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Monday, November 30, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 16109 [16086] rated (+23), 756 [754] unrated (+2). Thanksgiving week, slower than most, not as slow as I expected. Steve, Josi, Mike, and Kirsten came around Monday and left Friday-Saturday. Tuesday we went to dinner at Stroud's. Wednesday we drove to Independence to see Aunt Freda, Ken and Becky. Thursday Matt cooked: lots of turkey and ham, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, green beans, jello salads, a couple of pies. I added a spice cake. Friday I cooked a quick dinner: chicken and dumplings, green beans, baked beans, panzanella, chocolate cake. (Couldn't find Mom's recipe, so I pulled one out of a cookbook: deep chocolate cake, it was called, and adapted vanilla frosting with some maple and black walnut flavor.) Mike had converted and edited a bunch of Dad's old 8mm movies, dating from 1956, less frequent in the 1960s, ending with a shot of Mike getting his first bicycle c. 1973. Total came to 2.5 hours. I doubt that that's all of them. Mike wanted to interview each of us as we watched an edited (1 hour) version. He did that three times, keeping Steve, Kathy, and myself separate. Not sure where he's going with that.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #22, Part 5)

Jazz Consumer Guide came out in the middle of last week, while everyone was doing something else -- I took my brother's family and my sister to Independence, KS to see our 94-year-old aunt. So if you missed it, the link is here. I made a pitch last week to dig up some year-end recommendations, but didn't get much response. (Thanks to those who did respond.) My year-end piece is due Dec. 14, at which point I doubt if I know much more than I do now. I did, however, get a few interesting CDs this week, and expect that a few more will wander in. Not sure what to do about labels like Tzadik, Firehouse 12, Not Two, and Playscape, that I can (mostly) follow on Rhapsody but don't have the comfort of listening to except on my computer. Also due around Dec. 14 will be the next Jazz Consumer Guide column. The next two weeks will focus on finishing out this (relatively short) round. Given the holidays, I didn't expect to have much Jazz Prospecting this week, but I do seem to have enough to post.


Billie Holiday: The Complete Commodore & Decca Masters (1939-50 [2009], Hip-O Select/Verve, 3CD): Nothing new here. The 16 cuts Holiday recorded in 1939-44 for Commodore are available since 2000 as The Commodore Master Takes, and the 37 1944-50 Decca cuts appeared as The Complete Decca Recordings back in 1991. Both sets are still in print, and a good deal cheaper than this elegant little "limited edition." This is the middle period Holiday you never hear about: the early-late debate turns on how much you are attracted to her martyrdom, but both periods are consistently backed by great bands -- thanks to John Hammond and Norman Granz, with a strong assist from Teddy Wilson. Milt Gabler tried at Commodore, but results were spotty, while Decca's orchestras -- not to mention the strings and backing choirs -- were anonymous and often schlocky. Still, Holiday's voice is strong and healthy and one-of-a-kind, and she carries almost everything they throw at her. The most historic, of course, is her anti-lynching ballad "Strange Fruit." Among the most fun are a pair of Decca duets with Louis Armstrong. A-

Ella Fitzgerald: Twelve Nights in Hollywood (1961-62 [2009], Hip-O Select/Verve, 4CD): The recently reissued single Ella in Hollywood sums this up nicely, but with Norman Granz recording all of an eleven night stand at Sunset Strip's Crescendo Club, the first three discs here are still cherry picking, with no redundancies except when Ella herself would sing one twice in a row, just because she was into it. She was into nearly everything here: on the last lap of her tour through the songbooks, she had a vast repertoire, and could make more up any time the words stumped her or she just wanted to play with you -- after all, everybody loves "Perdido" even though nobody knows the words. The fourth disc returns a year later, with no guitar and different piano and drums -- changes that make no real difference. The packaging here looks fancy but is awkward, with its slip-cover misidentifying guitarist Herb Ellis, and inflexible sleeves making it hard to get discs in and out. A-

Oscar Peterson: Debut: The Clef/Mercury Duo Recordings 1949-1951 (1949-52 [2009], Verve, 3CD): Last year Mosaic came up with a 7-CD box of The Complete Clef/Mercury Studio Recordings of the Oscar Peterson Trio (1951-1953). Think of this set -- duos with either Ray Brown or Major Holley on bass -- as the other shoe dropping. Peterson had recorded in Canada, but made his US debut after midnight on one of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic shows, recorded and released on a 10-inch LP as Oscar Peterson at Carnegie. The first disc adds three cuts from a return to Carnegie Hall a year later -- according to the book here, which differs from other sources which put both dates close together in 1950. Second disc adds two LPs from early 1950 sessions, Tenderly and Keyboard, the former mostly with Brown, the latter mostly with Holley. The third disc takes another LP, An Evening With Oscar Peterson, more duos with Brown except for a stray 1952 quartet cut, and tacks on six extra cuts -- only one, plus a newly discovered track from Carnegie Hall, previously unreleased. Masterful mainstream piano, closer to swing than to bop, not as tarted up as Tatum, but close, the bass adding harmonic depth to the strong piano leads. B+(***)

Karrin Allyson: By Request: The Best of Karrin Allyson (1993-2007 [2009], Concord): Kansas girl, started out with a clean, wholesome take on songbook standards, and wrote a bit -- her sole original here, "Sweet Home Cookin' Man," fairly stands out. I'm not sure that I like her 1996 "Cherokee," but her scat and Kim Park's slurred alto sax show her trying to do something interesting with the jazz tradition. Same can be said for her efforts to play off Coltrane. On the other hand, her early and recurring interest in Brazilian pop yields little -- she identifies "O Pato" as one of her signature songs, which makes it all the harder to put aside. Sort this chronologically and and it becomes clear that her career has been tailing off. After eleven albums, good time to catch her breath and take stock. B+(*)

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe: Brother's Keeper (2009, Shanachie): Saxophonist, plays them all plus flute, b. 1968, 9th album since 1992. Always liked funk grooves, but started out thinking he might rough them up rather than smooth them over. But he kept edging further into pop jazz, but rather than letting himself be swallowed up he's emerged on the other side as a vocalist, where he has too much grit in his voice to go smooth. Upbeat, positive expressions, doesn't like war. Easy to imagine that "Mighty Rebel" would fit into the Bob Marley songbook, but that just reminds you that Marley would have done it better. As "Just Got Paid" shows, he's never going to sell it all out, but a man's gotta make a living. B+(**)

Jim Rotondi: Blues for Brother Ray (2009, Posi-Tone): Trumpet player, b. 1962, ten or so records since 1997, basically a mainstream player with a lot of spit and polish. Ray Charles tribute, of course: six songs Charles virtually owned (although I still associate "One Mint Julep" with the Clovers), plus Mike LeDonne's "Brother Ray." LeDonne plays organ; Eric Alexander is on tenor sax, Peter Bernstein guitar, Joe Farnsworth drums -- you couldn't ask for a better schooled band. B+(**) [advance]

NYNDK: The Hunting of the Snark (2008 [2009], Jazzheads): Initials for New York, Norway, and DenmarK, represented by NY trombonist Chris Washburne, N saxophonist Ole Mathisen and bassist Per Mathisen, and DK pianist Soren Moller. Third group album, each with a "special guest" drummer, this time Tony Moreno. Starts with three Charles Ives pieces, done up as bent brass chamber jazz. Other similar classical composers poke in and out between the originals: Arne Nordheim, Edvard Grieg, George Perle, Per Nřrgĺrd, Carl Nielsen -- the latter's "Symphony No. 2 (2nd Movement" stands out. B+(***)

Ushio Torikai: Rest (2009, Innova): Composer, b. 1952, from Matsumato, Japan, presents five pieces written 1994-2002, performed by other people. The opener, with Aki Takashi's jarring (sounds like prepared) piano, is the most striking. It is followed by a clarinet-violin-cello trio, then by some vocal pieces, the last (the title piece) with the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus. The utter lack of swing in postclassical vocal music is generally a turnoff for me. B

Anne Drummond: Like Water (2007 [2009], ObliqSound): Flute player, seems to be from Seattle, moved to New York in 1999, this looks to be her first album (although AMG also lists something called Flute Ballads with no real info). Has side credits with Kenny Barron, Stefon Harris, Avishai Cohen (the bassist), Dave Liebman, Nilson Matts, Jason Miles, Andy Milne, Manuel Valera, James Silberstein -- enough to get her on the short list of rising flute stars. Likes Brazilian music, enough to pick up Matta and Duduka Da Fonseca on a couple of cuts. Also likes classica music, or that's how it seems given she adds violin and/or viola on most cuts. I've never been a flute fan, exept when it's incidental to something else I really like, like David Murray's Creole. This is listenable enough, but has no special appeal to me. C+

Fred Anderson: 21st Century Chase (2009, Delmark): Eightieth birthday bash, live at Anderson's Velvet Lounge in Chicago. The 20th century "Chase" was a rousing bebop joust between Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, cut on a 78 in two parts back in 1947. This one also comes in two parts, one 36:13, the other 14:13. Anderson spars with fellow tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, about six years his junior. They've tangled before, as on a 1999 record called 2 Days in April, which I panned as plug ugly to the dismay of the record's few admirers. This one is plug ugly too, although for some reason I find it more amusing. Maybe because they pull their punches here and there. Also because they end with "Ode to Alvin Fielder." B+(*)

Timuçin Sahin Quartet: Bafa (2008 [2009], Between the Lines): Turkish guitarist, b. 1973, educated in Netherlands, based in New York. Looks like he has one previous album, although AMG doesn't list it. Quartet with John O'Gallagher (alto sax), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). O'Gallagher is often on the verge of stealing the album, but the guitarist holds him in check, and impresses with his own solos. B+(***)

Chad Taylor: Circle Down (2008 [2009], 482 Music): Aside from the normal Google name confusion -- Consuming Fire Minister, Chainsaw Juggler, Novelist from New Zealand -- there's the Chad Taylor who plays guitar for some post-grunge rock band called Live. AMG has merged this guitarist with the guy I would have sworn was the real Chad Taylor: drummer, b. 1973, from Chicago, based in New York, member of Chicago Underground Duo/Trio, Sticks and Stones, Digital Primatives, etc. First album with his name up front: a piano trio, of all things, with Chris Lightcap on bass and Angelica Sanchez on the keys. Taylor wrote 5 of 10 pieces, with Lightcap 3 and Sanchez 2. Better than Sanchez's own album, especially on Taylor tracks like "Pascal" where the percussion swirls all around. B+(***)

Plunge: Dancing on Thin Ice (2009, Immersion): New Orleans trio, led by trombonist Mark McGrain, with Tim Green on saxophones and James Singleton on double bass. AMG lists 8 Plunge records since 1996, two with Bobo Stenson. Website only mentions one other, with McGrain, Bob Moses, Marcus Rojas, and Avishai Cohen. The New Orleans vibe is pretty subdued, but is there in a faint bounciness. One piece has some vocalization -- not sure how or who. B+(**)

Maria de Barros: Morabeza (2009, Sheer Group): Born in Senegal, grew up in Mauritania, and has lived and moved all over, but she maintains allegiance to the Cape Verdean music of her parents, and of Cesaria Evora. Lithe Portuguese soul music, familiar from Brazil but just a shade different. B+(**) [advance]


These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Matthew Shipp Quartet: Cosmic Suite (2008 [2009], Not Two): With Daniel Carter on reeds (although I've seen reference to him starting on muted trumpet, which sounds right), Joe Morris on bass, Whit Dickey on drums. Nine parts. Instrumentation seems a little thin and indecisive for the suite concept, but it could be something that grows on you. The pianist leads most of the way. Carter tries working in nuances, which isn't exactly his thing. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Radio I-Ching: No Wave Au Go Go (2009, Resonant Music): Trio: Andy Haas on curved soprano sax and such; Don Fiorino on guitar, mandolin, banjo, lap steel; Dee Pop, a name assumed while playing with the Bush Tetras, on drums. The band's extensive MySpace influences list omits Jan Garbarek, about the only (and certainly the most famous) soprano saxophonist to prefer the curved version. Haas reminds me of Garbarek's crystalline tone snaking over world rhythms -- even when this trio goes to Tin Pan Alley they pick against the grain, offering the Arlen gospel "Judgment Day" and the Mercer western "I'm an Old Cowhand." A- [Rhapsody]

Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Forked Tongue (2008, Cuneiform): Self-styled New Orleans Mardi Gras brass band, with some snapshots dressed to the nines in feathers and snakeskin, but actually based in Boston, led by alto saxophonist Ken Field. Second album, following 2002's Year of the Snake (Innova). The other horns are trumpet, trombone, and tenor sax; bass is both acoustic and electric, and there is extra percussion, and vocalist Gabrielle Agachiko not studying war no more "Down by the Riverside" -- one of four Trad. songs here, mixed in with "Que Sera Sera" and "Brown Skin Girl," one by Ornette Coleman, one by Billy Idol, four originals by Field. Fun group. Not sure how firmly they stick. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Michael Musillami Trio + 3: From Seeds (2009, Playscape): Guitarist, has a dozen albums since 1990, is capable both of metallic density and quick flights. The trio adds Joe Fonda on bass and George Schuller on drums. They are particularly impressive on the title cut where they blow everyone else away. But often, especially on the opener, the +3 add much more: Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Marty Ehrlich on alto sax, and Matt Moran on vibes. A- [Rhapsody]


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Boogie Woogie Kings (1939-71, Delmark)
  • Dadi: Bem Aqui (Sunnyside)
  • Vijay Iyer Trio: Historicity (ACT)
  • Jerry Leake: Cubist (Rhombus Publishing)
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Accomplish Jazz (Hot Cup): Dec. 7
  • Memphis Nighthawks: Jazz Lips (1976-77, Delmark)
  • Out to Lunch: Melvin's Rockpile (Accurate): Jan. 10
  • Makoto Ozone: Jungle (Verve): advance, Jan. 19
  • Ben Perowsky Quartet: Esopus Opus (Skirl)
  • Steven Schoenberg: Live: An Improvisational Journey (Quabbin): Jan. 15
  • Aram Shelton's Fast Citizens: Two Cities (Delmark)
  • Mike Treni: Turnaround (Bell Production, CD+DVD)

Purchases:

  • The Black Eyed Peas: The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies) (Interscope)
  • Rosanne Cash: The List (Manhattan)
  • Franco & Le TPOK Jazz: Francophonic, Vol. 2 (1980-89, Stern's Africa, 2CD)
  • Miranda Lambert: Revolution (Sony Nashville)
  • Loudon Wainwright III: High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2nd Story Sound, 2CD)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jazz Consumer Guide (#21): Loosening (or Tightening) Up

I've been a little distracted by the holiday comings and goings, but should note that the Village Voice has published my 21st Jazz Consumer Guide. The Voice came up with a little extra space this time, so I piled on the Honorable Mentions, bringing the total record count to 54. That will help us catch up a bit. I think only about half of the records here are 2009 releases, which is way up from last time, but the other half shows how far behind the infrequent schedule has left us. A follow up column in January, which now seems possible, would help even more. There is way too much jazz worth mentioning to fit into a quarterly schedule.

One thing I tend to do is some clustering of related items, which happened several times here. Larry Ochs (the 'O' in Rova) sent me a bunch of records a year ago, which turned into a pick hit and three HMs. There are also intersecting clusters of Evan Parker, Joe McPhee, and Peter Brötzmann, or alternatively Paal Nilssen-Love -- those were happy days when the packages from Atavistic, Okka Disk, and Smalltown showed up. I might also mention Clean Feed, which enjoys bragging rights for the most records placed: five. (Atavistic also has five, but the tiebreaker was its dud, a rare Ken Vandermark record that got stuck -- even there it is one that I wouldn't have picked on except that I have praised his other records so often.) These clusters may have steered this column a bit more avant-garde than usual, especially in the HMs where so many of them landed. A couple of columns back I had swung the other way, with Houston Person and Randy Sandke as the pick hits.

One dirty secret here is how many A- records I've been sneaking through as high HMs. There are a record nine this time, all the way down to McPhee/Nilssen-Love. Sometimes I'm satisfied with a one-liner, especially when the record's concept is as simple and straightforward as Snidero's. Fleck and Isotope already got some coverage in Recycled Goods. Nasser's earlier record got bumped a couple of times, and the new one was just more of the same (good) thing. The Braxton record was one that I had first heard on Rhapsody, and wound up buying long after the fact. And I got a little snippy on Cohen after the label never delivered on a promised final copy. But those are mere rationalizations, and some aren't even valid in my own mind. The real reason is that I'm trying to jam as much discovery as possible into very limited space. All nine are remarkable records. And for that matter, the rest of the HM list is remarkably strong, often wonderful. They often fall short for trivial reasons -- mostly just because when I have to sort out so many records some have to fall short.

A lot of work went into this Jazz Consumer Guide, as is always the case. I went into this cycle with 114 records still in the running from the previous round, and prospected another 225 from July 20 to October 18. The Jazz Prospecting file is here. I still need to do a bunch of paperwork to shift fully into the next round, including a cull of the surplus left over this time. Most of next column is written. I should wrap it up in another 3-4 weeks, as well as knocking out a year-end list and short wrap up.


Publicist letter:

The Village Voice has published my 21st Jazz Consumer Guide column
this week:

  link

I haven't seen the hard copy, but I gather that they found extra space
for this one, as they did last time. That cut down on the cuts, and
allowed me to get some more Honorable Mentions out.

Index by label:

  Anzic: Anat Cohen
  Atavistic: Larry Ochs, Sun Ra (2), Brötzmann/Pliakas/Wertmüller, Fire Room
  Ayler: Exploding Customer
  Blue Note: Joe Lovano
  Clean Feed: Darren Johnston, Denman Maroney, Townhouse Orchestra,
    Daniel Levin, Blake/Osgood
  CMB: Chuck Bernstein
  Creative Sources: Carrier/Lambert
  Cuneiform: Isotope
  DMG/ARC: Curlew
  Drip Audio: Jim McAuley
  ECM: Evan Parker, Andy Sheppard, Tsabropolous/Lechner/Gandhi
  Enja: Roy Nathanson
  Half Note: Francisco Mela
  High Note/Savant: Jim Snidero
  ILK: Bernstein/Rojas/Osgood
  Intakt: Maybe Monday
  Jazz Excursion: Nathan Eklund
  Jazz Stick: Lajos Dudas
  Koch: Terri Lyne Carrington
  Laughing Horse: Lisa Sokolov
  Lifelines: Bruno Rĺberg
  Live Wired Music: Melvin Gibbs, On Ka'a Davis
  Loyal Label: Jon Irabagon
  Mack Avenue: Christian McBride
  Not Two: Rova, Johnston/Frith/Ochs/Hoff/Smith
  Okka Disk: Brötzmann/Kondo/Pupillo/Nilssen-Love, Ken Vandermark,
    McPhee/Brötzmann/Kessler/Zerang, Atomic/School Days
  Pingo: Bicudo/Bergin
  Rounder: Béla Fleck
  Smalls: Zaid Nasser (2), Fat Cat Big Band (2)
  Smalltown: McPhee/Nilssen-Love, Parker/Flaten, The Thing,
    Brötzmann/Nilssen-Love
  Sunnyside: Abdullah Ibrahim, Adrian Iaies
  Tzadik: Braxton/Graves/Parker

The Jazz Prospecting notes for this round is at:

  link

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


Notes on the reviewed albums:

