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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Trip Log

Got out of hotel in Lexington, NE, around 9:45. Restaurant next door looked closed, and didn't see any more, so hit road. Ate breakfast in Gothenberg, NE, 20-some miles down the road. Eggs, bacon, a couple of micro-pancakes. Hit the spot. Drove on west, by a lot more sand hills than I expected. Thought the landscape was lovely, especially once I crossed the South Platte and started gaining some elevation. Stopped in Sydney, NE for lunch. Drove up to a place there called Cabela's, not understanding what it is: an outsized, outlandish hunting-fishing store. Decided their canteen wasn't what I wanted, and didn't feel like loitering, so I left, landing at Perkins. Had a hamburger which was tasty but didn't digest too well. Drove on to Cheyenne, WY, noting how abruptly the landscape changed at the border -- place called Pine Bluffs. Drove around Cheyenne a bit, looking for and eventually finding Barnes & Noble. Bought Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time and a National Geographic scenic roads book. Was having trouble settling on how to cross Wyoming, but wound up punting and taking the easiest route: west on I-80. Stopped in Rawlins for dinner, eating at a place (I think) called Cappy's. Had a nice piece of fried perch, a worrisome order in what was definitely a steak place. Drove on to Green River; looked around a bit and decided to drive on to Lyman. Found a motel, Gateway Inn: overpriced, clunky door locks, internet didn't work at first, and never worked all that well. Enjoyed the scenery: lots of semi-desert scrub and bluffs, with real mountains in distant background. Saw three antelope between Cheyenne and Laramie, but nothing later. Should have a nice drive into Idaho tomorrow.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Trip Log

Left home in Wichita about 3:45 PM. Was so late for most of the usual reasons, starting with getting up late (maybe because I didn't get the lights out last night until 3:45 AM), then updating the blog for Jazz Prospecting day, then synching the computer up, packing, etc. Put up a picture of the kitchen, and copied a bunch more pictures onto the notebook computer. Had to drop library books off. Have been having problems with a slow tire leak, which I thought had been fixed but again, soon after I left Wichita, tripped off Toyota's weird sensor. Stopped in Salina for dinner with a couple of friend. They took me to a nice Italian joint, Martinelli's Little Italy. Not up to the taste in Italian I developed while living in New York, working next door to a superb restaurant that my boss practically lived in, but those are pretty high standards. Drove up US-81, then west on I-80. Got as far as Lexington, NE, around midnight, and stayed in a Super8 there -- lousy hotel, hardly got any sleep, but that often happens, especially first night out. Can't say as I saw much, but, hey, it's central NE -- what could I have missed?

Music Week

Music: Current count 15492 [15470] rated (+22), 730 [734] unrated (-4). Kitchen done. Jazz CG prospected. Trying to pack up and get out the door to drive to Idaho and Oregon. Will be gone two weeks, maybe a bit more.

  • Bob Dylan: Together Through Life (2009, Columbia): After rating Love and Theft and Modern Times at A+, Christgau put a respectful chill on this at B+. Rolling Stone, of course, went whole hog with five stars. I've been sitting on the fence, but that's where I usually am with Dylan. I've never been a words critic, and I've developed a deeper respect for Dylan's melodies thanks to Jewels & Binoculars. What I can say is that he's settled into a long-term groove, enjoying playing music, enjoying making up his songs. His last sub-A-list studio album was 1992's Good as I Been to You, which was actually the one where I started liking him again. This is his fifth since. I've played it a lot. It starts strong and ends stronger, and if there's something wrong with what's in the middle I can't remember what it is. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #20, Part 10)

Took some pictures of the kitchen project last night. Had trouble finding angles where you could see how it all fits together. One picture that gives you an idea is on the right here. This features the stove and hood, with the dining area behind. The blue shelf units basically wrap all the way around, with the ones you can't see on the right 16-inches deep, 84-inches wide, with a row of fold-down flaps in the middle. The three handles behind the spice rack pull out pantry units for flour, oil, etc. The wood counter around the stove is supposed to be stainless steel, but we don't have that done yet. The pull-out to the right of the stove needs a face panel. The cabinet guy -- who built the white stuff that wraps around to the left of the picture, including sink, dishwasher, and an electric wall oven -- promised to build one that matches, but hasn't delivered yet. The blue-ish countertop is solid surface, with an extra-large built-in single sink. The tile is at the bottom. The dining room still has its previous oak hardwood. Behind the picture is a large white box housing the refrigerator, and behind it is a pantry area with a laminate countertop, shelves, drawers, and a nice cabinet (also missing its matching door). A small room with toilet and vanity is also attached and got the treatment. A lot of junk is still lying around, pretty much obscuring the dining room table. I doubt that this will ever be presentable in one of those glossy kitchen-and-bath magazines -- not least because the space is pretty small by modern standards. The shelves will soon be filled up with books, and we'll drag the other packed-away kitchen stuff up, and hopefully throw a lot of the junk out. Also stock the pantry shelves, and do some cooking. Still to be done: the stainless steel countertop, the missing doors, a short list of odds and ends, some cleaning up of errant paint, a bit of molding to cover up some glitches. But basically it's done. Took about seven months, burned through a lot of money, and took a pretty savage toll on my life and well-being. But it didn't kill me, so hopefully I'll come out stronger.

The stove, by the way, is a Capital Precision 36-inch, 6-burner, gas unit. No real frills other than a huge self-cleaning oven and a rotisserie thing I haven't used yet. It's awesome. The extra oven you can't see is an LG electric. The convenience of having both has turned out to be a big plus. We looked at a lot of vent hoods on the way, wanting something that would move a lot of air but still not destroy the view. This Zephyr unit does a nice job. I'll have more pictures later on, once I get them better organized and ready for web display. Just wanted to throw this one out to announce the occasion.

I'm driving off to Idaho and Oregon as soon as I get this post up and finish my packing. I'll be gone two weeks or so. By the time I get back, Jazz CG will be due, so I'll work on finishing off the draft on the road. I've packed up all of the records that I only have tentative grades for, and all of the graded prospects, but not my paperwork. Given how much I already have written, I'll be doing more cutting than writing. I'm not taking much unheard music. For all practical purposes, that's next round anyway.


The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Plays Music From South Pacific (2008 [2009], Arbors): Same group, including singers Rebecca Kilgore and Eddie Erickson, who took on Guys and Dolls a while back. The liner notes is already referring to them as "the official Arbors Repertory Company of American Musical Theater," so I guess they'll keep this up until they run out of material. I never cared for Broadway musicals, and never listened to an original cast album until the Royal Shakespeare Company did Threepenny Opera, which was something else altogether (and very much my thing). Hardly ever saw the movies either, but the one thing I do recall was how hokey the stories were with so much plot wound up in song. Still, I love Allen's tenor sax, and Cohn's guitar has been a productive accompaniment. Every significant music of the period -- South Pacific came out in 1949 -- has a few songs that have turned into jazz standards, and it's interesting to check out the context, much of which hasn't aged very well -- cf. "There's Nothing Like a Dame" and "Honeybun" which sound these days little better than a couple of old coon songs. The singers are fun, but they don't fit their characters very well -- Erickson as a sophisticated French man? They are, as Kilgore puts it, cornier than Kansas in August, while Allen and Cohn do what they always do: swing. B+(***)

Josh Berman: Old Idea (2007 [2009], Delmark): Cornet player, from and in Chicago, b. 1972, debut album although he's been gathering credits since 2002 -- Lucky 7s, Exploding Star Orchestra, various projects with tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz (both on board here). Quintet, with Anton Hatwich on bass, Nori Tanaka on drums. Mild mannered, ambles thoughtfully without much splash, the drama neatly tucked inside. Good framework for the vibes. B+(*)

Andrea Fultz: The German Projekt: German Songs From the Twenties & Thirties (2009, no label): Four songs by Friedrich Hollaender; seven by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, one by Brecht and Hanns Eisler. Fultz was born in Munich, 1974, German mother, American father. Passed through Austria on her way to San Francisco in 2003. First album, with Bob Reich on accordion, Dina Maccabee on violin, Adam Shulman on piano, Eugene Warren on bass, and Micha Patri on percussion. Starts with the flamboyantly English-speaking "Alabama Song," which seems too simple and obvious to make the point. Beyond that it's almost all in German, a treat if you're so inclined. Brecht-Weill is a touchstone for me, a fact I may be overly compensating for, especially given how sublime the Hollaender songs come off -- "Johnny" and "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt" ring a bell even if the composer's name doesn't. The violin and accordion nail the milieu perfectly. Fultz won't make you forget Lotte Lenya, or even Marlene Dietrich. But then, who wants to? B+(***)

WHO Trio: Less Is More (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Group name is an acronym for Michel Wintsch (piano), Gerry Hemingway (drums), and Bänz Oester (bass). Wintsch is a Swiss pianist, b. 1964, has 16-18 albums since 1998, mostly on Unit and Leo, none that I've heard before. Oester, also Swiss, b. 1966, has one album on Leo plus a dozen or so side credits, many with Wintsch. Hemingway should need no introduction at this point. Very low key affair, which starts to gain some interest once you focus in tightly. B+(**)

Andrew Green: Narrow Margin (2007 [2008], Microphonic): Guitarist. Name appears in red type on front cover, standing out in the middle of a list of better-known artists: Bill McHenry (tenor sax), Russ Johnson (trumpet), JC Sanford (trombone), John Hebert (bass), Mark Ferber (drums). Still, it's Green's album: co-produced with John McNeil, wrote everything except an excerpt from Bernard Herrmann's "Taxi Driver" theme, two credits shared with McNeil. Still, he probably means the title as the group name. Title comes from a 1952 B-movie noir. Green previously worked in a group called Sound Assembly, and has a Shaggs tribute band called My Band Foot Foot. Lives in NYC, and has written three books on jazz guitar technique. His grooves drive this group, but the omnipresent horns dominate the sound, especially Johnson. B+(*)

Sam Yahel: Hometown (2009, Posi-Tone): Plays piano here, in a trio with Matt Penman (bass) and Jochen Rueckert (drums), but has almost exclusively played organ in the past: five albums since 1998, a couple dozen side credits including Norah Jones and Joshua Redman. Starts with John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," slow, always sounds good. Follows up with Monk, Ellington, two originals, Gilberto, "Moonlight in Vermont," Wayne Shorter, etc. Nice variety, amply supported by bass and drums, lively on the upbeat, touching when they slow it down. B+(**) [advance]

Terri Lyne Carrington: More to Say . . . (2009, Koch): Title may (or may not) segue to "(Real Life Story: Nextgen)." Real Life Story was the title of Carrington's 1989 first album, on Verve Forecast, panned by AMG as "disappointingly lightweight." However, her 2003 record on ACT, Structure, with Jimmy Haslip and Greg Osby, got a 4-star rating from The Penguin Guide. Haven't heard either, or anything else, so I'm having trouble parsing her short and scattered discography, which AMG sums up as: funk, instrumental pop, hard bop, M-base. Carrington's a drummer, mentored by Jack De Johnette, currently teaches at Berklee. This is pop jazz with some gospel overtones. It's crammed with guests: Walter Beasley, George Duke, Everette Harp, Jimmy Haslip, Chuck Loeb, Christian McBride, Les McCann, Lori Perri, Patrice Rushen, Dwight Sills, Krik Whallum, Nancy Wilson. At least that's the list from the cover sticker, which also touts the single "Let It Be" -- yes, the Beatles endgame, vocal by Lori Perry (same person as Lori Perri?). Booklet adds more "featuring" credits not deemed cover-worthy: Danilo Perez is the name that jumps out for me. Not really sure how bad this is, and don't care to figure that out. What I look for in pop jazz albums is vibrant funk, cheap disco, breakout sax, and no gospel vocals, and what I can say is that this album fails on all counts. C-

Jacám Manricks: Labyrinth (2008 [2009], Manricks Music): Plays winds: alto/soprano sax, clarinet/bass clarinet, flute/alto flute. Based in New York, graduated from and teaches at Manhattan School of Music. Don't know where he came from or how he got there, but he's done contract work in Finland. MySpace page has a list of nearly a hundred influences starting with Jelly Roll Morton and including everyone you're sure to have heard of, ending with Metallica and the Beatles -- about 85% jazz, 10% classical, 5% pop. Possible telling outlier is Dick Oatts, who makes the list twice. Six of eight cuts use a quintet with Ben Monder on guitar, Jacob Sacks on piano, Thomas Morganon bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Two cuts add in a chamber orchestra with French horn, flute, and a mess of strings, merely sweetening the basic concept. Intricately elaborate, lots of concepts in the liner notes that turn into complexities in the sound. B+(**)

Oumou Sangare: Seya (2009, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Critics who have studied her texts are taken by her feminism, but I'm quite satisfied with the groove. From Mali, she pulls together all the various strains of her national music -- the desert blues, the authority of the griots, the chants and soft strings -- then kicks it up a notch, crossing Wassoulou with Mbalax and then some. Eleven songs, most so finely balanced they already feel classic. A

PIZZArelli Party With the Arbors All Stars (2009, Arbors): I filed this under Bucky Pizzarelli, figuring he's still the tribe's sheikh, but closer inspection suggests this is really John Pizzarelli's record -- he produced, wrote a sizable chunk of the songs (to Bucky's one and seven covers from the usual suspects), sings on two, and wrote the liner notes. Martin Pizzarelli is on bass, Tony Tedesco on drums, Larry Fuller on piano. The Arbors All Stars are limited to Harry Allen on tenor sax and Aaron Weinstein on violin, plus a couple of vocal spots for Rebecca Kilgore and/or Jessica Molaskey. The vocals are rather scattered, but there's a lot of hot swing guitar, and Weinstein and Allen are superb, especially on the closer, "I'll See You in My Dreams." B+(**)

Enrico Pieranunzi: Plays Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas and Improvisations (2007 [2009], CAM Jazz): Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti is a baroque composer, 1685-1757. My wife has a short list of classical music faves, mostly from his period or earlier, and Scarlatti is on it. I tend to hate all classical music as a matter of personal principle and custom, but this isn't bad -- has some groove to it, even if it's a bit too neatly tied up in the end. Solo piano, which is probably par for this course. The pianist is a major figure in Italy's jazz scene, with a lengthy catalog that I've only lately had the luxury of following. He is always worth hearing, even solo, even here. Note that the improvs stay strictly in character. B+(*)

Andy Sheppard: Movements in Colour (2008 [2009], ECM): Saxophonist, mostly tenor but plays some soprano here, b. 1957, England. His early work -- four 1988-91 albums on Antilles, originally a dub sub-label of reggae giant Island -- tended to fusion with funk beats, suggesting a possibly more interesting David Sanborn. His discography has been erratic since then, but lately he's been showing up on Carla Bley albums. His ECM debut shows a gentler strain, with guitar (John Parricelli and Eivind Aarset), bass (Arild Andersen), tabla (Kuljit Bhamra) and some electronics (Aarset and Andersen) paving the way. Takes a little while to settle into the groove and let the sax colors flower. A-

Louis Sclavis: Lost on the Way (2008 [2009], ECM): French clarinetist, b. 1953, has been a major figure since the early 1980s. Quintet, with Matthieu Metzger on soprano and alto sax blending in near seamlessly, and Maxime Delpierre on guitar, not just fitting in but sometimes busting out in solos that have more to do with Jimi Hendrix. B+(***)

Jon Balke/Amina Alaoui: Siwan (2007-08 [2009], ECM): Balke is a Norwegian pianist, credited with keyboards here. He was b. 1955, has 10 or so albums since 1991, most on ECM. His name appears above the title, and on the spine before the title. Alaoui, a Moroccan vocalist specializing in Arabic-Andalusian classical music, is listed just below the title, and on the spine after the title. Three more names make the front cover: Jon Hassell (trumpet, electronics); Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche (violin); and Bjarte Eike (violin, leader of the Barokksolistene, an ensemble of strings, lute, and harpsichord. The material is mostly Spanish, mostly from the Arabic period. For all I know, sounds pretty expert, authentic, an interesting exercise in the archives. B+(*)

Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Moment's Energy (2007 [2009], ECM): It seems odd that Parker's one shot on a label someone might actually hear should be focused on this strange large group but certainly not a big band. This is the group's fifth album on ECM. Parker plays soprano sax, but it's hard to pick him out even though he's generally the easiest soprano saxophonist in the world to recognize. From the start, violinist Philipp Wachsmann has been the group's key member -- probably also the ECM connection -- but mostly for his interest in electronics. It's taken a while for the electronics to take hold as something more than occasional blips and squiggles, but this is where they finally pay off, perhaps because they've finally gained majority status. Sample credits: Wachsmann (violin, live electronics), Paul Lytton (percussion, live electronics), Lawrence Casserley (signal processing equipment), Joel Ryan (sample and signal processing), Walter Prati (computer processing), Richard Barnet (live electronics), Paul Obermayer (live electronics), Marco Vecchi (sound projection). The acoustic contingent is more likely to provide fodder for the knob twiddlers, but it's also the case that they've been beefed up this time, with Peter Evans' trumpet standing out, joined by Ko Ishikawa's sho and Ned Rothenberg's clarinets and shakuhachi. Odd stuff, piled on deep. Takes a while, but I inadvertently got stuck in it, and kept playing it until it made sense. A-

Frank Glover: Politico (2005 [2009], Owl Studios): Clarinetist. Don't know much about him, except for some hints that he's from and/or based in Indianapolis, has four albums since 1991, that this one was originally self-released in 2005. Quartet, with Steve Allee on piano, Jack Helsley on bass, Bryson Kern on drums. One piece is a three-part concerto; two more were slated for films. Has a loose postbop feel that covers all these angles. B+(*)


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

Joshua Redman: Compass (2008 [2009], Nonesuch): Final copy has the song-by-song credits, so my speculation of two separate sax trios is wrong. Bassists Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers double up on 7 of 13 cuts, the other splitting 3-3. Drummers Brian Blade and Gregory Hutchinson double up on 5 cuts, splitting the rest 5-3 in favor of Blade. Redman plays tenor sax on 10 cuts, soprano on three. I've played this like six times in a row now, feeling indifferent for stretches, then hearing something I like -- often something real simple like "Insomniac" which is just a repeated riff he rides out. Redman remains a superb tenor saxophonist, but only so-so on soprano. This seems like an average record for him, probably no worse than the Branford Marsalis record I have down as an HM. B+(**)

Miguel Zenón: Awake (2007 [2008], Marsalis Music): He explored his native Puerto Rican music to impressive effect on Jíbaro, but doesn't betray a hint of that here, even in a quartet with Luis Perdomo and Hans Glawischnig, who live and breathe that music. Two cuts with strings don't do much for me, but suggest that he might do more in the future. The quartet tracks blow wide open, with one ugly noise blast and a lot of Coltraneish searching. Arguably the best alto saxophonist of his generation, which you can't help but notice, then wonder why this doesn't pan out even more impressively. B+(**)

Hal Galper/Reggie Workman/Rashied Ali: Art-Work (2008 [2009], Origin): A 70-year-old pianist too few have heard of -- inspired by Bud Powell, taught by Jaki Byard, always turns out thoughtful albums -- goes live with two 70-year-old avant-gardists, each as fascinating in his own right as the leader. A-


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Jon Balke: Siwan (ECM)
  • Tineke de Jong/Albert van Veenendaal/Alan Purves/Hans Hasebos: Midday Moon (Brokken)
  • The Bob Florence Limited Edition: Legendary (Mama)
  • Elli Fordyce: Sings Songs Spun of Gold (Fordyce Music)
  • Bill Frisell: Disfarmer (Nonesuch): advance, July 21
  • Hemispheres: Crossroads (Sunnyside): July 28
  • Fred Hersch: Plays Jobim (Sunnyside): July 28
  • Lawrence Hobgood: When the Heart Dances (Naim Jazz): Aug. 11
  • Bobby Hutcherson: Head On (1971, Blue Note)
  • Eleni Karaindrou: Dust of Time (ECM New Series)
  • Joe Lovano Us Five: Folk Art (Blue Note)
  • Wynton Marsalis: He and She (Blue Note)
  • Van Morrison: Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl (Listen to the Lion)
  • Mr. Groove Band: Rocket 88: Tribute to Ike Turner (Zoho Roots)
  • Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Moment's Energy (ECM)
  • Louis Sclavis: Lost on the Way (ECM)
  • Andy Sheppard: Movements in Colour (ECM)
  • Wayne Shorter: The Soothsayer (1965, Blue Note)
  • Tessa Souter: Obsession (Motéma Music): Aug. 11
  • Sunny Voices (Sunnyside)
  • Fred Taylor Trio: Live at Cecil's: Volume 1 (Fred Taylor Music)
  • Dan Tepfer/Lee Konitz: Duos With Lee (Sunnyside): July 28

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson

Robert Christgau: It Don't Stop, and Then It Do: I found out that Elvis Presley died one morning when Georgia Christgau called me up, evidently thinking his death was historically important, deserving some form of social acknowledgment. I'm afraid I wasn't very useful company. Presley meant next to nothing to me at the time -- not that I was unfamiliar or unappreciative of his music, but I came to it far enough after the fact that I never saw him as bigger than history. Also because by then I was inclined to cut against the hype, which in Presley's case was inflated to ridiculous proportions by critics like the despised Greil Marcus. Also because by the time Presley died it seemed like he was already dead. Michael Jackson's solo career didn't really take off until after I had transformed from fan to critic, and I never gave him much credit for the shrill and clunky Jackson 5, the last and my least favorite of Motown's big 1960s groups, and never noticed his solo albums until I backed into Off the Wall off the Thriller hype, deeming it the better album, probably a fair judgment given that by then I never played the radio let alone watched music videos, indeed detested both. Jackson's death at age 50 is drawing much the same response as Presley's death at age 42 -- at the moment it seems even more effusive, but that may just be our much greater media savvy. You can draw dozens of easy comparisons: from the King of Rock to the King of Pop; from the white guy who sounded black to the black guy who sounded like race meant nothing; you can tote up the hits, which above all were singles, regardless of how they were packaged; both were amazingly physical performers, and their physicality, their performance, overwhelmed their music. They had similar career arcs, including the ability to bounce back with something better than you'd expect even when they were clearly way past their prime. And you can no doubt draw up a long psych list for each, both being prime examples of how lives can be spoiled with with self-indulgences enabled by too much fame and money.

