -- as I recall, that was the UK version, re-released in the US with changes as Ahead of the Lions, which I didn't get to. "Snake Oil Man" is one that works; maybe also "Post Millennium Extinction Blues" and "Dirty Bombs." Otherwise the metal is rather bare, not that that's the worst it could be. B+(**)
  • Dolly Parton: 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs (1980 [2009], RCA Nashville/Legacy): A movie role that proved she could act as charmingly as she could sing, featuring a title song that broke even bigger, a second hit from the First Edition, and a skimpy set of filler -- covers from Mel Tillis, Merle Travis, Woody Guthrie, and trad., originals that at least flirt with class struggle. B+(*)
  • Simon & Garfunkel: Live 1969 (1969 [2009], Columbia/Legacy): Virtually all musicians tour, and after their productive studio lives end they leave lots of redundant tapes in their wake, awaiting desperate marketeers. The "new," and as it turned out final, album this anticipates, Bridge Over Troubled Water, is as timeworn now as the rest, but with the earlier hits worked in, this provides a less formal career overview -- no better or worse than the shorter Greatest Hits. In the easy going context of the 1960s the duo seemed harmless enough -- Simon had a knack for melodies, and Garfunkel could sing along. Besides, before the war turned bitter everyone pretty much liked everything. But, with their genteel folkieness, bookish literacy, and proud alienation, they left a nasty aftertaste. In the 1970s I came to despise Simon -- his albums had actually improved, especially when he lifted Latin and African rhythms, but his personality settled into the academic respectability I revolted against. I must say, though, that "Mrs. Robinson" sounds great after all. It was the one song where they were hired to lay on some irony. B-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #20, Part 2)

Not a lot here. Steered midweek toward oldies to shore up April's Recycled Goods post, but not a lot there either. Favorite record of the week was Lily Allen's It's Not Me, It's You, followed by K'naan's Troubadour and Amadou & Mariam's Welcome to Mali -- they now hold three of my top four year-in-progress slots, along with Brad Shepik's Human Activity Suite, and are actually the first non-jazz to crack my list.

Phil Woods: The Children's Suite (2007 [2009], Jazzed Media): "Inspired by the verses of A.A. Milne" -- some sung by Vicki Doney and/or Bob Dorough, some narrated by Peter Dennis. Woods composed and arranged the music, and plays alto sax in an orchestra he conducts: four reeds, three brass, piano, guitar, bass, drums, four strings. Milne, of course, is best known for Winnie-the-Pooh, which makes an appearance, but I assume woods jumps around, and some things like "Sneezles" even strike me as familiar. Not something likely to appeal to me on any level, with the vocals and the strings especially likely to rub me the wrong way, but much of it is well done -- the sax, naturally, but also the witty narration. B+(*)

Miguel Zenón: Awake (2007 [2008], Marsalis Music): Alto saxophonist, from Puerto Rico, b. 1976, one of the outstanding players of his generation, a view that was acknowledge when he won a MacArthur "genius grant" in 2008. Mostly a quartet here, with Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, and Henry Cole on drums. That part is hard to quarrel with, although the range and intensity are hard to grasp. More troublesome are two cuts with a string quartet, and one cut with three extra horns grinding into a noise fest. Need to come back to it later. [B+(**)]

Hank Jones & Frank Wess: Hank and Frank II (2009, Lineage): This is guitarist Ilya Lushtak's label, and his gig. He's a big fan of old jazz, and Jones and Wess are about as far back as anyone can reach today. They are delightful -- Jones especially. And Lushtak is a quite competent swing-styled guitarist -- sort of Howard Alden, minus the fancy stuff. More problematical is Marion Cowings, who sings most of the songs. Where Jones and Wess sound timeless, Cowings is perfectly dated as a 1950s crooner, even a bit old-fashioned in that context. I hated his sound at first, then it started growing a bit on me. B+(**)

