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Monday, March 29, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16519 [16494] rated (+25), 793 [800] unrated (-7).

Jazz Prospecting (CG #23, Part 7)

Finally got some update info on Jazz Consumer Guide: currently the schedule is to put it in the Apr. 7 Village Voice. Meanwhile, I'm plugging away, although there's no real method or logic to what I pull out of the unplayed queue. At some point in the next couple of weeks I think I'll switch gears and try to close out the next column early. I doubt that it will get printed much earlier, but it would be good to push up the pace. As it stands, the April 2010 Jazz CG will have no 2010 albums, mostly 2009, plus eight stragglers from 2008. I have nine 2010 albums queued up for the following Jazz CG, which is pretty much full if not done.


Samuel Torres: Yaoundé (2010, BLC): Percussionist, specifically congalero, from Bogota, Colombia; b. 1976, second album; side credits include Shakira. Splashy Latin jazz group, with Joel Frahm on saxophones, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, and Manuel Valera on piano/keyboards; guests include Anat Cohen (clarinet) and Sofia Rei Koutsovitis (vocals), one track each. B+(**)

Norrbotten Big Band: The Avatar Sessions: The Music of Tim Hagans (2009 [2010], Fuzzy Music): Big band, based in Luleå in northern Sweden. Has a dozen or more records, but they tend to get filed under whoever they play with. This one could easily be filed under trumpeter Tim Hagans, who wrote the music, hogs the solo spots, and moonlights as the band's artistic director. Other big name (front cover) guests: Randy Brecker, Peter Erskine, George Garzone, Dave Liebman, and Rufus Reid. Good big band, especially when they get to power punch as opposed to finnessing spots where Hagans gets cute, with crackling solos -- from the stars, of course, but also from Karl-Martin Almqvist on tenor sax and Peter Dahlgren on trombone. B+(*)

The Ian Carey Quintet: Contextualizin' (2009 [2010], Kabocha): Trumpet player, b. 1974, from Binghampton, NY, now based somewhere in Bay Area. Second album. Basic hard bop lineup, bright and sunny, with some postbop harmonizing. B+(*)

George Cotsirilos Trio: Past Present (2009 [2010], OA2): Guitarist, originally from Chicago, graduated from UC Berkeley and studied classical guitar through San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Based in (or near) San Francisco. Third album. Don't know much more. Guitar-bass-drums trio. Mix of originals and well worn standards. Precise, articulate, typical jazz guitar. B+(*)

EEA: The Dark (2008 [2010], Origin): EEA stands for Peter Epstein (alto and soprano sax), Larry Engstrom (trumpet), and David Ake (piano). Mostly Ake, who wrote all of the pieces except for three group improvs, two by Duke Ellington, and one by Egberto Gismonti. Ake studied at UCLA, teaches at University of Nevada Reno; has a book Jazz Cultures, and a couple of previous albums. I don't have a firm opinion on his piano, but I must say that the idea of going without bass and/or drums is a real drag. Epstein has some remarkable work in the past -- one I highly recommend is Lingua Franca, with Brad Shepik -- but he's bland here, while Engstrom makes even less impression. C+

Absolute Ensemble: Absolute Zawinul (2007 [2010], Intuition/Sunnyside): Part of an annoying trend where labels put what used to be the booklet into a PDF file on the disc where you can't access it while listening to the CD. (I suppose that's better than not providing anything, which has often been the case, but it cramps my working style.) Hence I'm working mostly off the web here. Absolute Ensemble is a string-heavy orchestra led by Kristjan Järvi -- he is Estonian, but I don't know about the group. AMG considers them classical, but their first album included a take on "Purple Haze," and they've evidently done an Absolute Zappa before this. Zawinul plays here, presumably shortly before his death in September 2007. The record resembles his extravagant world music c. Faces and Places more than Weather Report. On the other hand, Zawinul seems to drop out for "Ballad for Two Musicians," which is as ripe as classical gets. Nothing here sticks with me, although it has moments when it seems it might. B

Somi: If the Rains Come First (2009, ObliqSound): Singer, born in Illinois, parents immigrated from Rwanda and Uganda; spent some time in Zambia growing up, and spent more time in East Africa after graduating college. Still, she doesn't sound very exotic, or for that matter very distinctive, although she works with a band that can turn on the percussion every now and then. Hugh Masekela guests on one cut. B-

Carolyn Leonhart: Tides of Yesterday (2009 [2010], Savant): Singer, b. 1971, father is bassist Jay Leonart; backup singer on a couple of late Steely Dan albums; fifth album since 2000, second to feature husband-tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, who gets his name and picture on the cover, but Leonhart's name is alone on the spine. Escoffery doesn't steal the show, but he is a tower of strength every time he emerges. Mostly standards, with Mingus and Donald Fagen outliers, and an original to start. Band has a Latin tinge, with Jeff Haynes' extra percussion limbering up his four tracks. B+(**)

Tom Harrell: Roman Nights (2009 [2010], High Note): Trumpet, flugelhorn, b. 1946, one of the best known players of his generation. I've occasionally been blown away by him, but haven't heard much that I've liked lately. This at least is swaggeringly upbeat, which suits tenor saxophonist Wayne Escofferey and pianist Danny Grissett as well. B+(*)

Aida Severo (2007 [2009], Slam): British free jazz quintet, led by pianist Philip Somervell who is in the thick of it, with two horns -- Joe Egan on trumpet, Chris Williams on alto sax -- flying off at odd tangents or piling on. With Colin Somervell on bass and Vasilis Sarikis on drums. B+(***)

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman: Dual Identity (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Not sure when the release date is on this, but the label was so excited it sent out advances, just in time for March Madness. Mahanthappa and Lehman are rivals for Downbeat's Rising Star at alto sax. Not sure who wins here, but clearly they are way out ahead of their class. Liberty Ellman's guitar weaves between them; Matt Brewer plays bass, and Damion Reid drums. Thrilling from start to finish. A [advance]

Erica Lindsay/Sumi Tonooka: Initiation (2004 [2010], ARC): Quartet actually, led by two fifty-somethings who would be cult figures if only they were better known. Lindsay plays tenor sax; b. 1955, San Francisco, cut an album in 1989 that I noted in my database due to favorable notice in Penguin Guide, then nothing more until a live album in 2008. Tonooka plays piano; b. 1956, Philadelphia, cut a record in 1984, two 1990-91, one in 1999, one more in 2004 -- Long Ago Today, should have been an HM but somehow slipped by me. Both are based in New York now. They lead a quartet here, with Rufus Reid on bass and the late Bob Braye on drums. Postbop shaded somewhat toward avant-garde, more so when Lindsay plays roughly than when Tonooka is on top. Lindsay plays sparely where Tonooka comes off little short of loquacious, a contrast in styles that thrashes a bit, but at any given moment is likely to impress. B+(***)

John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Curiosity (1991 [2010], Acoustical Concepts): Remix/reissue of a 1991 album, the second of a half dozen under Abstract Truth, a brass-heavy (5 trumpets, 2 trombones, French horn, but only two reeds) big band. Group has ensemble punch and some solo swagger. Don't know squat about Vanore, other than that he plays trumpet/flugelhorn, wrote or arranged most of the pieces here. Presumably the same John Vanore has a slew of engineer/producer credits listed at AMG. B+(**) [Apr. 6]

Steve Colson: The Untarnished Dream (2009 [2010], Silver Sphinx): Pianist, aka Adegoke Steve Colson, b. 1949, Newark, NJ, hooked up with AACM in the early 1970s, but doesn't seem to have recorded much -- AMG lists a side credit with Butch Morris in 1996 and one previous album from 2004 co-credited to wife-vocalist Iqua Colson. This is mostly piano trio, with Iqua singing on four tracks. She is off-tune and rather clunky, which doesn't always fail to work. Colson plays piano somewhat like that, too, but then it's hard to keep everything straight when you're depending on Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille for rhythm. They, no surprise, save the day. B+(*)

Michael Janisch: Purpose Built (2009 [2010], Whirlwind): Bassist, on his debut album favors acoustic over electric 9 cuts to 3. Originally from Wisconsin, wound up in London, but recorded this in Brooklyn. Jonathan Blake plays drums; everyone else rotates with Aaron Goldberg (piano: 2 cuts), Jim Hart (vibes: 4), Jason Palmer (trumpet: 3), Paul Booth (tenor sax: 3), Walter Smith III (tenor sax: 4), Patrick Cornelius (alto sax: 2), Mike Moreno (guitar: 3), and Phil Robson (guitar: 2). This yields a duo with drums, two piano trio cuts, a third with guitar, and various combos with horns and sometimes vibes up to a highly juiced bebop-retro sextet. Focusing on the bass helps pull it back together, but as with many debut albums the tendency is to show off more combinations than makes sense. B+(**)

John Burr Band: Just Can't Wait (2007 [2009], JBQ, CD+DVD): Bassist, nothing personal in his bio, just work snippets -- e.g., toured with Tony Bennett 1980-85, scattered work with Stephane Grappelli, original member of Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio. Had a couple albums released in the 1990s, and 40-50 side credits as far back as 1977. Wrote all the songs here, including lyrics for a bunch of singers: Ty Stephens, Yaala Ballin, Laurel Massé, Hilary Kole, Tyler Burr. Stephens has some fine moments, especially the title song, which swings as is Burr's inclination. The ladies fare less well. The other spotlight moments are instrumental. Burr managed to snag Anat Cohen, Houston Person, and Howard Alden for a cut each; Yotam Silberstein for two; Bob Mintzer, Dominick Farinacci, and Ted Rosenthal for three each; Joel Frahm and John Hart for longer stretches. I haven't sorted out who did what, but there are many sparkling moments. DVD has the same songs (minus one), but slightly different lineups, with less guest starpower. Haven't watched it -- a rule I almost always follow. B+(**)

Roni Ben-Hur: Fortuna (2007 [2009], Motema): Guitarist, from Israel, moved to US in 1985, on sixth album since 1995. With Ronnie Matthews on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, Lewis Nash on drums, and Steven Kroon adding a little extra percussion. Light, elegant lines, the best Wes Montgomery impression I can think of in quite some time, with backup that feels the grooves. Matthews has a couple of complementary solos. Reid's been popping up a lot this week. It must be a pleasure playing with Nash. B+(***)

Jim Guttmann: Bessarabian Breakdown (2009 [2010], Kleztone): Bassist, a founder of Klezmer Conservatory Band back in 1980, a Boston-based klezmer outfit with a dozen albums up through 2003. Debut album. A large group of musicians, although I'm not sure how many play on which cuts -- looks like they're just listing soloists. Went back and checked out one of KCB's better regarded albums, Old World Beat (1992, Rounder), for reference, and found it more orthodox and less lively, although the lack of vocals here may have made for part of the difference. I'm also tempted to credit Frank London and Alex Kontorovich, although I can't isolate them here. Swings hard, picks up some gypsy flavor, and maybe a little clave. B+(**)

Nilson Matta's Brazilian Voyage: Copacabana (2008 [2010], Zoho): Bassist, from Brazil, don't know how old, but hair looks gray; moved to New York in 1985, currently based in NJ. Third album since 2000, plus quite a few side credits -- Don Pullen tapped him for his wonderful Brazilian-flavored 1992-93 albums, Kele Mou Bana and Ode to Life, as did Eliane Elias for her best-ever Sings Jobim. Cover spotlights Harry Allen (tenor sax, elegant as ever) and Anne Drummond (flute, floating on the groove). Klaus Mueller plays some flashy piano, Mauricio Zottarelli drums, and Zé Mauricio adds percussion. Some bass solos, which I consider a plus. B+(***)


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Arild Andersen: Green in Blue: Early Quartets (1975-78, ECM, 3CD)
  • Stefano Battaglia/Michele Rabbia: Pastorale (ECM)
  • The Wayne Brasel Quartet: If You Would Dance (Brajazz): Apr. 27
  • The Britton Brothers Band: Uncertain Living (Record Craft): Apr. 9
  • Chick Corea: Solo Piano: Improvisations/Children's Songs (1971-83, ECM, 3CD)
  • François Couturier: Un Jour Si Blanc (ECM)
  • Empty Cage Quartet & Soletti Besnard: Take Care of Floating (Rude Awakening)
  • John Fedchock NY Sextet: Live at the Red Sea Jazz Festival (Capri): Apr. 30
  • Frank Glover: Abacus (Owl Studios): May 11
  • Gabriel Johnson: Fra_ctured (Electrofone)
  • Earl MacDonald: Re: Visions (Death Defying): Apr. 20
  • Organissimo: Alive & Kickin' (Big O)
  • Tomasz Stanko Quintet: Dark Eyes (ECM)
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: The Jazz Heritage Series 2010 Radio Broadcasts (United States Air Force Band, 3CD)
  • Brandon Wright: Boiling Point (Posi-Tone)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Apartheid in Israel

Paul Woodward: Apartheid Inside Israel: Actually, just a link to Jonathan Cook, but Woodward supplied a better headline. One thing few Americans realize is how effective Israel has been at segregating the million-plus non-Jewish Palestinians living within the Green Line who are nominal citizens of Israel. I don't know precisely how to rate their cage against South African apartheid or Dixie Jim Crow, but it's roughly of that same order: a tolerance with a minimal set of rights within a framework of ad hoc violence and systemic disregard. Even if Israel were to withdraw from the Occupied Territories tomorrow, Israel would still possess a two tier social and political system. When people accuse Israel of implementing Apartheid, they generally think of the West Bank where Palestinians have no rights, where the settlers have all but free reign, where the military system of justice is stacked. The occupation is, if anything, far worse than Apartheid. There is no analogous descriptor because what Israel has done there is largely unprecedented.

Most of the world would consider the conflict ended with an agreement to split off a free and independent Palestinian state in most or all of the 22% of the Palestine Mandate extending beyond the pre-1967 Green Line. That would indeed be welcome, but it would still leave Palestinians in Israel as a despised minority within Israel proper. Without the larger conflict, that problem may heal itself in time, but it's deeply burned into the Israeli psyche: isn't the whole point of the Jewish State to lord it over the goyim? Otherwise, a solution that should prove fair and stable in short course would be to join the Occupied Territories to Israel, grant full citizenship to the Palestinians, and invite the Palestinian diaspora to come back to their ancestral homes by expanding the Jewish-only Law of Return, all done within a constitutional framework that protects the rights of all citizens. The result would likely be a small Palestinian demographic majority, which would flip state power while leaving a Jewish minority in current control of most of the economy. This would turn Israel/Palestine into a country like Malaysia, with is economically dominant Chinese minority and a Malay majority that uses state power to catch up without unduly hampering the Chinese. Such a state would quickly end the apartheid that currently pervades Israel.

While writing the above, I time-sliced doing some book notice research, and came across this review of Bernard Avishai's The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel to Peace at Last (2008, Houghton Mifflin):

Determining who is properly Jewish is not so much the question -- though it is a question -- as who is Israeli, and until that question is resolved there will be continued troubles, Avishai predicts. There are more divisions to address. Avishai identifies not 12 but five tribes of Israel, each comprising about 20 percent of the electorate: the Ashkenazim Jews of mostly European descent, the North African Mizrahi Jews, the "hypereducated" and "hypersecular" Russian Jews, the "ultranationalist" and "theocratic" Orthodox Jews and, finally, the Israeli Arabs. The first four tribes are afraid of the fifth, Avishai writes, while "Tribe Three hates Four, condescends to Two, and doubts One; Two hates One, resents Three and (for different reasons) Four; One is afraid of Two, patronizes Three, and hates Four; Four hates One, proselytizes Two, and is afraid of Three." Given such conditions -- and given that Four disproportionately manages to pull down about 40 percent of the vote -- it seems unlikely that concord can ever be reached, but Avishai sees hope in measures whereby the Arab population is brought into full citizenship, Israel's economy grows in the global market and a country is built "where people say they are Israeli," not Jewish.

This tribal split echoes Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions (2004, Simon & Schuster), still I think the single best book on how the conflict turned hopeless. I can't find much reason to expect that Israeli Arabs will come to rescue Israeli secularism. It seemed to me that the tide turned when Barak preferred a minority government over forming a majority coalition with Arab parties, and that was more than a decade ago, before all the hatred poured out first in response to the Al-Aqsa Intifada, then because Israeli force failed to resolve the conflict in any fundamental way, and finally as Israel has sunk further and further into the mire of being recognized as a pariah state.

One way Israel resembles the Jim Crow South -- a subject I know a lot more about than Apartheid South Africa -- is that while is is possible to identify scattered individuals who didn't accept the prevailing racial orthodoxy, it is impossible to find actual political parties, or even factions, that can advance the cause of civil rights. The US Civil Rights movement succeeded not by persuading local political forces to change but by convincing the broader nation that change was necessary and could only happen with strong federal support. Israel, as an independent nation, doesn't have a higher power internally to turn it around. About the closest thing Israel has is the United States, which has thus far proven to be a poor conscience. (In fact, the neocons, the dominant is US foreign policy for most of the Bush years, took a prurient delight in Israel's militant approach to all of its problems.)

On the other hand, there is at least one major reason to be even more pessimistic about Israel's chances to reform itself than the South Africa or the US South: in both of the latter, blacks were critical to an economy that was based heavily on their cheap labor; in Israel Palestinian labor has been almost completely excluded from the economy, which eliminates basic forms of leverage like strikes.


Update: One day later, Paul Woodward followed up with another post, titled The World Is Sick of Israel. Title comes from a quoted piece by Akiva Eldar, which catches the moment reasonably well:

On Sunday, however, the Arab League marked the eighth anniversary of its peace proposals, which offer Israel normalization in exchange for an end to the occupation and an agreed solution to the refugee problem, in accordance with UN Resolution 194. But Israel behaves as if it had never heard of this historic initiative. For the last year, it was too busy realizing its dubious right to establish an illegal settlement in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, turning a blind eye to reality, has tried to persuade the world that what applies to Tel Aviv also applies to Sheikh Jarrah. He simply refuses to see that the world is sick of us. It's easier for him to focus on his similarly nearsighted followers in AIPAC. Tonight they'll all swear "Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem" -- including the construction in Ramat Shlomo, of course. [ . . . ]

The Quartet declared that it was backing the plan, proposed in August 2009, to establish a Palestinian state within 24 months. This was an expression of the Palestinians' serious commitment that the state have a just and proper government and be a responsible neighbor. This means Israel has less than a year and a half to come to an agreement with the Palestinians on the permanent borders, Jerusalem and the refugees. If the Palestinians stick to Fayyad's path, in August 2011, the international community, led by the United States, can be expected to recognize the West Bank and East Jerusalem as an independent country occupied by a foreign power. Will Netanyahu still be trying to explain that Jerusalem isn't a settlement?

A recent article had a quote from Gen. Mark Dayton, who has been training PA (meaning Fatah) security forces to act as dutiful agents, pointing out that his efforts were undertaken in the expectation of a Palestinian state within two years. He added something to the effect that the "shelf life" of this training is limited, dependent on actually going through with the promised state building.

Over the Cliff Into Utter Wingnuttery

Richard Crowson, in the Wichita Eagle today:

The details have to do with Kansas Republicans -- the aside comment deals with Sam Brownback's run for the governorship, which has been the only restraint the last eight years against the far right's machinations -- but if you didn't live here and didn't know the specific news stories you might think they're about your own Republicans. One thing about the GOP is that they march together -- you can't imagine a 3x3 matrix of donkeys in step, even though Obama is the one they all say wants to be a fascist dictator.

Texas Tough

Daniel Bergner: The Land of Lock and Key: A book review of Robert Perkinson, Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (2010, Metropolitan Books), which focuses on Texas history but applies to the whole country, which seems locked in a death spiral of incarceration, abuse, and recidivism -- mostly because it's easiest for American politicians, and not just the Republicans who have raised abuse and carelessness to their highest moral principles (not quite supplanting greed, but close). Bergner writes:

Perkinson offers a searching history of American incarceration, tracing the failures of our prisons to the approach that Texas and other Southern states have long taken toward their criminals and denouncing the fact that, with about 1.6 million people in our penitentiaries and an additional 800,000 in our jails, the United States locks up its citizens at a higher rate than any other country in the world.

Perkinson shows how this strange fact is rooted in our unresolved race problem. After the Civil War, Texas and other southern states used prisons to replicate slavery:

The template was mostly formed, according to Texas Tough, by slavery and its aftermath. Defeated in the Civil War, Texas and its Southern confederates were desperate to retain as much dominion as possible over their former slaves, and they found a way through law enforcement. Blacks seized for low-level crimes faced severe punishment with little chance of defending themselves in court. Perkinson tells of a black man sentenced to two years for stealing a pair of shoes and another sent away for five for snatching a bushel of corn. In the three years following the war, Texas' inmate population nearly quadrupled -- and darkened considerably in skin color, with former slaves soon outnumbering whites. Over the next few decades, these new black prisoners were rented out to an array of private businesses under a system known as convict leasing, which replicated slavery for its brutality and may well have exceeded it in disregard for human life.

Black prisoners in Texas cut sugar cane and picked cotton on the plantations of the state's agricultural barons. They built the railroads that took the cotton to market. White convicts were leased out as well, but often for less arduous labor. Whipped and driven to work despite malaria and dysentery, or shot trying to escape, blacks fell dead nearly twice as frequently as whites. And the death tolls were high. At one work camp, where the men chopped timber for railway ties, almost a quarter of the convicts perished in a period of four months.