  1. 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 Hĺker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. Atomic features Magnus Broo on trumpet, Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor sax and clarinet, Hĺvard 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+(**)
  2. Steven Bernstein/Marcus Rojas/Kresten Osgood: Tattoos and Mushrooms (2008 [2009], ILK): Osgood is a Danish drummer, b. 1976, doesn't have much under his own name, partly because he hasn't bothered to push his name up front in multi-artist credits. He's showed up on several good records recently -- Scott DuBois' Banshees, Michael Blake's Control This. He probably should be considered the leader here: the original material has one group credit, one shared with Bernstein, three more just Osgood, including a terrific closer called "The Beat Up Blues"; moreover, he's on his home turf here. Rojas plays tuba, starting off burying a Charles Brackeen piece deep under, and he provides a dependable bottom to Bernstein's trumpet and slide trumpet. Also covered are pieces by Monk and Mingus, and a deep, slow, lovely run through Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." B+(***)
  3. Rogério Bicudo/Sean Bergin: Mixing It (2008 [2009], Pingo): Title is a misnomer: these duets don't really mix. Rather, the ex-Brazilian guitarist and ex-South African saxophonist, both now based in the Netherlands, play their own parts in each other's presence. Imagine Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfa in the studio, playing show and tell, trying to figure each other out, without the percussion and all the other stuff that smooth things over. Of course, Bergin's not as smooth as Getz, and Bicudo isn't as slick as Bonfa -- and when he sings Jobim, he reminds me of Astrud Gilberto, affectless, only clunkier, as males tend to be. Bergin's attempt to mix in a bit of Abdullah Ibrahim does little to change the focus on Brazil. Still, I find this charming. B+(**)
  4. Michael Blake/Kresten Osgood: Control This (2006 [2009], Clean Feed): Sax-drums duo. Blake plays soprano, alto, and tenor, uncharacteristically favoring the alto this time. Osgood is a Danish drummer, b. 1976, has appeared on several good albums recently -- Scott Dubois' Banshees is one. Starts a little awkward, but picks up through a version of Ellington's "Creole Love Call" that spend a long time away from the melody, and retains its interest to the end -- a second cover, Charlie Parker's "Cheryl." (Well, almost -- didn't get the final joke.) B+(**)
  5. Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William Parker: Beyond Quantum (2008, Tzadik): Five pieces, named "First Meeting," "Second Meeting," etc. The "Fourth Meeting" is the most immediately compelling -- probably just the straightest and most accessible. Braxton plays "saxophones": alto is his preferred tool, and he's one of the most dexterous and expansive alto saxophonists ever, especially when he doesn't have to navigate his own contorted compositions. He plays sopranino toward the end; probably others, but he gets such a wide range of sound out of alto I could be wrong. Graves is a little-recorded percussion legend, adding some vocalizing and other strange effects here and there. Parker is a massively-recorded bass legend. Much food for thought all around. A-
  6. Peter Brötzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love: Sweet Sweat (2006 [2008], Smalltown Superjazz): As a former typographer myself, I'm unwilling to follow the old Creem practice of blaming all sorts of shit on the typesetting department, but there is a fairly common problem that is wedged somewhere between art design and logo differentiation and typography, and it rears its head up here once again: how to deal with space removed between two words that could just as well stand alone? All references to the title here are all-caps, with no space. My standard practice has been to canonically restore u&lc to titles (etc.), which turns the title here to Sweetsweat. On the other hand, the front cover shows "SWEET" and "SWEAT" in two different colors, implying two distinct words. One way to deal with this would be to capitalize the latter, yielding SweetSweat. Another is to insert the missing space. I've been tending to do the latter lately -- e.g., I've taken to referring to High Note Records, rather than HighNote. Perhaps as a former typographer, I find the no-space versions both ugly and conceptually muddled. Many such usages are in little more than muddled. I spent much of my professional life straightening out their messes, so I'm just continuing that here. Others are more rigorous, trying to force some obscure point with caps (or no caps, as in the artist who insists on being called "k.d. lang"). I figure part of a critic's job is to resist such nonsense. Just wanted to get that off my chest. As for the record, it is crankier and uglier than the Brötzmann's duos with Peeter Uuskyla, and more combative than Nilssen-Love's duos with Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee, which is to say it's about what you'd expect from the pairing. I thought elsewhere Brötzmann was aging gracefuly, but some days he wakes up and reaches for the old machine gun. Worth listening to, but not the place to start. B+(**)
  7. Brötzmann/Kondo/Pupillo/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-
  8. Brötzmann/Pliakas/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+(***)
  9. 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+(***)
  10. 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-
  11. Anat Cohen: Notes From the Village (2008, Anzic): I knew I had this somewhere. Made several searches in the last couple weeks of last cycle looking for it, but only found it too late. So chalk it up to the curse of the advance/promo only: they start off with little motivation to be played, then languish in hard-to-find limbo, and finally (if I can't dismiss them out of hand) put back into limbo, perhaps wondering why finalize my opinion on a non-final copy. What I can say: Cohen seems to be following her polls, in that she's leading with clarinet here; that's not such a bad thing, but her one tenor sax feature, an original "Lullaby for the Naive Ones," fairly jumps out of the grooves. Her originals certainly hold up. Her take on "A Change Is Gonna Come" is a bit tentative, and the Brazilian piece is neither here nore there, but she gets a lot of mileage out of "Jitterbug Waltz." Good band support, with strong solos from pianist Jason Lindner. Probably her best since Place and Time, before all the hoopla began. A-
  12. Curlew: 1st Album/Live at CBGB 1980 (1980-81 [2008], DMG/ARC, 2CD): George Cartwright's avant-fusion group in early creative ekstasis, to borrow a word guitarist Nicky Skopelitis later used to name his own group, pairing a debut album plus bonus tracks with a live shot with Denardo Coleman commandeering the drumkit. The rock element bounces off New York No Wave in a way that radicalizes the jazz element, so Cartwright's sax wails more tunefully than Lydia Lunch, and funk rhythms are free for the taking. A-
  13. On Ka'a Davis: Seed of Djuke (2009, Live Wired Music): Guitarist, from Cleveland, based in New York, first album, although he seems to have been working on this much longer. Hype sheets look to Sun Ra and Fela Kuti as influences, but strip the excess vocals and percussion away and you'll find a mess of Miles Davis fusion. The underrated horns are simply listed as "fronting" and "backing," as are the singers. (Nothing specific about the latter, but I'm reminded that one reason I like jazz is that it shuts people up. Maybe I'm just going through an anomalous random stretch, but it seems like vocals are showing up on more than half of the records I've run across recently.) B+(***)
  14. 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+(***)
  15. Nathan Eklund: Trip to the Casbah (2008 [2009], Jazz Excursion): Trumpeter, b. 1978 near Seattle, studied in New Jersey, based in Bloomfield, NJ, close to New York. Second album. Album photos show him marching fast, flugelhorn in tow. Postbop quintet, with impressive support from guitarist John Hart, even more so from tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who comes close to stealing the whole show. Eklund is hard pressed to keep up, but does manage a nice duet with bassist Bill Moring. B+(***)
  16. Exploding Customer: At Your Service (2005-06 [2007], Ayler): Swedish group, two horns up front -- Martin Küchen on alto and tenor sax, Tomas Hallonsten on trumpet -- bass and drums in the rear -- Benjamin Quigley and Kjell Nordeson. Küchen is the effective leader, writing 6 of 7 pieces, his sax more prominent than the trumpet. Like a lot of Scandinavian groups, they play adventurous free bop with rock energy. The odd piece out, starting off with a Carla Bley arrangement of "Els Segadors," adds an infectious Latin twist, closed out by a riff ("Sin Nombre") from Hallonsten. Their previous album, Live at Tempere Jazz Happening, should have been an HM; so should this. B+(***)
  17. 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+(**)
  18. Fat Cat Big Band: Angels Praying for Freedom (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. Personnel: Jade Synstelien: guitar, vocals Phil Stewart: drums Ben Meigners: bass Jack Glottman: piano Sharel Cassity: alto sax Stacy Dillard: tenor sax Geoff Vidal: tenor sax Tatum Greenblatt: trumpet Brandon Lee: trumpet Jonathan Voltzok: trombone Max Siegel: bass trombone Tracks (all by Synstelien): 1. "Subway Soliloquy" 2. "Angels Praying" 3. "D-flat Encore for More blues" 4. "Unfulfillable Longing" 5. "Fat Cat Theme": vocal 6. "I Do Know What Love Is" 7. "No More Stupid Sh*t" 8. "The Thing That We Play to as It Goes By" 9. "Mysterious by All Means" 10. "Prayer for Freedom" --> B+(**)
  19. Fire Room: Broken Music (2005 [2009], Atavistic): Trio, with Ken Vandermark on tenor and baritone sax, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, and Lasse Marhaug doing something ugly with electronics. Vandermark and Nilssen-Love have a couple of good duo albums, and more small group albums, so the delta here is Marhaug. Loud static, low warbling, hard to see how what he does helps out, even though there are short stretches when the energy pays off. B
  20. Béla Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart: Tales From the Acoustic Planet Vol. 3: Africa Sessions (2009, Rounder): This is the first Fleck album (admittedly, I haven't heard many) that sustains my interest, but doesn't prove much other than the adage that there's lots more to Africa than we've even begun to imagine. Fleck takes his banjo back to its mother continent where it blends in seamlessly, especially in rural folk backwaters like Uganda and Tanzania. Not that he didn't lean on a few stars for connections -- the Malians have some star power, and D'Gary and Vusi Mahlasela are recognizable if idiosyncratic names. But it's ultimately an Afrofolk curiosity, like the Kaiser-Lindley Malagasy albums. Not knowing any better, that's good enough. A-
  21. Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity:, Ancients Speak (2008 [2009], LiveWired): Moderns speaking in hip-hop tongues, homologues to ancient drums, but cross-bred like crazy, even if you can trace all of it, like damn near everything else, back to African. Gibbs is a bassist who has worked under band names from Defunkt to Power Tools to Harriet Tubman, with side credits ranging from Sonny Sharrock to Marisa Monte to John Zorn to Femi Kuti -- a career he finally unifies. A-
  22. Adrian Iaies Trio + Michael Zisman: Vals de la 81st & Columbus (2008, Sunnyside): Possibly a victim of my method, as this stuck in my player for six spins, the first three ascending to A-list candidacy, the next three slightly wearing me down. Argentine piano trio plus bandoneon (plus trumpet on two cuts). Mostly tango, of course, even on standards by Monk and Shorter. Iaies' piano does the prancing, with Pablo Aslan's bass close to the ground, while Zisman's bandoneon fills the room with lush, soulful sound. B+(***)
  23. Abdullah Ibrahim: Senzo (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Solo piano from the great South African pianist, now approaching 75. Originals, many titles I recognized from his past records, strung together into a single, long meditation, with "In a Sentimental Mood" slipped in as yet another nod to his accidental mentor, Duke Ellington. I don't normally fall for solo piano, but none of the usual rationales seem to apply here -- in particular, the one that it takes too much effort to follow such intricacy. This one seems as natural as crystal streams flowing under gentle breezes, with an occasional figure to fix the location in mother Africa. A-
  24. 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+(**)
  25. Isotope: Golden Section (1974-75 [2008], Cuneiform): British fusion band led by guitarist Gary Boyle, recorded three albums from 1974-76 with various lineups. These tracks -- 6 from Radio Bremen, plus earlier tracks from London (5) and New York (2) -- feature the group's second lineup: Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine) on bass, Laurence Scott on keyboards, and Nigel Morris on drums, plus Aureo de Souza on percussion for the Bremen shots. Morris and Hopper always find an interesting groove, allowing Boyle to send out Montgomery-sized note strings with McLaughlin-inspired steeliness. No vocals to spoil the mood. Some redundancies but they just add up to more. A-
  26. Darren Johnston: The Edge of the Forest (2007-08 [2008], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, from Canada, based in San Francisco, first album as leader, although his name shows up on another album I have in the queue, plus he has a couple of side credits. Seems like someone I should have recognized -- in fact, he appeared on a former Pick Hit here, Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra's New Magical Kingdom. Pianoless quintet here -- like one of those quartets but with a third horn, the range of colors and timbres spread wide by Ben Goldberg's clarinet and Sheldon Brown's tenor sax (or narrowed with bass clarinet), but they tend to cycle against each other rather than fly apart. Devin Hoff plays bass, Smith Dobson V drums, and Rob Reich appears on accordion on one track. Brown is a strong soloist -- another guy I've run across a couple of times, but should remember from now on. The rhythm section keeps things moving, and Goldberg is superb as the guy who ties it all together. A-
  27. 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+(***)
  28. Daniel Levin Trio: Fuhuffah (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Cellist. Had trouble finding any biographical: his web page is Flashed, his MySpace has an empty "about" section, Google shows a lot of other Dan[iel] Levins, but AAJ came through. B. 1974, Burlington, VT; attended Walnut Hill School for the Arts, Mannes College of Music, New England Conservatory. Based in New Haven, CT. Has three previous albums, one on Riti, two on Hat. This is a trio with Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums. The cello is clear and sharp here, free, centered, a bit limited in range, although the contrast with Flaten's bass is helpful. B+(**)
  29. Joe Lovano Us Five: Folk Art (2008 [2009], Blue Note): With a very young band, the reigning saxophonist of his generation feels free to indulge his idiosyncrasies: aulochrome, straight alto sax, taragato, why not two at once? Sounds like he's entering his Rahsaan Roland Kirk phase. B+(***)
  30. Denman Maroney Quintet: Udentity (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): B. 1949, plays something he calls hyperpiano, which is basically prepared piano and then some. Has a couple of previous albums I haven't heard; I've run across him mostly in the company of Mark Dresser -- an album called Time Changes (2005) pairs the two to limited but interesting effect. This quintet opens him up: Ned Rothenberg plays reeds (alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), Dave Ballou trumpet, Reuben Radding bass, and Michael Sarin drums. The two horns are always interesting, although mostly they play it straight compared to the funny stuff coming off the piano, maybe even bass and percussion. (PS: Quintet has another album, Gaga, on Nuscope. A similar quintet recorded Fluxuations -- sub Mark Dresser on bass and Kevin Norton on percussion.) B+(***)
  31. Maybe Monday: Unsquare (2006 [2008], Intakt): The group proper consists of Fred Frith on electric guitar, Miya Masaoka on 25 string koto and electronics, and Larry Ochs on sopranino and tenor saxes. The "special guests" are: Gerry Hemingway (drums, percussion), Carla Kihlstedt (electric and acoustic violins), Ikue Mori (electronics), and Zeena Parkins (electric harp and electronics). Seems like a jazz analogue to musique concrčte, making me wonder whether anyone had discussed le jazz concrčte -- found one reference to George Russell's Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature (1969), an interesting choice but simple in comparison. Avant-chamber music, no swing or even much progression, but it all swirls around uncertain points as the musicians pick up on each other's cues. Despite all the electronics, instrumental tones predominate -- I started to say acoustic, but Frith and Kihlstedt have their acoustic instruments plugged in. B+(***)
  32. Jim McAuley: The Ultimate Frog (2002-07 [2008], Drip Audio, 2CD): Skipped this over many times, not feeling up to a double CD, and not realizing who was on this other than the to-me-unknown guitarist. The one that should have done the trick for me was the late violinist Leroy Jenkins. Best known for his 1970s string trio Revolutionary Ensemble, Jenkins put violin onto the avant-jazz map almost single-handedly -- Billy Bang came later, and now there are a dozen or so good jazz violinists, notably including Jesse Zubot, who I mention because he runs the label that released this. McAuley turns out to be an enigmatic character, b. 1946 on a farm in Kansas, based in Los Angeles, with a previous record on Nine Winds from 2005 and a credit in Acoustic Guitar Trio, a 2001 album with Nels Cline and Rod Poole on Derek Bailey's Incus label. Reviewers tend to liken him to Bailey, which strikes me as convergence -- all solo avant guitarists are inevitably bound to overlap -- but then I can't claim to know or understand much about Bailey. In an interview I found, McAuley talks about John Fahey, which make sense, and recounts playing with John Carter and Horace Tapscott in LA, which also fits. The two discs include 23 duets plus a solo, "For Rod Poole." Seven duets with Jenkins date from 2002, the names just "Improvisation" with a number. They are slight, but the violin is bracing, the guitar gently picking around the edges. The other duos -- with guitarist Nels Cline, bassist Ken Filiano, and percussionist Alex Cline -- date from 2006-07, fleshing out the album refocusing it on the guitarist. Haven't really sorted out the guitarists, but the drum counterpoint is especially vivid, and Filiano is always invaluable. I almost never fall for abstract, minimalist, avant guitar, but there always seems to be an exception to every rule, and this is it. A-
  33. Christian McBride & Inside Straight: Kind of Brown (2009, Mack Avenue): Bassist, wound up on the cover of Downbeat's critics poll issue, winning acoustic bassist over perennial Dave Holland, coming in second on electric bass. He has nine or so albums since an impressive major label deubt in 1994 and a huge number of side credits (AMG's list runs to four pages, but there looks to be a lot of chaff in there). This is basically a Holland-style group, with high saxophone (Steve Wilson on alto and soprano) and vibes (Warren Wolf Jr.) to steer clear of the bass, although McBride goes one step further, omitting the trombone in favor of pianist Eric Reed. McBride swings harder and has a fondness for funk, but he doesn't exert enough gravity to keep the lighter elements from floating away. B
  34. Joe McPhee/Paal Nilssen-Love: Tomorrow Came Today (2007 [2008], Smalltown Superjazz): McPhee strikes me as the most doggedly anti-commercial avant-gardist of the last three or four decades. It's not so much that he's inaccessible but that he's so preoccupied with his own inner logic that he could care less what you think -- a couple of meetings with Ken Vandermark, who idolizes McPhee, come to mind. Norwegian drummer Nilssen-Love, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have any notion that what he does shouldn't be embraced by everyone. He came up in rock groups, plays free, and sometimes ties them all together. His Dual Pleasure duos with Vandermark were unusually lucid and engaging sax-drums duos, and here he does the same trick for McPhee. A-
  35. 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+(***)
  36. Francisco Mela: Cirio: Live at the Blue Note (2007 [2008], Half Note): Dedicated to the Mela's late father, Cirio, who founded El Club de Trovadores de la música Cibana in Bayamo, Cuba. The young drummer moves far on his second record, picking up an all-star band -- Mark Turner, Jason Moran, Lionel Loueke, Larry Grenadier -- each adding something to the jerky Afro-Cuban rhythms. A-
  37. Zaid Nasser: Escape From New York (2007, Smalls): An alto saxophonist who not risks sounding like Charlie Parker and winds up showing how it should be done. He taps Ellington for two tunes, wails through "Chinatown My Chinatown," plucks a barnburner from oldtime bebop pianist George Wallington, strings them together with a couple of originals, including one from pianist Sacha Perry. Not a tribute. More like 55th Street is back in business. A-
  38. Zaid Nasser: Off Minor (2008 [2009], Smalls): Alto saxophonist, at last check had given up on New York and decided to check out the jazz scene in Armenia, but came back for a second album. Classical bebopper, smoother and slicker than Charlie Parker, maybe not as fast, but I figure he's just pacing himself. Quartet, with Sacha Perry making an impression on piano, Ari Roland on bass, Phil Stewart on drums. Only one original, called "Zaid's Slow Blues." Title cut is from Monk, good for a workout. "Moonlight in Vermont" and "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" respect their themes. Previous album, Escape From New York, is overdue for JCG recognition. Not sure if this is better, but it's at least as enjoyable -- pretty much what mainstream jazz should sound like these days. A-
  39. Roy Nathanson: Subway Moon (2009, Yellow Bird/Enja): A follow up to Nathanson's vocal-dominated 2006 Sotto Voce -- the front cover and booklet have "sottovoce" in small print to the left of Nathanson's name and to the left and above the title, so there is some temptation to work that in somehow. Nathanson plays alto and soprano sax, and has a vocals credit along with several others here. He came out of the Jazz Passengers with Curtis Fowlkes (also here, on trombone). Most of the vocals are spoken word, poems over slippery jazz grooves, presumably Nathanson himself, but the album starts off with a cover of Gamble and Huff's "Love Train" with Tim Kiah taking the lead. Nathanson's albums often pick a pop song and play it close enough to cash in on its hooks but loose enough to make you think they could do anything with it. Haven't sussed out all of the poetry yet -- some is in the booklet, but not all. But the music between the lines is full of delights, not least Sam Bardfeld's violin, Bill Ware's vibes, and Marcus Rojas's tuba. A-
  40. Larry Ochs/Sax & Drumming Core: Out Trios Volume Five: Up From Under (2004 [2007], Atavistic): Ochs, best known from Rova, plays tenor and sopranino sax. The rest of the trio -- a/k/a Drumming Core -- consists of two drummers: Scott Amendola and Don Robinson. Amendola plays in Nels Cline Singers and has a few good albums of his own. Robinson is another SF drummer, with one record I haven't heard (on CIMP) and side credits with Glenn Spearman, What We Live, and a few others. Trio has a previous album, The Neon Truth, on Black Saint (haven't heard). Avant sax-drum duos tend to work (if they work at all) on two levels: athletic prowess and telepathic communication. Doubling up on the drums evens the balance (as long as nobody trips up), and pushes Ochs even harder. No big deal, but probably the best example of his free-form playing I've heard thus far. A-
  41. Evan Parker/Ingebrigt Häker Flaten: The Brewery Tap (2007 [2008], Smalltown Superjazz): Parker should be a household name by now, but isn't anywhere close. B. 1944 in England, cut his first records c. 1971, and has released a couple hundred since, plus side credits in nearly every European avant-jazz context of interest -- his career has roughly the same shape and trajectory as Anthony Braxton's. Has his own label now, Psi, which I don't get any service on, so I only pick up occasional scraps, and he remains a long-term project. Plays tenor and soprano sax. His soprano is utterly distinctive, shrill, with a lot of circular breathing -- very impressive, but also discomforting. I usually prefer his tenor sax, which is featured here, a lot of poking and prodding, a little circular breathing. Hĺker Flaten's bass makes for a nice foil, rounding him out where Paal Nilssen-Love's drums might sharpen him up. Long improvs. Not clear how much weight to put on them, given the feeling that he could do this all day every day, but a very nice showcase. B+(***)
  42. 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-
  43. Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra: Secrets of the Sun (1962 [2009], Atavistic): A six-track album originally released on Ra's Saturn Records in 1965 and skipped over in previous reissue passes, plus a previously unreleased 17:35 originally promised to be the B-side of a never-released album (catalog number 547). Recorded shortly after Ra and his Arkestra landed in New York, feels rough and scattered, with shifting lineups (the young Eddie Gale is a surprise), even the regulars rotating instruments (John Gilmore variously plays tenor sax, bass clarinet, and percussion, his credits also including space drums and space bird sounds, while Marshall Allen plays more flute than alto sax), while Ra's piano jumps hither and yon. B+(**)
  44. Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra: Strange Strings (1966-67 [2009], Atavistic): You can't help but do a double take when the man from Saturn finds anything strange. The string instruments played by nearly everyone in the band -- rotating with their more/less normal instruments, although Marshall Allen's first credit is oboe, and the rhythm section mostly consists of log drums and tympani -- are unidentified but seem to include odd lutes and zithers from around the world. Seem, because they're pretty much unidentifiable: undulating waves of metallic bowed and plucked sounds crashing against the shore. The pieces move from "Worlds Approaching" to "Strings Strange" to "Strange Strange": the first is remarkable, especially for the drums, while the later pieces unravel a bit. One of Ra's many self-issued low-run LPs, augmented with a bonus track called "Door Squeak" -- an improv based on Ra repeatedly opening and closing a squeaky door. B+(***)
  45. Bruno Rĺberg: Lifelines (2008, Orbis Music, 2CD): I remember Christgau complaining about how much he hated the double listening required for 2-LP sets. Back in the day, they were rare, usually commemorating a group passing its peak and trying to slough off quantity for quality, as with the Beatles' "white album" and Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. The exceptions were few: Eric Clapton's Layla was propped up by an endless proven songbook; the Clash's London Calling was bursting with new ideas; and the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, and to a lesser extent Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything, made the quantity gambit work. Still, most of that list are currently available in single-CD packages, so the measure of excess these days is more inflated still. I mention this because I'm so snowed by these two discs I don't know what else to say. Rĺberg is a bassist, originally from Sweden, now based in Boston, teaching at Berklee. Has half-a-dozen records since 1992, mostly elegant postbop. This set of 22 originals (plus Miles Davis's "Nardis") is uniformly attractive, offering plenty of space for Chris Cheek (soprano/tenor sax) and Ben Monder (guitar), switching between two drummers (Ted Poor and Matt Wilson). Plenty of space for the bass as well, which is always interesting. In fact, there's much of interest here. Just a lot to sift through. [was: B+(**)] B+(***)
  46. Rova: The Juke Box Suite (2006 [2007], Not Two): Saxophone quartet, founded in 1977 (same year as the World Saxophone Quartet), name originally derived from initials of its four founding members -- Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Andrew Voigt and Bruce Ackley -- but Steve Adams replaced Voigt in 1988, breaking that link. Group has 25 albums since 1978 (more, but not by a lot, than WSQ). I've never much like saxophone quartets or choirs, regardless of how brilliant I regard the individuals to be: as much as I like the sound of most saxophones, they have a harmonic monotony unless you add something to the mix -- bass, drums, almost anything helps. I've heard almost everything WSQ has released -- their players are major stars in my view of the jazz galaxy. By contrast I've only lightly sampled Rova -- Beat Kennel and two takes of Coltrane's Ascension, the second a Penguin Guide crown album -- and never connected to anything, not that my sample is a good test. (I've always regarded Ascension with indifference, a feeling that Rova faithfully regenerated.) In contrast to WSQ, Rova's saxophonists remained unknown to me -- when I started to write Ochs requesting an unrelated album from a label I had no contact for, I didn't realize he was part of Rova. Same for Adams when Clean Feed recently dropped an album of his. So, obviously, I'm pretty low on the learning curve here. But this album is a revelation. My complaints about tone and color are still operative, but are overcome are nearly every front. The world music juke box concept doesn't ensure danceability, but there's enough of a pulse, especially from Raskin's baritone, to keep it all moving, through pieces keyed to Afro-Balkan, Mambo, Niggum, Choro, Finnish folk (Värttinnä), and Detroit (White Stripes). The slower, unison themes are rich and often gorgeous; the breakaways startling and sometimes thrilling. A-
  47. 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-
  48. Jim Snidero: Crossfire (2009, Savant): Alto saxophonist, b. 1958, studied at UNT, moved to New York, has 15 or so albums since 1987, one a tribute to Joe Henderson. I've heard very little by him -- last time was an organ quartet. This is another quartet, only with Paul Bollenback's guitar the chordal instrument, a much lighter and snazzier contrast. Snidero sounds remarkably poised at all speeds. It strikes me that alto must be easier to play than other saxophones, because there is a sweet spot in the middle range where some players can make almost anything sound effortless. Mainstream album, doesn't reach or stretch much, but Snidero finds that sweet spot consistently. A-
  49. Lisa Sokolov: A Quiet Thing (2008 [2009], Laughing Horse): Singer, musical therapist, lay cantor, acompanies herself on piano when working alone. Moved to New York in 1977 -- doesn't mention anything before that. Fourth album since 1993. An audacious, astonishing interpreter: she tears "Ol' Man River" apart line by line to magnify its emotional impact -- her "fear of dying" has never been more palpable; nor has "Lush Life" ever come across as fully felt, the comfort but also the ennui. The group cuts smooth her out, and Todd Reynolds' violin is a plus. But she's most effective solo, and the intensity can be wearing. (Look for "Ol' Man River" on YouTube.) A-
  50. The Thing: Now and Forever (2000-05 [2008], Smalltown Superjazz, 3CD+DVD): An acoustic jazz trio from Norway, badder than the Bad Plus in every sense of the word. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten grew up in rock bands before venturing into free jazz not least because it was noisier and more abrasive. They're best known in the US for Ken Vandermark projects like School Days. The third wheel is Mats Gustafsson, who early on invited Vandermark to gig with his Aaly Trio, and later joined him and Peter Brötzmann in Sonore. He plays tenor sax when he wants to rip at alto speeds, but these days mostly blows heavy metal baritone. Gustafsson comes from the snorting beasts school of post-Ayler sax -- chances are you either love him or hate him. The group name comes from a song by Scandinavian folk hero Don Cherry. Their first (and best) album is all Cherry, except for a couple of short improvs. It's included here along with a follow-up made with Joe McPhee mostly playing pocket trumpet, adding a contrasting tone and a more human touch. The third disc here is a DVD of the group playing an outdoor concert at Řya in Sweden, with Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore joining in for one non-song -- really just a noise rant. Key thing to watch here is Flaten doing everything to his bass but chewing it up and gargling. Over time, the Cherry repertoire gives way to rock tunes -- PJ Harvey, White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs: it helps a lot to start with a beat before you rip it to shreds. But they're just as likely to start with nothing, as on the previously unreleased single-piece fourth disc, something called "Gluttony" because it's meant to gross you out. B+(**)
  51. Townhouse Orchestra: Belle Ville (2007 [2008], Clean Feed, 2CD): Old fashioned free jazz quartet, just two group improvs, one 44:47, the other 45:10, which is to say they don't run on beyond endurance, and once you've played one, there's still another variation available. Evan Parker has been doing this sort of thing for a long time. He sticks to tenor sax here, less distinctive than his soprano, but less shrill and wearying as well. Pianist Sten Sandel makes a good foil, and the Norwegian rhythm team of Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) -- names familiar from Ken Vandermark projects like School Days -- push things along. B+(***)
  52. 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+(***)
  53. 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 Hĺker 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. Hĺker 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: Hĺker 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-


The "flush" album notes:

  1. John Abercrombie: Wait Till You See Her (2008 [2009], ECM): Guitarist, a steady producer since the early 1970s, in a quartet with Mark Feldman (violin), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Joey Baron (drums). Feldman, who's perhaps the least swinging violinist in jazz, dominates the sound, so it takes some effort to locate the guitar and note how neatly it fits in. B+(**)
  2. Jon Alberts/Jeff Johnson/Tad Britton: Apothecary (2007-08 [2009], Origin): Piano trio, first album by Alberts, who evidently owns the Fu Kun Wu Lounge in Seattle where most of this was recorded. "Green Dolphin Street," "Nardis," "Footprints," a couple of Monk tunes. Didn't sound like much at first, but sort of snook up on me -- the Monks most idiosyncratically straightened out. B+(**)
  3. Herb Alpert & Lani Hall: Live: Anything Goes (2009, Concord): Hall, a/k/a Mrs. Herb Alpert, first emerged as the vocalist for Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66. She cut 7 albums for A&M from 1972-84, a couple in Spanish. Alpert, of course, is a trumpeter whose Tijuana Brass band scored several pop hits in the 1960s, "Whipped Cream" being one of the more substantial. Mostly indelible standards, with "Besame Mucho" and a Djavan song the only entries from south of the border. Hall rarely gets much traction with the songs; Alpert's trumpet is a plus. B [Rhapsody]
  4. Fred Anderson: Staying in the Game (2008 [2009], Engine): Pushing age 80, seems to be mellowing still, but this is pretty much his standard trio disc, the slight dropoff partly attributable to Tim Daisy instead of Hamid Drake on drums, partly sound -- although regular bassist Harrison Bankhead comes through loud and clear. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  5. Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Infernal Machines (2008 [2009], New Amsterdam): Cover looks familiar, but I don't have any note of this in my records. Argue is from Vancouver, arrived in New York in 2003, studied with Bob Brookmeyer. Big band arranger, with a big band that probably intersects quite a bit with Mike Holober's group(s). Name comes from a John Philip Sousa line, the residue of an era when machines could appear monstrous. Argue's band, however, is nothing like that. This one is clean and functional verging on slick and powerful. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  6. As If 3: Klinkklaar (2008 [2009], Casco): Dutch piano trio, pianist is Frank Van Bommel, who has a couple of previous albums since 1995. Raoul Van Der Weide plays bass, and Wim Janssen drums. Claims Mal Waldron and Misha Mengelberg as influences -- I can at least hear Waldron. Sharp work; good rhythmic sense and invention. B+(**)
  7. The Hashem Assadullahi Quintet: Strange Neighbor (2009, 8Bells): Saxophonist, plays alto and soprano, b. 1981, studied in Texas and Oregon, based in Eugene, OR, although he seems to have some kind of deal going in Thailand. First album, with Ron Miles (trumpet), Justin Morell (guitar), Josh Tower (bass), and Jason Palmer (drums). This has sort of a suite feel to it, not just in the first five linked pieces: the instruments tend to fold together in neat bundles with few attempts to break out and solo. Reminds me a bit of Mingus, only mellower, the guitar sweeter and tighter than a piano would be. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  8. Ab Baars/Ig Henneman/Misha Mengelberg: Sliptong (2008 [2009], Wig): Dutch trio. Baars plays tenor sax, clarinet, and shakuhachi; Henneman viola; Mengelberg piano, although at first I was tempted to say percussion. All three play abstractly, leaving a lot of space between the instruments. As such, it takes considerable effort to latch on to what they're doing. I played this twice, and pretty much failed, although I have no doubt that Mengelberg is one of the great pianists of our era. B
  9. Yaala Ballin: Travlin' Alone (2009, Smalls): Singer, b. 1983, from Israel, based in New York, debut album. Nice voice, soft curves wrapped around songs like "I Remember You," "I Only Have Eyes for You," "The Gypsy." Good group, including Ari Roland, Sacha Perry, and Chris Byars, who should be on the short list for singers looking for saxophone support. B+(**)
  10. Cyro Baptista & Banquet of the Spirits: Infinito (2009, Tzadik): Brazilian percussionist, has half dozen albums since 1997, including last year's group-giving Banquet of the Spirits. Not really sure who all plays on this, as the three or four sources I've found disagree. Core band is evidently Baptista on all sorts of percussion and exotica; Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on bass, oud, gimbri; Brian Marsella on keyboards and maybe melodica; Tim Keiper on drums. Add to that a list of guests that may or may not include Anat Cohen, John Zorn, Erik Friedlander, Zé Mauricio, Romero Lubambo, Ikue Mori, Peter Scherer, and a lot of people I don't recoginze (Tom-E-Tabla?). Some vocals. Traces of Brazilian and Middle Eastern musics, but no clear fusion or synthesis. Some of it's intriguing, but most I don't get. B [Rhapsody]
  11. Count Basie Orchestra: Swinging, Singing, Playing (2009, Mack Avenue): The massed horn attack still sends a tingle up your spine. The solos are less impressive, with the recognizable names down to trumpeters Scotty Barnhart and James Zollar, so the guests help there, but only Curtis Fuller shows up with a horn -- well, Frank Wess brought his flute -- and only Hank Jones adds much of note. Then there are the singers: Nnenna Freelon and Janis Siegel better than expected; Jamie Cullum even worse, and Jon Hendricks on some other planet. B
  12. Jim Beard: Revolutions (2005-07 [2009], Sunnyside): Full credit: With Vince Mendoza and the Metropole Orchestra. Three cuts from a 2005 session, the other 7 from 2007. Former has 54 musician credits, latter 51, about half strings in each case, most of the names strike me as Dutch. Keyboardist, b. 1960, fifth album since 1990, the first a large group on CTI, Song of the Sun. Substantial list of side credits, many on synthesizer, also as a producer. Mostly bright, fanciful, the strings neatly tucked in, the horns tame, a little extra percussion. B+(*)
  13. Joe Beck/Laura Theodore: Golden Earrings (2006-07 [2009], Whaling City Sound): Theodore is a singer, from Cleveland, age unknown, has four albums since 1995 (not counting this one). She conceived this as a Peggy Lee tribute, with 9 Lee originals and other related songs like "Fever." Lee was married to guitarist Dave Barbour, which suggested doing the songs with just guitar as accompaniment. Beck, with his homebrewed alto guitar, was a good choice. He supports the songs and fills out all the detail one needs. Beck died in 2008, a few days shy of age 63. He had a long and rather mixed career -- worked with David Sanborn, Dom Um Romăo, Esther Phillips, most recently John Abercrombie; paid tribute to Django Reinhardt, and kept returning to Brazil -- but he was often best just on his own. B+(**)
  14. George Benson: Songs and Stories (2009, Concord/Monster Music): Listenable enough for a while, as long as he keeps his soft soul personable, but by the end Marcus Miller's programming gets the best of him. Not sure whether Lamont Dozier's "Living in High Definition" is intended as funk, samba, or disco, but it fails on all three counts. C+
  15. 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+(***)
  16. The Terence Blanchard Group: Choices (2009, Concord): This is a mess, difficult to sort out under the best of circumstances, hopeless streamed one time through a tinny computer. Blanchard has done a fair amount of soundtrack work, on top of which he likes to orchestrate high-minded concept albums -- e.g., his score to Malcolm X followed by The Malcolm X Jazz Suite (much better). He makes both work sometimes but he's also pretty erratic. This has a few overripe stretches, but it also has some respectable semi-trad jazz and some blistering trumpet. It also has long stretches of spoken word, courtesy of Dr. Cornel West, that break up the music. I couldn't follow them all, but what I heard is interesting in its own right, if not necessarily in the context of an album. Generally less conspicuous, but more annoying, are the soft soul vocals of Bilal. Real grade could be a bit higher or lower -- maybe more but right now it doesn't seem cost-effective to figure it all out. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  17. Ryan Blotnick: Everything Forgets (2008 [2009], Songlines): Guitarist, b. 1983 in Maine, spent some time studying in Copenhagen, based in New York. Second album. First was an HM here. This one is relatively slow and atmospheric, harder to get a grip on. Joachim Badenhorst's reeds are subdued, and acoustic bassist Perry Wortman is joined by electric bassist Simon Jermyn, leaving much of the album rounding the basses. B+(*)
  18. Luis Bonilla: I Talking Now! (2008 [2009], NJCO/Planet Arts): Trombonist, b. 1965 in Los Angeles, has a couple of previous albums on Candid (1992 and 2000), a lot of side credits -- mostly Latin groups, but also Lester Bowie, Gerry Mulligan, Matt Catingub, Toshiko Akiyoshi, George Gruntz, Gerald Wilson, Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy. Quintet, with Ivan Renta on sax, Arturo O'Farrill on piano, Andy McKee on bass, John Riley on drums. Some of this gets into the radical shifts of Afro-Cuban jazz, which the trombone lead gives a distinct aroma to. On the other hand, a lot of it strikes me as rather ordinary postbop. B+(*)
  19. Cecil Brooks III: Hot Dog (2008 [2009], Savant): Drummer, proprietor of Cecil's Jazz Club in West Orange, NJ. Leads a trio here with Kyle Koehler on organ and Matt Chertkoff on guitar. Would be a throwback to the old soul jazz days except for the odd song selection. Nothing quite spoils a bright day like "Sunny." And "Hey Joe" won't make you forget Hendrix; it won't even make you remember Hendrix. B-
  20. Bug: The Gadfly (2008 [2009], Origin): Quintet, principally the work of brothers Jeff and James Miley (guitar and piano/rhodes, respectively), with Peter Epstein a token horn on alto sax. Postbop, further indication of how the guitar has pushed the trumpet out of jazz's standard quintet configuration. B+(*)
  21. Jane Bunnett: Embracing Voices (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Soprano saxophonist, also plays quite a bit of flute, has 16 albums since 1988, most Latin-oriented, many specifically Cuban. This one offers vocals, primarily Grupo Vocal Desandann, a large (10-voice) Cuban acapella group with Haitian roots. They can take the lead or back up Kellylee Evans, Molly Johnson, or Telmary Diaz. The instrumental sections are very agreeable -- the grooves flow effortlessly, the flute fits in organically, the soprano sax standing out a bit stronger. The vocals don't drag things down, either. B+(*)
  22. Rob Burger: City of Strangers (2009, Tzadik): Tin Hat founder, plays piano but also lots of other instruments, like accordion, guitars, lap steel, banjo, ukulele, harmonica, marimba, vibes, jew's harp. Short pieces, 31 in all, many just soundtrack fragments, most augmented with viola and violin, one with Marc Ribot guitar. Nice enough, but doesn't flow all that well, and is far from substantial. B [Rhapsody]
  23. Mark Buselli: An Old Soul (2008 [2009], Owl Studios): Trumpeter, co-leader with Brent Wallarab of Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, a group based in Indiana that released my favorite big band album of the last couple of years -- Where or When, in the JCG print queue. Evidently the plan is for the two leaders to each take a shot at arranging an album, but for all practical purposes the whole gang is there, plus a bunch of extra strings. Kelly Strutz sings five songs -- reminds me of Cory Daye on "If I Should Lose You." B+(**)
  24. Edmar Castaneda: Entre Cuerdas (2009, ArtistShare): Harp player, originally from Colombia, based in New York, leading a trio with trombone and drums and occasional guests. The complex stringiness of the harp sound is unusual and distinctive. A couple of cuts have a tango feel. Didn't much care for Andrea Tierra's rather diva-ish guest vocal. An interesting talent. B+(**)
  25. Chuck & Albert: Énergie (2009, chucketalbert.com): Two brothers, Chuck and Albert Arsenault, one plays guitar and harmonica, the other fiddle and assorted things, ranging from cowbell to diaper-wipe box. They make Canadian hillbilly music, assuming Prince Edward Island has anything that might pass for hills, in any case en français, so you may have to go to the trot sheet for the jokes, not that the music itself in any way lacks good humour. B+(**)
  26. C.O.D.E.: Play the Music of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy (2008, Cracked Anegg): I guess the artist credit is a trivial cipher for "Coleman, Ornette; Dolphy, Eric." The group consists of Ken Vandermark (clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax), Max Nagl (alto sax), Clayton Thomas (bass), and Wolfgang Reisinger (drums). The nine tunes are from Coleman and Dolphy (two medleyed together), each member arranging. Nagl has been on my shopping list a long time, but I hadn't managed to find anything by him before. Similar to the Vandermark 5's Free Jazz Classics, both in the assured command of tricky music and their willingness to run with it. [U] [Rhapsody]
  27. George Colligan: Come Together (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Piano trio, one of the most consistently impressive pianists of his generation (b. 1970), but I've yet to hear a full record I really like -- admittedly, I missed a skein of well-regarded albums on Steeplechase. Liner notes advise: "It might take 2 listens to hear our lifetimes of musical development." Having played this 5 or 6 times, I'm sure it takes more. I don't have any complaints or insights. I do have a long-established pet peeve against covering Beatles songs -- maybe I know them too well as originals, or maybe they're just such protean rock they're unjazzable -- but they nail the title tune about as well as I can imagine. B+(**)
  28. Harry Connick, Jr.: Your Songs (2009, Columbia): Searching the top of the bestseller list for a dud, but this isn't it -- just can't bring myself to dislike it. A long list of stellar credits (don't have song-by-song breakdowns) are almost impossible to recognize: Wayne Bergeron, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Ernie Watts. The music is almost totally dominated by anonymous string orchestration, more Nelson Riddle than Billy May, and not Riddle -- but then Connick isn't Sinatra either, so the downsizing works surprisingly well. Half the standards come from the rock era, with obvious lemons from Elton John, Billy Joel, Bacharach and David, even the Beatles, turning into bright spots. At worst, a little dull. B+(*)
  29. Nicola Conte: Rituals (2009, Emarcy): Italian guitarist, DJ, producer, dabbles in film scores, bossa nova, acid jazz, ethnic Indian music. AMG files him under electronica, which is true of most of the beats here. A mixed bag of pieces, with five vocalists, all in English, and large groups of musicians, mostly Italian. On a couple of items the horns steer the pieces toward jazz. By far the best is "Caravan," and blazing trumpet solos by Till Brönner and Fabrizio Bosso, and a vocal by Philipp Weiss that actually helps. Certainly a choice cut. The rest I'm not so sure of. B+(*)
  30. Paolo Conte: Psiche (2009, Platinum/Universal): Italian singer-songwriter, b. 1937, likened by some to French paragons like Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens; given his gravelly voice and casual worldliness the analogue I'm tempted to offer is Leonard Cohen. I doubt, though, that it holds up to close examination. B+(*)
  31. Chick Corea & Gary Burton: The New Crystal Silence (2007 [2008], Stretch): Back in 1972 ECM released the old Crystal Silence, giving Burton top billing. The pair bounced into each other several times since then, leading to this 35th anniversary reunion. Two discs: the first fortified by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the second a bare duo. Needless to say, the latter works better, mostly by avoiding the excess gunk. Still, on their own this is pretty thin. [U] [Rhapsody]
  32. The Neil Cowley Trio: Loud Louder Stop (2007 [2009], Cake): British pianist, leading a trio with Richard Sadler on bass and Evan Jenkins on drums. First record, Dis-Placed, won a BBC Jazz Album of the Year poll; I liked it enough to include it in a Jazz CG. Similar stuff this: bright acoustic (and some electric) piano; sharp chords, often repeating, always keenly rhythmic. They get compared to E.S.T. a lot -- there seems to be a certain pop cachet to that in Europe, but they strike me as both brighter and more mainstream, a bit like Ramsey Lewis at his very best. Except that Lewis was almost never at his best, and these guys always are. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  33. Kevin Deitz: Skylines (2005-08 [2009], Origin): Bassist, b. 1959, based in Portland, OR, seems to be active in classical as well as jazz, plays both acoustic and electric basses, including a 7-string fretless. First album, mostly cut in 2007 with two earlier cuts and one later one. Groups range from a piano trio (where Deitz also plays accordion) to an octet full of horns. Pieces lean Latin then lean away, the first on the slick side, but others show a wide range of talents. B+(*)
  34. Mike DiRubbo: Repercussion (2008 [2009], Posi-Tone): An impressive alto sax quartet -- big sound, bold moves, still well inside the postbop tent -- with vibraphonist Steve Nelson the fourth leg, a contrast in the rhythm section more than a second solo option. Dedicated to drummer Tony Reedus, who died five months after the record was cut. B+(**)
  35. Diverse (2009, Origin): Eponymous group album, from Kansas City, students of Bobby Watson at University of Missouri-Kansas City, won a competition the label sponsored at the 2008 Gene Harris Jazz Festival. Watson produced, and appears on one track. Members: Hermon Mehari (trumpet), William Sanders (tenor sax), John Brewer (piano, rhodes), Ben Leifer (bass), Ryan Lee (drums). Mehari seems to be leader -- at least owns the contact email -- but Leifer is the most prolific writer, with 5 of 10 individual credits (plus a share of 2 group credits). Fashionably postbop, but nothing jumps out at me, and it drags more than a little. B-
  36. Dave Douglas: Spirit Moves (2008 [2009], Greenleaf): You'd think I would have gotten this. Some sources credit this to Brass Ecstasy, but cover just lists the musician names, Douglas above the title, the others below. Brass Ecstasy groups four brass -- trumpet, french horn (Vincent Chancey), trombone (Luis Bonilla), and tuba (Marcus Rojas) above drums (Nasheet Waits) -- a tip of the hat to Lester Bowie. Two covers ("Mr. Pitiful" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") are fully formed, and "Great Awakening" shines with exuberance. The other originals are less scrutable, but I've always been a slow study with Douglas. Sometimes he pays off handsomely. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  37. Eldar: Virtue (2008 [2009], Masterworks Jazz): Russian whiz kid, b. 1987 in Kirgizstan; not sure when he moved to US, but he lived in Kansas City for a while before landing in New York. Eight record since 2001; first since turning 21. He's a powerhouse pianist; likes to jam thick chords together at oblique angles, but it still strikes me that his models are classical like Rachmaninoff rather than jazz, like Tatum or Taylor. Mostly trio, with extra sax on four tracks -- Joshua Redman on one, Felipe Lamoglia on three, with Nicholas Payton chiming in on one of those. The horns are put to good use on "Long Passage," the one cut written by bassist Armando Gola, where Eldar switches to electric. Follows that up with a soft touch ballad that is quite nice. I tend to be real skeptical of prodigy claims, but this is the third album I've heard, and they've been improving. He should turn out OK. B+(**)
  38. Kurt Elling: Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman (2009, Concord): B- [Rhapsody]
  39. Marianne Faithfull: Easy Come Easy Go (2008 [2009], Decca): Not a jazz singer of any recognition, but interpreting a bunch of songs -- only "Solitude" counts as a standard, with "Ooh Baby Baby" (Smokey Robinson) comparably famous and not much more than "Sing Me Back Home" (Merle Haggard) easy to place (title song was part of Bessie Smith's repertoire) -- with Hal Willner producing more than qualifies. Willner's worked effectively with Faithfull before, producing her 1987 record Strange Weather -- a candidate for the last record she's done this good, although it's possible you'll have to go back to 1979's Broken English, not that I'd totally discount 1997's Twentieth Century Blues -- and perhaps more importantly turned her loose on Kurt Weill on the Willner's wondrous Lost in the Stars (1985). Willner brings several things, starting with networking. The only guest vocalist I find actively annoying is Antony (on "Ooh Baby Baby"), but Nick Cave, Sean Lennon, Chan Marshall, and Rufus Wainwright aren't even on my B-list -- Teddy Thompson and Keith Richard might be. But the revolving band is superb: horns include Steven Bernstein, Marty Ehrlich, Ken Peplowski, Lenny Pickett, and Doug Wieselman; Marc Ribot and Barry Reynolds on guitar; Rob Burger, Gil Goldstein, and Steve Weisberg on various keyboards; Greg Cohen on bass and Jim White on drums; and a string quartet on five cuts, never too conspicuous. Leads off with Dolly Parton's "Down From Dover" which Faithfull's accent moves from Tennessee and her gravitas lifts from pity to tragedy. Nothing else is transformed so powerfully, but it's all worth pondering. Can't think of many real jazz singers who can do that. A-
  40. Michael Farley: Grain (2009, Innova): Ethnomusicologist, teaches at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. Studied at Central Missouri State and University of Iowa. Not sure how old, but he writes: "Since my first trip across Kansas (1955?) I loved the way wheat looks and sounds as it moves in the wind." First album I can find -- google knows about dozens of Michael Farleys but damn little about this one. Four pieces plus a Quiktime video called "Milton Avery in Kansas" -- would like to see that some time, but don't have time or patience to figure out how now. Cover advises using headphones and warns: "Woe unto those who labor in the fields of tall amplifiers/They know not what they sow." Probably good advice, not followed, so I didn't follow the spoken word text close enough. The middle two pieces, both 2-channel tapes, one of piano and the other electronic sounds, could also benefit from closer concentration. The final piece, "Brown's Hymn," is another spoken word/sax noodle, themed toward understanding the blues. Even without headphones, I'm attracted by the intelligence and ambiance. With headphones there may be some upside potential. B+(**)
  41. Béla Fleck/Zakir Hussain/Edgar Meyer: The Melody of Rhythm: Triple Concerto & Music for Trio (2009, Koch): Banjo, tabla, bass for the principals. Their trio pieces are modestly exotic, the strings in sharp contrast, the percussion balancing them in tone and shifting the music. The three movement concerto is fortified by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The trio still stands out there, making you wonder why they need the semiclassical backdrop anyway. Probably some institutional money and prestige riding on it. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  42. The Bob Florence Limited Edition: Legendary (2008 [2009], Mama): I guess you could call this a ghost band, but the corpse is relatively fresh -- this was recorded Oct. 22-23, 2008, a bit more than five months after Florence died. While Florence has a trio album as early as 1958, his discography picks up in the 1980s as he made his reputation as a big band arranger. The group is fresh and sharp, with Alan Broadbent ably filling in the piano chair. B+(**)
  43. Flow Trio: Rejuvination (2008 [2009], ESP): Basic avant-sax trio, with Louie Belogenis on tenor sax, Joe Morris on bass, and Charles Downs on drums. Sax is rather lacklustre, partly sonic but mostly because the one thing this group doesn't do is flow. B [Rhapsody]
  44. Elli Fordyce: Sings Songs Spun of Gold (2008 [2009], Fordyce Music): Vocalist, b. 1937, released her first album in 2007; this is her second. Standards, some backed by guitar-bass-drums, some piano-bass-drums, two just piano; two Jobims get extra percussion, one with flute by Aaron Heick. Jim Malloy duets on "Oops!" with some extra percussion from tap dancer Max Pollack. Distinctive singer -- "Let's Get Lost" is one song she adds something to, and she steers "Desafinado" well away from the usual clichés. B+(**)
  45. Forgas Band Phenomena: L'Axe du Fou/Axis of Madness (2008 [2009], Cuneiform): Fusion group, led by drummer Patrick Forgas. Second album. Moves swiftly through four long-ish pieces, with Karolina Mlodecka's violin the signature instrument, two horn players punching in highlights, guitar-keyboards-bass chugging along. They make it look easy. B+(**)
  46. Carlos Franzetti: Mambo Tango (2009, Sunnyside): Argentine pianist, b. 1948, has a dozen or so albums since 1993. This one is solo piano, three originals including the title cut, plus standards ending with Bill Evans and Duke Ellington. Does very little for me one way or the other -- a victim, no doubt, of casual listening, a bad habit I expect superior records to kick me out of. This one is merely very nice. B
  47. Roberta Gambarini: So in Love (2008 [2009], Emarcy): Italian singer, moved to US in 1998, with three albums albums since 2006; touchy about her age but has an album on Splasc(h) from 1991. I missed her first album, heard the second on Rhapsody way after the fact, and only got this lousy promo after the June release. She has a remarkable voice which sounds serious and unmannered on even the plainest ballad, but she can also scat and bite into vocalese. Side credits include James Moody on tenor sax, Roy Hargrove on trumpet and flugelhorn, a bunch of piano-bass-drums players. Song selection seems a problem here: "Crazy" and "That Old Black Magic" remind me of other, better versions. Promo ends strong with her words on top of a Johnny Griffin riff, but the final release fades away with a medley from "Cinema Paradiso" and "Over the Rainbow." B+(*)
  48. Melody Gardot: My One and Only Thrill (2009, Verve): Singer-songwriter from New Jersey; second album, evidently some kind of bestseller. Wrote 9 songs, co-wrote 2, and picked one cover, "Over the Rainbow." Her voice has unobvious appeal, and most of the songs work in unpredictable ways. Six are swathed in strings, which sound awful at first but quickly recover -- another burden she manages to slough off. Name sounds French; not sure how that works, but the one song she wrote in French is a choice cut. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  49. David Gibson: A Little Somethin' (2008 [2009], Posi-Tone): Trombonist, has three previous albums on Nagel Heyer since 1999. Quartet with Julius Tolentino on alto sax, Jared Gold on organ, and Quincy Davis on drums. Straightforward, with elements of soul jazz and hard bop. Tolentino is a sharpshooter, and I'm always sympathetic to trombone leads, but this drags a bit, the organ not generating much heat. B
  50. Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band: I'm BeBoppin' Too (2008 [2009], Half Note): Ghost bands always seem to run into trouble, even though they start off with great songbooks and fond memories. Problem here isn't that James Moody can't play James Moody anymore, or that Slide Hampton can't update the classic arrangements. More like that Frank Greene can't hold a candle to Dizzy Gillespie, but even there the problem isn't technical so much as existential. Even Jon Faddis, who played Gillespie's stunt double for a decade-plus, couldn't raise the energy level of a big band like Gillespie, and then there's the matter of levity -- Diz wasn't what you'd call a real funny comic, but he could always lift you up. Moody and Roy Hargrove contribute a couple of forgettable stabs at scat. Roberta Gambarini sings three songs, but they don't suit her. B
  51. Jeff Golub: Blues for You (2009, E1 Music): Pop jazz guitarist, 9th album since 1988. Should be on safe ground sticking to blues, but fails to ask the basic question: blue about what? Can't be the roster of guest vocalists (Marc Cohn, Billy Squier, John Waite, Peter Wolf) or instrumentalists -- Chris Palmaro (organ), Kirk Whallum (sax), Jon Cleary (piano), each given one song to show off on. Thick, slick; I don't buy it for a minute. B
  52. Richie Goods & Nuclear Fusion: Live at the Zinc Bar (2007 [2009], RichMan): Electric bassist, leading a quartet with Jeff Lockhart on guitar, Helen Sung on keybs, and Mike Clark on drums, formidable musicians. More fusion than soul jazz or pop, hot and frenzied, but like all contained fusion experiments thus far, doesn't generate more energy than is input. B+(**)
  53. Gordon Grdina's East Van Strings: The Breathing of Statues (2006-07 [2009], Songlines): Canadian guitar and oud player, based in Vancouver, does interesting work but doesn't make it easy. This set where he's joined by violin-viola-cello is a good deal more difficult than usual. From the other room it sounds like slightly annoying classical chamber music. When I settle down and pay close attention it seems more interesting but still rather inscrutable. The string players are notable jazz musicians in their own right: Jesse Zubot (violin), Eyvind Kang (viola), and Peggy Lee (cello). I suspect that there is a good deal more to this, but doubt that I'll ever figure it out. B+(*)
  54. Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Phases of the Night (2008, Intakt) If you take Penguin Guide as gospel, there is probably no major jazz artist that I am further behind on than Barry Guy. (I've rated one Guy record plus two from London Jazz Composers Orchestra, for most intents Guy records. For comparison, I have 5 from Derek Bailey, not much better, especially percent-wise.) Guy seems to have written these four pieces, reportedly inspired by paintings by Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, Wilfredo Lam and Yves Tanguy. They do vary in density, detail, and color, the denser the better with this group. The pieces tend to start with bass rumble, and while Crispell is awesome, she never quite beats Guy into the ground. Remarkable, I think. Wish I knew for sure. A- [Rhapsody]
  55. Mary Halvorson/Jessica Pavone/Devin Hoff/Ches Smith: Calling All Portraits (2008, Skycap): Starts on something of a false note with a title scream, a feint toward punk or antifolk followed by a hard left into something else. Halvorson's guitar has the least presence here. Hoff's bass, on the other hand, is amped up to the point where he's the evident leader, while Pavone's violin slices through everything without the slightest hint of sweetness. Mostly odd groove music with a lot of sharp edges. Hard to say what it all means, but the bass and drums provide balance and diversity that the duo lacks. Maybe humor too. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  56. Mary Halvorson Trio: Dragon's Head (2008, Firehouse 12): Away from Jessica Pavone, this finally provides some sense of what Halvorson's guitar sounds like, although the answer isn't simple. Trio includes John Hebert on bass and Ches Smith on drums. As much fun as Devin Hoff was on Calling All Portraits, Hebert is a relief here, totally engaged in whatever's happening, as supportive as a bassist can be. Halvorson does a number of interesting things here, including some surprising heavy metal crunch, but mostly a lot of poking and prodding, small figures that stay far clear from ye olde bebop lines. This got a lot of poll votes last year. Seems like it is the sort of record an artist can build a reputation on. A-
  57. Roy Hargrove Big Band: Emergence (2008 [2009], Emarcy): Mainstream trumpet player, made a big splash early on which still serves him well in polls. Has tried his hand at Cuban and pop-funk, and now moves on to big band, weighing in heavy at 18 pieces plus occasional vocalist Roberta Gambarini. Some nice things here, like a "My Funny Valentine" that stays on the delicate side, and plenty of power when Hargrove wants to put pedal to the metal. Gambarini is nothing special here. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  58. Eddie Harris/Ellis Marsalis: Homecoming (1985-2009 [2009], ELM): Reissue of a 1985 duo album, which takes a while to get going -- "Out of This World" did it for me. Harris wasn't an especially consistent tenor saxophonist, but he left a handful of marvelous records before he died in 1996 -- a personal favorite is There Was a Time (Echo of Harlem) (1990, Enja). Good to hear him again, and he brings out the Les McCann in Marsalis. The record is filled out with four new tracks: three piano duos with Jonathan Batiste and a quartet adding bass and drums and moving Batiste to melodica. I wouldn't have bothered -- pleasant enough, but it messes with my bookkeeping system. B+(*)
  59. Stefon Harris & Blackout: Urbanus (2009, Concord): Vibraphone player, got a big boost signing with Blue Note in 1998, one of the first jazz musicians who grew up with hip-hop and promised to fuse the two together. This album looks like he's still pushing that line, but it sounds like something else altogether: fractured rhythmically, Monk-like but working different angles, augmented by Marc Cary's keybs and a palette of soft reeds -- flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet. Some vocals, or vocoder, muddies the water a bit -- not to my taste, but interesting still. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  60. John Hébert: Byzantine Monkey (2009, Firehouse 12): Bassist, originally from New Orleans, now based in New Jersey or New York. First album under own name, but he's no stranger: I recognize about 15 albums on his credits list (out of 50-some), and I've often noted his work on them. Very interesting group he's rounded up here: Michael Attias (alto sax, baritone sax), Tony Malaby (tenor sax, soprano sax), Nasheet Waits (drums), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion), Adam Kolker (4 tracks: flute, alto flute, bass clarinet). Kolker's bass clarinet holds the second track together, and his flute runs away with the third. "Blind Pig" is a slow, melancholy bass rumble, very attractive. "Cajun Christmas" seems a little wobbly, a bit of postbop harmonics sliding in. Lost track after that, but seems like a very worthy debut. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  61. Hemispheres: Crossroads (2008-09 [2009], Sunnyside): Group led by percussionist Ian Dogole, who has one previous Hemispheres album, one by Ian Dogole & Global Fusion, a couple under his own name, some earlier work in a group called Ancient Future. AMG lists him as New Age, which doesn't seem quite fair. Two solo pieces here -- one on kalimba, the other on hang -- are basic but intriguing. The other pieces are fleshed out with Sheldon Brown and Paul McCandless on various reeds/horns, Frank Martin on piano, and Bill Douglass on bass. McCandless's presence suggests Oregon, but doubling up on the wind instruments gives us something lusher, which is not necessarily a good thing -- clarinet and English horn, piccolo and soprano sax, like that. Final cut adds Hussein Massoudi tombak and vocals on a Persian piece. For once the vocal helps concentrate and clarify. Cover is a satellite image of Istanbul straddling the Bosphorus. As good a place to start as any. B+(*)
  62. Arve Henriksen: Cartography (2006-08 [2009], ECM): Trumpeter, from Norway, b. 1968. AMG classifies him as Avant-Garde, presumably factoring in his classical training, fascination with Japanese shakuhachi, use of electronics, and utter lack of swing. Fourth album since 2001, the first three on Rune Grammofon. The music is mostly built on samples -- quiet, peaceful, ethereal -- mostly by Jan Bang, with tiny bits of guitar (Eivind Aarset on 2 cuts), bass (Lars Danielsson on 1 cut), synth (Erik Honoré on 4 cuts), and drums (Audun Kleive on 1 cut, percussion on 2 more), and David Sylvain spoken words (2 cuts). So subtle it could slip by unheard, which would be a shame. B+(***)
  63. Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra: Live at Jazz Standard (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Small pocket: just pianist, drummer, and either vocalist or trumpeter. Hersch and Richie Barshay play up a storm, and Ralph Alessi is superb as always. Vocalist Jo Lawry has a lot of spunk too, but I can't quite get into her voice or act. B+(**)
  64. Fred Hersch: Plays Jobim (2009, Sunnyside): Solo piano, aside from one cut with percussion. Focuses on some "lesser known" pieces. Hersch notes several sources of interest in Jobim, including a short stretch playing with Stan Getz. Basically, any jazz musician in the last 30-40 years was bound to bump into Jobim sooner or later, and Hersch has worked through enough songbooks to make this one inevitable. Still, I'm reminded that he took on Bill Evans nearly 20 years ago, and that one meant more -- not, I think, a coincidence that I'm reminded more of Evans here than of Jobim. B+(*)
  65. Jake Hertzog: Chromatosphere (2009, That's Out): Guitarist, b. 1986, graduated Berklee, based in Champaign, IL; first album. I've rather avoided playing this: front cover looks like fusion, back cover suggests a fashion sense stuck in the 1970s, and the shrinkwrap was still shrunk and wrapped. Had I opened it I might have read: "Jake Hertzog is a jazz guitarist of and for the 21st century. . . . Players in this century are mainly influenced by Pat Metheny, Mike Stern and people outside the jazz orbit like Jimi Hendrix. As a result they sound much different from their predecessors on the instrument." In general, that's not true, not enlightening, and not interesting. As for Hertzog, well, what I said. Leads a trio, plus piano on three cuts. Not very fusiony, although he's no doubt listened to rock guitarist -- Duane Allman is a name that comes to mind. Has a distinctive tone, which comes through most clearly in an old song like "Almost Like Being in Love." B+(**)
  66. Lawrence Hobgood: When the Heart Dances (2008 [2009], Naim Jazz): Pianist, b. 1949 in North Carolina, grew up in Texas (his father had "a job" at Southern Methodist University), moved to Chicago in 1988. Fifth album since 2000. Two cuts solo, the rest duets with bassist Charlie Haden. Three Hobgood originals, two from Haden. The duos are lovely, except for the three cuts when the third name on the cover joins in: vocalist Kurt Elling. Hobgood has played for Elling since the early 1990s, so you can figure this as returning the favor. But there's something about Elling I find unbearable, and while he's on his best behavior here -- slow, smokey ballads that eliminate his tendencies to get slick and/or smarmy -- he's still tough to take. B+(**)
  67. John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble: Eternal Interlude (2009, Sunnyside): Dazzling at times, annoying at others; full of thick, luminous sheets of sound, but the potential solo power, including Tony Malaby and Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax, rarely pokes through; not much interest in the rhythm section, even though that's where the leader resides. Theo Bleckman speaks an intro, and adds some verbal mush elsewhere. B+(*)
  68. Bobby Hutcherson: Head On (1971 [2009], Blue Note): An album from Blue Note's dog days, the great vibraphonist working with classical pianist Todd Cochran on suite things with a large band; the reissue adds 40 minutes of extras that blow away the original album, especially the exciting 15:40 fusion romp "Togo Land" and some serious bebop soloing from Harold Land. B+(**)
  69. Mimi Jones: A New Day (2007-08 [2009], Hot Tone Music): Looks at first like a soft soul set -- MySpace lists "Mimi Jones aka. Miriam Sullivan" as Nu-Jazz. First record. Not much of a singer -- a soft disco purr as opposed to the usual gospel roar -- but sometimes sneaks up on you. Also plays bass, which keeps her head in the groove and pops out front on occasion, a nice touch. Wrote most of the songs -- "Silva" is a good one. Band is slick and unassuming: guitar, keybs, drums, Ambrose Akinmusire's trumpet on two tracks. Closes with a nice "We Shall Overcome." B+(*)
  70. Stanley Jordan: State of Nature (2008, Mack Avenue): Release date 4/22/08 -- never got a final, so this has languished and now I'm just closing out the paperwork. Some pieces show promise, but overall too messy for my taste, like with the juxtaposition of Mozart with Silver. B
  71. Sřren Kjćrgaard/Ben Street/Andrew Cyrille: Optics (2007 [2009], ILK): Sly, dense little piano trio, some soft noodling and some edgier stuff. The leader is a young Danish pianist who seems to be affiliated with the label. The others are pros who keep this on the up and up. B+(**)
  72. AJ Kluth Quintet: Twice Now (2008 [2009], OA2): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano), from Chicago, b. 1980, has published a book of transcribed Chris Potter solos. First album, quintet with guitar-piano-bass-drums, no one I've heard of, although guitarist Nick Ascher contributes four songs (topping Kluth's three) and is a prominent soloist. Two covers, one from Chick Corea, the other from Radiohead. Bright and energetic, but run-of-the-mill postbop, not all that interesting. B
  73. Steve Kuhn Trio w/Joe Lovano: Mostly Coltrane (2008 [2009], ECM): No complaints about the advertising here: eight Coltrane pieces, two by Kuhn, two common covers (but not so common as "My Favorite Things"; likewise, the originals don't include "Naima" or "Giant Steps"). Lovano plays the sax parts, sounding more like Lovano than like Coltrane, subbing tarogato for soprano. Kuhn played a bit with Coltrane way back around 1960, which has something to do with why he did this, but it's not clear what he's up to here. His solo spots are fine but not that interesting; same pretty much for Lovano. B+(*)
  74. Daniel Levin Quartet: Live at Rowlette (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Cellist, based in New York, has a couple of records out. This quartet has evidently been together since 2001. Seems like an odd choice of instruments at first -- cello, trumpet (Nate Wooley), vibes (Matt Moran), bass (Peter Bitenc) -- and indeed they tend to fall apart into separate pieces (well, not so sure about the bass). Odd pieces, more or less interesting, especially the cello. B+(*)
  75. Lhasa (2009, Nettwerk): A singer-songwriter whose exotic name gets her slotted as world music -- the full McCoy is Lhasa de Sela, from Big Indian, NY; parents from Mexico; she wound up in Montreal, Canada, or maybe France. This doesn't sound like it comes from anywhere or is going anywhere. Doesn't even sound folkish, just sort of neutral, peaceful, New Age with words. B-
  76. Christian Lillingers Grund: First Reason (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): German drummer (Lillinger; the s would be 's in English), b. 1984, first album, built this group from the ground up with two bassists, two saxophonists (also on clarinet), and famous guest pianist Joachim Kühn on 3 of 11 tracks. Good to focus on the drum-and-bass and let the horns fly where they may. Gets a little shrill toward the end. B+(**)
  77. Joe Locke/David Hazeltine Quartet: Mutual Admiration Society 2 (2009, Sharp Nine): Vibes-piano duet, reinforced by Essiet Essiet on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. As the title suggests, Locke and Hazeltine have done this before, with their 1999 album Mutual Admiration Society. Vibes-piano is one a combination that tends to work, as Milt Jackson/John Lewis showed many times. Locke first came to my attention in a duo with Kenny Barron, But Beautiful. Hazeltine is one of the best mainstream pianists working, notable both as a trio leader and accompanist. Nice enough, but still this scoots by without leaving much of an impression, like all the mutual admiration doesn't produce any tension to spark our interest. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  78. Pamela Luss with Houston Person: Sweet and Saxy (2009, Savant): Best use of "saxy" in an album title ever was a four-tenor blowout from 1959 called, without a gram of hyperbole, Very Saxy. The lineup: Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Buddy Tate, Coleman Hawkins, and Arnett Cobb. None of those guys would ever get taken for sweet -- Hawkins has some ballad albums to die for, but he was more like cool and debonair. Person, like Ben Webster, could do sweet, but I wouldn't want to rub him the wrong way either. His problem here is Luss: the album could use a lot more sax, and maybe even a little more sweetness. Luss's problem is song selection: seems like an odd set of ill-fitting songs. One bright spot is guitarist James Chirillo. B+(*)
  79. Carl Maguire's Floriculture: Sided Silver Solid (2009, Firehouse 12): Pianist, called his first album Floriculture (2005, Between the Lines) and kept he name for his group, even though only Dan Weiss (drums) returns here: John Hebert takes over the bass slot, Oscar Noriega alto sax (although clarinet and bass clarinet are more prominent), and most importantly Stephanie Griffin expands the quartet to quintet with her viola -- the dominant sound, giving the whole an abstract, fractured chamber music feel, punctuated by the occasional Sturm und Drang. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  80. Tony Malaby: Paloma Recio (2008 [2009], New World): Album name seems likely to return as a band name in future releases. Quartet, Malaby on tenor sax, Ben Monder on guitar, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Nasheet Waits (a busy guy all of a sudden) on drums. Malaby and Monder both have a habit of stealing other people's shows while selling themselves short on their own records. They starts out a bit reticent, but picks up some muscle as it goes along -- I'm tempted to credit Opsvik, who plays with Malaby in the Kris Davis Quartet and is a tower of strength here. Seems like the sort of record that could slowly grow on you. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  81. Joe Maneri/Peter Dolger: Peace Concert (1964 [2009], Atavistic): An alto sax-drums free improv taped as part of "an all-night peace concert" at St. Peter's Church. Interesting enough, cerebral with little flash, but short at 24:23. The record is padded out with Stu Vandermark's 2006 interview of a reticent Maneri, longer at 26:04, an extra you won't want to bother with twice and may not make it through once. B
  82. Eyal Maoz's Edom: Hope and Destruction (2009, Tzadik): Guitarist, born in Israel, based in New York. Has a previous Tzadik record called Edom, elevated here to band name despite a couple of personnel changes, and a new duo with Asaf Sirkis, Elementary Dialogues (Ayler). This is a quartet with Brian Marsella on keybs, Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on bass (pictured electric), and Yuval Lion on drums. Fusion, more than halfway to prog rock, what "radical Jewish culture" there is largely washed out -- "Two" is a partial exception. B+(*)