Don Cherry/Nana Vasconcelos/Collin Walcott: The Codona Trilogy (1978-82 [2009], ECM, 3CD): Three albums in a nice little box, like ECM did for Keith Jarrett's Setting Standards. Cherry left Ornette Coleman's classic group to see the world, and he never encountered a rhythm or an instrument he didn't like. In Walcott, an American who specialized in Indian music, playing sitar and tabla, and Vasconcelos, a Brazilian percussionist, he collected a compact synopsis of world music. The name came from the players' first name first syllables, and the second and third albums were simply named Codona 2 and Codona 3. They played everything from melodica to doson n'goni to berimbau to timpani, but Cherry's pocket trumpet always stood out, even as it faded in the declining later albums. The groove-and-trumpet dominated first album reminds one of early '70s Miles Davis. The later albums are more eclectic and aimless. Walcott, best known for his work in Oregon, died in an auto accident in 1984, finishing off the group. B+(*)

Steve Kuhn: Life's Backward Glances: Solo and Quartet (1974-79 [2009], ECM, 3CD): One of those pianists who should be far better known but they're just too damn many of them. Started studying under Serge Chaloff's mother, later with George Russell; played with the likes of Coleman Hawkins as a teenager and Stan Getz a bit later; was the original pianist in John Coltrane's Quartet, until McCoy Tyner displaced him. He's recorded steadily since 1963, mostly piano trios. This packages three of the six albums he cut for ECM from 1974-81 -- for variety picking two quartets and one solo. The extra on the first quartet, 1977's Motility, was Steve Slagle, a clear-toned saxophonist who can bop and swing, although he mostly winds up dodging Kuhn's screwballs. Over the record he keeps moving up the register, from tenor to soprano, finishing with flute, a progression that improbably works. The second quartet, 1979's Playground, features vocalist Sheila Jordan. Kuhn's lyrics are as oblique as his music, and Jordan is mixed down, hard to hear, working in the band rather than in front of it. But her command is so complete she makes something of it anyway -- the depth in "Deep Tango" comes from her. The third disc was the first record, 1974's Ecstasy. Solo piano, not easy to get a handle on, no matter how clear and sharp it seems. B+(**)

Sex Mob Meets Medeski: Live in Willisau (2006 [2009], Thirsty Ear): Quartet -- Steven Bernstein on slide trumpet, Briggan Krauss on alto sax, Tony Scherr on bass, Kenny Wollesen on drums -- with John Medeski sitting in on organ. Usual mix of lowbrow pop raised to avant-kitsch, with covers from Prince and John Barry -- think James Bond themes -- prominent, along with bits from Ellington, Basie, and "Little Liza Jane." Originals include a series of "Mob Rule" connecting pieces and a tribute named "Artie Shaw." A lot of brains go into this, but the wit is swallowed up in sloppy noise. And while Medeski has fun, he doesn't add much. B+(*)

Gaucho: Deep Night (2008 [2009], Gaucho): San Francisco group, played every Wednesday night for five years at a "dive" called Amnesia. Plays gypsy jazz -- the name reportedly derived from the Spanish gadjo. Lineup: Bob Reich (accordion), David Ricketts (guitar), Michael Groh (guitar), Ralph Carney (horns), Art Munkers (bass), Pete Devine (drums), with guest Craig Ventresco for more guitar on 4 tracks. Carney, who started out with Tin Huey in Akron, travelled all around with Tom Waits, and seems to be everywhere in San Francisco these days, is the best known. Ricketts and Groh have worked in Hot Club of San Francisco, another Django-styled group. This group strikes me as qualitatively cooler than their model, which isn't such a bad thing. The opening "Tea for Two" is delightful, "The Sheik of Araby" has some spark, "Valse a Bambula" is sly and elegant, but "St. Louis Blues" is too crude for this crew. B+(**)