The civil rights movement should have put an end to such abuse, but it also led to a "law and order" backlash:

It is the Southern tradition that has proved, in Perkinson's telling, to have the lasting nationwide legacy, both in the current warehousing of inmates and in the racism now powerfully embedded in American penology. Much as emancipation brought on a penal backlash against Southern blacks, so did the civil rights movement -- except that this later reaction was national. Equal protection, desegregation and President Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty were quickly followed by tougher drug laws and crackdowns on crime that, with conscious intention or not, made blacks a target. Since the triumphs of the civil rights movement, the disparity between black and white incarceration rates has almost doubled. In the early 21st century, the country, Perkinson suggests, has in a sense become the late-19th-century South.

Bergner demurs, "The abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo may not be as easily attributed to the legacy of slavery and Southern penology as Perkinson abruptly and sweepingly asserts in his final pages." But they don't seem far removed. A country capable of doing what we do to our own people is well down the slippery slope to the abuses the Bush administration committed in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and lesser known locales scattered all over the world. Torture has more to do with asserting dominance than gathering information, and dominance is at the heart of the prison system.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Poisoned Pals

Paul Woodward: Netanyahu -- Disgraced, Isolated, and Weaker: The title comes from an Aluf Benn article in Haaretz. In case you hadn't noticed, Israeli PM Netanyahu came to Washington this week to speak to what he clearly regards as the real power in the US: his lobby, AIPAC. A couple weeks back he timed the announcement of a new block of Jewish settlements in in Jerusalem to greet VP Joe Biden's arrival, figuring that would be a nice way to curtail Biden's aim to restart some kind of talks between Israeli and PA President Emeritus Mahmoud Abbas. (His term has expired, but since his party lost the last elections Israel and the US are in no hurry to expose him to another referendum.) That in itself was something between clueless bad taste and a direct insult. (At the time there was a lot of huff in Israel that it was Obama who insulted Israel by sending Biden instead of coming in person. On the other hand, you can understand that Obama had better things to do, especially if you've seen Max Blumenthal's video of drunken Israelis threatening Obama, and/or recall that Israel's security units hasn't actually had all that good of a record protecting Israeli Prime Ministers from gun-toting Israeli settlers.)

In his AIPAC speech, Netanyahu again defied Obama's wishes that Israel negotiate in good faith, defending the settlements and vowing that he will never give in on East Jerusalem, or much of anything else. Afterwards, he dropped by the White House, where Obama met with him but, well, read the report. I don't expect that Netanyahu will take hints this subtle. He has, after all, built his whole career on wrecking any chance for peaceful settlement. Which means that if Obama is determined, he is going to have to find tougher ways of impressing on Israel that failure to resolve the conflict only makes Israel more of a pariah state -- even, or perhaps especially, in American eyes. That's happening slowly, which gives Obama an in: a deal such as he wants would be a better way to serve Israel long term than to continue down Netanyahu's road. Seeing that through requires some real toughness, but so does facing Netanyahu down at the White House, and for that matter passing his big health care reform bill after all the times it's been written off.

Tony Karon: Truth and Consequences in the Middle East: A good rundown of what's happened over the last few weeks as Obama has finally started to toughen up his administration's stance toward Netanyahu, in the context of what Israel has always done:

Israel's leaders, and its voters, have amply demonstrated that they will not voluntarily relinquish control of the Palestinian territories as long as there are no real consequences for maintaining the status quo. Sure, you can tell them that the status quo is untenable, but the whole history of Israel from the 1920s onward has been about transforming the impossible into the inevitable by changing the facts on the ground. Building settlements on occupied territory in violation of international law after 1967 seemed untenable at the time; today, the U.S. government says Israel will keep most of those major settlement blocs in any two-state solution. It is precisely in line with this sort of improvisational logic that Sharon calculated he could hold on to the settlements of the West Bank if he gave up the settlements of Gaza; the same logic allows Netanyahu to say the words "two states for two peoples" while always winking at his base that he has no intention of allowing it to happen.

Stephen M Walt: Who Are Israel's True Friends? (Hint: It's Not AIPAC): Israel's settlement policy was always conceived of as a poison pill: a way to make it impossible for any weak, jingoistic politician to back down an inch and settle the conflict. Rabin couldn't do it. Barak couldn't do it. Sharon didn't want to. Netanyahu, twice now, at best tried to fake it, but he's lashed himself to a government that's not only poisoned but addicted to it. The disgrace is almost total. Some people like Steven Zunes have been calling for a "tough love" approach to Israel for years, but most Americans professing love for Israel managed to look the other way. It's getting harder and harder to do that. When you start to see the likes of Hillary Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus turning on Israel, it's clear that some kind of tide is changing.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cassidy on Geithner

John Cassidy: No Credit: Subtitle: "Timothy Geithner's financial plan is working -- and making him very unpopular." Geithner's plan, like Paulson's plan which Geithner was so much involved in, was to solve the banks' liquidity problem by letting them draw all the money they needed, while doing as little as possible to change the structure or the moral attitudes of the industry. Whether this was the best thing for America, or more narrowly the Obama administration, as well as for the banks, is hard to say, but Geithner tries to make that case. It's hard to take, partly because the banks have taken so much and offered so little in return -- the notion that saving the banks will restore the credit lines needed to jumpstart the real economy is still pure hypothesis. And partly because Geithner is so much a creature of the peculiar symbiosis between the banks and government that he can't see how extraordinary the relationship is, let alone how corrupting.

The hardest part of his job, Geithner often says, is getting people to comprehend the inner logic of a financial-rescue operation, and the unpopular actions it entails. In fact, his problem may be not economic illiteracy but its opposite: Americans understand all too well what has happened. Financial crises have a way of revealing aspects of our economic system that otherwise remain obscured, such as the symbiotic relationship between Wall Street and Washington, the hidden subsidies that financial firms sometimes receive from the Fed and other government agencies, and the fact that the vast profits that firms like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman generate depend in part on an implicit guarantee from the taxpayer. When ordinary Americans are confronted with these realities, they get angry.

Cassidy offers a hint of other ways the crisis could have been handled:

The experience of other countries that have taken over banks, such as Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom, shows that it can be done quite effectively. Northern Rock, which the British government nationalized in February, 2008, is operating fairly well. Conceivably, the U.S. government could have seized control of some big banks, forced them to boost lending more rapidly, and, eventually, split them into pieces and sold them off, thus alleviating the too-big-to-fail problem. "It would have been temporary ownership and genuine restructuring," Robert Kuttner, the author of the forthcoming book A Presidency in Peril, said. "You would have had more money going out to the rest of the economy sooner, and you would have had an honest accounting for losses. The problem with doing what we did, kicking the can down the road, is that you have these wounded institutions that are very parsimonious with credit, and, even today, nobody knows what their real state is."

This didn't happen mostly because there was no political will to make it happen. Partly Obama's advisers, and no doubt Obama himself, are pinned down by bad theory -- that government cannot run a bank, and that government has no business running a bank, despite the fact that many things that banks are currently doing badly are critical to the economy, and as such to government. I recently read Cassidy's book, How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities, which does a good job of answering the theory trappings that underlie the crisis and still handicap recovery. (If you want a bit more attitude to go with the same critique, I also recommend Yves Smith's Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism.)

John Cassidy: On Tim Geithner. Blog post, has some further notes on the Geithner piece. Also a good example of why blogs are a good idea: there's always plenty more to say about an article that has been squished into print space, including the background story of why the article got written in the first place. Cassidy's blog is proving consistently interesting, including this little tidbit on why so few banking failures have been prosecuted.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Banking Books

The recession that started in 2007 and nearly melted down into a major depression in 2008 is quickly becoming one of the most written about events in recent history -- the run-up and Bremer year of the Iraq War is the closest competition I can think of. The pace if anything is picking up, such that my Book Note queue has become swamped with such books. Rather than dump out one of my usual mixed bags, I thought I should group as many as possible into one post. And rather than just offer a time slice, I've gone back into the old files to give a broader picture of what's available.


The Top Tier: These are the books that strike me as the most important ones on the broad subject. I can't guarantee that they're all good ones, but I've dug into a quite a few of them (see the links), and the others strike me -- either from reviews or from author reputation -- as likely to be significant. I've read (or am working on) the ones with the links -- some going to as yet unpopulated pages, sorry to say. Two that are well populated and especially worth looking at are Nomi Prins and Charles Morris. Also, every now and then I've slipped in a link to a book on the Bush Era corruption -- James Galbraith's The Predator State is probably the best general account of the marriage of politics and predatory money-making out recently, with Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew a solid runner-up. Lanchester's IOU is one of the more literate explanations of how banking works (if you call what they've been doing working). Stiglitz's Freefall is as good a big picture summary we have, especially on the politics behind the economics. Cassidy and Smith have written excellent books on the economic theories that helped the bankers get away with it. The last four note sections are currently empty, but will be plenty interesting when I get around to typing them up. More books are coming out: I've scoured ahead and rounded up a few

Dean Baker: False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): Cover photos of Bernanke, Greenspan, and Paulson, although I doubt that it ends there. Baker was one of the first to understand the bubble and what its collapse would mean. This looks to be a little more developed than his slim Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy.

Richard Bookstaber: A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds, and the Perils of Financial Innovation (2007; paperback, 2008, Wiley): Too early to catch the whole blow-up, but the author was a pioneer in some of the innovations he now warns of, which gives the book a sense both of expertise and prophecy.

John Cassidy: How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities (2009, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Another book on the financial collapse of 2008, focusing mostly on the shortcomings of conventional economic theory -- all that stuff about robust, rational, reliable, all-seeing and benificent markets. What he calls Utopian Economics. [link]

John Bellamy Foster/Fred Magdoff: The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences (paperback, 2009, Monthly Review Press): Short (160 pp) Marxian analysis of how capitalism's tendencies toward stagnation led to the current crisis. [link]

Justin Fox: The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street (2009, Harper Business): Organized thematically, jumping around in time, which lets him sneak a big subject into 400 pages.

James K Galbraith: The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too (2008; paperback, 2009, Free Press): Give corporations the keys to the state and they'll turn it into a system for preying on people, the exact opposite of what a democratic state should do. One of the better political books to appear in the last couple of years. I need to go back and pick up my quotes. [link]

Charles Gasparino: The Sellout: How Three Decades of Wall Street Greed and Government Mismanagement Destroyed the Global Financial System (2009, Harper Collins): CNBC personality blames it all on Wall Street's embrace of risk.

Mark Gilbert: Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable (2010, Bloomberg Press): "Greed, stupidity, and hubris" -- sure, all those factors are endemic in the banking world, and maybe we should do something about that (not that I see much interest in or hope for disparaging greed systemwide), but the bit about collusion is more interesting and possibly more fateful. Gilbert reported for Bloomberg from London. All Amazon reviews are raves, and Nomi Prins praises this short (192 pp) book.

Peter S Goodman: Past Due: The End of Easy Money and the Renewal of the American Economy (2009, Times Books): More concerned with Main Street than with Wall Street, perhaps figuring that ultimately the real economy matters more than the casino and its cronies. Looks like more reporting than theorizing, and looks like he's done an impressive job of it. [link]

Gary Gorton: Slapped by the Invisible Hand: The Panic of 2007 (2010, Oxford University Press): Rather short (240 pp) big picture survey of the meltdown, with references back to similar events like 1893 and 1907. Argues that this panic was concentrated in the financial sector, which put the panic at a distance from everyday understanding even if it couldn't contain its effects.

Simon Johnson/James Kwak: 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown (2010, Pantheon): Johnson has been on target throughout the crisis, and is likely to pull together one of the best big picture summaries of what happened and why. The six too-big-to-fail megabanks and their oligarchs are at the heart of the problem. That they start to talk abouta "next financial meltdown" suggests that they don't think Obama et al. are up to reigning these bankers in. [Mar. 30]

Alyssa Katz: Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us (2009, Bloomsbury): Not sure how much of this is on the bubble and how much goes beyond it to what made the bubble possible: cheap money, shoddy business practices, and a thirst for risk, of course, but even deeper the conviction most Americans have that owning a home is essential to building up personal wealth.

John Lanchester: IOU: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay (2010, Simon & Schuster): I don't see the word in any of the review notes, but my impression is that this is about leverage. Politically convenient cheap credit has led to a mountain of highly leveraged investments that don't seem to be based on much of anything. Getting that money back is going to be difficult. Author started researching this for a novel, then decided truth is stranger, or maybe just more powerful, than fiction. [link]

Michael Lewis: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010, WW Norton): Wrote a famous book about the 1980s scandals on Wall Street, Liar's Poker, based on his days working for Salomon Brothers -- an experience that at the time he described as "America, when a great nation lost its financial mind." Now, he looks back on the old book and wonders: "How quaint. How innocent." The new book tries to cover the new crisis by focusing on traders who sold short -- as good an angle as any, and no doubt a lot more fun to write about.

Barry C Lynn: Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction (2010, Wiley): Argues that the most dangerous trend in American business is the persistent move towards greater monopoly power. I think he's basically right here, and that this may be an important book. Author previously wrote End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation, which I have on my shelf but unfortunately haven't gotten to.

Charles R Morris: The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash (2008; revised, paperback, 2009, Public Affairs): One of the first really useful books out on the subprime mortgage crisis and how the contagion was likely to spread. And as such, instantly out of date. Hence the revision, which includes bumping the title up -- originally The Trillion Dollar Meltdown. [link]

Raj Patel: The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy (paperback, 2010, Picador): Starts with Oscar Wilde quote: "nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." This distinction between price and value leads to many ideas that could upset the conventional apple cart of economics. Previously wrote on food, Stuffed and Starved. Naomi Klein raves about him. [Bought a copy; looks very promising.]

Kevin Phillips: Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism (2008, Penguin Books): Money played a key role in his American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Here he gets to tell you he told you so. [link]

Nomi Prins: It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street (2009, Wiley): Former Goldman Sachs managing director turned muckraking journalist, argues that the pillage had less to do with subprime mortgages than "a financial system that rewards people who move money instead of people who make things, operates outside of the media's gaze, is sheltered from governmental supervision, and uses leverage to turn risky deals into insanely risky deals." Seems about right. Previously wrote Other People's Money: The Corporate Mugging of America and Jacked: How "Conservatives" Are Picking Your Pocket (Whether You Voted for Them or Not) [link]

Barry Ritholtz: Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy (2009, Wiley): Broad history of the bubble and its bust, especially looking at the bailout, which he describes as "history's biggest transfer of wealth -- from the taxpayer to the Banksters." [paperback June 28]

Nouriel Roubini/Stephen Mihm: Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance (2010, Penguin Press): Roubini, a NYU business school professor, was one of the first Cassandras predicting the finance system collapse. Book looks at all sorts of recent finance system failures. [May 11]

Yves Smith: Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): "Naked Capitalism" blogger, explains: "why the measures taken by the Obama Administration are mere palliatives and are unlikely to pave the way for a solid recovery; how economists have come to play a profoundly anti-democratic role in policy; how financial models and concepts that were discredited more than thirty years ago are still widely used by banks, regulators, and investors; how management and employees of major financial firms looted them, enriching themselves and leaving the mess to taxpayers; how financial regulation enabled predatory behavior by Wall Street towards investors; how economics has no theory of financial systems, yet economists fearlessly prescribe how to manage them." That about sums it up.

Andrew Ross Sorkin: Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System---and Themselves (2009, Viking): Most likely one of the more important histories of the financial debacle of 2008, focusing on the politics of Washington basically in thrall to Wall Street.

Joseph E Stiglitz: Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy (2010, WW Norton): Been waiting for him to weigh in on the global meltdown, and this is it. Reading a long review at Amazon it looks to me like he caught just about everything. [link]

Gillian Tett: Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at JP Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe (2009, Free Press): Funny how that happens. The "bold dream" was the 1994 invention of CDOs, the basic form for the securitization of subprime mortgages. [paperback Apr. 13]


The second list is what I figure to be the second tier (or maybe lower), a big stack of books more/less directly tied to subprime mortgages, the bank meltdown, and the recession (including a couple on Bernie Madoff, who's more a symptom of the disease than a cause, unless you too were infected):

Viral V Acharya/Matthew Richardson, eds: Restoring Financial Stability: How to Repair a Failed System (2009, Wiley): Some kind of group project from New York University Stern School of Business, which Amazon attributes as the author, with analysis and lots of recommendations.

JS Aikman: When Prime Brokers Fail: The Unheeded Risk to Hedge Funds, Banks, and the Financial Industry (2010, Bloomberg Press): E.g., Lehman Brothers, whose failure set off a chain of repercussions that ultimately convinced many skeptics that it was indeed "too big to fail." Not sure I can handle all this weeping over the poor hedge funds. [Apr. 21]

Edmund L Andrews: Busted: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown (2009, WW Norton): New York Times economics writer, but mainly qualified for wiping his savings out by buying into a mortgage he couldn't afford. Could be a cautionary tale about the fickle press, but doesn't seem to be that smart, even in retrospect.

Erin Arvedlund: Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff (2009, Portfolio): Author reportedly wrote the first critical article on Madoff.

John Authers: The Fearful Rise of Markets: Global Bubbles, Synchronized Meltdowns, and What Must Be Done to Prevent Them in the Future (2010, FT Press): Focus on global linkages which allow bubbles to have effects propagated throughout the financial system. [June 7]

Dean Baker: Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy (paperback, 2009, Polipoint Press): Short (170 pp) essay on the financial debacle, from one of the few critics who clearly saw it coming.

Bill Bamber/Andrew Spencer: Bear Trap: The Fall of Bear Stearns and the Panic of 2008 (2008, Brick Tower): First book out on the subject, well before the crisis had played out, so they tend to view Bear Stearns as the exception rather than the rule -- a martyr for Wall Street's sins.

Robert J Barbera: The Cost of Capitalism: Understanding Market Mayhem and Stabilizing our Economic Future (2009, McGraw-Hill): Seems like a fairly establishment guy to go around badmouthing capitalism like that. Hyman Minsky follower, learning lessons from one bubble/panic to the next. Evidently a good deal more readable than Minsky's own recently reprinted Stabilizing an Unstable Economy.

Bruce Bartlett: The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a Way Forward (2009, Palgrave Macmillan): Still a self-styled conservative, but whereas his 2006 book still clung to Reagan's legacy (title: Impostor: How George W Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy) and his 2008 book was dishonest (title: Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party's Buried Past) he finally has some doubts about Saint Ronald. Now he's pitching Keynes and the Welfare State to his conservative brethren, but it's probably too high and hard for them to touch.

Matthew Bishop/Michael Green: The Road from Ruin: How to Revive Capitalism and Put America Back on Top (2010, Crown Business): Of course, you first have to explain the road to ruin before moving on. Not sure where they're going, but seems to be a realistic analysis of how we got here.

Richard Bitner: Confessions of a Subprime Lender: An Insider's Tale of Greed, Fraud, and Ignorance (paperback, 2008, Wiley): I suppose there's a need for books by scum about how they screwed ordinary people out of their savings and homes and fed a profiteering ring that ultimately wrecked the whole economy.

Charles Brownell: Subprime Meltdown: From US Liquidity Crisis to Global Recession (paperback, 2008, Create Space): Short (116 pp) summary, starting at the house market end, which seems is the author's bailiwick.

Giles Chance: China and the Credit Crisis: The Emergence of a New World Order (paperback, 2010, Wiley): Some allusions here about China's role in precipitating the credit crisis, whatever that means. From what I know, China mostly put its surplus into US treasury bonds. They did take a hit as the credit crisis crippled world trade, and they responded with a huge stimulus program that put them on a faster recovery track than anyone else did. Obviously, how the whole thing sloshed through countries like China (and India) should be of interest. How to blame them is less clear.

William D Cohan: House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street (2009, Doubleday; paperback, 2010, Anchor): Focuses on ten days around the collapse of Bear Stearns, the beginning of the 2008 financial meltdown. Book has been described as novelistic, which I don't find very reassuring or entertaining -- maybe if more bankers flung themselves out of windows? Big issues like why and what it all means get lost in immediate details.

George Cooper: The Origin of Financial Crises: Central Banks, Credit Bubbles, and the Efficient Market Fallacy (paperback, 2008, Vintage): Seems to lay much of the blame on central bankers. He is certainly right that the present crisis was made much worse (if not necessarily caused) by the expansion of credit the Fed used to prop up the post-9/11 economy in its desperate attempt to prop up Bush's election prospects -- not that he puts it that way.

Patricia Crisafulli: The House of Dimon: How JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon Rose to the Top of the Financial World (2009, Wiley): Possibly even more obsequious than Duff McDonald's Dimon bio. Wall Street Journal calls this a "fiduciary love letter." Wonder if Dimon's quite the stud Midge Decter found Donald Rumsfeld to be.

Paul Davidson: The Keynes Solution: The Path to Global Economic Prosperity (2009, Palgrave Macmillan): A short book of economic policy prescription, based on the immemorial question, what would John Maynard Keynes say now?

Charles D Ellis: The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs (2008; revised ed, paperback, 2009, Penguin): One of the key investment banks, which survived the meltdown partly because its traders had bet heavily against its own toxic CDOs, and partly because its ex-chairman, Hank Paulson, was running the Treasury at the crucial moment (e.g., when AIG, which held Goldman Sachs' CDSs, was going down). Paperback has an extra chapter, which hopefully explains all this.

David Faber: And Then the Roof Caved In: How Wall Street's Greed and Stupidity Brought Capitalism to Its Knees (2009, Wiley): CNBC business analyst, keeps it short (208 pp) and vivid, but probably not very deep.

Roger EA Farmer: How the Economy Works: Confidence, Crashes and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies (2010, Oxford University Press): Short overview of economics in light of the meltdown. Strikes me as on the conservative side -- likes quantitative easing as a means to target asset price inflation but doesn't like stimulus spending to grow employment -- but isn't dumb or inflexible about it. [Apr. 7]

William A Fleckenstein: Greenspan's Bubbles: The Age of Ignorance at the Federal Reserve (2008, McGraw-Hill): Pretty harsh on Greenspan, but probably more accurate than Woodward's book -- what was it called, Maestro? Note that Peter Hartcher has a similar book, Bubble Man.