  83. Jason Marsalis: Music Update (2009, ELM): Another Marsalis brother, b. 1977, plays vibes. Third album, a quartet with piano-bass-drums. Mostly light groove pieces, a couple of which build up into something, most of which are pleasant enough. B
  84. Wynton Marsalis: He and She (2007 [2009], Blue Note): Marsalis was long overrated as a composer, but the more he sinks his teeth into the tradition, the better he gets at making it pay. He is exceptionally comfortable in these pieces, at times achieving a grace and elegance that is downright Ellingtonian. A quintet with Walter Blanding on tenor and soprano sax, Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Ali Jackson on drums -- Blanding doesn't make much of an impression, but Nimmer more than earns his keep. The problem is that the music is broken up with numerous "poems" -- more like a libretto, as surface-deep on the battle of the sexes as he's previously been on slavery. B+(**)
  85. Masada Quintet: Stolas: The Book of Angels Volume 12 (2009, Tzadik): A John Zorn joint. He's listed as playing on this, but I gather he only plays on one cut. The quintet is stellar: Dave Douglas (trumpet), Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Uri Caine (piano), Greg Cohen (bass), Joey Baron (drums). I take his word that there are 11 previous Book of Angels volumes, although I have no idea how they are organized or filed. Masada was a Zorn quartet (with Douglas, Cohen, and Baron) dating back to 1994, launched with a series of records Alef, Beit, Gimel, etc., shifting to numbers later on, then finally mutating into all sorts of things around 2004. For all the stylistic pastiche Zorn works in, what this most reminds me of is Sun Ra: a case where no amount of interstellar weirdness can quite shake an inate sense of swing. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  86. Barney McAll: Flashbacks (2009, Extra Celestial Arts): Australian pianist, b. 1966, moved to New York in 1997, fifth album since 1996 (or sixth since 2001, depending on your source). Plays keyboards and something called a Chucky here. Musicians come and go, but most tracks include Jay Rodriguez (tenor sax), Josh Roseman (trombone), Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), Drew Gress (bass), Obed Calvaire (drums), with Pedrito Martinez (bata drums, percussion) on half. That's quite a lot of fire power, with Rosenwinkel's guitar especially prominent. Quiet spots featuring piano are quite nice; the louder runs powerful. Maybe a bit too rich for my taste, but impressive postbop. B+(**)
  87. Chad McCullough: Dark Wood, Dark Water (2008 [2009], Origin): Trumpeter, based in Seattle. Debut album, leads a sextet through 7 originals, 1 by pianist Bill Anschell, and "Blackbird" by you know who. Shares front line with two saxes (Mark Taylor, Geof Bradfield), backed by piano (Anschell), bass (Jeff Johnson), and drums (John Bishop). Postbop, the sort of thing I find overly fancy and not all that inspired. Does have a bright, strong tone to his trumpet. B
  88. John McLaughlin/Chick Corea: Five Peace Band Live (2008 [2009], Concord, 2CD): Another anniversary reunion, this time looking back 40 years to joint service under Miles Davis. Corea plays electric piano here, chasing or pushing McLaughlin through a series of 20-minute groove pieces, with Christian McBride and Vinnie Colaiuta helping out. It's pretty good for what it is, even when Corea is just diddling on his own, as happens a lot in "Dr. Jackle," but the pay off comes when Kenny Garrett chimes in. I've gotten to where I don't expect much from these guys, so this is a very pleasant surprise. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  89. Medeski Martin & Wood: Radiolarians II (2008 [2009], Indirecto): The second of three discs of presumably related material -- I didn't get these, although I've been getting hype for a forthcoming box set that pulls them all together (not that that guarantees I'll get the box set either). Radiolarians are protozoa with intricate mineral skeletons. Medeski composed all but one of the pieces here (other comes from Rev. Gary Davis), but the stripped down, rhythm-first feel reminds me more of Billy Martin's sideline records, especially when Medeski plays piano. I like it more than anything I've heard by the group in a long time. Medeski wheels the organ out near the end on "Amish Pintxos" and that works fine too. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  90. Medeski Martin & Wood: Radiolarians III (2008 [2009], Indirecto): Evidently the end of this series, starts more abstractly with more piano, shifts midway to organ and pumps up the volume, ends toned down again. Group comps this time. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  91. Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Strings: Renegades (2008 [2009], Delmark): Flautist, b. 1967, based in Chicago since 1990. Downbeat Critics Poll ranks her #1 rising star and #4 overall on flute, trailing senior citizens (and saxophonists) James Moody, Lew Tabackin, and Frank Wess, ahead of James Newton, Hubert Laws, Dave Valentin, Jamie Baum, and a bunch of others who primarily play something else. Her growing rep is deserved on a lot of levels, not least her ambition in breaking new ground, but still it's just flute, there's not much competition, and I've never much cared for it. Here she's backed with three strings -- Renee Baker doubling on violin and viola, Tomeka Reid on cello, Josh Abrams on bass -- and percussion, which sets off the flute nicely and gives her composing space without the flute -- actually the more impressive share of the record. One bit of uncredited vocal, more a proclamation than a lyric: I make it out to be, "I will never again let my destiny be in the hands of another." B+(**)
  92. Guilherme Monteiro: Air (2005 [2009], Bju'ecords): Brazilian guitarist, b. 1971, in New York since 2000. Debut record, although he's also recorded in Forró in the Dark. Most cuts include Ben Street (bass), Jochen Ruckert (drums), and Jerome Sabbagh (tenor sax); two have pifano or alto flute and percussion; three have voice, with Chiara Civello on one, Lila downs on another. All very low key, subtle, slinky. B+(*)
  93. James Moody: 4A (2008 [2009], IPO): Tenor saxophonist, made his name in early 1950s both in Dizzy Gilllespie's bands and on his own. Has a checkered discography that I've sampled only lightly, but into his 80s a venerable figure. About as good a deal as one can hope for: a straightforward quartet with Kenny Barron (piano), Todd Coolman (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums); nothing on flute; a set of standards -- I'm always a sucker for "Bye Bye Blackbird." B+(**)
  94. Van Morrison: Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2008 [2009], Listen to the Lion): Live concert revisit of Morrison's foundational album -- some singles preceded it, including his still greatest single song ("Brown Eyed Girl"), variously reissued as T.B. Sheets and Bang Masters, and Them came even earlier, but this is where he traded in his pop-rock attack for a career of Celtic mystique, blue-eyed soul, and jazz riffs. Fans are divided between those, like Lester Bangs, who couldn't get enough of the introspection and others, like Robert Christgau, who preferred the elegant popcraft of Morrison's next album, Moondance. I lean toward the latter group, but never doubted the revelation here. The concert reorders some songs, loosening them up, and he's matured into his voice -- a wonder of the world forty years ago and even more so now. It's not reinvention on the level of Leonard Cohen's Live in London, so it could be docked for redundancy. Still, if he wants to keep doing this sort of thing, I'm not going to complain till he gets to Hard Nose the Highway. A-
  95. Mr. Groove Band: Rocket 88: Tribute to Ike Turner (2009, Zoho Roots): Tim Smith on bass, Roddy Smith on guitar, a bunch of others, a lot of guests, with Bonnie Bramlett (1 track) and Audrey Turner (3 tracks) pictured on the back cover, but most of the vocals are by Darryl Johnson. The songs are more Tina than Ike, but none of the singers make you think of Tina, let alone forget her. The horns are deployed in soul arrays, never allowed to bust out like Jackie Brenston -- even on the title track. And the guitar is off, which if you're serious about Ike should really have been the point. They can't even plead ignorance: the record ends with a "bonus track" instrumental that puts them to shame -- an outtake from a 2007 record by guess who? Ike Turner! C+
  96. My Cat Is an Alien & Enore Zaffiri: Through the Magnifying Glass of Tomorrow (2009, Atavistic, CD+DVD): Well, aren't they all. Two brothers from Italy, Maurizio and Roberto Opalio, play alien guitar and astral guitar respectively, odd bits of percussion, and "alientronics" -- sounds more like old-fashioned transistors. They have a lot of records out since 1998, some under their respective names. Zaffiri is creditd with "real-time recording of reel to reel tapes" -- another old-fashioned touch. Two improv pieces of wobbly ambience, rather attractive, not very substantial. Comes with a DVD with two videos -- one a "duo video"; i.e., two shots side-by-side -- underscored with even more ambient music. Doesn't come with the drugs to make the DVD watchable. B+(*)
  97. M. Nahadr: EclecticIsM (2009, Live Wired Music): Vocalist, also plays keyboards and gets a "programming" credit. First album, although I haven't explored her M alias or Mem Nadahr, which seems to be her real name. Wikipedia article focuses on her "albinistic Afro-American" genetics. Her label slots her as a jazz vocalist, but there's little here to distinguish her from the run of neo-soul divas, either in soft coo or in full-blooded gospel shout. Maybe a little more eclecticism in the synth-based music. B+(*)
  98. Ted Nash: The Mancini Project (2007 [2008], Palmetto): Saxophonist, leaning more toward tenor this time, also playing alto, soprano, alto flute, and piccolo, leading a quartet -- Frank Kimbrough (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), Matt Wilson (drums) -- on an all-Mancini program. Most Mancini projects play up the playful side of catchy soundtrack tunes, but Nash drills straight into the melodies. Would have preferred less flute, but even that is nicely thought out. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  99. Willie Nelson: American Classic (2009, Blue Note): Nominally a jazz standards album, given the label, the band, the guest stars, and Nelson's own masterful vocals. Nelson has done this sort of thing before, most notably on 1978's Stardust album, which had the advantage of being totally unexpected. He's often at his best on such occasions, but showing that he can do it doesn't prove that he can do it repeatedly. A lot of things seem to be good ideas here but don't quite work out. I'm confused about credits: looks like some cuts were made with Jeffs Clayton and Hamilton, but Christian McBride, Lewis Nash, Anthony Wilson, and Joe Sample also show up among the credits. Two guest duets, one with Norah Jones, the other with Diana Krall -- both first call singers, neither much help here. Of course, it doesn't fall flat. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  100. Ben Neuman: Introductions (2008 [2009], OA2): Another young pianist, from Chicago, who plays fluid postbop. How young? Well, Joey Calderazzo is third on his influences list, following Tyner and Jarrett. First album, a trio with Dennis Carroll and George Fludas. Wrote one song, filling up the album with standards plus Coltrane, Silver, and Hancock. B+(*)
  101. Sean Nowell: The Seeker (2008 [2009], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1973, from Birmingham, AL, based in New York. Second album. Six credits, but cello and guitar appear after drums, like an afterthought, and not one that I noticed along the way. Nowell is also credited with clarinet and flute, also inconspicuous. Otherwise, a conventional, mainstream sax quartet with piano-bass-drums. Upbeat, boppy, never boring, not something any jazz fan would be tempted to complain about. B+(**)
  102. The Nu Band: Lower East Side Blues (2008 [2009], Porter): Quartet, label describes them as free bop. Veterans: the horns are Roy Campbell (trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn) and Mark Whitecage (alto sax, clarinet); the rhythm section is Joe Fonda (bass) and Lou Grassi (drums). Third album together since 2001. All four contribute songs, with Fonda's called "In a Whitecage/The Path," and Whitecage's "Like Sonny." Despite the "Charlie Parker Place" roadsign on the cover, doesn't strike me as boppish -- has a bit of a world music vibe. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  103. Larry Ochs/Miya Masaoka/Peggy Lee: Spiller Alley (2006 [2008], RogueArt): Ochs is one of the saxophonists in ROVA. I had read a rave this release in Stef's Free Jazz blog, knew that I'd never gotten so much as an email response from the label, but was curious enough to approach the artist. After an amusing round of emails, Ochs sent me a couple years' output, which I'll slowly work my way through. Thought I'd start here. Masaoka plays koto and Lee plays cello, so there's a dominant string motif here. Ochs plays tenor and soprano sax, the former listed first but the latter seems the more temperamental fit -- in any case, he tends to defer to the koto lead, coloring in rather than blowing ahead. Likewise, Lee plays more like a bassist, just a little off pitch. Good example of mutual listening, three musicians feeling their way through difficult and unforseen terrain. [formerly B+(***)] B+(**)
  104. The October Trio/Brad Turner: Looks Like It's Going to Snow (2008 [2009], Songlines): The October Trio consists of Even Arntzen (tenor sax), Josh Cole (bass), and Dan Gaucher (drums). They are based in Canada -- Vancouver, I think. They have two previous albums: Live at Rime (2005) and Day In (2006), both at CDBaby, neither heard by me, nor have I run across any of the three in other contexts. Turner plays trumpet, also based in Vancouver. He shows up with some frequency, on 6-10 records I've heard since 1997, many more that missed me. Trying to look up Turner, I discovered that his Wikipedia page had been deleted. Someone thinks he's not "notable" -- someone, I dare say, who doesn't have very good ears. As a quartet, this is a formidable group. The rhythm section is tight and propulsive. The horns can work together or fly apart. A 16:37 piece called "The Progress Suite" is varied and elaborately textured. (The notes cite a C.S. Lewis quote: "If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.") [formerly B+(***)] B+(**)
  105. Old Dog: By Any Other Name (2007 [2009], Porter): Quartet, led by saxophonist Louie Belogenis (or Louis -- google gives Louie the edge by a little more than 3-to-1), credited with tenor here. Other members: Karl Berger (vibes, piano), Michael Bisio (bass), Warren Smith (drums). Belogenis' early credits (c. 1992) are with God Is My Co-Pilot (seems to be a post-no-wave rock group with porn themes) and Prima Materia (Rashied Ali group channeling Coltrane and Ayler); later he fronted a group with Roy Campbell called Exuberance. Seems like a formidable player, especially well versed in late Coltrane. Berger lays out the first cut, then enters on piano, then moves to vibes, making good use of both instruments. The sort of record I would put back for further listening if I actually had it. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  106. Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton: Imaginary Values (1993 [2007], Maya): Cautionary tale: I thought I'd check to see if I could find anything recent and unheard by Parker on Rhapsody, given that I have a lot of his material written up for the CG. Rhapsody listed this as 2008 -- their dates are often useless, but they're the first ones I see. AMG and Amazon have it as 2007; not too far out of date. AMG gives the label as TCB, but almost everyone else agrees on Maya. So I play it and research some more. It shows up in discographies as recorded in 1993 at the Red Rose Club in London. Penguin Guide, which only lists recording dates, has it as a 4-star, rating it one of the trio's best efforts. Hard for me to tell. Rhapsody won't play the 3rd cut or the 6th. I jump to the 8th ("Invariance"), which PG singled out, but I don't really get it. This is difficult music, abstract, lots of oblique angles, prickly spines sticking out every which way. Parker plays more soprano sax than tenor, which makes this wobblier than usual, and Guy and Lytton are always difficult. And it's way too late to keep pursuing a line that isn't going to produce anything. So for now, but I'm not scratching it off the shopping list. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  107. Chris Pasin: Detour Ahead (1987 [2009], H2O): Trumpet player, b. 1958 in Chicago, attended New England Conservatory. First and only album, released 22 years after it was cut, with 7 of 9 Pasin originals, fronting a group of well known (must less so then) musicians: Steve Slagle (alto sax, soprano sax on 2 cuts, flute on 1), Benny Green (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), Dannie Richmond (drums). At best has a sharp hard bop edge, and is also fine when the horns drop out. Slagle is a strong soloist on alto sax, but his harmonizing takes the edge off, and he should lose the flute. Don't know why Pasin hasn't made more of a career. B+(*)
  108. Art Pepper: The Art History Project (1950-82 [2009], Widow's Taste, 3CD): Three discs, designated "Pure Art (1951-1960)," "Hard Art (1960-1968)," and "Consummate Art (1972-1982)." The gaps account for prison time, which would have been clearer had whoever put this together been better at dates: the first disc actually goes from a Stan Kenton cut in 1950 up to 1957. Another gap between 1960 and 1968 is buried in the prison-hardened second disc, and the third doesn't actually get going until 1977. Still, the eras are roughly correct. Aside from the Kenton, the first disc -- a best-of picked from a string of superb albums -- has a bright, fresh, clean sound with no extra lines or baggage, just virtuoso alto sax over impeccable west coast rhythm. The later material is more weathered and less choice. Most of the second disc comes from a previously unreleased set with pianist Frank Strazzeri -- rough stuff, Pepper fiercely determined to make up for lost time. The third disc adds a little angst to his extensively documented final period -- cf. the 16-CD Galaxy box, the 9-CD Complete Village Vanguard Sessions, scattered more/less legit live shots -- when everything he did seemed magical. A-
  109. Mikkel Ploug/Sissel Vera Pettersen/Joachim Badenhorst: Equilibrium (2009, Songlines): Danish guitarist, b. 1978, has a couple of previous records -- one on Fresh Sound New Talent from 2006 I rather liked. Belgium-born, Brooklyn-based Badenhorst plays clarinet, bass clarinet, and tenor sax, while Petterson, from Norway, sings, plays soprano sax, and dabbles in live electronics. I find the vocals a bit of a problem -- less so when they converge on song form than in just filling around, hornlike or in one of four "Chorale" pieces -- but can't quite dismiss them either. Instrumentally the pieces are intricately woven together. B+(**)
  110. Mika Pohjola: Northern Sunrise (2008 [2009], Blue Music Group): Finnish pianist, b. 1972, studied in Boston, settled in New York. Has a long list of records since 1996 -- AMG lists 7 for 2009 alone, but this is the only one I've heard. Postbop quintet, with Steve Wilson ("saxophones"; presumably alto and soprano), Ben Monder (guitar), Massimo Biolcati (bass), and Mark Ferber (drums). A wide range of stuff, including a bit of Grieg, some Ellington channeled through Mingus, some bop, some fusion, some pastorale. B+(*)
  111. Positive Catastrophe: Garabatos Volume One (2008 [2009], Cuneiform): A peculiar twist on a Latin big band, led by percussionist Abraham Gomez-Delgado, who has a previous album as Zemog, and Taylor Ho Bynum, who plays cornet in circles strongly influenced by Anthony Braxton. The group is touted as connecting "the dots between Sun Ra, Eddie Palmieri, and beyond" (dots to beyond?), with the Ra-dedicated "Travels" supposedly a mash up with Ra, Chano Pozo, and Julie London. I don't hear any of those things except maybe for one (and only one) Jen Shyu vocal. But then I don't hear hardly anything I can hang onto here, neither in the Latin domain (where the beats are skimpy and the band's lack of cohesion precludes a groove) or as avant. I reckon the comparisons are no more than cultural dissonance conceived as a positive postmodern virtue, but I don't see the point. Still, I hear some things I like, especially in the engine room, where Michael Attias's baritone and Reut Regev's flugelbone try to keep things moving. B
  112. Profound Sound Trio: Opus de Life (2008 [2009], Porter): Andrew Cyrille on drums, Paul Dunmall on tenor sax and bagpipes, Henry Grimes on bass. Live set, all group improvs, raw both in sound and substance. Grimes sounds especially primitive here, Ayleresque even. Dunmall has always been hit-and-miss, but he's pretty much always on here. He even squeezes out a couple of minutes of rather sublime music on his bagpipes, elsewhere more often than not an implement of torture. Cyrille may get first billing alphabetically, but he does a remarkable job of holding it all together, and gets to end the set on a rapturous crash. They didn't try to tone down the applause, and for once it's deserved. A- [Rhapsody]
  113. Alvin Queen: Mighty Long Way (2008 [2009], Justin Time): Basically a hard bop drummer, Queen updates the standard quintet by trading piano for Peter Bernstein's guitar and bass for Mike LeDonne's organ (or vice versa), picking up a conga drummer for good measure. The result is nods toward soul jazz with some extra funk and fancy twists. Terell Stafford and Jesse Davis have some good moments as the horns, but mostly toot along. Songs like "I Got a Woman" and "Cape Verdean Blues" hold up fine, but lesser fare comes up short in interest. B+(*)
  114. Rashanim: The Gathering (2009, Tzadik): Group, evidently led by Jon Madof (guitar, banjo), with Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (acoustic bass guitar, bass banjo, glockenspiel, melodica, tiple, chonguri) and Mathias Kunzli (drums, percussion, jaw harp, whistling). AMG lists three Rashanim albums, plus an earlier one by Madof called Rashanim. Chantlike vocals on "Jeremiah"; otherwise intricate little groove pieces based on old Jewish themes, captivating, charming, a bit new agey. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  115. Benny Reid: Escaping Shadows (2008 [2009], Concord): Alto saxophonist, b. 1980, second album; filed it under pop jazz, which has much more to do with the saxophone, which could fit nicely in any postbop context -- he has a sweet tone on the ballads and can romp on the fast ones. Worse than the keybs-guitar-bass is the scat slung by Jeff Taylor. [U] [Rhapsody]
  116. Revolutionary Ensemble: Beyond the Boundary of Time (2005 [2009], Mutable Music): A live set cut on a tour in Poland, effectively a last hurrah before pioneering violinist Leroy Jenkins died in 2007. The trio with bassist Sirone and drummer Jerome Cooper worked together from 1971-78, then regrouped for a remarkable album in 2004, And Now . . . (Pi). So this promises more, but they come out uncertain and despite various characteristically intriguing moments never really get their sound together. They come closest in the two closing improvs, even when Cooper switches to synth. B [Rhapsody]
  117. Revolutionary Ensemble: Vietnam (1972 [2009], ESP-Disk): The latest reissue of the periodically reissued debut disk of the Leroy Jenkins-Sirone-Jerome Cooper trio. Nothing specific about Vietnam, but it was in the air in revolutionary circles of the time. Jenkins single-handedly invented a new path for violin in avant-jazz, scratched raw, searching the ins and outs of his comrades' rhythms. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  118. Dave Rivello Ensemble: Facing the Mirror (2002 [2009], Allora): Composer, conductor, teaches at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, founded this 12-piece ensemble in 1993. Studied under Bob Brookmeyer, who wrote the liner notes here. Elaborate postbop shadings, impressive at first but turn out to be of limited interest. B
  119. Perry Robinson/Burton Greene: Two Voices in the Desert (2008 [2009], Tzadik): Duo, two mellowed veterans from the 1960s avant fringe. Robinson plays clarinet, ocarina, wooden flute, sopranino clarinet. Greene plays piano. Almost too polite, but the closer you dig into it the more ornate it becomes. I guess small things count for a lot in the desert. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  120. Adam Rogers: Sight (2008 [2009], Criss Cross): A guitarist with a light touch on long and elegant lines, backed by John Patitucci on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. Four originals, covers of bebop and standards; stays within a fairly narrow sonic band, requiring more attention than I like but often rewarding it. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  121. Ari Roland: New Music (2009, Smalls): Bassist, says here that he's been playing every week with Chris Byars and Sacha Perry for 22 years now. I figure that makes him 15 when he started that gig. Byars, a saxophonist who mostly plays alto here but tenor elsewhere, and Perry, a pianist, are two years older. Quartet is filled out by drummer Keith Balla. Tight group, trying to find new angles on old bebop and mostly succeeding. B+(**)
  122. Roger Rosenberg: Baritonality (2009, Sunnyside): Baritone saxophonist, also plays soprano sax and bass clarinet. Second album, the first appearing in 2003, but has side credits going back to 1970s, starting with Buddy Rich, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, George Russell, and John Lennon (Double Fantasy); Bob Mintzer is a name that pops up a lot after that; also Barbra Streisand and Steely Dan -- note that Walter Becker is producer here. Quartet with Mark Soskin on piano, Chip Jackson on bass, Jeff Brillinger on drums, plus Peter Bernstein's guitar on one track. The bright bouncy postbop Soskin brings is fine but not all that interesting; same for Rosenberg's proficient soprano, but the more stripped down and focused on the baritone the better. B+(**)
  123. Bobby Sanabria: Kenya Revisited Live!!! (2008 [2009], Jazzheads): Drummer, grew up in South Bronx, of Puerto Rican lineage; graduated Berklee 1979; credits include Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Larry Harlow, and Mario Bauzá. Cut a record in 1993 (New York City Ache) and several since 2000. Here he conducts the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra in a live remake of Machito's 1957 Kenya, with Candido Camero returning from the original band. Big, brassy, lots of percussion, some solo spots for alto sax and trumpet -- Cannonball Adderley and Joe Newman appeared on the original album. Don't know how the original album stacks up in the Afro-Cuban Jazz pantheon, or even what Kenya has to do with it. B+(**)
  124. Örjan Sandred: Cracks and Corrosion (2001-09 [2009], Navrona): Swedish composer, teaches at University of Manitoba where he founded Studio FLAT for computer music. Not listed as playing here, which doesn't preclude programming. One piece from 2001, the rest from 2008-09; mostly strings, sometimes guitar or harp, with the occasional flute or clarinet. Rather bare and abstract, not very jazzlike, but interesting in small doses. B+(*)
  125. Christian Scott: Live at Newport (2008, Concord, CD+DVD): Cool young mainstream trumpet player, Downbeat's Rising Star, has two previous albums on Concord, neither made much of an impression on me. Sextet, with Walter Smith III on tenor, both piano and guitar as well as bass and drums. This starts out sounding funereal, and rarely picks up the place, although the rhythm is competently complex and Smith cuts a few strong solos. Can't see DVDs via Rhapsody, not that I'd want to. B [Rhapsody]
  126. Wayne Shorter: The Soothsayer (1965 [2009], Blue Note): One of his later Blue Note Sessions, unreleased until 1980, probably because the pieces didn't add up until we started to yearn for classic performances from Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, and the leader, but not necessarily alto saxophonist James Spaulding, who seems like the odd cat out. B+(*)
  127. Fred Simon: Since Forever (2008 [2009], Naim): Pianist, don't have a birth date but there's a YouTube video of a 70th birthday party. Cut his first album, Musaic on Flying Fish, in 1979, and has worked irregularly since then -- AMG likes a 1988 album on Windham Hill (probably why they list him as New Age) and a 1991 album on Columbia, in both cases his only record on those labels. They don't rate/review his three albums on Naim starting in 2000. This is a quartet, with Paul McCandless (soprano sax, oboe, English horn, bass clarinet, duduk), Steve Rodby (bass), and Mark Walker (drums, percussion). McCandless is the draw, and the results are rather mixed. Liked it more the first play, less the second; want to move on now. B+(*)
  128. Wadada Leo Smith/Jack DeJohnette: America (2009, Tzadik): Apparently a new recording, although I keep reading about a "proposed" ECM date in 1979 of the pair, and they actually go back further, to Smith's Golden Quartet. Of course, the usual caveats about duos apply: thin sound, limited colors, slow dynamics. Still, I find it touching, and masterful. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  129. Warren Smith Composers Workshop Ensemble: Old News Borrowed Blues (2009, Engine): Hard working, little recorded drummer, ringleader here for something sort of like a big band but rather casually arranged: 2 trumpets, euphonium/bass trombone, 5 reeds, bass violin and guitar but no bass, a second drums/vibes player, plus extra African percussion. A three-part quite, four pieces called "Free Forms," one called "One More Lick for Harold Vick" (an obscure saxophonist c. 1960). I didn't make much sense of it all, but it just sort of slid by with slippery grooves and good humor. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  130. Tessa Souter: Obsession (2009, Motéma Music): Singer, b. 1956, "of Trinidadian and English parents," based in New York, third album. Has a commanding voice, considerable poise, doesn't fit into any well worn niche: not a standards singer, not an improviser, not a songwriter, not that she doesn't do a little of each (two originals here). I'd like her better if I liked the songs better, but "Eleanor Rigby," Nick Drake, "Afro Blue," and a double dose of Nascimento are a lot to carry. Didn't notice the band. B
  131. Luciana Souza: Tide (2009, Verve): Brazilian singer, has a nice clean tone in the main line of Brazilian pop and jazz singers, a bit higher pitched. Three Brazilian songs strike me as exceptional, but none of six in English piqued my interest. Larry Klein wrote five of the latter, so he's suspect; the sixth was from Paul Simon, not someone I'm particularly fond of. B [Rhapsody]
  132. Tim Sparks: Sidewalk Blues (2009, Tonewood): Solo guitar, not sure what "fingerstyle" means -- guessing, I substituted "fingerpicked" in my review of Sparks' Little Princess. This is a bit less intriguing, probably because the old blues, gospels, rags, and jazz tunes (Fats Waller the most recent) have mostly been fingerpicked over before. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  133. Mike Stern: Big Neighborhood (2009, Heads Up): Electric guitarist, learned fusion under Miles Davis, but it was rather late in the game when Davis was well past his peak. He's never much impressed me on his own, garnering a dud for Who Let the Cats Out? last time. New record is more groovewise, mostly metallic but one song sounds slightly African. Don't have the breakdown of which guests play on which cuts, and not sure that it makes a lot of difference. Most common effect is to wrap some vocals around the mainline, but not even that gets annoying. B [Rhapsody]
  134. Grant Stewart: Young at Heart (2007 [2008], Sharp Nine): One album back. Another quartet, with Tardo Hammer (piano) and Joe Farnsworth (drums) constants, but with Peter Washington in the bass slot (big improvement, not a surprise). Starts with the luscious title song, followed by a slow burn on "You're My Thrill." Turns a bit boppy on the one original, "Shades of Jackie Mac," for Jackie McLean, and stays more or less in that mode through Ellington and Jobim. Album cover has a brunette draped over his shoulders, his best Bennie Wallace move to date. Doesn't have the ballad tone, but he seems more comfortable here. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  135. Grant Stewart: Plays the Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn (2009, Sharp Nine): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1971, basically a generation but little else removed from one-time young fogeys like Scott Hamilton and Ken Peplowski. Last time I reviewed a record by Stewart the label owner/producer wrote in to register his dismay and hope that I would listen to the record again. I don't mind letters like that. I might even learn something some day. But I didn't change my mind, and he never sent me another record. This is Stewart's second since then: a quartet with Tardo Hammer (piano), Paul Gill (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). Eight Ellington and/or Strayhorn songs, "It Don't Mean a Thing" the only one I can instantly ID. Reminds me that my main problem with Stewart is that his tone strikes me as rather dull, at least compared to a dozen similar sax players. On the other hand, there's something here that resists the young fogey caricature. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  136. Marcus Strickland: Of Song (2008 [2009], Criss Cross): After several self-released albums, Downbeat's rising star (#2 at tenor sax, #1 at soprano sax) sloughs an album off on the premier Dutch mainstream label. Quartet, with David Bryant on piano added to his trio of Ben Williams on bass and brother E.J. Strickland on drums. Seems a little slow to me, starting with "Ne Me Quitte Pas" and a harp-enhanced Oumou Sangare song. "It's a Man's Man's World" is barely recognizable only from the bass, and I don't think the piano adds a thing. A good saxophonist with better albums. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  137. Steve Swell: Planet Dream (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Trombonist, b. 1954, from Newark, NJ, based in New York, has a dozen or more albums since 1996, probably 50-some credits since 1985, most avant-garde, or at least pretty underground. I've only sampled him lightly, and don't have much of a feel for what he does. This is an ugly trio, two horns and a bass, except the bass is actually Daniel Levin's cello. The other horn is Rob Brown, on alto sax, trying to sound more like Braxton's For Alto than anything Charlie Parker might have hallucinated. The trombone only adds to the effect. Like I said, ugly. B+(*)
  138. Ricky Sweum: Pulling Your Own Strings (2008 [2009], Origin): Tenor saxophonist (soprano too, of course), b. 1974, grew up in Oregon, based in Colorado Springs, CO, where he wound up after a tour with the Air Force Academy Band. First album. Wrote everything, including song titles like "Hot Sonny Day" and "Under Sonny's Bridge" that most likely aren't about Stitt. Big sound, bold moves -- well, except for the soprano. Runs a quartet with guitar, bass, and drums -- Wayne Wilkinson gets off some nice runs on guitar. B+(**)
  139. Joris Teepe Big Band: We Take No Prisoners (2008 [2009], Challenge): Dutch bassist, b. 1962, based in New York (or, as his MySpace page puts it, New Rochelle, NY). AMG lists eight albums since 1993. Big band is loud, brassy, has some strong sax soloists. B
  140. Alex Terrier New York Quartet: Roundtrip (2009, Barking Cat): French saxophonist, born in Paris; attended Berklee, another George Garzone student; lives in New York. Second album. Lively postbop quartet with Roy Assaf (piano), François Moutin (bass), and Steve Davis (drums), plus guest guitarists on 4 of 10 cuts. Mostly plays soprano, which I find the least attractive. B+(*)
  141. Lucky Thompson: New York City, 1964-65 (1964-65 [2009], Uptown Jazz, 2CD): An excpetional saxophonist whose slim discography has gradually built up as lost sessions and live shots have been uncovered. Two more, the first disc an octet at the Little Theater, the second a quartet at the Half Note, neither indispensible but the sheer beauty of Thompson's tenor sax comes out especially in the smaller group setting. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  142. Charles Tolliver Big Band: Emperor March (2008 [2009], Half Note): Same big band as on the widely touted 2007 album With Love, but much sharper live, especially when the saxophonists get some elbow room. If only they held it all together more consistently. When they do this is a rich and powerful experience; otherwise it's just loud, or something else. B+(**)
  143. Tortoise: Beacons of Ancestorship (2009, Thrill Jockey): Instrumental rock group, been around since the early 1990s, with Jeff Parker, who has some jazz cred, on guitar, but more often than not he's buried under the keyboards -- presumably John McEntire and John Herndon, although both are also credited with drums. The pieces have some structure and sometimes get edgy if not quite noisy. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  144. Theo Travis: Double Talk (2007 [2008], Voiceprint): British tenor saxophonist, b. 1964, has a dozen-plus albums since 1993, also plays soprano, flute, alto flute, clarinet, and something called wah-wah sax here. First album I've heard, although Penguin Guide likes him and he's been on my shopping list. This album has been out long enough it's already in Penguin Guide; he's got another more recent duo with Robert Fripp, which I didn't get. Fripp guests on three tracks here, expanding the guitar-organ-drums quartet. (Mike Outram is the regular guitarist.) Travis has some affection for the jazz-oriented prog rock of the early 1970s -- Fripp is one example, Travis's membership in the Soft Machine Legacy Band (taking over for Elton Dean) is another, then there's the sole cover here, Syd Barrett's "See Emily Play." Travis strikes me as a strong, distinctive tenor saxophonist, but the record often gets muddled, especially by the organ -- the guitars are more of a mixed bag. And Travis's other horns aren't nearly strong enough to rise above the muck. B
  145. Trespass Trio [Raymond Strid/Per Zanussi/Martin Küchen]: ". . . Was There to Illuminate the Night Sky . . ." (2007 [2009], Clean Feed): Annoying title, what with all the quote marks and elipses. Sax trio: Martin Küchen on alto and baritone sax, Per Zanussi on bass, Raymond Strid doing percussion. Küchen leads or is in various groups, notably Angles and Exploding Customer. He plays loud and free, although this feels much more compressed and constrained as he makes every breath seem unbearably arduous. B+(*)
  146. Baptiste Trotignon: Share (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1974 near Paris, grew up in Loire, studied at Nantes Conservatory, moved to Paris 1995, has a pile of records since 2000 as well as side credits with Moutin Reunion Quartet. Mostly piano trio, with Eric Harland and Otis Brown III splitting the drum slot. Tom Harrell (flugelhorn) and Mark Turner (tenor sax) appear on two tracks together and one each alone. Mostly fast-paced postbop, especially on the trio tracks. Nothing strikes me as exceptional, but it is all expertly fashioned, straight down mainstream. B+(*)
  147. Jim Turner's Jelly Roll Blues (2007-08 [2009], Arbors): Pianist, of course, plays in the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, a trad-jazz outfit from San Antonio billed as "the only full-time traditional jazz band in the United States." Solo piano, bunch of Jelly Roll Morton songs, fine as far as it goes -- I still prefer Dave Burrell's The Jelly Roll Joys for solo piano, even more so James Dapogny's Original Jelly Roll Blues, not to mention Morton himself. Ends with Topsy Chapman singing "Mr. Jelly Lord" -- a nice bonus. B+(*)
  148. McCoy Tyner: Solo: Live From San Francisco (2007 [2009], Half Note/McCoy Tyner Music): I don't have any way of easily checking how many solo piano albums Tyner has recorded. Several, certainly -- not as many as Paul Bley or Cecil Taylor or Keith Jarrett, but a few. Not sure how this stacks up, but offhand the piano doesn't sound very clear, and his speed, which is usually in the breathless range, is a bit off. B
  149. Jeremy Udden: Plainville (2008 [2009], Fresh Sound New Talent): Saxophonist, plays alto and soprano, from Plainville MA (the source of this title), based in Brooklyn. Second album. Starts out in a sly groove, using Brandon Seabrook's banjo and guitar and Pete Rende's pedal steel to hint at country music. Rende also plays pump organ and Fender Rhodes, a layering that Udden's sax builds on -- at least until he breaks loose on "Big Lick," which is set up by RJ Miller's razor-sharp drums. B+(***)
  150. Ken Vandermark/Barry Guy/Mark Sanders: Fox Fire (2008 [2009], Maya, 2CD): Two sets recorded in Birmingham and Leeds, more or less home turf to bassist Guy and drummer Sanders. Vandermark plays tenor sax and clarinet; sounds magnificent on the former, fierce on the latter. Don't know whether the pieces are group improvs, come from Guy's stash, or are more mixed. Doesn't make a lot of difference. Guy has an interesting bag of tricks, and Vandermark fleshes them out admirably. A lot to listen to in one shot; wish I had this. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  151. Fay Victor Ensemble: The Freesong Suite (2008 [2009], Greene Avenue Music): Vocalist, in past has reminded me of Betty Carter, an influence virtually none other has risked. Backed by a rather avant group: Anders Nilsson (guitar), Ken Filiano (bass), Michael T.A. Thompson (drums). Previous album, Cartwheels Through the Cosmos, made my A-list. This one is more trouble. Idea was to take some song material and let the musicians improvise between it. The material tends to be heavy-handed, arch, and gloomy, and the improvs tend to be tentative, especially in the guitar, a strong point on the previous album. B+(*)
  152. Eric Vloeimans: Fugimundi: Live at Yoshi's (2008 [2009], Challenge): Dutch trumpet player, b. 1963, has a dozen-plus albums since 1992. Postbop, fairly mainstream, has a nice bright sound and deft command. This is a rather slow group for him, a rhythm-less trio with Harmen Fraanje on piano and Anton Goudsmit on guitar. B+(*)
  153. Melissa Walker: In the Middle of It All (2009, Sunnyside): Vocalist, b. 1964, graduated from Brown, fourth album since 1997, after three on Enja. Standards, more or less: only "Where or When" has been done a lot; title cut is from Arthur Alexander, a soul singer who's basically a cult item; second song comes from Peter Gabriel; the one that most struck me was "Mr. Bojangles," drawn out nicely with her exaggerated loops. Arranged by Clarence Penn and Christian McBride, with Adam Rogers and Keith Ganz on guitar, Aaron Goldberg on piano and (most significantly) Fender Rhodes, and most valuably Gregoire Maret on harmonica. B+(**)
  154. Greg Wall's Later Prophets: Ha'Orot (2008 [2009], Tzadik): Another group named after their first album. Basically a sax-piano-bass-drums quartet, with Wall playing a little clarinet, shofar, and something called a moseńo in addition to tenor and soprano. Most important is the spoken word by Itzchak Marmorstein, in English and (mostly) Hebrew, the gravity underscored by both Wall and Marmorstein appearing in the credits as Rabbi. The texts are from Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook. Rav Kook, as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi in the British Mandate for Palestine up to his death in 1935, was a critical figure in reconciling at least some factions of orthodox Judaism to Zionism. His son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, went on to found the Gush Emunim settler movement which remains an important part of the Israeli right and a major obstacle to a peace. The politics may be irrelevant here (although I can't swear it is not). Rav Kook was a complex character, and the emphasis here (as far as I can tell) is on compassion, a worthy subject. The music is easier to follow. It carries the spoken word texts effortlessly, rising now and then to dramatic crescendoes much as Marmorstein's mostly sly recitation does. B+(*) [advance]
  155. Jeff "Tain" Watts: Watts (2008 [2009], Dark Key): Drummer, broke in at age 21 on the first Wynton Marsalis album (back when Wynton was 20 and Branford 21). Has six albums under his own name -- one cut in 1991, a second (first released) in 1999, picked up the pace after that. Quartet with Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, and Christian McBride, high octane mainstreamers who can run with a fast one. "The Devil's Ring Tone: The Movie" adds some noise, something about "W" and the Devil. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  156. Emily Jane White: Dark Undercoat (2009, Important): Singer-songwriter, AMG considers her Rock and I concur, not that she rocks very hard. Rather gloomy, in fact. Also plays guitar and piano, with bass and drums for backing, plus cello on one cut. Leaves a haunting effect; not sure of its literary merit. B+(**)
  157. Jessica Williams: The Art of the Piano (2009, Origin): Pianist, b. 1948, has a long list of albums including a large subset of solo piano, which this adds to. Wrote 6 of 8 originals, adding one each by Coltrane and Satie. Writes a lot about Glenn Gould in the liner notes. I've sampled her here and there; always been impressed and pleased, rarely had much to say. B+(**)
  158. John Zorn: O'o (2009, Tzadik): Another slice of new age music from composer/non-player Zorn, following The Dreamers (an enjoyable 2008 record, presumably same group). Song titles reflect various birds from "Archaeopteryx" on, the album title (not on the song list) honoring an extinct Hawaiian bird. Sextet: Marc Ribot (guitar), Jamie Saft (piano, organ), Kenny Wolleson (vibes), Trevor Dunn (bass), Joey Baron (drums), Cyro Baptista (percussion). Upbeat, tuneful, shows flashes of guitar power when Ribot turns it up, or splashes of vibes on lighter fare. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Monday, November 23, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 16086 [16053] rated (+33), 754 [748] unrated (+6). Some jazz prospecting, some Rhapsody, was cruising pretty fast until I decided to take on three multi-disc Verve/Hip-O Select sets, which slowed me down. Also got some minor kitchen trim fixes worked out. Interesting that I feel much better doing that kind of work than I do sitting at computer and slogging through music reviews.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #22, Part 4)