I could cavil further -- e.g., comparing Presley to Chuck Berry or Jackson to George Clinton -- but both did a few amazing things. Eventually I found some things by Presley that blew me away -- a 1968 live tape released as Tiger Man was ear-opening, and his 1956 RCA debut Elvis Presley eventually delivered all that had been claimed. I'm less sure about Jackson, whose album record is actually pretty thin: four quick Motown albums, which I've only heard filtered through the dreadful Best of Michael Jackson, and five great-to-good Epic albums over 22 years: Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), and Invincible (2001). The latter is if anything more consistent and more distinctive than the earlier albums -- not as brilliant and weirder in odder ways. Still, I wouldn't have paid much attention to him were it not for Robert Christgau, who not only recommended his records but who literally forced me to watch Jackson perform, giving me the chance not just to view Jackson but to catch his reflection in how other far more sympathetic people saw him. That countered my own instinct which suspected him as a freak way before the evidence piled up to absurd proportions. But he had no sustained impactin my life. I haven't thought of him since I wrote a Recycled Goods review in 2004:

Michael Jackson: Number Ones (1979-2001 [2003], Epic). In the long run, which is the subject of career compilations, he will be viewed as the founder of a distinct stream of raceless dance rock that seems likely to be vital and very popular for decades. Sure, much of what we've heard from that stream lately has come in the form of teen pop, but those teens are growing up (e.g. Justin Timberlake), and his most immediate follower, Madonna, has her own followers, for much the same reasons. By "raceless" I mean that, as he put it in his most anthemic song, "it don't matter whether you're black or white." That is the ideal of integration -- not the paling down of Black American music, but its triumph in the free marketplace of monster beats. This tails off a bit toward the end, as the criteria start to get sloppy, but not as much as you'd expect. And given the market's tendency to lag, this favors Bad over his breakthrough albums, Off the Wall and Thriller. But the point here is he wasn't a freak success -- he broke new ground, and he kept pushing it past his obvious peak. A-

At the time, it seemed like Jackson's music was in danger of being eclipsed by his personal notoriety; now what I wrote seems lukewarm compared to the accolades that have been pouring in. Death separates the body from the work he left behind, which is now free to stand on its own -- and in the rash of flashbacks his music and videos are every bit as explosive now as they were when they were new.

Andrew Sullivan: Thinking About Michael: One of the links from Christgau's blog, this seems about right. I don't, however, find the psychology all that interesting, but I do wonder about -- and I'm certain that we'll never really understand -- how all the money angles worked. Jackson made a lot of money for a lot of people who worked him in lots of ways. I am reminded of something one of my cousins once said: if you won a lottery, how could you ever tell who your friends were? I imagine that few people in America have ever lived through worse versions of that problem.


In his post, Christgau has a paragraph of quotes he gleaned from various critics which makes me feel like my own critical faculties are impaired, and that what I wrote above can simply be filed away under "self-serving blog crap." Pareles' note about Jackson's angular and twitchy dance moves, digital rather than analog, is astute, but those moves map the beats so literally Jackson almost disappears in them -- one way he does stand out is in the flamboyance of his costumes. Sheffield's comment about Jackson playing the underdog is also apt, but it wanders into cliché ("renouncing the privileges of machismo" as if machismo was anything but posture). I'm tempted to go further: Jackson was an underdog because deep down he always felt so pathetic, which produced a tremendous, miraculous release when it all worked.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Taxes and Other Links

Matthew Yglesias: The Next Tax Revolt: Had this stuck in a window for a week now, and didn't want to lose it, even though I don't have time to dig into it. Interesting point:

The United States already does about as much as any other country to curb inequality through the tax code. Where we fall short is in fighting inequality through government spending -- we just don't spend very much. If you care about inequality, in other words, the thing to focus on is not soaking the rich through the tax code but rather ensuring that there's enough tax revenue to finance generous public services. Broad social-insurance schemes like Social Security and unemployment insurance, as well as government operations more generally, are strongly progressive in their impact.

The most important issue is whether or not the government has the revenue needed to finance generous spending on social services. The Scandinavian model of a cradle-to-grave welfare state financed largely through regressive taxation is not regarded as punitive to the poor. By contrast, the pre-New Deal United States had an extremely progressive tax structure -- a simple income tax levied only on the wealthy -- but it resulted in meager revenue and financed no noteworthy social-insurance system or public services.

One thing that seems to be a general rule of US tax policy is to make taxation as visible, and therefore as painful, as possible. This actually runs counter to one of the basic (and oft-repeated) considerations in taxation: the belief that taxes disincentivize behavior. This is even considered a selling point for sin taxes. But if taxes are such a drag on the economy, it would make much more sense to make them less visible, as well as to focus them on cases where disincentives are trivial or non-existent -- e.g., taxing dead people. For the living, the least painful time to tax is whenever a transaction occurs: when you buy and sell something, or when you pay someone a wage or other remuneration. With few (if any) exceptions, the robust tax base countries Yglesias favors raise most of their taxes through a VAT, which (unlike American sales taxes) is generally buried within the cost of the purchase. VATs raise prices, which has some negative effect on demand, but they don't hit you out of the blue like property taxes do. It also helps if the burden of tax collection is placed primarily on business, which used to be the case in the US but is less so now: it is both less visible to most people and it fits in with accounting procedures that businesses need to do anyway.

I can't vouch for Yglesias's assertion that the US tax code is relatively progressive compared to other countries. One thing that is certain is that it is much less progressive than it used to be. There are a lot of ways that progressivism could be used that aren't now. In particular, I would make both corporate income and VAT taxes mildly progressive based on company size: a break for small and especially new competitors and a brake against WalMart-sized monopolies. I also think that unearned income -- interest, dividends, capital gains, gifts, estates -- should be taxed progressively according to total lifetime gains: a break for anyone starting to build a nest egg, and a brake on excessive accumulation.

Of course, there's no point raising taxes unless you plan on spending the revenues on something useful. I can come up with a long list there, too -- subjects for many future posts.


Getting ready to take a vacation of sorts. A long road trip, anyhow. Some interesting articles that I had kept open with some vague notion of writing something about them, but now will have to pack up:

  • Tony Judt: Fictions on the Ground: On Israel's settlement occupation.
  • Tony Karon: Iran's Crisis: The Opposition Weighs Its Options: Realistically, it's a long shot to bet against the house.
  • Ezra Klein: Wealth-Care Reform: Yes, it's more about money than medicine, which is the reason health care reform is such a struggle: a lot of money is at stake, for uncertain medical outcomes.
  • Paul Krugman: Not Enough Audacity. On health care: "The point is that if you're making big policy changes, the final form of the policy has to be good enough to do the job. You might think that half a loaf is always better than none -- but it isn't if the failure of half-measures ends up discrediting your whole policy approach." Also: "Indeed, the prospects for such savings are precisely what have the opponents of a public plan so terrified."
  • Kathleen Parker: Runaway Goveror: The Sequel: On Gov. Sanford, more or less, before all the facts were in, which is why she had time/space to survey the rest of the GOP. Don't miss the Newt bit at the end.


By the way, Iraq is getting bloody again, with over 200 civilian deaths this past week. I've just slogged through Thomas Ricks's Surge-celebratory The Gamble, and it's worth noting that the intelligent people behind the strategem -- a group excluding politicians like McCain and Lieberman, pundits like Kristol, and self-appointed experts like Fred Kagan -- never saw as anything more than a beachhead that would depend on significant political reconciliation to secure. The latter didn't happen for a lot of reasons, and now it's closing. Of course some people, including Ricks in his prognosticating epilogue, will attribute this to the imminent US withdrawals, implying that we can fix the problem by launching Surge II. But the fact is that there will always be a day of reckoning when US forces leave, and putting that off tries the patience of everyone in Iraq who wants to get this war settled. The idea that Iraq is a "forever war" is stuck in the heads of a few American hawks who invested heavily in it, but it's plainly absurd to most Americans, who sooner or later will manage to pull the plug. When that happens, Iraq will sink or swim. I've always felt that Iraq's odds would be better if the country is not tied to the dead weight of American imperialism. Nothing that has happened, including the adjustments Petraeus and Odierno made, has changed that.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Alex Koppelman: Quote of the day: The quote in question comes from an Andy McCarthy who evidently writes for National Review. McCarthy is so preoccupied with insulting people -- Obama, the real left, the Congressional Black Caucus, Bill Ayers, George Soros, almost everyone in or involved with Iran -- that he doesn't allow even the briefest sanity check. Key quote:

The fact is that, as a man of the hard Left, Obama is more comfortable with a totalitarian Islamic regime than he would be with a free Iranian society.

He then goes on to argue that radical Islam and radical Leftism are compatible:

In fact, they have much more in common than not, especially when it comes to suppression of freedom, intrusiveness in all aspects of life, notions of "social justice," and their economic programs . . . .

I suppose I could charge this Andy fellow with McCarthyite paranoia, but he's breaking new ground. The hard leftism McCarthy accuses Obama of isn't leftist and isn't Obama, and neither have much in common. He does at least admit one difference between hard leftists and Muslims: that the latter hate homosexuals. He ignores the more basic one: that hard leftists aren't keen about religion. The common ground he finds on social justice and economic programs is an illusion: sure, both are concerned with the poor, but Islam (like Christianity) seeks to ameliorate poverty with charity, while the left seeks to eliminate poverty with empowerment. As for the left's "suppression of freedom," any cases he might cite come from societies with long traditions of repression, like Russia and China. Leftists who grew up in liberal societies not only adopt liberties, they take them more seriously than moderates or conservatives do. McCarthy must be confusing the left with someone else here, like the hard right.

Admittedly, I'm getting off the track here. Ever since Jonah Goldberg wrote that stupid book about how American liberalism is derived not from Tom Paine or John Stuart Mill but from Benito Mussolini, I've been perplexed and perturbed not just by the utter stupidity of the right but by their pure fecklessness. Nowadays Obama is indiscriminately labelled a fascist and a socialist, often by the same people, who can't understand the incompatible meanings of the words let alone sense how little they understand Obama. I've always taken it as axiomatic that one should try to understand even one's opponents within their own intellectual frameworks, but this sort of mental short circuit is impossible to take at face value. McCarthy not only doesn't know what he's talking about; he doesn't even have a bare grasp of the vocabulary and grammar he's using.

Still, there is one possibly accurate insight here. It is that Obama, assuming he really does intend to make good on his campaign promise to engage Iran, might prefer dealing with the devils he knows -- Khamanei and Ahmadinejad -- to whoever winds up on top of the upturned apple cart. This is actually a point that is understood far better on the right than on the left. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, to pick one example, wrote a famous essay on why the US generally prefers dealing with dictators. Henry Kissinger is another well versed expert on the subject. Even Jimmy Carter is an example: he found it much easier to deal with Egyptian dictator Anwar Sadat than with Israeli demagogue Menachem Begin. Dictators, at least, are in positions where they can make deals, whereas democrats are often at the mercy of the checks and balances of their systems. (One recalls, for instance, all the treaties Clinton signed, like Kyoto, that Congress never ratified.)

Still, I doubt that Obama has a practical, let alone moral, preference for dictators. More likely he's just being realistic, taking the world as he finds it rather than trying to recast the acts of others into his moral universe. One of the worst habits American politicians and pundits have is to view the choices of other nations through their own political prism -- a rare trait shared by most on both left and right. Obama almost uniquely recognizes that it's not his choice or preference who governs in Iran. His position may be pragmatic, recognizing that since there is nothing constructive he can do there's no point taking sides, or he may, more deeply, understand that as an American, responsible for US interests, he can't honestly judge what's best for Iranians. Either way, what he's doing isn't ideological, neither left nor right. No wonder McCarthy is so befuddled: he can't imagine someone disciplined enough not to let their politics overwhelm their responsibilities.

McCarthy is, like most of the Bomb Iran contingent, quick to jump to the conclusion that the enemy of his enemy must be some sort of good guy. In reality, the reform movement in Iran is carefully positioning itself as the true heir of the Revolution. They make much of Shiite religious tradition, especially the cult of martyrdom, much as the 1979 revolutionaries did. Their characterization of the "dictators" links Ahmadinejad directly to the Shah. A reformed Iran may mean a lot of good things for the individual freedom of Iranians, but it's unlikely to change much in Iran's foreign policy. Obama has charted a diplomatic course, trying not to jeopardize future relationships for any conceivable outcome. That's a dilligence that the Bomb Iran crowd needn't trouble themselves with. They may be happy to cheer the reformers on right now, but they'll be even happier when they can resume their Bomb Iran campaign.

Alex Koppelman: What happened to the right's skill with language? The utter nonsense of McCarthy and Jonah Goldberg is just the tip of Mount Everest on the right. They've been dumbing down at an alarming rate for a while now:

Whatever happened to the right's skill at fighting political battles by using language as a primary weapon? Death tax, socialized medicine, partial-birth abortion -- those were the good old days of the Republican message wars. The new messaging reads, sometimes, like it was written by a bunch of kids too busy sticking their tongues out at each other to really give the wording much thought. They turned "stimulus" into "porkulus," dubbed General Motors "Government Motors" and unsuccessfully pushed a resolution in the Republican National Committee that called upon the Democratic Party to start referring to itself as the Democrat Socialist Party.

The Frank Luntz advice on how to derail health care reform is more sophisticated: it involves pretending to embrace reform and thereby stinking it up as much as possible. (You always know when the Republicans are bucking their polling because that's when they resort to subterfuges like Healthy Forests.) But as the GOP shrinks, more and more they fall back on the Reagan idea that name calling -- think Evil Empire -- shows resolve and moral courage. Hence, once they tag it ObamaCare they figure they've won. If they keep it up, maybe they'll shrink enough we can drown them in a bathtub.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Slim Picks

Slim: List of past picks of the week: Now, this is depressing, for me anyway. Slim works for the Cadence Magazine/North Country Audio empire up in the Adirondacks somewhere. They have a couple of their own labels (Cadence Jazz, CIMP), and distribute hundreds more obscure jazz labels -- more than anyone else in the US by a huge margin. There are things about the company that are endearing and things that are maddening, but I don't want to get into that now. I first bumped into Slim dealing with order issues, long time ago. A few years back she started writing a column in Cadence magazine: rather informal, offhanded even, noting some recent faves. Hadn't noticed her "pick of the week" selections in the email -- had gotten into the habbit of deleting it instantly. But I always appreciate a good tip, so this time I checked out the master list. Now comes the depressing part: I hear a lot of new jazz, including a lot of real obscure avant-garde stuff, but I've only heard one of sixty-some Slim picks: Katie Bull's Love Spook. I suppose I could slough the whole thing off by noting that I gave Love Spook a sad B- grade. Still, I can't help but think how much I'm missing and how hard it would be to ever catch up. (Who, for instance, are Perhenrik Wallin, Peter Gullin, Piotr Wojtasik?) As it is, I've only rarely gotten service from Cadence/CIMP, a label that requires more constant prodding than I've felt up to. Other labels (like Dragon and Power Bros, the source of the three artists I just listed) have proven impossible to track down, or at least unresponsive. And even if I did somehow get everything I'd like to hear I'll never find time to do it justice -- that in itself is one thing that inhibits me from asking. So, this is depressing: both as a measure of the known unknown, and for its sense of how unknowable the unknown is.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15470 [15453] rated (+17), 734 [739] unrated (-5). Another slog, taking several days off without jazz. I like the new Todd Snider record, although it's certainly not strong by his standards. I have trouble getting Leonard Cohen's songs out of my head.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #20, Part 9)

Same old same old. Fixed a dinner for six Friday night to celebrate the unveiling of the new kitchen, and it turned out pretty marvelous. Spanish fare: mariscada in almond sauce, asparagus in more almond sauce, roasted potato slices, sauteed mushrooms with prosciutto (can't find serrano ham here), a salt cod salad, a dessert with sweet yogurt cream on top of mixed berries on top of almond cupcakes. Prep went only one hitch: running out of eggs, which killed the alioli that you're supposed to drizzle over the mushrooms, as if the six cloves of garlic and the puddle of olive oil they were sauteed in wasn't nearly enough. Just as well: if I had the egg yolks I would have run out of garlic, having only budgeted three heads for the meal. Used three burners to finish, while the potatoes kept warm in the spare oven. Still have some work to do, but it's getting real close. Functional even.


Oran Etkin: Kelenia (2009, Motema): Plays clarinet, bass clarinet, and tenor sax. Born in Israel, now based in Brooklyn; started studying with George Garzone at age 14, which suggests a Boston connection (not to mention good luck). Back label instructs to "file under jazz or world." Core group includes Joe Sanders on bass, and two Malians: Balla Kouyate on balafon and Makane Kouyate on calabash and vocals. They set up gentle, near-hypnotic grooves, which Etkin plies his reeds on. Some other guests show up, with Abdoulaye Diabate taking over vocals on two tracks, Lionel Loueke playing guitar on three, John Benitez subbing on bass on three, Jessie Martino and Sara Caswell adding strings on one. Attractive fusion concept, although the vocals are less than compelling. B+(***)

Harry Skoler: Two Ones (2008 [2009], Soliloquy): Clarinetist, b. 1956 in Syracuse, NY, graduated Berklee 1978, originally inspired by Benny Goodman, later studied under Jimmy Giuffre. Fourth album since 1994, divided between 7 quintet tracks and 8 duos with pianist Ed Saindon. The duets are low keyed and rather pretty, but the larger group is too much of too many bad things: a front line of clarinet and flute, the pianist often switching to vibes, the bass and drums rolling like they're seasick. C

Fat Cat Big Band: Meditations on the War for Whose Great God Is the Most High You Are God (2008 [2009], Smalls): The first, at least by catalog number, of two discs recorded in one shot. Eleven-piece big band -- two trumpets, two trombones, three reeds -- led by guitarist Jade Synstelien, whose previous discography consists of a quartet record and a credit with Nellie McKay. Band does a fine job of invoking swing and postbop motifs, like he's aiming for a midpoint between Ellington and Mingus. Ends with a flourish that reminds me of "Satin Doll," on a song title that reminds me of Mingus: "Please Be Green New Orleans." B+(**)

Fat Cat Big Band: Angels Praying for Freedom (2008 [2009], Smalls): More from guitarist Jade Synstelien's near-big band, cut at the same sessions, and not sorted to any obvious logic. The hot stuff is hotter; Synstelien's infrequent vocals are even wobblier. B+(**)

John Allred/Jeff Barnhart/Danny Coots: The ABC's of Jazz (2008 [2009], Arbors): Trombone, piano, drums, respectively. Bassist Dave Stone missed out on the top line, presumably because of the ABC concept. Allred's father, Bill Allred, also plays trombone, in the same retro-swing circles. B. 1962, Allred has four albums and 30-some side credits, mostly Arbors titles and a smattering of albums with Harry Connick Jr. His trombone leads are a treat here, and the band members know their way around the repertoire centered on Fats Waller. Several songs have vocals, which aren't credited. B+(*)

Lew Green and Joe Muranyi: Together (2008 [2009], Arbors): Muranyi is the senior citizen here, b. 1928, plays clarinet, resume includes work with Louis Armstrong's last bands. Don't know much about Green: evidently he joined the Original Salty Dogs at Purdue in 1956 and moved them to Chicago in 1960. Band includes Jeff Barnhart (piano), Bob Leary (banjo, guitar), Vince Giordano (tuba, bass, bass sax), and Danny Coots (drums). Trad jazz sound, with Green's cornet as bright as Ruby Braff's (if not Armstrong's), on a relatively obscure selection of songs, including two Muranyis. Exception is an amusing take on "Rockin' Chair," one of four songs with vocals -- four different vocalists from the band, none bad. B+(**)

Tribecastan: Strange Cousins (2008 [2009], Evergreene Music): Two guys, John Kruth and Jeff Greene, playing exotic instruments, most I've never heard of -- Greene's include: dutar, fujara, kanun, khamok, koncovka, rebab, tupan, yayli tambur; Kruth's are more numerous but more recognizable, like kalimba, mandocello, sheng, penny whistle, and various oddball flutes. Both columns include strings, winds, and percussion, none (at least among the ones I recognize) preponderant enough to classify either player. Some guests drop in here and there: Jolie Holland (box fiddle), Brahim Fribgane (darbuka, riq), Dave Dreiwitz (bass, pocket trumpet), Matt Darriau (alto sax, clarinet, Bulgarian gaida and kaval), and Steve Turre (shells, trombone). Two covers: one from Don Cherry, the other Sonny Sharrock. Doesn't sound like anything I recognize. Will give it some time. [B+(**)]