Steve Forbes/Elizabeth Ames: How Capitalism Will Save Us: Why Free People and Free Markets Are the Best Answer in Today's Economy (2009, Crown Business): Forbes started writing this before the crisis, but he's not about to let history affect his convictions. He knows free markets are the answer to whatever ails us. What I'm not sure of is who "us" is.

Nicole Gelinas: After the Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street -- and Washington (2009, Encounter): Looks like a brief for deeper and more effective regulation, although Amazon seems to be bundling it with conservative books, some utterly nonsensical -- probably the publisher.

Edward M Gramlich: Subprime Mortgages: America's Latest Boom and Bust (paperback, 2007, Urban Institute Press): A short (120 pp), relatively early primer on on the problem, before it became clear how toxic those mortgages had become, or how crooked the whole affair was.

James Grant: Mr. Market Miscalculates: The Bubble Years and Beyond (2008, Axios): Collected from speeches and editorials by the editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer. Seems to have had a clue on the subprime crisis.

Stephany Griffith-Jones/José Antonio Ocampo/Joseph Stiglitz, eds: Time for a Visible Hand: Lessons from the 2008 World Financial Crisis (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): A collection of academic papers pushing for significant reform of the banking system.

Daniel Gross: Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation (paperback, 2009, Free Press): Short (112 pp) account of the current financial debacle, rushed out in paperback first. Even so, I wonder how much news there is here, let alone analysis.

Ethan S Harris: Ben Bernanke's Fed: The Federal Reserve After Greenspan (2008; revised ed, paperback, 2010, Harvard Business Press): Seemed quick on the draw when it came out before Bernanke got a chance to live up to his reputation as an inflation hawk or get blindsided by the subprime bubble collapse. Paperback has been revised, but most often with these things the stamp is set at the start.

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

Douglas W. Hubbard: The Failure of Risk Management: Why It's Broken and How to Fix It (2009, Wiley): Back to the drawing board. One thing we know now is that the computer models for risk management on things like CDOs and CDSs have been wildly wrong. Presumably Hubbard, who's supposed to be an expert in such, is out to correct that.

Dan Immergluck: Foreclosed: High-Risk Lending, Deregulation, and the Undermining of America's Mortgage Market (2009, Cornell University Press): Another history of the rise and fall of the mortgage market.

Tetsuya Ishikawa: How I Caused the Credit Crunch (paperback, 2009, Icon Books): Banker, Japanese by birth, grew up in London, attended Eton and Oxford; worked for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, ABN AMRO, securitizing toxic assets, so maybe it was his fault. Just not quite his alone.

Asgeir Jonsson: Why Iceland?: How One of the World's Smallest Countries Became the Meltdown's Biggest Casualty (2009, McGraw-Hill): Interesting case study, although both the extreme boom and the bust were exaggerated by the tiny size of the economy.

Dave Kansas: The Wall Street Journal Guide to the End of Wall Street as We Know It: What You Need to Know About the Greatest Financial Crisis of Our Time -- and How to Survive It (paperback, 2009, Harper): Financial writer, depends on brand name for authority, writes down to his presumed audience, which might include Rip Van Winkle.

Henry Kaufman: The Road to Financial Reformation: Warnings, Consequences, Reforms (2009, Wiley): Notoriously bearish financial analyst gets to write an I-told-you-so book, and lay out some ideas for fixing things. Niall Ferguson wrote the intro, which doesn't strike me as a plus.

Kate Kelly: Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Thoughest Firm on Wall Street (2009; paperback, 2010, Portfolio Trade): An hour-by-hour account of the last tree days that terminated the venerable investment bank -- short on context or analysis, which no doubt heightens the blindsided by reality shock.

Lawrence J Kotlikoff: Jimmy Stewart Is Dead: Ending the World's Ongoing Financial Plague with Limited Purpose Banking (2010, Wiley): Stewart played the earnest small town banker in Frank Capra's film, It's a Wonderful Life, whose depression was cured by a chance to look decades ahead at all the good he would do with his bank. Such banks don't exist any more, but Kotlikoff has some sort of scheme to bring them back. The fact is that we need some small subset of banking services, and almost everything else that modern banks do is predatory -- scams that suck money out of the real economy and into the bankers' pockets.

Adam LeBor: The Believers: How America Fell for Bernard Madoff's $65 Billion Investment Scam (2010, Orion): This looks to be better tied to the real issues than the quickie bios that dwell on Madoff's personal extravagance. His "too good to be true" scam depended on those gullible enough to buy in, which is the underlying condition (part stupid, part greedy, part just sunny optimism) that allowed the entire investment world to lose their moorings.

Les Leopold: The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity--and What We Can Do About It (paperback, Chelsea Green): The Wall Street debacle told by a labor economist. I dislike "and what we can do about it" titles, but this is most likely a good primer on the problem, the place to start.

Roger Lowenstein: The End of Wall Street (2010, Penguin): Bloomberg columnist, has several big finance books to his credit; tries to pull the big picture together. His experience with financial disasters includes a book on LTCM: When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management and Origins of the Crash: The Great Bubble and Its Undoing. [Apr. 6]

Harry Markopolos: No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller (2010, Wiley): The Bernie Madoff story, as told by the whistleblower who brought the case before a somnambulant SEC.

Paul Mason: Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed (paperback, 2009, Verso): Economics editor at BBC Newsnight, good for a view outside of the usual US self-focus.

Duff McDonald: Last Man Standing: The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase (2009, Simon & Schuster): Suck this up: Dimon is "a dedicated family man whose uncanny facility with numbers and tireless work ethic are complemented by fierce loyalty and an unrelenting aversion to office politics [ . . . ] the only man in finance today who can be called an American hero." Dimon's been in the news much lately. Few things soured me on Obama more than the day Obama talked about what a "savvy businessman" Dimon is.

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.

Adam Michaelson: The Foreclosure of America: The Inside Story of the Rise and Fall of Countrywide Home Loans, the Mortgage Crisis, and the Default of the American Dream (2009, Berkley): The subprime mortage meltdown, as told by a Senior VP of Marketing at Countrywide, the nation's largest subprime racketeer. Many reviewers claim that it's shallow and self-serving.

Paul Muolo/Mathew Padilla: Chain of Blame: How Wall Street Caused the Mortgage and Credit Crisis (2008, Wiley): Two journalists track down the chain of responsibility for the subprime mortgage meltdown.

Shari B Olefson: Foreclosure Nation: Mortgaging the American Dream (paperback, 2009, Prometheus): Florida real estate attorney, probably much more here on nuts and bolts of dealing with a problem mortgage than overall analysis of how the market got to be so messed up.

Jerry Oppenheimer: Madoff with the Money (2009, Wiley): Cute title, one of many on the subject. Author previously wrote an unauthorized bio of Martha Stewart. [paperback Aug. 10]

Fintan O'Toole: Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger (2010, Public Affairs): Ireland's economy got a big rise on the front side of a capitalist-friendly boom from 1995-2007, including a big chunk of the housing bubble. Then when the world banking crashed, Ireland was hit harder than most.

Frank Partnoy: The Match King: Ivar Krueger, the Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals (2009, Public Affairs): The grandfather of all Ponzi schemes, not least Bernie Madoff's. Relevant today, natch, but the big scandals these days have more to do with Alan Greenspan, Richard Rubin, and Jamie Dimon. Partnoy has a couple of pre-crisis books that seem at least as relevant: FIASCO: Guns, Gooze, and Bllodlust -- The Truth About High Finance (1998), and Infectious Greed: How Deceit and Risk Corrupted the Financial Markets (2004).

Scott Patterson: The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It (2010, Crown Business): Presumably newer than the old math whizzes that soared and crashed LTCM back in the more innocent 1990s. Warren Buffett: "Beware of geeks bearing formulas."

Henry M Paulson Jr: On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System (2010, Business Plus): Bush's Treasury Secretary, one of the key actors in the bailout; before that head of Goldman Sachs, one of the key actors in causing the problem in the first place. Ever wonder why he switched jobs when he did? In every nook and cranny of the federal government, Bush gladly turned chicken coops over to foxes, but only Paulson had the gall to demand a $700 billion slush fund with no oversight. This is no doubt an important book on the crisis, but with equal certainty will not be an honest or critical one. The question is what seeps through -- most likely, hubris.

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

Robert Pozen: Too Big to Save? How to Fix the US Financial System (2009, Wiley): A nuts and bolts guide to reforming the financial system. Not sure where he's coming from or going, because things like "a way to revive the securitization of loans" aren't intrinsically clear.

Donald Rapp: Bubbles, Booms, and Busts: The Rise and Fall of Financial Assets (2009, Springer): Some on the subprime fiasco, more on older instances going back to the 1720s -- what, no tulips? Seems to have a political agenda, ranting against "tax and spend" Democrats and "spend and borrow" Republicans, citing Cheney's "deficits don't matter" as "the theme of American finance." But if deficits didn't matter to the banks, why bail them out?

Jack Rasmus: Epic Recession: Prelude to Global Depression (paperback, 2010, Pluto Press): Argues that massive job creation programs and wealth redistribution are needed to prevent the recession from getting worse and/or dragging on indefinitely. Clearly doesn't understand that the bankers that move and shake the world can get along fine without workers. [May 11]

Colin Read: Global Financial Meltdown: How We Can Avoid the Next Economic Crisis (2009, Palgrave Macmillan): Another big picture book, tries to be forward looking. No idea what all it covers, but Dean Baker approves.

Andrew Redleaf/Richard Vigilante: Panic: The Betrayal of Capitalism by Wall Street and Washington (2010, Richard Vigilante Books): Redleaf is a hedge fund manager who predicted the banking crisis in a letter to his clients in Dec. 2006. Looks like this could be a right-wing rant, but Robert Shiller approved, and here's one quote: "Bush's initial policy on the crisis was similar to his Iraq policy: create a Green Zone and a Red Zone. Both policies were failures."

Carmen M Reinhart/Kenneth Rogoff: This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly (2009, Princeton University Press): A comparative history of numerous financial crises, presumably showing that they aren't so different after all. Lots of charts and numbers.

Lawrence Roberts: The Great Housing Bubble: Why Did House Prices Fall? (paperback, 2008, Monterey Cypress): Land developer consultant in California, had a view "from ground zero" of the housing bubble.

Paul Craig Roberts: How the Economy Was Lost: The War of the Worlds (paperback, 2010, AK Press): Former Reagan Treasury undersecretary turned CounterPunch columnist. Looks like a set of such columns, on the many ways the economy has been degraded.

Guillermo Rosas: Curbing Bailouts: Bank Crises and Democratic Accountability in Comparative Perspective (2009, University of Michigan Press): Over the last twenty years banks have been bailed out on every continent but Antarctica, so there are plenty of samples for comparison. No doubt most are inside deals, with safeguards to make sure ordinary people never get a cut, which may be where questions of democracy come into play.

Stephen J Rose: Rebound: Why America Will Emerge Stronger From the Financial Crisis (2010, St Martin's Press): Calls for "simple financial regulation and forthcoming investments in education, health care and energy," arguing that the fundamentals of the US economy are so rich that little more is needed. This runs against our recent experience with jobless recoveries; maybe it assumes a more liberal political climate where jobs are actually a public concern. [Apr. 13]

Brian Ross: The Madoff Chronicles: Inside the Secret World of Bernie and Ruth (2009, Hyperion): One of many potboilers on Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme, which is kind of a sidecar to the real action.

Shane Ross: The Bankers: How the Banks Ruined the Irish Economy (paperback, 2009, Penguin Ireland): The bankers, the light-fingered regulators, the housing scams, all the things that happened elsewhere, the same old story sketched out in small scale with different names and places but much the same reasons.

Danny Schechter: Plunder: Investigating Our Economic Calamity and the Subprime Scandal (paperback, 2008, Cosimo): Self-described investigative journalist, television producer, director of the DVD In Debt We Trust. My guess is that this isn't very deep, but the guy at least has a nose for dirt, and shouldn't have any trouble finding some.

Robert Scheer: The Great American Stick-Up: Greedy Bankers and the Politicians Who Loved Them (paperback, 2010, Nation Books): TruthDig editor, out for some good old fashioned muckraking. [Sept. 7]

Peter Schweizer: Architects of Ruin: How Big Government Liberals Wrecked the Global Economy -- and How They Will Do It Again If No One Stops Them (2009, Harper): Blames a long list of "liberal technocrats" -- actually, all Democrats (possible exception Saul Alinsky), mostly for encouraging "broadening home ownership," putting the banks "under the thumb of local activists," producing a "Robin Hood capitalism run wild." Actually, some of those listed (like Robert Rubin) did have dirty hands, but it wasn't because they were hurting poor people by lending them money. Rubin, for instance, cleared over $100 million at Citigroup after he left the Clinton administration.

Frederick J Sheehan: Panderer to Power: The Untold Story of How Alan Greenspan Enriched Wall Street and Left a Legacy of Recession (2009, McGraw-Hill): Well, Greenspan's reputation didn't take long to drop into the toilet.

Robert J Shiller: The Subprime Solution: How Today's Global Financial Crisis Happened, and What to Do About It (2008, Princeton University Press): One of the first books out on the financial meltdown, early enough that it focuses on the subprime mortgage mess rather than the bigger picture.

Jeroen Smit: The Perfect Prey: The Fall of ABN Amro, or What Went Wrong in the Banking Industry (2010, Quercus): ABN Amro was a venerable 183-year-old Dutch bank acquired by Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in Oct. 2007 and quickly scrapped for whatever profits could be gleaned. RBS, in turn, had to be rescued by the British government the next year. Just one of many recent banking stories: Tolstoy's unhappy families may all be different, but bad banks are distressfully alike.

Roy C Smith: Paper Fortunes: Modern Wall Street: Where It's Been, and Where It's Going (2010, St Martin's Press): Former Goldman Sachs investment banker, has a bunch of books on banking, including Global Banking (2003) and Comeback: The Restoration of American Banking Power in the New World Economy (1994). I have no real sense of where this fits in.

Andrew Smithers: Wall Street Revalued: Imperfect Markets and Inept Central Bankers (2009, Wiley): Economist, but main interest seems to be advising investors. Previously co-wrote, with Stephen Wright, Valuing Wall Street: Protecting Wealth in Turbulent Times, which this title plays off of. Thinks that central bankers should tighten money supply not only to fight inflation but also to prevent overvaluation of stocks (pace the Fed's actual policy of propping up the stock market, commonly described as the "Greenspan put").

George Soros: The Crash of 2008 and What It Means: The New Paradigm for Financial Markets (revised ed, paperback, 2009, Public Affairs): Revised from The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means. Seems inevitable that Soros would weigh in, but this seems to have some economic analysis to it, as well as the experience of a guy who's moved a few billion dollars in and out of the casino.

Thomas Sowell: The Housing Boom and Bust (2009; rev ed, paperback, 2010, Basic Books): Conservative economist and ideologue, has a large number of books, some clearly tied to economics, some with ponderous titles like Intellectuals and Society, a few on race like Black Rednecks and White Liberals

Andrew Spencer: Tower of Thieves: Inside AIG's Culture of Corporate Greed (2009, Brick Tower): Another insider account, based on someone named John Falcetta, and, well, you can guess what he found.

Gary H Stern/Ron J Feldman: Too Big to Fail: The Hazards of Bank Bailouts (paperback, 2009, Brookings Institution Press): Policy wonk book on how to get out from under the TBTF doctrine. Intro by Paul Volcker.

Joseph E Stiglitz: The Stiglitz Report: Reforming the International Monetary and Financial Systems in the Wake of the Global Crisis (paperback, 2010, New Press): A set of policy recommendations based on the financial crisis and other concurrent problems ("food, water, energy, and sustainability"). [Apr. 27]

Leila Simona Talani, ed: The Global Crash: Towards a New Global Regime? (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): Short (224 pp), expensive ($90), collection of academic papers; UK editor. [July 20]

John R Talbott: The Coming Crash in the Housing Market: 10 Things You can Do Now to Protect Your Most Valuable Investment (paperback, 2003, McGraw-Hill): Possibly the earliest book to clearly identify the housing bubble. Predicted it would bust in two years, which was a bit short. Still, when it did bust it broke big.

John R Talbott: Sell Now!: The End of the Housing Bubble (paperback, 2006, St Martin's Griffin): Crossing over from Chicken Little to an I-told-you-so scold. Seems to have overestimated how much house prices would fall, not that he can be said to have overstated the problem.

John R Talbott: Contagion: The Financial Epidemic That Is Sweeping the Global Economy . . . and How to Protect Yourself From It (2008, Wiley): Another book on the subprime mess and how toxic assets spread illness throughout the financial system. Author recently wrote Obanomics: How Bottom-Up Economic Prosperity Will Replace Trickle-Down Economics.

John R Talbott: The 86 Biggest Lies on Wall Street (2009, Seven Stories Press): A straightforward catalog, starting with "lies that caused this mess" and more on hedge funds, derivatives, pseudo-reform and real reform.

Joseph Tibman: The Murder of Lehman Brothers: An Insider's Look at the Global Meltdown (2009, Brick Tower): Pseudonym for a 20-year Lehman Brothers veteran tells a "story of greed run amok."

Katrina vanden Heuvel, ed: Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover (paperback, 2009, Nation Books): Quickie compilation of Nation pieces on the economic downturn. Probably some worthwhile, some dated, some that could use a little more seasoning.

Johan Van Overtveldt: Bernanke's Test: Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, and the Drama of the Central Banker (2009, Agate B2): Pro-Fed brief by the author of The Chicago School: How the University of Chicago Assembled the Thinkers Who Revolutionized Economics and Business. [paperback Apr. 1]

Vicky Ward: The Devil's Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers (2010, Wiley): The by-now usual story of CDO gamesmanship inside the late investment bank, with all the usual arrogance and braggadocio, and someone named Marcus Brutus. [Apr. 12]

Brian S Wesbury: It's Not as Bad as You Think: Why Capitalism Trumps Fear and the Economy Will Thrive (2009, Wiley): A "top economic forecaster"; i.e., the sort of guy who's been selling you this crap for years now. Oh, that little blip in 2008: blame it on "mark-to-market" accounting rules, which somehow were never the problem when the market was up.

David Wessel: In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic (2009, Crown Business): The view focusing on the Federal Reserve and Bernanke, who gets to come off as a hero as opposed to just one of many contributors to the meltdown. The Fed pumped the bubble up with nearly free cash, made no effort to limit its expansion or the propagation of risk through the system, then met the collapse with ingenious and unprecedented methods to transfuse cash into the bleeding banks. Greenspan had more to do with the early stages, but Bernanke was never far from the mark, nor did he ever show the slightest inkling of grasping where it was all going. [paperback Aug. 11]

Mark Williams: Uncontrolled Risk: The Lessons of Lehman Brothers and How Systemic Risk Can Still Bring Down the World Financial System (2010, McGraw-Hill): B-school professor, risk management expert, looks back in wonder. [Apr. 6]

Martin Wolf: Fixing Global Finance (2008; updated ed, paperback, 2010, Johns Hopkins University Press): Sees one of those perfect storms of global macroeconomic imbalances, caused largely by "aggressive monetary easing" and the willingness of the US to act as "borrower of last resort." Proposes various ways to rejigger the system, mostly involving reducing the centrality of the US economy. Author also wrote Why Globalization Works, where the very title says something about his priorities.

Richard Wolff: Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It (paperback, 2009, Olive Branch Press): Given the title, could have used a slightly grosser cover illustration -- the one they have shows a stack of Franklins scattering in the wind. Wolff is a Marxist economist, so he's in his moment.

Thomas E Woods Jr: Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse (2009, Regnery): From the Product Description: "If you are fed up with Washington boondoggles, and you like the small-government, politically-incorrect thinking of Ron Paul, then you'll love Tom Woods's Meltdown." Note that their selling point is self-satisfaction, nothing to do with whether anything here is right. One learns, for instance, that never mind Roosevelt, it was Hoover's activist government that deepened the Great Depression. Ron Paul wrote the intro; he's a stopped clock, right on only one issue, and this isn't it.

Robert E Wright, ed: Bailouts: Public Money, Private Profit (paperback, 2010, Columbia University Press): Short (160 pp) focus on bailout issues, possibly even raising the morality of it all. Wright has mostly written on finance history going back to Alexander Hamilton, but has a book coming out in August that may be of interest: Fubarnomics: A Lighthearted, Seroius Look at America's Economic Ills (Prometheus).

Michael D Yates/Fred Magdoff: The ABCs of the Economic Crisis: What Working People Need to Know (paperback, 2009, Monthly Review Press): Short (144 pp) tutorial on the causes and effects of the crisis, concerned more with the real world economy than with the shibboleths of Wall Street.

Mark M Zandi: Financial Shock: Global Panic and Government Bailouts: How We Got Here and What Must Be Done to Fix It (2008; updated ed, paperback, 2009, FT Press): Analyst book, always full of advice. First ed. focused on "subprime mortgage implosion"; revised edition had to follow up on the consequences, which are still playing out.

Gregory Zuckerman: The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History (2009, Broadway Business): John Paulson is not, nor even related to, Goldman Sachs honcho/Treasury secretary Hank Paulson. John Paulson runs the hedge fund Paulson & Co., which bet heavily against the subprime mortgage racket, making billions of dollars from the Wall Street meltdown. This is a good thing?


The third list picks up books that don't directly deal with the current recession but provide useful background information, some historical, some in terms of economics and its politics. Some were written well before this crisis.