First, Jazz Consumer Guide (#21) will appear in the Village Voice this week, 'round about Wednesday. I proposed adding a bunch of Honorable Mentions web-only and sent an extra dozen in, but I've heard that the editor has some up with some extra space, so hopefully all will appear in the paper. I won't know for sure until it happens, and will adjust my paperwork accordingly. I'll still have enough backlogged material to fill the next column. There's a chance the Voice will be able to run it late January, so I'm going to start closing out this cycle soon after this Thanksgiving week.

The Voice is also running Francis Davis's year-end poll again this year. I not only got an invite to vote, but was also asked to contribute a 650-word top-ten sidebar. I have 2-3 weeks until that deadline, so now's the time if anyone wants to push something I haven't heard yet. You can look at my 2009 list to see what I have and where it stands. Among the conspicuously missing are new albums by Vijay Iyer, David Murray, and Ben Allison -- I've asked for those. The Rhapsody ratings (marked ** in the file above) are iffy, of course: would be helpful to get a real copy of the Vandermark 5, as well as some I initially rated below the A- line, like Dave Douglas, Matt Wilson, and John Hébert. I'm trying to chase some of these down, but I'm still limited to known unknowns -- cf. my Jazz CG Wish List, mostly raves from Stef Gijssels' Free Jazz blog.

Not much Jazz Prospecting below, but enough to post. Thanksgiving week is unlikely to add much, as we have various visiting family to host and schmooze with.


Brian Groder/Burton Greene: Groder & Greene (2007 [2009], Latham): Groder plays trumpet/flugelhorn; third album since 2005; biography vague, but shows some respect for avant-garde elders, picking up Sam Rivers for Torque and Greene here. Greene's a pianist who cut a couple of explosive mid-1960s records for ESP-Disk and has popped up every few years ever since. The juxtaposition is interesting here, but the more dominant instrument didn't make the top line: alto sax, played in rip-roaring form by Rob Brown, a bit reckless on the curves but powerful straightahead. The other band members are Adam Lane on bass, who is superb as usual, and Ray Sage on drums. B+(***)

Alberto Pinton/Jonas Kullhammar/Torbjörn Zetterberg/Kjell Nordeson: Chant (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Pinton is a baritone saxophonist, also credited with clarinet, from Italy, b. 1962, studied at Berklee and Manhattan School of Music, based in Sweden. Has 5 previous albums since 2001. Kullhammar plays tenor and baritone sax; b. 1978 in Sweden. AMG credits him with 7 albums since 2000; website admits to a 1994 "CD that I don't want anyone to know about," and in 2000 "One more secret recording" among 123 entries, mostly under others' names. Looks like he runs Moserobie Records, a Swedish label with about 75 titles. Zetterberg and Nordeson play bass and drums, respectively. Freebop, the saxes vying for the low ground, gets ugly in spots, but sometimes even those click. B+(**)

Júlio Resende: Assim Falava Jazzatustra (2009, Clean Feed): Pianist, from Portugal, second album, the first (Da Alma) a strong HM. Works especially well with horn leads, primarily Perico Sambeat on alto sax here, with Desidério Lázaro added on tenor sax for one cut. Covers Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" reduced to fairly minimal piano. One vocal cut with Manuela Azevedo is neither here nor there, but otherwise another strong, beatwise effort. B+(***)

Henry Threadgill Zooid: This Brings Us To, Volume 1 (2008 [2009], Pi): First album since Threadgill dropped two back in 2001, after a five year hiatus, but from the mid-1970s with Air up to 1996 he was one of the more inventive avant-gardists, and one of the few who often seemed on the verge of breaking out with something big. You'll hear more about that next year when Mosaic comes out with a big box of his long out-of-print Novus material, including such classics as Air Lore. This one is interesting in parts, fraught in others: slow start, lots of flute, some odd dead spots, but also much of it is flat out wonderful. The band is distinctive, and each has his spots: Liberty Ellman on guitar, Jose Davila on trombone and tuba, Stomu Takeishi on bass guitar, and Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums. I've played it a lot and go up and down. Volume 2 would be most welcome, maybe decisive. B+(***)

Rodrigo Amado: Motion Trio (2009, European Echoes): Saxophonist, from Portugal, plays tenor here but started on alto. Has put together an impressive string of records since 2000, at first with Lisbon Improvisation Players. Trio here includes Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. Mostly free, your basic sax tour de force. B+(***)

Yaron Herman Trio: Muse (2009, Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1981 in Israel, studied at Berklee in Boston, wound up in Paris. Fourth album since 2003. Trio includes bassist Matt Brewer, who contributes a couple of songs, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Three cuts add a string quartet (Quatuor Ebčne): the first is a bit mushy but the other two mesh nicely. Nice touch on slow pieces, plus some captivating fast runs. B+(**)

Rob Garcia 4: Perennial (2009, Bju'ecords): Drummer, has a couple of previous albums out. Wrote everything here but "Cherokee." Quartet, with Noam Preminger on tenor sax, Dan Tepfer on piano, and Chris Lightcap on bass. Measured postbop, a tension to the rhythm, strong leads both on sax and piano. B+(**)


These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

The Rob Brown Trio: Live at Firehouse 12 (2008 [2009], Not Two): Alto saxophonist, a key player in several William Parker groups, starting to put together a solid catalog on his own. Joined here by Daniel Levin on cello and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. Mostly rough, but there are several interesting and even eloquent sections, including the Billy Strayhorn-inspired "Stray(horn)." B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Briggan Krauss: Red Sphere (2008, Skirl): Alto saxophonist, cut three albums for Knitting Factory in the late 1990s, but has a lot of side credits going back to Babkas in 1993, most notably with Sex Mob. Makes some noise here, little resolving into music of note, but much of it works as a foil for his trio mates: Ikue Mori on laptop and Jim Black on percussion. Black is terrific, and Mori provides some variation. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Vandermark 5: Annular Gift (2009, Not Two): Live record, cut in Poland, like the group's mammoth (and quite marvelous) 12-CD Alchemia box. Not sure whether any of the pieces had been recorded before -- I vaguely recall seeing (or maybe starting to put together) an index of compositions, but don't recall where. In any case, they aren't dupes from recent studio albums. "Spiel" starts with a cello solo, as Fred Lonberg-Holm continues to get better integrated into the group. Vandermark forgoes the baritone sax that had been an increasing part of his V5 repertoire, so he winds up playing more tenor, and Dave Rempis more alto. The result often tends toward what we might call "freebop and roll." Great sound. Great group. A- [Rhapsody]


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail the last two weeks:

  • Svend Asmussen: The Extraordinary Life and Music of a Jazz Legend (Shanachie): DVD
  • Han Bennink: Hazentijd (Data Images, DVD)
  • Curt Berg & the Avon Street Quintet: At Stagg Street Studio (Origin)
  • Anthony Braxton/Maral Yakshieva: Improvisations (Duo) 2008 (SoLyd, 2CD)
  • Chicago Underground Duo: Boca Negra (Thrill Jockey): Jan.
  • Oscar Feldman: Oscar e Familia (Sunnyside)
  • John Funkhouser Trio: Time (Jazsyzygy)
  • Tom Gullion: Carswell (Momentous)
  • Jones Jones: We All Feel the Same Way (SoLyd)
  • Phil Kelly & the Northwest Prevailing Winds: Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles (Origin)
  • The Light: The Second Approach Trio With Roswell Rudd (SoLyd)
  • Pablo Menéndez & Mezcla: I'll See You in Cuba (Zoho): Jan. 11
  • Antoinette Montague: Behind the Smile (In the Groove): Feb. 9
  • Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy: Good Time Music for Hard Times (Stony Plain)
  • The New Mellow Edwards: Big Choantza (Skirl)
  • Mike Olson: Incidental (Henceforth): Jan. 5
  • Greg Reitan: Antibes (Sunnsyide): Jan. 12
  • Tom Tallitsch: Perspective (OA2)
  • Matt Vashlishan: No Such Thing (Origin)
  • Myron Walden: Momentum Live (Demi Sound): advance, Nov. 15
  • Myron Walden In This World: What We Share (Demi Sound): advance, Jan. 15
  • Myron Walden In This World: To Feel (Demi Sound): advance, Jan. 15
  • Myron Walden In This World: Singles (Demi Sound): advance, Jan. 15
  • Ben Webster: Tenor Sax Legend: Live and Intimate (1965-71 Shanachie): DVD

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Old Deal

Paul Krugman: Free to Lose. Notes that while the US and Germany have suffered similar recessions, in the US this has pretty much doubled the number of unemployed, whereas in Germany the rise in unemployment has been a small fraction of that.

Here in America, the philosophy behind jobs policy can be summarized as "if you grow it, they will come." That is, we don't really have a jobs policy: we have a G.D.P. policy. The theory is that by stimulating overall spending we can make G.D.P. grow faster, and this will induce companies to stop firing and resume hiring.

Germany's answer was to spread the pain more evenly by cutting back on hours rather than lopping whole workers off the payrolls, like we do here. But then workers have rights and political clout in Germany, unlike here, and that's something we're unlikely to change. Krugman's answer would be to do New Deal-style jobs programs, which also seem to be beyond the limits of our political vision -- Krugman admits as much, which gets him back to harping on how the stimulus wasn't big enough in the first place. As such, this actually brings him back to the mainstream argument that GDP growth delivers jobs. I'm not so sure.

One distinctive feature of unemployment in America is that the safety net is so thin that people cut loose from skilled jobs can't afford to hold out until those jobs come back. Rather, they have to take lesser jobs, and this has a bunch of effects, including creating bloat in the low-wage service sector. A lot of those jobs came into being because the labor was cheap and available, but over time they will get swallowed up by productivity, just like more lucrative jobs. Once upon a time 90% of American jobs were on the farm, but production efficiency reduced that number to 3%. Manufacturing peaked a bit less and was reduced to not much more. Same thing is well on its way in services: one harbinger is the pandemic of self-checkout machines, even though the labor replaced -- or more accurately sloughed onto customers -- is so cheap that it's hard to see any payback. In tough times (and afterward) businesses are likely to squeeze as much as they can from productivity gains before they offer more jobs. We've seen for the last several business cycles how jobs trail GDP recovery, and the trend has if anything been growing. I expect it to be worse than ever this time, because the usual business druthers are building on top of this major trend.

The general rule here is that productivity gains always eliminate jobs. It does lag a bit on an economic upswing, and it accelerates again on a downturn. You only get more jobs when you start doing new kinds of work, or vastly increase production -- the latter can only happen when you greatly increase the buying power of those who are consuming far less than they can handle (e.g., the poor), something all the less likely in a recession. Same, really, for inventing new kinds of work. One thing I wonder about here is whether the previous series of jobless recoveries isn't a trendline toward catastrophe: a point where the lagging job recovery becomes a constant state.

James Surowiecki: The Debt Economy. Good piece here on how government tax policy has led both homeowners and businesses to assume extra debt and therefore create risk in the financial system. One thing we can add is that the home interest deduction has consistently helped to inflate housing prices. On the other hand, eliminating the deduction would cause house prices to deflate, which in the short term would make owners' balance sheets look worse but as housing costs drop would actually amount to an increase in real wages. That sounds like a good idea to me. On the business side, things get far crazier. As far back as the 1980s we saw numerous leveraged buyouts where corporate assets were stripped and replaced with ridiculous debt loads. One of many ways this has hurt the economy is that it led us to value accounting tricks more than business fundamentals. Needless to say, as soon as that became possible, investors went wild with it. As Surowiecki points out in his notes, this isn't necessarily a partisan or ideological issue. But it is a case where a bunch of people think they benefit from the current scheme, and practically no one else understands how the status quo hurts them.

Given how stuck we still are in the thinking that brought these crises on, one wonders how bad it has to get before before we're willing to break loose and try something different. Health care and Iraq/Afghanistan are two things that should be perfectly clear, yet somehow aren't. Looking back in history, we see that the Great Depression was sufficient to get us a president who was willing to try new things. Maybe we're not in such bad shape yet, but I have to wonder if we were would we be up to the task. It sure doesn't look like we're up to the task of facing the real problems we do have.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Anti-Jewish State

War in Context: Israel: Apartheid and beyond: I haven't had much to say about Israel lately, mostly because nothing new has been happening. The Goldstone report, for instance, didn't do much more than sum up what was obvious from the start. It does add two notable things: one is that Goldstone himself is very articulate over what he has found; the other is that is may form the legal basis for world courts to start issuing indictments. While I don't think the latter will solve much, it would add to the number of people who have to be careful where they travel (e.g., Kissinger, Pinochet, Polanski). I also don't much buy the meme that Netanyahu is wrapping Obama around his finger. My own view is that Obama is waiting out Bibi's puerile temper tantrum, and when it runs its course Netanyahu will find that nothing has changed. Of course, I wouldn't bet on that, because it's never been clear just how committed Obama was to ending the conflict.