Fred Forney: Chasing Horizons (2008 [2009], OA2): Trumpeter, from Detroit, moved to Arizona in 1973, teaches at Mesa Community College. Second album, a hard bop quintet, recorded in Tempe, AZ , presumably with local musicians, all unknown to me: Brice Winston (tenor sax), Chuck Marohnic (piano), Dwight Kilian (bass), Dom Moio (drums). Wrote all seven songs, ranging from 6:08 ("The Simplest Things") to 8:16 (the title song). Bright, bouncy hard bop. B+(**)

Anthony Branker & Ascent: Blessings (2007 [2009], Origin): Branker's credit here: compositions & music director. Got a BA from Princeton in 1980, and has taught there since 1989; currently working on an EdD at Columbia. Had a Fulbright scholarship 2005-06 which took him to Estonia. Second album under this attribution, although he also has a record For the Children as Tony Branker. Plays trumpet, but left that slot empty in this 7-8 piece group -- the delta is Renato Thoms, playing congas on two of nine cuts. Mostly well-known musicians: Steve Wilson (alto sax), Ralph Bowen (tenor & soprano saxes), Clifford Adams Jr. (trombone), Bryan Carrott (vibes), Jonny King (piano), Belden Bullock (bass), Wilby Fletcher (drums). Not sure that it all holds up, but this starts off with an impressive balance of instruments, with Carrott's vibes central and indispensible, drawing a nice range of colors out of the horns, except on the rare cases where they get tied in lockstep. I don't pay much attention to what other critics say, but Branker's website has a rave from Maria Schneider: "beautiful writing, and such great people to realize all of it." Mostly right. B+(***)

Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter One (2008 [2009], OA2): Tynan plays trumpet and flugelhorn. From Canada, b. 1975, went to UNT, presumably picked up the big band arranging bug there. Third album. Lington plays baritone sax and bass clarinet. Also passed through UNT, on his way from Houston to San Jose, where he teaches. He has a previous quintet album. Ten-piece group, covers the big band bases without massed horn sections. The bulk of the album is taken up by the 7-part "Story of Langston Suite." The horn voicings are often striking, and the whole thing flows effortlessly. I guess jazz is America's classical music. B+(*)

Dave Glenn: National Pastime (2009, Origin): Trombonist. Graduated from UNT. Director of Jazz Studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. First album, although AMG lists a couple of side credits going back to 1977 and 1980 -- the latter with Gerry Mulligan. Baseball-themed album, with tributes to Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron, a "Blues for Buck O'Neil," and a "Reliving the Glory Days" about the 1978-85 Kansas City Royals. With Dave Scott (trumpet), Rich Perry (tenor sax), Gary Versace (piano), John Hebert (bass), Jeff Hirshfield (drums), and Jim Clouse (soprano sax, 1 cut). Postbop, a bit on the fancy side, with the leader's trombone mostly buried in the mix -- Scott's trumpet is attractive, especially in contrast. Rhythm section is athletic enough. B

Scotty Barnhart: Say It Plain (2008 [2009], Unity Music): Trumpeter. MySpace has him based in Los Angeles but teaching at Florida State. B. 1964. Debut album, calling in various chits from years as a sideman, including five piano players (Ellis Marsalis and Marcus Roberts the best known), trumpet duets with Wynton Marsalis and Clark Terry, and a vocal from Jamie Davis -- like Barnhart, an alumni of the Basie big band, which Barnhart joined in 1993. Stanley Crouch wrote the gushing liner notes, and Bill Cosby chipped in a blurb quote. This sounds a bit like he's trying too hard, but the record is delightful, a vigorous slice of New Orleans neotrad, with supple ballads, a couple of burners, a couple of amusing twists. About half original, half covers. The Wynton duo on "Con Alma" is disposable, but Clark Terry's turn, complete with vocal, is worth hearing ("Pay Me My Money"), and Davis turns in a charming "Young at Heart." Barnhart also has a book: The World of Jazz Trumpet: A Comprehensive History and Practical Philosophy. B+(***)

Kobie Watkins: Involved (2006 [2009], Origin): Drummer, from Chicago. First record. Has a few side credits since 2001, and calls in some chits here, like Ryan Cohan and Bobby Broom. Wrote 4 of 10, one of those with Howard Mims, who wrote 2 more. Shuffles a lot of musicians in and out, but generally has one or two horns, piano or keyboard, and bass. Broom plays guitar on 3 cuts. Mostly upbeat postbop, well done but not very distinct or especially interesting. B

Rufus Huff (2009, Zoho Roots): What makes this Southern rock-blues-boogie band any different from any other Southern rock-blues boogie band? Well, nothing, really. B-

Bik Bent Braam: Extremen (2008, BBB): Braam is Michiel Braam, Dutch pianist, b. 1964. Don't know what "Bik Bent" means. One suggestion was Big Band, but online Dutch-to-English dictionary don't confirm that. The band is big: 13 pieces. None of the other names seem to figure in. Five reeds, with three saxes switching off to clarinet, another to bassoon. Five brass: cornet, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba. A few players I recognize: Wilbert de Joode and Michael Vatcher from Braam's trio; trombonist Walter Wierbos; saxophonist/clarinetist Frank Gratkowski, who hitherto may have ranked as the most famous jazz musician I had never managed to hear. (No idea who moves up, but surely someone does.) As is often the case with avant-garde orchestras, the pieces are little more than cues for variation and improvisation. Starts somewhat tentative, but before long the players start to find their moments. A Spanish twist in a piece called "Franxs" especially grabbed my attention, but it was probably just a mistake. Hard to tell. B+(**)

Michiel Braam's Wurli Trio: Non-Functionals! (2009, BBB): Dutch pianist, b. 1964, of Bik Bent Braam fame. Has 20-some albums since 1989 in various guises, including one previous one by his Wurli Trio. The name comes from the Wurlitzer 200A electric piano featured here. Pieter Douma plays various basses, and Dirk-Peter Kölsch hits things (credits: "drums, all possible soundobjects"). Nine compositions are declared "non-functional" and simply numbered. Seems like a pretty simple idea, and I doubt that any amount of close listening will change that opinion. Still, an attractive, amusing outing. Tempting to slot it with soul organ grooves, but that's only pro forma. It occurs to me that I should try to do something long on the Dutch avant-garde, if for no other reason than that it's one of the few places in Europe I get things with some regularity (Portugal and Norway are the others). Well, that and because these guys have a wicked sense of humor. [B+(**)]

Nico Huijbregts: Free Floating Forms (2007 [2009], Vindu): Pianist, Dutch presumably -- web bio has nothing pertaining to space or time, but the domain name is ".nl" and the record was recorded in Holland. Solo piano. Title is as good a description as any. B+(*)

I Compani: Circusism (2007-08 [2009], Icdisc): Dutch group, formed originally in 1985, released a couple of records based on film music of Nino Rota, and has a record of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida. This one promises "a new approach to circus music." Not sure what that is, given that it sounds like stereotypical circus music, although perhaps a bit odd and disjointed. Fairly sizable group, including saxophonist Bo van de Graaf, who seems to be a mainstay, and pianist Albert van Veenendaal, who's done work I've liked in the past. B+(*)

Arthur Kell Quartet: Victoria: Live in Germany (2008 [2009], Buj'ecords): Bassist-composer, based in New York. Thin discography, with two previous albums (Traveller, an A-list record from 2005, and See You in Zanzibar, which I haven't heard) and virtually no side credits. Website claims to have played extensively in the 1980s with Thomas Chapin, Bobby Previte, and Marc Ribot. Quartet here has Loren Stillman on alto sax, Brad Shepik on guitar, and Joe Smith on drums. Kell does a good job of keeping Stillman on his toes -- he's a mainstreamer who has never much impressed me before -- and Shepik is terrific throughout. [B+(***)]

Daniel Kelly: Emerge (2009, Bju'ecords): Pianist, based in Brooklyn, seems to have one or two previous records, plus some side-credits with the bassist who'll always be Harvie Swartz to me. Trio, mostly groove-based, plays some Fender Rhodes. B+(*)

Daniela Schächter: Purple Butterfly (2008 [2009], CDBaby): Pianist-vocalist, from Messina, Sicily, Italy. Studied classical music, got a scholarship to Berklee, where she got into jazz, studying with Joanne Brackeen. Third album, after Quintet (2001) and I Colori del Mare (2006). This is another quintet, with Alex Sipiagin (trumpet, flugelhorn), Joel Frahm (tenor sax), Massimo Biolcati (bass), and Quincy Davis (drums), as well as Schäcter's piano (sometimes Rhodes). The latter doesn't emerge much from the accompaniment, so it's hard to judge her more than proficient. She has a distinctive, compelling voice, but she doesn't take the songs into particularly interesting places. Two have Italian titles but there's no ethnic fusion attempt, and no accent betraying her as a non-native English speaker. Didn't notice Frahm much, but Sipiagin makes a strong showing. B+(*)

Philippe Saisse: At World's Edge (2009, Koch): French pianist, classified as smooth jazz or new age; credited here with keyboards and programming, of course. AMG figures this is his 12th album since 1988 (first I've heard). They also give him two pages of side credits, starting with a 1979 Andy Pratt album and three 1980-82 by Al di Meola -- mostly bit parts on rock albums, including David Bowie, Chaka Khan, Grace Jones, Nona Hendryx, Tina Turner, Luther Vandross, Steve Winwood, Billy Joel, the B-52's, Donny Osmond, Rod Stewart; plus a few smooth jazzers, with Rick Braun, Kirk Whallum, Marc Antoine, and Jeff Golub returning the favor here. Three cuts have vocals: the chintzy disco from Jasmine Roy and processed Africana from Angelique Kidjo aren't bad, but the pro forma vocal version of the title track (also an album instrumental) by David Rice is staggeringly, almost comically, awful. C

Crimson Jazz Trio: King Crimson Songbook, Volume 2 (2006 [2009], Inner Knot): Nominally a straight mainstream piano trio, Volume One from 2005 fared well reducing a set of King Crimson melodies to their bare bones. Volume 2 aims to be jazzier, but isn't much, and "special guest" Mel Collins (saxophone, maybe flute; someone uncredited sings one track) undercuts the spareness. Trio is: Joey Nardone (piano), Tim Landers (bass), and Ian Wallace (drums). Wallace is probably the key character, and he died in 2007 shortly after this was cut. Leads off with "The Court of the Crimson King," which was nice to hear again. B+(*) [advance]

Nicholas Urie Large Ensemble: Excerpts From an Online Dating Service (2008 [2009], Red Piano): B. 1985, Los Angeles, composer/conductor on his first album. AMG lists it as Pop/Rock, meaning they haven't so much as looked at the cover let alone listened to it. On the other hand, it does have a pretty consistent beat, and one voice throughout -- Christine Correa, whom I'm tempted to describe as workman-like because she makes everything she sings sound like work. The Large Ensemble numbers 18 when Chris Speed shows up late for the last two tracks. The texts were collected unedited from dating sites. It's always difficult to wrap music around words not intended as lyrics, which may explain why they feel stilted here -- so much so that my first instinct is to say this sounds like opera. The arranging is often superb, and the solos often stand out -- Bill McHenry's tenor sax most of all. John McNeil produced. Ambitious work. 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:

  • James Carney Group: Ways & Means (Songlines)
  • Forgas Band Phenomena: L'Axe du Fou/Axis of Madness (Cuneiform)
  • Frank Glover: Politico (Owl Studios)
  • Isotope: Golden Section (1974-75, Cuneiform)
  • Led Bib: Sensible Shoes (Cuneiform)
  • Tom Lellis and the Metropole Orchestra: Skylark (Adventure Music)
  • Sean Nowell: The Seeker (Posi-Tone)
  • Positive Catastrophe: Garabatos Volume One (Cuneiform)
  • Daniel Santiago: Metropole (Adventure Music)
  • Sorgen-Rust-Stevens Trio: A Scent in Motion (Konnex): Sept. 1
  • Southern Excursion Quartet: Trading Post (Artists Recording Collective): advance, Sept. 1
  • John Surman: Brewster's Rooster (ECM): advance, Aug. 4

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Power and Prejudice

Two quotes from the July 2, 2009 New York Review of Books relating to the effects of US politics (mostly domestic) on foreign countries US politicians haven't the slightest clue to understanding.


Malise Ruthven wrote a review of several books on Iran, titled "Divided Iran on the Eve" -- of the elections, that is, and all that has and will come after them. The books, which all seem interesting: Abbas Amanat: Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism (IB Tauris); Janet Afary: Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (Cambridge University Press); and Ray Takeyh: Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs (Oxford University Press). The latter book is most relevant for reassessing US foreign policy.

Iran's foreign policy since 1979 was initially driven by Khomeini's desire to export his model of Islamic justice, which failed to gain any real traction with the predominantly Sunni Muslims, and was brought to a standstill by Iraq's brutal attack on Iran, including US backing and Iraq's chilling use of poison gas. This tended to make Iranian revolutionaries reclusive, defensive, and vindictive, but the postwar peace allowed other reformist strains to develop. The US, whether because we cynically prefer an Iranian enemy or because we're simply tone deaf, has consistently undercut Iranian efforts to ease tensions with the west.

Takeyh is blunt in his condemnation of the Reagan administration's complicity in Saddam's use of chemical weapons, and is especially critical of the opportunities that the Bush administration missed for improving Iran-US relations after the September 11 attacks. The 1997 election that brought the moderate President Mohammad Khatami to power against the wishes of the clerical elite led by Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Khomeini's successor as Supreme Leader, should have demonstrated by Washington that the regime was far from monolithic, even if some of its agencies were engaged in terrorism.

There is no question, however, that the prospects for "one of the most intellectually vibrant democratic movements in the Middle East" were thwarted by a combination of factors. One was Khatami's personal dislike of confrontation: "Despite his deeply held democratic convictions, [he] proved too much a man of the system" whose "penchant for order overwhelmed his desire for change." Another was the constitutional straitjacket that Khomeini had left behind, giving the members of the conservative-dominated Guardian Council power to block the will of a parliament whose candidates they had already vetted ideologically. But external factors, driven by US policies, were decisive.

George W. Bush's notorious "axis of evil" speech in January 2002, linking Iran to its enemy Iraq and the maverick Communist republic of North Korea, undermined many of Khatami's achievements in improving Iran's international profile, and convinced the hard-liners that the Islamic Republic would become the next target in Bush's "war on terror." The build-up to the US invasion of Iraq provided them with strong public support. In the local council elections of February 2003 -- one month before the invasion -- conservatives regained nearly all of the seats they had lot in 1999 at the peak of the reformist movement. This was not a rigged poll: for unlike the parliamentary and presidential races, candidates for municipal elections are not vetted for "Islamic suitability." The right-wing victory was sealed two years later with Ahmadinejad's election as president.

This shows once again how right-wing forces on both sides of virtually any conflict work together to perpetuate the conflict. Moreover, it shows how right-wing dominance of either side tends to create its mirror on the other side. Khatami (and Iran) had the misfortune of coming to power as the neocons, with their anti-Iraq/anti-Iran demagoguery, were gaining traction in Washington under Clinton and took over the shop under Bush. With sworn opponents like those, Iranian conservatives under Khamanei could point to the failure of the reformers to improve relations with the West.

Obama's win in Washington gives the Iranian reform movement a second chance, which seems to have panicked their right-wing -- not so much the clerics (although there are those) as the Revolutionary Guards and militias that make up Iran's influential military-industrial complex. How this will play out remains to be seen, but the worst possible scenario -- a coup and Pinochet-style purge -- is one that Washington, if not Obama, has long banked on.


For some uncharacteristic reason -- maybe sheer mischief -- NYRB assigned Mahmoud Mamdani's Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror to Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times opinion writer who has spent much of the last decade wailing over the Darfur problem. As Kristof notes:

Mamdani is also deeply critical of my own reporting about Darfur and regards my kind of journalism as a central part of the problem. He would certainly consider me to be the last person to provide a dispassionate re-examination of these issues or his book.

The review won't surprise Mamdani, but, as is often the case with Kristof, that's beside the point. The quote I want to point out is:

Samantha Power, now a national security official, wrote a superb, Pulitzer Prize-winning history of genocide, noting that time and again the United States refused to intervene in genocides even though it knew more or less what was going on. She titled her book A Problem from Hell, and that's what Darfur is. But there have been other problems from hell, including Kosovo and Bosnia, that have been, if not solved, at least hugely mitigated. The lesson from places like Kosovo is that the most urgent need is less for sophisticated technical solutions than for political will to face the problem squarely. It's too early to know whether President Obama will do this, but at the moment I'm not optimistic.

To some extent, that's a reflection on the Save Darfur movement and on scribblers like myself who took up the Darfuri cause. We have failed to foster the political will to bring about change. For all our efforts, the situation on the ground may soon become worse. A "Darfur fatigue" has set in, and the movement has lost its steam. And of course the movement was always compromised by its own shortcomings, from infighting to naiveté to the ubiquitous penchant of advocacy groups for exaggeration.

One problem with fomenting a political movement in the US to "save" some far flung sect of humanity is that its implicit purpose is to motivate some action by the US government -- an action which for surplus capacity and lack of imagination is invariably military. Kristof has a wish list of this sort, including imposing a "no fly" zone on Sudan and selling anti-aircraft missiles to factions in south Sudan. Darfur would never have had this problem in the first place but for the interference of outsiders -- Libya and Chad had big roles, as did the anti-government rebels in South Sudan, who saw an opportunity to weaken the government in Darfur. The US couldn't intervene without compounding the whole problem -- in particular, by turning the rest of Sudan against us, a no-win scenario. It isn't even clear that the "save Darfur" movement has not already made matters worse by hardening the battle lines. (I haven't read Mamdani's book yet, but gather that he makes that point and more.)

If you look back, the intervention in Kosovo wasn't much of a success either -- but in any case it was driven not by a "save Kosovo" movement but by NATO's need to find something to do once the Soviet Union has passed. Hue and cry over foreign calamities is pretty selective in the US: nothing even gets noticed without an aggressive PR effort and a few opportunists like Kristof, who take the occasional case and blow it out of proportion.


Thus far Obama has shown admirable reluctance to get entangled militarily or emotionally in foreign events except for the Af-Pak problem he inherited and made a campaign commitment to. He seems to at least have some instinctive grasp of what he can and cannot do -- the latter is a remarkable skill that his predecessors eschewed as a matter of personal and national pride.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Abyss

One more small point about the Jim Lehrer-Tim Geithner interview. Geithner kept referring to how we had faced "the edge of the abyss" late last year. Lehrer kept wondering what that meant. It's one of those metaphors you hear a lot, and just casually accept given any real understanding of how badly the financial system was falling down. Still, if you're as ignorant as Lehrer evidently is, that's a reasonable question. Surprisingly, it's one that Geithner didn't have an answer for. Again, maybe his talking points preparers just didn't anticipate it, but wouldn't you figure he'd be smart enough to come up with an answer -- if only one too technical for Lehrer to understand. That he didn't, wouldn't, or couldn't, suggests to me that the term should be retired.

Biggest problem I see with the abyss metaphor is that it suggests we were on the outside looking down. Actually, we went through a short period where about $13 trillion in asset evaluations simply vanished. Anyone who lost a big chunk of that nominal wealth most likely felt they weren't merely sightseeing from a precipice -- more likely they felt they were being swept into the abyss. The sense Geithner et al. want to show is that it could have been a lot worse had they not acted, but the implication that the worst is over is rather myopic. Maybe if you're a banker that's true, but unemployment and all that goes with it are still on the rise, and even when (assuming if) the numbers return to form it will be a long time (if ever) for many people to make up the losses. The abyss metaphor is overly dramatic, but it also tends to mystify and obscure what's really happening.

Friday, June 19, 2009

House Log

Cooked dinner for six tonight, including Kelly Unruh, who did a lot of work on the kitchen project. This was the first official event marking the completion (more or less) of the kitchen. I didn't do much real work on the kitchen today, but I did move the paint cans to the basement, leaving the entire dining room free of drop cloths and the like. Also starting to most of the tools to the basement, and to move wood scraps to the basement wood pile. I have the still unpainted pantry drawer fronts screwed to the drawers, at least proving their fit and functionality. I have some wood cut out for the pull-out beside the stove, and should get that assembled real soon now. I actually loaded some provisions into the slide-outs on the north wall alongside the stove. I turned the fan off that has been running almost continuously to exhaust paint fumes. I figure that from now on I can trek downstairs to get small quantities of paint when I need it, and run the fan only when I need it. Also dumped the containers of mineral spirits in the bathroom used to clean up brushes. Henceforth, brushes will have to be cleaned downstairs, which means I can finally tear the old vanity top off and replace it with something that isn't caked with paint.

Cuisine was mostly Spanish. Working from memory rather than notes:

  • Mixed seafood (clams, shrimp, scallops, lobster) in almond sauce (green with parsley).
  • Salt cod salad: torn salt cod strips mixed with tomatoes, onion, red bell pepper, and garnished with olives.
  • Grilled asparagus topped with an almond sauce (red with tomato).
  • Sauteed mushrooms with prosciutto.
  • Roasted potatoes (thin-sliced, with garlic and bay leaf).
  • For dessert: almond cupcake topped with berries (blue-, black-, and rasp-) and a sweet yogurt cream (equal parts yogurt and condensed sweetened milk).