Moshe Adler: Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal (2009, New Press): About time someone turned the tables on "the dismal science" and show that what's dismal about it is how susceptible it is to political whims of its practitioners.

Liaquat Ahamed: Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World (2009; paperback, 2009, Penguin): Actually, a history featuring four bankers from the 1920s, leading up to the 1929 Crash and Depression, and how the central banks bungled the crisis. Still, this appears at a time when the sequel is being acted out. Even if the analogies aren't obvious, the penchant for arrogance and error is still all too evident. Most likely the spookiest part will be Germany, given what happened there.

George A Akerlof/Robert J Shiller: Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism (2009, Princeton University Press): A look at how psychological factors impact economic decisions -- presumably a corrective to the ultra-rationalism most economists assume to simplify their equations. Title, I believe, comes from Keynes. Schiller previously wrote Irrational Exuberance, about the stock bubble (second edition in 2006), and The Subprime Solution: How Today's Global Financial Crisis Happened and What to Do About It. [link]

Daniel Altman: Neoconomy: George Bush's Revolutionary Gamble With America's Future (2004; paperback, 2005, Public Affairs): Focuses on Bush's tax cuts and efforts to trim programs like social security.

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

Stephen H Axilrod: Inside the Fed: Monetary Policy and Its Management, Martin Through Greenspan to Benanke (2009, MIT Press): Until Bernanke most of what the Fed did was diddle with the money supply, taking the punch bowl away when parties started to get going (unless you're Greenspan and the party is Republican, of course), and this briefly (213 pp) surveys that side, from a long time insider's perspective.

Joel Bakan: The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (paperback, 2005, Free Press): Not specifically about banks, but the author could write a sequel that is. For starters, the custom of treating fines for illegal activities to cost-benefit analysis is sociopathic.

William Baker/Addison Wiggin: Endless Money: The Moral Hazards of Socialism (2009, Wiley): Exposes "the dark motives and drivers of today's socialist alliance, a combination of the über rich and the rights of the entitled lower-middle class." Sounds like if we had only kept to the gold standard we wouldn't have had all that growth which turned into bubbles and burst into recessions.

Bradley Bateman/Toshiaki Hirai/Maria Cristina Marcuzzo, eds: The Return to Keynes (2010, Belknap Press): Nothing like a crisis to nudge economists back to studying reality, even to bringing back tools that allow you to do something about it.

Anna Bernasek: The Economics of Integrity: From Dairy Farmers to Toyota, How Wealth Is Built on Trust and What That Means for Our Future (2010, Harper Studio): It's hard to overstate how important trust is for any sort of functioning economy. Not sure how much of this concerns itself with finance reform, but clearly there is a need for restoring integrity and trust there.

William K Black: The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S&L Industry (paperback, 2005, University of Texas Press): A couple years old and looking back on several scandals ago, but the title is as true as ever, and the lessons evidently still haven't been learned.

Paul Blustein: The Chastening: Inside the Crisis That Rocked the Global Financial System and Humbled the IMF (paperback, 2003, Public Affairs): For 50+ years the IMF had been the stern parent of the third world, doling out money to keep first world banks afloat while tying its loans to forcing pro-capitalist "Washington consensus" policies on nations in dire need of development. Then came the 1997-99 East Asia crisis, where recovery and development was inversely related to IMF "help." Within a decade, no one would want IMF money on the old terms, and the IMF would be scrambling to change its usual prescriptions.

Paul Blustein: And the Money Kept Roling In (and Out): Wall Street, the IMF, and the Bankrupting of Argentina (paperback, 2006, Public Affairs): Another turning point for the IMF was its disastrous handling of Argentina's collapse, one of many important data points on the trail to the current recession.

Paul Blustein: Misadventures of the Most Favored Nations: Clashing Egos, Inflated Ambitions, and the Great Shambles of the World Trade System (2009, Public Affairs): Mostly on the failed Doha Round of trade talks -- the one that might actually help the third world but was postponed and ultimately shelved.

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

Jonathan Chait: The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics (2007, Houghton Mifflin): The story of "supply side economics," a/k/a "voodoo economics," a theory I thought was long dead. It was originally cooked up to justify tax cuts on the rich, but nowadays the Republicans don't even need theories to do that -- it's burned into their DNA, isn't it? [link]

Ron Chernow: The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance (1990; paperback, 2010, Grove Press): Ancient history, dusted off for another round. Author has a long history of writing about the moneyed, including Alexander Hamilton and John D. Rockefeller.

Steven M Davidoff: Gods at War: Shotgun Takeovers, Government by Deal, and the Private Equity Implosion (2009, Wiley): Quite a bit here about how private equity groups, sovereign wealth funds, and investment banks takeover businesses, and includes some deals the government set up as part of its bank bailouts. Interesting stuff, almost all of which makes insiders ridiculously rich while putting a drag on the real economy.

June Breton Fisher: When Money Was in Fashion: Henry Goldman, Goldman Sachs, and the Founding of Wall Street (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): Gilded age history; thank God we got over all that. [Apr. 27]

Thomas Frank: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation (2008; paperback, 2009, Holt): A pretty accurate summary of the Republicans' run of ruin in Washington. Paperback added something to the subtitle; not sure if the book has been updated. [link]

Steve Fraser: Wall Street: America's Dream Palace (2008, Yale University Press): Background on the allure and romance of Wall Street, which goes a long way to letting them get away with it all. A short (208 pp) book following his much longer Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life. [link]

Daniel Friedman: Morals and Markets: An Evolutionary Account of the Modern World (2008, Palgrave Macmillan): A survey of cases where markets disconnected from morals with various ill effects. Not directly related to the latest financial crisis, but earlier ones appear to similar effect, and of course there are numerous analogous examples.

John Gillespie/David Zweig: Money for Nothing: How the Failure of Corporate Boards Is Ruining American Business and Costing Us Trillions (2010, Free Press): A couple of investment bankers put much of the blame for the financial crisis and plenty more on corporate boards. Reminds me of the low esteen Robert Townsend (Further Up the Organization) had for boards.

Alan Greenspan: The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World (2007, Penguin Press): Memoir written shortly after leaving the Fed, shortly before the housing bubble that he failed to recognize burst with all of its repercussions. One of the key actors in deregulating the banks, initiator of the "Greenspan put" which meant the Fed would reliably respond to any dip in the stock market, occasional pitch-man for variable rate subprime mortgages. Some people blame it all on him. Sometimes his ego seems big enough to bear that much responsibility.

William Greider: Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country (1987; paperback, 1989, Simon & Schuster): The then-definitive book on the Fed, and still the place to start. Focuses more (and more critically) on the sainted Paul Volcker than on the then-neophyte Alan Greenspan.

Harold James: The Creation and Destruction of Value: The Globalization Cycle (2009, Harvard University Press): One argument here is that the globalization juggernaut is a likely victim of the recession, much like globalization was undercut by the Great Depression. Previously wrote: The End of Globalization: Lessons From the Great Depression.

Richard C Koo: The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics: Lessons From Japan's Great Recession (2009; revised ed, paperback, 2009, Norton): The quick revisions, adding 32 pages, must reflect how relevant Japan's long recession is to our own, as well as to the 1930s, which loom large here. Author, chief economist at the Nomura Research Institute in Tokyo, previously wrote a similar book, Balance Sheet Recession: Japan's Struggle with Uncharted Economics and its Global Implications (2003). This seems to both bring it up to date and tie the lessons together.

Josh Kosman: The Buyout of America: How Private Equity Will Cause the Next Great Credit Crisis (2009, Portfolio): I guess this makes sense. Private equity companies use their leverage to buy up real companies and suck them dry, leaving them with huge piles of debt, which means that creditors can get screwed on both ends of the deal, while the banks at least reap huge fees for their complicity.

Paul Krugman: The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 (2008; paperback, 2009, WW Norton): Revised a year ago from the 1999 original, written then in response to the East Asian collapse of 1997, which bears many of the same traits as the current boom/bust. [link]

Michael Lewis, ed: Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity (2008, WW Norton): A quickie collection of old and not-so-old pieces, just in time to slap some product on the latest financial disaster, and to be obsolete almost instantly.

Benoit Mandelbrot/Richard L Hudson: The (Mis)Behavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin & Reward (2004; paperback, 2006, Basic Books): Mandelbrot wrote the book on fractals in 1983, The Fractal Geometry of Nature. This is his second book on applying fractal theory to finance, after 1997's Fractals and Scaling in Finance. Predates the recent crisis, but has various past crises to work with -- the main effect a critique of conventional models of risk.

Mark A Martinez: The Myth of the Free Market: The Role of the State in a Capitalist Economy (paperback, 2009, Kumarian Press): I don't know how exactly he goes about this, but any degree of observation will tell you that free markets exist only in theory. Real markets are shrouded in monopolies, information asymmetry, and all sorts of gamesmanship, all of which lead to lots of problems, including complete breakdowns.

Steven G Medema: The Hesitant Hand: Taming Self-Interest in the History of Economic Ideas (2009, Princeton University Press): Adam Smith has been so subsumed under his "invisible hand" concept that the idea has taken a life of its own. Not really sure what Medema does with it, but it should be clear that while markets produce efficient results under ideal conditions, their real world leaves much to be desired. Medema has a bunch of books on history of economic thought, including a couple specifically on Ronald Coase, who I associate with blind faith in markets.

Murray Milgate/Shannon C Stimson: After Adam Smith: A Century of Transformation in Politics and Political Economy (2009, Princeton University Press): Intellectual history on the evolution of economic thought in the hundred years following Adam Smith -- i.e., the 19th century.

Ron Paul: End the Fed (2009, Grand Central): In the great debate between freshwater and saltwater economists, Paul sides with the Austrians, who'd gladly forego any kind of water in favor of heavy metals. I like Paul on some issues, and I'm not a fan of the Fed. I don't doubt that he can score lots of points over secrecy and lack of accountability, which has often let the Fed follow dangerous political interests. I find it really hard to take this seriously, but it turns out that fighting the Fed is an old libertarian theme: Murray Rothbard had a similar book, The Case Against the Fed.

Kevin Phillips: American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (2006, Viking): This is where the one-time Republican strategist develops his "we are doomed" theory. His equation is based on three deep insights: the willful ignorance imposed by the political ascent of fundamentalist Christianity; the argument that American power was always based on a natural resource that is now in permanent decline: oil; and the turn to finance as America's main way of making money, in stark contrast to simply making things. He traces other empires through the same eclipse -- the wind-powered Dutch and the coal-fired British. That a financial debacle would mark the end is certainly implied. He wrote a told-you-so sequel just two years later. [link]

Nomi Prins: Other People's Money: The Corporate Mugging of America (2004; paperback, 2006, New Press): Former Goldman Sachs trader, left the racket in 2002, has plenty to tell.

Nomi Prins: Jacked: How "Conservatives" Are Picking Your Pocket (Whether You Voted for Them or Not) (paperback, 2006, Polipoint Press): I take this to be supporting documentation for James Galbraith's The Predator State, especially for Wall Street and its cronies in the Bush administration.

Alasdair Roberts: The Logic of Discipline: Global Capitalism and the Architecture of Government (2010, Oxford University Press): Short (216 pp) book covering the broad range of economic liberalization from 1978-2008, which set up the surprise ending. Author's tendency to look at capitalism as liberalism seems to be one of those UK quirks. Previously wrote The Collapse of Fortress Bush: The Crisis and Authority of American Government, which saw Bush as the prisoner of American liberalism and neomilitarism. How quaint. [Apr. 21]

Nouriel Roubini/Brad Setser: Bailouts or Bail-Ins: Responding to Financial Crises in Emerging Markets (paperback, 2004, Peterson Institute): A lot of background on financial crises elsewhere, the sort of things economists once believed couldn't happen here.

Robert J Shiller: Irrational Exuberance (2000; 2nd ed, 2005; paperback, 2006, Broadway): A book on bubbles, taking its title from the Alan Greenspan quote. One reason for the revised edition is that Shiller wrote a 2003 paper explaining why there was no housing bubble. Seems to have learned better, and given the pub dates he was quicker than some.

Robert Skidelsky: Keynes: The Return of the Master (2009, Public Affairs): Keynes biographer, his multi-volume series reissued abridged in 2005 to a mere 1056 pages. This reminder comes in at 240 pages. It seems to me that Keynes' disappearance has been greatly exaggerated, but there's nothing like a huge worldwide financial crisis to bring people back to the essential books. Also see: Peter Clarke: Keynes: The Rise, Fall, and Return of the 20th Century's Most Influential Economist.

Jim Stanford: Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism (paperback, 2008, Pluto Press): Not so short at 360 pages, but illustrated with cartoons. Figure this to be a leftist approach.

Judith E Stein: Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies (2010, Yale University Press): The 1970s are best known for the stagflation phenomenon, but in retrospect there was more changing than just a bad stretch with the money supply: domestic oil production peaked in 1969, trade turned to a deficit in 1970, a conservative movement started to gain traction, real wages for male workers started to decline. The transition from manufacturing to finance is typically interesting, even though it was not until the 1980s when it began to really take a toll. [May 25]

Pablo Triana: Lecturing Birds on Flying: Can Mathematical Theories Destroy the Financial Markets? (2009, Wiley): Evidently so. This digs into the latest models that supposedly give traders mysterious advantages in beating the market. Foreword by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose market math books (Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan) have a lot of fans (many of whom hate this book).

Jerome Tuccille: Alan Shrugged: Alan Greenspan, the World's Most Powerful Banker (2002, Wiley): Written back when he was, when practically everyone was fawning over his sorry ass -- cf., most famously, Bob Woodward: Maestro: Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom. Focuses heavily on Greenspan's relationship to Ayn Rand, and not disapprovingly -- Tuccille has also written It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand and The Gospel According to Ayn Rand. I think it was Paul Samuelson who said of Greenspan, "You can take the boy out of the cult, but you can't take the cult out of the boy."

Christopher Wood: The Bubble Economy: Japan's Extraordinary Speculative Boom of the '80s and the Dramatic Bust of the '90s (1992; paperback, 2005, Solstice): Not sure if this has been revised since it was originally published, but the bust dragged on longer than anyone imagined possible.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vandalism in the Defense of Hysteria

Judy L Thomas: Democrats' offices across U.S. attacked: Wichita's Sedgwick County Democratic Party headquarters was one of many sites attacked in the last couple of days in a wave of vandalism, the right's juvenile response to Congress passing an inadequate and long overdue health care reform act. Mostly bricks thrown to smash windows thus far: one brick in Rochester, NY carried Barry Goldwater's "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" quote. Obviously, "extremism" is a word that suggests acts more ominous than vandalism. The violence implicit in the right's hysteria has never been far from the surface: Jim Geraghty (approvingly) characterized the whole right as "voting to kill." It's a short step from the sentiment to the act, one that needs no more than a few cracked individuals to turn into serious terrorism.

Of course, you're always going to have cracked individuals -- even if it does seem we have more than our fair share. What makes them such a public menace is the way the Republicans and their media thugs have run their scorched earth campaign against health care reform. First, they have totally misrepresented what is in the bill; moreover, they recast it in starkly emotional terms, and they've posited themselves as the last-gasp defenders of our way of life. Now that they've failed within the law they're practically begging their followers to take the law into their own hands. In fact, they've been cultivating the idea of popular revolt against tyranny ever since they came up with their Tea Party scam. So of course this sort of vandalism is going to happen. And of course far worse is going to happen. The only way to dampen it is to hold the leaders responsible. And by leaders I'm not talking about Mike Vanderboegh; more like Michael Steele, Mitt Romney, and the ghost of Barry Goldwater.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16494 [16472] rated (+22), 800 [797] unrated (+3). I forget who it was, but I read something recently about history -- four big schools of historiography, of which the postmodern approach was to dismiss history as just one fucking thing after another. I've had a week like that.


Jazz Prospecting (CG #23, Part 6)

Again, no news on when Jazz CG will run, which means not this week, but doesn't exclude next week. Meanwhile, I keep slogging through the in queue. Played more avant-garde stuff this week than I've been picking out, and found a couple of things I didn't expect.


The Giuseppi Logan Quintet (2009 [2010], Tompkins Square): Saxophonist, b. 1935 in Philadelphia, cut two freewheeling 1964-65 quartet albums for ESP-Disk (with Don Pullen, Eddie Gomez, and Milford Graves), and was never heard from again -- until now. Leaving aside co-producer Matt Lavelle for the moment, this tries to get the old spirit back, tapping Dave Burrell, François Grillot, and Warren Smith for piano-bass-drums. Actually, only Burrell is really up to it -- he's worth the price of admission, especially at a time when piano is being phased out as a backing instrument. I take Lavelle to be the mover and shaker here, the one who put this deal together. He expands the group from four to five, playing bass clarinet to shade Logan's sax -- credit doesn't specify tenor or alto; he's played both -- and trumpet for contrast although he doesn't push it. Three covers are most amusing, especially an "Over the Rainbow" that winds up someplace else. B+(***)

Sam Newsome: Blue Soliloquy (2009 [2010], Sam Newsome): Solo works for soprano saxophone, 15 of them, 14 with "blue" or "blues" in the title -- the other one is called "24 Tones" -- 14 originals, the exception there is "Blue Monk." Works about as well as these things can work, probably because the repeated use of blues form keeps it simple. B+(*)

VW Brothers: Muziek (2010, Patois): Guitarist Marc van Wageningen and drummer Paul van Wageningen, from Amsterdam, Netherlands, relocated to US in 1976-80, winding up in Oakland, CA. Names seem familiar to me, but I'm working blind, having trouble googling, finding the hype sheet, and reading the microtype on the package. Record starts out with marginally avant sax, then evolves through Latin to plain funk. Ray Obiedo and Wayne Wallace co-produced, so blame the Latin on them. Mostly interesting, especially when whoever plays sax climbs out on a limb, but I don't get whatever they're getting at. B+(*)

Sei Miguel: Esfingico (2006 [2010], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, b. 1961 in Paris, lived in Brazil, based in Portugal since 1980s, lists 9 records (not counting this) on his website, going back to 1988 (AMG has one, not this). Plays pocket trumpet here, a nice contrast to Fala Mariam's alto trombone. The other credits are Pedro Lourenço (bass guitar), Cesár Burago (timbales, small percussion), and Rafael Toral (some kind of electronics: "modulated resonance feedback circuit"). Rather schematic, and a bit on the short side (39:56), but he's onto something that might be worth exploring. B+(**)

Jorrit Dijkstra: Pillow Circles (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Dutch saxophonist, plays alto and lyricon, has 10 or so albums since 1994, based in Boston. This is an octet with a few American names I recognize -- Tony Malaby, Jeb Bishop, Jason Roebke, Frank Rosaly -- and a few Europeans I don't. With viola and guitar/banjo, plus three users of Crackle Box ("a small low-fi noisemaker invented by Dutch electronic musician Michel Waisvisz"). Only instrument that registers much for me is Bishop's trombone. Otherwise I find it vaguely symphonic, swooning in swirls of slick harmony, but somehow it grows on you. B+(*)

Fight the Big Bull: All Is Gladness in the Kingdom (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Virginia big band, was 9 pieces last time, now 11-12, with Steven Bernstein the big name pick up. Erstwhile leader is guitarist Matt White, who wrote most of the pieces, save two from Bernstein and an old Band song ("Jemina Surrender") that Bernstein arranged. Sometimes it seems like their main trick is to kick up the volume; sometimes it works really well. B+(***)

RED Trio (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, with Hernani Faustino on bass, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. First album, I think. Based in Portugal, although Ferrandini was born in California, his father a Portugese from Mozambique, his mother an Italian-Brazilian he picked up along the way. Pinheiro plays prepared piano, making the instrument more percussive than melodic. Faustino's bass sounds like he's monkeying around too. The result is more avant noise than piano trio. I find it refreshing and exhilarating. A-

Kirk Knuffke: Amnesia Brown (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Trumpet player -- website announces he plays cornet now, but credit here is trumpet; originally from Denver, based in New York since 2005; has a bunch of new/recent records, including a duo with Jesse Stacken on Steeplechase, plus several trio records with various lineups. This trio includes Doug Wieselman on clarinet and guitar and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Wieselman's guitar is surprisingly effective. His clarinet provides a contrasting tone which sometimes slows things down, but they mostly mix well. Nice artwork, although the back is impossible to decipher. B+(***)

Scott Fields Ensemble: Fugu (1995 [2010], Clean Feed): Chicago guitarist, has a couple dozen albums since 1993, of which this original 1995 recording was his second, brought back on a new label. Group wobbles between Matt Turner on cello and Robert Stright on vibes, the former slowing things down and sapping them up, the latter bristling with energy. Group also includes bass and percussion. Fields has some very nice runs, and the vibes are terrific. B+(**)

Ben Goldberg: Go Home (2009, BAG): Clarinet player, from Colorado, studied in Santa Cruz, birth date unknown but started recording with New Klezmer Trio in 1990 and has been prolific ever since, with ten albums under his own name, plus three New Klezmer Trios, one Hasidic New Wave, two Tin Hats, a Clarinet Thing, and various interesting combos with John Zorn, Marty Ehrlich, Charlie Hunter, Steven Bernstein, Myra Melford, and Allen Lowe/Roswell Rudd. This is a quartet with Ron Miles (cornet, trumpet), Charlie Hunter (7-string guitar), and Scott Amendola (drums). Goldberg wrote all of the songs (except "Ethan's Song" co-credited to Ethan Goldberg), but this feels more like Hunter's gig, with rockish grooves and guitar twang driving everything. In fusion formula you'd expect synth but the clarinet dresses up the grooves nicely, while Miles occasionally jumps in front. B+(***)