Roger Davidson & Raúl Jaurena: Pasión por la Vida (2008 [2009], Soundbrush): Davidson has a long history exploring Latin jazz, which has lately moved him toward Argentina's tango. He finally wrote a batch, which Jaurena's bandoneón makes sound warm, intimate, sometimes stately, more often classic. One cut triggered my Bach reflex, but I soon decided that wasn't such a bad thing. B+(***)

Milton Nascimento and Jobim Trio: Novas Bossas (2007 [2008], Blue Note): Guitarist son Paulo Jobim and pianist grandson Daniel Jobim of Antonio Carlos Jobim anchor the trio, with Paulo Braga on drums, and bassist Rodrigo Villa relegated to a "featuring" credit. A little stiff with the piano up front. Nascimento sings, his falsetto aiming for the heavens but often brought down by the dead weight -- especially when the others chime in. C+

Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra: El Viaje (2008 [2009], PGM): Argentine bassist, from Cordoba, moved to New York in 1996, leads a big band, mostly people I don't recognize -- the exception is drummer Jeff Davis. Third album. Relationship to tango, to Latin jazz, or to big band swing, is unclear; this feels more like a sprawling symphony, minus the strings. Played it twice, turning it up part way through because I was having trouble hearing it. Ten minutes later I don't recall anything about it, other than that it wasn't unpleasant. B-

Paul Giallorenzo: Get In to Get Out (2005 [2009], 482 Music): Pianist, originally from New York, based in Chicago, has several groups/projects in the fire. This one is a quintet, with Josh Berman (cornet), Dave Rempis (alto/tenor/baritone sax), Anton Hatwich (bass), and Frank Rosaly (drums). First song out, "Vacillation," takes a neat little repetitive riff and breaks it wide open. Some good stuff later on where Rempis gets a beat and rips loose. Don't have a good sense of the piano yet. [B+(**)]

Alex Cline: Continuation (2008 [2009], Cryptogramophone): Drummer, leads a string-heavy quintet here with Jeff Gauthier on violin, Peggy Lee on cello, Scott Walton on bass, and Myra Melford on piano and harmonium. Don't think I would have connected with this if I hadn't taken time out to follow it closely. The string stuff is nice and elegant; the drummer works his way carefully around it. Melford's harmonium changes the game immensely -- wish there was more of it. B+(**)

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Atomic/School Days: Distil (Okka Disk, 2CD)
  • Baker/Hunt/Sandstrom/Williams: Extraordinary Popular Delusions (Okka Disk)
  • Jon Balke: Siwan (ECM): advance, June 30
  • Peter Brötzmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm: The Brain of the Dog in Section (Atavistic)
  • Brötzmann/Kondo/Pupillo/Nilssen-Love: Hairy Bones (Okka Disk)
  • Brötzmann/Pliakas/Wertmueller: Full Blast: Black Hole (Atavistic)
  • Crimson Jazz Trio: King Crimson Songbook, Volume 2 (Inner Knot)
  • Cyminology: As Ney (ECM)
  • Ambrose Field/John Potter: Being Dufay (ECM New Series)
  • The Engines (Okka Disk)
  • Fire Room: Broken Music (Atavistic)
  • Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Thin Air (Thirsty Ear)
  • Arve Henriksen: Cartography (ECM)
  • Jennifer Lee: Quiet Joy (SBE)
  • Joe Maneri/Peter Dolger: Peace Concert (1964, Atavistic)
  • McPhee/Brötzmann/Kessler/Zerang: Guts (Okka Disk)
  • My Cat Is an Alien & Enore Zaffiri: Through the Magnifying Glass of Tomorrow (Atavistic, CD+DVD)
  • Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra: Secrets of the Sun (1962, Atavistic)
  • Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra: Strange Strings (1966, Atavistic)
  • Sun Ra: Some Blues but Not the Kind Thats Blue (1973-77, Atavistic)
  • The Matthew Shipp Trio: Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear)
  • Adam Shulman: Patterns of Change (Kabocha)
  • Territory Band-6 with Fred Anderson: Collide (Okka Disk)
  • Gian Tornatore: Fall (Sound Spiral)
  • Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music I (Not Two)
  • Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music II (Not Two)
  • Nicholas Urie Large Ensemble: Excerpts From an Online Dating Service (Red Piano)
  • Ken Vandermark/Pandelis Karayorgis: Foreground Music (Okka Disk)
  • Ken Vandermark: Collected Fiction (Okka Disk)