Did the potatoes in the electric oven, leaving them in after turning the oven off to keep them warm. The salt cod was done early and served at room temp. Dessert was done early and assembled as I served it. The other dishes took three burners and not a lot of coordination. Four dishes were things I had done before -- the exceptions were the mushrooms and the dessert. The salt cod was better than before, but still a rather odd dish. I had quite a bit of it left over, and was glad I hadn't used up the whole pound of salt cod -- I'll put it to better use soon. The other three dishes were clearly better than I've ever done them before. I've made the potatoes ten or more times before. This time they browned better on top and were cooked more evenly. For the asparagus all I did was rub a little olive oil on them and spread them out on a hot grill plate. The extra burner heat helped, as did the vent hood.

The mariscada was less obviously helped by the new equipment, but the sauce came out much smoother, more evenly cooked, almost creamy. It helped that I made a nice fish stock (shrimp shells, dried bonito, a shot of clam juice, a scallion and some peppercorns) and that I scaled up the amount of bread used (probably also that I started with a loaf of roasted garlic bread). Also, after I cooked it a bit too dry, I gave it another shot of clam juice, and all the liquid that came out when I chopped up the lobster. Had six topneck and a dozen littleneck clams, a pound of good sized (20-25) shrimp, a pound of huge sea scallops (chopped up a bit), and the lobster (cooked last night and chopped into 10 or so pieces). Cooked the clams in the sauce first, then added the lobster figuring it would take a bit to heat it up, then turned the fire off and folded the shrimp and scallops in and let the pot sit 10 minutes. The latter were perfectly done.

The other thing worth noting here is that the prep was pretty orderly (despite that I don't have everything in place yet), and most surprisingly I never felt cramped for space. It doesn't look like we have a lot more counter space, but it's arranged more usefully, and it adds up. Also helps that the sink is larger, and that the range has extra burners. Didn't need two ovens for this meal. Did need the food processor, which I put out of the way back in the pantry area. Don't think that will be its permanent home, but it worked out nicely. (Mixer was back there too, but it doesn't fit nearly so well, plus I have a larger one in the box which will have to come out front.)

I always thought that the new kitchen wouldn't make me a better cook, although I did expect it to make some aspects of cooking easier. It's still going to take some organization and refinement, but even now it's succeeding in both counts. This wasn't an especially complex or difficult meal, but it's clearly improving the work flow, and the food is coming out surprisingly superb. Maybe someday I'll look back at this and decide it was all worth it.

Talking Points

I watched Jim Lehrer interview Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner last night, and eventually walked off in exasperation. Lehrer got the deficit bug stuck in his brain and wouldn't let go. Geithner, for his part, didn't help. He kept saying that deficits should be a long term concern, and that the Obama administration will do something about when the time comes. But he never explained why the time hasn't come clear enough to get Lehrer past his broken record point. The fact is that government deficits right now not only aren't a problem; they're a necessary part of the solution. Without government spending making up for the decline in private spending the economy would keep on collapsing until it shriveled up into a pathetic little ball, only checked by the demands of bare existence. Of course, the government could limit its deficits by raising taxes, but that would undercut the effectiveness of the deficit spending. Moreover, there is little need to worry here: when the private sector increases its spending, government deficits will contract -- partly due to increased costs, mostly due to increased taxes. If you're still concerned about paying down deficits, you could safely raise taxes then. But that's never been the point behind the people pushing the deficits meme. Their point is to strangle government, even when it is most needed.

Lehrer's concern is a sign that the meme is working, which is to say that the Republicans are going to make it more difficult than should be necessary to do what's needed to keep the economy afloat. You'd think he would at least take a clue from the fact that as long as Bush was in power the Republicans could care less about deficits -- in fact, they were pumping them to record levels for no good reason (unlike, e.g., the Great Depression, World War II, or now), just as they did under Reagan. You don't need to understand much about macroeconomics to be suspicious, but somehow Republicans never get called for hypocrisy. On the other hand, Geithner most likely does understand enough macroeconomics to give a technical response, the gist of which is that Lehrer has nothing to worry about. But by giving a political response -- that we'll slay the deficits dragon as soon as the recession dragon is good and dead -- he only fuels Lehrer's suspicions. So why doesn't he answer the question in a way that would convince Lehrer? One theory is that his head is stuck so far up the banking industry's arse that he really does think that fighting deficits is the most important thing the government should do, except, of course, when doing so exposes the whole banking industry to collapse. Another theory is that he's simply tone deaf politically, as evidenced by the fact that he never realized the only thing he got for answering the same question the same way five times in a row was the same question asked a sixth time. Most people when they're trying to persuade someone will try a new tactic when they their first shot fails to register. But then I guess that's not true of most politicians, who tend to be trained rigorously to stick to their talking points, counting each opportunity to use one as a score.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mad Bombers Embrace the Iranian People

Glenn Greenwald: The "Bomb Iran" contingent's newfound concern for the Iranian People. The conditioned response of most Americans to the post-election events in Iran is to accept the line that the election was stolen and to embrace the protesters. That's partly because we've been conditioned to loathe Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Republic's clerical leaders, and partly because we assume that the Iranian people secretly want to to live like us and do the things we do -- forgetting for the moment that we didn't take to the streets in 2000 when our own election was stolen. Much of this conditioning comes from the nonstop propagandizing of warmongers who, borrowing a page from Bush's "axis of evil" speech, have long set their hearts on crippling Iran. But now, seeing this outpouring of quasi-American dissent, even the hawks are getting warm and fuzzy for masses of people they wanted to wipe off the map just a few moments ago:

Much of the same faction now claiming such concern for the welfare of The Iranian People are the same people who have long been advocating a military attack on Iran and the dropping of large numbers of bombs on their country -- actions which would result in the slaughter of many of those very same Iranian People. During the presidential campaign, John McCain infamously sang about Bomb, Bomb, Bomb-ing Iran. The Wall St. Journal published a war screed from Commentary's Norman Podhoretz entitled "The Case for Bombing Iran," and following that, Podhoretz said in an interview that he "hopes and prays" that the U.S. "bombs the Iranians." John Bolton and Joe Lieberman advocated the same bombing campaign, while Bill Kristol -- with typical prescience -- hopefully suggested that Bush might bomb Iran if Obama were elected. Rudy Giuliani actually said he would be open to a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran in order to stop their nuclear program.

Imagine how many of the people protesting this week would be dead if any of these bombing advocates had their way -- just as those who paraded around (and still parade around) under the banner of Liberating the Iraqi People caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of them, at least.

Of course, not all of the hawks have gone soft. Israel's hardest core supporters, like Daniel Pipes, were as much as campaigning for Ahmadinejad, and AIPAC was pushing an Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2009 (HR 1327) to remind the Iranian people how much we hated them. Since the election not much has changed with them. Some, like Robert Kagan, now insist that Obama to come out in support of the protesters -- advice which if followed would inevitably backfire. The US, left anyone forget it, has previously interfered in Iranian domestic politics: in 1953 the CIA hired some clerics and thugs to stage fake-communist riots to set the stage for a military coup that overturned Iran's democracy and installed the Shah as proxy until his megalomania got the best of him. The US has interfered in domestic politics all over the world, so frequently that the CIA is suspected everywhere, but there's no reason to think that the CIA has any practical ability to affect what's going on in Iran today, let alone direct it toward any sort of sensible goals -- even if we had any.

The biggest problem for American politicians is understanding that what's going on in Iran isn't about US. It looks like an internal struggle at the highest levels of power within the Islamic Republic. The stakes may be huge there and for the people of Iran, but it's not clear that it makes any real difference to us -- most likely it doesn't unless we make something of it, which would be unprecedented.

The "reformers" are as much the establishment in Iran as the "conservatives" are, but the very idea of reform is likely to let loose all sorts of change, much of which has been percolating beneath the surface for years. How far this goes may depend on how hard the system cracks, if indeed it does at all. Still, at this point it's impossible to imagine an outcome where Iran's foreign policy budges much from its recent course. It might be easier for Obama to sell a rapprochement with an Iran led by Mousavi than Ahmadinejad, but the deal is likely to be the same. Moreover, such a deal depends more on Obama than on Iran -- for proof, just look at how Clinton and Bush failed to do anything with Iran's previous round of reformers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Bad Government Boys

Matthew Yglesias: Sens. Kyl, McConnell, and Roberts Want to Preserve the Waste in Public Sector Health Care. Their method for doing this is to sponsor a bill to prohibit Medicare and Medicaid from using research on what works and doesn't work as a means of spending their tax dollars more efficiently. The big point is not only that government spending is wasteful but that the Republicans are determined to keep it that way. Otherwise they'd just have to make up shit to sandbag any efforts to provide better and more democratic health care. (Of course, they do that too.) This is reminiscent of the plank in Big Pharma's Medicare drug bill that prohibits the government from using volume purchases to reduce costs -- something which every private sector insurance company does.

Paul Krugman noticed this story too. He called his post Taking the Hypocritical Oath. He refers to a longer piece on this from The Wonk Room, which among other things points out that Kyl has raised $1,971,968 from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to sponsor his Senate career. They evidently haven't toted up the numbers for McConnell and Roberts yet, but they're likely substantial. In any case, they have been bought so many times before -- Roberts is pretty much Mr. Agribusiness on the Hill -- that they wouldn't have any qualms about getting in this line.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Brain Rot of Easy Corruption

Matthew Yglesias: Coming to Terms With the Welfare State: The argument here is that Republican conservatives should admit what the UK Conservative Party freely concedes: that they support at least some parts of the modern welfare state and won't do anything to dismantle them. Yglesias mentions FDIC as one example, which is about as non-controversial as he can get. Doing that much would take the Grover Norquist shrink-and-drown-the-government principle off the table.

[O]ne key difference is that you almost never see anyone on the American right actively affirm belief in even a bare-bones welfare state or basic regulation. Conservative governance doesn't evince an actual desire to fully dismantle this stuff. But when conservatives get abstract, or out of power, you get a lot of stuff from Glenn Beck and Jonah Goldberg and some of the Cato people and so forth all about The Road to Serfdom or the totalitarian implications of the school lunch program.

Yglesias cites a book review by David Frum, who established his conservative bona fides in his "axis of evil" speech where he tried to will World War III into being, but he's been back-pedalling since then, trying to find some terra firma to launch his fantasies from. Problem is, most conservatives are happier living in an imaginary world where simple principles rule and inconvenient facts can be ignored. Conservative politicians may privately concede that there are government programs -- even welfare programs -- that they can't kill outright, but the party ideological apparatus isn't constrained by such practicalities. Moreover, the politicians don't insist that they do. Even when they recognize that a pet cause is politically hopeless, they're happy to to disguise it as something else, like casting accelerated logging as the Healthy Forests initiative. They may understand that politically they can't kill Social Security, yet they still try to palm off destructive programs by claiming that they are needed to "save" Social Security.

Sticking to their hardcore anti-government principles makes even more sense when they're out of power. When Bush was in the White House, Republicans had to be schizophrenic over government power and spending, even to the point of supporting deficits to pay for political plunder. Now they're free to be as anti-deficit as possible, at least without breaking their no-tax-increase pledges. But attitude runs deeper than that. Virtually every success the Republicans have enjoyed going back at least as far as Nixon was based on fear and loathing, which they refined to the point where it consumed them. Their ability to focus all that rage on the Democrats is what built them the base they have, and it's all the base they're going to have for a long time now. So why should they be reasonable and make Obama look good? Their only hope is to get Obama to fail, then to get a majority of Americans to blame Obama for that failure. They've pulled tougher con jobs in the past, so why not this one? It's not like they have any other options, or any other ideas. In appealing to the dumbest and meanest America has to offer, that's what they've settled into.

Matthew Yglesias: Blaming the Victim for Health Reform Difficulties: For example, what are the Republicans doing with health care reform?

What we have here is a Democratic president advocating for some tough reforms that will reduce public expenditures over the long run. Those reforms will be hard to implement. And one reason they'll be hard to implement is that, as Ezra Klein notes, conservative politicians who ought to be the core constituency for endeavors to slow the growth of Medicare costs seem more interested in drawing blood from Obama than in slowing the growth of government.

Another example, from another Yglesias post:

There is, for example, simply no way to dispute the fact that other developed countries with national health care systems also have more efficient health care systems. There's maybe a credible argument to be made that the United States couldn't realize those efficiencies, but no serious person can maintain that they don't exist. And yet here's John McCain saying "the idea that somehow the government can administer health care in a more efficient fashion than the private sector I think flies in the face of examples of other countries that have done so."

He went unchallenged on this assertion because in America "everyone knows" that government is inefficient and "everyone knows" that foreign countries are bad.

Actually, McCain's assertion can be disproved by what the US has already done in the areas where the government actually runs health care: compare Medicare vs. private insurance, or the VA vs. private for-profit providers.

Of course, McCain doesn't have to do that, because he's sticking to the anti-government, anti-Obama, anti-everything script. It's a bluff, but who's calling him on it? It's the sort of bluff that Bush ran for eight increasingly disastrous years. Even after the results came in and his popularity went down the toilet, who called him on it? That is why the Republicans think they can get away with what they're doing.


The single most important thing that Obama has to do as president is to push significant health care reform through. It's much more important than saving the banks from mass hara-kiri by fraud, saving the planet from global warming, or dialing back the ridiculous global American empire. It's more immediately necessary than turning back the tide of jingoistic stupidity that dominates the political media these days -- although doing something on health care will start to do double duty there. I recall -- not sure when but early 1990s are a good guess -- when it was scandalous that health care chewed up 12% of US GDP. That figure is up to 17% now. It's a cancer whereby a few greedy private interests are devouring the economy, filling our lives with uncertainty and fear. That this is an issue in doubt testifies to the overwhelming power of money in politics: that 17% is a huge vested interest (double the size of the military-industrial complex, roughly the size of the banks, just to give you two points for political influence comparison).

One thing I expected the Democrats to move more proactively on is to start taking the big money out of politics. They may figure that as the top dogs now this is no time to get out of the game, but the game itself is what corrupts American politics so utterly.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15453 [15432] rated (+21), 739 [747] unrated (-8). Another week. No Recycled Goods, even though I started with jazz oldies that should wind up there. Hard to concentrate on music these days.

  • Jonatha Brooke: The Works (2008, Bad Dog): Front cover continues: "Words: Woody Guthrie; Music: Jonatha Brooke; With: Joe Sample, Steve Gadd and Christian McBride; Special Guets: Keb' Mo', Derek Trucks, Glen Phillips, and Eric Bazilian." Everyone on that list helps, most of all the lyricist, whose scratch pads have inspired several others -- Billy Bragg and Wilco, the Klezmatics -- to compose tunes for gaps Guthrie never managed to steal anything for. Curiously, those albums are all on a par with the best Guthrie ever managed on his own, and this one is unexceptional in that regard alone. Never noticed Brooke before, but this is her eighth album since 1995, plus she was in The Story, a group I kind of had heard of but never paid any attention to. The lyrics aren't especially political, but they are sharply observed. Even curiouser is that of the two originals Brooke slipped in, "Taste of Danger" may be the best thing here. A
  • Lady Sovereign: Jigsaw (2009, Midget): Louise Amanda Harman, b. 1985 -- my favorite bio tidbit is how she took off from her mother's Salt 'N Pepa albums. Wound up with a fairly minimal grime, as stiff and narrow as her voice, which suits them both nicely. A-
  • Staff Benda Bilili: Très Très Fort (2009, Crammed Discs): A street band from Kinshasa, mostly paraplegics in wheelchairs, which doesn't mean that their soukous is handicapped. Got a couple of breaks from Damon Albarn and the Congotronics management, but they've retained a sweetness despite it all. CD includes four video tracks on the you've-got-to-see-them-to-believe-them theory. Haven't figured out how to play them yet. A-

Also graded some records based on expanded re-releases. This included upgrading Charles Mingus: Mingus Dynasty from B+ to A-, and dropping Miles Davis: Sketches of Spain from A- to B+(**).

Jazz Prospecting (CG #20, Part 8)

Thought I would start with Legacy's reissues commemorating 1959, which they identified as the greatest year in jazz. You can make that case, but also can pick any of a number of years, most (at least as far as the LP era is concerned) in that neighborhood. The Mingus album is an all-time wonder, and Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come and The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall are two more A+ records from the year. Some other legendary records are: John Coltrane: Giant Steps, and Coltrane Jazz; Duke Ellington: Blues in Orbit, and Anatomy of a Murder; Bill Evans: Portrait in Jazz; Coleman Hawkins: The High and Mighty Hawk; Wynton Kelly: Kelly Blue; Shelly Manne: At the Blackhawk; Blue Mitchell: Blue Soul; Cecil Taylor: Love for Sale; and Ben Webster and Associates. Less famous but in some ways even better -- at least if you have a saxophone jones -- are: Arnett Cobb: Party Time; Eddie Davis: Very Saxy; Jackie McLean: New Soil, and Swing Swang Swingin'; Duke Ellington/Johnny Hodges: Side by Side; Lars Gullin: Stockholm Street. Of course, you could plug in other years and get similar results, at least from 1956 (Ellington at Newport and Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus) up through 1966 (Ellington's Far East Suite and Rollins' Alfie). After that it starts getting trickier, although there's still plenty to listen to.

In general, a slow week for me: hard to concentrate, which I don't expect to change until I get the kitchen done. I will be testing it out with a serious dinner this coming Friday. Maybe the deadline will focus my efforts, but that doesn't promise a good week of Jazz Prospecting.


Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um [Legacy Edition] (1959 [2009], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Frantically label-hopping in the late 1950s, Mingus landed at Columbia for two albums: the title album here on the first disc, and the erratic follow-up, Mingus Dynasty, that fills most of the second disc. The former is an undoubted masterpiece. Mingus learned jazz from the ground up, playing trad with Kid Ory, swinging with Red Norvo, apprenticing with Duke Ellington, bopping with Bird and Max Roach, finding his own path through the avant-garde. The nine neatly trimmed songs on the original Mingus Ah Um take a postmodern tack on jazz history, with gospel welling up in "Better Get It in Your Soul," nods to "Jelly Roll" and "Bird Calls" and an "Open Letter to Duke" and a gorgeous remembrance of Lester Young called "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." But they don't imitate the past; they subsume it, catapulting it into the future as urgent testimony, which was most explicit in "Fables of Faubus," heaping scorn on the segregationist governor of Arkansas. Mingus was never more Ellingtonian, but everything was updated: his septet thinner but more rambunctious, the gentility and elegance giving way to cleverness and fury. While the first disc -- even fleshed out with the edits restored and padded with redundant alternate takes -- was as perfect as jazz records get, the second slops back and forth between aimless sections and wildly inspired ones. The new edition omits three alternate takes from the 3-CD The Complete 1959 Columbia Recordings -- no great loss -- and it frames Mingus Dynasty better by starting it off with alternate takes to "Better Get It in Your Soul" and "Jelly Roll." A [single albums: Mingus Ah Um A+; Mingus Dynasty A-]

Miles Davis: Sketches of Spain [Legacy Edition] (1959-60 [2009], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The third of three major collaborations between Davis and Gil Evans, following Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess. Spiced with Spanish themes, leading off with Joaquin Rodrigo's slow and moody "Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)" -- 16:20 on the original album -- and fleshed out with Evans compositions. The first disc leaves the album intact, signing off after 45:36. Evans keeps his cleverness under tight wraps, producing a subtle background tapestry that never distracts you from the leader's trumpet -- the saving grace here. The second disc adds 70:10 of alternate takes and miscellaneous scraps -- more of the same, but without the flow. B [single album: B+(**)]

Dave Brubeck: Time Out [Legacy Edition] (1959-64 [2009], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD+DVD): Every song in a different time signature -- the sort of neat trick an egghead like Brubeck with the degree to back it up might do. The big surprise is how little notice you'd give to the concept, for the simple reason that the pieces seem so organic and complete. "Take Five" sounded so timeless it broke through the charts and sold over a million copies. Brubeck's popularity, like Keith Jarrett's a couple decades later, always seemed a bit excessive: not undeserved, just not fairly distributed. But you couldn't charge his group with selling out or pandering. Maybe you'd complain that Paul Desmond played the most simply gorgeous alto saxophone since Johnny Hodges, but that sounds more like a compliment. Time Out's success encouraged sequels -- the five discs collected in For All Time hold up pretty well (especially Time Further Out). A best-of might have made good filler for the second disc, but Legacy opted instead to plunder the previously unreleased live archives instead, picking from 1961, 1963, and 1964 sets at Newport. Mostly standard in the usual time -- "St. Louis Blues," "Pennies From Heaven," "You Go to My Head" -- they showcase a superb group fleet on their toes. Closes with slightly stretched versions of their two best-known Time Out classics, tying the package up neatly. As for the DVD -- 30 minutes of interview, performance footage, and an "interactive, multi-camera piano lesson" -- another day. A- [single disc: A]

Tito Puente: Dance Mania [Legacy Edition] (1956-60 [2009], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): A Puerto Rican timbalero from Spanish Harlem, Puente jumped onto the Cuban bandwagon in the mid-1950s, releasing albums like Cuban Carnival and Cubarama before this breakthrough party album. The band is huge, the blaring brass rather clunky, and the beats a bit more basic than what the real Cubans were doing -- Pérez Prado, in particular, managed to sound more pop and at the same time more radical -- but the energy is cranked up high and the vocals exude passion. This package expands the original 12-cut 37:50 album to 22 cuts to fill the first disc, then offers Dance Mania Vol. 2, again pumped up from 12 to 23 cuts. The prime slice is slightly leaner and cleaner, but it's hard to nitpick the rest: more is truly more. A- [single albums: Dance Mania A-; Vol. 2 B+(***)]