Tin Hat: Foreign Legion (2005-08 [2010], BAG): Originally Tin Hat Trio, four albums from 1999-2004, with Rob Burger (piano), Mark Orton (guitar, dobro), and Carla Kihlstedt (violin). Now regrouped as a quartet, with Burger gone, replaced by Ben Goldberg (clarinet) and Ara Anderson (trumpet, pump organ, piano, glockenspiel, percussion). Goldberg notes that he played as a guest at the first-ever Tin Hat Trio concert. His clarinet fits right into the chamber jazz concept with the violin and Orton's central guitar/dobro -- Orton wrote 11 of 15 pieces here, so I figure him for the leader. Chamber jazz might suffice, but the wild card is Anderson. His pump organ animates several pieces, and he plays a mean trumpet when he has a mind to. A-

Tommy Babin's Benzene: Your Body Is Your Prison (2010, Drip Audio): Bassist, b. 1973 in Nova Scotia, now based in Vancouver. Plays both acoustic and electric; not specified here, but electric is my guess. Has a few side credits including NOW Orchestra going back to 1999, but this looks to be his first album. One title piece, runs 49:41, breaks up into nine sections -- I'm reluctant to call them movements or it a suite. Hype sheet says file under "Jazz/Improv/Space Rock." Not sure about the latter, as this is more intense than spacey, and it doesn't exactly rock even when it brings the noize. Quartet: Chad Makela (baritone sax), Chad MacQuarrie (guitar), and Skye Brooks (drums). The sort of thing that Anders Nilsson's Aorta Ensemble does -- a little less fancy on the guitar, a little more oomph from the bass and bari. A- [Apr. 13]

Amir ElSaffar/Hafez Modirzadeh: Radif/Suite (2009 [2010], Pi): ElSaffar is a trumpeter, Iraqi father, American mother, b. 1977 in Chicago, studied at DePaul, has one previous album, Two Rivers, in 2007. Modirzadeh plays tenor sax, Iranian father, American mother, b. 1962 in North Carolina, teaches at SF State, has 6-7 previous albums as well as side-credits back to 1987, many with the Asian Improv crowd (Fred Ho, Francis Wong, Anthony Brown). Each wrote a long suite-like piece here: Modirzadeh's "Radif-E Kayhan" and ElSaffar's "Copper Suite." Rhythm section is Alex Cline on drums and gongs, Mark Dresser on bass. Both pieces sound like freebop to me, with nothing special suggesting Iraq or Iran (except for ElSaffar's brief vocal). B+(**)

The Inhabitants: A Vacant Lot (2007 [2010], Drip Audio): Vancouver group, credits in order listed: Skye Brooks (drums), J.P. Carter (trumpet), Pete Schmitt (bass), Dave Sikula (guitar). If I read the icons right, Carter wrote 4 songs, Brooks and Schmitt 2 each, and Sikula mixed the thing. Richly textural with a tendency to swell and get dense, sort of prog rock but that does this a disservice. B+(*)


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • The Bickel/Marks Group With Dave Liebman (Zoho): May 11
  • Federico Britos: Voyage (Sunnyside)
  • Joe Chambers: Horace to Max (Savant)
  • The Element Choir: At Rosedale United (Barnyard)
  • Mike Fahie: Amina (Bju'ecords)
  • Hal Galper: E Pluribus Unum: Live in Seattle (Origin)
  • Jim Guttmann: Bessarabian Breakdown (Kleztone)
  • Jeff Healey: Last Call (Stony Plain): Apr. 6
  • Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Jasmine (ECM): advance, May
  • Oleg Kireyev/Keith Javors: Rhyme & Reason (Inarhyme): Apr. 13
  • Thomson Kneeland: Mazurka for a Modern Man (Weltschmerz)
  • Jim Lewis/Andrew Downing/Jean Martin: On a Short Path From Memory to Forgotten (Barnyard)
  • Olivier Manchon: Orchestre de Chambre Miniature, Volume 1 (ObliqSound)
  • Brad Mehldau: Highway Rider (Nonesuch)
  • William Parker: At Somewhere There (Barnyard)
  • Debbie Poryes Quartet: Catch Your Breath (OA2)
  • Wallace Roney: If Only for One Night (High Note)
  • Nelda Swiggett: This Time (OA2)
  • Chris Tunkel: Grey Matters (Tunk Music)

Purchases:

  • Drive-By Truckers: The Big To-Do (ATO)

Perspective?

Matthew Yglesias: Perspective: Our fevered, overworked pundit, who has taken to describing Congress members who'd much rather have single payer or at least the "public option" but are nonetheless willing to vote for the compromised health care reform bill as supporting the pundit's position, waxes:

Now that it's done, Barack Obama will go down in history as one of America's finest presidents. It's always possible of course that, like LBJ, he'll get involved in some unrelated fiasco that mars his reputation. But fundamentally, he's reshaped the policy landscape in a way that no progressive politician has done in decades.

Aside from that it's not done until it's finally signed, and that I haven't noticed any progressive presidents in decades -- it's not clear that we even have one now -- this is pretty ripe. I, too, am glad the bill passed -- err, I, too, supported Yglesias's position -- and I'm not sure that anything much better could have been passed, but the whole campaign strikes me as a failure of imagination and courage on the part of people who should have known better and could have campaigned for a much better bill. As it is, a lot remains to be done. I especially hope they can push some of the changes forward so we don't have to wait for 2014 to get any relief.

I don't mind if Obama and the Democrats take more credit than is due here, especially in forums where Republicans are present as they've become completely unhinged over the issue. Still, it's worth noting that the stocks of most major insurance and pharmaceutical companies went up today on the news.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Great Books

Matthew Yglesias: Influential Books: Walter Benjamin wrote an essay once on unpacking his library where he castigated the very idea of going through shelves or boxes of books and trying to annotate them. It hit me hard because as a compulsive list-maker, there is little else I would rather do. Don't remember just what his reasoning was; only my shame and ignorance. Yglesias writes so much and so fast that he almost certainly doesn't fathom Benjamin. Here he's responding to a Tyler Cowen post with the same Ten Most Influential Books meme. Cowen at least dressed his list up with some classics: Plato, Hayek, Keynes, and a token novel (Proust). Yglesias seconded one book, Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons, which I've never heard of. I've heard of a bit more than half of the others, but only read one: Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground. I mention this because although I can't credit it with any long-term influence, I read it at a critical juncture in my life, and it did have a powerful short-term impact. I was 15 at the time, on the verge of dropping out of high school, and it was one of the first things I read wholly on my own. Over the next 3-4 years I mostly read literature (although I increasingly turned to history), and mostly stayed as far underground as possible -- Grove Press and Evergreen Review were my main points of reference. For as much as I was impressed by Notes, I never managed to read more than a couple of pages of Dostoyevsky's major novels. The furthest I got into any piece of 19th century literature was a couple hundred pages into Anna Karenina, although I eventually managed to read a bit more of Kant and Marx. (I bought a nice set of Nietzsche, who seemed like the thinker to follow up from Dostoevsky -- literally so, given that I found Notes in Walter Kaufmann's anthology on existentialism -- but never got any good out of him.) I don't know when Yglesias plugged into Notes, but for me including it signified mapped the roots of the list as juvenile.

I might add here that the Thomas Kuhn I read was Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and that while I missed McNeill's Plagues & Peoples, I've read a good deal about plagues, including "arguably the better book in this genre," Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. I also read a good deal of feminist criticism predating Susan Moller Okin: Kate Millett, Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer, Juliet Mitchell, Andrea Dworkin, Jill Johnston, Marge Piercy, and others. On the other hand, I had long stopped reading philosophy before I became aware of Richard Rorty. Most likely I would find him agreeable on epistemology and possibly even on politics. (I gather he's made a point of attacking "the cultural left," which sounds like where I came from; I've always hated how moderates/liberals get off on attacking some or all of the left to legitimize themselves. Yglesias provides an especially annoying example of this here as he counts off the left-leaning congress members who have come around on the health care reform bill and thereby are no longer regarded as monsters.)

I couldn't offer a comparable list myself without spending a lot of effort drawing up a rough list of 50-100 books and knocking them down again, but even so I doubt that I ever got that much from any one place. Dostoyevsky may have started me reading, or maybe it was Shakespeare who had an arguably bigger impact at nearly the same time, but I was quickly on to all sorts of 20th century writers -- beats like Ginsberg and Burroughs, absurdists like Ionesco and Beckett, not to mention lots of porn. The one novel that had the most long-term effect was Thomas Pynchon's V. -- literally the novel of the century, one that few weeks go by without me thinking of.

Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd and Compulsory Miseducation were revelations. Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner's Teaching as a Subversive Activity got me over the mishaps of my schooling. No single book that I can recall got me over religion, but Alan Watts helped, as did a lot of historical studies of early protestants, leading to capitalism in C.B. Macpherson's The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. I picked up a Marxist approach to history from Eugene Genovese's The Political Economy of Slavery. I didn't need a book to persuade me to support civil rights, or to oppose the Vietnam War, or to sympathize with labor or feminism, but I read plenty of them. Not sure which ones stand out. Robert Paul Wolff had a big impact in showing me that reason could come out right -- The Poverty of Liberalism was one key book -- and that turned my life around as much as anything. I read cultural criticism until I got sick of it: Walter Benjamin had the deepest impact; John Berger's Ways of Seeing helped explain Benjamin to the masses; Jan Myrdal's Angkor taught me more about imperialism than any other single book.

After I broke away from college, I went through a phase where I only read rock crit: Lester Bangs, Paul Williams, Robert Christgau (who became a friend, and was responsible for all that music stuff I wrote). Then I spent some years reading mostly technology and popular science books: John Gribbin was probably my breakthrough on the science side, although I wouldn't rate his books particularly high. More important was Steven Jay Gould, John McPhee, David Quammen, Richard Rhodes, Jeremy Bernstein. I also put together a pretty solid foundation in computer science, and read a fair amount about math (even though I never got back into actually doing it). And I also read a few business books, especially Thomas Peters, David Ogilvy, Robert Townsend's invaluable Further Up the Organization, and Richard White's The Entrepreneur's Manual.

In the 1990s I started thinking about the political state of the world again, kicking around ideas for a post-capitalism book. I spent a chunk of time between jobs failing to get very far on that, then returned post-2001, still without much to show for the efforts. Still, I've read a lot of history, politics, and economics from the period. One especially important book is George Brockway's The End of Economic Man. Another book that has done much to frame my thinking is Jane Jacobs' short Dark Age Ahead. Glancing through my lists, the only thing I can say is that there are too many good recent books to start listing them now.

One thing about the Cowen and Yglesias lists is that they aim to establish a framework or methodology for a viewpoint. I don't see how I can do that, partly because I try to work with no fixed viewpoint, partly because my underlying moral principles are pretty universal -- you don't need a lot of philosophizing to build on the golden rule, which you can easily derive from scripture or from reasoning with the barest recognition that you're not the only person who matters in the world.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sale Music

One of the downsides for ever ordering anything from Daedalus is they keep sending you periodic catalogs forever. Most of mine quickly wind up in the trash, but as I thumbed through "Daedalus Music: Last Chance Winter 2010" it occurred to me that Concord is going through one of their period house cleanings, with a lot of possibly excellent cutouts. So I held this one back to take a closer look. I didn't find much that I don't have and still want -- Clark Terry's Serenade to a Bus Seat was one I missed that I don't doubt is worth getting. But comparing what I found listed to my database, I came up with a list of A- [and better] records I do recommend:

  • Nat Adderley: Work Song (1960, Riverside)
  • Geri Allen: The Life of a Song (2004, Telarc)
  • Gene Ammons: A Stranger in Town (1961-70, Prestige)
  • Gene Ammons: Fine and Mellow (1972, Prestige) [A]
  • Chet Baker: Riverside Profiles (1958-59, Riverside)
  • Bob Berg: Another Standard (1997, Stretch)
  • Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis/Buddy Tate/Coleman Hawkins/Arnett Cobb: Very Saxy (1959, Prestige) [A]
  • The Best of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (1958-62, Prestige)
  • Eric Dolphy: At the Five Spot, Vol. 1 (1961, Prestige)
  • Booker Ervin: The Freedom Book (1963, Prestige)
  • Bill Evans: The "Interplay" Sessions (1962, Riverside): includes Interplay
  • Hampton Hawes: Trio, Vol. 1 (1955, Contemporary) [A]
  • Coleman Hawkins: The Hawk Flies High (1957, Riverside)
  • Coleman Hawkins: With the Red Garland Trio (1959, Prestige)
  • Coleman Hawkins: The Hawk Relaxes (1961, Prestige)
  • Jimmy Heath: Really Big! (1960, Riverside)
  • Joe Henderson: Milestone Profiles (1967-75, Milestone)
  • Budd Johnson: Let's Swing! (1960, Prestige) [A]
  • Little Richard: The Georgia Peach (1955-57, Specialty) [A]
  • Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (1956, Riverside) [A]
  • Thelonious Monk: At the Five Spot (1958, Milestone): combines Misterioso and Thelonious in Action, each [A-]
  • Thelonious Monk: Riverside Profiles (1955-59, Riverside)
  • Thelonious Monk: Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival (1964, Monterey Jazz Festival)
  • Wes Montgomery: Incredible Jazz Guitar (1960, Riverside)
  • Maria Muldaur: Heart of Mine: Love Songs of Bob Dylan (2006, Telarc)
  • The Best of Art Pepper (1957-80, Contemporary)
  • A Man and a Half: The Best of Wilson Pickett (1961-71, Atlantic/Rhino, 2CD) [A]
  • Bud Powell: Paris Sessions (1957-64, Pablo)
  • Sonny Rollins: Worktime (1955, Presgige) [A]
  • Sonny Rollins: Plays for Bird (1956, Prestige)
  • Sonny Rollins: + 3 (1996, Milestone)
  • Sonny Rollins: This Is What I Do (2000, Milestone) [A]
  • Buddy Tate: Groovin' With Tate (1959-61, Prestige)
  • Rufus Thomas: Stax Profiles (1967-75, Stax)

Two of the above I don't have in these editions, but have records that are evidently subsets, so I thought I should list them: Bill Evans, The "Interplay" Sessions; and Thelonious Monk, At the Five Spot. A lot of these records are old editions of recent reissues, so they're not really losses to the catalog -- not even Concord is so blockheaded as to let Brilliant Corners and Worktime slip out of print, but I wouldn't put Budd Johnson's wonderful Let's Swing! past them, and I wonder what the deal is with This Is What I Do. The more recent titles and the compilations presumably are deletions, not likely to return any time soon. I went through the website too. The only non-Concord title is the Wilson Pickett, a 1992 comp which has been slightly superseded by 2006's The Definitive Collection, but is still a tremendous value. And the Little Richard is still the first choice, a must have.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Past Tense, Present Tense

Juan Cole: The Map: More background on the map series that Andrew Sullivan cited, linked to yesterday. (Sullivan originally cited Cole.) There are two basic ways to approach the Israel/Palestine conflict. One is to work your way through the history. The other is to screw the history and just look at the current situation. The latter is much simpler and much more clear cut, which is probably why we spend so much time arguing about history. Actually, the history is pretty clear cut too. From early on the Zionists intended to take over as much Palestinian land as possible, eventually erecting a Jewish State -- that was, after all, the title of Theodor Herzl's clarion book -- and drive the Palestinians out or reduce them to "an utterly defeated people." That the Zionists have come so close is an achievement rooted in remarkable discipline and steadfastness, but also in a number of fortuitous turns of history: the Balfour Declaration and the early British administration gave them a strong imperialist sponsor; the Russian Revolution helped separate Jewish nationalists out from both religious and internationalist Jews; the closing of US emigration in 1923 severely reduced options for Jewish emigrés; the rise of Nazism triggered a substantial wave of German Jewish emigrants; WWII and the Holocaust destroyed the fabric of Jewish social life, especially in eastern Europe, and produced a backlash of sympathy the Zionists could (and did) exploit; the Palestinian independence movement was decimated by the British in suppressing the 1937-39 revolt, and neighboring Arab countries were likewise under more/less tight British/French control until well after Israel's 1948 "War of Independence"; Israel was able to parlay a series of foreign sponsors -- the Soviet Union, France, then the United States -- to build up massive military superiority, including nuclear weapons. Going into 1948 Jews were outnumbered 70-30 in Palestine, yet they managed to more than reverse those demographics through a combination of ethnic cleansing and deals to cede limited territories to Transjordan and Egypt. Nonetheless, they were unable to reconcile their quest for land with their loathing of non-Jews in their midst, nor were they finally able to break the Palestinians.

That history leaves us with the current stalemate: a vastly inequal situation where Jewish dominance exposes the utter moral bankruptcy at the root of the whole project. For how that has worked out, skip past the history and look at the current status: who is entitled to do basic things, like travel or build a house or run a business, and who isn't; who is likely to get thrown in jail or assassinated, and who isn't; who is free to vote, has access to the courts for redress of grievances, can demonstrate, and who cannot; who benefits from the social services provided by the state, and who is excluded. There is no justification these days for one group lording it over another group -- not even history excuses such inhumanity.

Juan Cole: Cpl. Jeffrey Goldberg, Guarding the Prison of the Nationalist Mind: OK, Cole gets a bit shrill here. And he's wrong that David Horowitz was as "insufferable" as a leftist way back when as he is as a rightwinger now -- maybe he wasn't the brightest bulb at Ramparts, and his celebration of burning down that Bank of America building was a bad omen (as well as a failed attempt at sarcasm). But he's mostly right here. Still, the thing I find unsettling about Goldberg is that he seems willing to settle the conflict on the two state terms that have been on the table since UNSC Resolution 235 and long since accepted by virtually every Palestinian and Arab party -- in fact, by virtually everyone except Israel -- yet he cannot bring himself to criticize Israel for being the last intransigent holdout. Worse, he uses his own diplomatic stand to shield Israelis who clearly disagree with him from any form of criticism. Moreover, Goldberg's tactic is not at all unusual for US supporters of Israel: most profess their personal desire for a "two-state solution" yet strive to deflect any responsibility for its failure from Israel -- the one country that could make it happen at the drop of a hat.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sullivan's Travails

Trolling through Andrew Sullivan's blog today -- something I don't do all that often -- and found a few items of some interest:

  • Blaming America First: First up to attack Obama for getting insulted by Netanyahu are Senators McCain and Lieberman. After the jump, Eric Cantor chimes in, calling the suggestion that Israel should stop its illegal settlement building "beyond irresponsible."
  • Chart of the Day: Top (black) line is national health expenditures as percentage of GDP, from 5.2% in 1960 to 17.7% today. Peeling off are projections had previous health care reform plans been passed -- one each for Nixon, Carter, and Clinton. Also shown is the OECD median, which tracks the slope of the reform plots. One thing that's worth noting is that the growth rate was slower for terms of presidents who tried (and failed) to implement reforms, and much faster under presidents (Reagan and the Bushes) who made no effort at all.
  • From the Annals of Chutzpah: Quotes Karl Rove on Biden-Netanyahu and other foreign policy matters (he cites Honduras), where he depicts Obama as: "a cowboy president try[ing] to act in an extra-constitutional way to violate a fundamental principle in the Constitution, all without having done their homework in advance."
  • Why Beijing and Washington Don't See Eye to Eye on Security: Quotes Evan A Feigenbaum: Why Is U.S.-China Strategic Coordination So Hard?, specifically on how China doesn't feel threatened by situations that scare us silly -- specifically mentioned: Iran, Pakistan, North Korea. I'll add two more reasons: one is that China is less judgmental (and therefore less hypocritical) of other countries; another is that China doesn't have soldiers scattered all over the world. In both respects, the US would be better off learning to chill out, and letting broadly representative international organizations like the WTO and the World Court take over the task of scolding countries that stray from norms. On the other hand, China can get awfully sensitive where its borders are concerned, as we've seen recently in their flap over the Dalai Lama, or with Taiwan.
  • The Sanctions Debate: Quotes Lara Friedman: Getting over the sanctions delusion, on why US sanctions hardly ever work -- they punish people without power for the supposed sins of those who have power. Needless to say, further sanctions against Iran fit that same pattern. On the other hand, this argument doesn't mean that sanctions aren't appropriate in cases where they appear to support, and are in turn welcomed and supported by, masses who are oppressed by those in power. South Africa is the classic case where sanctions worked. These arguments don't disqualify Israel as another case. On the other hand, I suspect that the turning point won't be implementing sanctions; it should be sufficient just to tilt the US and Europe against propping up Israel's colonial occupation. The US was very late on South Africa, and never officially implemented any sort of sanctions, but the Afrikaner elites moved quickly once the wind changed. As for Iran, sanctions seem to be a stall tactic for lack of any willingness to actually try to bridge differences.
  • Goldblog Splutters: Starts with a series of maps on Palestinian land loss: the first showing actual land ownership split between Palestinians and Jews in 1946; the second the UN Partition Plan split; the third the armistice lines from 1949-67; the fourth only the parts with more/less limited Palestinian Authority are shown. The maps don't quite track the same thing, but the sense of loss is matched in reality. The actual population split in 1946 was about 32% Jewish, but most Jews lived in cities, and the major Zionist effort to purchase lands and establish kibbutzim had run into a wall at about 7% of the total land in Mandatory Palestine. Presumably there are still some splotches of Palestinian-owned land in Israel, especially in the West Galilee which saw relatively few expulsions during the 1948-49 war. The PA has also picked up some former settlement areas in Gaza since 2000. On the other hand, Palestinian control of "Palestinian land" in 2000 was weak under the PA and significantly weakened since 2000 as Sharon and his followers worked to undermine the Oslo accords and with them any vestige of Palestinian sovereignty. Sullivan picked up these maps from Juan Cole and used them in an earlier post, which Jeffrey Goldberg attacked.
  • The Much-Delayed Response to Goldblog: An earlier rebuttal of an earlier Jeffrey Goldberg attack.