But I can't resist circulating this photograph of a Hebron settler throwing wine on a Palestinian woman. You can charge Israel with ethnic cleansing, with constructing a system of apartheid, with all manner of abuses of human rights and international law, but it's hard to grasp just how infantile some Israeli attitudes are. Try, for instance, to imagine how this act contributes to the security of the Jews. I can't. I can't even recognize this settler as Jewish. After all, Rabbi Hillel explained Judaism this way: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow; this is the whole Law; the rest is commentary." Try to reconcile this picture with the Law. I can't.

Of course, this is only a trivial example of the hateful things many Israelis do. I won't start enumerating them here, because in the end they're all commentary. The very triviality of this example is what makes it unanswerable.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Suicide

Nancy A Youssef: Suicides on record pace in Army; reasons unclear. Some body counts: 102 in 2006, 115 in 2007, 140 in 2008, another 140 with a month-plus to go this year. Of course that doesn't include Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who acted plenty suicidal in killing 13 soldiers at Ft. Hood. There's more to this than shell shock: "About a third were by soldiers who had never deployed to war zones, and 40 percent of those who committed suicide had seen mental health specialists." The official shortfall of reasons invites speculation. My own is that while a peacetime army may just be a job, constant engagement in war is at odds with every desired norm in American life. It used to be that young people could see military service as a stepping stone to a normal life -- providing useful skills and experience, discipline, after which they would get jobs and build families. More and more it's a dead-end job, not to mention a deadly one, tearing them away from family and community that become increasingly difficult to relate to. And it certainly doesn't help that the wars themselves are pointless and helpless -- increasingly so as counterinsurgency doctrine takes hold, putting soldiers in quandries where their own instincts for self-preservation are recognized as counterproductive. That the military shrinks aren't much help is no surprise. They have an intrinsic conflict of interest between their pateients and their employer's need to keep the war functioning -- not that they've ever been much good at either, even if you discount Hasan as an example.

I don't have the figures handy, but there are many more suicides of ex-soldiers, plus various other crimes -- most likely far in excess of background statistics. Soldiers have always had a hard time adapting to normal civilian life, not least because the skills and instincts that are selected for in war are of such little use in peace. But I think there's more to this. Wars are still common around the world, but they are far removed from everyday experience here in America. Roosevelt effectively militarized civil society in the US during WWII, but ever since then the gap betwen military and civilian cultures has broadened, until today when -- despite much jingoism from politicians and pundits -- they have become totally estranged. I can't say that that's a bad thing. Even though America has had more than its share of wars, up through WWII we always acknowledged that war was an abnormal period, something to be reversed and recovered from as quickly as possible. The Cold War, like earlier imperial obsessions of powers like Britain and France, changed that by turning war into a harmless but perpetual spectator sport -- something that happened to other peoples in other lands, even though we usually had a betting interest and a participation increasingly carried out by mercenaries.

Casualties are risks of the trade, making them relatively easy to rationalize even though most of us find them unfathomable -- hard, that is, to imagine why anyone would pursue such risky trade. Suicide, on the other hand, suggests that the practice of soldiering is not just risk: it's profoundly self-destructive. I don't know whether such statistics will move the general public -- least of all that segment that claims to honor the troops -- but they're certainly raising some concerns within the military. One of the main reasons the US got out of Vietnam was that the war was tearing the army to shreds from the inside -- the drug abuse, criminality, most of all the fragging. It looks like we're approaching that point again, even with the added insulation of an "all volunteer" army. If the shocks of suicide and murder convince this military to pull back from its hopeless misadventures overseas, at least some US soldiers will not have died in vain. That's more than the returning dead from Afghanistan and Iraq can hope for.

And if they convince Americans to put a halt to the dehumanizing and self-destructive enterprise of waging foreign wars, so much the better. Bureaucracies are known for putting self-preservation above all else, but sometimes we have to recognize when one is no longer needed. It's time to mothball the Dept. of Defense before they hurt themselves, and us, even worse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jockeying Afghanistan

Matthew Yglesias: Public Skeptical of Afghanistan Troop Increase: The interesting figure here isn't the lack of enthusiasm for digging even deeper graves in Afghanistan; it's the partisan breakdown, with 63% of Republicans favoring escalation vs. 26% of Democrats, and 60% of Democrats ready to bring troops home vs. 26% of Republicans. We've known most of this all along. Rank and file Democrats are to the left of their elected leaders on most issues, with war and health care and banking regulation and the pervasive influence of money conspicuous. The interesting thing is the split within the Republican ranks: the antiwar block is still sizable even though the party leadership is so firmly prowar a big chunk of the hawks may just be playing follow the leader. Ask yourself why? Sure, Republicans are more enamored of war, but more importantly war is their preferred stance for domestic politics. Having lost the Congress and the presidency, they've made no gestures toward reconciliation. They're engaged in scorched earth retreat mode, sniping at Obama whenever possible, resisting every effort Obama makes at carefully crafted consensus compromise, taking their "tea party" theatrics to the streets to make up in volume what they lack in numbers. Their main thrust has been nihilism: given how brazenly they've prayed for Obama's failure, it would be sensible to take their fervor for more war in Afghanistan as a cynical attempt to trap Obama: on the one hand, more war would discredit him with the base of his party; on the other, the more Obama invests in the war, the more personal its inevitable failure becomes. Republicans have a lot of Bush legacy to get the public to forget, and one way to do that is to foist responsibility (for war, economy, etc.) onto Obama.

You can see here why Obama's people are reading books about Vietnam. The wars may be different, but the political playbook is the same -- except it really isn't. That would be clearer if Obama ever decides to get out in front and lead his party, instead of casting sidewise glances at it while pretending he embodies a consensus that doesn't exist. But even if he doesn't lead he may still survive. This time the Silent Majority is against the Republicans.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 16053 [16047] rated (+6), 748 [741] unrated (+7). Spent pretty much the whole week driving around the Ozarks. Didn't listen to much. Didn't rate much. Didn't have much waiting for me in the mail when I returned.


No Jazz Prospecting

As predicted: spent the week driving around the Ozarks, hopping from one relative homestead to another. Got back Saturday evening. Only one relative had internet, so I hardly turned the computer on. Most relatives favored TV over recorded music, and country among the latter (although one second cousin in Arkansas preferred hip-hop -- you never know). So I wound up doing virtually nothing on jazz, not even sorting through my surplus.

Still between columns, waiting for the last minute edit from the Voice editor.


A little bonus from the scratch file: a couple of reviews that I wrote a year or more ago, thinking I'd hold them back until they reached critical mass, the concept being non-jazz, non-oldies real life records (or promos, at least) I actually received (unlike all the Rhapsody stuff). Rigby and Snider are long-time favorites. Not the best work of either, but I got to where I liked both quite a bit.

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby (2007-08 [2008], Stiff): Eric Goulden was a second-tier new wave pub rocker, just one of the "bunch of Stiffs" behind the label's resident geniuses: Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Ian Dury. In 1979 he had a fluke single and a pretty solid album called The Whole Wide World. Ever since, he's ambled in and out of bands like Captains of Industry, Le Beat Group Electrique, and Hitsville House Band, for a middling career that I never gave a second thought to. Amelia McMahon is a few years younger, but got a late start, after marrying and divorcing dB's drummer Will Rigby and keying a vocal trio called the Shams. Turns out she's another genius, her 1996 Diary of a Mod Housewife kicking off a series of five extraordinary albums, peaking with 2005's Little Fugitive. The two met, got married, and crafted this musical merger. It's a little murky at first, with shadowy photography like they're trying to hide their age, and bits of sixties-ish Brit-pop which they mostly picked up secondhand, but the songs and jangles and even some of the tape scat gradually emerge. She wrote most of the best songs, natch, but they're not as sharp as in the days when she had ex-boyfriends to skewer. Meanwhile, he makes the best of "The Downside of Being a Fuck-Up." And the Johnny Cash song at the end is more than filler. A-

Todd Snider: Peace Queer (2008, Aimless): Eight songs, 26:32 total length -- these days that would count as an EP, even if it wasn't dashed off quickly, with an opportune cover of "Fortunate Son," two rough demos of a parable about a bully who wears himself down, two parts telling the story of Uncle Sam's fatal heart attack, a couple of war stories, and some liner notes just dictated into the microphone. I figure it's his final kiss-off not just to the Bush Administration but to the whole American empire, and I treasure every moment of it. A-

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Back From the Ozarks

Got back from my week-long driving trip, a loop through Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Saw four cousins, ages 66-84, and my last aunt remaining on my mother's side of the family, aged 94. Only one of my stops had a working internet connection, so I've mostly been out of touch -- which I can't say I missed. Didn't listen to much. Didn't even get much reading done. Was good to see them all, to talk about old times, and to remember other mutual loved ones, not least ones no longer with us. We went to two cemeteries, where three of my mother's seven siblings are buried.

One thing I want to note is that, with little or no encouragement from me, all four cousins were strongly opposed to continuing the war in Afghanistan. One was a political science professor with well tuned liberal sensitivities who came of age trying to stay out of Vietnam. Another is nowhere near as savvy but picked up a populist edge from her father back in the Great Depression and has rarely if ever been fooled by a war pitch. The other two are more surprising: Oklahoma vets from WWII-Korea, one devoutly religious with a bunch of active military in his family, the other a hard-working butcher who owned his own business. Both felt strongly that we have no business over there, and that if Afghans want to fight we should just stay out of their way.

I'm not sure this consensus holds for subsequent generations. I didn't go around canvassing, but did hear one blanket condemnation of all Muslims and I got a lecture on premillennial dispensationism, something I've heard reports of but have rarely (at least since my paternal grandfather died) been able to associate with otherwise sane acquaintances. In fact, there is an awful lot of ignorance and misinformation going around, backed by unshakeable confidence in sources as dubious as Fox News and the Word of God. That anyone ever manages to see through all that fog is remarkable, mostly hinging on simple concepts like "we have no business being there" or "other people should fight their own wars."


Trip Notes

Got back from my little swing down to Arkansas this week. Left Monday, Nov. 9, rather late in afternoon. Drove to Independence, KS, staying Monday and Tuesday evenings with Ken Brown. Saw my last living Brown family aunt, Freda Bureman, both Tuesday and Wedensday mornings. She is 94, short on short-term memory, and has just been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. They did a biopsy last week, and were scheduled to go to doctor Thursday -- report is that they will treat it with Femara, which may be able to inhibit or slow its spreading. She recognized me immediately both times I visited here, and was in generally good spirits, very pleased to have Ken so near. She doesn't seem to be aware of the illness, and was confused by things like her computer use -- complained that she hadn't received email recently from Jan, but hadn't actually been able to use the computer. (I managed to connect to her account. Found a couple of new messages, but very few, with most untouched for several weeks.)

Wednesday afternoon I drove to Henderson, AR, to see Elsie Lee Pyeatt, another cousin. Stayed there Wednesday and Thursday evening. Her daughter Rhonda came over Wed. night. We drove around a bit on Thurs., stopping at Flutey Cemetery and crossing over Norfolk Dam, then had dinner at Fred's Fish House with Rhonda and her partner Jim, also Elsie Lee's son Richard, his wife Marianne, and their three kids. Everyone seemed to be reasonably well. Elsie Lee had a rough time this past winter with an ice storm cutting power for 13 days -- she was able to keep warm with her wood stove, a pretty low-tech device -- and a bleeding attack from her varicose veins, something which has happened a number of times in the past. She has had some physical therapy recently to help with walking, but she seemed to move around well when I was there.

Friday I drove to Bristow, OK, to see Duan Stiner, another cousin. His daughters Cathy and Judy Kay were there. Cathy fixed dinner, and we had a nice talk. Duan seemed to be doing well for 82. Saturday we had breakfast then went to visit Harold and Louise Stiner, who also seemed well for even older. I had heard that Louise had had a bad fall recently, but she didn't show any indication of it. We drove by the cemetery in Stroud where Melvin and Lola Stiner are buried, then stopped at their old farmhouse east of Stroud. The house was much changed since I was last there in the late 1960s -- Lola died in 1967 and Melvin in 1973 -- with a rather odd add-on on the back third of the house, different siding, a garage and paved driveway, removal of the rest of the farm buildings. House has been abandoned with a lot of junk inside, doors and windows broken.

Drove back home Saturday evening.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deficit Neutrality for War

Good line in a Matthew Yglesias post (the part I italicized -- the rest is for context):

One might further note that it's not at all clear that the American public has any real desire to sacrifice anything in Afghanistan. It seems to me that one of the key props of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan has been the consensus on both the right (Bush, The Weekly Standard) and the center (Blue Dogs, The Washington Post) that it's not necessary to raise hundreds of billions in tax revenue in order to pay for hundreds of billions in war expenditures. By far the fastest way to end the war in Afghanistan would be to ask General McChrystal's staff to produce a plan to make it deficit neutral and find sixty votes in the senate for his financing plan.

The war isn't now, nor has it ever been, played politically on a level playing field. It was never subject to CBO budget estimates. No one behind it ever fretted about its budget impact. And it's not as if we hadn't been down this same road before in Vietnam.

The post, by the way, is about Robert D. Kaplan, chief warmonger at The Atlantic.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 16047 [16011] rated (+36), 741 [756] unrated (-15). Fairly heavy week, mostly jazz prospecting. Belatedly dumpedout Rhapsody notes, including all the Verve Originals in the last two Recycled Goods. Made for a huge post.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #22, Part 3)

Quite a bit of prospecting this week, although I found myself more and more weary of it as the week ground down. In many cases, I played something, pretty much settled on a grade, wrote a couple of preliminary notes then went blank. Many times I played the record again, but didn't come up with much more. So this looks rather fragmentary to me. The grading seems solid, but even at that there's a lot of middling B+, most going straight into the flush file although technically they're borderline. The batch of Clean Feed records usually has a surprise (or two), but this one turned out to be remarkably normal. I finally broke it off and left a couple more in the queue. One welcome note this week was finding a batch of Not Two records on Rhapsody. Polish label, started off capturing visiting musicians at Alchemia in Krakow, and over the last few years have built up an impressive avant catalog. I've written to them several times; never got a reply, but a couple of their records have come my way through other means, and most have impressed me. They have a Pick Hit in my forthcoming column, and the Dennis González album below could be another. The Vandermark 5's Annular Gift showed up in their listings, but was unplayable -- hopefully a temporary glitch. I need to start digging up some more such interesting records. The incoming mail has become depressed -- sometimes depressing, as on the day when the only thing that showed up was The United States Air Force Band's Cool Yule.

I'll be traveling for much of this coming week, so I doubt if I'll have much (or anything) next week. The Voice is still a couple of weeks away on publishing the last column.


New Niks & Artvark Saxophone Quartet: Busy Busy Busy (2009, No Can Do): Dutch groups. New Niks is a quartet with Fender Rhodes, guitar, violin, and drums. The drummer is named Arend Niks, which may have something to do with the group name. Artvark, as explained, is a saxophone quartet. Put them together and you get an octet with no brass and no bass, not that either are missed much. Busy indeed. I should have more to say, but I can't read the print, can't find any background info, have played the record twice, and need to move on. [B+(*)]

Ralph Carney's Serious Jass Project (2009, Akron Cracker): San Francisco group, although reed player Carney (ex-Tin Huey, Tom Waits) still gives credit to his Rubber City roots. Half the 14 tracks come from Ellington (technically 6, but Rex Stewart's "Rexatious" should count). The other major source here is Big Jay McNeely, a license to honk, which Carney takes seriously enough to take license with his titles -- "Jay's Frantic (and So Is Ralph)" and "Blow Big Ralph (aka Blow Big Jay)." I doubt that Carney will ever be as big as McNeely, but I can't imagine McNeely ever picking up a clarinet to toot out a little Barney Bigard. A- [CDR]

John Patitucci Trio: Remembrance (2009, Concord): Bassist, b. 1959, plays a 6-string electric as well as acoustic, has a dozen or so albums since 1987, but somehow this is the first I've heard. (I have heard a few of his side credits, but the list there is huge -- won't count them but I will note that in 1991 alone he appeared on 19 albums not counting compilations; in 2003 he was down to 15. If those years are typical, he's on a pace to wrack up career totals rivalling Ray Brown and William Parker.) The trio here includes Joe Lovano and Brian Blade. All songs are jointly credited, so I figure them for sketchy improvs. In other words, no reason not think of this as a Lovano record -- the bass is prominent as it goes, but Lovano's Lovano, a bit informal but that's often so much the better. Needless to say, Blade does his part. B+(***) [advance]

The Gordon Grdina Trio: . . . If Accident Will (2007 [2009], Plunge): Canadian guitarist, also plays some oud. Trio includes bass and drums. This came out at the same time as his fancier East Van Strings album, and I lost track of it. But it is easily the best showcase for his guitar work. B+(***)

John Moulder: Bifröst (2005 [2009], Origin): Guitarist, based in Chicago although some of this was recorded in Norway, home turf of two band members: bassist Arild Andersen and tenor saxophonist Bendik Hofseth, who makes a big impression here. B+(*)

Josh Moshier & Mike Lebrun: Joy Not Jaded (2009, OA2): Moshier is a pianist in Evanston, IL, b. 1986. Lebrun is a year older, based in Chicago, plays tenor sax. Group includes Robert Meier on bass, Max Krucoff on drums, plus guitarist John Moulder joins in for 4 of 11 tracks -- turns in fancier solos than I recall on his own record. All original material, Lebrun one up on Moshier. Solid postbop, both fast and slow, the latter quite lovely. B+(**)

DJ Spooky: The Secret Song (2009, Thirsty Ear): Paul Miller, turntablist, producer; hooked up with Matthew Shipp in the early days of Thirsty Ear's Blue Series jazz-DJ experiment. The instrumental pieces reflect that, with Shipp and Khan Jamal's vibes and samples flutes and what not, mixed in with rap bits from the Coup and the Jungle Brothers, plus some spoken Bush that almost makes sense. Comes with a second disc, but I have no idea what's on it or what it's for. B+(***)

The Joshua Breakstone Trio: No One New (2009, Capri): Guitarist, b. 1955, I count 16 albums since 1983, noting a Remembering Grant Green, Let's Call This Monk!, and The Music of Bud Powell. Mostly originals here, but covers include Jimmy Rowles and Joe Henderson. Bop-oriented guitar lines, with bass and drums. Been done before, but this flows nicely. B+(**)

Massimo Sammi: First Day (2009, Massimo Sammi): Guitarist, from Genoa, Italy, won a scholarship to Berklee in 2006, now based in Boston. First album. Credits John Forbes Nash's decision theory for inspiring his project. Game theory enters into some of the titles, especially the two "Prisoner's Dilemma" pieces, but it's harder to follow in the music. The group is mostly a quartet, with George Garzone on tenor and soprano sax, John Lockwood on bass, and Yoron Israel on drums. Sammi's guitar tends to shadow the sax; alternatively, Garzone, especially on soprano, spins off lines in a form that strikes me as more typical of guitar. Dominique Eade adds her voice to a couple of pieces, an awkward soprano I'm not much taken with, but likely to satisfy some notion of beauty. B+(**)

Sofia Tosello: Alma y Luna (2007-08 [2009], Sunnyside): Singer, from Cordoba, Argentina, based in New York. First album, wrote or co-wrote 4 of 13 songs, got a lot of help. All in Spanish (as far as I can tell), feels trad although I can't trace the lineage, barely a whiff of tango. B+(*)

Quartet San Francisco: QSF Plays Brubeck (2009, Violin Jazz): Traditional string quartet -- Jeremy Cohen and Alisa Rose on violins, Keith Lawrence on viola, Michelle Djokic on cello -- from San Francisco. They Play a bunch of Dave Brubeck compositions, plus Paul Desmond's "Take Five," which stands out like it always did. Mostly painless. B-

Jim Gailloreto's Jazz String Quartet: American Complex (2009, Origin Classical): Saxophonist, plays soprano here, but seems to have started on tenor. Fourth album, second with this string quartet, which despite the Jazz in the name is standard issue classical in format and, most likely, training. They stay rather neatly in the background, but the soprano sax matches their timbre well enough that they fit together smartly. Best on Monk's "Well You Needn't," which forces them into unnatural positions. Patricia Barber adds piano and voice on two of her songs. Origin invented a label for them, but that really wasn't necessary. B+(*)

Carlos Barbosa-Lima: Merengue (2009, Zoho): Brazilian guitarist, b. 1944, has a couple dozen records including a 1982-98 stretch on Concord. The "Merengue" here is Venezuelan, not the better known Dominican form. Other pieces draw on Cuba and Brazil, elsewhere in South America, Hawaii even. Much of this is solo guitar, cautiously paced and captivating. Extra musicians appear here and there: Hendrik Meurkens (harmonica) on 2 cuts and Duduka Da Fonseca (percussion) on 4 make the front cover. Three cuts are guitar trios, with Karin Schaupp and Christopher McGuire chiming in. Two cuts add mandolin; three cuatro. B+(**)

Mark Lambert: Under My Skin (2006 [2009], Challenge): Guitarist-singer, second album, pretty much all standards starting with two Cole Porters and nearly closing with "Without a Song" -- Cream and Betty Carter are the outliers. Don't know much about him, but he lives in Rio de Janeiro, his real name is evidently Lampariello, he refers to "our home in Belleville" -- there are 10 in the US, 2 in Canada, others in France and Côte d'Ivoire -- and most of his credits are accompanying other singers -- he singles out for special thanks Annie Haslem, Astrud Gilberto, Darlene Love, and Ute Lemper. Songs I like, in spare arrangements that move along nicely. B+(**)

Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet: Twelve Pieces (2006 [2009], NYC): Mainieri's a vibraphonist, been around a long time, broke in with Buddy Rich, has a modest list of records under his own name, starting with Blues on the Other Side in 1962. Busstra is a younger guitarist, b. 1965, Dutch, also credited here with bouzouki and electric sitar. As far as I know, his only previous record is a 1996 4-Tet, On the Face of It, which included current bassist (Eric van der Westen) and drummer (Pieter Bast). Basically a groove album, tight, low key, attractive. B+(**)

Nobuyasu Furuya Trio: Bendowa (2009, Clean Feed): Plays tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute, in that order; from Japan, based in Lisbon, Portugal; so is rhythm section: Hernani Faustino on bass, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums/percussion. Jointly-credited improvs, five in all. Title has something to do with zen master Dogen. Gives the flute/bass clarinet stuff a bit of airy elegance, but the sax can still get ugly -- it's in its nature. B+(**)

Weightless: A Brush With Dignity (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Two Brits I'm more or less familiar with -- tenor/soprano saxophonist John Butcher more, bassist John Edwards less -- and two Italians who don't ring a bell -- pianist Alberto Braida and drummer Fabrizio Spera. All group improvs, cut live in Germany. Filed it under Butcher, who has a lot of records I haven't heard. Butcher is gnarly as usual, but Braida adds an interesting charge to the session, striking oblique chords and punctuating what little rhythm there is. B+(**)

Zé Eduardo Unit: Jazz Ar: Live in Capuchos (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Recording date doesn't give year, so I'm guessing there, rolling back from the more precise liner notes date. Trio, led by Portugese bassist, with Jesus Santandreu on tenor sax and Bruno Pedroso on drums. Don't recognize the pieces other than "The Simpsons" theme. One problem is that the record has some unusually quiet spots -- probably bass solos -- plus some other starts and stops. B

Marty Ehrlich Rites Quartet: Things Have Got to Change (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Two horns, with James Zollar's trumpet joining Ehrlich's alto sax, Erik Friedlander's cello in lieu of bass, Pheeroan Aklaff on drums. Ehrlich picked up 3 Julius Hemphill pieces and wrote 5 originals much in the same vein. Hemphill tended to write slippery pieces with lots of odd harmonic touches, things I often found irritating although sometimes he managed to turn them into miracles. There's some of that here, with a couple of pieces that don't come together -- Ehrlich's, actually -- making this a difficult record. Zollar is generally superb. Friedlander's cello sometimes comes off more like a guitar, leaving the steadying role of the bass vacant. B+(*)

Harris Eisenstadt: Canada Day (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Drummer, b. 1975 in Toronto, Canada; based in New York. Has an interest in West African music, which he's worked into some of his 7 records since 2002, although it's not obvious here. Quintet, with Nat Wooley (trumpet) and Matt Bauder (tenor sax) the horns, Chris Dingman's vibes in between, and Eivind Opsvik on bass. More freebop than postbop, although the harmonics make me think of the latter; while the horns have their moments, they don't work as consistently as I'd like. B+(*)

Samuel Blaser Quartet: Pieces of Old Sky (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Trombonist, from Switzerland, based in New York and Berlin, has a previous Quartet album with guitar-bass-drums like this but different musicians. This time it's Todd Neufeld on guitar, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Has an atmospheric feel to it, more free than not, not very boppish. B+(**)

Charles Rumback: Two Kinds of Art Thieves (2009, Clean Feed): Drummer, b. 1980, "Kansas roots, Chicago branches"; leads a debut record with two saxophones -- Joshua Sclar on tenor, Greg Ward on alto -- and Jason Ajemian on bass. Mostly slow free jazz, the two horns twisting into impenetrable knots. B+(**)

Southern Excursion Quartet: Trading Post (2007 [2009], Artists Recording Collective): Tennessee group, more or less -- bassist Jonathan Wires is based in Oxford, MS, and drummer Tom Giampietro is merely described as belonging to the region, but saxophonist Don Aliquo moved to Nashville from Pittsburgh and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens left New York for Memphis. They style this as a collective, and all four write. Stevens has a reputation as an avant-gardist, but he's picked up a beat in Memphis, and Aliquo has refined a very eloquent mainstream sound. I assume this is the final packaging, although it's just a flimsy oversized foldover with a plastic gummy sleeve to hold the disc. B+(***)

Ben Perowsky: Moodswing Orchestra (2009, El Destructo): Drummer, b. 1966, has 6 records since 1999 plus a large number of side credits since 1989. Given a blindfold test I'd call this trip-hop, with its lank beats, turntables and theremins, and bored-out-of-their-skulls voices. A relatively strong horn section -- Doug Wieselman on woodwinds, Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Marcus Rojas on tuba -- snores along. B


These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

The Fonda/Stevens Group: Memphis (2008 [2009], Playscape): Principals are bassist Joe Fonda (b. 1954) and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens (b. 1951), who have something like ten albums together, probably more each on their own -- not easy to count these things informally (e.g., AMG has separate lists for "Fonda Stevens Group" and "Fonda-Stevens Group"). Quartet this time, with Herb Robertson on trumpet and Harvey Sorgen on drums. Wide range of stuff here, including two group vocals, very rough attempts at r&b -- note that Stevens calls Memphis home -- but mostly slippery freebop that can go fast, slow, inside, or far out. Both principals write five songs each. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

The Fonda/Stevens Group: Trio (2006 [2007], Not Two): Bassist Joe Fonda, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, drummer Harvey Sorgen. Stripped down to a trio the piano flowers with a commanding rhythmic density and the bass stretches out. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Dennis González/Jnaana Septet: The Gift of Discernment (2008, Not Two): Trumpet player, from Abilene, TX, based on Dallas, has a long list of records since 1985 but after a slow stretch in the late 1990s has been on a major roll since 2003, mostly due to renewed interest in Europe. I've featured a couple of his records -- Idle Wild was a pick hit, Nile River Suite another A-list, and a couple of HMs -- but I haven't heard any of the five records I know of that he's released this year: A Matter of Blood and Renegage Spirits on Furthermore, Hymn for Tomasz Stanko on Qbico, Songs of Early Autumn on No Business, and The Great Bydgoszcz Concert on Ayler. The group here is deep with percussion: three drummers, including Robby Mercado on bata and congas, plus extra percussion from González, pianist Chris Parker, and bassist Aaron González. The six pieces, especially the long ones, stretch out in complex grooves. The seventh member is vocalist Leena Conquest, who appeared on William Parker's wonderful Raining on the Moon. She tends to ululate harmlessly in the background, carried, like González's sharper trumpet, on a vast river of percussion. A- [Rhapsody]

The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Hunter-Gatherers (2006 [2007], 482 Music, 2CD): Group consists of Vandermark 5 saxophonist Dave Rempis, bassist Anton Hatwich, and two drummers, Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly. Live set, recorded in South Carolina at a place named Hunter-Gatherers. Impressive sax work. Not obvious that both drummers are engaged. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

The Rempis Percussion Quartet: The Disappointment of Parsley (2008 [2009], Not Two): Dave Rempis on alto and tenor sax (no baritone), Anton Hatwich on bass (no Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten), Tim Daisy and Frank Rosally on double drums. Recorded live at Alchemia in Krakow, Poland. Three cuts, the middle one ran short on all accounts (6:56), but the 15:18 title cut up front is a tour de force, and the drummers get some to kick off the 24:30 finale. That piece ends fast and furious, another tour de force. If only they had another facet to play off against. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Jeb Bishop/Harris Eisenstadt/Jason Roebke: Tiebreaker (2008, Not Two): Trombone, drums, bass, respectively. Bishop and Roebke come out of Chicago, Bishop having made a name for himself in the Vandermark 5 before splitting a couple of years ago -- subsequently doing similar work in Lucky 7s and the Engines. Free improvs, don't know whether it was caught live in Poland or packed off on a tape. Trombone doesn't have a lot of range for this sort of thing, so while this is very solid work, it doesn't sweep you away. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Jim Hobbs/Joe Morris/Luther Gray: The Story of Mankind (2008, Not Two): Hobbs is an alto saxophonist from Boston who remained obscure despite sounding brilliant every time he popped up. But he's been popping up a lot in the last couple of years, on records led by Morris or in his Fully Celebrated group. Morris plays bass, although elsewhere he's mostly a guitarist. Gray plays drums. Don't know what the circumstances of this record were, but it is up and down, with some very impressive parts as well as indecisive ones. B+(**) [Rhapsody]


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Dana Hall: Into the Light (Origin): Nov. 17
  • Nellie McKay: Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day (Verve)
  • Jacob Merlin: Alchemy of Soul (Backline)
  • Plunge: Dancing on Thin Ice (Immersion)
  • Timucin Sahin Quartet: Bafa (Challenge)
  • The United States Air Force Band: Cool Yule (United States Air Force Band)
  • Eri Yamamoto Trio: In Each Day, Something Good (AUM Fidelity): Jan. 12

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rhapsody Streamnotes (Nov. 8, 2009)

These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on September 27. Past reviews and more information are available here.