Olatunji: Drums of Passion [Legacy Edition] (1959-66 [2009], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): One of the first albums of African music to appear in the US, no doubt because Babatunde Olatunji, a Yoruba from southwest Nigeria, got a scholarship to study at Morehouse College in Georgia, then moved on to New York, where he set up his percussion ensemble as a side project while studying public administration. With its dense percussion and crude, chantlike vocals, this seems geared to contemporary stereotypes of Africa, but it doesn't pander: it stands tall and forthright. The album became a huge bestseller. The band expanded, with some notable jazz names joining in on the bonus tracks: Clark Terry, Yusef Lateef, Jerome Richardson, Bud Johnson, Ray Barretto. Second disc features the long-out-of-print More Drums of Passion. Cut 7 years later, it seems less of a novelty, especially with the irresistible groove of "Mbira." A- [single albums: Drums of Passion B+(***); More A-]

Kenny Burrell: Prime Kenny Burrell: Live at the Downtown Room (1976-2006 [2009], High Note): Six cuts as advertised, from a prime period between when Burrell recorded his two Ellington Is Forever volumes, but everyday fare, in an intimate quartet with the equally decorus Richard Wyands on piano. No Ellington there, but the seventh cut is a much later solo guitar take on "Single Petal of a Rose," which hardly seems out of place. B+(**)

Michael Occhipinti: The Sicilian Jazz Project (2008 [2009], True North): Guitarist, has one of those web bios that offer no info before his professional debut in 1994, but presumably from Toronto, Canada -- at least his older brother, bassist Roberto Occhipinti, is. (Plus he has JUNO nominations, including one for an album of Bruce Cockburn songs.) Father may have been Sicilian. (Note postcard dated 1952, Palermo), but his musical interest goes back to 1954 field recordings by Alan Lomax. The weak spot here, as usual, is the vocals: Dominc Mancuso and Maryem Tollar, appropriately authentic as far as I know, sounds rather like flamenco, or a Sardinian I ran into once. Seven of nine cuts are powered with Louis Simao's accordion, Ernie Tollar on sax or flute, and (six cuts) Kevin Turcotte on trumpet. Two cuts substitute a string quartet, and the opener has everything, even an extra oud. B+(**)

Jerry Bergonzi: Simply Put (2008 [2009], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, a mainstream blower from Boston who doesn't go in for fancy titles or concepts. He's happy working in front of piano-bass-drums, and you'll be happy too, because the point is to hear the sax. Bruce Barth (piano) joints Dave Santoro (bass) and Andrea Michelutti (drums), repeaters from last year's Tenor Talk, which I thought might have been his best yet. (25-plus albums since 1982; I've only heard a few recent ones, and some older side-spots, where he's always made a big impression.) No signs of decline here. He's on a roll. A-

Andrew Rathbun: Where We Are Now (2007 [2009], SteepleChase): Saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano, has been rather prolific since 2000, recording for Fresh Sound New Talent and more recently SteepleChase -- third album there. (By the way, this is the first SteepleChase album I've received since starting Jazz Consumer Guide. They're an important Danish label, since the late 1970s a safe harbor for American expatriates starting with Dexter Gordon and Duke Jordan, with a small minority of European artists -- Piere Dørge, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Tete Montoliu are three who come to mind. Mostly mainstream postbop; deep catalog; a lot of things on my scrounging list.) Previous record (haven't heard it) was called Affairs of State, with songs themed on the Bush administration: "We Have Nothing but Tears," "Around the Same Circles, Again and Again," "5th Anniversary" (of 9/11), "Fiasco," "Folly (of the Future Fallen)." This one is a quintet: Nate Radley (guitar), George Colligan (piano), Johannes Weidenmuller (bass), Billy Hart (drums). Rathbun's tenor sax is a bit light and sly, slipping easily around the complex rhythm. Radley has some nice solo spots, and Colligan is superb. B+(***)

Jürgen Friedrich: Pollock (2007 [2009], Pirouet): German pianist; looks pretty young judging from photo; AMG credits him with 8 records since 2000. This is a piano trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Tony Moreno. One cover: "'Round Midnight"; two group credits, one by Friedrich and Moreno, two by Hebert, four by Friedrich. They all evince a delicate inside flow, quiet and meditative. B+(**)

Nicolas Thys: Virgo (2008 [2009], Pirouet): Bassist, b. 1968, from the Netherlands, graduated from Hilversum Conservatory. First album, after ten or so side credits since 1998. Quintet, with Chris Cheek (tenor sax), Jon Cowherd (piano), Ryan Scott (guitar), and Dan Rieser (drums). Wrote all of the pieces. They have a light, propulsive feel, helped along by the guitar, with the sax fitting closely to the melodies and the piano straying a bit. B+(***)

François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Nada (2008 [2009], Creative Sources): Canadian saxophonist, plays alto and soprano, and his long-time drummer sidekick, in a duet setting, running through 20 short exercises in 56:53. I've become a big ban, and have two of their records -- the trio Within on Leo and the 6-CD Digital Box on Ayler -- lined up for the next Jazz CG. This isn't quite as compelling, but doesn't disappoint as a catalog of ideas -- just roughly sketched out ones. B+(***)

Bobby Broom: Plays for Monk (2009, Origin): Guitarist, b. 1961. Seventh album since 1995, a trio with Dennis Carroll on bass and Kobie Watkins on drums. Eight Monk tunes, plus "Lulu's Back in Town" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Nice and clean, even with Monk being Monk. B+(*)

Andy Milne/Benoît Delbecq: Where Is Pannonica? (2008 [2009], Songlines): Piano duets. I've run across both pianists before, generally finding their work exacting and impressive but much to my taste -- Delbecq's 2005 album, Phonetics, is the exception there, juiced up with Congo drums, sax and viola. This one is toned down, abstract even. The second piano often functions more like a bass, just more minimally. 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:

Paul Meyers: World on a String (2009, Miles High): As the publicist patiently explained to me, the reason I couldn't find anything on this guitarist was that I had the name misspelled: Meyers, not Myers. Embarrassing mistake, especially since I made something of it. Went to his website -- even though Flash-only is a pain, I resolved not to complain, although all I got from his bio was lives in New York and digs Brazilian music, which could have been surmised from recruiting Helio Alves. Has a few past records, including his own website typo on the record "featuring Frank Weiss" -- album cover and photo are unmistakably Frank Wess.


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Ralph Bowen: Dedicated (Posi-Tone)
  • Kevin Deitz: Skylines (Origin)
  • Dave Glenn: National Pastime (Origin)
  • Inner Circle: State of Da World (Shanachie): advance
  • Mimi Jones: A New Day (Hot Tone Music)
  • Chad McCullough: Dark Wood, Dark Water (Origin)
  • Enrico Pieranunzi: Plays Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas and Improvisations (CAM Jazz)
  • Oumou Sangare: Seya (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
  • Martial Solal: Live at the Village Vanguard: I Can't Give You Anything but Love (CAM Jazz)

Purchases:

  • Todd Snider: The Excitement Plan (Yep Roc)
  • Sonic Youth: The Eternal (Matador)

Tiller Letters

Two letters in The Wichita Eagle this morning. One, from Scott E. Blades, insists "George Tiller was no different from his killer." The chances that Blades knows anything about Tiller beyond what he's sucked up from the papers and talk radio are nil. The other letter is from a physician, Gayle Stephens, who knew Tiller and has something to say worth repeating:

The best part of my life was lived in Kansas, especially Wichita, and I still think of myself as a Kansan. I knew George Tiller well and his father, Jack, even better.

As a physician, I feel profound disappointment that a family physician can be assassinated in Wichita and local physicians can be silent and largely absent from public discourse. If a firefighter or police officer were murdered in the line of duty, their colleagues would rise in anger and protest, call for justice, and attend a public funeral in uniform. They would vow to seek justice and pledge support for the victim's family.

Tiller was a legitimate family physician who practiced medicine as well as performing abortions. He was not a butcher, profiteer, opportunist or fraud. His murder diminishes us all, and nobody is safer or better off because he is dead.

Kansas has a rich history of family doctors, and history will be kinder to Tiller than to the forces that destroyed him or those who stood by silently. His friends, colleagues and beneficiaries cannot allow his memory to be characterized by those who despised him and what he stood for. They must report a fuller public narrative of his life.

Tiller could have used more testimonies like this while he was alive, but modesty, respect for his privacy, and a general reluctance to grapple with assholes are reasons why they weren't much in evidence. Plus most people, starting with his accusers, weren't inclined to look, or consider. In some ways, that is typical of the abortion conflict. The anti-choice side seeks to impose absolute rules on everyone regardless of context; for the pro-choice side context is everything. Absolute certainty regardless of context or consequences is impossible to argue with, as it doesn't allow any grounds for compromise. We should be smart enough to reject any such irrational propositions, but the persistence of the anti-choice movement shows that we aren't.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

House Log

First one of these notes in 10 days, which says something about the pace I'm moving at. Last time I was bitching about problems getting the slideout units to fit. That's pretty much resolved. I got better at scoring and snapping the plastic backs. Scrapped the first sheet. Second was rather ragged but usable. Third was better. Bought a replacement for the first and got it to work. Instead of using a regular knife, I used a tool with a small, hard, hooked blade, which I had originally bought to score and break aluminum siding trim. Also clamped a straightedge so I could make multiple passes, getting deep scores. Attaching the cabinets to the slides was a near-hopeless task. I wound up guessing and shooting nails. Back and middle ones turned out reasonably good; front one was harder to line up. The result was that the middle one bound against the front. Freed them up by planing various surfaces. Attached a couple pieces of aluminum rail to the top to keep the units separated, which caused further height problems, requiring further hacking. Still have to touch up some paint, including a bit of ceiling I inadvertently attacked, put the adjustable shelves in, and load them up with stuff.

Also got the pantry drawers assembled and fit into the cabinet. Once again, the crookedness of the walls threw me off, causing problems. I probably should have recognized that earlier, given that the countertop itself is cockeyed. The drawers themselves are quite square. I was partly able to work around the problem by moving the slider attachment on the left side forward about 1/2-inch. Got them to where they all fit inside the box and slide out reasonably well, hitting nothing. The right-side stack are pretty straight, but the left-side stack have this 1/2-inch offset on the left side. Cut the front board out today, but haven't figured how to attach them with the weird offsets. I suppose the cleanest way would be to cut a couple of wedges most of the width of the fronts; mount them horizontally across the inside fronts, and mount the fronts to them. May need to get a range of cabinet screw sizes to handle it all. Did buy the handles and extra-long screws for them.

Toying with the idea of running the front boards through the router to put a rounded or bevelled edge on. Never done that before, and not sure what would look best. Seems like it would be relatively easy with the router table once I got it set up. On the other hand, we've decided to paint them blue-gray, which would obscure the edges more than the white would, so maybe straight edges is the way to go. One thing for sure is that getting a coat of primer and two coats of paint on the fronts is going to take several days, and can't start until I decide what to do about the edges. The other big thing is that I'm only allowing about 1/8-inch space between fronts, so precise attachment is going to be tough. Ugh.

Attached some 1x2 pieces to frame the refrigerator, and have at least one coat of paint on them. Need to put another. They don't fill the space flush to the refrigerator, but get over having the thin rough edge that was there previously. Put some shoe mold around the base of the box, which cleans up the interface to the floor. Also put shoe mold around the bathroom vanity. The 23 gauge pin nailer works well for that, but isn't as clean as advertised. Cut some quarter-round for the base of the dining room baseboards, and put a coat of paint on it. Will tack it down soon. Main thing that's slowing me down is cleaning up the floor where it's going down. Wound up spending several hours on the wall under one window where there were excess rough spots -- turns out we didn't get all the paper off. Need to sand that down and paint it, probably before putting the quarter-round down.

Replaced the three AC outlets on the west wall above the kitchen countertop. Three are in series, so used GFCI for the first one. Something I had been procrastinating for a long time. Was more difficult than it should have been, because the non-GFCI outlets would only take 12-gauge wire on the posts. Still have to replace the plate on a piece of track lighting and put a couple of outlet covers on, but that's all the wiring that's left. Does occur to me that it might be nice to run some undercounter lighting off this circuit.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Little Hate

Vincent Rossmeier: Scarborough: Krugman foments "left-wing hate": I'm not sure who Joe Scarborough is or where he's coming from, but his reaction to Paul Krugman's "The Big Hate" column (cited in the previous post) is knee-jerk juvenilia: you know, the sort of retort that seeks to answer a charge by simply repeating it, only louder. I don't even know what "left-wing hate" could mean these days. After all, for several decades now liberals were routinely lambasted for caring too much (especially for the poor), for being soft on crime and too chickenshit to stand up and fight the nation's wars, for wanting to offer therapy when punishment is called for, for being icky blobs of peace, love, and understanding -- and now, all of a sudden, those same people have turned into virulent haters. Why? Well, just because a couple of gun-toting psychopaths took their deep beliefs in right-wing causes a bit too far and went out and killed people, and now the formerly wishy-washy left has the gall to suggest that the right-wing pundits and politicos who championed those same causes, and who themselves have consistently supported all sorts of wars and repression, bear some responsibility for their followers.

It's certainly true that people are more sensitive to hatred directed their own way than they are to hatred of third parties, but if Scarborough thinks Krugman hates him he's being awfully thin-skinned -- suspiciously so if he really is a conservative. After all, look at what conservatives believe: that the poor deserve their fate, that trying to help people put their lives together is a hopeless indulgence, that our way of life can only be defended with overwhelming military force, that if in applying force we inadvertently kill innocent people matters little if at all, that government should never limit the rich in their pursuit of more riches (especially over things like pollution and global warming), but they have no qualms about using the government to prohibit private indulgences that they disapprove of (like drug use or sex). As this list shows, real conservatives are pretty tough characters. You'd think they'd be able to handle some hate, because they sure can dish it out.

On the other hand, when you see their pet projects result in an event of unseemly violence, what else can they do? It's not like we've seen any conservatives back off from their anti-choice stance, least of all to show the likes of Scott Roeder that their crimes will have no effect. No, they wrap themselves up in a ball and pretend to be the real victims, accusing other people of hating them. That ruse is both dishonest and irrelevant. It's dishonest because hatred and violence are so fundamental to the right-wing mindset, as least as currently manifested in the US. It's irrelevant because no matter how disgusted people of the left (at least as currently manifested in the US) get with some right-wingers, they never carry those feelings to the point of committing violent acts -- because, well, we don't believe in violence.

Hatred is a useless emotion for anyone committed to nonviolence, but calling a leftist's disgust and opposition hate may be the only way a right-winger can relate to it. That is one of the maddening things about the right: they can't just dislike something without feeling compelled to prohibit it; they can't stand to give anyone else a break without feeling cheated; the idea that we might be better off helping each other than ripping each other off is one they can't conceive; and when things don't go their way, they turn into shameless prevaricators, denying themselves even the honesty of their misconceptions. Still, the problem isn't that they are dumb and mean. Leftists generally respect people's right to be wrong. The problem comes when they seek the power to force their dumb and mean ideas on others -- especially when they do so on no more authority than possession of a gun. Then the least we can do is point out how the whole sick ball of wax is stuck together. Too bad if that hurts their feelings.

So chill out. Try to find a copy of Bill Sheffield's "I Don't Hate Nobody" (on Journal of a Shelf). The worst thing a leftist can do, after all, is to pick up some of the bad habits of the right.

Big Hate

Alex Koppelman: Right: DHS extremist report was "crap." Really?: James von Brunn's shotgun assault on the Holocaust Museum reminds me of Marx's quip about history repeating itself first as tragedy then as farce. I don't mean to take this lightly: the guard who was killed wasn't a specific target for assassination like Dr. George Tiller, but he is just as dead, certainly mourned, and all the more poignant for being such an arbitrary victim -- a point we've come to accept as normal for terrorism, because we're always more comfortable talking about innocent victims who bear no responsibility for the causes the terrorists embrace. Another is that it is easier to show that random acts of terrorism don't work -- indeed, that they often backfire on their architects. Targeted killings, on the other hand, sometimes do appear to work. Killing Tiller, for instance, has closed down his clinic, depriving Wichita KS of its last local provider of abortion services, and depriving the nation of one of the last providers of late-term abortion services. It would take considerable political will to reverse those losses, something that no US political leader is likely to muster -- unlike, say, tearing up a country on the other side of the world, like Afghanistan.

The difference here is that Tiller's killer, Scott Roeder, is part of an active, widespread political movement that has demonized doctors and clinic workers, that has harrassed women who have a legal right to abortion services, and that has frequently resorted to violence, including murder, to further its aims. Von Brunn, on the other hand, is way out of step from the conservative movement. I've seen him described as a "neo-Nazi" but at 89 he's old enough to be an old school Nazi, not a "neo" anything. The antisemitism that was rather common when he was young has lost its grip and fallen from favor, even on the far right, where support for Israel is nearly unanimous, and Holocaust denial is a mere accident of general ignorance.

So I don't see von Brunn's example as one that will have any effect or resonance beyond the damage he's already done. Still, he does, like Roeder, fit in the broader category of would-be vigilantes willing to martyr themselves for right-wing causes. The DHS report saw this coming, and indeed if you look at the backgrounders on von Brunn and Roeder it wouldn't have taken a lot of detective work to sniff them out. Whether sicking the FBI on them would be worthwhile isn't obvious: the FBI caused more trouble than they found on the left, and they don't appear to have done much better with the al-Qaeda threat. The more interesting question is why the right's pundits and politicos got so upset about the DHS report in the first place. I think it's because the emotional triggers that set off individuals like Roeder and von Brunn are the essential stock in trade of the right. What you hear repeated ad nauseum on their radio is fear and loathing of others, the underhanded dominance of the left, and a wail and cry meant to tease right-thinking people to action -- which given how enamored the right is with guns, with harsh and capital punishment, with torture, with war, can easily slip in to violence. One wonders how they can look at themselves in the mirror, but their reaction to the DHS report shows they refuse to.

Paul Krugman: The Big Hate: Another take on the same news. Again we see the parallels with the early Clinton years, peaking with the Timothy McVeigh bombing in Oklahoma City.


Discarded draft:

James von Brunn's shotgun assault on the Holocaust Museum, killing one guard, is the second headline event in what does seem like a resurging wave of right-wing terrorism. It isn't as worrisome as the targeted assassination of Dr. George Tiller, for two basic reasons: 1) the attack on Tiller was a logical extension of the delusions of a mass-based political movement that still seeks to target other doctors and still prays for martyrs to step up and do the movement's dirty work; 2) von Brunn's antisemitism is out of step with the modern right, which almost uniformly supports (and often reveres) Israel, and (mostly) respects the Holocaust. It's not so much that von Brunn is out of step with the right as that he's showing his age: at 88, he grew up when white supremacy was the law of the land, and antisemitism was common. Von Brunn will be quickly forgotten because he is so out of step with any supportive political movement. Still, the two killers are linked. You might be tempted to dismiss either or both as psychopathic fringers, but they share the right's most basic motivation, to despise others, and the right's favorite tactic, to put their enemies down with force. Admittedly, most conservatives are satisfied with voting to kill. Only a few have so little else to live for that they feel compelled to do their own killing. But that's no excuse for the right-wing movement, which wills these crimes on.

The recent upsurge is not just because Obama is personally and/or politically repugnant to the right. It's because they no longer have the Bush Administration to do their dirty work for them. Left leader-less, right-wingnuts are scrambling to make an impact. The DHS report suggests that we'll see more of this trend.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Roxana Hegeman: Slain Kansas abortion provider's clinic to close; Dion Lefler: Access to abortion now farther away. It looks like the assassin who struck down Dr. George Tiller has managed to deprive Wichita, KS of its last abortion provider, as well as eliminating one of the nation's very few providers of late-term abortions. Women in Wichita (metro area population almost 600,000; 84th largest MSA in the US) will now have to drive three hours to the Kansas City area. Other Kansans who formerly had to drive hours to Wichita will have to drive even further. In 1992, Kansas had 15 abortion providers -- Wichita had four. The extended campaign of harrassment, both by ad hoc groups like Operation Rescue and lately by the state government, especially under former attorney general Phill Kline, along with a number of acts of criminal violence culminating in the shooting of Tiller, have finally taken their toll.

It will be interesting to see whether any of our political leaders will stand up this time and declare that we won't let terrorists strip us of our rights or undermine our way of life. That's really what this amounts to, but they've taken it so placidly for so long it's unlikely that anyone in power is going to develop a new spine. It seems to me that this is one case where the military could actually strike a blow against terrorism: imagine what would happen if the government were to offer free or low-cost abortion services through its network of VA hospitals, at least in areas where no private providers exist. Wichita has a VA facility, on a lot so large that it would be impossible for anti-choice mobs to form anything like the gauntlets they were able to set up at Tiller's clinic. More importantly, this would send a message that abortion is a legal right, the law of the land, backed by the full power of the military government. That might give the terrorists some pause.

PS: Of course, I realize that the VA is not part of the military, meaning the Dept. of Defense. If it were, it wouldn't be able to run the most efficient health care system in the country. It would, rather, have been subcontracted to Halliburton and run straight into the ground.