  • Lily Allen: It's Not Me, It's You (Capitol)
  • The Best of Connie Francis (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection) (1957-62, Polydor)
  • Mississippi John Hurt: D.C. Blues: The Library of Congress Recordings, Vol. 1 (1963, Fuel 2000, 2CD)
  • Nick Lowe: Jesus of Cool (1975-78, Yep Roc)
  • New York City Salsa (Fania, 2CD)
  • Randy Newman: Harps and Angels (Nonesuch)
  • Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts I-IV (Halo Twenty Six, 2CD)
  • Ramones (1976, Warner Archives/Rhino)
  • Ramones: Rocket to Russia (1978, Warner Archives/Rhino)
  • Santogold (Downtown)
  • Frank Sinatra: Capitol Records Concept Albums (1953-62, Capitol, 14CD)
  • Mavis Staples: We'll Never Turn Back (Anti-)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Recycled Goods (65): April 2009

See file here.

Treason of the Hawks

Stephen Walt: The treason of the hawks: Underneath a picture of Benjamin Netanyahu, Walt starts out:

In Every War Must End, his classic study of war termination, Fred Iklé coined the term "treason of the hawks" to describe those tragic situations where hardliners stubbornly refuse to make peace and thereby lead their countries to disaster. Iklé, who served as Ronald Reagan's under secretary of defense and is certainly no dove, recognized that obstinate opposition to making peace is as dangerous to a nation's future as naďve pacifism and potentially as damaging as deliberately selling out to the enemy.

After pointing out that "treason" is a word that carries especially harsh moral connotations, Iklé noted:

[T]he English language is without a word of equally strong opprobrium to designate acts that can lead to the destruction of one's government and one's country, not by giving aid and comfort to the enemy, but by making enemies, not by fighting too little, but by fighting too much and too long. "Adventurism" -- much too weak a word -- is perhaps the best term to describe this "treason of the hawks." . . . Treason can help our enemies destroy our country by making them stronger; adventurism can destroy our country by making our enemies more numerous.

I was thinking about a seemingly unrelated matter the other day: the relative value of business choices made by the state and the private sector. Economists have worked hard to prove the innate superiority of private over political choices, but the real cause seems pretty obvious: states tend to choose only one option and to hang onto failures much longer than the private sector can afford to tolerate. On the other hand, private actors tend to choose a wide range of options, but limit their bets and are quick to cut their losses -- a process that tends to find and perpetuate good choices, and to quickly forget many bad choices. A lot more can be said about this, but the relevant point is that political choices can fail repeatedly, up to the very brink of disaster, without any correction. The Iraq War is as much example as we need, but Israel offers many examples as well.

Israel's long struggle with its neighbors, its unwanted people, and its own confused self-conscoiousness, is so cluttered with pseudo-victories its people and supporters have trouble realizing how poorly they have fared. The main reason is that Israel, going back to Jabotinsky nagging Ben-Gurion, and Ben-Gurion hectoring Sharrett, has always been plagued by hawks who insisted that if they pushed and pounded a little harder they could secure a bit more. Over the last decade, we've seen Netanyahu and Sharon trade roles like a pair of tag-team wrestlers, with whoever was out of power excoriating the other from the right. Together (with a lot of more or less inadvertent help from Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert subbing once Sharon fell comatose) they managed to scuttle the Oslo peace process, provoke the Al-Aqsa Intifada, rout repeatedly the Palestinian territories, senselessly bomb Lebanon, fire up ridiculous fears of Iran, and generally drive Israel's worldwide reputation into the toilet. All they've gotten for this has been a few more hilltop settlements looking down on growing masses of disgruntled Palestinians, a steady supply of military toys from their fan club of neocons and evangelicals in the US, and the continued illusion that they alone are masters of their fate.