John Fogerty: The Blue Ridge Rangers Ride Again (2009, Verve Forecast): Like the first Blue Ridge Rangers album 36 years ago, a set of country-ish covers. Seemed overly obvious to me at first, but maybe even fans don't know "Paradise" and "Never Ending Song of Love" as well as I do. Got harder after that, taking a while for me to pick up on Buck Owens and John Denver and Ray Price, and most of the rest I merely recognized as having heard somewhere -- excepting, of course, the Everly Brothers closer. Unlike the first ride gets help this time. Has nothing to prove either, other than that he can still cash a check. B+(**)

Miranda Lambert: Revolution (2009, Sony Nashville): Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was every rock critic's country album of the decade, setting up expectations here that will have to be sorted out. First pass the three songs I was most taken by turned out to be 3 of 4 she didn't write or co-write: "The House That Built Me" was built from touching detail; "Time to Get a Gun" was anthemized in ways that Fred Eaglesmith never could pull off. I had forgotten about Eaglesmith's song, but had no doubt about John Prine's "That's the Way That the World Goes 'Round". Still, she didn't cover it; she snatched it so ferociously you know she knew she had to prove her mettle. It's the best thing I've heard all year. Second time through her songs got a notch better. A-

Terri Clark: The Long Way Home (2009, TLC/Capitol): Most of this sounds routinely neotrad, sometimes driving a point -- one I noticed was "Poor Girls Dream," including a bit of lyric: "If you got a million you want two/if you got nothing, any little thing will do." B+(*)

Syran Mbenza & Ensemble Rumba Kongo: Immortal Franco: Africa's Unrivalled Guitar Legend (2009, Riverboat): Mbenza as a long history as a guitarist in Congo bands, especially with the rumba group Kékélé. He's reasonably well positioned to spin a Franco tribute, although I don't have enough details about this album -- an endemic problem trying to work off Rhapsody -- or enough general expertise to see just how it works. My guess is that his approach is to do as Franco would do, which is to cut an album that would fit neatly on a shelf full of Franco albums. That much he's done. Still, don't expect a lot of flashy guitar, either here or on Franco's numerous albums. A-

Clara Moreno: Miss Balanco (2009, Far Out): Like Bebel Gilberto, a second generation bossa nova singer: Moreno's mom is Joyce Silveira Palhano de Jesus, or just Joyce. Mostly fits the classic mold, but she has a little grit in her voice, and the band is a little jumpier than the old days norm -- both good moves. B+(***)

Márcio Local: Says Don Day Don Dree Don Don (2009, Luaka Bop): Subtitle, or alternate title depending on how you parse the album cover, "Adventures in Samba Soul." There seems to be a whole "samba soul" genre, generic compilations and all, with some added funk beats and a snort of hip hop. B+(**)

Doom: Born Like This (2009, Lex): I gather Daniel Dumile has dropped the MF. He's never had much respect for his brand name anyway, sloughing some albums off as Viktor Vaughn, working collaborations like Madvillain and Danger Doom. Hard to follow, as indeed are his albums. The fuzzy underground undertow is a plus, and when I catch some rhyme it's likely to be witty. Just not catchy enough. B+(***)

Tom Zé: Danç-Ęh-Sá (2006, Tratore): After three perfectly good multi-artist compilations, David Byrne turned his Brazil Classics series over for two volumes by Zé, one old and one not so old, both beyond my ken, but after sort of liking them the first time around, Christgau returned to them in the course of revising his CG book and fell in love. I don't know whether my view would change with prolonged exposure: they're around here somewhere and someday I may give them another trial. Since then Zé's idiosyncrasies have become more immediate and less ponderable, which for me at least works better. This one is choppy in weird and rather wonderful ways. A-

Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara: Tell No Lies (2008-09 [2009], Real World): British guitarist with a severe case of blues hooks up with Gambian griot producing a raw Saharan sound both exotic and familiar. B+(**)

Ahilea: Cafe Svetlana (2009, Essay): Macedonian DJ Ahilea Durcovski, based in Vienna fuses Balkan beats with mild mannered electronica, the sort of stuff that succeeds because it seems to try too hard. B+(***)

Goran Bregovic: Alkohol (2009, Wrasse): Still referred to as Serbo-Croatian, as if the splintering wars of the Yugoslav dissolution hadn't happened. Indeed, he's less limited and less specific than his ethnicity, borrowing from Roma and other sources. Most of his catalog consists of film scores, and he evidently does big business in weddings and funerals, but this live album lets him tear loose of programmatic constraints. A-

Seprewa Kasa (2008, Riverboat): Group from Ghana with an Osibisa guitarist and dueling seprewas -- a stringed instrument likened to a kora, pictured on the cover. Vocals too, that distinctive tenor originally packaged with palm wine. A rather light combination, not a lot of range, very beguiling. B+(***)

Daby Balde: Le Marigot Club Dakar (2009, Riverboat): Senegalese, fula not mbalax, which gives it a soft folkie base, but live may sharpen it up a bit, with bits of horn and backing vocals beyond the strings-and-percussion. His earlier Introducing album was an enchanting find; this is more or less in that vein. B+(**)

Condo Fucks: Fuckbook (2008 [2009], Matador): Yo La Tengo spinoff, kind of like Sonic Youth turning into Ciccone Youth except less ambitious. Mostly surf trash from the 1960s, including garage bouncebacks from the Troggs and the later but similarly inspired Richard Hell ("The Kid With the Replaceable Head"). B+(**)

Marshall Crenshaw: Jaggedland (2009, 429): He will always sound the same, and will always make or break on setting his hooks consistently. He does that more consistently than I've heard him since, oh, 1991's Life's Too Short. Wonderful when he does. Ordinary otherwise. B+(***)

Michael Chapman: Time Past Time Passing (2008, Electric Ragtime): English guitarist, b. 1941, singer-songwriter, may have started in jazz but mostly plays folk clubs. This appears to be a solo recording, just guitar and voice on most but not all pieces. Guitar has a definitive flow, much like John Fahey. Voice and sometimes guitar reminds me of Dave Alvin at times. This is the first I've heard of 30+ albums, and the only one on Rhapsody, so I have no way of comparison. Seems like a significant figure. A-

Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (2009, Matador): Figured this for a covers album, but they're all originals -- don't know the band well enough to tell if old or new, but I figure they're operating in some zone of irony. Sounds typical for the most part -- maybe they're taking the title as permit not to have to prove anything. Still, the closing 15:54 "And the Glitter Is Gone" is a soaring/crashing guitar instrumental, plenty rousing. B+(***)

Rosanne Cash: The List (2009, Manhattan): Twelve covers, list selected by dad, all classic, none particularly his songs (although I'm sure he's nailed a few). A few are joined for duets, but the guests don't add much. She sings as strong and clear as ever, even on something like "She's Got You" where the standards are high. And she brings some little changes here and there: "I'm Movin' On," for instance, trades velocity for torque. A pretty great interpretive singer. A-

Speech Debelle: Speech Therapy (2009, Big Dada): Anglo rapper, originally from Jamaica, recording in Australia, flows easy with much of the beat coming off the precise English accent, but gradually sneaks up on you, especially the self-help "Finish This Album" and the peaceful closing title track. B+(***)

The Black Eyed Peas: The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies) (2009, Interscope): Too scattered to sort out in two quick plays, but so bumptious it followed me all over the house when I wandered around, one pop hook after another settling into my brain. Don't know if this will prove a great album, but it certainly is a fun one. A-

Jay-Z: The Blueprint 3 (2009, Roc Nation): Hard and loud, mostly full of shit, as if he's really as good as he thinks. Turning it down helped, and there's probably more there if you pay attention to the little things rather than the big ones. B+(**)

Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II (2009, Ice H2O): Wu-Tanger, recycling his first title, from 1995 with only a couple of releases in between. I never was someone who could keep them all straight -- as far as I could tell group and solo albums were pretty much interchangeable (except maybe for Ol' Dirty Bastard), but this guy [Corey Woods] is deeper into the corporate sound than most. Lots of guest spots. Lots of crime shit, mostly sound like like fiction. I'm not sure I approve, except when they wed samples to bullshit like "Kiss the Ring." Other than that, best thing here is "Ason Jones," recycling the Dirty one once more. B+(***)

Cage: Depart From Me (2009, Definitive Jux): Rapper, formerly a member of a group called Smut Peddlers (album title: Porn Again). Lyrics have some promise, but I find the music a little heavy handed, almost metal. Someone described this as "Atmosphere-meets-Eminem," but that's mostly potential. B

Michael Hurley: Ida Con Snock (2009, Gnommonsong): Venerable folkie, cut his first album around 1970, a couple of pretty good ones later that decade plus a masterpiece when Peter Stampfel and the then Unholy Modal Rounders joined in. Since then he's knocked out a sly, understated, underachieving album every couple of years, of which this is about average. B+(**)

P.O.S.: Never Better (2009, Rhymesayers Entertainment): AMG describes as "rock-rap"; Christgau corrects, "punk-rap." Someone named Stefon Leron Alexander. I'm not fast enough to catch the words, but the music has a sharp edge to it, beatwise, the rap adding to the rhythm. B+(**)

The Mountain Goats: Life of the World to Come (2009, 4AD): The song titles refer to Bible verses, although not so simply as to quote them. Can't say much about textual analysis, except that John Darnielle's renderings are much closer to the real world, and in that are somewhat complex. Could go higher. Seems like a record you have to live with a bit -- two or three plays aren't definitive. B+(***)

Loudon Wainwright III: High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2008-09 [2009], 2nd Story Sound, 2CD): The North Carolina Rambler's brief career spanned 1925-30, his life 1892-1931, collected on three CDs on County, a 4-CD JSP set, and a 3-CD Columbia/Legacy box with some other stuff slipped in. I made it a point to pick up every old time country CD I ran across used, and found County's compilations especially useful, but Poole stood out compared to virtually everyone else I ran into -- on a par with the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, whose reputations preceded them, and Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers. Poole never wrote a song, but by the time he was done he owned a bunch of them, and held his own on the rest. I still favor the originals, but can't begrudge Wainwright's project. He doesn't have the twang, but he does have the dog-eared take and lots of hindsight and a few friends to work with. He works a few originals in, but they're hard to pick out on the fly. A-

White Denim: Fits (2009, Downtown): Austin, TX group, broke their first album in England. This is the second. Christgau describes them as a "commercially perverse Austin shred-fusion tercet." I don't know what that means. AMG treats them as psychedelica ("spazzy blues-based Nuggets rock, before falling into an abyss of prog-on-peyote scales"), which makes a bit more sense. They start in a muddy incoherent void, from which semi-interesting beats and falsetto voices eventually emerge, which they usually manage to thrash. I mostly find them annoying, a problem I've had with too-clever rockers going back as far as Zappa. B-

Modest Mouse: No One's First and You're Next (2009, Epic): EP, 8 tracks, more than 30 minutes, that used to qualify for an LP. First couple of songs capture their classic sound, but they wander a bit after that -- bright shiny metal, a bit of thrash, some opera. B+(*)

Wonderlick: Topless at the Arco Arena (2009, Rock Ridge): Starts with three adolescent fantasies, two ordinary ones about teen lust, the third much scarier for its past tense: "We Run the World." Band members had a smart/funny 1990s group called Too Much Joy, disbanded so they could make a living in the business world, which they don't exactly rule but have done well in. They later consider their holdings, but they're also a bit subversive; e.g., their one cover, "Janie Jones," which they slow down so you can hear all the words, even the ones they made up. B+(**)


Note: Additional records were sampled on Rhapsody and noted in Jazz Prospecting and/or Recycled Goods. For them, see the file here. The records above are listed in the order written on the blog, but are alphabetized by artist name in the archive.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Homeland Security

Fort Hood, Texas, an Army major, a psychologist with considerable experience treating post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers back from tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, himself assigned to ship out to Afghanistan, goes on a shooting spree, killing 13, injuring 31. He is, perhaps significantly, a muslim, one increasingly suspicious of the US wars in muslim lands. Islamophobes have seized on this point. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that they are right: that every muslim in the US armed services, and for that matter in the US at large, is a ticking time bomb, liable at any moment to turn in his (or her) seemingly normal life for a final act of terrorism. Isn't the stated rationale of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent acts of terrorism just like that? Then consider this shooting -- about the same practical effect as a median suicide bomber -- as evidence. Here at least, very clearly, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has made us less safe at home.

One thing I'm struck by in watching the coverage is that nearly everywhere the cameras turn they run into more muslims -- many and perhaps most native citizens like Hasan. The special profiling that Fox broadcasters have been calling for would be impractical even if it wasn't unwise -- evidently Hasan himself was subject to a good deal of harrassment, and, well, you see how much good that did. Any effort at more effectively policing American muslims is going to drive more over the edge. (Of course, the same thing happens when we try to police Afghan muslims, but they're in Afghanistan, which would be out of harms way if we weren't there harrassing them.) On the other hand, given that further policing is both impractical and unwise, the only real thing we can do about the problem is to reduce the conflict: stop sending more troops and building more bases, start bring troops and materiel back home, change the rules of engagement to be less aggressive.

One thing we're very bad at is estimating the compound effects of war. A lot of US soldiers have come home damaged and have wound up killing themselves and/or others. Hasan's case is anomalous in several respects: he hadn't gone, but had treated many people who did, and he evidently had an unusual degree of empathy with the native casualties of these wars -- which quite frankly were little more than the frivolous vanities of politicians intoxicated with their sense of power. Still, those costs add up, even if we never learn how to reckon them.

One more thing to take home is that the "all volunteer" army needs to let people out at any time for any reason. One thing we forget is that one of the main turning points which convinced the military to quit Vietnam was the fragging of officers by draftees. (Such events were certainly underreported. I had a cousin who was shot and killed inside his tank, allegedly by his own gun accidentally discharging, a story that nobody quite believed.) If making such allowances makes it harder to start or sustain future wars, so much the better. No war is worth fighting if you can't get people to fight it willingly. Indeed, free choice in the matter provides a sanity check, which is something we need now as much as ever.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Conventional Wisdom Guy

Paul Krugman: Obama and the conventional wisdom: This specific point is about deficit phobia, but one can think of many more examples. Krugman writes:

Look, it has been obvious since the primary, if you were paying attention, that Obama -- who has many excellent qualities -- has an unfortunate tendency to echo "centrist" conventional wisdom, even when that CW is demonstrably wrong. Remember when he bought into the line that Social Security is in crisis, stepping on one of the biggest progressive victories in decades?

Obama's excessive fretting over future deficits hurts him -- or I should say us, since that's what it really comes down to -- in many ways. For starters, it's shackled his hands in trying to deal with health care, where the logical approach is to first achieve universal coverage, which is likely to cost more, and only then worry about managing costs. (Of course, you could do both at the same time if you're willing to push single payer and a bunch of additional reforms, but conventional wisdom deems such things to be much too radical, and Obama's not one to say otherwise.) But the real problem isn't deficits phobia. It's that conventional wisdom has locked us into a no-new-taxes mental prison. Obama's future deficits position would look a hell of a lot better if he raised (or just restored) taxes on the rich. Nobody on the left has been pushing that because we've been arguing for more deficit spending and conventional wisdom seems to think that tax cuts and low taxes are some sort of stimulus -- even though they are far less effective than government spending.

There used to be a sort of standard critique of Bill Clinton: that his first instinct was to try to please everyone, and as such he let people walk all over him. Obama's variation on this is that he he seems to think that he can solve any problem by reasoning with his opponents. That's not a bad tactic, but to work it he keeps ceding ground on principles that he try hard to hang on to. A clearer example is on abortion rights, where anti-choice forces have left no rational ground for compromise. Another is Israel. And there are many others. But the curious thing is how Obama shies away from reasoning on articulated principles in favor of arguing within the conventional wisdom, even when it encompasses no wisdom to speak of.

Gary Wills: One-Term President?: One thing that's been evident for a while now is that first-term presidents are preoccupied, almost from the day they move into the White House, with becoming two-term presidents. Some of this is conditioning: people get to be president not because they are talented at running the country but because they are exceptionally drilled at campaigning for president, and the media that covers presidents is usually the same media that covers their campaigns, and as such has narrowed their worldviews to encompass little else. On the other hand, the problems of running the government are so huge that maintaining a continuous campaign regimen has got to be distracting, perhaps even downright corrupting. There's much to be said for a single-term limit. Still, I'm not sure if such a limit would result in presidents doing much of anything differently. Wills writes:

I am told by people I respect that Barack Obama cannot pull out of both Iraq and Afghanistan without becoming a one-term president. I think that may be true. The charges from various quarters would be toxic -- that he was weak, unpatriotic, sacrificing the sacrifices that have been made, betraying our dead, throwing away all former investments in lives and treasure. All that would indeed be brought against him, and he could have little defense in the quarters where such charges would originate.

While it's pretty clear how the politics that sustains fruitless foreign wars works on confused and ambivalent voters, it's far less clear that someone with the authority of a sitting president couldn't buck that trend. The main reason imperial politics have worked in the past is that no one in such a position of authority has tried to reason against them. The military-industrial complex is a large interest group, but it's still a small slice of the economy -- less than finance, less than health care. Few Americans actually benefit from having 800-plus military bases scattered around the world, let alone two major sinkholes offering nothing but attrition as far as the eye can see and mind can imagine. Sooner or later reality has to enter into this discussion. Just because Americans were willing to give jingoistic fantasy another chance when they elected Reagan in 1980 doesn't make for a timeless law of politics. The red scare dread that Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon had of dropping out of a losing political problem in Vietnam -- turned by Johnson into a military fiasco -- has lost its edge. On the other hand, to make a compelling case Obama would have to tackle the whole complex. Obama hasn't made that conceptual breakthrough, and he's not likely to, especially if he takes a liking to his title as Commander in Chief -- as Bush and Clinton and many of his predecessors have done.

One interesting thing is that there doesn't seem to have been any fundamental erosion in the public support that elected Obama. He was elected to extricate us from Bush's wars in Asia, and all recent polls show that those wars are even more unpopular now. He was elected to pass comprehensive health care reform, and the polls there, for instance, show that government-managed insurance is far more popular among the people than among the bribe-taking politicians in Washington. He was elected to turn the economy around by creating jobs, and the need for efforts there is as great now as it's been any time since the Great Depression. The Republicans make a lot of hysterical noise, but there's no evidence that they are convincing anyone. On the other hand, Obama has stuck with his inside game of trying to reason within a conventional wisdom that has been stacked and structured by all sorts of special interests. He seems to have lost track of the principles that made change something to believe in.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Nehru

I've been reading a series of books that started in Afghanistan then led to Pakistan and finally to India. One of these is Ramchandra Guha's India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy. It's a big book on a subject I know a little but not a lot on. There's an interesting chapter on Nehru's foreign policy, which was determinedly neutral in the Cold War, which is to say it completely failed the then-current version of Bush's "you're either with us or against us" test. We learn that Dean Acheson despised Nehru, and John Foster Dulles regarded him as yet another enemy. Then the following Nehru quote pops up, from a letter to industrialist G.D. Birla in May 1954 (p. 169):

I do not think that there are many examples in history of a succession of wrong policies being followed by a country as by the United States in the Far East during the past five or six years. They have taken one wrong step after another. . . . They think that they can solve any problem with money and arms. They forget the human element. They forget the nationalistic urges of people. They forget the strong resentment of people in Asia against impositions.

The only thing wrong with that statement today is that you need to adjust the timespan out to about sixty years, although the last five or six (or eight) are easily the worst. What's striking here is not the judgment but the reasoning. We're still trying to settle everything with money and arms. We still can't understand why people resent doing our bidding, and resent our attitude that the only concerns that matter are ours. Nehru was a smart guy, but he didn't figure that out because he was smart. He recognized the pattern from coming of age under the British Empire.

One curious thing is that more often than not the Americans didn't have a clue what they really wanted, nor any idea what would come as a consequence of their actions. The US had already made fateful moves in Vietnam, in Iran, and in Pakistan, but who in the US had any idea how those moves would blowback? Nehru may not have understood that far in the future either, but he was completely right that what we were doing was wrong.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

User's Guides

One item of small note is that my database of rated records has this week topped the 16,000 mark. I crossed 15,000 back in December 2008 -- 14,000 in January 2008; 13,000 in March 2007 -- so the average seems to be about a thousand every 10 months, or 100 per month, or 3.3 per day. I guess the surprising thing here is how consistently the numbers have accumulated. It's easy to recall the weeks when I double that, and the weeks when I don't come close. That they average out isn't something that dawns on you until you do the math.

One thing I had to do this last week was post Robert Christgau's latest revision to his User's Guide to the Consumer Guide. Christgau's current Consumer Guide review count is 14,595 (including 2 CGs I haven't gotten around to loading into the database yet). He's been doing this longer than I have, and more consistently (especially in the 1980s and 1990s, when I mostly worked on other things), but his rate is lower -- more like 500 per year. He explains it this way: "But my second biggest gift is that I know what I think. I don't write about something till I'm pretty sure how much I like it, and I'm skilled at recognizing when that is." We both spend roughly the same amount of time listening -- he pegs it as 12-18 hours a day, which is an average day here too, but one that is hard to add to. The 3-5 plays he cites for albums he writes up for Consumer Guide is also about what I average, although sometimes I'll bag one earlier. The big difference is that he samples a lot of stuff that he doesn't grade, whereas I jot down something for virtually everything I play -- and he's gotten more disciplined at that over time, whereas I've gotten sloppier. But then I've never been so convinced of my grades. They've always struck me as probabilities that become more significant the more I play something, but given how few times I play most things -- the median is either 2 or 1, which is to say that the 2-play point is very probably somewhere between the 40 and 60 percentiles: at least 40% of my grades are on records that I have played 2 or more times, maybe as many as 60%. If I had the data (and I can't even contemplate starting now) it would be interesting to qualify each grade with a play count.

On the other hand, my uncertainty is to some extent a trait of personality. When I do go back and replay records -- which, e.g., happens when I need to craft CG reviews of records I've already graded -- I almost always get the same results: some may inch up or down a notch, but very few. Presumably one-play grades of B+(*) or B which are more or less polite dismissals of things I can't use are more volatile, but even if 25% are off by a notch and 5% by two notches it's hard to justify the extra time. Christgau does the same sort of triage, and does it faster -- he wouldn't, as I'm doing now, play through to the end of a string quartet album that's not even bad.

Another subject of the User Guide is range and prejudice. A lot of the things on Christgau's pet peeve list are things that I rather like -- art-rock, bluegrass, fusion, techno, salsa, soul jazz, swing -- although they do tend to be hit and miss (and I've never had much luck shopping for salsa). Metal isn't a prejudice so much as one of a bunch of genres with a rather low likelihood of interest, but the same can be said about lots of genres -- new age, experimental rock, nu soul, and pop jazz are no more promising. Irish folk and gospel are more like prejudices, and ones that we share, most likely for similar reasons. Classical, too: that's a "genre" that elicits physical revulsion -- a genuine case of prejudice that I doubt I'll ever overcome.

You can get a rough idea of the distribution of my taste and expertise by looking at the database table. About half of the total number of records rated are jazz (7,846 of 16,019, or 48.9%), loosely considered. That's grown like cancer since I started Jazz CG in 2003 -- the most obvious proof is the 1098 records by jazz artists who hadn't recorded before 2000. Still, there's very little there that I'm not well versed on -- weak spots are Latin jazz, old crooners, and pop jazz, but those cases are still relative. I also consider myself pretty expert on blues (674), country (949), and rock and roll through the 1960s (1150) and for that matter the 1970s (1207). I'd also claim a fair sampling of hip-hop (476) and reggae (294), and at least a serious amateur interest in African (410). Folk (254) isn't a very clear category, as some leans country and some singer-songwriter rock. Everything else is rather patchy, including Latin (271 or 422 if you count the previously counted Latin jazz). I've imagined trying to write The Gringo's Guide to Latin American Music, but I honestly doubt that I've heard more than 20% of the records I should hear to write any such book. I haven't broken rock down into white and black, but the breakdown is probably representative. The electronica list (254) doesn't actually go very deep. A lot of this could be better categorized if I had a better scheme, but I've never come up with a good one.

Still, most of the people I know who have prejudices can't stand either country or rap, some don't like jazz, and a few are narrowly focused on things like metal or techno. (I know of people who like classical music, but can't think of any exclusivists, even though they were legend when I was growing up.)

Unless I burn out, looks like I'm due to hit 17,000 in Sept. 2010, and 20,000 around April 2013.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Recycled Goods (67): October 2009

See file.



New Recycle Goods:

link

Reverse index by label:

  Adventure Music: Mario Adnet/Philippe Baden Powell
  Asphalt Tango: Ersatzmusika [2], Mahala Rai Banda
  Delmark: Terry Waldo
  ECM: Gary Burton/Chick Corea
  EMI (Blue Note): Jazz Crusaders
  Far Out: Joyce
  Fugs: Fugs
  High Note: Composer Collection [2]
  Motema: Ithamara Koorax/Juarez Moreira
  Universal (Decca): Paolo Conte
  Universal (Hip-O): Elvis Costello
  Universal (Verve): too many to list
  Uptown Jazz: Lucky Thompson
  *: Chuck & Albert, Tribecastan

Total review count for the series (67 columns): 2564 records.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 16011 [15964] rated (+47), 756 [777] unrated (-21). Cleared a big number milestone. Not sure how I managed to move all those records through. Tried using Rhapsody to wrap up Recycled Goods, and did some more new records there, but also hit the jazz queue pretty hard. Aranda, below, was in the jazz pile, but so far off topic I decided not to prospect it.

  • Aranda (2008 [2009], Aranda Music): Rock group, led by two brothers, Gabe and Dameon Aranda. First few cuts were quite listenable, built on classic blues riffs, but other cuts turned metallic, melodramatic, ordinary. Seems like an average group. B

Jazz Prospecting (CG #22, Part 2)

In limbo between previous column finished and whenever it winds up running -- probably end of November. Plan now is to turn in the follow-up column by 2nd or 3rd week of December, hoping for a January run. The column is already stuffed to the gills with leftovers, so I mostly need to trim the edges -- pick hits, duds, the usual. Would be a good time to take a sanity break, but I wound up working pretty hard last week, mixing Recycled Goods work in with Jazz Prospecting. A new Recycled Goods should appear in a day or two.