Fiduciary Responsibility

A featured comment from Paul Krugman's blog:

Why would any educated society rely on a health care system that has a stated fiduciary responsibility to extract as much money from its customers while giving them as little care as possible?

That is precisely the key to what is wrong with health care in the US. Moreover, it is why the system, if not radically reformed, will only get worse -- indeed, why it will get much worse. We have yet to reach the point where most doctors, nurses, therapists, etc., who actually deal with patients have been fully trained to put their "fiduciary responsibility" above normative standards of care, but that is an inefficiency that management is working on. We've seen the same ethos applied everywhere in business, a subtle but profound shift from companies providing useful goods and services and thereby profiting from their success to companies that only see their goods and services as instruments for returns on investment. In industry after industry, this has resulted in a hollowing out of value -- the catchphrase "lean and mean" hints ominously at the result, a purely predatory capitalism. This works everywhere, but prospects are particularly lucrative in health care, where the bottom line is, after all, your money or your life.

The solution is straightforward, in concept anyway: at every stage in the system, we need to replace profit-maximizing incentives with incentives that are tied to professional standards of quality care. In some cases this is obvious: a government-run non-profit single payer insurance system could easily replace the patchwork of private insurance rackets, saving costs and providing universal coverage with higher quality standards. As the VA shows, state-run nonprofit health care providers also work out better. (For that matter, the few private non-profit providers left have much better cost-benefit records than the profit-maximizing providers.) The technology sector, including pharmaceuticals, could be reformed by limiting or dropping patent laws -- which currently promise monopoly profits, the profit-maximizer's all-time wet dream -- and publicly subsidizing research and development. (Manufacturing of the products could still be done by private firms under non-exclusive licenses, where competition will limit profits and incentivize efficiencies.)

This should be a no-brainer, but the non-brains are pretty well ensconced. Any change produces disruptions, and potential losers are always first in line to complain. Our political system favors organized interests over public interests, which tend to be diffuse and poorly represented. For example, the Wichita Eagle ran this item on our senior Senator today:

Sen. Pat Roberts says he'll oppose any health care reform package that includes a public health insurance option to cover those who can't get private insurance at an affordable cost.

"It won't work. It hasn't worked in other countries," the Kansas Republican said Monday during a visit to Westwood.

Roberts and eight other GOP senators released a letter to the White House on Monday that says a public health insurance option would be unfair to private insurers because they couldn't compete with the government.

Only a few pesky details wrong here. Actually, it has worked elsewhere -- like, everywhere it's been tried. And the fact that private insurers can't compete with a public non-profit system pretty much proves that the private insurers don't have anything to offer customers -- indeed, that they're only out to rip them off, which becomes impossible once people have a choice. Roberts never has been much of an intellect, but the thing that I have to wonder most about is why he doesn't see that there's a problem that people "can't get private insurance at an affordable cost." Not that he's ever cared about anyone who wasn't rich. But is he really smart enough to grasp that the fear of losing insurance is one of the most powerful levers the private insurance industry has in pursuing its "fiduciary responsibility"?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15432 [15415] rated (+17), 747 [745] unrated (+2). Not much to say. Still struggling with kitchen. Don't feel much like writing on music.

  • Leonard Cohen: Live in London (2008 [2009], Columbia, 2CD): Streamlines a large and uneven catalog, unifying it where time had previously broken it up into seemingly incompatible stages. The band is as full as you'd want, and the backup singers fill crucial roles, but his own voice seems younger and more vivid than it has been in several decades, and the offhand patter, gracious thanks, and excessive band intros are delivered so unobtrusively you don't matter -- in fact they enjoy a certain musicality. When he chooses to quote a song-poem before turning it over the to band, that works too. A career summing document. For that matter, quite a career. A
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It's Blitz! (2009, Interscope/DGC/Dress Up): This sounds fabulous right out of the box; flags a little bit when they try to get intimate, but even then the nice plastic sheen perseveres. A-
  • Neil Young: Fork in the Road (2009, Reprise): Short album, mostly songs about cars, mostly big and, uh, electric. One mentions Wichita, which is sorta cool (and sorta square). His songcraft, guitar, vocals, etc., haven't evolved, which is to say you've heard all these moves before -- on dozens of albums more or less as good as this one. One ballad piece near the end is a change of pace from the crunchy rock, and drop dead gorgeous ("Light a Candle"?). A-


Jazz Prospecting (CG #20, Part 7)

A bit short this week. Hit a point mid-week when I got tired of doing this, and spent several days playing nonwork things and a little jazz without sitting down to write. Even went 3-4 hours last night with nothing on. I reckon this will pass. I'm closing in on getting the kitchen done, but everything is coming slow, with new difficulties all along the way. Built the first four of eight drawers yesterday. Three sit in their slots nice and square, but the fourth juts out an extra half-inch. The drawer itself is perfectly square, so the problem must be in the frame, where it's hardest to fix -- right now I don't even understand the problem. Spent much of last week fighting with a cabinet with three units, roughly 48h x 16w x 8d, that sit on a pair of slides and pull out. They were virtually impossible to line up parallel and to secure precisely. If I had it to do all over again, I'd design the whole thing differently, but for now I managed to get them to look decent and more/less function -- still need to take off bits of wood where two units rub against each other. Stuff like that gets me down. The only music that's been picking me up has been off the list (well, except for Rushing, below): Lily Allen: It's Not Me, It's You; Leonard Cohen: Live in London; K'naan: Troubadour; Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It's Blitz!; Jonatha Brooke: The Works; Neil Young: Fork in the Road; Staff Benda Bilili: Très Très Fort.

Next Jazz Consumer Guide is scheduled for sometime August. No point trying to close this out until end-June, so I have some breathing room, for once. I could use some breaks like that.


Paul Meyers: World on a String (2009, Miles High): Guitarist. Don't know anything about him, and Google isn't helping. Presumably not Mike Myers' older brother, the former front man for a group called the Gravelberrys. Plays acoustic. Wrote 7 of 9 songs, the exceptions the Arlen-Koehler "I've Got the World on a String" that suggests the title and John Lennon's "Because." Nice sound and feel on guitar, plus he gets help from Donny McCaslin on sax and Helio Alves on piano -- both given featuring plugs on the cover -- and also Leo Traversa on electric bass and Vanderlei Pereira on drums/percussion. McCaslin also plays flute on a couple of cuts, which spoils this for me. B+(*)

3 Play +: American Waltz (2009, Ziggle Zaggle Music): Wound up filing this under pianist Josh Rosen, based on 7 of 8 compositions (the other a group effort). Rosen teaches at Berklee, and as far as I know has no previous discography. Bassist Lello Molinari, who also teaches at Berklee, is also referred to as a cofounder. Group also includes Phil Grenadier on trumpet and Marcello Pellitteri on drums, and two guests show up: Mick Goodrick on guitar and George Garzone on tenor sax. You should recognize Garzone, if not for his relatively thin but notable discography, as a legendary saxophone teacher. I think just about every jazz musician who passed through Boston in the last 30 years credits Garzone. Needless to say, he sounds terrific here. Grenadier and Goodrick do a nice job of polishing the edges, and the pianist holds down the center. Having trouble concentrating on this while trying to write something else, so will hold it back. An intriguing record. [B+(***)]

Alison Burns and Martin Taylor: 1: AM (2008 [2009], P3 Music): Burns is a singer, from Scotland, grew up in Dundee; website says she's Scottish-Canadian, but MySpace bases her in UK. Second album. Has a voice I disliked at first, but makes it work in subtle ways. Accompanied by nothing more than Taylor's guitar, which doesn't seem like a lot of support, but could hardly be more fitting. One original. Mostly standards I rarely run across. B+(***)

Henning Sieverts Symmetry: Blackbird (2007 [2009], Pirouet): From Berlin, Germany, b. 1966, plays bass and cello; label's website claims he has 10 albums under his own name (AMG only lists 3), a total of 75 credits. Wrote 11 of 13 tunes here: the exceptions a medley of the Lennon-McCartney title tune and trad's "Wenn Ich ein Vöglein Wär" and Charlie Parker's "Blues for Alice." Three songs have dedications: to Paul Klee, Arnold Schönberg, and Olivier Messiaen. Interesting group, with John Hollenbeck on drums, Achim Kaufmann on piano, Johannes Lauer on trombone, and Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor sax. A mixed bag, with the harder edged stuff (with Speed on tenor sax, cf. "Gale in Night, Nightingale") quite sharp, the soft ones (e.g., cello-clarinet) much less so. Doesn't help that I've loathed the title cut for decades. B

Pablo Held: Forest of Oblivion (2007 [2008], Pirouet): Young pianist, b. 1986, from Germany. Won lots of prizes for young jazz musicians, the first at age 10. First album, a piano trio with Robert Landfermann on bass and Jonas Burgwinkel on drums. Wrote 6 of 10 songs, not counting the group-credited "Interlude." Fairly quiet, contemplative; hard for me to gauge. B+(*)

Avram Fefer Trio: Ritual (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Reed player -- I have him listed clarinet first based on earlier work, but credits this time are ordered alto sax, tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet, which seems like the right order. B. 1965, near San Francisco, family moved around, settling in Seattle; picked up a liberal arts degree at Harvard, while studying music at Berklee and New England Conservatory. Spent some time in Paris, wound up in New York. Sixth album since 2001, a trio with Eric Revis on bass, Chad Taylor on drums. Basically, a series of freebop pieces, varied mostly by horn. Played it four straight times while fighting with my cabinet work and reading about the CIA, enjoying it while not finding much to say, and need to move on. The bass clarinet piece stands out, and Taylor is a bundle of focused energy. B+(**)

Dennis González/João Paulo Duo: Scape Grace (2007 [2009], Clean Feed): Paulo is a Portuguese pianist; full name is João Paulo Esteves da Silva. B. 1961 in Lisbon. Has three more albums on Clean Feed -- don't know what else. Duets with González playing cornet and trumpet. Seems like an informal set with each musician bringing a few songs. I'm not used to González playing without a rhythm section, so this sounds a bit disjointed. Intimate and sometimes eloquent. B+(*)

Transit: Quadrologues (2006-07 [2009], Clean Feed): Quartet, band members listed alphabetically: Jeff Arnal (percussion), Seth Misterka (alto sax), Reuben Radding (bass), Nate Wooley (trumpet). Second album on Clean Feed. Don't have credits on songs, which are presumably group improvs. In any case, they play free, the horns jousting and jamming. Has a number of impressive spots, but doesn't sustain the pace consistently. B+(*)

Lucky 7s: Pluto Junkyard (2007 [2009], Clean Feed): Septet, from Chicago, led by two trombonists, Jeff Albert and Jeb Bishop. Others are: Josh Berman (cornet), Keefe Jackson (tenor sax), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Matthew Golombisky (double bass), and Quin Kirchner (drums). Tough group to characterize, more freebop than avant; despite the group size there doesn't seem to be anyone at the helm with postbop arranger ambitions. I thought their previous album, Faragut, had a bit of New Orleans gumbo in it, but don't get that feel here -- maybe it's that the vibes are better integrated. The cornet adds some high contrast, but the sax seems to be here mostly for muscle, the trombones rooling. B+(***)

Herculaneum: Herculaneum III (2007 [2009], Clean Feed): A town in ancient Italy, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in CE 79. Also a septet from Chicago -- note that only six unidentified pictures, presumably members, are fit into the inside cover -- with a Flash-only website (isn't it time to gripe about that again?). MySpace has no real info either, and I don't feel like trying to track them down. No familiar names: John Beard (guitar), David McDonnell (alto sax, clarinet), Nick Broste (trombone), Patrick Newbery (trumpet, flugelhorn), Nate Lepine (flute), Greg Danek (bass), Dylan Ryan (drums, vibes). Two previous albums -- second one is called Orange Blossom; first one was eponymous, with a quintet (minus Beard and Lepine). Thick large group sound, tightly arranged, rockish drumming, not a lot of fluff (despite clarinet, flute, and vibes). B+(*)

Jon Irabagon: I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues (2008 [2009], Loyal Label): Alto saxophonist, plays with Mostly Other People Do the Killing, has shown up on a couple of other good records. This one's a duo with drummer Mike Pride: comes from Portland, ME; has a couple dozen credits ranging from MDC to Anthony Braxton and Sonny Simmons, including a group called Evil Eye. Nothing there I've actually heard before, although a lot of things look to be of at least marginal interest. This is a single 47:40 improv, starting with a blues riff which is then turned over, twisted, and tortured until it screams. First time I put it on I wasn't in the mood and ripped it off. Second time I kicked back, was amused and even a bit psyched. I've seen several reviews comparing this to Coltrane/Ali. Sounds to me more like Brötzmann and one of those German drummers I can't recall. Which is good enough. B+(**)

David "Fathead" Newman: The Blessing (2008 [2009], High Note): Cut a little over a month before Newman died, at 75, Jan. 20, 2009. Soul jazz man, best known for his stint with Ray Charles, has a steady stream of 30-plus records under his own name ever since 1958 -- the biggest gap in AMG's list is 1989-1994. Had a lovely tone and a gentle disposition, but never made especially good records -- Bluesiana Triangle, with Dr. John and Art Blakey, is an exception but not really his album. Wrote the title song, and featured two from his pianist, David Leonhardt; covers tend to be slow and wispy, covering for a shortfall of wind. Peter Bernstein's guitar fills in admirably. Doesn't lose much on his flute feature this time. B

The Peter Hand Big Band: The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to Harold Arlen (2005 [2009], Savant): Guitarist, co-founder of Westchester Jazz Orchestra, don't know much more than that. Band number 18, about half names I recognize -- Harvie S on bass, Richard Wyands on piano; Cecil Bridgewater, Valery Ponomarev, and Jim Rotondi among the trumpets; Brad Leali, Ralph Lalama, Don Braden, and Houston Pearson in the reeds. Pearson gets a "featuring" credit -- reportedly throughout, but he carries "Stormy Weather" and "Over the Rainbow" practically by himself, making them the choice cuts. Group has a light, sprightly touch, put to good use on great songs. B+(**)

Jimmy Rushing: The Scene: Live in New York (1965 [2009], High Note): Backed by a band including Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Evidently they appeared frequently together, with Sims and Cohn opening for a half-hour or so, then Rushing joining in. The record includes eight Rushing tunes and two instrumentals slotted fifth and ninth. Works reasonably well. No precise dates. Seems to have come from at least two sessions, given two bassists and two pianist -- one of the latter billed as "unknown." Nothing new or surprising here for anyone who knows Rushing reasonably well. His set is about as standard as you can get: "Deed I Do," "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You," "I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me," "I Want a Little Girl," "Goin' to Chicago," "I Cried for You," "Everyday I Have the Blues," and "Good Morning Blues." For that matter, Sims and Cohn break loose on "The Red Door" and "It's Noteworthy." If you don't know Rushing, well, you've got a lot to look forward to: he was the model every Kansas City blues shouter aspired to -- they were called "shouters" because they never could match Rushing's grace, charm, and swing, so tried to make up for it with gut volume. A-

Darren Johnston/Fred Frith/Larry Ochs/Devin Hoff/Ches Smith: Reasons for Moving (2005 [2007], Not Two): Respectively: trumpet, electric guitar, tenor/sopranino sax, bass, drums. Johnston comes from Ontario; wasn't familiar with him until recently, but he has an album on Clean Feed, The Edge of the Forest, that I like a lot. Ochs is one of the saxophonists from Rova. Frith has a long career on the avant fringe, including some innovative (if not exactly listenable) solo work with prepared guitar. He's really the center here, holding a lot of parts together that are predisposed to fly apart, not least by stating rhythmic parts often enough to keep them in mind. The horns are choppy and abstract, which works most of the time. 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:

Jerry Granelli V16: Vancouver '08 (2008 [2009], Songlines, CD+DVD): I misidentified J. Anthony Granelli is the leader's brother. He is actually Jerry Granelli's son. I'm sure I knew that at one time, but misremembered it.


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Plays Music From South Pacific (Arbors)
  • Fernando Benadon: Intuitivo (Innova)
  • Bobby Broom: Plays for Monk (Origin)
  • David Crowell Ensemble: Spectrum (Innova)
  • Mon David: Coming True (Free Ham)
  • Ka'a Davis: Seed of Djuke (Live Wired Music): promo
  • Michael Farley: Grain (Innova)
  • Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band: I'm BeBoppin' Too (Half Note)
  • Steve Kuhn: Mostly Coltrane (ECM): advance, July 7
  • Jacám Manricks: Labyrinth (Manricks Music)
  • M. Nahadr: EclecticIsM (Live Wired Music): promo
  • Ben Neill: Night Science (Thirsty Ear): advance, September
  • Olatunji: Drums of Passion & More Drums of Passion (1959, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Moment's Energy (ECM): advance, June 30
  • Pizzarelli Party with the Arbors All Stars (Arbors)
  • Louis Sclavis: Lost on the Way (ECM): advance, June 30
  • Andy Sheppard: Movements in Colour (ECM): advance, June 30
  • TriBeCaStan: Strange Cousin (Evergreene Music)
  • Miroslav Vitous Group with Michel Portal: Remembering Weather Report (ECM): advance, July 7

Purchases:

  • Jonatha Brooke: The Works (BDR)
  • Leonard Cohen: Live in London (Columbia, 2CD)

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Great Snow Job

Paul Krugman: Reagan Did It. Specifically, Reagan pushed for deregulation of the Savings and Loans institutions, leading to their looting, financial collapse, and bailout -- events unprecedented at the time, but repeated in spades very recently. Reagan was every bit as irresponsible with the federal debt: cutting taxes on the rich while increasing military spending, reversing a trend that had held since WWII of reducing federal debt as a percentage of GDP. Again, Bush doubled up on Reagan. "There's plenty of blame to go around these days. But the prime villains behind the mess we're in were Reagan and his circle of advisers -- men who forgot the lessons of America's last great financial crisis, and condemned the rest of us to repeat it." My stock line on Reagan even before the S&L disaster hit was that under him America's only boom industry was fraud. At the time, I couldn't understood why so many Americans let themselves be conned by him. Now I tend to see it as a flight from reality, which was occasioned as much as anything by the economic collapse of America in the 1970s -- the political fallout of Vietnam and Watergate, the US oil production peak, the trade balance tipping into the red, the collapse of the Bretton Woods system and the devaluation of the dollar, the oil shocks, the stagflation, the jacking up of interests rates to crippling levels. Reagan saw the whole country floudering, so he threw out a lifeline to the rich, and did what he could to cripple the unions and screw all those welfare queens he fantasized about. The economic recovery he got credit for was little more than a windfall for the rich, and we've been watching those reruns ever since, until they've finally collapsed.

[PS: I've seen some critiques to the effect that it was Carter who opened the door to S&L deregulation, which was true. It was also Carter who started arming jihadis in Afghanistan, even before the Soviet Union sent their troops in. Carter had a lot of other screwy ideas, but these two in particular would largely have been forgotten by now had Reagan not come around and inflated the political culture in ways that made them a lot worse than screwy.]

Paul Krugman: The Stagflation Myth: On Robert Samuelson, specifically a quote: "Johnson's economic policies, inherited from Kennedy, proved disastrous; they led to the 1970s' 'stagflation.'" Krugman explains why this is nonsense as economics, and crap as propaganda. Samuelson wrote a book recently, The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath, which tried to argue that the inflation of the 1970s was as dire a disaster as the depression of the 1930s -- a position that only a banker could support, although quite frankly even the bankers were better off in the 1970s than in the 1930s. Krugman offers a couple of textbook explanations, and points out that it was Milton Friedman who argued that the tradeoff between inflation and unemployment was unfounded. The latter is an interesting point given the pains so many economists took back then to lay the blame of inflation on wage increases (and the unions with the muscle to get them).

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

House Log

Still having a lot of trouble with the slide-outs behind the spice rack. I screwed up when I glued them together. I had planned on having the top board butt up against the front 1/2-inch down (or maybe it was 1/4-inch), but when I cut the biscuit joins I simply measured 3/4-inch from the top of the board, then glued them together. The result is that the top board slants up toward the front. Not a lot, but enough to not fit in the space. So I've been doing everything short of scrapping the whole assembly. I started by planing down the extension boards that the whole thing rides on. Actually wound up doing several passes of that, which meant I also had to plane down the bottom extension of the front. I even tried shaving a bit off the front of the top board, hitting it with the planer, the belt sander, and some hand sanding. May have picked up another 1/16-inch there, but haven't tried fitting them since then. If they're not right, I'll just do more of the same on the bottom. Meanwhile, I slapped some aqua-plastic on the inside boards, and put another coat of paint on the fronts. Then I ran into a problem with the backs. My plan was to take some thin plastic normally used for flourescent ceiling light covers and trim it down to fit, sliding it into a groove on the front piece and screwing it to the back of the inside pieces. Problem there is that cutting it down has been a nightmare. Turns out that it's pretty brittle. First piece I tried scoring and snapping it, which produced a lot of side-cracks, taking some 1/2-inch chunks out of the side. Second one I scored it then used some metal shears, which still produced some marginal breakage but was much better. The sheets in question have a square pattern, and the raised square edges don't fit all that well into my slot. Not sure what I'll wind up doing now. First piece is crapped; second may be good enough if the next one turns out better, but I'm not happy with it. One alternative is to use some matte board, which I bought for another purpose. Really just cardboard; not a great choice, but should be easy to cut and handle, and should staple easily, whereas the plastic requires screws.