You would think that Ben-Gurion, Dayan, Meir, Rabin, even Begin -- leaders from the founding generation that above all hoped for Israel to achieve worldwide respect and recognition -- would be spinning in their graves, but the fact is that they all played this same game, and they are the ones who taught Sharon, Netanyahu, Peres, Barak, Olmert, Lieberman, et al. A big part of the problem is that Israel's politicial system has selected those who are especially good at playing this game -- and who lack virtually any other skill, including a grasp of reality. They are forever locked in a cosmic struggle against Nazism, seeing Hitler's face on every foreigner who crosses them. In other words, they've lost their grasp on reality, including the most important change in their world since 1948: the fact that Jews no longer need a safe haven, because nobody anywhere in the world frets about Jews in their country any more. As Israel has become a "solution" to a problem that no longer exists, Israel's leaders create new problems to justify their perpetually endangered existence. But the new problems harm Israel as much as anyone else:

Netanyahu ought to be equally concerned by signs that the Zionist ideal is losing its hold within Israel itself. There are reportedly between 700,000 and one million Israeli citizens now living abroad, and emigration has outpaced immigration since 2007. According to Ian Lustick and John Mueller, only 69 percent of Israeli Jews say they want to remain in the country, and a 2007 poll reported that about one-quarter of Israelis are considering leaving, including almost half of all young people. As Lustick and Mueller note, hyping the threat from Iran may be making this problem worse, especially among the most highly educated (and thus most mobile) Israelis. Israeli society is also becoming more polarized -- which is one reason Netanyahu had such trouble forming a governing coalition -- with the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox at odds with secular Israelis, to include the more recent immigrants that form the core of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's support.

This looks like the private sector is voting against the Jewish State: with Jews leaving, and unwanted Palestinians sticking, the demographic tide has turned against Israel, just as the "facts on the ground" have pinned Israel in an untenable position. They can't pretend to be a modern country while embracing so many traits that have been rejected everywhere else in the modern world: colonialism, militarism, theocracy, apartheid. Fortunately, the Palestinians are so exhausted they're willing to deal, and so is the rest of the world. That is, after all, why the hawks thrash so frantically. They seek to postpone the inevitable, and thereby make it all the worse. Treason is a good word for what they're doing.

Friday, May 01, 2009

House Log

Did no work on the house today. Well, not quite: I managed to screw the four 4x4 spice racks into the cabinet I built for them. Wasn't easy, mostly because the screw holes on the backs didn't line up with the holes on the front for the spice bottles. Also, with the cabinet held upright, gravity didn't favor me. I should get one of those screwdrivers that firmly holds the screw until you get it set, or at least something magnetic. As it is, masking tape worked. So we can start putting some 50-60 bottles of spices into their new home, a short reach from the stove.

The other thing I did today was cook. We had a May Day potluck at the Peace Center, so I thought a nice (and relatively easy) dish would be Roast Chicken with Samfaina. The samfaina is just a pot of veggies -- onions, zucchini, Japanese eggplant, tomatoes, roasted red bell peppers, garlic -- cooked down to a mush. Cut up a chicken, rub it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast it. Deglaze the pan and dump the samfaina over the chicken, or (as I did) dunk the chicken into the samfaina, heat it through, and you're done. Was nice to be able to do both parts at the same time -- unlike the old range, where the oven choked off the top burners. Made a pan of cornbread to go with it, baking it in the electric oven while the chicken was roasting in the gas oven.

Apr 2009