More pieces here and there on Israel, including a link to a relatively sane one by Goldberg arguing that Obama's plan is to realign Israel's government to produce a more moderate Kadima-Likud coalition instead of the current ultraright Likud-Beiteinu-Shas alignment -- my guess is that the government would fail first, and that Netanyahu is unwilling to join any coalition that would give Obama the satisfaction of even a lame solution. Also lots of pieces on the Vatican's sex crime cover-ups.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16472 [16445] rated (+27), 797 [798] unrated (-1).


Jazz Prospecting (CG #23, Part 5)

Another interim week, waiting for the latest Jazz Consumer Guide to drop -- no news on that, which means this week is out -- moving deliberately on to the next one. Having a tough time writing about jazz these days, especially warming to anything I'm hearing -- and not for lack of time, as most of the following took three spins before I settled on something. The one new A- is marginal: I could just as easily have slid it down a notch, but grading on a curve implies that something should come up on top.


Marius Nordal: Boomer Jazz (2005 [2009], Origin): Pianist, third album since 1996, don't know much more about him but he's probably a boomer, especially since he defines the period as 15 years after WWII, encompassing 76 million kids. Having been born in 1950, I'm less certain that I should be included. Those born 1946-48 were the leading edge of the population explosion, and as such got a jump on a rapidly expanding economy. Just one example was that they got quickly hired into academia, whereas the tail end of the generation found far fewer opportunities. Another, of course, was that they caught the 1960s when everything seemed to be possible, whereas my sub-generation (and I was a bit slow in this regard, for personal reasons I won't bore you with) rattled around in their wake. So mashing all these short time sequences never made much sense to me -- I recall that at one point generations were held to cycle every three years. As for this record, Nordal plays solo piano on 10 songs from the 1960s, ending with one he wrote (presumably much later). These were, of course, songs that I grew up with, but even in the 1960s most were songs I associated with an older sub-generation, one that was more condescending to rock and roll. Three Beatles songs were from McCartney's arty-nostalgic phase; Simon & Garfunkel were even stuffier (well, "Scarborough Fair" was; "Mrs. Robinson" had a beat); and Roberta Flack, Jack Jones, and Bread were anything but hip. I favored the Rolling Stones over the Beatles at the time, and read Allen Ginsberg instead of Simon's Robert Frost. So the only thing here that much impresses me is Chuck Berry's "School Days," done up cleverly as boogie-woogie -- a choice cut. B

Dan Weiss Trio: Timshel (2008 [2010], Sunnyside): Drummer-led piano trio, with Jacob Sacks on piano and Thomas Morgan on bass -- Morgan seems to be everywhere these days. Second album for Weiss, plus a list of 30 or so side credits since 1999, including impressive work on tabla for Rudresh Mahanthappa and Rez Abbasi. Wrote all the pieces, including ones called "Prelude," "Interlude" and "Postlude." I like the bits where the piano reduces to a rocking rhythm instrument. Less impressive is the slow stuff influenced by the 'ludes. B+(**)

Greg Burk: Many Worlds (2007 [2009], 482 Music): Pianist, b. 1969, originally from Lansing, MI; studied at New England Conservatory, taught at Berklee, played in Either/Orchestra; after 10 years in Boston relocated to Italy (Rome). Ninth album since 2000, a quartet with Henry Cook on sax (alto, soprano) and flute, Ron Seguin on bass (contrabass and something he calls "electric acoustic bass"), and Michel Lambert on drums/percussion. This struck me as overly ornate at first, with Cook's reeds wispy and Burk's piano wrapped up in long exploratory runs, but the more I listen the more it coheres -- especially the physics-inspired six-part "Many Worlds Suite," which ends in a discordance that surely isn't mere chaos. B+(***)

Jerry Bergonzi: Three for All (2008 [2010], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, plays some soprano, also get a piano credit here, which suggests some overdubbing. With Dave Santoro on bass and Andrea Michelutti on drums. Bergonzi has been on a terrific run lately, with two straight A- albums (Tenor Talk and Simply Put), and nothing very far off the mark. This has a couple of blemishes which I blame on the soprano. Terrific tenor player, deep tone, has all the moves; group lets him play. B+(***)

Salvatore Bonafede Trio: Sicilian Opening (2009 [2010], Jazz Eyes): Pianist, b. 1962 in Palermo, in Sicily. Has a dozen, maybe more albums, since 1990. Piano trio with Marco Panascia on bass, Marcello Pellitteri on drums. Light touch, even temper. Does a Beatles piece, which I always dread, but acquits it nicely. B+(**)

Graham Decter: Right on Time (2008 [2009], Capri): Guitarist, from and based in Los Angeles; studied at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY; plays in Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Debut album, a quartet, backed by the Clayton-Hamilton trio: John Clayton on bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums, Tamir Hendelman on piano. Needless to say, they swing. Program includes one original, two Ellingtons, Johnny Hodges' "Squatty Roo," pieces by Ray Brown and Thad Jones, a Jobim, other standards. Decter's guitar complements the trio, adding texture and pushing them a bit. B+(**)

Kelley Suttenfield: Where Is Love? (2007 [2009], Rhombus): Standards singer, based in New York, probably young, debut album, backed by piano-guitar-bass-drums, nobody I've heard of. Has an exceptionally nice voice, measured delivery with nothing terribly idiosyncratic about it. I don't care much for the song selection, with "And I Love Her" and "Ode to Billy Joe" the sore points, but she covered Veloso instead of Jobim, tried on a Betty Carter piece, sashayed into vocalese on "West Coast Blues," and did well by "Nature Boy." Most effective was "My One and Only Love" -- probably because it was the simplest. B+(*)

Emilio Solla & the Tango Jazz Conspiracy: Bien Sur! (2009 [2010], Fresh Sound World Jazz): Argentine pianist, based in New York, second album I'm aware of, probably has more. Tango forms, but mostly jazz musicians, notably Chris Cheek on soprano, tenor, and baritone sax, and Richie Barshay on drums and percussion. In his liner notes, feels a bit uncomfortable taking jazz liberties with his national music, but the record splits the difference nicely. B+(**)

Rufus Reid: Out Front (2008 [2010], Motema): Bassist-led piano trio, with Steve Allee on piano and Duduka Da Fonseca on drums. Reid has nine albums under his own name, plus a vast number of side credits going back to a 1970 gig with Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon. Allee, a fine mainstream pianist with four albums since 1995, has yet to break out of the pack. Da Fonseca is a Brazilian drummer/percussionist with several albums of his own. All three contribute songs, plus there are covers from Marcos Silva, Tadd Dameron, and Eddie Harris (another former Reid employer). "Out Front" means more bass solos. With Reid that's nothing to complain about. B+(*)

Marc Mommaas: Landmarc (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1969 in Netherlands, grew up in Amsterdam, moved to New York in 1997. Third album. Basically a trio with Nate Radley on guitar and Tony Moreno on drums, plus an extra guitarist on 5 of 9 pieces -- two with Rez Abbasi, three with Vic Juris. The guitars are sweet and slinky; the sax tends to be atmospheric. B+(**)

Zora Young: The French Connection (2007-08 [2009], Delmark): Blues singer, b. 1948, fifth album since 1991 -- third on Delmark -- cut with three different French bands. Uneven sound -- sometimes seems a bit distant, although she has that basic Bessie Smith projection that doesn't need a microphone, and that carries a record that is strongest at its most retro. B+(*)

Juhani Aaltonen Quartet: Conclusions (2009 [2010], Tum): Finnish tenor saxophonist, b. 1935, not well known here but should be recognized as a major figure -- I have yet to track down his well-regarded 1970s recordings, but I can highly recommend two relatively recent ones, Mother Tongue and Reflections. Quartet includes Iro Haarla (piano and harp), Ulf Krokfors (double bass), and Reino Laine (drums), with Haarla and Krokfors contributing four and two songs respectively -- Aaltonen the other four. He has a marvelous sound on tenor, more lyrical here than in the past, but I especially enjoy it when he roughs things up a bit. My main reservations at first were the two flute and one alto flute pieces. I never cared much for the sound, but he's as expert at it as any saxophonist I can think of -- Lew Tabackin, or perhaps Vinny Golia, someone not overly smitten by the Pied Piper notion, nor squarely centered on bop (James Moody) and/or swing (Frank Wess). A-

Kalle Kalima & K-18: Some Kubricks of Blood (2007 [2010], Tum): Guitarist, from Finland, b. 1973, studied in Germany with Raoul Björkenheim among others; has a couple albums, maybe two dozen side credits, many with Jazzanova. Unusual group sound here, with Ville Kujala's quarter-tone accordion, Mikko Innanen's saxes (alto, soprano, baritone), and Teppo Hauta-aho on double bass -- no drummer, which helps explain why this gets stuck in weird eddies. Compositions are keyed to various Stanley Kubrick films. Packaging, liner notes, and artwork are superb, as usual for this label. Despite the disconnects, interesting in various spots. B+(*)

Mort Weiss: Raising the Bar (2009 [2010], SMS Jazz): Clarinetist, started his musical career after he retired from a bread-and-butter career, and has put together a string of engaging albums ever since, with a mix of swing and bop moves. This one is solo clarinet, two originals, a bunch of well worn covers, the better known the better. Normally I would complain about the lack of balance/momentum/something that is inevitable with solo efforts, but he more than makes up for that in charm. Closes with "My Way" -- and earns it. B+(***)

Ambrose Field/John Potter: Being Dufay (2007 [2009], ECM New Series): Field is credited with "live and studio electronics"; Potter as "tenor," meaning a vocalist with classical standing. Record is "based on vocal fragments by Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474)," a Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance. The electronics separate this from any baggage I associate with classical music. The voice wends through the words without excessive drama or disruption. Lovely, actually. B+(**)


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Tony Allen: Secret Agent (World Circuit/Nonesuch): advance, Apr. 13
  • Correction: Two Nights in April (Ayler)
  • Erika: Obsession (Erika)
  • Tia Fuller: Decisive Steps (Mack Avenue)
  • Gaida: Levantine Indulgence (Palymra): Mar. 21
  • Garaj Mahal: More Mr. Nice Guy (Owl Studios)
  • Garaj Mahal & Fareed Haque: Discovery (Moog Music)
  • Grupo Fantasma: El Existential (Nat Geo): advance, May 11
  • Brian Landrus: Foward (Cadence Jazz
  • Joëlle Léandre/François Houle/Raymond Strid: Last Seen Headed: Live at Sons D'Hiver (Ayler)
  • John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension: To the One (Abstract Logix): Apr. 20
  • Dan Pratt Organ Quartet: Toe the Line (Posi-Tone): Mar. 30
  • 3ology With Ron Miles (Tapestry)
  • Gabriele Tranchina: A Song of Love's Color (Jazzheads): Apr. 13
  • Petra van Nuis & Andy Brown: Far Away Places (String Damper): Mar. 30

Purchases:

  • Vampire Weekend: Contra (2010, XL)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

School Days

Justin Elliott: Conservative Bloc Prevails in Latest TX Textbooks Standards Vote: I take two positives away from this news item. One is that Kansas is no longer in the running for dumbest state school board in the country. The other is that it will be all the more obvious to Texas schoolchildren that their teachers are lying to them -- an insight that will prepare them for a lifetime of political flacks and businessfolk of all stripes. Neil Postman once wrote that the most important thing a student can learn is to develop a fine-tuned bullshit detector. Texas students are sure going to get a lot of practice. Of course, in the long run ignorance only gets you so far. Sooner or later you need to learn something, and it's actually easier when you're young, so in that regard this is a tragic waste of youth, as well as a self-defeating assertion of mindless authority.

Quicksand

It's always tempting to read too little into the recent contretemps between VP Joe Biden and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel timed its announcement of additional settlement building in East Jerusalem to coincide with Biden's arrival to try to force engagement in some sort of back-channel talks with rump PA president Mahmoud Abbas. The least Abbas could insist on was a settlement freeze, so Netanyahu's government's action was a deliberate attempt to undermine whatever scant chance the talks might have had. The Obama administration had also insisted on freezing settlements over a year ago, but had yet to push back when Netanyahu failed to restrain the settler movement. Still, this timing was shock enough to force Biden to "condemn" the plans -- a position that was reiterated by usually compliant state secretary Hillary Clinton. In widely reported "private" talks, Biden lectured Netanyahu on how failure to make progress on Palestine was endangering US troops in "Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan." To my knowledge, that is the first time any official US source, at least since 2001, has identified Israel-Palestine as a liability, hence as a strategic interest, to US interests in the region. All of this suggests that Obama is finally trying to get back in charge of the diplomatic initiative he started over a year ago with appointment of George Mitchell. Obama has become widely viewed as an ineffective leader, mostly due to his inability to lead Congress, but he has more effective power to direct foreign affairs, so this would be one way to burnish his credentials as a world leader -- a long shot, given Israel's past performance, but also a huge win if he can only pull it off.

For his part, Netanyahu has more experience than any other Israeli leader at thwarting American wishes for a peace agreement with the Palestinians, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he is very good at it. It mostly means that the Americans have never been serious enough persistently enough to overcome Israeli resistance -- even though there have been clear instances where Israel has bent to US will: the Madrid talks forced by Bush I (which, by the way, resulted not in agreement but in Shamir's loss to Rabin, which in turn led to the Oslo agreement), and Bush II's embargo of military aid which held Sharon to go through with his Gaza disengagement plan. If he wanted to, there are lots of ways Obama can apply pressure on Israel -- both behind the scenes and out front. He could even give Israeli voters reason to change their government, which would not be hard to do given Netanyahu's rickety coalition.

As always, the question is American willpower. Before Biden left, he conceded that, "the United States has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel." As Paul Woodward pointed out, this is on its face ridiculous. Israel may have no better friend than the US, but the US has plenty of friends who cause us no trouble and don't require the constant stroking that Israel does:

Is it because Israel is the most ill-mannered among America's friends that it has to be flattered with this "best friend" status? Is it because Israel remains perpetually on the verge of throwing a tantrum that its wet nurse feels compelled to constantly sing sweet words to this troublesome infant?

Early on, you should recall, Netanyahu's game plan was to pump up the Iranian threat and insist that the US solve that before getting engaged with the Palestinian issue. Unfortunately, Obama obliged, instead of pointing out the obvious: that the two are separate and independent fronts, connected only in the sense that a Palestinian settlement would make Iran much less threatening even without Iranian agreement.

Woodward has another update here. Also see Stephen M. Walt: Welcome to Israel, Mr. Vice-President. The most interesting paragraph here came as an aside:

Lastly, my FP colleague Dan Drezner asked a good question the other day: Why has Israeli diplomacy committed so many obvious gaffes recently? Part of the blame undoubtedly lies with particular individuals, but I think there are also structural (or even structural realist) factors at work. Realist theory argues that the pressures of international competition impose a certain discipline on a country's diplomatic conduct: when actions have real consequences, you need to think things through carefully and act with prudence and restraint. But when any country is insulated from the short-term consequences of its own blunders, you can expect it to act in a less careful or disciplined way. Domestic politics will exert greater weight, ideological fantasies get pursued, and personal whims are more easily indulged.

Just as America's dominant position allowed it to pursue a lot of ill-advised excesses over the past fifteen years (see under: Iraq), America's "special relationship" with Israel has insulated the latter from the consequences of its own follies. We see the results in the entire settlement enterprise -- which threatens to turn Israel into an apartheid state and jeopardizes its long-term future -- and in ham-fisted diplomatic kerfluffles like the Biden visit or the deliberate humiliation of the Turkish Ambassador by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. The original Zionists faced a more challenging environment and usually acted with great adroitness, consistency of purpose and imagination, while their successors in recent decades have been able to misbehave in part because Uncle Sam was always there to provide support and diplomatic cover.

One way to look at this is to imagine Israel as being caught in quicksand: the more they struggle, the quicker they sink, but they have to struggle, because they're sinking anyway. The quicksand is the fundamental contradictions at the root of their power: the idea that they can fight the entire world forever to establish a Jewish State that can lord it over everyone else who happens to be in the way. In this they are struggling against history: against the main thrust of the last century toward equal and individual rights, and against the declining power and influence of their imperial sponsors, who are themselves ever more conscious of how Israel stands apart.

Israel exists to a large extent because of David Ben-Gurion: in particular because of his cunning in playing off the various angles of world opinion. Regardless of which angle he was playing, he was always consistent in his endgame: that Israel should emerge as a respected member of the world community. Israel has lost that aim, and with it any hope for living peacefully in a world which really, deep down, is ever more disenchanted by war. The turning point was the 1967 war, which the retired Ben-Gurion opposed, at least until he got a glimpse of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and blinked. (Of course, there were other turning points, as he built up Israel's military juggernaut, as he played up the trauma of the Holocaust in the Eichmann trial, as he compromised his secular-socialist ideals in deals with the religious right and any white colonial power that would work with him.) But in his quest for respect, it's hard to imagine him turning down the Arab League proposal of recognition in exchange for return to the pre-1967 borders: that very deal would have been the vindication of everything he stood for.

On the other hand, Netanyahu can't make that deal, because Israel has swallowed the poison pill of the settler movement. To do so would tear the right apart in Israel, and there is no left anymore (cf. the Gideon Levy quote in There has never been an Israeli peace camp). As such, there is no Israeli political force that can extract the country from the quicksand of its delusions. That leaves the US, which isn't much hope given that we're stuck in our own quicksand, but at least it's easier to recognize someone else's problems. And it's certainly positive that Obama, Biden, and Clinton even, have begun to see that this quicksand is something we share -- that may even justify all this talk about there being "no space" between Israel and the US.


PS: Some more info on why the above took place is in Paul Woodward: Isreal is putting American lives at risk and the article quoted/linked to: Mark Perry: The Petraeus briefing: Biden's embarrassment is not the whole story:

[T]he briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus's instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. "Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling," a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. "America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding." But Petraeus wasn't finished: two days after the Mullen briefing, Petraeus sent a paper to the White House requesting that the West Bank and Gaza (which, with Israel, is a part of the European Command -- or EUCOM), be made a part of his area of operations. Petraeus's reason was straightforward: with U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had to be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in the region's most troublesome conflict.

The Mullen briefing and Petraeus's request hit the White House like a bombshell. While Petraeus's request that CENTCOM be expanded to include the Palestinians was denied ("it was dead on arrival," a Pentagon officer confirms), the Obama Administration decided it would redouble its efforts -- pressing Israel once again on the settlements issue, sending Mitchell on a visit to a number of Arab capitals and dispatching Mullen for a carefully arranged meeting with Chief of the Israeli General Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi. While the American press speculated that Mullen's trip focused on Iran, the JCS Chairman actually carried a blunt, and tough, message on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that Israel had to see its conflict with the Palestinians "in a larger, regional, context" -- as having a direct impact on America's status in the region.

Israel's reaction to Biden's visit was to announce that it was building more settlements, explicitly contrary to US policy (not to mention a couple of UN Security Council resolutions). Then:

But no one was more outraged than Biden who, according to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, engaged in a private, and angry, exchange with the Israeli Prime Minister. Not surprisingly, what Biden told Netanyahu reflected the importance the administration attached to Petraeus's Mullen briefing: "This is starting to get dangerous for us," Biden reportedly told Netanyahu. "What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace." Yedioth Ahronoth went on to report: "The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel's actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism." The message couldn't be plainer: Israel's intransigence could cost American lives.

Also: Dmitry Reider: Israel Punks Itself: A little something on Israel's latest PR campaign. The author sums up:

Thus, while ostensibly making every effort to reach out, Israel is instead curling deeper and deeper into itself, engaging not so much in public diplomacy as in navel-gazing. Rather than changing the policies that are rapidly turning it into an international pariah, or even honestly arguing its viewpoints, the state is inoculating its citizens against realistic and very real outside criticism. In the long run, this means it will become even more difficult to persuade Israel to change its course -- and to save it from the damage it inflicts upon itself.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rhapsody Stream Notes

These seem to be running about once a month, which lets me pick up the Recycled Goods entries for the archive file. Fewer this month than the last couple, as I didn't go on any binges. (Well, I went on one, looking up lots of old Ravi Shankar albums, but that's withheld for now, to be worked into a future Recycled Goods.)


Insert main section of file here.


Full archive file here.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

My Year in the Dark

Last time I decided to write up notes/grades on movies as I saw them, then I promptly failed to do so. This should catch me up:

Movie: The Road: Bleak post-apocalypse movie, in a world where virtually all plant and animal life have been decimated, with a man and his son trekking cross-country to find the shore and hopefully something better. Lots of rough spots, some with cannibals. Viggo Mortensen literally carries the movie. B+

Movie: Avatar: Tends to get by on its impressive technical achievements, but I actually enjoyed the human sequences, even with their mechanical overkill, more than the computer-generated stuff, which among other things scaled the sets way too vertically. Way too much in almost every way, not least the constant fighting both as law of the jungle and battle for the planet. Story line has been compared to Pocahontas, but note one big difference: these natives had a good share of domesticated animals. Shows someone has read Jared Diamond. B+

Movie: The Last Station: The last year of Leo Tolstoy, with his political interest, his cult followers, his estranged but not invisible wife -- the latter role most likely puffed up for the film, which is only fair for Helen Mirren. Seems awkward and troubling at first, with nobody really living up to their roles, but this has grown fonder over time, so maybe I have it underrated. B+

Movie: Coraline: Caught on TV. Animated feature, Oscar-nominated, mostly left me dumbfounded, although there's some brilliantly inventive visual gags, and the bacon frying sure looked tasty. B

Movie: Lemon Tree: We also saw this 2008 Israeli movie (on DVD), directed by Eran Riklis. The setup is an Israeli Defense Minister moves to a big new house adjacent to a lemon grove owned by a widowed Palestinian woman. The lemon trees are soon perceived to be a security threat, so the DM muscles his way into the grove, setting up a guard post, fencing the trees in where the owner can no longer take care of them or live off them, at one point sending troops in to steal lemons, and eventually pruning the trees to bare stumps beyond a huge concrete wall. The DM's wife observes all this with some disease but little resolve. The Palestinian woman recruits a lawyer to challenge the encroachment, and the case works its way to Israel's supreme kangaroo court. As the lawyer points out, happy endings only occur in American films. The conflict is contained in relatively simple terms: the impact of custom on both sides, the construction of barriers that cannot be broken down by neighbors, the omnipresent threat of Israeli force. In the end the Palestinian resource is destroyed and the DM's house is estranged from the world. For Israel this is what success looks like. A-


Watched the Oscars, which must mean that historically it has more credibility than the Grammys (which I never watch). Watched it with less interest than in many years, probably because I had seen so few movies this past year, maybe even because the few nominees that I had seen were so underwhelming.