One reason I didn't make much progress today was that I spent much of the day cooking a belated birthday dinner for my sister. I figure this was the first non-trivial dinner in the new kitchen: baked shrimp with feta cheese, pan-roasted potatoes, greek salad, two dips: tzatziki (cucumber-yogurt) and melizanasalata (eggplant). The potatoes and salad were pretty ad hoc. The shrimp is a dish I do a lot -- everyone seems to like it. I've made the two dips before, but probably not from these recipes. I thought they came out exceptional. Served one of those loaves of bread where you finish it up in the oven. Kept back-pedalling on dessert until I fell back to strawberries on Sara Lee pound cake, then found I didn't have any cream to whip. That part was embarrasssing. Logistics were a bit difficult, just finding things, dragging some up from basement, that sort of thing. But in general the kitchen is working nicely. Workspace is better, the big sink is a real plus, the bigger stove and extra oven were nowhere near challenged. Hood functioned nicely. Spice rack was right where I wanted it. With a lot of still unused storage space, I think this should work out nicely. Just need to get it a little more done, and move into it.

More on Tiller

Some more links relating to Dr. George Tiller's assassination. Most reiterate themes also in my long post yesterday, missing two key points I made: the first is that the fact that there even is a divide over abortion shows how illogical and immature our politics really is; the second is that this heinous act of violence is only thinkable because we live in a society where violence is sanctioned both by popular culture and by our most exalted politicians. (I do not exempt Obama from that statement, although he comes along after others set the example.)

Let me reiterate the first point more schematically: politics is about conflicting interests; where there are no conflicting interests, there should be no political differences. The right to decide when and whether to have children is a private right, which is to say that it's no one else's business. The option of abortion is necessary to realize this right; take it away and you undermine the right. We live in a political system where (for the most part) we recognize that the only reason to limit a private right is when it conflicts with the rights of other individuals (theft and assault are classic examples) or when there is some public interest that circumscribes private rights (the integrity of the commercial system would be a good example here, although there are others, and some are contentious). The only public effect that abortions have is that they reduce the birth rate somewhat. We live in a world where public interests generally favor lower and more selective birth rates with major commitment by responsible parents to raise their children. In other words both public interest and private rights favor the right to abortion, so there should be no political debate.

The political division over abortion is outside and contrary to our basic political system. It is the case of one group of people demanding that the state take rights and freedom away from others. The arguments for doing so are not rational, backed by selective and demagogic reference to a religion that, too, the anti-abortionists wish to impose on others. Do you really want to indulge a thuggish mob who wants to do that?


Oleeb: Who Killed Dr. Tiller? Well, the hate speech exuded by the anti-abortion movement, for starters.

Michelle Goldberg: The Pro-Life Insurrection: Suggests that the Tiller murder isn't an isolated incident; rather, it is part of a growing trend of fringe activity in the anti-abortion movement.

Ann Friedman: Why Clinic Violence is Obama's Problem. One reason is that law enforcement to protect clinics has been lax lately. It's worth adding that the recent vandalism of Dr. Tiller's clinic wasn't referred to the FBI until after Tiller was killed.

Christina Page: The Murder of Dr. Tiller, a Foreshadowing: Contrasts the amount of "pro-life" violence under Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. E.g.: "In the last year of the Bush administration there were 396 harassing calls to abortion clinics. In just the first four months of the Obama administration that number has jumped to 1401." By the way, it's worth noting that under Bush's restrictive policies, the number of abortions went up. The same numbers had dramatically declined under pro-choice President Clinton.

Jeffrey Feldman: The Politics of "Murder": My point again: "so long as the right-wing anti-abortion movement continues to fold dissent into an ever-expanding definition of "murder," then the right-wing will continue to give rise to activists who kill doctors."

M. LeBlanc: Abortion Is Murder: Why the Right Is Responsible for Domestic Terrorism. Same basic point, developed a bit more. Posted on the Bitch PhD. blog, which is worth trolling through, not least for attitude.

Matt Yglesias: A Kind of Terrorism that Works: In general, the downside of terrorism is the backlash it produces. But if you can control the backlash, as the anti-abortion movement has thus far been able to do, and focus your impact exactly where it most matters: "Every time you murder a doctor, you create a disincentive for other medical professionals to provide these services. What's more, you create a need for additional security at facilities around the country. In addition, the anti-abortion protestors who frequently gather near clinics are made to seem much more intimidating by the fact that the occurrence of these sorts of acts of violence."

Kate Harding: Where will women go now? Good question. Last I heard the number of women's health care clinics performing late-term abortions across the entire country was three. Patients come to Wichita from all over the country, for lack of any real alternatives. This goes over some of the stories. By the way, the main reason for second- and third-trimester abortions isn't procrastination or indifference. It's a serious health problem that has developed in the course of a desired pregnancy.

Michelle Goldberg: The Compassion of Dr. Tiller. Another good review of Tiller's caseload.

The Progress Report: Right-Wing Hate Rears Its Ugly Head: This is really on Sotomayor, written and bookmarked before right-wing hate got really ugly with the Tiller murder. But it's all of a piece, as unhinged and deadly as possible.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Tiller

Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in his church in Wichita, KS today. He was a doctor who ran a clinic, Women's Health Care Services, that has repeatedly been targeted by Randall Terry's Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion rights activists ever since 1991. Many of those activists attempted to harrass and intimidate patients and personnel of the clinic. Some of those activists resorted to more extreme acts of violence, as in 1993 when one shot Tiller, or when someone bombed Tiller's clinic, or more recently when the clinic's room was chopped open and flooded. One activist, a demagogue named Phill Kline, was elected Attorney General of Kansas, and spent his term using his office to harrass and prosecute Tiller. This eventually resulted in a ridiculous case where Tiller was charged with multiple misdemeanors in violation of a recent Kansas law meant to complicate the lives of abortion providers. (Tiller was quickly acquitted on all charges.)

Laura was asked to write a brief statement for the director of the Wichita Peace Center to deliver at a vigil for Tiller tonight. She wrote:

The peace center mourns the loss of Dr. Tiller, a brave man who stood up for women when others lacked the courage and decency to do so. His support for women in the most dire circumstances will never be forgotten. Heroes like Dr. Tiller are few and far between and we are devastated at his loss.

I didn't really disagree with any of this, but felt that the Peace Center -- which has steadfastly refused to take any position on the abortion rights issue -- would be better served by taking a different tack. I wrote:

The Peace Center mourns the assassination of Dr. George Tiller. As people who have dedicated our lives to resolving social and political problems without resort to violence or intimidation, we condemn anyone who, for any reason or political persuasion, no matter how fervently held, would take the law into their own hands to harm, much less kill, someone who disagrees with them. As much as we are devastated by the loss of Dr. Tiller, we are fearful for a country where elected politicians calmly order and delight in the execution of their enemies. Ever since 1991 ad hoc groups, including former Attorney General Phill Kline, have sought to vilify and harrass Dr. Tiller, proclaiming him their enemy, characterizing him as a murderer. Even those not responsible for pulling the trigger should reflect tonight on their incivility and how much their hatred has contributed to this tragic crime.

This covers about one-quarter of what I actually have to say on the subject. The first thing is that I don't consider abortion rights to be an issue on which there can be any fundamental debate. One side favors reason, personal rights and freedom, the public interest, mutual respect, and civility. The other is stuck in a mire of unreason, emotion, phobia, ignorance, intemperance, and fanaticism. Most political issues represent different interests, which can therefore be compromised. This one does not. Those who oppose abortion rights aren't asserting their own rights; they are claiming rights for a hypothetical group, the unborn, which they have taken such an emotional bond to that they consider abortion to be murder. Once they've made that conceptual leap, compromise becomes unthinkable. They may offer modest-sounding legal proposals, but they will never stop until they have put an end to the murder.

Those who argue that abortion should be prohibited both oppress the most fundamental of personal rights and undermine the broader interests of society. Civilization is based on our ability to understand our environment and manage our lives. The decision whether or not to have a child is one of the most essential and far reaching a woman can make. Decisions depend on choice, and that choice depends on the option to abort an undesired pregnancy. Take that choice away and you deny women the most basic control over their lives. That's as plain and simple an attack on freedom as there is. It's especially an attack on privacy, both because the decision is a personal one and because it has little or no effect on anyone else.

Prohibiting abortion also hurts society because the decisions it spoils keep women from making responsible choices. We depend on parents to guide and provide for their children. That's a tall order, and not one that anyone should enter into lightly. Before someone has a child, we want that person to consciously agree to all that parenthood requires. That act of responsibility is only possible if it's based on a free choice, and that in turn means that there must be an alternative -- which is what the option to abort provides. In this regard, we should not only permit abortion; we should make clear that it is an option, and that deciding not to take it commits one to responsible parenthood.

The fact that there is any debate on abortion rights at all depends on not understanding or caring about these basic points. The social aspect is mostly a matter of ignorance, although it is logically odd that the same conservativism that harps most on the need for individual responsibility should seek to deny women such a basic choice. (One could make the same point about freedom, but conservatives are so hypocritical about freedom it hardly seems worth the trouble.) The personal aspect is more a matter of malice: it says women don't deserve the right to control their own lives.

But then nobody argues rationally against abortion rights. The opponents appeal to emotion, ranging from maternal instinct to fear and disgust with sex and the sense that religious faith and order are decaying, but what gives them traction is their insistence that abortion is baby killing. Once you get people to believe that all reason goes out the window. In that light Tiller is transformed from a doctor who helps his patients get control of their lives to a mass murderer. Once people believe that compromise becomes inconceivable: anything short of jail lets doctors continue the killing, and when the government is unable or unwilling to put a halt to it, some self-righteous martyr is bound to emerge from the crowd and settle things.

The inexorability of this logic is why I think the leaders of the anti-abortion juggernaut should be held responsible for the crime of murdering Tiller. It's hard to write off the repeated threats and acts of violence against Tiller as the work of random miscreants: too many people have gone down that road. This adds up not just because the movement identifies abortion as murder, but because the goal of the movement is to strip people (mostly women) of their rights, and to use force (preferably the force of the state) to do it. Moreover, anti-abortion politics usually is tightly clustered with other agendas which glorify violence, such as support for wars abroad and for capital punishment here. It may seem odd that a movement that calls itself "pro-life" is so rife with violent instincts -- and there are no doubt honest exceptions to this rule -- but the fact is true.

It's worth noting that the Republicans weren't always bound to the anti-abortion movement. Into the 1970s, abortion was often seen as a way to limit the numbers of poor people who would be welfare burdens and in many cases resort to crime. At the time, it was more likely the left who opposed, seeing abortion as a threat to their political base (especially in the third world). The rich could very easily have kept that position, recognizing that finite resources would be unable to support or appease an ever-growing multitude of poor and desperate people. Instead, they figured out a political angle: if Republicans could pick up a sizable chunk of white catholics and baptists they could climb to a majority party, and if all that cost was a plank against abortion and a few sops to racism, patriotism, and religiosity, there was a lot of money to be gained. Besides, as Thomas Frank emphasized in What's the Matter With Kansas?, it's not like they actually had to give up abortion rights, at least not for well-heeled Republicans. So the Republicans put this cluster of political beliefs together and bankrolled it, and the anti-abortion leaders went crazy with it. Now they are stuck with a base of fanatics who seek to destroy much of what we know as civilization.


Various anti-abortion groups issued the usual denunciations and denials in response to the killing of Tiller, although Randall Terry's response included, "George Tiller was a mass murderer. . . . Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder. Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God." Terry was the leader of Operation Rescue, which originally targeted Tiller's clinic. If any anti-abortion groups are sincere about their regrets, they should make amends by backing away from describing abortion as murder. That simple claim is pure hate speech. I don't favor passing laws to prohibit hate speech, but I do believe we should be vigilant when it occurs. The claim that abortion is murder implies that doctors who perform abortions are murderers, and that women to seek abortions are responsible for murder, and that politicians and citizens who support abortion rights aid and abet murder; it attempts to conflate multiple abortions into genocide. Such rhetoric inevitably encourages believers to commit violence.

The history of the anti-abortion movement is rife with violent acts. As Gloria Feldt writes: "The murders were only the tip of the iceberg, among over 6000 cases of violence, vandalism, stalking, bombings, arson, invasions and other serious harassment." I would go on to include everyday harrassment and cultural innuendo that is meant to make women feel guilty about considering abortion and to make doctors and clinicians shy away from the subject. It is, for instance, virtually impossible to find a TV show or movie that doesn't sheepishly skit around the issue. There are various laws to make abortion more difficult and more shameful -- the latest one being pushed in Kansas would require that women look at ultrasound images of the fetus before an abortion can be performed. There are billboards and advertisements hectoring the subject, often pushing adoption as an alternative -- evidently there's a sizable market for babies that would otherwise have been aborted. (Combined with the anti-abortion movement's opposition to contraception, this whole aspect reeks of human trafficking.)

Of course, the everyday harrassment just sets people's nerves on end for the real acts of terrorism that have murdered doctors and clinic workers, damaged and destroyed clinics, and served as threats to scare women's health care providers away from even offering an option that is the legal right of all women everywhere in America. The effect of this terrorism isn't just to kill and maim people and destroy property. The real effect is to deny women their rights by intimidating anyone who might normally offer abortion services. The everyday harrassment of health care businesses has driven abortion services from hospitals and general purpose clinics to specialty clinics, much more convenient for the groups and the occsaional fanatic to target. The whole state of Mississippi, for instance, has no abortion services available, despite the fact that abortion is legal. Late term abortions have been so harrassed that there is no more than a handful of clinics in the entire nation willing to consider them -- Tiller's clinic is one of them, a major reason why anti-abortionist groups have attacked Tiller so vehemently (and repeatedly so violently). The assassination of George Tiller isn't personal, limited in scope to him and his clinic. It serves notice to everyone providing even remotely similar services.


There are so many important issues in politics these days that the last thing in the world I want to get into is abortion rights. On the one hand, it is, as I said above, a clearcut issue, not something where there is any fundamental grounds for disagreement. On the other hand, it isn't something that anyone feels any real attachment to. It is something that only rarely comes into play, as a last resort when contraception didn't suffice. One consequence is that you have to be able to think ahead to recognize that there is a need to make sure abortion is an available option. Opponents, however, can obsess freely on the matter. The result is that they are much louder and much more fervent and strident than those who support abortion rights can ever be. They make up in volume what they lack in numbers, making them appear more formidable than they should be in a democracy.

The problem is that democracy in America is lazy. Most people have little or no understanding of more than a tiny handful of issues that most directly affect them. Many figure nothing they can do will have any effect anyway, so they just drop out. In this framework, a well supported fringe position can fool the majority -- the decision to start the 2003 war in Iraq remains a good example, as do the various anti-missile systems which going back to Nixon have never made a lick of sense. Lots of political scams get worked out in closed meeting rooms in DC and never get a public airing at all. Abortion opponents have had some success in prying the levers of power but they haven't gotten very far, mostly because they've remained a small but vocal minority. Typical in this regard is South Dakota, where opponents have gotten measures to outlaw abortion through the state legislature only to be voted down in referendums.

Still, the abortion issue has had a chilling and debilitating effect on public discourse. It's hard to count all the ways that this has happened. You can start with the ultimate reductio ad Madison Avenue: pro-life vs. free choice. The latter at least has something to do with the issue, even if it trivializes it, while the former doesn't even make sense. (I mean, slime mold is life; is that what you're advocating? Reverse those categories and the same holds: "no choice" remains accurate albeit schematic, while "anti-life" is just as nonsensical.) But the larger problem is how the opponents approach political issues. They depend on emotion. They eschew reason. They pump up the volume. They invoke religion, and deprecate the religion of others, vilifying those they oppose. They show no respect for individual rights and they have no concept of how what they want affects public interests. They broker no compromises. They harbor absolutist and totalitarian ideals, even when they cloak them in modest proposals. Their goal is to destroy their enemies, and why not, since they are convinced that their enemies are evil. They fight this issue on all levels, using all sorts of methods -- including civil disobedience and acts of terrorism.

Every aspect of this undermines fair and rational political discourse -- not surprising given that there is no rational basis for prohibiting abortion. So they run with religion, and a major impact of the abortion issue has been the extent to which small sects of politically conservative Christians have tried to impose their religious beliefs on others. They get away with this partly because the religious are able to intimidate the indifferent in American politics -- you see this every election when presidential candidates are scrambling to establish their religious bona fides, even though a great many voters could care less. But also because Americans seem to have a reflex that is willing to criminalize anything that they find disagreeable. This seems odd in a nation that prides itself on freedom and diversity, but through much of that history freedom and diversity were rarely tested by people who seemed to yearn for a middle-of-the-road conformism. The 1960s are often best remembered for repeated shocks to accepted American norms -- the civil rights movement, sexual liberation, widespread dissent against the American empire. The right's response to those shocks has been hysterical and often vicious, a retreat from reality that invokes an imagined past to support a fantastical future. The right has been far more successful politically than it has socially, mostly because politics is seen by so many as irrelevant to their lives. Meanwhile, the social forces that produced those shocks in the 1960s have continued unabated, in many cases becoming so firmly embedded in our society and culture we never give them a second thought.


While conservatives still rant about the 1960s, the feature of the decade that remains most terrifying was the resort to violence. The assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King are still remembered almost canonically, but there were more, especially directed against the civil rights movement. Long before a tiny fraction of the antiwar movement splitt off to "go underground" the state had harrassed and abused dissenters, both through the courts and more haphazardly. But the key point here is that settling political scores with violence is almost exclusively the province of the right. Nor was this just the occasional crazies who responded to the hate messengers of the day. The 1960s was in fact the heyday of the CIA's assassination policy, with Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republi), and Ngo Dinh Diem (Vietnam) among its victims, Fidel Castro (Cuba) notoriously the one who got away, and Salvador Allende (Chile) one more in the early 1970s as Nixon struggled to keep the worst of the 1960s going.

In response to Watergate, Congress took the CIA out of the assassination business, which more or less held until Bush "took the shackles off" after 9/11. Since then politicians of both parties have been beside themselves with enthusiasm for going out and killing whoever crosses us. While assassination was off the table as national policy domestic terrorism also decreased: the main blip was in the early 1990s, when right-wing hate radio was taking off with its savage attacks on Clinton. It was then that half a dozen abortion providers were gunned down, a spree capped by the Oklahoma City bombing. That the violence lulled may be simply because the right-wing came to power in Congress in 1995 and took over the White House in 2001. Terrorism is usually a policy of weak and desperate fanatics, and from 1995 to 2009 the right was anything but weak. With the Democrats congressional victory in 2006 and Obama's election in 2008, that power equation is changing.

One thing that is clear is that the right hasn't taken defeat in stride. The hate radio jocks are as vicious as ever. Rank and file Republicans have turned into hardcore obstructionists, and their pundits are as disingenuous as ever. It isn't clear yet how many of the people who, in Jim Geraghty's memorable phrase, were "voting to kill" under Bush will decide to, now that their votes are no longer effective, take matters into their own hands, but the assassination of Tiller puts the first mark on the scorecard. It seems likely that there will be more, if only because the right's romance with violence and loathing of other people is so intense.

If so, the assassination of Dr. Tiller will be one of those historical events that punctuate our lives, like the assassinations of King and the Kennedys, and the attacks on 9/11. The chances of this killing turning into a spree would go down significantly if conservatives were sincere in stopping it. To do so they'd have to go beyond the usual denials, and beyond the disciplining of their firebrands. They'd have to admit that their goals, demands, and beliefs are negotiable. They'd have to start respecting those who disagree with them. They'd have to stop characterizing abortion as murder. And they'd have to back down from their conviction that force is a good way to settle disputes. This seems unlikely because it would mean backing down from their deepest beliefs. But as we've seen repeatedly, bad ideas beget bad policies, something that has been proven time and again as right-wing regimes from the aristocracies of the 18th century to George W. Bush have fell in ruins.

Obama could help as well by backing away from his current policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan where he seeks to slay the big Al Qaeda fish that got away from Bush while producing all sorts of collateral damage. Doing so endorses the right's conviction that we can solve our problems by going out and killing out enemies. That is a message that will, as it did in the 1960s, eat away at the very foundation of our democracy and our society, which is our ability to live in peace with people we disagree with. Take that away and the whole nation collapses into chaos.


One last thing. For years of living here in Wichita, I've been bombarded by news about Tiller, invariably repeating his role as a late-term abortionist, along with a steady set of innuendo meant to undermine the man -- one common thing is to try to shame any politician unfortunate enough to receive a contribution from him. Something new has happened since his death: people who worked with him, his friends and colleagues, and his patients have come out to give us a fuller picture of the man, especially his dedication to his patients. It's worth reflecting that this never was just a political issue. It was also a matter of personal service and professional dedication. It's clear now that Tiller warmly touched the lives of many people close to him, even as strangers who never knew or understood him stewed in their rage.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15415 [15387] rated (+28), 745 [763] unrated (-18). Jazz CG came out this week, which always gives me a little positive lift. Otherwise, still slogging through pretty much everything.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #20, Part 6)

Jazz Consumer Guide in the Village Voice this past week, so that is done and now we're clear to work on wrapping up another. When the last one wrapped up, I had two baskets jammed full of things I hadn't listened to. They're about one-third empty now. The replay queue is pretty thin. Next column's draft is pretty thick, and the shelf with things I've graded and still mean to write about is rather heavy. One thing I didn't do in April was put any effort into Recycled Goods. We're still planning on getting that going again, but it hasn't happened yet. Kitchen is almost done. Hope to wrap it up this week -- worst case, next week, which come to think of it is more likely given how badly I screwed up my slide-out cabinets, and that I've yet to find someone willing to do the stainless steel.