The Duke of Elegant: Gems From the Duke Ellington Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 3] (1959-2007 [2009], High Note): Label recycling project, only two cuts predating 1999 -- a Mark Murphy shot from 1990 and Lucky Thompson from 1959 -- with the usual ups and downs but nothing that really stands out. Doesn't flow all that well either. B

Kind of Blue Revisited: The Miles Davis Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 4] (1990-2006 [2009], High Note): The five songs from Kind of Blue, two repeated, "All Blues" a third time; at least they hold together better than any sampling across the Davis songbook, and the repetitions are spaced out so they return like themes. The takes also vary in interesting ways: they lose the trumpet after three cuts, at first in favor of Bob Stewart's tuba, then down to an Eric Reed piano trio, then (into the repetitions) a Mark Murphy scat (surprisingly good), Regina Carter's Quartette Indigo, and a Jimmy Ponder guitar duo. B+(**)

Houston Person: Mellow (2009, High Note): Tenor saxophonist, one of the great ballad artists of our time, so you'd expect this to run slow and sweet with a little deep vibrato. But this isn't so simple. He runs upbeat as often as not, closing with a romp through "Lester Leaps In." He leaves a lot of space between his leads, which guitarist James Chirillo makes better use of than pianist John Di Martino. This continues a long string of fine but rarely special albums -- the last really special one was 2004's To Etta With Love, except for his magnificent Art and Soul compilation. "God Bless the Child" is on that level, but "In a Mellow Tone" isn't even mellow. B+(**)

Joey DeFrancesco: Snap Shot (2009, High Note): Perennial Downbeat poll winner on organ, at least until recently when he's slipped a notch. Guitar-drums trio, live set in Scottsdale, AZ, not a lot of investment here, but he's in remarkably good form, especially on the slow, soulful "You Don't Know Me." On the fast ones guitarist Paul Bollenback takes the lead. I sort of recalled him being good at this sort of thing, not realizing that he's been on a dozen previous DeFrancesco albums. (Also on Hammond salesman Vince Seneri's Prince's Groove, and on Jim Snidero's A-listed Crossfire.) Drummer is Byron Landham, who's been on DeFrancesco albums going back to 1991. B+(***)

Jared Gold: Supersonic (2008 [2009], Posi-Tone): Organ player, based in New York, has another record out this year on Posi-Tone (didn't get it), not sure which is his debut. This one has Ed Cherry on guitar and McClenty Hunter on drums. Rather energetic, but not much else to recommend it. B-

Amanda Carr and the Kenny Hadley Big Band: Common Thread (2009, OMS): Carr is a vocalist with five albums since 2000. I rather liked her previous album Soon. Here she fronts a big band led by drummer Hadley. He cites Buddy Rich as an inspiration, and formed the band from local musicians, wherever local is -- I don't recognize anyone in the band. He has two previous albums, one with singer Rebecca Parris. Nothing much wrong here. The band has some punch; the singer can command a song. Still, I couldn't hear "They All Laughed" without recalling Fitzgerald and Armstrong, and, well, you know, nothing like that here. B

Ray Gehring & Commonwealth: Radio Trails (2008 [2009], Evan Music): Guitarist, b. 1968 in Washington, DC; grew up in Nebraska; eventually landed in Brooklyn after spells in Paris and Minneapolis. Has a previous trio record. This one is a little more complicated, often combining keyboards and organ, sometimes with bass, always with drums. Four songs have vocals, three by Dan Gaarder, starting with Gram Parsons' "She," given a tasteful read. Guitar doesn't stand out very much, although it does fold in with the keyboards nicely. Rather indifferent about the vocals. B

Jonathon Haffner: Life on Wednesday (2008 [2009], Cachuma): Alto saxophonist, originally from southern California, now based in New York. First album, produced by David Binney, gets lots of help: Craig Taborn (piano, wurlitzer, electronics), Wayne Krantz (guitar), Eivind Opsvik (upright bass, electric bass), Jochen Rueckert (drums), Kenny Wollesen (drums). Has some grit in his horn and can get dirty. Taborn and Krantz provide a dense backdrop but don't solo much. B+(**)

De Nazaten & James Carter: Skratyology (2007 [2009], Strotbrock): Dutch group, with some input from the former Dutch colony of Surinam; originally De Nazaten van Prins Hendrik ("the offspring of Prince Hendrik"), after the consort (1901-34) to Dutch Queen Wilhelmina (1890-1948). They describe Hendrik as "infamous for his promiscuous lifestyle." The Wikipedia article on Prince Hendrik is notably lacking in details, other than to suggest that Wilhelmina wasn't terribly happy with the dude. The group does promiscuously merge world musics with a lot of brass and drums -- the skratyi the title was based on is a bass drum from Surinam, played by Chris Semmoh. Not sure how James Carter got involved with this group. He may be in a class of his own, but he doesn't stand out that much here, playing baritone sax, but surrounded by Klaas Hekman (bass sax), Keimpe de Jong (tenor sax, tubax), and Patrick Votrian (trombone, sousaphone) there is a lot of rumbling in the lower registers, which sets off some explosive trumpet by Setish Bindraban. They remind me a bit of Parliament, both for the party vibe and for a word that might be a good future title: thumpasaurus. A-

Wolter Wierbos: 3 Trombone Solos (2005-06 [2009], Dolfjin): Each named for a city (Chicago, Portland, Amsterdam), the latter clocking in at 16:06, the others at 21:07 and 25:14. Dutch trombonist, b. 1957, has appeared on more than 100 albums, but has very few under his own name -- this is the hard way to get one. I've long been a big fan of trombone, but fact is it's an instrument with rather limited range. Wierbos gets a lot out of it. B+(***)

Wolter Wierbos: Deining (2009, Dolfjin): This is described as "Wolter Wierbos' houseboat concerts" -- various collaborators, mostly squaring off for duos where they sort of feel each other out, or fake, or try something grosser. Bassist Wilbert de Joode is the most complementary of the bunch. At the other extreme, Han Bennink's percussion tends to complicate things, while Ab Baars' tenor sax fits uneasily. Mary Oliver's viola and Franky Douglas's electric guitar are somewhere in the middle. Misha Mengelberg's name also appears on the back cover, but I'm not clear where he fits in, if at all. B+(*)

Skin and Wire: PianoCircus Featuring Bill Bruford: Play the Music of Colin Riley (2009, Summerfold): Really Riley's record. Don't know what else he's done, but he bills himself as a "composer of no fixed indoctrination," which suits his pieces here. PianoCircus is a group of classical pianists formed in 1989 to play Steve Reich's "Six Pianos" -- down to four here: David Appleton, Adam Caird, Kate Halsall, Semra Kurutaç, playing some keyboards as well. Bruford is the legendary prog rock drummer, moved out to jazz pastures. Also appearing on the record but not worked into the title is bass guitarist Julian Crampton. Riley's compositions are sparse, so there's no sense of massed pianos or anything -- a light touch is required of everyone, with Bruford excelling. A-

Francesco Cafiso Quartet: Angelica (2008 [2009], CAM Jazz): Young alto saxophonist, b. 1989 in Sicily, making him 19 when he recorded this -- AMG lists it as his 7th album since 2004, a Concerto for Michel Petrucciani that they raved about. This one was recorded in New York with Aaron Parks (piano), Ben Street (bass), and Adam Cruz (drums). Has a gorgeous tone, a point he shows off by opening with "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing." Title track is from Ellington; he also checks Horace Silver and Sonny Rollins, plus wrote 4 of 9. Nicely turned out mainstream outing. B+(**)

Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Dream Dance (2004 [2009], CAM Jazz): Piano trio. The Americans on bass and drums are among the best in the business, and have been working with the Italian pianist quite some time. They have several good albums together -- Ballads was one I put on my HM list. This one, all written by Pieranunzi, does it all: fast, slow, dense, quiet, exhilarating. A-

Dom Minasi String Quartet: Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (2009, Konnex): Guitarist, b. 1943, cut a couple of (by reputation, not very good) records for Blue Note back in its 1970s dog days, then restarted his career in 1999 on avant-garde CIMP, followed by a bunch of self-released projects. His string quartet here has impeccable jazz credentials: Jason Kao Hwang on violin, Tomas Ulrich on cello, and Ken Filiano on bass. Chamber music of an odd sort, not really dissonant although the dominant violin does keep you always on edge. B+(**)

Mario Adnet/Philippe Baden Powell: Afro Samba Jazz: The Music of Baden Powell (2009, Adventure Music): Sweetened up and stretched out for a studio orchestra where every little detail fits in but none stand out. One thing that loses out here is Baden Powell's guitar. Adnet plays most of the guitar here, but he passes a song each to Antonia Adnet and Marcel Powell in what look like family favors. Philippe Baden Powell avoided his father's footsteps by taking up the piano, but he plays on fewer than half of the cuts here, with Marcos Nimrichter carrying most of the load. Ricardo Silveira plays electric guitar on four cuts, but just for flavoring. A lot of neatly layered horns come and go, none making a lasting impression. I've heard several of Adnet's albums now, and remain lukewarm. Can't fault his knack for sophisticated arranging, but don't quite see the point. B+(*)

Daniel Santiago: Metropole (2009, Adventure Music): Brazilian guitarist, second album. Quintet, with Josué Lopez (tenor and soprano sax), Vitor Gonçalves (piano), Guto Wirtti (bass), and either Edu Ribeiro or Marcio Bahia (drums). Not a lot of definition, but nice beat, some sax power, some slinky guitar. B+(*)

Tom Lellis and the Metropole Orchestra: Skylark (1999 [2009], Adventure Music): Lellis is a singer with various jazz affectations that I've always found offputting, but he comes off merely bland here, maybe a little deeper than bland. Metropole Orchestra seems to be a Dutch group with more musicians than I felt like jotting down -- 17 violins, 5 violas, 4 celli, 3 basses (one of which was credited as "jazz bass"), 20 wind instruments, 5 percussion; 2 each of guitar, harp, and piano/synthesizer. John Clayton conducted. Lellis composed 3 of 8 songs, and wrote lyrics to 3 others, leaving only the title song and the obligatory Jobim. Label specializes in Brazilian music, but despite the Jobim there's none of that here. B

Ithamara Koorax & Juarez Moreira: Bim Bom: The Complete Joăo Gilberto Songbook (2008 [2009], Motema): Brazilian singer and guitarist, respectively. She has a dozen or so album since 1993, including a couple based on Luiz Bonfá. Album is timed for the 50th anniversary of Gilberto's debut album, Chega da Saudade. Only surprise is that he only wrote the 11 songs here (several cowritten by others, especially Joăo Donato). B+(*)

Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge: Off & On: The Music of Moacir Santos (2009, Left Coast Clave): Pianist, b. 1938 in New Hampshire, moved through Boston to New York; has often, but not always, worked with Latin players like Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, and Willie Bobo. Has 10 albums since 1977, introducing his Latin Tinge group in a 2001 album. This time he's working off the music of Brazilian composer-arranger Moacir Santos. Music has a light, lithe feel, mostly marked by Mary Fettig's flute -- not my first choice, but doesn't seem inappropriate here. B+(*)

Benjamin Taubkin/Sérgio Reze/Zeca Assumpçăo + Joatan Nascimento: Trio + 1 (2009, Adventure Music): Piano trio + trumpet. Taubkin is a Brazilian pianist with several albums out. Assumpçăo plays bass, Reze drums, Nascimento trumpet. Doesn't sound necssarily Brazilian to me; more like postbop, with a steady rhythmic push, the trumpet (or flugelhorn) coloring tastefully. B+(**)

Christine Vaindirlis: Dance Mama! (2009, Ubuntu World Music): Pop singer, born in London, group up in South Africa, moved to Italy to launch her career, then wound up in New York. I figure her for a Shakira-wannabe, but she hasn't really found her niche. Some songs work with South African choral support, including the title track, which isn't all that danceable. The pennywhistles are hard to resist, but but they only make it to two tracks. B-

Jason Stein: Solo: In Exchange for a Process (2008 [2009], Leo): Bass clarinetist, b. 1976 on Long Island, studied at Bennington, moved to Chicago in 2005. Has two albums on Clean Feed -- the second we'll get to in due course. Also appeared with Keefe Jackson and Ken Vandermark (Bridge 61). This one is solo, raising all the usual caveats. But one thing he can do here is explore a lot of percussive effects that would normally get drowned out in a group. Works carefully, kicking a lot of things around. [Bonus factoid, from his website, "10 bass clarinetists you should know if you have happened upon my music": Rudi Mahall, Louis Sclavis, David Murray, Ned Rothenberg, Michel Pilz, Ken Vandermark, Andrew D'Angelo, Michael Lowenstern, Michael Moore, Eric Dolphy. A couple of those I don't know, yet.] B+(**) [CDR]

Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore: Three Less Than Between (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Bass clarinet trio, with Jason Roebke on bass and Mike Pride on drums. Working off an advance copy here with a schedule release date of Oct. 6, but Clean Feed is very good about sending me their new releases, and this one isn't even on the website yet. If/when a real copy comes around, I'll give it another listen. For now, it has the same sketchiness of the solo album, just with added noises. B+(*) [CDR]

Egberto Gismonti: Saudaçőes (2006-07 [2009], ECM, 2CD): Brazilian guitarist, has a long list of records since 1970, which I've sampled only lightly. The two discs here are completely independent. The first is a 7-part suite for string orchestra, performed by the Cuban group Camerata Romeu. Labelled a "tribute to miscegnation," it purports to tell the story of Brazil, but in classical composition terms I can't begin to decipher. The second disc is on the opposite end of the scale: a set of guitar duets with Alexandre Gismonti. They're hard to follow too, but the intimate scale and tight intertwining give them some interest. B

Stefano Bollani Trio: Stone in the Water (2008 [2009], ECM): Italian pianist, leading a trio with Jesper Bodilsen on bass and Morten Lund on drums. Rather quiet and delicate; perhaps too much so to really get a handle on. B+(*)

The Aaron Choulai Trio: Ranu (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Pianist, from Papua New Guinea, b. 1982, which moves him past prodigy contention -- I was pretty hard on his previous album, Place, but don't have anything to complain about here. Two of his four covers are rock-derived, and while Radiohead seems likely to be the curse of his generation, his 10:18 repetitive stretch of Neil Young's "Tell Me Why" works out quite nicely. B+(*)


These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Finger Poppin' With Joey DeFrancesco: Celebrating the Music of Horace Silver (2008 [2009], Doodlin'): A batch of Horace Silver classics played by a Silver-like group, only with DeFrancesco's organ replacing both piano and bass, which costs a bit of sparkle on the high end. You'd think it would also add to the churchiness, but that's not really DeFrancesco's style, and if anything he loses some of the gospel swagger and sway. The two horns are Tom Harrell on flugelhorn and Tim Warfield on tenor sax. They both have moments, but neither really breaks loose. [NB: Rhapsody didn't cooperate in playing all of the songs.] B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Matt Wilson Quartet: That's Gonna Leave a Mark (2008 [2009], Palmetto): Two horns -- Andrew D'Angelo on alto sax and bass clarinet, Jeff Lederer on tenor sax -- plus Chris Lightcap on bass and Wilson on drums. Lederer is a good deal rougher around the edges than Joel Frahm, who had paired with D'Angelo on previous Wilson -- Going Once, Going Twice is one I recommend. D'Angelo tends to walk on the wild side himself, so the pair threaten to run away with the album. Covers tend towards freebop. Wilson's originals are more buttoned down. War's "Why Can't We Be Friends" is an inspird peace offering at the end. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Ahleuchatistas: Of the Body Prone (2009, Tzadik): Guitar-bass-drums trio: Shane Perlowin, Derek Poteat, Ryan Oslance, respectively. Fifth album since 2004, with Oslance a newcomer this time. Rather metallic, not inordinately heavy but dense, not much that strikes me as jazz; maybe post-grunge. B [Rhapsody]

Freakish: Anthony Coleman Plays Jelly Roll Morton (2009, Tzadik): Pianist. AMG credits him with 9 albums since 1992, omitting a couple of duos he came up on on the short stick of, and maybe some group albums I'd file his way -- Sephardic Tinge, the Selfhaters, not sure what else. No doubt he was thinking of Morton when he titled an early album Sephardic Tinge then recycled the album name as group name. This is solo, as straightforward as any Morton tribute. "Freakish" is an obscure song title. I suppose if Morton were around he'd explain how he invented Monk. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Jessica Pavone: Songs of Synastry and Solitude (2009, Tzadik): Violinst, best known for her work with guitarist Mary Halvorson. This is a tough record for me to relate to: a string quartet with double bass instead of a second violin. It is played by Toomai String Quartet -- Pavone doesn't perform. Doesn't kick off my usual allergic reaction to classical music, but it's in the same sonic range, and refuses to break out. B- [Rhapsody]


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Rodrigo Amado: Motion Trio (European Echoes)
  • Eddie C. Campbell: Tear This World Up (Delmark)
  • Tobias Gebb Presents Trio West: Plays Holiday Songs, Vol. 2 (Yummy House)
  • Bob Greene: St. Peter Street Strutters (1964, Delmark)
  • Carla Kihlstedt/Satoko Fujii: Kuroi Kawa: Black River (Tzadik, 2CD): advance
  • The Zeke Martin Project: U4RIA (Zeke Martin Project)
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform, 2CD)
  • Zora Young: The French Connection (Delmark)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Book Time

Time for another quick list of 40 more/less new books of likely interest if anyone had that kind of time. Last time I did this was September 23. The whole kit and kaboodle is here. Probably have enough left over I could post another sooner rather than later.


Karen Armstrong: The Case for God (2009, Knopf): Probably the best recent writer on the history and historical abuse of religion, she's long hinted that she sees religion as a deep-felt human need. Most likely that's her case, and the history will, once again, be impeccable.

Campbell Craig/Sergey S Radchenko: The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War (2008, Yale University Press): The real roots are slightly deeper, but the atomic bomb was one of the initial sticking points in US-Soviet relations. Covered from both sides, as it needs to be.

Campbell Craig/Fredrik Logevall: America's Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (2009, Belknap Press): Argues that American war planners were unable to shake an insecurity complex which led them to distorted and perverse cold war policies. No doubt that there is something to this, but it's also true that at ever stage the US had dominating firepower and was able to aggressively project and assert that power far around the world. American insecurity was more psychological than anything else, perhaps rooted in fears about the viability of capitalism.

R. Crumb: The Book of Genesis Illustrated (2009, WW Norton): Reportedly favors a very literal translation, consistent with straightforward illustration, as much as may be possible with the source material, which has always struck me as, well, a little weird.

Mark Danner: Stripping Bare the Body: Politics, Violence, War (2009, Nation Books): A collection of essays (656 pp) covering a couple decades of war reporting, from El Salvador and Haiti to Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, where he paid special attention to Abu Ghraib.

Morris Dickstein: Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression (2009, WW Norton): Big survey (624 pp), but a big subject, especially with all the music and literature. Helped that the New Deal made a point of supporting artists, and that they managed to do it while getting and giving relatively little flack.

Morgan Downey: Oil 101 (2009, Wooden Table Press): Runs 452 pages, the first 30 "A brief history of oil," then on to crude oil assays, components, chemistry, exploration, production, refining, standards, finished products, etc., plus 100+ pages on markets and prices. Looks like it hits Einstein's dictum of being as simple as possible, but no simpler than it has to be. Doesn't seem to have any agenda. Reportedly essential.

Barbara Ehrenreich: Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (2009, Metropolitan): I suppose you could call this "The Bright Side of the Dark Ages." One problem with positive thinking is when it functions as denial; another is how it personalizes problems. In some ways this seems trivial, but Ehrenreich is a profound critic of this sort of thing -- indeed, of most sorts of things.

Marc Ellis: Judaism Does Not Equal Israel: The Rebirth of the Jewish Prophetic (2009, New Press): Another in what's quickly growing into a bookshelf of books trying to put some distance between Judaism and Israel. Ellis sees this as a loss of Jewish sense of a "prophetic mission" to a narrative based on the intoxication of power, from the Holocaust and the Israeli military state.

David Hackett Fischer: Champlain's Dream (2008, Simon & Schuster): The key figure in the French discovery of America, regrettably omitted from Tony Horwitz's A Voyage Long and Strange, although Horwitz wrote a review quoted on Amazon's page. Found the book a bit dull, which is too bad given that Champlain and France had a distinct approach to the Americas.

Aaron Glantz: The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans (2009, University of California Press): Follows US veterans home after previously writing Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations, and before that How America Lost Iraq, which I recall as the first book to figure that out.

Michael D Gordin: Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly (2009, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Another look at the Soviet Union's first atom bomb test, more concerned with its political ramifications than with the technical details.

DD Guttenplan: American Radical: The Life and Times of IF Stone (2009, Farrar Straus and Giroux): One of the things I did as a teenager that formed my politics was to subscribe to IF Stone's Weekly, so I always regarded Stone as some kind of saint. Seems like these days people like to harp on Stone's complicated handling of the Sovet Union as if it's still important to score points against anyone who wasn't staunchly anti-Stalin. Given how destructive American anticommunism turned out, I find it hard to nitpick.

Steven F Hayward: The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution: 1980-1989 (2009, Crown Forum): Second big (768 pp) volume under that rubric. Don't know whether a third volume is in the works: Reagan was pretty much done even before he left office, but his cult has never let up in their campaign to beatify and deify him. Hayward is part of that cult, clearly show in a previous book title: Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders. (Another memorable Hayward title: The Real Jimmy Carter: How Our Worst Ex-President Undermines American Foreign Policy, Coddles Dictators, and Created the Party of Clinton and Kerry.)

Richard Heinberg: Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis (paperback, 2009, New Society): One of the most persuasive authors on peak oil and what it means, especially why alternative energy sources are at best a limited answer, takes on the biggest and blackest: coal. Should be a very dirty read.

David Hoffman: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy (2009, Doubleday): Not sure whether this is a general history of the arms race and its bizarre mentality or whether it just focuses on the "untold" parts, which seem to have a lot to do with chemican and biological weapons. Either way, likely to be useful for understanding the waste and folly of the cold war.

Alistair Horne: Kissinger: 1973, the Crucial Year (2009, Simon & Schuster): Actually, the crucial year will be the one Kissinger spends in the Hague.

Fred Jerome: Einstein on Israel and Zionism: His Provocative Ideas About the Middle East (2009, St Martin's Press): I've long known that Einstein turned down an invitation to Israel, settling in New Jersey instead. This fleshes the story out further. Jerome previously wrote Einstein on Race and Racism.

Fred Kaplan: 1959: The Year That Changed Everything (2009, Wiley): Evidently takes the view that the 1960s started a year earlier and hinged on crucial events in 1959, specifically citing birth control pills, microchips, and the first US soldiers killed in Vietnam, but also noting "Kind of Blue" -- Kaplan is something of a jazz critic on the side, his main beat being the military-industrial complex.

Steven D Levitt/Stephen J Dubner: SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance (2009, William Morrow): With a huge bestseller setting expectations, they've gone back to the well for more profitable contrariness, but seem to have come up with a load of crap -- their efforts to go against the grain of climate research have drawn a lot of fire for their sloppy scholarship. Makes you wonder about the whole bag, even if the previous book was actually based on some of their own research.

James W Loewen: Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks & Get Students Excited About Doing History (paperback, 2009, Teachers College Press): Author of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, and Sunset Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism -- books that have got quite a few people to rethink what they thought they knew.

Eric S Margolis: American Raj: America and the Muslim World (2008; paperback, 2009, Key Porter): The implication is not only that the US has superseded Britain not only in its imperial function but in its structure. Author previously wrote War at the Top of the World: The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet, which has been through a couple of editions.

Lawrence G McDonald/Patrick Robinson: A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers (2009, Crown): Significant because the Lehman bankruptcy was the single most traumatic event of the financial collapse of 2008. Insiders might know something about that, but most of what happened lies elsewhere, including the political decision to let Lehman collapse. A lot of inside stories are coming out, including: Joseph Tibman: The Murder of Lehman Brothers: An Insider's Look at the Global Meltdown, and Andrew Ross Sorkin: Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System---and Themselves.

John Mueller: Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda (2009, Oxford University Press): No doubt there's been some hysteria worth debunking, especially along the lines of Condoleezza Rice's mushroom cloud quip, but there's also plenty of room for serious concern about atomic weapons. The bit I most worry about is the effort to preserve the practice of conventional warfare in an age when such war should be as unthinkable as nuclear holocaust. Author previously wrote Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them.

Ralph Nader: "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!" (2009, Seven Stories Press): Fiction, probably not compelling as literature, more like a disguised political tract, and for that matter one fluffed up to 736 pp. Wouldn't mention it but I'm not sure he's wrong. Moreover, I don't like the odds.

Gretchen Peters: Seeds of Terror: How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda (2009, Thomas Dunne): Bumps up against a pet peeve of mine: if heroin is bankrolling the Taliban, why not just legalize poppy growing and let legitimate sources drive the excess profits out of the market? [book page]

Rufus Phillips: Why Vietnam Matters: An Eyewitness Account of Lessons Not Learned (2008, Naval Institute Press): A protege of Edward Lansdale, Phillips was involved in US actions in South Vietnam from the beginning, and recognized its imminent failure. For proof that the lessons were not learned, Phillips draws analogies to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bernard Porter: The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society, and Culture in Britain (paperback, 2006, Oxford University Press): This looks at what people back in Britain thought and cared about their bloody empire, and the answer seems, interestingly enough, to be not much.

Ronald Radosh/Allis Radosh: A Safe Haven: Harry S Truman and the Founding of Israel (2009, Harper): An attempt to whitewash Truman as a founding Zionist hero of the Jewish State, similar to Martin Gilbert's Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship. A more balanced and nuanced view would be much more interesting.

Barnett R Rubin: The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System (2nd ed, paperback, 2002, Yale University Press): A bit dated, but Afghanistan's inability to form viable state institutions seems timeless. Rubin was a generally astute critic of Bush policy in Afghanistan, but he seems to have disappeared lately, sucked up in Holbrooke's inner circle, where's he's likely a frustrated voice for reason.

Shlomo Sand: The Invention of the Jewish People (2009, Verso): A bestseller in Israel, where it challenged various myths about just who it was returning to the promised land: in particular, argues that Ashkenazi Jews mostly derive from converts under the Khazar Empire. That in itself matters less than the use of Jewish identity in the forming of Israel, where myth turned into something deeply troubling.

Nicholas Schmidle: To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan (2009, Henry Holt): Tramping around Pakistan, not necessarily in the safest regions either, gives a young journalist a sense of mortality and a curious look at an important nation we poorly understand. [book page]

Neil Sheehan: A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon (2009, Random House): Basically the story of developing ICBMs as the alternative to Curtis LeMay's SAC bombers. Sheehan claims that Schriever, a USAF general who pushed the missile programs, with keeping the peace, but it strikes me that he merely took war to a more elevated level of antireality.

Avi Shlaim: Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace (2008, Knopf; paperback, 2009, Vintage): Major biography of Jordan's King Hussein, who played a major role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in many ways straddling both sides while cashing checks on the CIA payroll. One thing I've long wondered was whether Hussein entered the 1967 War intending to lose the West Bank and thereby rid himself of Palestinian threats to his dynasty. I doubt if that's answered here.

Avi Shlaim: Israel and Palestine: Reflections, Revisions, Refutations (2009, Verso): Essay collection, from one of Israel's most important "revisionist" historians, author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.

Lewis Sorley: A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam (paperback, 2007, Harvest Books): This book has gotten attention of late, especially from Af-Pak War hawks who believe that all we need to win in Afghanistan is a better military strategy and blank check support back home. Focuses on Gen. Creighton Abrams, also the subject of Sorley's Thunderbolt: General Creighton Abrams and the Army of His Times, who was allegedly turning the Vietnam war around before the peaceniks back home stabbed him in the back.

William T Vollmann: Imperial (2009, Viking): Huge (1306 pp) book about the Imperial Valley in the southeast corner of California and adjacent Mexico, best known for the accidental Salton Sea. I hadn't noticed Vollmann until I saw Poor People in the nonfiction section, but I gather he's a novelist of some importance and much verbosity who spits out mammoth nonfiction tomes on the side -- another one called Rising Up and Rising Down runs to 3,352 pages in 7 volumes.

William Appleman Williams: The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959; 50th Anniversary Edition, paperback, 2009, WW Norton): The classic first look at the underside of US foreign policy. New forword by Lloyd C Gardner, and new afterword by Andrew Bacevich. Williams personally trained a whole generation of critical historians. Bacevich came to Williams late, but also wrote the introduction to the 2006 reprint of Empire as a Way of Life.

Gordon S Wood: Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (2009, Oxford University Press): A new slab in the multi-author Oxford History of the United States, following Robert Middlekauff's entry for 1763-1789. Wood previously specialized in the revolutionary period, so it will be interesting to see how he moves forward. At 800 pages, probably magnificent.

Slavoj Zizek: First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (paperback, 2009, Verso): A short (96 pp) takeoff on the famous Marx quote, which originally referred to the Napoleons, this time applied to the triumphs and failures of neoliberal capitalism. Zizek is a Slovenian psychologist-philosopher with quite a bit recently published in English, including (working backwards to 9/11 and probably missing some): In Defense of Lost Causes; The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?; The Sublime Object of Ideology; Violence: Big Ideas/Small Books; For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor; Enjoy Your Symptoms: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out; The Universal Exception; The Indivisible Remainder: On Schelling and Related Matters; How to Read Lacan; Interrogating the Real; The Metastases of Enjoyment: On Women and Causality; Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle; The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible; Organs Without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences; The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity; Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates; plus some commentaries on Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, and Robespierre. Probably a similar number of earlier books.


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

Kenneth S Deffeyes: Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage (2001; new edition, paperback, 2008, Princeton University Press): Ex-Shell Oil geologist, teaches at Princeton, was John McPhee's guide for his first marvelous geology book, Basin and Range, introduced the concept of "peak oil" in the first edition of this book, and followed it up with the more general Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert's Peak in 2005. Deffeyes predicted a peak in 2004-2008, so presumably the new edition refines that prediction. A couple of global recessions since the first edition appeared suppressed demand, as did a couple of historic price run-ups. Hubbert's US peak was much more clearcut because slacking US production could painlessly (or so it seemed) be replaced from foreign sources. The same isn't true of world production, so we should expect the sort of chaos at the peak that we are in fact seeing.

Gordon M Goldstein: Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam (2008; paperback, 2009, Holt): Looks at the push to escalate US involvement in Vietnam through the prism of McGeorge Bundy's post-MacNamara revisionist memory. Thankfully, Bundy died before he could whitewash this, but Bundy did manage to keep the focus on what presidents want as opposed to what their stupid advisers tell them. [book page]

Steven D Levitt/Stephen J Dubner: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (2005; paperback, 2009, Harper Perennial): Not sure what the new material for the long-awaited paperback is: maybe why it takes four years to turn a much-in-demand hardcover bestseller into a paperback. But probably doesn't have much new, unless they explain why they saved the good stuff for the hardcover sequel coming out October 20: SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. Most likely I'll wait for the paperback again; may even get so used to waiting I wait a little longer.


Oct 2009 Dec 2009