  1. Capitalism: A Love Story [A]
  2. Cheri [A-]
  3. An Education [A-]
  4. Up [A-]
  5. Lemon Tree [A-]
  6. Julie & Julia [A-]
  7. A Serious Man [B+]
  8. The Last Station [B+]
  9. The Soloist [B+]
  10. Inglourious Basterds [B+]
  11. Invictus [B+]
  12. State of Play [B+]
  13. Avatar [B+]
  14. Public Enemies [B]
  15. Where the Wild Things Are [B]
  16. Sherlock Holmes [B]
  17. Star Trek [B]
  18. Coraline [B]

Of course, Michael Moore's film isn't fair competition here. The best movie I saw this year was Cheri -- totally missed in the Oscar process even though Michelle Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates made the show as presenters.

I wound up dropping The Soloist a notch from my previous note; I may have A Serious Man and The Last Station a bit underrated. Lots of things we meant to see and didn't get to -- (500) Days of Summer, Broken Embraces, Coco Before Chanel, Crazy Heart, District 9, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Hurt Locker, The Informant, The Messenger, Nine, Precious, Sin Nombre, A Single Man, Up in the Air, The Young Victoria -- partly endless demands on weekends, partly the sad state of Wichita theatres (meaning local monopolist Warren Theatres).

Bad Reviews

Jason Gross: Why We Need Bad Reviews: From July 9 last year, just stumbled on this accidentally, mostly because I'm held up as an example of a critic who's too soft on bad jazz albums. Starts with a tweet: "Do bad reviews of jazz CDs help or hurt the art form? Why do you think jazz critics and bloggers are so hesitant to trash?" My short answer is that there's not much to trash: most jazz albums are conceived around interesting enough ideas and are more than competently executed. The few that aren't are best forgotten because, unlike other pop music forms, few stand any chance of becoming public nuissances. If I was covering other kinds of popular music -- country, rap, alt-to-metal rock bands, folk, soft soul, or new age come to mind -- the ratio would shift substantially. (I could add pop jazz to that list. I hardly get any of it anymore, but I cover what I get and it mostly ranges from innocuous to dreadful.) But the place to judge how critical I am isn't Jazz CG, which at 30-40 records per column and 4 columns per year only lets me address 20-25% of the jazz records that come my way. The other 75-80% show up in my lists, database, and above all in my Jazz Prospecting blog posts, and most of the duds and nonentities (as well as a lot of merely good albums) get buried there -- but not without a trace: I track everything I hear -- some 600 jazz albums per year, all sorted out in a list from top to bottom. Even when I'm polite in my notes, the rank list is necessarily brutal. Maybe the grade scale could be slid down a bit -- I find that it's pretty consistent with what I've been doing for many years -- but the relative ordering is inescapable.

As for whether more negative reviews would be good for jazz, I can't say. I do find that most of the jazz reviews I glance at are so positive as to not be useful or even credible. Everyone liking everything doesn't help much, but the problem is not so much that a few slams would make a critic more credible as that I keep reading critics fawning over records I know not to be in any way exceptional. I don't get enough feedback from readers to have a good sense of how my reviews are taken -- probably one reason I latched onto this piece, given more import because I know Jason Gross and know that his listening habits and range of interests are rather analogous to my own (e.g., he produces some of the longest year-end lists I'm aware of). I get roughly one complaint a month from someone who thinks I should listen to their record again (and more closely), and I get a similar number of compliments for finding things or (more often than I would expect) slamming some dud. If I had more space, I might list more duds, but I figure the limited space I do have is better used to recommend something worthwhile. At the margins you can argue that either way -- is it more useful to praise the 35th best album of the column or to disparage the 4th or 5th worst? -- so I may be letting my druthers win out. I don't particularly like dumping on a record, especially an artist I respect, given that anyone producing serious jazz is having a tough go of it. But I do recognize the need to be honest and consistent across the whole range of my listening, even when it drags me into uncomfortable territory -- both personally and aesthetically. And while words sometimes fail me, grades make their point brusquely.

PS: Worth reading the exceptionally high-grade comments. Especially good to hear from Ed Ward. I can say that his point about fear of being denied access for bad reviews -- at least affordable access; hardly any critic has the freedom of a budget to explore -- is valid on occasion, although it has only rarely happened to me.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Charley Colbert

I heard last night that Charley Colbert died, in Philadelphia, following a lengthy and, I gather, rather gruesome illness. Hadn't thought about him in many years, but we worked together in the early 1980s at Varityper in NJ -- an AM International division that made typesetting equipment. A year or two before they hired me, Varityper set up its software engineering department to use a DEC PDP-11/70 and UNIX 7 as its development platform. This was back when UNIX was a research project, available from Bell Labs as unsupported source code. My career as a software engineer was to no small extent based on what I learned from reading the UNIX source code -- I learned a lot about how to structure programs, as well as a fair amount about the personalities of the various researchers who contributed the code. Charley was the shop's top UNIX guru: he built the system, kept it running, and was the guy everyone went to for answers -- at least everyone who could deal with a manner that was, uh, abrasive and haughty. My basic tactic at that stage in my career was to seek out the smartest people I could find and glom onto them, and Charley was one of those people. And once you got past the initial intimidation, he turned out to have a wicked sense of humor -- not to mention a vocabulary he chalked up to his time in the navy. I never saw him again after I left Varityper -- or was it after he left?

Seems like a lot of people passed through or by my life over the years, mostly in brief time slices at various jobs where they are very familiar for a while but quickly disconnected. Every now and then you wonder whatever happened to them. It turns out that it's surprisingly hard even to track them down on the web. There are about 25 Charles Colberts hooked into LinkedIn, but none of them look right. I found an obit, but it was for a Colbert who died in Indianapolis early this year. About the only one I've tried who shows up first on a Google search is Tom Hull, so I guess I have to wait until they search me out (as a few have done). Meanwhile, here's a post for the real, as far as I'm concerned the one and only, Charley Colbert.

Music Week

Music: Current count 16445 [16420] rated (+25), 798 [798] unrated (-0). Had a rough week with house stuff and other demanding chores; somehow survived all that. This week looks like we're in for an extended stretch of spring showers, which should keep me in, nose to the grindstone.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #23, Part 4)

Still in limbo between filing a Jazz CG column and waiting for it to appear. I suppose if I was publishing monthly I wouldn't have such stretches, but I can't say as I mind a break. Pulling stuff somewhat at random below. Also checked out a few of Christgau's Consumer Guide March picks on Rhapsody: Eddie Argos/Dyan Valdés, Dessa, and Whitefield Brothers strike me as keepers, along with Youssou N'Dour and Vampire Weekend which I got to earlier -- will have a batch of Rhapsody stream notes sometime this week. Also started listening to old Ravi Shankar to try to find a context for the new Rare and Glorious comp, which thus far is holding up as well as any. That'll go into Recycled Goods. Still, not finding much jazz that impresses me: only one 2010 A-list record so far, vs. 9 non-jazz releases. Got a letter from one artist complaining that I had missed his masterpiece. No doubt many more think that, but I'm probably as consistent as ever, and we're just going through a minor slump stretch, which happens now and then.


Pablo Held: Music (2009 [2010], Pirouet): Pianist, quite young (b. 1986), from Germany, leading a trio with Robert Landfermann on bass and Jonas Burgwinkel on drums on his second album. Covers from Olivier Messaien and Herbie Hancock, plus eight originals. Starts quiet and cautious, but gradually opens up. B+(**)

Free Unfold Trio: Ballades (2009 [2010], Ayler): Piano trio, led by Jobic Le Masson, with Benjamin Duboc on bass and Didier Lasserre on drums. Two (or four) pieces, composed (or improvised) by the group, totalling a scant 28:39. French group, has one previous album together, and Le Masson has a trio album under his own name. Ballade means slow here, a untethered set of ambient abstractions, interesting but likely to slip past without much notice. B+(*)

Ehud Asherie: Modern Life (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Pianist, b. 1979 in Israel, based in New York, third album -- after a trio and a quintet with Grant Stewart and Ryan Kisor. Mainstream player, crosses bop and swing, cites Errol Garner as an influence. Two originals; eight covers, the bop side drawing on Hank Jones and Tadd Dameron, the standards songbook more dominant. One reason this quartet is a tad more retro is that it features tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, and he pretty neatly turns it into a Harry Allen album, which is fine by me. B+(***)

Sam Weiser: Sam I Am (2009 [2010], Disappear): Violinist, 15 years old (so that's 1994?), New Yorker, Mets fan, studied with Mark O'Connor, won some prize named for martyred journalist Daniel Pearl. Advance copy, no musician or session credits, a puke-yellow hype sheet with nothing I want to know. Main vocalist (6 cuts) is presumably Sonia Rutstein of folkie duo Disappear Fear who also does business as SONiA -- somebody else leads on Eddie Palmieri's "Azucar," a token piece of Latin jazz that gets away from everyone. Otherwise the catholic song selection works reasonably well, with Rutstein's three songs guarding against over-familiarity. The violin leads are rich and plush, the band swings; I wouldn't say anyone's improvising or even trying anything novel, but it's pretty listenable. Some day maybe Weiser will grow up and hire a real publicist. B+(*) [advance]

Mark Egan: Truth Be Told (2009 [2010], Wavetone): Electric bassist -- "fretted and fretless" is how he puts it -- b. 1951, has eight or so records since 1985, plus a large number of side credits going back to 1977 -- Pat Metheny, Bill Evans (the saxophonist, who plays here), Gil Evans, Mark Murphy, Jason Miles, Joe Beck. Basically a funk-fusion quintet, like Weather Report at their most homogenized, with less distinctive players at every slot: Egan, Evans, Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Roger Squitero (percussion), and especially Mitch Forman (keyboards). C+

Paul Meyers Quartet: Featuring Frank Wess (2007 [2010], Miles High): Nylon string guitarist. I screwed up his biographical data last time, and I'm not totally clear now, but looks like he was b. 1956 in New York, attended SUNY Potsdam and New England Conservatory. Fifth album since 2004, but side credits go back to 1989 or 1981 or even 1974. Has an interest in Brazilian music -- not evident here. Wess, on flute as well as tenor sax, is counted in the Quartet, along with Martin Wind on bass and Tony Jefferson on drums. Andy Bey is "special guest" on "Lazy Afternoon" -- quite enough, I'd say, as he's even more mannered than usual. Guitar has a soft, sweet twang, tasty alongside Wess's tenor sax (caveat emptor on the flute). B+(**)

The Trio [Peter Erskine/Chuck Berghofer/Terry Trotter]: Live @ Charlie O's (2009 [2010], Fuzzy Music): No idea how many groups have called themselves The Trio over the years. Certainly enough to have made my pet peeve list. Seems like an exercise in ego, but pianist Terry Trotter has done a remarkable job of avoiding the spotlight since when? The 1960s? AMG credits him with two albums, having overlooked a ouple of Trotter Trio outings. AMG and All About Jazz have no biographies, and Trotter has no web page, let alone MySpace. Wikipedia has two lines: "studio pianist living in Los Angeles." Bassist Berghofer, by comparison, is widely known, and drummer Erskine even more so -- even if you're not a Weather Report fan. No song credits, but looks like standard fare, done with polish and aplomb. B+(**)

Mitch Marcus Quintet: Countdown 2 Meltdown (2009 [2010], Porto Franco): Tenor saxophonist; put his group together in Indiana then moved to Berkeley. Third album. Despite the reinforcement of a second saxophonist -- Sylvain Carton on alto -- the dominant player, and possibly major talent, here is guitarist Mike Abraham, knocking out a hard fusion-funk groove and dressing it up on his solos. At best this reminds me of Anders Nilsson. B+(*)

Soren Moller & Dick Oatts: The Clouds Above (2007 [2010], Audial): Moller is a Danish pianist, 34 (b. 1976?), based in New York where he is part of NYNDK. Second duo album with Oatts, credited here with "saxophones and flute" -- usually plays alto. Oatts has eight albums since 1998 on the Danish label Steeplechase (which I don't get), plus quite a few side credits going back to 1978 (with Mel Lewis). I wasn't much aware of him until I saw him doing a teaching session at Wichita State. (David Berkman had been advertised, but limited his contribution to heckling from the audience.) I figure him for a high quality journeyman, able to fit into most contexts. Moller wrote all of the pieces except for something from Prokofiev, and takes the lead here, but Oatts does a lovely job of coloring -- can't even complain about the flute near the end. B+(***)

Ken Peplowski: Noir Blue (2009 [2010], Capri): Plays clarinet and tenor sax. I prefer the latter, but he prefers the former. Basically a "young fogey" -- part of the postbop generation of swing-oriented players like Scott Hamilton and the Vaché brothers -- with an extensive discography of good but rarely outstanding records. Compatible quartet here: Shelley Berg on piano, Jay Leonhart on bass, Joe LaBarbera on drums. Nice tenor work. Wish there was more of it. B+(*)

Ralph Bowen: Due Reverence (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, mainstream player, consistently impressive. Last record rated an HM. This has comparable strengths when he's on, but I've played it a lot and keep losing the thread. Strong quintet, with Sean Jones (trumpet), Adam Rogers (guitar), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums). B+(*)

Sean Bergin's New Mob: Chicken Feet: Live at the Bimhuis (2007 [2010], Pingo): Dutch saxophonist, also on the line here for flute, ukulele, and vocals, although most of the vocals belong to Una Bergin and Felicity Provan. They are sometimes distracting, sometimes surreal, which underscores the comic vein in the Dutch avant-garde. Not all that easy to follow, but sneaky clever when you let it go. B+(*)

Bill Cunliffe/Holly Hofmann: Three's Company (2009 [2010], Capri): Piano and flute respectively. Hofmann's in the upper ranks of Downbeat's poll because there's hardly anyone else, and Cunliffe doesn't place because there are jillions of good pianists (though somewhat less that are better than him). Most tracks add a guest, which usually helps -- the contrast with Terrell Stafford's trumpet yields a choice cut (the title track), where the three contributors abstractly lean against each other. The other guests spots: Regina Carter (violin), Ken Peplowski (clarinet), Alvester Garnett (drums). B+(*)


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Abraham Inc.: Tweet Tweet (Dot Dot Dot Music): advance
  • Aida Severo (Slam -09)
  • Tommy Babin's Benzene: Your Body Is Your Prison (Drip Audio)
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Three for All (Savant)
  • Anat Cohen: Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard (Anzic): advance, Apr. 13
  • Stephan Crump with Rosetta Trio: Reclamation (Sunnyside): Apr. 20
  • The Dominant 7 and The Jazz Arts Messengers: Fourteen Channels (Tapestry)
  • Damian Erskine: To Speak (DE)
  • Ben Goldberg: Go Home (BAG -09)
  • The Inhabitants: A Vacant Lot (Drip Audio)
  • Nomore Shapes: Creesus Crisis (Drip Audio)
  • Jeremy Pelt: Men of Honor (High Note)
  • Tin Hat: Foreign Legion (BAG)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Universe Politics

Kate Zernike: Democrats Need a Rally Monkey. Since I wrote my Latte? piece Friday, it's come to my attention that there is a burgeoning Coffee Party movement out to rally the Democratic Party faithful. Not exactly what I had in mind. I was looking for something to push the left's ideas and proposals onto a Democratic administration that is more inclined to look right toward the corporate establishment than left toward its own rank and file. That's different than rallying the base to support the party leadership against the much worse Republicans. Nothing really wrong with that, but after Bush and Cheney and DeLay and Gingrich and Dole and Bush and Reagan, not to mention Nixon, it's not like we have to be reminded to hold our noses and vote for whatever numbskull Democrat stands between sanity and Republican rule. It's just that until you start putting some real alternative ideas into discussion we won't actually be able to solve much of anything.

I'm not much worried about the 2010 elections; even less so about Obama's reelection prospects in 2012. For all the Tea Party hysteria, it's a marginal and mostly incoherent movement, and can easily be painted as such: Nixon's Silent Majority spin seems especially ripe for the taking here, even though the bigot subtext then is on the other foot now. Moreover, there's no reason to think that voters primarily concerned with the sad state of the economy, and their own slack job prospects, should start trusting the Republicans now when the Democrats have always scored better on those issues. And as much as I regret Obama's failure to end Bush's wide-ranging wars of terror, he hasn't opened himself up to stab-in-the-back charges of defeatism, nor has he exhibited Bush's recklessness. Plus the economy is on at least a modest upturn. The only big risk I see is the chance of a nasty ethics blow-up, which could occur if anyone looked real close at the administration's inside dealing -- e.g., on banking and health care, but also on defense and nuclear power and who knows what else. Obama should have done more to clean up the possibility of such corruption -- starting with exposing the extent of it under Bush, and going on to attacking the corrosive role of money in elections -- but by playing it so close to the vest he may be minimizing the chance of something exploding.

Of course, the Republicans will continue to harp on the debt, which would be less damaging if Obama fought them head on rather than throwing out concessions like his mini spending cuts and commission. The short-term problem would go away quickly with higher taxes on the superrich, and the long-term problem requires significant health care reform. Both of these things are valuable in themselves, and no discussion of public debt should take place without bringing them up. Still, Obama's wiggling on debt shows his political calculation, as does nearly every other retreat and compromise. He's angling for control of sane middle ground: incremental solutions which help a little while leaving the whole established order looking pretty much as before -- a world where there are many small winners and few big losers. No reason to think this won't work, at least for him, at least for the next few election cycles. The problem is that necessary change gets swept under the rug or barred from the door. That's what you need a grassroots movement, apart from the Democratic Party establishment, to advance.

Paul Krugman: Senator Bunning's Universe: Bunning managed to fillibuster an extension of unemployment benefits long enough to disrupt the flow of funds to chronically unemployed workers. John Kyl defends Bunning, arguing that unemployment benefits disincentivizes workers from seeking employment opportunities (as if this matters when such opportunities don't even exist). As Krugman points out, Bunning and Kyl inhabit a different universe from that of the Democrats who pushed the bill through: a universe different both intellectually and morally. Kyl, for instance, is frantically concerned about the 0.25 percent of estates not sheltered from the estate tax. Doesn't he understand that the purpose of the estate tax is to disincentivize the superrich from dying? (Or being killed off by their heirs?)

One thing about this vast chasm between political universes is that the boundaries are relatively fixed. There's virtually nothing that Obama can do to get Republican votes short of escalating the war in Afghanistan, pumping up the defense budget, or surrendering a key post like Chairman of the Fed to someone like Ben Bernanke. Why bother? We should be broadening the discussion in the real universe to include proposals that might make a real difference. That other universe is so far removed from reality it's unlikely to matter anyway, especially if we stop flattering it by paying it so much attention.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Latte, Anyone?

I was reading a front-page Wichita Eagle article today about a local Tea Party organizer, and it got me to thinking. A small fraction of the Tea Party gripes are well-founded: especially how the political influence of large companies -- especially investment banks -- corrupts government into granting them outrageous favors. On the other hand, the notion that the answer here is disabling the government -- shrinking it and drowning it in the bathtub, in Grover Norquist's phrase -- is self-defeating. I don't doubt that government bureaucracies, like all bureaucracies, are self-perpetuating, but the government, in principle at least, belongs to the people, and provides a means for acting in the public interest in straightforward ways that private interests are incapable of. If you really do care about problems like bank racketeering you need to pry the government away from being subservient to the banks and return it to the rightful role as the people's agent. To do that involves shaking up several mindsets, but one step that would help a lot would be to publicly fund election campaigns, and to ban (or at least castigate) private and group "contributions" (bribes, really).

I don't much understand the Tea Party platform, which seems to be full of contradictions, and I've never credited their claims of nonpartisanship, which strike me as nothing more than a cynical effort to dispose of the memory of Bush and his Republican claque while doubling down on his most disastrous policies. What makes them so incredible is how their opposition to Obama is so unhinged from Obama's uninspired and unthreatening policies. The people who really do have bones to pick with Obama are the people who elected him: the wars and America's megalomaniacal imperial posture, the insider deals on the banks, the insider deals on health care, the inadequate stimulus, disinterest in a fairer tax system (even the modest step of undoing the Bush tax favors), the whitewashing of the Bush administration's contempt for democracy, the lack of any effort whatsoever to secure democracy from the influence of money. There's more space separating Obama from the left than there is between Obama and the bipartisan elites he works so hard to suck up to.

The main thing that prevents such a movement from forming is the fear that splitting the Democrats will tilt the country back into the hands of the right-wing nutters. I've never been one to split up the united front, but we desperately need some way to get issues back into discussion. It's not like there's any bunch of enlightened elites working in the background to solve these problems, nor that there are a bunch of rich guys anxious to make sure that public interest concerns get a fair hearing.