Freddie Hubbard: Without a Song: Live in Europe 1969 (1969 [2009], Blue Note): Few jazz men made a bigger splash when they first broke in than Hubbard. From 1960 through 1965 he seemed to be everywhere, straddling hard bop and the avant-garde, filling in Miles Davis slots and adding a little extra splash, dropping a series of good-to-very-good records under his own name. He made his mark with chops and flexibility, and declined rather quickly after that, first losing opportunities, then losing his touch. In 1969 he was still a force, with a couple of good fusion-oriented albums still ahead of him -- Red Clay and Straight Life in 1970. He died in 2008 after a belated and unspectacular comeback shot, pushed largely by David Weiss, who helped assemble this set from three concerts in England and Germany. Seems fairly typical of his repertoire, but his "A Night in Tunisia" doesn't eclipse Gillespie's, and the other standards are unexceptional. But he does break through with expansive solos on the two originals at the end, "Space Talk" and "Hub-Tones." And Roland Hanna's fans will find his fills of interest. B+(**)

Ken Vandermark: Collected Fiction (2008, Okka Disk, 2CD): Two days, four sets, of bass-reeds duets, spread out on two discs, or volumes, one for the day sessions, the other for the night. Package doesn't specify what Vandermark plays: tenor sax and bass clarinet, for sure; probably clarinet, maybe baritone sax. The day bassists are Kent Kessler and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. Kessler, who plays in the Vandermark 5 and has appeared in several other groups -- notably the DKV Trio -- is the most rigorously avant of the four bassists. (One clue is that he's the only one with a full album of solo bass.) He tends to get out front and let Vandermark chase him. The others are more supportive and complementary. Håker Flaten comes from The Thing, and plays in Vandermark's School Days and Free Fall groups. McBride goes back to Boston days, playing in Spaceways Inc., FME, and Tripleplay. De Joode plays the the Ab Baars trio, which has a recent album and tour with Vandermark. Some differences in style between the three, but the day/night concept overpowers them: Håker Flaten's session, like Kessler's, is upbeat and aggressive; McBride slows down to a nice comfort zone, and De Joode gives us the closest thing we're likely to have to a Ken Vandermark Quiet Storm record. All improvs, titles inspired by minimalist sculptor Richard Serra. Somewhat comforting that the takes are numbered and many are high enough in the chain to show they didn't just shovel everything onto the disc. A-

Ken Vandermark/Pandelis Karayorgis: Foreground Music (2006 [2007], Okka Disk): A rare Vandermark plus piano album, a duo, writing credit count split evenly -- off the top of my head, the only others I can think of are the Free Fall and Atomic records with Håvard Wiik, occasional encounters with Jim Baker, and No Such Thing, a trio with Karayorgis and missing link Nate McBride. Karayorgis and McBride have a piano trio called Mi3 that scored a pick hit here for Free Advice. Karayorgis is a free player who can hang onto a beat long enough to gig in rock clubs. Still, without McBride (and Curt Newton) providing that pulse, he seems a little lost here, poking and jabbing, trying to provoke Vandermark, who's actually most eloquent when the pianist lays out. Not as in-your-face as the title, or the credit line, or the label, implies. B+(**)

Atomic/School Days: Distil (2006 [2008], Okka Disk, 2CD): School Days is a Ken Vandermark, named for the Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd album, with trombonist Jeb Bishop and a Norwegian rhythm pair who show up together in various groups, including Atomic and The Thing: bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. Atomic features Magnus Broo on trumpet, Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor sax and clarinet, Håvard Wiik on piano, and Kjell Nordeson on vibes. When they tour Chicago, all they have to do is add Vandermark and Bishop to get this mash-up. They've done this before, producing 2004's Nuclear Assembly Hall. Played this twice, and it sounds like a party -- a lot of fun at the time, but nothing you're going to remember all that clearly afterwards. Bishop's trombone adds some muscle and depth to Broo's trumpet, as does Vandermark's baritone to Ljundkvist's tenor sax. And it doesn't hurt when one or both of the reed players switch to clarinet, or when Nordeson's vibes add a splash of tinkle. B+(**)

Paul Lytton/Ken Vandermark: English Suites (1999 [2000], Wobbly Rail, 2CD): Some back story: before I started writing Jazz Consumer Guide I wrote the first piece The Village Voice published on Ken Vandermark. Shortly before that I wrote a huge William Parker-Matthew Shipp Consumer Guide, based on a windfall of records I got while working on the Shipp entry in The Rolling Stone Album Guide. I thought it would be cool to do the same thing for Vandermark, and he was kind enough to send me a huge pile of missing records. I started working on it, then was asked to do Jazz CG, and never found the time to finish. I always meant to get back to them. Now that I'm in the sweet spot of Jazz Prospecting -- column out this week, no pressure to wrap up the next -- I can't think of a better time to dust off some of the old things I never got to. This one is two disc-long improvs with Lytton on drums, percusson, and live electronics. The first was cut in Chicago on Jan. 11, and the second in Belgium on Nov. 20, 1999. Lytton is probably best known for his work with Evan Parker and/or Barry Guy, but he's one of the four or five major drummers of the European avant-garde, at least from the mid-1970s through the 1990s. I don't get much out of Vandermark here: a range of effects, including an amusing try at circular breathing. Maybe this early on he was still in awe of Lytton, who puts on a dazzling show from gate to finish line. B+(*)

Ken Vandermark: Two Days in December (2001 [2002], Wobbly Rail, 2CD): Two days in Stockholm, although they took a day off between them. Four sets of duets, roughly half a side each, with four names that share the front cover and spine in the same size type as Vandermark. The four are: Raymond Strid (drums), Sten Sandell (piano), David Stackenas (guitar), and Kjell Nordeson (vibes). By this point Vandermark had several albums teamed up with the Aaly Trio, which is to say Mats Gustafsson, and that provides the invites to members of various Gustafsson groups -- Strid and Sandell from Gush, Stackenas from Pipeline, Nordeson from Aaly. Strid opens up aggressively, threatening to provoke a squawkfest, but his section soon slows down into the abstract, giving Vandermark a chance to stretch out. The closing set with Nordeson is similar but even more scattered. The other two sets are more interesting. Sandell takes charge quickly and rarely lets up. Stackenas is more oblique, with a scrawny metallic twang that never quite winds up where you expect it. One of the more consistently inventive Vandermark duo sets. B+(***)

Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride/Ken Vandermark: No Such Thing (1999 [2001], Boxholder): This is the earlier trio I referred to in the Vandermark/Karayorgis Foreground Music note. Both ends of this trio can be combustible, which is hinted at early on, but the music calms down -- the closer, a Vandermark dedication to Jimmy Giuffre, is quite lovely. B+(**)

Joe Morris w/DKV Trio: Deep Telling (1998 [1999], Okka Disk): DKV Trio is Hamid Drake (drums), Kent Kessler (bass), and Ken Vandermark (tenor sax). They released four albums from 1997 to 2002, plus three albums backing up and/or collaborating with others: Aaly Trio, Fred Anderson, and Morris, a guitarist from Boston. This breaks down into subgroups for 5 of 8 cuts: two Kessler-Morris duos, three trios omitting a D, K, or V. The opener finds Vandermark parodying Morris's guitar style, rather tedious, which may help the next two Vandermark-less cuts sound more refreshing. Morris plays long lines with a sort of staccato rhythm for a somewhat indeterminate groove -- works nicely here when he gets to lead. Vandermark's return is more auspicious, and the 18:35 "Telling" suite finally gets all of the pieces moving in synch. B+(**)

DKV Trio: Baraka (1997, Okka Disk): This is the first Hamid Drake-Kent Kessler-Ken Vandermark trio record. Tough, talented group; all pieces jointly credited; fitting that Drake gets the first initial. Still, the long (35:58) title piece has some disorienting dead spots -- sure, I could turn it up -- and the fast-riffing avant runs don't much exceed their stock in trade. B+(*)

Steam: Real Time (1996 [2000], Atavistic): Just when I feel like I'm tiring, at least of the avant screech and untethered rhythm, this picks me up. Sole album by a short-lived Vandermark group, with Jim Baker on piano, Kent Kessler on bass, and Tim Mulvenna on drums. Liner note writer Jon Corbett argues that it's in and of the tradition, which is neither here nor there. It is more song-structured, with Baker contributing three richly imagined pieces, and Vandermark six (dedications to Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Lyons, Terri Kapsalis, Herbie Nichols, Booker Ervin, and Peter Greenaway). Vandermark is credited with reeds -- some bits even sound like soprano sax, as well as the more usual clarinet and tenor sax. A wide range of feels and looks here, including a reminder that Vandermark was once big on R&B. Baker plays well, and I even dug the bass-drums duet. Originally released on Eighth Day in 1997; reissued in 2000. A-

FJF: Blow Horn (1995 [1997], Okka Disk): Acronym stands for Free Jazz Four. Horn should be plural, with Mats Gustafsson squaring off against Ken Vandermark. The bassist is Kent Kessler; the drummer Steve Hunt. This was cut 2-3 years after Vandermark moved to Chicago, so it's pretty early, but he already had a couple of albums I can recommend -- Utility Hitter and Steelwool Trio's International Front. This was also the first of many crash-ups with Gustafsson. I normally don't care much for avant screech, unless it's funny or invigorating or something like that, which this sort of is. After the initial rutting even a drum solo is relief, but then it also ranges a bit, the single horn sections impressive, especially a baritone riff in "Structure a la Malle." B+(*)

Few more Vandermark items I could do, but the pile is down to things like NRG Ensemble's Bejazzo Gets a Facelift now -- more of a Mars Williams record anyway -- and a few related things, like Kent Kessler's Bull Fiddle and Jeb Bishop's 98 Duets. Might as well move back to the present, especially since I have a pile of new records with Mats Gustafsson and Peter Brötzmann.

The Thing: Bag It! (2009, Smalltown Superjazz): Mats Gustafsson's power trio, with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Gustafsson is a very noisy saxophonist, favoring the baritone most likely for its ugliness, but much faster on tenor or alto. (He's credited here with alto, baritone, and slide sax, but photographed playing tenor.) Best thing this group does is to take a rock song and pound it hard. This starts off with two that qualify: one from The Ex, another from Nude Honeys. Then they lurch into Gustafsson's title thing, which isn't a song at all. In two covers at the end, Ellington gets uppity, and Ayler turns into solemn prayer, channelled through live electronic fuzz. B+(**) [advance]

Offonoff: Slap and Tickle (2007 [2009], Smalltown Superjazz): Another permutation on the Ex-Zu axis, with Ex guitarist Terrie Ex and Zu bassist Massimo Zu (here dba Massimo Pupillo) joining forces, label house drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (Atomic, School Days, The Thing, etc.) refereeing, or just stirring up trouble. Two pieces, more "Slap" (32:39) than "Tickle" (16:20), but plenty of both. Thrashes at first, but they get tired of that not long after you do, at which point the moves take on a bit more interest. Not a lot of contrast between bass and guitar, so it's rather narrow. Terrific drummer. B+(*)

Original Silence: The Second Original Silence (2006 [2008], Smalltown Superjazz): There's also an album called The First Original Silence, which I didn't get, but is presumably much the same. This gets classified as improvised rock because Sonic Youth is a rock band and that's where Thurston Moore and Jim O'Rourke hail from. That's also more/less what Terrie Ex (of The Ex) and Massimo Pupillo (of Zu) do. The Ex, for those not in the know, has a long history with most of their stuff roughly paralleling the Mekons, although guitarist Terrie Ex occasionally shows up in jazz contexts, like his duets with Ab Baars. Zu is more consistently on the jazz edge -- no doubt best known (to the extent they are known at all) for their mashups with Ken Vandermark (Spaceways Inc.'s Radiale) and Mats Gustafsson (How to Raise an Ox). Gustafsson is here too, along with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love -- two thirds of The Thing. Sonic Youth has a long line of big commercial records and a smattering of obscure spinoffs there Moore, in particular, indulges his guitar noise fetish. So what we have here is the intersection of four circles -- coincidentally four nations -- pursuing a common goal: not sure what it is, but I wouldn't exclude making you squirm. I don't have a lot of tolerance for just cranking up the amps and letting them choke on feedback, so parts of this do make me squirm, but when they can control themselves they produce a powerful post-Velvets crunch, with Gustafsson's sax a fair analogue to Cale's viola. Good drummer, too. B+(**) [advance]

Joe McPhee/Peter Brötzmann/Kent Kessler/Michael Zerang: Guts (2005 [2007], Okka Disk): Not as gory as it looks, not that anyone who doesn't already know and admire Brötzmann or (more critically) McPhee should bother. For those who don't, Brötzmann is the original lion of the European avant-garde, taking all of the fire and fury of Ayler and late Coltrane and stripping them of blues and bop and gospel context. He's mellowed a bit with age, especially when he switches to tarogato or clarinet, which doesn't mean he can't still peel paint. McPhee has worked in deliberate obscurity as long -- he's actually two years older, is first record in 1968 vs. 1967 for Brötzmann -- so selfless he's the patron saint of the American avant-garde. He's also damn near the only major musician who has credibly played both trumpet and sax (alto and tenor) over a long haul. I count 6 A-list records in my database, ranging from 1969's Underground Railroad to last fall's Tomorrow Came Today. Two pieces here, the 17:41 title thing and a 41:16 jam called "Rising Spirits." Kessler and Zerang set up one of those roiling semi-rhythms that provides a strong springboard for the horns. McPhee starts on trumpet, a nice contrast to the sax, then rotates around. Lots of choppy little invention, with a few inevitable rough edges. B+(***)

Peter Brötzmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm: The Brain of the Dog in Section (2007 [2009], Atavistic): Lonberg-Holm plays cello and dabbles in electronics. Based in Chicago, he's best known as a late addition to the Vandermark 5. He provides the glue that holds Brötzmann's reed instruments from going off the deep end. Three pieces have no titles -- just timings. Offhand, this seems longer than the 37:53 they add up to, but the noise level causes a lot of wear and tear. Still, I find that I enjoy it. Not that I can imagine ever playing it for a guest. B+(*)

Peter Brötzmann/Marino Pliakas/Michael Wertmüller: Full Blast/Black Hole (2008 [2009], Atavistic): Could parse artist/title differently, but this seems like the most useful way. Pliakas plays electric bass; Wertmüller drums. Haven't run across either of them, but the point is the reed player, who lists B-flat clarinet and tarogato ahead of alto/tenor sax this time, not that it makes much difference. When he's not just screeching -- mostly limited to the opener, maybe just to prove he still can -- he can come up with remarkably clever sequences. B+(***)

Peter Brötzmann/Toshinori Kondo/Massimo Pupillo/Paal Nilssen-Love: Hairy Bones (2008 [2009], Okka Disk): The musical chairs continues. Kondo goes back a long ways with Brötzmann, especially in a quartet named for its first album, Die Like a Dog. (Dogs don't seem to fare very well with Brötzmann.) Kondo plays electric trumpet here: has an oddly processed sound, like a toy with a lot of squelched decay. An early segment matches most likely against Brötzmann's tarogato for unworldly post-exotica. Pupillo and Nilssen-Love hold their rhythm close, neither free nor regular; more like a source of energy that holds the horns in tight orbits rather than letting them fly off. The horns twist themselves into tight wads of sound, achieving an intensity that doesn't depend on volume. Not that they can't bring the noise when they want to. A-

Lajos Dudas: Jazz on Stage (2006-07 [2008], Jazz Stick): Clarinet, b. 1941 in Budapest, Hungary, based in Germany, has a dozen or so albums since 1982. This is drawn from three live shots: a duo with guitarist Philipp van Endert; a trio with van Endert and percussionist Jochen Büttner; a quartet with van Endert, bassist Martin Gjakonovski, and drummer Kurt Billker. Never ran across Van Endert before, but he has at least five albums since 1996. Plays in a nice lyrical postbop style, which works very nicely as support here and for solo spacing between the clarinet leads. The Büttner trios are a bit dramatic, but the duos show a delicate sensibility, and the quartets pick up the pace. B+(***)

Jerry Granelli V16: Vancouver '08 (2008 [2009], Songlines, CD+DVD): Drummer led quartet with two electric guitars (David Tronzo, using a slide, and Christian Kögel) and electric bass (brother J. Anthony Granelli), the name meant to imply power, but the music this time is pretty slippery, with few hints of fusion. This works very nicely in the straightforward "Steel Eyed Blues" but mostly it just soaks into the woodwork. Didn't check out the "bonus" DVD. B

Mark Taylor: Spectre (2008 [2009], Origin): Plays alto and soprano sax. From Washington state; studied at University of Washington, then Manhattan School of Music, before returning to Seattle. Shows up on more than a dozen Origin records; this is the second under his name. Evidently not the same Mark Taylor of the Taylor/Fidyk Big Band, which has a record on Origin's sibling (farm team?) label OA2. Quartet with Gary Fukushima on piano/Fender Rhodes, Jeff Johnson on bass, Byron Vannoy on drums. Has a sweet tone on alto, and plays well-rounded postbop. B+(*)

Mélanie Dahan: La Princesse et les Croque-Notes (2007 [2009], Sunnyside): French singer. Not much bio other than vague stuff: started singing at 11 as the youngest of a troupe called Les Gavroches; inspired by Natalie Cole's Unforgettable and Ella in Berlin to take up jazz c. 2001; hooked up with pianist Giovanni Mirabassi in 2006. First album, a tribute to lyricist Bernard Dimey fluffed up with other French chanson. Don't know this stuff well enough to catch the transformation from pop to jazz that reviewers talk about, but I did catch a little scat, and two tracks have alto sax. Evidently a bestseller in France. B+(*)

Frank Potenza Trio: Old, New, Borrowed, & Blue (2008 [2009], Capri): Guitarist-led organ trio, with Joe Bagg on organ, Steve Barnes on drums, and Holly Hoffman joining in here and there as "special guest" on flute and alto flute. Potenza was b. 1950, studied at Berklee, has eight albums since 1986. Also sings a little. This is about as lightweight as jazz gets -- pop songs like "Ode to Billie Joe" and "You've Got a Friend"; clean guitar lines over just enough organ to carry the tune; the vocals and even the flute solos are instantly forgettable -- I noted two and one, which must be a short count, but reinforces my point. Still, it's awfully damn pleasant, which is something. B+(*)


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

Vassilis Tsabropoulos/Anja Lechner/U.T. Gandhi: Melos (2007 [2008], ECM): Let's start with Lechner here. She plays cello, the loudest and least mobile instrument here, which makes her the sonic center, with Tsabropoulos's piano and Gandhi's percussion revolving around her. Haven't found much on Lechner -- basic things like where she comes from [Germany?]. Has the usual classical training -- does any cellist not? Has four albums under her own name, each with "Tango" in the title. This is her third appearance on an ECM album, following Ojos Negros with Dino Saluzzi and Her First Dance with Misha Alperin. I found the bandoneon-cello duets rather thick, liked Alperin somewhat more, but this is the first one that I've heard that really seems to work. Some of the songs come from G.I. Gurdjieff, a name I recall from the philosophy section of bookstores but never paid any attention to. Most are by Tsabropoulos, a Greek pianist on his third ECM album -- from Athens, also classically trained, with a stretch at Juilliard. Gandhi, by the way, was born in Italy -- the U.T. intials stand for Umberto Trombetta. B+(***)

Chuck Bernstein: Delta Berimbau Blues (2007-08 [2008], CMB): Minimalist gutbucket blues, played on berimbau, a Brazilian diddley bow -- one string, plucked or bowed, with a sphere at the bottom for resonance and/or percussion. Other musicians show up now and then, and two cuts have vocals. The choice cut is the one Roswell Rudd plays on. B+(***)

Ran Blake: Driftwoods (2008 [2009], Tompkins Square): Solo piano, a set of covers picked through so sparely and meticulously that the only one I recognized was the impossible to miss "You Are My Sunshine." He plays it off center, slow and somewhat arch, very tasty. Wish I could focus equally on the others. He's always been an enigma to me, and remains so. B+(***)

The Blue Note 7: Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records (2008 [2009], Blue Note): Bill Charlap's trio augmented with three name horn players -- Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Steve Wilson (alto sax, flute), and Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax) -- plus Peter Bernstein on guitar, work through songs from Blue Note's heyday. Five members plus Renee Rosnes contribute arrangements, but no one seems to have a handle on how to play the horns off, maybe because the original records never used groups like this, or because the Charlap trio and the horns inhabit different universes. Bernstein came up with the only solo I took note of, probably on the song he arranged. B


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Josh Berman: Old Idea (Delmark)
  • Nicola Conte: Rituals (Decca)
  • Andrew Green: Narrow Margin (Microphonic)
  • Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Strings: Renegades (Delmark)
  • Paul Myers: World on a String (Miles High): June 16
  • Harry Skoler: Two Ones (Soliloquy)

Purchases:

  • Bob Dylan: Together Through Life (Columbia)
  • Lady Sovereign: Jigsaw (Midget)
  • Staff Benda Bilili: Très Très Fort (Crammed Disc)
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It's Blitz! (Interscope/DGC/Dress Up)
  • Neil Young: Fork in the Road (Reprise)


May 2009 Jul 2009