Not sure what to call such a movement, but one way to discredit a stereotype is to embrace it: maybe we need Latte Parties?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Krugman

Larissa MacFarquhar: The Deflationist. Profile, with picture of the wife and cats, and more than you really need to know about the condo in St. Croix. Subtitle is "How Paul Krugman found politics." Answer has a lot to do with wife Robin Wells, who as far as I can tell is sharper and more passionate about it.

During the eighties, he thought that supply-side economics was stupid, but he didn't think that much about it. Unlike Wells, who was so upset when Reagan was elected that she moved to England, Krugman found Reagan comical rather than evil. "I had very little sense of what was at stake in the tax issues," he says. "I was into career-building at that point and not that concerned." He worked for Reagan on the staff of the Council of Economic Advisers for a year, but even that didn't get him thinking about politics. [ . . . ]

For the first twenty years of Krugman's adult life, his world was divided not into left and right but into smart and stupid. "The great lesson was the low level of discussion," he says of his time in Washington. "The then Secretary of the Treasury" -- Donald Regan -- "was not that bright, and you could have angry exchanges where neither side understood the policy."

The first book I read by Krugman was Peddling Prosperity: Sense and Nonsense in an Age of Diminished Expectations (1995), a Clinton-era book that was remarkably even-handed in dumping on liberal Democrats as well as conservative Republicans. (I missed his earlier popular book The Age of Diminished Expectations: US Economic Policy in the 1990s, which is more likely to have taken aim at Reagan's economic policies.) MacFarquhar sums up:

Krugman's tribe was academic economists, and insofar as he paid any attention to people outside that tribe, his enemy was stupid pseudo-economists who didn't understand what they were talking about but who, with attention-grabbing titles and simplistic ideas, persuaded lots of powerful people to listen to them. He called these types "policy entrepreneurs" -- a term that, by differentiating them from the academic economists he respected, was meant to be horribly biting. He was driven mad by Lester Thurow and Robert Reich in particular, both of whom had written books touting a theory that he believed to be nonsense: that America was competing in a global marketplace with other countries in much the same way that corporations competed with one another. In fact, Krugman argued, in a series of contemptuous articles in Foreign Affairs and elsewhere, countries were not at all like corporations.

That's an important point, one that a lot of things flow out of. For starters, corporations can fire workers, but countries cannot. Corporations are hierarchical, authoritarian, streamlined, purposely disciplined, and secretive in ways that would be intolerable in a country. Given these disparities you have to wonder why anyone would think that corporate leadership in any way qualified one for leading a country.

One thing you have to give Krugman credit for is that he didn't waste any time trying to be fair and balanced about George W. Bush: he published his attack on Bush's tax plans -- Fuzzy Math: The Essential Guide to the Bush Tax Plan -- before the ink was dry. In a world where politics was filled with calculated bullshit, he bought none of it. He hasn't cut Obama much slack either:

In fact, the change came faster than either of them had anticipated, because during the primary campaign Krugman was very critical of Barack Obama. He was critical chiefly because, of the three main candidates, Obama seemed to him the most conservative (his health plan, for instance, didn't mandate universal coverage), but it wasn't just his policies that Krugman objected to. He couldn't stand all the feel-good stuff about hope and dialogue and reconciliation. He hated that Obama was out there saying nice things about Reagan when what Democrats needed to do most was debunk the persistent myth that Reaganomics had been good for America. He thought Obama was completely wrong to believe that the country's problems were due largely to partisan nastiness, and ridiculously naïve to imagine that he could bring together Republicans and insurance companies to reform health care. "Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world," he wrote in 2007.

I suspect now that Krugman's initial antipathy to Obama had more to do with his freshwater/saltwater economic dichotomy: while you can't paint Obama as a purebred Chicago-school economist, he does seem to have picked up pieces of the attitude, especially Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's subtly manipulative "nudge" framework. Krugman may be right that Obama was more conservative than Clinton or Edwards, but he was free of some of their baggage -- not least their Iraq War votes. Since Obama took office some things are clearer and some are not. His cautious, conservative instincts have come out front, way ahead of his clear reasoning and even his inspirational oratory. He has repeatedly not just pulled his punches but refused to throw them. He unaccountably, inexcusably kept much of Bush's security and treasury teams, adding a few Clinton people (including dependably hawkish Hillary Clinton), and they have continued to operate much as they did under Bush (or at least under Clinton). Krugman has yet to criticize such policies in personal terms (as I just did), but he's held tight to the issues, cutting Obama slack as a practicing politician but not as a policy theorist (e.g., on stimulus size).

A lot of background info here, including a good summary of the academic work that Krugman built his Nobel Prize rep on. More currently:

Why was it so politically difficult to reregulate the banks? he wondered. Why couldn't the Administration harness the populist outrage? What good had Wall Street ever done for America? "There must be something useful in there, but it is really hard to see what," he says. "That's everybody's challenge: come up with a clearly beneficial example of financial innovation without mentioning A.T.M.s, and no one can do it. If there are arbitrage opportunities and you're able to spot them a few seconds before anybody else, you can make a lot of money, but there's no actual social gain from doing that. We've tried talking to our friends in finance, and they say, 'Liquidity, liquidity, liquidity.' Well, there is some social loss if people are hanging on to a lot of idle cash, so the financial system, by providing liquid assets that provide a pretty good yield, is supposed to deal with that. But it turns out that, just when you need it most, that liquidity froze." [ . . . ]

The crisis should have been a lesson to people not to rush into investments that they didn't understand, but Krugman suspects that it wasn't. "It hasn't been the searing experience," he says. "A lot of people got burned, but I'm not sure that they'll remember. You really have to have a Depression mentality to say, 'I'd rather have cash or Treasury bills that yield almost nothing, rather than this product that my banker assures me is perfectly safe and yields two per cent.' So, unless there's a lot more regulation, we could do this again." Krugman had been getting more and more pessimistic about the possibilities for recovery. Already, incredibly, people seemed to be forgetting that America's economy had nearly collapsed, and the usual critics of deficit spending and those who did not share his sanguine attitude toward inflation were speaking up again.

Part of the problem is that there are lots of variant notions of what constitutes a recovery, starting with Goldman Sachs' profit/loss sheet, which has already recovered (without so much as a "thank you very much"). Part of the problem is that it's harder than ever to connect the dots, especially when people in a position of authority like Obama are reluctant to do so. I basically bought the argument that it was necessary to bail the banks out in order to prevent further destruction of the real economy, but we should have gotten the necessary reforms as part of the quid pro quo back when the banks were facing the abyss. That didn't happen -- in part because Bush and Obama didn't want to further undermine confidence in the system; in part because the banks had so much inside clout the regulators were tripping over themselves trying to do them favors -- and as the moment has passed, the metaphor has lost its impact (if indeed anyone outside of the financial sector understood it anyway).


Ask the Author Live: Larissa MacFarquhar with Paul Krugman: An interview (no longer live) following up on the article.

Loudon Wainwright III: The Paul Krugman Blues: Not up to "Kings and Queens" or "Rufus Is a Tit Man" but germane enough for a link.

Paul Krugman: The Bankruptcy Boys: The best of his recent columns, maybe because the target is as easy to hit as an elephant. Republicans have been pursuing this "starve the beast" strategy for years. (I first ran into it when a friend insisted on tipping in cash for credit card-charged meals so that the tip might escape the taxman's net, thereby depriving the government of a tiny bit of money to waste.) The most extreme version of this is the Republican vote against raising the federal debt limit -- a ploy to force the government into default, which will presumably make borrowing any more money more expensive. Such a move would be nothing short of insane, but there it is. And really, drowning the government in the bathtub is just as insane.

But there is a kind of logic to the current Republican position: in effect, the party is doubling down on starve-the-beast. Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn't enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state. So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe.

Why anyone would trust the Republicans to manage the government they hate through a catastrophe is beyond me. Masochism? Stupidity? Death wish?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Recycled Goods (71): February 2010

Pick up text here.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16420 [16393] rated (+27), 798 [798] unrated (+0). Another week.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #23, Part 3)

Jazz Consumer Guide is out of my hands but still a few weeks away from publication. Good time to Just pick my way through the backlog. Finding some good records, but no great ones. Lots more to go.


Jerry Leake: Cubist (2009 [2010], Rhombus Publishing): Percussionist employing almost every instrument from around the world, graduated from Berklee, teaches at New England Conservatory and Tufts, has published eight books, released four records. This one marks a move towards assembling a band -- nominally an octet, but only guitarist-producer Randy Roos joins Leake on a majority of cuts. Some cuts develop an impressive African vibe; others add Turkish and Indian flavors. B+(**)

Babatunde Lea: Umbo Weti: A Tribute to Leon Thomas (2008 [2009], Motéma, 2CD): Drummer, I'm finding very little useful biography: grew up in New York and Englewood, NJ; now based in San Francisco, evidently since the late 1960s. ("In the late 1960s the youthful 49 year old percussionist migrated westward to the Bay Area": when was he 49? If in the late 1960s he'd be 90 now, which he sure doesn't look; if now he would have left NY/NJ by the time he was 10, hardly grown up.) Released an album in 1979, then nothing until 1996, a half-dozen (more/less) since. Leon Thomas (1937-99) might have been a blues shouter but he ran into the avant-garde, cutting six 1969-73 albums, plus appearing on albums by Pharoah Sanders, Oliver Nelson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Archie Shepp, Mary Lou Williams, and Santana. His discography is spotty after that -- a 1988 Blues Band album I rather like, a 1998 duet with Jeri Brown, not much more. This was cut live at Yoshi, with Dwight Trible carrying the vocal burden, Ernie Watts waxing eloquent on tenor sax where Sanders and Shepp turned shrill, Patrice Rushen on piano and Gary Brown on bass. B+(***)

Maria Neckam: Deeper (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Singer-songwriter, born in Austria, lived in Netherlands before winding up in Brooklyn. First record. Mostly backed by a slinky, slippery group consisting of Aaron Goldberg on piano, Thomas Morgan on double bass, and Colin Stranahan on drums, with a horn or two added on 5 of 10 songs. Peter Eldridge also sings on one song. Lyrics are buried in a PDF on the extended CD, but 90% of "Missing You" is rote repetition of "missing you," and I didn't notice anything else much, uh, deeper. C+

John Ellis & Double-Wide: Puppet Mischief (2009 [2010], ObliqSound): Tenor saxophonist, also plays bass clarinet here, b. 1974, sixth album since 1996. Seems that he has been aiming at some sort of a popular mainstream synthesis -- past album titles emphasize a common touch ("Roots Branches and Leaves," "One Foot in the Swamp"), and his Double-Wide aims low even when the shot drifts high. Blues are part, but also this veers toward circus music -- maybe it's Matt Perrine's sousaphone in lieu of bass, or Brian Coogan's organ (also in lieu of bass). The fourth group member is Jason Marsalis on drums, but things are made more complex with two guests: Alan Ferber on trombone and Gregoire Maret on harmonica, both quality additions. B+(*)

Tineke Postma: The Traveller (2009 [2010], Etcetera Now): Alto saxophonist, some soprano, b. 1978, Netherlands. Fourth album, this one fronting a quality American quartet: Geri Allen on piano, Scott Colley on bass, Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. Pushes hard on the edges of postbop, but doesn't make much of a breakthrough. B+(*)

Liam Sillery: Phenomenology (2008 [2010], OA2): Trumpeter, b. 1972, from New Jersey, fourth album since 2005, a hard bop quintet with name players -- at least in my book: Matt Blostein (alto sax), Jesse Stacken (piano), Thomas Morgan (bass), Vinnie Sperrazza (drums) -- and postbop airs but also rough edges. Best when they pick up the pace. B+(**)

Pablo Aslan: Tango Grill (2010, Zoho): Bassist, born in Argentina, based in New York, has several records based on tango themes -- 2007's Buenos Aires Tango Standards is one I particularly recommend. New one is more of the same -- an assortment of old tango tunes given a jolt of jazz improv, with piano and trumpet kicking in as well as the usual bandoneon and violin. B+(***)

David S. Ware: Saturnian (Solo Saxophones, Volume 1) (2009 [2010], AUM Fidelity): Practice as slow-motion performance: the inevitable solo album, tenor sax (of course), also stritch and saxello which are a bit funkier, perhaps because they're hard to play without thinking of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. But Ware, always a methodical guy, only plays one at a time. B+(***)

Sebastiano Meloni/Adriano Orrù/Tony Oxley: Improvised Pieces for Trio (2008 [2010], Big Round): Piano-bass-drums trio, respectively. Meloni and Orrù live in Cagliari, Italy; they have a short discography which hasn't come to AMG's attention yet. Credits are split 7 for Meloni, 7 for the group (one is just an Orrù-Oxley duo). Meloni plays sharp and percussive, able to take the lead when he sees fit. Oxley is relatively famous: a major drummer of Europe's avant-garde, past 70 now, with a Penguin Guide crown album to his credit (1969's The Baptised Traveler). B+(***)

Dan Dean: 251 (2009 [2010], Origin): Bassist; credits don't specify, but pictures show him playing electric. First album, although AMG lists about 50 credits going back to 1976. The songs here are covers, most well known standards ("'S Wonderful," "One Note Samba," "All the Things You Are," "In Walked Bud," "Body and Soul," etc.) done as duets with various keyboard players: George Duke, Larry Goldings (organ), Gil Goldstein (also plays accordion), Kenny Werner. Werner's cuts are brightly pianistic; Goldings is Goldings, and there's not much a bassist can do about that. B

Phil Kelly & the Northwest Prevailing Winds: Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles (2009, Origin): Big big band -- 22 pieces, plus string programming -- from Seattle, with a couple of recognized names but not many -- Jerry Dodgion, Pete Christlieb, Grant Geissman, Jay Thomas are the names I know. Third album for composer-arranger Kelly, who came out of Texas, where he was arranger for the Fort Worth Symphony Pops for 25 years. Reminds me of Kenton, sometimes even at his best, hardly ever at his worst. B+(*)

Scenes: Rinnova (2009 [2010], Origin): Guitarist John Stowell, leading a trio with Seattle stalwarts Jeff Johnson (bass) and John Bishop (drums). Second album as Scenes, plus an earlier quartet album titled Scenes. Stowell's credits go back to the mid-1970s. AMG credits him with 13 albums and a few more credits, mostly since 2000. Has an engagingly subtle style, calmly picking his way through intricate sequences. Need more time to decide just how substantial this is. [B+(***)]

Aaron Immanuel Wright: Eleven Daughters (2009 [2010], Origin): Bassist, b. 1979, from Oregon, studied in California, got a BA in philosophy, based now in New York. Wrote (or co-wrote with drummer Brian Menendez) 6 of 7 songs, with a cover of "Laura." Group is a quartet with Tim Willcox on tenor sax and Darrell Grant on piano. I suppose one way you can tell it's the bassist's record is that neither sax nor piano ever break loose. Such balance may be admirable, but it doesn't do much to get your attention. B

Tord Gustavsen Ensemble: Restored, Returned (2009 [2010], ECM): Pianist, b. 1970, from Norway, has three previous trio albums on ECM, slyly simple and elegant things that put him in the upper tier of ECM's ambience. This is a slightly bigger production, in which he plays slightly less. Several pieces are built around W.H. Auden poetry, sung by Kristin Asbjørnsen, who gives them a sultry musicality far removed from the archness that most found poetry results in. Tore Brunborg plays tenor and soprano sax, gently caressing the melodies and filling them out. B+(***)

Pete Lockett's Network of Sparks: One (1999 [2010], Summerfold): Percussion ensemble, released on Bill Bruford's label, as Bruford joins in and gets a "featuring" credit. Reissue of first album, released on Melt 2000 in 1999 or 2000, with same cover plus the legend across the bottom: "Rhythms and pulses from around the world." Lockett has five or more later albums, most or all with Nana Tsiboe (from Ghana, plays congas and djembe) and Simon Limbrick (mostly plays marimba and vibes), who are spotted here on about half of the cuts, along with Bruford (5 tracks, mostly drum set), Pam Chowhan and Johnny Kaisi (one track each). Lockett is credited with dozens of things, including samplers and sound treatments. Two pieces by other drum ensemble pioneers (Max Roach, Pierre Favre), the rest originals. B+(*)

Maxfield Gast: Eat Your Beats (2009 [2010], Militia Hill): Saxophonist (alto, soprano, EWI; also trumpet, synth, and drum programming) from Philadelphia. First album. Occasionally adds keybs, bass, and/or drums, but sometimes just does it all himself. One of his web pages describes this as "a combination of old-school instrumental hip hop, drum & bass, soul, and funk." I wound up refiling it as pop jazz, which isn't quite fair: it isn't slick or smooth or catchy, and it doesn't make you feel like wretching. On the other hand, it doesn't do much else either. Minor grooves, nothing to get your attention (least of all the saxophone), yet it doesn't slip into ambience either. B-

Carl Fischer & Organic Groove Ensemble: Adverse Times (2009 [2010], Fischmusic): Trumpet player (also flugelhorn and valve trombone here), second album. Played with Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau Band 1993-98, winding up as music director, and returning for spots up to 2004. Otherwise, resume mostly features performances (but I don't see any recording credits) with pop stars: Dianne Schuur, Mary Wilson, Blood Sweat & Tears, Dells, Four Tops, Will Smith, Shakira, Sam Moore, Sophie B. Hawkins, Mariah Carey, Billy Joel. Organic Groove seems to mean Hammond B3, guitar, tabla, and Latin percussion. Two vocals by Brent Carter are definite downers. The trumpet does remind a bit of Ferguson, to whom the album is dedicated. B

Orrin Evans: Faith in Action (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Pianist, b. 1975 or 1976 (seen both cited) in Trenton, NJ; raised in Philadelphia, studied at Rutgers (e.g., Kenny Barron), based in Philadelphia. Tenth album since 1994, most on Criss Cross. First one I've heard, partially plugging one of the larger gaps in my listening. Piano trio with Luques Curtis on bass, various drummers (Nasheet Waits, Rocky Bryant, Gene Jackson). Mostly Bobby Watson songs (5 of 10) -- Evans has appeared on a couple Watson albums, and Watson wrote an appreciative note on the inside, something about finding the portal and unlocking the compositions. That's too technical for me: what I hear is a first-rate postbop pianist picking his way through intricate material, impressive enough but nothing quite grabs me. Need to listen to him more, but that's true of a lot of more/less equivalent pianists. B+(**)

Roberto Fonseca: Akokan (2008 [2010], Enja/Justin Time): Cuban pianist, b. 1975, has six or so albums since 2001. Has a light touch, speed, and sophistication when out in the lead. His accoutrements are less impressive. Javier Zalba plays flute, clarinet, and baritone sax, none particularly apt. Several vocals also produce mixed effects. Few Afro-Cuban trademarks, which is neither here nor there. 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.

Terry Riley: Autodreamographical Tales (2010, Tzadik): Two multipart series, the title piece spoken word over ambient sounds, "The Hook Lecture" built around piano pieces (with some spoken word) that are somewhat more than minimalist. The spoken word isn't without interest, although it can be slow going. The piano is richly textured. I suppose there's a classical analogue, but don't know enough to pin it down, partly because I've never heard classical piano I liked quite this much. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

John Zorn: Femina (2008 [2009], Tzadik): A tribute to the ladies. The CD is organized as Parts 1-4, but the website notes that Zorn composed (doesn't play) this using his "file card technique," and the granularity includes references to: Hildegard von Bingen, Meredith Monk, Simone de Beauvoir, Frida Kahlo, Madame Blavatsky, Isadora Duncan, Hélène Cixous, Gertrude Stein, Abe Sada, Sylvia Plath, Louise Bourgeois, Margaret Mead, Loie Fuller, Dorothy Parker, Yoko Ono, moon goddess En Hedu'Anna, and others. Players are: Jennifer Choi (violin), Okkyung Lee (cello), Carl Emanuel (harp), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), Ikue Mori (electronics), and Shayna Dunkelman (percussion), with Laurie Anderson offering some words at the beginning. While the action can shift dramatically, it mostly meanders unimpressively. 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:

  • Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown: Varmint (Cuneiform)
  • Ehud Asherie: Modern Life (Posi-Tone)
  • Stefano Battaglia/Michele Rabbia: Pastorale (ECM): advance, Mar. 30
  • François Couturier: Un Jour Si Blanc (ECM): advance, Mar. 30
  • Ergo: Multitude, Solitude (Cuneiform)
  • First Meeting: Cut the Rope (Libra): Mar. 23
  • Satoko Fujii Ma-Do: Desert Ship (Not Two): Mar. 23
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Zakopane (Libra): Mar. 23
  • Gato Libre: Shiro (Libra): Mar. 23
  • Aaron Goldberg: Home (Sunnyside): Apr. 13
  • Helge Lien Trio: Hello Troll (Ozella)
  • Little Women: Throat (AUM Fidelity): Apr. 13
  • New York Art Quartet: Old Stuff (1965, Cuneiform)
  • Mark O'Connor: Jam Session (OMAC)
  • Ken Peplowski: Noir Blue (Capri)
  • Jean-Michel Pilc: True Story (Dreyfus)
  • Karl Seglem: NORSKjazz.no (Ozella)
  • Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars: Rise & Shine (Cumbancha): Mar. 23
  • The Vinson Valega Group: Biophilia (Consilience Productions): Mar. 16
  • VW Brothers [Paul van Wageningen/Marc van Wageningen]: Muziek (Patois)
  • The Wee Trio: Capitol Diner Vol. 2 Animal Style (Bionic)


Feb 2010 Apr 2010